Tag Archives: Los Angeles

Pushing Our Kids = Sport Injuries

pitcher

This week I’m finishing up an article for a Los Angeles healthcare magazine about youth sport injuries. When I first started this article, I had no idea that it would haunt me as much as the articles I wrote earlier this year on stressed out kids and childhood diabetes. There seems to be an invisible link fueling these three varying topics and intuitively it has to be our American culture. We are a society stewing in a pressure cooker of stress: too many obligations, long work hours, financial strain and the need to succeed. Of course our children feel this pressure cooker environment every bit as much as we do—perhaps more so. And they are navigating through it as best they can.

Since it’s no longer safe for kids to ride bikes freely or play in their hood like we did as children, there’s no wonder that organized sport has taken off. But when more than 35 million kids under 14 years of age are undergoing surgery or other medical treatments for sport injuries—we need to take a step back. (BTW, that statistic is from a 14-year-old study—so likely the number is even higher.)

This week I listened to two well-known orthopedic surgeons in Los Angeles explain to me the type of injuries they treat in patients as young as 8. Can you imagine ACL surgery at 8? But think about it, some children start group sports or club sports as early as 5 or 6. I learned an interesting tidbit from one physician who works with elite athletes…that baseball scouts aren’t as interested in signing pitchers from California anymore. Want to know why? Because Californians are known to work out longer and harder year-round. Our athletic culture, mixed with coaches and parents who like to take advantage of the year-round nice weather, creates exhausted and injured teenagers.

When a pitcher doesn’t get a break to rest—especially those who have been playing since elementary school—they will likely have sustained some serious injuries by the time they are 18. Even professional athletes take a few months off each season. Our children with growing bones and muscles—who may or may not have entered puberty—need time off to rest.  (And kiddos who start throwing curve balls early, or who just pitch too often, find themselves injured in middle school. See This New York Times article on the topic.)

As I mentioned, part of the problem is that young children are still growing and they all differ on timing of puberty. One child’s physique at 14 may be much different than another’s. Obviously, that means that not all kids under 14 can be expected to do 100 push ups at a practice—or whatever benchmarks certain coaches have. Physicians emphasize, however, that it’s not varying from routine in sports that can create ACL injury and even alter bone growth in children’s hips. It’s just not safe on ligaments and muscles and bones when repetitive motions are done year-round.

So the kid that focusses on one sport early on and joins a club team that doesn’t allow for proper breaks year-round, will likely sustain “overuse” injuries. This kid who loves the game, and whose parents may have fostered hopes for scholarships, might actually not be as competitive in high school as the child who only played six months a year, took breaks, and enjoyed a variety of sports.

It makes sense. Physicians whose studies show pediatric overuse injuries rising, have helped organized sport organizations create limits: such as a baseball pitching limit per season.

According to a New York Times article on the topic, Little League has established pitch count limits per game and recommended days of rest for pitchers ages 9 to 18. The United States Cycling Federation has imposed gear-ratio limits for riders ages 10 to 16. U.S.A. Swimming recommends the number and length of weekly sessions for various ages of competitive swimmers.

Youth soccer fields are now smaller and baseball bases put closer together for youth games.

While these are advancements—they don’t really change the culture do they? Look at the picture I posted with this story. It’s of a very small child, trying to throw a curve ball. It was posted on Flickr by his parent bragging about the kid’s moxie. I found hundreds of pics of little kids throwing curve balls with posts underneath them from grandparents or parents all saying things like: “That’s my boy!”

Dancers and gymnasts put in grueling hours and sometimes starve themselves to meet their coaches favor. We all know stories about kids who work hard to become Olympic hopefuls or college athletes. It’s encouraged by parents. And while I’m a huge proponent of getting kids in team sports and off the couch—pushing to the extreme is not a good option. Early injuries lead to earlier bouts of arthritis. Shouldn’t we just get back to the basics and have fun? Don’t we want to foster a lifestyle that embraces a lifetime of athleticism and healthy choices? And is it just me, but wouldn’t it be nice to bring back family dinner for at least two weeknight evenings instead of racing from practices to games and ordering in fast food? Seriously, how well are we really teaching our children to take care of their bodies?

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Stressed Out Kids: Who’s to Blame?

For this 100th blog post, I’ve decided to write about a topic that is killing us.

Literally.

I can’t think of a more important issue for the health of our children and our families than stress. Think your kid isn’t stressed? Think again. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 91 percent of children in the United States report feeling stressed—even though many of their parents reported those same kids were not anxious. It really shouldn’t be that surprising to us parents—as stress permeates every facet, age-group and demographic of our over-stretched, frenetic American lifestyle. Of course it has to affect our children too.

As I’ve reported for multiple magazines and news outlets, stress is a killer. Well, not stress exactly—but how we deal with it. When there are chronic excess levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our bloodstream, we put ourselves at risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and multiple autoimmune disorders. Pregnant women, especially, need to watch stress levels as cortisol crosses the blood-stream barrier and is linked to potential attention deficit disorder and memory impairment later in life—as well as being a precursor to pre-term birth. (See my FitPregnancy magazine article Beat the Four Biggest Pregnancy Stressors ).

We are just starting to uncover the truth about how stressed our children really are and what this means for their futures and their health. The APA’s latest Stress in America survey  shows that while a majority of parents didn’t think their children were feeling stress, 91 percent of children interviewed reported they were. And what do you think caused children, ages 8 – 17, the most anxiety? Watching their parents. This information from the survey really struck a cord:

“Nearly three-quarters (69 percent) of parents say that their stress has only a slight or no impact on their children, yet 91 percent of children report they know their parent is stressed because they observe a multitude of behaviors, such as yelling, arguing and complaining.”

