Tag Archives: family

15 things I want my kids to know before they’re adults

A mom recently made a list of 44 things she wanted her kids to learn before they hit adulthood, which is something we should all think about as we’re raising our own future adults. I know for me, there are certainly some major values and skills I want for their lives. So without further ado, here are 15 things I hope to instill in my kids before they hit their adult years.

P.S. Have any you want to share from your own list? Leave it in the comments!

1. Honesty is always the best policy. Best way to not be caught up in a lie is to not do anything worth lying about. But if you do find yourself in a situation where you’re tempted to fib your way out, DON’T. It might make things uncomfortable in the moment, but trust me, you’ll be better for it in the long run.

2. The first step to something great will likely feel insignificant. This goes for anything – learning a new skill, saving money, beginning a new project… But it especially goes for getting a new job. You cannot expect to enter the workforce and be given an impressive job title and high salary right off the bat. The reality is you will probably be paid far less than you want to be paid for a job that only hints at your interests – if you’re lucky to get that close to your dream job. Do it anyway. Even the most successful chefs started out washing dishes in the back. With experience comes knowledge, and that will help you not only learn more about where you want to be in life, but will help others easily recognize your potential. Which brings me to #3….

3. Take pride in your work. I don’t care if it’s sweeping the floor, working a minimum wage job, or climbing the corporate ladder – always put your best effort into what you are doing. After all, if you can’t handle the smallest of tasks with finesse, what makes you think you can handle the bigger ones?

4. Handle your money like an adult, not a kid. Keep your checkbook balanced. Do not rely on credit to get the things you want. Save for expected expenses, and unexpected ones, too. Never pay a bill past its due date. Avoid borrowing money like the plague (but if you must borrow, always pay it back). Live only as large as a portion of your paycheck – not the whole thing, and definitely not more than you make. And regularly give to charity.

5. Learn to cook one meal really, really well. By all means, learn to cook in general. But find that one dish that will impress. There will come a day when you will need to pull that ace out of your sleeve (cooking for your significant other’s parents, inviting the boss over for dinner, contributing to a dinner party…). Wouldn’t it be nice to be prepared beforehand?

6. Do your best to only speak about your spouse in kindness. Not only will badmouthing your spouse kill your marriage, it will also kill your friendships. Trust me, there is nothing funny about being stuck in a room with someone who can only say snarky things about their husband or wife, even in jest. It’s just uncomfortable and terrible, and no way to treat a person you love.

7. Never stop learning. Read lots of books, take a class, learn a new language, study a culture or religion, challenge yourself to a new word a day, pay attention to the news of your community/state/country/world…. Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” This is truth. Live by it.

8. Figure out your passion. And once you do, don’t let life get in your way of pursuing that passion. If you love singing, then join a choir or band. If you’re a writer, join a writing group. If you’re an artist, take classes. If you love to build things, go fishing, play golf, then do it!

9. Make time for fun. Once we get into adulthood, sometimes this part is forgotten. There’s a job to go to, a house to clean, bills to pay, errands to run, committees we signed up for, a family to care for, life to contend with… All of those things are important. But so are you. Schedule in a portion of your week when you can enjoy the things you like to do so you can be a better worker, friend, mom or dad, etc.

10. Treat everyone as you wish to be treated. We all want love, kindness, equality, generosity, honesty, dependability, and more wonderful traits from the people around us. Be this to the world, and the world will be this to you.

But on the same token…

11. Do not give anyone permission to walk all over you. You are your best advocate. Stand up for what you believe is right.

12. Abuse is never okay. Be it hitting, using derogatory names, or making dangerous threats, these are not the actions of someone in love. These are actions of someone who wishes to control their partner. If you are tempted to take these actions against someone else, get help immediately. If someone is mistreating you, get out of the relationship. Don’t walk, RUN. Because if you stay, you are giving that person permission to treat you in a way no one should be treated. You cannot change them. It is not your job to change them. But it is your job to look out for your own safety, because no one is going to do it for you.

13. Appearances DO matter. Sure, we say beauty lies on the inside. But can a potential employer really see the inner beauty of the person they are interviewing? First impressions can never be taken back, regardless of the situation. So always leave the house wearing clean clothes. Keep your hair and teeth brushed. Shower regularly. And seriously think about where you place artistic expressions on your body.

