Sleepover – Preparing Your Child to Spend the Night Away From Home

0

A sleepover is a right of passage. It means your child is growing up.

That said, your child’s first sleepover can be nerve-wracking, both for you and your child. My children’s first sleepover was with their grandparents. My children were already familiar and comfortable in their house and I was comfortable leaving my children in their care. This made it easier when it was time for my children to have a sleepover at a friend’s house. Some children love sleepovers and some dread them, so listen to your own child. If your child is ready for a sleepover, here are my tips to make it go smoothly.

children walking down a dark forest path

First, make sure you are familiar with the friend’s household.

Just because you meet up with this family in public doesn’t mean that you know what their home is like. For example, know if they have pets. You don’t want to send a child with an allergy to cats or a fear of dogs to a home with those pets. Although it’s awkward, you should also ask about guns in the home. If there are guns present, are they locked up and separate from the ammunition? It’s better to ask an awkward question now than to deal with a devastating accident later. Also, I like to make sure that the parents offer up an amount of supervision that I am comfortable with. I don’t feel the need for them to keep eyes on my child at all times, but I don’t want my child left home alone with her friend.

Make a plan to deal with your child’s special needs.

If your child has an allergy, inform the host parent and make sure they know how to use an EpiPen. If your child might wet the bed, make a plan beforehand so that no one gets flustered if it happens. If your child takes medication, either dose them before or after the sleepover, or let the hosts know when your child needs to take the medication. I don’t trust my son to remember his medication while he’s busy playing with friends, so I try to give him his medication before he leaves for a sleepover. It’s easier for the host to deal with a problem that pops up in the middle of the night if you have already discussed a plan ahead of time.

Help your child pack. If they are old enough to pack on their own, double-check what they chose.

The last time my son had a sleepover, he insisted on packing his own bag. I didn’t check it, and it turns out that he forgot to pack a toothbrush and grabbed an old pair of pants that were too small for him to wear. Oops! If your child isn’t used to packing their own bags, it can be a tough task. If you pack together, it is a good teaching moment for your child to learn an important life skill. Your child should pack an extra pair of clothes in case of a mess, pajamas, underwear, socks, and a toothbrush at a minimum. Also, if your child sleeps with a special blanket or stuffed animal, make sure they take that item as well. If not, you may be called at bedtime to bring it over.

Prepare your child before the sleepover.

It will help put your child at ease if he knows what to expect at his first sleepover. For example, tell your children that they will spend the night at their friend’s house, will they will play, eat dinner, and then go to sleep. You will come to pick them up and take them home in the morning after they eat breakfast. Depending on your child, you might want to call and check in with them. My husband and I did this the first time our children slept over at their grandparents’ house when they were toddlers. Now they don’t need that reassurance, so we don’t bother. I also like to have my children shower before a sleepover so they don’t have to pack a lot of toiletries or borrow them during a sleepover. It’s so much easier at home!

checking the time on an iPhone

Leave plenty of contact information.

I’m assuming that parents would have each other’s contact information if their children were having a sleepover. However, if you may be out of touch during the sleepover, for example, if you’re out on a date with your partner, make sure to leave another person’s contact information. If for some reason an emergency comes up, you want the host to be able to quickly reach someone with the authority to make choices for your child. While this will rarely, if ever, come up, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Having a sleepover is a great milestone in your child’s growing independence. They are also a ton of fun and will form some great memories for your child!

Sleepover - Preparing Your Child to Spend the Night Away From Home

Did You Hear the One About… I’m Overwhelmed by My Covid Home Life

0

There’s an old Yiddish folk tale about a man who is feeling overwhelmed by his home life. As a single mom, I feel overwhelmed by my Covid home life.

The man goes to see the Rabbi and complains, “My house is so loud; my wife is yelling and my children are noisy, and it’s a small house so there’s no place for me to have a moment of quiet. What can I do?” The Rabbi asks him if he has any chickens. The man replies that he does, and the Rabbi instructs him to bring them into the house.

A week later, the man returns to the rabbi and complains, “Now the chickens are flapping their wings and squawking and the feathers are everywhere!” The rabbi asks him if he has a goat, and suggests he bring the goat inside as well. And so it continues… Each time the man returns, the Rabbi tells him to bring something else inside… the goats, the cow, the horse…

farm animals

Recently, I’ve been using this story as an analogy to how my life has been feeling in these times.

First, the pandemic. Then, the cascade of consequences… schools closed, kids home all the time, support networks cut off by virtue of not seeing anyone… and resulting responses to isolation: overwhelm, stress, loneliness, and depression.

In my world, work also amped up, which has been extra challenging with the kids home all the time. I’m aware that for others, work ceased entirely, which brings a different kind of stress.

Then, out of nowhere, a kitchen renovation I planned back in “The Before Times” suddenly got a jumpstart when the cabinets unexpectedly arrived. Now, the kitchen is torn apart, there’s dust all over everything, I’m staying out of the house when the contractors are here (because, Covid), and making whatever food I can with the toaster oven (though mostly eating salads). How could I not be overwhelmed by my Covid home life?

Kitchen renovation

At a different time, I might be taking my kids out to eat every night, staying with friends, making this a mini-vacation.

But, as things are, it feels like another thing being shoehorned into a tight space without an inch of breathing room.

And then there’s the puppy, who we actually got in February before the pandemic hit. He is a bundle of sweetness, but he’s also a fast-growing puppy in a space with dust and boxes and construction mess all over the place… You get the picture.

puppy

All of this happening during a time of political unrest creates a general atmosphere of further upheaval felt even up here in relatively quiet and isolated Vermont. For those living in places where racial tension, protesting, and violence are occurring, actual upheaval has further amplified this already overwhelming and precarious time.

At the end of the folktale (known as “It Could Be Worse”), the Rabbi tells the man to take all the animals out of the house. The man returns a week later and thanks him profusely… “It’s so quiet and peaceful with just my wife and children in the house. I can’t thank you enough.”

I don’t know when (or if) all the animals will be out of the house under current circumstances. I don’t know when I will cease to be overwhelmed by my Covid home life.

What I’m learning day by day is that in order to be a stable and supportive presence for my kids, it’s essential that I maintain my own center and equilibrium within the maelstrom. For me, this means getting outside for walks, keeping my own space clean and organized, and creating in some way every day. These are my personal daily directives.

sunset walk

It also feels important to manage my perspective on the current political climate. I do this by trying to have an awareness of both the macro and micro; doing my best to respect both the universal and the individual perspectives. In action this translates on the macro level to meditation and prayer, and on the micro-level to learning about and practicing anti-racism, donating to organizations who are doing good work, and voting (to name a few.)

In addition, I’m working on making a “pod” or “bubble” for our family, so my kids can spend time with friends this year. I’m reaching out to friends and family, even if virtually, to feel supported and connected. I’m tending to my mental and physical health.

I do know that the kitchen will be done at some point. I spend about 80% of my day in and around the kitchen, so if we all need to be in the house together for the next year (or however long) I’m looking forward to having a lovely new kitchen at the heart of it.

And so, yes, gratitude.

Even in this wild time. Gratitude for whatever small thing is feeling good or going right. Right now, that means being grateful for a sleeping puppy and time to write. Later it might be gratitude that the contractors who spilled paint on the floor are giving my house a facelift (and also that the new floors aren’t in yet.) Small things. Moment by moment. Breathing spaces within the overwhelm. It could be worse.

Did You Hear the One About... I'm Overwhelmed by My Covid Home Life

I Can’t Quit Mom Shaming Myself

0

Yesterday I dropped a PlayStation controller on my child’s face. Actually, it fell off of a shelf four feet above the ground, directly into the eye of my newborn. The baby everyone describes as the Gerber baby now looks more like a bar fight baby.

Then, I texted my girlfriends. Instead of asking if I should call the pediatrician or seeking out solidarity, I immediately mom-shamed myself. I said, “Just gave the baby a black eye with a remote, call me mom of the year!” As it turns out, they had all done similar things. I got the solidarity but sought it out through mom shaming myself.

A woman texting on a cell phone

I’m not the only one who does this. It’s no secret that as moms we spend far too much time beating ourselves up mentally over the small things. How many times have you received one of these texts from a friend, or said something similar?

“My kid is eating a pouch for breakfast again, mom of the year over here!”

“I’m the worst mom, my toddler just jumped off of the couch and got a bruise the size of a softball from the coffee table.”

“Someone report me to the authorities, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is on for the second day in a row.”

Those are all real messages I’ve sent to others in the past month. I would never judge another mom for saying these things, so why am I judging and mom shaming myself?

In my opinion, it all comes down to mom guilt. You know, the feeling that comes after doing something “wrong” that seemingly-perfect Instagram influencers seem to get right all the time. The things that even though everyone tells us it’s fine to do, we feel ashamed of. The root causes of mom guilt are deep and systemic, making it hard to avoid, even when logically, we know better.

Recently, I asked my fellow moms what they felt worst and shamed themselves the most about. The answers seemed fairly universal, and I could relate to every single one. They shared that screen time for both mama and kids, whether or not to send kids to childcare or school, taking time for themself, house cleaning, mental health struggles, and lack of patience are their big mom shame triggers. Nearly all mentioned nutrition as a trigger. And many are trying to navigate working from home while parenting during the pandemic.A woman working at a laptop with children behind her

Sound familiar? Yeah, for me too.

