Hey guys. Every once in a while we lose track of who we are. The days become an endless series of moments in time just to get through, and, simply put, we lose our groove. I lost my groove, y’all. I don’t think it does me or you any good not to call this what it is. I wasn’t off “brainstorming great new ideas!” or “undergoing an invigorating transformation!” I was just scraping by, to put it simply. I went to bed tired. I woke up tired. I made meals and did (ok, mostly avoided) laundry in a fog, like my arms were fifty pound weights. I’m out of the fog now, but I don’t have shame recalling it. If you have found yourself in a similar place, or if you’re in one right now, you may wonder how to dig yourself out. How to reclaim your groove, so to speak.
Here’s the deal, though: I don’t know how your groove thrives. I don’t know what exactly feeds your soul or brings you back to joy. So I’ll offer my experiences, but they may not work for you. Of course, there’s a chance they might – so read on, will you?
Embrace a New Hobby
Even in the thick of it, when I was overwhelmed at the thought of washing a dish, I fell into auditions and voice lessons. This is my non-mom thing. You may or may not know that once upon a time I was a choir teacher. I studied voice, I led singers, I put on shows. That feels like a different life I’m in no hurry to return to or replicate, but this kind of thing still ignites a fire I thought was put out by Thomas the Tank Engine and elementary school attitudes. Being in shows – just preparing to audition for shows – reminds me I have talent beyond cute school lunches. It’s a reminder I desperately need.
Reach Out to Friends
Yes, I’m talking to YOU, INTROVERTS! I’m not suggesting all of the introverts start going out every night and singing karaoke, but really soak up the people you have. And not just the ones you always reach out to. Open up to someone new and let them surprise you. I recommend friends of different categories; let me explain. I have mom-friends that I can text “I’M LOCKING MY KIDS IN THEIR ROOMS TODAY” and they’ll totally get it. If I text that to my non-mom friends, they might call CPS. But the non-moms remind me there are shows I should make time for and books I need to read. Allow your messages to come from different perspectives. It’s good for you.
Um… Talk to Your Doctor
Yeah, this one should maybe be first. It’s the most important, in my humble opinion. But if you read the most important thing first, you might not read the rest, and I wrote more words! What truly helped me out of the funk was a medicine switch. To get to this place, I had to do a terribly frightening thing: open up to someone I don’t really know at all and say things were not great. But hey, this is what doctors are for. They won’t think you’re a weirdo. (If they do, see a new doctor ASAP.)
No matter what, just believe this: the funk won’t last forever. It just won’t – but it won’t go away on its own, either. So go get your groove back, you majestic unicorn, you. Do NOT worry if:
it takes time
it takes work
you fall back into a bad day after several good ones
You can buy pre-made meals at the grocery store. I know. I KNOW. They’re in the frozen section (or, if you’re fancy, the deli), and ALL YOU HAVE TO DO is heat them up. There is the optional step of anxious thoughts, like it would be so much cheaper and healthier if I made this myself or the sodium in here, my God, has anyone at this food place ever heard of a vegetable? You know what though? I’ve tried this step, and I do not recommend it.
If you’re like me (and the more I meet people the more I realize… at risk of sounding like a feel good ballad, we are more alike than different) — if you’re like me, you set some decent standards for how your day should go. From the moment your eyes open in the morning, you have things to do. Backpacks to fill. People to dress. Food to make. Cars to drive. And again, if you’re like me, you see all of this in black and white. If I get Boone off to the school bus with a full belly, clean teeth, and a backpack containing everything he needs for the day, everything’s white. I did it! On the other hand, if I’m screeching like a pterodactyl about shoes and throwing white bread in his direction as we run to the bus? Black. There’s almost no salvaging the day at this point.
You may not struggle with black and white like I do. You may be able to brush off a rough morning and carry on successfully through your day. But at night, once everyone’s tucked in, there may be a little nagging thought in your mind that says well, you didn’t win today. Even if you never think this (I assume you’re a witch, a good one, like Glinda, but still), pretend with me, won’t you?
“Jennie?” you may ask, “You opened this by talking about pre-made food. How on earth does this relate?”
First of all, thanks so much for asking. It’s much easier than coming up with a witty segue on my own. I’m only one cup of coffee deep, after all. Here’s the backstory: before I was the Mama, I was a choir teacher. I taught private voice lessons to prepare students for auditions. I lived and breathed music and, while all-consuming, it was pretty great. Then I traded it in for full-time parenting. To say parenting is “great” is an understatement. Sometimes also an overstatement. I know you feel me here, parents. All-consuming it remained. Once my kids got a little bit older, I decided to dip my toe back into the water of music through the medium of community theatre. To make a long story short, theatre made a huge section of my life white again. I was more than “just a mom.” I remembered that I was talented, I was unique, I was successful in other ways. That one tiny taste of the stage gave way to more — much more — I’m currently working backstage on a show, and as soon as it’s finished I’ll be diving in to three (THREE) more before the winter returns. And I’m thrilled!