14. Don’t forget me when you leave the nest. I want you to be independent and make it on your own. That is my biggest goal for you when you leave this house to create a home of your own. But call me once in awhile, okay? Let me know how you’re doing. Keep me in the loop about what’s important to you, what you’re struggling with, who your friends are, what’s going on in your life. I’m your mom, and I always will be. And you’re one of my favorite people in the whole world. Keep in touch.

15. Love your sister/brother. He/she shares your history. He/she is your closest link to our family. Be there for each other, celebrate each other’s families, cheer each other on. Don’t ever take your sibling for granted. When I leave this world, nothing will make me happier than knowing you have each other to lean on.

“Canalope” apologies

Yesterday, my son decided that a good use of his downtime was to take a knife and stab a perfectly good cantaloupe repeatedly. I found it on our counter in the morning. As a result, the Taz got woken up by the wrath of his mom, and all his electronics taken away to show him what bored really feels like.

When I came home, I found a few new gifts and this note:

“Dear Mom. I’m sorry for cutting the canalope. To prove it I’m giving you my best lanyard and I bought a new canalope. Please forgive me! 🙂 ”

I mean, how can I even stay mad?

He is either really, really cute for doing this, or one hell of a manipulator. Either way, I fell hook, line, and sinker.

Want more stories like this? Download “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows” – our Wine Country Mom stories about the hijinks of Taz, the drama of DQ, and tales of our single-parent family life.

The end of my newspaper column

I just found out that tomorrow’s family article I write for the newspaper will be the very last one to be in print. This makes me so sad! Thankfully, you can still catch me online at the Press Democrat’s family blog at village.blogs.pressdemocrat.com, or here in my personal family blog at winecountrymom.com, where I will continue to write tips on raising families and share our family stories. You can also catch me at my writing blog at crissilangwell.com, where I give writing tips and share tidbits of my latest projects.

For the record, I will still be writing feature articles for the newspaper. But my regular column will no longer be in print.

Thank you for the past two years of reading my columns in the paper. It’s been an absolute honor to see my name in print every couple of weeks, and I’ve enjoyed all the kind notes I’ve received throughout this time. Come visit me online, and leave a comment to let me know you’re there!

xoxo

Crissi Langwell

P.S. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for an easy way to be kept up to date!  I follow back, so leave me a link when you do!

10 cheap things you can do with your kids this summer

The Taz and me at his 6th grade promotion
The Taz and me at his 6th grade promotion

In the last few weeks of the school year, our whole family catches summer fever, eager for the day when the last school bell rings and we can enjoy the lazy days of June, July and August. That last day of school is cause for celebration, and we revel in it the whole weekend long.

And then Monday morning hits, and so does reality — because now there’s nothing to do.

Sure, there are camps and vacations to take in between the last day of one grade and the first day of the next. But camps and vacations cost money, and sometimes it’s not possible to load the kids up with paid-for activities to ward off the “I’m bored” blues. So to keep you from going crazy or broke this summer, I’ve put together a list of cheap activities your family can enjoy until school gets back in session.

Go on a backyard camping trip. Spend the day putting together all the things you’d need to go on a camping trip, then set up the tent in the backyard. Bring out the lanterns and sleeping bags, and don’t forget the s’mores! Then spend the evening telling stories underneath a starry sky before turning in for the night.

Pack a picnic. Fill a basket with numerous small bites, from crackers and cheese to grapes and apple cider. Let the kids help choose which kinds of foods would be best to pack up. Then take them on a hike in the hills, to a grassy knoll at the park, or to the beach to enjoy a delicious afternoon of play.

Our new garden of succulents!

Plant a garden. Get the kids interested in spending time outdoors by giving them a small piece of the yard that’s just for them. Help them to plant seeds or seedlings, decorate it with colorful stones and small markers, and encourage them to tend to it daily by watering and keeping it free from weeds.

Stage your own play. Keep the brains of your vacationing kids working by having them think up and then perform a play for family and friends. Dive into the costume box or the back of your closet for imaginative disguises to help them get into character. Encourage them to create programs with the names of the actors and titles of each scene. Then serve popcorn and juice boxes for the neighborhood as they enjoy the performance.

