The Conversation I Didn’t Want to Have

(Note: This post originally ran on Sunday on the Huffington Post. The good news is that, despite the tough and sad topic, my son and I ended up having a wonderful conversation about kindness and respect.)

As I sit here, my 8-year-old son is consuming his fifth waffle and watching some inane Sunday morning cartoon. His life is carefree, focused, as kids often are, on entertainment, fulfilling his needs, and fun, fun, fun.

But, at some point today, I have to sit him down and have a conversation I don’t want to have to have. One that will bring back memories of another conversation we had to have just over four months ago. One that upset him then and which will upset him now. One to which, when he asks why, we will not have the answers.

I guess this is parenting. I guess this is real life. It stinks.

Yesterday, we received notification from our kids’ school principal that they plan to hold Open Circles in class on Monday so the children can share any questions, concerns or feelings they have about this past week’s sadness and madness here in Boston.

First, let me say that I fully support the mission of the Open Circle program, which is described as:

  • Strengthening students’ [SEL] skills related to recognizing and managing emotions, developing care and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively
  • Fostering safe, caring and highly-engaging classroom and school communities

Flash back four months to the days following the ghastly events in Newtown. School somberly informed us they’d be holding Open Circles in each class. I understand why it was necessary: many were distraught and we needed to provide a forum in which facts could be confirmed, mistruths corrected and, most of all, security and safety assured. But my husband and I, we struggled all weekend with the timing, feeling like ours hands were forced into having a discussion with children before school resumed, so that they could hear it from us first: the two people they depend on most for wellbeing, confidence, faith. I, for one, was not willing or ready for the responsibility of penetrating their carefree universe with the ugly reality that bad things happen to good people, without cause or sense. I needed more time to process, find the right words, consult with other parents. But the clock was ticking, the weekend hours running out before the Monday morning school bell and the wagging tongues of many kids.

To read the full post on Huffington Post, click here.

Six!

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You’ve always been your own person, jiving to your own beat.

You grab every day with enthusiasm.

You burp like a beer-swilling trucker.

Optimus Prime is still your main man. Followed by Bruno Mars.

You still move at the pace of a snoozing snail.

You live by the rules. Except when you wrestle with your brother.

You love pop music. As long as it’s “rocky.”

When you are angry, you are fierce. (You go girl!)

You still consume your food molecule by molecule.

Your almond eyes and deep red lips surprise me every day (I made such beauty?)

You can laugh at yourself. When you laugh, your voice disappears. It’s very cute.

No juice please, only milk.

Dresses & skirts be gone (but at least you let me braid your hair.)

You want to be a vet when you grow up.

You’ve partially overcome your dislike of spherically shaped foods. Meaning you now eat peas and corn, and you’ll suck on a grape. But blueberries, baby tomatoes? Nope.

You want to be either Captain America or The Hulk for Halloween.

No sauce please, on anything.

You are planning on forming a band. You will be playing bass.

You love to snuggle, you love bedtime, you love to sleep.

You go from tears to giggles at shocking speed.

I can still double bluff you.

You are my superhero.

Happy birthday, T – welcome to six!

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A Small Favo(u)r To Ask

I have submitted my post He Slips His Hand Into Mine for consideration for BlogHer’s Voices of the Year.

This post wasn’t one of my normal tongue-in-cheek Mommy cry-for-help posts or one of my random observations about domesticity and family life. It wasn’t even my usual style of writing. But it quite literally poured out of me until I stood back from it and thought “wow.” And, according to the feedback I’ve received, it hit a note with parents by capturing a tiny slice of time in the parent/child relationship that passes so quickly. I know I’ll be looking back at this post when my son is older to hopefully re-discover the beauty and importance of that moment.

In any case, if you too enjoyed this post, then would you mind taking less than a minute to vote for it by going to this link and clicking vote – http://bher.co/HMZ

(FYI: You  need to log-in to vote – if you’d rather not give your email address, you can easily log-in with your social creds. They do it to ward off spammers. But, if that’s a pain or you’d rather not, don’t worry.)

Thanks from the bottom of my heart.

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Guest Post: Hosting The First Sleepover

by Paul Taylor

Although we try to keep our children as young as possible, they seem to have a mind of their own and desire to grow up faster than we’d like them to. As soon as he or she begins making friends at school, you child will undoubtedly start making plans for sleepovers. As a parent, there are many aspects of this innocent activity that you need to consider. Your child’s first sleepover will be the beginning of many and you should keep your wits about you during this social activity.

1. Your Behavior – You child isn’t the only one who needs to be on his or her best behavior. As an adult, we do and say a lot of things around the home that we can get away with. Why? Because we are adults and we can. However, you don’t want to scare away your child’s friend. Every parent has their own way of raising their children. What works in your home may not be ideal for another person’s child. Watch your behavior for it may put your child in an awkward position with his or her friend.

