Fear, Kids, Self-awareness

Thquarantine count3is pic is my daughter’s running total of the start our COVID “adventure,” when things went funny and we all went into hiding. For her that’s when school ended and distance learning began. (She says it won’t be over until we can go to the movies, still not open yet, and not wear masks.) That was 108 days ago. I dashed her plans of having a  “quarantine party” on day 100 though; I told her those two words don’t mix well.

So here we are, over three months after the coronavirus changed our daily lives, and what’s different? From completely sheltering in place and hoarding food and toilet paper to, as of right now, getting our haircuts again, going to more stores, and not living in constant terrified fear of “getting the virus.” And yet, I can’t help but feel like my family and friends are in some kind of weird quarantine limbo. The infection rates are increasing, but no one I know has had it yet. We see the numbers go up, the red dots fill in on maps, but it’s like we’re all waiting. And waiting. For what? To get it? To not get it?

In the meantime, we can do nothing but speculate and question the future. What will life be like in a few months? Will school start as it normally should? Can my husband ever go back to his office? Or will we all go back to how life was in March?

And the question that is most on my mind: how are we ever going to fully avoid this virus anyway?

And guess what, there are no answers. We are back to the “wait and see” mode of living, and let’s just say it, it stinks! Us humans don’t handle uncertainty well. We like to have concrete plans and a solid vision of the future, even if that’s unrealistic because no one can predict what may or may not happen tomorrow (we still like to believe we’re in control of our fates).

So, here are some helpful tips that I’ve been trying to help deal with this big question mark time in our lives:

Focus on the now. As difficult as it is to not think about next week or next month or next year, we must try not to. We just don’t know what will happen. We can only look at right now, the present moment. That’s often easier said than done, but know that it’s an ongoing practice, not something you’ll figure out and be done with forever. Every time your mind lingers to the future, bring it back to now.

Accept unpredictability and change. Lately, I’ve heard many people say, “I just want to go back to normal.” Hallelujah, I do too. But the fact is, we can’t. Not yet. And, I hate to say it, but we may not ever. I don’t like the uncomfortable feeling that comes with such an acknowledgment either, but the sooner we learn to accept change (even if it’s just agreeing that it’s happening), the easier it will be. After all, there’s that saying, “the only constant is change.” Each year I realize how true that is.

Control what you can. Focus on the things that are within your control, even if it’s just the little things, what to eat for dinner this week, what to wear the next day (assuming that’s worth the effort!). Make routines for yourself or your family to create some structure. It helps.heart-hedge

Until then, we’ll keep at it. And hopefully, see y’all on the other side of this virus.

 

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Grief, Kids, Parenting

canceled2If you had any fun and exciting travel plans this summer, or camps or sports for your kids, you’re probably starting to get the feeling that they’re not going to happen. Just like the spring when, one by one, event after event got nixed, so is the summer. Yes, places are slowly attempting to re-open, but they do so while maintaining difficult, and sometimes impossible, restrictions on the number of people allowed, adequate spacing, and many mask and glove requirements. So even if some of these plans did go forward, they sure wouldn’t be much fun.

This was the realization with my own children’s summer rec swim team. Typically, practice starts the Monday after school gets out and it’s a summer filled with weekly practices and Saturday meets. It’s exhausting at times, but it keeps them busy, active, and socializing with their friends. The board decided (and I am a part of it) that the attempt to try and have a max of eight kids in the pool at one time, along with six-feet distancing for anyone on the pool deck, people occupying the bathroom, or waiting outside to get in, was just too much for parents to enforce or comply with. Couple that with constant required temperature checks and you have a rigid, restrictive, and depressing summer rec team.

Still, accepting that fact was hard on my kids and me. This has been our regular summer for the past five to six years. It is something routine and expected. My kids are dying to feel some normalcy and be around their usual teammates. Now, like everything else with this virus, it’s changed. And that’s still hard to take.

So, we are accepting and dealing with the frustration, disappointment, and sometimes anger, about more changes to plans, be it summer swim team or that trip we were thinking about (insert anyplace here, we had no idea yet). And I am also trying to re-think what summer means, then and now.

Before, it was always about trying to keep my children occupied and not let them become screen zombies, while also staying active in some way. Summer was never really that relaxing time with “beach reads” and sunbathing, not when your kids are small, and not before that when there was always work or summer school. Summer has never been that idyllic, carefree vacation time, for me anyway. But can it be now?

And this is where the “let’s make the best of it” side comes in. Maybe summer can be somewhat relaxing for all of us. Instead of sweating at swim meets, working the meet computer software and waking up very early to do so, maybe we take the summer off. Yes, it will be challenging to keep my son’s Fortnite marathon at bay, or to make my nearly teenager daughter do something more than lie around and complain of boredom, maybe we can do different things instead. No home schooling, no rushing to practices, and hopefully, no ensuing arguments over frivolous things (being really optimistic there).

