Tag Archives: Kids

Life Lessons for this LA Mom and her Boys

I stumbled upon this wonderful article “25 Things I Want My Ranch Kids To Know”. You’d think I’d have little in common with this ranching family. But as I read through her list, I realized how universal so much of what she has to say is. I found myself tweaking her vernacular for my now Calif. kids. For instance, her #2: “Boredom is a Choice” I adored and in my mind I changed from: “If you can’t entertain yourself with a stick and a bucket full of calf nuts, we’re doing something wrong” to: “If you can’t entertain yourself with a surfboard/boogie board or a bikeride…I’m doing something wrong.”

Life in California—especially in a Southern California beach town—is dreamy for kids. Or so it should be. We have gorgeous stretches of sandy beaches, strewn with volleyball nets and a strand for bikers to ride safely for miles. Our town has plenty of parks and violent crime is low. We literally have beautiful weather nearly year-round.  Yet, my oldest cares more about video games than a day at the beach. Getting him to ride his bike or skate board or kick a soccer ball with his buds in the alley (we live in a beach house without a yard, but share an alley with loads of families with kids) takes an olympic effort. He’d rather stay inside and play Minecraft. So I bought a pingpong table and that’s helping a bit.

That’s just one issue I’m battling right now. Some days it seems that there just isn’t enough of me. I need at least two clones in order to be a better parent. I’m guilty of juggling my two boys and their drastically differing needs (and of course the loud three-year-old tends to get most of the attention) with other issues such as work and any social life. I’m not always there for both of them the way I’d like to be. (I’m sure my single parent friends and readers empathize with this feeling!) So, I’m inspired to come up with my own list that I hope will help my boys become sensitive and caring men—regardless of being raised in LaLa land!

Mom’s Top Life Lessons:

1. It’s okay to get angry, but it’s not okay to hit.
Life isn’t meant to be fair. You are guaranteed to get disappointed and frustrated when things don’t go your way. It’s okay to punch a pillow, talk with a friend or write in a journal about your disappointments. Hitting your brother, your friend or your mother is never ok.

2. Stand up for yourself.
Don’t go looking for trouble, as my mom used to say, but if someone is bullying you or threatening you, you have every right to stand up for yourself. Tell the person to stop, and/or get a teacher if it becomes violent. If that makes it worse for you, remember, bullies are weak. They thrive on putting other people down. Do not believe a word that person says about you and please tell me about the situation. I’ll always listen. I’ll always be in your corner. Remember you’re own worth. You should never put up with abuse.

3. Be kind.
Always think about how your words and actions affect others. If someone at school is annoying you, or if a friend starts gossiping about another kid, try your hardest not to say anything nasty or join in on the gossip. Putting other people down does not make you look better. Find other ways to deal with it. Think about how you would feel if you were that other kid.

4. It’s okay to make mistakes. (And don’t be too proud to apologize.)
We don’t always do everything the way we intend to. If you over-react or say something rash, just apologize. It’s not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is usually all you need to do to make things better.

5. You are special because of who you are: not what you have.  
Just because some neighbors and friends have more expensive toys than you, does NOT make them better. You are kind, smart, caring, loving, creative, curious, fun and inventive. These things aren’t created by owning a huge flat screen T.V. or a swimming pool.

6. Pursue your passions.
Sure, you’d like to vacation in Hawaii and drive a sports car one day—but don’t pursue a career just because it earns a lot of money. Do something that sparks your interest. If you love science or history, keep studying that in college and find a career that incorporates your passions. You’ll never regret being happy on the job and you’re more likely to be successful.

7. Be a team player.
It’s just as important to block a goal as it is to make one. You’re not always going to be the player who makes the most goals or baskets. But that’s okay if you’re giving it your all, supporting your teammates and HAVING FUN.

8. Don’t curse like a sailor.
Sure, sometimes things slip when angry, but don’t make a habit of cursing. It’s crude, rude and makes you look unintelligent.

9. Be Confident and Don’t Give In To Peer Pressure.
Just because some surfers are getting high every day before and/or after school, doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for you. And drinking and driving is NEVER Okay. I love you. Call me and I’ll always come get you or pay for a cab.

