I Let My Teenagers Get As Many Piercings As They Want Because It’s Their Body

When I was a little girl, I wanted my ears pierced in the worst way. My father said no. While all my middle school friends wore fun earrings, I would make my own fake earrings with little plastic circles from toys or metal fittings I’d find in my dad’s tool box because they looked more believable than the clip on earrings on the ‘80s.

When I was finally allowed to get them pierced, I wasn’t allowed to wear dangly earrings or hoops. I could only wear tiny studs.

In 8th grade, I wanted to cut my hair short. I showed my parents a picture of the haircut I was dying for — it was asymmetrical and went from earlobe length on one side and gradually got longer on the other side.

They both said no, I could get it cut to my shoulders and that was about all they would allow.

I wanted to wear faded ripped jeans to school; I couldn’t.

I wanted to wear shorts; that was a no.

I wanted to wear makeup and that was an absolute no.

I ended up sneaking the makeup in my backpack and putting it on during the bus ride to school. I’d change my clothes too. Then, the bus driver told my parents what I was up to.

After that, I’d just do it in the girls’ bathroom and spend the bus ride home taking off the makeup.

It wasn’t until the middle of my high school years after my parents divorced that my mother became more relaxed and let me do what I want with my looks.

I was filled with so much anxiety up until that point — it was my body, my life, and it literally didn’t affect them at all. It wasn’t as if I was doing anything wrong. They were trying to control my looks because of the way it would make them look.

How twisted is that?

So, when my daughter came to me and said she wanted her nose pierced, I drove her there.

When she wanted a slit shaved in her eyebrow a few years ago, I took her to the salon. As the woman was prepping her in the chair to be waxed and shaved, she started going off about how  much she hated the look and didn’t understand why anyone would do that to themselves.

She had no regard for the teenager who was sitting right in front of her and had just asked her to shave the slit. Her opinion was more important in her mind.

My inner kid came out — the one who always felt so suppressed and controlled about how she was supposed to look. Let me tell you, mixed with Mama Bear, it wasn’t pretty. I told her (not very kindly, I have to admit) it didn’t have an effect on her and everyone has their own unique style and if she could just do her job, that’d be great.

Then, my daughter wanted piercings up one ear, so she did that too.

Her hair has been black, blue, and red. Last summer, my sister bleached it for her and gave her pink highlights.

Then she chopped it all off.

She likes to wear glitter under her eyes, and last year went through a phase where she had henna freckles all the time.

These days, she wears wing eyeliner everyday and likes fake eyelashes and that bright colored matte eyeshadow.

A few weeks ago, she asked if she could get her belly button pierced. She’d worked to earn the money and said she’d call and make the appointment.

I took her there a few days later. Then, we went out for a Diet Coke and she was blissfully happy. 

My daughter is independent. And while I need her to ask permission to do some things — like go to a friend’s house or use my credit card to order a shirt — she doesn’t have to ask me if it’s okay if she does something to her body.

Obviously, I can say that because you have to be a certain age or have your parents’ permission to do something permanent like get a tattoo or have plastic surgery, which I agree with. These things are going to last your whole life and the tat you want at 15  (which is how old my daughter is) might not read well when you’re 65, but there are plenty of great, fake alternatives that I’m all for. (She and her brother have done a ton of those by the way).

My point is, a piercing, a makeup trend, a haircut or color, an outfit — all of these things are a form of self expression, and I want my kids to be free to choose what they wear and how they decorate their body. It’s theirs, not mine. 

 I fully believe in letting them decide what they want to do with themselves and their looks as soon as they are able to express it, which is why my sons walked around with painted toenails and fingernails for years when they were younger. And why I didn’t pierce my daughter’s ears until she came to me and asked me if she could have them done. 

I literally couldn’t care less what anyone walking by them thinks. They reserve the right to do what they want when it comes to piercing and the like — which is why my oldest son came home the other day with both his ears pierced. He knew he didn’t have to ask me if it was okay, he just went out and did it on the spur of the moment because he wanted to, and he knows that’s how we do it in this family.

With three teenagers in my house, I never know what look they are going to want to represent or what style they are going to be into next. The good news is, I don’t have to do anything except sit back and let them be themselves.

The last thing I’m going to do is tell my kids they can’t wear earrings, shave their head, or color their hair if that’s what makes them happy. I have a feeling they find a way to make it happen because they can be stubborn like that. 

Just ask my tattling-ass bus driver.

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How Dax Shepard’s Relapse Is Saving My Sobriety

Dax Shepard relapsed after 16 years of sobriety, and it’s all I can think about. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me, but in our sober community, when we hear of someone “going back out” as we say, the emotions it brings to the surface are real and raw.

I have always admired Dax’s courage for being so open about his experience in AA and his journey in recovery as a celebrity. He is an alcoholic and cocaine addict. In his podcast, Armchair Expert, he doesn’t tiptoe around terms or verbiage. It’s uncomfortable to come out publicly as being sober; you can’t unsqueeze that tube of toothpaste.

The stigma associated with addiction is never going to go away as long as we tiptoe around the topic and continue to attribute it with shame. How can we as a society expect to make progress when someone like Trump attempted to use the presidential debate as a platform to attack Hunter Biden’s disease of addiction, hoping it would reflect poorly on his father?