Hunt for buried treasure. Go to the Dollar Store to find small trinkets to serve as pirate’s booty. Have the kids stay in the house and hide their eyes while you bury the booty in the backyard. Then let them loose to discover where X marks the spot on the map you’ve carefully drawn. Not keen on the kids digging up your backyard? No problem. Take them to the beach and let them hunt for their treasure in the sand.

Go thrifting. Speaking of buried treasure … This is a fun way to search out eclectic items you just won’t find in a regular retail store. If your kids are the kind who love combing stores for various trinkets (my son is NOT), then they’ll love digging through other people’s tossed aside items to find their diamond in the rough.

Make a puzzle. If you’re anything like me, you have boxes of photos you despair of ever getting organized. Don’t let them go to waste! Get some Mod Podge and help the kids glue the photos to a piece of cardboard. Then carefully cut the mounted photos into puzzle-piece shapes for them so the kids can put them back together. These would also make cute gifts the kids can make for Grandma and Grandpa.

Throw a spontaneous dance party. Put on your favorite dance jams, turn the music way up, and then spend the afternoon bouncing around the living room with the kids. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a terrible dancer. In our house, we actually have contests to see who can dance the worst. I think I win every time.

My stepson’s first several cranes

Learn origami. My teenage stepson has challenged himself to fold 1,000 paper cranes by the end of 2013. The result is a room filled with cranes of various colors and sizes. Teach your child the art of paper folding, and watch as they spend the afternoon creating all sorts of tiny masterpieces.

Teach them to bake. Forget the diet for one afternoon and spend it making cupcakes! Or dig into the recipe books and bake bread from scratch. There’s an art to baking that should be passed down to our kids, and what better time to teach them than the dog days of summer? Of course, it’s best to bake in the morning before the day heats up too much.

What do you like to do in the summertime with your kids?

When appliances talk back

In the morning, I am usually the last one to leave the house.  I kind of like it that way, because it gives me a few moments of quiet in an empty house.  Of course, it also means that I am the one who is left with a sink full of dishes to fill the dishwasher with, and hungry cats that still need to be fed.

This morning was no exception.  In fact, the sink was filled with dishes, despite the fact that the dishwasher was close to empty.  This included a container from yesterday that still held the remnants of warm tuna.  Totally appetizing.  And to the right of me sat the stove with leftover food chunks from everyone’s breakfast makings.

I could have gotten mad.  Admittedly, I was a little irritated.  But honestly, it wasn’t that big of a deal.

However, the appliances did not feel the same way.

Here’s the note the dishwasher left.

And the stove, not able to keep silent any longer, added its two cents as well.

I was concerned that perhaps my family might take offense to the appliance’s efforts to share their feelings.  But I didn’t want to stifle their voice either.  After all, everyone is entitled to their feelings.  So I left for work and went on with my day.

When I got home, however, apparently the loaf pans and my husband had a heart to heart while I was gone.  My husband heard I had made banana bread while he was away on a business trip, and none was saved for him.  The loaf pan felt bad about this, and felt the need to share its own feelings:

20130502-183659.jpg

And then, the calendar – who I keep forgetting to put the dang month on – decided enough was enough.  My daughter keeps reminding me to do my usual artistic month title, but I keep forgetting.  Guess the calendar felt a little slighted.

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I think my house has gone mad….

P.S. The teenagers in the house decided humorous notes totally beat out ordering them around.  When I came home, the stove was totally clean, and all the dishes were put away.

Siblings – a link to the past

Something strange has been happening in my house for the past few weeks. The kids have been getting along.

I know, weird, right?

On a recent afternoon, DQ had just finished asking me if she could bring Taz along with her some of the times she went out to hang with her friends. The two have never been known for getting along. DQ is usually bossy and mean to her 12-year-old brother. Taz, in return is generally a tease and nuisance to his 15-year-old sister. But now? The sibling bond has been holding fast. I couldn’t help questioning DQ about the sudden shift in their sibling relationship.

“Do you think it’s because the two of you got some time apart from each other?” I asked her, referring to Taz’ recent solo visit with their dad. She had chosen not to visit their dad for two reasons – because she had just moved back home after living there for a month and a half, and because it gave Taz a chance to hang out with their dad all by himself. At least those were the reasons she gave me. I had a hunch the biggest reason for staying home was to hang out with the guy she was dating.

“I guess,” she answered. “But I think it’s more than that. I guess I just keep forgetting that he’s going through all the same stuff I’m going through.”

