Life and Health

Not Everyone Is An Expert…And That’s Ok

There has been a lot of discussion about the educational space about what materials are being taught, presented, or available to students at different levels and I have made some observations about these discussions.

First, I’d like to preface this by saying that I am a parent to a first grader, a biology master’s degree holder, and a public high school teacher for 15 years. I have been at this a long time and I can see some generalities and relationships but I would by no means call myself an educational expert and I am not passing myself off as such but it seems that people who are parents and/or have attended school at some time in their lives are becoming experts on what kids are supposed to learn and how they are supposed to learn.

Let’s just reminder ourselves what an expert is:

“having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience” from The Merriam Webster Dictionary

None of those things I listed make me an expert, the masters degree and 15 years of experience definitely give me a leg up but I am not an expert about ALL children. My experience in the classroom gives me insights into what works and what doesn’t work but my experience is still fairly limited to my school (a high school), in my district (large suburban district), in my state (NJ). I do not have experience with students living in different areas of the country or students in different educational levels other than my students or the experience I have limited to my own elementary age child.

The information I have is what we call anecdotal despite the fact that over the course of my career I have probably taught close to 1500 students (creating research studies for human participants is incredibly difficult). However, because of those 1500 students I have gained some wisdom and insight but even if I can talk louder than the person next to me that doesn’t mean I am an expert. Being a parent definitely doesn’t come with any special training and attending a school does not give you experience for all students in all different types of schools.

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

As a parent, you have the right to control your child but children shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. If you have a problem with your child being exposed to other ideas or a variety of people then you should probably opt to homeschool them. Teachers are there to teach all children the information they need to be a member of society — unless you plan to live in a commune or completely separate from society your child will face people who think, act, and ARE different. If you want your child to be constantly disappointed that life doesn’t measure up to their vision of it; if you are afraid that what you are teaching at home will crumble the minute your child is exposed to a new idea or a new way of thinking it might be a time to step back and re-evaluate.

Ideas get stronger as they are discussed, contested, and refined. Multiple viewpoints (theoretically, congress notwithstanding) make better ideas. I am a firm believer that “expertise” often comes from collaborative efforts because when we discuss the human condition there are so many variables that no one person or entity could possibly have all the answers.

I am a cis-gendered, straight teacher but I have had LGBTQIA students. I am a white teacher but I have had students with a variety of racial backgrounds. This means not every lesson is going to land the same with every student. There are days where I see certain students light up and “get it”; these connections happen because I create lessons that are accessible to the kids who have a dual-parent household and the kids who might be struggling because mom or dad is absent (or many other difficult stories, you would be surprised what goes on in kids’ lives even in “nice” suburban schools).

It is not my job to teach only to my cis, straight, white students. My job as an educator is to care for all the students in my classroom and to teach them ALL to the best of my ability.

But for me, as a parent, to fight against “And Tango Makes Three” because it depicts two male penguins adopting a baby chick and making a family is ludicrous because that is the reality for some of my students and some of my daughter’s classmates. My daughter (at least at this point) is also cis, white, and straight but her classmates are not and they deserve to see representations of themselves as much as my daughter deserves to see herself in the stories told at school.

You want a teacher who teaches your child different lessons in different ways; that will ensure your child understands it better. You want a teacher who is able to push back against your child’s ideas and misconceptions — this is how we learn after all. You want teachers who help build your child’s critical thinking skills. 

Being a critical thinker doesn’t mean that your ideas are always accepted or never challenged; being a critical thinker means that your child will question and evaluate the information and then grow from it.

Children need teachers who are supportive but also willing to be devil’s advocate; children need teachers that are going to open their eyes, their minds, and their hearts to all the beautiful aspects of this human life.

Equip your child with the skills and the values that they need to live; in a perfect society that happens as a partnership between what you value in your home and what is taught in the school. Let your children see their role in the beautiful tapestry because that will help them be successful as they grow up.

Life and Health

Can We Improve the World for Our Children?

White women, we must wake up. Hear me out, read to the end, and if you now hate me or think I’m wrong that’s fine but please don’t check out just because I am telling you to wake up.

I am one of you — a suburban, college educated, home-owning, karate parent (ok, not a “soccer mom” but that’s the closest I can get). I know the number of pressures we are feeling — obligations to our families, both immediate and extended, the stress of the economy, the fear of the world our children are growing up in and don’t forget the constant barrage of people telling us to take care of ourselves.

There doesn’t often seem like enough money in the bank account, time in the day, or energy in our bodies to handle it all. However, these crises have been going on for decades and they are coming to a head because corporate greed has consistently been placed before you and your families. Bottom lines have been growing to epic proportions that have continued to edge out our solidly middle class living — it has not been anyone other than corporate profits and making money for boards and shareholders that have created the world we are struggling so hard to live in.

Remember when living on one income didn’t seem like a crazy idea? Not that I personally would make a great stay at home mom, and I don’t want to be one, but if you do that life can feel so out of reach. Look at what’s been happening to local stores — small businesses that spend MOST of their money back in the community they live in have been edged out by corporate retailers and franchises because the local guy can’t keep up. But this isn’t about the economy — or I should say this isn’t JUST about the economy.

