Maintaining family traditions; stability in a world that often isn’t.

holding-hands-1My son and daughter are five years apart. My favorite picture of the two of them was taken the day my daughter was born. My son had taken a big brother class at the hospital and understood that she would look up to him and follow him as the older sibling. The first time they met, she gazed up into his eyes and I’m so grateful my sister-in-law captured it on film. He loved being my helper, getting her diaper or toys when I asked and I tried to give him all of the quality time I could when she was napping or down for the night.

Even after the separation, as a solo parent I would still be conscious of the attention that she naturally received as the baby of the family. I made sure they were treated equally regarding chores and rules and would let him stay up to watch television or play a game with me after I tucked her in at night. What I refer to as our night-time snuggle hour (it was cute then, not so much now that he’s a teenager) is a tradition now and even though he won’t admit it, I know he looks forward to it at least once or twice a week. Now that my son is a teenager and my daughter a tween, both are going through emotional and physical changes which naturally distances them. As an introvert, he spends a lot of time in his room and she commands my time and all of the rest of the space in the house with her creative endeavors. I understand that they need the space to develop in their own way but I have to admit it’s been difficult as a parent watching powerless, as age difference, school and puberty send them to their separate corners of the world.

I must admit I had given up on our family rituals. Running a household, business and caring for two school aged children is more than a full-time job. I’m usually ready to go to bed before they do, and I felt that they had grown out of our summer vacations, back to school gifts, end of school dinner celebration, church service (twice a month if we can), midnight or early morning movies in our pajamas, Friday pizza and movie nights and other traditions until recently. For the first time in close to a year we watched a movie together last night sharing pizza and the same couch! I almost always order pizza and this past year I would be the only one sitting on the couch watching the movie or most likely it would be just my daughter and I. Last night was different. I ordered the pizza and made plans to go out to a local fundraiser when I expected the kids would be retired to their rooms; but as usual when I make plans, God laughs! After the pizza was demolished I turned on The Dark Knight and invited my son to sit and watch it with me. Years ago he was fascinated by all of the Marvel and DC Comics but gave it up when he got the message from peers that enjoying action figures was childish. I walked out of the room and was floored when I saw him actually reclining on the couch waiting for me. My daughter, not to be outdone fought for her spot on the couch too. I had to play referee once or twice but we watched the entire movie together as a family. I was waiting for them both the bail mid-movie but they didn’t. I silently apologized to my conscience for missing the fundraiser so I could be present, enjoying the snuggle and bonding time with my children instead. I went to bed hopeful and determined to slowly reinstate the not so typical family traditions that we have created over the years. At a time when so much in their lives is changing, the ability to rely on mom’s sometimes quirky traditions offers the nurturing and stability they so desperately need. I am aware that every night may not have a fairy tale ending and that traditions may continue to be tested, yet I remain encouraged. Pizza and move night was a reminder that consistency is important and not to give up until the miracle happens.

What are some of the non-traditional traditions that bring your family together? Feel free to share in the comments below or email us at africanamericanparenting@gmail.com.

~African American Parenting

FREE Be Healthy Expo, August 13th, Camden NJ , Sponsored by CAMCare and Radio One. Fun for the entire family!

Free Health Screenings, Special guests, vendors, celebrity basketball game, line dancing and fun for the entire family! 10AM -4PM. 1865 Harrison Avenue, Camden NJ 08105

Be Healthy 2016 w CamcareBe Healthy General Tentative Outline

Work Shops

  • Chubbie’s (Kids Workshops for ages 5 – 12)
  • Ray and Joan Kroc Salvation Army Community Center Presentation
  • Local Physicians

Vendors Available From 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Indoor Fitness Activities

  • Line Dancing with Yolanda Sample – with Lady B
  • “Big Girl Work Out” with Praise 103.9 host Dezzie (Family Fitness)
  • Fit Camp Lite by WIT (Whatever It Takes) Fitness Group (Adult Fitness)

Outdoor Fitness Activities – Brought to you by The Army

  • Family Challenges

Celebrity Basketball Game

  • Hosted by Radio-One Talent, Musicians, Comedians, and Former Sports Players! We Also Have A Halftime Slam Dunk Contest!

