Dear General Education Teacher: Surprise! You’re A Special Ed Teacher!

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My first job out of college was working as a general ed high school biology teacher.  On day one, during second period, a woman I had never met before walked into my room, alongside the kids.  She introduced herself as a special education teacher in the building and informed me she was assigned to work with me during that hour.  At first I thought she meant for the day, but she meant for the entire school year.  I had no idea why.

Turns out, I had a high percentage of special ed students in my class that hour, and the model utilized at this school to help address those individualized needs was co-teaching.  I didn’t have any special education training, I didn’t know the best practices of teaching with another teacher in my room. No one, it seemed, had bothered to inform me ahead of time that this is what my job as a high school science teacher would entail.

I suppose they didn’t need to: it might not have been emphasized during teacher training, but a large part of general ed teaching is teaching special ed students.

It worked out well, for the most part.  I just taught the kids who were in my room, and did the best I could to help them succeed, and she did the same, complementing my actions and responses with her own.  Each year I taught, I ended up adding a section of co-taught classes.  Eventually I taught a biology class that was made up entirely of special education students, a course that had previously been taught by a special ed teacher with no biology background.  I’m not sure if other biology teachers had tried teaching this class in the past, and it didn’t work out, or if the special ed department had never even considered asking any of the other teachers to teach it. Eventually I got my masters in special ed, and then I was the co-teacher, in someone else’s science room, and now I work mostly with students on the autism spectrum in a resource room setting.

For me, teaching a diverse set of learners was never easy.  But it made sense.  I had kids in my classroom. Some got it.  Some sort of got it.  Some struggled.

This was true for both academics and social/emotional regulation.  It was easiest to teach the kids who got it. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to “teach” students who are readily teachable, who can basically teach themselves, who have maturity and coping mechanisms solidly in place.  It takes a lot more patience, more time, more creativity, more ability, to help the kids who struggle. It took me awhile to figure out where I needed to be firm and rigid, and where I could bend, molding myself into the teacher that each particular student needed me to be.

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It was difficult, and sometimes impossible, to find the time to plan lessons for the “easy” kids and also creatively change the plan for the ones who didn’t get it, or the ones who seemed unruly.  I could not meet all of their needs.

But I tried.

I went to conferences, and I collaborated with peers, and I spent a lot of time working, well after that sixth hour bell rang.  I asked my co-teachers for help and I took them up on every opportunity offered to present a concept to the class in a different way, or to adapt a worksheet to make it more accessible.  I kept learning the content, and more importantly, I kept learning about the kids, because I knew there was really no point in me learning additional facts, if I was unable to help pass this along, in any sort of relevant fashion, to the people placed into my classroom.

It never surprised me when I learned that seated in the front row was a student with Prader-Willi Syndrome, or a student with ADHD, or a student with a significant attitude problem.  It surprises me that this surprises other teachers.  Doesn’t everyone know about the bell curve?  That there are always points outside of the average range (and a lot of them!), and it’s impossible for everyone to be A students, for everyone to complete each task in the same way, or in the same amount of time, or for everyone to be at the exact same point of social/emotional awareness and ability?  Doesn’t everyone get that we are still responsible for teaching the kid who is that data point, waaaaaaaaaaaay out there, far to the left?

I have certainly had days when my students drove me crazy, or puzzled me and put me in positions where I didn’t know what I was going to do to help them become successful adults.  I have often felt frustrated and worn out and exasperated.  But, I’ve never looked at a student name on my roster and literally thought to myself, “I shouldn’t have to teach that kid”, or “That kid isn’t good enough to belong in my room”. That is a very dangerous mentality. Especially considering the fact that the problem isn’t the kid. The problem is that I just don’t know how to reach him or her. That’s my shortcoming, not theirs.

 In the public school setting, we don’t get to pick and choose who we get to teach, but we do get to decide, in many ways, how we will support them, how we will help them improve their knowledge of the subject matter, their confidrnce levels, and their strategies for dealing with stress.  Even when I know I can’t meet every need, I know I can still do something.

 I am constantly asking myself, “What can I do to help support these kids?”.and “What do these kids need?”  And I mean all of them.  Not just the ones that make my job easy.

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Maybe we need a separate sign that starts with Dear Teachers…..

 

These Are The Reasons I Am Thankful For My Childcare Providers

As a working mom, I have a love/hate mentality about leaving my kids in someone else’s care for what amounts to about 40% of the time my child is awake, each week. Sometimes there are things I think should be done differently, sometimes I question how well I really know what is going on there when I’m not around, and sometimes I have concerns about the sheer volume of donuts my child may or may not be consuming.  It’s easy to get frustrated.  It’s easy to get panicked inside, feeling like I may not be doing what’s best for my children, by sending them there.  Because no one that I’ve found will take care of them exactly like I think they should.  Of course, if I stayed home with my kids every day, I’m quite sure even I would not be able to take care of them exactly like I think I should.  I am trying to take a step back and look at the big picture, and when I do, even with my cynical and critical eye, it sure seems like there is a lot to be grateful for.  I need to remind myself of this.

They create stability and routine. Everything has a time and a place at daycare. Shoes always go in the cubby, coats always get hung up on hangers, and show-and-tell is always on Thursday.  There is allotted time each day to play with baby dolls and listen to stories and create mini-masterpieces and no one leaves the lunch table without asking to be excused.  This isn’t in the fake sort of way, like we have at home. They really mean it, and they follow through.  As if that wasn’t impressive enough, daycare usually incorporates a catchy song that accompanies each time and place.  My kid whistles while she works.

