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Ahh, technology. I have covered the topic of kids and television (and in recent years screens) many times. You can read some of that work here and here. My stance mirrors that of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — less screen time, more play time –  so I wasn’t surprised when they came out with new recommendations this week, which include:

  • Kids younger than 18 months avoiding all screen media
  • Those 18 to 24 months of age should watch high-quality programming (if anything at all) and watch with parents
  • Children ages 2 to 5 years should be in front of screens for no longer than one hour per day and co-view with their parents
  • Kids over 6 should have “consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health”

I also love the AAP’s other suggestions: Media-free time together with the family, and media-free locations inside homes such as bedrooms.

Monitoring and limiting my youngest hasn’t been too difficult. My older daughter just turned 13, though, and I feel like we’re fighting a losing battle. She has an iPhone and a Chromebook, which the school supplies. They use the Chromebook at school in place of text books. This means that the kid is on and off that screen for up to seven hours a day. Homework is done on the Chromebook, too. The kids video chat with each other to work on projects and all the work is on their Google Drive. Then there’s the texting, FaceTiming and other social interactions that take place on the phone. It feels like she is always staring at a screen. What’s a parent to do?

I must admit that I was one of the parents who was thrilled that we give out Chromebooks at school. What a great idea, I thought. Now…not so much. I wonder what all this screen time is doing to my kid’s brain. (After all, I, like many parents, read the NY Post article about screens that call them “digital heroin.”) And yet it is nearly impossible to take the screens away. Kids don’t call each other on the phone. Their phones are the main venues for social interaction. So what’s a mom to do?

I’m going to read the AAP’s guidelines with my kids later on. I’m also going to sit down and, as a family, create a media plan using the AAP’s interactive, online tool. Finally, I am going to tell my daughter she needs to disconnect from her phone for at least an hour when she gets home and enforce the screen ban that’s already in place: No screens after 9 p.m. We’ve been lax about that when the day turns into night and she’s still working on her homework or chatting with friends. We never wanted to be the parents who kept their children from social interactions. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Review: Urban Market Bags

My little pouch full of Urban bags.

My little pouch of Urban Market bags.

“That is so cool.”

The 20-something cashier at my local market was staring down as I took one of my new bags out of its little pouch and unfolded it. She was amazed that such a big bag came out of such a little one. I watched as she loaded all of my groceries into the aforementioned “cool” bag, happy that I finally, finally have a set of reusable bags that work!

About a month ago the folks over at Urban Market Bags sent me a set of their bags to try out. I was skeptical. I have a lot of reusable bags. A lot. I have bags for grocery stores, clothing shops and produce. My go-to bag has to be one my oldest made in nursery school. It’s a big burlap bag stamped by my then-three-year-old. I have others, but they get dirty and rip. None are all that fabulous. What could be so great about another set of reusable bags, I wondered? And then I started using them.

From the moment I took them out I was hooked. The three-bag  set arrived tucked into the drawstring pack, which is 5-inches tall and 3.5-inches wide. I opened the drawstring and took out three bags, each 26-inches tall and 12.5-inches wide. (There’s also a six pack of bags. Those bags are 22 1/2 by 11 1/2.) All of the bags are made of nylon, which means they are machine washable. They looked big enough to handle what would normally go in a big brown paper bag, but would they hold up? They certainly have. So far, I can’t say enough about them.

Since unpacking them I have used them and refolded them many times, putting them back into their little pouch, which I keep in the door cup holder of my car. It’s so nice having my bags in one small place rather than all over my trunk. As I saw when I first took them out, they are big enough to stuff a lot of groceries into yet aren’t difficult to lug around. For instance, the handle never digs into my hand. They are also better than my other bags because they conform to the shape of whatever is in them. I recently used them at a local home store, filling them up with bulky and odd-shaped items and my little one was able to carry it to the car.

My little one carrying her sister's birthday gifts from a local home store.

