I Used To Write My Kids Little Notes — And I Miss It

I wish that young-mom me had listened more carefully to the wisdom of aunts, cousins, and grandmas. “You’ll miss this one day,” they said. “All of it. Even the things you didn’t realize were things.”

As my not-so-tiny-anymore kids age at what seems like lightning speed, I am starting to feel the absence of them in tiny flashes. No more LEGO injuries, fewer toys to put away, quieter mornings. All good things, but with that calm and quiet also comes an odd sense of loss.

Before I actually became a mother, I envisioned I would write letters to each of my kids once a month (or at the very least once a year) and that I would show them the letters when they were old enough. It would be such a special moment and forever treasure.

Somehow, though, in the midst of running through life, writing hundreds of resumes for clients in between carpools, doctors’ appointments, practices, games, and dance recitals, it just never really materialized.

During my pregnancies, I assumed that I would create beautiful baby books documenting all my kids’ milestones in books that they would treasure like I did the one my mom created for me. I picked out beautiful books and brought them to the hospital to get their newborn prints.

My daughter’s baby book was in great shape until about month 16, when my son joined the party. At that point, taking a shower became a small victory and leaving the house was a full-on miracle. Baby books were no longer even in the realm of possibilities. Spoiler alert: my son’s book has tiny finger and footprints and the rest of his milestones are saved in iPhone notes and on an old Blackberry I keep in my junk drawer.

Somehow, writing lunchbox notes became my thing. From the first day of preschool, before my kids could read, I started writing little notes on scrap paper with hearts, stars, and lots of XOXOs.

When my kids were really little, I wondered if they even noticed. Often, my notes, which typically read “I love you. Love, Mommy XOXO” came home wet, crumpled, or in the same pocket I had lovingly folded and placed them into that morning.

I Wish I'd Paid More Attention To The Tiny Moments of Childhood Before They Were Gone
Courtesy of Rebecca Henninger

One day, I came into my office (downstairs and laundry-room adjacent of course) to find a perfect post-it in my daughter’s chubby toddler writing: “I love Mommy love Alaina.”

Little love notes started popping up around the house and I kept writing mine to them, confident that my kids would always remember notes from mommy and would, as a result, write them for their kids. Notes started to build up in outside pockets, saved for weeks at a time and then moved to other special places.

My notes began to be little pep talks on days with big projects or exciting events, stand-ins for my presence on field trips when I wasn’t a class mom, or an invisible kiss on the cheek after a long morning of standardized testing.

Like most things in childhood, I wish I had been more aware of how finite it was. As moms, we move so quickly through the days and, just like that, things that we never contemplated having an end are over. Without notice, the opportunity to savor that very last one slips away.

Similar to the last time my son napped in my lap and the last time my daughter wanted me to lay with her at bedtime, I never thought about it being something I would miss. In fact, many mornings I cursed the note and was tempted to just reuse yesterdays, just like many days I would silently stress about the things I could get done if I didn’t have a sleeping baby on me.

On an otherwise uneventful Thursday, my daughter dropped the bomb. I could stop writing notes—if I wanted. Casually, she said, “Mommy, you don’t have to write notes to me anymore if you don’t want to.”

It wasn’t a big deal to her, but I could see (and hear) the meaning behind it. “Mommy, I’m a little too old (and way too cool) for notes in my lunchbox. My friends see them, and I feel embarrassed.”

Foreshadowing many more moments to come I’m sure, this was a window into a future of dropping at the corner, far enough away from the crowd of friends, and being way less fun, funny, or needed that I used to be.

I hope I can hold on to more of these lasts, that I can be slightly more present in the moment and more consciously grateful for the whispered “I love you,” the tiny forehead kisses, or those sweet, not-so-chubby-anymore fingers that almost imperceptibly slip into mine when no one is looking.

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Sorry, Boomers — Xennials Have Had It Way Worse

I was born in 1984 and grew up listening to the baby boomer generation laud themselves as having gone through so much in their lifetimes. For goodness sakes, they had to hide under desks during bomb drills in elementary school! They also walked uphill to school, both ways, in the snow, but that’s beside the point. In my short 35 years on this earth, I feel as though my cohort of contemporaries have been through more than our fair share of strife.

