It has almost been one year since the pandemic struck, bringing with it unique challenges for families in America. With the closure of school, limited face to face interaction, and the shutdown of sports activities for much of the year, the mental health impact on children begs our attention. Adults were able to pivot and work from home, along with continuing to connect with friends if desired. Children, however, had to fall in line with what their school district decided, what rules the state mandated for their particular sport, and what parents deemed an acceptable amount of in-person play with friends. I felt the children in our community, Fairfield County, Connecticut, deserved a closer look at how they are doing mentally based on all of the contributing factors above. From what is gathered here, the kids in our community need our help.
One way to gauge how kids are doing collectively, was to survey parents to glean insight into what is taking place under each individual roof. While it will give us a picture of how children are doing, parents will be left with decisions to make in terms of what they will do to help their children going forward.
To get a sense of who is being impacted and how, I surveyed 108 families here in Fairfield County. Slightly more than half of respondents live in the town of Fairfield.
The age demographic of the children in this survey is broken out below. The largest age group represented is the 5–10 age group, of which 61% of respondents had a child in this bracket.
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Being together a whole lot these days, due to a new virus that reached our country a few (or 6 months) ago, means there is much more time for conversation with our families. There has been no lack of topic, that is for sure. If there’s anything we can all agree on right now, it’s that 2020 has been a shock to us all. It has forced us to stay indoors, change our normal routines, and focus our energy into many, many, (and I’ll throw a third one in there just for parents) many different things in our homes all at once. One challenge parents have had is home-schooling while juggling working from home. And while I may not be a good home-school teacher, one thing I enjoy doing with my two sons is teaching them life lessons through story telling. In my wildest dreams, never would I have imagined we’d be discussing such heavy topics back to back within a three week span.
With the backdrop of the pandemic, my kids and I have already touched upon many interesting conversations of which were far from what I’d ever thought we’d talk about in their lifetime, let alone my own. Discussions ranging from how everyone’s level of fear is different to why the man we call our President is missing a moral compass to what if school does not re-open in a classroom setting, to the why’s and how’s of mask wearing, to why we can hang out with some people and not others for the time being. Now, enter an interesting observation regarding a homeless man, George Floyd’s murder by a police officer while 3 other officers looked on, and gay pride month. These topics have taken hold in our home and I’m here to share why I’m a fan of speaking openly with children about what goes on in our society.
First, let me start by saying one thing I am appreciative of from my upbringing, is my mother’s openness while we were growing up. It did wonders for me in my life, and I’ve chosen to apply that method to my child rearing. Sex, drugs, racism, and always accepting others for who they are were not topics my mom shied away from. Always openly discussing these things with us from a young age, made them not so taboo and contributed to my life and view of the world. I could give many examples of when her life advice guided me, but I will save that for another time. This time, I’d like to focus on the conversations I’ve had with my children in hoping that they have the same effect my mother’s openness had with me.
THE RACISM DISCUSSION
After seeing the video of George Floyd lose his life, I began to think about how to share this story with my kids. This would not be their first lesson in racism, not by a long shot. In fact, what is quite disturbing, is that we JUST had this discussion a few weeks ago about Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor….and then along came another horrifickly tragic story.
A few weeks ago, I had come back from a run and we were all sitting around the table having a later dinner than usual. Since our dinners tend to be over in less than 5 minutes these days, I asked them to remain at the table. Having just returned from a run, Ahmaud was on my mind. I started by explaining that I had seen something upsetting on the news and felt they needed to learn about what happened. The starting point was we don’t really tend to think that we’re going to get hurt by someone when we’re outside excercising. I let them know that a black man was jogging and was killed by two white men simply for the color of his skin. The mens’ supposed “excuse” was that they thought he had stolen something, simply because he was black and running. My boys were shocked and horrified, which is what you would assume would be everyone’s reaction when a fellow human being is murdered so tragically.When I do these “teachings” I always ask them to think of things in the reverse. Could you imagine having to worry if you decided to go out for a jog because someone with a different skin color might not like you, assume you are a thief, and decide to hurt you? They listened intently and asked several questions.
My kids often ask “why?” when we have these talks. They cannot understand it, which is the point here. None of it makes sense. And that is just it. These are all senseless acts of violence. My response on this one was to the effect of: there are always going to be bad people in the world, but for every parent trying to raise good humans, my hope is always the good eggs will outnumber the bad. If more people are against the idea of racism, because it is such a ridiculous concept, the less and less these tragic acts will be able happen. This is obviously boiled down and may sound trite, but remember, I’m speaking to children, and I am trying to say things in a concrete manner that they will grasp – and hopefully recall in the future.
We went on to discuss Breonna Taylor and how she was sleeping when killed by the police shooting into her home in a case of mistaken identity and a no-knock- warrant. I shared how a similar scenario played out here at our home a few days after me and their dad had moved in. Two heavily armed police officers banged on our door and shouted to “Open Up!” I opened the door and they insisted I go get a man whose name I had never heard in my life. I let the officers know we had just moved in and there was no one here by that name. They poked their heads in through the screen door looking frantically for a man I suppose they thought I was hiding. I did not feel believed and my heart was racing. Moments later, my husband came walking down the hall and asked what was going on. He must not have fit their photo or description because it was only then that the two aggressively skeptical men backed off, asking us a few additional questions and leaving.
When I heard about the Breonna Taylor death, I shuttered. I imagined if those officers that had come to our home had just busted in and began shooting, assuming their person of interest was inside. But that didn’t happen. We were able to open the door, explain that who they were looking for didn’t live here, and keep both of our lives. Breonna did not receive the same chance.
