Month: April 2016

These Go to 11: How to Motivate Your Team to Turn Up Sales Volume

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Experiencing a sense of belonging in the workplace has been shown to create happier employees, because people will work harder and longer if they believe in what they’re doing and feel appreciated by co-workers and management.

In addition to enjoying a positive work atmosphere every day, companies that encourage unity and bonding to allow employees to feel like part of a team become primed for success… and increased sales.

Read below about 5 recommended ways to get your sales team motivated and running at full volume:

 

1. The Power of Differences—

The world isn’t made up of only one type of person, and your workplace shouldn’t be homogenous either.

To create an atmosphere conducive to team unity, it’s important to emphasize the value of diversity in your employee pool, and appreciate the large range of ideas and perspectives this blend can bring to the table.

Employ a wide variety of people with different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences, because you never know where the next great sales-boosting idea will blossom — but it will never grow out of a group of people who think exactly the same way.

 

2. The Power of Happy Home Lives—

Managers can sometimes get so wrapped up in the sales quotas and stressors of their jobs that they forget to allow employees to leave work where it belongs at the end of the day: in the office.

Employees who are forced to take the job home with them or miss important family events will become resentful and unhappy as their personal lives are pushed to the wayside for employment obligations.

By giving employees set schedules and not asking them to work random overtime hours, you will allow them to retain structure in their home lives, which can have a hugely positive effect on morale and sales.

 

3. The Power of Attainable Goals—

Setting goals is an important part of motivating your team to boost sales, but there is nothing as demotivating as unreachable quotas and no reward for consistently solid work.

When people are working as hard as they can, yet have been given unrealistic numbers or goals they can’t possibly reach, this constant failure can breed a feeling of helplessness and frustration that makes most people give up. If you can never win, what’s the point of playing the game?

Small, multiple goals are highly recommended for motivating employees, with smaller but more frequent rewards. But if your company is driven by sales quotas and investors looking for constant sales volume growth, be sure to set attainable larger goals for your people.

 

4. The Power of Praise—

It’s surprising to realize just how much a tiny bit of validation can boost morale and make a team member feel appreciated who might have been feeling insecure about their role.

Taking the time to get to know the people around you and asking follow-up questions about the details they’ve shared with you will also make co-workers feel cared for and more comfortable.

A kind word or compliment for a job well done can creative cohesiveness and loyalty among employees, letting people feel like an effective part of a group.

 

5. The Power of Positive Leadership—

A management style featuring mutual respect and confidence in employees will keep people on your team working hard for you and focused on achieving goals.

Overbearing, negative leaders who treat their workers poorly rather than leading by positive example don’t motivate anyone to work harder, instead creating a distrustful, unsettling environment.

Set clear expectations for employees, consistently reward or praise them when they meet goals, and remember; it’s always nicer to be asked rather than told what to do.

 

Research has shown that sales teams with good co-worker relationships and a constructive, stress-free workplace do better at their jobs, ultimately making more money for employers. By creating a sense of community and letting employees know how much you appreciate them, you can raise morale – and sales – to record-breaking new levels.

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Have a Tantrum-Free Trip: 5 Top Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

Crying Toddler Photo Credit Tanya Little (2)Photo credit: Tanya Little

 

Most parents of toddlers realize the idea of “The Terrible Twos” is a myth most likely created to give exhausted moms and dads hope that the wild mood swings and emotional volatility will magically disappear once their children turn three.

What parents of three and four-year-olds know is that this is unfortunately not always true: sometimes all young children are capable of having a meltdown — especially during the uncertain, hectic and sometimes tedious experience of family travel.

 

Below are 5 top tips for tantrum-free travel with toddlers:

 

1. Mental Prep Makes Kids Mellow —

Establishing a routine is soothing for children, and one of the most upsetting things for them is straying from the schedule to which they’ve grown accustomed.

To keep the emotional turbulence out of your trip, prepare kids for change by talking about what to expect from the journey. Explaining the details ahead of time can prevent a meltdown caused by uncertainty and confusion.

Books and movies that discuss forms of travel can also be helpful for quelling fear of the unknown by showing kids what lies ahead.

 

2. The Early Bird Catches the Calm—

When flying with young children, it’s especially important to arrive early to the airport. If you’re anxious, your kids will feed off of your nervous energy, until your group has become a big ball of familial stress.

Print boarding passes before you get to the airport if possible, and get through security and settled into your waiting gate area with plenty of time. This will keep the entire family calm and cheerful, and allow kids a chance to exercise by exploring the airport before having to sit still for hours.

 

3. Entertainment is Everything—

Toddlers are not tiny adults, and lack the emotional maturity to be able to sit still for long periods of time without entertainment. Kids acting out because they’re bored aren’t being “bad,” they’re simply being kids.

By properly preparing to keep children engaged, outbursts over being confined can be completely negated. Activities without small pieces to fall on dirty floors, books, magazines, handheld videogames, portable DVD players and the novelty of your usually-off-limits cell phone can all be great ways to keep kids busy.

Remember to bring extra batteries and headphones, and charge all technology ahead of time. Non-sugary snacks like pretzels, popcorn and crackers can also entertain while keeping blood sugar levels even — and don’t forget to bring plenty of wet wipes.

 

4. It’s Potty Time—

Even adults can have trouble holding it during “please stay seated” moments of air travel, or stretches of land travel without restrooms, so recently potty-trained little ones can be very impacted by this loss of freedom.

Anytime the seatbelt sign on a plane turns off is a good time to take a toddler to use the restroom. Even if they don’t need to go, just getting up to walk the aisles can be a great way to get exercise.

If traveling by car, take advantage of rest stops to allow kids to use the bathroom and run around in safe areas, and always bring extra clothes in case of spills or accidents.

 

5. Positive Presentation—

A friendly attitude will get you everywhere when traveling with toddlers. You may be pleasantly surprised by how many parents and grandparents of other children will want to help make your trip stress-free, and may assist in surprising ways if you seem approachable.

Dress yourself and children in clean, nice clothing, and even if your child is having a poor behavioral moment, try to stay chipper. It’s hard when you’re feeling embarrassed and self-conscious, but if you become grumpy yourself, it will only make things worse.

Remember that if your child is throwing a fit, it’s not a reflection of your parenting skills; it’s simply a child having an age-appropriate moment. Anyone with children understands this, and those who don’t will get it someday if they decide to have kids. Take deep breaths and stay calm, even if your toddler is upset.

 

Common tantrum triggers like being placed into unknown surroundings, and situations that involve long periods of restraint are necessary parts of traveling long distances with kids, making it extremely important to be prepared. With the tantrum-averting tips above in your parenting arsenal, you can make any trip stress-free for your toddlers, yourselves and the other travelers around you.

Press the Paws Button: 7 Top iPad Apps for Pet Owners

Cali Cat Photo Credit David Crider (2)

 

Having a pet requires responsibility and dedication, with weekly tasks like veterinarian and grooming appointments, finding safe places for exercise, and acquiring pet supplies being only a few of the necessary duties pet owners find themselves trying to manage.

