Routines, amended

Last week our family got a new puppy. We had talked about this for a very long time- years in fact. One of my major reasons for holding out so long was that I knew it would be a lot of work. A big change. But, we finally felt we were ready.

You know how people tell you that having a baby will completely change your life and rock your world, and you nod and say that you know and that you’re ready, but that you can’t really know and then it happens and you’re suddenly thinking “oh, that’s what they meant”? Well, it turns out getting a puppy is sort of a milder version of that. You can prepare, and buy supplies, and read about house training, but until you’re actually in it, you can’t know.

Well, now we know. Adding a puppy to our lives is an amazing mix of love and fun (seeing her with my son completely melts my heart) and a serious dose of chaos. She’s a fluffy tornado of affection and activity who requires constant supervision until she suddenly collapses asleep on the floor and we all take a breath until the next round. Hmm, this does sound a lot like having a baby.

Any change, even a joyful one, can present challenges. I, for one, am a creature of habit. I love my routines. My early morning workout session before the rest of the house is awake. My coffee and audio book on the morning commute. Reading to my son at bedtime. These routines approach the sacred for me. And there is decent evidence that sticking to certain routines can be very healthy and productive. Yet, there are times we must be flexible. This is one of those chapters.

So, I’m trying to open my mind to the possibility of amended routines. I’m thinking about how these new routines might even be better than the ones I had before. Initially I was sort of resenting the amount of time I was standing around outside waiting for the puppy to do her business, until I realized that I was standing around outside. I’ve seen a few beautiful sunrises that I would otherwise have missed. I’ve heard the morning birds. I’ve noticed things in our yard that I have never seen before. I’ve started taking a book outside with me and appreciating the extra reading time. I may not reach this level of acceptance at midnight, but it is working well the rest of the time.

So, maybe I’ll have a morning workout buddy who sometimes wants to join in on the yoga mat or chew on the weights (not happening, ma’am), but I’m still out there doing it. I may never sincerely enjoy house training, but I’ll take the trade-off of unconditional love that our little puppy is already sharing over my strict routines any day of the week. Just remind me of that around midnight. I’ll be standing around outside.

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The calm between the storms. 🙂

Excuses

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Until very recently I was among the nearly three-quarters of American smartphone owners who sleep with their phone next to their bed. I routinely spent a fair amount of time scrolling just prior to sleep. This, despite recommending to parents at least weekly in clinic that they get their child’s gadgets out of their bedroom if they wanted to increase sleep quality and quantity.

For about a year now (okay, let’s be honest, at least two) I’ve been telling myself I needed to make a change. I wanted more peaceful thoughts running through my head when I closed my eyes each night; instead of the myriad news stories that Facebook put in front of me, or the work email that I just couldn’t shake. I wanted to control my phone instead of it controlling me. I had done pretty well with this in other ways- taking periodic digital sabbaths and gradually decreasing my overall screen time by tracking it.

But taking this final step was elusive. I had an excuse. A rationalization. A road block. The thought that runs through your head when you know you need to make a change, but cannot do it, and so convince yourself that it makes sense to maintain the status quo. In this case? I didn’t have an alarm clock. I really needed my phone to be my alarm clock.

Then my son got a tablet for Christmas. I had pretty mixed feelings about this but it is a fairly simple model that he uses for homework (and of course his “videos”). We set up some screen time rules around its use and one of those rules is that the tablet has a bedtime. It charges in a docking station in the family room. Here I was, telling my son that his tablet had a bedtime but I couldn’t give my phone the same.

So I bought an alarm clock. Ten dollars later and I am free. It’s been almost two months since my phone joined the tablet at its docking station each evening and, wow, I’m never going back. Better sleep. Peace of mind. More reading. Less parental guilt. And no more excuses.

A Letter to my Younger Self, on the Eve of my 40th Birthday

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Dear Heidi,

First off, let’s get one thing straight. Forty years old is very, very young. Really, it is. You won’t believe how young 40 is.

Now that we have that basic truth out of the way, let me tell you some things I wish you had known a little earlier in life.

Pinot noir and gouda are both excellent.

Laugh more. Don’t take everything so seriously.

Getting pregnant and having a baby is a miracle. Never take it for granted.

Eat a little dark chocolate most days. It is delicious and is also apparently good for you. Win, win. Don’t eat very many other sweets. You don’t like them much anyway.

Trust your gut.

Being a mom is the most amazing thing you’ll ever do. Hands down. Cliche, but true. And the kid– wow. Just wait til you meet him.