A few weeks later came the George Floyd murder. Shortly thereafter, I came across a post on Facebook that shared all of the black lives taken for absolutely ludacris reasons. Not all of these murders that were listed in this post were by the police. Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin were killed by other men in their community, simply for the color of their skin. This post on Facebook was powerful because each name of the deceased had listed what they were doing when they were killed. I thought this was the perfect tool to use when speaking to my kids – once again – about racism. I had them sit on the couch and read to them what each person was doing when they were killed:sleeping, walking down the street, jogging, getting arrested. Naturally, they were outraged again, incredulous at the thought that people could be harmed when doing something like sleeping or walking back from a store.
The questions began from them about why and how bad police exist. I explained how bad people can sometimes get into positions of power. Think of this as a nasty recipe, like taking someone who wants to inflict pain and giving them a free pass to do it. How do we make sure this doesn’t happen with the police officers? I told them I don’t have the exact answer, but that people in the world are coming together and talking with organizations that are put into place to make change and they are all in discussions now to try to implement a checks and balances system. What should we do so bad apples don’t become police?How can the good police kick the bad ones out? I said this is exactly what is under the microscope in our country as we speak. People are protesting about this very thing you are both asking. They want change in our justice system and in police training and recruitment.
I have to say the overall sense and feeling one has during a discussion on social injustice with children, is a feeling of helplessness and sadness. How do we STOP this? To which I answered that it will take time, but the immediate things we can do as a country is help elect officials who will implement laws to protect the African American community, and we can ask for change of current practices and laws that are wrong from within a broken system. What they can do as kids to help is if/when they see someone else in trouble or hear someone say something against our black friends we stand up for them, just like we would in a bully situation. Because that is exactly what this is- a form of bullying.
We talked about protesting and what does it do, why do people do it? Awesomely,they had both recently had lessons in school on Martin Luther King Jr. so they were aware of those marches and Rosa Parks as well. I let them know they were witnessing history being made just like when those protests were happening with Martin Luther King Jr. When something sparks outrage across the country, and people take to the streets, it is from passion for what they believe in. That passions burns even hotter when what’s happening is fundamentally wrong. The point I tried to drive home- and I need to keep making sure it stays with them-is that it isimportant to be passionate about the things you believe in.
A few days ago we were coming home from an errand and had picked up some lunch from a drive-thru. They had finished their lunches in the car and we were approaching a traffic light where a homeless man often stands. I asked my son if he would give his full container of uneaten fries (he’s not a big fan of fries) to the man, who was likely very hungry. Then I frustratingly realized I might be unable to give the man the fries because the woman in the car in front of me was not pulling up to the stop light. My assumption was she must not have wanted to have her car near him so she kept an abnormal distance. This meant I would have to give him the fries when the light turned green and there was a huge group of cars that had gotten off the highway behind us. So I decided to call over to him out my window and told him I’d be handing him fries while driving. My kids were mortified I’m sure at their mom shouting out her car window in front of a bunch of other cars to a random man on the street corner. But it was the only way to get his attention and get the fries to him since the woman would not move her car up in front of me. The man cried out thanking us over and over saying he was so hungry. It was a good moment.
Since I had vocally expressed my frustration that the woman would not pull up naturally they asked why is that lady’s car so far from the man and the stoplight? I mentioned the only thing I could think was that she was avoiding eye contact or close contact with the homeless man because it’s awkward sometimes when someone is asking you for money and you’re sitting at a stoplight with nowhere to look but forward and nowhere to go.
My younger son asked if I always give this man money. I replied that no, I don’t always give him money, but I do sometimes give him drinks or something I think might help him in that moment if I have it. They asked why everyone doesn’t just give all the homeless people money and food all the time? This was a question requiring multiple layers of answers and there was no way I could tackle that with a soundbite they’d remember without their eyes glazing over. Instead the conversation segued into drug addiction. I explained that sometimes there are people that are on the streets due to drug addiction and they may be using money given to them for that, which defeats the purpose of helping them. This is often one of the reasons why people choose not to give money. We talked about how others are veterans who have fought in wars and have fallen on hard times, and how everyone likely has a different story. That it is important to give if you can in that moment, but you should not feel guilty if you can’t do it. Only do what you can. As long as you’re having the thought to want to help someone, you’re in favor of humanity. Perhaps this woman at the stoplight was feeling just that- guilty and awkward and so she kept her distance. We’ll never know.
My almost 11 year old son asked me the other day to tell him about all of the dangerous drugs so he knows them by name and knows not to do them. I was stunned by the question, but really thankful for another opportunity for open dialogue on a topic every parent worries about. If you can believe it, already in his 5th grade experience he has learned of a fellow 5th grader vaping marijuana. I didn’t go into the drug explanation at that particular time, instead we focused on cigarettes and vaping in that talk many months ago. Now that he was coming to me with questions about drugs specifically, I chose to tell him the story of Jon Bon Jovi’s daughter having an opiate addiction and how this is an epidemic in our country. We talked about how that starts- an injury, a broken bone, a doctor prescribing pain killers, and the person becoming addicted. These are not “bad” people, I say, this is a widely used drug given out by doctors and is highly addictivefor any human being that uses them for pain. See son, it happened to Bon Jovi’s daughter, it can happen to anyone. For those wondering, I did list a few other drug names and mentioned these are the drugs that have killed many musicians and actors that we have loved over the years.
These questions ensued: why are CVS and Walgreens called “drug stores”? And why can a doctor or hospital give you drugs but other drugs are bad? These are where the conversations go and I love that the wheels in their heads are turning. This is what I want from my children-critical thinking.
