Friday, January 15, 2016

Pokemon 101

Who would've thought that Pokemon could bring a smile to my face? I have no clue how to even play Pokemon. I know it's a card game and I think it works with points. Each card has a number or a value and you play against other people to win their cards (I think). If this is what my 7-year-old wants to talk to me about, you bet I'm going to listen.
Every morning we get into the car and listen to the radio while we wait for the bus. Today was slightly different. I pulled into our usual carline spot and drank my coffee while my son flipped through his Pokemon binder. I was worried that he thought he was going to be able to take it with him to school and told him I'd prefer if it stayed with me until he got home. He started to tell me about the game and how the Legendary cards held the highest value. I found myself staring at his cute little hands and thinking about when he was a baby and how I used to rub that part on his wrist where the chub meets the hand. The part that looks like an elastic band is separating the hand from the arm. Do you know what I'm talking about? It's like Baby 101 cuteness. I was still listening to him but years and years of his life were flashing through my mind as he explained the value of different cards. I could tell he was really concentrating on what he was telling me and he hadn't even looked up once. I kept asking myself in my head how on earth we'd gotten to this point where he was old enough to be explaining a card game to me. Raising him has been hard but it was like all of a sudden I couldn't believe how fast these 7 years have gone by being his mom. At times, I feel like I've blinked and now he's this young boy who is teaching me things.
I'm an emotional person. That's just part of my makeup. So, I'll admit, I was starting to get a little teary-eyed when he looked up at me and said, "Mom, you should get your own pack of cards so that we can play together when I get home from school."
Ummm, yes, totally. Is it weird that I was really excited that my son had just asked me to play Pokemon with him? The game that he plays with his friends and has never talked to me about until now? You better believe that I have just added 'buying Pokemon cards' to my to-do list today. And I will definitely be Googling how to play this game just so I can hold my own. If this is how my son wants to bond with me than I'm going to give it my best try.
I did end up letting him take the binder to school. I figured it was a battle not worth fighting.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What's My Platform?

I've been writing for a long time. Actually, when I was updating my bio for my website, I just about choked on my grapes when I did the math and realized it'd been 15 years since I started college. 15 years? That makes me feel old. My focus has changed since then, of course, since I have children now and my beat went from restaurant writing to "restaurant tips with kids". While my subject matter has changed quite a bit - my love for sharing what I know has not.
My platform (aka) what I think I know enough about to share with others and care enough about to spend time on, is helping other moms. Not just giving advice here and there, although, that is helpful, but really getting in the trenches with other moms and encouraging them one by one. When I see another mom hurting or crying or having a hard time with her child - I just want to hold her hand and tell her I understand. My first thought is to ask what's wrong and then see if I have any tools in my toolbox to help her through the situation.
Most of the time, moms are open to letting me share what I know. Sometimes they're a bit more private and that's okay, too. I just want to share what I know and what has helped me along the way in any way that I can - whether that's face-to-face or through my writing.
There are many things I like to research, talk about and write about, but when I whittled it down to what gets me excited about life and looking forward to my next assignment, well it would be parenting. Since there is no one-size-fits-all for being a mom, why not share what I know and help other moms in the process? It seems like a win-win to me.
I finished a manuscript this past October and I'm pretty excited about it. It will be a book about my parenting journey, what that looked like (and looks like now) and real-life tips that I hope will inspire you to take control of whatever it is that you might be facing as a mom right now.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Throw Kindness Around Like Confetti

I recently flew back to my hometown in Massachusetts. I took a few days (without the kids) to visit my family and I just have to say, it was wonderful. I missed my kids but I found that I was able to enjoy the little things and have a clearer sense of what was going on around me.

It started with the plane ride. I almost didn't know what to do with myself when I sat down and looked around. I pulled out my book of crossword puzzles and listened to the conversations around me. Occasionally, I looked out the window to think about how excited I was to see my family. It only happens about once a year.