10. Don’t lie.
We all tell those white lies occasionally, such as: “thanks for inviting me,” even if you didn’t have a good time. But don’t lie about the big stuff and especially not to your mom. She’ll always listen and try to help you—even if you are in trouble. She will never stop loving you. You will always have a home here, no matter what you do. So don’t be afraid to tell her if something’s gone wrong or you’re in a bad situation.  She’s made mistakes too and can help.

11. Always be Courteous to Parents.
Say “nice to meet you,” shake hands, and look parents in the eyes when you are visiting a friend’s house. Do not EVER just walk into a friend’s room when you are teenager without addressing the friend’s parents. When you leave, say, “Nice to see you again,” or “Thanks for having me Mr. & Mrs. so and so.” Good manners NEVER go out of style.

12. Don’t Settle.
Remember that true beauty comes with integrity, intelligence and kindness (a sense of humor is a plus too!). If the gal you like is gorgeous, but is lacking in these other qualities, move on.

13. Focus on Gratitude.
By now you’re sick of hearing me ask you to say what you’re thankful for each night at bedtime, but keep doing it. Letting your mind drift towards what is good in your life, instead of what is bad, brings more good to you AND helps you feel safe and happy.

14. Meditation Isn’t For Sissies.
Staying active is great, but finding a way to connect your mind a body through your breath, reduces your stress and allows you to think calmly about your goals and intentions for your life. The sooner you learn this, the better off you’ll be. Sit still for five minutes each night or morning and focus on deep breathing while you let your mind drift to a positive, relaxing location.

15. Eat Something Fresh and Green Every Day.
The secret to staying healthy is avoiding junk food and remembering the simple rule of eating raw fruit and something green every day.

16. Get Lost in a Good Book.
There’s really nothing like finding yourself transfixed by a good book. In today’s hectic world where everyone multitasks, I will know I’ve done a good job if both of you can find yourself, at some point every year, lost in a marvelous novel.

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A Mother’s Legacy: Music and Memories

A rare event: mom playing piano for an audience in 1999.

My mother escaped in her music. I imagine that it held magical qualities for her. It lifted her up out of her life. It gave her a voice when she didn’t allow herself to speak. It gave her eloquence. And it was private. She played at home, preferably alone.

If you’ve ever seen someone play piano by ear, you might have an idea of what I am describing. It’s amazing to hear and watch a person completely transformed while they play. But again, with mom, it was immensely personal and I always knew it was how she communicated best, or worked out her feelings. My mother rarely said she loved you without crying, for instance, so it wasn’t an every-day thing to hear. As her child, you knew she loved you, but she just couldn’t speak it easily. She also rarely talked about intensely personal things. She did so through her songs—most from the Big Band Era. Not only could she play by ear, but she would get into a trance-like state and would free-associate by playing one song with a meaning that led perfectly into another that carried that meaning a bit further until she seemed to come to closure or have had a complete conversation. I so wish I had recorded some of her “sessions.”

When she was going through her divorce and I had taken a bit of time off college to stay with her, I felt privileged to listen to her play. Some evenings after work I would tiptoe into the house if I heard the piano so she wouldn’t stop. She might play for 30 minutes and had no idea I was there. She played dramatically with an emotion that you’d never see her display anywhere else. I could even hear her nails clicking the keys she was moving so fast. I’d sit in my old room upstairs and listen as she played old musicals that might lead into a Tommy Dorsey tune and then surprisingly to a pop melody of Lionel Richie‘s, as long as they held a key element of a similar message. Anything she heard on the radio, she could play perfectly, as she only needed to hold the melody in her head to translate it to the keys. She didn’t like to “perform” and rarely played for others. I was therefore, really shocked when she played piano at my wedding. Every song had “baby” in the title (as I’m the youngest of her four children). I don’t recall all of them, but “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby” and “Take Good Care of My Baby” and Dorsey’s “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” were some of them. I don’t think anyone, outside of family, knew how emotional it was for her to play these songs in front of a crowd and the photographer caught her shy feelings of love perfectly. I was touched beyond words.

