By Jillian Lauren
A friend left a comment on my recent post about raising boys and it got me thinking. This friend’s child has multiple special needs and is confined to a wheelchair. In the comment, she suggested that exposing children to diversity (not just in concept) contributes to compassion. Most of the children who have grown up around her son are empathetic and kind with him.
A transgendered friend has also shared with me that the kids she grew up with from early childhood were always accepting. She began to have problems when she changed schools as a teen and encountered kids who were unfamiliar with her gender identification.
When I consider diversity, race is usually the first thing on my mind. When I was first visiting pre-schools, I always looked around and counted the number of brown faces I saw, putting it into my mental filing cabinet. My friend’s comment reminded me that diversity goes way beyond race. Parents of children with special needs offer something of great value to any school or community.
Sometimes the rabid competition to get into good schools in Los Angeles can prompt me to think in a conformist way and try to portray my family as something more mainstream than we truly are. I want to always remember that our strength is in difference. That is where we shine.
To read more from Jillian Lauren, check out her blog. You can also purchase her books on Amazon.
By Ann Brown, Parenting Consultant
There are some really uncomfortable moments while raising kids. There are moments that embarrass you – when, say, you’ve run into an old flame from high school and you’re holding your two year old in your arms, thinking you look pretty darn fetching, and your kid says, “Mom! You have a really big bloody booger just hanging in your nose! Are you going to pick it out? Are you? ARE YOU?”
And there are moments of physical uncomfortability – balancing the rain-soaked grocery bags on your hip as you lean into the back seat of the car to unlock the $%#@ car seat which is held in the locked position by a cement made of Nutri Grain crumbs, apple juice and spilled Go-Gurts while holding your keys in your teeth. And you have to pee really badly.
Those moments – though they take years off our lives – are to be expected. And we commiserate with each other, and we live through them.
There are other awkward moments in parenting, however, that are not so easily laughed off.
They occur when our friends (or cousins, or neighbors…) do not share our style of parenting, and it becomes very difficult to get the families together. I’m not talking about benign differences – you use organic mild cheddar cheese in your enchiladas and your friend serves your kid enchiladas with organic medium cheddar, or, say, you hate country music and your friend plays country music in the car when you and your kid are there.
I’m talking about the bigger differences in parenting styles. Yelling. Spanking. Allowing kids to be disrespectful. When you’re in your friend’s house for a play-date with the kids, and your kid comes running down the stairs, crying because the host child won’t let her play with any of the toys in the house. And then the host child pushed your kid. And spit on your kid’s apple.
And your friend shakes her head and says to you, “well, you know how kids are. Best to ignore it and let them work it out.”
And the host child come running down the stairs and says, “I won’t share my toys. She can’t have any of my toys.”
And your friend laughs. And pours herself more wine. And she says to her child, “say you’re sorry. Then go back upstairs and be nice.”
And you know that’s about the worst advice she could give her kid, who is clearly not sorry and who clearly will not be nice when they go back upstairs.
And your kid looks at you with wide eyes as if to say, “Do something. “
And you just stand there. Because you aren’t really sure what to do.
So you mumble something about, oh, having to get home, and traffic, and needing to get to the airport, and war, and impending diarrhea. And you beat a hasty retreat to your car. And go home and change your phone number. And switch preschools. And leave the country. Because what are you going to do the next time your friend calls and invites you and your kid over to play?
Here, parents fall into a few disparate categories:
The Avoider – you pretty much just stop answering your phone. When your friend corners you about scheduling another play-date, you feign a fainting spell and collapse on the preschool parking lot. Every time.
The Ulcer-Developer – you continue to do play-dates with your friend and hope for the best. You tell your kid that you will buy him any toy he wants on the way home from the awful play-dates. You lose sleep and feel like a terrible parent.
The Bold Liar – you say to your friend, “we are quarantined. Forever.” Or you tell your friend you are allergic to her carpet. Or that your religion disallows play-dates.
The Earnest Truth-Teller – “Your child is awful. We hate him. I can’t believe you don’t hate him, as well.”
None of these strategies end well. And that is the bad news. There really is no one perfect way to extricate yourself from a situation where you don’t want your child to hang out with the child of someone who is/was your friend.
But there is some good news.
You can be very clear with yourself about where your loyalties lie. (They lie with your child. Please tell me you already knew that.) And in that clarity, you will realize that it doesn’t matter if the result of what you tell your (soon to be ex, perhaps) friend is that you are un-friended on Facebook, or trashed to the larger community, or kicked out of the book club or looked askance upon by the friends of your ex-friend. Because what matters is that you do the right thing by your child.
Your children need you to validate that you share the same values with them. So if a child grabs a toy from your kid and doesn’t give it back, or treats your child disrespectfully, and you keep going back to that child’s house for play-dates because you don’t want to jeopardize the relationship with the parent, the message you’re giving your child is that it’s okay to be treated badly.
Finding the exact right words to say isn’t as important as just getting the message right. And kids can understand that we sometimes flail for a while when we’re trying to deal with a sticky situation. But remembering that you are not there to change the other parent, and remembering that using the “I” message always saves the day (“I am not comfortable with the way the kids are playing together. I want to take a break from play-dates”), and – finally – remembering that the values you hold for your child are your guiding lights, you’ll find your way through it.
And if you don’t, I have a wig and sunglasses you can use around town.
