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An Outside Glimpse

Little Boy in a BoxOften, without even realizing it, we put our children in a box, labeled neatly with our perceptions of them and our assumptions as well.

My four-year-old son had been going through a whiny phase. It was difficult to even know what he was saying and I would frequently let him know (less-than-patiently) that I could not understand a word he was saying unless he spoke more clearly without the high-pitch, sing-song accompaniment of whines. After my strong reactions, he rarely improved and things would just go downhill.

My mom and I were in the car, and the kids were in the back seat. My son was talking to himself, which he rarely does. He was going on and on in a very impassioned manner so I tuned in to hear what he might be saying.

“No one understands me!” He was exclaiming to himself, building up a whole case in his little sing-song voice. I tried to reassure him that as long as he spoke clearly, he would be understood. I left it at that, although his talking continued.

That weekend, my sister came for a visit with her teenage son. I entered the living room that evening and heard my son telling a story to his aunt and cousin. They were sitting captivated as he narrated the entire tale of how we traveled from India, including information on the airplane ride, the things he saw, ate, experienced.

After he completed his tale, I told him it was time to get ready for bed. He turned to go, but then added, “I need to go now and that’s about all the information I have.”

My sister was laughing so hard she could barely breathe. My nephew commented, “He knows words I didn’t learn until sixth grade!”

The next day, my four-year-old told his plane traveling story to someone else, who was extremely impressed. He added a few details, cut out some other parts and had to double back when he forgot something, beginning the story once more from that point on. He breathlessly reached the end of the story and said, “And that’s the end of my story of how we came from Bangalore to America.”

Another successful tale. Another impressed listener. My son was happy once more.

He still has whiny moments and at times, I still have difficulty understanding what he’s trying to say. But he also has an amazing vocabulary and a gift of storytelling. Sometimes we need an outside glimpse from someone else to help us see just how special and unique each child really is.

[Repost from September, 2011]

When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking

When You Thought I Wasn't Looking

Excuse Me for Breathing

DSCN0666I don’t know if there is anyone who doesn’t smile at the sight of baby. Fresh and new, unblemished, ready to begin life on earth. We smile at the innocence, the beauty, the miracle.

I think I began my life as a mother in a similar way. Innocent, hopeful, full of wonder and excitement. Of course, trepidation was a common feeling too. “How am I going to manage this ‘mom’ thing?”

As my children grow, I see their experiences molding and shaping them year by year. I take note of their minds and hearts working as they learn to make decisions for themselves. I try to give them helpful counsel as they learn to react to and interact with others. All too often, I wish I could protect them from hurt and difficulty, from the scars I know life will bring. Brought on by those same things I have faced and sometimes continue to face, even as a “grown up”. Sometimes I even wish I could protect my children from myself. From the fears I haven’t faced, the hurts I haven’t quite gotten over, the skewed perspectives I have. I think how nice it would be if I could do the “mom thing” from that same unblemished, perfect state babies seem to have when they enter the world.

Sometimes it takes years to realize something I encountered long ago still affects me … and my interactions with my children. The way I relate and respond to them. Not long ago, I felt hurt by a friend’s attitude toward my kids, and didn’t know why. Then I realized why it affected me the way it did. Years ago I had been hurt by the words of another “friend” who was vocally opposed to my second pregnancy and let me know in no uncertain terms that she felt me and my children were only a burden. The hurt I felt by her remarks remained in a place so deep I didn’t consciously realize it was there.

But it was. I became one of those parents constantly hovering over my children, hushing them if they became too loud, telling them not to disturb this person, and not to bother that person. Yes, it is good to help children grow in awareness of others and to understand there is a good and a not-so-good time to ask for things, but my hovering was borne of fear that I would again face—or worse, that my children would face—someone letting them know they are a burden, an unwanted load.

I was often preoccupied with making sure my children were “good” and “quiet” so they wouldn’t become an issue for someone else. But I don’t want to make the mistake of raising children in fear or negativity. Enough negative and harmful things face my children simply because we live in a broken world. My duty as a mother is to be haven of security, peace, and helpful boundaries. Not to exude an “excuse me for breathing” mentality.

Most of all, my responsibility and privilege is to show them unconditional love. Children are a gift. They don’t need a reason or an excuse. Each child is a treasure with the potential to change the world for the better.

Seeing each day through the eyes of a child can help me remember every day is a chance to start over. Each lesson I help my children understand can serve as an encouragement to let go of past pain and hurt. Every new life ushered into this world is another proclamation that my life can likewise begin anew every day.

