I’m so excited to share this interview with you. Jacquelyn Lazo is a writer and editorial consultant for higher education and nonprofit organizations. Many months ago she saw the need for a book about parenting through the pandemic and thus was born Comeback Kids: A Pocket Guide to Post-Pandemic Parenting. In her own words:
“I wanted to share concrete strategies and self-help tools explaining how we can cope better in the face of uncertainty, how to recognize and interpret concerning behavior in our children and where to get the support we all need.”
The book is available on Amazon. Here’s my interview with Jacquelyn:
April Dávila: You’ve been at home with a toddler, parenting through the pandemic. How did you find time to write a book? Did you have a regular routine, or did you just grab time when you could?
Jacquelyn Lazo: I’m lucky because I have an incredibly supportive family and a great “village” of friends who cheered me on every step of the way. I could never have written this without my husband Aaron’s constant encouragement – he was always right there playing with our now-2.5-year-old daughter Emma whenever I needed to finish a section, have a call with my co-author or check in with my editor. He’s my rock. Both sets of grandparents pitched in a lot, too.
Near the end of the writing process, my husband and his mom kindly agreed to take care of Emma so I could do a 24-hour mini retreat while housesitting for my parents. That dedicated time was what I needed to push the book over the finish line. Before I can tap into my creativity, I need space to breathe and get into the flow, which is tough to do in short sprints. As a night owl, I often work best when everyone’s sleeping and the world feels still, if even for a little while. Perhaps it’s because technology takes a short rest, so I feel like I don’t need to be engaging with it when the moon is up.
I wish I could say I had a regular routine, but I grabbed time when I could. Because my daughter Emma was only 10 months old when the pandemic began, I had more free time than most parents, I’d imagine. I also had a fairly flexible work schedule as an editorial and communications consultant, and I didn’t have to juggle homeschooling. I was amazed by the outpouring of support and encouragement I received from so many people who offered to help because they believed in the project. That was deeply meaningful and kept me going even when I was exhausted.
AD: Was there a specific event that motivated you to write this book? Or was it more of a general recognition that none of us has any idea how to parent through the pandemic?
JL: It was a bit of both. I wrote this resource guide because I was really worried and confused last spring. Then I started talking to other parents, caregivers and people I knew and quickly realized I wasn’t alone. We all had the same fears. Last April, one of my friends mentioned that her 10-year-old daughter was very distraught. After her birthday party was cancelled because of lockdown, she began to become withdrawn and anxious. Her behavior was very out-of-character, and my friend said she didn’t know where to begin or whether what her daughter was experiencing was “normal” or not. I’ve come back to that story time and again while writing this book because in many ways I wrote it for her and for all the other parents who are feeling unsure, worried and overwhelmed. I knew she didn’t want (or have time) to read a clinical book – she wanted an approachable guide written by parents, for parents. So that’s what my co-author and I tried to create.
I’ve been passionate about promoting the importance of kids’ social and emotional wellbeing for a while, so I was acutely aware of how dire the mental health crisis was in our country for kids before 2020. I also knew the situation would undoubtedly get worse as a result of the pandemic. Parents and caregivers needed a lifeline, especially because so many of the people who normally help them figure out what’s going on with their children and then aid them in getting the right treatment weren’t seeing kids regularly during the pandemic. I’m talking about teachers, school counselors, mental health experts and others. That was especially true for families where the kids had already been diagnosed with mental health or behavioral issues including autism, anxiety and depression.
When I couldn’t find anything like that, I started to think about how I, as someone who loves to write and communicate, could help. Since I don’t have a clinical background, I partnered with my phenomenal co-author, Dr. Frank DePietro, medical director of the child and adolescent in-patient program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School’s Western Psychiatric Hospital.
AD: I heard you started out writing a children’s book. How did you end up with a parents’ resource guide instead?
JL: I actually started out writing what I assumed would be a children’s book because I wanted to hear from children of all ages and elevate their voices. The media rarely highlights what our kids are thinking and feeling – everything is usually filtered through an adult’s perspective (especially in the case of littler kids). So I shared a short, five-question survey for parents and caregivers to do with their kids and asked them to distribute it to other people they knew. I also partnered with nonprofits, school counselors and teachers to try to get a more inclusive representation of how kids from all different backgrounds and life circumstances were feeling.
