Friday, October 23, 2009

More Measuring

It's easy to lose perspective when my ideal of normal daily life has become skewed. I can give my daughter a 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5, one being typical behavior and 5 being super wacky. I gave her half a point for turning a foul mood around, because I really wanted to give her a four for not listening and following directions, for being extra sneaky about crunching on the pistachio shells that hadn't made it to the trash, and for wetting her panting during outdoor play.
Listening and following directions is a real challenge these days. My daughter doesn't pay attention to what anyone says if she has her mind on something else. My cries of, "Stop! Turn around! Come back!" go unheeded. Her mind is too full of the destination to pay attention. If it does sink in that I am calling her back, she is irresistably pulled into disobedience. Her distress is real when she does obey, sobbing, "But I don't want to!" I feel silly praising her for good listening when she does it with such reluctance and after much delay, but I know I can do it more often.
Sneakiness and backtalk are tougher to deal with. I am hardwired to respond to backtalk (including under the breath mumbling) with severe punishment. I am constantly reminding myself about the message and the effectiveness of the discipline I dish out. The old rules don't always work.
I understand why a six year old would wet her pants, however. Like a much younger child, she gets so involved with her play that she doesn't pay attention to her body signals. I can only sigh and be grateful that she rushed inside to change.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Measuring Behavior

How do I measure my child's behavior, when I am actively working to improve it? It seems easy enough. Either my child is listening and following directions without sulks, sighs, or eye rolls or she is disobedient and unruly, while creating more messes for me to clean up. Perhaps, but measuring my child's behavior can be more complicated than that.
First I can decide which behaviors to measure. With an ADHD child, I'll want to measure behaviors like listening and following directions, thinking before acting, staying reasonably calm and still, and general mood relative to the situation. I'll also want to offer warnings to control these behaviors and measure the responses. If my child gets few warnings and responds to them by changing behavior, that is good behavior. If she needs frequent warnings and doesn't heed them, that is not so good behavior. During each activity in the day, I can keep track of the number of warnings and responses and accurately measure how well she is doing. It's better than using my own mood as a barometer, which is inaccurate and drags me down.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When the Attitude Adjustment You Need Is Your Own

"Raising a child who purposely pukes on the floor like a cat with a hairball is no excuse for a bad attitude."

Okay, sometimes my child makes Dennis the Menace look like an angel, and that's isn't even the child with ADHD. As a parent, I am often overwhelmed by the deepest love and affection I have ever felt, but I am also overwhelmed by poor grades and behavior reports, forgotten jackets, illicit candy wrappers the dog has confiscated, scattered toys and crayons, and wordless shrieks punctuated by nasty but articulate accusations. Every now and then, a temper tantrum hits like a Kansas cyclone, and I respond with one of my own.
I know I am supposed to be the grown up in this scenario. I am supposed to be setting an example. I rarely feel as though I'm setting a good example, but at least I know that my explosive moods are best to be wrestled with alone. I have the presence of mind to administer medication, make sure teeth are brushed, and send them off to bed before the top of my head blows off.
"Is there gonna be blood?" my six-year-old asks.
I bite back a sarcastic, "Only if you don't get in bed NOW," and replace it with, "No, there's going to be fire, and trust me, you don't want to get burned."
I have learned that when my inner brat gets the better of me, she needs to be sent to her room until she calms down. Then, I can use my words to express my anger and frustration and expectations for better behavior in the future. Sometimes that part about better behavior goes for me, as well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nutrition vs. Medication for Managing ADHD--The Easy Way Out

