Monday, September 30, 2013

Belly Laughs

Over the weekend my daughter asked me to download a few new apps on our iPad.  After a quick search, we added Talking Tom 2, among others, to our collection of kids' games.  (For those unfamiliar with Tom, in short, he's an animated cat who comically repeats what you say.)

Now, I am in no way professionally endorsing the appropriateness of this little cat.  (Or the flatulence, the mild violence, the treatment of animals, etc., etc., etc., associated therewith.)  In fact, Tom is unlike anything I've ever let my kids play with (and He has required quite a bit of debriefing!). But my daughter was right about one thing in her sales pitch for the app: Tom is soooo funny, Mom.

And my 4-year-old, who met Tom for the first time that day, couldn't agree more. 

Later that evening, my husband and I overheard our son in the kitchen. He was on the floor, iPad in hand, laughing hysterically at this mocking Tom Cat.  I mean, doubled-over, tears in his eyes, holding his side, belly laughing.  He was beside himself.  And before long, we were beside ourselves too.  Not at the Cat, but at how happy the Cat was making our son.  It was the most we've seen our son laugh in one sitting.  And for that, I will forever be a fan of Tom.

The Importance of Humor

In childhood, the development of a sense of humor can serve to socially and emotionally enhance a child's well-being and optimize his overall health.  According to KidsHealth,

"Kids with a well-developed sense of humor are happier and more optimistic, have higher self-esteem, and can handle differences (their own and others') well. Kids who can appreciate and share humor are better liked by their peers and more able to handle the adversities of childhood — from moving to a new town, to teasing, to torment by playground bullies."

Research shows that humor also reduces levels of cortisol (a.k.a., stress hormones) as it improves our immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems.  The endocrine system is instrumental in regulating mood and metabolism, as well as human growth and development.  As laughter raises our spirits and eases our tension, it creates a mental divide between us and stress.  In children, especially, the experience of joy and laughter promote the development of securely-attached relationships. And if all this wasn't enough, humor engages our brains differently than formal thought processing.  It activates neural spindle cells that distribute feelings of bliss across our brains and throughout our bodies. Perhaps laughter is, indeed, the best medicine.

Thought for today: When was the last time you and your child shared a good 'ole belly laugh?

Practicing What I Preach:  By nature I default to being too serious.  Too often I get wrapped up in responsibilities and don't take time to unwind and laugh. Thank goodness I have my kiddos to keep me grounded.  Their joy is contagious. Our six-year-old, especially, loves telling jokes.  From jokes printed on popsicle sticks, to joke cards I stick in my daughter's lunchbox, to introducing us to apps like Talking Tom, my daughter is constantly testing "new material" to get a laugh.  In her words, she is egg-ceptionally skilled at quacking people up!   
Help your child unlock a sense of humor too.  As comedian Yakov Smirnoff once said, If love is the treasure, laughter is the key.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Demystifying Supermom

Birthdays. They always get me. Or, should I say my birthday always gets me. The kids' birthdays? Give me a Pinterest Board and a few trips to Hobby Lobby and I'm an excited mommy on a mission! But on my birthday I trade the festive hoopla in for Kleenexes. It's never planned, but around September 14th of every year, like clockwork the tears trickle as I reflect on me. On where I'm going and where I've been.

This year it all started on Friday as I stood in my closet faced with that common 21st Century female dilemma: To wear a regular cami or Spanx under my outfit? *deep sigh* Feeling somewhat defeated already, I shimmied into my Spanx as I had an isomorphic epiphany. (Isomorphism = One of my favorite PSYC 101 words for when a given incident reflects a larger theme in your life.) In my case, here I was (quite literally) trying to squeeze into someone else's mold for who I should be.

And then the first birthday tear fell.

And the second. And, okay, maybe a third fell too before I composed myself and swapped my Spanx for a camisole that allowed me to fully breathe. With the next deep, real breath I took, my mind was awash with this concept of fitting into societal molds. I decided in that moment that this would be the year I stopped shimmying into something that was never meant to fit right in the first place.

In that reflective, pre-birthday moment, I started to laugh at myself as I recounted a comment someone made to me the day before. They referred to me as "Super Mom." Oh, if they could only see me now. Not in my business clothes, coffee in one hand, presentation "clicker" in the other. But the mom who races work deadlines, juggles school emails about cheerleading practices and cafeteria balances, and texts pictures of allergy-safe margarine brands to my son's Pre-K teacher so he can join the class as they make edible birds' nests during science time.

The mom who, yes, had coffee in hand during her work presentation, but who just moments before spilled it down the front of her dress. The mom who, despite the ump-teen trips she makes to the grocery store in a month, NEVER has food in the pantry. The mom who uses her dining room table to sort and store laundry for the week (who has time to hang clothes up, anyways?). The mom who lives for yoga pants and caffeine. The mom who loses her patience during homework time. The mom whose kids are causing the scene at Target (and, um, the restaurant and probably the grocery store too).

I'm not Super Mom. I'm more like Super Grover.

Sure, I don my Super Here Cape... but then I trip over it going out the door.  I set out to conquer the world... and crash into a brick wall because instead of looking ahead, I'm glancing sideways at one of the many distractions that cross my path in a given moment. Try as I might, I'm not refined and polished and debonair.  I'm clumsy and awkward and I juggle my own insecurities, anxieties, and fears. But one thing is certain... no one will ever say of me, Super Grover, that I do not give things my best effort.