(Come on. You knew there was a “but.”)
My goals, you guys. The ones that determine if my day was black or white? The breakfast, the backpack, the enriching, engaging, age-appropriate activities, the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry (oh LORD, THE LAUNDRY). Before the massive schedule shift began, I was panicked. And my sweet husband said this,
“Hey, why don’t you give yourself a week where you buy like, frozen pizzas and chicken nuggets or something, and just plan on really easy meals.”
I didn’t even give him the chance to say “just so you can feel really caught up on other aspects of your life without having too much on your plate.”
I didn’t give him the chance because I was too busy squealing something like “I CAN’T LET OUR CHILDREN’S NUTRITION SUFFER BECAUSE I WANT TO DO A THING!!!”
Then I refused to discuss it for three days. I’m very mature that way.
In fact, I didn’t give it any thought at all until I was having a rare solo trip to Target. That’s where I get most of my epiphanies, to be honest. I saw a frozen pizza (Target brand) that had spinach and goat cheese on it. I’m going to be honest, that sounds great. Sodium be damned. So I bought it. And a Margherita pizza for the kids. And some mac and cheese, some whole wheat crusted chicken nuggets, frozen veggies, and apples and bananas, because my kids can eat their weight in those. And I realized that, should I send my children to therapy as a result of me one day, “my mom made me eat frozen foods for a week” will simply not be on their list of grievances.
But, I’ll be honest with you — it feels black. If someone were to come over at dinner time and ask what we were having, I’d feel incredibly compelled to offer an excuse. “It’s frozen pizza, we’ve just been so crazy LOL.” (In my nervousness, I’d probably just say “LOL” out loud; roll with it.)
So this brings us back to the big news. And it isn’t actually pre-made grocery store meals. It’s gray. GRAY. Black doesn’t have to mean failure. White doesn’t have to mean unattainable success. I always say I’m striving for balance, but that’s exactly what gray is: balance. Moderation. Something in the middle. When you’re gray, you aren’t setting standards that are occasionally possible to reach but usually easy to miss. When you’re gray, you realize not everything has to follow a rigid schedule to be measured as success. Black and white is easy. It’s clear. Gray is muddy, and harder to see. But if you look for it? It’s there. So this week, I’m heating up frozen foods and making room for gray.
Full disclosure, I didn’t have a great picture for today, so here’s one of Jonah that makes me smile.
OK, it took longer than I anticipated to get these four lies out. I suppose the timeline I had in mind was just another to a long list of lies… but if you need to catch the first three, you can find them here: part 1, part 2, and part 3. Which brings us to the final lie (for now, anyway):
I am the only one who feels this way.
Now, I know we are quick to blame social media for constantly showing us glimpses of other “picture perfect” lives. And yes, to an extent, the general public *may* tend to post highs rather than lows, but here’s what I have found. When I’m feeling bad about myself and I’m scrolling through my timeline, I barely give a second glance to the posts that say “today is hard, I need a hug!” I zero in on anything that looks shiny and glittery, anything that makes someone else’s life look perfect compared to my own. But this isn’t even the trickiest thing my brain does: let’s say someone posts a picture of a a family fun day. All of the kids are smiling, everyone looks like they’re getting along, and I manifest this whole story about how this family is better at family time than I am. I read so much into one tiny image that I have suddenly put this picture on a pedestal that I can’t reach. And it doesn’t matter if this family’s very next post is about a baby who never, ever sleeps or a stress overload. I don’t see those. I only see the good.
When people tell you to see the good in other people, this isn’t what they mean.
Or it shouldn’t be.
What do we say 75% of the time when someone asks, “hey, how are you?” “Fine!” “Good!” “Great!” “Can’t Complain!” So when I ask someone how they are, if I only ever hear “good!” I think: I’m the only one who isn’t good. I’m the only one who doesn’t have a cute family picture online right now. I’m the only one who hasn’t showered in four days and has really stretched the power of dry shampoo to the max. Look. I know it isn’t easy to say “actually, everything sucks and I’m really stressed, how are you?” And, you know what? I also know that sometimes things are just good. And you should be able to tell that to people without having some sort of survivor’s guilt for being in a good place.
And so, here’s my radical proposal to stop this lie: just stop. I know. It’s easier said than done. But still —
Stop the comparison. Your life is your life, and you’re doing it better than anyone else can do your life.
