mental health

  • It’s a beautiful day for reassurance

    It was a sunny August morning, and my husband, son and I were standing inside a giant dome-like structure in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. What were we waiting for? Why a giant stuffed tiger dressed in a red zip-up sweater, of course! You may have heard of him. His name is Daniel Tiger, and we watched him and his fellow costumed character Katarina perform an adorable stage show at Storyland.

    After the performance, children could line up to take photos with the characters. As we waited in the line, an older man – looking like he would feel more at home at a biker bar than a children’s theme park – came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder, as my husband and son continued getting pictures taken with Daniel and friends.

    “I just wanted to say thank you for being such great parents,” the man said, smiling and then walking away.

    I turned back and looked at JB, who is now playing with and gazing in awe at Daniel Tiger. Tears started flowing down my cheeks, and I smiled. This was just another moment of reassurance made possible by Fred Rogers.

    Like most children in the 80s, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood every day. I learned how people make crayons, music can express feelings, and it’s okay to make mistakes. (I genuinely believe the episode where he shows the book with a typo in it instilled in me my love for proofreading!)

    I moved to Pittsburgh in 2010, and was dreading the transition. Pittsburgh had only four things going for it in my mind: My fiancé, my grad school, the Penguins, and Mister Rogers. (Technically he was from a suburb, Latrobe, but as an adult he relocated to Pittsburgh.)

    Living in Pittsburgh, it seemed everyone had some connection to Mister Rogers. I loved hearing the stories, each reiterating how humble and generous and compassionate he and his wife really were.

    While in grad school, I attended a citywide career fair for students looking at careers in journalism or communications. Imagine my surprise to find one of the speakers was the actor who played Mr. McFeely, David Newell. He was there to discuss careers in public television, obviously, but was also meeting with fans. I told him how I had reservations about moving from New England to Pittsburgh, but knew it couldn’t be that bad if Mister Rogers lived here. He spoke to me for several minutes reassuring me that everyone gets homesick, and I would make this city feel like home soon. I’ll always be grateful for that kindness.

    Mister Rogers’s effect on my parenting life

    The first song I ever sang to JB at the hospital when he was born was “It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood”. I still sing him that song, along with “You Are Special”, “It’s You I Like”, and my all-time favorite “When Your Heart Has Butterflies Inside It”. We watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – and now Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – as a family, and my husband and I sometimes point out places we’ve visited, or our favorite locations in the city. “There’s the Trader Joe’s Mommy always visited on her way home from work!” “That’s Daddy’s barber!”

    When JB returned to school full time last fall, I was a nervous wreck. Would he catch COVID? Was I protecting him enough? One particularly stressful day, as my head filled with worries on the drive to school, a song started playing from the “JB playlist” we were listening to in the car:

    Be brave and then be strong
    Be brave. You’ll not go wrong if you are right
    Keep your chin up tight
    And be brave and then be strong

    Yup, out of all the songs on my phone, at that moment that specific Mister Rogers song played. Sure, it could be a coincidence. After all, JB’s playlist is mostly Mister Rogers and Raffi songs (with some Taylor Swift for good measure). But coincidence or fate or whatever, all I know is that song was exactly what I wanted to hear in that moment of self-doubt.

    This summer has been extremely difficult for me emotionally. Our family’s bout with COVID, JB starting kindergarten, and some other changes have really taken their toll on my spirits. So last month, when I saw JB happily interact with these characters based on Mister Rogers’s work, and then heard someone telling me I was doing a good job? Well, I really needed that. And I think somehow, somewhere, Mister Rogers knew that, too. All I had to do was look for the helpers.

    Favorite books about Mister Rogers

    I’ve acquired quite the collection of Mister Rogers-related books over the years. Here are some of my favorites:

    (Please note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.) 

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  • A tea party of emotions

    A table is set for a fancy tea party, complete with snacks, tea, fine china and silverware, and flowers. The table is located next to a window looking out over the neighborhood.

    “Mommy!!!” the little boy shouted as he ran out of the school into the parent pickup area a few weeks ago. He had a big smile on his face as he hurried up to my side. Only one problem: This wasn’t my kid.

