With 2020 in the rearview mirror, many of us – both introverted and extroverted types- felt we spent way too much time alone due to the lockdowns, quarantines, and remote work situations. This meant when some sort of normalcy resumed, many of us could not wait to run from our homes to vacation or adventure somewhere outside of what was familiar. Our dream of skipping about in a new setting, preferably among other humans, was within reach, and we were more than ready.
Because I like people so much, the idea of vacationing solo never really occurred to me. However, when the opportunity presented itself, it didn’t take as long as I would have expected to make my decision. The mere idea of not being in my basement office, or surrounded by the dusty rose walls of my kitchen, where it seems I spend most of my non-working hours these days, was…motivating.
Like many Americans, we had received the stimulus from the government and I had immediate plans on how we would use it. It would involve getting out of our home as fast as possible, barreling toward a fun experience as a family. The kids had been cooped up for too long, and this was the perfect opportunity. During one of my many monologues on where our family vacation would take place, my husband quieted me with some shocking words. He suggested the family not go on a trip, and that I go by myself instead. He reminded me of the stressful year I had just endured, holding down the fort alone at home while juggling work, dealing with health issues, and other various dramas of life. My chronic worry over whether or not the kids were OK was pretty much all I talked about for the past year. It’s about time you do something only for yourself . “The Go Do You” he called it.
“Think about a place you’ve always wanted to go within the U.S. and make it happen. It won’t be as costly as a family vacation, and being in this house for the last year working and managing the kids, you deserve to go on a kid-free adventure— do it for your own sanity.”
I mulled it over. Going on a solo trip sounded strange at first simply because I had spent more time alone in the last year than I ever had in my entire life. Why would I want to go spend more time alone? Would it be miserable? Or would I surprise myself and realize it could be positively glorious? I decided that unless I made a plan to take the boys on a trip somewhere before my solo trip, the mom guilt would annihilate me.
A few months back, I was having writer’s block. I posted on social media to garner suggestions on topics to write about. One of the recommended topics was fruit texture. How does one tell an interesting story about the guts and skin of fruit? Well, naturally, you compare it to a few funny experiences in life. So come along with me on this fun journey about life and fruit.
My Acting Experience – A Bittersweet Grapefruit
When I was little, I absolutely loved watching music videos and pretending I was in them. I also did the same while watching certain movies, especially Goonies. Man, did I want to play the cheerleader, and love interest, of Josh Brolin’s character in that movie. Andy was this lucky lady’s character name, played by Kerri Green. She got to go on an incredibly cool and scary treasure hunt with a bunch of cute boys.
As you can imagine, after pretending at home for so long, I could not wait to try out for my first play in high school. I decided to sign up for drama club at my new high school my freshman year.
I met a super nice guy in Drama Club shortly after singing up. He had been in many plays over the years. He urged me to audition for the upcoming play, The Crucible. This was it, I told myself. I was finally going to realize my dream of becoming an actress even if only on a high school stage. I rehearsed my lines and the day came for me to try out. Anyone else who auditioned could hang out in the theater afterwards to watch others try out as well.
My palms were slick and my heart was pounding as I crossed the stage and prepared to say my lines. Just a few rows in front of me was the drama club veteran who had now become my friend and had urged me to audition.
I went for it, and thought that in the end, I did a pretty decent job. I left the stage after my audition and found a seat in the audience next to my new friend. He hi-fived me and told me I did a good job. I then watched another girl audition for the same role. With the most mortification you could possibly imagine, I realized something when she finished her try out. I had said one of the lines so incredibly wrong, that a case of nervous and hysterical laughter was bubbling up in my chest and ready to burst forth with even more embarrassing magnitude than that of my line screw up.
One of my lines had been, “Mama, I’ll fly to Mama.” There was just one eensy weensy problem. The words, she cried were listed after the line. I had interpreted them to mean say the words like the character was crying. No, wait, not crying, like actually sobbing while saying those words. What it actually meant is what you are likely thinking. The character was supposed to be crying OUT those words- as in YELLING. I had sobbed those words instead of shouting them. So there I was feeling like a grapefruit. A happy, colorful shell, feeling slightly exposed by showing the new inner skin of her acting skills, with a sweetness at first, followed by an oh-crap-that-was-a – bit- extra sour feeling immediately after the first try. To this day I cannot retell this story without cracking up while simultaneously wanting to dive in a hole of embarrassment, never to come out of that hole again.
A Job Interview- A Banana With A Few Bruises
I had a job interview about 6 or 7 years or so ago at a marketing agency. They gave me an assignment to create a campaign for a new energy drink. Part of the assignment had been to choose an ambassador for the drink who aligned with the brand’s image. The ambassador I picked was Julianne Hough. She had been fairly popular at the time, and was fit and healthy, which went along with the overall theme.
The day came and I presented my campaign ideas to the team of interviewers. It felt good to have completed the project, and I was pretty confident I had done an awesome job. Afterwards, one of the interviewers walked me out to the stairwell to say good-bye and thank me. He reiterated that this job would be a lot of travel and a lot of hours. I thanked him for letting me know and then mentioned I had two little boys at home, but I would do my best to make it work if I got the job. He cocked his head and looked at me quizzically before walking away from the stairwell where I immediately regretted what I had just said. I knew in my gut I had blown it by mentioning my kids (sad fact, I know). However, that is not the worst part of my embarrassment.
Later that week, while watching Dancing with the Stars, I heard them introducing the judge’s names and the announcer pronounced Julianne’s last name VERY differently than I had been saying her name. I had been pronouncing it “How” instead of “Huff”. The color drained from my face as I sat there, in front of my TV, and realized I must have said her name 20 times in that presentation, and every single time I’m sure they were cringing at my mispronunciation. Did they all know who she was? I remember wondering and hoping they didn’t notice. Is it as bad as someone calling Danny DeVito Danny DeVitie? Either way, that was two flubs now. So not only did I say the wrong thing while exiting the interview, but I had said my ambassador’s name wrong the entire time! Suffice it to say, I did not get that job.
This experience I liken to a banana. The peel delicately pulled away, one section at a time carefully to reveal the complete, well grown presentation inside. The first few bites sent positive vibes and tasted good, hey, this was a pretty decent, well-rounded banana! Until, three quarters of the way through, brown, bruised spots showed up and ruined the experience all together, leaving the banana to be tossed out entirely, the good parts dismissed by the imperfections at the end
My Modeling Debut and Finale-A Bumpy, Furry, Raspberry
When I was in sixth grade, one of my friend’s brothers needed a favor. It was a weekend morning, and the adult model for a Spanish car dealership newspaper had called out sick. My friend’s brother was the photographer and was frantically trying to get someone to fill in for the model. My friend called me and asked if I could sub in. Sixth grade me? What do I wear? What do I do? I was totally lost as to what I should be bringing and had no clue what my job would be. Would I pass as latina? What would be involved? He was going to pay me forty dollars, so I was basically about to be rich.
I ended up agreeing to help his brother out, because what 12 year old says no to $40 to smile for the camera? I put on one of my mom’s white halter tops with black polka dots on it and a pair of black shorts and pulled half of my hair up. I wasn’t really allowed to wear make-up yet, so I tried my best to figure it out.
I was lucky enough to get my unibrow waxed on days when I went into the salon where my mom worked. It had been quite awhile since the ol’ brows had been waxed so I hoped the camera didn’t close in on those furry friends of mine. I also tried to tell myself Brooke Shields had made thick brows cool.
Puberty was also in my favor. I had some serious brail going on underneath my thin bangs and along my temples.
We got to the dealership and my friend’s brother picked the fanciest car in the lot- a white convertible camero with red seats. I looked at him clueless and said what do I do? He pointed to the hood of the car and said just lean on the car and look over your shoulder at the camera. Seemed easy enough. So I did just that and in less than a couple of minutes we wrapped up this very glamorous modeling shoot. He paid me the forty bucks and we called it a day.