Stop the fantasies. Other people don’t have the picture-perfect life you assign them in your mind. Remember everyone else is as real and raw and fragile as you are, when it comes down to it.
Stop setting impossible standards. Treat yourself kindly. Treat yourself like your own child if you have to; make goals that make sense for the person you are in the stage you’re in.
Stop trying. OK, hear me out. This one sounds like basically the opposite of most self-help advice, but here’s what I mean: stop trying to be something new all the time. Stop thinking “if I can do THIS (eat paleo, run a marathon, learn a new language, etc), THEN I’ll be good.” You’re good now. Stop trying to be “better” and start being who you are meant to be.
I’ve talked to lots of human beings, and if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s this: absolutely no one has everything figured out. You may admire certain people, and this isn’t bad on its own, but when you forget that you’re admiring qualities — portions — not a whole — that’s when you run into trouble.
This isn’t a lie that can be overturned by changing how we use social media. It isn’t a problem that can be solved by giving every simple greeting a thirty-minute therapy session on our deepest life issues. Rather, it involves looking at yourself with clear, unbiased eyes (as unbiased as possible anyway, because they’re your eyes so… just roll with me, here). Don’t let someone else’s victory equate to your own failure. Acknowledge the fact that you’re on different journeys, with different milestones, and it isn’t a competition.
But all of this isn’t even the very best way to stop this lie. All you need to do is accept the fact that it is one. Think of the most “perfect” person you know — the person you wish you could be. GUESS WHAT? They get overwhelmed. They feel inadequate. They make mistakes. EVERYONE FEELS THIS WAY — EVERY SINGLE WAY — SOMETIMES. When we compare similarities instead of differences, we find our degrees of separation are much closer than we think.
So, hey. Whatever lies you’re telling yourself? Recognize that’s what they are. If you can’t see the truth alone, talk to other people. Don’t be so afraid to show some of your mess, because other people have mess, too. They do. It doesn’t have to be the same as yours to be real.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:32
Hi friends… there’s been an unexpected hiatus here. I’m sorry for that. Life gets in the way, you know? But don’t worry, I still have two more great lies to share with you. Why don’t I just cut right to the chase and give you today’s lie right off the bat? Here goes…
I can’t rest until everything is done.
This includes, but is not limited to: food prep, cooking, cleaning, pet-feeding, dog-walking, exercise, devotions, and laundry (which, since we are not occasional nudists, NEVER really ends so this one’s basically a joke). So here’s what I do. I make a “to-do” list that involves everything I want to get done in a given day. It’s always really long and totally not attainable, but I make the list anyway. I feel great, intense joy when I cross an item off that list. Look at me go! Dinner is prepped – check. Beds are made – check. I showered – check.
(Yes, I like to include things like “shower” on my lists. It’s who I am.)
But, as the day goes on, my checks are fewer and farther between. Ugh, remember how I wanted to clear all of the too-small clothes out of Boone’s closet? THAT’S not getting done. Oh man — and even though I logged about 12,000 steps chasing after Jonah, AND took the dog on a walk, I didn’t specifically follow an exercise routine, so there’s another thing I can’t check off. By the end of the day, I’m spending a lot more time looking at what isn’t checked off than relishing on what is. Then I begin the internal struggle: do I stay up ridiculously late crossing things off? Or go to sleep a failure?
When those are your only two options, it’s pretty difficult to please yourself.
I fully admit I’m not great at seeing my own accomplishments. I work on positive self talk and setting reasonable goals, but at the end of the day, I like a list that is fully checked off. “Make a smaller list, Jennie!” you may say. Good idea! I’ll get right on that. Today’s lie has been vanquished! I’m done here!
…OK, if it were that simple, this wouldn’t be a persistent lie. Because, you see, some days the stars align. Some days I write a huge list of things to accomplish and then — miracle of miracles — everything gets done. I go to bed with clean floors, happy kids, and absolutely nothing in the laundry baskets. And the feeling when that happens… oh, man. I can’t even explain it. It’s like I’m invincible, safe and secure in all of the work I did. While the Bible says we shouldn’t be judged on works alone, for a stay at home mom? This is nearly spiritual.
So, yes, I will spend days and weeks and months chasing after this high. The coveted “I did it all” award. And every single day that I don’t live up to this outrageous standard, I haven’t really “earned” my end-of-the-day rest.
My thinking on this was challenged by my three year old, Jonah, who truthfully challenges me on many things. One morning, he had just finished playing his long-time favorite game, which I like to call “Dump Out All of the Toys.” Since I did NOT want to add “clean Jonah’s room” to my too-long to-do list, I told him to clean them up. He balked. He whined. He looked at me with pitiful eyes and said “but mooooooom. I can’t! It’s too much for me!” I rolled my eyes and left him in his mess. When I checked in a bit later, nothing had been done. I felt myself at the brink of a meltdown, nearly ready to get out a trash bag and throw away all of the floor toys. Then his sweet little voice asked, “mama, can you help me?”
