Archive for the ‘resiliency’ Category


safety dance

June 5, 2013

Safety Dance.

Do you remember slow dances? The three minutes and 42 seconds of sweating palms and stepping on toes, wondering, exactly, who was leading whom?

There are so many parenting moments that feel that same way. Do I step toward my child, tightening the boundary? Do I step away and give them more space? And possibly the one that makes our palms sweat the most is Safety.

Right now in the county where I live, a man has tried to lure three children, both boys and girls, in the past few weeks into his car, promising candy and asking for help finding his dog. The question for us isn’t about the (mythical) dog, it’s about finding our voice and helping our children. How do we do this?

Raise awareness. Tell your children the facts. A man has been asking children to get in his car. You can give them the specifics {white male, white sedan} but remember that he can change his vehicle and the color of his hair. So while the predator may change, a child’s intuition stays the same. Talk to your child about how their body sends them signals- a feeling of dread, a pit in their stomach. They are wise to listen, and then act. This is not the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. This is the story of the Child Who Was Aware. Even if the person they see isn’t ‘the guy’, tell them now that won’t matter. What matters is that they are safe. Encourage your child to take action, no matter what.What is action? Finding an adult to help them.

Raise voices. Ask your children what they think they would do if they were approached. Often they say I’ll kick him, punch him, bite him. Ever wrestle with your kiddos? Gently remind them how strong they know you are. Trying to physically out maneuver someone won’t work. How can your child be strong in that situation? By using their voices. Screaming “YOU ARE NOT MY DAD!” Will get attention from any adult in the vicinity. Even as adults we become flustered when someone strange approaches us. The same is true for our children. They quickly flood into flight, fight or freeze, which means they are not full of rational thought. So it’s important not to overload them with directions they won’t be able to recall in the moment. Keep it simple: Yell and Go.

Raise hands. Go with your child and knock on the doors of the neighbors you do not know. Introduce yourselves and your child. Create a chain of safe places for your child to go if they need help. If your child walks by businesses on their way to school, walk the path together and see which ones are open during school hours.

Raise community. This man has been prowling schools and bus stops. Work with other parents to create safety networks, ensuring kids are walking in groups and with adults during the transitions from home to school and back. Talk to shop owners and ask them to be additional eyes and ears.

Raise hope. Any time our children see us transform our worry into action, they learn how to respond in dire situations. When they see community built to create connection, they learn how to ask for aid and imagine change.

So dance with your child. Pull them in a little closer. Have them follow your lead. Teach them the steps. And if you have any questions, please keep me posted.



finish line.

April 16, 2013

I lived halfway.

Wellesley College sits at the halfway mark of the Boston Marathon. And on Patriot’s Day every spring, we stood.

By the side of the road we stood and cheered from dawn, when the wheelchair athletes flew by, to the hours and hours and hours and hours later when the last runners, often those in their 70’s and 80’s tortoised by. We stood. We gave water. We showered encouragement. And we roared. About a mile before the course reached us, we were heard. The runners would turn the corner, and begin up the long, slow rise and the pain would fade and they would feel with their hearts instead of their feet.

Sweat might not seem sacred, but it sure felt that way to me. Those days in April, on the side of the road, hold some of the deepest moments of connection to humanity, to the masses, that I know. And that is what our children need right now. Because one of my son’s comments after we explained the shooting in Newtown, CT has stayed with me. “No, I don’t have any questions. I’m still processing Super Storm Sandy, Mom. I’m overwhelmed.”

And now, aren’t we all? So here’s how to help our children.

Tread Lightly. It is tempting as the story unfolds to follow every moment on the news and social media. Don’t. Turn it off. If you want, check in at the top of the hour for updates. Older kids are getting fatigued into numbness and youngsters often think the replay images are fresh attacks.

Speak in Sound bites. Just as with Newtown, give children brief facts and information. Then listen. Listen to the nuance of their confusion, questions and comments. Follow their lead. Then (re)assure them. Remind them of all the helpers.

Stay the Course. We all thrive on routine, and this is especially true in times of trauma. Keep children on their regular schedules. Familiarity breeds comfort.

Look at each Step. Yes, the media will focus injury and death. But we can talk about life. And all the days each person had before today. And all the people who loved them, and whom they loved. And how, even after someone is gone, they are not gone. They are within us.

Find the Sacred Sweat. Look for those who need support. It may mean donating resources, time or expertise to Boston. It many mean doing all these same thing in our own backyards. Help your kids find ways to contribute. When we give of ourselves, we learn we are capable. When we realize we can overcome, our resiliency for future events is stronger.

None of us knows the location of our life’s finish line. But we can live each day as half way. And we can roar for all of humanity. Years ago we stood. We stood for Boston. Stand with me?


This piece stands alone, but is also a companion to what I wrote for parents after the tragedy in Newtown, CT. To read that, click here.



February 16, 2011

(fictitious) Dictionary entry:

Rodents Of Unusual Size |ˈrōdnts| |əv| |ˌənˈyoō zh oōəl| |sīz|  NOUN.

A gnawing mammal of the order: Rodentia.  Creature is physically distinguished by strong, constantly growing incisors.  Creature is behaviorally identified by unprovoked, surprise attacks in which they spring forth baring both claws and teeth mauling your jugular with uncanny accuracy.

