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Dianna laughs that these intros are written like someone else is doing it. It’s me. Trying to pique your interest in my blog. I have lots of boys and a husband of lots of years, and lots of boxers. I’ve been on the battlefield, in the boardroom, and served blissful years as a PTO President (glad I’d been on the battlefield). I love good food, good friends and good laughs.

Pour a cup of coffee, or perhaps it is a glass of wine, and share a moment with me. For extroverted folks like me, connecting is life. Even if it is connecting on the web. Webs are about connections. Let’s do this!

Coffee with a Slice of Life

Building Moments

What moments built you? Can you pinpoint times when something happened that turned into a building block for who you are?

I have one that came from a most unexpected origin. I was 27, already commissioned, working and building my life as an Army officer. As a young captain I was always looking for moments of inspiration and they often revealed themselves during unexpected moments. This particular reveal was during an Officer Professional Development (OPD). Of course the Army takes building leaders very seriously. Each month we had organized OPDs planned by fellow officers or led by our commanders. Occasionally special speakers came in to support the session. One such special session on our calendar featured a professional football referee as our guest speaker.

I thought, “Oh great. Here we go again. I’m embroiled in testosterone and I have to listen to the crotch grabbing, butt scratching philosophies of a professional football guy. Welcome to my world.”

This football official had amongst his credentials a long list of post season assignments including ten championship games and Super Bowls VI, XI and XII. His name was Jim Tunney. I barely watched football or any sport at that point in my life so the impressive nature of these credentials was lost to me. Still I, like every other officer in the unit, settled in for an hour of “mentoring” that I thought would leave me with nothing but the good old boy take on life.

I was quite wrong.

Dr. Tunney’s stories were varied and inspirational. One stood out to me and became my building moment. Dr. Tunney talked about working to support the Special Olympics. He was the “Head Official” during the day of competitions, and thus gave out the awards. At the ceremony Dr. Tunney commenced with his honor of hanging the medals on the necks of the champions. He went up to a young boy on the tallest podium. The boy won a track race that day, and accordingly Dr. Tunney hung the gold medal around the boy's neck. The young boy, while avoiding eye contact, said a simple "Thank You."

Dr. Tunney joined the parent group standing by the podiums while the medal winners stood to the applause of the crowd.

He nonchalantly leaned over to the mother of the boy he’d just awarded and said, "Isn't that wonderful?"

The mother, her eyes brimming with tears, responded, "Yes it is. Those are the first words he's ever spoken."

(Pause here because this still makes me tear up.)

His story hit me hard. I rolled the mom’s words over and over in my mind. While everyone applauded the gold medal, a mother stood in awe of the real and unexpected win. I took that lesson forward in my life and for years I’ve looked for the unexpected wins. It made me a better officer and a much better parent.

It’s natural, I think, for parents to get a bit competitive when it comes to our children’s accomplishments. Of course we all want to have successful children. We want things to be easy for them and have them move seamlessly through life, enjoy the classic success of being the athlete, the successful academic and/or the “best all around” in school.

I’ve come to understand that the greatest periods of learning in my boys are not when times are easy or when they are “winning”. It’s when times are challenging and hard to accept. Times when they are failing and looking for the grit to rise up and try again. I work hard to “coach” them vice clearing the path for them and notice when they navigate obstacles they are learning the most in terms of life. It is hard to stand by sometimes, and no doubt it is a delicate balance on when to step in and when not to. As the coach I want my “team” to win, but I’ll take the loss on occasion as long as we learn the lessons.

The seasons are changing and soon our children will be heading off to new adventures in new grades with new friends. There will be conflict and course corrections, there will be failures and successes within their worlds and mine. I don’t want to always look for the gold medal. Sometimes I just want to take the time to notice the challenges they face, coach them through the difficulties that arise, and when we have a chance to sit down and review what they’ve learned from those challenges, I look forward to pointing out the unexpected wins.

Those unexpected wins, their life lessons - those will be the moments that build them.

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How you doin'?

So let’s talk about our girls. I’m the founder and one of the facilitators of a program called Girl Smarts. You can read about it at girlsmarts.com or on Facebook at Girl Smarts LLC. It has grown in popularity, and over the past 10 years we have had about 4,000 students attend our workshops. Girl Smarts is throughout Central Virginia and has a growing footprint in Northern Virginia as well. In this post I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned over the years. Hope it will provide some insights.

“What can I do for my daughter to make her stronger?”

