Why My Children Take a Mental Health Day

With the trending tweet by the woman who took a Mental Health Day and how her CEO responded, I feel compelled to stand up on my tiny soap box rallying for a Mental Health Day for the young people in our lives. I haven’t written anything on here in the longest time and perhaps only 2 people will read it. But, if it can impact those 2 well then, heck yes, I am glad I wrote it.

Too many children walk around with pain, anger and hurt inside. I am not professing to have any particular answers on how to heal the hearts of children – but, I do have one suggestion for how we try to tune in to the health of our kids.

Since my oldest was in preschool, I instituted a family rule that still continues nearly 21 years later – everyone, no matter how old or how young, gets at least 1 Mental Health Day per school year.

Some Moms thoughts I was too lenient or crazy for wanting my kids home when they could be out of my hair safely in school. Others called me a Cool Mom, accusing me of trying too hard to ‘get my kids to like me’. But, truly what I was doing in my mind, was teaching my children the value in taking care of themselves.

Taking a day for yourself even as young as 4 or 5, with the caveat that they can select just one day per semester, got rid of the need to stay home from the feigned stomach ache or the crying fit over going to school (although I never totally got rid of this…). Instead, my children would save up until they really felt they needed that day to spend with me, spend doing something they wanted with alone time away from siblings, school pressures, social pressures, etc.

There have been moments in the middle school years or especially in high school, when my children have needed more than 1 mental health day and I’ve provided them with what they’ve needed. Bad days, sad days, days you just can’t face – don’t just happen to adults. If anything, the middle school or teenage years are hard. Damn hard. And, sometimes what you require is a freaking break.

What I did not do on Mental Health Days was allow my kids to wallow. No vegging in front of the tv all day. No sitting in pajamas or eating ice cream out of the container (usually). They could always sleep a little bit late, but then it was outside. Sometimes to a nice lunch. Shopping, a movie day, craft project together or trip downtown. I found that on these special days together they opened up, shared what was in their heart. Remembered to take a moment and enjoy life while knowing their friends were sitting in class. Once Snapchat rolled around, trying to make their friends jealous of Mental Health Day was immediately outlawed as well.

So often when my kids come home from school they plop down and plug in. Or, they go up to their rooms for some down time. These opportunities to talk just don’t present themselves in the daily hustle and bustle of life and sometimes, stress or anxiety can go missed or stay hidden inside.

During one of my daughter’s middle school years, I was driving to her  Mental Health Day outing and she just randomly burst into tears. It was so bad we had to pull over to the side of the road. She was holding on to some serious social stuff at school and in that moment it just needed to come out. She literally sobbed her way through some stories. When it was over, she looked so relieved to let that pain go and I was so grateful for the opportunity to present itself.

We’ve had times I am not ashamed to say, my children have required more than just a Mental Health Day to deal. Some problems required professional or educational help, others just time and patience. But, these days have become valuable barometers for me to check in with my kids one-to-one.

Mental Health Days are not a joke. They’re above truancy or cutting school or Ditch Days (although my kids like to lovingly refer to them as that because they know it annoys me). Even healthy, well-adjusted kids need time to rebalance themselves, sleep, breathe, laugh, sometimes cry and most importantly, just be. It’s our jobs to give them the time and space to do so.

Gap Year Musings

So, we’re winding down to the last few weeks of my son’s Gap year abroad. It has been such a roller coaster ride of emotion and learning, I thought I would share the ride. It’s not one I wanted or planned on taking, but it’s an experience that I am so grateful he was able to have.

I have many friends about to embark on this journey again in August so, hopefully between tissue boxes and ice cream pints you can find a moment to read this …

Packing Up

Anyone who knows me realizes I’m a pretty anally organized person. I plan, I list, I shop, I embark and I do. But, when it came to my son leaving home for a full year, well I procrastinated. I did shop. Probably over-shopped. But then, I worried. Then, I freaked. Then, I worried again. Oh, and I freaked some more. I wasn’t a functional person during this time. I felt a loss and it was real.

And then, after much prodding I finally got to the task of packing. Placing that first item in the suitcase last August, meant it was real. I was taking my baby and placing him into a world that would be all his. Adult choices, adult decisions, adult moments – and ones I didn’t get to witness. This was the hardest part for me. Not being a fly on the wall to watch my baby grow. So, I sucked it up and put his perfectly folded pants, shorts, tees and pajamas all in a row in suitcase. With each item, I felt the anxiety rise. “What if this gets too small?What if he needs more underwear? Will he remember to wash things in hot or cold? Yes, it was embarrassing for sure (thankfully only my son was there to witness the sadness of my motherly moment of mush). Lots of eye rolls and fake reassurance during that time. “Yes, Mom, They have stores in Israel.” Okay, good point.

