My Tween Is Outgrowing Playing With Her Little Brother, And It’s Breaking My Heart

It’s a sight that’s become too familiar in the last few months: my nine-year-old son sitting outside my daughter’s—his sister’s—room playing a game on his iPad. When I ask him what he’s doing, the answer is the same. He’s waiting. He’s waiting for his sister to finish FaceTiming with her friends because then she promised she’d play with him.

I offer to let him come hang out with me while I get some work done, rather than sit alone on the floor, but he shrugs. He’s fine there…waiting to play with his sister who is almost 11.

I knew this day would come, that one day she’d be too old to build LEGO worlds with her little brother and create extravagant scenarios with superheroes and Barbies. I knew one day her friends and the privacy of her room would have a draw that the tiny playroom full of colorful toys would not. And I knew my son would be left behind, still in the world of Legos and superhero figurines for a few more years while she slid into adolescence.

But I didn’t know how much it would break my heart to see him lose his playmate, or how desperate I’d feel to hold onto those moments during which she did choose to play.

My children are close—in age and emotional connection. Often, they have been each other’s stable presence in an ever-changing world. They’ve been through trauma together that most kids will never know—first their father’s cancer diagnosis, then his death, and now their mother’s rocky attempt to solo parent during a pandemic.

But now she’s drifting into a world that he’s not allowed into, and I can tell he’s lost without her, not sure how to play on his own, maybe not even sure he wants to play on his own.

So he negotiates. He tells her that if he leaves her alone for ten minutes, she’ll come play with him after. If he watches the show she wants to watch, then next time they’ll return to that game of pretend they started weeks ago. I see him, even, striving to enjoy the things she’s gravitating toward—the video games and shows that her friends are playing—in an effort to hold onto that time with her.

He’ll never admit it, of course. If you ask him, his big sister is annoying, and he doesn’t care what she’s doing. And, to be clear, their sibling relationship isn’t all sparkle, glitter, and quiet play time. They fight. A lot. Sometimes it feels like they fight all day long. He drives her bonkers and she knows exactly how to push all his buttons. But despite that, unfailingly, he’s sitting outside her door, waiting for her, negotiating for more of her time.

Sometimes, he’ll even come to me and recruit my help in getting her out of her room. And though I know it’s completely age-appropriate for her to want to text her friends and play online games with them, I can’t help but support his case. I rationalize it, by telling myself pretend play is still good for her brain development and that too much screen time isn’t. But ultimately, like him, I want to hold onto time with her. I’m not ready to give up hearing them giggling and planning and creating wild games from their imagination. I want to savor every little bit of “little kid” that she has left in her for a little longer—for as long as I can.

She doesn’t complain much. She’ll usually agree to play with her little brother—humoring him because she has a kind heart and humoring me because she knows when he’s busy with her, I can tackle some of the things on my endless single mom to-do list. Which means even though she’s still playing with him, she’s doing so less as a little kid, and more as a mother’s helper.

And something in that—that she’s playing with him to help me—speaks to a maturity that’s so much more obvious than simply wanting to hide away in her room to text and FaceTime with friends. We can coax her out of her room with negotiations and requests to “go play” because too much screen time isn’t good, but the truth is, she’s growing up even when she agrees to play. And my son and I have to let her, even though we’ll miss the “little kid” version of her. Because, also, the truth is, the “big kid” version of her is pretty amazing too.

As far as sibling relationships go, I know with a mother’s intuition that there’s will be the kind of relationship that lasts a lifetime. But right now it’s shifting and there’s nothing I can do but watch him wait outside his sister’s door for the moment she opens it up to him and he gets his playmate back, even for just a few hours. And also, engage in my own waiting, for the day when they’re both hidden away behind closed doors, building worlds and lives that don’t need me as much, and it’ll be a different kind of heart break, a different kind of new normal that’s inevitable, but no less full of missing days long gone.

It’s the natural order of things. And while I’ll always miss the “little kid” versions of them, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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The Mental Load Of A Working Mom During The Holidays––Too F*cking Much

One day this week, I snuck away from my work-at-home desk to attempt to hit Trader Joe’s and Target during usually less busy hours, headphones stuffed into my ears listening to a conference call. I work from home full time and now that everyone is home all the time, it has become acceptable to expect me to be on calls from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day while my kids are at daycare for 8-9 hours a day. Extremely germophobic and terrified of crowds, I went mid-day to try to procure a Christmas ham, some teacher holiday chocolates for gifts, Christmas morning breakfast items, and the only yogurt my son will eat.

I parked, and once my call ended, I masked up and headed to the waiting area outside TJ’s, coming face to face with a line that stretched to the far end of the strip mall. The sheer volume of potentially infectious humans sent me scurrying like a startled cat back to my SUV (mom car).

Determined to accomplish something before my next call at 2:30 p.m., I headed to Target to pick up an online diaper order through their Drive Up service. After being cut off by a crazy lady in a black sedan with tinted windows, I snagged a Drive Up parking space, only to realize after waiting for five minutes that at least ten other cars were circling like vultures searching for their orders.

