The Importance of "Me" Time in the Land of Mom

These days, I am everyone’s everything.

“Me” time is so very rare in the Land of Mom.
I have four small kids ranging in age from two to nine, and their needs are certainly plentiful. On top of the demands of my children, I have the house, the work, and the hubs. These days, I am everyone’s everything. There never seems to be a second where someone or something doesn’t need me. Except one person is not getting any attention.
That person is yours truly.
 
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Sure, I skip out every few months to the salon and have my grays and roots covered. Maybe I pop into the occasional clothing store and buy myself new earrings or shoes. Of course, the elusive ladies night gives me a good reason to jazz myself up and spend a few hours sipping adult beverages and talking with my entourage.
All of these self-care sporadics are fine and dandy, but I’m finding that they’re really not enough. I have found that simple moments of “me” in between the big events can help sustain and carry me through the long, demanding days of parenthood.
Here are a few suggested secret “me” moments:

Steal your kids’ snacks

After the kids are tucked into their beds, I become the ultimate snack thief. I creep downstairs and help myself to their fruit snacks or maybe a package of mini muffins. Heaven forbid I eat these goods in front of them. They would flip their tiny little lids.
There is something so soothing about standing in the dark, silent kitchen at the end of the day, peacefully eating a pudding cup.

Purge their crap

I don’t know about you, but the clutter of kid crap makes my blood pressure spike. When it really gets to me and I start seeing piles of junk in my sleep, I will walk through the house pitching their junk.
Lock yourself in a room and just throw stuff away. It’s invigorating, empowering, and will restore your mom-soul, I swear. Good-bye McDonald’s toys, birthday party trinkets, bouncy balls, and broken jewelry. Into the black trash bag you go. Never to be missed nor seen again.

Amazon Prime away your time

I wonder if any studies have been done in regards to online shopping as it relates to the mental health of mothers?
When I’m feeling too tired to drag the kids out to Target, or just far too annoyed to enjoy their company at the mall, I turn to Amazon Prime. Click a few buttons and feel your mouth turn up into a smile. You have a brand new something coming to your door in just a few days. It’s like Christmas for Mommy, and no one else.
Come to think of it, I might indulge in a bit of Priming this afternoon.

Exercise your stress off

Now let’s not get all carried away here. We’re not talking marathon running or high impact aerobics. No. We are talking hide in the basement, turn on your favorite Netflix show, and lob around on the treadmill.
If you truly hate the treadmill, at least turn it on so that your family thinks you are jogging. The other day I watched one-and-a-half shows all by myself while “running” on the treadmill. Halfway through, I stopped my jog to eat some of my kids’ Easter candy they had left downstairs.
Yes, I eat chocolate on the treadmill. This is me time. Do it.
Being the center of everyone’s universe is a double-edged sword: truly the greatest blessing one can experience as well as the most taxing, stressful, and exhausting experience. If you hope to survive it, not to mention find joy in it, then you need to care for yourself.
Indulging in unconventional means of self-care has been the golden ticket to my sanity. What are your secret mom moments?

Bad Test Score Got Your Kid Down? Video Games Might Help

Virtual and alternative worlds may be a source of therapy.

One of the most dreaded feelings your child can experience is receiving a bad grade on a test, especially if they studied and prepared for it. Often test scores weigh heavily on overall scores, so dread can quickly turn to panic and manifest into stress. Virtual and alternative worlds, however, may be a source of therapy. A new study suggests that playing video games can help mitigate some of the effects felt by students from low test scores by reaffirming their abilities in another area they deem important.

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According to a survey conducted by the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF), 92 percent of children and adolescents ages two to 17 play video games. There is already evidence that suggests that video games can protect mental health and avert trauma. Video games have been shown to promote better attention skills in some children with Sensory Processing Dysfunction, improve motor skills in kids with autism, and provide home rehabilitation therapies for people (including children and adolescents) with cerebral palsy. Now, according to this new research, video games might also boost resilience in times of duress or diminished confidence.

The study, conducted at the Department of Journalism & Electronic Media at the Texas Tech University College of Media & Communication, included 81 college-aged students. Participants were administered a survey to assess their motivations for video-game play and the importance of video games to their identity. They were then given an IQ test and were told the test was a strong measure of intelligence. Upon completing the test, participants were given either negative feedback on their performance or no feedback at all. Negative feedback caused a certain amount of defensiveness among participants.

Participants then played a video game for 15 minutes that randomly provided positive or no feedback. Players were told the game was an adequate test of their video-game playing skills. Participants then completed an online survey containing ratings of the intelligence test and self-ratings on intelligence. The researchers discovered that those who place importance on being successful at video games were less likely to be defensive about the poor performance on the intelligence test. They were also willing to consider the implications of their scores, which is crucial for taking steps to change study habits and ensure they do better on future exams.

“This study appears to be another example of the growing body of research on the benefits of playing video games,” says Drew Messer, a licensed psychologist and co-director of Electronic Gaming Therapy, Inc. “Our clinical experience is consistent with the idea that children and adolescents ‘who value video game success as part of their identity and received positive feedback on their video game play’ may be more likely or willing to engage in a difficult task.”

John Velez, assistant professor and lead author of the study, says the theory and psychological process the study examined is universal – meaning it should be applicable to people of all ages, including younger students. Velez plans to examine this process further in children of different ages. “[With this study,] I wanted to show that for some people, video games are being used in a healthy, positive way to cope with setbacks in school,” he says.

Video games are an important part of millions of kid’s identities and many refer to themselves as “gamers” much in the same way that other kids identify as musicians, athletes, or artists, Velez explains. People often fall back on these important parts of their identities when other areas of their lives are not going great.

“Our experience is that parents who show interest in their children’s activities (including video games) and give them positive feedback are more likely to be successful in engaging their children to solve problems,” says Messer.

For people who identify as gamers, they may retreat to their favorite video game only to come back reinvigorated or ready to face life’s challenges again. If parents can understand that video games serve this role for their children, then they may be more open-minded about video games in general. Rather than taking them away as punishment, they could be more useful as a reinforcement tool. The key, in Velez’s opinion, is making sure those playing video games after receiving a bad test score are not using it solely as an escape. It’s important that, after playing video games, students understand why they did badly on a test and what they need to do to perform better on the next one.

