I’m In My 30s, And My Mom Is In A Nursing Home

“I guess I’m lucky. If I had to put her in a nursing home … I am lucky that it happened before the global pandemic.” Lucky.

This is an actual sentence that I uttered to a friend back in March of 2020 just after I had learned that my mom’s nursing home would stop accepting visitors due to COVID. As the phrase rolled out of my mouth and settled between us, I realized I didn’t feel very lucky. I am pissed.

I am pissed that my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 67 years old. I am pissed that I navigated the long-term care system and had to place my mom in a nursing home in my 30s. I am pissed that there is a global pandemic (really, what the hell?) which swept across the country and only days after I left her there, I can’t go see her? But, at least my dad isn’t taking care of her alone in quarantine, so I’m lucky? I guess.

My family’s story is similar to many other families that are facing this impossible disease. It started with my mom being “forgetful.” It went to my mom not making sense sometimes. It led to a winding and confusing path of tests and referrals which finally led to a diagnosis. The disease I thought only happened to grandparents infiltrated my mom in her early 60s, halting her kindergarten teaching career, reshaping my family, and unwillingly enrolling me on an elder care crash course.

Eventually, as the disease took away my mom in tiny increments, my dad needed help. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s means making a meal for them, only to turn your back while they throw the meal in the trash, and then ask, “When are we having lunch?” It means having to call the police when you didn’t notice the front door was unlocked and your wife went for a winter walk with no coat. It means your loved one suddenly becomes aggressive when you ask them to change their clothes. It means you don’t sleep at night because they wander and fuss.

With my urging, my dad finally accepted the help in the form of a local “Adult Day Care.” He was able to drop my mom off with qualified caregivers so that he could grocery shop. While my brother and I tried to help as much as we could, our own young children and full time jobs demanded our time as well. I could never have imagined that infant day care and adult day care would be part of my life at the same time.

While it was difficult for my dad to accept how quickly my mom was declining, I knew that a nursing home was in our future. I began the difficult task of research and tours and eventually got my mom on a waiting list for a local home with memory care. In February of 2020, two years after my mom had been put on a list, I got the call. They had a bed. We had to make a decision. Was it time? If we didn’t take the bed, would we eventually learn what time was too late? We took the bed.

I moved my mom into a nursing home on March 3rd 2020. Before we arrived, I wrote a manifesto of my mom’s life — who she was and what she meant to all of us — to distribute to her caregivers that never knew her before the disease. I don’t know if other families do that, but she is my mom, so I did.

I packed her favorite clothes, some family pictures, and some of my kids art. That day, we set up her room, met the staff, and ate lunch together.

I would be back soon, I promised. Next week I would bring the kids and some more outfits. I will be back really soon.

Then came COVID.

No visits.

I could call and ask to speak to her but it usually went the same way. Alzheimer’s patients don’t do well on the phone or facetime. Finally, we could arrange a window visit but I couldn’t manage to get there — I also had two kids at home without school and a full time job. I think I was also worried that the sight of her only feet away but behind glass would break me. I might throw a rock at the window and crawl through broken glass just to get to her.

Finally, in person visits.

274 days after I left my mom at a nursing home, I sat in a room with her again. Temperature checks, masks, 6 feet distance, no touching, but together in a conference room.

Between the masks, the progression of the disease, and the time apart … I don’t know that she knew who I was, but it didn’t matter. I could feel her energy in the space and for a moment, I wasn’t a working parent during COVID, I wasn’t a patient advocate, I wasn’t alone in crippling anxiety. I was a daughter. A daughter in a room with my mom — the first person I ever loved. There in a nursing home, I was sitting with my embodiment of home, my home. Riddled with Alzheimer’s, wearing a mask… the most beautiful person I have ever seen.

When the visit was over, I stepped out into the New Hampshire rain and wept. I guess I might have wept because I don’t know when I will see her again. I probably wept because cases are rising and she is at risk. But I was overcome with one prevailing emotion, gratitude.

I know of the families that have said goodbye over FaceTime. I know of the families that didn’t say goodbye at all. I know of the families who have hosted zoom funerals and will bear the pain of an impossible rage filled grief. I know that our leadership has botched this response and the future is uncertain. So, I wept with gratitude. Today, I sat with her. I looked in her eyes and I told her I loved her over and over again.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today, I am so damn lucky.

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30- To 50-Year-Olds Are Struggling The Most With This Pandemic

This pandemic stuff is hard! And while I’m purely speculating based on recent observations, it seems to be hitting the 30-50 year olds (my generation) the hardest. Or at least, that’s who I hear being most vocal about it. Although it’s not to say everyone isn’t suffering in some way, I think my generation may be struggling the most.

