Sunday, May 12, 2019

Journey through Motherhood

At "Time to Fly" event benefiting CCRF, 2009
In my neighborhood I am surrounded by mothers at every stage of the journey. My next-door-neighbor has an adorable soon-to-be 3-year-old, down the street are siblings 8 and younger, across the street is a teenager and down from him are recent empty nesters.

My girls will be 16 and 14 this year — we are nearing the end of the "raising" portion of parenthood. Soon we will be entering the "why doesn't she ever call" portion of parenthood, followed shortly, I've heard, by the "my kids finally appreciate me" portion.

I find this stage to be rather ironic.

I mean, when our kids are little, they are just so darn cute, but they are also so much darn work! Their fingers and faces are always sticky, they are constantly needing to be fed, changed or taken to the bathroom, bathed, reasoned with, (as much as you can reason with babies or toddlers), and so on and so forth. They are a lot of work, from which parents often need a break. If I ever had even an hour to myself in my home without my children around, what a joyous time it was! Laundry got done, floors got mopped, windows got cleaned. One time Wayne and I took advantage of a "parents night out" at KinderCare, where they stayed open until 10 p.m. so parents could have a date night, and he and I washed all the windows in our house. They hadn't been washed since our kids had been born, we were happy to have spent our child-free time that way.

Marissa decided not to smile this day. 2012
Then your kids grow and grow, and at this stage they are...people. Fascinating, interesting people! They have opinions and ideas and really big, new words to communicate them. They are absorbing the world around them, making their own decisions about what's right or what's wrong, and wow, look out world, there is some change a-coming! They are so fun to do things with, to go shopping, or out to eat. 

But just as your kids get really fun to hang out with, they don't want to hang out with you. They'd rather be with their friends, watching movies, playing soccer, going to Starbuck's, building relationships with friends their own age. 

Soccer, Summer of 2017
Lindsey, Homecoming 2018
Marissa Selfie, 2019
When they want to spend time with me, I'll be here, ready to reminisce with them about the good old days when they used to play with water tables, push the dog around in a doll baby carrier, and do other silly things. Those stories are always good for a laugh.

Happy Mother's Day. 

Monday, May 06, 2019

Sweet 16 for the First Kid

Eight years ago, I wrote a blog post called "Halfway to 16." It was about Lindsey turning 8, and 16 seemed so very far away.

Now her 16th birthday is already 3 days ago. How things have changed!

At 8, she was excited to get clothes for her Barbie dolls, but was equally excited to get an iTunes gift card. I'm pretty sure she bought some Katy Perry songs with that gift card.

At 16, she asked for a large plant for her bedroom. Yes, a plant. She also has a fixation on all things flamingo. She finds them silly and quirky. So I also purchased a large standing metal planter for her room. On Friday, her actual birthday, she and I made a trip to Bachman's to get just the right plant for her room and for her flamingo.

I felt like I was being watched as I worked.

Lindsey's large plant, nicknamed Za Za. 
She got a silk butterfly hair clip to go with her butterfly dress that she wore to the Southwest winter formal. She loves dresses, she probably has 8 or 10 hanging in her closet at any time. Thanks to her job at Turnstyle she puts dresses on hold for her to try when she's not working. The butterfly dress was purchased there for $7.50. I think the hair clip cost more by the time I paid for shipping.

Opening gifts, her Marvel blanket always nearby to warm her.
She also got a journal, the feminist's journal. Lindsey has become quite the activist, marching in the women's march, even when it was 20 below zero, following politics, getting involved in environmentalism and, of course, helping animals. This summer she's going to start volunteering at the Animal Humane Society and she can't wait.

Like when she turned 8, she opted for a dinner at Benihana's restaurant. We went with Kristi, who lives in Minnesota now, unlike when Lindsey turned 8. We were thoroughly entertained by the chef who was fantastic and really made Lindsey feel special throughout the meal.
Lindsey wanted to dress up, I couldn't convince Marissa to not wear a hoodie.

