Monthly Archives: July 2014

Voices from BlogHer ’14

When people ask me how BlogHer ’14 was last week, I get speechless. There were so many great speakers and panels, and I met such friendly, welcoming people, it all rushes over me like a wave when I try to talk about it.

Business cards from BlogHer '14

Some of the business cards I collected

Here are a few important messages I took away.

We are all BlogHer
I used to think of BlogHer as just the media company: its co-founders, its editors, its administrative staff. BlogHer ’14 showed me that all of us who read, write, and share blog posts are part of something so much bigger.

I was struck by how egalitarian it felt. A few of the speakers were high-profile people like Arianna Huffington and Kerry Washington, but most of them were bloggers just like me. The Voices of the Year writers, the 10×10 speakers, even Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess, were once quiet, still-in-the-shadows attendees like me.

It made me realize that I have just as much chance as anyone else of being on that stage one day, and I have so much more to contribute.

We are capable of more than we think
Alexandra Rosas of Good Day, Regular People spoke about how much she has achieved over the last decade, first by getting published for syndication on BlogHer, then by proposing and sitting on a panel at a BlogHer conference, to speaking at BlogHer ’14 as part of the 10×10 series. She was really inspiring. She encouraged us to “surprise yourself with what you can do,” and remember that “just because you can’t do something now doesn’t mean you can’t learn.”

The blogger behind Busy Dad Blog described the influence we can have. Whereas celebrities can create exposure or raise awareness, “Bloggers have the ability better than anyone to change the conversation.”

Kerry Washington expressed her gratitude to Shonda Rimes for making her the star of the hit TV show “Scandal,” and she encouraged us, “Fulfill your dream, or you’ll be robbing someone else.”

A closing keynote speaker urged, “People are waiting for you to make a difference.”

We need to take care of ourselves first in order to thrive
At the same time we support our families and our communities and be the force for change, we also need to care of ourselves first. A few speakers used the analogy from airplanes of “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”

Arianna Huffington talked about her book “Thrive,” which calls on us to “redefine success and create a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder.” She recommends making more time for sleeping, detoxing from digital devices, and learning from other people’s “wake-up calls.” She pointed out that we pay more attention to the state of our digital devices than of our bodies.

Kerry Washington juggles multiple projects, including being a new mother, starring on “Scandal,” and working with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. She explains that she budgets 80% of her time on where she can make the most impact and 20% doing whatever brings her joy.

We’re all in this together
Even though there are a multitude of topics bloggers write about, whether it’s food, parenting, politics, elder care, or dog training, there are issues that affect us all.

Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress said, “You don’t need to be an expert to change someone’s life, you just need to give a crap.”

Feminista Jones said, “You don’t have to be black, gay, or poor to know when something is wrong.”

A person asked how to help when you don’t belong to a group that’s being treated badly. Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan said, “The first step is listen. The second step is listen. The third step is listen.” She said after that you need to “amplify” the group’s message, by sharing and retweeting their messages.

We are unique
Many speakers talked about focusing on what we love, the thing inside us that “glows or sparkles” and makes us shine. Elisa Bauer of Simply Recipes said, “Blog about what you love because life is too short to blog about anything else.”

Regardless of whether other people blog about the same topic, each of us has our unique point of view. We need to be who we are without apology. Courageously being ourselves, we can work together and achieve great things.

Please share your BlogHer ’14 stories in the comments below.

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What I’m Hoping to Get Out of BlogHer ’14

Crowded conference hall

I’ll be attending BlogHer ’14 tomorrow and the day after. It will be my first blogging conference. I’m nervous, excited, and apprehensive.

Reading about and preparing for BlogHer ’14 has made me take stock of what I want to get out of blogging and what I’ve accomplished so far.

My page views are few and far between. The only sponsorship offers I’ve received have been from scammers. I’ve started and already abandoned an eBook idea.

Still, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had 10 posts featured in various categories on BlogHer. I’ve had two posts published by ScaryMommy. I successfully completed the Ultimate Blog Challenge in January, publishing 31 posts in 31 days. One reader wrote to tell me that my “What My Depression Looks Like” post prompted her to schedule an appointment with her doctor to try again to get her chronic pain treated.

I hope one day to have enough material to publish an eBook, probably about parenting while living with depression. I hope that slowly but surely I am building a welcoming and safe space for people to talk about mental illness without fear of judgment, to share their experiences of being vulnerable and authentic, and to call out shame when we feel beat ourselves up for not being perfect.

As scared as I am of being surrounded by bloggers who probably have way more experience, much larger readerships, and are actually making money at blogging, I’m going to remind myself to use this intimidating experience as an opportunity:

  • to soak up every bit of wisdom and encouragement they have to offer
  • to be inspired by other people’s passion, dreams, and ideas
  • to broaden my perspective on what is possible through blogging
  • to get one-on-one feedback about how to write and edit effectively
  • to meet new people who share my interests, my values, and my enthusiasm
  • to find people who can guest post on my blog and/or will let me write for their blog
  • to have a great time standing in my right to be there and owning that “I am a writer”

Check out my Twitter feed for updates from the conference.