They get my kids to do things I wouldn’t be able to by myself.   I can’t recreate the peer pressure of eleven other kids at home.  The motivation to clean up, or stay in their seats during mealtime is often the result of being a part of the group, and being able to participate with their peers.  There was a brief period of time when Baby Grouch would linger and let the other kids pick up all the toys, while she just looked at them and stared.  “Nope”, she said with her eyes.  “You guys can do it”.  At home I utilized a few strategies to work on this.  I was a broken record and said, “Clean up.  Clean up.  Clean up.”  I told her she could do something fun, but only after she cleaned up her toys (and hoped that what I offered was a motivator that day).  I physically held her and made her sit until she cleaned up the cheerios she spilled on the floor.  But that gets tedious and would be ridiculously impossible to do all day, every day. Sometimes I just cleaned up the blocks for her.  They did not have this problem at daycare.  Once she figured out that she wasn’t allowed to move on to the next group activity without doing her share, she became a cleaning speed demon.

They teach social skills in an authentic setting. I can’t recreate Johnny stealing Toddler Grouch’s light up bouncey ball or Susie giving her a hug and asking if she is okay when she falls and skins her knee.  She says hello, she shares, she waits to take a bite of birthday cake until she sings to her friend and they take a bite first.  It was a weird feeling when I realized my one-year-old had friends that I knew nothing about, other than their first names and fuzzy images of their faces.  But it begins that early, folks. They play very well together, but of course sometimes they fight.  My daughter got put in time out the other day for going on the slide and then putting her feet out, purposely kicking another kid at the bottom.  I’m glad this happened.  On one hand, I’m glad she got annoyed enough to fight back – I think she needs to be more assertive – sometimes she is so laid back she is the one who gets pushed around.  I also want her to learn how to do so appropriately, and I know they help provide her with words to use so she can assert herself with her speech, rather than with physical force.

They clean up my kid’s shit. Seriously they wipe their asses. A lot. Not to mention spit up, puke, snot and other bodily fluids.  I usually don’t mind changing diapers, but I am not under any illusion that my kid’s diapers are full of rainbows and flowers.  My kid’s shit always stinks.

They put in a ton of hours. Our daycare is operated by a mother/daughter team, and they are open almost every day, and rarely have a sub.  They open at seven-fifteen and close at five-thirty. They have no true coffee breaks or lunch breaks.  During the winter, they must be sure to have the driveway shoveled, and, since the daycare is in the basement, they also have to shovel out the area in the backyard surrounding the windows, per fire code.  Living in Michigan, this equates to a lot of time and energy. They run their daycare like a preschool, and have weekly and monthly themes, they have activities planned for every day. They organize, and clean and sanitize equipment on a regular basis.  My kid is in a safe and orderly environment.

They provide sensory stations so I don’t always have to. They have fingerpainting and bubbles and sprinklers and moon sand and glitter glue.  They turn paper towel rolls into pencil holders, hot air balloons and  binoculars.  They turn handprints into butterflies and flowers.  They are probably so grateful for the existance of Pinterest. The kids play outside almost every day, in the summer and in the winter, and they return my child with relatively clean hands, even after she spends an hour digging in the dirt and rocks (one of her favorite things to do).  My kid loves to stick and scoop and smash, and I love that she does this so often there, so I don’t have to clean all of that joy off my floor every day.

They go above and beyond. For every birthday and holiday, they make sure my kids feel special.  They have birthday crowns and the birthday kid gets to lead group activities and get sung to.  They have holiday parties with special outfits and special games.  Our daycare sometimes gives little presents for big occassions.  They pick gems from the “birthday box”, they get wrapped presents to open at Christmas.  I’m paying them about three dollars an hour and they are using part of that money to buy my child things she loves – baby dolls, books, one of those horseheads attached to a stick. They don’t have to do this, because they are already making her feel special in the other, more important, ways.  My kid is a teeny bit spoiled.

They provide a needed service, and sometimes a needed break. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I go for a jog after work before picking up my kids.  In my head, daycare is for when I’m working, so I sort of think of it as free babysitting at this point, even though they as a business have determined the hours and rate that I am paying for.  I’m a better mama when I take care of myself, and it couldn’t happen unless I felt like my kid was in a safe place.

They love my kids. In their own way.  They play with them.  They hug them.  They want them to grow into good people.  They know them inside and out, in some ways maybe a little more than I do.  At least a little differently than I do.  And they get that same feeling of happy-sad when they grow up that I do.  Sometimes, though, if you care about someone a lot, they don’t always measure up to your expectations.  This can lead you to be tough on them.  Which brings me to my next point.

They aren’t always nice. There’s a reason I didn’t decide to have Grandma watch the kids. She’s too nice.  She’ll put on my kid’s shoes for them, and clean up their toys for them and will give in when my children scream and cry that they don’t want to do something.  She will feed my children french fries and cookies and chicken nuggets every single day. She will pamper them.  That said, it isn’t always easy to accept that my kids aren’t being pampered all the time.  I remember my first heart-punch, hearing how my daughter “didn’t want to do anything for herself” one day. When she was six months old. Seriously? And I know there are times when the ladies might be a bit snippy. Maybe even a little shouty.  I’m pretty sure Toddler Grouch didn’t come up with, “Don’t play those games with me”, by herself.  It isn’t something you might want to hear, or think about, but let’s face it: they’re human too. As far as my kids are concerned, I figure that learning how to deal with people who are sometimes moody is a valuable life skill.  That said, my natural instincts are to swoop in like a bird and snatch up my kids in an instant if I suspected any real abuse.  I’d probably peck out a few eyes in the process, too.

