Learning to Exhale

This blog has been woefully silent. I have many good excuses but perhaps not as many good reasons. Life, to put it simply, has been nuts. No, not nuts, stressful. Really, truly, dreadfully stressful. 

Health issues, COVID, a flooded basement, more health issues, little league baseball season, did I mention health issues and a flooded basement?  It feels as if I have been holding my breath for months.

And amidst all the weeks and months of stress, I plodded on. Some days barely getting my assignments to my clients and editors on time. Taking care of my kids in a hazy cloud of exhaustion. And my house? Let’s just say it’s a good thing no company hasn’t been over for a while because it is just now getting back on track, minus the flooded basement whose carpet we had to rip up.

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During all this stress and angst, the thing I typically forgot to do was take time for myself. Instead, I became the last priority, which only caused me more stress, deeper depression, and further anger and resentment. 

In those moments, I tried to focus on gratitude. Yes, I had water leaking into my basement, but at least the only thing damaged was the carpet. I still had a home with a soft bed to sleep in at night and a fridge full of healthy food. Yes, my health has been a roller coaster which is still going, but I am still here, working on it, and I’ve managed to lose 33 of the 40 pounds I set as a goal last March. 

33 pounds in 15 months is slow but steady, and I’ve done it, even with all the added stress. I also stopped drinking alcohol, significantly improving my weight loss and mental health. I’ve lost 22 of those 33 pounds in the six months since I stopped. If that’s not an endorsement to stop drinking, I don’t know what else is, mainly since most of my other habits have stayed the same. 

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So I have a home, a job, two healthy children, a supportive partner, and people who love and care for me; my health is crazy, but I am working on it. Reasons to feel grateful. But I still wasn’t taking time for myself, or at least not enough.

Writing is one of the things I enjoy doing and use to do just for me. But, since it’s become my job, like most hobbies turned professions, it became daunting to do even more of it for myself. So, I journaled here and there but couldn’t find anything meaningful to write about except complaining and ranting, and no one wants to read that. So, I didn’t blog.

But in not blogging, I perhaps took something I needed away from myself. Maybe, the exact thing I was too tired or stressed or angry to do was the very thing that would have helped me. So as I sat here working on an article that I am actually ahead of schedule with (wonder of wonders), I started thinking about blogging. 

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I stopped working on the article, and I started this blog. I wasn’t sure where it would go, and I’m still not. It’s very stream of consciousness right now. But I am getting myself on the page. I am taking a few moments out of my hectic day; more doctor appointments, more baseball… and doing something solely for me. 

I don’t expect life to be a piece of cake every day; I know people are dealing with far worse challenges and issues than I am at the moment. However, that doesn’t take away what I was feeling. It doesn’t negate that nearly every stressful thing that could happen to a person seemed to happen to me simultaneously. I felt pulled in so many directions I couldn’t breathe. It felt as if even a feather touched me; I would shatter.

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I don’t often share these moments. Instead, I come off as a perky, positive, happy person, and I am those things.

But I am also

A patient who sat down on the floor and started crying at 8:45 on a Wednesday morning because, after nearly six months, yet another set of blood work and tests gave her no answers.

A woman who looked at her partner several times in recent weeks and felt like she hadn’t had 10-minutes alone with just him that wasn’t discussing something kid, health, or house related. 

A homeowner who sopped up water and washed towels five times a day for nearly a week before discovring where the leak was coming from or could get a contractor out to take a look.

A writer who was stressed one week because she didn’t think she’d have enough work to cover her bills and then the following week had so much work didn’t think she’d make all her deadlines. 

A mother who wanted to cling to her children and not let them out of her sight after the tragedy in Texas. But was so exhausted at bedtime simply wanted to put them to bed and spend 15 minutes alone with a book. 

A Mom and step-mom who grocery shops for six people, works from home, manages the house and pays the bills, tries to keep the house clean, and plays chauffeur to baseball, gymnastics, and drum kits. 

A mom to an 8-year-old with combined presentation ADHD and borderline OCD and his 30-minute bedtime ritual.

A mom to an 11-year-old with anxiety who this week is obsessively worried about needing his wisdom teeth out in eight or nine years. And despite having good grades all year convinced he’s not advancing to 5th grade because of a comment his teacher said to the class, which he can’t remember, so I can’t help explain. 

And I imagine I’m not the only one, so I’m sharing. Because while my story is entirely mine, it’s not unique.

Slowly last week, some of the pieces began to come back together, and I could breathe. I could pause and enjoy the trees rustling in the wind outside my library window. I could breathe and enjoy a board game with my 8-year-old without my mind wandering to ten different things I had to do next. I had time and the ability to see the beauty in the world again.

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I could breathe and enjoy an evening out with my partner and some quiet time on the couch with him. I could look forward to a baseball game my 11-year-old was playing and relax and watch the game. 

I read a book. I took a shower I didn’t need. I ate a bowl of real ice cream; because what’s the point of losing 33 pounds if you can’t have real ice cream once in a while? I wrote this blog. I exhaled. And I took those moments back and made them mine. 

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No More Monsters Under the Bed

Almost all children go through a phase of being afraid of the dark.  I imagine even as an adult, you’ve had moments of uneasiness when it comes to what could be lurking in the shadows. 

girl covering her face with both hands

Let’s examine some of the causes of why and ways to address your child’s fear of the dark.

One main reason children are afraid of the dark is it is the unknown.  Their brains have not developed the cognitive reasoning to understand that there is nothing there that could hurt them.  They also have much stronger imaginations than adults, which means a more challenging time separating fantasy from reality.  Think of Elsa’s big song from Frozen II – what was she so scared of? Going into the unknown. 

