Where Does the Time Go?

Today I got an email saying that Kindergarten graduation pictures were next week. This stopped me in my tracks, and I couldn’t help but tear up. My daughter has been going there since she was 2. She’s now 6. Everyone tells you when you have kids to slow down and enjoy it because it goes by fast, and it’s cliche but true.

I remember not even wanting to take Isla to JCC, because I had her at a different day care, but David insisted because he went there. I just didn’t want to change my routine, but God, am I glad I did. I found a home at JCC. The teachers and directors were so nice, and I met amazing mom friends. I even joined the PTO and ran the book fair for two years, which I both dreaded and loved. I’m also on the board.

I love that the kids are learning about Jewish traditions, holidays and culture. I love the diversity and inclusion taught by the school. I love everything about it except for the fact that it doesn’t go all the way up until college.

My kids are so blessed to be there, and I’ll still be around because Eli has two more years. But it just tugs at my heart that Isla will be graduating and leaving this place we both cherish. Isla made her first best friend there. She learned her ABCs and now she’s learning how to read, write and how to do fractions.

The JCC has always been there for our family, a home away from home. They’ve been accommodating and so caring toward Isla and Eli. I can’t say enough good things about the J. And I’m so proud that my kids have followed in their dad’s footsteps.

Next year, Isla will start a new adventure at Windsor Park, the gifted and talented school, and I know she’ll do great because everyday for the past four years JCC as prepared her.

And not just academically.

Just Say No

I don’t like saying no to my kids, big surprise, right? In the past, I haven’t wanted to hear them scream, whine or cry because I didn’t say yes. It makes me uncomfortable when they do that, and as you know, I hate being uncomfortable. So, if the kids wanted junk food, I’d say yes and if they wanted some kind of new toy, yes again.

Then it dawned on me — I got everything I ever wanted growing up (which I’m grateful for) but I never learned how to work hard for anything, and I don’t want that for my kids. I had no work ethic, and I never learned struggle or how to cope with it. Already, my kids are privileged and spoiled. They are accustomed to the finer things in life, and the last thing I want them to be are entitled assholes when they grow up. You see — I don’t need to be in the business of saying, “yes.” I NEED to say, “no,” because I want to raise them to be healthy adults. It’s not going to hurt them to hear, “no,” and it’s not going to hurt me, despite what I’m feeling at the time.

The consequences of not saying, “no,” are dire. I’ll admit that I’m not a healthy adult, but let me be clear — it’s not because of anything my parents did or didn’t do. My shortcomings are due to crappy genetics, crappy coping skills, among other things. But they’re there. I don’t want my children to suffer the way I do now. For example, I have an eating disorder — I don’t take care of myself the way I should by eating healthy; instead I binge eat when I’m stressed — alas, a crappy coping skill. I’ve also never had a job for more than three years. I’m dependent on my husband, which isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but I’d like both of my kids to be financially independent and have a good worth ethic.

I’ll confess that sometimes I feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick by having a severely depressed mother. Buying them toys, clothes and other crap is probably me trying to compensate for being ill. But logically, I know that material things don’t matter — experiences matter. Teaching them how to be healthy matters. Showing them how to overcome adversity matters, and I can do that. I’m resilient and scrappy, two traits I want them to have, too. I may not be the healthiest, but being sick all the time has made me stronger. I hope that’s what my children will see — that even though I suffer with a chronic, invisible disease, I still show up to fight….for myself and my family.

Ann Landers said, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” She’s not wrong.

And that’s what I have to remember every time I say no. I’m not depriving them of anything — I’m shaping them into good people (I hope). I also need to remember this when I don’t feel like taking care of myself, because they’re watching and learning. It’s up to me to model healthy behavior, as hard as it is.

Parenting is hard. We all mess up and think we’re not good enough, me especially. Then I remember how Isla collected more than 1,000 toothbrushes for the homeless because she was worried they didn’t have money to brush their teeth. I recall how Eli puts his hand on my face and tells me he appreciates and loves me. They’re loving, kind and a product of their environment, which I’m extremely proud of. Learning to say no will be hard but it will definitely help in shaping them into healthy adults. I truly believe that.