Let’s start in the mid ’90s, when AOL became popular. We all invented ridiculous screen names and logged on (or dialed up) to chat with one another. While it all began innocently enough, we were the first generation to endure cyberbullying. I can recall so many memories of classmates and friends inventing fake screen names and harassing others. Pretending to be a boy who liked a girl, only to laugh at her when she admitted she liked him, too. Calling someone out on a fault they had, setting them up to incriminate their friends; it was all just so mean. You could say anything to anyone with anonymity. Our parents didn’t even realize they should have been monitoring our internet usage – it was all so new!

Moving on, to 1999 — I was a freshman in high school and lived through Columbine. Words could never describe how terrifying it was to think about going into a high school after that happened, side-eyeing your classmates and wondering who might be the Eric or Dylan of your town. Sure, we went to school before safe corners and lockdown drills were prominent, but that may actually have made it even worse. As a public school administrator, it is very clear to me now that schools in the early 2000s had no idea how to prevent or how to respond to school shootings

Senior year of high school met with 9/11. Growing up in a New York City suburb, I can’t count how many classmates’, teammates’, and neighbors’ parents or relatives were killed during one fateful morning. Watching the towers be struck and then fall live on television, while knowing they were less than an hour away, has permanently scarred me. Imagine making your decision as to where you were going to college while the country literally fell apart – it all seemed so pointless. 9/11 was hard for the whole country, particularly in the areas surrounding New York City. Now add onto that the social-emotional functioning of a 17-year-old and imagine how well you could process it. To this day, I have trouble functioning on 9/11. A friend of mine had a bridal shower on that day many years after and I thought to myself, really … you couldn’t pick literally any other date in September to celebrate yourself? It just never felt right.

After college, we Xennials were met with the financial crisis of 2008. Picture trying to get a job for the first time in that economy… let alone trying to buy a home. Ah, the American dream. Not to mention that we are the generation that has been burdened with absurd amounts of student loans with lofty promises of high paying careers immediately upon graduation to pay them off. Luckily, I survived all of that, and even went on to earn a doctorate degree (and more loans) in 2012. I was able to buy a house for the first time the same year and began dreaming and planning for a family of my own.

Fast forward to 2020. I have two perfect children, a husband, and a great house in the suburbs of my own. But not only do we have a reality star as a president now, we have a country more divided than ever. So, of course, it makes sense to bring COVID-19 into the mix. Now, I have to decide whether or not to send my children to school in September. Do I risk their health or keep them home? Am I doing more harm than good not sending them to school? If I send them to school, am I contributing to the risk of educators’ health?

I know teachers are afraid to go back to school – I’m afraid, too. Never has a generation of parents had to make such important decisions about their children’s education and health with such limited information. I have to struggle with keeping my babies healthy, as well as not exposing my parents to the germs coming in from our schools and workplaces. The germs that could potentially kill that generation of vulnerable Americans.

I’ve read that kids are safe and the risk to them is minimal, but what about their teachers? I’ve read that we don’t really know the long-term effects of COVID-19 on children yet, and they may be terrifying. I’ve heard that masks will keep my kids safe in schools and not traumatize them. I’ve heard that kids are resilient enough to withstand this. I’ve heard that we will be socially and emotionally scarring our children if we send them into these schools that resemble war zone triage centers. Basically, I’ve heard it all.

All I know for sure is that no one could have imagined this kind of pressure, anxiety, or stress to hit an entire generation of parents all at once. So, I’m sorry Boomers, but this is just too much. You may have had to walk to school uphill, both ways, but at least you didn’t have to do it wearing a mask.

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Confession: I Like Life Better Now

It was last winter, before most people had heard the word coronavirus, that I had the realization: we were run ragged. Run ragged, with no end in sight. In fact, I had made myself accept the cold, hard truth that this was what life was going to look like for the foreseeable future. With three kids from preschool to middle school at three different schools, the next decade was going to be running. Running from the second we got up to get kids to school, running to accomplish a couple of tasks while my youngest was at preschool, running to fetch all the kids from all the schools, running to get homework done and to get to piano lessons or sports practices, running to make dinner, running to get the kids in bed at a reasonable time, running to get the house straightened up and prep for the next day. Summer was a short reprieve, then it all started again.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been perfection since the pandemic hit. There’ve been more than a few moments where I found a dark corner of the house and hid from my family. (Pro tip: if you tiptoe away while the kids are distracted, enter a dark bedroom leaving the door casually ajar, and park it in a corner of the room shielded from obvious sight, you can nab 10-15 minutes of peace and quiet.)