Trump tried to use information about Hunter’s addiction issues as a political weapon, insinuating that this should be a source of shame to his father, Joe Biden. To that, Vice President Biden compassionately responded, “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him.” Biden’s son is likely continually working on his addiction, as a lifelong journey, and isn’t necessarily “fixed.”

I’m grateful for Biden’s response; it took the power away from Trump’s attempts to bully and patronize and took away the scariness of shame by openly talking about what Hunter has faced and continues to work on. We addicts and alcoholics need to hear messages of support; our survival depends on it.

Recently, I too have been more open and vulnerable, even sharing my experience with sobriety on a podcast and in numerous published articles. I am far from a celebrity, but putting something out there publicly is terrifying, especially when the odds are stacked against us that we will “fail.” By putting it out into the universe, we are welcoming your opinion, even when we don’t want to hear it. We are seeking pats on the back and to hear others say, “Wow, you’re amazing!” I also choose to be honest in the hopes that this message reaches others who are struggling, so they know they aren’t alone—especially other moms. Addiction is the one of the loneliest places a human can live, but it doesn’t mean that anyone has to face it alone.

We never want to have to do what Dax Shepard did on his podcast, Armchair Expert, when he admitted he had relapsed after 16 years of sobriety. I was angry to hear about it, but not for any of the reasons that make sense. I never wanted to have more time in sobriety than Dax Shepard. I really hoped for him to continue on, his 16 years as a reference point to my seven. If he can slip, then I could slip, and I don’t like that. The dangerous possibility is uncomfortable. So I’ll be mad at Dax for reminding me that each day we have in recovery is precious. Because that anger feels easier than fear.

In Dax’s podcast, he discussed his hesitation in coming forward. He was terrified of “starting back at Day 1.” With a single slip, all time acquired is lost. He feared by starting at the beginning, he’d just go out in a blaze of alcohol-and-cocaine-induced glory. Never being able to commit to something halfway, I completely understood his thinking. If I’m going to relapse, I will do it with my poison of choice, and I will go harder and farther than ever before. This is why most addicts die of this disease. We want to go right up to the edge without falling off—except we don’t know how or when to stop running.

Luckily, while he was abusing opioids, Dax didn’t relapse with alcohol or cocaine, which was his brain’s way of allowing him this “hall pass” into a new addiction. None of this will make any sense unless you yourself have an addicted brain or love someone who does.

We are master manipulators and gas lighters. The survival of our addiction depends on the elaborate nature of our lies and our immorality. Dax said that ultimately the thing that got him to finally come clean was all the lying. The palpable feeling of loneliness and guilt he experienced while accepting a 16-year chip in AA, while he was high. When we use or drink, it is never just one lie. It is a million lies, all intertwined and entangled to support a singular purpose in life, which is feeding our addiction.

My instinct is to embrace my anger at Dax, and the world’s reaction, and my situation. But the reality is, my anger is a way to hide my fear. And the truth is, I need the fear. The fear is my reminder of how far I have come, and of how easily I could slip.

There will be people within our sober community that will judge Dax for his choices, and they are free to do so. But that’s not how I stay sober. I stay sober by listening to alcoholics like Dax Shepard humble themselves so vulnerably and honestly on the world’s stage. I stay sober by hearing him admit all the ways he tried to convince himself he was exempt from the cunning nature of this disease. I stay sober because a fellow alcoholic had the courage not only to admit his mistakes, but to get up and start all over again.

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The ‘Sober Mom Squad’ Is An Online Community For Moms Who Don’t Drink

Moms who are committed to their sobriety are superheroes to me. In my lifetime, my mother, who was addicted to cocaine, never lived a life of sobriety — and I never knew her as someone not addicted to drugs. We lived through a cycle of her getting clean and then relapsing. We lived through medical detoxes, halfway houses, and prison visits. Despite it, she never won her battle with staying clean.

But there are moms across the country who are committed to staying sober for themselves and their children, and not leaning on alcohol or other substances to get them through their day. And there are moms out there helping other moms stay clean, to remind us all that being sober is healthy and cool — and the best choice for families, and for surviving this pandemic. Four moms heard and saw the increased pressure to just have a drink, a call which added another kind of pressure to recovering moms. To help fight the urge to do so, to fight for their sobriety, an online community of moms in recovery was born: The Sober Mom Squad.

I spoke with founder Emily Paulson, and hosts Jessica Landon, Michelle Smith, Celeste Yvonne, and Jen Elizabeth: women with very different stories of recovery, who are connected not only because of their sobriety, but their desire to stay clean for their children and to be supports for other moms who want to stay sober, especially now during COVID-19.

When a person is addicted to a substance — whether it is a drug or alcohol — and they get clean, there is a 40-60% chance that they will relapse at least once before they can maintain sobriety. With the emotional rollercoaster we’ve come to know as COVID-19, the anxiety, fear, loneliness, and boredom coupled with isolation, and being at home stuck with family, it’s sort of the perfect storm to relapse. What if there was a virtual network that you could plug into, every single day if you needed to, to find a community of moms who want to maintain their sobriety? That’s exactly the call that Emily Paulson heard from moms across the country, moms who were stuck at home but still very committed to maintaining their sobriety.