Messer does recommend that parents teach their children to use video games responsibly. For example, he suggests setting limits on the amount of time your children play video games and making it clear that playing them is a privilege to be earned. He also recommends talking to your child about choosing appropriate games.

Which video games should students play after receiving a bad score on a test? “I would say the game that likely produces the best outcome is the game the person is currently most engrossed with,” says Velez.

Familiar games likely make a player feel as if they’ve accomplished something meaningful, which is important in reducing defensiveness. For some kids, that might mean a little Minecraft. For others, a few matches of Destiny could help shake off that dreaded feeling of failing a test. Either way, there’s growing evidence that video games do have some valuable benefits.

Has a video game helped your child recover from a bad test score? Share in the comments!

There Are No French Fries at the Masada Visitor Center

When our family takes trips now, no matter how packed our touring schedule might be, I make sure to bring a few familiar items from home.

According to the historian Josephus, a group of 960 Jews chose to murder one another on a bleak mountaintop in the Judean Desert in Israel in the year 73 of the Common Era. In an unprecedented act of Jewish mass suicide, the last remnants of Sicarii zealots chose death rather than a life of oppression under the conquering Romans. The historical accuracy of the actions of the extremist sect of Jews remains shrouded in mystery since suicide and murder are forbidden by Jewish law. Archaeological evidence does not necessarily support all of the claims made by Josephus, a Jew who had joined ranks with the Romans and may have had his own motives for sharing this tragic story.

In spite of the haze surrounding what happened on that craggy fortress almost two thousand years ago, our family visited Masada as part of a two-week tour of Israel. Upon learning that there were no more French fries available in the air-conditioned visitor cafeteria, my then seven-year-old son promptly started crying and screaming. Jet-lagged, overheated, out of sorts, sleeping in a different bed every night or two, and not eating his requisite amount of Goldfish crackers and pizza from his favorite restaurant made my son fell apart on this nearly hundred degree day in the middle of the desert.

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“This is not the worst thing that has ever happened on top of this mountain.” I tried to reason with him but ended up sounding like a scold.

“Pull yourself together. You’ll get French fries when we get off of this God-forsaken cliff. No wonder they killed themselves.” I wasn’t helping the situation with sarcasm.

“Would you like a cold drink?” I tried a different approach: bribery. “You can have soda.”

By now a large group of French teenagers were in the cafeteria line, laughing, tossing off a few “voilas,” and looking at this spoiled American child and his ineffectual mother. I was sure they were all judging me, thinking that this was not how intelligent mothers raised a civilized “bebe” in Paris. Of course they didn’t realize that my son was crying over French fries. The irony.

While this temper tantrum was burning itself out, my nine and thirteen-year-olds were dutifully eating their cafeteria food. When my husband scooped our child off of the floor and pulled him to the side, I sat down next to my unobtrusive children and the other participants in our tour. A member of our group, who happened to be a psychiatrist, smiled at me gently and spoke up, “You know, sometimes when people are anxious, they lose their ability to function very well. Maybe your son is nervous and apprehensive today?”

“He still has to learn how to function when his surroundings are unfamiliar,” I responded to the doctor.

“It takes some of us a bit longer to do that,” he chuckled.

Our family learned a great deal on the trip to Israel. The kids realized that footprints of Jews, Arabs, Babylonians, Persians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, Crusaders, and so many others had made impressions in the dusty soil as they walked. Like the flight path of the migratory birds traveling from Europe to Asia and back, Israel was a travel route crisscrossed by a variety of cultures for centuries. We drove in a jeep near the Syrian border, rode snorting camels, took nature hikes, erratically navigated a kayak in the Jordan River, visited with a Druze family in a village outside of Haifa, prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and visited Israeli cousins for an outdoor Bar Mitzvah celebration on a hibiscus-scented night. My children gazed at me in wonder when I spoke in Hebrew, but by the end of our trip they could order ice cream and pizza in the language of the Bible.

The trip was memorable for so many reasons, but I never forgot the wise words of our traveling companion. Whenever someone in the family is having an episode of emotional turbulence, instead of jumping to resistance and embarrassment (my first impulse), I try to figure out what the deeper source of the anxiety might be. Sometimes “I must have French fries” needs to be translated as “I just want to be in a familiar surrounding with the foods and habits that make me feel safe.” Masada is an emotional place that brings up feelings of isolation, desperation, and hostility. Maybe my child absorbed some of those sentiments from our tour guide or took cues from our sad reactions. Or maybe my son really just had his heart set on eating those fries.

It’s been four years since our family took our ambitious trip. The memories linger in our scrapbooks and our minds. When our family takes trips now, no matter how packed our touring schedule might be, I make sure to bring a few familiar items from home. We also are religious about setting aside some quiet time for everyone to enjoy some salty French fries. Even when the language, food, and surroundings are completely unfamiliar, if our children feel at home in their own skin, they will embrace adventure and not shrink from scaling even the most imposing fortresses.

This article was previously published on mothersalwayswrite.com

10 Simple Ways to Take It Down a Notch When You’re About to Boil Over

You might want to buy stock in Hubba Bubba.

