Friday, September 26, 2014

Measuring Success One Poop at a Time

For the past 6 months I've been turning the area under my basement stairs into a "home office." This office is intended to function as my own little zen space - a place where I can write and think and create and snooze. My nook. My sanctuary. For those of you balanced on the edge of your seat with anticipation, don't worry, I'll absolutely be writing a"How to Make a Home Office Like a Jerk" post when the office is complete. 

I'm about 75% done and my most recent additions include my very first laptop (thank you freelancing!) and the writing desk of my dreams. I have a small fan, an essential oil USB diffuser (yea - it's a real thing - thank you old coworkers!), and a Homedics desk humidifier. The walls are a calming shade of sage and the lighting is perfect...not too white, not too bright. I've mitigated the basement/cat litter smell with a few well-placed, subtle plug ins. The feeling I get when I walk down there is relief - utter relief that I have a dedicated, quiet place to work.

I was floating a little today, buzzing with the knowledge I was going to write my first blog post from my new office. I had a little more pep in my step as I rounded the corner to the basement stairs, hopping down them like a jolly little writer elf on her way to blogging heaven. I was envisioning my favorite writing shawl, imagining the words that would flow from my peace, and I was already feeling the sensation of keyboard under my fingers when...


Huge, and I mean HUGE, giant, enormous, stink-bomb cat poop, laying like a disease right in the middle of my zen.

This wasn't your typical kitty do-do, people. This was full-on, I ate-your-Christmas-ribbon-and-half-a-loaf-of-sourdough-oops cat crap. It stunk to high heaven and sat there, mocking me, saying, "Heh heh heh! You think you get zen space with nice clean floors and pretty smells? You get POO!"

I immediately marched upstairs to look for the poo donor and sure enough, there she was, lounging preciously on my wingback, doing the half-asleep, I-don't-care Jay Cutler face. 

Here's where it gets funny. See, I went back downstairs, came face-to-face with the turd, and immediately started crying like a total wuss. How can this be, poo? This isn't the way it's supposed to go down here, I thought. This is a zen space! I earned this space! I worked my butt off for this space! This space is physical proof I am not a lazy housewife who does nothing all day! HOW CAN THERE BE POOP ON MY PROOF?

It hasn't been easy to measure success since quitting my corporate job. You don't get pay raises or recognition for doing a bang-up window-washing job. There's no fancy title that comes with cleaning butts and packing lunches. Even my freelancing world is pretty void of verbal feedback and that positive reassurance that says, "AWESOME work, Jen!" As silly as it sounds, my laptop, my desk, my office, those things sent a signal to my brain that said, "You're doing it, JenJen. You're making it happen. You are succeeding."

Everyone's different, you see. Everyone perceived success differently. 

Maya Angelou says it's all about liking yourself and what you do.

Good old Frank sticks close to the theory that you create your own success through sweat and hard work.

Mr. Chrysler says it's all about enthusiasm. 

And then Estee Lauder.....for her the key to success was action, not dreaming. 

I guess at this point in my life I've been challenged to redefine what success means to me. I don't have performance reviews, or a sparkly resume, or prospective advancements within a career anymore...and clearly measuring success by evaluating the basement office I share with Kitty PoosATon isn't working out. But how, then? How do I measure how well I'm doing at this new life?

I went to a ladies group at my church the other day (no, I am not 80 years old and no, the church didn't burst into flames - I am as shocked as you are). They had a professional organizer come in and during her intro, she asked each of us to write down our top ten priorities. Now anyone who knows me understands I agonize over lists like my life hangs in the balance and I must, absolutely must, put down well-thought, well-articulated, all-encompassing answers. But I didn't have that kind of time. So here's what I ended up with:

10. New things
9. Colors and light (Don't ask because I don't. Even. Know.)
8. Social life
7. Communication
6. Clean
5. Peace
4. Faith
3. Quality time with those I love
2. Writing
1. Health

Yeeep. There you have it. Can you tell I was trying to be as general as possible so I could sub-categorize essentially anything in my life under one of the ten headings? Family members? #3. Gardening? #5. Reading? #5. Working on myself? #1 and #7. Seriously. You name it, I can place it. Tricky tricky!

