150 Ways To Show Kids You Care: #62

wpid-20150905_151221.jpgOne of the best tools that I took away from my training as a Parenting Partners Workshop Facilitator was the pamphlet “150 Ways To Show Kids You Care” (c) distributed by The Search Institute. The brochure lists 150 ways to interact with your children or other children in the community that would cause them to believe that you genuinely care about their well-being. I have it posted right next to my door as a reminder for me, amidst the daily rush in and out of the house, to make a conscious effort to connect with my kids. Again this list also applies to family members, your children’s friends, mentees or other children you nurture or spend time with. Sometimes I ask my children to pick one, sometimes I ask them to choose a number in between one and one hundred fifty and sometimes I close my eyes and choose whatever number my finger lands on. I will try each day to post the item that was chosen and write a little about how I applied it.

Today it landed on #62 “Encourage Win-Win Situations“.

Sometimes I’m not sure about how I will apply the item of the day but by the end of the day, the opportunity presents itself (or I get creative 🙂 . My thirteen year old son loves football. If he’s not playing himself, he’s playing it on Madden, watching College Football on television or videos about the science of football on You Tube. I’m not saying he’s the next Heisman Trophy winner but he is aggressive on defense, easily teachable and the coaches love him. I say all that not to brag but it helps you to understand the dilemma. His Quaker high school does not have a football team so I registered him with the local area football league. Several weeks into practice his coach reveals to me that the league was unable to recruit enough kids for the Senior 130 pound varsity team. This meant there was a strong possibility that my would not be able to play on the 120 varsity team at his current age and weight combination but he assured me the coaches were working on “trying to get him in”. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but he somehow made weight for the first three home games and I didn’t think more about it. Last week was an away game and he didn’t make weight. The officials said he was 13 pounds over and would have to lose at least 6 or 7 to continue playing. I looked at my slim, still growing thirteen year old son (he’s about 5’3, 120 pounds) and knew that he did not have six pounds to lose! I knew he would be heartbroken, so I thought about item #62 and tried to figure out how to break it to him that may have to give up playing football with it being too late in the season to join another league. How could this situation end up as a win-win? I talked to my brothers, his father and a college friend who trains college athletes and they all concurred that he should be gaining weight, specifically via muscle rather than losing. I realized that his coaches didn’t have my son’s best interest in mind and were more concerned about winning games. It was slightly flattering, but I knew that I needed to talk to him and support him in making the right choice for him. I decided to approach him at his favorite place, on the trampoline in our yard, and we had the conversation. We talked first about his feelings on the matter and I shared mine. Though he would rather play, he understood the importance of gaining muscle especially in such an intense sport and agreed that if he was unable to play out the rest of the season he was okay with taking a weight training class at the local YMCA. He also knows that his parents have is best interest in mind and care about his happiness. I gave him choices and feedback and he learned how to look at his options and make the best choice for him. He’s content and I’m a happy parent. Win. Win.

Please feel free to share how you’ve applied this successfully. Thank you for reading and keep coming back!

Teachable Moments: Why I took my seven year old daughter to see Selma

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As a child born right in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, exactly six months after the assassination of Malcolm X, I have only my parent’s memories of those horrific and powerful moments in American history. When I started seeing the trailers for the Selma Movie I immediately felt the energy of the movement pour into me from the visual presence of powerful African-Americans moving forward in spite of the immense opposition. The pictures are always so powerful, and tell the stories that are starting to fade with the passing of each legendary activist and committed ancestor. As a woman I was both surprised and proud to see that this major motion picture was directed by Ava DuVernay who was also of African descent and extremely accomplished. I was excited and couldn’t wait to take the kids to see this film! I assumed that it, like the few MLK movies made for TV, would be rated PG and I set off immediately to secure tickets for us to see it after we volunteered on Martin Luther King Day. I was proud of myself for being so proactive until I saw that it was rated PG13. My heart dropped. My son was twelve and soon to be thirteen in a few months, but my daughter was seven and a half at most. Did I really have to deny her the opportunity to experience this African-American female director’s opportunity to tell the story of the March to Selma? Did she have to sit and listen to stories like I did as a young child never seeing the beauty and ugliness of those who both fought for and stood ignorantly in the way of universal love and freedom? I was torn between my own strong emotions about the project and being a responsible parent. My daughter, a very sensitive and loving soul was also practically begging me (no, literally) to take her to see the movie. I decided to poll my friends in social media who are teachers, parents, directors, storytellers and activists for their opinions in order for me make the best decision. Surprisingly I didn’t receive a resounding “YES, you should definitely take her” from the majority of those polled, but I took all of the suggestions and comments to heart and eventually decided to take her to see Selma. These are the reasons why I chose to ignore the film rating and take her anyway:

