Stress (aka: Stresssss)

Oops…I just caught myself massaging the back of my neck. Again. And chewing on my pinky fingers. Again. Which may not seem like a big deal to lots of you, but to me, it means one thing.

STRESS.

Stress Sources

Wait, what stress? I thought I was just coasting along, my usual relaxed self. (Okay, correction: Relaxed for a Type-A personality. Relaxed for an INTJ). But we all have our own little signals that tell us when our bodies are experiencing a lot of stress. Some people overeat when stressed. Others smoke, or drink too much, have bouts of insomnia, or a myriad of other physical or psychological symptoms that spring up when our plates are just too full.

So what should we do when we recognize these symptoms? According to the American Psychological Association , we should identify the sources of our stress. Hmm, let’s see…

My oldest teen has caught a nasty case of Senioritis — that annoying and highly contagious bug that high school seniors often catch this time of year, when they feel so invincible that they slack off in school, convinced that they won’t fail. So I get to take off the sweet, cookie-baking mommy hat and put on the steel-edged hat of The Enforcer.

Stress.

My ex-husband has decided to initiate court proceedings to have my child support officially decreased, thanks to my shiny new full-time job. Despite the new job, however, it has been a challenge to keep the budget balanced while raising three teen/tweens as a full-time single parent and saving for college expenses. So a potentially big income cut would be a serious blow. I’ve just begun hunting for a second part-time job – something to help make ends meet once our household income drops. Bye-bye free time.

Stress

The older teen just headed off on an expensive school trip with his band — the only trip I’ve been able to send him on for all of high school. Senior prom tickets are really expensive, too. So is his recent dental work. Also, my teen daughter, the former gymnast, has fallen in love with dance. “Hey mom, can I take a second dance class at the studio?” And the twelve-year-old keeps outgrowing his clothes. And did I mention how much it costs to feed three kids this age nutritious, homemade meals filled with fresh vegetables? Oh boy. Kids are expensive.

Stress.

I just finished a bout of medical testing  (an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, and even a special endoscopy where I got to swallow this cool miniature camera). The doctor found nothing, except for signs of gastritis. Gastritis which sprung up around a year ago, and was likely triggered by — you guessed it —

Stress.

Effect of Stress on the Body

It is astonishing what stress can do to our bodies, even when we think we’re handling it well. Kind of stresses me out to think about it. Luckily, there are things we can do to help us manage the way we deal wih stress. Here are some great suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or getting a massage
  • Keeping a sense of humor
  • Socializing with family and friends
  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

I’m pretty good with most of these, especially the sense of humor part. Very important stuff. But I still kinda suck at the socializing part. But know what? Today at work, I got to spend lots of time socializing with coworkers (in between moments of working hard, of course). And know what? It’s like a magic pill for this stress thing. Despite the enormous pressures I’m feeling, I’ve barely reached up to massage my neck or chew my fingers all afternoon.

Uh-oh — trying to come up with a nice, neat way to end this post is only adding to my stress. So I’ll just tip-toe out of here and hope none of you notice. Time to go and…

DE-STRESS

 

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Pokémon Go Go Go! (aka: My Super-Fake Video Game Rant)

Dear Nintendo,

What on earth were you thinking? Have you guys completely lost your minds?

I used to hold you in such high regard. Especially back in the days when you churned out seriously cool video games, like Super Marios Bros. and Zelda. It was so clever when you invented the Gameboy, and especially the Nintendo DS. My three kids used to be so entertained, and would sit quietly for hours, punching away at the keypad and fighting Lego villains on the miniscule screen. Your wonderfully simple, mind-sucking products resulted in peaceful family road trips, whine-free visits to the dentist office, and calm evenings between dinner and bedtime as my three munchkins racked up points and conquered digital worlds from the comfort of our living room sofa.

BUT THEN…

You had to go and create a revolution by inventing the Wii, followed by the bigger and badder WiiU. No more were my kids happily glued to their seats, engaged in the gameplay of the peaceful good ol’ days. Now they were on their feet, jogging in place, swinging invisible rackets and golf clubs, and shaking their hips in front of the TV screen. What madness! My quiet family evening dream was shattered by the thumping and jumping of little feet.

