Weekend in New York

New York city is often on my mind as a destination to take in some culture. We were there in May, sans kiddo, to celebrate my husband’s birthday,  but as is usually the case when we leave our son overnight, the trip was a hasty get in, get out endeavor. When Liam found out we were going there without him, we had a very sad kid on our hands. I had taken him to the city last fall and he loved it and has been asking to go back ever since so I promised him next time.

91MtPDqj-bLThis year turned out to be perfect timing for adding a summer in the city to our family agenda. Liam, who is heading into fifth grade, was assigned to read and write about the book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwwiler by E.L. Konigsburg. The book was first published in 1968 and follows the travails of Claudia and Jamie Kincaid who decide to run away from home and inhabit the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a week.

After reading the book with him and the accompanying worksheet from his English teacher,  I saw the suggestion to either complete the work by visiting the museum’s website or to visit in person. I haven’t been to the Met in years so I thought a field trip was in order.  Last Saturday morning we left early and caught a train into the city with a few ideas of things to do on our two-day sojourn.

It was about lunchtime when we arrived and we were quite hungry so after checking burgerjoint_neon-signinto our hotel, we headed to Le Parker Meridien which is home to a tucked away burger restaurant aptly named The Burger Joint. We discovered this great little treasure a few years ago and like to hit it up when we’re in the mood for a burger in the city. If you go, have a snack beforehand, because you’ll likely find a line snaking down the curtained hallway next to the hotel’s reception desk that leads into the small restaurant that will guarantee you about an hour wait. It’s worth it.

From there we decided to try our luck at the half price theater ticket window and stood in line until they opened at 3:00 making conversation with a family visiting from Massachusetts. We acquired some very good seats to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the evening and then hopped in a cab to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. This is the first time I’ve been to a memorial of this magnitude for an event that occurred in my lifetime. It’s hard to believe nearly sixteen years have passed since the deadly attacks.

I had visited the memorial pools outside the museum for the first time this past December when I was in the city with my co-workers, but to see it on a glorious summer day with my family and thousands of visitors from the US and around the world was a moving and emotional experience. The museum had exhibits and films that were a testament to the sadness of the events we groped with as a nation that week. I couldn’t help but be transported back to those days surrounding September 11, 2001, and how we sat glued to our television, numbly captivated by the coverage, helpless about what to do.

 

We wandered back uptown after our visit to the museum, full of emotion for the vast number of people affected by the terrorist attacks. The long chain of friends, family, and colleagues who lost someone important in such a senseless and unpredictable way and who would be forever changed.

There wasn’t much time to squeeze in dinner before the show so we meandered into Whole Foods in Time Square and were delighted to find an array of options to get a quick meal. After dinner, as we were hurried to the show I noticed Liam wasn’t next to me and when I turned I saw he had been approached by Mario (of Super Mario Bros. fame) and they were holding hands. I wasn’t planning to take a photo but they looked so sweet. As I pulled my camera out, several other characters swarmed in and I was caught in a dilemma about whether to take the picture because it felt almost like being extorted! I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, though, so with gratitude I handed each of the characters a couple of ones for their time.

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On to the play, which was fantastic. It was Liam’s first Broadway show and he loved it. Every so often I would look over and catch his rapt gaze as he sat forward in his seat. It was definitely worth standing in line to see that look on his face.

On Sunday, we slept in a bit and then headed to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for mass, with Cardinal Dolan presiding. He is a wonderful and plain spoken homilist, relating the day’s readings to our current day seamlessly. It was also nice to see the beauty of the cathedral without all the scaffolding as had been there on our last several visits.

From there we hit up Joe’s Shanghai midtown location for brunch where we indulged in several orders of the soup dumplings they are famous for. I wanted to get to Chinatown for a real dim sum experience for Liam but this was a great alternative given we still had to get to the Metropolitan Museum. Something to keep for a future visit.

 

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The Cat in the Egyptian Wing

We decided to Uber it to the museum after lunch and arrived in no time. Just looking at the Met from the street made my heart sing. I had to remember the reason for our visit was Liam’s class project and that I probably wouldn’t get to see many of the paintings I love so much. I barely got a glimpse though as most of the visit was limited to the first floor where the Kincaid kids from the book spent most of their time. The Egyptian Wing, The American Wing, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and the Greek Arts were the sections he needed to find various objects from the book. It felt like we raced through the exhibits but we spent three hours looking through the bottom floor. At 4:00, exhausted from the weekend, we decided to call it a day.  As we left, I looked up the great staircase and silently made a promise to myself to return on my own next time!