  1. She is the granddaughter and daughter of storytellers: My father wrote great short essays about his experiences growing up a young black boy in the fifties as well as experiences in the Air Force and the emotions and struggles that followed him into his adult life. Unfortunately he never published any of them. I started writing poetry in third grade and am just starting to tell stories that have been waiting to come out. My daughter is watching and may one day be a great writer too and I think it’s important for her to see stories unfold in front of her eyes. It’s her legacy, her reality and too important of a story to exclude from her growing library.
  2. She begged me: It was a different plea than the one I get a the toy store. My daughter has learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and other great men and women in American history and she wanted to know more. I thought about one friend’s comment about how she is “my child” and how she has been listening to and enchanted by storytellers since she was an infant. Some things you just do by instinct, but she was right. I even had a storyteller at my son’s 5th birthday while my daughter watched from her baby carrier. After enduring too many “please Mommy”, how could I argue?
  3. I prepared her ahead of time: A few of my friends warned me that there were a few graphic moments in the film, especially in the beginning that could be too harsh for someone her age but felt that with the right preparation and conversation beforehand she could handle it. My daughter promised me that she wouldn’t be scared and she wasn’t going to have nightmares and that she wanted to see anything that involved “her people and their struggle and Martin Luther King”. So I Googled “Bloody Selma” and sat next to her while she viewed the actual footage from the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge and she didn’t flinch. As I watched I realized that children such as my father and mother birthed in the midst of segregation didn’t have the option of being sheltered from the brutality of their oppressors.
  4. She would walk out more proud of her ancestors’ strength and perseverance: I did get a few strange looks when I walked into the theater with her in tow and I just knew every parent secretly shamed me. I even started to doubt my decision after the opening scene (which was both powerful, shocking and necessary) but when the movie ended and she turned to me with a big smile on her face and said “that was awesome!” I knew that I had made the best decision for her. Not only did she get to see images of courageous women of color in both strong and supporting roles, she saw them fight for their men, children and communities in a way that is not depicted in history books and definitely not on the Disney channel. The Civil Rights struggle was told from a different angle and with a different voice all guided by the vision of a female director and producer of African descent. Definitely a teachable moment!

Of course you have to take all of these factors into consideration before choosing to take your younger child to see this  PG13 movie. I have to admit even with her excitement over seeing Selma I was worried that she would have nightmares, but none came. There was also one moment where my Mom instinct kicked in and I covered her eyes, but she abruptly moved my hand! The sad truth is, our kids are so exposed to brutality, injustice and violence today, that ‘Bloody Selma’ is not as jarring as we would expect. We cannot expect our children to reflect the qualities that we do not mirror back to them. Sometimes we are the mirror, sometimes it appears in the form of a book, a writer or motion picture but I believe it has to be done by any means necessary.

Compassion fatigue ; even Superman takes a break from saving the world!

wpid-img951416.jpgMy former sister in law once told me while I was still carrying my first born in my womb, that being a parent would be the most difficult yet most rewarding job I’ll ever have. She was right. I think even the most seasoned of parents question the choices that they make for their children, wonder if they’re doing everything that they could for them, stay up at night worrying about them when they are away, worry if they’re being over-protective or not disciplining them enough, and we all hope we are not causing irreparable damage!  Believe me, I have witnessed many who have raised children without an ounce of compassion and nurturing, but when you put your heart and soul into your job, whether as a parent, nurse, doctor, teacher, politician or first-responder, you utilize an enormous amount of physical, mental and spiritual energy and  risk suffering from burnout or as my pastor so eloquently phrased it; compassion fatigue. Those of us who are natural givers can suffer from depletion if we do not take the time to step away from all of the giving and allow ourselves to restore our energy levels and rest our weary minds and hearts.

