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 and sane. Keep living, keep connecting with others, 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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Say What?! Kids and the Song Lyric Conundrum

As a parent of two boys who thoroughly enjoy listening to music, I am finding the vast array of musical options for them to listen to is an extraordinary thing. One second they can listen to boy band pop, and another heavy metal, hip hop, or emo. I’m someone who enjoys dance as a hobby, while my husband was a former music major and lead singer of a teenage death metal band. It’s pretty much a given that our kids would take to music whole-heartedly. Then again, who doesn’t? Remember that feeling that came over you when purchasing your very first cassette tape or CD? It’s part of life to identify with certain songs that somehow take us back to particular moments in our lives. But listening to music ain’t always rosey. Sometimes the words being sung, are not, um, age appropriate. In these instances, parents want to hurl ourselves at the pause button.

Remember the red hot embarrassment you felt the first time a suggestive song came on the radio and your parent turned it off and asked if you knew what that song meant? Or maybe you had the parent that just turned the radio off, then gave you a side eyed look wondering how much you knew about the lyrics that had single handedly just detonated a bomb of awkwardness in the car? Now imagine you’re the parent, you’re in the car, and ta-da! It’s your turn to have that moment with your own kid.

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Gone are the days of being limited to what is on the radio or having to choose from your very own CD collection. There is an entire galaxy out there now to choose from it doesn’t matter what gets radio play. The radio obviously no longer dictates the only songs our kids hear. Not by a long shot. Whatever is popular on YouTube, or the latest background music in their Roblox game, usually contributes to how they find new songs. Kids can request any music they would like to hear now as long as they have a streaming device to play it from.

In the now of 2019, our family uses Google Play, which essentially allows us to play any song we want on the various Google Home devices we own. This means our children are able to grow up hearing all different genres of music at a mere verbal request. They simply say, “OK Google, play ‘Bark at the Moon’ by Ozzy Osbourne”, or “OK Google, play ‘I’m in love with the Coco’ by O.T. Genesis” or “OK Google, play ‘Help Me Help You’ by Logan Paul”. As you can see, the options are quite broad. Along with this amazing capability to listen to any song we want, comes the need to police some of what comes on right after said song. Your child might request “Rolex” by Ayo and Teo, which is immediately followed by a song chock full of expletives and sexual experiences by Nicki Minaj and Murda Beatz. Now picture this scenario when the volume is turned all the way up and Google can’t really hear you over the song saying “OK Google, STOP THE MUSIC!” five times over until every unspeakable lyric you can imagine has already infiltrated your child’s ears. This should seriously be an SNL skit because to be an outsider watching this is likely a scene to behold.

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Comparatively, in the late eighties and early nineties, there were some hardcore risqué songs my friends and I were listening to. In fact, I vividly remember singing just about every lyric to one of Eazy-E’s most raunchy songs when I was a bright eyed, innocent little 9 year old. I first heard it at a friend’s birthday party at her house. One of the boys there had brought the tape, and we all liked the beat so much we rewound the tape a hundred times and listened to it again and again. By the end of that day, whether I had access to that song ever again didn’t matter, the lyrics were engraved in my brain forever. I recall singing that song with reckless abandon in front of her parents not even thinking twice about what it meant.

When I think back to what those parents must have been thinking watching me confidently slay every word to that song, I want to absolutely curl up and die. I feel a little better when I remember that everyone around me knew the lyrics to “Funky Cold Medina” (Tone Loc), “The Humpty Dance” (Digital Underground), “Do Me” (Bel Biv Devoe), “Doin It” (LL Cool J), and the list goes on. Did I dissect every lyric? Definitely not before I was in the 7th grade. I loved to dance to those songs, but I had no clue what they meant. Once I was in junior high, of course that story changed. The lyrics of songs became so important. Suddenly, you’re identifying with a specific band and their songs become the soundtrack for that point in your life. Love songs, heartbreak songs, songs about sex, songs about rebelling, sticking it to the man, whatever it is you were going through at the time, that song will always remind you of that time.

