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I took my 4 year old to see The Nutcracker...here's how it went.
NPN Sitaara posted an article in Articles DirectoryAs a mom to a boisterous four-year-old girl, I am always looking for ways to entertain her and keep her busy. That's why I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to take my daughter, Clarke, to see The Nutcracker for the very first time this year. Clarke has been captivated recently with dance and gymnastics - so I figured an opportunity to take her to see the greatest holiday show ever would be as magical for her as it would be for me! Growing up, I was the girl that always dreamt of going to fancy shows and getting dolled up to go out with my mother. However, with two busy working parents and four other siblings, there was always either a shortage of time or money which meant no ballet performances for me; the closest I would get would be to watch a performance on television. So, once the ticket notification hit my inbox, I was overjoyed! We were going to see The Nutcracker for the first time ever!! In all of my excitement, I ignored warnings that my daughter might be too young to admire the amazing skills of the dancers or to be truly interested in a performance without words or animation - but as we got closer to our performance date, I began to worry about her attention span and a little bit of everything else. Will our seats be close enough for her to see what's actually going on? Will she want to talk the entire time? Will the people near us be patient and understanding if (when) she does talk the entire time?? Will other kids her age even be there??? Alas, our performance date arrived, here's how it went and how I did my best to prepare her. Hours before the ballet: The afternoon leading up to the ballet, we talked about how ballerinas can be girls and boys and how they study dance and practice for years to take part in performances. We also watched a few clips from a YouTube video on the work that goes on behind-the-scenes to prepare for The Nutcracker performance. Personally, I watched a video about the history of The Nutcracker. (Did you know that it was originally written in 1891?!) I didn't set out to watch this video on my own but my daughter was not at all interested in this content. On the way to the ballet: On the way to the ballet, we listened to the famous Tchaikovsky tunes from The Nutcracker while I called out different melodies that I hoped she'd be able to recognize later. During the ballet: After struggling to find parking, we ended up arriving 8 minutes late and had to sit in the late section for the first act. This was the roughest part of the experience for Clarke. She kept asking questions about why the dancers were so far away and trying to rock around in her seat to peer a tiny bit closer at the action on stage. I silently counted down until the conclusion of the first act so we could move to our actual seats. After intermission, a snack, and a bio break - we finally settled into our seats and enjoyed a much closer view. To my delight, we sat next to a five-year-old girl that was also there for her first show with her mom. Her mother and I exchanged smiles of support as the lights dimmed for the final act. Much to my surprise, Clarke was completely enthralled! She was focused in and amazed at the movements. She recognized many of the songs we'd listened to on the way there and she giggled along during the hilarious moments and clapped loudly at the end. I'm pretty sure I sprained a cheek muscle from smiling ear-to-ear for 45 minutes straight. Afterwards: For about a week, our kitchen floors received a complimentary wax as a result of all of the spinning and gliding from Clarke and her fuzziest socks. She was going to be a ballerina, she exclaimed! The kind that dances with nuts. We definitely just started a new tradition in our home. I cannot wait to take her back next year and to personally experience the magic again, myself. The Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker” runs through late December at the Lyric Opera House. A very special thank you to The Silverman Group for providing complimentary tickets and making our dreams come true!
Alright, I'll say it: I am so over COVID!
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryI had Omicron on the day I was asked if I had any interest in writing an article about being "over" COVID. I quickly said yes, as this was our second round with COVID in our small four-person family, and I was feeling very over all of it. My daughter was the first to have symptoms. I offered to sleep with her and be the first parent to be exposed, knowing that my husband would soon follow. She had just turned 5 and was about to get her vaccine…more on that later. Anyway, I knew I would be next, and then my husband. [Related: A child therapist admits to committing these 10 COVID-19 parenting fails] My son, however, was the last man standing again (he was the first time around, too), without any symptoms and continually testing negative on both exposures. He’s seven. At some point, while masked and standing from afar, I tried to teach him how to make a quesadilla. His reply: “This sucks. Can someone just breathe on me so that I can get it over with and cuddle?” I know that we are not the only family that has tried to quarantine in the same house away from other family members. It seems futile and like we should all embrace the suck and get it over with all at once vs. one at a time. I guess that is another sign: I’m over it! The first time was scary, as it was four months into the pandemic, and both my husband and I were working in the trenches with people struggling and severely affected by COVID. Vaccines had not yet been created, and everything felt ominous and unknown. After that first bout with COVID, we found our way back to “normal” — if there even is such a thing. We found a way to see family and travel safely within our “pod." (Another thing I’m over are these new terms that flow like water and are now as common as “LOL": pod, pivot, resilience, quarantine, virtual learning, social distancing…the list goes on.) But this time, it was different. It had been two-and-a-half years since we had seen my side of the family in California — for many reasons, but mostly because my parents don’t love science and didn’t want the vaccine. After many conversations about how to travel home during the holidays and remain safe, we came up with a game plan. For instance, this even meant not seeing my Uncle Ralph, who's 80, because he wouldn’t get the vaccine or stop frequenting casinos. The risk would be too high for us, leaving us judged by many. [Related: From slow to go! Balancing life post-pandemic] We survived 10 days in California, where people felt like masks were optional and that we were the crazy ones, living in fear. I have always operated from a science and intuition approach, but to each their own opinion. We took educated risks and felt good about our trip. Back home a few weeks later, it was my daughter's fifth birthday. Everyone had canceled because the numbers were too high, so that only left our immediate family, her aunt, and her grammy. It wouldn’t be the fifth birthday of her dreams, but it would be as fun as we could make it…except that our fully-vaccinated and boostered family brought us Omicron. Thankfully we all had mild symptoms and got through it relatively quickly. Thank you science, and God, and all my friends who knew we needed a meal or cinnamon rolls. Thank goodness we got over it. This “over it” feeling continues as I work every single day trying to help others move through it. As a therapist, I study a topic of interest or a topic that has impacted us at one time or another and use that information to help others. This is the hardest time to be a therapist because we are living the trauma with our clients. We are suggesting to do things that we think will help, but that we can’t find the energy to do ourselves. We are listening and caring more than ever for the doctors and nurses on the frontlines, knowing that this virus will remain in our field for so many years to come. The other day my son wanted to go to the grocery store with me, and I quickly said yes. At the store, he asked if he could eat some raspberries out of the clam shell, “like the good ol’ days.” I said yes to the unwashed raspberries, so long as he ate them under his mask. I continued about my shopping, but when I turned around to look at him, there were tears running down his face. My first response was, ”Did you bite your tongue?" He said, “Mommy, I don’t remember the good ol’ days. I don’t remember not wearing a mask to the store.” We both cried a little bit. He asked more questions: "When will this end? Will we ever go to the store or school without a mask?” This conversation broke my heart. A quarter of his life has been living with COVID. It has impacted every year of his elementary school experience so far. I realized here in this moment it wasn’t just me that was over it; we are over it. All of us. For the last two years, I have been working overtime at both work and mom life. I have been trying to be more engaging, more crafty, more fun, more adventurous, more everything by redefining adventure. None of it matters on days when you just need to say, “I’m over it!” It’s okay to just be done and to say it out loud. Many famous psychologists say that by stating your feelings, you can move them in your brain to be able to better process them in your body. I’m writing this to encourage all of us to speak our truth on our toughest days, and to allow our kiddos to do the same.
