How To Fake Being Totes Cas…

(Or “totally casual” if you’re not a 41-year old woman supes addicted to shortening words like she’s 12.)

One of the BEST pieces of advice I ever heard as it relates to talking to your kids about sex is to be 100% casual about it like it’s no big deal. Answer exactly what they ask, don’t give them any unnecessary information unless they ask more questions. Be frank. Be casual. Be honest.

But y’all. THAT IS REALLY HARD IF YOU ARE A PRUDE WHO DOESNT LIKE TO WATCH TV OR MOVIES WITH SEX SCENES IN THEM.

I will say though, I’ve done a much better job this time around with my younger kids at least trying to be open and casual, even if I’m 100% faking the “casual” part of the situation. Here are two key tips if you’re a natural prude trying to be totes cool when talking about sex:

1) Try to have the conversations in a situation when you don’t have to actually look at your kids. I love it when they ask me questions about sex and puberty when I’m driving because it is EASY AS PIE to answer frankly and casually when I’m just staring ahead at the road. We’ve had great conversations about Transgender men and women, how Gay Men have babies, and How Do Babies come out – all while driving! So easy! But, the other day Wes asked me a tough question face to face (“Mom? What is the boy version of a period?”) and I’m not sure my “casual” came off as “casual” as I had hoped. I’m pretty sure my face was as red as an apple. I was most definitely sweating profusely.

2) So! When that happens! Keep saying, “I’m glad you asked! It’s no big deal to talk about this stuff!” That way even if you’re sweating or red-faced, you’re reminding them that these are great questions and super important to be asked and there’s nothing embarrassing about it. Sometimes the non-verbal cues can make them feel like they shouldn’t ask the question, so if you’re naturally embarrassed like me, verbal cues reassuring them are important. I also am SUPER casual with my tone. “That’s a great question! I’m glad you asked! You’re right! Both boys and girls have changes in their bodies during puberty…” Tone light and airy! Casual word choice! Enthusiasm! Facts! All of which counterbalances the fact that I was cringing on the inside and thinking, “OH MY GOD I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS STUFF.”

Totes cas. NBD. We cool.

I also talk a lot about how our country has a much more prudish attitude about sex and bodies than other countries. We’ve talked about topless beaches and nudity restrictions on television. I explain to them how our culture sometimes makes it feel like we shouldn’t be talking about this stuff, but it’s really is okay. Just sometimes it might be better to ask ME questions about it, since I’m totes cool and casual, and maybe not drop some of these bombs on their teachers at school.

It’s hard enough my kids tend to ask tough questions about religion at school, the least I can do is protect the teachers from talk of erections and menstrual cycles.

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Upswing

I don’t know if you recall – or even if I’ve told this story here – but during my first teacher conference in Wes’s First Grade year I was told that his initial round of testing flagged him for needing “early intervention.” This meant he was WELL BELOW the benchmark in BASICALLY EVERYTHING. As I was going over the tests I was thinking, this is most definitely not right… because, while Wes had behavioral struggles to the MAX, he was totes smart.

Immediately his teacher said, “Of course, I’m not worried because he reads to the other kids and is fine with math skills, but I need you to understand what I think is happening.” She then proceeded to point to the “test time” portion of the results where it took Wes 7 minutes to complete one test and 5 to complete the other. The average times were 10+ minutes longer. He basically went in, answered the questions as fast as he could, and was all, “SEE YA, FOOLS!”

IMG_7168We are now in 3rd grade and he’s ranking “exceeds skill” in all of his progress reports. He rarely gets red behavior points, was put in a special program for “gifted” kids, and he almost enjoys reading.

ALMOST.

He still hasn’t found the books that REALLY hold his attention yet, but I have found if he’s too distracted to focus on reading, that he’s more likely to do it if I let him read TO me. He still hates homework and rarely brings home papers he’s supposed to show me, but he has one teacher this year that ADORES him and thinks he’s SO SMART and he wants nothing more than to make her proud and that has made LOADS of difference in his attitude towards the mundane.

