Why Focus Words Are Better Than Resolutions

Resolutions narrow our focus instead of broadening it to encompass an overall fulfilling life. Focus words, on the other hand, do not.

I wrote detailed New Year’s resolutions for years, spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve detailing every possible change I would make. I had specific categories with my resolutions related to each listed underneath. The point was to keep my mind focused all year long on what I hoped to accomplish, whether it was learning a new language or exercising a certain amount of time a week.
The problem was I couldn’t keep my resolutions. I put a ton of effort into placing words on paper only to not accomplish them year after year.
According to researchers, the reasons we fail to keep New Year’s resolutions are many. We set unrealistic goals. We set goals that we’re not actually ready to keep, hoping that the magic of making them will overcome our lack of effort. We also make too many resolutions. Change is hard, and even focusing on one major life change a year is difficult. Expecting to change in many different areas in one year is unrealistic for most of us.
There’s also the disadvantage of jumping off from a negative point. We make resolutions because of what we’re not. We’re not in shape, so we resolve to work out. We’re not financially responsible, so we resolve to budget. Every resolution we make is a reminder of where we’ve already failed.
Even when resolutions don’t fail, which is rare because 78 percent of people were found to bail on their resolutions in one study, resolutions require a focus that may not be healthy. A person who wants to lose weight may go to dangerous extremes to do it because they’ve lost the ability to view the entire picture. Keeping this one resolution is all they see, and they can’t comprehend that what they are doing to reach the goal is not worth it.
Resolutions narrow our focus instead of broadening it to encompass an overall fulfilling life.

A new approach

Frustrated with the time I was wasting on resolutions, I decided to change my approach a couple of years ago. Instead of a never-ending list of well-intentioned resolutions, I chose to pick a focus word. For 2016 I chose “gratitude,” and for 2017 I chose “simple.” There were no long lists or constant failures piling up. One word encompassed my plans for the year in every area of my life.
The well-roundedness of the one-word approach was the greatest appeal for me. Focus words don’t leave me neglecting quality time with my family while I run on a treadmill for hours trying to lose weight. They don’t require me to neglect certain portions of my life to excel in others. A focus word offers balance.
Focus words are also easy to remember. In 2017, every day when faced with a decision, I grasped the word simple. This practice had profound effects. We chose simple food, simple budget approaches, simple pleasures. I discovered minimalism and hygge, giving me other ways to embrace simplicity. What would not have been simple was writing down a list of resolutions of how to achieve simplicity and then forgetting them, complicating my life even further.
Focus words make room for progress, not just performance. When we don’t write that novel by a certain date or lose those pounds by a certain time, we feel lost. However, when we embrace a focus word, the entire year is about progress. It’s not a one-time commitment but a focus on everyday life changes that stick.
I know I have to get up every morning and think about my focus word to set the agenda for the day, and there is no end to it. Unlike resolutions, focus words fold into life, seamlessly offering us development instead of just results, or in most cases, no results.

Finding inspiration

How do we figure out one word to help navigate an entire year? It’s a big responsibility and the task can feel daunting. Luckily, there are tools to help.
My One Word offers three easy steps to choose a word for the upcoming year. The approach is positive, with the first step asking us to think of the kind of person we want to be. We need to search beyond the base ideas of what we want to do, such as make more money or finish a degree, and think of who we actually want to be.
We then choose words to describe this kind of person. What characteristics do they have? Disciplined? Kind? Joyful? From that list of characteristics, pick the word that encompasses that person and make it your focus word.
I loved my word for 2017. It’s not an exaggeration to say that focusing on simple has changed my life. Now that I understand how to achieve simplicity, I am ready to become the kind of person who stays dedicated to the causes I’ve found to fit into my simple existence. I want to be a follow-through person, committed to what I choose and not too overextended to show up for my life.
My 2017 word not only helped me fulfill many goals, but it also led me to my focus word for next year. Instead of making the same resolutions all over again because I didn’t keep them this year, I’m moving on and spending 2018 focused on perseverance. It feels like a natural progression, and progress is what we’re supposed to achieve in life. The do-or-die perfection demanded from resolutions isn’t realistic, but the natural progress a focus words offers is possible for anyone.

8 Wildly Unique Styles for Your Lady Garden

Perhaps Public-Figure-Inspired Pubic Art will even become a hot new trend. So hop on board, ladies, and get creating.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is Wild. Enter your own here!
Spring is just around the corner and with this seasonal change comes a few necessary shifts in our grooming regime. Whether we wax, shave, or enlist in the power of a hedge trimmer, the winter hairs are about to fly as we ladies get our groomin’ grooves on!
Just last week, I was sprucing up the ‘ol bush, like the Edward Scissor Hands that I am, when some whining at the shower door startled me. With a swift, and unfortunate, swoop of the razor I was left sporting an odd yet innovative, new look.
I looked down at my bald-in-the-middle muff and immediately named its new look: The Dr. Phil.
Well, my unintentional, talk-show-host-inspired style got me to thinking. Maybe other ladies would like some fresh, new, easy-to-create bush styles to try out this spring! I mean, why simply rid ourselves of the stragglers when we can give our lady gardens a completely unique makeover? And why wouldn’t we take inspiration from well-known public figures, in the process?
Perhaps Public-Figure-Inspired Pubic Art will even become a hot new trend. So hop on board, ladies, and get creating:
8 Fun Public-Figure-Inspired Pubic Hair Styles:

1 | The Dr. Phil

This style features a bald centre and some neatly trimmed side-hair throughout the surrounding area. It’s a unique look; one that has that special “wow” factor. You (and your mate) can be sure to have a few chuckles, at your muff’s expense, with this snazzy, one-of-a kind style.

2 | The Full Montel (Williams)

This one involves the complete removal of all hair and would be a good follow-up style for those ladies who’ve taken a chance on the Dr. Phil yet, for whatever reason, aren’t loving it. The Full Montel is a smooth, clean look bound to make you feel svelte though perhaps a bit chilly.

