I Have My Own Cleaning Business—Why Vinegar Is My Secret Weapon

For many years, my full-time job and passion was my cleaning business. I closed the business to stay home and raise babies, but now that all three of my kids are in school, I have added residential cleaning back to my list of part-time jobs. I have always prided myself on providing trustworthy and quality work. I am also proud to tell people that I only use eco-friendly cleaning supplies and products. I am adamant about it, actually. I care too much about the planet, myself, and my kids to use toxic chemicals when much safer and equally-effective options are available. Even though my job description has shifted over the years, one thing has remained the same: Vinegar is my secret weapon.

Vinegar is a safe, inexpensive, and versatile cleaning agent and something most of us already have in the pantry. There are lots of vinegars to choose from, but the one best suited for cleaning and the one I am referring to throughout this article is white vinegar because it is the most acidic and makes it a potent cleaner. In fact, full-strength vinegar may be too strong for some surfaces, so diluting it with water or using apple cider vinegar is the way to go. For an even more acidic cleaner, use cleaning vinegar. It has 20% more acid than regular white vinegar. A simple water/vinegar mix will effectively clean most surfaces in your house.

Use caution on some surfaces. Granite, soapstone, and marble countertops, untreated grout, and stone floors do not mix well with vinegar. The acid can cause pitting and loss of shine. However, vinegar is magic and works in more situations than not.

Bathroom

A simple solution of two parts vinegar, one part water in a spray bottle makes a great multi-purpose cleaner you can use anywhere in the house. But in the bathroom, mirrors, tubs, showers, glass, and tile can be cleaned with this solution. Because vinegar is so acidic, it is great at eating soap scum and brines left by hard water. I have even had luck getting stains from tub crayons off of shower walks. Spraying your shower after each use will help prevent mold and mildew growth too. For really tough jobs in the shower or tub, I have made sprays with a mixture that was one part plant-based liquid dish soap and one part vinegar. Adding lemon oil will make your vinegar cleaning solution smell better and work harder because the oil is also antibacterial and antiviral.

Kitchen

Bring your multi-purpose cleaner into the kitchen and clean counters, appliances, and sinks. Vinegar is great at cutting grease and sticky surfaces—like stickers or jelly left on the wall. However, vinegar doesn’t react well to egg-based messes; adding it will make the spill stickier. Use hot water and a cloth to remove the mess, then use vinegar to clean the surface. Vinegar also freshens stinky drains and cleans the inside of dishwashers.

Pro tip: to get your stainless steel surfaces to shine, dab a cloth with vegetable oil, use it to wipe off finger prints and smudges, then wipe the surface clean with another end of the cloth that has been dipped in vinegar. Let dry and enjoy until your kids appear and run their hands all over everything. Oh, and lean in close: your coffee pot is likely growing mold, so wash your pot and run vinegar through your machine to break down scale build up and knock out mold.

Cleaning Supply Bucket Kitchen Counter
Shopify Partners/Burst

Laundry

I am going to go out on a limb, but I have a feeling you have forgotten to put your laundry in the dryer until the next day or that your kids piss on things. I am also going to guess that if you are a wine drinker, you have slopped it on yourself. Vinegar deodorizes mildew towels, stinky gym clothes, and pee-soaked sheets and clothing. It is also a natural fabric softener, so skip the expensive dryer sheets and add up to a cup of vinegar to the final rinse cycle. Vinegar can be used as a substitute for bleach, too, if you want to brighten white cotton socks, shirts, or underwear. Grass and armpit stains are acidic and dissolve when sprayed with vinegar. A paste of baking soda and vinegar can remove red wine stains too. But the more delicate the fabric, the more caution you should use.

Floors

A little goes a long way with hardwood and laminate floors. No more than half a cup to each gallon of hot water is necessary to get your floors clean. And if you don’t want the vinegar smell, add a couple of drops of peppermint oil, lavender, or lemon oil. I personally love the smell of tea tree oil.

Clogged Drains

I refuse to buy those chemical solutions meant to unclog pipes. They are expensive and I have yet to find one that actually works. I feel like I am dumping money down the drain. Literally. An alternative is to do this: pour a pot of boiling water down the clogged or slow draining pipe. Then add a mix that contains one cup water, one cup vinegar, and one cup baking soda. Cover the drain and let everything sit for ten minutes. Follow up with another pot of boiling water. If this doesn’t work, I like to pull things apart; I will remove the drain plug and snake the drain from the top to pull out hair and gunk. I have also turned off the water supply and have unscrewed the U pipe under the sink. Be sure a bowl is under this to catch small leaks and be prepared for grossness. I find it satisfying. You may not.

Skip the fancy and expensive store-bought cleaning products filled with oil-based and toxic promises and get yourself some simple, but powerful white vinegar.

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Your Home Improvement Project Can Wait — It’s Not ‘Essential’

I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but that home improvement project you are planning to tackle since you finally have a lot of time on your hands?

If it requires a trip to a home improvement warehouse store, it needs to wait.

I totally understand how frustrating that is. Like you, when I first heard how long we would be confined to our home, I planned on taking advantage of my husband’s reduced hours to knock out some of the projects we’d put on the back burner.

I wasn’t planning a shopping spree or anything, but I figured when we ran out for groceries, I could send my husband into a home improvement store to grab just what we needed for one project at a time. We could still limit ourselves to one trip per week as recommended. We’d stay in our own home the rest of the time.

That would be responsible, right?

Turns out, I was wrong.

Trips to the home improvement store are actually not essential for most of us, most of the time.

