Archive for the ‘Helping Children’ Category

The Bee Sting Philosophy of Life

It happened the other afternoon. The injustice. The betrayal. The perspective change.

My kids and I were having lunch outside on the patio of a restaurant. It was a lovely October North Carolina afternoon. The sun was shining and bees were flying about as we ate our sandwiches. This scene was perfect – blue skies, warm temperatures, and insect life surrounding us. The bees didn’t bother us; I had taught my kids to be calm around them. I ensured them that the insects were not interested in us and only would sting if we acted crazy causing the animals to move into defense mode. So, there we were eating, laughing, enjoying the sun when suddenly I hear my 4-year-old daughter scream like I have not heard her scream before.
Bolting into action I spun around looking for the culprit. My daughter grabbed her arm and insisted a bee stung her. I couldn’t believe it! How was that possible? We followed the rules. The bees crossed the line. Our first reminder that life is not fair.

A European honey bee (Apis mellifera) extracts...

A European honey bee (Apis mellifera) extracts nectar from an Aster flower using its proboscis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I quickly picked up my daughter and hugged, kissed, and rocked her as she screamed bloody-murder into my ears. But then, the pain subsided a bit and the screaming changed into sobs. After a few more moments, the crying was interrupted by some pauses and then we moved into recovery mode. Going into the restaurant, I asked for some ice and told the man what had happened. He looked at me strangely and then said “She is handling the sting very well.” She was. I was proud of her. Then he added, “What did you do or say to her that she is so calm?”

“I whispered to her that it was not fair that the bee stung her, but that it happened and she needed to decide how she was going to respond to it. It was all up to her.”

My daughter has heard me preach this message before. The act itself, and the pain that followed, was not deserved. She did nothing “wrong” and still she was attacked. But, she could have cried and cried and let her whole day be ruined or she could decide to move on and let her body heal itself and focus on that which was still good.

My children hear these words from me often. They have also see this message play out in action in our home. Their daddy is so sick, with Lyme disease and ALS-mimic symptoms. He can’t talk with them, play with them, or interact with them as we would all like. He did nothing wrong and certainly does not deserve the pain and sadness that occupancies a horrible disease. But, he can choose, and by default his family can choose, to look at the good things in life over the bad condition. The event may not be changeable, but how we move on from the event is all ours.

The Bee Sting Philosophy.

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Changing The World Through Resilient Acts: How to Help Children

Happy Children Playing Kids

Happy Children Playing Kids (Photo credit: epSos.de)

I wanted to share a blog with you today on developing resilience in children.  I found this article to be both insightful and reaffirming that I am doing some things “right” with my two children.  What a nice gift!

What I found insightful was the idea of “self compassion,” a term I had not heard of prior to reading this blog.  The idea here is to give yourself a break within a realistic environment.  You want to learn from your actions or the event; you do not want to disregard it too easily.  Here is a quote from the author, Lorraine Hirst, that is worth considering:

Ultimately, my hope is to explain that self-compassion is NOT about instilling a huge sense of awesomeness, as this is the road to narcissism and potential heightened self-criticism. (An ‘I’m OK, you’re not OK’ life position isn’t very helpful to building a cohesive society.) Parents and caregivers can sometimes overdo the self-esteem angle, which is a form of over-indulgence in itself. It is not realistic to think we can all be rock stars, for instance. Firstly, though, a look at our own inner critic is a good starting place for parents and caregivers. If we have self-compassion, then our compassion for others or ability to nurture children in this important life skill will naturally flow.”

The reaffirming part from this article focuses mostly on the second question which centers on helping kids with their resilience.  First acknowledge the event or the feelings and then, second, focus on what might be done  (although “emotional coaching” as a term to describe this is a new one for me too!).  I am reminded by articles such as this one, and by my own experience, that how you choose to view an event is all that matters.  The event itself can be out of our control (or the control of our kids), but how we (or they) view the “after-event” makes all the difference.  Teaching kids to believe in their own abilities and to move in the direction of their own choosing will make them not only more resilient, but more satisfied with life.  They will learn that they can change the world, one act at a time.

