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.

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.

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.

How I Measure the Passing of Time

The sheer volume of Cheerios that can be consumed in one sitting

They still hold my hand

How quickly his buzz cut goes from sharp to disheveled

Her diminishing fear of auto-flushing toilets

They want their privacy

Volume of homework

Discussions waver at any given moment between poop, Pokemon and deep questions about religion, life and death and right and wrong. Also tooting.

Kids portions at restaurants are now too small (for him)

She still wants to snuggle with me at bedtime

Their beautifully expanding minds and vocabulary – including awareness of curse words

The escalating pencil marks and dates on the kitchen wall

Chapter books and intense reading sessions

The tooth fairy visits more often

Their bed times and mine are getting closer and closer

They need me less and yet they need me more

Wanted: Distraction Management (For Kids and Parents)

This post had several working titles including “Mommy’s Sorry She Has To Go To Work,” and “Your Focus Needs More Focus.” Either way, there was some serious working Mom guilt combined with a heavy dose of standard parental frustration going on this week.

Weekday mornings require the usual routine for all parties, including basics like getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting assorted necessary items for the day in their designated places (lunch box, backpack, shoes, jackets…) My kids have been doing this all their lives, with varying degrees of support depending on their ages at the time. Currently, they are old enough to do it all for themselves. The drill has been practiced over and over and over.

And yet.

Pavlov’s dogs perform better than my kids.

Distractions are everywhere. And I’m not talking screens, as we don’t allow them in the morning. Physical distractions (oh look, it’s a Lego/book/cat/brother/sock — insert pretty much any given noun.) Mental distractions (staring into space). Emotional distractions (I’m so happy I’m going to skip around and around and around).

Because T eats her food molecule by molecule, a simple bagel can last a lifetime. (Pretty certain she would not survive in the wild.)

Because G cannot move three feet without finding a random Lego to build or a piece of paper from which to make his latest Origami creation.

Because T cannot brush her teeth without getting lost in the vacuum of her mind while staring at the mirror. If I don’t disrupt her, she could be rooted there for hours. (I’d love to know what she’s thinking, but even she doesn’t know.)

Because when I send G upstairs to turn off his bedroom light (for the third time), next thing you know, he has a nose in a book. (Not a bad thing, I know, but a distraction when the school bell will ring in less than five minutes. And school is more than five minutes away.)

You get the picture.

I suspect I am not alone in this quest to figure out how to handle the distraction management with grace and without completely losing my cool.

Which is what happened earlier this week, prompting lashings of working Mom guilt.

It wasn’t quite the standard morning. We actually needed to leave the house earlier than usual, as I had an appointment and, since my husband was away on business, my kids had to accompany me. We’d had the pep talk the night before. We agreed that we would cooperate, focus, get it done — even if it meant eschewing some playtime because our time was more compressed than on a “normal” morning. We even agreed that they could buy lunch at school instead of making their own lunches like they usually do — a rare “treat.”

And yet.

The morning was a complete clusterf**k. In retrospect, I should have seen this coming, prepared ahead logistically and steeled myself emotionally. But, reminder after reminder turned into nag after nag and eventually escalated into yell after yell. It culminated in us running anxiously to the car, all breathless and on the verge of tears. I promptly informed my kids that I was very disappointed in them. They had made me late.

Ugh.

The second the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. There was shameful, sad silence from the backseat. My beautiful, creative, high-spirited son hoarsely whispered, “We’re sorry we made you late again.” His sister, the whimsical one, tearfully echoed, “Yes Mama, we’re very sorry.”

I hate myself.

I’m the one who should be building them up, showing them how to roll with life’s challenges, how to “shake it off” or “let it go” (depending on whether you’re a Taylor Swift or Frozen fan). Instead, here I was squashing their spirits, trampling over their egos. I’m not setting a worthy example. Instead, I’m mandating that their innate need for creativity, free play and imagination be set aside to accomodate my timelines, my needs. I disgust myself.