When we were discussing his progress report last night he actually seemed shocked. We’ve never done anything but point out his capacity for good grades, but I still think he dreads so many things about school (“IT IS SOOO BORING!”) he finds it hard to believe when he does well.

We’re still working a lot on coping skills related to anger and frustration and shame and embarrassment. However, he also woke up with leg cramps last night and I ran him a bath in our master bathroom and then laid down in bed and when he got out of the bathtub he came over to me and gave me a kiss on the forehead and said, “Thank you Momma for taking such good care of me.”

His capacity for love is just as profound as his capacity for everything else.

I’m proud of him, that’s for sure. He’s doing so well and he’s come so far. I hope we keep the trend on the upswing for awhile.

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To Hug, Or Not To Hug.

I love, love, LOVE a good hug from a friend or family member – but I’m also very socially awkward. So, if there’s any sense that hugging is not the “right” move then I avoid it (because I don’t want to be the one who TRIES to hug an unreceptive person) and that sometimes is the wrong call and then it looks like I am the one who dislikes the hug and so sometimes I give off the “No Hugging!” vibe which sucks because I love a good hug!

What I don’t love so much is the “hugging line” that tends to happen at the beginning or end of a gathering. Some people walk into a gathering of friends or family and just run down the figurative line, hugging everyone and that just feels WEIRD. Some people do that when they leave too. I prefer to walk into a gathering and greet people organically, as I move around and talk to people. And if that person is someone I would like to hug and it seems like they would like to hug? I hug them! But often I don’t. And I usually only hug someone upon leaving that hosts the gathering, as a way to sincerely thank them for inviting me.

But the problem is, I’m often in situations where the “hugging line” is norm and it’s often family and so my kids are there too and I’ve never really felt great about insisting they do the hugging. As a matter of fact, I never really have. I was never really able to pinpoint or describe how or why I didn’t want to “force” them into the hugging lines, I just didn’t do it. I didn’t make a big deal about it either way – but I always noticed my kids were often the odd man out – the only ones NOT doing it. I think part of the reason why I just let my kids do their own thing (Other than me telling them, “Go tell everyone bye!” or something) is because my Dad never forced us down any sort of Hug Line as we were arriving or leaving gatherings. So, just by association, it never really felt right to do that with my kids.

On the other hand, every family is different and Donnie’s family is VERY affectionate. His extended family gatherings are HUGE and EVERYONE is super affectionate and it’s great and warm and welcoming, but that’s not really something you can teach an adult. You can’t bring an adult into your family of huggers and kissers and just expect them to be comfortable with it. And while I don’t think I’ve offended anyone with my hesitation, I do often worry that I might accidentally upset people I love.

Very…VERY recently I’ve started learning about the concept of “body autonomy” and especially how it relates to teaching lessons about consent. It hit me that this was the idea I think I was trying to hold onto with my kids and even myself, I just didn’t have the language to describe it. It’s how my Dad raised me, even though I don’t think it was deliberate. Here is a good article that talks about body autonomy and parenting. And part of me reads it and screams, “YES! THIS! EVERY BIT OF THIS!” But the other part of me also feels the love in the rooms full of affection and worries about those people and their feelings.

But it’s definitely something I’m trying to think about more and more often. If I were to “force” my kids to go through a “hug line” even if they’re uncomfortable, then what happens if someone they are supposed to trust (coach, teacher, etc) wants to hug them and they get a weird vibe or are uncomfortable with it? How long will they push away that sense that “this is not right” because I’ve taught them to push it away every time I force them through a hug line? Instead, isn’t it better to just, “Hey – if you want to hug so-in-so good bye, go for it. But if not? No big deal.” Then they learn to be more in tune to actually making decisions on their own about affection. And if they make those decisions early on, then they trust them later.

