Your Calendar is Your Pre-Vacation Checklist

When you’re about to head out on vacation, your calendar can be a great tool to make sure all of your bases are covered before you leave.  In a recent post, Your Family Calendar is Your Safety Net, I talked about why you should keep recurring appointments in your calendar.  Well, here’s another reason.

We take for granted just how many people we work with every week — the piano teacher, the guitar instructor, the reading tutor, etc.  When you are about to head out on vacation, you need to contact all of these folks to cancel those appointments.

My advice:  If you’ve already got them in your calendar, as you contact each person, instead of deleting the appointment, update it to say “No Piano Lesson Today” or something to that effect.  It will serve as a reminder for you that you DID contact them and cancel for that week.  And if you’re constantly being interrupted and can’t contact everyone all at once, when you go back to that task, you’ll know who you’ve already contacted and who you still need to contact.

Here’s an example of what the week may look like, pulling from Cozi Family Calendar:

Cozi Calendar Cancelled Appointments
Cozi Calendar Week View Showing Cancelled Appointments

 

Looking at the week of our vacation, not only do my kids know what we’re doing each day but I have confidence that I’ve cancelled all of our appointments and that I’m ready to go.  Because I can literally see it in my calendar!

Enjoy your summer!

Easy, Breezy, Summer Morning Routines

It’s the first official week of summer camp.  Getting the new morning routine established each year is a bit tough but within a few weeks things usually begin to smooth out.  We need to leave earlier.  There’s so much to remember.  If it’s a field trip day that involves swimming, we need the swim suits.  Packing a lunch is just like the school year but without the safety net of just buying lunch if the morning completely goes sideways on us.  And there’s more traffic to battle because we’re not just meeting the school bus.

Believe it or not, what I’m about to share is a true story.

This morning, as I opened the refrigerator to grab some milk, there it was – a perfectly packed lunch.  Where did this come from?  I peaked inside: sandwich, apple, granola bar, cheese stick, juice box, a full lunch.  My 9 year old daughter is NOT a morning person.  Yesterday, as she was grumpily making her lunch, I casually suggested that she make her lunch the night before since she’s such a sleepy head in the morning.  But I figured it would take a couple of weeks and a lot more suggesting to get her there.  But she did it.  And I didn’t even SEE her do it the night before.

While I was still recovering from my shock and dismay, my 13 year old son came in, backpack in hand, heading for the front door to set the backpack by the door.

“What is your field trip today?”

“Swimming.”  I think one word answers are pretty typical for a 13 year old boy, especially one with Autism.

“Do you have everything you need to go swimming?”

“Yes”, as he walked passed me, no eye contact, and headed back into his room.

I couldn’t help myself.  I had to peak inside the backpack to see if he really had everything.  Towel, swim trunks, even a swim shirt, and a packed lunch.  He listened.  He took responsibility.  He was ready.

As working parents, heck, as ANY parent, having the kids take responsibility like this makes getting out the door in the morning SOOOO much smoother!  We’ve been working on this for  while throughout the school year but I was so pleased so see them handing the additional responsibilities that summer camp brings.  Here are my suggestions for how to help the kids chip in to have an easier time getting out the door in the morning.

Set Expectations

The week school ended, one night over dinner I explained to the kids that they’d be going to the same summer camps as last summer but this year, I wanted them to take responsibility for bringing what they needed for their field trip days.  If they forget to bring a swim suit on the hottest day of the summer, they will be sitting it out.  It’s up to them to remember.

Use A Calendar 

My son has an iPhone and we have a family calendar that I share with him.  We get the schedule (from Outdoors For All) in advance via email.  When the calendar for the week arrives, I create an all day appointment for each day of the week.

SUBJECT: OFA: Swimming  [The OFA stands for Outdoors For All and my son understands this.]

LOCATION: Bring swim suit, towel, sunscreen, lunch

He looks at the calendar, knows what he’s doing that day and knows what to bring.  My daughter picks up a flyer on the Monday of each week at camp.   She is then in charge of that information to be prepared for her Wednesday and Friday field trips.

Stock the Fridge and Pantry with Lunch Stuff 

We’ve got a shelf in our refrigerator designated for lunch stuff: Juice boxes, fruit cups, cheese sticks.  it’s just above the fruit drawer that has apples, oranges, grapes, etc.  It’s right at eye level for the kids.  And as I see it get emptied, I know what I need to shop for.  We also have a shelf in the cupboard set up the same way, at kid eye level, filled with granola bars, bread for sandwiches, chips, fruit roll ups, etc.  The kids have 2 places to look for lunch ideas and lots of variety.

