Category Archives: Family

Throw Your Hands Up in the Air Like You Just Don’t Care?

If you’re like me, you’re embracing the good but not ignoring the bad during this time of self-isolation/quarantine/physical distancing.

Sure, there’s been some lovely bonding time over card games, music and books – and walks – lots and lots of walks and hikes. In fact, my daughter and I have been making mini paintings for our “quarantine art gallery” which we display on our large back window. That has been a lovely side benefit.

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We’ve also had a few sibling/parent or full family card game and board game nights which included a few laughs and some friendly competition.

However, it’s not all been party games, cake-making (though I did make an amazing rich decadent chocolate cake!) and painting. For instance: my older teen was up until 6 am this morning. You read that correctly – he hadn’t gone to sleep yet at 6 am and thought that this was okay!

To me, even though this is a “break” (as he likes to call it) and school is not on, it doesn’t mean we do nothing and give up all semblance of a routine. For instance, I still need to work. I’m working from home most of the time but it’s been busy – and somewhat stressful. And, my partner still works on-site so we both need to get sleep (and food, and groceries, and exercise, and pay bills, do cleaning, etc.) Also, my kids’ online school starts on Monday so both will need to get assignments done and check in with their teachers.

woman in black long sleeve shirtusing a laptop

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To me, being on quarantine/self-isolation doesn’t mean a free-for-all, let’s throw up our hands and give up. It does mean that I try to cut my kids some slack – let them sleep in a little, eat cake for breakfast once in a while, chat with their friends a lot on social media, etc. but I feel like self-discipline is an important principle and now is a good time for us all to motivate ourselves to achieve something.

That might mean learning to cook, doing push-ups every day, learning to play the piano, to paint, to learn a new language, practise your musical instrument, sing, make videos, write poetry…something!

I’ve been insisting on family walks/hikes every day and doing some chores or reading physical books rather than sit around looking at devices 24/7.  I have to admit, most of the time, both of my teens go on the hikes without complaint. I don’t know if they’ve given up arguing with me about it or they have learned to enjoy it. (: So, I guess that’s a win.

What do you think? Have you thrown up your hands during this time? Let your kids throw up their hands? Doing the home-schooling thing? Teaching them new skills? I’d love to hear your tips.

Yours quarantinely,

Lisa

How are you feeling? You’re Not Alone.

These are crazy times, no doubt about it. I don’t use the word “crazy” without putting thought behind it but, right now, I think this is the perfect time to use such a term.

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How are you and your kids dealing with the pandemic, social (now called physical) distancing, self-isolation and/or quarantine?

Just think: only weeks ago were most of us out and about, living our lives, travelling, going to any stores we wanted, dining out at restaurants, having play-dates or hang-outs, going to the park, the playground, the airport – with no other thought other than making sure we had our car keys, wallets or phones with us.

I’m sure many of you are vacillating between peace, panic, anxiety, depression, calm, laziness, thoughtfulness and boredom. That’s normal. I myself am feeling all of these things and more. My teen children are presently with their dad but I’m sure they’re starting to feel like the walls are closing in on them.

To me, getting outside for fresh air and exercise EVERY DAY has been so important. The blast of non-recycled air, blood moving, and enjoying some outdoor scenery and nature has been life-changing.  See the tweet below from Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health giving the okay to go outside (taking normal precautions):

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I know people with younger children are having a lot of trouble finding ways to keep them occupied. One of my colleagues with two young boys (one a toddler, one about 5 years old) has been doing LEGO/Duplo, making crafts, having the kids go outside and splash in the puddles/play in the snow and helping them make cookies and cakes.

Many people still have to work from home (or work outside the home if they are deemed essential services and/or their employer is making them come to work or they have their own businesses). I hope that your employer and your customers are being understanding – especially if you have children or parents to care for. We all need to be mindful that this is NOT business as usual – and are working outside of normal parameters to get things done.

While my two teens were here at my house, I implemented a few hours of no-screen time. During this time, they had to read a physical book, play cards, draw, go outside, do homework or help with chores.