My typical day starts at 6:30 am, getting my son up and out the door to make his 7:15 bus. He is a morning person so there isn’t much struggle there.  I then have about half an hour to check email/facebook/wordpress before it’s time to get my not-a-morning-person-until-you-turn-on-music-and-dance daughter out of the bed and ready for school. While she’s getting dressed, I’m making her lunch, packing her snack, filling her water bottle and making breakfast for her so she’s out of the door on time. Now that half of my normal daily energy level is spent, I try to get in an hour of either meditation and/or exercise  before I head to my client’s office to work. If it’s a good day there are no phone calls from school nurses or other clients who need my attention while I’m working. After I squeeze a day’s work into four hours, I rush home to meet one or both kids, start dinner, then head out to pick up or drop off my artistic one to some type of lesson, try to get work done while I’m waiting but am usually distracted and then commence to getting her home and finishing dinner. If I’m lucky enough to finish dinner in-between helping with homework, reading and completing paperwork sent home from school and phone calls, we may eat before 7 pm which is usually the first time I’ve sat down all day.  I then try to squeeze in a little family time during dinner either at the table or watching one of the few shows we all agree on; Family Feud or Chopped if there isn’t a good family movie on cable. The next hour is spent getting my seven year-old bathed and ready for bed, trying to stay awake long enough to read her a book and tuck her in. I walk back downstairs to the living area, take a deep breath and prepare to spend an hour of quality time with my son. If I can keep my eyes open through the latest episode of Ninth Grade Ninja or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s a miracle, but he only cares that I’m there and he gets me all to himself for a while.  At about nine I send him up for his shower and check on the younger one to make sure she’s asleep. It’s at this point that I feel the exhaustion setting in, but I have to get a second wind, put away leftovers from dinner, respond to any client emails, do laundry, stock the dishwasher (I hate to do dishes) and connect with friends and family I don’t get to see or talk to on a regular basis. On a good night I’m in bed by 1AM setting the alarm for five and a half hours later. This is the life I know. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom, and as difficult as it is parenting solo, I would not  trade it for anything! I am fortunate to have the time to spend with my children day and night. However I truly believe that the only way that I can be a so-called “great mom” and serve my family, friends and my clients with the care and attention that they deserve is to make time to retreat from all of it every once in a while. It’s not easy when you are the sole parent to remove yourself from your children without an incredible amount of guilt, but I am learning that if I am at peace, my state of being is transferred to my children and they are much easier to parent! Simply put, if you spend most of your hours giving, you have to take a fraction of that time to allow yourself to be on the receiving end. If there is no one to take care of you, you have to make the time to care for yourself.

I have a ritual that began over four years ago when my children’s father and I separated, that I still continue religiously to this day. Every few months I take my mini-retreat. My budget is tight so I can’t do it often, but I make sure that I save enough each month so that when the time comes, I am ready to book the room. At first I did it because I couldn’t stand being in a quiet house when my kids were with their father on Christmas night, and I wanted to get out of the house to keep from missing  them. I had a discount coupon for a nearby hotel and decided to reserve a suite for the night. The best thing about my private is that for a little more  than the price of a tank of gas and a mani-pedi, you get a full suite to yourself, a two hour manager’s reception (yes, that means open bar) and a hot breakfast in the morning. Aside from those perks, I get to enjoy a bubble bath without anyone banging on the door to get in, I can watch one of the two flat screen televisions on any channel I want whenever I want, I can relax on the couch and read without anyone yelling “Mom, tell my brother to give me back my “fill in the blank”! And after my glasses of wine, snacks and bubble bath, I can sink deep into the plush pillow top mattress and the down pillows, and coast into a deep sleep, assured that no one will knock on my door and interrupt my slumber unless of course I sleep through breakfast and the maids are ready to clean the room!

