Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Calm: The Meditation App

I absolutely love the Calm app, and I am not getting paid to write about it — the makers have no idea that I’m writing this! I have recommended it to my students at Indiana Wesleyan University, and basically anyone who will listen to me. Haha! I love it.

As I have blogged before, I try to practice meditation / mindfulness several times per week. Not only do I find it relaxing, it gives me a chance to change my thought patterns, put some space between my mind and the outside world, and allows my body to reset. I find it easier to maintain some inner peace, to relax and soften my muscles at will, and to fall sleep. I can recharge and continue on with my busy day.

I love several things about the Calm app. The app uses meditation to help with several aspects of life that can cause anxiety and stress. There is really something for everyone. In each of the different sections within the app, the speaker helps to deconstruct what causes each specific source of anxiety, from performance anxiety, to reactivity and even flight anxiety. There is even an entire section devoted to kids! There are stress management tools and self care, all using meditation. The best part about this, for me, is that the speaker is in control of walking you through your 15 minutes of meditation. This relieves the burden of doing it yourself, freeing your mind to fully relax, thus deepening the meditation experience. As a result of working through this app over the course of the last several weeks, I have improved my meditation experience — I almost feel as if I am in a trance in most cases. It has really has improved most aspects of my life.

The only downside to the app is the cost. The Premium edition is $70 every year (I would consider a one-time fee, but $70/year feels like a lot for me right now). You can get a lot out of just using the free version, and I still absolutely recommend it. I have gotten so much out of it! I’m definitely going to keep using it. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Posted in Parenting

What I Tell My Kids About Bullying

Bullying. It happens far too often, and it hurts. All three of my children have been the recipient of bullying, and it’s tough, heart-breaking even, to watch as a parent. As difficult a conversation as it can be, we must address bullying with our children, because when prolonged, it can lead to an array of physical and mental health problems that can have lasting effects. Bullying can take many forms, such as name-calling and other verbal abuse to outright physical abuse. None of it is ever acceptable, and our children need to understand this. While I am not an expert on bullying, I do want to share with you what I tell my children. It is important that we, as parents, have talks like these ready to go in our minds for when these situations arise. After empathizing with them, here is what I say in steps:

1. Ignore it. If it is simple, verbal bullying, just walk away. Bullies usually want to assert some sort of power over those they perceive as weaker than they are. There could be a variety of reasons why this might be, from problems at home or at school, to a low self-esteem. If you don’t give their words power, oftentimes, they will get bored with you and stop.

2. Compliment the bully. This seems like a strange request, but it works to throw off the person hurling insults. It’s difficult to continue insulting you if you are complimenting his or her appearance or the way they answered a question in class or played a game. Plus, you’ve covered step 1: you aren’t giving their mean words any power. Quite the opposite, actually!

3. Tell an adult. If the bullying is becoming physical or it just simply won’t stop after several attempts of ignoring it or giving compliments, you must tell a teacher. You aren’t being a “snitch” here. You have tried to handle it calmly and in a good way several times, and it is time for an adult to intervene. It cannot continue.

Again, empathy goes a long way. Kids want to know that their parents are on their side and understand their struggles. Tell your children that you are sorry to hear about the bullying. This helps to validate their feelings and helps them to know that, of course, their feelings do matter to you. An especially effective “tool” is to share your own experiences with your children. Children love to hear stories from their parents’ past. You can talk about what you did to handle the situation and place yourself in your children’s shoes. Sharing stories really helps your children to understand that you “get it,” which is a big deal to them!

