Why the suburbs are all wrong for my kids

“LOOK. AT. THE. DEER!” I say this to my sons, 11 and 14, as we do our normal weeknight swing down the tree-lined driveway, home from what feels like their 10th basketball practice of the week. But my boys are buried in their iPhones, watching for their friends’ reactions/likes/comments on one of whatever social media apps of the moment.

Amazing things are going on around them – I mean, I am floored, every time, by seeing the deer just calmly hanging out a few feet away, staring right at me, not even running away from our car. But unlike many parents, I don’t think it’s social media that has led to my kids’ indifference. I’ve firmly decided to place the much of the blame squarely on the suburbs. Yes – having my kids grow up in the beautiful, sheltered, suburban world of the suburbs of Maryland is the problem.

I grew up in Chicago, in a vibrant neighborhood where the noise was my friend and nobody drove me anywhere. Sounds were all around me, and I walked everywhere, myself, alone. I fell asleep to the din of the Lunt Avenue buses outside my bedroom window, and the chatter of the second-floor neighbors talking with my mom because the windows were open. I woke up to the scent of blueberry muffins baking at Swiss Pastry across the alleyway, and the clanks of the first morning’s game of Kick the Can. From the moment I woke up, I was never lonely or bored. Sounds and people enticed me to go out and explore. Everything was outside, awaiting me.

I felt connected to all the neighborhood kids, shops, workers – even the caretaker of the pond at our beloved Indian Boundary Park, which was just a baseball’s throw away. It was at that pond that I saw my first turtle and discovered how they move and feel.

And that’s what I’m afraid my boys don’t have by living in the suburbs. That feeling of being connected. I bet my boys have never stolen or felt a turtle. They’ve probably watched animal tricks on the Internet and have likely Googled “turtles” when they needed to learn about them for a school project. My younger son does know the neighborhood kids, but my older one is always out at some structured activity or sports practice he gets to by car.

They don’t have the kind of life where they can walk themselves to activities and chat with store owners along the way. They don’t have to figure out bus numbers and routes or try new things on their own. The suburbs: The planned community where everything is available, by car. With a schedule. With parents in charge.

Sometimes, at night, as I look out our big living room window at the woods behind our house. It’s pretty, but unnerving. It’s too quiet. I’m looking for some activity – even the deer – and waiting for something to happen. The suburbs, with all of their supposed security and conveniences, and book clubs for moms and hectic sports leagues for kids, are pretty lonely.

Do my kids feel the loneliness of the suburbs? I don’t think so. I think it feels like their haven, their home. It’s all they’ve ever known. But when my son has an urgent request for candy or a protractor for homework, the need will pass that night, unfulfilled, unless he can persuade me to drive him to CVS. If we lived in a neighborhood like the one I grew up in, he could walk to the drugstore to get it himself. He’d learn responsibility, independence and redefine initiative.

And as for me, the mom in the suburbs: Sometimes I just don’t feel like driving over to Starbucks to meet a friend for coffee. I yearn for the way it was when I grew up, in that three-story apartment in West Rogers Park, where our French windows stayed open all the time, and my mom could yell up to her friend on the second floor, to come have an iced tea. It’s not  just that I’m a mother who wants it to be like it was “back in my day.” I wish for  my kids to experience some of the kind of childhood and independence I gained from living in the city.

It’s not just helicopter parenting, structured play dates and social media that have made their lives seemingly easier, or perhaps if not easier, lazier. It’s living in the burbs. I want my boys to experience how the little things in everyday life don’t always come so easy. I remember my mom searching for a parking spot on the street, carrying groceries way farther than across a porch, of trusting me to walk alone every day, make friends with the drugstore owner and actually talk to strangers.
I’m not saying that I wish I was a mom carrying groceries for blocks and blocks. I think that’s what I wanted to avoid when we first moved to the suburbs. I wanted the ease and convenience of a driveway, a front porch. But now all I feel is an anemic lifestyle. Car to the gym to home to school to home to work to the office to store to home again. Then the evening carpools start. For the kids, and I guess, for me, there’s no grit, no problem-solving necessary to get from Point A to Point B. And that’s what I’m afraid my children aren’t learning by living in this supposed utopia — a way of life that fosters self-reliance and problem-solving.