The world is hurting, the world is on fire, and we generally keep voting for people who want to pour gasoline on the fire.

We have been on this precipice before as a culture, we used to be ok with children dying or being badly injured in factory accidents. We used to be ok with bosses making it impossible for employees to escape a fire (yes, that really happened, look up the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire).

We have been the pawns in other people’s games unless we the people, all the people, stood up against it. Children don’t die working (as often) and employees have basic rights because we stood up and fought the powers that be for those rights.

We can do it again; we can change the world if we stop being pawns in the game played by those who just want to tap us on the shoulder and run away.

The real “they” we should be fighting are the ones who don’t have ALL children’s best interests at heart. The ones who want children born but don’t want them fed, clothed, educated, or loved by the society they live in.

We should not be arguing with people, some of them have a smaller slice of the pie than we do, over who’s got more pie when corporations are bringing in record profits for their shareholders.

from “Corporate profits have contributed disproportionately to inflation. How should policymakers respond?” by Josh Bivens linked above

This isn’t new information and it’s very easy to search for who’s really winning the race right now and for the most part it isn’t any of us, but “they” want us to believe we’d win the race if the other guy wasn’t there.

This isn’t a zombie movie; you do not need to be the fastest to make it out alive (in the name of transparency if this WAS a zombie movie I’d kick someone in the knees to ensure I get away to fight another day).

Follow the money.

Who benefits from us fighting each other? Who benefits by keeping everyone else scrambling over the left overs?

Don’t play into the fears. We have been through this all before but the “mine” mentality has never been the savior when we’ve been in this position. During World War II, when the government needed more resources to fight the fascists, what did we do as a society?

We gave up our nylons, we tended victory gardens, we rationed milk, eggs, and butter. Do you think the allies won WWII without our support and banding together? Did the “mine” mentality beat the Nazis?

Do you think it’s going to beat the Nazis now? There are Nazis and a million other groups who are so afraid of losing the power that they tenuously hold now that they are willing to attempt to overthrow the government to keep it instead of being able to see that we can all be part of the brilliant future, a future made of a million different threads.

“A rising tide raises all boats,” I’ve heard from people still thinking trickle down economics works (newsflash, it doesn’t and hasn’t ever worked) but if that’s the case then let’s work to raise the boats for as many people as possible because it will then raise the boats for everyone.

We have the power to protect our children and to make workplaces and communities safe; we’ve done it before. We have the power, as white women, to help make decisions that protect all children and show all children that they are loved and cared for regardless of their circumstances. If the other 6-year-old children in my daughter’s first grade class feel as safe, stable, and loved as she does, imagine the world she would live in as an adult?

As I tell my daughter often, a lot of times hurt people then hurt people. We can’t make hurt people feel better by hurting them back, hurting others, or ourselves. It takes a lot to step back and act from a place of love and empathy. People are telling us they are hurting; people are telling us that we are doing the hurting (or maybe in some cases just not helping); step back and examine yourself to see where that could be the case. I am not perfect, and I don’t believe anyone is asking for perfection, but if we can all do a little something better it will push the needle in the right direction.

Photo by Liane Metzler on Unsplash

Don’t just fight for your kid to be on the soccer team or for your kid to see themselves in books read at school — fight for all kids to be able to join the team or see themselves in media. Fight for all kids because those are the kids that your child is going to one day interact with as an adult.

In the immortal words of Whitney Houston:

“I believe the children are our future
 Teach them well and let them lead the way
 Show them all the beauty they possess inside
 Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
 Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be”

~Greatest Love of All

If you want to create a future for your kid, there must be a future for all the children on this planet and as white, suburban mothers we have the power to do that.

Life and Health

Rest This Holiday Season

The season has come crashing in like the old school Kool-Aid man; the holiday season is here. Whether we like it or not, it seems that the holiday season starts on November 1. I did see a meme the other day that indicated that the Holiday season runs November 1–23 and then picks up again November 26 until December 25 (or longer if you celebrate Three Kings Day).

Photo by Rodion Kutsaiev on Unsplash

On one hand, I can’t necessarily complain about the over commercialization of Christmas that overshadows the problematic history of the United States’ traditional Thanksgiving story. I feel like Thanksgiving needs a makeover in general; I think the ideals behind celebrating Thanksgiving are good: gratitude for family, friends, and what we have in our lives but not everyone has the same privileges and we’ve definitely arrived at those ideals through some sketchy historical shenanigans. There’s definitely a lot about our stories behind Thanksgiving that could use some transparency and updating but should this holiday be completely overrun by the Christmas onslaught that is already happening? It seems the Hocus Pocus crowd has already donned ugly sweaters and switched the pumpkin spice for peppermint mochas.

But what gets lost in the shuffle of this holiday changeover (so fast it gives you whiplash) is that the season is the reason for the season. I cringe whenever I see the “Christ is the reason for the season” or some such nonsense. The whole reason that this is the season of family, friends, rest, and gratitude is because it’s getting darker and darker out. Days are getting shorter, sunlight is lessening, and the ground can’t be used for planting.