I can see myself in every one of those responses. My guess is if I have a habit of mom shaming myself over these common topics, you can too.

We really need to stop being so hard on ourselves, mamas, especially in what everyone keeps calling “these unprecedented times.”

I know it’s easier said than done, but maybe meet yourself where you are at right now, in this moment. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, a racial justice crisis, and an election year fraught with tension. It was 100 degrees yesterday. And where did those murder hornets go? Did we lose track of them? I need an update on that.

I digress. Needless to say, there is a lot happening.

We are all, parents or not, in the midst of constant change and uncertainty.

It is a stressful time. Nothing is normal about day to day life right now, for anyone. So maybe the next time you go to mom shame yourself, give the gal in the mirror a bit of grace. Why don’t you try to treat yourself the way you’d treat your friend. You wouldn’t call your best friend the worst mom in the world for bribing her kid to get in the car with a package of fruit snacks, so don’t do it to yourself, either.

My plan is to go easier on myself the next time Bounce Patrol stays on the TV for longer than usual or I throw yet another pre-packaged snack at my toddler while on a conference call. I am also going to stop apologizing for taking time for myself. I know that some days this will go better than others, but good grief, I need to stop apologizing every time I go for a walk or I give my kid a very much not organic snack (I’m looking at you, handful of stale Froot Loops).

I don’t have the magic prescription to make the guilt cycle come to an end, but I know I can’t overcome it unless I at least start recognizing it when it happens, and then making an effort to stop mom shaming myself. And I can’t wait to see how it feels on the other side.

I Can't Quit Mom Shaming Myself

Lessons from Coronavirus – Changing My Family’s Schedule

0

This coronavirus pandemic is so stressful and terrible.

Thanks to coronavirus, I have been on the verge of tears on an almost daily basis. The routines that we all took for granted suddenly disappeared overnight. I have had to change every single part of my family’s schedule. Everyone has questions that have no answers at this point. However, this whole situation has given me time to sit back and reevaluate my family’s daily life.

Changing my family’s schedule hasn’t been all bad. A slower pace of life is actually refreshing.

I like that I have spent way less time driving my kids around to numerous activities since the coronavirus appeared. We don’t have the stress of having to rush around to reach places on time. I certainly don’t want to stay in my house all the time, but I will be changing my family’s schedule and cutting down on my kids’ scheduled activities in the future. At ages eight and ten, they have plenty of time to add activities when they are older. Right now, they will benefit from the free time to read, play, and rest.

two kids in top hats reading a book together

I also like choosing activities that have a shorter time commitment. It lets everyone try out different things without being overwhelmed by too many activities at once. Also, I am letting my kids quit some activities. They were too tired for some things, but I had pushed them to continue. Now I will listen to their wishes and let them stop. Life is too short to waste on activities that you don’t love.

We need to spend more time as a family.

When school and everything else was closed due to coronavirus, I noticed that I was able to spend a lot more quality time with my children. I particularly enjoyed having the time to play board games with my kids. Before the pandemic, we were all so busy with our separate activities that squeezing in the time for games felt like a chore. With a lighter schedule, I can relax and enjoy games with my family knowing that I still have plenty of time to get all my chores done.

monopoly boardgame

The kids and I also have enough time to relax and rest during the week now. It allows us the energy to enjoy family activities on the weekends and even some weeknights. Before coronavirus when we were all so busy, we had to fit in all our chores on the weekend. Now we can go hiking, or berry picking, or exploring new places to get ice cream without having to rush home to take care of the laundry. I realize how important it is to spend time as a family now before the kids grow up and move out of my house.

I want my kids to learn that boredom won’t hurt them.

When my kids face boredom, it actually forces them to find new ways to amuse themselves. Without a full schedule of camps and activities, they have time to explore more open-ended activities, such as the Venture Vermont Outdoor Challenge and activities from our local library. They can spend more time on these creative activities without rushing through them just to get extra tablet time. When they have more free time, my kids end up less obsessed with their tablets because they’re not anything special anymore.

girl in a hammock

I also think that boredom helps people figure out who they really are. If kids are with their friends all the time, it’s easy for them to just go along with the group opinions. When kids are bored and away from outside eyes, they have the chance to figure out what activities make them truly happy. When I was a bored kid, I liked to play with Barbies, way beyond the age when most girls stop. I would have been way too embarrassed to play with dolls with my friends around to judge me, but I felt free to do whatever I wanted on my own.

As a result of what I have experienced during the coronavirus pandemic, I will make some changes to my family’s schedule.

I will cut down on the number of activities for everyone to allow us all more free time. None of us will participate in any activities that we don’t absolutely love. We will make family time a higher priority in our lives. Life is too short to take anything for granted!

Lessons from Coronavirus - Changing My Family's Schedule

My Family Tree and the Concept of “The Family You Choose”

My little brother passed away about four years ago. Every time I think about our complicated relationship, I think about our strange family tree, and the concept of “the family you choose.”

When I was in elementary school, my teacher assigned a family tree project. I was given a large sheet of paper with an illustration of a tree, and along the branches of the tree, I was to write down the names of my grandparents, parents, and siblings, and then present this information to my class.

This was the first time that I came to understand that my family tree was not like others.Tree with twisted branches

It has always been difficult to explain that while I am one of six kids, I only lived with two of my siblings while growing up and that only one of the two siblings in my home was a “full” sibling.

Both of my parents were married before they met. My mom and her first husband had a daughter. My dad and his first wife had two daughters. After my parents met, some ten months later I was born, and then my brother was born thirteen months later. My brother was my only “full” sibling because he was the only sibling that shared the same mom and dad with me. Many years later, my dad remarried again and had another son when I was in high school. So, I have four half-siblings.

Whenever someone asks me about my family, I feel like my explanation must include this complicated timeline, and my words are almost always met with a look of astonishment (or sometimes, judgment).

My mom and dad both came from big families. With age, I learned a lot about our family’s flaws, but as a kid, I felt incredibly lucky to have such a large and loving family. My dad’s family lived nearby, so we would have regular Sunday dinners with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. family dinnerMy parents weren’t together very long though, and in time, we became outsiders at family gatherings. What I had thought of as my large, extended family, slowly started to slip away.

When my parents officially divorced, my mom received primary custody of me and my brother. She already had custody of my older sister from her first marriage, so we officially became a family of four. My dad had allowed his first wife’s second husband to adopt my two (half) sisters from that marriage, so we rarely saw them, and because of that, we do not know each other very well to this day.

For a variety of reasons, we moved from New York to Vermont when I was nine years old. Within a few years, my dad moved to Arizona. Our biological family was now separated by divorce and great distance.

After we moved to Vermont, we rarely heard from our extended family, and to be fair, we rarely contacted them, either.

It was as though moving away drove the final wedge in what was already a complicated family connection. In time, even my and my brother’s relationship with my dad dwindled from regular visits and calls to almost no communication at all.

All I had left, and all I felt I could really rely on, was my little family of four: me, my mom, my (full) brother, and my (half) sister from my mom’s first marriage.

As my siblings and I grew older, our family began to change. Like any family, we experienced struggles and challenges, successes, and celebrations. My older sister started her own family and we were blessed with my two nephews. We were also blessed with two nieces from two of my brother’s relationships. Our family tree grew more complicated but more beloved. The most pressing struggle for our little family though was my brother.

My brother was a lot of things… goofy and charming, handsome and awkward, clever and sensitive. He loved our complicated family and would forgive anything we did because he so desired our love and approval. My brother was the kind of person who fell in love quickly. He had two daughters with two beautiful women.

One night, while at a party, he fell and broke his back. While he was still able to walk after the accident, he was disabled, and in a lot of pain. His proclivity to self-medicate with alcohol deepened, and because of this, he did not have a consistent relationship with his daughters. We were told that our participation in their lives was unwelcome and that we could not see the girls in order to protect them. Because we were accustomed to lost connections, we accepted it.

In time, my relationship with my brother also dwindled.

The chaos that had always surrounded him grew more powerful. I did not want to watch him drunk and stumbling anymore. I did not want to support his drinking habits, and I felt completely powerless to help him recover from them. My brother didn’t want to lie to me, so he kept his distance from me too. troubled man sitting on couch

We let our relationship deteriorate to almost nothing by the end. I did not know his favorite food or his favorite music anymore. We still loved each other, but we were basically estranged.

When my brother passed away, I had only just discovered that I was expecting my son. It was a difficult time. My dad flew out so he could be there for the service, and his family decided to make the trip to Vermont too, in order to support him through his grief. It was the first time I saw my aunts and uncles in many, many years, and I was glad for the opportunity to reconnect with them, despite the terrible circumstances. I was grateful that they made the trip, despite having had so little connection to my family in the past two decades.

One of my brother’s daughters came to his service. I tried to imagine what that moment must have been like for her, and it broke my heart. She never really knew him, and she didn’t know us.

My combined grief from losing my brother, and my guilt for not having been there for him in his final years, or having maintained any relationship with his daughters, collided at that moment. I was devastated and filled with regret.

