What It's Like Parenting With Hearing Aids

The worry didn’t stem from passing my hearing loss along, it stemmed from the idea that I wouldn’t hear my kid.

“Mommy!” called my son from his car seat as we drove. He wanted something, but I couldn’t hear him.

I turned the music off, rolled up the windows, and repeated “What’s that?” for the third time.

“Unintelligible something or another,” he called again out to me.

Finally, after a bit more of this incoherent exchange that caused us both frustration, I yelled back, “Mommy can’t hear you!”

Just like that, I was brought face-to-face with one of my greatest fears and disappointment: I can’t hear my kid.

I’ve worn hearing aids since I was about eight years old. My hearing loss isn’t anything biological, rather I suffered from nerve damage with no known cause. I wear these tiny machines in my ears because, otherwise, everyone around me sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I’ve always been pretty good about the fact that I have to wear hearing aids because with them, I get to hear.

However, this disability concerned me when we started talking about having kids. Granted, the concern was minimal, but it was there, lurking like the annoying reality that it was. The worry didn’t stem from passing my hearing loss along, it stemmed from the idea that I wouldn’t hear my kid.

I tried to stay as positive as I could with the support from my family but, after my son was born, the fear and anxiety completely took over. I needed to hear every cry, every scream, every holler. Every. Single. Noise. I couldn’t miss anything. If my husband could hear it, I wanted to hear it too.

My husband pleaded with me to just trust him and leave my hearing aids out so that I could sleep, but I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. It didn’t matter that my son was sleeping in a basinet right beside my bed, there was nothing anyone could say or do that would make me change my mind. I just could not trust anyone but myself, even though I couldn’t trust my ears. (Make no mistake, my husband’s hearing, to me, is impeccable. I believe he’s got super-sonic hearing, but then again, I believe most people have this amazing superpower. They just call it hearing.)

When we moved our son to his crib in his room down the hall, he transitioned like a superstar. I, however, did not. I became more intense. I continued sleeping with one hearing aid in at a time and introduced the video and sound monitor to the madness that was already brewing. It was bright and it was loud and it made sleep harder for both of us. It made a high frequency noise that I am deaf to but that my husband can hear.

Finally, after six months of being neurotic, I gave up control out of sheer exhaustion combined with the realization that I needed to trust my husband and let him hear for me. I know that my husband wants the best for our son and believes in his ability to hear the child if he cries.

Our son is now three and is becoming more and more curious about my hearing aids. We talk about them. I ask him to not touch or splash my special machinery. I explain to him that it’s actually quite painful when he shoves these electronics into my ears. We explain how Mommy can’t hear and that these are magical little devices help me hear what he hears.

Now that we’ve switched to the conversation-style-dialogue stage with our three-year-old, the stakes are higher and the challenges are greater. Not being able to hear him when he has something to say causes an uncomfortable mix of emotions. It’s frustrating and that makes me angry, which then takes the shape of sadness and finally morphs into fear.

Fear. I’m afraid to miss something important.

No matter. This is my life; this is our life. I make the best of my situation and do my best to keep the dialogue open with my son about my hearing or lack thereof. I lip read, and I’m teaching the boy to look at me when he speaks to me. The added bonus to him facing me is that I get to have a child yell in my face while spit goes flying every time he has something exciting to tell me.

Having a hearing impairment does not impair my ability to parent or to listen. It doesn’t impair my ability to be the mother I need to be for my child. Yes, there are setbacks and there are times the frustration can erupt like a volcano, but that’s all stuff we can handle.

No, I can’t hear everything my son tells me, but I will never stop trying. I’m determined to be the mom my son needs, with or without a disability.

The Social Spookiness of Halloween

Lessons about crossing dark streets, waiting for others to catch up, and sharing goodies emerge from this strange and spooky holiday.

