I read 100 books last year. 110 or so really, but I did not finish about 10 of them because they were just that awful, so I won’t count them here. I read about 120 books in 2011. One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “How do you find all that time to read?” I’ve been called lazy and that’s why I read. Inferences of others imply that I have a lavish life, that’s why I have time to read. I’ve also had people ask me if I do anything that matters other than read. All very interesting, loaded questions that I won’t answer here. But, I will tell you how I do find the time. Here goes.
- I hate television. I never watch TV, ever. Unless it’s the Today Show while kids are getting ready for school in the morning and I sit on the couch in between getting lunches made, signing papers, Stuffing random gloves in backpacks, etc.
- I loathe cooking. I don’t enjoy it–like, at all. I DO cook for my family on a daily basis, but I keep the cooking and baking time to the bare minimum.
- I’m not in a crafty phase. I do enjoy scrapbooking, but crafty time is not how I spend my spare time right now.
- I listen to books in the car. For whatever reason, I cannot listen to fiction books in the car because my imagination wanders too much. But, non-fiction books are easy for me to listen to, even while I’m grocery shopping. I just bring my headphones and stuff my Kindle in my purse and I am instantly transported into a place in my head where I am really not grocery shopping, but learning something as I am doing the dreaded task of grocery shopping. (I know, I don’t like to cook OR grocery shop. I am sure there is something wrong with me).
- I love to read.
- I have a passion to read.
- I cannot stop reading.
- I want to learn all I can from books that I cannot learn from what is my here and now. I want to learn from other’s stories. How they have handled obstacles, how they survived overwhelming odds, what their lives looked like along the way. I never want to stop learning from others.
- I want my spectrum to be broad. Living in the same culture for twenty years now, I never want to forget that there is a “rest of the world” that does not live like me or think like me.
- Reading makes me a better writer. When I begin to write about a topic, often I hear the voices of other writers inside my head (I know this is not normal either. ) These writers urge me to paint a story with words I would never normally choose.
Reading will always be a part of my life until the day I die. I find time to read because I love to read. People will spend time doing what they love, and I love books!
I have a goal again this year of reading 100 books. Last year I really surprised myself by exceeding my goal of 100 by 10 or 15 books. I’ve read 78 as of today. I thought I would share a few of my recent favorites here. I’d love to hear what you’re loving to read and why!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is not only about Hemingway in Africa, but a piece of art in biography form. The photos throughout the book are stunning, engaging and tell their own story of life in East Africa. I spent a summer in Uganda and Kenya, walked on some of the same places mentioned in the book…surprisingly, I have a photo of myself taken at Murchison Falls on the Nile River, unknowing at the time that Hemingway’s plane crashed there.
The life Hemingway lived on his first trip to Africa was so different from his second. I love how this book compares and contrasts his two visits, along with the author’s own observation about a land that gets in your heart and changes you from the inside out.
This biography is more than a story, more than art, it is also incredibly inspirational to me as a writer. I’ve never thought about hunting and writing along the same lines, but these thoughts will have me thinking for a long time.
I loved this book.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What an incredibly well-written, easily believable story about a young girl “trying to figure out how to live”. Margo is a lost soul, makes mistakes, learns from them and forges a life for herself out of sheer determination and will. I loved this story, and it got me to thinking about “What’s my river?” The river calmed Margo. The river was the one sure thing in her life, and she knew it. It’s not too often that I walk away from a novel asking myself deep questions about my own life, but this one left me pondering. It was a really great read.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love this memoir so much I could not put it down. Deborah Feldman’s journey from the prison of other people’s ideas for her life to freedom is truly inspirational. I knew nothing of the Hasidic community before I read this book, so it was intriguing, yet heartbreaking to think how many girls and women are trapped by traditions that leave them powerless to do anything to improve their circumstances or protect their children from rigid law that demoralizes them.
I am proud of Deborah for taking a stand and leaving literally every comfort of home to rebuild a life for her and her son. If we all had her strength, we could make this world a much better place.
What happens when we set up a moment and step back and watch…
We took the girls on a walk around Notre Dame last Friday night. It was not a game weekend, so it was eerily quiet on campus, the moon was shining, the breeze was cool and everything just seemed right in the air.
