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.”

Humanity for our Teachers

I want to give a shout-out to all the educators who have been working tirelessly since last spring to ensure our children had a safe place to learn, whether virtually or in the building.

While my situation allowed me to leave the classroom and stay home with my children, I realize that is not the case for many, and I understand how fortunate I am.  I spent a mere two weeks teaching and trying to juggle childcare for my children before I was furloughed and then eventually decided to stay home.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot put myself in the shoes of anyone out there still navigating the work and childcare battle, but I know it is hard. I spent years struggling with finding subs when my kids were sick, and I had no one to watch them because their father was a full-time student.

I spent years being the one who missed work because it cost less for me to stay home than it did their father.  I’ve felt the unsurmountable stress of finding a babysitter for the weekend or evening school event.  And, I’ve been home, extremely ill with two small children because I didn’t have anyone to drop them off or pick them up, or when I lived in Chicago, the drive was too far.  

Since I switched to writing full time, I have had my calls interrupted by my kids.  I have had my work stopped because there was a nerf battle going on in the basement, or someone fell outside during recess and was injured.  I have had days where I’ve been interrupted so many times to help with school work I eventually gave up on what I was writing for the day.

I have cried in frustration too.

I understand the plight of the working parent.  But I also understand what our educators have been going through.  And many of these educators are also working parents.

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People are constantly worried about kids falling behind; I admit I have had my moments too, but then I stopped and asked myself, “What are we so afraid of them falling behind?” 

Math scores?  Reading tests? Arbitrary numbers and statistics that we are told our children need to meet to be the best.  We’re continually telling ourselves and our children that they have to be the best.  And again I questioned, the best at what?

I want my children to be the best at being human, being kind, empathetic, helpful, compassionate, and understanding, and that starts at home with parents and caregivers.  

We can start by showing educators compassion and understanding.  

I believe my son’s 1st-grade teacher is a saint as I watch and listen to her daily try to wrangle 17 first graders to pay attention to a screen, to help them one at a time to navigate through which button to push or link to click and she never sounds impatient or mad. 

Do I think most children would do better in a physical classroom? Of course. My son with severe ADHD would benefit significantly from being hands-on in a school, but it has not been an option where I live nor for many around the country. 

As an educational advocate, I also understand that the playing field isn’t equal, and virtual schools make it even less so for some.  My heart aches daily for the children going hungry or being abused and who lack the school building’s safety to come to for eight hours a day and may miss getting a warm meal, or any meal at all.

I feel for the children with shaky or no internet access, whose parents can’t or won’t help them with their work, or who are struggling without the aid of tutors, mentors, and that special human touch of an in-person caring teacher.

But much of this is out of my control. And every teacher I know who is virtual is aching to be with their kids again; they just want to ensure it is safe both for them and their students.  So what is this country doing yet again to its teachers?  We are throwing them under the bus.   

I know personally, first hand more teachers than I could count, I’ve listened to their stories, I heard their fears and concerns, I watched them struggle as they too learn new technology, new ways to create and present lessons, new ways to engage children over a screen, new ways to teach.

How often in your career have to been asked to throw away 85% of what you know and, in a few short months, been told, figure out a new way? Oh, and it better be perfect because if not, we’re judging you and then going to bully you?  I hazard to guess you’ve expected to do that zero times.

But somehow, it has become ok to bully teachers because they are not perfect.  Somehow, once again, it is the teacher’s fault that our child is not “the best.”  Somehow we are again blaming schools and educators for everything wrong with society.

And people wonder why there is a teacher shortage.

I get sick to my stomach when I see comments like “go back to work,” “stop being lazy,” “you need to do your job.”

If you think teaching 20 kids over a screen while simultaneously not losing your cool, trying to offer individualized instruction, and trying to make sure something you are presenting sticks, then please, by all means, try it.

Oh, and add to that the hours you spend off-screen planning lessons, adapting them for online and hybrid learning, grading and assessing work, answering parent emails and phone calls, and attending meetings on how to continually better the system that has been evolving day after day.

My older son’s third-grade teacher is buying science experiment supplies, driving around to each child in her class’s home this weekend, and delivering the materials so every child in her class can participate.  She also dropped off goodie bags and supplies before the school year began and before winter break.

Teachers.  I applaud you.  I support you.  I respect you.

The thing that really gets me, though, is that my kids HAVE learned this past year.  They have advanced academically and picked up skills they didn’t have a year ago, and I would assume that my kids aren’t the only two who have learned new information and skills.

