My #1

1Every child deserves to someone’s number one. Every child needs to hear they are loved, feel adored, and be given hugs before bed. Every child deserves to have someone read them a bedtime story. Every child wants to hear they are good at something. Every child not only wants these things; they need it. It’s something many of us take for grated. It’s something many of us do for our children without thought.

“You’re my favorite boy in the world. You’re so smart. You’re such a good girl. You are so responsible. I love you…..”

These are things I say to my children every day because I mean it, and they need to hear it. They need to feel it. And, many, many children are not feeling like they are anyone’s number one.

The list of children that I spent time with this week is long. And when I think of a commonalities, there is one depressing theme. Many, if not most, of the children who had angry outbursts, who had a conflict or made a bad choice, or asked to spend time with me are lacking one or both parents. They are abandoned and feel unwanted. Their parents have different priorities.

They’re in jail. They’re on drugs. They have a new boyfriend. I’ve even had children tell me that they have new kids now. They have a new family. How does that make a child feel to have their parent care about something or someone more than them? It leaves a void. They feel incomplete. They feel insecure. And, they are longing for attention.

And, they look for attention wherever they can find it. In PAC (in-school suspension), in conflicts, in rebellion, and even within themselves. I had a boy tell me at the end of the day that “he would never earn a reward from me” when he saw another girl picking her toy from my ‘joy jar’. “I’m stupid and I never do anything right.” This is not how children are supposed to feel when they are nine.

But, when your mom has left you, you rarely see your dad, and you’re scared of your caretaker, you feel lost. When your mom tells you that you won’t be seeing your dad anymore, you feel sad. When your dad is in jail and you haven’t seen him since you were three, you feel disappointed. When your mother chose drugs over you, you feel angry. Children are hurting everywhere.

But, we can’t give up. We have to be the ones to love them. Maybe they aren’t our number one, but we can try to find them a number one. Today I checked in with a friend who is being raised by her aunt and uncle. She’s been with them for years now while some of her other many siblings are living with a drug-addicted mom and other family members. In fact, one of her brothers now attends the same school yet lives with step-mom and father. He was born addicted to drugs and the impact is huge. He is so delayed and almost incapable of functioning in school. Today, he didn’t want to leave his sister when he saw her this morning. Since they don’t live together and hardly see each other, he gets so excited to see her. He became so upset upon her leaving for class that he began screaming, “I want to kill myself” over and over and over again down the hallway. It was a blood-curdling scream. It was so painful to listen to so I cannot imagine how he feels. He’s in first grade.

But, this girl who shares the same mother and doesn’t have a relationship with a different father is doing great. It was her birthday today. And while she was understandably upset by the morning incident, her ‘Big Sister’ from the Big Brothers Big Sister’s program surprised her for her birthday. She’s been matched with this girl since first grade. Her Big Sister comes to eat lunch with her often. She takes her to do fun things outside of school. And, she delivers wonderful, fancy birthday presents to this one girl. She has made her her number one! She even asked her ‘little’ to be in her wedding this winter!

So when there are children who have had bad luck and received the short-end-of-the-stick, we have to find them a number one. A mentor, a school friend, a family member who steps in….someone who will treat them like they are the most important thing in the world. And even if we can’t actually find them a mentor, we make the time we spend with ‘our’ kids meaningful. When I spend time with a child, even if it’s 5 minutes, I really try to make them feel loved. They aren’t always the most loving kids but they can be when we show them how to.

At the end of the day today, I invited a boy who’s been abandoned by his mother to come help me with my kindergarten leadership class. I had to conduct a suicide assessment on him yesterday. But today, he wanted to come with me as I taught the sweet kindergarten students about ‘filling buckets’. He was so well-behaved in this class as he served as my assistant. A boy who is desperate to be loved and is feeling really depressed chose to spend his afternoon explaining to other children how to fill buckets and make other people feel loved.

Fill someone’s bucket today, and make a child feel loved. They all deserve it.

 

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Simple

First, listen to ‘Simple’ by our local Emily Ann Roberts!

