Friday, September 18, 2009

Brownies, Candles, Books, and Tea

I have a 6th grader who recently started middle school and she is feeling WAY too much stress. When stress makes MY life and health fall to shit, I somehow seem to accept it without a fight. But when my eleven-year-old has worked herself into a daily panic and can't get to sleep at night it is SO NOT OKAY. NOT NOT NOT NOT OKAY.

Let me clarify - my daughter's stress is not related to schoolwork being overly challenging (it isn't) or a problematic social situation (she hangs out with a sweet group of kids). Her stress is mostly caused by having to learn the ropes at a new school and by having a busy after-school schedule. Her life was also complicated by having her mom (me) leave town the second week of school due to a death in the family. My little girl has been slowly unraveling and I haven't been able to stop it. Until now.

Earlier this week, my daughter and I spent some time analyzing and organizing her life. We discussed strategies for dealing with stressful situations. We discussed how her body was reacting to stress and how we could improve her situation.

This weekend we are catching up on sleep. Sleep (or lack of, I should say) lowers anyone's ability to cope, and my daughter has been no exception. She missed some bedtimes while I was out of town which started a cycle of sleep deprivation... which led to feelings of being perpetually overwhelmed... which led to small problems feeling like huge problems... and ultimately triggering anxiety.

That's my official analysis - or at least my justification for waking up and then going back to sleep for most of my Saturday and forcing my daughter to do the same. Eleven-year-olds are still quite cuddly, by the way... you just have to work around the big elbows and knees.

I also gathered information from fellow parents of like-minded kids. It helped. I loved watching my friend Peggy teach my daughter yoga breathing one night and explain to her how to relax her muscles bit by bit. I got a teacher involved. Helped a lot. This teacher offered kind words of support and encouragement. My daughter walked out to the car that day actually smiling.

Eventually, though, my search led, not surprisingly, to books. Don't all good, worthwhile searches lead to books? LOVE BOOKS.

The book my daughter immediately connected with was a little gem called DEALING WITH THE STUFF THAT MAKES LIFE TOUGH, The 10 Things That Stress Girls Out and How to Cope with Them by Jill Zimmerman Rutledge, M.S.W., LCSW.

Any book that recommends making brownies, lighting scented candles, and giving yourself a homemade facial is okay by me. Don't worry, there's more practical advice and good information in the book as well. "Ingenious Tip#1: The Shoe-Box Solution" on page 43 is highly recommended. But who can argue with brownies?

We settled for a little chamomile tea with honey and a scented candle on my daughter's dresser one evening, and it certainly helped the mood. 

Things are improving. My daughter, I believe, has rounded the corner. Life is feeling much more balanced for everyone in the household. And I am left with a couple thoughts from this journey.

1. I did this originally for my daughter, but I have learned so much for myself. These tools can carry over to anyone. It just took my daughter's situation to make me realize what a major role stress plays in all our lives.

2. I am blown away by all people who care about preteen and teenaged kids. I was warmed to see friends and teachers eagerly step forward to help. One mom overheard me talking to another mom about my daughter's anxiety and immediately asked, "What can I do to help?" 

And the books. The books are so thoughtfully written. There's a wealth of talented people out there concerned about the kids in our society. Amazing. Comforting.

Which reminds me, another book, 33 THINGS EVERY GIRL SHOULD KNOW, Stories, Songs, Poems, and Smart Talk by 33 Extraordinary Women edited by Tonya Bolden has been a good book to read aloud with my daughter.

Add a few scented candles, tea, and homemade brownies, and I think we've got ourselves a nice evening ahead of us...

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Road Best Not Taken

I need a scalpel. I've never actually used one before, but there are quite a few bumps and irregularities on my skin that I'd love to lop off and send in for further investigation. I also think they should make some sort of at-home biopsy collection kit that you can put your samples into, and a lab that will test the stuff you send in. How cool would THAT be? Strange, Obama has not returned my calls about including this as part of the national health care package.

There is probably some sort of medical word for my kind of crazy. It's not like I've actually DONE anything. I'm just a tired mom with a history of skin cancer and skin irregularities who really needs to find the time to see a doctor. I know at-home scalpel and biopsy kits would not be a smart mainstream product. I get that some idiot consumer would send in a finger or kidney or ex-husband's something-or-other and ruin it for the rest of us. No need to call in the authorities... see... I'm picking up the phone right now to call my dermatologist... 

Just so you know, I've been warned that it would be best NOT to discuss certain topics here. A good friend of mine tried to explain to me that people would be afraid to buy my books and allow small children to read them if I disclose every strange thought and poorly-made parenting decision (planned for my next blog topic) in a public forum such as this. The same friend explained that while SHE thinks I'm funny - albeit highly unusual in some of my thought processes - she's not sure book-buying parents of toddlers would always agree. She hinted that blog topics of this nature would have the exact OPPOSITE effect of helping book sales.

I probably should have disclosed to my poor friend that telling a writer what not to write will almost always have the exact OPPOSITE desired effect. Dire warnings of horrible consequences make untouchable topics irresistible to writers. It's like a magnetic, self-destructive pull... can't... stop... myself... 

Okay, time to hide the sharp objects and move on.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm Screening My Calls

Dear Caller:
Please don't take it personally, but I am screening my calls. It's not that I don't like you. Well, there's a small chance that that is the case, but most likely I just need to know where your call fits on my priority list in that moment in time. 

If you're my Agent/Editor/Publisher, I promise I'll trample kittens and babies to get to the phone.

I'll drop an overflowing laundry basket in a second to take a call from an old friend. If I talked to you an hour ago, I may put the laundry first. Not always. Just sometimes.

Even old friends (those IN CRISES not included in this statement) need to wait if I don't want to interrupt good writing Mojo. Writing Mojo is delicate and hard to hold on to. There's nothing like the anguish of breaking good writing Mojo to answer a call from the teen clothing store at the mall. Instant Mojo neutralizer can be found in the insanely cheerful prerecorded message - "HI! IT'S JESSICA FROM JUSTICE AND I WANT TO TELL YOU ABOUT OUR 40% OFF SALE..." Argggggggg! Someone please snuff out Jessica and her happy, happy, voice. Please.

Usually, there is some sort of event that triggers a full-blown screening. The latest? My mother-in-law has failed her driver's test. She is 74 and is not functioning very well, mentally or physically. Everyone is thrilled she failed. Everyone except my mother-in-law. She is not thrilled at all. Her stubbornness has overruled any common sense she may still have left. She wants to drive, dammit. 

Some of the driver's test questions she answered incorrectly were: 
When do you need to look behind you while driving your vehicle? Unfortunately, she did not select the answer that included, "backing up and changing lanes."

When entering the freeway and traffic is moving 35 mph, you should drive at what speed? 35 mph is the correct answer, by the way. She checked off 25 mph. I'm shocked a road rage incident hasn't finished her off before any one of her many illnesses.

She thought it was okay to drive a little bit drunk. She also checked the box indicating it was okay to drive OFF THE ROAD to pass another vehicle. Holy crap.

She has recruited me as her personal assistant and driving tutor. I don't want to do it, really. But she is persistent. And she is calling, and calling, and calling.

So if you are trying to get ahold of me, please, just leave a message and I really will get back to you. Unless you're my mother-in-law, then I'd suggest taking a nice walk followed by bed rest.