THE GAY PRIDE DISCUSSION
We were running to my youngest son’s first grade closure car parade (that sounds surreal doesn’t it?) and as we were hastily getting into the car, I had not had time to pull myself together emotionally. Seconds ago, I had been in a meeting for work reflecting on the sadness and unrest in our country regarding George Floyd as well as recognition of the LGBTQ community being that it is Gay Pride month. It was a call with moments of silence, gratefulness from black colleagues in appreciation of our company’s solidarity with them, moments of emotion, and it was extremely moving. My sons looked at me and asked why I was crying. I paused for a second thinking about how to tell them the reason delicately, but then remembered we had already had many conversations on this topic.
I’m crying because a woman I work with shared on a company wide video call that she has been hiding who she is her whole life and would like to start leading an authentic life.She was afraid of people knowing she was gay, and has decided she’s not going to be afraid anymore because she’s been motivated recently as the mother of a brown-skinned son. She wants to set the example to make sure he knows to be proud of who he is.It made me feel sad for her that she had to feel afraid all those years, but also happy for her that she was so brave and doing what’s best in the interest of guiding her son.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that call. Furthermore, I shared with the kids that I was emotional because some people wait until very late in life to come out as gay because they feel scared or ashamed and when they do, it’s like a weight has been lifted and they can be the real version of themselves. That is why we always support our friends and peers who are gay, I say, they are simply fellow human beings who have had to fight and suffer just to be able to love who they want to love.
On our drive to my son’s teacher’s house, my kids and I have an awesome dialogue and I end up loving this day. When I try to cover my tears, I remind myself that I should not feel shame in showing my sons my tears. It’s not often they’ve seen their mom cry and I want for them to feel empowered to cry openly as boys, teens, and as men. I try to remember that crying often makes us feel better as humans; it is a release, which is a good thing. It is an emotion and an expression that is there for a reason. In this moment, this is a learning for me as a mother, that I should no longer try to hide my tears in moments like these, when the world is crying, protesting, in need of leadership, in financial turmoil, in a health crisis, and trying to come together for change.
I would have never believed you if you said I’d be talking about drugs, racism, a pandemic, and gay rights all within the span of a few weeks to my children. But here we are. All I can hope is that each time we revisit these topics they are that much better for it.
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.
Standing in the toy aisle in Kohl’s and concentrating on which item to buy for a friend’s son’s birthday, I hesitated before asking my son to repeat what he had just said.
“Can you repeat what you just said, but can you whisper it to me?” If it was what I thought it was, I didn’t want his 5 year old brother to overhear.
“I know that Santa’s not real, Mom.”
The color likely drained from my face as it was probably the last thing I was expecting him to say at that moment, but it was, in fact, what I thought he had just said.
“Ok, if you want to have this discussion, it has to be in private, with both me and your father. It needs to be away from your brother.”
“Oh! So you’re saying he isn’t then? I knew it!” His voice getting more shrill with each word.
“I said let’s talk about this later. Now is not the time.”
Thankfully, he forgot about it.
Two weeks later, after walking in the door from school, he reminded me that he wanted to have that talk. He said he knew about Santa and the Tooth Fairy because he had set up his iPad to video us sneaking around.
“That’s bologna.” I said. He smiled and admitted to fibbing.
“Well, I know they’re not real because you say you will tell Santa if we are misbehaving. That made me realize you’re lying. How could you tell Santa? It’s not like you have his phone number. What you think you can fool me by saying you’ll just dial him up? Or email him! It’s lies!”
“We’ll talk about it at bedtime.” I silenced him for the moment.
At bedtime, his father and I sat down and told him in so many words that he was right. Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny were pretend magical stories to make the holidays and losing teeth more fun and special for children. It was a lie coming from a good place (uh, confusing), and he would understand one day and do the same for his children.
Anger was the emotion that seemed to settle right in when we confirmed the bad news. He got emotional and went on to say he was hurt and surprised we had lied to him for 8 years. Then my husband corrected him and said, “Well, actually 9. We lied for 9.” Thank you, husband.
He pushed us away when we tried to hug him. We didn’t “deserve” hugs. We were horrible parents. He was sulking like an irritated teenager. Then he asked about Elf on the Shelf which we only started doing these last two Christmases. He seemed more upset about the Elf for some reason. We gave him the ol’ “you can help keep the magic going and be part of it for your brother now…” spiel and it simply ignited more upsetment.
“How can you ask me to LIE to my own BROTHER? What kind of parents ARE you?” The drama was over the top. I wanted to laugh, but then I couldn’t, because he was so genuinely upset, the humorous vibe evaporated. We explained that he better not tell his brother or his friends.
The saga continued as he ran into our bedroom and grabbed his framed baby picture off of my nightstand and stared at it. I felt like we were in REM’s “Everybody Hurts” music video except it was, “J’s found out there’s no Santa.” This was like a made for TV moment.
For the first time, we didn’t get a warm goodnight (he’s a lovey dovey kid), and we were sad about this phase being over. We shuffled back to the living room feeling a sort of grief only parents that have just gone through this experience can understand. It was the end of an era, which is sad for parents too. As your children go through different phases, some good and some bad, when the phases come to an end, there is a small sense of mourning. Not really for the bad phases though… adios to those!
We thought about any possible way to lift his spirits. Since our son had stayed home sick that day, we didn’t know if he had made drama club.The school had a lottery system in which they select children who are interested at random and there are a limited number of spots. My husband posted on the school’s parent group on Facebook to see if there was a way to find out and wa-la (thank you Facebook and the parent who got right back to us) we found out he had made it!
We agreed to tell our son right away in hopes to cheer him up, but he was pretty stoic after we shared the good news. He wanted to crash in our bed for the night which he hasn’t done for years. He kept saying he didn’t know how he would fall asleep because this was the worst day of his life.
