Parent is Also a Verb 1/21/22

Photo taken by author

When my husband and I brought our second son home, our first son was 19 months old. He seemed to barely notice the addition. As a stay-home mom, the first couple of years were full of parallel activities: feeding them both included breastmilk for one and fingerfood for the other, different size diapers needing changed, and the new routine was adapted for napping. When the older son didn’t sleep midday any longer, he was allowed to play with his special treasures while the younger was in his crib. These were small items like dice, a jack, a marble and other things he’d collected in a small box. As soon as my toddler went down for a nap, my preschooler would say, “I want my choking hazards. Can I play with my choking hazards?”

So, the days unfolded. We moved from our two-bedroom, one-bath, 800 square foot starter bungalow to a house with more room inside and out. Not long after, I found myself in a most peculiar position. My offspring seemed to become closer in age as they grew and they joined forces against me!!! Before too long, they were the same size with nearly the same capabilities. The two imps found great pleasure in doing things they ought nought and maybe even more when they saw my reaction, their joyful laughter ringing all about as they turned and looked at each other.

The point is that, no matter how many parenting curricula I learned to teach or how complete my knowledge of child development, I was not a perfect parent and my sons were no angels. One of their favorite mischiefs was to jump on my bed and call our 120 pound dog, Molly, to join them. I’d hear the falderal and come from the kitchen or another room in the house to see the three of them cavorting and two laughing gleefully. Another time they might be emptying the diaper bag and smearing zinc oxide on themselves or playing in unattended paints while I tried to fit redoing the kitchen walls into my days.

In those early preschool years, far from a happy family gobbling up discipline and guidance in order to continue with our reliable routines and smooth transitions through ages and stages, I found myself raising my voice, okay yelling, nearly every day. Why? I know it’s not effective for training, and I may have checked myself more frequently if it were not for the galling laughter they displayed in the face of me giving directions or ordering them to stop. I was stymied by their defensive tactic. What to do when they weren’t bothered, in the least, by my instructions or my desire for them to obey?

One day, as I was in the middle of rustling those little guys, trying to place each of them in their own room and then, more difficult, getting them to stay put, the doorbell rang. Great. As I moved toward the door, I shouted for the boys to comply with my orders RIGHT NOW! Opening our front door to two, cleanfaced, white-shirted young men, I cut them off as they began to introduce me to the book of Mormon, “I can’t do this! We’ve got… chaos here!”

Running back to control my rambunctious inmates, the doorbell rang again. What in the world??? I turned and answered again, so ingrained are our social niceties. Now, two very nervous Mormon missionaries stood on my porch. “Um, can we help?” I shouted, “NO!” and shut the door. Bless their hearts – the young men, not my children – in that moment.

Eventually, what felt like forever, my sons grew and were more amenable to discussing, reflecting, and compromising. All grown up now, they still enjoy joining forces to yank my chain!

No one expects you to be a perfect parent. There’s no such thing. Circumstances, personalities, and natural proclivities to obey or challenge restrictions all combine to make parenting children a new adventure every day. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t lose heart. I told a mentor of mine I was so sad that my kids were just going to remember me yelling at them all the time, not lovingly guiding and teaching. She shared with me that when she apologized to her grown children for yelling so much, their memories were of love, play, and family with little-to-no recall of yelling and exasperation. In the big picture of your life together, frustrations will fade in the rearview mirror and may even become part of your family lore. Show yourself the same grace and forgiveness you would extend to any of your friends in the parenting trenches.

Photo taken by author

***Abuse is any action that intentionally injures or harms a person and includes physical, psychological and verbal abuse. No matter the frustration level, we must never attempt to assert control by belittling or attacking.*** If you need help, talk to your doctor, clergy, counselor, etc. If you suspect someone of abuse or neglect, check online for guidance in your state for reporting; agencies and regulations vary greatly across statelines.

Sara’s education and experience: B.A. Ed; M.S. Counseling; teacher grades K & 2/3, educator for childcare providers, training in Positive Discipline and Growing, parent educator, program director of crisis nursery, including parent support, staff management & training, stay home mom 16 years with two sons born 19 months apart, medical transcription for 10 years in order to stay home, substitute teacher grades K through 12. Blogs about a wide variety of topics on survivingsara.net.

2022? Not Off to a Great Start

Remember when we thought 2020 was shit and 2021 would be better? I saw a video on YouTube where the guy says, “Now that we’re getting past COVID…” It was filmed in July 2021. I shook my head. Little did we know. I didn’t hear one person claiming 2022 would be the year we become free from Delta, Omicron, and other mutations. We’re more realistic now. Right? I was hopeful, though, that we’d get some relief.

The shortage of Campbell’s original chicken noodle soup was certainly a sign of things to come. By yesterday, the groeery shelves were emptied of cold/flu remedies, bottled water, more soup/noodles, etc..

Many people are isolating, including me, for years now. What will the effects be? On children raised in a COVID world as well teenagers and adults who’ve had to seriously alter most of the things they were used to doing routinely. My circumstances didn’t change a lot, because I’m debilitated by fibromyalgia and depression; when I do go out, I feel stiff and uncomfortable.

The biopsy of my right lower lung in 2009 left me with scar tissue and a diagnosis of COPD. I’m not on an inhaler or anything now. I have done everything I could – vaxxed and boosted, wearing masks, and social distancing.

Then, my husband brought it home. He works in an office and had been the only person to not have COVID out of his coworkers. He is vaxxed. When his illness began, I surrendered. Whatever. Fatigue, headache, and sore throat came first. I was thinking it’s no big deal, thanks to my vaccines. Now, though, it’s moved into my chest, and I am sick. Thrilled not to be in the hospital, evenmoreso not to be giving a ‘do not resuscitate’ order and declining a ventilator.