My little one carrying her sister’s birthday gifts from a local home store.

So what’s the only drawback? For most, it’s going to be the price. My three-pack costs $28. The six-pack is $40. Those prices don’t include shipping. That said, would I pay $28 for another three bags? Absolutely. They are easy to remember and carry into the store since they are always staring at me when I open my car door. They are also really comfortable to use. Most important, they hold a lot of stuff.

I figure it’s a matter of looking at it from a long term perspective. If you go to a store every day for a month — and really, who isn’t in a store or the library or somewhere you need a bag on a daily basis — the bags end up with a cost of about $1 per day or $.33 each. Amortize that out over a year and they run you about $.08 a day for the pack. Completely and totally worth it, especially if you live in a town that charges for bags, something that’s coming sooner than you think.

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Review: Kid Kanteen

Insulated and it matches our new backpack!

Insulated and it matches our new backpack!

It’s back-to-school day for many of us in the Northeast so I thought I would do a quick review. I received this nifty Kleen Kanteen Kid Kanteen last week. It’s the first time I’ve used a stainless steel water bottle in a few years. We stopped using them because the ones we had weren’t meeting our needs. First, if you added ice to the plain stainless steel bottles there would be so much condensation on the outside that they soaked backpacks. The ice never lasted too long, either, which meant your water was warm in an hour or so. Finally, the stainless steel tops were difficult to open — especially when little hands were involved. We switched to a silicon-covered glass bottle, which I love but isn’t school-friendly, so I was thrilled to get this one in the mail.

The new Kleen Kanteen we got is vacuum-insulated. This means much less condensation. In fact, I didn’t see any this morning as I was packing up lunch, and it held its own on the beach! The bottle also ships with a BPA-free plastic cap, which is easier to open and hopefully won’t leak. (The company says the loop cap is leak-proof.) The nicest part is that the water inside actually stays cold! You can put ice in the bottle and expect it to be there at the end of the school day. It even stays cold after a day on the beach!

I have to see how the paint stands up to my little wrecking ball, but overall I am very happy with our new water bottle. I plan on getting one for my big girl soon. Yes, it costs $22.70 on Amazon, but, considering a regular bottled water is $1.50, we’ll be saving money after 15 uses and doing our part for the environment.

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Today I logged into Facebook and, as usual, right on top was a Facebook memory. A photo from 2012 captioned, “Gorgeous day on the boat.” It features my husband, my daughter, an old friend and her son. It didn’t make me happy, though. It made me incredibly sad since I am no longer friends with that person — or her family. I clicked through to look at the other photos Facebook wanted me to remember. Looking at them hurt. They reminded me that I lost someone who was like a family member. Four someones, actually.

One photo was of my friend’s kid and Little Girl making faces in a mirror. Another was my friend’s husband lying on a raft. Another photo was of my older daughter beaming, sitting next to my friend’s son and her husband.

Yes, all of the photos remind me of the loss my whole family suffered when that friendship died. The worst part is I am not exactly sure why it died. I have an idea, though.

For the past two years I’ve been spending every moment trying to climb out of hell (or working when I felt well enough) so it wasn’t that I did anything that you would think would end a friendship. We didn’t fight. We didn’t have a disagreement. I didn’t call her names or ruin her favorite sweater. When I look back I remember all the good times — and those good times comprised about 99.9 percent of our time together. And yet she cut me out of her life. I think it was because I was behaving co-dependently.

I come to this conclusion after discussing it (a lot) in therapy and reading and re-reading every single email and text I sent her over the past three years. While I uncovered one thing I did — blogging about something that her husband did — at the time she told me she was upset, and it was over. I took the post down and apologized immediately. It wasn’t a friendship killer. No, instead, I think it was a handful of texts and emails we exchanged with me bemoaning her interaction with a girl we both knew. While the girl-in-common often acted unkind and childish — she always had to prove that she was the better friend — my reactions to their interactions were wrong.