And then, we were done packing.

The Night After and Then Some

After I blubberingly dropped my son at the gate and picked up the small semblance of dignity I had left in front of other blubbering parents, I moved on. Slowly. R-e-a-l-ly slowly. There was a war going on in Israel and that was already an unsettling and scary feeling. I almost didn’t send him. But, knowing the guilt would have eaten my alive at depriving him of this opportunity, I again sucked it up. It was a really hard transition to only receive texts intermittently explaining where he was going and how he would get there. Again, my anxiety rose. What if he’s the one in the wrong place, at the wrong time. What if he tells me he’s going one place and ends up someplace else? What if, What if. What if. This pathetic pattern of anxious doubt crept deep into my soul. I could barely sleep and function without worrying he was dead in a ditch.

But, about 2 months (yes it took a full 8 weeks or so) I felt that cloud slowly lift. He was doing amazing. Adjusting to traveling around. Making new friends. Seeing new places. Learning so much. I had to get over myself and let him live.

The Communication Gap

Because of the time difference you may want to hear from your child at a certain time of day and realize that will not be possible (and if they are available you may start asking, why are you up at 3 am!). But, Whatsapp has become our family’s best friend. You can talk in real-time and makes keeping in touch with the entire group cohesive and normal. Siblings, parents, grandparents etc can all stay as connected as they want. My only suggestion is don’t become a Whatsapp whore. Give your child some space. If you’re getting one word answers they’re probably not in a chatty mood. (I learned this the hard way- Sorry, G!)

Don’t make his year abroad about you. This was the biggest lesson for me. I wanted to know every detail. I wanted descriptions, pictures. I wanted to be a part of his journey. But, alas. I am not. I am part of whatever he wants to include me in – and there have been many voluntary stories, pictures and details. But, loosen the apron strings and the communication comes all on its own.

Our Visit

The first time you visit your child is kind of strange. You’re on his turf, during his program and you want to tread carefully. It was strange to sort of go by his rules and timetable but, we wanted to be respectful of that. Others we know have still come and dictated (You will join us on our outings!) and that has failed miserably. It’s also super cool to have them show you around. He was proud of his program, his dorm, his friends. It was really amazing to see that and feel like a welcome guest in his world.

He had grown in the few months. I could see an independence building and a newfound way of talking about learning. He had come to respect new ideas, new lecturers. His spirituality had grown exponentially. But, deep down he was still that same person and that was a comfort to me. Even his arguments (and we still argue sometimes – cuz, well, we’re normal) were more founded and mature.  You have to fight the urge to become a blubbering idiot every time he says something that makes you so deliriously proud you don’t know what to do with yourself.

The Drinking Thang 

Okay. This was a hard one and a weird one, just the same. I had never been to Israel for the year. I had heard stories about Ben Yehudah Street (the hangout) but, never witnessed it with my own eyes. So, Thursday night of our visit to Israel I insisted on seeing the ‘scene’. He told me it would be a mistake. “Mom, you’ll literally be the oldest person there. You don’t want go!” I couldn’t understand what the big, freakin’ deal was. But, I should have listened to the boy.

I have never seen so many 18 and 19 year olds in one place. It was like a rave or a club that only older teens get into. I was the oldest person on the street. I also couldn’t pick my jaw up off the floor. So many teens, no matter the religious level, had beers or obviously had beers that evening. Drinking age is 18, I kept telling myself. This is legal. But, I felt like I was witnessing something I shouldn’t be. Like going into the spin the bottle game in your basement. It’s just not done.

Obviously, I now had images of my own child’s drunken stupor on a daily basis. I was enraged and shocked. Is this what I sent my child here to do? What the hell is wrong with this country!? But, once the shock and awe wore off we actually had a very open and real conversation about drinking. He got it. Without my ‘talk’ and without my supervision, my son realized the perils of too much alcohol and why that just isn’t his ‘scene’. There was method to this madness and my child was smart enough on his own not to become a lush. Proud Mama moment. Note to you Moms who are reading this and worrying now. Talk to your child about drinking all you can and want. But, realize it’s real, it’s legal and it’s super easily accessible. Tell them you trust them, tell them you won’t kill them and maybe they will share their experience with alcohol as something to ‘try’ instead of something to ‘hide’. Just a thought.

