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Letting Go of the Shoes

When my first child was born I was so delighted when the midwife announced I had a little girl. All along I had secretly wished for a girl, even though I wasn’t sure I was actually capable of raising one. I was so afraid I would pass along my idiosyncrasies and issues. (I digress, as we’ve discussed this here before.) But from the moment I held her in my arms I was thrilled to be the mother of a girl. Once we were home, I played with her and sang to her and read to her. We rocked in the rocking chair and took long walks. We went to baby classes. I watched her sleep. We chatted constantly, and I whispered to her all the things I wanted her to know about the world. We had so much fun together. Clothing — something I never cared much about for myself — became part of our fun. I even staged little personal fashion shows where I would dress her in different outfits and take photos.

Right from the start many of the outfits were from Gymboree, a clothing store that sells cute matching outfits complete with bows, socks and shoes. I was a little addicted, to be honest. I purchased all the new lines as they came out and, when I got smart, bought things when they were 75 percent off. Sometimes, I even went on eBay to buy missing accessories and shoes if I couldn’t find them in the stores or outlet. As a result, my little girl had dozens of shoes, headbands and bows. Dozens.

This weekend my little one had her first communion. I went up into the attic to get the white, pristine shoes her sister wore at her first communion. (They were too big, but that’s not really relevant to this story.) While I was up in the attic I came across a box of little shoes I forgot I had. Many of them were the tiny Gymboree shoes that went with all those pretty outfits, long given away to friends, family or charities. I brought  the box downstairs and put it aside. Today, I spent time looking through them. Not obsessively. Just spending enough time to take a brief walk down the cliched memory lane.

Those shoes reminded me of holding my little red-haired baby. So squishy and chubby and sweet. They reminded me of all the fun we had. They reminded me of how proud I have always been to be her mother. Of her first words and first hugs. Of looking at her and having my heart ache because it was filled with so much love. They also reminded me how quickly time is passing. I walked into her bedroom, looking around at the mix of grownup debris and little girl toys. I thought about the young woman she is becoming. She is an excellent student. She draws. She plays piano and French horn well enough to play in the All County concert. She’s funny. She’s creative. She sews. Yes, she has some of my idiosyncrasies and issues. She’s anxious and worries about things. She’s very sensitive. She takes a while to warm up. And in that moment I realized how much I still enjoy being her mother, even when we drive each other crazy. And that I was wrong to fear being a mother of a girl.

As I sit here with rubber bands, tying the shoes together so I can drop them off to the charity thrift shop, I hope the next mother who holds them in her hands has as much fun with her tiny daughter as I did with mine. I hope she realizes how quickly it passes and enjoys every moment. It’s what being a parent is all about.

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For a Reason or a Season

A few weeks ago I went to a past life regression event with some old Gymboree friends. It was an interesting night. As a Catholic, I am not supposed to believe in anything mystical or other life-ly. We die and go to Heaven. That’s that. It’s what I teach my religion students and my kids. But as a curious human, though, I’m not so sure what I believe. Why do we have instant connections with some and instant dislike of others? Why do we tend to run into people randomly again and again in our lives? Are they ghosts or spirits we have run into over and over again in past lives? Lots of people would say yes, this is the case.

Sometimes, I wonder myself, especially when crazy coincidences and weird random meetings happen. For instance, about two months ago I went to a middle school event in my town. I was feeling very down and sad. Also, dizzy. I needed a break, so I went to the bathroom. When I came back I caught the eye of the woman sitting directly behind me. She hadn’t been there before. Her smile grew wide as she recognized me. It was Jodi, a good friend I know from the time before I had kids.

We met when I was in my 20s. She and I carried our first kids at the same time. Our daughters were born only weeks apart. Soon after, I taught mommy-and-me yoga at her wellness studio. (An important milestone for me since it ushered in a golden age in my life — what I call the Gymboree years.) The friendship lasted until she closed her studio, moved away and lost touch. I ran into her again when I was pregnant with my second. I was searching for the HypnoBirthing educator I used the first go-around. When I dialed the phone number I found on the web my friend, Jodi answered the phone. How random! How weird! She rented a room to the educator, she told me. At the time, we marveled at how fate had brought us back together again, but we never ended up meeting up. Life was just too busy. She was pregnant again, too and lived pretty far away. And yet almost a dozen years later here she was sitting behind me again.