I know this feels like the perfect time. I have a mile-long list of projects we keep meaning to get around to doing. There are three outdoor light fixtures on the front of my house that I’ve wanted to replace for two years. My husband has been promising to paint our sons’ bedroom since one of them colored on the wall six months ago.

We are halfway through a kitchen remodel. My kitchen functions as-is, but I am dying to see the gorgeous tile backsplash I have planned.

As much as I wish it could be, now is not the time. We all have to forego non-essential trips for a while. Even those of us who are really, really desperate to see how the tile will look with our new countertops.

Part of the reason I thought this would be okay was because I thought the stores would be close to empty. I was so disappointed when I realized how crowded home improvement stores still are, even in the midst of this pandemic.

Last weekend, I found out firsthand.

I knew my kitchen and my paint and my porch chandelier weren’t essential. I gave up on those weeks ago. But when my husband pulled our lawnmower out of the shed for the first time this season to find that the belt needed to be replaced, I thought that might be important enough to warrant a visit to the store. We have little kids and a dog, and they need a safe place to play outside. I thought I could just send my man quickly into the store to grab the part while the kids and I waited in the car for a change of scenery. “A store that doesn’t sell food will be a ghost town,” I thought.

I was totally wrong. The store was packed! The parking lot at our local branch was as full as a normal Saturday. People were walking in and out in close proximity, laughing, stopping to look at things.

Did nobody get the memo about this global freaking health crisis!? We have to do better as a species, y’all.

Needless to say, we did not go inside. My husband ordered the part instead. We are still waiting for it be delivered, and our grass is knee high on our preschooler. But it’s better for our grass to be too tall for an extra week than it is to ignore the guidelines for helping to keep COVID-19 from overwhelming our healthcare system.

We could have thrown caution to the wind and played the odds. My family is comprised of young, healthy people. COVID-19 might pass through our family without incident — but it might not. Nobody is invincible.

We have to go out for food and my husband has to work, so we can’t eliminate every single risk. But it’s irresponsible and completely selfish for anyone — even a young family like mine — to even consider putting ourselves at risk for something like a lawnmower belt.

We also need to leave those stores accessible to people who can’t avoid shopping there. The world hasn’t truly stopped due to this virus. Some people have to be brave and do their best to safely carry out their essential duties. The rest of us have a duty to step aside right now and make it safer for essential workers to get in and quickly out of stores that carry the things they need to do their jobs.

It’s even more important in my local area. Tornadoes ripped through our town just a month ago, shortly before the rest of our lives changed drastically because of COVID-19. Hundreds of people lost their houses, and they can’t find shelter in the place they called home. They are displaced and their lives are upended. Many of them are now facing the prospect of job changes and financial uncertainty, too. They have to continue to attempt to rebuild their homes and their lives in the midst of this additional crisis.

The construction crews need supplies to make that happen. They need us to step aside and make sure they can get their materials without fighting a crowd.

Of course, there are exceptions. Use good judgement. I’m not suggesting that if your refrigerator stops working, you forego safe food storage. If your pipes burst, you’re going to need to run out and get the supplies to repair the leak. Some trips are completely essential. Those are still okay. Keep them short, wash your hands, wear a mask, and practice safe distancing. Keep an eye on the latest guidelines and follow them — but get what you need.

But if you’re just itching to complete your backsplash (like me), plant some flowers, or transform your master bedroom in the Midwest into a seaside oasis with a coat of paint in a shade with a name like “Honolulu Breeze,” you need to just … not.

Your home improvement project can, and should, wait. It’s time to hunker down, venturing out only for work, food, and emergencies, and do your part to flatten the curve.

Millions of lives depend on it.

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Parents, YOU Are Your Kids’ Biggest Role Models

Parents, you are your kids’ biggest role models. It’s hard to remember that in the daily grind of parenthood. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time as a parent wondering if my kids are listening to me. It feels like I say the same things 700 times a day. I don’t think anyone has ever put on a pair of shoes as a result of listening to my very first request. In the day-to-day of parenting, repeating myself feels like my full-time job.

But I also wonder if they are hearing me when I tell them the big things. Do they see what I do for them and appreciate that it all comes from love? Will they grow up to value the virtues I hold dear? Do they believe me when I tell them that they are incredible and can accomplish anything if they work hard? When they are adults and they think about people who inspire them, will I make the list?

According to a new poll by the University of Phoenix, I have a pretty good shot at making that list. When asked, 42% of respondents listed their mom as one of their role models. My husband has an even better shot: 47% of those questioned named dear old Dad.

Sure, your kids will go through phases where they are obsessed with the accomplishments of an athlete, YouTube sensation, actor, teacher, or even a friend, but at the end of the day, they’re looking at you.

It might be a lot of pressure, but it’s also great news. Your kids are likely to emulate your proudest choices. That college degree might actually inspire your own kids to seek higher education. Your choice to serve in the military or volunteer your time with charitable organizations could give your kids direction when they are deciding on their path. Your work might very well become their work. Has there ever been a better reason to do your very best?

Inspiring your kids’ future is a worthy goal, but there’s a more immediate reason to pay attention to the messages you are sending your kids. Highlights magazine polled 2,000 kids ages 6-12 to get their take on kindness, among other things. It proved that our babies are always watching: Almost 70% of the kids reported seeing their parents treat someone unkindly, and 93% of those kids said they felt something negative about the experience.

Our kids value kindness and want us to be kind, but only 23% of kids felt like their parents wanted them to be kind more than they wanted them to do well in school.

When our kids watch us interacting with our adult world, they’re not always seeing kindness, and I can only imagine how confusing that must be.

You and I understand that the world is ugly, people can be a lot to deal with, and we just can’t always walk around sprinkling gentleness like confetti. Real life just isn’t like that. Our kids will grow up and learn that, too.

