Mommy’s Little Monsters

Anytime someone talks about how easy parenting is, I wonder how much they pay for a nanny every month. I have pretty awesome kids and I have it much easier than some parents, but I don’t think I’ve ever once said “This is easy. I’ve got this.” Usually, I don’t. Usually I’m taking a “hope for the best approach”. People tend to think that I’m a terrible mother because I have a more “sink or swim” approach to raising my children. As much as I want to control every aspect of their life to make sure that they don’t make the wrong choices, they have to learn accountability. Maybe if I regained control, I could have an “easy time” too.

For instance, I will help some with their homework sometimes. But they need to work through the things themselves. I won’t babysit them to make sure they do everything, because I can’t be there all the time. If they don’t finish their work properly because they wanted to speed through it or not do something at all, then they should face the consequences of that. Some people view this as harsh, but kids need to learn consequences or they never learn to be accountable for themselves. For my own sanity and their own level of responsibility, I can really only do so much.

The thing that we have to remember is that no matter how hard we think it is to raise them, imagine how much harder it is for them to grow up. They have those struggles of wanting independence, but still wanting their mommy to give them a hug or have brownies waiting for them. They want to do well, but they also want to hear you say how proud you are of them. Sometimes they forget that we love them unconditionally. Sometimes they forget that even if they get a bad grade or have a bad behavior report that we are still going to love and accept them. My youngest son got his first “yellow” card of the year a little bit ago after doing so well, and he was convinced that he was going to be punished forever for it. Some of it could be my own failings as a mother. Some of that is just your normal anxiety that young children have.

Kids think that they need to do 10000 activities to make us proud. That they need to be perfect and excel at everything. We may be well-intentioned in trying to keep them busy, but we may also be setting them up to burn the candle at both ends too much. My kids have the choice if they want to do an activity or not, but they need to something aside from screen time for a little bit each day. My oldest does sports in winter and spring, taking the fall and summer to relax. He does well in school and I think this is a perfect balance for him. Plus as a junior with 2 AP classes, CCD, volunteering, and college stuff, he shouldn’t take on much more than that. My youngest doesn’t really have any interests in those things. He prefers to play games or work on building/drawing something. That’s who he is. Rather than change that, I ensure he gets plenty of exercise, he goes out and has experiences, and get him to play puzzle games that are meant for critical thinking and not just fun. That works for him. Every kid is different. Plus, I think I’d go insane trying to juggle all those activities. This is as much for my sanity as it is for theirs.

My boys are Mommy’s little monsters. They fight with each other, they destroy my house, and eat everything in sight. But every time I want to yell at them for how hard they make things or because I’ve gone insane by 5pm, I just image what they are going through. Maybe my oldest had a bad day but because he’s a teenager, he doesn’t want to talk about it until he wants to or never. Maybe my youngest had an anxiety attack at school and he’s got his second wind of energy. Those boys are struggling as much as I am some days, and that’s something we can often forget.

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And It Just Breaks My Heart

I wasn’t the best student. Teachers would probably point out how bright they thought I was, but they would also probably point out that I was wasted potential. Some people would probably agree with that statement still today. Maybe they are right. Maybe not. But I understand it now, as a parent.

I worked hard to get into a good college, though it took me a couple of years to get back on the college track that I realistically was never on. I didn’t have any real goals. Then I was pregnant at 18 and my only goals became preventing my child to turn out like me. I was determined that he was going to be better. He watched me work hard every day at my hotel job. I know I worked a lot and it seemed I barely saw him. But he deserved the world and I wanted to give him everything. When I went back to school, I made sure he saw how hard I worked. I wanted him to have goals. I knew he was smart. But I didn’t want him to waste it like I did.

Things always came easy to him. When they didn’t, he became easily flustered. He was a perfectionist. I didn’t care about perfection; I cared that he did his best. I would never punish him for doing his best. If he needed help, I would make sure he got the help. He never needed it before but I would do anything to make sure he got what he needed.

Then, I saw him struggle with his homework. Homework in a subject he has always been fascinated in, despite never actually taking a course. He spent all the time he had on the assignment, and he kept getting one question wrong over and over again. He grew more frustrated. He began to get himself worked up. He snapped when I tried to help or told him to take a deep breath. He called himself “dumb”…

And it broke my heart. As adult as these kids think they are, they are just hormonal kids struggling and too afraid to ask for help. He knows he’s not dumb. I hope, anyways. I told him that he should ask his teacher for help. That was what he’s there for after all. He was determined to figure it out, even after the deadline that his homework was due. I saw him unravel and it just breaks my heart.