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Awaking again at my leisure, not too early and not too late, I get to sip at my fresh cup of French Roast and browse the internet. Again, we have no plans for the day. We’re in no rush to get out of our pj’s or even eat breakfast. And, the biggest decision will be what to eat for dinner.

Summer is wonderful….simple. It’s exciting, and slow. It’s hot, humid air and cool, fresh water. It’s friends, and silence. It’s fresh veggies, and treats. It’s books, and Netflix. Yes, and we love it all!

In less than a week, Brody has another MRI. This one will around 8 months instead of the scheduled 6 months. When we called to make the appointment months ago, she was that booked up. And when the receptionist put me on hold to ask Dr. Savage if it was ok to wait this long, she came back on the line to ask if he’s having any symptoms. No (knock on wood), I replied, so we are some of the lucky ones who can wait. Of course we want her dedicating her time to those who cannot wait; Brody was that emergency patient once.

It’s nerve-wracking every time, indeed. It seems like an eternity and only yesterday we were in that waiting room at Children’s. So, there is anxiety again. This has been the longest break so we are out of practice. It’s sneaking up, but Brody doesn’t even realize it. He’s living his simple day-to-day life….blessings.

Yesterday, we did a quick day-trip to Frozen Head, sticking to my plan of a good ole’ Tennessee summer, a simple summer. Brody’s best friends are 13, almost 14, and 11. They spent the afternoon wading through the shallow creek, flipping rocks and searching for crawdads. The sound of the creek and woods was all you could hear; no one was there. It was quiet, slow, and most definitely simple. What’s great is that they are that easily entertained. Kids are quite simple too, even 13 year olds!

It takes less junk (entertainment systems, devices, toys, gadgets, bells and whistles) than parents realize to keep our kids happy. They ended the day by all chasing and catching fireflies and jumping on the trampoline in the dark.

Brody’s diagnosis 2 years ago changed me in many, many ways. One of those is that I realize we don’t have to stay busy-busy to not be bored. So, our summers will be different than most. No camps. No schedule. We won’t have an outing every day. We will do whatever we feel like that day. We’ll be spontaneous, a little bored, lazy, and just see what happens. Because so far, it’s working out for us.

Just like I believe this Monday will work out for us too. Simple.

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#LIVINGFORTODAY

#FRIENDSFAMILYLIFE

Room to grow

Time to reflect and examine what’s going on with our kids. Another school year has come to a close, riddled with unexpected twists and turns. Growing pains are always to be expected. So, is this year any different?

  • Stressed, overworked teachers
  • Negligent caregivers, and over-involved parents
  • Excess extracurriculars and lack of quality time
  • Suicide
  • Social media

These are just a few persistent, troubling themes in American schools. As usual, there have been friendship problems, tragedies, and too much information in too little time. But, what sticks out in 2017 as impacting our young children most? When I think back on this fast school year, many issues are avoidable.

More and more continues to be demanded of our public school teachers and this stress does trickle down to students. Yet, many teachers have accepted that the list requirements will always be growing and changing. Teachers seem less stressed than they were a couple years ago when the new evaluation system was first implemented. Yet, teachers seem no more happy. It’s hard work and more work with no more money! Yet, there are so many great teachers willing to persevere because they believe in children and shaping their future.

Sometimes these are the only consistently positive role models our children have. More and more, children are not experiencing the 2-parent, traditional home. The model of a family continues to shift, whether it be living with a family friend, to having multiple homes, or being raised by a grandparent. This is impacting our children’s resiliency and confidence. Some children expect the unexpected at an early age making it difficult to concentrate on being a student and stress-free kid.

Divorce continues to be an issue that many young children face. And, it’s not easy. Sometimes it takes years for children to accept, if they ever do. Changes in schedules and bouncing from different homes is challenging even if it’s the best decision for the parents. Kids miss their mom or dad when they aren’t with them. Going for months on end without seeing a parents hurts.