Twenty minutes later, already dialed into my next call with my headphones tangled in my mask and after yelling to the attendant “There! Those are my diapers!” I had my case of diapers … but I was reaching the brink.

On my way home, as I listened to an impassioned debate about contract requirements and heard frustration in my boss’ voice, I stopped at the strip mall down the street to mail a mountain of Christmas cards. Because — like a masochist — I still bother to have professional photos taken and make nice cards for 75 people, about 10 of which actually return the favor, even during a freaking pandemic. Mask on again over headphones, I headed to the mailbox and attempted to open it, but it was jammed. Full. Panting into my mask, unmailed cards clutched in my fist, I stalked back to my car, climbed in, and threw the cards on the floor.

In that moment, the last fuck I had to give was lost.

urbazon/Getty

Once again, I had failed at something, which has become my natural state during COVID. I’m either failing at work because I’m distracted by a Kindergarten Zoom call in the kitchen when daycare is closed due to a COVID scare (while on a conference call of course), or I’m failing at parenting because I’ve parked my kids at daycare all day during a pandemic to allow me to focus on my demanding job. Not to mention the debacle that is my Kinder-age son’s education and homework assignments.

Emails from corporate human resources stating “You need to take time for yourself – try meditation!” or “You should incorporate self-care during these difficult times,” appear in my inbox regularly. They are well-meaning but empty and infuriating. Meeting after meeting ping on my Outlook calendar, and I watch in distress as my one precious free hour each day disappears, that hour when I could have spun holiday magic or gone for a mythical sparkly walk in the sunshine.

One moment, let me add meditation to my to-do list:

-Collate six weeks of Zoom worksheets in chronological order along with STEM homework assignments and drawings for school projects

-Write kids’ Santa lists, tape them to the fireplace, and order all gifts online

-Figure out what my husband’s family wants for Christmas and order it

-Decide whether to send kids back to daycare after COVID scare or endanger elderly parents

-Purchase eight Starbucks cards, eight small gift bags, eight boxes of chocolates for daycare teacher gifts

-Try not to cry in front of computer screen this week

-Purchase gift for the children’s shelter sponsored by day care

-Purchase gift for the senior living center sponsored by elementary class

-MEDITATE/SELF CARE

-Send $20 via Venmo for Kindergarten teacher’s gift

-Find and print holiday recipes

-Order new leggings for Peloton riding

So that’s it – I’m calling bullshit.

We’ve all read the articles and tweets. Women are tasked with more and more today: demanding full time jobs, perfect organic play-based interactive calm parenting, skinny bodies honed during daily 5 am Peloton rides before work starts, kin-keeping and holiday magic-making, meal planning and food prepping – the mental (over)load – and now we’ve thrown a gigantic public health crisis into the already overcrowded mix. And what we are expected to do with a smile, while remaining unemotional at work and not yelling at our kids or spouse, and still trying to climb the corporate ladder and get promoted, is bullshit.

It’s impossible. Women are leaving the workforce in droves, and with good reason. The system is not set up to make us successful. Something has to give. We can’t do it all, be it all, provide it all, manifest it all, to everyone all the time. That idea is a fantasy and it is bullshit.

And I’m done.

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Gabrielle Union Says Zaya Felt ‘Outed’ Online Before Coming Out As Trans

“[Her] peace is nonnegotiable,” Gabrielle Union says of 13-year-old Zaya

There’s something beautiful in the ferociousness of a mama lion protecting her cubs, and it’s no different when Gabrielle Union talks about stepdaughter Zaya’s coming out experiences. In February of 2020 Union introduced her Instagram fans to Zaya, making headlines when the now-13-year-old came out as transgender.

Union discussed her stepdaughter’s struggles during the first episode of Facebook Watch’s Peace of Mind With Taraji. The actress shared with hosts Taraji P. Henson and Tracie Jade Jenkins how husband Dwyane Wade’s daughter struggled with the online chatter about her identity and appearance when she appeared on her parents’ social media accounts. “Zaya’s peace is non-negotiable,” says Union. “As Zaya gathered more language, she was able to tell us about her identity. She was able to tell us about her sexuality. She was able to tell us ‘I’m trans.’ And she says, ‘I’ve come out a few times. I came out to my teacher in third grade, and then when you guys posted that picture of me in Chicago at my birthday party.'”

The photo of a family celebrating their daughter’s birthday set off a buzz of speculation. “And it’s just Zaya standing next to her cake,” Union says of the social media pic. “And that picture was dissected on certain Black blogs, and the comments were the guessing as to who Zaya was and why. … She said, ‘It felt like I was outed, and I was just standing next to my cake.’

Union — who shares daughter Kaavia Jame, 2, with Wade and is also stepmom to Zaya plus his two sons Xavier Zechariah, 7, and Zaire, 18 — stresses that she and her husband are still learning. “We only know what we know,” she says, “and we have to be open to embrace that we don’t know s—.”