I eventually chose to reconnect with my dad.

I decided there was no sense in clinging to the past— that my dad is human and flawed, and so am I. I decided that I wanted a relationship with him, even if it was a little awkward because we’ve missed so much time and we don’t know each other well. I decided to focus on the here and now, and to build a future for my son that includes an important member from his family tree.little boy holding hands with dad and grandpa One of my nieces—the one who came to my brother’s service—recently chose to connect with me. She is a teenager now. As hard as it is to explain this complicated family tree that she inherited, and why we weren’t present in her life for all these years, she wants to know us, and we want to know her, too. I am profoundly grateful for this opportunity.

People will say, “You don’t choose your family,” and what they mean to say is that you don’t choose what family you are born into.

But the thing is, you do choose what kind of relationships you have. You do choose the family you keep. It’s your choice to love your family and accept them as they are, and it’s your choice to separate yourself, whether out of anger, fear, necessity, or other. It’s your choice to put forth the effort, even if it is unreturned. It’s your choice to pick up the phone or to let distance drive a wedge between you. It is also your choice to walk away from someone who creates chaos and destruction in your life.With my brother, addiction separated us. After my efforts to love, support, and help him failed, I was forced to make a choice—to separate myself for my own self-preservation. With my father, siblings, and nieces, I didn’t choose to be separated. I was a child, and it was done without much thought. Now, as an adult, I understand the reasons for our separation, and I refuse to allow my pride or fear stand between us.

When you don’t actively choose to be connected to your family, the consequence can be a lifetime of regret.

I will always regret the distance that formed between my brother and me in his final years, even though I understand that his addiction played a huge role in that distance. I will always wonder if I could have done something— anything— that could have helped him turn his life around.

But there is no going back. I know if he were here, he would intentionally choose all of our family, anyone who would have him. He was always forgiving, and always seeking love. That’s just how he was. I’m not quite sure how to do that, because family distance is all I know. But for him, I will try. In his memory, I will make the effort this time, even if it is unreturned.woman watching sunset

As I look ahead to building new relationships with my family, I wonder how others have created relationships with family that they don’t really know. What are some ways you reconnected with estranged family members? Do you regret any lost connections?

My Family Tree and the Concept of "The Family You Choose"

Quarantine, Quarantine, What Does it Mean, What Does it (Not) Mean?

“The path trodden by wayfarers and pilgrims followed the railway and then turned into the fields. Here Lara stopped, closed her eyes and took a good breath of the air which carried all the smells of the huge countryside. It was dearer to her than her kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. For a moment she rediscovered the meaning of her life. She was here on earth to make sense of its wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name, or, if this were not within her power, then, out of love of life, to give birth to heirs who would do it in her place.” Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

This quote speaks to my physician brain. It has been ingrained in me to call each thing by its right name because a lack of precision can have dire and life-threatening consequences.

dictionary to define wordsWhat’s in a word? Why are proper definitions important?

These are questions I have been pondering lately as I watch and hear so many friends and family struggle to put into action the word quarantine. To a great degree, I think well-meaning people are failing to quarantine because of a misconception of what the term means.

Call each thing by its right name.

From the start of the pandemic, I have heard people talk about being in quarantine. When businesses were closed, and people were only doing essential shopping, I heard our society described as being in quarantine.

I hate to tell you folks, but this is NOT QUARANTINE.

What we have been doing, generally, as a society is called social (or physical) distancing. Social (physical) distancing is when you shop, run errands, hang out, and work six feet (or more) apart with one or two other people either outside or inside while wearing masks. We are all physical distancing with anyone who is not in our “family bubble” if we are being conscientious about this pandemic. Physical distancing involves a lot of nuances and difficult social decisions.

quarantineThe definition of quarantine is simple. It is defined as strict isolation to prevent the spread of disease or pestilence.

There are very few nuances to quarantine. There are no difficult decisions. In order to quarantine, you simply do not interact in person with any humans until the quarantine period is over.

There are two types of quarantine

1. An individual can quarantine from their household by staying in their own room with the door closed, having meals delivered to the door and dishes and garbage picked up at the door, and, ideally, if available, using their own bathroom, or, if a shared bath, thoroughly washing all surfaces with alcohol or soap and water, or dilute bleach after the quarantined individual has finished using the bathroom. This should be done until the quarantine period is over (typically 14 symptom-free days.)

If an individual is known to be positive for COVID-19, and is isolating from their (presumably uninfected) household, then the household should also be quarantining from society as in #2 below.

2. A household can quarantine from society by isolating themselves in their house (or, if they live in the country and can go outside without seeing another soul, that’s ok too). All groceries and necessities should be delivered to the doorstep by a volunteer, a friend, a neighbor, or a delivery service. All errands should be canceled. All appointments should be canceled. All sports practices should be canceled, and all work or school outside the home should be canceled. Cleaning people should be canceled, and childcare should be canceled.

The family should have no in-person interaction with ANYONE for anything other than a life or limb-threatening emergency. This should be done until the period of quarantine is over.

children bother dadWho needs to quarantine?

In Vermont, all out of state visitors from counties where there are moderate to high active COVID cases (defined as >400 active cases/million) are required to quarantine for either 14 days symptom-free, or seven symptom-free days from last travel PLUS a negative test needs to be done at or after day 7. Any Vermonter who visits one of these counties is also required to quarantine upon return to VT.

You can access the map for the required quarantine here. The map is updated every Friday with up-to-date information.

In order for a test to be relatively accurate, it can not be performed before 7 days from last likely exposure. Tests done before the 7-day mark have a high false-negative rate, meaning you could have the infection, but still have a negative test result.

Anyone with a known or potential exposure to someone who has COVID who is awaiting test results needs to quarantine until the test results are back and negative (test is done no sooner than 7 days from the known exposure).

Anyone who is COVID negative but living in a household with a known COVID positive person needs to quarantine from that person AND the entire household should quarantine from society until the known positive case is done with quarantine, and the household members have tested negative as per #2 above.

Anyone who is sick with COVID symptoms or who has a known positive test needs to be completely isolated from all people (and have at least 10 days from known positive test and 72 hours symptom-free before they can leave isolation).

I stay at home signIsolation is to separate people we know are sick from people who are not sick.

Quarantine is to keep high-risk individuals or individuals with potential exposures separated from low-risk populations until we know they are not sick.

The concepts are similar (both require no face to face contact with other people) but the populations differ in their disease status.

Pretty simple right? So, let’s discuss some recent cases of people I know and their “quarantine” mistakes.

  1. Family with a second home in Vermont with parents from a moderate risk county (yellow on the COVID infections by population map, above), and kids who live with another parent in a low-risk county but visit the Vermont summer home (thus assuming the contagious risk of the parents from the moderate risk county) and invite their Vermont friends to come for an outdoor dinner or a socially distanced walk. THIS IS NOT QUARANTINING.
  2. A family goes to visit relatives in a moderate risk or high-risk place, then returns and doesn’t quarantine because “we stayed with them and they are quarantining, so we didn’t get any exposure.” Here’s the thing- families who have visitors, by definition, are NOT QUARANTINING.
  3. A family who returns from a beach vacation to a high-risk place and tells me they are quarantining. I ask what that looks like and they say that they are not shopping, are mostly eating out of the freezer, and are working from home. BUT their kids are playing with the neighbors and going to sports practice. THIS IS NOT QUARANTINING
  4. A person with a known exposure gets a test, but while awaiting the test results, continues shopping and going to work. THIS IS NOT QUARANTINING
  5. A mother travels to a high-risk state then returns home to her family. The mother quarantines from work, but not her family, and her kids go to camp. This whole family needed to quarantine, not just the mother, or the mother needed to strictly quarantine from the rest of the family. THIS IS NOT QUARANTINING
  6. A man who tests positive but is not isolating in his household sends his daughter to a friend’s house for a sleepover. THIS IS NOT QUARANTINING.

boy in mask gestures stopThe bottom line is that in order for us to be able to safely open the economy and our lives a bit more, we all need to do our part in understanding what quarantine is, when quarantine is needed, and then be diligent about doing it. Sadly, we can’t control how our friends and extended family follow these rules. We can only control our own behavior. We have to make difficult choices to be the party pooper, and, in some cases be ok with being called a “fear monger.”

One sentiment I have heard repeatedly is, “Well, I guess everyone has to do what’s right for their family.”

The point is, however, that we should not only be doing what is right for our family, but also doing what is right for society and humanity. We must look outside of our self-centered (and often privileged) positions and save humanity with our individual actions which may well involve significant sacrifices on our part. It is OK to tell friends, family, and neighbors “no” and to explain yourself with science.

Additionally, we all need to be continuing to be diligent about wearing masks, hand washing, and physical distancing from others who are not in our immediate bubble.

Quarantine, Quarantine, What Does it Mean, What Does it (Not) Mean?

Guest Author: Mario Trabulsy, MD

DoctorMario Trabulsy, MD is a board-certified emergency physician with over 27 years experience in the field. She has been a renowned and award-winning Educator at University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, and University of Vermont College of Nursing and Health Sciences.  She is a fierce breast cancer survivor, lover and creator of joy, single mother of 3 young adult or teenage boys, a dear friend, advocate for, and mentor to many, an avid outdoor exercise enthusiast and single track mountain biker.

