Beyond the smiles.

It was my husband’s birthday yesterday. To honour the spunky hunk I posted a reasonably recent photo of him on Facebook, along with a few lines about how I feel about him. Then I got to thinking about that particular photo and what it represented.

The photo was taken in New York, in Times Square. We’d been ‘given’ a glorious 56 hours away from our three kids, and my very generous brother had flown us over to NYC to be there while he was there. The time  was magical in a huge number of ways. I honestly wasn’t expecting to love the city as much as I did, it was awesome to explore it with my brother and his wife, the weather was beautiful, the sights were stunning, it was simply magical. The photo shows a very happy husband, thoroughly enjoying a once in a lifetime experience.

What the photo doesn’t show is that happy husband had at that time begun to exhibit some pretty severe symptoms for type one diabetes. That photo doesn’t show the seriousness of what he was facing. The week after we got back Michael went to the doctor and was diagnosed with this life changing condition.

Beyond that smile, there was a lot more going on than what that smile would let on. Yes, that smile in that photo was genuine. We had an absolute blast in those 56 hours and created memories that will last us a lifetime. But, I’ll always remember there was more going on, there was more beyond that smile.

Last year before my kids started their new school, I remember being weirdly freaked out and overwhelmed by the thought that my kids wouldn’t fit in. It felt like everyone else had it all together, that their kids were all extremely high achieving and I held onto a completely unfounded fear that my boys with their ‘point of difference’, their speech impediments, would suffer and not fit in, when all around them were ‘perfect’ kids.

Yeah, well, it didn’t take long to realize that as I said earlier, this was an unfounded fear. A stupid fear. Ignorant thinking on my part. You see I know, I really do know, that there are no perfect kids. Just like there are no perfect people. We all have our issues. Every kid has something that they struggle with, some things are obvious, others are not. My kids did fit in just fine, because it is an imperfect world we live in.

But that false thinking of mine prompted me to think, more often, what is really going on with  x, y, z kid? How is that family doing?  Just like so much was going on behind the scenes of that photo I took of Michael, a moment in time, in Times Square…..what’s going on beyond the smiles of your kids classmates? Your kindy teacher? The check out operator you see once a week? The basketball coach? Hairdresser? Friend you just texted?

Now I do know that most people aren’t going to open up, blab on your shoulder and tell you their life’s woes, just because you’ve bothered to take the time and noticed them, some may though! And we actually don’t have to be in the loop with everyone’s own private business. But I felt this worthy of a blog post because I myself need reminding that so often we only see people’s highlight reels. We’re exposed to all that is good and noteworthy and praiseworthy in life, and it is easy to think how easy some people have it. And that can isolate us in our struggles, especially our kid struggles. But we’re in this together. There are no perfect kids and there are no perfect parents, but we are better together.

We are better when we look beyond the smiles, when instead of highlight reel, we see a real life reel.

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‘Oh Hi’, said the New Parent

Oh hi, I thought I’d come over and introduce myself. 

Why yes, I am new. 

What was it that gave it away? Maybe the fact that you’ve never seen me in the four and a half years your child has been at this campus, is a good start….or was it the fact that I am always super early to pick up?wondering how my kids’ days have been…..making room in my day to be open to get to know people and staff and procedures….

Tell me about your kids!  Have you had a good day? How do you fill your days? Yes we are getting used to the school thank you, although I did have to interpret the word ‘mufti’ for my twelve year old the other day…(freestyle in Australia, and well….every day in most American schools is mufti. Yes every school does have a different culture, and I’m learning as we go too. 

Yeah questions about ‘the kids’ are always good ice-breakers when it comes to starting up a conversation for the first time, especially at a setting like a school. I will always have my preschooler with me, until he starts school. So feel free to ask him his name, his age, about what he’s been doing today…..he’s most likely covered in paint from his morning kindy session, so ask me about that.

Other conversation starters with new parents at school could be:

Where did you move from? What do you think of this area? How are your kids settling in? Do you have any other children? And here’s a great one for a Friday…..what are your plans for the weekend? Why is this so great? Because come Monday……..’how was the concert/ soccer final/ party/ movie/ shopping trip?’

It’s all about finding some point of connection, and having your kids at the same school is a huge plus to begin with.

I get it, totally get it, starting up a conversation with a stranger is weird. It is hard. It can be awkward for both parties. But if that parent Is going to be at that very same school pick up for five days a week, however many weeks a year…..that’s potential for some one to not be a stranger. Potential for many shared moments. Ten minutes a day…..a wealth of shared knowledge over the course of a school year……and who knows…possibly your next second best friend…..

As a new school year starts in certain parts of the world, as parents let’s keep an eye out for new parents in our school yards. They are the new kids on the block too.

I’ll smile and return your greeting, don’t you worry about that. And I’ll ask you about your day, but go on, ask me about my paint splattered four year old, I dare Ya.

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Awards and Accolades.

I’m finding it very hard to believe that we’re near the end of August.  Next month we’re in the -ber months.  Here in the Southern Hemisphere we’re near the end of the third term of a four school term year….weird to think that schools right across America are starting up again after their long summer break.

