Nora Ward, Team Lead, Middle School

The other day, I referred to my sons as “my first baby” and “my second baby.” The only problem was… they overheard me. “MOM!!!  We are not babies.” At fourteen and eleven, they truly aren’t.  

When They Were Babies

Just like any mom, I woke up every few hours to care for my newborns. There was a daily routine of diapers, baths, and bottles. A sick baby meant a sleepless night even when we were both already exhausted. I strapped my infants into car seats, and carried them from place to place.

My toddlers needed more help learning daily self-help tasks than most. Both boys worked hard to achieve developmental milestones that others take for granted. My older son struggled with communication. His vocabulary at one point was limited to “ball,” “Elmo,” and “no.” I didn’t hear any form of “Mommy” until after his second birthday. My younger son was almost two years old before he took three wobbly steps with the help of a physical therapist. For us, therapy and doctor appointments often replaced play groups and story time at the library.

My Boys and SEL

Their burgeoning intellectual and cognitive development showed itself in surprising ways when it came to social and emotional learning (SEL). Self-awareness manifested itself one day when I told my four-year-old he was being defiant, and he responded with “Actually, Mommy, I think I am disrespectful.”

Self-management, to this day, means they take a self-proclaimed “people break” after a long outing just as they did after a brutal day of first grade instruction. Friendships formed over Hot Wheels® in the dirt, and the beginning of social awareness and relationship skills took the form of picking the best car to give to the new best friend.

Our Life Now

These days, I am the one asking for help getting things off tall shelves, not to mention figuring out my phone. Not too long ago one of them snuck up behind me and picked me up off the floor “as a joke.” My teenage sons even manage their own laundry and prepare some of their own meals. The physical demands of days gone by have been replaced by the tough cognitive and emotional work it takes from a parent to navigate adolescence, and it is far more difficult.

My home has become a microcosm of the Frameworks’ mission to teach youth to manage their emotions, develop healthy relationships, and make good decisions for academic, career, and personal success. This past weekend, I helped deliberate which elective to take in ninth grade (self-awareness and responsible decision-making), how to approach a friend’s dad and ask for a job (self-management and relationship skills), and I have helped analyze the difference between saving versus investing money.

Those were easy discussions. I also reassured one of my sons that he did the right thing when he saw someone being bullied and agreed with the other when he established a boundary with a friend or even a family member who had repeatedly disappointed him. These more difficult questions are the ones where all five competencies of social and emotional learning take longer to navigate; they give the test first and the lesson later,

Bigger boys mean bigger problems, but ultimately life-long solutions emerge. We now celebrate accomplishments more than milestones, and know we are in it together. No matter what, though, I still reserve the right to say, “my first baby” and “my second baby,” at least to myself if not out loud.