Organization can play a key role in staying on top of all animal-related activities and errands, and fortunately for pet lovers, there are many apps available to keep safety or personal information and schedules straight.

 

Below are 7 top iPad apps for animal owners:  

 

1. Pet Phone—

Available for iPhone as well as iPad, the Pet Phone app allows owners to keep track of multiple pets, with the ability to store detailed information about each pet, with a matching pet image.

Weight, microchip number, pet insurance information, medications, allergies and anything else you need to remember about animal friends can be tracked and stored in this app, as well as veterinarian information.

 

2. Petcentric—

Available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, Petcentric is exactly what it sounds like: an app for everything pet-related under the sun.

Petcentric Places gives users the ability to find pet-friendly restaurants, bars, stores and lodging, as well as locating animal shelters, dog parks, veterinarians, kennels, pet sitters and more.

This app also features pet videos, product recommendations, local events for pet owners and a photo gallery with interactive sharing, rating and comments.

 

3. Cat Doctor—

Created for iPhone and iPad by a cat doctor with over 30 years of experience, this app features extensive instructional HD videos that discuss issues and common procedures for cat owners.

The Cat Doctor app has 19 different topics including animal basics such as spaying, neutering, proper dental care, and grooming, as well as covering serious complications like parasites, arthritis and allergies.

If you have a cat and want to make sure to handle all medical maintenance matters, this app can help you keep your kitty healthy and happy.

 

4. The Pet Pal—

This app is a great addition to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch if you’re seeking a way to efficiently organize all the details of your different pets and their schedules into one convenient place.

The Pet Pal app also offers alerts to remind you of appointments, walking and feeding schedule input, and allows for storage of photos so you can manage galleries to show off your cute pet pals wherever you go.

 

5. Off Leash—

Especially if you live in a city where it can be difficult to find places for pups to run free and get exercise, the Off Leash app for iPhone and iPad can be a wonderfully useful addition to your collection.

With a database that includes over 600 U.S. dog parks, this app can locate the 5 closest pet-friendly places using GPS technology, and even allows users to submit data upon discovering new information.

 

6. Pet First Aid—

Available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, Pet First Aid is an important app for preparing animal owners to handle any medical emergencies that may arise. It’s unpleasant to think about any harm befalling our furry friends, but being prepared can give anyone peace.

With videos and illustrations to walk users through cat and dog injuries, as well as less urgent procedures like muzzling, giving medication, and proper bandaging or restraint techniques, the Pet First Aid app can help prevent animal injuries and illness, or tell owners what to when they are faced with such situations.

 

7. iKibble—

Although most animal experts recommend against giving animals human fare, there are actually many foods dogs can eat – as well as some that are surprisingly toxic.

With the iKibble app for iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, pet owners can search particular foods to learn about the nutritional content, as well as making sure they’re safe.

 

Pets are worth every bit of the work, but with the assistance of the many apps available for pet owners, it’s easier than ever to handle the requirements of our animal pals. Give the apps above a try to make pet ownership a stress-free and fully enjoyable experience.

Flying with Furry Friends: 5 Top Tips for Traveling with Pets

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It can be difficult to find a pet-sitter for vacations, and sometimes we really want to take our animal friends along for the fun. When this involves traveling by airplane, it can be stressful, but there are plenty of ways to prepare for what lies ahead to make the trip easier for everyone.

Below are 5 tips to help pets travel fully prepared and in comfort.

 

1. Be Informed—

Knowledge is power, but it also gives us peace. Calling the airlines to learn about their pet policies, rules and requirements will keep you ahead of the game and fully prepared, eliminating last-minute stressors and surprises.

There are many helpful websites with information on pet-friendly airlines and hotels, such as pettravelcenter.com, airlines.org, pettravel.com and bringfido.com to allow you to do research before you finalize your plans.

If you are a Triple A member, you can also search for pet-friendly facilities on the aaa.com website, or talk to an agent by phone for recommendations.

 

2. Be Prepared—

You got the information from the airline; now it’s time to make sure you finish your homework. Having everything ready to go that you need will allow you and your pet to have a smooth traveling experience.

Most airlines require a health certificate for your pet, generally within 10 days before departure, and be sure to keep this paperwork with you at all times. While you’re at the vet, make certain your pet is current on vaccinations, such as rabies, and get certification of this as well.

It’s important to be aware that certain flat-faced breeds of cats and dogs can’t physically tolerate the reduced oxygen levels of the cargo area, so get your veterinarian’s approval if your pet will not be allowed in the cabin.

 

3. Be Vigilant—

Your little pet pal is counting on you to take care of them, so try to choose the most stress-free path to your final destination possible.

This means flying during non-peak hours to make sure there will be adequate room for them, and if they will be traveling in cargo, be sure to fly during mild weather so they won’t have to suffer through excessively hot or cold temperatures.

Notify airline personnel that you are traveling with a pet, and if they only allow pets in cargo, ask to watch as your pet is loaded below. Many employees have pets of their own and will understandably accommodate your need for reassurance.

 

4. Be Thorough—

It’s really scary to think about losing a pet during travel like so much luggage, and although it’s rare, it can happen, so label everything and bring a picture of them with you.

If your pet isn’t already fitted with a subcutaneous microchip containing your information, consider having this process done during your pre-flight vet visit. Anytime your animals leave the home, there is a chance for them to get lost.

Your pet should also be wearing a collar with an ID tag that has your name and cell phone number on it for a quick reunion should the airline lose track of them. Tape all of your information – name, address, flight number, cell phone number, and final destination phone number – to the carrier.

 

5. Be a Good Pet Parent—

Arrive early at the airport so you can stay calm and have a casual security and pre-boarding airport experience. If you’re stressed out, your pet will sense it and become fearful or agitated. Arriving early will also give you time to get them some exercise before being confined – and make sure the carrier you choose is big enough for them to stand up and turn around.

If possible, try not to feed your pet beyond the USDA requirement of 4 hours before travel so they won’t make a mess. Small sips of water are okay, but don’t overdo it.

Be aware when planning travel that the Animal Welfare Act disallows pets under 8-weeks-old from flying. Also: Most veterinarians don’t recommend animal tranquilizers during flight unless your pet is extremely high-strung, as sedatives can cause breathing issues.

 

If you follow the tips above to thoroughly plan and prepare, you can take the hassle and anxiety out of traveling, for both yourself and your animal pal. Make sure to book pet-friendly accommodations for your final destination, and have a great vacation!

Open Up to Quality: How to Choose a Great Garage Door Opener

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If you’re building a new home, or have just purchased a house with a garage door that doesn’t open electrically, you’re probably trying to decide which opener to have installed. Getting in and out of the car to pull a heavy garage door up and down grows tiresome very quickly, making a garage door opener a necessary addition.

It’s important to choose garage door opener to adequately suit your needs and budget, and below are some important things to consider when selecting one:

 

1. Size Matters—

Garage door openers come in different strengths, and depending on your door size, you will need to decide which horsepower is right for the job.

