A Blogazine, based out of Park Slope, Brooklyn, that features fun and interesting articles. Topics include: parenting, society, real estate, career, style, spirituality and more. Written contributions are always welcome!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

This Week on Hip Slope Mama:

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How to Raise a Genius

By Lorel Shea

Now that I have your attention, lest you bash me as a kook or turn away from this article in disgust, I don't actually call my own kids geniuses, nor do I know any parents who refer to their kids as such. Most parents of gifted kids tend to shy away from the genius label, and do their best to play down their children's abilities with acquaintances. There's a whole cover-up lingo which parents utilize to assuage others and throw them off the scent. The mother of a boy who skips a grade, for instance, might simply tell the parents of her child's old classmates, “we just felt he was ready”. Another common tactic is to turn attention to the other parent's child: “I see your Joey was voted class President! You must be very proud. He's such a great kid!” or to distract, “Hey, have you tried this great bean dip?” It can be painful to be different, and just about every gifted kid has at least one parent who can related to being out of sync with age-mates.

My kids are sufficiently gifted to be be described as “profoundly” gifted. But I don't feel that I really had a very active part in developing their abilities. I do not take credit for their brilliance, any more than I feel I can take credit for the shape of their eyes, the length of their eyelashes, or the curl in my youngest child's hair. As far as I am concerned, it's all what God intended, or what some might call an accident of birth. For better or for worse, they arrived with all sorts of unique qualities, and their intellectual firepower is just one dimension of who they are.

Parents can serve their children best by providing opportunities for them to learn and grow at their own pace and in a way that suits their natural inclinations. There's no magic formula to raising a genius, but there are ways to nurture strengths. My kids were all reading in diapers, and they learned without any formal lessons. One reason for this is extraordinary intelligence, but another is simply that they grew up in a print rich environment, they were read to from infancy, and they saw people reading for pleasure on a daily basis. Each of our children learned to read organically, the same way they learned to speak. There were no flashcards, expensive phonics programs, or special materials involved.

If your two year old is asking for workbooks, then go ahead and give her a few. She might love them! But if she doesn't actually take to them, don't push the issue. My daughters each demanded workbooks at that age, and had great fun completing them. But my boys were slower to develop fine motor skills, and they did not ask for workbooks before age four. They are no less intelligent than their sisters, but for them, workbooks at two would have been inappropriate. My middle two children enjoy acting in community theater, but getting on stage would have been a horrific nightmare for my introverted eldest. He's working on a novel and maybe someday he'll write a play, but until then, sitting in the audience is enough for him. Kids are great at knowing what they need, especially when they are young. Follow your child's lead, appreciate the qualities that make him unique, and you can't go wrong!

Lorel Shea serves as writer and editor at the bellaonline.com Gifted Education site:
. She is a member of Boston Mensa, the Connecticut Association for the Gifted and the National Association for Gifted Children. Lorel has presented at various homeschool and gifted conferences, and will be speaking in October 2008 at the New England Conference for Gifted and Talented.

In her spare time, Lorel is an avid reader who enjoys organic cooking, drinking tea, and running. She is a Boy Scout volunteer and serves as leader of a large and dynamic homeschool support group. She can be reached at lorelshea@yahoo.com.

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"Mummy Tummy Time" with Frances Darnell of Pilates Garage

Fran Darnell, Pilates Instructor at
Pilates Garage in Park Slope, Brooklyn

HSM: I had a baby about a year ago and I still feel like my stomach never really bounced back? I exercise regularly, so I've lost most of my pregnancy weight, but I can't seem to get rid of a post-partum "pot belly"? What am I doing wrong?

FRAN DARNELL: Congratulations on losing your pregnancy weight! Cardiovascular workout is great for burning fat and can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight. But if you want to flatten your tummy after pregnancy you need to do the right exercises and rebuild the abdominal muscles.

During your pregnancy your body went through many changes. The abdominal muscles had to stretch to accomodate a growing baby inside. You have identical sets of abdominal muscles on the right and left side. In the middle between the rectus abdominus, the muscles nicknamed the "six pack", there is connective tissue called the linea alba, "white line". Sometimes during pregnancy the linea alba becomes linea negra, as the line appears darker due to change in hormone levels. To create more room for the growing baby the abdominal muscles elongate and sometimes there is some stretching of the connective tissue of the linea alba. This connective tissue also becomes thinner, imagine taking saran wrap and then pulling on it from both sides. It will stretch and thin in the middle. Postpartum you are left with weak and elongated abdominal muscles and there is a possibility that you have a diastasis recti. A diastasis recti is when there is a separation between the rectus abdominus and the connective tissue has stretched and is thinner.

HSM: How do I check for diastasis?

FRAN DARNELL: You can check yourself for a diasitis. First lay down on your side, and then roll onto your back. Keep your knees bent with the soles of your feet flat on the floor. You are going to test for the diastasis in three places. First at your navel, second three inches above your navel, and third three inches below your navel. Use one hand with your fingers pointing down towards your navel and your palm facing you so your hand is at its widest. Relax your abdominals and gently press your fingers downwards into your abdomen. Try to maintain relaxed abdominals as you lift your head an inch off the floor. You are feeling for a space or hollow in the abdomen. If you feel a hollow, then you do have a diastasis. Measure how many fingers wide it is and observe how deep you feel with your fingers. Check all three points, and record this as your starting point.

If I have diastasis, are there special exercises I can do to bring the abs back together?