Have you watched the mover Monsters Inc.?  It does a great job showing us how sounds, shapes, and shadows can play tricks on our minds. I can still get spooked when I know I’m home alone at night and hear an odd bump or noise. Yes, logically, I can reason that it was probably someone outside of the house simply settling, but at that moment, I become startled. Young children do not have the cognitive capacity to think logically when scary noises happen. 

There are various other reasons children can be afraid of the dark, including something they saw in a movie or televisions show, a scary story they heard, or a fear of something else such as bugs, snakes, ghosts, etc.

Some children may fear the dark due to a personal experience such as losing someone close, an accident, or some other type of trauma.  

Luckily, we can help most children overcome their fear of the dark using some old-fashioned fun and love at home!

Mother and Son Hugging

Monster Spray is a fun way to help rid the fear of something hiding in the shadows.   You can change the name to match whatever your child is afraid of Ghost Spray, Spider SPray, Witch Spray, etc. 

To make the spray use a plastic spray bottle, water, and a little bit of food coloring (not too much because you don’t want to spray color on everything!) and glitter.  If you’re feeling creative, make a label on your computer to attach to the bottle. Then, spray a little bit of the Monster Spray under the bed around the door, or wherever they are scared, the monsters will come from. 

Read books and talk with your child.  One of the best ways to overcome a fear is to have a safe place and person to discuss it.  There are many excellent books available from your local library that cover childhood fears.  Ask your child about their anxiety in an open and non-judgemental way.  While we may know there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark to them, it is genuine. 

Sleeping, Child, Napping, Girl, Teddy, Teddy Bear, Kid

Does your child have a special stuffed animal or doll they sleep with? If not it might be time to introduce a special lovie to sleep with.

Practice being in the dark together.  Have a “sleepover” in your child’s room, play with flashlights, or use a rotating star nightlight.  Watch movies and cuddled up in the dark.  The more exposure your child has to the dark, the more comfortable they will become.    

It is important to remember that all children are different; while some may overcome their fear in a matter of weeks, it can take months or even years for others.  

Father Reading Bedtime Story For His Daughter while Lying Down on the Bed

I am currently experiencing a sleep regression with my seven-year-old, a common occurrence in school-aged children. To help older kids making late-night visits to your room, take a look at their bedtime routine. Are there any crutches you are providing that they cannot perform themselves if they wake up? For example, rubbing their back to help settle them is fine, but rubbing their back until they fall asleep is equivalent to putting your infant into the crib while sleeping. 

Talk to your older child about what tools might help them settle if they wake up. Would a special blanket (perhaps a weighted one that feels like a hug) help? What about a night light that puts stars on their ceiling or the effect of ocean waves. They might need to have soft music or a white noise machine on all night; if the music cuts out at 2 AM, the abrupt change could wake your child up. Some children might benefit from the permission to read or play quietly if they wake up until they feel safe and sleepy again.

Reading, Bed, Flashlight, Book, Read, Learn, Page

Never punish your child for waking up at night or having nightmares; that will only increase their anxiety. While losing sleep can feel maddening and make us grumpy, try to remain calm and patient.  Calmly remind your child that you need sleep too, so it is essential to find a solution that helps them without making them feel bad about themselves. 

The pandemic has caused children to regress in several ways, so if you are noticing a sleep, behavioral, academic or any other regression it may be related to the experiences of the past year and a half.

A Young Girl Sleeping on the Bed

Eventually, they will overcome their fear, but in the meantime, give them the space to feel and work through their emotions in a loving and supportive way.

My Postpartum Never Went Away

Not many people talk about postpartum depression several years after giving birth. However, in some cases it can lasts for years. Postpartum depression usually begins within the first three months after giving birth and can last anywhere from a few months to several years. Roughly 80% of women will suffer the baby blues, a feeling of being overwhelmed, fatigued and sad.  Baby blues are normal, after all, a significant change just occurred in your life. These feelings pass in a few days to a week for most women, but 1 in 7 women or roughly 15% will suffer from postpartum depression.

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at 23, long before I became a mother which puts a woman at a higer risk of postpartum. That being said, I always wanted to be a mother; I used to say I would adopt a child from every country in the world and you could usually find me playing with my baby dolls or playing some version of “family” with my friends when I was young. Being a mom was an absolute must for me, so when I found out I was pregnant with my first child at the age of 29, I was through the roof excited.

I worried about postpartum since I already suffered from depression, but I hadn’t been on medication for a few years and was doing really well. And miraculously, I didn’t end up with postpartum after he was born. I was tired, moody at times, frustrated sure (also a full-time grad student), but I was delighted with him. I had the usual ups and downs of most new moms. My postpartum didn’t hit until he was about three years old, and I had a second child, but I didn’t understand what it was until several years later.

Having a second child was always what I wanted; I thought I wanted three or four; I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if that were the case now.  My older son was a typical two-year-old in a lot of ways, except he wasn’t. He had a speech delay from having fluid in his ears for almost a year; we had no idea because he had only had one or two ear infections, typical stuff for an infant. It wasn’t until he was missing his speech milestones we knew something was up. He also required OT for sensory processing. He was an extremely bright boy who was becoming increasingly frustrated because he couldn’t communicate properly or make sense of his world. 

These factors brought a lot of stress, combined with having a newborn and teaching full time; I became depressed again. I couldn’t afford treatment at the time, so I tried to work my way through it; I didn’t cope well but I did manage to hide it from most people.  My second son was amazing in his own right, and I loved everything about him, but we lived far away from any friends or family at the time, so I had very little help with a newborn and a three-year-old. 