We have hit the tantrum stage in our house. Actually, we didn’t so much hit it, as it hit us. We were lucky to escape this phase with my older son, but my boys are about as different as can be, and number two has other plans for us. At not quite four, he’s making sure his voice is heard.
Case in point: the other day we were at preschool drop off. He and his brother tumbled out of the car as usual, like baby giraffes tripping over their own feet. We walked the 100 yards from the car to the door, and then the younger realized I was carrying his big brother’s jacket.
The injustice.
“I want you to carry my jacket!” he stomped.
“Will you please carry my jacket, mama?” I prompted.
“Please! Please carry my jacket!” he stomped again.
I took the jacket and opened the door to school. My five-year-old walked in and headed for his classroom. His little brother did not.
“NOOOOO. Carry my jacket all the way from the car! Why did you not carry MY jacket all the way from the car?!” He was flailing his arms now and shrieking.
The other moms gave me the sympathy smile as they skirted past.
Mr. Hyde had arrived. He grabbed the jacket and ran back to the car, where he planted himself firmly on the ground. He writhed in the mud as he told the whole world about the unfair favoritism I had just displayed.
“You CARRY my JACKET all the WAY FROM THE CAR!!” he demanded, as his face turned seven shades of purple and his head spun 360 degrees.
I dug deep within my parenting well and tried every trick I knew. I knelt next to him and spoke calmly. I named his emotions and listed why he felt that way. I tried to hug him. I tried to ignore him. But there would be no magic parenting today.
My heart pounded in my ears. My fists clenched and trembled. I wanted to scoop him up, carry him under one arm, and deliver him unceremoniously to his teacher.
Instead, I took some deep breaths and popped a piece of gum into my mouth. Did you know that’s just what science tells you to do? Soon, this temper tantrum ended the same as every other. After a while, he just fizzled out.
“I’m feeling better now, Mama,” he sniffled as he scooped himself up and shuffled into school (carrying his own jacket, I might add).
I felt my back clenching. He felt better, but I would carry the stress of this moment with me for the rest of the morning. While we love our little humans with all our hearts, we worry about them just as much.
I went home and googled tantrums and behavioral disorders. I had listened to his teacher tell me how wonderful he is at school, and I wondered if I was doing something wrong at home. Eventually, I took a long walk and gave him a big hug when I picked him up for lunch. The stress had melted away, but you can bet there’s more where that came from.
In today’s political climate, it seems we’re given something new to worry about every time we turn on the TV or listen to the radio. A February 2017 poll by the American Psychological Association revealed that two-thirds of Americans report being stressed about the future of our nation, regardless of political affiliation. This represents the first statistically significant increase in American stress levels since the annual survey was first conducted in 2007.
Those reporting the highest levels of stress? The parent-aged Millenials (aged 18 to 37) and Gen-Xers (aged 37 to 51).
Stress manifests itself as more than simply an emotion. Eighty percent of Americans reported experiencing at least one physical or emotional symptom of stress, with the most common being headaches, as reported by 34 percent of those surveyed. Other physical symptoms of stress include muscle tension, rapid breathing, increased heart rate and blood pressure, nausea, and fatigue.
If you’ve never experienced the wave of tension that washes over you when your child spirals out of control, you are most certainly the minority. And if parenting alone isn’t enough to push you over the edge, doing so in a chaotic world could make even the best of parents boil over.
So how can we take it down a notch when we’re about to reach our boiling point?
The good news is there are plenty of statistically-proven, simple ways to reduce stress. Here are my 10 favorites:

1 | Work out

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that exercise supports strong mental health. Exercise and other physical activities produce endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. These improve our ability to sleep well and reduce overall stress. Exercising regularly is shown to decrease tension, elevate and stabilize mood, and improve self-esteem.
How to implement it at home: Try to walk, jog, bike, dance, or swim for 30 minutes, five times per week. If you can’t fit it all in, don’t worry. Even a 10-minute walk has been shown to reduce stress.

2 | Get outside

A 2015 study by researchers from Stanford University concluded that a walk in nature significantly decreased rumination, or the tendency to focus repetitively on negative thoughts that spiral into increased stress and depression.
A 2012 study also supported these findings, indicating that children who were exposed to nature regularly had decreased stress levels and bolstered resilience for coping with stress.
How to implement it at home: Try to spend at least half an hour outdoors each day; the more natural the environment the better. If you can’t get outside, indoor plants have been proven to reduce feelings of stress, as has exposure to the sounds of nature.

3 | Pump up the jams

Music has been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease stress hormones, and slow the pulse and heart rate. While many studies confirm that classical music is the best for beating stress, ultimately it may be a matter of personal preference. One study even confirmed that for regular listeners of heavy metal, the sometimes loud and chaotic music can actually regulate sadness and enhance positive emotions.
How to implement it at home: Make a playlist that you love and keep it handy. Turn it on anytime you need a soothing soundtrack.

4 | Take a deep breath

As reported by Harvard Health Publications, breath control is a well-documented stress reliever. Deep breaths through your nose that fully fill your lungs, such that your lower belly rises, can actually slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. When you focus mentally on deep breathing, the results are even more remarkable, since it helps you to disengage from negative thought processes.
How to implement it at home: Focus on deep breathing for about 10 minutes each day, preferably in a comfortable, quiet setting. Then, if you’re on the go and experiencing a stressful event, you can elicit a relaxation response by using the same deep breathing that you’ve trained your body to respond to at home.

5 | Chew gum

A 2009 study published in the Physiology and Behavior Journal revealed that chewing gum alleviated bad moods and reduced the stress hormone cortisol in study participants. Chewing gum was also associated with increased alertness.
While this technique may not be recommended for those whose stress manifests in jaw clenching, it is a simple, useful stress management technique for many others.
How to implement it at home: Keep a pack of gum handy in your purse or car. When you experience stress or anticipate a stressor, break out a piece and chomp away.

6 | Unplug

There is so direct a correlation between stress and screen time that the American Psychological Association included a Technology and Social Media supplement to its 2017 Stress in America report. It reported that those who check their email or social media accounts frequently throughout the day report higher levels of stress than those who do not.
Not surprisingly, these same frequent users also reported increased exposure to stressors in the form of political and cultural discussions on social media. Similarly, a 2015 study positively linked duration of screen time with the severity of depression and anxiety in children.
How to implement it at home: Limit screen time and social media use. If you really want to tackle the issue, delete social media apps from your phone and restrict your use to specific times of day.

7 | Hug it out

Physical affection is a natural oxytocin producer, and oxytocin is the hormone linked with good moods and love. At the same time, physical intimacy is linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Additionally, the effects are long lasting. Elevated moods extend to the next day as well.
How to implement it at home: Express your affection physically for your loved ones. You can’t spoil a child with too many hugs, and the benefits go two ways. Make an effort to hug your partner frequently, too. In our busy world, it’s too easy to pass like ships in the night.