Think about it, our young children watch us, worry, and later mimic us. In the meantime, their stress-filled bodies often become over-weight. Another article I’m writing this month for a health care magazine shows that Type-2 diabetes rates among children are rising at a staggering pace—even in fitness-oriented cities such as Los Angeles. The typical reasoning is our changing American lifestyle that hampers children from riding their bikes freely or walking to school. One diabetic physician in Los Angeles told me that children are staying home alone and playing video games more and more—then eating fast food for dinner. But that’s for another story…

Stress has other potential side-effects for our kids. For instance, one recent study linked extreme stress (such as children living with a chronically ill parent or sibling, or those who have experienced or witnessed violence crimes) with poor school performance, exacerbated health issues and a likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. And a University of Wisconsin-Madison study concluded that intense and lasting stress actually alters children’s brain functioning: reducing short-term memory and cognitive abilities.

Helping Our Children Starts at Home

Clearly, it’s critical that we help our children lower their stress levels. But how can we expect our kids to manage their stress well—if we, as parents, aren’t doing a good job ourselves? It’s a bit hypercritical and impractical as the bad reactions and habits we have actually triggers their anxiety!

We are our children’s teachers. They watch our every move. If we are snapping at them and rushing in all directions at a scattered pace to get to work, school and a myriad of activities—how can we expect them to roll with the punches? How can we expect them to be relaxed, if we aren’t? Yesterday I overheard a mom at the grocery store yell at her whining toddler: “STOP it or I’ll pop you in the mouth!”

Clearly, that didn’t work—or make her more relaxed. But who hasn’t felt that way? (Obviously, I’ve had my moments too! See this post.) Who hasn’t been triggered by over-load from work and life demands that suddenly leave you breathless and reacting instantly instead of calmly and patiently?

I know I can be guilty of this. If I don’t slow down or limit the number of obligations I have on my plate, I’m less mindful.

Think of what other habits you may be forming that aren’t the best for you or your kiddos. Do you often complain about work demands or money? Do you find yourself racing around, not listening, and then ordering pizza, putting a kids show on the tube and pouring yourself a glass of vino to veg out? Do you and the hubby argue in front of the kids?

They’re watching, or listening, even if you think they aren’t. I’m not trying to lay on the guilt…like we all need one more thing to feel bad about! But, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I expect my children to make healthier choices—I have to as well. It starts at home. It starts with me.

I recently wrote an article about kids and stress for Pulse, a Los Angeles-based healthcare magazine for Torrance Memorial Medical Center. (Soon to be published.) I reported about an elementary school principal in Palos Verdes, Calif. who hired a stress-reduction and mindfulness expert to come into her school last year to teach young children techniques to lower their stress levels. The health expert, who has a Master’s Degree in clinical holistic health education, showed the children relaxation techniques, including how to “find a safe place” through guided imagery and meditation.

This program was introduced before the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, and surprisingly, even in the wealthy enclave of Palos Verdes—many children reported feeling stressed and anxious on a weekly basis. Most anxiety was reported as stemming from wanting to fit in or pressure to excel (yes, even in elementary school!) and worrying about their parents. So you see, even if you think your children aren’t feeling the strain that other kids are, you’re likely wrong.

Wouldn’t it be great if more schools in America introduced yoga, meditation and other mindfulness workshops to their children? In a time with multiple school budget cuts, it’s not likely. And, to be more on topic, unless parents attend these workshops with their children—I wonder if stress levels would lower very much within the family dynamic?

I know in this family, it’s time for mom to make a concerted and consistent effort to lower anxiety levels for my boys.  And that starts, well, with me.

A Mother’s Legacy: Beauty and Brains

Photo By: THE Herb Ritts (Exhibit currently @ The Getty)

The photo is stunning. Its elegance, drama, lines, curves, shadows are absolutely breathtaking. A good friend is visiting from London this week and I took her, with my boys, to The Getty museum yesterday. Kate has always adored old Hollywood glamour, and since this is her first trip to America, what better way to get an infusion of that glamour than at the Herb Ritts’ exhibition at The Getty—which has the best views of Los Angeles as well. We took turns in the delicious exhibition that featured many celebrities and sculptured bodies against dramatic backdrops. Kate played with the boys in the kiddie room and allowed me the time to wander, meander and soak all the beauty in. What I noticed, (besides the intensely chiseled men) is that the women Ritts tended to photograph had a raw and natural beauty. Not much makeup. Large eyes. Voluptuous lips. Intense presence that smacked of intelligence or wisdom beyond their years. As I walked around the exhibit, I began to think about what my next blog post within A Mother’s Legacy should be. I’ve been a bit distracted with my friend in town and have gotten a bit behind, my apologies.

As I was looking at a photograph of an anonymous woman with gob-stocker -sized eyes, plump lips and strength in her features, it hit me. My post will be of my mother’s raw beauty. Mom never thought of herself as beautiful. She didn’t shop much. She didn’t exercise beyond walking and gardening, but was skinny as a rail for most of her life. In her photographs from college, which I found and saved after helping to settle her estate, you can see her timeless beauty.

