Kids, Parenting

This is an article that I wrote and was originally published in the April 2018 issue of Sacramento Parent. If you want to read it there, visit this link and go to page 12.

Let’s face it, moms, having a new baby can be tough. The constant feedings and changings, the wacky sleep schedule that you must follow, the new upside-down world you now call yours, it’s hard on the body and the spirit! Your little one is here and you love that baby more than anything, but this life change comes with a new set of challenges. Even moms who don’t have babies anymore and are accustomed to their lives with children still need downtime to unwind and recharge. Here are some tips from You Made It to Motherhood: A Guide for New Moms for those who have new babies or those with old “babies”!

cup-of-tea

  • Make time for self-care. This one might seem obvious, but it also can be so hard to do! A new mom, especially, is often happy if she gets to take a shower, let alone anything extravagant. Sometimes, it just takes a little creativity to find little moments that are just for you. When your baby is napping, for instance, instead of doing laundry, cleaning the house, or trying to get all those thank-you notes out, take an hour just for yourself. That can mean anything that you enjoy: reading a brain-candy novel, having a special treat all to yourself, relaxing on your deck with eyes closed and drinking in the sunshine – whatever you wouldn’t normally do because “there’s never enough time.” Take that time now for you, just you. (You’re worth it!)
  • Find support – it makes all the difference. This can be very hard to do too, but if you make the effort you can find people willing to help. Often, the support is there, but we just don’t want to accept it (a mistake I made). Discard all of those ideas of “I can do this myself,” “I don’t want to bother them,” “No, really, I’m fine,” and just let people help! If someone offers to watch the baby for a half hour, and you’re comfortable with that person, do it (and go have a cup of coffee baby-free). Other means of support could be a new mom’s group (invaluable advice for free), church groups, reaching out to other new moms, or letting your aunt or moms you know with grown children have your son or daughter for a while (they love to hold a baby since they don’t get to often). Keep your mind open to different ways of finding support; it’s out there, just remember to say, “yes!”.
  • Spend time with your spouse or partner. This tip is another one that is really important and is so difficult to do once a baby enters the picture, but it’s worth making the effort. Your relationship has probably changed now that you are a family of three (or more), and it’s important to stay connected to the person who took part in creating it all with you. The two of you originally had a life together “pre-baby” and going back to that via date nights or just hanging out together without a baby constantly interrupting really lets you just be a couple for a short time. It can be tricky to find someone to help you make that happen, but if you can call upon that support system, you’re nearly there. It doesn’t need to be an expensive restaurant outininfantg, and if a movie feels too long then just go for a walk together. Re-connecting by spending alone time with your spouse or partner will improve your relationship, re-establish intimacy, and reinforce the foundation of this family you created together. (You’re both worth it!)
  • Remember that is this all temporary. Having children, young, old or in-between, has both incredible and amazing moments, and extremely difficult and want-to-give-up times too. The key is not to forget that it will all change, and then change again. Babies grow (faster than we realize) and these hard times of sleeplessness and fussiness will give way to an independent cbaby to manrawler then walker then a toddler to a kindergartner and so it goes. It probably feels like light-years away, but it’s not. So when the times are really tough (and having an infant is hard even with an “easy baby”), know that this is all temporary. It will change – you will get to sleep normally again, your world won’t always be consumed by baby concerns, and then once you get used to it, the march of time will slowly transform things yet again. This is good news (to me). Just remember to savor those wonderful moments and breathe through the hard ones!

I want to extend best wishes to all moms out there, regardless of where you are in your motherhood journey. We have the toughest job on the planet, but we still show up every day with love in our hearts and the willingness to be there for our kids – and that’s not easy, at any age!

If you’re interested in reading more, you can find You Made It to Motherhood at my website or on Amazon.

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Parenting, Self-awareness, Self-improvement

phrasesIn my ripe old age of somewhere in my fourth decade, I’ve come across three phrases that can make a world of difference when dealing with your children, friends, family, argumentative adults, anyone. Lately, I’ve noticed the lack of these phrases coming from people of power (or those who think they have power), those who feel superior, or just people who feel owed (at any age). Regardless of who you are, consider these phrases and question when you last heard or said them. Here they are in no particular order:

1) “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” These synonymous statements can go far in releasing someone’s anger directed at you or anyone, and it doesn’t take much to utter them. Hopefully, they are said meaningfully, but even if you’re not truly sorry, “I’m sorry to hear that” is at least a little something that can ease a person’s angst. Whenever someone, adult or child, has a problem and tells me all about it, one of my first responses is “I’m sorry.” Sometimes I then hear, “You don’t have to be sorry; it’s not your fault,” but to me that doesn’t matter. The fact is I’m just sorry that person is going through said difficult situation. Even if my kid is starving to death after just eating dinner, my reply is usually, “I am sorry to hear that.” Mainly because I am sorry to hear that (“And why didn’t you eat all of your dinner?” but that is usually said in my head) and I’m also bit dismayed as I offer the plate of uneaten food, but it’s better than an argument. Other times, kids (or adults) just want to be heard or validated, and by saying “I hear you and I’m sorry that happened,” can go a long way in many cases.