As Alzheimer’s grips your loved one, you sit by helplessly as they slip away. When living in London, I flew back each summer between 2005 and 2008 for a few weeks or longer each visit. I’d notice that she had a harder time with the piano by 2007, but would continue to play. Although sometimes, she’d have a harder time with verbal conversation and would still play perfectly. Alzheimer’s is funny that way. By the time I was really going through the ringer with my husband, my mom was in the moderately severe stages. She got easily upset and I hid the fact that I was going through Hell from her. Even though she might not remember specifics the next day, I knew she was a sponge and would absorb my sadness and would worry about me every time my name was mentioned. Somehow that worry would carry over. She might not know why she was worried, or couldn’t remember my soon-to-be ex-husband‘s name, but I only wanted to bring her happiness when I visited. I swore my siblings to go along with me and not talk about my separation with her. Well, in July 2010, I was far from happy. It was incredibly hard to visit and pretend everything was ok. I had my then one and a half year old with me, who was sick a lot and had a hard time sleeping. I was barely 100 lbs from grief. My soon-to-be ex had left me for another woman in September of 2009, less than a year after we had moved back to the States when I was pregnant. He was back and forth with his emotions and his behavior was erratic when he was back from Europe. But at this point, I’d been a single mom for almost a year. I had just dropped the older son with relatives in Tennessee for a camp before coming home. I don’t want to use this blog to post sorted details, but suffice it to say, I’d been through a year with broken promises and many attempts to reconcile, and I was now trying my hardest not to show any of this mess to my fading mother. Southerners can be excellent actresses—and I’m the queen of being able to ‘fake it till you make it’ for the most part—but this was going to take an amazing feat. I pulled it off, remarkably, for most of the week spent on walks with the dog or visits with the neighbors or in her garden. One evening, however, Jamesy just would NOT sleep. He cried most of the night and I was at breaking point. My mom came down the stairs at 3 a.m. to the room where we were. She was having a remarkably lucid moment. The kind of moment that loved ones pray for. For a year I knew I had angels helping me survive and I guess one came on this trip too. As mentioned, I didn’t tell mom anything about what was going on in my personal life. She adored my ex and I didn’t want to give her one more heartbreak. But she saw I had been crying and she calmly took Jamesy’s hand. They walked into the living room and she played this song. It’s not the best performance of hers, but out of her entire repertoire, she chose: “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”  (For those of you who aren’t well-versed in 1930’s Broadway tunes, it was also performed by Judy Garland, Benny Goodman (one of Mom’s favorites) and Louis Armstrong.

I’m convinced that she was trying to help me with Jamesy and send me a message of comfort at the same time. Somehow, she was able to break free from the entangled plaques crippling her mind and play once again. It was a miracle that I caught it on tape as I never seem to have the camera at the right time. I’m so thankful for this moment as I haven’t seen her this lucid again. Happy Mother’s Day, Annie. And yes, I’m finally finding my way to the sunny side of the street. I wish you were here with me, but I know that you are, somehow, in spirit.

Helping Your Kids Open Up

When’s the last time one of your children came to you for a real heart-to-heart chat? Has it been over a year since you’ve held your sides with giggles while doing something silly together? Do you feel like you are constantly battling video games, cell phones and the Internet in order to get a one-sentence response—let alone a conversation—with your kids? In this fast-paced, over-scheduled world, months can go by without real conversation and that’s too much for my liking. I’ve thought about the times when I’ve really connected with my kids to recall what triggered our closeness. And since no two kids are a like, I’ve reached out to experts as well for more ideas. Here are the top tactics that may help you bridge the communication gap and get your kids talking.

