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The Life Changing Magic of Solo Travel

A few years ago, I was seeing a therapist, and one of the themes we discussed often is my struggle to find connections without having close friendships nearby. This has been a challenge most of my adult life, and while I have a few close friends, they’re often hard to connect with on a deeper level because we live hours apart and only see each other a few times a year. I’m a pretty strong introvert, so I do much better with conversations that go beyond small talk, but most of my interactions weren’t getting that far. In response to this, my therapist suggested I take the opposite approach and focus on finding more fulfillment in spending time alone. This was definitely not a challenge – I’ve always loved going on long drives, wandering around bookstores and Target on my own, and had even started going to dinner on my own during work trips to get a break from the constant “on”-ness of my job. My therapist, however, challenged me further and told me to take a trip away on my own, for fun.

The challenge here was not only to travel on my own, but to overcome all of the internal barriers I immediately put up to the idea. Self care has become such a frequent topic of conversation it’s almost satirical now, but the crux of why it continues to be so hard even though we all know it’s necessary, is usually because we as women and mothers just naturally put ourselves last and feel guilty if we don’t. Frankly, I loved the idea of going away by myself, but it felt selfish to spend money just on myself. It felt like I would be judged for prioritizing myself. I felt like I would need to reciprocate to make sure that my husband then has equal time for himself. It just felt wrong to have something just for me.

Thankfully I’m married to a man who supports me in everything that I do, and my therapist told me, as a way to address my deep resistance to doing things for myself, to challenge him to plan this solo trip for me, to allow someone else to take care of me for a chance. He was giddy with excitement at the prospect, and a few weeks later, I was on a plane to Maine for a 3 day weekend, all on my own. I stayed at a beautiful B&B that had pie for an evening snack. I had a rental car that allowed me to traverse most of the state, including going on a gorgeous drive to and through Acadia National Park while listening to the Hamilton soundtrack with a closeness I had never gotten to listen with before. I walked around small bookstores (one of my all time favorite things to do), read while enjoying dinner and drinks, walked around small towns, and watched mindless TV before going to sleep. I spent a lot of time thinking – something I thrive on, especially in times of emotional stress. Being on my own, setting my own pace, it all allowed me to turn inward to myself, and to have the freedom to think about what matters to me. It was one of the most energizing and restorative experiences I’d ever had, both physically and mentally.

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Hobbies and Chronically Ill Parenting

I have never really been much of a hobby person.

In high school, I would jump around from thing to thing. I had my regular extracurriculars (choir, theater, and church) that I did for years, but when it came to actually doing things in my spare time, I liked the idea of hobbies but not the practice. I would dive into something, like my very short lived yoga phase, become obsessive for a while, get a bunch of stuff for it for birthdays or Christmas, and then promptly give it up. Even the big ones, choir and theater, I have since given up. I haven’t done a show since my freshman year of college and barely sung a note since college graduation (other than at church–that’s stuck, though I’m not nearly as involved as I used to be).

But one hobby has lasted as long as I could do it up until now, and that’s writing.

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I wrote my first “novel,” scribbled in several wide-ruled notebooks, when I was in second grade. It was about “bookomon,” little creatures that encouraged kids to read instead of playing Pokemon (this was obviously during the height of the late 90s Pokemon phase, which I didn’t understand; I was a very pretentious eight-year-old apparently). I have long since stopped writing about “bookomon,” and in fact, my eight-year-old self would scoff at the 27-year-old who now plays Pokemon Go with her husband and daughter.

While I have unique challenges as a chronic illness parent, what isn’t unique between me and most parents is my struggle to try to continue doing things I love after becoming a parent. While many of my posting topics are specifically to resonate with chronically ill parents, the struggle of keeping up with one’s hobbies is a near-universal one. I, like many parents, have gone through phases that ebb and flow in the rivers of parenting when it comes to balancing my hobbies. When Snowy was born, I was in my second semester of grad school, so I barely had time for writing for fun at all.