2) “That was my fault.” (Or, even, “Oops! My fault!”) Why is it that people have such a hard time assuming fault? This one goes hand-in-hand with “I’m sorry,” such as “That was my fault; I’m sorry.” It’s not going to kill your ego and it is truly okay to admit self-blame. You’re still a good person, and not perfect (because who wants to hang out with the person who never makes a mistake?). Once you admit fault, the pressure is often faultrelieved. This applies to situations with your kids or in a meeting, just assume the blame if it truly is your fault, remedy the problem, and move on. I’ve been in multiple situations lately where the same person doesn’t ever accept fault or blame, but instead turns it around and puts it on someone else. That not only makes everyone upset (and infuriates me), it also reveals that this person cannot be trusted because who knows who will be wrongly blamed next? It could be you; it could be me.  It also seems to say that this person never does anything wrong, and how is that possible? We’re human, we make mistakes, own up to it, learn, and keep going. It’s that simple.

3) “Thank you.” This very easy two-word acknowledgment can go miles in someone’s life. Just saying “thank you” makes people feel like the effort they put into something was worth it. Expressing gratitude can be applied to adults or children. They all appreciate it because no matter who it is, thank-youpeople like to be recognized for their work, and saying “thank you” (or even “thanks!”) is so easy. When my kids finally put their shoes away instead of kicking them off and leaving them on the floor, I say thank you. If someone goes out of his way and holds the door open, tells you that your gas cap is not screwed on, or whatever small token it might be, just say “thank you.” Express your gratitude for those big or small things and everyone wins.

So there you have it, three phrases that can make a world of difference; try them out (if you don’t use them already) and see the results for yourself. (And thanks for reading! :) )

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Fear, Kids, Parenting, Technology

My oldest is ten – a “tween” she has told me numerous times. I cringe at the word. There is something about it that bothers me, but what else do we call this enormous group of kids ages nine to twelve? (My mom used to call me a “pre-teen” and that would really bug me). Regardless of what my daughter is called, she is growing up in a time very different from mine in ways I never noticed until recently. Part of what helped me see this is the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. It’s about girls – from those starting puberty all the way to high school and what they face on a daily basis in their “girl world,” from the pressures to look and act certain ways to the cattiness to navigating the sometimes frightening on-line world. These issues aren’t limited to just girls, however, boys must deal with them too. Here are three that I noticed that both genders face:

1) Privacy or lack thereof – In today’s world of social media, YouTube, and other ways to post ontween-line, there is a price to pay for being able to see anyone you know on the Internet – our privacy. Our kids today have been born into a time in which pictures are constantly taken then uploaded for the world to see. In turn, they will do the same, and it’s not always the super cute pictures of them as babies with a sleeping kitten, they’re pictures that can be humiliating or shameful – pictures they wouldn’t want anyone seeing, and now almost anyone can. Wiseman points out, “When you were a teen, your most embarrassing and humiliating moments weren’t up for public discussion and entertainment….She’s living that moment in public. There’s no protection. There’s no privacy. This is her regular, ever-present reality. Your daughter is growing up with a different definition of what’s public and what’s private.”

Even if you block your child from any social media platforms (and right now we can because tweens are technically not old enough), that can’t stop others from posting images of your kid. You can do your best, but it probably won’t work 100% of the time. And children probably won’t want to be blocked from it either; they want to participate. They want to be part of the group, but in doing so they are giving up the right to having a private life. Right now I have three more years until I must deal with the onslaught of social media and raising a girl – phew!

2) Media definitions of the “right” image. This idea isn’t new. Ever since ads of any kind could be viewed (from early newspapers to full color magazines), we are told what looks good and right. For quite some time it’s been blond, blue-eyed, skinny, and tan – that’s the definition of female beauty that has been touted (think Barbie). For boys/men: tall, muscular, tan, and naked of body hair. Now take whatever the prevailing image is and multiply it by 1,000 because our kids don’t just see these images on television or magazines, they see it in on-line ads, on YouTube videos, even games. Then they try to replicate it or feel bad about themselves because they just don’t physically fit the bill (who does?!), and as they get older their appearance matters more and more.

