When Grandparents Say You’re ‘Using Your Child As A Pawn’

Almost five years ago, I made the decision to cut off my own mother from myself and my children, and since then, I’ve fought tirelessly to uphold parental rights within the courts against grandparents’ visitation right suits (also known as third party visitation right lawsuits). I’ve Googled, I have read article after article — and mostly, when you look this up, you come to the general consensus that parents are evil and use their kids as “pawns” against grandparents or third parties who “just want to see the kids.” There are very few (if any) dissenting opinions, so I decided to write my feelings down.

The ultimate battle cry in grandparents’ rights groups is the complaint of adult children using their children (the grandchildren) as “pawns.” It’s like the grandparents who say this believe that this is a game (as pawns generally come from a game of chess) and they’re being kept from their prize so the parents can win the “game.” Some even say that this is “child abuse” and “elder abuse.” Let’s discuss that, shall we?

From a parent’s point of view who has been accused of such things, I will tell you truthfully that protecting your children from abuse, of any kind, is not using your child as a pawn. Ever heard a grandparent say they’re “so depressed, they need to see the baby to cheer them up?” This is emotional abuse. My child is not your dose of Xanax, lady, and is not responsible for your mental health. There’s also verbal abuse, and sometimes even physical. I’ll say it again: protecting your child from an abuser (or abusive behavior) is not using your child as a pawn.

Protecting your child is literally one of the most primal instincts one can have. If your mother or mother-in-law doesn’t hesitate to verbally lash you, whether in front of you or in private, then why do you think she will be kind to your children? Even if she is related to that child, she has expressed disdain and hatred for (or even “disappointment” in) one of these children’s parents, which literally makes up 50% of that child’s DNA. Again, for the ones in the back: if they hate you, or dislike you, or express discontent towards you, they are frankly saying that they dislike 50% of your child’s DNA. Protecting your child from these sorts of people is not “using them as a pawn.” It’s not a game; it’s your child’s emotions, mental health, and overall happiness.

Now, let’s dive a bit deeper, shall we? You don’t think that the grandparent in question would be unkind or abusive to the child… they just hate you, the child’s parent. After all, that’s why they’re accusing you of “using your child as a pawn,” and even abuse by withholding the child from the grandparent, right?

Well, let’s look up the literal definition of “pawn” as defined by Oxford Dictionary: “A chess piece of the smallest size and value, a person used by others for their own purposes.” By calling your child a pawn, they are straight up saying your child isn’t of much value beyond a bargaining piece.

So, I’ll say what I want to say every single time I see a grandparent accusing a parent of using children as pawns. Protecting your child is not, and will never be, abusive. Abuse runs deeper than physical abuse. And the grandparents know it. How many cut-off grandparents default to saying, “We spoiled our kids rotten, so it’s our fault she’s a brat” or similar? That right there tells you that you are protecting your child from emotional and mental abuse — that they’ve bestowed not only on their grandchildren, but on you both as a child and an adult.

It is parental instinct to protect your child from harm, and that is what you are doing.

Furthermore, if there happens to be a grandparent reading this and shaking their head in disagreement, let me ask you something to make you think a bit: if you love your grandchildren, why not be respectful to their parents and work on a relationship with them first, before bringing their children into the equation? And if your mind instantly jumped to insults or excuses on how “horrible” your son or daughter or son-in-law or daughter-in-law is, I encourage you to seek therapy — because you certainly don’t need to be around your grandchild while you’re actively disliking a person (their parent) who makes up 50% of their DNA.

And the first thing you should probably discuss with your therapist? Why you are comparing your grandchild to a game piece of little value.

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There Is Something Magical About The Mother-Daughter Bond

My daughter crawled in bed with me a few months ago. She was on the cusp of turning fifteen, and that day in the car we were listening to that new song called “Supah Lonely” by Benee. Maybe you’ve heard it with your own teenage daughter. Or maybe you have no idea what song it is. Regardless, it’s a woman talking about how lonely she is.

Without thinking too hard about it, I told my daughter the song reminded me of myself. I tried to laugh after I said it. I was trying to cover up the fact I was feeling sorry for myself. I knew I was letting my daughter in on a secret I’d been trying to hide from my kids — I’m lonely.

I’m lonely because they’ve grown older and they need me less. I’m lonely because I feel like our relationships have changed. And I’m lonely because they all went through puberty at once, leaving me with the sound of music behind their closed bedroom doors instead of being downstairs with me. 

As soon as I said it, I regretted it. While I want to be real with my kids and see that their mother is not made out of iron and has swinging emotions, I don’t want them to feel guilty about growing up and their independence.

But my daughter’s reply let me know she heard me, she saw me, and she cared.

“I didn’t know that, Mom. I didn’t know you were lonely,” she said. We drove then the rest of the way home in silence and I tried not to tear up thinking back to the days when I wasn’t this lonely. 

I realized being a mother to a daughter gifts you a bond unlike any other. We argue, we disagree, we don’t like each other at times. But we love one another so deeply we know there’s nothing that can break that love. If that’s not a bond, I don’t know what is. I mean, when you feel really safe with someone, isn’t that the time to really be yourself and know you will be fully accepted and loved unconditionally?

