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Parenting from the pages of “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook”

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Tuesday, 1:23pm.

I’m hiding in the living room watching soccer on my iPad when Harry walks in dressed in a black ninja costume, plastic sword in hand. He looks for me underneath the end tables, inside the fireplace, and beside the couch.


“Daddy, where are you?”

Crouching behind a faux leather recliner no one in my family sits in, I breathe as quietly as possible. I clench every muscle.

Harry yells out my name, elongating both the first and second syllables. “Daaaaa-dddddy!”

My heart thumps. When I was a kid and anxiety threatened to overwhelm me, I would recite state capitals in alphabetical order: Montgomery, Alabama; Juneau, Alaska; Phoenix, Arizona. When that trick no longer did the trick, I switched to washing my hands 96 times a day. Then I switched to trimming the carpet in our living room with a pair scissors, taking great care with each individual carpet fiber.

Much later, I discovered alcohol and then marijuana, a drug that, for a time, I thought of as an old friend, one who could quiet my mind long enough for me to stop driving over the same stretch of highway 13 times in a row or rearranging my wallet, my keys, and my inhaler on the nightstand until I burst into tears because the items were never perfectly aligned.

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Now, after I very nearly ruined my marriage, I take special medication and read everything I can get my hands on concerning how to cope with obsessive compulsive disorder. For example, Edmund J. Bourne, the author of “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, Fifth Edition,” suggests you “find an alternative, positive obsession.” So, at 38, I obsess about soccer in lieu of my son, a precocious four-year old who is used to me playing with him almost every hour of the day.

“Daaaaa-ddddddy!”

I hold my breath.

Harry screams like a banshee and then stomps into the dining room.

Alone again, I glance down at my iPad and refocus my attention on the soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, two top clubs in the prestigious English Premier League. I’ve already watched this game from beginning to end twice, so I know that Tottenham, the team that I arbitrarily decided to obsess over, loses 2-0 even though they retained possession of the ball 58 precent of the game and took 14 shots on goal, four of them on target. 

During my first viewing of the match, I took extensive notes. Total number of fouls committed: 27.  Corner kicks taken: 11. Yellow cards given: 5. I didn’t just jot down important statistics, I also wrote down detailed observations concerning Tottenham’s offensive and defensive strategies as well as how both could be improved. I wrote down rambling musings on the different coaching strategies employed; on the effects, both negative and positive, of the dreary weather in London on game day; of the betting odds. I did all of that, and yet, several days later and with my son desperate for my attention, I still feel compelled to watch every single play.

Harry yells my name once, twice, three times. I hear him kick something in the dining room, and then say, “I’m a dumb kid!”

Removing my earbuds, I peer around the corner of my hiding spot. My son is sitting Indian-style underneath the dining room table, repeating “I’m a dumb kid” over and over and over again. Lately, he’s been saying “I’m a dumb kid” a lot, and I feel directly responsible.

Since I was a child, there’s been a voice inside my head that says things like: I’m neurotic, I’m no good, something is really wrong with me. Bourne calls this “anxious self-talk,” which is “typically irrational but almost always sounds like the truth.”

My son is far from dumb. He can write most of his letters. He puts together Lego sets with minimal assistance. He can tell you what fossil fuels are (“dead dinosaurs that you put in your car”), and how all the dinosaurs became extinct (“a huge asteroid hit the Earth and killed them”).

In a study published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, researchers discovered that the higher the level of worry in patients with generalized anxiety disorder, the higher the intelligence. I think about this as my son continues to berate himself.

“Harry, don’t say that, please. You’re not dumb,” I tell him from behind the recliner.

“Where are you, Daddy? I can’t see you.”

I watch my child, who begins telling his sword a complicated story involving a green ninja named Eric (the boy’s favorite uncle is named Eric), a one-eyed monster, and a pit of lava.

“I’m Ninja Eric and I’ll hit the monster and throw him in the lava and he’ll die because good guys kill the bad guys and the good guys win and I’m a good guy.” He makes an explosion sound with his mouth, sending spittle flying onto the floor. “You’re in the lava now, monster! It’s so hot! You’re gonna die!”