I cried so many days, and evenings, nights, mornings, you name it. I kept thinking, what have I gotten myself into? That was almost over seven years ago, and it hasn’t gone away. I love my children, and I have and will do anything for them, but the past decade has been nothing like I thought parenting would be, and I’m still sad—a lot. I was ashamed that wasn’t loving every moment of motherhood and didn’t feel like it was something I could talk to anyone about.

Where was the time for me, and what I wanted to do? Everything came with stress, figuring out schedules, finding babysitters, calling off work when they were sick, constantly putting myself on the back burner. Somehow over the years, from time to time, I managed to still do the one thing I loved most in the world, theater, but it came at a steep financial and emotional cost at times between babysitters and schedule juggling. People would often ask how I had time to do theater, and I would always reply because I had to. I had to. It was the one place I still felt like me and not “just a mom.” 

I am sure some are reading this and thinking, well, that’s what happens when you become a mom; you sacrifice yourself for your children. But I disagree. Yes, we make sacrifices for the sake of our children, we put them first more often than not because that’s what parents should do, but we should never feel like we have sacrificed who we are; and that’s how I felt nearly every day.

It was get them up, go to school/work, pick them up, cook them dinner, stop them from arguing, play with them if and when I had the energy, make sure homework was done, give them baths, put them to bed, and then if I had time, read (my other passion) for 15-30 minutes before falling exhausted into bed and doing it all over again.

On the flip side, I was never cut out to be the stay-at-home-mom, and I was grateful I had a job teaching that I loved, but when COVID-19 pandemic occurred it didn’t provide me with much of an option. So I resigned from teaching to take care of my two children, who were too young to stay home alone. It just wasn’t cost-effective to pay for full-time care for them while I worked. Staying home full-time compacted everything. 

Thankfully this time, I was able to return to therapy and was already back on medication, both of which helped, but I constantly would think, “This isn’t what I signed up for.” Now there was absolutely ZERO time for me; they were here all the time. There was no theater to escape to, no karaoke nights with friends every other Saturday, no date nights outside the house. I didn’t even have the twenty-minute commute from my school to their aftercare to pick them to enjoy a moment of quiet.

I also couldn’t do the things I enjoyed doing with my kids; trips to the zoo, museums, playground, and vacations. I hated the mom I was becoming over the pandemic. I had no patience; I felt like I yelled all the time, I cried even more, and my depression was taking over. 

It took some serious soul searching and multiple therapy sessions to realize that all this time, I was still suffering from postpartum depression.  Let that sink in, seven years of postpartum depression. No wonder I often resented being a mom. No wonder I was jealous of all the Facebook-perfect moms out there.

Now, I am not bashing social media, I have a Facebook account, but I realized that my constant comparison to everyone else out there added to my depression; so when I feel a surge hit, I stay off for a day or two. Studies have shown that while social media has some benefits for some, it can also increase feelings of depression in others. And what did I spend a lot of time doing when I was stuck home with two kids? Browse Facebook, of course. I would sit and scroll and look at what I perceived to be everyone’s “perfect life.” There’s a beautiful meme I saw that perfectly describes what social media is genuinely like. I wish I knew who to give credit to, but I don’t, so to whoever created this, thank you.

My children went back to school last week after nearly 17 months of being with them every day, and while anxious about COVID concerns, I trust their school and am happy they are back. I feel relief.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. I was able to watch them grow and learn close up, they bonded at a new level, and we all had our creativity and ingenuity stretched to the limits.

But for the first time in seven years, I feel relaxed, as if I can breathe again. I decided to stay with freelance writing instead of going back to teaching, and I’m finally doing what is right for me. 

I’ve been alone in the house for five days now, and it’s incredible, for lack of a better word. I can think, I can run an errand when I want to, I can work out on my schedule, I can watch TV, or work, or write, or clean the house, or take a nap, or practice my singing, or mow the lawn, or take a walk, or go get coffee, I can use the bathroom or take a shower without hearing someone knock as soon as I go in.

I can breathe. 

For the first time in over a decade, I am not at the beck and call of someone else, and it feels phenomenal, and I refuse to feel guilty for feeling this way. 

I never knew how much I needed this space; I didn’t understand. I felt terrible because I didn’t love every second of being a mother, but how could I love being a mother when I couldn’t love myself? I will always battle depression, but understanding it better has given me new strengths and tools to combat it.

When my children walk in the door every afternoon, I am excited to see them; I am calm and restored. I feel like I am finally becoming the mom they deserve. I hope they know how much I love them, and I have always done my best to show them. Yet, I have been far from perfect and made so many mistakes. 

With this newly found space, I finally have the time to find myself again and am discovering I have so much more to give them.

The Story of My Exhaustion

A year plus into this COVID pandemic, and I know I am not the only parent feeling burnt out, exhausted, worn down, and even hopeless at times. I am already dealing with depression; I was first diagnosed at 23, long before becoming a mama. I have always had good days and bad days. I have experienced great weeks and horrible months, but this year has been a challenge all its own.

I went into the pandemic, like most of us, I think, believing it would be a month or two at most. I mean, who could have predicted this past year? It is quite literally unprecedented! I vividly remember the conversation with the director of the private preschool I worked at, offering me the furlough option and me feeling grateful.

My two boys, aged 5 and 8, had been out of school the past two weeks, and I was paying nearly half my salary for them to have full-day childcare. Not working was also going to be a struggle. Still, I knew I couldn’t sustain this momentum financially. At least if I were furloughed, I could collect unemployment until things got rolling and I could get back to work.