3 | The Donald Trump

This one is somewhat terrifying, and definitely ridiculous. It involves a removable patch of faux fur. This toupee for your pu-ssay, comes in handy for ladies who have committed to the Full Montel but soon find themselves regretful of their choice. This is a temporary fix, however, and may in fact lead to rashes, infections, and a Fanta-like-effect on the skin.

4 | The Richard Simmons

This style has a 70s feel to it and involves a simple trimming of the sides only. The focal point is the mini-fro itself. This may require a touch of backcombing in order to achieve the fullest body. The genuine disco-vibe, emanating from the frontal fro, is sure to put some groove in your step. So make good use of it by hitting the club scene or, at the least, taking part in an aerobics class.

5 | The Mr. T

Similar to the “landing strip” of the 90s, but with greater girth, this style involves a wide, carefully quaffed, strip of pubic hair. The strip should be centrally located, and as 3D as possible while the surrounding area should be completely smooth. The Mr. T would make an ideal pre-style, to the Full Montel.

6 | The George Washington

Bald on top and quite full-bodied with some length on the sides, this style suits mature ladies with a full-on white set of pubes. Yet, no matter the colour, the concept can work for anyone and is bound to make you feel very important, indeed.

7 | The Einstein

Fluff that muff and give it that flyaway, eccentric genius look. Dab on a splash of baby powder for the full Albert effect and get calculating!

8 | The Uncle Jessie (The younger years version)

Who doesn’t chuckle when they see a mullet? Even the word “mullet” cracks me up. So why not create the classic Full House star’s 80s look on your own bush? Business in the front, party in the back has never made more sense than it does right. This. Second.
So, come on ladies. Let’s get a bit wild and cray-zay with some fun Public-Figure-Inspired Pubic Art. These bush quaffs are fun and certain to bring a few laughs into your life and the life of your lover. Who knows? It may be the creative outlet you’ve been searching for …
(Note, experimenting with any of the above styles is not recommended prior to a doctor’s appointment for a pap smear. It’s especially uncomfortable when the doc has a young male medical student observing that day. The Dr. Phil is not quite as snazzy under such conditions, or so I’ve heard …)
This post originally appeared on BLUNTmoms.

A Coffee Date at 40: Why Time for Ourselves Is Essential

For so long, I’ve been focused on my family’s needs, and this milestone is forcing me to evaluate myself and my life choices.

It’s eight pm on a Saturday night. I’m in the middle of moving from central Pennsylvania to my hometown of Buffalo, New York. The move is part of some big, mid-life changes, and on this particular night, I’m by myself in Buffalo. So I call a friend from high school.

“Hey, Lily,” I say, hopeful she’s free.

“Hey!” she replies.

“I’m sorry I haven’t called,” I admit, ashamed that it’s taken me several months to return her offer to get together. “The house is still a mess. We’ve finished the kids’ rooms, but the rest of the place is still a construction zone.” I ramble before she can get in another word. “Anyhow, I’m in town tonight. Do you wanna go out?”

“Tonight?” She sounds surprised by the thought.

“Yeah. It’s just me, so I thought you and I could hang out.” I kick some of the tile floor I’d been demolishing.

“I’m already in my pajamas.” Lily laughs, and then pauses briefly. “Yeah, that would be great! Hold on. Let me ask Scott if he can watch the boys.”

I hear the lightness in her voice  – the excitement about the sheer novelty of doing something without the husband and kids. It’s the same feeling I had when I dialed her number.

Somehow in the past two decades, I’ve grown from a scared but hopeful college kid to a wife, mother, and woman with multiple careers. Responsibility dangles around my neck like a choker, and the simple act of getting together with an old friend seems almost selfish. I change into nicer clothes, and delight in the guilty pleasure.

Lily and I meet at Trattoria Aroma. With its brick interior, open-wood beams, and candles on every table, it’s a decidedly adult place. Lily looks more beautiful than ever, and I wonder – not for the first time – about the benefits of aging. At least that’s what I focus on because this year we both hit the big 4-0.

“I remember when my mom turned 40,” Lily tells me. “It wasn’t pretty.”

“I remember when my mom turned 40, too,” I respond. “She and my dad had already divorced by then, so we went to lunch at the Eagle House with a bunch of women.” Truthfully, I don’t remember much of it, just that it was a big deal. My mom dressed up and all the women fussed over her and gave her presents. Now that I’m approaching 40, it feels like an even bigger deal. Our cultural fixation on an older woman’s appearance, relevance, and role in society makes me anxious.

My husband jokes that once I hit 40, it will be like I flip a switch and nobody will find me attractive or intriguing anymore. He’s teasing, of course, but there’s a twinge of fear that it’s true. Amy Schumer explored ageism toward women in her famous “Last F**kable Day” sketch, a piece widely shared among my friends, women who found the piece both funny and frightening.

The hyper-sexualized view of women in our society makes me wonder how life will change after this birthday. For so long, I’ve been focused on my family’s needs, and this milestone is forcing me to evaluate myself and my life choices with a focus that is like headlights that finally got the dirt washed off.

I confide to Lily, “I’m freaked out.”

Lily works in a doctor’s office, and she tells me she’s been paying attention to all of the older women patients who look and feel good. “I ask them what they do to take care of themselves.”

I expect some advice about cutting sugar, exercise, or balancing work and home. Something I could totally do to stay sane and fit and fresh.

Lily takes a sip of her wine. “Yoga.”

I groan. “Uggh, I can’t stand yoga. I feel like I’m going to fall asleep every time I try it.” I wonder if I’m not mindful enough or mature enough to appreciate it. I think of another friend who is a few years older who’s been practicing yoga, and her skin has taken on a youthful glow. Maybe there is something about the relaxation benefit.