For instance, one time I complimented my friend on a bracelet she had on. The mutual friend immediately piped up, “Oh, I have one, too! We got them when we went away together! They are our friendship bracelets!” I shouldn’t have taken the bait — even though what she said was something that would normally come out of a teen’s mouth instead of a 30-something woman’s — but I did. I felt jealous and sad and upset. Later, I brought the comment up to my friend, saying how upset the girl’s words made me. She told me that they were absolutely not friendship bracelets, and that she didn’t know what the girl was talking about. She was buying one and the other girl decided to buy one, too. However, she shouldn’t have had to say a word because I never should have been upset by it to begin with.

Another time the mutual friend went on and on about how her child and my friend’s child FaceTimed every morning. That they were so close. Again, it made me feel less-than. I got hurt. I felt threatened. Basically, I felt that if my friend (or her child) liked the other girl (or her child) more than me I was worthless. Sad, isn’t it? Especially since my friend told me time and again how special our relationship was and how she didn’t confide in that girl. She and the girl weren’t the same type of friends we were. Looking back, I feel ashamed and sad. Why did I have to question my friend? Why couldn’t I feel confident in her love and friendship?  The evidence was there that she cared about me a lot, but even if it wasn’t: The other girl’s relationship with my friend had nothing to do with me!

Those are just two examples. However, I can see now that many of the conversations and interactions tied to that other girl brought out my tendency toward co-dependency.

Childhood Strikes Again

What is co-dependence? Well, it’s something that happens when you grow up in a dysfunctional home. WebMD has a great definition: “The first step in getting things back on track is to understand the meaning of a codependent relationship. Experts say it’s a pattern of behavior in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity.

My therapist first brought up the concept based on some other work I was doing. Soon after, I found a website that had a more complete description of the problem and it hit me. I was co-dependent and I never even knew it. The biggest ah-ha moment however was when, after going through an “Are you co-dependent” questionnaire, I saw how many times I answered yes. (Keep in mind that I took the questionnaire at the beginning of the summer before starting to work on it in therapy. My answers would be very different if I took it today — at least on many of them. Undoing years of co-dependent feelings takes a while.) Here’s the questionnaire as well as my answers from four months ago:

1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments? YES

2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you? YES

3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem? NO

4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you? (Not lived with but dated.)

5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own? YES

6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home? YES

7. Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends? YES

8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be? NO

9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others? YES

10. Have you ever felt inadequate? YES

11. Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake? YES

12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts? YES, YES, YES

13. Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake? YES

14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts? YES

15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done? YES

16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss? NO

17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life? NO

18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help? YES, YES, YES

19. Do you have trouble asking for help? YES, YES, YES

20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them? YES!!!

Since realizing I have a co-dependent personality, it’s like a weight has been lifted. Things are so much clearer. Now, if someone excludes me or someone isn’t kind — guess what? — I don’t assume it is because of me! I don’t attach any feelings or emotions to their actions. My self-worth isn’t tied to what people say or do — or don’t do. And since I don’t think that I need to do things to get people to like me, I only do things that I want to do. If I am kind, it’s because I want to be not because unconsciously I feel like I have to be.

Today, while I am sorry I lost my friend, I am so glad I learned a lesson. I am glad my eyes are open to who I am and the tendencies I have. I know it will take a while longer to be completely done with my journey, but I am looking forward to continuing to grow and watching my current friendships blossom — and making new ones.

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Phasing Out Flossing?

As a journalist, I get lots of press releases that pop into my inbox. This week I was inundated with folks reacting to and pitching stories about an Associated Press investigation about flossing. Seems the AP story says there is “little proof” that flossing is beneficial. This blows my mind!

One of the reasons I went ahead and got Invisalign braces is the fact that I would get huge chunks of food caught in between my back teeth. It was so annoying. It was also affecting the health of my gums. I flossed all the time, but my gums would still occasionally get irritated. Now that I have the aligners I floss even more frequently since food stuck between teeth plus aligners equals pain. So do I agree with the new no-floss recommendations? Heck no!