    “Right here, honey!” the woman behind me said to him, waving him over to her. In all fairness, both of us moms had the same brunette messy buns and big dark-framed eyeglasses. I chuckled, and smiled at the boy and mom. It was an easy mistake to make. So why did I feel like I was punched in the gut? And why were my eyes filling with tears?

    Then it hit me. I’ve never heard a child call me mommy.

    Okay, now I’m going to make a sharp turn now and change topics, but trust me, this segue will make sense in a bit.

    One of my favorite scenes in all of the Harry Potter series takes place in the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when Hermione tries to explain to Ron and Harry that their classmate must be feeling a variety of emotions – sad, confused, guilty, worried, pained, and afraid. Ron says “One person can’t feel all that at once.”

    Hermione, proving once again that she deserves someone much better than Ron (you know I’m right), snaps back, “Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.”

    In this scene, Hermione illustrates how one seemingly big feeling – grief – can really be dozens of conflicting feelings bouncing around inside us at once.

    That’s the best way I can explain moments like the aforementioned school pickup. (See, I told you I’d come back to the original topic.) I was filled with anger, sadness, grief, resentment, frustration, and a million other things. I was experiencing a whole tea party of emotions, simply because a child mistook me for his mother!

    I’ve experienced countless “tea party of emotions” moments like this over the past few years. I don’t know if it’s because I’m the parent of a disabled child, or because I’m a parent, or because that’s just life. (I suspect it’s the last one, though.)

    I’ve just started reading Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie. I am loving it so far, and highly recommend it. In Entry #2, the authors write, “You are capable of a whole range of emotions that can coexist. Joy and sorrow. Grief and delight. Laughter and despair. Sometimes, the absurdity even keeps us afloat.”

    Hermione couldn’t say it any better herself.

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  • Sitting is still something

    woman sitting on a sofa and looking into the distance

    During a telehealth appointment last month, my doctor mentioned she was glad to see me up and around. (We had been discussing the latest wave of the pandemic, and my ankle injury last fall).

    “Well, I wouldn’t say I’m ‘up and around’ at the moment,” I joked. “I’m just sitting on my bed.”

    “But you’re sitting upright. And that’s something,” she replied.

    JB has started sitting independently, pulling himself up from a lying down position and just sitting up, whether in bed or on the sofa or the floor. This is a HUGE milestone, and we are so proud of him for his determination and perseverance in getting to this point. The funny part, though, is that he’s remained pretty unfazed by the whole thing, giving us such nonchalant looks when we praise him for his hard work and how well he’s sitting up. To him, he’s just trying a new way of balancing himself and seeing things from a new perspective. It’s nothing to celebrate or think too hard about. In fact, the bigger deal we make out of him sitting, the more likely he is to start wobbling and possibly fall.

    I feel like that’s what many of us have been doing these past few months – just trying to sit up. Because some days, amid the omicron outbreaks and the cancelled plans and the childcare dilemmas, that is all we can do. It doesn’t feel like we’ve accomplished some major feat – we are “only” getting through this pandemic the best way we can. Like JB, we are balancing and looking at things a new way, and if we think too hard about it, we are likely to second-guess our selves and our efforts.

    So today, even if all you’ve done is sit upright, know that it’s still something. And it is enough.

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  • Twenty years ago

    an american flag at half mast with a blue sky and clouds in background

    I was 15 and sitting in biology class. The vice principal’s voice came across the PA system and told us planes had crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. There was talk of a related plane crash in rural Pennsylvania.

    My first thought was “This is like real-life Independence Day.” Yes, as in the 1996 blockbuster film starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. The image of a giant menacing spaceship shooting fire or lasers at an exploding White House below was all I could picture as I heard the news.

    Meanwhile back in reality, our teachers wheeled televisions on metal carts into the classrooms, so we could watch the news continue to unfold.

    After two more class periods, I couldn’t take anymore. At lunchtime, I said I had a stomachache and waited for my mom to pick me up and bring me home. (By that point, I wasn’t even faking it. I think we all were sick to our stomachs by the unfolding events.) When we arrived home, I curled up in my bed and listened to Backstreet Boys’ Millennium album on repeat.

