New Year’s Resolutions: Stress Less, Laugh More

It’s hard to get out of ruts in thinking and behaviors. With New Year’s approaching, I’m preparing for a big resolution to do just that. I share it with you in the hopes that you’ll help me stick to it, because lordy lord lord I am going to need a LOT of help with this:

I have wasted so much energy (we’re talking powering-every-household-in-California-for-a-year energy) stressing about the amount of time my kids spend playing video games (not violent ones, mind you—just innocent and fun sports games, for cryin’ out loud). My motivation is pure; I think they’ll benefit from varying things up a bit, getting a bit of Vitamin D. Using the lonely trampoline. Nonetheless, my obsession is a complete waste of time and has caused unnecessary anguish in our home.

Hold that thought, and pair it with this: Yesterday I mentioned to a visiting friend that our boys still like to read with us at night before going to sleep.

She stopped me, went wide-eyed and repeated back: Your boys. Like to read. With their parents.

I smacked my forehead (again): Duh!

Why do I not instead expend energy dwelling on that sweet fact? Or a million other sweet facts about my boys?

And why does it take other people to point out what’s right in front of me?

My older son is the person who most consistently points out my failings, and 99% of the time he is on the money, so I appreciate his constructive criticism. Ironically, it’s the things I do trying to be a good mother that mostly mess up. Irony sucks.

My friend, psychologist Lana Benedek, recently offered parents at the elementary school a Mindful Parenting lesson. Here’s some of it, and what I will endeavor to commit to my soul’s memory for my New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Honor your child’s sovereignty, accept his or her unique abilities and needs.

Let go of what I wish they would do or be and see that they are so perfect as who they are.

  1. Let go of perfectionist standards in parenting, and accept that even with the best intentions mistakes will happen.

And how.

My kids are funny, compassionate, loving, thoughtful, inquisitive, silly, smart and above all else, entirely themselves. They are more than anyone could wish for. And I don’t need any help at all remembering that.

Happy new year to all.

Laura

How a Book Can Help Us Talk About Feelings: The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm

My friend told me that in her daughter’s Social Studies class, the teacher has allowed the 15 year olds to choose their own discussion topic for the past few weeks. Without fail, they have chosen to talk about the Islamic State, and also without fail, each week a few of her classmates are in tears.

My first thought was that neither I nor my kids are well-read enough to sustain an intelligent discussion about the Islamic State (apart from “H&ly $h*% they’re scary!”). My second thought was, that is for the best. ISIS is a terrifying external threat, beyond my kids’ and my control, which can only make sensitive folks like us feel nuts.

I think I’m in luck: when I do try to begin a conversation about current events, it is quickly sidetracked to sports or Legos or “What’s for dinner?” But I know that doesn’t guarantee that they aren’t worrying about it. How do I ask my children if they are afraid of something, without inadvertently introducing a scary topic they may not have been worried about?

Enter a new book by LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, by LeVar Burton

A story within a story, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm introduces us to a mouse who is terrified by a terrible storm, and whose wise Papa reads her a book called…The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.

The story is a point of entry for talking about feelings that can overwhelm. The illustrations and poetic story-telling express the roiling feelings that we sometimes don’t have words for. Its mission is to help parents and children deal with external fears and anxiety, without once using words like fear and anxiety.

I don’t have the littlest of children anymore, but we all have worries, no matter our age. I’m happy to have this book to read to my kids (and to myself), to introduce a conversation we may need to have now or years hence, with imagery and language that are as reassuring as anything I could want. It won’t stop the terrorists, or hurricanes, or crazy gunmen, but it can help us get a handle on how not to swallow up and internalize those worries.

 

Read between the lines

My sister and I had a favorite sight gag as kids. Hold up your middle three fingers toward someone, palm facing you and say, “Read between the lines.”

This is something different.

Our eight-year-old is assigned to read 20 minutes every night. And every night, as we open a book to read, he rolls over and says, “You read. I’m too tired.” We try gimmicks – “I’ll read one page (or paragraph, or sentence) and then you read one!” Mostly he refuses, and mostly I give in and read to him. With his school reading scores pretty strong, I justify it thusly: it’s a wonderful thing to be read to, we are building cozy memories.

But still I worry (of course I do). “He must do the assignment! He must improve! He could be reading at an even higher level!” (Trust me, as I write this I am even annoying myself.) I continue to pester him about reading, and he continues to resist.

Then, this morning, a most inexplicable turn of events. On the drive to school, the little guy agreed to help his brother practice lines for the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet. Motoring along the palm tree lined Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Blvd., my son who balks at reading The Hardy Boys aloud, eloquently read aloud the immortal words, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art though Romeo?”

He did the entire scene, until he bumped with embarrassment over the word “breast.” It went downhill from there, screeching to a halt at the word “marriage.” He had a problem with saying he would get married to his brother. “Daddy,” he said with no room for negotiation, “you have to say the M-word, cuz I won’t.”

This from a kid who has no qualms spouting words more commonly known by their first letter. Which reminds me, I think he’d enjoy our old sight gag.Image