  • Get Active:
    Experts agree kids chat more with you while busy doing a physical activity together. I learned this when I was a camp counselor one summer break from college. Campers between the ages of six and 17 stayed the entire summer at this camp in the Pocono’s that catered to Manhattanites.  My job was to take each child out in a canoe, teach them the basic strokes, and later take small groups on trips. I was amazed at how the children, from the youngest to the oldest, would open up after 10 minutes or so of hard work in the canoe—especially the boys. The repetitive motions in the sun and fresh air, seemed to get even the shy kids babbling about friends, parents, school, pets, etc. I was overwhelmed with the sadness of some of the stories: a daughter raised by a slew of nannies; a son whose dad left when he was a baby; an eleven-year-old girl terrified her mom wouldn’t visit unless she landed the leading role of the camp play. …It goes on and on. I would listen and correct their J and C strokes. By the end of the summer, I was convinced that the best therapy in the world occurred while canoeing, hiking, running, or just walking with someone you trust. Even if you have a demanding work schedule, mini hikes on weekends or even walking into town for an ice cream, can inspire meaningful conversation or simple fun.
  • Family Dinner:
    Doing research for my article “How the Family Dinner Can Help Your Teen”, I discovered a survey conducted by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse that found teenagers who eat with their families at least five times a week are more likely to get better grades in school and less likely to have substance abuse problems.Today, only about half of American teenagers say they have regular family dinners and the survey suggests that family time may be more important to children than many parents realize—even more important than a host of extra-curricular activities.Will Courtenay, Ph.D, psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif., father of two, and author of Dying to Be Men agrees family dinners work—but only if limits are imposed. “Family dinner is great—and research shows they’re beneficial for kids—but these benefits are lost if your daughter or son is texting at the table or engrossed in tunes streaming through their earbuds. It’s important for kids to learn that dinner time is a time to communicate with others at the table and to share stories of the day.” (I’d add that some parents are just as bad. Make sure the television is turned off before sitting down at the table!)
  • Family Game Night: (And, YES, this is possible for us single parents, too!)
    This may seem corny for some, especially teens, but give it a go anyway. Experts say it works if you incorporate your kids’ interests. So if your children hate scrabble or charades, don’t impose that on them.“It’s all about finding out what they like to do. What are their interests? And what is their temperament?,” points out Rona Renner, R.N., a parent educator, mom of four, and founder and host of Childhood Matters Radio Show. As an example, Renner says she purchased a ping pong table when one of her sons was 13-years-old and put it in the living room.“We just needed something to do together that we both enjoyed. When he turned 13 and entered junior high, it felt like overnight we just had nothing in common,” she reflects. The times playing ping pong were “precious” as it helped them reconnect and just have some fun.
  • Volunteer at School:
    I know this is a hard one for some. It may not be feasible to volunteer often at your children’s schools. But, if possible, find out all the different events and activities with parent involvement and sign up for one. Even if you’re only able to take off one day of work and spend one day being a chaperone on a school trip, you’ll get a chance to see your child’s friends and meet more parents. Dipping into your kids’ worlds at school opens up a host of things to talk about.
  • Sleep Talk Therapy:
    Can’t squeeze in quality time during the day? Try it at night! That’s right. Sleep talk therapy is becoming recognized by experts as a way to reinforce your love and encouragement to your children. Believe it or not, it works! A child hears differently in a sleep state and once you introduce yourself as his/her parent, your child rises into an alpha state of sleep where he can hear you, but doesn’t wake up. Please read my article “Connect With Your Children While They Sleep” to see how it works in detail.
  • Limiting “Kids’ Exit Strategies”:
    I call these the zone-out toys. For my oldest son it’s video games—but for others it can be online chat, Facebook, texting, Nintendo, TVs and computers in bedrooms or other solitary activities that keep kids away, silent and in their own worlds. Put limits on these and offer up fun activities to do together when possible and see what happens.
  • Family Pet:
    If you have the space and finances, a family pet, like a dog who needs to be walked every day, is a great way to bring unconditional love, silliness (and activity) into the family. Courtenay said one of his clients tried this strategy with great results: “A mom who was struggling with getting her adolescent son to open up, recently told me she decided to get a puppy—which she knew her son would like. The two have since been able to connect more deeply with each other, as they both care for their new addition to the family.”
  • Stay Present and Patient:
    It’s hard to connect to a parent who has his laptop on his knees at all times. So try to leave your work behind when you’re home and hanging out with your family. Experts say carving out family time—even if just for an hour in the evening—sends the message to kids that they are important. And if your teens (especially boys) barely notice, Courtenay says to have patience.
    “Patience is also important. A man I work with just today talked about how grateful he was to his mother for giving him time to “warm up.” Driving home from school, he’d be silent for what seemed like an endless amount of time—which she wouldn’t interrupt—and then finally, he’d be ready to open up to her.” The morale to that story is not to nag or push. Sometimes becoming a friend (even to your children) takes being a friend. Lighten up, listen and take the time to get to know one another.

Another article for inspiration: Stay Connected: Family Fun That Doesn’t Cost a Fortune.