Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Parenting through a global pandemic.

If your situation is anything like mine, you are suddenly thrust upon the at-home schooling world while still dealing with your “usual” responsibilities (if there is such a thing anymore). It’s all more than a little overwhelming and I find myself often lost in my own perception of the situation. MY stress, MY feelings, MY aggravation and it’s very easy to fall into the old song and dance of, “why is this happening to ME?” I could write a book on being above or below the line (and that victim mentality is definitely below the line), but in this case I want to take another approach. Let’s put ourselves in the place of these kids and try to remember what our perception of the world looked like when we were the little ones. Let's keep in mind what it must feel like for them to witness this moment in history.

I know things weren’t always perfect when I was growing up. The world and my family had our share of problems, but during my younger years I was blissfully unaware and unconcerned about those issues for the most part. In the vast string of moments I now think of as “childhood,” I had a definite feeling that no matter what, everything was going to be OK. In my eyes, the world was controlled and held at bay by my parents. This is one of the wonders of being a kid and it is something we have all been doing our best to provide to our littles from the day they came into our lives. I was an adult when 9/11 came along, but that is the closest thing I can imagine to the psychological impact to this generation’s worldview right now. In one terrifying morning, I went from thinking the world was one way, to knowing it was another way altogether.

Now we're the grownups and all these kids (when did we have so many? LOL) are looking to us. Recent events like school being cancelled and being unable to see their friends, having the ability to go and do things they want, and lack of the ability to just live in what was “normal life” is very hard on the kids. Couple that with the bits of news they see, the concern for relatives they can't see and for themselves (Will I get sick? Will my parents?) and this is a slow burning traumatic event.

Whether they are verbalizing it or not, they are impacted. Whether they are showing us or not, they are concerned and worried. It is now painfully obvious to them that what happens in the world is not always controlled by their parents. This is a hard thing to reconcile for me and I’m trying my best to show some extra patience, to spend time (even when I don’t have it), to give an extra hug and to keep up every aspect of “normality” I can with the kids. I’m sorry they have to learn so soon how little we control, but I will make sure to teach them what we do control… our reactions to any situation. I talk with myself every morning about this and remind myself it’s not about me, my feelings and anxieties can take the backseat while the kids are watching. As the grown ups in the room, we can take it, we can pretend to be OK even if we're not at that moment, we can hold our tongue and watch our tone. We can check that outburst of frustration at schoolwork or their need for more supervision. Of course, there is still discipline and structure, but there is a big, big helping of grace needed for these little ones who woke up to find that everything they knew changed in a heartbeat. Keep this in mind… they will graduate, they will grow older, they will remember this time and more than anything, they will remember how we made them feel in the middle of it. Those frequent moments of insubordination, bickering, or apparent lack of motivation are natural responses to major stress. Have patience, show better ways to respond and give more hugs. Be easy parenting partners. We can do this.

Friday, April 3, 2020

What's in a name?

I have to admit, my heart breaks a little to see pictures of things the kids cannot do right now. There are plenty of smiles in our house and, as usual, children seem to take anything in stride (as long as we do). We are taking advantage of the time at home and enjoying the extra quality time, but the strangeness of the situation is hard to come to terms with. We are glad to have plenty to do in and around the house and the school work is a welcome diversion before lunch, but every time we step outside I feel like we're just enjoying some "yard time" in the "big house."

These sacrifices are small given the reward of saving lives, but I long for the day when kids can again run around a playground with friends or perfect strangers. I miss watching them dart around the park not knowing, caring or even asking for names. What's in a name anyway? Who needs one when you know each other through twinkling eyes and laughter in the sunshine?

I miss the smiles between children at the park as they push and test boundaries of "fair play" and see which of their tricks can make the others laugh. I look forward to the time when telling the kids to keep their hands away from their mouth and face is just a form of correcting manners and civility again rather than a massively important lesson in safety.

Please don't mistake my nostalgia for despair, we have so much to be grateful for and hope and happiness rule the day. I am thankful for our pets, they keep the place lively. For our screened in porch and pool to pass the days, for the size of our clan (four kids get on each other's nerves sometimes, but it's great to have siblings in shared isolation). I'm thankful for a job that allows me to work at home and gives me the time to check on others. I'm grateful for my wife's ability to support the local hospitals remotely.

