Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Today, I wore a bathing suit

Clementon 1More specifically and more importantly, I wore a bathing suit and nothing else – no pants or shorts, no t-shirt, no cover up of any kind. Today, I wore a bathing suit in public, and ya know what? It was okay.

(I don’t have photographic evidence because, well, progress not perfection.)

It’s been about 6 or 7 years since I’ve worn a bathing suit without a shirt and capris over top . . . and that was about 80 pounds ago. I was still fat then, but I wasn’t this fat. I hated how I looked back then too, but not this much.

Today, my family went to Clementon Park. It was a bus trip with my daughter’s summer camp, so she did have some friends she could go on rides with (I only did the log flume and the Ferris wheel because I’m not sure I’d fit on the others). But around 3pm, my daughter wanted to go in the wave pool and none of her friends were around . . . and, honestly, I wanted to go in too. I love roller coasters and I love the water and I love doing fun things with my daughter . . . and while I may still be too fat for the roller coasters, I am not too fat for the wave pool. So, I decided to join my daughter.

I didn’t bring a second pair of pants, and I knew if I wore my capris in the pool that I’d end up back on the bus wet and uncomfortable. I made a decision . . . and for the first time in 6ish years, my thighs saw sunlight.

This is a big deal, and not just because of my insecurities about my weight (though that’s certainly a nice size chunk of it). Some of you reading this might already know that I’m a (mostly) recovering self-injurer. My thighs have always been my burning and cutting location of choice because I’ve always felt fairly confident they would never be seen. I have scars from lighter burns and razor cuts, some from my most recent relapse, which was only 3 months ago. I can write about self-injury, and I can talk about self-injury, but I have not put myself in a position to allow the world to see my scars (not this fresh, not this noticeable) for about 17 years.

Clementon 2I can’t say the decision to remove my capris came without anxiety. I spent more time than I care to discuss thinking about the possibility throughout the day. But in the end, enjoying the moment with my daughter was more important than my insecurities.

And guess what . . . I had a great time. We splashed and played and jumped waves for nearly an hour. My daughter didn’t notice my scars; she couldn’t have cared less about my fat. She just enjoyed playing with mommy, getting flipped and dunked by mommy, laughing and being silly with mommy.

Next year, I hope to ride those roller coasters with her, but in the meantime, I can still be an awesome mom who does fun things with her kid . . . . even when . . . . especially when that means overcoming my insecurities.

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Dear Parents (from someone who works with your kids)

Dear parentsI read a blog post the other day written by a parent of a child with special needs. The post is titled Think Before You Judge An Autism Parent: Until You’ve Walked in My Shoes and it covered two main topics – one, don’t judge the parents of children with special needs because, quite simply, you have no idea what their lives look like or what their children need, and two, health care providers, child care providers, behavioral health workers, mental health professionals, etc. don’t care about your child – they just want to shove meds on your kids and collect their checks at the end of the week.

To point one – I 1,000% agree . . . 10,000%, 100,000% . . . . as much as you possibly fathom an exaggeration of completely effing agree, that’s how much I agree. Though I would elaborate to say that we need to stop judging parents all together. Whether it’s a rowdy kid in a supermarket or a tantrum in a restaurant . . . or whatever . . . as the person standing on the sidelines, we have NO IDEA what the situation is really about and we would do well to remember that.

It’s the second point that I’d really like to address in this open letter. The one that says that we don’t care about your kids. I have worked with children, both with and without special needs, in several different capacities for 20 years. I babysit, provided personal behavioral support, I taught elementary school kids in both special education and general education, I taught preschool, worked at an afterschool program, and am currently a therapeutic support staff for children with behavioral health needs. . . . I won’t lie and say that I’ve loved all of the children I’ve worked with. I won’t even say that I’ve liked all of them. What I will say, quite emphatically, is that I have, without a doubt, cared about every single one of them.

I’ve never looked to blame parents, ignore parents, get parents in trouble, or in any way make parents’ lives more difficult. In fact, I’ve always tried to do the exact opposite . . . listen, take everything they say into consideration, and help make their lives easier, if at all possible.