So what exactly is there to be angry at teachers about?

They have also learned adaptability, flexibility, problem-solving, computer skills, creativity, resourcefulness, how to think outside the box, patience, acceptance, and that life doesn’t always go as one would like.

In my opinion, valuable skills.

The truth of COVID life is, many careers have had to switch to a virtual setting, but I don’t notice anyone giving other professions a hard time or calling them lazy as they perform their work from home.

Yes, children need socialization, we all do, and this has been extremely challenging; I miss my friends and all the things I used to do too, but why does society think that everyone gets a free pass except the teachers?

Why and when have we, as a country, stopped valuing what they do?  

Why are we supporting hundreds of other industries that have been effected, but the industry that produces our most valuable resource has been vilified?

Frustration is high, but people are also scared, and the last time I checked, people have a right to feel that way.  This has been a scary and unprecedented time in our history.

It seems insane to me that a medical condition has become political, that so many refuse to believe what science says. Still, this is new and scary, and information comes from a thousand different places, so maybe I do get it.  You have people who still believe vaccines cause autism.  They don’t.

I do not claim to have the answers, but I know that being kind goes a long way.  Perhaps in place of fear and blame, we could try compassion and support because, in the end, above all else, that is what I hope my children learn from this experience; not multiplication or that the first word of the sentence needs to be capitalized but to rally in a time of confusion and fear instead of tearing one another down.

I hope they learn how to be human.

Have a Merry, STEM-y Christmas

The countdown to Christmas is here, Hanukkah begins on December 8th, and December 6th, today, is St. Nicholas Day.  

Gift giving is in the air, especially with all the gifts being sent by mail this year.  

One of the areas in school that many parents and teachers worry children are missing out on is STEM. STEM stands for Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, add an A in there for Arts and we have STEAM. 

It is difficult, if not near impossible, for children to engage in the same level of experimentation and hands-on activities that they would do in a classroom.  Parents just don’t have access to the same materials.

To make up for the lack of hands-on STEM in school, I decided my boys would be having a very STEM-y Christmas.

I researched some of the best STEM products out there. Then I combined what I found with my educator’s brain to choose some top STEM gifts.  

I wanted to share what I discovered with other parents out there and highlight some of the best toys I found.

*I AM NOT BEING COMPENSATED IN ANY WAY FOR THE PRODUCTS AND SITES I RECCOMEND BELOW

MindWare

This site is STEM heaven; I wish I had stumbled upon it earlier in my shopping. I guarantee it will be a staple in my shopping moving forward. 

From this site, I purchased the Q-BA-MAZE 2.0 as well as an expansion pack of ramps. My youngest had been asking for a marble run, and I love the uniqueness of this design. This set allows you to configure unlimited designs. Traditional marble runs are also an excellent choice, but I like seeing a new spin on the idea. 

This is an excellent toy because it comes with over a dozen add-on packs, so you can continue to upgrade and make it new.

Concepts Marble Runs Teach

  • Engineering
  • Gravity
  • Problem Solving
  • Trial & Error
  • Creativity

I also purchased the Dig It Up Dino! for my budding herpetologist (a zoologist who studies reptiles and amphibians, don’t worry I had to look that one up too!) My oldest is obsessed with anything lizard, reptile, amphibian, and dinosaur-related. 

I love that this is hands-on, and he has to utilize tools to achieve the goal. Plus, he gets a fabulous T-rex model once he’s completed.  

Concepts Excavation Toys Teach

  • Patience
  • Use of tools
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Hypothesis and discovery 
  • Refined fine-motor skills

Some of my other favorites off of this site are:

Kiwi Crates

Kiwi Crates is a subscription STEM service explicitly aimed at kids. What I love about this service is that I was able to customize the kit based on my son’s age and interest. They have kits from 0-14 years.  

We began getting crates towards the end of summer because he always wanted to do experiments, and I never seemed to have the supplies needed.  

Everything you need comes in the box, with directions and a book that complements the theme. The site also has a store where you can directly buy items and kits without a subscription. 

These kits are also a great way to get some kid/parent bonding time.

National Geographic Toys

The name recognition alone tells you these are going to be top-quality STEM Toys. 

The toys are not directly available from their site; major retailers such as Target, Walmart, and Amazon all sell Nat Geo’s products.

I love their 3-D super puzzles. The imagery is gorgeous, and they have puzzles available for various ages and skill levels.

Concepts Puzzles Teach

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Depth perception
  • Logical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Spatial reasoning 

I am also a massive fan of their Science Kits, specifically the Volcano kit.