Here are some other ideas and resources that I’m finding helpful as I cope with working from home, co-parenting two kids, taking care of a sick cat and dealing with bouts of panic and anxiety:

What efforts have worked well for you? Have you been able to maintain some kind of normalcy? I’d love to hear from you. Please write or comment below. Also, if you like this article (or any of my other posts), please remember to share on Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook or by email.

Keeping the peace in pandemic times,

Lisa

Don’t forget fun: Parenting doesn’t have to be a 24/7 chore

This weekend I won two tickets to a “retro 80’s” video dance party at a club downtown. My partner and I were already thinking about attending – as two friends were going. Once I won the tickets, we decided that the universe was nudging us and that we should definitely go. While we neglected to wear our best 80’s neon and preppy clothing, it was an absolute blast and we were able to forget about life’s demands for a few hours as we danced the night away.

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Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

Now, it’s not like I’m a martyr and stay home all the time to cook and clean and pay bills (though sometimes it feels like it). I go out with friends – mostly when my kids are with their dad but we do outings as a family too – and my partner and I go to the movies, to restaurants, on trips, etc. We try our best to enjoy life but, lately, the to-do list seems endless and the fun side of life gets buried in a stack of bills, report cards, and dishes. 

If you work outside the home, you know that getting kids to sleep on time and then up in the morning, packing lunches and dropping them off at school prior to getting into work can use all of your energy stores – then you still have to work all day – and then do it over and over again a la Groundhog Day. If you work at home or are a stay-at-home-parent, staying on top of and/or getting out from under the clutter of life can be a downer.

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But going out this weekend reminded me that parenting doesn’t have to be a chore. We all work hard and worry about our kids and their mental health – but our mental health as parents is important too. In fact, I submit that when we’re happy and cheerful and feel that our needs are met, we’re not feeling resentful to our children and can be more “present” in their lives.

Going out doesn’t have to mean an expensive get-away or partying until 3 am (though I do recommend it once in a while!). It can be as simple as going to your favourite book store or library and perusing the shelves and grabbing a coffee. Or, you can hit the local gym and do a Zumba class or lift some weights – or even go for a walk – alone or with a friend while ignoring the dirty laundry and piles of dishes for an hour or two.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Parenting can absolutely take over and get overwhelming and demanding. But we owe it to ourselves and our kids to take a break every once in a while and enjoy ourselves. We are human too. I also think it’s important to show our children that we have our own lives, friends, interests, hobbies, etc. and that we can prioritize our interests at times.

So, next time a friend or neighbour asks you to grab a coffee – “get into the groove” and take her up on the offer. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Let me know about your tips for balancing life, work and parenting! You can reply in the comments or send me an email.

Yours in 1980’s “mom jeans”,

Lisa

 

Big Mouth Strikes Again…

I’m listening to The Smiths right now who are one of my all-time favourite bands. While “Bigmouth Strikes Again” is a cool and iconic song (take a listen if you’re not familiar), it reminded me that, so far, my new year’s resolutions are going well. One of my major family goals is to drastically reduce – or better yet, eliminate completely – yelling.

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Believe me, I know that yelling isn’t terribly effective or good for anyone. But shouting at kids is different than shouting at another adult.  Obviously no one yells for fun or to get their kicks – it’s generally out of exasperation, overwhelm or frustration. It’s learning to stay calm when we’re stressed and not resort to yelling that’s the tricky part.

I’m reminded of an interview I did with Erin Flynn Jay about mothers’ work during economic downturns. Through her research, she discovered that child abuse increases during economically difficult times. Children might sense a parent’s stress and then act out, causing the parent to feel the need to yell or strike back. It’s unfortunately a vicious circle.

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Photo by Atul Choudhary on Pexels.com

Now, none of this is meant to stress anyone (including me) out. But it is a good reminder that our actions and reactions to things do impact our kids – even if we don’t realize it or it doesn’t seem obvious immediately.