The next morning he was still thinking about it and said to his dad, ” So what’s up with the Santa tracker then?” It was obviously still on his mind. So much for hoping it would pass!
I guess with parenting, one never knows how much something will impact their child until it actually happens. My son clearly believed HARD in the magical things we told him about. For that I’m glad because those years were SO MUCH FUN. This was definitely a learning experience. The anger carried on the entire next day, but slowly it dissipated and we got him to agree not to tell his friends or his brother. I do believe we just witnessed his first major disappointment in life. Sure he’s had other let downs, but nothing to this degree. Of course there will be many more to come. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s so interesting what we learn from parenting. It’s a front row seat to the growing changing of the human being you’ve created-physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can’t help but be riveted, worried, and grateful simultaneously during the whole experience. Hopefully, we can still get a few more years of Santa, the bunny, and the Tooth Fairy with our youngest!
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I used to think it was a little much. My husband was firm with the kids when urging them not to hurt or kill the ants, spiders, ladybugs, or any other random bug they were toying with outside. Over time, I grew to love how gently they would handle the ants that were building their little sandy huts on our patio in the backyard. They would pick them up with great care, and talk about how cute each one was, while it scurried in between each finger across their little hands. This little teaching about being respectful to bugs, seems to have stretched across all living creatures for the kids and it seems to have stuck. Our sons treat our cat with great care, express concern when someone gets injured or sick, and have randomly shown empathy for birds’ “feelings” as of late. Maybe this “be nice to the bugs” business has transformed into more than we could have imagined in the way of teaching life lessons.
Going from a full-time to part-time working mom has been an enormous shift. One that is reshaping our family and how we do things pretty much on the daily. Big change brings about learning and a fresh perspective. Over the last 8 months I’ve learned quite a bit- not only about myself, but about my children, my husband, and about my expectations for the extra time I would have with my kids. A recent realization prompted me to write one of the more shocking things I’ve come to understand. Something that I hope will give full-time working parents a splash of cold water on the face of guilt they wear each day as they trudge off to work.
More and more we keep hearing the words “self-care”. So many of us parents don’t practice self-care, and recently I discovered how legitimately important it is. Allow me to take you through how I landed here.
Do you revel at the pure happy that pours out of children- your own and other people’s children included? A child that doesn’t smile or exude joyfulness often sticks out like a bluejay in a sea of canaries. I think it’s because most children, naturally, just ARE happy. So when we see a child that doesn’t seem happy, it sort of gets stuck, almost like a pause button has been pressed. Fast forward to adulthood and try to apply the same observation. It doesn’t quite work does it? We adults were once young, ebullient, energized, smiling children. But now, having experienced the real word, disappointment, responsibility, and perhaps parenthood sometimes we find ourselves wondering- have I smiled yet today? All of us are different;some people are more serious, reserved, some are shy, bubbly, etc. you get the point. Whatever personality type you are, the unjaded childhood version of you that was once there changes. This made me realize for these last 8 or so years, I’ve been of the serious type more often than not. My general manner for the bulk of my life has been happy and upbeat. But time and time again throughout my thirties, my sunny disposition felt like it was in hiding. Which begs the question-what changed? Well, I became a parent. And as moms typically do, I put two little cherub’s needs always and forever before mine of course.
It’s no secret that when you become a parent life as you know it shifts. It’s no longer about you and your every breath and action revolves around this precious life that you’re trying to raise, nurture, and keep safe. While there are extreme highs and lows within the role of parenting, there is one thing that is constant-the lack of time for one’s self. Then think about how you spend the time you actually DO get for yourself. You’ve likely heard the term I referenced at the beginning of this article: self-care. For some of us though, if we were already used to not practicing self-care before becoming parents, then the idea of it seems like a farce once you actually are a parent.
It wasn’t until a few months ago through EMDR therapy that I discovered why self-care felt so incredibly foreign to me. Our experiences up to the point of becoming parents shape how we view ourselves – these experiences define and contribute to how we value our self worth. It turns out that inner voice everyone has can really dominate your decisions. I’ve come to learn my inner voice happens to be quite mean. I wonder how many other people out there have a negative inner voice in their adult life, that has somehow snatched a megaphone during parenthood? Perhaps as a result of this critical voice, the idea of prioritizing self-care feels the same as it would to someone with germaphobia and OCD trying not to wash their hands after touching a door handle. To put it simply: it feels like an impossibility that we should make ourselves a priority.
I understand that of course our younger years were very different from adulthood. Think back to your own childhood for a moment. If you’re like me, and you were raised in the 80’s and 90’s, then you were raised on tree climbing, kickball, outdoor tag, flag football in the street, catching lightning bugs in jars, and pushing frogs in your buggy. The outside world was our jungle gym and we were certainly “free range”. The elementary school years were just sheer happiness for the most part. Even in spite of rockiness that ensued at home for any of us, the happiness was just sort of there regardless.
As your life progresses, you meet your love, get an apartment together, you get married, you travel for a minute, and you decide to take the plunge and have a baby. Suddenly your world is flipped upside down. No one can prepare you for this wild ride or the emotions that come along with it. Someone once told me “You wear your heart outside of your body now and forever when you have children. The more you have, the more of your hearts are walking around -and the more you worry”. This pretty much sums it up.
However, as your children get older, and you’re not as panicked about them running into the street or falling down the stairs, you find yourself starting to turn your attention for the first time in a long time to yourself. Having the time to focus on yourself means listening to what your mind and body needs. All of a sudden you’re paying attention to why you do the things you do. You’re starting to focus on aspects of yourself that maybe you’ve never given a second thought to.