We started chatting and it turns out she lives on the same street as one of my close friends. More than 30 miles away! She was only at the event to support another friend. It’s such a small world, we agreed. And then I wondered: Why did we meet up again? What am I supposed to learn from her — or her from me? The universe thinks we have unfinished business, I assumed, so we exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together soon.

And that kind of thing happens to me a lot. People come in and out of my life for a season or a reason. Some may stick around longer than others, but they all have something in common. Those who make a difference or change me usually provoke something that others don’t– a feeling, a connection. I feel like we were meant to meet. They almost instantly feel like a member of my family. They are more than just friends or acquaintances. They are soulmates. This is probably why, when they leave my orbit, my heart breaks a little bit. And why I wonder if we were connected in another life or time, because how else can you explain such coincidences and feelings?

Getting back to the regression: That night I — along with about 20 other people — followed the directions given by the woman, who was a self-identified multigenerational witch. It was strange but during the regression I got a vision of myself living in Paris wearing wooden shoes and lots of rings and jewelry. I was wealthy and had two children — a boy and a girl. Later, as I sat there chatting with my friends in a tea room I wondered out loud if it was the power of suggestion coupled with the fact that I had just listened to quite a bit of historical fiction. Do I believe I lived before in France? I’m not sure, but it was a fun night with friends nonetheless.

And that brings me full circle. What’s your take on mysticism and regression? I’d like to know.

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Bracing Myself — Again

I wore braces when I was a teenager. After having four teeth pulled and enduring three years of monthly tightening, annoying rubber bands and wires that cut into my cheeks and lips, they were removed. I had beautiful, straight teeth. I didn’t wear my retainer, though, so my teeth slowly moved out of their newly minted alignment.

Since my top teeth still looked pretty good, it wasn’t a big deal to me, though. But then recently, I started biting my bottom lip with my incisor, which sticks out a bit past the rest. Then I started having issues with two back teeth, which moved apart and required quite a bit of flossing. QUITE a bit. It was time to do something. When my husband’s new dental insurance included adult orthodontic benefits, I took it as a sign. I would go back to the orthodontist.

This time, however, wires weren’t in my future. I opted for Invisalign, a series of aligner trays that can be removed — perfect for adults! The process of getting my aligners was a complex one. First, I was scanned with a special scanner, which took images of every one of my 24 teeth — front, back and top. Then, I had 360-degree x-rays taken as well as digital photos of my mouth, smile and jaw. All in all it was about two hours of holding my mouth open. Six weeks later, my dentist was holding 23 aligner trays that were created especially for me. I picked the first three up six days ago. So far, so good.

What’s it like? Wearing Invisalign feels like wearing a bra on your teeth. A really tight sports bra. That’s the only way to describe it. All tucked in and held rigidly. Otherwise, I don’t know they are there. You can’t really see them, but I do talk a little funny. I lisp a bit and sound a little garbled when I have them in. The first few days also brought a little soreness as well as some cuts and scrapes on my tongue and cheeks. I also got a little cut on my gum line. I used dental wax to fix those issues, though, so I’m feeling a bit better now.

So far, I have been able to wear my aligners 22 to 23 hours a day, taking them out to eat and brush my teeth. I also take them out at work when I do interviews and moderate webinars. Otherwise, they’re in there working their magic. The dentist says I have between 230 and 322 days in them, depending on how compliant I am. The more you wear them, the quicker the treatment goes. Since I’m really pushing for seven months rather than 11, I try to wear them as much as possible. No matter what, though, I am looking forward to having straighter teeth some time soon. And this time, when I am done I promise I’ll wear my retainer!

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My paperboard hoard that will soon be going to my town's official recycling location.

My paperboard hoard that will soon be going to my town’s official recycling location.