I got a copy of the Auto-trader type newspaper magazine a few weeks later and realized this would be a story for years to come. Not only was my photo on the cover, but I am hilariously referred to as “Miss Automundo”. My family howls at this ridiculous story and every now and then we dig out the old Miss Automundo magazine to take a walk down memory lane and acknowledge my brief modeling career for a Spanish Auto-trader magazine at the age of 12.
This adventure was like a raspberry. There is some furriness going on, including a bumpy brail-like exterior. It’s a tiny fruit with a sugary tartness. It’s got a whole lot of texture going on for such a little fruit!
It has almost been one year since the pandemic struck, bringing with it unique challenges for families in America. With the closure of school, limited face to face interaction, and the shutdown of sports activities for much of the year, the mental health impact on children begs our attention. Adults were able to pivot and work from home, along with continuing to connect with friends if desired. Children, however, had to fall in line with what their school district decided, what rules the state mandated for their particular sport, and what parents deemed an acceptable amount of in-person play with friends. I felt the children in our community, Fairfield County, Connecticut, deserved a closer look at how they are doing mentally based on all of the contributing factors above. From what is gathered here, the kids in our community need our help.
One way to gauge how kids are doing collectively, was to survey parents to glean insight into what is taking place under each individual roof. While it will give us a picture of how children are doing, parents will be left with decisions to make in terms of what they will do to help their children going forward.
To get a sense of who is being impacted and how, I surveyed 108 families here in Fairfield County. Slightly more than half of respondents live in the town of Fairfield.
The age demographic of the children in this survey is broken out below. The largest age group represented is the 5–10 age group, of which 61% of respondents had a child in this bracket.
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Recently, a friend of mine jokingly mentioned she had diagnosed herself with something called revenge bedtime procrastination. The words immediately resonated. I was quite surprised to find that the internet provided several articles on the topic. Apparently a plethora of people, my friend, and myself included, push off sleep for some additional “me” time more often than not.
It’s not just, oh I’m not tired so let me just (insert activity here) before I go to bed. It’s a very deliberate evasion of sleep to give us a sense of control over a portion of our day.
According to Glamour, in the U.S. the pandemic has exacerbated everything that was already severed in a culture where work determines access to health care and sense of value. “The combination of a capitalist workday, mixed with work-from-home life and an ever growing attachment to our technology is the perfect storm that contributes to ‘revenge bedtime procrastination,’” says Aliza Shapiro, a clinical social worker and therapist in Manhattan. “Intuitively, we know we need to rest in order to become productive again, so when we lack the resource of relaxation during the day we try to find it in other places and times—even if it’s at the expense of our sleep.” (‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination’ Is Real, According to Psychologists | Glamour)
The Chinese link it to stealing back your time after having been overstretched from work. This makes absolute sense, especially as it relates to the long hours the Chinese work. According to The psychology behind ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’ – BBC Worklife, “People are stuck in a Catch-22 when they don’t have time to detach from their work before they go to sleep, it is likely to negatively affect their sleep,” says Kelly. The real solution, she suggests, is to ensure that individuals are allowed time to engage in activities that provide this detachment. However, this is often not something employees can achieve by themselves.
This extends to other circumstances as well. It doesn’t necessarily only happen for employees working long hours. It can happen to those of us working healthy, normal hours, but feeling like our time isn’t our own related to other factors. As this snippet below by Deanna Pai mentions:
“This is a trend I’ve seen for years with women who are going, going, going,” says Shelby Harris, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of “The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia.” They’re taking care of kids, going to work, and returning home only to tackle dinner, handle homework, or get ready for school the next day — like a hamster wheel of responsibilities. “They feel they don’t have a moment to themselves,” she explains. “As a result, they just want some time to ‘do nothing’ and decompress.”
Sleep tends to be the easiest thing to sacrifice, says Harris, as we see it as time we could spend doing more enjoyable things.
Avoiding bedtime, is something pretty much anyone who wants to extend the day on their terms does. The pandemic, it turns out, has enflamed the urge to do so. The way I see it, this revenge we are trying to get is carving out “me” time since there are little other outlets at the moment.
Perhaps we are using the delayed bedtime to scroll, text, watch movies, read, and evade sleep because it’s taking the place of other things we aren’t getting for ourselves right now. Prior to the pandemic I would go out for dinner or drinks twice a month. I would have social connection every weekend via playdates with my sons’ friends. That isn’t happening anymore. My daily routine is exactly the same and working from home means no in person connection other than with my children and my husband. Fortunately, I have a couple of friends that will periodically hike or have a playdate. On average it’s one get together roughly once a month, which as an extrovert, simply isn’t enough.
My husband has pointed out the feeling of normalcy he gets to have. As a chiropractor, he leaves the house each day to interact with his patients just as he did prior to the pandemic. Throughout the day, he also converses with his patients, receptionist, and his good friend whom he shares an office with. He feels badly because he knows his wife is at home, having little in person interaction for 11 months now. I mention him because he never has sleep procrastination. He is a creature of routine and makes sure to carve out time for himself every single day. He also goes to bed at around the same time consistently.
He sometimes asks me why in the world I’m not coming to bed, when he sees that my eyes are fighting to stay open. “It’s like you get mad at yourself for being tired,” he often says. This is why the word revenge that has strategically been placed in the name of this phenomenon makes perfect sense to me. It feels just like that…vengeful.
We are all collectively hitting the pandemic wall so to speak. As a result, I stay up late to feel like I’ve somehow made the day count. I evade sleep to prove to myself that damnit, I CAN do what I want, this is MY time. What will be the exciting plan tonight? Will I watch 6 episodes of The Leftovers, start reading my new book, scroll through social media, write a blog post?
During the last year, did we say screw you to our sleep to elongate the day? Hell yeah we did. Because in the back of our minds, it will be groundhog day again in the morning. Maybe staying up past our bedtime is some form of excitement during a time when nothing feels exciting? I’m always searching for the next available activity for our family, it’s just gotten a lot harder. This perpetuates the mundane routine, which makes the idea of going to sleep, only to wake up, and do the same thing all over again not-so-enticing. Pushing it off to find a mindless distraction may be how we’re inadvertently feeding our souls right now.
There are recommendations on how to go about dialing sleep procrastination back. Start with carving out “me” time in the evening with a hard stop for yourself of 10 or 11 p.m. Instead of allowing the episodes on your streaming platform to run into one another, stop after one episode and plan to do something else. Take inventory of your responsibilities and rate them. Can something be pushed off to tomorrow that will give you an extra 30 minutes today? Better time management can help.
Putting off sleep to do something for ourselves feels good in the immediate, but then we obviously pay for it the next day. Perhaps watching TV into the late night to avoid the eventual arrival of tomorrow, was a thing before smart phones were invented. Smart phones obviously make it that much easier to avoid going to bed. Turning off your phone at least one hour before bed is also recommended.
We all look forward to a time when we are active, engaging, and socializing more and regularly. When we are physically moving more than just down our basement stairs to our home office. My hope is we will be more mindful of shutting our brains off for the day when our heads hit the pillow. Let’s look forward to no longer feeling FOMO towards our very own “me” time. Throw that on the list of the many things we look forward to in the months ahead.
If you’re interested in reading further, here are some very interesting articles on this phenomenon:
All of us complain from time to time about the variety of burdensome things that can accost us at random times throughout life. You know, like that collections company that continues to send us a bill for a service we paid for over a year ago. Or maybe it was a stranger who decided it was their business to tell you what a bad job you were doing parenting your child. Perhaps it was a job layoff, a fight with a spouse, a misbehaving child etc. There are conflicts large and small and it’s our critical problem solving skills that allow us to either move on quickly, procrastinate and drag it out for a later resolution, add gasoline to the problem, or give up and leave it unsolved.
What’s key here, is having the self awareness to look back at some of life’s hurdles and appreciate that something positive came from the experience, because you learned from it. A good way to gauge if you’ve learned from it is not repeating that behavior or pattern that got you there in the first place. Could it be that this is the healthy part of having obstacles in life? Maybe we just need to be reminded to reflect on where those hurdles got us and what they taught us.
