Relationships

Mamas on Bedrest: I was left behind

February 21st, 2012

“We forgot Brown Bear at Grandma’s house”

As I looked at the text, my heart sank. My husband and children flew to my husband’s hometown to celebrate my mother in law’s 70th birthday. I had another obligation, so for the first time in their lives, my children traveled without me. I did all that I could to make sure that they had everything they needed. But as they packed for the return trip, Brown Bear got lost in the bed sheets and left behind.

As any parent knows, the loss of a beloved “Lovie” can be catastrophic. Think of the Peanuts character Linus and his blanket and you’ll know exactly what I mean. I was pretty sure that they’d make it home on the flight okay, but my greatest concern lay in trying to get this child to sleep tonight. I called my mother in law and she was already heading out the door to the FedEX store.

“Hold on,” I said. “It’s President’s Day. Let’s make sure they’re shipping out.”

So she held on one line while I used my cell phone to see if FedEX was shipping. They were and off she went. She called me back about half an hour later to let me know that Brown Bear was on his way-overnight express!

With potential catastrophe averted, I sat down with a sigh. The next thing I knew, I was sobbing. How was my son going to make it through the flight without Brown Bear? Would he be scared? Would he cry? At one month shy of 6 years old, I knew in my head that he’d make it just fine. But in my heart, I was nervous. My son would be upset and there he’d be, without Brown Bear-and without me.The tears streamed down my face. This would be the first time ever that my son would be or could be in distress and I wouldn’t be there to make it all better. Instead, I was home alone, “working” (but not getting damned thing done!).

I have traveled before and left the children home with my husband. They’ve always been fine. We’ve traveled together the three of us since they were both babies (My husband was usually off on one business trip or another.). But never have they ventured on a trip without me. We don’t have family close by, so weekends at Grandma’s or Mimmie’s is out of the question. My daughter has just started having sleep over parties, yet even when she’s gone, I have my son at home. This was the first time that they were both gone. It is the strangest feeling to be “left behind.”

My house is eerily quite without the banter and bickering of my children. My son’s drums reside beside my desk and although I often have to shout to make him stop playing while I am on the computer, it’s a clanging that I am quite used to. Last night when I returned from my trip, I entered the house and the silence was almost deafening. There was no one there to greet me when I returned. And as I locked up and went to bed, I realized it was the first time I had slept in our house alone since before my daughter was born in 2002.

I knew the day would come when my children would leave, even temporarily, but my sadness at their absence surprised me. Even at the ages of 9 and 6, this trip was a stark reminder that my days of “mothering” are speeding by and one day in the not so distant future, I will wave good bye as my children head off to write their own stories of their lives.

So here I sit, at 11:25 pm writing a blog that should have been posted 12 hours ago. When they arrived, amidst the hugs and excitement, I learned that my daughter had lent her brother “Bear” (her bear) to hold on the plane. Another “friend” is sleeping-in for Brown Bear tonight. Every one, family and faux furry alike, are pitching in to get my son through this night. Brown Bear’s ETA is “before 3pm” tomorrow, so if all goes well, he’ll be in the car when I pick my son up at school.

I haven’t heard a peep from my son’s room. My guess is that the excitement of the day has worn him out and even though Brown Bear is temporarily MIA, the comfort of being home, in his own room, in his own bed and with his “friends” is mitigating any sadness he may feel over Brown Bear’s absence.

As for me, I am relieved to have my family home. I know that this is just the beginning. I have sleep overs, overnight camps and college to look forward to and hopefully they will all prepare me for the day when my children leave me behind-for good.

Mamas on Bedrest: Boys & The Brain

January 30th, 2012

Boys and Girls learn differently.

Well no news there, yet that is what the presenter, Mr. Michael Zumpano, opened with today at a parent education seminar offered at my son’s Montessori school. “Mr. Michael” as the children call him, has a Master’s in Education and specializes in physical education and the educational needs of boys. He teaches physical education to the children at my son’s school and provides particular insight into the education of boys. I’ve seen him in action and have been impressed at how well he engages and redirects children who are on the verge of “acting out”.  And although I try to limit “scheduling” things on the weekends (as quite frankly I need a break from scheduled activities) when I saw the notice for this seminar, I was drawn to it and I’m really glad that I went.

