Monday, June 27, 2016

The Bittersweet Sound Of Silence: Sleep-away Camp

Ahhh, the kids are at camp, for two whole, glorious weeks! There is no morning breakfast mess lingering in the kitchen, no shoes to trip over on the tile floor, no television blaring or the onslaught of, "Can we go to the beach? Can my friend come over to play all day and then sleep over? Can you take me to Starbucks?" or, "What's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?" Instead, I hear the occasional sigh from my dog, the chime of my phone or the clunk of the house as it expands during the heat of the day. But mostly, it's silence.

It's most parent's dream--to have a summer sabbatical from their job. Especially if that job entails the full-time daily rearing of their children. Even planning a family summer vacation can have you questioning if the money spent is worth it considering stay-at-home parents take their work with them.We love them, we really do. But if you spend the majority of your time with your children, they can become like a grater on your nerves; the constant back and forth motion peels away your tough skin and leaves you a little raw, a little less tolerant and a little less of the mother (or father) you want to be.

It's hard to send your kids away. Some parents struggle more than others and for many different reasons. I, on the other hand, don't struggle at all. Am I heartless? Do I not love my kids as much as other parents? Am I selfish? No, of course not! I think I'm the opposite and here's why:

1. You may not think so, but kids need time apart from their parents. Yep, they really do! And the more positive the experience they have while apart from their parents, the more likely they are to become successful, independent adults. Kicking a child out of the nest and forcing them to expand their wings will only allow them to fly more confidently when they need to leave.

Too often, I have seen children coddled to the point where the child never learns to do things on their own. Kids go off to college only to come home after the first semester because they don't know how to live on their own. They have never been taught how to forge their own friendships, sleep in new places (without anyone to tuck them in), make their own food choices, or explore who they are as their own, individual person. One can't expect their child to be socially successful away from home if they were never given the tools and opportunities before they start their new journey. Think about it: you wouldn't go on a long, grueling hike without a backpack of supplies. Not only would you bring a backpack of supplies, but you would also make sure you knew how to use the supplies within it. What use are they to you if you don't know how they work? Dying of thirst but don't know how to use the water filter? Hungry, but don't know how to light the stove? Survival is not just about food and water. Survival is about being resourceful, building on past experiences, pushing through the tough stuff, embracing the victories, and knowing you can do it all on your own.

Away camp does this for my kids, as it does for many others. They learn invaluable life skills while they are away from the comforts of home. I am not breathing down their necks, telling them what their next move should be--they are doing it on their own and learning that they are capable of more than they imagined.

2. I love my kids. I have dedicated the last 19 years of my life to them and am proud of who they are becoming. But I don't want to be the only reason they are who they are. In addition to their awesome dad, we have given them unique opportunities to allow them to grow on their own. They were expat children for four years and lived in Seoul, South Korea and Beijing, China. They have learned tough lessons in friendship, what it's like to be a minority, how to communicate when you don't know the language, how to say goodbye, and how to embrace change. In addition, they were given opportunities through their schools to travel without Mom and Dad. They camped by the Great Wall, walked the 6660 steps of Tai'an and watched the sunrise, flew to Shanghai for a sports competition, and flew to Hong Kong to play in the school band at Disneyland. All of these were done without their parents and each time they came home, they beamed with delight as they told us about their adventures. Simply put, I love my kids so much that I want them to learn to be explorers without me holding their hands. I want them to want to leave home--not because they can't stand being with us, but because they are not afraid to take the next step because they already have the tools to go out into the world without crippling fear or a lack of confidence.

3. I'm not selfish, I'm realistic. Every now and then, I need to recharge and spend a little time focusing on myself and those things I neglect while I'm busy with the kids. Writing, reading, sleeping and spending uninterrupted time with my husband and friends often gets put on the back burner more often than it should. It's hard to balance it all, so time apart from the kids gives me the opportunity to just be ME. It also gives me time to miss my kids so when they come home, I can give them more of me for the little time I have left until they leave the nest for good.