 

Fishing with Kids in Vermont

0

In Vermont, fishing with kids is both a pastime and a tradition.

At one point, it seemed like every family did it.  These days, teaching kids to fish isn’t as standard as it once was. For that reason, I want to share my family’s tips for fishing with kids.

Before I get started, I’ll address the elephant in the room. What if you don’t care about fishing with your kids? And, surely any outdoor activity can substitute for fishing, right?

Here’s the thing about fishing. It’s boring.

But, when my husband and I are fishing with our kids, we find that time moves slower and we are able to have those wholesome conversations where we get to know each other all over again. I can’t think of any other activity where sitting (or standing) still is the main skill you need.

When you do prepare to go fishing with kids, I have a few pointers to make the experience fun, rewarding, and smooth for everyone.

bridge fishing

  1. Buy the appropriate gear.

Fishing with kids is not one of those times to just wing it. I know that sounds trivial but the truth is, you need the appropriate gear to fish. You don’t have to go crazy and outfit yourself with everything on the market, but you do need to get a few things. When it comes to kids, all you need are the basics:

*fishing pole

*tackle box

*live bait or artificial lures

*fishing license

When it comes to the fishing pole, make sure you have a kid’s pole for your child. A kid’s pole will be accurately sized and will work much better than having them try to use your fishing pole.

Please note: if you plan on helping your child, you need to have a fishing license. Anyone over the age of 15 needs a fishing license if they intend to handle the fishing pole.

  1. Practice casting at home.

Take the time to practice casting with the kids at home before you take them fishing. Maybe you are new to fishing as well, so join them and don’t worry about looking silly in your front yard. I’ve watched my neighbor who is an avid fisherman casting in his yard each season, so it’s a normal thing to do. Rather than describing how to cast, I suggest you check out some casting videos on YouTube.

I also strongly suggest before you go fishing with kids that you have them practice on both closed reel and open reel poles.

casting practice in a mud puddle

Our kids prefer fishing with open reels, but they are harder to master and a closed reel is a great place to start. The best way to compare the two would be if you were looking to drive a car that is automatic vs one that is standard. Both are driveable, but most drivers prefer one over the other. An open reel is an automatic while a closed reel is a standard.

  1. Practice even more with weight.

Once the kids (and you) have casting down, try adding some sort of a weight to your hook. It will make a difference in how you cast and will be more comparable to live bait.

  1. Bring them with you to get bait.

It may seem like an odd tip when fishing with kids but I promise this one pays off. By taking your kids to buy bait, you are making them part of the process. They feel proud and excited during this part, and I found our kids learned so much when purchasing bait. The shop owners usually have great stories to share, and they love watching the younger generations begin their fishing adventures.

  1. Don’t forget hats, sunblock, bug spray, and water shoes.

When fishing with kids, you want to make them comfortable. There is nothing worse than a kid ready to leave the fishing hole 10 minutes after arriving because their shoes got wet. Ensuring they have their sunscreen and a hat to keep them cool and protected and the water shoes to allow them to really get into the water and fish will pay off. And bug spray. You won’t be able to enjoy yourself at all if your kids can’t sit still because of a few mosquitoes.

fishing with kids

And if all else fails, bring an activity. And snacks. Lot’s of snacks.

Don’t be surprised if your kids just aren’t into fishing the first few times. Fishing isn’t that compelling til you catch a fish! So don’t be surprised when they tell you they are bored. That’s why we always have a stockpile of enticing snacks and a book or even a tablet (gasp) to lure them (fishing pun totally intended) to stay a bit longer. Even seasoned kids who fish get bored.

  1. Don’t forget ice fishing!

I’ll be honest, our family does a lot more ice fishing than we do open water fishing. We don’t have a boat, so when we ice fish, we can get to those spots we can’t reach in the summer. Ice fishing has become a family event for us because the kids can skate while my husband fishes. And when they do happen to get me to tag along, I can read a book in our pop up shanty. It’s cozy, I forget I’m on the ice in the middle of the lake, and there is usually bacon cooking.

Emma ice fishing

This is also the time where fishing with kids gets more involved for us. Our kids love watching the fish finder to see if we found the best spot to try our luck, or not.

ice fishing with kids

  1. Buy the Lifetime License in their first year.

Fishing licenses aren’t required in Vermont for anyone under the age of 15. But one thing I wish we had done, that I’m hoping I can help you with, is to buy a Lifetime License. When this is done in the child’s first year, you’ll see the greatest savings.

fishing with young kids

Our kids are now 7 and 9, and we can still purchase a Lifetime License but it is double the price it would have been had we purchased before they turned one.

Our favorite time to go fishing is early in the morning, and let me tell you if it’s raining a little bit, those fish seem to really bite! Hot, hazy, and humid days are the ones I when would suggest staying home.

Fishing with kids is something you could pick up and do any day. You don’t need to have years of fishing under your belt to enjoy it. You’ll create a lifetime of memories with your kids, and they can pass down their skills and memories as they build families of their own.

Fishing with Kids in Vermont

A Social Media Vacation: Why I Probably Won’t Be Going Back

0

My family had been practicing social or physical distancing for two months. My hobby of performing stand up comedy had come to a screeching halt and I found myself, as many other people did at this time, watering plants and trying to make the best of each day together nonstop with my kids and husband. But despite the “unprecedented times,” my anxiety was decreasing. Not about the global state of things, that anxiety was ever-present, but the anxiety that I had known most of my adult life was diminishing. I watched as everyone’s reality in dealing with the pandemic unfolded over social media, not realizing that that very platform was the key to helping to dissolve the remainder of my anxiety.

The anxiety I felt of not being good enough, of not being liked enough, of being a bad parent was decreasing.

It could be said that my brain was seeing that there were far bigger fish to fry as far as worries go, but I think it was something else. I think my forced stand up comedy vacation was the finger that pushed the first domino in the chain reaction which led me to a social media vacation and then to considering not returning to social media- or making big changes with how I interacted with the platform.

Before the huge Monty Python foot of COVID-19 stepped on our world, stand up comedy and performing had become a part of my second persona. I was taking care of my kids during the day and trying to figure out this strange puzzle of what makes people laugh at night. I met some of the greatest people in the state and truly got to step outside of my comfort zone. But comedy isn’t a hobby that you can tinker with here and there like a ship in a bottle and hope to get better at it. You have to be writing and coming up with new material, trying out jokes at open mics, trying old material in new ways at open mics, bombing and getting back up, doing great and not feeling overly confident, getting booked for shows and not getting booked for shows- and those things take time and a lot of mental energy. 

stand up comedian

So, when all of that suddenly went away, I was surprised how much I began to enjoy the vacation from the mental work of stand up. This was when I thought this would be over a lot sooner. Eye roll. But there was something in me that felt that I should keep trying to make comedy and social distancing work. I tried performing a weekly quarantine show on social media which lasted about a month and a half and virtual open mics. I loved seeing and hearing from my comedy friends. But something was missing, besides the audience. Social distancing was not only causing me to spend more time with my family but also more time with myself and I was beginning to learn HUGE things about myself.

I learned that I was a validation junkie!

Without the sound of the audience validating me and my material, my joy from performing was beginning to go away. I told myself I would take a break from trying to perform for a bit. Telling myself my mind just wasn’t in the right place for writing new material. I was shocked to see that some of the anxiety that always sat in my chest, dissipated after making this mental decision.

But, note how I said, SOME. I was still hooked on social media, big time! I posted constantly, did live streams, and talked about everything that I was thinking, feeling, doing. I wouldn’t feel good about myself unless I got “likes”.

My self-worth was tied to this thing, these images, these blips on the internet. 

I was out for a run one day, something I have picked up again during quarantine and was thinking. How could I get this low-grade constant anxiety to go away? And as I ran and sweated and breathed, the answer came back to me. 

couple on social mediaI need to stop this cycle of caring about what people think of me. I need a social media vacation. 

I need to stop looking for CONSTANT validation on my parenting, my life choices, my flaws… me. When I got home, I wrote one last post on Facebook and walked away. 

I had thought that I would take the break just for the summer. But as the summer goes on, my passion for getting back onto social media wanes. 

What has life been like for me since I left? More productive. I’m reading so much more. Living in the moment more and not thinking how this would make a great post and wow, won’t they think I’m a great parent because I did this with my kids today, adding to the constant myth that social media pumps out, that everyone’s lives are incredible, making other people feel like they’re failing because every moment isn’t picture perfect. I don’t want to be a part of that or add to that.

father and son by river
This photo was taken just for me to capture my son and husband in this moment of calm.

During my social media vacation, I’ve really realized that, for me, validation is a drug. I needed it like any addict needs a fix. 

Social media has made my self-confidence atrophy due to not ever developing it on my own through the hard mental work that it takes to be a truly confident person. I’ve been lazy and let other people decide for me whether I’m worthy or not with a thumb up emoji or a heart.

Even the hobby that I chose for myself was all about validation and having to be liked. 