And while I’m at it, maybe I can be shaped into a healthy adult, too.

Gifted and Talented, Part II

I’ve been thinking so much about Isla’s gifted/talented test this Saturday. It makes me think of my own education. When I was younger, I was in the G/T program in the third grade at Carrollton Elementary, but when I switched schools to Good Elementary, I was taken out of the G/T classes. I didn’t think much of it until middle school, when the powers that be placed me in remedial English for the seventh grade. I felt insulted, and it was my first inkling that I didn’t test well.

In high school, I made As and Bs, and even some Cs. I absent-failed every year. I bombed the PSATs so badly, that I was too scared to take the real test, instead opting for the ACT, which I did OK on.

As far as Isla goes, I think she’ll probably do well tomorrow. She’ll go into the G/T program and she’ll do great, because she’s bright, caring and unique. But if she doesn’t get in, I’ll remind myself that as far as test scores go, I am neither gifted nor talented. But I am exceptional, regardless. I’d like to avoid the “…but I did OK” cliche, because that’s not what I’m trying to say. I guess I did do “OK,” but only because of a handful of teachers that made me feel gifted and encouraged me. These teachers and mentors are the real heroes in my story, along with my mother, who always encouraged me to read. One cannot write well and not read.

Mr. Dycus, Chris and me

These teachers/mentors did not have to take time to give me encouragement, but I’d like to believe that they saw something special in me, something not detectable by those stupid tests. One such teacher was Ms. Jackie Morgan, who taught ninth grade English. I remember at a parent/teacher conference, she told my mother I had a real writer’s voice, and she’d be surprised if I didn’t become one. When she said that to my mother, my ears perked up, and a light turned on inside of me. At that time, I had wanted to be a copy editor at a publishing house, never thinking I could actually write myself. Ms. Morgan planted that seed and help nurture it. Writing is what helped me get through the rest of high school.

When I started college at the University of Texas at Arlington, I was accepted as a writer for the college’s magazine, Renegade. There was a small team of writers and editors, as well as a staff member. I didn’t get a lot of guidance on the pieces I wrote there, and when I made a huge mistake (rather, mistakes) in one issue, I was degraded and humiliated by the staff advisor. I wasn’t asked to come back to write for the magazine, and I was so hurt. I thought my dream of writing was over, until I applied to be a reporter with the college newspaper. When I turned my application in, I was in fear that I would run into that staff member who had been so mean to me, but I didn’t. I was told later by the wonderful person who hired me (hi, Melissa!) that the staff member tried to dissuade her from hiring me, but she went with her gut. Thank God.

As a learned the ropes of being a journalist, it was like I had found what I was meant to do with my life — and I was good at it! But this didn’t just happen overnight. I was encouraged by the staff advisor, Chris, and another advisor, Mr. John Dycus. Both men told me that journalism is where I needed to be. They believed in me, and I will forever be grateful for their kindness and praise.

And years later, when journalism didn’t pan out, Mr. Dycus told me to keep writing. He told me to keep believing in myself. He has continued to be supportive — no matter what I’ve done — to this day. He is without a doubt one of my favorite human beings, the nicest man that ever lived, and when he gives you praise, you feel like you are the only one on Earth who can do what you do. I love him, and I’ll admit, he still edits my writing. And I’m better because of it.

But I digress. No, Heather Ann White Loeb doesn’t look great on paper. My grades and test scores were meh. My journalism career never took off. Who cares? I still do great things. Things, I’m proud of every day.

And if Isla doesn’t make it into the G/T program, I pray that she’ll find her a Ms. Morgan and Mr. Dycus — mentors who help you believe you can fly and that you look real damn good doing it.

I know my Isla will be fine. If you are so inclined, please pray for her tomorrow as she takes the test — not necessarily that she gets in, but is calm and does her best. I’ll be praying for all those sweet Kindergarteners.

Thanks for reading.