But let's look at the full picture here. I was asked to prioritize my life. My top ten priorities. So if success differs from person to person, and each person's personality and priorities contribute to how they perceive success, then wouldn't it be fair to say achieving a positive position within your top priorities would, essentially, equate to success? 

Isolate individual priorities + achieve positive place with priorities = success?

If that's the case, then heck.....not once do I list "work," or "career," or "corporate recognition" in my priority list. Nothing about climbing a ladder or becoming an executive. Not a word about performance reviews, or recognition ceremonies. Interesting. 

Let's look instead at what I did put on my list....
10. New things -  I love trying new stuff. I try a new recipe every day. I try wearing flannel 24/7. I try to meet new people (hello church ladies!)...sometimes. I try different ways of teaching my kid letters. I try not showering for a few days. I'm all about the new things.
9. Colors and light - I am painting my house and pretty much everything in it. I haven't gotten new windows yet, but they're kinda on the grand plan. I like to buy flannel in different that what I meant? Honestly, people, I don't know where I was going with this priority. 
8. Social life - I've been hangin with peeps more than I have in years. I've found I love it and it's important to me. I am tired, don't get me wrong, but it's nice, the inclusion. The time away. The chance to challenge myself and see whether or not I've still got some craziness left in these old bones.
7. Communication - I talk a lot. A TON. I love to talk. I don't get people who can't talk. I get those who choose not to, but I don't get those who seriously just cannot. One of my priorities is to learn how to communicate with those types of people - the kind who can't talk. So far I'm finding texting and instant messaging to be a godsend!
6. Clean - I have come to realize I love a clean ass house. I'm not just talking no-dishes-in-the-sink, I mean sparkling shiny sink and a tub I'd be cool licking. I think that's an ode to my Mama and Grandmama. I've got a pretty insane cleaning schedule around here but you know, the more I do it the faster it gets and the less there is to do. 
5. Peace - This traces back to my desire to be happy. I don't need to be over-the-moon all the time. I don't need there to be stars and rainbows and joy everywhere. I just need to be content. At peace. I want that. I want to find that. 
4. Faith - As some of you know, I was struggling with the decision to go back to church. Well, I went my childhood church, actually. I can't say it enough - It's. Been. Awesome. I see my kids faces light up at the same things I and my sister would smile about when we were young. I sit by the same red stained-glass window. I literally tear up in every service....and I want more. Good feelings = give Jen more.
3. Quality time with those I love - This one is "duh" and cliche to the max. My love language (if you don't know yours, Google it, lifechanging, I promise) is quality time. It means a lot to me because it is the way my mind and my soul perceive love. Spend time physically with me, or spend time reading something of mine, or spend time finding me the perfect gift - any of those, any form of spending time on me, and you've got me wrapped around your finger. I recently created this hilarious little Ludwigsen's Annual Autumn Festival thing for me and my fam. I even made a power point with an "event program" and RSVP slot for my kiddos to use. I did this in my rare free time - that's how much QT means to me.
2. Writing - I sometimes think maybe writing is the answer. I get so wrangled up in my head and my emotions...especially about serious stuff like this, my feelings of failure....and writing seems to be one of the only ways to get it all figured out. I honestly use this blog, and you, my dear readers, to figure out my problems. I wonder if truly dedicating myself to writing a book could garnish the same positive consequences. 
1. Health - I'm not going to lie, this one shocked me a little. My number one priority is health? Seriously? I guess it makes sense....kind of. I want chickens, and a super-productive garden, and emotional stability, and happy children....a healthy life. I do believe this was my very general way of saying I want it all. I'm so smart!

Now, if I look over those ten things, and I compare it to where I'm at, right now, right at this second as I'm typing this, I gotta say....

I'm not doing too bad.

I've seriously committed portions of my day to all 10 of my priorities in the past week. I'm working towards my priorities and not doing all that I guess....barring approval from my internal supervisor.......I'm pretty dang successful? Yea. Yea I think I am. And I think I need to look at my priority list the next time I feel inadequate for relating to a woman who's been staying at home with her kids for ten years....or I pass a person in the grocery store who's wearing office clothes as I toddle around in my beloved flannel......or I stutter as I try to tell someone what I do for a living.....or I come across a giant cat poop sitting in my flawed ideation of all I've accomplished this year. 

