My Tween Has A Serious Case Of ‘The Mondays’ — Every Freaking Week

It was 7:15 a.m. on Monday morning and my 12-year-old son was still in bed. His younger sisters were up, complaining about our cereal choices. His mother was almost ready for her day of teaching, and I was trying to get the kids out the door so I could get myself to work. But our son, Tristan, was refusing to get up and go. I’ll be honest, I lost it for a moment.

I went into his room, turned on the light, and went into lecture mode. I told him that he needed to stop holding up the whole family. I told him that the real world was not going to put up with this crap, and he needed to get moving. He didn’t move at all, but instead put his blanket over his head, and made a long groan.

“You better be out of that bed in the next two minutes,” I said. I set up the statement as if it was going to be followed with a potential punishment, but I was too tired to come up with something because it was Monday morning. I was tired too, so I just let the empty threat hang there, incomplete, as I left his room.

Not that this is particularly unusual for him each and every morning. He is always is the last one out of bed. But Tuesday through Friday, we can usually get his little tween butt out of bed by 7 a.m. On Mondays though… forget about it.

The wild thing is, this dragging his feet on Monday usually begins on Saturday night. He starts to talk about how he doesn’t want to go to school on Monday. By Sunday, he seems to be dreading the idea of going to school, and by Monday morning it has become this huge anxious filled concern that keeps him from getting out of bed. And sure, there have been times when we have thought about just letting him stay home rather than keep fighting with him, but I know this isn’t the solution to helping our son manage responsibility.

I’ll be honest, this last Monday, I was over it all. I was over turning on his light to get him moving. I was over tugging at his covers. I was over yelling from downstairs “Are you up yet?” until my throat hurts.

In some ways, this is a very “preteen” problem. I was the same way at 12. And I know I suspect I will be going through this same issue with my younger two girls in no time. But there is one thing I don’t always consider in these moments. Part of the reason I get so angry with him staying in bed so long on Mondays is because I have a difficult time with Mondays too. I tend to dread going into work on Monday, and it begins on Saturday too. Having my son drag his feet when I’m already irritated and struggling does not exactly set me up for good parenting.

And when I think about that, I don’t fully understand why I hold my son to a higher standard than myself. Sure, I’m supposed to be teaching him to get up and get going, even on Mondays. But naturally, he doesn’t want to get going anymore than I do at the first of the week. While he is my son, he is still human, and humans have hated Mondays since the standard workweek was invented. Only he hasn’t had a few decades of obligations to help him come to terms with the fact that staying in bed will not make Monday go away.

Sometimes as parents, it seems like the things we hate get exacerbated when our children are too much like us. We end up getting really irritated with our children, when what we need to be doing is understanding and even sympathizing. It’s not like we learned to handle the dread that comes each Monday easily. In fact, it can take years for some people to emotionally prepare themselves to start the week, and getting yelled at first thing in the morning isn’t going to help.

I’d love to say that I came to all of these conclusions myself, but naturally, I didn’t. I left Tristan’s room giving him two minutes, and as I did, my wife, Mel, cornered me in the hallway and said, “You suck at Mondays too. How about you cut the kids some slack.”

Then she went on telling me that he’s been dreading going to school all weekend. He’d even been a little depressed about it. And suddenly I was trying that age-old “toughen up” strategy with my son, when what he probably needed was someone to understand. And as wild as it sounds, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I was overreacting, as parents sometimes do, particularly on a Monday morning.

So I went back into his room and said, “Listen, bud. You are going to have to figure out this Monday thing. But I’m going to tell you something. I hate Mondays, too. I’m not very good at them, and that’s probably why I get angry every Monday when you don’t get out of bed.”

He was quiet for a moment, still wrapped in his blanket. Then he said something I didn’t expect, “You hate Mondays, too?”

I laughed, and told him I did. I told him that a lot of people do, that’s it’s normal to dread going back to school or work or whatever, but you still have to get up in the morning. “Mondays never really go away. I’m sorry to have to tell you.”

He poked his head out from beneath the covers, his hair a mess, no shirt on. He didn’t say anything, but he twisted his lip to the side, let out a half moan, and then got out of bed. And I honestly think all he needed was to realize that Mondays do suck, that most people hate them, even his father, and this was life. And I remembered something that I already knew, but hadn’t done a very good job with: sometimes just showing a little empathy can go a long way in this parenting gig.

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Turkey Vegetable Tray

Make a Turkey Vegetable Tray for Thanksgiving! These turkey veggie trays are a fun ideas for a Thanksgiving table or healthy fall party food. Easy Turkey Vegetable Tray for Thanksgiving! It’s never too early to start planning your Thanksgiving dinner! I came up with this Turkey Vegetable Tray fun food idea years ago at Thanksgiving after being […]

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How To Raise Bully-Proof Children

Back to school: An exciting time punctuated by new teachers and classes, fresh books and school supplies, resuming friendships and extra-curricular activities. For the child who has experienced bullying, however, it can be the worst time of the year.

It sure was for me.