My husband is still symptomatic and feeling sick ten days along. I’m on day four or five of feeling it. It was very subtle at first. “What exactly is it?” you might ask. Well, if testing wasn’t such a pain in the ass, I could answer definitively. We had some rapid tests, but my mother-in-law needed them in California to see her husband, age 92, in hospital rehab. Following that, I ordered more tests for her online and one for home but they’re backed up. It should arrive in a bit more than a week.

On Friday, I have a lonstanding appointment with my doc to discuss unrelated issues. Called this morning and asked what I should do. Come in or cancel? She told me to go to Urgent Care in the same network for testing.

The young woman who answered the Urgent Care phone urged me to come right away to get a testing slot. First come, first served. When they reach capacity for the day, no more spots. I did go. Parking lot was over full with several cars idling, waiting for their swab I’m sure. I parked in a spot that wasn’t a spot and walked up to the door on which I saw the sign, “This office is at capacity.” I missed the schedule by two. When the last woman who’d won the golden ring suggested I could go to other Urgent Cares, I couldn’t even. I’m sick. I’m not driving all over town.

My husband signed up for testing at our local fairgrounds tomorrow afternoon. I am pondering whether or not I want to get up to the same clinic tomorrow morning to grab a test spot. What for? I cancelled my massage therapy appointment scheduled Friday and I’m going to see my doctor at the beginning of February, instead of this week. Do I need a test?

Fucking COVID.

Parent is Also a Verb 1/14/22

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Are you expecting your offspring to grab the keys and take off when they turn 16 or will you require they practice, take classes, and be tested so as to qualify for a license? We don’t just let our teenagers drive away because they’ve turned 16, although they may attempt to convince us that would be fine. Like many other life skills, we need to be discussing it repeatedly as the child grows, pointing out examples of people who aren’t doing it well, and providing clear expectations and consequences.

Here’s a subject that didn’t necessarily unfold the way I projected – wanting my kids to know they could always tell me anything and would be helped more than punished. From the time my boys were babies and for as long as they let me tuck them in at night, in a singsong tone I’d tell them,

"There's nothing you could say or do
that would make me stop loving you." 

I wanted to instill this foundational knowledge, so when they became adolescents and choices/consequences got more serious they’d know in their bones they could come to me with any concern or mistake, thinking they would want my involvement in the details of their lives. (I know, I know.)

Then, I raised one son who preferred to ask for forgiveness instead of permission and another boy who felt uncomfortable keeping things from me. Same house, same parenting. No magic bullet. Still, when my younger son came to me with information, I praised and rewarded his action while providing negative consequences to the son who had lied or kept things secret.

In middle school, they’d ask if they could ride bikes up to the closest community shopping area a few miles from home, and I’d review the rules before giving permission – every time. Luckily, it’s a pretty small community, and neighbors or friends would serendipitously mention seeing my sons up the hill, doing this or that off-limits activity, which I would then use to test my kids’ honest reporting. When they got banned from the local grocery store for running around and making loud noise, all trips up to the stores were cancelled. My older son took this as a suggestion, while my younger son didn’t go along with him and would fill me in, if he knew. My neighbor across the street once saw my older son with a friend when she waited in the front row at a red light while the kids moved through the crosswalk. She mentioned it harmlessly, and I held that son accountable while providing some kind of reward to the one who didn’t go. I couldn’t figure out why the older child didn’t see the benefits reaped by the younger one when he was honest.

Another example, I started talking about how babies are made early on. We talked about body parts openly and by their real names. One day, going to a lesson or a game somewhere, my 4th grade son asked, “Mom, what does muff mean?” I sighed. What to say. First I tried, “It’s an old-fashioned accessory like gloves. Women would put their hands in a muff to keep them warm.” He was quiet for a moment and replied, “Noooo. That’s not it.” To myself I thought, “Okay, give him the real info. I’ve told them we can talk about anything.” To my sons, I said, “Sometimes people refer to the pubic hair between a woman’s legs as a muff, it’s slang.” Once again, he answered, “Nooooo. That’s not it.” The discussions we had about anatomy or sex had become pretty commonplace so he didn’t overreact to my suggestion, not even laughing. I asked him what I should’ve clarified off the top, “How did you hear about it? Who said it?” He piped up,”My teacher looked at my paper and told me I really muffed something.” “Oh, that meant you made a mistake.”

Unfortunately, as he reached puberty, the youngest son went quiet. Not just about misadventures being made known to me, he got quiet about everything. When I quizzed him about things, he was no longer as forthcoming. Damn it!

We found another way to communicate when they began exploring sex. The oldest son had borrowed our minivan to go see his “girlfriend” a mile away, near the local swimming hole in our little river valley, which I thought was more about driving than the girl because he’d said he didn’t know if he liked her as much as she did him. After his outing, my husband and I got in the minivan to go buy some flowers for our yard. When we loaded the new plants, we came across a pair of female bikini bottoms in the back of the van!!! My husband smiled, but I immediatly thought: CONTRACEPTIVES! EMERGENCY! TEEN PREGNANCY! CONTRACEPTIVES!

As we came home with the new garden foliage, our son was riding his bike. He pulled up to the driver’s side window, and my husband held up the little black panties with one finger. My son’s face went through at least three shades of red. His father handed them to him and said, “Don’t have sex in our cars,” and drove on towards our house. Later, we went to a pharmacy and bought the largest box of condoms they had. I think it was a couple hundred, maybe? The supply went under the sink in the bathroom they shared, and I learned that my sons were done talking to me about body parts and how they work. I did explain, again, that if they made a baby, they would be a fully involved daddy, both financial and in presence, knowing they couldn’t realistically understand the full responsibility.