My dog is barking wildly at the large, misshapen pumpkin I just dragged from the car to the front porch. It’s a good thing my mom visited two weeks ago, or she would definitely be growling, at least internally, at the pagan gourd flanking the entryway to my home.
My mom really hates Halloween. When we were growing up, my siblings and I were permitted to hand out candy to neighborhood children, but we did not engage in the “coarse” act of trick-or-treating. I think I actually learned the definition of “extortion” from my mom’s interpretation of demanding candy from innocent people in return for the favor of not committing a “trick” to their homes or property.
Now I’m a mom, and I have accepted that Halloween, even with its ghosts and goblins, has developed into a beloved American tradition, with costumes, candy, and parties that dangle very far away from any morbid or devilish roots. I’ve made my peace with allowing my children to ask for junk food at neighbors’ and even strangers’ doors, as long as they are sure to respond with an audible thank you and not make a grab for more than one or two pieces of candy.
There’s a spirit of an autumn carnival in our neighborhood on Halloween night. Some families open their garage doors and provide adult-friendly “treats” to tired parents as kids excitedly make their rounds. My kids revel in the ritual of categorizing, classifying, and counting their stashes of candy even more than the actual trick-or-treating. Their hauls expertly spread on the living room carpet, they conduct barters and exchanges of brightly colored fruit flavored candies for chocolate delicacies.
Perhaps the most unanticipated lesson of Halloween lies in the run-up to the evening, when friend groups are tested and children realize their status in the social pecking order. Are they like Tootsie Rolls – accepted but not wildly popular? Will they walk around with their parents and siblings? Will they be invited to pre-Halloween pizza dinners with the most popular kids in the grade or dressed according to an agreed-upon theme of the year? Halloween can be a ghoulish night, as it casts a sharp light on who is in and who is out.
Some children are fortunate to have one best friend, a yin to their yang, a jelly to their peanut butter. Halloween is a blast for those fortunate dyads. Salt and pepper, Batman and Robin, angel and devil, they move through the darkening sidewalks with confidence and laughter. Other friend group formations abound as well: colors in a crayon box, a litter of kittens, a gaggle of superheroes.
What happens to children who want to be a part of a group but don’t know how to ask for entry? Even more prickly is the question of what happens to the child who boldly asserts him or herself by asking to join in a group costume and is then rebuffed?
Halloween is not for the faint of heart. There are modern lessons that can be derived from this ancient holiday. Historically, we dress ourselves up to honor our dead and to protect ourselves from goblins and dangerous spirits on the loose. Likewise, we find strength to encourage our children to rise above the sting of possible social rejection. We celebrate our children’s individual spirits and enjoy the process of finding costumes that reflect what they love and enjoy.
Instead of fretting over possible social exclusion, perhaps Halloween is a good time to remind our children that, even as adults, we don’t get invited to every party or fun activity. We will all still be okay. If your child is the popular one this year, perhaps a lesson in graciousness and generosity is helpful, too. Would it be so terrible to have one extra football hero in the group, especially if it means including the child who doesn’t have a million buddies in school?
When my daughter was very young, she went trick-or-treating with a large group of girls. The laces on her brand new shoes kept untying, so she was constantly stopping to retie them. As I watched from the sidewalk, I noticed her hunching over after each stop on the Halloween circuit while the other girls ran ahead to the next house to gather their goodies. One child remained by my daughter’s side and patiently waited for her to take care of her shoes so that she wouldn’t trip in the slippery grass.
When we returned home that evening, we spoke about the unusual kindness demonstrated by my daughter’s friend. This “shoelace test” became the litmus test for friendship in our house. This was the type of friend to aspire to be and to value.
Lessons about crossing dark streets, waiting for others to catch up, and sharing goodies emerge from this strange and spooky holiday. We can help make the holiday sweeter by listening to our kids when they share their concerns and reassuring them that morning will come again on November 1st.

7 Picture Books That Help Kids Cope With Tragedy

These books deal with topics like fear, loss, and separation anxiety in subtle ways, but can serve as great conversation starters.

On Monday morning, I woke up to an alert on my phone that there was a shooting in Las Vegas. Horrifyingly unfazed by news that has become too commonplace, I went about my morning. I made breakfast. I packed lunches. I kissed the tops of wild-haired heads and sent them off on their school buses.

It was only when I sat down at my computer and checked the news that I completely unraveled. Watching the sickening story unfold, I was completely frozen in what can only be described as a zombified state. I stared at the TV, much like I did after the Sandy Hook shooting, completely unable to wrap my mind around the news.

The emotions were plentiful: fear, overwhelming sadness, confusion. How can this continually happen? How can we fix it? How do we even begin to discuss this with our kids?

Feeling completely at a loss, I started poking around to see what experts had to say about helping children cope with tragedies. Should we try to shield them from it? Should we bring it up? How do we discuss such heavy issues in a way that’s appropriate and won’t fill them with even more fear?

Every source I looked into said that it’s important to talk to our kids. According to the American Psychological Association, “Talking to your children about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them. What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there listening to them.”

In an article for Psychology Today, Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, said that “The conversations you have with your kids – as well as the conversations you avoid – will impact their core beliefs about themselves, other people, and the world in general.” She went on to add that “[e]ven your silence on the subject could lay the foundation for unhealthy core beliefs. When parents don’t acknowledge a tragic incident, a child might think, ‘My parents don’t talk about what happened because you shouldn’t talk about sad things.’ Ultimately that child may think sharing sad feelings is unhealthy.”

So how do we, as parents, breach a subject that even we find scary?

Mental Health America encourages parents of school-age children to allow them to express themselves through play or drawing. “As with younger children, school-age children sometimes find comfort in expressing themselves through playing games or drawing scenes of the tragedy. Allowing them to do so, and then talking about it, gives you the chance to ‘re-tell’ the ending of the game or the story they have expressed in pictures with an emphasis on personal safety.”

This idea of “re-telling” immediately made me think of children’s literature and how it can be a powerful coping mechanism, allowing children to see how characters respond to situations that they find frightening and then relating it to situations happening in the real world that children might be frightened by.