Please click on this link to read the article “Expert Insights: Talking About Resilience with Lorraine Hirst of Way2be.me

Mothers and Others Make the World Go Round

Mother & Child

Mother & Child (Photo credit: Andy Magee)

I was struck upon reading the numerous stories in Miracles & Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories from Moms that the common thread appears to be two-fold: genuine gratitude and a true desire to care for someone other than ourselves. My story is one of the chapters in the book where I retell how the conception and birth of our second child was a sign to my very ill husband Jim and I that things were going to be alright. I knew the timing of her conception and the message she was giving to us was to continue the fight, the hope, and to believe that things could improve and would improve in due time. Now 4 years later, we continue our battle and continue to believe better days are ahead, but wonder how much longer it will take? Jim has chronic Lyme disease with ALS symptoms that have hit his neurological and muscular systems hard. His progress seems painful slow and doubt over his prognosis can plague me on a regular basis. Whenever I start to go down this dark path of fear, I am reminded to stop and believe when I look at my daughter. She is all spunk, with a willingness to take on the world, and I am reminded that this is exactly the right attitude to have. Then I am reminded what a privilege it is to be her mother. How grateful I am to have both my children in my life and how fantastic it is to be able to help care for and love another human being.

And, of course, you do not need to be a mother to take on this caregiver and nurturer role. There are so many people in our lives that help us care for, love, and mentor our children. I hope they receive the blessing back from the kids that they are conferring to them – the blessing of connection and care. The blessing of helping and influencing.

So whether mother or not, what a wonderful and very cool thing it is to be able to feel so connected to someone that you look forward to both the happy and sad times, the fun and the dull, the exciting and the scary. For each of these moments and events in life provide an opportunity to experience fully what it means to live a life worth living.

Please check out this new wonderful book and order your copy today

Obama, Romney, and War Views from a 6-Year Old

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

English: Seal of the President of the United States Español: Escudo del Presidente de los Estados Unidos Македонски: Печат на Претседателот на Соединетите Американски Држави. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the way to pick up my daughter at preschool, my 6-year old son overheard the radio and a discussion about the presidential debates.  It was really just background noise and I wasn’t even aware of the topic until my son says from the backseat, “Who are you voting for mom?” Continue reading

The Diving Board is Not So High When You Just Believe

Jumping into the Swiming Pool

Jumping into the Swiming Pool (Photo credit: m_fahad)

Summer is here and all the wonderful opportunities that come with it.  Those wonderful opportunities represent excitement for some (my children) and sadness for others (my husband) and happiness and heartache at the same time for me.  Everyone in my family knows pool time, going to ball games, hiking through the forest, watching movies on the lawn, and staying up late running around in the backyard are good for the soul and experiences we do not want to let slip past us.  My children love to be children and I thank God for this all the time.  They could easily respond differently to their daddy’s illness, one that keeps him in his bedroom much of the time these days.  An illness that has temporarily robbed him of his breathing and walking ability.

But we do the best we can as a family and my husband and I work to ensure our children have as normal a childhood as possible.  This attitude lead my two kids and I to the pool one afternoon.  My 5-year old son is swimming better this summer than last and more importantly, his confidence in the water has improved.  He eyed the diving board and watched other kids easily jump off and swim to the ladder.   “I want to jump Mom,” he told me.  I smiled, but was torn. He really doesn’t know how to swim as well as he thinks he can and I thought of all kinds of “what ifs”.  For example, what if the jump disoriented him or scared him to the point that he panicked under water?  Still, he wanted to do it and he did know how to swim well enough.  I didn’t want to dampen his spirit given these two facts.  Additionally, I wanted him to make his own decisions and then follow-through with those decisions.  “Okay,” I replied and off we went.

He got up on the diving board and went to the edge.  He bent over slightly and let out a nervous giggle.  Still, I could tell he was excited.  “It’s alright,” I encouraged him, “Go ahead.”  Even though I said these words I was anxious too and prepared myself to dive in after him if the need arose.  My son looked back at me again and then giggled again.  He looked down at the water and then said “I don’t want to do this.”  So off he came.  We watched some other children for awhile longer and then my son said, “Okay, I’m ready now.”  Up on the diving board he went.  Same look of excitement.  Same nervous giggle.  Same glance back in my direction looking for reassurance.  I encouraged him again and again he changed his mind.  We went through this for a third time and when he told me on time #4 that he was really going to do it, I thought to myself “Okay Erica, if he doesn’t do it this time, we’re going back to the shallow end.”