8 | Hang with your dog

Dogs and other pets offer the type of unconditional loving companionship associated with improvements in mental, social, and physical health. Elite colleges such as Harvard and Yale now provide therapy dogs in their libraries to help students manage stress related to studying. One study by the CDC revealed that while 12 percent of children with dogs screened positive for signs of anxiety, that number jumped to 21 percent for children who did not have dogs.
How to implement it at home: If you have a pet at home, set aside a few minutes each day to show your affection for it. Even if you don’t have a pet, you might be able to volunteer at a local animal shelter once a month. Some animal shelters or community organizations even offer pet time. Our local library now provides students with the chance to read with dogs.

9 | Lend a hand

A 2013 study out of Carnegie Mellon University examined the association between volunteer work and reduced blood pressure. The study found that people who volunteered more than 200 hours per year had significantly lower risk of hypertension than those who did not. Another study out of Yale showed that small acts of kindness led to increased positive emotions and less pronounced reactions to stressful events.
How to implement it at home: You don’t need to make any grandiose acts of altruism. Something as simple as holding the door for someone, paying for someone else’s coffee, or collecting donations for an important cause can increase your mood. Reflect on your actions though. The studies only held true when participants genuinely cared about their causes.

10 | Watch what you drink

While the evidence linking hydration with mood in young adults is inconclusive, there is conclusive evidence that links hydration to mood and cognition in older adults and children. Staying well hydrated has been associated with increased alertness and elevated mood.
In addition, both caffeine and alcohol are known to contribute to dehydration, and both are linked with increased anxiety. Cutting back on alcohol and caffeine while upping your water intake can be a powerful combination to cut stress.
How to implement it at home: Limit consumption of alcohol and caffeine. Replace your second cup of coffee or glass of wine with a glass of water. It might not be as fun, but you’ll thank yourself later.
Of course, there’s no magic cure for stress, and everyone will respond differently to different stress management techniques. The most important thing is to recognize when you’re feeling stressed and find management tools that work for you.
Our children will model our behavior. If we allow our stress to control us and lash out at those we love or withdraw from others completely, our kids will follow suit. But if we can find effective, healthy ways to take control of our anxiety, they will see that there is a healthier way.
 

Butt Wipes and Seaweed Gripes: Adventures With the Poison Control Hotline

Spoiler alert: she’s fine.

I confess I only cleaned the toilet and sink that night because the sitter was putting my daughter to bed later. I left the sink wipes on the windowsill.
The next night, my seven-year-old daughter used them to wipe her butt, instead of the baby wipes – the ones I keep in the bathroom for when she has diarrhea. She hadn’t wanted help wiping and hadn’t needed assistance in years, and I was working on a project in my usual supine position.
When I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth, I saw the cylinder of wipes on the edge of the sink, looked in the trash, and pulled out the ones she had used. Realizing my daughter’s mistake, my heart began to pound in a familiar tempo, my reptile brain flooding my body with fearful irrational queries.
Could chemicals from the wipes travel through her mucous membranes and poison her? I entered her room and tiptoed close to the edge of her bed, where she was sleeping peacefully. She looked fine. Was I really going to wake her up so I could check her butt? What were the dangers of an overly sanitized anus?
 
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I called the Poison Control Hotline for the second time in her seven-year life. “You’re going to probably think this is funny,” I began, and then went on to explain the situation to the woman who answered.
“Watch for a rash,” she responded. “But she should be okay.” Before we hung up, she asked me if I had any other safety concerns. “Oh, only keeping her safe for the rest of her life,” I almost told her.
I went back in to check on my daughter again. She was still fine. To be honest, as ridiculous as it may seem, I was still almost as anxious as I was the first time I called the hotline when she was two and I was a 40-something rookie mom.
The difference between now and then, besides many more gray hairs, is that now I can look back at my earlier mom self with a sense of hard-won humor and compassion from five years of on-the-job experience.
At two, my daughter’s innocent exploration at times caused me concern. The specter of choking hung heavy on my list of things that could lead to her untimely demise. It was right up there with playground pedophiles and psycho-sitters.
One day I handed her an open package of seaweed to eat in our living room and went into the kitchen. A few minutes later, I helicoptered back in to see what she was up to. Her small, soft cheeks worked as she chewed. Crunch, crunch, crunch. The problem was seaweed isn’t that crunchy.
“What are you eating?” I asked her, panic fluttering at the top of my ribs like a ragged-winged moth.
“Mmmmm…popcorn!” she exclaimed, from her seat on our living room couch, its beige surface mottled from layered spills I was too tired or lazy to clean.
Seaweed snacks caused my mother to question my sanity. I could understand her perspective. She was raised on meat and potatoes in a poor Dorchester, Massachusetts, neighborhood, where seaweed was something you played with at Castle Island, not something you fed your kids for the outrageous sum of two dollars per precious organic package.
“It’s good for her,” I told my mom when I caught her skeptical stare. “It has iodine.”
But that day, there was nobody there to judge – or to help. I squeezed my daughter’s cheeks to find the source of her “popcorn,” glimpsing several small, transparent pebbles rolling on her tongue. They weren’t popcorn.
I had always taken care to remove the small white packet of preservative labeled, in faded blue letters, “Do Not Eat,” from her containers of seaweed, but had neglected to remove it this time. She had torn open the white packet the size of a Chiclet, exploring, as children do. My reaction was outsized, as if she had guzzled lye.
Poisoned! My daughter was poisoned! I scooped her up under my arm, ran into the kitchen, and held her over the kitchen sink while I rinsed the pebbles out. With the other hand, I called poison control.
“My daughter just ate the packet from a package of seaweed!” I told the woman who answered. “Will she be okay? What should I do?”
“You wouldn’t believe how often we get this type of call,” she said, with saintly forbearance. “It’s silica in the packets – sand – which is used to absorb moisture. Your daughter will be fine.”
Sand. It was just a tiny harmless sandbag. I sagged against the pantry counter in relief as my amphibian brain crawled back under a rock. Then I carried my healthy, happy, alive daughter back to the living room couch and sat down heavily. It turned out she was fine.
And guess what? She still is.

