Category Archives: parenting

Challenge Yourself and Reach New Peaks This Year!

Wearing my "Girls That Lift" shirt #GoBearOrGoHome

Wearing my “Girls That Lift” shirt #GoBearOrGoHome

I’m a 42-year-old mom of two kids (5 and 8 years old), and I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life. I was hospitalized during Christmas 2009 because the anti-depressant a psychiatrist prescribed made me suicidal. Thankfully, while in the hospital, I was put on a different anti-depressant, which works much better for me. It doesn’t make me feel happy, but it helps me think clearly enough to use the coping strategies I learned during 16 months of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

I’m 5’2” and Chinese, which means I have low bone density. Before I got pregnant with my son in 2006, I weighed 113 lbs. After he was born, I got down to 109 lbs. Due to the stress of my daughter’s pregnancy in 2009, and then eating at Starbucks every day (sometimes two or even three times per day), I weighed 130 lbs. by the end of 2015. Diabetes runs in my family and eating poorly gives me bad mood swings, so I was very excited to discover the My Peak Challenge.

My Peak Challenge (MPC) was created by Scottish actor Sam Heughan, one of the lead actors of the Starz TV show Outlander. He created the MPC with his trainer John Valbonesi of Fight Camp, The Box Magazine, and Bear Strength Clothing Co. He wanted to encourage his fans to get in shape, eat healthy, and to support his favorite charity Bloodwise, the U.K.’s largest blood cancer charity.

People can donate directly or buy items from the sponsors. Fifty percent of the profits goes to Bloodwise.

  • Bear Clothing offers an MPC Supporter Pack (a T-shirt, signed photo of Sam, wristband, sticker, and badge)
  • There’s an MPC Prep Program that includes a 60-day training program with more than three hours of video footage of Sam demonstrating proper exercise techniques, a 60-day meal plan, access to a private Facebook group where participants share their challenges, successes, encouragement, and much more.

The Box Magazine featured Sam Heughan on their January/February issue

Here’s a great video of Sam explaining the My Peak Challenge.

While many people choose to eat healthfully and exercise, MPC 2016 is adaptable. Each person chooses what they would like to accomplish, whether it’s writing a book, meditating every day, or anything else that helps them get out of their comfort zone and see things in a new way.

Going hiking every weekend with my mom, hubby, and kids

Going hiking every weekend with my mom, hubby, and kids

I have a crazy long list of things I’d like to do for MPC 2016. I’m what my therapist called an “achievement junkie.” I’m just excited about pushing myself and seeing what I’m capable of.

Eating vegetarian plus eggs and fish
I’ve been vegetarian plus seafood before, but I stopped for about eight years. Since December 29th, I’ve been mostly vegetarian plus eggs and fish (salmon and canned sardines). I’ve decided to have meat for a few days before I donate blood (every eight weeks) and before my period. I really want to make sure I maintain a high enough iron level to donate blood.

Exercise every day
I get bored easily so I’m trying to have a lot of variety in my workouts: running on a treadmill, running on the road, hiking many different trails, weight lifting, and doing core exercises.

Run the Bay to Breakers
May is the official month of the challenge, so I will run the Bay to Breakers, a 12k from downtown San Francisco to the beach. I’m also thinking of running the San Jose Rock ’n’ Roll half-marathon in October.

Overcome my dermatillomania
Dermatillomania is a disorder where a person compulsively picks at their skin. I’ve had it for years, basically as an unhealthy coping mechanism for my anxiety. Cutting out sugar (my vice is soy mochas, which apparently have 27g of sugar) should help considerably. I’ll also practice being mindful, noticing my emotions and my urge to pick at my skin. Observe the urge, then let it go.

Drive for Uber
I want to have many new experiences this year, so I signed up to be an Uber Partner. I’ve only driven for a couple of weeks. For me, it’s really more about providing a service than making money. I’m planning to drive on Super Bowl Sunday though, which should be pretty interesting. Uber will pay for cleaning your car should riders soil the interior.

Learn to ride a motorcycle
I’m going to take the CHP (California Highway Patrol) motorcyclist training class in February. I’m slowly trying to learn all the skills to become an action hero. Being 5’2”, you could call it “Little Woman Syndrome.”