MaryAnn Roe

Growing up, I rarely saw my mother, who was a child-protective services social worker, put on make up. She had her signature lipstick, but beyond that, she was a bit helpless in the makeup department. As you can see in her graduation picture, she had a natural beauty. What I love even more, is that she also had incredible smarts. She was accepted into both Brown University and Duke University and decided upon Duke, where she met my father and lived her entire adult life. I don’t think my mother ever made less than an A in her entire educational career. She could have done just about anything (or nothing, as she didn’t have to work) but  was driven to help the down-trodden and less fortunate. In the early 50s, when most women were concentrating on finding Mr. Right, mom seemed to concentrate on finding Mr. Right AND helping women to achieve their dreams and equality. I love the photo taken in college as it shows a bit of her chutzpah. She is gorgeous, even with a man’s haircut, and has a rebellious cigarette in her hand. I can see her drive that likely inspired her to later help found Women In Action, and volunteer relentlessly, even with most Democratic elections. She dedicated herself passionately to her job as a social worker, requiring her to often visit others in slums and sometimes put herself in dangerous situations.

She had a way about her, through the life that she led, that taught her three daughters that they could do anything they set their minds to. She didn’t preach to us and rarely said a negative word about anyone. She showed that beauty, grace and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. I will never understand how someone who woke every morning at 4 a.m. to read the newspaper back to back and do the Times crossword puzzle, could have her brain so horrifically attacked by Alzheimer’s at such a young age. Life isn’t fair. My sincere hope, by writing these blog posts, is that the women and men who take care of my sweet mother will read my words, see the pictures, and treat her with dignity. Because the person who is ravaged by Alzheimer’s does not represent the beautiful soul still somewhere within. The hardest thing about leaving your mother in the care of other people who are not family and who have never known her in her prime, is that you have to take a leap of faith that they will care for her in a gentle manner with patience and respect. It’s hard to know. She can’t talk to me. But hopefully they’ll get a sense of her kindness. I know from the director of the facility that mom is still trying to help others, even in her condition. It’s just a part of who she is. I think we are born with innate gifts and hers (besides playing piano by ear, which I will write about later) is definitely a sincere kindness and need to help others. And that is a rare beauty that isn’t found often in my world of LaLa land—or anywhere else  for that matter.

Single Mom’s Wanderlust: A State of Mind

As many of you may know, I used to live in London and traveled quite a bit. I moved back to California in the summer of 2008, when 7 months pregnant. Southern California is a great place to be when you’re sleep deprived and in need of sunshine and fresh air. But lately, I find myself starting to get that twitchy foot. The itch that, in the past, would make want to purchase a last minute rail ticket for a weekend excursion to somewhere in Europe. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss my old life at all. I really do believe that I was supposed to go through this mess: this divorce, this single motherhood thing and that it’s all part of a plan. It’s forcing me to grow and realize my inner strength and  I have embraced that better things are yet to come. BUT, that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes need to GET AWAY.

Now that I’m regularly sleeping through the night, (isn’t it marvelous when your child finally lets you??) I’m feeling the urge to hit the open road. I crave getting into my car and driving for long periods at a time with no real destination. I recall reading Ann Tyler’s book Ladder of Years where the main character, a 40-year-old mom, took a walk and just kept walking until she moved to another town altogether. I loved it. (Although I adore all of Ann Tyler’s books.)

Don’t worry, ya’ll. I’m not about to do that. But I realize that I need vistas. I need to explore. It’s always been a part of my DNA. My Ex hated that I rarely planned or structured our trips beyond arranging a house swap or renting a flat or house somewhere. I liked to meander and discover things—to sit at cafes and people watch or talk with a chatty local and get the low-down on where to go that evening. I miss spontaneity. In college, I’d take off and drive from Georgia to Maine with no set stopping places in between. I’d stop where it felt good to do so. I naturally gravitated to journalism as I liked the constant change of scenery or new voices. As a child, I wandered in the woods and horse trails. I love discovering by happenstance. With that said, I’m literally and financially too grounded to take off as a single mom of two kiddos.

But I’m realizing that I can still get a little bit of that flight feeling by opening my eyes wider and exploring closer to home. By being present and taking in my surroundings or taking short excursions with the boys, we can explore. So, I’m rarely without my camera these days. I’m far from a photographer, (and none of my pictures were taken with special lenses or have been touched up in some way) but I find that shooting pictures of the beauty that surrounds me in Southern California reminds me there are things to discover in my own backyard. It helps ease that yearning for an excursion I can’t have right now.

There will be days ahead for faraway travel. But for now, I’m going to keep drinking in my sun-kissed part of the world. When I take pictures and look at them later, I’ll remember to thank God for second chances at a new life. I am grateful to stay put at the moment. I am grateful to have the time to create and discover what beauty surrounds and lies within.

Top 5 Mistakes Divorcing Parents Make

Experts say most couples—across all socio-economic, educational and racial backgrounds—tend to make the same mistakes when going through a divorce. These blunders wreak emotional havoc on your children, leaving psychological scars that can take years to heal. This week I interviewed Rebecca E. Eberlin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, family coach and staff member at the UCLA Family Commons in Los Angeles. Eberlin, who also runs “Navigating Divorce For Children” and other parenting workshops, has identified the top mistakes divorcing parents make and ways to avoid them:

1. Reacting emotionally—instead of rationally—in front of the kids.
Parents often react emotionally because they are in so much pain or when they are in situations that are highly charged,” says Eberlin. (Examples include: slamming doors, yelling, throwing things, slamming down phones, etc.)

What to do?: Take 10 seconds to think before you speak or react—especially when you are responding to a spouse’s verbal attack or offending comment.