How many people can you say you have that bond with? 

According to a study published in Journal of Neuroscience, the bond between a mother and daughter is like no other since their brains are more closely matched in the empathy department. 

So when your daughter comes to you with a problem, situation, or is experiencing something good in her life, as her mother you are able to see yourself in that same situation and relate to her in a way no one else can.

I love my two sons just as much as I love my daughter. But when she comes to me with something that is bothering her, I see myself in her so much. And when the role is reversed, I can see my daughter is able to empathize with me deeply hence her coming in bed to get some snuggle time with me after my confession. 

Scary Mommy polled some of our readers to see if they agreed with the sentiment about mother-daughter bonds … and they did. 

One commenter admitted to crying for days when she found out she was having a girl. “I didn’t know what in the world I was going to do with a girl. I’m not girly and I just knew it would be a disaster. She’s almost 11, she’s my best friend. She’s so amazing! I can’t imagine my life without her. She’s so smart and wise beyond her years.”

Another mother said, “I was ecstatic when I found out I was having a girl. Her dad and I divorced when she was three. We have had an extremely close bond from day one. We definitely have a battle of wills at times because she is a very strong willed child but she is my greatest joy. My mom and I are super close and always have been and I pray that my daughter and I have the same bond throughout life.”

A mother of two boys and two girls said she was terrified when she found out she was having her first daughter, “I said ‘check again!’ I was terrified. I have two and two — wouldn’t change it for anything. Love my girls, they are my best friends. Strong, resilient, sporty and big hearts!”

One mother who has both sons and daughters explains it perfectly, saying, “It’s an indescribable bond. I’m incredibly close with my son. We share a lot of similarities, humor and just get each other. But with my 17-year-old daughter, it’s magnified. So many things she has accomplished or overcome are the same things that I dealt with at her age, but somehow amplified by all of today’s stressors.”

The bond some mothers have with us feels different than the bond we have with our sons. It doesn’t mean we love them more, or favor them over their brothers. But the study does prove there can be such a strong bond simply because we are sharing a lot of the same experiences and are connected in a different way to our daughters.

And even when we feel like we don’t know what we are going to do with them as they grow up, gain independence and sass, we know that bond won’t be broken.

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Marriage Shows You Who You Really Are

There’s nothing like marriage to show you yourself.

Like your tendency to keep little secrets. Nothing huge, but, for example, when you say you’re running to Walgreens but have every intention of popping into Target, too.

And also maybe some not-so little things, like that you feel scared of being hurt. The only thing scarier than the fears you’ve inherited is admitting them, so instead you just act defensively and keep all that private, scary stuff inside the wall you put up for protection.

The wall-building happens so subconsciously that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. It feels like the normal thing to do — push truth down in order to project a certain image. It’s what we think we need to do to get what we want.

But in marriage, those walls we didn’t even realize we built, get bumped into. They get in the way, and eventually we have to make the choice: Do we want intimacy or safety? Do we want to give love freely or continue worrying about the love we get?

Early on, for the sake of my marriage, I knew I’d have to get in touch with myself. After all, how could I be honest with someone else when I’m not even honest with myself? How could I be honest with anyone when I value avoiding the conversations more?

I read somewhere about radical honesty, and that without it, you’ll never feel true intimacy. Radical honesty is simply transparency. It’s moment-to-moment openness. It could even sound like, “I don’t know how I feel right now” or “I’m afraid” or “This is something important to me.”

Marriage has shown me myself. It has required me to become more conscious of myself so I could then practice sharing myself. Although that was daunting, it has also been exhilarating.

When you’re being radically honest, things aren’t always going to go smoothly, but marriage has taught me that storms pass.

I used to avoid conflict. It made me want to run. In the early days, I would. I’d hop right into the car and leave. I just couldn’t take it. But now, when energies get tense and conversations get uncomfortable, I tell myself it’s going to pass and let it unfold with greater patience. (And I only slam doors sometimes…)

But even when tensions are hot, there’s an openness that comes with communicating authentically, and even when it’s hard, honesty is always an invitation inside. It’s an offer for intimacy, and when we’re talking about relationships, there’s no greater gift.

You are the gift you give, not only to another, but to yourself. When you start communicating what’s true in you, the parts that used to get shoved away now feel heard and recognized. You find that not only has your relationship changed, but so have you.

You realize for the first time you truly feel loved, and it’s not because you haven’t ever been seen before, but because you wouldn’t let yourself be seen.

You realize that the walls that come down don’t only let your partner in, but also let your heart open. Only now are you even available for love.

A good marriage will teach you important lessons. Not lessons for the relationship alone, but for the freedom of your heart and evolution of your soul.

What a good marriage requires of you will transform you completely.

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I Don’t Want To Be With My Ex, But It Still Hurts To See Him Dating

Moving on has been the hardest part of my divorce. Whether it’s been me dating or my ex dating, the situation has been incredibly awkward and painful.

What makes it even worse is that I don’t even want to be with my ex anymore, but seeing him dating someone else is still hurtful. I realize how unfair that is to both me and my ex, but it’s the truth.