Here’s why:

We are worried about our parents and grandparents. We aren’t ready to lose them, but they are at the highest risk in this pandemic. Some of our parents have decided the risk is worth living their lives to the fullest and that’s terrifying for us.

And we are sad for our children: the vacations we aren’t taking, the education they aren’t getting like we’re used to, the parties we aren’t having. We are sad for ourselves too, but many of my friends talk most about not being able to make memories for their children they want to be making.

And, we, like our parents, have lived a really long time without anything remotely similar to this happening. There are very few people alive now who were alive during the flu pandemic of 1919 and almost none that would remember it. So, this is all very weird.

And yet, there are still posts going around social media telling us how we should react to this evolving global crisis. The basic premise of these come in two flavors:

“This is the worst thing ever! Stop changing your lives as a result of it!”

Or…

“Stop being sad! Go find your ‘new normal’ and be happy about it.”

I certainly understand both sides of these proclamations. If we’re lucky not to have endured racism, extreme poverty, or religious persecution (to name a few), this is likely the worst thing that has happened to us. So here’s permission to be sad, angry, exhausted, and easily frustrated. Totally normal. And yet, I look at my three kids, who seemed to have adapted, stopped being sad and found happy within the restrictions of social distancing and masking. I didn’t coach them to do that. If anything, they role modeled that behavior for me.

Whenever we are in the midst of a storm, it may feel like it will go on forever but it will not. And this pandemic too shall pass. When someone posts about making the most of a bad situation, I suspect they are trying to grant us permission to let go of the unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves as parents and guide us to maintain perspective and remind ourselves that in the grand scheme of life, this will one day be a distant memory.

So, here’s my advice to myself. I hope it could help others:

It’s okay to be mad, sad, exhausted. Mindfulness teaches me to acknowledge those feelings and thoughts, sit with them for a while and then let them go. Because after a few minutes, they aren’t doing me any good. Once those thoughts keep me from sleeping or functioning in my other relationships, it’s gone too far and I need to seek outside help.

In the current situation, I cannot expect the same experiences for my children and family as I did pre-pandemic. Stop trying to pretend we aren’t in a totally unprecedented, crazy time. Stop driving yourself nuts thinking you have to find ways to entertain your kids so they aren’t traumatized by this. Look at your children and see if they okay. If they are, sit down, express gratitude and have a cup of coffee. If they are in crisis, go get help. If they are somewhere in between, make a list of the things you can still do that are fun and will create memories: things like hiking, teaching them to bake, or teaching your dog a new trick.

I don’t have to act like we are on strict lockdown all the time. This summer, we took a camping vacation and visited cousins in another state. But when cases are surging and hospitals are filling up, we need to buckle down a bit to help flatten the curve. In October 2020, hospitals are full in Wisconsin, and Ohio is surging and revealing itself to be just a few weeks behind Wisconsin. Unless we do something. So, my kids will be unhappy to miss an indoor party this weekend, but it’s just not socially responsible. We’ll find something else fun to do in its place.

This winter isn’t going to be easy. We will still be dealing with this pandemic into 2021. And while I will miss the holiday parties, the vacation travel, and the work conferences that typically mark my winter and spring, I will take comfort in the fact that I have a puppy at home who loves my family like crazy, and without this pandemic, I could have never convinced my husband to ever get a dog.

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Can We Talk About The Mood Swings During Perimenopause?

I have so much love for my friends who are my age. The other day, a few of us were having lunch and were talking about how one moment we are so emotional and sad, then the next we get a burst of energy, then the next we are so pissed off we have to be away from all the people.

I’ve never felt so understood in my life.

Since I’ve reached my mid-40s I’ve noticed something about myself: my mood swings happen more often, they are more severe, and they’re even starting to surprise me.

In my younger years, if I was upset, I could usually put a finger on it. My moods made more sense and felt more rational. I definitely didn’t feel this out of control. It’s been so refreshing to talk to my 45-year-old girlfriends about this because, damn, this is a time in your life when we need to know someone else is going through the same changes you are.

Hormones are no fucking joke, and there have been so many times these past three years I’ve wondered what was happening to me because I felt so, well, unlike me.

I remember when my own mother started going through perimenopause (I knew because she reminded me and my sisters every damn day). I just knew I’d never act like that because I wasn’t that extreme. Plus, I also thought she was using it as an excuse to be an ass.

Well, here I sit with veins popping out of my forehead feeling so distraught at the slightest thing more times than not. This isn’t acting, folks. This is perimenopausal life.