#Realtalk: Processing the pandemic one adventure at a time
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryWhen faced with a challenge, I often think, “Let it be an adventure." Well, as 2020 began, my sister and I faced the adventure of preparing our parents' home for sale. We had lost our Mother in March 2019 to metastatic breast cancer. Then, March 2020 brought in an additional challenge: a pandemic. So my sister and I worked, masked, in different parts of the house. We practiced social distancing on breaks outdoors in lawn chairs, chatting and snacking. While the pandemic complicated the process of sorting through family heirlooms, it gave my sister and I time to reflect on our parents' lives, and strengthened our bond. [Related: COVID and PTSD: How to handle the whirlwind of emotions] The pandemic brought new words and phrases into our vocabulary, such as PPE and positivity rate. My husband, son, and I withdrew into our “pod” as the pandemic evolved. Our son finished up his lessons at a local art gallery; creating works of art now gives him solace when confined indoors. We had fun choosing patterns for our fabric masks, and wore them everywhere. We still use fabric masks outdoors, and KN95s indoors. My son has decided to wear his KN95 at school, despite the recent change in the school masking rules, “to be safe,” noting: ”I don't want to be sick.” As we adjusted to the pandemic lifestyle, we experienced an unexpected loss. Our guinea pig, Frankie, passed away. We grieved, missing her presence, and later adopted a guinea pig mother, Mimi, and daughter, Minnie, in need of a home. As someone classified as “immunocompromised,” I was eager to be vaccinated. A connection found me a vaccination appointment, and I was fully vaccinated by March 2021. My husband followed suit by April 2021, and our son prior to starting school that fall. As we adjusted to life as a pod, my son enthusiastically observed, “We're like pioneers." The basement, with standing desk and screen, became a workplace for my husband; my desk became part of a 7th grade online classroom. My son and I started school days outdoors, enjoying the exercise, the passing trains, and the chickens in a backyard facing a local park's walking path. I gladly shed the pounds that I had gained during my Mom's illness. [Related: Reflecting on COVID: Being with my family 24/7 has strengthened us in a way that I never could’ve imagined] As 8th grade started, I became my son's aide. He detested Zoom learning and required much encouragement and support. “I miss my friends, and seeing them at lunch!” he said often. When some students returned to school for the last quarter of 8th grade, he eagerly joined them. Our house wore many hats: serving as school, workplace, and our home, simultaneously. My husband, working in Information Technology, elected to work solely at home as the pandemic continued. His presence has been a blessing in many ways. I was diagnosed with a salivary gland infection in fall 2020, then rediagnosed as a cancerous tumor by summer 2021. Surgery — followed by seven weeks of daily radiation treatments and weekly chemotherapy — wrapped up in early December. My husband has been ”holding down the fort” during my treatment, and has been woven into the fabric of our daily life. I am thankful for the supportive texts, calls, and prayers across the U.S. which “hold me in the light," and for my doctor's recommendation that I prepare for surgery by exercising. I had been walking a 5K most days and eating well, which gave me the stamina to walk from Randolph and Michigan to the Northwestern hospital campus daily for treatment. My ability to exercise kept my morale up. Post-treatment, I was told I couldn't be indoors or eat with those outside my pod. How, then, to spend the holiday with my extended family members? The warm weather let us exchange gifts Christmas Day outdoors, and make Christmas memories despite the circumstances. As we move through 2022, I recuperate and regain energy. Our house still serves as our home base and a workplace, and the study's role alternates as I share the room part-time with my son. I'm realizing that my biggest challenge is finding a private spot in the house for both my daily tasks and quiet reflection. We are pioneers indeed. As my son says when our vacations end, “This has been an excellent family adventure”. The adventure continues…
Navigating the Great Resignation as a parent
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryWe have all seen the headlines around the growing exodus in the labor force with people leaving in what appears to be record numbers. The “Great Resignation” is real and it is impacting all if us in both direct and indirect ways. First, let’s do a brief overview of some of the data. The biggest exodus seems to be in the accommodations and food service industry, with retail next. Interestingly, this trend was happening before the pandemic and researchers aren’t sure if the continued trend was due to the pandemic or not. Healthcare workers are quitting and finding alternatives due to burnout and dissatisfaction (can we blame them?!). [Related: Working mom hacks: Tips and tricks to make your life easier] None of this is cut-and-dry, and researchers are working to get at what is really going on, but I believe it is super important to acknowledge the disparity in reasons people are leaving. Some are leaving good jobs for better work environments and more flexibility — these are the fortunate ones. The other broad category is comprised of folks who are experiencing truly deplorable work conditions and have to