Sometimes my "best" is 100%. More than likely, however, my best is whatever combination of practical effort and resources and time I have available at the moment for that given task. The older I get, the more comfortable I am with not sweating the small details. Instead trying desperately to take life one day at the time, focusing on the bigger picture. I pride myself on my accomplishments as a mother and wife and professional. But, as it became clear to me on Friday (Thanks to Spanx), somewhere in the mix, I stopped taking pride in me. I stopped giving me the same "best effort" that I give everything and everyone else.

As a parent, I work to be a great role model. I want my kids to see that with hard work, dedication, and practice, anything is possible. I don't want them to see perfection, but perseverance. What I'm afraid they don't see, however, is a woman who stops to take care of herself. A woman who is proud (not of what I do, but who I am). In the last year or so, in my work-life balance, I've stopped taking the time to make me the best that I can be. 

Thought for today: As this year's birthday (and accompanying tears) have come and gone, my goal for the year is to be a better me. To embrace my Super Grover-ness for all it's worth. Instead of squeezing into Spanx, to eliminate my need for them. To get healthy. To make better life choices. To have me-time, and friend-time, and rest. To truly take care of my mind, body, and soul. To stop trying so desperately to fit myself into a prescriptive mold. Societal expectations and their added stressors make it hard to breathe. And if anything's going to take my breath away this year, it's not going to be an isomorphic pair of Spanx.
Practicing What I Preach: My goal for this year isn't about Spanx or a number on the scale. Moreover, it's about what these things represent. I can't expect myself to be a good mother or wife or professor or (insert role here) if I'm not taking care of me. I'm not shooting for being Supermom. But a healthy, strong, vibrant mom. When we give of ourselves without replenishing our tanks, we constantly run on empty. Over the past year, as my work-life responsibilities grew, I let a healthy lifestyle take a backseat to everything else. And it's left me feeling anything but super. Here's to changing this, to another year, and to the wisdom that comes through reflection.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Childlike Faith

This past weekend my family and I attended our first NCSU football game. It was the season opener, and prior to kickoff we joined the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at its annual Tailgate in the Dorton Arena. (A plug for the College: It was such an impressive event! Delicious food, festive music, Mr. and Ms. Wuf, the pep band, giveaways, TONS of activities for children, and Departmental displays.)

One of my favorite moments at the CALS Tailgate was when our 4-year-old, Drew, spotted "Santa" among the crowd. He insisted we go say hello to a man whom he truly believed was Santa. Our conversation went something like this (before being taken by a small hand and enthusiastically led towards, quite literally, The Man in Red).

D: Mommy, look! There's Santa! I want to go say Hi.
M: Yes, Drew, that man does look like Santa.
D: No, Mommy, it IS Santa. Come on!

As we approached the Agriculture and Resource Economics table, Drew's face lit up when he said Hi to Dr. Ron Campbell, NCSU professor. I silently mouthed, unknowingly, "He thinks you're Santa." Without missing a beat, Dr. Campbell swooped Drew into his lap and spent several minutes talking with him about all things kid-and-Christmas-related. It was if no one else was in the room. Drew was mesmerized.

Much to our surprise, as it turned out, Drew's child-like, innocent instincts were spot-on. Dr. Campbell (whose gracious and generous spirit exudes) is the same Santa you'll see throughout the Triangle this (and every) holiday season. It was a surreal, Miracle-on-34th-Street moment. You can read more about Dr. Campbell here.

Since the Tailgate, I've been reflecting on Drew's experience, on his childlike faith, and why it's an example of a necessary marker in child development. 

Sure, Dr. Campbell looks like Santa, so on one hand Drew's assumption wasn't that far off base. But understand the context of the day. We were at at football tailgate. In August. Dr. Campbell wasn't in Santa garb. And he was one of a few hundred people in a big arena. Instead Drew was relying on his 4-year-old instincts and on his past experiences to shape his perceptions. The day's context was of little importance to his imagination. He didn't need December or snow or jingle bells or a Santa suit to be convinced. To him, he met Santa on Saturday.

Children need to imagine. They need to make-believe. And they need to believe in the magic created by their assumed realities. Exercising imagination is pivotal to a child's cognitive development. It promotes language skills, complex thought, and emotional and social development. 

(Side note: Obviously St. Nick is embraced in our home -- and after meeting Dr. Campbell, I may be a believer again! -- but there are other ways to encourage children's imaginations, such as playing dress-up or reading fairy tales, if parents choose not to promote the belief in fictitious characters.)

Thought for today: There will come a day when your kiddo no longer believes in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, or Mickey Mouse. And today's society is too quick to rush kids through childhood right into adolescence. I don't know about you, but I want my kids to stay kids as long as they can. I want them to believe in the magic of make-believe, to dress up as princesses and pirates, and to revel in the lands of their imaginations. They will be grown soon enough. 
Practicing What I Preach: On Labor Day, after a busy and HOT weekend, my kids and I spent the day relaxing indoors. They were too busy playing to stop for lunch, so I suggested that we play restaurant. I put out a table cloth, lit candles, made menus, and assumed the role of hostess/waitress while my kiddos dressed up (my daughter was a fancy mom; my son was Buzz Lightyear, a firefighter, a baby, and a daddy -- all within an hour's span -- each character requiring an outfit change, of course). It was the funniest, most fun lunch we've had in quite a while. I laughed at their imagination and role plays. The kicker was when my daughter pulled a new cowbell from her purse (a giveaway from the CALS Tailgate) to summons me back to the table to ask me if their meal would be dairy-free! *smile* My son paid for his meal with a kiss and a high-five. My daughter paid with a pink coin and a penny. Gratuity included.