Ready for Takeoff? Facing the Question with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day and organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week. On Monday  we featured Liane Kupferberg Carter’s writing and today, we are honored that Susan Berger, author of the blog, Berger’s Blather offers this heartfelt post:

young adult, teenager, autism

My 19–year–old son is almost ready to launch.  Well, that’s what I tell myself. “Almost,” as in “You can do it,” “You’re nearly there,” has become my lifelong one-word personal prayer. My son is on the cusp of leaving home, the pivotal step toward the rest of his life–ordinarily an expected and desired move most parents and young adults strive for.

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Rules: the Fewer the Better

Lisa writes: My kids did not have curfews. We had no rules about where they were supposed to do their homework or even when. There were no real rules about food, dress, chores, or even tidiness. We bought a dog without extracting a single promise from our sons. This was not an oversight as I had grown up in a home with a litany of rules. On the other hand, my kids had strict rules about computer use, bedtime, manners, academic and athletic endeavors and, above all, lying.

rules, street sign

When and how we make rules for our kids is one of the trickiest aspects of parenting. Enforcing and altering them is the other tricky part. Rule making is not something to take lightly or to try and do on the fly. It is important that we have a philosophical underpinning to the constructs we set for our kids.

Yet for me, the number one rule was: make as few rules as possible. It was, I believe, a risky proposition, one about which I received a great deal of criticism, but I believe it has merits.

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Parenting: It Is Not My Job

Lisa writes: It is not my job.

Being a parent is a really tough job. Many argue that it is the toughest job. Yet, speaking only for myself, I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine. My job is to love and care for my kids, to make them feel safe and teach them to navigate the world into which they will venture. My job is to teach my sons the set of values, rightly or wrongly, that their father and I hold dear. My job is to launch educated, good, responsible men.

girl in snow

That is a tall order without adding a whole list of other parenting challenges, that frankly I am not certain can be achieved.

It is not my job to find my child’s “passion.” Passion by its very nature is deeply personal and individualistic. One person simply cannot find it for another. If my kids want one, they will have to find their own Not everyone has a passion and the notion that everyone does is a middle class artifice of the late 20th century. I promise, many people have lived and died having wonderful lives without beholding a “passion.” I do not have a passion, and honestly, I am okay.

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New York Times Features Grown and Flown on Cheating at School

One day separates kids from winter break and soon, final papers and exams will be over and done with. Report cards arriving in inboxes or mailboxes will provide not only an assessment of the fall, but also an opportunity to discuss the grades earned and the integrity behind the effort. Today in The New York Times Motherlode blog, educator, author and parent, Jessica Lahey addresses academic honesty and cheating at school. She quotes Lisa’s Grown and Flown post on the same topic and gives parents the tools they need to tackle this uncomfortable but important subject.

Pinocchio, cheating at school

Here are some of Jessica’s observations about why students cheat:

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Ten Reasons Millennials Need Good Manners

Lisa writes: I have been on the receiving end of a serious amount of eye rolling when reminding my sons about good manners, thank you notes and proper etiquette.

thank you note, good manners, etiquette

They have ignored me or given me the time-worn, and I believe inaccurate, argument that things have changed. I am not buying it, and here is why.

A few reminders for my sons:

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Getting Ready for High School Begins in Sixth Grade

Lisa writes: Ahhhh…the beauty, the certainty of 20/20 hindsight.  As my youngest nears the end of high school, I have been thinking about what allows kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest.  What do I wish I had known as my kids turned 12 that would have helped them in getting ready for high school? If I had it to do again…

Misc.School Bus.IMG_0094_2_2

Do one thing well

I would make sure, if possible, that my child was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity.  Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the orchestra or given a role in the school play.  I know educators advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

 Sleep is an elixir

I would teach my kids that sleep is the elixir of the gods. It repairs sick bodies. It allows teens to perform better intellectually and athletically. It improves mood and helps maintain healthy weight. Teach your child to worship at the altar of an eight-hour night’s sleep and you have set them up for life.

Look away from the screen

I would work long and hard helping my child develop the ability to concentrate on books or art or anything but an electronic screen. Success in high school results from a level of concentration on the written word that can be challenging for a 14-year-old. I would make them read books, even if it meant tying them to a chair in order to do so.