    The next few weeks blur together in my memory. I remember random little things here and there like the following:

    • A classmate telling everyone her mom said they would move to Canada so her brother wouldn’t get drafted;
    • Every TV station transforming into a 24-hour news channel, even MTV;
    • A slew of “We Are the World”-esque songs and telethon fundraisers;
    • A 9/11 Beanie Baby; yes, really;
    • The sudden ubiquity of patriotic clothing and American flag bumper stickers;
    • A loved one saying, “I might as well let myself have a cinnamon bun. After all, who knows how long we all have left!”

    I also can recall going through a period where I’d panic whenever something reminded me of the morning of 9/11. I couldn’t wear a certain blue headband ever again because I was wearing it when I heard about the attacks. If it was a Tuesday or the 11th of a month, and there was a clear blue sky, my heart would start racing and I’d feel nauseated, convinced it was a sign from God that something bad would happen that day.

    In addition, for the next few years whenever I heard the telltale buzzing and clicking of the school’s ancient PA system switching on, I’d feel a lump in my throat, and I’d begin steeling myself for an announcement that something bad had happened. To this day, I feel the same way whenever there’s a “breaking news special report” on TV.

    One of my former teachers used to remind us that sophomore means “wise fool” – and honestly I think that phrase sums up that year pretty well for my peers and me. We entered our sophomore year of high school thinking this was when we started to feel grown up: We were no longer the “babies” of the school, and many of us would be turning 16 and starting to drive. We were foolish enough to think we were wiser than everyone else. Fifteen is a rollercoaster of an age, filled with equal parts bravado, rage, fear, panic, loyalty, vulnerability, passion, camaraderie and self-doubt. And I think we all felt those things as a country at one point or another in the days following 9/11.

    What would I tell that 15-year-old girl sitting in biology class if I could go back in time? I’d tell her it’s okay to be scared and anxious, but don’t let it define every decision you make. I’d tell her to trust her heart that the terrible, hate-filled things she’d hear grown-ups and classmates alike say about certain groups in response to 9/11 were coming from places of ignorance and fear, not truth. I’d tell her that scary, uncertain times happen, and sometimes things are never the same again, but that doesn’t mean they are never good again, just different. And finally, I’d tell her that the freshman boy in choir named Chris – the one with the Marvin the Martian backpack –  may not be so bad after all, and she should probably give him a chance. He’ll make a great husband and father someday.

    There’s really no overarching theme or point to be made with this blog post. I just needed to get these memories out into the world. Thanks for reading.

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  • My favorite books of 2021 so far

    straw beach bag with books, a picnic blanket and a hat, spread out on a green lawn

    Affiliate links are used in this post. As an Amazon affiliate I may earn from qualifying purchases at no cost to you.

    Guys, I’m writing this from the library – THE LIBRARY! If that’s not a sign that things are returning to normal, than I don’t know what is!

    Anyway, today I’m going to be discussing books, specifically my five favorite books of 2021 so far. There’s quite a range of tones here, but honestly hasn’t this year been an emotional rollercoaster anyway? It makes sense that the books I’ve read would match (or counteract) that same unpredictability.

    Here are my favorite books from the first half of 2021.

    Favorite novel: Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (also available through Book of the Month

    Hockey. Suspense. YA romance. A socioeconomic examination of the opioid crisis on Native reservations in the early 2000s. While these may not all be genres/topics you are necessarily looking for in a book, the combination is what makes The Fire Keeper’s Daughter my favorite fiction read of 2021 so far. The plot is intricately woven and complicated, to say the least, but know three things. First, Daunis, the protagonist, is one of the strongest, best-written main characters I’ve encountered in years. Second, trigger warnings abound, so proceed with caution and do your research before reading if you have certain topics you need to avoid. And third, Barack and Michelle Obama will be adapting this book into a Netflix TV show!

    Favorite children’s book: What is God Like? by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner
    I spoke about this book a little bit a few weeks ago in my post about switching churches. I didn’t learn about Rachel Held Evans until after she died in 2019, but I wish I had known her. When she passed away, her friend Matthew Paul Turner (one of my favorite children’s book authors) was asked to finish this story she had started. This book they co-created is an incredible, inspiring celebration of the concept of God, especially for young children. Throughout the story, we meet characters of different ethnicities and races, a child with a wheelchair, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The story switches pronouns for God along the way – sometimes God is He, sometimes She, sometimes They. I love this book so very much, and if you are a friend of mine with a young child, I’m probably going to talk your ear off about this book at least once in the next few months!