What kid (or adults) doesn’t want to make a volcano erupt? And what makes the National Geographic kit top-notch is that your child has to mold and paint the volcano first, which means we can call this one a STEAM project.

There plenty of other kits out there made by different manufacturers, so find the one that works for you!

Concepts Volcano Kits Teach

  1. Cause & Effect
  2. Hypothesis and result
  3. How materials change
  4. Following directions
  5. Earth science

This next set of toys is comprised of individual toys I purchased from a variety of retailers.

To round up my recommendations, here some simple and easy gifts to enhance STEAM at home!

  • Magnifying glasses
  • Instruments
  • Playdoh & Tools
  • Magna-Tiles
  • Cars & ramps
  • Baking/Cooking Kits
  • Building Blocks
  • Tool playsets

Wherever your child’s interests may lay, there are toys out there to enhance their STEM/STEAM learning. 

Whether it’s the time of year you buy gifts or not, I hope this list inspires you to engage your child in STEM/STEAM learning at home.

Happy Holidays!

The Trick-or-Treat Debate

The hot topic among parents right now is Trick-or-Treating. Our kids have missed out on so much the last eight months; do they really have to miss out on trick-or-treating too? 

I have to be honest, as a mom, I am on the fence. I LOVE trick-or-treating; I still put on a costume and go with my kids (I don’t ask for candy, though!). I usually attend a Halloween party, not this year, however.

In order for my children to get some Halloween fun in, I went with my family to Hershey Park in the Dark. It was okay, except it was so overcrowded and people going everywhere, social distancing was near nonexistent. And while they had hand sanitizer at the exit of every ride, I did not see a single ride being cleaned in-between riders.

We plan to go to BooZoo at the Maryland Zoo on Halloween. Having visited the zoo last month and seeing how well they executed social distancing, mask protocols, and crowds, I am confident in it being a safe environment for Halloween.     

But what about door to door trick-or-treating?

Most of us have seen this meme.

And while I get where it’s coming from, the two things are not the same.

Restaurants that have opened are required to maintain strict protocols, health, and safety guidelines and could risk closure if they don’t.

CDC Considerations for Restaurants and Bars.

I know of bars and restaurants near me that have been closed due to surprise COVID-19 inspections. The people in your neighborhood have no such restrictions.

You want to hope that people follow CDC guidelines, but based on what I have seen when I venture out in public, I tend to think most are not. I do not know who is in your home, where you go, or how high risk you are, so do I take the chance of letting my kids take objects and candy I have no way of knowing is germ-free?

This post is not to tell you what to decide; it is here to make you question and think about what is best for your family.

If you are going to go trick-or-treating or pass out candy, I have seen and heard from friends some very creative ways of going about it, so I will share a few!   

  1. A table with pre-bagged goodie bags spaced out so kids can socially distance and take a bag each.
  2. Using a decorated PVC pipe to slide candy down into the child’s basket – A candy slide! There are some creative ideas if you search online!
  3. I also thought of using a hand grabber or claw to pick up candy and place it in children’s bags. I found the Gorilla Grabber and thought it was an excellent and fun Halloween inspired way to pass out candy. 
  4. Set a clothesline on an angle with a small basket or bucket; you can slide the candy down to each kid; just make sure to sanitize the bucket between kids since hands will be in there.  
  5. You could also set up a clothesline with treat bags attached by clothespins and have a sign for each child to take one. 
  6. Finally, have hand sanitizer by your side, next to your candy bowl, and sanitize your hands between each child.  

And with all of these- wear a mask!

The CDC has labeled Trick-or-Treating a high-risk activity this year, so if you can achieve social distancing, all the better.

No one wants to take Halloween and trick-or-treating away from kids. Still, some parents are more concerned than others, and they shouldn’t feel bulldozed into making their kids go out if they feel unsafe.

A final option is to have a family Halloween party. Buy some games and candy, make some special food, and watch and an appropriately scary movie for the kids.

Yes, trick-or-treating will look different this year for many, but if we are careful, mindful, and follow guidelines, there are plenty of options to make it safer.

Whatever your choice, I hope you have a spooky and wonderful Halloween!

Inspiring Books for Teachers

Teachers have been a topic of interest of late. Many are preparing their classrooms both virtual and face-to-face and some have already begun teaching for the year. I spent 14 years teaching and I remember the joys, frustrations and excitement of preparing a classroom for a new group of learners. All teachers are facing a new set of rules this year as they embark on the 20/21 school year and first and foremost, I want to applaud them and thank them for all that they do each and every day for our children.

Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

Second, I want to say, I know the struggle of keeping the fire alive day after day when faced with a difficult student, a challenging set of parents, a lack of funding for curriculum, lack of support from administration. Sometimes the, “Why do I do this?”, creeps in. This school year I know many teachers are facing a new set of worries, frustrations, complications and fears; yet they return because they love the children and they love to teach.

I decided to share some books that have inspired me most or helped me most as a teacher. Some are fiction, some are “How To” and some are reflections on education and society. Each one has helped me or motivated me in one way or another as a teacher and if you are an educator reading this I hope they can do the same for you!

The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers can Learn from Each Other

I believe this book should be required reading for ALL educators, and it wouldn’t hurt parents to read it either. The title subtitle says it all, what parents and teachers can learn from each other, because it should be a collaboration. We have become increasingly parent against teacher in this nation instead of working together to provide the framework our children need to succeed. I see the degeneration of the parent-teacher relationship now more than ever as countless people sit behind their computers and complain that teachers “need to get back into classrooms and work.” The community has lost connection with teachers, what they do, the hours “off the clock” they are still working and and instead respect for teachers has been replaced with contempt by many.

Teachers have somehow become the be all end all solution to every problem, every child has. I have had many fortunate collaborations with parents in my career that resulted in positive and on going relationships. I also had those who wanted to blame me for every problem their child was having, you can’t win them all. But if we worked together, kept the lines of communication open and on both sides worked towards what is best for the child, I bet we’d see amazing results!

Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

First I love A. J. Jacob’s writing, it is real, funny sarcastic and you actually learn something to boot! If you haven’t read one of this books, please do, they’re wonderful What I love about this book is that I WAS the kid who’s parents’ owned the complete encyclopedia set and I did sit and read it. I have loved learning and reading as long as I can remember and I haven’t stopped yet! This book is a funny reminder that we simply can’t know it all even when kids think we do.

It is important to be honest with children if you don’t know the answer to something and then take the opportunity to discover the answer together! I have often, both as a teacher and a parent, stopped what I was doing to look something up on the internet, or grab a book off the shelf so that a question could be answered. By admitting we don’t know everything, we show kids that it is OK not to have all the answers but that there are always ways of finding them!

We Need to Talk About Kevin

This book is one of the most powerful fiction books I have ever read. I have rad it twice so far and will probably read it again. I recommend this book to ALL teachers and parents, especially parents of boys. I will not delve too much into the plot, but I will say this piece was an eye opener on mental health in children. The first time I read it was before I had children and in today’s day and age I think this book is even more releavnt.

It is also an important reminder that as an outsider to everyone’s life but your own, you have no idea what another parent or family is facing or dealing with. Judgement hurts us all, it creates barriers, us vs. them. Unless you are living the life, you have no place to make assumptions on why a child behaved a certain why, or what a parent is facing personally. Thorough my experience as a teacher and my education I have been privy to things in children’s homes no one would ever guess. While none of us are perfect, mistakes are made, bad decisions chosen, do your best to reserve judgement on a child or family that doesn’t seem to make sense to you and instead find out in what ways you can help.

Teacher Man

If you are a teacher and you haven’t read this book yet, you should. Frank McCourt, was that teacher, the Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society teacher, the one that got his students. This book is powerful and shows just how much a teacher can give of themselves to their career and to their students. It is also an insider look into the fact that teachers, believe it or not, are humans like everyone else out there. That teachers have their ups and downs, professional disappointments, vices and personal problems.

You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party

This has been the single most transformative book to my career as a teacher. I read this and spent half a semester of grad school implementing this in the Pre-K room I was assistant teaching in at the time. I read this, and a light bulb went on.

We have all heard little kids say these things:

You can’t come to my birthday party!

You can’t come to my house!

You can’t play with my anymore!

It’s how children try to handle conflict and disagreements, by attempting to wield the little power they have or think they have. This book centers on helping children solve conflicts appropriately by giving them the tools to do so. It places the teacher in the role of mentor not judge or decision maker, but instead empowers children to make decisions regarding disputes together and in their own words. Since I first read this I have employed it every classroom I have worked in and have trained other educators on the principles and methodology as well.