The Relapse

You come home to your first dinner after the trip and realize you’re still down 1 for the count. It’s sad and depressing that they’re still so far away. But, the good news- bounce back is super quick on this because you remember how happy and mature they’re becoming. Move on. With only a little ice cream…

New Normal

It’s nearly 6 months since I’ve last seen my child. That’s both frighteningly long and maddening at times. I’m dying to hug that guy but, also realizing our New Normal. Visits will be visits, not living under the same roof for a while (forever? not ready to say that just yet!). He’s leaving just a short time later for college (a whole new territory). But, New Normal has taught me the value of space. He needed space to grow and get to know himself and his relationship with the world outside. And, as a parent of other wonderful children, that space allows the others in your family to shine in new light. Each of my girls has a new voice at the table, a new opportunity to feel what it’s like to be ‘the oldest’ as each chick leaves our nest for longer periods of time. And, I am certain that when we reunite with 6 at our table the joy we’ll all feel will be palpable and appreciated, instead of taken for granted.

So, now I can honestly say that the worry of the Gap Year is worth it. The tears are heartfelt and normal because the loss is real. We are losing Old Normal. Changing the way we’ve conducted parenting thus far. You aren’t a part of the every moment, but you can still be a part of the ultimate goal – independent people you’ve had the gift of raising. It isn’t easy and I find myself nostalgic at the oddest of times. But, I am excited to see how our relationship will continue to evolve.

 

 

 

SAHM is a job

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I have been in the same job now for nearly 19 years. Through recessions, upticks in the economy, rainy days and long summers – my job has endured.

Like any interesting job no 2 days are exactly the same. It is a job that I love and am ready to quit at the same time. I have wanted to ask my boss for a bonus, a mental health day, some time off – but, unfortunately I am employed by 4 little (and not-so-little) selves.  Don’t dare ask me what I do all day, for you won’t want the diatribe of answers.

My job is a SAHM. (Stay-at-home-Mom for those not in the ‘know’).

I am sure by now, some other SAHM have read and shared the dad’s blog to end all blogs where he puts a price on a his wife’s value. I read it and applauded in my head, but this blog was no news to me. My husband and I have argued for some time over whether what I do is actually a job versus a ‘life choice’. He, afraid to insult me, always thought it was nicer to say ‘life choice’ to stay home with my kids. I, however, insist that this is a real job – one that is constantly changing and one that I am both proud of and ready to scream over, depending on the day.

Why is it so important for me that this gig is a ‘real job’? Well, I do have another gig. I am a writer. I write blogs, content for websites and pieces for a local magazine. That gig pays. Not tremendously, but it does. This work is more of a hobby, a passion, a brain challenge that I enjoy. But, my life’s work – my proudest work – is in helping my family grow and sustain itself.

No, groceries and laundry are not glorious. No, chauffeuring my kids from school to art class isn’t exciting or even life-changing. However, this SAHM job also affords me the opportunity to both impact and be impacted by 4 of the most fabulous people I’ve ever met. This job allows me the opportunity to speak to my partner about rich topics that affect lives, the economy, the future, the real estate market, and our community. No other job on the planet gives you all of that and more.

Being a SAHM is a blessing. It’s not something that every mother gets the opportunity to do or even to enjoy. I have friends who insist they couldn’t find value in doing it all day. I have other friends who insist that staying on their career path is their goal in addition to mothering. I do not judge. I do not begrudge anyone from following their life’s work or their passions. I just know that for me – just me – this is what I was put on Earth to do and do well.

I see that my job description is once again changing. Next fall, my youngest will be in school until nearly 4 pm. “What will you do all day!” I hear from others in my boat. A common freak attack we SAHMs have right about every August. (who’s with me?!)

Well, what will I do? I will grow my writing business focusing on the parts of it I love best and continue to make money while doing something I enjoy. I will nurture my passions and follow up on some lost threads I left dangling when I was too busy climbing up the ladder of SAHM with babies. And, in my new role my hours will change, not disappear.  I will continue to do projects that motivate me. I will get together with friends and reconnect after all the time we’ve spent hibernating in our houses with children. I will experience what days are like filled with empty possibilities and be ready to take a 1 am phone call from a teen abroad or answer a 3 am moan and groan from an ill middle schooler. My new hours will begin at 4 pm. I will continue to be available for school trips, sick days, phone calls from school and vacations. I will be present with my children when they talk (or text), instead of preoccupied with lists or wound up toddlers running amuck in my house. I will have time to provide nice, nutritious meals – those ones that I always look at and say I’ll make later in life. Now, is later in life.