My friend told me she peeled out of her boyfriend’s driveway because he got her the wrong donut  (they’ve been together for five years) because, dammit all, he should know by now what she likes.

I have another friend who wakes up at 3 a.m. each morning soaked in sweat, with her mind racing, unable to go back to sleep. She feels short and snappy with everyone and some of her (younger) friends are telling her she’s acting differently.

When I’m with her I feel like she acts like me, which makes me feel better, so I’ll keep hanging with her so we can normalize our perimenopausal behavior.

Even up until my 30s, I’d hear about hormonal behavior and think, Oh that won’t be me. I’m a happy person! I hardly cry or overreact!

But let me tell you something, sister: you in your 30s doesn’t know what the fuck will be up with the you in your 40s.

So saddle up and hold on tight, because the mood swings that you encounter during this phase will make you understand the movie Thelma and Louise in a way you never have before.

Scary Mommy interviewed board-certified OB/GYN and Chief Wellness Advisor for Love Wellness, Jodie Horton, MD via email, who said we can blame it on the hormone shifts that are happening in our body during this time. She explained that as women approach menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels begin to drop. These lower estrogen levels have been linked to “irritability, stress, fatigue, stress, forgetfulness, and anxiety.”

This is why I ask my kids the same questions a few times over.

This is why I started crying when I saw hair on the floor in my bathroom and the thought of vacuuming again broke me.

This is why the sound of anyone swallowing makes me clench so tight I get pounding headaches.

This is why I have a really difficult time “going with the flow” when any kind of change arises in my day.

And what’s happening (with most women I know anyway) is that we are using up so much energy to beat ourselves up, try to figure out what’s wrong with us, and wonder why we feel so different, it makes everything worse. I mean, there isn’t a slogan that says, “I’m taking menopause gracefully.” Society teaches us to fight it every step of the way because it’s so inconvenient for everyone else.

Dr. Horton adds that the drop in estrogen is also thought to affect how “[t]he body manages serotonin and norepinephrine, two substances linked to depression. Low levels of serotonin can cause depression, anxiety, aggression, insomnia, and low self-esteem. Progesterone levels also drop, which is responsible for calming the brain and sleep.”

A lack of sleep can just intensify every feeling you have. I am not the same person if I don’t get at least seven hours of sleep, and now I’ve reached this time in my life those nights are really rare.

It can also cause people to be short-tempered, and vulnerable to stress, says Dr. Horton. I have three teenagers who will attest to that. And every time I lose it, or find myself sobbing for no reason, I have piles of guilt — just another thing to add the hot mess of starting menopause.

Oh and guess what? Not only do we feel like we want to slap something at every moment, our body starts to fight with us.

Dr. Horton explains, “Hormonal fluctuations that women experience during perimenopause also lead to hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, vaginal dryness, dry skin, decreased libido. Coping with all these physical changes can be overwhelming and impact how you feel and behave.”

So, great news! We feel like hurting people and our vaginas dry up like grapes that have rolled under the kitchen cabinets.

Hold onto your shorts though, because if you are wondering if you are going to feel like this forever, there’s hope. Dr. Horton says these symptoms can last for months or years, but we can do something about it.

A natural alternative to taking estrogen to relieve perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms, including mood swings, is black cohosh. “It has been well studied in its ability to decrease hot flashes, insomnia, and depression. According to several studies, combining black cohosh with Vitex (chaste berry) can also improve menopausal symptoms and moods,” says Dr. Horton.

 (I legit just ordered some.)

Another well studied supplement that can help with perimenopausal mood swings is ashwagandha. “Ashwagandha is an adaptogen with numerous benefits by decreasing cortisol levels and fighting anxiety and depression symptoms. A diet rich in vitamin B6 and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce mood swings by boosting serotonin levels,” adds Dr. Horton.

You can also take a multivitamin, and Dr. Horton reports many women also find that yoga, deep breathing, and meditation can help them feel more relaxed and make it easier to manage stress, irritability, and other symptoms of menopause. 

However, if mood swings are extreme, you shouldn’t feel ashamed to reach out for help. Dr. Horton says, “If it affects your daily life, you may need medication like an antidepressant to feel more balanced. Medication is most effective when used in combination with therapy.”

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7 Questions You Ask Yourself In Your 40s

Your 40s are a weird and wild time. On the one hand, we’re settling into that IDGAF about what other people think attitude. We are getting more comfortable with who we are and what we want, and less comfortable putting up with bullshit and nonsense. It’s a beautiful thing.

On the other hand, your 40s are also scary and awkward. We care less about things that don’t matter, but we care a lot more about the things that do. We are forced to confront – in brutal and shocking ways – the realities of mortality, our own and the people we love. Your body starts to do funky and odd things. And just when we feel like we have this – whatever this is – figured out, everything up and changes.