I put together a list of seven children’s books that are great ways to talk to kids about tragic topics, whether it’s something that’s horrific on a national level or something that hits a little closer to home. These books deal with topics like fear, loss, and separation anxiety in subtle ways, but can serve as great conversation starters.

 
 
ScaredySquirrel

Scaredy Squirrel

by Melanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel does not leave his tree. There are way too many scary things in the great big world, like tarantulas, green Martians, sharks, and killer bees. Instead, Scaredy Squirrel sticks to a strict daily schedule and always has his trusty emergency kit (filled with things like antibacterial soap, Band-Aids, and a parachute) on hand. But when he suddenly finds himself in the big, scary unknown, Scaredy Squirrel discovers something amazing.


 

Swimmy

by Leo Lionni

Swimmy’s entire school of fish was swallowed by a tuna. Scared and alone, Swimmy wandered the ocean slowly noticing the beauty around him. That made Swimmy happy. Eventually, he found a school of fish that was just like his own. He wanted to play and explore with them, but they were afraid of being eaten by bigger fish. In the end, Swimmy figures out a way they can work together and stay safe.


ToughBoris

Tough Boris

by Mem Fox

Boris is tough and mean and fearless, like all pirates. But when his parrot dies, Tough Boris cries. With simple language and watercolor pictures that add a lot of rich detail (and a whole other storyline), this book is a great way to talk about feelings with children.


 InMyHEart

In My Heart

by Jo Witek

This is another great way to start talking to your kids about feelings. While Tough Boris is about how even tough guys can cry, this story is about how our hearts can feel so many different things. It can feel “strong and brave” one minute and “fragile and delicate” the next, and that’s okay!


TheInvisibleString

The Invisible String

by Patrice Karst

When a brother and sister are scared and want to be closer to their mom, she explains to them that they are connected by an invisible string of love that connects from heart to heart. She explains that no matter how far loved ones are away from each other, they’re always connected by this very special string. Whether kids are having separation anxiety or dealing with divorce or even death, this sweet story is very reassuring.


 Rabbityness

Rabbityness

by Jo Empson

Rabbit enjoys doing rabbity things, but he also enjoys doing un-rabbity things like painting and playing music. It’s the un-rabbity things that make him Rabbit, and make all the other rabbits in the forest happy. When Rabbit disappears one day, the other rabbits are so, so sad. Then they find some special gifts he left behind, which make them think of Rabbit while discovering their own un-rabbity talents. This is a great story to use when discussing loss with children.


 

The Heart and the Bottle

by Oliver Jeffers

Another story on dealing with loss, this one tells the tale of a very curious little girl. Her grandfather is pictured on every page with her as she curiously explores her surroundings. Then one day the chair he sits in is empty and he is gone. She puts her heart in a bottle to try and protect it, but suddenly everything seems so empty to her, until she meets a younger curious little girl who helps bring her heart back and make it lighter again. Incredibly poignant, the story ends on an uplifting, hopeful note.

Now, when those wild-haired girls step off of their school buses, I’ll have some help. We can curl up on the couch – a place that is safe and reassuring – and read a story to help us all start the process of understanding our feelings. We might not be able to understand everything, but at least it’s a start.

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3 Fears Your Preschooler Can't Articulate, But Influence Their Behavior

These common worries tend to surface in the form of sadness and tantrums, and it can be difficult to differentiate the causes of the outbursts.

The age of preschool is an emotionally confusing time for young children. Between the ages of three and five years old, children are working through a lot of insecurities and fears that they do not yet have the language skills to articulate. These common worries tend to surface in their everyday lives through sadness and tantrums, and it can be difficult to differentiate the causes of the outbursts. In an effort to better understand our sweet little ones, here are three common fears that your preschooler isn’t yet able to tell you about.

1 | The fear that their behavior determines your love for them

Young children are highly attuned to adult’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and verbal inflection. When adults respond to children’s behavior with yelling, a stern or harsh tone, or lashing out, children often become scared and feel that they are the cause of the parent’s stress. This can lead children to believe that their parent’s love for them is contingent on their good behavior.

In his book, “Unconditional Parenting,” Alfie Kohn outlines the difference between conditional and unconditional love in the following way:

[There is a distinction between] loving kids for what they do and loving them for who they are. The first sort of love is conditional, which means children must earn it by acting in ways we deem appropriate, or by performing up to our standards. The second sort of love is unconditional: it doesn’t hinge on how they act, whether they’re successful or well behaved or anything else.

Every parent wants a well-behaved, well-adjusted, and emotionally-regulated child who doesn’t act out, but the reality of the preschool years is that children will act out. It’s our mission as parents to guide our child’s behavior in such a way that she knows what’s expected of her while also knowing that she is deeply loved.

What you can do:

  • Try to remain as calm as possible when managing your child’s behavior. Remind your child that your love for her never changes, even when she misbehaves.
  • Clearly state your behavior expectations and re-affirm your confidence in her ability to do it the next time.
  • Apologize when your reaction is harsher than you intended it to be. By admitting that adults also make mistakes, children can learn that mistakes are part of learning.