2. Holding serious discussions in front of the children. This can even be calm conversations about moving, finances, schooling, dating, etc. Think about the impact of insecurity and fear these conversations may have on your child listening to this.

What to do?: Stop the conversation. Figure out a way to discuss these issues away from the kids. If this means you and your Ex meet at a coffee shop, with a mediator or therapist, or on the phone after the kids are sleep: make a plan to talk away from little ears. (And if one parent refuses to play by the rules and consistently brings up upsetting topics in front of the children, Eberlin says walk away calmly or hang up the phone or skype and send a note later explaining that you need to find a better time to talk.)

3. Focusing 100% of your energy on yourself.

What to do?: Simply shift the focus on the children. Even if only one parent does this, it will help the kids tremendously, says Eberlin. “People become consumed by themselves during a divorce. They lose sight of the fact that children need to be the focus at all times. Kids need to be considered in all decisions such as where they move, how they move, when to bring in another partner, serial dating, even marrying another partner.”

4. Forgetting to help your kids better transition back and forth between homes.

What to do?: Prep your children ahead of time. Every time your child has to transition to or from dad’s or mom’s house, the parent with the child needs to prep him ahead of time. For example, if the child is going to daddy’s house after school on Friday, (after a week or two with mommy) mom needs to remind the child, at the very latest, on Thursday afternoon that daddy is picking her up at school. She should also ask what she would like to pack or bring? “The more dialogue you have about the transition, the more secure the child will be,” advises Eberlin.

5. Bad-mouthing the other parent in front of the children.

What to do?: Hold your tongue. Even if one parent refuses to behave, you can be the example by not engaging in the negativity. “I remind them (divorcing parents) your child is 50% that other person,” Eberlin says. Remember: even young children start internalizing and begin to think they will be just like the father or mother you are saying nasty things about.

Resources: 

Books to Read With your Children:

Books for Parents:

Domestic Violence During Divorce: Not a Rarity

I was saddened beyond words to read about the death of a neighbor. She was a single mom of two children—one a 10-year-old boy who attends a school just walking distance from my three-year-old’s preschool. According to reports, this woman and her ex-husband were in a heated custody battle that began years ago in a bitter, dragged-out divorce. The husband shot her in front of his son. He later shot himself. My heart aches for the little boy. My heart aches for the whole family. The entire story can be read here:

Sadly, domestic abuse/crimes of passion aren’t new. Divorce is bitter. It can turn even a somewhat passive person into a snarling animal if you let it. Why is it that men, especially, become violent? I wonder if it all boils down to money being spent for a woman no longer “owned”? What do you think? Do you think your ex, or soon-to-be ex, feels ownership rights over you? Is it because they have to provide child support and no longer get any “benefits”? Are we really chattel for our husbands? Even in 2012? One woman who is in the process of a divorce said her husband actually told her that she was his “property” and he was pissed to have to pay support to her when he couldn’t touch her. Ok, she’s raising their children.

Another woman in a support group said a husband pulled a gun on his wife who wanted to leave. I know all men are not like this. But when I volunteered at a domestic violence shelter in Los Angeles years ago I was surprised, time and time again, by situations where friends and family all reacted in horror to domestic abuse against their loved one saying: “we didn’t think he’d ever do something like this.”

Sadly, domestic violence and homicide is not rare. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. And an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.

There is no face or profile for someone who will snap. Divorce is scary—especially for women who have been controlled and who are now fighting to have the financial support necessary to be able to continue caring for their children. Why do so many men not understand that the money withheld from their ex-wives who are caring for children, is money withheld from their children? (The same should be said about those women who support men caring for children, but we all know that those situations are rare.)

I was chatting with Will Courtenay, Ph.D., author of Dying to be Men, about the high school shootings in Ohio. Sadly, I experienced a high school shooting that resulted in a dear friend being killed. (As the Parenting Editor for DivineCaroline.com I wrote “When Will the Senseless Shootings Stop?” about this experience.) Instead of gun control to stop these shootings, Courtenay said we needed “gender control,” as all high school shootings have been at the hands of boys. As a therapist who specializes in men’s health, Courtenay has often said that boys and men become conditioned towards violence in American society. Perhaps this topic deserves to be explored more in depth for another article?

Right now, I am thankful not to live in fear that I could be hurt while I navigate my divorce. I am so thankful my ex and I are moving forward in a positive way now. Even so, I recall violent boyfriends in the past and know how frightening it is when someone suddenly snaps and the intensity of the heated anger explodes. It’s hard to describe in words, but it’s like a flash storm and you can see it start by a look in their eyes. And trust me, those eyes look like anyone’s.

My heart aches for those of you who are living in fear as you navigate your divorce proceedings. If your ex is threatening you, please take it seriously. Check out the Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance. And just note that computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your Internet and/or computer usage might be monitored, please use a safer computer, and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) orTTY 1−800−787−3224.

Godspeed.

Do Hand-offs Ever Get Easier?

Does it ever get easier to say goodbye to your children? As a single mom who hasn’t had a week off from both her cherubs in over a year, I should have danced a little jig tonight. Instead, I found myself gutted so deeply that words can hardly convey how I felt. Do any of you get this too? If so, HOW do you deal with it??

