Monthly Archives: February 2011

No hands

I always loved this story about a young boy who is delighting in riding his two-wheeler with no hands.  He shouts to his mom, ” Look, Mom, no hands!” 

The writer considers the dichotomy of this situation.  Here’s a boy’s exultant call to his mom,  full of liberation, of freedom, of mastery  as well as a poignant reminder of the ever-present need to still be noticed by his parent.

 So as parents, how do we know when to let go and when to welcome back and acknowledge? 

By paying attention to what’s going on and being prepared to notice.

I observed a family group walking ahead of me in the mall.  The mom was pushing the baby in a stroller, there were various other adults part of the group, all walking along, conversing.  Part of this clan was a little girl about three years old who was mosying along yet keeping up, enjoying being free yet included.

I noticed her and smiled to myself as I felt her pride.

Her dad, on the other hand, made the decision that she should hold his hand – not because she was running off (she wasn’t), not because she was lagging behind (she wasn’t).  I tried to figure out why. I think he noticed her independent stride and it occurred to him, perhaps, that as a “good dad” in a busy mall, he should be holding his daughter’s hand.  Or perhaps, his own need, in seeing her so “grown-up” was to recapture the time when she wanted to hold his hand.    So he proceeded to do so, and the drama began. 

The little girl was insulted, outraged, definitely non-compliant and so, until I wandered off in another direction, this drama continued – the dad towing his young daughter along as she screamed, pulled and tugged.

This particular situation kept popping into my head the rest of the afternoon.  I thought of how, as much as we need to be alert and aware of keeping our children safe and secure, close and protected, we also need to allow, support and welcome their development and exploration of independence, of “no hands” in safe and loving situations. 

When these opportunities present themselves, as parents we still have a job to do – to be on the alert, to be ever ready for a rescue, whether physically or emotionally,  from a fall, untied shoes, a fright and  receptive and open to welcoming the child back after an adventure.

I believe this dad was trying hard to be a responsible dad.  After all, they were in a busy, crowded mall.  And sometimes it’s just hard not to want to hold our child’s  hand – for ourselves.  But stepping back, observing the situation, staying attentive, enjoying watching his little one flaunt her freedom, safely, as he watched from behind was what his daughter needed from him that afternoon. 

Independence – baby steps – for parents as well as our children.

Later on, I observed another situation.  An older woman I took to be the grandma was walking along with a young girl of about ten.  They were holding hands, (willingly) laughing, stopping to look in windows, totally engaged and enjoying themselves.

Different stages, different needs.

Sometimes the very best attention is from afar with an ever alert eye and sometimes it’s up close, personal and attuned as this lovely outting appeared.

I know I hear from many parents that what drives them crazy is their child one minute wants to be Mr. Independent – the next it seems he’s helpless.  And I just shake my head and agree.

The road to independence and autonomy is paved with steps.  These sometimes appear to be giant strides ahead followed by small ones retreating to what is comforting, secure and familiar.

As parents, it is our job to be the observers, the jugglers, providing this loving, secure base, guidance, encouragement and support,  being ready with open arms when they need to reconnect while at the same time stepping back and presenting opportunities for uncharted exploration.

What a special gift it is, though, to witness this growth in our children, no matter how achingly tedious and unpredictable it may be.

Enjoy the journey.

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Consider the reason

Recently a friend called me sounding very concerned.  She’s a grandma of two young granddaughters – one four -years -old and one who just turned two.  My friend had just returned from a visit with the grandchildren – there to celebrate the two-year-old’s birthday. 

This grandma shared her dismay over her four-year-old granddaughter’s “selfish” behavior while she was there.   Apparently her older granddaughter found it very difficult to share the stage with her now very charming little sister on her special day.  She grabbed at the presents, tore off the bows and threw them at the guests.  When reprimanded by her mom, she stuck out her tongue, shouted “You’re not the boss of me”, ran to her room and wouldn’t come out to the party. 

This grandma was so upset that her granddaughter would act like that.

I assured her that this behavior, although not, perhaps, the shiniest moment to be observed in one’s child, is not at all unexpected.  Birthdays are a very special day and her two-year-old sister was recognizing, perhaps for the first time, the significance of this personal celebration of herself .  Much hoopla was going on and in the busy prep for the party, the presents, the attention to the two-year-old, the guests, and all the details, thinking of the four-year-old’s feelings got overlooked.

I asked my friend how involved the older granddaughter had been in helping to prepare for the party, to be a part of the planning, to help serve, decorate, to show the gifts around after her sister opened them.  The answer was “not very much“.  She was told repeatedly that this was her sister’s special day.  She had already had her birthday.