Work at the time was also bizarre; so many parents had pulled their children; there were way more teachers in the building than kids! I gratefully accepted the furlough option, though terrified, and took myself to Target – mask still weren’t a thing yet – it feels forever ago!

My plan in Target was to stock up on craft, science, and toys to keep my kids entertained for the next several weeks – HA! I was going to be the Mary Poppins of Moms… and I was, for about two months.

Then I began to feel restless; the stress of not knowing when or if I’d go back to work, the idleness of not leaving my house, and being home all day with two small children was wearing me down. Not to mention the initial virtual schooling began, and that was stressful for all!

I decided to start this blog so I had somewhere to channel my energy. Then I started freelance writing; long story short, I decided to stay home and work freelance rather than go back to teaching. Here I am, a year later, still at home with two kids.

If that weren’t enough to stress one out, my depression was bearing down on me; many days, I felt like someone had laid a heavy blanket on me, and I couldn’t get it off. I was gaining weight, and I was miserable.

I knew I had to make a change, so I contacted my doctor last August; we switched my antidepressants, thinking this would help my mood and help me lose weight. I even signed up for a weight loss program and followed it religiously for weeks. My weight continued to go up, and I continued to stay depressed.

By December, I could barely get my work done, I was in a haze all the time, and you guessed it, still gaining weight and still depressed. At one point in January, I took myself to get a COVID test because I just felt so horrible and lethargic (no cough, no fever), but I didn’t know what else to try.

The test was negative.

I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. Then in a matter of three weeks, I gained 10 pounds. That was the final straw. I had been exercising almost daily; this was not normal.

I called my doctor, made an appointment, and had bloodwork done. Two tense weeks later, I found out I have Hypothyroidism. More specifically, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. An autoimmune disease where your body begins to attack your thyroid.

Do you know what three of the symptoms of Hashimotos’ are? You guessed it, depression, fatigue, and weight gain.

My doctor immediately put me on thyroid medication. He told me to change my diet overnight, a Mediterranean-style diet with no gluten, soy, or dairy.

I was overwhelmed. I was relieved. On the one hand, I was expected to make all these changes to my diet and lifestyle, to take medication daily, but on the other, it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t causing my symptoms. I wasn’t just fat (as a doctor once told me when I was 18) or lazy or too depressed to be a good mom. I was sick.

I jumped in with both feet, determined to feel better. It’s been six weeks, and I have lost 5 pounds and counting. I’m not as depressed, I feel some hope, I’m sleeping better, and I have more energy on most days.

I chalked so much of what was going with me to the pandemic and being home all the time, but that was just a layer; my body was telling me something was wrong, but the signals got lost, or I didn’t want to see them.

I still miss my friends, although many are vaccinated, and I will be soon too! I miss performing in and attending live theater and singing karaoke. I miss dining in restaurants and vacations and taking my kid’s places.

But I finally have been able to lift part of that heavy blanket off, and I feel hope. As I sit in my library with the windows surrounding three-quarters of the room all open and look at the fresh flowers, I bought myself yesterday sitting on a bookshelf, and I don’t feel quite so tired anymore.

This past year has changed me as it has changed every one of us. I am still going to wish I had more energy. I am still going to wish I could be a better mom. I will have to work hard every day to control my diet, exercise, and take my medication to stay healthy. But I’m not exhausted anymore, and no matter what else happens as this pandemic goes on, I can say to myself now, “I’ve got this.”

Back to School Tips!

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The countdown to back to school has started, in some states, children have already returned. Regardless of whether your child is attending in person or virtually, things look a little different this year, but there is no reason it cannot be a fun and exciting event! In typical years, many children have anxiety and frustrations about the returning school year: no one wants to let go of the summer fun! This year both you and your child may be facing some extra emotions and obstacles, but that does not mean the new school year should be dreaded. Here are my top tips on how to make the start of the 20/21 school-year a positive one!

Back to School Shopping!

Every child loves back to school shopping: new clothes, new materials, new backpack. Even if your child will be attending school virtually this fall, there is no reason they can’t have a snazzy new outfit for the first day! They will be connecting with their friends again, meeting their teacher for the first time, and just like adults who work from home, getting dressed makes you feel better about yourself and makes you more productive! Giving your child the chance to pick out a new outfit and dress up is a guaranteed way to make them excited about school.

Talk to Them

Children have worries and fears just like we do, and even if your child seems completely relaxed and ready to go back, they most likely have a concern about something. It could be having to wear a mask all day, or their sport season being postponed, or how are they going to talk to their friends if they have to stay 6 feet apart? If your child is attending virtually, maybe they are concerned because their computer skills are lacking or they had a hard time reading the content in the spring, or perhaps they’re sad they still won’t see their friends face to face.


You can’t force a child to talk to you, but you can let them know the doors of communication are open. Asking a simple question like, “Hey, do you have any concerns about school you want to talk about?” lets your child know you are there to listen. Validate that it is ok to feel nervous or anxious or mad and that you are willing to listen if they decide they want to talk about ANYTHING.

Prepare Them

This year will present a new list of challenges, so send them into battle prepared for success. Teach them how to wash their hands adequately and express the importance of it. This is important for little ones as well as teens who might brush it off. As the mother of two boys, my favorite response to asking them to wash their hands post-bathroom is, “But I didn’t touch anything.” For little kids, have them sing the ABC’s or Happy Birthday Twice through. Post reminders in the bathroom with pictures or invest in a timer or a flashing light to make it fun.