IMG_4602 (2)What that might look like, I still don’t have a clear picture of yet, but I told my daughter that we will be visiting lots of places with water in lieu of a pool (and thankfully, we can do that where we live in the middle of nowhere). For those of you who had that great trip planned, the disappointment and the pain of getting refunded is probably extreme, and I am sorry about that. No one wants to continue this way. But, can we find ways to make the best of it? We can wait (which many of us have a hard time doing) until it’s safer to go on that trip (because it really wouldn’t be much fun right now anyway). In the grand scheme of things, so far, we have had two seasons of one year altered from the way we expect them. That’s six months out of the many years that we live. Yes, we can get through it, children and adults too.

So go ahead and admire my optimism right now, but by August, I’m sure I’ll be praying for open schools!

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Kids, Self-awareness

Two days before Christmas last month I went to a Walmart store in an unfamiliar neighborhood in hopes of finding Queen’s Greatest Hits for my son (“We Will Rock You” had become his anthem). According to Walmart’s website, it was in stock at this particular store in an area that I did not know. In the past few years, my shopping has mostly been done on-line – no lines, no cranky people, but also no interesting experiences.shopping-carts

This particular Walmart was chaos contained in 50,000 square feet. The parking lot itself was a challenge with people zooming all over, all trying to get the best spot; there was a truck sitting in one of the main lanes not moving, possibly not running, while everyone tried to get around or figure out how to back up. I was driving our big truck because I had to get hay for our animals. I already felt out of place maneuvering this huge vehicle and trying to squeeze myself into a spot at the very end of the lot where I could hopefully get back out again without damaging other cars.

“Get in and get out,” I told myself walking into the store.  I sucked in breath as I saw the madness of Walmart near Christmas. The register lines were endless with people of every nationality looking frustrated and stressed, the displays at the front had been damaged from so many people going by, and the chorus of children crying drowned out the bad Christmas music over the speakers.

“Music section, music section,” I directed myself through the throngs of assorted disgruntled shoppers. I had no idea where that would be. My luck usually dictates that it would somewhere completely across the store and I was not disappointed: it was in the very back corner. I finally reached it only to find the CDs in absolutely no recognizable order; if one happened to be in the right alphabetical spot, it was only by chance. And, as I guessed, Queen was nowhere to be found. In fact, there was were nothing in the Q section that started with such a letter. I halfheartedly looked through the surrounding area and the closest I found to classic rock was Poison.

An overweight and bored employee attempting to put CDs in their rightful places asked me if I needed help.”Have you seen any Queen around here?” I asked doubtfully. He laughed as though I asked him if there was a pot of gold at the end of aisle six. I told him that Walmart’s website said that it was in-stock here. This made him laugh harder. He then went on to tell me about an outside website where I could buy an entire MP3 album for $1.50 instead of playing $10 at iTunes. I told him thanks, noted that there was no employee loyalty lurking here, then went to get a gallon of milk so I could get out of this place.

Throughout my adventure in the store the loudspeaker kept announcing that “Giovanni has lost his mom” and would she please come to the front to find him. At first, I was concerned for both parties, being a mom myself I would be distraught if I lost my kid. After the fifth announcement for poor old Giovanni, I started to think that maybe his mom didn’t want to find him. Finding the milk, I politely said “excuse me” to another shopper who was staring into the case. I opened it, got my milk, then held it open for her as I assumed she was getting some too. She looked at me, rolled her eyes, and kept going down the aisle. “OOOkay,” I said to myself, resolving to leave this place and not linger another moment.

I walked up to the registers to find that the chaos had settled somewhat. I found a line that looked promising and watched as a mother and a teenage daughter argued over going back to get something. The girl’s attitude suggested that she was not doing it, but the mother’s bigger attitude prevailed, and the girl went to get whatever missing item they forgot. I noticed that they were next in line but the woman did not look like she was willing to let anyone past, even if that meant she held up the line for the next half hour. “Next line,” I said to myself. I went over one register and found a person trying to buy something with no price and attempting to argue with the cashier over the real price of the item in broken English with no success. Another woman in back of me kept sighing very loudly and saying things to herself about the scene.

This went on for another five minutes. I noticed that Giovanni had finally been reunited with his mom, who had four other children with her and looked like she didn’t care if she had ever found him again. Finally, another cashier opened up and I dashed for it only to find another woman trying to get there faster. As usual, I heeded to the other shopper, not finding it worth the effort to argue over who was there first. To my surprise, she told me that I got there first and to go ahead. “Really? Thanks!” I said looking over at the line where the teenager had still not returned and the people behind the mother getting thoroughly pissed off while the mother looked completely unperturbed, if anything she was seeking a challenger to fight.