Every year, I’d hope maybe it would be different. Throughout elementary and high school, bullying was a big part of my experience. By 10th grade, I even had a bully on the public bus I would take to and from school.

He would sit at the back of the bus with his friends and call me names and say, “What’s wrong? Are you scared to sit at the back of the bus? Maybe we’ll just have to follow you home…”

I remember I would get on and off several stops away from my own stop for fear that he would one day discover where I lived.

This went on for two years.

Things got so bad that I became depressed, isolated, and even considered suicide.

As an adult who survived bullying, I became a high school music teacher who focused on building confidence and self-esteem and I, once again, was immersed in an environment where bullying was an everyday reality. I was determined to make a difference for my students.

Here are a few steps you can take to help your child deal with bullying.

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1. Listen to your child.

Your child will tell you or show you that they are being bullied. Listen and notice. If your child tells you what’s going on in school, listen. If your child is less communicative, listen all the more. Ask open-ended questions. Wait for answers, but don’t force them. If you demonstrate that you are always ready to listen without judgement and without jumping in too quick and potentially embarrassing action, eventually s/he/they will open up.

Listen with your eyes. Children who are less communicative will show other signs such as not wanting to go to school, feigning illness, and may even show signs of physical injury.

2. Tell someone.

Teach your child to tell the adults in charge. Bullies and friends alike parade the ridiculous notion that one shouldn’t be a tattletale, which is ideal fodder for people looking to get away with something they shouldn’t be doing.

Tell someone. And, if nothing happens, tell someone else. Even in this day and age of bully-awareness, your child may need to tell a number of people before someone actually takes action. After all, it’s much easier to sweep something under the rug than to address it.

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As a parent, tell someone else who your child trusts; teachers, siblings, friends, an older cousin or camp counselor. I never told my parents or family. They had absolutely no idea what was going on. While your child may not open up to you, by telling others, you increase the chances of getting support.

3. Travel in groups.

Bullies win by isolating their targets. Teach your child to go with a buddy — if at all possible — to places in which s/he/they may encounter bullying. Unfortunately, oftentimes a bully’s ideal target is the awkward child with few to no friends.

4. Watch for cyberbullying.

If your child is being bullied online, there are ways to address it.

Do not respond to cyberbullying. Rather, document it.

Record dates and times, save screenshots, emails, and text messages.

Report cyberbullying to the relevant social media platforms and providers.

There are rules against cyberbullying. And there are laws against it too. If the cyberbullying involves threats of violence or the release of private information, report it to law enforcement.

5. Talk about it.

Don’t wait until it happens to talk about bullying. The truth is your child is experiencing bullying in some way; either as a victim or as a spectator.

Have regular conversations about confidence, self-esteem, behavior, bullies, and bullying.

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Pay attention when your child tells you stories about their friends who might be displaying bully-like behavior. Ask questions. Get your child’s opinions. Have a discussion.

Kids do well if they can. A bully is simply a child who isn’t able to manage something else that is going on in their life. Empower your kids to ask questions when they see someone being a bully – to ask if the bully is OK.

6. Celebrate who your child is, in all their weird, awkward uniqueness.

Bullies are most effective when they target those who already feel uncomfortable in their own skin. Adolescents who feel as if they don’t “fit in” and have low self-esteem are prime targets, which unfortunately is figuratively the very definition of adolescence.

When a child feels worthless and undeserving and feels there is something wrong with him (like I did), he is the least likely to report bullying behavior. Rather, he feels like he deserves it, and all the more so, will do almost anything to hide the source of his shame.

Consider two LGBT youth. One is ashamed of his feelings for the same sex and tries to hide it. Another is very visible and proud, holds hands in public with his boyfriend and advocates on campus for LGBT rights. Whereas the bully may attempt to intimidate each of these students, he will only be successful with the former.

This brings me to the most important point. Parents, you cannot prevent bullying. The best you can do is prevent your child from being vulnerable to bullies. From the day your child is born, your job as a parent is to love your child unconditionally, and to positively and authentically mirror to your child her uniqueness and incomparable worth.

A child who knows she is loved for all her weirdness, awkwardness and authenticity cannot be blackmailed into believing less of herself.

Celebrate your child, and teach him to celebrate himself, each and every day. Teach him to pat himself on the back for challenging himself, for learning, for growing and for just being himself.

A child who celebrates themselves for being just who they are, cannot be bullied into believing something else.

 

Previously published on TODAY Parenting.

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Parents Of Little Kids Get A Free Pass When It Comes To Skipping Events

This past weekend, my husband and I attended a family wedding without our kids in tow. Even now that our kids are older, this sort of thing is a rare occurrence for us. Our oldest, a middle schooler, would be fine if he stayed home alone without us. But our youngest still requires babysitting, and to arrange that — plus juggle our busy AF schedule — can be a real headache.

Yet it’s so much easier than when my kids were younger. Back then, even if we found a babysitter, having someone other than us do the bedtime routine would usually result in a total shitshow. Our kids would usually stay up way too late (if they even fell asleep without us), and then they’d be be cranky beasts for the next few days after that. Not to mention, sometimes our budget just did not allow for us to pay a sitter.