Every generation has had their version of racy music. Elvis was of course considered massively sexual in his time with his hip shaking and snarled upper lip. To think that Elvis was considered “naughty” is hysterical, considering the overtly sexual songs/outfits/videos that came out in the late 80’s, and early 90’s. Think of Madonna, George Michael, and Salt N’ Pepa. In fact, “Let’s Talk About Sex” was the song my dad had turned off and nervously side-eyed me about from the front seat when I was 11. The difference here is that for some reason, my kids ARE paying close attention to the words, and it’s making me think I was either just plain dumb or willfully ignorant so I could shake my head and say no way do I know what that means Dad …so as to avoid further discussion.

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The lyrics my 6 and 10 year old are often repeating and giggling about constantly are in the songs getting the most airplay on the radio, of course. These are the ones on the top charts that I’m sure many kids are listening to across the country. I’d love to know how parents are answering the questions about the lyrics. That may be a great topic for a follow up to this article.

For instance, here is an example of what I told my son when he asked me about the song “Beauty and the Beat”.

“Hey Mom, what does it mean when Nicki Minaj says, ‘Buns out, weiner, but I gotta keep an eye out for Selena.’ in that song with Justin Bieber?”

Wow. Hmmm…. She is talking about how much she likes eating hot dogs and when you’re performing as a musician at a stadium, there are these men that walk around and sell hot dogs, like at a Yankees game, and she’s got to keep her eye out for people that want to steal her hot dog away, like Selena Gomez.” That question that was asked by my oldest, when he was 8, and thankfully, he bought my ridiculous answer.

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The two words that are in about 100 different popular songs right about now that I’m trying to conjure up how the hell to explain is “your taste”. It’s getting tricky folks. I’m all for a good double entendre, but when it’s just blatantly out there like that…how do you explain that one? Your guess is as good as mine. I will probably go with kissing as the explanation…which is the least offensive. But kisses in their minds aren’t usually spit swapping ones, so this plants that seed. Ugh, see what I mean? There’s nowhere good to to go from here.

There’s always the “waking up with you/next to you/in your or his bed,” etc., but this pales in comparison to some of the other lyrics. The truth is, I’m running out of clever things to come up with. Sure it’s easy to just turn the channel or change the song. But sometimes, you’re hearing the song for the first time and it’s by an artist the whole fam loves, and well, there she blows!

Sometimes it happens to be the chorus of their favorite song. “You’re unbelievable, you’re in my heart, you’re in my head, and now I’m waking up and you’re in my bed.” The lyric could be worse, but then comes this beauty of a question after gazing out the car window in deep thought, “Why can’t a girl sleep over again, Mom?”

Lord help me.

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Sometimes, instead of changing the station or song, I’ll turn down the naughty part of a tune and conveniently strike up a conversation. This way it’s not so noticeable. My older son picked up on it, and the other day, turned down the inappropriate part of a song while his brother was in the car and then looked at me and smiled. I didn’t know whether to be proud or mortified that he had picked up on my tactic.

So it seems that with each generation, the lyrics get more and more brazen, and the culture around the songs falls in step. I mean, after Miley Cyrus came along, does anything really have shock value anymore? I think not.

There was an excellent comedian opening a show that had a hilarious bit on just how raunchy mainstream radio and music now in general is. He mentioned that soon, every one of the worst words you can think of will make up an entire song and next thing you know, that very song will be playing while you’re on hold with your doctor’s office.

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Being a parent can be sheer comedy and terror at the same time. I can’t wait to see if my kids remember some of the song explanations I’ve given them. When they do actually figure out what some of these lyrics mean, if nothing else, they can look back and laugh. Well either that, or they’ll say, So that’s why I’m screwed up. Better yet, here’s hoping they’ll pilfer them for their own parenting bag of tricks when they’re in the hot seat.

Sneaky Little Bastard- When An Autoimmune Disease Rears Its Ugly Head

This July I turned 40, and the entire month was a dream come true. Actually, let me rephrase that. The entire summer was a dream come true. We packed in so much with the kids, and no doubt, spent more dinero than ever before. But life’s about memories, not money, so I’m honestly not fretting as much about the expenditure part. With turning 40 comes an awareness of sorts. Looking back at your experiences and choices reflectively, as well as peering out toward the future wondering what it may hold.