The cashier was an older African American woman who was very friendly and helpful, and didn’t seem to mind the Christmas craziness. I paid for my milk and got out of there as fast as I could. The line with the mother and absent teenage girl was starting to get very heated, eyes were starting to bulge and chests heave. “Thank the lord!” I said to myself, dashing to the truck only to find three carts piled up behind it. I got them lined up and moved them to the overflowing cart return, not seeing an employee in sight who would be taking them any time soon.

Getting in my truck, without the CD that I originally sought, I watched as the public transit whizz by, heard horns honking in the distance, and just wanted to leave this store and this place and never come back. I wanted to go home to our very quiet and nature laden neighborhood, where I don’t see another house next to mine, where three cars constitutes a traffic jam, and where animals are more prevalent than people. And I did, after squeezing through the parking lot where the same truck from earlier had not moved; I drove forty-five minutes north east of there, and breathed in the country air, and was glad for it.

Visiting this Walmart in this an unfamiliar neighborhood was good for me, however, because it truly made me appreciate what I have and where I live. I unloaded the hay and was glad for the sweat and effort that it took. I realized that it would be very hard for me to live in an area anywhere near a Walmart, even though I have lived in suburban and somewhat urban areas in the past. We worked hard to get here and it suits me; it would be difficult to live any other place.

It also made me realize that living on five acres in the country is my attempt to hide from reality. In this case, I was trying to hid from Christmas insanity, and it showed me why I should shop ahead and on-line where I deal with no people. But what are the countrysideconsequences of that? Besides getting to maintain my sanity, am I depriving my children and myself of seeing other ways of life? Will my kids be unable to handle a chaotic situation surrounded by unfamiliar people one day because I avoid these places?

In truth, I barely take them to any retail store beyond the grocery store because I don’t want to hear about all the things they want. We often avoid retail entirely so they can’t see and don’t know what they don’t have.  However, I do think that my way of life “in the country” is a shield from other realities; and I have found that I am not the only one. Most of the people near us live out here for a reason: for some it is their retirement and they want to “get away from it all;” for others, it is wanting their kids to grow up in a place where they can get dirty, and some have just lived here their entire lives and are content with that way of life.  Either way, I’ll take my isolation, be glad that I am not Giovanni or his mom, and next year, shop ahead on-line, at least near Christmas time!

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Kids, Parenting

This is an article that I wrote and was originally published in the April 2018 issue of Sacramento Parent. If you want to read it there, visit this link and go to page 12.

Let’s face it, moms, having a new baby can be tough. The constant feedings and changings, the wacky sleep schedule that you must follow, the new upside-down world you now call yours, it’s hard on the body and the spirit! Your little one is here and you love that baby more than anything, but this life change comes with a new set of challenges. Even moms who don’t have babies anymore and are accustomed to their lives with children still need downtime to unwind and recharge. Here are some tips from You Made It to Motherhood: A Guide for New Moms for those who have new babies or those with old “babies”!

cup-of-tea

  • Make time for self-care. This one might seem obvious, but it also can be so hard to do! A new mom, especially, is often happy if she gets to take a shower, let alone anything extravagant. Sometimes, it just takes a little creativity to find little moments that are just for you. When your baby is napping, for instance, instead of doing laundry, cleaning the house, or trying to get all those thank-you notes out, take an hour just for yourself. That can mean anything that you enjoy: reading a brain-candy novel, having a special treat all to yourself, relaxing on your deck with eyes closed and drinking in the sunshine – whatever you wouldn’t normally do because “there’s never enough time.” Take that time now for you, just you. (You’re worth it!)
  • Find support – it makes all the difference. This can be very hard to do too, but if you make the effort you can find people willing to help. Often, the support is there, but we just don’t want to accept it (a mistake I made). Discard all of those ideas of “I can do this myself,” “I don’t want to bother them,” “No, really, I’m fine,” and just let people help! If someone offers to watch the baby for a half hour, and you’re comfortable with that person, do it (and go have a cup of coffee baby-free). Other means of support could be a new mom’s group (invaluable advice for free), church groups, reaching out to other new moms, or letting your aunt or moms you know with grown children have your son or daughter for a while (they love to hold a baby since they don’t get to often). Keep your mind open to different ways of finding support; it’s out there, just remember to say, “yes!”.
  • Spend time with your spouse or partner. This tip is another one that is really important and is so difficult to do once a baby enters the picture, but it’s worth making the effort. Your relationship has probably changed now that you are a family of three (or more), and it’s important to stay connected to the person who took part in creating it all with you. The two of you originally had a life together “pre-baby” and going back to that via date nights or just hanging out together without a baby constantly interrupting really lets you just be a couple for a short time. It can be tricky to find someone to help you make that happen, but if you can call upon that support system, you’re nearly there. It doesn’t need to be an expensive restaurant outininfantg, and if a movie feels too long then just go for a walk together. Re-connecting by spending alone time with your spouse or partner will improve your relationship, re-establish intimacy, and reinforce the foundation of this family you created together. (You’re both worth it!)
  • Remember that is this all temporary. Having children, young, old or in-between, has both incredible and amazing moments, and extremely difficult and want-to-give-up times too. The key is not to forget that it will all change, and then change again. Babies grow (faster than we realize) and these hard times of sleeplessness and fussiness will give way to an independent cbaby to manrawler then walker then a toddler to a kindergartner and so it goes. It probably feels like light-years away, but it’s not. So when the times are really tough (and having an infant is hard even with an “easy baby”), know that this is all temporary. It will change – you will get to sleep normally again, your world won’t always be consumed by baby concerns, and then once you get used to it, the march of time will slowly transform things yet again. This is good news (to me). Just remember to savor those wonderful moments and breathe through the hard ones!