Since the March lockdown began, we’ve started eating dinner together at the dining room table every night. (The kids and I usually ate dinner together on kitchen barstools, but my husband was rarely home in time to join us during the week.) Sitting at an actual table across from one another is an entirely different experience. Like many, we’ve been walking and biking and riding scooters throughout the neighborhood to a degree we were never able to before. We play card games and board games and the hubs has Nerf battles and roughhouses with the kids … on weeknights!

I’m a stickler about bedtime but busy evenings and early mornings on schooldays led to a fairly constant, low-level exhaustion. Now I feel rested. Rested. More rested than I’ve felt in years. I’m a night owl so early mornings were always hard for me. Rolling out of bed at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. most mornings now, when the youngest requires me…it’s a revelation. The kids are more rested too, and I can see positive benefits in their behavior and mood. They even look healthier to me.

My husband and I have so much more time to talk—about the news, about the kids, about The Great British Baking Show. More often than not during the school year, we collapsed on the couch on weeknights after a cursory catch-up. I feel like we’ve rekindled a best friendship that was always there, but had faded a bit during the intensity of the childrearing years.

My teenager misses his friends, but the pandemic has provided a break from the harsh proving ground of middle school. He’s been acting like a kid again with his younger siblings. It seemed he had turned the corner on childhood this year, deciding it was no longer acceptable to be into Legos and making iMovie trailers and pretend play. Last week I overheard all three of my kids playing an elaborate game where my oldest was the sergeant guarding his preschool sister from attack by her villainous brother. My teenager has gotten a few more months of childhood, a stolen season.

We’re off the hamster wheel. We’re lucky to have access to a large, uncrowded pool for the summer, where my kids get some (arguably, relatively safe) interaction with other kids. And I see Fortnite and other team-play video games in a new light, now that it’s the primary vehicle for my sons to socialize with school friends.

Not a chance in hell I could homeschool my kids. I lack the right temperament, and my youngest and I have a rather “intense” mother-daughter bond. And I know the kids need to be back in regular school at some point. Middle school is a necessary hell, I suppose, part of the journey from childhood to early adulthood. But I wonder…is there a way to keep the good parts of this? Might schools consider hybrid virtual/in-person models going forward? Maybe a shorter school day or a shorter school week? Perhaps a fresh look at all aspects of education and extracurricular life for our kids, and work-life balance for parents? Dare we dream?

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Why I Gave Up On ‘Blessing Sandwiches’

Soon after our son was born, I developed a somewhat standard response to check-in questions: “Hard and best.” That’s how I described my transition into motherhood. Because it felt impossible to mention one without the other. The sleep deprivation without the joy, the loneliness without the fulfillment, the loss of one identity without the discovery of another.

Eventually, I graduated to the blessing sandwich.

You know, the “I’m grateful I get to stay home with him. Sure, sometimes it’s isolating. But I feel really fortunate to have this time together.” Or the, “He’s a really happy baby. Still not sleeping through the night. But all the smiles during the day make up for it.”

One good thing. One hard thing. One good thing again.

Just to prove that this journey is in fact better than it is difficult. That I love it more than I struggle through it. That for every moment I’m on the verge of impatient tears, there are two more that I’m grinning and grateful. That if motherhood was a contest, and you could love your way to a victory, I would win.

And then, somewhere in the midst of all the thanksgiving, with noticeable shame rising within me, I sheepishly admit the rest.

I share the way I struggle as my mom brain fails to produce a big words or deep thoughts. How I sometimes feel like I live in a continuous loop of “when’s the last time you pooped?” and mindless errands. That it’s tough to silence the comparisons, resentments, and insecurities of my mind. How I grapple with the question of where I measure, what I’m bringing to the table, and whether or not I’m doing enough.

