Parenting – It’s Tough

Bailey and me on opening day of Camp Airy in Thurmont, MD

Of course with Bailey away at camp for the month, I’ve been thinking a lot about him and the things he does and says.  He’s a great kid – an interesting kid – and I seem to be appreciating him a lot without him here.  One incident in particular has been on my mind as I’m watching my various friends’ kids on the swim teams of their pool clubs.  Back in January or early February, Bailey was thinking that he didn’t want to be on the swim team anymore.  He’s a good swimmer, but not fast enough to compete with kids his age – especially since he’s little.  His size does matter already in some sports.  However, I had registered him for the session already (this team swims year-round in an indoor pool).  Bailey plays soccer and basketball and does other things – I wasn’t married to the idea of swim team for him.  The deadline approached for getting a partial refund for the session and he was still swimming every day for the coach.  I told him that he had to make a decision by the drop-dead date.  I’d inform the coach of his decision.  I was pretty sure Bailey would quit the team.

Well, he didn’t.  Not by the date anyway.  A few days after the drop-dead date, he complained again and said he didn’t want to swim anymore.  I was mad.  I said that he was too late and now he had to swim for the whole session – another month or 6 weeks.  He was pretty calm – he often stays calm when I’m riled up – and he said that maybe I could tell the coach he really didn’t want to do it anymore.  Sincerely.  He meant it this time.

I really was pissed.  The deadline had passed, so I lost $300 for the session.  At least if he had quit a week prior, I could have gotten half of it back.

We were in the car at the time, and I specifically remember pulling up to the American Club to drop him off for practice and turning around to face him.  “No,” I said, “If you want to quit, then you have to take the responsibility now. You have to deal with the coach.”  To be honest, I never in a million years thought Bailey would do it.  I knew how much Bailey admired the coach and how he really did not want to disappoint him. Bailey works hard, and the coach is a very encouraging person.  They got along well together.

Later, after practice, I picked him up again.  He was distraught and I could tell he had been crying.  I asked him what was wrong.  He had done it.  He had told the coach that he wanted to concentrate on his other sports, and thanks for the encouragement, but it was time for him to leave the team.  I was shocked to say the least.  He said the coach was great, thanking him for the effort he put in, and glad that Bailey could concentrate on what was important to him.

Later Bailey said it was the hardest thing he had ever done.  And the coach later sent me an email telling me that Bailey had handled it very gracefully.  It was the best $300 I ever lost.

Both Bailey and I learned a big lesson that day.  He learned to do something difficult, and stand by a decision if it was the right decision for him.  And me, Bailey’s mother, I learned to let him take the bumps and bruises of it because the little bumps and bruises he takes now will prepare him for life’s greater bumps and bruises later on.

Yesterday I read a great article (Thank you, MLZ!) from this month’s The Atlantic by Lori Gottleib, titled, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.”  Gottleib is a mother and a therapist, and it is her contention that young people land in therapy in disproportionate numbers due to their parents’ desire to shield their children from ever feeling any pain.  The parents, she reports, intend to be the best parents they can be, but in their zeal to create an atmosphere of perfect happiness for their little darlings, they fail to teach their kids how to handle hurt in their childhood, and therefore the same children, reaching adulthood cannot handle the bigger hurts of the real world.  But it’s not just that.  Gottleib details the effects of boosting the kids’ self esteem to the extreme and offering kids too many choices.  The piece is beautifully written and delightfully descriptive and detailed.  It’s rare to find something that speaks to today’s parenting so completely – at least in my opinion.  Here’s the link: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/8555/

I have been feeling  guilty for months because I let Bailey take the heat for quitting the swim team, and made him stand up and speak to his coach when it would have been so easy for me to do it for him.  But thanks to the article, I feel great about it now.  Easy is not always better. Learning right from wrong and how to handle various situations that life throws your way – in the long run, that will make everything easier.  Long term goals – hard to keep in mind, but definitely worth the effort.  It’s my job to teach my kids to handle these things and there’s no time like the present to start.

Boys and Basketball – and Moms

A family we know pretty well recently moved into our neighborhood and allowed us to install a basketball hoop on their property.  They love it too, so it’s a win-win, but they have more room than we do, and in Tokyo, a place of no space, this is no small favor.  For two weeks now, my son, Bailey, age 11, has been spending every spare second outside shooting hoops.

Bailey is now, and has always been, an interesting kid – a real bundle of contradictions.  He’s an athlete, excelling in most sports involving a ball, but he has a soft side that lets him easily climb into his grandfather’s lap even now and tell him how much he loves him.  At bedtime, he wants to be tucked in, but never kissed near school.  He plays the violin beautifully, with great coordination, but is a major klutz, falling down often.  He loves to play with babies, but also loves rolling in mud. Part of this is the fact that he’s nearly twelve years old and straddling the line between childhood and full-fledged teenager-hood.  But part of this is just Bailey being Bailey.

