8 Successful Single Parenting Tips To Live By

I couldn’t agree more that a positive attitude and open communication are key to surviving single parenthood!

8 Successful Single Parenting Tips To Live By.

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The Strange, Painted Lady

One day, I saw the most unique woman sitting by the door at Starbucks.  She was sitting at a table by herself and immediately caught my attention with her thick eyeliner, which was applied well below her lash line, dark pink blush that almost looked painted on and her bright, scarlet lipstick.  Her clothes were worn and out of date, and her hair was unruly.  At first glance, it was easy to dismiss her as “some crazy lady” or “just another homeless woman”.  The look in her eyes, however, told another story altogether.

The painted lady sat alone at the table.  No one in the store seemed to notice her yet she noticed everyone who walked by.  When I first saw her, she was staring at my friend’s very obviously pregnant belly.  It’s hard to accurately describe the look on her face but despondent comes to mind.  The longing in her face was palpable and something in that look touched something deep within me.  Suddenly, I was no longer staring at a stranger, but rather a sister-soul who had seen her share of hard times in this life.  I was looking at a daughter, a sister, and maybe even a mother and I knew, instinctively, that she was hurting.

After that, I couldn’t take my eyes off of this woman sitting in the middle of a busy Boston Starbucks.  I watched her unsmilingly observe everyone who walked by.  She listened to the conversations and even tried to make eye contact a few times.  Nobody in the store seemed to even notice her, except me.  For reasons that I can’t explain, I was moved by this woman.  I was overcome with the need to let her know that I knew she was there, that I noticed her.

As we were walking out of the store, I made eye contact with my painted sister.  I smiled and gave her the slightest wink.  She returned my favor with the kindest, warmest smile that I’ve ever seen.  Her face truly lit up and for that moment, a matter of seconds, she and I understood each other perfectly.

My reason for sharing this story with you is simple; it was a powerful moment that I wish happened more often.  We’ve all been programmed to judge our neighbors.  It’s so ingrained that we never even bother to question the absurdity of assuming that we know everything about a person without ever speaking to them.  Life is too short to spend it disconnected.  If I had gone with my initial reflex, to judge, I would have missed that fleeting yet beautiful moment.

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Bullying

I watched a TED talk about bullying by Shane Koyczan that talks about the effects of being bullied from his personal experience.  Toward the end of his speech, he performs his poem “To This Day”.  I’ve watched the video countless times and I’m still moved to tears.  His message is powerful and from the heart.  I want to share this video with you and  to help spread his message but, before I did, I also wanted to do a little research to see exactly how widespread this issue is.  As a parent, and a human being, what I found was alarming and cut me to the core.

This morning, I’ve seen the face of a promising, young singer who will never reach her dreams of fame.  I’ve seen candles lit for a beautiful young woman who threw herself in front of a train just to escape her tormenters.  I’ve seen the innocent face of a nine year old who hung himself after weeks of torment at school.  Coincidentally, he is the second youngest in Britain to commit suicide – the youngest was eight.

I have witnessed firsthand the effects of bullying with my son Keigan.  He suffered culture shock when we moved from the rural, northern part of the state to the urban, southern part of the state.  Keigan was, and still is to a degree, a country bumpkin and his peers were ruthless.  Keigan was acting out every day, being sent to the office, and even sometimes skipping school to avoid his bullies.  In spite of my attempts to teach Keigan empathy and a thick skin, words still hurt – especially when you’re little and feel all alone in a new environment.

In his speech, Shane remembers hating himself for becoming that very thing he loathed the most: a bully.  I saw this same change occur in Keigan during the seventh grade as he tried to fit in with his previous tormenters.  It was heart breaking to see my wonderful, creative, emotive boy turn into the same surly, unkind young person that I was trying so hard to protect him from.  Of course, things are different now.  At age 16, Keigan is around 6’2” and closing in on 190 pounds.  Thanks to his size, he doesn’t get teased anymore to but there’s a wall between his heart and the world.  I can only hope that he learns to lower the wall to let the right people in.

We watched Shane’s speech together and I asked Keigan for his opinion.  This is what he said to me about bullying:

“…If everyone had a better home life, and were taught to appreciate their flaws, rather than hate them, the bullying would stop…”

Trite as it may seem, the biblical expression “from the mouths of babes” has never seemed truer than it did when I heard these words come from my son’s mouth.

