Monday, June 24, 2013

Our Kids Are What Matter Most

I'm still reeling this morning over the senseless death of an 8 year old girl in our community this past weekend. She was abducted by a man who befriended the family in a store, who preyed on this family's misfortune, and offered them food and clothing because he purportedly overheard the mother tell the girl she couldn't afford something.

I can not make sense of this on so many levels. This hurts me.

Blame-gaming, finger pointing and Monday-morning-quarterbacking aside, here are some of the things we talked to our children about this weekend, and things we have taught our students, because times like this remind us to have the difficult conversations with our children about strangers and safety.

  1. It is OK to not be polite to strangers who offer you treats, presents, pets, or rides. You are allowed to yell no and walk away. Yes, we have taught you to be respectful and polite to adults. But any stranger offering you something is probably up to no good. Get away.
  2. NEVER go anywhere with a stranger.
  3. FIGHT BACK. Kick, scream, bite, yell, scratch, punch. Whatever it takes. YOU ARE WORTH DEFENDING. Don't let anyone take you anywhere.
  4. We love you. We think you are worth protecting. You have to believe you are worth defending.
  5. If anyone offers you ice cream or treats say NO. Then tell me. I WILL BUY IT FOR YOU. You don't need treats from strangers. If someone offers to let you pet his/her dog, you come get me and we'll go together to pet the dog. I like dogs too.
  6. If you can not find me go find a policeman, a fireman, a teacher, a store worker or a mother with kids (or someone like these examples). Tell them you are worried that a stranger is bothering you and you need help. (make sure your kids know your phone number.)
  7. There are mostly good people in this world. But there are a lot of bad people too who sometimes do really, really bad things to children. We, as your parents, set our rules and limits and boundaries so that we can protect you. There are going to be a lot of times when you do not like the rules and you think we are horribly unfair. I'm sorry but this is just how it is going to be because we have to keep you safe and we love you. We do not want anyone to take you or hurt you. Ever.
This is by no means the "right" list or the "only" list of things to talk to your kids about with strangers. Just talk to them. If you have trouble bringing it up, or need help, or want more information, search the web for "Talking to my kids about strangers." Maybe start with Polly Klass's website. You're a parent. Do your homework. Your kids, our kids, all kids, are our hearts, our everything. I hope that no harm every comes to them. But I will not rely on foolish ignorance and statistical improbabilities as a sort of "hope shield" of protection for the people I love the most.

Our seven year old was pretty freaked out this weekend, with good cause. We did our best to allay his fears and still make him feel safe and loved. And I am pretty sure I will lose much more sleep worrying then he ever will. Well, maybe until he has his own children to worry about some day too.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A State of Mind: On Being a Black Belt

Most people who know my husband and I know that we both earned black belts in a martial art. While I am incredibly proud of the work that we did to achieve this goal it makes me equally as uncomfortable to talk about it with new people we meet. Inevitably I will hear

  1. Who outranks who?
  2. Who would win in a fight?
  3. Who HAS won the fights?
  4. Can you show me some moves? What would you do if I grabbed your arm RIGHT NOW?!
  5. Wow! We won't mess with you guys.

So let's clarify.

  1. We are the same rank. Hubs will surpass me someday as he has the desire to continue training and currently I do not.
  2. Hubs. But I'd put up a good fight. And honestly, I'm so out of practice that I'd have to resort to dirty tactics. In the street, that'd be fine though.
  3. I don't keep tabs.
  4. Ah. Well you see, that depends. Do I like you? If you're a big tough guy looking to inflate his ego by grabbing my arm so hard that your veins pop (this has totally happened) then you're escalating the situation to where I would have to A) hurt you or B) do something that might hurt me because you're an idiot or C) perform Jedi mind tricks on you. None of these things excite me as much as they excite you. Also, knowing someone has a black belt is not an open invitation to touch that person without his or her permission. Social and personal spaces still apply.
  5. I think the last statement bothers me the most. Really? First, would you have messed with me if I didn't have a black belt in a martial art? Second, do you think I go around saying "I'm going to totally bloody your face if you don't agree with me or do my bidding?" Bollocks. Totally.

