Category Archives: parenting

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?

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?

Kaylee as a Four-Year-Old

My daughter Kaylee recently turned four years old, and in some ways things are better. She can understand more when we explain things. She’s really into getting dressed and buckling her seat belt on her own. She proudly proclaims, “I do it all by my whole self. Bam!!!” She makes up adorable songs and dances. She’s finally starting to poop on the potty.

I’ve been really surprised at how she’s gotten even more stubborn though. She’s been a picky eater for the last two years, but now she really wants to subsist on only goldfish crackers, mac ‘n cheese, yogurt, and “treats.” She’d just as soon skip meals than drink milk or eat a slice of cheese pizza. Her favorite answer when we ask her to do something is, “I don’t want to. Not at all. Never!”

Very early on we nicknamed her “Princess Grabby Hands,” because she had the reflexes of a ninja. She would grab something, you’d take it from her and put in on a table, and before you could draw your hand back, she’d have it in her hands again. Time seems to have only sharpened this skill.

She’s hyper-aware of all things electronic. She constantly has to touch my iPhone, Kindle, or my husband’s iPad. She yells, “I wanna see!” We say, “Look with your eyes,” and she says, “I want to see it in my hands!”

Kaylee still naps at preschool, which means she stays up until 9:30 pm those days and is cranky the next day. She complains every day about going to school, but she loves it while she’s there. In August she’ll start pre-K, and I’m curious to see how she adjusts to having a more structured and more academic curriculum.

Despite her recent increase in frequency and intensity of tantrums, it’s not all bad of course. Kaylee can sing most of the songs from “Frozen,” which somehow isn’t annoying yet. She blends “Let It Go” with “Everything Is Awesome” from the Lego movie. “The snow glows white on the mountain tonight / Everything is awesome!”

At bedtime, she still wants me to lie in bed with her. After awhile, she either says, “I want you to go,” and gives me a little shove, or falls asleep with one leg draped over my mine.

Kaylee still loves to dance. She’s getting stronger, more balanced, and more expressive. The doctor told me at her checkup that Kaylee is likely to be about 5’3.5″ tall. That comforts me because she won’t be eligible to be a professional ballet dancer and be subject to the pressures of that career. She could still get hooked on gymnastics, but so far she doesn’t seem too attached to it.

She’s much more independent, but every now and then she runs up and throws her arms around me, and I squeeze her back as hard as I can and kiss her hair because I know that she’s growing up so fast, and these hugs are getting fewer and farther between.

Kaylee doing ballet

 Kaylee doing ballet 

Why I’m So “Over” Hosting Big Birthday Parties

My kids have had their last big birthday party: at home, at a park, at a party place. I am so done organizing them, turn me over.

Kids in a bounce house

This year’s shindig was Zach’s seventh birthday party. My husband and I combined didn’t have seven birthday parties during our childhood. I had exactly two, both of which were super small and simple, because my parents had little money and few friends.

Here are my reasons for ending the insanity of large birthday parties for my kids:

The Cost
I’m pretty lazy as far as event planning goes, so I usually pay a place like Pump It Up to entertain the kids with inflatable bouncy houses. I still have to pay for the snacks, the plates, cups, napkins, pizza, juice, water, cupcakes, and party favors.

Setup and Cleanup
This year my in-laws were in town and were a HUGE help in setting and cleaning up the party we had at home. It was a bit of a small miracle that they were all there at the same time, so I feel like having this party as the last one is ending on a high note. When I have to do most of the work myself, I get really anxious, resentful, and end up being a pretty bitchy hostess. Not fun for anyone.

The Guest List
We had almost 60 guests at our party this year. It’s an awkward feeling when you get a “No” reply from someone, pump your fist, and yell, “Yay!” I don’t understand the families who can invite everyone from their kid’s classroom. We had guests from my son’s school, our playgroup, our neighborhood, and from friends we knew before we had kids.

