Ask Me About My Bracelets – Alex and Ani

alexandaniIn recent months I’ve been walking around with a little jingle jangle on my wrist.  These bangle bracelets are not just for glamor, though; these bracelets have meaning.

The bracelets themselves are from a company called Alex and Ani.  Popular in the U.S., the company mission embraces values such as mindfulness, positive energy, sustainability and corporate consciousness. They pride themselves on supporting local business and manufacturing in the United States.  Every piece of their jewelry is accompanied by an explanation of its meaning and phrases of empowerment.  It is a great business model to support.

My first bracelet was a birthday gift.  My darling friend Bonnie’s daughter bought it for me.  Bonnie’s birthday is just a few weeks after mine, and Julia (age 15) bought the best friend bracelets for us.  (Bonnie is the friend who managed my cancer care from start to finish, you might remember) I treasure the meaning of the charm, the sentiment behind gift, and most of all, the friendship it represents.

My second bracelet I bought myself in November, just a few weeks after Dr. Siegel pronounced me cured of lymphoma.  It says “Live a Happy Life” on it.  The card it came with says that the bracelet embodies the spirit of courage, appreciation and choice. The full content says,  “Choose kindness, love, and joy.  Live life to the absolute fullest and open your mind up to spontaneous ideas.  Live fearlessly, be optimistic, and become blissfully aware of life’s gifts. Adorn yourself with the Live A Happy Life Charm to acknowledge the blessings in your existence and to be an inspiration to all.”

I don’t know about inspiration, but I do know that I strive to live every day acknowledging my blessings, for they are myriad. The jingle that I wear reminds me all the time that I am loved and even in times of challenge, I am strong and lucky.

So please, next time you see me, ask me about my bracelets; I’m proud to show them to you.

Teens and Parents and Communicaton

tin cansSome days are better than others with a teen and a tween in my home.  Last week I fought with Bailey about money, and with Sydney about her hair.  That doesn’t even scratch the surface of a few contentious evenings regarding schoolwork, reading, and Facebook chatting.  I don’t want to make it sound more difficult than it is, but it is definitely different.  I keep wondering at this phenomenon.  Different how? Different from when? It turns out that in my six months of absence due to successful cancer treatment, my kids changed as much as I did.

In the past two months since being reunited with them, I’ve had to get used to a high school freshman who is more likely to think about dates and ski trips than the video games over which he used to obsess.  (It’s not that he never plays anymore; he just doesn’t obsess.)  I now have a middle school daughter who gave up her colorful backpack in favor of a trendy Vera Bradley bag to be just like everyone else. I’ve had to get to know these kids all over again.  It turns out that Sydney loves a TV show called “Dance Moms” and has switched from playing the violin to playing the guitar because it’s an instrument she can sing with.  Bailey was on the freshman debate team this year and has discovered a passion for argument. He has buddies across ages and genders with whom he talks daily.

The boundaries are new; the thought processes are different. For the first few weeks, I was arguing with Bailey all the time until someone said to me, “Aimee, you have an entire lifetime to be on his case, but you only have three more years to build your relationship with him because once he’s out of the house, the building part is done.”  The words resonated: I have to think about I want Bailey to interact with me not just now, but in the future. How on earth was I going to achieve that balance between strengthening our relationship and being an authoritative parent?

Being a reader, I sought out writing to and for parents – often mothers – with teenagers.  A lot of it focuses on encouraging the mothers, validating their frustration and acknowledging what a tough time it is for the entire household.  But in general, having read parenting books, articles and blogs for all of my child’s life, I note that so many of the articles I found on the topic minister to desperation.  Sharing becomes more difficult because instead of cute little problems, our kids have bigger problems, ones that could potentially affect the rest of their lives.  That little saying about little kids and little problems turns out to be true!

My favorite piece, posted by my friend Carrie, is “Dear Lonely Mom of Older Kids.”  It’s a blog post that reminds parents that they’re not alone – and that parenting middle school and high school kids can be a lonely business.  Fewer people are willing to talk about the trials and tribulations of having older kids and the bigger problems it can cause in the family.  The piece is reassuring, comforting Moms and telling them that everything will turn out all right – eventually – and Moms will discover an inner strength they never knew they had in the process.