We had done our best. We want to have such open and honest discussions, practicing, and addressing problems that arise from ignoring or hiding the truth, that the child is able to take in information and judge for themselves how to handle circumstances. The spiral of childhood has us teaching and guiding about subjects that will recur and be discussed again at the next stage of life and the next, less as you go, until you are an observer, providing advice mostly when invited, allowing them to suffer consequences without us jumping in to relieve or settle a situation.

And remember, if you urge them to tell you anything, be prepared when it’s uncomfortable. My face probably went through the same stages of red my son’s had reflected.

Parent is Also a Verb (PAV) is a series within the blog “SurvivingSara.net” by Sara Zuelke, M.S. Counseling

p.s. With each son, I brought them into my room and shut the door. We used a banana and a condom to practice putting it on correctly. Thought it was funny the older one didn’t tell the younger. Both were curious, we talked about holding the tip. It was very helpful.

The Nitty Gritty

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Tiny news items:

Twenty years I’ve called this house my home. Today, I was puzzled by the mechanism of the front window vertical blinds. It took several minutes to achieve the desired effect.

A longer pause than usual spent catching the word that’s just there, on the tip of my tongue, can be explained away, like the dust resting on the windowsill. That’s usual enough, but dust can be cleared away. Searching for words occurs more often over time, it seems.

Regularly now, the physical act of speaking causes pain in the ribs and nausea resulting from vibrations.

Tinnitus started 40 years ago as barely audible unless everything else was quiet. The volume has increased over time, sometimes spiking for a couple days and causing fear that this may be the new normal. At this point, I feel like I’m on the edge of tolerable. My ears have a fullness to them, imagine you’re on takeoff in an airplance and really looking forward to the relief that will come when the craft reaches elevation. Now, imagine that sensation recurring randomly. So, there’s that.

My relationship with chocolate? Shot to hell. I’ve surrendered for now.

Weight loss? I’ll settle for weight maintenance and I think I’m good there. Don’t know for sure because I have not replaced the scale broken by my husband.

A new ongoing story will involve my mother-in-law (MIL) and her probable relocation from 1,000 miles away to our place. Although I feel certain my MIL will never read this post or any other because she doesn’t know what a blog is and probably considers it weird or frivolous. This topic is, understandably, not getting published singularly, followed by updates. This is the beginning of me sharing events as they unfold. She shall remain nameless, referred to only as MIL. She was raised in Germany, married a US GI in the 60’s, and migrated to America with her new husband. To be continued…

I am happy to share that I’ve had at least an hour of pleasant peace the past few days and I’ve enjoyed writing this little newsy bit. Perhaps my creativity is beginning to flow.

p.s. I’ve been using my SAD light regularly and I think it’s helping. fyi

I’ll Take a While

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Just shy of two hours, I felt only content and grateful, which brought a smile to the edges of my mouth. Mindfulness helped me recognize it and then enjoy.

Most often, negative talk in my head creeps through the well-established ruts, dangling “You know this won’t last. Where is that other shoe? Around any corner? It will drop, believe you me.”

Today, I successfully brushed the fear and expectations aside, like those leaves on a beautiful stream in my mind when I attempt to breathe and hush the noise. It felt amazing. Experiencing the gentle peace rests with me for a while.

Unexpected

If I blog about not blogging, am I an oxymoron? Doing this post just so I could use that line, not gonna lie.

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Chronic pain and illness are partially, if not wholly, responsible for the completely blank and arid condition of my brain. I recognize that this time of year is kind of a lull following the hustle and bustle of holidays. Throw in a global pandemic. There it is. So, the folks maintaining a high level of activity and achievement are the odd ones, not those of us who find ourselves wandering in a surreal world we could never have predicted, well, unless you’re a futurist.

Oxymoron or not, writing this little missive about not writing is also more than I expected. Hope this finds you however it finds you.

Juice

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I miss blogging but I’ve been completely uninterested. After my post, “Write Out” on December 18, 2021, I closed what has been my primary source of creativity and competence, and didn’t open it again until today, January 4, 2022. I opened my blog not out of an abundance of words ready to spill nor spurred by curiosity about a particular topic or event. I’m afraid the longer I avoid my writing, the harder it will be to come back. Perhaps, now that the darkest days of the season have passed, the ink in my head will thaw, allowing for the sense of satisfaction and resultant drive I had not so long ago, sufficient to write nearly daily for a spell. S’pose it’s an improvement that I wandered back, hoping to release my creative juices.

Fibro Sick

Beyond the pain, fibromyalgia can usher in so many other issues. Today, I am what I call “fibro sick.” Fatigue crashed over me like a big wave yesterday at 10:30 a.m. Nausea and loss of balance are nearly constant. I’m bothered by odd smells; living in a cold winter clime, somewhat closed in for the season, I’ve nevertheless been smelling a freshly cut lawn. Muscle and joint stiffness makes me feel like an old lady each time I move; I’m only 57!!! Holding a conversation with my husband is difficult because focusing on the topic at hand and searching for words longer than a few minutes is a challenge, in addition to physical discomfort I experience from speaking. The vibration of my sternum and throat cause more nausea as a result of inflamed soft tissue surrounding them. Any activity requires managing the complex of symptoms. I am mentally and physically exhausted. No virus or bacterial infection. No idea how long this round will maintain strength. I’m fibro sick.

post script: Just said to my husband, “I didn’t want to be this when I grew up!”