I’ve been raising these two boys solo for two and a half years. If you follow my blog, you know that my ex lives in London, and we live in Los Angeles. He does visit, but typically flies in and will have them for an overnite or two at a local hotel. And usually during that time I’ll have heard from them, or met them on the soccer field, with a weird feeling of relief. Thanksgiving 2010 and 2009 I flew both boys solo to London—which is nuts!! I was so exhausted from flying there by myself and returning solo with all the bags, stroller, gear, etc. that any time off I had in Europe was hardly enjoyable. I should be thrilled that my ex flew into Los Angeles and is flying them both to Tennessee to see his family this season. All I had to do was pack the bags, buy warm, winter clothes for them, and drive them to his hotel by the airport. That is so much easier than flying solo and doing a hand-off after hours of screaming on an airplane with a sore back to boot!

So why was tonight just as hard as last year?!

I know I need the break. Any sane person would need time off. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. My house is a wreck. I am in desperate need for yoga classes and meditation. I need to spend some quality time with the man in my life. I’m looking forward to all of that! But somehow, I found myself filled with the deepest form of melancholy tonight.

My sweet 10-year-old started to cry as I said goodbye. He turned his head away from me and choked up. Somehow I became brave enough to fight my tears, hug him, and say how much fun he was going to have and how excited all the family in Tennessee is to see him. (I so desperately don’t want to become the pathetic parent whose children constantly worry about when they are away. I want them to have fun and to see that mom is okay and that mom takes care of herself and loves them.) So, I held it together until they walked into the hotel.

I sat in my car for a few minutes in front of the airport hotel. My ex and my older son had already walked out of my sight and I sat there frozen watching my little three-year-old. He was wearing the candy-cane, red and white sweater I bought him, and was struggling with a red carry-on suit case in the hotel lobby. Both his dad and older brother had walked ahead and he fumbled and dropped the case and fumbled again and started to cry. He was still close to the automatic lobby doors of the hotel and I almost ran in to pick up the suitcase and help him steady himself, but something told me to stay put. I just sat mesmerized by the scene, praying that the suitcase would right itself and that he could run ahead and catch up with the others. He finally got the case up and began running (likely screaming too) ahead.

I sighed with relief and then the tears started to flow. Watching him with the suitcase seemed like a metaphor for the dynamic of the relationship between the three of them. My older son and his dad are much closer since they once lived together. So he misses his dad and begins to talk like a chatter-box-cottage (his former nickname at his school in London) with his father the minute he sees him. The two get caught up and little Jamesy has to fight to catch up and butt in. Then, of course, like all two- and three-year-olds will do, he makes sure that they all hear him and my older son gets frustrated with his little brother’s antics as he can no longer get a word in. My baby really doesn’t know his dad very well at all, as he’s been with me almost all the time since he was eight months old and before that his dad was gone two weeks a month anyway. I’m proud that he doesn’t shy away and fights to be heard and seems to hold not one grudge. He is love incarnate and it’s really a gift for my ex right now. Who knows what the future of their relationship will hold?

They’ll have to figure out their own way when they are together. I’m no longer a part of their relationship and I can no longer play referee or try to help. They have their own dynamic, separate from me. And the woman my husband left me for is still in the picture. She’ll be with them this trip and who knows how she’ll behave or how they’ll get along. But again, it’s about letting go of what I can’t control, right?

I guess the emotions trickled up and surprised me tonight as we are so close to finally getting our divorce. Finality always brings back memories and past dreams doesn’t it? I don’t want to go back, and I know my life will be richer and I am stronger because of all this too. But emotions have a way of bubbling up when you least expect them. And for a 100-lb-woman, I have an insane momma-bear mentality. I will do ANYTHING to protect my cubs. So watching them walk away without me, well, lets just say it is one of the hardest things I’ll ever do. I just can’t fathom why anyone would ever want to walk away from them.

Earlier tonight I had packed up most of my son’s infant clothes for my ex to give to his sister, who is expecting in February. I’m still close to her and wanted to pass along the clothes as she, like me, didn’t think she’d have a second baby. She also has a 10-year-old and gave away all of her infant items as I had done. As I was packing up the newborn onesies, sleepers, hats, blankets and tiny socks…I began to feel a pit of sadness open up. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been on my own for a century, and then I see these items and realize that just three and a half years ago I was filled with hope and determination to make sure this miracle baby came into the world safely. I threw up almost every day of my pregnancy with Jamesy when in London and then got chicken pox the week we moved back to the States. I needed a specialist and was put on strict bedrest for two months. While I was on meds to stop the contractions, I just focussed on a happy transition for us all and having a healthy baby. I was filled with hope—but isn’t that how all expecting moms are? And after he was born, with oxytocin pulsing through my veins as I breastfed, I was just filled with love for this beautiful creature. Oxytocin is an amazing hormone that can trigger labor, block pain when a woman goes into labor suddenly (I wrote about this in FitPregnancy), help you bond with your baby and stay positive when you need to most. I researched this fascinating hormone when writing the weekly pregnancy calendar for DivineCaroline where I was the parenting editor. And this remarkable hormone is also released when you orgasm or even just touch, heightening you’re ‘I’m in Love’ feeling. (Read this article.) So you can see, I was in love with family and my new baby while my husband was filled with dread and longing for his former life in London, working at a hip company with young folks, and traveling nonstop.

Well, I don’t know how I didn’t see it coming. I chock it up to breast-feeding and complete denial. But, hey, I’m the lucky one. I can honestly say I’m no longer bitter. And you know what? Somehow,  remarkably, I’m still filled with hope.

Isn’t that amazing?

