A Lesson in Losing

Yesterday I stood by and watched as my kids were kicked and punched.

It was their first karate tournament and they were sparring. They’d practiced for months and today was the real deal. There were trophies to be won; there was pride at stake. Both kids thought they were each pretty good. Neither was nervous. My daughter calmly informed me she was “pumped up.” They weren’t cocky, just self-confident, assured that they knew what to do in the ring, no matter the belt, size or gender of their opponent.

This was also my first rodeo as a karate mom. Actually, it was my first time as a mom at any form of competitive kid’s sport. My kids might not have been nervous but I was, unsure of how to build them up, but not too much. Worried about their fragile egos. Hopeful they might win. Scared they might lose.

All around us were other parents, some new to this gig, some old-timers. There were those who quietly directed their kids, up close, looking them in the eye, reminding them of their lessons. There were those who were chill about the whole thing. And there were many vocally coaching their kids from the sidelines.

“Use your crescent kick!”

“Let him come to you.”

“Go on the attack!”

That wasn’t me. In truth, I wasn’t sure what to do. I tried to catch my kids eyes before they went on, giving them a small thumbs up of encouragement. Mostly, I watched mutely from the sides, mildly terrified, unprepared for this role and the psychology it would demand.

I don’t think it ever crossed their minds that they might not win. But let me tell you, receiving a “participation” trophy is a phony substitute. One kid took home two of those suckers. The other took one. They regarded these trophies with disdain, evidence of their not being good enough. There were tears of frustration and disappointment. Then to our surprise – and even his – my son took third place in his last match. His face lit up, and he fairly grew an inch with pride and delight. As if his earlier assurance had been warranted. His smile said “See, I can do this.”

At almost 8 years-old, my daughter had the hardest time repelling that ineffective phrase “It’s the taking part that counts.”

I wanted to win. But I lost,” she sobbed.

I wanted to provide all the justification in the world, encourage her to use this moment to look around and observe what it takes to win. To remind her that, with effort and practice, those trophies could soon be hers too. I feared she’d want to throw in the towel, abandon her karate altogether. Instead, I decided the best thing to do was to just hold her and let her absorb it all.

Because letting them fail is something we have to do, as parents. It’s a bitch of a lesson but it’s a healthy one.

The best part? She shook it off pretty quick and her happy spirits returned. And her brother, fortunately, didn’t gloat over his win.

I’m sure they’ve filed yesterday’s experience away. I’m hoping the next time they “suit up” for karate, it’ll be maybe with a little less confidence but a whole lot more determination and respect.

As for me, I’m also going to need to thicken up my game-day skin if we are all going to come out of these tournaments unscathed. It’s been a solid lesson in losing for me too.

These 11 Things I Believe

  1. I believe in the magical powers of cheese.
  2. I believe a good night’s sleep trumps getting up early to exercise. But I also begrudgingly believe that one helps the other.
  3. I believe we all should listen more and assume less.
  4. I believe that bagpipes are the devil’s instrument. Much like country music.
  5. I believe in silliness.
  6. I passionately believe that every gun-related death is preventable and that more can and must be done to reduce gun violence. I believe Congress must pass the latest proposed bill on background checks.
  7. I believe that colors, flowers and Stevie Wonder can positively change your mood.
  8. I believe my son could be a future Conan O’Brien and my daughter may well become a tattooed drummer in an all-girl punk rock band — and that’s cool with me. I think.
  9. I believe in optimism and dancing; both are good for the soul.
  10. I believe I alone am responsible for my destiny and my happiness. (Cheese helps.)
  11. I believe Olivia Pope and I are BFFs. She just hasn’t realized it yet.

Can You Train Kids to be Focused?