Junior year isn’t for the faint of heart. This is when things get real. The classes get harder. The expectations are raised. They have the added stresses of SATs and college fairs, driving school, the acknowledgement that adulthood is sneaking up on them. It isn’t easy for the parents, but it’s even harder for the kids. I’m hoping that we both make it out in one piece. But I’m worried that if he cracks this much now, it’s only going to get worse. And I only have myself to blame for that.

I see so much of myself in him. There was a time where I worked hard in middle school until I realized that I was a nothing that was getting bullied relentlessly. When you see your homework get tossed out a window and no one cares, you start to not care too. It’s easier to fail when you detach yourself than to fail when you tried so hard. But when you put everything you have into something and fall short, it’s hard. It’s how you deal with this failure that can determine your success in life. You can get flustered, but as long as you keep trying to succeed, that’s what matters. But sometimes, admitting defeat and asking for help is what the strongest person will do. This help could be exactly what you need to get to that next level. By getting stuck on the basics, you won’t have the building blocks that you need to stay on track.

I hope this was just a moment of being tired. That he burned the candle at both ends and needs to realize that you can’t do it all. Maybe now that driving school is done, he can refocus. But what happens when swimming starts? It’s hard to teach balance when you struggle with balance yourself. I hope this is a passing phase. I hope he realizes that life will get harder and that taking it too sensitively will only make things harder. That you have to accept that you aren’t a natural at everything just because it has been so easy so far. But most of all, I hope he realizes that he is loved and supported and that we are so very proud.

They Are Only Shoes Little One

While I generally just buy clothes for both the boys for back to school, I let them pick their own shoes. I know their styles enough to know what they like to wear. Both like skinny jeans. My oldest one loves simple t-shirts, video game/novelty tees, and long sleeved thermal shirts/those 2-tone baseball shirts. My younger son is a bit pickier than that, but he rarely complains about what he gets. He especially loves Gap and Nike shirts. The only shirt he really hates wearing is his “I Know I’m In Trouble When They Use My Full Name” shirt. It was appropriate for him and it was funny.

Shoes are all up to them. I won’t buy shoes without them because A) I want to make sure they fit right; and B) They know what they find comfortable. Before going out to get shoes, I asked them what they wanted so I knew where to go to buy them. My oldest knew that he wanted a pair of Chucks, then a custom pair for his birthday. Easy enough. My youngest, first Googled “Cool Sneakers” and decided he wanted a pair that were $900. Nope. That’s not happening. Eventually he decided that he really liked his Skechers GoRuns because they made him “run super fast”. So he wanted a new pair of those.

We took them shopping. My oldest went to a couple of stores before he went back to the first store to buy a pair of blue Chucks, which were hilariously enough the same color as his school’s color and his championship swim coat that he lives in. We went to another store, allowing the younger son to wander around until he found a pair of shoes that he loved. They were a cool pair of blue/neon green GoRuns and he thought they were the coolest shoes he had ever seen. He loved those shoes.

….Until he didn’t. My younger one complained about his new shoes, how he now hated them. “Well, you liked them when you bought them. You’re not getting a new pair.” My son started to get anxious about them. Finally, with tears in his eyes, he mentioned about how his friends were making fun of his shoes because he didn’t have the “right” shoes. He’s 7. I carefully tried to explain to him about how it didn’t matter what they said. That they are only shoes. That he was a person and that shoes didn’t matter. The shoes didn’t make you a better person. They didn’t make you any cooler or more likable. That it didn’t matter what these kids were saying.

I lied. Things like that do matter to other people. They do matter to make people more likable because kids judge other kids on things like that. I know I lied. He knows I lied. But I was right; they were just shoes and he was awesome no matter what shoes he wore. Those weren’t cheap shoes. They were nice, name brand shoes. Mostly because we’ve tried getting shoes from stores like Target and Walmart, and he tears through them in a month. At least the name brand shoes last him a few months before he destroys them.

I told my husband about this. My approach was to just let him wear the shoes, to try building up his self-confidence in standing up for himself. My husband’s approach was “what shoes do the kids say are the right shoes?” I wasn’t surprised. He told me before that he grew up being laughed at for being Asian, because his mom was “different” from the other moms, because he didn’t have the “right brands on”. I was bullied pretty brutally myself growing up. My husband felt that he was going to give them one less thing to bully his son about. He couldn’t change the fact that our youngest has anxiety or was “too Asian” or that he needs to wear noise-cancelling headphones to function sometimes. But he could change those shoes.