Bottom line: your 40s are confusing AF and you ask yourself a ton of questions. Like…

1. Am I having an appendicitis or is it just cramps?

Thanks to perimenopause, we might be writhing in pain while Googling symptoms of appendicitis only to realize that it’s cramps from the unexpectedly early arrival of our period. Which brings us to our next question…

2. Didn’t I just have my period two weeks ago?

Yes, yes I did. But again, that fun friend, perimenopause, our period is more unpredictable, frequent, and heavy than ever. Which is super fun.

3. WTF is my teen talking about?

“No Cap.”

“Res me!”

“I’m gonna be AFK for a minute.”

“Why you such a sweat?”

Huh?!? What are these words coming out of my teen’s mouth when he’s gaming with his friends? Be careful with this one though, because if you ask your teen what they are talking about, they’ll look at you like you have two heads.

6. Should I get Botox, or embrace the wrinkles?

At some point, those cute little laugh lines turn into giant craters. You don’t want to care about your looks, but the truth is you kinda do. You want to say “fuck all those bullshit standards of conventional beauty created by the patriarchy” and wear caftans every day while rocking your grey hair. But… it’s hard. Botox just seems easier. If only it weren’t so damn expensive.

4. Does everyone hate me or is it just hormones?

One day your trucking along, everything is a-okay, you feel comfortable with your life and your relationships and then – BAM! – you feel like the world is falling apart and everyone hates you and your life is a series of failures and mistakes. You become convinced that you’re are a real-life Eeyore with a dark rain cloud following you around. And then your period arrives (out of schedule, of course) and it all makes sense. Your hormones are fucking with you again.

5. Were people always this maddening?

I don’t know if it is the realities of the past few years, or it just took me until my 40s to wake up (or maybe a little of both), but MY GOD, nearly every day I ask myself, why are people such assholes? I’m an optimistic at heart and truly believe in the goodness of humanity, but the Lord is testing me, man. Really testing me.

6. Should I go back to school? Quit my job? Dye my hair pink?

Take that IDGAF attitude and combine with the stark realization that life is super fucking short, and you start to question certain life choices. When you stop caring so much about what others think, and more about what you want, a whole world of options opens up. Like pink hair. Caftans. And Taylor Swift music.

7. Am I the only one?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No, you absolutely are not the only one. We’re all confused and don’t know quite what to make of these new stage of life. Stop let go of the idea that we need to have things figured out by the time we’re in our 40s. Life is wild and weird. Embrace it. Even if it does mean we ask ourselves a million questions every day.

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When Your Child Becomes A Teenager, It’s A ‘Coming Of Age’ For Both Of You

He’s thirteen. I can’t believe it. Seems like only yesterday (okay, not yesterday, but recently) that I was chasing him in the park, in the street, in the supermarket. I feel almost nostalgic about those days, but not quite because, as many of you who are in the thick of it right now know, they weren’t all snuggles on the couch and lullabyes. They were breastmilk-pumping, bottom-wiping, hand-holding. More like grabbing actually, since in those days he was constantly trying to wiggle his little fingers from my grasp and run away. I imagine if I tried to hold his hand now I’d get a similar reaction.

Birthdays are milestones, and there are a few that seem to be particularly critical turning points. Five (you can go to real school now), ten (double digit age), sixteen (hand me those car keys!), eighteen (legal adult), twenty-one (pass the bottle of tequila), forty (the list becomes less fun from here). And of course the birthday in question here: thirteen, the passing into adolescence.

It’s an awkward stage that certainly doesn’t start when you become a teenager. In fact, puberty seems to be happening much earlier than it did when I came to it. We even had to give that stage between ages ten and twelve a new name. No longer are those just kids who pass to adolescents when they turn thirteen. Now they’re tweens. But tween he isn’t, and child he isn’t, for starting today he is officially a teenager.

Do you remember the year you turned thirteen? For me, it was the summer before 8th grade. That summer is only memorable because of Roger, my first boyfriend. I wonder if this past summer will be memorable for my son. Not for the excitement of a “first” like I had, but for the utter lack of excitement. The quarantine summer. I shudder to think that perhaps this summer is not an anomaly, but rather the first in a string of new normals, and so won’t even be memorable for its peculiarity.

But it’s not actually his coming of age I was thinking of when I began writing this post. It’s mine. I’m now the mother to a child who is taller than me, wears a bigger shoe size, and can pretty much care for himself. He’s not as independent as I was at his age, but if I died in my sleep, he could go about his day with very little break in routine. He might wonder why I was still in bed, and might be a little annoyed at having to toast his own waffles and microwave his own pizza, but life would not be profoundly interrupted.