Halloween, or Samhain, marks the end of the harvest season for individuals in areas that experience a winter. After Halloween, the world is going dormant from a biological perspective. When the hard work of planting and harvesting was completed, it was time to enjoy the time and rest, plan, and prepare for the next season.

Photo by James Padolsey on Unsplash

Days were shorter so people spent more time experiencing the community of each other and a chance to be grateful and hope to survive this treacherous time of constantly wondering “if it was enough?”

As a society, however, we have abandoned these rest phases and we are constantly working. It’s no wonder the feelings of burnout and stress are overwhelming, especially after having to “make up” for the past two years when things haven’t gone according to plan.

Yet instead of celebrating this season for what it is, we have over commercialized it and turned it into even more of a hustle with the parties and obligations, real or otherwise. We wonder why we are collectively struggling because we’ve stopped honoring the traditional rhythms of life. We were not meant to GO all the time.

All animals must stop and rest, we are no different.

This is not supposed to be a time of more stress but the obligations we impose on ourselves or feel imposed on us by society’s expectations are very real.

I remember when my daughter was born, all the “now you’re going to…” ideas that people thought would happen for the sake of memories. I refuse to fall victim to an overbooked calendar that leads me to feel more stressed and unhappy.

One of the “shoulds” that I don’t participate in is baking holiday cookies. I hate baking with a fiery passion so my solution is to buy a log of slice and bake sugar cookie dough, some sprinkles, frosting, and we go to town. My daughter’s favorite part is decorating the cookies anyway, but because I need to preserve my sanity I do it my own way.

Just yesterday my daughter asked if we could play “Find Rudolph” again. Rudolph happens to be a dollar store reindeer ornament that I hot glued a red pompom onto and then one day we hide it around the house to find and that’s what she remembers. She remembers us, together, laughing and having fun searching for this dollar store ornament around the house.

Many of the traps we fall into this season are a trick of marketing. You do not have to do anything you don’t want to do or anything that does not serve you/your family.

If you don’t want to get pictures with Santa, don’t do it.

If you don’t want to bake cookies, don’t do it.

If you don’t want to _________, don’t do it.

Pick and chose the things that are meaningful to you and your family. Come up with new traditions to celebrate the season. You don’t have to do this holiday season any other way than the way you want to do it.

You do not need to hold onto any tradition that doesn’t serve you or feel right. The whole point of this season is rest and reconnection to self and community after the work of the harvest. Reap the benefits of your hard work and remember to take a break.

Life and Health

4 Ways to Help Kids Grow

We give kids a lot less credit than they deserve. Society has trended towards more and more policing of children and their bodies in different ways in different spaces and it begs the question — how did we all survive when we were just released into the wilds on bikes and told to come home when the streetlights come on? In “Stranger Things” you see the kids ride off onto their bikes saving Hawkins from untold supernatural bad guys; but in today’s day and age most children aren’t given that level of freedom and autonomy to save the world.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Society bemoans the “millennial” who can’t do anything for themselves but look at what has happened to the way we raise children since I was born; I am what people would refer to the oldest of the elder millennials or the youngest of the Gen Xers (no one can quite figure us out) and how children’s lives are structured and how they are raised by the village in today’s society feels vastly different than how I was raised.

All in all, I think my parents did an excellent job. Of course, in retrospect there are things I wish had gone differently growing up, on both their and my parts but ultimately they did the best job they could with the information they had and thus created me — some might point out my character flaws and think they could have tamed them but ultimately I think they molded me the best way they could — but I digress.

This is not to say that we need to revert back to the “good ol’ days” because as Billy Joel tells us “the good old days aren’t always good” but I think there are definitely some lessons that we need to look at because through our words and actions we are constantly telling kids that they aren’t capable and adults need to handle everything for them — but we’ve been having children and surviving as a species for almost 200,000 years and if all our history has taught us anything kids aren’t as fragile as we make them out to be. We need to stop treating kids like they aren’t intelligent, aware, and conscious human beings.

We are meant to be their teachers (regardless of your position in their lives, if you come in contact with a child you are one of their teachers) but we are not meant to be their dictators.

Some ways I have found that help build up this in my own child –

1. Get her to order for herself at restaurants. From a very young age, I had my daughter talking directly to the waitstaff. It started out with her repeating what I/my husband were saying and then it grew to her asking directly for what she wants. Sometimes the waitstaff looks at me expecting me to order and I just say “tell them what you want” and she does it. Why? Because it’s her food. I’m not eating it and I don’t need to be her mouthpiece. When we went to get her ears pierced at the local tattoo shop (PSA — if you don’t know take your kids to get their ears pierced at a tattoo or piercing shop; not the gun at the mall!) and the piercer was very impressed with how she could tell him exactly what she wanted and her level of self-advocacy at 6 years old, exclaiming that he’s had 12-year-olds that can’t speak as freely as she does.

