Love, Pride, & Worry: A Look Back at the Last 350 Days With My Family

Taken Feb. 28, 2021

After having spent the better part of the last 350 days at home with my two sons and my husband, I began to think about how proud I am of who they are and simultaneously how much I have worried about them in the last year. Now that there are sprinklings of good change on the horizon, I am beginning to see such positivity and excitement creeping in all around us! The view to all the good things that await the kids (and adults) is in sight.

When a pandemic hits, no one knows what to expect. Parents had no clue how they would navigate the unfamiliar territory of the ever-changing landscape of their childrens’ lives in the last year. We’re almost out of the woods, and if my arms were long enough, I’d reach them around my little family and squeeze them way too tightly in an effort to express “you did it, you’ve almost made it through.”

Parents had a front row seat to our kids’ lives being substantially disrupted again and again with school or lack thereof, sports and activities going away, isolation and infrequent face to face socialization, many of our favorite indoor play places going out of business, and much, much, more screen time. Due to these monumental changes to their routines, small and sometimes large shifts took place in our family. Looking back at all of it, I know at the end of the day, we loved our kids fiercely and to the best of our ability. We made the changes where it was possible to positively impact them. For that, I’m actually kind of proud of us too.

Each night when I’m putting my kids to bed, I use that time to ask them how they’re doing or listen to pieces of their day they feel are significant enough to share with me. It’s always been my favorite part of the day, and while it’s fleeting because my husband yells from the other room:no more talking! I will roll my eyes and continue to soak it up. It’s the only time of day when no one is rushing off to school or playing games online with the concentration of dismantling a bomb. I’m also not on a conference call, with my head buried in my laptop.

While lying next to my youngest son this last year at bedtime, what’s running through my mind is a flurry of thoughts: Ev has eczema on his cheek today, is he stressed about something? He’s ripping at his hair again, how can I make him stop? Now he’s yanking his eyebrows out, is it loneliness, is it stress, is it anxiety, is it something small I can easily fix? I hope he knows how much we love him. I have to find him more friends, I wish he wasn’t so picky about who he wants to hang with. I will email the teacher tomorrow for connections to parents. I will reach out and set up playdates. Oh wait, I already tried that, didn’t work. Oh wait, there’s a new kid in class he likes, I’ll ask for that mom’s email. I could always ask old friends from his old school. Hmmm…ok that one won’t hang out, oh shoot that one only does outdoor playdates and it’s 10 degrees outside, this one has a small group they only hang with so that won’t work either, neither will that one, that mom always says no, is it offensive if I keep asking her? Oh fuck it all.

And throughout these endless thoughts, they are interrupted with his sweet voice telling me a story about a book he’s reading, asking me a question about the Gettysburg battle, Pearl Harbor, when he will be able to watch Freddy Kruger movies,or when we can vacation in a hotel made of ice. He isn’t one to say “I love you’s” but he’ll reach for my hand and hold it until he drifts off.

I have come to the realization that the “to do” list that I used to lie awake and think about has been replaced with all consuming worry about my children. I head to my 11 year old’s room after my little guy starts to drift. Sometimes I pause outside my my eldest’s door and take a deep breath. If I step back for a minute, and get out of my head, there is clarity for the most part that my boys seem happy. There are moments of meltdowns, lack of motivation, some tics have crept in, and some unfortunate habits. But… of course that’s the case. Who hasn’t had bumps in the road of normalcy or symptoms of anxiety in one way or another in the last year? On a global scale, our families now all know what it actually means and feels like to be physically isolated. This was not something we baked into our plan when taking the job of parenting on with an I got this and I will be an awesome parent attitude. Thus the battle of guilt and worry for this mama right here and likely many others.

So each night, in trying my best to be a good mom, now during a pandemic, I lie down next to my 11 year old and we read our books side by side. Sometimes he’ll pause to tell me about an interesting plot twist or something that springs to mind that he’d like to share unrelated to his book. He’ll ask me to tell him about 9/11, or a story from my past, or tell me a funny meme he saw, or ask me what my book is about which usually spirals into several other conversations. He is such a happy guy, always has been. When I ask him if he’s doing OK, he’ll usually respond with a yep, I’m good Mom.

Each night, he evades sleep due to fear of missing out on any possible crumb of excitement. He often needs to be reminded there’s not much he’s missing- his dad’s in bed by 9 and his mom is usually reading, writing, or binging a TV Show. No party in the living room over here- sorry bud. His sleep evasion can come in the form of a thousand questions also. The most common question he asks me these days during our nightly reading is will he ever return to his old school. To which I often reply I don’t know.