    Favorite poetry book: What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer
    I’m as shocked as you are that I’m listing a poetry book here. I normally don’t “do” poetry. Heck, one of the main reasons I wasn’t an English major was that, despite my love of writing, I didn’t want to have to study poetry! Kate Baer’s work is different, however. Her poetry tackles motherhood, body image, feminism, mental health and more in a raw, powerful way. Her “Erasure” series of poems is my favorite. In these, she takes online comments she’s received and blacks out select words, using the words remaining to form uplifting messages out of the hate. Baer’s second book, I Hope This Finds You Well, comes out this fall, and I’ve already preordered it!

    Favorite nonfiction book: Getting It Done When You’re Depressed (Second Edition) by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston (also available on Zulily)
    How much do I love this book? So much that I bought it twice, in e-book and paperback formats, so it’s always with me. I’m currently rereading it, and I’m getting even more out of it the second time around. The authors have an incredible talent for putting in words different aspects of depression that I always assumed were just my own unique weaknesses. I feel seen and understood in a way no other book has ever made me feel. My favorite feature of this book is that each chapter also has a script portion for you to share with loved ones when you are depressed and don’t know how to put your specific experience into words.

    Favorite cookbook: Everyday Dinners by Jessica Merchant
    Confession: I own the hardcover and e-book copies of this book, too. Jessica Merchant is the Pittsburgh-based founder of my favorite cooking blog, How Sweet Eats. In her latest cookbook, she focuses on easy weeknight meals that you can (but don’t have to) prep for in advance. Because let’s be real – I’m never going to prepare a week’s worth of meals on a Sunday. It just isn’t my style, although I admire all you folks who swear by it. Like Merchant, I would much rather preparing components of a meal here and there in pockets of free time throughout the week. So far, my favorite recipes are the Cajun-Lime Sweet Potato Salad and the Chicken Romano Meatballs. Seriously, I dream about both of these dishes. I’m planning on making several more recipes from this book over these next few days during the holiday weekend!

    What has your favorite book been so far in 2021? I’d love to hear from you! Also, if you want to expand your family’s summer reading selection, I’ll be sharing recommendations for young readers in the next week or two, including some FREE printables! (Admit it, you love free stuff!)

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  • Finding a faith community that fits

    When I started Joyful, Brave and Awesome, I said this blog would not be a place to discuss religious views, except for when related to the blog’s central message of inclusion.

    Well, over the past year our family has made some changes in how we practice our faith, and I wanted to share our experience with you.

    My husband and I were raised in and educated by the Catholic Church. We met while attending the same Catholic high school, were married in the Church, and baptized our son in the Church. Over the past several years, something shifted, though. I came to a point where the ever-increasing list of things I disagreed with was far too burdensome to make me want to practice my faith anymore. My husband felt similarly, and we discussed switching to a different denomination, but never actually followed through with it.

    As JB’s disabilities became more apparent and we learned more about his genetic syndrome, we struggled with how to give our son a faith community like the one we we grew up with – attending worship services, learning prayers, having traditions – while staying true to our beliefs.

    We tell JB every day that his differences don’t make him any less worthy of respect or love. He can achieve anything – pursue a career, fall in love and get married, raise a family, participate in social events, etc. Just because he was born a little different than other people doesn’t mean he is not enough, or is inherently wrong or bad. How could we justify telling JB these reassuring messages, while at the same time belonging to a group that limits people’s rights simply because of how they were born?

    I knew that if we wanted to lead by example and teach my son to have faith and believe in a higher power, my husband and I needed to make a change. As one person astutely pointed out, we were looking for a church that “preached what we practiced.”

    One of the good things about the pandemic was it caused churches to livestream their worship services. Our family was able to “attend” different Sunday services without worrying about when to sit, stand, kneel, sing, pray, etc. We also didn’t need to worry if JB had a meltdown, or if his feeding pump alarm went off, or if the building was wheelchair accessible. We ended up finding a local parish in a different denomination that is a much better fit for our family. This group has welcomed us with open arms, and has gone out of their way to make sure services and special events are accessible and accommodating for JB.

    I realize no church or religious family is perfect, and JB – like any other kid – will face hardship throughout his life regardless of his religious affiliation. But I also know that, as his mom, it is my job to provide him with a safe environment that fosters confidence, compassion, and tolerance.