As we roll into the fourth term and all that ‘fun’ end of year stuff, our diaries are going to be filling up with all sorts of events; concerts, parties, shows and yes, prizegivings/ awards nights.

I’m sure that the people reading this post all have very set opinions on awards and prizes for kids.  They are a funny old thing indeed.  This is our first year at this particular school we’re at now – so I’m not sure of how this goes and what the deal is…..I’m not sure what ‘things’ are noticed and rewarded, but I do know what I’d like to see happen, and I do know what I’d love to see rewarded.

Students who do well academically, and behaviourally – they are easy to notice.  Easy to pinpoint.  And of course as parents we want our kids to be achieving, and there’s a certain amount of pride that comes along when they are seen to be ‘achieving’ too.  Yes I’m a parent who does proclaim on all forms of social media when my kids do well.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say I did this.  But.  And here’s the thing, I think it is important to proclaim all things amazing about our kids.  Get that?  All things amazing.  And therein lies the massive gap between what is sometimes celebrated in schools and what I think needs to be remembered more.

A bright kid who is self-motivated will go far in this world.  A child who gains top marks across all or most subject areas is more likely to go on to gain a higher education.  And this is good.  And this is necessary.  But lets not forget character.  Let’s not forget the qualities that will take a child into adulthood and give him or her the skills needed to be an excellent employee.  A compassionate co-worker.  A caring member of society.

I just so believe that what is in a child’s heart is so much more important than achievements and accolades.  And these character traits aren’t always recognised in this competitive world we live in.

Some schools do have ‘character’ awards, and that’s great, but I believe this is something that should be expected of any and every child.  And not just one picked out of a class of 30.  So how can we nurture this in our children?  How can we as parents make this expectation known?  Is this just another example of me and my ‘pie in the sky’ ideas?  I dunno.  But I do know two things…..

One – we have to model kindness.  We have to model speaking kindly of others. And to others. We have to model actively reaching out to others and showing concern.  All the things we desire of our children – how can they know these things, if we’re not illustrating them ourselves?  Not any easy gig huh, this parenting thing.

And two – I was taught this at Teachers’ College and can see it as being appropriate in any situation with kids, we need to ‘catch them being good’.  For those times when my kids surprise me and respond positively to tricky situations, I need to thank them.  For the kind gestures they make, I need to recognise them.  For the thoughtfulness I see them show – I need to point out that this was seen and appreciated.  This ‘catch them being good’ business – it works wonders, I know I need to do more of it.

As we enter the -ber months and when you find yourself sitting in numerous special assemblies and prizegivings, please can I urge you to remember this…… You may clap loudly when your kid’s name is called out and they walk onto that stage – and that’s wonderful.  Nice one.  You post that pic and status on Facebook.  Honour should be given when honour is due.  Some kids do work jolly hard.  But if your child’s name is not called out – and they sit in their chair the whole evening – and you find yourself clapping for lots of their classmates – don’t think any less of your child and their abilities.  What’s inside of them – what’s growing in their attitudes to others and in their general countenance, is so much more important than what any award will indicate.  And I really do think we need to remember this.  In this achievement driven society perhaps now is the time that we as parents can stand up and really encourage kindness, gentleness, self-control.  We can be the ones handing out ‘verbal medals’.  And who knows – these ‘verbal medals’ could help create a generation of even more amazing young people than we could ever hope for.

  Do you have anything to add?  Any personal views on this topic you’d like to share?  Feel free to leave a comment.

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Stepping over the line.

I popped into a supermarket on Saturday, just to get two things.   It was supposed to be an in and out errand….five minutes max, as the rest of my family were waiting for me.  I found the two items I was after, and in doing so noticed a Mum with her two boys…..the boys at this stage were running around.  Dashing here and there.  The Mum was calling for them halfheartedly.  Somehow she managed to wrangle them up to the counter and I ended up in the checkout line behind them.  What followed was a rather painful five minutes of the two boys not doing what they were asked to do, then two boys physically fighting on the floor of the supermarket, the Mother threatening to take their massive bag of sweets off them (she didn’t – she ended up buying it along with her other groceries) and then there were massive tears from the youngest child as the older child continued to sit on him and hit him….then the Mum ended up carrying the younger one out of the place.  And everyone around finally breathed out in relief.

At the time I was pretty astounded at what was happening.  But at the same time I was trying hard not to judge.  Who knows what had already gone in this family’s day before the supermarket ‘event’.  They may have been up before the birds.  They may have just said goodbye to Dad before he went away for a trip.  Grandma may have given them food with red dye in it and they may react to that.  There’s a whole range of things that could have caused the unruly behaviour.  But because in our generation of bringing up kids we kinda like to let people be, and heavens above if anything ever looked like we were judging, I stood by and said nothing and did nothing……What I would have loved to ask the Mum was ‘is this normal behaviour?’.  Because if it was, that lady needs help.  What those kids were doing was not ok and was not normal.  But who’s going to tell her?