When I talk with anyone about the "diet" my child is on to manage her ADHD, the discussion often turns to the ease of using medication as opposed to the inconvenience of nutrition. I once thought that meds were the easy way out myself, but I have learned differently.
Make no mistake, the Feingold Program is inconvenient. In order to avoid the synthetic additives that trigger exaggerated ADHD symptoms, we are limited in the brands and flavors of processed foods we can feed our child. Only certain brands are considered acceptable for products like potato chips, popcorn, pretzels, lemonade, yogurt, soy milk, cold cereals, and sliced bread to name a few food items. Convenience foods? Unless you shop at Whole Foods Market regularly, forget it. You can make many favorite foods from scratch, but it takes a great deal of creativity, ingenuity, and discipline to come up with easy meals that everyone likes. Additionally, salicylates, which occur naturally in many foods, can have an ill effect of those with ADHD, so in the beginning, we had to avoid many healthy favorites such as apples, oranges, tomatoes, peaches, and all berries.
The Feingold Program, like any nutrition program, is a lifestyle choice. My husband packs my daughter's school lunches. We import food to every birthday party and every other special occasion. We've all but given up fast food, with the exception of those establishments that the Feingold Association's Restaurant Guide recommends.
Like most lifestyle choices, this one has turned out to be healthier for the entire family. We know that our daughter can eat healthier and control her ADHD symptoms with nutrition, and it is a solution that will last her a lifetime. Still, the inconveniences are weighed against the ease of taking a pill or wearing a patch, aren't they?
Having explored the medication solution, we have discovered that it is anything but easy. Never mind that the process involves experimenting with dangerous chemicals with alarming and sometimes life-threatening side-effects. The first step on the path of treating ADHD with medication involves finding the right medication for your child. You can try one, and if it doesn't work, you can try another.
With fast-acting meds, you can start right away and stop right away, but it takes a few weeks at the very least to determine whether the medication is working properly. On the other hand, the fast-acting meds tend to wear out by dinner time, leaving you with a Jekyll and Hyde child to deal with. The teachers get Dr. Jekyll and the parents get Mr. Hyde. This does not help create a happy family life.
With the slower-acting medications, you must start with an extremely low dose and gradually increase it over time. It can take a few weeks to reach the appropriate dose, and then a month to see any result. If the medication is not effective, you must slowly reduce the dosage in order to stop the medication. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, the calendar pages are turning, and once you find the right medication, you will likely have to start the process all over again as your child grows and changes.
For our child, it has taken us eight months to figure out that neither medication we tried was effective. During this time, we stubbornly stuck to the nutrition solution because we knew that whatever result came from the experiment, nutrition was the only long-term solution. It has also proven so far to the be the only easy way out.
Eventually we may find a medication that controls our child's ADHD symptoms. If we get lucky, that medication will contain none of the offending ingredients that send her over the edge. And if she's lucky she will only be taking them for a year or two. No matter what happens, at least we will eat well.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rough Road, Stormy Seas

My six year old daughter has lately been unable to keep her fingers out of the peanut butter. I would frown at one taste with a clean spoon, but that would require more foresight and restraint than she has right now. It is not limited to peanut butter. She has taken to raiding the refrigerator, exploring the contents of dresser drawers other than her own, and climbing up to reach forbidden objects. I've noticed an uptick in disobedience and defiance, more tantrums, more distress in the feel of snug clothing against her body. And then it hit me. We are reducing the medication she was taking because it was not effective enough to keep her calm enough to learn.
This particular medication did have somewhat of a calming effect on my daughter. However, it does contain an artificial color in the coating on the pill. My child is allergic to artificial dyes--they dramatically increase her hyperactivity, impulsivity, non-compliance, and inattentiveness. We had hoped that the medicine would overcome the effects of the dye, but no such luck. So we are gradually decreasing the dosage.
This means, of course, that over the next couple of weeks, my daughter will be getting less and less of the medicine but all of the dye. I'd ask someone to wake me up when it's over, but I have to be on hand to contain the damage. At least it is only a couple of weeks.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Steal

