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This Monday I was hit with food poisoning. It was horrible, painful and exhausting. The vomiting was the uncontrollable kind. The kind that makes you whimper the word, “help,” in between bouts.

I locked myself in the bedroom as soon as I started feeling ill, claiming the master bathroom as my own. At some point between 8 p.m. Monday night and 9 a.m. Tuesday, a letter slid under my door:

sicklet

As sick as I was, it made me smile. Almost as much as the other letter I found in my older daughter’s room — a note from the little one to the big one. It said:

“I feel bad for Mommy. She will be sick for a special day tomorrow. (Valentine’s Day) I really hope she gets better. –K”

My get well wishes weren’t limited to the little one. The big one sent me a note, too. Hers came via text:

ktext

When I showed the communications to a friend she wanted to know how I got my kids to send them. Her kids would never take the time to write a get well text much less write a get well note, she said. While my kids’ literary leanings could definitely be related to the fact that I am a writer (apples and trees and all), I think it’s something else. I’ve always written notes, stories and letters for my kids so writing down feelings and emotions is something they see as a normal part of life. Monkey see, monkey do and all.

I started really early, writing stories together, inking and coloring in empty books we bought at Michael’s. When my big girl got a little older I bought her a mommy and me journal so we could write back and forth to each other, sharing words that were too difficult or painful to say out loud. Writing simply became a way of expressing love. My kids write today because it’s what they know.

It works out well for everyone in our lives. For instance, from a very young age both of my kids have written thank you notes. Sometimes it was a struggle to get them to do it, but I truly believe in the power of a personal message so I kept at it. They also give hand-written birthday cards. This year, they even left each other notes on the first day of school.

Want your kids to write? It’s never too late to start a good habit. Try putting little notes into lunchboxes or backpacks. Leave Post-Its on the sink. Write stories with your kids. Buy them their own diaries or notebooks. Let them pick out a cool pen. Eventually, these little things will add up, and you’ll be getting your own post-puke messages — no prompting necessary.

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“Did she wear her helmet?”

It was the first question I asked when my husband and youngest came into the house.

“Yes,” he explained grimly. “She was the only kid at the birthday wearing one, but she wore it.”

He walked past me shaking his head. My little one danced around me, chattering about the party.

“It was so COOL,” she exclaimed. “And I’m really good at skating now! Next time I won’t have to wear a helmet!”

I didn’t say anything, but inside I was cringing. I’d fight that battle another day.

It’s no secret that I am overprotective and always have been. However, since my own health issues I’ve actually adopted a more laid back attitude. I want my kids to have fun without worrying too much. I want them to trust themselves and the world. But there is a limit to my new attitude: Anything that could give them a head injury.

Three months ago I joined a Facebook group for people with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and their caregivers. (Yes, concussions are considered TBIs.) Anyway, last week someone posted a thread asking how people got their injuries. There were several common themes in the answers:

  • motor vehicle and motorcycle accidents
  • military incidents such as mortar blasts
  • horseback riding
  • slipping on ice

As I sat there reading the hundreds of responses I had a hard time not worrying about my kids. Most of the car accident victims were just that: victims. Drunk, drugged or texting people slammed into their cars. And so — when I remembered that my daughter was going to an ice skating party it was hard not to think what if. What if she slipped and fell? What if she hit her head? I became Overprotective Mommy again, making her wear a ski helmet.

I think I did the right thing, though. Skating can be dangerous. According to a recent story in the Mercury News, “Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek told TMZ Sports before the Sochi Games that he had suffered at least 15 concussions in his career. Rising U.S. star Joshua Ferris suffered three concussions in a three-week period in 2015 and then retired last year at age 21 because of potential risks.”

The Journal of Pediatrics has even taken a pretty strong stand on the issue: “The proportion of head injuries among ice-skaters in this study was greater than that observed for participants in other types of skating, for which helmet use is recommended and often required. Children should wear a helmet during recreational ice-skating. Mandatory helmet use by pediatric ice-skaters at indoor rinks should be implemented.”

The point of this rambling blog? Well, I think it is important to let my kids do more and trust that they will be safe, but when research and experts says there’s a danger, it’s okay to put safety measures in place. What’s your take?

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Pets and Responsibility

Our new family member!

Our new family member!

There were cats in my home before there were children. Two adorable, huge, long-haired boys named Beavis and Kit-ten. They lived long, happy lives before passing away. My cuddly boy was 21. My husband’s cat was 19. He died right before our second daughter was born. We’ve been cat-free now for about eight years. I missed having cats but since we’re both allergic, I didn’t really go looking for a new pet. Besides, a few years ago we welcomed a rescue dog named Savannah who needed a lot of training and love.