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Teddy Portraits

My friend Minhee of Paper + Cup Design has started a project photographing her son’s stuffed animal collection. At first she started taking pictures of them one by one, but that took too long so she grouped them together by color. My kids also have an abundance of stuffed animals, and I loved this idea as a way to preserve their favorite little friends forever, as well as create some colorful artwork for their bedroom walls!

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Being a Sick Parent to a Healthy Kid

There are a lot of resources out there for healthy parents of disabled children. There are parents who are fierce advocates for their children, and write about the experience. There are Facebook groups and communities for parents of children with a huge range of illnesses and disabilities. There are a lot of fantastic resources out there for a very needed demographic, and I’m not discounting them at all. Parenting a child with disabilities is an experience with unique challenges that I’m sure can be very isolating.

There is less written out there about a situation like mine: I am a chronically ill, disabled parent to a healthy five-year-old. It can also be a strange and isolating experience with its own unique challenges, but sometimes its own unique joys, which is why I’m writing about it now.

Looking back, I definitely would have qualified as a child with a disability, but I never saw it that way. I have a lot of memories of pain and sickness, especially starting at puberty, but I had symptoms even earlier. I started getting migraines in about the 3rd grade.

A lot of people with my conditions–especially hypermobility disorders, which have a 50% chance of being inherited, choose not to have children. But I didn’t even know hypermobility disorders like Generalized Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder which I am now diagnosed with, existed until my late 2016 diagnosis. Snowy was born in 2014. My story is not unique in chronic illness parenting circles: on every Facebook group post where people with hypermobility syndromes are wondering whether or not they should have children, there is a generous smattering of comments from people diagnosed long after they had kids. We didn’t have the knowledge to “know better, do better”; our choice to have kids was not informed. That isn’t to say any of us regret having our children, but it is to say we live with the knowledge now that we could have inadvertently passed our syndromes down.

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Link Roundup – February 4, 2019

Happy Chinese New Year! We just got back from watching a Lion and Dragon dance, and it was so much fun. My kids had an absolute blast! If you can find one in your area, I highly recommend it!

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Here are some interesting parenting links from around the web this week!

H E A L T H

How Much Does It Actually Cost to Give Birth? via The Cut

Many Children Are Overdoing It on the Toothpaste, C.D.C. Study Say via New York Times

I.V.F. Coverage Is the Benefit Everyone Wants via New York Times

Parents who don’t vaccinate kids tend to be affluent, better educated, experts say via ABC News

The Breastfeeding Option We Don’t Talk About via Huffington Post

Germs in Your Gut Are Talking to Your Brain. Scientists Want to Know What They’re Saying. via New York Times

Everyone’s Missing the Obvious About the Declining U.S. Birth Rate via Medium

Their Son Tested Positive for Strep Throat. Then Came the Severe OCD, Anxiety, and Hallucinations. PANDAS affects 1 out of every 200 kids, and boys more than girls. via Good Housekeeping

E D U C A T I O N

School restrooms are a public health problem via The Week

Gym Class Is So Bad, Kids Are Skipping School to Avoid It via The Atlantic

Teaching the Bible in Public Schools Is a Bad Idea—For Christians via The Atlantic

F A M I L Y

How big is the wage penalty for mothers? via The Economist

How ‘Vasectomy Zoning’ Makes Childless Cities via Citylab

“As a society, we have mommy issues”: how America discriminates against mothers via Vox

When You Know You Had a Toxic Parent, but Siblings Disagree via Psychology Today

Two-Thirds of Breastfeeding Discrimination Cases Led Nursing Moms to Lose Their Jobs via Fortune

With Paid Leave, Gates Foundation Says There Can Be Too Much of a Good Thing via New York Times

Childbirth Injury Led A New Mom To Start A Parenting Podcast ‘To Feel Less Alone’ via NPR

The Global Legacy of Quebec’s Subsidized Child Daycare via Citylab

P A R E N T I N G

Girlhood: After years of social gains and with bright futures within reach, why are things still so difficult for middle school girls? via Harvard