2 | The fear that you will leave and not come back

Attachment to a parent is the very first survival mechanism that an infant learns when he leaves the womb. That attachment grows stronger as the child learns more about the world and how big of a place it really is. By three years old, most children are ready to venture out for short periods of time in order to explore and then return to the safety of their parents. The problem is that children have a limited ability to gauge the concept of time, so when children are away from their “safe base,” minutes can feel like hours and hours can feel like days. This leads children to fear the worst, that Mommy and Daddy aren’t coming back.

What you can do:

  • Give your child an object of yours to hold during times when you’re away. It can be anything that reminds him of you: a picture, a hair tie, or a small trinket. This gives him a physical connection, a “piece of Mommy” to hold on to until you return.
  • Tell your child what is going to happen. Give him a predictable time frame when you will be back, for example, “Daddy will be back after your nap.”
  • Try to avoid using the “Mommy is leaving” threat when trying to get your child to leave a public place. This is confusing for children and can lead to a lack of trust when there comes a time when you truly are leaving them.

3 | The fear that they aren’t good enough

Inadequacy is a huge fear of preschoolers, and it surfaces in different ways. This can be the child that cries because her picture didn’t turn out the way she wanted it to, or the child who says, “It’s too hard” and doesn’t even want to try. The fear of inadequacy becomes more prevalent in the preschool years because children are at a developmental stage where they begin to view themselves in relation to other children. Comparison makes a child question his worth in a brand new way, and these are big feelings for young children to sort out. The development of a child’s self esteem begins in these early preschool years. He begins to evaluate himself in relation to his peers in terms of how well he does certain tasks and what other children think of him.

What you can do:

  • Point out your child’s growth and praise her willingness to try new things.
  • Place more emphasis on the child’s effort on a given task than the finished product.
  • Validate children’s feelings of inadequacy and promote problem solving with phrases like, “I can see that you aren’t happy with this. What are some ideas to make this better?”
  • Build your child up: help bring to light all of her very best qualities and how those qualities mean more to you than her performance.

Why I’m Determined to Live a Fearless Life

I no longer trusted that my feet would land in the right place, and I stopped all of my leaping and swinging and flipping and turning.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
My eight-year-old tan toes curl around the hot, steel edge of a North Carolina bridge. Below me, a creek swirls and cuts against large boulders that line its wildflower banks. The water shimmers underneath the late afternoon sun as a tiny hummingbird zips across my line of vision. It fearlessly pumps its wings against the thick, humid air, ascends higher, and then – just as quickly as it arrived – disappears. I am young enough to believe I can be just like that ruby-throated wonder, so I take a deep breath, spread my own wings, and then – filled with a mix of fear and joy and excitement – I jump.
Moments later, when I float to the top and emerge into the air of that hot summer day, I can’t help but notice that I feel deliriously, deliciously, wonderfully alive.
* * *
Once upon a time, I was a gymnast. I spent endless hours at the gym practicing and perfecting my routines. My strong little body tumbled across floors, hurtled toward vaults, moved from bar to bar, and dismounted four inch beams. I ran and leapt and swung and flipped and attempted to stick every single one of my landings.
Just like there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no room for fear in gymnastics. You trust that when you come out of that back flip, your feet will land squarely on the floor. You trust that when you propel yourself forward off the springboard, your hands will be positioned correctly on the vault. You trust that when you swing backwards, you will see the bar and catch it at just the right moment.
My physical fearlessness as a gymnast meant that I was pretty fearless when it came to other things, too – things like jumping off bridges and going down zip lines and riding the fastest roller coaster I could find. Since I was shy and had a hard time speaking up, the rush of these other risks felt like a way I could live out loud a little bit more.
* * *
During practice one day, my coach walked up to me as I was getting into position for my floor routine. He reached down and slapped my thigh. “No routine,” he said. “You run instead. You’re getting fat.” At the time, I was 13 years old and 115 pounds of pure muscle. Though I should have known better, the comment changed how I felt about myself: Doubt crept in, and just like that, the physical action of the sport – the one that required the movement of my apparently too heavy body – seemed daunting. So instead of being fearless, I started being fearful. I no longer trusted that my feet would land in the right place, and I stopped all of my leaping and swinging and flipping and turning. I became that girl on the edge of the bridge again, but this time, I was too scared to jump.
Shortly thereafter, I quit.
Looking back, I hate that I quit doing something I loved because of that man’s off-handed comment. But even so, I have to admit that it is a comment that I’ve often thought about over the past few years, years that, for me, have been full of decisions where I could have chosen to let my fear get the better of me, decisions where I could have let that little fear-filled voice inside me say, “Don’t do it. It’s way too scary.”
Because now, as an adult, I can look at my coach’s comment and turn his hurtful words into something 100 percent positive. If I could look that coach in the eye now, I’d speak up and say, “Okay, fine. I won’t follow the routine – I’ll run. But instead of running around in circles like you want me to, I’ll run wildly toward where my heart is pulling me. I’ll run and I’ll leap and I’ll flip and I’ll turn, and I’ll trust that no matter how scary the first steps of that journey might be, I’ll be headed in the right direction.”
* * *
When was the last time you jumped? Were you five, 10, 15, or 25? What would happen if you started jumping again?
Because life’s too short for anything less than a passionate, fulfilling, fearless life. Life’s too short to not run fast and far away from anything that makes you doubt yourself. Life’s too short to regret not spreading your wings every once in a while. Life’s too short not to trust yourself. Life’s too short to let your toes burn on the edge of whatever bridge you’re standing on. Life’s too short not to jump.
So today, be determined to live fearlessly. Take the leap into the unknown, and trust that wherever you land, it will be worth the risk.
This article was originally published on The Nostalgia Diaries.