In recent weeks, Bailey has had a pretty rough go with things.  He’s in a very small school and doesn’t really have a close friend there.  He knows a lot of nice kids that he speaks to and plays with at recess, but there’s not that one best friend who likes the same things he likes or does the same things he does.  He’s graduating this year, finishing sixth grade, and is ready to move on.  The five other kids with whom he will graduate feel exactly the same way – the classroom has become too small for them and they are ready for the bigger adventures that await them.

Last week, Bailey’s teacher called my husband and me to ask if everything was okay; he was so quiet and solitary in the classroom.  We responded that he’s just trying to get through the last few weeks of school without any conflict.  For all of his sweetness and kindness, Bailey can also be a troublemaker and an attention-seeker.  In the past, he has poked at the other kids until they notice him, or tried to get them to do things his way.  He has a very strong sense of right and wrong which will serve him well in the future, but currently gets him in trouble with other kids if he complains that something is unfairly done or played.  Now though, he feels past all that, but has realized that the damage is done with the other kids in the class.  It’s too late to forge better relationships, he feels.  It’s better to keep to himself and he has decided to just put his head down and plow through the last weeks of school.  He’s sad, but realistic.  I haven’t felt like I can step in on it; this is his way of handling things.

The basketball hoop, however, has revolutionized things.  Every day after school, he runs into the house, says hello to me, drops his bag, and runs right back out with his basketball to shoot around.  For at least an hour on most days, he shoots basket after basket without another care in the world.  He’s a good shooter.  He plays on a city team in Tokyo, one that’s made up of half foreigners and half Japanese.  He’s a pretty good player in general and when he joined the team last year, it made him feel like a million bucks – a place where he can excel and put his energies.  But the team practices twice a week and the hoop is there for him 24/7.  He shoots out his frustrations and his angst.  He shoots out his little hurts, both real and imagined.

This afternoon, I decided to go out there and shoot with him.  I don’t love basketball, but I can shoot a decent basket and it was a warm afternoon with a bit of breeze.  Perfect for shooting baskets.  We played a game of “around the world,” and Bailey whipped my butt.  He was kind about it – allowing me extra shots and bending the rules a little.  We chatted as we played.  He told me about something that happened on the playground at recess.  He told me about the book he’s reading.  He mentioned something about his sister’s birthday that I had forgotten.  We talked a little about the other kids in his mixed-age classroom and how he likes being among the oldest in the school.  He even said that he’s so excited for the summer and the four weeks he will spend away at camp.  All of this happened in about twenty minutes while we dribbled and shot, dribbled and shot.  Hook shots. Jump shots. Layups. Swishes. Everything.

As we played and talked, I could see into the future and the young man that he will become.  I see a strong, sensitive person who needs reassurance, yet, slowly but surely will learn to stand on his own feet.  I see tough transitions and difficult classes, but also exciting sports, dances, friends and activities.  I see hard work, homework, and new avenues of learning opening up – connections and ideas and growing every day.

But mostly, I see basketball.  Tons and tons of basketball.  For both of us.

Shades of Gray, Part Deux

In this ongoing journey of parenting, sometimes you hit on something that has the power to change your outlook, and this week, we have caught a glimpse of such a thing.

On Monday, when I picked up the kids from school, Bailey came out with a big frown on his face.  From his point of view, there had been a meeting of sixth graders led by the teacher, Sainoor Premji, in order to pick on him and tell him all the things that he’s doing wrong.  Well I wasn’t going to have it!  I marched right upstairs to see her.

Well, when I got to Sainoor, she put her hand on my shoulder and assured me that the meeting had been about the Model UN thing, (the sixth graders in the class are going to New York for a special United Nations program for Montessori children, and their year has been very focused on it) and was meant to show how countries can go to war over petty issues seen from different points of view and that every child had raised a petty issue as an example, not all of them focused on Bailey.  She was trying to bring globalism down to the kids’ level and Bailey, in his inward focus, had completely missed the point.

Bailey’s teacher, Sainoor, is a gift to him and to all of us here at Chez Weinstein.  She’s tough as nails as a teacher, but one of those tough teachers who is hard on the kids in a respectful way, born out of love and a genuine desire to see them succeed.  Some families might disagree with me, but Bailey and she have always had a special bond.  Because of the mixed-age classrooms, Bailey and Sainoor are now spending their fourth year together.  Bailey adores and respects her – and knows that even when she is not happy with him, it’s for good reason.