The Bring It On actress noted that Zaya has started cheerleading — Union joked that her stepdaughter ‘better bring it!'”

On Peace of Mind, Henson co-hosts alongside Jenkins, and together the two discuss mental health issues — with a focus on those in the Black community. The show will feature a mixture of experts, celebrities, and viewers. Each episode will highlight a different mental health topic.

Viewers and celebrity guests will appear on the show on Mondays, and Henson and Jenkins will sit down with healthcare professionals and experts on Wednesdays to explore the previous show. The idea is to have deeper conversations that offer viewers strategies to achieve better mental health.

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Mindy Kaling Gets Real About Pandemic Parenting: ‘I’ve Given Myself a Lot of Slack’

Mindy Kaling talks new baby, how she juggles her Netflix show, and why she can’t wait to read B.J. Novak’s book to her kids.

While holed up in our homes with nothing to do, and dizzyingly empty hours to fill, some took to perfecting the dark art of the elusive sourdough. Others learned to knit, or honed their artisanal craft mixology skills. Mindy Kaling, always an overachiever, went one further. She secretly had a baby, son Spencer, giving birth during the summer as a single mom, and six weeks after his birth, shot the cover of Vogue India.

Kaling, in person, is exactly as you’d imagine: Candid, funny, and endearingly sincere. She’s penned bestsellers, and runs multiple TV shows while raising an infant and a toddler. Clearly, she’s got it relatively together, and yet, here she is, in the midst of an afternoon Zoom interview, faced with epic failure. She’s sitting against a “stupid white backdrop” while speaking to a writer sitting in front of a resplendent Christmas tree. This is particularly humiliating for the producer who pioneered the “Wreath Witherspoon,” a Christmas wreath adorned with pictures Reese Witherspoon, on her show The Mindy Project in 2014 and watched it blow up into a social media sensation. 

“Now that I see you with your tree, I’m like, dammit, I need to get my tree,” says Kaling. 

It’s so great to see you again. How’s motherhood the second time around? 

Motherhood is great. No one told me that when you have a second kid, it’s not like adding like a 100 percent more kid. It’s like adding five kids. It’s just cause I’m doing it by myself, I think I’m noticing it a little bit more. I’m doing both together, but it’s been great. He’s still so little that he doesn’t have a lot of personality traits yet, but it’s so it’s been fun. Pandemic gets really monotonous. So having a kid right in the middle of it, to spice it up a little, that was fun.

Katherine is 2. How is she dealing with having a sibling? 

She was excited about him at the beginning. She was so game for him. And then slowly as he’s gotten bigger and he is taking up more space and emotional energy, she’s like, ‘No.’ She has this one scam that she runs. If I’m holding him or feeding him, she’ll very sweetly say, ‘Can I hold him?’ And I’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, of course.’ And so she’ll hold him and then she’ll put him down and be like, ‘Let’s go play.’ So he’s just wriggling on the sofa and she thinks that we can just leave him alone and he’ll be fine. So that’s her new scam. She’s very crafty.

And you had him in secret. Which is pretty incredible. Did you prep hard for his arrival or just go with the flow?

The first time I read everything and then once I had a kid, I couldn’t remember anything. I had no retention. So for the second one, I was like, eh, it’ll be fine. This is such a privilege, obviously, that I have, and not everybody has — I just feel like I have my OB who is going to tell me what to do. And I just show up at the hospital.

I did that thing where I over-packed (the first time), I brought like two giant suitcases with me. It pissed me off when I had to pack up at the hospital and had to leave. So now this time I was such a light traveler. I had a JanSport backpack. I didn’t do a lot of prep this time around.

I know you have a partnership with Walgreens, which seems particularly timely given that we’re living through a pandemic. 

I consider partnerships with lots of different places, but this one is uniquely suited for me and my needs because I’m a hypochondriac. So I have every cough and cold medicine. I need diapers. I need toys for my older kid. So for me to just be able to like order it, then go 30 minutes later and a nice teenager in a mask brings it out for me is the absolute best. I have made friends with my Walgreens person. Her name is Cheryl.

I don’t know if you’ve heard this or felt this, but with my first kid, I was such a hypochondriac. Everything had to be so perfectly pristine for her. And then this one…because of the pandemic, I will say we have such a small pod and my dad is in his 70s and my stepmom’s in her 70s. So when I’m not in the house, when it’s just not my own germs, it’s two masks, gloves, that kind of thing.

And you also found time to release a new book, Nothing Like I Imagined. What inspired it? 

When I had my own show, it was great because I felt like I can get to express — even if they’re not my opinions — I get to talk about the topics of the world and I actually get to be on camera saying all of them. I’m so happy with where we ended the show. I’ve just had these years now where I’m writing stuff for young people. I have my show, Never Have I Ever, I have my other show The Sex Lives of College Girls that is coming on next year. And I just felt like there wasn’t a real avenue or outlet for me to talk about the things that I’m interested in, observations about what it’s like to be a single mom or to try to date at 40. So I just needed to write these essays. This past book was only like seven essays. It wasn’t a full book.