choose between unhealthy work environments and survival. And how very different it is for women who have consistently outnumbered men in exiting the workforce out of necessity to care for children, aging parents, sick relatives, or all of them at once. [Related: How to hire more moms? Corporate America needs to learn to share] We are all a part of, and impacted by, this world phenomenon. What is important about understanding the bigger picture is being aware that it unconsciously sways our own behaviors. Suddenly we are given permission to think about our work life in very different ways prompting us to ponder the following questions: * How do we think about being a working parent now vs. pre-pandemic? * Are there aspects of our job that previously didn't bother us, but now do? * How do we think differently about our role as a working parent vs. pre-pandemic? Personally, I fall into the privileged category of assessing a work-life situation that is already good, but the pandemic has brought up gaps and caused me to step back and inventory what aspects I love, and what I want to change. As a coach and facilitator, I love being with people and did not think I could take my practice online and keep the same level of impact. Our children are recently out of college, and this new flexibility has caused some regret to surface around being physically gone many evenings and weekends while I was raising them. I would say I value time, nature, and learning and growing more than I realized before the pandemic, and I am changing my work situation significantly to have more of what nourishes me. I have found in my coaching of couples and families that many had previously gone along with the program as it was scripted, and are now stepping back and assessing their priorities. In many fields, it is a job-seeker's market, but before you make a big leap, take some time to assess and create a vision for your career and family life.
How should parents handle kids' pandemic stress?
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryAlthough it’s impossible to say how long the COVID-19 pandemic might last, it’s certain that there are lingering emotional effects on all of us. Kids are no different, and perhaps they’ve even suffered the most — given how long a vaccine has taken to come around for them; the fact that each new experience is a chance for them to grow; and that school, which is central to their lives, has essentially been turned upside down. [Related: 7 tips for parents of young kids navigating COVID-19] Good stress vs. toxic stress Under stress as they may have been in the last year-and-a-half, many children, supported by their families and social networks, have bolstered their natural resilience. Others’ normal physiological response to stress (which should come and go) has become a more pervasive and pathologic one. Some children have developed good coping skills, like talking to their families or doing a relaxing activity, while others have developed deleterious ones, such as being on screens endlessly. Changing Lives and Mixed Messages At first, it was very normal for us all to shrink back, put our social activities on hold as well as our kids’. At that time it was easy enough to explain to our kids that we needed to hold back on birthday parties, indoor sports activities, and even larger family gatherings. Over time it became harder and harder to navigate these decisions, causing not only the adults to be in a constant state of stressed decision-making, but also leaving our children confused over what was and wasn’t safe, especially with changing COVID rates, vaccination recommendations, and variants. Mixed messages from the media, their friends, and literally everybody around them has made things really confusing. In our household, my husband and I didn’t even see eye to eye on some of these decisions, but tried our best to be very clear about our co-created rules and expectations. [Related: Nurturing your child's health in the pandemic's aftermath] Red Flags When I see families now who still haven’t started to navigate some social activities with their kids, I worry. Especially when I see kids who have lost interest in activities they previously enjoyed, it’s a red flag. Physiologically speaking, our bodies can tolerate being in a stress state for some time, but living in a chronic state of fight or flight is unhealthy and, especially in kids, can start to manifest as physical symptoms, such as poor sleep (having a hard time falling asleep, waking up earlier than they want), headaches, abdominal pain, and poor appetite. Add to this the stress of returning to a school environment in which they may not feel safe (COVID-19, violence, bullying) and underprepared (many kids got behind last year not just in their learning but in their study skills). In our house, we definitely had a slump in our kids' moods and their overall motivation and interest in learning, but luckily we are seeing things bounce back. [Related: Reintroducing play dates in a post-pandemic world] What To Do If you’re not seeing your child bounce back or they have any of the red flags listed, I suggest you speak with your child’s pediatrician. At this point we are really comfortable with these conversations, can start an evaluation, and then point families in the right direction. Schools can be really helpful too: Although many are understaffed, they are also very aware of the social-emotional struggles that their students are going through; a social worker or caseworker can be a really great resource. Bottom line: don’t ignore the warning signs, and take action!
