How an Online Quiz Changed the Girl Power Conversation with My Daughters

A few months ago, my sports, book and music-loving girl asked if I were forced to choose, if I’d call her a “tom boy” or a “girly girl.” After I insisted she was neither because she was the one-and-only her, she replied, “I know I’m a tom boy because I took a Buzz Feed quiz.”

Even as a former Seventeen magazine quiz addict, my most major mom eye roll triggered on reflex. Are kids this age searching so hard for their identity that they’d trust the outcome of an eight-question quiz with obvious, leading questions on color, clothing and activity preferences? At least she agreed the methodology was absurd when we reviewed the quiz together.

But it wasn’t just the quiz that concerned me. I’d heard at least one other mom mention an undercurrent of girls rejecting stereotypical girly girl characteristics to embrace those of tom boys. She said her daughter feels left out and somewhat judged because she likes fashion and glitter and pink. I know this child is accepted and adored by all classmates for her strong sense of humor and unusually mature comfort in her own skin. It kills me that she feels isolated by a shallow girly girl label.

I wondered if the tom boy affinity was a play to fit in with or appear more attractive to boys. But parents of my daughter’s boy friends said when asked, their sons didn’t differentiate between or have positive or negative associations with girly girl and tom boy labels.

My response to these labels was so intense because young girls viewing narrow, gender-based types as mutually exclusive feels especially dangerous and dated in the context of the recent acceleration of the women’s movement.

While I didn’t solve why the tom boy label seemed preferred, I did start to obsess on the topic of what influences and motivates kids as they develop a sense of self and how, as a parent, I can help.

Adults use the phrase “you do you” to highlight and celebrate our differences.  But kids often don’t want to stand out. I worry how my daughters (10 and 7 years old) will discover who they are if they’re wholly preoccupied with who they are supposed to be.

Beyond the constant of our faith-based beliefs that our children were created to be perfectly unique and for a purpose, I started to focus, and in some cases, rethink how I wanted to position female challenges and role models to them. The result is five commitments I’m making to my girls, today.

  1. Show them they can BE somebody without being SOMEBODY. I fear that the era they’ve grown up in – where fame is based on or strongly tied to social media following – has changed their definition of success. For me, the best role models are a mix of inspiration and reality, those who are successful being themselves. I want my daughters to appreciate everyday heroes’ stories – our friends and family who are not famous but important and satisfied – as much as professional athletes, actresses and political leaders. I’ve not chosen to be at home full time with my kids but I think my friends who have, and excel at it, are great role models for my daughters, as are the women we know who are thriving in professions in every industry imaginable.
  2. Keep barriers in a bubble, for now. I wonder if so much attention on female firsts is one part empowerment and one part defeat for young girls. Maybe they never would have considered certain jobs off limits if they were blissfully unaware that women hadn’t gone there…yet. No doubt women pioneers in all professions are to be studied and revered. And, as my girls get older and barriers become obvious, they need to see women in leadership and women, period, in previously male-dominated fields to find their heroes and visualize their future. For now, I’m going to celebrate these women but dial back the emphasis on their first-ness.
  3. Avoid projecting stereotypes of the past. I love girl power books that profile female role models in all fields.  We read them often at bedtime and it occurred to me that many of the stories highlight how women defy established norms. I don’t want to pass along this historical baggage. A portion of one of these stories applauded an athlete who liked to wear makeup for her games. My girls weren’t born knowing that’s unusual and it is not linked to the athlete’s achievement. This is a sticking point for me because I think my girls can do anything and I don’t want stereotypes to stunt or shape their dreams.  If one of them wants to be a forensic accountant who is known among friends to make the best buttercream and the other, a novelist who drag races to let off steam, they can be that. My parents encouraged me to play drums when I showed an interest, period. I now know it being a largely “boys instrument” heightened their support, but I didn’t hear that from them. As the only girl or one of a couple in a group of 15+ spanning 7+ years in band, I gained confidence not only in my abilities but in the possibilities for my future.
  4. Teach global gratitude. What my girls DO have is access and opportunity. I want them to know this is not the case for many girls globally and to have a grateful attitude. I watched David Letterman’s interview with Malala Yousafzai where she shared that 170 million girls worldwide don’t have access to or are banned from getting an education. I can’t shake that staggering figure and I want my girls to never lose that context of appreciation.
  5. Always assume they CAN. Like innocent until proven guilty, I believe my girls can do anything until they prove they can’t. As a child, I often said “I’m bad at sports.” My dad habitually corrected me, insisting instead that I had not tried or was not interested in sports. That pearl – the difference between “can’t” and “won’t” or “haven’t tried” – is on frequent rotation with my daughters and son.

This list will grow and change as my daughters do the same. I vow to continue the discussion and to never stop learning from the friends who are parents to girls, women and movements that inspire me.

Here’s to hoping the foundation of my girls’ identities is somewhat solid before questionable role models gain influence and barriers and stereotypes become obvious. And, that they don’t consult an internet quiz on if they’re ready to start dating or where they should go to college.