Emily recalls what led her to create the Sober Mom Squad: she had women reaching out to her who were saying they thought they were social drinkers, but then being home they found themselves drinking more. Emily put herself on Instagram, and found more connections there. “We had a free meetup, we started having Zoom calls, and we started talking,” she says. “Our connection was that we were moms who wanted to get sober.” With over 1,500 Instagram followers, the Sober Mom Squad is providing a resource to moms right in their own homes, allowing them to remain connected to moms who want the same — to stay sober. 

Today, the Sober Mom Squad has a $12 membership program that includes additional resources from suggested sobriety, parenting, and other podcasts, to special discounts on products and services. But the Sober Mom Squad gives moms hope, value, and courage for free. Every Wednesday, there’s a no-cost meeting for moms online who want to find support now.

When anyone — but especially a mom — wants help to stay clean, to push back the urge (and succeed) at not drinking, we should empathize and celebrate her. But social media is a beast. Jessica notes, “Definitely, the jokey alcohol memes have infiltrated the internet since COVID-19 started and it has dangerously helped women (mostly moms) justify the amount they’re drinking and implies that it’s okay to do to cope with kids.”

She goes on to say that the memes explicitly encourage functioning alcoholism, and can also trigger someone vulnerable and struggling or perpetuate an addiction someone is already dying from. “We need to see alcohol for what it is,” Jessica states, “a highly addictive and physically deleterious drug that kills more people annually than all other drugs combined.”

I hope we all know, as moms, that we are superheroes — even on the days we feel like our powers have dimmed slightly. In the span of what felt like overnight, life changed drastically for so many. Some of us went from moms who leave the house to go to work to being home all day with our kids. Others went from having the day to plan and manage accordingly before going to pick up the kids from school or their after-school care, to being with our kids and spouses all day, mandated to not go beyond the four walls in our own homes. Is it any wonder that the urge to drink is strong, and we are struggling? No one can be blamed for searching for ways to cope. But now more than ever, little eyes are firmly upon us.

Sober Mom Squad host and mom, Celeste, says, “I quit drinking when my oldest was three, but it amazes me how much they are watching what we do. Even at that young age, my son would ask me about my ‘mommy juice’ and it pained me to know the life I was leading wasn’t something I wished on anyone, especially my children. If I was going to lead by example, I knew I needed to make some big changes. And now, three years later, I am so glad I did.”

If there is one thing the Sober Mom Squad team wants you to know, it’s this: “If a mom is using and finding it hard to quit, please know that you are not alone! I believe the most important first step is having the courage to admit to yourself that the way you are living isn’t serving you anymore. Then reach out to other moms who are sober now and let us support and love you on your journey!” says Jen.

The COVID-19 mantra “we are all in this together” is one that these fierce and courageous mamas are living daily.

There are communities out there like the Sober Mom Squad, ready to help. “We will always be heroes in the eyes of our kids,” Emily shares. Let that continue to fuel your superpowers.

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The RBG ‘Dissent Collar’ Is Back At Banana Republic

And 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the International Center for Research on Women

The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “Dissent Collar” is being re-released by Banana Republic with a new name fitting the champion of women’s rights and gender equality: the Notorious Necklace.

Ginsburg, the second woman in history to sit on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court and often referred to as “The Notorious RBG,” died Sept. 18 after a battle with cancer. As we continue to mourn her death, Banana Republic decided to bring back its original black-and-white beaded necklace given to her at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards, which she won in 2012.

Banana Republic

The sequined accessory, often worn by Ginsberg as a symbol of her disagreement with the majority opinion on Supreme Court cases, got its name after she sat down with Katie Couric for a 2014 interview. “This is my dissenting collar. It looks fitting for dissent,” she said.

“You know, the standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show, and the tie. So, Sandra Day O’Connor and I thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman,” Justice Ginsburg told the Washington Post in 2009.

Banana Republic officially renamed it the Dissent Collar Necklace in 2019, with 50 percent of the retail price donated to the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project.

Banana Republic

“Banana Republic feels this is an opportunity to benefit the advancement of women’s rights as a continuation of the brand’s commitment to champion equality,” the company said in a statement, per Fashionista.

“Originally released in 2012, we’re reissuing this special necklace with its sparkling glass stones and a velvet tie,” the retailer said on its website.

While the necklace became a symbol of her dissents, it became famous when she took to the bench following Donald Trump’s election in 2016. “I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president… For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate that,” she told the New York Times in July before the election.

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Ginsburg later told her granddaughter, the week before her death.

The necklace, which is now available for preorder until its official launch on Nov. 30, will be sold for $98 with 100 percent of the proceeds being donated to the International Center for Research on Women, an organization that honored RBG with its Champions for Change award in 2016.

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Why I Turned Off My Birthday On My Facebook Profile

For the past few years, I’ve gotten really intense anxiety on my birthday. And while it’s true that I’m hurtling toward (and am probably already at) middle age, that isn’t the reason for my anxiety. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the anxiety was coming from—get this—people wishing me happy birthday on social media. I am perfectly aware that this is the weirdest fucking thing ever to get anxious about, so don’t @ me in the comments section to tell me so. I already know.