I’ve been struggling with figuring out why it bothers me so much to see him dating, and I think I’ve settled on a few reasons.

For one, imagining someone else as a mother figure to my son literally makes me feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. When I gave birth nine years ago, the thought never crossed my mind that he may someday have a stepmom. A mother-in-law, yes, but a stepmom — no way. Of course, I was in love with my husband at that moment, so the thought of him marrying another woman wasn’t on the radar either. Even if his potential stepmom is wonderful, I think this is a natural feeling to have as a mom. I’m mama. I don’t want anyone else to ever even come close to that role.

Secondly, it’s very difficult to break the habit of thinking of my ex as my husband. When you’re with someone for so long and you have referred to them as your spouse for over a decade, it takes some time to adjust to thinking of them as just your co-parent. It’s a weird place to be in — to be happy that he’s no longer my husband but sad at the same time. A loss is still a loss, no matter how right the decision was. Losses must be grieved properly in order to truly move on from them.

Lastly, the physical portion of it is hard. Knowing he’s touching someone else, kissing someone else, loving someone else — it feels like cheating even though it’s not. When you take those vows, you program yourself not to desire another person in that way. A piece of paper saying you’re divorced doesn’t automatically change what you’ve been programmed to do for so long. I’ve even found myself calling the person I’m dating by my ex’s name. It’s a genuine mistake, but it just goes to show that we’re creatures of habit and that sometimes, it’s incredibly hard to break those habits.

My relationship with my ex was not a positive one for a very long time. There’s a huge feeling of relief and freedom that has come along with the divorce, but there are still these individual issues that come up periodically that make it difficult to fully move on.

I find myself wondering, when will it not feel like cheating? When will I get to the point where it doesn’t hurt to hear him refer to another woman as his girlfriend? Will I ever get there? Will I ever accept someone else as the woman in his life?

This has been an issue that has come up in my relationships since my divorce. I know the fact that it bothers me that my ex is dating is a huge barrier to me moving on and being happy in a new relationship. I’m trying so hard to let it go. It’s not only hurting me; it’s hurting the person I’m dating as well. I know I wouldn’t want to hear about my boyfriend still having unresolved feelings about their ex dating, so why should he?

I hear other divorcees say that they couldn’t care less about who their ex is with. I’ve seen countless memes joking about feeling sorry for the woman who’s now with your ex because he’s her problem now. I want so badly to feel that way. I don’t want this feeling dictating the rest of my life. I want to let it all go and get to the point where I look at my ex as my son’s father and nothing more.

I know it sounds like an oxymoron that I don’t want to be with my ex but that it still hurts to see him dating. Maybe it’s selfish. Maybe I should want to see him in a happy relationship, even if it’s not with me. I think it just takes time to stop thinking about your former spouse as “yours.”

To have and to hold, from this day forward, till death do us part — that statement shouldn’t be taken lightly. Divorce ends the legal aspect of your marriage, but the emotional aspect remains long after the papers are signed.

I don’t know how long it will take to break that emotional bond. It’s been a year, and although it’s gotten a bit easier, when I hear he’s dating someone new it still feels like my heart jumps into my throat for a few moments. When it does, I remind myself of all the reasons why we got divorced and how far I’ve come, and it helps my heart settle down again.

Without a doubt, I don’t want to be with my ex, but it still hurts to see him dating. So, for now, I’m going to let it because I’m human and divorce is hard. For now, I’m going to allow myself some grace.

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The Undiscussed Hell That Is Changing Prescription Depression Medications

I started a new anxiety and depression medication last month, and let me just say, there are reasons why most people, myself included, go out of their way to not change medications. It sucks, bad. But the thing was, I’d been on the same prescription for close to 10 years, and my anxiety was getting bad and my depression even worse. Add to that everything going on in 2020, and I had to make a change.

One afternoon, a couple days into the change, I got blindingly mad at Excel — and when I look back on that moment, getting that mad over Excel might be a new low. I mean, come on: Excel really shouldn’t dictate emotions. I was still working from home because of the pandemic, so I went downstairs to calm down, which led to me finding a bag of cooked bacon in the freezer. I ate it. All of it. I don’t know how much bacon it was, probably less than a pound, but far more than a serving. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten frozen cooked bacon straight from the freezer before; perhaps this is a normal thing people do, but somehow I doubt it. In that moment, as I shoved strips of rock hard freezing cold bacon in my mouth, it just felt so right. It was probably the best bacon I’d ever eaten, and I totally forgot about my computer rage.

I suppose the ironic part was that this medication was supposed to help me, and yet I was acting a little more bonkers than usual. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t depressed. Honestly, how depressed can you be while eating bacon? I wasn’t anxious, either. I was sleepy and hungry — and did I mention I’m a vegetarian?

None of this made sense, and yet it all seemed so right, and I didn’t realize how odd I was acting until I was halfway through the last strip of frozen bacon that I realized my wife was sitting at the kitchen table and had been watching me the whole time. “Why are you eating frozen bacon?” she asked.

I paused.

“And why were you screaming at your computer?”

