I’m Not Saying Goodbye

Last month I celebrated my four year anniversary at 4C for Children. From day one I’ve blogged for Blink – and They’re Grown. The bittersweet fact that I’m moving on to a new opportunity as a Step Up to Quality Licensing Specialist is made even moreso because it makes this my final blog. I’m so excited that my new position will allow me to continue to make a positive impact on education, children, and families, but I’m sure going to miss Blink – and They’re Grown.

When I started blogging, I was told to do so from my parenting place. That was a gift that freed me up to wear my vulnerable mommy heart on my sleeve. Through Blink I’ve chronicled my children’s early childhood years and have captured memories that may have escaped me otherwise. Now I can look back on them and recall the exhilaration, fear, unbridled joy and gamut of other emotions that we all experience on our roller coaster parenting rides. Ups, downs, twists, bumps and all.

Each blog post I’ve written wove a visible thread through the fabric of our family’s story together. Birthdays, death and loss, coping with divorce and custody/parenting issues, navigating faith, family, friends, pets, extracurricular activities, medical hurdles, their schooling and mine. There were times when I didn’t think we’d ever get here but next month Levi finishes fourth grade as an honor roll student, Liv is a confident mix of brains and true beauty – inside and out – entering her last year of elementary school and I’ll graduate with a Masters in Leadership and Coaching. The Three Musketeers have come a long way! When Liv and Levi really are grown, I hope they’ll read my posts and understand how blessed I felt to be their mommy and the love my hands poured into every word and piece of the tapestry.

I hope you’ve felt it, too. And I hope you have found or will find a way to preserve your children’s stories, through blogging, journaling, scrapbooking or even on your Facebook timeline. My great aunt Birdie once referred to my writing as “setting it down.” She only had an eighth grade education but she was wise and understood the importance of keeping some type of record because not only do we blink and they’re grown, but they’re gone .

Even though I’ll have a lot on my plate transitioning to my new job, I plan to practice what I preach. Prior to writing for Blink I blogged on a regular basis, and I’m committed to reviving that in order to continue setting it down. So while this is a bittersweet blog post, it isn’t a goodbye but an I’ll be seeing you.

Report Cards for Parents?

Have you ever thought to ask your child to grade you as a mom or dad?

I learned about this phenomenon recently, but wasn’t sure I wanted to ask my children how I was performing as a mom. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. What parent would want to be that vulnerable?

But then I thought about it some more.  As an employee, I am evaluated by my supervisor. It is always helpful to hear from others what my strengths are, and also where there is room for improvement.  What was I afraid of discovering about myself as a mom?

So, holding my breath and gulping with courage, I asked my boys to evaluate my performance as a mom. I explained to them that I wanted to improve my parenting skills, and that I wanted them to be completely honest and that there would be no repercussions.  I also asked them if we could talk about my grades later.

I thought they would not want to do it but they gladly accepted the challenge.

Based on the results of my “report card,” I discovered that my kids really are watching me.  I got good grades in a few areas: my kids felt safe and protected, I offered healthy food choices and I was interested in their dreams.

Of course, there was need for improvement, too. They want me to lead by example, spend quality time with each of them individually, reward them for doing chores and to stop texting and driving.

Jansen and I had a great talk after I got my report card, and we’re making some changes. But while my older son Jared eagerly graded me, he was unwilling to talk about it afterwards. His reasoning was that it was too late as he is an adult now and it doesn’t matter. As a mom that hurt a bit, but it’s because in a way I know it’s true. I wish I could wind the clock back for Jared to when he was little again and do things differently.  I know that of all my children, I failed giving enough time and attention to him.  He wasn’t deprived but he was the middle child, sandwiched between two siblings.

But I can’t change the past. I can only try to do better now. Jansen agreed to evaluate me again in three months, and I’ll be curious to see if I can bring my grade up.

I Don’t Know How They Do It

“I don’t know how they do it.”

I often hear this phrase when the conversation turns to my previous employment as a preschool teacher, or even just talking about early childhood educators in general. The assumption is that having many children in a single space is more difficult than having just one or two.

It seems like it should be true. We hear stories of how teachers in grade school must conduct class in a certain and often strict manner. Surely teachers in preschool must use some sort of control mechanism to maintain the calm and functional bliss that is demanded by their circumstances?

 

Baloney! I recently had a group of children and families over for a celebration at my house. We had around 15 children, mostly between the ages of four and five and with a few toddlers in the mix. It was chaos for sure – there is no other way to put it. But, I felt like it was controlled without having to be authoritative. No one had to put the kibosh on anyone’s play. No one got hurt. There may have been a moment of crying or two but situations were resolved peacefully.