They teach kids how to do shit. My kiddo was carrying and setting up her own cot at eighteen months. I watched once, peeking my head out from beind the stairwell and my jaw dropped.  I saw her working with a partner to lift and carry her end of the cot, and walk it from the nap room to the storage closet.  Then she went back and helped her partner (who was a little older and held her hand and reminded her where to go) carry hers. They get these kids to do amazing things.  More things than I will be able to witness, since they can’t record every event or give me a play-by-play of the entire day. I don’t know when my child would have given up bottles, used a sippy cup, put her own coat and shoes on, sang (and danced) the hokey-pokey, the itsy-bitsy-spider, ring-around-the-rosie, counted to thirty, sang the ABC’s, recognized shapes, been able to safely climb up and down stairs, use a fork to feed herself, learn the days of the week, et cetera, if daycare hadn’t taught her.  Yes, she would have learned it all, eventually, but she has certainly learned that she can do things independently at a much earlier age than I would have thought possible.

Reasons to thanks your daycare provider

Reasons to thanks your daycare provider

Anything I missed that I should be thankful for?

I Am Equally Terrified of Having More Kids and Not Having Any More Kids

So, there’s the tantrums.  And the screaming.  The “Mine!”s and the “No!”s.  The bazillion toys with annoying musical themes.  There’s the feeding and the changing and more feeding and more changing.   There’s the blowouts and the spit up and the adult-type vomit that begins at a much earlier age than you would expect.  There’s the cleaning food off the walls and off the floor, out of the crevices of the couch, and strewn across every square inch of the car.  There’s the wiping of snot off of faces, off of walls, off of everything.  There’s the cost.  Of formula. Of food. Of daycare.  Of clothes.  Of parties.  Of braces.  Of college.  Of cars.  Of housing.  Of weddings. There’s the “Don’t lick the window!”s and the “We do not eat cat hair!”s and the “We don’t pee on the dresser!”s.  And, for the love of all that is holy, there is the LACK OF SLEEP.  And I hear it doesn’t get any easier when the kids get older.  Maybe they don’t wake you with their cries, or their morning renditions of Elmo’s Song, but they still wake you, with the worries.  Late teen/early twenty-somethings doing God-knows-what with God-knows-who on a college campus.  The impending insomnia tires me out even more than the current insomnia does.

That’s what really scares me.  The exhaustion.

But, there’s the cuddles.  And the “Look at that!”s and the gasps of awe at observing something new, the quirky insights and the questions that make you think, even though they came out of the mouth of a human being that has been around for a shorter number of years than my current smart phone. There’s the laughter and the silliness and the finding happiness in the little things, every single day. There’s the joy that exists in me, that is multiplied exponentially when I see the same joy exhibited by them.  There’s the comfort in the feeling of being a part of a whole.  There’s the learning what’s important, from those teeny-tiny monsters, those miniature Buddhas-with-attitudes. There’s the being ridiculously happy just from watching them be themselves.

That’s what really scares me.  Missing learning and growing from a unique perspective, missing another eye-opening lesson about what life is really all about.

Now that I have two little peanuts, who are similar in the important ways, but who are already oh-so different in every other way, it makes me mourn for who else could have been.  It makes me wonder who else could still be.

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As If Moms Need More Proof Sleep Deprivation Is Real

A lot of people say they never understood exhaustion until they became a parent. That wasn’t the case with me.  I’ve dealt with exhaustion from sleep issues, and depression/anxiety, so after Baby Grouch Number One was born I think I actually felt better in the mornings than I used to.  I was tired, of course, but I was always tired and honestly having a kid just gave me an excuse to get up and keep moving, and I didn’t feel any worse, most of the time, so I just focused on the gift that is motherhood and welcomed the fact that I felt like shit, on most days. I felt the same amount of tiredness that I used to, but at least I was being productive, and I had newfound happiness.

But, once Baby Grouch Number Two came along, I began to understand how those other people felt. I hit the ground running.  With two, there was not much time for resting postpartum, and I had to keep moving.  I still do.  There is no down time.  The house is constantly a mess, my arms are constantly carrying my little ones, along with bags, bottles, books, baby dolls, diapers, wipes, sippy cups and peanut butter crackers.

So, there’s coffee.

But holy hell, I am TIRED. And even though people always ask, “is the baby sleeping?”  it doesn’t really matter if the kids sleep through the night or not, it’s the cumulative effect of sporadic mid-night wake ups, waking up to pee, hearing phantom baby cries, hormonal changes (hello night sweats!?! ugh) and Mom Ears – supersonic hearing that cause me to wake up when my husband rolls over, or my daughter coughs, or when the tree branch scratches the window outside the dining room, downstairs, on the other side of the house (we’re getting that tree cut down soon).

There is not enough coffee in the world.