Anyway, back in October we were at the vet with Savannah and we noticed a cute puff of cream-colored fur hanging out in the area designated for adoptions. We oohed and ahhed. We said how much we would love to take him home. We couldn’t believe he wasn’t already spoken for, but then we noticed he was blind in one eye. When we asked about it the vet tech told us that people don’t like adopting animals with medical issues. We went home that day, but the cat stayed on our minds. My little one asked about him (and adopting him) at least once a week. This past December after more prodding we stopped into the vet’s office. Sure enough, the little puff of cream was a little bigger but still just as cute, and still waiting for a new home. After discussing it, we decided to let the girls get a cat as long as they agreed to clean the litter box exclusively. I already walk the dog, brush her and feed her. I also clean the hamster cage and buy worms and crickets for the gecko. I didn’t need another job, I told them, so the only way the cat was coming into the house was if they were his caretakers. They agreed.

He came home on January 2. After giving them a lesson in poop scooping, the girls have divided the responsibilities between them. Since then, they have been wonderful, keeping the box clean, feeding and watering him and giving him lots and lots of love. I am thrilled that they have stepped up and are doing their part. I don’t even hear any grumbling about the smelly litter! They do it without complaint. The big one even cleaned up some cat poop that landed outside the box due to a litter box cover issue. She gagged, but she did it! I was so proud.

It’s been nice to have a cat in the house. I am diligent about washing my hands. He doesn’t seem to shed, and he’s probably one of the nicest animals I’ve ever met. He and the dog instantly bonded. He’s nice to the hamster! He’s extremely clean. The best part: He got my kids to take responsibility for a living thing, a crucial step in their march to adulthood. Can’t complain about that!

We still haven’t named the little guy! We just can’t decide. Right now we’re thinking Clay or CC or even Asia, since he’s got Siamese markings and coloring. Have a good idea for our new pet? Also, have you liked NaPM on Facebook yet? Feel free to stop by and say hi!

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I Recycled My Mattress

Sleep. It should be the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. Lie down. Close eyes. Wake when refreshed. Except sometimes it’s not. Forget illnesses, nightmares and insomnia. Sometimes, it’s that your mattress is old and messing with your back. At least that’s what happened here.

Until last week we had an old memory foam mattress that was expensive and comfortable when we bought it. Ten years later, however, the foam that used to snap back when I got out of bed just stayed dented. Besides, we bought the bed before we realized that mattresses are often a swampy mess of chemicals and off-gassing so I’ve been looking for an excuse to get rid of it.

Many mattresses, for instance, are made from petroleum-based chemicals. Memory foam mattresses in particular, which are made with chemicals that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can cause headaches, respiratory issues and skin irritation. Mattresses may also be treated with chemical fire retardants (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers or PDBEs), which also off-gas. These chemicals are so bad that fire departments across the country are trying to outlaw their use. According to a recent Boston Globe article, “Fire officials and environmental advocates, who have joined forces to support the restrictions, contend that at least 10 chemicals used in flame retardants endanger firefighters, while doing little to stop fires. They support two bills that would prohibit manufacturers and retailers from using the chemicals in children’s products and upholstered furniture and authorize state environmental officials to ban other retardants they designate as health risks.”

Knowing all this — and hoping to save our backs — we went out in search of an organic mattress like the one we bought our youngest daughter. (That blog post is worth reading if you want to learn more about chemicals in mattresses.) Anyway, organic mattresses are now easy to find and purchase. The local store we visited had about a dozen different models on display. We settled on a part latex, part coil mattress made of all organic materials. Before it was delivered, though, I had to figure out what to do with our old mattress. I didn’t want it to end up in a landfill.

As I learned after doing a little research, nearly every part of a mattress can be recycled — between 80 to 90 percent, according to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. That old memory foam and the mattress topper and cover can be reused as carpet padding or insulation. All the metal inside the mattress gets put right back into the stream since it can be recycled. Even the wood frame can be used as firewood. It’s sad that only a handful of states require mattress recycling. California is one such state. Every mattress purchased there includes a recycling fee that pays for the process when it outlives its usefulness.

Turns out there’s a mattress recycler right here on Long Island that services most of the Island and New York City. For a fee, the company would come pick up the old mattress and break it down into components that could be recycled and reused. The recycling process was easy. We signed up online, paid a nominal fee and someone came the next day to take it away. The knowledge that I helped the environment — plus the comfy new bed — has me sleeping better at night. Finally!

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I Seriously Don’t Remember

A few nights ago I sat outside a middle school gym waiting for my older daughter’s volleyball practice to end. I started making small talk with one of the other moms. “Which team was your daughter on last year,” I asked her. She looked at me a little funny before answering. “Your daughter’s! They have been together for a while.” I looked a little more closely and drew a blank. Nope, I just didn’t remember her or her daughter.