I read an excellent story on Slate about the flossing debacle. I highly recommend it because it looks at the whole idea of medical studies and how most are sponsored by the product or company that is being investigated. Even that author, who decided that maybe she would ditch flossing, ended her story with a question from her husband: “What about the food between your teeth?”

And that’s the rub. If you stop flossing you stop removing the little pieces of vegetables, meat and fruit that get caught in your teeth. Not to mention seeds, popcorn kernels and ground up carbs. Forget the health of your gums for a moment. When you leave that stuff alone it ferments and rots, making your breath smell awful. That said, I intend to keep flossing. How about you?


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Review: Dr. Eureka

Those pesky balls are tough to control!

Those pesky balls are tough to control!

The folks over at Blue Orange Games — the manufacturer of our other favorite game, Doodle Quest — sent me Dr. Eureka a few months back. Although we’ve played it many times over the summer, this is the first chance I’m getting to review it. In three words: We loved it!

The game is designed for kids and adults ages 8 and up, but we’ve played it with kids as young as six. (The six-year-old actually did better than some of the adults!) The company describes the game like this: “Players pass colorful molecules between test tubes to match the pattern on a challenge card, building both cognitive processing and dexterity skills. Play it alone or at a party with friends, Dr. Eureka is your best bet for some crazy molecule juggling fun!”

What does that mean? Everyone gets three little plastic tubes and six colored balls — two of each color. The game also comes with 54 cards that show different variations of the little balls sitting in the test tubes. For instance, it might have no balls in one, four in another and two in the last tube. When a card is flipped over, everyone has to work as quickly and carefully as possible to duplicate what’s on that card without touching the balls or letting them drop.Do either and you’re out of the game! The first person to match the pattern on the card wins.

What I love about this game is that it makes you think. You’ve got to think about how you can best move the balls from tube to tube in the fewest number of steps. Do you pour four of them into one tube and manipulate the other two? Do you try and work from the bottom? The whole process might sound easy, but moving those balls from tube to tube is much more challenging than you’d think! Your fine motor skills definitely get a workout. “The tubes are so narrow,” was something one of the adults actually said out loud!

We’ve played it about four or five times and have not gotten to the end of the 54-card deck, but I do wonder if there are any additional permutations (and add-on packs) that we can buy. In the meantime, it’s definitely one of those games that everyone can get behind. Good clean summer fun — just make sure you play in an area that doesn’t have a lot of furniture. Those little balls tend to roll far if you drop them.


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And the Award Goes to…

The dust-gatherers now gathering dust in my office.

The dust-gatherers now gathering dust in my office.

My kids are 12 and 8. They have been playing sports since they were little. They aren’t superstars. And yet we have more than 20 trophies sitting in our home. Trophies that take up room, gather dust and are pretty much meaningless.

We’ve got trophies for kindergarten CYO basketball, our beach club’s swim team, the National PTA Reflections contest, a first grade soccer tournament and cheerleading. Last month the girls and I cleaned their rooms. All those trophies ended up sitting in the hallway of our upstairs. The girls didn’t want them cluttering up their shelves. Mommy, they said, we don’t need them. No kidding, I thought. No kidding.

I have been against giving out trophies since we got the first shiny plastic and stone monstrosity complete with a little soccer ball. (That one was for participating in a local peewee soccer program that didn’t even have games!) My biggest complaint has always been that trophies should be for real accomplishments. Big wins. Amazing feats of prowess — academic or athletic. You don’t need a trophy to commemorate ten weeks of kindergarten sports skills classes!