But right now, they are still building the inner world they will live in forever. We are co-creators, helping them establish a sense of safety and self-worth. As they forge an understanding of social interaction and the world around them, we are the people they have to emulate.

We are their biggest role models.

It’s important for us to have conversations about the kind of people we want them to be. Our kids should have our voices in their heads pointing them toward kindness, inclusivity, justice, dedication and hard-work.

But it’s way, way more important for them to see us being the kind of people we want them to be.

If you want to raise a kind child, you have to be a kind person. Do your best to be gentle to them. Let them see you generously praising your spouse, welcoming all kinds of people into your home, and championing for the underdog. If you want a little inspiration, check out this guide from Harvard University about raising ethical, kind kids.

Raising a hard worker means being a hard worker. Your kids don’t have to wake up to a tidy home and a hot breakfast every morning. Let them see you working your tail off to scrub and cook. Work alongside them during chore time. Let them see you being the person you hope they will become.

If they ask you something you don’t know, let them see you study it. There’s just way more power in teaching them to value learning than there is in letting them think you already know everything.

Let them see you fail. They will learn the value in trying again and again, which is even more important than succeeding sometimes, isn’t it?

Give yourself some help along the way. Provide your kids with other amazing role models to support the work you’re doing every day. Give them plenty of chances to read about brave people who have changed the world. Show them videos of people doing what they do impeccably. Let them spend time with the people in your life who are doing things that feel important to you. Make sure they’re aware of kids who are making a difference even in their youth.

You don’t have to be everything to your kids. There are tons of incredible role models on this planet who can inspire them to go beyond anything you’ve ever imagined for your own life.

But remember that they’re looking up to you more than anyone else.

If you think about it all at once, it can feel overwhelming. You already have to give them everything they need every single day. Considering the lifelong way your actions influence who your kids will become can be daunting. It’s a lot to get right.

But it’s also such spectacular news. Every single good thing you do is helping your kids become better people in the long run. Our work as parents matters so much.

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7 Tips For Pursuing Your Dreams Even When You’re Busy AF

Yes, you have time.

As a soon-to-be mom of six, I hear you when you say that you wish you could start a new project or pursue a new goal but you’re just too busy to add one more thing to your plate. None of us have the time. I just finished writing a book, and the first thing most of my friends asked was, “How the f*ck did you do that?”

It’s a reasonable question. As well as being pregnant and taking care of five kids, I run a wedding business. My partner also works full-time as a financial advisor, and, like a pair of masochists, we have our children enrolled in a mind-boggling array of sports and activities.

So how would someone as busy as I am add something as time-consuming as writing a book onto my plate? I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I didn’t. It was impossible, so I did something that probably feels unthinkable to many moms out there. I started sliding other things off my plate to make room. My unbelievably understanding partner caught some of those things while others, like my personal appearance, fell to the wayside.

At home, I took a couple of months off from inviting people over in lieu of cleaning. I worked out less frequently, wore increasingly eccentric outfits as the laundry piled up and dinner mutated from Cordon Bleu to Cordon Bleurgh as I resorted to tossing a random selection of frozen goods into the oven at 6pm. Instead of making sensory boxes and practicing reading with my five year olds, I took them to indoor play centers with ball pits to catch E. coli while I ignored them and stared at my laptop.

It felt… awful. I was a bad mom, a bad partner, an absent friend, and my house was a health hazard. But after two months, I was suddenly an author. My book was being edited and I was able to start picking up where I had left off. My kids got their mom back, my hair got highlighted, and the house got decontaminated. The best part was that no one seemed to notice that it hadn’t always been that way.

The “How the f*ck did you do that?” questions seemed nothing short of bizarre at first, as it seemed so obvious to me. Had no one noticed me looking like a bag lady? My kids looking pale and plump from a lack of home-cooked meals? Apparently not, and you know why? Because no one else is judging you as hard as you’re judging yourself. The first time my kids noticed my sabbatical from parenting was when it ended and they were suddenly asked to eat vegetable stir fries and homemade shepherd’s pies again instead of chicken nuggets and carrot sticks. And let me tell you, they weren’t actually pleased.

In summary, moms of the world, I am here to tell you that you have time to do absolutely anything — you just don’t have time to do everything. More importantly, it isn’t selfish to take some time away from one area to apply it to your career or a goal that is important to you. Your kids will benefit from seeing you do this, even if you fail. Perhaps especially if you fail. They will also celebrate with you when you win.

Remind yourself that your children may well choose to model themselves on the choices that you make today. Do you want them to feel free to pursue their dreams when they grow up? Or do you want them to think they should squash themselves down inside in exchange for a Pinterest-perfect house?

So, let them see you soar, let them see you roar, and let them see you prioritize passion over a clean floor.

If you have a dream — and I hope you do — then here are my top 7 tips for finding time to chase it.

1. Schedule!

Look at your calendar and block off portions of time that you will spend working on your project. Commit to making those non-negotiable.

2. Use all the scraps.

Keep your laptop close and make use of all of the snippets of time that crop up during the day: waiting at the doctor’s office, the auto shop, or ballet class.

3. Read while driving.

Audiobooks, silly! Or podcasts. I studied the content of my book in the car as well as listening to motivational podcasts on book writing and marketing.

4. Make deadlines.

Have an accountability buddy and commit to sending them evidence of completed tasks within certain timeframes. I splurged on a coach, but this can be your bestie or your mom.

5. Let it go!

Keep Elsa in your head. Drop perfectionism, guilt, and self -doubt. You truly have no time for those. Also drop cleaning, cooking, and laundry for a while if needed. Everyone will survive.