Surviving Sara’s Ramblings

About those updates I’ve promised previously:

Bright Line Eating: Ugh. Don’t ask. I ate mostly french fries and milkshakes following my tooth extraction and I never really got back to my concerted effort to minimize flour and avoid most processed sugars, coffee creamer excepted. The holidays are here, which doesn’t really change a thing in my world, but still it seems to be a pass for eating whatever I want. After the new year….

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about the magic pill that was gojng to melt all the fat away, Glucofort. I forgot to take it daily during the whole tooth extraction episode and then fell off completely. Because there is still a full bottle sitting with the supplements on my kitchen counter, I’m going to try it again and I’ll let you know if it works. Has anyone tried the fat melter pill from Shark Tank? Did it work?

Regarding the counselor I’ve started seeing online, she’s good. I like her calm demeanor. It is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, I think this is good for me, because just mulling things over isn’t getting results. She has me set a couple, realistic goals for the week and then checks with me the next week to see if I’ve completed them. I told her I didn’t think I was a very good client because my fibromyalgia gets in the way of my goals. She said she understands and won’t get impatient or feel like I’m not invested in our work. This week we are starting an acceptance therapy workbook, one chapter at a time.

The two-year anniversary of starting my blog passed recently. Writing this blog is the activity that expresses my creativity and reminds me my mind is still competent, even when I’m having trouble talking. On speaking, words escape me and searching for them can take 30 seconds or so, which feels like a really long time when a person has formerly been able to use words as darts to deflate someone’s bullshit. Thank you, readers, for coming along on my journey, whether it’s one post or most posts, as Ashley Peterson at mentalhealthathome.org does. Thanks for your support, Ashley!

Update on letting color into my world: I love both purchases I made of six plant parts cards for $13 and four canvas flower paintings for $26. They lived up to my expectations. I shop Amazon frequently, even as I rail against Bezos’ unrelenting effort to control more, more, more…

Another project I’ve undertaken, as a therapy goal, is cleaning the crap out of my closet. I’ve filled a large outside garbage bag and seriously thinned out my clothing. Shoes are next. I know I have some flip flops and other flat shoes that do not provide support. Do I send them on to a second hand store or is it okay if I wear them when I’m only going to be on my feet for a short time because they’re cute? Does anyone buy used shoes?

For the past two years of writing, I’ve used only my tablet with an onscreen keyboard. More than 250 posts written mostly with one finger. My husband bought me a laptop for Christmas and gave it to me early. because he knows I receive positive energy and express creativity and writing ability, which confirms to me I am okay.

My depression and physical pain and distress continue unabated. Despite starting counseling and making efforts to improve my surroundings, I am irritable, crying easily, and plagued by severe fatigue. Let’s give it time. It’s been two years since the bottom of coping dropped out; what’s another one or two?

Were there other areas on which I promised an update? I’m not sure I got them all. If there’s something I wrote about earlier and you’re interested in what’s happened since that post, drop a question in the comments and I’ll respond.

I hope this finds you well, whatever that means for you.

post script: I just remembered another update, my relationship with chocolate. I no longer ban chocolate completely as I did in the first months so sure was I that I wouldn’t be able to resist. I now am able to moderate my chocolate intake. I don’t buy it myself, but my husband does occasionally. Currently, there is a batch of brownies in my kitchen, and I’ve been able to limit myself to one per day. This is new and so welcome.

No More

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***This post contains coarse language and isn’t meant for very young people or those with a delicate sensibility.***

Had a massage appointment yesterday. I’ve been seeing the same massage guy for five years, so we’re pretty confortable with each other by now. In the morning, I told my husband I really wasn’t looking forward to Massage Guy (MG) telling me all about what I should be doing.

Husband: “What do you mean?”

Sara: “He always has suggestions and he has some sort of correction for me. I’m always doing something wrong. Last time he told me I wasn’t exhaling properly when doing deep breathing.”

Husband: “Just tell him.”

Sara: “Yeah, I dunno.”

Completely exhausted, I drive across town to the massage office. When I enter, he asks how I’m doing.

Sara: In an effort to give MG a heads up, I say, “All my fucks are gone. I have no more fucks to give. I’m exhausted.”

MG: “Well, yeah. You look really tired. Have you been doing your exercises?”

Sara: With a withering look, “No. No, I have done some basic stretching but that’s all.”

MG: Shaking his head, his body language tells me I’m not being good at being broken. “Okay, go ahead and get on the table. Holler when you’re ready.” It’s a one-man office, so a holler won’t bother anyone.

After massage has begun, he asks about what I’ve been doing.

Sara: “I’ve been doing counseling. She holds me accountable with my short-term goals between visits and it makes me anxious.” Now, I’m thinking this heads off incoming suggestions since I’m actively participating in counseling, which MG has been reommending for some time.

MG: “What else?”

Sara: “Nothing.”

This is MG’s opening. “There’s an online course you’d probably find interesting. It’s about taking care of your neck.”

Sara: “My neck is full of severe osteoarthritis regardless of anything I do, and I took a six week course neck class at a physical therapy office a while back.”

MG: “Yeah, well that’s probably a long time ago. This one is only $49.99 and there are packages you can buy for chiropratic visits.”

Sara: “I have no more fucks to give. I don’t give a fuck about paying to take a class when I probably know it all by now anyway.”

MG: “I’m really just talking about mental stimulation, doing something.’

Sara: As I’ve told you repeatedly, “Writing my blog is my creative outlet. I read other blogs also, and that’s mental stimulation.”