10 Times She Shouldn’t Say “Sorry” via Girl Scouts

Let Children Get Bored Again via New York Times

The Age Four Transition to Responsible Childhood via Psychology Today

15 Things You Need to Know If Your Child Is an Introvert via Psychology Today

Screen time inhibits toddler development, study finds via Techcrunch

This mother’s description of her tween son’s brain is a must-read for all parents. via Upworthy

How Parallel Play Affects A Toddler’s Brain, According To An Expert via Romper

Snowy’s Low-Key 5th Birthday Party

Aptly for her nickname, my five-year-old daughter whom I call Snowy here on the blog, there has been an uninvited guest for many of her Midwestern January birthdays: snowstorms.

Three of Snowy’s birthdays, plus the original day she was born, have been complicated by snow. Even before she was born, snow and Snowy were quite entwined. The first time I went into early labor, when I was about 35 weeks pregnant, my sister-in-law had to drive in a snowstorm to get me to the hospital. Luckily, Snowy didn’t come that time; they were able to stop the labor. But the next big snowstorm 2.5 weeks later was when Snowy made her big arrival. It delayed my family from visiting until she was a few days old and I was out of the hospital.

For Snowy’s first birthday, we planned her party to coincide with the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is a big event in my family: both my parents have birthdays that always fall right around it, and my husband’s birthday is a day after my dad’s, so we combine all of their birthdays and celebrate them together at the Super Bowl. Growing up, the Super Bowl was a bigger holiday in our family than Christmas, even though only my dad liked football.

We lived five hours away from my parents back then, so coming into town for the party was a big deal. We invited over some family friends, some of whom had never met Snowy before, or had only met her once or twice. The weather was totally fine for our drive up that Friday, and for the entire day Saturday. But as soon as Super Bowl Sunday rolled around, so did the “snowstorm of the year.” I remember hearing guest after guest cancel. Even the last holdout got snowed in at her parents and was unable to make it. Luckily, my sister and parents were already there, and we had a good, albeit small, celebration (and Snowy was probably asleep before the game to begin with and didn’t even know the difference; she got cake, so she was happy!).

But the whole experience–how long I worked to plan the party, and how frantically I had to cancel it–put me off from wanting to plan anything big for a few years. We were in the middle of a big move by her 2nd birthday, so we ended up getting a few decorations and some donuts, and did something similar for her 3rd birthday. She thoroughly enjoyed both.

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Comparing Chicago to Lexington

It has now been about five months since the Starfish family moved south from Chicago, Illinois to Lexington, Kentucky. It was a pretty big move for us, as we had been in Chicago our entire adult lives and had no family or friends in Lexington (no family in Chicago either, I should note).

Over the years, as more and more friends left Chicago each winter (or embarked for the distant Chicago suburbs), Mr. Starfish and I would periodically daydream about leaving the windy city as well. Our main gripes with Chicago were terrible winter weather, high property prices and cost of living, horrible traffic with very long commutes from the suburbs, and a schooling picture that was dizzying in its confusion.

Still, despite all of our complaints about Chicago and hopes for a better future location for our family, it came as a total shock when the time actually came and I received a job offer in Lexington. We had never given any thought to Lexington, and we had your typical urban-Chicago views on Kentucky. I thought I’d share some of the big differences between the two as we’re settling in here.

To set the stage, according to Wikipedia, Chicago is over eight times as large as Lexington (per 2017 population data). Also, while we lived in downtown Chicago, we moved to a suburb of Lexington. Interestingly, our suburb in Lexington is about 4-5 miles from the city center. In Chicago, I’m not aware of any suburb that close in and in fact our townhome in Chicago was 2-3 miles from the city center and we were considered pretty close to the loop.

Audrey at the top of Chicago's Willis Tower about a week before our move.
Audrey at the top of Chicago’s Willis Tower about a week before our move.

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