Allowing Our Children To Cry

A few months back, I had a conversation with my 5-year-old son that was so tender, sensitive and mature that it made me both extremely proud of the person he is becoming and rather humbled by the fresh awareness it gave me of the awesome responsibility of raising a healthy, balanced human being.

It happened back when we were still in the throes of what I can only hope will be our most difficult move. We were stuck in Jackson trying to sell the house and pack up for the move. Daddy had been gone in Austin for nearly 3 months and, although Aiden was old enough to understand somewhat, he still hadn’t developed the right boxes with which to categorize his emotions. I know he felt abandoned, confused, angry, sad – all mixed in with his normal everyday happy. The world around him, as he’d always known it, was changing. Everything familiar that he loved was being crammed into boxes and stacked against walls. His preschool year was over and he was transferred, temporarily to a new day care until the house sold. His Mama, who was his lifeline, was stressed out of her mind and barely holding it together. And our daily face time conversations with Daddy, although important for maintaining connection, only seemed to dredge up these emotions and bring them to the surface. Sometimes he was so excited to tell Daddy something about his day, only to see his face and clam up and withdraw.

It was after one such conversation that Aiden disappeared into his room. Being somewhat introverted, he often does this to take some time to himself. But when I checked on him a little while later, he was crying. I went to him and quietly scooped him into my arms. He weightily sank into the embrace and shook as he cried. It took everything in me not to try, again, to “fix” it and tell him all the reasons it was really okay and he didn’t need to be sad and… blah… blah… blah. But I held my tongue and held my son and let him cry. Then, without someone talking over his emotions, or trying to explain them away, he filled the silence himself -

Aiden: “Hey, Mama, sometimes when I’m sad, I just go to my room and close the door really quiet so no one will hear and climb in my bed with a toy. And I just cry while I hold the toy.”
Me: “Does that help you feel better?”
Aiden: “No.”
Me: “Does it help you feel better to hold me instead of a toy?”
Aiden (nodding meekly): “A little. But sometimes I still feel sad.”
Me: “That’s okay, buddy. It’s okay to feel sad and to cry. And it’s okay to need help working through it. You just have to ask me and I will hold you while you cry. And if you don’t want to talk about it, just tell me and I will hold you quietly.”
Aiden: “Okay…   Hey, Mama…   I love you.”
Me: “I love you too sweet man!”

Sometimes kids just need to cry and know that it is okay – that they are still loved and accepted.

One of the most achingly poignant parts of this conversation was the revelation that he tries to hide when he’s sad, closing the door really quietly so no one will hear him. But, craving embrace, he holds a toy, which he readily admitted doesn’t help. How often do we, as parents, label every emotion that our kids can’t control as “bad”? Every episode of crying as a “fit”? Every poor expression of frustration as a “tantrum”? And our response to these immature expressions of emotion is, too often, to send them to their rooms to deal with it… alone. There is better way. We need to teach them that what they’re feeling is okay, that we understand it even if we don’t like its expression, and that there are healthier ways to express even the worst emotions. That it is okay to take time to yourself if you want it, but it is also okay to ask to be held and even to ask that we not talk about it if crying quietly in the safety of love is all you need in that moment. In this way, we will avoid teaching our children to bottle up emotions, seal them tightly with a cork, and wait for the pressure to get so great that it one day explodes. I have experienced the explosion, and I’d rather not lead my children down that road.

I am so thankful for a son who teaches me how to be a good mother while I teach him how to be a good man. I will always cherish this conversation.

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First Day of School – The Battle of Heart vs. Head

How is it that the first day of school can be such a dichotomy of emotions – at the same time completely hope filled and completely anxiety ridden? Although my first-time kindergartener and first-time preschooler shed no tears today when they were dropped off in their strange new worlds, ready to take on whatever challenges awaited them, their Mama sure did! The moment I had them safely and happily deposited in their classrooms and I was alone in the car, I burst into tears. My brain, which was sure of their safety and convinced they were in the best place for their growth and development, fought with my heart, which seemed determined to dredge up images of tiny fists grabbing single fingers for security and tiny eyes looking up into mine with complete trust while nursing in the night and tiny feet taking first steps. Who can compete with those images? So of course, my heart won the fight and my head surrendered briefly to the tears. Briefly. And then it took up arms again and reminded me that this is what it’s all about! Parenting is about raising independent, strong-minded individuals. It is about sending them out into the world to have experiences all their own and believing that the values you’re instilling in them will carry them through. It is as much about trusting them when you know they are capable as it is about them trusting you to help make them so. And as pride began to win the fight against pining, I was reminded, once more, of the importance of seizing the moment – living in it and experiencing it to its fullest – and not waiting until it’s gone to fully appreciate its worth. Today was one small step for little boys, one giant leap in the journey of motherhood.

First day of school

The Mama Workout

Every now and then, someone asks me if I exercise regularly in order to maintain my girlish figure (HA!). This question does not usually come from a mother of small boys. She would not ask such a question because she knows. For those of you who aren’t in the know, here’s a small sampling of my daily “exercise routine” at the gym… er… house:

Stair-stepper: 50 reps up, 50 reps down (at least)

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Weight lifting: 30 to 40 lb dead-lifts (of the boy variety) – 50 reps (on a slow day)

Lifting

Leg Presses: 30 to 40 lb weights (of the boy variety) – 30 reps (did I mention PER BOY!)

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Cardio (Including, but not limited to):

  • Running (aka chasing)
  • Aerobics (aka bending, twisting, lifting (of the non-boy variety such as laundry, toys, books, etc.))