My town has a decent recycling program. We put glass, paper, aluminum and plastic into our bins. There’s one thing that’s missing, though. Two, actually — cardboard and paperboard, the stuff they use to make food boxes. Until recently I took my recycling to the max by saving all the boxes and packaging I could, and dropping it off in a neighboring town, which recycles both. I did it once night had fallen. The recycle bins were at the curb, but I still prayed no one saw me and questioned what I was doing. Yes, I know how crazy that sounds, but it just seemed like a sin to throw out boxes when I could drop them in a recycling bin less than a mile away. (An interesting fact from RecycleAcrossAmerica.com: Recycling cardboard only takes 75% of the energy needed to make new cardboard.)

This weekend we got a newsletter from my town that will basically change my recycling life. It is starting a cardboard and paperboard recycling program! There will be three drop-off locations that will be open on Saturday mornings. Whoohoo!

I posted on Facebook and two other really nice moms shared the information. One of them posted to her own timeline that now she can stop being a hoarder, too. (Seems she also saved her cardboard and paperboard, except she didn’t have to hide it. She took her stuff to a commercial recycling place about ten miles from her house.) The other mom, realizing that most people don’t have the time to go to the drop-off location, suggested that we create a collection point in our neighborhood. This, she said, would encourage more people to recycle. I was so excited that two moms care about the same things I do. It was a revelation. I have felt like a recycling weirdo for a while now.

Case in point: A few years ago someone asked me why I bothered. One person couldn’t make a real difference, she said. At the time I simply ignored the message. I disagreed. This weekend’s Facebook experiences shows me that yes, one voice coupled with others does make a difference in the end. In fact, I have a feeling that if this program goes well they will expand the program to our curbside recycling — at least I hope they will. And the best part for me? No more clandestine, late night drop offs. I can recycle publicly now! How exciting!

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Today my Facebook feed is filled with women sharing the Bad Moms trailer. What, you haven’t seen it? Here’s the link:

Bad Moms trailer

People are going crazy! They identify with the moms who are, in the trailer, tired of trying to be perfect moms. I get it. Especially since, for a long time, I did everything in my power to be the perfect mom.

My kids had the best birthday parties. The best toys — indoors and out. I volunteered for everything. I hosted many, many playdates. I fed them the best food and protected them as if they were tiny china dolls that would break in a second. And all the while I felt less than and unworthy.

Today, not so much. Yes, the food thing is still there but not because I feel like I will fail them by giving them non-organic food. It’s because I actually feel very strongly about avoiding pesticides and GMOs. But the constant feeling of not being good enough is slowly ebbing away. As I said to my daughter this weekend when she asked me a pointed question: “Haven’t you realized yet with everything we’ve been through? None of that matters. All that matters is your health and the people who love you.”

What I didn’t say: Ignore anyone who tries to make you feel less than because you’re not like them. As long as you are a nice person — and no, I wasn’t always a nice person when I felt less than — that’s all that matters.

Friends may come and go for their own insane reasons. They may fade away because you don’t have the same beliefs as they do or they see something in you that makes them question themselves or their lives. Meanwhile, yes, strangers may judge you because you don’t wear the right clothing or drive the cool car. But as long as you are true to yourself and your needs and beliefs you’re doing okay.

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Setting Up Playdates

I’m at a crossroads right now when it comes to playdates, especially with my older one. I don’t feel like I should be involved anymore, especially since 12-year-olds don’t call their social interactions “playdates” anymore. They say they are “hanging out” or “getting together.” And yet my oldest wants me to help her out. She wants me to be involved.

On the other hand, my little one is facing a world where 7- and 8-year-olds are texting each other on their iPods and phones (yes, phones!) and making their own plans. Until recently, I didn’t let the little one text and she was missing out on social connections. Yes, the moms are still involved, but the girls are the ones who initiate the plans on their social calendars.

Me? I’m just trying to keep up. Trying to do what’s right for both of them. Do I push the big one to pick up the phone — like I did this week — or just cave and make her plans for her? And what about the little one? How do I help her navigate a social media world while she’s still in single digits? It weighs heavy on my mind sometimes since, as my big girl has wailed at me, she “had to wait until she was 10 to start texting.” Indeed.

I don’t know what the answer is in either case, but I’d love to hear what your experience is. How do you deal with playdates, social media and kids? I’d like to know.