And suddenly, I understood.

I have two sisters I grew up with. My sister, Melissa, is only a year younger than me, and we shared a room. My youngest sister, Heather, is five years younger than me – which isn’t a lot now, but felt like decades when we were younger. Growing up, we had our fair share of fights. I mastered the fine art of pinching Melissa so I could leave purple marks but not draw blood. And Melissa was a pro at pulling my long hair. But both of us would tag team Heather, ganging up on her because she was always getting in our way.

I was jealous of Melissa growing up. She had a lot more friends than I did, and was a lot prettier. She spent a lot of her time hanging out at other people’s houses since she was always invited out. I enjoyed staying home in my room, reading a book. She joined the cheerleading team and ran for track. I imagined secret passageways in my bedroom, leading to magical lands where no one could find me. She was tall and slender, I was short and pudgy. She was clean, I was messy. We were night and day, black and white, oil and water.

And despite all that, we were also the best of friends.

At night we’d lie awake while I told her made-up stories using shadow puppets. On long car rides, we held performances of every single song we knew while riding in the back seat. When our parents got into the occasional fight, we were there to reassure each other that we’d stand together through the divorce (my parents just celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary). And while we could argue like it was nobody’s business, we were also each other’s strongest allies. I knew all her secrets, and she knew mine. We held a million of them from our parents, covered for each other in times of trouble, and had someone to discuss all the weird stuff that was going on with us as we grew into our awkward teenage selves.

And now, as adults, we’ve all come into our own. We have our own lives, our own friends, our own accomplishments and struggles. And we’re all really good friends – even the “annoying” one (who ended up not being so annoying after all).

sisters

We also hold a bond that no one else could ever understand. We share the same history, come from the same mold, and were raised the same way. It’s hard to think about the time in the future when our parents are no longer around. But when that happens, my sisters and I will still have each other. We are each other’s link to a story no one else shares – and no one can take that away from us.

Taz and DQ have the same bond. Through all the changes, the one thing that has been constant is the common link they share to a history all their own. They may resort back to their fighting days. They may swear in their childhood that they hate each other. Or who knows, they may even remain friends from here on out. Regardless of how these younger days play out, they will still hold the keys to our past when I am no longer here. And no one can take that away from them.

This article will appear in the Press Democrat on Friday, May 3

Dating your kids

Vintage WC Mom – 2010. An impromptu misty evening of play at the Montgomery High School football field when they left the lights on and we just so happened to have a football in the car.

This article appears in the Press Democrat on Friday, October 6, 2012.

Last month I wrote about the importance of dating your spouse. Hopefully this resulted in some kid-free, uninterrupted conversation, and perhaps even a few steamy moments…. If not, let this serve as a note of inspiration to book a sitter for a much needed night out with your other half.

This week, however, I want to talk to you about the importance of dating other people – your children. That’s right, those little crumb grinders that are constantly hanging around your ankles looking for something to do would love to have some one-on-one time with their favorite person in the whole world – YOU*.

*Note: Level of strength in the word “favorite” as it relates to you directly depends on their age and whether they are going through puberty or not.

There are many sensible reasons to spend solo time with your child. Making time for your child tells them they’re important, helping to boost their self esteem. It gives you a chance to get to know your child as they grow, and also allows the opportunity for them to talk about anything they’re hesitant to mention in front of other family members. Feelings of jealousy and sibling rivalry are lessened as they learn they don’t have to compete for your attention.

Dating your child is an important practice to make at every stage in their life, not just when they’re young. As they grow older and start exerting their independence, it’s especially vital to insist on time spent with them to remain a positive influence in their life. By the time your child is a teenager, you will be in direct competition with your child’s peers, the media, and the community you live in when it comes to instilling values in your child. Every time you lessen your involvement in your child’s life and fail to spend quality time with them, you are taking yourself out of the equation during important value building years. But when you make it a point to spend time with your child, you are ensuring your voice is heard among all the other voices your child hears when making life-changing decisions. Even when it seems you have to fight your child to hang out with you, insist on at least one specified amount of time a week when the two of you can spend quality time together. It gives them the message that you genuinely care, even if they won’t say this out loud.