My Eye’s on Eli’s Eye

When I was little, around 3 years old, my parents noticed that one of my eyes drifted outwardly — like a “lazy eye.” I had to wear patches on my eye to try and strengthen the muscle, I think. And when that didn’t work, I had two surgeries to correct it. They’re still not straight and my scars are minor. Not a huge deal to me.

Until I noticed that Eli’s eye drifted. It’s so slight, but I’ve been noticing it more and more. My mom commented on it as well, so I know I’m not “crazy.” Well, I am but not for this.

After my mom confirmed that she had noticed it too, I started to panic. Even though it’s barely noticeable and probably could be corrected by wearing patches, I was scared. I don’t want him to go through what I went through, especially the surgery. I started to think that Eli might have inherited more than the likelihood of a lazy eye, for instance my fucked up brain.

Wearing patches is one thing, but I desperately want him to avoid the migraines, major depression, anxiety, personality disorder and more. Logically, I know that him having a slight lazy eye doesn’t mean he’ll suffer my fate. But still, I worry.

He is, without question, my mini me. If you look at my school photos from when I was kid, it looks like Eli in a dress. There’s no denying our genetic connection. And I love that, but now it terrifies me, too.

It’s every parent’s wish that no harm befall their child, and adversity is supposed to make people stronger. It certainly has made me stronger, braver too. But oh my God…I’ve been through so much. I still go through so much just to try and live a somewhat “normal” life. Taking meds, going to weekly therapy appointments, doing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments — it takes a toll. Especially the ECT, where I literally have electric currents passing to my brain to induce a seizure. I talk about this a lot, I know, but it’s unbelievable to me at times that I have to go through extreme measures like that — just to be moderately depressed, not severely depressed. Just typing all that bums me out.

But — epiphany! — I still live a good life. It’s been hard as hell, I won’t lie. I’ve been so depressed that I couldn’t take care of myself and I’ve been suicidal. I’ve contemplated ending my life so many times that the thought is not alarming as it should be. But still, I’m happy with my life, despite what my brain tells me at times. I have it so good — good friends, amazing husband, wonderful children and beautiful home. I’m proud of myself for fighting everyday, and I’m proud of the mental health advocate I’ve become.

So, here’s my point: I suppose even if Eli (or Isla) has to face some sort of adversity, he will likely emerge stronger, wiser. Like me. Just like me. Because I’ve been through hell and back, I can guide and support him.

It’s so hard to let go of the worry, but he’ll be OK. Isla will be OK — more than OK. I believe they are destined to do great things. But if they don’t I have to be OK with that, too. God it’s hard being a parent, lol.

All this rambling over a slight lazy eye, but this is where my brain goes. I just have to remember that IF there’s a chance Eli can inherit my disorders, then there’s also a chance he will inherit my resilience and grit, too.

After all, he is my mini me.

Painting Memories

We just moved into our dream house about a week and a half ago, a year after the contractor said it would be ready. We started packing more than a year ago, so honestly I had forgotten the contents of many, many boxes.

Once we started opening boxes in our new home, I found a box of ceramic figures our family painted at the mall. There was this cute store where you could pick out a figurine then paint it, and the kids loved it. We would have to go to that store every time we went to the mall, which was a lot.

I loved going myself, too. Painting the little figurines was calming and it was a great way to spend time as a family outside the house. Last year, when we started packing some non-essential items, my housekeeper started to pack those and I had forgotten just how many we had. I opened box after box after box of ceramics, colorfully and messily painted by my kids (and a few David and I had done). It made me smile, and I was quick to include them as decor in my sunroom. My husband didn’t want them in the Great Room (he’s more formal than I), so I placed a few here and there, just as a reminder of my kids’ whimsy.

I’m so glad I did, because I recently learned that the store, Paint It, had closed. Another victim of COVID-19. When I found out, I was crushed — I’d never see my kids concentrating so hard, with their tongues stuck out, painting a princess or some type of vehicle. Another place could open up, sure, but I’ve so missed seeing them channel their artistic ability and proudly give it to me, a cherished token.