I wanted to say yes. I wanted to tell him to just go downstairs and I would clean his room. Hey, then I could add it to my to-do list and immediately cross it off. What sweet satisfaction! Not to mention, his room is small and I could take that tiny list-addition and complete it in no time. But I know I can’t and shouldn’t do everything for him, so I said I’d help by talking. He looked confused. I explained:
“I’ll help you by counting the items you pick up. Every time you pick up three items — since you’re three — we’ll have a tiny dance party.”
His eyes lit up at the sound of this. Not long after, he picked up his first three toys and we celebrated with a mini (ten seconds, tops) dance party. He picked up three more toys, and then we danced some more. This went on and on until —
“I did it, mama! I’m all done!”
You would have thought this kid had just run a marathon. He was glowing. He was proud of himself. I watched him complete a task that first seemed daunting but then was done in less than ten minutes. Here’s the trick, though — I knew what he could accomplish even if he couldn’t. He was selling himself short.
And I am often setting myself up for failure.
I expect far too much of my 17 or 18 awake hours each day. I realized I couldn’t keep up my ridiculous daily lists, so now I have general to do lists and daily “DONE” lists. What did I do today? I prepped meals – check. I played with my kids – check. I wrote things I needed to write – check. I can’t explain how the “done” lists have changed my mindset. I still love lists, but now my lists encourage me instead of tearing my down. And at the end of day, I can easily read through a done list… and allow myself to rest.
“Hey mama, do you think if you won a national handwriting contest you’d be on the news?”
(Sigh) “MAMA. Let’s say you enter a handwriting contest and you win. Would your picture be on the news? I’m doing a handwriting contest at school, and I’m worried if I win, my picture will be on the news. If a bad guy with a gun saw my picture, he could try and shoot me for my prize money!”
I wish I could write here that I just made this little exchange up. But I didn’t. This was what Boone asked me before going to bed one night, and it caught me totally and completely off guard. I stumbled through platitudes like “we live in a really safe place,” and “no one at school wants to put you in any danger.” He was tired, thankfully, and decided it was OK to participate in the handwriting contest after all.
(I didn’t point out that the winner of a national handwriting contest probably has more thoughtful penmanship than my son, who occasionally forgets the”e” at the end of his name.)
(In his defense, this is some pretty solid cursive.)
Now is where I sadly point out that this conversation about school and guns happened prior to the recent school shooting in Florida.
And so, knowing that my sensitive, anxious child would possibly hear about this tragedy within his own school, it got me thinking. I had just told him no one at school wants to put him in danger. We just said we live in a safe place. How many parents of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had had similar conversations? I had no idea what I’d say to Boone. I had no idea what we would talk about. I didn’t know how to alleviate fears while answering questions, to simultaneously prepare him for and shield him from the world. And it led me to the the next lie I tell myself:
As a parent, I need to have all of the answers.
Growing up, I was privileged to have not only great parents, but also a rich community of caring, invested, intelligent adults. As far as I was concerned, these people did have all of the answers. Logic would only follow that when I was an adult, I’d have all of the answers too. Even as a child, I loved answers. I craved knowledge. I couldn’t wait to have everything figured out.
Hi, I’m Jennie, I’m 33, and I have very little figured out.
So when I sat down with Boone to talk to him about the shooting in Parkland, I glossed a bit over the gory details and reminded him about what to do if he ever sees a gun (go away from it and find a grown up you trust) and if he ever encounters a stranger acting suspicious (again, grown up you trust). I also winced a bit as I talked about what he’d do if he were ever in a scary situation like that at school: listen to your teacher. Don’t tell jokes. Stay quiet and do exactly what the grownups say. He accepted all of this much easier than I thought he would. I felt pretty great about all of my answers. And then…
“Mom, what if I die?”
Oh, blow to my chest.
I said, “Everyone dies sometime. You’ll probably be very, very old. You’ll have lived a full and awesome life. You’ll be ready. And then you’ll go to Heaven! Which is the best place ever!”
“OK, cool. Well, what’s Heaven like?”
Guys, I don’t know what Heaven is like. I’ve never been there. And I could have quoted some scripture about pearly gates and streets of gold, but this is not what Boone was after. I know this because of his follow-up questions:
“And what will I do there? Will I ever come back to earth? Do you think once everybody dies, God will just start the earth over again? Will there be dinosaurs again? Can I see them from Heaven, do you think?”
