Relax (Advice from a Wise Seven-Year Old)

The other night, my seven-year-old son looked up at me and said,

“Mom, you should really relax.”

What? Me—not relaxed? I mean, how could I not be relaxed, we were sitting on the couch watching a movie, as I aimlessly surfed the Internet, reading status updates and deleting an endless stream of unread emails. I’ll admit, his question caught me off-guard. There were so many other things that might have come out of his mouth at that moment:

Mom, you should really pay attention to the movie. 

OR

Mom, you should really make me some dinner.

OR

 Mom, you should really stop staring blankly at the computer.

But telling me “to relax” was not at all what I had expected. As I thought about it, however, I realized that he was right­—I wasn’t relaxed. I was tense. In fact, I’ve been tense for months. Even when I think that I am relaxed, I can’t seem to lose the knot that is perpetually gnawing at my insides. When I try to identify the cause in an attempt to make it go away, I am flooded with images of my job, my husband, my kids, even my blog—all of which in some way contributes to this feeling of unrest.

A side-effect of this ever-present anxiety is that I sometimes forget to smile. It’s not that I’m frowning, or even unhappy. I’m not even thinking about one thing in particular. Instead, I find myself lost in my own head, thinking of nothing and everything all at the same time. When this happens, I don’t know which thought to grab hold of, which thought to analyze in order to finally put it to rest. So, instead, I am left unable to focus on a movie, to write in this blog, or to be as connected to the world around me as I need to be.

With my son’s simple statement, I realized that it was time to confront the one thought that pains me the most, the one that runs through my head over and over again like a negative mantra—my daughter is growing up. I know, not a surprise as I have said this too many times to count—so what the hell is my problem? The answer is, I honestly don’t know.

Looking back, I think it all started when she graduated from elementary school a month ago. Watching her standing on the stage, I had the terrible realization that she is closer to the end of her childhood than she is to the beginning of it. She is physically changing before my eyes, and I am in awe each time I see this tall, beautiful creature walk into the room. At the same time, I am overcome by emotion when she shows me the little girl that she still has inside of her.

Even as I write this, I now see that it is this in-between stage that is causing me so much pain and anxiety. If she were already a teenager, I believe I could deal with—or at least try to deal with—all of the things that come with it. And if she were still a child, I would find comfort in knowing that I am the one person in her life that has all the answers. Instead, I am somewhere in the middle, just waiting for it all to change. And although the waiting is unbearable, I still dread the day when the only time I see the little girl that she once was is in photos from her childhood.

So, I guess that’s the answer—I’ve never been good with waiting, and I am especially bad at waiting for the “unknown.” However, now that I know that this is the crux of my problem, I am beginning to feel the knot lessening, and I may even feel a small smile playing at the corners of my mouth.

I wish I could adequately express how thankful I am to my son for giving me his simple words of advice—you should relax­. Starting today, I will do just that. I will stop living in my own head, and I will begin to look forward to getting to know the young woman my daughter will soon become.

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A Mother’s Rant Against the TV

As a mother, the list of tasks I have to do often appears endless. Although some I don’t mind doing—helping with homework, cooking dinner, vacuuming—I actually consider many to be less than appealing. Now that my children are older, you won’t find me longing for the days of dodging projectile vomit, cleaning up a baby whose diaper has exploded, or getting up in the middle of the night—multiple times—to feed a ravenous infant. That being said, just because the infant and toddler years have passed, it doesn’t mean that my children are any less demanding.

Each day, after my meetings are over and it’s time to turn my thoughts away from work and back to my kids and the evenings’ demands, I am bombarded by requests, from making chocolate milk to finding the forever-missing remote control. Depending on my own mood at the time, these demands might be met with a quiet acquiescence if I’m feeling relaxed and easy-going or—God forbid I’m feeling over-burdened—they will more than likely be met with a deluge of complaints about “no one helping me—EVER!”

I’ve noticed that it doesn’t really matter what my reaction might be—calm and understanding or raging lunatic—the demands never stop. As long as my children are awake, it seems I only get to sit down for five-minute intervals (ten, if I’m lucky). By the time I attempt to turn my attention back to whatever I had been doing—finding where I had left off in the book I was reading, un-pausing “Grey’s Anatomy” for the eleventh time, or recapturing my train of thought so I might actually finish writing a new post—one of my children will inevitably yell “Mom?” in the hopes that I will once again stop what I was doing to come to their aid.

