Could Teaching Empathy Start With Bugs?

Here’s my latest on Medium. Be sure to clap for my article if you enjoy it and follow me on Medium so you don’t miss my future stories.

I used to think it was a little much. My husband was firm with the kids when urging them not to hurt or kill the ants, spiders, ladybugs, or any other random bug they were toying with outside. Over time, I grew to love how gently they would handle the ants that were building their little sandy huts on our patio in the backyard. They would pick them up with great care, and talk about how cute each one was, while it scurried in between each finger across their little hands. This little teaching about being respectful to bugs, seems to have stretched across all living creatures for the kids and it seems to have stuck. Our sons treat our cat with great care, express concern when someone gets injured or sick, and have randomly shown empathy for birds’ “feelings” as of late. Maybe this “be nice to the bugs” business has transformed into more than we could have imagined in the way of teaching life lessons.

Continue reading here.

Working Parent Guilt-What I’ve Learned May Surprise You

Going from a full-time to part-time working mom has been an enormous shift. One that is reshaping our family and how we do things pretty much on the daily. Big change brings about learning and a fresh perspective. Over the last 8 months I’ve learned quite a bit- not only about myself, but about my children, my husband, and about my expectations for the extra time I would have with my kids. A recent realization prompted me to write one of the more shocking things I’ve come to understand.  Something that I hope will give full-time working parents a splash of cold water on the face of guilt they wear each day as they trudge off to work.

Continue reading here.

Second Opinions and Intuition Are Vital To Health

Many of us have been in a situation where a diagnosis completely missed the mark or we left the doctor’s office knowing the information we were given didn’t seem quite right. For some, questions have been left completely unanswered, and it’s resulted in their condition worsening. For others, obtaining a second or third opinion uncovered the correct diagnosis thus saving their life or improving their quality of life immensely.  It got me thinking recently just how critical it is for all of us- old, middle-aged, and young to be not only our own advocates, but our loved one’s advocates as it relates to health. Here are three scenarios that may help you to ask more questions of yourself, your loved ones, and your physicians.

Solving The Issue On Your Own

When it comes to our kids or loved ones, it tends to be easier as the observer to pinpoint what may be contributing to their health problems. Think about how one small change in someone’s food selection could benefit them if they were to discover they had an allergy to a food they often ate? Recently, my son was complaining of a stomach ache 3 -4 times a week. He’s never been formally tested for lactose intolerance, but I figured it out early on by process of elimination.  He used to cry and complain of stomach aches after he’d have cow’s milk in his cereal or drink chocolate milk from the time he was a babe. I also happen to be lactose intolerant myself, so I figured his chances of having the same issue were pretty good.

After asking him what he’s been eating recently to try to uncover the reason for all of his stomach aches, I came to realize it was in fact lactose related yet again. He would complain after eating Cheez-its, Goldfish, smoothies, milkshakes, and occasionally pizza. Since our kids aren’t always with us when they’re eating (school, after school programs, friend’s houses, etc.) it’s not always obvious what is bothering their stomach. Honestly, I was buying the goldfish and cheese flavored crackers and not thinking twice. The powdered cheese in those snacks must have been contributing to the issue. For the last week, he’s stopped eating those snacks and you guessed it, the stomach aches have completely ceased. If only every health problem were that easy to solve! Sometimes, we can actually solve health issues on our own.

Following The Commonalities When There’s No Diagnosis

Sometimes, our loved ones notice more than we give them credit for. Many years ago, I became very ill while on a business trip. I was having a lovely time at an event  party until the wee hours of the night, and while chatting with co-workers, I started to feel extremely tired. I took inventory of what I had eaten..mostly chicken wings. It didn’t help that I had also been drinking cocktails, so I assumed it was a bad combo of the drink and food choice. I called it a night earlier than I had expected and headed back to my hotel room.