There will be a day when you think coffee tastes better without cream and sugar. Crazy, I know.

You can’t go home again. Or, maybe you can, but it is a very long and winding road.

You’re wearing the wrong bra size (along with the majority of women). Go get fitted and spend some money on high-quality bras. Totally worth it.

Most people are so busy worrying about their own lives that they are not paying much attention to you. Don’t worry so much about what people think.

Wear sunscreen and sunglasses.

Primary care for vulnerable kids is not the most glamorous part of medicine. No matter. Do not doubt your decision. This is your calling.

Lift some weights. You’ll love it. I’m not kidding.

You’ll make mistakes- in medicine and in life. Try your best to learn from them and move on. Don’t beat yourself up. You are still not very good at this.

Be kind. Be yourself. Love deeply. Let the rest fall away.

The Upstander: How They Stand Up to Bullying

The following post was written by guest author, Dr. Shelagh Dunn.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’m pretty sure I chose the research topic of my doctoral dissertation for personal reasons. I studied upstanders to bullying by interviewing middle school students who stood up to bullying in their schools. I thought I might someday be helping teachers and schools to lessen bullying. But it turns out that the students I was studying were my teachers. I learned so much about how to be an effective citizen and a decent human being from these student upstanders. You see, I used to see violence in the news and feel horror and pain but not know what to do about it. These students knew these feelings too but they also possessed a wisdom and resolve that I’m still only learning about. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you. We need their knowledge now more than ever.

Why am I talking about bullying right now? Well, it’s common to think of bullying in schools as “kids being kids” or to say “kids can be so cruel” and dismiss the cruelty of bullying as something that children grow out of. I don’t see it this way at all. What I’ve come to learn is that bullying is a microcosm of our society. Children are using their eyes and ears to absorb the world around them and they act it out with one another at school. It is not surprising to hear that right now there are increasing reports of bullying in schools targeting race, faith, and gender, when these very things are being targeted by politicians in the media.

But here’s the thing, stopping bullying is hard, in part because being an upstander is hard. As adults, we do not have this figured out. Most of us don’t know what to do when we witness violence, discrimination or hate, and even if we know what to do, we sometimes don’t do it. In the 1950’s a psychologist named Asch found that when a person is shown lines of obviously different lengths and asked to tell which line is the shortest, they can easily do so… unless they are in a room of people purposefully giving the wrong answer. In these cases, most people will give in and give the same answer as the group even when they know it is wrong. It’s just too hard to be the only one in a group saying something different. There is also another phenomenon acting against us called the “bystander effect” which shows that people will not come to the aid of someone in need as often if there are others around, because we believe that someone else will help. All of this means that there are incredible social forces acting on us to prevent us from intervening when we witness something like bullying, discrimination, or hate-fuelled behavior. We don’t want to be different, we think someone else will do it. Add in the threat of social and physical harm that can come with taking this stuff on and it becomes a very special and unique quality to be an upstander.

So how are some people able to be upstanders? Here’s what the students I interviewed had to say. They all told me that they had been bullied themselves at least once before and had a strong sense of empathy for others being bullied. They all told me that they knew bullying was wrong and they had to do something about it. They all told me that they didn’t care so much about what other students thought of them, they were not afraid to be different. Most of them used specific tactics to intervene using the means that they had available. Most of them took on what I realized was the identity of an upstander – it wasn’t just something they did, it was something they were. It became a part of their moral character to do the right thing even when it’s hard.

We can learn to adopt these qualities and teach them to our kids. Empathy. Resolve. Being unafraid to be different. There are strategies and places to start. As we practice using our empathy, using our voice, and listening to our own sense of right and wrong, even when everyone else around us is silent, here are a very specific set of instructions from these students to their peers and teachers, reprinted here for you to think about.

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If you think these instructions might help a school deal with bullying, please try them out. But here is my real challenge to you. If bullying is the microcosm, then we adults live in the macrocosm. Look at the list of actions above. Pick one. Do it today. Sleep. Repeat. Your children are watching.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Shelagh Dunn is a Registered Psychologist in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She has a private practice in counselling psychology, with an interest in positive psychology and the health benefits of creating social change.

10 Things I’m Doing Right Now

 

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Credit: David Sipress, The New Yorker

 

I’ve seen this graphic shared a number of times recently and I think it is something many are feeling these days. I know I am. I certainly do not have all of the answers (by any stretch) but here are 10 things I’m doing right now to try to find balance and peace.

