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Spring Cleaning: Not Just for Our Homes

Spring Cleaning: Not Just for Our Homes

Our days as parents are full of unexpected moments, from behaviors to emotions, to interactions with others. In the midst of all the flexibility that is required to roll with these momentary changes, it’s nice to know that some transitions in our lives are completely predictable. The change of seasons is one of them. Mother Nature has created a world for us where weather, plants and animals will predictably transition. In some parts of the world, the transitions are smooth and subtle, and in others they bring quite dramatic change. Either way, the changes happen and they always provide an opportunity for adjustment and growth.

Here in Wisconsin, Spring is just about ready to pop. We are all excited about warmer weather, longer days, sunshine and gardening. There is a sense of growth in the air, and an urgency to do some ‘Spring Cleaning’ to make room for the new changes.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on how we can do Spring Cleaning for ourselves, internally and emotionally. It seems we have the chance to do some personal dusting and washing, some clearing out of the old, unproductive aspects of our lives that might keep us stuck emotionally. We can find those hidden piles of dust in the corner and move them—either out of our lives entirely, or at least get them closer to the dustpan and the front door. We can look at that stain on a couch or sweater that has been there for months (or years), and make a decision to start working on getting it out.

Below are 3 simple questions to get us thinking about what might benefit from internal Spring Cleaning in our lives. As you’ll see, they’re all somewhat related and ask about similar processes, but in slightly different ways.

What patterns keep getting repeated in my life that aren’t useful to me?
This question usually gets illuminated during or just after times of stress, when we have that discouraging thought: “this always happens.” Maybe we realize a certain behavior always seems to set things off in the same way. Or maybe we realize we are discussing the same difficult issues with people we love, but nothing is changing. Either way it can be so disheartening to feel like the pattern can’t be broken. This is our sign that it’s not useful to us, and something might need to be changed.

What expectations am I holding onto too tightly that might not be useful for me?
This question requires us to confront the fact that it is hard to loosen our grip on expectations. We can rationally say “I realize life isn’t always fair,” but it is an entirely different thing to experience something very difficult and feel the pain of the reality that life isn’t fair. Similarly, we can have hopes and dreams for our children and relationships, but it is awfully hard to allow those to change because they are important to us. This question usually gets illuminated in times of disappointment or frustration. When do we notice the sadness that something didn’t work out as it was supposed to? When do we feel frustrated that the world hasn’t come together perfectly to facilitate the plan we had designed? These are our signs that we may be holding on so tightly that there isn’t room to flow with the changes of life.

What perspectives do I have that could use a slight alteration or shift?
This last question is all about how we view and make sense of situations and people. For me, I can usually identify perspectives that aren’t useful because they are stated in all-or-nothing terms in my head. Whether it’s a judgment of a person, a conclusion about how an interaction went, or a definitive statement about myself, I can see I am describing the world in absolute terms. I also notice that I become fixated on that one perspective, repeating it often in my head, and I’ve left no room for an alternative way to think. These are usually the times I know that I am stuck in a viewpoint that doesn’t allow for change.

These three questions require us to identify things that aren’t useful—in essence, negative aspects of our experiences–so that we can begin to find space for those things that will be more useful to us. It is not about running away from the negative or stuffing it in a corner; rather, it’s about bringing it all to light and starting to understand it better. Sometimes just the process of spending time to reflect on these questions and answer them honestly is an accomplishment.

Once we have increased self-awareness, the question naturally becomes “Now what?

I ask myself this a lot, and I am learning to sit with the fact that I don’t have an immediate answer. I don’t know how the story will end, I don’t know what will change, and I don’t know if it will all work out. I believe this is all part of the process of cleaning.

For now, my Spring Cleaning involves taking the time to find those hidden stains and spots of dust and begin to notice them. Even though they might be painful and annoying I might be able to find love or humor in them since I know that they are an essential part of life. For now, I’ll bring them forward and start to shake things up. I’ll poke and prod, and maybe even sweep or get a washcloth. Tomorrow, we’ll see what I’ll choose to do next. Like every day, tomorrow will be a new season of possible change…

For Parents Who Feel Overwhelmed About Their Child’s Celiac Disease Diagnosis

For Parents Who Feel Overwhelmed About Their Child’s Celiac Disease Diagnosis

Dear Fellow Parent,

Though we’ve never met, we share something important  in common: we both have a child with celiac disease.

