Love Is Not Perfect

After a stressful school day that just happened to occur on Valentine’s Day, my teen daughter suddenly announced that she hates holidays. Every holiday. Even Christmas…and Valentine’s Day, which appeared her current source of grief. Personally, I have fond memories of Valentine’s Day as a child, but I also know love isn’t perfect, so I guess I shouldn’t expect Valentine’s Day to be perfect either. Our kids’ struggle with holidays is nothing new, but it seems like every year we hope things will change, but there were some other factors making this particular Valentine’s Day a rough one.

First of all, to really make things challenging, I have the flu, so just surviving the day with a preschooler home for the entire day was a huge accomplishment for me. My husband helped out by taking him off my hands for a few hours, and then picked up the kids after their sports practices. This is when everything really started to go down hill.

It’s hard when mom is sick and routines are thrown off. The stress must have been brewing in the van ride home. Sitting and waiting for 45 minutes for my daughter to come out of practice is not ideal with a preschooler tagging along. A Happy Valentine’s Day greeting from my youngest turned quickly into a spitting episode. Then there was fighting and arguing between the older kids. When my older son finally arrived home and entered the kitchen he was steaming mad about the interactions on the horrible car ride home.

In my flu-altered state of mind I was lucky to just get the oven preheated for the take-and-bake pizza. To continue the chaos my youngest thought he would try to be helpful and transfer our homemade Valentine’s cake from the counter to the table without asking. In the process he dropped it and it flopped smack on the floor, breaking into pieces. All I could hear was the sound of my husband’s loud groan, and my little one’s crying. Oh well, I thought, love is not perfect.

My husband picked up Valentine’s heart pizzas for dinner. I made the not-so- smart decision to cook them together so they would be done at the same time. Well, the one on the bottom came out burnt and the one on the top came out soggy. Oh well, I thought, love is not perfect.

As we sat down to eat I saw a not-so-nice snap chat conversation on my daughter’s smartphone. She was embarrassed. She could see my disappointment, as it brought up my fear of who she is outside our home. She was mostly silent all through dinner, then took her cake dessert to her room. Oh well, I thought, love is not perfect.

My son was unable to join us because he continued to be so irritated by the simplest comments his younger brother would make, such as, “I get the first piece of cake!” He must have had a rough day too, because he just couldn’t seem to tolerate anything or anyone today. He ate his pizza by himself when everyone was out of the kitchen and opened his cards without a thank-you (so far). Oh well, I thought, love is not perfect.

We ate our soggy, burnt pizza. We ate our broken cake. It must have tasted fine because there were no complaints. We continued on and exchanged cards and gifts with each other, and slowly, the tension began to soften. Hearts were warming. There were tears of emotion for kind words written, and thoughtful gifts. There were moments of excitement, joy and gratitude. These are the moments I will hang on to; the rest I will let go.

Included in the evening was a discussion about what makes holidays hard, and one heart-felt reason, offered by my daughter, was the people who were missing. This is a common struggle for adopted children. There was a discussion about emotions and fears. There were apologies and more tears. There were long, strong hugs where you could really feel the love. Then I thought, this is the perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s a lesson to be learned. Love is not perfect, it’s messy. That doesn’t mean give up; it just means that growth is on the other side.

I hope my daughter will someday learn to be more at ease with holidays, which might come with a full understanding of why these special days can be hard for some people. Everyone comes to the table with their own backpack of “stuff” from the day, and personal experiences, accumulated over the years. Once we are finally able to unpack it all, we will clearly see that all that is left…is love.

Do Better & Shine

Flexibility

There is nothing more frustrating and exhausting than a child who is inflexible. I have a four-year old. I know we can all have our moments of inflexibility, but preschoolers can take it to a whole new level of insanity and make life extra hard. Consider yourself lucky if you only had to deal with the terrible twos or the tantrum threes.