One of my other new year’s resolutions is to “think small.” I know that sounds like an oxymoron but, really, it’s meant to celebrate the little things in life. When it comes to parenting,  in my view, we need to pat ourselves on the back more and acknowledge that even small successes are still successes – especially when it comes to our or our children’s positive mental health.

If you made any, how are your new year’s resolutions coming along? I’d love to hear about ’em.

Peace,

Lisa

2020 Vision: Making Good Choices for Your Family’s Mental Health

Happy New Year! Can you believe it’s 2020?! Did you celebrate with family or friends last night? Have a party with neighbours or ring in the new year at home watching the ball drop in Time’s Square (if that works with your timezone)? Whatever you did, you don’t have to worry about comparing yourself to me: I did not have a Pinterest-worthy New Year’s Eve by any stretch – quite the opposite in fact; I was sick with a cold and fever and sleeping by 9 pm. Good. Times.

As bummed out as I was to not have a wild & crazy New Year’s Eve, I was happy to have celebrated the day with my partner and my children. Even though I was already starting to feel ill, my kids had been with their father for most of the holidays so I wanted to spend at least one day celebrating with all four of us. We went bowling, went out for sushi and had potato latkes  in the morning – made by yours truly along with my daughter. It was a really fun day out but, by 5 pm, I was exhausted and very sick.

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Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

So, now that New Year’s Eve has come and gone: Onto the business at hand. Regardless of my cheesy headline for this post, for the past few weeks, I have been thinking about my goals and objectives for the year ahead. Have you given it much thought? Any goals – business, personal, family or otherwise?

Here are a few very basic family-oriented goals of mine for the year ahead. You are welcome to follow along with me. If you do, please let me know of your successes or any missteps. It takes a village!

2020 Family-Oriented Goals:

  • Listen more and talk less.
  • Reduce my own social media use and technology use – and encourage my kids to do the same.
  • Read more books – and encourage my kids to read more.
  • No more yelling/use silence as an alternate way to communicate.*
  • Enjoy the simple moments with my family.
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Do any of the above goals pique your interest? I have already started implementing some of them: *I’ve started texting certain things instead of yelling up the stairs – for instance how many more minutes until the “taxi” i.e. me, leaves for school. I’ve also started talking/responding less both at home and at work – and even on text. Not in a snobby or rude way but just not responding if I don’t have anything constructive to say. It seems to be working – it’s certainly reducing my stress-level.

Whatever you and your family decide to do: I wish you all a very happy 2020 full of positive family interactions, peace, joy and success.

Here’s to positive strides in your and your children’s mental health!

Lisa

Merry and Bright? Dealing with Holiday Stress

Let me guess…You’re finding the holidays stressful?! Either your kid(s) are driving you nuts, you’re trying to buy gifts that you can’t afford or don’t know what to get, you forgot to pick up something for your neighbour/coworker/boss/niece/cousin/dog, or you feel like everyone’s invited to all of these fab holiday parties except for you.

Me? My kids are getting older and would rather hang out with their friends for the most part. That, coupled with the +9 Celsius weather (!) today, makes the holidays feel rather “meh” at the moment. In my family, we celebrate Hanukkah and, if I’m honest, I am just not in the latke-frying/menorah-lighting mood unfortunately.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

 

I remember when our kiddos were little and everything seemed new and exciting. We celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas and, although that meant extra work and wrapping, travelling, and buying and baking, etc., it was still a lot of fun. This year I haven’t done a darn thing so far except buy some holiday gifts and also birthday gifts for the great many people I know whose birthdays fall in late December.

No matter what you celebrate, there is a lot of pressure on people at this time of year i.e. “What are you doing for Christmas? Have all your shopping done?!” (Um… if you’re not Christian/don’t celebrate Christmas/don’t have a big budget this can be an awkward question to answer!)

What else can feel awkward this time of year…?