Help Your Smart Phone Be Smart

I know approximately what time we need to leave to drop off my daughter on time, then drop off my son on time, and then get myself to work on time.  This year, I added an appointment to my calendar, “Drop off E”, set for 8am WITH the address of where the camp is.  As I’m about to leave, Cortana on my Windows Phone (or Google Now on an Android Phone) pops up telling me I need to leave so I get there on time.  This is the first year I’m trying this.  I’m hoping that if traffic is bad one morning, Cortana will let me know that I need to leave earlier than usual in order to get there on time.

Your Family Calendar is Your Safety Net

Family life has a lot of routine to it.  A lot of us keep the routines in our heads and use our calendars just to manage the exceptions.  But trying to keep track of everything in our heads actually adds to the stress of keeping the family running smoothly.  “Clearing the Mental Clutter” is good advice.

So how can you use your calendar to help you clear the clutter, keep things running smoothly AND be your safety net?  Here are a few simple tips:

#1 Keep the recurring appointments in the calendar and include addresses and contact numbers

If you are sick or your babysitter is sick and someone else like Grandma or a friend are filling in, you can simply forward the calendar item and all the info is there.  Often, a spouse who isn’t as familiar with the routine is trying to fill in.  Set them up for success by having these details in the calendar when you create the appointment in the first place.

#2 Capture cancellations in the calendar

If the piano lesson or the soccer practice gets cancelled, update the calendar to say something like “Piano Lessons Cancelled Today”.  If you just delete it, when you look at that week, your first thought will be, “Did piano get cancelled?”  Turn that question into a statement.  You want to be confident that it’s cancelled and not force yourself to remember why the appointment isn’t in the calendar anymore.  If you’ve got a babysitter managing the schedule, this will also save you from getting an unnecessary text in the middle of your workday asking to confirm whether or not Piano Lessons are actually cancelled.

#3 Put reminders in the calendar

A lot of these routine appointments involve things you need to remember.  If your child needs to remember to wear a white shirt and black pants to her choir assembly on Wednesday at school, add an item to your calendar for the night before to remember to lay out those clothes.  You may even need a second reminder so those items are clean so you’re sure you can set them out the night before.  Google Now and Cortana are great ways to capture these reminders in your calendar and by doing so, you’re getting them out of your head and putting them into your calendar to remind you when you can actually act on those things.

Part of the stress of juggling a family AND a profession is keeping track of all of these details.  By dumping these details into your calendar, you remember things at the right time and your calendar becomes a safety net when you need a friend or family member to fill in for you.

Are you navigating your life with a map or with GPS?

Many of us have been in the situation where we thought we knew where we were going but our GPS got us lost.  Something happened to me this week that made me realize this may be an interesting analogy to life.

My babysitter is out on vacation so my mom was kind enough to come visit us and watch the kids – for a full week and a half!  (Thank you, mom!)  While my sitter was away, I needed my  mom to pick up my son from middle school after track practice and pick up my daughter from her elementary school after her school play rehearsal.

We sat down with a map and showed her where she was, where the schools were and the routes to take.  The next day, she went to the places with the babysitter.  But on her first day solo, she got lost.  As we figured out where she went wrong, it dawned on me that she knew where she was going, but she listened to the GPS instead of herself.  If she had trusted herself, she would have been fine.

The day she got lost, I stayed on the phone line helping her find her way to my son’s school.  The entire time, the GPS kept telling her to go the wrong way.  After she reached her destination, it just struck me how this scenario feels a lot like life does sometimes.

How often do you feel like you know where you’re going, in life, but you listen to the louder voices telling you to take a turn that you feel may be a wrong turn?  And then end up lost?  Or you try to ignore all this advice but it’s so loud and persistent, you finally give in and follow it?  And then end up lost?

At a micro-level, how are you planning your days?  Are you spending your time where you know you need to?   Or are you allowing your calendar to be filled up with meeting requests and just go from meeting to meeting without your goals and priorities, your destination, in mind?  Are you spending your days doing what you need to do to reach your destination, or reacting to the different directions life is pulling you in?

At a macro level, how are you managing your career?  Your family?  We have all sorts of voices telling us which way we should go all the time, just like the GPS that doesn’t have the right destination. As you drive, the GPS is yelling at you,

“Turn right.  Re-calculating.  Turn around.  Turn left. Re-calculating.”

