For Everyone Who Worries About The Kids In Their Lives Who Worry

Friday, June 25, 2010

Play Ball!

Brandon's last baseball game for the season is tomorrow. I really feel that he has been blessed with great coaches. They really have been helping the kids to learn the game. Every practice and every game is about learning to hit, field, play different positions, and be a team player. The kids are taught to root for each other and to appreciate the successes of their teammates as well as the members of the opposing team. Most importantly, they are encouraged to have fun. And isn't that they way it should be for a team of six and seven year old boys?

Maybe. But that is not always the case. I have heard stories from other parents of kids Brandon's age, where the team is already more about winning and not so much about learning and loving the game. On those teams, only the best players are allowed to try playing any of the bases or infield positions. Kids are yelled at during games for making mistakes instead of being taught what the play should have been. And practices are all scrimmages instead of opportunities to learn and practice new skills.

Competition and the emphasis on winning seems to be coming into our kids lives earlier and earlier. I don't remember playing competitive organized sports until I was at least 8 or 9. Now it seems that if you don't start your kids playing soccer, baseball, basketball, or another sport by age 3, they will be left behind everyone else later on. 3? Really? Not only is the pressure to start your kids earlier felt by many parents, but also the pressure to have your child choose one sport to focus on at an early age. Sports aren't just one season anymore. Most sports can play year round. Fall soccer, indoor soccer, spring soccer, travel soccer, soccer camp. Spring baseball, fall ball, batting clinics, baseball camps. Try having your child participate in more than one sport a season! The schedule can be overwhelming!

Brandon played soccer at age 3 and started baseball at age 5. But like I said, we have been very lucky that he has had wonderful coaches who have focused on teaching and building his skills rather then on winning a game. But as he is getting older, I know that the focus is going to switch from playing to learn to playing to win. And I can't help but wonder what kind of anxieties that will bring for both my son and for me!

Looking back at my childhood and how I dealt with competition, I know that I couldn't stand it! I avoided it as much as possible. From team sports to friendly board games, I was not one who liked to compete. But was it because of my own anxieties or because of the external pressure to win and be the best? For me, I would have to say it was my own worries about making mistakes. I don't think it would have mattered if my softball coach focused on building every member's self-esteem and having fun, or if she emphasized winning as the main goal. My pressure came from within. I didn't want to make a mistake in front of everyone. I was afraid to blow the game for my teammates. No external pressure needed. I had plenty of my own to go around! Even when people praised me for a great hit, an award won, or an A+ report card, that didn't make me more confident. If anything it made me more worried about being as successful the next time. My perfectionism made me feel as if I had such a high standard to always live up to.

I guess my own experiences confuse me on what to believe in regards to competition in my children's lives. How much competition is good and how much is too much? How do I teach them to handle the wins and the losses? At what age is competition more helpful than harmful? We have all seen the shift for our kids in schools and activities where now everyone is a winner. Everyone in field day gets an award. No one gets out in musical chairs. When you are left without a chair, you get a treat instead. All students get a prize after the read-a-thon is done, even those who didn't read. No score is kept at a rookie baseball game. Everyone is a winner. Well, that is what the adults think anyway. But in reality, the kids all determine for themselves who was the fastest runner at field day, who got the last chair left in musical chairs, and which team scored the most runs and won the baseball game. Kind of like putting kids into reading groups labeled blue jays and red robins. Every kid always knew which group was the most advanced.

So which is better? Making everyone a winner so no one's feelings are hurt or teaching kids that there will be competitions in which there are winners and losers throughout their lives? Maybe the answer is a little bit of both. Personally, I don't think a child at age 6 needs to be pressured to win a game they are just learning how to play. But from experience, I know that many of those kids will place the pressure on themselves anyway.

Then maybe the real question is how do we help our kids deal with competition. With winning sometimes and losing other times. And with not being so hard on themselves that it deters them to want to compete in the first place. For my answer, I try and look back at what would have helped me as a kid to be less anxious about competing and more motivated to just do my best and have fun. Maybe if I was praised more for my efforts rather than the end result, I would have wanted to keep up my efforts without feeling that the end result was what I had to always be successful at? I went to competitive catholic schools, and the emphasis was always on the grade. We were even ranked on our report card and given a number as to where we fell in comparison to all of our classmates. I was a good student, so I achieved many perfect report cards, test scores, and grades. My teachers and parents were very proud of me and never needed to push me or pressure me to do well, but the praise was always for the grade. The hard work put into those grades was not always recognized. I wonder if more emphasis were to be put on the effort - the work involved in getting the A, the home run, or the 9.9 on beam - children would take more pride in the work they put into winning rather than the win itself. Then they would feel successful and confident in their abilities whether they win or lose.