My knees have started to ache when I run, and sometimes just when I get out of bed in the morning. One of these days they’re going to give out, and I suppose that’ll be the day I start yoga. Lily tells me that she takes classes. It’s possible that’s the reason she looks so good, but it has to be more than that.

When we were kids, Lily was heavy with thick glasses. Now she’s an accomplished professional, lithe, and wears contacts. She radiates confidence. She’s calm, collected, and kind, and she seems genuinely happy with who she is and who she has become.

Perhaps the best thing for me about getting older is that I’m starting to be comfortable in my skin too. I’ve softened in more ways than one. Parts of my body are not as taut as they once were, but as my body has loosened so has my mind. Self-doubt has begun to ebb away.

For the first time, I’m regularly wearing my hair down, and I finally like my curls. I’m no longer that worried about how people will judge me. I’ve lived long enough to know that people will judge no matter what, so I might as well embrace myself for who I am and go after I want; no one else is going to understand me more or advocate better. Though yoga’s not for me, supportive friends and family make me grateful to be alive, and the career I’m pursuing feels exactly like what I’m meant to be doing. It’s a little frightening, but exhilarating too.

Sitting across from Lily, I feel my old high school self inside me even as I know I’ve become so much more.

Lily and I close the place down at 11 pm. The wood-fired oven lets out its last breath of the night and our waitress brings the bill. “I got it,” Lily says.

I thank her, tell her I’ll pay the next time, and return home energized.

In my new office, the crown molding is almost finished. I take books out of boxes and shelve them. “The Monster at the End of this Book” and “Rosa” go with the kids’ books. My husband’s album of baseball cards and his dissertation go on a shelf for him. To motivate and remind me of what’s important, “Daring Greatly” cuddles up to “Next Life Might Be Kinder” behind my desk.

With my history and future surrounding me, I’m content.

So Long Irish Goodbye

Through hours upon hours of therapy and journaling, I realized that the stress around saying goodbye stemmed from my own childhood.

The barbecue was wrapping up. My oldest son was running around in circles on a sugar high from the two cupcakes he’d managed to scarf down. My youngest was on the verge of a breakdown, arms reaching for me, whining to be picked up.

My body started to heat up, my heart started to pound, and a wave of anxiety washed over me. I eyed the nearest exit, wanting to grab both kids and take off without talking to anyone.

Before I had two kids, I was known for disappearing at the drop of a hat without telling the people I was with. This action is sometimes referred to the Irish goodbye, the French exit, or ghosting.

I had exit strategies for any outing with my friends. If there was a dance floor, I would simply dance out the front door. If we were at a bar, I would tell someone I was going to use the bathroom and then head towards the door. Once, I went over to a friend’s apartment and when he went to the bathroom, I simply walked out and texted him from the street that I had left.

When confronted, I would blame it on being drunk or make a silly excuse but, really, I was avoiding the uncomfortable feeling I get when saying goodbye. I didn’t do this once in awhile, I did it practically every single time I went out.

I’m not proud of these moments. When I think about my actions, I cringe. My ability to vanish became a running joke amongst my friends. I would show up to a party and they would say something like, “So, when are you going to disappear?”

When you become a parent, you want to avoid transferring your neuroses to your children. One of the many things I tried to understand was why saying goodbye is so challenging for me. Through hours upon hours of therapy and journaling, I realized that the stress around saying goodbye stemmed from my own childhood.

I grew up in a really chaotic household and I basically came and went as I pleased. I would simply walk out of the house without telling anyone where I was going. When I returned, I didn’t check in with anyone to let them know I was home.

We moved around a lot when I was as a kid. I never stayed in a school or house for more than three years. Saying goodbye to people brings up all of my anxiety associated with moving from one place to another.

Once in junior high school, I came home from vacation with my friend’s family to find my house packed up and a moving truck out front. My parents told me we were moving halfway across the country the next day. They refused to drive me to anyone’s house to say goodbye. I was too sad to call my friends to tell them I was moving, so I just vanished.

It’s because of events like these that I’m uncomfortable with saying goodbye. It was never a priority growing up. However, I wasn’t going to make any excuses for not being the best mom I could be, so I decided I was going to face this fear head-on.

Now when it’s time to leave a gathering, I take note of how my body feels and how stressed out I get. To calm my nerves, I gave myself a pep talk. Even Oprah chimes in with, “Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.” This helps give me the confidence that I need. I mean, what better way to overcome an obstacle than with a pep talk from Oprah? I then stand up straight and muster all the courage I have inside of me. I put a warm smile on my face and escort my two kids around the room to say goodbye.

What If I Never Lose a Pound?

I could be happy now. If I never lose another pound I can still choose to live the life I want to live.

I stood there completely naked, reached back, and pulled the ponytail holder out of my hair. Nothing was going to impact this. I thought about taking off my wedding ring, but finally decided I was being ridiculous. Then I stepped on the scale.

The digital display was working, thinking, processing the weight of me on a twelve by twelve square. It took only seconds for the scale to measure me, to define me.

Standing there in the early morning, naked and cold, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is this who I am? Am I a number? Am I too much? Am I a failure?

Weight loss is not a new subject to me. I’ve been in this place far too long. I know how to spout the socially-acceptable jargon.

It’s about health, not weight.

It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.

Listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs.

I’m not so sure about that last one actually. My body often tells me it needs cookies, and chocolate. I know, I know, a want is different than a need. Thanks, Mom. But some days, I think the line is pretty thin.

As much as we want to talk our way around the subject, weight is an issue. There are health implications, lifestyle implications, and family implications. Those are all real and true, but what if that matters less than we think?

That morning, as I made my way into the shower to warm up, I thought about the number that glared up at me. I thought about how much lower it should be and all I had to do to get it there. The truth is, we know what we need to do, we just lack the discipline to do it. At least I do.

But how would my life change?