My daughter has been struggling with the concept of possession, self-discipline, and respect for others' belongings. She battles with her intense desires for everything from cookies in the cabinets that are acceptable to eat ONLY when we give them to her to her sister's lip gloss. She has progressed from snatching whatever looks interesting in the moment. Now she rationalizes.
"That's my sister's headband," I caught her saying one day. "I bet she doesn't want it anymore. She left here. She isn't taking care of it. I bet I can have it."
I watched this mental shift in horrified fascination. My mind went directly to a store, and I could hear her thinking, "Those look cool. They have lots of those. I bet they wouldn't care if I took one."
I intervened as she reached for her sister's headband. "What do you want to do with that?" I asked.
"I can keep it. She doesn't want it anymore."
"Let's put it in her room," I suggested in a rare moment of patience and insight. I took her hand to lead her upstairs. "That would be the best thing."
My daughter was reluctant, but with my help she returned her sister's headband. How many such incidents will I have to lead her through before the lesson sticks?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Managing Your Emotions Parenting an ADHD Child

No matter how much you love your child and how wonderful your child is, you will find yourself caught up in an emotional whirlwind when your child is hyperactive and impulsive with an attention span faster than the second hand on your watch. Handling your varying states of exhaustion, frustration, guilt, anger, and heart-stopping fear is so important to your parenting efforts. So is understanding your child.
Chances are that you are wrapped in a cocoon of fatigue that started when you brought your newborn home from the hospital and hasn't let up since. The first remedy for that is rest for you. Any which way you can get a break, even a small one, take it. Understanding friends and relatives can help you out here. Leading right in to the next remedy is to exhaust your child. Any activity that will tire your child out, from turning your child loose in the backyard to martial arts, gymnastics, climbing, or any other suitable sport, is a good one. If someone else is in charge, so much the better. Any time someone else is helping your child burn off some energy is a time for you to rest. If you can catch up on an errand or two without your child in tow, that works also, but don't try to cram too much work into those precious moments or you'll be even more tired than you were before.
Whenever you feel frustrated, remember that your child is even more so. She doesn't want to ride the rollercoaster she's on. He isn't trying to leave a path of destruction in his wake. Your child wants to please you more than anything, just like any other child. Don't be fooled by the smart remarks, the non-compliance, the forgotten rules. When you let yourself see your child's frustration and sympathize, you'll find the patience you need.
It is so easy to feel guilty that your child has these challenges. Keep reminding yourself that this is not your fault, and you are not being punished by bad karma. Whatever the causes of ADHD, you gain nothing by drowning yourself in a sea of guilt. The sooner you comes to terms with that, the lighter the emotional load on your psyche. Also remember that you have nothing to prove to anyone. Just knowing that you are doing your best as a parent is all you really need.
Your ability to deal with anger is critically important to your piece of mind and keeping the family peace. When your anger is overwhelming, you can walk away and count to 10. Sometimes you can create a suitable consequence for your child's actions, wiping the table, the floor, or his own shirt with a damp cloth, picking up every spilled crayon on the floor, sweeping the mess into a dust pan. For those times when you are angry with your child for being born with her challenges, try to get some perspective in a quiet moment. This is just the hand you both were dealt, and every time you solve a problem or a crisis you become more and more capable.
As for fear, don't live in the future. Just try to keep your child safe in the present moment. Fear is not meant to be squashed down for it serves the purpose of alerting you to danger. The problems comes when you are plagued by fears of the future, by worries over incidents that haven't happened yet. Listen to these fears, and then release them. If you cling to fears of what could happen to your child in the future, you won't be paying attention to what is happening in the present moment.
In order to be the best parent you can be for your child, pay attention to your emotions and try to stay positive. Acknowledge your feelings and let go of the ones that don't feel so good. Sympathize with your child. Most of all, be kind to yourself.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


One of the hardest things to cope with as the parent of an ADHD is being judged by others. Everyone thinks we're slacker parents who can't be bothered to discipline our children. We feel the stares and glares as we drag an eight-year-old through the store, screaming because he isn't getting what he wants or because we're screaming at him for some misdeed. Other parents don't arrange playdates because our child is too aggressive and confrontational. Sometimes even those closest to us, our spouses, parents, in-laws, and other relatives are full of criticism and unhelpful advice. How often have I heard the condescending, "She just doesn't listen to you, does she?" implying that it's all my fault.
I have only one way to cope with judgment and those who are judgmental and critical. In the friendliest way possible, I simply don't care what others think of me. My daughter and I make spectacles of ourselves on public so frequently that I lack the emotional energy to care. I get hostile, disapproving looks and comments, and I just tell myself, "I wish you well, but I don't care what you think of me." This is not easy, especially since I've really learned to appreciate the sympathetic, encouraging responses I get from total strangers. Of course, I want to be well thought of--I've just learned not to count on it. I let others keep their criticisms and focus my attention where it needs to be--on my child.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Help for ADHD and Learning Disabilities