Attend Comic-Con this year
My friend goes every year, and I’ve always wanted to join her, so this year, I’m going to leave my poor husband with our two kids for about three days. Who knows, maybe I’ll catch a glance of Sam from very, very far away. If I ever get the chance to, I’d love to shake his hand, look him in the eye, and say, “Thank you for inspiring me to do what I’ve always wanted to and now believe I really can. Fancy a pint?”

The best coincidence is that I recently turned 42. Douglas Adams wrote in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42.”

Whether you join MPC or not, what challenges will you tackle this year?

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Look for the Helpers, They’re Overworked and Bleary-eyed

Me wearing a Cub Scout leader uniform

“Good God, what have I done?”

What do the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Baymax from Big Hero 6, and a panda have in common? They’re all overstuffed with cuteness! Want to know what’s not overstuffed with cuteness? My calendar. It is a bloated beast of an overachieving obsessive compulsive need to be needed.

Need me to watch your kids for a couple of hours? Sure! Need me to volunteer for your slot at church? Not a problem! Need me to organize, lead, and recruit for the Cub Scout pack? Why not? I’m already not sleeping much because I’m up at 4 am stressing out about all the crap I have to do.

Before I had kids, I would read “O Magazine” and marvel at article after article encouraging women to just say no to the endless requests to volunteer and host some event or another. What could be so hard about saying no?

Now my Google calendar is packed with the typical swim lessons, martial arts classes, Cub Scout meetings, Girl Scout meetings, and volunteering at school. In addition, the unwritten calendar in my head is swimming with “help kids do their homework,” “practice Zach’s speech therapy,” “get Kaylee to practice sight words and phonics,” feed the dogs, walk the dogs, do laundry, buy groceries, etc. and etc. So naturally, when I read there was an upcoming Girl Scouts ice-skating event, I jumped at the chance to squeeze in one more activity!

Thank God the troop leader told me the event was already full. We do so much for Zach because he’s older and started many of his activities before Kaylee could walk that I feel like I owe it to her to do stuff that’s just for her. She’s oblivious of course. She just wants me to play with her and do pretty much whatever she tells me to.

I realize there’s a certain egotism to constantly volunteering and offering to help other people. Look at me, I’m Mrs. Dependable and selfless as a saint! I still have the email where my friend called me a “rock star” on Facebook for watching one of her kids in the morning then the other kid in the afternoon. It does feel really good sometimes to be helpful. Or to accomplish a ridiculous number of errands in a short span of time. It’s also exhausting and depleting.

Sometimes I overcompensate by playing a word search video game (yes, I’m a word nerd) for an hour or two past my bedtime. It’s like a big (Mike Myers’ Scottish-accented) “Fuck yer!” to the universe. “Ha ha, I am accomplishing absolutely nothing right now! What I’m doing is totally useless and self-sabotaging!” Go, me!

The thing is, other people really do need help. Schools, churches, Scouts, family, and friends often need warm bodies, photocopies, food, or a shoulder to cry on. I’ve volunteered at events before and felt what I imagine is like “being in the trenches,” where you know you’re accomplishing with a handful of people what really ought to take dozens more to do. You know if you leave early it falls on the shoulders of even fewer people to do the rest.

So, what should you do to not overstuff your calendar the way I do? “Fifik.” That’s my friend’s acronym for “fuck if I know.” Just kidding. No, not really. So far, procrastinating helps. Letting email fall farther and farther down the queue to where you forget you ever received it works. Being consistently and reliably incompetent probably works too, but I’m so afraid of failure I can’t bring myself to try it. My friend did give me a good phrase to use whenever someone asks for volunteers, “Sorry, I’m already overcommitted.”

I’ve structured my life so that I’m needed by a lot of people and a few animals. I guess what I have to remember is that I need me too. I need me to go to bed on time. I need me to go to the gym and work out for an hour three times per week. I need me to use my sociopathic charm to recruit more helpers and delegate some of the workload. I need to remember that just because I can provide so many enrichment opportunities for my kids doesn’t mean I have to provide every single one. Sure, they’ll miss out on a fun event here and there, but they already have rich, full lives. Because I’m their mom, and I am overstuffed with awesomeness. Hmm, maybe that’s why these pants feel kinda tight.

How do you keep yourself from scheduling too many things?

Does a Family History of Suicide Mean I Have Bad DNA?