And yet.

I have to get to work. So does my husband. As we move through our weekday frenzied mornings, our minds too are elsewhere — on deadlines, to-dos, on our smartphones and laptops. We, too, are distracted. Emails, texts, news feeds, tweets, calls. For me, as a working Mom, my actual work day starts the second I awake. This is my self-imposed tradeoff for the luxury of not physically getting into the office till 9.40 a.m. (since school drop-off is at 9 a.m..)

It’s all rush rush and we are all distracted. No surprise then that it’s a formula for stress and disappointment. Often, by the time I make it to my desk, I’m already exhausted.

And yet.

It’s not just the mornings; the evenings are similarly compressed and distracted. Shoes and jackets and backpacks are kicked off and discarded. Toys find their way to the dinner table. Unfinished homework needs finishing. Emails need answering (since I left the office at 5.20 p.m. to pick up the kids from their after-school program.) Dishes. Bath time, teeth brushing (cue shenanigans, bickering). Finally, bed and reading before they descend into the peace of slumber. More emails, unfinished work, deadlines to get a head start on. Fishing into their backpacks to discover a form that needs a signature, a party invitation. Who knows how long they might have been there.

My whole day — outside of time at the workplace — is spent trying to conquer all of these endless distractions and competing forces. How long can we continue this pace? I wonder. Is there an art to the distraction management that will make it all work better?

Because we could ALL use a little more zen.

(This article originally appeared on Huffington Post and on Medium)

 

Dear Apple & Facebook: Your Egg Freezing Perk is a Disgrace

Have you read that Apple and Facebook are now offering female employees a $20,ooo perk to freeze their eggs, so they can delay baby-making and make the most of their career paths without the distraction of raising children?

I find this abhorrent, for many reasons, which I’m trying to sort through. Here’s where my head is at:

I forge my own path. I decide when I have a family. I am responsible for my own career success. I may bitch about the challenges of being a working Mom but it’s my decision, my choice.

Motherhood is not a “perk.” It’s not a reward for going above and beyond at the office. It’s not an incentive. Egg freezing has no place as part of the “package.” Eggs are not a tool for negotiation.

Making the choice to have kids is an intensely personal decision. And getting pregnant isn’t always as easy as they say. And it gets riskier and more expensive the longer you put it off.

Dear Apple and Facebook, why not take that budget and use it to create more supporting work environments and schedules for working parents? How about a daycare facility at the workplace? Here’s an idea: how about subsidizing childcare, after-school programs or camp costs?

Now that is what I’d consider a perk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Mama, I Have No Underpants!”

I’m sure you’ll agree that this is not what you want to hear on an already-nutty school day morning. Yet, it happens with shocking regularity when, for some reason, yours truly hasn’t kept laundry-doing apace with children’s general daily dirtiness. Oy.

The answer they usually get from me is: “You’ll have to fish yesterday’s out of the hamper and turn them inside out.” Gross though it may be, it’s either that or free-breezing as there’s certainly not enough time on a week day to get a laundry cycle done before it’s time to take the little darlings to school.

This morning, a conversation with my 7 year-old revealed part of the problem.

Mama, this is my last pair of socks,” she pointed out while getting dressed.

Well then, what does that mean?” I inquired, hoping the she’d realize the obvious.

It means that there must be clean, folded clothes downstairs that need bringing upstairs.

Ah, there’s the problem.

My children believe that somehow the dirty laundry that they deposit into the hamper upstairs magically transports itself downstairs, into the washing machine and drier, and is then neatly folded by the laundry fairies.

Ah.

Today this changes. Today, starts the beginning of a new chapter in the Annals of My Children’s Laundry. Henceforth, the onus is on them to do the following:

  1. Pay attention to when they are running low on key clothing items. Low is the keyword here. This is surprisingly challenging for them.
  2. Bring the laundry hamper downstairs. Bonus points for no eye rolling or dramatic sighing. Or fighting over who does it.
  3. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Bonus points for actually adding detergent and switching it on (which I taught them today.)