This piece originally appeared on Sammiches & Psych Meds.

The 7 Words My Kids Hear Every Night Before Bed

My kids mess up. We apologize, forgive, and together decide what to do differently the next time. But then, we move on. I made a conscious choice a few years ago not to belabor their shortcomings.

Here’s why.

Our kids have so many masters. Add to that a child who is incredibly eager to please and even I am exhausted thinking about a goal of daily perfection with countless peers, teachers, coaches, parents, grandparents and more.

My eldest daughter is that kid; a capital P pleaser. It takes one to know one.

I wish I could fast forward her to where I am now – with a very small handful of people whose opinions matter to me – beyond one that’s divine and those living under my roof. It is my and my husband’s job to help her get there but realistically, the urge to impress is likely to increase before it wanes.

When she was seven years old, I started to notice a recurring theme at bedtime, one of worry, a fear of failing and falling short of expectations. She suddenly used the words “overwhelmed” and “scared” a lot and seemed to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. My heart sank at the familiar feeling.

First, I was angry that she had such an intense need to please at such a young age. But then, I was the same way, especially with my parents. I remember falling asleep on nights after I had disappointed them or we’d exchanged harsh words, wondering if they’d be proud to call me their own.

Funny that unconditional love, which was never in question, alone was not enough. I wanted their approval too.

This flashback inspired a habit I hoped would help my daughter turn off and truly rest. Every night, I tell her in seven simple words: I am proud to be your mom.

Behind the words is a silent mantra. It varies but generally includes these musings: The day is done. Flaws are expected. Mistakes teach us. The score is settled. The details don’t matter. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are mine. And every single night, despite hard stuff, my head hits the pillow with immeasurable gratitude that I get to be yours.

I say the seven words to all three of my kids but it was my eldest who made me realize it was necessary.

If I’m honest, 17 years into a career, 12 into a marriage and nine into parenting my own children, there are still few things that give me the same zing of encouragement or punch of deflation than my parents’ response to me or my choices. I don’t know if one ever outgrows that. As a teenager I occasionally heard my grandmother criticize my mom and imagined how much it must’ve hurt.

I’d like my kids to care less what others think and we talk about it a lot in our house. But while we navigate that together, I never want them to question where they stand with me. My hope is that our routine bedtime exchange will remind them, no matter how many not-so-awesome choices they made or how harshly I reacted when they poorly handled a situation with a friend, disrespected an adult or even lost an article of clothing (AGAIN), they have my unconditional love and no-strings-attached approval. Maybe, just maybe, it will make them less likely to overdo it when it comes to seeking approval from others.

One night, about a year after I started using the seven words, I heard a “Hey Mom!” in the darkness and paused pulling the door shut just in time to catch a sweet third grade voice saying, “I’m proud to be your daughter, too!”

“Thanks, honey!” was all I could muster before I feared she would detect the ugly, happy cry brewing.

Now, on days when I feel like I am failing at this parenting thing, that memory reassures me. And I can rest better too.

This piece originally appeared on Pop Sugar.


Why I NEED Parenting Advice from Non-Parents

Why I NEED Parenting Advice from Non-Parents

I hear it almost daily from my parent peers: “Obviously, he/she does NOT have kids!” Whether the offender dared to give some child-related advice, extend an invite at a “child unfriendly” time or make another luxury purchase, the replay is thick with judgement and sarcasm. Rejecting the perspective of non-parent friends and family is the piece of this scenario that makes me mental. Firsthand experience being the sole prerequisite to having a valid opinion is absurd. No one would suggest a seasoned political adviser is not qualified to be a campaign manager just because he or she has never held an office, that a judge cannot discern an appropriate sentence because he or she has never been charged with a crime, or that an oncologist who has not personally fought cancer is not equipped to treat it.

Maybe non-parents can’t relate to the everyday chaos and brain drain that is parenting, but they do have a legitimate point of view from their own experience. Parenting qualifications are as much about how much life you’ve lived (which may not correlate with age) as they are about child status. With just under four decades logged and nine years as a parent, my kids can only benefit from the larger, more diverse pool of combined experience from all of my friends and family. Together, we have a shot at increasing the average age when each of my three kids first try to run away from home. Why I need parenting advice from non-parents…

They Are Friends for Life

I’ve trusted some of these people for 25+ years. We obsessed over Trapper Keeper designs and try outs, pegged our jeans, belted Alanis, pierced (each other’s) ears, road-tripped, traded talking for sleep, managed messy choices and above all, showed up. My friends (old and new) have great instincts and I’ve wanted their counsel on everything from fashion to first jobs and the bigger life decisions that followed. Yet, none of them have any related credentials. How is parenthood any different? What’s more, some of my non-parent friends are teachers, dietitians and nurses, which makes them loads more educated on child development than me.