And forget about when they were breastfeeding babies, literally attached to my body 24/7. Getting away for the evening was usually a total non-option for me. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to task someone else with their care because I knew they would be clingy, difficult to console and would refuse a bottle.

I was reminded of how much things have changed for me about an hour into the wedding when I bumped into my husband’s cousin. I’d noticed that his sister — who has a toddler — wasn’t at the wedding. This cousin and his sister are at almost all family events, and although I knew how hard it was to get away when you have a little one, her absence was notable.

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“Tell your sister I send love,” I said.

Then her brother said, sort of apologetically. “You know, it’s so hard to get away with the baby and everything.”

I immediately went on a little rant about how no one needs to apologize and how I totally understand and would have done the same. I don’t think he really felt he needed to explain it further to me. He was just exchanging pleasantries, to be honest. And I think he knew how very accepting I would be about something like this.

But the exchange got me a little worked up, because why is it a societal norm that these sorts of things have to be explained at all?

NO ONE SHOULD EVER, EVER HAVE TO EXPLAIN WHY A PARENT OF YOUNG KIDS CAN’T ATTEND AN EVENT. I’m serious. Like ever.

Basically, from birth to about age 5 (or later, honestly, because all kids are different and because babysitting can be hard as hell to secure), there should be literally no assumptions about whether a parent can attend a big event like a wedding or anything where kids aren’t welcome, or that might be difficult to attend.

And even if kids are invited, if the event is at night and will mess up bedtime, or if the event is far away and it would be a nightmare to travel to, you still shouldn’t assume that a parent should be able to make it.

Look, I understand that sometimes these things are important, but I think you can trust that if it’s a really important thing — a birth/death type thing, or whatnot — the parent is going to use their judgment and do their very best to get there. No parent is trying to be an asshole here.

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And I agree that we sometimes have to step out of our comfort zones and do things like take the cranky kids out at bedtime. But honestly, it’s only a parent’s place to decide when those times are.

That’s what really gets me about things like this. It’s the judgment from others. It’s the assumption that someone other than the parent should know when the appropriate time is for a parent to make the sacrifice and show up somewhere that’s hard for them to get to.

I think older folks sometimes forget how all-consuming raising young children is. They forget how literally every minute requires your attention. They forget how goddamn busy we are (and NO, we are not exaggerating).

Many of us don’t have babysitters at our beck and call. Many of us can’t afford them, even if we did. Many of us are balancing work and housework and childcare — sometimes all at the same time.

So no, Brenda, it’s not that freaking easy for us to get away for a few hours. It just isn’t. Unless you are in our lives every damn minute, you don’t get to decide what we can and cannot do. FULL STOP.

So, I hereby declare that moms of little ones get a free pass when it comes to attending events outside the home, even family events. They don’t have to go unless they are able. No one is allowed to asked them why they can’t attend, and they certainly don’t owe anyone an explanation.

Let me tell you what should happen when you find out a parent of a young kid can’t make it to a wedding, a holiday event, a family potluck, or anything else. You say: “Well, of course she can’t come. She has a little kid, after all.”

That’s it. Case closed.

See how easy that was?

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A ‘Peanut Butter And Jelly’ Analogy Helps Explain What It’s Like To Live With ADHD

Those of us who live in the neurotypical realm sometimes have difficulty understanding what it’s like for people whose brains and bodies operate differently than ours. Even if it’s our child or loved one who is struggling, we may be apt to make quick judgments, become easily frustrated, and basically feel like we just don’t get it.

Take ADHD for example, one of the most prevalent neurodevelopmental disorders out there — one is that is often diagnosed too late, and which commonly causes kids and their parents a whole lot of stress and heartache. The thing is, even when your child is properly diagnosed with ADHD and given a treatment plan, they may still face struggles on the daily, and you (and their teachers) might feel at a loss as to how to handle these challenges.

Well, one ADHD mama named Jane O’Connor is here to help. O’Connor, a Speech-Language Pathologist and mom to an 8- year-old son with ADHD, recently posted a thread on Twitter about the “peanut butter and jelly sandwich” analogy to illustrate what it’s like to live with ADHD.

And oh my goodness, it’s totally spot-on and a game-changer for anyone who parents an ADHD kiddo.

First, O’Connor spends some time describing the ways in which ADHD brains work differently than more neurotypical ones – and it all has to do with how the ADHD brain processes short term memories, or Working Memory (WM), as O’Connor refers to it. In a nutshell, when you have ADHD, you have trouble holding onto Nonverbal Working Memories.

According to O’Connor, Nonverbal Working Memory refers to “your ability to hold images in mind.” This includes the propensity to “see scenes from the past, pictures you saw, where you left your keys.” Finally, O’Connor says, Nonverbal Working Memory helps you picture and imagine future events.

Nonverbal Working Memory is something that just doesn’t work quite right in people with ADHD and executive functioning disorders. In other words, they can’t picture what the end result of a particular task is supposed to look like – and when you aren’t able to do that, it can be seriously difficult to complete the task.