Raise Your Hand if You Don’t Like Scary Movies

In all honesty, I don’t think it was my age that ruined it for me. I think some people just aren’t cut out for the scary stuff.

The first scary movie I ever saw was “Jaws”. It was a July afternoon in Oklahoma, and I was visiting my cousins.
I don’t ever remember a hotter summer than that one. The heat rose off the roads in waves and the tar that zigzagged over the cracks in the sidewalks grew soft and stuck to our flip flops.
By noon, we retreated indoors, sunburned and tired from running through the sprinklers and hungry for a bologna sandwich. Still in our swimsuits, we ate in front of the television lying on our stomachs.
“Jaws” seemed innocent enough at first – the banana boats, the too short shorts on the guys, and the Farrah Fawcett hair on the girls. It was beachy and perfect for a summer afternoon. And then the music kicked in.
Dunna. Dunna. Dunna dunna dunna duuuuuunnnnnna.
A fin knifes through the water. Somebody gets dragged under. The water bubbles red. Everybody screams. And my cousins, all boys, tickle me until I am crying. I’m not sure where my heart has gone, but it is thumping loudly from somewhere underneath the floor. I am seven.
My scary moving-going has not gone any better since. I caught one scene from “It” on TBS at age 10, which forever ruined clowns for me. Although, does anybody really like clowns? I will not be seeing the remake.
At 11, I watched “People Under the Stairs” in a detached trailer neighboring my grandparent’s lake house with a girl named Chastity, who was one year older than me but looked like she was 30. She, too, was visiting her grandparents for the summer. They had cockatoos that roamed the trailer, freely pooping on the backs of chairs and your hair if you weren’t fast enough. Both the movie and the trailer gave me nightmares for weeks. I still can’t handle cockatoos.
Maybe I was simply too young for blood and terror and creepy slo-mo shots of half open doors. Maybe I should have waited a decade or two. Even now, I steer clear of the “Horror” category on Neflix. I can’t even pause in my scrolling because the movie covers give me the shivers. How do the eyes of the serial killers and demon dolls manage to follow you around the room?
In all honesty, I don’t think it was my age that ruined it for me. I think some people just aren’t cut out for the scary stuff.
According to Glenn Sparks, a professor at Purdue University, who conducted a research study on why certain people are affected by these films more than others, it has a great deal to do with our wiring. Some people get a kick from that adrenaline rush. The quickened heartbeat and prickling at the back of the neck leave them with more energy when the film is over, what he calls the “excitation transfer process.” It leaves you jittery and happy at having gotten to enjoy the thrill. It’s the same reason some people love roller coasters – the fear factor that leads to greater victory when it is done.
There’s also the novelty of the horror film that draws people in, the idea that you’re seeing something you don’t see every day. It’s curiosity that keeps you watching and wondering what could possibly happen next.
But for some of us, the rush and the novelty isn’t worth the emotional price. I don’t want to come out clammy and shaky and headed for sleeplessness just to say I did it. I’m all for novelty, but let it be for the good. Let it bring me a vision of utopia, not the stuff of nightmares. Give me “This is Us” and “Sing” and let me relax.
I think some of us are simply more sensitive to stimulus than others. The magic of story-telling in books and film is that it carries fiction into reality. If done well, the world in the story is all-encompassing and complete. But if you are a super feeler, a highly sensitive person, the reality can be too much to handle.
You can feel that hot sun and choppy water right before the shark appears. You can hear that door creak open from a mile away. You can already see those unblinking eyes looking back from the rain-slashed window and will continue to see them long after the credits roll. If you are anything like me, you need less, not more, stimulus. Life is enough of an adrenaline rush.
If you’re a scary movie lover, more power to you. With Halloween right around the corner, this is your season. But for those of you who aren’t, know that you’re not alone. I’ll be right there with you, with the lights on, watching re-runs of “Parks and Rec” and locking all the doors after dark.