When my 7-year old was first diagnosed, I felt sad and overwhelmed. I knew things could be much worse but I was still extremely worried about her health and how we would adjust to all the changes. Everything seemed daunting at that time.

Through all the blood draws, the endoscopy, the multiple doctor’s appointments and the 4.5-hour celiac class at the hospital, there was one thing I wish all (or any) of our healthcare professionals had said to me and my husband:

“You can do this.”

Now that several months have passed since our daughter’s initial diagnosis, I’m here to give YOU that message. You can do this.

Things are much less overwhelming for us now, and our daughter has adapted well to her new world. There are still hiccups here and there, and situations which demand a lot of planning and care, but with each situation we learn and gain some confidence that we can do this. Most importantly, we learn that our daughter can do it too.

Here is a list of some of the things that felt overwhelming at first, but which feel much easier now. These are things that you will figure out how to do over the next months, just as all of us parents of children with celiac disease do:

*You will learn more than you can imagine about celiac disease. When our daughter was diagnosed we didn’t even know that celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. We didn’t know all the symptoms it could cause (like our daughter’s short stature), and we didn’t understand the concerns about cross-contamination. We certainly didn’t know that Twizzlers and Playdoh have gluten in them! In the process of adapting to this change we have learned so much, just as you will. Before you know it you will be teaching others important facts about this disease. At the bottom of this post are some of the resources/websites we have found most helpful.

*You will be able to navigate birthday parties, playdates, school parties and field trips. All parents worry that their children will feel left out. When I heard that there were no other children in my child’s elementary school who were gluten free I panicked. With time, and with each new situation, I have realized that even if my daughter is the only one eating gluten free we can still make it work. We have learned to involve our daughter in picking replacement foods and we have tried to plan in advance as much as possible. Most of the time things go very smoothly.

*You will learn to read labels and do grocery shopping. Initially grocery shopping took lots of time and emotional energy. I would wander the aisles feeling the highs of discovering that a certain food was gluten free, as well as the lows of discovering that a favorite type of raisin or nut, for example, was processed in a facility that processes wheat. It was exhausting at first. Over time, I became quicker at reading labels and also started learning what kinds of foods were safe and things we liked. Grocery trips are much more efficient now and we have learned to focus on what we CAN eat (which is quite a lot!).

*You will learn how to advocate for your child and you will start to teach her those skills. We do a lot of calling and planning ahead now. We have learned to say things to people that may not be 100% accurate, but which alert them to the serious nature of celiac disease (for example, “My daughter has celiac disease, which means she is severely allergic to gluten”). We ask a lot of questions and always err on the side of caution, even if it is inconvenient for someone else. And every time my daughter asks me if something is gluten free, even if it is something I have prepared for her (and obviously is), I compliment her for asking me and for taking responsibility for her health.

*You will be able to go out to dinner. Going out to eat was something we used to do frequently as a family. We love to try and eat new food. It takes time, but you will figure out if this is possible for your family depending on the options in your area and how confident you feel about how certain restaurants handle cross contamination. We have found a solid amount of places we feel are safe enough to eat at. And as I’m sure you’ve noticed, there is more attention to gluten-free options everywhere. I keep reminding myself our kids’ futures will get easier when it comes to avoiding gluten.

*You will figure out how to set up your kitchen. Every family decides if they are going to be a gluten-free or partly gluten-free household. I’ve found that the decision usually depends on the age of the child. In our family we decided to eat gluten free at home, with the exception of bread for me and my husband’s sandwiches for work. We purchased a new toaster, updated our pans and colanders, and had to become much more attentive to double-dipping (e.g., be sure to use a clean knife each time you dip in the condiments!).