Photo Credit: Sharon Mollerus
The Poop! – The first black tar that comes out of your child is shocking. After that the months are a blur but the amount of poop you’re handling and butt you’re wiping is etched in your brain. The quantity increases exponentially with each increasing size of diaper. When you’re at a 4 and you find a leftover NB on the bottom of the diaper bag that you finally have a free minute to clean out, you wonder how the NB fit on your baby, let alone hold any poop. You try to stay ahead of the tide of poop and be prepared to move up a size before the quantity becomes overwhelming, but it’s futile. When you least expect it (meaning when you have no change of clothes available and you’re in the biggest rush), the poop will find its way out of your toddler’s clothing much like the Blob found its way out of each building that they tried to contain it in. If you haven’t experienced the poop crawling up baby’s back and exiting through its hair and neckline, you haven’t lived!
The Meltdowns! – Your child is having the best day. You haven’t seen him so happy-go-lucky and carefree. He is enjoying every moment of quality time with you, his siblings, and anyone else who we meet along the way. You’re thinking to yourself, “This is so great. I must be doing something right. And I lucked out with such a healthy, normal kid!” Then it happens. You accidentally toss out the wrapper of his granola bar with an eighth of an ounce of unfinished bar still lodged in the unripped end of the wrapper. You didn’t see it in there. You have a brand new bar, with six yummy ounces all waiting to be devoured. But no matter. The ground shakes and the sky falls, as all hell breaks loose. You see the two eyes of your offspring merge into one as the deafening sounds explode and the body goes limp in a pile right in front of you and other horrified spectators. The show goes on for what seems like eternity before the anger turns into a cold shoulder with intermittent shuttering as the emotions wind down. The magic is gone, and all you can do is hope that there will be another day soon when it will return. You walk on eggshells the rest of the day, and breathe a sigh of relief when the bedroom door is closed after the last good night.
The Activities! – Who knew there were so many activities for kids in this world? Maybe it’s because we live in the shadow of a mayor metropolis (Los Angeles) whereas my childhood was in a very rural area (upstate New York), but who has choices like this? Is this normal to have five different activities to choose from for each half of each weekend day? And websites that are geared toward letting parents know what is available (i.e. Red Tricycle). For slow half days you always have the fallbacks like Disneyland, Santa Monica Pier, the beach, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, Kidspace, the Zoo, or Underwood Farms. Of course that’s if you don’t have a play date planned with your child’s friend, or friend of a friend, or sibling of a friend. Or with one of the above mentioned does not have a fabulous birthday party to which your child is invited. If you have relatives nearby that’s always an intermittent visit. Then there’s always the library! The point is that all these venues and events have been created for the sole purpose of getting you sanely to around eight or nine o’clock at night, where it’s then all up to you to “put down” your child. Personally I’m waiting for someone to devise a “put down” party.
The Love! – I used to hear parents say that they would gladly lose a leg for their child, or even give up their life, and I would kind of chuckle to myself. I like my legs, and I’m in no rush to end my life. But now that I’m almost seven years and three boys into the whole parenting thing, I would throw in a kidney, an eyeball, and a tongue for them. Every day I’m doing things that I would never have imagined myself doing before the boys were here. Scoping out the road as we make our way across the intersection. Putting the texting machine (i.e. my cellphone) in the trunk as I drive the boys around town. Catching a sneezeful of snot in my bare hand so my sniffly older son will not infect my still healthy youngest. But those pale in comparison to the ways that my sons show their love to me. Asking, “Can we snuggle?” as we catch the last bit of TV before bed. Running over and making sure I’m okay when I hit my head on the corner of an opened cabinet door. Yelling, “I love you, Daddy!!!” out the front door as I start on my jog down to the beach, over and over again until I am simply too far away to hear that it’s still happening. It is surprise number 4 that makes surprises 1, 2, and 3 so easy to deal with. I just hope I’m ready for 5, 6, and 7.
By Clint Edwards
I started having panic attacks around the time my father died.
I was 18. I’d been working the graveyard shift at Toys R Us, and there was something about working during the night and sleeping during the day, combined with the stress of my father’s death, that caused a pain inside my body.
The first time I had a panic attack was around 6:30 am. I’d gotten off work at 5 am. I was living with my grandmother at the time. It was a Sunday morning, and she’d gotten up early to start cooking a roast. I couldn’t go to sleep because she was in the kitchen banging pots and pans around, and as the sun came up, I became more and more anxious. I tossed and turned in bed, trying to understand the tightness in my body. It reminded me of the butterflies I felt on a roller coaster during the drop. I often looked forward to that rise and fall of my stomach during an amusement park ride, but it usually only lasted a few moments, not several hours.
I became nauseous and I started sweating. It was the strangest thing. I was afraid, but I didn’t have anything to be afraid of. I didn’t sleep at all that day and, by the time I made it into work at 7 pm, I was a wreck. My face was moist and pale, my hands cool and clammy. My boss sent me home. Around 4 am, after I’d been awake for almost 40 hours, I finally drifted off.
I had anxiety attacks here and there during the next year, and I never understood them. They seemed to come out of the blue. But it wasn’t until a year later that I really began to really suffer.
By then I was 19, working at Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse in the garden center, and attending my first year of college. I was still living at my grandmother’s home, only I lived there alone. Grandma had recently had a stroke. She had to move in with my aunt.
