Practice does NOT make Perfect: It Makes Practicers

Please Pass the Snake

This was taken a few years ago when my husband and son were “practicing” catching garder snakes in our yard.

Yesterday while at coffee with a couple friends, the subject of malpractice came up. One of my friends wisely pointed out that doctors are not perfect…they only “practice” medicine. It got me thinking:

Doctors practice medicine.

Lawyers practice law.

My husband and I are practicing parenting.

Yesterday afternoon, when I was working through some difficult emotions with our almost-thirteen-year-old, I borrowed this idea of practice.

He is in the midst of confusion about life and his place in the world. (did I mention he’s in seventh grade? or that his dad is getting ready to leave for out-of-state work for 6 weeks? or that we are preparing to move to a new town?) His confusion is explicable, even if his behavior is not excusable.

After hacking away at what seemed to me to be surface excuses for his recent behavior, he worked to identify the feelings he couldn’t quite express. I gently pushed him a bit further. Much of his behavior has revolved around what seemed like anger toward me and my husband. (shocking for a teenager, I know!) So, I prodded him to talk through his feelings toward us. As hard as it was for me to hear his perspective, I did my best to listen without reaction.

I sat for a few minutes, taking in his viewpoint about what we are not doing quite right as parents. Honoring his feelings, I told him I was grateful he shared with me.

Then I asked him, “How long have you been here?”

“Thirteen years,” he said.

“How long have I been here?” I asked.

“Almost thirty-eight years,” he smirked, frustrated because he thought he knew where I was going.

I said, “You know what? You are practicing being in seventh grade. You’ve never done any of this before. Your dad and I have done seventh grade, and high school, and college, so we have a perspective that you do not yet have.”

He subtly rolled his eyes, because I did go where he thought. Then, I changed gears.

“The thing is, we are practicing too.”

He looked up from his hands to make eye contact with me for the first time.

“We have NEVER been parents of a thirteen-year-old before and we only get one shot to get it right.”

“No,” he sunk back into his annoyed posture. “You get to do it two more times with the girls.”

“Ok, let me rephrase. We are practicing being parents of a thirteen-year-old boy named Nate, and sometimes we try harder than we should because we so desperately want to get it right.”

He softened and made eye contact again.

“Everyone is practicing something,” I said. “We get better with more practice, but we’re never perfect. You are practicing life as an almost-teenager and your dad and I are practicing mid-life and parenting. All that matters is that all of us keep trying to get better at what we’re practicing.”

How about you? What are you practicing? Are you choosing to grow through the experience, or are you going through the motions?

www.meaganfrank.com                                                                     

Copyright 2013 Meagan Frank Choosing to Grow

Feeling Grief…Embracing Joy

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“They only have two hours of childhood left.”

It was this fleeting comment by a woman in Newtown, CT yesterday that has rendered me useless. I cannot shake her distraught and heart-broken expression as she explained to the rolling cameras that she was across town to console her friends while delaying the pick-up of her own children. She wanted her kids to enjoy their innocence for just a few hours more.

I sat with the same dilemma while at my desk in Minnesota. I sobbed at the overwhelming loss. At the grief that enveloped my every thought.  I longed to hold my children, to grab their precious faces in my hands and gaze endlessly into their bright little eyes. I knew they would come home from their school-days without a clue about what unfolded in horrific fashion hundreds of miles away, and all I wanted was to stop the vicious clock from ticking.

The clock is the problem, you know. We know all childhood, all innocence, all life will inevitably end, but we hate the truth of that. We pine for more joy than grief as we’re living, and we hurt so much for the children because they are our balance between hope and loss.

When my 12-year-old bound in the door, I greeted him in the kitchen and held him. We embraced in silence until he mumbled into my shoulder, “You alright mom?” “No” I explained and pulled back to make eye contact with him. He had heard some rumblings, and we talked about the news, and the horror, and the overwhelming feelings of grief, anger, sadness, confusion, and despair.

He knew better than to give me away when I hugged his sisters just as hard.

The girls are in fifth and first grades. They are who I picture cowering in closets or hiding in cupboards, and I was hopeful they would stay unaware for quite a while.