*You will see your child’s health improve. This, of course, is most important. Though our child didn’t have the typical GI symptoms (her short stature was the symptom that started the testing process), we didn’t know at the time that she had anemia. Once she became gluten free her energy level increased in amazing ways. She also started growing. There are likely other things we will need to do to continue to heal and support her gut, but for now being gluten free is contributing to her good health. I am grateful that we discovered she has celiac and can’t imagine how bad things could have gotten had we not known for many more years.

*You will find others who can support you. There are many people who will be able to support you in the next months. You will have family who are eager to help and learn about the disease. You will find friends with children with allergies or autoimmune disorders who will provide much-needed empathy. You will find yourself moved to tears by the person who plans a play date or party and thinks to ask what they can serve for your child. You will be grateful to the after school teacher who picks an alternative recipe for the holiday baking activity. Yes, some people will disappoint you in their dismissal of what you are feeling or the serious nature of the disease, but the vast majority will at least try to understand. Focus on those that are there to support you.

While I know that every family has a different celiac story, please know that you are not alone. You can do this. Your child is resilient because she is young and has you giving her support and love. She is strong because she is healing and she is learning to become an advocate for herself. And even if she is young, she is beginning to understand that this is her new world. You all can do this.

If you ever have questions about our family’s experience with celiac disease, please send me an email to: hopenotesformoms@gmail.com

*Here are two helpful organizations/websites with information about celiac disease: 

Celiac Disease Foundation
Beyond Celiac

Staying Grounded When There are Big Changes in Life

Staying Grounded When There are Big Changes in Life

In many ways Fall reminds me of being pregnant or having a new baby. Everything is in flux. Outside leaves are changing and falling, the weather is becoming cooler, and nature seems to be preparing for a new season.

Inside, things are changing even more quickly and dramatically when we are pregnant or postpartum: our bodies, our homes, our emotions, our partners and our family life.

In any time of transition, especially as we welcome a new baby into our lives, we can feel incredibly unsettled and overwhelmed. This is normal. In these times it is critical to find ways to be grounded, just like the trees outside whose leaves are being blown in all directions during Fall. We need strong roots and a sense of being supported.

Below are a few suggestions for how to stay grounded during times of change:

*Find some time for yourself. For moms with children, even a brief moment may be hard to find. Still, it is important to try to identify something”whether it be a few minutes in the morning in the bathroom or a break during the evening if you have a partner or friend who can help. Try to avoid turning on your devices for at least 5 minutes so you can have a moment to yourself to sip some tea, flip through a magazine, or just sit quietly and listen your favorite song.

*Nourish your body. Make sure to eat, and try to eat some snacks during the day that will support your health like fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts. If you can, move your body during the day. Take a walk with baby outside, or do some gentle stretches while you are on the floor. Every little thing you do will help your body and mind.

*Take a moment for imagery. Sometimes in the midst of chaos and feeling overwhelmed, we need to quickly get re-centered. The following exercise is simple but the best part is that you can do it while you are holding your baby: Take a second to imagine you are a strong tree with deep roots. Picture how solid you are. You bend with the chaos because you have to adapt, but at the core you remain firm and strong. Come back to this image when you need it!

*Rest when you can, and rest well. This one is always funny to moms, but it’s important. Even though you may not be getting more than 1 hour of rest or sleep at a time, make sure that time is as good as it can be. Try not to get distracted by social media or other responsibilities that can wait. Some moms actually get their “space” ready: they prepare the pillows and a blanket and turn off their phones so that when the moment comes for rest they can dive right in.

*Reach out to others for support. All strong trees (and mamas) need food, water, and care. Others in our life can serve in this role of providing care for us. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what we need, but we know we could use some help.  If you have a partner, family member or friend who you think can provide support, let them know. Maybe you can just ask for a meal to be cooked, a visit so they can hold the baby, or a phone call to talk.

If you are unsure of what you need or prefer to talk to someone who isn’t in your immediate circle, consider calling the Postpartum Support International Warmline at: 1-800-944-4773.

Remember, fellow mamas, you are doing a great job and your roots are strong. Take care of yourself and reach out for support when you need it. We are here for you!