 

The weekend went much better than anticipated. I wasn’t sure what we’d be doing other than a visit to the Met and I was a little nervous there’d be a meltdown or at least arguments along the way. My fears were completely unfounded and we had a great weekend making new family memories.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Boy and His Frog

I’m not one to plan too far ahead. There are always fuzzy plans in the future and then about an hour or two before we’re to set out, I’ll start to consider what the plans entail. This happened Saturday when we had to go to a party hosted by one of the partners at my husband’s firm. The party was to begin at 2:00 so at noon I began sending him a flurry of texts about the afternoon ahead. Do we need to bring anything? How long will we be there? How should I dress? What else do we need? This is where I find out it will be a pool party so I hunt and gather the things Liam will need: swimsuit, towel, flip flops, sunscreen. Flowers for the host. After a time, we’re ready to go.

I forget Liam (a 10-year-old) sometimes has an issue with new situations and I didn’t foresee that this would be one of them. Surely anything that involves a pool is outside the realm of social anxiety. I’m not sure where he gets this. OK, he gets it from me. I was an awkwardly shy kid and still get quiet in new situations or with meeting new people.

For a good hour, I sat with him on a couch away from the other party guests coaching him on strategies on how to enter into the fun going on in the pool. I empathized with him about new situations. I reminded him of other occasions where he overcame his fear in similar circumstances. I reminded him how much he loves to play in a pool. I asked him what was the worst thing that could happen. What was the best?

Finally, I outright bribed him. $2 to jump in the pool. He upped it to $5. I said he needed to do a cannonball and stay in 15 minutes. He suggested he could jump in and get right back out for $10. Nope, $10 was too steep a price for something that should be fun, but if he’d stay in for 30 minutes, I’d consider it. We weren’t getting anywhere so I settled on $10 for him to jump in and get right back out. Negotiations had fallen apart because I was dying for some adult interaction. He agreed but still couldn’t bring himself to do it. Defeated, I buried my face in my hands and then heard a splash. He did it!

He realized it wasn’t going to kill him so he got out and jumped in again. And again. And again. I told the host he was going to have trouble getting rid of us at the end of the night and I wasn’t wrong. Before I knew it, Liam was leading the younger kids on an excursion into the woods where they discovered a giant family of frogs. Many, many frogs. Apparently, we have a shortage of frogs around our house and he begged to take one or two home.

I know there are people who are great with stories and explanations about why their kid can’t or shouldn’t do something. I tried to channel this skill. The frog could die if we take him out of his habitat! He could get lost in the car and die there! The frog might not find any friends in his new home and die of loneliness! All roads led to death for the frog so apparently, I wasn’t very good at this. Eventually, I gave up and said if he dropped the $10 surcharge for jumping in the pool and having fun, I would allow the frog to be transported home.

This may have turned out to be the wrong choice, however. When we returned home, I won the battle of leaving the frog outside on Saturday night. Liam gave him intermittent attention throughout the day Sunday but at one point I went to get something from the bedroom and was stopped short by the sight of the frog languishing on my new throw pillow (cue the prickle) while my son looked on as though he couldn’t believe his luck to have found such a good friend. I was left wondering if the frog would suddenly transform into a person right there on my beautifully crocheted and tasseled pillow. Of course, I screamed. The frog, now known as Tony, has been returned to the pond in our garden so he doesn’t die.

Offline living

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Oh my, it’s been ages! We are officially at summer’s halfway point (at least in my mind) and I should update you on what’s going on here. I don’t know if you remember, but back in May, I decided the family needed a technology break (including me).  I have posted just a handful of blogs since that time because you know, I’m on a break which means everything is happening offline, including writing.

The break from technology has been, overall, a mostly fabulous experience. You know how sometimes you don’t know how stressed out you are until you are sitting on a beach with sand filtering through your toes and then you dig in a little deeper to get to the cool, wet sand and you let out a huge sigh? That’s kind of what it’s been like. To know that you are not going to be fighting with your kid about when to turn off their iPad and go do something outside like you did when you were a kid is just, well, pretty amazing.

I won’t lie. It hasn’t magically been all love and sunshine in our house since we made the decision to go tech free. Sure, there are times I’ve wanted to run away but I think that’s pretty normal in parenting. No one wants to give up on the fantasy of having a child comply immediately with every request to use a toothbrush, clean their room and be presentable (clean) every day, but face it, it’s not very realistic. It’s all about the process of learning to be a human who lives in a world with other humans.

I do feel a bit adrift because while I’m living offline, I haven’t kept in touch with people like the way you feel you do on Facebook. I haven’t posted any pictures to show I’m having a great summer and I haven’t been scrolling through and hitting like on any of my friend’s posts. I’m probably missing out on births and deaths and general milestones in everyone’s lives but on the other hand, I have lots and lots of time to do things I want and choose to do. If it’s important I’ll hear about it.