Sidenote, this article has nothing to do with COVID as an obstacle. That’s an entirely different animal in my opinion. The pandemic hurdles have much to do with stress being exacerbated due to other people making decisions on our behalf. That stress and those hurdles are a result of responsibility without control.
I recently finished reading the book, The Second Mountain, by David Brooks. The two mountains are used as an analogy for the journey of life. There are those of us who climb the first mountain of life successfully. This mountain includes what our culture endorses: career, marriage, family, making your mark in the world, and personal happiness. Some people climb this first mountain only to get there and feel unsatisfied. Those people then begin to climb a second mountain, one that is truly theirs and not what culture dictates will bring one happiness. It is that second mountain that brings them satisfaction and joy.
The other piece to this book, is that there are those of us who never had the two mountain view, there was only the one mountain. These are the people who radiate joy, are content, and have generally chosen to live an other-centered life versus a self-centered one. These folks, Brooks explains, are the ones in his research, who suffered trauma, loss, or a large setback or failure early in life. These people were the ones most fulfilled and happy with life, and did not need to climb the second mountain to experience an underlying current of happiness or satisfaction.
When reading this book, I tried to imagine myself in both scenarios, but I didn’t quite fit into either bucket per se. While I don’t necessarily agree with the two mountain analogy, it does make solid sense when thinking about looking back at life’s biggest adversaries and how those very things or people may have paved the path to fulfillment, happiness, or in certain cases, caused the greatest possible outcome.
Think About The Contrast Between Then and Now
Looking back, I had just a bit of a rocky start in life. My childhood was pretty great until I was about 7 years old. Then came my parent’s divorce, and moving 12 times thereafter. If you’ve read my backstory, you know that my teenage years went into a bit of a tailspin in terms of consistency, security, and a nurturing perspective. To save you time, here is a very boiled down version of the events. My father got custody of us when I was 14 and my sister was 12. One year later, he abandoned me in my mother’s apartment complex parking lot with a backpack to my name. A name he then asked me to change since he wasn’t truly convinced I was his. From there, Mom and I were evicted and I lived with family friends. Mom and I eventually ended up back together close to a year later. During that time, I was also separated from my sister and rarely saw her between the ages of 15-21, due to her staying with our father and later moving to Boston with her high school boyfriend when she was 18. One could argue this was not a smooth start, however, if it’s what I had to go through to be who I am as a person, filled up by the simplicities in life, maybe I’m OK with it.
If I break down the small and large difficulties that occurred within that time frame of 14 years, a line can be drawn between then and now to certain conscious decisions I’ve made and others that maybe weren’t so conscious. It may not be a straight line, but it’s there. And I say 14 years because once I graduated college, I owned my own life and decisions from there. The high drama and trauma meter in my life came to an abrupt halt after I hit 21. That IS something that gives me pause and reflection. The difference is, after 21, I was in control. It’s when we feel out of control, or when someone or something is taking the wheel, that may impact us negatively (whether they realize it or not) that problems can perpetuate, and take hold of our lives.
Appreciation Is Learned Through Experience
On that line of decisions I mention above, there are a few examples of hurdles from back then, that now bring me an elevated sense of appreciation. A large contributor to the feeling of happiness and contentment is appreciation. My mother struggled to make ends meet as a single parent. She was working on a hairdresser’s wages, and my father paid child support intermittently, if at all, for the first few years after their divorce. This meant there was no savings, of course, and money was always scarce. Money is something in life that is never guaranteed, so it must be appreciated when it’s present and providing us with both life’s necessities and extras.
Appreciation Part I
I don’t often make frivolous or luxurious purchases. It may have something to do with my upbringing or it may not. I just bought myself 6 pairs of socks after realizing all of mine had holes for crying out loud! I’m the first to admit that is ridiculous. That purchase felt damn good though …and it wasn’t luxurious.
For the first time, I bought myself a monthly massage package a few months ago. It was a gift to myself to force me out of my house where I work and dwell way too much these days. It was tough to justify, but I told myself it would provide me with a much needed relaxing physical and mental one hour break. One month later, I immediately put my account at the massage place on freeze. We had abruptly decided it was critical to put our older son in Catholic school with his brother due to the hybrid public school model not working for our son’s mental well being. So it felt strange to me to also be spending money on myself in this way.
There was of course the voice inside my head saying, “I told you so. You cannot have nice things for yourself, Amber.”
I appreciated the hell out of the two massages I got and that’s all that matters. When I feel comfortable doing something extravagant like that for myself again, I will re-engage. Socks and massages: two purchases that could not be more different- necessity vs luxury- but honestly, both brought me a great amount of joy.
Appreciation Part II
We were depending on food stamps while I was in junior high. Macaroni, pb & j, and spaghetti were on regular rotation. We almost never went out to dinner. With my first paycheck, I went to Woodfield Mall, sat myself in a Ruby Tuesday’s booth, and bought myself a delicious meal. I’ll never forget how fulfilling that was. Growing up with a thin menu in our kitchen, made me enjoy going out to dinner immensely. It made me welcome elaborate home-cooked meals, gatherings around a dinner table, and acknowledge anyone who has a clue in a kitchen. It also means I eat really fast, which is kind of embarrassing. Subconsciously, my brain may think food will not always be there. I have to remind myself while on business trips to mindfully, cut, chew, and swallow at what’s considered an acceptable pace. To this day, going out to eat feels exciting, even if it means going to the diner up the street.
Failed Relationships Give Us The Tools We Need For Better Ones Ahead
Conflict with people teaches us things too, of course. In one specific incidence, I credit a friend of mine from high school for having an enormous impact on my life. He has since passed away, but I was able to share this with his fiancee. This person was best friends with my high school boyfriend. He and I became close friends once my boyfriend, his best friend, moved away to college. We had stayed behind; I went to community college for a year, he move to the city to figure out his plan. I was enraptured and had wholly lost myself in my love for this boyfriend. There were some romance novel level surprises and he did many kind things that made it feel like the best relationship ever. I believed we would be married at some point and later even based my choice of college on the proximity it was to his. Looking back on that makes me cringe. I would have willfully continued staying with this boyfriend when, slowly but surely, many red flags began to present themselves after he went away to school.
After he put Visine in my water (and told everyone the joke but me), the writing was on the wall that it was time to break up. And yet, I’d drive 3.5 hours just about every weekend to be with him and drag on the relationship. And then, one night, in Chicago, after many beers on my friend’s studio rooftop with a few others I became enlightened. My friend told me that he could no longer be silent on some of the things my boyfriend had done. He unveiled some surprisingly dumb things my then sweetheart had weirdly chosen to lie about.
After hearing me talk about my future and potential marriage to this guy, likely ad nauseum, my friend decided he could not refrain from telling me.
After we did finally break up, he asked to reconcile, pleading to share our lives together and start over. It was what my friend shared, that made the decision to say “no” so easy.
I never looked back. I know that if he had not told me, I would have likely married this person. I am beyond grateful to this friend, since he honestly changed the trajectory of my life. A life I’m guaranteed would have left me unhappy, if not divorced, financially insecure, and very likely a single mother struggling just like my own did.
I look back and see that relationship taught me the importance of never completely losing myself in a person again. Being blindly in love isn’t good for anyone, and it was my own fault to have fallen so deeply. Our naiveté can be our own demise. But it’s important to have these experiences so we can do better next time. We can appreciate the relationship for the good it provided and what the bad parts taught us.
During those years, I could have been more focused on my education, as well as solid path for myself. However, had I not experienced that heart break, I would not have been wiser and more discerning when selecting my future partner. Better yet, since choosing the right partner has an enormous impact on the size of problems you’ll have down the road, I take this to be one of the greatest conflicts to have learned from.