We placed our children in a different school in our town this year for a variety of reasons. It was the best decision I think we’ve ever made as parents. When I tell you that it was like a litmus test with an immediate result, I am not exaggerating. Without going down a long, dark rabbit hole of all the back and forth that took place within our town’s public school system between August to now, March 2021, in a nutshell-it was a hot mess. On the other hand, the Catholic schools in our area were very organized, and we were impressed from day one.

When plans changed right up against the start of our kids’ school year from the anticipated full-time, in-person schooling to an impossible hybrid model, I knew it would not work for our second grader. He struggled big time in the remote learning model last spring when everything shut down. The noise, all the people on the computer screen, and trying to follow what the teacher was saying was very irritating for him. The day often started and ended in tears for both of us.

Knowing this, we started him in a small Catholic private school locally. It costs us of course, because it’s not a public school, however, it was money well spent. The furious child from spring and early summer of 2020 evaporated. To our absolute elation and relief, every single day that he has gotten off the bus from this school he is giddy, smiling, chatty, and frankly, the best word to describe it would be ebullient.

We started our 11 year old at the public middle school back in September. This was a mistake we realized two months in. He was home doing remote learning 3 days a week of which he had no teacher interaction two of the three days. He was done with his work by 9:30 a.m. and played Minecraft from then until I was done with work each day at around 5:30. On the two days a week that he actually did go in person to school, he would stress out. He leans toward type A personality traits: very organized, particular, detail-oriented, and responsible- (even though his room screams otherwise) . As a result, if he woke up 5 minutes late, he would get emotional, and beat himself up verbally aloud while rushing to get dressed and complete his morning routine. They weren’t allowed to have lockers so his backpack was between 20-25 lbs on any given day, which was a drag to schlep that through a large 3 story building.

His middle school was also huge. So much so that he only knew one boy in most of his classes from elementary school. Each day I would greet him, eagerly anticipating our after school chats. How was your day? Did you see a friend? Did you get to talk to anyone at lunch? What’s it like during gym? Are your teachers nice?

Shockingly, my extroverted to the core child, would come home looking shell shocked and a bit down. He couldn’t get to the cafeteria fast enough to sit somewhat near his friends. They sat at desks spaced 6 feet apart in the cafeteria so it was definitely not the vibe you and I had in middle school. He loved his teachers and said he wished he saw them all five days a week. He felt rushed in between classes, at lunch, catching the bus, and this stressed him out. He had a couple of panic attacks in anticipation of the in-person school days. Doing an hour and a half of school 3 days a week and then, in turn, going 100 mph on the days he was in school was difficult to get used to. The inconsistency was not working well and it was making him feel out of control. We started to see a shift in our always happy boy.

We decided to pull him out at the end of October. There was no full time return in sight, and it wasn’t a scenario we were comfortable with sitting back and watching play out. Our son’s overall personality was changing as a result of this and we knew a change was in order. We sent him to the same local Catholic school where his brother was thriving.

While his first week he did not get off the bus giddy and all smiles as his little brother did, the second week and each week thereafter- he did. It has been an adjustment for him, of course. It’s a different vibe with the teachers and it’s a different atmosphere compared to public school. The days felt long to him at first because he was so used to playing Minecraft 3 days a week for 8-9 hours in place of school. I think of all the kids who have had not only 2 months of that like our son did, but 6 months, and wonder what will happen with them? How long will it take them to adjust back to a “normal” school day?

The grading system changes over in middle school here and this means he just had his first experience on the honor roll. To see him proud of himself and comfortable in a routine has given us immense peace of mind. They both get off the bus and rush to the basement where my office is currently set up, to talk to me about their days- and they seem genuinely happy in those moments. This has replaced bedtime for me as my favorite time of day because of how chatty and chipper they are during this time each day.

While both of my sons have had a few quarantines each this past school year due to varying circumstances, the four of us are thankful for the consistency and interaction this school has brought them. My son’s second grade teacher noticed he’s bright and pairs him up with two others in the class who learn at the same level. He is getting personalized teaching, which hugely curtails his boredom and distracted behavior in the classroom. This is significant for him on many levels and was the first time we were learning this could be done in the classroom for him. The perks of private school really have shined through.

Their interests like lacrosse, basketball, parkour, and gymnastics were all on hold so they have little interaction after school, as likely most other children have experienced this last year. Thankfully, three out of four of those activities have picked back up in the last month or two, so more rays of light are peeking into our household there as well.