Reflecting on COVID: Being with my family 24/7 has strengthened us in a way that I never could’ve imagined
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryLike most of us, the first month of the 2020 lockdown felt very confusing. After our family had an energy-draining cold while vacationing in Costa Rica, I recall asking myself, “Did I already have Covid-19?” Knowing how many people were losing their lives made the winter of 2020 all the more intense. One of the most heartbreaking moments I felt was when I came to the realization that my kindergartner was going to spend his first year of school on a computer. Remote learning was necessary at the time, but extremely frustrating. In retrospect, that milestone year in front of a screen (while, on occasion, our WiFi tempted our faith) was painful for all of us. My wanderlust suffered as well; canceling anticipated trips was a gut punch. Just imagine: your best girlfriends coming over, all excited about your first girlfriends’ trip together, only to be crashed by a global pandemic! [Related: Self-care during Covid: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] I wanted to scream about the lack of incentives I was used to rewarding myself throughout the year. My stress from working at home and managing the stress of my children led to my weight gain, sleepless nights, and hair loss. As a therapist, other healers like myself experienced our own pandemic trauma on top of providing care to clients and our families. I was in need of some empowerment. During the spring of 2020, I experienced a mental reset. I committed to an intermittent fast and went down to my pre-baby weight. I began to practice yoga and meditation on a daily basis; I felt reborn. A light had been turned on in me that led to a fire that could not be doused. That fire rose after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. My voice as a Black woman became more pronounced in my work and personal life. My connection with my chosen family and momma tribe was stronger than ever because of their support, allyship and authentic empathy. [Related: Help your kids capture memories of this strange year] Being with my family 24/7 has strengthened us in a way that I never could’ve imagined. I learned intimate things about my children that inspired me to start a virtual community for families of mixed backgrounds. (I currently have 2.3K subscribers on my YouTube channel!) It’s been a wonderful outlet for me as a Black mother. It’s been even more inspiring to hear the impact it has had on my viewers and interviewees, as well. I've been humbled by the willingness of estranged family members to participate in family FaceTime on Sundays and Thanksgiving. Taking nature walks with our new puppy provided the movement and vitamin D that was lacking due to quarantine. These intentional practices saved me and my family from going down the path of toxic behavioral patterns. I am so grateful for the shift that occurred when it did. It has prepared us for the return to human interactions. We now have a wide variety of coping skills to keep us grounded, and we're grateful in the acknowledgment that how we feel and think is what is in our control.
Ask an expert: Mindfulness tools for parents
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryYou know that feeling where you've been wide awake, engaged in a task, but were completely lost in thought the whole time? It can be startling to realize you have driven from point A to point B without feeling fully aware of your actions. While mind-wandering isn’t bad, it can lead to negative thinking patterns such as catastrophic thinking (e.g., “What if my partner is late because he's been in a terrible accident?!”) or other cognitive distortions that contribute to anxiety and depression. Parenting is hard enough without our minds playing tricks on us. Especially lately, there have been far too many moments when I feel like I'm phoning it in as a parent, where a whole day has gone by and I feel like I’ve been on autopilot. My ever-insightful daughter shook me to my core last week when she demanded, “Let me see your eyes!” after I answered her “Are you listening?” plea with a fully distracted “Yes.” [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slow-down] It was a gracious wake-up call that I need to be more fully present with her. Meditation exercises can help refocus us back to the present moment and create space between our thoughts and ourselves. Meditation cultivates mindfulness, a state that helps us be fully present with our children and decreases feelings of anxiety and depression. Here are four simple strategies to use on days you need to pause your mind and settle back into the moment: Walking Meditation Connecting our body and our mind by slowing both down. How to do it: Think of a phrase or mantra (e.g., "I am at peace"). When you step with your left foot, say, "I am," and when you step with your right foot, say, "at peace." Repeat the mantra with each step. Welcome your child to join you and pick their own mantra! Visualization Exercise Leaves on a Stream How to do it: Visualize yourself sitting beside a stream with leaves floating along the surface of the water. For each thought that crosses your mind — whether pleasurable, painful, or neutral — visualize placing it onto a leaf, and let it float by. Movement & Visualization Exercise Balloon Meditation How to do it: Envision a bright red balloon with a string connected to your left leg (arms, hands, shoulders, chest, etc.). As you breathe, notice the balloon rise and see your leg rising with it. Notice that it falls as the balloon brings your leg to the ground. Now, do the same with your right leg. Invite your child to do this one with you! Gratitude Exercise The more we focus on what we're grateful for, the more our minds drift away from what we can't control. How to do it: Find time each day (maybe during a period of winding down or relaxing) to say three things that you're grateful for. Of course, your child can do the same! Consider creating a gratitude jar or other helpful way to remember the positives in life. Kamryn Hinkle and Julianne Neely teamed up on this article to combine their expertise on parenting, pediatric mental health, and counseling techniques. They work together at Individual and Family Connection where they dedicate their careers to help children, parents, and families thrive by giving them the tools and strategies they need.
