During an annual visit to my doctor this summer, I got word that my latest round of bloodwork had continued an unfortunate trend of very high cholesterol levels. I’m not one for medicine unless necessary, and fortunately for me, my doctor likes to go that route only when there are no other options to exhaust.
So, the prescription of the moment is becoming more active along with a fairly strict change of diet, eliminating (as much as possible, anyway) carbs and sugars from my plate.
If this sounds vaguely familiar it’s because my doctor had requested I try this in the past, to which I would start out strong and quickly lose steam before falling back into an eat-anything type of pattern again.
So this latest endeavor began at the start of August, and I’m proud to say that as I write this I am successfully three months into this new way of eating. The activeness part of the prescription, I admit, still needs some work. Sure, chasing three kids around certainly feels like a physical and mental work out by the end of the day, but I’m sure the doctor has something a little more routine in mind. Over the summer I was better at getting up early in the morning before the rest of the household awoke and going for a walk. With the start of the school year, of course, our morning routine changes with the season and an early morning walk is just not feasible, unless I wanted to go for a walk in the dark at 4 am – a prospect I think I’ll pass on.
Some years ago I had stopped sugary drinks, so sodas and sugared coffee was already out of the mix. So diet-wise, it’s been all-systems go, and with a huge help from Meg, my meals have consisted pretty much of meat and veggies, fruit or eggs, or soup and salad (in some order/arrangement) for the past three months. In that time I’ve found that many of the pains my doctor chalked up to inflammation disappear. Another side effect is that in that time I’ve also lost between 13-17 pounds, which I imagine had much to do with dropping carbs from the menu. Of course, the side effect to that side effect is that many of my clothes of the past few years are now baggy on me.
I’m going to be honest in that the road hasn’t been easy. The first few weeks without carbs left me in a state of constant irritation as my body went through a withdrawal stage. And I admit it’s hard to not sample a cookie or donuts, skip the birthday cake at the kids’ parties, and leave rice or potatoes sitting on a plate at the restaurant. But, I am and three months in, I’ve gotten much better at adjusting to what I can and can’t eat.
With another round of bloodwork coming in December, I’m determined to stand firm to see if this strict diet change has made any difference in things. If so, we’ll have conquered it without the need for medication. If not, well, we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.
The motivating factor in it all? Not the numbers, but my kids. I want to make sure I’m around as long as possible to see them grow, to see them thrive, to see who they become. And it’s possible that without the right changes to my diet and health, that may not happen.
So, as much as I may soooo crave a donut now and then, I can forsake the taste of that baked good when I put it on the scale next to the future with my kids.
This morning I was standing in the middle of our living room, getting dressed for work.
It’s not the usual place I prep for the day, but everyone else in the house was still asleep, and with a nine month old with a temperamental wake-up, I didn’t feel like tempting fate and having anyone wake up that might start a domino effect of human alarms that ended with a crying baby to start off the day.
So, I was there, just Winston (one of our cats) and myself, in the silence of the early morning. I was buttoning up my shirt when my eye caught some of the baby toys on a cubed shelf we have in the living room. We bought it with the sole purpose of having a place to house toys when not in use so they weren’t constantly scattered across the living room rug.
Three fabric bins neatly placed underneath, housing everything from Fisher Price Little People to toy instruments. A shelf filled with some board books, another bin filled to the brim with Duplo Legos, the raw material that leads throughout the day to spaceships, houses, superhero headquarters, zoos, and any other creations that spring to our kids’ minds.
In the past several months, a small basket has sat on top, filled with soft blocks, indestructible books, a rattle, and a handful of toys suitable for keeping a baby’s interest, at times a wishful prospect.
The shelf itself has been there, probably a year, by my estimate, but for some reason, this particular morning, one thought hit me while I got dressed – “these things are not going to be sitting here long.”
Contents within will change, perhaps from the Fisher Price Little People and Duplo of today to action figures and building kits of tomorrow. Puzzles might give way to board games, board books to magazines. And those baby toys in the wicker basket on top will fade away from our view like a mirage that in time will make us wonder, with how quickly it changed, it was all real, and all not so long ago.
Our two and a half year old daughter has a book she adores called 5-Minute Pinkalicious Stories, filled with 12 different stories featuring her favorite animated counterpart, Pinkalicious. It was found in her Easter basket, a gift from that hippity hoppity Easter Bunny, and has become a staple of almost every evening storytime.