Go over mask-wearing, the proper way to wear it, and why we wear it. Treat it like any other article of clothing that is required for school like shoes or a shirt. Buy them masks that they want to wear! This can be an opportunity to let them express their personality. Assure them that all the other children will be wearing one too, so while it may seem odd at first, it will eventually just be another part of getting ready for school.

Play Time!

Get them outside and playing! Regardless if your child is attending face to face classes or virtual classes it is A LOT of sitting. Children in elementary school need AT LEAST 1 hour of active play every day. If they haven’t had the opportunity to run around and burn off some energy in an after care program or with a sitter, let them play when you pick them up. In fact, make it a rule that they play! Homework can wait, their brains need a break and their bodies need exercise.

Fun and Simple Outdoor Play Options

Baby Pool or Sensory tub filled with water, plastic measuring cups, large eye droppers, rubber ducks (or other floating animal) and small plastic watering can

Backyard scavenger hunt: provide them with a list of things to check off or find

Bikes, Trikes and Skateboards – if you have a safe area for them to ride and play then use it!

Sprinklers – While it’s warm enough hook up a sprinkler to the hose and let them run free

Hopscotch, Jump ropes, Bean Bag Toss, Ladder Golf, Soccer Ball (speaks for itself)

Create an obstacle course using ropes, stepping stones, a balance beam, log or 2 x 4

Beach Ball Challenge, how long can they keep it in the air!

Give Them Space

Give your child a dedicated area to work, especially if they will be doing virtual schooling. Consistency is key, so create a space for them to work and make it theirs (at least while they’re working). Make it comfortable and quiet, and add little touches that make it more personal such as a picture of their grandma, some figurines of their favorite toys, or a poster of their favorite movie. If you have the room to create an area in their bedroom, I highly suggest it, just make sure what’s in their room won’t be a distraction from their work! The idea is to provide a safe and consistent space where your child can get their work done with little to no interruptions.

Office Hours

If, like many parents, you will be working from home with your kids also home, set office hours. This can work with children ages 5 and up, but it will take some practice and consistency. Set your office hours for 2-3 in the morning and 2-3 in the afternoon and explain to your children that you are working. This is an interruption-free time, emergencies excluded (their brother taking their nerf gun is not an emergency). Create an office hours sign that you can hang near your workspace to let your children know you are not to be disturbed. Keep in mind, that this doesn’t mean the house will be silent. Instead teach your children how to use a respectable volume in their voice while playing. They are going to need reminders at first, probably for a week or two. Remain firm, consistent but not harsh. If you are going to be on a call or Zoom chat, give your children a heads up that you will be doing so, so there are no unexpected surprises. In-between your office hours lavish your kids with the attention they need and want. Play a game, go for a walk, or make and eat lunch together. You need to take a break just as much as they need some mom or dad time!

Expect the Unexpected

None expects the Spanish Inquisition, and no one expected COVID or for it to last this long. Be ready and willing to remain flexible. If your son is having a really rough day and could use some extra snuggles, cut your office hours short that afternoon. When your daughter has come home on the 5th day of school and lost her 3rd mask, don’t yell and berate, this is new for her too. If your kids consistently say they’re bored after school, look at what toys they no longer play with an consider investing in some new outdoor gear. As families, we have already spent the last six months adapting the way we do things, how we function as a family and how we are navigating this thing called life, and we will continue to adapt. You’ve Got This! You Are an Amazing Parent.

Immortality Complex

We’ve all seen the numbers of COVID-19 cases fall and then rise again. At the beginning of this crisis, the majority of people becoming infected were in the 40+ range. Typically those in the younger age gap were the immune-compromised; however, recently, that’s all changed. Several states report that the majority of coronavirus cases spread and contracted in the last month have been from those in the 20-35 age group. As I read these reports and numbers, I began thinking about adolescent brain development and how it plays a role in this shift.

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Teenagers and young adults have what is referred to as an immortality complex. They are still so close to childhood that adulthood responsibilities and death seem too far away to become a reality. Many young adults who have just finished college and have joined the workforce face little to no responsibilities outside of their job and paying their bills on time. Life is a big game at this point. They are healthy and young and have that belief that nothing is going to harm them.

This stems from the fact that the brain is not fully developed until the mid-’20s for women and men may not develop fully until the age of 30. The specific part of the brain that requires more development at this point is the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the portion of our brain that develops our personalities and allows us to consider and anticipate consequences. You will always have risk-takers and the more adventurous at any age. However, the fact that brain development is still underway is why we see more cases of drunk driving, drug use, engagement in dangerous stunts and dares, and, most recently, the flaunting of COVID-19 recommendations and the crowding of bars and restaurants. Essentially, those 30 and under could be considered adolescents in terms of brain development.

Some young adults have acknowledged the risks but have said, in so many words, “So what?”. They believe that even if they contract the disease, they will be fine. Psychologist, David Elkind, termed this phase of development, “Adolescent Egocentrism.” They think only of themselves and not the potential harm they may cause others through their actions. By the end of June, many states were reporting that the majority of new cases were under 40, while the older demographics saw a drop in cases. These younger individuals becoming infected are also being hospitalized. I know of two people, personally, who are were behaving responsibly and still contracted the disease and ended up hospitalized. But even if someone is not contracting the disease, or even doing so mildly, they are potentially passing it on to others who may not be so lucky.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

None of us want to be in this situation, the recent re-shutdowns and back in place restrictions are stifling for all of us. But it is imperative that we continue to follow the orders of our local and state governments. Stay home, wear a mask, and engage in social distancing as much as possible. The biggest struggle many are facing right now is schools being closed. It is without a doubt a hardship; I am there with you; my children will be schooling virtually through December. But, when you have the young adult population unable to properly follow social distancing and mask guidelines due to unfinalized brain development, do we actually expect high schoolers, let alone, kindergartners to engage in these safe practices?