Aunt Kristi with Lindsey, wearing her butterfly dress with matching hair clip.
In my original blog post I wrote about how my dad joked about coming to Minnesota once a year to see my kids. Back when they were small he'd say stuff like, "Geez, just 12 more visits and I'll be going to a high school graduation!" Sad to say, he didn't live long enough to see either of our kids graduate from high school. But I know that he is looking down and would be really proud of the young women they are becoming.

Lindsey's first beer! Just kidding. It's a frothy iced tea.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

The Artist's Way

About a month ago I began a 12-week course called "The Artist's Way." I had never heard of it before I started it. My sister-in-law Laurie is doing it and encouraged me to give it a try. And by "encouraged" I mean she bought me the book and a journal to go along with it and said, "Do this." Couldn't get more "encouraged" than that!

Here's the gist of the book and course: all human beings, having been created, are capable of  creativity. We simply have to channel the creativity that is given to us by [insert belief here, God, the Universe, the Divine One, whatever or whomever], and creativity is ours to tap into at any time. We do not have to "wait" for inspiration, we simply need to be open to the experience, or as the author says, "unblocked," be still, and listen.

In a nutshell.

What I'm finding is that to "unblock" your creative self you need to do a lot of self-assessment. Outside of going to therapy, which only a portion of the population does, how else do people improve their personal selves? I've been to hours and hours of professional training: nonprofit conferences, writing/storytelling seminars, how to be a better manager, how to be a better employee, etc. etc. But this course is really "how to be a better person."

My whole sober curious journey began when I started thinking about things that block my creativity, and alcohol was one of them. I decided to try cutting it out of my life, and in the very next chapter I read, "At this point in your journey you may find yourself wanting to remove some toxicity from your life, be it a toxic friend or a toxic behavior." Huh! Imagine that, I was one week ahead of the author.

It has you do exercises like: "If you had five other lives to live, what other professions would you be or do?" Then the next day it has you list 5 more. One of the exercises has you list 20 things you enjoy doing. Twenty! Try it. I did, and I was at a loss after eight. I've got to start some hobbies before I can retire or I'm going to be bored AND boring!

I'm on Week 4 which is the "reading deprivation" week. This is the week that you are not allowed to read anything, to create silence within yourself to allow your own creativity to flow. Two things about this were crushing for me:

1. I just started the novel "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman and it is AMAZING. I'm only a few chapters in and now had to take a one-week break from it which makes me mad because I can't wait to pick it up again.

2. "No reading" also means no social media, so I deleted my social media icons off my phone and logged out on my computer so I'm not tempted to scroll.

The social media one is by far more difficult. Still, five days into this reading deprivation thing, I find myself automatically hitting where the icons on my phone used to be. I check it out of habit several times an hour. It's a great habit to break, I may just leave the icons off my phone from now on.

Supposedly I'm going to start hating this journey starting around week 5 or 6, so I thought I'd better write about it now before I turn against it. We'll see how all of this goes!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

No More Wine Time

I am setting an intention, which means you, dear reader, get to be a part of this.

I have decided to abstain from alcohol for...well, for a yet undetermined amount of time.

Lately several reports have come out talking about how the emerging "mommy drinking" culture has normalized alcoholism for women. The blog post I linked to above is a perfect example of how it happens. And our retailers have helped this along.

These are some photos of a display at PaperSource, a store that specializes in paper products; invitations, greeting cards, gift wrap, and customized invitations for special events. Plus, of course, gifts. This was the majority of the gifts available in the store yesterday, outside of the Easter display.

If I were looking for a gift for a girlfriend for her birthday, I can either refer to her addiction to prosecco, mixed drinks or wine. This is not what I would expect at PaperSource.

But really, it's not their fault. They are just jumping on the bandwagon of jokes about how our kids drive us to drink, right?

