I was on the road for my family’s much anticipated summer vacation when I received a text from my friend Amy, whom I had not seen in over a decade. She saw my post on social media about my destination, which is where she now lived, and asked if we could get together. Gracious and thoughtful about how family vacations can be, Amy left it up to me if I wanted to see her one-on-one, get our families together, or take a pass if it felt like too much during a pandemic.
It was June, just after my kids got out of school. While we were in some ways moving out of the pandemic, the inertia of it was still in effect. I wanted to see Amy tremendously, but I had to take a beat to assess my comfort level and that of my family. We determined we would be okay meeting up. One thing led to another, and we were invited to dinner at Amy’s home.
I knew in my heart it would be great. Amy was the first friend I made when I moved to Washington over 20 years ago. We worked together for a time and then stayed connected as we both got married and had our first children. Then she and her family moved, and while we remained committed Christmas card exchangers, we had not been in touch frequently. Yet the few times we did connect, it was like old times. There was never any weirdness or blame over who was supposed to call whom. We were just two forever friends picking up where we left off.
Excitement built for me as we drove to Amy’s home. Her family greeted us at the door. We got to hug each other and meet the youngest kids who have come along since last we visited. It was surreal. While my family had seen people in the past eighteen months, this was the first time we all went to dinner together inside someone’s home. I was overwhelmed by how good it felt to receive deep hospitality again, to be invited into someone’s intimate living space, offered a home cooked meal, and made to feel so welcomed and loved. It was like waking up out of a dream. And the best part was our kids all got along splendidly.
After several hours we took our leave, armed with recommendations of things to do on the rest of our vacation. Over the next few days, Amy checked in to see how it was going and if we needed anything else. Her care rippled forward. As I reflect back on this simple dinner, I am flooded with gratitude. It is more than the fact that Amy and her family showed us a wonderful time. This interaction helped me re-engage in the world. Amy was like guide welcoming me back to life. She reminded me of the importance of connecting after so long apart, and I am trying to pay it forward as each day leads us to the next phase of this uncertain future.
What has the pandemic been like for you? Are you able to have social gatherings in your part of the world?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Tara Bergman. Image by congerdesign from Pixabay.
We first published this original post, written by World Mom Network contributor Tara B. from Washington, on September 17, 2018. It was well received and shared then. If you haven’t read it, we hope you will enjoy for today’s Throwback Thursday.
Early on a Sunday morning, I was driving my twelve-year-old to his karate class. Along the way, we chatted while both struggling to wake up. We have done this drive together many times, and I was mentally on auto-pilot.
As I pulled into the parking lot, my son turned to me and asked, “Mom, can you not come in with me?”
In about a second’s time, his life flashed before my eyes. I felt a flood of emotions that could evoke tears if focused on, but instead, I asked in a nonchalant manner, “Why are you asking?”
He explained how none of the other students have parents in there, and he was right. My son recently graduated to an adult class. The vast majority of students he now trains with are either teenagers who drive or adults. There are rarely parents sitting on the sidelines. After six years of walking into the dojo at his side, I admit that it was a blow to have my motherly wings clipped. On the other hand, I was proud of him for feeling a level of confidence and ownership to go the distance on his own.
So I simply said, “Sure. I can read my book in the car.” and watched him grab his bag and head in.
This is one of many stories that I could tell about living in a season of letting go. I am forty-two years old, solidly positioned in midlife. I am past the everybody getting careers/getting married/having babies phase and into the everyone is getting divorced/heaving health issues/dealing with ailing parents phase. I, myself, had a hysterectomy this past winter. Talk about letting go! I wasn’t going to have more children anyway, but it definitely put a fine point on the midlife timeline. And the truth is that procedure was the easiest problem I have encountered this year. Each month has brought more challenges with greater stakes.
There is a point in midlife where you come to realize that while there will be an ebb and flow to things, there is no ‘off’ switch to the deep and complex situations you will find yourself navigating from here on out.
You are the fulcrum between multiple generations, trying to support all sides while simultaneously processing your own stuff.
But the world is not a perpetually sad and gloomy place at midlife. Quite the opposite is true. Because through this somewhat stormy transition phase of life, you can see the lights that do shine that much more clearly. This will make me sound ancient, but I understand why grandparents go bananas over birth or get overly excited about a wedding. I can see how sitting at a graduation or following someone’s career can bring such joy. It’s intentional celebration of all that is still bright and brilliant in the world to balance out the darker clouds.
It’s being able to make room for new moments while having to let go of old ones.
It’s being able to remember while continuing to look forward.
Every birthday, every anniversary, and every new milestone is meaningful. I take the time to relish them more fully now. While this season has brought some of the hardest moments, it has also brought some of the absolute best moments of my life.