I am existing from one hopeful possibility to another. I suppose it's natural to cling to possible solutions when you're wrestling with a knotty problem. The latest focus of my optimism is the Shedd Academy, located in Mayfield, Ky. The Shedd Academy specializes in educating children with dyslexia and ADD, with remarkable success.
I spoke to the friendly, helpful lady who answered the phone at length as I inquired about resources for learning materials and curricula to teach dyslexic children the fundamentals of reading and math. The materials available are only to those who have been trained to use them, and however inconvenient this may be to me personally, it is reassuring to know that I could be trained to supplement my child's education if I had to.
My husband is naturally assuming the role of resident skeptic. He didn't grow up with a sibling who struggled with reading and thought her father drove an Avon car. (It was a Chevy Nova.) He didn't watch her trace her spelling words on sandpaper and learn cursive without learning to print as part of what was known as the Shedd Method. He know her when she was mainstreamed in fifth grade reading on the high school level and doing eighth grade math. It's good that he plays devil's advocate. I need the balance.
I don't know of this is one of the solutions to helping my child learn, but I am certainly going to find out.

Keeping Your Peace of Mind

When you have a child who insists on doing the opposite of what you suggest (unless it involves sweets), who responds to firm commands with a wild, "No! Never!" and a mad dash in the opposite direction, who pours your shampoo into the bath, you begin to wonder about your peace of mind. Add that to your constant yelling and threats of punishment, mix in a raging dose of sibling rivalry, and you're wondering if you ever had any peace of mind to begin with.
I can only think of one solution at the moment, and that is taking time for yourself. Never mind that you feel guilty leaving your little tornado in the care of anyone else. Take a deep breath and consider who you can call to give yourself a break. Go sit in a cafe or browse in a bookstore, go to the movies, the batting cages, the spa, a museum. Go sit in a quiet church where all you have to do is kneel in a pew with your hands folded to be left alone. Join a book club, a discussion group. Do whatever feeds your spirit and brings you a sense of calm. That's the first step.

Monday, October 12, 2009

When Parents Hate Homework

Homework might have been boring in the past, in my childhood. It might have been a burden, something I did only because I had to. But I have never truly hated homework until now. How painful it is to haul out the stack of papers and sit with a child who wiggles and fusses, eyes darting everywhere, insisting that she must color, her boo-boo hurts, that the light hurts her eyes. She grabs the pencil and begins to scribble, not waiting for directions.
She groans at the instructions. Each word she writes is a jumble of consonants, a short vowel word written right to left and spelled backwards, or just the first letter of the word. She writes, "I L sme," and I know she loves our dog, Sammy. Her favorite animal is a G-O-D, written right to left D-O-G. She writes letters backwards, common for a first grader, but the letters are sometimes stacked vertically on their sides in a Tower of Babel.
This is a bright child who is struggling to learn to read, to count to twenty without skipping a number. This is a child who has been sent home from school twice for vomiting her breakfast under the strain of learning in a special education classroom. In a strange way, I am grateful to her. She won't fly under the radar and fall through the cracks. But can she learn?
I believe she can learn. I have faith that she can learn well and thrive in the right academic environment. I just have to find the right place and the right tools to help her.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Fourth of July with Feingold