Most aluminum residential doors can be handled by a ¼ or ½ horsepower motor, but if you have an extra-heavy wood and metal panel-type garage door, you may need to purchase a stronger motor.

A chain-driven system employs a small engine and chain to open and close the garage door. These are the least expensive, but be aware that if you choose a weak motor, it may break faster than a stronger system.

 

2. Safety Matters—

Especially if you have pets or small children who might wander into the path of your closing garage door, safety should be high on your checklist.

Different types of sensors are available, but the one all garage door openers require is an infrared beam near ground level that stops the door if something is blocking its path.

Some systems even automatically reverse if something touches the door underneath, or offer a manual release to open the door in case of emergency.

 

3. Maintenance Matters—

There are many different types of garage door drives, such as belt drive, chain-driven, screw drive and computer-controlled torsion systems. Each type of door opener comes with its own set of strong points, so you will need to decide which best suits your priorities.

Screw drives are not the quietest garage door openers available, but they do feature the least moving parts, making them great for anyone seeking a low maintenance system.

 

4. Noise Level Matters—

Depending on where your garage door is situated in your floor plan, and especially if you have a garage that shares a wall with a bedroom, noise levels may be your number one consideration.

A belt drive garage door opener uses a flexible rubber belt in the pulling mechanism, and is generally the quietest system, but prepare to pay extra for this feature.

 

5. Lighting Matters—

Many garage door openers come with lighting that automatically turns on anytime the door opens, usually set on a timer to allow the vehicle occupant adequate time to move from car into house.

Some openers also offer wall-mounted buttons to allow homeowners to turn the garage lights on or off without opening the door, saving electricity.

 

6. Emergency Matters—

It’s wise to select a garage door opener with battery backup, because if your electricity goes out, you want to be able to get your car out of your garage. Having a backup battery inside can give your opener the power to work even when the power’s out.

Keyless entry is another great way to prevent your vehicle from becoming trapped inside the garage during power outages. This safeguard uses a key to unlock and dislodge the pull cable, allowing access to an emergency release that frees the door from the opener.

 

7. Security Matters—

Most garage door openers offer a remote control for opening and closing, but wireless keypads placed outside the house can come in handy when you want to get in and don’t have the remote.

Shaft or screw-drive openers work via a long shaft threaded through a spiral-cut area, powered by a strong motor. Because of the intricate threading, screw-drive garage door openers are considered the hardest to break into, and a great choice for those concerned with security.

 

Once you’ve done the research and figured out which garage door opener has the features you require, consider professional installation to ensure top performance and quality. Read through the descriptions above of the different types of garage door openers available, compare the pros and cons of each, and choose the best garage door opener for your lifestyle and budget.

 

Four Friend Requests and a Funeral

I boarded the plane headed for Phoenix. One of my Facebook friends had suddenly died and we were all going to her funeral. We were in her private Facebook group called BFFS, after all. That meant a lot to us.

Jennifer had stopped posting on our pages and leaving opinions in our comment sections. She seemed to completely disappear from the cyber realm in which we existed together, and we were all wondering where she had gone.

A quick glance at her profile answered our questions. Her sister Anne had recently posted an explanation online; it seemed our friend had been in a car accident. She was killed instantly.

Her Facebook page immediately became a memorial website, rapidly filling with messages about how much we’d all miss her.

Jen’s Facebook friends were invited by her sister to the funeral in Phoenix this weekend, and many of us agreed to attend. It was a sad excuse to finally meet the people we’d been getting to know online for so long, but we decided Jennifer would have wanted it this way.

Anne had been remarkably helpful in facilitating the attendance of Jennifer’s online friends at the funeral, arranging to pick each of us up at the Phoenix airport. She even made a deal with a nearby hotel to provide affordable rooms. I was touched by the kindness of the airlines and lodging, providing cheap rates and discounts for us all.

The funeral was scheduled for Saturday evening, so we decided to fly in Friday afternoon to have an impromptu memorial service and meet each other in person. Anne suggested this, actually, and rented the recreation room of the hotel we were all staying in to give us a large meeting place.

Despite the sad reason for being there in the first place, I was really excited to meet these people I’d been getting to know online for over a year. Jennifer had always been a boisterous, fun girl and said, “Any excuse for a party!” I hoped she really meant it and wasn’t looking down on us from the ghost world for having a getting-to-know-you celebration in the aftermath of her sudden death.

I deplaned and walked through the Sky Harbor terminal until I saw the sign with “Alexa” on it. That’s me, I thought as I greeted the driver. We drove away from the airport, passing palm trees and saguaro cactuses as we traveled along the heat-shimmering road.

The hotel was really nice and I couldn’t get over the low price as I got ready for the Facebook friends BFFS party. Make-up and hair to my liking, I walked down the hallway to finally meet my online friends in real life.

At the entrance to the large recreation room, there was a big sign that shouted, “Welcome Jennifer’s Internet Friends!” in a bold font. I couldn’t believe Anne went through the trouble to have such professional-looking signs printed up for this gathering. She really had her wits about her for someone who had just lost her sister. I felt momentarily jealous of her coolness under pressure, decided that was unkind of me and entered the room.

There were over fifty people there. An anorexic-looking blonde girl quickly walked over to me with a somber smile and introduced herself. A man with a large camera followed her closely, filming our meeting.

“I’m Jennifer’s sister, Anne. Thank you so much for coming… Alexa?” she said questioningly.

“Yes, I’m Alexa. Call me Alex. How did you know?” I asked.

“I recognized you from your Facebook pics,” she replied.

She gestured toward the camera.

“I hope you don’t mind that I’m having Jennifer’s memorial filmed by a professional crew. There were a lot of internet friends who couldn’t make it to Phoenix, and I want to put this on You Tube so they can feel like they were here. Jennifer would have loved it.”

“How many Facebook friends did Jennifer have?” I wondered aloud. It seemed like the room was full of people.

“Oh, this isn’t even a third of her Facebook friends. She was also popular on Twitter. My sister was a friend to everyone she met,” she said, shaking her head sadly.

She quickly had me sign a release form so that she could use my filmed moments in her You Tube memorial, stating it was just a formality. I didn’t mind. I had nothing to hide, after all. That’s why I was on the Internet in the first place, right?

After thanking her for being such a great hostess and offering my condolences on her loss, I left Anne and the camera guy to walk over to the open bar. I decided that Jennifer and Anne must come from money, as I ordered a free beer. I left my usual twenty percent tip because I’ve had that job, took a deep breath, and looked around.

Standing at the bar, I scanned the room for familiar faces. Everyone was engrossed in conversation, with Anne and the cameraman recording the memories people shared about Jennifer. Some people were crying in front of the camera while others laughed, expressing different thoughts on the loss.

I quickly drained my beer and ordered another one. I was really nervous about meeting all of these people with whom I’d been chatting so intimately on blog comment boards for the last year. We knew so much about each other, yet nothing at all. It was a strange dichotomy, and hard to marry with my usual go-to friendship formula.