Recently there was a study about how moms are sleep deprived, even several months after giving birth.  So, there’s the scientific proof.  But we moms don’t fucking need it, do we?  No. We don’t.  We know it’s real based on the stupid shit we do when we’re in such a state. Here’s my latest:

1) I went jogging with a pal the other day.  Which sounds good, until you hear the rest.  We meet at a local gym (that neither of us is a member at), park our cars and jog from there.  We are typically gone for about an hour or so.  On our last jaunt, I was exhausted (shocker) and had to walk the last half mile.  I got back to the parking lot and my pal was still there.  I thought maybe I wasn’t that slow, since she was still there stretching, but NO.  She was there to tell me, “um, your car door was open this whole time”.  I left my car door open, for an hour, while we jogged.  She looked concerned.  I was embarrassed, since this was one of those friends who you really don’t want your crazy to show, you know? But, she’s seen it, that’s for sure, so oh well. Thank goodness I live in freaking suburbia because my wallet was in my trunk, safe and sound.

1b) I was reminded that I was also pretty loopy after having just one kid.  I went jogging once and didn’t realize until about two miles in that I was wearing two different shoes.

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2.  I drink coffee all. day. long.  I have to or I will stop moving.  So I turned on the Keurig the other day and turn around and see this:

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I forgot to put coffee cup under the spout.  Eff.

3.  I have to pee a lot, from all that coffee, but I’m even screwing up peeing.  I went to the doctor and was supposed to pee in a cup before heading to the room.  I went in, peed, came out, and realiized I forgot to pee in the cup.  The nurse came in the room and gave me a quizzical look.  I gave her a head shake, and a shoulder shrug while saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I forgot”.  I had to laugh becacuse it feels like there is literally nothing I can do about this kind of crap. I accepted it, chugged some water and tried again later (I had to focus, but I was able to complete the task)

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4.  I got in a fight with my husband, I forget about what (of course). We were arguing and then went to the grocery store and then was so tired I forgot I was even mad at him.  Probably for the best, but still.  You know how annoying spouses can be.  So that’s some serious tiredness to completely forget that shit.  And then, I remembered what I was mad about later, and I didn’t even care.  So tired.

5. I’ve lost two car keys in the last few months.  Those fuckers are expensive.  Did Toddler Grouch toss them in the trash?  Are they in the basket they should be, I just can’t see them through my exhausted glassy-eyed gaze?  It’s a modern day mystery.

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I’m all about scientific studies, so YAY SCIENCE for discovering we’re all sleep-deprived.  Even though we already knew.

Quite frankly, it makes me feel better when I hear that I’m not alone.  It’s things like this (it’s HILARIOUS – click it!) from Momastery‘s Facebook page, that make me smile and think that what I’m going through is perfectly normal and perfectly fine.  I can laugh at myself, (and let’s be honest, a little harder at the other acts of sleep-deprivation that are not my own) and keep on truckin’.  Peace out, fellow Mamas, who do so much, with working brain cells so few.

Any sleep-deprivation stories you want to share with me, so I feel less alone?!

“The Moon Got Turned Off”, and Other Reasons Being the Parent of a Toddler is Awesome

Toddlers can get a bad rap.  It is true that they have no real means of regulating their emotions, which can sometimes result in tantrums that are shockingly intense, often over matters involving having to put on pants or to wash peanut butter out of their hair, or perhaps over being asked to take a bite of macaroni.  As erratic and annoying as these behaviors can be, the moments of meltdown are far outweighed by the beauty that is toddler joy and excitement.  What is more delightful than being thrilled about what we have, right in front of us?  Being interested, being awed, being loved.  There is nothing more magnificent than that.

I give you three examples.

1.  Toddler Grouch and I were in the car, on our way to daycare.  Toddler Grouch was looking out the window babbling away, when she stopped mid-stream-of-thought and gasped.  “Mama!  I see the Moon!”  I wasn’t sure if I had heard her correctly, or if the Moon could, in fact, even be seen.  I surely didn’t notice it.  We turned the corner and I looked, and sure enough there it was.  The Moon.  It was the first time she had seen it, outside of picture books, that I was aware of.  I loved that she being observant, that she was able to incorporate some of what she had read into real world experience, and that she was able to share this experience with me, “You’re right honey, there it is!  The Moon!” Her speech echoed my own, “There it is!”  she inhaled sharply, doing her little gasp she does when she is surprised or excited, “I see the Moon!” The best part about the Moon spotting was that there were many trees in the neighborhood we were driving through so the Moon would become hidden behind the foliage, and then peek back out again, and she would exclaim, “there it is!” again and again, as it appeared, disappeared, and reappeared throughout the duration of the ride. Several months after the initial spotting she still gets excited about seeing the moon. The other day the moon was visible when we were on our way to daycare.  She still points out when she sees it, sometimes adding a “wow!” or a “it’s so pretty”.  This time when the Moon went behind the trees she said, “the Moon got turned off”, no doubt inspired by her current guilty pleasure of flicking the light switch on, then off, then on again.

