Family Coach. Mom. Teacher. Lover of Life.

Our sweet daughter just returned from Space Camp. In fact, she went 30 years after my husband went to there in 1986.

Fiona, 2016 and her dad, 1986

Fiona, 2016 and her dad, 1986. She was so excited to recreate these images!

 

It is always somewhat of a risk, both financially and emotionally, to send a child with special needs off to camp. I’m happy to say, this was a big hit! In fact, it was so good I wanted to share, and she agreed to let me share, this entry from her blog about how she felt there:

As I write this I lay in my bed my 4 roommates fast asleep around me and I am so happy I’m bursting at the seams. This week at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama has been the best week I have had in my entire life. Our team Isidis of 14, 16 if you include the Crew Trainers, is a family after this short time. Even with people from India, Denmark, Norway, Egypt, and the USA we found home in Huntsville.

The camp has been everything I dreamed it would be and more. The food was banging, the adults in charge were kind and understanding and felt like your friend, and on top of that we got to do the coolest things next to actually going into space. In the first of 3 mission simulations I was paycom, a position that boils down to the hole control room of the ISS. It was amazing. I had to help the crew on the ISS solve anomalies that ranged from waist water leaks to failures in the CO2 pumps. The second mission I was pilot of a orbiter called Enterprise. It was amazing. Me and my commander flew a spaceship whilst 2 EVA offices did space walks out side our windows.

On our 3rd final, longest, most ambitious, and most fun mission I went to Mars. It is without a doubt the most fun I have ever had. I was EDT2 I was in charge with my EDT1 of getting the computer systems on the Mars base up and running. Simple right? I would have been if it was not for our Crew Trainers medical anomalies witch ranged from the muteness of our commander to the drug addict botanist to me thinking I was the president (dictator) of Mars to a person on the Mars moon have who lost both of their hands to hypothermia. 

Not only did we do these amazing missions with amazingly inventive detours. When you sign up for the camp you choose a track Mission Specialist (MS) or Pilot (PLT) (I was PLT but wanted MS it’s a story for another day) depending on witch one you get to do one of 2 amazing trainings. For MS they went scuba diving in the indoor tank. And PLT we went to Aviation Challenge (another camp that is linked to Space Camp) and learned about survival training we took a tour of the numerous planes and other aircraft and then did multiple flight simulations.

We did so so many other things such as engineer a rocket, build a Mars rover, and decontaminate water form Mars. I don’t think I could ever fit everything we did into a post but really this week has been so amazing I could never put it into words.

 

To hear that the “adults in charge were kind and understanding and felt like your friend” was all I needed. But there is more; a super nice kids sent her a text (or social media message, probably) thanking her for being so awesome, and giving her credit for the success of the team. Did I mention her team won the spirit award? So much positivity! I love it. It is so nice to know that there are places that do youth development right. Thanks, Space Camp, for making a kid that rarely feels great and included feel great and included!

 

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Dad, 1986 and Fiona 2016

Huntsville, Dad with girls.

Huntsville, Dad with girls.

That smile says it all!

That smile says it all!

What is sexual identity? I’m so glad you asked because I just received a PDF of the short article I wrote for the The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies. Sexual identity, according to yours truly, “can be defined as a label that helps signify to others who a person is as a sexual being and includes the perceptions, goals, beliefs, and values one has in regard to his/her sexual self.” (p. 1). Sexual identity is a multidimensional construct; it is not just gay or straight. It involves many factors such as gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual attraction, sexual behaviors, and even fantasies & desires. Sexual identity exploration is 100% normal and is an expected aspect of human development.