When I see other women who appear to be seamlessly juggling their careers and their families, I find myself thinking, “I’m just a mom.” Or when my husband tells me about his day at work, and I report back that we read books, played with blocks on the floor, and took a walk around the neighborhood, I leave out the part about feeling lonely when I saw other women talking between their yards. Or when the cashier at Target asks me if I did anything exciting over the weekend and it suddenly seems a little lame to admit that shopping at Target was the cool thing we did.

At the end of the day, I let it be known that even in the midst of tough moments, I’d never trade the life I have. I carry on about how I can hardly remember my life without our son in it. I express all the joy, pride, and appreciation I feel. I speak aloud my gratitude for the family we’ve created, for the home we’ve settled into, for the experiences we’ve had that have led us to where we are.

But somewhere along the way, I discovered that what I need more than this curated blend and imagined balance of blessing sandwiches is grace.

Grace to stop conflating the way that I feel with the love that I have.

Grace to allow the complexity and contradiction of the messy and beautiful, empty and full, doubting and trusting, and hard and good of this season, without explanation.

Grace to get through the worst, to cherish the best, and to live within the ebb and flow of the two.

Grace to know that having bad days doesn’t make me a bad mom and that having the best days doesn’t mean I’ve perfected the gig. It simply grants me space to feel both, at once or neither.

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5 Ways to to Help Teens Before School Starts 

It’s been five months since the COVID-19 outbreak hit Americans hard. As we’ve gotten used to a lot of change, here are a few ways parents can help teenagers even more right now. Parenting Teens – 5 Ways to to Help NOW  Many parents have been agonizing over how to cope during the pandemic. It’s […]

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Let’s Normalize Not Asking Couples When They’re Going To Have Kids

Did you read that title? No? Shame on you — you always read the title first, you rebel. Now go read it. If you did read it, gold star! Now go back and read it again. Reread it. And keep reading it until you no longer ask couples when they’re going to have a child or subsequent children.

I don’t know why people feel like it’s appropriate to ask a couple when they’re going to have a baby, whether it’s their first, second, or fifth. It is inappropriate AF to pry into a couples’ personal life like that. Do you realize what you’re really asking? “Are y’all just having sex for pleasure? Or are you having sex with a purpose?” Does that not make you as uncomfortable as it does me? I’m no prude, but y’all… come on.

And guess what? Not every couple wants children. And that’s fine. Not every couple can have children. And that’s not fine. And asking about it brings up unspoken pain you know nothing about. Pain that is then at the forefront for this couple, who are now trying to decide how to delicately respond to you while also keeping themselves from falling apart and breaking a little bit more. Shame on you.

Questions or statements like:

“Oh, he/she’s a year now, so when are you going to have another?”

“Well, you don’t want them to be too far apart in age, so you really need to start thinking about that.”

“Are you trying? Or are you just not being careful and if it happens, it happens?” (Which is an actual question I was asked after offering up literally zero information. It was just assumed that we were spraying and not praying after I decided not to answer the initial “are you trying” question.)

Why are people so comfortable making a couple’s sex life and family planning any of their business? Like they are owed your next move. They want to know when you’ve done the deed, and if it was spontaneous, or done with the knowledge that you were maybe ovulating.

Listen up, Karens of the world. What happens between my husband and me in our bedroom and our family planning is actually none of your business. If anyone feels they want to make it their business, then please be prepared for me to pry as personally into yours as you just did mine.

And you know what’s shocking? I have been pretty outspoken about my most recent miscarriage, thinking that as an added bonus from that, it might somehow protect me from people putting themselves in my bedroom with my husband and me.

But somehow, people pry. And continue to pry, despite knowing about the devastating loss I will have to come to terms with for the rest of my life. It was like as soon as my daughter Addison hit a year old, all of a sudden, it was a normal, and common, topic of conversation for just about everyone.

And it actually hurts. It hurts when people ask me, especially because they know what I have been through. I should be celebrating milestones with what would have been my second child. But I lost that child. Despite the pleas and prayers and tears willing that baby to hold on, I lost. And every time you ask me when I am going to have another, I am reminded of that. I am reminded of the pain, and the blood, and the loss I didn’t want.

