Sunday, January 25, 2015

Communicating With Teens For Low Conflict

We raised our sons with a parenting style called attachment parenting (AP). Since they were never in daycare or preschool they had no large separation so the principals of AP naturally continued. With homeschooling the lifestyle is different and connection with Mom is inevitable. My husband worked long hours (about 70 a week) then had some underemployment that was a more typical 9-5 hour schedule. During unemployment times he spent the day at a friend's office job hunting so he was not underfoot a lot, I was there more. Anyhow my point is that the AP style has a heart of open communication and of close bonds with children.

Gentle discipline as I learned in La Leche League influenced us as well. We followed our hearts which happened to jive with both AP and gentle discipline. We also used some elements of non-violent communication although some of that book was a bit too much feel good hippie mumbo jumbo to me. The ideas in the book How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen And How To Listen So Your Kids Will Talk played some part but some of it was patronizing. I had training through my former career in Active Listening and modified that to parenting. As I have blogged in the past I think a lot of emotions including anger are based in fear so if you can get to the bottom of what the fear is then it helps resolve it. "I hear you saying you are mad that your teacher gave you only one day to write the essay. Are you afraid you won't have enough time to get it done seeing as how you are tired and have a head cold and feel crappy right now?" The issue there is fear and fear of failure not that the teacher is a jerk.

We have always had a heavy emphasis here on on talking. I talked to my kids a lot while doing things and doing errands. In the car it was, "Look at that crane it is helping build a building." Then each day as we passed we looked at the progress and the process until the building was finished. Talking a lot about what you are doing teaches kids. This actually was one of the big points in a book about unschooling, darn, what is that title? I can't remember, sorry. I read it after my kids were older and had already done that by instinct.

Anyhow we are more the type to talk about natural consequences and what did you learn and what will you do next time yada, yada, yada rather than dole out a punishment for a poor choice made such as "no TV for the rest of the day".

A  problem with consequences (punishments) that are not natural is they just don't always work. The fear of living with a punishment is supposedly supposed to change behavior before the behavior happens. Those who feel this fear is not effective may choose to not bother with those methods. After our older son got his speeding ticket at age 16 we realized we had never set up a rule to say if you get a speeding ticket you will be grounded for a month or something like that. We don't feel it would have stopped it to be honest. He was either going to speed or he was going to choose to do the speed limit. After the ticket was issued (a story I have chosen to not blog up until now and could make a long story) the punishment given by the DA in court was to do community service. No points were put on the license so there was no insurance rate change (we had said if it happened he would pay that difference). We did not give him a punishment for the ticket. There was no fine to pay in the end, we were going to make him pay for that if there was one, we had said. We did more talking, multiple times, about speeding and safety and yada yada yada. We did realize that we should have talked about these things in the future. So now we have said if you get into an accident and it is your fault and you total the car you are the one buying yourself a new one.

The advice that the parenting experts give to talk about things does not always work. This one case is what my focus was to be on with this post. I am unsure if this is a personality thing for older son more than younger of it this is all teens or what. I decided to share this here in case this helps someone. Please ponder on this and think about if this might help you.

The issue is at times it is not good at all to have a discussion. The counselor who was giving therapy to my son first told me this a couple of years ago. We were talking about our son handling anger and how sometimes he would work up into a rage. Sometimes that culminated in throwing something or slamming a door or kicking a hole through our wall. (He paid for the wall repair with his own money.) The advice given was to address or talk about whatever and then if it starts to ramp up to stop the conversation and say something like, "You are starting to yell and yelling is unacceptable in our family, and no one is yelling at you,  so we are going to stop talking and how about taking a break and then we will discuss again in ten minutes". When we first tried this it did not work. He was not willing to stop and calm down always because he wanted to be mad and to have his thoughts heard or have his wrath rain down on us. Sometimes when we tried to revisit he was not ready. Sometimes he needed an hour. Sometimes even when calmed down he would just ramp up again when we tried to talk about it again. This was discussed in family therapy multiple times. It is frustrating when someone gives advice that does not work and they just keep saying do this, do that, and they have no other ideas when you tell them it's not effective.