2. Meals – Find out from the friend’s parents which foods are ideal. You don’t want to inadvertently give them something they are allergic to. You don’t want to continue the sleepover in the emergency room. Make the child feel welcome in your home and provide his or her favorite dish. Even if it’s something you’ve personally never had before, it is a way to share culture with each other. You never know, you might find it to be a common delicacy within your home afterward.

3. Bedtime – You know that the children aren’t going to go to sleep immediately. Have some patience and provide a little leniency. The first sleepover is going to be the highlight of your child’s month and you can expect a certain level of excitement and hyper-activity to be going on. Don’t let the children use you as a doormat, but don’t be the sleep-tyrant either. Give the children a little slack especially if they are keeping the noise level down. Did you go to sleep immediately when you had a sleepover as a child?

4. Entertainment – Another aspect to consider is what kind of entertainment is acceptable for your child’s friend. While some households don’t see anything wrong with a family dinner watching “The Walking Dead,” some parents may be quite upset that you subjected their child to such television. Even video games should be monitored. Remember, not every household is the same and some don’t accept violence in any manner. Although it is your house, you should be respectful towards the wishes of your guest’s parents. It’s not your job to raise their child.

5. Privacy – It is possible to maintain vigilance over the happenings within your home without involving yourself in the play of your child and his or her guest. A periodic checkup is OK, but don’t try too hard to involve yourself in their activities. The children are having a sleepover, not you. It can be hard to let your child live their own lives without involving you, but they need to be able to establish their own path.

The sleepover is a way of life and children have been engaging in this activity for a very long time. It creates bonds between friends and is a way to continue the play for an extended period of time. There is nothing to fear from these and after the first few sleepovers, your stress levels will diminish. Just try not to embarrass your child too much.

Paul Taylor started www.babysittingjobs.com which offers an aggregated look at sites that help families find sitters and sitters find families easier than ever. He loves writing, with the help of his wife. 

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On Sheryl Sandberg, Daughters, iPads & a More Equal Future

I have always disliked computer and video games, but a recent comment by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, blew my mind.

Computer and video games are anti-social, violent, moronic, brain-sucking time-wasters, in my humble opinion. I have always limited which games my kids get to play on the computer, iPad or iPhone, and how long they play them. I find the way they become so absorbed in these games to be scary and disarming. I particularly dislike the maniacal, ugly creatures they become when you tell them “time’s up.” I am the anti-computer game Mom. Sorry kids.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Sandberg, author of the much-discussed book “Lean In,” was talking at a breakfast organized by the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA). With passion, grace and chutzpah, she discussed what’s holding women back in the workplace, how female entrepreneurs often get shot down by VCs who fear them having children, how women shouldn’t be criticized for being bossy. But, for me, the defining moment came when she was taking questions from the audience and a woman from RunKeeper stood up and introduced herself as a software engineer.

Sheryl applauded her, and went on to state that, to achieve greater equality in the years to come, we absolutely need more women software engineers and computer scientists.

“Give your daughters iPads,” she urged. “Encourage them to play computer games. Gaming is a gateway to coding.”

Businesses, governments, entertainment, education, communication, financial and healthcare systems all fundamentally depend on software engineers. Software engineers are, in essence, coding our future.

Today, the average software engineer in the US earns $90,000 a year, which is substantially greater than the average teacher, nurse, accountant, HR manager or sales associate. Software engineers are in huge demand. According to a Forbes article: “The BLS [US Bureau of Labor Statistics] expects a 30% increase in the number of software developers by 2020.”

So maybe I should be rethinking this whole computer gaming thing? For girls, says Sandberg, computer games are the best entry point to an interest in science and technology. And consequently, the route to a well-paid, much sought-after career where they can earn not only as much as the guys, but also reconfigure the potential for women at the companies and organizations that are redefining the future.

But how do we get from Angry Birds, Bejewelled and Where’s My Perry to there? How do we encourage our daughters to become more interested in computers, coding and science? Someone asked me my opinion on Twitter as we were digesting Sandberg’s words in real-time. How he could encourage his daughter? I scratched my head, thinking about my almost six year-old and her fascination with all things Transformers.

“Talk to her about how the things she loves to play with are designed and made,” I suggested, making it up as I was going. “From toys and computers, games, TV and movies, to iPads. Discuss how these things have changed substantially since when we were kids, and talk about the people who made it happen. Have her imagine what amazing things could be built in the future—even by her.”