3) Ads and more ads. We’ve all seen countless commercials from childhood to adulthood. How many times did you see a commerciadigital makeupl when you were a kid and need that toy (I’m thinking Barbie again or He-Man in my brother’s case). This isn’t new either. But kids who play on-line, get free apps, or just use mom’s phone while in line at the grocery store, see double that, usually for other games (my eight-year-old son thinks he wants every game he sees advertised in other games). According to APA.org, “advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year to reach the youth market and that children view more than 40,000 commercials each year.” Think about all those opportunities for “I gotta have that,” “I need that,” “I’m not good enough or cool enough unless I get that.”  It’s overwhelming! Again, if your tween is going to be a “normal” kid (and yes, he or she probably really wants to be) then an on-line world is inevitable – thus, so are the ads.

So what can we do about this new  digital landscape that feels like a place to prey on our kids?

1) Accept it and try to manage it. You don’t have to like it, but know that this is our current world and it won’t be changing any time soon. (Otherwise, you’re spending too much energy fighting something that cannot be changed, and that’s exhausting.) Unless you plan to live in the mountains of Tibet, facing the digital world is inevitable, so accept that it is a part of all of our lives, regardless of age.

2) Try to teach your child to be empathetic, to show him or her what it feels like to put up embarrassing photos, and to be resilient if it happens to them (let time pass and the hype will die down). According to Wiseman, that also means not posting pictures of your kids that they might interpret as embarrassing, even if everyone else would think they’re cute.

3) Teach them to be accepting of his or her looks and body regardless of whether it fits the “norm” or not (and that often starts with parents liking their own body image).

4) Help them to see what they have, so they don’t think they need every product or game that is advertised over and over again.

Unfortunately, none of the above is easy! But I keep trying and I’ll be sure to share any tips I learn along the way.  Just because the world our kids live in is different from ours doesn’t mean it’s all bad or terrible; it’s just that, different.

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Fear, Kids, Parenting

Lockdown drills aren’t really new, unfortunately. Students have been doing them for a few years now, but what kids havelementary-schoole to know and what to do in a shooter situation is becoming more real and more of a possibility.

As a person who grew up pre-Columbine, before anyone even thought or had any notion of shooting up a school or other places (besides the sniper at University of Texas before my time, which seemed like an anomaly), the practicing of drills to protect children from someone wanting to take out people in numbers seems unbelievable. How can that happen? I question. How does it happen? And then, my denial side says, It wouldn’t happen here.

And that’s the statement most of us use to block out the horrifying idea of such an event occurring at our kids’ school. That denial, and even naiveté (because we live in such a nice, safe, little community I like to believe) is unrealistic and possibly detrimental. We can’t live thinking that nothing bad will ever happen to our kids (at school or otherwise), but we also can dwell in the fear of bad things happening all the time. We brain-heart balanceneed a balance.

Unfortunately, right now that balance means teaching our kids to barricade the doors if there is a lockdown, hide out of sight, and practice these drills until they know it well so that, hopefully, no one gets hurt in a real situation. And yet the protective mother in me can’t help but tell my children when they ask, “what do we do if we’re walking from another room and the classroom door is locked?” “Get the hell out of there,” I say, “Run off the campus and keep running.”

They’re astounded by my use of a “curse word” (yes, they’re young), but I couldn’t help it. It was my gut response to try and keep them safe when I can’t. Because more than likely, if anything were to happen, I probably wouldn’t be there. Most of wouldn’t. And that’s probably the hardest part. We’re reliant on our own children and the school’s staff to perform what they learned correctly, under stress with the rush of adrenaline,  and hopefully escape the fire (in this case, gunfire). So all we can do is teach them the best we can, have hope that such a terrible event never happens to them in their lifetimes, and have faith that we will get through whatever might happen (or not happen). Oh, and just breathe.

Some third graders’ responses to doing a lockdown:
“It’s scary.”
“What if that really happens here?”
“I don’t want to do a lockdown!”

“I take thirty seconds to use the bathroom so I know I’m safe!”

