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.

It’s OK to Get Upset

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As long as I have been a part of the early childhood education world, the following phrase has been a part of it: You get what you get, and you don’t get upset. 

I don’t know when parents and educators started using this phrase, but can we please stop?

Not only is it dismissive to the child aka you’re feelings don’t matter but more and more research indicates the importance of teaching children how to express and handle their emotions. When we teach children about their emotions, we give them the power of expression and self, and we start letting them know their mental health and well-being are just as important as their physical well-being.

I understand what the phrase is trying to do; it’s saying, whatever happens, it’s going to be ok, but to blatantly and repeatedly tell children they cannot get upset is ridiculous; it’s also not human.

We get upset. I get upset. One day years ago, when I was teaching four-and-five-year-olds, it was my day to be at the school early and open the classroom. On these days, I made a special stop at Starbucks and bought an expensive splurge drink. A parent who was in a rush asked if they could leave their child with me.  Even though I wasn’t clocked in yet and not even in my classroom, I was in the kitchen of the school enjoying my last moments of quiet before the crazy day began; I said yes. 

While in my hazy, still sleepy, somewhat-annoyed-that-the-parent-had-just-done-this-state, and trying to keep an eye on the kid while I got what I needed for the classroom snack that morning, I set my coffee down on an uneven surface and the entirety of my specialty, splurge coffee spilled on the floor. 

It wasn’t even 7 A.M. My once-a-week splurge lay on the floor (and I now had to clean it up). And I had a 4-year-old standing next to me. I vividly remember telling myself silently, “Don’t cry. Do not let this child see you cry over a spilled coffee.” Honestly I wanted to have a tantrum.

So why didn’t I have a tantrum? Well, I came close, but I didn’t because I had learned how to process and handle strong emotions. We need to teach our children that it is OK to be upset when something negative happens, but how you respond that matters.

When I was teaching and passing things out, I would always shorten it to “You get what you get.” There was always at least one child in the class who would then say, “and you don’t get upset.” When that happened, I would look at them and say, “It’s ok to be upset when you don’t get what you want; what’s important is how you handle it.” Pay attention to that second part – it is OK to get upset when you don’t get what you want.

I have been performing in theater and music nearly my entire life, which means there are countless times I didn’t get the part or the solo I auditioned for and wanted. Do you know how many times I was upset I didn’t get the part I wanted? EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Of course I was upset! But here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t go on social media and bash everyone involved with the show. I didn’t scream and throw things. I didn’t swear off doing theater ever again. 

I talked to a friend or my mom. I went and did something I enjoyed like reading a book.  I took a walk and listened to music. I enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine. I took a bubble bath. The point is I found ways to work through my disappointment and move on. These are the skills we need to be teaching our kids. Go ahead and have your disappointment, but let’s figure out the best way to handle it.

There are times I cried and times I didn’t. There are times it took me a few weeks to get over the disappointment and times it only took a few hours, but I was still upset every single time; because I’m human. 

Is it appropriate for a ten-year-old to cry because their sibling got the last green Jolly Rancher?  In most cases, no; but they are allowed to be bummed out about it. Is it appropriate for a five-year-old to have a tantrum because their best friend got the sticker they wanted at circle time? Probably not, but if they do, we can use it as a teaching opportunity to find other ways to express disappointment.

It is rarely a healthy option to tell kids “Don’t cry” because it is another way of telling them their emotions are not valid, but sometimes it can be hard not to roll our adult eyes and think, “Really? He’s crying because Godzilla is no longer on Amazon Prime?” (And yes, my son did this. So what I like to do instead is say, “It is ok to be upset, but Is this situation worth your tears?” Phrasing things in this way makes children slow down and evaluate their responses.

We can help our children process big emotions and disappointments by using phrases like:

  • I see you’re really upset right now. Would you like some space?
  • This seems to be making you sad. Do you want to talk about it?
  • It is ok to be angry, but it is not OK to hurt people or things.
  • You seem worried. Would you like me to sit with you?
  • I am not sure what is bothering you, but I am here if you want to talk.

