By Jillian Lauren
Tariku has finally been getting some targeted help for his sensory integration issues and it’s making a world of difference. It’s taken us years to land on a recipe that has been having some measurable and surprisingly quick results. I say this to give hope to any parents out there who feel like you’re reading every book and taking every class and spending your last dollar and you’re just beating your head against a wall. I’ve had those months. I actually had a pretty solid year-and-a-half like that. But the last biting incident he had at school set into motion a chain of events that led us to a great child development specialist, who sent us to a kick-ass occupational therapist and also helped us find a therapeutic aide for him in the classroom.
One thing I’ve noticed about the professionals who serve the special needs community is that they often refer to the children as “our children,” as a way of distinguishing them from kids who are developing more typically. As in, “It’s sometimes hard for our children handle unexpected touch.” Or, “Our children have a difficult time visually organizing new environments.” Etc.
I find it soothing. It makes me feel less alone and reminds me that children are raised by communities not individuals. We never asked to be a part of this particular community. Who does? Well, some very exceptional adoptive parents I know do, but most of the selfish rest of us don’t wake up and say- wow, I’d really like to go to lots and lots of therapy with my five-year-old until I’m so harried that I need some for myself as well. And yet here we are. What I’ve found is that I’ve met an amazing group of smart, tough, exceptionally compassionate individuals and they have improved not just my son’s life but also mine.
If you would like to read more by Jillian Lauren, check out her blog. You can also purchase her books on Amazon.
By Vijay S. Mann
My son was born last August. I’m a believer in the notion that everything happens for a reason at that time. I believe that this new being came here to challenge me, change me, and make me see the world and myself in new ways.
When he was born, I felt incredibly powerful and yet unimaginably vulnerable at the same time. It’s one thing to have the ability to create life, but it’s an entirely different thing to nurture and protect it. It’s like pulling your heart out of your body and letting it walk into the world. A beautiful yet ugly world.
A plethora of feelings rushed through me as I held him for the first time. The first one I remember was nervousness; he was so new and fragile and I didn’t want to hurt him in any way as I held him.
Then came elation. He was healthy, my wife was fine, and I was now a dad. Some time later, I was struck by a feeling of fright. I realized that this wasn’t about me anymore and that I was now responsible for another human being. I felt an incredible weight on my shoulders at that time, realizing that I was now responsible for the life, health, development, and happiness of another. I was now responsible for molding a good person, who is to be an asset to his family, community, and society in general.
How was I going to mold this person when I have so many faults of my own?
I had had these thoughts during the pregnancy, but now it was staring me in the face. Crying. I recall feeling shame as well. Shameful for believing that some of my freedom for being yanked from me and in turn, I was being handed responsibility.
How could I think that when I was gifted this child? Moreover, how could I think that knowing this was a decision I was a part of?
These brief yet disturbing thoughts quickly faded. I felt assured that everything would work out, as it always does.
I now carry with me a sense of appreciation. I appreciate the opportunity I have to raise a child, an opportunity many wish they had, but aren’t as fortunate. I also feel appreciation in that I have the chance to teach my son from my mistakes in hopes that he makes better decisions in his life. I think of him as my do-over. He’ll be a new and improved me. A better me than maybe I’ll ever be, or I hope to be.
In that respect, he’s already changing me. I feel a greater sense of calm now; a calm I don’t recall feeling before. This doesn’t mean that I’ll be walking around with an aura of serenity. There are a number of things that still trigger me. And there are new things to deal with. Among them are diaper-changes. As much as I love my child, I still have that “Oh shit” moment when I have to change him. Pun intended.
And there will be greater frustrations and challenges along the way, which will test my new found calmness. This is just the beginning. Life is now a road from Pampers to a university campus, and beyond. RESPs, birthdays, school, friends, heartbreaks and happiness, and everything in between await us.
What he will feel, I will feel as well. There will be the things I can’t foresee as well—things he’ll have to go through on his own. I’ve come to realize that I can do the best that I can as a parent and some things will be out of my control.
