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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Passing It On

by Christy Gualtieri

It’s happening.

I didn’t know if it would or not – to be honest, I didn’t really think about it, because he’s so young, but I should have guessed that it would happen to at least one of my kids.

My son is anxious.

Like me.

His worries seem so small, but I know they are big to him – large, looming things – and all I want to do is take them away, because I know how miserable a life of worrying is.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

My parents were both smokers, and when we kids were growing up, the rule was that we weren’t allowed to smoke in the house until we were eighteen.  “We smoke, so we won’t be able to smell it on you,” my mother would say. “We’ll trust that you’re telling us the truth if we ask and you say you don’t.  We don’t want you to start smoking, but if you do, you have to wait until you’re old enough to be able to smoke in the house.”

I never got into smoking.  But I really got into worrying.

I watch my son when he’s anxious, see his little hands twisting, his teeth quietly chewing his lower lip. I suffer from anxiety that ranges from mild (on my best days) to debilitating (on my worst), my son.  I can smell it on you, but I don’t know how to quit. I’m worried I won’t be able to show you, either.

But I’m trying.  This afternoon he came to me with a worry – about an upcoming dentist appointment – and we talked about what makes him feel good.

“When you get a lot of worries in your head, what makes you feel better?” I asked.  “Mommy gets worries in her head sometimes, did you know that?”

He didn’t respond.

“When I get lots of worries, I like to listen to music,” I told him.   “And get hugs.”

He doesn’t say anything, but he lets me gather him into my arms for a quick squeeze.  And later, while I’m sweeping up the living room, he asked me what song I had playing on my phone, a light little ditty with a soothing melody.

“The Wrote and the Writ, by Johnny Flynn,” I answered.

“This song makes me feel calm,” he told me from his spot on the chair, and I made a mental note of it to have it ready to go in the car, or for those moments when the worries get too big and nothing else seems to work.

Sometimes it feels a bit fraudulent, having to navigate your child through a minefield you’re only just learning (even after a decade!) how to field yourself. Like leading someone to water and showing them where the well is, even though you’re dying of thirst. But there’s good in it, too, because it’s showing me that I do have things I can do to help relieve my anxiety. There are tools at my disposal, even if I forget them in the throes of an anxiety attack. There are people in my life who support me and who listen to me, even if they don’t exactly understand where I’m at and what I’m feeling.

I’m proud to be that support for my son, and it’s my hope that we’ll continue to grow together, every day closer still, to peace in our minds and in our hearts.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

5 Great Reads for Winter

by Christy Gualtieri

In a few days we’ll be celebrating the arrival of 2019, but the end of the year offers a great opportunity to hunker down, find a few moments of peace and quiet, and lose ourselves in a really good book or two. Reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures and can (and should!) be enjoyed year-round, but in case you’re in need of some recommendations, here are five of my favorite reads for this early Winter season.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

If you’re caught up in the stress of the hustling and bustling of the season, take a few minutes to grab B.J. Novak’s hilarious set of short (some are very, very short) stories. These tales are laugh-out-loud funny and will keep you chuckling as you remember them while you wait in an hour-long line to mail out gifts from the post office. Whether it’s a thoroughly-embarrassed hare challenging his nemesis, the tortoise, to a rematch race; a middle-school boy who finds out his rightful place in a sugar-cereal dynasty; or a Tony Robbins fanatic who will stop at nothing to make her fantasies a reality, you’ll bound to find a favorite.  And the shortest stories are easy to read in between moments of holiday insanity – definitely a plus!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Originally marketed to young adults – but great for readers of any older age – this thought-provoking, utterly dazzling work examines the importance of reading and literature as an unmeasurable gift to those who are suffering.  The novel takes place in Nazi Germany and is narrated by Death (who, needless to say, has seen a lot of terrible things); he tells the story of a young girl who clings desperately to the life that reading gives her – even as she goes so far as thievery to obtain it.  It’s best paired with a warm blanket on the couch and an endless supply of a hot drink as you read!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

This is a favorite that I read every October; and although Halloween has come and gone, it still fits.  Fall in love, just as Ichabod Crane did, with the drowsy beauty of Tarry Town and its magical inhabitants, and shiver delightfully as you hear the story of the Headless Horseman.  The story itself is quite short, and makes for sumptuous reading. It bears little resemblance to the fantastical Tim Burton movie, but it’s a lot of fun just the same.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

An innovative take on President Lincoln’s life, this novel places its focus on Lincoln’s young son, who died at a young age of an illness, and his time in the “Bardo,” the space in time many Buddhists believe exists after death but before being reborn. Told by a fascinating cast of characters, it’s dark enough to keep you interested but peppered throughout with moments of levity – and gives you a lot to think about in those moments of time you have to yourself during the holiday crunch.