I have begun to realize that social media is not for me. Just as alcohol is not for an alcoholic. I have to do a lot of mental lifting and gaining muscle before stepping back into that ring again. When I chose to take a social media vacation, I watched a TEDTalk about leaving and the speaker had this great analogy about it. He said that social media is like a slot machine in Vegas. Sometimes you pull a handle and you get a jackpot and you feel great. But most of the time, you pull the handle and get nothing. The worst part is with social media, you don’t spend one weekend around it and head home with some mixed memories. The slot machine follows you around all day long, all week long, all year long. 

I’m cashing in my chips and heading home folks, I’m not sure if I’ll be back, but I will definitely have to be a different person before I do.

A Social Media Vacation: Why I Probably Won’t Be Going Back

Bathing Suit Roundup: Conservative & Self-Conscious Mom Edition

0

A bathing suit is my worst enemy.

They have always been for me. When I was younger, I was very underdeveloped compared to my friends so I was embarrassed to wear a bathing suit. Today, I love that I’m still underdeveloped but now I’m battling spreading hips from having two children.

While many mothers brought their children to pools and the ocean, I made sure whatever I did with mine didn’t involve a body of water (outside of fishing). There is a reason why my children are just learning to swim now at 7 and 9. They are late to the game because of my insecurities in a bathing suit.

It’s now bathing suit season. I know I’m a little late this summer but the heat is getting to me and I can no longer avoid swimming and splashing to stay cool.

Seriously, something about the older I get, the less I can handle the heat. I always wanted to move down south, but now I know Vermont is where it’s at! So while bathing suit season is in full force, I’m struggling with what to wear and how to be comfortable wearing it.

When it comes to bathing suits, I want both physical comfort, and emotional comfort.

I want to feel comfortable when it comes to my self-confidence because that’s truly my weakest area.

These last couple years, I’ve spent a great deal of time researching which bathing suits will fit my body type (I’m more of a pear for reference, though I do have broader shoulders). I’ve been able to narrow my sources down to two budget-friendly options, and two not so budget-friendly but must check out options.

Budget-Friendly Sites:

Cupshe

I own several of their bikinis (why, I don’t know since I won’t wear a bikini, but probably because they were dirt cheap), and one one-piece. The brand considers itself fashion-forward, and all suits are at a really affordable price point.

affordable swim suit

Grabbing a bathing suit by Cupshe is perfect for wanting to stay on trend each season without breaking the bank.

Pros: the price point and they are on-trend.

Cons: if you have a long torso like me, the one piece may make you feel like you should be hunched over.

Old Navy

I have one suit from Old Navy and I’ll admit that it is my backup (but my daughter will only wear Old Navy swimsuits). I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, it just does the job.

old navy swim

Pros: price point and there are some fun prints and patterns if you are looking to have fun with your suit.

Cons: lacking quality and durability, in my opinion, but you can’t beat the price.

Not Budget-Friendly Sites:

Summersalt

Did I really spend $95 on a swimsuit? Yes, I did and I don’t regret it for a moment.

I feel like a rockstar in this swimsuit!

It sucks in my mommy pooch and the one-piece suit doesn’t make me feel hunched over. They are considered a designer brand without the designer price point and I strongly suggest you check them out!

summersalt black bathing suit

Pros: a great variety of styles and they offer a long torso in a few styles which is excellent for long torsoed people like me.

Cons: the price point is high, but the fit is completely worth it. Wish there were more color options for people with long torsos.

summersault bathing suit
photo edited to remove other swimmers out of respect for their privacy

Albion Fit

I watched this brand on social media for close to two years before deciding to grab a suit. I like it a lot, but it is coming in at the highest price point of the bunch (around $120+).

The one-piece suits are beautiful, but I really adore their take on the bikini with the on-trend tops and the high waisted bottoms.

Pros: a beautiful variety of styles.

Cons: the price point is high.

What I’ve come to realize is I’m still that self-conscious high school girl, just in an adult body.

If I had to narrow it down to one bathing suit for the rest of my life, it would be the one from Summersalt. But that’s for my body type, and for my self-confidence.

Bathing suits aren’t a one size fits all clothing item, and rightfully so they SHOULDN’T BE! What everyone wants in a bathing suit is a variety of options that will make every single woman of every age feel comfortable and confident.

I avoided swimming with my kids for 9 years because I didn’t like being in a bathing suit. Worried that someone was going to judge me for how I looked. And while I’m not over those silly fears, I’ve been able to find bathing suits that make me feel a bit more confident and allow me to be myself. And most importantly, these suits allow me to have fun with my kids in the pool, and to cool off when it’s a million degrees out.

What criteria do you look for in a bathing suit? And what brands would you recommend to all our readers?

Bathing Suit Roundup: Conservative & Self Conscious Mom Edition

Schooling Options: Distance Learning, Home Schooling, or In-Person?

0

I recently saw the graphic posted below about schooling options from Latched Mama. I liked seeing the graphic and it made me feel supported, so I decided to venture into the comments (I know, totally risky, these days). What struck me about the comments was the number of moms wondering what school options other moms were choosing for their kids and why. 

A graphic showing the 3 schooling options

That got me thinking, that with this tough decision we all have in front of us, many of us just want someone to tell us what we are doing is okay, agree with us, or explain why another option might be best. We’re all just looking for a little reassurance. 

So, I decided I’d ask three Vermont moms which schooling options they’ve decided on for their kids and to explain why and how they made that decision:

In-Person Learning

schooling option - in person

“I was firm until about a week ago that our kids (entering 2nd & 4th grades) would not be going to school FIRM. But the truth of it is I need to work, and I love to work.

I can do most of my work from home, but I can’t do it while trying to educate the kids and play with them. My husband doesn’t feel comfortable being the one to help with remote learning so that would fall on me.

We decided this together as we decide everything in our household and it’s truly what we feel will work best for us. Am I scared? Absolutely! But I was just as scared to keep them home. I want my kids to come out of 2020 stronger, and with my anxious tendencies that I’m seeing in my daughter as well — I felt keeping her home especially could be detrimental.

Lastly — we watched a pediatrician share her thoughts and essentially she said, “Whatever you choose is right, as long as you believe that.”

So we are choosing to believe that sending our kids back to school is the right decision. And that those who don’t send theirs to school are making the right decision for their family as well.

We are also very VERY FIRM that it is ok if a month into school, we have to reassess.”

Homeschooling

3 schooling options - distance learning

“My kids are entering 1st and 2nd grade this fall. I work from home (even when we’re not in a pandemic) and my husband has been working from home since March. We were firm that we wouldn’t be sending our kids back into a school building. 

With me being home regularly and my husband being home for the foreseeable future, we have the luxury of keeping our kids home, too. We know that others don’t have that luxury and we feel strongly that if keeping our kids home can make class sizes smaller and safer for teachers and families who need to send their kids to school, then it was the absolute least we can do. It also means that, if schools shut down again for in-person learning, our routines won’t be affected. 

The reason we decided to homeschool as opposed to using our school district’s remote learning plan has to do with both of us working from home. Since we are both working, we need the flexibility to do what works for us when it works. With the new Agency Of Education guidelines regarding remote learning, we knew we would not be able to make it work. 

Since making the decision to homeschool, we’ve filed the home study paperwork with the AOE, researched and assembled a curriculum, set up a home classroom and additional casual learning nook in our home, and set a schedule that will allow us to home educate our children and work from home. To be honest, I am actually really excited about the way this model is shaping up for our family and am not closed to the idea of homeschooling past this school year.”

Remote Learning

homeschooling

“We decided to go with fully remote learning for our daughters because we don’t want to send them to school if masks are required and if they are unable to leave their classroom throughout the day. 

The masks are a struggle during a twenty-minute grocery store run, making sure they have their masks on and not touching them. I can’t even fathom the girls having to wear masks for any period longer than that.

Luckily, I have flexibility with my job so that I can work fully remotely and that made the decision that much easier. I know being out of in-person learning will be missed by our daughters. But we have to look out for their emotional well being, and we feel that masks and restricted movement throughout the day would do more harm to them than good.”

Questions to consider when making your decision about the schooling options:

  1. Are you and your partner/spouse/co-parent on the same page with this decision? Have you discussed who will take on what responsibilities and how you will share the load?
  2. How will changes to your work situation affect your child’s schooling? (ex: you can currently work from home. What happens if you’re required to go back in. Or, you work out of the house. How will you work from home while simultaneously schooling?)
  3. How did your kids handle remote learning in the spring? How did you handle your kids remote learning in the spring? Do you think you could handle it this fall or even make it better?
  4. Do you prefer creating your own schedule or following someone else’s?

I hope these three moms’ decision-making processes can help you make a decision for your own family’s schooling options. But, remember, whatever you decide, you ARE a good mom!

Schooling Options: Distance Learning, Home Schooling, or In-Person?

Fall School Reopening: What Does Readiness Look Like?

0

Disclaimer: The opinions stated in this post on fall school reopening are my own, and only my own. I am a working mother in Vermont, and my views do not reflect the views of my employer or any of my colleagues or co-workers. 