That’s the question I get most often when I am speaking to groups of parents. This is the first time I’m offering some systematic steps you can take with your daughter to help their confidence. These work similarly for boys. My program is just “packaged” for girls.

I’m from Jersey so I will share my focus for this post in the voice of my people:

“How you doin?”

A study done by Dove showed that 66% of our girls look to their moms as their primary role model. So, as if we didn’t have enough to do, we have to remember our girls are watching. How are you doing in terms of showing your strength? You can begin to consider the example you’re providing with these thoughts as self-reflection points:

1. What you say to and around your children becomes their inner voice.

It is painful to see girls at 9 years old talking about their self-declared body defects. We as adults must be self-accepting and loving of ourselves, with all of our imperfections, to set the example for our daughters. If we are critical of how we look in the mirror; how our bodies are not what we want them to be; our hair is a mess, too long, too short; talk about how we hate our nose/chin/ears and of course the “f” word (fat); then the girls will totally pick up on that self-talk and insert your discussion points into their own mirrors.

What they hear you say about yourself and others, as well as what you say to them, will become their inner voice. Let’s perhaps reframe and practice saying things about ourselves that promote acceptance. “You know I love that fact that I have my grandma’s nose.” Or stay away from body comments completely. See the image at the bottom of this post for some alternate compliments we can use.

2. Stay in the picture.

In 4th and 5th grade I’ve watch as girls remove themselves from a group photo. When I ask why they don’t want to be a part of the group shot I often hear, “I don’t like my picture taken.” Often these are girls who are differently sized than their peers: taller, shorter, heavier or thinner. They already feeI the difference and they don’t want to be in the group photo. Is that a self-learned behavior?

If you are a mom who doesn’t like having her photo taken I’d encourage you to reassess your approach and keep yourself in the picture and in the history of your children’s lives. I lost my mom about 10 years ago. When I flip through photos of her I never, ever say, “Gosh she looked bad in this picture.” Be a part of their memories.

3. Don’t stress the small stuff.

How we react in stressful situations is how our girls learn to react in stressful situations. (*note: I am not talking about situations where medical diagnoses are present.) When you are dealing with something hard, what is your process? Do you approach it with thought, reasoning, resilience and grit? Bring your girls into that process when you can. Let them see how you handle tough things and they will learn how to handle tough things (of course all age appropriate). Identify between what you can control and what you cannot control. It will help them do the same.

When my boys were very little we lost our 9 month old pup after she suffered a heart attack at our back door. It was a very difficult moment. It was early in the morning, before school and we were all very sad. When I understood what was happening I went to hold our pup Phoebe in her last moments. I loved her and whispered calmly into her ear that it was okay. My son was watching. It became a teachable moment when I asked the boys if they wanted to say goodbye to Phoebe. They did and then we talked about death over the coming days and made it a part of life.

I’m not sharing this to say our message is the message you have to send, but to say that teachable moments present themselves all the time. How we use them to coach our children to grow is an important part of this coaching process.

4. When you use your tongue like a sword, you will cut your own lips.

This is back to where I started. Your kids are watching EVERYTHING you do. They see how you treat your men friends and how you treat your women friends. They see how you allow yourself to be treated by both men and women. Be thoughtful to lift others up as you speak of them in front of your children. That will go a long way to show how they should treat their friends.

One exercise I do with the girls is I tell them I’m going to teach them to “talk behind their friend's back”. Of course they are aghast that I would consider showing them that sort of thing and there is always an audible gasp or two. Then I ask for a volunteer. When “Susie” comes to the front of the room I tell her to turn around so her back is to the group and I lean over like I’m telling a secret:

“Hey guys – you know what I saw Susie do?” I whisper loudly. “You’re not going to believe this.”

Of course they hunker down and lend an ear.

“Susie saw a kid struggling with his book bag and she went right up to him, asked if she could help and carried his bookbag all the way to his classroom for him. And that outfit she had on today, wasn’t that the cutest?”

I watch as their faces change and show their understanding of what I’m doing.

If our children hear us speaking positively about our friends, our relationships and our co-workers, they learn that is the standard. I know, this is WAY harder than it sounds. And who doesn’t love a bit of gossip now and again; but be thoughtful of your words because words count. And sometimes they hurt.

Okay enough for today. But the message of this post is empowerment of our children starts with you. Take a moment and take an inventory of yourself and see what standards you are setting for your children. I’ll be back with my very best tips on helping your child make a great first impression and a couple of tricks they can use to help them feel at ease.