They Too Were Once Kids

Each of these friends knows what it feels like to be a kid and to be a part of a family with varying degrees of (dys)function. They remember the year their brother or sister got to have a roller rink birthday party when the most exciting element of theirs was that the Kool-Aid matched the crepe paper. Perhaps they were shy or hated being the middle child. My kids are not me and our family does not look exactly like the one in which I was raised. They could easily relate to some of these memories and feelings more than my own.

They Too Have Parents

Non-parents’ stories about parenting styles are just as valuable as any others. They remember their dad keeping his cool about a fender bender or their mom apologizing most times after she lost hers. Maybe rules were stressed without rationale, driving a wedge of silence into their teen years. I can learn from parents who chose humor when my friends expected a hammer or who effectively built up or chipped away their self-confidence. One of my friends shares that her mom never mentioned anything about her body or appearance unless it was a compliment and still today, the positive impact is immeasurable.

They Have the Perspective to Call My Crazy

As parents surrounded by parents (and Pinterest), sometimes it is hard to check yourself. These friends are not caught up in the parenting bubble and remind me that that a packed calendar of activities and extravagant summer camps are not the golden tickets to a perfect childhood. Some say it was good for them to earn and save money to purchase their beloved Guess jeans. Our child-centered culture also means many of my non-parent friends are inundated with parenting content. One such friend has consistently sent me the best of the best pieces I’ve ever read on raising strong girls. Also, there’s sleep. I know some of my non-parents friends get either more quantity or quality sleep and I am thankful for the clarity they bring to our conversations.

They Are the People I Hope My Children Become

I would be so proud if my children were half as kind, loyal, compassionate, brave, smart, bold, funny, empathetic and generous as each of my friends with the strongest of these qualities. Some aforementioned friends are parents and some are not. These characteristics are learned by example. Spending time exclusively with friends who have families that look like ours would be contributing to a bubble mentality I want to avoid at all costs. I’m humbled that all of my friends take an interest in my kids – especially those non-parents who would not choose that status. I can appreciate being around others’ kids may be sad or hard for these friends at times.

One friend who happens to not have kids treats my daughters to one-on-one birthday outings. The nuggets she shares after their much anticipated adventures and chats show the beautiful freedom in spending time with role models who are not your parents. My girls get to say things in a way they may not say them to me and receive the benefit of a different response. Their trust and friendship with this special “aunt” is no doubt one of the best gifts I could be given, as a parent.

Still today, I have a bond like this with my childhood piano teacher. Her support as a counselor and confidant has been a great comfort to me and to my parents. She was inarguably the secret ingredient to all of us surviving my teens.

That season is not so far away. I have to keep my tribe close so when my kids run away, I’ll like where they land and trust they’ll come back with a fresh perspective.


The Time My Child Schooled Me, on Life

The tears poured down my face, hot and wet. I think it was my most proud moment as a parent. Yet, my 8-year-old daughter’s achievement could not be measured by a sports ranking or a letter on a report card. Her wisdom on the drive home from gymnastics that night so far surpassed my expectations that I was jarred, nearly speechless.

Walking hand in hand out of the gym, she started to tell me something but stopped herself with a quick “Nevermind.” When I persisted from the front seat, she took a deep breath and said, “Mommy, you can sell my iPod because I know you are looking for a job right now and we probably need the money.” Her voice cracked halfway through the sentence and she cried the rest.

My heart plummeted to my toes. The gravity of that offer was not lost on me. A month prior, the iPod was THE top birthday gift on her list. It was a much discussed compromise since we weren’t ready for her to have a handheld gaming or texting device. The wrapping paper was ripped in record speed and through squeals and spazzy jumps, she proclaimed it “the most awesomest gift ever.” The two have been inseparable. It’s clear she views it as a symbol of maturity and privilege and a surefire way to tune out her two younger siblings. Every unoccupied minute, she bops through the house like a bona fide teen belting out pitchy lyrics over her top volume headphones.

Emotions in response to her selfless proposal came in waves. First, I was angry with myself. I DIDN’T want my daughter to worry about adult things. I must have used the “essentials, not extras” message to rationalize more “no”s than I realized. Then, sadness, I DIDN’T want my daughter to feel my stress. The trickle-down effect was probably inevitable, but I still felt like I’d failed my girl. The waves stopped when I paused  to consider what I DID want for my daughter. Above all, I wanted her to be honest, empathetic and kind. She showed me those qualities and in exchange, I owed her transparency.

Her assessment of our situation was accurate. I was looking for my next consulting gig and my husband was building a new business. We were under some financial strain. But she was missing the critical context.

So I laid it all out. When she was born, we decided having one parent work a more flexible job was ideal for our family and along with that came some trade-offs, like less stability. And, while these types of jobs can be harder to find, in eight years as a freelance communications consultant I’d been fortunate to have many jobs and few breaks. This break was the first one when her Dad was also self-employed and, that meant for now, we’d have to do more with less. I told her these are the times that test faith and family and I was glad we shared those things.