The central focus of my life is my child now. Every significant and perhaps not so significant thing I do now will have some effect on him. How I think, act, and speak will be of some consequence to my child. What I believe and value will be the beliefs and values my child will be raised upon.
I can’t help but to think about the film The Place Beyond the Pines. Decisions that parents make create the legacies they leave behind for their children. Fatherhood has become my most significant branching point and this one is indeed a branch; an addition to the family tree.
My life is forever altered through parenthood. It’s an experience that is making me a better person. I felt new life being breathed into me at that moment he was born. I experienced a kind of love that I never felt before; one not built on reciprocity, but one more selfless.
I once read that your children are something you love more than your own life and something you die for without a second thought. I can say that I understand this now. I have many hopes for him. My ultimate hope is that he becomes a person who lives with dignity for himself and compassion for others. This is now my duty.
This article was originally published on The Good Men Project.
Image courtesy of the author
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 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 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
By Melissa Mensavage
Last week I attended a webinar offered by the boys school corporate marketing department. This company is no different than any other major corporation, has a corporate headquarters, department heads, etc. However, they are expanding their community outreach programs and making themselves more reachable to the parent community. They are still far removed from the typical daycare center family community but when the topic of the webinar was ‘Tips to Keep Your Family Organized’, I signed up almost immediately.
You see I am all over the place. I have no organization in my day, other than get up, get coffee and get to work. I will start a load of laundry, get interrupted by one of the boys and later that same day I will find the washer filled with clothes and water, but the cycle never finished, let alone started. I will put clothes in the dryer one day, and three days later I will pull them out when someone is out of socks or undershirts.
Then add in doctor appointments, birthday parties, tumbling class, t-ball, etc. I feel like we aren’t living life. We are just moving from one task to the next, with me completely unorganized.
The tips I took away from the webinar were:
-Find ‘good enough’ housekeeping. Things do not have to be perfectly cleaned all the time.
-Menu planning. I am working on this. For whatever reasons the grocery shopping/having things on hand has really got me stumped.
-Rescue bag. You know for those times when we are stuck at a doctor’s office or we are out to dinner, a bag that includes crayons, coloring pages, puzzle books, trains, etc. Goal is for it to be non-electronic.
-Inquire on a grocery delivery service. I’ve used Peapod in the past and would use them again, but I sometimes struggle with paying more for something I clearly know is cheaper at Target or Walmart.
Listening to the women speak on this webinar sharing their stories of how they run their families, it felt like it was almost like running a business and not so much like a family. It also appeared as if they had it together as mothers. They didn’t sound like they’ve been reduced to spanking on some occasions, or screaming their heads off for children not getting along and the whining was just too much. They seem like they have well-adjusted children. They have this illusion life is easy, organized, good.
Knowing that its pretty much not the truth, I tried to take what they said as a grain of salt. Their tips are great. However they are just tips. I have to use my common sense with parenting and go with the moment.
Going with the moment is part of my problem with parenting and being stuck in our routines. This past weekend I took the boys on an adventure. I was tired of the mundane. The laundry could wait. The dinner will be simple and I’ll just have to make an effort on meals this week (instead of preparing). We piled into the car on Sunday morning and headed into the city and went to the shore. The lake shore. Yes it was cold, it was sunny, windy, but it was the best thing we’ve done this year.
The boys loved being on the sand, throwing rocks into the water. I loved hearing the mini waves, lake style. The fresh air and the sun was good for all of us. We walked along the lake front and enjoyed what it had to offer. We went by the boat slips that were covered in snow and ice. We counted the ducks sitting on the ice. We had fun exploring.
I posted a picture of this fun on Facebook for my friends. Not soon after I posted it, I realized that maybe I am giving off an optical illusion. The illusion that we are always doing fun things. I can honestly say that we typically do all sorts of fun things – whether at home or out exploring. Its not an illusion. We are fun. We are having fun. People make comments to me about it –‘do you always have fun with your kids?’ ‘where do you find the time?’ …I make the time. I also make the fun. This is not an optical illusion. What you see is what you get with us. Come on with us and have some fun!