With the loneliness, bouts of anxiety, and inconsistency my boys have had in the last year, I am really proud of them both. I’ve got a clear picture now into what they each like and don’t like. My son, Ev, was starting to come out of his shell of shyness in 2019 and I was concerned he would turtle right back into it with starting a new school. Turns out that was not the case at all. His teacher this year was actually surprised to hear he was ever a shy kid.

I’ve had more time than I’ll ever likely have with them again in this life in the last 350 days, and while there are many negatives surrounding the pandemic, one positive is I really see my children now in vivid color. I see who they are as people, what brings them to life, makes them sad, what stokes fury in them, what drives their happiness and makes them feel secure. I am not sure I would see these things in them so brightly had I not had this concentrated amount of time with them forced upon us. One factor that is jumping up and down in my face these days is the discovery of a need at the root of it all for every human being. That significant need is a sense of community.

I see that dire need in my extroverted self and even in my introverted husband. We’ve had to be that community to one another now for about a year. Our older son has been fortunate enough to have two friends he sees somewhat regularly during all of this, and for that I’m so grateful. But for our younger son, that was not the case, and only time will tell us the implications that has brought with it.

I can tell you it was not for lack of trying on my part. That said, I can’t feel guilt, but I feel sad about it and immensely worried. OK, and maybe angry-like really angry. Not angry at anyone per se, but at what the pandemic has cost each of our children in unique ways. These are the things during this pandemic I could not control, so I need to accept this, and just love the hell out of my son the best way I know how during this time of his perpetual loneliness. I feel like an empath some days, serving as a mirror to his anger surrounding seeing his brother have playdates- when so often he does not. Honestly, that part eats away at my brain on the daily.

When we do get together with friends, there are moments where time stands still as I take in small interactions between my children and my friend’s children. A tidal wave of endorphins engulf me and I often wonder- do my children feel it too in those moments?

Speaking of which, I have really been missing my community of friends. But in the last two weeks, things have picked up and there are flutters of activity where it’s felt a bit stagnant for a while. It’s lighter out longer now also, which is super energizing. I so look forward to a continued increase in connection and the more people I talk to, the more I realize I am definitely not alone in that. In the meantime, and for the bulk of the last year, my community has been my husband. Thank you, for being that for me Tom!

My husband is a calming source when I am a neurotic stress ball. I can be really calm sometimes, but in the last year, he has been a sounding board for my constant worry surrounding the kids. This is where being married to someone vastly different than myself comes in exponentially handy. When he is stressed and angsty, I am calm. When I am neurotic about something, he is very relaxed and level headed.

On a recent bad day, after listening to me vent, he swept a stray strand of hair from my face and and asked, “Do you have any idea what a special person you are?” And magically, my bad day wasn’t so bad anymore. That simple sentence washed away my fretting. Boom. Gone. We haven’t been cooped up together like some couples during this time, so maybe it’s easier to appreciate one another. I don’t know the answer, but I know we are a good match during this tough time and I feel a sense of relief and peace in that. This part isn’t meant to make anyone feel bad if they’re going through something with their spouse or partner. It’s just a moment to recognize and appreciate when things are good between you. the deep connection and love that you do have is oftentimes just the sustenance you need after a long pandemic day.

Like many of you reading this, I may not have that sense or feeling of community at the moment, but I’m extraordinarily grateful and appreciative of the one I’ve got going with my family. I’ll continue to take dance classes, get together with the people who want to, read as many books as my sleepy eyes will allow, write, work hard in my job, be a supportive wife, and try my damnedest to make sure my kids feel secure, loved, and happy.

This is a written snapshot in time of our family at this 350 day juncture. We are a closer family now, the eye-opening reality is our community feels much smaller than it once was, and each day we look forward to positive changes that will benefit not only our kids, but all of the people struggling through.

Sleep Procrastination-It’s a Thing

Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay

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.

A well-known United States Journalist, Daphne K. Lee, went viral over the internet on the topic: “Revenge Sleep Procrastination is a process in which people don’t control their day time routine and refuse to sleep to gain some sense of freedom during the late bedtime.” (The psychology behind ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’ – BBC Worklife)

 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 receptionist and his good friend whom he shares an office with. He feels badly because he knows his wife is at home, having no 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:

‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination’ Is Real, According to Psychologists | Glamour

The psychology behind ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’ – BBC Worklife

How to Resist Revenge Bedtime Procrastination | Sleep.com

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Kristin Gustafson for suggesting this topic.

