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?

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.

Feeling Irritated? Get Curious!

My cat woke me up in the middle of the night meowing loudly. My first instinct whenever something happens that I don’t like is to get angry and resist that it’s happening. Even though I was half-asleep, I managed to breathe and remember that he doesn’t do this every night. He was probably meowing for a reason, not just to annoy me.

An irritated woman

I got up and saw that during yesterday’s play date someone had moved a foot stool in front of the cat door, so he couldn’t go outside. I moved the stool aside and went back to bed. He continued to meow for awhile, trying to get me to open the door for him, but I focused on my breathing and listened until he finally went out the cat door on his own.

My dialectical behavior therapist used to encourage me to try to widen my perspective. When I’m depressed and angry, everything seems black-and-white to me, and there’s only one explanation for anything. When I was feeling strong negative emotions, she would always tell me, “Get curious!”

It’s a skill to look beyond first impressions and knee-jerk reactions. This morning at Starbucks, it was really crowded, and I was irritated that two women were taking up two small tables when they were obviously together and didn’t seem to need both tables. I considered asking them if they would give up one of the tables, but decided to wait it out and see if other people joined them or if they were leaving soon anyway. Sure enough, after I ordered my drink, I saw that two other people had joined them, and they really did need both tables.

I’ve written before about meeting hate with kindness. I think getting curious about what motivates people is the first step in being able to show them kindness and give them the benefit of the doubt.

One of the DBT skills I learned was “Check the Facts.” Here are the steps:

  1. Describe: what happened? Be specific.
  2. Consider: what is my interpretation of what happened? What story am I telling about it?
  3. Determine: what is the threat? What am I worried will happen because of this event?
  4. Evaluate: what is the catastrophe I’m worried will happen because of this event?
  5. Predict: how likely is the catastrophe likely to occur? Assign a percentage.
  6. If the percentage is less than 50%, practice radical acceptance

It can help write this stuff down, especially when you’re feeling really strong emotions, but after some practice, it’s pretty easy to do just in your head. By the time I get to step three, I’m usually already calming down and feeling more compassionate and understanding.

I really like the use of the word “catastrophe.” I can be so extreme, reacting to every little thing as though it’s a really big deal when it usually isn’t. Real catastrophes are natural disasters, poverty, hunger, child abuse, etc. My projection that someone is being rude is just another example of my perfectionism. We all get distracted, stressed out, and tired, and we each deserve a break.

How do you practice giving people the benefit of the doubt?

Wrap-up of Living Almost Five Days on $1.50 of Food per Day

Live Below the Line officially starts today. Participants will live on $1.50 of food and drink per day for five days. People do this to raise awareness about those living in extreme poverty and to raise funds for charities including Heifer International, Kiva.org, and UNICEF.

I am traveling this week, so I decided to do the challenge early, from April 23 – 27. As I wrote in my first post about the challenge, I was very worried about how eating so little would affect my depression and anxiety.

Here’s a breakdown of how I did:

  • Day 1: It was extremely hard, but I stuck to the guidelines.
  • Day 2: I purposely cheated by having a cup of black tea with milk and sugar that I hadn’t paid for out of my $7.50 budget
  • Day 3: I ate two tiny chocolate chip banana muffins I had baked at home but again hadn’t paid for within the budget
  • Day 4: I successfully avoided the temptation of pizza and cupcakes at a birthday party, but caved at dinner time eating some of my daughter’s hamburger and fries

My mood was terrible by the end of day 1, but improved dramatically on days 2 and 3. By the end of day 4 I was irrationally angry, basically terrorizing my family, especially my six-year-old son Zach. My husband was really freaked out by how angry I was, how upset Zach was, and that neither of us wanted to talk about it. I did apologize to Zach that night, but during breakfast on the fifth day, I could see that my husband and Zach were both still upset and hurt.

I decided to stop the Live Below the Line challenge a day early. That was part of the deal when I started. If the health or safety of my kids or me were jeopardized, I would stop immediately.

I did the challenge from a Wednesday through Saturday. Mostly it was because I just didn’t want to wait, but also I thought it might be helpful to have my husband around on the last day. I realize now it would have been better to do a Monday through Friday, as the challenge is usually set up. Weekends hold many more temptations, and my kids were home all day, grating my already frayed nerves.

I can’t imagine how people who live on so little every day can get by, especially if they have children. My depression worsened so much even though I was still taking my medication, still sleeping in a warm, comfortable bed, and with my husband’s help. I scaled my physical activity way back to try to conserve energy, but I suspect most people living in poverty can’t do that. They have to scramble at making a living just to survive.

I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to do the whole five days, but I know that I made the right choice to stop early. My sponsors have donated $462 for UNICEF. Donations are accepted through May 30, so please feel free to sponsor me if you haven’t already. It would be so great to raise at least $500.

One of the benefits I got from eating so little is that it helped me go “back to basics,” figuring out which foods I need to survive and be healthy and how much healthier I eat if I prepare meals ahead of time. I’ve already hard-boiled some eggs and prepared a salad to eat later.

Thank you to all my readers for their support and their generous donations.

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.