That night, I seriously thought I was dying of food poisoning- the pain was so bad. I started vomiting around 3 a.m. and didn’t stop until it was time to check out and head to the airport. Everyone assumed I had had one too many celebratory drinks, but I knew there was no way this was a hangover-it felt different. I ended up in the hospital for two days following my return. They discharged me and said they thought it might be pancreatitis. It was pretty much an unknown diagnosis.

What my then boyfriend (now husband) pointed out, was my symptoms seemed to weirdly mimic the same ones I had about six months prior after a meal at a hibachi restaurant. Following that meal, I had also landed in the hospital for a few days, only to have been discharged with no answers and the doctors scratching their heads.

We visited that same hibachi restaurant a few months after I returned from that business trip.  And again, this time even faster than the last, I could not even walk to the car.  I was weak, sweaty, and vomiting profusely only 10 minutes after eating. My mouth felt funny and my tongue felt puffy, which was a completely new symptom. I went to the ER, spent the night, and again, was discharged with no answers. Again, my boyfriend spoke up about what he noticed. I should add here that him being a chiropractor (who has studied a thing or two about the body) also helped. He had figured it out.

“You’re allergic to sesame!”

He pointed out my reaction was much more severe when it was in oil form. He had to be right! For as long as I could remember I would get stomach aches when I’d eat sesame bagels- I chalked it up to my lactose intolerance because of the cream cheese. Low and behold, it was the seeds! That business trip I had been on- I had eaten chicken wings lathered in sesame oil and seeds. The hibachi place we had dined at had cooked our meal in sesame oil.  Also, it answered questions for me that went way back to my youth. There were these crackers that our neighbors always put out at parties called Sociables. I would eat like the whole box – I loved these crackers so much! And EVERY time we went to their parties, I wound up in their guest room crying and writhing pain until the wee hours of the night. We could never figure out why my stomach hurt so bad at their parties! Turns out,  those crackers are sesame crackers. What an a-ha moment!

Three visits to the hospital and none of them resulted in answers. My husband had figured it out just by going through the foods I had eaten each time- and drawing a conclusion based on the most common denominator. Take note that with each allergic reaction, the symptoms worsen. Further down the road, a year or so later, I ordered Chinese takeout and double checked with the staff to see if they had cooked it in sesame. They confirmed they did not. Three bites in and it felt like I had swallowed gasoline. My throat felt like it was closing and the stabbing pains started in my stomach. This time, we avoided the hospital and waited it out to see if it would be over by morning. Thankfully, it was ( but I DO NOT suggest waiting it out- the pain was unreal).  If you have these kinds of stomach aches that land you in the ER, and have also had doctors scratching their heads, think about getting tested for a food allergy, or going to a specialist to run further tests. This, for some reason, had never crossed my mind or my parent’s minds for that matter, when I was young. Sometimes the answers are literally right in front of us!

When Intuition is Critical And So is A Second Opinion

Many of you are caring for ailing parents. You’re driving them to their doctor appointments or tagging along to make sure the right questions are being asked. This is what one of our friends was doing with his father when his eyesight began to decline in one eye, along with the white of the eye turning very red. They started with a top neurologist at a local hospital and were told it was allergies. When the eye began to turn out and they returned, they were told it was an auto-immune disease. The CAT scans continued to show nothing abnormal. But something wasn’t adding up. His father’s teeth started to ache, which lead them to having three teeth removed, and the medication he was on didn’t seem to be helping the symptoms at all. When he  began to see his father’s overall health rapidly decline over the next few months, he sought more answers. He decided to take him to a specialist at a university hospital- a neuro opthamologist. They had a special CAT scan machine that looked at the eye in ways that other CAT scans could not. And this was when they discovered there was a cancerous tumor that was crushing the sixth nerve. The sixth nerve is a cranial nerve that is responsible for the outward gaze. They also discovered that this cancerous tumor had stemmed from a melanoma that resided on his cheek and had metastasized to this nerve behind the eye. It was a serious diagnosis and treatment had to be aggressive to save his father.