2. On the Fourth of July, I was excited for Toddler Grouch to experience fireworks for the first time. I knew it would be a stretch to keep her awake long enough to see them, but considering she had her cousins nearby to play with, I hoped the social setting would distract her and keep her awake. As we approached the nine o’clock hour, I could tell she was getting sleepy but I didn’t shoo her to bed. At half past nine she said she wanted to go to sleep and I cursed the Sun for taking so long to set. But, I figured I wouldn’t push it, I didn’t want to make her miserable just to satisfy my curiosity about whether or not she would like the show, so we headed to the back house of my parent’s cottage and brushed her teeth, put on her pajamas and laid down together on the bed.  We shared a pillow and read two of her favorite stories, Go Dogs Go and Put Me in the Zoo. The bed faces five windows that span the length of the back house, with a view overlooking the lake. By this time, the Sun had finally set and the fireworks began with a few intermittent BOOMS.  We had heard some errant booming earlier, and when she looked at Mr. Grouch and I, slightly alarmed, we reassured her and labeled the noise. “Fireworks”, we told her. So, when the booming started again, muffled a bit since we were indoors, I reminded her that fireworks were the source of the commotion.  We kept reading until the show started. From the safety of the back house, with the security of pajamas, blankies, books and cuddles, the firework show was safe and attainable.  We saw embers that arced and popped and soared, and with each colorful explosion Toddler Grouch let out her little gasp, “Oooh!” and when a really good one sailed into view, our heads would turn towards each other and we’d give each other a little grin. Even when the firework itself was out of sight, behind a tree or out of our eye line, the windows flashed, rectangles of greens and pinks and blues.  I asked if she wanted to go outside, now that she knew what they were, and she did, for a bit, before asking to head back in.  For over an hour we continued to lay together, with the peacefully muted display before us.

3.  Toddler Grouch’s bedtime routine involves the usual brushing of teeth, putting on pajamas and reading of books.  She loves to read and we often recite the same story, over and over.  I’ll stop every once in a while and give her a raised eyebrow, and she’ll fill in the next word in the sentence.  She pays attention.  I always end story time with a kiss on her check or her head, and if she isn’t too sleepy, sometimes I’ll trace her face with my fingertips.  If I’m okay with her getting a little riled up, I’ll take the end of my ponytail and swish it over her face, which she evidently finds hilarious, since she giggles as she lifts her chin up to meet my tresses.  When I do any of these things, she usually says, “again”, which, of course, I am more than happy to oblige.  I’ll ask her where else needs kissing, or where my fingertip or ponytail needs to swipe, and she’ll say, “head” or “eye” (yes, she has me kiss her eyelids) or simply, “here” and point.  On days that I’m really lucky, she’ll touch my face gently, mimicking my gestures, running her fingers from my head, over my eyes and under my chin.  I hold very still.

There’s something to be said about the “Terrible Two’s”, and that is, it isn’t all so terrible. It’s these types of moments that astound me, the ordinary ones that are made extraordinarily beautiful, because of my toddler’s inability to hold back all of her feelings.

What adorable things does (or did) your toddler do that made you notice and appreciate the little things?

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If It Ever Gets That Bad (What People With Depression Want You To Know)

Everyone who has battled with depression has their own analogy for it and for me, it’s drowning. I’ve been riding high and dry the last few years but after Baby Grouch Number Two was born, I was swiftly sucked out to sea in a riptide. It happened quickly, a sharp jerk that startled and surprised me. Because, we’re always surprised when it comes back, aren’t we?  We always think it’s gone for good because we are strong and capable and we really don’t have anything to be sad about, anyway. We’ve got it all. Except no matter what, it creeps back in, like a looping vine ruining the landscaping in the backyard that we can never get rid of, even with the strongest of weed killers.

Every depressive sometimes considers how they might end it, if it got bad enough. It might just be a flicker of a thought, a blip of morbidity that occurs right after the thought about how to prepare the chicken for dinner and right before the thought about do we have any vanilla ice cream to go with the apple pie for dessert.

It is a thought that exists like any other, it isn’t special. Did I get the mail out of the mailbox? Is tomorrow trash day? Should I just end it today? When is the Smith-Miller wedding?  Oh, look, Adidas shoes are on sale, awesome.  It is not selfish, it is not dramatic, it is just THERE, coexisting with all the other not-selfish, not-dramatic thoughts.

A million little ideas nag and grab hold of us, constantly running through our heads, repeating in our brains, it’s just that the How Would I End It thought is not benign, and is one that we have to constantly battle.  And I don’t mean the same type of battle as the one about remembering to put the car keys on the hook or the one about remembering to take the coffee cup off the roof of the car before driving off, I mean a real, legitimate, drag-out-fight for our lives.  The How Would I End It thought has a whole military brigade of buddies, it never shows up alone, it’s just one of the many dark thoughts that sour our brains, capable of becoming quite dangerous, when all working together.  For me, the thoughts I am fighting are usually lapping waves, that push at my back at regular intervals, sometimes lightly and sometimes with enough force to knock me from my feet.  I can usually scramble and keep my chin up high, just barely above the surface, while I reach down and curl my toes, grasping at the sand.  I make it back to shore.

I know I need to keep a relatively fit body, and need to practice gratitude and remind myself how good I really have it, to keep the constant tide at bay, to prevent the blips from becoming an all-consuming internal barrage of horrific self-talk.  Those things help, they really do.  But I also know that someday doing those things might not be enough.  I know that the possibility exists for stormy thoughts to create a tsunami.  It’s pretty fucking hard to battle a tsunami.  Most people wouldn’t call death by tsunami a selfish act.

If it ever gets that bad, I will get the names of doctors from people I trust.  And I will actually attempt to call one.

If it ever gets that bad, I will stop lying on the forms asking me to rate my anxiety and depression.

If it ever gets that bad, I will remind myself of some tricks and tips to help make things better, if only temporarily, if only by a smidge.

If it ever gets that bad, know that being angry at me or trying to guilt me into feeling better is equivalent to shoving my head back under water.  It will only make things worse.