Speaking of milestones, I managed to hit one myself this summer – I turned 50 last week! I know, I can’t believe it either! It was a beautiful day and I took myself to Edith Wharton’s country home in Lenox, MA to celebrate and it was lovely. My husband treated me to a fantastic dinner when I got home and then I went to bed with a really good book. I don’t imagine I thought that’s what I’d be doing at 50 when I was 25 but it works and life is good.

I’ve had so much more time to read since I checked out of social media (and candy crush). I have breezed through about ten really good books in July alone which is a pretty big deal since I work and parent and all that other stuff that gets in the way of reading really good books. Here’s some of what I read:

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (loved this quirky title character)
  • Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (immigration, class, race, American dreamers, flawed and well-drawn characters)
  • The Sunshine Sister’s by Jane Green (not my favorite of her books but entertaining and I can relate to the unshakeable bond of sisters even if you don’t always see each other)
  • Everything We Left Behind by Kerry Lonsdale (I’ve been anxiously waiting to find out what happened to these characters from Everything We Keep which was a book I stayed up all night reading this past spring)
  • Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. (I found out she wrote her first book at 50 and there you go!)
  • Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser (I had to know why a father disappeared with his small son a few days into their family vacation. It was emotional.)
  • Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (great characters, an interesting plot and a lot of family dysfunction)
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (a humorous, modern telling of Pride and Prejudice)
  • Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy (a parent’s nightmare of losing your kids while vacationing in a foreign country)
  • I Found You and The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (I read her books years ago so now catching up with her current offerings which I enjoyed very much)

As we roll through August I plan to keep on reading and writing offline but at some point, I realize I need to consider a re-entry strategy to the digital world for both my son and myself. If you know of a good book about such a topic, let me know!

Hope you are enjoying the summer wherever you may be.

MC

 

 

 

 

Living the Dash

Several months ago, our nephew lost a long battle with depression and addiction at the young age of 32. It is not something I could imagine being able to survive, but my sister-in-law bravely took to the podium to talk about his life and referred to this piece by Linda Ellis. She spoke of the dash between his dates of birth and death and told us the story of his life in a moving and beautiful way. He was not to be remembered by how he died but the dash he lived between the two dates.

The death of a loved one is always a shock to our system regardless of whether it is expected or not, whether they are young or old. Whether the person lived a full and happy life or it was cut too short, we are sad. And it lingers. But it also can serve as a wake-up to those left behind and this is a good thing.  We are human. We are going to die someday and we don’t know when that time will come. We must make the most of our dash.

My dash has been relatively eventful as is with most. From birth to now I have loved and lost (pets, people, things, and beliefs), experienced poor health as well as good, been financially unstable as well as solvent. I’ve felt very low personal emotions such as shame, anger, hurt, and resentment but also joy, excitement, hopefulness, and pure love. I am a wife, a parent, a daughter, sister and friend. I have faced addiction and sobriety. I have been both greedy and generous. I have traveled near and far and tasted countless beautiful meals. Many of my bucket list items have been attained and I’m working fervently on one of the longest, most sought after items.

I am in my dash and don’t know when it will stop so I must keep moving. God is in the dash of everything I do. Sometimes I forget He is there but then I’m reminded by a beautiful song in church, the perfection of a day, the peace in my heart. I would not be able to live out my dash without Him.

What will you do with your dash? I wish you a long and beautiful one.

MC

 

 

The technology reset continues

“What can I do when we get home?” was the greeting I received when I picked my son up from school yesterday. I gently reminded him we had an appointment with the therapist, followed by an audible groan of displeasure. Why and ugh were uttered and I was right there with him. I didn’t want to go any more than he did. With the rain beating down, I wanted to snuggle on the couch with tea and a book and a movie for him. Not an option.

Since last September we’ve seen R, the therapist, about a half dozen times and the maxresdefaultappointments are usually scheduled on the heels of a major meltdown as this one was. That was about three weeks ago as he experienced a a breakdown over a fidget spinner and a birthday party I didn’t end up letting him attend.  It’s when I finally took his iPad and Roblox away. Roblox could be a post all it’s own and has been a major source of conflict for L with his peers over the past few months. I didn’t totally get what it was when he first started playing but knew there is a social aspect and a multi-player game facet that included things like hide and seek and role playing games which he gravitates toward. I don’t feel it’s a healthy environment for him.