My father and my uncle both committed suicide. Other members of my family have been diagnosed with depression. There are times when I wonder whether I’m simply living on borrowed time.

DNA strand

Photo by Svilen Milev

I do still have dark moments when I feel worthless, exhausted, and broken. Sometimes I feel too afraid to deal with life and wish I could let go of the obligation to go on.

I have a husband, two children young children, and we’ve recently adopted two rescue dogs. It’s as though to compensate for my temptations to prematurely exit my life, I’m gathering reinforcements or reasons for me to stay. It’s harder to justify continuing to fight depression for my own sake than for others’.

I am aware that one or both of my children may one day experience what I experience. I suspect the hormone surges of their teenage years may trigger depression in them although my depression didn’t really manifest itself until I was in college.

Will I let my children believe that suicide is written in their DNA? Hell, no! I will teach them coping skills like mindfulness. I will let them know that they will feel depressed sometimes, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. I will remind them that they are never truly alone. People near and far love them and are frequently thinking of them. I will tell them that they MATTER. They bring gifts to the world that no one else can.

I know that I can’t protect my children from everything, but I can keep them surrounded by people who love and cherish them: their cousins, aunts, and uncles, and close family friends.

If the time comes when counseling and/or medication would be helpful, I will get it for them.

I used to think taking an antidepressant was a copout, a way of ignoring your problems. Then I understood it was something I needed in order to clearly see and resolve problems, and especially to recognize when there isn’t a problem, just intense emotions that need to be expressed then let go.

I’m sad that my father and uncle never got treatment. I’m grateful to the many people who helped me find worth in myself and my life, find courage to be open about who I am, not just as someone with depression, but as the real, genuine person that I am, and find companionship, sharing their own struggles and doubts.

My DNA defines that I am right-handed, but I can still write with my left hand. My DNA made me short, but I can stand on a step stool. My DNA may make me experience depression, but I can use healthy coping skills, use my family and friends as a sounding board for my fears and doubts, and live happily, hopefully long enough to witness my children teaching their children that they are not alone and that they MATTER.

And Bartolo Makes Seven

A year ago I thought my life was pretty busy, taking care of my husband, our two kids, and our cat Smokey. Last August we adopted Maggie, my first dog ever, and it was an adjustment, but she’s pretty much a lapdog, and our life was still busy but manageable.

About a month ago, we adopted Bartolo, a German Shepherd mix that the rescue group Doggie Protective Services (DPS) claimed doesn’t need a lot of exercise. I’ve since realized their idea of “a lot of exercise” is much more than mine is.

The photo that first made me want to adopt Bartolo

The photo that first made me want to adopt Bartolo

Because Bartolo loves to run, I started taking the dogs to the dog park. I realized it was good for Maggie too since she barks and growls whenever she sees another dog. Overall, it’s been a good experience. Bartolo runs fastest and is happiest when he’s chasing another dog or being chased. I’ve taken him jogging, I’ve ridden a bike with him running alongside me, and he tolerates it, but he really lives for the chase.

Bartolo only gets tired from fetching these footballs

Bartolo only gets tired from fetching these footballs

There have been a few incidents at the dog park. One dog walker kept yelling at Bartolo to stop barking at her dog, to the point where I decided we might as well leave. Ironically, she said nothing to Maggie who barked incessantly at another of her dogs. Being at the dog park isn’t unlike being at a playground with your kids. Some people you’ll get along with, others not so much.

I describe my way of navigating the world as “learning by tripwire.” It’s trial-and-error, but much more filled with being oblivious then regretful. I brought a Duraplay squeaky football to the dog park. A guy was there with his dog, let’s call him Ethan and his dog Buster. Ethan usually walks around the dog park fence without ever coming inside. I asked him why, and he said Buster was a rescue dog and wasn’t well socialized. Buster knew the other two dogs who were in the dog park that morning with us though, so Ethan thought he’d try having Buster come inside.

Me, being my usual, optimistic, naive self, encouraged Ethan. For the most part Buster and Bartolo ignored each other or growled then backed off. The other two dogs left with their owner, and I started throwing Bartolo’s football. Buster would chase it but then let Bartolo take it. Until he wouldn’t. They started fighting, and Ethan stepped in to pull them apart. In the process he got bit. Of course both dogs were up-to-date on their rabies, so at least we didn’t have that to worry about. Ethan said he wouldn’t bring Buster back into the dog park again. He told me after the fight that Buster had already recently gotten into a couple of fights.