But you know how Facebook has that birthday reminder feature where, on your birthday, it prompts everyone on your friends list, many of them whom you almost never exchange words with (or at least not since your or their last birthday), to tell you happy birthday, and you end up with at least a hundred notifications? So many notifications! All day long! HAVE A HAPPY BIRTHDAY RIGHT NOW, DAMMIT!!

That was causing me anxiety. And not just a little. I’m ashamed to admit it had gotten to the point last year that I was honestly kind of letting it ruin my birthday. (Yes. I know I was letting it. I am aware I can choose not to look at social media. But my job is in social media so it is actually kind of impossible not to.)

Now, before I go on, I need to make two things super clear: First, I do not begrudge anyone wishing me or anyone else a happy birthday. I think it’s wonderful! Despite my anxiety, I realize it’s a thoughtful, kind gesture to take a few moments to wish someone a happy day. Second, I am a total fucking hypocrite because I also wish acquaintances I barely know a happy birthday, and I do so with complete sincerity. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t spoken to a person in years, if I see it’s their birthday, I am excited to take a moment to wish them a happy birthday, and I truly mean it!

Nevertheless, for the past few years, the energy being directed at me on my birthday, even though it was positive and wonderful and thoughtful, was just too much. I was having horrible thoughts, like “Why is this person wishing me happy birthday even though we never speak?” followed by “Kristen, you are a big dumb hypocrite who also wishes acquaintances happy birthday, seriously, what is wrong with you?” and the grand finale: “You’re an entitled douchebag with ridiculous first-world problems who doesn’t deserve happy birthday wishes anyway.”

Honestly. Who doesn’t enjoy when people literally wish them happiness?

Turns out, it’s actually not that uncommon to have social media birthday anxiety. I know because I asked on my Facebook page if anyone else experiences similar anxiety, and the comment section exploded with a chorus of “Holy crap, me too!”

Tons of people said they experience social media birthday anxiety, often followed by similar guilt for said anxiety. Many turned off their birthday on social media years ago. Monica, from Maryland, said, “Yes! I absolutely hate it. I hate all and any attention.” It didn’t occur to me until the moment I read that comment, but I think that’s definitely part of my issue. I’ve come a long way from the attention-hungry 20-year-old who threw back a couple of tequila shots and entered a bikini contest during spring break. Please, do me a favor and don’t notice me.

Kristina, from Florida, said all the messages actually made her feel lonely. “It’s a full day of no one actually intimately interacting with you.” This makes so much sense too! When I picture a perfect birthday, I imagine a low-key, chill day spent with the loved ones closest to me, eating good food and too much cake.

Quite a few people expressed distress about thanking everyone for all the wishes. They felt obligated to respond to each and every post, but then also worried they would forget someone and come off looking like a jerk.

This year, in an effort to reduce my weird birthday anxiety, I switched my birthday to private in Facebook. I didn’t do it in previous years because, again, who doesn’t enjoy wishes of happiness? I didn’t want to be a party pooper and I was holding out hope that my anxious ass would chill the hell out over it. Instead, I kept the anxiety and also added guilt and self-loathing for being an ungrateful, panicky turd who apparently can’t handle people trying to be nice to me, and so each consecutive year spiraled into an ever-deepening whirling vortex of panic.

This year, with notifications turned off, was perfect. A few family members and friends with crazy-good memories messaged me privately and posted on my page, which did prompt a few others to respond likewise with happy wishes in the comments, but everything felt much more organic and not overwhelming at all.

I am the first to admit that all of this is sort of a made-up problem. Social media isn’t even real life! Why are we stressing about online birthdays? It’s super weird! And yet, it can’t be that weird because it’s definitely a thing, I’m definitely not the only one, and as much as we’d love to pretend social media is an imaginary place that doesn’t impact our real lives, we all know that’s not the case at all.

I enjoyed my recent quiet birthday with my kids and partner. I was genuinely touched by the people who remembered my birthday even without a Facebook reminder and sent well-wishes my way. It was exactly the right amount of attention for someone with an inflated aversion to attention, so I don’t see myself turning my birthday back on anytime soon.

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Let’s Normalize Doing Whatever The Hell We Want With Our Pubic Hair

My kids are teenagersand after listening to them fight over razors and finding those razors in the bathroom filled with pubic hair, I asked them all what the hell was going on. 

They informed me that everyone shaves their pubic hair (don’t forget the taint) because pubic hair is gross.

“So, this is something you talk about with your friends?” I asked.

Apparently, yes. And according to them, having pubic hair is as dirty as eating your boogers.

I remember in my high school days, if a person with a penis had a foreskin, everyone knew about it even though there were no such things as dick pics and they didn’t spend their free time flashing everyone. 

I’m not saying it was right — it was horrible actually — I’m just reminding us all of the way it was.

It sounds like that’s how it is now if you have pubic hair, which absolutely makes my blood boil. When a thirteen-year-old feels like they have to shave or wax their private parts bald because everyone else is doing it, it’s cause for concern.

I believe if you want hair there, you should have hair there without thinking you are a wild boar who doesn’t know how to take care of themselves. And if you like the way you look better when you are all sleek and trim, well that’s how you should style yourself.

It wasn’t until I divorced and got back into the dating world that I realized no one had pubic hair any longer. I heard it from the men I dated, and I heard it from my single girlfriends.