The more we as adults recognize and discuss emotions, the more our children will understand them. Like language and social interactions, children learn about handling emotions from the adults surrounding them.

If a child grows up in a house where anger is considered “bad,” they may have trouble processing feelings of anger because they believe it makes them bad. We must also avoid assigning emotions to genders. For example, if children hear that crying and whining is what girls do and boys should be strong and fearless, then we are assigning weakness as feminine, but we are telling our boys that they have to be brave all the time. 

Fear is another normal and completely biological response in many situations; fear is what kept our early ancestors alive. They needed to know when to run, when to fight, and when to hide too, survive. 

Emotions need just to be emotions—all normal and all OK.

Children should be learning self-awareness and understanding of their own emotions, regulating and controlling those emotions, learning to understand what is essential and what is not (AKA is this situation worth your tears?), and reading and understanding emotions in others. 

We do this when we allow children to see our emotions and emotional process and demonstrate how to handle disappointing and upsetting situations. Teaching emotional intelligence puts our children in the driver’s seat of their mental well-being and teaches them how to problem-solve and self-soothe. 

So, teach your kids you get what you get, and you CAN get upset. But also teach them that a tantrum over a Jolly Rancher probably isn’t worth the energy spent, and if you take the red one, at least you still got candy! More importantly, you’re helping them process their emotions and how to handle things independently so that when they are thrity they don’t have a melt down over spilled coffee.

The Power in Positive Phrasing

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One of my son’s favorite books is “No, David!” by David Shannon. We read it all the time. I like to jokingly put his name in the book, and while it is funny, it also hits a nerve for him and me too. That’s because we can both see him as the character in this book, a little boy who has trouble controlling his emotions and actions and, as a result, hears the word “No,” a lot. 

The funny thing is I know that that is the least effective way to communicate with him and to get him to do what I need to be done. I’ve read all the research on positive phrasing; as a teacher, I had that skill down almost to perfection. I even counseled other parents to use it and explained the benefits behind it. As a mom, though, easier said than done.

When you place a negative in front of a phrase, the child doesn’t hear the negative; they hear the action. So “Don’t run inside” becomes “run inside.” Now, I am not saying children hear this and automatically think you are telling them to run in the house, but the negative gets washed away; it’s not effective.

Positive phrasing, in all communication, is more likely to yield the results you’re after. But why? Well, first, it’s more pleasing to the ear and the mind. “Please walk inside” is more compelling than “Don’t run!” Second, when we phrase things positively, we are more likely to speak in a calm voice than yelling or a scolding tone. A calm voice is more likely to garner attention.

Experts say if you want your children to listen quietly and calmly, don’t yell. When you yell, they begin to shut you out and begin to shut down. When you speak calmly and quietly, you show respect, which begets respect, and they are also forced to listen to hear what you have to say.

You may still get surly looks and crossed arms when you talk quietly, but I guarantee they are listening. 

Telling your child what you want or expect instead of what you don’t want sets up clear guidelines; it tells your child exactly what is expected. If you say, “Don’t run,” it leaves room for them to interpret that as ok well, I can still skip, jump, hop, cartwheel, or crawl. If you say, “You need to walk when inside the house,” there is no room for interpretation. It’s cut and dry.

Trust me, I know this is a difficult skill to conquer, especially of late when we’ve all had way more “quality” time with our children than ever before, but it does work. And I need to remind myself of that from time to time too. But just try it, write your self post-it notes or reminders around the house so you see them and can remember it in the heat of the moment. 

Try taking a deep breath before responding to your child’s behavior. It will help you stay calm and it gives you a chance to phrase what you need to say in your head first.

Take some time and think of all the things you say “no” to in a day and see if you can flip them into positives.

