Lower expectations

Honestly, this is going to sound lazy. But, a recent epiphany I had is why being relaxed and lowering expectations yields greater results. With grades, in sports, and with relationships, the way to bring success is to be prepared but also, and more importantly, just do it. Do it without giving setting the bar too high. Do it without making a plan on what has to happen. Yes, this goal-setting mama has witnessed firsthand the benefit in not worrying about the end result and just enjoying the race.

Anna miraculously completed her first 5k race last weekend. We had trained for months with the wonderful Girls on the Run program. And much like a good running program, the weeks of workouts prepare the young girls to have the endurance to complete 3.1 miles. But, Anna hasn’t been hardcore because this running group is just as much about friendships and self-discovery as it is running.

She surprised us by only stopping 3 times throughout the race. She finished in 33 minutes. This is not record-winning. However, she wasn’t winded. In fact, she seemed happy and finished with a smile on her face. We didn’t talk about it beforehand. There were no expectations so she certainly exceeded them!

Then there was Brody who half-heartedly decided to also run the race. He planned on not running with Anna and Bo as he assumed he’d run faster than them. However, we also didn’t talk about it or make a plan except that maybe he could start by running with me. Well, that didn’t last long and he broke away from the group. He won the race. Yes, won first place in the race.

I was equally surprised with both accomplishments. But when I think about my children’s accomplishments, they tend to be most successful in the areas that we don’t harp on. Grades. Test scores. Sports. The less we stress about it, the better they naturally do.

There is preparation along the way. Discipline, practice,  and focus on daily tasks are important. We expect for them to do their homework, finish their chores, and have good behavior. But with most performance-based activities, I believe that we can sabotage our children’s efforts, despite the best intentions, when we expect them to perform. The pressure to succeed can make children and adults cave under pressure.

And, as parent, we can be pleasantly surprised instead of disappointed when we don’t have concrete expectations. Valuing best effort, a good attitude, and hard work will result in a good outcome without the stress of pleasing. Do I want to abandon goal-setting? No because it provides growth in self-awareness. But, I do think with our children, we should let them guide their goal-setting. Studies show time and again that intrinsic motivation is more important than extrinsic anyway.

And, I’m now seeing that we can even encourage our children to be easy on themselves too. This week at school, I met with a super, engaged student about test anxiety. Digging deeper into the topic, I discovered that she currently has a ‘B’ in math. But as a type ‘A’ personality, this isn’t good enough (or so she thinks). So after going through some concrete test-taking strategies, we ended with me having her speak to me as if I were a close friend in the same situation. I asked if she’d put her friend down for not finishing first and getting a ‘B’. Of course not so why would be that demanding of ourselves? She coached herself in this activity, practicing kindness and grace.

When parents or teachers berate a child, the child feels small and incapable.  That’s not motivating and inspiring. I know of an adult who once told a 7-year old girl  that didn’t read fast enough on the silly, mandated reading assessment; she needed to do better.  She is  an ESL student who speaks Spanish at home.  Needless to say, the next time she read to her teacher, she was in tears. The pressure doesn’t motivate. Pressure only sets unnecessary stress. And, we know stressed out kids don’t do as well.

It’s ok not to shoot to be first or get straight A’s. We don’t have to win every game. We don’t need to be first. We actually only need to win being a good person. That’s not performance-based. By removing expectations, talking less about the end result, and allowing things to naturally play out, kids just do better. We can allow natural talents and gift to shine.

Just do it.

(And, if you do your best, be happy with the results!)


One foot in front of the other

I was talking to a friend about stress yesterday, and am sitting here thinking about the stressed out kids I saw today. We all have stress but some just have more than others. It’s not fair. Life can be hard. And, sometimes we cannot simply fix the problem.

Band aids don’t work. And, tomorrow may feel the same.


Whether it be our own child or our student, there are some problems that just cannot be solved. A child with cancer. A brain tumor. An abandoned child. A child removed from their home. An absent father. An abusive mother. These are real problems…that may not be fixed.