As my son and I drove home from karate, I let him pick the music, which right now is always jazz. After a year in the middle school jazz band with a favorite teacher, my son can’t get enough of it. As someone who has spent years listening to Disney soundtracks and Raffi in the car, I don’t have enough words to express my euphoria of hearing “The Atomic Mr. Basie” on repeat. We talked about the songs, and he shared his thoughts on the solos. He has developed such a good ear for music and fills our house with his own playing.
The more he grows, the more I am grateful for the contributions he makes in our family.
I love who he is becoming, just as much as I love who he once was. It was a perfect drive home.
Tell me, what has this season brought newly into your life?
Photo Credit: Japan Experna
I have used swear words for much of my adult life. I grew up in a culture where swearing was normal and common in conversation. Then I moved across the county to an area that had a very different vibe. One of my first impressions was: “No one here drinks or swears.” Now I know that is not true. It just wasn’t flaunted in the way to which I was accustomed.
I started reeling in my potty mouth because I felt I was coming on too strong. However, I learned over time that many adults in my new locale swore. They just did it privately or with certain people. Still, this experience prompted me to look at how I used language and to fine tune my filter.
Once I had children, I tightened things even further. Before I go on, I want to say I have plenty of friends who swear in front of their kids. I am not judging that. Every home has its own rhythm, and there are many ways to approach a subject. I am reflecting on my own journey.
Part of my decision to abstain from swearing in front of my kids as much as possible came from the fact that I tend to be an all or nothing person. I find it hard to moderate things. If I am going to swear, I am not holding back. Another aspect of this had to do with where to draw the lines. As the mom, I have the ability to shape the culture in my home, and while I want kids to express feelings, I also want them to be thoughtful about how to do it most effectively. Swear words are great because they put a fine point on things like nothing else. That power is undeniable. And because of that, I decided instead of not allowing certain words, I would categorize them as power words and establish some ground rules around them.
Power words for me are more than swears. Power words are anything, good or bad, that merit caution and thought.
On the negative side, this includes name calling (i.e. stupid, idiot, jerk) or overly dramatic statements. Hearing something like “I hate this show” gives me pause. When one of my kids says “hate,” we talk about it. They aren’t in trouble, but we explore the meaning of the word and think on if it’s the best choice for that situation. Sometimes it is. Often it isn’t.
A positive that comes from this attention to speech is that when emotions run hot in our house (and they do get hot), for the most part, we don’t call each other names or throw around negative power words. It’s not a perfect system, but when things break down, we take time to sort it out and find better language to communicate what is really going on.
On the other hand, I don’t leave my kids in a bubble. On a hike with my son, I taught him all the core swear words and their meanings. He’s going to hear them around, and many he already had and just didn’t understand. This subversive lesson was hand in hand with a discussion on the appropriate time and place to use them, if at all, with the caution to not use words of which you don’t know the meaning. A year or two later, after one particularly rough day at middle school involving some nasty behavior from another student, I pulled out some particular swears to sum up the situation. My son paused and said, “Yes, Mom! That’s exactly what it’s like. It’s a **bleepity bleep**.” We then had a conversation about the meat of the issue. It’s not that we can’t use these words, but I never want those words to be all that there is.
Plus, these power word conversations have been a bridge to addressing more racially and sexually charged language with my kids. It gives us a framework. When I started this process ten years ago, I did not envision the open hostility expressed daily in current American society. I think these lessons on power words are even more important now, as much for me as for my kids. I don’t know if I am preparing my children appropriately, but at least between us, we can talk (and swear) with thought and purpose.
Do you swear in front of your children? How does swearing work in your culture?
This is an original post written for World Moms Network by Tara B.
My oldest child just started middle school, which in the United States generally means sixth through eighth grade, or the years between elementary school and high school. Middle school has a tough reputation. It’s a time of huge change in every way possible. Kids go from being in one classroom pretty much all day to moving from class to class and managing multiple teachers’ expectations. They are also surrounded by many new faces from several different elementary schools that are blending together for the first time. Students are in every different phase of personal, physical, and emotional development. It’s the wild west of adolescence.
There’s lots to absorb and get used to, and the first week for my son encompassed a little bit of all of it – the good, the bad, the ugly. At one point he said to me, “No matter what you do, middle school happens to you .”
In the process of watching and listening to my son’s experiences, it’s hard not to go back to those days in my head. Each up and down that he experiences reminds me of something from my past. He will even ask sometimes if a particular situation ever happened to me, and of course, I always have a story to share. And as we swap stories, those old feelings come roaring back to the surface.
As parents, we want to spare our children the harsh moments we experienced and exalt them into the glorious ones, but life doesn’t work that way.