As parents, we all want what’s best for our children but we sometimes lose what’s sight of what’s truly best for them in our attempts to “guide them towards a happier, more fulfilling life.”  If we want this horrendous bullying, and its terrible consequences to stop, then we must start in our own households.  We have to teach our children love and compassion.  We need to teach them to take a stand not only for themselves, but also for others.  We need to learn to accept ourselves so we can teach them to do the same.  Please, watch this video with your children and encourage open dialogue about bullying.  Please encourage them to share this video with their friends and spread Shane’s powerful, important message.

M


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Five meals under $15!

Money has been tight in our house as of late.  I’ve had to be really conscientious about how much I’m spending.  I run all my errands in one shot and make sure that all the places I need to go are close enough together so that I can hit everything in one trip – without driving across town.  I replaced all of my old, incandescent light bulbs with newer, energy-efficient bulbs.  I learned to keep my thermostat down to a reasonable temperature and wear sweats, rather than shorts, in the house.

Another area that needed to be revisited was my food bill.  Three years ago I was able to buy two weeks’ worth of groceries for roughly $150 total.  Now, it’s a challenge to keep it under $150 per week!  We eat mostly whole foods (versus pre-packaged meals) so couponing only really helps with toiletries and other household goods like toilet paper and laundry soap.

Since I get paid bi-weekly, I’ve learned the importance of making meal plans.  I wanted to share some recipes with you that I threw together for this pay cycle.  All five of them cost less than $15 per meal to make and most are under $10!  I’ve also included a recipe for my favorite French bread.  We make this daily so that we always have fresh bread in the house.  There are only two of us in the house so these portions may seem small but most of these meals can be doubled and will still be under $15.

Here are the meals, from most to least expensive:

Bean Burgers $12.20 for 8 burgers
Chili $8.66 for 8 bowls
Fry Bread Tacos $4.99 for 6 tacos
Simple Chicken Soup with Dumplings $4.71 for 6 bowls
Lactose-free Quiche $3.57 for 1 pie (8 slices)
Easy French Bread $2.45 for 2 loaves

You may be wondering why there is no meat on this menu.  We eat mostly vegetarian although I do sometimes throw in poultry or fish.  Don’t hesitate to add any meat you want to these recipes.  If you have a crock pot, you can save tons of money by buying the cheaper meat cuts (chicken thighs, pork shoulder, chuck eye steak, etc.) and slow cooking them.  Even the cheapest meats come out juicy and tender when cooked in a crock pot! I’m also lactose intolerant so I use Lactaid brand milk and aged cheddar (naturally lactose free if aged over 24 months!) but any milk or cheese can be substituted for all of these recipes.

I would love your feedback so please don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s anything that you would add or omit to the recipes.  If you’re interested in seeing a sample of the shopping list and meal price breakdown, it can be found here.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

M

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Raising a Child With Sensory

In my previous blog, I mentioned my son’s need for sensory stimulation.  Today, I wanted to delve a little further into exactly what I mean by this.  At age 7, Keigan was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  In specific, he was diagnosed with Type I Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD).  Before we delve into the specifics of Type I SMD, let me first give you a picture of life prior to diagnosis.

As a baby and toddler, Keigan seemed to cry a lot/overreact to a lot of different situations but we always attributed that to the fact that he was raised by women.  He was roughly three and a half years old when he threw his first tantrum.  I raised my voice while sending him to his room for something small, like not picking up a toy.  Nothing could have ever prepared me for the reaction that I received.  My smiling, bubbly little guy suddenly turned into Regan from The Exorcist!  He screamed and kicked the wooden door so hard that it cracked down the middle!  As a new parent, I was stunned and wondered if all children reacted this way in the heat of a tantrum.

Aside from the one tantrum, my son was the epitome of helpful at home.  He was always polite and respectful and smiling – at everyone.  It wasn’t uncommon to see a stranger’s face light up in the store when Keigan flashed them his signature, happy-go-lucky grin for no reason.  At daycare, however, it was a very different situation.  Between the ages of 3 and 6, Keigan went through 5 daycare providers!  His offenses ran the gamut from a defiant, uncooperative demeanor to risky behavior to an inability to keep his hands to himself.

Some of this behavior carried over to kindergarten, first grade, and even into second grade.  That was the year that I agreed to have him tested.  Any parent of a child with SPD is all too familiar with the similarities to ADD or ADHD; he couldn’t sit still, was sometimes defiant, tapped a lot, chewed a lot, was overly emotional, hurt his peers when hugging them and the list goes on and on.  He was slowly becoming isolated from his peers who were intimidated by his overly exuberant and physically invasive behavior.  Initially, all they were testing him for was ADD but as the testing progressed, they noticed that there was a lot more going on than meets the eye.