I knew the fifth grader would eventually catch on, and when she asked me about an Instagram photo she saw, my heart gently splintered. Our first-grader still doesn’t know, but I can hear that deafening click of the clock hand.

While I cannot help but to consider something will have to be done about this…measures will have to be taken…forward movements will need to be made, there remains this space of time that needs to be lived too.

It brings me to another scene I watched unfold this week reminding me that where grief exists, joy can too.

Most weekdays, about 2:30 in the afternoon, I watch a young man arrive at the house across the street to visit the teen-aged daughter who lives there. Most days he gets his crutches out of the car and slowly makes his way to the front door.

The young man’s name is Zach Sobiech, and he is a 17-year-old boy who is dying from cancer. His ticking clock is loud, and he hears it, but he has made a conscious decision to live in spite of it.

The last few weeks he has been in the news for a song he wrote to say good-bye to his friends and family. 

I can never watch the video dry-eyed and I think of the grief and the loss for this boys’ family and for his girlfriend, Amy.

Then Zach gave me a gift of joy I will never forget.

One sunny and somewhat unseasonably warm day this week, I noticed Zach out of his car. His crutches were sticking out of the snow, and he picked up snowballs and threw them. He launched one down the street, one at his car, and he threw a few gently down at his feet. He walked painfully, without his crutches, over to the snowplowed pile of snow in the middle of the cul-de-sac. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He picked up another few snowballs, and after throwing them, he made his way back to the drive.

A silent tear streaked down my face and I said to my husband, who had turned from his work to watch Zach too, “he’s just a kid playing in the snow.”

The next snowball he grabbed was cupped and hidden behind his back as his attention obviously moved from what he was doing to something down the street. Amy’s car pulled into the driveway, and it was apparent he was readying himself for a surprise attack.

The driver’s door opened and when Amy realized the plan, she quickly shut it. He raised his empty hands in innocence, and Amy made her way out of the car. It wasn’t long before the two of them were in the powder of the yard.  Zach arm-swiped the snow toward Amy first, and she quickly returned fire. She approached him laughing and he offered her a hug. They embraced for a moment in the sun-kissed snow, and then she let him slowly pull her down into the snow with him. They splashed each other with powder and I found myself breathlessly smiling and crying in the same glorious moment.

Life is full of triumph and tragedy, celebration and sorrow, joy and grief. It is only what we choose in even the smallest moments that define the lives we live. There will be those who rise in anger about what happened in Newtown…there will be those who rise in action…and there will be those who will be unable to rise for quite some time.  There’s no telling how we’ll react until we are in any particular moment.

In this moment, in my small kitchen in Minnesota, I hear the girls making play-doh worlds to the backdrop music of some boy band. There is a clock ticking in the background, but maybe my job as their mom is not to do what I can to keep them in an ephemeral childhood, but rather to embrace the fleeting moments, and to throw myself into that proverbial pile of snow to make snow angels any chance I get.

My Kids Won’t Listen…Unless I Teach Them How

“Look at me when I’m talking to you! Oh yeah…and take your fingers out of your ears too.”

As a parent with profound wisdom and insight to share (NOT), I really hope my kids listen to me when I am talking about something important (like putting their laundry away).

How do I teach them to be good listeners?

I know when they slink off into a slouch or physically turn their bodies away from me, they are doing everything they can NOT to listen. My instinct tells me to point out the behavior…which I do.

“Please sit up…I’m talking to you.”

This hasn’t worked as well as you would think. They have traditionally sat for a moment, and then before a full sentence has left my mouth, something jello-like takes over their organs and I have a puddle of a kid on my kitchen floor.

This intrigues me. They don’t do this for their teachers…or in the presence of other adults.  I’ve NEVER seen them do this at a practice or a dance class. What is it about my voice that provokes this internal melting?

For those of you who have been reading my stuff for a while, you’ll acknowledge that I am forever conducting experiments on our children.  Nothing dangerous (okay…so maybe a little dangerous because they are psychological in nature) but I am learning this parenting thing too, so how can you call what I do as a mother anything but an experiment?

Any-who…

I have spent some time the last few years investigating this listening thing. It’s harder than I thought…for me!

What I’ve discovered is that it is fine to point out the behaviors of good listening, but it is more important how good I am at listening.