The Absence Of A Toxic Person Is Not A Bad Thing
Earlier in this piece, I mention my father abandoning me when I was 15. To most, that causes a sympathetic response, but hold that thought. I am actually BETTER off in this case. The conflict that occurred back when I was with him, actually set me up to have a far better life ahead. After having witnessed other good, present, and unconditionally loving fathers, I came to realize I was lucky that mine was no longer in my life. I imagine all of life’s milestones and celebrations: showers, weddings, births, significant birthdays, etc. with him and his wife around, and I physically shudder at the thought. We are so much better off with the toxicity missing, than from it being a constant in the picture, hanging on the wall of life, veering at our very happiness.
This absence from my father and his wife, really opened up a space in me that was filled completely by my children and my love for them. There’s no missing piece here, and there is no longing for them to be in my life. I am at peace and thankful- quite frankly- to not have to deal with them.
I think where some people can go wrong here, is to let the toxicity back in time and time again. In doing so, the conflict remains. To learn from your conflict means not to repeat the same behavior or pattern when faced with a similar scenario again. This shift makes the path even brighter and more clear in our decision making as we walk on through our lives.With the toxic person absent, holidays are pleasant for the first time, celebrations are no longer dreaded, and you’re not in a constant state of walking in eggshells. It’s eye opening once they’re absent.
When tasked with thinking of a specific adversary who came around and then somehow made my life better in the long run, I could think of no one. However, when I ruminated about troubles that presented themselves off and on in my early life, it’s clear to me we can take mental notes from a young age and make a concerted effort not to repeat those troubles.
Think for a second about some of the hurdles you’ve had in your life up to this point, and how it made you appreciate one thing or another as a result. It’s a fascinating experiment.
Acknowledgements: Big thanks to Dan Lopez for suggesting this topic.
It would be easy to list off things going on in the world or my personal life that are complex and difficult right now. I am sure you likely feel the same. It is that thought that prompted me to write quite the opposite, and to find small experiences that have injected me warmth most recently. We could all use some internal rays of light on the inside during the days of negative news and politically charged arguments on our social media feeds. Here are a few positive short stories from my world, I hope they bring a smile to you.
The Gift Of Giving
My 7 year old’s favorite actor is Michael J. Fox. After watching all three Back To The Future movies and Teen Wolf, he was transfixed on his new favorite actor (he traded Jason Mamoa in, I guess). He told me he wanted to watch all of the movies and TV Shows Michael J. Fox was in. I explained to him that sadly, MJF didn’t get to be in many more movies or more recent shows because of his battle with Parkinson’s disease. My son of course then asked about the disease: What does it do? Will he die? Why couldn’t he act anymore?He expressed that he was sad to hear this and asked how we could help MJF. Unfortunately, there is no cure, I explained, but Michael J. Fox wisely created a foundation to raise money to put towards research for the disease in the hopes that one day, there would be a cure.
He seemed content with that response, and relieved in a way that there was a chance somewhere down the line for Michael to be fixed.
A few months later, last week, after he returned home from school, I told my son I had some good news. My day job involves working with private foundations by helping them to process their grants, provide back office support, and assist with compliance among a few other things. I shared with my son that while looking up something for one of my clients at work, I saw they had just donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson’s Research. This was a full circle moment. Not only did it click for my son what his mom actually does for work, but he was able to see that there are people in the world looking to make it a better place and whom are also passionate about the same things that he is. He beamed at the news.
Could I donate to his foundation, Mom? Like, could I use my saved up dollars and put it in the mail to him?
Yes, we could get your money to him, we wouldn’t mail the dollars, but I could write a check on your behalf. That would be really nice of you!
Cool! Let’s give him 50 of my dollars!
You can imagine how proud I was as a mama in this moment.
Let me start by saying that in no way did I think there would be a part two to my original blog post about my hysterectomy. I’m putting this second piece out there as a personal wish that a physician or another person who also experienced this scenario can connect with me to discuss it. So far I’m coming up empty on my Google searches. After my follow up with my surgeon, I was left dumbfounded.
Roughly two weeks after my laparoscopic hysterectomy, I went to my follow up appointment. A PA came into the room in a strikingly good mood. I remember being surprised because her disposition was like that of someone who had one too many cups of coffee, not only was she flitting around the room energetically, she was very happy, which immediately put me at ease. She sat down and asked me some follow up questions: Did I have any pain? Not really.Was I still taking my heavy pain meds? No. Was there any bleeding? No. Anything going on I felt worth mentioning? Yes, headaches, hot flashes, and fatigue. With every answer there was a resounding “GREAT!” or “That’s normal!” to each of my responses. We’d go over those three symptoms shortly with the doctor. She pulled up my chart and told me that my uterus looked good, and there was no cancer to be concerned about which was excellent news. I stopped her there and asked her what did she mean about my uterus looking good?
“My uterus looked good you mean because there’s no cancer right? But you saw it had the adenomyosis on it, right? Was there anything else going on with it? “
“You didn’t have adenomyosis. Your uterus was perfect.” I suddenly realized it was nervous energy she was emitting.
With that, she said, it’s time for the surgeon to come in and chat with you, she’ll be right in.
My mind was spinning. I felt a jolt of hot anger and then panic as I realized that maybe none of my symptoms would go away following my surgery. The surgeon came in and sat down. She handed me a piece of paper and said it was my report. She said she had great news, that my uterus was healthy, no adenomyosis, no cancer, no endometriosis or anything of that nature. My cervix was enflamed, but that was really it.
“Wait. How can it be that three different tests: ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI were all wrong? Each one said something was wrong with the uterus, and the MRI confirmed adenomyosis, so how can my uterus be healthy?”
“Sometimes these things are a mystery. But either way, you won’t have to worry about having pain, severe fatigue, passing clots, all the bad things surrounding your menstrual cycles anymore, so this surgery was still a very good thing.”
She mentioned it was best I stay on the birth control pill because it actually reduces ovarian cancer by 50% in women my age. I reminded them that these awful headaches started when I went on the pill four months ago, and I would be going off of it as soon as it was possible, but thanked them for letting me know. They asked me to wait to go off the hormones since my body has just had major surgery. We agreed I’d take one more pack before quitting. I took my report, thanked them, and left.
Once I was sitting in the privacy of my car in the parking lot, I called my husband and cried like a baby. The idea of having just had this surgery only to find out all the tests were wrong, my symptoms must be coming from elsewhere, and that I still may have to deal with many of my symptoms was crushing.
I read the report over and over. I did see something that the doctors did not mention, and immediately thought it must not have been important enough to bring up. It was a paraovarian cyst on/in the fallopain tube. This can cause pain but cannot be detected when in the body. These are only found when they look at the organs after they are removed. It was tiny so who knows if this was causing any issues, and again, the doctors did not mention this to me. Honestly, I was just trying to find an answer of some kind to any of this, since it was feeling a lot like I just did all this for nothing.
The biggest shock to me through all of this-is the fact that not one, not two, but three different tests with three different doctors all said my uterus had a problem. How can this be that my uterus was in essence “perfectly fine”? If you are a physician reading this, please write me and tell me about your experiences, if any, with this. If you are a person- woman or man- who has experienced multiple tests being wrong, please write me about your experience. I have never heard of something like this.
Of course my friends have asked me if I would hurl a lawsuit at the doctor. The answer is no, absolutely not. Three doctors all from separate practices interpreted the results so it’s not like one of them lied to get the money for the surgery. The doctor that said it was adenomyosis on the MRI isn’t affiliated with the surgeon at Yale that did the surgery, and that surgeon was actually my second opinion doctor. It just makes this whole experience shocking and disappointing. In my previous article on the surgery, I implored you all to be advocates for yourselves, to get the right tests, to be thorough about your health, but what if the tests are wrong? That thought had never crossed my mind.
Also, two letters came in the mail about a week ago from my insurance company. It turns out my expedited departure from the hospital was in fact not by my doctor or nurse’s urging, it was the insurance company’s decision. They had declined an overnight stay and only gave permission for a 30 minute observation after surgery. This was also eye-opening to me. Why in the world is my insurance company approving whether or not I am allowed to stay in the hospital? And why would insurance not cover that stay? Our healthcare in this country has such a long way to go. No shocker there.