My goal with my children — and I tell them this — is that they become confident, independent thinkers who are strong enough to know who they are inside and out. I want them in control of their lives, not anyone else. By attempting to handle these really challenging situations on their own in a rational and calm manner, they develop the self-confidence they need to become the positive, independent, and loving adults we want them to become.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

When Stress Puts Cracks in Your Foundation

Parenting is not easy. Even when things are going fairly well, it’s not always a breeze. Add pressure from work or the stress your child may feel at school, and the difficulty just multiplies. Parenting asks a lot from us humans. The role of mom, dad, grandparent, foster parent is multifaceted and demanding. You are the bedrock, the snuggle-buddy, taxi driver, cook, laundress, nurse/ first aid, maid, role model, cheerleader. 24/7. It doesn’t stop. It’s demanding, and we have to smoothly flow from one role to the next effortlessly, and with patience and loving kindness. Our children want that from us, and we need to provide that for them. I, for one, am no saint — I am as imperfect as any other person, so sometimes I fail at this. It’s an extremely high expectation of us, and who can possibly do it without fault? When you have an especially rotten week where nothing seems to go right, and the stress builds, we start to see fractures in our strong family foundation we have worked so hard to build. For me, I find that heart-breaking, but also, I see it as a demand for action.

I’ve blogged about this before, but one of the best things you can do to build your relationship with your child is dedicated special time with each kid. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite times of the day. I love to play with my kids!! Between my work, kids sports, the homework demands of our school, and extra-curricular activities and clubs, this week has taken special time away. What’s the obvious result? A little breakdown in our relationship, because when kids don’t get the positive attention they crave, they will get it in other ways. My kids resort to tantrums or picking arguments with their siblings or with us, their parents. The stress of everything brings us down and affects our relationship. I had to take action to avoid the downward spiral I suddenly found myself in.

My solution this week has been two-fold: (1) seek help from the school, so they can help my middle guy get himself organized and on-task, to alleviate some of the stress he is feeling from the demands of his school work, and (2) be more diligent about finding some modicum of play time with them, even if that means they stay up just a few minutes past bedtime (not too long, though!) to squeeze in some games, like we did last night. I also added an extra dose of loving words and encouragement to each child separately as I tucked them in, so they went to sleep feeling really loved. It was great way to end the evening, and tonight, we are going to have some extra special time and have a picnic at the soccer fields before my youngest son’s soccer game, since we don’t have much time for dinner. Despite the stress of this week, I am determined to find the fun wherever we can, as well as finding solutions to what is causing the stress so we can deal with it more effectively.

Whenever you find yourself caught in a whirlwind of activity and work, and the stress begins to crumble your day or week, make sure you can still find sources of fun together each day. Maybe, like us, it will be a picnic just before a game. Maybe, a trip to the movies is in order, or go out for a quick ice cream cone together. Maybe a game night after homework and dinner is finished. Whatever you can do to maintain the fun in parenting each day and reduce the amount of stress, it goes a long, long way to building your relationship with your children and repairing any cracks you’ve discovered in your foundation.

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Home with Sick Kids

It’s not the most ideal morning. I stagger sleepily downstairs to the kitchen for that precious first cup of coffee. As I slowly begin to feel a bit less drowsy and start to pour drinks for breakfast, get their vitamins out, rinse off some grapes, I hear my daughter behind me. “Mommy, my throat really hurts.” Thinking she just has this nasty cold that my son has, I dutifully get out the flashlight to look at her throat, and yep, it’s a trip to the doctor. There goes the morning.

As we’re hurrying to get dressed so we can be one of the first in line at our doctor’s early morning walk-in clinic, my son with the cold starts complaining of a tummy ache. “I’m sorry your tummy hurts. You didn’t eat much last night, why don’t you try some grapes?” We hurry the boys up for school, and my daughter and I rush out of the house for the doctor’s office.

We get her all checked in and seated with her book, and I get a text from my husband. My little guy with the tummy ache feels like he can’t even stand the car ride to school, and my husband agrees he also needs to stay home. OK. So, after 1 1/2 hours at the doctor — yep, she has strep throat — we go home so we can be with my littlest one, allowing my husband to get the prescription and a few groceries before heading off to work. It’s only 10a.m. , and it already feels like it’s been a full day! I still have my flute and music staring at me, not to mention a trip to the library to return books that are due, and I still have my middle guy to pick up from school!

