positiveIt’s back to school which means earlier bed times and bye-bye to summer. And while this is always a bummer, it’s also a really exciting time to be inside a school. The floors are waxed, the paint is fresh, and the schools are all themed out. Teachers are abuzz with who’s in their class and the children are smiling when they walk in those school doors. It’s a hopeful time of year.

This week has reminded me what the impact of just a few positive interactions can do, what just believing in another person can do. It’s why I became a counselor.

Now, you know I love Bearden Elementary school. I’m completely biased as it’s also my alma mater. But, I do choose for my children to attend there while they’re actually zoned another school. I do love it and think it’s a happy, little school.

But, I also have another passion and I couldn’t be happier to be back at Pond Gap Elementary School just around the corner. This was my first week back in the school. It looks a lot different with new paint and half a new school building (pretty amazing). It does look great.

But, more than that, it feels even better. My first day back, I was flooded with warm welcomes from the staff, even those I hadn’t met before. The positive attitudes are contagious filling the school with motivation and dedication. It makes working at a school so much more enjoyable when you feel like you are valued and belong.

Kids must feel the same way. Last year, I also worked with amazing, dedicated educators and a population of very polite, nice, and appreciative children at a very different school on a different end of town. But, it wasn’t Pond Gap. I really missed the children at Pond Gap and still thought of them. Every school is different and they aren’t all for everyone. Sometimes you just feel and do your best when you click at a school. That’s how I feel about Pond Gap.

This week, after the incredible staff, team-building meeting, I was walking down the hall and saw a familiar face down by the office. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him since he was in first grade. He’s now going into 3rd grade. He’s a little taller but still has a winning smile. He squinted and did a double take before I called his name. Then, he broke into a sprint (breaking hallway procedure!) towards me. He gave me a bear-hug and we walked down the hall hugging. He couldn’t believe I was coming back.

And this afternoon, we had a meet and greet at Pond Gap. First, I ran into some familiar faces and got more hugs. In fact, one girl who was in a small group with me maybe 3 years ago, gave me my ‘building up trust’ hand signal with a big smile on her face.

Finally, I ran into a 5th grade boy who is now my height. This African American boy has the cool clothes and the cool 5th grade attitude too. I’ve also known him for years. After getting a hug from him (yes, a hug from a 5th grade boy!), he turned to a new student sitting beside him. As I introduced myself to this new boy, my friend chimed in. He said, “If you meet with her, it is ON.” I was thinking maybe he was telling him that you meet with me when you’re in trouble. (I’m out of practice with this lingo so I asked for clarification!) He grinned turning to this new boy and said, “You’ll go to her room, learn some stuff, and have FUN!”.

That’s why I do this. That’s what it’s all about. I don’t know every kid. I don’t make a difference to every kid. I don’t have success with every kid I work with but it won’t stop me from trying.

This year, both of my schools are filled with adults who are hopeful and full of kids who are ready to be loved on. Don’t ever doubt that you can be that person that believed in them. You can’t have too much kindness! I can’t wait to have more opportunities to teach, connect, love, and believe in these kids!

 

 

 

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Dear Parent,

Father Saying Goodbye To Children As They Leave For School

Change is hard. Period. Adults, especially, have a hard time breaking habits, accepting a new job or responsibility, and trusting new people or ways. We are creatures of habit. We don’t want to change. We like what we like and we are sometimes resistant to even good changes.

It’s the unknown that can feel scary or just uncomfortable. We don’t always want to put in the extra effort or work to get somewhere new. Kids also like routines and comfort but are more adaptable and flexible. (It’s no coincidence that I prefer to work with kids versus adults!). Unlike adults, kids aren’t as resistant. In fact, kids can amaze me with their resiliency, openness, and even excitement for change!

Take me for example. Last year, I was moved from working at a school I loved. This change was out of my control and not what I wanted, as well as being a surprise right after the school year ended and summer was starting. I was personally insulted and angered that my feelings were not taken into consideration. And, I spent many summer weeks mulling over this unwanted change, sulking and complaining. (I am not one to fake my feelings!).