Speaking of books, my all-time favorite one to read to my kid was B.J. Novak’s The Book with no Pictures.

That’s a great one. He’s my daughter’s godfather. And he’s like, ‘When is she going to get old enough that she can read it?’  I think she’s a little bit too little for it now.

You wrote a book. You’re working with Walgreens. You’re running two shows. You have two kids under two. How are you still sane and not curled up in a ball in a closet somewhere?

I have someone who takes care of my kid, I have an assistant who helps me through my day. So I really just have great people that are helping me do everything. Also, not having to travel anywhere. At the beginning, I tried to look all cute for my Zooms. And now, I look like trash — I don’t care at this point. At the beginning, I tried to bring it. And now I know if they’ve seen me in the same Kurt Cobain T-shirt four days in a row and that’s fine. I’ve given myself a lot of slack over the pandemic. I’ve just decided I’m not going to beat myself up about stuff.

I know your son is way too little to be aware of what’s going on, but how do you give your daughter a sense of normalcy right now?

She does her school on Zoom. The number of people that she sees has been dwindling — as our extended friends have people who have COVID in their lives. The truth is, there is no way I’ve been able to establish anything normal for her. And my hope is just that she is a kid with a good sense of humor and who seems really resilient. And this is just an unstable time.

My kid was supposed to start her toddler preschool thing. And so she was not able to. So the only thing I can do is be like, ‘Mom is always going to be there to read stories with you, push you on our swing in our backyard.’ And hope that she doesn’t get tired of just me, but it’ll be interesting after the pandemic to see what the effect it has had on children. I’m hoping that it doesn’t make her more scared to do things. 

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I Finally Understand Why My Mom Was Always The Last One Out Of The House

I used to wonder why my mom was always the last one out of the house.

I thought for a while it was because she took the longest to get ready.

I figured she sometimes waited until the last minute.

I had the suspicion she didn’t want to go out in public without her hair done or lip liner on, even though I couldn’t imagine why a mom would care so much, really.

I only recently figured out the answer, having become a mom myself.

Because while the rest of us waited outside, all bundled up in the scarves and jackets and hats she had pulled from storage, or smothered in sunscreen she had smeared on our faces while we clutched the flip-flops and swimsuits she had doled out, and rolled our eyes about how long she was taking—

Mom was filling thermoses with hot chocolate,

I Finally Understand Why My Mom Was Always The Last One Out Of The House
Courtesy of Emily Solberg

and packing picnic lunches,

and making sure the bathroom light was off,

and refilling the dog’s water bowl,

and grabbing a spare change of clothes for us just in case,

and searching through the junk drawer for a coupon,

and taking a hot minute to use the bathroom by herself for a change,

and yes, maybe dabbing on a bit of lipstick.

And whenever she did finally appear, pulling on her jacket as she locked the front door, she was always met with an exasperated,

“Come OOOONNN, Mom!”

To which she would respond by shooting daggers from her eyes.

For the longest time, I didn’t get it. She had started at the same time we did!

Then I became a mom.

And it finally dawned on me that my mom wasn’t the last one out because she was lazy or disorganized or slow or overly concerned about her appearance . . .

It was because she took care of absolutely everyone and everything else before she took care of herself.

And that’s just what moms do.

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Kerry Washington on Motherhood: ‘You Do the Best You Can and You Keep It Moving’

Before Kerry Washington and her husband, actor Nnamdi Asomugha, headed to Arizona and Michigan to rally voters, in the days leading up to the election, she sat down for a heartfelt talk with her kids. Isabelle, 6, and Caleb, 4, were plenty old enough to understand that when scientists were begging people to stay put amid surging COVID-19 rates, maybe going to another state wasn’t the best idea and felt more than a little bit hypocritical.

“We had to explain to them why we were getting on a plane in the middle of a pandemic when we’ve said it’s not safe to travel. We got on a plane to go and encourage other people to vote. Those were big conversations in our home,” says Washington.

Washington, for the uninitiated, doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She politely declines to discuss anything tangentially related to her personal life, her marriage, or her kids but does so without ever making you feel bad for asking. It’s not how she was raised.

And despite the pandemic, it’s been a helluva year for the actress and producer. She began the year playing a wary outsider in Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere and capped it off as an outsider-averse mom trying to stop a gay kid from attending the school dance in the Netflix spectacular The Prom, premiering Friday. In her spare time, she campaigned on behalf of Biden/Harris and posted gently uplifting yoga videos from her yard, in an effort to boost a collective sense of wellbeing in a world that seemed to have gone off the rails. Oh, and she took home her first Emmy for producing the variety special Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times, watched by 10.4 million viewers. And she became an investor in the women-owned jewelry brand Aurate

Washington shares her parenting philosophy, how she worked up the nerve to sing in The Prom, and the perks of being mean to costar Meryl Streep.

Before we talk about the Prom, thank you for heading out during the pandemic and rallying people to vote. You put yourself at risk for a greater cause and I truly respect that. 