People say he should have known better, and he probably should, but I still feel responsible too. I don’t bring dog toys to the park anymore. In the future, if anyone brings in their dog and says it isn’t well-socialized, I’m going to take my dogs out before anything happens. We’ve gotten to know a few of the dogs already, and there’s plenty of dogs Bartolo does get along with that we can play with in the mornings. I won’t let this incident keep me from going to the dog park, but I can certainly be more careful.

Bartolo wishes we had a bigger pet door

Bartolo wishes we had a bigger pet door

I admit I had my doubts early on whether we should keep Bartolo. I thought that adding one dog after already having one wouldn’t be a big deal. Perhaps if we’d gotten another small dog, but it was really stressful trying to keep Bartolo from running out of the yard when we opened the door, from jumping up when trying to put his food bowl in his dog bed, and from lunging while on the leash. I actually had a talk with my husband that I was afraid that I wasn’t a “good enough” dog owner to be able to control and take care of Bartolo, and we might need to consider giving him back.

Thankfully, dog owners from the dog park and the neighborhood gave me great suggestions for how to train Bartolo. He has to sit and stay before we open the yard door, and he doesn’t try to dash out anymore. I bought a Gentle Leader headcollar that pulls his head towards me when he tries to lunge. I hook two loops (skipping one in between) on his SnapLeash, removing some of the slack, and wrapping it around my waist so that he has only enough leash to stay right beside me.

My husband is taking Bartolo to obedience training, and it seems to be going well. Bartolo was surrendered to the rescue organization by his former owner, who got ill and was no longer able to take care of him. He is an absolute sweetheart, and one day Maggie will stop growling at him. Probably.

Our lives are crazy busy now. I’m walking about 6-7 miles per day now between running errands, picking up and dropping off my kids, and giving the dogs lots of exercise. I’m also happier than ever. I promised my husband I wouldn’t ask for any more dogs. Now we joke that we should adopt an orange tabby cat. Thank God DPS never seems to have any.

Our whole family (minus Smokey the cat)

Our whole family (minus Smokey the cat)

Have you ever had two or more dogs? Was it a big transition adding each dog?

An Alternative to Vaccines: Voluntary Intentional Exposure

A kid sick in bed

Illustration by Cécile Graat

There seems to be this dichotomy where there are only two choices to protect our communities from preventable diseases: vaccinate or don’t vaccinate. I propose we offer a third option: doctor and CDC-monitored voluntary intentional exposure.

There are currently over 50 confirmed cases of measles in the U.S. right now. I suggest we offer families who choose not to vaccinate for philosophical beliefs (rather than medical or religious reasons) the option to have their unvaccinated child spend time with a known infected person to intentionally try to catch the disease. Some families have already tried these “pox parties” to try to get their children to develop natural immunity to chicken pox, but having doctors and the CDC monitor the exposure, quarantine, and treatment during the illness would likely make this safer and more effective.

One of the biggest problems with diseases like measles and pertussis is that it’s not immediately apparent that a person is infected and contagious. This would eliminate that uncertainty. You would know exactly when the child was exposed and be able to quarantine them while they’re contagious, have them monitored by their doctor and quickly provide treatments for any complications such as pneumonia or ear infection.

Once the child is no longer contagious, the quarantine can end, and the child can go back into the community with lifelong immunity. One more child contributing to herd immunity, without the need for a vaccine.

Parents who don’t vaccinate their children now are already taking the risk that their child will contract diseases naturally. I imagine if offered this option, many families would choose it. This must of course be voluntary and offered only as an opportunity. Coercing or compelling people is not effective.

Telling concerned parents who choose not to vaccinate their children to “Just Do It” is about as effective as the “Just Say No” to drugs campaign. If we want to increase the percentage of people who are immune to diseases like measles and pertussis, we need to offer other viable options.

Can We Have Meaningful Dialogue about Vaccinating?

Needle and vial

Photo by Brian Hoskins

I’ve been shocked by how quickly my Facebook feed went from showing Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes like, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” to showing videos and sarcastic articles condemning parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. I get so frustrated seeing stuff like that because mocking and ostracizing people you disagree with might seem entertaining and validating, but it’s really just counterproductive.