So many things have changed because of the virus, and I’m so mad that it has affected my kids’ childhood so much. I know I shouldn’t worry — kids are far more resilient than adults — but I do worry and fret over the changes and obstacles we’ve faced this year. The closing of that beloved store is just a reminder that we’re still in the thick of it, and there will be long term affects of this pandemic. We’ve lost so many people and so much time with family and friends — when does it end?

It may sound silly to be waxing poetic about some ceramic figures, but they were a part of my children’s childhood. We weren’t just painting figurines, we were painting memories, and I will forever have a place for them in my home.

Back to School, back to school….

I know I’m not the only writing about this but I need to get it all out — I’m worried about my kids starting school tomorrow (Aug. 12).

They go to a private preschool and are starting earlier than the public schools, which are doing virtual learning until September. My daughter will be in Kindergarten and my son will be in the Pre K-3 class.

The school has a list of safety protocols that they started for summer camp from June to July. They’ll continue these, plus they are asking kids in the 3s, 4s and Kinder classes to wear face shields.

I trust the school to do every thing they can to protect the kids, but I’m still scared to send them back. Corpus Christi is being hit very hard right now with hundreds of new Covid cases and a handful of deaths every day. This past Sunday, we had more than 1,000 cases.

Having the kids at home has been nice in some ways but it’s taken a toll on my mental health. That and not having a routine or access to my usual self-care practices has stressed me out, increased my anxiety levels and forced me to turn to unhealthy coping skills at times.

I need a break from the kids, even if it’s just a few hours while they’re at school. I need to recharge, go to therapy and have some “me time.” I would be lying if I said all that didn’t go into the decision to send my kids to school. While I feel guilty about that, I know I’m not alone in feeling what I’m feeling. Every parent is battling this.

But the kids are suffering, too. Isla and Eli miss their friends. I’m sure they miss socializing at school and having contact with someone besides each other and their parents. I’ve also noticed that Eli has regressed a little with writing his name and other words. At the beginning of the quarantine, I had elaborate lesson plans for the kids but that has deteriorated into more screen time and outdoor play.

Eli’s only 4 so I’m not worried so much about him but I’m a bit concerned with Isla. We work on her reading daily but I want her to improve and be in an environment that cultivates academic growth. And I’m also worried about her testing into the gifted and talented school. She’ll take the test in January and I want her to be prepared. It’s something that David really wants (because he attended the same school), so I support that — as long as she’s good with it, too. 

This all might sound selfish and maybe it is. Of course I do not want my kids or the rest of the family to get sick. It’s a hard decision to make and I pray every night that it’s the right one. I just want what’s best for my family; I know we all do.

I support every parents’ decision, whether it’s keeping kids at home, virtual learning or in-person learning. I pray for us all during this uncertain and scary time. 

I know we’ll get through this somehow, I’m just hoping it’ll be with as little damage as possible. No doubt this pandemic will leave scares on us all, especially children.

I’m also praying for teachers, administrators, parents and students. We are all in this together, no matter what decision we make.

Hindsight: 20/20

7th grade photo

I remember it like it was yesterday, which is a feat because I don’t remember anything from all my ECT treatments. I was in the nurse’s office having left my 7th grade computer class. The nurse, who had seen me several times that month, called my mom from her office. I couldn’t hear everything but I did catch this, “Your daughter is in the nurse’s office again. I believe she has school phobia.” Little did I know that was the first “diagnosis” I would receive in the years to come. And there have been many.

The 7th grade was a difficult one for me and looking back I can see the first signs of an anxiety disorder and depression – extreme sadness, intrusive thoughts, and of course, anxiety. I thought it was normal to feel that way so I never thought to tell anyone about these symptoms. I can remember being scared, and it is scary to experience those thoughts and emotions, especially at the age of 12 or 13. My anxiety included being worried about dying, scared my family would die and I got nervous and agitated about school, fretting about projects due, homework and tests. Some of that is normal but what I remember is the sense of dread that went along with it. Every Sunday night (read my Sunday Night blues blog here) I would get anxious and my stomach would hurt. On top of that, I developed a phobia of thunderstorms. I began obsessively watching The Weather Channel, checking the radar and barometric pressure for signs of storms even when it was nothing but blue skies outside. When the weather did get bad I would experience more stomachaches and stress.

