Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Houseful of Kids

The march of parental sappiness continues, dear friends. Oh, how I am savoring this house full of kids these days. There must be a way for them to both go soon, and stay forever.

I firmly believe we raise kids to leave us. I want them to go. I want them to sail off on their own adventures, to find their place in the world’s story, to craft their own careers and families and communities. I cannot wait to see what they will do.

But then – I won’t hear them laughing together in the next room. I won’t be able to demand daily hugs – not even the awkward teen “side hug” that avoids full contact. When we watch a movie, our MacGyvered sectional, with the armrest cover picked apart and ironed onto that cushion that got worn from five kids sitting on it, won’t feel cozily crowded with seven of us simply sharing the same space together, breathing the same air.  There won’t be road trips with the van crammed to the gills with people and pillows, Dunkin Donuts and Doritos. There will not be moonlit walks where I don’t even need to say anything beyond “really” or “field-programmable gate array, you say?” as one of five delightful young people pours out ideas.  We won’t all be together the way we are now.

So it’s the season for savoring a houseful of kids. When frustrations come, like broken piles of Nerf guns in the living room or sibling-induced hysteria, let us remember that these too are fleeting. When you think I’m torn too many ways by the needs of too many kids, let’s remember just how precious you all are and how diminished our family would be without any single one of you.  Maybe Garrison Keillor said it best: “Life is flowing . . . like ketchup on a bun.” Let’s enjoy these last years together before you go off and make your own rich and beautiful lives.

Today, I give my whole self to parental sappiness. I’ll remember that these sappy feelings really are a gift. They are a reminder to savor the last, delightful moments together as a family before the kids go off into the world with our blessing. I’ll let the kids know that while I don’t need or want them to stay here with us forever, they are cherished and loved, and their sparkling personalities will always bring us joy. Go off, kids, and live in the world – but please do come home when you can. This house just won’t be the same without you.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Into the Wilderness, Kids!

Good morning, kids!  I had another Great Idea last night. Wait for it. You are going to absolutely love this one.

I’m taking you Into the Wilderness! I think it will be great for us as a functioning family.

Why would I do this, you ask? Well, maybe I’ve just been writing too many grants for Outward Bound lately, but what I want is for you to grasp a few different aspects of the “wilderness ethic.” That’s something that I know about and you really don’t. There is much for teens and young adults to learn here, though.

You will absorb the value of how to habitually give more than your fair share. Deep in the wilderness, we'll need to make everything gets done that no one overexerts themselves.  We will compete to help each other and to carry the heaviest pack, the most awkward canoe.  We’ll take the extra trip on the portage. We’ll make sure we get up earlier than everyone else to make the coffee and pancakes and grab the nastiest pot to wash. We’ll take the time to clear the trail for the next guy. When we need to, we’ll take the break and rest in the generosity of others’ work. We’re not equally strong but we will get through it together. You’ll learn to feel good both about serving, and being served.

You’ll get the habit to take less than your fair share. We need to make sure everybody gets enough to eat. We’ll wait and let the other tent in our group pick that best tent site. We’ll conserve the water. If we play the grabby game, it’ll actually, and obviously, matter. You’ll learn to be “more than fair” in what you take from the team.

You’ll learn about teamwork. Within our wilderness crew there are no leaders and no followers. We need everyone to make the decisions. We are all stuck with each other deep in this wilderness and we need to bring our respect, our intelligence, our kindness to every task. You’ll learn how to refrain from complaining and second-guessing.  We all decided to do this route with the expletive-deleted beaver dam and there is no use whining about it. Nobody gets thrown under the bus. You’ll learn to slog through the mud we chose and somehow still put a smile on the face of others in the group.

You’ll learn that you have to work for beauty. When you are at the top of the mountain gazing at hill after hill of brilliant fall color broken only by deep blue lakes, or encamped on a piney island hearing the loons call in the night – well, you can’t get there without the effort. Even if you could, it would not be as beautiful.

So yes, into the wilderness, kids – unless you can figure out how to get all these benefits in some other way with fewer bugs and more internet access. I know you’re not sure if I’m joking. I’m not sure either. I only know that wilderness values are what I want for you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Emotional Storm Warning!

For us Midwesterners, severe weather warnings are just part of the landscape. You can be enjoying yourself at your local lake in the golden sunshine, and all of a sudden the weather sirens are going off, and when you grab the kids and run to the parking lot on the other side of the hill, the sky on that side is dark and the trees are lashing back and forth and you yell “Go, go, go!” as you whip everyone in the car and make the judgment call that you can get home to your cozy basement before the hail strikes or the tornado obliterates the entire above-ground portion of your house.

I’m pretty good with those atmospheric-type storms. What I’m not so good at is the emotional storms. If you have a toddler or a teenager, or if you just have “that kid,” you probably know what I’m talking about.  You can just be going along, having a nice sunny day, when suddenly out of nowhere . . . emotional storm alert!  Your kid comes in the room and starts broadcasting severe emotions on all frequencies, whipping up into hysteria.

I am NOT good at handling this. To me it feels like an emotional assault, with my whole body jangling like I had two double espressos.  I’m the kind of parent who yells, “You have to calm down!!!!” (Irony Alert . . .)  Sometimes, though, I actually manage it to handle it better. Here are a couple of things that can help.

Remember that kids are prone to emotional storms. They just are, especially at ages where they are really growing a lot, like preschool and adolescence. Try to let it roll over you as much as you can. It will pass just like the weather. You can remind your kid of this too. Sometimes our perception of life is skewed and we can’t even tell we’re not thinking clearly. But more than likely in an hour or tomorrow we will feel much better.

Don’t try to reason or solve problems during emotional storms. Like a Vulcan, I often try to wield Logic to fight Emotion, but problem-solving during an emotional storm is completely useless. If your kid isn’t responding to your calming attempts, you both might need to just be alone for a while to pull yourselves together. Analyze it later if there is actually a problem to solve.

Go back to basics of self-care. It’s pretty obvious to us when a toddler loses it because they’re hungry or overtired. This is true for adolescents (and adults) too.  Is your kid hydrated? Have they eaten in the past three hours? Had a shower today? Stretched their legs or moved to music? Have they over-exerted themselves and need a break? Help your kid remember they’re human and teach them these basic self-care tools.

Teach self-compassion.  I think it’s good to teach kids, especially teens, that’s ok to have even strong emotions and that they can handle them.  A recent study at Berkeley found that doing a loving-kindness meditation helped teens be significantly less stressed.  Here is the one that they used: 

Don’t forget to give yourself some loving-kindness too if your kids’ emotional storms are tough for you. Like the Midwest weather, the one thing you can count on is that if you don’t like your kid’s emotional weather, it will change. That at least is some comfort to make it through the high winds and hail.