6. Reward yourself.

We all need recognition for our hard work, but that isn’t easy to find in the early stages of a new project. Choose some milestones in advance, and pick a treat to enjoy when you reach each one. A pedicure, a box of chocolates, or some wine perhaps. You did a great job and you shouldn’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back.

7. Remember, it’s temporary.

When you’ve reached your goal, you will have more time again, whether that’s because you have freed yourself up or freed up cash to pay someone else to wash the floors. You won’t have a messy house forever, and you can go back to being super mom again when the time is right.

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Keeping Your Marriage Alive After The Death Of A Loved One

I’ve always admired people who leave their phones on in the middle of the night, but as an exhausted mom, I couldn’t fathom the prospect of another potential sleep interruption. After all, late-night texts about a friend’s relationship drama or wardrobe malfunction certainly came at a higher frequency than any sort of real emergency. That said, the night my brother died, my phone was on silent.

To my fellow parents who also switch your ringers off before hitting the sheets: fear not. Our guts are far more reliable than any phone feature. When I jolted awake around midnight that evening, I sensed something was amiss. I dialed my brother’s number, and soon after getting his voicemail, I received the call that would confirm my greatest fear.

I glanced over at my husband, who was fast asleep, blissfully unaware of what was unfolding around him. I granted him a bit more sleep while I collected myself, knowing the next words I spoke to him would come as a deep, painful shock. What I didn’t know was how significantly those words, and this event, would alter our marriage.

Losing a family member is always devastating, but to lose a sibling unexpectedly was particularly jarring, and immediately had me questioning the mortality of everyone I loved. Life suddenly seemed fragile and impermanent. Trite sayings that once only seemed to exist for the sake of meme sharing now resonated on a personal level, and I fully understood the importance of living each day like it’s your last.

Suddenly, as my husband walked out the door to head to work in the morning, I envisioned his commute ending in tragedy. When I dropped my kids off at school, the unspeakable, worst-case scenario ran through my head. I was living with crippling anxiety, and the people who once assuaged my fears were now the driving source of my apprehension.

In the days that followed my brother’s death, my husband was my saving grace. He took the kids off my hands when he saw the pain stealing the smile from my face, and he allowed me to rest when I felt I could no longer physically stand. But over time, as the initial shock wore off and it became clear the anguish remained unrelenting, he inquired as to whether this was the new reality of our relationship.

Would the wife he once knew ever return, or would this grief-stricken zombie simply continue to roam the halls of our home, eyeballing the clock until the hands finally waved her back to bed? Would our marriage eventually rebound from this blow, or would grief take its toll until we were past the point of no return?

When we take our wedding vows, we promise to love our spouse in good times and in bad, but we’re so eager to accept the terms and conditions that we often forget to read the fine print. After all, what constitutes “bad times,” anyway? Financial hardship, or problems with the in-laws? Surely, as we gaze at our lover and envision our lives together, we aren’t imagining we’ll endure a devastating event that will change them forever in the blink of an eye.

Yet, time has a way of moving along even when your paralyzing grief tricks you into thinking it has stood still. The minutes on the clock continued ticking away, and the days on the calendar turned into months, finally bringing us into a new year. Holidays passed, birthdays were celebrated, and the number of tears shed were eventually outweighed by laughter brought forth by the everyday joys that had been temporarily masked.

Losing my brother was the hardest situation I’ve had to face in my life thus far, but as the grief lifted, the realization that my marriage was stronger than I’d previously known began to shine through.

It’s unrealistic to think your relationship will always be filled with the same bright sunshine that blurred your vision of reality in the beginning. Dark clouds will occasionally hover, and unfortunately, a disaster may one day rock the structure of your partnership. However, if your love is built on a solid foundation, even the strongest storm won’t knock you down.

With some TLC, the cracks can be repaired.

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Our Family Had An Inadvertent Head Start Into Social Distancing

It is an eerie time right now with so many unknowns. There are so many unanswered questions and fears and no guidebook to get everyone through. I am listening to and watching the people close to me and those that I follow through the virtual porthole of social media and the feelings seem universal and constantly evolving through a cycle of emotion.

The only answer I know for sure in this is that there is no answer. So instead of trying to know and understand all things and provide the truths to all my kids’ questions, I have started to listen more. We are sharing feelings instead of facts, humor instead of solutions, and ultimately finding our own story in this.

We are a family of five (two teen boys, 14 and 17, and a teen girl, 13). We live in the country nestled in the foothills of Alberta, and other than our menagerie of animals, we consider ourselves a very typical example of today’s middle-class Canadian family.

The concept of being a touch isolated is not new to us. It is actually one that we subconsciously sought out five years ago when we left the city. We knew what we were seeking (open spaces, trees, land to garden, paddocks to share with animals) but we didn’t realize what we were escaping. It was the physical closeness to others all the time — it was the noise, the haze, the commotion, the competition and the hurry that we found ourselves freed from once we settled on the farm. Those things that for nearly 40 years of my life I had become so accustomed to that they felt like part of me had started to fall away and I was for the first time left with quiet.

Quiet, for me, became the thing I craved and feared. I became acutely aware that we can’t control when the slow moments of nothing will creep in and slip into our minds and hearts and force us to look at things we’d rather push down. For me, there was healing that needed to happen, forgiveness that needed to be given, but also anger that needed to be felt. That was hard to do when all I wanted was to curl up on the deck with a blanket, a cup of tea and watch the birds skip and dive in front of the mountain views we had just spent our life’s savings on.

What I mean by this, is that I may have inadvertently had a head start in learning how to cope with social distancing. I wasn’t thrown into it in terms of a crisis, but I had to learn fast how to change my life, my patterns, my schedules, and my outlook quickly to be able to support my family.