How Past Conflicts Help in the Happiness Department

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

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 the doctor for over a year ago, or a stranger who decided it was their business to tell you what a bad job you were doing parenting your child, a job layoff, a fight with a spouse, a misbehaving child etc. There are conflicts large and small and it’s our critical thinking and 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, thus leaving 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, rather than repeating that behavior or pattern. Perhaps this is the healthy part of having obstacles in life, and 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 large setback early in life. Essentially, they were going along in their lives, and were stunted in some way. 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 the feeling of 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 now, 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 not be in our best interest (whether they realize it or not) that problems perpetuate, and take hold of us.

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 as many of you do. It was tough to justify, but I told myself it would provide me with a nice and much needed physically and mentally relaxing 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.

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 to me. The good news is, my freeze will be ending next month so I can kick that voice to the curb and keep repeating to myself that it’s OK to do something nice for myself. Socks and massages: two purchases that could not be more different, 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 in 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. 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 so many red flags began to present themselves after he moved 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 over. And yet, I’d drive 3.5 hours just about every weekend to be with him. One night, in Chicago, after many beers on my friend’s studio rooftop with a few others, he told me that he could no longer be silent on some of the things my boyfriend had done and said. He unveiled some surprisingly dumb things my then boyfriend had weirdly chosen to lie about.

After hearing me talk about my future and potential marriage to this guy, he decided he could not refrain from telling me. After we did finally break up, he came back, pleading to share our lives together and start over. It was what my friend shared, that made the decision to say “no” so easy, and I never looked back. I know that if he had not told me, I would have likely married this person. I am beyond grateful, since he honestly changed the trajectory of my life. A life I’m guaranteed would have left me 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 completely blind was my own fault. Our naiveté can be our own demise. But it’s important to have these experiences so we can do better next time. 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. 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 and threatening 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 those “family members” to be in my life.

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. Holidays are pleasant for the first time, celebrations are no longer dreaded. It’s eye opening, but I realize this is easier said than done in some cases.

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 even from a young age and make a concerted effort not to repeat them. 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.

Positive Glimmerings In a Negative World

Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

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.

Continue reading by clicking here.

Part 2: What I Found Out After My Hysterectomy

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

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.

Um. What?

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.

Journey To A Laparoscopic Hysterectomy

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.”

Somewhere in between the 15 minutes of waking up and 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.

Faking It Until I Make It

Artwork by Christian Schloe

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.

A Pandemic, Racism, Drugs, and Gay Rights: Just A Few Light Topics I’ve Discussed With My Kids Recently

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 is important to be passionate about the things you believe in.

THE DRUG DISCUSSION

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 addictive for 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.

Observations During a Pandemic

Today is the 23rd day of practicing social distancing, of school being closed, of working from home. It’s about to be the third week of restaurants and stores being shut down, doctors’ offices practicing telehealth versus in-person visits. Today, another realization hits me, just like the day before, and the day before that day, just as all the future days another new reality will become uncovered during this pandemic. Drawn to the news like a dog to a squirrel during the first few weeks of its rise, I can only bring myself to watch sparingly now.

I felt compelled to write something, but not just regurgitate everything else I’m reading or seeing. What can I write that is meaningful during such a historically sad time? This was the question circulating over the past few weeks in my mind, and it landed on recording my personal observations and experiences – both good and bad. May be you’ll relate, may be you won’t, but either way, it’s something else to read other than the numbers we all obsess over each day or another story about a beloved person passing away, or the schizophrenic ever-changing messaging from our administration, or a small business going under, or another friend losing their job.

It’s important to note that as I write this, I’m sitting on my comfortable couch, healthy, and listening to Creep by Radiohead play in the background. The heat is on, my youngest son is singing along to the Zombies 2 musical in his room, my oldest is playing Minecraft while Skyping with a friend as she plays in tandem. My husband is exercising in the basement, while the dog is slobbering all over a bone, dashing around madly trying to bury it. The cat is drifting in and out of sleep on my son’s bed. There is food in our refrigerator, we’ve just scored some 1-ply toilet paper after 9 days of searching, and all the laundry is done. We’ve just returned from a 3 mile walk in the brisk Spring wind having picked up Robek’s smoothies and Dunkin’ Donuts on our way back. It’s important to mention this because it doesn’t sound like an awful day does it? And that’s the point of typing this tiny bit out. Today is Saturday, April 4th, 2020, and today is not a bad day in the small world of our family right now. This is one of many observations during this pandemic- there are good days and there are bad.