I also remember intrusive thoughts interrupting my daily life. I constantly prayed to God that my family or I would not die because my brain was telling me it was going to happen. There were milder thoughts like, “You’re a loser. Nobody likes you.” Thoughts that still plague me, even at 36 years old.

A lot still plagues me, including intrusive thoughts, anxiety and depression (I was diagnosed as having Major Depressive Disorder in my 30s). Even though it’s been more than 20 years, I still battle all of this every day. I might not be depressed every minute of every day, but it is a fight. Sometimes, a very hard fight. I still feel like that little girl, worried and anxious, trying to quell her thoughts. Only now I’ve traded little girl worries for big girl worries but at least I have support and a treatment plan.

It saddens me when I think of the kids struggling now – the ones who can’t verbalize their pain. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 3.2 million 12- to 17-year-olds have had at least one major depressive episode (A depressive episode is characterized by low mood and other symptoms of depression that lasts for two weeks or more. Some episodes can last weeks to months). NIMH also says that depression in teens is on the rise.

If I could go back and tell myself it would be ok, that it would get better, I would in a heartbeat. More importantly, I would tell myself to come clean to my parents about the anxiety and dark emotions I was feeling so I could receive the help I needed.

It is my hope by blogging about my experience others will realize this can happen to anyone, at any time. I had a wonderful childhood and amazing, supportive parents. I always felt I had everything that I needed. Still, depression struck. It doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t care who you are and apparently, it doesn’t care how old you are either. Such a cruel disease.

That’s why support from family and friends is so important, especially for kids and young adults. If one of your loved ones is struggling, please reach out. Do research about depression and anxiety and educate others who might still buy into the stigma surrounding depression.

Here are some things to look for when it comes to adolescent depression:

  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Abnormal sleeping habits
  • Isolation, especially from adults and family members
  • Low energy

Something to note about depression in teens is that symptoms vary by age but also by gender. According to a study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, girls report feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, punishment, tiredness, low energy, where as boys report irritability, depression and suicidal thoughts.

According to the CDC, only 20% of youth suffering from a mental health disorder receive treatment. That means 80% or 12 million youth are undertreated or not treated at all.

There are more alarming stats but I’m going to stop here for now. I know all the aforementioned symptoms may sound like “normal” teenage behavior but hopefully this blog and the studies I mentioned earlier will give you insight into teen depression and encourage you to support a loved one if you see them flailing.

Depression is difficult and ravaging for adults, let alone kids and teenagers. Let’s focus on supporting and taking care of each other. Thanks for reading.

Stay in the light.

Fragile Psyche

Edit: This post was originally slated to run Sunday, April 19.

I am desperately missing my life of mediocrity. I realize that everybody’s lives have been turned upside down but I’m wading through some uncomfortable feelings that are starting to challenge my mental wellness.

I want to preface this post by saying it’s Sunday, and I always get the “Sunday Night Blues,” but it’s even worse knowing my kids will be spending all their waking hours with me and I’ll have little to no break.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or whiny; I know there are lots of families who can’t stay safely at home, away from the virus, but it’s just so trying right now. I needed a lot of mental breaks before all this chaos and that was with the kids being at school from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. I was able to cope (for the most part) because I had time to decompress. But now looking at the week ahead the every day mundane tasks I have to complete in order for all of us to function seems insurmountable.

These uncomfortable emotions also are challenging my treatment plan — the plan I have outlined that helps me stay on track mentally. Instead of using my healthy coping skills, I want to turn to my bad habits, which caused my breakdown (last summer) in the first place. This includes: overeating, over spending, not sticking to a sleep schedule and wanting to abuse my meds (which is hard because I don’t have anything to abuse anymore).