I know that all of us aren’t like this. I know there are bad teachers and bad therapists and bad doctors and, well, bad everything out there. I’ve seen people who were supposed to be working with kids sit and play on cell phones all day. I’ve read about teachers who say things like this. I will not discount the author’s experiences, though they do sadden me. But I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who cares . . . . and it’s heartbreaking to think that some parents may avoid getting services for their children because they think anyone who is paid to work with them doesn’t care.

Here’s the thing. Yes, it’s my job. Yes, I collect a paycheck for what I do. But honestly? I could make more as a waitress . . . . and without the stress of being cursed out by preschoolers or almost having my nose broken by a 12-year-old or cleaning feces off of playroom walls. I’m not in this for the money. I need what little I make to live, but I do what I do because I care about your kids.

I really can’t stress that enough. I care about your kids. I care about how they’re feeling and it makes me sad when they’re upset. I care their progress and light up when I see them achieve a new success. I care about what I can do to help them succeed . . . so much so that I think about it on the bus on the way home and talk about it while eating dinner and even get out of bed write down some new ideas to try the next day.

So, please, all I ask is that you don’t judge us . . . . in the same way that we should not judge you. We’re not the enemy. And the best way to help your children is if we work together.

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Is public humiliation really “parenting done right”?

The first time I saw a video of a parent publicly humiliating his child as a punishment, it turned my stomach, though I couldn’t fully articulate why it bothered me so much. Each similar video and picture I’ve seen since has only strengthened my disdain. But so much worse than those videos and pictures have been the applause and accolades from all corners of the web.Humilation 3

“I wish all parents were like this!”

“Parenting: You’re doing it right!”

“Go mom!”

And it goes on and on.

While I am sure there are a couple of parents out there who truly felt like they were at their wits’ end and believed this was the only way to help steer their children away from a lifetime of negative behaviors that would only yield negative consequences, I also have no doubt in my mind that the majority of these public humiliation stunts are more about parents getting a pat on the back than disciplining their children. I don’t think Andy Warhol had any idea just how accurate his predication of 15 minutes of fame would be. YouTube and social media have made it all too tempting for people to seek out that attention and parents are now doing it at the expense of their children.

I'm totally on board with the punishment listed here - the rest serves no purpose except to inflate the parents' egos.

I’m totally on board with the punishment listed here – the rest serves no purpose except to inflate the parents’ egos.

Maybe not all parents are interested in their pictures and videos going viral, but whatever the motivation is behind public humiliation, it’s just lazy. It’s so much easier to pick up a camera and mock your child for an audience of any size than it is to find out what has caused your child’s behavior and dealing with it directly. It’s been my experience as a parent, a teacher, and a mentor that when a kid acts out, there is almost always something more behind it.

I’m not saying that discipline isn’t necessary. It most certainly is. But it should be something dealt with on a family level, not a public one. One of the first things I was taught in my education classes, and it is something I always considered common sense anyway, is that you praise in public and criticize in private.

Sometimes disciplining in public can’t be avoided. I once gave my daughter (she was about 4 at the time) a time out on a busy city sidewalk. She wouldn’t hold my hand and tried to run into the street a couple of times, so I made her sit against the building with her hands folded for few minutes while she screamed. When it was time for her to get up, she held on to my hand without any more problems. Disciplining on the spot is sometimes necessary. It is never necessary to document it and post it on Facebook or Twitter.

I love the idea of the "get-along" shirt too . . . but once again, there's no need to post your kids' picture for the world.

I love the idea of the “get-along” shirt too . . . but once again, there’s no need to post your kids’ picture for the world.

In this age of technology, it’s important to teach our children that everything they put online never goes away. We tell our kids to think about what they post – whether it’s an inappropriate picture or nasty comments or anything else they wouldn’t want the world seeing, today or in 5 or 10 or 20 years – because you never know who is going to see it. And yet it is somehow acceptable to broadcast our children’s punishments. As much of a long-shot as we may think it is, we need to realize that a future professor or colleague or boss or spouse could see this one day. Is that really what we want?