Let me know below if this was helpful to you. Or perhaps there’s a topic you really want to hear about as you travel this path with me. I’m happy to share what I am learning.

non appearance related compliments

 

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Imperfect Parenting

On one of my early trips to New Jersey the boys were all very young. My fourth son was still in a stroller, just an infant. We stopped at a rest area and there was a small pond at the top of an inclined walkway that led to the rest stop entrance. The pond was filled with goldfish so I stopped with the boys to gaze into the water. Cool, right?

As the boys and I were leaning on the edge of the wall around the pond, I heard a woman call to me, “Ma’am, your baby!”

I looked around and saw the stroller rolling down the hill. At the bottom of the incline there was a curb and just after the curb there was a road around a busy parking area. Time stopped for me.

What do you do at that moment?

What exactly do you do?

I had three toddlers by a pool of water and an infant in a stroller—a stroller that was rolling toward a road. I couldn’t catch the stroller. It had gone too far and was picking up speed. In those seconds that passed, I held my breath.

I held my breath and stood paralyzed.

Just as the stroller was about to go over the curb two guardian angels walked from behind the corner of the building. It was almost like it was choreographed. Two angels walked the short distance from the building to the walkway and stopped the stroller. It was like they were waiting for that moment to do something amazing, and stopping my baby from going into the road was that amazing thing. Just like that things were “back to normal”.

After I got the boys back from the edge of the fish pond I ran down the hill trying to manage my mixture of relief, joy, and embarrassment. A moment of impending disaster changed instantly to a moment filled with tears, gratitude and joy.

“Thank God,” slipped through my lips and little beads of sweat finally had the nerve to show themselves and run down my face.

Then I felt embarrassment. I’d done something so stupid, so incredibly stupid. How could I be entrusted with these four incredible, little lives? Why did I think I could handle trips like these and keep them safe? I kept telling myself I was so stupid.

I heard the murmurs of the people who’d stopped to watch as things unfolded.

“That’s why there’s a break on it lady.”

“Why’d she have that many kids so close together anyway?”

“Can you believe that she didn’t move?”

When I started to breathe again I took my little boys and walked into the rest area.

I took them into the women’s bathroom with me and I went into a stall as I was telling them to stand:

“RIGHT THERE!”

and I watched their little feet under the door stall.

Then I vomited. I threw up everything I’d ever eaten in my life. I vomited until my sides were sore and my stomach squeezed in spasms and then, I wiped the puke off my face, and the tears out of my eyes and I went out to those four little boys, smiled and said:

“Who wants a milkshake?”

There you have it: “Imperfect Parenting”. How to do a million things wrong, and still raise pretty good humans.

No one, and I mean no one does this parenting thing without making some pretty stupid mistakes.

A few years later when I was picking my oldest up from school, I saw a little girl wandering down the sidewalk. She had long pigtails with pink ribbons and wore one of those precious matching dress and leggings sets. That little girl was walking down the sidewalk like she owned the road ahead of her.

As I looked around I realized she was alone and far away from anyone. I knew she’d slipped away from someone.

I jumped out of my car and walked quickly to her.

“I can’t find my daddy,” she said. She was four.

We started walking back toward the school together and after I got a pretty good distance toward the door of the school, I heard a call from way over at the baseball field.

“Skyler, Skyler! What are you doing? How did you get over there?”

Skyler and I looked and there was Skyler’s daddy running full speed toward us.
“Is that your daddy?” I asked. “Yup, that’s him,” she said through her smile.

Her father called out to me, “Thank you SO MUCH!”

I let go of little miss pigtail’s hand, we did “knuckles” and she went running toward a very important discussion with her father.

“No problem, dad!” I yelled back. “I’ve been there.”

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The Price of Freedom

There is a sign at many VA hospitals that reads:

"The price of freedom is visible here."

While casualty reports have fallen from the headlines the cost of freedom is evident in the halls of any veteran’s facility you visit. As I walked into the physical therapy clinic at Walter Reed Military Hospital, I saw four survivors of war as they worked to adjust to their post deployment normal. Each was carrying the burden of a life that weighed as heavily as any ruck I’ve ever worn.

One warrior, a young woman, was missing her right leg, had a brace on her arm and visible scars on her face. Another who looked to be in her 20s, was sitting at a table with her cane propped against the chair, her hat pulled down low and her service dog beside her.

The third I saw was with one of the therapists at a table. I watched as the therapist lifted the woman’s tattooed arms to the tabletop. There they were carefully and lovingly wrapped in warm compresses. The man I saw, had on a helmet mounted device and was using a video game to track and locate targets (I suspect as the result of a brain injury). His wife sat nearby holding their small baby in her arms. The woman swayed and hummed and never took her eyes off her husband.