Why not just leave? Well, I can’t … literally and logistically. Legally, I’m divorced and couldn’t go even if I wanted to. But even if I could go, I wouldn’t want to uproot my  boys now, to take them away from their dad, school and sports teams, and this neighborhood they consider home. They’re living their version of childhood, and they think this suburban one is just fine. But will they one day look back on this childhood with a misty eye, like I think of mine? Will I?
The irony is, I created this situation. As much as I loved my childhood as a kid, once I was in my 20s, I envisioned having kids of my own and giving them a “nicer” and safer life. I wanted to grow up and get a comfortable house for my family with the extras that I never had. A real rec room. A yard. space.
I got married. I got the big house. I gave them a back yard and better schools and safer streets. The idea that all the stability I thought suburban life would bring them, and me, seems almost silly now.

I am restless here, and now there’s a longing for what I’ve lost, and for what they’ll never have – the buzz outside the windows, the sense of being part of something you don’t have to pay or try out for to join, expressions on real faces when they share exciting news with friends, not emojis from miles away.
I’d gladly give back their hoverboard and Xbox, Instagram accounts and carpools for a place and time that’s more of the childhood I had. Some would argue I had less. But I was happy. And decades later, sounds of the city still comfort me. Even when I don’t hear them, I can remember.
What will my sons remember? I don’t think it will be a sense of excitement, wondering who is outside, or which random people they will meet on their walk to school. They won’t learn how to make nice with shopkeepers or smell the bakery as they walk past. But perhaps they’ll remember the safety and predictability of the suburbs. And for them, if not me, maybe that’s enough.

Erin Mantz is a writer, marketing professional, and mother of two boys. She tweets @erinmantz.

Teacher says: Want your child to succeed in school? Help them clean out their backpack.

One of my high school students had asked for help with his homework. “Of course, I’ll help,” I answered.

I told him to find it and watched as he hauled his heavy backpack onto one of the classroom desks and started to dig.

I allowed him a couple of minutes of futile search before asking him to take everything out to see whether he could throw anything away. He claimed he didn’t, but proceeded with enthusiasm.

I wasn’t surprised.

Students love to clean out their backpacks as they believe they get to dodge work. My years of experience as a classroom teacher, however, have taught me that spending time now allows students more time on task later. The student might have thought he was getting away with something now, but I knew I would win in the end.

We found plenty of interesting things in his backpack: stacks of handouts from the previous school year, pencils, old tests and report cards as well as empty chip bags and candy wrappers, all of it covered in a disturbing orange dust.

“Cheez-It crackers” the student explained before he, with a triumphant yell, pulled out what looked like a failed origami project from his backpack.

Locating his homework had taken about 20 minutes.

All parents know that students receive enough handouts to wallpaper a house, and unless they use an organizational system, their backpacks will soon resemble an experiment in hoarding. While students might want to do their homework, they often give up if they can’t find it within a reasonable time.

Cluttered backpacks are overwhelming and it’s easy to miss something in the chaos. Students’ failure to do their homework might be due not to inability or laziness, but to a lack of organizational skills.

There is a simple fix so they will do it themselves.

Use the following five steps to help students to get organized and they might become more engaged in their homework, and in cleaning out their own backpack. If not, at least, they can no longer use the “I can’t find it, I probably left it at school” excuse we all know so well.