Just like that, I forget about soccer, my so-called positive obsession. My brain shifts from the pulled hamstring of Harry Kane, Tottenham’s leading goal scorer, to Harry Huckleberry Everhart, my only son.

In “The Anxiety Book,” Jonathan Davidson, M.D., writes, “When you suffer from chronic anxiety, your internal police department, both biological and psychological, responds to false alarms every day, sometimes on an hourly basis.” Hiding behind the recliner, I can almost hear sirens over the sound of my son telling his macabre story. 

I engage in a lighting round of What If?, a game my central nervous system plays from time to time with or without my consent. What if Harry, like his father, becomes obsessed with death to the point where he finds it difficult to breathe and nearly impossible to do normal things such as go to school, make friends, or hold down a job?

What if Harry is never able to go back to school because instead of peacefully resolving conflicts with his peers he continues to yell, kick, hit, and throw things?

What if Harry ends up paralyzed by anxiety and turns to drugs and alcohol like his father once did?

What if Harry ends up drinking and smoking and snorting not because his peers are doing it, or because he’s craving a buzz or thinks it’s cool, but because he just wants – no, needs – to feel normal, to stop feeling jealous of every single other human being on this planet, all of whom seem to pass Algebra and visit the zoo and go out on dates without hyperventilating or sweating uncontrollably?    

I open my mouth to say something. Nothing comes out. I try to move but can’t. My eyes water, and, stupidly, I look down at my iPad. The game is approaching the 36th minute, which is when Shkodran Mustafi, one of Arsenal’s defensive players, scores a goal with his head. Having seen the replay nine times, I know that Mustafi is off-sides whenever he scores the goal, but the sideline referee doesn’t call it.

Five minutes ago, I would’ve cursed at the screen, fantasized about doing something wildly inappropriate to the referee’s house. But now, as I watch my son strike one of the chairs with his sword and call out, “Die,” I don’t give a damn about soccer. I give a damn about my son. I put my head in my hands and try to take some deep breaths.

“I found you!”

I open my eyes, and Harry slices the air with his plastic sword, the harmless blade missing my head by mere inches. “Daddy, why are you crying? Is it because your soccer team lost? Is that why you’re crying?”

I touch my son’s cheek. With his floppy brown hair, Bambi eyes, and smooth, olive complexion, he is an extremely attractive child. “Looks like his mother,” I often tell strangers who comment on his adorableness while we’re in the grocery store, “and thank God!”

“No,” I say, “it’s not that my soccer team lost.”

He frowns, pushes my hand away from his face. “Are you sad that you had to quit your job and take care of me? Because I was a dumb kid at 4K and kept being bad?”

My heart rate increases. I also suffer from atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart beat that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, affects approximately two percent of people under the age of 65. 

I don’t know what to do or what to say. Should I show him the 277 letters I’ve written to him, each one numbered, dated, and addressed to Harry Huckleberry, each one containing purple expressions of fatherly love alongside detailed descriptions of him and all the cute things he’s done? Or should I show him the list of positive self-talk statements I wrote down and keep in my wallet? Maybe I should read some of them aloud, so he would know that I am not a perfect father, but I love my son more than anything else and I strive to raise him the best way I know how. As he looks at me, I have no idea what to do.

Then I recall something from page 426 of “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook.”

“Patience,” Bourne writes, “means allowing things to unfold in their own natural time.” As I look into my son’s beautiful brown eyes, that’s what I decide to do: be patient.

“Harry,” I say, “from now on, whenever you say, ‘I’m a dumb kid,’ I’m going to give you an example of something cool I’ve seen you do. Got it?”

A mischievous grin appears on his face. “I’m a dumb kid,” he says, barely containing a laugh.

I walk into his bedroom and come back with an intricate airplane made of Lego pieces.

“You made this fighter jet for your ninjas last week,” I say. “You got a little frustrated putting the pieces in place, but you stuck with it and I’m proud of you for that. You’re a smart kid.”