Between Motherhood or Not: an Everyday Tale of Early Pregnancy Bleeding

The answers didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was that there was blood.

Lying on my back, face turned to the ceiling, I could feel my husband’s warm hand tighten in mine. Every other time I’d done this, my body had been twisted as far as possible to see the screen next to me, eager to catch a glimpse of the baby inside me.
This time was different. This time I was terrified of what I would see or, rather, what I wouldn’t see. I’d been waiting 24 hours for this moment, but had I been able, I would have stopped time so it never arrived.
The cold gel on my stomach jerked me back to reality.
“How many weeks along are you?” asked the clinician standing next to me, her face a blur, her voice gentle and sympathetic. I told her I thought I was around five weeks pregnant. Or not pregnant.
“Hmmm, that’s early. We might be able to see something, we might not.” I closed my eyes and thought about this strange place I occupied, this place between being pregnant and not being pregnant. Between motherhood or not. This space between one life or another, this path or that one. It’s a space that is sometimes easier to be in than not. At least when you don’t know, there’s still hope.
It had started the day before, as it starts for so many, with blood in my knickers and the feeling that I was dropping from a great height, my stomach left behind. My legs turned to jelly.
How much blood? Was I still bleeding? What color was it? The questions went through my mind, but as soon as they entered, they left again. The answers didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was that there was blood.
I had only known I was pregnant for a week or two. It was spring and, by my calculations, the baby would be born in December. I had imagined bringing her – or him, probably a him, I thought – home to a house full of sparkly lights, a decorated tree in the corner, and the smell of spices in the air. It would be cold outside and cozy in, our first Christmas as a family of four.
When I saw the blood, the twinkly lights in my mind started to go out.
Shaking, I pulled up my underwear and went to find my husband. We were due to go for a picnic that morning and planned to take our 18-month-old daughter to a playground. She’d just started to come down slides on her own and to clamber over climbing frames. I had been looking forward to playing with her, but now I knew I wouldn’t be enjoying anything about that day.
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“I’m bleeding,” I told my husband, my hand laying protectively over my stomach, wanting to shelter the tiny grain inside that we had already started calling Basmati after the rice. Or Mattie for short.
“Do we need to go to the hospital?” he asked. I didn’t know, I had never been in this situation before. I decided to call the midwives. Unfortunately, they weren’t much help.
“Keep an eye on it and call again if you keep bleeding,” they told me. Apparently bleeding at this stage is quite normal. It might not mean anything, and it might mean everything. This wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted to know that I would be fine, that my baby would be fine, that we would be a family of four at Christmastime.
But for now, we were just three, and I had to continue as if nothing was wrong. So we set off for our picnic. At the playground, my daughter scrambled on the equipment.
“Careful not to fall!” I cautioned her as she balanced precariously on the metal bars of the climbing frame. I tried to appreciate the watery spring sunshine, but all I could think about was whether more fluid was seeping out onto the pad between my legs. I didn’t want to go to the park’s public toilet to find out. I wanted to keep hold of the fantasy of another child for as long as possible.
We walked through long grass, jumped over cow patties. I discovered when we got home that my daughter had picked up a tick and was trying to decide whether to call the hospital again. The bleeding hadn’t stopped. I pulled the tick off her skin and felt relieved that at least I could protect one of my children.
This time when I called, they asked me to come in. We had no one to watch our daughter, so she came with us. My husband took her to play at one end of the waiting area, while I sat at the other – just me and a terrified-looking Asian woman, who didn’t seem to speak any English. I smiled at her but feared she could tell I didn’t feel much like smiling. I was sure she felt the same.
Finally, my name was called. The duty doctor who saw me was a young man, distracted, hours of non-stop work etched into his face. Maybe it was the fatigue that made him uncomfortably direct. When I told him what had brought me in on a Sunday, he was dismissive. It “happens a lot,” he told me. It’s “normal.”
I could guess that he had never been pregnant or had ever imagined what life would be like with a Christmas baby.
In the end, they booked me in for a scan the next morning, and I was sent home. I knew that in the grand scheme of things I was not an emergency. I was not important. I was not dying. There were far worthier patients than me. But to me this wasn’t just about a tiny grain inside me, it was about carrying my new baby through the snow in December, watching my two children play in the stream together when the summer came, my husband helping them both to pick blackberries in the fall. Now I had to wait until the next day to learn whether that life still existed. I had to stay another night in the space between.
But to me, this wasn’t just about a tiny grain inside me. It was about carrying my new baby through the snow in December, watching my two children play in the stream together when the summer came, my husband helping them pick blackberries in the fall. Now I had to wait until the next day to learn whether that life still existed. I spent another night in the space between.
I spent another night in the space between.
***
The sonographer moved the magic wand over my stomach.
“Let’s see, are we going to be able to find anything?” she asked quietly, concentrating on her job. Her tone was so different from the male doctor last night. I thought about how many women had laid exactly where I was, waiting to hear the news they either long for or dread. How many times a day did she have to carry this responsibility on her shoulders?
I could bear it no longer and turned to see what she was doing. As always, the fuzziness was hard to interpret. But suddenly there was a flashing light. A flashing, sparkling, twinkling light. A heartbeat. A Christmas heartbeat.
“There it is!” The sonographer echoed my relief. “You must be slightly further along than you thought. You wouldn’t normally see a heartbeat this early. By my reckoning you’re probably around seven weeks pregnant.”
She paused, smiled. “And that’s a strong heartbeat. I think you’ll be fine.”
We left the hospital for home – for me to carry on being pregnant and for us both to plan for the time when our family would grow from three to four. We were told that the most likely reason for the blood was implantation, bleeding that occurs when the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the mother’s womb. A cause so common, I was sent home overnight to wait to see if I was still pregnant. So common that I didn’t seem worthy of sympathy from the busy doctor who first saw me.
I knew this stage isn’t really considered “proper” pregnancy by some, but I also knew how many would disagree. Every dark line for every wanted baby is special. As soon as that line appears, the child is a part of you, present and future.
And should it turn out that this time it isn’t meant to be, if you leave the space into darkness, we pack that child away somewhere and keep it safe forever in our memories – as I had started preparing myself to do.
My pregnancy ended successfully, with the birth of a beautiful girl on December 11. We bought a tree a few days after bringing her home and spent an exhausted, sleep-deprived Christmas day with my family. It wasn’t quite the sparkly, twinkly event I had imagined – but it was nevertheless a happy ending.