Happy New Year lovely friends! x

Wide Open Spaces for the Holidays

 

I originally posted this last Thanksgiving when I packed up the boys and hit the road—in my attempt to make the most of our solo Thanksgiving. This year, although we are staying home and having the Turkey Day with friends, I found myself gravitating to the countryside. I took my youngest, who is fighting a nasty cold, up to visit the horses in Palos Verdes. After screaming for almost an hour, he instantly calmed down when seeing the horses.

“Why are they so sad, mommy?” he asked when looking into one’s big eyes.

“They’re just soulful.” I replied.

“Yup. Sushful.”

But you know what? He was calm for the rest of the afternoon.

Kids really do need wide open spaces and soulful faces.

I hope you enjoy this post.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

L. x

**

It takes the shape of a place out west 

But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed 

~ Dixie Chicks 

This Thanksgiving weekend I packed up my boys and headed North toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I needed to get out of this town. I needed to breathe. I needed a vista. I needed to distract and cheer up my children. I needed to run far away from the insanity of my life and recent disappointments. So when my oldest did a report for school about a small cowboy and ranching town in the shadow of Mount Whitney, I got the idea. Why should we stay in LA where we have no family? Why should we be alone during the holidays just because I’m on a small budget and can’t travel back East?

As my son researched Lone Pine for his report, I realized that we had actually driven past it a few times on our way to Mammoth. My soon-to-be Ex skis, and we were always in a hurry to get to Mammoth for that reason. Before my son’s report, I didn’t know that 400 movies had been filmed in the area, mostly westerns, but also parts of Gladiator and Iron Man. The majestic beauty of the Sierras amongst miles of ranch land is an amazing backdrop for movies. We had driven through the small Indian reservations and the towns of Lone Pine and Bishop, but never stopped along the way before. Who knew there was so much to discover that is virtually free to visit? This time I stopped along the highway with the boys and we explored the historic fish hatchery;  Manzanar museum where Japanese-Americans were held as prisoners during WW 11; the adorable Beverly and Jim Rogers Lone Pine Museum of Film History; and the Laws Railroad Museum.

This trip was all about slowing down (which is mandatory when traveling with a three-year-old!) and getting off the beaten path. We didn’t stay at a fancy ski resort, but at a modest motel with a breath-taking view. We walked through town and talked with the locals at the drug store, mexican restaurant and Subway where we discussed various topics from Elvis verses Justin Bieber, to teenagers today, to crazy temper tantrums—as my three-year-old showed off his tantrum antics in all places! My only big splurge was riding boots and a horse riding lesson for my oldest. Before I left, I called the chamber of commerce for horse back riding referrals. They directed me to a horse trainer in Bishop who is well-known for training champion jumpers. She was kind enough to give my son a lesson. In fact, the three of us visited the Millpond Equestrian Center in Owens Valley north of Bishop twice to feed and chat with the horses (and dogs and one precocious kitten!).

The one-hour drive from Lone Pine to Bishop, that we did twice, was my favorite. The views are nothing short of spectacular. The youngest napped as William and I sang songs and I breathed in the beauty of the white-capped mountains bathed in fields of gold. As I looked ahead, or in my rear-view mirror, I began thinking of the power of letting go. There is power in not engaging in crazy behavior by others (if any of you have experienced that!) and saying no by moving forward and away from it. Most importantly, there is power in seeking honesty and beauty wherever you can find it.

During my drives I often thought of my lovely, new friends—all single moms who are struggling so much right now. I so wish that you all could have taken a similar trip. There’s something about wide open spaces. It not only lets you breathe deeply, but somehow it helps you expand. I could feel myself trusting the Universe again. I could actually feel hope start to fill my lungs by the second day I was away. Pictures tell a story so much better than I ever could. Here’s my journey. I left Los Angeles blue, confused and with a heavy heart from recent hurts. As I rose in altitude, so did my spirits. Who knew there were so many lessons to be learned on the road?

Extreme pressure is transforming. Hang on. You’ll rise above all of this.

Elk, or Reindeer Crossing? Magic, wonder and mystery may still cross your path.

Kindness heals. Your children know kind souls when they meet them.
Face whatever comes toward you, but don’t forget the bigger picture and the better focus for your life.
Try new things. (And keep your chin up when you do!)
Get off the beaten path. Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own.

Connect With Your Children While They Sleep

Sleep Talk Therapy for Children Struggling With Divorce

One of the bitter ironies for most single parents is that we’d do anything for our kids, but find that we have very little quality time with them. Can you relate? Even when I’m not working on weekends, I find that I’m constantly playing the disciplinarian and not able to reconnect, reassure, or just have fun with them. Between my nine-year-old’s antics (that seem more like those of a teenager’s)—to my two-year-old’s temper tantrums, most weekends roll along with me nagging, discipling, and often yelling “No!” or “Stop doing that to your brother!” at my adorable boys. It’s exhausting. Sadly, when children are dealing with the stress of a divorce, experts say they often act out more than normal and take out their fears, anger, frustration and anxiety on the parent who is caring for them most. This is also a time when they need more reassurance, love and stability than ever. Striking a balance between providing much needed discipline and reassurance is tricky. It’s so tempting to overcompensate for their loss and let certain bad behaviors slide, which experts say is a mistake. (Check out this story of mine for discipline strategies.)

But if you’re spending most of your time together nagging about homework, racing to and from scheduled activities, prepping dinner and disciplining your children—when can you find time to reconnect and reassure your troubled children? Believe it or not, one expert says we can do it while they are asleep. Yup, you heard me right—after you say goodnight.