I want to extend best wishes to all moms out there, regardless of where you are in your motherhood journey. We have the toughest job on the planet, but we still show up every day with love in our hearts and the willingness to be there for our kids – and that’s not easy, at any age!

If you’re interested in reading more, you can find You Made It to Motherhood at my website or on Amazon.

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Kids, Self-awareness, Technology

A couple years ago, I went on my kindergartner son’s field trip to the local fire station. The firemen explained what they do and why, showed the kids their living quarters, their kitchen, and most importantly, the fire engines. They opened the many compartments revealing axes, oxygen tanks, yards of hoses, and firetruck2much more. Most of the kids were very interested, watching with gleaming eyes. Then we got to the part which the fireman boasted was the most fun – he opened the door to the passenger side of the truck revealing the “Captain’s seat.” He explained that this is a very important seat, and said that all of the cool tools and technology were used in that spot. Then he asked, “would you like to sit in this seat?” Yes!” they all cried excitedly.

Brief chaos ensued as he asked all of the kindergartners to get in one line. After much pushing, shoving, cutting, and complaining, they were all single file and waiting to get a chance to see the Captain’s seat close-up. The first child was helped up, but as soon as she started to look around, one of the parents called out her name, told her to smile, and took her picture. “Her mom will love this,” the parent said. Then, without even thirty seconds to get a glance at the famed seat, the girl was taken down and the next kid was put in it. Again, the child was asked to look at the camera and smile, then removed from the seat. And this is how it went. None of the kids got to really sit in the seat, feel what it was like to be up there, look out the front window, or explore the various interesting knobs and buttons. I was dismayed to see that the field trip had turned from experiencing the moment to taking a picture of it.

And the fake picworst part was that the kids knew exactly what to do – get in the seat, turn to the camera, fake smile, picture taken, get down for the next kid.  Only one boy out in the whole group insisted on sitting in the seat and asking questions about everything around him, and he was quickly encouraged to “get down so someone else can have a turn!” A turn at what? I thought. The kids will see their pictures and probably like them, and being five years old they probably won’t remember the field trip too much, but how much more valuable would it have been for them and their little working brains to sit in the Captain’s seat and pretend they really were the captain of the fire truck? Something could have sparked inside one of them as they explored and examined all of the new things they saw there. But instead, we take a picture of the moment and we rush them off for next kid’s photo opp.

How often does that happen? I see it all of the time. Parents telling their kids, “Okay now I need a picture” right when the kids are in the middle of something fun, thereby ending the fun and spontaneity of that moment. Trying to pick it up again sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. It’s not just our kids we do it to, we also do it to ourselves. Think about a recent time where you went somewhere new and exciting – a trip to the Eiffel Tower or standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Did you stand there and take in the sight? Breathing the air and marveling at the height and scenery around you? Or did you get there, quickly look around, make a few comments, say “come on, let’s take a picture”? The typical scenario of what happens next is the person stands there looking down at his phone blocking the way for everyone as he uploads it to show everyone his moment that he wasn’t experiencing because he was too busy taking a picture of it and posting it.

firetruck
The famed “Captain’s seat” picture that came out blurry and not worth the photo opp.

A friend of mine said, “it’s all about instant gratification, they want everyone to know they are having fun in their perfect lives so they can feel good and be reinforced about their experience.” Is this true? I hope not. I’m also not bagging on every picture taken in a special place. I love taking pictures and I do it often. I torture my kids mostly because I just enjoy photography and I like looking back on pictures.  My computer always has some type of slideshow running and I even take out those old fashioned photo albums occasionally.

More than likely, we will look back on the picture of my son in the Captain’s seat and enjoy it, even though he won’t remember it. Still, we would benefit from occasionally just being in the moment and feeling it; and we need to let our kids do it too, especially them, because they are watching and learning how to take a picture of the moment like we do.