For me, personally, I have learned that I book over my “me” time subconsciously on purpose. I somehow make myself think that I’m undeserving of time for myself. Think for a second what you do for yourself as it relates to self-care. Do you take a bath? Do you exercise? Do you take an hour to do something you love each day? For those of you that are nodding and saying “Yes, I have always done this and will continue to do so”–you’re way ahead of the game, and I’m just now catching up.
Now that I’ve done the work, I’ve acknowledged the voice is there, and I should fight as hard as I can to ignore it. I’m not talking about ignoring a gut feeling- that’s different. I’m talking about the voice that tells you to ignore what you NEED to do for yourself. The voice that says to just answer one more email, make one more call, or do one more thing for the kids. It’s wrong about my worthiness, it’s wrong about the guilt I should feel any given day about my kids, and it’s wrong when it tells me I don’t deserve time for myself.
If you find yourself taking a call right at the time you had planned to work out, or saying “yes” to something for your child right when you had planned to take a bath, or scheduling over your short time you’ve alloted for your “me” time again and again, ask yourself why you perpetually sabotage your “me” time. If you don’t feel it’s perpetual, then you’ve likely got a healthy grasp on the importance of self-care. If you’re like me, and it’s something that happens every day, I’m telling you it’s completely subconscious and you should try to seek out the “why” so you can head it off at the pass.
Through this EMDR therapy, I’ve come to learn several things about why I do what I do. Specifically, why I’ve never truly understood what caring for myself actually means. Everyone and everything else has always mattered significantly more.
When we make time to exercise regularly, meditate, read a book, or relax however we see fit, we feel like the best, happiest versions of ourselves. I can attest to feeling this way, because recently I’ve been making a conscious effort to do it. If we’re caring for ourselves and making sure we’re still having fun and being active in life not just for the benefit of others, but for ourselves, then naturally the happy follows. In the moments after practicing self-care, that carefree childhood happiness comes back to visit, allowing our solid self worth to take up permanent residency.
You’ve been looking forward to this particular week and weekend in February for some time now. It’s the week you have your youngest son’s first Valentine’s Dance that the whole family will attend with him, it’s your other son’s close friend’s birthday party, it’s the weekend you will see one of your best friends and your children and her children will play and have a blast together. This week you also have your first in person team building meeting at the corporate office which you are so looking forward to because you work from home and are very eager to meet and connect and teambuild. You’ve signed up for Family Kindness Night at school and paid for all 4 of your family members to attend. In the spirit of signing up for fun things this week, you also signed your five year old up for a Valentine’s candy making class that your friends will also attend so you can catch up with friends while bonding with your little guy. You’ve signed up to bake treats and provide utensils for the Valentine’s dance…because…why not? It’s the first rehearsal for the Variety Show at school, it’s the big basketball game for your son where he will play against his own schoolmates, and it’s the weekend your very close friend whom you haven’t seen in 11 years, was planning to fly in to visit from Cincinnati. This also happens to be the week you need to bring your car to the autobody place to be fixed from an accident while you get a rental. It’s basically the week of all weeks since 2018 began with bookending weekends that are jammed with fun things and necessary errands. It’s the WEEK OF ALL WEEKS NOT TO GET SICK.
And then that unexpected beast hits your house like a bomb. One by one you drop like flies with a horrible virus rendering each of you paralyzed and in bed for days only to get up to make the trek to the bathroom. Parents dread this more than the middle of the night wake up, more than having their mouth coughed into, and even more than hearing the words, “I just pooped my pants.”
Let’s take a stroll through hell together shall we? It’ll be like a choose your own adventure book except it’s choose your own doom. Because, let’s face it, it’s lurking at every turn.
You pull up to pick up your older son early from his after school program and see that his bus was just pulling up to the building. He’s getting off the bus and you see that he is bearing a slight resemblance to Slimer.
You walk your sick son through the parking lot to the car. Here he vomits for a few minutes. Turn to page 3 if you think it’s just a fluke, turn to page 13 if you think it gets worse.
Your inner voice tells you this will pass and it must be a 24 hour stomach bug. Sadly, he will miss his close friend’s birthday, his basketball game against the team he’s been looking forward to playing all season, and his brother’s dance, but he will be better by Sunday and your family will still be able to do some of the things on the agenda. It will be fine!
Then you realize you or your husband will have to stay home with him while one of you goes to the Valentine’s dance with his brother. So much for the whole family attending his brother’s first dance.
That’s 3 things that are now a no go on Saturday, but everyone will survive. Turn to page 10 if you think you’ll pull through and make at least one of the plans, turn to page 20 if you know the other shoe is definitely going to drop. Surely you’ll still be able to meet up with your close friend and her kids on Sunday though right? So you turn to page 10.
You’re thumbing through the calendar and realize there is another event that will be missed. The valentine community service event at the nursing home. OK, so 4 things, you’re going to actually miss 4 things.
Suddenly, you begin to feel extraordinarily tired. You’ve just put your sick, puking child to bed and you’re breaking into a cold sweat. Nope. You’re not getting sick. YOU CAN’T BE. You felt so good and energized this week. You must just be really tired from the day and from contacting and explaining to your cancellations.
You wake up on Saturday, and groggily reach for the phone to see what time it is before getting up. The time says 8:30. How did you sleep so late? You kick yourself in your mind thinking of all the scrambling that needs to be done to make it to the basketball game in 15 minutes. Oh, wait- that’s right. Your son is sick so he will not be making that game. You lie your head back down on the bed and realize maybe there are some perks to having a sick child. While you’re sad to miss this game against his friends, you can now lie around for a minute or two instead of rush out the door. You try to swing your legs over the side of the bed to get up and realize every ounce of you feels as though Chucky has just taken a little baby sledge hammer and hammered all of your limbs in your sleep.