I turned around, my eyes a little foggy, and explained that this new medication was making me feel moody and hungry, and now all I wanted was to eat and sleep and be left alone. I explained how every time I change medications something like this happens until my body gets used to it, and every time it feels worse than the last time, and this time in particular felt like I was going through man-opause.

“Maybe you should call the doctor,” she said.

I shrugged as I finished off the last of the bacon and said, “Probably.”

Then I went upstairs and took a nap instead of going back to work.

I went through almost a month of days exactly like the above, unable to explain my emotions, trying desperately to keep them in check, but failing. Most of my actions didn’t make logical sense to anyone but me. I ate too much every day, and I ate food I normally don’t, and all of it tasted better than the food I usually eat. And I know, the bacon eating really shouldn’t be on the list of grievances, but like I said above, I’m a vegetarian, and well… bacon really shouldn’t be on the menu. But bacon is still really good. I want you to know that, but at the same time, I want you to realize that I wasn’t myself.

Changing medications is like a test of yourself. It’s a test of your ability to be nuttier than usual and still maintain enough of your faculties to not get fired, divorced, arrested, or something worse.

Anyway, most of that emotional, irritable, eating phase has passed. I’ll be living with the bacon weight for a while, I’m sure. But on the positive, I want you to realize that I just said “on the positive.” That’s a big deal for me. I mean, honestly… I had a depressive episode when Coke Zero changed their formula, so yeah… I’m easily triggered.

I’m feeling more optimistic. I’m not sitting around focusing on my failures. I’m not thinking about how it all isn’t working out, and I’m not nervous for the sake of being nervous.

So yes, the last month has not been good. Not at all. And if you are going through a medication change in the middle of a pandemic, I understand your struggle. I want you to know that everyone who has ever switched medication does. But I can also say, now that I’m on the other end of it, now that I’ve made it through the fire, that I’m smiling a little more.

I am by no means out of the woods, but with mental illness, you never really are. But I’m seeing a little more sunlight each day, and as someone who has spent years living with depression and anxiety, that’s pretty awesome.

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How Learning To Speak ‘Athlete’ Changed My Relationship With My Teen

I had some time this morning as I waited on my son to try out for the high school soccer team. But instead of catching up on Season 3 of my friends’ latest exploits on Facebook, I got out of my car and took a walk.

Oddly enough, I gained some serious life perspective while getting in my steps.

You see, my son is 14 right now and about to begin high school. Our ability to communicate is tough on a good day and completely non-existent on a bad day. But today, somewhere between band practice and the soccer field, I think I figured out the root of our problem – we don’t speak the same language. I am fluent in “nerd” and he’s well-versed in “athlete.” Let me explain.

When I attended this same high school, I focused on foreign language, reading books, arts and humanities, and music – specifically band. (I played the French horn.) I attended sporting events but my primary purpose revolved around playing the school fight song. So, it seemed appropriate that as I began my climb to the top of the school parking lot, I encountered members of the marching band. They chatted and honked their horns, quite literally, on their way to the practice field. And by practice field I mean a dedicated parking lot striped with white paint to resemble a football field.

I tried not to stare at those kids as the band director explained how to move backward with quick, tiny steps while simultaneously supporting the tone and quality of their notes and remembering their music. Marching band is hard. It takes a lot of focus and concentration to do so many things at once. Interesting… my brain thrived in that environment. I knew where to go and what notes to play, all while keeping an eye on the conductor and the person in front of me. It seemed natural.

As I rounded the edge of the faux practice field, the shrill of whistles and thuds of contact football interrupted my journey down memory lane. What an abrupt shift. Instead of young men and women moving in unison, playing delightful music, tons of guys clad in helmets and maroon shorts ran, zig-zagged, then tackled a bright blue padded cylinder. The coaches yelled instructions across the actual football practice field and the athletes did what they were told.

Once I Learned To Speak 'Athlete,' Communication With My Teen Got So Much Easier: mother and son posing for photo
Courtesy of Ashley Johnson

*Light bulb over my head*

No wonder my son and I have a hard time communicating. We’re coming at it from two totally different perspectives – languages, if you will. I am explaining all the parts of a situation in great detail and reminding him how the pieces fit together into one harmonious melody. I want to engage him in critical thinking and have deep conversations about the nature of things. He’s programmed to reply with, “uh-huh.”

It dawned on me, in the grassy no-man’s land between the football and soccer fields, that my son and I needed to meet in the middle of this language canyon if we were going to make it through high school with our relationship intact. I still had a few minutes before try outs ended, so what better time to learn the basics of speaking “athlete?”

I stood at the edge of the soccer field and listened to how the coaches communicated with the team. (Don’t worry, my son couldn’t see me. OMG that would be so embarrassing!)

Here are a few key phrases I wrote down for future use:

“Come see me” – What you tell the kid during practice or an activity. It means the coach wants to talk to you once you’re finished with your task.

“This is what I need from you” – Follow the statement with specific instructions and/or actions.

“You’re not at your best today. What’s up?” – Coach language for “I can tell something is wrong with you. Here’s your chance to talk about it.”

I started incorporating these sports phrases into our home life and discovered my son opened up a little bit more when prompted by familiar words. It makes total sense. This is what he’s used to hearing at every practice and game. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out.