We can discuss what is going on with our children and teens until we are blue in the face. We should be talking about these things with our little ones. But expecting children, the most naturally social of our species, with young and still developing brains to follow suit when young adults are proving they don’t possess the ability to is setting up a situation bound to fail.

Stay safe and Healthy and encourage those around you to follow social distancing guidelines so that we can all phase back into normalcy.

ADHD and My Child: the battle with healthcare

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My youngest son is the equivalent to the Tasmanian Devil at times, and I don’t mean the actual animal that lives in the bush, I mean that little cartoon guy that just spun everywhere and caused destruction in his path. It has been a challenge dealing with his lack of control at times, but there is only so much control he has. At the age of 5 he was diagnosed with ADHD, and it’s severe. As an early childhood educator I knew something was off developmentally a few years earlier but ADHD and ADD are not typically diagnosed until school age. All we knew was that he was struggling, a lot, in preschool due to his inability to keep his hands to himself, his lack of self control, outbursts both positive and negative, and the Tasmanian devil that seems to have inhabited his body.

After conducting research on my end, talking to his teacher and other professionals in the field, we came to the conclusion that he should be evaluated for ADHD. Luckily for us, his pediatrician also turned out to be the leading expert on ADHD in the area. That gave us extra peace of mind as we went through this process. After meeting with the doctor privately and conducting evaluations with our son we decided we would try medication. Deciding to use medication was not a snap decision. We had heard horror stories about children turned into zombies and the last thing we wanted was for him to lose was his spark. When he is not in tailspin mode destroying all in site he is an intelligent, funny and entertaining kid.

He wanted his hair to look like Sonic the Hedgehog this summer!

My son loves Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi. He was so obsessed with the Broadway Musical Newsies that the age of 3 he was the main character, Jack Kelly for Halloween. He’s creative and silly but he also has no impulse control, yells his favorite phrase “Booty-Butt” without warning at the top of his lungs, and used to greet people by hitting them in the crotch. Not forcefully, but enough to hurt, particularly if you were a man. We knew he couldn’t continue on this path and be successful. This wasn’t just your typical case of a child gone wild. I am a career expert in Early Childhood, his father has an undergraduate degree in Psychology. We knew what we should be doing to help him and nothing seemed to work.

The first medication we tried him on cost a whopping $60 a month after insurance. $60 a month for something my child needed to function. We saw results but he was still struggling. Especially as the evening wore on and the medication wore off. He became next to impossible to corral into anything productive. He started therapy with a psychologist and we were hoping to see major results. Unfortunately they seemed slow to come. On the upside he was getting much better reports from school and I was more confident about him starting kindergarten in the fall. At home he still wreaked havoc, knocked things over, ran around and caused general frustration for everyone.

Yes we tried discipline, time outs, meaningful chats, loss of privileges, positive re-direction. If it was in an expert handbook, we tried it. Nothing seemed to work for him. The only plan that has seemed to work is ignoring the negative behavior and over the top praise the positive choices. I have been reading the book Transforming the Difficult Child by Howard Glasser and his advice seems to be the first and only thing outside of medication that has had a positive effect on my son. And I love that feels built up by praise. I want to cheer him on and praise him and give him confidence, but there are only so many times I can hear “Booty-Butt” screamed at the top of his lungs while he claps his hands loudly. These aren’t discipline issue, these are impulse control issues. His brain is simply wired differently.

Amidst Cornoavirus shut-downs, he turned 6. We went in for his physical and I asked if there was something new we could try. After talking to me and performing the evaluation the doctor offered a new option. He said it was taken twice a day, was more potent and should have a more lasting effect. I was ecstatic. I went to get the prescription filled and they wanted $365. I’m sorry, for one month? On insurance?! That was simply not sustainable but my child potentially needed this to thrive. After frantic searching I found a manufacturer’s coupon that cut it down to $185 a month. The upside, it seems to be working wonders for him. I am seeing a more calm and engaged child. I am better able to hold conversations with him, and I see him able to focus for longer periods. In addition, it is not suppressing his appetite the way the first one was. These are all wins. The downside is I have to pay almost $200 a month for a medication, for a mainstream mental health disorder in order to help my child succeed and function they way a typical 6 year old should.

What does this say to you about America’s health care policies? Put simply, they are garbage. My son’s father is a doctor, he works for a major corporation, he should have top notch insurance, yet this is what he is offered. A plan that doesn’t even cover medications aimed at treating a common mental health disorder. It angers me and disgusts me. We are fortunate that while it’s not easy, we can afford to pay this amount each month to help our child, but what about all the people who can’t? Without insurance this same medication was over $600! As a mom and an educator I am calling out the U.S. Healthcare system and pharmaceutical companies. How dare you make billions each year and rake us over the coals for our basic needs. How do you expect America’s children to thrive and meet their potential when many don’t have access to their medication needs? It is an absolute travesty that in what is supposed to be the country of Freedom and Liberty the average American child does not have access nor can afford basic health care costs.

Daughter to Disability; my one of a kind Dad

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My dad was always my number one fan and believed I could accomplish anything and everything. The best piece of advice he gave me was to try. I did not have to be the world’s best ballet dancer or the kid who scored the most goals on the soccer team, but if I was interested in something, I should try. If I hated it or failed, no big deal, I could stop, but only once the initial commitment came to a natural end. I didn’t have to be the best, i just had to try my best.

