A Communication Tip for the Holidays and Beyond: “Me Time”

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Have you ever been in a conversation where you were so busy formulating a response that you missed what the other person said altogether? Sometimes I think life happens this way; life as a conversation where we are only half-way committed, half-way listening. Many times we are so fixated on predicting what happens next that we miss out on the actual moment as it happens. We miss what was said. We miss the moment. We miss the whole point.

I had an opportunity to attend a communication skills workshop sponsored by my son’s school called, “Communicating with Family Members During the Holidays” and how to have less stress and more cooperation. I can use all the help I can get, so I went. And I was pleasantly surprised.

First, the facilitator had us play a game. A volunteer told a story about a happy event in her life. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the volunteer, half of the room was told to ignore her. All I had to do was whip out my smartphone and become consumed. I didn’t listen to a word she said. I got wrapped up in my Internet world and tuned her out. It was really easy to do.

Her point? We, as adults, ignore our kids sometimes. How does it feel when someone is talking to you and, while you very well may be listening, are staring at your smartphone? Sure, you don’t mean to do it. But there it is! That smartphone is attached to your hand and you can’t seem to get rid of it. It’s like a leech, sucking the juices out of your brain. I know, because I do it.

Then, the facilitator introduced “Me Time.” The idea is very simple. You give your child your undivided attention for a scheduled time of 10 to 15 minutes. That’s not a lot of time, right? Anyone can do that.

“Me Time” is based on principles of play therapy, which may be more widely practiced with younger children. This session of “Me Time” could even be called “Mommy and Johnny Time,” for example, or whatever makes sense for your child. My 12-year-old son has called it, “The Dreaded Time with Mom.” So, whatever works. Really, it can work for anyone at any age, including your resistant teenager.

There are few parameters for a successful session of “Me Time.” They are as follows:

  1. Schedule the 10-15 minute period of “Me Time.” I know it’s only 10-15 minutes, but if it’s scheduled it may feel more special and purposeful.
  2. Your child chooses the activity. Got that one? Your child chooses! And you must do it no matter what! If your child wants you to hop around on one foot and blow bubbles, then that’s what you must do. If your child wants to watch TV, that’s what you do. If your kid wants to play on his smartphone and ignore you, that’s your activity.
  3. Considering #2, you may suggest that the chosen activity not break any family rules (like no balls in the house).
  4. There’s no need to spend money. The activity is for such a short period, there’s really no need. Still, if you to make certain the focus is away from money, you may want to state this up front.
  5. As the parent, you cannot correct or direct the activity. Also important, you cannot ask, “Why?” Your child may view this as judging.
  6. You can’t play unless you’re asked. Don’t assume your child necessarily wants you to be involved. This idea coincides with the idea of play therapy where the child may need time to work something out. This is best done without any interference. You are merely an observer if this happens.

Discuss these parameters openly before you engage in “Me Time.” There’s no need for secrets. Truly, I think this idea could work for any relationship, even spouses or significant others. Why not? I have yet to try that, but I did try this idea with my kids.

This is what happened with my 9-year-old. First we cuddled in his blanket cave and made funny faces at each other. Then, he did a series of musical numbers where he got up to sing and dance. I clapped and cheered. He was hilarious and clearly wanted to show off his dance moves. I had no idea. This is not something he does that often and, clearly, he wanted an audience.

When it came to my 12-year-old, he said, “I thought you were kidding. Really?” First, he wanted me to wait outside his room. His little joke. Come to find out, he needed help with his homework, so that’s what we did. To make up for that, we watched a few “Dear Diary” cat videos. Those are always a good laugh!

But the biggest eye-opener? It was so relaxing to surrender my time voluntarily to someone else. To not be in charge or direct. To just listen. To be completely present. It felt so refreshing and helped me refocus my energy on my kids when it goes astray as, of course, it happens even with the best intentions. I highly recommend you give it a shot, especially during the busy holiday season when you feel short of time and stressed. I bet the more often you share this experience with your kids, the more insightful it will become and maybe, just maybe, communication will improve all around.