2. Let them have unstructured and unsupervised play time. I think this is the thing that has changed the most drastically over the past three or four decades. Children are not allowed or expected to be off doing their own thing without adult supervision. This is where critical thinking and problem solving skills are fostered; through free and unstructured play children learn their own boundaries and limits. I am not a “free-range” parent but I let my daughter range on the block with other kids. We did have to buy a set of walkie-talkies so we could communicate because sometimes she’ll bounce from house to house and it took a little extra to track her down so these allow us to check in, call her home for dinner, or whatever but we allow her the chance to experience life without an adult managing it for her.

3. When they have a meltdown — let them. We cannot manage all the emotional ups and downs of life for ourselves so we definitely can’t micromanage our children’s emotional roller coasters. The best we can do is give them the techniques, be there for them, and when they’re ready, let them to come back to us. When my daughter is really upset I ask her if she’s hungry if I know she hasn’t eaten in a while (being a kid takes a lot of energy!) and then I offer a hug and if neither of those things helps her to regulate herself I’ll tell her to come talk to me when she’s ready. We need to let them walk the walk of difficult emotions. No one likes them and they don’t always feel good but working through them allow us to grow through them.

4. Have tough conversations with them. We’ve had to discuss why we don’t put on blackface, prison, death, periods, miscarriage, differently abled people, different family structures, and a myriad of other things considering that she is just 6 years old. They can handle topics that sometimes we’d rather not talk about. These are part of their lives and if your child goes to school with others they will hear and experience things that we do not control so occasionally we have to have these discussions whether we want to or not. If you use age-appropriate language and examples, they can handle it better than you thought possible; usually better than most of us who have grown up shying away from tough conversations. And if all else fails, there is usually a book on amazon or at the library that can help you talk about anything that might come up.

Bottom line is that children are more capable and do not need to be shielded from the realities of the world. If anything, this shielding hurts them in the long run; we should be the soft place to land when things go wrong or get difficult. 

Things will go wrong, they will get difficult, and children don’t need platitudes or sugar coating — they need adults who will face the tough things as the wind at their back helping them move forward and not the bulldozer plowing the field in front of them. 

If the demogorgan came to your town, could your kid help save the day?

Life and Health

Nothing Left Unsaid

I was thinking about my dad today and with that came thoughts about grief and loss. My dad passed away almost 10 years ago after a six-month battle with Small Cell Lung Cancer (SMLC). If you aren’t aware, SCLC is the type of lung cancer that most often effects smokers (or those exposed to smoke on the regular), and my father was a smoker for almost my entire life and long before I was brought into this world. He stopped briefly after a heart attack at 40 but unfortunately his addiction was too strong. My brother and I posted “No Smoking Section” signs around the house when we were little and over the years, I expressed my disdain for this habit and plead with my father to stop but for whatever reason he never could until it was too late.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Ten years later and I still miss him every day. Something will still remind me of him or the wish that he could “be here” for this moment. My beliefs on death and the afterlife are still a bit fuzzy. My mother would say he’s “still with us” or he’s “looking down on us” and that’s all well and good but I remember being a tween when my own grandfather passed away and all that did was creep me out. I was not happy at the idea of my grandfather “always looking down on us” from Heaven; when I got out of the shower for example. I remember distinctly sitting in my room one day after a shower, wrapped in a towel, looking around my room like “Dziedek?” (Dziedek = Grandfather in Polish) And ever since then my feelings around “Heaven” have been a little skeptical.

But I digress….the afterlife (or lack thereof) is not the point of this.

The point is living with the grief over the past ten years and the 6 months that led up to his passing.

When my father was first diagnosed I, of course, went to “the Google” and read up on SCLC. It’s a pretty gnarly and fast acting cancer. At the time, median survival was only approximately 18 months which meant on average patients diagnosed with this cancer usually died around 18 months — some shorter, some longer; we all know how averages work, right? I knew something was up when they wanted to start chemo like yesterday and were scrambling to call other hospitals to find the drugs. I met the doctor outside my father’s room and said, “tell me the truth.” The poor doc looked like a caged and worn out animal, didn’t help that I towered over him (thanks Dad!), and said “we try to treat each patient as an individual, not a statistic….*pause*…cherish what time you have left with your father.” I nodded and went back into the room. I knew what he meant.

I also talked with my minister at the time, Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti (who is a man of incredible insight and compassion honestly if you ever get the chance to meet him you should do it regardless of your faith tradition). I expressed my frustrations and anger that basically my dad had done this to himself, and we were suffering because of it. He acknowledged my feelings but told me to stop and just love my father and be present with him during whatever time we have left. 

Because of the doctor and Manish, I spent those six months trying to remain present and enjoy what I still had with my father while I still had it. Some days it certainly wasn’t easy and some days I was angry as hell that I was going to lose my father in some unspecified amount of time but I kept going.

Now almost ten years have gone, and I still think about him every day; I am incredibly sad that he isn’t around to meet my daughter. I can just see my Dad with my daughter trailing behind him as his little helper, the way I was at her age. Unfortunately, my daughter has never met him but she does ask about him once and a while and I try to tell her stories or share experiences with her like “my dad used to do this with me.” While we were camping a few weeks ago, I told her that her Babci and Dziedek (my parents) took me camping when I was her age so this was something I was passing on to her.