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I’ve seen a lot of doctors over the past 20 months. A lot. Recently, I went to an endocrinologist for some routine blood work. While I was there the doctor decided she wanted me to get a thyroid sonogram and a bone density test. I asked her why. She felt a nodule on the thyroid, she said. Okay, I told her I would let her do the sono. But why did she want me to get a bone density scan? I was so thin, she said. So thin?!? I was incredulous.

What are the reasons to give someone a bone density scan, which is x-rays of the hip and spine? The National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests that the following list of folks should consider a test:

  • women age 65 or older
  • men age 70 or older
  • someone who has broken a bone after age 50
  • women of menopausal age with risk factors
  • postmenopausal women under age 65 with risk factors
  • men age 50-69 with risk factors
  • someone who had an X-ray of the spine showing a break or bone loss
  • back pain with a possible break in the spine  
  • height loss of ½ inch or more within one year
  • total height loss of 1½ inches from your original height

So no, I don’t fall into any of those categories. I turned down the test. The doctor was not pleased. I figured I probably cost her a few hundred bucks not to mention the opportunity to use the new toy in her office.

This happens over and over every day. Doctors, who are seeing less reimbursement from insurance companies, are looking for a way to raise payment-per-patient numbers. One good way: Sending patients for tests in their own offices.

Of course, most doctors are smart, thoughtful professionals who want to help and follow the “first, do no harm” principle. But as a patient, you need to be aware that you are not just a patient but a CUSTOMER. You are the one who controls your own health. You MUST be an advocate for yourself and for your family.

As for my experience: I probably won’t be going back to that doctor. Yes, she was nice, but I don’t completely believe she had my best interests in mind. Have you had a similar experience? I’d like to know.

We all have issues and shortcomings. I have many. I have blogged about them in the past. One of the issues I have been focused on lately is actually weird, especially given what I do for a living. I am extremely sensitive and take criticism too personally. It took me a while to admit it, but now I say it freely:

“Hello, my name is Karen. I get sad, depressed and angry and feel rejected when someone criticizes me.”

This isn’t a problem that plagues me at work. Ever, actually. I am really good at what I do, but I love constructive criticism of my writing, editing and reporting. I strive to be the best I can be, and don’t even flinch if a story comes back with revision notes. It is what it is. It’s my job. I get it. I may grumble because I am feeling lazy, but I don’t take it personally for a nanosecond. My regular life? Not so much.

For example, I have a Girl Scout troop. Recently, a few of the girls decided they wanted to do their Silver award work with some friends who are Juliette Low scouts — girls who are not aligned with a troop. Instead of hearing the news and saying, “Whew! That means less work for me,” I heard, “You suck as a leader. If you were a better leader the girls would want to work on it with you.” Crazy. Insane. Especially since these girls have been with me for eight years and all the evidence I have says they like our troop and enjoy Girl Scouts.

Why does that happen? My therapist says it’s because I have core beliefs that are not real. Well, they are real in my mind, but they are not based on reality. Blame it on my childhood. Blame it on my upbringing. Blame it on my brain, which is wired for anxiety. Blame it on my own self-worth that — as the weird, smart shy girl who didn’t have a lot of friends growing up — isn’t where it should be. Whatever the reason, it’s stopping me from being successful as an adult. It’s impacting the way I approach social situations and life. It’s also pissing people off and keeping me from making stronger connections.

I’m going to be trying EMDR to try and eradicate the false core beliefs so that I can understand and see the difference between when someone is actually being mean or criticizing me in a negative way and when someone is just saying something benign. I plan on blogging about it as we go. In the meantime, I’d hyper-aware of what’s going on and pledge to try harder to think before I react — a work-in-progress, that’s me!

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Friendship and Illness

While I have lost a lot over the course of my concussion recovery — money, time with my kids, memories, a feeling of safety, 15 pounds — one of the things I mourn the most is friendship.