Kids make mistakes (adults do as well). They do stupid things and can behave poorly. This is nothing new. It seems every generation wants to talk about “kids these days,” but the truth is that kids have always been kids. This generation has not cornered the market on bad behavior. I doubt anyone publicly humiliating his/her child was perfectly behaved in youth. Take a moment to think of your worst punishment growing up, and now think about what it would feel like if evidence of it was still floating around the internet.

What are we teaching our kids when we value them so little that we draw amusement from their humiliation? I think it’s easy for a lot of people to forget that kids are still people, human beings deserving of being treated as such. And yes, even when they screw up. Especially when they screw up. That doesn’t mean to let your child get away with everything or to ignore negative behaviors. It means to deal with them as a parent and not as an internet sensation.

I generally make a conscious effort to keep my judgments of other people’s parenting in check, but when you make the conscious effort to put your parenting on display, you’re inviting feedback. This is mine. I won’t applaud you. I won’t give you a pat on the back. I’ll feel sorry for your kid and perhaps have a bit of understanding about where his/her negative behavior came from in the first place.

The joy of reading together

One of my most treasured childhood experiences is when my mom would read to me. I struggled with reading in first and second grade, so my mom spent a lot of extra time reading with me. Despite my academic challenges, I loved books, and I attribute that love to those nights sitting in the recliner on my mom’s lap.

We read picture books and chapter books. We read fiction and non-fiction. We had discussions and shared ideas. I remember collecting a set of Disney books from the supermarket. I looked forward to the nights when she’d bring a new one home.

I retained my love of books throughout the rest of my schooling (and through adulthood as well). In fact, by third grade, I no longer struggled to read, and in fifth grade, I was one of the few selected to help tutor struggling second graders.

My daughter’s experiences with reading have been vastly different from mine at her age. She’s picked it up every easily. She’s consistently read a grade-level above her year since kindergarten. The one thing we have in common is our love of books.

Since my daughter was an infant, I read to her . . . long before she understood a word I was saying. As she grew older, she became enthralled with books. We carried books with us everywhere and we read constantly throughout the day.

Once she started school, she was required to read on her own every night. After she finished her reading for school, we would read together. In the beginning of first grade, we started reading chapter books together. I loved the discussions we had together . . . the way my little girl was showing me, through independent thoughts and ideas, just how much she was growing up.

Abby readingBy the middle of first grade, she started reading her chapter books on her own and slowly I let our reading time slip away. It wasn’t intentional. Our days are usually hectic. She doesn’t get home until 4:15pm and by the time she’s finished her homework, it’s time for dinner. By the time dinner’s over, we generally have about an hour before shower and bed time. We’ll play games, watch a show, or go outside. But I’ve been missing the unique closeness of reading together.

I made it a point to this week to rectify that. We started Coraline on Tuesday night. It’s thrown off our schedule a bit. Bedtime’s been pushed back a bit and a shower might have been skipped tonight, but it’s been wonderful to have that special time back when we can share our love of books. And I hope I’m creating for my daughter the same kind of treasured memories I hold so dear.

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.” ~Dr. Seuss

When mommy goes out

I stood in the bathroom applying a minimal amount of makeup. The fact that I was wearing any at all meant the night was something special. My daughter strolled down the hallway.

“Mom, do you want to play chess?”

“Abby, you know I’m getting ready to go out. I’m leaving in a tiny bit.”

“Candyland?”

When that suggestion was knocked down as well, she proceeded to crawl around on the floor pretending to be a dog. I knew it was regressive behavior. I reminded her that I would be home that night and that she’d see me in the morning. I reminded her that we had a lot of fun plans for the next couple of days.

I hugged her and kissed her and told her to behave before leaving to meet my friend at the train station.

I understood immediately why she acted the way she did. She’s not used to me going out without her. My rare social engagements are almost always planned for the weekends when she’s at her dad’s. I work from home, so she never has to worry about me not being here when she gets home from school. I’ve organized my life around my daughter’s schedule.

Things were different for me growing up. I was only a year older than my daughter when I became a “latchkey kid.” I woke every morning to an empty house and came home from school every afternoon to an empty house. My mom rarely made it to school functions because she had to work. I’ve been determined to do things differently with my daughter . . . and so far, I’ve been lucky enough to make it happen.