When asked what his advice is for those that are currently searching for answers, he says to opt for university hospitals- not necessarily your local hospital. University hospitals study thousands of diseases and have more specialized advice, machines, and treatments to suggest versus a local hospital. Your local hospital studies less diseases at a time and may not have the answers because they’re not exposed to as much info. You are better off going there for things that aren’t as complex. It’s also a team dynamic at a university hospital. Why? Because a university hospital is a teaching hospital. All different kinds of doctors are invited in to give their opinion and take a look at what is going on. You’re not getting the services of one doctor with one opinion. Another helpful piece of advice he gave was making sure to track down a specialist.  When something quirky is going on with one specific area of the body, it’s best to go to a doctor that specializes in that area of the body, rather than your primary care doc. The clock could be ticking on your loved one’s health when you’re not getting the answers you need from the right source.

Too often we all hear stories about people putting off going to the doctor only to later find out something is gravely wrong,  or getting a misdiagnosis and being put on the wrong medication, or having no answers with worsening symptoms, etc. Always continue to search for answers for yourself and your loved ones, because when you really peel back all the layers of life that we all stress about, there is truly nothing more important than our health.

 

He Said

He said you girls will always be my number one most important thing in this world. It felt very true, until it wasn’t anymore.

He said we are going to have to kiss on the playground. But only because they want us to. No choice. He didn’t want to either. The crowd surrounded us, pushing, cheering, smiling. The teacher’s whistle blew and it was time to return to the 6th grade. The back of my arm wiped the saliva from my upper lip, chin, and cheeks.

He said it again, and again, and again. The words hissed and hung in the tan leather of his extravagant car. Weekend after weekend the words repeated and washed over this brain. Women who have sex are whores. Never have sex.

He said take this necklace, I will miss you after you move. Let’s be pen pals. His sweet second grade hand-writing a precious memory tucked away in the pages of my childhood journal.

He said do you want to go to the football game with me? New school and a new crush. The innocence; the electricity of our knees touching while shivering on the bleachers. The smell of high school concessions and crisp leaves in the fall air. The lights over the field shining down on the athletes as we watched. The familiar car lights pulling up to retrieve us. Hands interlaced, but only for a few seconds. Comforted to sleep by images of his pretty face; pointed nose, thick dark eyebrows, sharp cheekbones. The anticipation of the bus ride palpable. The rush of excitement as my shoes met with the bus stairs. The sounds of the whispers. The name in the whispers was mine. The blood draining from my face. The lies washed over me, like a bucket with too much water poured over my head, into my nose and mouth. Drowning in the feeling of betrayal. The sentences with our names were horrible lies. The ruining of my reputation in an instant. Confused by his kind, hand-holding innocence. Long term damage by untrue words spoken from his lips like wildfire in a matter of seconds.

He said you girls should come back to our hotel room. We’ll play cards and drink beer. He left the sliding glass door to the balcony cracked. The sliding glass door, his one mistake, and the only viable escape. Come out and look at the stars with me he said. Crashing of balcony furniture,aggressive scuffling, ripped clothing. His friend, a living angel, walking toward that sliding glass door, opening it gloriously wider, tilting his head quizzically at his red-faced, attacking friend. Running, running, running through that beautiful space between the sliding glass door. Running through the humid Florida night clinging to my sweat soaked skin . Running to freedom through the lobby, away from that hotel, and that strange, scary, teenage boy.

He said you have a gift, you should keep writing. A teacher that was otherwise insignificant in this life, in this mind, were it not for this statement.

He said nothing as he used a fleeting moment in a pool filled with people to rip my bathing suit off and grope me.

He said she’s my number one now. Sometimes things change. You girls need to listen to her because she’s your stepmom now. And then everything changed.

He said you’re no longer my daughter. You’re nothing to me. It was truth.

He said I’m sorry for what you have been through. I’m glad you’re here. You’ll always be a sister to me, I’m here for you and so is my family. This was truth. Truth that felt good.

He said of course I’ll sign. If it will help you buy your first car, or help you in any way, I will do it. You’re my niece, I’d do anything to help you. And because of this and because of him, I bought my first car.