If I lost the weight I could buy nicer clothes. I could feel better about myself. I could do more. I could be healthy. I could be happy.

But what was stopping me from doing those things right now?

I could buy nice clothes now. I could choose to feel better about myself. I could do the things I dream of doing. I could live healthy at 180 pounds. I could be happy now. If I never lose another pound I can still choose to live the life I want to live.

We could spout the “life is too short” mantra and self-help our way through a set of steps, but the truth is we don’t need to work that hard. There is no magic number on a scale that will change who a person is. The sooner we come to terms with who we are, the sooner we can get on with living our lives.

If I never lose a pound

I can still hug my kids,

I can jump in the water,

I can wear a red dress.

 

If I never lose a pound

I can scandalously kiss my husband,

I can order dessert,

I can  go for a walk outside because I want to.

 

If I never lose a pound

I can like who I am,

I can live a beautiful life,

I can be happy.

This sounds so easy in black and white on a screen, but I know living it out is another story. The good news is you don’t need to do it all at once. Do one thing today. Pick a way to live happy today at whatever weight you are.

Will I continue to work on losing weight? Yes, because I know it’s good for me. However, I’m done letting weight define me and the life I live. We get one shot here on this big, beautiful Earth. One shot to be happy, love deeply, and live a beautiful life. Start today.

Confessions of an Off-Duty Mom

Spending time with my family is the greatest joy in my life, but it also feels like the greatest burden for an introvert like me.

When my husband asked me how I wanted to spend my 39th birthday, I hesitated to tell him the truth. I began with how much I love him and the boys, then made my admission. I wanted to drive out of town alone and go somewhere, anywhere, for the night.
Spending time with my family is the greatest joy in my life, but it also feels like the greatest burden for an introvert like me.
Recently, I heard a sensible explanation of the difference between introverts and extroverts. Extroverts thrive on being around other people and stimulating environments. It fuels them. My friend, Veronica, homeschools her four children who are all happy, well-adjusted people, and her door and arms are always open to as many people as they can hold.
Introverts, on the other hand, might not be quiet and shy, but need alone time to recharge. After a week of just me and the kids at home, or even after a fun social gathering, I feel frazzled, not energized. I need a quiet, familiar setting to come back to my normal. I guiltily dream of the day my kids start attending public school.
As a stay-at-home Mom, I’ve learned to take pleasure in small accomplishments, like baskets of folded laundry. I have even adjusted to the noisy brood that happily overtakes every room in the house.
But once the cooking, cleaning, and shuttling are done, the rarely visited list of things I do for me stays hidden away, probably at the bottom of a bin of unmatched socks. The sense of urgency and endless busyness that accompany early motherhood hold a tight grip when you don’t actively find ways to peel those fingers back.
Since the birth of my first son five years ago, I can’t turn on my electric toothbrush without imagining I hear a baby crying in the other room. I freeze at the slightest noise in the house and assume my response will be needed in under four seconds. The fight or flight response is so close to the surface that relaxation feels unnatural. The only time to have a break is when I’m out of range.
Meeting the needs of my family gives me a sense of purpose and fulfills a deep desire to nurture, but I often fail to extend that care to myself. A friend without children recently lamented that her people were all out of town and that she was feeling so lonely.
“Lonely,” I thought, “like alone.” It sounded simply delightful.
As a child, I was very shy and spent a lot of time on an old swing in the backyard or alone in my room, drawing and writing the wistful thoughts of female adolescence. Marriage, kids, and a traditional division of labor have made times like that a far off, longed for memory.
This year, I dared to make my needs the priority and took a night away. Even as my husband agreed and encouraged me to go, I couldn’t help but worry my kids wouldn’t survive without me. I had convinced myself that only I could take care of the them. Only I knew how to cut their sandwiches just so. Only I was capable of maintaining the peace and order.
As I riled myself up and thought about changing my plans, I realized that supposed “peace and order” was momentary at best. The sandwiches get thrown because I haven’t managed the perfect diagonal. The boys fight over a pile of sand even when the beach is covered in the stuff. I lose my temper and yell about dried out playdoh all over the floor.
Even if my husband was in over his head, it was his turn to oversee the chaos. Imagining myself sitting in the little garden cottage I rented, writing and thinking in blissful solitude, made me so excited I could almost stop second guessing my choice.
I drove south for an hour, blasting my favorite, angry women musicians. I went to a yoga class, picked up a ridiculously expensive coffee, and poked around in stores with fancy, breakable things. And while I enjoyed all these things I can’t do with kids in tow, I couldn’t help feeling the need to check in, to make sure they were all taken care of.
Then, I looked at my reflection in a crystal bowl, the dark circles that had built up under my eyes after years of interrupted sleep, and resisted the urge to call.
I pulled up in front of the 1920s bungalow whose backyard cottage was my home for the night. I unpacked my trunk in the charming, cozy space and thought, “What now?” I remembered the first few years of having a child, the confusion over what to do with my hands when they weren’t busy holding, wiping, or feeding someone else. I still catch myself rocking and bouncing while I wait at a counter for service, an imaginary baby on my hip.
My stomach quickly reminded me that a third coffee and no lunch was a mistake. Sitting there on the porcelain throne, queen of my simple castle for the next 24 hours, it hit me:
When was the last time I went to the bathroom without the threat of a tiny human bursting in, demanding to sit on my lap or in search of new batteries for Thomas the Train? When was the last time I wasn’t on edge, ready to respond?
How long had it been since I was just Laurie?
At last, it happened. The tension I’d been carrying around in my body for years began to release. My shoulders and jaw relaxed as I let go of anticipating. I had convinced myself that my tension and unselfishness were proof I was being a good mom instead of the truth I was realizing – that they were the opposite.
All the time I’d spent drained and not present hadn’t served my family. I’d heard and even advised friends that you have to take care of yourself to have anything to offer others. And here I was, finally experiencing it, the lightness that comes from taking a step back – or, in this case, 50 miles.
I had grand ideas about what I would do with my time, not the least of which was producing a 50-page manuscript so insightful that publishers would be beating down my door. I quickly realized that my own need to achieve wasn’t doing much to relieve the pressure I was trying to escape, so I gave myself a pass.
Instead, I wrote a line here and there, read a book, smoked a joint, and watched a movie. I snuggled into the very fluffy, very white “no kids in this house” linens, and finally exhaled a long deep sigh of relief as I stepped away from the revolving door of being Mom. This was my time, and that was all it needed to be.
It was only one night, but I felt refreshed and a little more like myself – the self that seemed to have slipped through the cracks over the last five years. I resolved to come home and make my off-duty time a priority, to take regular breaks and connect to that old self still swimming around under all the diapers and groceries.
Driving home the next afternoon, I wondered if all moms feel this pressure to be everything and if they, too, forget about the great potential that lies in sometimes being nothing, just being you.

