I Was Skeptical About Childhood BFFs – Then My Son Made One

George & Harold-Captain Underpants

Skootch met his best friend at town camp the summer before kindergarten over a bagged lunch and some arts and crafts.

They instantly hit it off in a George and Harold from Captain Underpants sort of way, bonding over giggles, grand plans and hijinks.

When school started, the boys asked to play together – often. But play dates were scarce; sprinkled between grown up obligations and older siblings’ activities.

Undeterred, they made a point to hook up at recess.

According to Skootch, that’s where the magic happened. During their 45 minute daily ritual, imaginations ran wild, games were played, deals were struck, choices made and feelings validated or hurt.

Whenever conflict ensued, Skootch, who has a temper never held a grudge. For this particular compadre, he was always willing to apologize, forgive and forge ahead. “We’re good friends, Mom,” he explained. “Sometimes we get on each other’s nerves.”

In short, these little guys loved one another.

This year, we parents ushered in the summer with a family barbecue. The boys took it as an opportunity to collectively pepper us about a first sleepover. Wanting to enjoy the sun, drink our beer and eat fried cheese in peace, we quickly agreed.

With my tween away at camp, it made sense to host the event. Besides, as a person who grew up a  floater of sorts and as a mom of an older child who has yet to find his partner in crime, I was curious to know what this 7 year old BFF business was all about.

The sleepover commenced early evening on a Wednesday after camp. I took the boys out to dinner at a “fancy” restaurant. They bunked on an air mattress in our playroom.

From drop off to pick up, Skootch and company had little use for grown-ups. Engrossed in food, spy games, Legos and banter, my job was limited to paying the bill and managing logistics. No redirecting, mediating or negotiating allowed.

In return for my compliance, they let me observe their world.

By bedtime, I had been educated on the intricacies of nose picking, heard their opinion regarding ear wax and listened to commentary on the absurdity of Trump’s wall, the treatment of diabetes and the varying degrees in which amusement park rides give their stomachs’ the butterflies.

Come morning, Skootch rehashed how he had poured water on his sleeping friend’s head and expressed repeated concern for his buddy, who punched Skootch mid-sleep as he dreamt about an altercation with a class bucket dipper.

In the end, the boys couldn’t wait to schedule a second date.

Because of my personal and prior parental experience, I’ve always been skeptical of BFF bonds. It’s one of the reasons I’m lazy about setting up recurring playdates and sleepovers. To do so feels forced. I want my sons to find and build friendships exclusive of too much adult interference, meet new people whenever possible and avoid the comfort of cliques.

Skootch’s ongoing hesitation to open himself up to new people only validates my concern. Anytime I remind him to play with different children, I get push back. “No thanks. I like one friend at a time.” For Skootch, sticking by a loyal friend is less chaotic and offers a sense of security.

So I keep preaching inclusivity, the idea of having good over best friends, being proud of the ability to mix with different personalities, the value of independent thought and the importance of giving and having space.

But I must admit, watching a genuine connection between two children at a sleepover leaves me less jaded and grateful that Skootch has a chance to grow up alongside a peer with whom he can experience trust, patience, flexibility, empathy and fun. It’s a gift not ever young person gets.

For as long as Skootch’s BFF relationship lasts, I’ll be there to encourage, but not to engineer. After all, the future of their friendship is up to them – not me.

2 Things We Thought About Before Redshirting Our Son

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By the end of Bubbe’s second year in preschool, my husband Mac and I knew he wouldn’t be ready to start Kindergarten with the rest of his peers.

A sweet, quiet child with a sensitive disposition, our son struggled with skills that seemed to come naturally to many classmates.

Starting just shy of his 2nd birthday, for a few hours each week he worked with a helper teacher to learn how to play in an age-appropriate way during preschool and at home. He also strengthened his muscle tone, developed fine and gross motor skills and addressed sensitivity issues driven by sensory processing with a physical and occupational therapist as well as practiced communication pragmatics and articulation with a speech specialist.