I find myself craving a glass of wine around the time I would start cooking dinner. I truly embody Julia Childs' quote about cooking with wine. During the week I used to ignore it, but then the days I would cave and open a bottle went from weekend nights to Thursday through Sunday nights.

Then I would have a glass with dinner. And then a titch more with a piece of chocolate or something for dessert, and the bottle that my husband and I had opened together was gone.

But then...what will I drink with the movie I plan on watching later on?

That is my true downfall — I enjoy having a drink while watching a movie. And sometimes I stay up late to watch a movie all by myself. After all, some days it's the only "alone time" I get. Before I know it bottle #2 is empty or nearly empty.

All without feeling any effects of the alcohol until the very end of the movie.

There are an average of 635 calories in a bottle of wine; by the end of the evening I would have had nearly 900 calories worth of wine. Do that several nights a week and suddenly the weight I'm trying to drop won't drop. Shocking.

Plus the fact that I can drink two glasses of wine with no effect is concerning. It sets a bad example for my kids.

So...I've decided to abstain entirely for a time, to give my body a break from having to process all that poison. I'm paying attention to my "critical moments," those times when I really crave a glass of wine, when they happen, who I'm around when they happen, and choosing a different behavior instead of opening a bottle. Sparkling water and limes will always in my house, so I can get a refreshing drink without need the alcohol to make it taste refreshing.

We'll see how this goes. Who knows, maybe I'll reduce my alcohol tolerance and be able to return to having just a drink or two at special occasions. But for now, this is the intention I am setting and I appreciate all of your support in this endeavor.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Is Online School Right for Your Child?

Lindsey's "classroom," efficiently located across from the frig.

I've had so many people reach out to me when they discover that our eldest attends an online high school. They are interested in this option for their child for a variety of reasons, could it work for them?

The answer?

It depends.

Lindsey's initial reason for attending an online school was to reduce her anxiety, which was like a burr under her saddle, getting rubbed every day that she attended a bricks-and-mortar school. All of her energy was going towards just existing at school; anything the teachers taught went in one ear and out the other. When she came home at night she was so exhausted from the emotional drain of it that she couldn't concentrate to complete her homework.

We considered other options and eventually landed on online school. Sure, it didn't do anything to reduce her anxiety, but at least she could still learn in an environment that was healthy for her.

What's that environment look like, you ask?

Well...honestly, it's a teenager's dream.

She sleeps in as late as she wants (within reason, I usually start coming around to bug her at 10). She has to attend each class once per week (once, not daily). She attends classes via a "live lesson," which is a webinar with an active chat session for students to participate in class. She doesn't have to deal with kids kicking her chair, distractions from other students' bad behavior, forgetting homework or other stressers. There is no high school drama. No one is talking behind anyone else's back, no one cares what she wears every day, there's no pressure to "fit in" because all her classmates are virtual.

She turns her work in on her own schedule. The school has recommended due dates for the work so that students don't procrastinate and leave everything until the end, but there are no penalties for turning work in "late;" it's all about whether or not you understood the lesson and not the timeliness of when you understood it or how long it took you to complete.

She takes breaks in the middle of the day as needed. This could entail laying on the couch with our dog, going for a walk, or running an errand with me. Sometimes she works through a ton of lessons in two days in order to give herself the third day off for a special outing.

Basically, she's works for herself with no "boss" to ask her when she's coming in to the office, how many hours she's worked and when the projects she's working on will be done. They'll get done when they're done, on her own schedule, for the boss' evaluation and grading.

It's a freaking dream. Except.


She has to be incredibly organized. Self-motivated. Avoid procrastination. Figure things out for herself. Be independent, but know when to ask for help (and where and how).

This photo is of her lesson plan she created for herself before our spring break. Her spring break and Marissa's did not coincide this year, but, since Lindsey's education is online, we agreed that if she could do her week's work in advance then she can work through her own spring break and go on vacation when her school was back in session.

