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That says a lot about you

Ferry Beach! There is no place on earth we would rather be. This fabulous Unitarian Universalist camp is the center of mythankfulboy’s and my spiritual year. My friend KSH and I decided today that it is our eighth year attending. B is 12 now, and between his advanced age (junior youth group!), his familiarity with the setting, his older friends, and the setting being pretty darn safe, he gets a lot of freedom. This makes the chalice lighting that much more important, because, when we don’t spend time together, we can start to get off track with one another. Our thankfulness ritual centers us and keeps us in touch with what the other is thinking. It doesn’t take long, especially when you’re staying in an old wooden dormitory that forbids (understandably) the lighting of candles.

Tonight B couldn’t stop being thankful. He named the following, and I may be leaving some out: JH, CH, and PW (names), the games he’s learning and playing in junior youth group, the beach and learning to skim surf (sorta), our new beach shovels, all four of the fans in our room, our snack box (it is pretty awesome), and his momma. I asked if he had listened to the sermon in chapel this morning, and he said “Yeah, kinda”. That was fine – it was long and included discussion of a lot of research. But it was about gratitude, and he got that. He paraphrased for me that people who practice gratitude are healthier, happier people. Then he said “That explains a lot about you.” I gave him an “Awww-I-might-just-cry-you’re-so-sweet” smile, but he panicked and asked “That was a compliment, right? I meant it to be a compliment!” Yes, darlin, it was a beautiful compliment.

And just as I was about to hit send to post this entry, he called “Mom, I love you!” from the top bunk. I said “I love you, too! You going to sleep?” He answered “No, I just love you.” Thank you, mythankfulboy.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Genetic disposition

Today I spoke to my own momma for a length of time – I called her to tell her mythankfulboy hit a home run OVER THE FENCE!  Woohoo!  We caught up on the day-to-day stuff, and the topic shifted to what a great kid she thought her grandson (mythankfulboy) to be.  I agreed, and made a sassy comment like “Now if we could just get him to hush at school…” to which she answered “Well, I don’t know where he got that trait!”  She then went on to tell her oft-told stories of two notes she remembered getting from one of my middle school teachers – Mrs. Newman.  One said (read as Scarlet, to approximate my mother) “L has the ability to talk while she gets her work done.”, about which my mother commented “I think she was hoping I knew how to get you to shuuut uuup!”   The other said “L is a perfect mirror of her home life.”  About this one, my mother said “I never did follow up on that one – I didn’t want to know what it meant.”  I liked Mrs. Newman, and I think she liked me, through her exasperation.  I can only hope B has the same kind of luck with his teachers as he continues through school. 

Last night B went to a friend’s house, and then spent the night at his dad’s, and we didn’t talk before bed to do a chalice.  The night before was a simple one, though.  He was thankful for lava lamps, and I was thankful for leftovers I actually want to eat.  

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Pay the toll

Tonight I arrived home after B’s usual bedtime due to an evening work intrusion, but just in time to hustle him through his bedtime routine. For some time now we’ve played a game of his having to “pay the toll” of a kiss on my cheek in order to get me out of his room so he can sleep, and tonight he leaned in with his payment before we lit the chalice. I held him off just long enough for us to light a virtual chalice in each of our hearts, and to give our quick tributes. B was grateful for his Razor gaming keyboard with glowing keys visible from his bed, and I was thankful for my business partner (his godmother) for doing the heavy lifting at the work event, which was chalice-worthy alone, but which also allowed me to leave early enough to see my boy to bed.

Then I leaned in for the toll…

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Intention

My thankful boy is struggling with the concept of being good and being bad. He gets in trouble fairly regularly at school, let’s say every three-weeks-or-so, always as a result of inattention or a literal interpretation of something that was happening. I am a praiser by nature, and he frequently gives me reason to say to him “You are such a good boy”; he is loving and warm, he does what I ask without complaint, and he thinks about how others feel and acts accordingly, even if he doesn’t always get the situation exactly right. Lately, though, when I tell him he’s a good boy, he frequently responds “No I’m not.” Of course, I have used the explanation of good people-questionable choices, but he has not really bought it. And he shouldn’t – I finally realized it wasn’t really the issue.

