No Sugar Coating

When I sat down to write this, I intended to write something light-hearted, maybe even something inspired by the newly released Beauty and the Beast movie, but I couldn’t after my son shared a story about his friend experiencing racism.

It’s not an easy topic to discuss, but the conversation I’ve had with my son has stayed with me since we had it, and I need to get this out.

Have you talked to your child about racism?

I’ve never felt equipped to talk about racism to my children because I’ve experienced very little racism myself.  Gender inequality and sexism I can speak volumes to, but I’m no expert on racism. I can remember when my oldest son first learned about Rosa Parks in kindergarten and became obsessed with understanding why African-Americans were treated so unfairly. “Why did black people have to sit in the back of the bus in the first place?” he asked. I’d respond with something along the lines of “People were small minded”, “People were ignorant”, or “It’s complicated, but know that it was wrong and horribly unfair.”

Both my boys have questioned racism over the years, particularly anytime they’ve overheard a news report. “Why did the police officer shoot that man who was running away from him?” “What’s going on in Ferguson?” “Why don’t some people like Obama?” Each time, my husband and I have attempted to answer their questions, but I’ve never felt like we gave adequate responses. For me, the hardest thing I’ve had to try to explain to my children as their parent is why adults behave badly. And when I hear (or see) another adult being visibly racist its the epitome of adults behaving badly in my book. Children learn from adults, so as teachers of our children we are all responsible for racism continuing (whether we are the ones perpetrating it or standing by and letting it happen). Now, I know there are many reasons why many of us aren’t more vocal or willing to take action when we see it: we fear retaliation, we think it’s none of our business, or because we’re complacent and/or complicit; but what does that teach our kids?

Earlier this week, my son came home from school and asked “why are people still so racist?” I asked him what he was talking about, as he was clearly upset. “Shawn (who is a black friend of his) told me he was playing outside with his brothers over the weekend and a neighbor called the cops of them. They weren’t doing anything wrong, they were just playing. Why would someone do that?” he asked, then added, “He was pretty scared, but thankfully the cop told him that he wasn’t doing anything wrong and he wasn’t going to be arrested and not to worry about it.” I was stunned, and saddened. The only “crime” Shawn was guilty of was being black in a predominantly white part of town. I live in a liberal-minded, highly diverse city, and foolishly thought things like this didn’t still happen here. But it did. If my son had been doing the same thing his friend had, no one would have called the cops on him. I moved from sad to mad. I wanted to do something about it, but was at a loss. I had no idea who called the police. I couldn’t confront them. All I knew to do was talk to my son about what happened. I shared his anger in what happened, we talked about what Shawn must have gone through and how scary that must have been; and that what happened wasn’t right. I felt good that we acknowledged the injustice, but felt helpless to right this wrong.

I’m hate racism (the irony of this statement is not lost on me).  There’s no way to sugar coat this. It’s ugly. I don’t see the benefit in breaking each other down and holding each other back. How do we get through the hate (or fear or whatever is allowing this to continue) and get to the other side of understanding and acceptance? How do we become a culture that wants to help each other not hurt each other. I feel ill-equipped to address this beyond my family. But starting at home is exactly where it should begin, right? It starts with me as my kids’ parent. It starts with you.

How are you teaching your child to accept and care for others that are different from them?

Are You Ready for Some Football?

While the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos are preparing for the Super Bowl, my family is preparing for the game in our own way. No, we’re not preparing for a party, we’re preparing ourselves emotionally.

My oldest son is really excited for the game, and we’re trying to prepare ourselves for how to handle things should the game not go the way he hopes. I was the same way when I was his age: so hopeful my team would win the game, and inconsolable when my team was behind (and eventually lost).  The emotions would be so intense, the only way I knew to ease the pain was to leave the room, or turn the TV off.

We’re trying to show our son a different way to experience sports. Losing isn’t fun, and it can be painful to experience and hard to watch when you feel a connection with the team you’re rooting for. I suggested to my husband that we might have to turn the game off if it started going the wrong way, and my husband stopped me. “It will be a good opportunity for us to explain that what he’s feeling, although difficult, is something he needs to learn how to experience.”