She had to have the motivation to work on these lessons every day, even though she did not have the support of teachers to call or lessons to attend to understand the material. And she did it, she got it done.

This happens every day, not just the times she wants to take different time off away from school.

Math is not a strong subject for her, nor is it for me. The other evening she worked on a single geometry problem for an hour. A full hour. She was determined to solve it. When she had exhausted her text book, recordings of live lessons, Khan academy and (last resort) me, she turned to her friends via text. Being the amazing, helpful and smart kids that they are, they helped her so that not only did she solve the problem but she understood the concept. I was in bed at 11:30 and heard her getting ready for bed, making more noise than usual. I thought she was frustrated, turns out she was elated. She was so excited that she finally figured out the problem and was grateful for her friends' help.

Would you child do that? Would your child work on a single frustrating problem without screaming, without throwing a book, without giving up, for an hour until s/he solved it?

Would you child create schedules for him/herself, follow them, and, if s/he got off-track, find ways to make up the work in a shortened timeline?

Would s/he check in on grades on a weekly basis, call or email teachers as needed and negotiate workload with them?

If not, then you may need to find other options for your child.

The other piece of this puzzle that makes online school a good option for Lindsey is that I'm around and available all day long. When she first started she was working at home, by herself, all alone, all day long. She was unmotivated, somewhat depressed and isolated. We realized early on that there was no way a 14-year-old could be left to her own devices all day long with no human interaction and somehow succeed at school. A large piece of why online school works for her is because I'm here and available, both educationally and emotionally. If she's super frustrated, I recommend taking a walk. If she is taking too long of a "break," I gently encourage her to get back to work. I'll get her out of the house, encourage outings with friends, take her to field trips where she can meet her virtual classmates in person, and help her with the non-educational part of her school day.

When she first began online school she was extremely isolated, but now that she's more confident in the classroom she is branching out, keeping in touch with her friends from middle school, making new friends in her online school, holding down a job and doing many other activities that help reduce her anxiety. She's in National Honor Society and as such has to do 50 hours of volunteer work every school year, which is also motivating to get involved in the community.

Online school did not address her anxiety but it did reduce it. That's not the same thing. We reduced her anxiety by taking away something that made her anxious. As anyone familiar with this condition knows, when you do that you actually increase the person's anxiety about that thing.

Now Lindsey is focused on her singular goal of going away to college. She wants the traditional college experience, even though she knows and we assure her that there are other options available to her. That's not what she wants, she wants to prove to herself that she can manage life in whole. We are slowly working on getting her back into classrooms, a driver's ed class this summer and in-person classes through the PSEO program at her high school. She will remain in her online school throughout high school; she's getting a great education and I see no reason to change it as long as she keeps progressing on her mental health in other areas.

Online school has been a blessing to her and to our family. We already know that it is not an option for Marissa, who will be attending a traditional charter school next year, though she is envious of Lindsey's flexible schedule. Marissa does not want the responsibility of having to manage her own schoolwork, she would rather learn directly from teachers and have classmates in person for her to rely on for help and commiseration.

For anyone who is interested in talking about online education, I am always happy to chat! Hopefully this will be helpful for anyone interested in it who would hesitate at picking up the phone or texting me. Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 01, 2019

Just a Regular Day of Nursing...On A Day Off

Kristi on her birthday breakfast, after finishing another night shift of nursing.

My sister is a nurse. She's pretty damn amazing, and cares for people as part of and outside of her job.

One summer day she was biking back to her apartment from our place. Near her building is a bus stop where bus drivers often park their buses and take a break at the convenience store on the corner.

While a bus was sitting there and the bus driver was inside, Kristi noticed a woman sitting on the corner, her legs splayed into the street. She seemed kind of disoriented and was swaying back and forth. Kristi was concerned she was going to fall forward into the street.

Kristi could have just crossed the street on the opposite side and pedaled on her way. Being a nurse, she stopped.