The perks of a pandemic baby
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryIn June 2021, we visited friends in the suburbs for a “pandemic baby” party. With all adults vaccinated and the older kids wearing masks, we gathered outside to hug friends we hadn’t seen in 18 months and meet the eight new babies among us who had come into the world during that time. Although COVID-19 was far from gone, the event was symbolic — something of a bookend to my pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience, all of which took place during the pandemic. My husband and I had planned to try for our second baby in late spring of 2020, but the uncertainty of the pandemic threw all that into question. However, after realizing that our lives were in many ways safer than ever with strict quarantining, and based on the encouragement of my OB, we decided to go for it. Many people over the course of the year asked me how it felt to be pregnant and have a newborn during the pandemic, often commenting, “You must be so nervous!” Admittedly, some parts were nerve-wracking. I wish my husband could have attended the 8-week and 20-week appointments with me, for example. And it was certainly stressful to worry about having my parents quarantine for long enough before coming to help after the birth. But more often than not, the experience proved to be a bright light in an otherwise dark period. Here are the four reasons I enjoyed having a pandemic baby. 1. I didn’t have to see many people in person. As most second-time moms can attest, you start showing a lot earlier with the second pregnancy, often well before you’re ready to share the news. Without in-person gatherings and in-office work, I didn’t have to take pains to hide my growing bump or morning sickness. In fact, some of my coworkers from other departments didn’t even know I was pregnant until they saw my out-of-office maternity leave message. [Related: A tale of two postpartum experiences] 2. I didn’t miss out on social events. When I was pregnant with my first, I found it difficult to adjust from having an active social life to sitting on the sidelines. Pregnancy can feel like you’re frozen in time as the rest of the world moves forward without you. Although I tried to remain as social as possible, I couldn’t help but feel left out when I had to drink water at a work happy hour or duck out early from a late dinner with friends. With a pandemic baby, most social events fell to the wayside for everyone. I didn’t feel like I was missing out because, unfortunately, everyone was missing out. 3. I got to savor the final months of having a family of three. Although the pandemic introduced an overwhelming degree of chaos for parents, particularly those of school-age kids, it also provided an opportunity to spend more quality time with the family. Without the distractions of playdates, activities and trips to visit family and friends back home, my husband and I were able to soak up time with our 3-year-old. Christmas, which usually involves a whirlwind tour of Wisconsin to see as much family as possible, last year consisted of the three of us making dinner and enjoying a quiet evening opening gifts in front of the tree. I remember moments where I just sat and marveled at my daughter’s beautiful face, grateful for her, our health, and our safety. I had time to be in the moment with her, before life changed drastically once again. [Related: Is your relationship ready for baby? 4 tips to prepare your partnership] 4. I had hope for the future when every other part of life felt hopeless. The degree of uncertainty, fear of illness, sadness over the thousands of deaths in the U.S. alone, and stress of working with a child at home were enough to feel like the world was ending. Pregnancy provided an escape, a chance to see the future through a hopeful lens when the world was crumbling around us. Bringing new life into the world felt like an act of defiance in the face of a relentless virus that took so many lives. I’ll always be grateful for the joy my pregnancy provided when little else did. As fortunate as I feel to have had a positive experience with pregnancy during the pandemic, nothing compares to the privilege of living a safe, healthy, and normal life. When I attended the pandemic baby party last summer, it was emotional and somewhat surreal. The other moms and I found ourselves reminiscing about the experience and swapping stories from the previous year. But soon enough, the pandemic talk got old. With our spouses laughing on the deck and our children playing together in the sprinkler, we decided to spend the rest of the day looking to the future — to the joys of normal, routine life we hoped were right around the corner.
Virtual Gender Identity Webinar @ Smart Love
NPN Jana posted an event in Community CalendaruntilWhen a child announces to their family that they are transgender or non-binary – it can be a big, nerve-wracking step. Children are often filled with worry on how their family and particularly their parents will respond to the news; and they are seeking to learn if they are still loved and accepted. Parents only want the very best for their child, but may be conflicted with their own reactions to the news. It’s normal for parents to dream about what their child’s future may be like and when the reality doesn’t match up with those dreams, parents can experience losses themselves. While these feelings are okay, parents can also feel conflicted with those feelings but yet also wanting to do what is best. In this webinar, Smart Love therapists will help parents understand these conflicting emotions, how to separate them from what you know is best for your child and how to move forward. RSVP required. Please go here to register. This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: email@example.com
A child therapist admits to committing these 10 COVID-19 parenting fails
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryI can hardly believe it myself when I tell people that I have been a pediatric mental health therapist for 12 years now. I mean, that is over a decade of my life! I would say that I don’t know where the time went, but I do. A lot has happened since beginning my professional career. I moved to Chicago, got engaged, and landed my dream job. But what really makes time fly is having kids. Nothing in my life has made me realize just how fleeting life is more than raising children. One day they fit into the palm of your hand, and the next, they barely fit in your lap. There are a lot of expectations about what kind of parent I am and how I raise my kids. After all, I keep up to date on the latest research in child development and behavior. My passion is in supporting parents and teaching parents how to be connected and attuned to their children. So I talk A LOT with parents. I am often told by parents I work with, “I bet your kids are so well behaved,” or, “I bet you never yell.” (Yikes, the pressure!) Of course, I do have to practice what I preach, and while I try my best to be a playful, accepting, curious, and empathic mother…I am also a “good enough” mom. I am not perfect. Despite my training, my knowledge, my passion, and my love, I am here to tell you: if you only knew how I epically fail on a daily basis! Well, actually, maybe it would help. Maybe it would help you have some compassion for yourself, because I promise you there is no such thing as a perfect parent, and good enough is actually all you need (and this is backed by research!). [Related: This is how to travel with young kids during COVID] So in all my vulnerability, I will share with you my top 10 epic parenting fails during the COVID-19 pandemic: Becoming so frustrated and out of control with my own emotions when my 5-year-old refused to go to bed that I threatened to throw out her JoJo Siwa Bow. Feeling guilty about my (above) tantrum, giving in, and allowing my 5-year-old to stay up till 10pm watching Naked and Afraid. (This went on for a month.) Experiencing the full range of working-mom shame when my daughter named each family member’s hobby and declared, “Mommy’s hobby is work.” Begging my 5-year-old to “Just leave me alone for two minutes while I finish my Zoom call!” realizing that I actually did not mute my mic. Spacing out from exhaustion while the baby crawls on the lawn…and eats actual bunny poop. Logging in my kindergartner late to virtual school. Every. Single. Day. Witnessing her announce to her teacher, “Sorry I am always late. We like to sleep in.” Knowing pandemic guilt has turned me into a “Yes” mom, and I have a trillion stuffed animals to prove it. Thinking that brushing my kid’s teeth before dessert was OK. Hello, child’s first cavity. Being mindless while getting my children out of the car and putting my laptop on top of the car. Forgetting about my laptop. Finding my laptop smashed to bits on North Avenue. If a child therapist can’t get it right all the time, take some pressure off yourself to be perfect. After all, we are in the midst of a pandemic. We are all truly doing the best we can. And that is good enough.