FRAN DARNELL: If you do have a diastasis please read the following!There is a specific technique to get the abdominals back in shape called the Tupler technique created by Julie Tupler, RN, of Maternal Fitness in Union Square, NY. The Tupler technique can be used both prenatal and postpartum, and is effective for new moms as well as moms who had their babies a long time ago.The technique focuses on strengthening the inner-most abdominal muscle, the transverse muscle. Strengthening this muscle is very important to bring the abdominals back together. If you have a diastasis the support of your spine and your organs are compromised because you do not have as much strength to support in the front of your body. Our goal for bringing the abdominals back together is to have a two finger separation or less. This is possible by strengthening the tranverse muscle used during the Tupler technique, and engaging it during all daily activities.The following are things that you should do to get the separation back together.

Things to DO:

  • DO contract the abdominals inward towards your spine. Anytime you are doing an action in which you need to stabalize whether it is to pick your baby up or defacating, be aware of how you are using your abdominals. You may be pressing your abdominals outward and bearing down. This will only encourage the diastasis to get larger. To prevent this, protect your back and to bring your abdominals together, engage your abdominals toward your spine.The following exercise is part of the Tupler technique for strengthening the transverse muscle. You can find out more about this in the Lose Your Mummy Tummy Book or DVD.

30 Second Hold
To do this: Place your hands on your abdominals one on the navel and above, the other on the navel and below. Narrow your abdominals together and then engage back towards your spine. Focus on keeping your spine still so that you do not round your back, and hold your abdominals deep towards the spine. Try holding this contraction and counting outloud for 30 seconds.

  • DO always roll to your side. Any time you are getting up or down from your back, roll to your side first to press with your hands to sit up, or lay down on you side first to roll onto your back. Using this method will help support you and prevent increasing the diastasis.
  • DO wear a splint. A splint is like a supportive girdle that wraps around your waist. It allows you to narrow the two sides of the abdominals together and keep your spine and organs supported. Always wear a splint when exercises, and when babywearing, especially when wearing the baby on your front. If you have had a "C" section avoid wearing the baby on the front until your stitches have healed.
There are specific exercises you should avoid until you have brought your abdominals together because they could actually increase the separation.

Things to AVOID:

  • Do NOT flex forward with the upper spine from a back lying position. That means no sit-ups/crunches! And no rolling back down to lay on your back. Do not do sit ups. This will encourage the abdominal muscles to develop outwards. We want the abdominal muscles to develop inwards to support your organs and your spine.
  • Do NOT do any rotation with forward flexion. That means no oblique crunches.
  • Do NOT do any activities that are high impact, such as running or step. The compression of the spine during these activities put you at risk for disk herniation because you do not have your full abdominal support.

HSM: I'm planning on having a baby again in the future, should I get back in tip top shape prior to my second pregnancy or should I wait until after?

Yes! Start to get your stomach in better shape today. By focusing on strengthening your abdominals your body you will feel stronger now as a new mom, you will feel better during your second pregnancy and your abdominals and back will be in better shape during the second pregnancy and postpartum.

The specific exercises of the Tupler technique are groundbreaking and will help you get rid of that Mummy Tummy. It is best to learn them from personal instruction so that you are performing them correctly. Once you have learned how to engage your abdominals together do it often!

To learn more about the Tupler technique visit www.maternalfitness.com.

Frances is a certified Pilates Instructor at Pilates Garage in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She received her certification as an instructor from the Kane School of Core Integration in New York. She is certified in the Tupler Technique by Julie Tupler, RN. She is also certified in pre-natal and post-natal exercise by Debbi Goodman, MSPT.

She was first introduced to Pilates at Sarah Lawrence College where she studied dance and nutrition. Frances continues to study under Bob Liekens at Power Pilates.
Her classes are fun and challenging. She enjoys helping moms-to-be and new moms reach their goals in health and fitness. Her philosophy in teaching is to inspire the joy of moving and living a healthy and balanced life. She is also a certified hang gliding instructor who has been featured on MTV. In addition she surfs and runs half-marathons. Fran also performs as a dancer in NYC.

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Do You Know a Sacred Baby?

Kim and her niece, Farrah

By Kim Kirkley

Folks ask me what is a Sacred Baby? Well that name --- really that awareness has everything to do with my 14 month old niece, Farrah. My sister, Farrah and I were enjoying a festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. As anyone can see, Farrah is a very beautiful, very friendly baby. She attracts a lot of attention. One woman asks her name and my sister tells her, Farrah. The woman replies "I guess that kind of means 'Sacred Baby.'" And we laughed. I knew that, although "Farrah" actually means "joyful," anyone who looks at the child -- from the flash of her gaze to the satiny glow of her deep chocolate complexion -- can see that she is indeed sacred. In her innocence and exuberance, pure energy is palpable. It is easy to see. She is not shy about giving her full beauty to the world and that was the challenge with having her at the Festival. She wants to say "hi" to everybody and tries with her sweet little hands to actually touch them -- To more fully connect with them.

But here's the thing, and it is something that I have learned the hard way -- it is in you too. Let's look at these words – Sacred and Baby. Sacred, of course is traditionally defined as, "connected with God (or the gods)" and another definition – the one that applies here is "regarded with great respect and reverence." A baby of course is "a very young child, esp. one newly or recently born." Yet, informally a baby is "a thing regarded with affection." Now that's what I'm talking about – a being to be regarded with great respect, reverence, and affection. That is who you really are!

You are a Sacred Baby and you don't need to be shy about giving your full beauty to the world. The sacred you is in your body, hoping to fully engage in the world. She's in there. He's in there. Behind our New York City cool – there is a spirit – regardless of our belief systems or any prior bad act – that deserves our affection, care and reverence. The Sacred Baby in you is that pure energy that is your purpose in being alive. You are here to share that pure energy for your good and ours. You are here to be happy and to thrive.