She didn’t flinch and said, “Mommy, I just want you to be happy. I want you to have a job you love.”

Stunned, I wondered why I hadn’t shared more of the “why” with her, sooner. I knew it wasn’t pride. My child already knew I was not perfect and we never avoided tough topics. Maybe it was protection or maybe I was just too exhausted. One thing was clear, I’d drastically underestimated her ability to “get” the whole truth and to synthesize what’s most important.

What she didn’t know (nor do I want her to know) about the iPod was that we already owned it and simply dumped the data, refurbished and loaded it with her favorite songs. It had zero monetary value to us. But her willingness to trade her most prized possession to relieve some of her family’s burden was of immeasurable value – pure social-emotional gold.

She got it. People over things. A truth I hoped she knew based on our conversations and family choices, but never imagined she’d grasp so tangibly at such a young age. A truth I’d always talked but perhaps temporarily stopped walking. In the scramble of providing for and serving my family, my mindset may have become more practical than personal.

But my sweet second grader nailed it. She gave me a gift I’ll never forget in that brief car conversation. One day I’ll tell her how she re-calibrated my heart and mind to what really matters, when I needed it most. I won’t wait to tell her that I already have a job I love, and it’s not one she’ll find on my resume.

Things I Tell My Kids But WANT To Tell Adults

“I am going to close my eyes and pretend you didn’t say that and give you a chance to make it right.” It rolled off of my brain’s tongue like spit up from a reflux-y infant’s mouth. No, I didn’t say it out loud. And this time, I didn’t say it to my kids. But fantasizing about giving this go-to ode from my parenting playlist to a Starbucks employee was SO FREEING.

The scene: a location in a neighborhood with more children than ants. The situation: a mom hopes to connect with her 5-year-old despite the company of her 1-year-old brother. The crime: saying they had “just the one” highchair, which was occupied.

What? This is Chicago, not an off-the-grid mountain town. All I could see was that unassuming employee doing the Dr. Evil simultaneous smile and snicker while lighting a match to my best laid plans. Plans I know are necessary, like highchairs, to make quality time with each of my three kids a reality. Instead, precious moments I hoped to steal with my spirited middle child would now be stolen by her squirmy brother.

No time to mourn the impossibility of plan B, I pictured myself delivering a line once exclusively reserved for my offspring to someone voting aged+. Sweet mental meditation! The process proved such an effective mood catalyst that I became addicted to casting adults under the silent spell of my most used mom-isms:

To the person I overhear ordering with, “Give me the hummus platter,” or “I’ll take the pinot.”: “How about a little please and thank you!?!” OR “Why don’t you try again, in the form of a question.”

To the coworker who often speaks from or acts on emotions before pausing to think: “Was that a (30-60)-year-old choice?”

To the preschool teachers whose thinly veiled expressions guilt me about being late or forgetting the library books, again: “Can you cut me some slack, please?”

To the grocery store worker who asks while I’m juggling a cart full of kids and food, a bag on each shoulder, a kid in one arm and a work call on the other, if I want a bag for my milk: “I hope you are selling limbs, because I am not an octopus.” And, for the record, yes I want my milk in a bag. Every. Single. Time.

To gossipy moms: “No one likes a tattletale.”

To the road rager: “Two wrongs don’t make a right!” or maybe, “I can only hear your best voice and that does NOT sound like your best voice.”

To the boss who says daily, “I know your plate is really full but I need you to…”: “What you’re saying is important to me, but I simply cannot listen right now.”

To the health insurance representative who will not provide any of the codes I need and cannot answer my questions (and cannot tell me who can) but is pleased to “educate” me on a whole host of other topics: “First things first!”

To the friend who spends too much time texting at happy hour: “Eye contact, please.”

To the customer service rep who acts like they cannot hear me when I ask to speak to their manager: “I was not born yesterday.”

To the broken record colleague or friend who vents for months but takes no action: “Instead of complaining, let’s focus on what we CAN do.”

To the doctor who wants to explore every wait-it-out scenario before refilling my psych meds or prescribing an antibiotic for the fifth bug I’ve caught from my kids this season: “Can you see that I am struggling?”

To the way too well read friend or parent who is a frequent giver of unsolicited advice: “Who are you in charge of?”

I recognize actually saying these things would be rude and many of these people are just doing their job. I do believe everyone is fighting their own mostly unseen battles, including myself, as evidenced by the contents of this piece. My intent has been get-yourself-through-the-day comic relief. And, it has worked.

An outcome I didn’t expect was an increase in positive and supportive things I’d typically share with my kids, friends and family being directed towards complete strangers, more often.

To the mom mirroring my muffin top tucking pants maneuver: “You are beautiful, as is.”

To the child sitting alone on the field trip school bus: “You will find your people, I promise. It just might take some time.”  

To the mentally ill or homeless people we see on daily walks and commutes: “You are loved, no matter what.”

To the person on public transport who looks flat exhausted: “Be kind to yourself. Tomorrow is a new day.” 