  1. Check your kids’ backpacks once a week. I picked Fridays for my own kids, but any day will work. We started as early as fourth grade, but don’t worry, you won’t have to organize backpacks forever. If you start early, they’ll develop the skills and habits to manage on their own.
  2. Ignore protests. Your kids will object; they’ll claim that they need every single piece of paper in the backpack. I’ve seen students cling to their papers as if they were life rafts from the Titanic. Stay firm and make sure you involve them in the process. They’ll enjoy it for a few minutes, tossing and sorting with abandon.
  3. Recycle everything that is obsolete. I’m no Marie Kondo, but a certain amount of ruthlessness is required to make a dent in the endless cycle of handouts. This is a tricky stage. Your kids might not be sure what they still need and worry about throwing away something important. Check the date on top of the paper, if it’s more than a month old, they don’t need it anymore. Work that has been completed and graded should never be returned to the backpack. You may keep some of the finished work in your home, but beware: papers will try to take over your house unless you show them who’s in charge. Save a couple of pieces of stellar work and toss the rest. Remember this, and teach your kids: OLD STUFF DOES NOT RETURN TO THE BACKPACK.
  4. Sort by subject. I don’t care whether students use folders, binders or something else, but separating papers according to the subject makes it easier to locate work both at home and in class especially for middle and high school students. Ask your kids what they would like to do. They’ll be on board and feel liberated by the entire process.
  5. Keep it up. Unless tidying the backpack becomes a habit, you’ll soon have the same mess on your hands. Luckily, keeping it up requires less time and your children will be more skilled at identifying what they can keep or toss. If you get a good start, you can step back in a while and let them manage on their own.

Many students find doing homework easier and much less time consuming after they have tidied their backpack. Once they get their work organized, they feel more confident. In addition, not wasting time looking for their work leaves them more time to study. I have been through this process many times with students and they all end up making the same delighted comment in the end:

“Feel how light my backpack is!”

 By Daniela Loose
Loose is a teacher and a writer. Find her on Twitter.

Top 10 skills middle school students need to thrive, and how parents can help

In elementary school, I was too shy to address my teachers by name. I would hover nearby, hoping they would realize I had a question. I also was the new girl, and the existing cliques seemed impenetrable. To make matters worse, I was a late reader and had difficulty articulating half the alphabet. Family members would euphemistically say I was just “slow out of the gate.” I had my work cut out for me.

By middle school, I was ready to throw myself into the mix. It wasn’t always pretty. I got tossed out of classes for giggling uncontrollably. I navigated earning my first “D” and getting demoted in math. I had a knack for choosing overly dramatic and bossy friends, and I accidentally dyed my hair brassy orange. I agreed to go to a school dance with a boy, only to panic when I realized this involved actually going to a dance with a boy. I got busted for passing notes in class and for finishing overdue homework in the girls’ bathroom.

On the plus side, I figured out how to connect with teachers, and I learned I could solve math problems when I made an effort. I discovered that books kindled my imagination and provided a mental escape. Sports played a useful role too, allowing me to burn off excess energy and improve my focus. I shifted social groups more than a few times. Overall, it was the typical junior high experience, one I relive frequently as a middle school counselor and as the parent of kids in the seventh and eighth grade. Long before social emotional learning became a buzzword in education circles, I was stumbling along, acquiring self-awareness and problem-solving skills.

There is no manual to develop “soft” skills like perseverance and resilience. Just as I did, most kids learn through trial and error. As parents, our quest to protect our children can be at odds with their personal growth. It can feel counter-intuitive, but we mainly need to take a step back. I have come to believe that certain social-emotional skills are particularly useful as kids navigate middle school and beyond. Here are my top 10 skills, and ways parents can help without getting in the way.

Top 10 Social Emotional Skills For Middle School Students

1. Make good friend choices. This typically comes on the heels of making some questionable choices. Kids figure out quickly which friends instill a sense of belonging and which ones make them feel uncomfortable. It can be helpful to ask your children these questions: Do you have fun and laugh with this person? Can you be yourself? Is there trust and empathy? Common interests are a bonus.

2. Work in teams and negotiate conflict. I don’t think many students get through middle school without feeling like they had to carry the load on at least one group project. Maybe they didn’t delegate and divide the work effectively at the onset. Perhaps they chose to take ownership to avoid a poor grade. Help them understand what happened and consider what they might have done differently.

3. Manage a student-teacher mismatch. Unless there is abuse or discrimination, don’t bail them out by asking for a teacher change. Tell them they still can learn from a teacher they don’t like. Let them know it’s a chance to practice working with someone they find difficult. Remind them that if they can manage the situation, they won’t feel powerless or helpless the next time. Focus on concrete barriers to success in the class, not the interpersonal conflict. Is it miscommunication? Study skills?

