Category Archives: anxiety

The Old Bear Way: Under-Scheduled and Doing Just Fine

In parenthood, sometimes we don’t get what we want. Like babies who sleep through the night, toddlers who hold hands in parking lots, or kids who wear pants.

Sometimes we do get what we want only to figure out we were better off without it. Like when your kid learns to tie his shoes and you’re never on time for anything ever again. Or when your kid is finally potty-trained and wants needs to poop in every bathroom within a 50-mile radius of your home. Or when your kid at long last shows enthusiasm for extra-curricular activities and you go from being under-scheduled and wondering if “YouTube connoisseur” will impress college admissions officers to being over-scheduled and googling, “Do Dutch parents deal with this crap?”

For years, we dabbled. Karate. T-ball. Ice hockey. Art. Basketball. Ninja warrior. Cooking. Chess. Soccer. Nothing stuck. If you’ve ever heard a kid say, “I can’t go to soccer practice because my finger is sunburned,” or, “I don’t like karate because flexibility is terrifying,” you’ve met my kids.

I’m decidedly not a Tiger Mom.

Then, all at once my boys wanted to do all the things. Cross country, soccer, guitar, drums, swimming. Add to the schedule the activities everyone loves to hate, like vison therapy, tutoring, and nutritionist appointments, and we were suddenly as busy as everyone annoyingly says, but for realz.

This fall, we had to be someplace—and in some cases multiple places—every day of the week, including Tuesday mornings before school and Friday evenings. For the love! And there was no rest on the weekends. Swimming lessons and soccer games swallowed Saturdays and early morning cross country track meets stole Sundays and all my hopes for and dreams of a hot cup of coffee.

I recently read an article about Dolphin Parenting. Coined by Shimi Kang, M.D. in a book called “The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids—Without Turning into a Tiger,” this viewpoint encourages parents to abandon a perpetually striving, exhausted, and over-scheduled lifestyle for a more balanced, natural approach. Kang suggests our current parenting method has replaced free and spontaneous play and time spent with family with too much structure where the “minivan becomes the kitchen table.”

This speaks to me. Loudly.

Why do we spend as much time in the car after school as our kids spend at school? Why are we so worried about our kids turning into quitters if Irish stepping dancing, platform diving, or Mandarin Immersion isn’t their jam? Also, band practice before school and track practice on Friday nights is preposterous, amirite?

No wonder we’re all tired, anxious, overwhelmed, and drinking “mommy juice” from a straw!

We bit off way more than we could chew this fall, and the endless loop of obligations broke us. We’re out of gas, literally and figuratively. The activities everyone originally wanted to do became a burden about which everyone, including me, asked, “Do I have to go today?” and “When is this going to be over?”

Did I make a mistake saying yes to too much in the first place? Probably, but it was hard to say no when my kids finally wanted to do something besides watch “try not to laugh videos” in the basement.

The silver-lining of our demanding autumn has been that we sifted through the muck and discovered the activities the kids truly enjoy. We also figured out what we value as a family— extra-curricular activities in moderation, lots of free time to play and relax, and pajamas. We are pajama people to infinity and beyond.

My kids want to linger with friends on the playground after school. They want to play Minecraft online with their friends, and they want to make microwave popcorn and watch “The Simpsons.”

I want my kids to do their homework without rushing or melting down. I want them to have time to build Legos and practice the instruments they love, and I want to listen to the details of their stories while I cook dinners they don’t want to eat.

I’m digging the Dolphin Way, but now that the trees are nearly bare, the air is frosty, and it’s dark by five o’clock, I’m taking my parenting strategy to the next level.

In Kevin Henkes’ children’s book, “Old Bear,” Old Bear falls asleep for the winter and dreams of the beauty of every season. He dreams of flowers as big as trees in the spring and blueberry rain falling from the sky in summer. He dreams of yellow, orange, and brown birds and fish in autumn and the sky blazing with stars of all colors in winter. He sleeps and dreams and sleeps, and when he finally wakes up he thinks no time has passed. He pokes his head out of his den and it’s a gorgeous, warm, and colorful spring day and it takes him a minute to realize he’s not dreaming.