Dr. Bob Sears wrote, “The answer won’t be to make everyone vaccinate; neither should the answer be to allow diseases to run rampant and kill people left and right. The answer needs to be somewhere in the middle, and it needs to include love, understanding, and calm-headed people who will actually stop and listen to each other.”

I understand why some parents are afraid to get their kids vaccinated. I slow vaccinated my son. He only got one vaccine per month so that if he were to have an adverse reaction, I would know exactly which vaccine it was, and he wouldn’t have to get any subsequent doses. Unfortunately, the only way to find out if someone has an adverse reaction is to get the vaccine. Some parents aren’t comfortable taking that risk.

Fortunately, neither of my kids had any adverse reactions to the vaccines. They occasionally had fevers, and my son vomited once or twice, but nothing more serious than that.

Reading side effect warnings can be pretty terrifying these days though. The prescription information provided by the pharmacist always seems to include dry mouth, seizures, and hallucinations for medication, even if it’s just to stop diarrhea. There have been reports of “long-term seizures, coma, and permanent brain damage“ after the DTaP vaccine. The information sheet states, “These are so rare it is hard to tell if they are caused by the vaccine,” but I can understand why that would give some parents pause.

There’s also the mentality that if my kid catches a disease naturally, they’ll have lifelong immunity. This is why people born before 1957 don’t need to get the measles or mumps vaccines. They’re so likely to have caught the diseases and are still immune.

Of course, catching chickenpox exposes people to developing shingles later in life. My mother-in-law got shingles, was in so much pain she lost the ability to walk, developed pneumonia, and then passed away, all over a period of a few months.

Still, vaccines are not infallible or perfect either. For one thing, they don’t always prevent infection. Six of the people who recently caught the measles at Disneyland were in fact vaccinated but for some reason not fully protected. People can still catch the flu even after getting the vaccine, although it can be milder than if the person were not vaccinated at all. Immunity can also wane over time, requiring booster shots.

Asking parents to vaccinate their children is asking them to take a calculated risk, except you don’t know what the actual calculation is. 1 in a trillion is meaningless if it turns our your kid is that one. Low probability is not necessarily persuasive to everyone.

Still, I’m grateful that my kids are less likely to pass on a preventable disease to our adult friends who have cancer, any friends we have who are allergic to eggs or yeast and aren’t able to get some vaccines, or to children who are too young to be vaccinated.

Reducing the spread of disease requires between 75-95% of people to be immunized, depending on the disease. How can we work together to get to those numbers? Not by ridiculing or condemning the people we want to persuade. There is no Us vs. Them in this. There is only Us, and we all need to work together to figure out how to protect our friends and families.

How Do I Tell My Son His Friend is Now a Girl?

A girl and a boy

Please check out my guest post on My Migraine Family about explaining to Zach about his friend being transgender.

Coping Strategies When I’ve Forgotten to Take My Antidepressant

I woke up grumpy, irritable, and inexplicably angry. It took me a few minutes, but then I remembered that I had forgotten to take my antidepressant yesterday morning. I didn’t realize until last night around dinner time. I took it then, but that was a whole 12 hours without it.

My four-year-old daughter was whining a lot at breakfast, and just the sound of her voice grated on me. I had no patience for her or her brother. My face felt permanently set in a scowl. My husband seemed to notice the change in me right away but didn’t say anything. It’s likely I would have snapped at him no matter what he said.

My only saving grace was that I was aware that I was being unreasonably angry and impatient. I focused on breathing more slowly and deeply. When I asked my daughter to get dressed, I watched as she futzed around and noticed my urge to yell at her to hurry up. Instead I asked her to “please focus.”

When focusing on my breathing stopped helping, I noticed how my toes felt touching the carpet, or later, the inside of my shoes. I noticed what my knees felt like touching the fabric of my pants.

All of this noticing is a form of mindfulness. We can only pay attention to one thing at a time. We think we’re multitasking, but what we’re really doing is task-switching very quickly. Paying complete attention to one thing in my body helps anchor me in the present moment and briefly pause the rage going on in my head.

There’s usually some story I’m telling myself that I don’t even realize. I feel like my kids are misbehaving just to piss me off. I feel like everything is going to go wrong, and I’m powerless to change it.