4. Create organization and homework systems. Make sure they are the architects of this process. Encourage them to come up with solution-oriented plans and tweak them as needed. Do they need to use their planner? Create a checklist? Their motivation will come from ownership. If they say they don’t care, remind them that they don’t have to be invested in a particular outcome in order to change their behavior. People who hate exercise can still choose to lift weights.

5. Monitor and take responsibility for grades. If you care more than they do about their grades, why should they worry? Let them monitor their own grades, and if they don’t do well, don’t step in to advocate for assignment extensions or grade changes. Let them carry the burden and experience the connection between preparation, organization and grades.  Conversely, if they are perfectionists, they will learn they can survive and manage the disappointment of a low grade.

6. Learn to self-advocate. By middle school, they should be learning how to ask teachers for help or clarification. This may be in person or through email. When students bond with teachers, they connect more intimately with the material too. Unless there is no other option, try not to reach out on their behalf.

7. Self-regulate emotions. Children often need assistance labeling strong emotions before they can regulate them. Help your kids identify any physical symptoms that accompany their stressors. This may help them know when to take a breath or hit the “pause” button before reacting. In real time, point out when they handle an emotional situation well. Discuss the strategy they implemented—maybe they took a break or listened to music. Also, help them make connections between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Are they stuck in all-or-nothing thinking? Are they consistently self-critical?

8. Cultivate passions and recognize limitations. When your children are fired up about something, run with it and encourage exploration. Seize the opportunity to help them go deep. Get books, go to museums and be supportive even if the subject does not excite you. In the process, you will help them figure out what drives them. On the other hand, it is okay if they struggle in a specific area. That too is useful information. No one needs to be good at everything.

9. Make responsible, safe and ethical choices. Teach them to respect their bodies, and to make safe and healthy decisions. It is equally important to talk about how to avoid putting others at risk. Have open conversations and discuss plans for different scenarios they may encounter. Try not to be overly reactive if they ask shocking or distressing questions. Keep the lines of communication open.

 10. Create and innovate. Our changing world needs imaginative creators and divergent thinkers. It also can build confidence to think independently and outside the box. As your kids do their homework, read required texts and take standardized tests, remind them that these benchmarks are not the only ways to measure success. Encourage them to make connections across material from different classes, and to build, write, invent and experiment.

Phyllis L. Fagell is a licensed clinical professional counselor and school counselor in Bethesda. She tweets @pfagell.

10 lazy ways to intellectually stimulate your kids

Everyone says kids are like sponges. Because they’re germy and start to smell really bad unless you wash them well with hot water and soap. Also, because their little minds are growing and expanding at approximately twice the rate of the average American waistline, and that’s saying something. But before you get out the flashcards, and by “get out,” I mean “purchase for the first time,” why not see if one of these more lackadaisical approaches can serve equally well to stimulate your little one’s synaptic growth?