He was right. Experiencing pain is difficult, and the game could present an opportunity for us to help our son start to learn how to work through the emotional pain of disappoint. I can’t say I’m thrilled at the prospect of this, only because this is an area I need to get more experience in myself.  We’re taught to avoid pain, particularly emotional pain by any means necessary.

Teaching children how to work through negative emotions isn’t easy. No one ever taught me as a child how to work through emotional pain and get to the other side. It’s taken much effort and personal reflection to understand this, and determine I want my child to have tools I only learned as an adult.

I have to admit, I’m not good at watching games where my team is losing, but I have an incentive to do it now: to show my child how to work through the pain that can come with disappointment. I might get a ‘hail mary’ on Sunday, with my son’s team winning and get to delay this discussion until we watch the next big game, but I’m not going to risk it. Just like the Seahawks and the Broncos are ready, I need to be ready to.

Are you ready for some football? I am.

The Sex Talk

Being a parent has it’s challenges. One my husband and I have been trying to prepare ourselves for years for is “the sex talk.” This came front and center recently when my boys and I were visiting the zoo. We were at the tortoise exhibit when when my youngest son and I saw some movement. I made an innocent comment to my son when one tortoise nudged the other near her rear legs. “He’s saying, ‘hey, get a move on.'” I thought it was funny, and my son also recognized the silliness of my words. I walked away for a minute to check on my other son who was across the aisle looking at a snake enclosure. When I came back to my youngest son, he was laughing in full hysterics…”Look Mom, the tortoise is trying to climb over the other one.” Ah oh, I thought. Sounds like some mating might be taking place. Sure enough I looked into the dwelling and my suspicions were confirmed. What made it worse was the family that was standing next to my son. The husband who had a baby strapped onto his front was giggling nervously and saying, “um, (insert nervous giggle), I, um, don’t think he’s trying to climb over (insert another nervous giggle).” The wife couldn’t take her eyes off what the turtles were doing. My anxiety went from zero to very high very quickly. My mind started to race. Should I just tell my son the truth, that the tortoises are mating? What questions will that bring up? Is having this discussion appropriate to do in public? Thankfully my oldest son, who had no idea what was going on, rescued me by instructing his brother and I to come over and check out what he was looking at. While I continued to ask myself these questions, and fearing I might be missing a teaching moment, I kept quiet. Give yourself time to think about how to respond on this one, I told myself. My younger son never made another reference to what he’d seen.

This experience prompted my husband and I to revisit how we are educating our children on their bodies and sex. Our boys are six and eight and curiosity about their bodies is happening. While we’d like to think that we are comfortable having these discussions, the truth is they can make us a bit uncomfortable. How much do you share? When?

Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to see Dr. Laura Berman on an Oprah episode several years ago, when she helped parents and their children understand their body’s and the realities of sex. It went beyond the birds and the bees discussion. The two episodes I saw taught kids about how their body works, and talked to teens honestly about sex: covering the mechanics while important, is only the beginning, the heart of the discussion was to help teens understand the reality (emotional and relational) and the potential consequences (positive and negative). Both episodes made me cry. Not because I was disturbed at what was discussed, but because I wished so badly that my parents had had this same discussion with me. My parent’s generation for the most part, didn’t talk to their children in this level of detail, and my peers and I were left to figure most of “it” out on our own. I grateful that I managed to navigate it so well on my own, though sometimes it felt like luck played a bigger role in that than my personal knowledge.

I’m determined to help educate my kids, like I wish I was, on their bodies and sex, even though it won’t be easy. I picked up Dr. Laura Berman’s book “Talking to Your Kids about Sex” and “The Boys Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up You” by Kelli Dunham. Dr. Laura Berman’s book is to help my husband and I. The Boys Body Book is to provide my boys with a reference they can read through as needed.

What resources have helped you? How have you navigated the sex talk with your children? How did you work through any discomfort (your own, your partner’s, or your child’s)?