I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know
A small part of me wanted to give him something concrete. I wanted to give an answer for every question, but I didn’t have an answer for every question. So I used an old teacher trick to buy some time: “what do YOU think?” Then I realized I needed to teach my son something. Something that isn’t related to the violence or the afterlife or dinosaurs.
“Hey bud… there are some things we can know the answers to. 2+2 is always 4. Our dog is a mammal. These are facts we know. And then there are other things… things nobody really knows. You can think about those things as you grow up. I don’t know what Heaven is like, exactly. But I do know that I will go there when I die, and it will be better than anything I could ever imagine. And I do know that I will always do everything in my power to keep you safe.”
And we hugged, and we moved on, and I felt halfway decent until I realized tomorrow will likely bring another crisis I don’t have answers for. And when he’s a teen, getting his heart broken? Forget about it. I don’t know anything.
And I think that’s OK. I never want to communicate to my children that we can’t know everything so we shouldn’t try. I want them to know they can be 33 and still asking questions without answers. Learning doesn’t stop when we graduate from school. And I need them to know that not knowing something? It’s never a flaw. It’s an opportunity.
Thanks for checking out this week’s lie, and aren’t you pleased to know I tell myself so many there’s another new lie for you next week?! If this resonated with you, please feel free to like, comment, or share.
My son, Boone, is seven. He’s incredibly bright, he loves potty words, he is, at times, extremely inattentive, and he’s an overall cool kid. For the first three years of his life, he was an only child. I was home with him full time, and we filled our days with play groups, story times, and any other kid-friendly thing that got us out of the house. And while we played, I helicoptered hard.
(Look at that toddler Boone baby. He can make no mistakes.)
I know we’re all familiar with the hovering, overprotective helicopter parent. And I think many seasoned (read: tired) parents agree that our kids can really benefit from some distance. And even as a new parent, I was aware of this. Which is why I helicoptered discreetly. I might have looked calm and nonchalant, but in reality I was side-eying everything Boone did. If he took a toy, I was quick to remind him to give it back. If he started to wander off while a librarian read a book, I would pop up to collect him and bring him back. I made quiet toy bags if we went out to restaurants so he wouldn’t bother other customers. I didn’t do this for him. I did it because I believed a cruel and unfair lie:
The lie that my child’s mistakes were my mistakes.
I just really believed that if I was parenting correctly, my son wouldn’t be rude to other kids. He wouldn’t talk back to other adults. He would be, even at three years old (or younger!) a little model citizen in public.
So I was obviously quite delusional.
Time, experience, and Boone’s little brother all worked to cool me off a little bit. I began to allow Boone to play without my reality-tv level of surveillance. I’d cringe when a situation arose, sure. I’d bite my tongue after asking him “what happened?” when we were still in public and launch into an intense line of questioning when we were in the car.
But you know what really perpetuated this lie? The fact that Boone was – is – a pretty good kid. It’s always been easy to look at the good parts of his behavior and think “yeah, I did that.” And that’s why, when Boone got his first referral at school, I screamed “WHAT THE HELL?!” and cried for an hour.
Yes. That’s really how I reacted.
A note for those who don’t know: at my son’s school, a referral is a piece of paper that goes home to be signed by the parents. It explains the problem the child had, how it was handled, and if anything else needs to be done. OK, so now you’re probably thinking ok, if she screamed and cried this must have been really bad, right? Did he punch a teacher? Steal donation money? Burn down a classroom?
Umm… uh… OK. Well… ah, he was at recess, you see, and a recess monitor told him and another boy to not climb a hill. He did climb the hill. He spent the rest of recess on a bench. There was nothing further.
YES. THAT’S REALLY HOW I REACTED.
Hindsight, yeah? In the moment, here was the perfect little newborn that I raised who was TOTALLY RUINED because I somehow couldn’t get him to listen to authority figures. How could I have led him down such an unholy path? I was clearly an unfit mother. There go the Ivy Leagues. “We’re sorry, Boone; we can’t accept you into Harvard because of your first grade referral. Pity.”
This is so insane I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you all. But I do so because every single day I watch moms and dads beat themselves up over the choices they’ve made for their kids. Public schools or private or homeschooling? Screen time or no? Local, organic veggies only or food rewards? Music lessons? Sports? Are we doing enough? Are we doing it right? Are we ruining everything?!?!
First of all: if you’re questioning and doubting and overthinking? You’re good. Please, believe me; you’re good.
Secondly – and this one may come as a surprise – your child is actually a completely different person than you. I know. I know. Let that one sink in. You could do everything correctly (oh, you won’t – this is a hypothetical; anyway) and your child will do whatever he wants because that’s how he’ll learn. And it’s frustrating and infuriating and also real life. And hey, maybe if your child doesn’t test authorities in first grade, he’ll try it when he’s much older and the stakes are much higher. Some lessons are better learned early on.