After my meditative breakfast I head to the pool area which is almost always empty at 10am in the morning and take advantage of the late checkout I requested by going for a swim and an extended relaxing and dreamy float in the Jacuzzi. I can’t  tell you how refreshed, relaxed and renewed I feel after just twenty-four hours away from it all. The hotel is only about half an hour from my home and at first it felt silly to pay for a room so close to home, but for someone who has the exhaustive task of taking care of not only my children, my home, my business and clients and myself it is an oasis!  Yes I could stay home and take a bubble bath or sleep late but as a mom, I would spend more time feeling guilty about the dishes in the sink, the floor that needs sweeping or the laundry piling up around me and I wouldn’t be able to relax or feel the freedom of escaping from all of the normal day-to-day duties.

I encourage you to think about the definition of compassion fatigue and if you’re affected. Stress can have a major impact on both your spiritual, emotional and physical body so I urge you to take the time to renew your compassion and challenge you not to feel guilty about it, at least until after you slip into the bubble bath. Try it and share your experience in the comment section below.

Even Superman retreats to the Sun to renew his strength after a day of saving the world!

 

Organic Teas that my kids actually love (and they work!)

Herbal Teas for Kids Herbal Teas

I love the fall weather! The vivid colors of the leaves and the fresh air coming through open windows makes me wish we could have this weather all year. However it does also bring rain, tree pollen carried by the fallen leaves and the opportunity for my children to catch viruses because they are spending a lot more time breathing indoor oxygen than the fresh air outdoors. I do not work for nor receive money from Traditional Medicinals but I have been using their herbal teas for children to combat the common virus since my children were toddlers. Their teas (sweetened with a little honey or Agave syrup) are always my first line of attack when the sore throat, stomach ache or runny nose symptoms begin to surface. I try to give them a cup before school, another after school and then one after dinner, depending on the severity of their symptoms. The herbs are organic and mild enough to use for children and if used diligently and early enough, can eliminate the need for a doctor’s visit. The sore throat tea is good for those with allergies since this is mostly caused by the post nasal drip. I use the cold tea the most and stock up right before cold season, and the tummy tea works well for them when they have an upset stomach caused by food, medication or a virus. They also make a “Nighty Night” tea which is a milder form of chamomile tea for those kids who have a difficult time sleeping. I don’t use it often but I definitely make sure I have a box  in the cupboard at all times and it truly is nature’s sleeping pill, even for me!

Nothing more really to say except that I couple these with a good old fashioned pot of home made chicken soup (organic chicken and fresh vegetables and herbs are recommended!) and we eliminate the need to go to the doctor for advanced symptoms and the dreaded antibiotics that they both despise. One less fight for me! I just wanted to pass on what works for me and hopefully will keep you from spending too much on co-pays and too many days off, home sick with your children.

Wishing you a happy and healthy cold and flu season!

Who are you trusting with their brain?

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My children started school today, and all around the country there are parents buying school supplies, new clothes, bookbags and countless electronic devices in order to prepare their children for the new school year. We spend so much time and money getting the “things” we need, but what is just as important for me is knowing the teachers, administrators and other support staff who influence the intellect and emotional health of my children for the majority of their day. As fortunate as we are to have access to a noteworthy school district and staff, I am still very aware that my children will be surrounded by children who will not look like them, teachers who will not look like them and more than likely the only people of color they will see are in the cafeteria or cleaning up after them throughout the day. It’s unfortunate that most of those in the schools they attend have never had the experience of being a “minority” or having a close relationship with someone of another ethnicity or religion. These truths concern me more than whether they have the correct number of sharpened pencils. Each year as August comes to a close, I being to make my presence known to those who will hold my children’s hearts and brains captive for six or seven hours each day. I have had enough experiences throughout the years with school systems (both public and private) and have learned the hard way that everyone hired as a teacher/administrator does not necessarily have my child’s best interest at heart. I will share a few tidbits of wisdom I’ve learned that have helped me get the school year off to a great start:

  1. Take advantage of your access to teachers the week before school starts : Most of your child’s teachers are at school the week prior to the first day of school, preparing their classroom for the kids as well as any open house events happening in the school. Take advantage of this time that they will be able to read email without interruption and send a quick “Hello, I’m XYZ’s parent, nice to meet you” email. This is a great time to quickly mention any emotions your child has about the new year as well as any emotional, intellectual or health issues that may challenge the teacher, good or not so good. The email I send for my middle schooler is much shorter than the one for my second grader, and if it is a new teacher,  I also will attach my “This is My Kid” note to the email which I’ll explain below.
  2. Type up a one or two paragraph note about your child that you can update from year to year: I started it in Preschool because it was requested by one of the teachers, and I’ve kept it up each year. Some people may think it’s too much but I believe that someone who has my child’s time and attention for the majority of their waking hours should know more about them than their name and address. I include a little about their favorite things and subjects, but more importantly, what helps them transition, how they handle change, any allergies or health issues, any extraordinary emotional issues that may distract them as well as what motivates them to learn. I have found that their teachers have really found the information to be extremely helpful. 
  3. Make every open house and/or back to school night: I know, who wants to work all day, fight traffic to get home to get dinner and then go back out at night to the school. Ugh! Not my favorite thing to do, but a great way to show not only the teachers, but your child that you have a vested interest in their happiness and success in school. You’re showing them that you care about where they sit, who they interact with, how long it takes to get from class to class and what books they use. You get to put a face to the teacher’s names, see how their teacher interacts with their students and feel their energy (yes, I said it…but energy transfers to your kid). It’s also a subtle message to those who interact with your student that you care about what’s going on at school and that you are ready and willing to work together as a team to make sure it’s a good experience for your child. I can’t stress how important this is. Your presence is a powerful statement.
  4. Keep a folder for each child: The beginning of the year causes an influx of paperwork and procedures that make my head spin! When I purchase their school supplies, I also purchase a two-pocket folder for the year that I use to keep track of all of the correspondence from their school. One side has paperwork etc that I need to act on and return to school, and the other side has information I need to keep such as school procedures, daily schedules, calendars, teacher contact information, report cards and any other teacher correspondence that I need to refer to throughout the year. Whew! I get exhausted just thinking about it, so the folder helps, believe me!
  5. Don’t assume everyone has your child’s best interest at heart: I can’t stress this one enough. I was paying for my son to attend a Montessori school that refused to customize his educational goals even after he achieved a 99 percentile on the IQ test administered by the State. The director wouldn’t even discuss his score with me and that was the last year he attended that school. Don’t assume that your child’s teacher is not biased just because he/she is a teacher; don’t assume your child’s teacher has ever had diversity training, don’t assume the social studies class will teach the truth about American History, don’t assume that your child will be treated fairly or even better because he/she is gifted or “bright”. Don’t assume that your child is being treated fairly. Talk to your children about their day, let them know how they should be treated and teach them to have the same expectations of their teachers. Hold their teachers accountable and make them aware of your expectations, just as they make their expectations clear to the students at the beginning of the year. Stay abreast of your child’s progress and don’t be afraid to make a phone call or send an email if you feel they are not receiving the help/support or enhancement that they need to succeed. Check out the school website, and take the time to get information about any awards, special programs or scholarships for which your son/daughter may be eligible. I have had several situations where their teacher did not nominated them. I must say that I have been fortunate to have had wonderful experiences in our school district, but there have been a few who have been a challenge. 
  6. Help your child look forward to their first day: Both of my children were nervous about their first day, but I try to set up some fun activities the week before school starts as an attempt to lessen the anxiety. If there is an Open House at their school, I attend it with them. If their teacher sends a welcome letter, I share it with them and ask them how it makes them feel. We go to the store and they each get to pick out a “have a great school year” gift or other small token; it serves as a constant reminder of my support of and belief in them. Of course there’s the back to school day outfit that they get to pick out and on the morning of their first day of school, I add something special to their breakfast. The evening of their first day, we go out to a celebratory dinner, whether it be pizza or someplace a more classy, they get to pick and even dress up if they’d like. It gives us a chance to talk about their day and serves as my way of showing them how important their education is to me and that I share their excitement. 