Working the Feingold Program to eliminate artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and salicylates is as enlightening as it is challenging. We’re motivated by our desire to manage our child’s severe ADHD symptoms, of course, but we’ve gained some unexpected benefit from our efforts.
It really is a lifestyle decision, when I think about. On the Fourth of July, many of us like to barbecue, and we’ve enjoyed many a meal cooked on the grill that our daughter could eat. This year, however, we chose not to cook out. Instead, I decided to go with a Mexican theme and make homemade tortillas and refried beans. It was a brave choice for me. I’m a lazy cook, I might as well admit it, and homemade tortillas and refried beans is the most labor-intensive dish I make besides spanikopita.
The first thing I discovered as I studied the recipe is that I had no acceptable shortening. The popular name brand shortening I had in my cupboard had TBHQ on the label, so I knew my daughter couldn’t eat the tortillas I’d planned to make. I had acceptable tortillas from Trader Joe’s (I also find acceptable tortillas at Whole Foods Market) so my daughter wouldn’t notice the difference. She claims she doesn’t like them anymore, so I wasn’t concerned. Out of curiosity, I checked the Feingold Foodlist and found two brands of shortening I can buy when I run out.
I used several cooking tools to make this dish—the KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook to work the dough, a potato masher to mash the beans, a rolling pin to roll out the tortillas (I can never seem to make them come out perfectly round), and a griddle to cook them. I use the recipes for Refried Beans and for Flour Tortillas from Joy of Cooking. Joy is an excellent resource because the recipes are all from scratch and they don’t call for processed ingredients.
The hardest part is getting started, so I jumped right in and prepared the dough. While I let the tortilla balls rest, I prepared the beans. My husband started the rice in the rice cooker as soon as I announced my intention to make the meal, and he kindly grated the cheese, chopped the tomatoes and avocado for me.
Tomatoes, by the way, are to be avoided in Stage One of the Feingold Program because they are high in natural salicylates. Fortunately my daughter responds well to tomatoes so she can eat them, but in this dish, a corn salsa made with lime juice and cilantro makes a nice substitute for tomatoes or even a nice addition to the dish as a whole.
Cooking from scratch does take more time and effort than preparing convenience foods. However, much of what we make from scratch—from salad dressings to easy cakes—doesn’t take that much more effort since we’re in the kitchen preparing a meal anyway. We’ve gotten comfortable with our style of cooking, it tastes better, and we feel that it’s worth it.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Feingold Foodlist

Today, I’m preparing to go grocery shopping. Buying food, not cooking it, is at the heart of making the Feingold Program work. The Feingold Foodlist is the cornerstone of the program, the grocery shopping Bible of those who follow it. I keep my Foodlist in my glove compartment so I don’t have to worry about forgetting it at home.
What is the Foodlist, anyway? Most of the food available in grocery stores is processed with artificial colors and flavors, as well as preservatives to keep it from spoiling on the shelf. Simply reading labels while I shop won’t help me much because food companies are not required to list trace amount of products used to prepare the food. The packaging may claim that the product is “all-natural” with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, but if the product is not on the Foodlist, it is not acceptable.
The wonderful folks at the Feingold Association of the United States patiently research all the products in our food supply, and if a company won’t release all of the ingredients used in a product, that product won’t go on the Foodlist. The booklet is divided into categories such as beverages, baking products, deli meat, convenience foods, snacks, and soups. I am restricted to buying only the products that are on the list, but with patience and determination, I’ve become familiar with the list and created shopping habits that support the program.
What does this mean for my shopping excursion, practically speaking? I make a shopping list that identifies specific flavors of specific brands of specific products. I write down which flavors of which brands of soy yogurt I can buy. The same goes for potato chips, cookies, cooking oil, pasta, bread, and deli meat. I don’t have to be concerned about items such as flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and fresh meat. For fresh vegetables and produce, I need only be mindful of which high salicylate items I’m avoiding. My list includes berries, peaches, plums, and peppers, to name a few.
This seems like a lot of effort, figuring out what to buy. Yet all of us make shopping choices all the time. We have certain brands of certain product that we prefer, mostly as a result of advertising. The difference is for me is that the behavior of my child and her academic and social success are at stake.
I don’t rely on product preference as much as I rely on food companies to produce foods without harmful additives. With our growing awareness of the perils of eating American food, I can only hope that food companies will read the writing on the wall and make my job easier. For now, however, I’m relying on the Feingold Foodlist.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Experiments with Medication