Bubbe made fine progress over time, but mastery in one area was typically followed by a step back in another.

Even though he was tall for his age, had a birthday not particularly close to the school district’s cut off and knew his ABCs and 123s as well as he should, there were enough consistent inconsistencies in his development to explore the redshirting option.

Teachers and service providers agreed; giving our son time to “cook” for an additional school year, a total of 9 months was in his best interest long term.

For me, the decision to redshirt was a no brainer. Prior to becoming a parent, I had the good fortune of teaching elementary school. One professional lesson I learned was that regardless of knowledge, in order for a child to do the work, he first needed to be ready to learn.

Mac wrestled with the idea. He has a “late” birthday and went to Kindergarten on the younger side. Anytime we discussed Bubbe’s delays he’d say, “I hated school. Half the time I hardly knew what was going on. But life’s a struggle.”

“School’s hard enough,” I would argue. “Why make it worse for a child? If we push him through, what will his experience be like by the time he gets to middle school?”

After several iterations, Mac was able to take a step back and separate his experience from our son’s needs.

Since then, we have gone through the process of redshirting our younger son. I’ve also spent the last 10 of my 16 years in education working in early childhood programs. Whether I’m chatting with friends or sitting with parents of young children, the topic of Kindergarten readiness can elicit strong, mixed emotions particularly if the choice isn’t a no brainer.

With this in mind, here are the 2 things Mac and I considered during the process.

Question #1 – Is my child ready to learn?

Not, does Bubbe have the academic knowledge, but is he socially, emotionally AND cognitively ready to learn in a school setting?

At the time of our decision, our child needed consistent adult guidance to get in the mix with peers in both structured and non-structured environments. He didn’t understand how to play cooperatively. His low muscle tone and delayed motor skills made it tough for him to keep up on the playground; he often looked lost and preferred to be alone. Furthermore, Bubbe didn’t have the self-help skills for a child his age.  He couldn’t get dressed without assistance, put on his coat or use the potty.

While our son showed empathy and kindness toward others, his emotional sensitivity and shyness hindered his ability to advocate for himself, ask questions and navigate feelings. His discomfort in crowds as well as with noise and texture made it challenging for him to participate in groups scenarios like classroom station play and birthday celebrations.

We knew he was cognitively able. The “mechanisms of how one learns, remembers, problem-solves and pays attention” were present, but his struggle to move with the pack, manage time, attend long enough to listen to teacher directions and complete a task without help from a grown up emphasized the gap between his potential and performance.

Bubbe did have the academic knowledge. Testing showed he was “smart.” One helper teacher even suggested he might get bored once in elementary school if he waited the extra year.

But because Mac and I could not answer yes with confidence to all 3 components, we chose to wait.

Question #2 – What will happen as my child gets older?

The delay, albeit the right move was not a cure-all.

Despite his academic “smarts” going into Kindergarten, Bubbe didn’t learn to read with fluency until 2nd grade.

In 3rd grade, when the work became more sophisticated, some weaknesses he struggled with in preschool resurfaced. Bubbe ended up needing a little formal help from teachers again.

During our early debates, Mac and I wondered about middle school. How would Bubbe’s delays play out as a tween?

Well, the first year of middle school is half over and so far, the kid’s holding his own. Focus, organization, time management and interpreting complex situations continue to challenge and fuel anxiety. Fortunately, Bubbe is starting to understand his needs and take ownership of his learning thanks to consistent guidance from talented teachers, practice and maturity.

He’s told us being the oldest in the class is “kind of cool” especially to some of the girls. I’ve observed he is one of, but not the tallest boy in the grade as well as noticed some of the peers he started out with are still in his world through activities and family friendships.

Of course we get the occasional, “You left me back.”

When he digs in, the response is the same one Mac and I gave when we broke the news. “Some children start Kindergarten when they’re 4, some start when they’re 5 and some start when they’re 6 years old. Every child and family is different.”

The bottom line? School life would have been exponentially more difficult for our child had we not “left him back.” Bubbe is right where he belongs.