In some cases my son would calm down for a few hours and then before bed my husband would try to go talk it out but this went wrong nearly every time. It was easy to ramp back up and make a big fight but now it was midnight and everyone was exhausted. In these cases the therapist told my husband to no do that. I told him to not do that. Yet he did not listen to us and did it and that resulted in rages sometimes. Over and over I had to pull my husband back and get him to realize he was making it worse. My husband's need for closure before bed made him make a bad decision when he already knew that late night talks were the worst time of day to address things with that son. When tired he can get angry fast or upset quickly or feel despair or have doomsday thinking. My husband finally gets it.

In the last year or so I have noticed a certain thing our son does. He will say something to get a rise out of me or my husband and right there at the start I realized to not take the bait. He sometimes makes proclamations that I now realize are meant to tick me off. If in a bad mood he may just out of the blue say something like, "I am not getting my Eagle rank in Boy Scouts because I am just done with Scouting!"  I just pretend I did not hear it and just walked away or kept doing whatever I was doing then let it go. When I did take the bait and the conversation started to ramp up I would back off earlier than ever before and just move on. In these cases there is no raised voice or fight or major blow up. Later when it is clear the mood is great I sometimes bring up the topic and then it is said that all is fine and well.

Another thing is that I have realized for the first hour or so my son is really groggy after waking up. He needs a slow wake up process and has on his own, started a two alarm method that he came up with himself. The combination of later college classes (11:30am or noon) with waking to two alarms is working for him. This procedure he made up all by himself and he likes it. This is a major accomplishment toward independent living! Well anyhow another big issue is if I try to talk to him about something in this groggy morning time or if I bring up a problem then all hell breaks loose. So I have learned to let him be alone and do his thing in the morning when he is groggy and not fully awake and to address issues or to say anything with negativity in it in the afternoon.

I've been thinking about this issue of talking things out and of open communication. Some parents say to raise girls is very different than boys. I have two boys so I don't know how different genders are to parent. What I do know is that sometimes all the advise to have lots of communication is not always good. What is working with both of my teen boys now is to not discuss hot button issues when they just woke up and are groggy, to not bring it up when they are overtired or already bothered by some stress in their life, or when they are feeling sick. When discussing something if it starts to escalate to stop the talk and pick it up later (but not necessarily using the ten minute wait and regroup method, sometimes it should be left for an hour or more or until the next day). Both of my kids tend to be emotionally more vulnerable just before bed so bedtime is not the time to have big discussions about problems or about philosophical things or existential troublesome talks. And when teens try to bait you with emotionally charged statements don't take their bait, they may just be looking for a fight. I come from a family who likes to debate or to argue about things when they are in a bad mood as a way to blow off stress I think.  It is not healthy to take one's anger out on another person so if I'm mad about a bad driver that almost just killed me on the road I choose to not turn around and pick a fight with my husband or kids even though sometimes it would feel good to start to rant about food they spilled and left on the floor or milk they left on the counter all day or whatever. I am trying to be the adult and do the right thing and to lead by example. I guess the first step in respectful open communication and speaking with non-violence is to not take their bait or to know when to drop the discussion and table it for another time when they are not so emotionally charged.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Picking Our Battles

Younger son told me something in December about what a teacher allows to go on in class. I expressed my disapproval. I later brought this up with my husband then the three of us discussed it. When a teacher allows behavior to go on that is against school rules it puts students in a certain position. We parents say follow the school rules but when teachers usurp the authority of the administration it's an issue that kids are sometimes caught in the middle of.

The other issues happening more specifically with my son's learning or lack thereof and faltering grades were the primary issue for our family. It was not my problem if a teacher let something go on in class that is not allowed.

I am learning the politics of this school and the dynamic is even more incestuous than what we dealt with at homeschool co-ops. I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly with co-ops but was not quite surprised because none of it was much different than what goes on in American workplaces daily. At issue with the politics is the size of an organization. If the group is tiny it can work as more of a partnership or team but when it moves to a handful or a dozen the politics in in full swing.