The problem is they are still kids, and they honestly do need me to help them—sometimes. Like when one of the kids gets in the shower without grabbing a towel or bathrobe, and they are standing in the shower shivering waiting for me to materialize with robe in hand. Or, when my son needs something to drink and he can’t reach a glass in the cabinet—I mean, is it really worth the risk of him falling off a chair just so I can find out what’s going to happen between Meredith and Derek? I think not. So, I stop what I am doing, and I go—and I try not to get frustrated with them.

There is one thing that I absolutely hate doing, and I would, on some days, trade a thousand messy diapers not to have to do it any longer—

Finding something for my son to watch on TV.

I know, you were expecting something gross, like picking up dirty socks from the laundry room floor (which I really do hate doing), but honestly, being a “human remote control” is the most annoying job that I do on a daily basis.

Up until this year, my son couldn’t read, so at any given moment when he would ask me what was on TV, I would have no other choice but to sit down and read him the titles. I would scroll through the guide, reading each title, as he repeatedly said “No” to all of them. Then, with nothing to watch on “live” TV, I would turn to the On-Demand titles. Ten, sometimes twenty, minutes later, after having exhausted every title in the entire cable box, he would finally make up his mind and I would then have to remember where we had seen it listed.

As he has gotten older, and he can now read—or at least, recognize—the titles of the shows he likes, it seems I only have to help him find something once a day when “there’s nothing on.” No matter how long it takes, I find it to be a tedious and frustrating task—and by the time he has said his twenty-third “No,” I will have completely lost my patience and will have started ranting at him about how much I spend on cable, how his sister only had seven channels when she was young, how he should be happy, blah, blah, blah. Needless to say, this time spent with my son usually deteriorates into tears or hurt feelings.

Even as I sit here and write this, although it hasn’t made me hate being a “human remote” any less, it has made me realize something other than the fact that my son probably watches too much TV—my son needs me. As he continues to grow up, there will be more and more things that he will be able to do on his own, and although I know he will always love me, he will not always need me in the way he does right now. So, my advice today is for myself to remember this, and the next time he swears that even with three-hundred-and-seventy-five channels, THERE’S NOTHING ON, I will have the patience to know that it’s just his way of telling me he needs me.

I’m linking up this week with YeahWrite.me—check out lots of other great blogs!

The Bribe

I learned an important lesson this week. It’s one that many parents have already learned—possibly the hard way—as I did. I did something that should have been prevented by common sense, but unfortunately it was nowhere to be found.

I BRIBED MY CHILD.

Specifically, my son.

Yes, I am guilty of the age-old parenting sin of using bribery to get my son to do what I wanted. The long list of potential pitfalls of this approach didn’t come to mind in my moment of desperation. Before I explain my reasoning for using this particular tactic with my son, I should state that I have (somewhat) successfully used it on more than one occasion with my daughter in the last eleven years without any noticeable side-affects. Although. as I write this, I am now concerned that I should possibly look a little closer at her current behaviors (in particular, the less-appealing ones) to see if bribery could have been the root cause. But that is for another day . . .

Back to my son.

The incident happened two weeks ago. I have probably mentioned that my son does taekwondo, and he absolutely loves it. When he first began eighteen months ago, he asked everyday if he could go. Because I got tired of hearing his complaints on the days he couldn’t go, I decided to sign him up for a three-year commitment that would allow him to go as often as he wanted.

Since then, rarely a day has gone by without him eagerly going to class. In fact, he loves it so much that he even joined the school’s performance taekwondo team, called SWAT. With a big competition approaching, the Master has recently begun spending more and more time working on the routines with the older kids. My son and a few of his friends have been sitting on the sidelines watching. Two weeks ago, he told me that he thought the Master didn’t think he was good enough, and he wanted to quit the team. Because I didn’t want him to give up, I decided to talk to the Master about how he had been feeling.

Although it seemed he understood the point I was trying to make, because the Master is not fluent in English, I couldn’t be certain. He smiled, and told me that he would talk to my son. He then pulled him out of class to talk in the back room. This is when things started to go downhill. My son thought he was in trouble, and within minutes of returning to class, he began to cry. He was then sent out of the class in order to get himself together—which then prompted a complete meltdown. He sobbed into my arms; he was inconsolable.