Success should reflect priorities....not the other way around.

Here's to feeling successful for having a kid who will still "snug-a-bug-a-rug" in your arms each day.

Here's to feeling successful for making a delicious dinner for your family.

Here's to feeling successful for growing actual, real-life pumpkins. 

Here's to feeling successful for making the time to walk every single day.

How about you, readers? How do you measure success? Tell me about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you very much for reading.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Health Insurance 101

I had a dear friend contact me earlier this week, upset and panicked because she received a hefty bill from a recent doctor's visit. After miscommunicating a few times via text, I called her up, ready to pepper her with questions so I could give her some solid advice.

And then she answered the phone. My questions drifted off my mind's page as I realized she was crying. She was doing the brave cry, the one where your voice pitches just a little lower, catching slightly, teetering precariously on the ledge of sadness, carefully trying to hide it, carefully trying to keep the choking sobs at bay. I imagined her standing there, wiping at her eyes, her nose, her cheeks. Dammit, I felt her say. Damn this straight to hell.

This is not the first time I've received one of these calls. Between Army medic training, my health admin degree, and my experience in medical billing, my friends and family kinda figure me for a health insurance answer lady. I don't mind and find it flattering. It's exhilarating to actually use the skills you've learned in school to help those you love and care about, ya digg?

It got me thinking....there's a great number of people out there who struggle with understanding health insurance - especially when something goes wrong. So here you go, world, here is a simplified, broken-down, Jen version of some basic health insurance facts you might need to know somewhere down the road.

***PS: I live in America and as such, speak from the perspective of an American healthcare consumer. Sorry global readers! If any of you are reading this, I'd love to hear about your country's health insurance in the comments down below! These types of things excite me.

So let's start with some basic history and my "why" behind the importance of understanding your health insurance.

Health insurance was originally created to help pay for catastrophic events. It was never intended to sustain or maintain everyday health - only those things that were considered life-threatening. Think of your other insurance you use Gieco when you need an oil change? Does State Farm come and refinish your hardwood floors so they stay in primo-box conditions? This is how health insurance originally began....major, serious conditions only.

Great Jen, but who gives a rat's pootinanny...

Well, you do. See, when health insurance began taking over all areas of health, from prevention to sickness to minor injuries, it subsequently removed the power of the consumer. Think about it - if you paid a guy $80 a year to care for your lawn, and he did so, and it looked pretty good and healthy, would you really care how he chose to care for it? Maybe a little....but enough to become involved? Enough to do it yourself?

We live in a day and age where insurance companies run the show. They say what can be done, how it can be done, who can do it, and how much it all costs. We rely on them to pay so we don't have to - we need them. Dangerous position to be in when you're not wizened in the ways of healthcare billing and insurance. But don't worry...we're gonna fix that a little.

Some basic insurance terms:

In-network: Docs and facilities your insurance company likes and has a contract with.

Out-of-network: Docs and facilities your insurance company does not like as much because they do not hold contracts with your insurance company. Insurance companies like contracts. Contracts = control.

HMO: Health Maintenance Organization. Basically this type of policy requires you to use a gatekeeper (M for Manager, Elmo!), or PCP, for all your healthcare needs. Instead of paying deductibles, you pay copays. HMOs tend to have cheaper premiums, in my experience. Read on to figure out what the heck a copay, deductible, and premium is.

PPO: Preferred Provider Organization. This type of plan allows you the freedom of choosing who you see, when you want to see 'em. Got a hangnail you just know is due to improper toe alignment? Go see a podiatrist. Have a mark you want removed, immediately? Head on over to a dermatologist or surgeon. No need for a gatekeeper here - you are free to move about the healthcare board as you see fit. Of course, you should prolly stay within network and only see those podiatrists who hold contracts with your insurance. In exchange for this freedom, you will be subject to coinsurance, deductibles, and in most cases, higher premiums. I promise I will tell you what those things are in a minute.

