school

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Back to school . . . in March?

     

    Okay, have we got JB’s backpack? Check.
    AAC device? Check.
    Glasses? Check.
    Leg braces? Check.
    Feeding tube emergency kit? Check.
    Jacket? Check
    Face mask? Check.
    Additional face mask? Check.

    I am reviewing everything one last time in preparation for tomorrow. It’s JB’s first day of school: Well, his first day attending school in person in 2021. This week, he will begin attending some of his therapy sessions in person, along with outdoor recess with his classmates. We are finally allowing him out of his pandemic bubble, and I’m not sure if I’m excited or if I want to keep him in this protected cocoon a little while longer.

    Almost all parents have had to grapple with decisions like this over the past year. Is it safe for my child to return to school or daycare? Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Should we wait until there’s a vaccine approved for kids? Can we buy enough sanitizing spray for me to sleep at night? Will the other kids be good about handwashing? Should I maybe go to class with him to make sure he doesn’t lick anything? (Pretty sure this last one is specific to me, but figured I’d keep it in here just in case anyone else relates!)

    I don’t know if this hesitation is because I’m a parent of a child with complex medical needs, because I’m a parent in the midst of a pandemic, or because I’m a parent. What I do know is JB needs to be in school again, even if it is only for a few hours a week at first. He needs to have therapists and teachers who are not his parents. He needs a classroom outside of our house. He needs to grow, and explore, and cause (good-natured) mischief, and see friends in person and not only on a screen. He needs to listen to music other than the “Agatha All Along” theme song I seem to be humming ALL THE TIME.
    And yet, right now I am literally drumming my fingernails on my keyboard – sitcom secretary style – because of all my anxiety. What if it is too soon? What if JB gets sick, whether it’s from COVID-19 or a cold or some other type of bug? I’m trying not to let my thoughts spiral out of control, but that’s easier said than done.

    Deep breath. 

    I’ve double-checked the backpack, and I think we are as ready as we’ll ever be for school tomorrow.

    Oh, and I asked my science-teacher husband; He can’t invent a Wandavision-like force field to protect JB from coronavirus because apparently “that’s not how science (or the Marvel universe) works.” Whatever.

    Affiliate links are used in this post. 

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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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  • Insert witty reference to the 1998 song ‘Closing Time’

    Happy New Year, everyone!

    These past two weeks have been an absolute blur for my family. We attended three days of celebrations leading up to Christmas. We hosted Christmas day festivities at our new house. We said tearful goodbyes to JB’s Early Intervention therapists, as he “graduated” from EI. We celebrated JB’s third birthday. We said goodbye to 2019 and hello to 2020. Oh, and tomorrow JB has his first day of preschool. Just another run-of-the-mill 14 days, right?

    I’ve got posts planned to recap several of the above events, but for now, I’d just like to thank everyone for joining me on this adventure called my blog over the past year. I have a lot of big ideas for 2020, and I’m hoping to share many of them soon!

    I’d also love to hear from you. What are you interested in reading more about this year? Lists of recommended books/toys/products? Interviews with other parents of kids with special needs? Topics that apply to kids of all abilities? Discussions about political issues facing the disabled community? I really want 2020 to be a year of community here on the site and across Instagram and Facebook. I’d love for readers to help make that happen.

    Feel free to comment below, or on social media, or in an email. I can’t wait to hear from you!

    Image credit: Pexels

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