MG: “Yeah, but…” Why does no one take blogging seriously? Only if money is made?

Sara: Interrupting and on the edge of tears, “I told you I got nothing. I can’t start a new thing. You may not have noticed but I’m kinda fragile right now,” with tears falling.

MG: “I get it. I’m just trying to suggest things that might make you feel better. You know the people around you just care about you and don’t want to see you hurting.”

Sara: “I don’t give a fuck.” As the conversation continued, I gave that answer a few more times. Then my people-people pleaser self offers up how I’ve ordered pictures to add color to my room. I justify that I set up in my room because I have an incredible view of forest and the mountain in the distance. If I sat in the living room, I’d be uncomfortable in the furniture and my views would be the houses and street out front as well as our deck in back. I explain all of this. Why? Because other people’s discomfort with me causes me to be uncomfortable.

Our conversation turned to other things, thank goodness.

As I made my way out the door, MG made one more effort, “I really do want you to move out of your bedroom. That’s my opinion.”

Sara: “Yeah, I get that but you know what? I don’t give a fuck.”

Side note: I could do a whole post about others being uncomfortable with me setting up daytime home base in my bedroom. To make friends and family feel better, I should sit in the living room. The seating is uncomfortable and the view sucks, but people will feel better about my situation if I do that. What the fuck? I should just tell everyone I sit out there, for fuck’s sake. Oh, right. I don’t have any fucks left to give about making other people comfortable with my chronic illness and pain. I release that responsibility.

On Brokenness

Weak, breathing slow and shallow. Certain no one will see me, surprised each time someone reads me here. No longer a good daughter, sister, friend. Letting it all go. It doesn’t matter who I was or what I did. Shedding every bit of that. What’s left? Acceptance. Gotta work on that.

When the prettiness turns to pain, push it down. Find purpose? Is my purpose breathing? Breathing. Sometimes it feels like I don’t need to breathe. I could just stop. Doesn’t work.

  • I should _______, ________, and ________. Many words fit in these spaces and run on a loop through my head all day, every day.

Tell myself I shouldn’t should on myself.

This blog is evidence that I think and create. Who fucking cares?

To you, if you too seek refuge from chronic illness and/or chronic pain. Take care of yourself, and I don’t say that in a namby-pamby kind of way. Do not become an arid, little nothing as a result of withdrawing into yourself to avoid burdening – I just realized I rarely use burden as a verb. I assign it to myself and personalize it. I own it even as I try so hard not to feel it. Becoming a whisper. There I go, acting as though I have unique, meaningful experiences to share.

Whatever. Doom and gloom again. Not gonna apologize because I need to stop seeking forgiveness for being broken, which is not a big deal because those repulsed or annoyed didnt read this far. Even my brokenness is broken.

Such a rebel am I, not gonna proof read. Maybe tomorrow. ✔

Vertigo Vexation

My old friend, Vertigo, has stopped in for a visit. If you are blessedly unfamiliar, the best way to describe the sensation I experience is to take you back to when you were a child. Playing outside on front yards and sidewalks, a friend would spin you round and round while you scrunched your eyes closed, after which you’d open them and try to walk. Never played that? Growing up, my family lived in neighborhoods chock full of kids with whom my sisters and I spent long summer days entertaining ourselves for free.

Now, in the spinning game (not to be confused with spin-the-bottle), after the first few out-of-control seconds pass, you try ambulating but walking is much more difficult than you think it should be, made worse by certainty that the ground beneath your feet is moving. Everyone backs out of the splash zone in case someone tosses their cookies, and they dance around, making noise to further discombobulate. Your hands go out seeking stability, grasping at anything available. Maybe you do go down, reaping laughter from friends as you breathe easier now that you’re grounded. Dizziness wears off fairly quickly and the next kid gets a turn.

Of course, in real life, the unsteadiness, wooziness, motion, and loss of equilibrium don’t disappear after a minute; vertigo stays as long as it likes. The most recent bout I had lasted a few weeks, and noticing it gone can take a couple days until I realize I’ve made it to the kitchen or laundry room without fear of crashing into things or keeping one hand on the wall.

Vertigo is more than dizziness. It’s also a loss of balance. Getting a cup of coffee from the kitchen to where I set up base camp is to risk burning my hand or splashing coffee about the walls and floor if I go down. I did reach my daytime nest safely today but not before three calls of “whoa!” and nearly knocking my tray of supplies for the day (tissues, medicine organizer, notebook, etc.) upside down.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Jimmy Stewart’s character actually has acrophobia, a fear of heights. Perhaps being up high in a bell tower and looking down induces vertigo for him, or maybe Hitchcock thought “Vertigo” made a sexier title than “Acrophobia.”

Combined dizziness, loss of balance, and resulting nausea lands me in a dysfunctional spot. More than any other symptom, vertigo disables me all on its own, regardless of what else is going on with me. Widespread aches and pains debilitate based on severity and location, but I have acetaminophen, a muscle relaxer, or a mild anxiolytic (Not a benzodiazepine, although I have used them in the past.) to ease some symptoms. No treatment makes vertigo disappear. The most effective method I’ve found for dealing with it is keeping my head in one position when I move. It doesn’t cancel the effects of ongoing vertigo, but looking to either side definitely exacerbates the spinning and tilting. At times, it feels like terrible motion sickness, and then I employ Bonine, generic meclizine, which knocks me out.

As my husband prepared for his workday this morning, and now dealing with a fresh blanket of snow, I told him I was going to try to take a shower before he left. Then I said, “Correction. I am going to take a shower. I’m going to try not to fall.” Success!

