Dear Old Dad

How are you celebrating Father’s Day today?

Every year on Father’s Day, we think about our dads. Favorite memories come up. For me it’s celebrations after swim meets, running road races together as a child and teen, seeing him cheer me on regardless of the situation, helping me with math or a science project, watching sports together, or having him acknowledge me and what I have to offer the world. I am fortunate, my dad was and is present and takes his role seriously.

Dad’s are important. I can’t imagine who I would be or what I would be doing professionally if he weren’t there guiding me through life. So for all the dad’s out there I say, “Thank you!” Your daughter(s) and son(s) are paying attention and grateful for you — your guidance, your presence and your love.

How will you celebrate your father today? What gifts, as a parent, are you giving your child as their father?

Happy Fathers Day!

That’s What Friends Are For

What makes a good friend?

This question has gotten a lot more attention from me as I’ve navigated the struggles my son on the autism spectrum has with making friends. What does make a good friend? Someone who is kind in the moment? Someone who wants to engage with you in a kind and supportive way? There are varying levels of friendship. I think of the friends who have come in and out of my life. I was reminded what a good friend looks like when a woman I have known for years and who I have shared just about everything with asked me timidly, “When was your son diagnosed?” She asked it in a whispered voice, and did a quick glance to ensure no one around had heard the question. While I was reluctant to talk about my son being on the spectrum when I first found out, I have come a long way — I’m happy to talk about it openly, but I remember that feeling of being unsure and uncomfortable, I was picking up on the way she was asking that she was uncomfortable. I responded, “When he was around five,” I paused and lowered my voice, “What’s going on?” She leaned in and said, “I haven’t really talked about this, but my son has spoken a word yet, and he’s two and a half, and we’re not sure why.” I could almost feel her concern. As a parent, when your child seems to have any affliction — whether it is a disease that is tough to treat, or a condition that makes them different than others — it can feel like you are at a crossroads — the childhood you imagined you and your child having will likely not be how you envisioned it to be, and that can be scary. We decided to find a time we could talk more openly. I wanted her to feel comfortable sharing and asking whatever questions she had.

Prior to us meeting, I thought about how I could best show up for her for this conversation. The truth is we don’t know if her son is on the spectrum, he hasn’t been tested and officially diagnosed, but he does exhibit behaviors similar to my son. I could easily jump to conclusions and give her all the information I’ve gained since my son’s diagnosis, but figured that really wasn’t what she needed. She needed to know that everything was going to be okay. Yes, her parental journey would be altered, but it didn’t mean it couldn’t be joyous, it was just going to be different. She asked me to share my story. I shared and then asked her what she was most concerned about. She was very concerned they hadn’t figured out what was behind her son not talking despite seeing doctors and specialists and enlisting the help of therapists and others. The next step was doing a battery of tests to get her son properly diagnosed. “I’m concerned because I need to figure this out before he turns three,” she shared. “What is special about him turning three?” I asked, thinking about how we hadn’t really enlisted help for our son until five. “That’s when it says you have the best chance of early intervention, but we don’t know what he has.” She admitted to spending too much time on the internet and going into various rabbit holes of information that all seemed to lead to a future life of doom and gloom for her son and her family. As she spoke, I was reminded of my intention coming into this meeting, what would a good friend say? I borrowed a phrase we use with our older son, who is always jumping ahead in his life and concerned about his future. I was seeing the same thing in my friend.

“How long have you been a parent?” I asked. “Well, two years” she said, clearly taken aback by the question. “And how are you supposed to know everything, and have it all figured out in two years?” I said. “Well, I guess, you’re right, there’s no way you can figure it all out in two years.” I finished, “Think of your journey like a video game, each year of your child’s life is a level. Right now, you’re on level 2, stay there, don’t try to be on level 5 or 12 or 35. You’re on 2, you’re going to continue to learn and get smarter. You are going to figure this out.” She smiled. Her shoulders relaxed. “You’re right,” she said. “Thanks.” I did end up giving her a few resources that she could reach out to who could give her some sound advice — these resources had been a Godsend to me. As I left our meeting, I thought, I wish I had had a friend or support like this when my son was first diagnosed. There was support available, but I was just too scared to reach out, and I didn’t have any friends talking. I was glad my friend was brave enough to ask. I was glad I could be that support and encouragement. After all, that’s what friends are for.