1. Reach out to one friend or family member each day. Whether via text, email, call, or in-person, it feels like an important time to maintain our existing personal connections and build new ones.

2. Meditate 10 minutes (minimum) each day.

3. Place boundaries on social media. Now, more than ever, I need to control my media consumption instead of it controlling me. Giving my phone an early bedtime was the first (very effective) step.

4. Stay informed but carefully choose my sources. Facebook will not be my primary news source.

5. Place one call to a legislator each day. It is hard to know whether this will make a difference. But I do know one thing that will definitely not make an impact- doing nothing.

6. Read a little each day. If it is fiction, so much the better. Write a little each day. Whatever comes to me; and however short- not for any particular reason except that it makes me a better person.

7. Continue to get to know my Dallas community. Serve others locally as often as I can.

8. Dig deep into my roles as mother and pediatrician. Our children need us to be fully present with them; to support, guide, explain, and above all, to listen.

9. Practice and share self-care and wellness strategies. For me these include daily exercise, prioritizing sleep, and good nutrition.

10. Double down on radical love and kindness. There is no other way.

Healthy, Kid-Approved Meals and Snacks

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-8-46-28-amWe do a fairly good job of eating healthy at our house, particularly for dinner, but we have recently been in a rut with healthy options that my 6-year-old will actually eat for breakfast, lunch, and after school snacks. He’s also at the age where he likes to get involved in food choices and (occasionally) food preparation.

So, to mix things up a bit I crowd-sourced for new ideas this week (and boy did folks come through with some great ideas)! My plan for 2017 is to have this chart up on the fridge and involve my son in meal planning. Each Saturday before grocery shopping he can pick two items from each category and I’ll make sure we have the ingredients on hand for the following week. During my usual Sunday meal prep, I’m going to try to involve him in getting his own BF/lunch/snacks ready for the week.

Additional helpful resources:

Super Snacks for Super Kids by Sarah Fox MD and Julie Stephenson

Emi Ponce de Souza

This is a living document so if you have more ideas or helpful resources, please share in the comments. The first PDF includes our ideas, the second is left blank for your family’s imagination. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Kid-Approved Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks PDF: kidapprovedbls

Kid-Approved Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks (blank) PDF: blankbls

A Return to Cooking

FullSizeRender-2Over the last six months I have placed serious, focused attention on taking better care of myself. A huge part of this has been a long-needed return to daily exercise. More on this in future posts, but today my focus is on nutrition and, more specifically, cooking meals at home.

My love of cooking is long-standing. I was blessed with two grandmothers who could prepare delicious feasts, almost magically, for large family gatherings. Only now do I appreciate what an undertaking each of those meals was for them. What a true expression of love. I have parents who, despite both working outside of the home, managed to prepare a home-cooked meal for our family almost every night. My mom– her famous lasagna or hamburger pie; my dad his skillet experiments (or hot dogs and peas :). Only now do I understand the effort and planning that required, day-in and day-out.

My own interest in cooking and baking started in middle school. A friend and I baked cookies and planned a future baking company. Another friend and I prepared a “cooking show” video outlining the process needed to create lefse (a traditional Norwegian staple).

In high school I asked my Grandma K to write down some of her famous recipes so that I could attempt to recreate them. In usual fashion, she outdid herself — I have a now treasured collection of recipes in her own handwriting. Little did I know then how much I would one day miss her — both her unconditional love and the food that channeled it.

College is a blur, but I didn’t cook much. The dorms weren’t great for cooking, nor the cafeteria for my waistline, but I wouldn’t trade the meals shared there with great friends for anything.

Contrary to expectations, medical school actually brought cooking back to me. A dear friend and I shared an apartment all four years. From her I learned about the art of vegetarian cooking and the wonder that is Indian food.

No, it was not medical school that led me to lose my love of cooking. Residency earns that distinction. 30 hour shifts followed by microwave popcorn and sleep. More take-out than I care to remember. The joy of cooking was gone. It felt more like a chore for which I simply could not muster up the energy.

Slowly, but surely, my love of cooking has found its way back over the last eight years. First, out of love for my child, I experimented with home-made baby food and simple healthy meals as he grew. I started to favor Trader Joe’s over take-out.