It wasn’t until the end of the night when the comment came.

“I don’t know how their teachers do it all day, every day.”

While I didn’t respond, what I wanted to say was, “How do you do it?”

We have to be fair to ourselves, give ourselves credit for the roller coasters, the fits and the fury that we as parents face on a daily basis. Before I had children I used to say that having them would be a piece of cake as I had a ton of knowledge and experience in the classroom. But when I had my first child that thought changed. Why? Because it’s different.

All of those skills I had for the classroom? Some of them apply and some just don’t because being in a classroom is different from being in your own home, with your own children. A child knows who their parents and/or primary caregivers are. They know there is a difference between them and their teachers. They also have the peer/social components of being in a classroom that affects their behavior. I don’t know many families that are composed of fifteen plus children all around the same age.

The environments and routines are different, too. My home is my home and toys go, well, anywhere and everywhere. In the classroom they go someplace specific. Routines are pretty consistent but in a completely different way than at school.

So, the next time I hear someone say, “I don’t know how they do it,” I’m going to say, “Yes, you do.”

Unless they don’t have a child in which case, “Have you ever herded cats? Well, it’s not really like that.”

The Lost Child

When you look around in a crowded public place and don’t immediately see your child, the panic starts to build. It’s slow at first. Maybe they’re hiding behind something or went into the bathroom. You scan the crowd. If you’ve got someone with you, you urge them to check the bathrooms while you keep searching. They were just there.

The panic gets stronger. You feel dizzy. Your child isn’t in the bathroom. They aren’t hiding nearby. Your heart starts pounding. The crowd is a blur. You run to the bathroom and crawl on the floor, checking the stalls. You yell your child’s name over and over, louder and louder, though you can barely hear it over the buzzing in your ears. They’re gone. Your child is lost.

For me, this was a scene played out two years ago at King’s Island and it was the scariest day of my life.

We were wrapping up a long, fun day riding roller coasters by making a stop at the bathroom before heading home. My mom, dad, sister, niece, nephew, daughter, youngest son and I stopped at the bathroom. My 6 year old son, Rilee, did not. He kept walking. It only took a second for him to get swept up in the crowd and who knows how long to notice the people he was walking next to were not his family.

A security guard found us because obviously I stood out in the crowd, running around and yelling in full blown panic mode. I showed her a picture of Rilee on my phone. She wrote down his description and called it out to the other security guards on her radio.

It was physically impossible for me to stand still. I had to find him. I walked and looked. It was getting dark when I finally saw him. He was walking with a security guard. He had been gone for twenty excruciating minutes.

After a lot of crying and hugging I asked Rilee and the security guard a bunch of questions.

Apparently my son had walked pretty far before he noticed he wasn’t with his family. Then he went into a food area at which point an adult asked him if he was lost and took him to an employee who then found a security guard. I have always told my children that if they can’t find me to ask a “worker” for help, meaning someone who works at the place where we are, someone behind the counter or in a uniform. I like to think my son went into the food area to ask for help but I’ll never know for sure. I was shocked at how so nonchalant Rilee was about the situation. He wasn’t scared at all. I don’t think he realized how serious it was.

But it is serious. To help your child know what to do if you become separated, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) recommends the following before you head out to a crowded place.

 AGES 3 TO 4

Tell your child that if he doesn’t see you he should sit right down on the ground and that you’ll come get him. Stress that he should never leave the area to go look for you, but he can call out “Mommy” or “Daddy,” which will let people know he’s lost.

AGES 5 TO 6

She should stay in one spot and keep an eye out for a “safe adult” — a woman with a child; a clerk in a uniform or behind a checkout counter; or a security guard or policeman. Your child should tell this adult that she’s lost, and give her full name.

AGES 7 AND UP

He should memorize the phone number of a close friend or relative so that he can ask a “safe adult” to call her for help.

For a long time after the incident at King’s Island, the “what if’s” invaded my thoughts. Now, I often make an effort to talk to my children about safety, though I hope I never have to live through another day like that again.

Well-being vs. Well-doing

This past week I was involved in a conversation that challenged me to think about the difference between children’s well-being versus their well-doing. Prior to this conversation I had not contemplated the concept of well-doing, yet this conversation gave me pause. Have I really been supporting children’s well-being, or have I spent most of my energy focused on their well-doing?