AND NOW…

You’ve really gone and done it. Pokémon Go? Seriously!? It wasn’t drastic enough to transform my kids from quiet sitters to noisy movers – now you’re encouraging to go places, too?

The other day, I tried to find one of my teenagers to make him take out the garbage. But you know what? He wasn’t even home! Turns out that he had actually figured out how to open the front door, and walked all around the neighborhood.

“Why would you do such a thing?” I asked him.

“To catch Pokémon, silly,” he told me.

I ended up having to take the trash out by myself.
pokemon-go.gif

If that didn’t take the cake, get this — as my kids have been Pokémon Go-ing, they’ve been meeting other neighborhood families at these so-called Pokestops and training gyms, and holding conversations about their little “adventures.” They’ve also been doing a lot more walking. Yesterday, my kids walked a whole mile in search of Pokemon, then had to text me to pick them up, because it was growing dark. So you know what? I couldn’t just stay at home relaxing. I had to get up off my rump and Pokémon Go Go Go, too.

Thanks a lot, Nintendo. What are you going to invent next — a way to make my kids eat healthier? Yeesh.

Say Cheese! (aka: One Cheesy Summer)

Cheese glorious cheese

Okay, I know it’s Independence Day, and I should probably write a post celebrating our nation’s bold and wonderful patriotic heritage, or about the joy of celebrating by making things blow up. But that’s pretty cliché, so instead, I’m going to write about cheese.

Yes, cheese. Queso. Fromage. Der käse.

See, every summer, my kids and I like to have a foodie adventure. Usually, we pick a country, or a type of cuisine, then we spend a few weeks tasting foods from that culture. We sample at restaurants, look up new recipes, and try our hand at preparing all sorts of interesting foods from around the world. The French and Chinese experiments were huge hits. Soul food and Indian food, to my disappointment, didn’t go over so well with my kids.

This summer, we took a slight detour from our annual tradition. After a delicious visit to a famous Berkeley restaurant known as The Cheese Board Collective, the kids and I were inspired. What if, instead of trying many types of food from one culture, we try eating a variety of fresh breads and cheeses from many cultures? Think of the possibilities!

bread

So once a week, instead of cooking dinner, we head out to the deli, or farmers’ markets, or to local bakeries, and we pick up a fresh, hot loaf of some type of interesting bread, and one or two cheeses. Then we head home and prepare a cheese platter to sample with our bread. So far, along with the usual staples like cheddar, swiss, and mozzarella, we’ve also eaten fontina, harvati, goat cheese, brie, and munster. We’ve also had plenty of breads, like pugliese, naan, rosemary olive loaf, cheddar-jalapeño ciabatta, and garlic-onion baguettes. Like with any foods, we have found definite winners (harvati with dill) and definite losers (a spicy artisan cheese from a farmers’ market stand).

You know, when you really think about it, this is a very patriotic blog post. No, not because of the amber waves of grain that went into each loaf of bread. But because our little food experiment embodies one of the values we Americans hold dear–the freedom to make our own choices. We live in a country where we are at liberty to make our own choices, to try any kind of bread or cheese or other food that we desire. And, true to the American spirit, we can break from tradition and define our own customs, like spending a summer tasting new foods together as a family.

Happy Independence Day!

Independence Day USA

Winner! (aka: My Parenting Trophy)

I did it! I won a trophy!

Not just any trophy, either. The Best Trophy Ever.

Finally, after years of driving my three kids around to their events and watching them earn gymnastics medals, soccer trophies, science team trophies, and scouting awards, I finally had my turn.

Okay fine. It’s not like I’ve never earned awards before. After all, I grew up at the beginning of the High-Self-Esteem-Trophies-For-Just-Showing-Up era, when every kid was a winner. Of course, the moment the coaches’ backs were turned, the “real” winners stole the conch and Piggy’s glasses, then danced around a bonfire. And those trophies? Their fate was to be crammed away in some cardboard box in the garage until Mom tried to push them off on her grown kids. (No thanks, Mom. I’d rather keep the memories).