Here are a few tips to take with you as you plan some one-on-one time with your son or daughter:

Turn off all distractions, and ask them to do the same. This especially includes your cell phone. Unless you have a job that requires you to be on-call for emergencies, ensure that your child doesn’t have to compete with anyone else to hold your full attention. By making this a hard and fast rule, you are also teaching your son or daughter proper etiquette when they are spending time with anyone – whether it be you or somebody else – that it is important for them to treat the person they are with as their priority and not the person that is texting them on their phone.

Let your child take the reins on what you two will do. All too often we are guilty of dictating family activities. Sometimes we even choose things we’re interested in, but are totally boring to our kids. For one-on-one time, give your child the power to choose what the two of you will do. If they have trouble thinking of something, offer them a few choices to pick from. A date night can be as elaborate as dinner to a nice restaurant, or as simple as playing catch in the yard. The important part is spending time together.

Keep the conversation flowing. Ask them to share the best parts about the latest videogame they’re obsessing about. Play the “What’s your favorite” game when you both get to list your favorite things, from places in the world to things to eat, and everything in between. Learn more about them by taking turns listing the five worst things about the week so far, and then end with the five best things that happened this week.

Listen effectively. Listening requires more than our ears, but our eyes and our brains as well. When your child is speaking, pay attention to their body language. Are their movements saying something deeper than their words? When it’s natural, paraphrase what they’re saying so it’s clear they are being heard. As it becomes clear they’re being heard, it will be easier for your child to cooperate in conversation with you, as well as modeling proper listening skills for them to give you in return.

What are some things you like to do with your kids? Leave some suggestions in the comments. 🙂

Family fitness at University of Sports

Health is a huge deal in my family. And I know it is in your family too. So when University of Sports contacted me to let me know a little bit more about their fitness club, I was definitely intrigued.

First of all, I had no idea what to expect. I was totally anticipating just a normal gym with all the fixings that make it a place to work out. I was wrong. I mean, sure, they have cardio machines, a weight room, and space to stretch and take an organized class. But there’s so much more than that.

First and foremost, University of Sports has dedicated the gym to meeting the needs of families. For a mom with young kids who just needs a break to regroup and take a moment to focus on herself, this is huge. They have developed a whole family membership program that includes structured play for kids while mom and dad work out. Kids will be taken to their indoor soccer field, basketball courts, or hang out in the kids room to have fun. An after-school club for kids called Generation Next has just recently been introduced to offer monthly sessions that have kids First – Sixth Grades getting help on their homework as well as taking part in a fun activity. They also offer additional classes for kids, as well as hosting all-sports camps and birthday parties.

Second area of interest is their retreat area – otherwise known as “The Spa”. This area is complete with a large spa to relax in, a sauna room, an area for massage, a nutritionist, a place to get a mani/pedi, and more. Think about this. Normally you would have to drag your child with you or scramble to find a sitter if you needed a bit of time for pampering. But all your beauty and relaxation needs are right here at the gym. Book an appointment, then let those kids have fun in the Kids Program while you take some time for yourself in The Spa!

Third favorite place to hang out was at the Café. Here they offer a bunch of healthy goodies to keep you fueled and able to have the energy to make the most of your workout. Their wide array of smoothies made my mouth water…

And, of course, the actual purpose behind University of Sports – fitness.

The first and second floor of this fitness club hold plenty of cardio machines to ensure everyone has a chance to sweat it out or get in a little circuit training. These overlook the indoor soccer field where they hold classes for kid and adults, including “KinderKicks” for the young’uns. To the side of this field is a TRX training area. If you’re not familiar with TRX, this is the latest fitness program that gives a core workout using suspension and your own body force. In the back of the gym is an indoor basketball court. Upstairs is where you can take part in an exercise class like Pilates, kickboxing, martial arts, spin, Zumba, or various other fitness classes. And in a separate room is the “grunt area” where you can get pumped up on the weight machines and free weights. University of Sports also offers fitness and nutrition consulting, as well as personal training.

Beyond that, they hold numerous special events throughout the year like family movie nights, parties, and Parent’s Night Out.

Obviously I was really impressed with how much UofS went out of their way to cater to families. They’ve made it really easy for those with kids of any age to still find time to stay fit and healthy while encouraging movement as a regular part of their children’s lives. And since a family of 4 can get a membership for as low as $105, just about anyone can afford to join.