Now, could someone add a foreign language credit to my school record, please? I earned it!

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Fatherly Lessons From A Cabbage Patch Kid

When I was four, I dreamed of having my very own Cabbage Patch Kid doll. It was a fairly common dream in the minds of most little girls as the Christmas season approached, strategically stepping up the pressure on their parents a notch. It created what was known as the Cabbage Patch Craze in 1983, filled with determined parents attempting to shop and fulfill the desire of their little girls cradling a Cabbage Patch Kid doll on Christmas morning.

I had been sent a baby brother about a year before and I dreamed of cradling a little girl doll with flowing yellow yarn hair that resembled my own and a pink dress with lacy edges. I had wondered what assigned name would read on her cabbage patch birth certificate when I pulled it out of the yellow and green box with the clear window front. I thought about all the places she would go with me and all the fun we would have together. And on Christmas morning, I awoke to find a Cabbage Patch Kid waiting under my tree with mint green overalls, a white shirt, short brown hair and a boy name – Jeremiah.

In retrospect, it was probably one of the first, in a series of hints from the universe, indicating that I would be raising three boys, no daughters. It was also indicative of the kind of father I would have.

Children generally are not aware of the difficulties their parents may be experiencing, as they shouldn’t be. I didn’t know that Christmas morning my parents lived paycheck to paycheck and often worried how they would stretch money to make it through the month, let alone be able to afford to buy me a baby doll. I didn’t know that my father had woken up early one morning to wait in line, outside of a closed toy store before heading to a 12 hour shift at the shoe store he managed at the time. I didn’t know when the shoppers rushed the aisle, my dad arrived to an empty shelf and argued with another woman as she grabbed the last doll to be placed in a cart already packed with several dolls. I do know that he won that argument because I opened a Cabbage Patch Kid on Christmas morning in 1983.

I didn’t have a shiny new car with a big red bow on my 16th birthday, but I did have a car when I moved in with my Dad half way through my senior year of high school to prevent me from needing to change schools. I didn’t get to attend a fancy, out of state college, but I did attend a four-year in-state college and graduated debt free, thanks to my Dad. He taught me the value was in the work put into the degree, not wear it came from. I didn’t have chair covers at my wedding but it was a beautiful wedding graciously paid for by him and I had a dad whom I was proud to have stand beside me and walk me down the aisle that day.

I have a dad that taught me the importance of my independence as a woman. He made sure I was the first to graduate college in his family because he knew an education provided me options and prevented me from ever needing to stay in a bad marriage because of financial dependence. I have a dad that made sure I married a good man and would never be in a bad marriage by setting the expectations for how I should be treated by men and the type of a father to expect for my children. Who taught me to always trust my own instincts in life and to not require a confirmation from anyone else. Any request for advice was and is always answered with “What do you think? Go with your gut.” Who never boasted or bragged about me to others, yet never let me question his pride — but at the same time, taught me to be humbled by that pride. I have a dad that taught me where my stubbornness originates, even if we both always continue to refuse to admit it.

The outcome of our actions often does not reflect the heart of our efforts. My parents made many mistakes raising my brother and me, just as I have made many mistakes in raising my own children. However, it is in those same mistakes that I have learned the most valuable of life’s lessons. I gained the most insight not from what I had as a child, but what I didn’t have. It taught me the vast differences between need and want and the pride in earning will always outweigh the gratitude of being given something. Sometimes I forget this in raising my own children. We try our best to prevent any unhappiness in our children, often failing to realize the missed opportunities for learning when preventing their slightest discomfort.

The lessons of my childhood at times were obvious, but most didn’t come into focus until I saw them through adult eyes. I may not have had everything, but I did always have a dad that tried, and that was everything — even when it was a little boy Cabbage Patch Kid named Jeremiah.

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How Facebook Made My High School Reunion Better

In recent years, Facebook has become the go-to scapegoat – or, as I like to call it, “blame piñata” – for nearly all society’s social ills. Our tribalism, our short attention spans, our loneliness.

Occasionally, though, an experience demonstrates how social media can be an honest-to-God blessing, and lay the groundwork for a surprisingly meaningful experience.

Months ago, for instance, I got a Facebook invitation for an unofficial, informal 30th high school reunion – at a bar in my hometown, the night before Thanksgiving – I simultaneously thought “Nope!” and mentally checked my availability.

I mean, my family wasn’t traveling anywhere for the holiday, I currently live only about a half hour away from my Michigan hometown, and that square on my calendar happened to be blank. 

But I’d also, in high school, been a pretty forgettable band nerd in a class of more than 400 people, many of whom had chosen to move back and raise their kids in that same town. So I had the sense that a lot of the reunion’s attendees would be the people who saw each other regularly, anyway, and had sustained close friendships with each other over the decades.

I, on the other hand, had re-connected with just a modest handful of high school acquaintances via social media, mostly after attending the one “official” reunion we’ve had since graduation (the 20th, in 2009).

This was partly a function of how not-present I’d been in high school. So consumed was I at the time with boyfriends, grades, and getting into a good college that precious little from my adolescence has endured. 

So what could I possibly hope for from attending this slapdash reunion? Wouldn’t it simply reinforce the neurotic sense of invisibility that is my middle-child default setting? 