In her spare time, Sainoor has a business.  It’s called Healthizar Natural Healing and she works with people on wellness and natural remedies via nutritional counseling, hypnosis, and other therapies.  I have taken her Peaceful Parenting Workshop and gone under hypnosis with her, both with great success.  Until recently, though, I haven’t wanted to mix Bailey’s school life with Sainoor’s private life.  Why now?  Well, he’s only going to be in her class for another few months, and he needs the help.  Marc and I have felt that he would benefit from some hypno-therapy.  We had our first session about a month ago and it was very successful.  By successful, I mean that he emerged a bit calmer, and had a method of controlling some of his anger – a little trigger, success point.

Bailey and I went to see Sainoor that very night at home.  We had had the appointment anyway, but she and I were both doubly glad of it.  Well, she asked me to bring a Monopoly dollar with us.  When we arrived, after giving us tea, she took the Monopoly Dollar, and she wrote on it for him, “The buck stops here.”  She had him take the buck and put it in his pocket for keeps.  After giving him a good, strong explanation for what that meant, she told him that he was on the throne of Bailey-land and that no one had the right to overthrow his throne.  Buck, she said, rhymes with muck and yuck and luck, and if you receive much and yuck, you need to replace it with luck.  Turn negativity right around.  She also reminded him that most people are so busy with their own lives that they are not focusing on him.

Then she read him a story about two children who were too negative and their mother was upset about it.  She said whenever they felt negative; they had to say “That’s not me.”  At first it was hard for the children, but eventually they got rid of the negativity.  But that wasn’t enough.  The next to-do item for this mythical mother and children was that every time they could think a positive thought about themselves or the outside world,  they had to say, “Now that’s like me.”  Not just get rid of negativity, but replace it with positive thoughts.

And next Sainoor put him under hypnosis.  This is the second time she has done it, and I find it fascinating how quickly he goes under.  He trusts her completely. She took him through a visualization of cleaning out his inner negativity.  He had a tool belt and he could choose a tool with which to just get rid of it.  Release it out of him.  (Later he said he took a knife from his belt and chopped it all down and trashed it!)  It was interesting because she left him to wrestle with himself internally.  At least twice during the exercise, she asked him if he was done and he said no.  She was quiet until Bailey could express that his inner negativity was completely gone.  She then read him the story again, still under hypnosis.

She brought him out slowly.  It takes him just a few moments to come up.  Sainoor then asked him what he was going to do when he felt a negative thought.  He repeated that he would say “That’s not me.”  She asked him what he would do if someone handed him a “yuck” comment.  He told her that he would replace it with luck – turn it right around.  The example she gave was “Hey Bailey, I hate your hairstyle.”  He looked at her and said, “That’s okay.  I like it.”  In that way, the offender doesn’t replace him on his proverbial throne of Bailey-land.  He rules himself positively, and is not ruled by others or affected by any outside negativity.  She reminded him that positive thoughts are meant to be shared.  He should tell people positive things about the world, but not to overdo it.  Positive things, though, she reminded him, come to positive people.

Sainoor invited me to sit at the table with them. (I had been seated on her couch, behind Bailey and out of his line of vision – I had offered to leave both times, but Bailey wanted me to stay.)  With me right there, she told Bailey was that even when “yuck” arises, he has to stop giving it to his mom.  Sainoor, said to Bailey, “Your mom, like all moms, wants to protect you and keep you safe, but there are some times when it’s not appropriate.  When you give this to her, you’re released of the burden and she takes it on, which hurts her, so you’re both hurting.  If you’re positive, your mom can be positive.  And if negative things do happen, you can talk to her, but in a way so that she can listen to you because she is a good listener, but she doesn’t take it on.”  Bailey and I both understood her point.  Sainoor knows how emotionally connected he and I are, and she is trying to make that connection healthy, not unhealthy.

One outcome of the session, and Sainoor could see it instantly, was that his internal energy was shifting and he was wildly energetic.  He came home and could barely sit still to eat dinner.  He shot baskets for an hour on the third floor of the house! Then, also as she predicted, about 9pm, he was so tired that he could barely get up the steps to his bedroom.

The whole thing was a great lesson for both Bailey and me.  I have been letting other people sit on the throne of Aimee-land lately, controlling how I feel and act, just as Bailey has been doing.  We can both take a lot away from the lesson of not only letting go of negative thoughts, but also of replacing negativity with positive thoughts.  Clearly, my son and I are a lot alike.  He’s emotional and expressive about those emotions, too.

He and I are both so lucky to have the support that we do.  Is this a cure-all? Not by a long shot.  But it’s a start – a kick in the right direction.  From here, Bailey and I can move forward on a better path. And if we need a bit of a tune-up, we can always go back to see Sainoor.

I’ve mentioned that the next three and a half months are going to be difficult for us.  Maybe a little less so than I feared.

Shades of Gray

A Special Saturday Blog posting on Parenting.

Parenting, without a doubt, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It is getting more difficult with each passing year, but also more rewarding.  As my children (Bailey, age eleven, Sydney age eight) grow, they are becoming my favorite dinner dates – I love discussing what they’re thinking, how they’re managing and how they see things.  I help them negotiate the ups and downs of school, learning, homework, everything. Their world-view is emerging right before my eyes and I’m fascinated.