When I got off the second leg of my flight, I noticed a young mom, baby on her hip, waiting for her stroller and car seat that she had checked plane-side. She couldn't have been more than 23 or so and the look on her face is one I have had many times when flying with my children. When her items showed up, she was trying to open the stroller with one hand while holding the baby and there was a cold, misty wind blowing in through the open door. The baby's blanket was falling down and this sweet young mom was trying every trick she knew to get that thing open. I noticed everyone around her (about 20 passengers, or so) just watching. I went over to her and started helping. I've been through this stroller thing a time or two and I know how frustrating it can be; especially when it's a small place and you're trying to get the heck out of dodge.

It wouldn't budge. I asked to hold her baby so she could try again and the look on her face was part worry and part "thank you". I told her I would stay right next to her. She handed her sweet little baby girl to me and tried again to open the stroller. It wouldn't open. She and I made eye contact and in an unspoken language that only mothers can interpret, decided to walk to the terminal dragging the stroller. When we got to an area where we could put all of her bags down, she kept saying, "Thank you. Thank you so much."

I noticed another woman behind me who started helping with the car seat. There was no talk about do this or do that. The three of us just knew what to do. I handed the baby back to her mom and got to work on the stroller. We laughed about how this had happened to me before and how frustrating it was that strollers and car seats seemed to be things that were damaged the most. "Next time, put your stuff in a big duffle bag or trash bag," the woman said. "This has happened to me before and I learned the hard way." The three of us laughed and just then, the stroller popped open (with a broken wheel from the flight) and the car seat was back together.

"Thank you so much," the mom said.

I just smiled and told her "Us Moms" need to stick together.

I said goodbye and headed out of the terminal to meet my sister who I hadn't seen since the summer. We tackled each other with hugs, like we always do, and a smile bigger than you can even imagine naturally stretched across my face. "Sorry," I said to her. "I was helping another mom with her stroller." I continued to tell my sister the story about this mom as we left the airport. We plopped down in her car and picked up right where we left off - as if 5 months apart was like 5 minutes apart.

I can't tell you how happy it made me to be able to help another mom. Sure, I would have done it even if I had my kids with me but the fact that I had two free hands and no one else to take care of made it so much easier to help.

"Throw kindness around like confetti," Bob Goff, says, author of 'Love Does'. Okay, I will :)

What act of kindness will you show today? Tell me on my Facebook page.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Our First Day of Thanksgiving "Break"

So, for all of you who have children at home this can understand my play on words in the title of today's post. To say that we are on Thanksgiving 'Break' is to suggest that there is something relaxing about having your school-aged children home all day. Now, I will say, it was nice to not have to roll out of bed at 630am this morning to drive my son to the bus stop but I actually look forward to those mornings because it's 10 minutes that I get to myself while he is busy putting his shoes on and fussing with his jacket. I get to sip my cup of coffee, let the steam reach up to my face and slowly read my devotional to get me armed and ready for the day ahead.

Today, my youngest woke up at 630am. This is much earlier than her normal 730/745/8am wake up routine. My middle child rolled out of (my) bed around 7am only after she peed all over it. And my oldest woke up about 10 minutes after that. We ate breakfast, I chugged coffee and we piled into the car and headed to the gym. It's the only place I can think of where I get an hour to myself to work out while they play with other kids their age.

So, our 'break' is going okay. My son has some behavioral challenges so it's been a bit of a trying day for me. I am used to the dynamics of only his sisters and  myself during the day while he's at school so we are readjusting to having him back home for this week. Some of the things I have found myself saying today:

"I will wash your mouth out with soap if you don't go outside and play."
"I don't care if there's a spider out there. Go play."
"Get off the deck and go play or you're grounded."
"Stop being loud and go swing."

Now, come on, you know I'm smarter than this. I've been through years of therapy with my son for his behavioral stuff and I know that these typical discipline techniques don't work and won't work on a child who has ADHD, ODD, SPD and anxiety. So why do I say them? Because I'm frustrated. I'm tired and I just want him to listen like my other two kids do. I know some of you will get this. I know many of you will know exactly what I am talking about. When you have a child who has special needs - the same rules do not apply. One size does not fit all and sitting still is unheard of. So, now that I've had some time to pull myself together and put on my mommy-armor, I will share with you how you can turn this Thanksgiving "Break" into a real "Break".

1. Have low expectations. Strive to do one thing today. That's it. If you make it to two things - great. Keep things simple in your home.