By encouraging me to carry on and follow through on a commitment, I learned the value of perseverance and honor. Staying true to your word is a valuable trait I hold onto to this day. It also means saying no when you know you can’t follow through. Saying yes to everything because you don’t want to let people down is a slippery slope to go down.

Germany, Summer 1996

I have many fond memories of my dad as a child, playing Wiffle ball in the backyard, being thrown in the air in the pool, and him allowing me and my sisters to style his hair with barrettes until he looked fabulous according to under ten selves. My dad was a loving but firm dad. He gave support, guidance, love, but we also knew when we crossed the line and would be subjected to a good old fashioned “dad talk.”

My dad was an FBI agent, which made him one of the coolest dads to have among my friends. I remember the sense of pride I felt when he would be a chaperone on a field trip come in for career day. I looked up to my dad in a way, and I imagine most young girls do. I was never a popular kid, geeky, awkward, and little chunky, but when my dad was around, I felt like the most popular kid in school.

Two of my favorite memories of my dad are related to those “serious” topics of drugs and dating. I remember he was sitting at our giant desktop computer in the living area, and I was in the kitchen microwaving something, and on the T.V., a commercial about talking to your kids about drugs came on. My dad looked up from the computer and said, “Do you do drugs?” I was roughly thirteen or fourteen at the time, I said, “No.” and he replied “Ok, good.” and that was that. The second was that he used to tell my older sister that he used his FBI skills to track any guy she dated. I was pretty sure this was false at the time, but I remember thinking, “Yikes!”

My dad had an excellent sense of humor and loved to pull our legs, as the expression goes. In the summer of ’92, we took a family vacation to Washington, D.C., and among the famous sites, he arranged a private tour of FBI headquarters for us. Little did I know that 15 years later, I would be living in D.C. and working two blocks from these same headquarters. During the tour, we were taken down to a basement level and told that this is where the Xfiles were kept!! It wasn’t until several years later that I realized there were indeed no Xfiles…. at least that we know of 😉

2008

My dad loved Indiana Jones, MacGyver, Crime dramas, Andrew Llyod Webber musicals, playing his guitar, and supporting his three girls in all our adventures, whether sports, musical theater, or learning a new instrument. He built us a treehouse and a lemonade stand. We went to Phillies games and out on daddy-daughter dates.

Circa 1983

In my early teens, my dad was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a condition being made more mainstream recognizable by the new T.V. show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. PSP is a condition that slowly creates the loss of your motor skills. It affects one’s ability to eat and swallow food, speak, walk, and perform essential functions for yourself. Over the next two decades, my dad held on much longer than any medical expert predicted. He carried on through bouts of pneumonia, a broken hip and pelvis, seizures, and depression. He received the diagnosis in his 40’s, much younger than people are typically affected. But even through this massive change in his and my family’s life, he continued to take joy in life and to be his children’s number one fan.

2012

I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like for him to go through this process, to experience the loss of the use of your body, nor would I try. But despite the adversity, my family and my dad had to overcome; I can say I was lucky to have the dad I did.

Happy Father’s Day to all the incredible men out there that make a difference in a child’s life, your presence matters.

To learn more about PSP please click here.

It’s OK to be scared, I am too.

I was recently researching a writing project, and I came across the term Re-Entry Panic Syndrome. I had not heard of this, and as I read, I began to relate to the feelings being characterized by the syndrome. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge created this name, and it addresses anxiety pertaining to concerns of re-entering the workplace. Dr. Capanna-Hodge is a mental health expert based out of Connecticut. She describes the syndrome as follows, “… it is when feelings of panic come over you like a wave and you can’t leave your home, or you have to return to work or school. You are afraid of leaving your cozy quarantine abode because you don’t want to get sick or feel unsafe.” I totally get that. It is not that I don’t want to be out in public, and I miss my students terribly, but there is a sense of worry and fear about what will happen if I go out?

Being “blessed” with diagnosed anxiety, it made sense to me that I would exhibit some of the symptoms related to Re-Entry Syndrome. I had already been feeling this dread of going back to the world. I am an introvert by nature, and because of that, I have not found quarantine to be as challenging as many others. That, unlike having anxiety, indeed, has been a blessing. We had a COVID-19 related scare in my house recently, just when everything is supposed to be dying down and becoming safer. Thankfully, the test results came back negative. Still, the fact remains, coronavirus is very much alive and thriving in parts of this country, so why would I want to go out?

Add to that, I have young children. And while I understand completely that deaths related to COVID-19 are substantial to the adult side, why take the risk? I do not personally believe I suffer from this syndrome. People I know and love have been working this whole time or have returned to work, but I am decidedly worried and cautious. I would be able to return to work without adverse psychological effects but currently, my children have no one to watch them and nowhere to go. Three of the four summer camps I enrolled my older son in this summer have been canceled, and I have no option for my younger son. It’s not exactly like I can leave a six-year-old boy and nine-year-old boy home during the day… I am sure nothing bad would happen. Oh yeah, it’s also illegal. In the words of Olaf, “This is fine.”

Like anxiety and panic disorders, those who have Re-Entry Panic Syndrome may have shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, difficulty sleeping, mood fluctuation, and irritability. However, the unique symptom is becoming upset, stressed, and worrisome when someone close to them re-enters and goes back to work. If you believe you are suffering from these symptoms, there are many steps you can take to help set your mind at ease. Use disinfectant wipes if you travel via public transportation or in a carpool. Wear your mask as much as you like, even in places it is not required. If it makes you feel mentally secure, then wear it. As we’ve been told all long, wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth, and face. A key point is to remember is germs on electronics. Frequently clean your phone, mouse, TV remote, keypad, etc. If wearing gloves makes you feel safe, then do that too, but please keep in mind wearing gloves and a mask are not a fail-safe prevention system. Gloves serve little to no purpose unless you are taking them off each time you touch something and then wash your hands immediately. When wearing gloves as soon as you touch a surface, any germs that were on that surface are now on your gloves. So guess what? The next thing you touch now has those same germs. I have worked in early childhood for fourteen years; trust me, gloves are not a magical intervention. Please wash your hands.