Redshirting isn’t for every child with a special need, late birthday or height difference. Our son has a grade level friend who’s 16 months younger. Even though the boy’s birthday is in the late fall, his mother felt his social, emotional and cognitive skills were on point. She sent him to elementary school when the district deemed him eligible. He too is thriving.

Kindergarten readiness is a stop on a long parenting journey. But I think if we keep perspective, stay objective, focus on learning readiness, advocate and most importantly, follow our gut, we’ll get the timing right.

JOHN PAVLOVITZ SAID WHAT?… To My Son’s Teacher, And All Those Ordinary Superheroes Saving Kids Today

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Each fall, our local elementary school hosts a Halloween parade. The children march around the playground led by teachers, administration and staff. Everyone wears a costume.

The teachers typically choose a theme and dress up by grade level. From the audience, I’ve spotted emojis, cowboys, royalty and fruit. After reading blogger and pastor, John Pavlovitz’s touching tribute to his child’s teacher, this year, I hope they all come as superheroes.

To my friends in education, current and former colleagues and my sons’ past and present teachers–this one’s for you.

Comic books have lied to all of us.
Heroism isn’t capes and costumes.
It doesn’t come from radioactive spider bites or metal suits or gamma rays or distant planets.
It isn’t tricked out all-terrain vehicles, gadget-laden utility belts, hammers from the heavens, or indestructible shields.
The real heroic stuff here on this planet is firmly seated in the chests of the ordinary people who embrace an extraordinary calling; those whose superhuman hearts beat quite differently than the rest of us mere mortals…

Continue to original…

DONNA GWINNELL LAMBO-WEIDNER SAID WHAT?…Wocka Wocka: An Encounter of the Metaphorical Kind

Let’s wrap up 2016’s Who said what? with a Muppet post from Donna. Thank you for reminding me about this “colorful community of diverse characters who, together and individually, inspire unity through love, laughter, and song” and for putting a smile on my face.

Fingers crossed for a 2017 that graces us with more Muppets, fewer puppets and a lot less clowns.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner

img_2934The ageing comedian, known the world over for his slapstick parodies, brushed past me in the pre-dawn chill to take his place in the crowd queuing up to board the British Airways flight from Edinburgh to London. I have packing my warm jacket in my checked luggage to thank for our chance encounter. Had I not hung back to keep warm in the stairwell, I’d have totally overlooked him.

As it was, before I could react beyond the chuckle that stretched my lips straight and crinkled the corners of my eyes, the bobbing head, tucked under his signature pork pie hat, disappeared into the forward motion of the crowd.

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My Father’s Gift

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When my father called to tell me he was having major surgery to remove a malignant mass from his chest, I didn’t hesitate to buy a plane ticket.

“The doctors have to break open my rib cage to get the whole thing out. Safest way to keep it from spreading,” he explained.

“How long’s the recovery?” I asked.

“Six weeks.”

“I want to come down and see you.”

“Okay.” His voice cracked through the line. Then my father, who under reacts in times of crisis and barely smiles for a camera began to cry.

I did my best to console his fears and hold back tears. I failed. We exchanged I love yous and hung up the phone.

Twelve years ago, had someone told me I would be speaking to my father let alone making time to be by his bedside, I would have thought they were nuts.

Divorced from my mother when I was three, my parents managed feelings about their contentious relationship and bitter divorce by throwing me in the middle even long after each remarried and had new families of their own. On our scheduled visits, which lasted well into high school, I figured my father to be a stubborn workaholic. Time at his house was spent getting to know my step-mother. In between those visits, my mother shared more disgust for and information about her ex-husband than a daughter needed to know. As such, I can’t remember a single birthday or holiday spent with my dad. I assumed he was too busy or lived too far away; but it’s likely he was never extended an invitation.

Whether my parent’s choices were driven by self-interest, youthful inexperience or something more, I’ll never know. At that moment in their lives, healthy co-parenting was not an option. To add to the dysfunction was the abuse I simultaneously experienced at the hands of my step-father.