So he did. We went and got him a new pair of sneakers. He considered it a birthday present. Throughout the ride home, we kept trying to reinforce the idea that what other people think doesn’t matter. If you like your shoes, then they can buzz off. That it only matters if he’s a good person, a kind friend, and a compassionate individual. He didn’t care. He could only talk about how no one was going to make fun of him for his shoes now…

We’re guilty of spoiling our children. We know that. But I’d like to think my children never rub that in someone else’s face. We try to make sure that they appreciate the nice things that they have, but how they are lucky to have it. That not everyone is that lucky. That doesn’t make them better than anyone else. And when you have more, you are supposed to give back more. I see my oldest one taking these lessons, slipping money into donation bins or asking to buy things from a shopping list for donating to charities. We make sure that we donate grocery bags to charities during the holidays or donating here and there for various causes, and putting our kid’s names on the paper. This way they can feel proud that they helped.

It’s hard to be a mother when something like that happens. It’s hard not to want to be petty and buy the most expensive pair of shoes that you can to help your kid one up the ones making fun of them. It’s hard not to let your kids see how angry you are when these things happen. It’s hard not to do everything that you can to prevent bullying from affecting your children. But at some point, you need to realize a couple of things. One is that you need to do what you can to help their self-confidence. The other thing is that you can’t control the fact that other kids are going to bully your kid. It sucks and there’s only so much that you can do about it. They are only shoes, after all.

Kids Learn More Than You Think

My oldest child is at that fascinating age of almost 17. There are so many things that make this age interesting. This is where they start doing their driving school thing. But even more interesting than the shift to adulthood as far as physical growth, is the other aspects of it. It’s the watching them learn to navigate through life. It’s watching them carefully think and form their own opinions. It’s watching their struggle as they try to break away from you while still understanding there is a lot that they have to learn in the world.

For as long as I can remember, my son wanted to be a forensic scientist. Eventually this grew into a want of being like Abby from NCIS: a forensic chemist but also a cyber forensic specialist. His goal has long been to work for the FBI to help solve crimes and make a difference in the world. I never told him what to be. But, apparently my fondness for crime shows rubbed off on him. Though now he is also wondering if he should be more like Spencer Reid, boy genius. It’s his life. I’m just here to offer support and advice as he asks.

That’s another fascinating thing about this age: your shifting role as a parent. With my younger son, it’s all about teaching right from wrong. It’s doling out punishments for not going to bed on time. It’s picking out their clothes until they learn that stripes and camo is not a great look. You give 6/7 year old choices, but you are still the one making their decisions for them. They don’t know any better yet. At 17, you’re done with that. Sure, you still make them take out the trash and do their chores, but now it’s about them. You give them a curfew of 12am, and remind them that this means they need to be walking in the door before the click hits that number. But you aren’t there to run their life anymore. Now, you let go and hope to whatever entity that you believe in that you did a passable job.

You’re not going to be there when they are at that party where they are offered a beer or drugs. You have to hope that they hear your voice of disapproval in their ear. You have to hope that if they did make the wrong decision in that moment that you were compassionate enough so that they call you instead of getting in the car with someone who is under the influence. I always told my son “my 10 minute lecture the next day is better than not having a next day”. I won’t lie and say that I won’t be disappointed in his decision, but I’d rather him alive than dead because he was too afraid to call me. I’d like to think that my child is always going to make the right choices, but I’m a realist. He’s going to screw up. I just hope that he knows I’m here to help pick him up afterwards. With my judgement of his situation to come later.

But what’s even more fascinating is the things they learn. My son reads the news, and like me doesn’t trust anything he reads. So he reads more until he’s down a rabbit hole where he feels like he has a good grasp on it. He talks about social justice, asking why things aren’t this way. Then I explain the logistics of “it may sound like a great idea, but like most great ideas, people ruin them”. He doesn’t like that answer. Even more recently, he has become fascinated by cold cases from watching crime shows with me and fascinated with things like false convictions. It turns out, these are things that have further inspired him to follow his current dreams. He doesn’t want good guys to get locked up because someone didn’t do their job in the crime lab. He doesn’t want families to not get justice for their loved ones. So much to the point of when he read “The Lovely Bones” for summer reading, he got so mad that he read the end of the book before he could move on because he couldn’t stand the fact the bad guy got away with it.