When this isn’t something you personally struggle with, it can be really tough to understand what it must be like for someone who does.

“Because #neurotypicals just imagine what ‘done’ looks like, and work backwards from there to figure out what steps to take,” O’Connor explains. “Then backwards again to figure out what they need to get started. Then they know how to start.”

OK, so here comes the peanut butter and jelly sandwich analogy (you know you were wondering how that fit in!). O’Connor – who credits the analogy to her speech language pathologist colleague Sara Ward – explains that when a neurotypical person sets out to prepare a PB&J, the first thing they do is picture the end result, or the sandwich itself. This is what helps them plan the whole process of making the sandwich.

But someone with ADHD simply can’t do this, so it becomes very hard for them to complete the task of preparing the sandwich.

O’Connor describes what it’s like for a neurotypical person to work on that sandwich, having had the end result in mind the whole time.

“What are the steps to achieve the ‘done’ image?” O’Connor asks. “Well, laying out the bread, spreading the peanut butter, spreading the jelly, putting the two sides together. BAM. What will I need to prepare to do those steps? Bread, peanut butter, jelly, knife. BAM.”

In other words, neurotypical folks can plan backwards, starting with the image of the completed sandwich and working from there. But ADHD folks just can’t do that.

And here’s where the most genius aspect of all of this comes into play. O’Connor has a simple and effective solution for dealing with the Nonverbal Working Memory deficit experienced by children or others with ADHD.

If they aren’t able to keep the end result in mind, explains O’Connor, well then you can do the work for them – by showing them a physical picture of what they are working towards.

O’Connor says that doing exactly this for her son has helped him perform everyday tasks that used to prove extremely difficult due to his ADHD. For example, check out her solution for her son’s morning routine:

“What does ‘ready for school’ look like? We took a photo of him ready with all his things. Now each morning I show him that and say “match the picture” and he’s ON IT. The photo helps him see the wholeness of what HE looks like in the future. He can see the done.”

This is absolutely amazing and makes total sense.

O’Connor says this practice has also helped her son deal with anxiety or fear of the unknown – because instead of him feeling like he has no idea what a new experience will be like, she can present him with a visual of that thing, and ease any fears.

She has also shared this technique with her kid’s teachers, with much success.

O’Connor also advises that simple check-lists, which are often enlisted for kids who struggle with ADHD, just aren’t enough – because it’s all about the image of what the end product is supposed to look like, and verbal or written cues don’t suffice.

Of course, it should be stressed that all kids are different– even among kids who share similar struggles and diagnoses — so this exact practice may not be the magic ticket for your kid. But my guess is that it could be helpful to many kids who have executive functioning challenges, probably even ones who have milder or undiagnosed challenges.

Either way, it’s an explanation that is super helpful to those of use who are neurotypical and have trouble getting into the mind of someone who is differently wired than we are. And we all know that when it comes to helping our children thrive and grow, a little compassion and understanding can go a long way.

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Hey McDonald’s: Stop Saying Barbies Aren’t for Boys

Yesterday my three-year-old tripped at a play area and split open his eye. While my daughter would prefer to read books and quietly play with dolls, my son lives up to the stereotype set for his gender: he’s rough and tumble. He’s active and unapologetic for it. When he fell and cut himself, he didn’t shed a tear (until I told him he had to stop playing and go get stitches, then the waterworks set in). But that’s just him; the kid is resilient. I don’t think he’s ever cried over a bad day, and certainly not over a booboo.

But he also likes Barbies.

On our way home from the ER, post-eye stitching and a mental sigh of relief from Mama, I stopped to get my children a much belated lunch. I pulled up to the McDonald’s drive-thru to order their Happy Meals, and the attendant asked me the usual questions: would I like extra fries or apples? Dipping sauce? Drink?

I handed my children their food and I could immediately see the disappointment on my son’s face as he watched his sister comb her doll’s long locks.

And then she added in one more:

“Is this meal for a boy or a girl?”

Courtesy of Stephanie Hanrahan

I have a child of each gender, so I answered accordingly without much thought. But when we pulled into a parking spot and I looked inside the box, the weight of her final question hit me hard.

Boys get Hot Wheels, girls get Barbies.

I handed my children their food and I could immediately see the disappointment on my son’s face as he watched his sister comb her doll’s long locks. It was a matter of seconds before he was asking for a Barbie too.

As I drove home, I began to think about all the ways this world is shaping my two very different children. How my boy gets to go bare chested to the beach, versus my daughter who covers up. How men get to potty out in the open with urinals, versus women who are vanished behind closed stall doors.

Courtesy of Stephanie Hanrahan

That gender-based McDonald’s toy sent me a big message. I’m raising a boy who’s allowed to whip it out, and a girl who’s told to stay concealed and make babies. My son will one day get to shower and go, while my daughter will spend hours straightening her hair and painting her face with makeup. And it made me wonder, who sets these rules? When did fast food restaurants start predetermining which toys our boys and girls would prefer? While I don’t mind following a lot of social norms, I also believe in letting my children be free. And you know, choosing what they want to play with.