Your focus needs more focus” is a quote from the Karate Kids that we cite over and over and over to our kids. And over.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about focus issues in our family. My son, he’s a happy, joyous kid. He wants to be the life and soul of every situation: the goofball in the classroom. He’s confident, he’s kind, he’s funny. He also often speaks out of turn. His enthusiasm and assertiveness can come across as bossy and opinionated. He is also very easily distracted. Doodling, making origami, side conversations. Distraction management is a constant challenge. Bottom line: my son has the attention span of a newt. He’s never been “diagnosed” per se but all the signs are there. Put this all together and what do you get: a poor report card from school.

I was discussing this today with his pediatrician, someone who understands my son and always been an advocate for his effusiveness and character. He’s also someone who’s not quick to medicate to “cure” attention issues, something I value as I’m not convinced drugs are the complete answer.

So, as is the norm, G was goofing around during his annual checkup today and I asked him to quit it. My son turned to the doctor and asked: “Is this a serious conversation.” Dr McKenzie replied in the affirmative and G sat up straight, “Oh, in that case, I’ll pay attention.”

We picked up on this topic a few minutes later after some other questions about his diet, health and some prodding, and what Dr McKenzie said next really hit the mark.

“What you said before,” he explained to my son, “really showed me that you are mature enough to make a choice to be focused.”

We discussed how G is old enough to understand the situations in which he needs to be focused (in class, at karate, getting ready for school) and be aware of the triggers that draw his attention away (squirrel!)

“It’s not going to be easy, but the first step is first to make the choice to be focused when it matters most. Then you need to recognize the moment when you become distracted and become mindful of that feeling. Then remember your choice to be focused,” he continued.

This discussion was a game-changer for me. But more than that, it really resonated with my son. The fact that he was told that he is now mature enough to take charge of his own attention challenges. That the doctor believed he could do it, if he really wanted to.

We often talk with our kids about how happiness is a choice. We frequently address the topic of the right “time and place” for certain behaviors.

Now, we are adding “intentional focus” to this list.

16 Acceptable Snow Day Behaviors for the Working Parent

I may or may not have done – or be currently doing – all or some of the items below. Let’s get real:

  1. No bra, no makeup. Often no clothes. (But note: clothing is recommended when going outside to shovel)
  2. Lifted all restrictions on the kids’ screen and TV time
  3. Shaken your fist in rage at Mother Nature
  4. Threatened children with cookies/toys/violence should they utter a word during your conference calls or break their bones while jumping up and down on a creaky bed upstairs and directly over your work area
  5. Mandatory slippers
  6. Excessive Facebooking and Twittering
  7. Realized you’ve been sitting at your desk for 4 hours straight, jumped up (creakily) to do squats and a plank. Then sat back down for another 4 hours straight
  8. All day snacking (no meals)
  9. Worn headphones to drown out sounds of the children talking/fighting/playing/asking for lunch
  10. Banished kids outside in sub-freezing temperatures armed with shovels and snowballs
  11. Amateur homeschooling efforts
  12. Nervously and obsessively tracking weather.com to see when the snow will come to an end
  13. Pining for your colleagues’ faces
  14. Taking conference calls from your bathroom while hiding from children
  15. Jumping every time you get a text or a call for fear it’s the school announcing that tomorrow is another snow day (nooooooooooooo!)
  16. Lacing your hot cocoa while chanting repeatedly “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere”

Good luck fellow parents; may the force be with you.

My Blog in 2014: By the Numbers

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thank You, Taylor Swift, for the Parenting Advice

I’m a big Taylor fan and not just for her toons. Mostly because “Shake It Off” has become the most awesomest parenting tool.

Her popular song has helped me reinforce some key messages with my kids. Stuff parents have said throughout the ages – but somehow now, with the Taylor seal of approval, now the kids are listening.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” still rings true but telling a kid to “shake it off” when other kids say mean stuff seems to resonate more.

And yes, accidents happen, but if you can “shake it off”, child, then we can all learn and move on.

And so on.