I don’t know – there are definitely moments when I’m teaching myself to look at things this way that I worry I’m going to upset someone. I think more and more people are becoming accepting of this idea, I’ve seen other parents talk about it a lot lately, but still. You know your family loves your children and you, and if you’re not FORCING them to give hugs, are you upsetting them? And y’all – I don’t want my kids to be rude, that’s for SURE. And is it rude if Great Uncle Wilfred wants a hug but my kids don’t? Because Great Uncle Wilfred is going to think so, that’s for sure.

Recently I tried to recognize a young child who did NOT want to give me a hug when their parents insisted and I tried to switch gears for a “high-five” instead. And that’s fine because I’m me and I am not offended as I’m trying to learn this idea too, but would Zoot of yesteryear had her feelings hurt and worried? I don’t know.

This is really just me throwing this out there as a way to try to make myself feel better about several things:

1) Because I worry about times in the past when I wasn’t teaching body autonomy to my kids.
2) Because I worry about the trail of family I’m leaving behind at every gathering who may think me and my kids rude.
3) Because I worry that some day my kids might allow BAD affection because they’ve not been taught that it’s okay to deny an adult who wants a hug.

There’s an article I stumbled upon recently that discusses the “extra work” aspect of this philosophy:

Refusing to order her to hand out hugs or kisses on demand means there’s more work to keep the relationships going and keep feelings from being hurt. Most of our extended family live far away, so it’s my job to teach my kiddo about people she doesn’t see on a daily basis.

We make sure to keep in contact with calls and Skype and presents. In advance of loved ones’ visits, which often means an all-day plane ride, I talk a lot about our guests, what they mean to me and what we’re going to do when they arrive. I give them plenty of opportunity to interact with her so she can learn to trust them.

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Like I said, this is still a very new concept in my world. I’ve unintentionally been abiding by it in some situations for sure, but now that I have an actual “principle” of body autonomy, I’m trying to be very deliberate about thinking about it with all of my decisions with my kids and interactions with others.

I’ve recently been thinking about this a lot as it relates to trying to control my daughter’s “smiling” which I touched on a little here. If I’m worried she’s being rude so I ask her to smile, is that kinda taking control of her body in an unacceptable way? Especially because – like I mentioned in the other blog post – if my son isn’t smiling I don’t have any alarms in my head that say “RUDE! RUDE! RUDE!” But for some reason with her, I do. So my instinct is to be all, “Smile, honey!” But why is it okay for her brother not to smile?

It’s new. I’m new to it. I just saw a parent reference all of this in terms of when we great a baby and take their pacifier out and try to make them laugh. We’ve taken away their security and then we’re refusing to give it back until the child smiles. I’ve done it 14 million times and it just occurred to me that it is a move that relates to the “give everyone a hug” move. So I learned another lesson.

What do you all think? Have you heard of this trend/concept? Do you apply it in your parenting? Do you wish your parents had applied it to you? Neither Donnie nor I had parents that “forced” us to be affectionate and we’re grateful, but we definitely still have to think about it with our kids. The hug line was never “forced” but it was “expected” and sometimes that’s a way of forcing it, you know?

Either way – I just tell my kids now, “Say goodbye!” when we leave gatherings, or I’ll say, “Tell so-in-so ‘thank you’ for inviting us!” or something. I tell them to use their WORDS but it’s up to them if they want to give hugs or kisses. It’s a new concept, no matter how much it fits with my instincts and I still very much worry about people thinking my kids rude.

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Sleep Issues: Part 45.

You know how when your kid is a baby and bedtime is such a challenge and when they’re FINALLY asleep you’re like, “OH MY GOD I CAN NOT WAIT UNTIL THAT’S NOT SUCH A CHORE ANY MORE.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but it may be more than a decade before you get there.