We have so far successfully been able to split up our day between some ABCya.com (they boost their math skills while I get a bit of practice in), snuggles, and reading, more snuggles, and what looks like now, a little bit of Simon. Sometimes navigating the hectic day of being a nurse, a mom, and a flutist can be really hard, but finding the joy in-and-among the craziness makes it so rewarding!

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Parenting Advice … from my sticky notes!

Parenting advice from sticky notes? Yes! Here’s what I mean: I have several books and related online articles that I have read over the last several years, which is a lot of information to take in. I have my books full of tabs and notes on information that I found particularly valuable or helpful. And as much as I try to flip through my books periodically to refresh my memory on my favorite ideas, I can’t always get to them, which leads to some forgetfulness on my part. I hate that! I’ve taken a great idea and lost it in the busyness of being a working parent of three kids. Gone — at least until I have a chance to pick up my books and refresh myself again.

My solution to this? Carefully placed sticky notes. I find an area of the house that I will see everyday (every morning and evening, actually) and stick my best, most helpful piece of advice up on that area. This reminds me everyday to work on whatever it is I want to work on. For just one example, in Rebecca Eanes book, Positive Parenting: Connecting from the Heart, she challenges the reader to give your child four statements of encouragement or positivity for every correction. The thought is that children are mostly told what they are doing wrong, and to avoid feeling like they can’t do anything right, you fill them up with positive attention. (It’s really great advice!! Do try it.) However, I was forgetting to actively try to get in four statements. What’s worse is that on my busiest, most hectic days, I may not get in very many encouraging words at all — maybe a quick “thank you” here are there — and the corrections just pile up. You can imagine where that leads! So, I have a sticky note on the mirror in my bedroom — something I see a few times a day — to remind me to work on at least four positive, encouraging statements in between each correction.

The sticky note reminders have started to drift into other parts of the house, as well, to help remind my children of some rules. I have a sticky note on our computer monitor to remind my children that online gaming is not allowed and what the consequence will be for breaking the rule (no computer privileges for one week) — we’ve talked about it many times, so they understand why, which is very important. I also have a sticky note to remind my daughter to work on 30 minutes of math games Monday through Thursday to help build her confidence in her weaker area. Therefore, not much has to be said on the subject. They see the notes, I see the notes, and we are all on the same page. No need for arguments, it’s all spelled out after discussing it.

So, in a manner of speaking, I get some of my best parenting advice from my sticky notes. I see them every day and am reminded every day to improve upon an area of my parenting. We all want to be the best parents we can be. We love our children, after all! There is no shame in getting help and finding clever solutions to help remind ourselves of what works, especially on our busiest days. So, here’s my challenge to you: find two or three of your best or favorite pieces of advice from positive parenting websites or books, stick them to your bathroom mirror or your bedroom mirror, and see what you gain from it. I’ve gained a fantastic way to fill my children up with positive attention and happy hearts!

Posted in Health and Fitness

Why I Finally Got a Mammogram Today

I don’t usually open up like this. In fact, I am seriously considering backing out of writing about it right now. These things are usually quite private for me, but this is important. I’m talking about women’s health. I’m talking specifically about mammograms.

I am sure that a lot of women are scared to get a mammogram. I certainly was today, even though it was my second one! In my case, I knew about how horribly uncomfortable it is. What if something is indeed wrong? What if they find something? What if I have to go back and get more imaging? These are absolutely valid questions and fears among women, and for some, like me, it stopped me right there. I’m not getting another one until I’m much older, I decided. 50 at least. Maybe 55. (I’m not even near 50, by the way.)

