Finding the Support You Need

Have you ever found yourself moving through life, certain aspects are getting harder, but you don’t really notice how much the challenges are rising around you until suddenly you are completely drowning in them?  

Im Lost Formula GIF - ImLost Formula Confused GIFsAs a freshman in high school, I started in the math class track that continued the trajectory I’d been on in middle school.  The problem: things moved a little faster than I could grasp in high school. I didn’t know where to begin in terms of asking for help, so I just didn’t.  I went through the motions: doing my homework, going to class, but quiz and test scores quickly indicated I was completely in over my head. My amazing, generous teacher spent hours after school helping me.  I grasped the concepts, but it soon became clear the pace of that course wasn’t ideal for me, so I changed tracks the following semester. I didn’t give up on the subject, but I needed to find a different avenue that supported my abilities better.

Fast forward to early adulthood and I found myself demanding help when struggles arose sometimes.  That, I painfully learned, can really push people away (as you may be well aware- but I had to learn the hard way).  In my current stage of life, I find it more helpful to try to identify what my goals/ideal situation, determine my needs, and brainstorm and seek creative solutions to achieving them.  I don’t demand something of one specific person, but I recognize my limitations and needs and reach out to find ways to address and support them with clear, kind, open communication to the best of my ability. 

My most recent example was this past fall. As I neared the birth of my (2nd) daughter and we were living in a new place with no family or close friends around, I knew we would need help and support around the birth.  So I reached out and was grateful to build new friendships nearby and also host several family members to visit back-to-back and be to care for our oldest (2 year old) daughter while I was in the hospital. We ended up feeling very supported, growing closer to loved ones and neighbors, and having wonderful visits both before and after the baby was born.

Are you comfortable asking for help?

Some of us have a hard time asking for help.  You may not want to be a burden on others. Do consider the weight your ask is on someone.  Again, this is why an ask, not a demand is important.  Perhaps you recognize you are struggling, but don’t know what would help.  How do you ask for help if you don’t know what you need?  

Asking for a specific help is not always the answer.  Often being honest and transparent with people close to us about our struggles brings the aide we need.  By opening up about challenges, even just hoping support is possible, we not only strengthen our connections with others, but in the process, the help we need has a way of showing up. 

What you are doing for those who support you?

 If you provide a compassionate sounding board and bring your skills and strengths to the relationship, you’re probably on a good track.  But if the answer is: not much, then maybe it’s time to find some ways to give back and show your appreciation.  

From foster moms to physicians, software engineers to stay at home dads, we all have struggles and successes.  Being honest with ourselves and others about these experiences can help us keep things in perspective. The types of friends we open up with will also make a huge difference in the quality of feedback and support they can provide.

Next time you find yourself a little off your A-game, consider asking yourself some of the questions below.  And while you are thinking about what you need, do something kind for someone else.  You’ll feel a little better.

Do you recognize when you need support? 

Do you let your close friends and family know when you are struggling with something? 

Is it difficult for you to let others in enough to know you could use their help?

Why?

Cleaning with Kids – a toolbox

A few years ago, a friend visiting told me my home felt like a “big hug.”  I thought a lot about that comment and my husband and I decided to make an ongoing effort to create a home environment that would feel like a “big hug” for all who entered.  Part of providing that is having the space relatively clean. Such upkeep has not always been my strong suite. In fact, as a kid, even young adult, my living space was anything but.  We’re talking cups caked in leftovers for months, a deep “carpet” of clothes…you get the idea. Gross.  

I was actually taught to clean though.  I still don’t claim to be any kind of house-keeping master (my sister gets that award), but as a researcher, teacher, and now parent, I have gathered some strategies that help.  As I recently watched my 2 year old daughter clear her place and wipe her table after a meal, my heart smiled and the thought occured to me…maybe I have a few tools that could help others in this arena.  Here is my toolbox for cleaning with kids:

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1. Everything has a place.  This may seem obvious, but I find messes creeping in when something new enters our home and we have yet to find it a set space.  Antidote for a hoarding: if you don’t have a place for it, let it go.  