I put Taylor’s words of wisdom to work recently with my daughter. We were selecting boxes of Valentine’s cards for her classmates. Now my kid’s a tomboy (and I love it) and in the past, she’s rushed to pick out Transformers or Star Wars-themed cards. But this year, she hesitated and instead, picked out a Hello Kitty box. Because, she claimed that her classmates don’t think it’s cool that she “likes boy stuff.”

Well, this made me mad. And so it begins, the peer pressure that makes kids feel they have to fit in rather than stand out. I get it, I really do. At their age, non-conformance is abhorrent. But I want my kids to be true to themselves and their passions. To stand up for their beliefs, have conviction. Even if that belief is that Transformers are cool. (They are.)

But how to instill in them that it’s OK to follow their hearts and be different? The kid and I had a serious chat. With tears welling in her eyes, she explained that she was embarrassed when the other girls told her it wasn’t cool to like boy’s stuff.

I looked her in the eye and asked, what would Taylor Swift do?

Shake it off, she responded, knowingly, her head held a little higher.

Thank you, Taylor.

 

Introducing the Birds and the Bees

This all happened much sooner than I had anticipated. I thought I’d have at least one more year, till my oldest would be in fifth grade. But over the past few months, my kids – independent of one another – started asking questions. My son had read stuff about DNA in one of his science books and was curious (“Look it’s so cool, the woman’s DNA is in an egg and it mixes with a man’s DNA which is in sperms.”) My daughter had overheard discussions about young teenagers becoming mothers (“Mama, can girls have babies?”) and also wanted the nitty-gritty details about how dogs breed (“But how do they mix the two dog breeds? I mean how?”) I’d done a fairly good job up until this point deflecting their questions or giving them just enough information to be satisfied with the answer but not enough to spark further curiosity.

But based on the frequency of their questions, it felt like the time had come to reveal all.

My kids are now armed with new knowledge and vocabulary. To all my parent friends, my kids’ teachers, their classmates and classmates’ parents, I apologize should you hear words – like scrotum – uttered by my otherwise sweet seven year-old. For some reason, she has latched on to the word scrotum. Go figure.

It’s not that I was trying to keep any of this a secret. It’s just once you breach this milestone, there’s no turning back. Not that it’s a bad thing to equip them with this information. But while you are filling in the gory details about how babies are made and how they come out, you may as well open the kimono on Santa, the tooth fairy and all that. Suddenly, all that is magical evaporates replaced with science and biology. Where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, I decided to buy books. I ordered two different books and read them cover to cover before handing them over to the kids, ever so casual. “Hey, you’ve been wondering so here’s something to read, and papa and I can answer any questions you might have.” No biggie, right? (“JUST DON’T DO THIS UNTIL YOU ARE AT LEAST 30, my brain screamed.”)

For the seven year-old, I selected the book It’s Not The Stork. All the basics are there, presented in very accessible cartoon format. She dug right in and has enjoyed it as much as reading her Magic Tree House or Pokemon books. No questions asked.

For the ten year-old, I bought It’s Perfectly Normal. To say it’s comprehensive is an understatement. The book covers a lot of territory, much of which makes little sense right now to him (sexting, gender identity, birth control … etc.) What I appreciated most about this book was how everything was presented in the context of acceptance, love and respect.

When I first gave him the book, he was mortified. he sat on the floor, head in his hands and said “I can’t believe you gave me a book about sex: it’s so inappropriate!” So I explained he could treat it like a reference book, dip into it every now and then whenever he had questions. I told him it wouldn’t all make sense now and that was OK. Needless to say, he has actually read it cover to cover. Also no questions have been asked though we have made it very clear that if and when he wants to talk, we are here.

Whether or not I’ve handled this right, I have no clue. It’s part and parcel of the whole operating without a handbook thing. And we are only at the beginning of this journey.