Are you struggling with raising your child? What does a good friend do to help support you as a parent?

It Takes a Village

Who is helping you raise your child?

There are many people that are helping my husband and I raise our kids–family, friends, babysitters, caregivers, teachers, doctors–I refer to this folks as part of our village. Each member plays a critical role in the care, nurturing, mentoring, tending to, and shaping of my boys.

My youngest son’s recent distress required we revisit resources available to him. My son’s village will likely have some new members in the near future. ūüėä We’re also now having to rethink environments in which will help him thrive academically and emotionally in the future. The previous known path now isn’t so clear. This lack of clarity is causing me discomfort I haven’t felt this intensely in a while. I’m concerned about doing right by my son and making the right decisions for what’s best for him. It does give me comfort to know I have a village I can turn to for guidance, information, encouragement and support.

How is part of your child’s village?

Orientation

How do you identify with your child?

As a parent, I often feel like I’m navigating new territory. The territory isn’t changing quite as rapidly as it did when my children were very young and I was really new at being a parent, but has instead changed to steeper terrain.¬†When my children entered a new phase early in life: rolling over, sitting up, crawling, eating solid foods, walking, etc., the task¬†required me to change with my child’s physically — helping them, allowing them to¬†try, fail and learn from their mistakes, and help them grow. Now I’m navigating¬†areas that have more weight to them —¬†while no physicality is required, it requires¬†much focus on my words, actions and handling. ¬†Gender identify and sexual orientation are areas I knew may need to be discussed with my children, but I don’t have a lot experience with either outside traditional roles.

I wasn’t necessarily a ‘girly-girl’ when I was growing up, but I always felt comfortable being a girl. I¬†can’t recall¬†a time when I was interested in being¬†anything else. Same with sexual orientation. I certainly thought there were other girls that were pretty (wished I looked¬†like¬†or could be¬†them even), but¬†never recall having any romantic feelings for the same¬†sex. It never bothered me when others did. One of my uncles was gay. I loved him. I didn’t realize he had suffered as a gay person until I was much older, but have always remembered that he mattered, he was a good person. and he never deserved anything but being treated as the wonderful man that he was (he passed from HIV when I was 18).

My boys are now in their teens (tweens, to be more precise) at 10 and 12. When one of my sons was younger, he had said he wished he were a girl. I experienced a quick range of emotions. First, denial — he can’t mean what he’s saying, and then second,¬†curiosity — okay, he wishes he were a girl. I need to better understand what he means. Of course, in my mind I prepared myself for him wanting to transition from male to female (yes, I jumped to the extreme pretty quick). “Why do you want to be a girl?” I asked. “Well, because I like a lot of the same things they like,” he responded. “Do you wish you could wear girls clothes, or have the same body parts?” I continued. “No, I like being a boy,” my son said, “I just don’t like sports or rough house stuff. And I feel more comfortable around girls.” It was becoming clearer to me, that my son was concerned he wasn’t fitting into the ‘stereotypical’ male gender role. Thankfully my son has been in schools that have encouraged expression in whatever form that takes for all genders throughout his childhood. I reminded him that it was okay not to like sports or want to rough house, and that, believe it or not, there were a lot of other boys that also didn’t like the same things. “You are realizing who you are and what you like and don’t like, that’s a good thing,” I told him. Still, I feel like there is more I probably should be doing — more checking in with him — does he still have those feelings?¬†Does he like and accept who¬†he is, or does he feel pressure to conform — if so, where and why?¬†It’s a good reminder for me, that many opportunities in parenting to do right by our children reside on us not only showing up, but proactively inquiring.