I spotted Kaitlin. She was a sassy, outspoken woman with cool Nordic blonde good looks and one of those mouths that makes even the straightest girl feel stirrings. She met my eyes as I noticed her; the recognition clicked and her expression brightened.

“Alexa!? Alex! Is that you!? It is you!!” she squealed, and came running over to hug me warmly. “It’s so nice to actually meet you in real life!”

I told her it was great to meet her too, and asked her what she thought of all the cameras.

“It seems kind of weird to me, honestly,” she whispered under her breath. “But if Jennifer’s sister Anne thinks it’s necessary, then I guess it makes sense, right?”

I nodded and we stood together making small talk, surveying the crowd of people that seemed to be growing larger every minute. We noticed another friend we often talked to online as she walked through the door, with the cursory introduction and welcome by Anne and the cameraman. She refused to sign the release form. Brooke. Of course.

Brooke was petite, with pale skin and dark hair. She had goth vibe going on. She liked the Vampire Wars application and sent fanged fairies as Facebook gifts. She was dressed in her usual all-black attire, leather boots and wore her signature blood red lipstick. Thinner than I expected with dark under-eye circles, she looked like Snow White’s sister who freebased poison instead of eating tainted apples. She didn’t look like she ate much of anything, actually. Kaitlin and I recognized her instantly.

“Brooke! Over here!” We both shouted her name and waved her over.

She glided our way and stared around the room incredulously. “What the fuck is all this shit?” she asked us.

Brooke was a blunt person. She didn’t waste time on niceties in the written comment format, so it didn’t shock me that she’d work blue with her first sentence spoken in real life. I would have been more shocked if she acted sweet and demure, honestly.

“We don’t really know either,” I told her. “Jen’s sister Anne seems to think Jen would have wanted her online friends who couldn’t be here to be able to watch her informal friends-only memorial on You Tube.”

“Well I think that having a film crew at a private memorial is completely fucked up. I’ll probably write a blog about it when I get home,” she answered. “I’ll put it on my WordPress site and we can talk about it some more, because I feel like an asshole complaining about it here.”

We agreed to revisit the topic in our blogs and continued to walk around the room, drinking free booze and meeting all of the people we knew only from online pictures and occasional written blurbs. It was a strange sociological phenomenon that made me uneasy and out of my element all night. The whole thing felt like a weird dream I’d have after drinking and playing on the computer too late.

After foolishly moving from beer to the hard stuff and drunkenly slurring to the cameras about what a cool person Jennifer was, I hung out with my new/old friends and stumbled back to the hotel room late. I used the laptop computer I’d brought to see if I had any new messages waiting before I passed out, already dreading tomorrow’s more serious service.

I awoke the next day feeling hung-over and strange. I had the “Where the hell am I?” moment as I looked around the hotel room until I remembered. Today is Jennifer’s funeral. My stomach clenched with nervous energy. I was not looking forward to it.

I grabbed the water bottle I’d placed next to the bed in a burst of surprising drunken forethought and chugged. I felt like I’d crawled through a desert with straight vodka in my canteen and only cigarettes to eat.

After spending the day online chatting with friends (some of them in the same hotel), I got in the shower and prepared for Jen’s evening service, wondering if her sister Anne and the camera guy were going to film the actual funeral. It seemed kind of disrespectful and I really hoped not. I also knew I would cry and I didn’t want it caught on tape for all to see.

The funeral home was conveniently a few blocks from the hotel. Anne seemed to have planned everything out perfectly. Once there, I found my internet inner circle of blog commenters and we huddled together in a group with our fold-up chairs pushed together.

The funeral home looked brand-new, like it had been very recently built. The light fixtures were Eames-style modern, like hanging cream bubbles with brushed nickel hardware, and the floors were tiled in a rich chocolate brown. The shiny, black coffin was up front on a huge stone table—it almost seemed like an altar—placed on a shaggy, furry cream rug. White roses in silver vases and deep red candles covered every surface, flames flickering. It didn’t have the seventies, drab wood paneling feel of most funeral homes. It felt like MTV Death Cribs.

I could see Jennifer lying peacefully in the coffin, just the very top bit of her pretty face. She looked like she was sleeping. Her hair looked great. I’d never been to an open-casket funeral and thought the dead would look much worse than she did. She was holding a bouquet of white roses and wearing dark red dress that matched the candles. I had no idea that death could be such a fashion statement and was once again impressed with Jennifer’s sister for her amazing attention to detail.

I noticed the Guns ‘N’ Roses song “November Rain” was playing through overhead speakers. How unbearably trite, I thought to myself, vowing to write down the songs I wanted to be played at my own funeral.

As we waited for some sort of religious leader to walk to the front and start the proceedings, I realized I didn’t know to which religion Jennifer belonged. I realized that I didn’t even know her last name; where she grew up or where she went to school. It hit me that I really didn’t know anything about her, or any of the other living people in the room, for that matter.

I was suddenly overcome by the urge to run out of the funeral home back to the hotel. This was all starting to feel really weird. I looked around uneasily and noticed many other people murmuring to each other, with confused faces like mine.

Before I could bolt (or more likely, discuss bolting with my friends), Anne walked to the front of the room with a cameraman behind her, filming every word. She said loudly, “I have an announcement to make and all I ask is that everyone here please listen to every word before you rise to judgment.”

The murmuring stopped and the room was silent in anticipation. Anne nodded, smiled and continued addressing the room.

“This is not actually a funeral and I am not actually Jennifer’s sister. My name is Anne, but I work for a television network. This event we’ve been filming is the pilot for a new reality show that we are hoping will be a really big hit. Those of you who signed the waivers will be featured on the first episode. It’s called Virtual 2 Reality and the premise of the show is to help people who have met solely through social networking websites meet in real life for the first time. We think it will be a fascinating sociological study of the new ways we make friends via the Internet and… most importantly… really great television!”

We stared at each other with mouths agape in disbelief as she continued.

“We didn’t mean to trick you, but we didn’t think as many of you would agree to come if it wasn’t for a serious reason. We apologize for the scare and you will be reimbursed for your travel expenses, as well as paid a respectable fee for your camera time. And I think you will all be happy to know that Jennifer is an actress who is alive and quite well!”

She clapped her hands and Jennifer, who had up until this moment remained motionless in the coffin, suddenly sat up and smiled, waving at the room full of people, still seated in our chairs in shocked silence. Someone started to clap along with Anne, and soon much of the room broke out in applause.

Some people sat still with furious hands in their laps, and some people were crying tears of relief, but overall, the group seemed to recover from the shock very quickly.

People jumped up and ran over to Jennifer as she climbed out of the coffin for hugs. I could see them already vying for their fifteen minutes, schmoozing Anne and the cameraman, giving interviews and reactions to the bogus funeral. Kaitlin was up front, laughing and smiling for the camera, and I was shocked. I never pegged her as an attention whore.

You know the people I mentioned, the ones who were not clapping and furious? Yeah, I was one of those. I looked at Brooke, who had more color on her pancake-pale face than I’d ever seen. She hissed, “This is fucking bullshit. I’m out of here, Alex,” and stood up. I followed.