How Facebook Made My High School Reunion Better: woman smiling for photo
Courtesy of Jenn McKee

While mulling this over, I posted something on the reunion’s event page that essentially said, “I’m not sure anyone would recognize/remember me.” 

But then a guy I’d gone to school with for many, many years wrote that he remembered me wearing roller skates for several days around our elementary school, “trying to break a world record,” before our principal made me stop.

Oh, my God. Over the decades, I’d completely forgotten about this wacky childhood plot of mine.

And this brief, casual Facebook exchange charmed me, and made me feel more inclined to take a chance and attend the reunion, awkwardness be damned.

When that cold Wednesday night in November arrived, though, darkness fell well before my husband and two young daughters ate dinner with me around our kitchen table, and I could see wet snow falling beyond the windows. I considered snuggling down with my family to watch a “Great British Baking Show” ep and bagging the whole thing.

But my husband urged me toward the door. “What’s the worst that could happen?” he shrugged. “You have a crummy time and come home? Go. See what happens.”

If nothing else, the experience might provide good material, I told myself. (Writers are vampires that way.) I looked down at what I was wearing: a Hamilton t-shirt and a pair of jeans ripped at the knees? Ah, well. If I was going to go, I might as well be true to the person I am. I mean, I’m nearing fifty. Who was I trying to impress or fool?

I drove through the gloppy snow, parked in a lot near the bar, and walked toward the entrance, making this deal with myself: if I walked around the bar once and recognized no one (or vice versa), I’d give myself permission to subtly turn right back around and head to the exit. (Classic introvert party move, by the way.)

Initially, it looked like I’d be following through with this back-up plan. The large, brightly lit bar was packed, yet no one looked familiar. Then, a woman who’d been my best friend in middle school, Paula, spotted me and rushed over, happily squealing my full name and pulling me into a hug.

Her formerly dark, shoulder-length hair was now gray, but her face – which I’d intently studied for entire afternoons as we critiqued terrible, eighth grade poetry and shared tween romantic fantasies – was very much the same. And I instantly felt more at home.

“You were one of, like, two or three people I came here to see,” she said. 

This surprised me – we’d grown apart in high school, as she became more popular – but she went on to say that she’d followed my writing career online, and that she felt like she still knew me well, thanks to my (copious) social media posts. She confessed that much of her adult life had been hard – or as she more bluntly put it, “sucked” – and for that reason, she’d been recently making a point to tell people when they’d had a positive and lasting impact on her.

How Facebook Made My High School Reunion Better: woman smiling for photo
Courtesy of Jenn McKee

“You were one of those people,” Paula told me. “I know it sounds cheesy, and this may be a totally awkward thing to say” – pretty sure the woman standing in our midst would agree – “but I want you to know that I’ve thought about the friendship we had often, and I really treasure the closeness we had.”

Though not generally prone to weepiness, I teared up as she spoke, then gave her a hug. “Thank you so much for telling me that,” I said. “Our friendship meant a lot to me, too.”

And soon thereafter, I had a genuine, substantive conversation – about divorce; caring for aging, ailing parents; and grief – with a woman named Roxane, whom I’d only known as a marching band acquaintance in high school, but had more recently gotten a better sense of via Facebook. 

At one point, I nodded toward a blonde, very made-up woman nearby and asked Roxane, “Who is that?” Roxane shrugged and said in my ear, “She looks like she was popular. We probably didn’t know her.” 

The line cracked me up — so damn true! — and made me think about how unformed and fragile we all are as teenagers. The men and women in that bar were barely recognizable to me now, so they no longer possessed the power over me that I’d once so willingly granted them. Thankfully, I was no longer the girl who’d simply cower when being barked at in the hall (to imply I was a dog) by an a-hole football player between classes.

Time is, of course, the great equalizer, as evidenced by the room of bald heads, graying hair, and filled out, middle-aged bodies I found myself in. Frankly, though my life wasn’t perfect, I finally felt wholly comfortable in my skin. Yes, I’d never quite landed after being laid off, in middle age, from my dream job as a newspaper staff arts reporter – I now work alongside teenagers as a part-time library page and take occasional freelance writing assignments — but I’d lived life on my own terms, had some wonderful friends and experiences, and I’d created a family I loved dearly.

So I felt OK as I talked to the guy who remembered my nutty rollerskating stunt, and conversed with a former trumpet player who recognized me from photos I’d posted online, and greeted a looming tree of a man who’d been in my calculus class senior year. 

“Someone was just telling me you’re hilarious on Facebook,” he told me, pointing a thumb over his shoulder.

What the hell? I’d thought. Where was all this validation and peer love when I was an adolescent and so desperately needed it? And where was it coming from now?

But on some level, I already knew the answer to the second question. It sprang from social media which, for all its ills — and they are legion — may also make an informal 30th high school graduation a far better, more positive affair for an introvert-band-geek-turned-writer.

Because the cringe-y small talk can be skipped. 

Because you’ve already been following each other’s stories over the years.

Because while Facebook can often feel like a dangerously annoying highlight reel of other people’s lives, it can also, if you’re willing to be vulnerable, be a means of inviting people to spend time inside your mind and your heart. 