You could not will away the sickness. It came for you. Turn to page 50 if you think it’s a 24 hour virus, turn to page 12 if you think it’s going to last a week.
You mope down the hall and down to the basement where you hear the children’s voices. You ask yourself how the hell you will get through the day while your husband is at work for the next 4 hours and you feel like you’re walking through a lake of mud with every move. Your sick child needs your attention so you guzzle some coffee and try to pretend you’re alive.
You realize you will have to cancel Sunday’s plans too with your close friend and her family that you haven’t seen since October. You agonize inside over how much you were looking forward to this. It dawns on you that your 5 year old’s physical that has been on the calendar for months and is tomorrow also needs to be cancelled now because there is a very high probability he will be coming down with a sickness of some kind too.
You put movie after movie on for the kids and basically pass out.
Your husband comes home and you wake up relieved for a minute before falling asleep for another eternity.
You wake up again in a complete panic realizing you never baked a damn treat for the dance and you never dropped off the utensils you raised your hand to bring.You ask your husband to go buy store made cookies and to drop off the utensils and he says he’ll get the cookies but says just forget about the utensils.
So naturally, you get in the car in your fever sweat soaked pjs, crazy hair, Voldemort looking skin, and drop off the utensils.
You come back home, your husband tells you you’re a crazy spazz and you agree you probably are. But you signed up to bring the utensils so there really wasn’t a choice in your mind.
You go back to bed. You wake up at 12, 1, and 3 a.m. to your son crying and sick. You crawl into bed with him and enjoy side by side fevers in unified misery. This is actually a bittersweet moment.
Sunday rolls around and you’re both worse. You call the doc and swap your 5 year old’s physical with a sick appointment for your older son thinking he must have the flu.
He tests negative for the flu-thank goodness, but the doctor tells him he has one of two nasty stomach viruses and that it is likely you have the same thing. The virus can last for a long time the doctor warns.
While there, your son randomly tells the doctor how much he likes hamburgers and even though his stomach is killing him, all he wants is a hamburger. The doc says bland food only son-sorry. Sick son begs to please be allowed just one hamburger on his way home. Doc says fine, but your stomach may not like it.
You take him to get the hamburger.
Two hours later the hamburger says “I’M BAAAAAAAACK!”
It’s a terrible evening in the bathroom thanks to Mr. Hamburger.
Monday rolls around and you’re both still feeling awful. You get your other son ready for school and drop him off. You cancel your work appointment and email your boss that you are going to miss your first teambuilding event at the home office tomorrow.
You spend the day shivering under the blankets and sleeping off and on while doing nastified laundry and helping your boy make it to the bathroom.
You bring your other son to a friends so he doesn’t have to be bored out of his mind for another night. He comes home looking not so good. He’s pale and he climbs right into bed and says he’s tired – which happens- never.
You know exactly what this means. Turn to page 100 if you think he’s getting the virus, turn to page 2 if you think you’re going to die of depression from your family being sick on the worst week to be sick.
And so then naturally…
Just kidding, but you know you wanted to at that moment.
You’re on day 3 and your son is on day 4 of this awful illness with no end in sight. Then your other kid throws up that night-(of course …you knew that was coming right?). You’ve spent way too much time in your bathroom, laundry room, and on your couch these last few days and now you come to the realization you will have to repeat it all over again now that another one of you is sick.
You wake up early on Tuesday to pick up your rental car and drop off your car to be fixed from the annoying fender bender you had a few weeks back.
You cancel your mom and son candy making excursion next and think to yourself how much money has gone down the drain these last few days with all these event cancellations. A friend offers to pick up and drop off medicine which you gladly take her up on without hesitation. Leaving the house feels impossible. At one point you go into your backyard and lay in a lounge chair to feel the sun on your face for a few minutes just to feel alive again.
You play video games, watch endless brain rotting YouTube Kids videos mixed with some good Harry Potter movies, sleep, shower, then shower your kids more times than you’d care to count, and start to resent food in all of its forms.
Valentine’s Day comes and goes and none of you can even look at chocolate.
Thursday rolls around and you’re ready to be checked into an insane asylum. Your son is finally well enough to go to school and you’re starting to feel human again as well.
Good riddance unwelcome visitor that ruined the most fun, full week of plans. Here’s hoping you don’t come back anytime soon. Turn to the last page if you’re ready to be done being sick.
As a parent, you feel these words to your core when a virus has finally left the building…
Recently I came across a quote in a stickerbook I was thumbing through and eventually bought at Michael’s craft store. I fell hard and fast for this beautiful gem.
“If you’re lucky enough to be different, never change.”
Oftentimes our society believes that being different can be a bad thing. More and more I think that stigma is shifting in a refreshing way. Most of us wonder how we’re perceived by others. We know who WE are, but do THEY really know who we are? Do you sometimes feel misunderstood?
We all have something we’re good at, something we struggle with, strengths, weaknesses, etc. But let’s examine for a moment something very specific that makes you….you. What characteristic do you possess that you think people don’t necessarily know about you, misperceive, or maybe misunderstand? What makes you different? I’ll share with you a big part of what makes me tick as a person and why, quite possibly, some people misunderstand me.
The definition of someone that is competitive is as follows: having or displaying a strong desire to be more successful than others.
Many people fall into this category. I think the world of sports would be nothing were it not for this breed of competitive people. These competitors keep people watching with baited breath, rooting for victory, and proud of their impressive athleticism. The world of business also has healthy competition that can be fun to observe; Apple vs. Microsoft, McDonald’s vs Burger King (sans the healthy part here), and Coke vs Pepsi-to name a few. Our planet of animals has some serious competition when it comes to mate selection; think of peacocks, and that hilarious dancing bird of paradise. And last but not least, humans in courtship have the competition of other potential suitors. This causes a multitude of craziness to take place – just watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette for a drama filled crash course on this topic.