Personal Stories

More so than the news spitting out the numbers every hour, I’m drawn to the personal articles of those affected and what they’ve endured. As I mention right on the landing page of this blog’s website- it’s through stories that we all are connected. Never have I found this to be more true than a time like now. Of all the articles I’ve read over the last month, it’s only two that stand out to me the most. The story of the 39 year old healthy father who was dropped off by his wife and daughter in a second attempt to be admitted to the hospital after falling ill. After pulling up to the hospital drop off, he got out of the car and walked into the hospital. His wife and daughter went to park the car. The hospital went on lockdown and his wife and daughter could not enter. They never saw him again. I’ll never forget this story or the hard cry I had, the first time I really allowed myself to feel whole heartedly this crazy mix of emotions that a lot of us don’t really know what to do with.

The second article that daggered me right in the heart is about the mother of six, being treated for breast cancer who contracted COVID-19. Because her children could not be with her in the room while she passed, a nurse placed a walkie talkie next to her pillow and allowed each of them to say their goodbyes via a tiny black device. Another story I will never forget.

The Giving

During this dark phase of our lives, it’s easy to get sucked into the negativity, the despair, these gut wrenching stories of death that I mention above and let it seep into your psyche, your day, your tone to your spouse, children, and family. It’s crucial for me to say to you, try your absolute hardest not to allow this to happen. It’s happening to all of us, I sure as hell am guilty. But I’ve got some news that will offer you a hand to grab and yank you from the dark of this crazy emotional mosh pit. Search for the positive stories. There are so many. People who are on the ground doing some really serious giving in some incredibly ground breaking and creative ways.

I am extremely fortunate in that my day job allows me a front row seat to this seriously uplifting good stuff. We assist private foundations in activating their philanthropic missions. This means we’re helping process the grants these wonderful folks are pushing forward. It allows me to listen in on webinars about where money is needed most and how we’re going to get it there. Meetings topics are made up of how to help the most people in a community at a time, what other foundations are doing so that others can join along or be spurred on to create their own program, and how charities have learned from past pandemics (AIDS, H1N1, Ebola).

We’re watching the awe-inspiring action of one foundation that created jobs for furloughed restaurant workers by ordering the raw materials to assemble plastic protective face masks and package them, which will then be delivered to NY hospitals. It reaches more than one group in a positive way; it gives an income to those who need it, while providing important protective gear for the hospitals that are desperate- it’s a positive domino effect.

This is just one story of 100’s. There are so many touching initiatives everyday people, charitable organizations, businesses, and celebrities are taking. If you’re interested in reading about some of them, or simply want to feel a boost of much needed endorphins, check out this article. If you’d like to know which charities you can donate to – read this here.

The Silence

This is one observation I am stuck on- the silence is deafening. The needle on the record just will not grasp one of those rings on the black vinyl and blurt out the damn tune.

Let me give you 4 examples.

Text messages to nowhere. I sent text messages to nine friends all on the same day, over 2 weeks ago. The messages were similar in nature: “How are you and your family doing?”, “I hope you are OK, am thinking about you. Let me know.”, “I miss you, know that I am thinking of you, how is everything going?” Since then, only one of those people has replied. I don’t know what this means, but I’m exhausted from over-analyzing the reasons why. It just plain hurts, but I am sure it likely has to do with shock and adjustment. I’m trying not to take it personally, but it’s hard not to.

Crickets on work calls. Team calls have suddenly become eerily quiet. Questions from those leading the calls go unanswered and I squirm in my basement office desk chair trying to avoid being the only one to answer each question.

Evening walks. With less cars on the roads and no visible humans in our neighborhood after dark, the silence is quite beautiful in a way. This version of quiet is the only version I find comforting these days. It is peaceful; meditative.

Middle of the Night Alertness. Anxiety over all of this has come in the form of sleeplessness for many of us. I’ve become accustomed over the last few weeks to the middle of the night hum of quiet in my house. Will someone break in for toilet paper or soap? Will people start looting? Just a few bedtime conversations my husband and I have had before comfortably drifting off to sleep. Or not.

Electronic Connection

How much more are you having actual phone conversations now that this virus has invaded our lives? If you’re a Xennial like myself, I would venture to guess you’re having a lot, if not as many as you had back in college for the first time in 15 or so years. If you’re a Boomer, you’re also likely having more phone conversations than you’ve had in a while. If you’re a millennial or Gen Z, maybe it’s a very new thing for you and you’re adjusting.

Personally, I’ve noticed I’m enjoying the shift in hearing my friend’s voices who don’t live close by. Last week, I spoke to a friend from 5th grade who lives with his family in France, 2 long time friends in Chicago, and a friend in Cincinnati. 3 of my local friends have called to check in on the regular. This is not the norm for me at all. There is something to be said for that deep personal connection that radiates from knowing someone cares enough about you to pick up the phone and vice versa.