New Day, New Year

I was recently catching up with a friend who was sharing some of the challenges her family faced  throughout 2013 including illness and death of several loved ones. She shared, “I can’t wait to have this year behind me,” and with the year she had, I can understand her sentiment.

Talking to my friend reminding me of conversations I have with my children, about starting anew each day and the possibilities that it brings. On days where my boys experience being upset about something and seem unable to control how their emotions manifest: crying, tantrum-ing, fist throwing, kicking, etc., I talk to my children about alternate ways they can express their feelings: ways that will allow them to feel the emotion and work through it, without having to deal with negative consequences (e.g. losing a privilege). It’s not easy–sometimes for them, sometimes for me, sometimes for us both. I continue that while they may lose a privilege that particular day (to help reinforce their need to embrace other ways of handling themselves) that get to start fresh the next day. I do this because it helps my kids understand their are immediate consequences for their actions, and that the punishment won’t drag on indefinitely. There are times when a behavior warrants a multiple day punishment, which we sometimes implement, but my husband and I most often offer ways for our children to earn their privilege back sooner, particularly if our child can demonstrate they are making progress towards mastering a desired behavior.

As we go into the 2014, there is an opportunity for each of us to start anew: in our relationships, in our interactions, and in our responses.

How do you help your children work through their emotions? How do you help them start anew?

Super Powers

My youngest son entered kindergarten this year, and my husband and I felt it was time he learned to tie his shoelaces. We started with our older son when he was about six months younger than our youngest is now. It took six months to teach him how to do it, so we figured waiting until he was older might help our younger son, though we anticipated it would still take many months of training.

We started practicing about a month ago, having him untie his shoelaces. Then we moved to showing him how to tie them. We took baby steps in showing him how to do it being methodical in our approach. First you make an “x” with the laces, then put one lace over the other and pull it through. I wrestled with whether to continue with the bunny-ears-finding-the-bunny-hole method, or wrapping one lace around your finger and pushing the shoelace with your thumb, to complete the knot. I was trying to figure out what would be easiest for my son to learn. I thought he might struggle and wanted to ease him into this new task.

It took my son about three weeks to master tying his shoelaces. After my attempts to teach him the bunny ear method were unsuccessful, I shared my struggles with his teacher. She listened to what I said, and then took my son aside. She showed him to wrap the lace around his thumb and index finger using a cleaver method. She said, “Superman has to orbit the Earth to get Lex Luthor.” She pointed to my son’s thumb and said, “Where is Lex Luthor?” to which my son responded by pointing to his thumb. She continued, “In order for Superman to get Lex Luthor, he is going to have to push his way to him.” She showed him how to push the lace through to make a bow. He proceeded to mimic her exact instructions, and presto my son is now an expert shoelace tier. He was so proud of himself. It was great to see my son gain confidence in his own capabilities.

As I thought about this, I realized my son was more capable than I was giving him credit for, and I also was reminded that there are many other parents out there that have really creative ways to teach kids. I’m glad I was there to see this and learn from my son’s teacher. I was also glad to learn about my son’s super power (him gaining confidence in his own abilities is a super power to me). I know he has great potential like any child does, and I need to help him discover his.

What are your child’s super powers? How are you helping them discover theirs?

Driver’s Test

I was driving to work one day when it happened. I was near a tunnel entrance and decided to change lanes. I put my blinker on, checked my mirrors, looked over my left shoulder to make sure I had plenty of room, and then moved over. The car I pulled in front of clearly did not like my decision to change into their lane. They weren’t going especially fast prior to me changing lanes, and they didn’t run up on me, so how did I know they were upset? Because they threw on their high beams, and kept them on for the next three miles. The first chance to pass me, they did. They pulled up beside me and attempted to get my attention. I decided it would be best not to make eye contact, because I figured it would only make things worse. After the driver realized I wouldn’t take the bait, they sped off. I still have no idea what I did to provoke such a reaction.

I reflected on my decision to change lanes earlier. Had I done something wrong?  I had plenty of room to change lanes I checked a couple of times prior to moving over. What was I missing?