Maybe we should have brought up the issue happening in that class back in December. Because now it is January and my son did what the teacher allows but this time another teacher overheard it and was not happy. Now in my son's file is a record of this incident which is the first indicator that he has the first strike against him with a behavior issue. I will add also that when the other teacher called this behavior out the teacher whose class it was said nothing, he did not defend my son nor say he agreed that it was a problem. Because to him it is not a problem it is daily allowed behavior. I note also that the teacher who allows that to go on has complimented my son's behavior and interactions withother students  and with him profusely and it's on his record for Term 1 in writing.

I don't think it's good to go to the administration with every farting issue and I believe in picking my battles. Perhaps now is the time to let the administrator know that the teacher is the one who has disregarded the rules of the school and let the kids run amok. There are other issues going on within that classroom and with that teacher but so far I have been told the teacher is "beloved by students and an asset to the school".

So far my husband and I have told our son that even if a person in authority allows activities that are stated to officially be against the rules he should refuse to participate even if every single other student in the class is doing it. This was not easy for a fourteen year old to hear. He is trying to hard to fit in and to be a normal kid which is a term he defines based on what he sees and perceives. He is influenced more by his peers and teachers than by what his father and mother say, feel, advise or dictate.

My son's tutor told him yesterday it's okay to break the rules so long as you do not get caught. That opens up another whole can of worms. My son saw the other teacher at the back of the room and he chose to not change his regular behavior or to act better when being possibly overheard or when being accidentally observed. That kind of crap about breaking a rule when adults are not looking is exactly what was going on when he was in fourth grade and getting physically bullied on the lacrosse team by the school kids. I hate that and we have never told our kids to do that. We say to be who you are and to follow the rules and act right even if one or more around you is doing a wrong thing. This advice has put my sons on the outside sometimes as mine have not joined in on verbal bullying, gossiping, character assassination and  other things that some kids they are with in sports or in Boy Scouts do.

I am not sure what my next step will be. It's complicated when in a small group and when there is an interdependent relationship between people. The school needs the tuition so they try to keep the parents happy. But the school cannot pay out high salaries so they don't have a large number of teachers banging down the doors to work there. Emotions are involved and the students who have been there longer and are known and loved by the administrators or by the repeating each year teachers have favoritism on their side.

There are a certain number of transgressions that should be overlooked and some things are not as important as others. I am trying not to be too rigid by holding everyone and everything in my life to a high standard. In the past this has only led to problems as no person is perfect and no organization is flawless. If we push out everyone and everything for not measuring up to our standards or for breaking rules or when we don't like their social political games we will be left alone.

In the end to us school is for learning so above all else the issue is whether our son is actually learning and if wha they are learning is of high quality. Years later all that will matter is what was learned and was the education of good quality and the interpersonal stuff and the politics will be done and gone. Some feel school is for socialization. Socialization within the class like learn when you are safe to break the rules and things like how favoritism exists and how to either use that to your advantage or to not be on the wrong side of it. The other kind of socialization is about friendships. If a kid is lucky they wind up having one or two best friends in their life and if those come from school then that's a good thing. If the friendships continue after graduation then that's nice.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

American Sniper Movie Review and Thoughts on PTSD and Mental Health

Books and movies have different purposes. Perhaps some of the criticism for American Sniper is by those who are used to action movies of fiction writing, I think they fail to see that this is more of a memoir. The book Chris Kyle wrote (with help from two writers) is categorized as an autobiography but to me the movie is more like a memoir. The movie is also not a documentary or a docu-drama.

Some are criticizing the movie as they hate the military and/or hate war and anything about war they label as propaganda. Some of these critical statements are made by people who have not seen the movie or read the book.

One person I know said war is awful and how can this be entertainment? I would answer that sometimes the books we read and the movies we watch are not for fun or happy entertainment.We sometimes   read and view media to learn, to experience, and to understand, not everything is consumed for titillating fun thrills of happy feelings. (And what is the goal of bloody horror movies?) In the case of memoir or even good fiction or with a docu-drama the goal is to see what another person's life was like. What a person did and how they saw their experiences through the lens of their perspective is what we learn from consuming memoir in book or movie form. Events and ordinary things happen to the person and we see how the person was affected by it for the good or for the bad.