A week later when we returned to McDonald’s, I ordered two Happy Meals for two girls and happily handed one to my son. Because what’s wrong with a boy wanting a Barbie? What’s wrong with a large corporation like McDonald’s ditching the question of “Is this for a boy or a girl?” and asking instead, “Would you like a car or doll?” Let the child choose. Don’t assume we know what they’d like to play with based on their body parts.

Courtesy of Stephanie Hanrahan

My bruised-eye boy likes Barbies and playing with them doesn’t make him less of a man. In fact, maybe one day it’ll make him more equipped as a father. It’s quite possible boys can be brazen and bold and also quiet caretakers too.

So McDonald’s, our rescue restaurant when Mom’s too busy to cook: the next time you see my children approach the counter, list out the toy options and let them choose—don’t just look at their bodies and assume.

What’s wrong with a large corporation like McDonald’s ditching the question of “Is this for a boy or a girl?” and asking instead, “Would you like a car or doll?” Let the child choose.

If we’re ready to build an inclusive community where people can choose their professions, as well as their genders, we have to start with the children. Give them room to find what works for them. That’s the secret sauce to making this world a better place.

One Barbie or Hot Wheel at a time.

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My Kids’ Friends Don’t Want To Stay At My House Because I Limit Phone Use

There was a time when my kids had friends spend the night pretty regularly. I liked it because I enjoy having a house full of kids and spoiling them with homemade cookies and boxes of oily pizza. But more than that, I like knowing where my kids are and that they are safe. I just sleep better this way.

The fun times all came to an end as soon as they were old enough to get their hot little hands on cell phones. Instead of shooting hoops, riding their bikes, or wanting to watch a movie, their phones became the object of their affection.

I didn’t fret at first, thinking it would wear off and once again they’d want to come into my kitchen, help themselves to treats and talk to each other in the face.

It didn’t happen though.

The afternoon would slip into night. The sun would go down and instead of getting all riled up like they once would and shout out requests to have a balloon fight in the dark or play flashlight tag, I heard nothing coming from upstairs, because smart phones.

The first time this happened, I wanted to be the cool mom and let my kids stay up late, thinking they’d eventually get tired of their phones and either communicate with each other or fall asleep.

But when I woke up to take my 3 a.m. pee, I could see the light coming from my daughter’s room. I crept down the hall thinking I’d see teenage limbs strewn about, girls fast asleep with empty bags of chips and candy surrounding their hair and feet.

Nope. Instead, I found what appeared to be three 12- and 13-year-old zombies staring at their screens. I took the phones away and told them they could have them in the morning.

I laid awake until the sun came up fearing the backlash I was going to get from other parents about how irresponsible I was, and how tired and bratty their child had been after they picked them up from my house.

The next day, I decided to beat myself at the guilt game and I confessed to all the parents. No one seemed too concerned about it. I told them I’d take their phones at a decent hour from now on and felt like I was mom of the year.

Only I wasn’t. Not even a little.

Turns out, I had embarrassed my daughter big time. I was the only mother in the history of mothers who had ever dared to pull such a vicious stunt.

Eventually, she got over it and the next time a friend spent the night, I informed her mom I’d be taking her daughter’s phone away at 9 p.m. (along with my daughter’s phone) and putting it on the kitchen island in case of an emergency. “I just don’t like them having access to their phones all night doing who knows what,” I said.

She agreed, thanked me, and said she did the same. She already had my number and I told her if she needed anything she could text me and I’d be available, or could give her daughter her phone back so they could talk.

I was very clear I wasn’t doing this to get off on some power trip — I do realize the phone is not mine. But, experience taught me the girls weren’t able to have self-control, nor were they interacting with each other. I wanted to do something about it.

When the clock struck 9:00, I took the phones. I slept well knowing they were talking and giggling and eating the chocolate chip cookies I made instead of watching YouTube videos, or sending shit into SnapChat-land, or doing other things I don’t want to think about. Not much good happens after midnight, let’s be honest.

Unfortunately, word has made its way around the school that I am the Dragon Lady who is so damn strict I make Cinderella’s stepmother look like Glinda The Good Witch.

No one wants to spend the night here anymore because I suck. Also, I’m pretty sure they say my cookies are bad which is total bullshit, but I get it. You need to go for the drama so, throwing that in is a nice touch. They want to make me seem especially repulsive and that is okay with me.

What I’m not okay with is letting teenagers stay up all night behind closed doors on their phones. I wish they had the capability to put the damn things down but at 13, they don’t.

Maybe some parents disagree with me, but it doesn’t matter because I agree with me and I’m the boss in my house.

No, I will not hold onto this rule forever. In a few years, it will feel okay to let 16-year-olds stay up all night staring at their screens. By then, I’ll be too tired to care. For now, I need to follow my gut on this one (no matter how over protective it seems to the kids), and take the damn phone at 9:00.

I’m not too worried about it though. I believe in my cookies and I’m pretty convinced they are so good, those same kids will be coming back to spend the night before too much time passes. Screens or not, you can’t deny the power of a perfectly made chocolate chip cookie.