June 25TH National Fatherhood Conference, Rescheduled – Philadelphia, PA

 

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Update: The Fatherhood Conference had to be rescheduled due to issues with the venue, but it is on and upgraded this Saturday! There will be prizes such as laptops given away for fathers and young men. Please come out 9am-3pm!

This is the eleventh year that Joel Austin, the founder of Daddy University has traveled throughout the city of Philadelphia from radio station to television interview, blog interview and social networking gatherings to convey his passion for combating fatherlessness and supporting men who desire to be the best Fathers their children need. There is an epidemic of fatherlessness in our communities which can be traced back to slavery, and is exacerbated by today’s judicial system that unfairly targets and prosecutes African-American men at an alarming rate. According to the NAACP Criminal Fact Sheet, one in six African-American men are in prison compared to 1 in 100 African American women.

We need our men. We need our men to be great leaders, providers and fathers. When previously incarcerated fathers are released into society, who is there to help them reconnect with their offspring? When young men become fathers and have no male figure in their lives, who will guide them and support them? When our husbands, sons and grandchildren need resources to help them learn good parenting and or/co-parenting skills, where will they go to seek help? The National Fatherhood Conference  is the answer.

This FREE conference held in the Philadelphia School District Education Center, 440 North Broad Street, Philadelphia PA in addition to free breakfast and lunch, provides numerous workshops on everything from custody to co-parenting, financial literacy, and even how to do your daughter’s hair. There is also LIMITED free childcare for those who register early, and a Young Men’s Conference for those who bring their sons between the age of 11 and 18. The Young Men’s Conference runs the same time as the Fatherhood Conference and they will also be provided breakfast and lunch if they register. The time to reach our young men is now, before they fall victim to the school to prison pipeline. Even if you are not a father or for some reason are not attending the conference, you can still register a young man and bring him to attend. The Young Men’s workshops include but are not limited to entrepreneurship, resolving conflict and dealing with “haters” as well as hygiene and financial literacy.

You can find out more information on the flyers above and below this post and by visiting the 11th National Fatherhood Conference registration page. African American Parenting will be in attendance and will post a picture of you and your child on our Facebook post to show all of the wonderful fathers and father figures in attendance. Register today and let us  applaud you for your desire to be the best father your child deserves!

Register Here —-> National Fatherhood Conference

We’ll see you at the Conference!

Young Men Conference

Technology Addiction: Are you a bad influence?

Cellphone-DistractionI have to admit. I jump in the car and drive off because I’m running late to pick up one of the kids from somewhere and as soon as my seat belt is across my waist, I reach over into my pocketbook for my mobile phone. It’s become an instinctual yet love-hate relationship with my phone. I have been tempted on several occasions when I’ve left it inside the house attached to my fast-charging cord, to turn the car around and go back for it. What if the school calls? What if someone is trying to text me? What if one of my family members is ill and trying to reach me? What if I have an accident and no way to dial 911? How would I have answered these questions before I had a smart phone? I guess that’s why we had pagers!

If I am about to go for a long drive I will go back and get it. One day recently I didn’t go far but planned on being out for a few hours running errands and decided I could live without it. I then realized how dependent we are on our mobile devices. Believe it or not , I did survive but like the days after you’ve ended a love affair, I felt like something important was missing from my daily routine and I thought about my mobile phone often. Wondering if it was plugged up or if I left it on in my bedroom with the battery slowly draining. I worried about what condition it would be in when I returned. I would reach for it every now and then. I realized how much I depended on it for directions and instead had to rely on my memory. I wanted to use my mobile app to purchase coffee and set up my grocery list, and after a few moments and a small internal tantrum I went to the ATM and took out cash to purchase my chai latte, then found a pencil and paper to make my grocery list. Before I knew it I had been running errands for over three hours and had not relied on my mobile phone for anything! I was proud of myself. I did notice just how attached I was to my mobile phone especially since most banking institutions make it so much easier to purchase and even deposit through phone applications. Everybody has an app, and it has created a mobile dependent society.