I know those thoughts are pretty morbid. I think they go hand in hand with this getting-older, son-becoming-a-teenager thing. It’s like I just realized I’m no longer a young mom. Similar to my son’s growth, this phenomenon did not occur overnight. It was a slow process of changes that I never even noticed. But I should have seen the signs. For example, I’ve become that mom at the playground watching toddlers and saying things like, “Treasure these moments,” to the worn-out first-time mothers who smile politely but inside are thinking, “Lady, I’m just trying to survive ’til nap time.”

And I want to follow my own advice and not take these days for granted, but that’s hard because I’m insanely busy. It feels like women these days can’t win. You either establish your career early on in life, getting all your schooling done and paying your dues in your twenties and thirties and then work on making a baby, or you establish a family first then go back to school and work your way up the chain when the kids aren’t quite so dependent. Both scenarios involve major changes right when life is getting comfortable.

When I’m lying in bed at night I sometimes wonder if I chose the better path or not. But I’ve come to realize that there is no better path, and no lesser one either. Whether you’re thirty or fifty when your child becomes a teenager, it’s still going to be a coming of age for the both of you. As my son enters this awkward stage of life, I too enter into an uncomfortable time of higher education and career-building. As his body stretches and aches from growing pains, I also experience discomfort from extending beyond the person that I thought I was, the woman I thought I had become. And as it turns out, it’s been happening all along, my growth and his, all in tiny increments so small we didn’t notice.

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The Things My Mother Didn’t Tell Me

My mom was never one for giving stellar advice. I could probably count on one hand the times she evoked her wisdom. One time I asked her what childbirth was like, to which she responded, “It’s like you have to take a big dump that’s going to kill you.”

My sister and I would laugh at that thinking she was ridiculous. Until we became mothers. Or the time when we were out clothes shopping when I was a teen and I pointed out a top that I liked and she said, “You wouldn’t fit one boob in it.” I certainly grew up with a dearth of hearty, loving advice. However, I still feel like my mom could have passed down some real wisdom to me before she left this earth.

Now that I am in my early forties, physically things are starting to change and I wish my mom would have told me. When I was little, I remember my mom spending inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom with her tweezers looking in the mirror, but it never dawned on me until the last year or so what my mom was actually doing. She could have sat me down and said, “Honey, we need to talk about facial hair in your forties.” The only advice she did give me about my forties was that I needed to beware of migraines because she and my aunt suffered from hormonal ones. I’d never had a migraine in my life, but I did shortly after she said those words. I was sure she had jinxed me somehow.

Now that I am in my forties, I’ve experienced the ravages of ridiculously long, irregular menstrual cycles that brought me to my knees with anemia. It seems like I just had my kids and now I am starting down the road to perimenopause. It’s too soon! Why didn’t Mom tell me this? Mom, too, had problems of her own. Her uterus prolapsed in her fifties and she had a hysterectomy. Why didn’t she warn me that I was headed down the highway of messed up periods and hormonal fluctuations, the likes of which I could never have imagined?

And don’t get me started on sneezing while standing up or coughing while sitting down. Forget going on a trampoline with your kids. I had to find these lessons out the hard way. After birthing three kids, my bladder is not what it used to be. She could have started the conversation out like, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about prolapse and urinary incontinence.”

Dryness? My mom bought eye drops by the truck full. I figured this was something that was singular to her as she had medical issues. But now I know the lovely splendor of “dry eyes due to age,” as my optometrist pointed out. A little heads up from Mom would have been helpful.

Or the appearance of crocodile skin that my kids would call “leathery” when they hold my hand. If she could have warned me ahead of time that all of this would happen, I think it might have made the swallowing of the “you’re getting old” pill easier. At least I’d like to think so.

I remember as a kid crawling into bed with my mom while she was reading the newspaper. I always vied for her attention. I’d ask her questions and she’d tell me to stop talking. “This is my quiet time,” she’d say. I was resentful that she never took the time to pay attention to me. It wasn’t until recently when my son opened my bedroom door for the twelfth time, as I was relaxing watching television before drifting off to sleep, that I remember my mom saying “this is my quiet time.” In fact, I now tell my kids this when they barge into my room at night. I have come to understand the sacred place at the end of the day for a mother. Those blessed last moments that are all mine and no one else’s. I can watch TV without anyone interrupting or read a book quietly. She could have told me all this.