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When My Preteen Daughter Started Using A Wheelchair, People Began To Treat Her Differently

When I was pregnant, I remember being appalled by the audacity of people who would freely comment on my growing belly. “You’re so big,” they’d coo. Or they’d just reach out and pet me, as if I were an animal. And I’d squirm, uncomfortably. Because normalized or not, it’s wildly inappropriate and awkward.  Then once my daughter was born I remember being even more appalled that strangers would try and tell me how to parent her. “Put that baby down” they’d say, as they saw her on my chest in a wrap. Or, “she’s too big for that,” as she nursed at a year. And worst of all, people would touch her, without first asking me. But, as she grew up, the unsolicited advice tapered and fewer and fewer hands reached for her. And it was a relief. We’d reached the point where our autonomy was respected and our space was ours.

Then, a seizure took my daughter’s mobility. Resulting in her becoming dependent upon her wheelchair. And like that, we traveled  back 10 years.

Again, people feel entitled to comment freely.

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They ask her “why she needs a wheelchair when she’s so young?” They tell us about the oils and juice products they sell, as if they’re a “miracle cure.” They tell her “if she just tried harder…” completely unaware of the hours of therapy each day for her holds. And it makes me crazy. Because THEY DON’T KNOW. And it’s not their place to. She shouldn’t have to justify the space she takes up – yet, every day she’s asked to. She shouldn’t have to listen to sales pitches or hear she’s not doing enough, just because she relies on adaptive equipment. And she should never publicly be asked her private medical history to appease the curiosity of someone who has no “need to know.”

Yet, her wheelchair invites all these uncomfortable conversations and so many more.

Her wheelchair, for reasons I will never understand, takes us back to a place most people “outgrow” by their second birthday.

And it’s not just words.

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People approach her with “kid gloves” on. Without asking, they move her chair, assuming she can’t, pat her on the head and patronizingly call her “sweetie.” They suddenly cut up her food at restaurants,  bend down to talk to her — or worse yet, look past her and talk to me. Which, of course it’s makes no sense. There’s ZERO connection between her legs and the deficits they perceive. And it drives us both bonkers.

But whereas I get frustrated, she responds with grace. She explains that she can use her hands, usually even proudly exclaiming she “graduated occupational therapy. She’ll tell you her ears work fine, and she’ll say “I’m sick, not broken.” If you ask her “why she’s out and about” or “how she got somewhere,” with a smile she’ll ask the same of you.

And I am SO proud of her resilience, but heartbroken, too. Because it shouldn’t have to be this way.

My Gracie is a strong, independent and fierce girl. She’s a horseback rider, a science enthusiast and an outspoken community activist. She’s a strong student and a wizard in the kitchen. She loves fast cars, painting nails, and hanging out with her friends. She’s quick with a joke and in times of tension, always the first to forgive. These aren’t things that make her brave or extraordinary, as people who see her in her wheelchair often will exclaim, they are simply the traits that make her, her.

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She lets nothing stand in the way of her best life, though everyone expects her to. And it’s hard. Because while she’s out there “living,” she’s also having to prove her worth. And I want to jump up and down and scream on her behalf, because it’s not fair.

But, while I am stomping my feet and having a tantrum, she’s moved on. Because she knows her abilities and worth and isn’t worried about those looking on.

She does what she can – and asks for help where it’s needed.

She doesn’t get mad when people assume she can’t — she takes the time to tell them why she can. Her patience is greater than mine and for that I am proud.

But I ask of everyone reading — for her, and for others in wheelchairs — please recognize wheelchairs are tools for mobility, not universal limitations of the human experience.

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When It Comes To Raising My Sons, I Constantly Wonder, ‘Have I Done Enough?’

My boys are 18 and 15—their silky baby cheeks have long since vanished in whiffs of aftershave and occasional razor stubble and when they hug me, I can feel the muscles bunching across their shoulders. I think to myself, “they’re good boys,” but then like a malevolent ghost the thought floats in: what if I’m wrong? 

A few weeks ago, after we’d had a visit with my nieces, the boys asked me if I wished I had a daughter instead of a son. I said, “Well, I’d never trade either of you for a daughter but girls are just…familiar. I know girls.”

The boys frowned. It wasn’t quite the firm “of course not” they’d been expecting.

“Aren’t we familiar?” one of them asked, and I laughed. Unless they are someday fathers of daughters, they will never understand how deeply strange it is to be the mother of sons.

A daughter would be familiar—her body would be a version of my body, as my body is a version of my mother’s. My skinny ankles and squishy stomach, the thin lines carving in around my mouth and the knuckles gnarling on my hands: all my mother. Her body has given me a map for my own.

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My sons’ bodies don’t have anything to do with mine. Their bodies gleam with muscle, their skin slides lean and close against the bone. When they put their bare feet on the coffee table, I see men’s feet, not the little dumpling toes I used to kiss during their bath-time. The boys have become something utterly not me and sometimes when I look at them I feel like Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. When the creature that Victor has created opens its yellow eyes and stares at him, Victor is stunned: he’d made the creature, dreamed over it, hoped for it—but had never expected it to have a mind of its own.