So, before you think about asking a couple when they’re going to have children or try for another, please just don’t. You don’t know what happens behind closed doors, nor should you, unless that information is offered up to you. You don’t know if that couple has decided that children are not for them and being constantly asked about it is annoying and frustrating. You don’t know if that couple is secretly pregnant and waiting to tell everyone until they’re ready. You don’t know if that couple has suffered loss after loss and desperately wants to have children, but it hasn’t happened for them. You don’t know if by asking them that question, you just reminded them of one of the most painful experiences they have been through as a couple. You. Just. Don’t. Know. And guess what? It’s none of your ever-loving business.

For the love, guys, quit asking. Find something else to talk about. Find something else to connect over. Find anything else, and never ever utter those words to another couple again.

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I’m A Single Mom With COVID-19––I Can’t Die From This

Maybe it’s the lack of oxygen to my brain but I need to share this…

All COVID-19 stats aside, all testing number arguments and mask arguments aside…

I had to drive myself to the ER last night because I’m COVID-19 positive and my oxygen saturation at the urgent care was between 80-84% on 3 different reads. I was struggling.

I couldn’t ask anyone to risk infection and I couldn’t stomach the thought of allowing my symptoms to reach 911 proportions and having to take that route. I took the risk of driving myself, albeit not feeling safe to do so.

I was crying in the ER when I was first put into a room. Because I was really fucking scared.

I know I’m young-ish. I know statistics tell me I will be okay, but we keep hearing stories of strokes and blood clots from COVID. And just…what if?

My brain went into a dark place for a few minutes because I was close to being delirious and I was having a really hard time breathing.

I typed the words “I’m a little scared” to a friend when I was lying there, because I needed someone to know how real this was for me.

My son was home alone, at least for half the time I was gone — because again, I couldn’t risk infecting someone — and all I could think about was if… I left him… because of this virus.

Like, 140,000 other Americans who left their houses since March 10th to seek medical care for COVID and who didn’t return to their families.

What if I just left my kid for the last time?

Who will take care of him the way I do?

There Is Nothing As Terrifying As Battling COVID As A Parent
Vanessa Lee Nic/Facebook

How broken would he be when someone delivered that news to him?

Who will fight for his rights now? Which, as fucked up as it sounds, was my biggest worry. Who will fight for my transgender kid if I’m dead?

Like. Dark place thoughts.

Even if I just had to be admitted, I was still really fucking scared of my son feeling just that piece of information.

I didn’t want him to be left alone.

The ER nurse was a lovely woman who shared with me that she’s leaving healthcare because of this pandemic, “or at least leaving the ER,” she said.

She said, “I can’t believe what we’ve done here, or what we haven’t done here. People have really stopped caring. The stress of all of this is immeasurable. I mean, look, you’re 43 and struggling to breathe, crying, and here I am covered in a near hazmat suit, and I just want to give you a hug. Everything in healthcare… and in life… feels forever different. But few people care until it happens to them!”

Right on. I felt that on many levels, about a few things in my life. I wanted to hug her, too.

I promise you, you don’t want to feel what I felt last night.

There Is Nothing As Terrifying As Battling COVID As A Parent
Courtesy of Vanessa Valenziano Nichols

I promise you don’t want to drive yourself to the ER when your whole body feels like jello and you’re not sure if your foot is on the peddle. All the while stressing over how much money this will cost because healthcare is a joke in this country.

I promise you that you don’t want to sit in a hospital bed wondering why you forgot to execute your will, feeling confused, brain foggy, and a little delirious.

I promise you that you don’t want to imagine your kid home alone being told that you’ve been admitted to the hospital because you’re unable to breathe. Or worse, that you’re on a vent or dead.

I promise you just don’t want to gamble with it.

We know that completely eradicating this virus isn’t possible, but we could be doing a hell of a lot better.

I just want people to digest it as much as they can and benefit from my over-sharing spirit. Please do better and be proactive.

Please.

Update: I am home and feeling a little better today! And my son does seem to be on the mend after about 15 days of symptoms.