  • Kids are happy to have two weeks off school but that may mean finding childcare alternatives or taking time off work
  • Your partner (if you have one) may have a different (or no!) holiday schedule then your own
  • Your kids may have big expectations for foods or gifts or outings that you’re not prepared for
  • Your own mental health issues may prevent you from doing what you feel you should do (or what you feel everyone else is doing)
  • Your children’s mental health may mean not attending certain parties (or not being invited to parties!) or leaving early before they get upset or too tired or too hyper
  • The weather may prevent you from doing what you planned – for instance, here the snow is melting rapidly so no tobogganing or skiing or snowshoeing will work at this point
  • Perhaps you or your kids want to invite someone over or get together over the holidays but you’re worried that the parent has heard something negative about your child and doesn’t want them to play together or be friends
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Although intentions are usually good, this can be an arduous time for many people. So, feel free to take a break and just go for a walk or go out for a cheap & cheerful dinner or head to the movies.

I know one woman who, though she has two weeks off of work, is still sending her toddler to daycare every day. I don’t necessarily agree with her decision but perhaps that’s what she needs to do in order to feel rejuvenated, rested and refreshed. It can be hard to parent at this time of year – especially if you don’t have family around to assist you or your child experiences any form of mental health challenge.

I wish for all of us a peaceful and zenfilled holiday season – full of minimal family fighting, decent gift exchanges, a few walks in the woods and one or two nights of restful sleep.

Yours in good holiday spirits,

Lisa

What is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?

Have you heard of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD)? Many people with ADHD also have RSD which means they are more sensitive to things like smell, touch, taste and sound – even criticism.

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This type of response can be both a blessing and a curse. While none of us want to be immune to the excitement of the world around us, being “extra” can be overwhelming for many people. Imagine being in a big city and being bombarded by every sound around you: Every car zooming by, every honk of the horn, every snippet of music blaring from a car window would feel heavy, stressful and suffocating. For highly sensitive people and/or those with RSD, the world can literally be unbearable at times.

What is RSD?

According to WebMD:

“When you have ADHD, your nervous system overreacts to things from the outside world. Any sense of rejection can set off your stress response and cause an emotional reaction that’s much more extreme than usual.”

Because people with ADHD often perceive ideas, situations and experiences differently, it can be frustrating for them to not “jive” with others who are in the same situation. What they perceive as reality is often not the reality of those around them. Add RSD to ADHD and life can become extremely debilitating and frustrating for someone already sensitive to criticism.

While some may be able to slough off small doses of negative feedback or criticism, those with rejection sensitivity dysphoria feel negativity more deeply and often have a very difficult time sloughing it off (if ever) or feel the presence of that criticism weighing on their shoulders for a long period of time.

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The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

I’ve written about HSPs before. While I’m not a psychologist, social worker or counselor, I have researched and written a great deal about mental health and ADHD. I can see that  there are many links between the two mental health facets.

If you are interested in the life of a highly sensitive person, I’m a fan of Dr. Elaine Aron and her HSP blog/site and resources. Please check it out if you wish – there is a tremendous amount of useful information available on her site.

Of course, there are good things about being sensitive to the world around you. While others might not notice a beautiful sunset, a favourite song playing in the background, a tiny animal hiding in tree or the way someone reacts in a crowd, those who are highly sensitive are more astute and will take note.

How Can We Help Those with RSD?

For both RSD and HSP, the following things may help:

  • Medicine – Some children, teens and adults use pharmaceuticals which can be helpful. See an MD, psychologist or psychiatrist for more information.
  • Yoga – Practicing yoga and meditation are highly encouraged for everyone. Both practices can relax the body and mind and make us more serene and resilient.
  • Talk therapy – Speaking with a social worker or psychologist can be extremely rewarding if the right connections are made. Ask for referrals from guidance counselors, doctors, friends or neighbours. If possible, see the specialist first for an informal chat to see if you (or your child) and he or she hit it off. Even if the specialist is licensed, experienced and professional, he or she may not be the right fit for your family.
  • Proper sleep and rest – I may sound like broken record here but regular, sound, healthy sleep is key to managing one’s life in a productive and positive way. If you or your child is exhausted, managing stress and criticism is going to be that much harder.
  • Exercise – Like sleep, daily exercise (whether it’s running, ballet, yoga, hiking, biking, karate, gymnastics, dancing or something else) is critical to a healthy, happy life. We may not always feel like it, but getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day is important for our and our children’s mental and physical well-being.