Once again, it comes down to balance. While I want my kids to enjoy what they do and learn and have fun, I also want them to learn to deal with competition in all areas of their lives. I don't want them to run away from it in fear of not being perfect, but embrace the challenge, put their best efforts into it, and then let go of the outcome knowing that they did everything they could at that moment. I want them to always feel proud of themselves and confident in their abilities when they do their best.

Who knows? Maybe if they learn to appreciate the journey rather than the destination, they can teach me how to enjoy a game of pictionary or balderdash every now and then!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Friday, June 18, 2010

She's Gone

So many emotions. Not sure where to start. We put Abby to sleep tonight. She is gone. Gone from our world, our lives, our home, our family. Gone forever. Or is she? I was there. I held her head in my hands and looked in her eyes as she lay on a blanket on the floor at the vet's office. I watched as the vet injected her front leg with a drug that would sedate her and make her sleepy. I looked into her eyes and told her that she was my first baby, that I loved her, and that it was OK for her to go and to enjoy a new life with those who have gone before her. I felt her eyes gaze trustingly into mine until she could no longer hold her head up and I lay her down to sleep. To sleep in peace eternally in the world that was awaiting her. I stayed in the room with my sleeping baby until Rob and I gave her enough tears. Enough hugs and caresses to send her off into her new life and away from ours. The vet did a last check to make sure she was gone. But was she?

I watched her go, but yet I still feel her with me. Isn't she at the foot of the bed? Isn't she downstairs pacing around waiting for someone to feed her and take her out for a walk? Isn't she taking a nap in the sun that is streaming through the dining room window?

But it is more than just the memories making me feel that she is still here. She is in my heart. In the stories Rob and I have been sharing about her all night. In the clear visions I see of her swimming, cuddling, and licking my face. And she is in heaven. In the heaven we came home and told our children she was in. The one where she is running, playing, jumping and being cared for by their Nauna Mary Jane. Their Nauna who was Abby's first owner and who is so happy to be receiving this treasured gift back again.

I truly feel blessed to have been able to hold Abby and be with her to take her from this world to the next. I know in my heart that she is in a better place, free from pain and suffering. How fortunate am I that I got to be the one that she trusted completely to support her while she journeyed from her earthly body to her spiritual, eternal self.

So why then am I so sad? Why have the tears been flowing all night for Rob and I? Why are my children burying their heads in their pillows and crying because Abby has died? If she is in a better place, why are we so worried and upset about it? Shouldn't we just be happy for her?

Obviously, my children can not comprehend what has happened. They just know that a member of their family is gone. And unfortunately having had experienced the death of a loved one, they know she is not coming back. But what about me? I know that she is gone from this earth, but not really "gone". Just home. Heaven. But what is heaven? Is it really a place "up there" with golden gates and a loving man in a white beard? Or is it something inside of us already that we can only achieve through death of this human life and birth into something eternal? I can accept all that on a day to day basis, but when I am watching someone who is a part of me die, I would rather believe in a heaven full of angels, fluffy white clouds, and all of the pleasures that one could possibly imagine rather than just a different energy level or universal being.

So while I found myself feeling blessed for having Abby in my life for 11+ years and for having the opportunity to not only say goodbye to her but to be with her in her journey from this earth to what lies ahead, I find myself worrying about what does await her on the other side. And worrying about where to tell my children she has gone, when I am not sure how to describe it myself.

Well, nothing motivates you to make a decision quicker than having your child ask you a direct question. Both my children asked tonight if Abby was in heaven, how she got there, and who was taking care of her while she was there. And when those questions came at me broken up through tearful and scared voices, I knew what to do. I told them about a heaven where dogs find their new heavenly bodies and run free and energetically as if they were puppies again. A heaven where dogs are taken care of by loved ones who are already there and where they are given everything they could desire and more. A heaven where they are loved unconditionally and where they become angels who visit the earth to watch over us and keep a special place in our hearts forever.

Tonight I feel as if I don't have to know everything. I don't have to be enlightened or spiritual enough to know the meaning of this life or the next. If a heaven with acres of beautiful pastures and doggie cloud beds makes my children and I feel better, then that is what heaven will be tonight. After all, any belief we may have about heaven or what lies hereafter all is centered on love and peace. If Abby is full of love and at peace tonight, then whatever and wherever that heaven is, is where I want her to be.