Stop Hitting Her: The Things I Did and Didn't Do as a Witness to Domestic Violence

It’s not enough to pull over and be a bystander to a cycle of violence that will continue unchecked. We have to do more.

I wanted to think it was a joke, that the young couple was just horsing around. But as I looked closer, my heart started to race. This was real.

I stopped the car short and rolled down my passenger window.

“STOP IT!” I yelled. “STOP HITTING HER!”

The man looked up. He was crouched over the woman, his arm cocked. The woman’s hands were over her face.

“I’M GOING TO CALL THE POLICE!” I yelled.

“Do you hear that?” the woman said. “She’s going to call the police.”

The man spoke to me, so politely it was jarring.

“We’re okay, ma’am. There’s no need to call the police.”

“Do you want me to call the police?” I asked the woman.

I watched it happen, watched him intimidate and shame her.

“Do you want her to call the police?” he said quietly.

She was silent for a moment. Her posture was still defensive, but she seemed to relax ever so slightly.

“No,” she said.

I felt desperate but I hoped my voice was calm.

“There are places you can go for help,” I said to her. “There are people who will help you.”

He turned to me again, unflaggingly polite and terrifying.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said. “We know that.”

I pulled away.

In the movie, this is the part where the camera pans out. It pans out to reveal two children: one, a small boy, standing next to the violent man. The other, a small girl, in the back seat of my car.

Domestic violence statistics are staggering. Estimates by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence indicate that as many as a third of women and a quarter of men have experienced physical abuse by a partner in their lifetimes. Not only that, “1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.” In other words, out of the six percent of American children who are living in an unsafe home, nearly all of them actually see or hear this violence perpetrated. So that little boy is not alone – far from it.

What effect does witnessing this violence have on small children? The authors of a 2011 British study scanned the brains of a group of children, with results revealing that those living in violent homes responded differently to images of angry faces. These children showed an increased level of activity in two particular areas of the brain, the anterior insula and the amygdala. Brain scans of combat soldiers exposed to violence in battle also show increased activity in the anterior insula and the amygdala, areas of the brain associated with threat detection.

The authors suggest that “both maltreated children and soldiers may have adapted to be ‘hyper-aware’ of danger in their environment. However, the anterior insula and amygdala are also areas of the brain implicated in anxiety disorders. Neural adaptation in these regions may help explain why children exposed to family violence are at greater risk of developing anxiety problems later in life.”

As a society, we are just beginning to reckon with the toll of battle on veterans of combat and finding ways to help former soldiers adapt to civilian life. It turns out that some of our children have never had a chance at civilian life.

In the short term, young children may experience symptoms that are far more quotidian. UNICEF’s Behind Closed Doors campaign tells us that behavioral issues among small children who witness domestic violence can include “excessive irritability, sleep problems, emotional distress, fear of being alone, immature behavior, and problems with toilet training and language development.” By the time they’re in elementary school, these kids may have difficulty focusing or concentrating, and as a result often struggle with schoolwork. As they get older, issues can include substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and, ultimately, criminal acts.

Perhaps most frightening on a societal level is that the cycle has been proven to perpetuate itself. An American study that drew on data from the Notre Dame Adolescent Parenting Project (“an ongoing prospective longitudinal study investigating the effects of adolescent parenting on child development”) showed that “witnessing violence and victimization prior to age 10 predicted delinquency and violent behaviors.”

This makes sense. On the one hand, violence has been normalized for these kids. On the other hand, resorting to violence themselves is a way of exerting control since their own home lives are so far out of control. For some, the pattern will continue into adolescence and adulthood, not because they are violent themselves, but because they seek out or accept violent partners. And when children arrive on the scene? The entire cycle repeats itself.

The numbers are discouraging. The outcomes are tragic. So what do we do?

I know where to begin, and the only reason I know is because I did something wrong: I didn’t call the police. And it haunted me. I drummed up a lot of reasons not to call. I thought the man would flee. I thought the woman would lie when the police came. I didn’t want her to be punished further by the man when he inevitably talked his way out of a charge (a big assumption, yes).

But mostly, I didn’t want to involve my daughter more than I already had. And yet I had two excellent reasons to call the police: the woman being abused and the child watching. Add to that a third reason: I need to set an example for my daughter that when someone needs our help, we help. My friends encouraged me. “Good for you for pulling over,” they said. Sure, it was a start. However, it’s not enough to pull over and be a bystander to a cycle of violence that will continue unchecked. We have to do more.

I know where to begin. I’m sharing these resources in the hopes that you’ll join me. The first thing I did was to put this number – 800-799-7233 – in my phone under “Domestic Violence Hotline” where I can easily find it. In the same contact, I put the number of the local YWCA Domestic Violence Program.

My next step is to write these numbers down on index cards and leave a few in my purse and a few in my glove compartment. I hope I never see another woman being beaten, but if I do, I will call the police and I will give her these numbers. Beyond that, there are so many ways to be of service. I plan to go down the list.