If it ever gets that bad, please don’t take it personally.

If it ever gets that bad, please support me by just being there.

If it ever gets that bad, please remind me where I can get help from, and remind me that it’s okay to ask for the help when I need it.

 

 

Unconventional Tips For Beginning Runners

1. Run way slower than you think you should.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re going to run as fast as you did in high school (if you even ran in high school – that’s certainly not a prerequisite).  The point is, you’re old and out of shape now, and you just need to work with what you have.  When you’re first starting out, you should probably feel like you could walk as fast as you are running.  It should feel like it’s too slow, and you’ll never get a workout this way.  Trust me, you will.  See how that pace goes for an extended period of time and then gauge whether or not you think it’s too slow, for realsie.  Too many runners start out fast and quickly crash and burn, end up feeling like ass, and then never want to run again.  Start by being a runner, and you can focus on being a fast(er) runner later.

2.  Be wary of motivational friends and groups.  While intentions may be good, sometimes hearing all the amazing shit other people are doing is the opposite of inspirational.   Seeing only successful feats and messages about pushing through pain can make it seem like running is something that should be easy, or that what you’re doing isn’t enough.  Running is hard, and sometimes you need to commiserate about the difficulties.  Sometimes there are days when you need to skip the run and drink beer and shove pizza in your face instead, and you don’t need to feel guilty about that. Find your own forum.  If you find yourself listening to, reading about, or talking to people who aren’t helping you feel good about yourself or your running, hide them in your newsfeed, leave the group, and find your running people.  There are plenty of runners out there who sweat like pigs on their trots, who guzzle wine and drink nachos in their spare time, and who are just regular ordinary people – not crazed fitness nuts.

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3.  Have a kid.  Okay, sounds crazy, but really.  I think there’s a reason why the average age for the first time marathoner is thirty-eight.  It’s because that’s when most people are married, with babies.  After having a family, your recreational activities change.  You’re too tired to stay out at the bar all night, you’re up early in the morning anyway and there are times when running out the door and having some god damned peace and quiet will sound like the most wonderful thing in the world.  Running doubles as a stress reliever and exercise, so your spouse can’t give you too hard of a time for leaving him or her with the kids – who can blame you for wanting to be healthy?  Also, when you have to take the baby out in the jogger, a screaming infant or an impending rainstorm will give you some built-in speed training.

4. Stop buying all the crap.  You really don’t need anything other than shoes to start out. You will figure out if you need anything else through trial and error.  Chafing of the thighs? Okay, time to look into spandex shorts or body glide.  Chronic sore hamstring?  Time to look into compression gear or KT tape.  Your body will let you know what it needs, so until then don’t shell out a ton of cash on unnecessary gear.

5.  Be okay with walking.  Even if you don’t run the whole thing – you are still a runner. Some people complete entire marathons doing run/walk intervals.  Walking is okay, and can be a necessary part of remaining injury free.  You will likely need to start with intervals of walking and jogging as a newbie, but even people who have been running for years have to walk periodically.  It’s important to keep in mind that the weather, your body’s energy reserves and your emotional state* can all make a huge difference in how a run feels.  *Note:  Sometimes the crappiest emotional state results in runs that feel the best.

6.  Scare the bejesus out of yourself once in a while.  Every so often, after you’ve finished your planned run, go another mile, or do a few last-minute sprints.  Sign up for a race, even if you aren’t totally sure you can do it.  Use this approach very sparingly – you don’t want to overdo it or overwhelm yourself, but here and there, go for it.  You’ll probably end up surprising yourself with what you can do.

 

 

10 Ways to Stay Connected With Your Friends After Having Kids

After having kids, shit changes. Anyone who argues this point is either a liar or is truly an asshole of a parent.  But, I will concede that shit changes in varying degrees, due to the natural laws associated with Tiered Friendships.

Tier One:  These are your closest friends.  You communicate with them the most, they have known you for the longest, they know the details of your most intimate business.  You do your best to keep in touch with them at all costs, before and after having children (sometimes partially because you don’t want them to turn on you and leak all of your dirty little secrets).

Tier Two:  These are the members of your social group, who may or may not be friends due as much to proximity as due to heart-to-heart connection.  These are the folks you may work with, play on a softball league with on Tuesdays, or on a bowling league with on Sundays, or DJ trivia with on Wednesdays.. (*Note that many of these events involve the potential for consuming adult beverages).  You made an effort to stay in touch with them before kids, because you truly enjoy the activities involved, and their company, but these friendships tend to suffer dramatically after you have kids.

Tier Three:  These are the ex-colleagues, or ex-roommates or ex-classmates that you really only know what is going on in their lives because you see what they are posting on Facebook.  You didn’t make much of an effort to stay in touch before, and you don’t do much to stay in touch with them after.  And you’re fine with that.

Below are some tips for keeping up with friends, as much as possible, within the confines of the chaos and exhaustion that ensue after becoming a parent.

1.  Utilize social media.  If you’re reading this blog post it means you’re likely a pro at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or similar sites. While this might seem obvious, making an effort to comment on your friend’s photos and posts, “like”, “favorite”, or “heart” some of their photos and remembering to send a private message every now and again shows that you are seeing and caring about what your pals are sharing.  Bonus, you can do this in your PJ’s while hunkered down on the couch, any time of day or night.