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Kids, Parenting, Self-awareness

From Part One: Bringing Home Baby

“I think society really does not let the world know how hard it is to be a mom. We are all supposed to act like it is this wonderful thing all the time … I don’t think moms want people to know if they are not enjoying being a mom, because how dare you even think it? The truth is that it is a hard job, and society does not show that.” -Nancy

I read the populaRodgers6r pregnancy books before I gave birth to my daughter. My husband and I took the classes on delivery (which I found scary instead of comforting). I went to the breastfeeding class. I talked to mothers with both young and older children. Few, if any, of these sources could prepare me for the life transformation that a baby actually brings. What was more frustrating was that no one warned me that this was a complete life change. Having babies and entering motherhood is so commonplace in our society that few people stop to think about how our lives are transformed by a baby. One reason for this might be that the women who have experienced motherhood, like grandmothers or mothers with grown children, quickly forget what it was like that first year. In the time span of your child’s life there is so much that will happen, from his first steps across the living room floor to his stride across the stage at high school graduation, it is easy to forget what that first year was like. There are also those moms who blend into motherhood so easily that it appears they do not have the same experiences or feelings that many of us do. I am confident in my belief that these mothers are part of a very small minority, and even they have difficult times coping with the responsibilities of motherhood sometimes. There are some of us, too, who do not want to admit or accept this permanent change that happens in our lives. I wanted to have a baby, but I was afraid of the idea at the same time, and I did not want to believe that a baby would change me, my husband, or our marriage. My thoughts were: What if this is not what I expect? What will happen? I cannot go back…right?

For the majority of us, experiencing motherhood and a new baby is both amazing and shocking. Here is a human life that you and your partner made. She spent nearly ten months inside of you growing and developing, and here she is in your arms. The process of life is breathtaking and miraculous. It does not matter that humans and animals have been doing this for millions of years; when you are the one who has actively participated in the process, it is astounding. For the first few months of my daughter’s life I marveled at the idea. I simply could not believe that 1) we created this baby who is here with us now, and 2) that she really came out of me! Right in front of me was a real baby who had swelled in my belly with her heart beating, her body moving around and showing up on the ultrasound. While I was pregnant I understood that she was there, but could not quite grasp it. Then, once she was out in the world, a tangible live human being, I was astonished. The change seemed to be instantaneous: one minute you are pregnant and the next you are a mom. I did not know what to make of it.

But, as we all soon learn with our babies’ cries of hunger or discontent, they are here and they mean business. Feed me, rock me, change me, hold me…wait, I don’t know what I want! my daughter seemed to say. And quite honestly, I had no idea what she wanted either. I felt like I was thrown into a play already in progress. I did not know my lines or where I supposed to stand on-stage. I did not even know what character I was playing. But everyone else did. I was “the new mom.” And I felt like I was going to receive some bad reviews for my performance. I struggled to keep up with the needs of my new baby during the first few weeks. Was she hungry? Did she have a dirty diaper? Was she hot or cold? Did she need to be swaddled or maybe have her blankets loosened? Sometimes none of the answers applied. Sometimes it was just walking outside and seeing something new that calmed her down (or worked her back up into tears). There were no consistent answers, and I had a very hard time accepting that.

“I felt overwhelmed by the gravity of it [having a new baby]. I had never been in a role before that was a never-ending, twenty-four hours a day, and that was entirely mine, even with my husband’s support. I still feel there’s never a real sense of utter relaxation, I mean in the way there was before I had another life to protect.” -Kelley

I attended college and worked in an industry where there was almost always a right or a wrong way to do things. In school it is fairly straightforward: you perform the tasks asked of you and receive a grade for your effort. At work it is similar, you show up, do the duties of your job description, and receive a paycheck. It all makes sense. A new baby is quite different. We try to interpret what this little life needs when he may not know himsbaby2elf. The adjustment of just coming into the world must be overwhelming for a baby. He is nestled in a confined, warm, dark place listening to the steady sound of a heartbeat and other bodily noises. Then, probably without warning, muscles around him contract and he is pushed out into the world of bright lights, loud sounds, and a place that makes his body feel cold. Just learning what these new sensations are must be exhausting. (There is a reason we have no memory of our births, afterall; it is probably too traumatic for us.) So we care for him. We hold him, we love him, we offer him a breast or bottle, we try to make him as comfortable as possible in this new and strange world. But in the end, we really do not know what is going through his new and functioning mind. We do our best, but it might not be right. And if it isn’t, then we often hear about it, very loudly. It is extremely frustrating to make blind guesses and not know whether it is the correct answer. Yes, the crying may stop, but does that mean the problem is fixed? Maybe, temporarily, this time. Grasping this understanding that the right solution doesn’t always exist was extremely hard for me to take. Why can’t I plug in the correct number and get a solid answer? Because, I realized after many months, this little being is human and she possesses the complexities that all of us have: emotions, feelings, needs, and wants. And she is just now learning what all of these things are, and who exactly I am, that person who holds her, feeds her, and tries to console her. Sometimes she might have been crying to release all those emotions that she did not understand. In the end, I felt just as confused as she probably did.