I don’t think any of the girls have ever been in the Sacred Heart Basilica before. The doors were open, so we walked in. A bride and groom were just gathering in the back for a wedding rehearsal –the wedding coordinator gave us a stern look over her glasses, but no one stopped us so we went in and grabbed a pew.
As parents, we have learned that we can’t always control what our kids retain when we try to teach them, but we have also learned that part of our responsibility as parents is setting up moments as best we can in order to help our kids receive a “moment.” After the “set up” we know our job is also to “step back” and watch as they learn something on their own.
We hope and pray that our girls will get a glimpse of holiness, of Jesus, of their Heavenly Father…and sometimes everything just snaps into place and there He is in all his glory, revealing himself to our children in a way only He could.
Friday night was one of those nights. Our girls were enraptured by the sense of wonder and holiness that comes by standing in front of a place like the Grotto at Notre Dame, seeing all those candles lit, representing prayers lifted to Heaven.
Isabelle is just eight years old, but she had a very special moment with Jesus I thought I’d share with you.
At her school, one of the rewards for especially good behavior is a purple “Live Strong” bracelet. She was able to get two of these in the first few weeks of school, which is a pretty big deal when you’re in second grade. She was devistated when she lost one on Thursday. She came home crying and crying, so very sad that it was gone. She is a very tender hearted kid, and it’s hard to console her when something is just “gone” and can’t be replaced.
On Friday when we walked past the “Touchdown Jesus” muriel on the Notre Dame campus, Belle said that she “felt God move around in her heart in a special way”. Then, when we walked in the Sacred Heart Basicilla, she wanted to go over by herself on a pew to pray. She came back over to us with teary eyes, just pouring her heart out to Jesus, in awe of the beauty of that place.
When we walked over to the Grotto, she said that she wanted a few minutes to pray. She knelt down, closed her eyes, and when she opened her eyes, A PURPLE BRACELET WAS ON THE FENCE POST RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER! She could not believe it. The bracelet was almost identical to the one she had lost. She wasn’t ecstatic or anything, just happy. “Look at what God gave to me”, she said with such simple child-like faith.
There was no doubt in her mind God put that bracelet there, just for her.
Moms and Dads can set up moments to teach their kids about the holiness of God, but when we step back, we stand amazed at what God does to teach our children about Himself.
I am in awe. And more in love with my Heavenly Father than ever.
Twenty years ago Rob and I moved from the South Side of Chicago to the middle of corn on the cob land Indiana. We had lived in Chicago our whole lives–my time in college right in the middle of downtown. We loved the city. We loved driving from the suburbs on a Friday night just to visit one of our favorite ice cream places downtown. We loved to go to the zoos and walk down Oak Street Beach. We even made an appearance on an early airing of the Oprah show (well, we were audience members in the very back row, but our faces were visible on T.V. for 3.5 seconds, so it counts, right?)
Immediately after Rob graduated from college in 1992, he began working for Granger Community Church. At the time, we met in a movie theater just between Main St. and Grape Rd. Only there was no Main St. at the time. There was also no Starbucks, Walmart, Target, Fridays, or Uptown Kitchen. I do believe there was a Ryans, and a Chili’s–no Meijer, Barnes and Noble or Five Guys.
But, there were endless fields and wide open skies everywhere we looked. And we liked it.
A Move to The Wide Open
In our years of South Suburban living, we were Cubs and Sox fans–an issue that still divides us today. Rob has always been a White Sox fan, me, a true blue Cubs fan. We both pulled for the Bears, the Bulls and occasionally the Black Hawks. We attended a few of our own high school basketball games. We never watched college football or watched high school basketball on T.V. I’ll never forget turning on our 16 inch T.V. propped up on a milk crate in our first apartment and seeing high school basketball airing. I was dumbfounded.
Growing up in a big city, no one in our circles of influence talked high school or college sports. No one. Unless you were the one in the sport or their close family member–It was all about the local teams. The worship of high school and college sports in our new home town was something completely foreign to us.
