Back To School: Not the only trip kids take

I debated about whether or not I should write a blog post about back to school.  I could write a piece about vaccinations, school lunches or school phobia.  But I decided to defer these topics to my other colleagues.  Instead I want to reflect on what it’s like for a parent when your kids return to school.

I’m at a totally different stage of parenting this year.  One kid will be going to college next year and the other will be entering high school.  Teenagers returning to school is way different.  Let me share what I’ve learned over the last month.

1. It’s not worth being right because your kids still think you’re wrong. As a pediatrician, I know about the developmental stages of adolescence but all that education goes out the window when I’m in the middle of parenting.  I can’t count how many times I’ve told one of my sons to do something and then they decide do the opposite.  I have to learn that this is part of growing up and allowing them to make their own mistakes.

2. This too shall pass.  It’s only been a few weeks since school started but it feels like it’s been a lot longer.  I have to stop myself from asking another question about whether or not my sons have finished their homework or studied for a test.  I just remind myself that adolescence only lasts a short time. Current brain science suggests that adolescence can last into the mid-twenties.

3. Don’t take it personally.  I know my kids love me but sometimes this notion gets tested especially when they let me know that I’m not as funny as I think I am.  This is painfully obvious when  tell a joke, I receive a disapproving head shake or a blank stare.  I’m only trying to lighten the mood especially after a hard day at school or a test that didn’t go so well.  I’ve learned to shake it off or I have since school started.

4. Good enough is better than perfect.  Kids are under so much stress to try to be perfect, get straight A’s or a near perfect SAT score.  The last thing I want to do is add to the stress.  I’ve evolved to good enough, giving their best.  That’s all that they can ask from themselves.

5. There are 8 months to go before the end of another school year.  I don’t want to rush it.  My kids have grown up too fast and I want their childhood to last as long as possible.  The countdown has began and I want to savor every minute, hour, day, week and month.

Racial Socialization

A recent article in AAPNews, a pediatric journal, highlighted the issue of racial socialization.  The authors describe racial socialization as “the process by which children learn to navigate race issues.”  I had never heard of the term prior to reading the article but after reading it, I had an aha moment.  I had lived this.

As a child, my father made it a priority that my brother and I read books about African Americans and by African authors.  We also grew up in Washington, DC where we were surrounded by African American doctors, professors, teachers, mayor, etc.  I grew up believing that I could be and do anything because I both knew and saw individuals that were non stereotyped. There were also TV shows such as the Electric Company and Sesame Street that featured diverse characters, children and adults.

The authors in the article propose the use of racial socialization as a strategy for parents to help children deal with negative and stereotyped messages about race.  Media can play an important role in helping parents discuss these issues.  Especially given the recent news stories that only seem to focus on violence and victimization of communities of color.  These images leave a profound effect on children which can last for a lifetime.  But in order for media to help make a  difference, there has to more diversity in its portrayals and depictions of communities of color.  There is a responsibility to portray a balance in images and not just as a once in awhile exception.  I would argue that the images of violence and victimization are the exceptions to the what occurs in daily lives of most families.

There are millions of stories of exceptional children and families that never are depicted on television, movies, video games or books.  But I think the tide is slowly changing. Campaigns such as We Need Diverse Books,  helping to promote increase diversity in books. DiversityinApps is another organization working to increase diversity in mobile media.  It is efforts like these that will help move the needle to help communities and families explain to their children that they are represented as well and not just the exception.

Race is a complex issue to discuss with children.  Adults struggle with having conversations among themselves.  The more opportunities for families to see themselves represented positively in media will hope to make the conversations easier.  That’s my belief and wish.

Preparing for summer’s end

The summer is quickly coming to an end and with it the reality that my two sons are embarking on a great journey, one will be completing high school and the other middle school.  I’m trying my best to keep it together and not become overly emotional but it’s hard not to.  My babies aren’t little anymore.  I can’t call them little man or buddy anymore and catch myself when the words are about to leave my mouth. They remind me everyday that they tower over me in height.  I can see the joy they get out of bending down to give their mom a hug.  I sense the elation that they have surpassed their mother.  They know that I’m done growing.  I realize that it’s normal for kids to be proud of being taller than their parents but as a parent, I’m going to tell you that it just makes me feel short.

I’m also dealing with the issue of not being the smartest person in the room anymore.  There was a time that they believed what I would tell them but not anymore.  My youngest son competes with me about which one of us is right.  I’ve found myself using Google just to prove to him that I’m right. I’ll even admit to using wikipedia now and again.  It’s a sad day when a mom with a doctorate degree isn’t convincing enough for her own kids.