His cheeks redden a bit, and then he swipes his sword at my hand, knocking the ninja airplane to the ground.

“Let’s play ninjas, Daddy!”

“I’m ready,” I say and stand up.

***

There was a time when I was ashamed of my chronic anxiety, even though 18 percent of the adult population suffers from it, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

There was a time when I would never have revealed to anyone how many therapists I’ve tried (five), or how many times I’ve worked through the exercises in “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook” (seven), or how many times I’ve read and taken notes on “The Anxiety Book” (nine).

There was a time when I would’ve been extremely reluctant to reveal that I used to have daily panic attacks, and that every night I’d ask God to please not let me wake up in the morning, please just let me die.

There was a time when I would’ve been ashamed to confess that I take 10 mg of Buspar twice a day.

Fortunately, that time has past. Now that I’m a father, I no longer feel ashamed of my anxiety. I feel responsible. Perhaps it’s time I replaced soccer with a new positive obsession: sharing my story with others.

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

Pregnancy has taught me so much—about myself, my body and my marriage.

It has proven that I can handle much more than I've ever given myself credit for—mentally, physically and emotionally.

It has shown me that I am brave. The thought of getting a human out of your body in any way, shape or form can be...well, terrifying. But it must be done. And I did it. Twice.

It helped me discover how strong and capable my body is. What our bodies do to accommodate these little humans growing inside of us is totally wild and impressive—to say the least.

It deepened my love for my husband, the father of my children, in unimaginable ways. (I guess creating a baby together can do that to you.)

Pregnancy has given me two of the most precious gifts of my life.

And I'll deliver one more this fall.

My daughters are my heart and my world. They are these wonderful, awe-inspiring, creative, strong, intelligent humans. I don't know how we did it, my husband and I, but we made some good ones. And I thank my lucky stars every single day for these children.

Pregnancy and I have had our ups and downs, but (luckily) mostly ups.

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I've experienced pregnancy by surprise (twice!) and I've experienced it in a planned, scheduled manner (once!). Both are exciting and nerve-wracking. Seeing those two little pink lines or the word 'pregnant' appear (because, let's be honest, I've taken about 5,729 different types of pregnancy tests at this point) is a mind-blowing experience.

Pregnancy has given me migraines, exhaustion, nausea, gestational diabetes and backaches. It's shown me that I can survive without spicy crunchy tuna rolls and red wine for 40 weeks. And that I can still sleep (...kinda) without my favorite stomach-sleeping-position.

But oh! What wonderful, miraculous experiences pregnancy has also given me.

Sure—there are challenges with pregnancy. 100%. Some women experience extreme nausea throughout their entire pregnancy, some women have to go on bed rest, some women have preeclampsia, some women have bleeding scares, all pregnant women watch their bodies grow and change, and handle it in different ways—there are lots of ups and downs.

Pregnancy isn't for the weak.

But even with the challenges and the 'rules'—there has been nothing like experiencing the miracle of creating and growing another human inside my body.

It will never, ever cease to amaze me.

Feeling those first kicks is absolute magic. ✨

Celebrating the first sign of your baby bump is so, so exciting.

Wearing those first few maternity outfits is...interesting.

Talking about potential names is wild and let's be honest—also challenging. I mean...agreeing on a name is really hard!

Hearing your baby's heartbeat for the first time just about makes yours explode.

Seeing your future son or daughter at each sonogram is truly humbling.

Prepping the nursery and nesting is satisfying. ✔️

Letting go of fears and getting ready to welcome your baby into the world is e v e r y t h i n g.

And knowing when your family is complete is...a bit...confusing.

My husband and I have talked about this baby being our last. That once she is here, our family will be complete. It feels right to us. But it also feels final. It feels like I am 100% ready for this to be my last pregnancy. But it also feels crazy thinking about never being pregnant again.

I've been feeling so many big emotions accepting that this really could be it for me. It's strange, but I have this unexplainable feeling in my heart that three is the right amount of children for our family.