My high school was multi-ethnic, multi-racial, full of students and teachers from every socioeconomic place you could imagine. I had friends who were very rich, and extremely poor. My first impression of Granger was that the women looked like they had just walked off the set of a soap opera and the men from the golf course. When I went to the grocery store, I was shocked to see women in high heels with perfect make-up pushing shopping carts adorned with perfectly made up children. This was different.
What surprised me the most in moving to this sprouting metropolis was the friendliness of people wherever I’d find myself. People would look me in the eye, talk for a minute or two–just chat to be nice. This was so odd and unfamiliar to me. Where I grew up, you walked in a place, kept your head down, got what you needed and left as quickly as possible. This new friendliness intrigued me. It still does.
I was nineteen turning twenty and my whole world changed by planting ourselves only 90 minutes away from home.
Watching it Grow
Living in this community at first, I realized that no one was “from” here. Well, a very few…but it seemed as if everyone was from somewhere else. In Chicago, our family had come off the boat from Holland some 150 years ago, settled on the South Side of Chicago and never left. Everyone we knew was “from” Chicago with very few exceptions. People who lived in Michiana were mostly not from Michiana. They had pulled up roots from somewhere else to move to this born from the corn-on-the-cob land Indiana, just like us.
In our first five years here, the community around us began to sprout up quickly. More and more families moved here. It seemed as if every time we turned around there was a new housing development being built, and the next time we turned around, it was full of bikes, baby strollers and people mowing lawns.
New streets were paved and a new restaurant or grocery store went up every other day. The rapid pace of growth and change was exhilarating for everybody. New schools were built for all the new families. New subdivisions erased traces of old farms, fields, and endless skies. We threw away countless irrelevant street maps every year as the community grew and changed. (Young people, note this was before GPS–we did actually have to use street maps to get around)
Calling It Home
With the economy slowing down a bit (mild exaggeration, I know) in the past few years, we’ve seen the progress around us slow as well. Some of those shiny new shops and restaurants we saw go up so quickly are now boarded up, sitting empty, or have shifted ownership a few times. It hurt to see those around us hurt from this big slow down. It was around this time I realized I had become attached to this community–I had become a Hoosier.
Our newly shared history as a community is something we know we all have built and grown with dreams and hard work. We are proud of it, and we should be. The longer I live here, the longer I love the history of this place and the now-reality of it. I look at the schools my girls have had the privilege to attend. I see their teachers smiling at them, cheering for them, expecting their best, and I am thankful.
A Part of The Dream
The barns I drove past twenty years ago are aging as every rough Michiana winter passes. I have become obsessed with photographing these old barns, hoping to preserve some of their beauty and history in film. One of the barns I photographed last autumn is now laying in a shambles, crumbled under its own rotting weight. I hope the photos will tell the story of what once was and how these fields changed and grew into what so many of us now call home.
I took my girls for a drive down Main Street in Mishawaka yesterday. I told them, “None of this was here when your dad and I came. It was all a field of dreams.” Of course they rolled their eyes at my sentimentality. But it was worth it.
Those endless fields have now been filled with men, women and children with hopes and dreams of their own. I’m glad we planted ourselves here twenty years ago. I still don’t wear high heels to the grocery store, but I do have a sort of growing affection for high school and college sports,
but definitely never the White Sox.
This article appears in the October 2012 issue of Michiana FAMILY magazine, which in my opinion is a part of the field of dreams as well.
I live with a monster. He is always following me around, sneaking up from behind walls and closets. He follows me all day long, until I can kickbox him to the curb, only to find the next morning he’s been jumping on my back all night long, sticking pins and needles in my feet and fingers, and keeping me in a headlock until I wake up and find him standing there. The monster’s name is Pain, and I hate him.
About five years ago, Rob and I took a weekend trip to Chicago for our fifteen year anniversary. We love the city. We were both born and raised in Chicago, and it always feels like home to us. We were like kids again-so excited. Every picture from that weekend has one of us caught with Gino’s East Pizza, Garrett’s Popcorn, or a Chicago hot dog stuffed in our mouths in-between big smiles.