She could have told me how ridiculously short the days are with your children. How they literally grow up before your eyes. Even though it seems the whole world tells you this, it would have been nice to hear her say it. That you could never possibly love humans as much as your own but still be incredibly scared wondering if you are raising them properly or if you’ve let them know everything they need to know before they leave the nest. Or that when most of your older family members have passed on and your generation is left in charge that it can feel lonely and isolating, but that you need to soldier on as best you can.

Perhaps she just wanted me to experience the splendors of aging for myself. Maybe it was her last little joke. Or maybe she prepared me enough for life and knew I could handle it on my own.

But because I don’t want my daughter to be caught with wet pants when she’s forty-something, I will be sure to have that talk with her.

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5 Things You Probably Shouldn’t Ask A Teenage Boy

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being the mother of teenage sons, it’s this: be careful what questions you ask.

Of course, any questions to a teen are usually met with frustrating answers, ranging from an irritated explosion of “Mom!” to some sort of hmmph-ing noise from their throat area. But I speak from (hard-earned and sometimes unfortunate) experience when I say that there are some areas of teenage boy life where ignorance is truly bliss. And if you want to remain blissful, Mama, you’re best to steer clear of the following inquiries.

Why so many showers?

When your bath-averse child suddenly seems eager to jump in the shower — daily, even — you’re initially proud that all those parental lectures about personal hygiene have paid off and he’s finally on board with being, you know, acceptably clean. You may be tempted to remark about his new bathing habits, and maybe pose a question about what made everything click into place. But trust me: it isn’t a sudden revelation about stinky armpits that compels him to lock himself in the privacy of the bathroom with increasing frequency. Sure, he may be soaping himself, but he’s also … soaping himself. Know what I mean? The less you ask about it, the better. Just be glad you don’t have to nag him about showering any more, and leave it at that.

Besides, you’ll know it’s not about good hygiene because of the inevitable answer to the following question you probably shouldn’t ask:

When is the last time you brushed your teeth?

If being neat and tidy were truly the concern, your son’s breath wouldn’t smell like the inside of a butthole, because he’d make friends with the toothbrush that’s collecting dust in the holder. But alas, though his skin may be squeaky clean, his teeth are wearing fuzzy yellow coats. You thought that once he was old enough to be self-sufficient, he could be trusted with his own oral hygiene. You were wrong. Don’t ask him outright when he last brushed if you can’t bear to hear that it’s been days or even weeks. Just start suggesting it again, daily.

Where did all the cups/plates/silverware go?

If your teenage son has a bedroom — even if he shares it with a sibling, even if you’ve made a “no eating in the bedroom” rule — I promise, he’s eating in there. And you’ll notice a steady dwindling of your kitchen utensils and dinnerware, and wonder briefly if they’ve gone the way of all the socks the dryer has “eaten” over the years. But you’ll quickly realize that it isn’t a coincidence, and the likely culprit is the one who practically lives on the ramen noodles you swear you’re going to stop buying. You can ask the question, and you can search for the answers yourself — but beware. Entering into a teen boy’s room in search of missing dishes is like entering into a bacterial house of horrors. You’ll find the dishes, all right, with science experiment-worthy amounts of mold or cereal milk congealed into the bottom. You’ll find forks and spoons inexplicably stashed in drawers and wedged between the mattress and the bed frame.

Author photo, and you can’t tell, but that spoon was stuck to the bowl.

What’s that smell?

Another reason you should think twice about venturing too deeply into a teenage boy’s room: the odor. There are always damp towels mildewing in a heap in the corner, and dirty laundry scattered everywhere. That musty, oniony fragrance currently making your nose hairs shrivel — is it armpits? Feet? The moldy towels? The aforementioned crusty dishes? A sandwich rotting in a duffel bag? The possibilities are endless, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

What does that mean?

If you want to feel like the oldest, uncoolest person on the planet, then by all means ignore my advice and ask this question. Because that’s exactly what will happen when you inquire after an unfamiliar word or phrase you’ve just heard coming from your child’s mouth (typically yelled during some kind of video game chat with his “bros”). You ask innocently, for example, “What’s ‘no cap’ mean?” and you’re met with — at the very least — an eyeroll of epic proportions, if not an outright accusation of being elderly and out of touch.

Yes, it’s our job as parents to be in touch with our teens: their online safety, who they’re hanging out with, whether they’re turning their homework in on time. But when it comes to certain things, it’s best to just put our blinders on and focus on getting through the teen years without that awful smell wafting into the rest of the house.

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We Don’t Talk About Perimenopause Enough, And I Resent It

Women talk about everything. Marital discord. Kids. Stupid people. Work stress. Our biggest fears and insecurities. The wildest things we’ve ever done in the bedroom. But no one—and I mean no one—talks about perimenopause, and I resent it.