As we drive forward in our careers, we hear direction from all kinds of sources,

“Spend more time with your family.  Re-prioritize. Don’t take that promotion (Turn around). Make a lateral move instead.”

So we re-prioritize which leads to a totally different sent of directions,

“Lean into your career.  Push harder.  Reach higher.  Demand more.”

As we navigate our life, our career, our family, our day, we need to have the destination in mind.  It’s not a literal destination of course but an idea of what we’d like our life, our career and our family to look like “down the road”.  We need to define what success and happiness means for ourselves.  We need to be deliberate about the priorities we set and live them.  We need to know where we want to go.  And then we need to ignore all of the things that are telling us to go the wrong direction.

My mom used the GPS as a safety net.  It was supposed to help her as she reached intersections where she was unsure which way to turn.  But it lead her astray.  In life, it’s appropriate to look for advice when we’re unsure of what direction to take our families or trying to figure out how to navigate our careers.  But we need to take that advice and ask ourselves if it will really help us get to our destination.

So the next time you read an amazing article or book, or get that great piece of advice from someone you look up to, or add another commitment to your calendar, spend some time considering what it means for you and where YOU want to go.   If we blindly follow any guidance or say yes to any commitment, we may get lost.  But if we carefully choose which directions to follow based on where we know we want to go, the route there will have a lot less twists, turns and recalculations.

 

My Son’s Autism Makes Me a Better Mom

Mother’s Day is here.  And every year, this “holiday” is always a time when I remember why I’m so grateful that I have a son who has Autism.

Grateful?  Yes, grateful.  Through all of the challenges we’ve already faced and the unknown that lies ahead, I feel grateful.  If it wasn’t for my son and this different world we find ourselves in, I think I would have been a TERRIBLE mother.  Let me explain.

Root problems:  I’m a control freak, a perfectionist.  I’m convinced that if I’d had typical children, I would have tried to control everything and expect perfection in everything.  And I would have made myself and my family miserable in the process.  My son has given me so many gifts through these challenges.  I’ll just describe a few.

Forget Perfection

When my son was a toddler, “perfection” was the opposite of the world I was living in.  One of the biggest challenges that I had to overcome was letting go of what others thought of me.  For example, I remember being in a child’s furniture store.  Early on, I got very good at entering a new place and finding the “triggers” that would set my son off so I could try to avoid them.  But I wasn’t always successful.  We walked into the store and I saw a wooden train set on a child size table.  There was another little boy playing with it.  I knew my son would barge in, take over and make this kid cry.  OR, if this kids was bold enough to stand up for himself, my son would have a melt down.  We successfully avoided the train table and moved to the back of the store.  I watched my son like a hawk but during a split second distraction, he found his way to the table.  He tried to grab the train.  The parents of the child were annoyed.  I intervened, calmly saying, “this little boy was playing with this first”.  Let the melt down begin!

At this point in my journey as a mother of a child with Autism, I’d already given up the notion that I would ever be the perfect parent of the perfect child.  I adjusted my goal to this:  I will be a parent who is handling my situation the very best that I can.  If other people see me as out of control as my son, judgment will come.  But if they see that I’m handling a difficult situation the best way possible, I may get empathy instead.

The parents of the little boy with the train actually wanted to give the train over to my son.  I calmly picked up my son, tantrum and all, and said, “Thank you so much but I don’t want to reward his bad behavior by letting him have the train.”  I remained calm and I left the store.  People turned to see this screaming child.  My job was to stay in control and be calm.

Believe

I’m a planner.  I’m a program manager.  I think if I had typical kids, I would have had “a plan” for them as well.  Early on, many professionals told me of things that my son would never be able to do.  And this information was just not acceptable to me.  I couldn’t make a “life plan” on something so negative.  Coming from my project manager perspective, I plan projects, identify risks and come up with mitigation plans.  As I looked at my son’s projected future, I was overwhelmed.

I had to throw out any semblance of having a plan and just take things one day at a time.  “He’ll never learn to read.”  Well, we need to try.  One day at a time.  He not only reads but he communicates with me via text message now.  “He may never be independent.”  As I write this, he just started a load of his own laundry.  He gets up to his own alarm, prepares his own lunches, and gets himself to his own school bus on time.  “A main stream classroom may not be enough. He may need to attend a special school for kids with Autism.” He’s in a regular middle school, managing a schedule of 6 classes with 6 different teachers on his own.  He can use a calendar, follow a schedule and learn routines.  Sure, many of those classes are special education classes but Guitar and PE are typical classes that are opportunities for him to be around typical peers, learn from them and be successful. We set a goal and we BELIEVE he will get there.  If you don’t believe something will happen, it won’t.  Sure, we’ve had failures.  But we’ve had far more successes.