When behaviors continue past a certain point you wonder what in the world is going on. Fear takes over and you decide its finally time to get some professional help. Once you have a better understanding of your child’s lagging skills you can more confidently make a plan and pray the craziness will soon come to an end.

The kids definition of flexible in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “possible or easy to bend” or “easily changed.” When you have a strong-willed child every interaction can feel impossible because the child completely refuses to bend. I wish I knew what it was like to easily switch from one activity to another with him, but transitions are hard every single time.

Something drastic finally needed to be done, so I decided no more outings. Every outing ended in a meltdown, which was his way of telling me the world was too big right now, I just needed to pay attention and meet him where he was at. When I stopped putting him in the same situations that kept triggering meltdowns I could see his body start to calm after a few days. He began to enjoy the safety of home as he had more time to relax and less reason to get upset. Surprisingly he also started to initiate play with us and even alone, which was a new skill for him. It’s amazing how fast the brain can change and grow when it is not always recovering from a state of stress.

After a full week of practicing strategies at home to help teach him how to be more flexible and seeing such great progress, I was ready to attempt to take him out in the world again. I decided on a quick run to Target. There was nothing important on my list so I was ready to walk out if I needed to. I told him my expectations from the start and he was warned that we would leave if there was a problem.

Right away he noticed the colorful candies on display. Some shiny red packages caught his eye and he said he wanted to look at them. As I walked on by I told him we would come back and look at those in a little bit. He was too tempted by the shiny packages and slowly walked away from me and towards the display. I motioned with my finger for him to come back and surprisingly he did. I was impressed that he actually came back and said, “Thank-you for being a listener.” He smiled and said, “You mean thank-you for being FLEXIBLE?” I just stopped and stared at him with big eyes. It was the first time he ever used the word flexible. I began to think everything was finally starting to sink in.

This whole week made me think about the children’s book Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus. The story is about a little lion who can’t seem to do all the things his friends are doing. The father can’t stop worrying about it, but the mother is not too concerned. Of course in his own sweet time he does bloom and learn to do everything his father feared he wouldn’t. Leo proclaims, “I made it!”

Every child will go through a challenge at some point in their life. It might be potty training, eating, sleeping, reading, writing, math, making friends, difficult behavior or something else. Parents don’t like watching their kids struggle, but it will likely be the struggle that will make them the amazing person they become. Be grateful for the struggle because it will help you learn and grow, even though it might be hard in the moment.

Remember that flowers bloom and close and bloom again. Blooming is a lifelong process, it’s not something that we ever arrive at, but something we keep working towards. My son had an encouraging week, but he still has a long way to go. Of course there will be more meltdowns and more struggles in the future. At the end of the story the little lion says, “I made it.” I don’t think we ever make it. We are all a work in progress. Our goal is to keep doing better and keep blooming.

If you are struggling with your child in any area don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Sometimes just having a better understanding of the problem can help you approach it from a place of love instead of a place of fear. This will make all the difference.

Do Better & Shine

Frustration

We all want to start our day off on a positive note. Our hope each morning is to start fresh and have a good day. I try to get myself into a good head space every morning before the hustle and bustle getting ready for school begins. It helps when you have a few quiet moments just for you. You need to take care of your own soul first before you can be present for others. That is the goal anyway.

Life in a family means you have to deal with the energy of other people. Kids often have trouble nurturing their own souls in the morning and will need you to help them. All it takes is for one person to rock the boat a little too hard. If one person lets their frustration fly it is automatically absorbed by the rest of the family. It is a constant daily battle to get everyone out the door without any chaos taking place.

My daughter couldn’t find her basketball uniform this morning in the midst of a floor full of dirty clothes. She quickly became stressed and frantic as it was already time to leave for school. Her anxious energy oozed into the pores of everyone else in the house. It’s amazing how this energy can linger in the air, even after the frustrated person is out of the house. Sometimes you don’t even realize how much it has affected you, but you know it doesn’t feel good and it wasn’t your energy to begin with.

