On July 4th my 8 year-old little eagle walked up a tall ladder, waltzed across a platform full of teenage girls waiting to leap, and like a veteran champion approached the edge of the platform and jumped off. Arms in the air, feet forward and hardly a beat of hesitation, he took flight. What a gamer move. Next came twenty feet of free fall and a dock full of screaming enthusiasts. It all happened really fast and I think I may not have been the only one with two feet planted whose stomach dropped. Without question I had serious physiologic and neurologic shifts in my body as he leapt and fell, my stomach in my toes by the time he hit the water. What a wonder to see our children step up, look right at their fear, and then just push forward. Talk about leaning in…courage really is one of the most beautiful emotions to see in our children as they grow.
Raising children takes all sort of courage, of course. The odds at times feel stacked against us (overnight relentless wake-ups, temper tantrums, health challenges, worries about mental health, worries about physical health, resource restraints, failures, failures, failures). But nothing is typically stacked against most of us like other species. All parents face big challenges.
If you look carefully in the image, just behind my little eagle in free fall is a Bald Eagle’s nest. We’ve been watching a family of eagles raise two of their own this spring and summer. And the crazy thing? Eagles have staggering odds stacked AGAINST them. Some studies suggest a mortality risk for the 1st year of life is near 72% and I’ve also been told the mortality rate for an eagle during its first flight (around 10-12 weeks after hatching) is nearly 50%. Imagine — a developmental milestone with a flip-of-the-coin chance at survival. Parenting anything is staggeringly terrifying. Although some children are born with these kinds of odds due to congenital malformations or inborn errors of metabolism, most children in the U.S. come out with remarkable odds for survival. Modern medicine has enhanced this: sanitation, vaccination, child-safety restraints, and perinatal medicine has done wonders for our children.
My sweet little eagle had hesitated the last couple summers when looking up at the platform. And this summer he decided to take flight. Just a quick reminder for me that the risks, coupled with a brew of courage and enthusiasm, are likely ubiquitous, shared traits for all species raising little ones. I suspect the thrill that comes with successful first leaps is too…
Maybe forty is middle-age, for me it’s certainly been in the-middle-of-something. I turn 41 later this week and I must admit, my year being 40 felt slightly more rigorous than the ones that came before it. Perhaps just circumstance, but my year was peppered with rare opportunity, great loss, brilliant connection, and perspective-building change. The change and loss has been arduous in ways, each lesson feeling like just another onion layer of innocence peeled away. Hard work to love and to lose. Hard work to try and to fail.
Yet nothing about me wants to be younger.
I’m thankful for the perspectives I’m gaining and the experiences I’m acquiring — even the brutal ones. I also know my experiences aren’t nearly as “brutal” as many. But somehow I feel even more ready to parent my little boys after losing beloved people, saying goodbye to a pet, and enduring challenges unexpected. Finding patience for change and learning more about living, where we have very little control, certainly is quite a gift.
This past weekend we lost Luna, our 13 year-old puppy doggy, which has me thinking again about Mary Oliver’s reminder of this “one wild and precious life” we’re given. Our puppy had a long life but there’s no question saying goodbye and living into the absence of her abundant enthusiasm aches. Her early and steady devotion to me and to our boys was mind-blowing. The lessons she facilitated were somewhat profound, even as I said good-bye to her. I wished I’d done things a little differently; wished I’d rejoiced and sent her off in her very final moment soaring. All I could do was bury my face in her ears. Thankfully pets are tirelessly generous, letting us fail with very little consequence. Messing up with the dog at times certainly improved the strategies I have in juggling all the responsibilities with children and work and loss now moving forward. I’m so grateful. Read full post »
On Saturday evening, the newest member of the royal family was introduced to the world. Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana made her public debut at 6:12 PM Saturday evening, a mere 10 hours old. But what caught the attention of royal-enthusiasts and moms everywhere was new mother-of-two Kate Middleton’s appearance. That blown-out hair! That perfectly made-up face! The heels! She gave birth to a healthy, term baby girl that same day and looked as if she stepped from the cover of a magazine. And some moms around the world thought, “How does she look like that so soon after having a baby?”