Parent is Also a Verb 12/5/21

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Let your love shine through, no matter what the circumstances! When you bring a little snuggle bunny home, it’s not hard to love unconditionally. It has to be unconditional because your baby has nothing to offer except spit up and terribly malodorous diapers. Luckily, loving them up does not require a good mood at 3 a.m., in those months before they sleep through the night.

When little ones get mobile, especially once walking is sure-footed and they are spurred on by curiosity in addition to needing to test limits, you might well feel as though your script has been flipped by someone who has only made two or three trips around the sun. How did that happen?

It may feel as though you’re on the opposing side to your young one, but now I refer back to the need to avoid power struggles. (See “Parent is Also a Verb” PAV 11/21/21) If asked, you would probably answer that, of course, you want your child to grow up to be determined, self-confident, meeting life’s challenges knowing they’re capable and they’ve got someone in their corner, someone who always wants what’s best for them. Well, this picture begins to develop very early and continues to come into focus for the next couple of decades. One of the parent’s goals is a switch from disciplinarian to advisor, when asked, in the “child’s” early 20’s.

The way to avert face-offs with your toddler, preschooler, school-aged child, preteen, and teenager is to present choices. They won’t need to take power if they see that they have some. In the beginning, options should be limited; they should always be age appropriate. Instead of asking your preschooler what they want to eat, open-ended, tell them their choices are this or that. You don’t want to be a short order cook but, more importantly, giving them no limit of choice may be overwhelming, which they’re not developmentally able to recognize or communicate. This might lead to a kid who “only eats ___” or is otherwise a picky eater. New foods need more than a couple tries. It can take up to 15 times introducing something before a child likes it.

Food choice is just one illustration. Everyone has to offer choices with which they are comfortable. My sons are 19 months apart. My husband was self-employed in those early years, working from 6:30 in the morning to about 6:30 in the evening, six days a week. I did quite a few “snacky” dinners when it was just the boys and I. These consisted of something like cheese cubes or slices, crackers, carrots, and grapes or another fruit. I frequently chose not to wrangle two little boys on my own at the dinner table.

Clothing is an easy area for choices. You control what eventually ends up in your kids’ closets and drawers as long as you hold the funds and then you can trust them to choose what they want to wear on a daily basis, special events excluded. When my oldest son was potty-training the summer before he turned three, he took to wearing a pull-up on his head. As a stay-at-home mom of a two-year-old and a one-year-old, I couldn’t have cared less. When he wore a baseball cap on top though, it looked like he had a bandaged head. It was quite appropriate headwear when we celebrated one week dry with a ‘potty party’ at a fast food play area! To each family their own.

Yes, providing appropriate choices at each age and stage is loving your child. Google behavioral, cognitive, and emotional child development for the resource(s) that appeal to you. Now, maybe your parents just told you what to do, when to do it, and didn’t concern themselves at all with what you felt like. How was that for you? On the other end, we definitely do not want our child to sit in the family driver’s seat.

Did I ever find myself in the midst of a power struggle? With two little sons ganging up against me? You bet I did. More about those as well as the importance of consistent expectations and reasonable, logical consequences in a future post.

What has been an effective parenting tool or style for you? Will you try to be a parent like yours or something different, and why? What have you found to be most challenging in your parenting efforts?

Sara’s education and experience: B.A. Ed; M.S. Counseling; teacher grades K & 2/3, educator for childcare providers, training in Positive Discipline and Growing, parent educator, program director of crisis nursery, including parent support, staff management & training, stay home mom 16 years with two sons born 19 months apart, medical transcription for 10 years in order to stay home, substitute teacher grades K through 12. Blogs about a wide variety of topics on survivingsara.net.

Speaking My Peace

Mixed Messages

Can you guess which front porch sign I chose and which one my husband installed later? The first time a solicitor presented afterwards, he was surprised and a bit offended. Following a second salesman wanting to give an estimate for some service or other, my husband was really irritated. He’d planned to ask for a beer but hadn’t gone through with it. He would next time, though. For sure. Gonna do it. A couple days later, the opportunity arose. When the door opened, alas, it was a young girl selling cookies. 😆😆😆

I wondered, one day not long ago, what my house says about me. I’ve had current paint colors and decor for quite a while, but I used to be able to paint the walls myself; so, I don’t necessarily want to redecorate. I also don’t want my home to look like it’s frozen in time. I decided to go out in my front yard, starting there to walk through, viewing living and dining room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and deck with fresh eyes. I wasn’t expecting my home to speak to me so clearly, well, not after the confusion of front porch signs.

My home definitely spoke to me and I was so pleased with the message of love communicated to everyone who enters. Wall colors? May ask my husband to clear cobwebs from corners of high ceilings but, as far as painting goes, I don’t feel compelled to add that to the honey-do list. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised and content with our home’s expression of love, both literally and figuratively. ♡

What does your home say about you?

Color Me Free

With 70’s hits playing the soundtrack of my life ages five to 15 and candles lit, I closed my eyes to relax, breathe, and meditate without calling it meditation. It took some time to settle and convince my dog this wasn’t a new game. I allowed memories to trip along and float by as music walked me through the decade.

Eventually, the mental parade slowed and I focused on my breathing, drawing in evenly and then allowing it to escape, long and low. At my most recent appointment for massage, the therapist asked me to demonstrate the relaxation breathing I employ. In and out, in and out. He commented that, instead of pushing the air to exhale, I need to release it naturally. Apparently, in order to fully relax, one should not force one’s breath. No idea why this type of thing doesn’t occur to me, but thankful my massage therapist reviewed and corrected. How often is one observed while seeking tranquility, after all?