High-deductible plan: Your deductible is insane. Truly it is. It's almost laughable. High deductible plans act much like those old plans of our yonder years.....they will cover you in catastrophic events, for sure. But the sniffles? Pay up. Broken arm? Gimmie all yer money. Back pain? Chronic illness? You'll be paying out the yim-yam until your deductible is met. Not for prevention, of course. And as an added bonus, get do get your power back. Remember how I said our current healthcare world keeps power in the hands of the insurance companies and not the consumers? Well, with high-deductible plans, you become an educated consumer out of necessity. You regain the shop around for affordable doctors with the best overall value. You take advantage of places like Walgreens and CVS. You start to care about how much every procedure costs and what it is....because you are paying for it yourself. That is power, pure and simple. I recently transitioned from a standard HMO to a high-deductible PPO. I can feel my comparison-shopper Jen rearing her knowledgeable head high and proud already!

Contractual adjustment: People, this is what insurance is all about. Wanna know why your doctors become affiliated with BCBS and Cigna? They get patients. So here's how it works: Dr. Smith signs a contract with BCBS. She says, hey, you give me patients, I'll give all your patients a discount on my services. Instead of charging $100 for an exam, I'll charge $82. Whammo. $18 is knocked off the price, according to the contract the doctor signs with the insurance company. That $18 is considered the contractual adjustment. 

Preventative services: These are "keep me healthy" services. They normally include annual checkups, vaccinations, well-woman exams (think paps and mammos), and physicals. Obamacare mandates full coverage for these types of services....meaning you should not be paying a dime for your kid's annual exam, or your baby's well child visit, or your routine cancer screening (pap, mammo, testicular, those types of things). Wondering if a specific service is preventative? Ask!

PCP: Primary Care Provider. Do you have an HMO policy? This is the doctor your insurance company wants you to see before seeing any other medical professional. They love PCPs because one doctor means less hands to control...more managed care means less money wasted on specialist-seeking consumers who think they know what they're suffering from, but don't. I personally love PCP's because I live in this Little House on the Prairie world where my ideal healthcare situation is heading over to see Old Doc Murphey who's birthed every baby in town and knows everything about my medical history. It's nice to have a "guy" or "gal." I don't mind sacrificing my ability to see whoever I want, whenever I want if it means I can see the doctor I love and have bills paid with no problems.

Copay: A stupid amount you're required to pay upfront for any non-preventative care. These can range depending on your policy AND where you are getting treatment. My doctor's office copay, for example, is $35. My Emergency Room visit copay is $500. Yea. Copays are normally associated with HMO insurance plans...but I've seen them for people with PPO plans too.

Deductible: The amount of money your insurance company requires you to pay for non-preventative medical treatment before they will start picking up the tab. The cool thing about deductibles? You get the insurance discount we talked about before....that "contractual adjustment." The doctor's office can legally only charge you for the amount remaining after the insurance processes your claim with that discount. The only exception is when your claim is completely denied by the insurance - you won't get a discount if your insurance doesn't cover the procedure. Deductibles are normally only required for PPO policyholders.

Coinsurance: Another stupid amount you're required to pay. Remember those crazy percentages on your insurance card or policy package, where the insurance pays 80% of a service and the patient pays 20%? So if I need an MRI, my insurance will pay 80% of the MRI, but I need to pay 20%? That 20% is your coinsurance. It kinda sucks, this coinsurance, because it often hangs on even after you meet your deductible. It'll hang out there like a gross little booger until your annual out-of-pocket maximum is met. Awesome!

Premium: This is literally the amount you pay each pay period for your health coverage. So that $250 every two weeks that comes directly out of your check and goes to BCBS before you can even get your grubby lil' hardworking hands on it? That is your premium. I don't know why they don't just call this "payment." Whatever.

So now that we've bulked up on our terms, how about some industry insider tips?

3-Ways - Good stuff. Hear me out. So you get a bill. You call the doctor's office. They say it's an insurance problem. You call the insurance. They say it's the office's problem. Ask the insurance company to do a 3-way call with your doctor's office. They can and will do this. When I was in billing I would get 3-wayed all the time. True story. Eliminate your middleman self and make some magic on those telephone lines.

Financial Assistance - Any nonprofit healthcare entity is required to have a financial assistance program. Think you're too rich? Think again. Assistance is often awarded based on need, not income. Prove you need it (aka, I only have $100 left each month after paying bills) and chances are, you'll get portions of your bill written off.