Yesterday morning, my daughter pulled off half her clothes and ran around the backyard drenching herself with the hose. By evening, she had peed on the bathroom floor without telling anyone about it, thrown a screaming fit over her punishment for the morning’s antics—not going swimming, and jumped fully clothed into the baby pool when we went to pick her sister up from the pool. You could say that all of the above behavior resulted from a lack of supervision on my part, but is that the behavior of a typical six-year-old?
Yes, my daughter has severe ADHD, which means that she has a devil of a time sitting still, paying attention, and thinking before acting. For the past couple of years, we have controlled her behavior with nutrition, eliminating artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and salicylates from her diet. This strict nutritional regimen, known as the Feingold Program, has worked wonders. Ana is not nearly as hyperactive and impulsive as she had been before we started the program, but she still has such difficulty paying attention that it affected her schoolwork. So we decided to try medication.
The first medication we tried had none of the offending ingredients we work so hard to avoid, but it caused alarming side effects. Now we’re trying another med that is only manufactured with artificial colors in pill form and artificial flavors in liquid form. We’re trying it anyway.
Why? Why would we give our child something we know is not good for her? Perhaps the medication will be strong enough to counteract the effects of the dye, or perhaps not. We’ll never know unless we try, and with her academic and social success at stake, we feel obligated to try. Such is the adventure of raising a child with ADHD.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Penny Game

Off we went to the math tutor yesterday afternoon, armed with nothing more than pennies, Crispix, and comfortable knowledge that the Marianne, the math tutor, knows how to make math fun. The math tutor is for my older daughter, Sabine, who is almost twelve and studying algebra and interest rates. Sabine likes to daydream and skim important homework instructions, but if she has ADD, it is mild. My six-year-old, Ana, is the little firecracker, the one who spins like a mixer on high speed.
I’d made a brave plan to work with Ana on her math while Marianne worked with Sabine. I dumped all my change onto Marianne’s coffee table, and Ana, sensing what was coming, retreated to the rocking chair where she rocked as furiously as I allowed.
“Come on, Ana, help me get all the pennies together,” I wheedled, quickly pulling side all the nickels, dimes, and quarters. She helped for a moment and then spun away, saying she wanted to go outside. She’s smart enough to know that any activity involving sitting down and focusing in simply not for her. I had to grasp her firmly by the shoulders and offer to let her keep the pennies she counted before she would kneel down in front of the coffee table to play the penny game.
The game works by laying down two columns of ten pennies while counting them out one by one. I used a couple of paper towels on which I wrote out the numbers—two columns of ten and one column of five to make a quarter. Ana is supposed to pick up one penny at a time and lay it on its space while saying the number she is covering with the coin.
The penny game is supposed to help her learn to count by rote, understand the concept of measurable quantities, grasp the idea of tens and units, and give her practice using the pincer grasp to exercise her fingers. Most babies naturally pick up the pincer grasp when they start feeding themselves Cheerios, but my rising first grader is still honing her fine motor skills. She also routinely skips the number “14” when counting up to twenty.
Ana completed the penny game once, for which I rewarded her with a quarter. She struggled with the concept that all the pennies were the equivalent of one quarter, but I finally convinced her. After one more round, and a second quarter, I gave up on getting her to count the Crispix and took her out for a walk.
We discussed the strange penny with the head of a woman instead of the head of man and a leaf instead of a building. Upon examination, we discovered that the man was Abraham Lincoln. I carefully read the words on the other penny “Elizabeth II” and wondered aloud whom Elizabeth II was. Ana told me she was a queen, so I asked, “Is she Queen of Genovia?”
“No,” Ana replied.
“Is she the Queen of France?”
“Is she the Queen of England?”
So I squeezed in a social studies lesson, too. While on the walk, we read the stop sign, finger spelled the word stop, and even found a sewer cover with the word “storm” on it. We peeked at each other from opposite ends of the drain. It was a rare moment of calm parenthood that I rarely experience with my youngest daughter. Perhaps being outside in the sunshine is a valuable as counting pennies.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Resistance to change is such a strange phenomenon. I've decided that I want to improve something in my life--acquire a positive habit, chase a dream--and when the moment to take action arrives, I just don't want to do it.
I know what resistance feels like. It feels like procrastination--like the sudden desire to take a nap, read a book, or call someone who loves to chat when I'm supposed to be doing my thing. I've seen it in others, seen my husband get up to fix a bowl of ice cream and then reach for the newspaper when I've brought up the subject of money. To experience it face to face, however, is the strangest feeling.
Anyone who has children or has cared for children knows about the witching hour. The witching hour happens like clockwork around 6:00 p.m. and is usually characterized by whining, tantrums, and tears in younger children, and dramatic descriptions of gossip, betrayal, broken friendships--followed by whining, stomping, and tears in older children. Everyone is tired, hungry, and cranky. The witching hour is often the lowest point in my day, and I've spent many hours figuring out ways to make it easier. I truly despise those moments, crowded with snarling, squabbling children, dirty dishes, and no dinner prepared.
Then the moment arrives. I've worked hard to take some of the fangs out of the witching hour. Dinner is ready, the kitchen is clean, and all I have to do is run a bath for my youngest because I know that getting her bath out of the way will make things easier. There's just one problem. I. Don't. Want. To. Do. It. I just don't. There's mail to go through, laundry to fold, paperbacks to be read. I've unmasked the resistance yet I hear its siren song pulling me to any task but the one that is most important to me in that moment. What can I do?
I can set my timer for ten minutes and just do it. I can postpone the resistance for ten minutes, and maybe it will go away. If it doesn't, I'll have earned a break for ten minutes, and then I can get back to the task at hand.
Right now, for instance, I have spent my yoga time writing this blog post. Now the desire to practice yoga is strong. I really want to press the round "enter" button on the remote and start the DVD. I know that if I do, I'll put myself 20 minutes behind in my morning routine and end up stressed out and yelling at my children to hurry up, we're running late. So much for the calm of yoga. I'll behave myself, reschedule my yoga practice and get a jump on my morning. Resistance can be mastered.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reducing Stress by Resetting the Body Clock