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A Last Lesson on the Importance of Friendship

Gabby, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: One of the good things about being a parent three times over is that I am more focused on life’s ordinary moments as my last child inches her way toward leaving the nest.  Recently, I was packing to go away for a rare “girls weekend” when my daughter sat down on the edge of my bed and asked me about the friends with whom I was traveling.  Ultimately, our conversation shifted into a philosophical one about her own friends and the importance of friendship.

I will readily admit my many failures as a mother but one of the things I am most proud of is the way I have communicated through action (and words) how much my friends mean to me.

importance of friendship, friendship, high school friends, high school girls

I am inordinately grateful and comforted when I look at my two older children who have already “flown the nest” and see the kinds of friendships they have established.  They demonstrate to me that they understand how to be loyal, inclusive, trustworthy, forgiving, and supportive in times of trouble.  They accept and celebrate differences. I am wowed by the way that they have chosen their inner circle (with an extended selection of friends beyond this)  based on “matters of the heart”  and common values.

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Mothers and Daughters, the Teenage Years

Mary Dell writes: Teenage girls travel in packs, migrating between friends’ houses. Over time, mothers and daughters from each family get to know one another well. When it is our turn to host a Friday night sleepover I am delighted. On Saturday morning, while serving pancakes, I pull up a chair with my daughter and her friends and join them for a chat.  Learning how to be welcomed (momentarily) into my daughter’s group, yet heeding the cue to disappear, are lessons I learned from my mother when she was the one wielding the spatula.

I recently asked my oldest girlfriends about their memories of those long ago school days. Here are some of the things they remember:

mother and daughter, teenage girl and mom in the 1970's

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Blindsided by Childhood Milestones

Lisa writes: Parenthood is littered with Milestone Moments. Some we see coming, like registering for the draft, buying a bra, beginning high school or shaving. They are all expected, and all powerful. Yet other childhood milestones blindside us like a two by four with the rusty nails still sticking out.

childhood milestones, milestone, old milestone

SIbling Playdates. It was a huge childhood milestone the first time my kids actually played together, real interactive sibling-as-a-playdate played together. I looked on bursting with pride and thought they would become a perfect self-contained unit, full of rich imaginary play and support and understanding. And just when I was leaning back to admire my handiwork, feeling pretty good about myself, one son bit the other and was treated with a smack in the face for his efforts. My 30-seconds of fantasy was gone and life as I was really going to know it began.

Drivers License. This one is obvious, but what I didn’t realize was how much getting a driver’s license is akin to learning to walk. The first time my teens drove out of our driveway felt like the moment they stood up and walked away as toddlers. The only difference was that, behind the wheel, I worried far more and when they drove away, they didn’t turn around and come right back. These events may have been separated by 15 years but for me, they held the same power. They were when I realized that I wouldn’t need to carry them or drive them forever.

Cooking. It is a big milestone the first time a child makes himself a meal, when they put together a sandwich, boil some pasta and pour sauce on top or fry an egg. Up until that moment, my children’s very existence depended on my culinary skills, yet once I saw that fried egg, I knew they would not starve.

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Prom Commandments

Mary Dell writes: As the mom of a teenage daughter, I occasionally feel like I am parenting on a separate planet from my friends who have teenage sons.  At Lisa’s house, sports are in full swing, and the mountains of standardized tests and specter of finals loom ahead.  At my house, we have all of that plus what can only be referred to as high season for the high school prom.

For Lisa, it has been three sons, three trips through 11th grade and barely a word about the prom.  Fifteen minutes to rent a tux, a five-minute phone call to order a corsage and yes, the sum total of time boys spent on the prom…twenty minutes.

With the biggest attire decision a boy has to make is peaked lapel or shawl, there is little to talk about except for the invitation. The onus of asking, despite so much about our gender roles changing, still lies with boys so whom to ask and how, are the important questions concerning young men.

But at our house, talk of the high school prom pops up with my daughter’s group of friends with the regularity of a favorite TV show which, at times, the conversation resembles.