This list could go on for pages. It is not about shaking things off for everyday self-preservation but about connection. Maybe I am craving connection in our increasingly disconnected world. And, maybe someday I’ll have the guts to let a stranger in on one of these private prayers. Until then, I will laugh and cry along with the voices in my head.

My Sweet Secret for Making Birthdays Memorable

When I was growing up, birthday parties were at home with red rover, relays and maybe a dip in the pool out back. My parents even “did it up” with themes (the best: bring your doll/animal and create a Polaroid-filled baby book with drawings and descriptions of their stats, favorites and firsts). As a parent, I now know that required A LOT of work. Still, these parties don’t compare to what some parents are doing today.

I’ve even fallen victim to it–hiring entertainment, obsessing over party favors and decking out my house FOR FOUR YEAR OLDS. But, I am universes away from six-figure celebrity spawn shindigs – sometimes held at wildlife parks or on cruise ships and featuring boy bands, butterflies, bunnies and boatloads of buttercream.

The problem: this outrageous birthday culture is leaking into other pedestrian holidays. I say BRAVO to this beautiful open letter to parents to dial it down – please.

Rant Over: Back to Birthdays and Back to Basics

The reality: birthdays are beyond brilliant for kids and somehow to just sleep (a lot) less and drink (a little) more in the weeks leading up to one of these (relatively low-key) par-tays for my magical little mamas or their baby brother.

But when I think about the birthday celebration goal in simple terms, it is the same as any other day–a smile on my child’s face and the assurance they feel loved and fed physically, emotionally and spiritually. That’s basic.

The back-to-the-basics solution: cake. Homemade cake. Have I oversimplified the formula for making your child feel loved on his or her birthday? Perhaps. But for me, homemade cake on one’s birthday is a symbol of a love of luxurious proportions (not without blood, sweat and tears) grounded in three generations of women in my family.

The Original: Grandma

The warm waft of a cake or pie in progress triggers a multitude of memories spent baking with my maternal grandma. My senses go into overdrive remembering her wearing her vest-style daily apron uniform in her 60s kitchen–complete with vinyl sunflower wallpaper, white lacquered cabinets dotted with shiny disc knobs large enough to see your distorted reflection and a cookie jar filled with custom orders–chocolate chip for me and butterscotch chip “Scotchies” for my brother.

Famous in her community for baking, she was a desserts-only high school lunch lady who worked to help make college possible for her kids. It was an era when “saving the extra baked pie crust pieces” for students who complimented her cooking was not only tolerated but applauded. Can you imagine? Today, I hear most kids are allergic to pie crust.

She was famous to me for special summer visits spent experiencing small town living with she and my grandpa and for helping me tackle baking projects that were always the right size and splendor for her chocoholic granddaughter.

Her birthday specialty for my mom? The rainbow cake. My mom believes she likely learned about it from a ladies magazine because that was her source for most important things. I can still hear her whispering her nickname for Redbook to my mom under her breath (Sexbook).

The Innovator: Mom

When I was growing up my mom just had to raise the bar (thanks Mom) by adding professional cake decorating to the rainbow cake family formula. She took classes at the local public school and the rest of the story reads like a comic book with an unflinching sweets savant superheroine who refuses to be intimidated by vanilla buttercream villains or derailed by the demons of detailed design.

She tackled everything from R2D2 to my beloved Barbie cake. I remember going to bed when the cake was a blank canvas of white icing and waking up to a masterpiece. Today, I fully appreciate what was going on into the wee hours of the night, particularly during years when my mom and I probably weren’t speaking. I’ll have to remember that during the terrible teens.

The Copycat: Yours Truly

I am not sure how I can make my mark on the family birthday baking legacy but I am grateful that my grandma and mom gave me the 101.  I’ll let you in on a secret…as warm and fuzzy as this piece is (I admittedly choked up while writing it) making these cakes IS NO WALK IN THE PARK. It is a two or three-day process my friend and I (who also uses our family formula) refer to as cake-a-palooza. But I am growing.  On the eve of completing one of this year’s cakes, my husband admired my progress noting how impressed he was that I hadn’t had a tear-filled temper tantrum (yet).

Before you deem cake decorating some kind of unattainable Martha Stewart pipe dream, I want you to know–I am not a do-it-yourselfer. Craft stores give me hives and I run directly to my trusty dry cleaner/tailor when a button falls off of any item of clothing. Making these cakes are my three artistic moments each year. Period.

Our smiling photos don’t show my behind-the-scenes “birthday cakes by the numbers” reality: birthday beneficiaries: 3; dishwasher/sous chef husbands: 1; cakes: 12; hours spent looking for the perfect design online: 15; bottles of wine: lost count; average number of days post-cake that stained hands look like abstract icing dye art: 4; panic attacks over the whole cake being ruined in a split second from the slip of a pastry bag: at least 200.

Remember the simple birthday celebration goal?  I think I’m doing an okay job realizing it, loving my kids one cake at a time.