Dear Dad,
I am so very tired. It has been easier for me to get out of bed these last few mornings, but I am still plagued with the desire to crawl back under the covers and just sleep and sleep.
I know what all of this means--the fatigue, the irritability, the cravings for sweets and comfort food, the piles of unfinished work, the out of control overwhelmed feeling. I am suffering from serious overstress. I went to one of my favorite Web sites,, and calculated my stress level to get a benchmark. I've gotten really into benchmarks--putting numbers on things and measuring them. According to this quiz, a score of 250 or above indicates overstress. My score was 365. Help!
I decided that the first thing I could do is reset my body clock. At least it would get me out of bed in time to get through the morning without running around like a crazy woman. Interestingly enough, I've found it to be just as difficult to get to bed between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. as it is to get up before 6:00 a.m. I'm beginning to realize that I stress myself out by telling myself that I must stay up to complete a task, figure something out, finish a conversation. I have so much work to do, so many problems to solve. I fixate on this and tell myself that my to do list is more important that getting proper rest. The funny thing is, for all that, so much seems to get left undone.
I can't help remembering one of the last things you said. Someone told me that you kept asking if you had done enough, that you seemed so concerned that you hadn't done enough. I thought at the time that you were being ridiculous. Of course, you'd done enough. We all wanted to reassure you that you had, indeed, done enough. Maybe you didn't feel that your work in our world was complete, and maybe it wasn't. It's okay. We all leave unfinished work behind.
But what on earth am I to do with my overstress? I thought I had been doing so well, and now I am haunted by piles of unopened mail, piles of laundry (clean and dirty). I can think of only one thing--share it. I can't be the only one stressed out these days, not with the economy going to pieces. With the unemployment rate over 8 percent, I know I am not alone when I feel the screws tightening. Also, unlike past times of intense overstress, I feel certain that I'm going to have to live with this for a long time. A Snickers bar might get me through a stressful afternoon, but what about getting through a stressful year?
I'm starting with resetting my body clock. I'm going to bed between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. and getting up a little before 6:00 a.m. It might seem small, but it means a lot. When I go to bed, I like to have the dishes done, one or two junk piles cleared away, and clothes picked out for the next day. Knowing I've completed these small tasks frees my mind. When faced with overwhelming problems to solve, taking care of the small stuff means a lot.
I'm sure you find this all so tedious, but it makes me feel closer to you. If you were here, you'd want to help me. Perhaps one of the comforts of Heaven is knowing that you can inspire those you left behind.
With love,
Your Allyson