When we have these real curve balls, I told my friend that sometimes all you can do is put one in front of the other. Literally, and figuratively.

When we are hurting, we can only control so much. We might be sad, scared, disappointed, hurt, let-down, anxious, or angry. But, we CAN march on.

We can walk, moving away from our worries, knowing that we can control our actions. We can walk allowing our mind a minute to rest and focus on our movement. Sports, running, dancing, yoga, or just walking….we move forward.

Many and most days, I see children who can barely stay in their own skin. Sometimes the reality is painful and they can barely stand being. You see their skin crawling! 

When it feels like too much, when things are spinning, just walk. Move forward instead of staying stagnant.

One foot in front of the other. Fresh air. Move. Stretch. Breathe. One step at a time. Time will move on.



Summer Sarah

If you are a parent or especially if you are an educator, I know you’re loving summer! Summer time brings flexible sleep schedules, maybe even a nap or two if you’re lucky, friends and bbq’s, books and movies, and just the freedom to have a little bit more fun and flexibility. It’s a well-needed break!


Here’s the thing, it’s almost over friends! So, whatever you had hoped to do or complete, DO IT NOW! As you teacher-friends know, when school starts, forget it! You don’t have the time or energy to exercise after school or go to a casual dinner with friends. Shoot, we are lucky to still be awake at 9 for our favorite show! The first month of school (or the whole year!) sucks the life out of you.

What non-educators don’t realize is that no one would do the job if we didn’t get time off! Working with children is exhausting. Being on your game everyday and giving 100% is demanding. There are no business lunches out or long boardroom meetings. No, that would be an exciting rest. When you work in a school, you are ON all the time. We do it because we want to give our kids our undivided attention igniting their love of learning while also making sure their basic needs are met. And then they are the parents…our plates are full!

So while we have these last couple weeks of freedom, seize the day. Make sure you’re checking all those bucket-list activities off your list. Rest, rest, and rest! And make sure you’re practicing your self–care.

In the summer, I’ve nicknamed myself ‘Summer Sarah’. My husband knows better than anyone that Summer Sarah is more fun, energetic, happy, and exciting. Why? Because I’m not dog-tired. Self-care restores and I make it a mission to do what makes me happy during the summer.

Nurses, counselors, teachers, therapists, mothers, fathers, grandparents- we are the caretakers and it’s tough. Caretakers often feel exhausted because we put our own personal wants and needs second making sure the needs of others are met first. We make it our mission to keep others comfortable and happy while often times neglecting to do the same for ourselves. Over time, this makes us tired, irritable, or even resentful. This doesn’t make for good caretakers! We have to make time for ourselves too.

Self care:

  • a good diet

  • healthy habits

  • exercise

  • hobbies

  • rest

  • taking time for oneself

  • balance

We have to stop feeling guilty for taking care of ourselves because it just doesn’t make sense not to! How can our children get the best teaching, guidance, love, and understanding if their caretakers are unhappy and overspent? If you’re already spent, then make a decision to do something that rejuvenates you this week. We have to recharge.

If you’re well-rested and about to start something hard, then make a plan to keep yourself healthy. Be of healthy body AND mind by doing things that keep your spirit lifted. Sometimes there’s just time for reading a chapter of a good book at night or going for a quick walk around the block. It’s better than nothing. To prevent burnout, we have to take time for caring for the most important person, the caretaker!

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Realize that life isn’t a race.

Exonerate yourself from always doing. 

Set aside time for nothing.

Take time for reflections, prayers, silence, and each other. 

This past Sunday at church, the sermon was about rest. It’s a idea that you don’t have to talk me into! Yet, the idea resonated with me especially right now as we make some decisions about schedules and brace ourselves for the fall. Get ready for the whirlwind of open houses, new teachers, new coaches, and new friends. Back-to-school brings lots of change and excitement that it can really make time fly by. Before you know it, it’s football season! So it’s at this time of the year that I encourage you (and I remind myself) to set some priorities and limits for your children and family.