Lastly, while my recovery is going quite well 3 weeks later, I began experiencing that ever familiar fatigue again that I had prior to surgery this week. As a reminder, I’m on iron supplements, B12, and magnesium to try to get the anemia in check. So, while the recovery piece is a definite positive, the reappearance of this symptom I’ve so wanted to kick to the curb has been a bit of a downer. The real interesting part is going to be when I go off the hormones at the end of this month. Will everything come back just the way it was or will my energy and symptoms improve? Not sure, but all I can do is hope to God it’s better! I am seriously not sure what other steps there even are. My next scheduled blood work is in December with the naturopath. While there is so much in my life to be grateful for, it’s frustrating when you are a health mystery with no answers.
Quick update to this post- it has been 5 months since my surgery and my health has drastically improved. The fatigue vanished after that last time I wrote about it above. No more pain, no more heavy eyes, brain fog, etc. My anemia has greatly diminished. And amazingly, I have not had one interstitial cystitis flare since back in September. It turns out my hysterectomy was one of the best decisions in my life.
I’m writing this with women in mind or men who have wives or daughters that have gone back and forth with their medical providers on what to do with their bodies when something is not as it should be. Doctors are not infallible and in the end, it is up to all of us to be our own advocates in many aspects of life, but most seriously when it comes to our health. Never stop seeking answers when it comes to your health.
I’ve had hormonal events or occurrences throughout my life beginning from the age of 15 up until now as a 41 year old. I had D-MER while nursing both my sons, overproduced milk so much that I was blessed with the special hell of mastitis 4 times with each child, gave my second son breast milk jaundice, and apparently became pregnant within moments of deciding to have a baby both times. Hormones not only are fascinating, but are gut wrenchingly, jaw droppingly shocking in terms of what kind of maneuvers they are capable of causing. I have found myself perplexed and in awe when talking with several different women and friends about their different experiences, oddities, and symptoms caused by our little friends called hormones.
When I was 15, I was participating at a cheerleading fundraiser where we were bagging groceries, when to my complete embarrassment, I threw up and passed out. That was the beginning of my tumultuous experience with hormones. Shortly thereafter, I was put on birth control pills due to ovarian cyst issues and that solved all my issues for years to come.
The birth control pill worked wonders up until I was in my senior year in college when I would begin to have this strange heavy eyelid occurrence during my time of the month. It was a symptom I’d get just hours before I knew my period would be on its way. Little did I know this odd symptom would worsen and stay for an extended time as I grew older, as well as the the avalanche of symptoms that would befall me in my late twenties.
At the age of 28 the pill was no longer working any of its magic. I was in agony for 6-7 days a month and needed to find out what was going on. I had a laparoscopic procedure and endometriosis was ruled out. It was already understood that I had an issue with recurring ovarian cysts, but the menorrhagia was a mystery. The doctor’s advice was to speed up our plans to get pregnant if possible. If I was pregnant, it would save me 9 months of agony each month (depending on how you look at it). We had been married a year and were enjoying weekend jaunts when possible as my husband was building his chiropractic practice and I had just switched jobs. It wasn’t the ideal time to get pregnant since I was new in my job and wasn’t quite ready yet for a baby. I certainly wasn’t about to pay for the birth of a baby out of pocket, so best to wait for that health insurance to kick in first.
The following year, my friend of 24 years, Jamie, called me in October and said, “You know what would be cool? If we got pregnant at the same time. Let me chart your ovulation and tell you when to try!” I talked it over with my husband and we nervously and excitedly committed, “Let’s do it!”
On that same call she realized I was ovulating that day. So she said today and tomorrow are your days- go for it. The next month, I missed my period and took a pregnancy test and it confirmed that baby French was on the way. Whoa, I thought, clearly I was on the very fertile side.
A few years went by, and we decided we wanted another baby. After the birth of our second son in 2013, about a year later, it was determined that I was no longer a candidate for birth control. I bled through it for three months. After going off of it, I started having more ovarian cyst episodes, longer periods, and horrible pain. My eyelids became impossible to keep open for 2 days of the 7 and each month. I would have to call out sick or hope that the 2 worst days fell on a weekend. More tests were done and still, it was not clear what was wrong. An IUD was suggested and that was a full week of torture for my nether regions before I went running back and demanded the doctor remove it. It was then he suggested thinking about an ablation or hysterectomy back when I was 34.
I wasn’t really sure then what to do. I didn’t feel ready for a hysterectomy and we had a large deductible with our insurance at the time. The doctor asked how my tolerance for pain was and asked if I could try to just deal each month and take plenty of ibuprofen on days when I needed it. I said I would see how it went. This went on for another 4 years. Trips to the ER for cyst ruptures, pressure on my eyelids going beyond the usual 2 days sometimes stretching as far as the full 7 days. Fatigue crept in and overtook me as a person. Combined with finding out I had a bladder condition (interstitial cystitis) a few years back, my energy was just zapped constantly. I am someone who prides myself on never cancelling plans or breaking a promise, as well as being super active. Cancelled plans, excuses to my boys, and broken promises, all became the new me, thanks to my health deteriorating.
I started to get chronic UTI infections and eventually got a kidney infection. The infection was so bad and lasted 9 days because my physician at the time put me on a very low grade antibiotic and when the symptoms worsened she kept saying she couldn’t help me and to go to the ER. When I pointed out the radiologist was across the street and I could easily have answers within the hour if she called the order in right then, she finally agreed to have me get a ct scan across the street that day.
It was there, after passing out in the waiting room from the pain, I was told that fibroids were in my uterine wall. No big deal, we take care of that swiftly and painlessly, one of the doctors said as he handed me his card. I had large cysts on both ovaries and a raging infection but the fibroid was not causing any of my current issues, they said. I felt relief hearing from this man that fibroids were “no big deal”. I know now that a fibroid was a reason why one of my friend’s could not get pregnant years ago, so thankfully, I was done having children at that point. Following that experience, I decided to get a new primary doctor and was promptly put on stronger antibiotics so that my infection could be dealt with properly.
My infections continued off and on, my hair fell out in clumps, and now the 7 days I was down and out turned into 2 weeks. Not only was I couch bound during my menstrual cycle, I was exhausted and in a lot of pain mid-cycle too. I kept a diary of all of my symptoms and shared them with my new gynecologist. She said I should get an MRI. My husband and I wondered what an MRI would show that a ct scan and ultrasound (which I had had several months prior)had not already shown. The doctor explained that an MRI shows the whole picture and a level of detail that those other tests simply do not. This was important information that we were unaware of. She said the MRI is the test that actually tells us if what we’re looking at is cancer. I could not believe the other doctor had not recommended an MRI earlier after hearing this sentence and I thanked my lucky stars in that moment.
The MRI came back and confirmed I did not have a fibroid. I had what is called adenomyosis. This is a condition where the endometrial tissue exists within and grows into the uterine wall. It is very painful, causes severe fatigue, anemia, and can worsen over time. It appears late in childbearing years and disappears after menopause. When given the diagnosis, the doctor recommended I go back on birth control to manage the horrible hormonal symptoms happening for 2 weeks to me each month. My husband was confused. His first response was,”The only cure for adenomyosis is a hysterectomy. Why are we bandaiding this?”
I went back and forth for 3 months with my new gynecologist about my symptoms after trying to go back on birth control pills to manage the adenomyosis symptoms. Some symptoms thankfully did go away, some did not and some new ones started showing up. I asked her about ablation or hysterectomy but she said she was really averse to any surgery and her overall goal is to always avoid surgery if possible. I decided in that moment to get a second opinion. Why wait and leave this in me and suffer through any longer? The second opinion was with a gynecological oncology surgeon at Yale. She took a look at my MRI asked me about my symptoms and agreed this was a great option for me. She asked me to think about it for two weeks before making my decision. But in my gut, I already knew that I would be getting a robotic laparoscopic hysterectomy as soon as it was possible. I left that appointment with an extra bounce in my step, knowing I was on the way to getting my energy and my life back. 2 whole weeks of every month back is a lot of time with my husband, kids, job, and friends.
