Monday, September 28, 2009

We're Not Gonna Take It

If you're reading this blog, then chances are you're a parent. Which means you have kids. Which means you should be aware of the statistics on teen dating violence--and how to address the issue within your family and community.

This morning NPR reported on this underdiscussed topic and found that "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that about 1 in 10 adolescents reports an experience with physical violence from a dating partner. If other forms of abusive violence are included — from being threatened or emotionally harassed, to name-calling and insults — that number goes way up." Yeah, way up, to 1 in 4.

The good news is that, as parents, we have a say in what our kids learn about relationships. We can help them identify healthy partnerships. We can instill in them a respect for themselves and others. We can help them learn what to expect in their relationships--and what is just plain unacceptable.

It isn't easy. Not in a culture that glorifies violence and sexualizes girls from an absurdly young age. (Really, why would my preschooler need a leopard print cami and panty set?) It is almost like establishing an underground, counter-culture, one that glorifies respect, not abuse.

But it can and must be done. And it has to be we parents that make it happen. If not us, then who?

There are some terrific resources available online to help you get educated and get the conversation started. My favorite is MADE--Moms and Dads for Education to Stop Teen Dating Abuse. (You've heard about MADE here previously.) They've got the bad news--the statistics--and the good news--what's being done to stop the cycle of abuse and how you can get involved.

Enough is enough, isn't it?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I've realized something this week, now that the Little One is healthy and we're back on schedule. I've realized that this preschool thing, it kind of rocks. It pains me a bit to admit it, but 3 half days a week to do my own thing (like take a yoga class, work on my book, pee in private) is doing much for my sanity.

Yes, she still says "Mommy, don't go," when I drop her off in the morning. But pick-up is a bundle of hugs and kisses and tales of all the fun she's had at school. And the remainder of the afternoon finds me more patient and more present than before.

It's kind of funny to me now, all of the fear and anxiety I experienced leading up to this transition. It's not that all the anxiety is gone (that requires a prescription). It's more the reminder that change--one of the only constants in our lives--is not automatically a bad thing. It's something that the Little One is learning in a big way for the first time, and something that I'm relearning through her, my little teacher.

I still have a few more hours to contemplate this lesson. And I plan to enjoy every minute. But first, I'm going to pee. Alone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Buddhism for Mothers

Motherhood is love in its purest form. It's also several parts undistilled stress and worry. Sometimes, the negative emotions (and the guilt that follows) can overpower the sweetness of our pure Mama love.

In so many ways, motherhood is its own whole, it's own complete experience. There's the yin and the yang, the positive and negative, the joyous and the exhausted, the playful and the stressed to tears.

In her book, Buddhism for Mothers: A Calm Approach to Caring for Yourself and Your Children, author Sarah Napthali explores the unique ways in which mothers can blossom when we apply some Buddhist thinking to our lives. The book is balanced and practical, and Napthali's commitment to helping Mamas care not just for our babes in arms, but for ourselves, too, is refreshing.

She outlines ways to help us remain in the present with our kids (this is a big one for me), to help us stay calm, to deal with our anger and to worry less. Sounds like the perfect Mama, right? That's the beauty of Napthali's work (and Buddhism in general); the acceptance that no one is perfect, that we are all flawed, that we all suffer (the First Noble Truth). She reminds us that having guilt about our flaws ("I snapped at my kiddo," or "I'm so disorganized," or "My butt is sagging southward at a rate of 3 inches per year") is not only unproductive, but that it helps keep us stuck. She encourages us to notice our wrong actions and move on, knowing that we may just do better next time.

When we let go of our expectations, our fears--and yes, our guilt--what remains is peace in the present. And I think that after I read this fantastic book another dozen or so times, I might just be able to put it into practice.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Break On Through

This week we've been suffering through a case of "breakthrough" chicken pox. This is, apparently, what they call it when your kid has had the varicella vaccine and winds up getting the chicken pox anyway.

It took some time for the doctor and I to even realize that she had it. Breakthrough cases are usually milder (as hers is) than cases in unvaccinated kids. And breakthrough cases don't always behave in the same way that standard chicken pox does.