By age 17, my entire being was a giant, rage infested mess masked by sarcasm, perfectionism and dramatic flair. Needing to simplify the noise to ensure survival, I thrust myself into the middle of my parent’s fight de jour over college selection and payment and cut ties with my father.

But skeletons and wounds weigh on one’s spirit. Fifteen years later, I was knee deep in therapy trying to make sense of our relationship. My therapist recommended I write my dad a letter. I was to consider it a cathartic exercise or an attempt to communicate. Sending was optional.

With the pressure off, I put everything out there; the anger and hurt, grievances and resentment, his emotional distance, my abusive childhood and our lengthy estrangement.

Afterward, I thought about my unborn son and what I might say if he one day asked, “Who’s my grandfather?”

Then I dug up my father’s address and dropped the letter in the mail.

He wasted little time. What followed was a blur of email exchanges followed by a planned call. I barely said hello when the words came out.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “My point of view doesn’t matter. You’re the child. I’m the parent and I take full responsibility for everything that’s happened.”

During a time when I was trying to piece together my self-worth, build a meaningful relationship with my spouse and prepare for motherhood, my father’s words were the light in my darkness and the greatest gift.

Whoever my father was or how I perceived him to be when I was young no longer mattered. His ability to take ownership without caveat or blame and express himself with vulnerability and honesty showed me who he was at present. I knew the least I could do was begin to forgive the man and let him in.

A dozen years travel fast. While I’m grateful for this second chance, it’s not nearly enough. Those tears shed over his operation were not about any cancer, but my fear of losing a father I’ve only recently learned to love.

Thankfully, he’s made a full recovery. The doctors cut out the stage one growth and replaced it with a 12 inch scar. We can only hope health and time are on his side.

During our visit, my dad was feeling energized so we took a walk around the neighborhood; no grandkids, spouses or pets. Just us. We kibitzed about his upcoming retirement, the politics of the day and puppies. Being able to experience such a simple pleasure felt, as he likes to say whenever presented with good eats, “pretty damn good.”

Occasional strolls and weekly phone conversations won’t replace the birthday parties missed, lost Christmas Eves or the father-daughter wedding dance we never had, but it gives me great comfort knowing we will mourn those losses and create new memories – together.

Why CrossFit Is The Right Fit (Right Now) For My Tween

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Not every child takes to traditional team sports. Our son, Bubbe is one of them.

Despite growing to have a strong arm, solid shot and height, our now 11 year old prefers to play a tennis match over a baseball or basketball game.

My husband, Mac and I have mixed feelings. While we’re happy to see him connect with a game, the man to man style of tennis doesn’t encourage the socialization, camaraderie and team work to the extent we feel young people need.

Since Bubbe was a little guy, we insisted he dabble in a variety of sports, fantasizing that by the time he got to middle school, he would’ve embraced one which fosters self esteem, teaches assertiveness, tests limits and encourages community.

Well, Bubbe made it to middle school. He’s concluded the sports tweens are supposed to love are “not his thing.” And Mac and I are coming to conclusion during this temperamental time when boyhood and adolescence cross, our parental push has done more damage than good.

As the children in our town age, their sports are shifting from recreational to competitive play. More is expected: time, skill and understanding of the game. Our son has been fortunate to have kind and balanced coaches who’ve helped him to improve over the years. Nonetheless, he’s had a tough time keeping up with the pack.

Bubbe is the child who steered clear of rebounds because he didn’t want to get or hurt others, became overwhelmed by the pace of play and felt slighted when teammates didn’t pass the ball. He’s the boy who struggled to stay baseball ready for lengths of time and who, despite finding a glimmer of glory when the coach gave him the chance to pitch, felt defeated when he wasn’t put on the mound more than a few innings. Game after tournament after season our son was the one who came home repeating, “I’m not good enough.”

What’s a parent to do? Sign him up for between season clinics? Tell him to suck it up, practice and pay attention? Make him play?

