it’s not fair to Austria

I thought I was early but when I reached the auditorium, the room was packed with parents who were beaming with excitement to watch their children perform. It is Austria’s school Christmas program. The previous week, I was told by her teacher aide that she has been doing well practicing the songs. Austria normally gets overwhelmed with noise and people singing around her. She covers her ears oftentimes when she feels it’s too much or it’s over stimulating for her. In our family, she wants to be the only singer so we call her a diva sometimes but she does sing very well. Her therapist believes that she may have a perfect pitch. It amazes us when she listens to a song a couple of times and can sing some parts of it and the chorus to a perfect tune.

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Austria’s class performance during their Christmas program. She couldn’t perform.

I was informed by her school therapist that during the last practice she had with the class, she was being difficult and hesitant to go up the stage maybe because of its height and that she may not be able to sing during the presentation if she would be feeling the same. A part of me didn’t want to hear what the teacher was saying. Although I understand the situation, I was not ready to hear and accept the fact that she’s not able to perform in a big crowd. I still requested for her to perform even if she is placed at the end of the formation or at the back as long as her teacher aide is by her side to prompt her. I explained she can do it because she already performed something similar during her graduation at her pre-school.

Most of the parents had their video and the cameras ready. Of course I had one too. When the kids lined up and started going to their formation, I was eager to see Austria. One kid at a time, they went up the stage but I did not see her in the line. My heart was getting discouraged and I was almost in tears because I knew she may not be able to perform. I saw her special ed teacher waved trying to get my attention and she informed me Austria had a meltdown. They figured out the stage height may have scared her and the number of people in the auditorium. I could hear her screaming outside and she was inconsolable. I thought her crying was caused by a sensory issue but when we tried to bring her back to her classroom, she cried all the more.

It seemed impossible to bring her to the room without screaming. Usually, when she can’t stop herself from crying, she says “I’ve booboos, I need bandages” and I often give her one and immediately she stops crying, grabs her scarf and comforts herself. I told the teacher to place a couple of bandages to her legs even if she doesn’t really have any cut or scratch. As expected, she stopped crying and just soothed herself by sucking her thumb.

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My kindergarten photo during a Christmas program. I was singing ‘Away in a Manger’ with my classmates. ( I’m far right)

I brought her home and as soon and as I sat down, I took a deep breath to help me control the sadness and disappointment. There was a part of me wishing that Austria is a normal girl. I wished she could perform to an audience like her other classmates and I’d certainly be a proud mom. I wish she can also do the things I did when I was 5 years old in kindergarten. I wish she can just express and communicate herself like other children… so on and so forth.

Inclusion of special needs children in a regular school setting has been proven that their social and communication skills improve tremendously. However, for a parent like me who sees her classmates do great things, able to follow directions without prompts and can converse to someone,  I can’t help sometimes but to compare her to other normal children. I must admit there is a little bit of jealousy and envy towards other parents that is lingering in the corners of my heart.

A spent time with a friend of mine who is a family therapist and I shared about what I was feeling. She asked me if Austria’s development and improvement makes me happy and I said of course. In a very gentle way, she helped me understand that it is not fair to Austria for me to find happiness from her or from her development. She told me that I haven’t fully accepted her condition and that I should cultivate a deeper faith that God is in control and that my happiness should come from knowing that I was given a great gift from God. The role of my children is not to make me happy. It was a very deep conversation but very refreshing one. I praise God for friends who understand and can give me a spiritual perspective.

I felt empowered more than ever. I love my daughter tremendously and even if her condition and social skills do not improve or do the things like other normal kids can do, I’m a happy mother.

Nearly 25 Years of Fathering — and All I’ve Got Are These 3 Lousy Tips

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post of Jim Higley of BobbleheadDad.comfather-and-son-by-jan-paul-yap

I haven’t read many parenting books. And I know, that’s a little surprising for a guy who spends most of his time talking and writing about being a dad.

So, if you chose to read no further, I understand. It’s pitiful. I know.

But what I lack in reading and scholarly research, I’ve compensated for with a lot of observations, conversations with professionals and good old-fashioned trial-and-error. A little over 24 years of it. One of the things I’ve learned is that being an effective dad requires strong communications with your child. If you can nail that part of the dad job, the rest comes much easier.

A daunting task for sure — especially as kids get older. So, here are my three top tips to help you grease that two-way road to trust-filled communications with your children.

Put It On Ice

You don’t need to react so quickly to every situation. Slow down and think. Erupting like Mt. Vesuvius, spewing words and emotions, doesn’t work. It’s scary and models inappropriate behavior for your children.

Give yourself a little time to think. A minute. Five. With older kids I might wait several hours or even a day.