2. Have an arsenal of sensory-type activities ready. I knew this week was coming so I stocked up on playdough, construction paper, markers, crayons and stickers. This stuff keeps my son busy for long periods of time and he enjoys doing them. It's a win-win.

3. Again, I knew this week was coming so I went to the store and purchased extra gum, tic tacs and Jolly Ranchers. Sucking on a piece of candy or chewing a piece of gum helps children focus and stop stimming (self-stimulation).

4. Tell your child the plan for the day. I think everyone knows this tool by now but if you don't, that's okay. Kids like routine. It makes them feel safe. Especially kids with special needs. Tell your child what you're doing for the day so he knows what to expect. Be sure to explain that plans change sometimes so that he's set up for success should something fall through at the last minute.

5. Think before you speak. It's easy to get overwhelmed in the moment. There's so many things that go on in a day and there's only one you. Go from overwhelmed to in control by thinking about what you'll say before you say it.

You've got this, mom! Rock this Thanksgiving "Break" and enjoy all of your children this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

When the Dust Settles

This is a hard post for me to write. But, I think I'll find freedom in sharing it with you. My life is good. Really good. I have three amazing kids and a husband who loves me more than I'll ever know. We live in a beautiful home in a nice neighborhood and are all happy and healthy. I'm in my seventh year of being a stay-at-home mom and have settled in nicely to my role. But, there is something I struggle with day in and day words.

Sometimes, when my son is having an especially hard day and he can't quite help himself with all of the stimming he's got going on - I find myself short, rude and impatient. I say things before thinking. I give him weird looks without realizing the effect they will have on him. I yell when I should be taking a "time out" for myself to collect my thoughts. It's not until the dust settles that I realize just how awful I've been. Often, it's too late. My apologies are accepted and we've both gone on to other tasks but I can see it on his face. I can see the scars I've left and am still making all over his sweet soul.

I spend the rest of the day beating myself up about the way I've just behaved and beg for mercy that he'll give me another chance to be the right kind of mom. I pour myself into parenting books and cater to his every need in the hopes that I will change my ways the next time. I talk to him all the time about bullies at school but inside I'm thinking, "I'm the real bully."

Not all days are like this. We have really good days, mediocre days and terrible days. It's only on the unbearable days that I let my words flow out of me like poison. Why is it so hard to be a parent to a child with special needs? Because not every day is the same. What worked today won't work tomorrow. Because I want my child to be happy and to not have to have special circumstances that call for stress balls, rice buckets or medication. I want him to be free of worry and doubt. I want him to relish in the innocence that is childhood.

So when I see one of his friends being mean to him after I've just yelled at him - it's all I can do not to curl up into a ball and just roll away. I have to make this life a better place for him I think. And so, I tell myself that I will do better tomorrow and I do.

I promised to keep this website real, and to share the things that have worked for here are a few tips that have helped.

1. Take a breath. A big one.
2. Tell yourself he's only 6 (or 4 or 5 or whatever age your child is)
3. Pre-plan what you're going to say. Meaning - if you think your interaction could go south - think about what you'll say or won't say to avoid mean words spewing out.
4. Take a time out for yourself. Tell your child you need a minute and you'll be right back. (Obviously, only leave your child alone if they are old enough).
5. Keep reciting the good things about your child in your head. This will help you stay positive.
6. Give yourself grace. No really. Do it. This is something I have to continually work on. I can say it but I don't always do it. Parenting a child with special needs is so hard. Harder than anyone will ever (truly) tell you. You're doing the best you can. Today is done. Tomorrow is a new day.

Thanks for letting me be real.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Frustrated Child: When Imperfection Becomes a Catalyst for Behavioral Challenges

I started writing this article for a friend who was seeing her first grader act out in a way that was not in his character. She asked me if I had any tips and tricks on how to help him get through those moments when he is trying to learn how to write but cannot seem to get it completed the way he thinks it should be done. I can relate. I deal with these battles every day with my child and have had to become quite resourceful on how to diffuse the situation and stop it from becoming an even bigger issue.

If your child gets easily frustrated with herself over tying her shoes, drawing a triangle, making animals out of playdough - whatever the activity may be - I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make things a bit easier. Here are 8 kid-friendly ways to help your child go from frustrated to confident.

