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BE WELL with Dr D.


I was 10 when Mrs. Bale told me I was not ready.

My piano teacher had just listened intently to my piece I was preparing for an upcoming recital. Upon finishing, I snapped the keyboard cover down proudly and waited for her approval. To my surprise, she pointed to a section that needed more work. She sagely explained that sections I even mildly struggled with in practice would be even more pronounced in times of stress. In her wisdom -- when playing at the recital, I would most certainly be prone to error during the challenging parts. I shouldn’t just hope for the best. I shouldn’t attempt to convince my audience that I have mastered the most challenging part. And I most certainly shouldn’t trick myself into thinking that I practiced enough to produce a perfect masterpiece for showtime. "Practice more," she advised, "or you won’t be ready."

Now, 38 years later - in these stressful and unique times - I feel as if I am in my own sociological show, but this "recital" isn't over and done in three minutes, it’s been months. Mrs. Bale's wisdom rings true in my ears. I am most certainly stumbling over the more challenging parts of me.

The truth is, even in the best of times, we all have issues to deal with. Let's call these issues our personal landmines. Landmines we shove deep down, far away from our surface, hoping if we bury them they will never detonate. Often we can avoid them for years, even decades. But eventually they creep up and produce characteristics that prove counterproductive. These landmines impede or stunt our personal growth. Their resulting negative traits and habits - the ones we hate to admit even to ourselves - can hinder us from being who we strive to be, and even challenge our relationships and mental health. These landmines surface more in times of heightened stress; and often they rise faster and furious the more desperately we try to bury them.

I am embarrassed to share a few of my relatively commonplace, less impactful landmines: I enjoy lounging in bed well past my alarm, suffer numerous bouts of "unproductivity" (courtesy of my highly refined procrastination skills), and have mastered the art of starting a baker's dozen of different projects without a single doughnut to show for any of them.

However, those all pale in comparison to my most dangerous landmine -- a deep, dark, powerful loss issue that swells from my soul. This little time bomb - swelling to the surface during this ominous pandemic - makes me erupt in panic ten minutes after my son hasn't returned a text, or my husband returns late from his jog -- believing with unreasonable certainty that they have met their untimely end.

During this time of quarantine, these landmines that I have never fully disarmed have vaulted to the surface -- and I am struggling. I convince myself that as a mental health professional – who makes a living helping others with their own landmines - I am fully capable of handling my own. I wake up each morning seemingly ready for the challenge -- with sky-high hopes of getting out of bed at a reasonable hour, following a plan for my day, finishing at night with a sense of accomplishment after completing projects, and laying my head back down on the pillow at night, secure that my faith will shield me from my fear of loss.

Whatever your internal struggle – your land mine -- know that you are doing the best you can during this historic time. NONE of us are ready for the show. It is as if we practiced for an elementary school recital, only to thrust in front of a packed house at the New York Philharmonic. In retrospect, we wish we had more time to practice – to take care of those issues that challenge us.

We will stumble. We will fall. We are not ready. But Mrs. Bale's wisdom gives us insight into how we can eventually disarm our landmines -- practice. Intense practice of the hardest sections of our lives. In the shadow of quarantine, toilet paper hoarding, political strife, cramped family times, and unexpected home schooling, we are now forced to cross our mine fields. Because of this, I believe that our post-pandemic selves will be a new, better, version of ourselves.

Because once you have faced your challenges on the big stage, you will be a maestro once you are back at your elementary school piano. Take heart, better times are ahead.

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My boy always cried.

He was the kid who I would drop off for playdates only to be called an hour later because he was crying and wanted to go home. During preschool sports classes at the local YMCA I was the only mom who had to join in the activities because my kid would constantly run to me as I watched from the bleachers. I was the mom that volunteered for every activity only because I knew he would struggle to enjoy himself when I left his side. My kid was the kid who had a hard time letting go of my hand and would look back longingly when I pushed the small of his back in the direction of other kids on the playground.

I heard it all.

“Wow….what a momma’s boy you have.” “Isn’t that sweet but he’s going to have to toughen up one of these days.” and, of course my all-time favorite unhelpful comment….“Big boys don’t cry”.