However, I kept my bush because it didn’t bother me, and I wanted to spend my time doing other things. If the men I was having sex with didn’t like it, I didn’t care — my body, my choice. I also hadn’t seen my naked vagina since I was about eleven and I didn’t really want to see how she’d aged.

Then something happened about a year ago: My landing strip started turning gray, and it really bothered me. After asking my mother about it, she said if I followed in her footsteps, it would all start falling out soon anyway. WTF.

So, I decided to fire my pubic hair before it quit me. I took my pink razor to it one morning in the shower while my deep conditioner was taming my frizzy locks.

I didn’t do this to fit in. I didn’t do it because my friends told me my orgasms would be more intense. (Well, not fully anyway, but that might have crossed my mind while lathering up my bearded clam.)

I did it because frankly, I didn’t want bald patches between my legs. There are enough things about my body I’m not in love with, so why add another to the list? Again, my body, my choice.

Anyway, my point is we need to normalize doing what we want with our pubic hair. Women shouldn’t be made to feel like they aren’t beautiful or clean because they don’t want to shave their lips and assholes.

As Sandhya Ganesh notes in Medium, body hair — just like every other thing about women’s looks — goes through style phases that have changed throughout the years. These days, “With the advent of easily available porn, where women expose body hair-free bodies, men were misguided into thinking this is the sign of beauty and sex appeal. Playboy magazines are also popular, displaying nude, hairless women promoting negative body image.”

Is this where our teens are getting the idea that shaving your pubic hair is a must? From porn? God, I hope not, but let’s be real — it probably is, and we need to fix it.

In listening to my kids talk, it seems to be highly associated with how you feel about, and how you take care of, yourself.

I’ve told them a few times that pubic hair should be just like everything else in your life: you don’t follow a crowd when it comes to this kind of hygiene. You do what you want with your private area, and it’s your business, and that needs to come before other people’s opinions of you. Even a sexual partner.

The idea that women have to get rid of all their hair and always walk around bare is old news. It’s 2020 and we should do what we want with our bodies and if someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to, period. If your partner has an objection, maybe it’s time to remind them that there are other people out there who don’t mind a garden with a little more greenery.

The fact that our teenagers feel like they have to shave in order to be cool, or clean, or whatever, is just another sign we need to normalize pubic hair in the same way we need to normalize wearing whatever you want, or being proud of your size even if it falls outside the “conventionally attractive” norm.

We need to remind them, and ourselves, that just because “everyone else is doing it” is not a good enough reason.

We have to be happy with how we are treating our bodies. After all, we’re the ones who have to live in them. And whether we prefer a plush carpet, or a hardwood floor, is up to us.

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3 Little Tips That Lead To Big Amounts Of Joy

Arguments, disagreements and hostility are all around us these days. Masks vs. no-masks. Biden vs. Trump. Social distancing vs. well, not so much. Everywhere we turn we find opposing opinions. One thing we can all agree on, however, is this: Parenting, even under normal circumstances, is hard enough. Parenting during a pandemic is preposterous.

Even though we’re doing the best we can, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, tired of our new “normal,” and just plain sad. During this chaotic time, when there’s so much that we can’t control, what if I told you that we have more control than we think we do to create more joy in our lives right now, quickly and easily? Well, we do … and here’s how:

First, acknowledge that sometimes good enough really is good enough.

If you’re the sort of mom who strives for perfection in everything you do, recognize that this is no time to aim for that level of excellence. It’s just not realistic, and you’re going to burn out if you try. Face it, friends, we’re in survival mode right now — just doing the best that we can. If you accept nothing short of 100% with everything you do right now, you’re setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.

For me, is everything getting done the way I would like during this difficult time? Heck no. Are we eating cereal for dinner at least once a week? Yep. Are my kids spending a lot more time on their devices than they used to? They sure are. Did I forget to pick up my kid from school one afternoon last week because I mixed up her hybrid schedule and forgot she was there? Unfortunately, yes. Are the dirty breakfast dishes still sitting in the sink? You betcha. And you know what? It’s all okay. It’s not the end of the world. During these unusual times I have to focus my energy and resources on the things that matter, which is getting my family and me through this challenging time as mentally and physically healthy as possible. Everything else is secondary; have a little grace with yourself and keep everything in perspective.

Second, reduce the “Dread Factor.”

We all have a ton of stuff on our daily to-do lists that we are not excited about doing, yet they have to get done. Ask yourself if there is a way to make those dreadful tasks less dreadful, and perhaps even create a little bit of joy while you do them. A friend of mine demonstrated this strategy perfectly recently – she had to move her kid’s stuff out of a storage unit and into her new apartment. She was dreading it, so to make it a little less miserable she rented a cherry-red Mustang convertible to do it. Yes, it took her longer (she had to go back and forth between the unit and apartment more times since the car could only hold a fraction of what a U-Haul truck could hold) and was slightly more expensive, but it turned this dreadful task into an enjoyable experience. She actually had a great day, driving with the wind in her hair and the tunes cranked up high.

Consider the possibility that there may be tiny tweaks you can make to create more joy in otherwise miserable tasks. For example, hate grocery shopping? Plan to listen to the latest episode of your favorite podcast in your earbuds while doing it. It’ll give you something fun to look forward to while doing something that you have to get done.