The key is to plant the seed with your child that the topic is “open” and that you’re going to revisit it with them after the two of you have a chance to mutually think about it.

With little kids who are misbehaving, you can literally pick them up, carry them to their room, and have a firm chat after a couple of minutes of cool-down time. But with older kids, that tactic doesn’t work. Additionally, if you verbally attack an older kid in the heat of the moment, they are likely to feel cornered and trapped. You’re simply inviting them to verbally attack you back.

That’s why (unless someone is at risk of being hurt or hurting someone), I’m now far more likely to say something like, “You know, the way you talk to me is just not working for me. But I’m not going to scream and simply hand you a punishment. I want you to think about it before we talk later this afternoon.”

Kids desperately want respect. Even when they don’t show it towards you. They want to be heard. When you introduce topics with respect and consideration, it makes it much harder for them to continue their cycle of behavior. Try it.

30-Second Rule

Stop lecturing.

And when you feel the urge to lecture, limit it to 30 seconds.

Kids hate lectures. I bet you do, too. If you can’t get 95 percent of your point made in 30 seconds, then you need to think through your message.

When I feel the need to preach to my kids, I introduce it with, “I need 30 seconds to share something with you that’s been on my mind. Is your head in a good place to listen?”

And you know what? Nine times out of 10, my kids tell me to bring it on right then and there.

And you know something else? They listen.

I end my half-minute sermon with something like, “Okay, that’s what I wanted you to know. I want to hear your thoughts later today when you’re ready to talk.”

Sometimes they want to talk right away. Sometimes they noodle and come back on their own. And sometimes I have to bring the subject back up a bit later. But it’s almost always a smoother road to a sincere, open conversation.

Start with 30 seconds. It works.

Stop Solving Everything

This one took me years to figure out. It’s one that is really hard for dads to get good at because we love fixing and solving things.

I’m talking about those times in life when your kids are mad, upset, hurt, frustrated, or angry over a host of things. Mean friends. Unfair coaches. Tough teachers. Annoying siblings. The list is miles long. I know for me, any time I used to hear another problem de jour, I’d reply to it with strategies for fixing it and make it go away.

“Here’s what you need to do with your friends -”

“Next time your coach tells you blah, blah, blah, you should -”

“Well, you should never let your friends tell you -”

And you know what I’ve learned? Kids don’t always want you to tell them what to do. They don’t always need you to strategize. They’re also far more resilient and capable than you give them credit for.

A lot of times, they just want you to be in the zone with them. Empathize. Go deep. Be in the moment. Experience their feelings. I figured this out one day when my 13-year-old daughter was sulking in her bedroom, angry at mean friends. It tore me apart. I didn’t want her to hurt. But at the advice of another wise dad, I tried something new.

I went into her room, laid on the floor, and just stared at the ceiling with her.

And eventually she said, “I hate my friends.”

And I replied, “That must suck to feel that way.”

And what followed was a dad-changing moment. She told me details of what was going on while I just stared at the ceiling. She told me about her hurt and pain. And I just kept reaffirming my love for her, my sadness at the situation, and my understanding of her feelings.

And she was fine with that. She didn’t need me to solve it.

She needed me to experience it with her.

I’m convinced that my actions sent her a far more important message than had I tried to give her an assortment of ideas to fix the specific problem.

***

So there you have it. My top three tips. And just in case you’re thinking, “Taking the easy road, huh?” the truth is all three of these ideas require you to stop, think and really focus on what your child needs. They require conscious parenting.

But slowing down, taking time to think, fine-tuning your message, and acknowledging your child’s emotions are collectively some of the best ways to build strong communications.

Try them out. Modify them to work for your family. The rewards are plentiful.

///

Learn more about Jim at: BobbleheadDad.com
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my simple holiday decorations

I used to decorate my home with a lot of coordinated ornaments. I had bins of garlands, lights and tons of Christmas balls. I had matching holiday throw pillow covers and dining table mantel. A couple of years ago, I became more aware that creating great family memories does not come from having a festive and elaborately decorated environment but from meaningful relationships. I’m on my second year of having simple holiday decoration. So to have some festive feel, I spread simple decorations throughout the house.  photo (1) I used 2 tone balls which I had years ago and displayed them on a vase I also    have. I placed it as a coffee table centerpiece.

conesI walk my kids to school and on my way back I often see pine cones on my path or the curb so I started collecting them. I displayed them on my clear glass bowl.

photo (5)        I have a black and white fireplace and I wanted minimal colors that goes with my mantel so I bought a silver and red glittered covered cones and a small ornament from a 99 cents store.

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A Lighter, Simpler, More Beautiful Holiday

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Allison Vesterfelt of AllisonVesterfelt.comsimple-holiday

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.” —Bob Hope

I believe it is possible to do less, buy less, cook less, work less and even decorate less and still have a full, happy, satisfying, beautiful holiday season. But in order to get there, and stay there, we’re going to have to focus on a few changes of mindset.  Or, at least I am.