A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, Power

A Call to Action is a reminder that there are many out there without the same access to education as those of us in more affluent countries and communities. It is a reminder than in many parts of the world and within many religions it is considered taboo to educate women and girls. This book was a reminder to me that we need to continue to encourage our girls to break the barriers of male dominated careers and help them know that they have the same rights to be an astronaut, doctor, member of the military, engineer, professional sports player and whatever else their heart might desire.

I temper this by saying, our young boys need to support to, just often in a different arena. We have to stop telling our boys they need to be “tough”, that they “can’t cry” and we have to allow our children both boys and girls, the opportunity to express themselves, follow their interests and be whoever it is they want to be. Cue the next book….

This is how it Always is

This book gave me goosebumps up and down. Not just because as a parent, it is hard to imagine what it would be like if my child were transgender, I know I would love either one of mine just the same, but what internal struggles would I have? It also affected me because of the way the education system failed this child by just not understanding and making their life so much harder.

This is a fictional story, but LGBT children and their families have been facing these struggles for a long time. These children don’t know where they belong, they often feel forced to hide part or all of who they are, and LGBT teens are one of the largest groups of individuals who commit suicide. This book is a reminder that while we can’t always understand what a child is going through, or know how to help, and it may even make us feel uncomfortable, but as the caring adults in their lives we need to find ways to let them know that we are indeed there for them and that we love them and that we wil be there to help them figure it out as best we can

The End of Education

This book is an insightful and critical look at how education has changed over the decades. While published 25 years ago in 1995, it still offers relevant insights into the modern education system, the changes made for the worse for both children and educators and insight into why and how we need to fix and rectify the American education system.

There have, of course, been many other books throughout the years that have impacted me one way or the other, but these are the ones that have been the most influential. Being a teacher is a hard job, being a parent is a hard job, let’s all remember to treat each other with respect. While we may hold different opinions on the current schooling situation we can still maintain that mutual respect needed to do what is best for our children. Stay Well!

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.

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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.

Kid, You Don’t Always Get a Trophy

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Moms and Dads, I need your help. Please, PLEASE, stop acting like your child just won the World Series while they stood in the left-field picking their nose as their team lost the game. On the same note, don’t tell them they should get a prize for trying. All this bombastic praise is raising a generation (or two or three) of entitled, impatient, aren’t I the most fabulous children that don’t know the first thing about surviving in the real world. Now before you stop reading, thinking I am the meanest mom in the world, allow me to say this. I love praising my children when it is merited. They do not get a parade for picking their shoes off the floor, they do not get a plaque to hang on the wall for completing their homework, and they do not deserve a trophy for losing. They don’t.

How can our children learn to process disappointment, anger, sadness, and all those scary and ugly feelings if we don’t let them? It sucks, I know, I have watched my son cry because the camp he was looking forward to all summer was canceled. I have seen him stomp his feet in anger and frustration because he couldn’t quite get the new skateboarding trick. I had to explain to him that he wasn’t cast in the first play he auditioned for and really wanted to do. Instead of blaming someone or something else, telling him he was the greatest skateboarder ever or really deserved the part in the play over the other boy, I told him the truth. Crazy right?

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I explained camp was canceled due to coronavirus that it was out of our control, and it is really disappointing, but some things we can’t change. I acknowledged his frustration with the skateboard and told him that the only way to get better was to practice and keep working hard, and I also acknowledged his effort. That’s different than blind, blanketed praise. I didn’t tell him he deserved something or was owed something, I said to him that I could see how hard he was trying and if he kept at it; eventually, he would get there. And when it came to the rejection from the play, as a performer, I had been there more times than anyone can count, and I said it sucks, it hurts, but it’s the way it goes. You wait for the next opportunity, and you try, and you try, and you try. As the saying goes, you fail 100% of the time you don’t try.

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What you DO want to praise and encourage is their effort, hard work, determination, and insight. The key is to be specific. Tell them WHAT they did that caught your attention. Then, help them problem-solve to get to the next step. “You did a lot of research on your planet project, I saw you reading all those books from the library. Since you didn’t get the grade you were expecting, what do you think you could have done differently?” In one fell swoop, you validated their effort and work and opened the door to help them do better next time.

As parents, we want our children to have the sun the moon, and yes, throw the stars in too. We don’t want them to feel disappointment or shame or anger; how else will they learn? If we take every upset away and make them think they should always win despite lack of effort, natural talent, or unforeseen circumstances, how will they grow? If we hand them everything instead of teaching them the value of hard work, how will that benefit them? The best thing we can do as parents is to embrace the difficult times that come their way and use them as teachable moments. I know it’s not easy, but they will thank you later.

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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.