One evening, I was attempting to encourage my son to try getting to know his new classmates even if it feels awkward, and I asked my husband for backup. I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. My husband was talking about when he went to college. It was a huge school in a new city, and he didn’t know anyone. He decided to go to a freshmen welcome party at a different dorm. Looking around, he noticed a guy wearing a concert t-shirt for a band he also liked. My husband decided to go up to the guy and comment on the shirt to start a conversation. The two got to talking, and they decided to hang out. T-shirt guy took my husband to his dorm to meet some friends. One of those friends was me. We became pals, a year later we started dating, and the rest is history. We went to a huge school, lived nowhere near each other, and studied completely different things. Looking back, if my husband hadn’t created an opportunity over a t-shirt, we easily could have never met.
I like to think that this talk gave my son some perspective. It sure gave me some. As much as I don’t like seeing my kids uncomfortable or struggling, it’s so central to growing up. Learning to be comfortable in your own skin through trial and error is essential. It’s not just that middle school happens to you. Life happens to you, and it’s up to each us to face it on our own two feet.
I am glad to say middle school isn’t all bad, and my son is opening up a little more all the time. In fact, by sharing about himself, he learned that he had common ground with someone he had previously had difficulties with. I don’t believe that things will be rosy all the time or that every new face will become a friend, but at least one can always start again. It just takes walking up to someone and saying “hello.”
How do your children cope with new places and people? Has a simple “hello” ever changed your life?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. of the United States. Photo credit: University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
We are approaching summer in my part of the world, which means prime hiking season! I hike with my two boys all year round, but I love this time of year when things are a bit less wet. We live along the Cascade Mountain Range, so there is no shortage of amazing vistas and gorgeous forests to explore. I have been hiking with my kids since they were babies, most often on my own. My sons are now elementary school age, and while some things have gotten easier over the years, some have not. Endurance and motivation are continual challenges.
All of those lovely photos on social media usually have some rough backstory moments. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so we keep at it.
Today I share some tips on planning a hike and keeping little feet moving along the path.
Choosing a Trail – It’s important to start any journey with a clear plan. Map out where you will go. Depending on where you live, there are often trail websites as well as guide books available that will tell you which are good hikes for kids and when is the best time of year to go. Take into consideration the drive as well as hike length and elevation gain. Are you considering a hike to a destination such as a waterfall or lake, or do you want a no-pressure meander in the forest? Find out if there is a bathroom at the trailhead. And if you do pick a hike with water features, have a plan for when your kids get wet, because they always do.
Safety – Once you have some ideas, make sure to check weather and trail conditions online or with the closest ranger station. Provided the trail looks good and you have any required permits, you can start gearing up. Make sure to pack the 10 essentials plus extra clothes, food, drinks, books, games, and toys for the car. If you are heading to a trail that will be near any ridge, look out, or peak, have a plan to keep little ones safe. I always liked to bring a special blanket that we called the safety mat. When we were in situations where the kids needed to stay put, I brought out the safety mat and they knew there was no leaving the blanket. You may even offer stickers or other rewards for following safety protocol. Lastly, whether you go solo with kids or with friends, have another adult who is not on the hike as your check in buddy. Let them know where you are going, when you plan to return, when you will call to check in, and where they should call if you don’t.
The Drive – Hopefully your kiddos enjoy all those goodies you packed and let you focus on the road. I always keep an eye out on the drive for fun places to stop for a meal or a treat on the way home. I keep it under wraps, but there comes a point on a longer hike when saying “let’s just get to the car, and we can go get ice cream” helps a ton.
Hiking Goals – If your kids have a concept of distance or elevation, talk to them about what you are doing. Give everyone a map if available. Or better yet, give them pencil and a little notebook and have them draw the trail with noticeable landmarks. Consider having them take photographs along the way. My kids LOVE having a camera to carry and will take tons of photos. If the kids are younger, consider picking a favorite tv or book character to pretend to be and act out an adventure on the hike. My boys loved Thomas the Tank Engine, so we’d pretend to be the engines on the narrow-gauge line up on the mountains. If your kids are older, try geocaching, because everyone loves treasure hunting.
Bribery – There is no other way to put it. I bribe my kids. If the drive is super long, they get to play extra video games in the car for being good sports and coming along. I pack treats along with all the healthy stuff. In the photo above, my boys are shown on a mountain peak. Leading up to that moment, my youngest was beginning to bonk at the site of the final climb. I let him know if he made it to the top, he could eat all the cookies before his lunch. He was thrilled, and as the photo shows, we made it. Maybe video games and cookies aren’t going to work for you, but there is something special you can do to reward all that effort.
The last piece of advice I will offer is to always know that at any time you may need to bail.
Maybe it happens on the drive or on the trail, but set a clear expectation with yourself that it will be whatever it will be, which may mean only a few feet down the path. But the more you get your kids out on the trail, the more accustomed to the work they become. And before you know it, you are on top of a mountain having the cookie party of a lifetime!
Do you explore the outdoors with your children? What tips do you have on keeping them safe and moving?
This has been an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. Photo credit to the author.