Spring cleaning 

Maybe it’s the Gemini in me. Maybe it’s the time of year when things are changing. Or, maybe it’s growing older and gainer more perspective but one life lesson that keeps resurfacing lately, as a parent, adult,  and School Counselor is that balance is crucial in leading a fulfilling life.

Image result for balanced scaleBoth personally and professionally, I see the effects of over and under-involvement from parents. We learn from our mistakes if we are paying attention. But, we can also learn from others. And in the wake of another tragic school shooting, my eyes are open to how we are failing our children.

It’s the age of extremes. Extreme opinions. Extreme politics. Extreme religions. Extreme views. Extreme gaming. Extreme extracurriculars. Extreme competition. Extreme testing. Extreme neglect. And, extreme parenting.

Every day as a School Counselor, I witness the effects of extremes from the list above.

  • Kids home alone a lot without anyone to help with homework
  • Children living with changing marriages, guardians, and new parental boy/girlfriends
  • Kids spending EXCESSIVE amounts of time gaming
  • Children viewing a plethora of adult material online
  • Families obsessing with being top-dog
  • Parents overreacting and overstepping into teacher territory; nit-picking 
  • Too many students living with anxiety, mental illness, and depression

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How do these all relate with so many various parenting topics? Many adults are failing to take a step back and review what’s best for their child’s development. It seems that many parents are loosing perspective on best practices and healthy habits while neglecting the most basic developmental needs like time for self-development, time to reboot, and time to care about others.

A lot of people are living in the age of selfishness. It’s all-about-me-world. Wanting to have people cater to me, being the best, and competing with others for grades, sports, and attention is a value in this country that is leading to self-destruction. Or, on the opposite spectrum, parents wanting what they want and not taking time to care for their kids, regardless of what their child needs, is equally destructive.

This rings true for the most neglected children and also the most overparented children. There are parents who really don’t want to be parents therefore, they go about their lives with their priorities coming first (instead of balancing the needs and wants of others). These are the children who are living with anxiety because they are forced to live in an adult world. It’s environmental stress. They know about the fight between mom and boyfriend last night. They don’t have anyone to read with them at night. They get off the bus and go into an empty apartment. They don’t sit down and eat dinner with a family. They often have an absent biological parent, or often an incarcerated parent. (But, they do have good clothes and shoes…priorites)

And then there are the parents who simply do not have any life outside of their children. No hobbies. Too much time on their hands to obsess about what their kids are doing. Too much attention is given to every little grade and performance. Their children often are successful and popular because they’re bred to be. But, these kids aren’t always happy or kind either. Kids who are overparented are often plagued with anxiety and performance-induced stress. This extreme parenting looks supportive on the surface while teachers complain behind their backs. Parents send their children to school but kind of want to be in charge of their curriculum and grades, truth-be-told. When the kid gets a B on the test, it’s catastrophic. The parent takes it personally because the child’s performance is their hobby.

Both parenting styles are unhealthy and unappreciated by educators. But, we are all guilty at times! When I write, I share these thoughts for ALL of us to pause and reflect. Self-awareness and perspective is a value that we are losing in their country because everyone is so busy! But,  balance and moderation are key to leading a satisfying life.   So, parents, it’s ok to….

  • worry some
  • relax, some
  • do your own thing some
  • Get excited about your kid’s grades, some
  • Allow some failure
  • Take some time to reevaluate your values

And for our children, moderation also helps develop healthy human beings:

  • Some technology is ok
  • Some downtime is good
  • Some family time is important
  • Some true friendships are crucial, while being popular is not
  • Some failures are normal
  • Some success should be celebrated
  • Some time should be spent thinking about and helping others

Moderation and balance is key. We have to keep perspective. The stress in this country is breeding a lack of awareness and healthy values in all types of families. We feel it in schools, one of the  most fundamental establishments in our culture.

So, this spring as you’re doing your spring cleaning, take a moment to declutter your lives along with your closets. Take a moment to reflect and evaluate if you’re living out your values. What can we eliminate and what can we add? Just like with chocolate or wine, a little bit isn’t going to kill ya (and may even be a little beneficial) ! It’s all about moderation. The habits we are teaching our kids will impact the adults they become. Be balanced. Be aware. And, have some fun too! Happy spring cleaning!

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The Best Valentine’s Gift

Love is a hard word to describe, and even harder to live out. When you’ve been in love, you know it!  You experience a type of euphoria that’s addictive, yet not sustainable. But, love can come in many different forms and parts of speech! It’s a noun, a verb, and even an adjective. The love that’s sustainable is an action, and if you’re a parent, you understand this type of unconditional love.

There is nothing like the love and connection you form with your child. You’d do literally anything for them. Jump off a bridge, throw yourself in front of a moving car, or sprint into a fire. Hopefully, you’ll need not do any of the above but loving our children is the single most important thing we can do as parents.

Why? Because children who feel loved are more secure, more empathetic, and more likely to love others. Humans who feel loved can lead productive lives and overcome obstacles. People who feel loved may live up to their potential because they don’t have that voice in their head that is critical, doubtful, or cruel. If we don’t feel loved, there is a void.

We love our children when we:

  • tell them they are loved
  • teach them right from wrong
  • forgive them
  • recognize effort and compliment them
  • tell them they are appreciated
  • hold them accountable
  • pay attention and listen to them
  • know when to help them, and when to make them help themselves
  • accept them 

That’s hard enough to do! However, when thinking about how we best can love our children, the foundation is loving ourselves! It doesn’t mean sacrificing the needs and wants of others to get what we want; that’s self-serving.  The best way to love others and sustain a healthy, loving relationship is to be the best person, and subsequently, the best parent we can be. We cannot fully love others if we don’t love ourselves. Yes, we’ve heard this for years from Oprah and self-help books when referring to romantic relationships but loving ourselves will help us be loving parents. People who don’t have their own lives figured out and are searching for happiness externally cannot fully love another. First, we must love ourselves.

If we aren’t being honest with ourselves, then we aren’t modeling how to be genuine, truthful people. If we aren’t practicing kindness and patience within ourselves, we cannot expect our children to practice good self-care. If we don’t take time for our passions, then our kids don’t get to witness joy and strength from the people they admire and look up to. If we don’t believe or even hope things will get better, our children don’t witness the power of positive thinking. If we don’t protect ourselves, emotionally or physically, then our children don’t feel safe and protected. As parents, we must remind ourselves that our children are watching. They don’t usually acknowledge that they care or even always respect our decisions, but they are taking it all in. 

To fully love others, we must first take care of ourselves. So, let’s revisit the list above and this time, let’s decide to do these things for ourselves. Before we fully and actively love someone else, we need to remind ourselves to do the same for ourselves. Make the ‘them’ a ‘myself‘ in the list. We will be happier parents equipped to give more to our children. By loving ourselves unconditionally, we will unconditionally love others too. And, that is the greatest gift.

Happy Valentine’s Day! XOXO

 

 

Fighting is overrated…so is winning.

It’s been a busy, hectic week for all. Five whole days of school is a couple days too much, says the School Counselor! But as I reflect on the week and the day, I am filled with appreciation. I am filled with optimism and an appreciation of the struggles.

First, this week was absolutely tough as a School Counselor. (y’all know what I’m talking about after being out for about a month. Kids have a lot of trauma and drama to catch you up on!). Instead of sharing the sad news which I often do, though, I’ll share how my week ended on a positive note.

It started at literally 7:15 a.m. Friday, being corned by a shiny character in the cafeteria. She was going to “have to fight” a neighborhood rival. I can understand her anger but this drama has gone round and round all year, both inside and outside of school. My friend spent 10 minutes venting about why she should fight this girl….but not in school, and not at her apartments (which is wise). After the rant session, she calmed down a bit and left for the day with a smile on her face even if the issue was unresolved.

The other partner in crime meets with me on Fridays in a girls’ lunch group for girls who have strong personalities and need some help steering. I had planned the lesson for teaching harassment and defining bullying. However, feeling the temperature of the day and long week, I scratched it, put on some yoga/meditation music, and we took turns reading and leading yoga poses. Our mantra was “I will be kind to myself. I will stay calm.” And, I’m telling you all….it worked.

The girl who is in a feud and usually spends half the group rolling her eyes said that she’s doing good, was mad earlier, but “fighting is overrated.” I don’t know if the principal or her teacher gave her those words but she proclaimed them proudly.

Then, towards the end of the group, a new and usually hostile girl spontaneously apologized to another group member for her behavior on the playground earlier in the week. After calmly discussing the playground problem which she had instigated with a couple girls including this group member, she left the room only to run into the girl she had been hateful to. She again organically apologized to the girl for her behavior and the other girl forgave her. success (fighting is overrated“)

Another successful, light-bulb moment came today at soccer with my own kid. You see Bo agreed to ‘coach’ or run an indoor soccer team when some other plans fell through and another dad bailed. Bo has never played soccer, nor has the assistant coach; they’re winging it! And, this team is comprised of a couple boys from Brody’s outdoor competitive team, some boys from school, and some boys who aren’t even on an organized soccer team at all. It’s a mix of kids who don’t ordinarily play on the same team but just want to go have fun together. And, they’re the only team like this.

Well, there’s only one bracket, not an ‘A’ and ‘B’ bracket as we originally were told. So, that just means we play club teams who are used to playing together. And, that also means there is almost no chance in actually winning a game. The scores have been in the range 19-2; it’s a killing. Today, we expected no different as we played a really great team with some super coaches.

No, we didn’t win….but they played hard. With only one sub. and 3 of the club players being out, it was a small, underdog team (but I love the underdogs)! They played their hearts out with almost no rest in the 45 minute fast-paced game. The score ended at 6-10. Red-faced and sweaty, the boys seemed happy. They deserved to be proud.

It wasn’t a win but I’ve realized winning is overrated too. It was SUCH a fun game to watch. We knew they had no chance to win so they just played. They had great attitudes, some pretty good passes, some strategy, and definitely great sportsmanship which is really ALL that matters. I’d take a lose anyday of the week over being a sore winner. It made me so proud to see a group of kids be happy with losing, knowing they gave it their all.

As I reflect on a tough week, I’d say it’s a win when you come out with a greater understanding of oneself and any accomplishment. It could be that you decided not to fight. It could be that you kept playing when you knew you were outmatched. It could mean that struggling student got a ‘C’ on the difficult math test. It could mean you got up and faced the day with courage when you know there are obstacles. The end result actually isn’t what matters most; it’s the path that we are traveling. Winning is gaining perspective. Winning is smiling when you lose. Winning is sticking with tough things. 

Hope you’ve had a ‘winning’ week because fighting and winning are overrated!

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“That’s racism.”

This week’s topic in our ‘leadership’ classes was good citizenship. That’s an easy pillar of character to tie into the history of Martin Luther King Jr. We began by looking at simple examples of actions good citizens would or would not practice. If it’s an action good citizens would do, the children move the snowflake and positive action onto the winter tree. Examples include: loving animals and people, caring for the earth, and loves learning.  (Wouldn’t it be nice if most adults practiced good citizenship!?)

Then, we listened to Martin’s famous, ‘I have a dream’ speech. I gave a short explanation into segregation and the civil rights’ movement as an introduction. Let me tell you the perplexed looks on their little colorful faces! They were confused and also disturbed to hear that 55 years ago, they wouldn’t be sitting next to each other in class or attending the same school. They wouldn’t be sitting together on a bus. And, they wouldn’t be allowed to drink from the same water fountain. In fact, they wouldn’t have been allowed to play together or be friends. They were blown away! Unfathomable!

When I explained that some people used to believe that white people were better than any other people of another race, one little adorable, smart Middle Eastern boy said, “That is racism.” Yes, yes it is. Then, we looked around our melting-pot-of-a-class with around half of the students being caucasian and took a moment to shake hands or give a high-five to someone with a different shade of skin. This is the kind of world I want to live in. And, this is our little reality at Bearden Elementary School.

Even with leaders in this country who are racist and still living in the past, I have hope with the children I work with. When a colorful group of 6 years olds get it and are appalled to think or live otherwise,  I know there is hope in this country. I see these little ‘good citizens’ and know they are wiser than many adults because they aren’t  seeing the color of one’s skin.Today, we honor and celebrate you Dr. King. And, many little souls honor and get it too. Thank you.

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Underachieving and loving it!

I used to be a really antsy parent. Actually if I’m being honest, I used to be a pretty restless person even before kids. When I stayed home with my babies, we rarely stayed home all day. That drove me crazy. We kept busy with walks, trips to the park, mommy and me classes, and visits to Target. Then, when the kids were preschoolers, we continued to stay busy with countless trips to the zoo, many more musical parks, playdates with friends, and trips to the book store.

I like a schedule and expectations so into elementary-age, we had a required reading time, limited electronics, and rules all while staying pretty active. Lots more outings to new museums, hikes, bike-rides, great vacations, and more playdates. We didn’t overdo it with organized sports or lessons; I have never been overkill with that. But, we took opportunities to get out of the house a lot. While Bo was content to stay put, I always liked a change of scenery.

Sometimes, I still do…..but just sometimes. Maybe it’s me getting old. Maybe I’m just too tired. Or, maybe I’m more content with being low-key (a.k.a. LAZY). I do truly know that after Brody was diagnosed with a brain tumor, something changed inside me, a new sense of peace (or could be exhaustion!). But, I became more easily satisfied with a lack of a schedule, staying put, and not feeling like we have to seek outside entertainment all of the time.

Not to say that this break we have stayed home and done nothing the whole time. My kids are not deprived! They ice skated. We went to Atlanta to visit friends. We saw lights in the Atlanta Botanical gardens. Anna got her first French manicure that she’s been dreaming about! We went downtown a couple times. They went to a trampoline place, and had many playdates. So, there’s been lots of fun but not much of a schedule. There hasn’t been any rushing. And, there has been LOTS of downtime!

There has been NO required reading or math. There have been many days of staying in pajamas all morning. There have been no limits on electronics. (The new Playstation 4 should blown up at this point!). There have been many new slime recipes and videos. There have been many days that I just decided to lay down after lunch without telling anyone (and the kids didn’t even notice!). There have been impromptu soccer games outside with the neighborhood boys (doesn’t matter how cold it is). There have been countless baby outfit changes, and babydoll haircuts! There has been time for mama to get lots of yoga and Facebook! We ate out a lot and skipped the grocery store. I did NOTHING for work, like nothing (do I even have a job!?)!

And, it’s been nice. I’m going to miss it. Underachieving and taking life as it comes is becoming more and more enjoyable. No plans is the best plan! This is the calm before the storm, the last weekend of peace for awhile. As I sit here in my flannel cookie monster pajama pants, I’m already dreaming of those snow days so I can continue this laissez-faire life!

Have a relaxing weekend! Go back to sleep. Stay put. Have a mimosa. Enjoy not-doing!

Watch your words, boy!

My children, 2 years apart, are always so encouraging, complimentary, and helpful towards each other. They don’t argue or fight. They point out the positive. They never get revenge. And, they truly enjoy each other’s company.

If I am describing your life, congratulations, but all of the above is a big, fat LIE! In fact, I’d have to say today is opposite day if I were to convince you of such non-sense! While it seems unfair to blame one child, in this case, it really is my eldest who does 90% of the instigating! And he’s played the ‘Anna’s-your-favorite’-card, I would have to agree to her behavior is usually my favorite. That’s fair.

Action-reaction.

Yes, many times she does react but it’s Brody’s put-downs that really must stop. So, last night at dinner when he gave yet another insult, I told him there’s a new deal around here. For every put-down, there must be a compliment. Humans mostly hear and remember negative comments anyway .I think you’re supposed to give 7 positive comments for every negative just to break even. (Brody has a deficient too!).  He has a lot of making to do!

Bo agreed that he was sick of it and upon hearing Brody’s sarcastic tone when he did say Anna ‘is good at soccer’ (she did smile by the way!), he added on. Now, not only does he have to give a compliment but he also has a chore to do. Now, that sure got his attention! He did one after dinner. And today, he’s done two.

It’s become such a habit that it’s a natural part of his vocabulary. And while it is normal, makes him feel a little better about himself, and it does toughen her up a little, it still gets old. And, it’s become more frequent than acceptable. So, “you’ve got rocks in your head” earned him vacuuming the hallway upstairs. Then, the “baby” got him another room! Many times, he’s not even mad so he’s tried  the ole’ “just kidding” card. (Oh no you don’t , with this School Counselor mom. Nice try!)

At this house, we believe in consequences. Consequences are what children need to learn. However, sadly, we are moving away from consequences in public schools. There is a push towards positive reinforcement and planned ignoring. We don’t want to suspend kids, much less send them ot the office. Punish at the last resort. And while I am the first to believe in relationship-building and mutual respect, the idea that we can teach children without consequnces doesn’t prepare them for the real world.

When teachers are expected to praise Johnny for keeping his clothes on, not biting, hitting or yelling every 5 minutes on his cute behavior chart, Johnny has learned to work the system. Johnny hasn’t learned that his actions impact others. Johnny doesn’t learn to think about others. Johnny hears a lot of false praise. And, Johnny doesn’t miraculously transform into an empathetic human. Johnny is a jerk, and Johnny needs to understand he’s being a jerk and get a consequence or reaction that matches his action.

Does this sound harsh? Maybe…but my job as a mother (and a School Counselor) is to help children grow into responsible, empathetic, kind human beings. We aren’t doing kids any favors when we deny the truth, when we avoid consequences.  That’s not how life works.

There is a reasonable middle-of-the-road. While I would never tell Anna to call Brody something mean back to make things even or tell the teacher to bite Johnny back, I do think that we help children (and adults for that matter) when there are consequences for actions. Call them punishments. Call them making-them-do-something-they-don’t-want-to-do! If punishments are reasonable and fair, then they work. Brody hates chores (who doesn’t?!) so giving extra chores on top of having him practice complimenting his sister is a WIN for all.

So while I do not agree with beating your kids or sending them to bed without supper, I do think reasonable consequences are healthy for all. I think working and chores are more than reasonable; they help everyone. It’s easy to get lazy. Take away their gaming system. Have them clean. Write an apology letter. Do something that takes times to think and reflect. Tough love it where it’s at, people!

How many chores do you think he’ll ‘earn’ tomorrow!?

 

Fresh footsteps

snow

There is something really peaceful about taking a quiet walk in the snow. And if it’s the first fallen snow, you might be lucky enough to be the first person to make footprints. Many years passed in my life before I started to really recognize and appreciate these slow moments when one can become mesmerized by simple patterns and reactions in the snow.

The intricate patterns in tiny snowflakes, the way the thick, white snow coats the tree branches, the sweet shape of one’s snow angel, and the simple footsteps we can make on fresh-fallen snow….It’s rare here in East Tennessee yet welcomed by many children and teachers! For kids, it brings excitement with school closings, hills to sled, snowmen to design, and hot chocolate to drink. But as an adult, I think it’s pretty awesome too. If we are lucky enough to get a snow this year, you really should get out in it and experience it.

Am I dreaming of snow days at this time of year?! Most certainly, but I’m also dreaming of new beginnings. It’s magical how snow can transform the most generic spaces into something magnificent. This year, so can you whether it snows or not!

Dreaming of those footprints I will make on the wooded street that lies around the corner, I imagine deliberately stepping slowly to watch the way my boot will make a fresh imprint in fresh snow. If I’m the first one to walk on the road, I might make the first prints. Much like the goals and intentions that I set for myself in 2018, only I can make those steps. No one’s footstep will be exactly like mine. I believe we should slow down enough to watch our feet slowly hit the road. Our goals or new year’s resolutions don’t have to be life-altering (or unrealistic) resolutions that will only play out for a couple weeks. No, our intentions in 2018 can be simple steps.

The weather conditions will impact the way the snow crackles, softly crunches, melts, or even makes no noise under your boot. In the year ahead, expect that life will do the same . We can control if we go out into cold weather. We can control how quickly we step and the direction we head but then Mother Nature and life will do the rest.

Our footsteps may be covered up quickly with new fallen snow. Or, your steps may melt the snow down to the ground and remain frozen until the rest of the road melts. Such is life. Our goals may look fairly insignificant at glance and may be quickly forgotten. Or, we may be able to see them hours or days later.  Enjoy those first steps even if others can’t see them. Take intentional steps to be a good person even if no one else notices. We can notice and pay attention to small, gentle changes.

Do I really want some snow days this year!? Yes! But, do I also want a year full of intentional, slow footsteps even if Mother Nature brings no snow? Yes. In 2018, let’s set our intentions, even if it’s not a “resolution”, to bring slower, more peaceful steps. May this new year bring us moments of peace even if the surroundings are familiar. Let us all see things with new eyes and take fresh steps towards simple happiness, much like a child playing in the first snow!

 

 

 

 

 

Let it Be

With this chilly weather, hot yoga has been feeling better than ever. In fact, with all of this wonderful thing called time on my hands, I’ve been to a record-setting 4 classes already this past week. I’m not necessarily going exclusively for the exercise but also for the mental cleansing it provides. The quiet, warm, dark space is ultra-relaxing. And, the small reminders I receive are comforting and confirmative.

The instructor I’ve had every class is also a therapist. While she doesn’t say a lot, the few tidbits of thoughts and advice she offers are insightful. She hits the nail on the head every time! (And, isn’t great when you hear the right message at the right time from a friend, in church, or even in yoga!?)

The past 2 classes have had the same, simple theme:

If you can’t change something in your life, just let it be.

While this doesn’t really sound profound, it does offer profound peace. I think of how many times, especially the first couple years of Brody and Anna’s life, I thought a challenging phase would never end. And for an impatient person like myself, each sleepless night or bad-eating stage would stress me way more than was helpful. When you’re in it, it feels like the ‘bad’ stage or challenging situation will never end. And just when you’ve read every book and asked every mom for advice, the stage just ends by itself without you doing anything.

With many problems, this is the case. We worry and stress, and try to wish the problem away. We hyper focus on making the problem the center of our world, trying to will it away. With our children, our relationships, and our hardships, we fool ourselves into thinking we are soley responsible or just capable of changing the situation when really we should often just let it be. Don’t DO anything.

A great therapist I went to last year also gave the same, simple thoughts to live by: Truth, Acceptance, and Choice. But, sometimes we don’t get things the way we want them to be; we think we don’t have a choice. But, we can CHOOSE how to feel and how to live WITH the problem, challenge, or situation. We have to accept truths that we don’t like. We need to LET IT BE. The more we try to change things, the more we can feel frustrated or stuck.

Hopefully, your day is filled with peace and bliss…..but if it’s not, don’t stress too much. Go for a walk or to hot yoga and just let it be.

 

 

Courage

Every day, we have a choice. We can be depressed about all the tragedies, disparities, and unfair circumstances that plague our world and, sometimes, even our own lives. Or, we can take unfortunate situations and use them to drive us. It’s easier said than done, yes. But, there are silver linings everywhere.

This fall, we were sitting at dinner and Brody defined “courage”. I think it was a dinner question. Or, maybe it was a sidenote of another brain tumor talk. Regardless, I loved his definition so much that I jotted it down and there it’s sat until I recently straightened up a little for Christmas decorating. Here it is:

courage

“Courage is the will and the wanting and the motivation to get through.”

Courage doesn’t always feel brave. Courage isn’t always obvious and loud. Courage pushes us on in the face of circumstances that we didn’t choose or that are less than ideal.

Today, I started to write all about the messy details of a sweet, little boy who asked to see me this week but his story is just too personal. Sometimes people, young and old, get more than their fair share of challenges. So, let me just summarize a few situations I heard about this week that would have caused a lot of adults to give up.

  • a boy goes home to domestic violence every day and has nowhere to hide in their one-bedroom apartment
  • a boy lives with his alcoholic mother during the week, while longing for the weekend when he’ll get to be with his best friend and the man who raised him, his Popaw
  • a girl comes to my small group and shares that this group makes her feel “happy” because now she feels like she’s not the only kid not living with her mother and father
  • a new child in Knoxville is diagnosed with a brain tumor and undergoes emergency surgery
  • my own son goes to his check-up at the hospital, a now routine MRI to check on his brain tumor

These are only a few tragedies, and I know there are far worse. And, sometimes it’s just sad. It’s easy to just sit with sadness. And, it would be easy to feel depressed when faced with any of the above. But, while it’s ok to feel sadness or anger , it’s not helpful to stay there and not push on.

I share just a few of these ‘sad’ situations not to be depressing , but because children are inspiring. Kids can accept hard truths and press on in the face of adversary. Children can take challenges and ‘get through’ because as Brody articulately put it, it’s “the will and the wanting and the motivation to get through”. 

Whatever is ailing you this week, this time of year, or this moment, have courage. Be child-like and live in the moment instead of the future or the past. Push forward. Someone is facing way worse. And, celebrate the silver linings in your life.

 

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