Finally, start each day off right.

Typically, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when your alarm goes off each morning? If you’re like me, it may be an obscenity or two because you can’t believe it’s morning already and you’re still so dang tired, but it may also be that laundry list of tasks you have to get done that day (and, of course, laundry is likely at the top of it!) Our brains automatically go there first thing in the morning, which is a very depressing way to start the day! Instead, force yourself to think of at least one thing you’re looking forward to that day – no matter how small it is. Perhaps you’re going to watch the final episode of Ozark that you’ve been saving. Or maybe you’re going to enjoy another chapter of that book that’s been unopened on your nightstand for three weeks. Or maybe you’re ordering pizza for dinner from that delicious pizza place on the corner.

Whatever it is, before your feet hit the floor, focus on that little bit of joy that will be coming your way. Can’t think of anything? All the more reason to come up with something, right then and there! It’ll put you in a positive mindset and get your day started on the right foot!

As we continue through these difficult times, there’s a lot we can’t control, but the one thing we can control is intentionally creating more joy for ourselves each day. We deserve that. Now go get some.

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Passive-Aggressive Texting Is A Thing: Tips On Avoiding (Or Accomplishing) It

You may be a passive-aggressive texter. You probably don’t know it— or maybe you do, and you’re deploying it selectively. Passive-aggressive texting is real, because as NPR says in an article about the subject, language is always changing. Moreover, the way you use texting may be very different from the way your teen or tween uses it, and little tics could signal nastiness when none is meant.

When we text, we lack normal emotional cues we use to read a person’s tone, such as vocal range or facial expressions. That makes texting especially ripe for misunderstanding. Our language “has evolved,” NPR says, and the meaning of words and phrases is steadily shifting, especially among younger people.

Want to avoid passive-aggressive texting? Here are some tips. Want to engage in passive-aggressive texting? You might want to add these tips to your arsenal.

Avoid Periods At The End of A Message

As NPR says, periods can freak people out. Because we can just hit “send” at the end of a message, including a period at the end of a statement can  “indicate seriousness or a sense of finality.” When you combine it with something like “OK” or “Sounds good,” this passive-aggressive texting move can indicate a dismissiveness, or even the opposite of what you actually mean.

“Now you’ve got positive words and serious punctuation and the clash between them is what creates that sense of passive-aggression,” Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author, tells NPR.

Major Passive-Aggressive Texting Move: Replying “K”

Look, it’s only one other letter. When you answer “K,” you’re indicating that you are, in fact, not okay with something, says YourTango. It signals “sure, I’ll do it/pretend to be okay with it, but I’m really not, and I’m telling you that.” Major passive-aggressive texting move, especially when you combine it with a period. It also signals you don’t have time for the person: you’re not even using an extra letter. 

Thread-Jacking

This happens most often in group texts. Someone will comment on something, particularly something good that happened, and you jump in with a story or anecdote of your own without acknowledging it (“Well, this happened to me when…”) or “Good for you” or even worse, “Good for you, the same thing happened to me…” All this turns your genuine desire for communication into something about them. Total passive-aggressive texting move.

Omitting Emojis… Or Using Them Improperly

According to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, love ’em or hate ’em, emojis are here to stay. With a smiley face, your passive aggressive period can become more passive aggressive. But with a heart and no period, you’re saying what you mean.

But emojis, Sara Kerr, a business professor at St. Catherine University, explains to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, can also soften what you mean: they function as the facial expressions you can’t read. The word “Goodnight,” for example, followed by a period, has a passive-aggressive texting-like sound. But “Goodnight” sans period and followed by a heart (or more) softens the statement into what you may actually mean (“I’m leaving the conversation but it’s because you or I are going to sleep, not because I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”).

But when used with any other signs of passive-aggressive texting, an emoji can make everything worse. The ubiquitous smilie face isn’t enough. If you really want to soften things, try hearts or the LOL symbol.

Indicating The Text Is Read… And Not Responding: One of the Most Passive-Aggressive Texting Sins

This is one of the ultimate moves, YourTango says, that indicates passive-aggressive texting. You’re saying, “I don’t care about you enough to respond,” and “I see you, and don’t see you worthy of a response.” If you read it, you respond to it. Period. (pun intended).

Texting Long Paragraphs… Or Texting Over and Over and Over

Texting is by nature meant for short, pithy responses, says The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If you’re sending a long response, agrees Bolde, you’re signaling that you planned something, and that while you may be saying something, you’re really ticked off about whatever’s happening… or you’re extra pissed off.

The same goes for texting a few-word answers over and over without waiting for a response in between. I’ve been known to pull this with my husband when I’m actually mad at him and don’t want to say so. It signals that there are multiple issues you need to express, and you’re not giving the other person time to respond. Totally passive-aggressive texting.

Texting “Ha”

You’re saying the opposite of what you mean when you text a two-letter response to something meant to be funny, says YourTango. By saying “ha,” (especially when you combine it with the period), you’re dismissing someone and indicating that whatever has happened is not actually funny at all.

Serious Passive-Aggressive Texting Move: “Can We Call Instead?”