I find this happens a lot as I move around in my life-after-concussion world. For instance, I didn’t remember that my other daughter’s current basketball coach was her coach two years ago — around the same time I got the first concussion. I had no recollection of going for a follow-up sonogram even after the tech told me she was the one who performed it. (That sono came right after the second concussion.) It’s scary, really. I don’t remember a lof of the people I met or conversations I had during the first 18 months or so of my ordeal. And while I can forgive myself for not remembering those things, and I’m grateful that my current memory processing is back on track, the loss of 18 months makes me sad.

It’s like a chunk of my life never happened. Yes, I remember big things — first days of school, last days of school, birthday parties, holidays, the first not-so-successful times I went out socially post-concussion. I remember all the medical tests. The trips to the emergency room when I was having crazy palpitations. The utter fear and despondency I felt on an almost daily basis. I remember huge, life-changing events that happened to me during that time, which seemed to make things worse. I remember going to see the doctor at the Headache Institute in Manhattan, who gave me medicine that gave me more of my life back. But the little things? Not so much.

And yet I wonder if some of that is nature protecting me. You know how people say you forget the pain of childbirth? Well, maybe this is like that. I’m forgetting all those long, lonely, painful, sad days when I wondered if I would ever get out of bed or feel normal again. I’m forgetting (sort of) the days where the world spun around and my head felt like it was splitting in two. I’m forgetting all the hours and hours I spend at physical therapy, vestibular therapy, doctors offices, MRI facilities, chiropractor offices and hospitals. All the hours I spent walking in my house, turning my head from side-to-side and doing exercises that were designed to re-teach my vestibular system how to work. I’m also forgetting the friends, activities and life changes. I’m forgetting the people I have lost and the activities I can no longer do — for now, anyway. I’m also forgetting the stupid things I probably said and did. (TBI strips away filters and common sense sometimes.)

The forgetfulness came to a head recently when I joined a Facebook group for caregivers and sufferers of TBIs. Reading the posts jostles my memory a bit. Many of the people are much earlier in recovery than I am. When they post about a problem or issue they are having, it makes me remember when I went through the same stages. It makes me realize how bad it was and how hard I fought to regain what I lost. I may not be 100 percent there yet, but I am hopeful, and that’s really all I can ask for. That, and the ability to do a headstand. Baby steps…

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Kids learn from watching what their parents do. This isn’t rocket science, but researchers have found that the adage applies to sleeping, too. According to a new study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the longer a parent sleeps, the longer their children will, too. Also, children slept longer when parents were more confident about their ability to help children fall asleep.

Researchers think that, when parents learn about how their sleep schedule affects their kids, they can get kids to sleep longer.

“Our results also may suggest that individual parent behaviors do not reflect a ‘family lifestyle,’ but rather that parental sleep is directly linked to child sleep irrespective of others behaviors,” explains Corinna Rea, M.D, an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and attending physician at Boston Children’s Hospital. In addition, this increase in sleep duration had no direct correlation between screen time, daily activity or screen time limits.

It makes sense. We used to like sleeping in. I can remember when my older daughter was really little she would wake up at the crack of dawn calling for us. We would tell her no, it wasn’t time to wake up. It was still nighttime. She would eventually go back to sleep, waking up at a respectable 8:30 a.m. Today, my little one will always go to sleep early if I go to sleep early. She takes longer to fall asleep if we’re all up — even if we’re not making any noise. I find that she stays up later when I start getting upset that she’s not falling asleep.

Today, both of my kids get the requisite nine to 12 hours per 24 hours that doctors say “promotes optimal health.” Sure, in the summer or over a holiday break that means they are up later and wake up later, too, but I guess I can’t complain as long as they are asleep before I am!

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Getting Alone Time

My family is on the therapy train right now, including couple therapy for me and my husband. He’s a really nice guy — the couple therapist. He has us reading a lot and doing plenty of homework and exercises. For instance, we learned to listen to each other (or should I say re-learned), handing a scrap of carpet back and forth. (If you have the carpet, you have the floor.) We had to take a quiz to find out our love languages. We initiated “time outs” where everything stops and we disengage immediately if we find ourselves heading towards a fight. I won’t sugarcoat it, though. This is real work. I dread going each week to the point that my vestibular migraines, which have settled down a bit, flare up on the way to the office.

Last week we spent a lot of time talking about the reason we started going as well as the need to build up intimacy and friendship. This culminated with the therapist asking us what we did together as a couple. We looked at each other and started rattling off our days. Before we could get to the end of the very long lists — work, driving the kids to sports, helping the little one with homework, cleaning up after dinner, beach club meetings, helping at the school store, being the president of our beach club, Girl Scout meetings, teaching religion — the therapist commented on our lack of alone time. “What do you do to nurture your relationship,” he asked. “Where is your alone time?”