A therapist I know describes becoming a mother as a “growth process.” We, as new mothers, are growing and changing almost as fast as our babies are as we accept this new role in our lives. The more we resist this change, the harder it becomes. It might seem unbelievable that you and your spouse were released from the hospital in charge of a brand-new baby, but you were. You are now parents. As we left the hospital, I sat in the backseat with our new daughter (yes, the paranoid new mom in the backseat) while my husband drove. It was a warm day for late October and the sun seemed especially bright. As we drove away, I cried. And cried, and cried. I blamed it on an influx of hormones and exhaustion. My husband looked nervously in the rearview mirror, “Uh…are you okay?” he asked. I assured him that I was fine, but the tears needed to come out. I suppose it was just a release after a very long labor, and the actual realization that this baby was coming home with us, ready or not. Our lives had changed.

“I was so worn out [after labor] I wasn’t thinking much beyond ‘get me out of this bed.’ Then curiosity about the baby set in, followed closely by terror. I had never been around little kids before, let alone infants, and now I was responsible for this little thing?!” -Leisel

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Kids, Parenting, Self-awareness

Recently, my husband discovered that he will move-up to the next level in his engineering firm. It is a big promotion and one that is not offered to everyone. He deserves it. He works hard and is a careful engineer. I am happy for him as he is not always acknowledged in his job.

Although I truly am happy for him and his success, I can’t help but think of the lack of awards for mom and dads who don’t work in typical industries. There are no promotions for parents. No one comes up to me after a difficult phase and says, “You did a great job handling the incessant whining and constant tantrums for the last two months, you get a promotion and a raise!” or, “You limited your child’s screen time everyday despite the battle it causes, congratulations! Here is a certificate of appreciation and a free pizza.”

If anything, most of us are grading our own performances and we don’t think it stacks up to “CEO of Parenting.” Who makes it to that stage anyway? Maybe once your kids are grown and lead somewhat respectable lives? That is a long time to wait to find out about your job performance.

So what can we do?

1) Accept that this unique and important job does not come with the traditional accolades or acknowledgements of a job well domother-childne. If your children are relatively content in their lives, even with the frequent complaints about life in general, assume that your parenting is up to par. All kids, all people, typically want something they don’t have, so if you child’s biggest complaint is that he wants his own tablet and doesn’t want to share with his brother, then you’re doing fine.

2) Look within to judge your performance, but be truly honest. The reality is that sometimes we could all do a better job with anything: your mechanic could have cleaned up the grease splatters after working on your car, the sales clerk could have gone and checked to see if she had your size instead of giving a flat-out no, high-ranking officials get no forgiveness no matter what they do. Sometimes we could have done better, but just try to do your best on any given day. And be careful not to get caught up in the trap of perfectionism. Perfection in parenting does not exist. Children and their parents are too unique and everyone needs something different. One day your daughter would have been soothed by some encouraging words and a hug, the next time she wants her space and shuts her bedroom door instead. We cannot know; we can only go with what we think is the right thing to do in the moment, and not condemn ourselves if it was not the best choice.

3) If you really want feedback, ask others. It is beneficial occasionally to ask other people, “Do you think I did okay there?” “Are there any other ways I could have handled that situation?” That can pertain to parenting your children or dealing with an unhelpful representative from the phone company. Be sure that you truly want feedback, however, and not validation for the wrong you felt you received. And ask people who would really think about the situation and give helpful feedback, not someone who is quick to point out what you did wrong, or quick to placate you.

I think we can all agree that parenting is not an easy job, especially if we want to do it well and have children who are ideally kind, respectful, and interested kids (I deliberately left out “happy” there because happy is a subjective feeling that comes and goes – in my opinion. If we wanted to keep our kids happy, we would hand them a bag of candy and an iPad, in most cases).

Most of us just do our best, try to be good examples, and attempt to understand the world from their limited child’s view (which can be a freeing way to look at the world sometimes!).  As far as our own performance review, we must accept that this job does not come with them, and possibly stop looking for them. That is difficult for me, as I said, watching my husband excel while I try to think up more interesting lunch possibilities, but I know deep down that I am doing the best job that I can.

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Kids, Money, Parenting

If I asked people to complete this sentence: It all comes down to _____________. What do you think the answer would be? That M word is my guess because it seems like most of life often comes down to money, doesn’t it? Well, I suppose money and time, and lately as I get older, I’ve noticed it is also who you know…and that is all pretty depressing. This has been at the forefront of my mind more than usual because recently, two activities that my children participate in probably will not exist due to, you guessed it, money!  This post is not a plea for those dollars or to try and get support for my causes, it is just my ongoing observation that life, in the U.S. and most of the world, is dependent upon that bottom dollar. People do all sorts of things for money that they most likely wouldn’t under  a different way of life – they work countless hours, they sell their bodies or others, they scam or mark-up products in unfair ways, they lie, all for this thing – money.