Providers, Facilities, Labs, and Radiology -  Let's say, heaven forbid, you experience chest pain. You head to the ER at Hospital Peace. You're treated by Dr. TomTom. You get labwork done by Beam-Me-Up-Scotty Labs. You get an x-ray by Stars and Pins Radiology. You will, often times, get four. Completely. Separate. Bills. Pay attention to the bills you receive and understand your hospital stay will not be bundled and billed in one neat little package. This is life.

Policy Awareness - I hate to say it....but it is not your doctor's job to know your policy. Learn your policy inside and out. Thinking about getting a procedure? Ask your doc for a full description of the procedure, including the expected CPT codes, so you can check with your insurance. CPT codes are 5-digit numeric representations of medical treatments. They match what your insurance company pays for exactly and leave no room for confusion - so if you can get them, get them. Some doctors will draw up a pre-estimate with these codes on them. Ask! Asking questions will help you save money, I promise.

Note Taker - Calling your insurance? Write down the date, time, name of the rep, and ask for a reference number for the call. Calling your doctor's office? Take down the date, time, and name of the person you're speaking to. Learn the names of office managers and executive leaders. These people can be a godsend when something goes wrong...and believe me, it happens. People are not perfect, but they are capable of executing learn their names and take vigorous notes.

Well, there we have it, readers. Jen's lovely little Health Insurance 101 course. It ain't an exact science, but hopefully this can be a nice place to start. Luckily, my dear friend was able to work out her insurance issues and found out her huge bill was a clerical error. Sometimes it really is that simple.....just takes a couple questions to save you money and heartache!

Any of you have problems with your health insurance? And if I missed anything or you'd like additional details, please let me know in the comments down below. As always, thank you so very much for reading :)

Friday, September 12, 2014

So Your Baby Won't Stop Crying

Imagine, if you will, a romantic date night dinner with your special someone. You made reservations at a local restaurant, got all gussied up, and are buzzing with anticipation well before you order your drinks. As the waitress brings over your favorite beer, you catch a glimpse of your partner, lighting dancing in both your eyes, and you sigh with happiness and relaxation.

And then.....abruptly......a baby starts shrieking from two booths down. You jerk your head up, spell broken, heart skipping a couple beats. Those of you with children think of your own kids, panicked for a second, wondering if they're ok. The sexy, lazy haze starts to dissipate and out of anguish for your lost moment, you roll your eyes and quietly, coolly say,

"Really? A baby, here? Can someone please get that kid a bottle or something?"

We've all been there. I've said those things. Those are my words, my attitude showing. 

But I've also been her, the lady with the baby who won't stop crying.

My daughters were both insanely crabby infants. From the moment they were born, they were tears, they were pain, they were acid reflux, they were blue faces gasping for breath between screams. Those first few months - and by few I mean six - were the most terrible months of my life. The isolation I felt, like nobody understood, nobody listened to me, nobody could help me, was insurmountable. 

And then there was the judgement. With the second baby my husband was around to run errands and help out, but with my first, he was deployed and I lived alone. My new baby and I had to go out, whether we wanted to or not. I felt like 1,000 eyes were on me each time I went in public and my baby inevitably started wailing. I felt like everyone could smell my fear, see my hysteria, and were judging me for it, mercilessly. 

I went back to work two short weeks after my first was born. She kept me up from 9PM to 3AM every. Single. Night. I worked from 7AM to 3PM at a dental office about 40 minutes away from my home. She cried the entire way to daycare. She cried all day. She cried the entire ride home. She cried all night. I remember coming to pick her up one day and the woman I'd hired for daycare had left my baby strapped in her carseat in front of a TV, blue and screaming, because she "didn't know what else to do with her!" Weeks of this. Months of this. I brought the baby to the doctor relentlessly. Something had to be wrong. Nothing, they told me. She was perfectly healthy. Colic.

I did everything. Ran water. Held her upright while she slept. Fed on demand. Fed on a schedule. Car rides. Tummy bands. Breastmilk. Formula supplements. Special bottles. Gas drops. Rocked. Walked. Music. Swaddled. Pacifiers. 

I did everything.

It did nothing.