Surely no one would argue that reading a memoir of a victim of child abuse or child molestation or child neglect is fun entertainment. Surely by reading that book (many of which are best selling memoir books which have received acclaim: The Glass Castle and A Child Called It come to mind). The reader is not automatically saying they think that child molestation is acceptable or right. It just is. It exists. Child abuse exists and we listen to the stories and in so doing we experience empathy and our eyes are opened to the horror and damage inflicted on the victim. The publication of memoir books with an issue can then be used to try to help the cause. I once attended a big fundraiser to help abused and neglected children and women with Jeanette Walls as the keynote speaker telling horror stories of her childhood.

I would argue that soldiers who enlist do not know what will happen in their future. Once a path has begun and you are committed to that job it can lead to things you did not know you would experience or feel. Something people agree to do in the abstract can be much different or harder to emotionally handle than they realized. Surely people do not enlist in the military hoping they will someday suffer with PTSD! It happens, as does depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, as a result of what they have seen or what they have done.

Our daily experiences shape who we are, it's a fact. Every single person is formed based on a combination of their genes (nature) and their experiences (nurture). Who we are continues to be shaped and formed due to our current experiences. Reading books and watching movies can help us understand the human condition by seeing how others live and viewing for a bit what life for them is like.

Didn't you ever wonder what a sniper thinks of their job? Are the kills that a sniper makes worse than a kill made by other methods of killing? My personal interest is more about how war can change a person and affect their personal life (as a husband and father). I am curious about people living in less than perfect conditions and how they can get through the day and live with themselves due to whatever they were a victim of or what they do in their job or in their personal life. I am curious about how child victims of abuse persevere and get past it to move forward with a better life later and I am also curious how an adult child molester thinks and how they can feel right about what they are doing.

I felt the movie American Sniper was about how war affected that soldier who was a sniper and how it affected his family. It brings PTSD to light to mainstream America and is a prime opportunity for a discussion of the issues facing soldiers in the military now and those who are no longer in active duty. It is time for more conversation about PTSD.

How a person can watch this movie with the heart wrenching ending and not feel empathy is beyond me. Chris Kyle was volunteering to help soldiers who were struggling with PTSD and in so doing was murdered. It's so tragic that I don't have the right words to discuss it.

I did not find the movie patriotic. I do not feel it is propaganda. I do not feel it will inspire more people to enlist in the military. I did not find it to be glorification of war. I did not find it to say that the war in Iraq was (insert any positive descriptor here). The movie to me is more of a memoir than an autobiography because the focus is on the emotion and the affect of war and being a sniper on a person's mental state and on their personal relationships. American Sniper is not a fiction action movie to be applauded when people are killed and when things blow up. It's not a super hero movie, it's not Superman or Batman. This is a real story of one soldier who happened to be the sniper with the highest kill count so far in our history who was also responsible for saving the lives of many American soldiers.

If you hate war or are confused about our nation's choice to take action in the Middle East, that's a separate issue from the topic of how war can affect soldiers and the topic of PTSD. I don't understand the personal attacks and insults and to me that shows a lack of empathy and a lack of understanding the human condition of American soldiers.

I have not yet read this long article of a journalism telling the story of the killer of Chris Kyle, Eddie Routh. Reviewers say it speaks to the issues of mental health of soldiers, PTSD and what happens to vets when they return home. I should read this.

My own life experience with my loved ones and trying to help them with their mental illness treatment and management has given me a soft spot for the plight of soldiers who enter the military healthy and who are crippled with emotional turmoil that can trigger one or more clinical diagnoses of mental illness and PTSD. I don't have a simple answer to solve the myriad of this world's problems or the mess that is this nation's mental health care system. I know too little about the system our vets access to even comment on that but the general mental health field is in dire need of reformation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Round Two: Metal Braces (35 Years Later)

It was 35 years ago that I first got metal braces including headgear to wear at night. I wore them for a painful and self-conscious 3.5 years until they were removed and revealed great looking and well functioning teeth. My jaw is small and the thing back then was to remove adult teeth to make room. Still, my jaw was packed tightly.