I don’t know why I would want to fall back on these negative behaviors, especially when I’ve worked so hard to get where I am. I guess sometimes it feels good to be “bad” but the thing is, I’ve seen the endgame to that. I know where it leads you.

I know it’s ok not to feel ok right now, so that’s what I’m repeating to myself. Tomorrow’s a new day and I plan on reviewing my Self Care 101 list, which is abbreviated here:

  • Get good sleep
  • Know and accept limits
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Decompress throughout the day
  • Feed spiritual sel
  • Remember to love myself

If I just go back to the basics I know my fragile psyche will recover. And getting all this out has actually helped, too.

Ultimately, I need to make good decisions and take each day hour by hour. That’s what I need to do to survive right now.

If you have some self-care tips you’d like to share, drop them in the comments. Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

My Father

The other day I blogged about my mom – how she was cut from a different cloth and how she was an extraordinary woman. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my dad, as well. He too is cut from that same cloth – he works hard and has created two businesses, both successful. He is smart, though he is a quiet man until he gets around his family, then he’s silly and goofy.

One of my favorite memories is him telling me (fictional) stories about him and his brother going to Africa on safari. I also enjoyed him telling me stories about his pet monkey, Peanuts – which turned out to be true. Now my kids love to hear about Peanuts on the roof running from my dad.

As you may know, I’m an overly emotional person and because my father is not we would bump heads during my adolescence. But no matter what, he took care of me in so many ways. He (and my mom) paid for my college, enabling me to become a first-generation college graduate. He helped me pay for apartments after college because of course I didn’t pick a major that was accompanied by a big pay day.

He’s really done too much for me to innumerate. And I’ll always be grateful. I’m also grateful for how he’s shown me to be a good person. If there’s one thing he knows how to do, it’s take care of his family. I’ll never forget how he took care of my mom’s mom – giving her grocery money, helping her pay bills among other things. The goodheartedness of my dad for taking such good care of his mother-in-law, my beloved Mema, overwhelms me and makes me respect him even more.

He may joke and give me a hard time sometimes, but there is no doubt in my mind that man loves me, and now loves the family I’ve made.

I hope he’s proud of me, like I am of him, and knows how much I love him because it’s a lot.

But my favorite thing about my dad? He calls me every night at 9 p.m., which some people have told me was weird, but I love it. Even if we only speak for a few minutes, there’s actually more being said.

Loose Tooth, Loose Marbles

My daughter announced (rather dramatically) today that she had a loose tooth. At first, I was in shock. How could my baby be old enough for that? I didn’t have time to ponder the question because she suddenly started losing her ever loving mind. She was sobbing hysterically, she was scared and she wanted her daddy ASAP. After FaceTiming with him, he decided to come home briefly.

It was then I started to flash back to my first loose tooth. I was at my Mema’s house snacking and I felt something hard and I think I swallowed it. I don’t remember what exactly happened next but I do remember I stopped talking. I wouldn’t even swallow, I’d just spit out my saliva. I was so traumatized that I wouldn’t even go to my Kindergarten class, not even as my mom drove me up there to talk to my teacher. I refused to talk and later spit more saliva out. This went on for two days and later when I would lose more teeth, it wasn’t as dramatic. But I still hated my dad pulling them, and thinking about pulling my kids’ teeth makes me want to hurl.

When Isla’s dad left to go back to work, I suggested that she wiggle her tooth. That obviously was a bad idea, given the terrible looks she gave me. She started crying again, saying it hurt so I told her I could try and pull a bit to see if it were ready. More crying. Then she asked to call her best friend. Her tears disappeared and she excitedly told her friend she had a lose tooth. She chattered on and on and when she got off the phone, I was met with more daggers in her eyes even when I told her the Tooth Fairy’s going rate these days was $5 – don’t get me started it was David’s idea.

At this point I wouldn’t mind if she didn’t talk for two days, lol.

As much as I hate the thought of pulling teeth, I think I’d rather do that than endure her teenage years when her hormones really get going. I’m scared, lol.

Pray for me, y’all.