I think this just brings light to the variant experiences we have with childbirth and the differential circumstances that we bring children into the world. I certainly wasn’t ready for heels a 1/2 day after giving birth but that may have to do with complications I endured and the C-section I had to undergo. Many women labor for days are are thoroughly exhausted by the time they start skin-to-skin and feeding their newborn. Many of us would have no interest in being in front of the world’s cameras 1 day after child birth. Some of us would, of course…
All this: a reminder that some women have wild support systems and elastic rebounds after childbirth while some take time to heal, recover and transition to the extraordinary privilege of being a mom. Some women deliver babies alone and without support, some have royal birthing suites. You can only imagine the team of people who helped support the Duchess’ worldwide unveiling. Kate’s appearance caught on camera reminds us ever so gently again that as parents we’re happiest when we don’t compare ourselves to others. When we focus on where we are with our own children and the gifts and challenges we often find coming our way, we typically can poetically enjoy this wild ride with such increased joy. In my opinion, competitive parenting abounds — comparing ourselves to the Duchess will always lead us astray.
As Mother’s Day beckons, we can put the hesitancies we may feel about our own circumstances in perspective and gift moms and women here and around the world. Perhaps consider giving a donation to One By One (a group providing support and cure to women with postpartum fistulas) or Women’s Opportunity Network (a group supporting women with micro-financing to start their own businesses and support their families around the world). If you want to honor your own mom and support children and their mothers here at Seattle Children’s, please consider doing that too! You give away $5 to another mother and all of the sudden Kate’s gorgeous yellow dress fades into the background…
There’s a beautiful story of success tucked away in the recent measles outbreak in the United States. Sometimes we forget to talk about it. When measles popped up at Disneyland in December 2014, it made headlines as the public remained thirsty for the media’s support in understanding who was at risk and why. I spoke to dozens of media outlets about the outbreak, under-vaccinated populations, the MMR vaccine, and how to protect those most vulnerable during an outbreak. We all emphasized those at biggest risk: infants too young to be immunized, those who were unvaccinated, or those too ill to be vaccinated. Measles is an illness I would be terrified to get — and I don’t like that people who aren’t protected are at risk for both catching the disease and spreading it. I think the public gets this in new ways although I hate that it takes outbreaks to capture attention and drive this education and understanding.
Measles virus, and the vaccine we have to prevent it, form a unique pair because although measles is wildly infectious and can be life-threatening the immunization is wildly effective and life-saving (>99% of those immunized are protected for life). It is a safe vaccine with minimal side effects. What a fortune and a triumph in prevention medicine. A terrible disease, once thought to be eradicated in the U.S., is swiftly prevented by a vaccine that nearly everyone in the population can get after their 1st birthday.
I’ve watched the viral #Iwishmyteacherknew campaign with earnest intrigue. If you haven’t read about it or followed along this past week, know that the campaign started when Denver 3rd-grade teacher, Kyle Schwartz, honed listening and asked students directly what they wished she knew about them. They wrote out responses and she started to post them on social media with the above hashtag when she realized the goldmine she’d discovered. In my mind this has captured the nation’s attention because of the empathy we feel reading about perceived (and real) short-comings in children’s lives and because the raw power that third-grade words provide in understanding inequities for US children. As a previous inner-city middle and junior high school teacher I think this teacher’s tactic and insight-seeking is profound. Reminds me so much of Momastery’s post last year about a teacher who finished each week in the classroom asking children to write down who they’d like to sit next to in school. She asked not to stir up the seating chart, but to determine immediately which children were being left out. She honed listening to facilitate and build connection for children who may be silently struggling.
I’ve been snagged a number of times this past week thinking about the #Iwishmyteacherknew, thinking on asking my own children the same question. What do they wish I knew? Would they journal something they wouldn’t say? Would invited words, written out in silence on paper, protect our children from the inevitable judgment/worry/concern/disorganization they may feel in answering a question like this in real-time when something dear is at stake? Something as dear as the bond they feel?
I surveyed a couple of parents and friends in the last few days if I should do it and if they would ask their own children. Most parents I discussed it with had a similar feeling to my own. Immediately our faces wince. We cringe when we think of it, unsure we’re ready to face the reality of where our children may feel we’ve fallen short in listening or unsure we’re steady enough to not just tolerate what we hear but also change things in life to improve the circumstances.
Would you do it? You ready to ask your school-age children or even your teen what they wish you knew about them and allow them time and space and paper to write it down?