The importance of celebrating Juneteenth in Chicago
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryJuneteenth is the oldest celebrated commemoration of the enslavement of Africans in the United States. It has many names — Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day — but no other name has been used as frequently as Juneteenth. This joyous African American holiday began on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas. Many Americans have never heard of, nor learned about this historical event in their school textbooks. I, too, was once oblivious to this day. I can’t remember when I first learned about Juneteenth, but It wasn’t until the Black Lives Matter uprising of 2020 that it became significant to my family when I, among countless other Americans, began to see a shift in our country after the murder of George Floyd. [Related: What role should white parents play in Juneteenth?] Last year, in most Black households, there was a sense of reprieve from the endless supply of videos on police brutality when the interest of Juneteenth began to surface heavily online. A celebration of images expressing Black joy and honor around the country went viral. As a Chicago mother who celebrates Black history all year round, I found several virtual events scheduled during the month of June in which families could participate safely. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were not comfortable attending any of the amazing in-person events we read about. Not to be outdone by the virus, we took our children on a driving and walking tour around the South Side and West Side of the city to learn and see the historical contributions made by Black freedom fighters then and now. During the tours, we stopped at Black businesses, such as Can't Believe It's Not Meat in Hyde Park for lunch. We talked about what joy our ancestors must have felt on that day. And we talked about what it must have been like for the men, women, and children who were forced into work that never provided them financial compensation, nor security in the right to stay connected to their families — something some of us are privileged to have strengthened during our months of quarantine. [Related: Can we build anti-racist communities?] Although the formal recognition of the abolishment of slavery (also known as the 13th Amendment) brought much joy to enslaved Africans at the time of its announcement back in 1865, June 19th wasn't recognized as a holiday until 1979 when it passed legislation in Texas. It's now a state holiday in 49 of the 50 states (including Illinois), but has yet to be recognized as a national holiday. In some areas, it is a day, a week, or a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for rejoicing, processing, and planning for the future. Some would say its growing popularity signifies a level of growth, maturity and dignity that's long overdue. The recent acknowledgment of the racial trauma inflicted on people of African descent is being displayed in cities across the country. People of all races, nationalities, and religions are now acknowledging 400+ years of legalized horror. Honoring those that built the wealth of this nation is an honorable place to start the healing process — especially in the city of Chicago.
By choice or by force: Why my family will never set foot in a CPS classroom ever again
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryOur family has opted to never return to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as an education choice post the COVID-19 shutdown. I want to preface this entire blog by saying that we are fully aware that this is an extremely privileged choice that I am very thankful for, and am very aware that not everyone, and likely most in the CPS system, can make. Knowing that CPS was highly unlikely to return to any type of in-person school this past fall, we decided to move our children to a remote mountain town out west that we all enjoy visiting as a family. We never in our wildest dreams thought we would be purchasing a home and uprooting our children by registering them in brand-new schools this past fall, but…we did. I have three children with vastly different learning needs; however, I strongly believe that all children should be in school, in-person. That belief was verified by nearly all of the private and parochial schools around the country that successfully opened in the fall for in-person instruction, and stayed open. As parents, we knew we couldn’t stand by and watch our children waste yet another instructional year in “fake computer school,” as we call it. [Related: Questions to ask yourself when considering a CPS school] For the past six months in our new town, our two youngest children in first and sixth grade have had in-person school five days per week. Our oldest in seventh grade had a bit of a rockier start. He was initially hybrid at two days per week, then the middle school had to go fully remote for a while, but since January the middle school is now hybrid with two days per week again. He does so poorly with remote school, however, that the school labeled him as high priority and he is now in four days per week with zero issues. The entire district is hoping to be back full-time, in-person, five days per week after spring break, and it looks promising. My youngest is behind a full year in her reading due to the teacher’s strike in October 2019, and then the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020. What I view as the Chicago Teacher’s Union's complete unwillingness to even contemplate in-person learning drove us to this somewhat drastic measure of moving, but we couldn’t let any of our children lose yet another year of learning. Zooming in does not work for her, and improving remote school would do next to nothing. We are grateful that our jobs allow us to live anywhere and that our kids have been able to take advantage of in-person school. In closing, I would say that a driving factor of leaving CPS entirely was the attitude of the CTU and its social media outbursts, and what I see as a complete disregard for all of our children’s best interests. In the end we will pursue private, or move. Cate White is a B2B content marketing professional by trade and has lived in the city of Chicago for 18 years. She currently lives out of state due to COVID-19 and the CTU, but normally resides in the North Center area with her three children and husband. The NPN blog gives voice to our members' thoughts about parenting in the city, and the views expressed don't necessarily reflect our own. Want to write for us? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your topic ideas. Photo by Kelly Sikkema
Talking to kids about racism
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryPhoto by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash “Mommy, why are people protesting?” “Well, some people did some really bad things to a man named George Floyd and people want everyone to know that Black lives matter.” “But mom, what about the coronavirus?! People shouldn’t be that close together!” “You’re right, sweetie. This is so serious that all of these people are risking their lives because they’re tired of stuff like this happening.” I walk off to cry in a corner. To say that this year has been challenging would be an understatement. Racism is part of the Black experience in America. I can recount endless personal experiences but I wanted to delay the racism conversation with my 6-year-old as long as possible to preserve her childhood. But something about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor was different. The rose-colored lenses of the world suddenly cracked, and I was forced to confront it head on. [Related: Resources to help you talk about racism with your kids] I’ve purchased so many books to encourage her love of self — from the coils in her hair, to her beautiful brown skin. I’ve ensured she’s always in an inclusive and loving environment, and I’ve assumed my role as Mama Bear and will jump in to protect my little cub if necessary. Now, I have to tell her that the features I’ve spent so much time praising are the same features that may cause someone not to like her — or, even worse, harm her. I start the conversation with, “Some people won’t like you, simply because of the color of your skin.” She responds, “But my skin is beautiful! I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t like it!” She begins to cry as I take her into my arms. The conversation is uncomfortable but necessary. Here are some tips on how to speak with your children about racism. Educate yourself. Black History has been severely revised in America, so it is important to seek facts and understanding before beginning the discussion. Learn about the more subtle forms of racism. You may not have all the answers to their questions, but reassure your children that you will work together to be anti-racist and seek understanding. [Related: Can we build anti-racist communities?] Don’t make blanket statements. It may be hard for children — especially young children — to reconcile racist behaviors while having friends of other races. Be sure to soften the language and clarify that the conversation doesn’t apply to an entire race of people, but some people within that race. Normalize anti-racism. Buy diverse books and toys. Watch diverse movies. Make a point to go to restaurants and events outside of your neighborhood. Support Black businesses. Use inclusive, non-qualifying language, e.g., a movie vs a Black movie. Most importantly, call out racism everywhere: at work, in your family, and on social media. Changing the hearts and minds of people is a big step towards racial equality. The conversation with my daughter went well. She’s since followed up with questions and is beginning to understand bias. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unfair. It’s heartbreaking. Still, have the conversation.