Do not be an ass and make a comment that brings the conversation back to you and your kids STFU parents style. That is no way to keep friends. Make sure to comment on what is going on with THEM.  On your end of the social media spectrum, you need to make sure to not ONLY post updates and photos of your children. Especially ones that are over the top ridiculous. It’s hard, I know, to not post that photo of that first poop in the toilet, but no matter how beautiful that fragrant lump of brown fecal matter may be to you (it smells so much less like shit and so much more like freedom and crisp twenties dollar bills in your pocket, to you, doesn’t it?), DON’T DO IT.  Hold yourself back, for the sake of your friendships.  Remember when you used to post snarky ecards, or photos of your dinner, or hilariously cute cat videos? Keep posting that kind of crap, just like the good ol’ days.

2.  Fire Out Fast Facts to Your Friends.   My friends and I have a system we call “Three Things”. One of us sends out a group email with “3 Things” in the subject and the body of the message contains a personal triad of information about what we are thinking about or things that are going on in our lives at that moment. They can be big things like, “I finally told my boss to shove it and found myself a new job!” Or strange things like, “I sprained my vagina” (that was one of my friend’s Three Things once, I swear to God), or silly things like, “I’m thinking I haven’t eaten cherry pie in a while, and I’m super excited to stuff my face with cherry pie as soon as I get out of work. Pie! Pie!”.  Our group has done this long enough that one of us initiates the email chain at least once a month, sometimes more often.  Everyone has the time for writing, and reading, three quick bullet points. No one cares about grammar. Sometimes these spiral into many more group emails, sometimes they don’t.  But no matter what, it helps us know what is going on with our friends, which is the most important thing.

3.  Go out to breakfast.  Who doesn’t like french toast, pancakes, eggs and bacon? NO ONE, that’s who.  At least, no one worth being friends with (seriously, if you don’t like bacon I have some serious suspicions about you as a person).  For parents, this is typically a great time of day to connect. The kids are fresh and perky, there’s no stressors from the day built up yet in our shoulders, and there are unlimited refills of coffee!  Glorious coffee!  Your friend isn’t a morning person, you say?  Invite them anyway, and don’t hold any grudges if they decline.

4.  Let them know they have an open invite to any of your kid’s events.  We often neglect to invite our pals because we care about them.  We don’t want them to feel obligated to come to some crazy party that even WE think will be obnoxious and overwhelming, where we can’t really focus on them anyway.  We don’t want them to feel like we’re asking them to buy our kid presents.   BUT, not inviting them can make them feel excluded, forgotten, and unimportant, even if they didn’t really want to come to the eardrum-splitting, plague-filled bounce house anyway.  Tell them you just need to know that they are interested in advance so you have an accurate head count and let them make the decision about whether the potential for losing the hearing in their left ear, or leaving the event with regurgitated hot dogs and neon frosted cupcakes all over their shoes is worth it, in their mind, to see you.

5.  Line Up The Workout Buddies.  So, as moms we always complain that we don’t have the time or energy to work out or see our friends, even though we know full well that both physical and mental health is supremely important.  Solution?  Meet up with friends at the gym, or outside for a jog.  The conversation we can have the 5 minutes before and after our class starts, and the little moments of connection during a class may be all we need to help ensure you’re connecting, while toning our thighs so they look better in our mom jeans. Extra bonus: we might be able to snag a quick glass of wine right after yoga every now again, if the stars align.  This one might be easier said than done, but for some of us, it can work.

6.  Send notes.  Short and sweet.  Ridiculous. Funny.  In the mail. Through the interwebs.  Through Pinterest.  Through tweets.  Whatever.  Just freaking say hi.  You can do this.  And, bonus, you can do this at 2.30 in the morning or whenever you’re up. Even if you haven’t contacted someone in 6 months, don’t be shy.  A little note saying, “I’ve been thinking of you.  How are things?” can go a long way.

7.  Keep a friend contact chart.  Okay, you’ll need to embrace your inner Type A personality for this one.  If you’re feeling super brain-dead, keep a list of the top friends you want to make sure you don’t neglect, leave it on the fridge, and make a tally mark when you make contact.  Sounds absolutely insane, I know, but c’mon, you know we parents are capable of forgetting EVERYTHING, sometimes even who our best friends are.  Hell, I walked into the bathroom to give a urine sample at the doctor the other day and somehow FORGOT TO PEE IN THE DAMN CUP.  Mommy-brain is real.

8. Acknowledge that you know you are spending less time with them and that you miss them.  But just can’t make it work right now.  Don’t completely drop off the face of the Earth.  That’s just rude.

9. Ditch work early and head to happy hour sometime.  Meeting up for one drink, for one hour can feel like a vacation.  Does this even really need an explanation?

10.  Every now and again, get that babysitter.  There becomes a certain point for most parents where if you’ve literally NEVER had a night out, you’re making a conscious choice to seclude yourself.  For every family, this cut-off point is different, depending on whether you have family available to watch the kids, or if you have a child with special needs. Since it can’t happen often, make it easier by bundling friends – have a night out every few months that includes a large group of people – a night out to dinner, or an overnight.   My friends and I utilize my parent’s cottage (thanks, mom and dad!) and I make a huge effort to host two Girls Weekend events a year.  Sometimes I only see those friends during those two nights throughout the entire year, but I relish them, and I think they do to.  Even if they can’t all attend, they will appreciate the invitation and the fact that you made yourself available.

Good luck balancing work, home, family, marriage, children and personal alone time!  It’s no easy feat.