We’re just back this week from a vacation with our children. The 6 days we had together, the variant pace at which we were able to live for the week, and the challenges that bubbled up offered some reminders but also some fears for me. We’re always on quicksand while raising children. Parenting demands exceptional grace but also exquisite flexibility and immediate rapid-fire insight. Our job descriptions, as parents, are ever-evolving; we’re asked to shift what we know as we step from stone to stone and into something new as quickly as our children do. The minute we feel we’ve figured something out — whammo — a new challenge arises we never even thought to consider.
The stakes are high. Of anything that unites us all as parents it’s knowing that truth. Along the way we will fail, fail, fail and have wondrous little successes too, thank goodness. Yet the tasks involved in raising a child will never look just like they did last month. I loved a This American Life (#553) segment I listened to this past week where a mom discussed some of the complexities in the requisite shifts she faced raising a principled little 7 year-old boy named Elias who is vegetarian and very emotional about animal-eaters. He finds himself living amid a family who explores an occasional pepperoni pizza and turkey sandwich. As his parents upend the way they eat at home (they end up banning all meat at home because of their son’s feelings) narrator Ira Glass states,
“If you’re hearing all this and you are feeling judgey about these parents and I know you are, because that is a national pastime — judging other people’s parenting – I just want to say I totally felt that way until I heard Elias….just like she says. Hearing Elias made me realize ‘oh, right, she actually is in a really tough situation. Where she has these two kids and those both have really strong feelings about this and she doesn’t want to crush either one of them.’”
Judging others’ parenting is often just the malaise of parental insecurity. We all have our own shakiness at times, especially as we’re asked to rise to new heights each new day. It’s of course so easy to judge, and so much harder to elevate and emulate others. In my mind, the best we can do while parenting (failing or succeeding) is tease out others’ profound moments. Learn from them but also copy and try those things out ourselves and see how we can make them work in our own lives. Read full post »
Last night four Swansons sat in row 6 of a little commuter airplane on the way to visit family, all plugged in. Four people who love each other with four separate devices hardly communicating for the two hours or so that we sped through the air. At first glance it can look like an utter failure — you can hear the criticism ringing in your ears — this family must not be connected, or these working parents, pounding out emails and prepping presentations while their children watch videos and play apps, really must have their priorities off, right? Right.
On that flight I read a beautiful blog post from tenacious pediatric researcher Dr Jenny Radesky that questions the new world in which children are being reared. The one where their parents are plugged-in, distracted, perhaps less attentive and less available while raising infants and young toddlers. It’s the same world today, where preteen digital natives may be connecting more by text than by talking. She cites data that found, “if you take away preteens’ mobile devices and make them hang out with their peers in the country for one week, they get better at reading other people’s facial expressions.” Perhaps these children and teens are swapping thumb skills for interpersonal ones. Radesky is the researcher behind the observations out last year evaluating parents’ use of mobile phones at dinner that alarmingly demonstrated children’s near need to act out to get their parents’ attention. Are our parent-child connections forever changed because of the profound brilliance that digital devices have in capturing our attention? Radesky brings up the zone of proximal development (I’d not previously heard of it) and its profound value. She says,
In order to effectively teach children how to regulate their behavior, we need to interact with them in what psychologist Lev Vygotsky termed the child’s “Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).” This means knowing their cognitive and emotional sweet spots: what they can do on their own, what they can’t do, and what they can do and learn with an adult’s help. You can’t fit the puzzle pieces in yet? Let me guide your hand a little bit until you figure it out by yourself. You can’t calm down when you’re frustrated yet. Let me help you identify what emotion you’re feeling and then show you some options for calming your body down. And I’ll slowly take my support away until you can do this skill on your own.
Oh yes, we certainly do need to be in this space and be available, eyes connected, body engaged, actively listening to the loves of our life (children). In championing this reality we can easily finger-wag that how things used to be (without smart phones and wild virtual connection to data and community) is better. Slow down, unplug, unwind, and CHECK BACK IN, right? Common Sense Media even has a new PSA campaign, that I happen to love, tagged #realtime guiding us back to life with a series of delicious, tight videos reminding us how we mess up. Read full post »
At dinner tonight we had breakfast for dinner (genius meal when you’re stumped by an unending need to create something “new”). At the end of the meal we were all discussing our love for bacon. Without a beat this came from the 6 year-old in our midst:
“Mama, could I live a long time and still have a piece of bacon everyday?”