At my 40th surprise party, I had the most interesting conversation with my friend’s husband. He mentioned how and why the 40’s are our absolute best years in life, and to acknowledge this, because my 50th would feel very different. He had a smart hypothesis for this-mainly being that our health will surely begin to decline at the age of 50, and without a doubt our bodies will not be able to work in the same reliable ways. It was truly an enlightening and lovely conversation and I’m surely not doing it the justice it deserves here in this blog post. He struck a very poignant chord when he mentioned the importance of good health. We cannot partake in and experience much of anything, when we’re not feeling well. Fortunately, in my 39 years on this planet, I hadn’t had to think much about my health, and as a result, completely took it for granted.

Not only did I take it for granted, I think I tempted the universe with the hashtag I posted the day after my birthday in 2018: “whatyougot39?” Because the universe was like: You ’bout to find out!

Just a few hours later, on my son’s birthday, I would come down with an infection that would last two weeks, with a few days of health in between before the same illness struck again for another 2 weeks. I became suddenly ill with what felt like a UTI. But it felt stronger and more painful than any previous UTI I had ever had. After many trips to the same doctor and being put on a 3 day dose of a weak antibiotic, my sickness became a raging inferno of pain in the kidney region. With no improvement after 10 days, the doctor refused to change my prescription to something stronger. She said this was her decision simply because nothing was showing up on my urine culture (this is common with people with IC). She also thought I might have kidney stones or appendicitis. After passing out at the radiology center and being told she would not put me on a different medication, I went to someone else who immediately put me on a much stronger antibiotic, and smartly told me to see a urologist stat.

Everyone knows that 10 days of a UTI left to its own devices is like giving it a free pass to cuddle right up to your kidneys and then smother them. It was no surprise that I had a kidney infection. But what was the cause of this? How did it come on so suddenly and with such fervor? The urologist did a cystoscopy, and confirmed my bladder was quite inflamed. He told me to finish my meds, cut out coffee for one week, and call him if I began to feel better after taking a break from coffee.

One week later, I felt back to normal thanks to the stronger meds and ditching of my fave drink. The doctor said, I’m willing to bet you have IC (interstitial cystitis). I’m going to send you a sheet full of what you cannot eat because these foods cause what’s called a “flare up”.

OK, great! How do we cure this?” So cutely positive I was. P.S. there isn’t a cure.

What is interstitial cystitis? This is an inflammatory disease that seems to go after the mucous membranes, and for whatever reason mainly attacks the bladder. The lining in the bladder is compromised thus allowing toxins to seep in. It is set ablaze when the body is fighting off an infection, or sometimes, when I’ve simply put the wrong food or drink in my mouth.

Last fall, I was afraid to eat much of anything. I cut out all of my favorite things: coffee, salsa, fruit, wine, seltzer, juice, tomatoes, pizza, chocolate, artificial sweeteners, and basically anything that has acid or caffeine in it. While I missed my chips and salsa and coffee SO MUCH, I felt so good and began to realize I could contribute in a huge way to my own health by watching my diet. That was worth a lot.

It also gave “cheating” on my diet a whole new meaning. It meant feeling like I had the flu the next day and sometimes for up to a full week. Inflammation in my arms and legs, my neck, and my bladder. It meant feeling so tired I could not keep my eyes open. Instead of planning what fun activity I could be doing with my family, I was more often than not daydreaming about sleeping, so I could avoid feeling any kind of pain. This is why I was thankful I only had a couple of these flare ups since I had been diagnosed last August.

Also, imagine what parenting with a hangover feels like, except it’s the worst hangover you’ve ever had, and it lasts for days. There’s no pinch hitter, there’s just you. Good times.

Everyone’s symptoms are different and yet the same in some regard. Medical professionals don’t know a ton about it, although it is not an unpopular disease. Most of what I have read and heard from my doctors is it is centered around the bladder. It makes you very susceptible for infections. For me, this is just one small piece to this very painful puzzle. It is different for everyone, some have it severely, others only from time to time. Coincidentally, my mom was diagnosed a few months before I was, and one of my friends from junior high also has it. You learn to join Facebook groups and lean on each other for tips, tricks, and support.