So don’t believe this lie. You will make mistakes, surely. But they’ll be your mistakes, and you’ll learn from them. Just like our children, if we let them.
Come back next week for the second lie I (used to) tell myself… and, until then, try not to tell yourself too many.
Everybody has their “thing.” I didn’t know my thing was going to be creating fun school lunches day after day, but here I am, killing it. And you can too!
I’ve written about some of my favorite lunch-packing hacks before, and you can find them here and here. Today’s post is meant for the parent who wants to quickly throw together something that looks as good as it tastes. I assure you, I don’t spend hours on lunches. I don’t shape cooked rice into tiny teddy bears with black sesame seed eyes. I don’t buy a lot of extra ingredients. This is easy, achievable, and (just trust me here) fun.
STEP 1 — K.I.S.S.
In the immortal words of Dwight Schrute from The Office (US):
“Michael always says, ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ Great advice. Hurts my feelings every time.”
I know this post is about taking your three second lunches and turning them into *maybe* five minute lunches but y’all, you have to keep it simple. (Stupid.) (Sorry.)
Come up with some easy things that 1) your kids like and WILL EAT (this is important) and 2) you can quickly make. For me, it’s quesadillas, sandwiches, “lunchables” (crackers, meat, and cheese) and DIY pizzas. I usually have this stuff on hand and it’s really easy to throw together. I will also sometimes do hot dishes like mac and cheese or soup in this cheap Target thermos. It’s worked really well for us for over two years. I try to add a fruit and vegetable each day, as well as a small dessert item or yogurt. The drink is always water in a refillable thermos.
STEP 2 — MAKE IT FUN!
Anyone can cut a quesadilla into quarters, but use a cookie cutter instead and hey! It’s fun. A cookie cutter can also add fun to sandwiches, pita bread, and pancakes (if you’re packing a brunch).
If fairs have taught us anything, it’s that people love food on sticks. Your school-aged child is no exception here. I’ll use Wilton brand “Treat Sticks” (found near specialty baking items) and use them for fruit kabobs, deconstructed sandwiches (a small square of bread, cheese, meat, more bread, etc.), or anything, really. I’ll put cooked chicken nuggets on the stick just for the fun.
STEP 3 — FIND A TRUSTY LUNCHBOX
Or brown bag it. You gotta do you. If you are going to purchase a reusable container, there are so many options available out there. You can really use anything from reusable snack and sandwich bags to small Tupperware containers to one of a variety of bento boxes. I like the bento box variety because it helps with portion control and it’s fun to look it (see Step 2).
My favorite bento boxes are from Bentgo Kids (specifically for kids in Pre-K – 2nd Grade) and Planetbox (for older, hungrier kids). PRO TIP: Buy two of whatever lunch receptacle you purchase. That way you can pack one while one’s at school – OR – have a backup in case your little angel absentmindedly forgets to bring one home.
NOTE: The boxes I suggested may seem a little pricey. I can assure you, from a quality standpoint, these hold up. However, as I said, there are so many options available out there — please don’t think these are the only ways to go!
STEP 4 — ADD SOME LOVE
I am a huge fan of Lunchbox Love cards. They are sweet little cards with notes of encouragement on the front (or they are blank so you an write your own message) and jokes or trivia on the back. My now-second grader has loved these in lunches ever since he started eating lunch at school.
Of course, you can simply write your own little note on a piece of paper or napkin and throw it in. Add some jokes or trivia from good old google and you are set!
STEP 5 — REPEAT!
As mentioned in Step 1 — find your simple staples, make them fun, pack them well, add some love, and then DO IT AGAIN. Every single day doesn’t have to be a brand new lunch. Lunch repeats are the best, especially when you can make them quickly and your kids like ‘em. If I try out a new design or a new food and it comes back home, barely touched, I’m not sending that again anytime soon. Kids don’t have forever to eat lunch at school. If they don’t like what they have, chances are, they won’t eat. And that leads to hungry and cranky students for the rest of the day. Believe me when I say no one wants that.
I hope this has helped inspire lunchtime creations of your own! If you’re looking for more inspiration, look for my lunch pics on instagram @jennievanderlugt or Facebook at Premeditated Mama. Happy lunching!
Hello! Thanks so much for joining me into this look at childhood ADHD. If you’re here for the first time, welcome! This is the final installment of a series on childhood ADHD. If you want to catch up, you can find my personal experiences mothering a child with ADHD here: focus, part 1 and focus, part 2. You can also find a post on ADHD from the perspective of a pediatrician (and a dad) here: focus, md.
