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  1. Event
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    When 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: amber.guenther@smartlovefamily.org
  2. I 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.
  3. Juneteenth 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.
  4. Our 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 lauren@npnparents.org with your topic ideas. Photo by Kelly Sikkema
  5. Article

    Talking to kids about racism

    Photo 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.
  6. Photo 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.
  7. As 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.
  8. Article
    As 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.
  9. Article

    Back to school…finally.

    When 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.

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