Ok another thing... Let's say someone you know with a black belt makes a Facebook or Twitter update to the effect of "Someone totally ruined my day by " and then you see someone else comment "What an idiot! Good thing he didn't know who he was messing with!" or "I thought that person knew you?! You could totally take him so he's a fool for stepping on your foot."

This? Silly. While I (or other black belts) thank you kindly for your friendship and support, I don't go around saying "I'm going to totally bloody your face if you don't agree with me or do my bidding." It would also be really, really, really egotistical of me to assume and then assert my "betterness" over another (which I am not) just because I might, if life-threateningly necessary, be able to break him six ways from Sunday. I personally don't go around categorizing people I meet in to "I could kick his ass, or not" files. Sometimes that is a fun mental game. Most times it is a waste of thought. I think most black belts would agree with me too. To us being a black belt is a state of mind, not primarily a physical accomplishment. However, there still might be a few out there who don't agree, who like to assert their pummeling skillz over others. Perhaps those martial artists have more training to do, to feel comfortable in their own skin. I don't know. They confuse me.

So. There you have it. It is pretty cool what martial artists do, have done, and will continue to do. It's a great conversation topic in the right situation, with the right people. I'm happy to share too. But I am not currently doing any physical martial art training and I'm really rusty. I would rather have a conversation with you about the philosophies of martial arts and the things I have learned about myself and others along the way. The ego puffing and bruisings are the least important parts of the story.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

There is a movement going on in America right now, heck maybe even the world, to perform 26 random acts of kindness to honor the lives of the 20 children and 6 adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week. I am going to participate in this. I am horrified by what happened. I can barely breathe when I think of those sweet children, and the brave teachers who lost their lives that day. Their faces are burned in to my memory as I have read article after article, viewed photo after photo.

I will not forget them.

I will not forget that day, where I was, what I felt, how I heard, what I did after.

I will not forget them.

There is also an outcry for a serious national conversation about mental health.

We all know someone with a mental health issue. We do. YOU do.

So let's talk.

Ten years ago on December 16, 2002 my friend Noel took his own life on his 38th birthday. He suffered from serious depression after a personal tragedy years earlier. But despite therapy, and so much love from family and friends, he lost his battle. It still hurts to think about. It still hurts to talk about.

I also worked with a man who was newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was young and naive and had no idea how to handle the mood swings, darkest lows, and shining highs. It was Noel who reached across the table in a sales meeting one day, put his hand on my arm, seeing that I was fighting tears from one of the tirades that had been directed at me, and said "Please forgive him Colleen. He doesn't know what he's saying or doing."

And I was angry. There I was fighting back tears, mortified by the comments over my physical appearance and comments about my upcoming wedding, and I was being asked to forgive that person on the spot without any understanding about what was going on. But Noel understood. Noel knew and finally told me. Truth-be-told knowing of this man's diagnosis didn't make it much easier to deal with because I didn't understand it. I'd never heard of bipolar disorder. No one talked about bipolar disorder.

Nearly eleven years later people still aren't talking about it much.

But after Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT, people say we need to talk.

So I am going to put this out there. Let's not just perform 26 random acts of kindness. Let's do more. Let's add two more.

Let's add one for Nancy Lanza. His mom, who also died by his hand. She didn't ask for this. She didn't raise him to become that. She suffered the side effects of loving someone with a mental health disorder for years. She suffered. She deserves to be remembered. There are moms out there today who are struggling, suffering in silence about their child. Do one for the mothers.