Tried and True Bedtime Strategies for Every Type of Sleeper

Five kids and 16 years after first becoming parents, my husband and I have a trick or two up our sleeves for getting kids to stay in their beds.

Five kids and 16 years after first becoming parents, my husband and I have a trick or two up our sleeves for getting kids to stay in their beds. Most nights, that is.
We’ve had every type of sleeper in this house. To get these maniacs to sleep means we had to get creative. We are proud parents of the easy-to-put-to-bed kid, the has-to-be-rocked-to-sleep-in-a-very-specific-position kid, the I-have-bad-dreams-and-don’t-want-to-fall-asleep kid, the I-need-101-glasses-of-water-and-tuck-ins kid, and last but not least, the I-only-want-to-sleep-in-your-bed kid.
I present to you our five tried and true bedtime strategies that I’m guessing you’ve never read about in a parenting book. They might just work on the crazies under your roof. Give them a try tonight.
Please note: These strategies will only work if you draw a clean line in the sand with kids. You are going to do X, Y and Z to help them sleep, but once you are done tucking them in, you are not repeating any of this or adding to it. Lovingly and firmly point them back to bed if they reappear, and tell them they can use the strategy you used to put themselves to sleep.
I sometimes repeat this over and over like a loon, but it works. These strategies are about putting the work in before your butt hits the couch so your butt can stay there. They are about teaching kids that you are there to help them and that they can also help themselves.
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strategies to get children to sleep

The Easy-to-put-to-bed-kid Strategy

Whispered Dreams

While these kids may be easy to put to sleep, they shall not be overlooked in this household. No matter what, they demand their share of attention – even the so-called easy ones. We do the usual book, prayers, and tuck in, but to give bedtime that special touch, we use a little thing we call Whispered Dreams.
Simply ask your sleepy kiddos to tell you what they want to dream about and whisper this in their ears, slowly and sleepily. Your cherubs can close their eyes and imagine the dream they are going to have as they drift off to sleep. This strategy sets kids up for sleeping success by giving them a little attention and something to focus on.
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The Has-to-be-rocked-to-sleep-in-a-specific-position-kid Strategy

Sleepy Dust

The goal here is to get these kids off your lap and into their beds. Pay attention to their bodies, and help them get comfy and ready for sleep with a little mindful relaxation disguised as a special bedtime trick. We start at their toes and sprinkle “sleepy dust” over each body part. This is invisible, of course. Do not let them talk you into using glitter no matter how desperate you are.
After sprinkling the dust above each body part, we give a little massage and have our sweet bedtime friend imagine each body part getting very relaxed and sleepy. We finish off with Whispered Dreams and a bedtime blessing. This one worked like a charm for easily two years with one of our tough customers.
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The I-have-bad-dreams-and-don’t-want-to-fall-asleep-kid Strategy

Weapons Journal

For the fear filled child, bedtime can be rough. When our son started having bad dreams and bedtime fears, we started a Weapons Journal. He would draw a weapon he would bring into his dream to fight the bad guys. Things like squirt guns filled with something sticky that would trap them. Or a freeze ray to make his enemies stay put. Or a giant feather that would tickle them until they couldn’t move. (Keep the focus off the violent and on the funny to keep things light.) Then he would sleep with the journal right by him so he could access the weapons in his dream. He swore the weapons showed up in his dreams, and it kept him in his bed. Win-win.
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The I-need-101-glasses-of-water-and-tuck-ins-kid Strategy

Bedtime Spa and Pillow Turn Around

For these kids, you need to play to their sense of drama and love of being cared for. A special bedside table with a book and flashlight in case they can’t sleep, a special glass of water or water bottle, a picture of something comforting, and all their pillows and lovies are crucial. Basically, set their sleeping area up like a little spa. They should have everything they need by their bed before you leave the room.
A strange but true trick that works for this type of kid: put a pillow at the foot of the bed and ask them to change their sleeping direction if they are tempted to get up and ask you for another tuck in. For some reason, this resets them and they fall asleep. This was my strategy as a kid when I couldn’t sleep, and it worked every time.
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The I-only-want-to-sleep-in-your-bed-kid Strategy

The “Everyone Loves You” Song

Every one of our kids loved this at some point, but it works wonderfully for the kid who wants you by her side as she drifts off. My mother-in-law taught us a little song she used, which basically entails us singing the names of everyone who loves our kid on a loop to the tune of “On Top of Spaghetti”: “Grandma and Grandpa, love sweet little [insert name here], and Mommy and Daddy, they love you, too….”
Repeat and add new names until you run out, then loop it all back again. This focuses your kiddo on his or her people and the safety they offer. Most often, kids will drift off before you’re all the way through. But if not, they can sing themselves to sleep, or you could even record it for them to listen to.
Use these strategies as a springboard for coming up with your own special family bedtime tricks. The best work we do as parents comes from things we make up in the trenches, in moments of sheer desperation. For every one of these tips, there was a night when my partner and I felt like we were being held hostage by a sleepy tyrant. We had to get creative in order to get ourselves to the couch to binge-watch “Orphan Black” – and in those moments, brilliance was born.
Our kids look back on these as special moments. They also learned they can manage much of this on their own now. Balancing the special with the teaching is what it’s all about, even when we just want everyone to GET TO BED.
 
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Why I’m Not Talking to My Children About Climate Change

I’ve been keeping a pretty big secret from my eco-conscious preschoolers.