The answer is complicated. We have two kids, we both work and we both volunteer. Our kids are very involved in extracurricular activities. When they are home and we are home, too, the girls want to be with us. For example, last Saturday we ate dinner together and had a family game night, playing Quirkle and Rummicube. It was a lovely evening, but when we were done and the kids were in bed my husband went one way and I went upstairs to listen to an audiobook. Even our occasional outings are shared with other people. If we go out we typically go out with friends. A party here. A dinner there. We rarely if ever do anything one-on-one. Yes, we occasionally try grabbing lunch together, but it’s rushed. He’s got to get back to the office within an hour, and I’m typically distracted thinking about the story I have sitting on my desktop or the webinar that’s starting at 2 p.m.

After listening to our excuses, the therapist gave us an ultimatum of sorts. Unless we started doing things just for us, WITH just us, it didn’t really make sense to keep seeing him. He told us yes, we could learn to mediate our arguments better, and our individual therapies would help us continue working on our own issues and problems. However, without alone time — the glue that binds couples — we weren’t ever going to get to the place we want to be.

We walked out after the session, rushing back to work. (We even go to therapy during the work day because it’s nearly impossible to get out at night during the week.) Later on as we were lying in bed, we talked about it. We didn’t realize how little time we spent together as a couple. We didn’t know that — between kids and work and other responsibilities — we were living in the same house but living parallel lives. While this arrangement might work for some couples, it obviously isn’t working for us anymore. Hence, the therapy.

That was last Tuesday. Since then, we’ve been trying to spend more time together. It isn’t easy. We took a few walks at night. We’ve gone to Trader Joe’s together. We sat in the car for the 15 minutes before my little one’s soccer game with my husband reading our latest homework assignment out loud. We grab snippets of time here and there whenever we can.

So what’s the future going to hold? I don’t know. I don’t have anything pithy or smart to say, especially since I know we’re only at the beginning. We have a very long, very steep road to go down. I will say that our actual walks have been lovely. It’s so nice to move along together — literally and figuratively. I find myself looking forward to grabbing our dog’s leash and heading out into the cool night air. I feel hopeful.

I also feel determined. As the old adage goes, marriage, like life, is not a destination. It’s a journey. Here’s hoping that we make it to the end together one day at a time.

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Every year we spend a lot of time thinking about Halloween costumers. This year my little one had one request. She wanted to be something unique for Halloween. She thought about it and decide on a witch vampire, whatever that is! She took apart two costumes, using pieces of each, making herself look like a cross between Dracula and the Witch of the West. She wore her creation this weekend to a local Halloween event, skipping the makeup because she wanted to surprise everyone with the whole package at her school’s Halloween parade the next day.

It was a warm day here in New York for the safe Halloween event. The thermometer topped the 70 degree mark. The costume, which is thin and gauzy, was perfect for the weather. Then, later that day, a storm came up. The rain poured down and the temperature dropped significantly, plunging into the 50s by day-end. Before heading to bed — and contemplating a fight about wearing a coat over her dress the next day — I asked Little Girl if she would consider wearing something a little warmer on Halloween. The weather was supposed to be cool, starting in the 40s, I told her. It was also supposed to be windy. She agreed to look at what we had in our giant costume bin.

I brought down a few options from the attic. A warm, one-piece Pegasus, a funky spider that came with a hat and a one-piece cat costume. She resisted, turning down all three. I asked (well, begged) her to at least try them all on. She outright refused the cat, and nixed the spider, but as soon as she had the Pegasus on, she fell in love. It looked adorable on her, too.

The costume has big silvery wings, a long rainbow-colored tail and a sparkly horn. She slipped her hands into the armbands and started running through the house, her “wings” flying behind her. She loved it, she said. But then she stopped, her face contorted with fear. “What if everyone makes fun of me?”

My first instinct was to grab her and hug her. My second instinct was to ask her why anyone would do that. “It’s a little babyish, and maybe people will be mean,” she explained. Sigh. We sat down and had a discussion about people who tease and why they don’t matter. We talked about being true to your own needs. We hugged and talked about what she liked about the costume. (“The tail is so soft, and I wouldn’t have to wear a coat tomorrow.”) We talked about how one of her best friends was wearing a unicorn costume that she made herself and she wasn’t afraid of being made fun of. After discussing it for a bit, my brave girl decided she would go with it and be the mythical creature.

It all worked out well. I was so proud to see her walking in the school’s Halloween parade, wings out, horn held high. As I expected, she wasn’t the only one wearing a fanciful costume. And she was warm! Later that day she told me that everyone loved her as a Pegasus. All her friends asked to pet her tail and rub her wings! See, I said. No one would ever make fun of such a cool costume. I wish I was telling her the whole truth. However, I know that — if she was a different, less likeable child — she may have caught some flak from the popular kids. And that is way scarier than I would like to admit.

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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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