Friday, February 06, 2009

My Shocking Ecological Footprint

I took a quiz on this Web site called that measures your ecological footprint. I answered the questions as truthfully as I knew how and was shocked to discover that if everyone on the planet lived as I do, we’d need 4.74 earths to support us all. Think of all the people in India and China, all the people living in developing countries. If we all lived the way I do, we’d need 4.74 earth. 4.74!
I was really rather horrified by this, since I recycle, I compost, I use cloth napkins. We even have a small vegetable and herb garden. (Or to be honest, my husband has a vegetable garden for which I provide the compost. And no, I don’t want to take the analogy any further than that!) I recovered from my horror sufficiently to click the “Reduce Your Footprint” button, where I found such as wealth of ways to live sustainably that I was tempted to retreat under a quilt with a dish of chocolate ice cream and watch back to back episodes of iCarly with my eleven-year-old daughter. In the end I was braver than that.
I decided to start by taking better care of my car. I dutifully made a auto maintenance schedule and checked my fluids and tire pressure before filling up. This revealed that I need a new wiper fluid chamber, as my current one leaked wiper fluid on the garage floor. No wonder it was low. I did this two weeks ago, and I’m proud to say that it has taken me two weeks to need another fill up.
My next task was to reduce my dryer use. Already, I tumble our outfits and hang them, which keeps them from looking like thrift store clothes after a couple of washings. I ventured into new territory by tumbling and hanging a load of towels.
When you dry towels in the dryer, especially when you use fabric softener, they come out all fluffy and sweet smelling. I know from experience that when you hang towels on the line to dry in the hot Mexican sun, they end up hard and scratchy. I also know from experience that when you try to hang clothes to dry in the dense, humid air of the Gulf Coast, your clothes will take three days to dry. I know that the simplest solution is to turn off the old brain, throw the wet clothes in the dryer, and be done with it. Still, if you want to see the results of unsustainable practices, take a look at the economy. I’ll bet all those investment bankers weren’t hanging their towels up to air dry.
Because I care about my grandchildren’s grandchildren, here I am, hanging up towels to dry in my utility room. At least now I can't start another load of laundry until they are dry.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Enjoying a Magnificent Day

"...we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."
President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009

After a great deal of debate and procrastination, and a shockingly small amount of preparation, I declined to join my family on the National Mall this morning to be present when Barack Obama took the oath of office as President of the United States. I chose, instead, to make this day special for my children, neither of whom was really ready for the rigors of the cold and the crowds downtown. My husband took his mother on a mission to be as up close as personal as a person without a ticket could get. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law ventured out with characteristic ease to the closest Metro stop, bound on whatever the adventures of the day might bring. I brought my mother and daughters to the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, which offered free viewing of the day's events on CNN. I was moved to tears on more than one occasion, having developed the ability to feel deep emotion while dishing out discipline to an almost-six-year-old jack-in-the-box. In the end, I think my mother and daughters appreciated the chance to experience this magnificent day seated and indoors. I am so ready to seize my difficult task gladly and humbly.

(Since I have not posted to the blog since the day after Election Day, I have now renamed it Lost in Transition.)