Moms are the conductors of the family. Sure, sometimes it’s the dad, but I’m allowing myself a generalized statement. My opinion may be due to the fact that I wear my emotions on my sleeve more often, and can therefore be the one that can squelch a flame or ignite it by my reaction more easily than my husband, or the fact that I end up being the disciplinarian more often than he does. As we all know, if any family member walks in the room in a completely negative mood, the whole family can be effected by it. But in my experience, when my daughter walks in the room in a particularly ornery teenage way, she is like the trombone that is seriously out of tune, and it is my role to tweak that beautiful little trombone until she has found her magical sound or hide her away in her bedroom for a while where she cannot be heard. Whichever works on that particular occasion. 

Now how does the title Tang Days make any sense here? I grew up on a dairy farm with six siblings. You know how you see those large families in a store and the older ones are helping with the little ones, and they are in such disciplined order that they appear more like a Catholic school field trip run by nuns than a family. Well, that was not us. We rolled up in our second-hand, paneled station wagon with a picture of a horse head on the side (apparently my parents got a good deal on it due to the horse head) and pushed each other out of the doors blaming everyone but ourselves for the chaos we had all just endured in the ten minute drive into town. 

We were very disciplined in some ways though. We worked very hard through injuries, illnesses, snowstorms, and heat. There was never a day off when you live on a dairy farm. Yet, there was never any money either. Strange. My mom was a saint. This I realized much later in life when I began raising only three children without the daily stress of money. Don’t get me wrong. Money is always a factor, but it was on a whole different level growing up. I’m sure I never knew the half of what my mother battled, but some of it was apparent. For instance, sometimes she cried when she paid bills or lost her mind when clothes weren’t put away. We knew we were staring at the tip of the iceberg. When my mother acted that way, it wasn’t about the clothes. Even our young minds could sense that something else had broken, or some bill couldn’t get paid. It settled in a deep part of us that we were riding on a ship with a big leak in the bottom, and we walked through childhood waiting for the day we would sink. 

That gets me to Tang days. If you don’t know what Tang is, well, I guess I could sum it up as poor man’s powdered orange juice, but that may just be because it was the only orange juice I saw in my house growing up. Tang days were the days we would come home from school and find a glass of Tang and graham crackers neatly laid out for each one of us. It said without words, we repaired the hole, and we all breathed a sigh of relief that was somehow much larger than a sigh of relief. We felt safe.

Later in life, I became a teacher for a Headstart program in Richmond, Va. I remember one particular inservice because not only did I feel it was such a strong reminder for me when I worked with the children, but it was also some insight into myself. The instructor taught us about the hormones released in the brain when kids are experiencing stress. She likened it to the moments when we are searching the house for our car keys after a hectic morning of trying to get to work on time and finally finding them in our own hand. Once we are stressed, our ability to focus becomes impaired. 

The children I taught experienced this more than the average child, creating a disadvantage for them right from the get-go in the classroom. The tragedy of it was that they were the children that needed the classroom learning the most, since life was not allowing them the experiences to help them learn the same things as their counterparts, yet they were not able to soak it in the same way. 

According to an article from the National Scientific Council,, when children experience sustained or frequent stress it can alter the brain’s development.

Sustained or frequent activation of the hormonal systems that respond to stress can have serious developmental consequences, some of which may last well past the time of stress exposure. When children experience toxic stress, their cortisol levels remain elevated for prolonged periods of time. Both animal and human studies show that long-term elevations in cortisol levels can alter the function of a number of neural systems, suppress the immune response, and even change the architecture of regions in the brain that are essential for learning and memory.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Caroline Smrstik Gentner. You can read more by visiting this site: 

Neuroscientists are discovering that early childhood stress can affect brain development. High levels of stress, especially in early childhood, affect the development of the prefrontal cortex. So cognitively, the brain’s executive functions like working memory and self-regulation may not be fully developed. Processing new information and navigating unfamiliar situations – which is what we ask children to do at school every day – becomes a daily exercise in frustration.

In our world today, it’s all children that can be feeling stresses, not just the ones we want to peg as at risk. There are children stressed about grades, stressed about bullies, stressed about the news because lets face it, if the news makes us adults feel at a loss, imagine the stress it is putting on our children. It’s hard to assure them they are safe, when so many public tragedies are taking place in places no one expected. We can pretend our suburban children with all their financial blessings are not stressed, but then we need to look at how many of our children are suffering from depression and anxiety, and we need to acknowledge the increase in children committing suicide.

How can we counteract what is happening outside our doors? Drop everything. Forget the laundry. Forget the pile of dishes in the sink. Say no to putting one more thing on the family schedule and have a Tang moment. Sit with them, make eye contact, give them your full attention, even those teenagers that will roll their eyes at the idea of a conversation. Let them know with your demeanor that you got this even if you’re not 100% you do. Remember that the world can’t play in harmony if we don’t have conductors, so stand up on your podium, wait for that ever important moment where the world is allowed to quiet, and then reset the music playing in our hearts.