Bereft and unloved, the creature turns to violence; he tells his creator that if he were loved, he would be virtuous—but Victor refuses to love him, and refuses to give him a female companion to love, for fear that this second creature might also escape his control. It is in Victor’s refusal of all things female that we see the subtle feminism of Shelley’s novel: without women, no society can flourish.

I look at the creatures I’ve spawned—large, autonomous, full of their own desires—and I hope that I’ve avoided Frankenstein’s mistake. I’ve filled my creatures with love, with affection, helped them understand that they have a place in the world, tried to ensure that they see women as equal participants in the world.

And yet in the insomniac hours of the night, I worry that it’s not enough. I worry that, like Frankenstein’s creature, my children might decide to react to life’s inevitable disappointments with violence. My boys—all our children—are coming of age in a world where toxic masculinity swirls like a fog: what if that poison has already seeped into their lungs? What if they’ve absorbed through their skin the belief that they are the most important people in the room, just because they’re men?

How do we inoculate our children—our boys—against this disease? I wonder about all those perky #boymoms I see in social media: do they worry about this toxicity as they post cheerfully exasperated photos of their adorably dirty lads playing with dinosaurs? Or is mine a late-stage worry, one that doesn’t surface until the toddler becomes “man”?

I think I did all the “right things” when my boys were growing up. They had a toy stove that they loved; there were spangled dresses in the costume box, and their room was littered with light-sabers and Legos, Polly Pocket dolls and race cars. I even splurged for the clear plastic Cinderella slippers that one of them wanted for his fifth birthday. One of my proudest moments was when one son announced—while wearing a purple sparkly dress, a Jedi cape, a lightsaber, and the Cinderella slippers—that he was Princess Leia, Queen of all the Jedi.

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Surely that boy is inoculated against the disease of misogyny. Surely that little boy could never get raving drunk at some college frat party and paw at some disinterested college girl?

And yet.

Think about all the monstrous children who romp through our cultural imagination, from the demonic son in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child, to Rosemary’s Satanic baby, to the twisted sisters in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and that whole mid-twentieth-century run of movies like “The Omen” and “The Exorcist?”

Monsters are often thought to mark the boundaries of a society, the limits of acceptability: we are here and over there is monster. And actually, come to think of it, so too with children: they are us/not-us; their bodies are ours when they’re small and then become emphatically their own. They elude us as they slide into personhood, leaving us holding memories and a few fragile hopes. Just as the monster marks the very edge of a community, so too children mark the edge of the unknown: the future, with the potential to be both benevolent and cataclysmic.

I tell myself that we must have done enough to help our boys build a moral compass that will point them away from monstrosity but then I look around at the monsters of misogyny preening themselves in the public eye: Kavanaugh, Weinstein, Lauer, the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief. And those are only the most public offenders. What about all the ordinary terribles, the fumblers and grabbers, the pawers and leerers, the “lighten up it was just a joke” bros—what about them? How did they become those people? And how can our kids avoid seeing these men as success stories?

Have I done enough?

That’s the question that lingers. What if I’ve somehow missed something and toxic seeds have settled into the beautiful bodies of my sons, only to emerge one day—who knows why—and wreak havoc.

I know that the parents of daughters struggle with some of these same questions and have the same hope (which flips into fear) that they’ve done enough to prepare their girls for their lives as women. And I know that some of that preparation involves teaching these girls how to keep themselves safe from men who might hurt them. This is not to say that I think girls are inherently virtuous or kind just because they’re girls—I am still too scarred by some of the mean-girl I shit suffered from in high school to say that. It’s more that I think the parents of girls don’t have to worry (as much) that girls are going to commit some kind of violence.

Let’s go deeper: my sons are growing into men and, like many (most?) women I know, I have always been slightly afraid of men. Only slightly—not debilitating, not terrible—a few moments of panic here and there over the course of my five decades on earth. Particular men—my husband, my brother, a few friends—are loving and gentle. But men in general make me just a little bit anxious. My boys will grow up to become like the particular men I love, right?

What I know is that I can’t know. I want to believe that my husband and I have made boys who will be good men. I want to believe that it’s all going to be okay, that it will never be my boys who do something monstrous. But the world shows us that the shift between possible and impossible can happen in a eye-blink.

I know my boys won’t be monsters. Not my boys.

That couldn’t happen.

But I am still afraid.

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12 Lessons I Need My Kids To Know Before They Leave The Nest

I often wonder if I’m doing too much or too little to raise good human beings. Many articles discuss how the baby boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers were in some way damaged by their over-loving, under-loving, over-protective or under-protective parents. Of course, this isn’t encouraging news for the parents of our next generation, the Gen Alphas.

These days we as parents are trying to have and do it all. Our pace is frenetic; our lives are filled with activity after activity – all to ensure our kids are getting the best (fill-in-the-blank) out there. But I wonder how much of what they’re learning is truly meaningful?