One Moment at a Time

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Giving up isn’t an option today. One mistake, one wrong decision, one moment of indulgence in self-pity will rip away everything and everyone who brings meaning and love to my life. To an outsider, my life may seem bleak: I live paycheck to (one week before) paycheck in a condo that is too small for my three children and me. It is not out of the norm for me to not know how I will put gas in my car or food on the table. My credit score is a whopping 450. I am divorced. I borrow money from my 70-year-old mother, who also helps me with laundry and other household chores. At 39, I am only at the beginning stages of my first career. I have no husband and I don’t go on vacation. I am scraping by one day at a time, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
No one wants to visit the depths of emotional and physical pain that I have. My story is as sad as they get. Every alcoholic mother cliché is true. I am a low-bottom drunk. My final years of drinking were spent chugging vodka straight out of the bottle just to calm the shakes and nausea. My final drink ended with me driving in a blackout at 10 a.m. after disappearing from my place of employment unannounced. My visits with my children were supervised by court order. They still loved me and I can’t comprehend how or why. They still had hope for me. They saw through the sour breath and the phony smile, and they knew the person I am today was hiding in there. They waited for me.
I was full of broken promises and empty apologies. I missed birthday parties, and I passed out in front of my children. Hangover after hangover, alcoholism told me I could drink today and not get drunk. Just a few to keep the shakes at bay, then I will stop. This is a disease that lies. This is a disease that takes over mind, body and spirit and grabs hold of families and innocent children. This disease held me so tightly, and I danced with it for so long, believing the lies and forgiving its betrayal.
I was unemployable, undependable, and (I thought) unlovable. Alcohol was my everything. My best friend and lover. My courage and fear. My entertainment and bedtime story. My motivation to live and desire to die. Alcohol came before my kids, relationships, health, and sanity. I wanted so badly to want to stop drinking, but I still longed for alcohol to run steadily through my veins every waking moment.
During my final months of drinking, I began to sense the end was near. I didn’t make sense of it at the time, but I grew so scared of myself. I would enter a package store, and as I left I would think, something terrible is going to happen tonight, and then wake the next day thanking God nothing terrible happened. This became the beginning of the end. The disease was dying. I no longer felt invincible. I no longer believed the lies of alcoholism.
I bought a gallon of vodka knowing I would drink the whole thing that night. It scared me. I was preparing for my final surrender. Surrender came on February 3, 2014. I did not want to die. I knew I would lose my oldest daughter forever. I saw it in her eyes, in the way she was beginning to pull away from me. She would not be fooled by this disease much longer. I prayed for help in my own desperate way, and God answered my prayers.
Detox. A six-month inpatient rehab an hour and half away from my kids. AA meetings. I learned to like some things about myself. I learned to do things sober. I relearned how to do everything sober. I danced sober, I laughed sober, I cried sober, and I felt things I had been numbing my entire adult life. I embraced a new way of life, and I made a commitment to God and to myself to stay sober at all costs, just for today.
I have caused pain to those I love that I cannot take away. I don’t do that today. My children waited for me, and I am going to make sure their wait was worth it. Today I don’t care how much money is in my bank account or what my credit score is. Today I am sober and God is my provider. I now live in acceptance, self-awareness, and gratitude, including gratitude for my darkest days because they made me who I am today.
Through dedication to God, to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and to self-love, I have accumulated 1,347 days sober, one moment at a time.

How to Keep Kids Calm During Shots (and a Bonus Reason For Doing so)

How do we possibly overcome what seems like an impossible task to keep our kids happy and calm before they get pricked? Here are some ideas.

It’s that time of year again when I have to keep a huge secret from my kids. Last time I took them they started crying, screaming, and demanding that we go home. No, I’m not talking about going to a haunted mansion for Halloween. I am referring to the dreaded flu shot at the pediatrician’s office.

Children are certainly not in a good mood when they know they have to get a flu shot. This could be more of problem than we ever realized. A new study at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom found a link between our mood when we get a flu shot and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

For years, researchers have been studying a range of factors that can affect our immune response to vaccines, such as sleep, stress, physical activity, and nutrition. This new research specifically looked at patients’ psychological well-being. The study began two weeks before the vaccine was administered when individuals took a blood test to check antibody levels. They were also asked to fill out diaries detailing food and drink intake, physical activity, stress levels, sleep, and mood patterns. For four weeks after the shot, they continued to record in their diary and had additional blood tests on weeks four and 16. Finally, the research team assessed the data and found that positive mood was the only factor that predicted higher flu antibody levels in the blood samples. In fact, the influence of the positive mood was especially strong on the day the participants received the shot.

Given this vital discovery, how do we possibly overcome what seems like an impossible task to keep our kids happy and calm before they get pricked? Here are some ideas.

Mindful breathing

Mindful breathing has been scientifically proven to minimize stress and anxiety. It’s times like these when we need to rely on the breath to get us through the stress. Try an easy tactic with your kids called Heart Hands in which you create a heart shape with your hands. Ask your child to breathe in as you expand your hands to a heart shape. As she breathes out, collapse your hands into two fists side by side. If you don’t have a free hand, then ask her to take a deep breath in and to pretend she is blowing out a candle or blowing bubbles. Repeat this exercise several times.