Do you or your child have RSD or HSP? I’d love to hear about your stresses and successes managing these complex challenges. Feel free to write to me or comment here.

Lisa

 

Cheap & Cheerful Ways to Enjoy the Last Days of Summer

Before digging into this post, I want to welcome my new subscribers. Despite not having posted much this summer, Kids & Mental Health has attracted quite a few new followers over the past few weeks. Welcome! Please feel free to contact me or comment with feedback or suggestions.

Here in Ontario, Canada, we’re enjoying the waning days of summer. If it’s summer-time where you are, how is the season treating you and your family? Has it been easy-breezy or is the absence of routine causing strife and chaos in the family home?

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This hasn’t been a typical summer for me. There was a long recovery process from surgery, a lot of work, work, work to follow and then a wee bit of play in between – some of it with my kids and friends, some by myself and some with my partner when he’s around.

Now that it’s mid-August, I’m looking at the calendar wondering how I might wedge in some more summer-time fun with my children before they head back to school. The humidity has finally dissipated (thank you, Lord!), the days are shorter and there’s a chill in the air at night…I’d better grab a last slice of summer while I can.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here are a few “cheap and cheerful” ways to spend these waning days with your flock:

  • Head to the beach with a book, umbrella and some sandwiches
  • Have a picnic in your backyard
  • If it’s raining, have a picnic in your basement or porch
  • Visit your local library and start a family book club
  • Play old-school board games
  • Use your voice-enhanced device like Alexa to play new-school games (there are a lot of fun options such as Song Quiz and Escape the Room!)
  • Check out previously-unexplored neighbourhoods in your region (we have a Little Italy, a Little India, a Jewish area, a “J-Town”, a China Town)
  • Watch your local soccer or baseball team play a game
  • Find a new splash pad, playground or community pool to try
  • Learn to play tennis at the local court
  • Set up a scavenger hunt in the park
  • Visit local food/cookie factories that allow the public in
  • Challenge yourselves to visit as many local hiking trails as possible before September

I’d love to know if you try out any of these ideas; leave a comment below and let me know how your summer’s been treating you and your family and what you’re planning until the school bell rings once again.

Lisa

The Resilience Fallacy

“Don’t worry, she’ll bounce back. Children are resilient!”

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Over the years, through divorce, moving, kids’ changing schools, new relationships, issues with friends, various diagnoses, etc., that adage and similar advice has been doled out to me like so much candy on Hallowe’en.

Although assuming that children will bounce back after trauma or even minor incidents may sound innocent enough and even reassuring, it can be a dangerous assumption.

What is Resilience?

Psychological resilience is the ability to cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviors in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors”. Wikipedia

Building resiliency in children is vitally important and it’s a skill that can make a critical and positive difference in your child’s life.

Here are some methods that can help:

Let them solve their own problems:

While we might want to jump in and “save” our children from falls (literal or metaphorical), it’s vitally important that kids learn how to defend themselves, stand up for themselves and others, and find ways of coping in difficult situations.

Of course, this isn’t a way to opt out of helping your children or forcing them to make bad decisions because they don’t understand the options but rather it’s a way for them to test their own skills in order to help build up their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Be a living example:

Through your words and actions, show children how you deal with problems in your workplace, with your own friends, in your neighbourhood, etc. – and also how you dealt with different situations as a child.

I find watching movies or reading books about how children deal with minute or massive problems teaches them context. For instance, my partner and I watched the movie “Lion” a few days ago and I can’t wait to watch it again with my children for both its cinematic brilliance and the incredible story-line and ending. (I won’t add too much here in case you haven’t seen it. Please do!)  My daughter is also into learning about Anne Frank – and of course there is plenty of context provided with her amazing and courageous story.