Going to the grocery store each day no longer made sense, so planning better and writing lists (and lists for my lists) became a daily routine. Connecting with others via virtual coffee or text or phone call check-ins made more sense because the distance was greater between us and the responsibilities of maintaining the farm and my family — while running a business — took up much of my time.

There was an adjustment period, for sure. I was used to slipping into the mall often to grab a cute new outfit, a specialty drink and a quick lunch with a friend as a treat for navigating the chaos of raising three medically-complicated kids that require a plethora of appointments and meetings. But what I soon learned was that if I wasn’t throwing myself into those routines, I no longer found the need or desire for them. I found other ways to fill myself and to connect with friends.

While I would still go into the city, it became more organized and planned and less impulsive. I began spending less money, desiring less and ultimately became more resourceful. It is where the start of my shift to living more sustainably took hold. Don’t get me wrong: I still wanted nice things, but what I learned is that by staying in I had more money to save and spend on the things we really wanted rather than everything I touched or saw throughout the day.

Being home and being away from others in a physical sense had taught me that I could be self-sufficient in ways I never thought before. I was learning to substitute ingredients in recipes that my once-inflexible brain insisted must be exactly as written. I could fix things and journal more, I could do yoga on my own floor, I could have really good conversations holding a glass of wine and talking on the phone (and it was kind of nice because I didn’t have to get in a cold car and drive home after a visit). I could pack a shit load of groceries into the car and only have to go every couple of weeks instead of every second day. I began using Pinterest for practical solutions instead of solely for cute hairstyles and outfits.

So, if my entrance into social distancing has taught me anything, it has taught me this.

If you are forced to be only with each other, you will find things you love about one another that you didn’t know existed (despite your years living together). You will also find things so annoying about one another that you will have to sit on your hands to avoid chucking things at the person in front of you. You will learn patience and forgiveness as well as how to find autonomy and privacy in creative ways. You will learn that at some point, you have to sit in the quiet and let yourself feel things you don’t want to. You will truly learn who the people you live with are as humans, you will see when your kids need you (even though they say they don’t need to talk, or they’re “fine”), when they need a break, glimpses of who they will become and what they still need to learn from you. You will get a window into all the things you have done right, and all the things still yet to do when raising your kids — because there is time to see it.

My challenge to you in this unprecedented time is to see it as a gift. You can’t change it, you can’t rush it, you can’t ignore it. So, embrace it.

Pay attention not just to what your kids are saying, but to what you might normally miss in the expressions of their body language on a busy morning. Ask what they want for dinner and invite (if you have teenage boys, by invite, I mean tell) them to join you in making it, so they one day share it with others. Teach them how to be good partners to their future spouses. Show them how to do laundry, but now that you have time, also how to press a pair of pants or hem that cuff that is pulling away. Show them how to clean a bathroom in a way that makes logistical sense, so their future partners don’t one day look at them and say, “Did you honestly just clean the vanity with the rag you just wiped to toilet bowl down with?” Force them to go for walks with you one at a time, and allow them to see the emotion that you can normally save for the car ride to work. Having them truly see you and all your humanness is just as valuable as what you learn from seeing them.

Take time to light the candles you’ve been saving, open the expensive bottle of wine, dance in the kitchen, take long showers, watch terrible TV, play a game, call your parents and check in, write a letter to a friend you think about all the time and never call, make all the snacks, pull out that super cute knitting project you bought yourself three years ago and never started. Because these can be the ways to live. They should be the way you choose to live.

The time has been carved out for you. Embrace it.

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I Stopped Drinking, And Then There Was A Pandemic

I have been drinking since I was 13 years old.

I honestly didn’t realize that I had a problem until the last couple of years. The problem wasn’t so much that I drank in excess, or got in trouble at work, with the law, or with my family. The problem was that I couldn’t handle the full breadth of my emotions. Too much sadness, or even too much elation, was cause for a drink. It was like my head would explode if I didn’t temper these swings with alcohol. And, of course, in managing my feelings in this way, I never learned to sit with them or realize that they would pass, or that change and growth are only possible when we work through adversity and change. I also feared that I was setting an example for my children that some emotions are not bearable, or are not acceptable. And I was physically teaching my brain that without alcohol I could not manage my life.

With help from coaches, books, and therapy, I learned that while I may not have a physical addiction, I have a psychological dependency on alcohol. I was using it to blunt the impact of life’s ups and downs. Since I was a child, friends and family have labeled me as intense, sensitive, even overly sensitive in a pejorative way. Now I realize that these “negative” qualities have actually helped me to excel in my career as a physician and as a partner and parent.

As a teenager, however, I did not appreciate the positive aspects of my emotional attributes, and often felt sad, lonely, and disconnected. I discovered that alcohol, and other substances, made me feel less impacted by perceived failures and losses. I also discovered that they made me more fun and popular and less dark and brooding, which was closer to my true nature at that time. As a culmination of all of the learning I had gathered, I decided on February 29th, 2020, the special extra leap year day, to give up alcohol.

Then, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the Novel Coronavirus, and the disease it causes, COVID-19, a pandemic.

Obviously, quitting alcohol has nothing to do with this outbreak, and honestly doesn’t even matter in this setting of life versus death and the world’s daily fight against this virus. But, for all of us with substance related issues, this moment in history presents a particular challenge. Will we continue on our paths of numbing and getting through by using any means available, in an attempt to blunt the impact of the crushing anxiety that swirls around us from every corner of our lives? Or, will we take this as an opportunity to plow right through this most dense and terrifying emotional terrain, and consider the possibility that we can handle it on our own, without mind-altering chemicals?