When we arrived at the office, the therapist greeted us and jumped right in to see what’s been going on since the last time we met. I explained about the meltdown, what I was seeing when he was using electronics too much and the steps I had taken to remove electronics for the next several weeks. I’m not sure he thought a total restriction was necessary and doesn’t feel he can learn moderation if he doesn’t have them at all. I was firm on the ban and after explaining it was more a family experiment than anything else, R seemed good with it.

The appointment began with the four of us talking and then L and R spent some time together so L can share anything he’s not comfortable bringing up in front of us (the parents). By the end of the appointment you would think it was L’s idea to go there in the first place. He is always in a much better frame of mind in the end and we all come away with insights and ideas on how to move ahead. It’s an hour well spent for all of us.

Wednesday marked a week since the electronics fast began and I congratulated him on how well he was doing on our way home from school that day. He said it wasn’t so bad because he can still do electronics at school and it turns out nearly every day they use an iPad in science or a computer in technology class. I asked how he feels about when he has to turn off the devices and he said it’s hard but he has to do it. I left it at that and focused on what we could do at home.

We’ve spent a lot more time together as a family this week playing board games, shooting hoops and just plain old talking. No one has their device face down on the table hoping to take a peak when no one else is looking. L can really be a chatterbox and he has two trademark phrases – here’s the deal (as he negotiates something) and I have a question. We’ve been hearing those a lot this week and it’s been nice to hear him more and listen to what’s happening at school.

One of the things he has been trying to negotiate is some TV time and I’m loosening up with the idea of allowing it. In the Reset Your Child’s Brain program, a few hours of TV each week is allowed but I’m going to limit it to a movie here and there because there is a definite begin and end to a movie. When he watches shows on Netflix, there is always the temptation to watch “just one more episode”.  I have the same problem so I can totally understand where he’s coming from.

At the onset of the program, they recommend setting three measurable goals to track during the reset. For us I want to see fewer meltdowns (so far so good), faster compliance with requests like homework, showering and bed time (better) and expanding the choices of how he spends free time (this is going well but requires a lot more from us). It certainly hasn’t been perfect but the improvement in his attitude and behavior has been noticeable. As we head into another full weekend without technology, I’m seeing it as more of a reprieve than a punishment for all of us.  A way of reconnecting to each other and trying new things together.

MC

Technology Detox

In my previous post, I hinted at the difficulties I’ve had with parenting a child who is so much different than I was growing up. He is headstrong. I am easy going. He is argumentative and I go with the flow. He is kind and passionate but sometimes a little (lot!) more than I can handle. And I don’t do this alone because my husband (J) is right in the trenches with me but we don’t approach it from the same perspective. So anything I write about the experience is wholly from my perspective which is why I use the word I a lot.

I also feel I am more engaged in finding solutions to the difficulties we experience with our son (L). Is this unusual in family dynamics? I don’t think so. It does make getting to the root of a problem that much harder if you’re not both on the same page. We have traveled a long somewhat difficult path over the last few months with a major melt-down at the end of last summer really being the spark that started the fire. We looked to a family counselor to help us along and we’ve made slow progress in areas only to be back at square one time after time.

The common thread of all the hiccups on our route to becoming a harmonious family unit is electronics and every time there is a big blow up, we can point to overuse of various screens whether it be the iPad, TV, computer or phones. There never seems to be a happy place of balance for us. We live in a digital world or so we are told time and time again and we are confronted with this reality everywhere we go with both kids and adults buried in their screens.

After many months on this roller coaster of a ride, I finally had a moment of clarity. One night last week, a few days after finally taking away his iPad for good after another epic meltdown, I found L hunched over the computer screen at 10:30 on a school night feverishly playing a typing game he plays in technology class. What?! Why?! I had put him to bed two hours before and so desperate for screen time he was unable to go through the night without playing again. He skulked off to bed and I was left stunned in the wake of this discovery but soon shot into action removing cords from all the devices (TV’s included) in our house. It was time to go cold turkey.

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The time had come for a full on technology detox for our household. The seed of this was planted when I read Reset Your Child’s Brain by Victoria L. Dunckley in early 2016. At that point I found it interesting reading and a sometime-we-might-need this-plan in our back pocket sort of thing. The time had come and boy did we need it now. Unfortunately I acted in haste and pulled all the plugs before talking it over with anyone else. I was a mama bear disturbed from her slumber and you don’t want to mess with her.

I didn’t tell J what had happened prior to pulling all the plugs and how late L had been up the night before and how prickly he was going to be that morning. It was a rough hour or so but I managed to get them off to school and work while I worked at enlisting others in the ban. His teacher and after school teacher were the first line of resources I engaged and they were fully on board although I did choose to allow him to continue technology class for the remaining three weeks of school as well as the occasional movie shown in the classroom. I didn’t want him to feel ostracized or adrift because of the ban but it also limits his exposure as best we can through the next weeks.