Understanding sexual identity is pretty important in today’s political climate. Youth is a time of identity exploration, and for many, that includes sexual identity exploration. The issue of sexual identify is often the difference between inclusion and exclusion. Many youth that identify as a sexual minority, which includes orientations such as lesbian, gay, bi, pan, etc., experience exclusion. They are bullied, made fun of, and have laws passed that exclude their protection from such negative behaviors. These youth are four-times more likely to attempt suicide than there straight peers. That is why I can’t help but worry about how sexual minority youth might be feeling about North Carolina’s new law, HB2, a law that limits protections for LGBTQ+ populations. The tone of this law is exclusive, and I know that youth that are exploring their sexual identity are negatively impacted by what they are hearing and seeing.

Understanding sexual identity is a first step, but as adults in the lives of youth, we have an obligation to teach inclusion and kindness. In many ways, this can be a matter of life and death. Parents and caregivers are the number 1 most important protective factor for youth. When the adults closest to these youth love and protect them, their chances of success are greatly improved. All adults can play a part in building inclusive environments that are accepting and supportive. In fact, these environments are essential if we want to promote mental and physical health of our future. Not just for sexual minority youth, but for all youth.

If you would like to learn more or read the article in full, check it out here: wbefs073

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Allen, K. (2016). Sexual identity. In C. Shehan (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Family Studies. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of Sandy Hook. I remember when I first heard about the children of Sandy Hook being killed. My heart broke, and the tears rolled and all I wanted to do was watch the TV and read the blogs to better understand what was going on. It was like the car accident where I couldn’t turn my head away. My kids were 11 and 8 at the time, and I sure didn’t want them to see it. I tried to behave normally, but of course they could tell something was wrong. That night, I sat down with them at dinner and their dad and I gave them a child-appropriate explanation of what was going on.

A child-appropriate explanation of Sandy Hook…how I can even say that is mind-boggling. Unfortunately, gun violence and terrorism has become a common factor in the American way and while I don’t want to talk about how to talk with children about violence and terrorism, I feel I have to. Our children are having lock-down drills at school, are hearing stories of violence from other children, and many of our children are experiencing gun violence in their neighborhoods and personal lives. So while I wish I wasn’t writing this, I’m writing to talk about how to talk with children about violence and terrorism, with the hope that this blog will never need to be read.

 

FOR YOUNG CHILDREN

  1. Be age appropriate. Ideally, young children will not be exposed and will not need a conversation about this topic. Sometimes children catch a glimpse of a story on the news or overhear adults talking about violence and terrorism. If you know you children have been exposed to the information or find that children do have questions, it is important to talk with them in a way that answers their questions without providing too many details.
  2. Be Affectionate. Violence can make each of us upset, and for children, we can help them feel better by offering lots of kind, warm interactions. Snuggling, hugging, holding hands, and kind words all help the child feel loved and safe.
  3. Let children know that you and your community are doing everything possible to help them be safe. Reassure them that most people are good, and that it is OK to just play and not worry.
  4. Avoid Media. If at all possible, keep the news viewing away from children. Sometimes commercials or adds will show violence and if so, use the steps above to help explain the situation.
  5. Encourage Communication. Let them know you are always here is they have questions. Answer their questions as honestly as possible but with a tone of encouragement and reassurance.

Here are a few examples of what you can say.

 

I saw that you watched some of the news with Grandpa. Do you have questions about what you saw?”

“Sometimes people do bad things, but we are doing everything we can to keep you safe.”

“Hey, I have an idea…let’s turn off the tv off and play a game or you can go outside.”

“That was really scare what we heard today. I want you to know that I love you and we are working really hard to be sure that doesn’t happen to any of us.”

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My girls last night, showing us all love.

 

For older kids, it is harder to shelter them. They know what is going on. Right after the Paris bombings, both of my girls came home with stories about how children in their schools had been targeted as terrorists. My 14 year old said, “I heard this one kid tell another that the Muslim kid was probably a terrorist”. My 11 year old said that the teacher yelled at the whole class “you do not call any of my students a terrorist. Do you understand?”

They were both upset, and clearly wanted to talk. And we did, and we still do. One of our very best friends is a Muslim. This hits us hard, but all children are affected by violence and terrorism to some degree. Older children and teens are more likely to be exposed to violence and terrorism or conversations about them and as such, parents need to know how to respond.