In between our many food stops, my feet started hurting. Not just heavy feet from walking around too much. Aching. The feeling of walking on glass, along with a huge bout of nausea and a weird feverish feeling. The next day I noticed my fingers and wrists were really sore, so I decided I should probably have my normally healthy self checked out once we got home. Long story short, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and referred to, who I now refer to as the best doctor ever in the world, Dr. Natali Balog at the South Bend Clinic.
Dr. Balog taught me a lot about the disease, mostly It is not a very nice disease. It doesn’t play well with others, and it often doesn’t cooperate with doctors. Every paitent who suffers from RA is different, because the disease attacks individuals in unique ways. It started out very progressively for me, leaving me feeling tied in knots while trying to juggle the normal routine of three girls, a husband, a few dogs, and trying to save the world all at once.
With all that said, it’s been a few years now of adjusting my lifestyle, medications, expectations on myself or others expectations of me. The biggest shift I have had to make in myself has been in my own perception of myself as a Super-Mommy. I have realized that I can’t do it all. I cannot get it all done. I have to ask for help from others around me that are already worn out and that is not easy for me. On most days, I’d rather not ask for help, so I end up exhausted by the end of the day and have nothing to offer my family except a grouchy face and a messy house.
So I felt sorry for myself. And I pouted. And I got mad. But none of that really helped. I started reading some books about people who live with pain. I also discovered that there are a lot of Mom’s like me, trying to keep their Super Mommy game face on while trying to deal with chronic depression, back pain, extreme fatigue, cancer, etc. Once I started talking about it, I realized that many people hide behind their pain and suffer in their own homes because it seems easier that way. Our culture often views people struggling with pain as “weak”. I think quite the opposite is true. Super Mommy’s kicking Pain to the curb takes a lot of strength. Some of my friends who have dealt with way more pain than I ever have are some of the strongest people I know.
As I am ever trying to be a student of life and taking every opportunity to learn,
I was able to ask Dr. Balog, my very own rheumetologist, and a doctor who sees lots of patients who deal with chronic pain at severe levels, a few questions about Super Mommy’s dealing with chronic pain:
For a Mom living with a chronic pain condition such as RA or other pain causing illnesses, what are a few things you would offer as helpful information to: Their spouse or partner, children, and other family members or close friends
As with any chronic disease, it is most important for patients and families to understand the disease process. When a spouse has been diagnosed with diabetes, the family unit typically, or should change eating habits of family meals to support the family member, the same with arthritic conditions. The family is a team and works together. When we are doing something with my daughter and she is not particularly happy with the situation, example a meeting or an extra day of work, working late, etc, I let her know that she is part of our family team and being a willing participant improves everyone’s situation. Same with the home front, family needs to be willing, helpful participants in home chores/ duties when a member of the family suffers a chronic disease like an arthritic condition. There also has to be some understanding, like a bad day at the office, there can be bad emotional days with folks with chronic arthritic conditions, not just from the pain but also from the inability to perform up to that individual’s standards with certain tasks.
What ways can a Super Mommy (a mom who is trying to “get it all done” and still be a nice person to her spouse and children) take care of herself, to live in a way that the pain does not get in the way of everything else?
When suffering from chronic conditions be it arthritic of any other, we have to accept our limitations. Not let our disease define us or keep us from doing things, but do it in moderation with reasonable expectations. “Super Mommy” is a newer phenomenon with women putting pressure on themselves to have the perfect home, family, body, etc. We collectively as a society allow ourselves to be to busy to take care of ourselves. Sunday was created as a day of rest, but rarely do we rest. Life is too short to, be it in perfect health or with disease. Time with our children is short. The best “Super Mom” is the one that sets a good example for her family. We put our family first by nature, but also taking care of ourselves with good eating and exercise habits. Know your own limitations and do not over extend with activities. Families need to be together in quality time so put limitations on so many activities of the family to be together- play together, rest together, know each other and needs of the time. Children learn from our example…they will learn how to eat and exercise from us, sleeping habits, pushing ourselves to we are frazzled.
There is a fine line somewhere between “Really hurting and just frustrated” and Feeling sorry for myself”. What ways can a Super Mommy keep herself from going over that edge into a gloominess that brings everyone around her down?