2. One activity at a time.  Provide some limits so that when your child finishes playing with one toy or set of toys, s/he cleans up before heading to a new activity.  Okay, this is the ideal and who is so on top of their kid(s)’ activities that this can be upheld at all times? Work toward this goal though.  Allowing every toy in a room to be rolled out before you try to clean up tends to lead to you and your child feeling overwhelmed.

3. Offer 2 Choices: Do you want to put the chalk away or wipe down the board first?  Are you going to gather triangle or square magnetic tiles first?  Your child may propose a 3rd option and if you can live with it and that option moves things forward, I see no reason to object.  Limited choices simplifies and helps speed up the decision making process.

4. Make cleaning fun!  This can be a wonderful way to provide your child with positive attention by letting him know you are watching and appreciate his work.  Playful language like “put the blocks away quick as a wink!”, singing or listening to a clean up song (here’s our new favorite), or choosing encouraging language, especially to acknowledge when he does clean up (e.g. “Our floor looks so clean where you swept.  I appreciate your hard work.”)

5. Rotate toys.  Maybe look at them like a seasonal wardrobe- pull out and put away a toy or two each week.  When something isn’t getting much use, maybe lend it to a friend who you know would enjoy it.  Getting out toys that have been out of sight for a while tends to make them more interesting. This keeps things fresh, more intriguing and allows fewer items to be available for making a huge mess around the house.

6. Build cleaning into your routine. Have little tidying tasks that become habitual. Ex. Everyone clears their own dishes as they leave the table after each meal or make your bed as soon as you get up each morning, before leaving the room.

7. Include your child in cleaning when she shows interest. When your child expresses desire, find a way to let her help!  Research has shown it pays off to welcome little ones’ help cleaning.  They will learn to appreciate and be more willing to help later in life.  If they are shooed away at a young age, the motivation will be gone later in childhood when you want your child to clean. NPR produced a great story about this you can read about here. 

Finally…

 

8. Keep your eye on the prize.  There are always more tasks to be done, another floor to mop or dish to wash.  As you navigate the care of your space and family/work/health, keep a balance. Sometimes you can’t get sufficient sleep, all the dishes from dinner washed and read your child a bedtime story.  Even the perfect routine gets interrupted. Be flexible enough to choose one or two elements to relinquish on those nights. Dishes can wait until morning. A good night’s sleep and story usually can’t. 

 

There are tons of ways to get a house clean, but it takes the whole family to keep it clean.  You can often find cleaning tools for little bodies in the local grocery, book, department or even dollar store.  I also really like For Small Hands for their quality and variety for both indoor and yard care.  

Maybe you find housekeeping a breeze.  If so, I kowtow to you. But if not, hopefully you’ve just nabbed a skill or reminder to help make your life a little happier and easier.   I certainly know a clean space helps me feel more at ease. May you find a little more peace in your week ahead!

 

Book of the month: Escargot

I love to share what brings me great joy and delight.  As an avid reader of picture books (it comes with the parenting territory), I occasionally find a great one I want to shout about from the rooftops.  So this year, I’m going to bring you a picture book review each month of something that I (as a parent, former Montessori preschool teacher and aspiring picture book author) truly recommend.  So here is my first review/recommendation for 2020.

As winter blues, cold and flu kick into high gear, a little way to combat these downers is a natural pick-me-up: laughter.  It is an antidote to stress and discomfort. Tastes in humor vary widely, so I can’t guarantee my recommendations will align with yours, but I have recently encountered what I consider to be an absolute gem in the picture book world.  

escargotEscargot (2017), written by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Sydney Hanson, makes adults laugh as much if not more than children.  And even if it doesn’t entice laughter, it will leave you speaking a little French  “Ooh la la”  and probably craving salad.