I found myself in a quandary. Do I put off my abstinence proposal? Surely this is the wrong month to stop drinking, I think as I nod to Airplane, the 1980’s disaster film of my youth. Or perhaps it is exactly the right month to stop drinking, numbing, and isolating. Hunkered down in my home with my husband, children and pets, cut off from the rest of the living, breathing world, except by text, phone, Facetime, and Zoom. It is exactly the right time to give them, and myself, the opportunity to access the full spectrum of emotions this crisis will inevitably bring about.

It hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure. I have many urges that I watch pass as friends text and post visuals of “quarantinis” and free beer deliveries. I find myself feeling angry that I cannot participate in this ritual of smoothing the edges and connecting through our shared vices.

But the urges pass, and I notice myself changing how I live my life and relate to my people. Without the morning fatigue, I exercise with more strength and get my early morning work done with a clear, unashamed head. When the household wakes up, I am ready for the day, filled with our new normal of working and schooling side by side, without a headache or a regret. And, most of all, at night when I would routinely have a couple of glasses an alcoholic drink, fall asleep on the couch, or excuse myself early to go to bed, instead I show up for my family with focus and attention.

It is in the evening when we check in. As the sun lowers, and the reality that we have faced yet another day sheltering in place against an ever present, uncertain, and unseen threat sinks in, we come together and share our feelings. Whereas I had always thought I needed alcohol to make it through intensity, I have found that it is this connectedness, unimpeded by alcohol, that is making this chaotic time manageable.

The post I Stopped Drinking, And Then There Was A Pandemic appeared first on Scary Mommy.

I Hyper Clean Because I’m Anxious AF

Capless markers are scattered all over our kitchen floor. Crumbs congregate in large numbers on our couches and rugs. The dishes keep piling up. The kids keep ripping through every single fucking thing. And my anxiety is palpable.

I clean the whole house, top to bottom, like the neat-freak champ that I am. I obsessively wipe down surfaces, vacuum up a storm, and stick everything back into its original place. I breathe slowly and deeply as I marvel at the calm atmosphere around me. For a few short moments, it will stay exactly like this, and my worries will take a much-needed nap.

My name is Lindsay Wolf, and hyper cleaning is a trusty coping mechanism I use while living with a mental health disorder. I am the mother who micro-manages every item in my house. I am the wife who constantly asks her husband to chip in with the chores. And I am the woman who grew up in a traumatic home that led me to this state.

As an avid fan of cleanliness and order, you can imagine the overwhelming stress I’m feeling during my family’s coronavirus self-quarantine. Over the years, I’ve become more flexible with the chaos of having two kids under five and all the messes that it produces. Some days, I throw care to the wind and let the house sit in complete disarray while I stay present with my children or work a long day from home. But there is still a nagging deep inside of me to find something, anything, to clean.

The origin of these feelings can be traced back to a childhood that left me in a regular state of panic. I’ve spent countless hours digging into it all with therapists and am on some amazing antidepressants to manage my symptoms. I was diagnosed with complex PTSD a year and a half ago, and every day since has been a bittersweet journey of trying to embrace it.

When I was a kid, all I knew was clutter. We were raised in a home that was perpetually gutted from the inside out with renovations that never seemed to end. We had way more companion animals than any of us knew what to do with. The laundry room was often overrun with massive piles of dirty clothes that I loved to hide in as a child. And it wasn’t a strange occurrence to spend an entire day inside and have my feet stained black from the dirt that clung to them.

Holidays and birthdays seemed to be the prime time when we’d finally clean every room up. All of the chores were usually left on my dedicated mother’s shoulders, as my dad was a caring but emotionally distant guy who often lived in his office to avoid conflict at home. Now that I’m a mother to two small children, I have no fucking clue how my mom could ever manage to keep her sanity in a house that was far too large for her to handle by herself. The heartbreaking truth is that she didn’t. In addition to the tremendous amount of dirt and clutter, I felt chronic waves of anxiety and shame as I encountered physical, verbal, and emotional abuse at home that left me hating myself and terrified to make a single mistake.

When I grew up, I found that the only way to deal with the painful feelings I didn’t understand was to seek perfection at any cost. I kept my body impossibly thin through harmful methods, overachieved in every aspect of my life, and obsessed over each detail in my apartment to make it appear attractive and orderly. I also spoke in ways that seemed pleasing to others, hid emotions that felt too messy from my personal relationships, and followed a creative career path that revolved around popularity and success.

Then I had children, and the shit hit the fan. I gained a bunch of weight, my to-do list shrank dramatically, and my home lost any semblance of organization. I found myself repeatedly self-harming, experiencing panic attacks, enduring muscle spasms, and wondering why the hell I couldn’t get my life back together.

I started cleaning to fill up the hole inside me where productivity used to live and found myself repeating a vicious cycle. I’d wipe until there was nothing left to wipe up. I’d take a deep breath and feel at peace for a hot minute. Then I’d watch my toddler destroy it all and manically pick up after her. Irritation and impatience would boil up inside of me, and I’d do whatever I could to survive the rest of the day. I’d panic clean at night, pray that my husband’s late-night Netflix marathons wouldn’t ruin all of my hard work, then wake up the next day to start all over again.

Even now, it’s still so challenging to accept that I have complex PTSD that stems from the ongoing trauma I endured from a young age. But I totally get that in the early days of parenting, my mental health disorder was speaking to me loud and clear. It was begging me to stop the hustle and pay attention to it. Creating a tidy home was just a side effect of trying to avoid looking directly at the painful trauma of my youth. It took me two whole years to actually start listening and get the help I needed. I’ve come a long way from letting my “neat freak” flag fly 24/7, and I’m also a lovable work in progress who is doing everything she can to help herself heal.