He said just hang out with my older brother while I’m upstairs hanging out with N. He thinks you’re pretty; he remembers you from that party a few months ago. He was 21 and I 13. My friend later descending the stairs, jovial, beautiful, content. My state of mind a flagrant contradiction to hers. He got up and waved good-bye. We walked back to her house. I wiped his saliva from my chin, my face.

He said among the hundreds of tulips of every vibrant color covering every inch of my teenage bedroom, with white lights woven in between, will you go to prom with me?

He said That prom dress you wanted, it’s yours. I’m buying it because you deserve it, and I love you. And the dress of my dreams became the dress I wore to prom. Forever grateful, this I hope he knows.

He said I’m sorry for what you’re going through, we’re always here. You’re a good kid and I hope you know this. He was a man of few words and his few words meant the world to a sixteen year old girl. It was never forgotten, heartfelt, and so uplifting in that moment.

He said get in the f-ing van you slut! Gripping my wrist, my body hanging out of the open passenger side door, the van accelerating through the parking lot. Pulling, spitting, shouting obscenities, the man pulled as hard as he could to get all of me inside. A strange man, in a van, nude from the waist down. Pull, pull, pull away. Asphalt, hot, trip back to work. Call police to report. Horror, horror, saw you again; your smile, your stare searing through my flesh. Off to Boston, go, go, go, press the gas; leave this real life nightmare behind.

He said through tears and the kind of hug that makes it hard to breathe, I read your diaries while you were gone. Please don’t be mad. The sounds of the airport loud and distracting. Wrought with emotion, he continued on You don’t have to worry anymore in your life. I want to marry you… I love you and I want you to know I will never leave you. It was truth.

He said Congratulations it’s a boy! And the universe, God, love, and all of the emotion that embodies being human swept through this mind and body. Entangled experiences that shaped my unique world falling, falling away from me. Paradoxical.

He said I love you, Mom. Then later, They said I love you, Mom. And no more beautiful words were ever spoken to this mind, this heart, this human, this spirit. And I believe it to be truth.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Colorful thought bursts and unfiltered ideas in a child’s mind are endlessly humorous. Who doesn’t love to share or hear stories about the random and sometimes shocking sentences that tumble out of children’s mouths? Living on my phone, in the Google Keep app, is a list of both of my sons’ hilarious and interesting ponderings for their father and I to cherish forever. I highly recommend keeping a log of the funny things your child says so you can go back and revisit it as they get older. It was so entertaining to type the list out and re-live the hilarity. From food to movies to general observations about life…their quips are little snack packs of funny.

Let’s talk about food and drink

E: “I like avocado.”

Me: “What do you like most about it?”

E: “It helps you survive earthquakes.”

_____________

J: “Mom, I’m ready to stop being picky now. I’m ready to try new and exciting foods. Make me a salad.”

___________

E: “You can get arrested for bringing food into play areas. That’s why the signs say ‘NO FOOD ALLOWED’.”

____________

J: “You can’t drink Mom’s Diet Coke.”

E: “Why?”

J: “Because it’s wine.”

______________

E: “I know what food they give you in jail!

J: “What?”

E: “Spinach.”

___________

Commercials, Famous People & Politicians

A commercial comes on the television and J exclaims, “Mom, come in the living room- quick!”

“What? What is it?”

J: “This stuff is for you! You should get it. It’s for hair loss.”

___________

E: “I’m five now. Do you know what that means I can do? I can watch the movie IT.”

___________

“Who has a birthday party at THAT age?” said while watching the Spiderman movie and hearing Jamie Foxx’s line about his birthday party.

___________

E: “I want to watch Deadpool even though it’s inappropriate. Can you tell me again why it’s inappropriate?

Me: It’s inappropriate for lots of reasons. For starters, there are lots of bad words.

E: Well, I’m going to be the Director of an inappropriate movie about Washington D.C. and there will be lots of bad words.”