Frankly…lately I’ve sucked.

I listen when they are saying what I want to hear.

I listen with bias and opinion already forming on my lips.

I listen in spurts between what I’m trying to capture in my writing or between glances at the emails on my phone.

I talk a good game, but these days I haven’t been playing the part of the listener very well.

I know I can be better…I used to be much, much more intentional about how I listened to our kids.

When our children were babies, I taught each of them sign language. I was fascinated by their ability to communicate before they could speak, and I would listen to them for hours.

Maybe I listened better when they were little because it felt like they were listening too. I would teach them something and hear. “red…square… bus… spider” in adorable little-kid repetition.

What I wanted them to hear would come back to me in validation.

Pre-teens are not great at validating.

So, as I’ve written through this blogpost, my challenge has become abundantly clear.

I need to parent my children with intentional listening. PERIOD!

These strategies are hard when the growing children in our house physically guard themselves against touch or Active Listening, but good parenting isn’t about what I need…it’s about what they need.

Don’t get me wrong, I deserve, (we all deserve) someone to listen to and validate our feelings, our experiences, and our ideas.  I just have to stop expecting that from my kids…they need me to teach it to them first.

I need to seek and accept validation from somewhere other than our kids.  It’s not their job right now.

That’s why blogging communities of mothers are so necessary. We are each other’s listeners…we are the ones who can validate, assure, and comfort. I’m better having gone through Momalom’s Five for Five challenge this week…not because I blogged everyday (although that provided much-needed distraction) but instead because so many of you listened…and for that I am truly grateful.

                                           

Copyright 2012    Meagan Frank                         www.meaganfrank.com              Choosing to Grow

 

Don’t Delete the Awkward Pictures

Where’d You Grow Wednesday?
April 25, 2012
Special Edition for

For a few months on Wednesdays (or as close to Wednesday as I can manage) I have chronicled the ways I’ve chosen to grow through my life. It is a snapshot…a bite-sized version of intentional steps I take to improve myself. Very often it is not a painless process.

Some weeks are better than others, and I never shy away from the growth that is uncomfortable.

I Choose to Grow the same way I deal with my digital pictures. It’s easy to take hundreds and thousands of digital pictures and then delete all the photos that are not perfect.  I make a point to keep at least one awkward picture with every grouping that I print.  The awkward photos tell a story too…and I am not good at pretending that everything is perfect.

Awkward Picture of the Week

Saturday night, while I sat at my writing desk, Big Sprout, our nearly twelve-year-old son, came in and sat on the wooden music chair my daughter uses to practice her french horn. This is rather common behavior for him.  My husband trailed quietly behind him and lay down on the foot of our bed.

I should have thought, “This is going to be an important moment.”

I didn’t know that.

The conversation started rather simply… Big Sprout asked questions about how his dad and I thought he played in his two hockey games that day.

There was nothing about that conversation that I had planned.

After more dialogue than I can explain here, I hadn’t planned to say, “Your chances of making it the NHL are pretty slim.”  I hadn’t planned to watch his face sink and his eyes well. I hadn’t planned to get the look of “What the hell were you thinking?” from my husband. I hadn’t planned to feel like the worst mother in the world.

I scrambled back to better parenting when I explained to him that it wasn’t that I didn’t believe he could, but that it only matters that he put action behind what he believes about himself. I believe he is destined for great things, and I will do anything he needs to help him get there…but the work it’s going to take, has to come from him.

Doubting and dissecting every part of that conversation led to a blogpost on my sports blog. Dialogue started. Debate began. And now, that snapshot of parenting will be the feature topic of conversation on Hey Coach Tony’s ESPN radio show this upcoming Saturday morning. I hadn’t planned that either.

Sharing that awkward moment of our lives has led to growth for a lot of people…and had I just pretended it didn’t happen, the story would have ended there. Instead…the story continues.

To our son’s credit, he chose a better reaction than I could have possibly scripted for him. Instead of wilting with my comments or being pushed down because of them, he chose a new attitude about what hockey (and work) mean to him right now. He may not completely understand how it will pay off for him in his life, but he made a step on Sunday toward embracing work ethic…determination…grit. I couldn’t have been prouder of him… nor more relieved.