Music

Music is a magical mood shifter. It helps take our attention from fear to something more pleasing. Sing a song or play one on your phone as your child is about to have the shot. Consider putting together a special playlist for your kids to listen to when they’re stressed so you have it on hand in case they need it. Although slow, quiet classical music is known to have calming effects, it’s really a personal choice to discover which music your children find most soothing. Upbeat party music may actually be a more effective distraction than slow orchestral music.

Soothing imagery

Another option is to bring along some beautiful pictures of nature to look at. Research shows that viewing pictures of nature scenes can reduce stress because our parasympathetic nervous system (which helps us to calm down) is activated. To calm your child down, read a book with calming nature pictures or pull up some photos on your phone or iPad. Keep your children’s focus by asking questions about what they see even while the shot is being administered.

Laughter

Your child will think you’re crazy that you are telling jokes while he’s facing a traumatic event like getting a shot, but don’t let that stop you. The best way to help him is to try to get him to forget where he is – laughing can certainly help with that.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing improves our body and mind and is one of the simplest tools we have for reducing stress and anxiety. You can bring a joke book, tell a silly story, or make silly faces in the doctor’s office.

Texture game

Finally, children can find some comfort using their sense of touch. Sometimes doctor’s offices will provide a stress ball for your child to hold. You can also bring along a cozy stuffed animal or a soft toy like a rabbit’s foot. Another trick is to have her feel different textures one after another using a touch-and-feel book or cards.

6 Tricks to Make Halloween Treats a Non-Issue for Your Allergic Kid

If you’re also wondering how to enjoy trick-or-treating without being spooked by potential allergens, here are some tips.

My daughter has multiple food allergies. I’m not talking about food sensitivities. I’m talking about taking an EpiPen with us everywhere we go, knowing our bright, curious daughter could die were she to accidentally eat a rogue cashew.
At two she was old enough to enjoy trick-or-treating with her big sister but too young to understand that, with the exception of Skittles, Smarties, and Tootsie rolls, her Halloween candy would mysteriously disappear.
And that was fine with me.
Now she’s three and she “gets it.” I know she understands that she must ask me or her dad before she eats anything at a party. I know she’ll wait for me to give her a special, safe treat that I’ve packed just for her instead of accepting a slice of birthday cake. What I don’t know is how to handle Halloween.
If you’re also wondering how to enjoy trick-or-treating without being spooked by potential allergens, here are some tips.

1 | Create your own traditions

You don’t necessarily have to replicate the Halloween experience of your youth for your child to love the holiday as much as you did. As a parent, you have the freedom to invent your own family traditions.
Jennifer Roblin takes her seven-year-old non-allergic son trick-or-treating while her husband stays home with their daughter, who is four and has multiple food allergies. Her daughter loves dressing up and handing out plain potato chips (which are safe for her). Says Roblin, “I asked her if she wanted to go trick-or-treating this year and she cried, saying ‘No Mommy, I dress up and hand out tato chips.’”
Leigh Goodwin Furline, who has one child with food allergies and one who does not, gives her kids the option to trick or treat or not. Last year, they decided to skip trick-or-treating in favor staying home to watch a movie. They also received some safe candy and a toy of their choosing.

2 | Trade candy for a toy

Trading candy for a toy means not only can parents bypass label-reading, candy-sorting, and the risk of cross-contamination, but they also avoid the hassle of candy rationing, candy-hiding, kids begging for candy, and all other candy-related problems. Sarah Jean Shambo lets her son choose whatever toy he wants in advance, but she waits until Halloween to purchase it. This way, she explains, “he’s excited about the trade and it doesn’t have to be a fight.”
While the Shambo family takes a DIY approach to the switch concept, many parents call on the official Switch Witch, who needs candy to keep warm through the winter. Developed by a mom who struggled with the piles of candy her kids brought home from trick-or-treating, the toy is designed for parents who want to limit their kids’ sugar consumption and for those who need to keep their food-allergic kids safe.

3 | Trade unsafe candy for safe candy

If a Halloween without candy sounds as depressing to you as a birthday without presents, trading your child’s Halloween candy out for safe treats is a sweet solution. If you’re concerned about the possibility of cross-contamination, you could do what Sarah Hodges does. Instead of sifting through all of her son’s candy and reading all of the labels to determine what’s safe, she replaces everything with Enjoy Life Halloween candies. Megan McDavitt has two children, ages four and two, who between them are allergic to milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. She encourages them to take non-candy or safe items if any are available. Once they get home, she lets them keep any safe candy and replaces anything they can’t have with No Whey Halloween candies.
Kim Schmid, who has one child with allergies and one without, does it a bit differently. She combines the contents of her two kids’ candy bags and then sorts it. Her allergic daughter gets to keep whatever is safe for her. The rest of the candy goes into her non-allergic son’s bucket.