The first days of unplugging rolled out without a plan and that was probably a mistake. In Reset Your Child’s Brain, Dunckley suggests a full week of preparing for the ban and that might have made things a bit easier. But I was familiar with plan and knew that I would need to fill in the downtime with other activities and had already started a list of options. We went to the library, Taekwondo and swimming. Friday night we had a sitter (his sister) who was thrown head first into the no technology zone. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy night.

I wasn’t prepared for our first full weekend day though and it was beyond rough. There was a bunch of structured activity – a lacrosse game, bike rides and we pulled out some board games but eventually we hit a wall and there were plenty of tears and fits of anger to absorb which we rode it out as best we could. I cleaned out his room and unearthed some projects he had left undone due to his preference for electronics and those kept him busy some of the time. Legos, an experiment kit, a puzzle. He begged to watch television. Just one movie. Please, please, please. It’s so hard to be unwavering in the presence of his tear soaked face. There was no choice, though.

Sunday was much better and while it required a much higher level of engagement from J and I, at the end of the day we’d had fewer meltdowns and only once or twice did he ask to watch TV. He kept busy playing basketball, creating science experiments, watching his cousin play basketball and a couple bike rides. He even dragged some lumber out of the basement with the idea of building a fort. We had a nice dinner out and no electronics were displayed throughout. It was the first time in a long time that had happened.

I’m not naïve enough to feel we’ve cleared any hurdles yet. But at least we are bringing a little more peace back into our lives. We are joining him on the ban so other than updating the blog from time to time I am removing myself from social media and other internet use as much as possible. I’ve also given up Candy Crush, my little secret addiction in solidarity with him. There is even a $5 fine to be levied against anyone who breaks the ban. If we need to use our phones at home we must announce the reason first or pay the piper.

I started re-reading the book we’re basing the ban on and came to a part where it asked parents to give up electronics (including my beloved kindle). It was fairly ironic because I was reading the book on said kindle. Instead of despairing, I requested the physical book from the library and put down my kindle for the duration. It’s a small price to pay. We’re finishing up week one and I’ll update our progress when I can.

MC

 

 

 

 

Parenting a sensitive, intense child

Like the chronic dieter eager to try every conceivable plan to help reign in their eating habits, so too have I sampled many different parenting approaches with my now ten year old son. From the time he was a highly active infant, I found myself paging through book after book to try to find the answers to parenting, starting with Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block. I didn’t really understand if this was they way all kids were or if my kid was just a little different.

Looking back, I can see he was a pretty intense kid. He walked early and from there he was off like a bolt of lightening. He climbed anything that went up and there isn’t to this day a banister that hasn’t seen his backside. My default is to tell him no. Don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself. Don’t do that, your not modeling good behavior for the younger kids. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.

When he was four we made a very poor decision. We took him on a 7 day trip to Paris and Rome, wanting to get a travel fix for ourselves and a stamp on our passports. We promised him Euro Disney and thought we could spend the rest of the time visiting landmarks, museums and churches. Like I said it was a poor decision. It was a time when he was becoming fiercely independent. No more stroller, no more holding hands, no more listening.  All he wanted was to run away. Run away from us. Looking back, this was a bit of a farce.

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One of those happy times!

 

I managed to eke out about a half dozen photos from the trip that didn’t make it look like we wanted to kill each other. But by then his intensity was scaring me and I found myself looking around at other children and parents who seemed to be doing this family thing so much better than us and wondering what we were doing wrong. I read many, many more parenting books but did not find any lasting answers.

I kept hoping he’d outgrow this intensity of his. He is an arguer, a negotiator, prone to fits of anger but a sweet kid too. I wanted more of the sweet kid than the other stuff but it seemed to go hand in hand with him. His first grade teacher was wonderful with him and told me how smart and kind he was and how these other traits that get him into trouble will serve him well when he’s an adult. I knew she was right but I didn’t know how I would survive the years in between.

In second and third grade we saw how his personality butted up with those of his peers and I tried talking to him like a little adult about the things he should to do to be a better friend. It worked for a few days at a time but there was never any meaningful change. And finally over that summer between and third and fourth grade, things steadily declined until we finally sought help from a therapist. One of his teachers told me to ask about oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and I quickly googled what it was. While not 100% accurate, it was fairly like reading some of the harder aspects of our child and it was then I realized what we were doing wasn’t going to work. There needed to be an overhaul in thinking and action on all our parts.

To be continued.

MC