While I still miss my Dad, I don’t feel the gut wrenching absence that his death initially caused. The hole that was there in 2012 when he passed away has been filled with the way my Mom (Babci) tries to be the best she can for my daughter, the way I share things with my daughter and say “my Dad, your Dziedek, taught me that”, or when I see her following after her own father trying to be his helper.

In those last six months, I really tried to embrace the message from Manish and the doctor so I could focus on what is and not what could or should be.

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

I’m not in a stranglehold from grief or regret because there wasn’t anything left unsaid or undone when he died. When we sneaked (or snuck depending on what country you live in) into my mom’s house to decorate that first Christmas after he passed, I said to my brother it wasn’t about ignoring that he existed just because it hurt so much (we were debating putting up one of his golfing ornaments on the tree), it was about celebrating that he was in our lives; I can still hear him to this day whistling “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”.

I can’t be wrapped up in “what ifs” because I’ll miss what is — which is beautiful even if someone is missing from it.

What if we always acted like we might die tomorrow? What regrets wouldn’t we live with or what wouldn’t be left unsaid? 

Whether it’s telling people that we love or appreciate them (why is this so hard sometimes?) or telling people the things that are getting on our nerves or hurt us so it can stop twisting us up in knots — things shouldn’t be left unsaid because what happens if you could never say them again?

Life and Health

Dealing With “Bucket Dippers”

Photo by Mary Oloumi on Unsplash

If you aren’t aware, there is a book titled “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud. It’s a great little story about “bucket fillers” (people who do nice things for others) and “bucket dippers” (people who do mean things to others). It explains how you can fill your own bucket of happiness by filling other people’s buckets. While I don’t disagree with this sentiment, I think it’s important to teach kids empathy and to be “bucket fillers” but I think we’ve spent so much time trying to force people into being bucket fillers that we haven’t taught kids either how to deal with days when they want to be bucket dippers or how to deal with the bucket dippers in their lives.

We have spent so much time and energy on the “be kind” movement and it doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. There still seems to be a large contingent of people that are in it for their own gains and to be fair, there are days where we’re all a little selfish. Sometimes selfish is good but there are other times where being too selfish means being a bucket dipper. Always telling kids to “be kind” or be a “bucket filler” doesn’t help them deal with the very real feelings of wanting to be selfish and sometimes in our adult lives NEEDING to be selfish.

All we’re going to do is raise more adults to be burned out because they’re constantly trying to be something for someone else.

What happens when you’re in a relationship that becomes toxic? What happens when your friends really want you to go out when you really need to stay home and rest? By constantly telling kids to be “bucket fillers” we are missing the fine line between being a decent human being and being a doormat. Sometimes I want my daughter to be selfish, I want her to stand up for herself and be her own person without always being worried about what it’s going to do to someone else’s bucket. And what happens when, because inevitably it will, they want to be selfish and suddenly they worry about whether they’re going into bucket dipper territory? Kids see things in black and white and I wonder what kind of messages “The Giving Tree” and this book are planting in their heads sometimes.

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash

The other problem I have with this idea is that we’re not telling children HOW to deal with the bucket dippers. There will always be bucket dippers in your life — sometimes they’re friends who unintentionally do things that are hurtful and sometimes they are people who don’t see the world the same way you do. There will always be hurt or angry feelings to contend with and someone who doesn’t like you but we’re setting them up with the unrealistic expectation that we’re “all friends here” when that’s not going to be the case. When you get out into the uncontrolled dog eat dog real world (and sometimes that’s just the playground) it’s not always friendly.

Kids need to find ways to problem solve and resolve conflicts that are more complicated than just the platitude of “be a bucket filler honey!” By not allowing kids free range to work through the difficult and sometimes difficult relationships of life because there’s always an adult going “now be nice to your friends” or something to that effect we’re not letting children develop the necessary skills to navigate the messy waters of real life.

There is another strong-willed girl on our street that is a year younger than my daughter. They generally play together very well but sometimes their fierce personalities get in the way and one (or both) stomp off to their respective houses to sort out their feelings and cool off about whatever the problem happened to be. I recognize this is part of being a kid and part of dealing with other people. I haven’t stepped in to try and force the two girls to work out their issues and “stay friends” because we all get angry sometimes, we all want it our way (Burger King banked on that) and part of learning how to deal with other people is learning that we must pick and choose and sometimes there needs to be compromise. Living in the real world means determining what you can compromise on and what you can’t but sometimes you can’t identify the boundaries until they’ve been crossed, and you deal with the fallout of that.

Yes, I want my daughter to be a “bucket filler” most of the time but I don’t want her to be so focused on being a bucket filler that she loses herself in the mix. 

I want all of us to be kind and that includes being kind to ourselves; sometimes we need to fill up our own bucket in whatever ways we feel called to do.