The other day my husband and I were driving to an event together and, out of nowhere, he asked, “Hey, do you realize we’ve never bought each other Christmas presents?”

Honestly, when he asked that question, my heart leapt a little. I knew it was true, but it sounded so harsh to say it outright like that. In fact, I found myself feeling a little embarrassed, thinking of a million excuses for why this was the case…

But just as I started to let my thoughts get away from me, my husband spoke up again. “Honestly, it doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t bother you.”

The truth is it doesn’t really bother me. But I find myself thinking it does. I find myself worrying what people will think, or what they’ll say if they find out. I find myself thinking about what others are doing for the holidays that I’m not doing; and feeling pressure to make my holiday season look and feel a certain way.

But our decision to forgo Christmas presents (which was mostly out of necessity at the time we made it) has actually opened space for us to have a lighter, simpler, more beautiful Christmas. I’m not against celebrating, or against buying presents. In fact, my husband and I may buy each other presents one day.

But I do believe the common maxim “less is more” applies to the holidays more than it does to just about anything else. And I think each of us will discover a more satisfying holiday if we’ll focus on the following changes in mindset.

1. Don’t get too stuck on “the way you’ve done it before.”

If you grew up in a family or neighborhood (like I did) that went all out for Christmas, maybe scaling back for your own holiday celebration makes you feel a little bit like I felt when my husband reminded me we have never bought each other presents—like a failure. Or, like you’re doing it wrong.

I have good news. There is no wrong way to do it!

Try not to get too stuck on the way you’ve always done it before. Instead, focus on the values you want to cultivate in your family or community or home this year, and experiment with creative ways to promote those values. Also, if you’re entering a new season of life (newly independent, newly married, have young children, or have a newly empty nest), what better time to start fresh with a brand new “way?”

If you’ve always been extravagant in the past, you don’t have to “live up” to that version of yourself, or to anyone else. Take a deep breath. You’re not a failure.

2. Focus on experiences over possessions.

One of the reasons my husband and I have never bought Christmas presents for each other is that we are always traveling for the holidays. We live far from all of our extended family, and in order to spend time with family (without breaking the bank) we have had to choose between plane tickets and Christmas presents.

We’ve agreed together that, when it comes buying habits, we will always (not just at Christmas) value experiences over possessions. Possessions are nice, but they rust, rot, get stolen and burn in fires. Experiences can’t be taken from us. They have eternal value. Consider how you cultivate experiences this year, rather than just buying gifts which will likely end up in the Goodwill pile in a few months or years.

3. Do the best you can with what you have.

This is advice a mentor of mine once gave me about a totally different subject, but I think it applies here, as well. When I was getting ready to go on a date, she would advise me not to go buy brand new clothes, or to feel like I needed to lose 10 pounds before the date, but simply to, “Do the best you can with what you have.”  In other words: be the best version of yourself.

I would give really similar advice when it comes to Christmas. Do the best you can with what you have. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy presents, or that having a Christmas tree is a waste. It simply means don’t go into debt over presents or trees. It means decide what you’re going to spend on Christmas—and it doesn’t have to be extravagant—and then do the best you can with what you have.

4. Turn off the TV (or find other ways to avoid being swayed by advertisements).

You’d be surprised how influenced you are by advertisements. Suddenly you begin thinking that everyone has a better Christmas planned than you do. Everyone’s Christmas tree belongs in a department store, and everyone’s husband is buying them diamond earrings, and everyone else is buying their kids new computers. That’s simply not true, no matter how convincing the ads make it look.

The other thing that’s not true is that families who have these things are automatically happier (like they are in the commercials) than your family, or other families who go without. Presents are nice. But they can’t make you happy.

If you want a truly happy holiday season, you’ll have to find ways to cultivate happiness from the inside.

************

Allison Vesterfelt blogs at AllisonVesterfelt.com where she inspires and encourages others to live with less. Her book, Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage is helpful and compelling. I highly recommend it to you. She is also worth following on Twitter