For a limited time, moms can check out University of Sports for free with a 10-day membership by texting “TRYUOFS” to 96362. This free pass includes classes, lounging in the Spa, and every other part of a regular membership – including use of the kids’ daycare while you workout.

University of Sports is located at 555 Rohnert Park Expressway W, #C.  It’s easy to find, to the left and behind the movie theater.

Visit University of Sports at www.uofs.com, or “like” them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/UniversityofSports.

Merging families without marriage

Sound off: Is an unmarried merge of families setting a bad example for the kids?

Two weeks ago I wrote about moving in with my boyfriend, Mr. W.  This was a decision we did not take lightly in our 2 ½ years of being in a relationship with each other, and I’ll be moved out of my own place and into his by this weekend.  By moving in with each other, we are each giving up our total independence of having a space to call all our own – something that became very sacred in each of our single lives.  We’re giving up the separateness of our families as we combine them into something new.  But these are no longer sacrifices as we gain so much more – more time with each other, a shared life, a break in the financial obligations, and all the other perks of living with the one you love.

There was plenty of discussion before we finally came to this stage of feeling confident enough (and out of shellshock from our previous divorces) to be able to live with someone we love once again, plus going through the complicated process of combining families.  We’re making a bunch of decisions that are solidifying the permanent status of our relationship – but without yet being married.

Understandably so, several readers took issue with this – questioning the example that is being set for the kids, as well as feeling that “it’s a slap in the face” to those who are married.  I had originally written this article as a story of hope for those just starting their single parent adventure, feeling pulled apart by the financial hardships and lack of time that go along with that role.  But I realized there is a whole other issue at hand that needs to be discussed –

Merging families without marriage.

According to a survey conducted by the Census Bureau in 2007, 6.4 million couples chose to cohabitate before marriage – making up roughly 10% of all opposite sex coupled Americans, and rising almost 1.5 million since 2006.  And of that number, 45% of them had children living in the household that were related to at least one of the cohabitating adults.  And while past research showed a higher percentage of failed marriages in those who chose to live together before marriage, the present research shows there’s virtually no difference.

I have several friends who chose to live together before marriage.  One couple in particular just recently tied the knot, and is now in the final stages of an adoption process that will make their unified family complete.  Another couple, who has no children, is showing no interest in ever getting married.  And yet it’s unthinkable that they would ever split up despite their lack of marriage license.  My sister (also no kids) is in the process of planning a wedding with her fiancée while also living with him.  And one couple that swore off marriage yet raised a whole family together for 30+ years finally bit the bullet and exchanged rings a few years back – after their kids were raised, finished college, and making lives of their own.  Heck, even the royal couple, William and Kate, are setting their own cohabitation example for the world while in the spotlight by “living in sin”.  And another couple I know are raising their two children together and are unmarried.  In fact, they weren’t even allowed to marry until recently, being that they are also lesbian.

I have friends who did not move in together at all until their wedding night – planning a life together in separate homes, yet letting the reality of it be a mystery until they were legally joined. One I wrote about here, her marriage 6 months ago also symbolizing a sacred promise to her new husband.  My own parents just celebrated 34 years of marriage last week, starting their new life together on their wedding night.  And another couple I know who waited until marriage to cohabitate has been married for 40 years – yet are now living in, not only separate beds, but separate homes, just so that they can remain happily married without killing each other. 

And then there are my single mom friends who choose NOT to live with someone else while raising kids.  One in particular has only been divorced for 4 or so years, has a steady boyfriend, and promises she will never marry nor cohabitate again.  She enjoys her personal living space too much, and she’s adamant in her unwillingness to ever give it up – especially while raising her kids.  This same mom lived with her ex-husband before they got married and had children, and shared a wonderful marriage with him before they grew apart and divorced.  

So here’s your chance to sound off – no judgment.  I’d love to hear your point of view about living together before marriage in general.  Do you see a problem with it?  Does your view change if there are no kids involved?  Do you think relationships suffer from living together before marriage, or suffer if a couple does NOT live together before marriage?  Do you have a personal story to share?  Let me know.  And as always, anonymous comments are welcome, but mean comments are not.

When bad news happens

The fire in San Bruno, September 9th 2010

9 years ago this Saturday, I was woken by the phone ringing continuously. My grandma was on the other line, letting me know that my parents were ok, and that they told me not to worry – they’d get a hold of me when they could.

