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Welcome to 5th Grade

August 16, 2018

Last week Sophie started fifth grade. Fifth grade. The last year of elementary school.

I don’t remember crying when Sophie started kindergarten. Maybe because by that time, she already completed three years of preschool. But for some reason, starting fifth grade was tough for me. I think because it symbolizes the end of an era; the end of the elementary, or kid years.

Next year, Sophie will go to middle school, which she is SO excited about. I’m not at all worried about her being at a large school and changing classes. We’re used to large from our former city life. But I fell apart when I realized this will be the last year I can take a photo of her at her classroom desk at back-to-school night.

Everywhere I look, the signs show she’s getting older. I see all the activities for children around town – activities like storytime and community festivals, events that she and I always attended together when she was young. And it makes me a bit sad realizing she’s now too old for all those things. The little kids are not her anymore. I like that she’s getting older, asking new questions, and wants to participate in all these new activities and challenges. But at the same time, it’s bittersweet knowing all that time has passed and she’s a full-on tween now. I keep thinking about Gretchen Rubin’s extremely moving story about parenting, which she described as this: “The days are long but the years are short.” This is SO true!

I’m so incredibly proud of Sophie. Two years ago, she transferred to a new school — in a new city — where she didn’t know a single person. She’s done so well academically, making new friends, getting involved in different activities, and adapting to her new home. I wish I was as strong as Sophie when I was that age.

We’re now into the second week of fifth grade, and I have a good feeling about the year ahead. I make this first-day-of-school photo collage every year so we can look back at how far she’s come.

I use Picmonkey to create this if you want to make one for yourself. It’s my favorite photo editing tool, and it’s free!

First day of school for my fifth grader.

Riding the bus to and from school has been great for Sophie, and life-changing for me. We love our bus driver! Sophie forgot to pose for the obligatory “getting on the school bus” photo. So our driver made her go back for the photo. So glad he understands these priorities!

Sophie’s school has a back-to-school night the evening before school starts so we can meet her teacher and see the classroom. Here’s the last photo I’ll take of her at her classroom desk.

Cheers to a great year of school!

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Reflections on Two Years in Indiana

August 7, 2018

When I announced on this blog that we were moving from San Diego to Indiana, I started the post with the following paragraph:

In You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly makes the difficult decision to close her beloved The Shop Around the Corner children’s bookstore. It’s a decision that, she notes, was not an easy one as the shop was such a large part of her life since she was a young girl. When she tells the older and wiser Birdie of the plan, her friend replies, “Closing the store is the brave thing to do … you are daring to imagine that you could have a different life.”

Last month marked two years since we moved to Indiana. At that time, I never could have imagined the different life I have today. But I am so grateful for it.

On July 24, 2016, I drove away in a packed car, along with Sophie, two dogs, a cat, and a nervous excitement for the road trip and new life ahead. One of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had in my life was driving that four days across country, away from San Diego and toward Terre Haute. There was something incredibly freeing about knowing that all I had was the open road ahead and what was in the car with me. Even if I wanted to turn back, there was not a home to go back to (in the general sense). I don’t remember ever feeling that unconfined in my entire life — there was no going backwards; only forward, to a new idea of home.

On July 27, 2016, I pulled into the driveway of our new home in Terre Haute. I (literally) did not know one soul in town. I had no idea where anything was and had to use Google Maps to find the closest grocery store and coffee shop. I was a complete stranger in my new town. I slowly started meeting people, going to events around town, and joining Sophie’s  school PTO. A few months later, I was almost jubilant the first time I ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store.

About a month after we moved to Indiana, I wrote this blog post about my observations of Midwest life and how it differed from Southern California. So much of this still rings true. I’m still in awe of the lush greenery, towering trees, and vast open spaces around me. I’ve never in my life felt this “free” in my surroundings, and I love experiencing the four seasons and seeing nature change before my eyes.

I’ve come to love living in Indiana for other reasons too. Living here – and moving out of my bubble – has given me a new understanding and perspective when it comes to understanding friends, neighbors and those that may have different political affiliations and backgrounds. That new perspective led to my editorial about how moving from a blue state to a red state changed my life. Living here also helped me write other pieces, such as this one about how we can honor Anthony Bourdain’s legacy by embracing one of the guiding principles that was present through his daily work: going to parts unknown and getting to know “the other.”