This week I began talking about intention. B always seems to have good intentions, at least to this momma’s eyes, but his actions don’t always reveal them.

So, this afternoon, when, on my drive home from work, he called and told me, tearfully, that he had had his iPod taken away in class, I gave him the third degree until I finally got down to what his intentions had been in the situation (i.e., Did he mean to break the rule? Did he know he was breaking the rule?) Hearing the answers I suspected, which were really all about his not paying attention rather than intending harm, I was satisfied that, while it wasn’t a red-banner day, his intentions had not been bad. Problem was, I didn’t really explain my thinking – I just said (read with a sigh and a resigned tone) “Okay Honey. I love you. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

Then his smallest voice, beginning to cry again, said “Momma, am I a good boy?”

Had I not known better, I might have thought the voice belonged to a child half his age, and, perhaps it was the scared little one within, coming to the fore. I took a deep breath and said “Not only are you a good boy, you are my good boy. Your intentions are what matter when we’re talking about the kind of people we are, Honey. Not paying enough attention is something to work on because it is disruptive to your learning, to other kids’ learning, and to the teacher who is trying to keep everyone, not just you, on track. And I am not happy about those things, but you, my love, are a good boy.”

I think this got a little closer to the reality of the situation, and I think he understood. It is still hard for him to reconcile making a mistake with being a good person, but I am so proud of him for grappling with this, even though it is painful sometimes. And I’m grateful he doesn’t bottle it up, and that I get to hear his thoughts, at least for now. For tonight, I think I’ll call him my good AND thankful boy..

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Slow and steady to teach about bullying

Over the weeks since I told B that we would be doing a project on bullying, his attitude has been through an interesting progression. His initial reaction was nothing short of horror – the kind that said he was afraid of being humiliated, himself. From horror, his demeanor shifted to avoidance, and from avoidance to complacency. Meanwhile my attitude went from emphatic, to nagging, to annoyed. I tried, though, to focus my energy on stimulating the creative process by steadily researching examples of other messages about bullying and interesting kinds of media, and throwing out ideas. I gradually realized it didn’t really matter when we got this done, as long as we did it.

Lo and behold, in the last week he has turned a corner on this project, and seems to be hesitantly excited about it. Last night we may have hit on the idea that we’ll run with, speeding up our forward progress.

In the meantime, B has been coming home with examples of people being mean at school, and related a time when he stood up for someone. Standing up for others is not new for B, but the folks he has always stood up for have been kids with obvious needs.  Now we have entered a new realm of subtlety: funny versus mean versus bullying; bystander versus minimal participant versus active bully. I know that, here in the US, 6th grade is a common age to be grappling with these subtleties, although I believe that kids are capable of learning even these subtle differences earlier. As a Unitarian Universalist mom, I feel strongly that it is important that I teach this very directly. And so we continue our project.

By the way, isn’t it nice that using the slow and steady encouragement approach that is supposed to work, might actually be working?  If I didn’t just jinx myself by saying it out loud?

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A backwards kind of justice

I was recently stopped in my tracks when mythankfulboy related to me that he had made a trip to the 6th grade counselor’s office, at her behest, with a group of boys who had teased a girl about her weight.  I was stunned.  In my mind, B knew that kindness was my absolute, top priority – above being smart or good looking or athletic or musical or popular – and I believed that I modeled it and preached it and taught it and rewarded it specifically.  I was on the phone with him when he began his confession, and I was having a very hard time gauging his emotion, beyond stress.  He said that the other boys (friends of his) had been talking and laughing amongst themselves about the girl, and that he had asked them to stop several times, but they ignored him.  So, he told her what they were saying. 

Me:  “You told her?!  Um, and why did you tell her?”  (this was a quick translation from “What the hell were you thinking?!!”)

B:     “Well, I didn’t think they should be talking behind her back.”

Me:  “Ok, well, how did you think it would make her feel when you told her?”

B:     “Bad, but I thought then she could laugh, too.”

Me:   “She could laugh too” I repeated slowly, thinking quickly.  “Did you really think she’d laugh about something like that, B?  Especially when you said you knew telling her would make her feel badly?”