That’s right, Tiger moms and the rest of you wild (or Dutch) parenting beasts. I’m putting on my comfy pants and settling in for a long winter’s nap. I’m hibernating with my kids and dreaming and sleeping and dreaming… and slowing down the passage time… and paying attention… and enjoying my kids while they’re still kids… and hoping no one wants to play little league baseball in the spring because that seems like a lot of work.

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I let him go anyway.

Have you ever dropped your kid off at school in the morning and wondered if it would be the last time you ever saw him? I did that today. I don’t know why.

Maybe it was because of the “Super Soul Conversations” podcast interview I listened to yesterday with David and Francine Wheeler, parents of Ben Wheeler who was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Maybe it was because of the screwed-up world we live in. Maybe it was because I was up most of the night with a sore throat. Maybe it was all of it.

I saw my son’s ten-year-old body, heart, and mind frozen in time forever with his blue hair and every color of the rainbow eyes. His dry wit and sarcasm. His love of dogs. His wild curiosity. His hatred of homework and fear of food. His difficult path. His footsteps that no one could walk in but him. His smile.

I let him go anyway. Because that’s what we do.

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How Big is Your Fear?

boxfeara

It was a big day. It was Dylan’s first day of early morning band practice at school, and it was my first day of work.

Did I mention I got a job? After a brief twenty-year hiatus, I’m putting my M.F.A. in Modern Dance and Choreography to good use as a part-time creative movement and beginning ballet teacher at my local YMCA. I’ve kept a low profile about it because I’m so freaking excited and happy to have the opportunity to do what I love (and get paid!), and I don’t want anything to jinx it.

“My stomach hurts.” Dylan’s first words upon waking up were ominous, but they didn’t scare me. When you have a kid with anxiety, unexplained stomachaches are a common occurrence. I know because I get them, too.

My gut told me he was worried about the band. Truth be told, I was a bit on edge, too. After eight years as a stay-at-home mom, it was scary to be accountable to anyone other than my kids. I had deadlines and responsibilities as a writer, but for the most part, I worked when, where, and how I wanted. Now, I’d be clocking in and out on a weekly basis.

I made breakfast and sent Dylan upstairs to get dressed. He slogged through all of it. He barely touched his food. “Are you afraid of going to band practice?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “A little bit.”

“I know you’re nervous, but I want you to go because you’re a talented drum player and I’m pretty sure you’re going to have a great time. If you’re tummy still hurts after the practice, go to the nurse and I’ll come get you, but I have a feeling you’ll feel much better once you get there and get settled. Trying new things is scary. I get it. I really do.”

He agreed but continued to trudge.

I went to my bedroom and into my closet to fetch a small, round, hand-painted wooden box that I used to hold hair pins. It was a gift from a choreographer back when I was in college. She gave a different box to each dancer backstage before our first performance. Mine was red with raised streaks and waves of black, white, and gray across the top. My name was painted on the inside of the lid.

It was the first time I performed at a venue that wasn’t on campus. Instead of the audience being filled with teachers, friends, and family, it was filled with teachers, friends, family, and complete strangers who paid actual money to see the show. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once, and receiving that precious gift eased my nerves.

I told Dylan about the performance and the box and how scared I was to perform that night. Then I asked him, “How big is your fear?”

“Big,” he said.

“Show me with your hands.” He spread his hands wide like he held a beach ball in front of his chest.

“Put it in the box. Squish it so it will fit.” He looked at me like I was nuts, but he followed my directions.

Once his fear was safely in the box, I closed the lid. “It’s mine now. I’ll hold your fear so you can let it go. Go get your socks and shoes on.”

Still, he lumbered. We were going to be late if we didn’t get in the car in the next two minutes. I bent down to help him with his socks and that’s when he projectile vomited all over himself, the kitchen counter, the bar stools, the floor, and me. It even landed on the lenses of my glasses.

He was definitely nervous about band practice…and he also had the dreaded stomach bug. My big fear of vomit and even bigger fear of my kids getting sick on my first day of work came true. It was a good thing I unearthed that special little box. Hopefully there was enough room in it to hold my fear, too.

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Filed under anxiety, fear, motherhood, Uncategorized, work