I am sad and happy and relieved and confused and excited and scared—all in one jumbled mix of emotions. (WARNING: Motherhood involves ALL the feels.)

I'm trying to appreciate every moment of this pregnancy all while mourning the inevitable closing of this chapter in my life.

These feelings are hard to process, but I know I will be at peace with it soon. I'm looking toward my future with my heart wide open, ready to welcome our third baby into our family and focus on what I do have, not what I may never have again.

One year ago, a video brought parents around the world to tears on World Down Syndrome Day. It's been viewed almost 5.5 million times since then, and the message behind it is still gaining momentum today. The Carpool Karaoke style video was produced by a parent-led Down Syndrome awareness organization called Wouldn't Change a Thing as a way to show people that families dealing with Down syndrome are just families like any family raising children.

In the video 50 moms from the UK and their 4-year-old kids sing along to 'A Thousand Years' by Christina Perri (aka the Twilight theme). It's a song about love, and it couldn't be a more perfect soundtrack for this group of mamas, who use a simplified form of sign language, Makaton, to amplify their message in the video.

Regardless, the 50 moms were a little shocked (but happy) to see their video go as viral as it did. "We definitely wanted everyone to see it," one of the mothers, Rebecca Carless told the BBC. "The idea is, we are just normal mums, we love our kids, they love us, and they are just like other 4-year-olds, we wouldn't change them."


This year, Wouldn't Change a Thing created another musical number to raise awareness about the lives of kids with Down syndrome.

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This one is set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" and shows the kids just being kids and having fun. It has already racked up nearly 40,000 views as of this writing.

These kids are clearly so very loved, and the parents behind these videos want the world to know it every day, but especially on World Down Syndrome Day.

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Many families travel for vacations and family events, especially in the summer months. Taking trips with children has many variables to consider, but one that many parents worry about is their little one's nap schedule while on vacation.

You certainly don't want to resort to staying home and give up all of those potential memories to be made. Instead, devise a plan ahead of time and then be open to going with the flow once you arrive at your destination. You can always get back on track when you get home.

Here are a few questions to consider before leaving for vacation:

Does your child sleep well in the car?

If they do, then you should plan your travel time so they can nap for part of the car, train or plane ride. Or, some families decide to travel late at night so their child sleeps for the majority of the trip. However, if your child does not usually sleep well in the car then don't fool yourself into thinking this trip will be different. In that case, travel right after they wake up, dress them comfortably, and plan to keep them entertained if they won't sleep.

Can you break your journey into segments with stops along the way?

The longer your child is in that car seat, the more likely they are to become upset and struggle to fall asleep when you need them to. Planning a few breaks can give them the exercise and exploring they need to be able to nap later. If you are traveling on an airplane or a train, you can plan to use the aisles for walks occasionally.

When they have trouble sleeping in an unfamiliar place

Once again, preparation is so important when it comes to getting your child to nap in an unfamiliar place. You will not be able to use the exact routines that work for you at home, but try to follow much of your usual routine to create a similar sleep environment for your child.

If your little one sleeps in a crib at home, bring along a portable folding crib.

You can even let your child sleep in that portable crib at home ahead of time so that it becomes familiar. Pack your child's usual blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, white noise, lullaby music, and night lights.

If your little one sleeps with you, create a safe sleeping place for your child in the new location.

Check out the room where you will be sleeping and rearrange as needed. Check to see if you can push the bed against the wall or replace heavy bedding to make things safer. (Always move things back the way that they were before you leave.) If you are staying at a hotel, many are understanding and accommodating. And they may even help with these type of arrangements.

Daily cues are another important factor when it comes to daily naps, and these are the things that often change while on vacation.

Try to serve meals of familiar foods at regular times, expose your child to normal daylight in the morning and dimly lit activities at night, avoid the pre-bed wrestling matches or ice cream treats. All of these small things can help keep nap-time and bedtime more regular and restful.

If you are traveling out of your time zone, you will need to be patient and aware of this transition.