Still, there have been several hysterical moments. My daughter apparently lectured her grandparents over breakfast one morning about the two different ways babies are born. I’m not sure if they were horrified or amused. She also recently used the phrase “pretend he just sucked his testicles in” while her Hero Factory/Chima Lego creatures were play-battling in the back seat of the car. I almost drove off the road. She was also overheard explaining to her best friend about how a girl’s private parts are inside, while a boy’s hang out. Which, I guess, is correct. Not sure how that came up in their conversation.

And then there was the evening when I was telling the kids about how on that very night, 14 years earlier, their papa and I had met on our first date. I thought it was going to be a sweet conversation about falling in love and romance and all that.

However my son looked at me with a knowing look on his face: “Oh, I’ve read all about dates,” he said, eyeing me suspiciously. “And love. And penises.”

Ah well. This should be fun.

My 2015 Word of the Year is: Energy

Or Slow Down.

Or Be More Selfish.

Or Seek Inspiration.

There are lots of words and phrases I’ve been playing around with to describe my intentions for 2015. They all come back to one thing. 2014 was, for me, just meh. I ended the year depleted and uninspired. 2014 presented a series of annoying obstacles, none too huge to be insurmountable, but combined they were like the unrelenting buzz of a mosquito. A car crash, bouts of either insomnia or leg cramps (or both), a frozen shoulder: all physical manifestations methinks of an unsettled soul that’s spent too much of herself racing along at an unsustainable pace, trying to keep everyone happy, holding together the fragile deck of cards that is the balancing act of being a working mother.

It wasn’t all blah: 2014 was punctuated by many moments of joy and gratitude – amazing family vacations, a night out dancing, attending BlogHer – and more. In these, I can see the germs of what makes me happy and the foundations for what I need to focus on in 2015 to get my groove back.

Because when you look forward to going to sleep more than waking up, you know something has to change.

So this year, you are going to see a more selfish me. I intend to end the year more inspired, with more twinkles in my eyes. Ultimately, with more to give to others because I’ve given more to me. To thrive, as Arianna Huffington put it. I’m not entirely sure how this will happen but I can feel its roots planting and I’ve got butterflies in my tummy with anticipation. Here are a few of the ingredients that I think will contributed to a more energized me:

More walks: Either we’ll get a new dog this year  or I’ll borrow one. Being outside, breathing in fresh air, talking while walking. It’s all good.

More socializing: Last year I’d rather be home with my hot water bottle than go out in the evening. Accepting lunch invitations was too much of an intrusion on my work load. How dull. Expect to see me out and about more in 2015. Coffee dates, lunch, drinks, dinner – count me in.

More dancing: Maybe I’ll find a weekend dance workshop. Maybe I’ll take lessons. Or maybe I’ll spend more nights out salsa dancing with the girls. Put simply, I gotta dance.

More time with my husband: We’ve grabbed a night away once or twice in past years but I’m talking more than that. Ideally a week away, together, so we can stop talking schedules and to-dos and finances and work and kids, and resume the conversations that connected us in the first place.

More adventure: I don’t know what this will involve but I plan to be more open to adventure rather than dismissing it as my default setting.

More fighting for a cause: Expect to see my participation in the fight for gun sense taken to new levels.

So there you have it. I have always told my kids that they are responsible for their own happiness – so I’m taking a dose of my own medicine. Check back here this time next year to see how I did.

For Your 10th Birthday, 10 Ways That You Amaze Me

Dear son, today you turn 10. And while every birthday is worth celebrating, this one is particularly poignant.

For ten whole years, I’ve held you, fed you, hugged you, entertained you, laughed with you, cleaned you and cleaned up after you, answered your questions, dried your tears, high fived your achievements. I’ve spent hours fretting, researching, discussing, wondering about how you’re progressing socially, cognitively, biologically, emotionally, academically.

I’m often telling you to quieten down, slow down, clean up, hurry up. I may nag, I may yell, I may sigh with frustration. I discipline and punish. I lay down tough rules. And yes, I make you empty the dishwasher, pick up your stinky socks, turn off your device, do your homework, eat your vegetables, flush the toilet, and play nicely with your sister.