Being in community sometimes means that things get a little complicated and we must learn to deal with the unpleasantness when things don’t go the way we want them to so I will continue trying to help my daughter navigate the grey messy middle in between being a doormat or always doing for others and being a jerk.

Life and Health

A Burden Shared – Part 2

TW: pregnancy, loss, and Roe v. Wade

Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

Back in October 2021, I shared the gut-wrenching loss of miscarriage after an unexpected pregnancy. It’s been a few months and while I thought I was “over it” that doesn’t seem to be the case. In January my partner had a vasectomy because while the unexpected pregnancy excited me, it scared him. He has a genetic condition called epidermolysis bullosa where his skin layers aren’t fused together properly so he gets blisters just by catching his elbow on the door frame or scuffing his heels on the stairs. While normal people experience blisters on occasion, his condition results in them happening constantly and very visibly. I’ve lost count how many times we’re out and people ask him “what happened?” and he sometimes answers with the truth (usually when I’m there to call him out when he lies) or he’ll offhandedly reply “chemical burns” or “motorcycle accident” when he doesn’t want to deal with the further explanations. I am the one more often to explain the truth; I imagine this is because I don’t give a $h!t but also because I’ve only been dealing with it for the length of our relationship whereas he has been dealing with the stares and comments his whole life. And while most people are just genuinely curious and trying to be sympathetic; some have been downright rude about it. Magnified over his lifetime and coupled with the fact that his father had the same condition, he has grown tired of it.

I don’t relay the small snapshot of what he’s dealt with for any reason other than to try and explain that we discussed and agreed upon the vasectomy; it was not a decision he made on his own despite my attempts to sway his opinion. Through our discussions I realized the pain he would feel passing on the condition (there was a 50–50 chance) and potentially laying that burden on a child would be way more than my pain at not having a second child. However, as with anything, while I agreed and was part of the decision I still have to wrestle with my own feelings and regrets at realizing that our family is purposefully going to remain capped at three members.

And I was doing fine with it until April hit. April was Blueberry’s due month and leading up to my period I had some symptoms that I warped into some false hope that meant maybe his was the vasectomy that didn’t work. I built up in my mind that these symptoms MEANT something and when my period started, I was absolutely devastated. I woke up in the middle of the night, started ugly crying like it was September 2021 all over again. I woke him up to comfort me and desperately tried not to wake up my daughter at the same time because the sobs just wracked my body unexpectedly.

It was 2:00am and I couldn’t remember how to call out of work because they just changed the system over and I completely forgot my log in information, so I ended up going to work. Fortunately, I was showing a movie about The Human Genome Project so in the darkness while the movie played, I tried to keep the tears to a minimum but sometimes they would slip down my face and I’d brush them away. I made sure to get my log in information so I could take the next day off so I wouldn’t have to sit through another day of class trying to hide my crying.

I talked with some friends about it, the period (and the PMS symptoms) passed, and I was able to move on until the draft supreme court opinion dropped in May which brought an onslaught of discussions about pregnancy, abortion, and miscarriages to the national stage. The captured news cycle discussed almost nothing but pregnancy and it forced me to relive the emotional roller coaster of August and September 2021.

After the radiologist told me that the zygote was no longer viable, I had to be checked over by my doctor to see if the miscarriage had completed otherwise, I would need assistance. I remember sitting in the waiting room of my Ob/Gyn’s office, watching pregnant women come and go; trying not to turn into a wailing, rocking, shaking mess. It was insanely hard watching all these women walk past me and sit down next to me while they waited for their own appointment but in May 2022, I imagined what would have happened if I went into that doctor’s office and was treated like a suspect instead of the immeasurably sad and sometimes inconsolable woman that I was. What would have happened if the doctor started interrogating me about whether I may have done anything or somehow caused this miscarriage either by accident or on purpose? What would have happened if the doctor didn’t (or couldn’t) prescribe the medication I needed to make sure my uterus expelled all the dying tissue and my body went septic leading to hospitalization and potentially death? Where would my partner and daughter be then?

I was over 8 weeks pregnant, in some states and at a different time the horror of being treated like a suspect and not a woman who needed medical (and emotional) care could have been a very real possibility. Of course, some of you will say, “you were clearly distraught” or “it was evidenced that you wanted your baby” but that’s not the point. With the rotation of medical care, the doctor I saw for my miscarriage had never treated me before and depending on what notes the midwife put in my file at my previous appointment, or if he even had time to read them, he may have his own opinion about the situation. He asked me if the pregnancy was planned and I answered honestly that it wasn’t — in a different state that could have led to a whole new line of questioning and/or treatment from the doctor or staff. And what would have happened to me while they were trying to decide if I did something wrong or not?

None of the medical staff questioned or tried to sway my husband from getting a vasectomy. No one has called out his choice for how he’s treated his body and prevented us from having more children (except when they didn’t realize I was in fact part of the decision-making process). They did not require me to attend the appointment to make sure it’s what I wanted as well. However, my situation could have led to me being treated like a potential criminal and scrutinized for everything I did leading up to the miscarriage to determine whether it was truly “natural” or if I somehow made it happen, because even unknowingly causing a miscarriage could be considered a crime in some parts of the United States.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

It has been 10 months and I’m still not “over it”. There are still pangs of guilt and “what ifs”. There are still moments of sadness and regret, but I am lucky enough to be surrounded by family and friends who support me, and not experiencing these emotions while at the mercy of the legal system. We all have our burdens to carry but when we get to share them with others it lightens the load.