I’m so proud of our country and I know we have a lot of work to do and we’re going to do it, but I mean, the fact that so many people came out in a pandemic and with voter suppression and with redistricting, and that we came out in the numbers we did against all odds. It makes me really hopeful.

Were your kids aware of the importance of this election? 

Well, I have a 14-year-old bonus baby, so she’s obviously much more aware. I have a six-year-old and a four-year-old. They’re all aware to varying degrees.

When it was announced that Saturday, we were screaming and yelling and the kids were like, what, what, what? And, you know, we said, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won, and we can have ice cream for breakfast. And that’s all they heard — the second half of that statement. We can have ice cream. We did make them watch those speeches though. That night we were like, ‘Everybody sit, we’re gonna sit. You had your ice cream. Now you got to sit and watch these speeches.’

It felt so inclusive, which brings us to your Netflix movie. Which is also all about acceptance and inclusion.

I think that the message of the film primarily is that everybody deserves to be loved unconditionally. We all deserve to experience that sense of deep belonging, so that we can take risks and go out in the world and, and be whoever we want to be, because we know that in some corner of the world, we are truly, truly loved unconditionally. And if you don’t initially find that love and acceptance in your own family, then you go out and you find a community where you can get it because you don’t have to conform to get love. You should be who you are. And look for people who will love you, no matter who you are and who you love.

And hey, if you can give a nobody like Meryl Streep a leg up, all the better. 

James Corden always says, you know, this is my second musical that I’ve had to carry Meryl Streep through it, which is my favorite thing. She is somebody who is obviously the greatest actor, one of the greatest actors of our time. When Ryan called me for the film, he said, I have this idea. I want you for this part. She’s a villain. But also a lot of your scenes are with Meryl and you get to be mean to Meryl. And I was like, I’m in.

When you embrace your daughter in the movie, it felt like you were channeling every protective mother on the planet. 

There’s so much that I was bringing up of my own journey and, my relationship with my mom into that scene. But also in a way, I was bringing my work in the past year because when I think about the journey of my character in American Son and in Little Fires Everywhere — these are mothers who have really struggled to accept and love their kids unconditionally. And they find themselves in a moment where they realize that they haven’t really given their children what their children need. And so for me in the Prom, I got to close that circle. I got to give my daughter what she really needs. And it really did feel like completing a circle.

I had tea with your mom and you in New York, back in the day, and she is a wonderful lady. But you know that. How did your upbringing influence how you’re raising your own kids? 

I think like all of us, I really try to reflect on how I was parented and I try to keep what I like and leave the rest. I had some really, really great parenting. I mean, my mom is a retired professor of early elementary education. So I had an expert raising me as a young child. So there’s a lot about how I was parented that I’m truly, truly grateful for and that I try to emulate. And then there are things that I try to do differently. And I think that’s what we’re supposed to do. Each generation should be iterating and evolving to try to figure out how to do it better or do it differently. You just keep playing and knowing that you’re going to fail — nobody is a perfect parent. You do the best you can and you keep it moving.

This has been a pretty major year for you. Do you feel like you’ve found your own voice and know how to speak up? 

I feel like I’m constantly still finding my voice and you know, funny enough, I really, it, I love to sing and I sang all through high school and college. I’m not an amazing singer. It’s just something I really love to do. Um, and so it, it was really fun to get to do that in the Prom. That’s like a literal translation of finding my voice and sort of allowing my voice to be out in the world. That’s been a really fun part of 2020 for me. But I think I’m always sort of working on having the courage to bring my full voice to the table and into the room.

Scandal did help me understand that my voice was valuable and that it was my, in my years on Scandal working with Shonda (Rhimes) that really inspired me to start producing and directing.

No reunion in the works? 

Not that I know of — nothing in the plans at the moment.

You know who needs his own show? Your dad. Your Instagram dad jokes bits are priceless. 

My dad is so funny, you know, he’s just so funny and he loves dad jokes and, and he has books and books of dad jokes. And now, because it’s become a bit of an internet sensation, he now has more books and books of dad jokes because people send them to him. And so we just have endless resources — like when it was time to like find some Thanksgiving ones, we had tons of opportunities to look for them.

Wait, those pictures in the background, are those by your kids?

Yes. This is all my kids, which is funny because when I do interviews on TV and they see it, they get to see their work out in the world.

I know you’re a big reader. Do you get advice from Reese Witherspoon, who co-starred with you in Little Fires and has her own book club? 

I follow her on social media, so I get all her tips. She doesn’t need book tips from me, but I get book tips from her.

As for the holidays, what are your plans? 

We’re not traveling because it’s not safe to travel. I just want to implore everyone, please. Our healthcare officials are begging us to not travel right now. So if you can avoid it, please do. So we’re staying home. We’re going to be, you know, celebrating the holidays just with people in our pod. I’m sure we’ll have some of our same traditions, like Christmas jammies and gingerbread houses and decorating the tree. And we’ll probably find some, some new traditions because it’ll be different.