Time, that thing we’re always chasing or running out of. Why not carve out a little space for the important people in your life and share the gift of time spent together?

photo credit: Merry Christmas! via photopin (license)

On the Fence – Friday Fictioneers

It’s time for Friday Fictioneers. Many thanks to wonderful Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for leading the Friday Fictioneers. The challenge is to write a 100-word story based on a photo prompt. This week’s photo was contributed by David Stewart. Be sure to stop by and read his tear-jerker. 🙂

The school-to-prison pipeline was coined to describe how America’s public schools fail kids. During the 2011-2012 school year, the US Department of Education estimated that there were 130,000 expulsions and 7 million suspensions among 49 million K-12 students – that’s one for every seven kids.

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PHOTO PROMPT © David Stewart

(100 words)

On the Fence*

The other kids played and kicked soccer balls around him. Again, Sam must complete math during recess.

No matter what he did, he was on the fence at recess. He sat.

“Uh-uh. No, up. On your feet.”

Sam sat. He stabbed the piece of paper with his pencil, crumbling it in a ball. Recess was over. He could sit at his desk, eyes on the clock.

Around the fence,

shiny with double-strand, barbed wire.

Life sentence.

You never leave.

“Honey,” said Sam’s mom. “I only ask you questions because you’re smarter than me and someday you’ll know all the answers.”

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

*Detention

For more stories from the Fictioneers, click here.

Aside

To all the mothers of the world, I wish you a very Happy Mother’s Day!

I Will Always Be Your Mom

We toil, we worry, mothers do
Our bodies bleed and stretch
Our hearts and minds grow
and love pours out

Soft bellies for a weary head
Breasts warm pillows soothe
We listen to your  heartbeat
light and quick

We sing a song or three or four
An angel in our midst
We watch your sleeping breath
rise and fall

We wipe tears and noses
Little bottoms, too
Reach for your hand
even as you push away

Moments blur and vanish
There is much to recall
But the treasured ones,
come back like fluttered heartbeats

We celebrate your joys
Listen to your fears
We watch you grow too fast
and hope we did it right

When you drift, brave and steady
We hold you closer still
Our love fierce and strong,
I will always be your mom

I Will Always Be Your Mom

School Days, Sharp and Ready

My newly appointed middle-schooler asked me if he could have $50 as a going-to-school present. Excuse me? Is this the latest?

I’ve heard of gifts and wads of money being thrown into the air to celebrate the end of school, for good grades and graduation. I usually celebrate with smiles, hugs, and pats on the back. For what could be more memorable than that?

Besides, getting the kids ready for school these days will set parents back a few bills. It’s important to keep this in mind throughout your preparations:

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Let’s just start with the basics: The Backpack

My kids tell me that last year’s backpack is worthless; those zippers don’t work, it’s yucky, and that they need a sparkling new one. If I don’t buy my kids this, evidently they will be screwed for the entire year. Best to not mess with this scenario. You don’t want this on your head all year. Of course, darlings, whatever backpack you need.

My younger son wanted this one:

This backpack reportedly goes for $1 million dollars.
This backpack reportedly goes for $1 million dollars.

A backpack must accommodate a whole locker’s worth of material. It’s helpful if you are the Incredible Hulk.

But suppose you’re not. Enter the rolling backpack:

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Bonus, it doubles as a stylish piece of luggage, suitable for overnight trips.

I realize I’m happier knowing my kids will not have lockers, considering all the things that can go in them. The rolling backpack it is. It’s sensible and multi-purpose. Any future disappointments cannot be traced to this backpack. A good choice, and it better be, because he’s stuck with it.

Now on to something of which we have absolutely no choice: The Supplies List

If you have a child with multiple teachers, expect multiple lists. There is no gentle beginning. Kindergarteners and pre-schoolers are not off the hook. They, too, will have supplies to gather. While each year the supply list will closely resemble the previous year’s requests…oh, did I say requests, hmm…responsibilities….you will be faced with this same challenge each year:

Do I search throughout the house for supplies in cabinets and miscellaneous piles and bags, scattered here there and everywhere? 

It’s this:

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What are the chances of finding a complete set of anything?

I rationalize: Glue sticks and markers will be dried up, not all the colors will be represented, and the pencils won’t be sharp. We had a sharpener, but that broke, and who has time for the manual sharpening, because you know they will need a full pack of colored pencils on the first day, as well as that protractor I can’t seem to find. We had a ruler once, but I think it’s under the refrigerator. Speaking of, we’ll need new lunchboxes so lunch can be fun and fresh. Folders are cracked and unusable. The highlighters most certainly will be dull….