Oops. Sorry.

“Oops, sorry,” And “uh-oh” seem to be two very common words in a child’s vocabulary. In fact, “uh-oh” was in the “top ten” of first words spoken for each of my children. It was my nephew’s first word, which he mastered at only eight months.

I thought it interesting how children are so aware of when they make mistakes and blunders—which are such a common part of childhood. Children strongly sense our acceptance and approval because it is a need for them to feel accepted and loved; they also recognize the lack of those, especially when they make mistakes.

It’s easy to get frustrated when the same child has made the same mistake, yet again! However, we have to understand that our reactions to their mistakes will develop into their reactions at their mistakes. If we view childish blunders as “the end of the world”, or respond sharply or angrily, they will learn to fear mistakes, and will grow with a mistaken view of that state called “mistake”.

When we do something wrong, we usually hope no one noticed, and we jump at the chance to start again and do it right the next time around. How much more so should we give our kids the chance to try again, without judgment or labeling?

As a child, I was freaked out about making mistakes and screwing things up. I remember one summer when we went for a weekend camping trip. We were at a table with some friends we had made in a room with 50+ other tables, all full of vacationers. I knocked over my glass of orange juice and it spilled on my new friend’s plate of food. No one even reacted strongly or harshly but I was so mortified that I began to cry and it took me a few minutes to compose myself. I can’t remember how I first developed such a fear of mistakes, but it was deeply ingrained. As a teen, my perception slowly changed and grew into the fact that mistakes can be learning experiences and failures can be stepping stones to greater things.

When I became a mother, I hoped my children would never have that same fear of “failure”, but would have a healthier perception of it. I tried to encourage them and adopted a simple saying in our household of, “It’s okay. We all make mistakes.”

We had visitors over for dinner one evening when the inevitable happened. My daughter, who was four at the time, spilled her cup of water. She was stunned and looked up at me. I jumped up for a towel without saying a word. By the time I got back from the kitchen, our guest quipped a few words to try to liven the situation. It had the opposite effect and I saw the tears forming in my daughter’s eyes. I remembered that moment of mortification from years back and wished I could save her from it.

“Could you help me wipe the floor?” I asked her, giving her something to do. “You’re real good at cleaning the floor.”

She smiled and got off her chair. “It’s okay. We all make mistakes,” I whispered as we cleaned the mess together. The rest of the dinner proceeded without incident.

The next day, when I spilled some water in the classroom, my daughter was quick to say, “It’s okay. We all make mistakes.”

We do, and we always will. When we realize that and treat mistakes as such, we help our children gain a positive outlook on “failure” and give them the power to try again.

(A “repost” from 2011)

Memories Blessed

Since becoming a mother, I sometimes think back on my own mother and my childhood, and at times find myself comparing my mothering skills against my mother’s. Needless to say, I always come up short. She was a mother of six, and loved being a full-time “mom.” I have half that number and yet I feel I struggle with being a “good mom” on a daily basis.

My Mom at 16

My Mom at 16

She taught her children at home until high school age. I am more or less still in “early learning” stage as far as teaching my children and am not sure whether I will be able to keep up with every aspect of their training—educational, physical, spiritual, etc. I remember only very rare occasions when my mother would raise her voice or get upset about something one of us did.

I was recently recalling to my mother a memory from my childhood. She asked a question about my perception of it, and I let her know that I recalled only one or two times she got upset at us children, and those times were without a doubt well-deserved moments. My mom said something to the effect of, “Wow, you must have a very rosy memory. You were great kids but I don’t know that I did such a marvelous job.”

Hearing those words from “the world’s best mom” gave me hope. Could it be that we are at times more harsh and judgmental of ourselves than others—our children included—are? I recently watched a movie called The Final Cut (not a great movie, by the way), which portrayed the point that personal memories of an event are often skewed and we don’t always remember the exact details. We remember certain parts of things better, perhaps the emotions we had at the time, or a particular highlight, and over time, even that becomes hazy or somewhat altered.

The Bible says that the memory of the just is blessed. This is probably for the most part because God blesses His children and thus we remember these many blessings. Another meaning could be that the memories are blessed because we have chosen to dwell on the positive and beneficial aspects of life rather than the difficulties or challenges. Having those “blessed” memories probably also requires some effort on our part, choosing to let go of any guilt, or desires of perfectionism in parenting.

A successful parent is a positive and happy parent who makes the attempt to highlight the more positive and uplifting aspects of any situation. In thinking back once more, that is probably what I remember most about my mother and her parenting skills. She was positive—not Mary Poppins, but she was sincere.

