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Christy Gualtieri

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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Don Laird

Boosting self esteem and body image in boys

By Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

The phrase “poor body image” is typically thought to be a term exclusive to women or adolescent girls. However, in recent years we have seen a growing number of adolescent boys and even adult men reporting poor body image. How can you help teenage boys develop a positive outlook with the way they feel about their physical appearance?

Talk about it. Don’t pretend as though he’s just “going through a phase.”

The effects of poor body image among boys tend to be internal and are usually associated with reduced confidence and low self-esteem. Poor body image is often much more difficult to identify in boys than in girls. Teenage boys’ issues are usually not physically apparent or outwardly excessive, although some may engage in extreme exercise and/or develop an eating disorder.

If you suspect a problem, ask questions. Then be patient and listen without judgment, criticism or using minimizing statements such as, “You just need to stop always comparing yourself to other people,” or worse “Be a man and suck it up.”

Indicators of a poor body image in adolescent boys are often subtle and may include:

  • Unrealistic expectations for body type.
  • Excessively conforming to others expectations.
  • Having low energy.
  • Poor diet.
  • Becoming withdrawn or demonstrating a low mood for an extended period of time.

Model healthy behaviors. We’re all in this together.

Kids and teens gain knowledge from their surroundings. They observe much more than we give them credit. Consequently, make every attempt to model healthy behavior by eating a balanced diet and making those foods available to your kids. They may not want or like them, but you are setting the bar for how they forge their relationship with food and themselves. In addition to focusing on his nutrition and physical activity, pay attention to his exposure to media.

Just like girls and women, the media exposes boys to continuous messages about an ideal body image. During the teenage years, this can be damaging because teen boys are undergoing dramatic body changes. They are vulnerable to holding themselves to unrealistic standards and often feel bad about who they are because of what they look like. Obviously there is no way to escape all media influence, but you can engage your children by teaching critical thinking skills without passing judgment on them or others.

Talk with your son’s doctor or a professional counselor.

If in doubt, or if you notice your son is growing more obsessed with body image, talk with your teen’s doctor about your concerns. He or she can discuss these issues with your son, such as what is the meaning of body image, proper nutrition and skin care, and what should his expectations be for himself.

In Good Health,
Don

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Christy Gualtieri

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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Christy Gualtieri

A Time of Transition

by Christy Gualtieri

I don’t know if you remember the commercial or not, but years ago there used to be an ad on TV for back-to-school shopping.  It featured a parent literally dancing in the aisles as they threw notebooks, paper, and pencils in a shopping cart, kids trudging behind, as the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” played.

I love that commercial because I identify with it.  It is a wonderful time! When school starts, my kids actually get to learn things instead of spending hours on end bickering over toys or throwing dirt in each other’s faces! They’re happy hanging out with friends during recess instead of crying because their sibling pulled their hair or grabbed their toy or – and this is my personal favorite – their sibling’s foot has moved two inches onto their own couch cushion, and how can I be calm and well-behaved  because THEIR FOOT IS ON MY SPAAAAAAAAACE! MOOOOOOMMM!

It’s been a long summer.

But it’s over now, and the kids are in school, and cue the dancing! The twirling in the store aisles! And…the screaming? The tears over a changed routine? The afternoon meltdowns because things are different and it’s hard to get used to?

Yes, to all of them.  And no, it wasn’t my kids doing that.  It was me.

I had such a hard time transitioning into a new school year this year! New grades, new after school activities, new expectations for homework, new preschool for my daughter, and tons of paperwork sent me nearly into hot, frustrated tears every day.  How in the the world was I going to adjust? My kids seemed fine with it, but me? I was the mess. And then I realized why.

I’ve always had a hard time with transitions: moving to a new neighborhood, starting a new school, starting college, starting pretty much anything.  A new job would start a new world of worrying about my performance; a new addition to my routine would be really unsettling. And I’d get upset about the something new until I got used to it, which I eventually would.

But this year, I wasn’t as upset for as long as usual, and I figured out why.  Because I let myself feel it. I acknowledged that the first couple weeks of this new academic year were going to be tumultuous, and new, and went with that.  I let myself feel unhappy about it and did my best to power through, and here we are: about three weeks in, and I feel settled. I leaned into it, didn’t make myself “get over it faster,” and when I was able to breathe comfortably, I did.