    Recently, I have connected with an online community of writers and readers who believe in the importance of inclusion in faith-based writing. I am so excited by the work these group members are doing! As part of this group, over the next few weeks I will be sharing information about a new children’s book called What is God Like? that illustrates the themes of faith and inclusion in one of the most beautiful ways I’ve ever seen.

    You can see a preview of the book here.

    I’d love to hear if you have positive stories of inclusion and faith, whether disability-related or not. I’m also curious if you have any stories of changing your religious practices during the pandemic. Feel free to share in the comments!

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  • Acknowledging what we’ve lost this past year

    I know it’s been quiet around here the past two months.

    I’ve had a million article ideas buzzing around in my mind, including:

    • A Dose of Awesome focused on recent TV/movie reboots I’m loving;
    • Post-vaccine life so far;
    • My husband and my decision to leave the Catholic Church;
    • JB is learning to ride a tricycle!

    I’m still going to address some of these topics in the coming weeks, but today I’m going to discuss something no one wants to have to talk about – grief. (It’s not very joyful, brave or awesome, but whatever.)

    My grandmother passed away two weeks ago. It’s still not sinking in yet; I told my husband it feels like I’m in a foggy alternate universe. I’ve spent the past few days going through the motions, but feeling completely exhausted and emotionally drained.

    I’ve inherited a lot from my grandmother – my eyes, my love of Nutella and Italian cheeses (not together, as that would be disgusting), my love of libraries and reading, and my impatience and inability to keep opinions to myself! I hope I’ve also inherited her strong will and sheer determination.

    For some weird reason, I usually don’t cry at funerals. Rather, I’m exactly like Robin Scherbatsky in How I Met Your Mother, with wisecracks and a Mary Poppins-esque purse full of vices, ready to help comfort others. (I cannot find a clip of this scene of the HIMYM episode Last Words but trust me, it is wonderful.) At my grandmother’s funeral, however, I couldn’t stop crying. I was upset because my grandmother was gone, yes, but it was more than that. I was grieving many things from the past year:

    • I hadn’t seen most of my family (my grandmother, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc.) since Christmas 2019, and I was upset this was how we were reunited.
    • I was bitter about how much has been taken from us  – all because world leaders were reckless and incompetent and didn’t take the pandemic seriously during the first days of its spreading.
    • I hated how much the pandemic has messed with my mental health. Sometimes I tell myself I don’t have the “right” to be depressed or anxious anymore because everyone else is, too. This just makes the distorted thoughts and negative thinking spiral further and further out of control.
    • I worried that JB would be forever scarred because he’s already attended two funerals in his four years.
    • I was infuriated – that between pews being “roped off” for social-distancing requirements and the layout of the church, we had to position JB’s wheelchair right near the casket.
    • I panicked about the millions of “what-ifs” regarding my son possibly catching COVID while inside the church.  I was so scared in fact, I had my husband leave with JB halfway through the service. Would this be my new normal, constantly anxious and vigilant that until JB is vaccinated, every person out there is a possible threat?

    It has taken me a week to write this post because I feel guilty complaining about these things when I know so many people in this world have faced far more over the past year. More than half a million lives have been lost in the U.S. alone due to COVID-19, and each of those people leaves behind people mourning their loss.

    If you – like me – are feeling overwhelmed by what you can do to help people get through a second year of this pandemic, I encourage you to view this list of donation opportunities from CNN. Sometimes, I feel like looking outside myself and helping others is the best way to help alleviate my own grief, as cheesy as that sounds.

    As Michael Gary Scott, the wise former Dunder Mifflin Regional Manager, Scranton Branch, once so eloquently put it:

    Society teaches us that having feelings and crying is bad and wrong. Well, that’s baloney, because grief isn’t wrong. There’s such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown.

    What have you been grieving lately, COVID-related or otherwise?

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  • 10 (well, actually 9) things I hate about now

    I’ve been dealing with a major case of writer’s block lately. Last week, while in a particularly grumpy mood, I compiled a list of “things I hate right now”.

    I think I needed to get all this down on (virtual) paper to clear my brain before moving on and writing my next blog posts. Since putting together this list, I feel creative again for the first time in months.

    Below is a cleaned-up version of the list. (Trust me, the original version was not suitable for online publication of any kind!)