We're nearly a year into the pandemic. Now what?
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryPhoto by Edwin Hooper It is November 1, 2020, as I write this article. You will be reading this in Winter 2021. So much will happen between today and the new year: the election (pause and breathe), Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s. That is a lot to take in under normal circumstances, but this year, none of it will be exactly normal. Whatever comes of the election and the intense holiday season, there will certainly be additional tension at the start of the year for all families. [Related: Self-care during Covid: Creating your own pandemic slow-down] The following is a list of possible scenarios for processing the holidays. Pick the one that most closely resembles your experience, and then match that scenario with thoughts about the new year. A. Your candidate won the election and your whole, extended family was in agreement and celebrated. This excitement wove its way seamlessly into your holidays and everyone agreed on a safe plan for a socially distant celebration of all the holidays (every holiday was celebrated because of your culturally diverse family that blends and honors all the holidays equally). Despite the uncertainty of what lies ahead in 2021, you feel so nourished by your time with family and friends that you sprang into the New Year full of hope and possibilities of this new frontier. B. Your candidate lost the election. You felt alone in your family of “other candidate” supporters and had to spend a decent amount of time through the holidays listening to their gloating, while you are terrified for what is to come of our country over the next four years. Some members of the family think COVID is a hoax, while others haven’t left their house since March because they are so scared. It was so disappointing not to have the annual all-family holiday gathering that each family did their own thing and never connected as a big group. You feel defeated and hopeless going into 2021 C. You got through it. Is choice “A” even possible? Is some version of choice “B” inevitable? Is choice “C” pretty darn likely? [Related: From slow to go! Balancing life post-pandemic.] The reality is, there is truth and possibility in all three. And whether one of these was close to your actual experience or not, we will all have had aspects of all of them and a season like no other we could have imagined. Good for us! That’s right: I said, good for us! Now is when we really need to celebrate: our fortitude, our resilience, our creativity in difficult situations that brought bits of normalcy and spirit into chaos. In addition to celebrating, here are a few ways you can take your lived experience of 2020 — the good, the bad and the ugly — and use it to make a positive difference in how you experience 2021: Make a list of challenges you faced this past year and how you dealt with them. If you didn’t like how you handled some of them, what can you do differently when something similar arises this year? Be ready! Let your feelings flow. If you are like most of us, you’ve been holding your breath to get through it, only to realize there is no getting through. Share with a loved one your authentic fears, hopes, dreams for this year. It is never too late to have a joyful holiday! Bring as much of the true spirit of the holidays into the new year as we can: generosity of spirit, goodwill, beauty, light in the darkness, charity, and lots of hope.
My experience teaching outside during the pandemic
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryAs with all schools in Illinois, Chicago Free School had to close its doors in mid-March of 2020. Within a week, teachers had switched to online learning. We thought it might be temporary, but schools remained closed throughout the rest of the school year. To help save money, the board decided to furlough the teachers for the month of July. We had no idea what COVID-19 rates would be like in late summer/early fall. An Idea Is Planted As July progressed, I was thinking about what do in the fall. A friend shared an article about year-round open-air classrooms for children with tuberculosis in Rhode Island that were convened in the early 1900s. They were held in sheds with a roof and screens all around. I began to research other outdoor classrooms through the years, and that got my wheels turning. [Related: Nurturing your child's mental health in the pandemic aftermath] Reconvening The teachers came back together by Zoom in early August. We had to make a decision about how we were going to start our school year. None of us seemed excited about the prospect of teaching inside of a classroom. I said that I did not see a point in starting the school year online, and shared my research about outdoor classrooms as a way to be in person with minimal risk. Two other teachers immediately latched onto the idea. After more conversation, others agreed to give it a try, as well. Once the decision was made, we spent mornings hashing out our COVID protocols based on CDC and CDPH guidelines, followed by hours of research throughout the day and into the night. We found outdoor sinks with foot pumps. I spent at least eight hours researching flush camp toilets for an outdoor bathroom for my young students. I researched tent and tarping options until 2 a.m. on several occasions. I placed many orders for all the items we would need to make this work. I went on early morning shopping trips, filling my carts with big storage bins. I made daily visits to the outdoor spaces of the building where we rent, to see where we could each set up our classrooms — including my own classroom, in an enclosed backyard. I spent hours trying to figure out how to hang tarps for shade and rain protection. A parent helped me erect these under the hot August sun. [Related: Reintroducing play dates in a post-pandemic world] Executing the Plan On September 8th, we opened for the fall. I welcomed masked children to their outdoor classroom. The first hour was ominous, as there was a storm and we had to go inside the adjoining hall, but soon we settled into our routine. Each child had their own beach tent set six feet apart, with a mat or little floor chair and a lap desk. They each brought pencil bags with their own drawing and coloring supplies. We read stories and had our morning meeting. We worked on projects based on the children’s mind map that they created with their questions and things they wanted to do that fall. Afterward, they would have free choice. Each had their own bin of puzzles, manipulatives, games, etc., so that things only had to be disinfected when we switched them around at the end of the week. We went for walks around the neighborhood, ate lunch in the tents, and went to the playground before coming back to doing quiet activities until the end of our day. We passed the other classes in their various outdoor setups in courtyards and parking lots, all learning in the fresh air. Due to mild weather, we were able to be out there into the second week of November. We had some chilly weather the last week of October, even some sleet and snow, but for nine weeks, we only needed to go inside several times, and usually for no more than an hour. We were able to observe summer turning into fall. On beautiful fall days, it was a real pleasure. When the colder weather finally came, we went online, due to the COVID surge at the time. The children took their bins and materials needed for projects home with them. We still met on the playground for over an hour every day. We took a longer winter break and came back mid-January online, with the hopes that we could have more in-person learning if we extended the school year into summer. Now, some of us are back in person in the classroom. But I think we are all planning to return to our outdoor classrooms after spring break as it continues to be a year of adaptation and flexibility. Lisa Rademacher is a preK/kindergarten teacher at the Chicago Free School. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and other members of Sophia Community, an intentional community in Hyde Park that she helped found many years ago.