Then I thought I wonder what’s been happening with that other person today.  Did they have a rough night of sleep, or are they stressed out about a meeting, or did they get into an argument with a loved one before leaving?  I don’t know what caused them to get so upset, but I have to believe their mood didn’t have much to do with me. I think my lane change was their last straw.

I think about myself as a driver. While I like to think of myself as a calm and compassionate person most of the times, I must admit that gets tossed out the window when I get cut-off or have a bad encounter with another driver. I sometimes think is this some sort of test (of my patience)? It feels like I’m being purposely disrespected or dismissed, like the other person believes they are entitled, or that their needs or wants are more important than mine. And perhaps I’m onto something with this belief, but think it’s only a small part of it.

Prior to having children, I would mutter four-letter words under my breath or make hand gestures below the dashboard when I got in these situations.  It was my way of getting some of the frustration or anger out, without making the situation worse. Since having kids I’ve had to rethink my responses. Kids are constantly watching what we do. Sometimes when a drive does something I don’t like I’ll say, “Come on friend” to which my sons will ask, “who are you talking to? They’re not your friend?” I’ll explain that it helps mom calm down when she talks about someone as her friend. I’ll also try to explain what’s going on. “I’m frustrated because I want to get home and this person is holding us up. It’s not their fault, they might just be having a bad day.” Having this conversation with my kids requires me to practice patience, being aware of my actions and words, and using it to teach—not always easy to do.

I’m not sure how much I’m getting through to my kids, but I’m hoping that they are able to handle traffic a little bit better than I do when they get older. My sense is people will continue to cut each other off, and drivers will continue to get frustrated with one another.  I can’t control what others do, but I can certainly control my actions and prepare my children for how to deal with drivers when they encounter similar situations in the future.

Thank goodness they won’t be ready for their drivers licenses for many more years. I still have time.

How do you handle frustrating drivers?

A Big Thumbs Up!

I received a note from my son’s teacher a little over a week. It read, “You need to talk to your son about what using the middle finger means.” The note startled me. We don’t use “the middle finger” in our family and haven’t talked about it with our children because we haven’t had to to this point. I responded to the teacher’s letter to gain a better understanding of how the middle finger came up. Can you give me some context behind how my son used his middle finger? Was he using it as a gesture? Or was he copying someone else? The teacher replied, “He was pointing at something with his middle finger when one of his classmates said, “that means the “F” word”, to which your son replied, “what’s wrong with the word “finger”?” Oh, the fact that he said “finger” made me smile like I haven’t smiled in a while. I celebrated inside. Yes, I thought, he still doesn’t know what the “F” word is!

Regardless, my husband and I needed to explain what certain hand gestures mean. I wasn’t ready, nor do I anticipate being ready any time soon, to discuss four-letter-words with our kids. I know I can’t avoid this forever, but I want to delay it as long as possible. Instead we talked about the meaning of using different fingers.

Working with our son we determined the following:

  • A thumb(s) up means good job or I agree
  • Pointing your index finger means I’m talking about you (we cautioned that most people do not like to be pointed at) or I want you to look at what I’m pointing at (see what I see)
  • Using your middle finger means I’m really angry with you or I really don’t like what you just did (we cautioned that it is always better to talk to someone if you are upset with them and to avoid using your middle finger to express how you feel at all costs. My experience, you significantly increase your chances of a physical confrontation when you use your middle finger vs. your words)
  • Using your ring finger doesn’t mean anything
  • Using your pinky finger (e.g. holding it out when you drink from a cup) means fancy

My son really liked the idea of using your pinky to communicate fancy. He didn’t seem to be interested in using or talking about his middle finger at all.

I cherish my children’s innocence and appreciate the opportunity my husband and I have been given to help them learn about ways people communicate in nice and not-so-nice ways. I realize their innocence won’t last forever, but will take it for as long as I can.

F is quickly becoming my new favorite letter. What’s not to like – it’s the first letter in fabulous, Friday, fancy, fun and FINGER.

I’ll give that a “thumbs-up” any day!

How have you addressed gestures and curse words with your child?