Here areStop Hitting Her: The Things I Did and Didn’t Do as a Witness to Domestic Violence other resources you can use if you ever need to help someone get out of a terrible situation:

Abusers stay in the picture by exerting their power. It’s time I exerted mine.

The Pregnancy Post to End All Pregnancy Posts

For the first time in my online adult life, I was experiencing something privately without making a show of it and without needing to know if anyone noticed or liked me experiencing it.

In January of 2016, I decided to stop checking my social media like an insatiable fiend. I’m a performer and storytelling teacher. Social media had always been a simple way of letting people know what I have going on. I’d grown accustomed to waking up every morning to see the who, what, and where of my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr on the hour every hour.

Who liked that Janet Jackson video I posted? How many people favorited that picture of my hair looking weird? How many people are “interested” versus “coming” to my comedy show? Why don’t more people love that Janet Jackson video? After a particularly non-productive but heavily media-filled morning of scrolling, scrolling, clicking, and scrolling some more, I wondered aloud, “What am I looking for?”

I didn’t know the answer, which was a little disconcerting. I decided to approach social media with a healthier sense of self-control and detachment. I moved the app icons from the first page of my iPhone screen. I stopped posting every other thought about Whole Foods, celebrity hairstyles, and inclement weather. I took pictures without the intention of sharing them with anyone. When I was curious about a friend, I texted them. When I did post, I made it as specific and purposeful as possible.

Very soon, I was only posting about haircuts I gave to friends and shows I was performing in. When I waited in line at the post office or supermarket, I waited like we all used to: without checking in with who was online. I started to live my life without posting my life and, needless to say, I felt more present and less busy.

Then I got pregnant. Well, I have to post something, I thought.

Impending motherhood is a big deal, but the rule still applied. If I was going to post a pregnancy post it had to have a purpose. I wanted it to be the best pregnancy post social media had ever seen. I would be loathe to post another “bun in the oven” status or a picture of my husband and I sticking out our respective bellies to tell everyone “the good news!”

Those posts had been posted before. I would not add to the cacophony of joy by doing what had been done. Perhaps I was making too big of a deal of something that I knew was a perfectly ordinary everyday miracle, but I wanted my pregnancy post to be the pregnancy post to end all pregnancy posts. Original, memorable, and hilarious.

The first trimester ended and still I didn’t post anything. I host a weekly storytelling show where I talked about my pregnancy since I was only three weeks in. I wasn’t afraid to share the developing news there, but I couldn’t think of a way to announce my pregnancy online that was groundbreaking enough for my performing ego.

In the second trimester, I thought it might be a good thing I hadn’t posted because, what if the baby died? I was 35 and every doctor and article seemed to relish telling me that I was “at risk” because I had “waited so long.” I did not want to see a bunch of sad yellow faces with tears pop up on Facebook if I posted about a miscarriage. After all, courageous and heartfelt miscarriage posts had been done before. If I was going to post, it had to be with original creative content. I was drawing a blank.

I ran into my friend and fellow writer, Kate, and she completely understood my posting dilemma. She told me that she had stopped Facebooking for a while but wanted to start up again and was unsure how to do it. She joked that maybe she should just wait until she had an engagement, wedding, baby, and a book deal to post about in one big braggy status. It felt good to know that I wasn’t alone in my quest for wow-factor posts.

I batted around a few ideas involving the Summer Olympics as well as Janet Jackson also being pregnant, but no phrasing felt quite unique enough. In desperate moments, I berated myself for even considering posting a selfie in a mirror with no caption so that the picture would speak for itself. I’ve got to be better than that! Where’s the wit? Where’s the originality?

Late in the second trimester, I thought that I should just wait a few more weeks until the third trimester when I planned on having a glass of red wine for the first time in my pregnancy. Then I could post a funny and beautiful picture of myself toasting my belly with a bottle of wine, “Happy Third Trimester!”

Then the third trimester came and not only could I not stomach the idea of having a drink but the idea of toasting my pregnant belly was no longer funny to me. Really, Julia? You wait six months to make an alcohol joke? Maybe you aren’t as funny as you think you are. Maybe pregnancy has made you dumb. Stop crying you unfunny, unoriginal, pregnant dummy.

Then, naturally, I had the baby. It was an incredible experience. A home birth no less. It was so fast the midwife almost missed it and my husband almost had to deliver the baby himself. I birthed a live human being in my dirty bathtub in my apartment in all the glory of womanhood and she was the cutest, most adorable child who looked just like my husband without a beard (who coincidentally looks like the Gerber baby with a beard). Now, surely I will post something!

But I didn’t. As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and all I did was take care of a newborn, part of me wondered if I was scared. Was I unwilling to accept this new role as a mother and so was using the desire to create a meteorically special online baby announcement as an excuse?

I expressed these fears to a friend and she showed me an article about how Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie did not share her pregnancy because she did not want to “perform” her pregnancy. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t need to either.

As a performer, social media was not just a way to connect but another way for me to perform. Before I decided to take a step back, every post was curated for optimum attention from an online audience. The more likes, shares, and retweets I got, the more I wanted. It was never enough.

For the first time in my online adult life, I was experiencing something privately without making a show of it and without needing to know if anyone noticed or liked me experiencing it. It took me almost a year to realize that the answer to the question “What am I looking for?” was simply this: attention.

Posting something original was never the problem. The problem was always my inevitable unhealthy reaction to the reaction of the post. My self-worth was wrapped up in my online profile and it was not dependable. I’d inadvertently curbed the need for others’ attention right when my attention was shifting to something entirely outside of myself.

There is nothing inherently wrong with posting your life and your babies on social media, but I am hyper-aware that I have the capability to become a Joan Crawford and use my child to further perform through the internet. I love and like and favorite all of my friends’ baby posts because they are able to post without using their kids for self-involved attention-seeking. Or at least, they make it seem that way.