I have learned from some of my sickest patients, one whom have lost her eyesight from a rheumatologic disease or are severally deformed. The quotes that I keep in my mind from my patients, “Life is Beautiful!” and the other is “Make it a great day!” It is easy for all of us to dwell in the negative. Negative energy usually makes us feel worse. Many of my patients with the worst disease, that I think, how do they do it, count their blessings everyday. They don’t focus on what they have lost, they focus on what they have.
Although I hate living with Pain, I love a lot of what it has taught me, and the things I have learned about It from wonderful doctors like Dr. Balog. I know I can’t be a Super Mom without the help of others. I know my family needs me. I need to be a team player, but I need to expect that from them as well. Most importantly, I kick Pain and all his dumb side kicks to the curb by taking the time to make myself strong so I can help others who are weak.
Facebook Friends Respond:
I have learned that people actually want to be wanted. It’s totally okay (and even desired) to ask for help. I love it when friends need me. Turns out they feel the same way.
Fourteen of the years I raised my kids, I had psoiratic arthritis, and learned that I had to take time to take care of myself as well as my kids. My son was with me one time at the rheumatologist and the Dr. told him to help me around the house.
From what I have learned dealing with chronic pain, I would say: Learn to live with a less than spotless home, or figure out how to budget for cleaning help. Make time for exercise that increases your function. Don’t feel guilty if some nights you serve the kids frozen chicken nuggets, pizza, or boxed mac and cheese because you don’t feel up to standing in the kitchen making a made from scratch meal.
Ellen Painter Dollar
This article is published in the September 2012 edition of The Family Magazine of Michiana.
I have a question to ask. How many of you had parents that said to you, while you were riding in the back seat of their station wagon, “Do I need to pull this car over? Because you do not want me to pull this car over.” My parents did! I have used this same technique, much to my own horror, but found it extremely effective about twice.
Well, imagine you are all in the back seat of a station wagon right now, and I am in the drivers seat. I see most of you behaving so nicely, sitting on your hands even, trying your very best to be good and do right. But…there are SOME of you, who are doing other things. We’re pulling over, and I’m calling a time-out.
For starters, I know I have a lot of opinions about stuff. I am always hesitant to share them in a public way for fear of imposing on other people’s opinions, angering them, making them uncomfortable, etc. My biggest fear in expressing my rather strong opinions is that I would come across as high and mighty, or leave the impression that I have arrived at a place of perfection that I can only look down from. The truth is that I struggle daily with a sense of self-worth, hoping that I am doing a good job as a wife, mom, and a friend. I make mistakes all the time, usually pretty selfish ones, putting my own needs and wants above others.
But for today, I cautiously step out and share a few opinions about faith and family that might help someone somewhere. If not, I know it will help me just to get the words on a page so I don’t explode with exclamation points and italics print all over the next person I see…
My Opinion on Parenting Young Children:
You are in charge. Your baby isn’t. Your toddler isn’t. You are. You are the parent for a reason. You have a lifetime of experience behind you that helps you make wise decisions for your family and your precious children. Your feelings are important. Listen to your gut. Your baby and/or toddler will cry and scream to get out of bed, eat waffles with maple syrup for every meal, and hit and bite you and others to get their way. All of these things are primal and instinctual. Your child wants to get their way. It’s natural and it’s normal. Sometimes when they’re little, it’s really cute; However, if you coddle them and tell them they CAN eat waffles and maple syrup for every meal, get out of bed whenever they want, hit and bite whomever they please, they will become exactly what their instinct tells them they need to become–self serving, self-centered, tyranical little people.
When these babies and toddlers get just a little older, some will become bus bullies, shoving smaller kids out of their way to get their own seat. Others will become playground tyrants, bossing their minions around. Some will become cleverly disguised little passive-aggresive girls or boys who look plesant on the outside while secretly plotting to do whatever it takes to keep the world spinning around them. They plot ways to keep you, their parent, catering to their every whim. They say what will please you so they can keep calculating their next move to keep you distracted from their self-centered and increasingly destructive behavior.