We went straight to the hotel bar and got ridiculously drunk. We talked for hours and exchanged phone numbers, vowing to make a point of getting together in person at least once a year. We hugged at the end of the night and went to our rooms to sleep it off before the morning flights Anne had booked for us.

I arrived early at the airport, got a cup of coffee at Starbucks, cursing their moronic sizing system as I asked the snooty barista for, “I don’t know, a really big one, I guess,” with a roll of my eyes. I found a table and opened up my laptop. I had one hell of a crazy blog to write.

Do Better, Henry

I recently read a Spin article discussing the stance Henry Rollins took on the topic of suicide via his website; that it is a selfish act, rather than something depressed and desperate people fighting mental illness do because they can no longer tolerate the pain of being alive.*

I used to be ignorant too, because I was genetically “blessed” with the opposite of depression: I am diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder with associated agoraphobia. So rather than “pick-me-up” pills like anti-depressants, my brain functions better with “calm-the-eff-down” pills, which I take daily, with success.

Because I had never experienced depression growing up, I never understood it. I had always felt happy to be alive, grateful to be given every day I received, and I too, used to think depressed people simply needed an attitude adjustment. Back then, I might have nodded my foolish head along with Henry Rollins as he recently stated: “Fuck suicide. Life isn’t anything but what you make it.”

In my youth, I wasn’t openly dismissive of the depressed, but would privately think, “Why don’t they just get some fresh air and take a walk, exercise, read a book, or go be with nature?” because these were things that comforted or uplifted me if I needed peace.

As if people are all the same. As if what worked for me would magically cheer up other people. As if my particular brain chemistry applied to all.

I was so stupid.

***

My 20s panic attacks were an occasional thing I attributed to either low blood sugar or asthma. I felt humiliated when they happened and lived in denial, because if they weren’t happening for a physiological reason, that made me one of the weak people who couldn’t handle life; one of the people Henry Rollins has spoken out against with his disdain** for depressed people.

What I didn’t yet understand is that anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental illnesses DO happen for physiological reasons, and are as beyond the control of the person experiencing them as any other illnesses.

If I had been experiencing seizures because of a chemical imbalance in my brain, for example, I would have immediately headed to a doctor for anti-seizure medication. But because so many people chastise those with the brain chemical imbalances behind mental illnesses and dismiss them as weak, I’d bought into this theory, too.

So I didn’t seek help, and would instead try to hide when the panic attacks happened in public. When my chest would tighten and I’d begin to gasp for air, when my vision would start to tunnel, when I’d drop my basket in the middle of the store and run for my car, soaked with sweat, my heart-pounding, and when I’d have a panic attack in the car while driving, pulling into the closest parking lot to cry tears of terror, I was bewildered because I had no idea why my body was doing this.

And I was ashamed. So very ashamed. I am weak and pathetic, I’d think to myself.

And I was terrified, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Am I dying?

But then the mean, all-logic, no-emotion voice in my head would chastise me.

“Come on, you wimp. Pull up your big girl pants and move on,” my inner drill sergeant would bark, “You’re lucky to be alive, somebody always has it worse than you, and you have no reason to be crying, so get on with it!”

I’d take deep breaths, finish crying, feel utterly humiliated by my self-perceived weakness… and I’d eventually get on with it.

***

Cut to me at age 34, a book-loving, classic introvert with severe social anxiety. In bars and at parties, I used alcohol as a natural sedative to function amongst people without breaking out in hives. At work with the public, I wore an over-compensatory cloak of extreme friendliness to hide my social fears that employers loved, as an always smiling, non-confrontational employee makes any company look great.

(I waited on Henry Rollins while working at a Trader Joe’s in West Hollywood, by the way. He was always very kind, polite, and really loves cheese popcorn.)

I had been playing in bands for the last 12 years, which people who really know me have trouble understanding, considering my anxiety. The best way I can explain it is that onstage, I got to be someone else, and that girl wasn’t the shy, awkward chick who couldn’t make small talk to save her life. (It felt like an acting role. It was a beautiful escape from The Unbearable Lightness of Being Me.)

Then I got married, pregnant, had a baby at 35, moved from Los Angeles to Tulsa, and was suddenly isolated from all family and friends, no longer playing music, while staying with a lovely and kind member of my husband’s family.

The once-carefree, guitar playing and singing rocker chick was now alone all day in the suburbs with a 2-month-old who didn’t sleep more than 2 hours in a row until his 9th month (and stopped napping at 2-years-old).

We now know his sleep issues were symptoms of his ADHD/gifted neurology, but at the time I just thought I was doing everything wrong, as new parents are wont to believe. I was deliriously tired to the point of hallucinating, and… BAM. I experienced depression for the first time in my generally happy life.

I need 8 hours of sleep a night to function, and I was now going on months without REM. Sleep deprivation is used as torture for very good reason. I think this, combined with roller-coaster-ing postpartum hormones, had everything to do with my depression, and I hazily remember tears pouring down my face as I fed the baby.

I was strung out, wrung dry, beyond exhausted, alone without the support of my family or friends, and for the first time in my usually positive, high-energy life, everything felt pointless.

I logically knew I was the luckiest woman alive, with a healthy (albeit sleepless) new baby, a husband who loved me and treated me well, a roof over my head, and food on the table.

But despite all logic to the contrary, my emotional side simply couldn’t grasp that I had no real problems and nothing about which to complain. Sadness was sitting on my shoulder like an unwanted gargoyle of misery, and I couldn’t shake the ugly bastard off, no matter what I tried. Exercise didn’t work anymore. Nature wasn’t cutting it. I was officially depressed.

Possibly the weirdest thing about my depression was that I didn’t even have the will or desire to complain… I just felt kind of numb. I’m a lot of things, but numb isn’t usually one of them. I’m a fighter of injustices. I’m a complainer. I kvetch. I speak up – like I’m doing right now. The numb feeling was my main clue that things were very, very off inside my brain.

The old me that could look optimistically into the future, the girl who simply appreciated “every day above ground” was gone, and in her place was a drained and empty shell that couldn’t figure out where she’d misplaced her hope. It was so weird to logically know all was okay, yet emotionally feel a huge disconnect. I had no reason to be depressed. Nonetheless, I still was depressed. But logic and emotion, as we all know, are two completely separate things.

I had a new understanding about the physiology of mental illness, and oceans empathy for anyone experiencing depression. I vowed to never be of the callous, unsympathetic “People who commit suicide are selfish!” mindset again. Because I wanted to stop feeling sad more than anything in the world, and there was no way to “choose” happy anymore. I finally realized that for many people, happiness is not a choice.

And it’s insulting and cruel to say this. Are you really telling depressed people they’re choosing to be miserable?

I stopped breastfeeding at 6 months, even though I’d wanted to continue for at least my son’s first year. But I needed sleep. My brain chemistry was obviously imbalanced and I was horrified by the fact that I couldn’t escape the fog of sadness. I never reached the point of suicidal thoughts, but I’d definitely checked into Hotel Hopeless, and that was scary enough.