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Once I calmed, my mind and my breathing, the mandalas appeared. There were several arranged in a pattern, moving around each other, but they were all black and white, absolutely no color involved.

Black and white mandalas? Then, the message arrived in my mind. “Let colors come in.” Well, that’s what I’ve been doing, waiting for colors to wash me free from fibromyalgia and depression. Reframing this, instead of standing by for my life to be rescued from a pallid, anemic existence, letting colors in may be more active than holding a place for them. Since then, I’ve painted with acrylics on paper and canvas twice, captured a photo of a gorgeous sunset viewed from our back deck, and shopped on Amazon for colorful, inexpensive wall art to replace the black, brown, and pale yellow complexion of my bedroom. I found a couple of items and added some considerations to my shopping list, more than I could use, because I continue to come across pictures in which I’m interested. Finalizing further decor decisions must wait until after Christmas because I’m currently supervising the display of outdoor holiday color, combining old and a little bit of new. Here’s to splashes, splotches, and sprays of color!

The End of the World As We Know It

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Don’t shake my hand or give me a hug. A cough or sneeze causes high alert. And just when you might feel as though you’ve got this down and we’re learning to live with the new pathogen, similar to how hospitals and people deal with the flu annually, along comes delta and, later, omicron. They’re going to have to start naming them like hurricanes.

Somehow, this deadly pandemic has ushered in a new public movement. We’ve experienced the Great Depression and the Great Recession, and now we’ve got the Great Resignation. For the first time in my lifetime, businesses are having a seriously difficult time finding and keeping employees. Across decades, boards of directors have kept their sights singularly focused on the bottom line, showing little concern for the ever-widening, obscene gap between front line pay vs management compensation. To see them paying well over minimum to attract and retain workers does my heart good.

The most puzzling societal shift I’ve witnessed is the worshipful attitude that tens of millions have lavished on a two-bit phony. I get that even the best of the press can be biased, and I’ve chosen to seriously curtail my intake of news programming. These devotees of the last office holder, though, were satisfied with their lone channel for infotainment and then they got two more. Now, they can receive further confirmation that the election was stolen, and they firmly believe still today. I’ve studied some history, enough to see particular politics carried in and washed out on waves. In the midst of the current currents, it’s hard to see our way to more civil discourse.

It’s important for me to keep in mind that almost everyone is unsure these days, with the whole world set topsy-turvy. I am not uniquely affected by doubts or insecurities, limits on contact with others, and a search for connection in this new age – and neither are you. We are all in this together, irrespective of which view we take.

Parent is Also a Verb 11/28/21

We don’t expect our babies to magically pop up on their feet and launch into breakdancing when they’re still taking wobbly steps, furniture surfing because they’re unsure. As they grow, we shouldn’t expect them to do chores or activities correctly if they’re not developmentally ready or we haven’t shown them how we want it done.

Calm, thorough information and training along with practice guided by a patient person who values the child and wants what is best for them, these are the ingredients of love and healthy communication. It’s an ideal, but one more likely to be approached if it’s defined and allowed to float through your brain when opportunities arise.

One example: Emptying the trash seems self-explanatory and trivial. Kids have seen you do it for eight or nine years; now it’s their turn. Let’s go with that. Announce to your child that taking out the garbage is their newest chore. Walk away. Don’t explain. First try includes spilled trash, some inside and some out. The bag is on top of a full garbage can, but not closed securely. The dog hurries to eat what he can grab because he knows he has a narrow window. Said dog grabs a sticky, messy wrapper and drags it behind the couch. You walk in from another room exclaiming, “What is this? Who made this mess? Get outside, Rover!” as you open the backdoor.

Your nine-year-old bops into the room. “I took out the trash!”

How easily could the mess have been avoided, so both of you are pleased with the results? Let them know they’re going to have a new chore. Have them watch as you lift out the full trash and put in a new bag. Ask them to carry it out to the garbage can. If they can’t carry it, they’re not ready for that chore. Next time, your child takes the lead and you’re there for assistance and moral support. When you’re both confident that the trainee is good to go, you’ll be able to say, “Please empty the trash.”

Repeat the model, train, practice, and independent ability cycle as the child grows and can handle new skills. And so, familiarizing yourself with ages and stages of development is crucial to good parenting and positive discipline. (Remember, the word ‘discipline’comes from Greek, meaning ‘to teach and guide.’) By taking an active role in learning about your child as well as exploring parenting styles, rather than assuming you’ve got it all figured out because you have lots of younger siblings or babysat frequently, you are loving and developing a strong attachment bond with your child, a crucial keystone in constructing a meaningful life as individuals and as a family.

Imagine you’re building a house. You draw up plans and meet with a builder. As he looks over your plans and photos of the site, he asks, “I see some sort of foundation poured here. You had someone else contracted before?”

You answer, “Oh, that. No. We were going to do it all ourselves but we’re having issues with cracks from freezing because it wasn’t deep enough to set well. There is a lot of water flooding up around the footings when it rains. Also, we chose a less expensive concrete to lower costs but it had some chunks in it when we mixed it ourselves by hand. That saved us a lot but it was so difficult. We were exhausted and only got a little over half done.”

When someone at the building company suggests you’ll need to tear out what you’ve done in order to make the home safe and functioning well, do you protest because you followed a coworker’s advice and your colleague in the publishing company is very intelligent? Perhaps you want to proceed without removing the unfit foundation, but the builder says you’ll have to find someone else. Another guy you met outside the home improvement store says he can finish the house as is. He explains he can leave holes through which the rainfall can escape. He’s sure you won’t even notice this for 15-20 years.