And what does money get us in the end? Well, in the case of my kids’ cut programs they would get sports and enrichment, but for others, what is it about money that everyone wants to accumulate? More stuff I suppose: the better car, the nicer house, the extravagant vacation, the latest phone, or the coolest grill (and I’m not above wanting some of those things; personally, I would like a boat). And then what? We get those things, we’re momentarily happy with them, then inevitably, there is something else out there that we need or want. Most people (again, in the U.S.) have reached a level of comfort where they don’t worry about finding food or basic healthcare, most of us are in positions that allow us to live comfortably, without the concerns about tuberculosis or a high infant mortality rate. Wdollar sign - Copye’re lucky and fortunate; and yet, we still want more. And when we get more, well then, we usually still want more. Not often do we see people willing to “give more;” instead it’s to “get more.”

“Pharma Bro” is a recent example of accumulating more for the sake of having more, or maybe for him it’s having the most. Martin Shkreli was in the news because he was convicted of securities fraud. He lied to investors in order to make-up funds, supposedly, for a bad bet he made. This is wrong and unjust, obviously. What he is most known for, however, is becoming CEO of a pharmaceutical company and jacking up the price of a drug (often used for HIV patients) from mere dollars per pill to $750 per pill, without any good reason that anyone can tell except for one – to make money, lots of it. And what does he do with this money? Does he feel more important and successful because he has it? Probably, because many interpret money to equal success; and unfortunately, the more you have, the more power you hold. And now the guy will be spending that money, if not his time, digging himself out of this hole he created, and he seems to do it with little remorse.

What does that mean for middle class kids who can’t continue in a sport or learn the instrument they want to play? Who knows, maybe nothing. But if we weren’t always trying to “come up with the money” to pay for all of these programs, or needing and wanting the latest possession, would things be different? Would future generations grow up to have less stressful  lives, those in which they didn’t have to constantly worry about how to pay for things or how to retire comfortably (even when it’s fifty years away)?

My guess would be yes, but there is no easy way out of the system we have created, supposedly in which we are all equal (monetarily or otherwise). I’ll let you know how it’s going after my family and I move to a tribal society and try to trade plastic trinkets for food and, of course, the biggest hut on the block.

Welcome home.
Welcome home.
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Kids, Parenting

boys2Last month I was a chaperone for my daughter’s fourth grade field trip to the Coloma Outdoor Discovery School. It is a three day, two night trip to Coloma where the students get to see what it was like to live during the Gold Rush and to learn about area, the native people, and the rich history there. Since I didn’t live in California during elementary school and missed out on the fourth grade requirement of the state’s history, I enjoyed learning all about it. However, part of my job as chaperone meant that I had to keep kids in line so I learned all about 1849 while my one roaming eye watched over the students (the same multitasking as motherhood).

In my group during the day there were three chaperones, the naturalist (who was the teacher and leader of the group), and about sixteen kids; so the ratio was pretty small between adults and kids. Overall, the students behaved well, but in any situation where nine and ten-year-olds have to pay attention when they could be throwing rocks in the river, means there was some goofing off, some talking, and sometimes just general rudeness (usually unintentional). They’re fourth graders, I would remind myself constantly as I broke up a giggle-fest over dog poop in the state park, or stopping kids from a Twister game in the grinding holes made by Native Americans hundreds of years ago.

Even with these interruptions, both the boys and girls did okay. They were just kids being kids, plain and simple. Since I have a fourth grade girl and know their familiar MO of talking, giggling, shrieking, and sometimes ridiculous drama, I found it interesting to observe the fourth grade boys in their “natural environment”of being around in each other in an outdoor class setting. Here are some things I noticed about fourth grade boys:

1) They’re physically affectionate. There were lots of hugs, arms around shoulders, and pats on the back. It was nice to see boys expressing themselves physically without worrying about what others might think. I don’t know when males stop doing this because of fears that they might be perceived as gay (which is the reason that they stop I’m guessing?), but in fourth grade, they still feel okay giving a friend a big hug, or a boy walking up and putting his hands on another’s shoulders. This physical attention was only reserved for other boys, however, the girls didn’t receive it from the boys or vice versa. I’m guessing that lots of teasing and embarrassment would result if such a monumental thing happened.

2) Boys must move. They can’t help it. They wiggle around, fidget, or get up and walk around to go mess with a stick (or any other object in their vicinity). Like their kindergarten counterparts, they cannot sit still. By fourth grade, they can pay attention a little longer and stay in a seat without falling out of it, but their need to move has not changed. If I had not witnessed this in my son and his friends, currently in their first grade class, I would have been impatient with their constant movement. I would have complained, “why can’t they sit still?!” but I already knew, they just can’t. They’re boys and they have the uncontrollable need to be in motion, that’s all.