My day around town without my phone taught me just how dependent I was on this small piece of technology. I realized that even at home I find myself often saying to one of my children when they want my attention “just wait one second, I just have to send this text” or “I’ll be right there after I finish this email” , or “get in bed and I’ll be up in a minute” as I return to see who that last Facebook notification was from. The minute usually turns into five then ten and the next thing I know my daughter has read herself to sleep. Yet and still I justify it because I am self-employed and I “have to rely on my phone” to keep me abreast of what’s going on with the social media accounts for my business and to respond quickly to my client’s email or phone message. I need my phone to update my calendar with an event that I saw on Facebook, twitter or text. I justify it and it keeps me oblivious to the control it has on my time and my quality time with my family. It wasn’t until I read this article at Common Sense Media that I realized that it wasn’t just the kids who needed to set limits on the time they spend in front of a little screen, but so did I.

My children are allowed one hour of screen time per day, and if they want more screen time, they have to read and/or do some form of physical activity that matches the amount of time they want to watch videos or play on the XBox. This rule is usually met with attitude but it works!

For myself, I’ve instituted a “you don’t play until you’re done work” policy for social media. I check it first thing in the morning and I am limited to 15 minutes liking, sharing and tweeting, another half an hour watching my favorite Periscope motivators and then it’s off the phone until I get my work done for the day. The phone gets put away again between the hours of 6-8pm when I am spending time making dinner, checking in with the kids and getting them ready for bed. I keep the phone in another room, and set it to announce calls so that I can choose to answer or ignore depending on who is calling. Any calls/texts I receive I will return after the children go up to bed.

This is the first step. I have to be honest and say that some days I just want to zone out and escape into the phone (literally!) when life and parenting etc. gets to be overwhelming! However, I am making a conscious effort to be aware of the wall I put up between myself and my children (and my spouse/partner) when I am obsessed with technology.

Check out the chart below and see if you think it represents your family. If it does, you may want to put yourself in time out.

Technology Addiction: Finding Balance

Are you the bad influence in your family? We’d love to hear from you and how you set limits on technology (if any) in your home.

~African American Parenting

Unschooling: Month #2 The Unravelling

It’s been about a month and a half since I withdrew my eight year old daughter (now nine) from public school and it’s been a roller-coaster of emotions and expectations for both of us. I am so grateful to the homeschooling community for being supportive of my decision and directing me to informative blogs and sites such as Ask Pauline and Educated Adventures blog; Unschooling . The valuable resources and insight I gained helped our transition from her former school to home the best possible experience for both of us. Due to the anxiety and aggression my daughter now associated with learning, I came to the realization that she would need a period of time to unravel from the unrealistic expectations, anxiety and regimented schedule that we were both accustomed to while she attended public school. On her last day of traditional school, she brought home a backpack full of textbooks, folders, pamphlets, notebooks and binders which were almost a foot high. We both looked at them and sighed. She immediately felt that she should keep everything and that we had to finish the work she started until the folders, workbooks and notebooks were filled. When I reached to take the math book (the source of most of her anxiety) suggesting we burn it, she responded with a look of shock and a resounding “No Mommy, we can’t burn it!”. I laughed but she was serious. It was then that I realized the conditioning and fear that influenced her learning on a daily basis. After I pried the textbook from her hand, I sat her down and explained to her the things I learned from reading the blogs and speaking face to face with other homeschooled families; that the beauty of homeschooling was that we didn’t have to follow any one else’s methods of learning and could create our own. I told her it was okay if she didn’t like any of the workbooks and wanted to rip them apart because we were free from their curriculum and that she could now determine how she learned and documented what she knew. She started to loosen her grip and walked over to a folder and said ” I despise this C.E. folder, can I rip up the pages inside?” I smiled and said “absolutely!”. I watched as she ripped the worksheets into tiny pieces repeating how much she hated having to do them and that she was now free. My heart warmed and I knew at that moment I made the right decision and would do everything I could to keep from having to send her back into an environment that caused her to attach any level of resentment and detestation to learning.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not adverse to public school if it’s working for your child. Both of my children as did I attended public school from kindergarten. My son was awarded a scholarship for private high school and is currently in his first year and I volunteered in the schools every week in addition to fundraising. This is all new to me and I’m learning that there is no right or wrong, only what’s best for your child. I’m far from a pro but I’ve leaned on my resources so that I could answer my daughter’s questions about the unschooling/homeschooling process. It’s new to both of us, and I’ve listed some of the questions I had that may help someone else making the decision:

Has it had its emotional heart wrenching moments? Yes. I have had my “what am I doing -I have to work and I don’t have time for this-what was I thinking!” moments where I doubted my ability to carry one more thing on my ‘to-do’ list. It would be at that precise moment that my daughter would walk up to me, hug me tightly and say “thank you Mom, I am free”.

Have we both been frustrated with the transition? Yes. I have been late to some appointments or have had to stop what I was working on intensely to help her find the website she needed to play math games, or to make her lunch. There were at least two weeks of adjusting, setting boundaries, readjusting and setting new boundaries. I realized well into my second week that for me this was not just a Mom homeschooling her daughter, but it had to be a partnership between parent and child. It was especially necessary for me as an entrepreneur and one parenting independently, that she understand there are times when I cannot be interrupted (unless her laptop or hair is on fire) and times when she has to be ready and prepared to leave at a certain time so that I am not late getting to a client. It helps that this is something that she wanted also, and not just my decision. I made it clear to her that homeschooling can not work if Mommy is unable to do her work. In return we agreed that Friday is our field trip day. Aside from a few phone calls and returned emails in the morning, she gets undivided Mom time on Fridays. Some days we end up just going into the city for lunch and walking around and some days it’s a museum or a meet up with the Homeschooling Group in Philadelphia. It’s quality time where we unplug and enjoy whatever journey we decided to take, and it’s my favorite time of the week!

Is it as easy as it appears? Heck no! But it’s much more manageable than I thought it would be. I would highly suggest you reach out to others and connect to a “tribe” of supportive parents, families and educators to help you stay afloat. I responded to a flyer about an African-American Homeschool group meet up in Philadelphia initiated by Maleka Diggs founder of the Eclectic Learning Network. The group meets every other week and even though it’s a 25 minute drive, it is well worth the trip for me to be in a room full of people who not only support your decision but provide resources and wisdom to help make the transition easier for you. I’ve found especially in the suburbs that un/homeschoolers are judged because the school districts are more privileged than those in urban areas and people assume that the only rational reason to remove your child from such a great school would be that your student has some type of disability, or you’re weird or snobby. Neither was the case. I’ve found that those assumptions have more to do with the mindset of the person making the judgement than the person making the best choice for their child.

 