During these blurred years of parenting, I’m trying my best to slow down, to be mindful of teaching them (and myself) these life fundamentals. Fortunately, I have 18 or so years with them to discuss and explore these ideas – many of which have been around longer than all our generations combined. I hope that despite the chaos of our lives and my many imperfections as a parent, these growth mindsets will help my children become decent, well-adjusted adults.

1. Adopt kindness as a way of life.

Always strive to be your best self, using kind thoughts, kind words, and kind actions. Be empathetic, be humble, be sincere, be moral, be helpful, be happy for other people’s wins. No gossip. No drama. But kindness doesn’t mean weakness – stand up for yourself or others if someone else is being unkind.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  – Plato

2. Cultivate gratitude. 

Most of what you’ll deal with in life will be first world problems so check yourself before you start complaining. Pause often to tell yourself that you have enough. Every night pray for those who need prayers. Every morning pray with thankfulness for what you have. When feeling down, don’t dwell on the “me,” get out and help the “we.” Always send thank you letters.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” – Aesop

3. Be self-aware.

Realize your strengths and weaknesses and how your actions are impacting the world around you. Power through your insecurities and moods. Even if you’re uncomfortable, say hello and smile. Shake people’s hands firmly and look them in the eye when talking. Practice good manners and good hygiene before someone else has to tell you. Learn what your body language and tone is saying, not just your words. Pay attention to the lies you might be telling yourself.

“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu

Salina Wuttke

4. Accept accountability. 

Own your actions. Most predicaments are due to being a victim of yourself; if crises seem to be a trend for you, consider that you might be the source. Never blame your past for why you’re making poor decisions today. You’ve hit the lottery of birth in both time and place so you can control your path. Control the things you can change, consistently making wise, mindful choices that’ll add up to a successful life that you’ve rightfully earned.

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” – Sigmund Freud

5. Find your inner tranquility. 

Understand that we all get anxious and overwhelmed, so be kind to yourself and stop resisting your struggle – embrace it. Accept the present. Try to quiet your “monkey mind chatter” by thinking bigger. Take the “you” (i.e. the ego), out of your thoughts and think of time and seasons passing, the earth going round and round. Mindfully breathe. This temporal worry you are facing at this time — this too shall pass, and the world will still go on.

“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

6. Be mindful of how you’re filling your void.

We all come to this world with a void, a search for something meaningful to fulfill our lives. Money, cars, trends, social media – the pursuits of sensualists are buckets with holes (no pun intended). Fill your void with the spiritual or meditative. Learn to enjoy being alone. Slow down to question your life’s meaning and pace. Serve others. Connect with the people in your life deeply – below the surface-level. And create beautiful memories.

“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” – Viktor Frankl

7. Work to solve problems. 

Being smart won’t sustain you long term. If there’s a challenge you can’t solve, take the time to figure it out. Most everything is solvable. When stuck, ask for help. Work hard to keep solving whatever life deals you, again and again – breeding confidence and an accomplished life. Accept you’re not perfect – you’ll make mistakes and fail. But fail fast and bounce back again. Be gritty, be resilient, stay motivated. Do any job to the best of your abilities.

“All life is problem solving.” – Karl Popper

8. Strive for moderation.

Learn to be moderate with food, exercise, technology, work, money, politics, spirituality. Work against compulsions. 80% of the time be moderate. But even moderation needs moderation. So, 20% of the time have fun and go big. Work to keep your life and all parts in it simple, organized, minimal, and with no or very little debt.

“Never go to excess but let moderation be your guide.” – Cicero

9. Seek the truth.

Read books. Cultivate a passion for all types of music, art, literature, history, travel, and religion. Continue to create. Don’t be a collectivist. Question yourself if you find that everyone around you has the same opinions and ideas as you. “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates

10. Take risks, smartly. 

Never run away from things you’re afraid of as your world will continue to get smaller. Growth happens most when there’s discomfort so dig deep to cultivate your bravery. Before doing something big and rash, ask yourself why with logic before heart as sometimes it can be for subconscious or existential reasons – realize those issues first before jumping in headfirst. And always try the food and go on that trip (if you have the money).

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” – Sren Kierkegaard

11. Learn to express love. 

Work to overcome your own life’s restrictions and insecurities that are preventing you from being open to your fullest measure. Lower your walls. Be first to express the love or appreciation you have for someone. Admit when you’re wrong and apologize immediately. No silent treatments. Always communicate and forgive. Live, love, and laugh deeply, as today may be your or their last. “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa

12. Don’t be a narcissist. 

Most of the time, life’s not always about you and you’re not more important or more special than anyone else. You do however have unique gifts you can contribute to the world. You’re loved. You’re valued. The world will never be a perfect utopia but that’s okay. You’ll have bad jobs and you’ll have to deal with bad people, but that’s okay too. It’s part of your journey — a journey that you should never sugarcoat. The perfect man/woman of your dreams doesn’t exist but a good, moral one does. There will never be a perfect time to have children so have them, adopt them, or be a mentor for them.

Life is an exciting business, and most exciting when it is lived for others.”  – Helen Keller

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