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Modern ‘Productivity Culture’ Is Dictating How We Deal With The Pandemic

In my office, I am known as the task-manager, the one to check off the boxes, the one who gets things done. I enjoy the process of planning a project and seeing it through to the end. When the pandemic hit, that’s how I took on managing my household with post-its everywhere. On my fridge, next to this year’s class photos from our three kids’ schools, were grocery shopping lists for the week, a calendar of bills which needed paying for the month, a list of items we could and could not compost — a project I decided to incorporate into our newly-adopted green living lifestyle.

In traditional ambitious form, I also decided to keep our four-year-old twins in their full-year/full-day preschool program. I told myself it was to “prepare for kindergarten,” but now I know, I kept them in this program because I didn’t want them to not try to be the best preschool students they could be — even during a pandemic. I didn’t want them to fall into the slump of being at home for months on end, downing Trader Joe’s strawberry cereal bars and gallons of chocolate milk while watching another episode of Doc McStuffins or Vampirina. Even more, I did not want them to perceive me to be at their beck and call. I am the “get shit done” parent in our household and my kids, I hope, are learning to be productive little humans, a life lesson I am sure they will carry with them forever.

There are days I wonder if I am pushing them too hard. I wonder if my own ingrained (sometimes unrealistic) “you can do anything you set your mind to” approach is a bit much for them right now. Maybe it is even a bit much for me these days, too. I push them because I don’t want them to get lazy or have their minds to turn to mush before they enter the doors of their school (if they enter this September) for kindergarten. I make them go outside and play with their two little friends who live next door, or even push them outside if only to water the grass.

Modern ‘Productivity Culture’ Is Dictating How We Deal With The Pandemic
Darby S/Reshot

I have this desire to make everything for them into a life lesson: let’s create a chore chart (since we are home for the next few months); let’s create an allowance system (since we are home for the next few months); let’s have family dinners at the dinner table each night (since we are home for the next few months) — all of these things not only giving us more time together as a family but also teaching them something. For me, this is my modern-day productivity system — giving my kids (and myself) enough to keep us busy and our minds off the unknown of what our future holds within the clenches of COVID-19.

For me, it also comes down to creating more of the “knowns” in a time when so much is “unknown.” More or less, we know what a four-year-old will do with a quarter they are supposed to put into their piggy bank — maybe they will save it, or maybe they will lose it before it even makes it to their piggy bank. We more or less know the outcome of what happens when we let our kids watch television all day long — they become more irritable and perhaps couch potatoes as adults. Right now, I will take that risk; I need the television to get through my meetings each day. And, I must attend my meetings because I need my job to help support our family.

What I don’t know, and perhaps part of me is scared to find out: what happens if I don’t have them finish the commitment I signed them up for — their preschool program? Of course, it’s all being done remotely, and I am their stand-in teacher (save for the daily Zoom sessions set up by their three classroom teachers). I am their in-real-life, at-home teacher. Not only that, but I’m teaching them other life lessons that extend far beyond academics (like how to properly wipe their butts).

When all is said and done, on top of everything else, we are juggling the pseudo-camp schedule, the emotions associated with not going to school, the anxiety of needing to put on a mask every time they go out in public, and the uncertainty of the times. Our kids have enough on their plates. If we don’t find a summer camp to enroll them into, or a math tutor to educate them so they don’t fall behind, or they don’t get to finish an intended project — it is okay. They will not fall behind an entire year of school. They will not suffer and end up in psychotherapy their entire lives (though it’s okay if they do) just because we didn’t schedule them for every available summer activity we could. We are all in this together, they will not be left behind, and I have to remember that.

If I fail or they fail, does it matter? We are all living through a pandemic. All we can truly hope is to do our best, and hope that the pandemic does not get the best of us.

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I Taught My Teens Something School Never Could

I don’t remember where I first read it. It may have been in the child psychology class I took one semester, or in one of the dozens of parenting books I devoured in the early years of being a mother. But, somewhere early in my parenting journey, I decided it was extremely important for me to help my children name their feelings.

Even before my children could speak in words and sentences, I was naming their emotions for them.

I’d say things like:

“Oh, you’re frustrated right now. It is hard to wait for mommy to get your food ready.”

“You’re so happy right now. You’re laughing so hard.”

“You’re feeling a little scared because you haven’t met that dog before. You want to make sure he is friendly before you try to make friends.”