If items 1-3 are performed dutifully, regularly and with the appropriate attitude, then there’s a strong chance that I may actually see the laundry through the conclusion, even folding their dry, clean clothes for them. (Because, ssshhhh, I secretly enjoy doing the laundry but don’t tell the little people.)

However, if items 1-3 are not performed, then it’ll be back to fishing yesterday’s smelly socks or skivvies out of the hamper.

A New Way for Parents to Problem-Solve: Are You a Rock, a Cotton Ball or a Rubber Band?

Guest post by Rebecca Bell

I recently attended a fascinating parenting seminar entitled, “You’re not the boss of me! Help your child be a flexible thinker (by being a flexible thinking parent).” The presenter was Donna Shea, who runs the Peter Pan Center in Ayer, which provides social, emotional and behavior coaching for children. She acknowledged that the following collaborative problem-solving framework came from Ross Greene’s book, “The Explosive Child” (a misleading title, in Donna’s opinion, because it implies you need a “problem kid” to benefit from these strategies, which is not the case.)

  • Plan A – adult (meltdown causing) – Rock
  • Plan B – Both (problem solving) – Rubber Band
  • Plan C – child (meltdown prevention) – Cotton ball

Plan A is to be used sparingly, mostly in matters pertaining to safety. Some things are non-negotiable. On these matters you are an unyielding rock. You do not debate these things with small children.

“No, you may not ride your bike without a helmet.”

“You must hold my hand in the parking lot.”

When you really need to use plan A, be firm but not angry – try not to yell. We lose ~30 IQ points when we’re angry, so the goal is to avoid full on screaming meltdown mode. You do not have to attend every argument you are invited to. Pick your battles, but then don’t negotiate. If your kid continues to pester, you can reply, “You already asked and I already answered.” Use Plan A in moderation, but be firm when you do.

One of the big revelations I had during the evening was when the presenter said, “Remember, if your child is complaining but still complying, you won – tune it out.” I know I have a tendency to keep cajoling when my kids are whining while completing a task, because I would rather have them perform it willingly and happily. But sometimes I simply need to settle for begrudging compliance and stop talking!

Plan C involves saying “Yes” to your child whenever you can, when the answer is of little consequence and you can truly not be resentful of the outcome. This may take work on your part!

“Yes, you may wear the tutu and the green striped leggings to the grocery store.”

“Yes, you can spend your allowance on another stuffed animal.”

Saying “Yes’ to kids is fun – do it whenever you can, instead of your default response being, “No.” It can be easy for me to get in a rut of assuming that everything my kids want is unreasonable, when in fact that is not the case.

Plan B involves 3 key steps:

1) Verbally express empathy for your child’s perspective. Repeat/reflect their words back to them.

2) State the position from your perspective. It’s important that this comes second, after you’ve expressed empathy. If you do step 2 first, you’re on Plan A. I know my natural inclination is to assert my parental authority first, and I need to work on being empathetic to my child’s perspective before stating my own piece.

3) Invite your child to a problem-solving party. This can take place immediately if you have time, or at a later time when the problem is not currently happening and everyone is calmer.

Don’t waste time in a prolonged yelling match when you could be using that time to teach negotiation, flexibility and compromise. Recognize that skill teaching is hard work, messy and time-consuming. But once it becomes second nature, it will get quicker and easier. Be a problem-solving detective and look for solutions that make everyone reasonably happy.

Finally, don’t compare your strategies to other parents. The real question is not, “Is this right or wrong?” but, “Is this working for us?” If it’s not, then it might be time to change something.

Useful links:

http://peterpancenter.com/

http://www.amazon.com/The-Explosive-Child-Understanding-Chronically/dp/0061906190#

 

Rebecca is a world traveler, a singer, a Scrabble addict, and a mom to two children. She’s a Brit who now lives outside Boston, MA.

Rebecca Bell

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