The meltdown lasted for the rest of the class, and continued on into his SWAT practice. Even when the tears finally stopped, he refused to practice with the team, but instead chose to sit in the back and pout. It was horrible—both for him and for me. I felt powerless to help him because I knew that if I took him out of the class that it would just make things worse. I needed him to get through it. When we finally left two hours later, his breakdown had turned into outrage. He felt betrayed by his Master, and he swore he was never going back.

NEVER!

I tried to explain that he wasn’t in trouble, that no one was mad at him, but he wouldn’t listen—he was too busy screaming in the backseat. I tried everything I could think of to make him understand what had happened, but it was to no avail. This was on a Thursday—his next class wasn’t until Monday—so I decided to stop talking about it, in the hopes that he would calm down and (possibly) forget about it.

Come Monday evening, when I told him to get dressed for taekwondo, he refused. He told me that he was “too afraid to go.” I tried the same reasoning I had used on Thursday, even going so far as to explain the details of a contract. He didn’t seem to care that I’d be obligated to pay the school whether he went or not. He was going!

We were at an impasse.

Because I knew that if he just went he’d be able to get over his fear, in a moment of desperation, I told him if he went to class, I would get him a toy afterward. The bribe. He thought about the offer for a few minutes, and then agreed. And of course, class was just as I had expected. Within a few minutes of it beginning, everything was back to as it was—he once again loved taekwondo. And after class, we found ourselves walking up and down the —very small—toy aisle at CVS until he settled on some ninja accessories. He was over-joyed, and I thought to myself It was worth it.

Then the aftermath hit.

Since that day two weeks ago, he now thinks he should be bribed for everything. He had Strep and needed to take medicine—he wanted me to bribe him with candy. He had extra homework to complete because he had missed school, he thought he should be rewarded for finishing it with an extra hour of bedtime. When he takes a shower, he thinks he deserves a cookie. He has actually used the words “You have to bribe me,” in reaction to me asking him to do something. I have created a monster!

If he had been a little bit more subtle about it—possibly refusing to take his medicine or going days without showering—I may have resorted to using this tactic once again. But, because he obviously thought that this was an easy way to cash in on his everyday obligations, I began saying “No” to every demand. Today, he only asked me to bribe him once, and that was to get dressed for a playdate—a reward in itself.

What advice can I possible have after this? It’s simple: use bribery only under the most dire of circumstances, the rest of the time, stand firm and just make them do what I want. We’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.

Confronting a Bully

Something happened this week that completely shook me. I received a call from the school’s psychologist telling me that there had been a bullying incident involving my son and three other boys. My heart skipped a beat upon hearing those words. So many questions immediately flew into my mind:

“Is he hurt?”

“Did he do something to another child?”

“Was my son the bully?”

“Is he in trouble?”

“Was he ganged-up on?”

My son at five.

I waited with bated-breath for her next words: your son is fine. I exhaled. She went on to explain that normally the principal would be calling me—as is done when anything bullying-related occurs—but she wanted to talk to me herself. She was very impressed with my son. She told me that he handled himself wonderfully, and that he expressed his emotions in such detail and with such clarity for a seven year-old that she wanted to tell me herself how impressed she was with him.

My eyes welled with tears.

For the duration of the call, my emotions remained on a roller-coaster—I was elated that a she was complimenting my son, and yet I was still on edge as to what had actually happened. In the end, I was struck speechless, unable to formulate a single question. We hung up after just a few minutes, and I returned to my work. My nerves felt raw, and all I could do was repeatedly glance up at the clock to see if it was time to go pick him up—the minutes ticked by so slowly.

For the next two hours, my mind drifted to images of an older version of my son. I saw him as a teenager, and yet the picture became hazy when I tried to imagine him being confronted by bullies. Even at the young age of seven, I had already spent many hours talking with him about bullies: how they might act, what they might say, and what he should do in various scenarios. During this brief time—as I wondered what had happened—I realized that it’s possible that I have had a false sense of security when it comes to my son.

He was born in November and is therefore older than most of the kids in his grade. He is also bigger than children his own age—and many children who are older than him—not just in height but in his overall physical strength. Because of this, I have always felt it was important to talk to him about being kind, especially to those who are smaller than him. He has also been learning taekwondo for almost two years, and has his high-red belt. This sport has taught him self-defense, fighting techniques, and—most importantly—discipline. In the back of my mind, I have always thought these things would protect him as no one would be crazy enough to try to hurt him.

