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Archive for August, 2009

Life Lessons

There are life lessons we teach our children even if we don’t fully believe in them ourselves. Bad guys always lose.  Hard work will be rewarded.  Perseverance pays off.  They are lessons of hope and we hand them toJV2009our children as gifts.  They may learn the hard way that these lessons are not absolutes but for as long as we can, we will give them these gifts of hope.

Last summer my son worked everyday towards one goal – making his high school soccer team.  He ran, lifted weights and attended informal scrimmages every weeknight of the summer in hopes of making just the right improvement and making the team.  Unfortunately, he attends a highly competitive school and 42 other freshmen came out with the same goal.  In the end there were only seven spots available and my son and several of his friends did not make the team.

On the final day of tryouts, after the announcement was made, we walked back to the car and talked about what his next move would be.  He would sign up for cross country and tryout again the next year.  The next day he showed up for cross country practice and was greeted by four of his friends who had also not made the cut for soccer.  Throughout the fall they ran cross country, played on a club soccer team and talked about their chances of making the team the following year.  Gradually the sting wore off and they began to enjoy being a part of a team and some even talked about sticking with cross country throughout high school.

But as fall turned to winter they entered futsal season and remembered how much they loved the game.  They started talking again about tryouts and how they would accomplish their goals.  They played their spring seasons and continued to run and lift all with the hopes that the life lessons would hold true.

When tryouts finally rolled around they entered with the gift of hope we as parents had bestowed on them and we, the parents, stood beside the field with fingers crossed and stomachs knotted hoping this would not be the moment our lessons proved to be wrong – hoping that there is value in hard work and perseverance.  I would love to say that hope won out over doubt in my mind but it didn’t.  I spent each of the four days of practice planning how I would console my heartbroken child.

On the last day, the coaches sat each of the 45 boys down for two minute meetings to tell them whether they had made the team or not and why.  I stood there with the other parents waiting for the smile or the look of dejection that would give us the answers.  For the five of us this was pure torture but slowly our boys made their way across the field and all five of our sons had made the team.  To top it off one of the boys proudly announced that in his meeting with the coach he had been told, “Maybe you weren’t the most skilled soccer player out there but you worked the hardest, you never gave up, and that’s just as important in a player.”

So, for another day at least, our children can still believe in these life lessons and in their parent’s gift of hope. And maybe we as parents can have a little more faith as well.

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Enjoy the Ride

Oh to live in a country with a proper train system.  I am aware that the trains in England drive the average commuter mad but, as a mad American, I love the British train system.  When we first moved to Wimbledon, IGERMANY-WEATHER-FEATUREwould venture with my road bike out only on the roads I knew.  But for me this was bound to change.

I am the “fly by the seat of your pants, go without map or plans” kind of girl.  I will concede that maps, plans and reservations are good some of the time – New Year’s Eve in New York City, getting a hotel room in an Olympic city in the middle of the games or even for special occasions where not getting a table could mean a night spent in a screaming match with your much loved spouse.  But in everyday life, I prefer to let it all hang out and see what happens, which is why I love a country with an intricate train system with hundreds of stations throughout the countryside.

Within weeks of getting my bike out on the roads I discovered a need to explore.  A map is fine for getting you from point A to point B but it doesn’t tell you about the lane through the holly trees that dips down just so, calling your name and begging to be explored.  It can’t reveal the traffic that will impede your progress.  You may be able to plot and plan your ride by car ahead of time but, isn’t it more fun to pretend you are five again, out on the common, convinced that the path through the brush will lead to a hidden cave?

Combine this extreme need to explore everything around me with a very real need to increase my mileage and the need for trains becomes more reasonable.  I could head out in the morning and ride for a hundred miles in any direction with only the road signs to guide me.  Do I want to head toward Windsor today, or toward Richmond?  There are train stations at both and plenty more in between.  Do I want a ride along the Thames or through the deer park?  How about a tour of the sleepy little villages far from the main roads?  I could explore them all and I did.

I could do it the other way as well.  Head out to a city I hadn’t seen and ride toward home from there.  Maybe I would make it all the way home, maybe I wouldn’t, who knows, who cares – there is always the train.

I confess that this isn’t for everybody. There were days I got caught in traffic that I couldn’t wind my through.  There were days I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, not sure where the next train station would be, having to ride an extra twenty miles in the pouring rain before I found it.  But without exception every single one of my “getting lost” rides was adventurous, exciting, and educational.

Officially, I was an expat, living in Wimbledon but, what some expats have failed to see is that we are really extended tourists in a country we may never get back to.  We can go on living the life we lived in our home countries or we can be adventurers, exploring everything around us.  Isn’t that what we all forget though?  We may live our whole life in one place but shouldn’t we all be adventurers and stop looking at our trains or even our cars as a means of getting from point A to point B but instead see them as a portal into a world we may not know.  Isn’t it more fun, at least once in a while, to take the “road less traveled” and just enjoy the ride?