The Prom hits Netflix on December 11, 2020.

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I Should Be Thankful For My Life, But I’m Struggling

I’m falling.

I’m falling into the dark abyss of my mind, now cruelly echoed by the impending bleak Canadian winter staring back at me through the window.

As my three young sons whirlwind around me, I try to remind myself to be appreciative. I should suppress the feelings of the growing sadness that consumes me because I have an incredible husband, three kids, and a career. I silence my inner voice because I have healthy children and the textbook picture-perfect family.

I close my eyes and take deep breaths.

The path to motherhood was a relatively smooth one, other than a miscarriage that preceded my two pregnancies. My mind shifts to the hard bed of the ultrasound room to confirm what I already knew. My baby was lost. In a cruel irony, the previous pregnancy scan image was still on the screen. The happy couple passed me, and my empty womb felt even more vacant. A few months later, I became pregnant with my eldest son. Two years and three months after, I gave birth to twin boys.

Be thankful for your life.

My mother is an iron-clad woman who raised three kids with a philandering husband who offered little help. When she left my father, he told her she would never make it.

He was wrong.

I feel like it is a rite of passage of the immigrant mother to have come to this country without family support, with little money, and to have still built a successful life for her children. No one discusses the depth of her sacrifice, and mental health was an invisible issue.

Courtesy of Asia Dietrich

Why is this so hard for me?

Parenting in the pandemic has left me painfully grabbing at vestiges of my former life, to no avail. The texting and video chatting fills some void, but nothing replaces physical contact with people. Being confined in a house with three sons without a community has left me in shambles.

I am supposed to have it all.

I return to work soon. This is my catharsis, the socially distanced, mask-wearing, face-shield wielding reprieve when I leave my children to go teach other people’s children. I stand on the precipice of returning to some semblance of my former self by going back to my profession.

The sands are shifting.

I won’t see my twins’ toothy grins and the pseudo conversations that are beginning to unfold. Their little personalities are budding and interacting with one another. Their big brother wants to play with the twins but is intentionally and unintentionally too rough. The subtle nuances of their development slip through my fingers like sand.

I will miss them.

One day I will be the mother warrior who passes on my truths to tearful, overwhelmed mothers. I’ll snuggle their baby to give them the desperate break that I needed in my darkest moments.

My time will come.

The post I Should Be Thankful For My Life, But I’m Struggling appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Let’s Not Forget About New Moms During The Pandemic

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and then on April 10, a close friend gave birth to a baby. The weeks leading up to the baby’s birth were full of stress, uncertainty, and questions with no easy answers. Where would she give birth? Would her partner be allowed in the room? Who would watch her toddler while they in the hospital?

After the baby was born those questions ceased, but the stress and anxiety didn’t and new questions emerged. The baby didn’t sleep at night. She needed support breastfeeding. Groceries weren’t easy to come by, her friends and family couldn’t come lend a hand, and she had a toddler with too much energy and nowhere to go. My friend, the new mom, was recovering from a stressful delivery (while wearing a mask), functioning on virtually no sleep, and unable to access her usual lines of support, which she desperately needed (in addition to the helpful partner by her side.)

My friend’s story isn’t uncommon. Babies didn’t get the memo that COVID-19 had brought the world to a screeching halt. They still demanded to be born. And new moms were faced with new challenges in that already difficult time in the weeks after birth. Isolated from support systems, navigating a world no one had a map to navigate, and doing so while virtually sleep deprived, new moms are being asked to do the impossible.

It isn’t surprising, then, that a recent study found that since the pandemic, new moms are more likely to experience anxiety and depression.

The study surveyed 900 eligible women who were either pregnant or in their first year after delivery, and identified “a substantial increase in the likelihood of maternal depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Comparing pre-pandemic levels of depression and anxiety, the study found that 40.7% of women experienced depression during the pandemic as compared to 15% pre-pandemic. When it comes to anxiety, 72% of respondents experienced moderate to high anxiety during the pandemic, as opposed to 29% before the pandemic.

Scary Mommy got in touch with Lisa Tremayne, Director at the Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) at Monmouth Medical Center, and Lesley Neadel, a Social Worker at the same, to give meaning to those numbers.

Tremayne noted that calls to the Center have tripled since the pandemic began, which is an observation that supports the study’s finding that anxiety and depression increased substantially.

The bigger question to understand is why. In an email, Tremayne writes, “PMADs [perinatal mood and anxiety disorders] thrive on isolation and fears, and COVID is all about isolation and fear. Pregnant and new moms are caught in an impossible web, scared to leave the safety of their homes and yet so desperately lonely, searching for connection of women in the same season.” It’s a perfect storm for new moms who are already vulnerable to mood and anxiety disorders. According to the study, “depression and anxiety affect one in seven women during the perinatal period” when there isn’t a pandemic raging outside.