Instead of:

  • Don’t leave your laundry on the floor.
  • Stop playing with your food.
  • Stop hitting your brother.
  • We don’t draw on the wall.
  • Don’t dump all your toys out.
  • Don’t talk back to me.

Try:

  • Please put your laundry in the basket
  • I need you to eat because you are making a mess.
  • You need to keep your hands to yourself.
  • Crayons and markers are used on paper.
  • Please clean up your toys when you’re finished.
  • You need to speak respectfully to me.

Phrasing things positively doesn’t mean you are saying yes to everything; it means you set up clear expectations of what is expected and acceptable. 

Save “No” for moments of danger. Then it should be said in a loud, firm voice. Yelling “No” or “Stop” right before a kid touches a hot stove or steps off the sidewalk as a car barrels down will give them the jolt to potentially stop the dangerous choice. 

When children hear no all the time, it loses its polish. Think of “No” as your boy who cried wolf. If it happens all the time, no one is going to listen to it. If you save it for moments of import, your child will not be used to hearing it, so the novelty will grab their focus. 

My boys are fans of the new movie “YES DAY” and have watched it at least twenty times in the last few weeks. The concept is that for one day, the parents say yes to anything the kids ask (within a set of parameters, of course).

They have asked me to have a Yes Day on more than one occasion. So far, the answer is a no… but we’ll see.

5 Last-Minute DIY Mother’s Day Gifts

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Mother’s Day is this weekend, and if you’ve let the ball drop, didn’t realize it was Mother’s Day, or are still scrambling to figure out what to do, I have you covered!

As a mom of two, I love the appreciation I receive on Mother’s Day. My youngest son already said Happy Mother’s Day and made me a card  today! This year his birthday is on Mother’s Day, so he wanted to make sure I got something special too. 

All moms have a different idea of what they’d like to do on Mother’s Day. Personally, I love having the day to myself, a day of quiet relaxation where I can do as much or as little as I’d like. 

Other moms love being surrounded by their brood and the entire extended family; the important thing is that in the words of Tom and Donna from Parks and Rec you, Treat Yo’self. 

If you are reading this and you’re someone who needs to give mom some love I have compiled a list of simple DIY and low-cost or free ideas you should be able to throw together in the next few days.

  1. Printable Card with 3-D Flowers

I ADORE this 3-D printable card from the website www.sixcleversisters.com. It includes the template for the card as well as a template for the flowers. You will need some colorful cardstock to print the flowers from and a piece of plain white cardstock for the card.

The site includes step-by-step instructions, and it is a bit time-consuming to cut out all those flowers, but if you have a crafty kid or teen, or you enjoy this type of crafting yourself, this is a low-cost way to make a unique Mother’s Day Card.

  1. Printable Bouquet

I am a massive fan of the idea of the printable bouquet, and www.123homeschool4me.com has the most adorable one I’ve seen. Each flower has space for your child to write something special about mom on them. Examples are:

  • Mom is so special because…
  • My mom rocks! She…
  • I love when mom….

You can print these out on colored paper or use the black and white template and allow your child to color and decorate them themselves. It even includes the template to print a bouquet wrapper to keep it all together. 

This is one special flower delivery mom is sure to remember and keep forever!

  1. Homemade Bath Bombs

If the moms or special women in your life are anything like me, they love taking a hot bath. Combine that bath with a glass of red wine and a book, and I’m in heaven! 

When taking a bath, my favorite scent is lavender, so when I came across this homemade lavender bath bomb recipe, I knew I had to include it. 

This is the perfect gift to make if you have a little scientist in your life! My youngest son loves making bath bombs with me.

This recipe, found on the site Don’t Mess with Mama, requires baking soda, Epsom salt, citric acid, water, essential oils, and almond oil. You will also need a bath bomb mold or a cupcake tin can work in a pinch.

For an added touch, you can add some fresh or dried lavender to the mix. If mom doesn’t like lavender, you can add whatever essential oil scents she likes best. 