Grandparents as caregivers present another set of challenges, as their role as a guardian is not the same dynamic as a parent. Many times, they are juggling working and raising their grandchildren, while also dealing with whatever factors got the children there to begin with. It’s a lot of pressure and these children don’t always get the discipline and consistency they need. They may get away with more and less is expected from them as many times the grandparents feel sorry for them. Or, the grandparent is too tired to fight the fight. Many children aren’t held to same expectations as their peers when it comes to household or school responsibilities. And, they aren’t getting the help they need with their school work at home either. Academics have changed and become more rigorous. And, many times parents and grandparents don’t know how to help them. They weren’t taught the same way, or they don’t remember. So, many kids don’t do their homework. They’d rather stick them on a device to pacify.

On the other hand, there continue to be the parents who micromanage every move their child makes. Every little quiz must be an A and the teacher is contacted if their child’s grade drops to a B. Teachers find this type of parent just as frustrating. The entitled parent expects ongoing communication if their child has a bad day; this parent wants to monitor every move. This child is not allowed to have a bad day, and if they do, there has to be a reason that must be fixed immediately. This kid deserves to be the best because they are the smartest, of course.

For all kids, of all races and socioeconomic status, electronic devices seemed to cause the most trouble in 2016/17. We still haven’t figured out balance and how to regulate our kids. And, there are more and more opportunities for children of all socioeconomic levels to get online. Whether it be texting or messaging, being sucked into YouTube, or just the simple games like Roadblock, electronics are seriously impacting our children. Many times, parents are unaware or checked out from regulating these devices. This school year has been the year of hurt feelings over what started out as a simple message or text. Middle-class girls whose parents value education and are involved are NOT involved in monitoring this process. Many misunderstandings and cyberbullying could have been avoided.

Children in elementary (not to mention even middle and high school) are just too young to practice mindful online communication and react appropriately on their own. It’s complicating their lives and spilling into their school day too! It’s impacting their self-image and really causing damage to their outlook on whom they can trust, believing they aren’t good enough. Kids in elementary are too young to explore online without an adult. The world of electronics can be isolating and addictive.

Sadly, this has been the year of suicide. 13 Reasons Why sparked the conversation but kids were already hurting. Young kids are hurting. It’s surprising that so many elementary age children are already aware of what suicide is and some are even talking about doing it. That’s been the most difficult part of this school year, knowing that children the age of my own son are contemplating dying and living with feelings of hopelessness.

Most are not serious about completing the act, but many are already causing self-harm. There are many red flags. And when a child in elementary school is already considering this as their coping strategy, we should be alarmed. They don’t think they are smart. No one likes them. Their parents don’t care. I’ve heard it all. I’ve witnessed this myself after calling parents and encountering their lack of alarm or immediate attention. These kids are crying out and many parents aren’t taking them seriously.

Then, there were 3 high school students at Knoxville’s most affluent high school who did complete this act. We must take early warning signs seriously. It seriously disturbs me when parents don’t listen, take the next steps, or just don’t believe their children. Mental illness or instability, at the very least, is going undiagnosed and without care.

Parents aren’t taking the time. Parents are taking time buying them new stuff, micromanaging their school work, and running them to practices. But, parents aren’t really taking the time to connect, like truly connect. Parents need to ask questions and take time to listen, in the car, before meals, at bed. Many young children feel disconnected from their parents. Everyone is busy and many times, children are home alone or just feel alone. This has become way more acceptable in all circles. Working parents or just busy families are not taking the time to be with their kids.

There’s the 7-year-old who gets off the bus by himself and spends a couple hours alone while mom is still at work. And, there’s also the affluent parent who’s rushing off to a multiple practices and has their child involved in every possible extracurricular. Quality time is becoming scarce and parents don’t know their children as well. Instead of spending time together, more parents are signing their kids up for structured activities or sports where the family is apart.

There seems to be a push towards valuing education in America. We sure are raising the academic standards but why do we expect all children fit this mold? There’s pressure to achieve and watch those graphs go up. Maybe we are pressuring our children in developmentally inappropriate ways, however. With our youth, we should be spending the most time developing a sense of self, understanding and relating to others, and forming friendships. These are the life skills that lead to a fulfilling life.