I started getting more sleep, and very slowly, the fog of depression lifted for me.

Because I got lucky.

***

I was entering my 40s before I finally spoke to a psychiatrist about my anxiety, and the only reason I did this was because my hyperactive son needed a calm mommy, and the panic attacks were now happening on a near-daily basis. Only because I could no longer function as a parent (as “leaving the house” is necessary for that job) was I forced to the doctor.

I got on daily Xanax and the panic attacks stopped immediately. I feel no euphoria on the medication, and only like a calmer version of myself who doesn’t go straight into “fight” mode at every perceived threat. The medication gave me back my life, gave my husband back his wife, and most importantly: it makes me a better mother for my son.

I only wish I’d sought help years ago. I’ve wasted so many years living in fear, and it’s partly because people like Henry Rollins who equate mental illness with selfishness made me feel like the chemical imbalances in my brain were a sign of weakness, and something I could control. Because my life isn’t anything but what I make it, right, Henry?

Wrong. And fuck anyone who thinks so. I now know I’m not weak, as I once believed – I’m actually incredibly strong for dealing with my anxiety alone and without help for so long. And I feel the same way about every depressed person on the planet – yes, even if they kill themselves.

***

Two of my mom’s brothers (my uncles) committed suicide in their 20s. They held onto life as long as they could stand it, and killed themselves because the pain of being alive was unbearable, and I don’t see anything selfish in that. It just makes me feel really, really sad for them. Because I have empathy.

Mental illness is legitimate and real, and it’s time we stop making people feel ashamed and alone for physiology beyond their control by ostracizing them for their “icky” feelings because we’re too uncomfortable to talk openly about them. Everyone has a different life perspective, and everyone is allowed to interpret their experiences any way they will, without shame.

What might be “no big deal” to one person can severely traumatize another, because we’re not fucking robots.

Pain is not a contest.

And showing pain is not a sign of weakness.

You’re not stronger than the person dealing with mental illness because you’re handling rough situations better than they are; you might have simply gotten a luckier roll of the genetic dice.

Or maybe you compartmentalize bad things more efficiently.

Or maybe they’ve been pushed over the edge into darkness, and you haven’t yet. Who knows?

But maybe instead of feeling cocky or stronger than them, you could try feeling grateful or compassionate.

Or shit… feel whatever the hell you want to feel… but please stop shaming others for their feelings, because you’re making them feel too humiliated to seek help, and that’s just mean.

 

What anyone who thinks depression is a “choice” made by people who aren’t “making their lives into what they should” needs to realize is that the one thing in the world depressed people wish they could be more than anything else is happy.

 

Nobody “chooses” depression.

 

All Henry Rollins has done with this ignorant opinion is potentially shame people suffering from depression by making them feel weak and pathetic, and possibly too embarrassed to seek help.

 

Way to go, Henry.

 

 

*I am not linking the website of Henry Rollins because I don’t want to increase website traffic for someone with an intolerant and uncompassionate view of mental illness.

 

**Actually, on his website, Henry Rollins spelled the word disdain as distain, but as an English major and Hall & Oates fan from way back, I can’t go for that. (No can do.) Both are official words, which is probably why he didn’t catch it with spellcheck, but in this context, he was clearly using it to mean “scorn or contempt,” which is the definition for disdain.

 

Also: Here’s an excellent article about suicide I highly recommend:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katie-hurley/theres-nothing-selfish-about-suicide_b_5672519.html

My Parents Are Exhausted and They Don’t Have to Enjoy It

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I was so tired I wasn’t sure if his shirt was real or a very literal and accurate hallucination.

The below piece by Toni Hammer is brilliant, and spot-on for me. As I read it, I mentally screamed, “Yes! Thank you!” because I thought I was the only one. Being told to “enjoy every moment” of parenthood by well-meaning strangers has always had the same guilt-tripping effect on me. “Is there something wrong with me?”  I’ve wondered, while feeling mildly ashamed.

I’ve felt flawed, or emotionally cold, because I don’t yearn for the baby days or look back longingly to when my son was an infant the way I often hear friends saying about their own children. At all. (Okay, maybe the smell of his baby head, but that’s it.) Those were the hardest days of my life. I didn’t yet know my son had ADHD neurology, so I felt bewildered, and like a constant failure. We tried every suggestion from every family member, friend, pediatrician, or book — yet nothing worked for us.

Our son was such a difficult baby and toddler that when combined with a hard look at our finances, we decided to stop at one child. We were being financially responsible, but I often wonder if we’d had a quiet, easy baby the first time around, we might have had the two kids I always wanted.

In fact, even though he’s 9 and much easier, I still often find myself looking forward to my son growing up, becoming easier, and less high-maintenance. So when people tell me to “enjoy every moment,” I’m acutely aware that I haven’t enjoyed every moment, and it makes me feel bad.

Am I a terrible parent because of this?

My son didn’t sleep more than 2 hours in a row for the first 9 months of his life, and then we were still only lucky to get 4-5 hours in a row. I didn’t enjoy a moment of that. I did, however, become clinically depressed from sleep deprivation and start hallucinating because I hadn’t experienced REM sleep in 9 months.

Once he started to walk, my son never stopped moving, but did stop napping by age 2. I did not enjoy that.

He went through a phase where every single time I gave him a bath, he shat in the tub. I did not enjoy that.

He didn’t fully potty train until he was nearly 4-years-old. I did not enjoy that.

Kids with ADHD neurology have a developmental delay in the part of the brain that controls executive functioning, and are generally at least 2 years behind same-age peers emotionally, so we experienced the “Terrible Twos” at age 4. And in case you were wondering, it’s a lot harder physically to carry a wildly thrashing 4-year-old child throwing a fit away from the scene than a smaller 2-year-old, and so unbelievably humiliating. I did not enjoy that.

My son has changed my life for the better and taught me so much. And obviously, there are many, many beautiful moments involved with having a child… but they aren’t all beautiful. And they aren’t all enjoyable. In fact, sometimes things happen that we’d rather forget. And that’s okay.

Great writing… check it out:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/toni-hammer/please-stop-telling-moms-to-enjoy-every-moment_b_6498336.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000037

Fitness Faux Pas: 5 Ways You’re Doing the Gym Wrong

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Every day, I go to the gym after I see my son off to school. I’m diagnosed with ADHD and generalized anxiety/panic disorder, so after I have a green protein shake and my delicious daily Xanax, I go to the gym. This allows me to burn excess energy, get the positive endorphins flowing, and work off anxiety.

And every day, the people in my gym unknowingly cause me some of the anxiety I’m there to alleviate.

I’ve been working out at home and in gyms since I was 14, and am well-versed in proper weightlifting form. I’m one of those wacky people who’s always loved to exercise, probably because it corrects a lot of my brain chemical imbalances and raises my low self-esteem. (Let’s hear it for body image issues! Woo! No? Just me?) If I start my day with a good workout, I have a better day. It’s guaranteed. So not going to the gym isn’t an option.