It’s a pretty steep order, especially if your daughter doesn’t seem to have a natural skill or interest. A New York Times feature published this week examined this very topic, stating:

“Researchers say many factors contribute to girls’ reluctance to pursue computing as early as elementary school, including discouraging parents, inadequate resources for teachers and a lack of exposure. Studies have shown that girls imagine computer scientists as men working alone in a basement and can’t relate.”

It seems to me that computing and software coding could do with some major re-branding to make them appealing, even fashionable. How cool to be the person that designs and develops the devices, games and apps that most of us cannot live with out? How cool to be the animator behind the next, great superhero(ine) movie? Heck, kids, we wouldn’t be able to even text each other without coding! It’s that cool! And, while we are at it, why are there not more female Transformers?

So the next time my daughter asks to play on my iPad, chances are I’m going to say yes.

(Got an hour to spare? Then watch the video from NEVCA’s breakfast with Sheryl Sandberg here.)

What Is It About Kids & Socks

Why are they always liberally distributed around my house?

Why are they never in pairs?

What are they always damp and stinky?

Why do they never make it into the laundry hamper?

Why do their toes eventually always poke through?

Why are there never any clean, matching ones when you need them?

Why do they have to match, anyway?

WHY CAN’T I CONTROL THE SOCKS?????

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Fortifying The Mommy Shield

One evening last week, within less than an hour of us all coming home from work and after-school activities, I managed to make both kids cry.

Without boring you with the mindless details, in each case, I snapped. In the first scenario, I expressed my disappointment with a situation which caused my five-year old to break into tears, lamenting her sorrow that I had hurt her feelings. In the second, I yelled loudly right into the face of my eight-year old who was tuning me out in favor of messing around like a clown when he should have been getting ready for his bath and I had already asked him more than three times. The shock on his face was blatant, followed by a fierce onslaught of hot tears and accusations.

I hate myself when I lose it with the kids.

I’m supposed to be the one that lifts them up, the one who makes everything silly, who keeps everything marching forward smoothly. Not the one that bears down on them with outbursts of negativity.

The good news is that this really does not happen that often because I try to work hard to fortify my Mommy Shield. It’s the Mommy Shield that stops you from driving off the road when the kids are squabbling at high-frequency in the back seat of the car. It’s the Mommy Shield that makes you take a deep breath and calmly reach for the paper towels when your kids spills his or her milk for the gazillionth time. It’s the Mommy Shield that helps you sit quietly on the couch while the kids run around and around and around with increasing velocity and volume and you know that, any moment now, someone could get hurt but they are having so much fun. It’s the Mommy Shield that lets you know—most of the time—which battle to pick.

But there are days when my Mommy Shield is frail and easily penetrable  Days when I pick the wrong battles. Days when I can’t take a deep breath. Days when yelling at them actually feels really, really good (at first.)

After the tears are dried, hugs squeezed, apologies offered and everyone is happy again, I try to figure out what I could have done differently. Often, it’s not about the heat of the moment but the events leading up to it. When I feel that, at any moment now, the Mommy Shield is going to blow, I try to deploy one few of these tactics to change the energy and hopefully reduce the odds of my snapping:

  • Playing loud music to drown out their shrieks or whining or squabbling.
  • Taking a bath. They can duke it out to their heart’s content without me in the room.
  • Wine. Takes the edge off.
  • Sending them outside.
  • Sending myself outside.
  • Using Facebook/Twitter to vent/distract.
  • Breaking into a silly dance.
  • Look at photos of them when they were babies.

How do you fortify your Mommy Shield?

When Sleeping & Working Get in the Way of Blogging

When I started this blog back in December 2011, I promised myself that to make it entertaining, shareable and fulfilling, I would write a new blog post at least once a week, if not more.

And for the most part, I’ve been able to do that. It’s never been a chore; at any given moment, I usually have a gazillion ideas for posts swimming in my head. I can usually find a quiet 15-20 mins over the weekend to write. Fortunately, I write fast, the words tumbling out of my head and onto the page.

But it’s been over a week since my last post and I started kicking myself about this. I have decent excuses – several nights of insomnia sucking the creativity out of me, house guests for the weekend, and work is crazy busy. But when I thought about it, I realized that there’s plenty of stuff I already do that sustains interest in and traffic to my blog, even when I’m not writing new posts. Namely:

  • I pre-schedule tweets about popular, already published posts 
  • I frequently comment on other blogs and articles, especially where the topic is complementary to one of my posts and I can link back to it.
  • I maintain a pipeline of potential guest bloggers who can provide good content that syncs well with my stuff
  • I retweet and share other bloggers’ posts – spreading the blog love around

Most of all, I’m not going to sweat it. I’m a working Mom and having it all is unrealistic. So if y’all have to wait another week or so for an awesomely witty or pithy or entertaining or educational or controversial post from me, then so be it!

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