It was summer time, and I was supposed to be at work around 6 am, but I just couldn’t fall asleep, and the more I thought about how I couldn’t go to sleep, the more anxious I became, until eventually, I started to vomit. This was the worst panic attack I’d ever had. A horrible feeling of fear and anticipation sat squat in my gut for almost a full month. I found it difficult to eat, difficult to sleep, and sometimes, I felt so hopeless that I just sat down and wept. I felt pathetic, weak, and helpless. I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t have a name for it, so I thought the worst. I assumed it was some terminal illness, cancer or something, perhaps a tumor in my head or stomach, or somewhere, that was causing me to feel this way. These terrible assumptions only fed my anxiety.
I lost 40 pounds in three weeks.
I’ve always been described as stocky, and I’ve always had a little fat around my waist, so it was eerie to look in the mirror and see my skin stretch across my ribs like a wet towel. People at work kept complimenting me on my weight loss, and I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t say anything. It’s not like I was on some fitness program or diet.
I was hardly eating, and half of what I ate, I threw up.
Once I started talking about suicide, my girlfriend at the time urged me to see a doctor. I don’t know why I hadn’t gone before, probably because I didn’t want to face what they had to say.
My regular doctor sent me to a therapist named Jason and I recall being frustrated and confused by this recommendation because I still assumed there was something wrong with me physically. I assumed the doctor would send me somewhere for an x-ray or blood test, something, not to chat with someone about my emotions.
Jason was a tall, lean man with spidery fingers. He used his hands when he spoke and had a lot of lines in his face. He told me that I had depression and general anxiety disorder. He looked me in the eyes when he told me this, and I’d never felt so weak and alone. Most of my life I’d always assumed that anxiety and depression problems were a joke. They were a cry for attention, and depression medication was nothing more than a placebo. But, as I sat across from this man with degree after degree on his wall and compassion and sincerity in his eyes, feeling the slack in my pants and the long-lasting pain in my stomach, I realized that I had a problem.
Once I told Jason that I’d been contemplating suicide, he set up a bi-weekly appointment. Then he recommended a psychiatrist who later prescribed me a collection of pills—Celexa for depression, Xanax for anxiety, Ambien, Sonata, and Klonopin to be used interchangeably for sleep… I seemed to always be taking something. My father had died earlier that year from a stroke brought on by his 10-year addiction to prescription painkillers. Sometimes I examined the pills I’d been prescribed, thought about my father, and wondered if this was how his addictions began.
My therapist suggested a healthy diet, going to bed at the same time, getting up at the same time, and daily exercise.
“Keeping yourself healthy, and making sure that you are good and tired once you go to bed will make a huge difference.”
And, suddenly, it felt like he’d given me a prescription on how to live, a list of do’s that would make the pain go away. My life changed again, from one of late nights watching TV, to one of order. If I weren’t in bed by 11 pm, I’d have a panic attack. If I had to be up before 8 am, I’d have a panic attack. If I ate the wrong food, I feared what it might do to me. But I suppose the worst was my sudden obsession with making myself “good and tired.”
My attacks always began in the night, so I dreaded going to bed. All of it revolved around sleep. The evening hours approached me like a cliff. I started exercising two hours every day, mostly cycling. But then I had a panic attack one night, and I assumed that I must have done something wrong. Perhaps I didn’t exercise enough, so I upped it to two and a half hours. Within a year, I was exercising four to five hours a day (biking, lifting weights, running…). I exercised more on my days off. If I wasn’t at work or in bed, I was in motion. If I didn’t get enough exercise, I feared that I would have a panic attack. I dropped out of school because I couldn’t stand sitting for more than a few minutes. I sometimes I peed blood because of over-exertion, and sometimes I still threw up from anxiety. It felt a lot like I was running from something, some hidden danger that I couldn’t define, but feared nonetheless.
Friends often asked about my life, why I never hung out anymore, what was my motivator for exercising so much. I was open about my problem. I often explained to them my fear of sleep and anxiety, but when I put it all into sentences, none of it made sense. It all seemed irrational, even to me, and yet it was very real and painful inside my body. I often wondered if there was some disconnect between fear and logic inside my mind, and I wondered how I would ever get myself back into sync.
I sometimes wondered what stress in my life had brought about my problem. I wondered if it was nature or nurture—was I born this way? Or was it a product of the stress around me? Was it my father’s drug addiction and abandonment that made me this way? Or was it my mother’s rage and depression that was a result of my father’s abandonment? Perhaps it was a mix of both. What I do know is that everything I did, every action, every thought, became focused on avoiding another panic attack, and when I think back on this time, I realize that my anxiety controlled my life.
It took me three years to figure out the right mix of medications, exercise, and schedule, but eventually I started to live a relatively normal life again. I got back into college and, at 22, I got married. I’d started to gain a little more control over my life, and a little more weight, but there were still times where I felt out of control. Where I couldn’t go to sleep because of a panic attack that made me ill and irrational for days or sometimes weeks.
Mel and I were married about three months the first time she suggested that we have a child. This must have been early 2005. We were living in Provo, Utah, renting a small two-bedroom condo. I suppose we’d talked about it while dating, but it was mostly playful. We talked about what the child would look like: short and stocky like me, or short and slender like Mel. We talked about its personality: would it be funny and loud like me? Or reserved and thoughtful like Mel? We picked out names and discussed who wanted a boy and who wanted girl.