Wintering by Kate Moses

Another book that aims for a biographical touch, Wintering focuses on the life of American poet Sylvia Plath and the few years before her death at age 32.  Weaving through different time periods, the reader gains a sense of the frustration, loneliness, and sometimes despair of the anguished writer and her troubled marriage to English poet Ted Hughes; but the writing itself is intensely beautiful and razor-sharp, perfect for immersing yourself in during long wintry nights.

Check them out at your local library, see if you can catch a deal at your favorite book retailer, or ask a friend to borrow their copy! Happy reading!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

In Defense of Kevin McAllister’s Mother

Warning! Spoilers ahead for the plot of “Home Alone”… which was released in 1990.  If you’ve managed to go this long without hearing how this movie ends and you think you’ll be upset reading about it…well, I wouldn’t read ahead!

My son loves the first Home Alone movie. This is his second year watching it, and I love to see him absolutely doubled over, laughing at Kevin’s elaborately planned house of terrors for his enemies. I’ve loved the movie since I was a kid, and it’s a lot of fun watching the next generation enjoy it, too.

One thing that has stuck out at me over the last few years is how much I’ve identified with Kevin’s mother, Kate. She realizes, mid-flight to Paris from Chicago that she’s left her son behind, and is absolutely determined to do whatever it takes to get back to him. With no sleep, no comfort, plenty of time on airplanes, and a hitched ride with Midwestern polka players in a rental truck, she finally gets home to him. The film is, of course, mostly about Kevin and his preternatural survival skills – but in a very real way, it’s also about his mother’s journey.

Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve cried every time I watch the film when they’re finally reunited. Because I get it: even though Kate endured days of intense anguish and physical discomfort, Kevin is too young to realize it. He just knows that she’s home now; and even if someone sat him down and explained it to him, he would mostly just be happy that she made it home. And that’s what parenthood is, really – consistently placing yourself in situation after situation that will serve to benefit your children and your family above what you need. It’s painful, yes, and more often than not, uncomfortable. And your kids might not know, or understand, or even care if they do understand.

But that is what refines us as people, I think. Think of all of the hardships you’ve had to endure. How did they change you as a person? They might have made you bitter; that’s fair. Or they might have made you anxious, or beset with worry. But they might have also helped you realize that you are capable of hard things, because at the end of the day, you are still here – and you are the better for it. Maybe you’ll think smartly about certain things now, or become more cautious or pragmatic. Maybe you’ll be more patient now then you were before. More understanding. Hard things help us to become better overall…but, it’s also better to experience them with help. If you’re going through a hard time and find it difficult to believe that you can be a better person from it, please reach out for assistance, in whatever way you need it. You will get through it with somebody. And you’ll learn from your mistakes, even if it takes a few tries to let it sink in.

I mean, Kevin got lost again like two years later, in the sequel Home Alone 2. But I’m blaming that one on his Dad. Kate remembered.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Looking Up

by Christy Gualtieri

A few months ago, my cousin from New York City came to visit with his four kids in tow, the oldest of whom was sixteen. We got to talking about cell phones and how old the kids were when they first got them, a topic that I listened to with interest, since although my kids are relatively young, it’s a conversation I’ll end up having sooner rather than later. The sixteen year old does everything on his phone. Calls and texts, obviously. Social media apps, getting his news. But also, schoolwork. Writing essays.

“Writing essays?” I said incredulously, like a proper Old Person.

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “I type them on my phone and then email it to myself to print out.”

I sat there relatively agog, half-wondering if he was a warlock of some kind. “But…how do your thumbs still work?” I checked his hands fully expecting to see inhumanly large thumbs with huge muscles bulging out, but they looked like normal teenage hands to me.  “Haven’t they fallen off?” I was joking, but still…I was pretty taken aback.

It’s such a funny thing, living in a time when things are changing so rapidly, where new technologies are cropping up every day. I imagine it’s like someone who just got electricity in their home for the first time, and what the Old People in their times would say. “But…you just turn on…lights? In your home? What do you do with all the candles?”  Or people who just got radios. “But…how do you hear someone’s voice in your house…without them being there?”

