Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

I’m a New Dad – Again!

Josh Craig, project coordinator for the 4C for Children Family Child Care Language and Literacy Project, recently became a new father – again! – and will be joining the Blink — and They’re Grown blogging team in 2014.

I recently became a dad… again! I can’t believe with all that my family has endured over the past 18 months that the day has finally arrived. My family has grown not just by one but by leaps and bounds.

Photo courtesy of Mike Styer.

Photo courtesy of Mike Styer.

Ours is a story not unlike many. We’ve experienced the grueling pain of a miscarriage, sought the expertise of a fertility specialist, found out we were pregnant again (yay! and OMG!), worked around the clock fix up and sell our house, moved out of that house and into four different homes with my very pregnant wife before settling down, and finally welcomed our daughter into the world. This journey has been heartbreaking, sorrowful, challenging, jubilant, exciting and strengthening.

I know it may sound like first world tragedy kind of stuff, but all of it has culminated in this lovely addition to my family and I can’t help but appreciate every moment with her. Some say that newborns don’t do a whole lot but eat, sleep and, you know, poop, but when I look at my Sweet Pea I see her gears turning, synapses firing and know she’s sharing with me a loving, bonding moment.

Just last week I was busy making peanut butter pumpkin cookies with my son, we’ll call him Schmee. While he washed some bowls and spoons and I briskly creamed butter and sugar, I heard that tiny whimper and awful “Kack!” that Sweet Pea makes when she needs something. I scooped her up and looked her in the eye and she just seemed to say, “You’re not Mama, but you’ll do nicely.”

Not wanting to interrupt the cookie making process, I went back to the dough, adding peanut butter and pumpkin with one hand while holding Sweet Pea in the other. I started singing something about, “This is the way we mix the dough, mix the dough,” with Schmee chiming in with his operatic, “All day long! Yum, yum, yum!” With the bowl skipping all over and me juggling her, Sweet Pea closed her eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep.

Schmee and I finished making the cookies, and all the while I held my little Sweet Pea. Moments like this make me so happy and proud to be a father.

The cookies didn’t disappoint, either.

Roots and Wings

“If I could give you just two things, one would be roots, the other, wings.”

It seems like just yesterday my children were babies, toddlers and preschoolers who needed me to comfort them and be their playmate. But now they’re young adults, teenagers, and I’m sad because it feels like they’re outgrowing me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that they’re independent and confident, that they feel loved and accepted,  but if I could go back in time, I would cherish each minute I spent cuddling, bathing, reading books and spending more individual time with each of them.

Children grow up in a flash.  Cherish them!

I wish I had cuddled with Jared more at bedtime when he had asked me to, that I had played  checkers with Jansen more and read more to Gabrielle. But when I put my kids to bed at night all I wanted to do was unwind. I wish I would’ve slowed down with them, just took a breath and allowed myself to be still in the moment when they were snuggled on my lap and not so caught up in my own personal stressors. My hope is, in spite of my regrets, that my children have felt nurtured , loved and cherished.

Gabrielle, who turns 22 in May, will be leaving high school in May, too. My husband and I are currently searching for adult day programs for her. It seems like just yesterday she wanted nothing more than to sit in my lap and read books, but now she wants to go all the time, be out with her friends, live her own life.

Her brothers are just as busy as she is. Jared, once a pudgy, wide-eyed curious little boy is now a caring young man ready to embark on adulthood. He’s headed to college next fall, and at the start of this year’s football season a video of he and his teammates as toddlers growing into young men made me realize I’ll never see him in this element again. I won’t connect with the other families whose sons have been playing football, soccer and baseball with him all throughout school.

And Jansen, my youngest at 13, has his first “girlfriend.” They’ve gone on dates to the movies or bowling. No longer am I the only woman in his life.

Although my children have outgrown me as mom the chauffeur and cook, being their mother now means new, different-but-good things. Our relationship has changed, but our feelings for each other haven’t. My prayer is I have given each of my children a strong foundation, that they have strong roots and broad wings to support them in being the best human beings they can be and to make a positive difference in this world.


We All Need Somebody to Lean On

In second grade, my daughter became friends with a class mate, and since her mother and I are actively involved at the school, over the last few years, she and I have formed a friendship of our own. At first this friendship revolved around the girls’ school events and  play dates, but when we began to trade after school pick ups so I could work late when my husband couldn’t keep the children or she needed some single mommy time, our relationship evolved into one of mutual support.

This evolution has come as a two-fold pleasant surprise to me. Because I am remarried and have a blended family of eight, I was concerned that I wouldn’t have room in my life to act as a support to a single parent. I feared she’d be so needy that I would be drained trying to help her. And though I was still willing to try, because she is single and has considerably fewer resources, I worried that I’d be doing a lot more giving than taking. I’m not proud to admit that, but I’m being honest. So I was not only surprised but relieved to learn that instead of being drained, I’m filled by the relationship and my friend is one who gives as good as she gets!