But it didn’t seem all that real until after we were married. And I suppose I’d always had mixed feelings about having children. Sometimes I wanted them. But mostly I didn’t. Especially when I was around other people’s kids. The screaming, yelling, whining, and the late nights really freaked me out. I didn’t know if I could emotionally handle a child.
“I think we should start trying,” Mel said.
It was early evening, around 5:30 pm, and Mel and I were making dinner.
“Trying what?” I said.
“Having a baby.”
“What? Slow down,” I said. “I think we need to wait.”
Mel went on, asking me why we needed to wait. Why we needed to slow down.
“We love each other… right? We are married? There’s no reason to wait.”
I agreed with her on the facts that we were married and in love. But I told her that we needed to get used to being a married couple. We needed to save money. We needed to be more secure. I brought up a bunch of clichéd arguments as to why I didn’t want to have a baby yet, but really, all I thought about was how babies don’t sleep through the night. I thought about her going into labor at midnight, and how it might bring on a panic attack. I thought about my medications, my schedule, and how much better my life had become, and I wondered if I was strong enough. At the time, I honestly waited for the anxiety to take over again. I worried that I might stupidly trigger it, somehow, like a lost soldier unwittingly wandering into a minefield. Would having a child undo all that I’d done? I was terrified of having a setback.
Mel and I went back and forth on the subject. It wasn’t until things got heated that I brought up my anxiety.
She knew about it, but she’d never really seen the brunt of it. I’d had a few attacks while with her, but never a full-blown one that lasted a month or more. I worried that she didn’t understand what I was going through, and what having a baby might do to me.
“I will get up in the night with the baby,” she said. “I will take care of that. Don’t worry about it.” And, when she told me this, I did feel a little better. But honestly, I knew the truth. I knew that if we had a child, I would have to help in the night. I couldn’t avoid it, nor did I think it was right for me to avoid it. I thought a lot about my father and how he wasn’t around, and I felt a strong sense of duty. If we had a child, I needed to be there. Every hour of every day. I needed to be fully committed. I refused to walk out on my child like my father had done to me. And the thought of that duty scared the hell out of me. I feared that I didn’t have it in me. I feared that somehow my anxiety would get in the way, making me incapable of being the kind of father I wanted to be.
After a year and a half of arguments,planning, and saving, we agreed to have a baby. The day Mel showed me the positive pregnancy test, I felt like the biggest test of my life was only nine months away.
I am a religious man, and I will admit that I prayed every night for the Lord to make me strong enough. For him to take away my anxiety so that I could be there for my child.
The day finally came two weeks earlier than expected. Mel came down with toxemia, which made her ankles, feet, and face swell. She went to visit with her doctor one morning, only to be taken straight into the delivery room for an emergency caesarean. I recall being really scared for Mel and the baby, but the doctor assured us that everything was going to be just fine. And once everything was said and done, I recall feeling excited to hold my son, but more than anything, I was relieved that it didn’t happen in the night. That things didn’t happen in such a way that I had to break my schedule and risk having a panic attack. And, when I think about all the joy of having a baby, when I think about how much I love my son, and value him in my life, I feel selfish for being more relieved by the time of day that he was born than excited by the miracle of birth.
That first night was a long one. In fact, it was the most restless night I’d had in years, and I will admit that I took twice my dose of Xanax to keep myself calm. However, I knew that I couldn’t do that every night without becoming an addict.
Things got worse once we brought Tristan home. Tristan wouldn’t sleep more than about two hours at a time. The little bugger refused to sleep in his crib, or the bassinet, or if we were lying down next to him. He only slept if someone cradled him in one arm, like a football.
Mel and I usually split the night in half. I couldn’t sleep sitting up, and I often worried that, if I did drift off, I’d drop the baby, so I spent a lot of late nights and early mornings gazing at the TV, my eyes bloodshot, high on Xanax, a small chubby auburn-haired boy cradled in my right arm.
I couldn’t imagine placing the night-time responsibility solely on Mel, but, at the same time, I was taking far more Xanax than I should to keep myself calm. Every time my doctor refilled my prescription of Xanax, he questioned his actions and suggested that I get off it. He reminded me that it was a very addictive substance. This caused me to think a lot about my father’s addiction to prescription pills, and I worried that I was heading down the same path, and yet I was terrified to go back to a life where anxiety controlled me. My obligation to my son was in conflict to my mental health, and it felt like I was between a rock and hard place.
One night, when Tristan was about one month old, Mel woke me at 2 am. It was my turn with the baby. Normally, I would have gotten up, felt a little anxious, taken a couple Xanax, then sat down in front of the TV and held Tristan.
But this time I didn’t.
In fact, I stood in the kitchen for some time. The only light in the house was coming from the TV in the next room. In my right arm was my baby boy, sleeping soundly. In my left was a bottle of Xanax. My eyes drifted between the two. Tristan was swaddled in a blanket with a print of bears dressed as doctors. It was the same blanket we took him home from the hospital in. His face was all I could see. It was soft and sweet and peaceful. I looked at the bottle. I read the instructions—“Take one pill as needed for sleep”—and realized that I’d probably need to take two or three.
I shook the bottle, and realized that it was almost empty.
I thought about my life, my fears, and my anxiety. I thought about how I needed to be there for my son.
And I put the bottle down.