 

FOR OLDER CHILDREN

  1. Be Available. One of the best predictors of positive outcomes in youth is the quality of their relationship with parents and family. Open, on-going communication will help the youth process the information, and will help build positive relationships.
  2. Validate Feelings. How often do we say “don’t worry about that…”. While we naturally want our children to not fear terrorism or violence, the truth is that violence is a part of their reality and validating their feelings is a good way to help them feel supported.
  3. Answer Questions. With the Internet at the tip of their fingers, older children and teens will find answers on their own. However, if they can get information from you, chances are the information will be more credible and accompanied by an open communication. Let your child know you are always there if they have questions or want to talk.
  4. Be Affectionate. We might not think of teens needing affection, but the truth is, they do. Despite what they tell us, youth need encouragement, love, hugs, snuggle, and pats on the back as much as younger children. Especially in times of tragedy or when dealing with highly emotional events. Be sure to let teens know they are loved, valued, and important to you.
  5. Plan for Emergencies. While planning is important for all ages, older children and teens will feel a sense of relief if there is a plan in place for what to do in case of an emergency, including violence and terrorism. Knowing where to go, who to call, and what to do in times of trouble can help youth feel reassured.
  6. Focus on the positive. It can be easy to focus on what is wrong in the world, so it is critical that parents take time to focus on what is right. Even in times of trouble, there are positives, so taking time to focus on what is going well can alleviate stress. Reassuring youth that the chances of them being targets is low and letting them know you and your community are doing all you can to keep them safe can help reduce stress.

 

Here is what you could say:

 “It is scary to think something like this could happen to us or your friends”

“I understand why you are upset. This is a stressful topic”

“What do you think you could do or say next time? Want to practice”

“Let’s make a plan for what we would do if there was an emergency. You know that probably won’t happen, but we can still have a plan.”

 

Bottom line, we all wish we didn’t even have to think about this. However, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the kids at Sandy Hook, and the many other children that have died in gun violence or terrorism. With young children, it is about monitoring exposure and offering reassurance. With older children, it is about open communication and validation of feelings. With all children, it is about working to help them feel loved, safe, and listened to.

 

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want more information, feel free to check out the following resources:

As part of my job, I get to run a program called VIP, or Very Important Parent Program. As part of VIP, we have started a weekly blog on and about all things parenting. Today is my blog called How Do I Get My Kid To….

This one is all about getting my kid to be nice. Which she really needs to work on. Probably as much as I need to work on building my relationship with my kid and working to help her meet her needs. So, here is that blog.

http://www.bevip.org/uncategorized/how-do-i-get-my-kid-to-2/?utm_source=hootsuite

 

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My family is in a funk

IMG_2601I picked up my 14 year-old from the bus stop, something I do on occasion [read: when I am procrastinating getting important work done].

She asked, “how was your day, Mom?

Bad. How was yours?

What did you say? (she’s clearly not used to that answer)

I said it was bad. How was your day?

What happened?

Well, I just told a phone rep that I hope she has a terrible, horrible, awful day.”

It is true. I was talking with an American Airline rep, the third time this month to attempt to utilize a companion ticket; something I had tried two other times to redeem with no luck. This time I not only had no luck, but she told me I was irresponsible and that I needed to take responsibility for my own incompetence. So I lost my cool and told her I hope she has a terrible, horrible, awful day. It might sound bad, but truthfully, I wanted to say worse.

This came a day after Sofia was home sick for two days with the flu, after Fiona spent a day in such a bad mood she nearly lost her chance to be in the same house as her dad, and after a few months of my husband hating his new job.

Yes, the Allen family is in a funk. What do you do when the whole family is feeling down and out? Well, I tried to schedule a fun weekend get away, but AA totally let me down (and called me irresponsible). So nix that idea. But I have to do something. We are all really bummed, and it is time to make a change.