If you feel you need to talk to someone or may require professional help, you can go to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America or the ADAA’s website. It offers resources and a directory if you want to search for treatment in your area. Providers offer video and/or phone sessions. You can also reach out to the SAMHSA’s 24/7 hotline at 1-800-622-4357. Anxiety Anonymous is another resource if you want to reach out and talk to others. They are currently holding daily sessions to which you can call in and participate.

Re-entry panic syndrome, depression, general anxiety, whatever the case may be, it is OK to seek help. The recent situations in America have made us all feel uneasy, broken, confused, angry, and more. To quote my favorite musical, “Into the Woods,” No one is alone. If you know of someone to whom this post may be of value to, please pass it along and share it. For more information on Re-Entry Syndrome, please visit Dr. Capanna-Hodge’s website here.

Children Will Listen

The year 2020 has been one of turmoil, unrest, and confusion. Parents are dealing with how to explain to their children the scary and unexplainable things they may have been experiencing. Whenever I think about teaching my children about a delicate matter, I am reminded of lyrics from one of my favorite musicals, Into The Woods, as sung by Barbra Streisand on her album, Back to Broadway. You can listen here.

How do you say to your child in the night

Nothing is all black, but then nothing is all white?

How do you say it will all be alright

When you know that it mightn’t be true?

What do you do?

We have all felt this moment, whether as a parent, grandparent, teacher, aunt, uncle, or babysitter. The unequivocal sense of, “What do I say?”

I have always been a firm believer in telling children the truth, even if it is difficult. That does not mean I tell them every intricate detail or things beyond their understanding, but I do always try to boil it down to their level so they can understand.

There is a picture of me facing the Lincoln Memorial right after I had participated in the Women’s March in January of 2017. My friend snapped it as I was standing there, looking at the Memorial, which has always been my favorite. My son often asks me why I have that photo. He has been asking since he was nearly 6, and he first saw it 3 1/2 years ago. My explanation has gotten more in-depth as time passed; it runs along the lines of this. “Mommy went to a march, a march is where a group of people who all believe in the same thing get together and walk. There were things mommy didn’t agree with happening in the country, so I participated to show I wanted things to change.”

My children have already experienced two of the “Big Issues”, parents may face; divorce of their parents, and the death of a pet. At no point did we exclude them from asking questions or explaining things to them. I was fortunate that my divorce was remarkably civil, and we remain friends. I was able to honestly and simply tell my children that Daddy and I decided we would be better as friends, and it’s true. They never saw any fights or disagreements (not that we had many). They saw a united front, and that is one of the most important things you can do.

This year alone, as if corona virus, schools closing, activities being canceled, and vacations hanging on by a thread were not enough to discuss with our kids, riots are happening throughout the country. I am not going to discuss the politics behind the riots, that not what this blog is about, but I bring them up as a current and frightening example of a situation children may have questions about. My partner and I have made a point of not discussing them when the youngest two are around or awake. But should they happen to see or hear something, I have had to think about what I would say? My children know racism is wrong, I have listened to my son make a comment about things he has heard in movies or on YouTube, proclaiming what the person said was racist, and he was right. Explaining riots is an entirely different and complex issue..  I can’t hand you a script and tell you what to say, but I can break down the guidelines you should use when talking to your child about a difficult situation. You will have to guide the conversation to reveal your morals and feelings, something which only you can do.

  1. Present a united front. No matter what you and your partner, spouse, ex-spouse, a grandmother who lives with you, etc. believe personally, you need to come to a consensus of what and how you will say things should a question arise.

2. Consider your child’s age, temperament, and ability to understand. You know your child best. There is nothing wrong with using concepts or words they do not know; you can expand their knowledge this way, but don’t delve too far beyond, or they may become more confused.

3. Take your current mind frame into account. If you are stressed, angry, sad, they will sense that, even if they are not exactly sure what they are sensing. Children are amazingly intuitive. It’s ok to say to your child, I want to answer your question, but I need about 5 minutes, then collect yourself.

4. Talk to your child about your feelings concerning an issue, ask how they are feeling, and then validate their feelings. If they have seen a frightening photo, focus on the people’s emotions rather than what is happening. Ask them to describe what they think people are feeling.

5. Remind your children they are safe. That you are there, and they can talk to you about anything. When my children come to me and say, “Mom, can I ask you something?” or “Mom, can I tell you something?” my answer is “Always.” Children need to know they can come to you for ANYTHING. If you instill that when they are young, by the time they reach the teens, they are much more likely to come to you when things like sex, drugs, and questionable activities arise.

6. There are children’s books on pretty much every sensitive topic out there, including death, divorce, racism, moving, class structure, bullying, diversity, etc. If you can’t find the words, books, and social stories can be a great resource.

There is no easy way to talk to our kids about some of the world’s events right now. Still, it is our job to do everything in our power to prepare, educate, support, and explain so that when the time comes, we can release them out into this maddening world and watch them fly.

Guide them but step away

Children will glisten

Tamper with what is true

And children will turn

If just to be free

Careful before you say

“listen to me.”

Children will listen…