Looking forward to this summer, we need to get outside more. We need to sit down and talk with (not to) our kids. We need to explore, adventure, read, play, and talk more. We need to stress less and laugh more. We need to slow down! We need to take time for friends and leave our devices alone. We need to have more fun!

Thanks for listening and being the kind of parent who already lives with perspective and love! Those of you who read this are the ones who are raising respectful, well-balanced, and creative kids! Keep on rocking in the free world! ego.jpg

Is 2nd grade the new 4th for girls?

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You people working in schools know what I’m talking about. Recess drama and female friendships that flip-flop daily or by the hour! Girls who are drama queens and TELL their friends who they can and cannot play with. And, then there’s the girl who is always the victim; someone is ALWAYS being mean to her. Or, she NEVER gets to play! (poor me…) Girl drama is tough!

Is 2nd grade the new 4th grade?

It’s interesting that women night say 50 is the new 40. Time is moving backwards. But, in adulthood, it’s a positive idea embodying self-righteousness and true self-awareness. And with all the age-defying tricks, you can even make your self look younger while also feeling wiser!

For young girls, many are trying to grow up too fast. They want to be pre-teens when they are really still kids. We are seeing drama queens at a younger and younger age. It’s like it’s contagious. There’s always been the pecking order but now instead of 4th or 5th grade, it’s 2nd grade.

As a counselor, my “guidance” box is littered with notes about friendship problems each week. And, yes, all grades experience friendship issues at some point but the majority of friendship problems are 2nd grade girls. What some parents may label “bullying” is really more like power struggles, where both parties are at play. There are many power-hungry girls who want to be the boss yet lack the empathy and leadership skills is takes to navigate through making decisions. Are they all like this?

We want our girls to be confident decision-makers. But, most 2nd grade girls haven’t figured out how to act self-assured and assertive while also being kind, fair, and humble. We want our girls to play fair, take turns, share friends, make new friendships, and be happy…. yet so many are not at such a young age.

This is the part that I know I’m about to curse myself so I’m knocking on wood. Our time will come I’m sure…. In fact, we are almost guaranteed a nightmarish teenagehood because our 8-year-old is just so responsible, kind, and also confident now!  I work with countless girls her age, I know I do not have a drama queen. I know her friends find her nice. And I know this because I am fortunate enough to be right there hearing it and seeing for myself. Thank goodness she’s not one of the ‘ALWAYS’, poor-me, ‘I’m not your friend anymore’ girls!

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And, thank goodness she also has a couple of friends, not a ton, who are the same way. They still have a simple innocence, soft delivery, yet old-soul approach towards friendship. In fact, I noticed recently that her absolute best friend in the whole world wasn’t playing with her a recess. For almost 3 years now, they have played with each other (kid-you-not) every single day of recess. They were only in the same class together one of these 3 years but they always reunited on the playground.

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You could usually find Anna and Kate hand in hand on the playground. They greeted each other running with arms stretched out like in a movie. They hugged and played every single day until a couple of weeks ago. The streak has ended. Anna said nothing about it but I noticed, being that I walk past the playground upon entering and leaving my room at our school. When I noticed that they were playing in different areas and with different girls, I was very surprised. I worried there must be trouble in paradise. But, these are 2 girls that have never had a fight. In fact, I have never heard them even bicker or have a disagreement.

When I asked Anna about it, she just said plainly that she was playing with 3 other girls from her class. There was no reason. And when I asked Kate about it out of curiosity a week later when she was playing at our house, she also said plainly that they are playing with other people, and “that’s fine”. This is NOT the way things normally work. No jealousy? No hurt feelings? No tears, no blame, no ‘always’/ ‘never’ threats!? This is not how 2nd grade girls operate!

So, for now I consider myself very lucky. Their 4th grade year may be the one, the one I used to dread! But for now, I will take this mature, sweet, and simple approach towards friendship and life. I appreciate so much these kind girls who don’t want to stir the pot or cause trouble. I love girls who aren’t fueled by drama and they know they are enough; they aren’t always needing to be the center of attention. They don’t need to get caught up on every minor issue that life throws out or a mean girl chooses to test them with. Thank goodness for girls like Kate and Anna. They aren’t all drama queens.