By the time school started at my new school, I had chosen to embrace the change. Dwelling on things we can’t control is a WASTE OF TIME and ENERGY anyway. The new school and staff was great and very different than any school I had worked in. The Administration completely trusted and valued the role of the School Counselor (which is so amazing and uncommon!). And reflecting back, I think I made some positive changes in some children and maybe even added some to the school climate. The year wasn’t wasted and I think I may have even grown a little as a professional.

What does any of this have to do with children and accepting change? Well, the school year is about to start and many have already discovered who their child’s new teacher will be. You might have even figured out some of the kids who will be in their class too. I know that my children did not receive the news they were hoping to hear and there was some disappointment this week . Their class placement is a surprise to me just like it is any parent but I didn’t expect for them to be in class with all their best friends like they did.

I have a unique experience, working as the Counselor in the same school where my children attend. It doesn’t bring any special privileges or opportunities like some might imagine but it does offer me the benefit of having the inside scoop! It also lends to hearing and seeing both sides of an issue or situation, being friends with both teachers and parents, as well as knowing many kids on a more personal level. So, it’s great and very helpful even to me personally as a parent. I see inner-workings of the school while realizing what allows students to succeed. It’s at this time of the summer, before we about to embark on something new, that we, as parents, can help set the tone for the year. I hope this helps you, your child, and your child’s teacher build a relationship that’s symbiotic, positive, and productive this school year!

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DEAR PARENT,

Your child was placed in their class with intention. There is a reason that not all of his/her friends are in there too. It will be o.k. Don’t complain and sulk along with your child. This is an opportunity to talk about forming new relationships. This is a chance to talk to your kid about how people change. Children are capable of changing and their behavior doesn’t define them so just because your child didn’t like them or their behavior lasts year doesn’t mean they won’t this year. Encourage your kid to give everyone a chance and explain that they may get to know and even like someone they never expected to like this year. Every school year is a chance to make new friends.

Don’t treat your child like they are better than or won’t have any friends this year just because your neighbors aren’t in their class. Don’t act like your child is a good kid from a good family just because you don’t know some of the other families. (We are all crazy behind our own front doors anyway!). Not only be open but tell your child it’s going to be exciting to make new friends and get to know people better no matter where they live, who they live with, or what they look like.

Stop judging a teacher before your child even steps in the door. Even at small schools, or especially at smaller schools, teachers are talked about and gain a reputation. Many times, it’s just rumors or based on isolated incidents. Sometimes, there is something to it but you never know how your child will fit with this teacher. Just because someone else didn’t like the teacher doesn’t mean your child won’t. Time and time again, you’ll be surprised with whom your child ends up clicking with if you don’t interfere.

Please go into the school year with an open mind. Don’t fuel the rumors if your child is disappointed and gossip about hearing this teacher yells all the time or is always mean. We don’t want to set up our children to have a perception formed before they’ve even had a chance to form their own opinion. It’s so surprising and also exciting to watch our children adapt to new teaching styles and personality types. Talk about setting them up for success in the future. If our kids can adapt and adjust to a completely new personality, think about what that could do for them in the future. We can’t always give them what we think will be the best fit because we just don’t know!

Embrace their teacher no matter what you’ve heard. Embrace their teacher even if you don’t like them. Yes, that’s right. If you think something negative, keep it to yourself because it will not help your child at all. Drop preconceived ideas and model going into the school year with an open mind. (You can’t trust gossip anyway!). And, trust your child’s teacher is teaching because they chose this profession. Unlike many jobs, they chose to work with children and there’s a reason.

Recognize that things aren’t going to always be perfect, and go into the year with a growth mindset. Just don’t be defensive. Your kid (and yes, my kid too) will be making some mistakes. They won’t get 100 on every test, and they may even get in trouble a time or two. Don’t overreact. Don’t sweat the small stuff! Expect that not only is their teacher not perfect but neither is your pride and joy. They will make some mistakes and they are in elementary school. What they make on one test will not matter. What they make on one report card will not stop them from getting into college. And, even sitting out one recess is not the end of the world!

Let the teachers handle it and take their lead. Be supportive of the decisions the teacher makes. And if you don’t agree, communicate with the teacher to understand privately. Don’t jump to also include your child and tell the teacher they are wrong. Follow up at home with your child. And, yes, there are consequences for actions (or lack of) but look at these mistakes as opportunities to change and grow. Adults need to take the blinders off this year and remind ourselves to look at the big picture.