This week in New Zealand I was horrified to read of the murder of an Indian shop owner in a suburb we’re very familiar with.  This event was shocking enough, but then it came out in the news that the two accused of the crime are aged 12 and 13.  Yes.  12 and 13.  As far as I’m concerned every 12 and 13 year old should be at home at 7.30am on a weekday morning, eating their Weetbix, playing minecraft on the computer and about the most trouble they should be causing would be pestering their Mums about what’s for dinner.

But obviously this is not the reality for a lot of families and life is not the simple and easy thing it absolutely should be, for a lot of young people.  And because of this, my heart breaks.

And isn’t it easy to feel helpless?

And isn’t it easy to feel angry and deeply saddened about the way some children have to live, but feel absolutely clueless about what to do to help and make ANY kind of difference?

It is easy to feel powerless.  Absolutely powerless.  But maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to be.  Maybe, just maybe, we all need to step over the line and act on things we see.  And not stand by when we see little things happen, because in my simplistic way of thinking….the little things mount up…the little things add up….and the little things can make a huge difference.

Coming back to the Mum in the supermarket….I could have firmly but kindly knelt down to the little boys and said something along the lines of ‘hey, is that kind behaviour? How about you show me (and the rest of the store!) what a brave and kind big brother you can be’.  I could have said to the Mum ‘hey we all have bad days, can I help you to your car?’.  None of those options would have been judgemental – just a friendly face with a desire to help.

Sometimes we can just step over that line – and actually help.

How about if we see a bunch of kids in our neighborhood, hanging out when they should be at school?  I am naive enough to think that if we actually called the neighborhood police and alerted them to that…maybe, just maybe having an authority figure step into the picture would actually get them back in school.

How about if we did everything we could to support our teachers and youth workers?

What if we actually struck up a conversation with the young single Mum in the same waiting room as us, and took an interest in her and her child?

What if we actually started parenting as a village?

What if we admitted to our friends when things weren’t going well and needed fresh ideas on how to deal with certain issues?

What if we became less timid about sharing our successes and useful tips – not to show-off or blow our own trumpets, but because we saw a real need and could actually provide someone with a practical thing to help them with a parenting issue?

What if?

I certainly don’t have any real answers to deal with these major issues that society is facing….I know I’m simplistic in my thinking and there’s a lot more at stake here than I”m looking at in this short blog post…..but I do know we have power in our shared experiences.  What if we stepped over the line a lot more?

 

This is a very interesting article, that I’d love you to read – an interview with a pediatrician in New Zealand.  Kiwi kids:  how we can save them.  

 

Mother guilt

Some families have asthma as their ‘thing’.  Others are prone to ear infections or wonky teeth, food allergies or fevers.  Think for a moment and I’m sure you’ll come up with your family’s ‘thing’.

My family has a bit of a speech ‘thing’.  Our middle boy had about three years of speech therapy – some of it through a private therapist, and then through his public school.  He’s made remarkable improvements – but those years when we was three and four, and I was his main interpreter, they were tough.  Super tough.

So when our third boy came along and he showed himself to be slow to talk, that was a huge deal for this Mama’s heart.  We’d been down the path of therapy appointments, the kids who quite openly admit they can’t understand what mine was saying, and the constant need for interpretation before…..I dreaded doing it again.

But we went ahead with assessments and referrals and all that razzamataz, and with an official diagnosis of a speech delay, our little Ash began speech therapy at the age of two and half.  The therapy went hand in hand with a whole bunch of Mum guilt (what had I done or not done to cause this), a total team effort by the whole family to reinforce the therapy, and a whole bunch of prayer.

Ever noticed how a watched washing machine never finishes when you want it to?  The shortest checkout lane at the supermarket often takes the longest? Well the more I looked for progress, the more progress with Asher’s speech seemed illusive.  For months.  And months.  And we left the States with him still not talking in sentences, and still my Mother heart hurt.  And I grieved in a sense – for don’t we all long for our children to fit into the realms of ‘normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ is?

But you know what…..just lately in the last month or so, little Ash has begun speaking in sentences.  He’s begun to sing.  And how my heart sings to hear him.  He now utters those three little words that mean so very much, ‘I love you’.  I was waiting for a very long time to hear those words.

Time will tell with how well he progresses with all his sounds and pronunciation, but for now – we’re just so thrilled that he is talking.

I’d love to sit here and be able to tell you without a doubt that whatever ‘thing’ you’re facing concerning your children will improve over time, and healing will take place.  I’d love to be able to have complete confidence that Asher’s speech will be flawless in another twelve months time.  But I can’t say that.  What I can do is this – carry on praying; for I believe in the power of prayer, and I can carry on doing all the practical things I need to do to help him and encourage him, and I can refuse to take with me the guilt I feel over him carrying this burden.

This speech delay is part of Asher’s journey – just as Luka’s impairment was a part of his.  Not something that is pleasant.  Not something to be proud of – but not something to be ashamed of as well.  Nothing I did or didn’t do, caused these issues.  And to walk with that as a burden, heavy on my shoulders, is unneccessary and not helpful to anyone.

What are you carrying unnecessarily today?  What false blame are you laying on yourself today?  We all do it……because we want reasons for things – we want to be able to blame someone…..

How about this year we deal out as much grace to ourselves as we do to others? In what areas of your life can you show yourself more grace?

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