B:      “I don’t know.  I thought she might, and I didn’t think it was fair.”

At this point I needed time to process, and a chance to see his precious (!) face to feel like I could understand, or, more to the point, to see if he was telling me the truth, so I told him that we’d talk about it when I got home.  But then, I thought again, and I asked “B, are you telling me the whole truth?”

Quickly – too quickly – came the insistent reply “Yes!”  

So, I said goodbye, but before I could go he called into the phone “Wait!  Momma!  I’m not telling the whole truth!” 

“No?  What else is there you want to tell me?” 

In a quiet, broken voice, he said “I laughed, too.”

 

Oof.  This was what I hadn’t wanted, and most feared, to hear.  Over then next 12 hours, as I finished at work and drove home and made dinner, and talked more to him about it, I was angry and disappointed, but most of all, I was hurt.  I felt like the boy I thought I knew wasn’t the one who was going to school and behaving this way, and I took this very personally – like a betrayal.  So personally, that I wasn’t a very good listener that evening.  I grounded him from his beloved laptop, and told him that we would take that gaming time to do some sort of a project together.  By the next day, when I related the situation to his godmother (in tears, I might add), I was beginning to get past the “me” part, and by that evening, I sat down with him again, and asked him to tell me more about the thought process that led him to tell the girl what the boys were saying.  Now that I was listening, I heard the black-and-white thinking I should have been hearing all along.  In addition to all that teaching about kindness, I had, and his teachers and bus driver and father and other kids and who-knows-who-else had, told him when he was younger that when people teased you, unless it was constant or scary, the best thing to do was to laugh along with them and they would probably lay off.  This was hard for him to do, and it took him a solid year of figuring out the line to walk of “shaking it off”, or, laughing it off.   So, when he couldn’t get the friends to stop talking about her, he thought that she should at least have an opportunity to laugh it off, so he told her, and then he laughed, too. 

Now, you may be thinking “Right.  Man does he have the wool pulled over her eyes!”, but I talked to the counselor the next day who said that B had explained this same thing in front of the other boys, and that she had said the same thing to him – “B, did you really think she’d laugh about something like that?”  She also said that he apologized to the girl before adults ever got involved, which made this momma feel a little better. 

And so, in the end, I did several things. I tried to get the parents of his best friend in the group on board with doing a joint small film or cartoon project on bullying, thinking that, if they did it together they would have one another in the future not only as allies, but as someone to hold one another accountable, but that child’s parents thought that he didn’t need to be punished (and didn’t, I guess, see the growth opportunity).  I, on the other hand, despite B’s misguided thinking, decided to let the punishment stand, and B and  I made a plan to make our own small project.  And I apologized to B for getting so upset that I had trouble listening.  I’m working on the part about making it all about me. 

I suppose, as a bit of a postlogue, I should say that, several days later, B had a crying, despairing, meltdown when his report card had a B, a B+, a bunch of As and an A-.  He said he wasn’t smart, his behavior was awful, he didn’t want to go to his dad’s on Fridays anymore because his girlfriend was there, and he couldn’t handle how much pain the dog was in because his ears were infected.  The weight of the world.  The next day, though, he got a love note from an unknown girl, complete with i’s dotted with hearts, and all was right with the world. 

 

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The most important time to be thankful

For the last several nights, at our evening chalice lighting, B has had a hard time thinking of something for which to be thankful. It has, to be fair, been a rough couple of days. He had his seat moved in math class following a less-than-desirable grade and a thousandth-time-warning to stop talking. I grounded him (this would not be the first school issue). Then, tonight, he got tearful trying to figure out why the heck absolute numbers are necessary in order to understand rational numbers (who wouldn’t, right?) It brought back memories of my crying while my darling daddy said things like “Well, I don’t know what she (teacher) told you to do, but I know how to do math, so do what I’m telling you now!” Sigh. This, too, shall pass.

I told B both nights that the times you don’t feel like you have something for which to be grateful, or you just don’t feel like being thankful, are the very most important times to do it. He gave me stock answers (not that I ever get tired of hearing he’s thankful for me!) and drifted off to sleep.

I think this gratitude lesson will take a long time to teach. I know it took me a long time to learn.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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