But, I must admit that it was not until the last few months that cooking has again become something I look forward to instead of a simple necessity. For this, I credit my fabulous wellness group, growing concern about the ingredients in processed foods, and an ever increasing desire to serve as a role-model for my son. We grow simple plants like tomatoes and herbs in the hopes that he will begin to appreciate where food comes from. I experiment with a variety of ingredients in order to expand his palate and help him learn that healthy food can be delicious. And, I involve him in the food preparation, with the goal that he grows into a man who is comfortable in the kitchen.

I now spend a couple of hours each weekend planning and prepping our meals for the week. This past Sunday I was once again reminded that following a well-written recipe can be an almost meditative process— a peaceful way to start the week or end the day. I felt the warmth and satisfaction of a dish that turned out better than expected. The joy of knowing that we were placing delicious and healthy food into our bodies.

I may not be preparing a feast for twenty guests. Still, I think my Grandmas would be proud.

Digital Sabbath

Webster’s defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

With the aim of increasing mindfulness, this week I did something I have not done in a very long time— I completely unplugged for 36 hours. No computer. No phone. No internet connection. It was a complete digital sabbath and it was amazing.

It probably helped that I took this digital sabbath while staying in a cabin overlooking a beautiful bluff and surrounded by trees, but I came away from the experience more fully relaxed and with more mental clarity than I have had in a long time. My attention span feels longer. I am more fully engaged with my son when he’s talking to me. That nagging urge to check my phone, which often causes me to feel irritated with myself, is gone. I can be present and mindful about whatever I’m doing right now. The rest can wait. Not surprisingly, given the strength of the mind-body connection, I also feel more physically energized and ready to tackle my fitness goals in the coming weeks.

Given all of these benefits, I am more committed than ever to the two digital sabbath days per month that I have promised myself as part of our family media plan.

How are you cultivating mindfulness?

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Making a Family Media Use Plan

IMG_2557I have long thought about the importance of being mindful regarding our son’s media use. We have verbalized daily time limits that we try to stick to and I monitor content of his screen time fairly closely. This does not mean we are perfect or that we don’t have setbacks. Over the holidays we strayed fairly far from our from our usual limits and have not quite gotten back to where we should be.  I’m taking a piece of my own advice and writing down a family media plan. Here are the important elements:

  • Quantity: It is important for families to think about how much screen time they consider reasonable for their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended no screen time for children under two and a maximum of two hours for all other children, but has recently acknowledged that this is not the reality for most families. Data from Common Sense Media (2013) tells us that kids between 8-10 years old have an average of 8 hours of media exposure per day, and teenagers have in excess of a whopping 11 hours per day of screen time. This is more than time spent sleeping or time in school! Clearly, we need to get a handle on this stuff. Why are limits important? Excess screen time has been associated with problems like obesity, disordered sleep, and behavior problems. Perhaps most importantly, any time spent in front of a screen is less time spent interacting as a family. It is helpful to set “device curfews” and to keep all devices and screens out of bedrooms.

 

  • Quality: More and more, we are learning that it is not only the quantity of screen time that matters, but also the quality. Our family is pretty good in this regard. I use Common Sense Media as a guide to gauge the appropriateness of any videos or apps my son is viewing. Any program with adult content is off-limits. For any shows that are borderline, we watch together to provide context and share any teachable moments. Recent data suggests that certain “pro-social” media can be beneficial in teaching empathy, respect for other cultures, and in sending anti-bullying messages. Researchers are also exploring how interactive media, such as iPad use, may influence kids in different ways than more passive media exposure. More to come certainly, and it is well worth our time as parents to stay abreast of developments.

 

  • Role-modeling: An essential component of any family media use plan is to address parents’ media use and set limits for ourselves as well as our kids. This is important from a role-modeling perspective, but it is also important from a relationship perspective. A recent small study observed 55 parents’ behavior with their children while eating together at a restaurant. 40 of the 55 parents looked at a device during the meal. Researchers found that the more immersed a parent was with their device, the more harshly they responded to their children, even if the child’s request was simply asking for help with their food. My own personal goal is to stay off devices between the time I get home from work and the time my son is asleep. I don’t always succeed, but I’m recommitting to it in writing here. My son knows he can hold me accountable. Kids are much more likely to buy in to a media plan if they see that their parents have to follow the rules as well.

 

  • Safety: All media use plans should address safety. Do whatever you need to in order to refrain from using your phone while driving. For many of us this means placing the phone out of our reach. There are also now apps that make it impossible to text and drive. Consider installing one if the pull of the phone is just too great. For those with older children, being thoughtful about when they are allowed to enter the social media world is highly important. Having conversations about cyberbullying and being a good digital citizen are essential. For more information on these topics, take a look at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ excellent resource, SafetyNet.