“What are you talking about???” I asked her.

“Go turn on your TV.”

For the next few hours I was glued to my television, just like the rest of America. And I watched fearfully as image after image showed different angles of the twin towers being hit by an airplane, eventually showing them as they crashed to the ground. Would we be next? Had war entered our country? Did we need to make a plan of escape should the worst happen on our side of the country? And what about my parents, who had chosen that very week to visit New York for their vacation? Would they really be ok?

At the time, my kids were too young to know what was going on. My son was only a baby, my daughter just 3 years old. My daughter asked what was going on, and I told her that some planes had crashed into a building. She sat with me and watched the images for awhile. And as I watched people jumping from buildings to their death, dust covered people running for cover, and images of planes repeatedly crashing into buildings, I became aware of the state of emergency on the television through her wide, innocent eyes.

Around the same time of year in 2005, Hurricane Katrina reared its ugly head and devastated the southern states, particularly Louisiana and Mississippi. Homes were leveled, signs all twisted up, boats eerily taking residence in the middle of abandoned streets. Some of the nation’s poorest were left without homes, food, or water. All they had were the clothes on their back. Heartbreaking video was captured of people standing on their roofs with as many belongings as they could save, surrounded by the flood that drowned their homes from the broken levies. Images of children, reminiscent of the children we see on commercials about third world countries, looked out at us with haunting eyes. And we watched as the devastating scene unraveled from an area of our country that had suffered from an angry act of god. My kids were now ages 3 and 6, and both were worried as the images took up the screen and entered our living room.

Yesterday, a devastating fire broke out in San Bruno. The television showed images of fireballs reaching astounding heights from a broken gas main. Homes were destroyed. Several people perished. The scenes were like those out of a movie, so unreal. Cameras scanned the scene to show areas of devastation, exhausted firemen fighting the burning inferno, and news stations played video seemingly on repeat as the whole city seemed to go up in flames. And at 9 and 12, my kids were fully aware of what was going on.

Kids are affected by the images of disasters we see on the television. But different ages react in different ways, and depending on the child. When my son was younger, he almost didn’t see the world around him. Images could be blowing up on the television, and he couldn’t tell the difference between reality and disasters shown in a movie. In his mind, none of it was real. My daughter, on the other hand, saw it all as very real. And images like those on TV when 9/11 happened worried her. Even though it was happening on the other side of the country, she felt like it was right in our own backyard. When I found her sitting next to me watching all the chaos going on in New York, I did the only thing I could do. I turned the TV off. And then we talked about the reality of the situation as best as a 3 year old could understand. At the time I wasn’t sure what was going on, or if we were even safe. But a toddler wants reassurance that they ARE safe. She wanted to know what was happening, and I gave her a very short description without getting into too many specifics. And I gave her the reassurance she needed – she was safe.

When the kids were older, conversations were able to expand more regarding devastating events in the world. When Hurricane Katrina happened, I limited the amount of TV images the kids were seeing. But I didn’t let them be ignorant of the situation either. We talked more about the people who were in need because of what they had lost, and the reality of crime on the rise due to the devastation. I didn’t let it consume our whole lives as we went about our day to day, but I used the event as a way to think about what we had, how lucky we were, and what could be done to help others in need.

At the age the kids are now, I don’t censor the images – though I still don’t have the images filling our living room through TV or the Internet. The fires in San Bruno have opened up discussions about what people have lost, and what we would do in this kind of situation. Many families didn’t even have a chance to think about it – the firemen were knocking on doors right and left telling people to get out NOW.

“What would you save?” I asked my daughter this morning.

“Whatever was closest to me, and I would get the heck out of there!” she said realistically.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, hurricanes, terrorist attacks….  When bad things happen, it’s all over the news.  But how much of it do we share with our kids?  At times, the images on the news may seem like something out of the movies. And while it’s important for kids to understand the reality of these events – a conversation with a 3 year old will look very different from the conversation you’d have with a 12 year old. You shouldn’t necessarily lie to your younger children regarding scary events, but it’s better to shield them from every detail of the truth so that they aren’t overcome with worry.

And as for the media? When the same images are filling your living room over and over, sensationalizing the trauma so that it’s bigger than life…sometimes it’s better just to turn it off.