Let's add one for Adam Lanza.  If we are going to be serious about talking about mental health than we need to reach more people with kindness. It could be that your 28th random act of kindness is the ONE person who needs it more than any of the previous 27. Let's notice more people, be kind to more people. Let's not live in fear (and don't get me wrong, I am afraid), but rather in kindness. Let's be serious about the conversation that needs to happen.

Let's do 28. I will do 28.

No. I will do 30.

I will do one for my friend Noel - who I honor every year on his birthday by telling a new really lame blonde joke, his favorite kind. And I will do one for my former bipolar co-worker who I am still not sure if I understand, or could be comfortable around. But I will do one for him too to show compassion, to show I am serious that we need to discuss mental health.

So please do 28, and consider adding an extra for that person in your life who you know. You DO know someone with a mental health problem. Do one for that person. Just because.

Compassion. Kindness. Understanding. Patience. It will be hard. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. This has to be a better way.

I will remember them.

26. +2. +2. I am doing 30. What will you do?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


So a few weeks ago we enrolled ChatterBug and Bear in a beginner's boys' gymnastics class. I love this for them. Watching them have fun while working on their coordination, balance, and strength training makes me smile. I even like how the class works on discipline, making the kids walk in straight lines in between apparatus, wait their turns for activities, etc.

Before every class I remind the boys that they need to listen to the coach and be safe (i.e. not running around through other kids or classes). I have even set up small rewards for good behavior. Tonight was no different. On the way to class I reminded the boys of my expectations for class behavior and set a reward for playing a game on Grandma's iPad this evening since she is visiting and that is a special treat.

But class tonight did not go well for Bear.

Apparently he was not listening and after 45 minutes the coach asked Bear to come get me to talk to him. He then told me Bear was kicked out of class for the rest of the night (15 minutes). This was a complete shock to my Bear (and to me). He had an absolute meltdown right there, a puddle of tears and hysteria of missing the rest of class AND knowing he lost his iPad game time with Grandma. It broke my heart because I believe he believed he was being really good.

Now do not get me wrong, I am a stickler for the rules. I always tell the boys that they are allowed to have fun, but they have to have fun within the rules. I make a point to back up the teachers in preschool, the coaches on the sports teams, and the teenagers who babysit in the playroom at the gym. I understand that showing my children that I support and respect authority figures is how they learn to respect and listen to authority figures. But between you, me and the entire Internet, I know that sometimes we have to question authority.

Here's where I am struggling: Neither Grandma nor I witnessed Bear acting up during class tonight. Granted, we can not see every detail going on across the gymnasium floor, and parents are not allowed on the floor during class times. Plus I can not tell you that I paid attention to every second of their activities as I had to nurse BuddhaBaby, and I enjoyed a few moments of conversation with some other mothers. But I kept an eye on things and I am generally keenly aware of when my kids are misbehaving. Bear was happy coming out for his water breaks. He asked if we were watching him. I even asked him if he was listening, and he said yes. Plus, ChatterBug is very quick to tattle on his little brother and he made no mention of  Bear misbehaving.

I honestly believe Bear had no idea he was in trouble; in trouble to a degree to where he'd be kicked out of class for the night. The coach told me he asked Bear to sit down twice because was disrupting the class with another boy (who was also booted from the class). Bear says that didn't happen and he got no warnings and he did listen when he was told to sit. I am not sure who to believe. The coach told me that Bear DID listen well when it was his turn but just didn't sit STILL otherwise. My confusion here is that on some apparatus they appear to be allowed to play and swing on bars while the coach works with others individually. I guess on other rotations they can not play. Was this communicated effectively to a group of little boys? It certainly was/is not clear to me.

When Bear knows he is in trouble and is deliberately being bad he acts like Sr. McGrumpyPants with a slice of Defiant Attitude while he's in time out. He also gives the worst. apology. ever. When he doesn't understand that he did something wrong and/or is truly remorseful, we get the puddle of hysteria. And tonight Bear was so fast to sincerely apologize to his Coach, but so beside himself with confusion. Afterwards his Coach did not explain to him on his level what he did wrong. I had to get down and try to piece it together so he understood. (I kind of feel like the person who inflicts the punishment should be the partially responsible for explaining the infraction.)