Solo Parenting as a Mom with Depression

Mom reading to her daughter

My husband just finished a three-day backpacking trip. Before our son Zach was born seven years ago, my husband would go every year, for up to five days per trip. Since we’ve had kids, it just hasn’t seemed possible or advisable for him to go away for that long.

Some of my friends’ husbands travel frequently for work. I’m not sure whether they share these concerns, but this is what I’m afraid of when my husband is gone for a few days:

  • The kids will wake me up often, and I won’t get enough sleep (my husband usually does nighttime duty)
  • I will be short-tempered and yell more at my kids
  • I will lose my temper and get physically rough with the kids
  • I will feel guilty about my crappy parenting and start thinking about committing suicide
  • All my coping skills will fail, and I will attempt to commit suicide

I am happy to say that only the first of these fears actually happened. Here’s what I did to prevent the others.

Get enough sleep
It can be tempting to stay up late reading a good book or watching a movie, but remember that a good night’s sleep is the foundation you need to be able to use any other coping skills.

Maintain routines
I knew my kids would miss their dad, so I decided to make sure they got to do all the same fun stuff they’d usually do when he is around. We ate dinner and went to the nearby bookstore like we usually do on Friday nights, and camped out in the backyard. I took them to their Saturday swim lesson. I did let them watch a little more TV than usual, which they enjoyed.

Use a calendar to explain when the other parent will be home
My kids are four and seven years old so they don’t really understand time that well. We have a calendar posted on the refrigerator, and I used it to explain what was happening each day and when they’d get to see daddy again. Even though they still didn’t completely understand, somehow it was easier being able to point to each day. On my husband’s last business trip, we even crossed the days off to show how quickly the time was passing.

Schedule lots of play dates
Nothing can distract my children as well as playing with their friends. The night my husband left, we went to dinner at a nearby restaurant that has a bounce house. My son cried for awhile, but then he was too busy having fun jumping with his friends.

One of my friends even took my son Zach for an entire day and had him spend the night. Zach was so excited, it was as if he had won a jackpot.

My four-year-old daughter Kaylee was super excited to have Mama all to herself. She joked that her brother wasn’t home because he “wouldn’t play princess” with her earlier, like she’d personally evicted him.

I felt really proud when my husband came back from his backpacking trip. I not only kept the children alive, I bonded more with them and made the time really fun for all of us.

There was one little bump in the whole solo parenting experience. My husband decided to finish his trip a day early and asked us to pick him up at the trailhead. I misunderstood his directions and drove on a fire road for four miles, almost getting the kids and me stranded with no phone service (even dialing 911 didn’t work) and with actual thunder claps overhead. The road was so bad, driving over big boulders ripped off one of the running boards on my minivan.

If there were a time for me to completely lose my shit, this totally would have been it, but I had done so well the few days before, I breathed slowly and deeply and just had faith that if I stayed calm I’d get us out safely, even if it meant walking four miles in the rain with two kids.

For future reference, when there’s a sign that reads “OHV,” do NOT drive on it unless you have a 4×4 even when your GPS shows it as a regular road. “OHV,” I have learned, means “Off-highway vehicle.”

What do you do to survive solo parenting?

Preschool Interrupted

My four-year-old daughter Kaylee is acting up at lot at preschool. She’s crying hysterically over little things and refusing to participate in some activities.

Her teacher is suggesting different things to try to improve her behavior, but it’s hard to tell whether this requires only a small adjustment or whether the school is no longer an appropriate fit for her.

There are many contributing factors:

  • My son Zach is on summer vacation (he’s entering second grade in the fall), but Kaylee attends a year-round preschool
  • Kaylee stays up later on the days she naps, sometimes as late at 10:30 pm, then she’s cranky the next day
  • I was picking her up earlier one day per week because of a play date with friends
  • Her best friend at school is on vacation for a few weeks
  • We’ve been having an awful lot of fun on the days she hasn’t gone to preschool

It’s the end of the school year, Kaylee’s teacher is not returning next year, and sometimes I wonder whether the teacher has just kind of “had it” with some of the kids. She seems more stern and less patient than she did earlier in the year.

Kaylee does have some anxiety about not knowing things. She cried inconsolably one morning because she couldn’t remember the words for weather. Now every day we review the terms “sunny,” “windy,” and “rainy.”

Kaylee said she cried today because she didn’t know how to draw a pirate ship for art time, but in asking her more questions about it, she never even made it to the table before she started balking. The art lesson is teacher-directed, where the teacher tells the students what to draw and guides them in how to draw the subject. This art lesson only happens once a week. The rest of their art time the kids get to draw whatever they want.

I suspect that Kaylee resents being told what to draw and how to draw it. I get the point that the teacher can teach specific art skills the kids can use when they draw on their own, and that it can build the kids’ confidence to quickly make something recognizable. I also get that this can be too restrictive or boring for some kids.

