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Gin Schaffer is a former higher education administrator and works part-time at MWHC's Regional Cancer Center as the Coordinator of Integrative Medicine. She lives in downtown Fredericksburg and enjoys walking and biking with her husband and 2 kids (especially if coffee is involved).

Pillow Talk

When We Were Young

Recently, I started binge-watching the show, "Younger", a TVLand show starring Sutton Foster and Debi Mazar. Foster, who is in her early 40s, finds herself a divorced single mom and needing/wanting to return to the publishing world she left behind in her twenties. During her interviews, she realizes a world of social media jargon like "trending" and "IRL" have passed her by. After an interaction at a bar with a younger man, Foster's character, "Liza" and her best friend, "Maggie" played by Mazar come up with a plan for Liza to pass herself off as a 26-year-old. They go to great lengths to re-create her life as a Millennial - studying pop culture, creating a new Facebook profile, etc.

I don't think it's a coincidence that I sought this show out at the end of summer - a season ripe for reminiscing. This past summer was chock full of reflecting on the past (Steve has been killing me with playing all the old songs that I used to hear at my neighborhood pool). Also, I'm getting constant reminders to register for my 25th high School reunion, set for this coming October! Check out my braces and those crazy bangs.

So, I've been asking myself, would I want a second chance to live the life of a twenty-something? Would you? I think at the core of wondering (wishing/hoping) for that re-do is thinking I'd be able to right my wrongs or make different choices. But, my twenty-something self is who got me to where I am today - flaws and all.  

You'd think with wisdom and experience, having self-esteem and confidence would be easier, but it's hard, almost exhausting because of the very fact that I know more than I used to. When I ask myself: am I doing enough as a mom? will I ever get back to a career? will these hot flashes ever go away?, all I can do is look back, reflect on what I have accomplished, and work with the present realities. Plus, surrounding myself with people that remind me of what I have done instead of pointing out what I haven't is really important.

My dad always said, "Take inventory of your life." I love these quick exercises, they help you get in the right frame of mind, recognizing and appreciating different aspects of your life, and building your confidence and self-esteem.  Do the exercise, do it often, and appreciate where you are right now -- regardless of what your birth certificate says.

It's definitely time to pull the trigger on signing up for my reunion. Am I worried about what I'll wear? Sure I am. Will I feel insecure? I imagine I will. But, that's nothing a good DJ and glass of wine or two won't fix!

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Mommy & Me, Next Chapter

As much as I thought I was prepared for my youngest to start kindergarten this week, my tears said otherwise. Of course, she is ready and quite excited to be heading to school. And, in many ways, I am excited as well, actually, I think the emotion I'm looking for is overwhelmed. We're starting a new chapter and that means the closing of one too.

Being a mom means constantly making decisions with the best information you have at the time (and then beating yourself up with guilt about those decisions). I have found myself looking at Anna very closely over the past few days, noticing her hair, her eyes and listening to her speak, admiring her for all that she can do. I look at her, wondering if I've done enough for her to prepare her for school - academically, socially, and psychologically. I know I will be asking myself that question with every new experience my children embark upon, I just need to work on the feelings of inadequacy I attach to that question. It's natural to want the very best for my children, but I have to get better at embracing the fact that I am doing my best. Some days are better than others and that's o.k.

I didn't sleep well the night before Labor Day. My hot flashes, nausea, and pain were a trifecta of yuck. I imagine, like many other families, I am experiencing the varying anxieties about the school year ahead of us. Anna, like usual, came to wake me up. There's nothing better than having the cute faces of children be the first thing you see in the morning. As she stood there, I was trying to rally myself out of the roller coaster of anxiety and depression. I knew I just had to do something to get myself moving. It's not easy getting out of bed when my television has so many enticing Hallmark and Lifetime movies to watch.

Anna and I have had a tradition of going out to breakfast, usually on Fridays, ever since she was about 3 years old. She says, "Can we go to a breakfast place?" about as much as she says her name. It really has been a wonderful way to start the day, time for just the two of us to spend together. I'm going to miss that special time but hopefully, we'll find a new tradition.

On Labor Day, in my effort to hold onto the present for a little while longer, Anna and I took a walk to get our weekday morning, "Mommy and Me" breakfast one last time. We went to Mercantile and found out that pie (chocolate creme to be exact) is perfect for breakfast. As we sat there, in a restaurant filled with families, tourists, and regulars at the bar, I felt a sort of kinship to everyone. I think we were all there, looking for our summer lives to last for just one more day. And, yet, there was also excitement in the air about the fall season to come.

As Robin Roberts says, "Everybody's Got Something" - it was beneficial for me to wake-up this morning, get out of the house, and have the realization that I'm not alone, these feelings I'm having are valid. If you're feeling anxious or sad about the changes you and your family are going through, get out there and talk to people so that you can experience that feeling of togetherness, not loneliness.

As parents, let us pledge to ourselves that we'll just keep moving forward, not judging ourselves (and others) right out of the joy that each day brings. I will learn to appreciate the past, live in the present, and not stress about the uncertain future.

"Life fails to be perfect, but never fails to be beautiful."

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Summer Detox

That time of summer has arrived when I feel like I'm saying "No" to various requests from the kids. All. The.Time.

"No, you can't have whatever that million-grams of sugar thing is; No, we're not going to any overpriced arcade, and No, I'm not buying you that toy." I understand why they ask for these things. We've been living in a summertime haze, a wonderful feeling of timelessness that somehow lands us at Carl's Ice Cream on a regular basis. Coming down from that high can be really difficult. 

The reality is, the start of school is right around the corner. And, although I think the Schaffer household is ready to head back, are we really "ready"?

Our sleep and eating habits are definitely out of whack. We've been living in a perpetual island-time atmosphere, grazing and sleeping on whatever surface we fell asleep on.  Sleep is very important for all members of the household - we all sound like a cranky 2-year-old without enough rest. Usually a week or two before school starts, we try to get ourselves back into a bedtime routine so that the mornings won't be too brutal. Sure, there will be rough moments, but it's all about reducing how many of those moments you have to endure. I love the Sleep Foundation for tips and resources about better sleep habits.   

Recognizing that the addiction to sugary treats may lead to a huge crash, we've been trying to reduce the candy and other junk foods that have really crept in over the summer. Both Jack and Anna had their well visits this summer; using the pediatrician and the questions she asked has been a helpful tool for me to remind the kids what we need to be doing to get back on track. Do their eyes roll at me? Absolutely. But, they seem to be understanding a little bit more where the "No" responses are coming from.

Falling out of and getting back into a routine is a perpetual challenge. Half the battle is recognizing what the causes of our difficulties might be so that we can make some changes - start here with these recommended 5 steps to get the kids ready for school. There is no such thing as perfection - each day is simply an opportunity to do better than the day before.

Even with the anxiety I feel towards organizing schedules and homework, I enjoy the start of the school year because it's like a new year, a clean slate to start over. So, hooray to the teachers, administrators, parents, and of course, our awesome kids. Let's Do This!


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The College Parent Survival Kit

This year, both our kids will be entering new schools. We are excited for them, especially Anna who is starting her school career as a kindergartner. She is excited, a little nervous, and really loving her new pink binder - an item that wasn't on the supply list, but apparently she just had to have it.

When we've been out shoppping for school supplies, I couldn't help but be curious about the shoppers who were clearly preparing for college. I wondered where they were going to school, what their summer orientation was like, and whether they realized half the things in their cart probably won't be used. This is what the profession of student affairs, where I worked for many years, does to your brain.

I've also been watching my higher education colleagues post various pictures and status updates about how excited they are to welcome the Class of 2020 to their campuses. For parents, watching their children graduate from high school and then quickly become college freshmen can be exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. As someone who has welcomed thousands of new students and their parents to campus, I offer you some food for thought:

1 Throughout the year, but particularly in those first two weeks of the semester, colleges and universities work very hard to create a series of informative and engaging programming for students. Why? So that parents don't linger and students don't rush home the first chance they get. I have seen parents stay in hotels, try to attend classes, and come to residence halls to pick up laundry and drop off food all in the first week or two of classes (not kidding). Give each other some space to figure out your new normal. And this includes not being your student's alarm clock via text or phone call too.

2 Over the years, many colleges and universities have developed Parents Programs because, well, the "Helicopter", "Stealth", and I believe the new one is called "Lawnmower" parents kind of necessitated it. However, that doesn't mean the programs and services they provide aren't valuable, so take advantage of them. Parents are provided with newsletters, updates on programs, and other information so that they can stay abreast of what is happening on campus and not feel like they have to constantly nag their students. Plus, for parents who want to be more involved with initiatives, they can get to know campus staff and meet other parents.

3 The transition to college can be difficult for students - academically, socially, and psychologically. And, that difficulty can often come as a big surprise. Students have a plethora of support programs and services to help them on campus and they need to be the ones to advocate for themselves when problems arise. Give your sons and daughters the opportunity to solve issues on their own first and only get involved when the issue or your student requires it. Trust me when I tell you, I never liked a conversation that started with, "Please don't tell my daughter I called."

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4 If a problem does arise, please make sure you've read all the critical literature that has been provided to you and your student before contacting the appropriate administrator. When a student accepts a college's invitation to attend their institution, that student is saying they agree to adhere to all student handbook, code of conduct, and academic regulations. "I didn't know" is just not something anyone wants to hear - not professors, not residence hall directors, no one.

5 Lastly, don't fall down the black hole of websites and social media platforms that rate every college, professor, academic program, residence hall, dining plan, human being that walks on campus. It's dangerous and unhealthy. Each student will have their own unique experience and will make decisions based upon those experiences. However, this is one link I will share. Emory University's psychology professor, Marshall Duke offers some suggestions on how to handle parenting in the college years.

Congratulations to all the parents with students heading off to college this year! Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!

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Pure Gold

I'm a sports fan, always have been - my parents had the baseball games playing on the radio and we enjoyed Sunday lunch while watching football. I dabbled in playing various sports when I was younger, was on the swim team, played some field hockey and my volleyball experience even got me hired as a intramural referee in college. Regardless of the sport, I am impressed with the athletes who dedicate themselves to the craft of perfecting that skill and the endurance required for it.

As a young girl, I remember watching the Olympics with my older sister (she was always a huge fan of the ice skating competition). I also remember  watching the 1984 Summer Olympics and hearing how proud my mom was of Mary Lou Retton, a fellow West Virginian. It was like Mary Lou was a member of our family! And, who can forget the Wheaties boxes? It was fun to sit down to breakfast in the morning with your favorite Olympian.

This is the first Olympics that Anna is old enough to truly sit and pay attention to what is going on, so I was hoping she would be interested in watching the events. Jack had very vague memories of watching the London 2012 Summer Olympics, but described the Sochi Winter games to Anna with great detail and excitement. He was ready! I think it worked to my advantage that the games were starting with gymnastics and swimming - two things Anna loves!

Watching these Olympics has been Parenting Pure Gold; a Lessons in Life 101 class available at 8pm each evening. Each time we watched an event, we've had the opportunity to talk about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. We've discussed the hours and hours of preparation and practice these athletes have given to their sport and the sacrifices they and their families have made to get to the world stage.

We've also discussed what other roles these athletes have in addition to training to be an Olympian. I could see both Jack and Anna's eyes get big when they heard about all the other wonderful things the Olympians are doing such as being parents, going to college - one of my favorite stories is that of gymnast, Houry Gebeshian who is a full-time labor and delivery Physician's Assistant. She said, "Basically, I deliver babies on nights and weekends and train on the days I don't work." Boom.

I especially liked the quiet moments, snuggling at bedtime, when I could tell Anna was watching and trying to figure out why something was happening. I enjoyed telling her about the different swim strokes required for the Individual Medley swimming competition or how the rotations in gymnastics worked. She asked great questions and was energized by the athletes, and, of course, I think she'd like to get her hands on one of those sparkly gymnastics outfits to do her own floor routine.

Who knows what kind of lasting impact watching the Olympic games will have on my children. Without a doubt, there are kids who watch these games and set goals for themselves that sound unimaginable. Joseph Schooling from Singapore had his picture taken with Michael Phelps in 2008 and then, beat him in the 100-Meter Butterfly eight years later in Rio. That's crazy inspiring!

There are just countless stories of courage and strength to learn from such as Yusra Mardini, a refugee swimmer who saved 20 lives after pushing a boat for three hours and Jillion Potter from the US rugby sevens team, a cancer survivor who also recovered from paraplegic injuries. We all have our rough days and I feel like I now have so many new people to draw inspiration from and even more important, these inspiring athletes' stories can remind you of your own strength, wisdom and courage.  And, the gold medals you already have in your life!

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Pouches' Community Corner

Postpartum Support Virginia

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For new and expectant mothers in the Fredericksburg area, Postpartum Support Virginia stands as the help and support for women and their families who are experiencing postpartum depression. Founded in 2009 by Adrienne Griffen, Postpartum Support Virginia offers one-on-one support, free peer-led groups, a robust site of information including screening and diagnosis overviews, fact sheets, and training sessions.