Be there for them

This may sound contradictory to the above advice but it’s not. To me (and I am certainly not perfect at this and fail regularly) it’s about trying to be there for my kids when they really need me and not hanging them out to dry. So, let’s say, your child had a bad day or was bullied at school or saw something that made them uncomfortable. Ask them about it, try to help them solve the problem, be sympathetic and perhaps brainstorm possible solutions.

Something that seems to work for me is asking my kids, “Do you want me to talk to the teacher about that?” if it’s a problem related to school. They almost always say no. Even though they often don’t want me to step in, I feel like asking my children if they’d like me to intervene puts the power back in their hands. Note: Occasionally, I do talk to teachers or principals if I feel it’s important to step in!

Get out there

Whether it’s volunteering, building leadership skills or travelling, getting outside of one’s comfort zone can build resiliency by providing new experiences and challenges.

Travelling has been one of the single most defining aspects of my life. Not only has travelling to other regions and countries allowed me to experience new worlds, but the lead-up of researching trips, booking hotel or hostel reservations and flights (even as a teenager) and asking strangers for assistance has helped to develop my self-esteem and resilience. Meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds also provides context and perspective to consider when faced with a difficult situations.

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Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

If you are able to volunteer and/or travel with your family, you might ask your children to help research the non-profit organization or new region, point out aspects affected by war or strife, talk to locals, learn a new language or a new skill. In any case, if you are travelling by plane, train or automobile, everyone will have to learn to be patient, creative and innovative together when faced with inevitable travel delays!

What tools have you used to help your children build resilience? What happened in your own childhood that helped you face adversity? I’d love to hear from you.

Update from May

I’d also like to provide a quick update on “No Money May” since it’s now June. I’ve recently had surgery so was forced into a no spending mode for the last part of the month. Overall, I’ll give myself a “7” on a scale of 1 to 10 for not spending frivolously. I heard from other people who were going to try No Money May too. If you did it, how did it work out for you?

Feel free to comment at bottom or write to me privately.

 

Onward and upwards,

Lisa

 

Summer Daze

As a warm breeze blows through the window and birds chatter happily in the backyard ravine, I am wondering where the school year has gone.  Wasn’t it just the first day of school for my newly minted ‘tween and teen? Weren’t we just making plans for Christmas and then March break?

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Photo by Katelyn on Pexels.com

In our region, there is approximately one more month left of school. I can tell that my children are looking forward to having a break from the seemingly-endless days of early wake-ups and constant assignments as well as the periphery of peer drama; (one or two) ineffective teachers and constantly being told what to do, when and where.

Breaking Bad

Summer can (and should) offer a break for kids but what about parents? In days gone by it was the norm for mothers to stay home and enjoy summers off with their kids. I always imagine picnics in the park, swimming at the local pool, soccer with the neighbours and play dates galore. These days, though I know some people who are teachers or stay-at-home parents, I don’t know many who have the luxury of taking entire summers off.

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Is it so bad to take two months off to rest and relax? Of course not – in theory. As most people know, constant deadlines and over-scheduling puts undue pressure on children and teens (and adults).

But what’s the grey area between idleness and helicoptering? As much as we want our kids to have a break on weekends, holidays and in the summer-time, sometimes this just isn’t possible or can lead to chaos in the household. I like this post I wrote about this same topic back in 2015: Idle Hands? I also enjoyed this funny and honest New York Times portrayal of after-school scheduling in the age of working parents.

The point is that too much “on time” can cause depression and anxiety in children. All human beings need to have quiet time with no deadlines, no rushing from Point A to Point B, no “end game” in mind. I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that idle time isn’t always a bad thing: It can actually lead to improved mental health, better sleep, more happiness and even creative insights on how to solve a problem or write a song. Our brains need time to breathe.

Despite not having scheduled one single activity at this point, I am still confident this summer will be one for the memory books. If you’re a parent, what plans do you have for your children this summer? Are they going to camp? Hanging with grandparents? Going to summer school? Traveling? Volunteering? I’d love to hear your thoughts on scheduling and plans for the season.

Please note: I will be taking a short medical leave of absence soon so please excuse any related absence from this blog. Thank you for your understanding.