The testing revealed that Keigan has difficulties processing auditory, vestibular (balance) and multisensory sensations.  In laymen’s terms, this means that Keigan hears fine but sometimes can’t immediately process the information heard, can be uncoordinated and accident-prone, and struggles when a situation requires him to process multiple types of sensory all at one – such as in the grocery store with the lights, people talking and different smells.  It was also revealed that many of Keigan’s outbursts at school were directly related to being constantly overwhelmed by sensory input.

What shocked me the most at that time, at to this day, is how differently the school responded to him after being diagnosed.  Prior to his diagnosis, when they thought he had ADD or ADHD, the treatment he received was harsh.  His second grade teacher even informed me that he needed to be medicated.  I quickly replied that I would not medicate my child in order to compensate for her own inadequacy.  What is the most appropriate or collaborative response? No, but it is what it is and I was equally frustrated with the punitive treatment that I felt my son was facing at school.  After the testing however, the staff’s reaction to my little package of sensory overload was much more patient and helpful.

He received OT a few times a week, was given a quiet room to “cool down” when he became overloaded and was even allowed to use a word processor for assignments rather than having to write them out.  Clear writing was, and remains, a challenge for Keigan.  The effort required for him to write legibly sometimes gets in the way of his being able to write logically.  As you can imagine, high school has been a blessing since the bulk of his papers are submitted in typed format.

At age 16, Keigan is a very different child.  He still doesn’t like grocery stores so I won’t push him to go as long as he helps carry bags in.  He tried learning French but just couldn’t process it with all the distractions at school so he uses the Rosetta Stone at home.  The challenges are all still there but he’s learned better coping strategies.  Rather than using a “time out” room at school, he’s learned to calm himself down with music in between periods.  He still has all the safe-guards of an Individualized Educational Program (IEP), but rarely, if ever, uses the resources any more.  I’ve never allowed him to dwell on his diagnosis.  I don’t allow him to see it as a disorder, but as something that is part of what makes him beautiful.  He feels deeper, sees more and has more energy than most of us, and, when channeled properly, these traits make him a force to be reckoned with.

It hasn’t always been an easy road but, as Scott Adams said, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s too hard.”  Anyone can have a “normal” child.  I didn’t.  I was blessed with an extraordinary child who is growing into a passionate, dynamic young man.

If any of this rings true for your family, please don’t hesitate to insist that the school test them for SPD.  Here are some helpful SPD links to help better understand the disorder:

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Inexpensive Winter Fun in Manchester, NH

Over the past few days, the wind chill has brought temps here down to near or below zero.  Now that my son is 16, we have the luxury of enjoying this time to relax, read and watch movies.  Six years ago, that was not the case.

In the summer, we were always outside so my boy had plenty of sensory stimulation.  During the colder months, however, this stimulation was suddenly removed.  After a few short hours of being stuck in the house, my bouncing bundle of joy would be climbing the walls, sometimes literally, and I would pray to The Universe to please send me some ruby slippers – and a hard hat.  Winter was brutal for both of us.

With the holidays and increased utility bills, I had to find a way to combat the cagey winter blues on a budget.  After hours of research, I found the Holy Grail of free stuff – the Manchester City Library.  My local library offers a plethora of free passes to larger venues like the Museum of Science, the Zoo New England and the New England Aquarium, all in Boston.  Additionally, they offer free and discounted passes to local museums like the SEE Science Center in Manchester and the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord.

If you have a membership, AAA is also a great resource for discounted movie tickets.  You can find your local club here.

Other ideas for the Manchester, NH area include:

Currier Museum of Art : Admission is free from10am to 12pm on Saturdays

Millyard Museum: Admission $8.00 for adults, free for children under 12

Stonyfield Farms Visitors’ Center: No admission and yogurt samples are free! While you can’t tour the facilities anymore, you can still purchase Stonyfield’s Yogurt at a discounted price.

Amoskeag Fishways: Family Friday Nights are good for all ages and only $5 per family.

JFK Skating Arena: Skating is $3 for children under 12 and $5 for adults.  Skate rentals are also available on the weekends.

So, the next time that you’re stuck in the house with an unruly child, check out your local library for free passes and read up on local venues to see if they have discounted or free admission days for residents.  Not only will you save money, but you will also be creating memories while providing your child with a much-needed outlet for all that exuberance.

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