Now that you’ve conjured up these images, it’s probably hard to think that some of us humans just aren’t built with the competitive gene as it relates to others. I’m one of these people and I wholeheartedly accept that this can sometimes be misunderstood. It’s also quite boring for my competitive friends out there.
Here are four examples in case your perception of me is already off: 1.) If someone is running next to me in a 5k and the finish line is in site, I’m not inclined to speed up to beat them. 2.) I love to play Scrabble with my husband even though I only won once in 16 years. 3.) If I have a friend that’s gorgeous with a six pack and a perky butt, let’s toast to that rockin’ bod! When I’m motivated in the Spring, I’ll call her to be my accountability partner. Sidenote:I can’t get on the bandwagon with people that say , “ugh, don’t you just hate her?” Because …I don’t hate her. Why should I hate her just because she’s taking good care of herself and looks great? I’ve never understood that norm in society among women. Let’s be happy for other women! 4.) When I see how successful fellow writers or bloggers have grown to be, I’ll reach out and ask what worked best for them to see if there is something I can be improving upon. There’s no shame in learning from your mistakes. I say there’s shame in not learning from them!
The real deal is that I’m acutely focused on beating one opponent at all times – myself. This is how it’s always been. Is it weird? Maybe. But I’m not measuring myself against anyone else because no one’s life is the same, no one’s physical appearance is the same, and we are all uniquely ourselves. There’s no other way for me. So if you want to race me or compete with me- I’m not your gal. I once won a Halloween costume contest when I was 10 or 11 at a friend’s party and I was mortified. I didn’t want to be the winner because I thought people would automatically not like me! Blending in felt safer and I thought more girls would not be inclined to talk about me if I didn’t stand out. Now if that isn’t waving a carrot for someone to psycho-analyze me right now, I don’t know what is!
Looking back on that memory now, it makes sense why I’ve tried to hide some of my differences or dull my shine. I realize now that I have a characteristic to be proud of. Being a cheerleader for others and not having the drive to compete with others is unique and I embrace it now.
My goals are for myself and no one else and I’m my toughest coach and my most critical judge. What may be an important milestone for me- may be laughable to you. That’s just what I’m getting at here. If you’re achieving what matters most to you, in my opinion, that’s all that should matter. Unless you’re on a sports team or some kind of competitive team- then you’re looking out for the team as a whole.
Recently, my son said to me after his basketball game, “I’m really proud of myself Mom. I know I played pretty good out there today.”
This was coming from a kid who just 2 months ago said he was quitting. Turns out one of his teammates actually told him he “sucked” during practice. It took me 45 minutes of the “if you fail try, try again” spiel and anything else I could think of, to convince him to stick it out. To hear his pride this past weekend felt like a warm blanket draped around my heart. In the end, he pushed himself and didn’t measure himself against what anyone else on the team was doing.
A few months back when he had first attended a basketball clinic, the coach went around and asked each player who their favorite basketball team or player was. I could feel the stress rising in my chest wondering how he would answer this question since we don’t really watch basketball at our house.
But my son answered the question matter of factly, “I don’t watch basketball, I just like to play.” He didn’t show a morsel of embarassment. To him it was no big deal to be different than the rest of the boys in the group. Following his answer, two other little boys gave the same answer …and they did it confidently as well.
I swear to God we can really learn a thing or two from kids. Why do we feel like if we’re not like the rest of the group we’re weird? Why is being different bad? Case in point…IT’S NOT. We, ourselves, just make it that way. It’s pretend.
When I share an accomplishment with a friend, it’s because my inner butt kicker is pleased. It dawned on me recently that maybe when I’m sharing a personal accomplishment, people may view it as hyper competitive or braggy. I am quite the opposite, but if they are a newer friend and don’t know me well yet, may be this is how they’re perceiving me? Maybe I’m overanalyzing? See what I mean about the perception game? It can drive us crazy!
In closing, I’d like to say that maybe what makes you unique is something that can help people. Like that quote at the beginning, I feel lucky that it seems innate for me to cheer for other people and not feel insecure or threatened by their successes. With all the social-media-comparison- downward -spiral stories I’ve read, I’ll take this difference to be a good thing. My opponent- she’s in the mirror. There’s nothing like kicking your own butt at something because it’s always going to be win win situation.
At the age of 16 or 17 most kids have to start thinking about and actually decide what field they want to be in for work. This, of course, is the whole college selection journey that begins with picking a school, a minor, and a major. In the end the hope is obviously that a job will come along in said field. Some teenagers have a solid conviction of what they’ve always wanted to be, but it’s typical to be pretty clueless. It’s only a decision that impacts the rest of your life, but you’ve been on the planet 16 years…so….you’ve got this. You have to start to hone in on what you think you might like to do all day, while also getting paid a decent wage. Those things don’t necessarily go together, but nonetheless, at the wise age of 16 we dive into our best guess.
My bedroom was painted royal blue. I had a thing for the color blue back then. The ceiling was smothered with Rolling Stone magazine covers end to end. I absolutely loved Mark Saliger’s photos. I poured over the Rolling Stone interviews imagining that someday I would be the author to many music legend interviews. I wondered what I wanted to do with my life and often stared up at my ceiling hoping I would some day end up at Rolling Stone. I decided that since writing was something I loved and I got good grades in that subject, I’d be best at a journalism. I also remember thinking that whatever I majored in, I’d have to make sure there was as little math involved as possible. Legitimately, that was a concern for me since math never was my strong suit.