Citric acid can be found in stores like Walmart, amazon.com, Target, and craft stores. Whole Foods has a great selection of essential oils.

  1. Cupcake Toppers 

If you enjoy baking or your kids do, making homemade cupcakes and adding these adorable little cupcake toppers are sure to delight mom.

The site Momtastic offers this free printable and instructions on how to make the cupcake toppers. They also have a link to make the cupcakes pictured if you desire, or you can make your own based on mom’s tastes and favorite flavors or colors.

Cupcakes are such a great idea because they are customizable, and every mom loves eating a sweet treat her kids made just for her.

  1. Mother’s Day Coupons

The past year has been rough for moms (for dads too, but we’ll spoil them next month), so what could be a better gift than coupons to help take some of the workload away from mom and to show her how special she is.

The Spruce Crafts has an entire list of free printable Mother’s Day coupons that include everything from extra hugs to breakfast in bed to offers to do a few loads of laundry!

Each set is adorable in its own right, and the bright colors make them fun and unique. You will want some cardstock to print these off and perhaps a pretty ribbon to tie them together, but other than that, this is a low-cost and effortless last-minute DIY Mother’s Day gift.

Whether it is a mom, grandma, step-mom, friend, girlfriend, aunt, or any other special person in your life you wish to celebrate this Mother’s Day, any one of these simple yet thoughtful gifts are an excellent way to say, “I love you, and I appreciate all that you do.”

*I have not been reimbursed or compensated in any way for anything recommended or listed in this blog.

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.

You’re the Parent

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How often have we said or thought the following phrase about someone else, “Do something, You’re the parent.” In our society, we love to judge other people, especially parents, and the way we all display our lives in public and on social media makes it extremely easy for others to judge and be judged.

I have done it, I am ashamed to admit, and it has been done to me; none of us are perfect, but it is imperative, now more than ever, that we stop judging, blaming, criticizing, and start helping one another.

Parenting is hard. It is really, really damn hard, and the truth is until the shoe is on your foot, you don’t know, and in reality, we can never wear another’s shoes. My six-year-old is not your six-year-old. The experiences that have shaped and guided me as a parent are not the same that have molded you.

We see a child acting up in public and the parent desperately pleading with them to calm down; we listen to a friend complain because for the third time this week their child isn’t attending her virtual classes, or we see an acquaintance on Facebook who is continually asking for help with their unruly toddler and your inner monologue goes – “Do something, you’re the parent!”

But at that moment, the parent IS doing something; they’re doing the best they can in that given moment. The friend complaining is reaching out. The acquaintance on Facebook is probably lonely and needs a space to vent, and the parent doing whatever it takes to get their child to stop screaming in the Target aisle may be overtired, overworked, spouse out of town, and they’re just done.

The kindest thing anyone has ever done for me in those moments of stress is giving me the “I’ve been there smile.” It has diffused so many horrible feelings that I have had about myself in the moment of thinking, “I am the worst parent ever.”


The sad thing is, all of us as parents assume that other parents are judging us, judging our kids, judging how well we handle our home-work balance. That assumption comes out of the fact that so many parents DO judge one another.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if instead of thinking, “I can’t take my kids to Target because I don’t want to face another judgy mom staring at me if there is a meltdown,” we could face the world knowing that those other moms and dads have our back?

And it’s not just behavioral issues we judge each other on; it’s whether or not you breastfeed, use cloth diapers, send your child to preschool or stay home, how many activities you have your kid signed up for, what activities you have your kid signed up, how the child is developing, and how “put together” you look, especially, as a mom.

If this pandemic has taught us nothing, I hope it teaches us to cut each other some slack. We have all been faced with this unique circumstance, and all had a taste of what our fellow moms and dads are going through. May our shared stress bring about a shared unity of the pitfalls of parenting.