In the last few years my two front teeth have had a problem. They were jamming together until the left front tooth moved forward. In photos and in the mirror I could see this. That was harmless but then in the last year it moved to overlap the right one. Then the left was jutting out forward and the right was being pushed backwards. It probably was not noticeable to other people but I worried more of what would happen over time. How far would this go to overlap? How far forward and back would the teeth be moved?

I decided to have it checked by my younger son's orthodontist. He said most adults prefer Invisalign but that had a high probability of not working for my specific problem. He said it would take 18-24 months. If it was not working and needed metal braced I could not transfer the payment, I would have to pay a new full fee for the metal braces. This is because all the trays are made up at the start of the Invisalign process. Invisalign was quoted at $3K and the metal was $1700. And the metal would definitely work in only 4-6 months.

So here I am metal mouth, brace face, at age 47.

My only regret with the timing is I would prefer to stand with my homeschool high school graduate in June with teeth unadorned with these braces. So I do hope that they are off by then.

So far I have had some issues and I am only two weeks in. I hope all my teeth align properly for chewing and closing my jaw by the time it is over. Right now I cannot close my jaw properly due to the way the teeth have moved. Now I kind of regret doing this and am wondering if I should have just been happy to have functional teeth and a jaw that works for its true purpose for existing.

Here I am doing a no braces smile like many teens do when we adults say, "Smile with your regular smile, it's okay!"

And no, I declined the colored bands...I draw the line with "acting young" there.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fixing the Water Damage Plus Home Improvements

I did it.

I bit the bullet and hired someone to help me pack up the second floor of the house into boxes. She was fast and did it in eight hours. Amazing. Well except my older son's room; he demands to do it himself. As if he has time.

The painter/floor guy was here twice to measure and make plans.

I have been to the paint store twice to buy samples. I put them up on the wall and tested them out. That was not working so well. I then hired a color consultant to give me advice. The cost was equal to what I had wasted in paint samples (about $45). It was worth it and I should have done that before. 

I was not happy with the color I selected for last year's paint job in the kitchen, family room and powder room. She gave me ideas for those as well.

My husband and I spent almost a day driving around Houston looking for hardwood flooring the other day. We are having trouble as half the house's wood needs to match the new wood. Also the existing staircase, bannister and lots of trim needs to match. The problem is this 20+ year old honey colored oak is no longer in fashion and is not available as factory stained solid 3/4 inch hardwood planks. Also in trend is very dark wood which everyone warns us shows every speck of dust and cat hair, so it really is not practical at all. Another trend down here at least is hand scraped wood and textured wood. This is not the style of our house which is more of a traditional colonial with elegance and a classic look. I can't have half of the downstairs look like a rustic ranch and the other half elegant with columns and crystal chandeliers.

We are looking into the not popular floor service where they install unstained wood then custom stain it on site then finish it on site. I know that is popular up North. We installed it that way in our two former houses we owned.

The game room is being shifted in its decor to be darker now that we have a home theatre system there. Very exciting stuff.

I have also been making decisions about furniture. I have a bunch that we are getting rid of that we have been using and then we will take family heirlooms stored in the garage to move indoors. Maybe sometime we will be able to park in the garage.

The idea of this project is so overwhelming to my mind that I have put it off and off. It needs doing so instead of doing other things I wish I was doing (like working at my soap business) I put it to the back burner and just dove into this project. I want the house fixed up from the water damage and I want the house to look better and get rid of this God awful shade of orange-brown that almost my entire house was covered in. I am basically in charge of making all the decisions, finding workers, and being the GC. I don't enjoy this but you have to do what you have to do to fix things that are broken and to keep a house functioning and looking decent.