With WiFi and internet fluctuating in and out, conference lines and video chat calls dropping due to overloaded servers, we are in a state of flux. I am realizing just how lucky we are to have a little thing called the Internet. Imagine how much worse this isolation would be without it? All of us able to work from home would not have jobs, mass communication and connection via social media to know we’re “in this together” would not exist, and let’s not forget school as well as entertainment for the kids. We’d rely on the weekly paper for all of the stories and updates, and the TV news which is overloaded with only negative info it seems. For people like me who have streaming services instead of cable, we’d be screwed regarding any form of TV watching. Forget online banking and shopping- bye bye Amazon. We would buckle as a society. We are interwoven as one with this technology and are therefore dependent upon it. Thank you, internet. You are appreciated Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn.

The Ripple Effects, The Future

A friend recently said to me, “Think about when we all go back to our jobs, school, and life. Will we all stay in our silos? Will people still remain distant from one another? Will they be hesitant to go back to the way it was now that we’ve instituted this “new normal” for however many months?” She also raised a really valid point about how so many people already have trouble with organic socializing due to social media, text as a main method of communication, less outdoor time. This isolation and social distancing may have only exacerbated this phenomenon.

We obviously hope not. Is it wishful thinking that we hope the reverse will happen and the people of that generation will gleefully sprint outdoors sharing in tree-climbing contests, double dog dares consisting of “how long can you go without looking at your phone?”, along with going back to the days of mall and Taco Bell parking lot hang outs? I suppose we’ll find out when these measures are lifted whether or not this perpetuates the issue, or in a reverse psychology maneuver – solves the issue.

What is the near future looking like for farmers?I’ve recently read articles about the farmers whose migrant workers are stuck in Guatemala, unable to come over and pick the crops that are soon to spoil. Will there be a shift where jobless Americans step in and pick these crops for much needed income, resolving the issue of crop waste? Will the farmers sell off only half their crops because closed restaurants are not buying? These are the ripple effects we have yet to see, but will experience very soon.

Then there’s the perpetually sick and poor. For the those who don’t have COVID-19, but who have cancer, AIDS, Lupus, MS, ALS, and auto-immune diseases, how and when will the blood shortage, and possible drug unavailability cause them to suffer and possibly pass away?

Or how about the overworked staff and overcrowded hospitals? What about their mental health? Also, I have heard so many stories of sick people being turned away from receiving care only to show up again and beg their way to being admitted. Will standing physically in front of them, demanding care be what it takes?Will this become the new norm for receiving medical care? If yes, how long will it last, and how many will be sent home due to overcrowding only to perish?

Another ripple effect occurring is shelters having to close due to the proximity of people putting everyone at risk. Many of them must be fed via a curbside pick up and can no longer eat inside. I was on a call recently, and they mentioned to put your arm out in front of you and then out to your side. Did you touch a person? How many? If you ask this of a homeless person in a shelter, their answer is often 5 or 6 people. So the question is, where are these displaced people going during this awful time? The Salvation Army is opening up for them to shower, but finding places for them to sleep is becoming a deeper, more concerning issue.

Now think on a broader scale about the poor in terms of third world countries. This virus will devastate them. How will they come back from this? What will the future look like for them?

These ripple effects are what’s keeping me up at night. The stuff six months down the road that none of us ever thought of.

Home schooling

I am thankful we chose to live in a town known for its good schools and family friendliness. Because of this, online learning was set up in a matter of a few short days for our children. If students did not have devices to learn on, they could simply go to the school and get one for free. If there were students who depended on school lunch, they could go to the school and continue to get their lunch, and now dinner as well. These are amazing offerings to our diverse community and to have them at the ready- is something to be really grateful for.

So….homeschooling. I have learned I’m not patient when it comes to my first grader arguing with me about whether or not to do his work. I’m not calm when he begins his writing assignment by using the whole page to write the first word of his story – just to push my buttons. And I’m certainly not even-tempered when my boys start to bicker for the umpteenth time of the day, while I’m on a client call quickly pressing the mute button to run upstairs and reprimand them. Homeschooling while working is a challenge. Homeschooling and trying to refrain from screaming while doing so is an even bigger one.

I’m thinking about the void that’s been left in place of my kids’ activities. No Variety Show, no school play, possibly no 5th grade graduation. This year is my sons’ last time being in the same school at the same time. My heart breaks even more for all the kids in general, especially Seniors in high school. These are memories that have evaporated before they could exist. Let’s hope they can be rescheduled somehow, some way at a later date. One can hope!