I didn’t take a picture of my son as he sat on that chair, with the background sillhouette of my husband on the bed. I didn’t need to. That image is a permanent part of me now.

I’m not sure who grew more in that moment, me or our son, but I know, without a doubt, we both made a choice to grow because of it.

What sorts of choices did you make to grow this week?

I would love to hear how you are choosing to grow.  Either comment here, or send me an email:  choosingtogrow@meaganfrank.com.

                          

Copyright 2012     Meagan Frank              www.meaganfrank.com                            Choosing to Grow

The Family that Practices Together…Makes More Music

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Where’d You Grow Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday SUNDAY?

I’ve grown musical…

Or at least my creative space has grown to include some musical instruments. Over the last week (give or take a few days) a transition has started to happen, in my room for sure, but in my mothering too.  I went from a drill-sergeant-instructive mother of a reluctant- french-horn-playing child (Middle Sprout)  to a flute-wielding music teacher of a music-loving-french-horn-enthusiast.

There comes a point in parenting when auto-pilot seems like a feasible approach.

“The kids are self-sufficient,” I justify.

“They are independent and competent, and they will most certainly be contributing members of society… if I just make sure they stay on track.”

That is a form of parenting… but it’s not teaching.

My husband is in the middle of his master’s courses in education, and we have talked regularly this past week about the responsibilities of teachers. I am challenged by so many of the things upon which we’ve agreed.

Teachers should be interested in knowing the children they teach. They should be challenged to teach TO that kid not AT them. Creativity needs to be fostered, not squelched, and that goes for both the instructor and the instructee.

The same line of thinking has gnawed at me with regard to coaching. I contend that coaches ARE teachers and by thinking like teachers it changes the entire approach to that role. Everything becomes a teaching moment.

So when I asked my daughter this week what I could do to help stop the fights over practicing her french horn, she answered, “I want you to help teach me.”

I sat with that request. I considered the fact that I’ve been trained as a teacher, that I consider myself a coach of people.. and I was failing her.

My first day with “music teaching” on my mind, I went in with Middle Sprout to listen to her practice. I realized that when she was in our front room, she could hear all the noise and music of her siblings in the basement. It was not conducive to her learning. So we moved.  I helped her to set up her stand, chair, and instrument in the writing space of my room. An appropriate space for creativity, I thought.

She played. I listened. She asked me to play with her. So I dusted off my flute case, relearned the fingerings so I could play them an octave higher than her, and the flute/ french horn duet began.

I have practiced with her every day since. We are both getting better, and she has come to remind me to play instead of waiting for me to harp reminders at her.

We had a visitor to our music practice, yesterday. Big Sprout toted his violin case…the one that seems to have shrunken in the last two years…and he bowed, plucked and strummed. A guitar would be a better match for the music he is trying to make, and I’ll be adding that instrument to the room.

Music is meant to be shared, and I had been asking our daughter to hide herself away and practice regularly on her own. I’m a mom, but I’m a teacher too, and even if my investment in our children makes my blogposts late…we all deserve more music.

In addition to my new role as a music teacher, I had an opportunity this week to interview and observe one of the most inspirational music teachers I have ever seen. I’ll be writing a full piece about the Drumline teacher and coach at Wellstone Elementary school in St. Paul, but I’ll leave you with a slideshow/audio clip of what it sounds like to motivate 30 sixth graders to make music together.

Here is an additional youtube clip of the Wellstone Drumline performing.

Music depends upon the instrument…but it depends more upon the teacher. Music is shaping the lives of those kids at Wellstone…and I’ve made a decision to let the movement of music be a shaping agent in our house too.

If you have a good choosing to grow story, I would love to help you share it.  Email me story ideas or links to choosingtogrow@meaganfrank.com.

Happy growing!

copyright 2012   Choosing to Grow                                                         Meagan Frank

Leap in Tween Things…

Where’d You Grow Wednesday? February 29, 2012

This past week I have grown to accept the fact… I am the parent of tweens.

Technically, I have been the parent of a tween for over two years, but this week it really hit me about what phase of life I am attempting to parent. It actually took two separate trips to the junior high to convince me of this.