It’s become the norm in this country to be busy and overscheduled, as if life is a contest and the busiest wins. All summer long, families are filling up their summer ‘free’ time with organized activities. Camps during the day, more camps at night, sleep-away camps, practices, lessons, swim meets, and filling time….Go, go, go! And when school starts, it gets even crazier. GO, GO, GO, GO!

The only reason I am taking the time to reflect on this phenomenon is that I don’t think that everyone choosing this lifestyle is enjoying this hurried life. I often times hear the deep sighs of rushing mothers or the complaints of frantic parents about where they have to be next. Is there a reward in choosing to live like this?


Whether it be sports, music, dance, or even tutoring, we sometimes rush our kids through life, teaching them that busier is better with too many after-school activities. We should know as adults that this mentality and lifestyle isn’t benefitting our mental and physical health, or overall wellbeing. Lack of focus, irritability, and lack of self-control can all be linked to children who are overtired. As adults, we have to set limits and model having some down time too.

Remember, it’s a choice how you want to spend your free time. If you find yourself dreading or complaining that you have to do something, you shouldn’t be doing it. Set boundaries for yourself and your children. If it’s your child’s joy to play that sport, play that piano, dance or sing, or whatever it might be, then by all means, rush to get them there. However, many kids don’t want to be taking those 3 dance classes, and piano, and tutoring, and church…. Parents can overdo it.

Childhood is fast and it should be fun. We don’t have to rush to be good at everything or stay busy for the sake of being busy, telling people what our kids do. Time is valuable. Choose what you want to do with your time, and don’t automatically fill it up. It’s ok to leave time to pause.


Rest provides others the best versions of ourselves. Rest helps us remain true to ourselves. Rest connects us to God. If we don’t rest, we don’t pause to reflect on the choices we are making. As this school year begins, choose time for what’s most important, each other.




We spend a lot of time trying to keep ourselves comfortable. In America, many of us are blessed with a comfortable home, setting our thermostat to the perfect temperature, choosing from an unlimited selection of shoes and clothing, eating foods that bring us pleasure, and having entertainment at the touch of a screen or button. We are spoiled, and so are our kids.

I’m not complaining or saying I don’t want all these amenities; quite the opposite. I just realize that it’s what we know, and often we aren’t even aware of these blessings on a daily basis. But, coming back from Mexico from a 5 star resort, I do recognize and appreciate America even more!

We were not slummin’ it by any means. There was great service, food and drinks around the clock, and a nice pool and beach to lounge at. Overall, it was very nice. So, I’ll admit that what I’m reflecting about from our trip was the benefit of being out of our comfort zone a little.

Now, everyone in Mexico speaks English so that wasn’t an issue. I even threw out an ‘Hola’ or two! What we disliked most was the food. Boy, are we spoiled with great, fresh foods in this country. And, we have a zillion restaurants to choose from too. But, the first night when we sat down to eat the unlimited buffet food, our noses were turned up! Brody drank a coke but we were all a little worried thinking about the week ahead in food and weak drinks. That’s not enough to ruin a trip, though.

We managed to get by, although I’d bet Brody lost weight at this all-inclusive! I guess we are a little picky and conditioned to what we like. So, the food was one thing we were so excited to come home to. And, then there’s nothing like your own bed and pillows after a long trip. Paradise!…

But mostly, it’s just the comfort and security of your familiar surroundings that are so much appreciated when you spend time away. Not only does traveling open your eyes to different cultures and beautiful places, but it also opens your eyes to the beauty of your every-day life at home too!

The most uncomfortable or anxious we were on the trip was the day we ventured out to hip Tulum. This wasn’t a guided tour to the ruins or anything. Nope. We took the advice of a resort worker and rode the bus. (I’m always about saving $$ so we skipped the private, safe tour and just walked on down to the highway).