So next time, if we need to take the picture, maybe do it while they are looking in wonder at something or laughing hysterically at something they just saw, experiencing this brief moment in time for all it’s worth.

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Fear, Kids, Parenting, Technology

My oldest is ten – a “tween” she has told me numerous times. I cringe at the word. There is something about it that bothers me, but what else do we call this enormous group of kids ages nine to twelve? (My mom used to call me a “pre-teen” and that would really bug me). Regardless of what my daughter is called, she is growing up in a time very different from mine in ways I never noticed until recently. Part of what helped me see this is the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. It’s about girls – from those starting puberty all the way to high school and what they face on a daily basis in their “girl world,” from the pressures to look and act certain ways to the cattiness to navigating the sometimes frightening on-line world. These issues aren’t limited to just girls, however, boys must deal with them too. Here are three that I noticed that both genders face:

1) Privacy or lack thereof – In today’s world of social media, YouTube, and other ways to post ontween-line, there is a price to pay for being able to see anyone you know on the Internet – our privacy. Our kids today have been born into a time in which pictures are constantly taken then uploaded for the world to see. In turn, they will do the same, and it’s not always the super cute pictures of them as babies with a sleeping kitten, they’re pictures that can be humiliating or shameful – pictures they wouldn’t want anyone seeing, and now almost anyone can. Wiseman points out, “When you were a teen, your most embarrassing and humiliating moments weren’t up for public discussion and entertainment….She’s living that moment in public. There’s no protection. There’s no privacy. This is her regular, ever-present reality. Your daughter is growing up with a different definition of what’s public and what’s private.”

Even if you block your child from any social media platforms (and right now we can because tweens are technically not old enough), that can’t stop others from posting images of your kid. You can do your best, but it probably won’t work 100% of the time. And children probably won’t want to be blocked from it either; they want to participate. They want to be part of the group, but in doing so they are giving up the right to having a private life. Right now I have three more years until I must deal with the onslaught of social media and raising a girl – phew!

2) Media definitions of the “right” image. This idea isn’t new. Ever since ads of any kind could be viewed (from early newspapers to full color magazines), we are told what looks good and right. For quite some time it’s been blond, blue-eyed, skinny, and tan – that’s the definition of female beauty that has been touted (think Barbie). For boys/men: tall, muscular, tan, and naked of body hair. Now take whatever the prevailing image is and multiply it by 1,000 because our kids don’t just see these images on television or magazines, they see it in on-line ads, on YouTube videos, even games. Then they try to replicate it or feel bad about themselves because they just don’t physically fit the bill (who does?!), and as they get older their appearance matters more and more.

3) Ads and more ads. We’ve all seen countless commercials from childhood to adulthood. How many times did you see a commerciadigital makeupl when you were a kid and need that toy (I’m thinking Barbie again or He-Man in my brother’s case). This isn’t new either. But kids who play on-line, get free apps, or just use mom’s phone while in line at the grocery store, see double that, usually for other games (my eight-year-old son thinks he wants every game he sees advertised in other games). According to APA.org, “advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year to reach the youth market and that children view more than 40,000 commercials each year.” Think about all those opportunities for “I gotta have that,” “I need that,” “I’m not good enough or cool enough unless I get that.”  It’s overwhelming! Again, if your tween is going to be a “normal” kid (and yes, he or she probably really wants to be) then an on-line world is inevitable – thus, so are the ads.

So what can we do about this new  digital landscape that feels like a place to prey on our kids?

1) Accept it and try to manage it. You don’t have to like it, but know that this is our current world and it won’t be changing any time soon. (Otherwise, you’re spending too much energy fighting something that cannot be changed, and that’s exhausting.) Unless you plan to live in the mountains of Tibet, facing the digital world is inevitable, so accept that it is a part of all of our lives, regardless of age.

2) Try to teach your child to be empathetic, to show him or her what it feels like to put up embarrassing photos, and to be resilient if it happens to them (let time pass and the hype will die down). According to Wiseman, that also means not posting pictures of your kids that they might interpret as embarrassing, even if everyone else would think they’re cute.

3) Teach them to be accepting of his or her looks and body regardless of whether it fits the “norm” or not (and that often starts with parents liking their own body image).

4) Help them to see what they have, so they don’t think they need every product or game that is advertised over and over again.

Unfortunately, none of the above is easy! But I keep trying and I’ll be sure to share any tips I learn along the way.  Just because the world our kids live in is different from ours doesn’t mean it’s all bad or terrible; it’s just that, different.

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Fear, Kids, Parenting

Lockdown drills aren’t really new, unfortunately. Students have been doing them for a few years now, but what kids havelementary-schoole to know and what to do in a shooter situation is becoming more real and more of a possibility.