What are your family birthday food traditions?  What new ones are you starting?

This piece originally appeared on Smart Eating for Kids.

7 Reasons Why My 7-Year-Old Has PMS

Every day I am rocked by the reality that my kids are growing up at an accelerated rate.  Call them threenagers or 7-going-on-17, it is a common topic when stories are swapped on soccer sidelines, at play date pick-ups and even over adult drinks. Observing my girls (5 and 7), I can’t help but wonder if more mature experiences and influences are triggering bigger emotions sooner. Proof: My 7-year-old displays a whole slew of symptoms typically triggered by the good old crimson wave.

My moms-of-second-grade-girls friends say I am not alone, reporting their otherwise sweet and reasonably well-adjusted girls snapping into crazy mode in an all-too-familiar cyclical manner. A doctor, psychiatrist or educator could explain the physiological and social-emotional reasons for this. But I am just a mom on a self-preservation mission and therefore have diagnosed my dear daughter with pre-pre-menstrual syndrome, or PPMS.

No, I am not making light of early puberty. My daughter is showing zero physical signs of maturity – just the ugly emotional ones that have robbed me of my sanity a quarter of every month since I was 14 years old. That is more than 1,600 days, accounting for Aunt Flo’s extended vacations during my three pregnancies and breastfeeding.  That hater probably went somewhere tropical to mock my beached whale status.

Back to my daughter and why I swear she is menstruating. Used as a verb, that word still has a fifth grade sex ed “ick” factor for me. I am not ready for this and had the scientifically unsound fantasy that my cycle would be nearly done when hers started. Circle of life stuff. Instead, here’s evidence – measured by PMS hallmark symptoms – that we’re having the pleasure of parallel periods a few years too soon:

1. Anxiety – Sometimes NOTHING in her closet looks good; EVERYTHING looks weird. These conclusions are huffed and puffed as she tugs at waistbands and hemlines in front of a mirror amid piles of discarded duds. Just yesterday she dissolved into a crying heap because her sister said her much-planned plaid-dress picture day “look” actually made her look like a farmer. I told her I’d take that as a compliment. Farmers rule. Not to her. Not yesterday.

2. Crying spells – Can cry more than a toddler over a Rainbow Loom fail, misplaced Beanie Boo or homework hiccup. I thought emoting to this extreme would require the death of a pet or her first unfriending. It is not rational. Neither is (P)PMS.

3. Irritability – Often cannot articulate the reason for said tantrum and does blubbering, self-loathing Steel Magnolia’s-style Shelby-in-the-beauty-shop-post-blood-sugar-attack apology, “Oh Mama, I’m sorry!!!” I snap into M’Lynn/Truvy mode, give her a drink, stroke her hair and say, “It’s all right. It’s all over now” and “Oh, I’ll fix it! We’ll fix it!”  I only wish we had the awesome 80s hair to boot.

4. Trouble with concentration or memory – Frequently forgets things. I can’t count on two hands the number of times we’ve returned to school, Target, a museum or church in the last month in search of a sweater, purse, water bottle, book or lunch box.

5. Joint or muscle pain – Occasionally experiences achy legs. Maybe not growing pains?  Even as a PMS pro, I didn’t realize this symptom fell under the menstruation rainbow of fun.

6. Upset stomach, bloating, constipation and more – Gut Issues Galore could be her social media handle. Many days include an array of reasons for spending excessive time in the bathroom.

7. Feeling tired – See numbers 1-4.

Plenty of these symptoms could just be part of getting older, but labeling it PPMS helps me cope. As in, it’s not me, it’s her.

Maybe the silver lining is that we’ll both be better prepared when a double dose of monthly madness truly commences under our roof. No doubt I’ll be waiting with open arms, an empathetic ear, stretchy pants, a fistful of Advil and a well-loved heating pad.

For now, to explain her occasional public outbursts, I picture uttering the same line women (myself included) use to excuse a whole bevy of bad behavior and hormone-fueled hysteria: “Sorry, she’s PMS-ing.” Saying it silently and imagining people’s reaction is almost as satisfying.

And just like that, my PMSy mood lifts, too.

This piece originally appeared on Sammiches and Psych Meds.