Written in the speak-to-the-audience style popularized by the Pigeon books by Mo Willems, Escargot is the story of a self-loving, carrot-loathing snail en route to enjoying a salad.  The audience/reader is invited to interact, from making fierce faces to answering Escargot’s handful of questions (is your favorite animal the earwig or wildebeest?).  This androgynous main character is engaging for girls and boys. Modeling healthy social skills such as good sportsmanship, self-confidence, interest in others and even some vulnerability, the reasons to love this book are vast.   For as masterfully as Slater’s writing is, Hanson’s illustrations are equally delightful. Her colorful renderings take the reader on a mouth-watering tour across a picnic table filled with olives, cheeses, and of course, salad. Making a snail lovable in text and picture is no small feat.

This book begs to be read with a French accent, the worse the accent, the more you will laugh at yourself or whoever is reading, so don’t be shy, give it your best effort.  Targeted for the 4-8 year old audience, my 2 year old daughter and 44 year old husband love this book; it truly speaks to all ages. It engages the older reader with its francophilial flare and absurdity, the young audience with opportunities to interact with the “beautiful’’ and charming Escargot.

Next time you are looking for a good bedtime story, need a gift for a young child, or just want a light-hearted escape from a dreary day, you need look no further than Escargot.

 

Where Do You Focus Your Sights?

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” 

Charles Dickens

Sometimes we have seasons of change, other times are more “things as usual.”  Just as life starts to settle, there often seems to be a wave that brings up an “opportunity for growth” as I like to call it, i.e. a challenge.   

The past few months have brought an interesting new wave of challenge into my life: terrorists- literally on my doorstep.  I have found it to be a teachable moment: I’m learning a lot about how to decide when and where I put my attention.  It has been a strange mix-up of my home being misidentified as the home of someone who has upset a host of terrorist groups.  They are trying to intimidate him by stalking and posting (online) suggestions of harming my family’s home (which they believe belongs to this disrupter).  

So what does one do when your home and family are threatened by terrorists?  Well, there are a lot of ways to go, but human nature is fight or flight.  My initial impulse is to sit in fear and self-pity.  What does that accomplish though?  I started to reflect on all the people who don’t just live in fear of intimidation but who live with frequent violence in their own homes, neighborhoods and towns.

I thought about people who are mistreated simply for the color of their skin.  Listening to recent stories of Jews being the targeted has made my heart ache for them with a newly heightened sense of empathy.  Then there are the millions of refugees and migrants who brave life-threatening journeys to escape extreme abuse and poverty.  

My current conclusion: overall, I have a really great life and a lot to feel grateful for.  Does the posed threat of my home burning down and losing my children sink in? Painfully so.  But then I remind myself: I still have healthy children, a loving marriage, a home, food and so much more to appreciate.  You never know how long things will last, so embrace them while you have them.

As you embark into the future, perhaps you’ll ask yourself with me:

What do I want to focus on: the light, the dark, or the whole picture?20191127_090456

And while I recommend taking a moment each day for a gratitude practice, if you are ever feeling sad, angry or fearful, that is an especially helpful time to take a few minutes to ponder:

What do I have to feel grateful for right now?

Seasonal Shifts with My Favorite Picture Books for Fall

Each year as summer heads towards a close, when I’m not sure I’m ready to put away the comfy shorts and lake gear summer affords, I start to see changing leaves, watch kids head back to school, and can’t help but feel the excitement of fall setting in. Fall always gets me excited.  I take in the crisp smell of leaves letting go. I watch pumpkins plumpness pop in gardens, store fronts and porches. Cozy soups and comfy sweaters call to me and I head to my bookshelf to reread a few perennial favorites. This year, I add a new one to the list I just discovered with my daughter: Leaves by David Ezra Stein.  

 

These books deal with fun and rather mundane turned to challenges and fear-facing.  They open doors of new understanding and self-confidence, modeling for children how to draw on creativity to overcome new challenges in a variety of ways.  Several always leave me headed to the kitchen- be it alone, with my own child, students or friends…I mean who doesn’t want popcorn, a soup-making party and pumpkin muffins or pie to share with neighbors?

  1. Popcorn by Frank Asch (1979)                     fall2019popcornI have yet to find a story more delightful to a group of 3-5 year old children than this!  In Frank Asch’s Popcorn, bear pops popcorn -gifts from each of his Halloween party guests.  There is so much popcorn that the whole house gradually fills up with it and the party guests have to help their host eat everything up to remove all evidence of the party before his parents return.  Lesson learned -perhaps- and certainly exciting to watch the rooms pile up with popcorn. Somehow it still makes me want to pop it (in moderation) with each read.