Twelve stories and adventures in imagination to choose from. Yet, of those twelve, we’ve probably read three. And of those three, two have been read only once. Instead, we’ve read “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day” several nights a week for the past two months. At times I feel like I could recite it in my sleep and tell you all about Pinkalicious getting chosen to be Principal for the Day before getting sick, or Principal Hart getting sick, or having pink tea with mommy while home from school. For a while I had tried to encourage, perhaps, any of the other stories inside the book collection as I grew slightly weary of this same tale over and over again, or our 5 ½ year old son growing impatient with the same story and losing focus, moving about the room with attention anywhere but the story he’s sat through as well for so many times.
I just couldn’t understand why we were doing this again, and again, and again, but I obliged and we read “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day” night after night upon her request. Then one night, I got it. It took some pointing out from Meg, but I got it.
One night, within the past week or two, our daughter insisted that she wanted to read the story to us. “Okay…” we said, agreeing but unsure of what we were in for, handing the book over to her excited little hands. “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day!” she happily shouted and then….began telling us the story. No, she wasn’t reading it, but she was telling it, following along on each page and illustration, giving us an abbreviated, but still accurate story, with complete sentences taken right off the page as had been read to her.
She was retaining, she was remembering, and she was comprehending it.
That was the power of repetition on her young mind.
A study out of the University of Sussex has shown not only the vocabulary benefits of children hearing the same stories over and over, but that they actually may receive more benefit from fewer stories on repeat than newer stories all the time.
“…each time a child hears the book they are picking up new information,” says Psychologist Dr Jessica Horst who led the study. “The first time it might just be the story, the second time they are noticing details of description, and so on. If the new word is introduced in a variety of contexts – as happened with those who were read three different stories – children are less likely to focus on the new word.”
So, the next time she wants to hear about Pinkalicious’ Sick Day for the 79th time, or once again “read it” to us, I’m all ears, because I know she is too.
About a year ago, I felt like I was living in a constant state of stress. Whether it be work, family, adult and parent responsibilities, finances, aspirations left unreached, creative pursuits, or issues with the world at large, I was a ball of worry, nerves, pressure, and so much more, clawing at the walls for a way out of this invisible box I felt I was stuck in all the time.
Every little thing would bother me, from a comment someone at work made, or a creative project taking a little longer because ‘life things’ just got in the way. Negative, negative, negative, it felt like a cloud that was engulfing me at nearly every turn.
Then, somewhere along the way, either just before or just after the birth of our third child, our second daughter six months ago, something happened. A switch felt like it got flipped.
Why did it take me so long to flip that switch? Was it the birth of our third child that was the impetus for such a shift in focus? Why didn’t it happen with the first two?
I have no idea and can’t tell you. But I can tell you that around this time, I just started looking at things…differently.
Suddenly, the things that I used to find myself so bothered by no longer really mattered. I mean, sure, they were there, they weren’t ideal, they were still annoying. But they no longer gnawed at me, they no longer stayed with me. Sure, it could be that I’m just so exhausted from three kids that I don’t have the energy to worry about other things anymore or to get upset about things that used to bug me. Maybe there’s a quotient of truth there.
But, I think most of all, I just started thinking differently. Somehow, I inadvertently shifted my mindset and instead of getting bothered or down about the things that weren’t working out, weren’t great, that I couldn’t achieve or have, I started feeling incredibly grateful for everything I did have.
And it was world changing for me.
I was looking at the success of other people and I wasn’t feeling joy. Instead it was making me feel bad, as if their achievements were a reflection on what I hadn’t done or hadn’t accomplished. It’s not, but for whatever reason, that’s how I was looking at it. And that view led to toxic feelings, feelings of doubt, of depression, unnecessary comparisons instead of feeling happy that someone was experiencing something good.
It’s like somewhere along the way in our development, this need to have things, more things, or this thought process that when someone gets something we didn’t, that it’s our own faults, our failure. So instead of feeling happiness for someone else, we default to a comparison that we missed out on something, that we’re not ‘worthy’ of it and then start questioning why, then start getting angry, or sad. And that leaves us disillusioned.
Suddenly, after far too long of dealing with the clouds of depression, angst, anger, sadness, self doubt that came about when things went south somewhere in life, I found myself stopping for a moment or two to mentally face these thoughts, these feelings, and start asking myself – “what are you happy to have?”
My family, my friends, a job, a roof over my head, clothes on my back.
I started to look around me every morning. The frustration of the cats waking me at half hour intervals from 3 am onward turned into (most mornings. I’m human, I falter) an appreciation for the love these furry little guys show us each and every day from the moment we took them in and welcomed them to our family. Gratefulness that it was our growing cat population in our house that awoke some paternal instinct in me long before we welcomed home any of our human children.