My heart goes out to those with more imminent financial concerns and those suffering from illness or dealing with loved ones who are. I try to remember those sheltering alone and to know for some that is very hard (so check on them). I hope everyone is appreciative of what we do have and that we look for the bright side of every day and every moment. It is always there. There can be no light without darkness. Take care of yourselves and, if you're able, someone else too. Whether we know the names or not, we're all just playground brothers and sisters with a twinkle in our eyes and a longing for brighter days to return.

Monday, February 3, 2020

"I am a Giant"

J Bean was struggling with some homework. After working on it independently, I found her crying in despair over the assignment. It took some convincing, stern and loving, to remind her we don't give up. We don't shy away from challenges and that while I don't really care if she ever learns how to divide decimals, I certainly care a whole lot that she learns she is capable of anything and she can, in fact, do all things.
I gave her 15 minutes to collect herself then we regrouped and tackled the material. Now, when you're teaching your kids how to do math, it's best to sit and read as if you don't know a thing because it's probably not being the taught the same as when you learned. The computations might be the same, but the tricks and ways they ask you to think about it might not be. So I sat down, told her I was green at this approach too and we were going to learn it. At first she was frustrated and kept revisiting the recent failure... finally got her to let that go and focus on what we were learning. And I did learn it, I stopped and told her to be patient as I learned what she already knew so we could go past it together into your part she was struggling with. I explained the movement of the decimal and defined the quotient (the answer), the divisor (the one doing the dividing) and the dividend (the one being divided) and that helped to unlock the hieroglyphics for her. I illustrated that decimals were no harder than regular division. When I showed her how to move the decimal, the comprehension hit her eye with a flash. I don't think I've ever been so proud of her (and myself), the visible click in her eye changed her posture, her facial expression, her confidence and everything all at once. This must be the feeling lifelong teachers fall in love with, what a reward! Then I set her down with a problem to do on her own. Reassured her we weren't going to work on this all night, but told her I wanted to end on a success. She did the problem and did it right. We're actually behind on the lesson and she has some catching up to do tomorrow, but she got it. She can do it. She was all smiles and said, "Thank you for teaching me, Daddy." So after I scraped my melted heart up off the floor and before I sent her off to bed, I told her to stand on a chair in front of me. She giggled at the thought and asked why... "Just do it," I replied.
"Look at me, in my eyes. I wanted you up here because you are a giant, and I want you to see you how I see you."
She giggled nervously, eyes darting around. I had made sure the new arrangement had her looking down on me.
"None of your brothers and sisters are around, it's just you and me, so don't be embarassed. I just wanted you to know that you are capable of all things and that you are a giant. I mean that."
I told her, "Things are not always going to be easy. You're a smart kid and you're going to be challenged constantly, but I want you to know you are capable of anything, that's not just something I say. It's 100% true. I'm so proud of you for picking yourself up earlier, because that's hard (and I've been there)... look in my eyes, you think there is never a day when I don't think I can do what I need to do that day? There's plenty of them, kiddo, but I learned a long time ago what you just learned tonight. You collect yourself, you refocus, you come at it another way, you find help, you learn from somone because there is nothing you can't do, only things you can't do YET."
"Do you understand?"
"I think so, Daddy."
"Then tell me."
"Tell you what?"
"Tell me you're a giant."
"I'm a GIANT!"
"Yes, you are. So when you hear that little voice that was talking to you earlier, the one that had you crying in your robe and giving up.... I want you to smack that voice in the face <I slapped my hands together>... you tell that voice NO... I CAN DO ALL THINGS!"
"Do you believe me?"
"Will you do that for me next time? You come find me, you come find someone and we'll work through it together. Nothing is impossible and I'll always be there for you. I don't care about that assignment, but I do care about you knowing how to pick yourself up and carry on because there are going to be some tough days. Now give me a hug, because I'm very proud of you."
As I tucked her in a few minutes later, she said, "Daddy, you're wise." LOL, for some reason, that made me laugh and I told her that I wasn't always wise and that I learned the same way and that sometimes I forget, but that we both need to try our best not to. Curling up and crying is fine for a time, sometimes we need that, but then we get up and we try again. Same for us parents, right? I don't always show up like I intend to, but I keep trying and that's enough. Once in awhile, like tonight, I get it right.