Now, first we had to play Frogger and hop across 4 lanes of interstate traffic to get to the other side to catch the bus. (I’m always imagining Anna falling down, since she still does often, so that started my anxiety, gripping her hand when we had to stop mid-highway with trucks speeding by!). Then, a bus, which is more like a nice van, quickly stopped (so far, so good because we had the bus stop correct). At this point, you could tell ‘Uncle Beardy’ wasn’t feeling so excited about this outing either. Bo would have opted for the private taxi too but we wanted to save a peso while also having a more authentic experience!

When the driver asked where we were going, he told us to hop in. Upon opening the door, we thought there must have been a mistake. The van was already full of passengers. “No. Get in”, the driver told us so we did as he led us to believe that the other vans are full. Uncle Beardy got to ride shot-gun with the driver and other worker. Luckily, there was one seat for Nana AND Anna to share. So, that left the floor for the rest of us. Brody took a seat on some luggage. I squeezed and squatted down in between two seats. And, Bo kneeled on the floor.

My nervous laughter began as soon as the doors shut and all the locals gave us Americans a glance. Mom was convinced a couple were Mexican drug dealers, and I was wondering if any of them had guns on them. Meanwhile, Brody was stone-faced and visibly worried. This wasn’t his thing! But, Nana felt safe as Bo as our bodyguard, being a couple heads taller and wider than most Mayans!

After riding for way longer than expected, some of the other passengers got off about 15 minutes later. We were able to get a seat, although Bo’s shin was already bruised from it slamming into something metal every time the van hit a bump. And, my feet were a little tingly from squatting for way more than my 40-year-old body should! Nevertheless, Tulum was just a few more minutes down the highway and much larger than we had expected.20170610_130243

At this point, I should remind you that some children, like my son, listen and hang onto every word that they hear. And, I might have mentioned a long time ago when we were planning this trip that I wasn’t sure if we should go to Mexico because it might not be safe. He may have overheard me tell Bo that I read someone got mugged on a bike during the day on TripAdvisor. So, again, he wasn’t feel too thrilled with this little side-trip.


We made it into Tulum just to walk around , try some non-resort food, and to shop around for a souvenir. Indeed, the streets were lined with market after market of Mexican skull art, pottery, sombreros, jewelry, those lovely embroidered dresses and shirts that Anna didn’t want 😦 , and art. It was just what I was imagining, and I immediately felt safer as we began wandering around.20170610_143426

Brody, on the other hand, did not. When he completely stops talking, he’s either exhausted but most likely he’s really worried. Well, he was scared. We were hoping that a cheese quesadilla would help snap him out of it, but even after finding a restaurant and getting some food, he did not. In fact, his unease grew into a full-fledge anxiety attack. Tears began rolling down his cheeks as he told me he didn’t feel well. With music blaring and strobe lights in the bar area, we exited for some fresh air as he looked like he was about to get sick.

I sent Anna to get Bo because I really didn’t want him vomiting on the sidewalk. So, Bo took him to the not-so-clean (as in never-been-cleaned) restroom. There was barely enough room to close the swinging door in the women’s restroom that opened to the restaurant. And, there also were no toilet seats! So, Brody said there was no way he could even get sick in there! I took him back outside to calm him down.

Of course, he wasn’t saying he was worried. He “felt sick”, and I’m sure he did. What can you do when you’re on the edge of a breakdown? You control what you can control so we started with breathing. Breathe in to the count of 7, hold for 5, and blow out for 9. Repeat. I was doing it with him (I didn’t want him puking right there!). Then, we went on a walk. A distraction is always good and the body needs something to do. We peaked in some shops and he started feeling better. The tears stopped, although he wasn’t exactly happy. He was ok.