Mother and baby boy, toddler, talking with father on a Skype, using laptop, having family moment during video call, adjusting to separation during coronavirus, covid 19 quarantine.
Mladen_Kostic/Getty

The pandemic has only added to the intrusive “what if” fears playing on a constant low loop in new mother’s minds, according to Tremayne, and when those thoughts are dominating, it becomes difficult to function in daily life. In addition, “all the questions that are ‘normal’ are very intensely ramped up.” Nine out of 10 of the calls PMADs is fielding, as compared to 7 or 8 pre-pandemic, are from women who are experiencing anxiety and panic attacks that they were able to manage in pre-pandemic times.

As a result, we need to make sure new mothers’ mental health is a top priority. The study concluded that staying physically active during the pandemic “could be a helpful tool for pregnant and postpartum women,” especially if access to other places for diagnosis and treatment is difficult. The authors suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week.

Neadel offered a more comprehensive list of suggestions for new mothers. “The most effective treatment is the combination of individual therapy, peer-to-peer support, and medication, if needed, to help with racing thoughts or overwhelming sadness.” She noted that taking time for self-care and protecting your own eating and sleep as much as possible was critical, as was finding the right support group. Many new mom support groups successfully made the switch to virtual platforms, including Jen Schwartz at Motherhood Understood, TheBloomFoundation.org, and PostpartumProgress.com.

Often identifying the symptoms or recognizing that a new mother is suffering is difficult. “[N]ew moms who are suffering may not present as you imagine depression would,” Neadel notes, and urges partner to pay attention to symptoms that match anxiety or OCD, and to open space and listen to the new mom’s feelings. “Don’t assume that because she looks fine, she is fine. If mom seems “not like herself” or is saying that to you—it’s time to call for help,” writes Neadel.

New mothers are an already vulnerable group thanks to the hormones, sleep deprivation, and chemical changes to the brain both create, notes Tremayne. The pandemic only serves to exacerbate the difficulties new moms face, as it’s forcing them to be separated from family and friends who might help and adding untold reams of uncertainty into the everyday.

It’s important to remember, however, that PMADs “is an OB complication and not a lifetime psychiatric illness,” writes Tremayne, who adds, “It is temporary and treatable, and you are not ever alone when you’re suffering.”

“Everyone who gets help, gets better,” writes Tremayne. “With PMAD-specific treatment, by trained and specialized professionals, every mama gets back to herself.”

The post Let’s Not Forget About New Moms During The Pandemic appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Dear Childfree Friends: Thanks For Not Giving Up On Me

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a girl’s girl. Or a woman’s woman, if we’re being age-precise.

Female friendships have played an important role in my life, and I’ve always had a close-knit group of friends to rely on throughout life’s growing pains—breakups, job losses, the works. It was something I prided myself on. After all, friendships are voluntary, with no familial bond to keep us together, making them even more significant.

When I learned I was pregnant with my first, my friend circle exploded in a frenzy of baby shower planning and creating the perfect baby registry. The excitement was doubled by the fact that I was the first one to have a baby—half of my friends were living the single life, with no motherhood plans in sight, and the other half was seeing it as a distant possibility.

In my naiveté, I was looking forward to weekend brunches with the girls and evening strolls at the park with a baby in tow, only to have those dreams bulldozed by the reality of caring for a newborn.

To put it mildly, I was a hot mess. My nipples were bleeding (breastfeeding turned out to be a lot trickier than advertised), and in one moment I became aware that switching from breast milk to formula was inevitable. To top it off, I was shedding hair by the brush-full, and my mood swings were giving my hubby whiplash.

My friends—bless their hearts—helped out by bringing over hot meals and doing our laundry, but one look at my state told them everything they needed to know: There was no way I’d be joining those brunches anytime soon.

And as I changed yet another pair of nursing pads, the curse that is social media let me know about all the things I was missing out on. It wasn’t long before I felt the familiar pang of jealousy in my stomach (and no, it wasn’t my C-section scar) and panic that I’d end up friendless by the time my daughter cut her first tooth.

But trying to make plans was even worse, as I had realized that I’d rather spend my free time sleeping than socializing. Oh God, it hit me one night. So this is what everyone was talking about.

One of my friends joked that setting up a lunch date with me was like scheduling a meeting with royalty. Although I clearly wasn’t Kate Middleton, I knew that the days of spontaneous meet-ups were over. I now needed Google Calendar and an automated reminder 24 hours in advance so I wouldn’t stand anyone up because I forgot what day it was!

However, when we did finally manage to get together, it was worth all the planning in the world. Listening to my friends’ love problems and work troubles pulled me out of my mom brain fog and reminded me that, yes, there is an outside world out there that I would experience again.

Phone calls became more frequent than before, especially if I had a really bad day and needed to speak to someone who was not my husband. But I also made it clear that even though my priorities had shifted, I could still offer a friend support when she needed it. Even though I could no longer relate to the whole concept of getting ghosted by a guy you were dating for two months, I could certainly still call him a total jerk and tell you to block his ass.

Likewise, they listened to me go into every detail of my daughter’s last checkup and my breastfeeding woes, despite them having no clue about what engorgement really felt like and why in the world anyone would want to stuff cabbage leaves down their bra.