Like many of you, I too have been looking forward to news about fall school reopening pretty much since my two kids and I got unceremoniously and abruptly dropped down the rabbit hole of telecommuting and distance learning alongside each other this past spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

fall school reopening, picture of a computer phone and a cup of coffee

While I love having my kids home and enjoy the extra family time together, the missing elements of their life brought on by the necessity of physical distancing and stay home orders slowly came into focus as the presumably short-term, emergency situation evolved into a longer-term new “normal.” 

Let’s start with hands-on educational support from qualified teachers. Every time I hear a parent say they “homeschooled” their children this spring, I cringe. That’s not what we were doing.

Homeschooling involves curriculum development and delivery. I engaged in technology, homework, and scheduling support. Basically, I served as my kids’ executive assistant for their teacher’s Google Meets and project deadlines. Teachers still provided curriculum and distance learning opportunities, and I am grateful for how quickly they pivoted to meet the challenge, especially with their own families at home with them. 

Fall School Reopening, Learning and Schooling Written on a Chalkboard

As the days of social distancing dragged on, I could tell my kids, especially my 10-year-old daughter, deeply missed their friends and social interactions at school.

School closures occurred mere days before my daughter’s 10th birthday. She had been planning the party since the day after her last birthday party. Having to tell her not only could we no longer host her friends, but that her grandparents wouldn’t be able to attend either, is the worst news I’ve ever had to deliver. The mournful expression she gave me and the waterfall of tears that followed are images permanently scarred on my brain and my heart. After that, she started staying in her pajamas all day, sitting on the couch staring at her ChromeBook, failing to brush her hair to the point where tangles formed, and sinking further into despondency. When the Governor closed schools for the remainder of the spring, she howled in grief. I intervened by getting her on a schedule (wake up, get dressed, brush hair, eat breakfast, sit at the table to do schoolwork, and take a walk with me every day). While it helped a little, it’s no replacement for my little extrovert’s social interaction with her school friends.

Fall School Reopening, B & W Best Friends

For all these reasons, my daughter needs in-person instruction, and I began looking forward to fall school reopening like a kid anticipating Christmas. 

For her sake, I desperately wanted it to be possible. My 14-year-old son is different. He excelled with distance learning, probably due to having more practice with the assignments and communication platforms than my daughter. Being a teenager, he also manages to keep up a vibrant social life with his friends via multiple communication technologies. He even figured out how to host a virtual Dungeons & Dragons gaming group a couple of days a week. He could easily adapt to full distance learning or a hybrid model with limited in-person school instruction. My daughter will continue to struggle

On her behalf, up until a few days ago, I zealously advocated for full in-person fall school reopening in Vermont.

To challenge the “kids are plague-bearers” argument against fall school reopening, I cited research studies about how kids rarely transmit the novel coronavirus. While I believe these studies, I also know that they don’t apply to my own kids. Current research shows it tends to hold true for kids under the age of 10. My kids both exceed that age limit. A new research study from South Korea recently confirmed that older kids, meaning kids the same ages as mine, likely spread the virus at the same rate as adults

Fall School Reopening

I previously hung my hat on Dr. Atul Gawande’s May 13, 2020 article in The New Yorker, Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, A Regimen for Reentry. In it, he assures us that, in spite of Boston, MA, serving as an early hotspot for COVID-19, his hospital system, Mass General Brigham, experienced relatively few “workplace transmissions.” He cites washing/sanitizing your hands every time you enter or exit a group setting or every 2 hours, disinfecting high-touch surfaces at least once a day, wearing masks or cloth facial coverings, staying six feet apart, staying home if you have any symptoms of illness, testing symptomatic individuals, and performing contact tracing and encouraging close contacts of those infected to quarantine and get tested as the means to preventing the spread of the virus.

I thought to myself, “Fabulous! Those steps are so easy! The virus is just going to die out!” Ah, my poor naïve self of two months ago.  

When the Vermont Agency of Education and the Vermont Department of Health released joint guidance for fall school reopening, I breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, good,” I thought, “they’ve figured out how to open schools safely. It must involve all of Dr. Gawande’s steps!” Tellingly, I didn’t read it right away. My protective motherhood denial instinct kicked right in. The bits and pieces that trickled in led me to believe that, from a public health perspective, it all sounded good. My daughter could go back to school and get all the stimulation and interaction she needed that I couldn’t provide at home while staying safe from the virus. Yay! 

Unwillingly, I started to notice a ruckus on social media. phone, Scrabble letters

At first, it seemed like needless vitriol – selfie videos of teachers reading the guidance out loud, scoffing at it as unworkable drivel, and chucking it into a trash can; more videos of teachers showing all the ways that students would play with the masks instead of using them as protective shields, and rants against pediatricians to the tune of “how would they like it if 30 kids sat indoors in their waiting rooms all day given the risk of infection”? 

The new knowledge and fervent concerns started to encroach on my denial bubble and made me both sad and angry. How could these teachers, my best hope for some normalcy for my daughter with fall school reopening, betray me this way? I couldn’t understand how teachers, who walk into schools every day prepared to take a bullet from a school shooter, could act so afraid of a virus. I failed to see the difference in risk acceptance. I just didn’t get it.   

Finally, two things happened that made me do a 180 on my vocal advocacy for fall school reopening. 

First, I read the safety and health guidance for fall school reopening, all 25 pages of it. The recommendations include kids sitting at desks (not tables) facing forward six feet apart, though recent new guidance reduces this distance to three feet apart. Kids will be assigned seats for the entire school year and will remain in class pods/groups without moving. They will wear cloth facial coverings and/or plastic face shields, will eat individual meals served at their assigned seats in the classroom, and will need to go to the bathroom in shifts to discourage congregating. Before they enter school, they will answer health screening questions, have their temperature taken, and then immediately wash or sanitize their hands before proceeding directly to class. 

Ummmm…yes, I see all of the disease prevention and public health measures. Unfortunately, we all need to acknowledge that it’s going to seem like a scene out of a futuristic science fiction movie – and not in a good way. 

children with various masks

Both my son and daughter have now attended outdoor summer camps with physical spacing, fixed group pods, and mask precautions. While they both successfully and uncomplainingly endured mask wearing all day, they both agree that the groups/pods restriction hamstrings the social-emotional connections they’ve been craving. Being assigned to a seat in a classroom or on a bus for the entirety of the school year isn’t going to allow them to interact with their friends; it’s going to discourage it. My daughter also found herself policing the other kids on the six-feet-apart rule once when two unmasked little girls indoors put their heads together to admire some slime. Predictably, these little girls retorted that she couldn’t tell them what to do when she barked “Six feet apart!” at them. When I asked her where the camp counselors were, she said “Cleaning the bathroom.” 

Ah, yes, the recommendations also include requirements that teachers or other school staff clean and disinfect all day long, which probably won’t leave much time for educating. 

Second, I read an article thoughtfully and thoroughly written by a 5th-grade teacher, which happens to be the exact grade my daughter is entering. She explains in detail why teachers will be unable to implement and enforce the guidelines. 

This teacher states that most of the safety protocols are developmentally inappropriate for children and would hamper their social, emotional, and educational growth rather than foster it.

Many of the guidelines could even cause more trauma for kids, such as if a teacher got sick and disappeared rapidly from the classroom – or died. She also pointed out that if any kind of in-person instruction is required for fall school reopening, then teachers will necessarily have to work twice as hard to develop both in-person and virtual learning plans. Due to students with underlying health conditions and students who become ill with COVID-19 or the common cold, and need to stay home or quarantine, teachers will necessarily always have to prepare for and potentially conduct in-person instruction and virtual classes at the same time

In a scenario where fall school reopening involves in-person instruction, we are asking teachers to work twice as hard on curriculum development and delivery, in addition to classroom management that includes policing safety protocols and thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting as needed. When Vermont’s school plans started trickling in last month, this hybrid model of both remote and in-person instruction emerged as the most pervasive proposal. 

This teacher’s calm and clear arguments, unlike the vitriolic social media videos, make a lot of sense. If adults are unable to follow the steps Dr. Gawande outlined for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, how can we expect children to do so, especially if their parents fail to model the appropriate behaviors for them? If kids can’t follow the protocols, do we really expect teachers to be responsible for enforcing safety AND provide a high-quality education to our kids on two different learning platforms at the same time while risking their own lives in the process? It all feels like too much to ask. 

After reading this 5th-grade teacher’s commentary and feeling myself waffle on my pro- fall school reopening stance, I went back and re-read Vermont’s safety guidance for reopening schools. 

This time, I saw the guidance through a teacher’s eyes and tried to imagine the overwhelming logistics of implementing and enforcing these safety measures in my classroom, having to teach all day while wearing a mask, and having to prepare lessons in two different modalities. It made me want to lie down and take a nap. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. 

On second reading, I also noticed the glaring absence of two key strategies in the guidance document: testing and discipline.

If schools identify and isolate a sick student or staff member, how quickly can that individual receive a COVID-19 test and notify the school of the results for the purposes of outbreak prevention and contact tracing?

Due to student privacy concerns, days could elapse without the school knowing about a positive case, and by then, it’s too late to take appropriate mitigation measures. Rapid tests performed in schools would seem like the best option, but these types of tests aren’t accurate yet. Additionally, there is still a shortage of the less invasive testing kits used on children. For safe fall school reopening, a robust testing kit supply chain to rule out COVID-19 for every symptomatic student needs to exist, and it doesn’t yet. 