Ah, our children. How quickly life has changed in the 8 years Meg and I have been married. Sometimes that change can make us feel like nothing gets accomplished because we’re constantly chasing after or tending to one of the kids. But to imagine our lives without any one of them, chaos included, is unfathomable. There will come a time when they’ll be older, when they’ll have their own lives, and we’ll be wishing for the chaos, the sleepless nights and those times when sure, nothing around the house felt like it got done, but man, weren’t those kids fun? The laughter, the joy, the wonder, and the sheer love that each one brings in their own way, from the way they look at you when they first see you in the morning, to that hug at the end of the night. There has been nothing in our lives like it and it has been nothing short of a blessing to be a parent and be there beside them as they grow. And right there with me amid that tornado trio of kids is a beautiful, wonderful, funny, incredibly intelligent wife who is a true partner in all of this craziness of life, through thick, thin, and everything in between.
Friendships. Many of us are all going through the same things in life. Or maybe we’re not, but being around your friends, hearing about their struggles, sharing in the joy of their triumphs, and vice versa is important. Being around them, just knowing you’re not alone, even if no one has all the answers, makes the speed bumps in life a little easier to hit, and the good times even better.
A home in a neighborhood with good people who talk to each other, who look out for each other. A backyard with wildlife, where I can see birds come to the feeder every morning, squirrels doing acrobatics for seeds, or sometimes even a deer wandering through the yard on their way to and from the nearby woods. Space for our children to run, to play, to be kids.
A job that, sure, may not always be ideal, but then very few are. It may not be what I set out to do/want to do with the rest of my life (and it may not end up being, but who knows?), but it’s allowed me many things – the opportunity to go back to school, new professional skills to learn, more time with my kids than other jobs have, allowed me to make my student loan payments on time, to pay our bills, and afford to live when so many other people struggle just to make those ends meet and often can not.
This appreciation and gratitude for all that I’ve realized I have has for the most part made me forget what I didn’t, or what I thought I didn’t and thought I needed.
Several studies link gratitude to lower levels of depression, less toxic emotions like resentment and envy and can actually create higher levels of self esteem.
Over time, I found myself more and more looking for the bright side of situations. When someone came to me with something that might have been a downer to me last year, instead of reveling in what made it bad news, I find myself trying to look for the opportunity, or the silver lining within.
And when I started looking at the positives of situations, of my own life, I just found myself generally happier overall. No one expects you (or me) to be a ray of sunshine 24/7. We’re only human. But I’m a much happier human now.
It didn’t happen right away, but in time with a little work and a little focus, I’ve found that practicing the art of appreciation as gratitude has changed not only my outlook, but my life.
Love the life you’re with, find the reasons to love your life, the pieces of it, even in times of turmoil that can remind you what parts you’d never change, the parts that other people would love to have, and it can make a big difference. At least it did for me.
I write this, lying here in the dark of our room. The red digital numbers on the clock reading 11:13. Meg is asleep next to me, while one of our cats, Jasper nudges his way between us to curl in for a night’s sleep.
At the foot of the bed sits the cradle that’s been in Meg’s family for generations, and seen all three of our little ones rest their heads in it.
In there tonight sits our youngest, just shy of six months old, alternating between sleep and rapid bouts of coughing, worse now than when I took her to the doctor’s earlier today out of fear of an ear infection. The ears were clear and the best diagnosis for her recent and regular bouts of misery and blood curdling screaming were chalked up to the perfect storm of teething, gas, and bad eczema all over her body. The doctors offered some dietary change suggestions for Meg, cutting out things like dairy and peanut butter among others to narrow down what it is in the breast milk that could possibly be leading to such widespread redness.
And as our nearly six month old coughs her way through the night, our two year old has already thrown up twice in bed, leading to impromptu washings of her, her clothes and sheets. Upset stomach? Another virus? The second round of flu that’s been in the headlines? Or just a bug? I don’t know.
*Post-script note: Since writing this, there were two more incidents of vomiting throughout the night, with more washings, sheet strippings, and washes to the point that we started running out of sheets and pillows. And by this point, I had taken position on the floor next to her for the rest of the night.
And as they slumber, here I lay, feeling utterly helpless. There’s few feelings worse than watching your children sick, looking to you for aid and only being able to do so much for them before having you put them back to bed and tell them it will be alright, even if you’re not quite sure when it’ll be…hoping that if we are convincing to them that perhaps we might be able to convince ourselves too.