Did you know that 1 in 13 American kids has a food allergy? Are you afraid of hosting kids with them? 54% of parents in a study admit to excluding kids from parties because they are afraid of the consequences of food allergies. In our fourth episode of Parenting Beyond the Headlines we talked with Gina Mennett Lee, Food Allergy Consultant. She shared some strategies for hosting kids with allergies and helping kids advocate for themselves.
Here is the third episode of my new adventure, Parenting Beyond the Headlines - a podcast I am hosting with my colleague and friend, Sarah Cody. We are going deep into the headlines and talking with experts about current events, how they affect our families, and how to talk about them in a meaningful and family-friendly ways.
In this episode, we talk to special guest, Michael Robb, Senior Director of Research at Common Sense Media about the recent classification by the World Health Organization of “gaming disorder.” What is the disorder, how likely are kids to develop it, and what should we be looking for? Michael shares some great strategies.
I was out for a run with a friend of mine the other day, and as we passed the trees still full of green leaves, we still knew fall was imminent because of the change in our routines. We began commiserating about the reintroduction of bedtimes, homework and information nights as the new school year begins. The summer had been such a lovely respite from all that. We had just spent the last week of summer vacation helping to prepare our children for the back-to-school frenzy. We made sure they had their school supplies, got them to bed earlier, and provided general comfort to them as they went back, certain they had anxieties of their own. We were so focused on their needs, with the understanding that this is a major point of transition for them, but we lost sight of our own needs and the fact that this is a huge transition for us as well. And we weren’t ready for it.
I can see the long-ago scene in my mind like a rerun of a favorite tv show episode. My then 3-year old son, in overalls and a striped shirt with shiny blue Stride Rite sneakers, looked back at me from his new preschool classroom. I went to hang up his jacket and backpack on his assigned hook and he turned around to find me and said, “Mom?”
“I’m right here,” I assured him with a bright smile, ready to be there all day to comfort him in this new place.
“I thought I was coming alone today,” he said, confused.
So that was it. He was ready for preschool and let me know it in no uncertain terms. I saw this would be an easy goodbye and hugged and kissed him. As I turned for one last look, he gave me only a quick backwards wave as he turned to go find something to play with. Wow, that was easy. For him! I went to the car, bravely, and then collapsed into a heap of sobs. And from that day on my oldest son has pretty much always loved school.
Well, as of today, I guess I’ve had almost 18 years to prepare for this fall, but nonetheless, as my now senior boy dances around to what he calls “morning pump-up music,” while getting ready for school and driving his siblings to school, I sit there, not sure what to do. Sure, I have work to go to, my mornings are different now. My kids simply don’t need me in the same way they once did. It’s clear that I need to change my own perspective and figure out how they do need me. It’s certainly not to hang their jackets and backpacks on their assigned hooks. Those days are long gone.
I know a parent is never done parenting. I know this because I call my parents quite regularly for advice, support, comfort, companionship. I know my son will need my guidance as college applications become real, as he faces tough decisions, and endures heartbreak. But I also know he’s ready for this, his independence. And while I am very proud and excited for him, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also sad.
How ironic that it’s now just two months from the release of my new book, all about the significance of having regular and frequent conversations with your kids, and I’m currently forbidden from speaking. I recently underwent a vocal cord procedure which requires complete voice rest and then a slow re-introduction of speech. I’m at day 16 and I’m finding that the thoughts in my head are now as loud as my voice once was. I dream at night of talking and the dreams are so vivid I wake up clasping my mouth, afraid I have interrupted my healing process. And as a result of having to remain mum, I’m practicing conversation with my own kids in an entirely new way.
Living in silence has not meant living without a voice. I can speed-write as though taking dictation from own thoughts, and I gesture frantically in lieu of speaking. I was once fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and am enjoying signing with my daughter who coincidentally is taking ASL as her second language. It’s interesting to me how my children seem more intuitive at times than even my husband, as if they know what I am about to say next. My son will look at me, at first confused at my gesture and then he’ll get it and utter, “oh, empty the dishwasher.” They’ve made a game of it - who best understands mom, a combination of crazy-eyed stares, ASL and charades.
I’ve had the chance to do a lot of thinking and to reflect on my role in day-to-day and deeper conversations. Writing everything out or gesturing requires that I think before I speak - every time! I often find myself pausing before attempting to communicate, taking a moment to consider, is this important enough to go through the whole process of communicating to someone else? Is this significant enough that I should grab my notebook or type it on my phone? This experience is making me appreciate communications as never before.
Since responding to others takes a new effort and extra time, I often fall behind in conversations, and while that can be extremely frustrating, it also gives me a chance to truly listen. I will often jump for my pen while someone else is mid-sentence or mid-story. But by the time I finish writing, the conversation has moved past the point where my interjection would come appropriately. It’s actually shown me how much I tend toward interruption. I know from my voice therapy that as I begin to talk again I will be expected to take a deep breath and speak slowly. Perhaps this will stop me from jumping in too fast and help me become a better listener. Will I prioritize what to say more meaningfully?
Family and friends have been incredibly supportive, sending beautiful flowers and checking in by text (which feels like an even playing ground to me right now). And my children have been keeping my spirits up and taking very good care of me. This has been an extremely challenging experience, including being without a voice during the yearly exercise of preparing my kids to go back to school. My husband has been bearing the true brunt. I am physically and emotionally exhausted after a day of trying to keep up and not only has he been helping with my communications, he has been a rock of support. A typically introverted man, he has been forced to keep the conversation rolling for two, which I can only imagine has been a learning experience for him as much as it has been for me. My hope is that our family will learn just a little more about our communication styles - but I know we’ve already done enough work to have a leg up at the next game night when it comes to playing charades!