My baby was miserable. I was miserable and I was lost. I didn't even know who I was as I stood there, night after night, tears streaming down my face as I ran the bathroom faucet, the bathroom fan, holding my screaming red infant, trying to breastfeed her but getting nowhere, understanding with so much shame, so much guilt, so much pain, why people have shaken their babies. I was failing. That was me failing.

Or so I thought.

My girls are now 2 and 8. They are blessedly healthy, deliciously bright, and perfectly ordinary. They eat good food, sleep for 8-10 hours at a stretch, and have never seen the inside of an intensive care unit. My 8-year-old loves to read and my 2-year-old loves to sing. When they cry, they tell me why. When they are happy, I see it all over their faces. I suppose I didn't fail them, after all. I suppose I did just fine.

If I could go back and speak to myself during those insane, terrible months, what would I say? What do I say to any mom or dad asking for help with their crabbypatty infant?

1. You are an incredible parent. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do. Sure, exhaust yourself trying literally every option out there. It helps pass the time. But know this....time is the only true cure for colic. This, this terrible time, will not last forever. I repeat - this will not last forever. Soon you will be past this phase. It will be over soon. Do not give up on yourself. 

2. It's ok to not be ok. Don't feel guilty because you're unhappy with your healthy baby. Don't hate yourself for complaining when you know it could be so, so much worse. Stop hating on yourself, period. This is not easy. This was never intended to be easy. You don't always need to suck it up, cupcake. It's ok to be mad, it's ok to feel disappointed, it's ok to feel anything you are feeling....feelings are not right or wrong...they are feelings. Feel them and give yourself the opportunity to be a real human being.

*Side note: It's important, especially for new moms, to document your feelings the first few months after you've had your baby (or forever, if you like it). Keep a journal, write a smiley/sad face on the calender, whatever you need to do - record how you feel each day. Recognize patterns and if you see yourself going two full weeks without a single smiley face, talk to your physician. I struggled with post-partum with my first baby. You CAN feel better. Medicines are NOT permanent. They are temporary solutions to a temporary problem. Do it. You are worth it. If you've been waiting for a sign, this is it. Go get your joy again.

3. Realize your baby truly is not sick. She really isn't. The doctor said times. So did the other doctor you took her to for a 2nd opinion. Yes, it sounds like she is in terrible pain. Perhaps she truly feels uncomfortable....any pain she feels at this point in her life will be the worst pain of her entire life. I promise you, she is not dying. She is going to be ok. She will stop crying....maybe not in the next few minutes, maybe not in the next hour, maybe not tonight....but eventually, she will stop because mama, she is perfectly fine.

4. Lean on other parents. I don't mean your parents, or your significant other....I mean other moms and dads...people who've had babies in the last 2-5 years. They are up-to-date on what's going on with today's infants. They get it. They will look at you and nod, completely and totally understanding what you mean. Let them watch your impossible baby. Let them bring you dinner and let them stick around while she screams. Don't be embarrassed. They get it. 

5. The Gerber baby isn't real. Well, maybe she's real but you don't get to see the real...nobody gets to see the Gerber baby cry, or projectile vomit, or blowout her diaper. Don't try and "live up" to a marketing-genius' (literal) golden child. Don't compare yourself to Mary NaNaBooBoo two doors down. Sure she looks like she's got it together but we all know that's never the case. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is...well....yourself. Aim to be better than you were yesterday. That is all. 

...and finally....this lovely bit of wisdom, given to me by a mother of six. Her words, as I shakily asked her for advice, sleepy eyes hooded, baby screaming in my arms:

Just gotta keep 'em alive. 

Infants don't need playdates, or visitors, or toys, or church sermons, or cute clothes, or pictures with the Easter bunny. They need a caretaker, someone to feed them, touch them, keep them clean, talk to them. Don't think you're failing because she cries. You've met her needs and she is alive and healthy. You don't need to make her happy...even if you're in a restaurant and a million people are staring at you.

I've been the lady at the restaurant, rolling my eyes and feeling hateful that my night was ruined by a crying baby...but I've also been the mom who was asked to meet up with friends, friends who don't have kids and eat late, friends who I haven't seen in months, and so I go. I bring my screaming baby, and while the other Jen, the nice-dressed one, is fighting back irritation, I am fighting back tears, wondering what I'm doing wrong, hating myself and desperately trying to hide my shame, my struggle.