Cardinal sin, says 11points. You’re indicating that whatever’s going on is not enough to deal with in a text message, and you need to communicate some kind of nasty message by talking. It’s the texting equivalent of “We need to talk,” and uncool. Like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says, texting is for short answers. When you say you need to take it to the phone, you’re indicating, through passive-aggressive texting, that everything is not okay.

Multiple Question Marks

11points also notes that the more question marks you use after a statement, the more passive-aggressive texting you’re engaging in. One is okay. Two can indicate urgency. More than two and you’re into “oh my God, I’m so fucking exasperated” territory without actually saying it. Major passive-aggressive move. If you’re trying to be sincere, use one exclamation point… and soften it with an emoji.

Not Answering At All: The Ultimate Passive-Aggressive Texting

I don’t have time for you. I don’t care. I don’t want to read your message. This, especially when combined with a “text read” function, indicates you either: read the text and DGAF to answer, or when the person knows you have a text read function and don’t use it, says, “I don’t care enough about you to even read your message. Avoid at all costs. At least drop a message like, “Totally slammed, will get back to you [emoji].” Remember: if you’re trying to avoid passive-aggressive texting in this situation, avoid the period, soften with an emoji, and use slang like “totally” or “majorly.”

Then make sure you actually get back to the person. Otherwise you’ll piss them off and they may resort to the multiple-text without a response move.

There’s a few rules. Use them as you will: to indicate passive-aggressive texting, or to avoid it. But however you slice it, these things indicate you’re unhappy. Use them wisely.

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Working From Home Is Great, Until It’s Not

The pandemic was supposed to be done by now. We were supposed to support one another, wear masks, keep distance, and move from spring to summer and fall with cases dropping each season. Instead we are living in a divided country that has contributed to what feels like a dystopian version of The Neverending Story. Back to school, government support, hoaxes? Ah, young one, those are another story.

We are still in the thick of COVID-19 adjustments, because cases and deaths are still on the rise. States have opened up, and many service employees have returned to physical spaces, but many folks are still working from home and will do so indefinitely. For some folks, working from home has always been a full-time situation or at least an option they could take advantage of if necessary. Since the pandemic forced non-essential workers into their homes, working remotely has become the only choice for many employees. Working from home does have benefits, but it’s not great for everyone — and for some, the long term effects are damaging.

According to a study done by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, about 34% of U.S. jobs can be done from home. But just because they can, doesn’t mean folks want to work from home. To be clear: no one wants any of whatever this new normal is, but some have struggled more than others with the switch from office space to working at the kitchen table. A survey by the Society of Human Resource Management showed 70% of employers are struggling with shifting to remote work. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, half of companies believe they are seeing a drop in productivity with this shift from office to home work environments.

At first it was kind of nice to skip the morning rush and commute. Business casual became very casual; pants became optional. There were Zoom meetings and emails but no bosses or co-workers looking over our shoulders. Then the novelty wore off and anxiety and loneliness settled in, and working from home became a source of volatility. One of the hardest aspects of this pandemic is all of the dominoes that may or may not fall because of it. It creates a constant sense of unpredictability.

Will my kid wander into the room while I am trying to focus? Will my internet become “unstable” when I’m on a call? Will a coworker or client be dealing with the same interruptions? When will this end? Will there even be office space to go back to when the pandemic is over?

A friend told me that her company decided to get rid of all physical locations and have employees work from home because it’s cheaper. She hopes this budget cut saves her job, but that too is uncertain. We never know what the future holds, but at the moment we can’t even make short-term plans much less long-term goals. All of this uncertainty creates anxiety, and when we’re anxious we don’t focus well and our productivity declines. I’m used to working from home because I did it before COVID-19, but since the kids have invaded my home work space I’ve become slower about checking items off of my to-do list.

My kids’ constant presence over the last six months has definitely impacted my ability to work efficiently from home. I spend more time convincing myself to get started and am easily distracted. The pandemic turned what was once a perk into a problem. Part of the joy of working remotely means I can travel and still get my work done. This allows me to visit my long distance partner or attend a conference and still and not miss any writing assignments. When I was home in the “before times” and struggled to focus, I could pick up and work at a coffee shop or library if I needed a change of scenery to boost my productivity. I can’t do that now.

Being around people helps many of us too. Some of us are extroverts and relish the drop-ins by co-workers and office friends. Our energy and moods are suffering without the external stimulation of other humans. Even introverts can get lonely during these stretches of work-at-home solitude. And most of us need those face-to-face interactions to brainstorm ideas, vent, or hold us accountable. Zoom meetings add to the mental drain and are not a comparable replacement to real contact.

The good news is that humans are resilient and (fingers crossed) all of this is temporary. The pandemic won’t last forever (right??), the economy will improve, and our work-life balance and locations will find equilibrium again. Until then, there are some things we can do to make our remote work better.

Ingrid Fetell Lee reminds us that we need to take care of our bodies first. Move, stretch, and find new spots to work if possible to ease aches and pains from sitting all day. Even if it’s from the couch to the counter, it’s important to give our bodies a break. I have benefited from taking an hour in the middle of each day to work out. It gives me something to look forward to, eliminates stiffness, and gives me energy to pull focus from the depths of my very tired, totally-over-this-shit soul.