I held Tristan in both arms. I thought about how raising him was bigger than myself. It was bigger than my anxiety disorder. This was a life that was dependent on me, and I needed to be there. I had a duty to raise my son. To get up in the night with him. To be there through thick and thin.
I whispered to myself, “I will not let this control my life anymore. I can’t. I’ve come too far. I have to be there for Tristan.”
I said it a few times. Once I stopped saying it out loud, I said it in my head. I went and sat on the sofa and, every time I felt a little anxious, I said it again and again. I felt stronger saying it. I felt empowered.
For the first time since Tristan was born, I made it through the night free of anxiety and Xanax.
I still had anxiety attacks after that night, but, if I thought about my obligations as a father, I was able to put my mind in order.
To gain control.
This was something I couldn’t do before.
It’s been four years now since I had my last panic attack. I only take one pill a day for depression and anxiety. This is almost nothing compared to the handful of pills I took after I was first diagnosed.
I get up in the night with my kids almost every night (we have a boy and a girl now). Although I complain about being tired the next morning, I often think back on the way my six-year-old son tightly grips my arm as I lie in bed with him after a nightmare and smile. And often I think about my four-year-old daughter curled up in a ball at 2 am, half awake and half asleep, crying and shivering, and how satisfied I feel after seeing her stretch out beneath the warm quilt I laid over her. In those moments, I feel needed. I feel valued. I feel like a father.
There is no more fear in the night.
It’s been replaced with compassion for my children.
By Brandy Black
The other day I sat with my three children and the computer and went down blog memory lane. In an effort to find out when we transitioned from crib to toddler bed with our oldest, I took the computer out and began flipping through blogs and pictures. The twins were thrilled to see images of their big sister as a little girl, we read about all the silly questions she had and the funny things she would say. Sophia pointed at the videos and pictures “Look Penn, look Bella, that’s me at your age.”
It got me thinking about how little I document their tales, I have a book for everything on our oldest, a birthday book, travel book, art book, scrap book, photograph books and the twins I think I have one maybe two. I already feel them hating me in therapy years from now! I swore I wouldn’t be that parent. I’m all about fair, everything equal, to the point that I got in a fight with our couple’s therapist years back. I believe in making things as fair as humanly possible. Yet here I sat with the computer on my lap, heartbroken, wondering what stories I will be able to show them.
The truth is, there is a lot of juggling with three kids. Life moves fast at our house and I’m lucky to remember to pay the bills and make sure they get haircuts and clothes. I don’t know how people do it. I envy the parents like John Jericiau, who seem like they have it all together. I need more hours in the day so that I can sit down and write my thoughts, make picture books and take the time to collect memories that will last them forever. If anyone has any advice on the topic, I sure need help.
I guess the twins have many amazing experiences that my oldest didn’t, like being dressed in the mornings by their big sister or learning games and how to spell their names in Japanese and having one another to laugh with each morning. I hear them in the monitor giggling “You funny” Bella says to Penn, laughing. They have the gift of family, one that my wife and I truly fought for and it was a sacrifice, not a loss but a conscience effort to selflessly give our children the gift of siblings.
This is how I talk myself off the ledge, this is how I justify the tough conversations I will have with the twins when they are 10 and want to see all the sweet memory books that I put together for them. Or perhaps you will suddenly see an influx of blogs and images of our twins. “Not sure what happened in the early years kids, but I sure kicked in when you were two.”
By Jillian Lauren
T has been making so much progress lately, as I’ve been sharing. This hasn’t always been true. Growth is never a linear thing. We have gone through the cycle of hope and plateaus and regression so many times that I barely sweat it anymore. So I’m not sure why it should surprise me when I hit a plateau of my own.
I’ve been yelling at T lately. A lot. I’m in a sticky place and I can’t seem to change my lousy behavior, as hard as I try. Or maybe I’m not trying very hard at all. Maybe I’m indulging the outlet, as the alternative seems to be to stuff all the anger, shut down, slam cabinets and rage at my family in a passive way. Which sucks just as much if not more.
The other day, T and I got in a screaming stand-off about which I feel truly ashamed. When it was all over and he was in the other room, I put my face in his pillow so he couldn’t hear me and screamed, “I hate my life,” at the top of my lungs. And I did right then- I felt so out of control and locked into a confrontational dynamic with my son.
I grew up in a family with screaming. It was my model and it became my default mode and it’s going to take a huge internal shift to alter the habit. This morning, I revisited Christine Moers’s therapeutic parenting video about the power of our voices. I am gripping it like a lifeline. I am trying. I am praying. I am still yelling. But if I know anything from being T’s parent, I know that change is possible, especially when you go at it with all your heart, like he does. But just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s easy or instant. I have faith I’ll find a way through this thing to the other side.
To read more from Jillian Lauren check out her blog. You can also purchase her books on Amazon.
By Lisa Keating
Early this week, I challenged another writer, Tony Posnanski, on his notion that bullies are weak-minded and unable to change. “Bullies are weak-minded people. Kid bullies have weak-minded parents who were bullies once as well. They prey on those who have a weakness — or a visible one.”
I reread Tony’s article six times to make sure I was reading it correctly. If this is true, then I would be a weak-minded parent and my son, Morgan, would be a weak-minded nine year old bully. Our fates predetermined with no possibility for change, awareness or emotional growth. Through that perspective, I would still be bullying my little brother or anyone else I deemed inferior or weak.