XOXO

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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Instead of…

Yesterday, a ‘girl’ or woman in her 20’s was at my house.We were chatting about our neighborhood and I was telling her what I like most about it. Mainly, I love our neighbors and the fact that my children can play outside without me worrying about them. She smiled and said she doesn’t have kids yet but hopes when she does one day, she will have kids that play outside because it doesn’t seem like children do play outside anymore. She’s right…but not in our neighborhood.

Many, if not most, children do not play outside daily. Every single day at school, I see a young boy for counseling and we talk about what he did after school or what he will do. The only thing many boys look forward to is playing video games. There are some girls sprinkled in there but mainly it’s the boys who are addicted.

Often times, it’s the same boys who are behavior problems, impulsive, or the ones who can’t focus. Hmm…. This certainly isn’t a coincidence. But, it’s also a very preventable problem.

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My son is the same type of boy who, if allowed, would spend hours on a screen. So, knowing he’s this type of kid and staring at a screen is not making him more creative, imaginative, or intelligent, we have rules. Most boys are shocked when the ‘nice’ counselor tells them that my son isn’t allowed to play video games at all during the school week.

In fact, he watches little to no t.v. most days. Why? Because instead, he’s running around outside. He’s kicking a soccer ball around with his friends. He’s asking me to play HORSE. He’s chasing kids in the cult-de-sac. He’s doing his homework, doing his chores, and helping with dinner. He’s busy because he has to be.

This is one of my pet peeves . Life is too short to not have friends, play, run in the fresh air, and create your fun. I am convinced that this habit is paying off. And while I feel proud that my children do indeed play, it does make me think about more instead of’s.

  • Instead of letting them eat crap after school, I can give them better choices.
  • Instead of cooking dinner every night, I can let them.
  • Instead of doing their laundry, I can teach them.
  • Instead of packing their lunch, I can let them.

The list goes on, and your list is different. But, I know there are more ‘instead’s’ to be done. It’s takes conscientious parenting, which is why I actually started this blog. In a culture that often does without thinking, I believe in the big picture. I believe in making choices and not defaulting to lazy and easy. What’s the instead you can start this week?

 

 

“I feel like I belong!”

Isn’t so important to feel like we have a place and sense of purpose in this world? Isn’t it easier when you fit in and are accepted for who you are? Don’t we all want to be liked and appreciated? A sense of belonging is vital at all stages, yet many times is undervalued.

I know there are some teachers who believe school is a place to learn, “not play”. I’ve heard it before. And, of course, the pressure to learn couldn’t be higher. Achieve, grow, achieve! Yes, we do all want smart kids but we also need to value the social/emotional growth as much, if not more, than the academics. And, I’m afraid we are losing sight of common sense when we have blinders on the standards that must be taught and test scores that must be reached.

This week, I was reminded of this during a sweet lunch group. Since there’s no other time that a counselor can conduct a small group due to academic time, I hold my small groups for upper elementary students during lunch which is not uncommon. For many School Counselors, it’s get creative with your time or you won’t be having those groups. So, like others, I make it work.

At the beginning of the year, I like to offer small groups to new students. Yes, we are meeting School Counseling standards and have objectives each group.  We practice I-messages, conflict-resolution, goal-setting, and self-awareness skills while also cramming food down our throats. But, it’s also fun. It’s a break from the cafeteria and I have kids asking to come every week. The ultimate goal is to make them feel special, included, and important. And, this week, I was reminded of why I do this.

There are only a few girls that come with me on Tuesdays. They are all new and in different classes, and they are just so sweet. I have learned so much about them in the past 4 weeks. I’ve heard about their last school. I know what their uniforms looked like. I have learned about two girls’ adoption stories, and heard stories about their orphanage. And, then I give them an M&M or two at the end of the group! (It’s the little things….or are they so little?)