Likewise, setting a foundation for a life is best done with knowledge and attention. You can do it the way you see it done by friends and family, but the early childhood foundation cannot be torn out and replaced. You might think, “It’s just a baby or toddler. Parent, as a verb, at this stage is just about diapers and bottles.”

On the contrary, while you’re not expecting much from a baby or toddler, you are playing a crucial role in setting the footings and preparing the ground for the next steps. How so? Your infant/toddler thrives on predictability. In the first months, keeping a daily schedule and routine teaches your baby they’re safe. They can count on a caregiver reacting to their cries. Food and diaper changes provided regularly, teaches the child that they are loved, lovable, and their needs will be met. Future learning and confidence will be as strong as the foundation.

Sara’s education and experience: B.A. Ed; M.S. Counseling; teacher grades K & 2/3, educator for childcare providers, training in Positive Discipline and Growing, parent educator, program director of crisis nursery, including parent support, staff management & training, stay home mom 16 years with two sons born 19 months apart, medical transcription for 10 years in order to stay home, substitute teacher grades K through 12. Blogs about a wide variety of topics on survivingsara.net.

For resources on physical, emotional, and psychosocial development, Google child development for articles, charts, and books. There are printable pdf’s. If you select images, you’ll see many informative charts. Rather than providing links to two or three sites, I think people will respond differently to the colorful styles and layouts.

It’s a Chemical Breakdown

Our bodies are mostly made of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. How amazing that these elements combine in numerous and seemingly miraculous combinations. In the brain, researchers believe there are more than 100 neurotransmitters, chemical messengers of information. Eight of them are most common and include adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, histamine and endorphins.

Major depression occurs when chemicals in the brain are out of balance in relationship to the receptors available. Whether neurons flood more of a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) than is necessary or the release is too low, this unhealthy level may affect energy level, sleep, appetite, mood, and lack of motivation. A variety of medications address different neurotransmitters.

For me, finding the right combo of antidepressants to address what’s going on in my nervous system is a long slog of initiating what we hope will work, experiencing a therapeutic dose, and weaning off if it’s not effective. Ugh. I hate it. This is what causes me to procrastinate seeking treatment; this and locating a competent provider who is a non-alarmist. In the past, I was enough of an alarmist for both of us. Now, I need a prescriber who gets that I get what’s going on and want to get on with it. After a number of years, an antidepressant loses its efficacy and… don’t get me started.

When a devastating trauma drops you right in the soup, though, it seems to be injurious to the brain and nervous system beyond a chemical breakdown. Sleep, self-care, and medical treatment are essential to healing, but what to do when those steps are not sufficient?

Despite 30 years of dealing with major depression and general anxiety disorder, including years of treatment, and supplemented by my Master’s Degree in counseling, I treat myself as though how well I heal from mental illness is a measure of how hard I’m working at it. If I’m not recovering after two years, what must that say about me? I’m sure if I was following through on every piece of helpful information, I’d be experiencing great improvement.

How can it be that, although I can explain clearly how neurotransmitters affect mood, energy level, etc., I still blame myself? Why do I feel responsible? Well, friends and family have taught me over the years that I am too hard on myself, holding unrealistic expectations. Do I extend the same grace to myself as I would to a suffering friend?

I’ve restarted counseling with a new provider. We’re going to work on acceptance. I plan to be really good at acceptance.🤭

I See Dirt

A reliable indicator of mental health improvement for me has always been the ability to see dirt. In the depths of major depression, I couldn’t give a rat’s behind if housekeeping chores get done. Well, imagine what effect that has over the course of two years. My husband does the best he can but he’s got an overflowing to-do list, taking up the slack created by my chronic illness and pain.

Most days, I’m able to rinse dishes and put them in the dishwasher. That’s a far cry from cleaning the kitchen, but it’s definitely better than depositing plates, bowls, and cutlery so that a full sink greets my husband when he comes home from work. This occurs only with extreme pain episodes or when I can’t get out from under the heavy, wet blanket of fatigue. If my neurotransmitters start finding an effective balance, not only do I see dirty dishes but, suddenly, I see crumbs around the toaster, barbecue sauce splat on the stovetop, bread products straying from their box.

It is as though details come into focus and I am truly surprised by what I see. When I look around my bedroom, my clothes are crowding me. There are items at the end of the bed that I only wore once; I plan to wear them again… and maybe again. Mixed in are old clothes I wouldn’t want to wear even if they fit; these were in a donation pile, awaiting a bag. My husband doesn’t understand my system and they’ve been intermingled with the wear-agains. The hamper stands at the ready and I throw dirty clothes at it. The last clothing receptacle area is just outside the threshold of our en suite. Don’t ask why I shed clothes there before showering instead of using the hamper six feet away. I don’t know. Depression think is a shape-shifting animal all its own.

Now, though, upon seeing what I’ve adopted as a way of operating, I initially feel so bad for my partner. He’s not once pressured me, not about cleaning, not regarding groceries, meal planning, or cooking. I do what I can before my mid back cramps painfully, some days doing more than others. Next, it is clear that I must take care of all of this, starting now! Following years of trying to do more than I can actually handle and having my body react strongly, I put on the brakes. Being overwhelmed by chores needing attention leads to physical and mental shutdown. I remind myself to do a little bit most days. That’s all. And breathe.

I did find myself singing the past couple days as I puttered about the house. It’s almost like an out of body experience. The singing startles me. I smile at myself, knowing that serenading my dog with “You’ve got a friend” (James Taylor acoustic version) certainly backs up the sight of dirt.

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