Just when I thought I knew of every symptom that could occur from IC, I was introduced to something new. A week ago I woke up and felt like I belonged in a COPD commercial. Breathing felt really tough on top of the fact that I had a UTI. It went from 1 to 100 in only 24 hours time. Everyone’s body is different, but I am not stranger to infection (thank you 8 bouts of mastitis and one nasty infectious cyst in my back), so I can tell immediately when an infection is there, and when it’s serious. It’s the same core symptoms for me:my feet feel like literal bricks. My legs feel like I’m walking through cement, my arms are roaring like I’ve just bench pressed 100 lbs 3 times over, my back feels like Jeter just hit a grand slam against it, and my head is throbbing. My eyes and throat are sandpaper. This is part of the inflammation- all the mucus membranes suddenly become like tiny deserts. However, this time, the disease went after all of those things plus my lungs.

Fast forward to better antibiotics, anti-nausea meds, ibuprofen, and a regular inhaler, and one week later I’m almost back to normal. When I saw my doctor, he explained succinctly why I felt like I was dying from this infection. You have an inflammatory autoimmune disease, Amber. So your organs and limbs are always simmering with that inflammation. Now introduce an infection, and you’ve just set your insides on fire. That’s why it’s difficult to walk, breathe, and think. The three asthma attacks you had that first day of the infection were due to the IC . The inflammation doesn’t just stop at your limbs and bladder, it went to your lungs this time and it feels serious and scary, but with the right treatment, you WILL start to feel better.

I am sharing this story reluctantly. Being seen as sick is not sexy. I pride myself on being strong and this is making me uncomfortable just by writing it, but I feel compelled to do so anyhow. I’m 40 now and owning every part of who I am is important for me. I demand it of myself now.

Part of me has changed whether I like it or not. There are days that I wake up and I don’t want to move because I don’t feel well. There are days I have to pick up my kids from school and smile at people when I feel like I shouldn’t even be out of bed. I want to be the me that was always up for an adventure, energetic, and healthy. And, frankly, it pisses me off that I can’t always be that. I repeat this mantra when I haven’t gotten out of bed for 4 days THIS IS NOT WHO I AM, THIS IS NOT WHO I AM. Funny enough, having this happen also opened my eyes and made me look at everyone else differently.

I used to think to myself, wow, that person is always a grouch, or WTF? Why does she NEVER smile back, or God, that person is so short/cold all the time. Now, I wonder if they are in physical pain? Maybe they are suffering in some way-mentally, emotionally, physically? I feel guilty for having judged them. Maybe they legitimately feel like crap all of the time, and I am lucky enough to feel like crap only some of the time.

On this very topic, about 12 years ago, I worked with a woman who was a single mom in her mid-thirties who was always talking about how sick and weak she felt. There was just one strange thing- she never looked outwardly sick to me. Everyday she complained in confidence to me about how ill she was, how she did not know how much longer she could keep coming to work. She said she had an autoimmune illness and it affected mostly her bladder. She called out sick almost every other day. She broke plans whenever we tried to get together outside of work. Two of her friends at work would complain loudly about being blown off by her or vowing never to make plans with her again. I went out to dinner with her one night only to end up calling 9-1-1 because she collapsed on the way back from the bathroom. A few short weeks later, she quit work due to her illness. I never heard from her again, and I never tried to contact her.

I am ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t really believe that she was ill. This was purely on the basis that she did not ever “look” sick to me. I was frustrated with her, I felt she was making up her symptoms for attention, using it as a crutch to bail on people and constantly complain. I realize now it was my own pure and total ignorance as to why I felt this way toward her. Autoimmune sicknesses are often wreaking havoc on the inside, not necessarily visible on the outside, and folks are just sort of supposed to deal. Life doesn’t pause when your body decides to attack itself, and since there is no cure for most autoimmune diseases, that is exactly what you do. You keep going and do what you can to fix the symptoms.