She spoke with this woman for a bit. The woman was slurring her words, unsure of where she was, wasn't even sure of her name. As they spoke, Kristi noticed that she had a medical tag around her neck and she looked at it. The woman had diabetes, and Kristi immediately associated the woman's odd behavior with low blood sugar.

By this time, the bus driver had come out of the store and was going to start his route again; Kristi asked him to call an ambulance. He went back into the convenience store and guess who he called? His manager. Yep, because a metro transit manager can definitely help someone in a medical emergency! The driver came out and talked with Kristi, told her that this woman rides their bus all the time, they often see her, but they've never seen her like this.

Finally an ambulance arrived, and they began to care for this woman. Kristi stuck around to make sure she'd be all right, and the EMTs told her that the woman's blood sugar was 11. I wasn't sure what that meant, but Kristi said that's near comatose; she shouldn't have been conscious. (Normal blood sugar is between 70-130 when fasting, higher after meals.)

They loaded the woman up in the ambulance and drove off, sirens blaring, to get her the medical attention she needed. Kristi biked the rest of the way home and chalked it up to another day.

Later, when Kristi related this story to me, I was amazed. "Do you realize that you probably saved that woman's life?" I said.

"No, not really," Kristi demurred. "Someone would have stopped."

"No, I don't think so. I think people would assume she was an alcoholic, drunk in the middle of the day. No one would have called an ambulance. Even when you asked someone to call an ambulance, they didn't do it right away. If they did anything they'd probably call the cops to get her out of the street."

After a while, Kristi finally agreed that yes, perhaps, she had saved that woman's life. But, she said, "That's my job."

This story has stuck with me even though it happened last summer, or possibly even the summer before. It's because people like Kristi are in the world, people with goodness in their hearts and a willingness to step into uncertain situations, that I have hope for a better tomorrow for all of us.

Creating A Home Base: Other People's Kids

When I was young, my home was not only my home base but that of my friends. My sister could say the same thing. Our home was close to both the junior high and high school. She and I often walked home with other kids in tow and would noisily descend upon our home to consume popcorn, watch movies, play Trivial Pursuit or — gasp — work on homework. Our parents developed relationships with our friends and with their parents. To this day, my mom's close circle of friends is made primarily of couples who were parents of our friends.

I had hoped to create the same safe landing spot for my kids' friends. Our home is within two blocks of the high school that I thought our kids would be going to, but now neither of my girls are going there.

But apparently Marissa's middle school is still close enough to have friends come over often, and I am happy to host them. They are always welcome for dinner, for a movie or to just hang out.

Marissa and Carolyn baking in our kitchen. 
We have a running joke with Marissa's friend, Carolyn. Two summers ago her house was under construction and she was welcome at our home anytime to get out of the chaos at her place. We like to grill steak in the summer, and it so happened that most times that we were having steak Marissa would plan to have Carolyn over. Carolyn LOVES how Wayne grills steak, she would gobble up every bite. And every time she ate with us, we were having steak. It got to the point that if we were going to have steak I'd ask Marissa if Carolyn was available.

One time her parents told us about the time her dad asked if she wanted steak for dinner. Carolyn's response? "No thanks, you don't make it like Marissa's dad does!"

It's been a while but we still laugh about her carnivorous tendencies at our house.
Marissa and friends after a choir concert. Hanna (far left) came just to support her friends who were performing.
Marissa also has a good friend walk home with her a lot after school. They may work on homework a bit, but usually spend time snacking, chatting and snapping friends. Pretty soon this friend started calling me her "other mother." One time I came home and Marissa was already home with this friend, who called from the front room, "Hi, your other daughter is home too!" She gave me a huge and asked, "How was your day?" We jokingly tease each other about my being her "other mother" and she my "other daughter."

Sometimes she stays for dinner, other times she has to leave to go to hockey or soccer practice. But she and Marissa manage to carve out some time together to joke and laugh together.