On Thursday, September 17th, my husband and I made our way to Yale in the dark of the morning. My surgery was the first one of the day at 7:30 and we were to arrive at 6. My Mother-in-Law would arrive to the house in the morning to watch the boys for one night and two days. One of the most shocking things about this experience was that they discharge you almost immediately after. It’s kind of insane. They’ve just taken my cervix, my uterus, and my fallopian tubes out and now I will be sent home to heal. I think a one to two day stay is much more appropriate, but maybe that’s just me.
I had completed my pre-opp assignments prior:COVID-19 test, lung X-ray, bloodwork. I was so worried that one of those things would derail the surgery, but thankfully they did not. They put the anesthesia mask on me and went to work. 4 incisions across the belly total, one through the belly button where a camera is inserted to check out the gallbladder, liver,etc. to look for anything else being amiss. The surgery lasted approximately 2 hours and I woke up around noon. All went well and my other organs looked healthy. Just as I was opening my eyes the nurse approached my room.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“Good, when can I see my husband? Is he allowed in here?”
“I’ll get your discharge papers and he can come up as long as you’re being discharged.”
I thought I was having a lucid dream. A few minutes later, my husband was standing in my room and the nurse was reading my discharge instructions. I didn’t need to walk around, use the bathroom first, or do a test to see if I could keep food down. They sent him down to grab the car from the valet and moments later, a man with a wheelchair showed up to take me down to the car.
Once outside, I nodded in and out of sleep for what felt like an hour while waiting for the car. It felt like an hour because it was an hour. The valet woman never entered my husband’s ticket number into the machine so the valet man never received instructions to go get our car. After 52 minutes of just hanging outside in the wheelchair I yelled at my husband to please do something or yell at someone to get us the hell out of there! The other people who had been waiting alongside us cheered me on and muttered their grievances too.My husband tentatively approached the valet and softly expressed something that did not sound like a patron who had been waiting with his heavily drugged -just-had -surgery wife who had been waiting outside for their car for an hour. Finally they realized their mistake and the car finally showed up.
From there my husband drove me to my dear friend’s home. I will be forever indebted for this kind and nutty offer. She offered to be a nurse to me during my first few days home from the hospital since it would be difficult to get around.It was also an offer of refuge from my home where us moms find it impossible not to get up and help the kids with something, put a dish away, or to truly be left alone to rest. The default is often mom will do it, so when we’re taken out of the equation – it’s much easier! Thank you, sweet Andrea!
Today is my 6th day of recovery and it’s going well. I stopped taking the heavy duty pain meds on Saturday and have been alternating between ibuprofen and Tylenol every 4-6 hours. I get tired very easily and sleep a lot. The incisions are a bit sore, but manageable. Stupidly, I cleaned my kitchen and the boys’s rooms yesterday and then could not move the rest of the day and slept for the rest of it. Won’t be doing that for awhile so if you come over anytime soon, I apologize if my house is trashed. I plan to drive tomorrow for the first time to pick up my son from school. My post op appointment is in a few days when I will hopefully get the biopsy results from each of the organs they removed. Fingers crossed on that.
While I was on the path to getting this sorted out, I was told that my ovaries may continue to wreak havoc with cysts, and the heavy eyelids, and the mid cycle pain. It’s not ideal to take the ovaries out this young so we thought it best I keep them. As a result of knowing there may still be some issues to be dealt with, I enlisted the help of a naturopath who discovered my anemia, my complete and utter lack of ferritin (hello hair loss!), my lack of estrogen, high cortisol, borderline thyroid, among a few other things. I’ve just received my 20 supplements to take- booyah! Just kidding – it’s like 8 supplements not 20. My counter has like a million bottles on it at the moment. But bring it- I will take whatever I can to kick this anemia’s butt and try to get some healthy hair growth going on.
This recovery period brings me such appreciation for the friends in my life. Friends are truly my fam here in CT. A friend who I met through the PTA two years ago at my sons’ elementary school offered to organize a meal train for 7 days for lunches and dinners to be delivered to our family which has been an enormous help and extremely generous. My husband is totally anti getting anything for free like this so he is mortified that we’re receiving a meal train. Meanwhile, I don’t know what I’d have done without it so THANK YOU, Anna.
Friends have come and sat in bed with me, stopped by to have conversation, and brought me fun mags, cushy robe and soft socks, and other thoughtful messages and items. They’ve picked up my kids and dropped them off while some have taken them for a few hours each day so I could sleep in peace. They are all extremely busy women, who have families and jobs and it makes me get all annoying and emotional and gooey just thinking of how much they’ve done for me these last few days. It takes a village and I’m so grateful for mine. My friends who don’t live here who are in Ohio and Illinois, have checked in daily and for that I feel loved from afar. When you’re out of it and healing and away from the world in your bed, it feels so nice to feel the love because it can feel lonely otherwise. My boys and husband have been so sweet, and gentle, and helpful too.
I am so pumped to get through this recovery period (which I’m hoping will be wrapped up in 2 weeks) and to start my new life with renewed energy. My uterus cannot hold me down anymore! If you’re getting the same stale answers from your doctors, and you know in your heart you should be getting a second opinion-do it. If you’ve had chronic, debilitating periods, keep getting tests until you get answers. Make sure you are getting the RIGHT tests and thorough treatment.
This saying can be an actual way of life in more ways than we realize. In the current climate we are all living in, all of us are getting out of bed everyday and putting one foot in front of the other when we’re really not feeling up to the task. We’re doing our jobs, being a spouse, taking care of our homes, paying our bills, parenting, socializing (even if that may look different now), grocery shopping, and then putting our heads on the pillow to go to sleep and do it all again the very next day. Mixed in with those adult tasks and responsibilities are our emotions. On a normal day, we can do these tasks without thinking twice, the emotions are even keeled, we get done what we need to get done and feel a sense of satisfaction when the day is done. But in the now, if none of us are having normal days, if at every turn another new huge announcement that significantly impacts our life blares at us, what is that doing to our nervous system? Then add trying to stuff down those feelings to get through the day. Fight or flight mode must be in some kind of obnoxious overdrive. Which begs the question – what does completing each of these every day responsibilities look like, feel like, and become like? It all feels just a little…overwhelming.
Let’s take it to another level for a minute. So we feel overwhelmed. But who do we show that face of overwhelm to? Likely the people under our roof know and feel that version of us, maybe a few in our close knit circle, but it’s highly doubtful we’re showing our overwhelm to outsiders. God only knows what kind of overwhelm they’re dealing with.
Instead, we put one foot in front of the other, and we fake it. We tell our brain that everything will be OK, everything is OK, until eventually, our walking falls in step with where it used to be and the emotions that feel like a metal jacket drift away. You can’t mope around on a conference call or throw a tantrum in front of your kids because you don’t feel like making dinner. We do our best Meryl Streep or Brad Pitt acting job to convince others we’re “fine” and to keep life feeling normal when it’s spinning out of control.
I’m also noticing we try to focus on the positive in this life right now and post our highlight reels on Instagram and Facebook. Everyone’s thinking: I can’t take one more negative thing right now. We’re grasping for happy. And because I’m one of those graspers, I’m begging you to please keep posting your life’s best moments. I want to have a front row seat to all that goodness. This is what we need right now-some semblance of normalcy and laughter and knowing that it’s OK if people are still having some fun. It’s the plutonium to our flux capacitors-no lie. The news shows a starkly different picture these days: fear, panic, doom, and gloom. Here’s a news flash-that’s not the only thing going on.
Always remember the truth lies somewhere in the middle-especially when it comes to the news. Recently, I was on the news, and got to experience first hand how a narrative can change depending on how the wind blows. The news story took something I was doing that was positive for working parents and shifted the narrative ever so slightly, then blended it with another clip from the town over to make it look like I was this other person’s opposition. It made the story different and it made me wonder how much this goes on every day with everything we see on the news. Boiled down, this negative loop affects our psyche, that is why I’m all about your highlight reel on social media. These positive images cancel out the negative loop for me.