Sometimes, that’s all you can hope for, for things to be ok. It’s ok to feel anxious and I told him that’s all is was. After the rest of the crew finished lunch, we began to walk around some more. He wasn’t excited to be there. In fact, he was so ready to get back to secured Grand Sierentis! But, we wanted to see a little more and am so glad we went down some quaint side streets with amazing little restaurants even if Uncle Beardy was not. (Paranoia may run in the family)! But when you let a worry steer your life, you’d miss out on the side streets and real life. Life wouldn’t be as colorful. cropped-tulum.jpg


(Look closely above at Brody’s face when he spots a machete in the back seat, confirming his dark thoughts that we are in a dangerous land!)


Being out of our comfort zone adds excitement and zeal for some, and anxiety and unease for others like Brody. But when it’s all said and done, the end result is that we gain perspective. We gain greater insight into our likes and dislikes, our fears, and also what coping strategies help us most.

Once back inside the gates of our resort, Brody immediately began chatting away again, relieved to be back and safe, and not “mugged”. (He later admitted he was afraid he was going to get mugged.) Quickly, I recapped what had happened and he agreed he thought is was an anxiety attack. Then, we reflected on what had worked when he practiced breathing and went for a walk. He has strategies that worked. In the future, I hope this will help….

Because there will be more uncomfortable situations, both unchosen and chosen. To avoid them would be to miss out on creating some of our strongest memories. We grow when we face our fears. And many times, we may realize that things really weren’t as scary as we made ourselves believe. Or, even better, we can celebrate the little things that we take for granted (take below when Brody was ready for dinner only a short time after we returned to the resort and chose to dress up; happy times again!)   20170610_184152



“I think my brain tumor is going to grow back”…..

“I think my brain tumor is going to grow back.” These words are still ringing in my ears since a casual dinner conversation this week. And although I don’t love this new norm, this is the norm. This is reality. And, this is also ok.

What prompted this statement was our dinner-question prompts. The kids have loved drawing a question each evening as we sit down together. It’s especially fun because there are 2 little pieces of paper that have a hidden surprise! If you get the smiley face :), you automatically get a piece of candy after dinner. So while I’d like to think they love these questions because they lead to self-reflection and great conversation, I think Brody just wants a chance at candy without eating all his veggies!

The questions, some of which I borrowed and some of which I created, range from, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?, What’s your happiest day?, to What’s a worry you have?”. I don’t even remember what Monday’s question was but Brody gave this casual statement. Almost 2 years later, it still makes me do a double take….(My son has a brain tumor?!)

He proceeded to put his hypothesis into statistical terms. (Ms. Hulsey would be so proud!) He said he was actually 75/ 25% that it would grow back. This was a shocking statement to me, which of course prompted more questions like ‘Why? Are you having symptoms you’re not telling us about? Why do you think that?…..”

He then changed his percentage rate to 25/75. Ok, I thought, I’ll take that one. That was one I can handle. And until a couple days later, I was still holding onto these statements like they are the truth. Like Brody is the neurologist telling me what’s going to happen. Then, I realized something even better.

He’s just telling me his fears. He very rarely talks about being scared or worried of something like this happening, although we know there’s always a chance it could. He often reflects on his experiences with the brain surgery but not daily, or even weekly. It’s such a blessing that he’s leading a better-than-normal life and doesn’t have to worry about it daily.

Now, I’ve realized that him verbalizing such a serious thing is him expressing that he sometimes is scared and recognizes that it could happen. Later in bed, we cuddled and I told him how I deal with that worry. I always choose to think positively. I believe good things will happen. I pray about it. I talk about it. I write about it! And, I look at how healthy he is and believe, like really believe, that he’s ok. He hugged me close and went straight to sleep.

Basically, I don’t think he’s too worried or been thinking about it daily like I have. I do think he’s acting pragmatic when he says it could happen. And , that’s ok. Like I’ve told him, a lot of things could happen. Why live in the could!? Live in the present.

So, another lesson learned as a parent. We do way more worrying than our children. Often times, it’s unnecessary and unhelpful. And, when our children do express a fear, rational or not, it’s ok. It could be a minor anxiety or a real concern. It gives us a chance to talk about it, which will only lessen the fear. I’m going to keep the dinner questions coming and see what comes up. In the meantime, I’ll keep savoring and appreciating every day I get. It is a gift!