 

 

 

I Love My Kids More Than You Love Yours

A few years back, when I was pregnant with my first child, some of my friends and I were gathered around my living room, chit-chatting it up.  I don’t remember the details of most of our conversation, but I will never forget one particular sentence.  A good friend of mine, who at the time was the new mom of an seven-month-old, said, “I think I love my daughter more than anyone has ever loved their child”.  I laughed and looked around at the other people in the room to make the “oh-my-goodness-isn’t-that-so-dramatic-and-hilarious” eyeball connection, and when my eyes circled back to my friend’s face, I was startled by her expression. She was smiling, but she wasn’t laughing.  She was serious. She thought she loved her kid more than anyone had ever loved theirs, ever before.

i love my kid 2

I have known this friend for almost twenty years, she is strong, she is smart, she is not one to make flaky, flippant remarks, so I was caught off guard by her statement.  I finished my now slightly uncomfortable giggle and looked down at my swollen belly. Having struggled with infertility, I did not take my pregnancy for granted; I wanted that child I was carrying so badly.  I already loved her.  But more than anyone else, ever?  That seemed a little absurd and presumptuous and slightly creeperish and definitely impossible to measure.

Of course, I hadn’t yet began the process of mothering a child, outside the womb, when I thought she was joking about her champion loving ability.  Now that I am right in the thick of that mothering process, with two girls of my own, I understand.  I totally get it.

I get that feeling of tiger-like fierceness when I think of my child getting hurt.  I get that gripping fear that something will happen, something unthinkable, and I have to force those thoughts away, because just dwelling on the mere concept that bad things could hypothetically occur can bring me to my knees.

I get that melty feeling of softness when I stroke my kid’s hair, or kiss the back of her head, or touch her shoulder when she’s standing next to me, gripping my thigh with her palms.  I get a feeling of absolute tranquility and peace when we do things as ordinary as sit together on a park bench, smiling at each other and sharing a snack, as the sun beams down on our heads.  I never thought that clumsy, awkward me would be capable of acts so tender, yet I have come to find that when I am with my children, it is second nature, and I am transformed from a bumbling oaf into a graceful nurturer, and this newfound gentle me, this me I didn’t even know existed before, is one of my favorite mes.

I get that feeling inside when my kid achieves a new feat, that bubble of pride inside of me that expands as it rises and makes my chest puff out as I think, she’s growing up so fast! coupled with the backhanded feeling of sadness, she’s growing up too fast.  I never realized it was possible to simultaneously feel so happy and so sad about the exact same event.  It’s terrifying, really, how something as simple as switching your child from a crib to a toddler bed can evoke so much emotion.

I get that the cuddles and hugs and the ability to peer in on my children’s faces as they sleep are all luxuries, even if they do not always seem to come cheap.  Yes, I pay for these gifts with a stretched out body, and wrinkled eyes, and excursions out in public with unbrushed hair and spit up on my jeans.  Yes, I pay the price with a right hip and right shoulder and right ribs that constantly get shifted out of place, that I then literally pay the price to get fixed by my osteopath on a regular basis.  I realize, though, that I am truly getting a bargain, even with these seemingly hefty tolls.

I get that eventually I will get a lot more sleep and a lot less affection.  I know that their requests for hugs and kisses, their demands to be held, their need to hide behind my legs when feeling shy, or upset, will not last long.  I understand that the occasional wiggle to shake my hand off of their backs, or the “no, Mama, don’t touch me” remarks will continue to increase and eventually I will no longer have the excuse, or the right, to touch my children as much as I want to.  They will, some day soon, no longer be physically connected to me all of the time, and while of course I want them to grow and mature, it also makes me sad because there is nothing on this planet that feels better than being in contact with them.  Just like they love to hold their blankies to their chests, or snuggle them in their arms, I love the feeling of my children draping themselves over me.  I even like it when they touch me with their toes, a dirty, stinky, little message of I love you, I need you, pressing against me.  My girls needing me may have made me seek out a chiropractor, or a glass of wine, or, at times, even a vacation, but more than anything else their neediness has made me need them right back.

Their constant physical presence require that I be my best self.  Amidst the chaos and the crumbs and the dodging of the plastic objects on the floor, they have forced me to work on finding happiness, and finding peace and finding balance.  I didn’t really need to work on those areas of myself until I became a parent and wanted to ensure I was the best role model and the best mama I could be.  And while it isn’t always easy, they make me laugh, even when I don’t feel like laughing, and they make me appreciate the beauty in ordinary life, that I very likely would otherwise ignore.  Plus, they make me clean all the dirty crevices in my house on a regular basis.  They make me happier than I ever thought was possible, and I have been made into a better person just by being near them.  Will I be able to keep this up, without their push?  Each new feat they perform is a sharp, jabbing reminder that pretty soon they won’t need me anymore, even if I still need them.

I think back to my friend’s comment about how much she loved her daughter and just like then, I still find her sentiment to be a tad bit silly – except now I think so for a very different reason. I now know it was silly because I’m the one who loves my kids the most.  Out of anyone, ever.  I am sure of it.  Her idea that I had once thought to be sweet, but slightly irrational, I now not only subscribe to, but believe to have beaten the record.  I don’t care how impossible it is to measure, I am certain that I love the most. She surely will protest this, but I don’t feel badly about battling her for the title, because there really can be no losers in a competition to out-love someone, can there?  Everybody participating wins.

i am a better person because of my children

i am a better person because of my children