I am not talking about religion. That is another frequency. I am talking about that force that needs no name and turns seeds into flowers and caterpillars into butterflies. That force that makes the your heart beat fifty million times a year. That force that causes the universe to keep expanding. Like every other aspect of our universe, we are here to grow. That energy that turns seeds into flowers flows through you. You are here to grow and like any other seed you are here to bloom. What is it encouraging you to grow into?

Like any other seed in order to grow into your potential, you need a nurturing environment. We see it in nature all of the time. If a seed is planted in healthy soil and receives the water, nutrition and sunlight it needs, it will bloom. However, if the seed finds itself in a barren or harsh environment, it won't grow to its full potential. If the conditions are really bad, it withers and dies.

Now we can't change the past and one of my deepest wishes is that we stop beating ourselves up by rehashing the past. It is over. I tend to be the worst at this. I have to remind the only moment we have control over is the present moment. Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying "Yesterday is history. Tomorow is a mystery. And today is a gift. That's why they call it the present." So I am letting go of the past today – starting my new life today. Will you join me? Will you send some love to your Sacred Baby and find out what she is here to share?

Kim Kirkley is a joyful professional Celebrant/Interfaith Minister who delights in performing personalized ceremonies and the founder of the Happiness Attraction System TM. She hosts a monthly praise party on the fourth Thursday of every month. Please contact her at CelebrantKim@gmail.com or visit www.ourelegantceremony.com.

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Using Astrology to Become a Better Parent

By Jeffrey Kishner

Parents don't choose their children -- children choose their parents. At least from a karmic perspective, that is. We are all unique expressions of a moment of time in the Cosmos, as reflected in our horoscopes. And if you believe in astrology -- namely, that the movements of the celestial bodies correspond with our lives here on Earth -- then you might accept the idea that, before we incarnate, we "choose" the exact time and location of birth so that we can tackle life lessons that are part of our karmic path.

I'm not normally this New Agey, but as a parent, the above concept helps me to put the task of raising a child into a wider perspective. I'm not sure exactly why my daughter, an Aries who is extremely "fiery," would choose to be born to two "watery" parents -- a Pisces (me!) and a Scorpio (my wife). As you know, fire and water don't mix. Or rather, they best they can do is create steam. And you could accurately say that our household is often "steamy," with tempers rising more frequently than we, as parents, anticipated.

Face it -- you have little control over the personality of your baby. You can run compatibility reports when choosing a mate -- "Should I marry a Taurus or a Cancer?" -- but with a child, you just have to accept whatever pops out of your womb. Funny thing is, you end up loving your child no matter how astrologically incompatible you are, whereas a great match with a spouse is no guarantee of everlasting affection.

True life lessons come from being a parent. You have to live with your child no matter how much you rub each other the wrong way!

You cannot meld your child to become a mini-you. Any child's horoscope is a "soul snapshot," describing how they'll ideally express themselves. However, the pressures exerted on children from parents and society result in inhibition, and, in the words of a psychotherapist, the development of a "false self." It can take years of counseling for a young adult just to shed these layers to reveal their true being. And your job, as a parent, is to do as little harm as possible.

With an understanding of your child's horoscope, you can do your best to raise them to be who they truly are. My basic orientation is to imagine (Pisces) and observe with detachment (Aquarius Moon), yet my daughter is impulsive and independent (Aries) as well as attention-seeking and wildly creative (Leo Moon). My job is to put myself aside and to help her cultivate the best qualities of her horoscope, and to minimize its negative expressions. Like it or not, we as parents must socialize our kids, and each zodiac sign has characteristics that we don't want to encourage. My challenge is to help her retain her independence, self-confidence and fiery spirit, yet simultaneously discourage her from being so independent ("hard-headed") that she won't ask for help; assist her in controlling her anger so that she doesn't throw things; and teach her that there are times when she will not be the center of attention.

The lessons we teach will be different for each zodiac sign. A Gemini sometimes needs to learn how to focus. A Libra needs to learn how to make a decision and stick with it. Yet if you squash the curiosity out of a Gemini or encourage a Libra to only take themselves into consideration, you are causing possibly more harm than you can imagine. The Sun sign shows how we shine, and our children's spirits cannot burn brightly when they are taught to be other than who they are.

Jeffrey Kishner
blogs at
Seduction Central about the astrology of sex, love, romance and relationships. He used to live in Park Slope, but moved to Windsor Terrace a year ago so that the wife and kid could have a backyard. Jeffrey is available for astrology consultations -- call him at 347-423-4631.

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Neurotics Anonymous

Nicole and son

By Nicole Caccavo Kear

I'm a worrier. I cross my fingers and knock wood and attach 'God Forbid' to any utterance that could possibly result in harm. It's not cool or hip or au courant but my obsession with outsmarting misfortune is in my blood. My Italian family raised me to live in terror not just of black cats and broken mirrors, but placing shoes on a table and crossing my knife and fork. I'm saddled with a worst-case-scenario mind which anticipates Armageddon-like endings to accepting a Fresh Direct package.

So it should come as no surprise that I took four pregnancy tests before sharing the good news with my husband.

My first trimester was a minefield of neuroses. Although I haven't seen my natural hair color since I was fifteen, I forfeited the joys of highlighting. Clouds of cigarette smoke on the street sent shudders down my spine and I nearly went apoplectic when my father offered me a
celebratory sip of champagne.

It was my ob-gyn who shouldered the true brunt of my worries. She became accustomed to the numbered list of questions I unfolded at each check-up, and was kind enough to read the ingredient list on such items as my facial toner and goat cheese packaging to rule out any
danger to my fetus.

It was a long nine months.

Despite my certainty that I'd go into premature labor, I found myself at thirty nine weeks still chock full of baby. Then I began to worry I'd go past my due date and have to be induced. I abruptly switched from a labor-preventing campaign to a labor-inducing campaign. This included marathon walks across Manhattan, binge-eating spicy foods and honeymoon amounts of sex. My hard work paid off and just three days before my due date, on Thanksgiving morning, I started labor.

For the first time in nine months, my mind was not overrun with visions of disaster or stubborn "what ifs." I didn't have the luxury of neuroses: it took every last ounce of concentration just to get through each contraction. My mind, prone to stray like an unruly toddler, was snapped sharply back in place by the great disciplinarian, pain. It was the supreme example of living moment to moment.

And the moment which brought my son sliding out of my womb was the most vast, consuming moment of my life. It made the Grand Canyon and the Pyramids and the rings of Saturn seem pedestrian. I didn't ask the nurse to count his toes. The instant they placed his tiny body on my chest, I knew he was everything he needed to be.

My neuroses still rage. Every time my newborn coughed, I had the CPR manual at the ready, and my pediatrician probably uses speed-dial to return calls like "Is cradle cap contagious?" and "Is it normal for baby poop to smell so foul?" But though the road to recovery is long, at least now my son is old enough to give me a hand knocking wood. It's a family legacy, after all.

Nicole's a native New Yorker who lives in Brooklyn with her darling children, aka Thing 1 and Thing 2, and dear husband, who got her into this mess of motherhood. She writes a column called "Dispatches from Babyville" for the Park Slope Reader and contributes regularly to Time Out NY Kids, Pregnancy, New Parent, Parenting and American Baby. You can read her work at

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kiddies @ The Yard

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child

Strong willed children can be a challenge, when they’re young, but if sensitively parented, they become terrific teens and young adults. Self-motivated and inner-directed, they go after what they want and are fairly impervious to peer pressure.

What exactly is a strong-willed child? Some parents call them “stubborn,” but we could also see them as people of integrity who aren’t easily swayed from their own viewpoints. Often, these kids are prone to power-struggles, but research shows that parents can provoke power struggles by being over-controlling, or avoid them with sensitive parenting, so that might indicate that strong-willed kids are just easily provoked by having authority imposed on them.

In any case, I think we can agree that strong-willed kids are spunky, confident, and engaged. How do we protect those fabulous qualities and encourage their cooperation?

1. Avoid power struggles by using routines and rules. That way, you aren't bossing them around, it’s just that “The rule is we use the potty after every meal and snack,” or “The schedule is that lights-out is at 8pm. If you hurry, we’ll have time for two books,” or "In our house, we finish homework before computer, TV, or telephone time." The parent stops being the bad guy.

2. Your strong-willed child wants mastery more than anything. Let her take charge of as many of her own activities as possible. Don’t nag at her to brush her teeth, ask “What else do you need to do before we leave?” If she looks blank, tick off the short list: “Every morning we eat, brush teeth, use the toilet, and pack the backpack. I saw you pack your backpack, great job! Now, what do you still need to do before we leave?” Kids who feel more independent and in charge of themselves will have less need to rebel and be oppositional. Not to mention they take responsibility for themselves early and become more competent.

3. Give your strong-willed child choices. If you give orders, he will almost certainly bristle. If you offer a choice, he feels like the master of his own destiny. Of course, only offer choices you can live with and don’t let yourself get resentful by handing away your power. If going to the store is non-negotiable and he wants to keep playing, an appropriate choice is: “Do you want to leave now or in ten minutes?”

4. Give her authority over her own body. “I hear that you don’t want to wear your jacket today. I think it is cold and I am definitely wearing a jacket. Of course, you are in charge of your own body, as long as you stay safe and healthy, so you get to decide whether to wear a jacket. But I’m afraid that you will be cold once we are outside, and I won’t want to come back to the house. How about I put your jacket in the backpack, and then we’ll have it if you change your mind?” She’s not going to get pneumonia, unless you push her into it by acting like you’ve won if she asks for the jacket. And once she won’t lose face by wearing her jacket, she’ll be begging for it once she gets cold. It’s just hard for her to imagine feeling cold when she’s so warm right now in the house, and a jacket seems like such a hassle.

5. Don't push him into opposing you. If you take a hard and fast position, you can easily push your child into defying you, just to prove a point. You'll know when it's a power struggle and you're invested in winning. Just stop, take a breath, and remind yourself that winning a battle with your child always sets you up to lose what’s most important: the relationship. When in doubt say "Ok, you can decide this for yourself." If he can't, then say what part of it he can decide, or find another way for him to meet his need for autonomy without compromising his health or safety.

6. Side step power struggles by letting your child save face. You don’t have to prove you’re right. You can, and should, set reasonable expectations and enforce them. But under no circumstances should you try to break your child’s will or force him to acquiesce to your views. Just recently I heard from a mother how she herself refused to take a nap at age four. It wasn't enough that she finally was forced to get into her bed, her father spanked her until she said she wanted to nap. This was a defining moment of this woman's life, and she spent the rest of her childhood alternating between rebelling against her parents and considering suicide.

7. Listen to her. You, as the adult, might reasonably presume you know best. But your strong-willed child has a strong will partly as a result of her integrity. She has a viewpoint that is making her hold fast to her position, and she is trying to protect something that seems important to her. Only by listening calmly to her and reflecting her words will you come to understand what’s making her oppose you. A non-judgmental “I hear that you don’t want to take a bath. Can you tell me more about why?” might just elicit the information that she’s afraid she’ll go down the drain, like Alice in the song. It may not seem like a good reason to you, but she has a reason. And you won’t find it out if you get into a clash and order her into the tub.

8. See it from his point of view. For instance, he may be angry because you promised to wash his superman cape and then forgot. To you, he is being stubborn. To him, he is justifiably upset, and you are being hypocritical, because he is not allowed to break his promises to you. How do you clear this up and move on? You apologize profusely for breaking your promise, you reassure him that you try very hard to keep your promises, and you go, together, to wash the cape. You might even teach him how to wash his own clothes! Just consider how would you want to be treated, and treat him accordingly.

9. Discipline through the relationship, never through punishment. Kids don’t learn when they’re in the middle of a fight. Like all of us, that’s when adrenaline is pumping and learning shuts off. Kids behave because they want to please us. The more you fight with and punish your child, the more you undermine her desire to please you.

10. Offer him respect and empathy. Most strong-willed children are fighting for respect. If you offer it to them, they don’t need to fight to protect their position. And, like the rest of us, it helps a lot if they feel understood. If you see his point of view and think he's wrong -- for instance, he wants to wear the superman cape to synagogue and you think that's inappropriate -- you can still offer him empathy and meet him part way while you set the limit. "You love this cape and wish you could wear it, don't you? But when we go to Temple we dress up, and we can't wear the cape. I know you'll miss wearing it. How about we take it with us so you can wear it on our way home?"

Laura Markham, Ph.D., is the Dear Abby of Parenting for the 21st century. A clinical psychologist trained at Columbia University in NewYork, she is the founding editor of the popular parenting website YourParentingSolutions.com.

The Good Dr. Laura is also a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader who assists parents in transforming their relationships with their children (from babies to teens). In addition to Hip Slope Mama, she serves as Parenting Expert for ParentingBookmark.com, Storknet.com, Wellness.com and Pregnancy.org, on which she hosts a regular online chat for moms. Her work appears regularly on a dozen parenting websites and in print.
She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her husband, 12 year old daughter, and 16 year old son. If you have any parenting questions for the Good Dr. Laura please send them to HipSlopeMama@gmail.com.

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Getting My Brain Back with "The Secret Science Club"

By Melissa Lopata

Its official….it hasn’t just been a figment of my imagination. Science has finally proven that "Baby Brain” is real. It’s been a year since I gave birth to my son. Slowly, the dim veil has been lifting, but for almost 2 years friends and family thoughtfully tolerated my impaired condition. They watched in bewilderment as I lost my house keys 5 times (never to be found again) and scheduled doctor appt. after doctor appt. only to miss each and every one.

Pregnancy&Baby.com writes “research is proving what we already knew: That pregnancy turns your brain to mush. According to a study recently published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, a woman's memory can be impaired for at least a year after giving birth”. So it turns out my brain shrank approx. 5%. What a relief! I finally have a scientific excuse for all my dim-witted shenanigans. As soon as I determined that I was reaching the tail end of a 2-year odyssey of .…Duh, I set out to find the most entertaining way to flex my brain muscles. I needed a plan. How do I get my brain back? Short of carrying a Sudoku book in the diaper bag or practicing long arithmetic, I decided I needed an outlet to get out. This is because my intellect wasn’t the only faculty that has been hibernating since the baby arrived. I required some serious fun and a sexy night out on the town. The Secret Science Club in Park Slope, Brooklyn was my answer. Who knew science could be sexy!

Curated by Dorian Devins, Margaret Mittelbach, and Michael Crewdson, the co-authors of Carnivorous Nights and Wild New York, The Secret Science Club meets the first Wednesday every month in a concealed location at the Union Hall bar in Brooklyn. “Underground . . .Shrouded in mystery . . .Chock-full of brainiacs . . .The Secret Science Club features”: free mind-bending lectures from respected members of the scientific community. When I asked the co-founders about the Secret Science Club, they told me, “Scientists love it here because they get the rock star treatment”.

Where else can you have a cocktail with astrophysicists and paleoanthropologists? (Btw, I've always had a thing for high IQs, glasses and tweed jackets with elbow patches). Plus, this Weds, August 6th The Secret Science Club opens Union Hall’s “Music at the Bridge” show with experimenter extraordinaire David Maiullo and his hair-raising “traveling physics road show.” Maiullo and his liquid nitrogen will shatter all your expectations…
Plus three live bands—the French Kicks, Tiny Masters of Today, and Headlights—with comedian Dave Hill!!

WHERE: Under the tent in the historic Tobacco Warehouse @ Brooklyn Bridge Park

SPECS: Gates open at 6 pm. Rain or Shine.

HOW DO YOU GET TO THE SHOW? It’s easy! Click here for directions to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

CAN’T GET ENOUGH SCIENCE? Head over to Park Slope’s Union Hall (702 Union St. @ 5th Ave.) for a secret science lecture the very same evening. The doors of Union Hall's subterranean grotto will open at 8 pm. Pocket protectors suggested.

The “Secret Science Club” meets Aug. 6th at 8 p.m. in the basement @ Union Hall, 702 Union St. (at 5th Ave.) in Park Slope, Brooklyn, p: 718.638.4400 Subway: R to Union St.; F to 4th Ave.; Q, 2, 3, 4, 5 to Atlantic For more info check here: Secret Science Club & Union Hall.

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How Do I Know If I Have a Postpartum Mood Disorder and What Can I Do About It If I Do?

I’m so tired. Who has time for anything?

I love breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is so challenging.

My husband is so calm with the baby.

My husband doesn’t have a clue.

I can’t remember where I put anything.

I can’t believe how much I love the baby. I never expected this feeling.

The baby cries all the time.

I never even get to take a shower.”

These are some of the things I’ve heard from new moms in my practice. You’ve probably heard them too, or even said them yourself. After having a baby everyone wants to know, “When will things get back to normal?”

Life will never return to exactly the way it was before you had children because your family structure and responsibilities have changed, so I call life post-children the “new normal.” For most of us, the intensity of the newborn period decreases and life gets easier after a few months, but for some women this time is complicated by Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMD).

Postpartum Mood Disorders refers to a spectrum of disorders, which includes Baby Blues, Depression and/or Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Psychosis. Symptoms may actually occur during pregnancy or begin during the first year after the birth of a baby (or later if weaning from breastfeeding occurs after one year) and may change in type and severity over the course of the illness. Postpartum Mood Disorders affect 20 – 30 % of postpartum women and occur in virtually all cultures and cut across racial, ethnic, class, and educational lines.

While there’s still a lot that’s not known about PPMD, there are probably multiple causes, including hormonal imbalance, stress, and isolation.

Some Risk Factors for PPMD may include:

  • Personal and/or family history of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia
  • History of PPMD in mother or other close female relative
  • Previous episode of PPMD (50 – 80 % chance of recurrence)
  • Complications of pregnancy and childbirth
  • History of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and menstrual problems
  • Mood changes while taking birth control pills or fertility medication
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Abrupt weaning
  • History of trauma, physical/sexual abuse, personal and/or family substance abuse
  • Unresolved losses, including recent loss of a parent
  • Recent stressful life events
  • Ambivalence about pregnancy and/or maternal role
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Social isolation and poor support

Remember, though, risk factors do not necessarily lead to or cause PPMD; they just make it more likely that a new mother will experience one. Some new moms with risk factors do not develop a PPMD; other new moms with few or no risk factors do develop a PPMD.

Here are some Symptoms of Postpartum Mood Disorders:

  • Sleep difficulties - often inability to sleep when the baby sleeps
  • Appetite changes – usually loss of appetite
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability
  • Oversensitivity
  • Restlessness
  • Sadness
  • Weepiness
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive worry
  • Lack of feeling for your baby
  • Loss of normal interests and pleasure
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • Hopelessness
  • Comparing yourself unfavorably to other mothers
  • Panic attacks – shortness of breath, palpitations, dizziness
  • Intrusive thoughts – often fears of harming yourself or your baby
  • Repetitive behaviors – counting, checking, cleaning
  • Delusions and/or Hallucinations – these are considered a psychiatric emergency and the woman should receive immediate attention and treatment

A majority of new mothers will experience some of these symptoms of PPMD. In fact, Baby Blues is so common (up to 80% of new mothers) it is usually considered to be “normal,” not really a disorder. Its onset is within the first week postpartum, with symptoms that persist up to three weeks and decrease without treatment. Support and reassurance, from a postpartum doula, for example, can be invaluable in helping the new mom (and family) adjust to life with a baby and become more confident in her mothering.

When symptoms do not resolve within the first several weeks postpartum or begin after that time, you may be experiencing one or more of the other Postpartum Mood Disorders.

Treatment of Postpartum Mood Disorders

A mother who is experiencing symptoms of PPMD should have a physical exam to rule out other causes, such as a thyroid condition, as well as an evaluation by a mental health provider so she can begin appropriate treatment. Counseling or psychotherapy, support groups, and journaling are valuable treatment modalities. If necessary, psychotropic medications (such as antidepressants) can also be used, even during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is important to see a psychiatrist who is familiar with treating PPMD, especially during breastfeeding if you are and want to continue to do so. Safe and effective alternatives (or adjuncts) to psychotropic medications that may be used include homeopathy, some herbal remedies (not all herbal remedies are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding), acupuncture, massage, and light therapy. In addition, practical support and parenting education are always helpful.

Most importantly, if you’re wondering whether or not you’re suffering from a PPMD, you should talk to someone (your partner, health care provider, friend or family member) and get help. You can be treated and you can feel better!

Ellen Krug is a licensed clinical social worker, certified childbirth educator, and trained labor doula, who has been serving women and their families in Park Slope and the surrounding Brooklyn communities since 1984. Through Choiceful Birth and Parenting at www.choicefulbirth.com she offers counseling for pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting issues, as well as private childbirth classes tailored to individual needs. She’s the mom of a Park Slope-raised son and daughter who are now young adults.

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A Really Big Yoga Class

On two consecutive Thursday evenings in July, I taught a free yoga class in Bryant Park. I was somewhat prepared for a large crowd because Lululemon, the event sponsor, told me that there had been over one hundred people on the lawn in the park just the week before. I did my best to prepare for this special NY event, practicing and reviewing the sequences that I planned more carefully than usual, writing them down and even studying it. But how do you really prepare to teach yoga to a large number of people outdoors in the heart of NYC? With all the combined years of teaching and being taught, I managed to somehow teach this huge crowd of yogis, which, on my first Thursday, had set a new attendance record of 212 people. This was a night of firsts for me. It was the first time I had ever taught a yoga class to that number of people, indoors or outdoors, and the first time I worked with a microphone headset. It was an opportunity of a lifetime.

In the first class, we started standing up. Since everyone was standing, no one could see me. But my voice was everywhere, just like Big Brother. It was overwhelming to hear my voice projected back so large in my ears, like hearing your voice on an answering machine, only multiplied by a 100 times, and with everyone else listening too. I did my best to stay calm and focused on the practice of the people all around. In the second class, we began with a seated warm up. I remained standing so that people were able to see me. I was definitely feeling more familiar and confident with the process of engaging this many people, even though that night they achieved another attendance record of 223 people. I told the group to interlace their fingers, press their palms up over their heads, and, while keeping their pelvis grounded, to bend towards the right. Can you imagine directing a sea of bodies, minds and breath connected together, to move as one? The amazing wave of humanity leaning uptown in unison was an unforgettable vision. It was a glorious moment and an extraordinary sight, my first wave.

Afterwards I floated for several days. Then, in the debriefing process that I put myself through after these two classes, it occurred to me that these may have been among the biggest professional things that I have done so far in my life. I love the idea of sharing what I have learned and how the ripple effect of just one small seed can easily spread. Perhaps one of those 223 people who practiced last Thursday in Bryant Park will begin a yoga practice because of my class? Perhaps one person went home that evening feeling buoyed by the experience and was more pleasant to their family? Perhaps someone else realized that they had never really done a Triangle pose in quite that way before? The possibilities and ramifications of our actions are indeed breath-taking.

Jennifer Brilliant is a Park Slope mother and the owner of the Jennifer Brilliant Yoga and Personal Training Studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Jennifer has nearly 20 years of experience guiding people in athletic, therapeutic and creative movement. She is a regular contributor for Hip Slope Mama. For more about Jennifer Brilliant and the classes she offers visit JenniferBrilliant.com

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Part One: "The Oh-So Glamorous Nanny”

By Rachael Nachtwey

Eighty-seven degrees, a trillion percent humidity with a heat index of why-bother-looking-cuz-it's-just-fricking-hot?

I don't do well on hot, sticky days. I hate the uncomfortable feeling of being sweaty and gross but I’m definitely not one of those girly girls either. My fingernails are a jagged mess and I certainly don't care if anyone sees me with my hair plastered to my head after a good work-out at the Y. However, I hate being in situations where I feel like I should look good and I just don't. Case in point: the Brooklyn playground.

I know, I know. You're thinking, the playground? What the hell? I just throw on some clothes, pack up the stroller and off we go. I don't even look in the mirror before I leave. It's just, well…the playground.


And for the most part, I agree. Typically, I throw on the same crappy khaki shorts that I have probably worn the last five summers because I'm too poor and lazy to buy new ones, slip into my $2 foamwear (aka Target flip-flops), and toss on whatever tank top is lying around. Within hours, 15-month-old Ethan and I are at the playground, making a complete mess out of ourselves. This mess usually includes playing in sand, toppling into mud and/or puddles, or at the very least sinking our hands into all sorts of interesting textures like potted soil. And making that mess is what it's all about, right?

Of course. I know deep down that these experiences are exactly what it's all about but I can't help but feel a twinge of self-consciousness at times. After all, I'm not some teenage babysitter who is still a kid herself and should be covered in dirt and slime. I'm a 32-year-old, Master's level social worker who ditched the Milwaukee child welfare system to try to make a go of writing in New York City. I'm basically on par (age wise) with many of the Hip Slope Mamas. Yet, I often feel like a kid because I usually look like a wreck.

One day, after a particularly down-and-dirty afternoon at the park, I was suddenly overcome by my feelings of inadequacy. Every woman around me seemed to be sporting fantastically trendy (yet sensible) footwear, the perfect jeans, and some rad designer looking sunglasses. I, on the other hand, was wearing jeans with holes (in all the wrong places), painfully uncool Nikes circa 2004, sunglasses with a cracked lens, and a T-shirt with a streak of toothpaste residue down the front of it. (I do, however, always comfort myself that others will deduce that any crap on my clothes is due to the baby).

Looking at all these trendy ladies, I immediately made a mental note to touch up the chipped nail polish on my toes that night. I wondered if these other women looked at one another and made similar check lists or if they just took better care of themselves in general. God knows that they don't have the luxury of lazy afternoons to ponder their next pedicure. No, I realize that their days are filled with screaming infants at their breasts and preschoolers to cart from one activity to the next.

So how do they do it? Are Brooklynite moms just invariably cool? And why can't I have that cool gene...the one that doesn't involve thought...the one where I'm always put together and fresh, not a sweaty ball of dirt? Why can't I have that just-rolled-out-of-bed, plucked-up-my-baby, put-together-my-earth goddess/flowy skirt/tank top/head scarf combo-and-am-now-enjoying-a-latte-while-watching-my-adorable-children-make-new- friends-on-the-jungle-gym look? But as I pushed Ethan in his swing, my spirit plunging, another thought popped into my head.

A few months ago, my mother (from Black Creek, Wisconsin, population 1000) came to visit me. During one of the many preparatory phone calls, the issue of what to pack was discussed. My mother mentioned more than once that she didn't have anything "very nice" or "too cool" to wear. Instantly sympathetic, I remembered having the same thought as I prepared for my very first trip to New York. I mean, this is the city of supermodels, fashionistas, and tragically hip rock stars, is it not? But when I came out here, I realized it was another story and I explained this discovery to my mother. I said, "Mom, no one, and I mean, NO ONE cares how you look. The great thing about this city is that it attracts all kinds. That means people who wear Prada as well as velour jogging suits or combat boots. Absolutely no one cares and more importantly, you shouldn't either".

The words ringing in my ears, I silently chastised myself for not heeding my own advice. Then, I looked down at Ethan. His T-shirt was coated in a mixture of mud and drool but all the while, he was babbling happily while attempting to suck the mud from under his toes. Then I squeezed my eyes shut, took a deep breath, and made a conscious effort to push all those self-deprecating thoughts out of my head. I picked Ethan out of the swing and gave him a little hug which caused a stamp like effect of mud down the front of my clothes. He laughed and smiled at me as I wiped the hair from both of our damp foreheads. We were certainly two peas in a pod.

Then we walked our dirty selves home, babbling to one another the whole way. And for the moment, I was content being a sweaty ball of dirt. After all, I had a pretty fun partner in crime.

*Catch Part Two of “The Oh-So Glamorous Nanny” next month!

Rachael Nachtwey is a Brooklyn Nanny and regular contributor to Hip Slope Mama. Although she adores taking care of Ethan two days a week, Rachael is looking at expanding her hours as a caregiver. If you are looking for regular part-time and/or occasional help with your kids (in the Brooklyn or NYC area) and don’t mind a nanny with some dirt under her fingernails (or the occasional toothpaste residue), feel free to contact her at Rachael.nachtwey@gmail.com.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Abbi Crutchfield: "Planning the Disaster"

Abbi Crutchfield, Photo by: Anya Garrett

I knew I was dragging my feet on my wedding planning when my long-single cousin announced her engagement. Not only did it come three months after my own (unbeknownst to her, as I have not yet informed my extended family), but she will have been married six months before my ceremony is scheduled to take place. It’s not cold feet—it’s cold cake…and cold dress, and cold invitations... Every detail is frozen in my brain, too precious to thaw for fear it become a tangible, wrong choice. The prospect of planning a wedding is so overwhelming that my fiancĂ© and I have been putting it off like a dinner date with obnoxious neighbors. And in our minds, that is sort of what a wedding is. The best way to discover what I will have on my Big Day is to rule out what I will not have. Chicken fingers, for example. When these turn up at a reception, the bride and groom are sending a strong signal…or three: “We don’t care that you’re here. This should shut your kid up. Heck, we would have bought fish sticks, but we can’t afford the ketchup,” I learned this after several formal dinners catered by Applebee’s.

I Give You the Top Five Tips I Have Learned from Attending Other Weddings.

1. The friend who is the worst at karaoke will be your soloist. I used to think it was an accident, but after sitting through enough off-key Ave Maria’s I could see the method to this madness. A weak warbler is cheap entertainment for the guests, and the bride and groom (collectively, "The Broom") are too dazed and exhausted to be bothered by it.

2. The sky is the limit but the basement is bottomless. People fuss about a set budget, but there is no end to how inexpensive you can go with your wedding. Take the music. A live band is cheaper than a famous musician. A DJ is cheaper than a live band. An iPod is cheaper than a DJ, and your “Party Mix” tape is cheaper than an iPod. Plus your friends already know all the words to it.

3. The dress is a blip on the radar. One of the most costly aspects of the wedding is oddly enough the most forgettable. As a guest, I never investigate what fabric a gown is made of, nor can I see the detail from where I am sitting. In fact, the moment I always remember is when "The Broom" starts crying, so if you’re going to invest in white material, try a box of strong tissues.

4. Flowers can hurt egos. Arguably the most dangerous part of a wedding day is the violence that occurs when catching the bouquet. This competition is not for the luck the floral bundle represents, but for the minimal level of skill required to win. It’s like tossing a beach ball over the fence, and the fence is invisible. The simplicity of the task turns everyone into Willie Mays. To keep elbows out of faces, one might consider lighting the flowers on fire and distributing Super Soakers.

5. Waiting sucks. The more you have going on before the reception—photos, announcers, special dances—the longer it takes to get food. Food is the only reason people came. Never underestimate the power of a complimentary meal. Think of free bagels in the conference room. Now put those bagels under a long PowerPoint presentation on maximizing company growth. Makes you mad you sat down, doesn’t it? Don’t worry. At least there are chicken fingers in the caf'.

A comedy virtuoso, Abbi Crutchfield keeps her plate full in New York city with writing, performing stand-up, improvisational comedy, creating sketches, starring and directing in short films and producing a live comedy hour show in Park Slope called The Living Room. She is also a regular contributor to Hip Slope Mama.

To find out more about how Abbi and her fiance met and got engaged visit their wedding site on theknot.com For a daily laugh, read her Curly Comedy blog.

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In Support of Boredom

What can a school consultant possibly have to blog about in July? The applications are in and no one is answering the school phones. So I want to take a moment to speak in support of boredom. Letting your children make their own decisions, even the decision to do something useless is an engaged parent’s most difficult challenge.

Can you let your child have the summer afternoons to themselves? I can tell you it is torture watching them draped artfully on the furniture in their pajamas watching the same rerun of the hair-brained show they saw a month ago. How many times have I thought, “They could be working on their soccer drippling skills while listening to the Japanese tapes we got at the school silent auction! They are already in 6th grade; the SATs are right around the corner. Those Latin root words are not going to be learning themselves!” Resist the temptation to schedule the practice, the tutoring and the community service. Let them figure it out for themselves.

My lovely, enlightened friends keep bemoaning the fact that they have to drag their children to do the right thing. The grownups are afraid of wasted time, because time is so precious to them. The thing is that the only way to actually grow up to know how to use your time well is to make the mistake of wasting it every once in a while. Of course, the fear is that your children will never get out of their pajamas, ever. They will stay on the sofa watching reruns of Tyra until long after you have retired. Don’t worry. It isn’t an either/or proposition. Give them two weeks to decompress and figure out what they really want to do with their free time. If you don’t give them the space to learn to self regulate you will have to continue dragging your child to do the right thing long after it is fun or appropriate.

It is never too late to help them, but it does get harder for the parents as the children get older, because the time feels like it is running out and the stakes seem higher. So, you parents of little children, heed my warning and start early. Don’t schedule everything; give your child an opportunity to figure out how to spend some time on their own every day. Let them decide if they want the play date or not. Maybe there is a certain amount of screen time a week. If you let them think about when or how they use it. They won’t take it for granted and they will feel empowered. Check out these articles on Executive Function and then let go of schedule every once in a while: Old-Fashion Play Builds Serious Skills and Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control.

When they tell you that they are bored, say, “I remember what that is like. When you figure out what you would like to do, let me know if you need anything from me.” Then take a cup of coffee out back and watch the wind blow the trees around.

Joyce Szuflita is a working mother of twins. She has been a Brooklyn resident for 28 years. As NYC School Help, she consults with families who are doing the school search; public or private, nursery school through high school. Her aim is to save you time, clarify your priorities, present you with thorough information in a clear uniform format so that you can make an informed decision about your child's education. She takes a crazy stressful process and makes it clear and manageable. Joyce is also a regular contributor to Hip Slope Mama.

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