We have made some choices for our kids regarding our lifestyle and their school that have affected their experience.  (As I write that sentence, I am thinking, yes, but doesn’t everyone?)  We live in Tokyo.  We have sent them to a very small Montessori school (which we have all loved) for the past four years.  We associate with people of all nationalities.  These are things that make Bailey and Sydney unique from an American standpoint, but where we live, they are just like every other kid they know.  Again – this is a common theme in parenting.  The parents make choices but the kids don’t know anything else – this is their complete reality.  It’s only the parents, not the kids, who stress the choices.

In the past year, Bailey has had a lot of trouble at school.  It started mostly last spring before the end of his fifth grade year.  The class he’s in at the Montessori is mixed-age, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders – twenty-eight kids all together.  Unfortunately, the school is so small, that the class is the ONLY group of fourth, fifth and sixth graders.  If he was in a bigger place, he might not have had the trouble because he’d have exposure to more children.  But at this point, I can’t look back, only forward.

The trouble is that Bailey is out to impress the kids in his class. He wants to show them that he is as good as they are, as strong as they are, as fast as they are.  Most of his competitiveness comes outside of the classroom academics, but it’s still there.  We are still working on why he needs to do it.

Outside of school, Bailey has friends on his soccer team, and his basketball team, and his summer camp (American) counselors tell us he’s a delightful, easy kid.  Bailey is figuring out how to be a friend and how to make a friend, and I’m still working on guiding him in that fashion.  To be a friend, he needs to listen and relax, and to have a friend, he needs to listen and relax.  No need to be hyper and prove himself and request acceptance.

Recently, after a three-day ski trip with his class, Bailey came home and was aggrieved at the way he was treated by some of the kids.  He thought some of the kids were mean to him and he was isolated by them.  My husband and I talked to him and talked to him about why it happened and he said a few things, but not much.

Later, after emailing a few parents, I found out their point of view: that Bailey was doing his usual things of trying to impress the kids and it came off as bragging, so the kids were not happy with him, which is what led to the comments.

Here’s the issue: Bailey insists that he didn’t do or say all of the things the other kids are accusing him of doing.  What am I to do as his mother?

Well, frankly, my job is to love and support my kids as much as I possibly can and to believe them if they say they’re telling the truth.  My challenge is to help Bailey see that he probably did brag too much for these other kids – he may not realize what he is doing.  To repeat myself, I have to show Bailey that this is not the way to win friends or influence people.  Then I need to step out of the relationships and let him make his own mistakes, no matter how painful.  I can’t protect him from the pain of learning and growing no matter how much I want to.

The other kids don’t like my child very much and most likely, the other parents are not too fond of me at this moment either.  At the end of the day, though, I’m doing the best I can for my child, and my child is doing the best he can.  If others can’t see that, then I’m very sorry.

Kids do not come with instruction manuals and the best we can do is make decisions with the information we have available at the moment.  In September both of my kids will go to a much bigger school.  There’s still no guarantee that they will be any happier or have fewer issues.  But at least they’ll have a bigger pool of children from whom to choose as friends.  Bailey will find a like-minded kid who wants to shoot baskets for hours on end and then he will hopefully know the joys of an easy, relaxed friendship like he does at summer camp.  The next three and a half months are going to be a test for all of us, but we will be okay.  And the reason we will be okay is because we, the kids and my husband and I, know that we are doing our very best and we are good people with good things ahead of us.  We are going to keep our eyes on the prize, and come out smiling.  Most days.

Parenting: A Journey

Marc, Aimee, Bailey and Sydney at New Year's

I’ve learned quite a bit about parenting this week.  Maybe it doesn’t have a lot to do with writing, but frankly, anything that has to do with me has to do with writing.

This week, my husband, my daughter and I are off skiing.  Where is my son, you might ask?  Well, he’s with his classmates doing work on a project and skiing elsewhere.  Bailey has been away from us many times in the past – heck, he goes to sleepaway camp for a few weeks every summer. But this is the first time we are taking a family vacation with ¼ of our family missing.

Bailey is going to have an excellent time!  He’s with his 5 best friends in his principal’s ski house in Nagano.  They have papers to write ahead of their big trip to New York to the United Nations in April and the teachers and principal thought this would be the best use of the 4-day weekend.  They will work and ski and work and ski.  Bailey was wildly excited to go.

So what I learned this week is that the hardest part of parenting is doing what’s best for the child when all you want to do really is to hold on tight.  This is his time; he is growing his wings.  I’m so proud of him.  A bit sad for me, but still very proud and excited for him.  This is just the beginning of the process for all of us, but we’ll take it one step at a time and like I’ve said before, enjoy the journey.