Growing up, I degraded, dominated, humiliated, and shamed my baby brother non-stop. We fought constantly. Our mom had no idea how to make it stop or fix it, she wasn’t taught skills to help us. Based on Tony’s theory, does that mean my mom was weak-minded because her daughter was a mean big sister? Or was she a single mom, working full-time, with an ex-husband that abandoned his kids and responsibilities, barely keeping it together one day at a time? My point being, accusing an entire group of kids and adults to the fate of being weak-minded blocks any possible progress in conversation and action.
I commend Tony for defending Grayson Bruce, and by proxy Morgan, and removing gender barriers for kids. Girls are allowed to cross gender lines without comment or questioning, thanks to the feminist movement. I myself played in the dirt, collected bugs, wore over-alls, played baseball, and climbed trees as a child. The feminist movement gave me permission to be both feminine and masculine. And to Tony’s greater point, it’s time boys are given the same permission.
What I cannot accept is that people can’t or won’t change. In the past ten years, this country has been flipped upside down in the fight for marriage equality. Awareness and acceptance continues to sky rocket. By the time Morgan is an adult this will be old news in the same way interracial marriage was for my generation and segregation was for the generation before me. Culture and climate changed at grassroots levels. Brave and courageous people stood up, spoke out and demanded something better. We are in the middle of a movement for equality not just for adults but for kids, too.
Morgan has confronted numerous kids, with the help of teachers, who were harassing him because of what he wore to school, hair, shoes, accessories, activities and interests. Through the power of a conversation, what seemed different, weird or wrong became understandable and even relatable to other students. The kids I work with have made profound changes in how they treat one another, have better skills to recognize and read body language and have taken responsibility for the climate and culture of their school. So don’t tell me a bully can’t change.
Morgan was appalled by this concept and said, “That’s wrong. By saying “kid bullies are weak-minded” the author is being a bully. What if the bully is struggling? Maybe they’re having a hard time at home.” Might I add this is coming from a nine year old?
The greatest lesson on forgiveness and empathy I learned was from Azim Khamisa, whose entire life changed due to a random act of gun violence. On January 21, 1995, Azim’s son Tariq, a 20-year old college student, was killed at point-blank range by a young 14-year old named Tony Hicks. Tony, hanging with other gang members, who had lured “the pizza man” to a false address intending to rob him of two pizzas. Tariq refused to hand over the pizzas, and was shot and killed before he could drive away from his attackers. Instead of subscribing to the idea of Tony being weak-minded, Azim recognized that he was a victim like his son, Tariq. As a result, Mr. Khamisa, along with Tony’s grandfather, Plex Felix, began The Tariq Khamisa Foundation. On their path to healing, they found forgiveness together.
I had the fortune of seeing Azim Bardo speak at a seminar two years ago. Listening to Mr. Khamisa recount the death of Tariq brought me to tears. He said, “Given the blessings of forgiveness, I reached the conclusion that there were victims at both ends of the gun.”
Could I ever forgive someone for killing Morgan? How would I ever recover from such a loss? Would I have the courage? As a mother, working with the kids who have harassed, bullied and intimidated Morgan has been a challenge and tests my commitment to creating future allies and leaders. Let alone to do it with the same depths as Mr. Khamisa.
Because of Azim Khamisa, I look at bullying differently. There is pain at both ends of the spectrum. What kind of society are we going to be; one that condemns the aggressor with narrow absolutes and no path out, like Tony Posnanski suggests? Or do we tap into empathy and compassion? Clearly, what we are doing isn’t working. It’s time to take a new path; a path where kids like Tariq Khasima, Tony Hicks, Grayson Bruce, and Morgan Keating thrive.
To find out more about Lisa Keating, check out her website, My Purple Umbrella.
Photo Credit: Thomas Ricker
To kick off Autism Awareness Month, we look to autism and behavioral coach Rebecca McKee, who started The 13th Child Autism & Behavioral Coaching, Inc. McKee has worked with both children and adults and provides tips on detecting autism in your child, what to do if your child has autism, and the support and resources available.
TNF: How long have you been a child autism and behavioral coach?
Rebecca: I started my company, The 13th Child Autism & Behavioral Coaching, Inc., three years ago; although, I have been working in the field of Special Education/Behavior Analysis for approximately fifteen years. I started my career as a Special Education teacher working in public schools with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as well as a behavioral therapist in home programs.
TNF: What inspired you to go into this line of work?
Rebecca: Hmm…I believe it was fate. In my undergrad program, Communicative Disorders, a professor had us watch videos on discreet trials run with children with ASD. She made a point to tell us that we should pay attention because we would definitely be working with this population of children. Like many people with ASD, the children in the videos were quite physically aggressive. I remember making a mental note that “I will never choose to work with those children…” Lo and behold, I am applying to graduate schools, and a school in New York was persistent and recruited me to join their very new autism program. They conveyed how I would always have job security (as sad as that is) with a degree specializing in autism. I agreed…one of the professors in one of my classes was an elderly man – probably around 80 years old. He knew autism like the back of his hand – he had us read a book that completely created a desire in me to begin to understand the mystery of people with ASD, and help them navigate our world.
TNF: I’m sure you may hear this one a lot: what are some signs of ASD that parents might look for in their children?