Should I…should I…just go for brand new supplies?

They’ll look like this:

Yes, that does say presharpened. They know what's up.
Yes, that does say presharpened. They know what’s up.

Don’t worry, they have thought of everything for you:

I made sure my kids didn't see pencils in the jumbo, swirl variety. That would set a precedent for future supply list wishes.
I made sure my kids didn’t see pencils in the jumbo, swirl variety. That would set a precedent for future supply list wishes.

Look at the little pretties:

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Primped and ready for school. So sharp.

If you think I’m over-excited and lazy, I’m not going to argue. And, kid, this cost more than fifty bucks. You’re welcome.

What’s your name again?

My ability to hold names inside my brain has reached its maximum capacity. I may recognize you, but it’s likely I won’t remember your actual name. If I make an attempt to call you by your name, there’s a high probability that I will get it wrong. I will call you “Lisa” when your real name is “Linda.” It’s in the ballpark, right? No?

Blogging friends, I appreciate that your name is written down for me. Thank you. Truly. I feel safe and successful here in the blogosphere because, even if I don’t know your actual name, I know I can call you by your written name and there’s a good chance you’ll accept it. In real life, things are not so black and white.

How did I get here? My husband would say that it all began with the birth of my first child. When my placenta left my body my brain went along with it. Oh, friends, this did not happen! This is false! However, he may have a point. Names flooded my brain at the same time that I was deprived of precious sleep. If you don’t have kids and have trouble recalling names, don’t worry. I’m sure you have your own story and I want to hear all about it. I know we’re not alone.

My story goes something like this. With my first child, I belonged to a mommy group where it was necessary to remember not only the child’s name, but the parent’s name…and one more step…connect them together. Now I was masterful at this, even when I had a screaming child on my arm. Fast forward to child #2 and the amount of names you must remember grows exponentially. Now it’s child #1…child #2…parent…connect. Things are getting fuzzy.

Enter children in elementary school and major slippage happens. My brain regains control with a school roster. That helps. Yet, I’m walking on the fault line when my kids play sports, and especially if these sports overlap, as they do. Do I know Johnny from baseball…or is it basketball?

Name recalling reached new lows when I began substitute teaching at the local dance studio, sometimes four or five classes in a night. In any one class, I might encounter the following names: ASHLEY, AUBREY, AUDREY, ALEXIS, ALEXA, ALEX, ALYSSA, and ARIANNA. This is only letter A. I’m not making this stuff up. Not to mention that they all wore the same leotard outfit and bunhead hairdo.

Same outfit, same hair, same moves...you understand.
Same outfit, same hair, same moves…you understand.

These girls smiled sweetly at me up, to a point. After months of trying in earnest, I do believe they turned their bunhead heads on me. For the first time, it became abundantly clear why substitute dance teachers of my youth were so aloof. Here, I had thought some teacher was a pompous prick and full of himself. No, no…this was about self-preservation.

There’s got to be an App for remembering names, right?  iName, iFriend, or WhoRU? I know what you’re thinking. I can practice, just try harder. I can say their name three times after meeting them. I can rhyme their name, create a mental picture of them in my head. Now, if I’ve already met them four times, this is tricky. Either you go on not remembering and continue your smiling and nodding or reveal the obvious and say “I’ve forgotten your name.” This usually works to clear the air.

You feel better if you both forget, don’t you? You are caught in that blank stare with each other and there’s that moment of pure clarity. You know. You breathe a little sigh of relief and say, “I’m sorry. What is your name again?” You both laugh, promise, and hope not to forget for the next time.

Do you have trouble remembering names? Is it a sign of the times? Are we too self-absorbed or distracted? Bad listeners? What do you think?

photo credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina} via photopin cc

To Shoe or Not to Shoe? – Friday Fictioneers – 12/13/13

It’s time for the Friday Fictioneers, hosted by our wonderful host, Queen Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Thanks to Adam Ickes for the photo.

Please read other fine stories from the Fictioneers here.

Genre: General Fiction (100 words)

Copyright – Adam Ickes

To Shoe or Not to Shoe?

Animals don’t wear shoes, mom. Why do we?