4 | Just say “no thank you”

As parents of kids with food allergies, we all hope our kids will outgrow them. In the meantime, we share the hope that our kids have the maturity and the confidence to speak up for themselves anytime they could be exposed to an allergen. For some families, Halloween is no exception. In fact, it can be an excellent opportunity to give a child the chance to practice having these conversations.
This Halloween, Adrianna Shook plans to help her almost four-year-old daughter say, “Trick or treat, we have allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Do you have something else?” Many parents I spoke to said that they were happy to politely ask neighbors if their treats were peanut-free when their kids were little but now that they’re older, the kids do it themselves. Not only that, but it turns out a little education goes a long way. Charlotte Eugenio said that after a couple years of polite no thank you’s in a row, she noticed some houses started offering a separate selection of nut-free options.

5 | BYOC

For parents of younger kids who want their kids to experience as much of the “normal” (read: allergy-free) Halloween experience as possible, a little benign trickery goes a long way. Jennifer Devine Pirozzoli usually takes her kids to the homes of other family members, which gives her the opportunity to run up to the door with an entire bag of safe candy from which her child can choose, without ever knowing that that mom hand-picked it in advance.
Other parents, like Victoria King, who plans to take her two-year-old son trick-or-treating for the first time this fall, will carry safe treats for their food allergic kids to munch on as they walk.

6 | Cash for candy

There’s no reason a kid shouldn’t have the chance to cash in on his treats. Parents like Toni Gaudisio are happy to buy back their kids’ candy. Says Gaudisio, “My kids (who are eight and 11) are allowed to swap out five pieces of candy for safe candy and the rest I buy back for 25 cents. We usually take them [shopping] a few days later to purchase toys with their Halloween money.”
Other parents, like Becki Rice and Cristina Salazar Rafferty, enjoy the benefits of getting rid of the candy without having to pony up – their family dentists are pay for Halloween candy.
Life with allergies can certainly be scary. But Halloween doesn’t have to make it even spookier. A little creativity goes a long way when it comes to making Halloween fun for everyone, no matter what they can or can’t eat.

Dr. Mom

A good psychologist helps a child and gets paid for it. A good mother tries in vain, and then her child succeeds in spite – not because – of her help.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
I’ve finally figured out what makes a good mother. Whereas a good psychologist helps a child and gets paid for it, a good mother tries in vain, and then her child succeeds in spite – not because – of her help.
I feel qualified to draw this cynical conclusion, because I’ve been both psychologist and mother.
When my son James was between the ages of two and four, he was afraid of hand dryers. You know, those big metal contraptions in public restrooms that go “VVVVVV.”
People paid me to deal with this sort of thing, so I fancied myself pretty good at it. I thought I could ease James’ suffering. Also, to tell the whole story, James’ public displays were making me look bad around town. Picture me in the pediatrician’s office, halfway under the train table, trying to unfasten the roaring James from one of its legs: “It’s okay, man, there’s no hand dryer at the doctor’s office!”
I’d trained in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a very tidy approach to problem-solving. You identify a problem, and then change either what comes before, or what comes after. I first used CBT to train my cat, Walter, to use his scratching post. I put a container of treats on top of his post and gave him one every time he scratched it. It was humane and effective. My textbook made the point that a mollusk could be trained to clap its shell on command. Wow, I thought at the time. What can’t CBT do?
We started visiting hand dryers all over town. We talked about them, admired them, ate M&M’s under them. My sweet husband made several hand dryers from shoeboxes and mounted them in our bathrooms. James would use the bathroom, I’d hear a flush, then the splashing, and then his little voice making a soft, earnest, “VVVVV” sound.
One would think that a good year of focused intervention from a psychologist/mother would suffice. Not this time.
The height of our hand dryer horrors took place in a roadside McDonald’s the summer James was four. We were returning home from a hand-dryer-heavy trip and James was squirming around the booth. Instead of gullibly asking if he had to pee-pee, I just said, “Honey, let’s go use the potty.” Our family of four crept toward the Family Restroom, James clinging catlike to any obstacle in our path.
The closer we got, the louder he shouted.
“No, I don’t have to go! Please, please don’t make me go in there! No hand dryer! I really don’t have to go!”
I smiled apologetically at a woman as I peeled his hand off her purse strap, but she didn’t smile back.
Five minutes later, when we emerged disheveled and unrelieved from the restroom with James desperately grabbing his crotch, my husband suggested we beat a hasty retreat.
“A dingbat,” I said to my husband as we stumbled out of the underbrush where James had finally found relief. “That’s how our kids make me feel.” Little did I know, this was my first sign that things were about to turn around.
One day, months after the road trip, James had to go to the doctor. On the way there in the car, we talked about his reward.
“We could get ice cream. A doughnut? Go to the playground?”
James just looked out the window.
As we pulled into a parking space he said wryly, still looking out the window: “No, Mommy. You know what I really want?”
I braced myself, thinking he was about to ask for a real backhoe loader or a Fender Stratocaster.
“Mommy, I just want to go to the grocery store and use that hand dryer.”
That’s how James’ biggest fear became a treat, and how I started thinking of myself as mother first, psychologist last.