___________

E: “Why can’t Donald Trump just be nice? His ties are nice. I like his ties.”

___________

E: “Can we steal a body from that graveyard? I want to make a real Frankenstein.”

Everyday Observations

“Why is that guy trying to make you fall in love with him?” Said my eight year old about the restaurant manager of a diner we frequent.

___________

E: “Mom, I got sweaty AND handsome today…. just like Harry Styles.”

___________

At bedtime, as I’m getting into my son’s bed to lie next to him, he says, “Stop, wait!”

“How come?” I ask while giving him a death stare and wondering what he’s trying to negotiate for now;more snacks, water, bathroom, etc.

“Take a load off. Go get your comfy cozies on so you can relax while you’re putting me to bed.”

____________

J: “Mom, your memory is so bad.”

Me: “I know, I forgot I already got the milk out and just opened the fridge to get the milk again.”

J: “Mom, what did I just say?”

I repeat back what he’s just said and give him a quizzical look.

J: “Just checking your memory.”

_____________

E: “I got sent to the principal’s office and I didn’t run away from her! I wasn’t even scared!”

____________

J: “Is there such thing as kid jail? How bad is it?”

____________

E: “Mom, can you go away and never come back? I only want Daddy now. It’s better that way.”

____________

J: “What’s re-incarnated mean again?” We explain reincarnation….

“OK, then I’m definitely reincarnated. I think I’m the last survivor of the Titanic. She died a few weeks before I was born.”

____________

“Who is Harvey Weinstein?” my five year old asked after overhearing an NPR news bite.

Me (so many different ways to approach this one): “A man that says inappropriate stuff to women.”

He sits quietly with that answer for a minute. “Oh, yeah. You mean like the stuff Daddy says to you?”

____________

While the family is busting out dance moves in the kitchen, “Stop!” J says.

“Why, we’re having fun?” I ask.

“Because only I can be the cool one.”

Guest Post: Let’s Talk About Friendship: When it Fades Before Your Eyes

I’m sharing a poignant article that was featured on the Westchester County Mom’s Blog by the very talented Melissa Levy Jacobowitz. It discusses the experience of being unfriended unexpectedly…read it here.

Advice I Would Give To Myself Before Becoming A Mom

That whole first year of being married was lots of dinner dates, some dancing and shows in New York City, a couple of weekend trips to Washington DC, and smatterings of work travel. Nothing was too crazy and there was no bucket-listing going on. The years leading up to getting married I gifted my then boyfriend a trip for almost every birthday of his and/or every Labor or Memorial Day weekend. I was always using his birthdays as a way to get us out of our already pretty predictable, grown-up schedule. It felt way too easy to fall into a routine once we both had steady jobs and had a wedding to plan and pay for. However, hindsight is 20/20, and if I could go back and tell myself what to do differently before becoming a parent, here is the advice I would give.

Think bigger in terms of travel. I sort of had the right idea in always planning trips, but they were all pretty much within 3 hours away; Vermont, Boston, D.C., New Hampshire, Maine, and the Jersey Shore. These are all places that I can still go to as a parent and am more inclined to go to now because they are driving distance from home in CT. Take this pre-baby time to travel the broader U.S. that you’ve never seen.Try to see Europe in any possible way you can across a 3 week span. Finance it if you have to, just do it. You won’t be able to do this otherwise for probably another 15 or 20 years.

Hone in and partake in your hobbies as much as you can. I take dance class more now as a mother than I did before I became a mom. Before kids I can count on only two hands how many times I took the train into NYC to take a dance class. It wasn’t until it seemed like it was an impossibility to keep it going that I committed to going somewhat regularly and found a studio locally that I fell in love with. I signed up for a memoir writing course before kids and it was the only writing, other than journaling that I did really. I write regularly now obviously AFTER becoming a mom, but finding the time is definitely a challenge that I actively navigate each week. It can still be done, it just has to be woven into my day. If I could, I would have told my younger self to have started seriously writing much earlier.