#braintumorsurvivor #warrior


Anxiety and kids

Seems like wherever you go, people are stressed, including children. The fact that I left being a counselor at a high-needs, low-income school doesn’t mean I don’t have to help students with their problems and stress anymore. The problems and stress at a  predominately white, middle class school are sometimes just different from the problems poor children experience.

We know the students are stressed because the other counselor and I surveyed the students at one large Knox county school. Making the most of the few guidance classes we have with them, we wanted to teach them what they want to learn. And, the top topic according to these 8-11 year olds is managing stress and disappointment, definitely a more affluent problem to have. But, it’s a stressor nevertheless.

So, I had my first round of guidance classes Monday. The 4th and 5th grade classes, especially, were eye-opening to me. Students started with a giant list of potential typical stressors that kids might experience. They could circle as many as applied, and during roll-call, they shared at least one ‘worry’ they had. Many students wanted to share more so I added another couple minutes of time to share at their tables because they had so many stressors on their list, in addition to writing in their own.

What was interesting is noticing many common themes in this very homogenous school. Included on their list were:

  • Making good grades (C’s aren’t good enough)
  • Doing well on tests
  • My weight
  • Disappointing my parents
  • The way I look
  • Dying
  • My parents dying
  • Living up to family expectations

The students were serious and acted genuinely stressed when sharing, yet much lighter afterwards. Remembering back, one popular boy’s response stood out to me. He explained that he wrestles and has to be in a certain weight-class. He gets stressed when he can barely eat for a day in order to stay in his weight class before a match. This is a kid not much older than my own son, Brody. And, this is a stressor that he and his family chooses, like many others on this list. Is this healthy at such a young age?

Two other boys talked about Grandfathers who were athletes. One was in the NBA and one the NFL. Now, these young boys also aspire to grow up like these family legends. They are already so focused on sports. And, while I assume and hope it’s fun for them, it also seems so young to be so serious about something, worrying that they could get hurt in practice and prevent this dream from blossoming.

Maybe we shouldn’t be micromanaging future plans for what they must become. Maybe we, as parents, could cut the kids some slack and let them choose a little more. Maybe we could have some downtime and allow for mistakes. Why? Because shouldn’t some of this be their choice?

I’m noticing that much childhood stress comes from parents, both rich and poor. I’ve met many children over the years who are anxious to the point of not functioning because they don’t have basic needs met and don’t know what to expect when they get home. On the contrary, there are also many kids who know oh too well what to expect and know they must reach this high bar or else. They must keep running from lesson to lesson, and are expected to perform.

Total apathy or lack of concern, AND micromanaging and rushing future plans are ruining a fun childhood.

Balance. meditation_op_517

We must be sensible and sensitive to what our children need so we don’t drive the anxiety because many good kids are secretly suffering and stressed. Isn’t there so much more time to worry, rush, and stress? And while some stress can motivate and drive us (or even “fuel us” as one of my students said), we also need to have fun and keep ‘real’ worries in check. We all have worries but it’s how we view them, and there’s no reason to bring more upon growing, changing minds than we have to.

We spent most of the class talking about how to relieve stress, what to and not to do. Many bad habits are formed young, from overeating to dependence on technology. These are choices that I’m still figuring out! But, as I have said many times, kids are always watching what we do. How do we model dealing with stress has a huge influence on our kids.

I do know this, though, being able to talk about stress and acknowledge that we all have some stress does help. It helps us be human. It helps us connect. It helped me come home and continue this conversation with my own children, who too share some of these worries. Sometimes, if you don’t ask, you simply don’t know. So, let’s ask and listen. Let’s talk and not pressure. Let’s accept that we can’t always be happy but sometimes we can create our own happiness. And, let’s help our kids make choices that bring less stress and more choice, less frustration and more joy, and less pressure and more freedom and natural consequences.

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