3) They want acceptance from each other. Who doesn’t? Especially in elementary school when kids are figuring out this whole social hierarchy thing (that exists whether we like it or not). The boys I saw were either fast friends with each other or outside of the circle, wanting to get in (the exceptions were a few on the fringe, not caring). I watched a couple boys seeking acceptance so badly from other boys in the group. They tried

Boys being bandits or bandits being boys? We don't know.
Boys being bandits or bandits being boys? We don’t know.

to be like the more popular boys, or attempted to get their attention. They would make jokes for the boys or offer some trinket they found; they just wanted to belong. And, unfortunately, it did not happen often. The clique of boys (yes, I realized that cliques aren’t just for girls) were not willing to let the other boys in, which only made those boys try harder, to no avail. We’ve all made the effort to try and be part of a group as kids, or as adults, and not succeed. I felt bad for them, but I couldn’t change their minds. They perceived the other boys as the “cool kids,” even if it was untrue, and they were determined to be part of that.

In the end, they were all good guys, even those who were obnoxious or did annoying things (like constantly walking in puddles). Over three days I witnessed a group of kids, boys and girls, who were still young enough to be innocent, open, and true. They haven’t closed up yet due to the hurts of adolescence or the pain of teenage years. They were just themselves, in all their splendor, as they approach the onset of puberty and the awkward years start. For some of them, this has already begun, which led me to my fourth observation of fourth grade boys – most of them stink. Really, truly, smell bad, and it was especially evident after a 5.6 mile hike. But the beauty of them is that they don’t really know yet, nor do they care. And that’s why we love them. Carry on, fourth grade boys, carry on.

 

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Fear, Parenting, Self-awareness

Being comfortable with being clueless, or feeling okay about being completely ignorant in a given situation, is not a skill that many of us can do well, but I wish I could. Being in the space of learning something new, having the expectation to perform (fairly) well, while admitting that I really don’t know what I’m doing, is extremely difficult for me, as it is for many of us. We all want to “know” everything right now, eliminating the possibility of looking stupid. That, of course, is not always possible.

Last summer, for example, I took on the job of “computer person” for my kids’ swim team. This role entailed learning the software that the team uses to manage the swimmers and to run the meets. That, in itself, did not seem too difficult. Usually, I can pick up on new programs fairly quickly. But, as I soon discovered, there was a lot more involved than just figuring out software. I had to be at every home meet and  get everything ready to start the meet, including changes made by coaches,  fixing any issues with the program then printing them and other needed forms to run the meet. People waiting on me, and me alone, to get this meet going – now. Then, during the course of the meet, I was in charge of making sure times got entered and results printed. If there was a question about an event, it fell on me. It was a lot of pressure and I felt a lot of anxiety starting out.  I put myself in a position in which I did not know what was going on or what I supposed to do about it. My kids swam on the team last year, but my biggest contribution was running the snack bar. I had no clue about what happens “behind the scenes” at a meet, and how it all ends up with the meet results on a nice piece of paper for everyone. I was definitely clueless, signing up for the job, and in executing it.

As adults many of us do not put ourselves in brand new situations. We might get a new job or go back to school or travel to new places, but there is some element of familiarity in it. Most likely, we get a new job doing the same thing we did at our old job, we take classes but we have gone through school before, we might visit a new place on the globe but more than likely we have a ticket to go home. Few of us sign up for a sport that we have never played, learn a brand new instrument,  take on a completely new career that we have no experience in, or pick up and move permanently across the world to an unknown place. We do not often have the experience of being completely clueless and out of our comfort zone. We’re grown-ups and we don’t have to do that anymore.

And yet, being completely clueless in my new role as “swim team computer person” and not enjoying the feeling, I realized how often we ask our kids to do just that – jump in without knowing a thing.  “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” we usually say to them. “That’s okay, no one else knows what they’re doing either, just get out there and have fun,” we might encourage. My daughter signed up for basketball last winter for the first time. She was eight and never even attempted dribbling or shooting baskets (she was too short to reach the basket except on a fluke shot), but she showed real interest so I signed her up. Before her first game, she was very nervous. She claimed that she didn’t know how to play or what she was doing. I tried to tell her that it was okay to feel nervous because it was her first game, and that she should try to “observe” the game more than play in it. “If the ball comes to you, just pass it to your teammate. No one is expecting you to know everything during your first game.”