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  • Wrestling (aka superhero play, or any play with boys)

Wrestling

Keep in mind, this is only a sampling of my workout routine, which varies a great deal from day to day, but is never less rigorous than what I’ve described. So the next time you look at someone and think to yourself, “How does she stay in shape? She doesn’t even exercise!” Think again! If the “she” in question is a mama, she may not go to the gym or yoga class or out on the trails, but she MOST DEFINITELY exercises.

Crazy Bread Life Hack

I have posted before about my desire to implement more natural, sustainable food choices in our home and my gardening/farmers-market adventures to that end. But I have also admitted to being far from perfect in this quest – sadly too often convenience wins out. So I hope none of you will be too disappointed to hear me admit that, from time to time, my family very much enjoys picking up a pizza for dinner. My boys probably enjoy it a little too much. But one thing I DON’T enjoy is wasting food. And often times, when we pick up a family meal deal, complete with crazy bread and a drink, that is just what happens. Because, let’s face it, who likes to eat leftover crazy bread? It gets so hard and tough in the refrigerator that, even my cheap thrifty, waste-abhorring side gives in and feeds it to the garbage. Until today! Today I had an idea. A wonderful, awful idea, to borrow words from the notorious Grinch. Whenever they give you crazy bread, they also give you a little tub of pizza sauce to go with it, which invariably also gets thrown out. So why not put the two together, add a little bit of cheese (and some pepperonis if you happen to have them), and make a whole new pizza! I tried this today for our lunch and, let me tell you, it was a great success.

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Here is a quick run down of what I did if you’d like to give it a try:
– Slice each bread stick in half, length wise, to make it a little thinner and give you more pizza
– Spread the pizza sauce over the rough side of the bread
– Add toppings. I added pepperonis (sliced in half), grated mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, and a little bit of Italian seasoning.
– Bake at 350 degrees till the cheese is melted and slightly browned (approximately 10 minutes).
– Enjoy!

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The boys loved it. And so did Mama’s wallet. Hope you all do too.

An Early Lesson In Loss

I find myself struck, once again, by the profundity with which small children can handle the serious things of life. The most recent example of this in our home was both heart breaking and faith restoring in the same moment.

Little people can form big attachments. Whether it is the lovey they’ve slept with since they were too small to remember, or the footy pj’s they’ve only been wearing since the weather turned chilly, they throw their whole being, without reserve, into loving someone or something because they have no reason to not trust. They are open and vulnerable. Incredibly strong but weak enough to need protection. Their naiveté is both an asset and a liability that can lead to hurt. And each time the end result is hurt, they inch a little closer to adulthood. These early lessons that teach them that love and loss sometimes go hand in hand are key building blocks that determine whether their adulthood will be clouded with cynicism or embraced by hope. What a powerful witness we bear to these extraordinary little lives! What a grave responsibility to guide them well.

My eldest son, Aiden, got his little black cat, Charlie, when he had just turned one. He is four and a half now and doesn’t remember a time when Charlie was not a special part of his life. They grew up together, really, and Charlie would let Aiden drag him around like a rag doll in a way that he wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else. When Aiden was diagnosed with allergies and asthma, Charlie went to live outside (or in the garage on particularly cold nights). But if Aiden was outside, you can be sure that Charlie was not too far away. They were buddies.

When the family went to dinner two days before Christmas, that all changed in the blink of an eye. Charlie had been hiding on top of the open garage door and became entangled on the outside when the door came down. We were called by our neighbor who was working with Animal Control to take care of the situation before we came home to discover it. I cried through most of the dinner but I did my best to hide it until we could decide how and when to tell Aiden. The timing couldn’t be worse, but we decided to trust him with the truth and let the happiness of Christmas follow this sad news rather than the other way around. After putting Owen to bed, we sat down with Aiden and told him that his little friend wasn’t going to be with us any more. That he had died.

He did not lose control or freak out. He was clearly shaken, but he stayed calm and asked lots of questions. “But, where did he go?” The animal control people took his body, but no one knows exactly what happens to the life inside the body when it stops living. “Will he ever come back?” No, baby, he won’t come back. But the time he spent with you will always be part of your life. “What if we got another black cat and named him Charlie?” Another cat would be a new relationship, a new adventure, but it would not be Charlie again even if we gave him the same name. “What did the animal people do with his body?” They will bury it in the ground and, even though his life ended, it will help other things grow. “Do we have a picture of him?” We found a picture and he slept with it and carried it around for days. The next morning he tried to explain the whole thing to his one year old little brother while shoving the picture in his face. “Charlie DIED, Owen! He’s gone, gone. He can’t come back.” Owen ran around squealing, as always, with no idea what his brother was talking about. Aiden desperately wanted him to take the news as seriously as he, himself, felt it. He came back to me and said, “Mama, Owen won’t listen. He doesn’t care.” He didn’t love Charlie the same way you did, baby. You had a special relationship with him, so it’s OK that you care more. And Owen is a too little to really understand.

Now, we can talk about Charlie together without it being sad. We remember the good stuff – like how he was the only cat I’d ever known that would go for walks with his family; or how he liked to stalk and eat cicadas in the summer, no matter how hard Aiden tried to rescue them. Aiden always smiles when we talk about him. He is a brave boy with enough love to withstand even this early lesson in loss. I am so proud of him. I may not be able to shield him from the hurt, but I can help guide him as he weathers it. And he can help me learn to weather it better.

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