In terms of discipline, teachers need a standard set of consequences approved by administrators at the ready to dole out in the event of safety infractions by students.

For those of us with kids in school, we all know there is always at least one kid who can’t follow the rules and who becomes the subject of every negative narrative our own kids bring home from school. Unfortunately, in the era of COVID-19, pulling off someone’s mask as a schoolyard joke or an act of bullying could evolve into assault with a deadly weapon if the child doing the bullying infects the child being bullied with the novel coronavirus. 

Fall School Reopening, Bullying 3
From stopbullying.gov

Teachers need swift recourse to shut these dangerous incidents down and ensure the safety of the rest of the educational community. Unfortunately, by the time discipline is enacted, it may already be too late. Should we really expect this level of vigilance from teachers, especially when it will serve as a constant, stressful distraction from the already stressful work of educating? Israel’s experience with reopening schools is instructive. Israel found that while younger children mostly complied with safety protocols, like mask-wearing, middle- and high-school students did not. At a certain point, teachers stopped trying to enforce the safety protocols, outbreaks happened, and the schools shut down. 

At this point in time and much to my dismay, I personally must conclude that we aren’t ready yet for fall school reopening.

fall school reopening, school lockdown, school safety, classroom, education
.

Schools, administrators, teachers, and other staff need more time to sort through the guidance and come up with well-thought-out strategies. Two months isn’t enough time to implement these monumental changes. Interestingly, in the time between writing this post and moving it to publication, Vermont’s Governor agreed and issued an Executive Order delaying the start of school in our state until September 8.

A continuing shortage of cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and soap means there won’t necessarily be enough to ensure the continuation of safe in-person instruction.

The absence of a rigorous school-based testing strategy, an accurate test that delivers rapid results, and a reliable supply chain of testing kits means uncertainty about which students may be infected with COVID-19 and which ones merely have a common cold. School usage of limited personal protective equipment (PPE), like gowns, surgical masks, and gloves, means diminishing the supply needed by healthcare workers in other settings. 

Sign: Sorry we don't have an sanitizer

Teachers need time to learn how to provide quality educational experiences through virtual learning modalities, in either a fully remote or hybrid school reopening plan.

They are rapidly running out of time this summer to focus on learning that delivery mechanism. It also goes without saying that all of these additional health and safety protocols require significant additional funding – for plexiglass, cleaning supplies, thermometers, PPE, staffing for school safety and health monitors, and so on. We all know public schools are already underfunded, and the financial burden of implementing COVID-19 prevention measures will only exacerbate the situation. 

As much as I hate to say it as a working mother (and I’ll save the economic impact of schools staying virtual or going to a hybrid model for a separate discussion), we just aren’t ready yet for fall school reopening.

Everyone needs more time to figure out the logistics of this massive undertaking. In Vermont, due to our low rate of COVID-19 prevalence, we are probably more ready than most states for fall school reopening. Even so, the words of another educator in another thoughtfully written opinion piece continue to ring in my ears, “The acceptable number of deaths is zero.” With that goal in mind, everyone needs to slow down and get fall school reopening right. 

How have your opinions changed (or not) about fall school reopening over the last few months? Do you plan to send your kids to school if in-person instruction is offered?

Fall School Reopening: What Does Readiness Look Like?

Mixed Emotions about Breastfeeding from a Second-Time Mama

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and once again my social media feed is filled with photos of beautiful mothers nursing beautiful babies. If this makes your skin crawl with a range of hard-to-handle emotions, you’re not alone. I feel it too.

I know what it’s like to struggle with emotional and mental health due to mixed emotions about breastfeeding. I am in the thick of it now.

Nursing never worked out with my first baby, which brought on disappointment and guilt, followed closely by their best friend, shame. Now that I am successfully nursing my second child, to put it frankly, I often feel like a cow.

cow staring at camera
Oh, look! It’s me!

Not what you were expecting to hear? It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting to feel, either.

My first child never latched properly and screamed whenever we tried. I threw in the towel about one week into nursing, for the sake of my mental health and our bond. Then I exclusively pumped for nearly one year. I am never doing that again. I decided to stop pumping when I realized I wasn’t pumping for the sake of my baby’s health, I was doing it because societal norms told me that while fed might be best, breastmilk is “actually best.” If I couldn’t nurse, at the time pumping felt like the next best thing.

This is simply not true. Fed is best. Full stop. Baby formula is fantastic and in our case was truly a lifesaver when my milk supply couldn’t keep up with my baby’s needs.

While pregnant with my second child, I was sure that nursing would fail a second time. My experience the first time around was such a mind warp that I couldn’t imagine breastfeeding possibly being “easy.” I was mentally prepared to start with formula from day one since I knew that I had no desire to exclusively pump again. As it turned out, my second baby nursed like a champ from birth. It came naturally to us in a way I was convinced was impossible.

I still wouldn’t call breastfeeding easy.

My nipples were sore and cracked. My breasts were engorged. I was exhausted from having another human attached to me 24/7 but didn’t feel like l could or should take a break. It did not feel magical. The latch came easy, but I was once again experiencing mixed emotions about breastfeeding.

I thought that nursing would be the cure for my baby blues and subsequent postpartum depression. I thought that by being able to feed a baby with my body without any extra steps, I would feel closer to her from day one. I believed that by not needing to schedule my life around a rigorous pumping routine, I wouldn’t feel as stressed. Cue my complete shock when breastfeeding going smoothly did not produce the magical moments I thought it would. Though the gummy smiles staring up at me are really, really great.

mother holding baby, getting ready to breastfeed
Taken to commemorate that we’d made it three months nursing. This felt like a huge accomplishment.

As it turns out, mixed emotions about breastfeeding are totally normal. I took a quick poll of my friends, and almost all of them felt the same.

To me, breastfeeding is a means to an end. It is the quickest and most efficient way to get breastmilk from my body to the baby’s mouth. There are no tubes, no equipment, and no rhythmic whirring filling the silence of the wee hours while everyone else in my home is sleeping soundly. I thought for sure that nursing my baby would make me feel like a glorious earth goddess, but it doesn’t. At least not most of the time.

I was disappointed, both times around, for different reasons. The first time I was disappointed that nursing did not come naturally for us. The second time I was disappointed that it wasn’t as magical as others made it out to be. As I near five months into nursing this baby, I often fluctuate between that disappointment and a sense of pride.

Nursing makes me feel strong and in awe of what the human body can do. But it hasn’t impacted my postpartum mental health positively like I thought it would.

For me, nursing has not impacted my bond with my second baby any differently than bottle-feeding my first did. I know this is not true for some, but for others, it’s the reality. If you feel this way too, you’re not alone.

mother breastfeeding baby
I told my husband to take our photo because it was the first time I had nursed the baby outdoors and I was feeling confident and accomplished. I was also feeling (and looking) pretty tired.

The pride I feel is also complicated. After the disappointment of recurrent miscarriage and infertility, I am truly amazed at my body’s ability to finally “get something right.” I value my body’s ability to produce enough milk, and for both the baby and I getting the hang of nursing with relative ease. However, I would be just fine if I was bottle-feeding instead because I know what it feels like to underproduce and have nursing not work out. There is no wrong way to feed a baby unless maybe you’re giving a newborn a Big Mac to gnaw on. Probably not a great idea.

So, if you too are struggling this year during World Breastfeeding Week, you’re not alone, mama. Your mental health is far more important than society’s pressure to nurse exclusively. Take a break from the scroll and unfollow accounts you find triggering. As long as your baby is fed and healthy, you’re doing your best. And as I always say, your best is pretty great.

With that, I’m off to ask my spouse to make a bottle so I can leave the house for a much-needed walking break. It might be formula, to boot.

Mixed Emotions about Breastfeeding from a Second-Time Mama

The Labor Pains of Change and Leaning into Hard Things

0

Now is the time for women to take the helm as leaders through this current crisis.

Why? Because we are familiar with the labor pains of change.

Leaders keep referring to the time we are in as unprecedented. As if to tell us we don’t know what is happening. We are figuring it out as we go. We are doing the best we can. Although I understand why they are describing our current situation that way, I cringe just a bit because the truth is, we have all experienced this before—perhaps not on this scale, and perhaps not to this magnitude but we have all, each and every one of us, been through a transition.

mother and childMothers know what it means to go through a change so huge that it reshapes our very existence and shifts our identity. So instead of saying it is unprecedented, I wish leaders would remind us that we have each experienced change previously in our lives. I wish they would ask us to remember a time of difficult change so we can tap into that strength. I wish they would say the words that I have heard from mentors and coaches many times: “Change is scary but it always follows a pattern. It is hard in the beginning, messy in the middle and beautiful at the end.” We just need to keep moving forward.

I wish they would remind us that as women, we are familiar with the labor pains of change and that we can do hard things.

These days, every time I catch myself saying, “I wish our leaders would say…” I remind myself that we are the ones we have been waiting for. If I think something needs to be said then well, I guess I need to just say it. So here goes. Think about whatever that big change was in your life (and I’m sure there have been several,) the one that was hard in the beginning, messy in the middle and beautiful at the end. Yes, that one. Tap into that power now. Remember who you were and why the change occurred. Think about who and what you needed during the process of changing to keep going and think about how the experience changed you when it was over.