I’ve been keeping a pretty big secret from my eco-conscious preschoolers.
My two boys start their days with a viewing of Wild Kratts, a PBS show about fascinating animals around the globe. When I clean up their breakfast, they scold me if I throw away a peel that could have gone into the compost.
When we head out for walks, they hand me every piece of trash they find along the way. I come home with my pockets full of discarded candy wrappers and receipts that were blown away in the wind. If I ever scold them for picking up a piece of trash – for example, that rusty Skoal can half covered in mud – my oldest turns to me and says, “I just wanted to save the earth, Mama.”
But that’s the secret I’ve been keeping from them. They know we are supposed to be kind to the earth, to respect the land we’ve been given and treat it as a gift. They know we recycle paper to save trees and that we walk home from preschool so our car doesn’t pollute the air. They know we make frequent use of hand-me-downs and donate what we no longer need.
But they don’t really know why.
 
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As much as we talk about taking care of our planet, I’ve yet to broach the subject of climate change with them. And unless someone else brings it up first, I don’t plan on doing so for several more years.
While political leaders embroil themselves in debates about reality, our climate is changing before our eyes and endangering the lives of people around the world. Events such as the California drought, wildfires in the Mountain West, blizzards, and hurricanes have landed on our shores, made worse by man-made actions.
Scientists and policymakers in the rest of the world agree that we need to keep the change in global temperature to less than a two-degree Celsius increase above what the average global temperature was prior to the Industrial Revolution. Failure to do so, they warn, could cause rising sea levels, extreme weather events, extinction of plants and animals, and endanger the lives and well-being of millions of people.
Despite my boys’ fervent interest in saving the earth, I can’t bring myself to tell them about the danger looming over their future. It would be akin to teaching them to read, and then telling them that all libraries will close before they even grow up. I want to give them a few more years to fall in love with the natural world before they hear the grim truth about their fated romance.
Educators disagree about the appropriateness of teaching climate change to children. Some argue that it is our duty to give children an age-appropriate – yet full – picture of the crisis. Others contend that no tragedies should be taught before fourth grade, instead first allowing kids a chance to develop a relationship with nature. Parents, likewise, take a variety of approaches to the issue, either avoiding it outright or engaging in frank discussions about the problem.
Psychologists warn that the anxiety surrounding climate change can negatively impact people’s mental health. For children who have even less ability to change their circumstances than adults, that added anxiety seems, to me, an unnecessary burden.
Like many four-year-olds, my son will become obsessed with a topic for a few days or weeks at a time. Last week, it was “tree problems,” a topic I am not even remotely sure where he picked up. He begged me for days to tell him stories about trees, and so I indulged.
I told him about the pine beetle infestation that had spread through the mountains around our home, killing millions of pine trees in its wake. I told him about the near-extinction and subsequent revitalization of the American Chestnut in the Appalachians, whose seedlings I had helped plant as a girl. After days of talking about nothing other than trees, I thought he might enjoy reading the Lorax.
At the end, he got very quiet. “Mama,” he said. “What would we ever do if the earth got really, really sick?”
I promised him we would take care of it, while saying a silent prayer that our leaders actually will. But the smallness of his voice convinced me he still is not ready to talk about climate change.
Avoiding this one environmental issue – the most pressing of them all – doesn’t mean that parents can’t discuss care for the environment with children. Our children can’t fully comprehend the gravity of climate change. Even if they could, there is little they could do to significantly reduce global emissions.
Children, however, will happily turn off the water while they brush their teeth “to leave some in the river for the fishies.” They will carry cloth bags into the grocery store, knowing the plastic ones can too easily end up in the ocean or in a tree. And they will joyfully toss recyclables into the bin, not just for the fun of throwing something, but so that tin can won’t end up taking up space in a landfill. These actions have concrete benefits kids can visualize, helping them to become lifelong stewards of the earth.
My sons love stories about endangered species, though I carefully tell only success stories about animals that have been brought back from the brink of extinction: bison, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, wolves. I want them to believe in happy endings – in a world where people help, not harm. Perhaps it will give them the confidence and conviction they need to help us solve this climate crisis in the future.
And perhaps, by the time they are old enough to understand the truth, the story will be different. I hope then to tell them about a crisis we once faced but successfully averted by deciding to believe in truth, to act together, and to leave behind a better world for them, our children.

5 Ways to Shield Your Kids From Your Anxiety

The more anxious you are, the more likely your children are to suffer from anxiety-related disorders.

Our kids are like us in more ways than one, that’s just the way it is. In spite of ourselves, we act as models: we teach our kids to talk in a certain way, think in a certain way, and act in a certain way. We also pass on our anxiety.

Everyone experiences anxiety. There is proof that our performance is driven and enhanced by anxiety, without which much would be left unaccomplished. However, too much anxiety can poison your life. And you’ve probably heard that the more anxious you are, the more likely your children are to suffer from anxiety-related disorders.

Anxiety is one of the most common issues children and adolescents struggle with. If ignored, anxiety can have a negative impact on the emotional and social development of a child and can even lead to severe depression in adulthood.

The good news is that parental anxiety doesn’t have to be a death sentence. According to a new study, there are ways in which parents can help reduce their children’s level of anxiety. The study found that parents of anxious children often make a few mistakes in their attempts to protect their children from anxiety.

How to help your anxious child

1 | Step into the fear.

The desire to protect their children is innate to most parents. Your daughter is scared of swimming, you make her do dance instead. Your son is shy, you avoid situations in which he has to express himself or make new friends. This is one of the greatest mistakes you can make when dealing with an anxious child. Overprotection increases anxiety rather than decreases it.

Research suggests that to help overcome anxiety, you should avoid constantly shielding your child. However, it is important to only try age-appropriate activities and keep your child’s level of fear in mind. Taking baby steps one day at a time can teach your child that he has the necessary resources to overcome his fears. Focus on solutions and explore multiple options. Reflecting on “what’s the worst that could happen” helps arm you with necessary coping tools. Teach your anxious child to explore his environment and develop skills to address difficult or unexpected challenges.

2 | Put on your “rose-colored glasses”

Children’s perception of anxiety-provoking situations is largely determined by how you perceive and speak of those situations yourself. Your child will interpret her environment based on your interpretation. So analyze your explanatory style and consciously choose to adopt more optimistic interpretations.