I’m not the only one who feels this way. For instance, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison created a firestorm last year when he posted on Instagram about taking away trophies his little ones got. The photo was accompanied by this post: “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues”

I totally agree and wish others did, but alas, I am in the minority. For example, a few years ago I ran our elementary school’s Reflections program and I championed phasing out the trophies. We could give out ribbons and medals, I said. It would be cheaper, I said! It didn’t fly. The trophies were ordered, and I silently cursed the fact that I would have another four of them in my house. (My kids tend to do well at those types of contests.)

But I digress, as usual. When my kids handed over their shiny loot I took to the Internet to find out if I could recycle them. Yes, I discovered, there are companies that will recycle trophies, but I couldn’t find any close by. Today I posted on Facebook and a friend sent me a link about a place WAY out east that takes them and refurbishes them for charities. It’s about an hour away from my home, but it may be worth the trip just to get them out of my sight. In the meantime, I know I am blessed that my kids are able to be involved with sports and contests to earn trophies at all. There are many children who don’t have the same opportunities. Does that earn me a medal?

What’s your take on trophies? I’d like to know.

My children are milk white just like their mother. The kind of milk white that burns and never tans — ever. It’s sort of sad, really, especially since I am half Italian on my mother’s side. She is not milk white. She gets so dark in the summer that, way back when, someone asked her if she was our babysitter as she pushed me and my sister on the local park swings.

Anyway, we have always been vigilant about slathering our kids with sunscreen. They wear 30 SPF cream — whatever scores the best on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens. This year, however, my older daughter has been balking about having us sunscreen her, especially in public. Yesterday was Fourth of July. My family spent an entire day at our local beach club. We were out the door at 8:45 a.m. to ride in the parade and didn’t get home until after 11. We attempted to sunscreen her multiple times. She insisted she could handle it herself. I even texted her sunscreen reminders several times throughout the day. (I had to leave the party between 11 and 4 to help my mother with something.) She did a pretty good job except for one place — the small of her back. By the time we got home she was beet red and crying. She got a major sunburn.

What is sunburn? It’s a biological response to getting too much ultraviolet light. Basically, the skin’s RNA is damaged so it creates an inflammatory response. The more damage you have, the more lobster-like you become. We treated my poor girl with aloe vera gel, which is clinically proven to help skin — and teeth and gums — start healing. I also told her to up her water consumption since the body needs lots of hydration when it’s burned. Finally, we discussed the advice of experts about when and how much sunscreen you need. From a recent press release about consumer confusion around sunscreen:

“We recommend you buy a sunscreen lotion labeled ‘broad spectrum protection’ — which helps to protect against both types of UV rays — with an SPF of 30 or higher that is also water resistant. SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of the UVB radiation. But, you need to reapply it every two hours, using about a shot glass full of lotion over your exposed skin, for the best results,” explains Dr. Roopal Kundu, an associate professor in dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

My big girl plans on staying out of the sun this week. We’ve also come to an agreement about sunscreen. She has to let us apply the first thick layer and, if she’s not going to let us reapply it to her back and shoulders — she’s going to wear a swim shirt. She’s not thrilled about this, but I’m not thrilled that she’s increased her risk of getting skin cancer over her lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Association. It’s a tough lesson to learn at any age.

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You Will Find Your People

This week Big Girl started taking finals. She goes in for two hours and comes home. Yesterday, she was home by 10:30. I had planned to work in the morning and take off midday to do something fun with her. We decided to go for a walk in the preserve.

Lazily chatting and ambling along, over time Big Girl shared some stories that made me very upset. Girls — who I know — who teased her. A boy came over to her on a dare and asked her for half her sandwich as his friends stood by laughing. I was so angry and hurt for her.

My first mamma bear instinct was to spew hateful comments about those kids, but after thinking about it a moment, I took a deep breath and gave her better advice. “Those are not your people. One day you will find your people — if you haven’t already.”

I explained that everyone has their “people,” those who are like them in spirit and thought. It usually takes some time to find your people, but when you do it’s amazing. Not all of the people you call your friends will be your people. Family can be your people. Friends. Teachers. Some may be much older than you. Some may be younger. Some may be female; some may be male. You may have one or many, but they are out there and you will find them. Your people.