Friends will post pictures of my baby and sometimes she is visible at the edges of my posts, but she is never the sole subject of a status. I do not want to inadvertently put my needy ego on her. So I wait, patiently anticipating the inevitable day she asks for her own social media to perform her very own ego online. I hope I will have taught her not to need the attention too much.

New Parents, Your Life Is over – Embrace It

While I don’t feel remarkably different as a person, my life is astronomically different than it used to be.

Around seven years ago, just after my old college roommate had his second child and my wife was expecting our first, he said something to me that stuck: “Having a kid changes you. It changes your whole life. Parents who keep trying to get their old life back won’t ever be happy.”

When our daughter was born, I thought, “I haven’t changed. I feel pretty much the same. I’m still the same fiscally conservative, socially liberal, pro-drug, pro-life secular humanist who doesn’t do drugs that I’ve always been. Plus, a kid.” My friend was nuts.

I thought I was going to become a more tolerant, caring, emotional, spiritual person after becoming a parent. That’s what happens in movies, books, and cheesy TV shows. You find God, or magic, or discover the true meaning of love or life (which you thought you knew before procreating, but were wrong). That didn’t happen to me. If anything, having a kid increased my convictions to my long-standing life philosophy. One small human wasn’t going to change my long-toiled-over, firmly-ingrained opinions on the human condition.

After having our second kid, I still think about what my friend said. I still don’t really feel different and, honestly, he doesn’t seem much different to me either. We still joke around and bitch about life just like we did in college. Only now it’s on the phone at lunch hour as opposed to at two am over beer and pizza.

While I don’t feel remarkably different as a person, my life is astronomically different than it used to be. Just about everything I do now, I do with the kids in mind.

I’ve been writing books and screenplays for the last 15 years. Lately, I’ve been writing parenting articles like this one, and a children’s book called “Grumpy Dad Shovels Snow.” So I’m the same, still a writer, but the manifestation of my personal passions has been redirected.

I’m a TV producer. I used to think it was cool and “Hollywood.” I still think it’s cool, but now I’m more excited about my health care plan than if one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey will show up at the Christmas party.

My wife and I used to go out to dinner and enjoy wine. We now cook dinner at home. And enjoy wine.

Weekends used to be about sleeping in, having brunch, doing whatever we wanted to before going out for dinner, perhaps seeing a movie or show, and going to bed after midnight. Now, weekends are about getting up at six am when the kids do, figuring out what they want to do all day, and going to bed at 10:30.

I’m enjoying the changes that parenthood has brought to my life. Perhaps it’s due to my being a bit on the older side and having “lived it up” beforehand, or perhaps my life wasn’t all that interesting before I had kids. In any case, I’m enjoying it. I’ve met many parents who are not enjoying parenting as much as they could be due to their constant desire to “get their old life back.” This is understandable, but ultimately an un-winnable, self-destructive battle.

When you first have a kid, it’s hard. It’s painful, frustrating, and uncomfortable. It’s only natural to think, “Oh my God, make this stop, I want to go back to the time when I could sleep, eat, and poop in peace.”

First of all, that time will come. And second, this is what you signed up for. You wanted to be a parent. Now you are one. Wanting to “go back” is impossible and silly. Stop trying to figure out how to “un-accomplish” exactly what you set out to accomplish. Embrace your accomplishment and all the unexpected discomfort – and pleasure – that comes with it. Instead of beating yourself up, clinging to the way life used to be, congratulate and reward yourself for what it is now. This is the only way you can enjoy it.

Look around at parents at the playground, at the mall, or anywhere. There are infinite parenting styles, children’s personality variables, and developmental and emotional issues (in both kids and parents) that affect parental fulfillment. However, one universal indicator of a parent’s happiness and effectiveness is their level of acceptance of their new lives as parents as opposed to a constant denial of it, a futile wait for their life to cease being the way it is.

When your kid spits up on you, you can think, “Dammit, if I didn’t have this kid that wouldn’t have happened.” But you can’t go back.

When your kid wakes up screaming in the middle of the night you can think, “Dammit, if I didn’t have this kid, I could sleep like I used to.” But you can’t go back.

When you are sitting in the bathroom and your kid barges in to ask you how to spell “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or discuss timeline issues she’s having with “Boss Baby,” you can be mad that this wouldn’t have happened in your old life. But you can’t go back.

When your kid bugs you to go to their favorite restaurant and then throws a tantrum because the chicken nuggets are too “chickeny,” you can be mad that this wouldn’t have happened in your old life. But you can’t go back.

This inability to “go back” is not a bad thing, unless you make it one. Parents who dwell in the past are condemned to unhappiness. If you are one of those parents who made the vow to yourself and your spouse to not let having kids change your lives like those other weirdo parents, well, unless you have a staff raising your kids while you enjoy the childless life, you will eventually realize that keeping your old life is impossible, that you are the weirdo parent, and possibly regret your decision to have become one.

But here’s the good news: kids are fun. Parenting is fulfilling and enjoyable. Great stuff happens in your new life as a parent. When your four-month-old is crying uncontrollably on your shoulder until he lets out a window-rattling, face-melting burp that would make an ex-Marine trucker jealous, that’s fun. When your six-year-old girl’s face lights up as she marvels at your mad snowman-making skills, that’s fun.

Sometimes, the fun is a bit harder to find.

When your kids’ soccer games are scheduled for eight am on Saturdays, you can be the parent who shows up and complains how early it is (because you haven’t let go of your old life when you slept until 10 am on Saturdays) or you can get to the field and cheer on your kid and all his teammates as well. You chose this. This is what you wanted. Welcome to parenting. There is no alternative. You can choose to enjoy it or woefully cling to the impossible past.