Up on the diving board he went.   Same routine, complete with nervous, sweet giggle and nervous, tense determination.  I could tell this time was different.  “You can do this,” I said.  “Just jump.  Believe.  You got this.  I know it.”  That was it.  Off he went, surfacing with a triumphant look and a huge smile.  When he got back on the deck, he was bouncing with excitement, he was so proud of himself, as he should have been.  He faced his fears, he believed in himself, and he jumped because he knew he wanted to and that the time had come.

This common-enough childhood rite of passage was a reminder to me that fears can be faced and moved through when you focus on the task at hand and believe you can get through it.  Just jump.  You can do this.

How the World Spun from Awful to Restored in 24 Hours

Within 24 hours (literally), my life spun on its axis and was about to flip off into space.  I had one of the worst phone calls followed by devastation and then about 24 hours later, a phone call and email that restored my faith that belief, gratitude and good people can change the world.

24 intertitle screen capture

Image via Wikipediachange the world.

The fact that I can state that this event was one of the worst of my life may be surprising to some of you who know how difficult life has been in recent years for me and my family.  I have had horrible things happen, including rushing my husband to the emergency room and almost having lost him two years ago.  We have also dealt with his tracheostomy and overall health struggles to breathe and walk and work remarkably well (all things considered).  So, why would this latest event be so much worse?  I think it was the assault on my daughter.  My sweet “baby” who just turned 3 years old and who has never really known her healthy daddy – he has been so ill for her entire life.  This sweet “victim” was targeted and I felt like the torpedoes couldn’t get any worse.

Here is the 24 hours…..

On my way home from work, I returned a phone call to the HR representative who was now handling my husband’s case.  Unfortunately, my husband was not able to get well enough during short-term disability leave to return to work and now he was switching to long-term disability.  The person wanted to go over logistics with me and tell me some details that would be contained in a letter that would follow in the next few days.  He spoke a mile a minute and frankly, I couldn’t take it all in – I felt like he has been at his job for so long that he has forgotten that most people on the receiving end would not be accustomed to thinking in legal speak.  Still, I was alright with it because he told me a letter would follow and I would be able to read the details in the letter.  But then the bomb hit – “our daughter no longer had a spot at daycare.”  I could not register what this meant.  He replied “Do you have another option for daycare?”  I tried to keep my cool for I knew if I lost it, the man would have no desire to help me.  “When does she need to leave daycare?”  He told me he didn’t know, but as soon as possible.  I was shocked.  I felt like pulling over to the side of the road and throwing up.  When I think back to this commute, I am surprised I could physically drive.  I don’t remember it.

I continued, “Certainly there must be an exception to the policy.  Isn’t there someone I can talk to about this?”  He responded that if an exception was made for us, it would have to be made for everyone.  I replied that certainly there weren’t that many cases when someone was out on long-term disability who also had a child in daycare.  He replied that this was true, “most people who have young children are healthy and young.”  As we went back and forth, I had remembered that this man had children of his own (I dealt with him when my husband was out in the hospital originally 2 years prior).  I couldn’t believe that someone who had children could be so cold.  He basically wanted my daughter removed from daycare at the end of the day.  The idea of this was heart-breaking.  My daughter just turned 3 and she was to move to another building with the “big kids”.  She was so excited to start her new school.

The insult was almost too much to take.  I have been able to handle all things up to this point, but this – this was too much.  I was literally sick to my stomach and pleaded with the HR person to talk to someone for the exception.  He told me he would put in a call, but not to get my hopes up and that he would call me the next day.

That night I returned home and had a tough time looking at my daughter.  I was truly sad.  I told my mom about the event and ironically, she had just signed a piece of paper for my daughter’s transfer to the new school earlier that day.  The week prior, I had taken a tour of the new school.  How could this all be happening?

I went back and forth on whether I should tell my husband about it.  This was the one huge fear he had on taking the leave (not that he had any choice on the matter – there is no way he could physically work right now).  I ultimately decided to do so because he needed to know and I thought he might know someone I could talk to – someone who could make an exception for us (daycare is run through his work, not mine).

The next morning, I called my daughter’s teachers at pre-school – two wonderful and caring people who love my daughter so much.  After telling them of the situation, one teacher told me to fight it and would have the other teacher call when she returned from an appointment.  Because I was busy at work with meetings, I didn’t talk to the teacher until the late afternoon.  When we did speak, she told me exactly who to get in touch with and to go straight for the top in terms of people who could help because of the urgency of the situation.  The teacher was so kind and so helpful, I knew that I had some things going for me.