15 Reasons Why I’m Glad There Are Not Mommy Monitors

I never used a video monitor with my kids. I didn’t want the temptation of being obsessed with their every move and breath while sleeping. It freed me up to check on them, in person, as frequently as I felt necessary. A part of me also felt it was just not nice to spy so closely. Maybe I was projecting my right to privacy on them, knowing, deep down, that if the monitor were turned on me I would not want to explain or defend the footage captured. On the baby monitor one might see swaddle breaks, pacifier pitching or future presidents of crib climbers anonymous but the mommy monitor would surely catch me:

  1. Opening baby food with my teeth and kind of liking the pop of puree squirting into my mouth.
  2. Substituting time on the breast pump for time on the treadmill for a more efficient calorie burn.
  3. Squeezing in a conference call while TV watches the big kids and the big kids watch the baby.
  4. Perfecting my going-to-the-bathroom-while-feeding-or-holding-baby talent, multitasking at its finest.
  5. Losing my temper, sometimes with children and other times with myself or appliances.
  6. Doing the laundry naked.  Laundry-related activities often last 30 minutes past littering the load with pieces from my person. My children are infinitely amused by this scene.
  7. Eating butter, frequently by itself.
  8. Reviving skills I probably should have left in high school or college: Pulling the-only-bra-that-looks-good-with-that-shirt out of the bottom of the dirty laundry and “dry showering” with deodorant and perfume.
  9. Trying to leave my phone alone for 30 minutes and failing, every time.
  10. Wearing the demi-panel maternity jeans to enjoy the Spanx-like effect months past an appropriate postnatal window.
  11. Pondering if my underwear is wet with sweat or pee and ultimately, deciding it doesn’t matter.
  12. Sending texts meant for my husband to my sitter or colleague and vice versa.
  13. Consuming my own pot of coffee and applying piles of anti-aging products under the pipe dream pretense that they will add an hour of sleep to my brain and remove a year of age from my face.
  14. Premeditating sloppy seconds from crust-less PBJs. Kids miss the boat on bread’s best feature.  And, crust with peanut butter? Perfection.
  15. Crying myself to sleep because trying to succeed at being a working mom, wife, daughter, friend and sister is sometimes just too much.

But I also hope it would catch me:

  • Obsessing over the right words to write in a “napkin note” the day after my daughter had a rough day at school.
  • Breaking our family’s DO NOT GET UP FROM THE DINNER TABLE rule with an impromptu dance party
  • when Pandora pipes out one of our favorite songs.
  • Apologizing to my kids and asking for their forgiveness.
  • Folding nearly every time one of my children asks for one more book, chapter or song read or listened to together at bedtime.
  • Letting my kids SEE me cry and be vulnerable and NOT perfect. So they know they do not have to be.

Now that I’ve fessed up, can we agree to keep all future monitoring to kids and nannies?

This piece originally appeared on Mamalode.

Beauty Is Not A Bad Word

My smart, kind and sensitive-but-not-fragile daughter was cocooned in personalized fleece and hand-knit warmth. Looking at the scene, I thought,she is so loved. Bedtime was our most sacred time together – a retreat from two siblings, school and schedules. She’d often ask, “Can I tell you something at bedtime?” After reading, sometimes we’d play a mother-daughter round of “Would you rather?” or flip through a magazine and pick out our favorites. There was something so secure about being in her bed together – like two girlfriends sharing secrets at their earliest slumber parties – divulging our hopes and fears, confessing regrets, recounting the happenings of the day, giggling until we snorted…

One night, her last thought before she drifted off to sleep was, “Mommy, sometimes I ask you if I’m fat just to hear you say that I’m so skinny.” Shocked, I responded, “Why would you want to hear that?” “Oh, it just feels so good,” she chirped. I cringed at how easily those words rolled off her tongue. A streak of anger raced through me like an F5 tornado.

The voice in my head was screaming so loudly I feared she needed noise-canceling headphones to drown it out. “You are seven!” “I have worked so hard to never use words like fat or skinny about your appearance – or anyone else’s.” “I have instead focused on your curiosity, creativity, compassion and all of the things your strong and healthy body can do.” “You are seven!” “I shook my head and dodged the question and you interpreted that as ‘so skinny’?” “I hate society for penetrating your earliest perceptions of ‘pretty’ with plastic ideals.” “I hate myself for ever letting you see I was dissatisfied with my appearance.” “You are SEVEN, it should be about popsicles, playgrounds, painting, picnics and ponies!”

A window of innocence I longed to stretch open had now closed, and I felt robbed.

Out loud, I reinforced all of my key messages about her adventurous spirit, inner beauty and ability to include others. I followed all of my rules: Avoid labels, reframe the conversation around personality positives, remove any benefits associated with looks …

My intentions were good. My compliments were sincere. But as I left her room that night, I could tell there was a change. Despite all of my conscious efforts to value the contrary, and rage against the princess machine, my vibrant first grader still wanted validation about her external and, most alarming, ideally thin appearance.

I reflected more. As the everyday woman in her life, this must be on me. Suddenly something became crystal clear: She was calling my bluff.

I cannot take a compliment on my appearance. Since having daughters (the other one is four), I’ve become aware that I should accept compliments, and I want to be a model for graciously receiving praise on a clothing choice or hairstyle. But implying I’m not worthy of someone’s admiration is such a part of the fabric of my being that it’s still my default. My daughter has certainly sensed my insincerity and, likely, my insecurity.