The thing is, even if the preschool is too structured and no longer a good fit for Kaylee, I feel like I’m just going to be fighting these same battles when she’s in kindergarten when it’s even more structured. There are 27 kids per teacher in each kindergarten class in my son’s school. Many kids fall behind even when they’re trying their best, I can’t imagine what happens to the kids who refuse to participate.

There is another choice program in the school district that focuses more on project-based and hands-on learning, but it’s really hard to get into. Even if by some miracle she could get in, it would involve dropping off and picking up my kids at different schools at the same time, and it would require me to volunteer more in the classroom.

Kaylee’s preschool is closed the last week of July, then the new school year starts in August. Kaylee will be in Pre-K, and will move from classroom to classroom during the day, with a different teacher in each classroom. One teacher will teach math and science, another will teach art, and another will teach language arts.

I’ve started picking Kaylee up from school at the same time every day, after lunch, even though I’ve already paid for the full day this month. I’m hoping that having a shorter day, a consistent pickup time, and no nap will help her feel more comfortable at school. I’m desperately hoping that she likes all three of her new teachers. Perhaps she’s frustrated having to take orders from the same person all day long.

Hopefully Kaylee will feel less envious and less like school is optional when her brother starts school again in mid-August.

Her teacher and the preschool administrators assure me Kaylee is just going through a phase of feeling her power, testing boundaries, and craving attention. I hope so. It still saddens me that even if she would do better in a less-structured learning environment, I can’t provide that for her at the same school I send my son.

Did you kids ever suddenly start to hate preschool? How did you help them enjoy it again?

Indifference Can Be a Killer

A doctor with a clipboard

Ever had a doctor blow off your concerns, dismiss you, and leave you completely unsatisfied with your visit? Go check out my guest blog post over at My Migraine Family.

Go the F*ck to Sleep, Parents!

Not sleeping

My husband and I are quite the pair at bedtime. We each have CPAP machines and SnoreGuards (a dental appliance that moves the lower jaw forward and opens up the airway).

We slept apart for about two years. Not only were we in separate beds, we were in separate buildings. We have a separate studio building that we use as an office and guest bedroom and bathroom.

When my depression flared up during my second pregnancy, I realized how desperately I needed to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is almost everything when it comes to my depression. The last time I stayed up late watching TV, I lost it with my son Zach, yelling at him, yanking him upright, and pretty much terrifying him and horrifying my husband.

Parenthood comes with sleep deprivation, that’s just the way it is. But once the kids are mostly sleeping through the night, it’s important to make sure we’re not sacrificing sleep for other reasons or ignoring signs that we have physical problems that keep us from sleeping well.

Things that can wait:

  • TV shows: I keep getting hooked on shows that are on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I just finished watching all five seasons of “Chuck” (over 90 episodes). Do yourself a favor and turn off all electronic devices by 9:30 pm. The show will still be there tomorrow.
  • Books: I haven’t been reading much lately (because of watching too much TV), but I do remember staying up late reading Gillian Flynn novels (“Gone Girl” is amazing!). If you have to read something late at night, try to make it something a little boring or at least short, like a magazine.
  • Tidying up: Seriously, what’s the friggin’ point? Those darn little monsters are going to get up in the morning and trash the house again anyway. Just clear a path through the toys, blankets, and paper airplanes on the floor in the case of an emergency, and your work is done. Also, check out these hilarious and speedy housecleaning tips.
  • Talking to your spouse: My husband and I realized we couldn’t talk about anything too serious or talk much about scheduling stuff right before bedtime because it would stress us out or make us too anxious to fall asleep. Try cuddling or having a pillow fight instead.

Signs you may not be getting enough quality sleep:

  • You’re using the bathroom more than twice per night. This may not be true for everyone, but once I started sleeping better, I was too deeply asleep to need to get up to use the bathroom.
  • You keep dropping things or bumping into things.
  • As the Bloggess puts it, you’re “feeling stabby.” I have had a fit of rage because a pillow wouldn’t slide effortlessly into the pillowcase.

I have moderate sleep apnea. I think some of the muscles in my nose and throat relaxed during my pregnancies and limit the air flow I can get. I breathe too shallowly to sleep well. I think that most people become lighter sleepers once they become parents because there is such a high probability that someone will toddle in and ask for water, a diaper change, or say they’ve had a nightmare.

I’m incredibly lucky that my husband is willing to meet our kids’ needs during the night. If he’s having a rough night, I still help out, but we’ve found it’s better for the whole family to get me as much sleep as possible. I’m still a bit of a Dragon Lady even with a full night’s sleep.

I urge you to take stock of your sleep habits. Are you putting other things ahead of your need and right to a good night’s sleep? Are there signs you might need to get tested for a sleep disorder? (If so, stay tuned for a future blog post on this topic.)

What do you do to hoard sleep like the treasure it is?

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Blog & website of children's book author Tara Lazar

Honest Mom

You belong here.

Scary Mommy

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Honest Mom

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Illustrated with Crappy Pictures™

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Miss Bookish Girl

Writer, reader, cook, cat lady. Not always in that order.