    1. I hate this pandemic.
    2. I hate what this pandemic has taken away from our children, especially those most in need of the stability and socialization of a school setting.
    3. I hate the actions (or inaction) of leaders who got us into this COVID mess, and of those people who knowingly dismiss social distancing or mask guidelines and continue the spread.
    4. I hate when people dismiss others’ talents by assuming something comes easily or painlessly. “Oooh, can you play/write/design something for me right now?” Yes, because that is how the creative process works, you moron. My marketable skill/life’s passion/etc. is totally a mere party trick for your entertainment.
    5. I hate that I miss Pittsburgh sometimes.
    6. I hate that I don’t know if it’s that I miss Pittsburgh, or that I miss being a young twentysomething filled with possibility.
    7. I hate that some days I no longer consider myself filled with possibility.
    8. I hate when people say things like “It must be nice staying home,” or “Well, I could never put my child in daycare,” to mothers. You would NEVER hear someone say this to a man.
    9. I hate that I’ve gained weight and, despite knowing what I should be doing to be healthier, I don’t actually do it.
    10. I hate that I’m counting down till JB goes to bed so I can have a glass of wine and the slice of cake that came with our takeout tonight.

    Author’s Update: Yeah, so I ended up not hating anything about that cake and wine. Also, the above image is a stock photo, not the actual dessert. The real cake did not last long enough for me to photograph it. #sorrynotsorry

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  • It’s okay to consider 2020 the bad guy (or what I learned leaving Pittsburgh)

    Six years ago this month, my husband and I finished loading our U-Haul and hightailed it out of Pittsburgh and back to New England.

    We had lived in Pittsburgh for several years after college. It was where Chris and I had our first home together, where he proposed, and where we adopted our little big-eared wonderdog, Colby.

    We left Pittsburgh on very bad terms. People we had thought of as dear friends screwed us over for their own professional gain, while other friends silently stood by, or shut us out of their lives completely. To this day, there are only a dozen or so people we still keep in contact with from our time in Pittsburgh.

    When we left the city, we had no idea what our future had in store for us. All of our plans were now completely shattered. Neither of us had jobs lined up in New England, and we would be staying with family until we could land on our feet. Those first few weeks in limbo were easily the worst time in my life. I can’t think too much about that period, as it’s still so painful. In fact, it’s taken these past six years to gather the courage to write about it even briefly.

    However, I have been looking back on our time in Pittsburgh before we were dealt that blow.

    It was pretty common knowledge that while living in Pittsburgh, I hated the city. I did not want to be there; it was not New England. I never expected to live there, and before moving there all I knew about it was it was where Topanga’s family moved, ripping her away from her true love, Cory, on Boy Meets World.

    Now, though, with some literal and figurative distance between the city and myself, I can appreciate the good parts of living there. I made incredible friends through my graduate school program at Duquesne University, and with my neighbors at our apartment complex. I became a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey fan, and met Sidney Crosby at the Whole Foods deli once – swoon. As an American Studies major and history minor, I loved the historical significance of the city. Most importantly, Pittsburgh was the home of Mister Rogers, a personal hero of mine, and a constant reminder that kindness and decency are still very real. (Get ready for at least one blog post about Mister Rogers in 2021!)

    So why am I sharing all this right now? Well, we are all coming up on the end of what seems like a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. It’s easy to blame it all on 2020, that abstract, convenient scapegoat that summarizes everything bad lately.

    I felt the same way about Pittsburgh a few years ago. I thought of the city as a whole, giant, evil entity that was at the root of every hardship we were facing at that moment.

    Did it help in the short term? You bet! I went through a good few years where I wouldn’t mention Pittsburgh without an F-bomb or two before it. It felt almost cathartic to hide all of my frustrations and fears under that general “villain” I created.

    But then, once things started improving here in New England – once I had a new career, and new friends, and had JB – I didn’t need Pittsburgh to be the bad guy anymore. I could admit that I missed certain aspects of life there – restaurants, museums, etc. Sometimes I miss it a lot, and think about going back to visit. Make no mistake, I still hate the decisions certain individuals made to hurt us during the end of our time in the city, but it was the actions of a small group, not the entire city. (Side note: I do, however, still blame the city of Pittsburgh for everything bad the Pearson Family has gone through thus far in the first 3.5 seasons of This is Us. I will not budge on this.)