Yes, my job is changing. I will be delivering my oldest to a dorm room this fall, instead of the steps of the first day of school. I will kiss his cheek and remind him about healthy food choices, watch him roll his eyes at me and beam with excitement. I will set my soon-t0-be-junior in high school on a path for college choices and dreaming big as she learns to drive a car, instead of waving to her on the school bus. I will watch my middle schooler braid her own hair, devise her own style and make her own sandwiches instead of me doing those things for her. And I will watch my baby sit at her first desk, get her first prayer book and continue to watch her learn and grow all over again.

These parts of my job – developing free-thinkers, do-it-yourselfers, chefs, drivers, motivators and contributors are the absolute best parts of my life. These are moments no other job can provide. These are my bonuses. My mental health days. My time-off. I have earned these hours to reflect, to write, to think and to be. As CEO/SAHM of this family – It’s time to reap the rewards of all the hard work.

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons Passover is My Favorite Holiday

 

As we’re all scrubbing, listing, shopping and for some, packing, I remind myself that Passover is actually one of my favorite holidays. For those who cannot see the rainbow in the cloud of chaos and money spending – here’s a gentle reminder of 5 reasons Passover is my favorite holiday.

Rejiggering Inevitably it happens. I begin a simple cleaning of a space and next thing I know, I am moving a desk here, a rug there, pushing a bed across a room. Passover cleaning turns into a rejiggering of all my spaces. It’s sort of a literal and figurative refocusing. I toss old clothing, go through that shelf of old books and begin attacking that pile of papers I’ve been holding off touching. Yes, I am aware this is not the point of Passover cleaning. I don’t even recommend it to my friends. But, for me it’s cathartic and leads right to #2 below.

Payoff  There is something about Passover that always makes me feel the true meaning of ‘job well done’. When it comes to cleaning and cooking, I am often lazy. I’ll happily grab a shortcut. If I’m going to have to do hard manual labor well, there has to be a payoff – and it better be a good one. When I sit down at the Seder and look around my table I always end up so grateful for the gifts we have. I am surrounded by family, good food and a lengthy (sometimes too lengthy!) amount of tradition that allows me the chance to feel fulfillment in all those weeks of organizing hard work. I have prepped weeks for this and there is something in that moment at the first seder that I feel full – emotionally and spiritually. The key for me not to feel angry or overwhelmed is really in a learned mind trick.  I typically aim to be ready the day prior to the actual holiday. If I accomplish this goal that means the day of, I can just focus on a little jaunt out with my daughters to do our nails, setting up the table and sort of relaxing. There have been some years I did not accomplish the day before, and that has led me to a much more stressful and unhappy beginning to my favorite holiday.

Tradition Judaism is chock-full of every day traditions. But, Passover is the ultimate in hands-on. A tangible holiday that revolves around the children when so many revolve around shooing or hushing the children. I love to find ways to incorporate the fun in my fun-ctional Passover. As it is all about the children, I find myself being excited again as well. Maybe its the former teacher in me, perhaps its the Mommy in me or it could also be the dormant laziness I sometimes participate in other holidays – but, Passover revives me as a Jewish person. It’s out loud conversation about where we came from and how we got here. A time where talking about our history and connection to one another is discussed, analyzed and even sang about. A holiday where we are focused on enjoyment and freedom rather than the ‘do not dos’ and the ‘must not touch’.

Food No good holiday comes without a massive amount of food consumption. Like I said, I’m lazy when it comes to food and I love shortcuts. What shorter cut is there than deleting half of the ingredients I normally use! Creating simpler meals, a stronger focus on the green vegetables and the proteins, I find I actually eat healthier and happier on Pesach (minus my must-do matzo brie). I minimize my matzo intake (hello, stomach aches we not-so-lovingly call “Matzo babies”). It’s the one holiday throughout the year I tend to lose weight, rather than gain.

Family Although this will be our first Passover without our oldest, as he’s staying abroad, I am reminded of many years of all of us together as a family when I dig into our Passover boxes. There is something emotional about that moment I uncover those bins and find memories literally falling all over me. Projects each of my children made, the dozens of Matzo covers and cups of Elijah that come pouring out of their spots. Pages and pages of coloring, half-glued matzos hanging on by a thread from their construction paper. Each one a treasure only visited for a few days a year. The amassed Passover dishes and knick knacks I have collected and added to each year, remembering the fear of that first Passover I made myself. Even those memories of Passover as a child fighting over a treasured fork and knife. This is the reason, the true reason I love it. My family memories that are growing each year. Even if all of us cannot be together, there will still be remnants of them at our table and in my heart, forever.