But there is more than one way to be hurt by someone. I started playing the conversation with the psychologist over again in my mind. She told me what my son had told her about the incident: he explained that when his heart feels broken by what someone does, he reacts with anger. He went on to explain that once he is able to express his feelings, then he just feels sad and will sometimes cry. My son is incredibly sensitive, and not just in reaction to what people might do or say to him. When he recognizes that someone around him might be sad, stressed, angry, happy, hurt, or worried, he feels it and wants to do something to make it all better. He feels what others feel, and it affects him deeply.

More than anything, I wanted to go to the school to see for myself that he was okay.

I was finally able to hear what happened when I picked him up a little while later: he and two of his friends were fooling around while walking back to their classroom after recess. Another boy wanted to join in, so he decided to kick my son’s friend in the butt, thinking that it was in jest. The boy was taken off-guard, and was understandably angry at being kicked. My son and his friends began yelling at the boy, which led to shoving and a lot of heated emotions.

When I knew he was fine—not permanently scarred by the incident—I cried in relief. My son’s main concern was that I would be angry with him—which I assured him, I was not. He told me that everything was fine with his friends, and he “just wants everyone to get along.”

It’s possible that I may have overreacted—it’s been known to happen. That being said, I am thankful for the reminder that I need to talk to my son more about the emotional fall-out of bullying, not just the physical. If I were to give advice to my son at this moment, I would say that people—especially children—often say things they don’t mean when they are angry. He should never take these words to heart, no matter how much they might sting. I believe that cruel words come from a place of insecurity, and that he should feel sorry for the person saying them rather than ever let them affect how he thinks about himself.

My Daughter, The Parent

When my daughter was four, she begged and pleaded for us to give her a brother. We weren’t planning on having another child, we were even toying with the idea that maybe one child would be enough. My husband had just started his own business, and I was due to be promoted within the next few months making me one of the lead editors on a new program. On top of all that, we were finally seeing the light at the end of the very long tunnel known as “paying for others to watch our child”—just over a year left until kindergarten. Although it was sweet that she wanted a brother [NOTE:  She did not want a sister. She had informed us that we already had one of those and we didn’t need another one], it was not in our plan. So, when we found out a few months later that we were indeed pregnant, we jokingly told her that she had wished him into existence.

Nearly seven years later, I believe she loves her brother as much today as she did when she wished for him as a small child. There are times that I also believe she may even think he owes his existence to her—and should therefore do everything she says. Most of the time, what she tells him to do, in fact, comes from a place of worry and love for him.

Not unlike a parent.

She yells at him if she thinks he’ll get hurt when we are crossing the street. She corrects him when he mistakenly uses the wrong word in a sentence, and she teaches him the correct pronunciation of words he finds difficult to pronounce. She yells at him when he does taekwondo kicks while walking down the street, in part because she is embarrassed, but also for fear that people may think that he’s odd. And at times, she is my echo, repeating every “no” or “stop it” I tell him, chiming in to somehow strengthen my point of view.

The problem with this is that my son does not want two mothers.

Each correction, raised voice, accusation to “stop it” or “don’t do that,” causes him to react with complete and total outrage—screaming, yelling, and threatening her with bodily harm. As their mother, it often feels like I am living in the middle of a war zone and I am meant to be the peacekeeper. In the end, at a loss for how to stop the fighting, I dole out punishments—somewhat arbitrarily—as I am unwilling to listen to the who-did-what-to-who’s.

I had always prided myself for trying to see life through my daughter’s eyes, especially when I struggled to understand her behavior or attitude. Up until last year, I don’t think I ever truly did this with my son. Depending on how their arguments started, I would often tell him to 1) ignore her; 2) not take everything she says so seriously; 3) understand that she loves him and that she’s just trying to help him. He would reject all of my rational justifications for her behavior, and his anger would turn into tears, while stating the unthinkable words “I hate her!” These words—words that were banned in our home—would sting like a slap in the face. No matter how I much I tried to nurture their relationship, I was failing.