Be at peace Abby. Be free of pain. Run with the breeze on your back and the sun on your face. Savor each and every meaty bone you find. Enjoy the love and the affection of all the children and animal lovers that abound in heaven. Find a fluffy white cloud to lay upon to rest. And know that you were and are truly loved and will remain forever in our hearts and minds. I love you baby.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Black or White

Today I had a little reminder lesson on something I thought I already knew. Actually a few 'somethings' I already knew, but needed a refresher course on. The topic of today's lesson? "Nothing is ever black or white."

My kids were invited to the Maritime Aquarium today to be part of a commercial the center was shooting for their new Meerkat exhibit. I found out about it last week and decided to keep it a surprise until this morning when the kids woke up. Brandon has been obsessed with sea animals since he was two years old. If he could live in an aquarium he would. Lindsey absolutely loves posing for the camera, so I figured it would be the perfect day for both of them. And it was. Just not in the way I imagined.

As we were getting ready, I told the kids that they had been invited by The Maritime Aquarium to be their special guests for the day. I explained that the director at the aquarium had heard about how much they love sea animals and how kind they are to animals, and he wanted them to have this very special day to celebrate the end of the school year. Thinking that Brandon would rather get shots at the doctor's office than be the center of attention in a big place with people he doesn't know, I waited until we were almost there to mention that there "may" be people taking pictures of them having so much fun on their special day. Figured we take the day moment by moment and only deal with worries as they came up. Well, it was at this moment that my lesson for the day began.

First I hear, "I don't want anyone taking pictures of me. I just want to see the animals!" Then from the other side of the car, "Oh they can take pictures of me mama! I would love to show them how much I love the meerkats!" Typical responses considering the personalities of my two kids, right? Nope. The 'no pictures' plea came from my attention craving daughter. And the excitement for trying something new response? From my attention avoiding son. Just when I thought I had them figured out, they throw this at me. Shades of gray.

We arrive at the aquarium to the publicity director holding a large sign saying "Meerkat Extras" on it. Lindsey loves talking to new people, so she leads us over to the man. "I'm here as your special guest and I love sea animals," says MY SON. And Lindsey? Hides behind me and doesn't want to say hello. Right about now I am thinking I am in some parallel universe like in LOST. I now don't know what to expect from this day.

A friendly woman has me sign model release forms for Brandon and Lindsey and then we sit down to wait for the director. While waiting, Brandon decides to draw a picture of some sea animals and then asks if he can go over and give it to the nice lady who signed us in. That's it. Who is this child and where did my son go????

The director comes in to meet the children one by one and asks them to tell him their names. When he comes up to Lindsey, she comes up close to me, whispers her name, and buries her head in her hands. He moves over to Brandon. At this point, I can't wait to see what this boy in Brandon's body is going to do. "I'm Brandon and I love sea animals. I really love this aquarium." he says confidently.

After that greeting, Brandon is one of the six children chosen to go with the director to be in the central part of the commercial. When he is asked to get up, go with a man he doesn't know, five other kids he doesn't know, to an exhibit he has never been in before, he says, "Bye mom!"

I spend the next two hours watching my son smile at the meerkats for the camera, take direction from the director, and be the center of attention under bright lights in a room full of people he doesn't know. And Lindsey? The director keeps trying to put her in some of the shots, but she just wants to hang with mommy and doesn't want to be in too many of the scenes. Really? My daughter? The girl who will talk to anyone. The one who will dance and sing for any camera on command? My mind was on process overload. What a day!

Nothing is ever black and white. That includes people. I learned today that I can't put my kids in nice neat little boxes with clear cut labels. If I could, it would be much easier for me to understand them and plan accordingly! But it just doesn't work that way. Brandon is not always going to be the worrier, the anxious one. Lindsey isn't always going to be the outgoing, free spirited, confident one. And I will do them a great disservice in life if I try to label them as such. Each new day and event needs to be approached with an open mind. I can't assume I will know how they are going to behave in every situation. I have to really be in the moment and let them show me. I have to continue to let Brandon experience new things and not stay away from those that I think he will not respond well too. He obviously may surprise me! I have to be sensitive to the fact that Lindsey may not always feel self confident and outgoing and adjust for her needs at the time.