We set goals a couple meetings in. All of the girls wanted to make all A’s and B’s on their interim report card, not an easy task for 3rd grade, just having moved, and being new. But, they all did it! So, in return, they got to choose a ‘prize’ from my prize can. At the last minute, though, I remembered I had some old, unused school t-shirts that the former PTO president gave me stored in the cabinet. I gave the girls the t-shirts as an option too. When I explained that these are the old school t-shirts, two of them jumped at that idea!

One of the pretty little girls, who looks like the perfect American school girl, was so excited that she immediately threw the t-shirt over her outfit to wear for the rest of the day. And, what she said next made me smile. When she got that blue t-shirt over her head and proudly looked down, she said, “I feel like I belong!” Wearing a shirt that her classmates had purchased the year before, a school shirt, made her day. She fit in. Kids want to fit in. She was a part of a bigger picture. The other girl followed suit and also pulled the shirt over her head.

The following day, I was at that school again. And, there she came, walking along with a bow in her bouncy ponytail and that new (old) blue t-shirt. She was proud. She fits in.

So, when I get push back from teachers for their students missing class time, which happens often, or I feel like no one knows what I do or cares, I remember simple statements like that. Like most things, there should be balance. Yes, make the most of school time and expand those minds. But, we also must remember the life skills that will get us those relationships and jobs.  In school, at our homes, in our neighborhoods, it’s kind to make people feel like they belong. It’s important. And, I guarantee she will remember that shirt this week a lot more than her math lesson.

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Memories….Campers, ribs, and dips! Oh, my!

Creating a happy childhood takes some work and planning. Like yours, my kids don’t know how great they have it. When we are young, we are oblivious to the planning, packing, money, sweat, and stuff, lots of stuff, it takes to make a trip and experience happen. It is A LOT of work, and Bo and I are always baffled at what we are doing wrong every time we go on a trip.

Why does it take 4 hours to pack on a good day? Why do we need so much food? How do we accumulate so much crap that we think we need!? It is amazing. Meanwhile, the kids sit back and wait to leave. All they have to do to grab their I-pads and they’re set. No remembering the sunscreen, toothbrushes, and cameras. No thinking through all the possible weather scenarios. No, doing all the laundry before and afterwards. They are simply along for the ride, and this weekend was no different.

We were invited to go camping with a large group of families in Elkmont. The fireflies will be syncranized, the children will ride bikes and play in the creek, and the adults will sip beverages by the campfires. All will be peaceful and simple in the Smokies, or so it would seem! So it is with all the other families but nothing is simple with the Hamiltons these days so friends take warning (and take note if you’re thinking of inviting us on a trip!).

The day before we left, I spent well over $200 on groceries just for camping. I just got a little overzealous about all the chips and dips we would need for the group happy hour that our friends were hosting. Then, Bo spent another $140 on meats and such to complete the order for 2 days of camping.

Before we left, we took long showers to prepare to be without for several days. Yet, after hauling everything down to the street, back and forth, to pack the borrowed truck, we were both drenched in sweat. I was convinced we wouldn’t be able to fit it all, with all of Anna’s babies, the 3 coolers (that wouldn’t even hold all the drinks I bought), the camping gear, and smoker, I figured we’d have to take 2 cars but Bo made it work. At the last minute, Bo grabbed the tarp when I pointed out it might could rain. By the time we hit Maryville, sure enough. It was pouring down rain but we got the ‘stuff’ covered just in time.

As we arrived, the rain had stopped so Bo could get to work setting up the borrowed pop-up camper in the dry. We were thrilled to have a camper this year as last year, we barely slept all crammed in one tent and sleeping on gravel. But, this year, we just knew it would be a game-changer with the fancy camper (thank you, Scott and Amy)!

Bo got to work, cranking and unzipping, muttering under his breathe from time to time (his mutters are not pretty words, by the way). Friends walked by our site to sense his frustration and sent for back-up (thank you, Randy Fields!). The set-up wasn’t all that bad (easy to say when you’re not doing it, I guess!). The camper provided 2 mattresses so boys were on one side and girls on the other. With the shelter and softer bed, I was destined to sleep better. Right? (wrong!)