I met Lois Y. Haddad RN, the author of Sleep Talk, at a friend’s speaking engagement a few weeks ago. When she told me that she developed this program after working as a nurse with critically ill children at UCLA Medical Center, I was hooked. She realized that children often heard encouraging words whispered to them when they slept. She shared with me a story about a nine-year-old boy whose father set him on fire. More than 60 % of his body was covered with burns and he had lost the will to live. Lois, whose shift was from 3 p.m. – 11 p.m., would whisper to him after he fell asleep that she didn’t know “why this had happened to him, that he was a wonderful boy and that now was his chance to help other people through impossible situations.” The grafts began to take and the boy began to heal and he is currently a motivational speaker. Lois was so successful with children, that her husband, a general practitioner, often sent parents who were struggling with a host of issues with their kids—from back talk, to shyness, to lack of self esteem—to Lois.

When I was talking with her at this Orange County speaking engagement, I began thinking about all of the studies that I’ve read suggesting that some people in comas can actually hear what was said to and around them. (Read the story “I Was In a Coma But Could Hear Every Word” for inspiration!)

As she spoke to me I had a bit of an Aha moment, as Oprah would say. I instantly remembered a time in college when a dear friend had been crushed in a devastating car accident that instantly killed our other friend who was with her. I would visit Sarah in the south Georgia hospital the emergency crew drove her to, and see a version of her that was unbearable as she was completely immobilized and hooked up to tubes. She had suffered incredible brain and internal injuries, and while we weren’t sure she’d make it,  something told me to bring my photos along. Maybe it was Divine intervention? Before making the three hour drive to see her, I dug out my photography class notebook and found the gorgeous black and white photos I took of Sarah. In most of the shots she appears to be floating in air: her black curly hair is flying around her, her polka dot mini skirt creating a ballooned mushroom that her bent knees are tucked under, only her white tennis shoes emerging from. Her smile is infectious. Somehow, I captured the essence of her spirit in our photo shoot. Sarah, who was studying to be an art therapist for special needs children, was vivacious, silly, funny, a romantic nut and full of life. She wasn’t this immovable person attached to tubes in order to breathe and eat. I taped these pictures of her leaping in the air all around her bed. I wanted all the nurses in this small Georgian town where she happened to have a car accident en route back from Florida, to see who she was. I wanted them to talk to the girl in the photo. I wanted them to talk about the girl in the photo. I wanted them to address her as she was—because somehow, I just knew she could hear them. I hope I was right.

So, as I was speaking with Lois, Sarah’s smiling face flashed before my eyes and what the former RN was saying about connecting with children as they sleep made intuitive sense to me. Here’s the gist of Sleep Talk:

After your child is asleep, go back into the room and talk with him/her. If you’ve had a terrible day together with lots of disagreements, it’s great to talk with your child as he’s looking adorable asleep. Your tone of voice will automatically become quieter, softer, more loving. It’s hard to have a dismissive or aggressive tone as you look at your sleeping angel. And, what you have to say will have more power coming from a loving place.

“A child hears differently in a sleep state than a wake state … But you need to introduce yourself gently, such as ‘William, this is your mother,’ when you begin [Sleep Talk] so that you raise the child up to an alpha brain wave frequency and he’ll let you in, know you’re a safe voice,” she explains.

For single moms of children who are struggling with their conflicting emotions during a divorce, Sleep Talk can be a great way for both the mom and the child to reconnect, says Lois.

“Doing Sleep Talk helps you dump any emotional garbage of the day. Through reaffirming your love and pride for him, you allow him to truly hear you on the deepest level and you clear the slate for the next day’s activities,” she says.

Lois has created many scripts for parents to use in her book, including one for children of divorce, and each can be tweaked for your situation as I think single parents often know what they want to say to their kids. Depending on your child’s age, the divorce issues will vary. But for my soon-to-be 10-year-old, I know I need to reassure him that everything is going to be ok. He needs to know that he’s loved; that this divorce wasn’t his or his little brother’s fault; that I’m proud of him; and that I will always be there for him. For a little boy, he is worried about so many adult things for the future: about our financial security; about whether his dad will live permanently in London; about whether mommy will marry someone else some day and who that will be; about whether we’ll have to move from Los Angeles in order to save money, etc. I know what I want to whisper to him. And I’ve already started. Let me tell you, even if Sleep Talk doesn’t change some of my son’s behavior, it is changing me. When I look at his adorable face while he’s asleep, I remember that he’s just a boy. My resentments and my anger at him for back-talking just drift away. I’ll continue with my discipline during the day—I mean, I can’t let him watch TV and play video games all day or hit his little brother can I? And while I do tell him I love him during the day, it’s usually after a day of nagging and cajoling and I can tell he’s tuning me out. Now at night, I tell him softly: “Mommy loves you. She’s SO proud of you. This isn’t your fault. We’re going to be okay.”

And we are.

Relationship Guru Dr. Pat Allen Sets Me Straight!

Photo by: Monkey Wrench Collective

So you want to find Mr. Right? It’s simple: stop doing all the wrong (albeit fun) things when you first meet, says Dr. Pat Allen, Ph.D., relationship and communication therapist in Los Angeles. Allen is also the author of several best-selling books including: Getting To I-Do and The Truth About Men Will Set You Free, (But First It Will Piss You Off!) You may be more familiar with her, however, from her multiple TV interviews or her work on the TV show Millionaire Matchmaker where her blunt talk about sex and relationship blunders borders on the comical. Here’s a clip to see what I mean. (It’s ok, go ahead and watch it, I’ll wait!)