Because this is all part of the contract I made with my heart when I became a parent. Its design, other than to protect my sanity, is to show you the path to becoming a good person. Because I consider that job number one.

But mostly, throughout this past decade, I’ve admired you. You, Gabriel, amaze and inspire me, and here’s why:

  1. You are high on life. You are always 100% in the moment (even if that moment only last 60 seconds before you are on to the next moment!) You grab each day with gusto and joy, extract from it as much delight as you possibly can. May your lust for life and joy always be with you and rub off on the people around you, so they can light up the room, like you do.
  2. You are creative. Your inquisitive and imaginative mind, sharp, curious eye and lithe fingers compel you to express yourself through detailed sketches, funny doodles, paintings, sculptures and, oh so many, fantastic origamis. There’s no doubt you have an innate talent. I hope you continue to explore and challenge your art because when everything is grey and dull, your creativity will bring color and energy.
  3. You are a book worm, a reading ninja. You surround yourself with all kinds of books from Captain Underpants to National Geographic. Almost every evening, as I tiptoe into your room to kiss you goodnight, I have to first peel from your cheeks the pages of the book you were reading as you fell asleep. Please don’t ever stop reading. It will feed your brain, your imagination and your sense of adventure.
  4. You are sensitive. Grandma always said you have an “old soul.” This past year you’ve dealt with some tough stuff – your beloved dog died and you were in a frightening car crash. You cried, you hurt. You were scared. But you worked through it all with more maturity that I ever imagined a nine year-old could. I’m sorry that sad and scary stuff happens. I wish I could protect you from it all but it’s part and parcel of life and I’m proud that you are sensitive and brave enough to show your emotions. Because it’s always OK to feel all your feelings. Except the cold. Please put on a coat when it’s cold.
  5. You love animals and nature. You cried when we had some trees removed because you were worried the birds would lose their homes. If there’s a moth or spider in the house, I want to crush them, but you insist on saving and releasing them outside. You want to pet every dog you meet. Maybe you were a golden retriever in another life. It would explain a lot!
  6. You make friends with ease. You are so personable and easy to know. With kids and adults alike, you interact with confidence. I hope to continue to pick – and be – the best friend. Because we need friends, in good times and bad.
  7. You are generous (you get this from your father.) Just last week, you spontaneously made an origami for the waitress at a restaurant. This past weekend you told me you’d saved enough money to buy your sister a Christmas gift. Generosity is so important; it keeps you ever mindful of the needs of others. But remember, generosity is not just about things: it’s about being generous with your time, your attention, your skills. And it demands no reciprocity. It just is.
  8. You are funny. I always say you’ll be the next Conan O’Brien. Your teachers think you are hoot. But please remember there’s a time and a place for your hi-jinx!
  9. You have an amazing metabolism. The sheer volume of food you can consume in a sitting is crazy yet your body remains lithe and lean. You enjoy being active and understand what comprises a balanced diet – even if you have the wickedest sweet tooth. Just keep everything in moderation and keep moving.
  10. You love your family. Grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles and especially your cousins (especially Emma!) You are always so sad when it’s time to leave them. Remember family is everything: your roots, your anchor.

I can’t believe how time has flown and I’m so excited for the next ten years. OK that’s not entirely true. I’m terrified of the puberty years. Of hormones. Of teenage temptations. Of you learning to drive! But I’m also confident that you have the building blocks to show you the way.

Happy birthday Gabriel, I love you.

And don’t forget to wear a coat when it’s cold please.

And turn off your bedroom light.

And no, you can’t have a third slice of birthday cake.

Gabriel

 

 

 

Because Fall

Because colors and sparkling sunlight
Because carpets of crackling leaves
Because the russet smell of the first fires
Because pumpkin spices and shades of port
Because fall makes me breathlessly happy to be alive

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