But today was different. Today, on the day before the last day of school, I opened an envelope that my 11 year-old son handed me. Every sixth grader heading off to middle school next year wrote thank you letters to their parents — a tradition carried on through the years at his school. My kid, who isn’t usually the mushy, sentimental type, wrote a love note that brought tears to my eyes. My heart cartwheeled in happiness.

This was not just a letter. This was proof. Proof that my children think I’m pretty special. Proof that I haven’t been screwing up this parenting thing. Proof that the experiment is working. Hooray! Yahoo! This letter from my kid is my trophy. The only trophy I need. And I don’t know, maybe I will frame it and hang it in my closet. So anytime I feel like I’m failing in the mom role, I can read my son’s honest, loving words and be reminded.

Hey Mom. You’re doing just fine.
LoveLetter FromConnor

Roller Skates in the Kitchen (aka: The Late Bloomer)

old-fashioned roller skatesMy daughter is trying out her new roller skates in the kitchen. “You know Mom,” she says as she whizzes past me, “most moms don’t let their kids roller skate in the house.”

“They don’t?” I say, frowning. “Why on earth not?” For a brief moment, I feel a tug of concern. Maybe there is some good reason why other moms wouldn’t be okay with their teen roller skating in the house. But geez…if I had just gotten new skates for Christmas, then I would be skating in the kitchen, too!

It happens all the time. One of my teens will look my way with raised eyebrows and point out how “Other kids’ moms don’t watch Vampire Diaries.” “Other kids’ moms don’t do cartwheels at the park.” “Other kids’ moms don’t play video games/let their kids eat cookies for breakfast/play Nerf ball catch with their teenage sons.” My kids don’t mind, though. They rather like having a mom who’s like a teenager. A very mature, sophisticated, and responsible teenager, I must add.

I have always been a late bloomer. I played with dolls until I was fourteen.  I didn’t learn to drive until I was twenty-six years old. Although I had several so-called high school “boyfriends,” I went on my first real, actual date when I met my now ex-husband, during my third year of university.

Leo the late Bloomer childrens book

I’m not sure why I progress through life at such a slow pace, clinging to youthful interests. Maybe it is arrested development, due to fear of the unknown world of grownups. Maybe it is a genetic tendency — some biological indicator of slow aging. Or maybe it’s just that being young at heart makes life so much fun.

Aldous Huxley Secret of Genius quote

When I allow my inner child to roam free, I feel more content, at ease, and connected with life. If growing up means sitting in the sand and staring at the sea, then I would rather join the kids, shrieking and splashing as we jump and surf in the waves. If I must join the throngs of grownups in the dull, grey world, then I will be the one wearing a rainbow-colored dress, covertly throwing paper airplanes into the crowd.
I know, I sound like a female Peter Pan. And in a way, I suppose I am. I will never be like the “other kids’ moms” if that means I must leave behind that magical world of youthful fantasy. Why must I, when life is so much richer, and so much more adventurous when I balance with one foot in the grown-up world and one foot in Neverland?

I am a late bloomer. That is who I am. My kids are late bloomers too, I think, and that’s okay by me. Know why? Because the rose that blooms early also wilts early. And I have no intention of wilting anytime soon.

Never Grow Up Not Me

 

Overload (aka: A Little Brain Fried)

Dear Readers,

MMM Fried-Brain HomerOh how I would love to write for you a brilliant poem filled with astonishing metaphors and dazzling word-pictures. And how I wish I could post a few brilliant new Italian or Chinese or Indian curry recipes complete with spectacular photos for your Pinterest collection. Or offer you a wealth of advice on weight loss or parenting or doing fun activities with kids.

But I won’t.

Because I am a student. And yes, I am also a single mom of 3 kids. With a job. And yeah, a fiction writer, and recreational soccer player, too. All that. But you see, sometimes I get a little over my head with schoolwork; like right now, when my poor brain is so fried from studying that I’m afraid that any moment now, I will begin typing in hexadecimal or Perl or SQL like the computer geek I am becoming.