But back to the phones. Being of a certain age, I wouldn’t say that I’m the kind of person who is attached to my cell phone all the time, but I do check it pretty frequently. I can’t imagine being a kid and feeling like a limb was missing if it was taken away, or what someone’s brainwaves look like after only knowing the reality of being able to access information in the palm of your hand.

The other day, I was standing on the corner waiting for my son’s school bus. I was alone and it was a chilly day, but a bright one, and the sky really was lovely: a robin’s-egg blue color with this smattering of white clouds all across it. I looked up and watched the cloud for a minute, and then saw something else, and kept watching. I was transfixed. No one had been driving by at the time, but I can guess what they’d have been thinking if they did: what is she looking at? And maybe they’d stop too, crane their neck up against their car window, or peer upward past their sun visors that hung down, trying to see why in the world one solitary woman was doing just standing there on the corner, looking up at the sky.

There was this bird, that’s all. A huge bird, the kind that was so big so way up high that you knew it would be absolutely monstrous if it was closer to you. We get plenty of birds in our neighborhood; cardinals and blue-jays, crows (my favorite), and sometimes little yellow ones – canaries, maybe – but this was no bird like that. I wondered how high up it was, and remembered that hawks can spot a little mouse for dinner from something like a mile up in the air, and I wondered if that’s how high this bird was. After a minute it kept flying out of sight, and I thought about how silly I must have looked, neck crooked, eyes straight up, with a hand to shield the strong light of the sun.

Why is it strange to see someone looking up…and why is not strange to see someone looking down? Because that’s what we do, most times, right? I know I do. Looking down gets you knowledge of things that are happening not very close to you…but looking up keeps you focused on the world you’re in right now.

Chances are, you’re like me, and could do with some more looking up. Of course, we all need distractions, especially if you’re not very comfortable with the world you’re currently in right now, but we need balance, too, and the world needs you in it – to participate, to acknowledge, to understand that although it’s a big, wide world, it’s all the more special because of what you contribute to it.

So if you get a chance (and you should make one), take a minute to look up. Observe what the sky looks like, and the clouds, if there are any. Take a deep breath, and then another one. Then go back to whatever else you were doing, and try to take that time again tomorrow, with some extra time added on…and see what you see! You may be surprised!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Pittsburgh NorthShore: Tribute to Children. Photo By Wally Gobetz. Flickr Creative Commons
Peace, Love & Anxiety

My Favorite Neighbor

by Christy Gualtieri

Not too long ago, the neighborhood beside mine was transformed, and rather quickly, for that matter by a group of folks whose job it is to turn back time. Storefronts that had stood empty for years were magically restored to look like operating businesses; old-school telephone booths now adorned the street corners; and the main street, at parts desolate and uninviting in 2018, was now absolutely inviting and looked just like 1960s Western Pennsylvania.

They were filming a movie! And not just any movie: a biopic about one of the area’s iconic treasures, Mr. Rogers. I admittedly, unlike most of the folks my age, didn’t grow up much on Mr. Rogers, we were a Sesame Street people, and although I’ve mostly come to know him in my time as a transplant to the area as adult, I’ve begun to foster a healthy respect for him and all he did during his time on television. He was more than just a TV personality for folks in Western PA, just as the spinoff show that airs now, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” is more than just a show for my own kids. The longer I lived in the area, the more I came to appreciate all he did for children around the country (and the world) – and his messages of kindness, integrity, curiosity, and love resonate so much more now, I believe, than they ever have in the hearts of the grownups who remember him. I recently saw a video online of him accepting his spot in the TV Hall of Fame, and was so struck by his encouraging words and his faith in those who want to spread goodness and love throughout the world. His gentleness and his patience absolutely radiated, and it’s no wonder at all to see why he was so beloved, not only here, but the world over.

As soon as filming was over, the crew worked diligently – and extremely quickly! – to break down the set and soon it looked just as it had a week prior, like nothing had ever happened. And Mr. Rogers is gone now, he has been gone for such a long time, but whenever people remember his kind words and how he helped children to grow into mature, kind, loving adults, it’s like he’s never been gone at all.

Did you watch Mr. Rogers as a kid? What resonated the most with you about his show, and which of his messages do you think we need to hear more of in today’s frenetic world? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

And, just for fun — one of my favorite stories about Mr. Rogers is about the history of his time on TV. For a hilarious take on it, check out this short video from Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” starring Colin Hanks (Tom Hanks’ son; Tom is the actor who is portraying Mr. Rogers in the upcoming film).

Until next time, be well!
Christy