The comments got to me. I wish I could say they hadn’t but they did. I would wonder what other’s thought of my parenting, or worse, what they thought of my son. Why wasn’t he like the others?

I so wanted to be able to drop him off at friend’s house and not drive off with a knot in my stomach. I wanted to sit on the bleachers with the other mom’s and chat away but I knew he would come running over with tears in his eyes and I would inevitably be riding on a scooter board with 14 other three year olds. And I so wished I could drop him off at birthday parties and sit at the closest Starbucks with a Venti Chai and a good book before party time pick up.

I remember his preschool teacher saying these very words “He is a sensitive boy – he will make a great husband one day”. Her words were perfectly succinct and provided much comfort. She actually saw his sensitive nature as an area of strength! It was exactly what I needed to hear. I relaxed, I allowed my son to cling to me, and I stopped worrying.

My son, now 19 is the most kind and caring young man. And, yes, he is a momma’s boy but I wouldn’t have it any other way. He called me just the other day and asked if he could run to the store. I laughed to my husband and questioned when was he going to realize that he didn’t need to run everything by me. But then – he is my sensitive son. He is in tune to my emotions, he wants to make sure I know where he is, and he wants to know if I need anything while he is at the store.

So, mama’s of sensitive boys – you don’t need to toughen him up and it is OK for them to cry. Please don’t worry yourselves with the thoughts of others. The behaviors will pass but thankfully the emotion remains. Enjoy your perfectly sensitive boy.

His preschool teacher is probably right - he will make a great husband.

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I am the mom of a senior in high school. I have read articles that tell me that as a mom of a senior, we should be grieving over lost events such as proms and graduation and I have read articles that tell me to suck it up because at least he isn’t being drafted. I hate that my kid, an athlete, won’t be able to have his last high school season. I hate that I won’t get to have the 2020 standard prom photo where I am desperately hanging onto my first born before he ventures off with his date, and I hate that I may not be able to see him graduate. And I get that life could be worse – way worse – he could be drafted.

But, I have to admit. I have my boy home with me – quarantined and not able to run off with friends at a moment’s notice. I have him for family dinners, I have him down the hall late at night, and I have him to gradually wake up without yelling that he will be late for school. I even have him for family movie nights that unfortunately became a distant memory in the past couple of years. I have him 24/7 and I love it. I will never have this time back. I will never, ever have this time back. He is off to college in five short months.

This time is a gift – it is sweet – it is fun – and yes, it can be boring and frustrating – but it is a gift. With this time, I tell him that I have been “homeschooling” him in home economics. I have been cramming - everything that I wished I had taught him and everything I attempted to teach him throughout the years is being taught with this gift of time. He made a family dinner the other night, made muffins for breakfast, did his laundry, and cleaned his room. I have more plans – cleaning, organizational strategies, and how to make a cheesecake. He is begrudgingly playing along.

I think that he knows. As he stands in the kitchen stirring the muffin batter, I share that I recall standing in that exact spot when he was a kindergartener telling me that his girlfriend told him they were going out for dinner so I didn’t need to make him dinner. As I watch him attempt to carefully fold his clothes, I think back to how large his clothes look and it seems like yesterday that I had washed his newborn clothes with the special detergent and perfectly folded his tiny onesies. As I watch him clean his room I think how sad it will be when it is empty – when he is at college and it sits empty. I know that I will miss the piles of dirty laundry, the dishes he secretly brings to his room, the music, and the laughing as he facetimes with friends. I will miss all of that as his room sits still and quiet - and empty.

I think he knows. And while he misses his friends, schools, and sports, I think he is enjoying our time, too. Savoring this time together.

I wish we weren’t dealing with the Coronavirus and it’s devastation. I wish people were not suffering, afraid, and lonely.

But, I don’t wish away this unexpected time. I cherish it for the gift that it is and I will not let it go to waste. I will live in the moment so that I will have no regret. So that I will not look into his empty room or his empty seat at the dinner table and wish I had this time back. I have my senior and he is home.

Laura Domer-Shank, Ed.D. is a School Psychologist, Adjunct Professor, and Consultant of twenty-five years who specializes in supporting children and families. Dr. Domer-Shank is the wife to Neil who is an educator and coach and together, they actively parent their three children – Cam, Larkyn, and Ella.

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