So that is what I am doing this month.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Learning and Self-Confidence (and Grades)

Younger son says he wants to actually try to learn and to get non-failing grades for Term 2. To that end he is using his student planner within each class to write assignments down then he does the homework on time. He is two weeks in and has learned it is easier to study each day than to not refresh on the material until the night before a quiz or test.

After a quiz or test he goes over the errors to see what he did wrong. Each day he tells me how annoying it is to think you knew something but were wrong, get them wrong on the test, but when seeing what was wrong, it was so easily corrected, that he knows it for next time. That is the point of quizzes actually. And for math the knowledge is foundational so even after a test you had better figure out what is wrong so you can fix it for the next chapter's topic. Seeing how easy it was to see the wrong thing done and now understanding the right way or fixing conjugation of French in his mind correctly builds confidence.

He was beaming when he got his first 100 in math for this term. The 94 irked him, he did something silly wrong. The 75's in French are making him realize he needs to do more studying overall. On his own he met with the French teacher during lunch for some tutoring.

The goal is learning. Quizzes and tests are supposed to help the student see if they are on track or have areas they need to do more work on to understand or to memorize. Grades do matter as an indication of mastery. The grade is not the reason to do school. Learning is why school is supposed to exist. At his school the goal is to "learn how to learn" and to "learn how to think" and to think critically and to be able to communicate your thoughts well both orally and in writing. The oral class meets as often as the writing class. This school is also project focused not textbook and paper busy work focused. So far I think the IB education system is brilliant and am wondering what is wrong with the American public education system to not use more of these principals.

So far Term 2 is off to a good start. It is amazing to see how getting good grades is inspiring my son to keep up the momentum of staying on top of his homework and studying ahead of time. His confidence is soaring.

My husband and I are being more army sergeant overseeing types this term than last. While I realize this may be more than other parents do it's just a bit different since he missed out on nine former years of such homework and strict oversight that the parents who used school since Kindergarten experienced. We didn't do all that back then so this first year in school is a transition. I wish we could be more hands off but my son needs more direction and structure to learn these habits.

Some Comparison

There is a big difference though between my two sons; the older has ADHD inattentive type and the younger does not. The younger learns much more quickly due to his mistakes and due to his poor choices, doing something once, twice or three times before he learns. It is also easier to have to ask him to do something one or two times and it gets done. Also the better ability to hold information and directions in short term memory as well as moving it over from short term to long term is so apparent and easy seeming.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

White Sheets and Towels For Teens (and Everyone)

I wish someone had told me that over the counter and prescription acne medications bleach out colored linens. I did not know this until it happened. Washcloths, hand towels, bath towels, pillowcases, sheet bottom and tops, and somehow also the collars of shirts get bleached out due to these acne aids. They are a mess.

I am telling you this now so if you have kids, consider after the cutesy design sheets to switch them over to all white everything for linens. To make a bed nice looking you can use colored blankets and comforters.

I don't know what is going on with linens lately but the quality generally is terrible. Sheets of cotton with high thread count we have purchased are ripping left and right. The bottom sheet generally rips. Pillowcases are getting torn also and stitching is coming out of others. I was buying colored sheets to match the bedroom decor for all of this and it backfired. It makes more sense to buy all white everything! Not only can they not be ruined by acne face washes and acne meds but they can be interchanged with others when they get ruined. If a top sheet rips of one set and the bottom rips on another, combine them for a full set. Problem solved.

I was using discount places for sheets like TJ Maxx and Costco. These have been of poor quality and are not long lasting. If you pay half as much and the sheets rip on use three you have not saved money! I have made the switch to go back to Garnet Hill and to buy top quality sheets. I only have two sets of sheets per bed so it's not like I have a giant inventory here of expensive sheets. I expect these to last for years and years. Since everything for every bed is all white they are all interchangeable.

I am never buying colored towels again. Yes they do look pretty to match the room's color scheme but when they are striped up with bleached out areas they look much worse than plain white sheets. Do yourself a favor and buy some fantastic white bath linens from Garnet Hill. They will last for a long, long time. You can bleach them and/or hang them in the sun for full whiteness too.