The purpose of Mr. Michael’s presentation is to help us as a community (parents, teachers and other family members and workers) to come together to better support boys. He related how in his own life, his father died when he was 8, yet he has lots of support from family who lived close by, neighbors and other men in his community who mentored and guided him. He emphasized that today many boys are growing up without their dads in the home or in their lives and without extended family or a close knit community. The result is that graduation rates for boys are down and risk taking behavior is up. We as a society and as communities have to step in and step up for our boys to ensure that they develop as fully mature men.

So what did Mr. Michael teach me about interacting with my son (and my daughter)?

  1. Male and female brains are different. Male brains are larger than female brains and are composed more of gray matter than white matter. What this means is that males are more adept at performing spatial tasks. Males can focus on one thing for quite some time, sticking with it until they master it, but have a much harder time transitioning to another task than females. Females brains are composed of more white matter. Female brains circulate more blood and have more neurologic connections between the sides of the brain. As a result, females have better verbal skills, are more relational and are able to move more easily from one task to another.
  2. Testosterone and Oxytocin. Male brains are under heavy influence of testosterone while female brains are under the influence of oxytocin. Now these are generalizations as both sexes contain both hormones and we all know of men who are great multi-taskers and communicators and women who are more aggressive and confrontational. But in general, Male brains are primarily influenced by testosterone and female brains are influenced by oxytocin. So what does this mean for behavior?Testosterone is what causes boys to be more aggressive and to take risks. It’s an action taking hormone. It also makes it more difficult for them to take in a lot of information. When trying to get your son (or husband) to do something, give them “just the facts”, visual cues/pictures and direct tasks. Don’t infer and don’t assume they’ll “get it” because you allude to something. If you didn’t clearly say it, they may not have received your message.

    Oxytocin is a nurturing hormone. The dominant influence in the female brain girls respond to verbal cues, direct eye contact and empathy.

  3. Nurturing: Empathy vs. Aggression. As mamas, our natural instinct is to “nurture” our babies. But as our little boys grow, we may need to nurture them less and handle them with a “firmer” hand. This is not to say that you should beat your boys. But because of how their brains are designed, they are going to respond better to lower/deeper pitched (voice) tones and a strong touch. So if your son is playing a video game and its time for dinner, you are going to have to approach him (and if he is calm) look him in the eye, lower the pitch of your voice, speak firmly, perhaps with your hand on his, and say, “its time to stop and get ready for dinner.” Mr. Michael also reminded us that this will be a tough transition for a boy as he is deeply engrossed in what he is doing and doesn’t easily transition. He advised perhaps saying, “Son, 5 minutes more and then its time to stop.” He even advised a step down approach, “Son, 3 more minutes, then its time to stop.”  (Now as a mama, I have to admit that I was a bit put off by this. Sometimes I need my son to do what I need him to do when I ask him to do it! But I will take this information  into consideration!)A very interesting point Mr. Michael shared is that when your son is not calm, i.e. when tempers are rising and you find yourself in a confrontation with your son, that is not the time to make eye contact. In males, eye contact is a sign of aggression, an invitation to spar, kind of like a dare. Your son will see your behavior as a sign of aggression and will meet your “aggression” with aggression of his own! This is primal behavior (seen even in boys as young as toddlers) not your son trying to sass you or be headstrong. If your son is agitated and you are trying to get him to do something, approach him from the side, lower the pitch of your voice, perhaps put your hand firmly on his shoulder and then state clearly and directly what you want him to do.