My 10 year old said to me the other day that it’s been nice spending all this time together. This was a ray of light in my day, obviously. This was one of the good moments I am definitely putting in my back pocket. It was at the end of a day where my patience had run razor thin multiple times and I had thought “There’s no way they’ll think back on this time and remember anything pleasant. Maybe they’ll only remember me yelling.” I guess all the walks, board games, and karaoke is outweighing the arguing. Again, trying to be hopeful here.

My 7 year old says he hates being homeschooled. He hates a lot of things right now. We happen to not use the word “hate” in our house, but I’m trying to be a supportive mom and allow him to feel all the feels he wants and if he wants to hate everything right now, it’s fine by me. Let that anger out my little dude. We’re all feeling a wide array of emotions, who am I to stifle his? At the same time, he’s hugging me about 100 times a day and I’ll take gladly take it. Like I mentioned, all of our emotions are all over the place. It’s a pretty consistent theme.

The Absence of Medical Care

My husband is a chiropractor, he’s seeing much fewer patients of course, but of the ones he’s seeing, they are very open in their gratitude. They’ve mentioned they don’t have anywhere to go to get treated. Some have gone to the ER only to be turned away. Other doctor’s offices have closed that they see regularly for pain management. This reminded me of what the Red Cross attendant said as she prepped my paperwork prior to my blood being drawn. She said: there is no pause button for pain, suffering, and disease during a pandemic.

For this I’m thankful my husband can provide a service to others that offers pain relief during a time when they have little to no options in terms of where to go for care.

Travel and Celebrations

I traveled to my cousin’s wedding in Alabama on February 29th and flew back the next day on March 1st. He and his wife must feel as though they’ve dodged a bullet, because just days later is when this took off into an unknown of epic proportions. It’s surreal to think of all the weddings, proms, births, birthday parties, and celebrations in general this pandemic has impacted and just how fast everything changed.

On March 13th, my sister and her boyfriend got engaged. I was over the moon for them. I was also scheduled to meet her man for the first time the following weekend. My flight was booked and I was stoked. That meeting, of course did not happen. With everything going on, we don’t know when we’ll get to meet. But it’s one of the many things I am looking forward to when isolation rules are lifted!

It also made me realize it will be a year in May since I’ve seen my sister and 10 months since I’ve seen my mother. This means my kids have not seen their Aunt and Grandmother in way too long and is a stark reminder why we shouldn’t have too much time pass before we see loved ones who live far.

The Idea of A Loved One Dying Alone

If someone I love does get COVID-19 and becomes gravely ill, I’ve thought a lot about what I will do. I would fly or drive out to be with them during their last days. It would be traumatizing and haunt me for life if I did not do this. If it boils down to a walkie talkie so be it. They won’t be alone if I can help it.

For me personally, I firmly believe that is the worst part of this pandemic. The unbearable reality of being alone while taking your last breaths. Words left unsaid, hands left unclutched, leaving this world in lonely silence. It is why it is so important to call, text, and reach out now, while we are still able, while the people we care for are still here.

The Bright Spot

I convinced my husband (after three years of begging) to build the kids a treehouse! This is SO exciting. I was able to do so by telling him that I would just go ahead and build it. Who knew the idea of my trying to use a circular saw would have that effect? My kids are so happy, and we all have something to look forward to in the short term.

These are my many observations 3 weeks into the madness of this pandemic here in the U.S. I hope you all stay healthy, find small things throughout isolation to help you stay sane, and you feel a sense of togetherness while we are separated. Keep living, continue connecting with others in ways that are safe, and remember, this too shall pass.

Vegas Vacation – A Surprisingly Great Family Destination

Vacations with kids are a unique experience where one does not relax, rest, or get rejuvenated. This is why I was enlightened and elated to have had such a positive experience on our family vacation to Las Vegas in July. Finding the perfect spot where one can try to accomplish a smidgeon of those 3 “R” words takes fine tuned planning. My husband and I never thought in a million years the trip would go off without a hitch.

This past summer, we triumphed, and somehow managed to shock ourselves into realizing we had somehow done it. We had managed a solid vacation with the kids and did not feel exhausted or defeated afterwards. The oddness of it all- we didn’t arrive home and need to nap for days to catch up on sleep feeling worse than before we had left (which does happen for most trips with kids as most parents will share). I want to share our agenda in hopes that families might also try this out and experience a memorable, lovely vacation that doesn’t leave you positively exhausted and in need of a second vacation immediately upon getting your PJs on and getting into your own bed for the first time in 5 days.