One morning, you find yourself deep in conversation with an acquaintance at the middle school. Straight up, you never wanted to make small talk with another mother. You’d paid a visit to the administrative office to drop off the form you forgot to send in the mail. Now you’re cornered. Suddenly, mid-sentence, you experience the mother of all hot flashes. It feels as if you’re running a marathon in Death Valley. (FYI: Death Valley hit a record high of 130-degrees last week.) Little flames lick your cheeks. For a second, you think you may faint.

Concerned, the other mother asks, “Are you ok?”

Apparently, you look and smell like a dirty kitchen sponge. You say, “I’m having another hot flash.”

The other mother grimaces, blinks one too many times, and mumbles a weak apology. She scurries away faster than the hot flash comes and goes.

You stand there, confused. She asked. You answered. Why is it taboo to talk about the terrible symptoms of perimenopause when so many of us are dealing with insufferable hormonal imbalances and crazy ass cycles?

Last week, I experienced an emotional breakdown of epic proportions. My heavy, swollen breasts had grown two whole cup sizes larger than they’d been for the entirety of my adult life. A “bra fit expert” had helped me find my new size months ago. But those bras no longer fit, and I had no clue why. Cue my tantrum.

Determined not to waste any more money on new, expensive bras, I bought some ugly but affordable sports bras from Target. The sports bras promised to banish the uniboob look. My purchase said one thing to me: I was winning so hard at life. Unfortunately, the pressure of the fit caused my breasts to ache and throb. When I went bra-less, the bouncing caused pain. On top of this, I googled “the best solutions for dealing with underboob sweat” at least a dozen times. Big yikes!

My mother underwent a hysterectomy after she gave birth to my youngest sister. As the oldest of four female siblings, I’m often the first to go through many reproductive changes. Consequently, I have no point of reference to judge or understand the bodily changes I’m experiencing as I slog my way through my 40s. More than once, I’ve asked myself, “Why have I been kept in the dark on this?”

Public discussion on what happens to women’s bodies is still taboo. A shroud of secrecy surrounds “women’s stuff” like periods, pregnancy, giving birth, postpartum woes, perimenopause, menopause, etc. As adolescents, we internalize society’s message that periods are “gross,” which implies that our hormonal cycles are something to hide. And it doesn’t end with adolescence. Remember when Instagram censored Rupi Kaur’s menstruation-themed photo series for violating community standards? It’s a no-no to show our real lives on social media. Instead, we must keep serving up the carefully curated, color-corrected versions of them.

When you hit middle age, society sends you a flood of new messages. You’re old, unattractive, belligerent, out-of-control, and invisible. Where are the books and blogs written by women for women who are knee-deep in this stage of life? Women hide the messy, uncomfortable parts of their experiences because they’ve been told they’re “too icky,” “too personal,” or “too embarrassing.”

It’s unacceptable. We need to talk about what we aren’t talking about. We need to change the conversation.

Why? If we don’t talk about women’s issues, women’s expectations are that they’re easy. And when they aren’t easy, women feel isolated and alone. Something must be wrong with you and your body. Right?

Wrong.

The docuseries Expecting Amy premiered on July 9, 2020, on the new HBO Max. It follows comedian Amy Schumer through her pregnancy. I’ve been an Amy Schumer fan for some time. She never shies away from showing the messy side of womanhood. While hysterical, she has an emotional frankness I envy. No question, I went into my viewing experience hoping to laugh.

I didn’t expect to sit there nodding my head emphatically in agreement. And I certainly didn’t expect to cry. Schumer created a real gem with this docuseries because she pulls back the curtain and sheds light on women’s issues like infertility, work during pregnancy, hyperemesis gravidarum, C-sections, and post-partum issues. She says, “I resent the culture and how much women have to suck it the f—k up and act like everything’s fine.”

While Expecting Amy doesn’t deal with perimenopause, it’s raw, real, and honest, and I’m here for that. You should be, too.

The world needs more women like Schumer who aren’t afraid to talk about women’s issues. Talking about something recognized as taboo normalizes it. When trying to normalize the discussion of a taboo topic, you’re challenging someone’s belief that that specific topic shouldn’t be discussed, at all. There is no justification for our silence. Reject the messages society sends you.

These days, my uterus feels like a bowling ball. It’s not just the distended belly that irks me; it’s the feeling of fullness and pressure. My periods? Don’t get me started. Playtex has made a small fortune from me. Since I started synthetic progesterone to stop a stint of uterine bleeding that lasted nearly a month, my moods have become erratic. Who coined the term hot flash anyway? Because it’s not a flash. It’s a torrent.