So now I am walking a line of advocating for my child and teaching respect for authority. Was Bear told "If I have to speak to you again you will have to be removed from class?" I don't think so. He is an energetic almost 5 year old who is a really good kid. He is completely capable of following the rules when they are clearly explained to him. To date he has participated pee-wee basketball, T-ball, swimming lessons, general sports classes at preschool, and is now enrolled in soccer also. He has never been booted from practice before. He has had maybe 4 or 5 time outs in 3 years of preschool, and after an appropriate amount of time out he re-entered the group without further incident. His teachers tell me he is a good, normal boy. Was being booted out of class an appropriate punishment for him? I don't know. I am of the opinion he should have been given 5 minutes out and then had a chance to re-enter the class. The Coach told me tonight he was setting an example with Bear.

I believe in setting clear expectations for his age level with appropriate consequences for poor behavior. I have even had some people tell me I am too harsh with consequences - there are many, many days when I have to remind myself "he is only 4. This is normal 4 year old energy." He tests my patience, which lately is quick to crack. I just don't believe in my heart of hearts that he was bad tonight.

So do I call and talk to someone? I want to know what is expected of my children now so that I can explain it to them in language they will understand. Are they allowed to have fun (!) or is it all discipline all the time? Plus, I am worried Bear will be labeled a "problem child" after the Coach knowing him for the sum total of 3 hours of his life. Bear is not perfect, no one is, but he is not a problem child. I also don't want to be "that parent" who complains. But I do want to understand, and I do want to set my kids up for the possibility of success. This coach is an older teenager/young 20s-ish "kid." Does he know how to deal with a group of little boys? Does he know how to keep them engaged while providing a lane with bumpers on it to learn in? Are his expectations of a 5 year old the same as an older child? They shouldn't be. Is he teaching because he wants to or because he has to? Should he have a helper to supervise the kids who are waiting for a turn? I don't know these things. I feel like I need to know these things.

Help me interweb-circle-of-moms-teachers-who've-gone-before-me. I need advice and perspective. It broke my heart tonight. I just don't believe the punishment fit the crime, on top of believing my kid didn't even understand there was a crime inflicted.

And for the record - I did make Bear sit in one place in the waiting area until class was over to talk to the Coach. And he did not get to play on Grandma's iPad tonight. I keep my word when I lay out rewards and consequences.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Life on Fast Forward

Let us play a little game of catch up...

On June 1 this year we welcomed another little boy in to our family. He checked in at 9lbs, our biggest baby, with a head of strawberry blond fuzz, another surprise after his size. His two older brothers completely adore him, even now, just one day shy of 12 weeks later. He has been such a joy; an easy baby who sleeps *better* (but still not great) than either of his two brothers, and just fits in to the routine like he was always a part of it. Everyone says the third baby just has to do that, and they are right. And I will say that the transition from one to two kids was far more difficult than the transition from two to three. I don't know why but it just is.

Life was a bit of a blur this summer, obviously. My ChatterBug started first grade this week, Bear starts his last year of preschool next Monday (sniff!), and I know that in just a few blinks of an eye we'll be closing out the year with a 7 month old, a 5 year old and a 7 year old. This is crazy, crazy talk.

I don't feel old. But every time I look up and reflect out, everything around me is changing and growing up, and that means I am too. Of course, the grey hairs don't help the denial either. But let's not go there just yet. I don't want to live life on fast forward. Maybe I need to look up more often so I'm not so surprised by the seemingly sudden changes? I don't know. But for now I just want to enjoy these beautiful, amazing children Hubs and I made.
Just born

Now a family of 5!
Welcome home baby brother!
10 weeks later
Sweet, sweet little man
Such a happy, happy boy!

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