When I’m writing social media posts, I view myself as a guest at a years-long virtual dinner party. I’m not there to start (or take part in) fights. I’m there to say everything from “wow, I was a crappy parent today” and “yet another job interview went nowhere” to “I finally get to do a story I’ve wanted to do for years now” and “my 8 year old used an adverb correctly, and I’m about to cry with happiness.”

Going into that reunion, I didn’t need to prove myself or talk myself up or show off. Thanks to social media, the people who’d been friendly to me during our school years already knew precisely the person I’d become.

And I did, too.

So when the bar’s lights suddenly dimmed, and a DJ dropped a Pitbull song, I couldn’t resist (like a full-on chick flick cliché) claiming a bit of space for dancing – mostly by myself, but also kind of with Paula’s affable, tipsy husband (another fellow classmate). What can I say? I could barely contain a physical, spontaneous urge to celebrate. A kind of bodily “Song of Myself.”

To others in the bar (including some of my classmates), I may have looked silly or absurd – a nearly fifty year old woman cutting a rug, mostly solo, before stepping back out into the rainy night. 

But to me, it felt like the culmination of a wholly satisfying evening and – given the nature of the occasion – an arrival. When I was a teenager, my peers and I, on a daily basis, only saw what I wasn’t. 

Now, it seems, what’s visible is what I am. I’m finally being “seen,” in the way I’d always wanted. 

And strangely, I have social media to thank.

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Some Quarantine Habits Are Here To Stay–And They Aren’t All Bad

Before March of this year, the words “lockdown” and “pandemic” and “quarantine” were words that belonged mainly in sci-fi movies, maybe ones with a dystopian focus. And yet, now, those words belong to our daily life, and probably will for a while. We’ve adopted those words into our vocabulary—although I’d argue they still feel like they belong to a sci-fi movie with a dystopian focus, and now we just live in said sci-fi movie with a dystopian focus.

Really, though, lockdowns changed us, beyond expanding our vocabulary. As the world shut down, seemingly overnight, we were forced to adjust our habits and routines. Whether we were privileged enough to be able to shift to a stay-at-home life or suddenly found ourselves touted as essential workers, we were required to make changes to how we lived, to develop new habits, either by consequence or choice.

And now lockdowns are lifting and states are re-opening, and some people are heading back out into the world—hopefully with a mask on because the virus isn’t gone—and once again our way of life is changing. Our habits are adapting…or not.

We’ve probably all developed a few habits that we are ready to shed as we emerge into the world. Waking up and checking the daily state and local COVID-19 statistics is one I’m personally ready to give up.

But there are more than a few habits that we’ve all adopted that are here to stay. Hand washing, obviously (hopefully), not touching our faces, giving each other space in the grocery store, are some no-brainers. But there are a few less obvious, a bit more quirky habits, too. Every morning now, along with my news perusal and daily COVID-19 numbers check, I do the mini New York Times crossword puzzle. It takes all of one minute and gives me a zing of early morning accomplishment. For my children, I have a feeling they are hoping to hang onto the habit of having dessert after every meal—yes, to be clear that’s breakfast dessert, lunch dessert, and dinner dessert.

I put the question out to my social media: what habits have you adopted since or because of quarantine that you don’t want to drop once quarantine is over? A few answers stood out. One friend began remaking famous movie scenes with his toddlers to pass the time—and really, it might be the habit that wins all quarantine habits. Another friend began gardening, while a handful more found joy in creative meal and cocktail planning. But very quickly, a few patterns began to emerge.

Family Time

From family dinners to family walks and family bike rides or board games, nearly everyone seemed to be spending more time with their family and didn’t want to lose that time or those activities once lockdowns were lifted and their options weren’t limited to just spending time with their family on isolated hiking trails.

Less Waste, Less Consumption, Less Doing

In many ways, lockdowns required us all to do so much more. In addition to our jobs that needed no less focus and drive when done from home, we also needed to become homeschool teachers (though I really prefer the term crisis school teachers), all while managing our pandemic anxiety. But many of the people who responded to my query seemed to be find themselves doing less of everything else. Eating more leftovers and wasting less food. Foregoing the usual hair products and releasing some of the need to follow a schedule. Even as lockdowns lift, the consensus seemed to be toward more leftovers and less hair products.

Self-Care

More time at home meant more people found time for themselves, whether by carving out time for that (virtual) exercise class that never quite fit into the daily grind, meditation practices, or even mindfulness, and they don’t want to surrender that freshly carved out time just because things around them are re-opening.

Even being able to take the time to reflect on what matters is a habit we maybe should all hang on to, in the days after lockdown and beyond.

Vox asked readers across the world what changes they wanted to hold onto as they emerged from quarantine, and many were in line with the answers I found in my tiny sample size. It seems across the board, as we take those first tentative steps into a post-lockdown world, we all want to hold onto the habits that gave us room to feel grounded when it was so easy to feel lost, or feel like we could slow down, when the world seemed to be taking every turn too fast.