After remembering this, I wanted to contact her. I wanted to see how she was doing after all these years, and if she was able to go back to work. I contacted a mutual friend to see if he had her contact info, and he also never heard from her after she left the company. I want so badly to apologize to her, because while I never said to her that I didn’t believe her, I’m sure she could feel it. All these years later, I realize that this illness I have, could very well be what she had. Part of me wonders if this is karma biting me right on the ass!

Health is everything. I know those of you reading this are just like 2018 Amber on July 13th, taking your health for granted and shouting at the universe – What you got? Bring it! I’m telling you, health really is EVERYTHING.

You know what else? Health insurance is also everything. And…I happen to not have it. Just in time for my first mammogram and for my first year of having IC. I hope there is change in this country in the foreseeable future making it so that our jobs are not tied to having good and somewhat affordable health insurance. The “least expensive” option through Connecticare for us was a $12,000 deductible with a monthly premium of $1100. That means we’d have to spend $25,200 before being covered. No thanks. When you step back and think about how getting a job with healthcare benefits dictates being able to have reasonable health insurance, and that our jobs and healthcare are somehow intertwined, it’s pretty nonsensical. Here’s hoping something changes.

I leave you with that to ponder.

Stay healthy my friends!

I Had the Leggings Conversation With My Sons

Recently, I read an article published by Scary Mommy that really stirred something in me. The article was titled Notre Dame Mom Writes Op-Ed Begging Girls To Stop Wearing Leggings. I’m thankful to the author, Valerie Williams, who brought to light this story of a Catholic mother, begging the women and girls of the world to stop wearing leggings. Her reason for this plea you ask? Because leggings invite boys and men to ogle, stare, and think sinful thoughts apparently. The Catholic mom goes on to say she wants to throw a blanket on these girls. She takes it one step further toward the end of her op-ed to say choose jeans instead. “Leggings are so naked, so form fitting, so exposing. Could you think of the mothers of sons the next time you go shopping and consider choosing jeans instead?”

I was as fired up as Valerie was about this article. Personally, I’m late to the leggings party and have owned 2 pairs of sweatpants in my whole life. It’s like being welcomed to the world of comfort as a late bloomer. The first pair of sweatpants I ever owned came from my boyfriend (who is now my husband) back in 2002 at the age of 22. I consider myself woke now that I own a few leggings and more than 2 pairs of sweatpants. So to read the original op-ed by Maryanne White, and be told basically-hey do me a favor and don’t wear what you’re comfortable in because you’re inviting both the good and bad men to stare at you and possibly do a whole lot worse to you- made me cringe. Not only did it make me cringe, it also made me think- I have to discuss this with my kids!

Because I’m a huge believer in open communication with my sons, I decided they were ready for this lesson. Additionally, I could not wait to hear what they had to say on this topic. It was both comical and sensible.

My sons are 9 and 6 and this is how the conversation went:

Me: I’m going to tell you guys a story and then ask what you think is right or wrong and ask you how it makes you feel OK?

Sons: OK, fun!

Me: Let’s pretend that you were told by fathers of all the girls at school there was going to be a new rule only for boys. The rule was that you could no longer wear tank tops to school because your shoulders, peck muscles, and collar bones invite girls to follow you, beg you to be their boyfriend, stare at you, stalk you, touch you, and not respect your personal space. How would that make you feel?

Sons: (Both looking confused and grimacing) 9 year old: But how is that the boys’ fault that the girls are doing those things? Why can’t the boys just live their life and wear what they want? That’s not fair. I would tell those fathers they can’t make rules for us like that.They need to tell their daughters to stop it. 6 year old: Yeah, I would tell those girls don’t touch me, I want to wear this shirt.

Me: OK, so now what if I told you, this is really happening in the world? Except it’s with girls. A mom of boys wrote an article saying she wants girls to stop wearing leggings and likely in some schools leggings are not allowed to be worn because people think it forces boys to stare, grab, follow, say inappropriate things, not respect their personal space, and beg these girls to be their girlfriends.

Sons: Gasp. That’s not fair.

Me: What would you say to that mom that wrote that or to people who tell girls they can’t wear a certain type of pants because they force boys to do things they “can’t control” like stare, etc.