But as we talked, this grandma realized that her four-year-old granddaughter had been feeling left out.  Including her in the excitement and the planning to make this celebration for her little sister special would have provided her the perfect opportunity to make a purposeful, positive contribution.  This would have helped her feel significant in her own right and an important part of the family.

As we talked, I remembered one of my favorite books – an oldie but goodie – one of the Frances books by Russell HobanA Birthday For Frances.  If you’re not familiar with the Frances books, they are great read-aloud books.  They are a bit wordier than many of today’s picture books but very special. They make their point without being preachy and provide situations ripe for conversation with your child.

Frances, a badger, is a precocious and highly spirited five-year-old.  She is opinionated and very imaginative.   In this particular book, she struggles with celebrating her younger sister’s birthday.  The other books in the series are helpful too for preschoolers and up.  Some titles are Baby Sister For Frances, Bargain For Frances, Best Friends for Frances, Bread and Jam for Frances. Some of the books have been recently edited into Easy Readers but I would recommend the original stories to read aloud.  They are also available on CD.

So back to my friend …she plans another visit to her grandchildren next month and intends to bring a few Frances books to share.  She also has a clearer understanding of ways to support, encourage and value her four-year-old  granddaughter’s  significant, creative and helpful role in the family.

Life is sometimes hard with and for four-year-olds but also very sweet and delicious.  Recognition, understanding and appreciation for their developing identity is an awesome gift for everyone involved.

Go Grandma!

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Appreciation – grateful recognition. That’s the definition in Webster’s New World Dictionary.

  I really like that definition.  But right now,  I am experiencing a total surge of appreciation that is just glowing inside me.  I am not needing to search for a reason to feel grateful – to be full of appreciation.  It’s overwhelming.

After all my discomfort, concerns and apprehension of facing surgery for, most fortunately my first time ever, I am filled to the brim with appreciation for those who cared for me at Gundersen Lutheran same-day surgery (professional, warm, absolutely caring) and the outpouring of attention and emotional support I have received from my family and friends. Wow!

So this appreciation – this “grateful recognition” seems like a pretty easy thing to feel. 

 Well…not always.

That’s the trick.

 Even though experts tout how gratitude is one of the best things we can do to increase positive physical and emotional benefits, it’s not always so simple to do.

On a day-to-day basis, facing life’s demands and ups and downs, it is quite human for us to focus more on the downs and pass over the ups.  Even a small “up” gratefully recognized, however, can change a mood or a response.

I think as parents, demands are so great and much is required – worries and concerns, feeling overwhelmed, isolated, sometimes unappreciated, working so hard to do our best. It isn’t always easy to focus on something positive.

But experts say that by practicing gratitude, we can activate the part of the brain that floods the body with feel-good hormones, helping to dampen any stress response.  They say it is a habit that just needs to be exercised, daily, even if only for a few moments.  They suggest, before closing your eyes at night, thinking of a few things that made you happy that day –  made you feel competent, satisfied, proud, joyful, loved .   Doing this nightly, your list will grow – and so, they say, your well-being.

It’s definitely worth the time, I think.

I know I’m on an overdose of appreciation right now because I have received so much.  I have plenty to share and hopefully to spread around.

But, I’m going to try to keep this going.  I like to think that I’ve been pretty good at it but I know that, like most people, I easily begin to take things for granted instead of grateful recognition of the simple things that enrich my life.

So let me tell all of you now how grateful I am for the opportunity to write this blog and share my thoughts with you and I’m definitely appreciative for those of you who read it.


Happy Valentine’s Day!

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A special dad

It’s easy to become a father – but it takes hard work and intentional commitment to become a dad.  This past week, a very special dad, Don La Coss, died unexpectedly.

It’s hard to think of a young boy growing up without his dad – a dad who was hands on in the most significant ways – just “being” together, sharing insights, having conversations, discussing, explaining, asking questions, laughing, learning from one another, enjoying interests, exploring ideas and adventures, setting limits, having fun.

But that’s the way it was for this dad/son team.

Much has already been written about Don’s excellence and brilliance in the university classroom, in his extensive research and his amazing intellect.

But I want to acknowledge and celebrate Don as the special dad he was – and the caring friend, to me personally and to many Family Resources parents and staff.

One of my favorite memories of Don at Play Shoppe was on one of our winter outdoor adventures – sledding, on a very slick hill.  No matter how we tried to position the sleds, they ended up heading straight for several trees at the bottom.  Don volunteered to be the “protector” as he saved the day by darting from one sled to another catching the children before impact.  No easy feat!

I know his son Benjamin’s six and a half years have already been packed with gifts galore from his Dad.  And I know these treasures will remain a part of him as a source of comfort, joy and encouragement as the years go on.

But he will be sorely missed.

Our hearts go out to Susan and Benjamin.

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