Rebecca: Most families hear about the lack of language, lack of eye contact, and poor social skills. That can be vague…some specific signs are the following:
1. Your toddler does not point – they hand lead. This appears as when a toddler wants something out of reach, they will not point. Instead they will place their hand on top of an adult’s hand, pick up the adult’s hand and place it directly on top of the object that they want.
2. Your child does not smile upon command – for example, you are taking a picture and you say “smile” – it is difficult for them to follow that command (maybe they smile during other times but not under command).
3. Your child speaks/attempts social interaction with others, but only about very highly preferred interests – for example, everyone is sitting at a table talking about something exciting for all – an upcoming birthday for Grandmom. Your child appears completely disinterested and unaware of the conversation. But all of a sudden someone mentions the phrase “take the train to Grandmom’s” and your child takes that opportunity to “lecture” to the group about trains. Trains are a huge interest of this individual. “Lecturing” appears as not having a give and take conversation – the person may stand up to talk and begin verbalizing about a certain topic without taking a breath and then they sit down.
4. An excellent memory – especially visual memory – they remember such details about certain events that make others say, “that is so amazing” – they may even memorize routines and phrases people use – and they expect the exact same things to occur during a future event.
5. They mimic language from videos; it is difficult for them to naturally pick up language. These individuals may watch a show or commercial – hear a character say something – the person with ASD generalizes that verbal utterance to real life.
TNF: Do you specialize in only children?
Rebecca: I am certified to work with infants to adults.
TNF: What are some tips you have for parents with a child with ASD?
1. Be consistent with social rules – if the rule is that screaming during teeth brushing means no TV before bed and calmness during teeth brushing means TV before bed then make a visual rule about that in the bathroom and stick to it.
2. Learn how to work with your child with ASD at home on socio-behavioral weaknesses – just as you work with your other children on homework or how to dribble a basketball, these individuals need to practice controlling their behaviors and building up their social skills – choose a day and time that is stress-free for you at home (maybe Sunday morning) and contrive (make up) a social situation that you know your child struggles with and positively practice the right way to act (for example, your child cries everytime the doorbell rings – have them take turns with you practicing to ring the doorbell – make a game of it – have the cat sit outside the front door and then ring the doorbell – work on them opening the door and then you are standing on the other side holding up a small present for them – reward them for dealing with with doorbell in a pro-social manner).
3. Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce your child when they are behaving in a pro-social manner - make it a point to use your words to reinforce more than to critique or correct.
TNF: What are some of the common misconceptions about ASD?
Rebecca: Some people feel that people with ASD don’t experience feelings the way we do, such as embarrassment or depression or sadness or love. They do. How they express it or their lack of expression is what is different. They may not cry or express themselves if they fall into a depression, but they may lose interest in their favorite activities, begin to make noises more, become compulsive about certain objects or actions. Also, people with ASD are hysterically funny!
TNF: Would you advise a child with ASD be put in a public school?
Rebecca: The term free and appropriate public education is what we always have to keep in mind here, particularly that word “appropriate”. Each case must be analyzed on an individual basis. There are pros and cons to public schools for children with ASD, as well as pros and cons to center-based schools. The pros in public schools may be: having access to other children who talk, learning how to act during an assembly or fire drill, walking down the hallway in a line, knowing how to use a water fountain..etc. etc. (too many to count). The cons would be: lack of time to spend fine-tuning much needed skills, and possibly staff not understanding how to work with someone with ASD. The pros of a center-based school is that your child will learn and master the skills they need to learn for life: shoe tying, toileting, using a fork, etc. etc. – the cons would be lack of exposure to the “real world” and lack of typically developing peers.
TNF: How could you help a family who has a child with ASD?
Rebecca: My company offers Friendship Clubs for teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1 (formerly Asperger’s Syndrome). The goal of these is to make friends with others who have similar interests and personalities. My company can help a family learn how to replace unwanted behaviors into pro-social ones. I can teach a person with ASD how to develop hobbies in order to build upon leisure skills. Academic support is available to people with ASD, as well. Trainings, workshops, and lectures are available to schools, homes, and vocational sites. It is also important for me to teach others how to have the person with ASD enjoy a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating right, exercising, meditating - and other proactive ways of building a positive outlook for life.
TNF: Do you have any special stories from coaching children with autism?
Rebecca: There are so many! People with ASD are so funny and fun to be around! I am going to pick this one…it was with a boy in 5th grade who had gotten suspended from his public school. He was suspended because he started to become frustrated in PE class and threw balls at the teachers’ heads and the other children. When I saw him after the incident, we made a sequence of events on paper using drawings and simple sentences under each. I made my story and he made his – then we compared. He didn’t understand that when the teacher said “everyone help put the balls away” that it didn’t just mean him. (This is an example of how someone with ASD takes in information in an ego-centric manner.) To this boy it was a private conversation between the teacher and him. He lost his temper when everyone else joined in on the cleaning up. When I showed him my version of the event through my story book – he said “No way! I didn’t even see that! Wow, I messed up that one…” It was like a lightbulb went off – his reaction just showed me how cloudy the social world can appear to people with ASD.
Thank you, Rebecca, for kicking off Autism Awareness Month with The Next Family. To find out more about her Rebecca McKee’s coaching, please reference her website and contact information.This article has been sponsored by The 13th Child Autism & Behavioral Coaching Inc.
Photo Credit: Melissa Flickr images
This guest post is by Mercy Verner, a birthmother.