What’s more, if someone compliments her exterior, my response focuses on my greater pride about her character, intelligence, etc. Before she even has a chance to accept the compliment, I’ve rejected it for her. Like trying to erase barely dried ink, I’ve smeared the words and removed their meaning, my actions leaving a stain. Or, I use my “famous line” (as she’s come to call it, using air quotes and eye rolls) for when someone says my kids are cute: “Well I think so, but I’m required,” delivered with a self-deprecating laugh.

My best-laid plans to nurture a humble, socially secure, self-satisfied and giving daughter have backfired – making her question if the person who appreciates her beauty most even notices it.

Maybe that is why she wants my endorsement. And who can blame her? Sometimes a girl just wants to feel pretty and know that the people who matter recognize her beauty – inside and out.

Perhaps I need to embrace that beauty is not a bad word. My daughter and I often marvel at it in nature, art and other people, and we are generous with applause for friends, family and even strangers. I guess one’s appearance can be added to the long list supporting the truth that is it much easier to give than to receive.

A wise and stunning soul, who is also my oldest friend, an artist and a mother whose talents could never be summarized in this fragment, suggested some practical ways of taking beauty off the taboo topic list.

One of her favorite art concepts – different views and interpretations of beauty – may help spark a casual dialogue about beauty.

“Talk about beauty more to help kids develop their definition of it. Explore questions like, ‘Can things that are awkward, opposite or unique be beautiful (maybe even more so than something ordinary)? Can things become more beautiful once you know and love them?’”

“Or, try tying beauty to function or wisdom, like finding a turtle’s shell to be beautiful because it is their home or the patina of a building to be beautiful because aging isn’t just about physical decline.”

Yes, these are ways I can feel comfortable discussing the b word – during playdates, in museums, alongside friends. It reminds me of my grandmother’s standout cheekbones. I noticed those before her wrinkles, every time. I should tell my daughter that.

For now, I am going to make an effort to compliment her outward appearance as much as I do her other strengths, before she’s pushed to seek society’s shallow brand of satisfaction. I will focus on her unique beauty and areas of potential confidence angst, such as fancying the way her (currently) toothless grin spotlights the sprinkle of freckles on her nose.

While my opinion is important to her now, and I hope she’s always somewhat interested in seeking it, it is not most important. I don’t want her looking for others’ approval – even mine.

Instead, I promise to help her explore her faith so she knows she is loved supernaturally and unconditionally and to nurture her finding the kind of girlfriends I’ve been lucky enough to have – the ones who have your back, build you up, see your beauty and celebrate it in all circumstances.

Maybe we can both become better at receiving. What can I say? I am a mom and I just want to reach down like one of those claw games at a dingy arcade and be the one who wins – against all odds – at pulling my girl out of the oversized junk that surrounds her.

This piece originally appeared on Scary Mommy.

Simple Spa Night: Step Into Your Kitchen to Get Glam with Your Girls

In the last year, my husband and I have tried to be really intentional about monthly one-on-one time with each of our daughters (now ages 6 and 3.5). I guess they noticed. My 6 year-old recently selected “one afternoon or evening each with you and Daddy” as the reward for a behavior/chore chart in progress.

When her little sister left town for a week with her grandparents, she knew she was in for that coveted trifecta of uninterrupted attention, abandonment of rules (read: bedtimes) and more grown up activities with each of her parents.

Our one-on-one time often involves eating out but I am always conscious of the message that sends. I don’t want my kids to view food as the default when it comes to special time spent together, celebrations and rewards – great insight on that common challenge in this past post on the unexpected benefits of having allergy kids.

For our big girl time, I thought my 6-going-on-16 gal would like one of my favorite girlfriend “getaways” – girls’ night in, with a spa twist. After all, competition was tough following her near-perfect pizza and pet store Daddy date night.

Tools of the Trade

Inspired by a favorite Fancy Nancy book (gifted by one of her, ahem MY, favorite friends), I looked for simple spa treatments we could concoct with staples stocked in our kitchen. Bingo – the internet is loaded with two-to-three ingredient recipes to literally try on.

We got into our robes and whipped up sugar scrub (1 tbsp of sugar partially dissolved in 3 tbsp of warm water) followed by a Greek yogurt and honey mask (1 cup Greek yogurt combined with 2 tbsp of runny/warmed honey), topped with spa-ssential cucumber rounds on our eyes.

It’s no secret that kids love to play with their food, so we used our silicone basting brushes to paint the masks on each other.

The Food

My girls are fond of making and enjoying many of these spa-themed foods: yogurt parfaits or smoothies, crudités with various dips, fruit kebabs, fruit or veggie-spiked water, the list goes on.

I learned that using the “spa” label is another positive way to talk about and help them choose more healthy foods. It is fun for them to request a spa breakfast or dinner, and they often help me brainstorm and prepare new menu items and food combinations.

The Flair

To complete the spa experience, we flipped through some fashion magazines and watched a more grown up TV show (she chose Say Yes to the Dress) while I gave her a custom mani-pedi.

Tell me…what secrets do you have for making special times with your kids fun, positive and healthy?

This piece originally appeared on Smart Eating for Kids.