We have lost all control of bedtime and sleeping situations at my house. And there are so many factors to blame it’s an impossible thing to fix easily. But last night it just hit me: This is officially a giant mess and I have GOT to start getting bedtime under control again.

I guess the FIRST factor that started messing things up had two parts. Part 1: Nikki was scared and wanted someone to lay down with her at night. Part 2: My mattress was terrible and Donnie and I are not very sleep compatible. Those two things together meant that I ended up just falling asleep with Nikki most nights and not caring enough to go back to my own bed. Donnie likes to watch TV to fall asleep and I like silence and darkness. I also am a light sleeper so if I fall asleep somewhere, I’m probably not going to move because my subconscious knows I’ll never make it back to sleep again in the new location, I’ll jut be awake for the day.

And that’s how I kinda accidentally started the trend of me sleeping in bed with Nikki.

Now! We did get a new mattress but Donnie and I still aren’t super sleep compatible so most nights I’ve been very slow to change the routine.

That was Problem 1.

Then there’s Problem 2: Wesley’s leg cramps which have ALWAYS been a problem but not a consistent one. Some weeks he never wakes up, other weeks it’s 2-3 times in one week. I can usually see a growth spurt surrounding the surge, but sometimes I think it’s just an increase in activity or exhaustion.

Recently we’ve added a new problem to the mix. Problem 3: Wes is now scared to sleep by himself. And the fear seems pretty intense as sometimes it’s even branched out to him not wanting to be in any room by himself. This fear is legitimately intense and as someone who had CRAZY fears as a child, I know had debilitating those can be.

And then the final problem…Problem 4: I’m trying to adjust bedtimes. The kids have been CRANKY in the mornings. REALLY cranky. BAD cranky. So we’re trying to get them to sleep by 8:30 now instead of 9pm. And they are fighting this HARD CORE. Last night Wes and I fought over bed time for a good 30 minutes which basically pushed us back into his old bedtime.

So…add all of these problems together and I’ve not made it to ACTUAL sleep before 9pm for quite a while…and I’ve been waking up 3am or earlier…AND almost EVERY night involves at least ONE kid waking up out of pain, fear, or general restlessness.

I’m now looking at the concept of 6 uninterrupted hours of sleep like the holy grail…something I desperately want but might be simply an unattainable legend. Add stupid shit – like plates falling from walls at 2am – into the mix and I have decided that the universe is simply conspiring against me. I’ve always been very open about my need for sleep – about how I can feel a complete unraveling if I don’t get at least – AT LEAST – 7 hours of sleep for more than 2 days in a row. It only takes two days of less than 7 hours for me to completely come apart and here we are at a whole week of just shitty night after shitty night and y’all? IT IS NOT PRETTY.

It doesn’t help that my husband has a ton of work chaos right now so I’m down to solo-parenting many nights so even if I was good at asking for help (I’m not) there’s no one to really ask for help because he’s running on even less sleep than I am right now. But I feel like I’m at that point where I need a warning label across my forehead: WARNING: Contents Volatile. Because when I’m this sleep deprived I’m prone to extremely emotional reactions to everything.

Basically – what I’m saying – is be kind to people you meet on the street today. You don’t know which one of them is holding her exhausted shit together by a very tiny thread.

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Day 01

My kids start school today. I feel a lot of weight in this upcoming year. This is Nikki’s last year of elementary school. There’s a middle school magnet program she is desperate to get into next year so I’m trying to figure out how to encourage in productive ways while also not making this a “do or die” type of scenario so that if she doesn’t get in, she’ll be okay. Wes really started turning a corner last year academically, almost starting to take some things seriously. I want to make sure I don’t put out that fire by accident before it gets a chance to really start burning.

The first time I really was aware of the reward of a good academic performance, was with some standardized testing in first grade when this boy Robert did best and got to choose something from the little “store” our teacher ran from her classroom. You could buy things from the store with money she’d give for good behavior and good grades. He did best on the testing so he got something from the store. The next time we were tested? I did my BEST to win. I can’t remember if I did or not, but I became hyper-focused after that.