We wear them to keep warm and to protect our feet.

Animals don’t need protection.

They have fur and pads.

Why don’t we have pads?

Where are your shoes?

Get your shoes on. You’re not ready to go out the door until your shoes are on your feet.

Whose shoes are these?

They’re just sitting here. Abandoned. Forgotten. Too snug?

Look for the child with no shoes and you’ll see my child. He will be running free on grass pillows, cushioning his feet, and laughing…laughing at the rest of us, wearing shoes.

Mary Poppins, You Got Nothing On Me

Birthday parties. We’ve thrown them, we’ve been invited. Being a parent for over a decade, my kids have attended dozens (hundreds?) of birthday parties. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Everyone is happy celebrating their special day.

Everything was simple back in the day. Growing up in a family of six kids with a pack of neighborhood friends, we. had birthday celebrations for the whole year. It was simple cake and ice cream in the backyard, no fuss, no invitations, no special waivers or directions to places you’d never been. It’s only as a parent that I experienced the whole gamut of parties, from informal to complicated.

You’d think by now I’d have the whole birthday prep mastered. I’m talking only about as invited guests here. The buying of the gift, the card, writing the party on the calendar, informing my kids whose birthday it is, etc. I’m afraid the passage of time has not garnered more efficient results. Things seem to deteriorate with each passing year.

It doesn’t matter if I received two weeks notice for a birthday party, and in the meantime, I had been to Target a zillion times, I still buy the gift the day of the party. I give myself a huge pat on the back, if I manage to remember the gift the night before.

One must not forget the wrapping and the card. If it were up to my husband, he would just plop an unwrapped present onto the gift table. No card, no bow, no nothing. Unwrapping a present is fun, is it not? Newspaper would be perfectly fine, although this seems to be a luxury we can’t afford and is not an available option.

If you’re time-challenged like me, the most desirable method is to use that recycled gift bag you hope you still have. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Good for the environment, easy on the pocketbook. Everyone is happy, and this is why no one writes anyone’s names on the little tag that is attached to the gift bag.

Even better if the recycled, gift bag happens to fit your selected gift. I know I’m really slacking it when my criteria for choosing a gift is whether or not it fits in that last bag that may or may not be laying in the closet. Did I just say that? No, I didn’t. Since, of course, I’m in a huge rush and have waited until the last possible minute to purchase a gift, didn’t check the closet and it’s the third birthday of the month, I determine that probably the only gift bag left is too small, and if I don’t buy a bag I’ll have to dig up some crinkled holiday paper…oh, I give in…I buy a bag!!

To make myself feel better, I rationalize that I will be economical by NOT buying a card. In a Mary Poppins moment I think…The children can make their own cards. Homemade cards are more thoughtful, meaningful, crafty, and creative. We still have a craft box in the cupboard, don’t we?

This past weekend, my boys were invited to the same party, so I thought it would be reasonable for them to make a card together. The two of them could come up with one card, couldn’t they?

Per usual, in the last, mad minutes, it was done in pencil with a couple scribbles and sign of the name, quickly without much thought. I began to doubt my decision about not going the store-bought route.

“How about a little color?” I plead. “What about a little picture? A few flowers? Stars?” Anything…I only start to panic when I’ve forgotten exactly what time the party starts and where it is. The invitation is not on the fridge or anywhere, so it must be an Evite, and I now must relocate that.

My older son Holden completes the card-coloring task. He is, in fact, quite pleased with the outcome:

I think it's perfect and I really do think so.
I think it’s perfect and I really do think so.

The backside:

These stripes are divine.

All that is needed is for his little brother Skyler to sign the card. When he doesn’t, Holden adds his own explanation:

So thoughtful of big brother to explain little brother's absence.
So thoughtful of big brother to explain little brother’s absence. Aren’t we all just a little insane, after all?
Final touches. Now it's done up like a scroll.
Final touches. Now it’s done up like a scroll.

“Hey,” he says to me. “Do you think we could get that card back? I can give it to her next year.”

Oh, bless him. It is a delightful card and I’m just brimming with happiness that he is so proud of his creation. I break the news to him, “I’m afraid cards don’t work that way.”

But, it’s not a bad idea. He may be on to something.

P.S. I know all about the gift card, in case you’re wondering.