11 years ago, I had to get a mammogram because of a painful lump near my armpit. I was nursing my first newborn at the time. I was told to get imaging done right away. “Great.” I thought. I didn’t want to do it, but there wasn’t much of a choice. My other concern: I’m nursing my daughter. How is that supposed to work?? I was so worried about lactating on their machine that I warned the assistant that I was nursing, and she seemed not too concerned about it. I was. I apologized ahead of time, even. I was sure I would make a mess all over their equipment and completely embarrass myself. I was right. Yep. Milk went everywhere. I was so embarrassed. But, you know what? They have seen everything. Was it super uncomfortable? Yes (for me). Did I regret doing it? No. It turned out that the lump was a milk duct that formed in an unusual place. Nothing to worry about.

Fast-forward 11 years to today, and I was faced with the prospect of another exam. I kind of knew it was coming. And, indeed, my doctor was gently but strongly encouraging me to get one. “They do walk-ins downstairs. Just go downstairs and get one.” Remembering what felt like a fiasco last time, I didn’t want to. In fact, I didn’t do it last year when he had asked me again. I just left. I couldn’t make myself do it. This year was the same. I wanted to just walk out after my appointment was over and not worry about it for another year, but I didn’t. I decided that maintaining my health and catching anything early was best for me and my family. What good does it do save 30 minutes of my Friday if there is something hiding? What good does it do to save myself from 5-10 minutes of discomfort? It’s never a bad decision to make sure everything is OK.

I was definitely nervous this time. I can’t even tell you why, because I had done it before. Yes, it was quite uncomfortable, but it wasn’t painful. I think that’s the key to remember. Honestly, what made it easier for me was putting aside my nerves and just getting it done. (Holding on to the machine helped, too, for whatever reason!) I will admit that there is a part of me that wants to wait and not do it again next year, but, for the reasons above, I will do it. Remember, it’s only temporary. 10 minutes or fewer on the machine. That’s it. 10 minutes for an “all clear” or 10 minutes for “we caught it early.” Ladies, take care of your health, so you can take care of your children. Go get your mammogram.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Practicing, Working Parent

Working from Home: Is it easier or actually harder?

On the days I’m not teaching at Indiana Wesleyan University, I love working from home! I can be here to help get the kids out the door for school. I can workout. And, best of all, I can wear what I want, be comfortable, and not have to worry about make-up and my unruly, crazy hair. I love it! I leisurely begin my practicing with long tones and get my creative juices going by thinking about tone color and all of the different shading possibilities. After that, maybe I move on to my orchestral work or etudes, pieces, or whatever I wish. I take my time, and I feel relaxed.

The problem with being home while I’m working, is that I get almost “too relaxed” or unfocused, and I let the distractions of being in the house enter my mind. I suddenly notice that the kids’s toothpaste is all over their sink. Gross. I remember that my daughter will have no clean uniform skirts if I don’t do laundry today. The carpet needs attention. Ewwww, why is the kitchen floor sticky?! Yeah, you get me. It’s not exactly a distraction-free environment, is it? I almost let it get to me today, too. So, that’s the paradox of working from home, right? I find it easier to concentrate and focus at school or in a concert hall, but every other aspect of working is so much easier and relaxed at home.

So, how do I deal with all of these distractions and not let them blow my focus and energy? I put them off entirely … until the time is right. I try to maintain a daily schedule at home, and that does help a lot. I usually do not allow myself to do housework until my practicing is finished. Yes, the toothpaste is still all over the children’s sink. Yes, the carpet still desperately needs a visit with the vacuum cleaner. However, I know that these things can wait until it is in my schedule to take care of them, and knowing that can allow me to set those distractions aside and focus on my work. I’m not saying it’s always easy for me: like today, I caved in and started laundry early, which ate into my practice time a tiny bit. Some days it actually helps me to swap blocks of my schedule. So, if there’s something that is going to nag at me relentlessly until I get it taken care of, I’ll just deal with it first, and then carry on with my work. The trick for me is to make sure that during my work time, that’s what I’m focused on, and during my blogging or cleaning time, that’s what I’m focused on. I have to shut the door on everything else until it’s the right time. It takes will power some days, for sure, but I always thank myself in the end.