DIY and Organization, Life and Health

To Clean Or Not To Clean?

We have had a whirlwind of birthday parties these past four weeks. As of writing this we’ve had a birthday party every weekend for a month, and it’s been succor to this extrovert’s heart but after two years of the pandemic it seems like my social life (or more accurately my daughter’s) went from 0 to 60 without blinking. While we have both enjoyed being able to be around people and socialize in a way that hasn’t happened for quite a while it’s been weird having commitments again and I must remind myself that I don’t want to live in that frenzied state of running from one thing to the next without a break.

But as someone who thrives on engaging with others even in small doses, how can I meet that need without burning the candles at both ends? How can I feed my extrovert soul without shirking my responsibilities at home or the need to sometimes pause and reflect?

Photo by Ricardo Viana on Unsplash

The problem with being out all the time is I feel like my house is in shambles because we haven’t spent time cleaning up and putting things away because we’re running. My daughter has also found new friends on the block, so she is out the door to play with them most days after school; since it’s keeping her from becoming a screen zombie and it’s feeding her extrovert soul, I find it hard to tell her no but then she is also not learning responsibility around keeping up with the household chores.

Don’t get me wrong, our house is not an unsanitary, hazardous waste dump but there is just STUFF. Stuff that collects on every surface because we (yes, I do it to even though I tend to blame most of it on my husband and child) just come home and drop whatever we’re carrying or what needs to be sorted through in any number of places. I attempt to have clean surfaces, such as the breakfast nook or the dining room table but they quickly get overtaken by mail that needs to be sorted, kindergarten work that needs to be recycled in the dead of night, so she doesn’t notice it disappearing, or other items that need to find their home in our house.

I try to put systems in place that facilitate getting things put away in an organized manner, but my husband tends to rebel against those systems (he’s a rebel at heart, thanks Gretchen Rubin) and my daughter is now six so any thought process that extends beyond the here and now is lost on her. Days or weeks later she will ask for something — I’ll respond, “did you put it away?” and she’ll look bewildered at me like those are foreign words she’s never heard before.

But I know full well this is our fault. We have not instilled in her the need or the routines. Sure, she helps around the house, or she’ll put things away when I tell her to or withhold something from her when it gets really bad (“you can’t go play until….” “Or no TV until….”) which is not the best strategy. I’d like to raise a kid who puts things away and cleans up after herself but her parents haven’t been so hot at it either so I can’t really blame her.

Being someone who deals with ADHD symptoms, having systems in place and routines greatly helps keep me be organized and productive because when my environment is chaotic, my mind is chaotic because it’s struggling to keep tabs on ALL THE THINGS. Where are *insert item here*? What was I supposed to be doing? And then I’ll get distracted by the things that need to be put away or dealt with but trying to stay on top of these systems when I’m in essence forcing them on two other mostly autonomous beings in the house is another level of exhaustion so then I just say “screw it” even though I know that makes things worse for me in the long run.

I keep promising to myself that we will implement regular chores or time to clean up again both as a way to keep the house neat but also work on teaching her responsibility, but it always feels like I’m swimming against the current. And yet at the same time I know it will be good for all of us to go back to a little bit at a time — I just have to be the adult and make it happen.

Who knew that most of adulthood would be cleaning up the same $hit repeatedly?

And then I think about myself, it wasn’t until I got to college and had “itty bitty living space” where I really learned the value of putting things away and keeping things organized.

As with so many things in parenting, I know that we are sowing the seeds that take a long time to bloom but I just have to plant them.

Life and Health, Tips and Tricks

The Belvita Breakdown and Decision Fatigue

I’ve been thinking a lot about decision fatigue lately. If you don’t know, decision fatigue is the idea that every choice you must make takes mental energy. The more choices you have to make, the less mental energy you have.

Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

Think of your brain like a bank account balance; if you start the day with $100 every decision you must make or question you need to answer withdraws from that bank account. The lower the number gets the harder it is to make decisions. And then add into the calculations if you didn’t get enough sleep or something is weighing on your mind and those items decrease your initial balance to get started. As you spend that $100 it gets harder and harder to make the right decisions because then you start making the easy ones (which aren’t always the healthiest) like doom scrolling on social media, zoning out in front of the TV, or eating ALL the snacks (yes, I have done all these, sometimes at the same time!!).

In an ideal world you will either just run out of your mental energy or still have a surplus when it’s time to go to bed but that definitely doesn’t seem like the case lately.

Therefore, developing habits that are routine make life easier. The more habits you have in place to accomplish the “adulting” the easier it is to make it through the day doing the right thing. For example, when I don’t meal plan, dinner easily becomes cereal in front of the TV. And while there is no shade for cereal in front of the TV for dinner on occasion, I know that it doesn’t really make me feel good when it happens too often during the week.