My prayer is that my children remember somewhat the same thing when they are grown … not a successful-but-too-busy-to-take-time-for-us mother, not a perfect-but-unrealistic mother, but a happy and sincere mother.

Most of all, a mother who loves them, and shows it in some way every day.

Raising An “Overcomer”

Sometimes I’m having a rough day… I got some bad news, or am feeling extra emotional or vulnerable. After all, mothers are humans too. Maybe I’ve had an argument with someone and it seems too difficult to even attempt to patch things up. At times like this, I invariably look at my kids and see them having fun, playing, enjoying the simple things in life. The thought comes to me, “How are they going to do when they grow up and have to face these things that life will surely bring them?”Girl Jumping

My hope and prayer has always been that they will be able to see their lives and face their future with a positive attitude, one of hope and overcoming. There are those throughout history who have had an easy life, but never made a name; they remain unknown. Then there are others who faced great difficulties; the deck of life seemed to be stacked against them, yet they overcame. They didn’t give up and they are known and admired today.

I want my children to grow up to be “overcomers”—those who do not see themselves as helpless victims to every obstacle: someone’s bad attitude, their own “bad-hair” day, or any negative person who might come along and give them a hard time. I want my kids to grow up to smile in the face of adversity, knowing that the sun will shine again and that things will start looking up. I want them to refuse to accept defeat when their heart tells them that anything is possible.

Then I realize that a lot of that is up to me. How do I handle adversity, bad news, a grumpy co-worker, or a tiring flu? Do I play the victim and blame circumstances or others? Or do I try to smile, even if through tears or a million “what-if’s” bombarding my mind? Do my children see me “going under”, or “rising above”?

We all know that our children will eventually be at the point of making their own decisions. There is not much that we as parents can do about that then…but there is a lot we can do about it now, while they are with us. Today, when they are our little shadows, following us everywhere, watching and mimicking each action and attitude, let us work hard to help them develop positive attitudes, by manifesting those attitudes ourselves, with positive actions to match.

Self Do It

Pretty much every child goes through the “all-by-myself” phase. Depending on the age of the child during the phase, they can also term it “self” or “self-do-it”. For some kids, it is a quickly passing phase, and they soon go back to their usual “I can’t do it” attitude, where they want you to do every single thing for them. The other kids, though, remain in this stage pretty much permanently, as it is part of their nature. Toddler Walking

At times it can be exasperating: your two-year-old son wants to button his nice shirt “all by myself” when you are already late for a dinner engagement. It is easy to usher them along and quickly button their shirt, saying something like, “I can do it more quickly. Don’t worry; you can do it next time.” Or even (let’s hope not), “You’re taking so long! Can’t you go any faster?” For a child who is entering the stage of trying to figure out things, solve problems and find solutions, a reaction such as the above can hurt a child’s desire to try and find solutions or work things out for themselves. At that age, anything is possible, and it is our reactions that determine whether this can-do attitude remains or it degrades into a can’t-do frame of mind.

I have noticed it is sometimes the oldest who has more of a “I can’t do it” mindset. However, younger children need to see their older sibling (or siblings) accomplishing and succeeding; then they see it can be done. What is more, their reaction is often, “I want to do it too!”

Helping your child (and importantly, your oldest child, if you have more than one) build a positive attitude about their abilities will build confidence not only for that child, but the younger one/s to follow.

Case in point, I am the fifth of the six “kids” in my family. When I observed my older sisters or brother mastering a skill or undertaking a new challenge, I wanted to do it too. When my brother began to memorize his times tables, I started to do it as well, even though I was not yet officially “learning” it in my schoolbooks. When my sisters took typing in high school, I pulled out my mom’s typing book (from the ‘70s) and used her archaic typewriter (as in, you make a mistake, you pull out whiteout to fix it) and began to teach myself touch typing.

I recently noticed something: though I am grown now, it is still my nature. When I see someone doing something interesting, or something I don’t know how to do, the two-year-old inside me says, “self do it” and I find myself a tutorial or simply jump in and begin to figure it out. From computer skills to graphic design, from photography to writing, from teaching to cooking—my range of interests run wide and I love to master new skills.

Back to your two-year-old who is still working on his buttons. Stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and then cheer him on. You have a wonder child in the making; or didn’t he tell you yet?—nothing is impossible.

Christmas Is For Children

Christmas Is for Children

The Magic of Christmas

Love is the Magic of Christmas

Decorations of the Heart

Christmas Decorations and Quote