When you are ill with a chronic issue (and in my case that would be chronic, daily vestibular migraines) people start falling away. They don’t understand what you’re going through. It’s annoying. It’s not appealing. It’s frustrating to deal with. Pile on top of that depression and anxiety and it basically becomes a recipe for loss. People you once looked forward to seeing are no longer in your life. Especially if you made them mad early on in your recovery. That’s what happened to me.

For me, I think my lack of filter was the biggest problem. I remember clearly losing it on a few friends when they were questioning my decision to keep my kids off a water slide. I was at the beginning of this journey back then. I could barely stand up. I shouldn’t have been out of the house at all. And yet I went to a block party. When my friends started ribbing me and saying things that made me feel bad about my decision to keep the kids out of the water, I yelled at them. I don’t even remember what I said. So much of those first six months is lost to me. But I do know the outcome: They were highly offended and angry. Those two friendships never really recovered, especially when I added in the fact that they were tangentially connected to my personal problem. Sort of.

Another instance — right around the same time — happened at my beach club. It was at a members-only camp out. I noticed that there were non-members there. Instead of ignoring it I got upset. I have no idea why. I mentioned it to the president. He went and told the non-members they were not supposed to be there. No filter. I had no filter and no common sense as many people with a concussion, which is a traumatic brain injury after all. Lots of behavior issues, actually.

There’s a great article here that explains how and why this occurs. From the article, a list of the behavioral problems that can happen: verbal outbursts, physical outbursts, poor judgment and disinhibition, impulsive behavior, negativity, intolerance, apathy, egocentricity, rigidity and inflexibility, risky behavior, lack of empathy, lack of motivation or initiative, depression or anxiety.

People were really mad about the beach club thing. Really mad. And soon after there was another problem — a botched text chain where I basically told everyone on the text they should just take me out and flog me. LOL and OMG. Impulsive behavior and poor judgement. If I was able to hang out with those people and let them see my true self once I was feeling better I probably could have repaired those friendships, but I never truly got past the headaches and vestibular migraine. I became a shut-in. I spent most of my time in bed. I cried a lot. I was so angry at life for throwing all this crap at me. I had days where I asked God why. I had days where I thanked God I had children because if I didn’t I am not sure I would have had the strength to go on. I was lonely and yearned for my old life back. It never came back. Not completely.

Looking back, I can’t believe any of this happened. I never knew how far-reaching a concussion could be. I never realized that it means more than just being dizzy and getting daily headaches. It can strip away your personality, your judgement and your self. It robs you of friendship. It obliterates your self-confidence and hope. It makes you question everything. And when you look normal on the outside? People are not willing to forgive and forget so easily. It’s not like a broken leg or stitches. You look normal so your behavior is judged as a normal person’s judgement would be.

My therapist tells me that people who don’t understand or who can’t forgive were never really my friends to begin with. I don’t know, because they felt like friends to me.

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The New Dirty Dozen

The Environmental Working Group this week announced its 2016 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. It’s something I have always read and followed. Basically, the list details the fruits and vegetables with the highest amounts of pesticide residue. This year, strawberries top the list. Considering the average American eats about eight pounds of strawberries every year, this is a big deal.

Why should you worry about pesticide residue? I’ll let the EWG explain:

Nearly all strawberry samples — 98 percent — tested by federal officials had detectable pesticide residues. Forty percent had residues of 10 or more pesticides and some had residues of 17 different pesticides. Some of the chemicals detected on strawberries are relatively benign, but others are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems.”

Scary stuff. For example, one study found that teenagers exposed to pesticides may end up with abnormal sperm. Another meta study of 21 studies found that pesticide exposure is associated with an increase risk of developing diabetes. Yet another study found that pesticides boost the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Not to mention the fact that it’s been linked to endometriosis, pediatric cancers and decreased cognitive function and behavioral problems in kids and a host of other problems.

So what do you do? Try sticking with organic for anything that’s on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. It’s a good start, and — for the most part — organic purchased in season isn’t usually much more expensive. Another big thing: DON’T spray Round-Up or other pesticides in your home or garden. Kids play and can accidentally ingest the chemicals. Finally, make sure everyone takes their shoes off when they come in the house to minimize chemicals literally walking into your home.

Are pesticides something you worry about? How do you avoid contact with your family? I’d like to know.

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