Sons: 9 year old: Well I have a question first. What if the girl has a wedgie? We should tell her right? Who would want to walk around all day with a wedgie and not know? That’s just embarrassing. Am I doing something bad by telling her that? Will she think I was staring at her butt?

Me: (Silently cracking up) If you are friends with this person, you could politely say hey you may want to go to the bathroom and fix your pants in the rear area. I’m honestly trying to help you out. But if you’re not friends with this person, no you should not just randomly tell a stranger hey go fix your wedgie -even though you’re heart is in the right place.

Sons: 6 year old: We don’t touch other people and we don’t stare because it’s not nice. They can wear the pants. But we don’t touch people’s butts because we get in trouble.

9 year old: Yeah, let the girls wear the pants. Why does it matter? I don’t understand why parents of boys could control what girls are wearing. And they aren’t even their own parents right? That’s just weird.

My little lesson/test with the boys proved to me that it’s pretty straightforward. Teach your sons and daughters to be respectful human beings. Don’t make a specific gender the bad guy because they choose to wear a form fitting, comfortable clothing article.

When You Enter The Uncool Zone With Your Kids

We’d all like to think we’ve still got it. I’m not talking about that “it” factor that makes people attracted to you. You know, like when the college boy working the ice cream counter appears to have done a double take, and you walk out of there with an extra skip in your step.  I’m talking about the cool factor with your kids. Somehow, we’re hip in our kids’ minds for a certain time. We are infallible for a hot second and, on occasion, they look up to us. Maybe it’s because of the stories we share with them, or the things we participate in with them, or perhaps it’s purely because they feel the love.

Don’t be fooled friends, this can all change on a dime. I’m sure some of you are already being nicknamed and called things by your kids as they chuckle under their breath. You’ve crossed over into the uncool zone if this is happening. On this note, according to my 6 year old, I am what he likes to call “Derpy“.  He learned this word from the FTG family on YouTube and, apparently, it is the opposite of cool.

We went out to dinner recently and I was shamelessly pointing and whispering about a famous person that was dining nearby. Kids, that guy is definitely famous. Teetering on being obvious, I tried a bit too hard to be enthusiastic to hype them up about it. For what reason- I can’t even tell you. I guess I wanted them to have the same excitement I was having so I was behaving like Lenny Kravitz had just blown me a kiss. I guess you could say it’s never quite as fun to spot a celebrity without someone else to enjoy the moment with.

We carried on with a relatively uneventful dinner and about half way through I connected the dots with who the guy was. He was simply someone who worked in the same building as I had for many years. A celebrity he was not! Once I realized this, I almost spit out my delicious margarita. I proceeded to laugh off and on about it throughout the rest of dinner. I thought it was hysterical. My kids and husband sat there shaking their heads at my ridiculousness. Mom, you’re SO derpy my youngest proclaimed.

I pick my kids up from school each day and usually we’ll pass by someone I know. According to my 6 year old, even the way I say hi to my friends is derpy. Mom why did you say “hi ladies” like that? You’re so derpy.

During a playdate, while making him and his friend a snack, I started chatting with my son’s buddy. He whispered to her, she’s SO derpy and rolled his eyes.

Now it’s a face I make in a photo, an outfit I wear, etc….it’s all…you guessed it….SO derpy.

This is surely payback from the universe for all the awful things I nicknamed my mom growing up: Splinter (the rat from Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles), Skeletor (the bad guy from He-Man), and Bronto, short for brontosaurus (because of her long neck and smallish head).

My 6 year old calling me derpy is way better than the mean things I called my mom the moment I deemed her uncool. Think back to what you called your parents or teased them about and get ready for it my fellow P’s.

Mom, you have my permission to call me Derpy whenever you want.

Sharing Stories & Supporting One Another

In the last six months I’ve written two stories about interesting and persevering women who deserve to have their stories told. These stories were submitted to an informative and thought provoking site called GirlTalkHQ for their Wonder Women series. The Wonder Women series was a call to writers to share stories about women who inspire us, have overcome adversity, and can teach us a thing or two based on their personal experiences. When I first saw the writing prompt Calling All Wonder Women, I couldn’t wait to get to work on these stories.

Continue reading here.