Be forgiving! Sometimes, this takes a pause. Before we react, think about how important this is and whether it’s something you’ll remember or care about in a year.

Let go of little things. If they can’t sit by their best friend at lunch, that’s ok. If they are left out one day on the playground, it’s ok. If they don’t make student council, it’s ok. If your kids see you overreact, they grow entitled and start to believe there is something to be upset about. Let go if your child isn’t always first or the best. Help them move on from insignificant situations while accepting that we all are frustrated or disappointed sometimes.

Be there to listen. Make sure you take the time to ask the right questions and listen to how your kids are doing. Ask how they’re feeling and praise the good choices they make. Use affective statements (which Knox county is beginning to implement county-wide…yay! 🙂 ) to acknowledge how you feel about how your kids are doing and reinforce positive actions.

And, show up…..but not too much! Some teachers like volunteers and some don’t. Some teachers communicate regularly and some only do when necessary. What teachers do not appreciate is no involvement or buy-in and too much involvement, lack of respect,  and lack of trust. Don’t email them if your child gets a ‘B’. Don’t schedule a conference because your child had a fight with their best friend this week. Don’t show up for lunch because your child doesn’t have anyone to sit beside. Give your child and teacher the trust that they are capable. Be there but also allow for some space for your child to work through some things creating independence.

Thank you for being there as involved people who care! Thank you for showing up. And, thank you for understanding that working in a school is hard! Thank you for volunteering and supporting our teachers. And, thank you for noticing all the pieces that make a school work. Here’s to new, exciting beginnings!

Sincerely,

Your School Counselor and Parent

Your child will adjust to this new school year but will you!? With a balance of support, accountability, trust, and love,  it’s going to be a great, imperfect new year!

 

 

 

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!

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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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R-E-S-T

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?

BUSY IS A CHOICE.

 
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.

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Tweens are no bottle of wine!

We are approaching an ambiguous period of childhood where innocence is fleeting and attitude is sprouting right up. Many times when I blog, I reflect on the abundance of blessings my sweet, little children bring me. The good times do always outweigh the bad. But, as of July, I’m beginning to wonder if the body odor is also bringing more than just deodorant! Unlike wine, these tweens aren’t getting better with age!

Lately, we have been experiencing some tween-behaviors.

  • moodiness

  • whining, complaining, and overall discontentment

  • talking back

  • getting irritated by normal, daily expectations, from showering to do a grand total of 2 chores

  • some huffing and puffing

  • refusal to take a picture smiling, or even be in a photo

  • activities and outings they used to enjoy aren’t fun anymore if they aren’t with friends

  • and even, “I have my first pimple”!

Is anyone else dealing with this? Life may have not been easier but it sure was simpler when I sent them to the bottom of the stairs for time-out and they hated being without us.

We are getting to a point that if friends aren’t in the picture, be it here at our house or even what I would deem a fun outing, they just aren’t going to have fun. Not yet, I’m thinking. I’m not ready for this….We are still fun and cool. Why can’t you be more appreciative? The influence of their peers on their moods is just annoying…. yet, I can recall doing the same thing. Just because it’s developmentally appropriate doesn’t make it easy.

*(Notice Brody’s face below: not happy and never wanted to do this in the first place! And, in the second photo, they are both walking back to the trail to go because “it’s too hot” and they won’t pose with the beautiful 17 acres of sunflowers! Urgh!)

It seems like we are just on the cusp of change. Middle school is right around the corner. And while I do want them to be independent, it would be nice if there was just more time. I knew I wanted to freeze them a couple years ago. I was aware that periods of ease and happiness couldn’t last. Yet, recently, I find myself readjusting as they also shift into an older type of kid, and I’m having growing pains too.

What are we to do? Well, we can commiserate. That seems to make our kids seem less annoying to know that there are others out there doing the same things! Then, we review family expectations. I recently reminded my lovely angels that following first request isn’t a wish; it’s an expectation. Sadly, we often move on to consequences (which means more chores, and/or loss of electronics in our house).

We also have to speak to our kids when they are happy and calm, asking them what’s going on and what we should do differently. Just yesterday morning, Brody left for soccer in a foul mood only to arrive back home 2 hours later in a great mood. I asked him what changed within the past 2 hours and he said he guessed he just needed time to wake up. (We will wake up earlier next time then!) Speaking of, we really have to make sure they are getting enough rest. Proper sleep and downtime makes a huge difference to Brody, especially. An oddly enough, I still have to make sure to feed my children regularly with decent foods or they crash. They are yet to regulate this on their own.