 

  1. The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, Illustrated by Megan Lloyd (1986) fall2019littleoldladyA terrifically fun sequencing book with a spooky spin and sound effects that invite the reader/listener to physically play along (e.g. “two shoes go clomp, clomp”), this story is a must to read with your 4-7 year old.  One little side lesson here: it definitely opens the door for a safety lesson with your child-talk about the importance of always hiking with a companion you know and trust.

 

  1. Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White, Illustrated by Megan Lloyd (1996) fall2019toomanypumpkinsAnother story wonderfully highlighted by Megan Lloyd’s talent for bringing female protagonists and their pumpkin-filled dramas to life, Too Many Pumpkins is a creative solution to a real-life dilemma experienced by the author’s aunt.  Fed up with pumpkins after depending on them as a child, the main character avoids them at all cost-until they completely fill her front yard and she has to face her fear!  A change of heart comes with hard work and an effort to be a good neighbor- along with a delicious ending that just may leave you in the mood for baking. With a little more text than some of the others, this story is terrific for ages 4-8.

 

  1. Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper (1998) fall2019pumpkinsoupWith Cat and Squirrel stuck in their ways, Duck’s curiosity is unwelcome and turns into a squabble that leaves everyone needing a break from each other.  With Duck gone longer than anticipated, his friends worry and set out to bring him home. A good reminder to try doing things differently on occasion, have patience with less-skilled practitioners, and the joys of cooking with loved-ones, this tale is terrific for 3-7 year olds.

 

  1. Leaves by David Ezra Stein (2007)    fall2019leaves

This simple and sweet story is a great introductory lesson on seasonal changes. David Ezra Stein blends his classic style of gentle humor and perfect understanding of child development, this takes its reader through the seasons, starting and ending with fall.  Perfect for toddlers, this story is geared for children ages 0-3.

And while you consider all you may love about the change of seasons, perhaps you’ve noticed new challenges standing out like the fire-toned leaves  in your own life? Maybe one of these books will inspire you to get creative as you work through those new hurdles- like the protagonists, young and old, in these stories.  Happy Autumn!

Biking is Easier

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Two weeks ago my family made a huge leap: we moved from rapidly sprawling Denver to a small town in Michigan.  We moved 1,200 miles with a confused dog, vomiting toddler, pregnant mama, coughing daddy, 2 cars, and 4 storage crates packed to the brim…one might say for fun.  It was a total quality of life move. Not easy, but in the grand scheme, a relatively smooth process (maybe minus the family illness and anxious dog) that has already opened doors in directions we have been wanting our life to move.

One example of this is that our new home backs up to a trail, something I really hoped we could find close proximity to since we love to hike and jog.  Let’s just be clear, I am not your skinny, super-fit, ultra productive type-A (i.e. seems to rock EVERYTHING) kind of woman. However, amazingly to me, this pregnancy has been far more comfortable than my first and my joints have felt pretty good jogging (something my soul strangely has always loved and longed for) in moderately small doses.  

So….

On a recent afternoon I found myself jogging uphill, in the midday sun, pushing a stroller (containing previously mentioned, adorable almost 2 yr old), leash in tow attached to my 50 lb meandering shepherd mix and I’m nearly 6 months pregnant.  A tall, lean, gentleman with white hair peeking out from under his helmet rolled by me in the opposite direction on his bike, smiled and said: 

“Biking is easier.”

Yes, he is right.  100%. Biking downhill, solo, is easier than jogging uphill while lugging your young family along.  But what’s the payoff?

I used to justify my overstressed life with thinking that essentially the harder I worked (at a miserable marriage, very low-paying career, volunteering to the point of having virtually nothing left for self-care) was well worth it.  True I learned a lot, grew to love many wonderful people, and had plenty of great experiences. But when I took a few huge steps to trade it all in, with each stride my life became tremendously happier and new wonderful opportunities, people and experiences took the place of a life that was too ponderous to allow the fruition of my dreams.