    Back to 2020: It’s obviously not the entire year’s fault. But right now, I think we need to express our collective grief and fear in a way that’s easy and relatable. And yes, that makes 2020 the scapegoat. When we are in a better place, once the vaccine is more available and we are under more stable political leadership and our daily routines are able to return to normal-ish we will be able to learn from this chaos. We may even find one or two parts of this crazy quarantine life that we miss someday.

    So for now, keep those “F U 2020” Christmas ornaments, or make all the “Thank God it’s 2021” comments you want! There’s a time to be mature, and we will get there. But don’t worry if you aren’t there yet. Heck, maybe you’ll never entirely get to that point of acceptance and understanding. After all, lord knows I’m never going to be a Steelers fan!

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  • This virus has changed everything

    Have these past two weeks been real?

    Take a moment to think about how crazy the things we’ve seen and done lately would seem even a month ago:

    • Fighting with complete strangers over toilet paper and hand sanitizer;
    • Singing aloud while we wash our hands;
    • Checking online for updates on Tom Hanks’ and Idris Elba’s health;
    • Using phrases like “hunker down”, “quarantine,” “social distancing,” and “flatten the curve” not only frequently, but also in an un-ironic fashion;
    • Watching talk-show hosts broadcast from their homes;
    • Having every family, not just those who have chosen to homeschool, suddenly conducting class in their homes for weeks, frantically searching online for lesson plans and craft ideas;

    Let me put this into perspective another way. Guys, I live in Massachusetts. Tom Brady left the New England Patriots last week, and it wasn’t even that day’s biggest news story. He’s been with them for 19 seasons. Heck, he’s a football player that I actually know the name of – that’s how you know he’s a cultural icon!

    Kidding aside, though, I won’t lie – this has been a frightening time. It feels like we are all preparing for some big storm, but without a definite “start” and “stop” time. We all bought the bread and milk. Schools are closed. So when is the snow day getting here? Is it coming in a day, week, month, year?

    In many ways, it feels like 9/11: The unknowing, the eerie absence of live TV shows and sporting events, few if any planes flying overhead, and the sense that everything has changed forever, while things may immediately look the same.

    There’s a difference though – when 9/11 occurred I was a teen, a student, “protected” by a force field of teachers and parents and other adults. Now I am the adult, and a parent to a child with complex medical needs who is especially vulnerable to getting sick.

    I’m trying to stay levelheaded, vigilant and prepared without sliding into hysteria. The anxiety I’ve lived with most of my life is still there, only now others seem to have these fears, too. (Don’t these other people know I’m supposed to be able to lean on them for reassurance? How can I do that if they are also scared or vulnerable? How rude!)

    There are a few things I’ve been doing to stay somewhat calmer over the past week. I wanted to share with you, as I know it’s a difficult time for everyone right now.

    • I’ve been talking to friends and family more over the phone and via FaceTime, rather than relying solely on texting. Folks, we need all the human connection we can get right now (WHILE MAINTAINING SOCIAL DISTANCING), and hearing a voice or seeing a face of someone you care about can make a real difference.
    • Coffee makes everything better. I’ve been making and drinking more coffee at home now, and I purchased a gift card to my favorite local coffee shop to support them now when they need it.
    • Never underestimate the power of a sheet mask for your face. Seriously, they cost under $4, they are mess-free, they are individually sealed and packaged, and you can put one on and feel pampered for 20 minutes. Pro tip: When you wear glasses over your sheet mask, you can recreate the Mr. Napkinhead scene from The Holiday. Or not. Your choice.
    • Now is the time for comfort TV. If you need to take a break and watch three hours (or three seasons) of The Office to calm your nerves, this is the perfect time to do so. I personally have been feeling a bit stir crazy, so I’m watching travel shows on Netflix when I need a break from my pals at Dunder Mifflin.
    • I’ve been keeping busy by taking on extra freelance writing assignments. I found that I can manage my anxiety a bit better by choosing what news topics I want to know more about, such as individuals and organizations helping others during this crisis. Mister Rogers said, “Look for the helpers,” so that’s what I’m doing.

    If you have any ideas for staying calm right now, feel free to share in comments or on Facebook!

    Image credit: Pexels 

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