The rest of the weekend, my daughter was extra clingy. She practically sat on top of me on the couch. She refused to read her chapter books on her own and only wanted to read with me. I was happy to do that, but she kept asking me at the worst times . . . like while riding a crowded bus. I tried to explain that other people on the bus probably don’t want to hear about Pokémon.

On Monday morning she threw a fit because she had to read her books for school . . . on her own. I asked her what was going on. She said, “I just want to spend time with you.”

Frozen yogurt

My wacko – blueberry frozen yogurt with blueberries, marshmallows, rainbow sprinkles, and Oreos

“We spend a lot of time together, Abby. Saturday we went to dinner and the bookstore. We walked around downtown and had frozen yogurt. Sunday we went to Marcus’ birthday party and stopped to get sushi on the way home. I love reading with you, but you need to read on your own too.”

She started to cry and explained how she was sad that I went out on Friday night and how she missed me. I hugged her. I told her that I miss her when she’s away too. I told her that she’s my favorite person in the whole wide world and that I love spending time with her more than anything else, but sometimes I like to see my friends too.

I asked her if she remembered when I worked at Rite Aid. She said she did. I asked her if she remembered how little time we got to spend together back then. She said she didn’t  I told her it was hard because when I was off, she was in school and when she was off, I was at work. I told her that she’s the reason I quit my job and started working from home. I told her that what I wanted most was to spend more time with her.

We hugged and I wiped her tears away. We spent the rest of the morning playing cards and laughing.

It’s Thursday now and everything’s back to normal . . . despite the days I spent feeling guilty over things I know I shouldn’t feel guilty about. I suppose that never really goes away.

Conversations with my daughter

Gay Dad Project braceletsA couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were talking about Girls Scouts and how they donate to LGBT rights organizations. My daughter over-heard and asked what we were talking about, so I explained. For the first time, I gave her the terms. She’s known the meaning behind the terms for a while now, but she’s never had the vocabulary . . . the labels. But since she overheard me use the acronym, I thought it was appropriate to explain what those letters meant.

She, once again, expressed her belief that two people who love each other should be allowed to get married . . . even two boys or two girls. That’s pretty much as far as the issue went with her. She doesn’t know about anti-gay bullying and the discrimination that exists on a daily basis. I’m not ready for her to fully know that world, but I did explain that there was a lot more to it than just being able to marry someone of the same gender. I specifically mentioned how some people can actually lose their jobs. I wish I could have taken a picture of the look on her face . . . a look that just screamed, “THAT is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

And you know what? It probably is the stupidest thing she’s ever heard.

I don’t believe in using children to make political statements. Children will believe as they are raised to believe. My daughter believes in equality because I’ve raised her with the values of equality. Some of her thoughts are her own . . . some are just mirrors of my own. I do believe in open and honest communication with children . . . and I believe that when left to truly share their own thoughts, they have so much to teach us.

My daughter does not fully understand a world where someone would discriminate against another person for any reason. So for her to hear these things, it sounds stupid . . . because it is stupid.

A few days ago, we received rainbow bracelets in the mail. They were made by Pete Shea, dad to one of the founders of The Gay Dad Project. I knew my daughter would love the pretty-colored and sparkly bracelet without any explanation, but I didn’t want to give it to her without her understanding the meaning behind it.

I explained to my daughter that some people take a long time to tell others that they are gay, that some are afraid of discrimination or that family and friends won’t understand and will turn them away. I explained that some people try to pretend that they’re straight just so they can fit in and even sometimes get married to someone of the opposite sex and have kids. I told her that that’s exactly what happened with the dads of a few of my friends. I told her how it was difficult for them when their dads finally came out later on.

We talked about how divorce can be hard no matter what and she nodded. She added, “Well, sometimes it can be fun because you get a whole birthday month!” (referring to the multiple celebrations between both families) I smiled and said, “Yes, that’s true.” We talked about how having two families is pretty normal for her considering her dad and I split when she was only 2 ½ and that sometimes it can be more difficult when a child is older because that child is used to both parents being together. I added that it can be even more difficult to find out that one of your parents has been hiding something out of fear.