I’m way too nuts and I imagined there was a bear creeping up to the camper every time Bo snored and boys repositioned, shaking the camper ever so slightly. And, no, this isn’t the first time camping but it always seems like it by the crazy things that go through my head! And, knowing I couldn’t just easily get up to and use the bathroom anytime I wanted just made me need to pee more. Anna and I were already making a potty run at 12:45 when she awoke with growing pains. I had to search through Bo’s bag to find the Motrin and so she wouldn’t continue to groan and wiggle all night, and off we went for this second potty break. Eventually, I did sleep some, I think….maybe? But, not much by the way I was feeling in the morning. I was super grumpy, like not-want-to-speak-to-anyone grumpy. Without my fresh cup of Starbucks French Roast, I just wanted a change of scenery so I suggested a hike.

Brody was a big N-O, Bo said sure, and Anna said yes first and then no. After waiting 2 hours for everyone to eat breakfast and decide that hiking wasn’t going to be fun, I was fed up and Bo told me just to go ahead and go. Finally, I thought, and I zoomed off with the truck making a bee-line for Charlie’s Bunion.

Bo says it was approximately 45 seconds later that he realized I drove away with his baby, the smoker, in the back of the truck. The whole deal was he wanted to go hiking but also knew he had to be back by 2:00 in order to get those ribs smoked just right. He had also committed to smoking 6 racks of ribs and wings for 2 families so people were depending on him for dinner. He was panicked ,so it’s told,  and he took off like a bat-out-of-hell on the bike, zooming out of the campground to try to stop me. I never noticed or saw him.

He said he made it out of the campground pedaling like mad before realizing he’d need a car to catch me. So, he turned around and about puked from the adults beverages from the night before and this sudden burst of exertion. Yet, he needed that smoker so he quickly asked for a friend’s car keys and phone, which she trustingly handed over. He zoomed off again, and then picked up the phone to call me. Her phone was passcode protected….so, he had to turn around for the second time and come to the campsite to get her to unlock it, thinking he could just call me and I’d have cell service and pick up. -No such luck.

He grabbed a friend for this scavenger hunt and took off for the third time to try and find me, calling my phone (which was in the camper all along) over and over. John and Bo thought they knew where I was going but weren’t sure so they drove to several parking lots, even entering the one I was parked in only to leave and return, to finally find the truck and the smoker.

Meanwhile, along this lush, scenic trail, my mood was slowly turning around. It’s wasn’t until I  got to the overlook, 4 miles in, that I too realized that the smoker must be in the back of the truck under the blue tarp. Oh, &%$#, I thought, knowing Bo would also be flipping out. (I was right.) So, I took off practically jogging down the trail to get back to the truck to get back to the campground to deliver the smoker that would cook the ribs that would already be late getting started!

By the time I made it back to the car, with no water bottle or food mind you on this 8 mile hike, I was exhausted but happy to see that Bo must have found the truck and recovered the smoker! Whew!….

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(left on my windshield)

I returned to the camp relaxed and happy with ribs smoking away. Anna was temporarily lost but that’s just a little side-story. Laughs were had, lots of meats were smoked, and the kids were happy, like nothing had happened. The dinner was amazing thanks to the Eddins and that precious smoker, and the evening was relaxing. More bike rides, trips to the creek, hanging in ‘ENO-city’ (which was around 20 hammocks full of kids) treats and more treats. The pictures show fun, friends, and fellowship…..But, boy, the real story. Nothing seems simple with us lately!

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Bo was in a full-on sweat when he went to break down the camper the next morning. Step-by-step tedious work to get that thing compact. In the midst of holding in his curse words which was a very big accomplishment for him, the Hulk must have gotten a little too aggressive and ripped the sink off the wall inside the camper. Now, he had to go back home only to open the camper back up and repair the damage in order to return the thing the way that it was loaned to us in mint condition. It was basically an all-day process by the time he broke it down, set it back up, repaired the sink, washed the truck inside and out, and returned the camper that afternoon.

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Did we have fun? hmmmm. I think so? I know it was fun-ny.