  1. Learn a new language. One good one is “slang from the 90’s.” Girl, that picture you drew is fly! Don’t hate on your sister, Madison. Learning that words have double meanings and that grammar is fluid can really enhance your child’s cognitive flexibility.
  2. Play tic tac toe. Yes, you can always win, but that’s the point. Always losing teaches your child humility, grace, and good sportsmanship — what?  How did you do that? Oh my God, now my four-year-old can beat me at tic tac toe. Before I had kids I was an intellectual powerhouse, I swear.
  3. Learn sign language together. Don’t worry, I’m sure you know some already. Like “Whatever” and “bye bye.” And “birdie.” Yes, I’m sure that’s “birdie.” What do you mean you Googled it and it’s “washing machine?” How depressing.
  4. Use math in real life. Yes, kids, math is super important. Like now, when I have to figure out how much money we can afford to spend on Mommy getting her hair done. It’s our monthly income minus our mortgage, minus our electric bills, minus the car repair bill, minus… you know what, let’s do science instead. Which brings us to…
  5. Baking soda and vinegar volcanos. No, I don’t know why. But I know they work because they can unclog your shower drain. There must be something you can talk about, with pressure, or gravity, or acid, I don’t know. Work with me.
  6. Create modern art. The key word is “modern.” There are no rules here, friend. Just do what you feel. Yes, two scribbles on a piece of paper is art, and it is stimulating your child’s brain like nobody’s business.
  7. Sculpt. Create a three-dimensional figure using only clay? What a wunderkind. No, dear, this thing here isn’t called “a cylinder made out of Play-Doh,” it’s called “pottery that allows your creativity to flourish without us even leaving the house, for the second day in a row.”
  8. Practice self-defense. Physical activity creates new connections in the brain and so does hand to hand combat. So stop telling on your brother for kicking the back of your seat, and go all Krav Maga on his butt. Here’s a YouTube tutorial you can watch on the iPad while I look at Pinterest on my computer.
  9. Guessing games. I’m thinking of an animal that starts with G and has a long neck. What do you mean, “turtle?” What are they teaching you in that Montessori school anyway?
  10. Geography. A cynic may just call this “Where did Mommy leave the car again?” but really it teaches map skills, geography, resilience, and grit. Especially when you’re walking around the parking lot for 25 minutes in the drizzle with a mother who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and you don’t even have a snack bag of Goldfish. Navy SEALS, here you come, son. Thank me later.

Samantha Rodman is the author of How to Talk to Your Kids About Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Rodman is a licensed psychologist, founder of DrPsychMom.comand a happily married mother of three.

What to do when your kid can’t fall asleep without you in the room

Q: My two girls, ages 3 and nearly 7, share a room but will not go to sleep unless each has a parent by her side until she passes out. Anything less, and it’s complete waterworks and screaming, with the little one forcing herself to throw up. How on earth do we break this awful habit? It’s been going on for about a year, and we have had no energy to fight it. We hate ending the days with them hysterically upset, so we’ve just given in to this ridiculous ritual.

A: You feel utterly alone in this struggle. And I get it. It sounds so exhausting. But I want to tell you that I receive daily calls and letters from sleepless parents who are in the same boat. So, try to take some comfort in the simple fact that you are not alone.

But we have some problems here, don’t we? To begin to understand how you came to this place, it is useful to understand why children prefer to sleep with you and will fight so hard to stay with you, night after night.

Almost every parent knows that when a baby is born, that baby wants skin-on-skin contact with a parent or caregiver 24 hours a day. In fact, the very survival of newborns depends on a caregiver strongly and physically bonding with the baby. Cuddling, strong eye contact, loving speech and skin-on-skin contact are a critical part of the maturation process for babies.

As a child grows and becomes more mature, more distance can be tolerated between this child and her caregiver. You will see that the toddler toddles away, and the 4-year-old will run down the block, and the 7-year-old will spend all day in school. Because they spend more time away from you, however, nighttimes can become especially fraught.

Children can really become needy for their parents’ attention at night. Why is this? At night, the work of the day is done and it is time to relax. What brings children the most relaxation? Being physically close to their parents. Even older children want to feel close to their attachments. At night is also when the worries begin for many children, when the room is dark and things look like scary monsters. Worrisome thoughts may enter their brain, and it is completely normal for children to be troubled by fears of death, losing their parents or some other terrible thing. Children can feel unprotected and scared, and these feelings compel them to come find their parents. (These are the children who are hopping out of bed constantly.)

I am guessing that your children showed normal signs of this nighttime worry and anxiety, and in order to make them feel better, you began to get into bed with them. The “crawl into bed with the kid” trick has an almost 100 percent success rate of sleep . . . for the child. She instantly feels safe and relaxed. But as for long-term solutions, getting into bed with the children has turned into a nightmare.

So, this has been going on for a year. I would love to give an easy solution that involves no crying for them, but I don’t see that happening. A solution will happen, but it will require a great deal of patient, gentle persistence, a good sense of humor and not rushing anything too much.