ORIGIN modern, from romance + adventure ‘The Princess Bride’. You haven’t seen it?  Inconceivable!

(fictitious) Thesaurus entry:

Otherwise known as:  bully, tyrant, tormentor, thug, ruffian.

(actual) Illustrative Example:

Halloween 2009 Cole was sidelined by the stomach flu.  The beloved costume he had chosen months before was put into play all the following year for grand imaginative adventures.  Thus the assumption by me (and we all know where assumptions lead) of it being donned for All Hallows’ Eve 2010 went unchallenged until the last week of October.

Enter the R.O.U.S.

Out on the playground one chilly autumn afternoon Cole was dared by the bully to throw the bright, cheery red rubber foursquare ball at the back of an unsuspecting teacher.  Cole declined.  The horrible wrath of the fourth-grade tyrant was unleashed immediately, and the costume was thoroughly ridiculed.

Despite the fact that the bully lived in a completely different town, and thus there was no chance he would see the costume during trick or treating didn’t matter.  The teeth and claws of the R.O.U.S. had sunk so deeply, shed so much blood, created so much pain and anguish that the damage was permanent.  Cole refused to wear the costume.  I admit that for a moment I contemplated the ultimatum of ‘you go in that costume or you don’t go at all’ in an attempt to annihilate the power of the R.O.U.S.  But I realized the irony that in so doing, all I would actually prove was that I could be an even bigger bully.

With the witching hour fast approaching I found myself driving to the big box store to plunder the bedraggled aisles of lonely leftover costumes. Despite the dearth of options, Cole found a new costume with which he was genuinely thrilled.

And now for the heartbreaking moment.

On the ride home Cole, the tear-streaked cheeks finally showing a grin, asked to keep the packaging so he could take it to school to show the R.O.U.S. that he had, indeed, not worn the scorned garment.  Did I let him?  Yes, for despite my discomfort, I needed to honor his emotional place.

Sometimes in parenting we illuminate the issues, process the events, foreshadow the consequences, and model the expressing of feelings, but we don’t change the outcome.  Children may be sponges, but they don’t necessarily absorb what we offer them immediately.  We give to them our perspective, our life experience, and then we need to acknowledge the journey is ultimately their own.  But secretly I hope that the next time this R.O.U.S. jumps, Cole, armed with the learning from the previous experience, can hear the popping of the Fire Swamp and (metaphorically) singe that sucker, forcing it to release its hold and slink away.  Will it work?  I’ll keep you posted.


The Art of Getting Out of the Way

January 4, 2011

The sky blue fleece blanket was given to us at a baby shower a decade ago.  It was the item Cole anointed as his transitional object, the joy of his heart.  He named it so early in his language development he could only call it ‘baba’, and still does.  Soon after Cole’s attachment to his beloved became evident, I boldly attacked it with a pair of fabric shears.

Why would a parent do such a thing?  I used to proudly tell others that I had cut Baba into quarters so that Cole never had to wait for it in the wash or worry if we had left it behind somewhere.  Looking back, it was a measure of sanity for me, but at what cost to him?  It seemed inconsequential, innocuous, even beneficial.  But was it?

You see the hand of a preschooler raised in anger and, unable to express their frustration, they lash out and hit your child.  Our instinct is obvious, we should intercede.

No, intercede is too mild a description.  We imagine ourselves a superhero, able to morph into a human shield that instantaneously envelopes our offspring, repels the blow, deflects any pain (meanwhile, in the background, our actions are embellished by the sounds of an orchestra, the air is filled with the swelling notes of victorious horns announcing our triumph over the two foot tall force of evil).

But what if our superhero powers are actually too effective?

If we surround our children in a bubble wrap of safety that is too thick, they never experience the inevitable bumps and bruises of life.  (Please know I am only addressing age appropriate bumps and bruises- not extreme harm, neglect or abuse.)  If we shelter our children too much, they never experience the full range of human emotions.  If they don’t get their feelings injured, how can they truly learn empathy?  If they never experience loss, how will they grow?  Resiliency is a fundamental tool they will need in their own toolbox throughout their lives.  If they are not practicing it when we are there to guide them, how will they handle situations on the playground at elementary school, or at a party in high school or later in life when we are further than an ocean away?

We need to let children be with their losses.

What have I learned in the last decade from Baba?  Embrace your child.  Hold their hand.  Let them know you love them.  Then be there.  Quietly.  Sit with them for as long as it takes.  Don’t rush healing.  Express your emotional solidarity.  Model for them how to process what they feel.  Name the pain.  Feel the hurt.  Watch them as they learn how to cope with it, how to grow from it.  Show them that you know they are capable of surviving.  Let your eyes shine with the belief that they can endure whatever injury occurs.  Watch as they gain strength, fortitude.  For down the road, no matter how much we wish it weren’t true, it will happen again, most likely in bigger and more painful ways.

Over the years, the omnipresence of Baba has diminished.  She no longer rides in the car, unless we are on a road trip, and even then, she is usually packed away in the back.  At home she no longer ventures past Cole’s bedroom door.  Will she be stuffed in the bottom of a box or suitcase when he heads off to college, a symbol of the comfort of childhood?  I don’t know.  Will we have gotten out of the way enough over the years so he can fully develop his resiliency?  I hope so, and I’ll keep you posted.

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