A little itching, a very mild fever and less than 30 spots doesn't seem like much to complain about. Most of us Mamas probably remember suffering through worse when we had it. (I know I sure do; I got the chicken pox for my 13th birthday.)

Being quarantined all week , however, has given me time to question the wisdom of a vaccine that still leads to infection in 15 to 20 percent of cases (according to the CDC). My views on vaccines are not radical; the Little One is up to date on every recommended vaccine. But varicella is largely a benign virus. When we were kids and someone got it, we were supposed to go over and play with them. It wasn't something our parents were afraid of us contracting and very, very rarely led to complications.

So, my question, as the Little One and I embark on a fourth day of house arrest, is this: Is varicella something that we actually need a vaccine for? Especially one that doesn't seem to work all that well?

In a world where our super-clean, hyper-vaccinated lifestyles are being implicated in the exponential rise in childhood allergies (see the Hygiene Hypothesis) it's at least worth asking if somewhat ineffective vaccines against benign viruses are truly necessary. We are graced from birth with immune systems whose specific job it is to fight off illness. Getting sick actually strengthens a body's ability to fight the next onslaught of germs. But vaccines, antibiotics (and their overuse), and antibacterial everything have pushed the front line of defense against sickness beyond our immune systems. When our bodies don't have enough opportunity to fight off germs and disease, so the Hygiene Hypothesis goes, they will go to work fighting other "invaders" like pollen, mold, dust, and certain foods, creating an allergy.

So, while the Little One's immune system is getting varicella virus workout, we're making our way through a small stack of DVDs from the library. And if she's feeling up to it this afternoon, we might do a little finger painting. And I am blessed with some unexpected time with the Little One while she's home from school. Seems like a little case of the chicken pox isn't so bad after all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunny Window

I'm a sucker for just about anything that smells good. Aromatherapy works on me, there's no question. Lavender, sage, tea tree, cedar--I'd like to soak everything I own in these essential oils and drift through my house in a kind of aromatic stupor.

At a local outdoor market over the summer, I discovered Sunny Window, a Massachusetts based purveyor of all things natural and aromatic: soaps, essential oils, teas and a seemingly endless supply of French lavender. I was immediately infatuated with every single wonderful thing I found at the Sunny Window booth, run by Nancy, the charming and down-to-earth business owner.

I went through my purchases pretty quickly. One aromatherapy spray--optimistically called "Joy"--I simply had to buy again. So I emailed Nancy. It wasn't long before I was back for more--and more. Her oils are the purest I've smelled and more than reasonably priced. Soaps and sprays, everything she has just smells so darn good!

So, now that I'm hooked, I can be found poking around Sunny Window's web site regularly. Which is why it's strange that it took me so long to read about Nancy and the story of Sunny Window.

See, apart from being a talented aromatherapist and well-traveled business woman, Nancy is also a Mama with some serious drive and a tough back story. Nancy was 1998's "Welfare to Work Entrepreneur of the Year." It was 20 years ago, as a single mother, that Nancy took $30 out of her final welfare check and started a business at her kitchen table. Her success story is so inspiring that she's been featured in the Boston Globe, Parade Magazine and on PBS, just to name a few.

These days, when Nancy isn't combing the fields of France for the freshest lavender or traipsing around Turkey for the most robustly scented roses, she's giving back. Nancy volunteers as a mentor and public speaker, sharing the secrets to her success with people who could use a little of that joyful juju she seems to possess. If only she could bottle that and offer it for sale.

For now, I'll remain happily hooked on just about everything Nancy offers--including that which she cannot bottle: hope.

Friday, September 11, 2009


The smoke has cleared,
the dust settled.
Tears long dried,
nightmares subsided.

The city din--frenetic, fierce, familiar--
has returned, an annoyance and a comfort in one.

Tattered paper photos, taped with panic and haste
on every open space,
removed, discarded, or tucked away with regret
and anger for lives unfinished.

Crossing the Triboro at rush hour,
snaking slowly toward the skyline stained crimson by a sun
reluctant to cede the day,
there is still a gaping hole, 110 stories high,
silent and wide.