To add to my summer woes is when my son didn’t like my hair color.  He told me that it looked “fake.”  That was the last thing I wanted to hear him say and althought he didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, it did.  There was a show about kids saying the darnest things.  They should have a show about teenagers saying the darnest things.   But I have no one else to blame but myself.  I taught him to be honest.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that I should be glad that my teens are going back to school.  They’ll be so busy that they won’t have time to remind me about how short I am, how dumb I’ve become or how ugly my hair is.   But it’s not true.  I wish this summer would last a little while longer.

I love my hugs.  I  love knowing how smart my kids are and I love that they can be honest with me.  What I don’t love is that time is passing so quickly and my babies are young men.  It’s not fair but I’ve accepted it.  To be honest, I’m still trying to deal.  But what I have accepted is that I still do have a few more weeks with them and plan to make the most of them.

I plan to nag my oldest son about preparing his college applications, studying for his ACT and SAT and cleaning us his room.  I also plan to try to make my youngest son read a book or at least the sports magazine that’s siiting on our counter gathering dust. I know this doesn’t sound like a fun summer and I agree but please understand that I only have a short amount of time to make sure that before they leave home, that I’ve done all my mom duties.   That’s what I do well.   I’m the parent responsible for the academics.   My husband also has the job but he’s the cooler parent.

But I will not end on a boring note.  I plan to have more days of fun and just hanging out.  I recently learned a secret.  My kids talk to me when I don’t say very much.  I plan on practicing this new skill.  I think it will come in handy this year and years to come.

This will be a summer to remember.

The power of parenthood

mom and kid with trophyThis past week, I participated in a workshop with parents.  One thing that stuck out to me was how do parents help their children recognize their greatness.  In society there’s often a discouragement of acknowledgement for someone to say how well they’ve done or how great they’ve done.  It is thought of as cocky or arrogant.

During the workshop, the word humble was used as a characteristic of a great person, parent or leader.  Confidence and self-assuredness were not the first words thought of.  But why don’t we allow ourselves to encourage our children or ourselves to share the wonderful things they’ve accomplished and are without feeling as though we are promoting arrogance?

The following quote helped to put things into perspective for me and I wanted to share:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who  are you not to be? You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We all are meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just some of us; it’s everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

-Marianne Williamson from A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

As I reread the quote, it dawned on me that many parents don’t recognize the greatness within themselves and therefore may find it difficult to share the lesson with their children.  Parenting is hard, frustrating, overwhelming, and filled with unknowns but despite all of this, it is worth the journey.   Because parenting is also filled with love, joy, wonder, and excitement.

Celebrate all that you are and are to be.  Parents are leaders and filled with greatness that is just waiting to be shared and modeled for their children.  It’s not arrogance or cockiness when it’s the truth.

Black or White?

The issue of race has been all over the news this last week and what has stood out to me the most is the complexity of the issue.  It had me ponder how I learned how to identify myself and as a parent how I taught my children about the concept of race.

Growing up in Washington, D.C., I have bittersweet memories of how others tried to define my race.  Not many children during the 70’s and 80’s looked like me, light-skinned, long wavy hair and straight nose.  To many of the kids I knew, I was identified as white but that’s not how I saw myself.  I always identified as black but the constant denials of my some of my peers did cause me to question my self identity.  I remember asking my parents why I my skin color was lighter than others and why I looked so different from my brother and parents.  My parents tried their best to answer my questions but never quite provided the answers that I was looking for but they did confirm my identity.   I was a black girl.   This affirmation of my identity by my family provided comfort when I was asked again as a teenager.  Are you black or white? Often, when I answered that I was black, I could see the questioning look on the face of the person who’d asked me the question.  It was as if they were waiting for me to tell them, “I’m just joking.”  Over time the questions were more intrusive.  I’d stop at a gas station and a young man asked me, “What are you?”  I knew that the question was really a veiled attempt for me to identify my race.  No matter how many times I’d been asked the question, I never developed a snappy comeback.  I was too hurt that no one could see me as I saw myself.

Before I became a parent, I wondered what my children would look like and if they would ever have to answer questions from other people about how they identified their race.  Would I be able to answer their questions about race?  The day that my kids asked if I was white, was interesting.  I never imagined them asking me the same question that I had to face as a child.  How do you explain to small children why your skin is lighter than theirs and that it will always remain  that way?