The Gifts
This year I said “No gifts” on the invitation, and most people complied, which was great. At previous parties, the kids would get dozens of gifts, which were quality gifts, but my kids were not particularly grateful, “Oh, it’s just a book,” and of course, they were only interested in the toys for a few days before piling them up all over my house.

The Entitlement
This year Zach didn’t like that I had invited one boy from his class that he sometimes gets into fights with, and that I didn’t invite Seamus, a boy he really likes. He told me that Seamus told him, “It’s your birthday party, you should get to invite whoever you want and you should get to do stuff. It’s your party!”

Zach threw a pretty good-sized fit about the guest list, not being able to have separate themes for him and his sister, and not being able to do a big project, like building Mythbuster-type rigs and conducting experiments.

I was initially mad because I felt like he was ungrateful for all of the work I do, and then I remembered that I’m the one insisting we do the party in the first place. He did have a good point. He’s old enough now that he can help plan his birthday celebration.

Honestly, the kids’ birthday parties were the one time of year I could see some of my friends, but we’re just going to have to make more of an effort to get together during the rest of the year.

From here on out, my kids get mini-cupcakes at school with their classmates and a family dinner. Maybe Zach could invite two or three other kids out for lunch at a pizza place.

My parenting philosophy continues to evolve into keeping things as simple as possible.

How do you celebrate your kids’ birthdays?

Why Mothers Should Embrace Grandparents’ Day

Check out my guest blogger post on Scary Mommy about how mothers and grandparents each deserve to have their own special day.

10 Things to do in Santa Cruz with Kids

I wrote a travel guide for Scary Mommy about fun things to do with kids in Santa Cruz, California. Go check it out and tell her I sent you.

Teaching My Son How to Manage Money

My husband and I really want our children learn the value of saving money, and we’ve already started with our six-year-old son Zach. As I wrote about previously, he’s already become a microlender thanks to Kiva.org.

greenPiggyBank

As young as three years old, Zach “earned” his toys. We had a reward chart, and if he cooperated in going to school, taking a bath, and going to bed, he’d earn one small Lego piece per day. Once he got seven days of good behavior, he’d earn a larger reward, like a Thomas the Tank Engine toy or a Hot Wheels car. Eating vegetables was also on the reward chart, but if we had enforced that, he would have never earned any rewards.

I was honestly concerned that we were being too generous with the rewards, but I respected my husband’s wish that Zach “earn” his toys rather than just receive them all as gifts.

Now that Zach is old enough to understand the benefit of waiting, we’ve started giving him an allowance. Any toy he wants now he can buy with his own money or put on his birthday or Christmas list.

To manage how much money Zach has, we use an iPhone app called FamZoo. They offer prepaid or IOU accounts to help kids learn how to save money.

We set up an IOU for Zach that automatically adds $2 per week as his allowance and adds 3% interest every week. When he wants to buy something, we can check his FamZoo account and see how much is there, and deduct the amount from his account without transferring any actual money.

We specifically chose not to open a savings account at a real bank because interest rates are so low, he’d never see the benefit of saving and earning interest.

It turns out that Zach is pretty fiscally conservative. He doesn’t ask to buy things that often. He’s managed to save up to $60 before.

Recently, he had only $25 in his account, and he decided he wanted to buy a book that cost $16.99, plus tax. I asked him to wait awhile in the bookstore and really be sure he wanted the book because it would wipe out most of his savings. He looked through it for awhile and just before we left the bookstore, he said he still wanted it. I bought it with my credit card, and debited his FamZoo account.

Later that day, Zach had his first experience with “buyer’s remorse.” He kept crying saying he both wanted to keep the book and wanted the money back. We spent a good deal of time that night talking about the pros and cons of returning the book and finally encouraging him to sleep on it and decide the next morning.