For me the concept of well-doing infers a focus on how “well” children act or behave. To raise well-doing children, I believe I need to teach children the skills they need to successfully navigate the world and reach their full potential: effective ways to express feelings, overcome challenges and build relationships. I have spent a lot of energy supporting children as they master the skills needed to do these things well.

But what can I do to nurture children’s well-being, to help them be happy, confident and resilient? First, I make sure their environment supports what is best for children. This means providing a safe and healthy environment that reinforces for children that they are secure, taken care of and valued. In my experience this is accomplished by my ability to attend to both the physical and emotional needs of children, which means that children are fed, clothed and safe AND their feelings and needs are validated.

In addition, I pay attention to children’s inner voices and how each child approaches the world. My own well-being is fed by my artistic approach to the world; the more creative and playful I am, the more confident and happier I feel.

Children have the same needs. My nephew Luke approaches the world with a competitive spirit. He sets goals for himself and actively pursues his success. His confidence and happiness soars when he reaches the summit. Yet my nephew Nate approaches the world with an exploring spirit. He wants to take in as much as he can and always wants to know what is next. His confidence and happiness soars when he finds the summit.

By paying attention to how they approach the world, I can make sure my nephews get messages from me that support their well-being. Luke benefits from reminders that his hard work has always paid off, that coming-up short is not the same as failing and that he has the skills he needs to be successful. Nate benefits from messages that reassure him that by exploring all his options he will find what works for him, that he is resilient and he can count on himself to make the right choices and succeed.

Well-being and well-doing aren’t at odds. It is not one versus the other, but how well we support our children in both “living” happy and “doing” well.

The R Word

How do you feel when you hear the word “retarded”? I am wondering if others have the same reaction that I do, because I cringe. As the mother of a child with unique needs, I am more sensitive about that word than some others might be. What people don’t realize is that, while it may be unintentional, they are negatively labeling individuals with developmental disabilities as stupid, which is hurtful and demeaning.

When I confront people about it, they said that they are using the term to mean “stupid” rather than representing those with intellectual disabilities. But I would like to think that if people were aware of how harmful using that word the way they do can be, they wouldn’t use it at all.

My first experience with someone using that word to describe my daughter was a behavioral pediatrician. The doctor asked me where I thought my daughter was developmentally. I said I wasn’t sure and it really didn’t matter to me. I didn’t want this information to change my opinion or expectations of Gabrielle. When the physician blurted out that my daughter was “retarded,” his delivery was brash, insensitive and cruel. I was shocked. Weren’t developmental disabilities his specialty? He should have been more compassionate and empathetic.

Needless to say, we never returned to see him.

At the doctor’s office, on the playground, in the movies, I repeatedly hear this word used in a hurtful way. But we can make a difference. Children and adults alike can advocate eliminating the “R” word from our vocabularies, and call out those who use it in front of us. By doing so, we are encouraging and building individuals up rather than tearing them down.

And if we’ve got to use an “R” word, how about “respect”? For everyone, no matter their abilities.

The New Kid

We moved this past summer, and while our new house is only one mile from our old house, that one seemingly insignificant mile was all it took to cause a major shift in my daughter’s world. Our new house was in a different school zone, which meant she would have to enter fourth grade as the new kid.

At her previous school her classmates not only knew her interests and quirks, they also celebrated them. If they were ever curious about the difference between a cheetah and a leopard they knew to ask the class-appointed animal expert, Avery. They knew when they saw her on the playground with her nose to the ground or running on all fours that she was pretending to be one of her favorite animals, a wolf. Many of them joined in and their favorite playground game was born: wolf hunter.

When we navigated the halls in search of her new classroom during open house, kids all around us giggled and embraced old friends and one question stuck in my mind: Would the kids in her new school make the same effort to get to know her?

Avery has always been slow to warm up. She is hesitant to engage others until she feels comfortable in her environment. She is friendly to everyone but she does not seek out relationships. In the past she has always been a magnet for the bubbly extroverts who have initiated friendships with her. But this was fourth grade; it’s a game changer. Fourth graders begin to show interest in conformity, labeling and their friendship preferences become more pronounced.

For a quiet kid like Avery, finding her place at this new school and in such a socially driven grade has been challenging.

About a month into school she told me she felt lonely and invisible. That kicked my mama bear instincts into full gear. I reached out to the teacher and school counselor. I facilitated friendships between Avery and her classmates. I volunteer in her class when I can.

Now that school is past the 100th day mark I’m relieved to say my kind and sensitive child is doing much better. Her school environment isn’t ideal – there’s definitely more to do for her teacher and for me – but it’s getting better and I am so proud of my timid, compassionate, brave daughter for how far she’s come.