Do Your Best

My son has Autism.  My daughter has dyslexia.  4.0’s and straight A’s are likely NOT part of our future.  So we focus on doing our best.  Math tests, piano recitals, guitar recitals, book reports.  We focus on doing our best.  And then when the grades come, if we know we did our best, we celebrate it.  And then talk about how we can do better next time.  And great grades DO come every now and then.

I must admit, when I’m around a parent in a more “typical” situation who is getting upset with the school or a teacher (as opposed to their child) because their child got a B+ instead of an A, or because their child didn’t get the lead in the school play, I feel bad for them.  Have they lost sight of the bigger picture because of this crazy world that we live in?  Parents of typical kids have some crazy and unrealistic pressures on them.  I can’t be part of that world so I’m not swallowed up by it.  Typical parents have to work hard to NOT be swallowed alive by it.

I’ll always be a control freak and long for perfection.  I’ll always wish I had a long term plan I was working towards.  But the severity of dealing with Autism was what I needed to get some perspective, to get a clue, to focus on today and appreciate the successes as they come.  And I’m a better person for it.  I’m so thankful to be a mom, for all the things my children teach me, everyday.

Happy Mother’s Day

 

Balloon Animals: A Parenting Improvement Story

Do you ever have moments where learning something at work teaches you something that impacts how you parent your children at home?

At a recent performance review, I was told, “Your team loves working for you and they are learning a lot from you.  The main feedback I have for you is that you’re managing things so well that the members of your team don’t have any room to fail.  You should step back a little so they can stumble and learn from it and grow more.”  While this is important information for me to have as a manager, I found myself much more worried about how this applied to me as a mother.  If I wasn’t aware of this at work, was I lacking self-awareness at home?

The following weekend, I set out to really observe myself and NOT help my 9 year old daughter or 13 year old son (with Autism).  It was a very enlightening weekend.  I’ll just share one story:  “the balloon animals”.

Saturday morning, my daughter informed me that she wanted to make balloon animals and that we needed to get balloons from the store.  Instead of adding this to MY list, I said, “do you want to go to the store with me so YOU can get the balloons?”  She wanted me to get them for her.  This was my first ah-ha.  If I take responsibility for this, I’m the one who has to remember and she doesn’t need to do anything.  Not this time.  (And I love having her join me at the store anyway.)

At the store, I was almost done shopping.  She had not mentioned the balloons and they were not in the cart.  Should I remind her?  I don’t want to go back to the store when she remembers AFTER we get home.  My next ah-ha:  in my effort to avoid adding a 2nd trip to the store OR avoid an unhappy child who forgot her to buy her own balloons, I’m not giving her room to make a mistake by forgetting.  I need to set aside this want/need for efficiency so my daughter can learn.  And you know what, she remembered!  We had already gotten in line to check out but she remembered.

As we stood in front all the balloon options, she grabbed a set.  They were NOT the kind of balloons required to make balloon animals.  They were just the big, round balloons.  I didn’t want to make an extra trip.  Instead of fixing this for her, I just asked a pointed question, “So, those are the kind of balloons you need to make balloon animals?”  She slowly read the balloon package.  As I was in a hurry, it felt like an eternity.  But she realized she had the wrong ones and put them back.

As she looked at the 10+ different types of balloons, I could see exactly where the right ones were.  But it was taking her a while.  Another moment where I wanted to just grab the right one and go.  But SHE really needs to do this on her own.  As painful as the shopping process was, it was nothing compared to what happened when we got home!

If you’ve never made balloon animals before, those balloons are really hard to blow up!  My daughter struggled with this for at least 20 minutes.  Frustration lead to huffing and puffing which lead to tears.  This was like hearing your baby cry and wanting to go pick her up and comfort her.  But she needed to figure this out.  If I wasn’t watching myself, I’m sure I would have been helping her blow up these balloons.  But I stepped back and just encouraged her to keep trying or find another way.

She eventually asked me if we had an air pump, the kind you use to manually blow up an air mattress.  Great idea! And she came up with the idea on her own.  If I had helped her, she wouldn’t be using her brain for problem solving.  Once again, it would have been easy for me to run downstairs to get it for her.  Instead, I told her where I would look but I wasn’t sure if it was there or not.  More frustration from her.  She wanted me to find it for her.  But she went and found it.