These days, I still clean to manage my anxiety with the nearly-full cooperation of my husband (LOL). Some days, he admittedly drops the ball, and I’m left floundering. But he finally gets how important it is to my mental health to keep the home in some kind of balance. Yes, I still have moments where I pick up stuff in a flurry, usually while listening to Lizzo or Arcade Fire to keep my motivation strong. I look like a mad scientist while I’m at it, and my kids get a kick out of foiling my plans every chance they get. But now, instead of only looking at them as a frustrating hindrance to my organization, I see my children as the reason to put the goddamn broom down every once in a while and breathe deep without requiring everything to be in its right place first.

There are certainly some fun perks to being a master organizer, even if I haven’t reached full “Marie Kondo status” yet. I know where everything is, so nothing really gets lost in our house. I’ve memorized so many cleaning songs for kids that I’ve lost count, and I sing them regularly with my little ones when they jump in to help. And they do jump in to help me, despite us not pushing them to incessantly take on daily chores. My children see the example of a mom who benefits from neatly stacking blankets on couch arms and making sure the houseplants have enough water. They are being raised by a mother who has come a long way in her own mental health journey and isn’t afraid to show her authentic self as she continues on it. They get to love a mama who finally isn’t too consumed by her own pain to make messy memories with them.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt to know that while their father may be totally cool with leaving clothes on the floor and crumpled up tissues on tables, he also loves their mom so much that he’s learning how to change his sloppy ways. His wife is eternally grateful for it.

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Why I’m So Worried About My Teen During Social Distancing

As families try to adjust to the “new (temporary) normal” of the global pandemic, social distancing, and lockdowns, there are mountains of articles and advice on how to help young kids. I’ve seen tons of advice for dealing with the shenanigans of your new “co-workers,” and there are articles on how to talk to your kids without scaring them. But there isn’t much said about the big kids in our lives – teenagers.

Teenagers, by nature, need independence. They need time away from their parents. They rely on their peers and friends. In fact, according to Orlando Health, a study published in Child Development found that teenagers who had close friendships were less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety even into their mid-twenties. They also had a greater sense of self-worth. Experts say that friendships begin to take on the “attachment relationship” that teens had with their parents when they were younger.

“[These] are really very, very close and emotionally intimate relationships,” Jaana Juvonen, developmental psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, told The Atlantic. “And even if that particular relationship doesn’t last, it has ramifications on ­subsequent relationships.”

I’ll admit, I’ve often bemoaned the fact that my teenage son seems so dependent on his friends. I sometimes wish that he wouldn’t need to be texting his friends so much or that he would be content to spend time with his family or even alone, that he wouldn’t need the constant stimulation that his friends provide. And I suspect I’m not alone. According to The Atlantic, “Too often educators and parents fail to appreciate the potential upside of these strong ties. Teachers often separate friends, whose banter can be disruptive in the classroom. Yet when researchers record student conversations during class, there is evidence that while kids are problem solving or working together, students collaborate more effectively with their friends.”

But these relationships – and even the “peer pressure” we often look so negatively upon – are essential to development and can even be wildly beneficial. “It’s really interesting that we as adults in the society often regard friendships more as a nuisance and a distraction rather than give them the value that they really deserve,” Juvonen told The Atlantic.

These healthy and essential relationships and interactions have been erased – or severely hindered – from our teens’ lives now due to social distancing. They aren’t chatting with their classmates while they work through a chemistry experiment. They can’t tell jokes (most of which are somewhat inappropriate) while eating a sandwich at the lunch table. They can’t trash talk over a friendly basketball game at the park down the street.

Sure, they can still FaceTime and text and hang out in an Xbox game of Fortnite. But it isn’t the same because, for the most part, these interactions are now supervised. We, their parents, are in the next room. We are sitting next to them on the couch while they FaceTime their friends. We can hear their cussing and laughter through their closed (and locked) bedroom door.

Some parents might think this isn’t necessarily bad. After all, we have more insight into our teens’ social lives now. We know when and how they communicate, and we can step in when we see something questionable. In some cases, this might be true. But overall they are being deprived of the freedom to figure things out from their peers and in situations away from their parents.

As most experts recognize, it is important for kids to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. And teens can learn a hell of a lot when they aren’t under their parents’ watchful eye. What’s more, teens need independence and autonomy. As Greater Good Magazine by UC-Berkeley points out, “Healthy, self-disciplined, motivated teenagers have a strong sense of control over their lives. A mountain of research demonstrates that agency is one of the most important contributors to both success and happiness.”

But here we are, all up in each other’s business 24/7 (or pretty damn close to it), and many teens are really struggling with this. So what can we do to help?

Well, as with most things, I think the first step is to acknowledge the validity of their feelings and the struggles. My teen son – an outgoing extrovert in just about every sense of the word – is having a particularly hard time being physically separated from his friends. My husband and I have tried to acknowledge this as much as we can. As the grief expert David Kessler has said, we’re grieving. “This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air,” he said.

Yes, our kids are grieving – and acknowledging this can help us all move through it. “There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us,” Kessler added.

It’s also important to cut our teens and ourselves some slack. Rules need to change. We all need a little more grace. I don’t presume to be an expert or have the answers on any of this (in fact, the song, “Does Anyone Have a Map?” from the musical Dear Evan Hansen has never felt more applicable). But we’ve made a few changes – both intentionally and organically – that seem to help.

– Screen time limits have gone out the window. Our teen is allowed to play Xbox for much longer than usual, as long as he’s playing with his friends. That way they can talk and laugh and do all those things that teen boys do while playing video games.