If you’ve had children naturally, you’re familiar with the term “transition,” that short bit of time between the completely agonizing period of labor and the time when you’re ready to push that baby out.  It’s not the longest time of the labor process, but it’s the most painful. That in-between. If you’re in an in-between point in your life right now and you’re feeling that pain, know that something better is coming.  You will overcome whatever it is that you’re transitioning from and moving to a place you can – and will – get comfortable in. Lean into it as best you can, and when you’re able to, take a deep breath.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Christy Gualtieri

Summer Sweetness (With Bonus Recipe!)

by Christy Gualtieri

It’s Summer, and the kids down the street have set up a lemonade stand.  There are about eight kids; the oldest is about ten, and it’s pure mayhem at first: running back and forth into the house to get the pitchers and cups, long disappearances to make the lemonade (both pink and yellow), splashes and spills galore.

And not one customer…yet. It’s blazing hot, one of the first really hot days of the year, and I think about how growing up in Miami, there weren’t many lemonade stands in my neighborhood because no one would be crazy enough to set up shop in such intense heat and humidity.  I loved that these kids were out here, though: I loved their hustle, and I loved the fact that even though we live on a street that gets very little traffic, both foot and car, they were out there anyway.

I walk down with a few bucks (each cup costs a quarter, but I knew once both my kids got a taste of it, there’d be many cups asked for), sit on the steps, and observe. The older kids busy themselves with pouring out the drinks, as the littlest ones try to learn how to wait in line patiently without crowding. Two middle school boys walk up the street, each walking a dog, and buy a cup. They look so grown up contrasted against the toddlers, and I wonder what my own kids will be like, perched on the edge of teenagerhood like that. My son takes it upon himself to stand at the very edge of the driveway and put his hand out to stop cars passing by, trying to force them to stop and buy a cup, but no cars come by.  A neighbor’s getting their lawns landscaped, and their team comes over for a few cups. It’s a big order, and the kids rush back to the house in their excitement to hurry up and make a fresh pitcher.

After about an hour, the heat is just too much, and the kids decide to pack it in.  They’ve made eight dollars, and they want to donate it to Children’s Hospital. The mom in charge thanks them and wisely suggests that they should run a few more stands throughout the season and make a bigger donation at the end. The kids try to clean up, but it’s mostly the mom who does it as the kids run around back and hit the trampoline. Summer achievements, lemonade stand and trampoline time, unlocked!

__

Lemonade is not really my thing, it’s pretty sweet, but I am a huge lover of iced coffee, especially with half-and-half. For Mother’s Day last year, my husband gifted me with a two-gallon glass beverage container, and so I use that to make several batches throughout the season (the iced coffee should last about three weeks). The recipe is below, and it’s perfect for powering through a hazy Summer afternoon both at home taking care of children or at the office waiting for that end-of-day whistle to blow. This makes a huge amount (about two gallons), but feel free to halve the recipe (or even quarter it) for your needs.

You’ll need: A large plastic container, 10 oz. (a full can) of espresso (I prefer Cafe Bustelo, in the yellow can or the vacuum pack), water, a dishtowel, a large pitcher or other container that will hold your finished iced coffee, a measuring cup, and cheesecloth or some other fine mesh or synthetic strainer (I recommend these from Amazon.)

How to:

  1. Fill your large plastic container with 2 gallons (8 quarts) of water.
  2. Open the coffee can and pour it all in, mixing it around with a spatula so all of the grounds are saturated.  It’ll float on top for a while and take a couple of minutes to descend down. (You can also start out the opposite way, with the grounds in the container first, and then add the water to it.  Just make sure all of the grounds are wet.)
  3. Cover the container with a dishtowel and leave it, unattended, for 8-12 hours.
  4. Uncover the container, and bring over your pitcher or whatever you’re going to use to hold your finished iced coffee.  Affix your cheesecloth or strainer on top of the pitcher, and using a measuring cup, start pouring the coffee into the pitcher.  The grounds should stay in the cheesecloth or strainer.
  5. That’s it! Discard the grounds, or save them for your compost pile – excellent for the garden! Store your new iced coffee in the fridge, pour over ice in a glass and add whatever you like, sweetener, half-and-half, milk, or even sweetened condensed milk – and enjoy!

Until next time, be well!
Christy