I say this a lot in these blogs, but you are not raising kids: you’re raising adults. Whether you realize it or not, your every action can impact your kid and this will either set them on the right path or the wrong one. It’s a big responsibility raising the next generation, but that’s what you signed up for when you made the decision to become a parent. Somewhere along the line, parents stopped remembering that and look where we are now because of that. Kids bully others because they see adults bully. They show kindness because they saw kindness. They work hard because they grew up with a work ethic. If we don’t teach these kids properly, other people will. And that usually never ends well.

Better Late than Never?

Unless I’m deathly ill, or I’m playing nurse to other people in the house, I try not to miss my regular posts. Unfortunately, sometimes that does happen. But I try really hard. Today was one of those days were my to-do list was too much. However, I wanted to get something up because I’m a big fan of sticking to routines, almost annoyingly so. Routines are something that I can find comforting, which is why I try my hardest to stick to as rigid of a routine as I possibly can. Maybe it’s superstition or maybe it’s a necessary by-product of working from home, where you are your own boss and taskmaster so you need to be on the ball. Whatever the case is, I have a routine that I often stick to as close to the minutes as possible. When I said “rigid”, I meant it.

My youngest son has been “not being the best version of himself”. That’s the new way that us parents say “he has been an absolute nightmare, send help in the form of wine, coffee, or both”. I almost wish that I could say that it was only at school that he’s been struggling, but it’s not. He’s been worse as I was hoping he was starting to settle down. His teacher emailed me, discussing his struggles in class. Fortunately, his struggles don’t involve bullying or otherwise not being kind. His issues are the usual with him: he’s overly anxious, struggles to focus, and sit still. These aren’t new struggles with him. But I’m with the teacher: something has snapped within him and he’s worse than he’s ever been.

He’s my baby. My special little boy. My little love. I feel bad about how much I have to take deep breaths before trying to calmly talk him down. His big thing right now: tornadoes. Anytime he sees clouds, he goes off about tornadoes and how our house is going to explode. I know he has anxiety. I know that I’m trying my best to hide my own anxiety to the point where he doesn’t learn how deep it goes but also showing him that I have ways of addressing my anxiety in healthy ways. Like through my writing, knitting, or exercise. His anxiety is something that I had hoped he would have grown from, that it was just a phase. I’m starting to think that this is something we’re going to have to work on in the long run.

To solve these issues I’ve decided to go back to the “Georgie Basics”, as I call them. I bought a new calendar and chart to help get him onto a stricter routine. I’m going to figure out some activity, maybe art related, to get him to work out some of those issues in his mind. Something that requires him to sit down and focus, but that he won’t care he’s sitting down and focusing on it because he’s enjoying it so much. I’m going to get him to start doing “Mommy and Georgie” yoga. I’m going to try everything, because he’s my boy and that’s what I need to do.

Dealing with children who have these types of struggles isn’t easy. It’s easy to backseat parent when you don’t have the same struggles. It’s easy to judge someone for not giving their kid medications for their anxiety and focusing issues. It’s even easier to judge them for giving them medication for their anxiety and focusing issues. But until you are there, on the front lines of these battles, leave it to those who live the struggle. I’m sure they don’t want to hear how your perfect kid never had this issue, but they read in this place that medications kill kids. (Not really, but you know exactly what I’m talking about here.) For the rest of us, keep your head up. We’ll get through this together.

Surprise! It’s a Pre-504 Meeting!

Last week, I mentioned about how I felt like I was in an endless cycle of evaluations. I discussed about how my youngest spend most of his time in an early intervention, dealing with specialists and evaluations. When he was done with his IEP, I was relieved. I thought that this would be the end of it. That now we could just worry about him being the kid that he’s supposed to be without needing to “fix” anything. He still had his quirks, but that was just who my boy was. And I love him for that.

I also mentioned about how I received a letter asking for permission to do more assessments on him, that the first evaluation required a closer look at his situation. His situation is that his handwriting is illegible, so much that the teacher can’t accurately assess him. I mentioned that I hadn’t heard back from this last letter, and I was anxious to see what was next for him. It was later that day, after the blog had been posted, that I received a phone call from the school to schedule a meeting with me. I knew what that meant. That mean that the cycle I had just ended with my son was starting up again. Had the evaluations gone well, I would have just received a letter saying that everything was fine. Instead, I had a voicemail that said “let’s schedule this thing as soon as possible.” That wasn’t a good sign.

I did become very anxious about this. Any parent in the same situation can understand the feeling of failure. That you did everything that you thought was right and it turns out, you fell short again. It’s not even a consideration in your mind that this was just how things were; it’s something that you did to cause it. You fear that everyone thinks that they need to fix your kid. But they don’t, because he isn’t broken. He’s just a little different.