She wrestled with the balloons and the pump for a good 20 minutes.  I felt like she was wrestling a baby bear.  She struggled to get the balloon onto the pump.  The balloon would shoot off when she pumped air because she didn’t have enough hands to pump the air AND hold the balloon in place.  She eventually found a “chip clip” to help hold the balloon onto the pump so that she’d have enough hands.  More great problem solving.  Watching this was painful as I wanted to help her so badly!  And admittedly, my husband and I had to work to keep from exploding in uncomfortable laughter.  This was quite the spectacle!

When she finally got it all worked out, she created her first animal.  And it was amazing, something I certainly don’t know how to do.  And she was so proud.  It was a level of pride I haven’t seen before, likely because she did it all herself.

I learned a lot from all of this:

1. It takes time and a lot of patience to really be a good parent.  We need to slow down and give our kids time to figure things out and do things themselves.

2. When we help our kids too much, we rob them of this feeling of pride, accomplishment and sense of being capable.  And we may even be indirectly communicating to them that we don’t even THINK they are capable.

3. By spending more time in the short run, raising more capable kids will save us time in the longer run.  For example, my kids get themselves ready for school – alarm, getting dressed, making their own breakfast, making their own lunch, being ready to catch the bus on time.  This saves me a TON of time in the morning as we’re all getting ready for the day in parallel.

This is something I’m going to need to keep working on.  And it won’t happen overnight.  As for work, my self-awareness on this is much worse there.  So I’ve just asked my team to help me.  I’ve asked them to tell me when I’m stepping in to do something they don’t need me to do.  And I’ve got a deal with my boss that if something small falls through the cracks and causes some issues that we can recover from, I’ll consider that a success.

How To Set Up A Calendar for a Busy Family

If you’ve got kids who are involved in after school activities, this blog post is for you.  If you’re a Stay-At-Home-Parent, you’re trying to coordinate everything and make sure the kids are where they need to be.  And you want them getting picked up and dropped off on time.  If you’re a working parent, you’re trying to coordinate all of this with your child care provider.

Our family had a busy week this week.  It was the first week of track practice for my 13 year old son in the 7th grade AND it was the first week of rehearsals for the school play for my 9 year old daughter in the 4th grade.  I faced the week with great trepidation.  Looking at my calendar, I think you’ll see why:

FirstWeekTrackPlay

To try and tame the chaos, I color coded my son’s activities in red and my daughter’s in blue.  I told my sitter, “Let’s just plan to text each other a lot to get through this first week on this crazy schedule.”  On Wednesday, I had the pick up time for Play Rehearsals wrong.  And my sitter was having a really hard time understanding all of this when looking at it on her iPhone.

My son has Autism, so it’s particularly important that he understands the schedule using the visuals of a calendar.  When I got this text message from him on Wednesday night while he was with his Dad, I knew I needed to do something to make this calendar easier to understand:

AidenCalendarMsg

Looking at the calendar, I had everything crammed into ONE calendar.  I had more details than were really needed.  Too many things were overlapping each other.  I needed to simplify the calendar.  My babysitter needed to understand when to pick the kids up and where.  My son needed to understand his own schedule, know when he was getting picked up, and not have his sister’s activities cluttering up what he was looking at.  He needed to see what HE cares about.

What to do?

I created a separate calendar for my son.  It’s under his Outlook.com account, but I set things up so that I can edit it directly while using my own account.  I also set up an account for my daughter while I was at it.  Next, I got rid of the overlap by moving my son’s track stuff into his calendar, my daughter stuff into her calendar, and then focused the family calendar on pick ups and drop offs.  The new version is much better:

FirstWeekTrackPlayRevised

Notice the tabs across the top.  Each tab represents a different calendar in a different color.  You can show multiple calendars at once.  And when you turn off my daughter’s calendar, it was a much clearer picture for my son.  We sat down and reviewed the schedule again.  Here’s what he is seeing on his iPhone now:

AidenTrackPhone

And here’s what the babysitter was looking at (on a Windows Phone), because my son’s calendar is NOT in view:

TrackPhoneView2

I’m hoping that the schedule will be more clear.  Everyone will be happier.  And I won’t be distracted with lots of text message from a frustrated babysitter who can’t figure out where I need her to be because I haven’t set her up for success.  Yes, we’re using multiple calendars and sharing them.  It may sound complicated at first but once it’s set up, you’ll wonder how you ever functioned any other way.

For those of you interested in some of the nitty-gritty details, keep reading.  For the rest of you, happy scheduling!