As a person who grew up pre-Columbine, before anyone even thought or had any notion of shooting up a school or other places (besides the sniper at University of Texas before my time, which seemed like an anomaly), the practicing of drills to protect children from someone wanting to take out people in numbers seems unbelievable. How can that happen? I question. How does it happen? And then, my denial side says, It wouldn’t happen here.

And that’s the statement most of us use to block out the horrifying idea of such an event occurring at our kids’ school. That denial, and even naiveté (because we live in such a nice, safe, little community I like to believe) is unrealistic and possibly detrimental. We can’t live thinking that nothing bad will ever happen to our kids (at school or otherwise), but we also can dwell in the fear of bad things happening all the time. We brain-heart balanceneed a balance.

Unfortunately, right now that balance means teaching our kids to barricade the doors if there is a lockdown, hide out of sight, and practice these drills until they know it well so that, hopefully, no one gets hurt in a real situation. And yet the protective mother in me can’t help but tell my children when they ask, “what do we do if we’re walking from another room and the classroom door is locked?” “Get the hell out of there,” I say, “Run off the campus and keep running.”

They’re astounded by my use of a “curse word” (yes, they’re young), but I couldn’t help it. It was my gut response to try and keep them safe when I can’t. Because more than likely, if anything were to happen, I probably wouldn’t be there. Most of wouldn’t. And that’s probably the hardest part. We’re reliant on our own children and the school’s staff to perform what they learned correctly, under stress with the rush of adrenaline,  and hopefully escape the fire (in this case, gunfire). So all we can do is teach them the best we can, have hope that such a terrible event never happens to them in their lifetimes, and have faith that we will get through whatever might happen (or not happen). Oh, and just breathe.

Some third graders’ responses to doing a lockdown:
“It’s scary.”
“What if that really happens here?”
“I don’t want to do a lockdown!”

“I take thirty seconds to use the bathroom so I know I’m safe!”

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Kids, Parenting, Self-awareness

From Part One: Bringing Home Baby

“I think society really does not let the world know how hard it is to be a mom. We are all supposed to act like it is this wonderful thing all the time … I don’t think moms want people to know if they are not enjoying being a mom, because how dare you even think it? The truth is that it is a hard job, and society does not show that.” -Nancy

I read the populaRodgers6r pregnancy books before I gave birth to my daughter. My husband and I took the classes on delivery (which I found scary instead of comforting). I went to the breastfeeding class. I talked to mothers with both young and older children. Few, if any, of these sources could prepare me for the life transformation that a baby actually brings. What was more frustrating was that no one warned me that this was a complete life change. Having babies and entering motherhood is so commonplace in our society that few people stop to think about how our lives are transformed by a baby. One reason for this might be that the women who have experienced motherhood, like grandmothers or mothers with grown children, quickly forget what it was like that first year. In the time span of your child’s life there is so much that will happen, from his first steps across the living room floor to his stride across the stage at high school graduation, it is easy to forget what that first year was like. There are also those moms who blend into motherhood so easily that it appears they do not have the same experiences or feelings that many of us do. I am confident in my belief that these mothers are part of a very small minority, and even they have difficult times coping with the responsibilities of motherhood sometimes. There are some of us, too, who do not want to admit or accept this permanent change that happens in our lives. I wanted to have a baby, but I was afraid of the idea at the same time, and I did not want to believe that a baby would change me, my husband, or our marriage. My thoughts were: What if this is not what I expect? What will happen? I cannot go back…right?

For the majority of us, experiencing motherhood and a new baby is both amazing and shocking. Here is a human life that you and your partner made. She spent nearly ten months inside of you growing and developing, and here she is in your arms. The process of life is breathtaking and miraculous. It does not matter that humans and animals have been doing this for millions of years; when you are the one who has actively participated in the process, it is astounding. For the first few months of my daughter’s life I marveled at the idea. I simply could not believe that 1) we created this baby who is here with us now, and 2) that she really came out of me! Right in front of me was a real baby who had swelled in my belly with her heart beating, her body moving around and showing up on the ultrasound. While I was pregnant I understood that she was there, but could not quite grasp it. Then, once she was out in the world, a tangible live human being, I was astonished. The change seemed to be instantaneous: one minute you are pregnant and the next you are a mom. I did not know what to make of it.

But, as we all soon learn with our babies’ cries of hunger or discontent, they are here and they mean business. Feed me, rock me, change me, hold me…wait, I don’t know what I want! my daughter seemed to say. And quite honestly, I had no idea what she wanted either. I felt like I was thrown into a play already in progress. I did not know my lines or where I supposed to stand on-stage. I did not even know what character I was playing. But everyone else did. I was “the new mom.” And I felt like I was going to receive some bad reviews for my performance. I struggled to keep up with the needs of my new baby during the first few weeks. Was she hungry? Did she have a dirty diaper? Was she hot or cold? Did she need to be swaddled or maybe have her blankets loosened? Sometimes none of the answers applied. Sometimes it was just walking outside and seeing something new that calmed her down (or worked her back up into tears). There were no consistent answers, and I had a very hard time accepting that.