As far as your old life, I can tell you what we tell our occasionally-obsessive six-year-old daughter, “Do an Elsa, and Let it Goooooo…” It might be a sad goodbye, but it’s a necessary one. Have a funeral, say a eulogy, have a toast, but say goodbye. Your old life is dead. Your new after (kids) life is alive. It can be heaven, but you have to embrace it.

My friend was right. As a parent, your life changes. Your motivations change. Your day-to-day behavior and routines change. Your purpose changes. You may feel the same, but if you step back and take a look at yourself, you can see that you are a different person. You are a parent. Embrace it.

I Can't Do This

As we slowly inched closer and closer to the drive-through speaker box, a drip of nervous perspiration rolled down my forehead.

“Do you know what you want?” I asked my wife.

“I can’t see the menu,” she replied.

I could’ve told you that this was going to be the answer. It’s always the answer. As usual, I began thinking to myself, “How can she not know the McDonald’s menu by now? Every American can recite the McDonald’s menu. Some can even quote prices as well. The McDonald’s menu is as old as time, penned by our forefathers shortly after the completion of the Declaration of Independence.”

But I kept these thoughts to myself because I’ve learned that verbalizing them would only create an episode and prolong the decision-making process. I instead turned to my darling children and asked the same thing. The answer came at me from two mouths simultaneously, making it impossible to determine who said what, but it sounded like this:

“I want a cheeseburger Happy Meal, I want a chicken nugget Big Kid Meal, and the purple toy, with mustard sauce, no wait, make it a blue toy, and root beer, but I don’t want the same toy as her, I think I want nuggets instead, and ketchup, but I already have that toy, I don’t like onions, can we go to Taco Bell?”

As I tried to comprehend the rat’s nest of words that had just come from the backseat, I pulled the car forward. It was my turn at the speaker. My palms were sweating and I was having trouble breathing. I knew what was about to happen.

“I’ll have the quarter pounder with cheese meal with a Coke aaaaand…”

I always say “and” in a prolonged and exaggerated way in an attempt to cue my wife to jump in with her order. This time, per usual, I was met only with silence as she studied the menu. I diverted my attention back to the kids, noticing that the little old lady in the car behind me was beginning to look impatient.

“I also need two Happy Meals, one cheeseburger and one chicken nugget, with blue and purple toys.”

No, I want a red toy.”

“What to drink with those, sir?”

“Lemonades and make it a red toy.”

“I want a cheeseburger instead,” one of the girls hollered from the back.

“I’m sorry, sir, we are all out of red toys,” the voice informed me.

“Mustard sauce, Dad, and I don’t like lemonade.”

“Make the nugget a cheeseburger and change the lemonade to a Coke and the red toy to a green toy.” My hands tightened on the steering wheel.

“I want curly fries, Dad.”

“They don’t have curly fries here, Natalie.”

“I’m Hannah.”

“What was that, sir?” The voice was beginning to sound as confused as I felt.

“I was just telling my kid that you don’t have curly fries here.”

“We don’t have curly fries here, sir,” the voice confirmed.

“I know that, you idiot!”

“Your total comes to…”

Wait! I’m not done,” I said, turning to my wife with a look of desperation.

The little old lady behind me was now honking every ten seconds or so, and my right eye had begun to twitch.

“Well?” I asked my wife in a voice raised a notch in intensity.

“What did I get last time?” she asked in a tone that would suggest that she was in no hurry.

“I don’t know. Does it matter?”

“Can I get the garden salad with chicken on it?”

“Can she get the garden salad with chicken on it?”

“Yes, but we will have to charge you more,” answered the voice on the speaker.

“Ask if I can trade the tomato for the chicken.”

“Can we trade the tomato for the chicken?”

“We’ll still have to charge extra.”

“Well, then I don’t want the garden salad,” she decided. “Tell him I need another minute.”

The little old lady behind me had now gotten the whole drive-through line honking and had begun throwing what appeared to be Rolaids at the back of my car while two more minutes of menu-studying passed.

“Just get me a McChicken sandwich meal and a diet,” she said finally.

“Uh, I guess we’ll have the McChicken meal with a diet…and that’s it.”

Silence came from the speaker. I waited, ignoring the cars honking behind us. Then more silence from the speaker.

“I’m sorry, sir, but can you repeat your order?”

What? Repeat my order?!? I don’t think that’s possible! My mind was blank. I couldn’t remember a single item of anyone’s order…including my own.

“I, I, uhh…I…” I stammered.

“What is wrong with you?” my wife demanded.

I looked at my family. Their mouths were moving as they attempted to repeat their orders to me, but I couldn’t hear any words, just the sound of my labored breathing and my heart beating like a drum. The little old lady behind me was getting out of her car and walking toward me. What if she has a gun in her purse?

The voice on the speaker box was getting louder and louder, “Sir? SIR?!? Can you hear me? Could you repeat your order? Sir? SIR?!?”

Sobbing, I looked up to the heavens and pleaded, “Lord, spare me this shame and take me now!” I turned to my wife. “I…I can’t do this,” I told her, breathing hard.

“What do you mean? What is wrong with you? Tell them our order again!” she insisted, but I couldn’t comply.

I peeled out of the drive-through line, smoke rolling off the tires, leaving the little old lady giving me an obscene gesture in my rearview mirror. Both girls flew up out of their seats as the car bounced over the curb and across the restaurant lawn. Tires squealed as we slid back onto the street.

I drove recklessly through traffic, shrieking from sheer anxiety. My wife was shouting directly into my right ear, and both girls were crying and whining about not getting nuggets, purple toys, and curly fries.

They don’t have curly fries at McDonald’s!!” I screamed, honking the horn with each syllable.

Once home, I stormed into the kitchen and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone, despite the wailings, protests, and unrelenting dirty looks from my wife.

A new rule was proclaimed, as we all enjoyed our sandwiches, that no fast-food trips would be made until all car occupants had decided and written down their orders. That I could do.