Some details for me to explain:

What is “Juanita House”?  We are in a split family.  Since the kids have 2 homes, “home” isn’t clear.  I call my house “The Juanita House” so they know where they need to be.  I don’t want to call it “Mom’s House” or “Mom and Jeff’s House” because it is “Our House”.  Dad didn’t name his house (because he’s functioning like a normal person 😉 ) so we just call his house “Dad’s House”.

Who are all of these people?  Dad is Dad.  Jeff is my husband.  Marie is the afternoon babysitter.  Lauren is my son’s ABA therapist (Autism services aide).  When I set up appointments with Lauren, I actually email those to her so they are on her calendar.  Dad also has the appointments for “which house” on his calendar as well as anything that is on the days when the kids are with him at the end of the day.  There’s a lot going on here but this way, everyone has what they need on THEIR calendar.

Please send me your follow up questions!  I’d be happy to do a dedicated blog post to deep dive on any questions you have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Hope at a Track Meet

I remember when my son’s middle school PE teacher reached out to me and asked me if I thought my son would like to join the track team.  I was elated!  My son has Autism and somehow, through all the speech therapy, ABA therapy, IEP meetings and everything else, I had just given up on the idea of my son being involved in any organized sports.  Thank goodness for this very proactive and caring teacher!

I think the way I find the energy to tackle and break down new challenges like this for and with my son is through an incredible sense of optimism when I launch into something new.  In this case, I immediately had fantasies of my son becoming an amazing track athlete, overcoming the odds, and being one of those viral stories that hits the internet and motivates countless people.

The realist in me understands the odds I’m up against.  But this remote possibility is enough to help me get started.  If you share a similar dream, here’s how I broke this down:

1. Find the time.  My son has ABA therapy twice a week and lots of help with homework.  We just had to put this on hold for a while.  Track season isn’t that long.  6 weeks to make room for a new experience that has the potential to build confidence and potentially open up an entirely new world is worth it.

2. Support the time.  Our ABA therapist met my son at the track 2 days per week.  Her time was spent observing my son to determine where he needed help.  He knew NOTHING about track and has gross motor problems that inhibit his ability to really run.  As he runs, it’s as if he needs to think about every movement to make it happen.  His arms pumping, legs moving, even how his feet touch the ground – it’s as if he has to think about each movement to make it happen.  We worked on running, understanding the track, “the rules”, understanding the race he would run, the starting gun (and how LOUD it is), what a finish line is, everything.

3. Coordinate the time.  On the days when the ABA therapist was not at the track, the babysitter would pick him up from track practice.  On Wednesdays, there was no track practice so my son needed to understand that on that day of the week, he needed to get on the school bus to get home.  Track meets were typically on Fridays.  He would need to support this very chaotic environment, to know when his race was and what he should be doing before and after his events.  I would flex my time at work to support this when our aide could not.

We used a calendar to help our son (and the rest of us) understand the schedule.  A typical week looked like this and was critical to not only ensuring my son knew where to be but to help coordinate who was picking him up on specific days and setting his expectation so he knew who was meeting him.

Track Schedule

4. Enjoy the Ride.  The first time I saw my son run in a race is something I will never forget.  I was fearful.  I knew he was slow and I wondered how all of these people would react.  What followed blew me away.  As my son was waiting, he was smiling, happy to be there and be part of things.  This really warmed my heart.  But not enough to lessen my fear that he’d cause a false start. He and the rest of the runners were ready.  The starting gun went off!  No false start.  YES!  As predicted, the other boys were running faster and got farther and farther away from him.  As the first kid hit the finish line of this 55 meter race, the crowd cheered.  By now, my son was really far behind and he was going to be running the last half of this race all alone.  But as he became the only kid still running, this wonderful crowd of students and parents did something I would have never expected.  They started to cheer LOUDER!  Louder than they did for the kid who came in first.  When my son crossed the finish line, the crowd cheered for him.  I’ve never seen him smile so big.  After the race was over, he literally skipped over to the coach who gave him a high five.  A couple of the other kids on the team also gave him a high five.  He was part of something and his confidence soared.  I sat there with a huge smile and tears running down my face.

There’s a good chance that my son will NOT become an Olympic track star or be part of any viral video that inspires countless people.  But he’s happy.  He’s doing new things and learning new things.  He’s becoming part of something larger than his family, becoming part of a community.  He’s showing the world what it looks like when integration in schools works.  As track season came to a close, ALL of his teachers noticed a big difference in him.  He was more confident, raising his hand a bit more in class, improvement with eye contact, improvements with greeting his teachers, all kinds of positive intangibles that are almost impossible to teach.  I would have never known that track would be such an important step to making improvement in the classroom.