Then I told her that my friends started this project to help families like theirs and that one of their dads made these bracelets for us. My boyfriend asked her why she thinks a rainbow is used and she thought for a little while before saying, “The colors are all different and beautiful.” We talked about how people are just like the colors of the rainbow . . . all different and beautiful on their own, but something truly special when they all work together.

I put the bracelet on her wrist and the conversation was over.

I led this conversation much more than I usually do. There’s not usually a purpose to our conversations . . . I just like to hear what she’s thinking. This required more explanation on the part of my boyfriend and me, but we stopped often to ask her if she understood and to demonstrate that understanding in her own words.

She’s growing up and continuously learning more and more about the world around her. I’m not always comfortable with that. I want to protect her from harsh realities. I want her world to always be filled with understanding, acceptance, kindness, and love. But she shows me time and time again that she’s capable of taking in this new information without losing her innocence. With all those harsh realities come some truly amazing people and organizations who stand up for what is right, who speak out against discrimination and hate, who make an effort to have a positive influence on the world. The more my daughter learns that people can make a difference, the more she’ll understand that she can make a difference as well.

A visit to Philadelphia City Hall

City Hall 4I didn’t want to go on the field trip. After a night of no sleep and a 2-hour nap in the morning, I was really regretting that little check mark I made next to “chaperone” on the permission slip. Still, I bundled myself up, grabbed my pocket book, and headed for the train. I had made a commitment and a promise.

It was cold and I hate dressing in layers. The trip was going to involve a mile walk with 25 8-year-olds. My head was throbbing a bit. They were predicting snow. Cold, wet, disgusting snow.

The previous night was Family Reading Night . . . and two days in a row involving social interaction is a bit exhausting for me. Still, I stepped off the train, walked up the stairs to the street, and waited for the bus.

City Hall 1I passed Abby in the hall as I headed to her classroom. The enthusiastic, “Mommy!” made me smile and started breaking down my grumpiness. I love how she’s still so excited to have me chaperone. I’m sure the day will come when it’s no longer “cool” to have mom spend so much time at her school. I need to enjoy this while it lasts.

As we made it out the front gate of the school and starting walking toward City Hall, I shed the rest of my grumpiness. The kids’ excitement added to my own anticipation. In 33 years of living in and around Philadelphia, I’ve walked past City Hall more times than I could possibly count, even protested outside once (a funeral march for the death of the arts because there was talk of closing down some of Philadelphia’s magnet schools) . . . but I’ve never gone inside. Funny how it’s so easy to skip the landmark sites when they’re a part of your own backyard.

I listened to our guide tell the same stories I heard in elementary school – William Penn and Penn’s Woods, mapping out the city like a grid (though I didn’t know it was because of fire safety), the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection), the treaty with the Lenape . . . I found myself enjoying it as much as the kids. She said she wished she had more time to talk about William Penn and all other things Philadelphian. I wished she did as well.

City Hall 5

We took the kids upstairs to the observation deck underneath the William Penn Statue, which obviously, I’ve never been to either since I had never been inside City Hall. My daughter and I were in the last group to go up. It was amazing looking out over the city. Walking through my familiar neighborhoods day by day, I forget how big and how busy the city is. I could have spent hours up there . . . . I’d love to sit looking out at the view with a pen and notebook in hand, jotting down lines and couplets and stanzas.

City Hall 6

Our last stop was the city council meeting room with a little talk of what goes on there and the kids asking questions. I love how excited they are to learn about our city’s history and its present. It’s a particularly cool experience to see these things through their eyes.

We left City Hall and walked back to the school. Abby and I gathered her things and headed out to the bus. We managed to get out early enough to get ahead of the high school kids . . . total bonus. It started snowing before we made it to our connecting bus. It was still cold. My head was still a little throbby. But I no longer regretted checking that little box.

We settled in at home . . . snuggled on the couch to watch a movie. Over dinner we talked about everything we learned . . . and some of the other little bit of history I know. We started planning a trip for the Spring . . . we’re going to play tourists and see all of the wonderful landmarks that call our city home. I think it’s time to stop ignoring our beautiful backyard.