My OBGYN tells me the pain must be in my head. She’s offered me birth control umpteen times to address my pelvic problems. I tried it. Twice! Yet here I am, no closer to solving the mysteries of my uterus. Not only am I fatigued from the rigors of my everyday life as a parent and writer, but also I’m fatigued from resenting the lack of information and resources available to me. The blank stares I’m offered when I mention menorrhagia or hormone replacement therapy make me want to throw my hands up in frustration. The silence alienates me.

While my symptoms are common, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to perimenopause. Your experience could be a snap. That’s what makes this transition so difficult. All the more reason we need to talk it out.

On a positive note, a rising presence in mainstream media shows change is taking place. Some taboos about women’s bodies are dying because women are opening up in public ways. Because why can’t we talk about this?

You can be part of that change by speaking up on issues affecting you. Share. Ask questions. Normalize our experiences as women. That means all parts of our experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We need each other.

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Dear Younger Self: Here’s What I Want To Tell You As I Turn 45

Dear Younger Self,

I know how tired you are. After all, you are trying to live on SlimFast and salad and wondering why you still don’t look like the women in those glossy magazines you are obsessed with. 

You are always waiting– for the weekend; for the next holiday; for next year. In your mind you think that’s the key to when your life will be better and you will finally feel settled and content. 

You try so hard to fit in. You are fighting against the grain on all accounts and bringing yourself nothing but disapproval every single day.

You hate your hair, your boobs, the fact that your ears stick out and your nose is a bit crooked.

 Here’s What I Want To Tell You As I Turn 45
Courtesy of Katie Bingham-Smith

You need to know those thoughts going through your head will continue to echo daily until you set them free. You think right now that the way you talk to yourself doesn’t matter. You are so sure approval from every outside source is the key, but I need to tell you something my dear, sweet younger self:

You are never going to get it. 

You are never going to be what you aspire to be.

Believe me when I tell you, you will be fine with this fact.

There will come a day in your mid-thirties where you will just want to be happy. Your whole mind will change about the things that are important and what living really feels like. Then, it will keep getting better the more your practice living this way.

It feels like freedom and laughing about stupid shit you do and letting your belly hang out. 

It feels like eating too much sometimes without beating yourself up and not trying so hard to fit into a container that was never made for you, my dear.

I wish it didn’t take you so long to get to this place– the start of your journey where you realize all those things you thought mattered really don’t. Honestly, though, you are never going to totally get there. You will still have days where dumb things and people hurt your feelings. You will still blame yourself when something goes wrong. You will still critique yourself when you glance in the mirror.

But it gets so much better than what you are putting yourself through now.

And I’m sorry I put you through as much as I did. 

I now know that when something doesn’t feel like it’s working out, it’s okay to let it go, because better things are coming even though it hurts like hell.

I now know that sacrificing your mental health isn’t worth any relationship.

I now know that enjoying all the things you want in life — food, sex, spending a lazy day in your pajamas — doesn’t have to come with a penalty. 

I now know that getting older is indeed a privilege, and I have no idea why I wasted so much time worrying about it.

I am not saying I have it all figured out. I am telling you there will come a time when you will feel more at peace; less afraid, and most of all, more like yourself than you ever have. 

That feeling will have the power to make you do things like walk away, speak your mind, and not feel like you have to lose inches to fit into old clothes. 

The fight you are fighting right now, the one that causes you to carry around a backpack of self-loathing with you every damn day, will slowly dissipate and you will think, Why did I do that for so long? Why did I put other people’s happiness before my own? Why did I think I had to suffer in order to be great and liked? Why didn’t I walk the fuck away from that situation sooner?

I’m so thankful to you for going through those lessons so that I could learn and blossom into the person that I am now. The one who stumbles and doesn’t care about bad hair days, or if people see her as a bitch for doing what she wants.

I am so glad you grew and changed and stopped trying to control things you couldn’t control.

I am able to remember you and be sorry and feel a tremendous amount of gratitude at the same time. 

I am not at a place where I know life is a mixed bag of emotions. Some days, weeks, and months are going to feel like you are fighting for your head to stay above water. It’s hard and it sucks, but it’s okay. You will be okay. 

You will stop expecting things to be pretty and bright all the time. And you will stop being so hard on yourself thinking you need to be everything you are not.

So, younger self, I’m trying to tell you to hang in there.

This week I turned 45 (I know) and I feel more amazing — and better than you do, if you can believe that (but I know you don’t).

I can’t change what I’ve put you through, or take it away. I can, however, let you know that when you stop waiting for the next thing to come along to take away the angst, and realize all this time all you needed was you, a better part of your life will begin.

Much love,

Your 45-year-old self

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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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