Zach couldn’t decide so he asked us for our opinions, and then even asked us to call one of his uncles who I guess he thinks makes good choices. By this time, we were all in agreement that the book wasn’t worth wiping out his savings, so we returned it. Zach had labored over the decision so long that by the time we returned the book, he was totally okay with it.

My husband and I are both really happy that Zach has learned so quickly the value of saving money. It’s such an important life skill, I really don’t understand why it isn’t taught in school from a young age.

We offered to put the book he wanted on his birthday wish list, and I think when it gets close to his birthday, I’m going to offer to buy him the book, or put the money into his account and let him decide whether to buy it right away or let it earn interest for a few weeks before buying it.

How do you help your kids learn to manage money?

You can try FamZoo for two months for free, then it costs $5.99/month or $30/year. Their site states that if you really can’t afford this, you can contact them and work something out.

Happy Birthday to My Blog!

“Pretend You’re Good At It” is a year old today! Thank you for being here, whether this is your first visit or whether you’ve been here since the beginning.

Zach, Kaylee, and me

I’ve enjoyed sharing my adventures with my son Zach and my daughter Kaylee. Even though I don’t make any money at this, I still tell my kids this is my job. Some day if I play my cards right, I could get paid whole tens of dollars for writing.

The blog has grown slowly but surely, and I’ve been surprised at some of the responses I’ve gotten from readers. One person said this is the only blog she reads. Another said she was so inspired by my “This Is What My Depression Looks Like” post that she made an appointment to get treatment for her chronic pain and depression.

There was that time Anne Wheaton retweeted a link to “My Miracle Child,” and I got 1,200 page hits in a single day. BlogHer has featured nine of my blog posts.

I successfully completed the Ultimate Blog Challenge, publishing 31 posts in 31 days, including some from guest bloggers Sassy Single Mom, Mara Migraineur, and my husband.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to last this long. I have wanted to quit multiple times. Then I remember the comments I’ve received about how I’ve helped someone feel better about not being perfect, about struggling with mental illness or cutting, or about messing up as a parent now and then.

I don’t expect to ever be as popular as Scary Mommy or The Bloggess, but I don’t need to be. I care about creating and nurturing community, however small it is. Thank you so much for being a part of it.

What would you like to read more about in the next year?

Hi, I’m Frankie, and I Suffer from Depression

The front of my business card

The front of my business card

Every time I give my business card to someone, I think, “Oh my God, what have I done?” On this blog, I admit that I’ve been hospitalized for depression, still deal with thoughts of suicide, and have been a bit rough with my children.

The people I’ve been giving my business card to are usually parents that I know from my son’s school. Some of them have been neighbors. One couple I especially like and would like to get to know better. I was so out of it, I gave each of them my card.

I worry that they’ll be afraid of me, especially of having me around their kids. I fear they’ll misunderstand depression and think it’s contagious or something. Worse, I’m afraid they’ll think I’m weak, for taking medication and for not being able to control my thoughts.

Then I remember. I remember that I’m still the same person they know and (seem to) like. I remember that I write to give a voice to those with depression and anxiety. I present at least one face and experience that is a reminder that it’s okay to suffer from mental illness. I am not alone, neither are the other people who read my blog who deal with mental illness.

The back of my business card

The back of my business card

Part of my “paying it forward” from the many people who have supported me is to make a stand for those who are suffering and haven’t gotten help yet. I can’t do that if I’m pretending in my real life that I’m someone I’m not.

Depression does not define me, I am not my depression, but I don’t ever want to hide it from anyone. The treatment I find most effective is connection, in being with other people who understand and accept me as I am.

I’ve been telling people in my life about my depression for four years now, and so far not a single person has rejected or ridiculed me for it.

My hope is that being authentic and out-spoken about my depression may encourage others to be open about their experience or at least realize that they’re part of a larger community.

Depression lies, but I and others speak the truth that it’s treatable, and it can get better.

Do you feel comfortable sharing your struggles with people who aren’t close friends or family?