I was reminded today to approach each day, each moment with my kids with a clear mind and an open heart. Let go of the expectations of how I think they may behave or of how I think things will be and just let them be. Let what happens, happen. Prepare for situations that may arise, but then let go of the outcome. Don't over plan and and try to control the situation. Give them the opportunity to express their true selves without having to fit into any preconceived perceptions of who they are. Allow them to grow and discover themselves for themselves. They don't need me to tell them who they are. They need the support, love, and freedom to figure that out for themselves.

Nothing and no one is ever black or white.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Saying Goodbye

What would you do for someone you loved if you knew the exact moment when they were going to die? Would you take them to visit all of their favorite places? Would you make all of their favorite foods for them to eat? Would you arrange for family and friends to come and say their goodbye's? Would you spend every moment with them until that last one? Would you explain it to your children before or after that someone was gone?

Now what would you do if that someone you loved was your dog?

My husband and I were sitting on our porch a few nights ago enjoying the beautiful night sky. Not wanting us to become lonely, my daughter came out to join us. Soon after, my son came out to see what he was missing. "The whole family is here!" I said. "No, silly mommy," said Lindsey. "Abby isn't here."

Abby is our 14 1/2 year old black lab. She was our first baby. A "practice child" some people might say. We met Abby after returning from our honeymoon in Hawaii. She was a gift to Rob's mom from his brother. She was three years old at the time, and still very much a puppy. I wish I could say it was love at first sight, but honestly, I could not stand her! I think dogs know when someone is not too fond of them, and they do everything they can to turn you around to being their friend. Abby loved to jump on me, lick me, and eat my food. At 80 pounds, she also wanted to be my personal lap dog. She really had no sense of personal space and simply would not leave me alone. (You see why dogs are often called 'practice children?')

So when we had just moved into our brand new townhouse and Rob asked if we could bring Abby with us, I have to say I was less than thrilled. Unlike Rob, I had never had a dog growing up. My mom said feeding and cleaning up after five kids was quite enough for her! But Rob had fallen in love with Abby from their first meeting. His mom was now too sick and weak to care for Abby anymore, and if we didn't take her - well, I won't tell you all the horrible things that my husband told me might happen to her. He really can be persuasive when he wants to be! The deal was that we would give it three months. If I didn't want the dog to stay with us by the end of that time, we would find her a new home.

Well, of course after three months I was in love. Not only was Abby living in our house, but she was sleeping in our bed and had taken residence in my heart. I couldn't stand leaving her when we went away and would call daily to check on her. We went on long walks together and I took her swimming in the lake. She received her own Christmas stocking filled with wrapped gifts, and more hugs and kisses than a dog could ever desire.

When Brandon was born, I swore Abby would never be ignored just because there was a new baby in the house. Of course this became impossible, especially after Lindsey also blessed our lives, and Abby ended up taking a back seat especially in those early baby years. But she was OK with it and as long as she had her place at the foot of our bed and food in her bowl, she was very happy. The kids soon became old enough to play with her, pet her, and even take her for walks. They have never known life without her and to them she is not a pet, but a member of the family.

Abby no longer sleeps at the foot of our bed. She can't jump high enough anymore to get on the mattress. She can't go swimming or on long walks anymore, as the arthritis in her hips has made her weak. Over the past six months, we have seen her tail wag less and less and it is quite painful for her to lie down. She falls a lot and has frequent accidents in the house. The kids have noticed that Abby is getting worse and Brandon has started to say that it makes him sad to see Abby hurting. It is time.

Many people said we would "just know" when it was time to put our dog down. I remember people saying I would also "just know" when it was time to get married and when it was time to have a baby. But "just knowing" has never really worked for me. I've always just worried about things and thought about things until I had to make a decision. Now I am at the point in my life where I am trying not to worry so much anymore. So I couldn't use that old crutch to help make this very difficult decision. Instead, I had to look at the facts, sit with it, pray on it, and then make the best decision I could based on the information I have at this time. Does that mean I am not worried about it? Of course not. But I am doing what I can to be grateful for the great gift I have been given - the many wonderful years with a treasured friend.

How will my kids handle this? How will my husband? How will I? Yep, I must admit I worry about that. Do we tell the kids before or after? What do we tell them? I suppose I will take all I have learned and take it one moment at a time. Approach the subject with gratitude for having had Abby for so many years and to find joy and comfort in our memories. I don't "have to" put Abby down. I "get to" say goodbye to her, hold her, hug her, and guide her lovingly on to what comes next for her spirit, her energy. I will let myself be sad, let my husband be sad, let my kids be sad. Embrace those feelings and then let them go when it is time. I won't try to predict how we are all going to handle it or try to control it. I will just try and accept it and take it moment by moment, emotion by emotion. Let my children show me what they need before reacting to feelings they might not be having. Thoughts they may not be thinking. We will breathe.