The best way for me to get rid of too much energy from someone else is to wash it away. I decided to go take a quick shower while my youngest son colored at the kitchen table. Before I even had a chance to get in the shower I came back into the kitchen and noticed a large container of colored pencils dumped all over the table and onto the floor. Sometimes I forget that little ones need to find a way to get rid of their energy too. They often can’t do it alone and my son uses behaviors instead of words to get my attention. Spilled pencils everywhere got my attention.

At this point I am already frustrated from dealing with child one and now moving onto dealing with child 2. I asked him what happened but he felt my tension and told me he didn’t know. I angrily cleaned the pencils up and told him he was no longer allowed to use colored pencils. Ever. I brought him into the bathroom with me so we could both sit and calm down. After we both had a few minutes to sit quietly and take a deep breath he told me that he was frustrated because he started coloring his picture earlier and then he couldn’t find the same colored pencil to make it match.

I know how sensitive he can be and how stress affects kids as much as it affects adults. Understanding where his frustration was coming from, especially since I was feeling the same way allowed me to be compassionate and spend time reconnecting. As we sat and talked he asked me why his sister didn’t ask anyone to help her find her uniform. Surprised that he noticed this very important detail, I told him that was a very good question. I said, “Sometimes we just get so angry and frustrated that we don’t have the words.”

So many things can happen in our day to make us “flip our lids”. It is pretty much a given that it will happen, we just don’t know how or when. When it does happen, our brains go straight to fight, flight, or freeze. First we feel the stress (ours or someone else’s), then we get scared, then the behaviors show themselves. The stress made my daughter yell and not ask for help. The stress made my youngest son dump all the pencils out, also not asking for help. The stress made me want to run away and take a shower, when I new it was not the best time.

There are lots of things we can do to try and fix the situations above, but the reality is that frustration will keep happening on a daily basis, especially in a family. The scenarios will change, but the reactions will often stay the same. We need to be conscious of what is happening and try to stay present so we can work our way through it.

Tomorrow is a new day and once again we will start over. I will do what I need to fill my cup and take care of my soul first so I can be the presence that the rest of my family needs. This does not guarantee perfection, not even close, but after many years of searching for answers, it is the best way I have found to start making progress.

Do Better & Shine

Keep Moving Forward

I was sitting on the floor in my youngest son’s room. Little pieces of mismatched toys were scattered everywhere. Amid the clutter of toys he handed me a rock with three words on it. He asked me what it said and I read the words aloud to him, “Keep Moving Forward.” He then asked in his curious four-year old voice, “What happens if you don’t keep moving forward?” I thought about it for a quick second and said, “You get stuck.”

He proceeded to tell me about a cartoon he had watched where a girl was dribbling a soccer ball the wrong direction. I was intrigued by this example he immediately thought of and told him it sounded like the girl was not moving forward, she was moving backwards. He said, “Yes, she was.” I told him she was moving in the wrong direction and he agreed. I told him you don’t want to move backwards. He said, “No, you don’t.”

I thought to myself that is exactly what happens. You are feeling good and really focusing on doing your best. Then for some reason you become overwhelmed, and you don’t know which way to go or what to do next. It’s easy to get stuck in this place for a while until you can notice what is happening. If you are not careful and don’t notice your patterns, it is likely that you will continue to move backwards.

Amazing how my son just happened to pull that one little rock off his messy floor today at just the right time and ask me about it. A perfect little reminder for everyone to keep moving forward. Don’t get stuck. Try not to go backwards into old habits. This is a challenge and I know it is bound to happen. When it does, observe your patterns and get yourself back in the game. Don’t be the one dribbling the wrong direction, but if it happens it’s not the end of the world, all you have to do is turn yourself around and KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

~Do Better & Shine

Practice Stillness

It’s what everyone is looking for, yet sometimes it’s hard to slow down and find it. I am talking about complete stillness with nothing else going on in the background. When is the last time you were completely still? No music, no phone, no Youtube, just YOU!