My good friend and colleague, Dr. Debra Farr, did research on this. Sort of. Her research is on the importance of family vacation on family cohesion and bonding. Her research, in a nutshell, says vacation and family fun is really good for a family. And in reading her paper, I am once again reminded of the importance of leisure, family togetherness, and simply having fun together.

We are a family that is often focused on fun times, but in all honesty, our funk has led to lethargy and than has lead to a lot of screen time for each of us. Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE SCREEN time. My children come by it naturally. I would watch TV all day if I could (even though it makes me feel kind of crappy). My favorite is watching TV all together, cuddled up on the sofa as one big happy family.

Screen time, even screen time spent together, is not really helping us feel better. In fact, it could be contributing to our funk. Research shows that too much screen time makes you tired, grumpy, and depressed. Yikes. That sounds familiar.

So, if I were working with my family as a family life coach, I might think the answer would be simple. Turn off the screens, go out and bond as a family. If only I had the energy to get off the couch, turn off the TV, and get the family out of here, I’m sure we’d all be better off for it. Like I say, do as I say, not as I do.

I ran this idea past the family, and they were against the idea of turning off the TV and doing something. Anything.

So what did we do? We got up, went for a walk, and then came home to brainstorm where we might go next on family vacation. Looks like UK, Hawaii, Norway, or Toronto are the winners. Fingers crossed we figure out how to get that amazing vacation to become a reality soon. In the mean time, just dreaming about and planning our dream vacation made us all feel a tiny bit better tonight.

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Summer has come and gone. But what a summer it was! I got to take some vacation time to spend with the girls. Sofia made a list of things she wanted to do, and we made our way through the list as much as possible.

 

Paint an art piece. 

Back to school shopping. 

Mani-Pedi. (my first ever!)

Mermaid tail. (made it myself after seeing they cost over $100)

Redecorate bathroom upstairs.

Lunch at art museum. (Not nearly as good as we hoped).

Friends over. √ √ √

Furniture shopping. 

Party for friends. Nope. Not yet, but we are working on it still.

Horseback riding. Nope.

 

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While Fiona didn’t have a list, she reached what I can only image where her goals of sleeping and screen time. (No photo as she says it is creepy for me to take pictures of her sleeping. I still take them, I just don’t post them (yet).

We all got sick, and thus spent quality time snuggling in bed. We went to Niagara Falls and Toronto. We swam, ate out, and spent a bunch of lazy time together.

Summers are mixed bag. While I adored having time to be with my girls this summer, I haven’t always had the luxury of taking time off. Like many parents across the country, I’ve leaned on family and piecemeal-ed care for the girls. That’s probably what summer means to my girls-lots of time with Grandparents, some time with their parents, time to exert independence and yes, some lazy days of summer laying around, sleeping late, and watching TV.

I realized this was my 14th summer as a mom, and I only have seven more. That’s 2/3rds of my summers as a mom over. Part of me wants to celebrate, but a lot of me is sad that my kids are growing up. One is now in high school, the other in middle school. It all happened when I blinked my eyes.

Here’s to a great school year, for all us parents and our children! My we find that balance of cherishing every moment and getting through those moments that simply should not be cherished. May we we find time to put down our phones and take a walk. May we be firm and kind in our parenting, and may we celebrate making it through one more summer.

 

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Back to School! Podcast 6

The Allen kids are back in school this week. Unlike times in the past, back to school is changing, especially for college students. The days of going to a brick and mortar school for the first year of college is no longer the only option. Is doing a non-traditional option, such as community college or even doing early college high-school a good option? We will tell you our opinion in this week’s podcast.

Book reviewed: College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students by Jeffrey J. Selingo. (2013).

Article reviewed: How to Make Stuff in Wired, March 29, 2011. http://www.wired.com/2011/08/big-diy/

A story about Limor “Ladyada” Fried, the first woman on the cover of Wired and one of Fiona’s role models.

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Key words: back to school, college alternatives, welding, early college, kids