Bottom line: “Kids these days” (and yes, I am horrified by my own use of that phrase) get a trophy for just showing up at a sport. They are given a black belt for karate on their second lesson. No one loses, no one is disciplined or corrected. If a child has never earned a “win”, they lose sight of what goals and dreams are like, and everything begins to revolve around them. If a child has rarely been redirected when their sweet little wills began to wander, don’t be surprised when you wake up one morning to find an eye-rolling, door-slamming teenager in your house.
I humbly, and I really mean humbly–advise you to take control now. I’m not talking about spanking or not spanking, grounding or punishing…I’m talking about daily involvement in the little choices your precious child is making. It’s the little things we turn away from because they are too hard to deal with in the moment that slowly progress to real problem issues that quickly get way past our own ability to control.
I know I am not too far off base and I look at Eli, a temple priest in the Bible. He was given the enormous responsibility of raising Samuel, God’s chosen instrument to bring his grace to His people at the time. He poured his life into his ministry and into raising Samuel. BUT, he turned away from what was closest to his home and to his heart–the sin of his own children. The Bible literally says,
“ And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. 2 Samuel 3:11-13
It’s time to pull the station wagon over friends. Eli kept driving, eyes averted from the rearview mirror. The cost of this was tragic. We don’t know exactly when his sons began to disobey and act shamefully. My guess is that they didn’t start robbing the church or sleeping with prostitutes when they were 3 or 4. It probably started with minor issues, like Eli caving in every time they asked for waffles and maple syrup, or ignoring the fact that they got out of bed for the thousandth time at night when they should have been sleeping…It’s these little things that turn into big things. He didn’t pull the station wagon over. Not once, not ever.
If you cannot control your child’s behavior with simple redirection and discussion, ask for help! Rob and I have spent countless hours with friends just a few steps ahead of us, begging for ideas and tools that would help motivate our children toward better behavior. When it comes to our parenting, my hope and prayer is that we will never be too proud to ask for help.
Taming the Jitters Before They Start
Summer is over. My children slowly deflate with each pool toy that is put away until next year. They dread what’s coming – school. No more late summer nights playing in the yard until their tired little legs can’t run anymore. No more chasing the ice-cream truck down the block. No more sleepovers with friends, and saddest to our older two girls, no more sleeping in until lunchtime. Worst of all, I start to see the dreaded school’s-almost-here-zombie-eyes-from-not-sleeping-and-worrying-too-much look plastered all over my children’s faces.
With all these adjustments to their cozy routine and schedule, predictably comes the “Before The School Year Jitters.” All three of our children experience these jitters at different levels. We get everything from simple nervousness about what teacher they will get all the way to tummy aches and serious insomnia starting about August 1st until around the second week of school, once they finally get settled in. It’s difficult to find ways to ease their little minds, especially when their anxiety is something I cannot talk them down from.
To get some advice, I spoke with Dr. Ron Craker, parent coach to families with young children, about some ways to help ease this transition from summer bliss to school year chaos.
Dr. Craker says the key to alleviating your child’s anxiety is to learn what makes your child feel comfortable once they have adjusted to the school routine.
“The key to the solution is what makes your child relax come the second week of September,” Dr. Craker says. “Have a talk with your child, and instead of asking why she gets nervous or can’t sleep, ask her what’s different after the second week of school that helps her feel more relaxed. We know anxiety is a mind game we play with ourselves.”
T.I.F to F.I.T
Dr. Craker offers an easy acronym to help parents better understand what feeds into our child’s anxiety. “We fuel anxiety into a “T.I.F.” by having certain Thoughts, Images or Imaginings, and certain Feelings that turn fleeting “butterflies in the stomach” into more serious anxieties that stop us from doing things.”
He goes on to explain that parents often help fuel their child’s anxiety by asking the wrong question. We’ve all been there; we want to know the cause of our child’s fears, so we prod and continually ask him or her what’s wrong in order to get to the root of the problem. Dr. Craker says that by taking this approach we actually keep the child fixated on those negative thoughts, images and feelings. “Instead of asking ourselves as parents, ‘How do I deal with the before-school-year jitters?’ a better question is, ‘How do I tap into the calm feelings kids have after the first couple of weeks of school.’
As Dr. Craker explains, the answer to this question can begin to change everything, flipping TIF into a FIT child who is ready for the transition to school. “Helping your child tap into the Feeling, Images, and Thoughts they possess when they are feeling confident about school is the key,” he says.