I write this not to tell you how crazy we really are (as you have probably already figured that out!). But, if your trips sound at all like this, you’re not alone! And, if you’re one of the thousands of American families that are working your butts off to make a memory, you sometimes wonder. Is it fun? Sometimes. Is it exciting? Maybe. Do you come back feeling refreshed? Probably not. But, is it worth it? Totally. Just look back on those sweet photos! Happy vacationing, all!

 

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If I can do one thing, it’s make them feel loved!

You know, School Counselors are like teachers. We always want to be effective and see growth, but try as we might, it only happens sometimes despite the best teaching strategies and effort. There are so many X-factors. We can control our climate and tone, our attitude, and our own mindset, even if our time and resources may be limited. But, as I tell children, you can never really control another person.

We are dealing with kids who are inherently unpredictable and moody. We are dealing with changes outside the home that we can never fix. And, we are trying with all our might to be a role model for them no matter what’s going on in our personal lives. It’s tough.

Then, there are days when we celebrate seeing the light bulb flash on and the plan being put into action (like the time you used those I-messages we practiced instead of insulting and yelling!) followed by the switch stubbornly and abruptly being switched off the very next day, or even the very next hour! (wait, I thought you knew your 3 calming strategies!?). Right when we think they have it, they can go back to square one. That’s kids. Funny, forgiving, stubborn little creatures.

So, if nothing else. We have a job to do. At school, there will some who easily succeed and fit the school mold. There will be many who actually like school and cruise along, with or without us. (yeah for these kids!). However, that is not true for all no matter how hard we try.  Some will struggle academically, socially, emotionally, and physically. It’s tough for some kids who don’t fit the traditional school mold. (And, we really need more alternative school models, but that’s another blog all together!).

So, what do we do? Giving up on them is not an option. Punishing and yelling won’t really fix it either. We must make some part of their experience enjoyable. Or, maybe we take it another step further and make some part of their school experience joyful, rewarding, fun, and especially loving.

We may not always get the results we desire but I know one thing we will never regret spending time doing: Loving them. School may indeed be the only consistency they’ll ever get. The only compliments they’ll ever receive may be at school. The only hugs they’ll feel will be in your room. The only listening ear may be you. And, that is an action that cannot be measured but will leave a lasting mark.

This week, I met with a nine-year old boy who struggles staying on task in class. He’s emotional and sometimes has difficulty productively expressing himself without coming across as ‘needy’. So, his teacher suggested we begin meeting individually. When we met, I told him that we would be meeting once a week for the time being, assuming he’d be thrilled with this extra attention. However, he began negotiating and explaining that we really should meet 2-3 times a week (and I’m only at the school 3 days a week so basically I can never do that with a child unless there’s an emergency).

When I asked him why he wanted to meet, I expected him to tell me he wanted to improve his behavior, talk about friends, check in about school, etc. (so I was hoping for him to tell me his goal of these sessions and understand why he thinks we need to meet so often). He replied with,

I like coming in here because you make me feel loved.

Happy-Valentines-Day-Heart-Images(melt my heart).Sadly, this is not the first child at this school this week to tell me something like this. I had a kindergarten boy randomly come up and hug me during our small group Monday. He looked up at me and said, “you’re nice”. I told him that he’s nice too. He then say, ” I love you.” I used to feel uncomfortable returning these words, feeling disingenuous, until I became a mom myself and realized how important it is to tell children they are loved. There are different kinds of love too, and so I will love any child who needs the love. So, I told him that I love him too. He sadly said, “my mom says she wishes she didn’t have kids and she’ll give us away if we are bad.”

If nothing else, I will make them feel loved. It may not be measured. And, it will not go on their report card. But, it’s important. Even if it’s one tiny part of their time and existence, it does matter and will never be a wasted effort. It may be what matters most.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I must have love on the mind! (and I know my last blog entry was a similar message) But, it can’t be said enough. We have to make children feel important and loved. We can’t get the academic results and growth we desire if these basic needs aren’t met. We can’t expect them to care about others if they don’t care about themselves. And, they won’t love themselves unless they know what it feels like be loved. If nothing else, we can love them despite their ‘bad choices’. Kids deserve unconditional love.

candyhearts

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