If this is you, the parent with the baby who won't stop crying, hear these final words from my heart, to yours:

You are not alone. You have nothing to hide. There is no shame in struggle. Struggle develops strength. This will pass, and when it does, you will see yourself as the warrior you are.

Thank you so, so much for reading.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Socially Awkward: Intervene or Let 'Em Be?

My big girl has a bit of a hard time socially. She was raised around adults and began reading/developing intellectually at a very early age. This isn't "proud Mama" speak here....this is for real. Sometimes she embarrasses me by knowing things I don't know, but prolly, "Mom, don't freak out, that type of spider is not fatal," or "Don't worry, the garbage truck dumped the recycling into the same truck, but it has a separate compartment for recyclables. You're still saving the planet, Mommy!"

The kid was reading chapter books by the time she was four and when she was five, she read the Laura Ingalls series in less than 3 weeks. Now 8, she continues to be an avid bookworm and we've started to notice the "negatives" of having an overly-intellectual problems.

She has trouble relating to other kids. She would gladly give up attending a birthday party full of 8-year-olds to spend one hour at the library with her (adult) Auntie. She prefers her own company on the playground and often tells me about how in the winter, she builds snowpeople to talk to. She's recently started carrying around a little angel and refers to it as her best friend.

I'm sure this sounds kinda sad to you, my readers, so please let me reassure you, when she tells me of these things, the snowpeople, the angel, her preference for adult-accompanied trips to the bookstore....when she tells me of these things she is glowing. There is no depression, no shame, no masked loneliness. She owns it.

I asked her once, "Do you want to make new friends?" and she told me, quietly, that of course she does....but she is fine being alone, too. Me, Daddy, and her baby sister are her friends. "But yes," she whispered. "It would be really nice to at least have one kid friend."

We thought we'd hit the jackpot with our new neighborhood - directly across the street is a house full of girls. They have four beautiful daughters, each with their own personality, and one exactly the same age as my big girl. They made friends quickly and were inseparable the first few summers we were here.

Then, inevitably, a new girl. This girl moved in late last year and threw the dynamic off a little bit. Now there's three girls playing together, and as many of us know from siblings and/or our younger years, when you get three kids together someone is almost always left out.

My kid, recently, has been that somebody.

I ran outside yesterday to call her in for dinner and this is what I witnessed:

Scene: hot, humid summer day, two neighborhood kids flying by on motorized scooters, my big girl running behind, panting through her words...

"HEY! Hey it's my turn, can I have a chance on the scooter?"

Neighborhood Kid #1: "NO way, I'm not getting off! I just got on!"

"But it is MY TURN! You've been on there forEVER! YOU NEED TO SHARE!"

Neighborhood Kid #1: *blink* *blink blink*

*goes to grab the scooter* "C'mon, give it to me!"

Neighborhood Kid #1: "YOU CAN'T HAVE IT!"

Other Neighborhood Kid #2/Owner of Scooter: "You've been on there for a while - let her have a turn!"

"YEA I really want to try it and you keep telling me no!"

Neighborhood Kid #1: "Don't come near me again or I'm telling my dad!"

*hysterical tears* "I'M GOING HOME!"

I'm standing there, watching this all unfold, thinking, "Hey, gee, maybe I should do something. This isn't some crazy TV show put on for my entertainment, this is real life. C'mon Jen, swoop into action and stuff."

I reached out to embrace my sweaty kid. She had started sobbing loudly and ferociously. I watched the two scooter riders zoom away, neither one so much as glancing our way. I wanted to run down the road and tell them to never come to my house again. NEVER!

But I couldn't move. I wanted to go, my heart was telling me to go, but my body stayed right where it was, clutching El Hysterica Grande. All I could think was, "Gosh I hate this part of childhood."

I was bullied as a kiddo. I was picked on from Kindergarten up until 7th grade. People would make fun of my teeth, my hair, my family, my clothes, my glasses, my skin, my cheeks, my nose, my ears, my backpack, my lunch, my participation in ET (Extended Time), my affinity for Lisa Frank everything (yea, that is pure proof these were real losers, people), my book choices, my good grades, my tendency to cry. I remember walking to school when I was my big girl's age and talking to the trees. They were my only friends, aside from my mom and sister of course. Mr. and Mrs. Birch. Ms. Oak. Miss Maple. I pretended the rustling foliage was our own special language. Sometimes they would tell me to have a good day, sometimes they would tell me they were sad. All the way to and the trees. 