I made one of the hardest decisions of my life. It started a little over a year ago. I found out I was pregnant. I stared at the test, as if it would change. I realized that it was not going to change, and I immediately freaked out.
I didn’t know what to do. I knew I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t take care of another human being. At least, not in the way that I wanted to. I wanted my child to have more than what I had growing up.
I decided that that is what I needed to do. I needed to give my child a better life than what I could give. I went through all the options associated with adoption. I browsed many adoption websites and a few places, but none of them seemed right.
Then I stumbled across a website that dealt with same-sex couples and I learned about open adoption. I looked through the possible adoptive parents and one couple – Matt and Trey – stuck out from the rest. They looked a bit goofy, and they seemed truly happy with each other.
I explored their profile and watched a video about them interviewing their cat about being a big sister. It reminded me so much of my family, and right then and there I knew that they were the perfect couple.
As our relationship with them began to grow, they felt like part of the family. Months had gone by and things were going the way I wanted them to. I was almost ready(ish). In my head, I knew exactly what I needed to do, but my heart was aching. Emotionally, I wasn’t ready at all.
Then the contractions started. I was so scared. I wasn’t ready to let go. I just wanted to keep her in there and never let go. Unfortunately, the reality set in. I was at a regular check-up after being in inactive labor for eleven days.
As the doctor checked me, she spoke those few words that I definitely did not want to hear just yet. She informed me that I would be having a baby that night. I was freaking out, and trying to stay cool at the same time.
It did not work that well. I didn’t have anything ready. I made my way up to labor and delivery; it became even more overwhelming. I laid in that hospital bed, trying to sort out my thoughts, and waiting for the nurses to give me an update about how everything was going.
I thought that I couldn’t do it; it just seemed to surreal. Then the father walked into the room and it somewhat reassured me. He had been there through the entire pregnancy and I was so happy to have him there.
It was a hard pregnancy, with many decisions. I don’t know how I could have made it through all the craziness of pregnancy without him. In a few short hours, we welcomed our daughter to the world. August 19, 2013.
I spent that night with my daughter. I could hardly sleep. I woke up with every little sound she made. The next morning I was awaiting the arrival of Matt and Trey. It felt like an eternity for them to get to the hospital.
They finally arrived and I was so glad they had made it and were there with me. I spent the next week with all three of them. During that week, the father and I had to sign the final adoption papers.
That was the hardest thing to do. Just hearing what was happening. It was easier just to not talk about it. As I signed them, I began to panic. I tried my hardest to stay strong. I wasn’t about to let myself be selfish, especially when it came to my daughter.
I kept telling myself that I love her and that this is the best thing I could possibly ever do for her. As they left my hometown and we made our goodbyes, I could feel my heart breaking. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I didn’t want to go.
I knew that I would see them again soon. I was so skeptical. I thought that we would hardly talk. Oh boy, was I ever wrong. I talk to them all the time, and whenever. We Facetime when we can and I receive pictures of her almost daily.
I get to see my daughter grow up, I truly love the concept of an open adoption. It helped that I could still be mom. It definitely is hard but it is something that is a day-by-day challenge. I absolutely love my relationship with Matt and Trey and especially my daughter.
I was so scared that this would be a nightmare, but I was wrong. My family has grown so much more.
|Academy Award winning actress Sally Field writes an open letter about her gay son after hearing about the shocking “License to Discriminate” bills, which would make it legal to discriminate against a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) person on the grounds of “religious freedom,” have been appearing across the country. Here is the letter in full.|
|The three things I’m most proud of in my life are my sons, Peter, Eli and Sam. They are kind, loving and productive people. Each with their own list of talents and accomplishments.Sam is my youngest son, by 18 years, and he’s gay.To that, I say:So what?Growing up, Sam wanted desperately to just be like his older brothers – athletic, rambunctious and even a little bit macho. He wanted to beat Eli at tennis, trounce Peter at computer football and learn everything about every basketball player on the court.But Sam was different. And his journey to allow himself to be what nature intended him to be was not an easy one. When I saw him struggling, I wanted to jump in. But his older brothers held me back. They told me I couldn’t travel that road for Sam. It was his to travel, not mine. I had to wait for him to own himself in his own time. I could make it easier only by standing visibly to the side, clearly loving him, always being there and always letting him know.
Finally, at 20, long after he beat his brothers at tennis and computer games and knew as much as anyone about basketball, Sam was able to stand up proudly and say, “I am a gay man.”
As his mother, I consider it one of the great privileges of my life to have been allowed to be a part of Sam’s journey and I’ve tried to be careful to never make his voice my voice, but with his approval, I’ve decided to get involved in the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality by joining the Human Rights Campaign.
Sam knows that if he ever marries, he’ll have my full support. After all, I like to believe I raised him with the good sense to choose a great partner.But there are people out there – organizations and politicians, strangers who have never even met Sam – who would rather devote themselves to denying his happiness.Why would anyone want to prevent my son – or anyone’s son or daughter – from having basic legal safeguards like family medical leave, Social Security survivors benefits, or health insurance?It doesn’t make any sense – but it won’t change until people speak out.
I’m proud to stand with HRC to add my voice. Will you join me?Whether you are LGBT yourself, a parent or grandparent of an LGBT child, or just a great person with strong convictions about what’s fair and right, I hope I’ve convinced you to stand with HRC for equality. You’ll be glad you did!