When We Feel Scared about the World We Brought Our Children Into

When We Feel Scared about the World We Brought Our Children Into

This morning during the chaos of pouring cereal and children bickering over a Lego figurine at the breakfast table, I tried to get my husband’s attention. He hadn’t heard the news yet so I knew I couldn’t let him start his day without telling him what had happened. As I whispered into his ear my words came out awkwardly, like a pilot giving instructions without using complete sentences: “mass shooting…over 50 people were killed…outdoor concert…” When he finally grasped what I was saying we looked at each other and no words came out.

The kids continued to get ready for school and I distractedly packed lunches, put away breakfast, and got myself prepared for the day. I remember wondering if I should say something to them? It felt too horrific to talk about just now, but I worried that my oldest might hear from someone else at school. Then what? What kinds of fears might grow inside of her before we had a chance to talk? What misinformation would she get?

I knew it would be too much for my youngest, especially because she had recently started asking big questions. Like what happens when you grow old and whether or not you come back as a baby once you die. Her innocence makes my heart ache and I wasn’t sure she could grasp any of this.

​So, I said nothing.

I went through the motions and got them in the car. We listed to KidzBop and I gave them huge hugs as they left the car. As I watched their little bodies walk into school I thought to myself,

This is parenting: trying to protect my children from the real world, while knowing this is the world I have to prepare them to face.

If your children are privileged, like mine, this process of facing reality has been gradual. There was no extreme suffering at a young age for my kids, no witnessing of disasters or violence. No perpetual discrimination, trauma, or major hardship. Even with the expected pains, losses, and health concerns that we’ve endured as a family, I’ve managed to keep hidden from them some of the scariest parts of living.

But I’m aware that just as it’s my responsibility to protect them to some degree, it’s also my responsibility to gradually, inch by inch, lift off the fabric to reveal some of the awful parts of life. To show them that scary things happen, and to hope that they will feel. Feelings like empathy, sadness, shock and anger…and motivation to help others and alleviate pain in the world. And hopefully they will realize the tough lesson that I am still working on—to treasure each day.

I’m not sure what I’ll say to my kids about what happened in our country today. I may just wait to see if they ask questions. If they do, I will probably stifle my tears and fumble around with my words until I say something that sounds reasonable. Something that gives my children peace that they are safe right now, so that they can get to sleep without fear. And then I will give them huge hugs… because that’s all I have for now.

 

Faculty Mama: This Fall I Refuse to Get More Crumbs in My Keyboard

Faculty Mama: This Fall I Refuse to Get More Crumbs in My Keyboard

We’re four weeks into the semester and things already feel pretty intense. The marathon has started and I know I will need to do everything possible to stay on course until the end.

Most days, this means cramming my work days with non-stop ‘productivity.’ No time for chit-chat or wandering down the hall to say hi to a colleague. No lunch break. No internet or emails for anything personal. Go directly to the printer or a meeting and do not pass go. (Sometimes I even forget to go to the bathroom!)

I’ve convinced myself that this this pace is serving me well as a faculty mama: pack it in during the day so I can run off to the daycare pick-up and NO TIME IS WASTED. In some ways it has worked. But as I type this and look at my keyboard, I realize that this approach also comes with a cost. How many times have I seen a colleague on my way to the parking garage and lamented that we haven’t seen each other in ages? How many fellow faculty mama friends have had kids over the past months that I haven’t had the chance to hear about?

Crumbs in my keyboard represent the fact that since becoming a mom I rarely prioritize time at work to connect personally with others.

On the rare occasions that I do make time to meet with my colleagues to catch up, it is always wonderful. It feels energizing to share about our lives and I always find myself smiling on my way back to the office. The work is still there when I arrive, but I have a little more pep in my step and positivity to tackle it. The truth is, I’m actually more productive when I get these types of breaks because they give me an injection of human connection that I can’t get from just walking around or taking a break to surf the internet, or worse yet…working straight through the day.

This semester I’m going to challenge myself to get out of the office to be with those people who I know I want to spend more time with. Want to join me on this challenge?

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