Day 3 of Living on $1.50 of Food per Day

I’m almost halfway through my Live Below the Line challenge, living on only $1.50 worth of food and drink per day for five days. My sponsors have donated $415 to UNICEF to alleviate extreme poverty. Please click here if you’d like to sponsor me.

I cheated yesterday, and I’m totally okay with that. I was meeting with my writers’ group, and the host is someone who has really great tea. I asked her to make me a cup of black tea with some milk and sugar. It tasted perfectly delicious.

Boy sticking out his tongue

Sometimes you just gotta stick your tongue out at perfectionism

I purposely made a choice to cheat a little because I constantly battle with perfectionism. I’m so extreme, deciding that if I’m not perfect, I must be worthless. So, when opportunities present themselves to blow a raspberry at perfectionism, and say, “Yes, I slipped up, and you know what, I’m still an awesome kick-ass person, so there!” I take them.

I am feeling surprisingly energetic. I appear to have lost 7 lbs. in two days. I was 15 lbs. overweight, so I’m rather pleased by this. The trick will be to eat more food when the challenge is over, but to keep it healthy and pre-planned.

I’ve read so many books and articles about how to lose weight and eat healthfully, and I’ve never bothered to do it. I couldn’t do it for myself or even for my children (assuming that I will live longer and set a better example for them). I could only make the effort in service of other people.

My being overweight is another sign to me of my being privileged. I can afford to eat a toxic diet of mochas, cheese danishes, scones, cookies, ice cream, and takeout. I’m thinking of planning my meals and one treat each week from now on, and calculating how much I’d normally be spending on overeating and donate that to charity instead. I can feed myself on the gratitude that I am able to donate to Kiva.org and UNICEF and leave it off my waistline.

I’ve loaded $5 each on three Starbucks cards. I’ve only given one away so far, to a guy in Oakland who was asking for spare change. I like the idea of giving food away but still letting the person choose what they want to have.

I’ve heard two of my friends complain recently about having people turn down the food they offered. They felt the person was being ungrateful or apparently they weren’t as needy as they seemed to be.

I understand where my friends are coming from, but I think being truly generous means being unattached to the person’s reaction. There’s a real difference between saying, “Here, I want you to have this,” and asking, “How can I help you?” I understand not feeling comfortable giving cash, and that’s why I like giving gift cards. A $10 Target gift card might be able to get someone a sweatshirt or pants on sale.

When I first decided to do the Live Below the Line challenge, I didn’t know there was fundraising involved. I was initially uncomfortable about that because I don’t like to ask people for money. I’m really glad I got over that discomfort though because I feel like my doing this is causing ripples that I hadn’t even intended. People are telling me they feel inspired, grateful, and more aware of how they eat, of they spend their money, of how much they waste, and how much they can help.

Thanks to everyone on this journey with me. You guys rock!

Day 2 of Living on $1.50 per Day

I’m living on $1.50 worth of food per day for five days as part of Live Below the Line, a project to raise awareness about extreme poverty and raise funds for charities. I am fundraising for UNICEF.

I am 20% of the way through my challenge. I’m honestly a little surprised I’ve lasted this long. I am impulsive and eager to start new things, and just as quickly come up with excuses and quit. I have a collection of athletic equipment I’ve collected over the years that I no longer use. There are gloves for my brief stint at weightlifting, boxing gloves from Muay Thai and cardio kickboxing, shoes for Zumba, and uniforms and weapons from doing Wushu. I refer to this collection as my “Duffle Bag of Shame.” I recently started doing aikido again, but haven’t been going because I’ve been going running instead. Point being, I’m no stranger to quitting.

What’s keeping me going in this challenge is partly pride. Tom Hiddleston did this challenge last year, as did many other people, and if they can do it, I can too, right? Tom Hiddleston is 6’2″, and he lived on £1 per day for five days in London. I’m only 5’2″, and I’m 10-15 lbs. overweight, so I figure the challenge should be easier for me.

I think sometimes about the billion people around the world living on so little, and sometimes it helps me tolerate my growling stomach and resist the temptation to quit, but it also reminds me that my doing this is a bit hypocritical.

I am still living in my comfy house with heat, plumbing, and electricity. I’m still driving my SUV around, which incidentally gets better gas mileage than my minivan. My husband and I own three vehicles. It pains me to think of how much food we waste because I forget to prepare it before it spoils, or my children don’t eat all of their meals. We have two refrigerators. I feel like a poster child for excess.

I confess that part of me is vain enough to want to do the whole challenge to be able to say I did. To brag even. That seems kind of sick, but I have to accept all the parts of me, not just the ones I’m proud of.

I’ve had 11 people/families sponsor me now and two people who’ve shared my fundraising page. I’m grateful that they believe in me enough to support me. I’d like to stick with the challenge for as long as I can, as a way to show my gratitude towards them. I’m usually really lazy about sending thank you notes, but I am definitely sending some after this challenge is over.

I’ll close this post with something my birth instructor taught my husband when I was pregnant with our son Zach. When a woman in labor says, “I can’t do this!” the birth instructor says the husband should say, “You can do this, you ARE doing it!”

You can do this, you ARE doing it!