We selected a hotel geared specifically toward kids: Circus Circus. Is it the prettiest hotel? Not so much, and it is actually a dinosaur, considering how long it has been around.What made it so clutch as a place to stay, was the fact that there is a waterpark on the premises, along with a circus on one of the floors of the hotel, and an amusement park as well. I mean what more do you need to entertain children? Oh, and I almost forgot, there is also Vince Neil’s restaurant which has a stage for karaoke- so if you have little hams like we do…they can own that stage for a song or two. While there are many pros to this hotel, note that it is a bit separated from the strip. This means (nonsensically) that a cab ride to go 2 miles to the center of town will easily cost you $20. Ubering is half the cost, so try to go that route if possible.

I recommend buying the pick 3 MGM passes as well. You select 3 attractions online for a bargain cost of $57. It saved our family of 4 approximately $100. We selected the Titanic museum, the white tiger/dolphin exhibit, and the Adventuredome. The Titanic museum was incredible, and honestly, is the main reason my kids picked Vegas for the vacation- I know-it’s weird and morbid. The white tiger and dolphin exhibit left something to be desired though. While the dolphin portion was good because there are options to interact with the dolphins, the tiger part was sad and depressing. There was no white tiger as far as I remember. Instead we saw a few animals and a tiger lying down in very small enclosures with bars. We weren’t really fans of that part , it just kind of made you feel bad for the animals. The Adventuredome, which is the amusement park at Circus Circus was a homerun. It has rides for all ages, both my 6 year old and my 10 year old were thrilled with it.

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Everyone knows that shows in Vegas are abundant and a huge attraction in terms of reasons to visit the city. I was over the moon that one of my dance show obsessions, the Jabbawockeez, has a residency there and performs on the regular. I took my 6 year old and about 2 minutes after the lights went down and the show was about to start, they moved us from the upper far left section to front row and center seats! They interacted with my son during the show and when it was over, we both floated out of there we were so insanely happy.

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While we were at that show, my husband and 10 year old son went to the MJ Live concert at the Stratosphere hotel. Not to be confused with the Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson show, that one is different. Note that this was prior to me watching the Leaving Neverland documentary and now I’m sick to my stomach everytime I even hear his name or his music, but I digress. My son never stopped dancing from start to finish and there was a meet and greet with the impersonator after the show for all who wanted to get a photo.

There are so many amazing shows to choose from, you obviously have many options at your fingertips. I’ve heard the Cirque shows are incredible and well worth it.

As if that wasn’t enough, I haven’t even touched on the best part of the trip yet. A hike through Red Rock Canyon, was hands down one of the best days of both my husband and my lives. The scenery is just breathtaking and your pictures will come out looking professional no matter what angle you take them. We tried to come across the wild horses that exist there, but did not have luck. We did see lizards which was cool for the boys.

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Randomly, there are tiny flies that hang out near your ears when you stop moving. Our youngest son was very put off by this, as certain sounds really annoy him (chewing mainly) so he was over the hike pretty quick. See photo below for the full effect of his annoyance. Prepare to give your kids shoulder rides if you do this hike, as the heat does wear them out sooner than you would think.

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We threw in a surprise, and decided to renew our vows while there. The boys have always talked about wanting to wear tuxes and be in a wedding since they’ve never been. So I ordered them up some Amazon tuxedos for a grand total of $40 (gotta love Amazon), and snuck them under our clothes in the luggage so they would not see them. The day of the vow renewal, we pulled out the tuxes awaiting their excitement at the surprise, and they looked at us like we were positively nuts. Either way, if you want to renew your vows with your children there, it’s fairly simple to do in Vegas and costs start at $200. Maybe your children’s reactions will be better than ours! They looked handsome though.

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My original plan for this 40th birthday trip was to hike, raft, tour wineries, and site see near where Goonies was filmed in Oregon, but that meant a trip sans the kids. We hadn’t been on a vacation for 5 days or more since our honeymoon 12 years ago, so regardless of what we ended up doing, it had to be unique and fun.

When I asked them one day for fun to pick a destination they’d love to go to in the future, they both said Vegas (mainly because of that Titanic museum). Since I had two other short trips over the summer I was taking without them, I was having major mom guilt about taking a 5 day trip without them. So we decided to forego the Oregon trip and do the Vegas one with the kids and honestly, I cannot explain how happy I am that we made that decision. It’ll be hard to top that trip! Trust me, Vegas was the LAST place I wanted to go with them, having been there so much for work in the past, it had lost its luster a bit.

In short, trips with kids are not easy, but somehow this trip was unreal and felt easier than anything. That is purely why I wanted to share this Twilight Zone of a vacation with you all. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, so I’ll be shocked if we can repeat this one elsewhere, but there’s always wishful thinking. Happy planning, I hope you get to have a magical vacation like this one with your kids too!

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