I thought about it. Yes, it seems, yes. Yes, every day with bacon!
“Yes, I said, “I think you can have bacon but only if you exercise everyday and if you have really great friends. The kind of friends that make you feel alive.”
I launched into some sort of summary of the art of moderation with bacon, pouring out facts about fats, cholesterol, and diverse food choices – the essential need to balance bacon with things that grow in the ground. As I waxed on with a macronutrient-level discussion the 6 year-old in front of me just kept moving with his idea. Turned out he wanted concrete responses for his life with bacon. He pushed into the friendship part.
A long life with bacon goes something like this: of course you need to eat a lot of other goodnesses with your bacon. We can borrow wisdom from the Mediterranean diet and reduce the red meat we eat, put fish on the table twice a week, eat lots of seeds and nuts and ensure fruits and veggies show up on every plate we serve. Debates will wage on about the magic foods we eat, today it was the complexities to the value of an orange over OJ so we always have to put food advice in the context of life. I told my 6 year-old tonight he’d have to exercise every day and get outside, twirl around without a ceiling, take a lot of steps, and be connected with nature.
But perhaps most essential to living a long life (with bacon), I repeated, is solid choices with whom he chooses to live his precious life. If you’re going to eat bacon every day you have to make great friends and forge partnerships with those who make the world feel possible. In my mind you need soul-fetching friends — the ones who literally make you feel like you can fly. We have to spend time with those who let us unpeel ourselves without judgment and urge us to take risks, help us take our time, and lend support to shelter whatever we consider dear. Read full post »
Our children will never be the sole judge of our job as parents of course. We are likely our own closest and most fastidious critic. And really it’s just us (and our partners) that can truthfully reflect and evaluate how it goes as we raise our children — what our hopes were when we started on the journey of raising another and where we find ourselves. And so, however radiant the peaks and successes seem, the anxiety of our choices in this high-stakes job will likely dominate. The angst with how this all goes as our children mature ties our feet together at times, and can feel a little like stuffing big rocks into our pocket as we jump off the dock into the lakes of our lives. We’re hard on ourselves. Sometimes this is good and motivating, centering or stabilizing, and at times it can even be useful when sorting priorities. But sometimes, it’s simply unkind. Some of the best advice I was given after my boys were born was this: Read full post »
I recently listened to an interview on This American Life that stuck with me. The show was entitled “It’s Not The Product, It’s The Person” and went through a series of examples uncovering the reality that great business (or great work) is more a product of the who than the what. Who people are, how much grit, tenacity, raw or natural talent, passion, or skill really matters when doing whatever it is that that they do. Far more perhaps than what they actually create, sell or even perform. And although this isn’t the point I mean to make (you’ll see) it’s worth noting that the show opens with details of a young entrepreneur, like really young (age 11 years) and demonstrates how her talents, bravado, and finesse allow her to sell things and attract attention that others can’t. The show rounds out as the narrator showcases the varying pitfalls in his own quest for success as an ex-NPR radio producer turned start-up entrepreneur. The story was somewhat lighthearted, of course, but one point stuck. As he was gleaning information from an established, successful venture capital investor he was asked a potent question. The investor was interrogating how this fledgling entrepreneur could get funding; assisting him in creating his “pitch” for the money people. He asked, “What’s your unfair advantage?”
Think about it, what’s your unfair advantage?
It stuck with me because it was so relevant for success in an often random, senseless world of building ideas and companies but also in parenting “like a pro.” An unfair advantage sometimes facilitates success and I would suggest nearly all of us have something in our pocket that we know makes it work. You can think of this unfair advantage in terms of celebrity or early success for some (Kate Hudson’s mom is Goldie Hawn after all, and it certainly seems easier to get a bedroom in The White House if your last name is Bush or Kennedy or Clinton for that matter). Yet we all also know that success isn’t only built of “unfair advantages,” that it does take advantage wed to sheer passion, purpose or intent. But clearly those unfair advantages help people get their ideas and skills discovered.
It was only recently that I realized my unfair advantage this past decade or so. Read full post »
Seattle Children’s provides healthcare for the special needs of children regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex (gender), sexual orientation or disability. Financial assistance for medically necessary services is based on family income and hospital resources and is provided to children under age 21 whose primary residence is in Washington, Alaska, Montana or Idaho.