They discussed some of the interventions that they had already started to put in place for him. In addition to the noise cancelling headphones for his sensory issues (which was a result of diligence on his teacher’s behalf rather than a requirement due to an IEP/504), they had started giving him one of the classroom’s Chromebooks to write out his lessons in instead of handwriting the work. This made them extremely happy because not only could he type well, he could type fast. He would type out between 3-4 sentences in under a few minutes. He could spell fine, even words that they wouldn’t expect a kid his age to use properly let alone spell. He was so bright and they needed to help him so that everyone else could see how bright he was too.

Back with his speech problems, I was always afraid that people wouldn’t realize how smart this kid was just because he couldn’t verbally communicate with anyone. They knew though. My biggest fear was that he would always be dismissed because he was his own person. This was validation that maybe I didn’t have to worry as much about that. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to fight for my kid because it seems like he has the right people on his side that are fighting for him too. I didn’t have to fight for a 504. Everyone in that room agreed with the plan.

So what is the plan? He’s back to movement breaks/rest breaks as needed to keep him focused and to help his attention/anxiety issues. He continues to use the computer and will use a special grip for his pencil to help strengthen those muscles to improve his handwriting. The occupational therapist, though I didn’t meet her at this meeting, seemed confident that he was bright enough that he would pick everything up quickly. He is bright enough to pick it up quickly, but they are also forgetting what I like to call “The Georgie Factor”. Getting his cooperation is more of a fight than his intelligence. Best of luck to them though.

Next week, I get to go back to the school and get the official 504 plan. I’m interested in meeting the occupational therapist to see what she says about him. I’m also very interested in getting tips of what I can do at home with him because it’s apparently not enough. But I’m relieved that there’s a plan, that they know what they are dealing with, and that they are confident in a positive outcome.

One Person’s Small Victory

When I had my first son, my big accomplishment would be making it to work without a gummy snack or some other food smeared on my clothes unknowingly. That was a small victory that many moms cherished. The moment that you can go to the bathroom or take a shower without an audience is a victory. I don’t think I truly appreciated these small victories as much as I should have.

Yesterday was my youngest son’s Christmas concert. This could have gone a few different ways. 1) He could have had a meltdown before going on stage, causing me to sit on the sidelines with him while the other classes performed their songs; 2) He could have had a meltdown while on stage (or standing in front of the stage), halting the entire concert and making a scene; 3) He would stand there, staring off into space, while doing something else that would draw attention to him; 4) He would be the perfect child, singing and dancing with his peers. I love my son, but holding out for option 4 was not a reasonable option. It would be great if that happened and I got fantastic pictures of my otherwise normally musical son performing. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I was okay with that.

The battle was a weekend long one. “I don’t want to go to school.” “I don’t want to sing.” “I don’t want to dance.” I considered bribing him into option 4. I’m not above bribery. I know I’m going to get the people that will tell me how awful of a mother I am for that. Listen, I’m just trying to make it through the day with what little sanity I still have.

I wasn’t going to make him sing or dance. I wasn’t going to make him dress up for the event. Part of parenting is knowing your kids; knowing which battles are really worth it. Fighting with him over going to sleep? Worth it. Fighting over a Christmas concert or dressing up for it? Not high on my priorities. I’m just trying to get through the day with as little tears as possible, from both sides of this table. Some kids were dressed in gorgeous dresses or looked way too adorable in full suits. Mine wore a long-sleeve shirt with a pocket and jeans. That was fancy enough. He wasn’t the only one dressed in normal clothing. He wasn’t even the only one who wanted nothing to do with the singing. He didn’t dance. But boy did that kid have a killer bow game going on. He knocked his bow (okay.. “bows”…) out of the park. Did I see him trying to do The Floss while up there? Oh, he definitely started. He looked out of place. He stood out. But he did his best. And I could not be more proud of him.

When you have a kid who seems a little too different from everyone else, it’s easy to feel self-conscious. It’s easy to ask yourself what you did wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. I may be judged by the fact that I proudly recorded my son even as he stood and did nothing. Why? Because he was there. He showed up. He didn’t have a meltdown or freak out. He showed up and got up their bravely, happy that he saw his mommy in the crowd to support him. That’s my job. My job isn’t to change him. He’s not broken. He’s flawed, just like the rest of us. But he’s not broken. He doesn’t need to be fixed. I’m here to guide him, to support him every step of the way until he becomes an age where I have to sit back and hope that I did everything that I could. And I know that I am doing everything I can to build a solid foundation for him, because a solid foundation is what will hold him up for the rest of his life.