If we want to practice stillness, one of our best teachers is our pets. I have a dog that can do this for hours a day. Can you imagine how relaxing that would be? She just finds a cozy spot, usually right in my bed, maybe even on my pillow and curls up. I don’t think she has any other thoughts rushing through her mind, she is just enjoying the quiet, warmth, and stillness. She is so good at taking deep breaths. Your dog can teach you how to do this too. All you have to do is be still and listen.

If you want to practice, wait until your dog is in a quiet restful state and go snuggle up and get close. Put your ear to your dog’s heart and listen. You will hear long, deep, slow breaths. Try to follow along. Be still, close your eyes and just breathe. Stay in this place for one minute, or as long as you like. Ahhh.

I know your days are busy, but whenever you have a moment, remember this feeling of being still and try to come back to it. Visualize yourself cozied up with your warm pup, remember the sound of your pups deep breaths and pretend you are back in this warm, soft place. As you imagine this picture in your mind take a long deep breath in and let that same long breath out.

This is such an amazing, full sensory experience that your mind should be able to recreate it in any moment . When life is feeling crazy and your body is craving some peace, no matter where you are, take your mind back to this experience and just breathe and be still. Ahhh.

Do Better & Shine

Martin Luther King Day Poem

I tried to teach my four-year old who Martin Luther King was today. I pulled up a video of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. My son watched intently for a short while, not really understanding what it was about, but at the same time now having a picture in his head of this important person. He was obviously paying attention because when his Grandpa called a few minutes later he asked him, “Do you know Martin Luther King?”

I told my son we were going to write a poem together. He was up for the challenge, as he is quite the little thinker and likes to talk and come up with ideas. First, I asked him to think about the kids in his class at school and tell me how some kids might be different from him. His first response was, “Some people are small and some people are big.” I was surprised, at how quickly he understood what I was looking for.

Next, I asked him to tell me how all the kids are alike. He said, “We all need food.” We continued back and forth like this until we came up with a sweet little poem. I encourage you to try this and see what deep thinkers your kids can be. You could do it as a whole group or it could be something kids work on individually, depending on their age. When I asked my son if anyone has skin that is different than his, he said, “Some people have freckles.” When I asked him what color Martin Luther King’s skin was he said, “Grey.” He was correct. The video I showed him was in black and white. Even though my son still has a lot to learn about King and the importance of this National Holiday, it never hurts to start young. My son is aware of some differences in people, but I love how he really sees how we are all alike or equal. Here is his sweet poem…

Martin Luther King Day Poem

Some people are small and some are big.

We all need food.

Some people wear different outfits.

We all need clothing.

Some people are mean and some people are nice.

We all need love.

Some people celebrate different holidays.

We all need family.

Some people get hurt.

We all need to be taken care of.

Some people have freckles.

We all are beautiful.

~Do Better & Shine

You Are Worthy

Every child deserves someone to fight for them. Every child deserves someone to be their voice when they are not allowed or asked to use their own. Every child deserves their behavior and needs to be truly understood in order to help them grow and learn.

Just because you have a hard time sitting still, focusing in class, or keeping your hands to yourself, you are still worthy. Just because you struggle with reading, writing, speaking, or doing a math problem, you are still worthy. Just because you are easily frustrated, inflexible, or have trouble following a direction, you are still worthy. Just because you have a hard time being in your body, don’t like how your brain works, or feel sad about your behavior when your emotions take over, you are still worthy.

I see you. I understand you. I understand the real you underneath it all. Don’t let anyone make you feel less than. You have your own superpowers that are no more or no less that anyone else. Focus on those and you will begin to feel your strength.

We are all on this earth for a purpose. Behind all the hard is something very special. Behind all the hard is someone uniquely you. Know that you have a gift to share with the world. Keep moving forward. I will stand up for you when you can’t stand up for yourself. I will understand you even when you don’t understand yourself. I will hold the hope for your future self, even if you can’t picture it right now. Just keep moving forward and know that you are getting stronger everyday.

~ DO BETTER & Shine