I wrote an email to the contact person, hit send and rushed to a meeting (for which I was late).  When I returned to my office 2 hours later, not only was there an email waiting on me, there was also a voicemail.  The wonderful woman at the top (the contact) had gotten in touch with the person who could help and in less than 2 hours, my daughter’s daycare spot was restored and her life was back to being cushioned in love by caring teachers.  She would be in her safe, loving school with her friends.  To say I was relieved is an understatement.  I am unbelievable grateful.

When I looked at the time of the email, it was 5:10 pm.  The time that I hung up the phone the night before with the HR person was just prior to 5 pm.  What an amazing 24 hours it had been.

As I reflected on this 24 hour whirlwind, I think I had all the emotions that any one person could have in a lifetime.  To say I was stressed is obvious, but I quickly went from wanting to vomit while on that phone call to a mode of action.  I was plotting how I could care for my daughter and then I decided that there was no way that this was going to truly happen.  I just couldn’t believe that the world could be that cruel.  I decided that my daughter would be in that daycare.  I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I knew it would.  This action came to be.  My daughter’s teacher saved me with the contact information and the contact, the wonderful contact, did the rest.  My faith in belief turning into reality was restored.  My faith that there are good people in the world, people who want to help was restored as well.

I am grateful.  Truly, truly grateful.

Four Types of Fathers – What Do Children Know as a Result?

First Father:  The dad of one of my best friends died last week.  He was only in his 60s, and although he had been ill for some time, I was still surprised to learn of his passing.  When I reflect on him, I find some peace with certain facts: he did have the opportunity to raise his children, see two of his three children marry and share life with his grandkids for several years.

I learned of this sad news while I was at church, taking a break to check my phone as I am accustomed to do while I’m out – I never know if Jim’s nurse will call when we’re at church or if Jim will phone with an emergency.  These days we have an agreement.  Since Jim can’t talk well, if he does call, he doesn’t need to say anything.  I will ask questions to which he can answer “yes” or “no” as I figure out what to do or as I jump in the car to head back home.  But on this particular Sunday, the message waiting for me was sadness.  My heart broke for my friend and her family.  It seemed so unfair.  Since I was at church, my brain was actively thinking about God and I questioned the craziness of all of it.  I asked many of the “typical” questions you might expect: “Why now?  What is the purpose of this, God?”

As I thought more and more about this event and this man, I found myself being drawn in particular to my friend’s mom.  My friend’s parents were still married and I could imagine the pain she was enduring, or would be enduring more than likely in the near future after the shock wears off.  I really met this couple years ago, as my friend and I were getting to know one another in college.  As roommates, I would see the couple often enough.  From an outsider’s point of view, I could see the genuine love and warmth that both her mom and dad had for their daughter, my friend.  Although my friend might complain that her father was demanding at times, she too knew that her father loved her with everything he had.  He was the type who would fight for his family as well as fight for what was right.  My friend knew that no matter what, her dad would be there.  She knew she could call him up on the phone, and, in a heartbeat, he would be there to help.  My friend’s dad was also definitely the patriarch of the family and could play the dominating role quite well, and could be a bit scary at times if he was upset about something.  Regardless though, you always saw the kindness, the soft spot, and always, truly, the love for his family.

Unfortunately, this father left.  His children are left with a void and his grandkids will have memories and stories, but they will never get to experience first-hand this person in his true essence.

Second Father:  This recent event got me thinking about another horrible event that is coming up on its one-year anniversary.  At this time last year I learned about another father, a childhood friend from elementary and middle school, who did the unthinkable.  Especially when put in a context that he was blinded to at the time.  My buddy killed himself at the age of 42, leaving behind a beautiful wife and 4 young children.  I still can’t understand this act (and trust me, I think about it quite often).  I feel so sad for my buddy, knowing he must have been so sad to have been brought to this act.  And, on the other end of the spectrum, I feel angry that he could do this.  His children will grow up without the privilege of getting to really know this loveable, fun, and very pro-family man.  His children (and wife) would always wonder “Why?”, and “What could I have done to have helped?” and all sorts of crazy thoughts that are certain to haunt them from now on.  These children’s lives will never be the same.