Here are some ideas:

Developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld suggests “turning into the skid,” which here means that you can let the children know that you are going to help them sleep in their beds. Alone. Say that they might cry, be scared, worry and miss their parents terribly. Go ahead and expect all of those feelings. Welcome them. Tell the children that these feelings make total sense. This is “turning into the skid,” because rather than fighting or rationalizing these feelings away, we are making room for all of the feelings that will occur.

Keep the nighttime routine structured, gentle, loving and moving along. Don’t ask too many questions or give too many choices; that will just create more insecurity. Be sure to focus on the next meeting and tell them, “I will see you in my dreams” or “I will be in this room first thing in the morning!” And before you leave the room (if they are not yet freaking out completely), let them know you will be coming back to check on them in less than one minute. Show them the timer.

Now here is where it gets really rough. If you have a child who is throwing up because she is so upset, the amount of time you leave the room may be only 15 seconds. I know, this sounds ridiculous, but her young mind may be able to tolerate only small amounts of separation. And because your older child is also upset, just keep checking on them at the same intervals. Be quiet about it, loving and firm.

I don’t know how long this will go on.

The hope is that the children will relax when they realize you are keeping up your end of the bargain and returning for another kiss. The length of time between the visits will get longer. But because this has gone on for a year, it may take a while. Just be emotionally ready for how long and painful this will feel in the moment. But night after night, bit by bit, you will get your time and your shared adult bed back.

And no matter how bad the night before was, greet the children with smiles and hope in the morning. “We are doing it . . . you girls are really sleeping so well!” Yes, of course this is not how you feel, but someone has to be the beacon of hope. And that is you, the parent.

Whatever you do, do NOT:

•Lock the children in their rooms or keep the door shut, blocking them. This will increase their worry into a traumatic panic. It is not only unkind but will also hurt any progress you have made.

•Punish the children for crying. You created this dynamic with them; it is your responsibility to help them.

•Bribe them to stay in bed. You will be broke in a month, and you will still be sleeping with them.

•Beat yourself up if you give up and get into bed with them. You are human. Just begin again the next day.

•Lose hope. Beyond reclaiming your marriage and sleep, you are helping your children to feel and accept your boundaries. This is how resilience is built in children. It won’t be pretty, but better now than later.

And again, you know your children best, so take my ideas and make them work for you.

Learning to make room for a sibling

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 5.43.18 AMI clutched my 3-year-old’s fingers as we prepared to walk on her school stage. When we waltzed on with 75 other Nutcracker dancers – Zelda in her minuscule Victorian slip, me with my 38-week pregnant belly – the auditorium burst into laughter. What was I doing here? But as my daughter and I chasséd in sync, my racing heart melted. This show was our last hurrah, just the two of us.

That night, my husband and I sat by Zelda’s bed. I touched my stomach where a can-can session was in progress. This would be one of the last times Jon and I would sit together with Zelda at night, give her this unified mass of charged attention.

I’d been ambivalent about having children, as my own relationship with my mother was difficult. Born on my grandparents’ route after escaping the Nazis, my mom was a depressive hoarder who barricaded herself in between walls of Kleenex boxes and VHS tapes. Her Montreal den’s maelstrom of Dollar Store clocks and old newspapers swallowed my report cards forever. Her bed was stacked with old clothes. I couldn’t reach her if I had a nightmare. She worked at a government job, leaving before I woke up and asleep on the sofa when I came home. Mom loved me as she could, but was increasingly moody and unreliable. Always on guard, I hid among the clutter. When, at 19, I moved to another country, we connected by phone, an easier umbilical cord. On her good days, we analyzed books and later my romantic exploits. But my visits home were ever more fraught.

When I found out I was pregnant with a girl, I panicked, worried I’d lose my hard-earned independence, not to mention the white-walled, nearly-empty apartment I’d created with Jon. I was afraid I had no idea how to parent. Yet once I had Zelda – named for Mom’s mom, who raised me day-to-day – I nursed and cared for her with ease and pleasure. I was determined to be the opposite of my mother: organized, on-time, clean, calm. I hand-scrubbed the floors and maintained elaborate play schedules. I took Zelda to school and back every day, creating for her the security I never knew myself.