Without a doubt, having the ability to slow down during these times is a privilege. Staying safe at home and being able to take the time saved on commuting and shuttered athletic tournaments and put it toward family walks and board games is a privilege not everyone was able to enjoy.

Which brings me to the final habit that many of us cultivated in lockdown, and it’s the thread that seems to be running through every answer to my question. And that is: a feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for our families, for our friends, for our health and the health of our loved ones, for the people who kept things moving when it could have all fallen apart.

I would venture to say all of us hope to bring that habit, that feeling gratitude, with us into whatever version of normal awaits outside of lockdown.

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COVID-19 Forced Me To Create A Self-Care Plan

After my daughters went to bed one Friday night and my teenage son was glued to some episode of The Flash on television, I had some time for myself. I’d never truly given myself time prior to COVID-19 — time to disconnect, time to collect my thoughts, time to treat myself. When COVID-19 hit, and I found myself in my house, all day, with my kids — I needed a release. I didn’t want to take up having a cocktail each night like some of my friends had. I’d long deleted the Nike Run app from my cell phone — so exercise was out. The last book I opened lay collecting dust in my work bag. I was out of ideas.

That night, I stood in my living room, listening to the intro of The Flash, unsure of what to do with myself. I had free time. I decided to take a bath, something I’d not done since I was six months pregnant with my daughters. I needed to figure out a consistent self-care routine for myself or at just three weeks into our family’s isolation, I was going to lose it. I needed a plan to hold onto my sanity a bit longer and doing so made me feel like I was in control over it all.

One night, I snuck away and lit two candles, turned on the faucet, and ran myself a bath with lavender scented bubbles. I refrained from snapping a photo of my beautiful, dimly lit bathroom to later post on my Instagram page and enjoyed the moment. It’d been a long week of nonstop work calls, tantrums from my four-year-old twin daughters, and back talk from my 13-year-old son. Like me, they weren’t handling the COVID-19 quarantine well.

I sat in the tub that night, thinking of all of the times I’d brushed myself aside to be there for my kids. But this, the warm water, the smell of lavender and the quiet, was something I could do for myself — and the best part? It was easy. As I settled into my bath that night, I found myself enjoying it. I started planning what I’d bring with me during my next bath: maybe a glass of my favorite summer cocktail (a Moscow Mule as of late) or a People magazine or one of the books on my bookshelf that I needed to finish.

All week, I was mostly the only parent on duty, juggling my work schedule, the kids’ homeschooling schedule, Zoom meetings, and keeping them from getting restless. I was exhausted by 5pm every day. I felt like I was drowning in calls for “more snacks” or “more food” or “can I have seconds?” — the demands on me seemed neverending. Then came the texts from my wife: “What’s for dinner?” or “How were the kids today?” or “Did you get everything done for work that you needed to?” and I felt the pressure.

On top of that, I’d been on another kind of roller coaster for almost five years — losing weight. COVID-19 was the perfect opportunity to revert to my old ways, emotionally eating coupled with finishing the food my kids didn’t eat, and it was truly all a recipe for me to fall off of the bandwagon. Somehow, I held on and went back on a modified Whole30 meal plan. I also, ironically, took being at home as an opportunity to learn how to bake.

I’d always told myself a story, I can’t bake. I can make a mean dinner but I can’t precisely measure anything. COVID-19 gave me the chance to change this story. First, I learned how to bake bread. I joined the chorus of folks who said “I can’t find flour” or “I can’t find yeast” and when I did, I bought as many as the store would allow, usually two packs. My first loaf didn’t turn out that great, but the five loaves I made after were Instagram post worthy. Three of my harshest critics even asked me when I would make another loaf. Baking became another form of self care for me. It took me away from breaking up fights, and gave me the opportunity to literally dig my hands into something I could control (mostly). Even if it looked a little lopsided, it tasted fantastic.

I’d finally found what worked for me, a way to release from the pressures of COVID-19, which included taking baths, baking and small home improvements. During the first few weeks of our five-person family quarantine, I perused Wayfair.com, planning out how we’d put to use our yet to be received stimulus check. I bought paint and painted our laundry room. I checked out Pinterest to get inspired by ways to build a beautiful garden. I roped my wife and son to finally clean out our basement. I added home improvements post-it to our fridge.

Personally, I found such comfort seeing these projects through from start to finish. It not only gave me confidence in my abilities to complete projects, but it gave our home a tiny face lift. Because we were in the house all day, the to-do list of home improvements quickly grew as I looked at each corner of our home all day.  

Now, I look forward to planning out the weekly baths I am able to give myself. I’ve upgraded from bubbles to bath bombs infused with essential oils like lavender, mint, and eucalyptus. I am reading more and have added the forthcoming novel by author Leigh Stein, called Self Care, to my summer bath time reading list. I am collecting new cookie recipes since my son ate all of the 36 chocolate chip cookies from my first homemade cookies baking session. And next up on my small home improvements list, to spend some extra time in our garden in hopes of growing lush green grass. I daydream about having soft grass so my kids can lay out their wet towels after their slip and slide sessions, and relax.

They often remind me, after their dip in their kiddie pool, that they are “I am living my best life.” I now am following their lead, living the best life I can under the most unpredictable of circumstances.

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