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The Gift of Discipline

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For two hours my husband and I tag teamed my son. We took turns climbing up and down the stairs trying to enforce his bedtime.  Zane is our youngest and until two months ago, the easiest of our three children to get to sleep.  Until then, we would take him up, read him a story, cover him up and count down from ten while rubbing his back.  When we reached zero, we would say, “Good night, good night, my little dinosaur,” just like in his favorite book, he would wave to us and we would leave.  That was it.  As the kids say, “Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.”

But that has all changed.  Now, almost every night is a fight with some nights turning into an all out war.  Two nights ago we had just that – a war.  We spent two hours climbing the stairs up to his room.  We warned him, we followed through, we even used our angry voices but nothing worked.  Finally, I decided that enough was enough.  I forced the issue, lights out, music off, and lay down now!” I demanded.  And he cried. He had been crying but apparently this outburst of mine was just too much because he lost it.  Still I would not turn on the lights or his music, I had set my foot down and down it would stay.

His tears turned into anger and suddenly my three year old son was shouting at me.  “Go away Mommy. Go away! I DON’T LIKE YOU!”  And my heart broke into a million tiny little pieces.  I told him the only thing a mommy can in that situation, “Well, I am sorry, because I love you. Now go to sleep.”  For fifteen more minutes he cried and screamed until finally he fell asleep.

Any other night I might have wallowed in self pity because of his words, but to be honest I was exhausted from the struggle.  I went right to sleep and woke up the next morning patting myself on the back for standing my ground.  Sometime in the night, I realized I had done just what I should have.  I had had the courage to be hated for a few minutes by my child.

My other two children are teenagers now and over the years there have been plenty of times when they hated me.  But neither they nor I are any the worse for wear.  We have come out the other side and I believe deep in my heart that they are better people for the discipline they have received.

Watching my two older children I realize that I have a parenting philosophy.  I believe that discipline is a gift we give our children.  It is not an easy gift to give but it is one that will provide a foundation for the rest of their lives. There are moments when I want to give in but then I look at my older two children and I remind myself how great they are and how they got here and I realize how unfair it would be to Zane to give in and give him everything he wants.  I remind myself how much easier his life will be if he learns that there are rules and boundaries that are not to be crossed.  And finally I remind myself that I stand my ground because I love him and maybe tomorrow he will love me.

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You Are the Expert

Cold boy

Molly just had her first baby, a beautiful baby boy with big blue eyes.  As a nurse in a pediatric trauma unit Molly knows babies, right?  Right.  But even so, trying to convince a new mom that she knows what to do isn’t always easy.  The pressure to be perfect and the guilt that goes with being a mom combine to make the first few weeks so difficult. Well meaning family and friends openly question them, leading to even more doubts and insecurities.

But in the end, mom is always the expert. Moms know their children.  They know why they cry and they know how to comfort them.  Sure, there are guidelines.  There are books to refer to, websites chock full of information and experienced mothers to call, but the truth is that each baby is so different that moms have to trust their instincts, to believe they have the answers.  To be confident they can take care of their babies.

In short, new moms need to relax and know they will be fine.  Look around and watch other moms.  Moms are as different as our children.  We each have a different style and different ideas and we raise our children accordingly.

Many of my friends think I am too laid back.  I seldom panic or worry about the small things.  My kids pick up food off of the floor and eat it citing the ten second rule and I don’t panic.  And guess what?  They are okay.  They haven’t died of some rare floor-born illness.  My kids go to the grocery store and touch the cart and I am not going to have a heart attack wondering who sneezed on that cart last.  I could worry about these things but I don’t.  They get dirty and I clean them up.  They get hurt and I patch them up.  But I seldom panic.  Walking through a museum, a zoo or along a city street I don’t make them hold my hand.  I allow them to run ahead, still in my line of sight but giving them a sense of independence.  I let them make mistakes and face the consequences of those mistakes.  And even so my kids are well adjusted children who are growing into well adjusted adults.  They are just fine even without the worry some moms put into it.

My friend Renee hates germs.  They worry her sick.  She carries hand-sanitizer everywhere she goes and is constantly insisting her children use it.  If her child picked something up off of the floor and ate it, she might go into cardiac arrest.  A scraped knee is almost always reason to go to the doctor.  And a cold is always a sign of an infection coming on.  She manages their lives from morning to night.  If they make a mistake, she fixes it for them, often taking the consequences of their mistakes on herself.  Yet, once again, her beautiful children are just fine.  They are healthy, happy and well adjusted.

There are moms who coddle their children, there are moms who believe in tough love, and there are moms who believe in giving their children a lot of space and freedom to become the people they will become.  Each of these moms raises children who will go out into the real world as fully functioning adults.  Each will have children who will look back on their childhoods with fond thoughts.  They may not think they had a perfect childhood but as long as their moms raised them with love, no matter what the parenting style, everything will be fine.  With a mother’s love they will grow and thrive.  So, relax.  Love your children, enjoy your time with them, trust your instincts and everything will be okay.  You are a mom.  You have the answers.

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