– E-sleepovers happen. WTF are e-sleepovers, you ask? Well, I was confused at first too, but basically it’s just a group of kids playing Xbox together late into the night and then watching a show together over FaceTime.

– Cussing and crude jokes are overlooked. For the most part, anyway. I mean we all have limits, and there are still some standards of decency.

– We don’t micromanage school work for their remote learning requirements. It either gets done or it doesn’t.

– And finally, we’re pretty frank with our teen about what’s going on and how we’re feeling. We don’t censor information or hide our emotions the way we might if our kids were younger. Teens can sniff out inauthenticity and bullshit like nothing else, so we’re giving it to them straight (as much as possible anyway).

I’m absolutely heartbroken for all the teens who are missing milestones because of this pandemic. Graduations. Proms. Sports tournaments. But even aside from those once-in-a-lifetime events, our teens are experiencing huge losses — of independence, of freedom, of socializing and peer interaction – that will impact them for the rest of their lives. While these losses might seem small in comparison to the loss of jobs and lives, for our kids, these losses are enormous.

So let’s be gentle with our teens. Let’s relax on the screen time limits and let them swear in front of us. Let’s not worry so much about whether our kids’ education is suffering, and focus on making sure their emotional wellbeing isn’t suffering. And as much as I never thought I’d say this, maybe – just maybe – this is a time to be our kids’ friends, and not just their parents.

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The Hell Known As Trying To Keep Teens Quarantined

If you have teenagers living with you through this pandemic, you know the hell that’s telling them they can’t hang out with their friends every damn day. I know this because I see your posts far and wide as you reach out to other parents asking them what the hell you should do.

My smooth-talking sixteen-year-old thought as soon as his school shut down, it was going to be Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in here. I told him right away that it wasn’t a vacation: He was expected to do his school work, and stay at home.

Exactly five minutes later, he slammed his laptop shut, announced that all his teachers told him to enjoy his vacation, and he grabbed his car keys while telling me he was going to the gym. I wasn’t in the mood for his sarcasm or disobedience, to say the least. 

I told him that he was going nowhere and could work out at home. That turned into a 21-day argument (thus far, anyway). Eventually his gym closed, so he gave up on that, but apparently I am the “only parent” in the kingdom who is following the stay-at-home order and not letting him hang with his boys. 

According to him, I am overreacting and don’t know the facts — that he is immune to everything and has a protective shield over his body that won’t allow COVID-19 to penetrate him, so he simply cannot get it or spread it to anyone. 

Since that day, I have put my lectures on repeat. Keeping him and his brother and sister (who don’t have driver’s licenses, thank God) was successful until last Friday, when I braved the grocery store. We were down to one roll of toilet paper. Living with three growing kids who eat 45 times a day and poop after each meal is a problem in itself, but I’ll spare you the details. 

Upon my return, I noticed his car wasn’t in the garage. I looked at the clock, which said 2:22; where could he possibly be going at this hour? When I called him, he told me he needed to get gas and wanted fast food and would be home in a few hours. “I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t sit in the house with nothing to do.”

That was the first time my son ever left the house without permission. 

I told him he needed to get his ass home right then. I also told him he better not be seeing any of his “boyz,” because who knows where they’d been. Then I called his father, who lives in town, and asked him to drive around and look for him.

I didn’t stop there. I asked my two younger kids who stood by and let him leave without doing anything to stop him, why they didn’t call me. I got eye rolls, of course, and was told I was being dramatic. “You bet your ass I’m being dramatic. There’s a universal warning to stay the hell home and you guys don’t think it’s that big of a deal!”

I’ve explained to my kids that keeping them only between my house and their father’s house isn’t a punishment. I’ve told them I want them to be healthy, and they need to do their part in this. I’ve tried to be patient when they ask me if they can see their friends, and they wonder when life can go back to normal. 

A lot of things they loved about their life — their friends, going to the movies, going out to eat, long-awaited school activities, have come to a halt and they are mourning them, just as we all are. 

If you have teenagers who are beating you down about keeping their life normal, thinking it shouldn’t be a big deal if their best friend comes over for the afternoon, I feel you. This is no small task we’ve been dealt. I often feel like I’m trying to contain wild animals who smell meat outside their cage, and they are getting hungrier by the day. 

But as hellish as it is, this is an important job we have: to show them what is right, to think of others, to make this damn thing go away as soon as possible so we can all resume our normal lives.

My daughter wants to have a friend over. She thinks if they don’t touch each other, all will be okay. My youngest wants to hang with his squad at Target — something he’s done for months now. When I tell him no, he argues that the store is open, and says they’ll stay six feet apart and wear ski masks. 

I know kids are being relentless because they are hurting and lonely, and really want this to be over just like everyone else in the world. That’s why I have to do everything in my power to keep them at home, regardless of how tired I am or how much I don’t feel like arguing. I told my son if he slips out again, his car keys will be gone for a month — and I’m not fucking around. 

So yeah, on top of everything else, we need to worry about keeping our teens at home. It’s hell for sure, but it needs to be done. 

As if that isn’t enough, my daughter has been flooding my DMs with videos and pictures of ducks. Ducks in diapers, ducks going on walks, ducks falling asleep on the countertop, ducks swimming in the sink or tub. She keeps telling me since she can’t see her friends, and this summer will probably be the worst summer of her life, she’d like a pet to keep her company. 

I love my children. Watching them go through this isn’t easy. Parenting them through this isn’t easy. And if there’s anything I could do to make it easier on them, I would.

I was thinking more along the lines of buying them extra candy, but it looks like we’re getting ducks. Who knows? Maybe those are easier to keep in a row than teenagers.

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