I did this without really giving it much thought after a while. It was the running monologue of a young mom’s life. I told them what I was doing, thinking and feeling, and I helped them find words to describe the same for themselves.

I Taught My Teens Something School Never Could
Courtesy of Leslie McCaddon Mendoza

When my oldest was diagnosed with cancer when he was just three years old, he was pointedly direct with the physicians and nurses about how he felt about what they were doing to him. “When you poke me, that hurts! I don’t like it. I feel upset.” “I’m frustrated because you won’t let me go to the playroom!” “This is my body and I decide what can be done to it and I’ve decided no more medicine.” As you can see, having the words didn’t necessarily mean they had the maturity to understand that having a negative emotion doesn’t mean we always get control avoiding it. Like it or not, that little boy had chemo. And he was very frustrated about it. Noted.

These days I have some pretty amazingly emotionally intelligent teenagers. And, to be honest, this doesn’t always work in my favor. They are extremely articulate about telling me exactly what they are thinking and feeling. It can be hard to hear. But, it does work in their favor because they are aware of their feelings. They can tell the difference between fatigue, apprehension, contentment, excitement, frustration, and probably another 99 distinct emotions.

What I was doing without realizing it was teaching them awareness. Emotional awareness. And as they get older, and we all get wiser, we’ve expanded that emotional awareness to include some thought-awareness as well.

My kids are learning, along with me, that those emotions they can name — although nothing to be afraid of or to avoid — are one hundred percent caused by their own thoughts. What they think about someone else’s behavior, their current tasks at hand, and any other circumstance in their life, determines what they will feel.

It would be easy to blame every difficulty in their life on the fact that their dad died by suicide when they were ten, eight, and six. In some cases, teachers and friends even offer up thoughts like, “You deserve a break, you’ve been through so much.” Or even, “People never really recover from something like you’ve been through.” These thoughts, when we take them on (me or the kids) create feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and even despair. Those emotions aren’t bad or wrong. But, they also aren’t very useful to us!

In our home, we are learning to not only name our feelings but to call out the thoughts we’re having that are creating those feelings. And, when we’re ready, we question those thoughts. We ask, are they helping us or hurting us?

I Taught My Teens Something School Never Could
Courtesy of Leslie McCaddon Mendoza

We can list a dozen thoughts that aren’t useful. But, we can also play around with thoughts that create useful feelings like determination, love, hope, and even joy. My kids have innate BS detectors. So, we don’t try any “positive thinking” around here. But, we do try to find thoughts that we believe are true to hold on to.

Thoughts like:

“We were lucky to have a man in our life who loved us so well, even if just for a little while.”

“Grief has taught us a lot about empathy and resiliency. We are more equipped than most to help others through difficult times.”

“It is okay to feel sad sometimes because it is just me feeling love for my Dad and missing him. But, sadness doesn’t define me. It is just one of many emotions I experience in any given day or year.”

“I have all the support available I could possibly need to work through difficult times with my grief.”

When I started teaching my children emotional intelligence 18 years ago, I had no idea what their little lives had in store for them. Like most mothers, I hoped their childhoods would be care-free and wonderful. Instead, their childhoods have presented challenges many adults have yet to face.

I won’t say I wouldn’t change a thing about my parenting choices through the years. But I would never change this. I taught my kids something schools never will. My children have been taught what it means to be emotional adults — to take full responsibility for their feelings and actions regardless of what life throws at them. They certainly aren’t perfect at it. Neither am I. But at the end of the day, they are empowered with the awareness of their feelings, the name for them, and the choice to examine (and even change) the thoughts attached to them.

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If You Grew Up In The ‘80s And ‘90s You Weren’t ‘Neglected’– Your Summers Were The Best

My childhood friend sent me a Sinead O’Connor video the other day with a caption that read This song makes me remember lying out at your house while our parents were at work.

It takes me back too. In fact, the two of us would listen to that tape over and over during the summer of ‘91 in between applying a tanning magnifier and looking through old issues of my Young Miss magazines, blasting it as loud as we wanted.

Then, we’d take a break from the rays, float into the kitchen and look into the avocado-green refrigerator for some snacks before settling into my basement to watch Days of Our Lives.