Then one day—after a particularly terrible fight between the two of them—I suddenly found myself remembering what it was to be a child with an older sister. Unlike my children who are nearly five years apart, my sister is only 15 months older than me. When I was young, I remember looking to her as if she were the keeper of all the answers to my every question. As I grew, I remember wanting to be like her—and even more than that—I remember wanting her to love me, to like me, to think she was lucky to have me as her sister. But as children, this was not meant to be. Her every word or opinion about me—the music I listened to, the friends I had, the clothes I wore—left me feeling that I somehow wasn’t good enough. There were times I even felt ashamed to be myself in front of her for fear that I would be ridiculed for it. It would take us many years to mend the relationship that was so damaged when we were children. More than anything, I want to prevent my children from hurting one another so deeply that their relationship may be fractured as adults.

Looking back, it’s possible that my sister’s only intention was to help me find my way in the world—just as I know my daughter is trying to do for her brother. More importantly, I now know that this isn’t her job. My advice to my daughter is this: in order for her brother to grow up to be a confident young man, he needs his sister to show him the way through her actions—not her words. No matter her intentions, he needs to feel that she sees him—and loves him—for who he is, mispronunciations and all. My advice to my son is to know—even when his sister inevitably corrects him or gives him unwanted advice—that she loves him more than anyone else in her life. And, he should always remember that it was she who wished for him, and that she has always been thankful that he has come into her life.

The Long, Lazy Days of Summer

Today, a friend of mine—a stay-at-home-mom—lamented that summer was going much too quickly, and that the end was coming faster than she wanted. She described her days of sleeping a little later in the morning, not having to be somewhere at a given time, and the joy she feels while watching her children get to be carefree kids for a while.

I’ve been trying so hard to enjoy this summer, to make the most of the long days, to just relax a little. I keep wondering why, instead, I feel so overwhelmed—so exhausted. When this friend was describing the end of summer, I suddenly became excited for the first time in quite a while—school is coming! Just writing those words gives me a little thrill. The days of the children being gone by 8:20 are almost here—simple schedules of drop-offs and pick-ups, each day almost the same as the one before. Yes, I long for the days of routines and predictability.

You see, in my attempt to “make the most of summer” for my children, I have inadvertently over-complicated my life: swim team practice (five days a week), swim lessons (twice a week), dive lessons (once a week), taekwondo (three times a week), camp (five days a week), and gymnastics (once a week). All of this is done while still working full time, and I’ve had to travel quite a bit this summer for work. So, to squeeze all of this in, there are aspects of my life that have suffered, namely my blog and my weight (and quite possibly the cleanliness of my home—but that is for another day).

Let me start off by explaining what I mean by my weight neglect. Since last November, I have been consciously trying to lose weight—yes, I’ve been dieting. I had successfully lost about 25 pounds when I decided to start exercising sometime in the spring. And, like most things in my life, I became completely obsessed with it, barely letting a day go by without using the elliptical, going to kickboxing, or sweating in a 105 degree yoga studio. When summer started, I had very proudly lost about 35 pounds. Now, fast-forward two months, I have regained a few pounds and have probably lost all of the muscle I had started to develop—sadly, I have once again become sedentary.

I blame summer.

My lunch times—once spent pushing myself to go another mile on the elliptical—are now spent shuffling the kids from camp to swim practice. And my evenings, instead of focusing on cooking a nutritious meal, are now spent relaxing by the side of the pool reading a book until well past an acceptable time to actually cook.

My poor blog. . . I try to find time to write—I even bought a journal  to write in while at the pool. The reality is, the time I once spent thinking about what to write about next, is instead consumed with thoughts of “Do the kids have gymnastics today, or is it swim lessons?” The time I used to spend actually writing has been slowly chipped away at until all that is left is an hour late at night—a time when I am too exhausted to even carry on a conversation—how on earth am I supposed to be literate!

For my daughter, I once again leave her with a small piece of advice: summers are meant to be treated differently—it is therefore okay to be lazy, to spend endless hours swimming or just hanging out with friends. Even as I write this, I am suddenly struck by my own lesson. By focusing on all of the things summer has somehow deprived me of, I stopped allowing myself the freedom to be as carefree as my children, to enjoy the simple pleasures of a late night at the pool or a long weekend at the beach.

So, for my health, for my creativity, and for my overall sanity, I dream about the first day of school.

Yet, for my children, for the joys of childhood, and for the long, lazy days of summer, I will allow myself the freedom to enjoy this last month of summer.

Answer to the question: What do you miss most about the school year?