I’m so grateful for the school my son attends and these wonderful teachers who are making such a difference.  I’m grateful that I’m sitting with parents who cheer on the underdog and are being such a good example to their own children.  No wonder my son is so happy at school.  We need to do what we can to help our kids be part of things that expand their world.  And even if you’re not in a situation where you have a child with special needs, I hope my story shows you how you can be part of making the world these kids live in a better place.

Behind every strong person is a supportive family

We’ve all read the quote “Behind every strong man is a strong woman” as well as all of the related quotes that mock the whole idea.  While I understand the criticism of this quote, I strongly believe that having a strong support network, whether it’s a spouse or extended family or friends, it’s a critical part of being a successful working parent.

At work, when I see someone that I view as very successful, when I am able to get more “behind the scenes” information, I often learn that they have a spouse at home who doesn’t work.  Their spouse is doing all of the heavy lifting related to keeping a household running, raising the children, volunteering with the PTA, very important and critical work.

For those of us who don’t have this kind of situation, we can still be successful at work.  It just requires a bit more juggling and planning.  This blog focuses on a strategy to help your support network at home help you so you can be more successful at work

Tip #1   Create a Family Calendar and share it with the right people.

In my case, I created a calendar on Outlook.com.  From any calendar, Outlook.com, Google, Yahoo, whatever, you can “Share” the calendar by clicking the “Share” button and then providing the email addresses of the people you want to share it with.  My babysitter and my husband have the calendar.  I helped my sitter set up her iPhone so that she sees this calendar.  I only add items that show up in the weekday afternoons so that she only sees stuff related to our family when she’s working.  She literally uses this calendar on her iPhone as a checklist for what needs to be done today and where the kids need to go.  My husband usually has this calendar turned “off” but it shows up in his list of calendar so that he can easily see what’s going on at any time.

By creating a Family Calendar, you’re creating a “Communication Center”.  All appointments go here.  Everyone knows where to look for information.  How does this help you at work?  You cut down on how many times the babysitter is texting you with random questions during the day about the schedule.  In fact, when she DOES send you a text, you know it’s important and related to something that you really need to respond to in the moment.  You no longer have your spouse IM-ing you with questions about whether or not you’re free next Thursday after work so you can get together with his co-worker and their spouse.  You organize your schedule so you can FOCUS.  This is a critical element to being successful at work.  if you’re constantly being distracted by things from home, your efficiency at work drops more than you realize.

Tip #2  Get the right appointments onto your spouse’s work calendar

Many working families share the responsibility of dropping off and picking up the kids to/from school and childcare.  But work responsibilities often mess up that routine.  When an important meeting is scheduled first thing in the morning on a day when I’m usually taking the kids to school, I create a calendar appointment that covers the school drop off time and send it to my husband.  If he has a conflict that he can’t move, he just “Declines” and I know I need to figure something else out.  The same goes for me.  If he can cover it, he “Accepts” and I know I’m covered.

Share Appointment with Spouse
Outlook calendar shows family coordination to determine who is taking the kids to school today.

By doing this, you’re setting things up in the moment.  No need to remember to talk about this when you get home from work (and risk forgetting).  No risk of your spouse forgetting to put this in their calendar, not to mention getting on the right day.  It’s fast, simple, clear.

This same approach can be used for meetings at the end of the day.  Have you ever had one of those “Executive Reviews” scheduled from 3 to 5pm?  They never end on time.  You spend the last half hour of the meeting watching the time.  You’re stressed.  You’re distracted.  You’re not focused on the actual meeting because you’re worried about picking up the kids on time.  Don’t put yourself in this situation.

When that Executive Review is scheduled for the end of the day, send your spouse a calendar invitation for them to pick up the kids or meet the babysitter.  You’re now free to focus on the meeting.  Beyond that, often, the most important conversations happen in the hallway after the meeting.  Put yourself in a position to be there for that conversation.  By taking this simple additional step, you’re lowering your stress, covering the responsibilities at home and creating an environment where you can focus, do your best work and be there for critical conversations.

Tip #3 Planning for the Week

Even with all the right appointments in the calendar, sometimes the family may not be actively looking at their calendars.  Family life is all about routine.  Routines are what help us manage the chaos and the volume of activities going on.  We can keep a lot of that routine in our heads and not rely on a calendar.  But the exceptions are the things that mess us up.  And the exceptions are the most important things to capture in the calendar because they are hard to remember.