Because of the aforementioned anxiety disorder, I belong to a smaller gym. I chose it because I can see the exits from everywhere in the gym, and the front is made of glass. If this sounds odd to you, familiarize yourself with the symptoms of generalized anxiety and panic disorder (similar to PTSD), and you’ll understand.

(I don’t like crowds, I need a clear escape route wherever I go, I have an overactive startle reflex, and I trust no one. Xanax literally gave me back my life; at least the life outside of my home.)

But the people. Oh, some of the people in my gym. Just… wow.

I should say that most of the people in my gym are nice, have great manners, we say hello, and they’re lovely humans. But there are a few that stress me out on a regular basis, and those are the people I’d like to discuss here.

With this in mind, I want to send out into the intellectual ether a list of annoying gym habits, so people may nod their heads in agreement with me – or will please stop doing these things if they recognize themselves.

***

 1. The Super Slammer— 

Hi, Meatbird. May I call you Meatbird? No? Okay, sorry. It’s just that you seem obsessed with amassing flesh on your upper body, while completely ignoring the lower half. Your workout regimen is giving you the appearance of a bulky, top-heavy bird, and calling you “Turkey” seemed rude. Forgive me. I’m probably just being bitchy because I’m jealous of your delicate ankles.

Anyhow… Chad. Todd. Blake. Whatever your name is. If you could stop slamming the weights down after every… single… one… of the 5 reps you’re barely able to do because you’re lifting more than you can handle, that would be great. (<— Say this in the classic “Office Space” annoying boss voice for extra points.)

Because firstly, you’re scaring the ever-loving shit out of everyone in the gym who isn’t looking in your direction when you loudly drop the weights. Yes, even the people who don’t have anxiety disorders.

And secondly, those who are knowledgeable about weightlifting realize that controlling your repetitions on the way down is just as important for muscle-building as the upward movement.

In short: You’re being such a loud jackass that I can’t even drown out your crashing noises with my headphones cranked to the max. Stop it. And learn proper weightlifting form, brah. You look like total newb.

 2. The Heartrate Hog— 

Hi, Lady at My Gym Who Wears Jeans and Does the Crossword on the Recumbent Bike for an Hour. I just wanted to let you know you’re being rude.

“Why?” you may ask. Or not. I don’t care. I’m going to tell you either way. You’re being rude because there are only 2 recumbent bikes in our smallish gym for middle-aged people like myself who trashed our knees via youthful running, and can now only do knee-friendly cardio. Since we can’t fit a swimming pool in our gym, this leaves only the bikes for bunk-kneed folks like me.

Except… when you monopolize 1 of the 2 bikes while the other is in use to pedal so slowly you’re able to legibly write words across and down. Then, this doesn’t leave any bikes at all. Just you. In your jeans and cardigan. Doing the crossword. For an hour.

It’s sometimes written via signs on gym walls, but mostly it’s an Unspoken Rule of Gym Club (it’s the second rule, actually… I’m breaking the first rule with this article) that if all versions of a cardio machine are full, polite gym members limit their cardio to 30 minutes per machine.

Did you know this? Of course you didn’t, or I’m sure you would stop your rousing hour-long game of newspaper trivia to let someone else have a chance to bike.

In short: Why you don’t spend your gym membership money on a recumbent bike for your home, and give those of us who want to break a sweat a chance to do some fucking cardio? Thanks.

3. Just the Pro-Tip, I Promise— 

Hi, Brian. I’m calling you Brian for this article, because that’s the actual name of the guy at my gym who used to give me constant pro-tips. Because of this, all pro-tippers will forever be known as Brian to me. Sorry, nice Brians of the world. It’s not your fault. Brian at my gym ruined it for you. Blame pro-tip Brian, other Brians.

Even though I don’t know Brian at all, Brian likes to walk over to me while I’m doing leg lift machine reps and give me amazing pro-tips like “twist your legs from side to side to work all the muscles.” I stupidly tried it. This resulted in my wrenched knees becoming so painful from twisting them while lifting that I couldn’t walk the next day.

Brian also gave me a pro-tip that involved my neck muscles, which are easily hurt ever since I was rear-ended by a distracted driver doing 50 MPH as I waited for a light to turn green. I told Brian this, but he assured me that no, it wouldn’t hurt my neck. That pro-tip set my fitness regimen back about a week as I waited for my strained neck muscles to heal.

Now I ignore Brian, and all the other pro-tip givers trying to “help me” (read: boost their insecure egos by condescendingly trying to teach someone who already knows how to exercise).

In short: Unless I’m paying you to be my personal trainer, get the fuck out of my face and let me work out. And save your ego issues for your therapist, unless you’re going to pay me to help you with those. Brian.

4. My Long Lost Relative— 

Hi, My Long Lost Relative! It’s great to meet you!

What do you mean, we’re not related? I don’t understand.

No, I’m not crazy, I promise. It’s just that you left so much DNA via the oily rivulets of fluid dripping down the seat and back of the weight machine you last used, that when I sat in it, I figured we became automatic Sweat Siblings.

So what you’re saying is that we’re not Sweat Siblings now? Darn.

I’m disappointed because I was hoping that you could be the younger Sweat Sibling. And then cleaning repulsive human secretions off the weight machines would be a chore our Sweat Mom would make you do. You know, since you left them there and all.

In short: You’re disgusting. See all the free paper towels and bottles of cleaner our gym has conveniently placed in all areas? Use them, you horrifying perspiration beast.

5. The Lazy Lifter—

Hi, Lazy Lifter! Yes, you. I’m talking to you.

“But I’m at the gym… how can I be lazy?” you ask?

You’re lazy because you come to the gym, in theory, to exercise, and then despite the signs asking you to rack your weights, you still leave them on the bars and machines for someone else to take off.

I notice this most often when I walk over to use the leg press machine and there are 4 heavy weights on the bar – on each side – that have been left by the last user. This makes me worry that someone is still using it, and also, that I’m going to pull that pesky weak-ass neck muscle I mentioned above as I unload the 8 large weights you left behind.

This is equivalent to getting a glass of milk and leaving the carton out for the next person to put into the refrigerator for you.

This is equivalent to taking a big dump in a toilet and leaving it for the next person to flush for you.

This is equivalent to being an inconsiderate asshole who leaves weights on the machines for the next person to take off for you.

In short: There’s no short version of this one. If you don’t know what I’m asking you to do, you’re as dumb as the weights you don’t put back where they belong.

***

This concludes my current list of top gym etiquette frustrations, with a bonus shout-out to the guy who “saves” machines by putting his gym bag on the one he’s not using at the moment, like we’re in a high school cafeteria rather than a gym.

Also: An extra-special bonus shout-out goes to the large man who was at the gym the one – and last – time I tried to go at 4 a.m. to avoid the crowds (and be guaranteed a precious recumbent bike).