I was led to sit at a station near the young lady with the dog. She didn't look up. She went through the therapy with lowered eyes and a face that twisted with the movement of her arms. Her therapy dog would often sit up and look at her and then lay down at her feet.

At one point the therapist left for a moment and the dog's leash became tangled. I jumped up and went to help set things right.

The young woman lifted her head slightly and said "thank you" so softly I could barely hear.

I wanted so much grab hold of her, to hug her to me, rock her, take her injuries into my older body so she could experience the fullness of life I knew at her age. I couldn't...but I wanted to.

All I could do was say with all sincerity:

"Please, don't feel like you have to thank me."

The meaning was felt...as she looked up into my eyes for the first time.

"The price of freedom is visible here" and everyone who chooses to wear the uniform or chooses to love someone who wears the uniform pays a price in different ways.

Remember our fallen this Memorial Day.

Speak their names to your children and tell them of the uncommon courage of men and women who serve. Those we have lost to selfless service deserve their moment of respect.

Dianna L. Flett
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired)
U.S. Army

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Mommy, fix my bike chain

“My kids are going to kill me.”

I remember a mom coming by my office one lunchtime years ago when the boys were all very young. She smiled whimsically as she glanced at a photo of my babies.

I was a wreck at that point of my motherhood experience. My hair had grown out of whatever color I’d slapped on it the last time; my eyes were bloodshot, and earlier, before a meeting, I was cupping my hand up to my mouth, breathing out and then in to see if I’d remembered to brush my teeth. The nights tending to four boys age 5 and under were a blur of activity and not much sleep.

“You know it only gets harder as they get older.” She turned on her heel and headed out of the office leaving me staring in disbelief. Her words stung my brain as I processed what she’d said.

I wanted to run after her and throat punch her. How in the world could that be true? How in the world could it get harder than going for weeks without sleep, cleaning up spill after spill, managing tantrum after tantrum and spending more cumulative time in the “time out” space than any grown woman should have to spend?

As the boys have grown to men, I get it now. The transitions we’ve gone through have been hard—really, really hard. And now they are men.

I no longer control anything in their lives. I don’t always know where they are. I mean exactly where they are. I don’t screen and check who they are with. I don’t know if they are getting enough sleep, wearing their retainers or cleaning their ears. Gone are the days when I could pull them in and hug them whenever I wanted to or appear as the wise sage with an answer to everything. I have been replaced by Google.

Now the “boys” are either at college, on some education abroad program, or driving themselves who knows where to do who knows what. In many ways my early mothering had been a clunky sort of logistical experience. Feed them, change them, coach them and discipline them. Now mothering has turned into an art. Now my children have a vote as to whether they listen to me or not, whether they come home or not, whether they step out and live according to how we’ve raised them.

When they visit they have their own ways of doing things and while they aren’t terribly different from what they were taught I’ve had to accommodate their habits of staying up late or going out for coffee with friends at 10 at night.

Every time they pull away from the house I’m still amazed that their feet touch the gas pedals. How is it I can’t lift them to me and hug them with their legs dangling in the air? Now I have to climb the stairs and turn around so I can see them face to face.

Their little boy issues are now adult man issues and believe me the adult issues are way more confounding.

“Mommy, fix my bike chain” is much more doable than “Mommy, fix my heart.”

“Mom, I’m going to Timmy’s house” is much more calming than “Mom, I’m going rock climbing with just a tiny little piece of white twine that can’t possibly prevent me from plunging down the side of a cliff, a sheer wall of rock that will break my legs and leave me lying in the pit of my own making.”

What was a simple issue of finding the right baseball team has become watching as they try to find the right career path, and whilst these are all their life decisions I can’t help but want to be invited in for counsel and perspective.

Sometimes I am.

And sometimes I’m not.

I know. They’re men now but I sure do miss those little guys. The ones who ran circles around my chair, the ones I could soothe with just a hug or a Batman Band-Aid, the ones who would race to see me when I came into a room.

“It gets harder as they get older.”

She was right. It does. In so many ways it does.

And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

I love you boys.

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Cooking Autism, Inc. is driven to help children with neurological disorders (including autism) learn how to cook. Participants are encouraged to pick up critical communication skills, learn how to work as a team and be more independent. They can build skills in math, reading, and science, and learn about cooking-related topics such as health and nutrition. 

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