So, how do you go about getting your child from TIF to FIT? Dr. Craker suggests sitting down and saying the following to your child:
“Let’s pretend it’s early October. You have been in school for a few weeks; you feel confident, relaxed, prepared, and you’re enjoying school. What things about school or what we’re doing at home helps you feel confident and relaxed?”
While you have this discussion with your anxious kid, Dr. Craker says to have the child focus on the feelings, images and thoughts that are positive and instill a confident, relaxed feeling. He notes, “You will probably find your child’s answers revolve around one of three issues: Being confident about the environment of the school, the social life of school, or the transition of going to school (the rhythm of getting ready, going to school, coming home and studying).
Putting Yourself in Their Shoes
Understanding where our kids are coming from isn’t difficult to do, even if it has been a while since we’ve done the whole back-to-school routine ourselves. Nevertheless, we’ve all been in similar situations, even as adults.
“Think about yourself for a moment,” says Dr. Craker. “Have you ever had to go to a conference in a strange hotel or tried to meet friends at a very large, crowded event where you haven’t been before? I guarantee this is what you do: You prepare for the ‘Transition’; you think a lot about it before you go. You spend extra time planning what to wear, getting a GPS map to the place, double checking the schedule, and so on. When you get there, you need to ‘own the environment.’ You stop just inside the entrance to the large hall and scan the whole place. You scope where the coffee table is, how big, hot, noisy, or cold the room is. You get your bearings. Only then can your brain shift focus to the social demands of the environment. Now you can find your friends, meet people you didn’t know before, or walk the long way around so you wouldn’t have to face the person you don’t really want to talk to. Each year when your child starts school, it is the same for them. Usually there is one of these three issues (the transition, the environment or the social aspect) that is the most difficult for your child to manage, and the clue will be in the answers they give about what is now making them more confident about school.”
Practical Steps and Ideas
So now that you know what anxieties are most bothering your child, how do you begin to address them and help alleviate their worries?
Dr. Craker says that if the issue is with transitions, then you can proactively start moving to your school-day schedule early: “Go through the getting-up routine, and instead of getting on the bus, plan a trip to the library so you actually get up, eat, grab a backpack and leave the house.”
If your child is worried about the school environment itself, Dr. Craker recommends going to any school open houses or walk-around days offered before class begins. “Even better, call the school and ask for permission to come in and walk around the school when it is quiet and mostly empty,” Dr. Craker suggests. “Meeting the child’s teacher ahead of time can be a great help, too. Even if your child has gone to the same school for five straight years, it doesn’t matter. If a child needs to “own the space” before they feel comfortable, they need to do this.”
There are ways to help your kids feel better about making friends and reconnecting with their classmates. Dr. Craker says, “You can start to make reconnections with favorite classmates by intentionally getting the kids together for play dates, meeting at the school playground, or taking a school walk-through together.”
Your Homework: Focus on Strengths
The key to a successful back-to-school transition with minimal anxiety is focusing on the positive. “Take your parental focus off the anxiety, and put it on the strengths your child feels when they are confident and relaxed about school,” recommends Dr. Craker. “This change of focus will also help you keep your own anxiety at bay. You can even share an example with your child of a time when you had “butterflies” about something you had to do, but did it anyway, with confidence, and how proud you felt about it.”
Just like you, around the beginning of August, when I start to see the dreaded school’s-almost-here-zombie-eyes-from-not-sleeping-and-worrying-too-much, I’m going to pull out some of Dr. Craker’s ideas and approach the topic with a much less worried stance on my part. I’m going to be remain positive and calm like he suggests and try to pull out of my girls what brings them comfort, not what or why they are afraid.
We may have butterflies this fall when school starts again, but hopefully – no zombie eyes.
Published in the August edition of “The Family Magazine of Michiana”
Photo By Brittani Renee
What I’ve Learned So Far
by Mary Oliver
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world?
Because, properly attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit to no labor in its cause?
I don’t think so.
All summations have a beginning,
all effect has a story,
all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance.
The gospel of light is the crossroads of indolence, or action.
Be ignited, or be gone.