Today’s post comes largely from you, dear readers. I sent out requests on social media asking any of you with experience with ADHD (either for yourself or for a loved one) to answer two questions: When did you first suspect ADHD and what made you think it was a possibility, and What did you do to manage it? The responses from all of you were fantastic, so thank you so much for sharing! I’m keeping all of the submissions anonymous, but please know that just about all of these could have come directly from me (but they didn’t!). ADHD seems big and scary, but progress can be made and success can be found — especially in community.
Thanks for being in this community.
Without further ado:
When did you first suspect ADHD? What made you think it was a possibility?
“When my son was in kindergarten, he would get completely wrapped up in a TV show, and we would have to physically block his view or remove him to get his attention. He was very impulsive. He has NEVER been a good sleeper, it could take hours sometimes to get him to sit still and relax enough to fall asleep.”
“I could watch my child read a whole book by herself and finish worksheets in no time flat by the time she was in kindergarten, but I could never get her to remember really simple things like bringing her jacket or lunchbox home.”
“When I was younger, I was at the top of my class, but focus was always a struggle. Looking back now, I am so thankful my parents had me tested because it taught me that my mind doesn’t work the same way everyone else’s does, and that’s not a bad thing.”
“My mom suggested she noticed some attention issues with my third grader for a while now, but I brushed it off until his teacher said she was concerned because he is so far behind and he really struggles to say seated and focused.”
“We suspected it at age five. Our child couldn’t do anything that wasn’t very plainly scheduled out. Free time was a disaster.”
“I was diagnosed around age ten. My parents had to remind me to stop, wait, count to ten, and reorient myself.”
“My adult son was diagnosed in seventh grade. He was always hyper as a child, so my husband and I suspected it as early as age three.”
What did you do to manage ADHD?
**Note: I’m not including medications in this list, though several people (almost everyone) included them in some way in their management plans. Medications can and do help, as I’ve mentioned already, but that’s a conversation you’ll need to have with a medical doctor.**
“Structure, organization, verbal rewards for good choices.”
“I needed to create a quiet work space without distractions for my daughter so she could focus on her schoolwork. She also does her school work at the same time each day.”
“Routine, no red dye, cognitive behavior therapy.”
“We would do homework in small increments and pause to literally run around the house a couple times and then back to homework. Also, working toward rewards would inspire him. He would also need detailed instructions. ‘Go clean up your room’ never got him anywhere. ‘Clothes off the floor and downstairs, bed made, vacuum…’”
“I found yelling and getting worked up did NOT help. As frustrated as I would get, I needed to talk to my daughter in a really calm and clear voice, giving simple but direct instructions once she was giving me eye contact. She needed really clear guidelines and structure.”
“We use a board in the morning to help him remember what he needs to do and I’ve started writing reminders on his hand on the key things to bring home from school everyday. L for Lunchbox, C for Coat, etc. We also have a 504 plan (Individualized Education Plan) at school so his teachers are aware of his struggles.”
“I think the best thing my parents ever did was always tell me that having ADHD did not mean I couldn’t do just as much and be just as successful as everyone else; it just meant I’d sometimes have to do things in a different way.”
If you have anything you’d like to add, please do so in the comments! I’m grateful for the dialogue and awesome notes I’ve received from so many of you. This concludes the Premeditated Mama ADHD series, but I’d always love to further the discussion with you one on one! If you aren’t already a member, join the “Premeditated Mama” page on facebook and let’s continue this journey together.
This is the third part in a series about ADHD, especially as it pertains to children in elementary school. For the first two parts, see here and here.
Today’s post comes to you from my husband, who also happens to be a pediatrician. He’ll share his thoughts with ADHD as both doctor and dad. He’s graciously making himself available for questions, so leave a comment if you have anything to ask him!
And now, Dr. Jason:
First, a plug for a great resource online in case you haven’t come across this yet: HealthyChildren.org. This is a website with great articles about many common childhood concerns from healthy eating to mental health issues. It is run by the American Academy of Pediatrics. I agree with the AAP on 99% of issues (happy to discuss the other 1%) and would definitely recommend this resource to all parents.
So you’ve got a kid with “behavior” problems. This could be caused by a large list of issues. Poor sleep, from things like undertreated allergies, snoring, etc. can cause difficulties during the day. Learning difficulties, like dyslexia, can show up as problems in the classroom. When I was in first grade I had trouble completing my daily tasks, and was almost held back a year. Turns out that I needed glasses and couldn’t read the goals/tasks written on the chalkboard.
One thing that can cause behavior problems is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Here I’ll attempt to give a brief overview of what this is and how to recognize it.
What is ADHD?