So sometimes…by all means, I’m a big fan of hopping on a bicycle and going for a relaxing ride.  There are absolutely times in life we need to do a little lighter work (I’ve been to spin class and mountain biking…cyclists, I am not down playing by any means what kind of workout you can get on a bike- this type of riding is a different metaphor).  But when I hear the internal beckoning to challenge myself and circumstances allow it, be it a move to a new home/place, a shift in career, or jogging uphill while very pregnant, I always find it rewarding when I accept the challenge.

So take a moment or a few to notice if you are speeding downhill, at a moderate flatline, or jogging uphill in various aspects of your life.  Does it feel like you belong where you are or is it time for something to change? Find where your heart calls you and just see if you don’t experience the joy of Being in the Flow.

 

Finding Common Ground

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On a recent trip to Michigan -where everyone dreams of vacationing mid-winter- my family found ourselves in a hotel pool joined only by another family with a few rambunctious little pollywogs of their own.  We quickly struck up a conversation and as we discussed new awakenings, somehow the father of the other family turned the conversation to the pro life-pro choice debate. He had strong feelings about the issue, as many people understandably do. It is literally a matter of life or death…at times for the mother-to-be, always for the growing little one inside her.  

Historically, I tend to stay quiet (or a long time ago, hotly debate) when people communicate strongly in a direction in which I lean differently.  But as I watch the political divide ever-increase in the United States, people literally choosing to rub shoulders as much as possible and even live in neighborhoods with predominantly those of like-minded views, I see dischord, fear, and even a lack of our leaders being able to reach across the aisle and find compromise.  As Brené Brown points out in Braving the Wilderness, the current culture is full of dehumanization based on ideological differences…when we still have so much in common.  So on this occasion, I spoke up.

I didn’t attack my fellow swimmer nor pretend to agree with him. I focused on how I love that we can see things entirely differently, but both of our reasonings were based on compassion.  One was looking with compassion focused on the right of any human to get every chance to live. The other was looking with compassion centered on quality of life for both parents and children.

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There are so many ways to look at every issue.

No one formed an opinion with the intent to hurt others.  Both formed their opinions with a deep sense of compassion and care.

I omit my opinion on this topic today because this isn’t about me.  This is about us as humans finding common ground: with our neighbors, our relatives, our leaders, and those of different customs, religions, cultures and countries.  It is about seeing what we do have in common, what we share. This is a hope and plea that we see the light in everyone and remember as Mem Fox writes so aptly in Whoever You Are , we all smile, laugh, hurt and cry, share joys, love and pain.

handshake of the generations

I hope you find common ground in an unlikely place today.

Halloween Treats

So typically I utilize this platform to try to provide soul food with a deep message and provocative questions.  Admittedly, I love holidays though. One of my most treasured pieces of advice that I ever received came from a woman in her 90’s who I met one winter morning.  I asked her advice for a long happy life. She paused for a moment to ponder, then said:

“Celebrate Everything.”

So I do.  I find it makes life a lot more fun.  

Today, in honor of Halloween, I want to share my playful attempt to celebrate by participating in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie Challenge   of writing a 100 word Halloween story.  It is a tribute to one of my favorite childhood activities of making popcorn balls with my mom.  Back then, we used corn syrup and orange food coloring. My recipe is ever morphing, the current one is a little more like the contents of this story.  Happy reading and Halloweening in whatever ways make you smile!

jack o lantern on grass
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Halloween Treat

By Dawn Shea

 

Halloween winds howled, leaves danced, Trina shivered.  “Time for something toasty!” She knew what must be done.

“Witches! Fetch the cauldron!” A pot was placed on the stove.

“Light the fire!” The stove was ignited.

“Pour in toads’ toes!” Soon popcorn kernels began to pop.

“Add werewolf mucous and crocodile bile!” Honey and peanut butter were cooked and combined.

“Mix the poison.  Shape it into rocks.”

“Now simmer goblin gruel.”

Smoke billowed. “Ahhh! Simmer, don’t scald!”