An absence of glass and steel
that reached defiantly skyward.

Broken hearts, inexplicably--incompletely--mended by time
and the distance it creates.

A taxi trip down 6th Avenue
in the glittering Manhattan dusk is a stunning announcement
of what was
but now isn't.

Heroes made
and lost.
Stories forever untold.

In passing, some look up,
some look down,
some look straight ahead.

Gotham endures, thrives,
intrepid in the face of so much violence,
so many ghosts.

Each loss, personal, unbearable.
The collective loss, immeasurable.

At the heart of the city of excess and abundance,
a void remains. And millions understand the word:


Photo by Marc Morelli

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This Is It

Today is our final day before the Little One begins a long, illustrious school career, starting with three half days a week.

I feel that I've blogged endlessly about this approaching milestone (and if I feel that way, I can't imagine what you readers must think of all this pre-preschool angst of mine!). As promised, it has finally arrived.

So on this Pre-Preschool Eve, I will do what I can to make the day special. I'll make her favorite breakfast. We'll play with her best friend. I will leave the crackberry at home. I will try with every part of me to be present for her on this day. And in a good mood.

It isn't so much for her that I will do these things; of course, she'll enjoy doing all of her favorite things. It's more for me. The first day of school, that's her day. Everything will be new and exciting and outrageously liberating.

But Pre-Preschool Eve is a day more savored by a Mama. Today is the last day of what is. Tomorrow is the beginning of what's to come. Tomorrow, she's off to new adventures of her own. New friends and so many wonderful discoveries that she must make on her own.

But today is just for us. Today is Mama and Little One playing our Greatest Hits of the last three years. Today, she's still just mine.

I want to savor every last second of it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Good News Alert: You're Not Screwing Up Your Kids

Someone wrote: "We spend so much time worrying about who our children will become that we forget to spend time with who they are."

I stand accused.

I am forever worrying about which action or inaction on my part will destabilize, traumatize or otherwise royally screw up the Little One and her chance at future happiness. This thinking is so ingrained in me--and, to a less irrational degree, many Mamas I know-- that I find myself imagining in vivid, accusatory detail future therapy sessions in which she enumerates every injustice she has ever suffered at my hand. (Just think of all the times I say "no," or the times I lose my patience with her, or the times that she wakes up at 5:15 AM and I, with one eye open, snap that it isn't time to get up yet. Surely I am sowing the seeds of her undoing!)

As it turns out, maybe not. Nell Casey examines this 21st century anxiety-producing, hyper-aware parenting philosophy in an article for Cookie Magazine. Casey reviews new research and theories by psychology professor, childhood cognitive expert and author Alison Gopnik. Gopnik's ideas are of great comfort to parents, especially those of us who live in mortal fear of proving ourselves woefully inadequate on a daily basis. Basically, Gopnik believes that we parents have to try awfully hard to screw up our kids as badly as we already fear we are doing.

Of course, Gopnik doesn't discount parenting (or the lack thereof) and its effect on childhood development. She does, however, dispute the fragility so many of us ascribe to our children's psyches.

The article is worth a read. And so are Gopnik's books, from the sound of it. I'm going to get started right away. Then maybe I'll be able to spend more time with the Little One now, and less time with the spectre of who I'm afraid she'll become. After all, she's a pretty wonderful kid. And that's something to think about.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tea and Sympathy

As babies go, my Little One was pretty easy. Happy and with a sweet disposition, we never had to endure the unendurable hours of crying that colic can produce. But I know Mamas who have.

In Anahad O'Connor's "Really?" column in yesterday's New York Times, O'Connor explores the age-old remedy of chamomile tea for gastrointestinal discomfort. The American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed two studies in 2007 in which chamomile tea was administered to babies with colic (control groups used a placebo tea). In one study, it seems that more than 50 percent of parents reported major improvement in their infants' colic.

That, Mamas, is major indeed. Not only in terms of improving the comfort and happiness of your baby (and your entire family) but also in terms of how much such a remedy won't cost you.

Read the whole column here for all the details, including how to check for rare chamomile allergies.