You don’t have to like that your co-worker uses a dozen disposable diapers a day because you feel it is bad for the environment. Still, you can understand that it is her choice, and she made the best choice for her and her situation and respect that.

You don’t need to look your nose down at the stay-at-home mom who posts pictures of their child’s crafts each day because that is what makes her happy, and it’s her life, not yours; you can celebrate her happiness with her.

And if you don’t like the way the dad in the next aisle is giving in to his 5-year-old who is having a tantrum because he wants the sugary cereal, instead of rolling your eyes, give props to the dad who is spending time with his kid and taking him grocery shopping (maybe even so mom can get a well-deserved break).

So society, I present you with a challenge. The next time you’re out or on social media and see a parenting situation that makes those judging feelings begin to creep back in, put them on pause. And, instead of thinking the worst of that parent, give them some props. A smile, a thumbs-up emoji, or a “stay strong momma, you’ve got this” can go a long way in making a stressed-out parent’s day and may just give them the boost of confidence and positivity they needed.

Best Gifts for Boys, Girls, Kids for the Holidays

In case you haven’t noticed from the stores decking their halls since October, the holiday season is upon us. Whether that means Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Three Kings Day, St. Nicholas Day, New Years, or more, I am sure I am not versed in; it is the time of year people give gifts.

I do a lot of reading and writing for my job, and this time of year, I repeatedly see titles or requests for expert opinion on the “Best Gifts for Girls” or “Top Boy Gifts in 2020”.  

It makes me cringe. Here’s Why.

I thought we were moving past all this “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”? If you don’t know my full background with gender theory, I invite you to go back and read my post, “Boys Can Like Pink Too!”

Long story short, I studied and wrote my master thesis on the topic. Erasing gender stereotypes has been a quest for my early childhood career. 

Just to clarify, I am not saying give your son a barbie doll if he doesn’t want one or your daughter a toolset if she has no interest. But, I AM saying don’t judge a gift by the gender of the child receiving it and don’t make assumptions a child will like a gift based on their gender.

Children today are much more likely to play with something previously deemed gender-specific for the opposite sex.

My oldest son loves all things reptile and Batman, and he makes bracelets out of those tiny (annoying) rubber bands. My youngest is an engineer at heart, loves science kits, and he owns a sparkly pink jacket because he loves to dance and thinks it makes him look like Michael Jackson.

Kids don’t fit into a one size fits all gift guide.

One of the best ways to gauge what a child likes is to ask them. I am also a big fan of the old school method of providing them with a catalog and having them put their initials next to items they wanted. 

I was surprised this year by my six-year-old picking out a set of pajamas!  

If you ask their input, there is no guessing. To help your relatives out (especially grandmas and such), create an online wishlist that you can pass out. Or send out a generic theme such as Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, Legos, or American Girl Dolls.  

When you give a child gifts, include the gift receipt and make sure the parents know where to find it; if it ends up being a duplicate gift, no foul, they can just exchange it for something else.  

Want something even better than a gift? Gift a child an experience or membership. Over the years, my children’s grandparents have purchased them memberships to museums, the zoo, put money towards summer camps, and paid for our Disney+ annual subscription.

You can give them a coupon for a weekend at your home and visiting a favorite place of their choosing. You can put money towards programs they want to participate in, like coding classes, magic school, or musical instrument lessons.

Gifts don’t have to be things; they can be experiences.

The long and short is, buy gifts based on who the child is and not what gender-specific marketed toy companies make you believe is appropriate. 

If you are genuinely at a loss, buy a gift card to a popular store or site. I understand that some people find that to be impersonal, but I can tell you as the mother of two children under 10 – They LOVE it!

A gift card gives them the power to make their own decisions, which is an important skill when it comes to learning how to manage money.

Most importantly, though, a gift that comes from the heart will never be wrong. If you are taking time to choose the perfect gift for someone young or old, when your heart is in it, that is truly all that matters.

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!