Unfortunately, this father decided to leave his children.  He did it in the most radical way and his children will have a void that will never be filled.  Still, for the man I know he was, I am certain that his children knew he loved him.  I am also certain that his wife, their mother, will continue to remind these kids that their father loved them.  My hope is that they will be reminded of his love for them often enough that they will mature and grow certain that their father did, in fact, love them.

Third Father:  My mind then goes to my own father.  It’s hard not to reflect on your own upbringing during such a pensive time.  My father is a quiet man and quite likeable.  To this day, when people meet my dad, comments about how nice he is are the norm.  Still, I don’t really know him.  He never opened up, never shared much, and didn’t engage with me or my sisters much after he and my mother split up.  I was only 10 years old at the time and I’m not sure what I processed, but there was definitely a void that I yearned to be filled.  I wanted my father to want to be with his children.  I wanted him to ask about our lives, our friends, our school, our boyfriends, really anything, but regrettably, this was not his style.  I think he tried in his own way to show his affection.  He would shower us with gifts and help secure cars for us (since he worked at one of the major auto companies).

Unfortunately though, this father left in genuine presence.  He didn’t depart in body, only in company, which may be the worst type of departure.  My sisters and I have a void and many questions that will never be answered and we will occasionally consider “Why?” and “What could I have done differently to help him love me?”  My sisters and I have no grudges and deal quite well with the situation that we have.  We do have a relationship with our father, it is just not the one we had wanted.  I do know that he was an engaging father when he was still married to my mother and my hope is that some of our positive character traits have stemmed from him or what we have learned from him.

Fourth Father:   Then there is another father, and this one is the most important of all because he is my husband and the father of my own children.  He is present, but not as we would like.  He is so ill that he is unable to play with his children, talk with his children, engage with his children, or even walk into their bedrooms and spend some time with them there.  He desperately wants to be there, to be truly present, but his body fails him.  He is a prisoner to his illness (of chronic Lyme disease with neurological and muscular damage), and although he fights and believes he will someday be well again, the progress doesn’t come fast enough.  This father’s children know their daddy loves them.  He tells them every night.  He also hears it back from them.  He tells his kids he is proud of them and every once in awhile, our son will say “I’m proud of you too Daddy.”  I smile every time I hear this.  I truly think this is one of the most beautiful, tender moments I have ever experienced in my life.  Still, Jim can’t give our kids a big hug.  He can’t take them to a ballgame, can’t take them to school or the movies.  He can’t read them bedtime stories or make the memories he wants to so that they grow up completely engaging with their daddy.

And although my children know their father, they don’t know the true Jim.  He is so ill and so tired that he is not himself.  My kids don’t know that their father is truly one funny man.  He is so clever and quick-minded.  My kids don’t know their daddy does magic, so much so that many neighbor kids used to call him “Magic Man.”  My kids don’t know their dad can cut a rug, party with the best of them, tell amazing stories that have you on the edge of your seat as you are waiting to hear the next line, and they don’t know that their dad was a great golfer and quite athletic.  He can’t do these things now.  He is too ill.

I wonder sometimes what my children would be like if their daddy was able to be more participatory.  Would their personalities be the same?  It is true what people say about getting a glimpse of your kids’ personalities in the hospital right after they are born.  For example, I knew our son was pretty laid back and that our daughter was going to be more feisty and determined.  Still, as they are growing and becoming their own persons, their environment is certainly a big influence.  Jim is much more meticulous than I am.  He is much more focused and persistent.  He won’t do anything that will simply work and be satisfied with this, it must be the best it can be.  If my kids were actively exposed to this attitude and interaction day in and out, would they be different?  We will never know.

Unfortunately, this father can’t be the father he wants to be because of physical restrictions.  Still, my hope is that our children feel that same love and kindness that my friend’s recently deceased father radiated.  My hope is that this illness that has taken so much from my children will somehow strengthen them – that the kids will realize the gift of time and family, and that they will become nurturing givers rather than takers.  Because when it comes down to it, if Jim can teach our kids that life is what you make it and that if you believe in something and work hard at it, you can attain happiness, he is the best father in the world and his influence on their personalities will dominate over anything I may have contributed.  Fortunately, I truly believe, that our children will know this life lesson and by figuring out from where they learned it, they will be reminded how much their daddy loves them and how much he has given them.

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