It’s surreal to know I never would have these new perspectives and written these pieces had we not moved to Indiana.

Moving to Terre Haute also helped me take ownership of my health and wellness. And living here helped me fall in love with running, and how running throughout the seasons would become a life-changing experience. I now crave being outdoors and exploring new trails, parks and sights in a way I’ve never felt before.

While I’m an introvert at heart, I can’t imagine not sharing this life with the wonderful friends I’ve met here, and I’m so grateful for my new tribe of people. And while not every moment of our life in Indiana has been happy and stress-free, I am so grateful I have the life I do. My core feels home. I belong in this place — both physical and mental — with everything that symbolizes home to me.

If there’s one truth I’ve learned in my two years in Indiana, it’s this: with every change comes new opportunities, new perspectives, new experiences, and new people. I can’t imagine being in a parallel universe where I didn’t have this life. And while change is scary, it’s not something to necessarily fear. Because you never know what may be on the other side of that door to a different life.

Parenting: A Daily Lesson in Failure

July 12, 2018

There’s a scene in one of my favorite television shows, “The Killing,” where the main character, Sarah Linden, describes the never-ending cycle of failure and success that is being a police officer.

You try, but you have go to home at night, worried you didn’t do enough; maybe you missed something. You fail every day, and you keep coming back.

If you watch the show, you’ll see how this describes more than one situation for the plot and characters. But for me, this piece of dialogue perfectly describes how it feels to be a parent.

I’m going on 11 years of being a mom this November. And more often than not, I still feel like I have no clue what I’m doing. I do my best to choose my words carefully and parent to what works for Sophie. But I’m not perfect, and I slip up and feel like I failed. And all the work I did that day goes out the window.

I ask myself often: Are my expectations too high? Should I bite my tongue more than I do? Should I not have talked to Sophie about her attitude? Or maybe I shouldn’t have suggested she do/say/wear this or that?

Or most recently, why did I completely lose my cool over mayonnaise?

Let me explain.

Sophie was making a turkey sandwich for lunch. She cut the crusts off the slices of wheat bread (I held my tongue at the crust removal) and then began spreading Hellman’s on the bread. “I don’t know why people don’t like mayonnaise,” she said. “I love it!”

I agree with Sophie’s assessment of mayo, as the condiment accompanies my turkey sandwiches too. But as she finished making her lunch, she placed her tongue to the mayo-lined spreader and began licking.

“What are you doing?! That’s pure fat!” I shouted, horrified that plain mayo was going into her mouth. My reaction even surprised me. She looked at me stunned and started to cry.

After I realized what an idiot I was being, I (somewhat) calmly explained that mayo isn’t really something you consume on its own. It’s okay on sandwiches and in dishes, but it’s not a healthy snack or something to eat off the knife like peanut butter.

Why couldn’t I have said that instead of freaking out like a lunatic?

I’ve tried so hard to talk about food and exercise as tools to be healthy, and not in terms of fat and weight. I had a childhood where consuming sugar and “bad food” was akin to doing drugs and binge-drinking alcohol. As a result, I vowed never to do that to my own daughter. That’s why I was so ashamed of my behavior.

I apologized to Sophie for my reaction and we both moved on. She didn’t seem to harbor any ill will. But of course as I was laying in bed later that night, I was reminded of our interaction and I felt so bad.

Why is it that you can have a perfectly good day and then one interaction with your child sends it all into disarray? Whether it’s mayonnaise or a comment about an online game, or talking about behavior toward others, or not allowing hair dye … all these things inevitably lead to a downward spiral of negativity.

That’s when I come back to that writing from “The Killing.” I wake up fresh each day and try to do my best, and then evening comes and I feel like I failed.

Someone once told me feeling this way is actually a good thing, because it means that I care. I hope that’s the case.

I imagine this feeling never really ends (the joys of parenthood). But the worries and failures change over time. When Sophie was a baby, my family doctor described parenting to me as this:

When your kids are little, your biggest fear is they’ll run into the middle of the street and get hit by a car. But then they get older, and your biggest fear is they’ll be driving the car that hits the little kid.

Isn’t that the truth?!

So I’ll continue to try. And fail. And wake up every day and do it all again. Because I’m in this parenting thing for the long haul. And while the failures seem like they echo the loudest, I try to remind myself the successes are pretty powerful in their own right.