 

prom commandments-prom date-high school prom

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Talking to Myself: The Words We Use to Parent

Lisa writes: I have survived two decades of parenting by talking to myself.  My incantations are my alter ego reminding me to put things in perspective, step back and take a breath and that things will probably be okay.  So while the mom voice in my head is shrieking, at myself or my kids, there is a calmer quieter voice, talking to myself, reminding me to count to ten before I speak.  I suspect that the calm, ever-so-sensible voice I hear in my head is my husband’s.

Well, at least no one was hurt.  My kids have smashed walls (who knew drywall was so easy go through), cars (ah yes, well)  and every toy of value they were ever given.   Boys seem to have a seek and destroy mechanism that is programmed from birth so this was one of the first parenting phrases I learned to say to myself.  I still say it to myself when they call and begin the conversation with, “Mom, there is something I need to tell you….”

He doesn’t mean that, he really doesn’t.  The first time one of my kids railed at me with the words, “you don’t understand anything, anything!” I had to repeat these words.  My crime? I had scheduled a play date for a fifth grader without asking first. This refrain works in response to a wide variety of invectives from,  “You are ruining my life”,  to everyone’s favorite, “I hate you” to my polite child’s  “I don’t really like you right now.”

I am the parent, he is a child.  This one usually requires much repetition because it is rolled out at the moments when we feel most unsure about our parenting. Some parenting decisions can find us sitting on the fence.  Curfew stretched to 1 am for a special occasion? Sleepover at a house you are not 100% about?   When we remember the first rule of parenting is to trust our instincts and say “no,” this is the reminder that if our kids’ judgements were sound, they would no longer need to live with us.

talking to myself-parenting boys-brothers-boys at the beach-children playng at the beach

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Why I Never Let My Kids Quit…Anything

Lisa writes: Quitting. We quit jobs, we quit marriages, we walk out on friendships and sometimes we let people down when the going gets tough. Sometimes it is necessary, even the right thing to do. Our kids quit teams and music lessons, art classes and after school programs. Sometimes it’s necessary, but sometimes they are bored or don’t like the coach or would just rather play video games at home. Deciding when to let your kids quit something, be it Gymboree, Little League or SAT prep, is a question that never goes away.

sports, varsity girls sports, girls sports, lacrosse, girls lacrosse, team sports for girls

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Surviving High School, It Begins in Sixth Grade

 

middle school challenges, junior highLisa writes: Ahhhh…the beauty, the certainty of 20/20 hindsight.  As my youngest nears the end of high school, I have reflected upon what qualities allow kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest. What were the most important things I could have done for my kids, starting in perhaps sixth grade, that would have impacted their chance of surviving high school and beyond?  Not surprisingly, they were not the things uppermost on my mind as my kids turned 12. If I had it to do again…

what to do in middle school

 

I would make sure that my child, if possible, was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity.  Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the field hockey team or given a role in the school play.  I know educators often advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

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Cheating at School – Start the Discussion Early

Lisa writes: The first few weeks of school are special ones.  Kids are still finding their way among classmates while trying to gauge their teachers’ approach and expectations. Slates are clean and possibilities hang in the air.  Parents often take the time to express to their children their own hopes and concerns for the school year. In looking back, I wonder why I never discussed cheating at school.

Cheating in school, academic dishonesty, cheating, EDS, educational testing service

I start every September giving one son the you-must-do-your-best talk.  Another son has just outgrown the annual you-need-to-be-more-organized talk and the third I prodded to move out of his comfort zone socially and extra curricularly.  But I can say with some certainty that I never kicked off a school year with a conversation about academic dishonesty. And in the wake of cheating scandals this year at Harvard University, Stuyvesant High School, and a Long Island SAT testing center, I am pretty sure I missed an important opportunity here. Did I fail to discuss cheating at school because I didn’t think it was a problem in their classes or was it because I didn’t think it would be a problem for my child? [Read more...]



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Note to Self

Parenting teens can be an emotional whirlwind and in the heat of the battle it is easy to forget lessons learned the hard way.  So, note to self…

Note to Self, Teen age son, son surfing

It is not your life, it’s his.

Your mother thought she knew what you were up to.

Sometimes it really is better if they don’t tell you.

Only spy if you really want to know. And answer that question first.  You can’t unknow something. [Read more...]



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