You’d think having been a single mom myself, I of all people would have known that no matter the circumstances, most parents have a level of resiliency. It comes with the job. But the hard work of parenting, and it is hard work, can deplete or replenish that supply. My friend is one who has allowed her parenting challenges to do the latter. Her divorce and her daughter’s recent autism diagnosis have only served to increase her resilience. Often, when she calls on me for encouragement, I’m the one who comes away feeling like I can parent another day. With every blow she’s dealt, she increases her resilience by leaning on her faith, her family and her friends.

And there I was thinking just because I have a good husband, a good education and a good job, I had more to offer her than the other way around. The truth is, despite my educational background and my professional training on the protective factors that contribute to parental resiliency, which include having a strong network of support, I often try to do it all on my own and fall so short, whereas my friend lacks all the things I have but is in possession of a lot more good sense than I. She’s not only learned how to build her own resilience, she’s teaching me to do the same.

My friend is not too proud to ask for help and she’s humble enough to admit when she’s failed. She relies on her faith, family and friends, and I’m honored to be counted among the latter.

Great Expectations

I generally think of myself as a fairly enlightened mother. I try not to compare my highly exceptional daughter (!) to other children and not worry about her meeting other children’s milestones, either. At least I did until she started kindergarten.

Worrying about our children's performance in school is normal. But how can we maintain realistic expectations?

Amazingly enough, my kindergarten daughter has homework each night. She brings home a folder on Mondays with her homework for the week and she turns it back in on Fridays. The following week parents receive the previous week’s homework back to review. And that’s where the trouble started. Each assignment receives a grade; a check plus (Completed without errors), a check (Completed with errors) or a check minus (Complete, Needs Work in this area). Naturally, I assumed my daughter would receive all check plus’ on her work. Imagine my horror when I found only a check on one of her assignments. I frantically began searching for the error on the page but I couldn’t find one. I immediately began doubting my child’s teacher. Crazy thoughts began swirling in my head, things like; maybe she just didn’t like my daughter, maybe her expectations are too high. How long has she been a teacher, anyway?

And then, I found it. There was the error staring back at me. The assignment was to color all the circles on the page and Maddy had either forgotten or missed coloring one of the circles. I took a deep breath, and then began laughing at myself. Had I really just gone into panic mode over my daughter receiving a check instead of a check plus on her second week of kindergarten? This was silly. Maddy and I would both be in for a very long, painful academic experience if I was already overreacting to the grades she was receiving.

It seems these days there is a societal pressure on our children to excel and excel early. There is also a very natural, human desire to want to your child to be the best at whatever they are doing. I am doing my best to balance those things against the reality that no one is exceptional at everything.  Undoubtedly, Maddy will receive her fair share of check only marks over the course of her school career. And that is okay.

Life Unplugged

While we often talk about how much technology has sped up our already fast-paced lives, I believe technology has become a barrier to us experiencing life. As we walk along the beach, our heads are often down as we peer into the screen of an iPhone. When we update our Facebook statuses, we’re missing the waves crashing on the shore. At concerts we are so busy holding our iPads above our heads to capture a video that we actually aren’t listening to the band we came to hear.

And so I have consciously made the choice to live a semi-unplugged existence. I intentionally make phone calls to connect with others. To catch up with friends I make dinner plans. I use Facebook to view pictures and stay connected with out of town relatives but only post about once a week – if that. I use email at work but rarely for my personal communications. I use my iPhone as a camera to capture important moments. My goal is simple: I want to use technology to make my life easier, but I don’t want technology to take over my life. And yet, as it often happens with things for me, even as I profess my beliefs I come face-to-face with a situation that causes me to question my strong convictions.

A few weeks ago I made a quick jaunt to Cleveland to watch my two nephews play football. As I was packing up to head back home, my youngest nephew voiced his disappointment that I was leaving prior to watching the Michigan vs. Notre Dame football game that was to air that evening. Laden with guilt about disappointing him, I almost changed plans and stayed put, but I couldn’t. So home I went. Later that evening when out with friends watching the game, I decided to text my nephew to get his opinion on a controversial call made by a referee. Much to my delight he responded quickly and voiced a similar opinion to my own. The bantering back and forth continued throughout the game. Cheering together on first downs and touchdowns and ranting together when our team fell short. In the end we celebrated with a text that contained the words of the Michigan fight song when our team was victorious. And I must admit, though I was clearly not 100 percent present in the moment with my friends who were watching the game with me, I was very present and connected with my nephew who was 250 miles away!

And what is even more exciting to me is that the connection continues. The very next day while watching the Bengals football game, he texted me again. And I was delighted! This has now become something do. When we can’t be together to watch the games, we will reach out and share a moment through text messages.