“I felt overwhelmed by the gravity of it [having a new baby]. I had never been in a role before that was a never-ending, twenty-four hours a day, and that was entirely mine, even with my husband’s support. I still feel there’s never a real sense of utter relaxation, I mean in the way there was before I had another life to protect.” -Kelley

I attended college and worked in an industry where there was almost always a right or a wrong way to do things. In school it is fairly straightforward: you perform the tasks asked of you and receive a grade for your effort. At work it is similar, you show up, do the duties of your job description, and receive a paycheck. It all makes sense. A new baby is quite different. We try to interpret what this little life needs when he may not know himsbaby2elf. The adjustment of just coming into the world must be overwhelming for a baby. He is nestled in a confined, warm, dark place listening to the steady sound of a heartbeat and other bodily noises. Then, probably without warning, muscles around him contract and he is pushed out into the world of bright lights, loud sounds, and a place that makes his body feel cold. Just learning what these new sensations are must be exhausting. (There is a reason we have no memory of our births, afterall; it is probably too traumatic for us.) So we care for him. We hold him, we love him, we offer him a breast or bottle, we try to make him as comfortable as possible in this new and strange world. But in the end, we really do not know what is going through his new and functioning mind. We do our best, but it might not be right. And if it isn’t, then we often hear about it, very loudly. It is extremely frustrating to make blind guesses and not know whether it is the correct answer. Yes, the crying may stop, but does that mean the problem is fixed? Maybe, temporarily, this time. Grasping this understanding that the right solution doesn’t always exist was extremely hard for me to take. Why can’t I plug in the correct number and get a solid answer? Because, I realized after many months, this little being is human and she possesses the complexities that all of us have: emotions, feelings, needs, and wants. And she is just now learning what all of these things are, and who exactly I am, that person who holds her, feeds her, and tries to console her. Sometimes she might have been crying to release all those emotions that she did not understand. In the end, I felt just as confused as she probably did.

A therapist I know describes becoming a mother as a “growth process.” We, as new mothers, are growing and changing almost as fast as our babies are as we accept this new role in our lives. The more we resist this change, the harder it becomes. It might seem unbelievable that you and your spouse were released from the hospital in charge of a brand-new baby, but you were. You are now parents. As we left the hospital, I sat in the backseat with our new daughter (yes, the paranoid new mom in the backseat) while my husband drove. It was a warm day for late October and the sun seemed especially bright. As we drove away, I cried. And cried, and cried. I blamed it on an influx of hormones and exhaustion. My husband looked nervously in the rearview mirror, “Uh…are you okay?” he asked. I assured him that I was fine, but the tears needed to come out. I suppose it was just a release after a very long labor, and the actual realization that this baby was coming home with us, ready or not. Our lives had changed.

“I was so worn out [after labor] I wasn’t thinking much beyond ‘get me out of this bed.’ Then curiosity about the baby set in, followed closely by terror. I had never been around little kids before, let alone infants, and now I was responsible for this little thing?!” -Leisel

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Kids, Parenting, Self-awareness

Recently, my husband discovered that he will move-up to the next level in his engineering firm. It is a big promotion and one that is not offered to everyone. He deserves it. He works hard and is a careful engineer. I am happy for him as he is not always acknowledged in his job.

Although I truly am happy for him and his success, I can’t help but think of the lack of awards for mom and dads who don’t work in typical industries. There are no promotions for parents. No one comes up to me after a difficult phase and says, “You did a great job handling the incessant whining and constant tantrums for the last two months, you get a promotion and a raise!” or, “You limited your child’s screen time everyday despite the battle it causes, congratulations! Here is a certificate of appreciation and a free pizza.”

If anything, most of us are grading our own performances and we don’t think it stacks up to “CEO of Parenting.” Who makes it to that stage anyway? Maybe once your kids are grown and lead somewhat respectable lives? That is a long time to wait to find out about your job performance.

So what can we do?

1) Accept that this unique and important job does not come with the traditional accolades or acknowledgements of a job well domother-childne. If your children are relatively content in their lives, even with the frequent complaints about life in general, assume that your parenting is up to par. All kids, all people, typically want something they don’t have, so if you child’s biggest complaint is that he wants his own tablet and doesn’t want to share with his brother, then you’re doing fine.