I started out at community college due to finances. My dream had been to go to the University of Southern California, but I quickly realized that picking a college simply because I wanted to go there was a luxury that was not in the cards. When I signed up for our local community college, I felt disenchanted. My dreams of moving away to Cali had been pushed aside. In my mind, I had big plans for myself. One year later, I ended up attending a university in Illinois about 4 hours from home.
One afternoon, I visited the placement office at community college to nail down a major. The office was filled with shelves of books about every possible occupation under the sun. I went and thumbed through a couple, finally settling in on Public Relations Specialist.
I read the description over and over and looked at the average salary of $70,000 a year.
“Wow, that is SO much money.” The wheels were in serious motion in my head, “I’ll be rich!” I was sure I was going to be poppin’ bottles with P. Diddy and J. Lo. The words in job description bounced up and down on the page with excitement right at me. Media, Radio, Television, Writing, Celebrity, Top Executives, Relationships, Communication. Whatever this job description was selling, I was buying with all of the tip money in my pocket. It all sounded so glamourous! $70K to my 18 year old self also sounded like a million dollars, ah, how things change…but I digress.
It listed the majors and minors for this type of role. And guess what? There was hardly any math involved. I signed up to major in journalism with a minor in marketing. I felt my planning was thorough since I had a plan A and a plan B. Plan A would be to try to become a writer for Rolling Stone, while plan B would be the PR Specialist gig that had dazzled me dizzy. I knew I would minor in marketing because it had been my father’s major and he had turned out successful, so why not? That was the amount of thought I put into my minor. I chose it blindly with a whole lot of gusto.
Basically that describes my entire decision making process- from start to finish.
I loved my classes, there was just one smidgeon of a problem. While in my journalism class we were writing about Princess Diana’s death that had been all over the news. The professor went on at length about the long hours journalists put in, the sometimes life or death situations, and the right and wrong decisions they’d have to make in certain circumstances (case in point with Diana). I was riveted and wondered if my job at Rolling Stone would be that way. I committed in my mind to do whatever it took. But it was something else he said that changed my course right then and there-literally.
“Who in this class loves writing?” He had a deep voice that carried out of the class and into the hallway.
“OK, now who in this class wants to make money in this profession?” His wry smile curled.
This next part I am paraphrasing; I cannot remember his exact words.
“Those who kept your hands up for the second question need to change your majors right now. You will be poor as a journalist. This is a fact unless you strike gold somehow. I will spell it out for you folks- you will barely make enough money to live and you will work like a dog. You have to live, breathe, and die by writing, accepting that you will likely not make much money.”
I changed my major that following week. I had watched my mom work her butt off and struggle as a hairdresser ever since her and my Dad divorced. In addition to that, my Dad had dropped a scary amount of weight when the real estate market took a nose dive in the mid eighties. For many months, when we’d stay at his condo, we’d have fish sticks with ketchup for dinner during that ailing time in his career. I didn’t want to live on fish sticks if I had anything to do about it. Money struggles legitimately scared me, and I would need to pick something that was more reliable. So I said goodbye to my dream of writing. I chose to major in Communications and Human Relations, which I was still pretty happy with.
In the end, I feel fortunate. I ended up picking a major that was right for me and has served me well since it lends itself to many career paths (and there was no math).
If I could change one thing, it would likely have been my minor in marketing. I think I should have minored in English Lit or something else specific to writing. Then again, maybe without that emphasis in marketing I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of working for one of the best marketing firms around. It was an incredibly fun learning experience and was chock full of good people and amazing volunteer opportunities. I do wonder if I didn’t have that minor of marketing on my resume, would I have gotten that job? I remember the head hunter setting me up for the interview (as a temporary receptionist) and mentioning it was good that I had that on my resume. I did end up getting asked to interview for an Executive Assistant role there while temping, which then lead me to an Account Executive role and later a Sr. Account Executive position. I guess you never know where your path will lead you!
Along the course of different positions I’ve had over the years at various companies, I can say that I’ve pinned down what I dislike: spreadsheets and data entry. Does anyone like this? If you do, bless your heart. I’ve also come to know what I’m not so good at; being analytical. A double whammy of things I loathe was putting analytical data into spreadsheets. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. It felt like I was dying a slow death. Now imagine putting data into a system that was 14 years old that crashed all the time. OK, I’ll stop now. I can already tell you feel my pain.
What have I learned that I am sharing with you? Ask your teenagers what they like to do, what they could do for years to come without tiring of it, what their weaknesses are, and what they know they despise doing. It’s impossible for them to narrow it down perfectly since they haven’t had enough life experience or job experience yet, but I do believe it will still help.
If you’ve been out of school now for quite sometime and are looking to overhaul your professional life like I just did-ask yourself those same questions. Realistically, if you’re like me and have a family to support, there will be different variables to weigh in your decision making process.
I’m going to be forty in a year and a half. In my opinion, it took me way too long to figure out the things I should have run the opposite direction from job wise. Lean into your strengths even if it means you won’t get a handsome financial reward. Sure I’ve had to compromise and downsize a bit, but there’s no price tag on happy.
When I think back to what my professor said that day, I wonder if I hadn’t listened to it how things would be different. It’s not a feeling of regret at all, it’s just curiosity. It’s apparent that the writing landscape has definitely changed. After the 19 years of job and life experience I’ve had since that day, I’ve learned that there are many different options.
It helps to look into your options, think about them, ask people about their professions, etc. You can still do the things you enjoy without being paid for them. I am able to be a writer today just for fun. The fact that writing, people, and creativity are actively part of my life makes me feel richer than ever, even if in the dollar sense that’s not the case.
“The greatest wealth is to live content with little, for there is never want where the mind is satisfied.”- Lucretius