Mac and I confess we tried a tough love approach. But our son’s tween ego is fragile; the current cracks are deep and require more than a little filler. In an effort to support him, we turned to the material we know from experience can restore structural integrity from the inside out: CrossFit.

Our CrossFit box is not a new environment. Bubbe’s taken plenty of kids’ classes. CrossFit Teens however, is a different animal. The sessions are structured like adult classes. The coach works these young people hard.

Three weeks in, the CrossFit compound is already starting to stick.

Week 1

Bubbe knows what Olympic weightlifting looks like but never touched a barbell; until his first class when the power clean was the movement of the day. Picking up a weighted bar from the floor, flipping it onto one’s shoulder blades and returning it down in a fluid motion requires focus, coordination and guts.

When I came for pick up, I found Bubbe with crimson cheeks and in the zone, cycling through a series of power cleans, burpees and push-ups. At the buzzer, I heard the teacher say to him, “You’re very coachable. Great job.”

On our way out I asked, “What was the best part?”

With his breath caught, the post WOD endorphin inspired chatter commenced. “The barbell. I liked learning the power clean. How much can you lift? What about Dad? What about the coach with all the tattoos?”

That afternoon, Bubbe wasn’t worried about getting hurt, willingly went out of his comfort zone, followed complex directions and after only 45 minutes, felt empowered, strong and connected to a community.

Week 2  

The air was moist and still; the gym hotter inside then out. Bubbe and I read the white board where the coach had outlined the day’s program: medicine ball clean, burpee box jump, slam ball, farmers’ walk and plank holds. I kissed his forehead and left, excited for him and thrilled it wasn’t me.

This time around, Bubbe was in a full blown brow to toe sweat when I showed up. His clothes were drenched, skin caked in chalk and rubber.

“It was really hard, Mom,” he threw his glasses my way and grabbed a water bottle. “So hard I wanted to cry.”

“Did you?” I asked.

“A little.”

“Did you stop?”

He looked up from his drink. “No, I kept going.”

A boy with a sensitive soul who can harness mental strength is one who holds a big heart.

Week 3

I heard Justin Timberlake blaring on the radio before I could see Bubbe. When I made my way to the workout space, he was on the rowing machine pulling like a mad man.

After class, his coach approached me. “I told him to row 350 meters in 2 minutes. This kid went and rowed 400 meters,” he boasted.

Bubbe beamed.

“When Coach said row 350, did you try to beat it on purpose?” I later asked.

“Yeah, Mom. I always try to get to a number and then do more.”

Sometimes, digging deep, beating personal goals and competing against yourself is just as rewarding as getting the rebound or throwing a strike.

Right now, the team sport route isn’t working for our son. Mac and I are grateful CrossFit Teens is there to help mold Bubbe’s character and fuel his confidence.

In time, we hope he‘ll apply the work at the box to the tennis court, classroom, friendships and maybe even the ball field. But more than anything, we hope Bubbe comes to realize he is without a doubt, more than good enough.

RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT?…The Lasting Memory of Exclusion

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If you’ve never been the Queen Bee or held court in the hive
If you’ve ever ached alongside a child or grown friend who felt the sting of exclusion
If you’re climbing a social ladder or building one for your children

Then please read this post by Red’s Wrap.

Red's Wrap

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The sting is at once startling and searing.

At first, you think. this isn’t what’s happening. You’re misinterpreting what you see. And then it hits you. You’re being purposely excluded. Those girls  are crossing the street to avoid you. You think you’re imagining something but you know you’re not. It’s real.

It happened to me in high school. When I went to California for a two week visit, I had a best friend, the same best friend I’d had for years. When I came home, she had left me. She said I was ‘different’ but never explained what that meant. I puzzled over this and thought it might be true. The trip was the first time I’d flown anywhere and I went by myself, hunched in the window seat, face up against the glass the entire way. I’d never seen things from that high up. In L.A, my sister handed me the keys to her…

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