On Sunday evening or first thing on Monday morning, email the calendar out to the people who need it.  In my case, this is obviously my husband and babysitter.  But I also include my ex-husband and the behavioral therapist who works with my son who has Autism.  To email the calendar from Outlook, go to the Home tab and select “E-mail Calendar”.  From there, you’ll get options to send the “next 7 days” and an email will be created with the calendar info.  I highlight the exceptions to the routine so my family can scan the email and get those exceptions for the week in their head.  If you use a calendar like Cozi, they have a wonderful feature that automatically sends a weekly calendar to a preset list of people every Sunday evening.

EmailCal2

By incorporating these 3 tips into your day to day management of your schedule, you’ll be amazed at how it will smooth out the bumps in the week.  It should also help you go from “surviving the week” to really excelling at work.

The Summer Camp Scramble

For working parents, having a plan for what the kids will do over the summer when they are off from school is important — and stressful.  It’s expensive.  There aren’t always a lot of options.  My school aged daughter doesn’t even want to go to camp, asking me if I could stay home with her instead.  And my son with Autism needs a camp that can accommodate him, which is even more expensive!

As I talk with other parents, we all share the same stress, whether you have a child with special needs or not.  Here’s my advice on how to approach, and conquer, this very daunting task.

Set a Deadline.

My deadline is the end of March.  In the Seattle area, and probably any larger city, there’s a sweet spot between when registration opens up for summer camps  and when registration fills up.  In the case of summer camp, I sign up for emails from the camps I’ve used in the past and I sign up for them on any camp that looks interesting.  As Spring approaches, I look for these emails to help remind me that I need to sign up.

Plan Ahead.

I like to involve my kids in the decision on where they are going to camp.  Do they want to do the same camp as last year?  Do they want to try something new?  Since my daughter continues to beg me to quit my job for the summer and stay home with her, involving her makes it easier to get her into a place where she’s actually looking forward to the summer.

Involving the kids in planning includes figuring out where their friends are going to camp.  Encourage your kids to ask their friends what they are doing.  Reach out to the parents you know.  This is a great way to discover great camps you don’t know about and potentially sign up the kids for a camp they can attend with their friends from school.  And as your kids understand that many of their friends are doing summer camp as well, this helps with their enthusiasm.

Finally, planning ahead involves figuring out any summer vacations you’re going to take.  You don’t want to sign up for a week of camp if you’ll be away on vacation.  This adds to the complexity of planning but once you’ve got that detail figured out, not only do you get child care covered for the summer but you also have your summer vacation to look forward to.

Camps for Kids with Special Needs

This situation is a lot trickier.  Just like with typical camps, doing research and asking friends is important.  In the Seattle Area, I’m lucky to have many options, though they are expensive.  My son has attended summer camp with Outdoors For All for 3 summers now.  It’s a relief to have this option.

If you live in an area that doesn’t have camps for kids with special needs, there are still options.  Before I discovered Outdoors For All, I found a local daycare that had a summer camp program.  I met with the director and explained my situation.  The group of kids was small enough that she felt she could accommodate my son.  I also arranged with her to get the schedule in advance so that I could communicate that to my son.  At the time, having him know ahead of time where he was going and how the daily schedule would break down was half the battle.  I kept a tight communication loop with the daycare provider and the summer worked out really well.

Other Logistics

For a working parent, the other element of summer is focused around logistics.  Drop off times and locations are different than the school year.  To simplify things, we work out a schedule for this in advance.  For example, I’m taking the kids to camp on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and every other Monday.  My ex-husband is taking them on the other days.  The babysitter is picking up in the afternoons.  We add the drop off and pick up times to the calendar, including addresses of pick up and drop off locations, so that the first week, everyone knows where they are going.

As the dates get closer, we also agree on a plan to put details of field trips into the calendar and work with the kids so that THEY remember the things they need to bring.  Swimming stuff for swimming related field trips.  Camp t-shirt for field trip days.  Hiking boots for fields trips that need that item. By putting this responsibility on the kids, they learn to be responsible and it takes some of the burden off of you.  Trust me, it only takes one field trip of them sitting beside the lake rather than swimming in the lake for them to remember to bring their swim suit the next time.

Register and then Relax!

If you’re like me, until I have camps all set up, Spring just brings me anxiety.  Once registration is complete, I can relax, enjoy Spring and look forward to the Summer!