It was hard for her, but she did it. The opposing team ended up being a couple years older and a grade higher than her team; they were also well practiced. My daughter’s team got clobbered (to the point where they stopped keeping score

Getting lucky with the fluke shot.
Getting lucky with the fluke shot.

on the other team because it was so high). Players and parents were stunned and bit disappointed that they were so outmatched, but at least my daughter was in the same boat as her teammates, taking the defeat together.  Seeing her get out there and try, in front of many parents and other kids, was a realization for me. It is hard to put yourself out there, not knowing what you’re doing, and not wanting to screw it all up. She got out there, though, and I was proud of her for trying – with my view from the sidelines. Obviously, that was not something that I personally wanted to do. And yet, that following summer, I did. I walked into a job being completely clueless. Was I comfortable with that? No. But did I do it anyway? Yes.

I did catch on to the intricacies of the “computer person” job by the end of the swim season, and I wasn’t too bad at it. It taught me that, even as an old person (in my kids’ eyes), I can learn new things and use my brain. I didn’t do everything perfectly, but I figured out why I screwed up each time that I did. Now, since it is over, I am grateful for the experience, and I have a new respect for my children getting out there and doing new things. As adults we all should get out of our comfort zones and be clueless sometimes, despite feeling uncomfortable.

Now that I have put the responsibility on everyone else, I’ll go back and watch my kids do it for awhile.  :)

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Parenting, Self-awareness

As I added dishes to the dishwasher the other day, I was annoyed. I am one of those people who will rearrange the dishes in the dishwasher to make them all fit right. Anal, yes. On the bottom level plates should be put at the front and bowls at the back. It’s the only way to get them to fit in there without overlapping or wasting dishwasherspace. I know some people who will literally have about five dishes in their dishwasher and run it. Supposedly, it is so the dishes won’t touch because they might chip. It is such a waste a water. So I guess I must compensate for that by having every inch of space used in mine.

My husband does not think about the intricacies of dishwasher loading, and he always starts by putting the plates in the back. If there are just a couple, I’ll move them; if there are too many, I just leave them and be annoyed as I try to fit the rest of the dishes in.  My husband would tell me that he doesn’t have time to think about how to load the dishwasher in the most efficient way. He is probably right. He works full-time and commutes; I don’t. His job involves dealing with clients, solving problems, and engineering. Mine involves loading the dishwasher, folding the clothes (I’m still trying to discover a way to do that faster), and vacuuming. My job is also making lunches for kids and trying to keep them healthy, breaking up the argument over who gets the mail, and listening as my son tells me that his fellow kindergartner friend didn’t want to sit next to him at lunch, again.

My job as a mother and running the household is important. I try to do it well.  I try to raise my children to be kind and respectful, and to have them think about what they do and how it affects others. I also try to let them have fun because they will only be kids for a short time. I attempt to keep a relatively clean and orderly house (and it’s certainly not perfect) because I know what it is like to live in a disorganized mess, and the underlying feelings of insecurity  and chaos it causes. And yet, I still don’t feel like my job is as important as my husband’s, or most people of the working world.  I still question what I am doing and if it’s worth it. And as I load the dishwasher trying to make the dishes all fit together nicely, I feel unworthy.

I know, I know, this is a feeling and message that I am creating. It comes from within. No one is directly telling me (except for the dishwasher) that I am less than my husband, my father-in-law (also an engineer), my dad with high salary  healthcare career, or my doctor brother. I am telling myself: I am not as important as someone who has a paying career. My job of raising my children is not as worthy as theirs. Writing it makes me see how ridiculous the statement is – of course, this is an important job. If I want to be present for my children and help them to grow into kind, compassionate, and respectful adults then I think I need to be a part of that process.

This is not a dig towards anyone who works full-time and must have their kids go to daycare, definitely not. There are plenty of kids who are in that situation and have a better outlook than kids who don’t go to daycare. Some stay-at-home parents are less available to their kids than full-time working ones. But for me, I am making the choice to “stay-at-home” and there are consequences to that decision, just like there would be if I chose to go out and  work full-time. One of them is that I must face the fact that I don’t get raises or promotions, I don’t get accolades or performance reviews, I must examine my own job and determine if I need to improve in some areas, and I always think I do. And this is where stay-at-home moms (or dads) must build themselves up, disregard societal views towards those of us who “get to stay home all day and do nothing,” and realize that our jobs are important and we are contributing something more to the world than just doing the laundry or dusting the shelves (that you could write your name on due to the 1/4″ layer of dust, oh that’s just my house). So, dishwasher, I am going to shut you now, compliment you by saying that you’re doing a very good job, and tell you to stop talking and get back to work.

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