From slow to go! Balancing life post-pandemic
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryAs vaccines roll out by the thousands, the days are getting longer, and hope feels more tangible than ever. But how do we balance it with the pace of the past year? For a lot of families and couples, the pandemic's slow down period has been a blessing in disguise. This is not to say that it hasn’t been difficult in a million weird and unexpected ways. It has. However, not having to go to playdates, attend birthday parties, and uber children to multiple afterschool activities has allowed for more time together. For my family, we now have a standing Friday night pizza and movie date which we all really look forward to. So how will we remember to just relax and play when the world quickly plays catch-up? Don’t think of this as making up for lost time Time was not lost; it was slowed down. There is no need to go full speed. List the activities that each member of your family would like to do and only commit to one to two at a time. Same goes for summer camp: Keep in mind that kiddos are used to having down time, so we don’t want to overwhelm them by booking every week. Just because we can, doesn’t mean that it's the best option for our family. Keep at least two days/nights free of activities Preferably one weekend morning so that you can sleep in (if all the stars align). It is also nice to wake up and not have to run off to something. I find that on Saturday morning, my children are excited for the weekend and looking forward to playing and using their imagination for the things that they wish they could have done while in school. This also leaves room for spontaneity. Take turns Historically, my husband and I felt that we had to both attend birthday parties because it was a social event for us, but in the end we would be exhausted. One idea we’ve had since is to take turns with parties and activities. We also take turns working out, cooking, and cleaning. [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] Make time for yourself Pick something that brings you joy, and do it! For me, it was to take a pilates teacher training course so that I can learn and do something new. Another thing my partner and I do is that if I have plans to work out on a Saturday, then we make a plan for him to work out on Sunday. If you make time for yourself, you are more likely to help others make time for themselves as well. Be aware of the new social anxiety I am finding with myself and a lot of my clients that there is a sense of feeling awkward in social situations. Questioning the conversations when you get home and thinking that you talked too much are normal. We haven’t been socializing the way that we were used to. It might take time to find our groove and make new friends as adults, and this is a good reminder that our kiddos might struggle with this also. Ease back into life with one activity at a time and don’t forget that "No" is still an acceptable answer.
Back to school…finally.
NPN Lauren posted an article in Articles DirectoryWhen Mayor Lightfoot announced that CPS children would have the option of returning in person, I went into a slight panic. It felt incredibly different from when CPS announced that the 2020-2021 school year would begin virtually, since the pandemic was still raging and a second wave was expected in the fall. But this announcement? It brought forth a sense of panic. We’d adjusted to virtual learning since it quickly became our new normal, and accepted that our first-grader, Amara (pictured), may not go back to in-person this school year. Our youngest daughter returned to full-time daycare back in September, which made virtual learning easier with only one child to supervise. [Related: Anxious about the upcoming school year? Here's how to ease your child's fears — and yours.] Through virtual learning, we discovered that Amara would push every technology limit available. One of our first instances was during the first month of school when her teacher emailed us explaining that Amara mistakenly deleted some pages from her assignment. My husband and I knew that it was not a mistake. Later, she started changing the teacher’s directions. For example, if the assignment stated, “In your math book, complete pages 5, 6, and 7 and then write two sentences explaining why Jim received more apples than Johnny,” she would change it to read, “In your math book, complete pages 5 and 6,” to finish her work sooner. We ended up adjusting her screen time settings to be extensive, but also realized early on that she may do better within the structure of the physical classroom. Her first day back was incredible and her mental health improved almost immediately. Simply being in the school building seemed to elicit a positive reaction and a sense of normalcy. She met her teacher in person for the first time and saw a few friends from last year. She played on the playground during recess and had school lunch — all things we previously took for granted. It’s still very different; the children are spaced out in the classroom, proper mask-wearing is enforced, there are no before/after school activities, and of course, children only attend two days per week with a large virtual component. [Related: Reintroducing play dates in a post-pandemic world] The best part has been the mornings she attends in person. Getting ready for school those two days a week feels so close to the before times and gives me a glimpse of hope that we will eventually return. She looks forward to those those two days and always has an extra pep in her step. I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe, in-person return to school in the fall.