Marissa and Hanna (not my "other daughter") ready to chill on yet another snow day.
Recently Marissa had two friends over and they had bought condoms as a gag gift for a mutual friend of theirs (a guy). He refused to accept the gift, saying that his parents would kill him if they found condoms in his room. So the girls brought the condoms over to our house and played with them. They filled one up with water and tied it shut. It eventually burst and there was a literal waterfall of water in our kitchen. I retrieved towels, handed them out, and they all helped clean up the kitchen. No big deal.

"Thanks for mopping my floor!" I joked with them.

Later I found out that one of the girls lives in a very conservative household. She could NOT believe that not only did Marissa buy condoms and bring them home, but that her mom found out and it was just fine. And...they made a mess in the kitchen but hey, it was just water and it cleans up, so it wasn't a problem as well. She was in shock. "I am never coming to your house again!" she declared. "You guys are clearly a bad influence." She was over later that week, of course.

I hope we continue to be a safe home base for my girls' friends when Marissa starts high school next year. It's been fun so far, that's for sure.

Monday, February 18, 2019

A Child's Funeral

Last week I attended a funeral for a child.  I hope to never have to do that again.

This child was 13, a classmate of my youngest, and had taken her own life. As if that wasn't devastating enough, no one — no one, not teachers, family, friends — had any idea that she was suicidal. Friends knew she had been depressed recently, but no one had any idea that she was having thoughts of ending her life. She grew up in a large family with many aunties and cousins, a loving mom and grandparents. She was a talented artist, musician and beautiful in so many ways.

It's difficult to guide your children through grief when you yourself need to process as well. There were some things said at the funeral that really touched me, and I wanted to get them down.

One of the minister had the following message (I'm paraphrasing):

After someone takes their own life, the survivors are left with the question "Why?" Many came to the funeral feeling grief, or anger, or confusion, or any combination of these things. Why? The truth is, we may never know why. 

I took comfort in this, in part because I had been through every one of those emotions in processing the idea of a 13-year-old taking her own life. And...I took comfort in letting go of the "why's." They weren't mine to discover or know, I could let go of them.

During the beautiful euology that one of the aunts shared, she talked about Aria's suicide.

Look around this church, see all the people who loved and cherished her. If only she could see this. But she was 13. She didn't understand the finality of her actions. She didn't have the life experiences to know that pain is temporary. Pain ends; it molds you, it can shape you and make you stronger, and it always goes away. She didn't realize that, and she only saw one way out of her pain.

I've been mulling this one over since I heard it. I never thought of pain as temporary, but it is. It will ease with time, with help from others, with treatment. I have great sympathy for people who live with chronic pain, though I suspect even that pain goes away at times, in the same way that it flares.

The last minister said a message that was difficult to hear, which is that suicide is a sin, in that God's commandment of "thou shall not kill" also means you shall not kill yourself. But he said it is a forgivable sin, as this girl was a child of God, baptized in the church and a follower of Jesus. I still find this hard to digest, because I do not believe you need to believe in Jesus to see God, but that's a thread for another day to follow.

He also said, "Aria was not perfect." This was jarring to hear after hearing so many people recount her many wonderful traits. "But I can say the same for everyone in this room, myself included. No one is perfect. We are created in God's image, but we are human and have our flaws. That is why forgiveness exists, to forgive ourselves for our imperfection."

The music was beautiful, the many messages were heartfelt and incredible. During the time of remembrance they played a video that her good friend had made of various classmates giving their final wishes to Aria. The minute it started people around me began to tear up, just to hear these young voices saying good-bye. Marissa was included in the video and had quite a long clip. I could hear her quietly sobbing form where she stood with her friends while it played.

The final recessional song was "Stand by Me," but the twist was that it was a video of Aria playing her ukulele and singing the song. She had such a beautiful voice. Then the video stopped and the song was taken over by the pianist. What a touching way to end the service.