Right now, everywhere, there is a lot of love, a lot of family time, local trips, first days of school, babies being born, birthdays being celebrated, and a lot of appreciation for life going on. I am trying to remember and focus on that.
Before writing this, I thought about writing a blog post that was a fun or interesting story from my past. I wanted to write something so far off the topic of the current state of the world. Because, honestly, who wants to keep reading about all the same morbid stuff? Instead I’m choosing to write about how 2020 brought me to my knees, and how I will fake it until I make it back on my feet again. And you bet your ass I’m in the process of posting my favorite pictures from this summer with my family and friends. If I don’t try to be happy and focus on all the amazingness in my life, I will come undone. Believe me, I came within inches just this past July, and the curveballs of life continue to fly my direction.
I’ve had a summer where I put a smile on my face but was shattered underneath. A lifelong relationship near and dear to me abruptly and shockingly ended. It will never sit right with me and continues to baffle me. It’s that special kind of ache that burrows into your chest. The kind of heartache you can only get from someone you loved so deeply that it’s physical, mental, and emotional all at once. But during that experience, I got up every day, and put on my unwavering happy poker face, perfected from the days of my youth. When the time came each day to take that face off, I would crumple to those who would listen. Eventually, after a month or so, the sadness let up a notch, and I got through a day, then two, then a week, without crying.
The one thing I know for sure is I am not alone in what I wrote above. There are millions of people right now wondering how they will face the day after having found out someone they know is very ill, or has just passed away, they’ve lost their job, been evicted from their home, are moving to a new town; away from a city they’ve called home for so long, are deciding whether or not to close their business, are calling it quits on their marriage, had to cancel their wedding, are worried for their child’s mental health, are struggling to become pregnant, were just diagnosed with cancer, have just found out they have to put down their pet, have no idea how they will keep their job and teach their child, and so on and so forth.
Unique and common tragedies are happening every minute. People are feeling worried, anxious, scared, sad, angry while they go about life’s adulting demands. We paint on smiles to our customers, extend a listening ear to our friends who may be going through something worse, hug and cheer on our crying child while fighting back our own stinging tears, agree egregiously to that next work project, laugh too hard at something, and change the tone in our voice so that no one can tell anything is wrong. This is what we all do. There are personal problems on top of world problems, just as there has always been. We compartmentalize and pretend so we can carry on. It’s a type of survival.
I’ve decided to keep this one short and to the point- some recent advice from my mother. When I asked her if she reads my blogs she sighs and tells me, “No, they are just way too long!” So I’ll get right to the point here.
What I hope you gained from reading this is that showing up for our daily responsibilities when we least feel like it truly matters. I believe it helps our exhausted nervous systems as well. It’s a way of taking care of yourself, even though it feels strange to walk through the day with an uncomfortable invisible costume.
Having a plan, I’ve found, really helps. Plan something to look forward to and take lots of pictures. Post your experience on social media knowing you are giving someone like me a flicker of happy in the hollow that’s there right now. I’m rooting for you and me to feel wholly good again. Let’s keep moving forward until we get there. Put one foot in front of the other even when you don’t feel like it at all.
Therapy is always helpful. I’m no stranger to it; it’s contributed to my self esteem in a major way and helped guide the negative voice within me to own that I am enough. If you’re considering therapy- hesitate no more.
I have to remind myself that growth requires feelings of discomfort. And once I am on the other side, I can look back and say, I see so clearly now why I needed to go through that.
Until then, while our eyes may look sad, and our smile is trickery, let us relish in the ups and downs of this life, for it is always teaching us.
Being together a whole lot these days, due to a new virus that reached our country a few (or 6 months) ago, means there is much more time for conversation with our families. There has been no lack of topic, that is for sure. If there’s anything we can all agree on right now, it’s that 2020 has been a shock to us all. It has forced us to stay indoors, change our normal routines, and focus our energy into many, many, (and I’ll throw a third one in there just for parents) many different things in our homes all at once. One challenge parents have had is home-schooling while juggling working from home. And while I may not be a good home-school teacher, one thing I enjoy doing with my two sons is teaching them life lessons through story telling. In my wildest dreams, never would I have imagined we’d be discussing such heavy topics back to back within a three week span.
With the backdrop of the pandemic, my kids and I have already touched upon many interesting conversations of which were far from what I’d ever thought we’d talk about in their lifetime, let alone my own. Discussions ranging from how everyone’s level of fear is different to why the man we call our President is missing a moral compass to what if school does not re-open in a classroom setting, to the why’s and how’s of mask wearing, to why we can hang out with some people and not others for the time being. Now, enter an interesting observation regarding a homeless man, George Floyd’s murder by a police officer while 3 other officers looked on, and gay pride month. These topics have taken hold in our home and I’m here to share why I’m a fan of speaking openly with children about what goes on in our society.
First, let me start by saying one thing I am appreciative of from my upbringing, is my mother’s openness while we were growing up. It did wonders for me in my life, and I’ve chosen to apply that method to my child rearing. Sex, drugs, racism, and always accepting others for who they are were not topics my mom shied away from. Always openly discussing these things with us from a young age, made them not so taboo and contributed to my life and view of the world. I could give many examples of when her life advice guided me, but I will save that for another time. This time, I’d like to focus on the conversations I’ve had with my children in hoping that they have the same effect my mother’s openness had with me.
THE RACISM DISCUSSION
After seeing the video of George Floyd lose his life, I began to think about how to share this story with my kids. This would not be their first lesson in racism, not by a long shot. In fact, what is quite disturbing, is that we JUST had this discussion a few weeks ago about Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor….and then along came another horrifickly tragic story.
A few weeks ago, I had come back from a run and we were all sitting around the table having a later dinner than usual. Since our dinners tend to be over in less than 5 minutes these days, I asked them to remain at the table. Having just returned from a run, Ahmaud was on my mind. I started by explaining that I had seen something upsetting on the news and felt they needed to learn about what happened. The starting point was we don’t really tend to think that we’re going to get hurt by someone when we’re outside excercising. I let them know that a black man was jogging and was killed by two white men simply for the color of his skin. The mens’ supposed “excuse” was that they thought he had stolen something, simply because he was black and running. My boys were shocked and horrified, which is what you would assume would be everyone’s reaction when a fellow human being is murdered so tragically.When I do these “teachings” I always ask them to think of things in the reverse. Could you imagine having to worry if you decided to go out for a jog because someone with a different skin color might not like you, assume you are a thief, and decide to hurt you? They listened intently and asked several questions.
My kids often ask “why?” when we have these talks. They cannot understand it, which is the point here. None of it makes sense. And that is just it. These are all senseless acts of violence. My response on this one was to the effect of: there are always going to be bad people in the world, but for every parent trying to raise good humans, my hope is always the good eggs will outnumber the bad. If more people are against the idea of racism, because it is such a ridiculous concept, the less and less these tragic acts will be able happen. This is obviously boiled down and may sound trite, but remember, I’m speaking to children, and I am trying to say things in a concrete manner that they will grasp – and hopefully recall in the future.
We went on to discuss Breonna Taylor and how she was sleeping when killed by the police shooting into her home in a case of mistaken identity and a no-knock- warrant. I shared how a similar scenario played out here at our home a few days after me and their dad had moved in. Two heavily armed police officers banged on our door and shouted to “Open Up!” I opened the door and they insisted I go get a man whose name I had never heard in my life. I let the officers know we had just moved in and there was no one here by that name. They poked their heads in through the screen door looking frantically for a man I suppose they thought I was hiding. I did not feel believed and my heart was racing. Moments later, my husband came walking down the hall and asked what was going on. He must not have fit their photo or description because it was only then that the two aggressively skeptical men backed off, asking us a few additional questions and leaving.