There were no phones to distract us. Summer camps weren’t such a big thing. We had each other’s undivided attention, and those memories will forever be marked in my ‘90s soul. 

My mother didn’t feel the need to call constantly to see what me and my sisters were up to. She had to work and knew we’d figure it out. 

This wasn’t neglect. This was her doing what she needed to get done and it taught my sisters and I how to entertain ourselves and be self sufficient. Other than taking a week off during the summer and sneaking in a few beach days with us, my mom wasn’t around to entertain us. She left us a chore list that we were expected to complete if we wanted our allowance (we did), and for her to chip in when we went clothes shopping (we wanted that too).

By today’s standards some might say we had a long leash. The thing is, we didn’t look at it that way because all of our friends were in the same boat. During ’80s and ’90s summers …

You drank from the hose.

There was no time to go inside because we were so busy with Willy The Water Bug, or making mud pies. I still remember the taste and smell of the warm water coming out of the faucet on a hot summer’s day.

You walked everywhere.

Boys playing in water
San Bernardino, California. 1989 Universal Images Group/Getty

My mother wasn’t afraid to let us walk places. She asked where we were going, and we had to be back at a set time. It didn’t matter if it was a few miles away. We made it an adventure to walk to a friend’s house, or into town to spend our money on Big League Chew and Fun Dip. 

Fro-Yo was your jam.

There was nothing like walking into the air conditioning and smelling the sweet soft serve coming out of those machines. We’d be hot from the walk and excited to sit and hang out for hours in the fro-yo shop and see who else showed up, since it was the place to be. There were times we’d all chip in change and share, and others we could afford our own. It didn’t matter though– it was always a treat and I miss fro-yo shops so bad.

If you argued with your siblings, you figured it out.

My mom rarely felt the need to micromanage a fight between me and my siblings. Since she worked and those long summer afternoons involved fighting over what to watch on television, and who got the last Carnation breakfast shake, she saw that we figured things out on our own a lot faster without her involvement. 

You waited in the car.

My siblings and I waited in the car all the damn time while my mother ran into the store to get a few things. She was never worried someone would call CPS, or that we’d go missing. Her biggest concern was we’d try and pee in the seat belt slot because, well, it happened once when I really, really had to go and she wouldn’t stop chatting it up with her friend Patty in aisle four. 

And while we had these freedoms, we didn’t even see them as freedoms; it was just our life. But one thing is for sure: we weren’t left to fend for ourselves at every turn. If you grew up in the ’80s and ‘90s you also:

Had a bedtime.

boy Hanging upside down from some playground equipment
1998. David Bohrer/Getty

Hello, we all remember going to bed when it was still light out a lot of nights. The evenings weren’t a free-for-all. Our parents told us to go to bed and we listened. That doesn’t mean we didn’t stay up late to play tag with our flashlights on the ceiling.

Had rules to follow.

We knew how far down the street we could walk. We knew we had to ask before going to a friend’s house. We knew we had to clean up after ourselves and complete chores like washing the car if we wanted a ride somewhere. We complained about the rules and structure, but we sure as hell had it.

Had parents that did, in fact, know where you were.

We weren’t ‘free-ranging’ as some think we were. My mother always knew when I was. Even when I didn’t think she knew, she knew. It’s not as if the sun came up and it was a mystery as to where we were. Our parents knew the safe paths to take and told us to stick together when we went on an adventure. 

These generations didn’t grow up with zero supervision. Things were different then. As my own mother tells me, people didn’t talk about how others parented, unless it was something awful. She remembers that the moms that worked and the moms that didn’t work weren’t on teams. She also says everyone in the neighborhood was aware of the kids and what they were doing, and reminded us often that we would get caught if we did something we weren’t supposed to be, ’cause all of those mothers had eyes on the backs of their heads and watched out for each other.

I can attest to how true that is. I once tried to have a boy over when my mom was at work; news traveled fast and it didn’t end well. Oh, and the time I decided to drive a car when I was fifteen without a license and ran into someone’s yard, my mother knew before I even had time to process what happened. 

If you were growing up thirty or forty years ago, yes, you had a different childhood. But that in no way means you were neglected. And if you ask me, it was pretty damn fun and I wouldn’t change a thing. 

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