To that end, I also enjoyed the piece given to me by my friend Jacqueline from New York Magazine cleverly titled “The Collateral Damage of a Teenager.”  People never talk about how tough it is on the entire family when the cuddly kid turns into a sullen teen.  The piece is long but worth the read, covering topics such as parent conflict (with the teen and with each other) and resolution, sibling effect, and the most interesting part, about how and why the suffering ebbs but changes once a kid leaves for college.

These days my friends and I discuss our kids in light of behavior expectations, technology interruptions and distractions, and getting into college.  But we’re still talking.  One friend’s kid can’t pass math; one friend’s kid got on to the baseball team while another kid didn’t.  There are ups and downs and the only way to survive them is to derive support from those who have gone through it before or are going through it with you.  It doesn’t matter if your kid isn’t getting a 4.0, playing an instrument and five sports.  Parents need other parents who won’t judge or compare. We need to do that for each other.

And then there’s the communication with the kids themselves.  I have learned to listen more and talk less.  I have learned to ask questions before making demands.  I have learned to shoot off a quick text instead of calling if I want a response.  I shouldn’t say “I have learned” but rather, “I AM learning.” It all happens in fits and starts and some days are more successful than others. My children and I had to spend some serious time apart from each other and so we’re all interested in spending time together now.  That instinct might fade, but it might not. So far the kids are still communicating with me. What a gift.

Everyone grows and changes over time and it seems that the trick is to allow kids to do it safely and securely while hanging on to your own sanity – even if by a thread.  I have no magic solutions or ideas, but simply gratitude for the kids I have raised so far and the loving friends who laugh with me as we go through it all together.

Conversations With Brian, or, What I’ve Learned So Far

CMy friend Brian Ledell is my favorite “Words With Friends” buddy.  Some people just play the game, which is an online version of Scrabble, but he and I chat a lot, too.

Last week I made a move on the board at about 3am.  “Insomnia,” I confessed on our chat.  When he awoke a few hours later and made his own move, he sympathized, telling me how much he hates when that happens to him.

Because I’ve known him for so long and because of our close relationship, I decided to put myself out there and just be honest with him.  The following conversation ensued:

Aimee: Confession: I’m taking something to quiet my brain at night.  I’m upbeat and positive all day.  Nights are tougher.

Brian: If I was going through what you’re going through I would be taking all the anti-anxiety drugs I could get the doctors to prescribe for me and would not feel the least bit bad about it.  Life is stressful enough in normal times.

Aimee: And this is why I love you – permission to be imperfect. I really work on that Superwoman mask but sometimes it just won’t stay on. I’m learning that not only is it okay to BE fallible; it’s okay to let people know you’re as flawed and faulty as everyone else.

Brian: You are too kind! I agree with you, though – asking for help is not an easy thing to do.  I think you’ve handled it very well. I’m proud to know you.

Aimee: I am so control freaky that I’m usually the helper, not the one asking for help. It’s a challenge, but I’m learning.  I’m learning a lot of things lately!

There are several important items in the subtext of that conversation, not the least of which is that Brian is an excellent listener.  For me, though, the crux of it is that I am learning.  Even when I’m going through this sh***y exercise called cancer, I continue to learn about myself, the people I love, and the world around me.  I’m reading a lot.  I’m continuing to write. I get messages from friends that brighten every day, and when I feel well, which, luckily, is many many days, I get to see several of those wonderful friends who live nearby – and sometimes even people who make treks of many miles to see me.  On most days I’m feeling quite lucky as I learn.

In order to maintain my own sanity and get through this, I have to stop trying to be perfect, express gratitude, and allow myself to ask for help when needed.  Learning to do these things has not been easy and I’m still not so good at it, but I’m working hard. They’re good lessons and I just hope that some of them stick with me beyond (God willing) cancer.

Cancer: an opportunity for a growth experience.  I’d rather not have the opportunity, but since I have no choice, I will take it.  Thanks, Brian.

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.