I used examples from my own life. You could be “friends” with someone, for instance, but know all along that they are not your people and never will be. You can think certain friends are your people, but find out some day that they are not. However, when you do find your people, you need to treasure them. Those are the ones who will carry you through, fight for you and love you — in thick and thin.

Those girls who were being mean, I said, don’t matter. Ignore them. Forget them. Feel sorry for them. They haven’t found their people, either. If they had they wouldn’t be making fun of kids. They wouldn’t have to feed their egos by hurting others. They wouldn’t be so angry and closed off. They wouldn’t act the way they do. And then I put my arm around her and told her to look around and enjoy. She told me then that they didn’t bother her, those girls, and we started talking about something else.

My big girl has met a lot of new people this year, her first in middle school. She also has many friends from elementary school. I wonder if any of them are her people. I hope they are. Have you met your people yet?

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Afraid of Open Windows

I could go so many ways with this blog; There are so many definitions of an open window. For instance, I could use it for a metaphor for my life except…in this case I am actually talking about my own daughter who is afraid of open windows. Glass and wood windows. Those things on every apartment, building or house.

How did I find this out? It has been gloriously nice in New York. It’s not too hot during the day and still cool at night. Perfect sleeping weather, actually. For instance, last night it went down to 59 degrees. Two weeks ago we discussed turning on the central air, but my point of view was, why so soon? It’s not hot enough yet, I said. Besides, I remembered all those nights I spent sleeping with the windows open — listening to the rustle of leaves and sound of crickets and wanted my kids to have the same experience. After debating the topic for a few minutes we decided to delay the AC, at least for a little while. My little one did not like this plan, though.

The first night the windows were open she got extremely agitated, begging me to close and lock her windows. She was afraid, she said, that someone would come in. It was too scary, she said. Watching the curtains moving upset her. Besides, it was SO dark outside. “Please, Mama! Please close the window!”

I tried to reason with her. No one could get in, I told her. We would hear if someone tried. Besides, the dog would literally kill anyone who tried to enter the house. Then I tried appealing to her comfort. The cool air felt so good. Keeping the windows closed meant the heat from the day would stay inside and make sleeping difficult. But none of these logical arguements appeased her. The windows had to be closed, she said. She was so upset so I shut and locked them, shaking my head the entire time.

It’s my fault, of course. I have always been so nutty when it comes to locking doors and windows and putting our alarm on. I even wedge a piece of wood in our sliding glass door when we’re not using it. Everything in the house is set up to thwart a would-be intruder. I know my extreme security focus is a reaction from childhood.

While the windows being open at night didn’t scare me, the fact that we had to put a chair against the back door at night — and my mom slept with a bat under the bed — made an impression. So did the time someone looked in our window! Our doberman chased whoever it was off pretty quickly, but it was scary. And then there was the time when, soon after my husband and I moved into our first house, someone removed the screen in the bathroom and pushed open the window as we lay sleeping only 20 feet away. We woke to our dog barking incessantly. We couldn’t figure out where she was. We found her outside. She had leaped out the window after the person, and chased him or her out of our yard. It was an experience that still makes me shudder.

Still, yes people do crazy things and security is important, but I wonder if — in my quest to keep my kids safe — I have made them feel inherently unsafe. I wonder if my caution has created more fear than there should be.

Right now I am sitting in my office with my window wide open. There’s a soft breeze blowing in. I opened all the windows in the bedrooms, too. And yet the front door is locked, and the wood is in the sliding glass door. Very soon it will become too hot in New York for my air conditioning-raised kids and husband to contemplate sleeping with the windows open, so the decision will be made for us. In the meantime, do I keep trying to sleep with the windows open? I hate to say it, but probably not. It’s just too traumatic for my daughter. Sigh.

Do you sleep with the windows open? Do you worry about it if you do? I’d like to know.

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