My kinship with Zelda – this chance to redo the mother-daughter dynamic with affection and attention – was healing for me. I learned to be patient, less anxious, more open. We discussed our days over frozen yogurt. I taught her to express emotions by revealing mine. I knelt by her tantrums and yawned calmly through her sleep-regressions. Sure, I made mistakes, like sanitizing the highchair instead of reacting to Zelda’s gentle attempts to feed me, but her life filled me with confidence.

Once I had one child, I wanted two. Growing up, my younger brother had been my ally, the person who most understood my messy reality and saved me by playing imaginary characters. We hadn’t lived in the same country for two decades but were in touch almost daily. I wanted to recreate this sibling bond, the longest of one’s life. My girls would be three years apart, just like my brother and me.

Zelda constantly asked questions. Why is she a girl? Will she always be a girl? Was I always Zelda? How does she pee if she isn’t wearing a diaper?

I laughed but wondered if her desire to understand emerged from a deep anxiety. Her life would undergo so much change as she lost her position, my attention. I feared transitions, having witnessed my mother’s progressing mental illness, her personality leaking from her like a deflating balloon. I did not want Zelda to lose me.

I attended a sibling seminar for second-time moms. The leader reiterated the accepted wisdom: keep Zelda’s world intact. Talk about the baby a bit. Do not hold the baby when Zelda visits after the delivery. Bring gifts for her from the baby. Make her feel involved by teaching her to swaddle her dolls. Do not make any major household changes. Certainly don’t tell her you’re transforming her toddler bed into the baby’s crib. I followed the advice. I threw Zelda a birthday bash, inviting 29 toddlers to our apartment. I upheld this fragile, ice-castle world in which she was the special star.

I badly wanted a second child, but now could only focus on protecting Zelda from this kicking invader who would steal her innocence, her place – her mommy. Was I greedy to want more, stockpiling fortune like my mother did junk? Was I also a hoarder, collecting distractions instead of committing to what I already had?

I’d grown up among stuff, but feeling empty inside. I spent three decades filling my void, learning to love. Now I’d already poured my memories, passions, my milk into my first — what if I was depleted.

I was afraid there was no more room in our 2-bedroom apartment or in my heart.

The next morning, I hobbled Zelda into preschool. I’d reached the point where people were afraid to get close, worried I’d explode at any second. I showed the school director photos of the show. She laughed at the image of me, less Sugar Plum, more Winnebago. Then I explained that after two weeks at home, I’d be bringing Zelda to school again. “I’m keeping everything as normal as possible.”

As I chatted with the director, she put her hand on my shoulder. “Everything Zelda knows, everything she’s relied on as constant will shift,” she said, as I nodded, dizzy. “This is emotionally cataclysmic.”

“The worst thing you can do is pretend it’s not.”

Wait. What?

“I’ve seen parents try to keep everything as-is, taking children to swimming class in the middle of labor. But your family will be in turmoil. Let there be chaos. Zelda knows what’s going on.”

Let there be chaos jolted me in its simple directness. In Zelda’s future, she would be second-place, she’d be jealous. That was why I wanted her to have a sibling: to practice the hard stuff. I reminded myself that Zelda had been asking questions to cope.

I also had to practice the hard stuff. I’d have to learn to divide my attention, to find new pockets of affection. I had to admit the gravity of the change and help both of us manage the transition.

Billie was born big-eyed, robust, hungry and large – entirely different from her lithe ballerina sister. Jon was home with Zelda while Billie and I stayed at the hospital for five full days, a new mom-daughter cocoon. I was confident, smitten and giddy, full of old tricks, trusting my instincts.

A week later, Jon had to travel – my first time alone with my two girls. At 7 am, I nursed, staring out the window at the sleet storm. I was feeding constantly, the ground was slippery. “I’m so sorry, but I can’t take you to school,” I apologized to Zelda. Here I was, sacrificing her education because I couldn’t figure out a nursing scheme. I felt her world crashing, slipping away for the sake of her little sister. But then I remembered the director’s words and breathed. I had to improvise, create our own messy pas-de-trois.