The pot was cleaned, gruel added again. The sweet scent of chocolate wafted.

“Dribble gruel over the rocks!”

“Witches!  Grab a stone!”

“Delicious!” 

Embrace the Closeness

This morning I awoke before dawn to my dog yelping in her sleep.  Sometimes she gets excited in her dreams. Inevitably, however, my nearly 9 month old daughter awoke as well. “Mamama” she called as she rustled in her crib.  I slid out of bed and walked the 3 feet to her crib. I picked her up, gently bounced and rocked her. She made playful airy noises through her lips, flipped her head back and forth trying to find the right position on my shoulder, looked up at me, then started to settle back into rest.

I returned her to her crib.

Immediately she rolled around.  “Mama” she called out again. I picked her up, told her it was “sleepy time” and this time offered to nurse.  She gladly latched on as we made our way to bed. She tried to convince me it was time to rise and make sweet googly eyes at each other.  I again encouraged “sleepy time” as I closed my eyes and eventually she dozed off again, unlatched and started to flail in a way that indicates “give me some space.”

Once again I returned her to her crib.  Once again she flipped over to her tummy, inch wormed forward to the edge of her crib, pulled up to stand and called out: “Muuuuuu.”20180614_063106(9)

Again I slid out of bed, picked up my precious baby girl and began to snuggle and swing her.  Her eyes closed, her body went sleepily soft, and as far as she was concerned, all was right in the world again.

One could say “that baby has got you wrapped around her fingers” and to some extent that is true.  But usually she does sleep well on her own. And on the sweet occasion when she just wants to be held, I turn to gratitude: for a child who trusts me, for someone who feels safe in my arms, and a loved one who requests a warm embrace.  In the grand scheme, these tender moments of closeness are rare.

20180307_074621I embrace the closeness and just smile.

Be Happy As You Are

bodydysmorphia

As a teenager I encountered a comic of a skinny girl looking in the mirror and seeing her reflexion looking rather walrus-like.  I could relate. I wasn’t skinny, but people’s feedback let me know I had some element of lacking self-perception. It was the best description of body dysmorphia I’ve encountered and something I have long struggled with.  Not to say I’m a twig like the woman we all kind of loathe on “This Is Us” who goes to Kate and Toby’s support group for people struggling with being overweight.

I do have a hard time seeing reality though.

An example: this weekend I was (needlessly) eyeing with dissatisfaction my slightly wrinkly belly, softened with stretch marks from my earth shatteringly wonderful new gift: the chance to be a mother.  I was harping on myself and hoping for change and feeling a bit on the -as I judged myself- “bigger than I am happy with” side.

Then I tried on a pair of capris I haven’t worn in nearly 2 years.  Pants that rarely fit around my derier before I had a baby and here they were saggy and oversized around my back side and legs.  They are size 0.

Now they aren’t loose around my waist, and it may be a larger than average size 0, but I fit into a tiny pair of pants and somehow still struggled to feel thin.

More importantly, I struggled to feel happy with myself.  

Houston, we have a problem.

So now the work…the ongoing process I have been working on for over 20 years.  It is not to self-condemn for being shallow and out of touch with reality (clearly there is some of that going on).  The work is to keep learning to love who I am.  I am healthy, strong, kind, a caring friend, mother to a wonderful little girl, married to my best friend (who happens to be one AWESOME guy), a lifelong learner, and I happen to have a soft tummy.  So what? It’s still strong and healthy. I have plenty of other features I love- inside and out.

Comparison can be a hard enemy to fight.  It can also be a helpful tool. The fact that clothes which were once too tight are now too loose gives me a point of reference and shows me what I don’t recognize without the comparison.  It reminds me my body is in about the best shape it ever has been, so my work of consistent exercise and ever-improving eating habits are paying off (don’t worry, I eat three full meals, plus little snacks on a daily basis).

I may never look in the mirror and see my physique as most people do, but there is so much more to each human than what meets the eye.

I don’t need to be perfect to be happy.

I can love myself and others…as the exquisitely beautiful, imperfect beings we all are.