Your child’s anxiety will increase if you present situations as dangerous and irresolvable. Talk about dangerous situations by all means but, more importantly, teach her how to overcome or avoid them. For example, yes, cars can be dangerous but they’re also great. Practices such as always using zebra crossings increase safety.

3 | Let go

If you’re over-controlling and critical of your child, chances are high that your child will suffer from high levels of anxiety. Encouraging your child to participate in decision-making can help reduce his anxiety. Ask questions. What do you think would happen if…? What do you think you can do if…? What would you do?

4 | Work on yourself first

You know how they say that teaching your child about emotional regulation is one of the greatest lessons you can teach her? The same applies to adults.

Anxiety disorder in adulthood can often be traced to childhood anxiety disorders and often requires parents to address the issues underlying their own anxiety. What drives your anxiety? If you’re unable to handle your own anxiety, you’re bound to pass it on to your child rather than help her handle her anxiety.

Talking about situations that made you anxious and how you handled them will help teach your child that anxiety is normal and can be overcome. Ask her to let you know if she thinks you’re acting anxious. Your anxiety is reflected in your actions and in your words so choose your words carefully. Remember that kids’ fears are sometimes driven by what they overhear. There are books and courses to help anxious parents deal with their anxiety in order to avoid passing it onto their kids. If you’re struggling with anxiety, seeking help will help both you and your children.

When you’ve worked on yourself, encourage your child to talk about her anxiety and, more importantly, what she can do to manage anxiety. Explore possible options that prevent you from stepping in too quickly and options that encourage your child to manage her feelings by herself (calm-down jars, calm-down boxes, power cards, etc.).

5 | Choose flight over fight

Sometimes, try as you might, you just can’t get over your anxiety. In such cases, it’s better to flee. If you have an irrational fear of dentists, don’t take your child to his dental visit – ask someone else to do it. You won’t be able to hide your anxiety if it’s an anxiety-provoking situation for you.

Anxiety is a normal part of life. You’re anxious when you start a new job, or when your kids start school, or when you’re unsure of the outcome of a situation. Your children will always face anxiety. Addressing anxiety is not about suppressing it, it’s about teaching your child to identify the feeling and manage it in an appropriate way.

The One Job I Don't Seem to Get Better at With Time

“I just enrolled Tabby in preschool for September! I’m already crying!” read the post on Facebook. (Tabby’s name has been changed so that her mother doesn’t think I am an absolute crazy person.) I had been scrolling through my feed, trying to kill some time during reruns of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
My two-year-old fidgeted from toy to toy, while occasionally looking up at the TV in front of us. I had planted my ass firmly on our couch, having woken up pregnant again today, just as I have for the 35 weeks of mornings prior to this one.
All I wanted was some peace, with a side of quiet, and perhaps a bit of uninterrupted time to myself. Instead what I got was a burst of adrenaline and a racing heart. I sat straight up in my seat and immediately clicked on the comments. Wait, preschool? What?!
Tabby was two weeks younger than my own toddler, and the thought of preschool had literally never crossed my mind. Holy shit, I dropped the ball. This stupid second pregnancy was literally eating my brain cells. (Pregnancy after 35 seems to turn your skull into a juicer and makes short work of your cerebral cortex.)
Did I go to preschool? That comes right before kindergarten, right? Surely, it couldn’t be that time already. My daughter only turned two four months ago. Kindergarten still starts at five, right? Or has that changed, too?
All of these questions swirled through my head as I tried to read everything I could that my friend and other people were saying about preschool. Was I too late? Could I just call the same preschool and ask them for more information? Wait, do you have to pay for preschool? Holy crap, how much does preschool cost?
It took me a good five minutes reading Facebook comments, followed by some embarrassing Google searches to figure out what was going on. I hadn’t dropped the ball. I hadn’t failed my daughter. Not yet.
I finally took to my trusty digital mom group and asked the question, “What’s the deal with preschool?” Only I asked it more like this: “Guys, WTF is the deal with preschool? Am I supposed to be registering my two-year-old? Help! I need an adult!” Because I am all about the overreaction.
They quickly gave me all the information I needed (all the information I could have gotten for myself if I had just relaxed for one second, taken a deep breath, and consulted Google before losing my shit).
Yes, preschool is a thing that some people do. No, not everyone has to do it. There are various types and requirements. Some of them need your kid to be at least three. Some need your kid to be potty trained. It’s really all up to you if you want to send them.
I took some calming breaths and relaxed a bit. My heart stopped racing. I hadn’t ruined my daughter’s life after all or totally dropped the ball on some fundamental part of her development.
“Okay, follow up question,” I typed. “How do you guys know all of this? Like, why don’t I know these things?” I got a couple of different answers – most of them reasonable responses, like they learned from friends or family members who had children before them. Some just learned as they went. Others said they knew their kids needed some structure or additional stimulation and sought it out.
Not one of them said that they saw the word “preschool” and panicked. Apparently, I was the only one who responded like it was like the first time they ever heard of preschool and immediately took to Facebook to crowdsource the gaps in their parenting skills.
Parenting is one of the few things that I don’t really seem to get any better at the longer I do it.
I mean, I’ve been at this for over two years now. I’m about to re-up with a new kid, and I only feel slightly more prepared than I did the first time around. Mostly, I feel like I have already forgotten everything, like when you start tummy time. I don’t remember anything about tummy time anymore!
How do I still feel so unsure of what I’m doing?
Does this ever get easier?
Should I enroll my daughter in preschool?
These are all questions I’ll probably never have the answers to. Just like I will never know how I’ve managed to keep this small human alive for the past two years, and whether we should start using flash cards to learn numbers.
The one thing I do know is that I’m not alone. I think most people feel like they have no idea what they’re doing and, like me, they’re just flying by the seat of their pants. I take some perverse comfort in that idea.
While it sucks to feel like you’re out of your element, knowing that I’m not alone out here makes it a little bit better. A little bit.
Now, if someone could just tell me how many blueberries are too many blueberries to eat in a day for someone who weighs approximately 26 pounds, that would be swell.