Different parts of our brain are responsible for different tasks. At the very front of your brain (just behind your forehead) is the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that is in charge of attention, impulse control and planning. In kids with ADHD, this part of the brain is underactive, relative to the rest of the brain.
If you are on your way to pick up the laundry and get a notification on your phone, your prefrontal cortex says “You need to go get the dirty clothes before you stop and do something else.” If you have ADHD, this doesn’t happen. You get distracted and stop to check your phone. You may end up spending 25 minutes checking Facebook, Instagram and Flappy Bird (apparently no longer supported on iOS 11, RIP little bird.)
In school, kids with ADHD have trouble controlling their impulses; they may get out of their seats at inappropriate times. They have trouble switching their focus and attention and have a hard time changing tasks. They may, like my son did, get up and wander around the room for 10-15 minutes aimlessly.
Symptoms of ADHD
Kids with ADHD can have a variety of symptoms, with some kids having more issues in some areas than others. Hallmark symptoms of ADHD include impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity. There used to be two separate diagnoses: ADD and ADHD. Currently it is all called ADHD, and is divided into categories such as ADHD inattentive type, or ADHD hyperactive type.
We all have times when our prefrontal cortex is “underperforming.” This is like when you are useless in the morning until you’ve had your coffee or Diet Coke. The difference with ADHD is that this occurs on a very regular basis and interferes with daily functioning.
Treatment of ADHD
It’s counterintuitive, but hyperactive, distractible kids are often treated with stimulants. The idea is to increase the activity in that prefrontal cortex, giving them the ability to focus and control impulses when it’s needed.
There are other groups of medicines that can also be used depending on the type of symptoms the child is having and the response to routine medications. Understanding these meds, how they work and when they should be used goes beyond the basic scope of this discussion. Just be aware that your pediatrician may suggest things outside of Ritalin/Concerta/etc.
Aside from just treating with pills, there is a lot that parents/teachers can do to help kids with ADHD. Primarily, understanding what the problem is and keeping that in mind is a big first step. If your child has ADHD and you keep yelling instructions at them, thinking they just aren’t listening, you could be making their struggle worse. I try to educate parents on how to help a child with ADHD focus and get a task done. Getting the teacher involved is also important. Sometimes an IEP (individualized education plan) is needed to lay out specific plans/goals/consequences.
So when should you try medications? It’s different with every child, but as a pediatrician I always use meds when the potential benefit outweighs the potential risk. This is the case for all medical problems such as ear infections, asthma and ADHD. Some kids are picky eaters and on the low end of the growth chart, so I might be slower to start a stimulant with them, as they can cause decreased appetite. On the other end of things, I’ve seen kids who have seriously needed treatment for mental health issues that parents refused to act on because of the stigma, and my heart breaks for them. So my advice is to be willing to have the discussion with your doctor about what non-pharmacological things you can try, but be open to the use of medication if needed.
Prognosis of ADHD
When recognized and addressed early, kids with ADHD tend to do pretty well. There may be a “transition” period while you figure out what interventions/strategies/meds are right for you. As kids grow up, some of them may outgrow their symptoms or form their career/lifestyle in a way that meds aren’t needed. Some may continue to need some medications as adults.
“When I was your age…”
I have heard many people say they think ADHD is over diagnosed and over treated these days. I don’t have a solid answer for these people. Are there some kids who are having different issues who just get thrown on medications? Absolutely. Are there some kids who struggle longer than they need to because people tend to neglect mental health in children? Absolutely.
What it comes down to is finding a good pediatrician or family physician that you feel comfortable bringing your concerns to, and that spends the time investigating the issue and explaining to you what they are thinking and why.
My experience with ADHD
From a relatively young age, around 3, I noticed my son excelled at many things like language and learning. In terms of gross and fine motor development, he was average. One area he was behind in was attention and focus. This is hard to define explicitly in a 3 year old. As he entered Kindergarten, I mentioned this in passing to his teacher. He was not a “wild child” and didn’t have big issues with hyperactivity, so from a teacher standpoint it wasn’t a big issue. Same thing starting 1st grade, I had my concerns but it wasn’t affecting his daily functioning. My wife, the Premeditated Mama, was maybe starting to see what I was seeing. Then we got an email from the teacher. “Wandering” was the subject. Basically, she was concerned that he often would get distracted and be unproductive.
I TOLD YOU SO
…This is what I silently said. In reality, what I said was “Oh yeah, why don’t we look into that more.”
After getting an evaluation from his actual pediatrician, we started him on a trial of the first-line meds for ADHD, a stimulant called Concerta. I will leave it to Premeditated Mama to describe our experience once we started treatment, both meds and behavioral, for ADHD.