life is not a sprint, it is a marathon…

Some friends asked me why do I love running. I don’t. A year ago, I was going through challenging times in my life due to an episode of my bipolar disorder. The effects of my illness combined with my weaknesses have caused a lot of pain in my family. I was becoming hopeless and thinking of just giving up. One day, I heard a voice in my head, “Run, Lorraine, Run”. You know, it’s like that film Forest Gump but I kinda knew it was a whisper from God. I didn’t have any experience in running and I’ve never tried a 5k or a 10k or a half marathon let alone a 26 mile run but I registered anyway for the LA marathon. There were thoughts of the unknown. Am I gonna last? Am I really gonna finish it? I was anxious a little bit because it’s my first time and I did not train the way I should. I only slept approximately 4 hours the night before the run, my thoughts were racing. I’m just so blessed to have my loving husband who supported me since the very beginning of my training.  photo (5) It was a very cold morning and good thing the organizers provided a heated tent. I was comforted seeing a sea of people lined up for this marathon. I had full energy and unexplainable excitement. The first 10 miles were both exciting and amusing. There were live entertainment bands plus hundreds of strangers cheering for us. I posed for the official cameramen while running. I drank liquids to get hydrated when I had the chance and took energy gels as I ran non-stop. After finishing the 20th mile, I was relieved and surprised that I was still running and my energy was still there. However, as I was I approaching the last 6 miles, I could feel my body was slowing down. I started to feel the fatigue and exhaustion but I pushed myself. I denied the pain in my legs. Entering the borders of Santa Monica gave me some hope. Im near…im near…just a little bit more! But the more I pushed myself, the more it seemed the finish line was getting farther and farther. I was feeling really cold in the last 2 miles. Hypothermia was creeping in. My bones and knees started to lock. I was tempted to walk away and just give up. The cold was crippling my legs. I just could not run anymore so I started brisk walking, I was running out of energy. I knew if I don’t do anything, I will not make it. I took the courage to ask another runner if I could borrow his thermal. I was surprised he was very kind to give it to me although his lady companion gave me a shrug and a look of disbelief. I did not care what she thought, all I cared is to finish the race. The thermal gave me so much comfort and heat that helped my contracted muscles to loosen up. As my body became warmer, I started running a little bit, and more. When I finally saw the big banner at the finish line, I ran as fast as I could. I can make it! There was a rush of excitement as I came closer. 10 yards, then 5, then 2 ’till I reached the finish line! I was exhilarated! I got my medal! 26 miles in 5:56 hours. :) photo (3)  The marathon experience is just like my life. God wanted me to experience and learn practical things in life. He was teaching me to push more, deny more, and persevere no matter what struggle, what illness, what storm I go through in life. I’m on a race. My life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I have learned and accepted that I can’t just run fast and finish in a breeze. A marathon is a long stretch of miles and it pushes your body to extreme lengths. Like a marathon, I’ve learned and accepted that my life is not about ‘getting there’ quickly and getting things done right away and easily. Like a marathon, you will experience and meet different kinds of people in life. Some are kind and generous, some just care for themselves. Some will push you and knock you down. Some run to beat their athletic records, some run for the prize, some run for a cause, some run for fitness and some run just for fun. Like a marathon, there will be times you will get tired and you feel like giving up. But you push yourself anyway because you have a goal, you want to finish the race. You need encouragement to stay in the race. You need people who can cheer and will believe in you that you can do it. In a marathon, you need those Gatorades and gels to replenish your energy. In the same way, in life, you will need spiritual energy to drink to finish the end of your life with a bang and a celebration. Jesus said when you ‘drink’ him (meaning digest his teachings), you will never get thirsty and even if you do, you can always be refilled again and again. He is just there, he isn’t giving up. He is available for those who are thirsty. Sometimes we ignore the things that will help us finish the race. In my experience, I did not prepare or bring a thermal. I was a bit arrogant in my training and ignored the warning of the weather. I thought the thermal will just add ‘weight’ and a nuisance in my running. Besides carrying a thermal doesn’t look good in the camera. I was putting more attention what I’d look like in the photos. Like life, we put too much emphasis of what people would say about us. We are too concerned of our appearance to other people. If I brought a thermal, I would have been prepared and perhaps enjoyed my last 6 miles. But God always gives us a way out in life. I knew the only way I can finish the race is to be humble and have the courage to ask for help.photo (2) Like life, God puts people in our life to give us support, provide encouragement and cheer for us. But we have to decide and take courage to ask for it. There are people who will lend their help and can provide ‘thermals’ to help us go on. When we ask for help, God is teaching us humility because in reality, all of us need help. When we ask for help, it trains us to be vulnerable of our weaknesses and the things we have to change. It helps us to face the truth and deal with our pain. In the beginning, I did not know why God wanted me to run and I finally figured out at the end of the race. He wanted me to learn a character of perseverance. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, it says “You know that in a race all the runners run but only one wins the prize, don’t you? You must run in such a way that you may be victorious.” To sum it up, I can say the race was a wonderful, enjoyable experience and I felt victorious! I imagined God was cheering for me and I didn’t want to disappoint him. I celebrated it with the most important people in my life, Moses and the kids. My next marathon is now for a cause, for my daughter. I’m running to support Autism awareness so watch out! San Francisco marathon, here I come! photo (4).psd

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