One son is starting to become more attracted to others. Though he is quick to let everyone know he has no plans to act on it, despite us encouraging him to be open to the idea. During PRIDE week at school, one teacher talked to the students about¬†different sexual orientations — words/labels used to describe¬†various sexual orientations, and encouraged the kids to ask questions. When my son came home, he said, “Mom,¬†I need to tell you something.” The way he said it, I thought he was going to tell me about something that happened at school, or how he’d done on a test. Instead he said, “I think I might be pansexual.” My first thought was stay cool, you can do this. I’ve certainly seen people on TV that claim to be pansexual, but don’t know anyone personally who identifies as such. I wanted to get this right with my son. I wondered if my son was truly sexually attracted to male and female peers, or if he was struggling with normal adolescence¬†exploration.¬†I’m not sure he knew, and I felt horribly unprepared to help him navigate this the¬†best way.¬†I told him, “You father and I don’t care who you love. We love you just the same. It is completely fine to love whomever you choose.” He sighed with relief. I felt I handled it well, but know I¬†need more help.

I’ve been prepared much of my life to help my kids role-play for certain situations — how to handle a disagreement with¬†someone, how to ask for help, how to advocate for yourself, even how to let someone know you like them and/or are interested in them. I struggle with how to encourage my son to explore same-sex interests. I want to be supportive and know we, as a culture,¬†are much more open to these types of relationships, but still fear him being rejected, or worse outcast or harassed by others. I am reminded of my uncle and learning of¬†the pain he experienced at the hands of others for being gay. I¬†want to believe that¬†everyone¬†would be supportive of my son, but¬†know that might not always be the case. I want to protect him, but¬†not¬†limit him or hold him back from exploring his interests. ¬†How do you help your son let another boy know they’re interested when you’re not sure the other boy identifies as gay or pansexual themselves? Anyone who has any experience and insight, please share.

Very much like when my kids were young, I want to help them, allow them to try and fail (even in relationships) and grow. I’m navigating new territory and hope I get it right.

How are you navigating challenging parental terrain? If you have a child who identifies as gay, transgender, pansexual or other, how are you helping them navigate their identify and sexual orientation?

Soccer Mom

Did your parent(s) ever embarrass you as a child?

Of course they did, right?¬† It’s a rite of passage for most parents. While I’ve been open with my boys that mom and dad will likely embarrass them from time to time, it will never be intentionally done. They know they can call us on it, and we (my husband and I) have to own it, and try to make it right (e.g. don’t do it again).¬† What I didn’t anticipate was where I’d have the most trouble not¬†being a repeat offender¬†— at the soccer field.

I am not one of those parents who yells at the kids or the refs and tries to correct them.¬†Instead I’m guilty of¬†calling a play-by-play with what the kids are doing on the field, like it’s some how going to help the outcome of the game. “Nice pass to Jake.” “Way to block it, Luke.” “Take it away, Caleb. You’ve got this.” But one time I¬†went a little too far. My son was struggling in a¬†game, and instead of¬†doing what the coach was telling him, he got¬†angry and started to¬†talk back, “I’m doing what you told me!” “What am I doing wrong?”¬†I didn’t like the way he was talking to the coach, and instead of letting the coach handle it (like I should have) I said, “Why don’t you channel your anger back into the game, and get more focused?” My son was clearly beside himself with¬†embarrassment grunted and gave me a “zip it” hand gesture (moving his fingers across his mouth). When it was half-time he came over to the sidelines with his teammates, and knowing I was standing nearby, loudly said, “I don’t ever want you to come to a game again!”

He¬†had a point. I would have hated it if my parents had done the same thing to me.¬†I wanted to be supportive and encouraging (that’s what we need at any age), not shame him in front of his peers. That’s the last thing I wanted to do. If I wanted to have this discussion with him, I should have done it in private. I told him as much after the game.¬† “I was wrong. Not what I said, but where I said it. I should have said it away from everyone being able to hear and I’m sorry.”¬† He still wasn’t happy, but he got it. I owned my part in what happened, and haven’t made a similar comment (at least in front of his peers) since.

I think I rationalize my¬†broadcasting tendencies¬†(which¬†are now strictly the positive play-by-plays)¬†as wanting to show I’m interested and vested (e.g. my son knows I care about what he’s doing), and that somehow¬†my encouragement will help the team (know that they are supported and care). Not to worry, I’m aware that my ‘cheering’ likely isn’t doing much, if¬†any, good, and am working to be a more subdued parent. Outside of walking away from the game and distracting myself, I haven’t come up with a lot of best practices for how to do this.¬† Anyone have any suggestions to share?