What comes to my mind is giving birth. In many ways, giving birth seems like an appropriate analogy for what we are currently going through.

The planet and our species seem to be in the midst of the labor pains of change and I know that the experience is vastly different for many of us but there are some commonalities. Those contractions start slowly at first and are mild—almost like a warning system to let us know that the process is starting. We should prepare ourselves for the change on the horizon. Then the contractions become more intense and closer together. There are moments where we may feel overwhelmed, so we need to begin to imagine what we are looking forward to. That’s what will pull us through the most difficult part of this process.

That’s where we are now. This is the time to imagine and dream—what life do you want for yourself, your family, your community, your country, and the world?

Think through each sphere one by one from a place of love and peace and joy. Come up with images real or imagined for how wonderful life can be if everything turns out just the way you wish it would.

I was fortunate enough to have a labor doula for my first birth. A labor doula seemed to be a luxury during a time when my family’s financial resources were scarce but I knew I needed the support. I’ve been lucky enough during this time of pandemic to find people who are sharing a message that gives me hope and their words feel a bit like a doula as well. If you haven’t done so already, find those people now. They have a larger perspective about the changes that are happening and they are in a position to help us as we navigate the process.

I was committed to natural birth for my children—it was a personal choice and not one that I am at all judgmental about, it was just best for me at the time. In making that choice, one piece of advice that I learned was not to go to the hospital too early. We usually think we are further along in the laboring process than we actually are. We still have quite a way to go so the more we can use time at home to hone the skills that we need to stay present for the journey, the better. I recall the doula arriving after the labor pains started. She saw my disposition and immediately knew that I was still a long way off. I was disappointed. But when my labor pains intensified, I immediately knew what she was talking about.

The labor pains came in waves that overwhelmed me. I didn’t know if I could take the pain. I wanted to give up. But I had a desire to see my baby when it was all over and that desire pulled me through.

man and womanThat is why it is best to set the vision now—you’ll need it later. Pain pushes while the vision pulls.

Years before I had children, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania. In that culture, and in quite a few cultures in Africa, after a woman gives birth, her name is changed to reflect the name of her child. I loved that. A new identity was birthed along with the child. It is a way to acknowledge that the transition had changed a mother to her very nature. It offered an opportunity for a mother to reinvent herself and her place in the community, in the world.

The same is true for us in this crisis moment. We can reinvent ourselves as well. We will emerge from this process anew. Not one of us will emerge unscathed.

So while we are here, in this very moment, we know what we need to do. We have gone through something like this before, we can do hard things—we’ve already done them. Like you, I wish there wasn’t so much pain, so much suffering in this world. I wish there was something I could do to make it easier for all of us, to take the labor pains away, but I know that the only way out is through. As much as I want to give up sometimes, I can’t. We can’t. The baby is coming. And in the end, there will be so much love, peace, and joy to behold after the labor pains of change.

Breathe and push.

The Labor Pains of Change and Leaning into Hard Things

 

Guest Author: Kalimah Fergus Ayele

NAISheadshot.jpg

Kalimah Fergus Ayele is the author of “Roundtrip Ticket Home” a memoir of her experiences living in different parts of the world. She has over 20 years of experience as a school leader and secondary science educator in both U.S. and international public and private schools. She began her teaching career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania, East Africa, and has also taught in South Africa, Lesotho, and most recently, Egypt. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at Stanford University, Master of Arts in Secondary Science Education at Teachers College Columbia University, Master of Science in School Administration from the College of Saint Rose and Ed.M in Organization Leadership through the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College Columbia University.

Adopting a Dog During the Covid-19 Pandemic

0

Up until now, I’ve never owned a dog. 

When we got married, my husband and I talked about adopting a dog, but it was never the right time. First, we lived in a tiny condo with no yard. Then, we bought a house that was under constant construction for years so we held off on adopting a dog. After that, our son came along, and then we moved again. Our son was afraid of dogs, so we decided to hold off. Then our daughter was born and she’s kept us on our toes ever since.

When Covid-19 hit, everything changed. We were busy, but a different kind of busy. Being a substitute teacher, I was not working. However, I was in charge of remote learning for our two children, picking up school lunches, and finishing the online classes I was taking. Most of all, I was dealing with my daughter’s boredom and my son’s anxiety and sadness, as well as my own conflicted emotions. 

School ended, and the world kind of stood still. I was unmotivated to do anything around the house, although my to-do list was a mile long. I was having problems sleeping, as were my children. Even when I completed something, I had no sense of accomplishment. To be honest, I was feeling depressed and aimless.

One day early in July, a friend of mine asked me to be a reference for her, as she was adopting two kittens. When I got off the phone with her adoption agent, I decided not to do my housework and procrastinated instead by getting online and searching for local dogs available to adopt. This is something I’ve been known to do once in a while, but honestly, I never had any intention of adopting a dog even then.

As I was searching, I came across a senior dog that was well-trained and family-friendly, who needed a home. I thought that she would be an excellent fit for my reluctant son and for me as a first-time dog owner. I proposed the idea to my husband who was a bit surprised but agreed that it might not be a bad idea to at least meet the dog to see if this was something we wanted to do.

Unfortunately, pet adoption is pretty competitive right now.

My family wasn’t the only group of people looking for something to bring a little joy into their lives. The shelter we were to visit is doing personal dog meet-ups and adoptions by appointment only due to Covid. Basically, you sign up online for an appointment to meet a certain dog or multiple dogs and hope they haven’t been adopted by the person before you.

This is exactly what happened when we signed up to meet the first dog. She was adopted 24 hours before we even got to meet her. Our kids were a bit disappointed because I’d been talking it up for a day or two, but we used it as a good life lesson and said we’d watch for the next dog who looked like it would be a good fit for our lifestyle.

For the next couple of days, I scoured a couple of websites. Lo and behold, I pulled up the page of a small, 3-year-old dog with little floppy ears. It appeared as if she would have a bit more energy than we were bargaining for, but we thought she’d be worth visiting.

It was a Friday and all of the appointments for the rest of the week were booked.

By chance, I checked the Saturday appointments one more time that evening. It turned out someone had canceled their appointment and there was an opening. My husband and I put our names in for the vacant appointment right away.

Thankfully, we did not have to deal with disappointment again. The little dog we wanted to see was still available when we arrived at the shelter the next day.

We spent 45 minutes with the spry, energetic dog. By the end, it was clear that she wasn’t what we had started looking for, but she was exactly what our family needed. Poppy, as we call her now, came home with us immediately.

Dog lying down

Our first days of dog ownership have not been without challenges, but I do not regret adopting Poppy one bit. My son is already seeking her out instead of constantly side-stepping away from her, and my daughter takes her responsibility to feed Poppy her dinner very seriously. Both laugh at Poppy’s silliness. Both of them are sleeping better. I no longer stay up in the wee hours of the morning with my mind going a mile a minute. I am falling asleep earlier, getting up earlier, walking more, and exercising frequently. My motivation to keep my house clean has returned, and so has my sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

dog jumping up tree
Poppy loves using trees as a springboard to jump as high as she can.

When Poppy isn’t running around, she’s cuddled up on a futon next to us or sitting in our laps. She is full of energy when she is outside and still needs some training, and everything she does is endearing. My whole family is so enchanted by her. 

Since adopting a dog, my home feels happier and more full.

My husband finds it funny that I took to having a dog so quickly because he was the one who grew up with dogs, not me. We know Poppy’s going to be a little bit of a project, but we both agree, she’s a project I am ready for and one that I needed right now.

Now, I am not suggesting that adopting a dog is what everyone needs right now during Covid-19. Before we adopted a dog, we made sure we had the means to care for Poppy and carefully considered what would happen once the pandemic dust settles.

However, I wanted to share our story so if you’ve been questioning the idea of adopting a dog, you won’t be afraid to just go and meet some dogs, or put in an application to an agency to see if they can help you find just the dog you’re looking for.

Have any of you adopted a pet during this crazy time of pandemic? How has or hasn’t it helped your own well-being? 

If you’re looking for a new furry friend in Vermont right now, you’ll find that there’s a pretty high demand. However, due to Covid-19, some shelters and agencies are not open or not currently processing applications, some are processing applications slowly, and some shelters are open by appointment only. Here are some good options for you to check out if you are interested in adopting a dog in Vermont (if you have a favorite that is not on the list, add it in the comment section below):

Passion 4 Paws

Humane Society of Chittenden County, South Burlington

All Breed Rescue, Williston

North Country Animal League

Franklin County Animal Rescue, St. Albans

Central Vermont Humane Society, East Montpelier

Homeward Bound: Addison County’s Humane Society, Middlebury

For the Love of Dogs Vermont

Vermont Dog Rescue

Rutland County Humane Society, Pittsford

Adopting a Dog During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Stay Connected

10,323FansLike
3,941FollowersFollow
1,711FollowersFollow
2,633FollowersFollow

In + Around Vermont

Fishing with Kids in Vermont

0
In Vermont, fishing with kids is both a pastime and a tradition. At one point, it seemed like every family did it.  These days, teaching...