My first visit was as an attendee for the informational meeting for parents of incoming seventh graders. Our oldest is a sixth grader at the elementary school, and he is slotted to start his junior high experience next year. Nothing makes enrolling a kid in junior high more tangible than the start of the spring registration process.

I suppose I should have been more prepared for the feelings of nostalgia and anxiety that walked with me into that school. As I got out of my car, I was somewhere between acceptance and denial that I am actually old enough to have birthed a junior-high-aged kid. I can only imagine how much more heightened those emotions would be if our kids were attending the same junior high I did as a kid.  I think it is a blessing that this junior high is new…for all of us.

So it’s happening, and tween stuff can no longer be ignored.

Our older two kids are 9.5 and nearly 12. They both fall firmly into the category, and I thus am reluctantly committed to accepting my role as the mother of these precious tweens.

That means I need to know how long it’s going to take for me to get to the junior high.  That means that questions about puberty are developmentally appropriate and necessary. That means that there are a whole host of things I will struggle to discover about my own kids because they too are caught…in between.

That’s why I went back to the junior high again last night. I pushed through the freezing rain and predicted hazardous roads to attend a community event called: Not My Kid: A Community Conversation on Youth Suicide.

I was just as reluctant to go as I am about admitting we have tweens in our house, but I’ve made a decision to take charge of the things I can, and pray for graceful acceptance of all those things that are out of my hands.

I am so glad I went.

Like most people, I avoid thinking about mortality as much as I can. I shudder at the idea that anything bad could ever happen to our kids, and it is too overwhelming to consider that they would ever feel bad enough to do anything harmful to themselves.

I needed to hear what was shared last night, and I urge all parents to work through their own discomfort to understand our role in protecting all kids from themselves.

There were a lot of interesting stats given during the presentation:

Nationally:

  • Every 15 minutes, someone commits suicide
  • Over the past 5 years, there has been a 320% increase in the suicide rate of girls ages 10-14

In Minnesota:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-34 year olds
  • 1 in 8 teens is depressed

In Washington County:

  • 12% of sixth graders have had suicidal thoughts
  • 15% of ninth graders have had suicidal thoughts (100 9th graders have tried)

These are alarming statistics, but simply pretending they are not there will not make them go away.

We have a responsibility as parents, and community members, to care for the safe growth of children. Every child deserves a chance to move through the tween and teen years with loving support and care.

Factors that are known to decrease the risks of suicide for youth:

  • If they have contact with at least one caring adult
  • When they feel a sense of connection (activities, teams, etc.)
  • When they have positive self-esteem accompanied by good coping skills
  •  If they have access to care for emotional/ physical problems

So, what does that do to my approach as a parent?

I came home from the event and started a dialogue with our oldest.  He knew where I had gone, and he wanted to know what I had learned. I was comforted knowing that open communication with tweens is encouraged. After the presentation, I was armed with the information to talk with him about the signs he can look for in either himself, or his friends.

I asked him, “If you are with a friend and he breaks his arm, would you try to fix it?”

He laughed at how ridiculous that decision would be.

“It’s the same with a depressed person,” I told him. “There is a very real thing going on in that person’s brain that requires professional, and sometimes medical attention.”

This is what it is to be the parent of a tween.

I have to come to terms with my own feelings and emotions before I can work through things with our kids. The suggestions of the presenter for talking about youth suicide apply to how I can navigate all parts of this tween phase.

  • Deal with my own reactions and emotions first
  • Stay away from gossip and overdramatizing… stick to the facts
  • Remain nonjudgmental about any information my kids share with me (including their darkest emotions)
  • Ask them to Tell Me More and listen intently

Everyone always told me that parenting got harder. I can see that now.  My tweens are already much more independent, but it is precisely because of that independence that parenting them can become difficult.

I am up for the challenge, and I will leap in…ready or not.

*******There is much more information about preventing youth suicide, including a short video created by last night’s presenter, that can be found on the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide website.***********

To learn more about what it takes to choose to grow, or to see what CTG project Meagan is working on, you can visit her website at www.meaganfrank.com.

Happy Growing!!

copyright 2012  Choosing to Grow                                       Meagan Frank