    Finally, when your son falls, your first instinct may be to run to him and say, “Are you ok? Aw, it’s okay baby.” This may be okay for a baby boy, but as they get older, it’s important that boys be nurtured in a more aggressive fashion. If they fall, make sure they are not hurt, but assure them that they are okay and encourage them to “get back into the game”. As they get older and may be feeling skiddish about making a mistake or poor performance, we must encourage them to stick with the task, honor their commitment (especially if it is to a team) and to try again at the activity. This type of nurturing tends to help a boy rally faster and to get back to tasks at hand. Boys that are “nurtured” too much won’t develop the necessary skills to press through adversity and complete tasks and this can become a hindrance in later development and in life.

  4. Before you Assess….One thing that I am always concerned about is how quickly people (schools, teachers, relatives, etc…) are ready to label children and medicate children. I came away from this workshop more convinced than ever that there are children (boys especially) out there labeled as ADHD and behavior problems when they simply need different guidance and direction and a different teaching style. Boys are not made neurologically to sit for long periods of time. After a time boys go into what Mr. Michael called “Active Brain Rests” where they seem to zone out and/or fidget. Boys need to move. Frequent movement breaks enable boys to better focus when they are approaching tasks. Before you have your son assessed, ask these questions:
    • Are they getting enough water? Dehydration makes it difficult to focus. If you son is asking for water, he is already dehydrated.
    • Is he getting enough sleep? Children who are sleep deprived have more difficulty focusing. Speak with your pediatrician and find out how much sleep your son needs and be sure he gets it.
    • Make sure your son is getting a nutrient dense diet. This can be hard, especially when children refuse to eat certain foods. But make sure your child is getting the nutrition he needs and discuss supplementation with his pediatrician if you have questions.
    • Make sure your son is getting enough natural sun light. This will not only improve his mood, but also help make sure he is getting enough vitamin D
    • Make sure you son is getting enough Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Omega 3 Fatty acids help with brain function.
    • Make sure your son is getting enough exercise, a natural neurochemical booster.

I came away with a lot of food for thought and a lot of reading that I want to do. I have to admit, I am in the dark when it comes to raising a boy. I am the last of 3 girls and had a daughter first. This boy thing is all new territory for me. But I am very thankful to Mr. Michael for sharing his expertise and insight into the brains of boys with me today.

Mamas on Bedrest, if you know you are having a baby boy and this is your first intimate experience raising a boy, here are some resources for you. This list is by no means exhaustive and this summary of this workshop is by no means “the gospel” on how to raise your sons. But I hope that this is a starting point, some food for thought, which will stimulate you to explore more. That is what this workshop did for me. I learned a bit, but learned more about what I don’t know and about what I would like to learn more. If you know of  or come across great resources, please share them in the comments section below. You can also send us an e-mail at info@mamasonbedrest.com. You can also “tweet” us on Twitter (@mamasonbedrest) or post a resource on our Facebook Page. Subscribe to our blog by clicking on the orange circle in the upper right hand corner of our webpage. If you are interested in learning more about supplements appropriate for your children, send e-mail to info@mamasonbedrest.com to schedule a consultation.

Resources

Michael Gurian, Gurian Institute, Gender Differences www.michaelgurian.com. www.gurianinstitute.com

Daniel Amen, MD, Neuroscience/Brain research. www.amenclinics.com

Michael Thompson, books on boys. www.michaelthompson-phd.com

Leonard Sax, Books on Boys and Girls. www.leonardsax.com

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, ages and stages of development www.touchpoints.org

Louise Bates Ames, psychologist who studies characteristics of each age

William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN medical and diet.  www.askdrsears.com

“The Way of the Superior Man” (book) By David Deida.

Mamas on Bedrest: Introducing “Early Minority” with Kim Hollins

December 14th, 2011

I’m an African American Mama trying to raise her 2 African American children in this crazy “melting pot” called America. Now in grade school and learning “American History”, my children have questions race, culture and why it’s been such an issue. Often I have no answers.

Which is why I was so excited to “tweet” Kim Hollins (on Twitter, @EarlyMinority). A Senior Human Development and Early Education student, Kim is setting up a non-profit organization, Early Minority, to address issues of race and culture in the development of young African American Children. Please visit her website for more information or contact Kim directly at Kimberly@earlyminority.org.