Fetell Lee suggests adding plants to your workspace, making an effort to get sunshine, and if you can, putting your workstation away at the end of each workday. Throw a blanket over the mess or pile everything into a basket and tuck it away. We now live where we work. It’s important to set some boundaries so that we can recharge to do it all again the next day.

Another tip (one I am personally struggling with) is that we need to embrace some of this uncertainty. I do my best to control what I can, but the reality is that so much is out of my hands. I know I would benefit from letting go of the idea that I can problem-solve my way out of this situation.

If you are feeling frustrated and sick and tired of working from home, you aren’t alone. I am grateful I can still work from the safety of my home, but being forced to do so has created negative side effects that make me feel sluggish and disconnected. It’s okay to hold these two truths at the same time. It’s okay for you to give yourself a break too.

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Call It ‘Socially Awkward’ Or ‘Pandemic-Weird,’ But We’re All Suffering From It

Maybe you’ve overshared on Zoom lately. Maybe you’re embroiled in a he-said, she-said with a family member. Maybe you’re overly angry, or irritable, or anxious. Maybe it’s easier not to talk to people. Maybe it’s easier not to deal with social situations. Maybe Netflix looks a whole lot better than a Zoom party with your friends. Basically, we’ve all gone pandemic-weird, according to The New York Times: we’re suffering from the social unease and awkwardness that comes with long periods of isolation.

I’m no stranger to going pandemic-weird.

I’m overly anxious. I worry about everything: breathless, heart-hammering, stomach-clenching worry. My husband and I have a joke: every little symptom of any type of allergy (and it’s ragweed season) convinces us we have COVID-19. “You don’t have COVID,” we assure each other over and over. Stomach ache? COVID. Sore throat from snoring? COVID. Runny nose with no other symptoms whatsoever? COVID.

I’m also super-awkward with friends—more than usual. I can’t tell when it’s my turn to talk during a Zoom call. A friend’s chance comment may leave me puzzling for day: what did she mean? Does she still like me? Sometimes it’s easier to stay off Facebook and Twitter and Messenger and every other social media format, ignoring everyone, including my own family. When forced to interact, I get anxious and jumpy.

Pandemic-Weird Is Pandemic-Normal

The New York Times says that research on people who’ve spent extended times alone, like hermits, astronauts, or prisoners, shows that without constant exercise, our social skills wither. NASA says of the planned mission to Mars, “The more confined and isolated humans are, the more likely they are to develop behavioral or cognitive conditions, and psychiatric disorders.” Basically, we’re hardwired to go pandemic-weird, losing social skills and the ability to read subtle social cues, as well developing things like diagnosable anxiety.

We’ve long known that solitary confinement is unethical, with the former head of the corrections department in Colorado calling it “immoral” and “torture” to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. People in solitary confinement, who have no stimulation—some may watch TV or listen to the radio, but they’re denied visitors—can go outside for about 1.5 hours a day in a bare concrete area. While this is obviously far more harsh than what we’re suffering during the pandemic, research on these inmates has shown that “This environment can be psychologically destructive for anyone who enters and endures it for significant periods of time, particularly those with preexisting psychiatric disorders.” People risk “profound and chronic alienation” and “asociality”—i.e., they never want to be around people.

So if we’re becoming a little bit anxious, starting to feel like human contact isn’t worth it, or having trouble reading people—it’s no surprise. We’re going pandemic-weird. And that’s 100% normal for humans.

But I’m Fine…

You’re probably not. You’re probably pandemic-weird. You just don’t realize it.

Stephanie Cacioppo, the director of the Brain Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Chicago, tells The New York Times that being lonely or isolated is as much of a biological signal as being hungry. Our brain interpret it as “a mortal threat,” and when we don’t interact with people, it leads to “negative cognitive, emotional and physiological effects.” Even if you’re holed up with the fam, you’re missing out on vital interactions with other people: casual talk with coworkers and interactions with strangers at Starbucks.

The New York Times mentions, “Many of us have not met anyone new for months.”

My brain said “but the internet.” I realized the internet didn’t count and cried. I’m totally pandemic-weird.

So How Do We Deal With Being Pandemic-Weird?

Space and grace, people. Space and grace.

We need to realize that this is happening, first of all: every one of us is going through a significant experience, and no one is going to come out the same on the other end: values-wise or personality-wise, says The New York Times. So be ready for people to change— don’t expect that when this ends, everything’s going to return to situation normal. Those are the people, says British physician Beth Healey, who spent a year on a remote part of Antarctica, who do the worst when they try to reintegrate.

On the other hand, the people who recover best from being pandemic-weird are those who spend their time in isolation reaching out to others. The prisoners in solitary confinement who fared best afterwards were those who realized the isolation “a serious threat to their sense of self and security” and reached out to other people.

In other words, if you want to stave off that pandemic-weirdness, you’d better take that Zoom call.

We’re worried about kids. But we should also be worried about ourselves. “Social interplay,” The New York Times says, is one of the most complicated things we’re wired to do. So don’t expect much from other people in the next… while. Realize we’ve all gone pandemic-weird: we’ve been through a serious length of social confinement that’s changed us in a fundamental way, and we’re still finding our feet in social situations. Be tolerant of others and realize that no, they probably don’t hate you. But extend yourself the same grace as well.

You’ve gone pandemic-weird. It’s okay. We all have.

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