It is a good idea to switch to the new time zone once you arrive at your destination because powerful biological cues also shift, such as the timing of meals & naps. Make sure that your child stays well-fed and well-hydrated and avoid letting them nap longer than they typically do. Don't over-schedule your first few days if at all possible.

It's important to be flexible! If your child naps well in a stroller or on a beach blanket, then let that happen. When away from home, always do what works best for everyone.

No matter what you do, it will take a few days to adjust to a new rhythm so it is important to be sensitive and flexible with these changes.

Originally posted on Elizabeth Pantley.

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My sweet child,

You wake up every morning with the same struggles as us all. Sometimes you're grumpy, sometimes you're just too tired to be happy, but you're always kind. That's just how you are. Even when you're sick, you're more worried about how others are feeling than yourself.

You see, you're tired in the morning because even though you were exhausted the night before, you stayed up talking to yourself about things and going over conversations in your head for the next day at school. I know because I hear you.

You told me you think about a lot of stuff before you fall asleep. You worry about others constantly, including what impression you'll make on others. You want to make sure that you'll say and do the right things, so no one gets upset with you. Because when someone is upset—especially with you—it hurts you deeply.

It stinks, baby, I know it stinks. It is so tiring to be so concerned with others and their feelings that you forget your own.

You're an old soul. You're caring and nurturing. You once gave weeds you had picked to a stranger outside of Walmart because "they looked sad," even though two minutes earlier you were having a meltdown. You quickly forgot that you were also upset because that man's sad face hurt you worse than melting down over a toy.

You let your cousins get the first pick of the prizes at Grandma's. You'd rather be last and get something you didn't want than to hurt someone's feelings. Because if they were sad, that would make you sadder.

I see you, sweet child.

In the front yard picking up shiny rocks from the driveway. They're for me, because you can tell I had a rough day. Your TV show can wait right now, you just want to make me feel better.

I feel you, sweet child.

When you see me laying on the couch and you cover me up and kiss my forehead. I'm not really asleep, you know—I'm watching you, studying you, listening to you—because it's the most beautiful thing I've ever encountered. Beautiful, yet dangerous in a way.

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Dangerous because I know what happens when a heart is too pure. When you care about the feelings of others more than your own. When you can read the emotions of others and feel them too. And I want you to know—although you should be loved and cared for because of your heart, not everyone has the same heart as you.

Not everyone is as loving and kind as you. Not everyone will give you the same love that you give them. Not everyone will appreciate you, and I never want you to be taken advantage of.

I wish I could protect you from anything bad, ever in the world—but the truth is, I can't. All I can do is show you that your deep empathy is a gift that can change the world. And you shouldn't be ashamed of it.

Recently, when I picked you up from school you told me a girl was saying ugly things to you, you said you just ignored her and you were okay, but I could tell you were sad about it. And that's okay.

I explained to you that everything and everyone doesn't deserve your energy (something that you taught me unknowingly), and if she is being unkind then it's because she doesn't feel very good about herself. You understood. You said maybe you can do something to make her feel better.

And that kills me.

It kills me because I'm helpless. I can't go everywhere with you and make sure no one is mean to you. I can't promise that you'll never be hurt or heartbroken. I can't save you from the world's coldness. But that kills me even more because you save me. Every day.

And I want to thank you for that. Thank you for saving me from… well, everything.

From depression. From anxiety. From my own mind attacking me. I get overwhelmed and you can tell. You know when I'm having an episode and I need a long tight hug. You can sense when something happened at work, so you make sure to tell me I'm "the best mom a girl could ever have." I want you to know that you're the reason I am here. You're the reason I keep pushing.

Your nurturing gives me what I need to cope and heal and move forward in life.

So… thank you, sweet girl.

For having a heart as pure as gold. For loving others and showing your empathy and kindness no matter what. For reading emotions and body language like a book. For always being there for me and others. For teaching me to be kind and see the beauty in all things. For showing me that I can get through this wild thing called life, as long as I have you.

I love you always,

Mom

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