At school we instituted a rotating schedule amid coming out of a pandemic and returning to “normal” and I believe that has been the crux of my ability to settle into this year. When we have been trying to re-learn how to function as this pandemic raged on and is now (hopefully) turning the corner into an endemic reality of life I have been struggling to get used to and organize myself on this four-day rotating schedule where every day is different. It is March and I still haven’t stayed in a routine — every time I try to get into one at school something throws me a curveball, or my balance is already so low that I just sit and stare at my computer trying to think of what I should be doing.

This was evidenced a few weeks ago when my go to breakfast wasn’t available — it was 6:00am and there I was standing in the kitchen whining like my 5-year-old because I just couldn’t make a decision about what to eat for breakfast. My routine had been thrown out of whack by the simple miscalculation of how many Belvita breakfast biscuits were left in the pantry. With my morning routine thrown off it’s axis my day took a little while to get back on track. Something as simple as a package of “breakfast cookies” drained my bank account in the morning because I have been fighting to control the chaos of the past two years and maintain some level of normalcy or structure both for myself and my daughter.

If you have (or been around) children, you’ve probably noticed that being hungry is the quickest drain to the account. When trying to get my daughter breakfast on weekend mornings if we wait too long and we ask her “what do you want for breakfast?” the answer becomes a resounding “I DON’T KNOW!!” and at that point we should stop talking to her and throw some food at her until her bank account is restored.

It has been the constant barrage of changes, pivots and “what ifs” that has really tested my coping skills in the past two years.

Habits are the automatic deposits into the mental energy bank account; they are the psychological equivalent to “paying yourself first”. The more things you can make into a habit the less willpower your life takes. Gretchen Rubin has 21 strategies to use for habit change and James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) has a lot of information on building good or breaking bad habits. Finding the habits that automatically deposit into your account are crucial for feeling less drained and more productive overall.

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

I am hoping that as Spring arrives in the Northern Hemisphere and it seems that the constant pivots are a thing of the past, I can work on building some new habits to lessen the decision fatigue and mental exhaustion that has felt like an omnipresent companion these past two years. I want to use my habits to add to the bank account instead of having to think about every choice in a 24-hour period (16 if you get 8 hours sleep). As a woman, wife, mother, and teacher there are lots of choices I need to make every day so if I can start moving more of those into the automatic payment column everything will be a little easier.

Life and Health

4 Things I Learned During a “Phone Sabbath”

Writer Casper ter Kuile in “The Power of Ritual” explains a complete tech sabbath every week but for me I decided to try to do just a phone sabbath from 7p Friday night until 7p Saturday night and here are the things I learned:

1. I use my phone for literally EVERYTHING. From looking up directions or phone numbers, keeping on top of the news, checking in on discord servers and everything in between. My phone is as much a tool as it is a distraction — it’s the calculator in my pocket that my high school math teacher swore I wouldn’t have and the on the go banking assistant that allows me to stay on budget. It keeps my calendar appointments and sends me reminders when its critically important that I don’t put them off or forget about them.

2. I did get things accomplished that I would have otherwise put off for the sake of sitting on the couch and zoning out with the doom scrolling. As I write this, we are 3 days into the Russian attack on Ukraine, so I’ve been reading the news a lot. Instead of reading the news I steam cleaned the rug, did the dishes in a timely fashion, checked on the finances, put laundry away, and set up some summer things for the munchkin and I to stay active.

3. I got bored and wished I could use my phone. When the munchkin starts her “I’m bored” tirade when she is not being engaged by an electronic device, I have a little more sympathy for her now. I too wished I could have been entertained but when it wasn’t an option, my brain was able to settle down and enjoy the world around me. It wasn’t until the phone wasn’t an option that I learned how much I really miss around me because I’m looking down.

4. Hanging out with friends and sleeping were two very good antidotes to phone withdrawal. Had I not been asleep or celebrating a friend’s birthday for probably close to 13 hours during the 24-hour phone lock out I would have been a lot more confused about what to do with myself. Physically resting and hanging out with friends kept me from wondering what I was missing out on in the digital space. When I reentered the digital world I realized I hadn’t really missed much.

Friday night I was exhausted so I started my phone break and pretty much fell right asleep around 8pm and slept almost straight through until 7am Saturday morning. Once I got up, I locked out my phone for everything but phone calls and text messages (I use the QualityTime App and since the latest software upgrade sometimes I can’t even get to the “allowed” apps). I do not have a landline, so I figured phone calls and text messages were neither the major culprit of my screen problems nor a good idea to block out just in case of emergencies. And through the rest of Saturday, I had to find things to do and ways to entertain myself that did not involve my phone.

By the end of Saturday night, I had finally broken my habit of checking my phone every spare chance I got — the phone had reverted to the useful tool instead of the constant distraction. I appreciate the ways in which my phone fosters connectedness and information, but I also can see more clearly now the ways in which it negatively inserts itself into my life.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

It was like pushing reset and I am going to do it more often.