Lastly, and most importantly, I remind myself that we are constantly changing. They are growing and that means I too am changing as a parent. Just like when they were babies, we have good days and bad days. We have outstanding moments and times we’d just like to fast forward. But, for now, I’ll just pour a glass of wine and accept that these moods and friends aren’t going away anytime soon!

“Parentingisnotfortheweak!

WHEN

There are 2 ways in which you can think about life:

If -or -when.

For example (taken from the mouths of babes):

When I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor…. OR….If I go to college….

When I’m playing soccer for West High….OR….If I play soccer in high school…

When I have a family one day…OR…If I get married…

When I become a safety patrol….OR…If I become a safety…

When I make the honor roll….OR….If I make good grades…

The mind can go either way, will you or might you? Sometimes I think my children are a little too confident. Just yesterday, Anna said matter-of-factly that Brody is going to be jealous of her car because she’s getting a jeep. She’s not sure what color yet. She “is going to be a teacher” but she also says “she’s going to be rich because her husband will be a doctor”! 😉 And then there’s Brody who will argue back that he’s going to the rich one because first he’s going to first become a doctor, either radiologist or surgeon. Then, he’s opening his own architecture firm. And finally, he will become president because Trump became President only because he’s rich, right!?

I love it and won’t say that I rule against these plans. Go for it, I say. But not just for these lofty goals, GO FOR IT ALL. I completely love and admire their goal-driven, get-‘er-done mentality. In fact, I do believe this is one reason that my son can live with a brain tumor and excel at life. Brody doesn’t pause to think that maybe this could slow him down or may alter his plans. Nope. He’s got plans and a little brain tumor isn’t going to stop him. Nothing is. In his mind, if he wants it, he will get it. He’s not second guessing himself or wishing he will do something in the future. Instead, he knows what he wants and decides it’ll happen.

Stubborn, that they are. Born that way, with sleepless nights, refusal to crawl, or take a bottle or pacifier. Our pediatrician told us this character trait would pay off, that these are qualities we want in our kids (but at the time, I just wanted a mellow baby that I could put down and that could just chill!). Fast forward and now they are still fairly headstrong and determined.

But, I get it now. Whether is living with a brain tumor diagnosis or just deciding to read 2 novels in a week, it’s just something my son decides to do. It’s him and not me. It’s taking control of his own life and choices, instead of just letting things happen to him. When he makes plans for his future, I thank God. Thank you for letting him live with happiness and hope. Thank you letting him live his life instead of worrying about the worst-case-scenarios. Man, kids can teach us a lot.clowns

When as parents we start to get caught up in worry, I can look at my children as a reminder of today, right now, and what we can control. I asked Brody today, one day after his MRI and appointment, how scared he was yesterday on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being the most scared. This is a child who was terrified of needles when he was a toddler and had to be restrained at the pediatrician. He said he was a 1 yesterday! And when I asked him when he’s been the most scared in his life, he laughed and said he can’t remember. “I can’t remember my whole life!” Then when I pressed him fully expecting him to say when he had brain surgery or found out he still has a brain tumor, he said it was probably “Emerald Lake”. (What!?)

That was the time a couple years ago when we were in Colorado. Bo was driving our rental car up to Emerald Lake, past the point of no return. The mountain bikers looked at us like we were nuts as he kept driving up a single lane, dirt road. It got steeper and steeper with a drop off right on the edge of the road. We were all freaked and that just pissed Bo off. I wanted out of the car and Brody told Nana that he was NEVER coming up there again when Bo turned the car around mid-road with a 15-point turn! That is the time when Brody was most scared!? That’s awesome. 🙂 (But, we got nice pictures like below as a result of the drive!)co

If we choose to live with intention and purpose, then we just move forward. When we live with doubt and second guess ourselves, we are not living our fullest life. (Yeah, sounding a little Oprah-esk, huh!?) Make a plan and stop wishing.

If or when? We choose WHEN.

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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

Uncomfortable

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.

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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

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(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!)

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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

HOME SWEET HOME!

 

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

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