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
It happens at least once a week. I’ll be walking somewhere with Eloise, my five year-old, and I’ll see a puddle ahead. Immediately I know I have a decision to make: Can she jump in it? Sadly, my instinct is to nearly always find a reason to say No. ‘You’re in your school uniform.’ ‘We need to keep those clothes clean.’ ‘You haven’t got your wellies on.’ The list goes on.
I know why this is. If she ends up wet and dirty, it’ll mean more work for me having to clean her up later. But other than when we’re on our way to school, there aren’t really many occasions when ending up soaked from a muddy puddle would be the end of the world.
So I’ve tried to lighten up on this front. On Sunday I took Eloise and Imogen—who’s nearly two—for a walk along a river with a friend before heading to a playground. Naively, I hadn’t anticipated the ground being as wet as it was and so neither of my girls had their wellies on.
When I saw all the mud and puddles, I tried at first to get them to avoid them, badgering them both to walk around them all. I quickly realized this was stupid, not to mention pointless. They were going to have so much more fun if I let them get on with it.
And so the puddle jumping commenced.
There’s something wonderful and freeing about not caring how dirty we get. I could see it in their faces. There wasn’t a single thought about everything needing to be washed later or getting cold from wearing damp clothes. They were simply reveling in the moment.
As adults, we rarely get to experience this. We’re always thinking about the consequences. This is mostly a good thing. But I’m wondering whether sometimes we need to learn from our kids, embrace the moment, and not care about what has to get cleaned or tidied later.
It’s very tempting to try to tame this non-caring in our kids. But I’m convinced it’s worth, sometimes at least, resisting that temptation. The sheer joy I see on my girls’ faces when they get to jump up and down, unrestrained, in muddy puddles is beyond precious. Why would I want to constantly deprive them of these moments?
Pretty much every time she see’s a puddle, Eloise gives me this delightful look that, without any words needing to be said, simply asks with such hope and anticipation: ‘Can I?’ And hard as it is sometimes, I’m trying to say Yes more and more. It’s good for her soul. And, who knows, maybe in becoming more relaxed about this, it’s good for mine too.
Maybe I still need to go further though. It’s one thing to give the OK to my girls getting dirty in muddy puddles, but what if I need to let go too? I know I’m meant to be respectable and grown up, but wouldn’t my girls love it if I joined in with them sometimes?
And that’s my new goal. Having decided to be more relaxed about my girls getting wet and dirty, I’m going to try and join in with them sometimes.
So, bring on the muddy puddles!
Photo: Flickr Scooter Lowrimore
This article came from Sam Radford on The Good Men Project
By Jillian Lauren
I don’t usually do product reviews, but when the Martha Stewart people asked if I wanted to see a copy of the new kid craft book, it was too many of my favorite words in one sentence to turn down. For those of you who aren’t in on my darkest secrets, I love Martha Stewart, OK? I practically have a whole shelf of her entertaining books. I start anticipating the Halloween issue of her magazine in August. In line at the grocery store, I pass over all the gruesome Kardashian gossip and dive straight for her tips for a summer barbeque. I’m unlikely to take her investment advice, but when it comes to inventive ways to color Easter eggs, I defy you to challenge her.
I was not disappointed! Actually, the book surpassed my expectations. As much as I luuuuuv Martha, I was skeptical about a kid craft book, because sometimes she sets the bar a little high. I like to read her books but rarely follow through on the projects because for the normal humans among us, her suggestions can be over-complicated make you feel like a slacker about your messy house and the bread you didn’t make and the table centerpiece you didn’t craft and the chicken coop you didn’t build etc. Instead, I use her as sort of an organizing principle of bringing a joyful consciousness to domesticity. I like to imagine Martha to be a benevolent hearth-and-home deity who smiles down at me from above when I manage to go outside and pick a few figs off the tree and make a cake. Or when I feel inspired once in a while to put out the nice table linens for dinner just because.
These crafts, however, are not only inspiring but also surprisingly simple and adorable. Very do-able and fun! Check out their crafts for kids video collection to see some crafting in action. Above is a picture of T making the monster salt crystals- so cute! We’re doing snow globes next.
If you would like to read more from Jillian Lauren, check out her blog. You can also find her books on Amazon.