Zelda shrugged and brought her favorite books into my bed as Billie began to cry. “I know it’s frustrating,” I said, “but I need to feed Billie. Afterward, I’ll read to you.”

“Can I hold her?” she said. “I’ll use hand-itizer!”

Zelda tickled Billie’s toes, initiating their lifelong rapport. Zelda sat on me, and I held the baby in her lap, a Babushka-doll pose, and there we were, we three, on my bed, room for us all.

Judy Batalion is an author and performer living in New York. Her first memoir, White Walls: A Memoir about Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess in Between published this month. You can find her atjudybatalion.com and on Twitter

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How Your Sleep Position Could Affect Your Brain

By Neha Kashyap, dailyRx News Reporter

Are you a back or a stomach sleeper? The way you sleep may be linked to the likelihood of neurological decline.

Researchers from Stony Brook University found that side sleeping, compared to back or stomach sleeping, may more effectively remove brain waste and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases.

At this time, the research has been conducted only in mice.

“It is interesting that the lateral (side) sleep position is already the most popular in human and most animals — even in the wild — and it appears that we have adapted the lateral sleep position to most efficiently clear our brain of the metabolic waste products that built up while we are awake,” said study co-author Maiken Nedergaard, PhD, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in apress release.

The brain’s cleansing process, called the glymphatic system, clears waste when cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) filters through the brain and exchanges with interstitial fluid (ISF).

This process is similar to the way the body’s lymphatic system clears waste from the organs. It is most efficient during sleep.

Brain waste includes amyloid and tau proteins, chemicals that can negatively affect brain processes if they build up. If this waste is not properly disposed of, the chances of neurological diseases can increase.

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness and difficulties with walking, balance and coordination.

Dr. Nedergaard and team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to observe the glymphatic system.

The brains of the mice who slept in a lateral (side) position were found to more efficiently remove waste when compared to the brains of supine (facing upward) or prone (facing downward) mice.

“The study therefore adds further support to the concept that sleep serves a distinct biological function and that is to ‘clean up’ the mess that accumulates while we are awake,” Dr. Nedergaard said.

Although human studies are still needed to confirm these findings, this experiment brings new insight on how sleep position affects the brain.

This study was published August 4 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Information on funding sources and conflicts of interest were not available at time of publication.

Taking Naps Are Important!

What do Albert Einstein, Lady Gaga and George W. Bush have in common? Nope, not their fashion sense. The answer is …their naps. Each of these famous people is known for famously protecting their daytime dozing. Dozens of other napping notables join their ranks. Lyndon Johnson conducted presidential meetings while resting in his bed. Bill Clinton once nodded off during a Mets baseball and a memorial service for Martin Luther King Jr.

Why do we love our naps? Well, one reason is rooted in our biology. Many people’s inner clock slows between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., also known as the “postprandial dip.” Many cultures actually honor this natural energy lull with the allowable afternoon siesta, when shops close and people doze.

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Questions About ADHD!

First off, I want to say thank you for all the emails I have been receiving from my readers.  It is a great feeling knowing that my articles are being read and people are looking to me for help.  It is what I enjoy most, helping people!

I have been asked a lot of questions about ADHD and advice.  Half of my cognitive assessment meetings are with parents looking for help with their child that has been diagnosed with ADHD. They are looking for an alternate treatment for ADHD rather than medication.  I stand behind LearningRx of Fresno to help treat child with ADHD.  Our cognitive brain training has done wonders for our clients and in some cases has helped the child stop taking medicine completely.

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My Summer Cold!

Summer colds are bad enough as it is, but when you live in Fresno…  a summer cold is unbearable.  The mixture of dry air, smoke from local fires, air pollution and temperatures in the high 90s, equals a recipe for a long miserable cold with little hope for a speedy recovery.

So I looked to the internet for some tips and I have concluded that eating the right food (mixed with piles of cough medicine and decongestants) was the solution I was looking for.

I came across this article on the CNN website.  If you or your child has ever had a summer cold, you know it is bound to happen again.  So make sure you take note of this article and be prepared for that summer cold!

Here is the article:

The worst foods to eat when you’re sick, and the best ones