After you do all of the above, go to your nearest coffee shop or masseuse (or both!) and celebrate yourself for the amazing job you’ve done to get them and their brains in good hands! I hope these tidbits have helped. Please feel free to comment and add any methods that help your child/ren get off to a positive start.  Wishing you a successful school year! 

SaveBlackBoys.org

James Hilley_Art Exhibit 2010

My son recently had the opportunity to attend the summer science institute, a program at The Franklin Institute. He LOVES science and math and thrives in those environments so although it would have meant a 40 minute drive into the city and back each day, I was willing to make the sacrifice for him as an investment in his future.  By God’s grace, my youngest brother, who also travels into the city every day for work offered to have him stay with him during the week and he would be responsible for transporting him back and forth to camp. What a relief! If my tween was going to experience being away from home for the first time, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation than for him to be with a family member who just happens to have a houseful of boys for him to hang with. Win. Win.

Well, he had the time of his life visiting waste management plants, meeting kids his age, working with petri dishes and laughing with his Uncle “T”.  I missed him but as an independent mom,  I am learning to let go and trust the village and accept that there are lessons that I cannot teach him. Sometimes the village is family, and sometimes it comes in the form of an unexpected phone call from a major museum about a  subsidized science program that is the perfect fit for my kid. I accept it all and give thanks.

In the meantime, I spent some much-needed quality time with my daughter. We have a special bond, but because of some other issues going on in her life she has a yearning for nurturing that I normally have to divide between the two children. We did the typical girlie things and talked about her beauty, her gifts and how to respond to girls who laugh at her hair when she wears it out in a curly natural style (I’ll tackle that subject in another post!). We took ‘selfies’ and the Black Girls Rock t-shirts that I ordered the previous week came in the mail and she said that she felt like we were sisters. Win. Win.

When my son came home, full of testosterone and erupting with information about his two weeks at science camp and spending time with his uncle, aunt and cousins he was surprisingly clingy. He had a ball but actually missed his nagging mom and his overly dramatic sister! We’ve since spent many an evening with him huddled up next to me on the couch after I tucked his sister into bed, watching anything from Transformers to the Cooking channel. He is really a great kid, and extremely bright but the reality is that too many kids just like him go missing, get lost in foster care or the criminal system, or just expire on the streets. And although we live in the suburbs which lowers his risk somewhat he as a young, gifted black boy is still very much a target. So when I recently came across this website, Save Black Boys.org, and saw the t-shirts, I thought of the matching shirts worn by my daughter and myself the previous week. What better way to show my love and support of my son and to keep our boys in the forefront of the minds of all that meet us, than to get matching t-shirts for my son and I as well. We all need to save our black boys;  they too are America’s promise. They too hold the key to making this a great nation. Each time we lose one, we lose  ourselves because we all are one. We need to save them from being racially profiled, save their minds, save their souls, save their self-esteem, save their pride, save their brilliance, save their masculinity, save their lives. What will you do to show them that we care? How will we save them? If you don’t have time to write your congressman, mentor, start an non profit or teach, you can show your solidarity. I am not connected to this program in any way, I just love their boldness and the shirt is nice too! 🙂

Get yours here:

http://saveblackboys.org/pages/about-us?customer_posted=true

The Kids To Do List this Summer–Daddy Style 07/19 by RikkiRJones | Self Help Podcasts

Great information to help Dads with ideas for managing kids activities during the summer, hosted by Rikki Jones and facilitated by Joel Austin, President of Daddy Univercity, Inc.

http://www.daddyuniv.com

H&F continues the series: The Kids To Do List this Summer–Daddy Style 07/19 by RikkiRJones | Self Help Podcasts.