There are so many away camps out there today that it would be surprising if you didn't find one to fit your child's interests. The camp my children go to offers dance, watersports, culinary, music, fashion, stunts, acting and more. There are camps specifically designed for kids with disabilities, kids with cancer or kids who have suffered a tragedy such as a death of a parent. There is something for everyone. The earlier you send your kids, the easier separation will be as they get older.

If you're not ready to send your child off to camp, but you want to start nudging them off the ledge, start with sleepovers with friends (make sure you know the parents well to lessen your anxiety as well as your child's) or go away for a weekend and have a grandparent or friend watch them. Separation, no matter how small, will foster your child's independence.

Yes, it's bittersweet with my kids gone because I love them and miss them, but I am also enjoying the silence. Not only can I hear the sigh of the dog or the shift of the house, I can also hear the beating of my heart that beats for my children--to want only the best for them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Psychology Behind the Blame Game

If you're a parent or simply someone old enough to be inundated with news, you know the details of the recent tragedies. With the TV, Internet, updates on our phones, social media, etc.twelve year old, it's impossible not to know. Ignorance is not an option. It's not as simple as not picking up a newspaper. You remember those thick bundles of black and white paper wrapped in cellophane and thrown on your twelve-year-old boy? Yeah, those things. If you didn't want to read it you could simply toss it, unopened into the recycling bin and move on with your life because let's face it, no news is good news.

Now I'm not saying we should be ignorant or uninformed. But we can't escape the news. It becomes interwoven in our conversations. Certain tragedies are so far beyond our comprehension, we become almost obsessed with them. The underlying current is consistent. "Can you imagine?" and of course as parents the one thought we can not think when we hear about a tragedy involving a child: "What if that had been my child?"

If we can't escape the news reports, we also can't escape the opinions. Fingers start pointing in all directions. We want justice! We want a scapegoat! We want a reason! What if there is no reason? What if it's no one's fault?

Now obviously in the mass shootings, someone pulled the trigger. It was someone's fault. Of course, that doesn't stop the political posturing. Gun control, government, and human rights come into play. This is as it should be, to some extent. If questions are not asked, issues not debated, we can't learn from tragedy and nothing changes. But that's another blog post for another day. I have neither the time nor the energy to get political. Psychology, though, that I can do.

Let's focus for a moment on the horrific tragedy of two-year-old Lane Graves, who was snatched by an alligator and drowned while splashing in a foot of water on the beach of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort. I won't rehash the details because I'm sure you know them. However, in the aftermath of this story on the heels of that of the little boy falling into a gorilla pit, the judgement has been flying. I have seen many articles, message boards, and blog posts asking, "But why the judgement? Why the pitchforks? Why blame instead of compassion?" Is is because we are at our core an evil, judgmental society? Do we truly live in a world of parent against parent? Let's face it, if we can't escape the news, we also can't escape the "mom wars". If parents can condemn each other for breastfeeding/not breastfeeding, public/private/home school, cloth or disposable, is the backlash so surprising when a child is injured or killed in a tragic accident?

I don't think it's surprising, but I also don't think the blame game is evil. It's salt in an open wound for sure, but it's human, and every one of us is guilty of playing it at one point or another. Why are people so quick to blame each other, and more specifically, why are parents so quick to condemn each other? I think I have an idea.

Let's go back to the terrifying question that bolts through the mind of a parent when the unthinkable happens: the loss of a child through a freak accident. "What if that had been my child?" Do me a favor; read that sentence again for me while thinking about the alligator dragging away a two-year-old boy.

"What if that had been my child?"

How did you feel? Pretty uncomfortable, right? Perhaps even terrified. This thought fills a parent with the worst kind of dread, because what is every parent's worst fear? We are human. We shy away from uncomfortable thoughts. On the heels of this thought, it is comforting to shake our heads and think, "No. No way. It couldn't have been my child. I would never let that happen to my child." Is this a selfish thought? A little narcissistic? Maybe. I would argue that it's also incredibly human.