On the other hand, it took me a while to realize that my friends were hesitant to invite themselves over for a visit because they didn’t want to disturb the family peace. And no one wants to be that person who barges in when a baby is screaming her head off. After we’d settled in with our new routines, I made it clear to my friends that they were welcome to come over, as long they called first.

However, over the course of the first year of my little one’s life, I made some new friends, too. Living in a big city, it wasn’t hard to connect to other moms after I had my first child, and it felt natural to seek out friendships with women who also had a seat on the same rollercoaster. With them, I could go into all of the gross details of my baby’s last blowout and be fairly certain they weren’t internally screaming for me to shut up.

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that making new mom friends could alienate you from your old friends, and there are many cases where this holds true. But the flip-side of the coin is that new friendships can strengthen your older ones. They balance out your need to talk about mom life to those who can’t relate to it, leading to less resentment in the long term.

Looking back, motherhood proved to be a sifter for the people in my life. Not everyone made it through to the other side, and I must admit that growing apart from some women in my life was painful.

But I am eternally grateful to those who stayed; they’re now my daughter’s favorite aunts, and the best role models any parent could wish for.

The post Dear Childfree Friends: Thanks For Not Giving Up On Me appeared first on Scary Mommy.

I’m Tired AF, And No Longer Care If That Makes Me Look Like A B*tch

I have a case of the grogs every morning because I need some sort of sleep aid to get the amount of sleep I need. If I don’t take anything, and I am able to fall asleep, I wake up around 2am and the mind starts churning, begging me to stay up and have a stress party.

So, it’s either sleep or feel heavy and slightly hungover each morning until the grogginess wears off.

Going anywhere these days feels like the ultimate chore at times, but I need to get out of the damn house. When we do venture out and go grab takeout or something I have to remember to grab masks for everyone and check the level of hand sanitizer in my purse first. Another chore that has been handed over to the moms across the land.

Of-fucking-course.

The daily grind hits me hard every day, and every time I’m trying to work and one of my kids asks me an innocent question, I feel like it hits my nerves in a way that’s too extra for what’s going on.

In my mind I’m thinking, Please don’t. Please don’t give me another thing I have to think about or add to my to-do list. Just wait until my mind is free and clear.

But, mother to mother, we all know there is no time when our mind is free and clear.

When I’m standing in line at the grocery store or rushing into Target to get a new vacuum cleaner because my old one is broken and I really can’t wait for someone to come fix it, I’m thinking about the next thing. And the next. 

I’m in a rush to check it off my list and tend to all the other things I need to do.

Some might call it bitch mode, but I call it survival mode. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not afraid to say “no” to anyone and I have no problem not responding to a text until I can get to it.

If don’t want to smile at you or I don’t see you wave it me it’s not because I’ve got a case of the cunts, it’s because I’m thinking about my son’s algebra homework and the fact he’s stuck and I can’t help him, but I also need to get dog food because we are out, and don’t we all have dentist appointments next week?

I’m not ignoring your call, I just can’t get it to right now because all I want to do is lie in the fetal position and take a load off but that day will never come, so something has to go.

It seems as though women are put into categories: “nice” when they are doing what everyone else wants, or “bitchy” when they are doing what they need to do, whether it means speaking up for themselves or choosing a different option than what someone else suggests. 

We are also hard-wired to make our kids’ days better — give everything we’ve got to our relationships and our careers. Then, we need to make sure everything is in working order in our homes. The daily tasks don’t get up and walk away.

If there is ever a sliver of time left, the moms of the world think, What am I missing? What did I forget? Why do I feel so uneasy right now? There must be something.

We are running on fumes. We have to keep the wheels turning because if we don’t, then who the hell will?

It’s on us: the thinking, the planning, the doing, the delegating, the noticing.

After I became a mother, my best friend (who didn’t have kids at the time) said to me, “I don’t know, Katie. Lately when I see you, you just seem different. Like really stressed out or something.”

Now she has kids of her own and I think she’s beaten herself up about saying that to me for the both of us. 

I wasn’t being a bitch, but then again, so what if I was? I was, and have been ever since, just trying to keep it all together. Trying to keep it all straight. I’ve been wondering when this tattered, weighted blanket that feels like it’s covering my whole body is going to lift.

But I know now, seventeen years into being a parent, that blanket isn’t going anywhere.

I’m exhausted. 

So, yeah, the load I carry makes me forget to do things like smile to everyone that walks by.

It’s forced me to stop saying yes and acting like things don’t inconvenience me in the least.

I no longer feel like I have to be fake and cheery, because let’s face it, that display would take a special kind of acting, and I’m in no shape to put on a performance.

I simply cannot keep up with it all, and there are times when I’m going to look like a bitch because I’m literally running into the ground and there isn’t a soul around trying to lighten my load.

If that makes me look like a grouch, so be it — because “don’t be a bitch” isn’t going to be added to my never-ending to-do list any time soon.

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