How this looks for our family:

Quantity: We have a limit of 30 minutes of screen time for my son on weekdays. I’d rather this was zero, but frankly I really enjoy relaxing together on the couch after dinner, so I’m staying realistic on this for now. He has a two hour max on the weekends. These limits seem realistic, but require discipline. I am going to set more timers to avoid some of the “just a few more minutes” that easily turn into an extra hour on weekend mornings.

Quality: We will continue to use Common Sense Media to gauge appropriateness and to co-view with our son whenever possible. I will explore more interactive, educational apps and games and try to decrease the percentage of my son’s screen time that is passive viewing.

Role-modeling: Perhaps the most challenging section, but here goes. I’ve installed the “moment” app on my phone that lets me know how much time I’m spending looking at my phone each day. It also counts the number of times I pick it up. This has been eye-opening. I’m using this tool to help me stay under a total time goal per day. I’m also pledging to stay off my phone from the time I get home until the time my son is asleep, and he knows this and will help keep me accountable. I’m going to take a “digital sabbath” twice a month- two days a month when I am completely off-line. I will turn off all devices at least 30 minutes before my desired sleep time (this should probably be an hour, and I’ll work towards that by the end of the year).

Safety: Intentional, continued commitment to no texting or looking at the phone while driving. No excuses. No exceptions. For me, this means always remembering to set my audio book or music selection prior to starting out.

Do you have a family media use plan?

Forward

IMG_1756In lieu of more traditional resolutions, I have started the last few years by setting intentions. I find that choosing a word or two helps me to refocus on these intentions whenever I get bogged down in the day-to-day as the year progresses. 2015’s word was gratitude and I’ll tell you what, I’m keeping that one. Ending each day talking with my son about what we are each grateful for has become a very meaningful habit.

The word I’m choosing as a theme of sorts for 2016 is forward. Perhaps it appeals to me in part as the motto of my home state; and it also accurately represents where I’m at in many facets of my life right now.

I don’t mean forward in a “let’s rush and get this over” kind of way. In fact, most days I’d like to slow things down a bit. No, I mean forward progress. I mean a commitment to taking baby steps each day that slowly move the ball down the field in different areas of my life. A mindful, grateful movement towards more meaning, more joy, more organization. It is all too easy to go through the motions of the busy days. I sometimes get mired in the details and lose sight of my overall direction. Forest and trees and all of that. It’s easy to feel a bit stuck.

This year I’m shaking that off. I pledge to work on balancing gratitude for all that is with hope for all that can be. And, it won’t just be ethereal hope. I’m backing up that hope with a few concrete actions to get things moving.

  • Work: My work can be fairly intense. It is also exceptionally meaningful, and for that I am grateful. This year I am going to make a few concrete changes that I hope will keep me effective, but improve my ability to set boundaries, stress less, and focus more energy on forward progress in a few specific goals. In order to do this I’m tinkering with a new approach to the all-consuming beast that is work email and an overhaul of my (endless) to-do lists. I’ll let you know how it goes.
  • Home: By leaving more of work at work, I’m aiming to lean in at home by focusing on small, daily joys. I’ll work on keeping the time I have with my family mindful and positive. I’m hoping for forward movement in our ability to stick to daily screen time limits (for all of us!) in order to make more time for things like puzzles and games and legos and soccer and the park. These are the moments that my son invariably recalls as the “best part of the day” when we reflect at bedtime (well, that and Pokemon as of late). And we will continue our cherished bedtime reading.
  • Self: Over the past six months I made huge forward strides in taking care of myself. I kicked out the self-talk that told me I didn’t have time to exercise, decided I couldn’t afford NOT to exercise, and am now working out six days a week. This one change has brought with it the energy and focus that has inspired a completely new outlook and, indeed, inspired my choice of word this year. I managed to convince myself that sustainable change is possible when it comes to taking care of myself and there is no going back. If this change is possible so are others. More about this in future posts, but I am eternally grateful to Renee Paro and the other fabulous women in our wellness group who helped to set me on this path. I’ll be building on this with continued forward progress in physical fitness and work on mindset via daily reading and writing (even if it’s just ten minutes).

It all sounds a bit audacious written here. So be it. As they say in Texas, go big or go home. And so, here I go. Onward and upward. In kindness, in gratitude, in respect for all living beings. Forward.

What’s your word for this year?