Let's deconstruct this sentence. "It couldn't have been my child." This won't happen to me. I am safe. I would never survive what those parents are going through. Don't worry, it couldn't happen to me, to my child. "I would never let that happen to my child." I have control over my children's safety. If those parents could have prevented their child from dying in a freak accident, then I could prevent it too. I can prevent it. As long as I am a vigilant parent, no freak accident will take my child at a moment's notice while I watch helplessly.

"Where were the parents?" We know in this situation, they were right there. The father was within grabbing distance. But you see, as human beings, (especially once we become responsible for and completely in love with another human life) we don't like to be reminded how little control we really have. We can't imagine the horror of losing a child in the blink of an eye, so we don't. We tell ourselves it couldn't happen, not to us. We would prevent it, stop it, save our child. We know different, and that's what keeps us up at night. We know that those parents would have saved their child if they could have. We know they took their children to the most magical place on earth, gave them a special treat of staying up late and watching a movie on the beach and let their toddler get his hot, sandy feet wet, never once thinking they'd leave the beach without him, just like any of us might have done.

My friend and her family were in Orlando at the time at a different Disney resort. Like many families, they visited the Floridian, but when they got there, the pools were closed. I asked her about the beach, and she said they had a small sign that said No Swimming. She also said that that they had a play area on the shore. She said she would have easily taken her girls on the beach and let them cool their feet in the water. She's a good mom; a responsible mom. She would have easily taken her girls to put their feet in the water. The truth is, it could have been her child.

Not to beat the dead horse of the gorilla story, but my first thought was, "Not again! Haven't we learned anything from Brookfield Zoo? I would make sure my kids weren't climbing in there." Because I have control. Two days later, my self-righteous ignorance was knocked right out of my brain when I lost my three-year-old in Party City in the 2.5 seconds it took me to turn and put green paper plates into my cart. I turned back and he wasn't standing next to the cart. He wasn't in the next aisle or the next or the next. I panicked. I called, I searched. I promised that I would never think, "not my child" again. By the grace of God, he wasn't kidnapped, and he didn't run out the door into the parking lot. He was standing in the middle of an aisle, staring up at a turnstile display of party favors, mesmerized by the twenty-five cent wind up cars.  My child.

We've been to Florida many times. My kids have collected sea shells on the beach in Estero. We've walked along the shore after a long day of traveling and a fried dinner. It could have been my child. It could have been your child.

So who can we blame? Disney for not foreseeing the event and giving more specific warnings? The alligator for mistaking the boy for prey or for now knowing that it was in a man made lagoon meant for travelers?  What if we don't blame anyone? What if it were a freak act of nature no one would have reasonably predicted? That's uncomfortable, though. When something despairing happens, we want a chain of events. We want a reason to help us make sense of it.

If I've learned one thing after pregnancy loss it's this: sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes no one did anything to cause it and no one could have reasonably done anything to prevent it (at least not without being able to see into the future). You know that phrase, "everything happens for a reason?" I call bullshit. Sometimes things just happen. Accepting that may be uncomfortable at first, but we have to give up the "it would never happen to me" mentality. Trust me on this, it is ultimately comforting to learn that we can't control everything. Sometimes things just happen. Good things. Mundane things. Terrible things.

It could have been my child.

It could have been your child.

It was someone's child. Someone not much different from you or me.

So let's swallow that and move on with our hearts a little heavier. We know the parents can't possibly recover. But maybe they can slowly accept that there's no one to blame. Maybe they can slowly learn to live through the "what ifs" and "if onlys." Let's keep all victims of tragedy in our thoughts and (if you're a person of faith) prayers. To blame is human. To accept the randomness of some events, to sit with our lack of control, well that's a journey. A journey that hopefully leads to faith, acceptance, and compassion.