When I heard about the Breonna Taylor death, I shuttered. I imagined if those officers that had come to our home had just busted in and began shooting, assuming their person of interest was inside. But that didn’t happen. We were able to open the door, explain that who they were looking for didn’t live here, and keep both of our lives. Breonna did not receive the same chance.
A few weeks later came the George Floyd murder. Shortly thereafter, I came across a post on Facebook that shared all of the black lives taken for absolutely ludacris reasons. Not all of these murders that were listed in this post were by the police. Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin were killed by other men in their community, simply for the color of their skin. This post on Facebook was powerful because each name of the deceased had listed what they were doing when they were killed. I thought this was the perfect tool to use when speaking to my kids – once again – about racism. I had them sit on the couch and read to them what each person was doing when they were killed:sleeping, walking down the street, jogging, getting arrested. Naturally, they were outraged again, incredulous at the thought that people could be harmed when doing something like sleeping or walking back from a store.
The questions began from them about why and how bad police exist. I explained how bad people can sometimes get into positions of power. Think of this as a nasty recipe, like taking someone who wants to inflict pain and giving them a free pass to do it. How do we make sure this doesn’t happen with the police officers? I told them I don’t have the exact answer, but that people in the world are coming together and talking with organizations that are put into place to make change and they are all in discussions now to try to implement a checks and balances system. What should we do so bad apples don’t become police?How can the good police kick the bad ones out? I said this is exactly what is under the microscope in our country as we speak. People are protesting about this very thing you are both asking. They want change in our justice system and in police training and recruitment.
I have to say the overall sense and feeling one has during a discussion on social injustice with children, is a feeling of helplessness and sadness. How do we STOP this? To which I answered that it will take time, but the immediate things we can do as a country is help elect officials who will implement laws to protect the African American community, and we can ask for change of current practices and laws that are wrong from within a broken system. What they can do as kids to help is if/when they see someone else in trouble or hear someone say something against our black friends we stand up for them, just like we would in a bully situation. Because that is exactly what this is- a form of bullying.
We talked about protesting and what does it do, why do people do it? Awesomely,they had both recently had lessons in school on Martin Luther King Jr. so they were aware of those marches and Rosa Parks as well. I let them know they were witnessing history being made just like when those protests were happening with Martin Luther King Jr. When something sparks outrage across the country, and people take to the streets, it is from passion for what they believe in. That passions burns even hotter when what’s happening is fundamentally wrong. The point I tried to drive home- and I need to keep making sure it stays with them-is that it isimportant to be passionate about the things you believe in.
A few days ago we were coming home from an errand and had picked up some lunch from a drive-thru. They had finished their lunches in the car and we were approaching a traffic light where a homeless man often stands. I asked my son if he would give his full container of uneaten fries (he’s not a big fan of fries) to the man, who was likely very hungry. Then I frustratingly realized I might be unable to give the man the fries because the woman in the car in front of me was not pulling up to the stop light. My assumption was she must not have wanted to have her car near him so she kept an abnormal distance. This meant I would have to give him the fries when the light turned green and there was a huge group of cars that had gotten off the highway behind us. So I decided to call over to him out my window and told him I’d be handing him fries while driving. My kids were mortified I’m sure at their mom shouting out her car window in front of a bunch of other cars to a random man on the street corner. But it was the only way to get his attention and get the fries to him since the woman would not move her car up in front of me. The man cried out thanking us over and over saying he was so hungry. It was a good moment.
Since I had vocally expressed my frustration that the woman would not pull up naturally they asked why is that lady’s car so far from the man and the stoplight? I mentioned the only thing I could think was that she was avoiding eye contact or close contact with the homeless man because it’s awkward sometimes when someone is asking you for money and you’re sitting at a stoplight with nowhere to look but forward and nowhere to go.
My younger son asked if I always give this man money. I replied that no, I don’t always give him money, but I do sometimes give him drinks or something I think might help him in that moment if I have it. They asked why everyone doesn’t just give all the homeless people money and food all the time? This was a question requiring multiple layers of answers and there was no way I could tackle that with a soundbite they’d remember without their eyes glazing over. Instead the conversation segued into drug addiction. I explained that sometimes there are people that are on the streets due to drug addiction and they may be using money given to them for that, which defeats the purpose of helping them. This is often one of the reasons why people choose not to give money. We talked about how others are veterans who have fought in wars and have fallen on hard times, and how everyone likely has a different story. That it is important to give if you can in that moment, but you should not feel guilty if you can’t do it. Only do what you can. As long as you’re having the thought to want to help someone, you’re in favor of humanity. Perhaps this woman at the stoplight was feeling just that- guilty and awkward and so she kept her distance. We’ll never know.
My almost 11 year old son asked me the other day to tell him about all of the dangerous drugs so he knows them by name and knows not to do them. I was stunned by the question, but really thankful for another opportunity for open dialogue on a topic every parent worries about. If you can believe it, already in his 5th grade experience he has learned of a fellow 5th grader vaping marijuana. I didn’t go into the drug explanation at that particular time, instead we focused on cigarettes and vaping in that talk many months ago. Now that he was coming to me with questions about drugs specifically, I chose to tell him the story of Jon Bon Jovi’s daughter having an opiate addiction and how this is an epidemic in our country. We talked about how that starts- an injury, a broken bone, a doctor prescribing pain killers, and the person becoming addicted. These are not “bad” people, I say, this is a widely used drug given out by doctors and is highly addictivefor any human being that uses them for pain. See son, it happened to Bon Jovi’s daughter, it can happen to anyone. For those wondering, I did list a few other drug names and mentioned these are the drugs that have killed many musicians and actors that we have loved over the years.
These questions ensued: why are CVS and Walgreens called “drug stores”? And why can a doctor or hospital give you drugs but other drugs are bad? These are where the conversations go and I love that the wheels in their heads are turning. This is what I want from my children-critical thinking.
THE GAY PRIDE DISCUSSION
We were running to my youngest son’s first grade closure car parade (that sounds surreal doesn’t it?) and as we were hastily getting into the car, I had not had time to pull myself together emotionally. Seconds ago, I had been in a meeting for work reflecting on the sadness and unrest in our country regarding George Floyd as well as recognition of the LGBTQ community being that it is Gay Pride month. It was a call with moments of silence, gratefulness from black colleagues in appreciation of our company’s solidarity with them, moments of emotion, and it was extremely moving. My sons looked at me and asked why I was crying. I paused for a second thinking about how to tell them the reason delicately, but then remembered we had already had many conversations on this topic.
I’m crying because a woman I work with shared on a company wide video call that she has been hiding who she is her whole life and would like to start leading an authentic life.She was afraid of people knowing she was gay, and has decided she’s not going to be afraid anymore because she’s been motivated recently as the mother of a brown-skinned son. She wants to set the example to make sure he knows to be proud of who he is.It made me feel sad for her that she had to feel afraid all those years, but also happy for her that she was so brave and doing what’s best in the interest of guiding her son.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that call. Furthermore, I shared with the kids that I was emotional because some people wait until very late in life to come out as gay because they feel scared or ashamed and when they do, it’s like a weight has been lifted and they can be the real version of themselves. That is why we always support our friends and peers who are gay, I say, they are simply fellow human beings who have had to fight and suffer just to be able to love who they want to love.
On our drive to my son’s teacher’s house, my kids and I have an awesome dialogue and I end up loving this day. When I try to cover my tears, I remind myself that I should not feel shame in showing my sons my tears. It’s not often they’ve seen their mom cry and I want for them to feel empowered to cry openly as boys, teens, and as men. I try to remember that crying often makes us feel better as humans; it is a release, which is a good thing. It is an emotion and an expression that is there for a reason. In this moment, this is a learning for me as a mother, that I should no longer try to hide my tears in moments like these, when the world is crying, protesting, in need of leadership, in financial turmoil, in a health crisis, and trying to come together for change.
I would have never believed you if you said I’d be talking about drugs, racism, a pandemic, and gay rights all within the span of a few weeks to my children. But here we are. All I can hope is that each time we revisit these topics they are that much better for it.