So while Purim or Succot (and if you ask my kids, I’m sure it’s Chanukah) might be your #1, Passover for me is the ultimate. Bring on the Matzo brie!

 

Parents of Seniors in High School, Do You Get It Now?

Image Source : Huffington Post

Last year I wrote a piece for my blog on Chicago Parent discussing the Been There, Done That Fairy Mom-mother. Essentially, being a young mother has enabled me to experience everything first, before my friends, without any go-to mom to glean sage advice. I just had a few teary-eyed calls this week that reminded me of this article and made me wish for that fairy all over again.

My friends, now parents of seniors in high school, are experiencing the beginning of the grieving process as they watch their oldest get ready to leave the nest. By far one of the hardest years of my life, I can honestly say it does get better. But, it isn’t easy to go through. And, you are going to need your friends. And, tissues. Lots of tissues.

Last year, when I was stuck in the muck of it I just wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Then, I cried. Then, I wrote some more. I wrote so much he asked me to please stop writing about him so much.

So, I did.

If only I had someone to go to, to ask if it would get better, to assure me that my child’s really going to be okay – more than okay. And, that yes, I could eventually walk around without feeling like my right arm had been cut off.

So, here I am my Senior Parent friends, to tell you: Not only will you get through this year, and the next, you and your oldest will thrive. It is an amazing moment when you look at your child and realize – they are their own person and that person is pretty fantastic.

Perhaps because of you, perhaps despite you.

You overthink it, you come up with every anxious scenario how they will be absolutely be lost without you there to guide them. But, then you realize, in time, and with those darn tissues, that they can guide themselves pretty well and know how to get in touch if/when they can’t.

You insist you know their path best, you have it all mapped out in your head. The school abroad or the college, the majors, the lifestyle, the food plan. But, then they eat what they want, go where they go and do what they do:

Since last year I did in fact locate a few Been There, Done That Moms and here’s what we’ve put together to share. We cannot say we successfully did all of these, but wish at the time that we had this list in advance:

Express your vision, then hear theirs One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to listen. Let them feel heard because this process is damn hard. Take the time to express what you want for their future, where you see them and how they can get there. That is valuable information. Then, shut up and listen to how they see their own. This is even more valuable information.

There will be loud discussions – Part of leaving home is prepping a long time for that big day of goodbye. It’s a lot of emotions and a heck of a lot of decisions to make in a short period of time. They’re stressed, you’re stressed. So, talk and try not to let it escalate too much – but, be understanding if and when (oh, it will) gets loud.

Push and they will push back harder – You want one thing, they want another. It’s totally normal in the process. If you push one school, or insist on something because “I’m paying” the chances of them wanting that are now greatly reduced just to piss you off. Ultimately, they have to go to class, earn the grades and have a future. If it’s all controlled by you – it will not go well.

Let this be their future, not yours – Some moms shared with me that they unknowingly tried to live out their dreams through their children. This seemed more prevalent in those I talked to with moms and daughters, but I have no hard evidence of that. This is not the time to live out your dreams, its time to let the kids figure out what they want.

Deny, Deny, Deny My go-to coping mechanism of choice was to live in the lovely land of denial. But, then it does really happen. They really leave. And it seriously sucks. But, then they will come back to visit or oddly you go to visit them (and feed them).

Don’t freak when they make a mistake I did this. Whoops. It was bad. I expected perfection and what I got was human. Nothing, short of life and death, is that bad. Let them F it up so they can learn and grow and figure it out for themselves.

Just like we had to. 

There is a mean part of parenting no one tells you at the beginning when they hand you that bundle of smooshy cuteness. That is that one day you will be totally caught off-guard, by a surprise so big, so great and overwhelming nothing (not even ice cream and oh, I tried) can make it better. Until, suddenly you just move forward organically into the next stage.

Adultish (?) parenting.

I am still learning exactly what this next part of parenting means when I still pay for bills, and dole out spending money, but we’re learning to navigate the territory. Part coach, part friend, part parent, part nothing but a text at times and part in awe of what G-d let me have a hand in making – it’s weird, awesome and terrifying all at the same time.

No, I do not have my been there, done that Mom to guide me around the ropes of all of this. But, I hope I’m doing okay so far…So saddle up Senior Moms, and get ready for the ride of a lifetime.

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