I had to turn into a thug to get the bullies off my back. Seriously thug. Tree-whisperer to gangsta. I wore JNCO jeans and wore gobs of lipliner and huge gold hoops and listened to TuPac (TuPac4Eva) and cussed every-other word and learned gang signs and talked about "jumping" people and tried to skip school and smoked at the bus stop and was obsessed with Fila and Nike and got into stupid fights and snuck out of the house at night to drink in the bushes. Let's all just take a moment and pour out a 40oz for the Gangsta Jen, who lasted only 2 years before succumbing to maturity and finally accepting herself as a weirdo, not a thug.

I obviously still carry the scars...both from the teasing and the big-barrel curling iron I would take to my gangsta bangs each morning. 

I want my kids to have a better life than I had. I want to go out there and arrange her social agenda and plan fun things for the girls to do at our house and tell them to play nice and teach them how to be inclusive and really give her the best circle of friends ever!

But where's that line? 

You see, my big kid is always going to be her. She will always be quirky, and interesting, and a bit academically ahead of others her age. She will likely struggle with her social problems for quite some time, if not her entire life.....and here's the kicker - God willing, I won't be around her entire life. At some point I'm gonna croak, and if I am the glue holding her friendships together, she's going to lose a whole lot more than a mother.

So I don't intervene. Not for scooter problems. Not for outcasting each other. Not for unfair treatment and disrespect. 

I realize I am not the say-all, end-all in parenting, however. As a matter of fact, one of the mothers of a school friend approached me once at an after-school event and started talking about our daughters. She told me they were "fighting again!" and "what are we going to do?" and I can "call her anytime to talk things over!" I was polite. At least I think I was. I nodded.......might've kinda stared with my mouth open. Thanked her for the info and explained I kinda let my kid handle her own biz, but I appreciate the heads-up. I remember thinking, "Am I supposed to care about this kinda stuff? Am I a non-involved mom? Do I need to talk to the student counselor? Do I need to talk to a counselor, period?"

Don't get me wrong, if someone is enduring physical harm or there is blatant violence either emotionally or physically I will lay down the schmack....but 8-year-old arguments? They could be arguing about whether or not a unicorn-pegasus is actually a pegasus-unicorn, for crying out loud. I'm not going to settle that argument. Take it up with Thor or Zelda or something. 

My mom didn't do this stuff, either. She was involved as much as she could be, but was a single mom who worked tirelessly and was often forced to limit her contact with my friends to a few hello-goodbye-why-are-you-in-my-house-smoking-who-is-that-teenager-outside-our-back-window-is-that-a-bong conversations. (One day I'm going to pay for all I've done to my mom, by the way. Get excited about reading my blog posts 4 years from now. It's coming. The true consequences of my horrific 2-year gangster stint....they're-a-comin'. Pre-teen years, right around the corner!)

My mother was there for me, listened to me cry, watched me break down about this friend or that friend, and always offered her advice, but she never, ever intervened. She cared enough to provide a soft place for me to land, but otherwise set me free. I was free to make my own choices about people and circumstances and how to navigate this world as a wanna-be social butterfly. I made a few awful mistakes, but eventually ended up with the greatest group of friends...we remain extraordinarily close to this day.

....stark contrast to Beverly Goldberg (anyone out there watch The Goldbergs?) 

Any time her kid gets his or her feelings hurt, Beverly fixes it. She is hilarious. I love watching her because that whole idea - manipulating situations so your kid gets his or her way - is not something I'm accustomed to. I was always held responsible for my choices and a common phrase in our house was "life is not fair!"

I wonder what Beverly would do to the scooter crew around here. I could see her buying a new scooter for her kid, or stealing someone else's scooter and repainting it. 

Me? I just kiss my scooterless kid's head and tell her to go take a shower.

What do you guys think? Were your parents more like Beverly or my mom? When you see a kid getting excluded, do you intervene? How so? I'd love to know in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!