When it was just you and me, alone in the gym, sir, and you growled in a disturbingly sexual way while lifting weights, and then counted your reps out loud in a raspy serial killer voice behind me, I decided I’d never go to the gym in the dark again. Thanks for the extra terror-calories I burned that day, dude. My hot bod will totally be worth the nightmares.

*Cool photo at top by SandyJo Kelly, via Flikr Creative Commons.

Public School and the Island of Misfit Boys

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It’s often discussed amongst parents and teachers that our public school children aren’t getting enough exercise to work out their “kid energy.” We older folks remember having multiple recesses, while simultaneously wondering why obesity is becoming a problem for our country’s youth.

P.E. and the liberal arts classes that teach children creative thinking — a trait every bit as valuable as math skills and English rules — are now referred to as “specials” at my 9-year-old son’s school, and rotated throughout the week. This means the kids only get one of these types of classes each day. When I was a kid, we had daily P.E. and music or art multiple times per week.

~

I recently went to my son’s school to eat lunch with him, where the kids are allotted exactly 20 minutes to file into the room, wait in line to get their school lunch, or find a table and start eating a home lunch. I almost always pack my son’s lunch because he tells me this gives him more time. Never enough time to finish his lunch, though. He always brings the unfinished part home to eat after school.

The sweet little girl who sat next to me was trying to quickly eat the apple on her lunch tray. She told me, “I always try to eat as much of the apple as I can before they give the 5-minute warning, then I hurry to try to eat the rest of the lunch.” I watched her throw away half of the uneaten apple, with the rest of her unfinished lunch. She wanted to eat the healthy apple. She was unable to eat it. This is ridiculous.

~

I know you’re probably thinking at this point, “Well they’re kids… they’re probably talking rather than eating during the 15 minutes they have in which to eat after settling down at a table with their lunches.” And I thought this too, since my son always brings home part of his lunch uneaten. That’s why this visit was so shocking for me.

Because, no. It turns out my son’s cafeteria has two teacher’s aides who walk around with microphones to silence the children who’re constantly reminded to quiet down, and rushed to eat, with the last 5-minute warning being a period of complete silence. I watched a table of 8 kids try to eat their food, and only one of them was able to eat the entire meal. (He was shoveling food into his mouth, which seems like an unhealthy habit to force a child to establish.)

~

As we sat in silence, with the kids trying finish their lunches, I wondered why I was there. It was the opposite everything my childhood lunches had been: we’d had time to socialize and chat with friends while enjoying a meal. We were always able to finish eating, with time to spare.

As the microphone-carrying women admonished the children who dared to talk while eating, the room felt militaristic and creepy. And despite the “prison guards” with their amplification devices, most of the children still didn’t finish their meals.

The kids then ran outside for the one recess they get per day. That’s right, you heard me: one chance to exercise, one chance to work off some energy so they might be better able to sit still in class. That’s it. One.

~

My son is officially “twice exceptional,” which means he is of gifted intelligence combined with atypical neurology. He is diagnosed with ADHD, and on an extremely low dose of ADHD medication, which makes me wonder if, were he allowed to have more recesses and daily P.E. like we were as kids, he might be able to handle the rigid structure of the public school system without medication.

We’ve tried to take him off his medication, and he can’t handle it, however. He has the energy of a joyful puppy, and he needs chances to burn it off in order to focus. But he’s not getting any guaranteed chances beyond that one recess.

I don’t understand why I can see that more physical activity would help all children – male or female – do better in school, yet school officials don’t seem to get this. Every country ranking above us in global education prioritizes physical activity as an important tool for helping kids learn, and it’s proven to work, yet we, the overweight Americans are moving in the opposite direction.

~

There are 3 boys in his class, my son tells me, who are allowed to stand while doing work. While I applaud his teacher for offering a solution to this problem, I don’t understand why my son’s school doesn’t recognize that so many children having excess energy and causing classroom disruptions could be drastically reduced by giving the kids more opportunities to exercise.

My son knows 2 other boys on ADHD medications, and boys tend to (very much in general) be more immature and therefore hyperactive/impulsive than girls, but this need for more exercise and creative free play time applies to girls as well, obviously.

I was a little girl with both-undiagnosed gifted intelligence and ADHD, for example, who sat bored and restlessly staring out the window. Teachers wrote on my report cards that I “daydreamed too much in class,” yet even then, I was getting much more daily exercise and liberal arts classes (that we’re slowly eliminating and calling “specials”) than today’s youth.

I feel that my son, all our sons, and all our daughters, are not being given enough chances to move around, and be silly, goofy kids during the school day.

I’m dismayed that my son’s school lunch time feels like a boot camp meal.

And most of all, I’m extremely displeased that so many parents of hyperactive kids are forced to medicate our children to boost their immature prefrontal cortex development and executive functioning… simply so they can attend an unrealistically restrictive public school.

~

I understand the physiology behind ADHD and don’t deny that my son has a neurological developmental delay; but considering that a minimum of 10-11% of the population has ADHD (this number is only the percentage of the officially diagnosed), I think it’s time for the schools to change the way they teach our children. And I’d like this change to start with more physical activity. More free play, socializing, and recess, so our kids can better learn when it’s time to sit still and focus.

Why? Because I shouldn’t have to take my son to a behavioral therapist, a psychologist, and feed him scary medications just so he can fit into a rigid and intellectually inhibiting system that sets up smart, inquisitive, energetic kids for failure, no matter how hard they try.

~

My son is advanced enough that we were offered the chance to move him up a grade, but because his ADHD neurology makes him unable to conform to the behavioral expectations of a higher grade, this is not an option for us.

So he is bored, and when un-medicated, disrupts the other children by talking out of turn and not sitting still. He then gets in trouble and feels like a bad kid for something he can’t physically control, so the cycle of low self-esteem and anxiety progresses… along with our therapy expenses.

Much like the misfit toys featured in the popular “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special we see every winter break, my son doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. There is no place for him in the current public education system, yet when I discuss homeschooling him, he cries and begs me to not do it, because he’s so gregarious and outgoing, and would miss his friends.

Because we can’t afford private school, we are officially out of options.

~

Structure is important and necessary, lest the classrooms become chaotic, and I applaud all good teachers for their patience and everything they do. This is not a teacher-bashing piece, but instead a cry for help aimed at the public school system.

In short: My child doesn’t attend a military school, but it feels like it, and I think that’s wrong. Our young public school kids are being forced to conform to what I believe are near-adult behavioral expectations, and this causes them – and their parents – unnecessary anxiety, and hampers the educational process.

If anyone reading this has the power to change the direction of public education, please consider refocusing on more opportunities for physical exercise, such as multiple daily recesses, and more emphasis on music, art, and physical education classes. These were once important parts of our public education, and most of us who remember having them don’t understand why they’re being taken from our children.

The next time you’re contemplating how to fix our obviously broken and underfunded public educational system, giving children more opportunities to be kids every day would be a great starting point. They’ll have the rest of their lives to be adults, after all.

***
~

*Cool artwork at top copyright CJS 2011 a.k.a. guttergoo at DeviantArt.