It is very strange to know the exact moment that you will say goodbye to someone you love. But if we can accept it with grace and gratitude, it may be a moment of great love and peace.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Thursday, June 3, 2010

No HoeDown for Me!

I opened one eye this morning and waited for it. Opened the other eye, jumped out of bed and waited for it. Brushed my teeth, combed my hair and waited for it. Went to the top of the stairs, called my son up to get dressed for school and then it came.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOO! I am not going to school today. I don't want to go. I'm too scared!"
Here we go, I thought. Brandon had been saying since Monday that he was absolutely not going to go to school on Thursday because he did not want to be in the Hoedown. He was too scared to get up on stage with the other kindergarten students and sing for the parents. I'd been helping him to think of other more pleasant events during the week and distracting him to make him feel better, but now it was showtime. Time to perform - him at the 'hoedown' and me at 'what was about to go down' to get him on the bus.

As Brandon began to scream and cry and slam the door - oh wait. It wasn't Brandon who slammed the door. That would be my husband who heard what was about to take place and quickly snuck out the door to go to work. I really can't blame him. At that moment I really wished I had a job outside of the home that I could escape to as well. (Or that it was acceptable to have a glass of wine at 7 in the morning!)

I first tried talking to him about why he was afraid. This did not work at all. He didn't care why. He just knew that he was scared and the solution for him was simply not to go. Now of course, at this point I could have saved myself and him a lot of aggravation and tears and just let him stay home. I mean it was just a kindergarten performance, not high school graduation. But I know my son, and I know that if I don't help him to face his fears, he will never get over them. Every small step he takes in overcoming an anxiety makes it that much easier the next time.

I realized that I was not going to be able to get him to change his feelings - he was scared and that was not going to go away. So instead I focused on how he could best handle that fear and get himself to face it by going to school. We started by focusing on the task at the moment. "Brandon, you don't need to go to school yet. I just need you to get dressed."... "Let's have breakfast." ..."Brush your teeth." And when he started to get upset between tasks, we went back to breathing deep and focusing on what we were doing right then.

I chose not to talk with him about being scared anymore, because I realized that it was just feeding the fear. I validated his fear and gave him lots of hugs and kisses, but I did not try to get him to not be afraid. Talking about it was making him more upset and irrational. Sticking with our routine as best as we could calmed him down.

Then it was time to pack up to go to the bus stop - definitely the hardest part. I have had to make the choice before of whether to send him crying on the bus or drive him to school. Not easy, but again the change in routine from bus to car usually does nothing for his anxiety but prolong it.

Brandon loves sea animals and has a manatee stuffed animal that is very special to him. I had him get the manatee and he and I asked the manatee to hold all of Brandon's fears about today in his heart and mind so that Brandon could get on the bus and go to school with no worries. I told Brandon that he could take the manatee to school with him to give him strength and to keep all his yucky feelings for him. Somehow this worked and Brandon got on the bus with only a little hesitation. After the bus left, I sat at the top of the driveway, closed my eyes, and prayed. I sent positive thoughts, courage, and peace to Brandon and then waited to see what would happen at the Hoedown.

I saw Brandon's class march on stage with their happy little chick hats (and at that moment understood why Brandon kept telling me he didn't want to wear the hat - kind of looked like a pilgrim woman's hat that had been attacked by a flock of birds!). Then my fear set in when I did not see Brandon up on stage. Friends sitting nearby didn't seem him either. I had visions of him having a nervous breakdown in the nurse's office. But then my neighbor spotted him. He had put his chick hat so far down in front that you couldn't see his face! A few seconds later he picked up his head and looked around. I gave him a big wave and smile and he smiled and waved back - and then proceeded to sing and act with the rest of his class. Ahhhhhhh...he did it!

On our way home from school I asked him if he was glad that he went today. He said yes and that he was proud of himself for doing a good job. It was really only just a little scary he said. So I suggested that next year's performance in first grade would now be a breeze for him. To which he replied, "I'm not going to first grade mom. It is just going to be too long of a day. I want to stay with you." Oh well, one step, one day at a time I guess. At least it is now after 5pm. Perfectly acceptable to have that glass of wine now!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष