The other times will have their own meaning, with different value and depth, but when you meet your first child, it will be that very thing: the first time, never to be replicated again.

She will be impossibly small, and her chin will waver with an accusing uncertainty from the moment they place her warm body into your arms. How can you be my mother? You don’t look like you know what you’re doing.

And this will be true because, of course, you do not have the slightest clue.


You will assess the situation together, this first child and you. As a mother, you will notice the indentations where her knuckles should be, the rolls of fat that circle around her neck, her mottled skin and bald head. Improbably, she will seem insanely beautiful. Terrifyingly fragile.

She will hate the loudness of the room, the brightness of the lights. She will miss her old, wet burrow, with its cramped safe corners and dark shadows. Her furry brow will fold slowly. Then her unseeing eyes will blink up into the near space between the both of you, where you hold her close to your chest. Well, I guess this is it. We will have to make the best of it.

And then she will begin to cry. And you will begin to cry too.

In a day’s time, you will bring your daughter home and grow her up, in all the ways you know.

You will figure out how. She who knew from the beginning you never knew it all will regard you with purpose anyway.

She will do amazing things while you are worrying away the time. While you are cutting away the crusts. She will grow milk teeth and then grown-up ones. Someone named Mrs. Bastien will teach her cursive and make her learn which is the left hand and which is the right. She will save worms from baking on the sidewalk in the sun. She will love the things you hate and hate the things you love, and you will drive each other mad — all before she learns to drive.

Me and my daughter, Annabelle. Photo by Nicole Jankowski.

As her mother, you will do amazing things, too.

You will learn to need less: less sleep, less care, less time. You will give more. You will learn to tell the difference between "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the recorder, but it will hurt. You will not say things you would almost always have said, just to keep the peace. What hard strength there is in the measurement of unsaid words. You will be in a hurry to get to the better times when the times are worn and exhausting. Then you will hold your breath and wish it would all just stop spinning, when you realize how quickly 5 years old became 10 and then 10 years old became 15.

You will cut your own teeth, sharply, on the mothering of this first child. You will do the worst job this first time. But it will be the purest experience, the one that lives forever in your gut. The one that makes you homesick, always, for the time when she did not know anything but you and it was all so very new and unfiltered.

It will be wonderful and terrible, heartbreaking and tumultuous. You will hate it sometimes, and you will love it. You will stand nearby and watch her figure out the balance of things with the eye of someone so simultaneously invested and so incredibly powerless. It will hurt you more than she can know.

Do not tell her how much it hurts.

One day you will be counting her fingers and her toes, and the next, you will see her looking off into some foggy distance and she will be smiling. It will be the first time you realize she is counting the days until she leaves you for her first adventure, all alone.

You have only minutes now, it seems, until she leaves the house for the last time with her bedroom door wide open. There are only fleeting ribbons of days and wispy years until the last time she goes — the time she goes away, when she won’t be coming back again.

For the very first time.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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