How can learning happen if there’s no curriculum? I have to admit this was a huge adjustment for me as a new “unschooler”. I thought similar to my daughter that to just continue where her school left off with the curriculum would be the easiest method for me since spending money and time researching the right curriculum for her seemed insurmountable! I would hear myself saying “ok you need to stop that and get some reading in” or “we didn’t do any math this week, log into Kahn Academy” and she would look at me as if I had two heads and I would let it go. Yet still I felt like I was failing at being her educator until I attended the Homeschool Meet up group at the Joseph E. Coleman Free Library. I was able to express my feelings of inadequacy in a non judgmental space and left with the assurance that it would happen naturally because children are natural learners. I had heard those words before, but still thought I had to make it happen. As we left the library my avid reader noticed some books she wanted to buy from the library sale. It instantly occurred to me that this could be a teachable moment. We talked about the price of the books, and asked her to tell me how much she needed to buy all five books. We had the time to sit and break down the numbers into monetary value for her to get a solid understanding of the relationship between money and math. With a tiny bit of help, she figured it out. I then noticed one of the 5 books in her hand was not a part of the series and asked her to figure out how much we needed if we didn’t purchase that book. We walked out with not only the four books but with a lesson in money, addition and subtraction all without coercion, forethought or strain. It was at that moment I understood my role in this process; let go and just wait for the teachable moments to be presented. Two days later we attended a  Fresh Baked Theatre Company play at Widener University. When we left the performance she noticed there were eight flags in the courtyard. Janai turned to me and said “Mom, there are 50 stars on each flag, I bet I can figure out how many stars in total!” She was starting to see that learning can happen outside of a classroom and that math was everywhere. I smiled and watched as she counted the stars (see picture below).

Does she wish she was back at school? I have to say that for the first day she was sad about not seeing her friends every day and wondered if she would be just as happy at home, but that’s how long it lasted. One day. We are fortunate that for now we live across the street from her former school and she enjoys greeting her friends and getting hugs as they head to their bus or walk home from school. She is very sociable and her friends are special to her so we have lots of play-dates and have even hosted her Girl Scout troop at our home. The great thing about Pennsylvania is that although it’s tightly regulated, you are allowed to continue participation in any and all after school activities including sports and girl scout meetings when you homeschool. My daughter gets quality time with her friends now instead of just the 20 minutes they were allowed to chat and play freely at school.

Do I regret the decision to pull her out of school? Not in a million years. When you’re an independent parent and self-employed it takes a lot more planning and juggling, but it’s possible. The only thing I regret is not pulling her out much earlier in the year!

I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments below or feel free to contact me via email at africanamericanparenting@gmail.com. EnJOY the journey and make it a great day!

 

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Widener University, Chester PA

Walking Away: My Unschooling Journey

Today would be the last day I walked my eight year old daughter to her school and walked away. I live directly across the street from her elementary school, the same school my son, now thirteen, attended when he was just six years old. As I walked away today, it occurred to me that not only have my children been a constant fixture at the school, but so have I. For the past eight years I have volunteered almost every school week in either of their classrooms. In addition I dedicated several weeks each year as chairperson of their MLK Day of Service, Co-facilitator of parenting workshops and for several years held positions on their PTG (Parent Teacher Group) Board. I am a staunch supporter of the public school system and I adore the children that I have had the fortune to cross paths over the years, yet it is time for me to walk away and take my daughter with me. I am walking away from the beautiful, dedicated

++teachers, parents and administrators I’ve met over the years as well as the snobby suburban self-righteous and often underlying racist ones. I am walking away from seven hours of free child care each day of the week as well as the teachers who sometimes send my child home in tears because they just “don’t have time to ” help her understand a concept in the way that she needs to learn it. I’m walking away from the convenience of sending her walking to school as well as the anxiety-driven nausea and headaches she is sent home with like stale lunch in her backpack. No one cares about the quiet trauma that is brewing in the psyche of these young children when they are pressured with more homework and testing than I’ve seen in eight years.

I never thought I could do this. As a single parent with no parents or grandparents to lean on, I didn’t think I had an option. I didn’t see any way I could have her learn at home when I had to work at least part time outside of the home and maybe even more if I was to afford the child care and/or alternative school that she would now need. I felt selfish because I didn’t want to give up my free time during the day when I had no clients and could pamper myself. I couldn’t afford to send her to an alternative school because they were expensive and seemingly out of reach for someone self-employed and a full time mom. And then the day came that my daughter came home and asked me the question “Mom, do you think I’m stupid?”. And I knew that it didn’t matter what I thought I could or couldn’t do, I had to. To be continued….

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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!