I know my son realizes I mean well, and that I’m his biggest (along with his dad) fan, but I need to model for him how you support someone without strings attached (e.g. I support you even when you’re struggling…especially when you’re struggling), encourage without having to voice my praise (clapping or a yahoo is fine during the game, any points I want to make can be saved for the car ride home).¬†And maybe that’s it…a desire to share feedback real-time, versus seeing how things play out and providing more constructive¬†input at a later time. It’s not easy. It takes practice.¬†I’ve got some work to do.

Are there any other rowdy parents like me out there (willing to admit it)? Do you have a hard time being quiet and calm while watching your child participate in a competitive activity?

12th Man

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. The New England Patriots will take on the Seattle Seahawks. While there has been a lot in the news about deflated footballs, Marshawn Lynch not being eager to talk to the press, Super Bowl ad teasers and the weather in the host city, the news I most look forward to is on Seattle’s 12th Man: where they are and what they’re up to. They are easy to spot–they have their Seahawk gear on, signs in their windows, decals on their cars or face paint on.

While the 12th Man consists of Seahawk fans, it¬†represents so much more–community, support for a common cause, a connection with others you may not have anything else in common with. It’s incredible to see a team bring people together that cover all classes, backgrounds and neighborhoods. And while they may be easy to spot during the football season, they are just as easy to spot in the off months. The 12th Man is strong–we win and lose together. And it’s not just a Seattle-thing, it permeates throughout the country wherever Seahawks fans reside the 12th Man spirit lives.

I’m grateful my kids get to be part of¬†the 12th Man experience:¬†celebrate together, cry together, and do good together. It’s wonderful, as a parent, when you don’t have to try to explain how we should get along, but can show it in practice with the 12s.

I don’t know who will win the Super Bowl, but do know who the winners are–the 12th Man. Go Seahawks!

Easter Egg Hunt

My kids have really been looking forward to Easter. While I’d love to say its for the religious significance, its really all about the candy for them. They are looking forward to finding their baskets in the morning and doing an Easter Egg hunt later in the day.¬†Easter to them is¬†a day of seeking and finding big and little treasures.

I’m reminded of an Easter when I was a young child. We were in Florida visiting family and there was an Easter Egg hunt out in a large field. We were told there was one giant egg hidden. We figured this giant egg must be made of chocolate and not a hard boiled one, and all of the kids wanted to find it! I was armed with my Easter basket and ready to go. The countdown began–fivefour-three-two-one—GO! I raced alongside my cousins, sisters and friends across the field.

I found lots of eggs, but few ended up in my basket. My problem while I was great at visually finding them, I wasn’t very fast at picking them up, and the eggs kept getting scooped out from underneath me . I think one of my sisters may have just followed me around to get her bounty! I was good at seeking. She was good at securing! I was very frustrated.

I honestly can’t recall if I got any of those decorated hardboiled eggs. I was so disappointed and thought my empty Easter basket was a reflection on what a poor treasure hunter I was. Easter was supposed to be fun, an easy way to get candy, an easy day to feel good about plants blooming, the weather warming and life being good. But I didn’t feel good.¬† Embarrassed by my results I sulked over to where some of my older cousins were watching us. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. It wasn’t joy in my failure. It wasn’t a smirk or look of shared disappointment. It was empathy. They were looking at me when one¬†said, “Tricia, you’re getting warmer.” I thought getting warmer? what are they talking about? After a few seconds, I understood. They were talking about the Giant Egg!¬† I walked a few steps forward. “You’re getting warmer,” they said again. I moved forward again, “colder,” I readjusted and went to the right, “warmer,” one more step, “hot!” I lifted a palmetto branch and lo and behold there was the giant egg!¬† Success, joy and overall happiness came pouring back in.

My cousins never let on that they helped me find the giant egg. Most people at the hunt hadn’t seen what happened. I was asked afterwards, “how did you know it was there?” and “what made you think to look under that palmetto bush, there are so many of them out here?” I just smiled and looked over, ever so subtly at my older cousins. They had my back. They felt for me and wanted me to have success. They encouraged me. But maybe what was most significant about their act was that they loved me. It was a simple gesture, but very powerful. I felt like the richest person there.

What treasures are you seeking this Easter? What treasures are you hoping your children will find?