The Summer Bucket List 2018

June 21, 2018

We were a bit late getting our summer bucket list written this year. But it’s now hanging in our kitchen, and posting it today coincides nicely with it being the first day of summer.

We’ve been making a summer list since Sophie was 2-years-old and it’s one of my favorite traditions. But I wasn’t sure she’d be into doing it this year. She’s 10 (will be 11 in November), and her interests center more around spending time with friends, watching YouTube, and playing online games while FaceTiming friends. So I was pretty happy when she was the one who reminded me we need to keep up this annual tradition. And what was really neat is Sophie took charge and created all the items and wrote/decorated the entire poster herself.

Sophie has a pretty jam-packed summer with different camps and classes. But the Summer List gives us fun things to do on the days and weekends that aren’t planned.

Here’s what’s in store for this year:

If you’re looking for some Summer List inspiration, here’s what we’ve done in the past:

Do you make a summer bucket list? What are your summer plans?

Why “Just Ask for Help” is Not Always the Answer for Those Who are Suffering

June 12, 2018

It’s hard not to be effected by the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides last week. While few of us knew them personally, those individuals touched our lives in many ways — whether through fashion or food, books or business inspiration. Death is a scary enough prospect on its own; death by suicide is another monster entirely.

After Spade and Bourdain’s deaths, Facebook feeds were filled with posts stating, “You’re not alone” and “Ask for help if you need it.” The suicide prevention hotline was shared countless times. Articles about how our culture and society are to blame, and understanding the “signs” are making their rounds in heavy rotation.

While I know the Facebook sentiments are coming from a genuine place of concern and shock — and the articles are trying to be productive — reading these messages left me feeling uncomfortable.

I think what troubled me most about the “just ask for help if you need it” comments is that it’s not that easy to get help — not for a person suffering, or a loved one who is concerned for a friend or relative.

I, personally, have never suffered from major depression. But anxiety and its counterpart, Xanax, have been my companion more than once. I’ve spent time in therapists’ office when I needed support and guidance I could not find within myself.

But even those steps were difficult for me (a Type A, take-charge person) to take. It’s very hard for me to ask for help from other people. I often feel like I need to “go it alone,” or navigate what life hands me by myself. I asked for professional help because my brain was in a place to know when I needed it.

But so many people who suffer far deeper are in such a dark place that simply asking for help is not that easy nor do they want the help at that moment. Additionally, the help is not always readily given either.

I know people who have had to call every therapist on their insurance company’s list to see if they accepted new patients and could see them (or their spouse/partner) within the next week. One may be surprised at how this can be a Herculean endeavor. When you’re in the rabbit hole of depression, waiting for an insurance authorization and a week or more to see a therapist is not an option.

Many years ago, someone close to me was in a bad state mentally. That person needed professional help, and I tried to take action. I called their insurance company and talked to a representative about bringing said person in to see a doctor. But I was met with resistance.

Sorry, the person needs to call themselves to get authorization, I was told. Once the person makes the call, we can refer them to a doctor to schedule an appointment.

But this person isn’t in a place to even pick up a phone, I reasoned. How on earth would they be expected to put on a cheery voice (or any voice for that matter) and call an insurance company for authorization?

Sorry, that’s all we can do, the woman said.

I hung up and felt utterly helpless, and had to accept the fact that I’d done all I could.

I don’t blame the receptionist on the phone. She was simply following company policy. It’s the policy and system that’s to blame.

If a person has a heart attack, you call 911 and paramedics immediately respond without question. If someone is sick and requires an emergency room visit, the hospital admits them without even needing insurance. So why is it when something is wrong with a person’s mind, it’s so difficult to obtain help?

It’s also only fair to point out that I was able to get myself help – and attempt to help someone else – because I had the financial means to do it. Illness (mental or physical) is expensive. Even with insurance, there are limits for therapy sessions and most people still pay out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions, co-payments and deductibles. I had the privilege of getting help. Others do not.

Maybe times are changing. Maybe deaths like Spade and Bourdain will help reduce the stigma that’s so often associated with mental illness, and the Internet and social media will help shed light on a decades-old disease. And maybe the way insurance companies and healthcare providers look at mental health will evolve.

But most of all, I hope that people understand that when it comes to mental illness, it’s far more complicated than simply “asking for help.” And often times, understanding and acceptance is the best we can do.

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