I met Dr. Allen in 2009 when I was desperately trying to keep my marriage together. Through a friend’s psychic vision (yeah, I know, but it really happened), I discovered that my husband started an affair when working abroad while I was at home with our six month old baby and his older brother. I try not to focus on all the details of this sordid time, and the time that followed of yo-yo-ing back and forth in this cycle of forgiveness and betrayal again and again. My life had become the car wreck that friends and family couldn’t stop themselves from slowing down to look at. When I think back to that period when I was still breastfeeding and down to 92 lbs from sheer sorrow, I just die inside. So, like a race car driver who refuses to look at the wall when he races, I’m keeping my eyes on the better road ahead.

Just know that three months of therapy with Dr. Allen helped me let go of an impossible situation. She taught me about the male brain and the drug-like effects of dopamine on men who are ascending into places of power. And, I learned that I was too nice, codependent, and had lost my power and my ability to say no in relationships that resulted in mistreatment.

I turned to Dr. Allen to advise all of us single moms who are venturing out into the dating world as newbies. Her books will teach you many things, including how right-handed men think (very interesting, but for another blog) and how you have to negotiate commitment with men and never assume they can be monogamous…which is a bitter pill to swallow, isn’t it? So my first question to her on the night we met at her office in West Los Angeles was this:

“What is the biggest tip you can give women entering the dating world again?”

Without hesitation, she replied: “Stop drinking. Pure and simple.”

She speaks in a quintessentially blunt, staccato voice. I’m listening, expecting a more elaborate explanation. When she doesn’t continue I push her for information on this topic as how many women like to have a glass of wine on a first date to take the edge off? The relationship expert explains that a woman can’t size up a man correctly if she even has one drink on the first date or before commitment.

“Wine (on the first date, first meeting) knocks out instincts for her and knocks out intelligence and intuition for him. They go home, have sex and wake up with strangers. The chemistry is all wrong,” Dr. Allen explains.

The relationship guru continues that “you need to be sober to feel chemistry.”

Sexual attraction that builds over drinks isn’t true chemistry, she reminds me.

Ok, I can do that. I don’t drink that much anymore anyway. The other tip for finding Mr. Right might be a bit trickier: NO sex.

And I don’t just mean on the first date, which isn’t an issue for many of us. Dr. Allen says a woman shouldn’t “consummate a relationship” before commitment.

“Don’t have sex without a commitment and don’t make a commitment under the influence,” she explains.

Before having sex with a man, women need to have at least “a gut feeling of the goodness of the person we are with.” That can’t happen under the influence and women bond too quickly with a man after sex—but clearly, it’s often with the wrong man.

This is science at work. If a woman is attracted to a man, the hormone oxytocin is released into her body, which heightens the sense of touch and orgasm. If she drinks and then has sex with a man that she knows little about, she can become addicted to him. This makes her disregard any red flags that she would have normally picked up on—such as drug use, a history of infidelity, sexual addiction, mental illness, anger issues, financial instability, etc.

“The problem with oxytocin-based addictive bonding to an inappropriate man is that the intellect is relegated to a secondary status in choice and judgment. The good counsel of parents, friends, religious leaders and psychotherapists is of no benefit. Addiction to oxytocin as a pleasure takes over,” Dr. Allen says.

Ok, Dr. Allen’s advice makes sense to me. But, like a lot of things in life, it might be harder to put all of it into practice. I always wait to have sex with a man until I feel a bit of goodness about him, and never on the first date. I remember hearing about the “3 Date Rule” when living in New York. Do you guys know of that one? Well, waiting until the third date to have sex is complete rubbish, according to Dr. Allen, unless you just want to have fun and don’t care whether you end up abused or in a long-term relationship.

What do you think single moms (and single women in general!) out there? I ran across a couple of great single mom blogs recently where this debate is raging. MsSingleMama.com, (who rocks, btw!) often writes about her dating adventures and chats with other single moms about the importance of having sex. In a forum asking how long it had been for her single mom readers some moms wrote in that it had been 18 months or even 2 years! Wait, these are gorgeous, smart, savvy, young women. What’s going on here? Well, most of us just won’t bring a man home to the kiddos. And, many of us are completely gun-shy after the heartbreak of our divorces. Dr. Allen says we all need to know that “No man is monogamous.” (Why this should be reassuring is hard to get right away!) A line from our interview that is so apropo for this is: “The man you’re afraid of is THE MAN.”

All men want to cheat, but not all do, she says. In order to find the good guys, the ones who will cherish and love you and feel horribly if they hurt you, you need to weed out the bad.

As a recap, here are Dr. Allen’s top tips to successfully find a good guy:

  1. Don’t drink on the first date, even one glass of vino, so you can determine chemistry and listen to your intuition.
  2. Don’t have sex on the first date, ever.
  3. Don’t have sex until a firm commitment, so you don’t bond with the wrong fella.
  4. Don’t drink with your new man until you have a commitment.

Why does she insist on these rules? Because you have to have true chemistry, compatibility and great communication to make a relationship work. “You will know in three minutes whether you have great chemistry with a man,” Dr. Allen insists.

Ok, I think I have three minutes.

And, she says give a potential good guy at least three dates in order to realize whether your intellect is disregarding him prematurely. But don’t drink on these dates!

Well, I’ve got three minutes and three evenings to spare. … Maybe I can tip-toe back out there after all. How about you? Do you think you can follow her rules? Do you even want to? Please chime in!!