1. Make sure the task is age-appropriate. Children can get easily frustrated when something is too hard for them. If your son sits down to write a sentence but gets upset because it doesn't look the way he wants it to, make it one step easier. Instead of using pencils, pens and crayons, get him one of those dry erase boards with the lines already on them. This will give him an exact place to write his words and he can simply erase any mistakes he makes along the way. When he's ready, move him on to pencil and paper.

2. Build her confidence. Children typically want to please their parents. Don't wait until your daughter is excelling at her homework to tell her she's doing a good job. Make a big deal about her progress even when she's just doodling or doing something just for fun. Start instilling in her the self-confidence that she is capable of the task at hand. Encourage her and show her by example that her drawings and writing will get better over time.

3. Make it fun. I remember writing in those small blue books in school. I'm talking about the light blue, flimsy, white-lined books that you took some sort of awful test in. Some children need visual stimulation to get their brains going. Let your child decorate his notebook with action hero stickers. Encourage him to write a few sentences about what Superman is doing in the picture. Replace random words like pencil, kite, kitten or ball with cheap stickers you can pick up at the store. I see this done in elementary-aged books all the time. A sentence might look something like this: "I went to the [put a picture of a grocery store here] with my mom today."

4. If your child is encouraged by rewards, go ahead and have a stash of her favorite candy, chapstick or any other small item that will get her working towards her goal. Maybe it is a bigger reward that she cannot see yet. Tell her after she works on writing complete sentences for one week, she can go to the store and pick out a toy. Learning can be hard and challenging sometimes. Change it up and give your daughter something tangible to look forward to.

5. Get on their level. Something that has always worked with my children, hands-down, whether they are sad, mad, frustrated or scared is when I say, "I felt that way too when I was your age." Or, "Yeah, I understand why you feel that way. I remember when I had to learn that in school and it was really tough for me." This always opens the door for communication because your child will inevitably say, "You had to do this too? When you were my age?" Kids have no concept of their age and your age. Remind them that you know exactly what they are feeling because you experienced it too.

6. Take a timeout. No, I don't mean put your child in time out. Learning should be fun, not discouraging. If your child is getting upset over things that are out of his control, take a break from the activity and do something else. Get a drink of water, have a snack, run a lap around the house, pull out the rice bin and take a mental break from the assignment. Kids get overwhelmed with information just like adults do. Sometimes they just need a break.

7. Redirect their behavior. If your child has been acting out (think yelling, being defiant, rude, bothered, unmotivated, etc.) by all means, let him know that the way he is behaving is unacceptable. Explain that everyone gets overwhelmed at times but it's not okay to act out in a way that affects the family dynamics. This is going to happen. It just will. Kids are still learning how to control their emotions  and since everyone is born with their own temperament, this will look different from child to child.

8. A mood chart. This is a tool I have used over and over again with my kids. You know those silly looking smiley face charts you see in your pediatrician's office? The ones that say, "Rate your pain" and have a happy face with the number one all the way up to a sad face with the number ten. Yeah, make one of those. Most children do not know how to express what they are feeling. Teach them what it means to be upset, angry, frustrated, tired, mad, angry and bored. Keep this chart handy the next time your child is doing her homework and ask her to show you what she's feeling. Once you understand why she is feeling that way, validate it and move on.

Hang in there. Your child will get through this phase in their life and things won't always be a battle. The older they get, the easier it will be for them to channel their feelings in a more productive way. Revisit the writing activity with these steps and you will see immediate success.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sensory Rice Bin

The first thing I give my son when he gets home from school is his rice bin. This is a great sensory activity for children with Sensory Processing Disorder because it has such a calming effect on the brain. Putting one together is really, quite easy. Follow these 5 simple steps:

1. Head to the dollar store and pick up a plastic shoe box.

2. Buy a large bag of rice.

3. Let your child pick out a few cheap trinket-like toys to hide in his rice bin.

4. Dump the rice in the bin. Dump the toys in the bin. Let your child play. Volia! Sensory Rice Bin for your child.

5. To keep this sensory activity up-to-date, let your child pick out new toys from time to time to hide in the rice. Be sure to keep a lid on the bin once your child is done playing.