When I shared the responses with Dr. DePietro, he pointed out that much of the responses about seemed to be an echo of what kids were hearing at home. With that in mind, we decided the best way to help kids cope was to begin by offering their parents some practical advice on parenting through the pandemic. That’s how the book begins – with tips for adults on how to recognize and process their own feelings. If parents or caregivers are struggling, kids are most likely struggling. We wanted to start at the source.
AD: Was there anything you found in your research for the book that surprised you?
JL: The thing that both surprised and delighted me and my co-author the most was how hopeful so many of the kids we surveyed were despite the difficult circumstances. It wasn’t as if they weren’t aware of what was going on – in fact, Dr. DePietro noted that this next generation is more socially conscious than any he’s seen before. It was that they were able to focus on what mattered most to them – helping others (in ways both big and small), spending time with their families and being kind.
I am a firm believer in the incredible power of kindness. I still smile every time I think about the survey responses we got because I truly believe we have the honor of raising Generation Kind (or Gen K, as I like to think of them). Every kid, no matter what age they are, understands what it means to be kind. As caregivers, we have a responsibility to foster that and talk to our kids about concrete ways we can all act with kindness toward others. Every gesture – no matter how small – counts.
AD: In the book you talk about celebrating small wins. What’s a small win you and your family have celebrated recently?
JL: Emma was diagnosed with a speech delay when she was 18 months old. We’ve been working with a fabulous speech therapist since then. When Emma turned two, we learned that she’d gained a year’s worth of speech development in only six months! It felt like such a win, especially since we can see how hard Emma works to communicate every single day. She’s been a real trooper, and we’re so proud of her.
Another “win” was when we learned (courtesy of Emma) we’d adopted four “imaginary” pandemic puppies: Ben, Jeff, Huck and Rid (not a spelling error)! Turns out adopting imaginary pets is a fantastic way to go – no training, walking or feeding required. And you don’t have to constantly vacuum up dog hair. The downside is they’re tough to snuggle.
AD: What has been the hardest thing, for you personally, about parenting through the pandemic?
JL: Remembering to take the advice we offer in the book to heart in the midst of exhaustion, fear and confusion. I dog-eared some pages so I can go back to them when I need a reminder. And I go through the worry list practice we mention in the first section on an almost daily basis.
AD: And on the flip side, what has been the best thing, for you personally, about parenting through the pandemic?
JL: Emma, Aaron and I have gotten to spend so much quality time with our extended family. My parents and grandfather live nearby, which is incredible, and Aaron’s side of the family comes to visit whenever they can.
The other day I caught Emma sharing her crayons with her great grandfather while they colored together.
AD: What’s one thing you learned while writing this book that you think would make for great fiction?
JL: After hearing how socially and emotionally smart this next generation already is based on their survey responses, I think a story along the lines of “Benjamin Button meets the Justice League” could be interesting. We have a lot to learn from our littles. We just rarely make the time to listen. Perhaps if our superheroes aged backwards it would make more sense. But I’m a poet, not a fiction writer. Now you know why ☺
P.S. I also learned that telling toddlers “not” to do something is like rehearsing David Ives’ play, “The Philadelphia.” They always do the exact opposite.
Okay, lightning round:
AD: Coffee or tea?
JL: Chai tea or coffee with some vanilla creamer (yum…)
AD: Whiskey or vodka?
JL: I’m a Sapphire gin kind of gal.
AD: Hemsworth or Gosling?
JL: Hemsworth (but Baby Goose is a close second)
AD: Sneaked or snuck?
JL: Snuck. Sneaked is not even a consideration.
AD: Wetsuit or bathrobe?
JL: Where are we exactly? Because if we’re in the ocean or sailing, it’s a wetsuit all the way. But if it’s a lazy Sunday at home, I’m definitely going to go with a fuzzy bathrobe. If it’s a random Wednesday, and I’m working from home, I’d say polka-dotted pajama shorts and a tee-shirt (as long as I don’t have any Zoom calls, in which case I’ll toss on something up top that’s a little more sophisticated, some studs and the necklace my husband gave me in honor of our daughter).
Check out Comeback Kids on Amazon and get your copy today. Jacquelyn is also doing workshops, Q&As and presentations on parenting through the pandemic, working with parents’ groups, PTAs and other parent or counseling associations centered around the actionable ways in which parents and caregivers can learn to manage their own worries and stresses who also helping their kids cope. For more information, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out this flyer.