2) Look within to judge your performance, but be truly honest. The reality is that sometimes we could all do a better job with anything: your mechanic could have cleaned up the grease splatters after working on your car, the sales clerk could have gone and checked to see if she had your size instead of giving a flat-out no, high-ranking officials get no forgiveness no matter what they do. Sometimes we could have done better, but just try to do your best on any given day. And be careful not to get caught up in the trap of perfectionism. Perfection in parenting does not exist. Children and their parents are too unique and everyone needs something different. One day your daughter would have been soothed by some encouraging words and a hug, the next time she wants her space and shuts her bedroom door instead. We cannot know; we can only go with what we think is the right thing to do in the moment, and not condemn ourselves if it was not the best choice.

3) If you really want feedback, ask others. It is beneficial occasionally to ask other people, “Do you think I did okay there?” “Are there any other ways I could have handled that situation?” That can pertain to parenting your children or dealing with an unhelpful representative from the phone company. Be sure that you truly want feedback, however, and not validation for the wrong you felt you received. And ask people who would really think about the situation and give helpful feedback, not someone who is quick to point out what you did wrong, or quick to placate you.

I think we can all agree that parenting is not an easy job, especially if we want to do it well and have children who are ideally kind, respectful, and interested kids (I deliberately left out “happy” there because happy is a subjective feeling that comes and goes – in my opinion. If we wanted to keep our kids happy, we would hand them a bag of candy and an iPad, in most cases).

Most of us just do our best, try to be good examples, and attempt to understand the world from their limited child’s view (which can be a freeing way to look at the world sometimes!).  As far as our own performance review, we must accept that this job does not come with them, and possibly stop looking for them. That is difficult for me, as I said, watching my husband excel while I try to think up more interesting lunch possibilities, but I know deep down that I am doing the best job that I can.

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Kids, Self-awareness, Technology

Did you ever notice how much time others spend with their faces in front of their phones? How about yourself? I am guilty of it too. It’s hard not to pull it out when we have a spare moment to see what the weather or traffic will be like, distract yourself with a game, text someone, or watch the endless scroll of social media.

We can't see your face.
We can’t see your face.

But what did we do before getting glued to this ultimate shiny object?

At my kids’ sports practices nine out of ten parents are looking at their phones. What did they used to do before that was an option? Watch the practice? Read a book? Stare at the wall or the sky?

In line at the grocery store what did people do? Look at terrible tabloids to see which celebrity or politician was abducted by aliens? Stare at the person who is taking too long and get annoyed that he or she is writing a check? Let’s not even bring up how many kids are glued to them as they are pushed in the cart through Target or Costco, or sitting in a restaurant mindlessly watching a show while everyone else dines.

I am guilty of all of the above (except the restaurants, that really bothers me), but what are we missing out on? I was, and still am, one to bring a book wherever I go so I suppose that I have always craved some type of distraction. You can read quite a few chapters while getting your oil changed or waiting in that endless coffee line. I remember getting my first smart phone and telling friends that I used to people-watch in the grocery store and observe what was happening around me, and I still try to do that, but when someone is having a price check or deciding on something that takes awhile, I’ll get out the phone.

Are we doing a disservice to ourselves by getting sucked in or allowing our kids to be? Yes and no. All parents want to do is shop in peace and not be hounded with “can I get that?” or “I want that!” so I understand the desire to stick a phone in kids’ hands sometimes (not to babies though, come on); but at a restaurant I tell my own kids to look around: watch the people, the food being served, that guy trying to eat his spaghetti that keeps falling off his fork during his obvious first date. Pay attention. They’re not too keen on that idea, and it often ends up being a big headache with relentless whining until I threaten that they will never use anything smart again.

And what did industries and companies do before smart phones or cell phones? On our summer vacation this year my husband checked his email on a daily basis and his boss asked him to write two proposals because the due date was in two days. He did that while we slept at night, forgoing his own vacation time. What did people do before that? Do the proposals themselves? Say sorry, we have no one to do that at this time? And, more importantly, what would happen if my husband turned off his cell phone and left it at home? He’s not willing to entertain such an idea (…yet).

My last observation concerns our kids dependence on us through their phones. A few people I know have kids in colleges far away. Once upon a time, college newbies would have to write letters or wait in line at a dorm phone to contact their parents. Now, they can do it immediately, in any situation. In some ways that is a good thing. We all need some moral support from parents occasionally. But in other ways, it prohibits them from figuring out basic problems on their own. One friend’s daughter called to ask her mom where to buy a stamp, yes, a regular postage stamp. Figure it out! And don’t ask Siri or Alexa; just think about it.

There are many times when I wonder what would happen if the whole grid shut down and we couldn’t use anything “smart,” and most of me thinks it would make life easier. Would it though? It’s a double-edged sword and one that we must work at and be conscious of all the time; otherwise we run the risk of becoming anti-social screen zombies. Need brains? Just pop on over to your Amazon app and order one up over your phone, should arrive in two days if you have Prime (and thankfully, yes, I do).

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