Does this mean I am rethinking my strong convictions about living semi-unplugged?  To outsiders it may look that way, but I am still going to work hard to make conscious choices about technology. Making these kinds of decisions are a challenge unique to the current generation of parents. We really need to think about the “life” choices we make, the behaviors we’re modeling for our children that will help them understand what is important. I will still contend that slowing down and being present in the moment is of greater value than living a fast-paced life where immediacy is highly valued. But this is just where I stand on technology – where do you stand?

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To spank or not to spank?

When I became pregnant with my first child, my son Joe I started to think about how I would parent. I knew there were some disciplining styles that were used by my mom that I vowed to never use with my own son. Of course, “yelling” and “spanking” were at the top of my list to never use in my home. My mom yelled frequently. When I was young I could not decide if she was always angry or if she just spoke loudly. My mom did not spank me very often. However, when I was spanked I can remember very clearly how it made me feel and it was not good.

It's normal to fall back on the discipline methods that our parents used, but taking a more mindful approach is better for everyone.

As a result, I tried very hard not to use yelling or spanking as a form of discipline when my son misbehaved. I must confess on a very stressful day my son had misbehaved and I decided to spank him. At the time he was almost seven years old. It was his first spanking and his last.

Immediately after spanking my son I felt really bad about my choice. The next morning Joe and I were getting ready for work and school. He approached me with a calm yet confident tone of voice and said, “Momma, do you know that when you spanked me it only made me want to act worse and it did not make me want to act good.” I was speechless! I was shocked that my son had enough courage to tell me about his feelings. My attempt to use spanking in order to discipline my son for misbehaving failed tremendously.

Once I regained my composure I asked my son, “What should mommy do when you misbehave since spanking does not work?” He looked at me and said, “You know, momma, I like it better when you talk to me.” I explained to Joe why I decided to spank him instead of talking. However, right at that moment I made a promise to my son that I would never spank him again. Joe and I created a mutually agreed upon list of consequences that I could use if talking did not work when he misbehaved. He really felt that playing outside was really important and thought that I should take away his outside time if talking failed to help him behave appropriately.

Today Joe is almost ten years old. He is not a mischievous child but at times his behavior needs redirection. I have had major success with redirecting Joe’s behavior by utilizing the list of mutually agreed consequences we created about three years ago.

Parenting is not an easy job. On the job training is the only way to gain experience needed to make better parenting decisions. Before you defer to parenting styles that were used during your own childhood, I highly recommend that you take time to think about what worked and what didn’t work. Even though I knew early on that I did not want to spank my own children, I used the discipline method out of frustration. Take time to think before you act, utilize everything you know about your children, and include the actual child in making choices on how you parent. Keep in mind that your choice will have a tremendous impact on choices they make as a child and an adult.

Children with Special Needs Deserve Quality Care, too!

Finding and selecting child care is challenging enough. But when you have a child with a special need it presents an even greater challenge.

Children with special needs deserve quality child care, too!

When my daughter Gabrielle was growing up, I was afraid to leave her in any one else’s care. No one could do as good a job as I could! However, our family could not afford to live on one salary so there was no other choice but for me to work. I planned well in advance and started searching for a program near my corporate office. I found a nice enough place five minutes from where I worked. I didn’t know about 4C for Children then, so I didn’t know what questions to ask or anything about what a quality child care program looks like. My criteria were cost effectiveness, location, openings and a warm and loving provider.

When Gabrielle was diagnosed with a special need and we were referred to Early Intervention (EI), I was determined that her child care experience not be shaped by her disability or have others stifle her growth. Our goals for her early years were for her to grow and blossom into her abilities.

I discovered that EI services could be delivered within her child care, but when my husband and I met with the director of her program and a Child Advocate, I was shocked when our request to have the EI specialist come in was denied. It was obvious to me from my few times visiting the program that Gabrielle wasn’t getting any stimulation or floor and tummy time, she always had a blank look on her face and was stuck in a swing or a crib. Although the director may have had her reasons for refusing EI services, we couldn’t allow Gabrielle to remain there. I was afraid for her development and wanted to put her in a program where she could thrive.

So our search for child care began again. Would anyone want to care for my child? I knew the second time around that Gabrielle had special needs and I was cautious about sharing that information. But I also knew I couldn’t not share it. I learned quickly to advocate for my little girl. When we finally found a program we liked, we had several discussions with the director regarding Gabrielle’s needs and her strengths. We explained that her teachers would have access to an EI specialist and Speech, Physical and Occupational Therapists. Even though the teachers hadn’t had much experience working with children with special needs, they were willing to learn and ready to embrace my daughter. I knew this was the right place for her.

Once I knew Gabrielle had special needs, I also knew I wanted her to be successfully included with her typical peers and to participate to the fullest extent possible. We wanted to encourage her to be as independent as she could, and I’ve always shared this vision with the various child care programs she’s been in throughout her life. I want Gabrielle to be a kid, first and foremost, and not just a kid with special needs.