I knew my children were only questioning a difference that they observed and not asking about race but yet it heralded the talk that would soon follow.  When they became old enough for someone to point out to them and ask them, why their skin was darker, that was the time to begin the conversation about race.  The first conversation wasn’t a lengthy or in depth conversation.  My husband and I explained how we identified ourselves and shared the diversity within our families.  As they grew older, we engaged in deeper conversations about our family heritage and how they would be identified.  We also asked question about how they self identified themselves.   Discussions about stereotypes, self-respect, prejudice, racism and tolerance were the next steps in trying to teach the complexities of race.

My sons are teenagers now and have formed their own opinions about their identifies in the context of a world where they’ve witnessed young men of color being shot, lack of diversity in written and visual media but also the triumph of the first African-American President.   They are also growing up in a time when the United States is becoming more diverse.

It will be interesting to see how the next generation answers the question.  Black or White?

So have you tried to convince your kid that you’re right?

This evening I witnessed an interesting debate between my husband and my youngest son. My son was extolling the virtues and goodness of sports drinks while my husband tried to convince him that water was better. Unfortunately, I don’t think my son’s mind was changed.

When did my kid start believing the media instead of his own dad? What’s even more unbelievable is that my son believes sports idols that are  also dads. I wonder if his heroes have had the same discussion with their kids. Maybe my husband would have done better if he wore a sports uniform.

Alas, my husband is not a sports star or famous. He’s a dad,without the qualifiers and competes with media images and messages. But the good news is that all is not lost because we control what is bought. The power of the wallet is a parents best friend. If we don’t buy it, then he doesn’t drink it.Our son can tell us all he wants about how great sports drinks and other sugar sweetened drinks are but ultimately mom and dad decide what is brought.

Our other weapons are the lessons we try to teach and modeling the behavior we expect. But sometimes, we don’t always live up to our own expectations and it’s at those times that your kids are more apt to tell you, “if’ it’s so bad, why did you do it?” In those moments, I feel like my kid was just waiting for me to slip up.  My other tactic has been to provide counterarguments based on research and recommendations of health experts. But most kids don’t really care about this, especially not mine.

I just hope that when he’s old enough to be on his own that he remembers something we’ve said or showed him. Or I maybe when he’s a sports idol (he plans to be a sports star), that he signs a multimillion dollar contract for a water company or health food chain.  Can you imagine a kid trying to convince his dad to eat and drink healthier because that’s what he saw his favorite sports hero doing?  I can only dream.

The Gardening Dad

Lettuce and Spinach

Lettuce and spinach

To celebrate Father’s Day, this is a special blog featuring my husband that I’ve nicknamed the Gardening Dad.  Over the last few years, he has enjoyed being a home gardener and has helped us to learn how easy it is to grow fruits and vegetables.  He also enjoys sharing his successes as well as lessons learned from the plants that didn’t grow.

Below is an interview with him where he shares his thoughts about home gardening, one of his passions.

Q: How did you become interested in growing your own fruits and vegetables?

A: The first house my parents bought had an apple tree, a plum tree and a grapevine and I enjoyed eating the fresh fruits.  My parents also began growing a vegetable garden and I was responsible for pulling weeds and picking ripe vegetables.

Q: What’s your favorite fruit or vegetable to grow?

A: I like root vegetables like garlic, carrots, potatoes, and onions; however, I also like cantaloupes which grows on a vine..

Q: What are you planting this summer?

A: Garlic, onion, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, beans and peppers

Q: What’s your dream fruit or vegetable that you’d like to grow?

A: It would be cool to grow lemon and mango trees, but we don’t live in the proper environment to grow them.

Q: What advice would you give other dads interested in growing fruits and vegetables?

A: Just do it; it’s pretty simple.  It just requires little bit of effort and Mother Nature does the rest.  Start with something you enjoy eating.  If it doesn’t work the first time, learn from it and try again.  It’s worth it.

Q: Has growing your own food changed how you eat or think about food?

A: You learn to appreciate the good taste of fresh food.  There’s also a pretty cool feeling being able to grow and provide food for myself and my family.

Q: What are a few gardening tips that you’d like to share?

A: Don’t throw away the leaves you rake in the fall.  Shred them with the lawn mower and spread a layer on the garden over the winter.  It will nourish the soil for next summer’s garden.  Also, provide plenty of water for young plants to grow.

Q: Tips for how to encourage kids to garden?

A: Have a kid help you plant the seeds/seedlings; encourage them to water and weed the garden with you.  Then, make sure you have him or her help harvest the vegetables when they’re ready to be picked.  Lastly, enjoy eating the food together.

In addition to gardening, my husband also enjoys soccer, photography, fishing, and creating and selling designs; check out his designs at www.cafepress.com (search “max fatherhood”).

Share your thoughts about gardening and/or photos of your garden.  Eat healthy and Happy Father’s Day!!!