Be adventurous. Something changes once you become a mother in terms of the risks you are willing to take. Since becoming responsible for two sons that I want to see grow and thrive (hopefully into their 50’s), I am less likely to get on that roller coaster, go down that steep water slide, scuba dive, ride that giant ferris wheel, ski on a black diamond, or just take risks with my life in general. Prior to having kids, there isn’t this voice telling you to preserve your life or that “you only live once” as it relates to life-threatening activities. You’re not aware when you’re younger that the feeling of invincibility goes away after birthing a child.

Don’t wrack up credit card debt on dumb crap. I’m talking about outfits that you don’t need that add up; accessories -hats, purses, jewelry, belts. Don’t be Gemma the Generous. Buying a round of shots for ten people here and there is completely fine if you can truly afford to. I used to love to do this because it felt so good-but ouch- it hurt my pocketbook the next day! Going out to eat way too much can add up really fast. It would have been so much smarter had I figured out how to actually cook some food. It wasn’t until I became a mom that I exercised any effort into figuring out how to cook meals. This skill could have saved me so much money before kids. We seriously went out to eat WAY too much.

Try your hand at all things that interest you. When I think back to what I would do on the weekends before kids, I was kind of one dimensional. The most interesting and common activity I engaged in was going out with friends. This is not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy myself in doing so! But we are all creatures of habit, and it became a big part of how I had fun and let loose after the work week. Looking back on that time, there are so many cool things I could have initiated with my friends instead of sitting and chatting over a glass of wine. We do plenty of that now! Back then, we could have tried anything without having to calculate and plan for a sitter.Trapeze classes, paint and sips, learning how to play the guitar, taking language courses, partaking in a cooking class, going white water rafting,more karaoke nights in the city, more nights in the city actually experiencing its culture, scavenger hunts, running in more 5Ks, joining a writing club, etc. The opportunities are endless. We can still do these things as parents-of course- it’s just you have to get a babysitter, ask your spouse to pinch hit, or miss out on time with your kids- all things that you have to put a decent amount of thought and planning into.

Take a babymoon. I was fortunate to only feel sick off and on for the first month or so of my first pregnancy. Beyond that, I felt like a million bucks and had more energy than I knew what to do with. For my husband’s 30th, I had surprised him with a trip to Paris-because why not? Since he’s 4 years older, he knew well in advance that for my 30th I wanted to do an adventurous trip as well. The plan was to rent a convertible and drive up the coast of California. My due date was right around my actual 30th birthday, so I let my husband know we should take the trip a month or two months beforehand. In the end, it turned out he had decided not to go through with planning the trip. He actually thought he was doing me a favor. Because I was pregnant, he assumed I would be uncomfortable driving around in the heat for long stretches of time. I was NOT happy, but still had hope since he promised we’d do the trip the following year. However, the more I thought about that, the more I disliked the idea. How would I want to leave my one year old? Who would we leave him or her with? Both our families were not close in proximity to us, and there was no guarantee our moms would be able to get off of work to stay and help out. So we waited until the next year and, luckily, my mother-in-law was able to help us out. BUT, it was just as I had suspected; we couldn’t relax. We worried the whole time, missed our one year old son like crazy, and felt like we didn’t enjoy the trip in the same way we would have pre-parenthood. To make matters worse, my son was terrified and would not go near me for the entire first day after we returned. He actually cried hysterically when I attempted to come near him. It is hugely different to take a five day trip before actually having a child. Take my advice on this and take the BABYMOON.

I’m really not one for regrets, so I don’t look at these suggestions and feel wistful or sad. It’s simply stuff I’ve learned along the way that could help someone. There was no way for me to know these things until the wisdom of parenthood was bestowed upon me. If it can help someone in their decision making prior to starting a family of their own, then I’ve done my job. We only get one life; paying helpful information forward is one of the bests gifts one can give in my opinion. Go forth and conquer!

It’s time for me to go to bed now so I can be a decent mom tomorrow.