There was a “gifted” type program in my 5th grade (I think it was 5th) and I remember essentially begging to be in it after I didn’t get selected originally. I always got great grades so I really felt like I belonged there. I was really upset I didn’t get in and I think I guilted them into putting me in. The first special outing we did? A cattle auction. I remember thinking, “Well…isn’t this fun…”

In high school I didn’t get placed automatically in any honors classes and this pissed me off. Again – I got GREAT grades and was in accelerated Math, why not put me in honors? I spent the first half of my Freshman year fighting to be changed over and trying to “prove” my worth to be in those classes. I eventually got moved and I remember my Dad just being so confused by it all. “Why does it matter?” “Because I should be in them.”

I don’t know what gave me such confidence but I never got CHOSEN for any of that stuff. I think I basically made them feel bad and pestered them for long enough that they couldn’t think of any reason not to put me in. All of my schools were REALLY small, which I think helped my case. There was no fear that a huge group of kids would try to follow my lead. It was just Kim, the weirdo who really thinks she’s smarter than she really is.

(For the record, I am/was smart and I always got great grades. My standardized tests were always crap though because I got severe test anxiety.)

My point? I have a lot of emotional responses to special academic programs – especially if they use the word “gifted” in them. E didn’t get put in any of the programs and this upset him terribly. There didn’t seem to be an avenue to “force” them to like there was in my small schools, but it just added to my angst over the selection to those programs. In high school it was all “AP” classes and he had more control over class selection there, so he chose those.

Donnie, on the other hand, was put in the gifted program early on and therefore has TONS of positive connotations associated with such things.

So, when they put Nikki in it for her 3rd grade year? I was feeling all sorts of mixed emotions. I was happy for her, but also desperately worried about the kids left behind. Turns out the program has a strict policy, “What happens in this class, stays in this class.” They don’t want to make the other kids feel left out which made me feel good. And she LOVES the class which only meets once a week. LOVES it. It’s why she wants to follow the program into middle school.

And you can imagine my surprise when Wes came home with the letter at the end of last year. I thought for SURE it was an error. Not because he’s not smart, the kid is SUPER smart, but because he doesn’t give a crap about anything related to school. Who thought to even test him? It blew my mind. Either way, I was really excited because I’ve been saying all along he’s smart, even though his grades don’t always show it.

(Note: Wes got flagged for “early intervention” in Kindergarten based on his terrible standardized test scores. His teacher said it was just a formality though because – as she pointed out to me – he only took 7 minutes to take the test. SEVEN MINUTES. The average was 22. He just wanted to be done so didn’t even try. Thank god he had a teacher who was willing to look past those scores. She said he helped the other kids with reading and math, he was FINE. But still…EEK.)

So I still have a lot of feelings about these programs. I still hate using the word “gifted” and try to get around it whatever way possible. (The program has an acronym with the letter “G” in it so I much prefer to use the acronym.) I walk this line between being proud of my kids, but also trying to make sure they understand this doesn’t make them better than anyone. (The teacher of the programs talks a lot about the egos that sometimes come into the classroom and how they have to work on that. Heh.) E and I both carry such bitterness still over not being “chosen” – but we’re also both really proud of our smart minions.

First day of school. Let’s hope I do my part to encourage this year. I was dealing with so much of my own shit last year I was kinda terrible. And by “kinda” I mean “really really really.” We’re also going to try better time management this year. Last year was rough once soccer started because I was trying to train on top of all of that and while I’ll be trying to train again this year, I’m hoping to plan a little better. I have a minimal amount of patience when it comes to things like helping with homework, so I’m hoping to maximize my potential this year and really focus on helping them more if they need it. They know I have minimal patience so they learn to be pretty self-sufficient. Either way – clean slate, new year. Let’s do it.IMG_6545