(It’s true. I now walk the straight and narrow path of true Revenge-of-the-Nerds geekdom.)

I feel like I’m forgetting something important. What was I saying?

Working Student Mom

Oh yes, school. Studying. Academia. And this is not limited to my own classes. Because I also get to put on the Mommy hat and listen very patiently as one child explains all about how Plato’s philosophies contributed to modern democracy. Then, of course, I have to answer another child’s questions.

“Mom, who were Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates?”

“Mom, what’s for dinner?”

Oops. That’s what I was forgetting.

I’m so glad that I’ve taught my kids how to cook. And to ask questions. And to be patient with a mother who sometimes wears too many hats at once and gets a little brain-fried. If only I had taught them how to write my blog posts, too…

Think Fast! (aka: Improvisation in the Great Outdoors)

3 paddleboarders

What would you do?

One idyllic summer morning, you’re rowing your paddleboard across the middle of a large, sparkling blue lake. It occurs to you that you and your children have around 30 minutes left to return to shore and turn in your rental equipment. You row toward two of your children and give them the signal, and they begin rowing back. That’s when you notice that your youngest child has drifted away to the farthest shore. You call him back, but he is unable to turn his paddleboard around. He is stuck. You paddle hard in his direction and show him how to steer his board.

“I can’t do it!” he wails, drifting further away.

Time to think fast. Do you:

  1. Give him kind and loving encouragement (Come on, kiddo, you’ve got this!)
  2. Turn it into a fun adventure (The pirates are after us! We’ve got to escape the island!)
  3. Transform into a drill sergeant (Failure is not an option, soldier! Now row, row ROW!)

My answer: All of the above. Because sometimes you have to improvise until you find the best way to solve the problem. Sadly, all of these ideas failed, so in the end, I deserted his paddle board at a nearby marina and rowed my distraught little sailor back to safety twenty minutes after our time was up. But still, I tried.

What would you do? BearImprovisation. That is one of the great things about going camping with kids. In our complacent suburban lives, we don’t often come across so many opportunities to put our improvisational skills to the test. Sure, we have small moments when we have to make decisions on the fly (Pizza or hamburgers? Comedy or action film?), or minor breakdowns that cause us inconvenience, like when a tire goes flat (Stop and replace it or call roadside assistance?).

3 happy kiddos Mount Shasta

My 3 actual kiddos in front of said idyllic lake. Yes, this location was pretty-much perfect. Except for the thunderstorms.

But while camping many miles from home and supermarkets and people that we know, we have to learn to rely on ourselves. When things go wrong, especially when you are the only adult, you have to be quick on your feet. In the wilderness, the ability to reach into your mental (or physical) toolbox and problem solve can be a matter of life or death.

Okay, not really life or death. Unless there are bears and you’re out of bear spray. Because yeah, you could totally give up and go home. But quitting and going home is for losers.

Here are a few times when improvisation saved our most recent camping vacation:

Problem:         One of the fiberglass tent poles for our screen house splintered, rendering it unusable.

Solution:         Duct tape. Lots of duct tape. Duct tape can fix pretty much anything while camping. And if it doesn’t, then use more duct tape.

Problem:         We accidentally forgot to pack two meals’ worth of food.

Solution:         Our camp store just happened to sell eggs. Do you realize how many great meals you can make with eggs? Egg sandwiches, breakfast burritos, French toast… If that hadn’t worked, well, there were a lot of ground squirrels around. Just kidding. Kind of.

Problem:         Our tent zipper broke. As in, it came off completely.

Solution:         You thought I was going to say duct tape, didn’t you? That was plan B. We ended up using clothespins to clip the door closed. It did the job.

Of course, we had no way to solve the problem of our noisy campsite neighbors with their obnoxious kids and loud mariachi music. (Geez, did it have to be mariachi music? Talk about torture!).

I probably could have improvised – you know, talk to them and ask them to tone it down. Or offer them egg sandwiches. Or capture a few ground squirrels and set them free in their camp. But for all I know, that family could have improvised, too, by chasing me away with a can of bear spray, or worse, cranking up their mariachi music even louder.

That’s when we would have called it quits and headed home.