I need to be somewhat calm to do this, but I try to come up with another narrative. I look at my daughter screaming at me and think, “She must be tired. She’s struggling to find words to express what she’s trying to say, and she’s frustrated.” My son is making loud noises and being hyper because he wants some attention, not attention for its own sake, but to feel connected to us. Coming up with another story gives me understanding, and that understanding helps me develop patience. I feel powerless at times, but so do they.

I used to feel so guilty for losing my temper in front of my kids, like I was failing them somehow. It took a long time, but I realize now how important it is, how valuable, for my kids to see me not only lose my cool, but then work really hard to regain my composure. I can explain coping strategies to them until I’m blue in the face, but nothing will be as compelling as modeling it for them.

Calming down requires forgiveness

Calming down requires forgiveness. I have to forgive myself for getting irrationally angry in the first place, and I have to forgive my kids and myself for not being perfect.

I’m still going to have to practice calming myself after the kids get home from school. It doesn’t help that it’s going to rain all day, but while they’re in school, I’m going to try to “fill my bucket” with positive experiences so I can start from a more fulfilled place than if I just run errands and “get stuff done” like a workhorse.

A friend is coming over to hang out while her house is being cleaned. I’m going to ask her if we can watch the latest episode of “Castle” on Hulu, which is my weekly Tuesday gift to myself. I’m going to take my dog Maggie for a walk in her new doggie raincoat. The thing that best alleviates my depression is reconnecting: with people, with my dog, and with nature.

I will yell at my kids again, if not today, then tomorrow, and/or the day after that. I will never be “cured” from my depression. It’s a constant, ongoing process. But I’m not powerless or alone in this. That’s what gets me through it every time.

How do you get through times when you’ve just had it but don’t have the luxury of getting away from your triggers?

To My Son at the Start of 2nd Grade

Zach's haircut

I got the idea to write a Back-to-school letter to my son Zach last year from The Four Wendys. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to get back into the schedule of getting up early, packing snacks and lunches, and buying school supplies, but it’s really nice to take a moment to reflect on the year ahead and how far we’ve come as a family.

To my sweet, beautiful boy,

First of all, I’m sorry your recent haircut was a bit traumatic. I respect your right to grow your hair out, and I appreciate that you agreed to get it trimmed at the start of the school year. I know you’ve said you don’t want to be “handsome,” but you’re kind of out of luck there. You are one good-looking kid. Girls may come up to you again and announce that you’re their boyfriend. That’s okay. You can say, “Okay,” or you can say, “Well, let’s just be friends.”

I’m sorry that a couple of your friends have moved away to other schools. I know you will feel their loss, and I’m always here for a hug when you need it. I know you have a big heart, and you are a fiercely loyal friend. I will help you keep in touch with your friends, even if it means driving an hour each way to see them.

I’m excited to see what new friendships you will develop this year. I hope that you will play with kids where you tell me later, “we” did this and that together, not just that “so-and-so” told you what to do and how the world works. Real friends give and take, and you know quite a bit about how the world works too. You’re so easy-going you follow other kids’ leads well, but being easy-going can also make you a good leader too.

You’re already well along in your training to be a future Mythbuster. You already love math and science. Your reading has improved so much you’re devouring Pokémon and Ninjago graphic novels. Even though I can’t always keep up when you try to educate me about them, I’m really happy that you’re so passionate about the things you love.

I know handwriting is not your favorite thing, but I’m really glad you’ve been practicing over the summer. You think that it’s useless because eventually you’ll just type everything, but you never know when you’ll need to send another ninja a message, and he’ll need to be able to eat it to avoid having it fall into enemy hands. It could totally happen.

It may be stressful at the beginning of the school year. You’ll have a new teacher, a new set of classmates, and long days of having to pay attention. I promise you though that we’ll still have lots of fun. We’ll spend time with your friends who go to other schools, I’ll still take you to fun places, and I’ll help out in the classroom as much as I can.

Whatever happens, I want you to know that Daddy and I love you very much. Your sister loves you too, she just shows it differently. We are all very proud of you. You are sweet, funny, smart, creative, friendly, and generous. You are also extremely patient and forgiving when I’m grumpy and rushing you all the time.

Thank you for being my favorite son, my sweet, beautiful boy. I am grateful that I get to be your mom.

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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