Parenting: On Sensory Integration Issues

By Jillian Lauren

tangram

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. 

 

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Parenting: On Diversity

By Jillian Lauren

pig

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.

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Parenting: On Yelling

By Jillian Lauren

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. 

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Mad for Martha

By Jillian Lauren

Martha Stewart Craft Book

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.

craftsforkids-2

 

If you would like to read more from Jillian Lauren, check out her blog.  You can also find her books on Amazon. 

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How Down?

By Jillian Lauren

hair

Scott and I have always loved the Albert Brooks movie Lost in America. In it, there is a scene in which Albert Brooks discovers Julie Hagerty gambling away the last of their nest egg in a Las Vegas casino:

She: We’re still down!
He: How down?
She: Down.

About a year ago, each night after putting T to sleep after yet another exhausting day, we would look at each other with stricken expressions.

Me: We’re still down.
Scott: How Down?
Me: Down.

During that difficult time, I often felt lonely. It seemed every other mother I knew was posting pictures on FB of the beautiful organic seasonal dinner party she just threw (to which I wasn’t invited), using some table linens her three perfect kids decorated themselves with stamps they carved from potatoes. No that their kids were at the dinner party. Because they were sleeping. SLEEPING!

I spent a lot of time crying in the car and feeling hopeless. Forget trying to get on the waiting list for a good kindergarten, I was starting to think about getting on a waiting list for a good rehab. I felt unequal to this task of motherhood. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for all of my blessings, I genuinely was. It’s just that some of the time, I was also pretty disappointed by life.

Tariku’s school aide, until recently, was still going to class with him one day a week (mostly because I was used to hanging onto her like a life-preserver), but a couple of weeks ago she called me and said, “Look, this just isn’t necessary. He’s doing amazing. He really doesn’t need me anymore.”

Then yesterday we drove down to see a circus that should have been an hour away. We left an extra hour early but still wound up late, because we got off at the wrong exit, landed in the worst neighborhood of all time, and got caught behind a police barricade. True story. And do you know what? My son was the calmest, most content person in that car. It used to be that the slightest deviation from any plan would set off an epic tantrum. This time, he was just singing and playing with his transformers and occasionally asking random questions like: If this isn’t the Cretaceous period anymore then what period it it? I honestly have no idea what parents did before google. Did they have to actually be smarter than their kids?

Now that the crisis has abated, I’ve noticed that every one of the mothers I placed on a pedestal has, at some point in this year, been down.

How down?
Down.

I recently witnessed the mom that I consider the height of PTA-going, Martha-Stewart-crafting perfection nearly have a nervous collapse, when Tariku accidentally kicked a ball of paper mache in her garage (because it looked like a ball and not like a Halloween costume in-progress). No joke, I thought I was going to have to call 911. And later she was like, I’m sorry, I’m just stretched so thin.

Meaning, y’know, I’m down.

Maybe I was really never that isolated to begin with, it’s just that all I could see were differences and not similarities. Which is to say, I have been down before and will, I’m sure, be down again. But the next time it happens, I hope to remember not to look at everyone else’s potato stamps and see them as evidence of my aloneness at the center of the universe.

For more from Jillian Lauren, check out her blog and her books can be purchased on Amazon. 

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Get up, Stand up…

March 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Family, Jillian Lauren

By Jillian Lauren

standing up to homophobia

This morning, I smiled and nodded and let some homophobic comments pass right by me in a schoolyard conversation. I feel disappointed in myself and curious as to the cause of my inability to speak up. I have spent all day considering ways I might deal differently with a similar situation in the future.

This is what happened…

I was joking around with some parents after the drop off. We were having a “cute stories” moment, talking about our little boys liking to dress up in girls’ clothes. Tariku likes to put a toy airplane in his hair and pretend it’s a tiara- that kind of thing. One of the dads piped up with: it’s fine when they’re seven as long as they’re not still wearing dresses when they’re seventeen. “I mean, that’s just not okay,” he said.

And that’s when I said…nothing. I said nothing.

I should have said, I’d be thrilled to have my son in a ball gown at his wedding if that’s what makes him feel good about himself and happy in his own skin. That is the truth.

So why didn’t I?

When I imagine being confronted with racism or sexism or homophobia etc, I think that I would always stand up to it, that I would always do the right thing, no question. In reality, we are often in situations with a great deal of social pressure. We are taken off guard. We want to be liked. We don’t want to make other people uncomfortable.

I feel like an outsider among the parents at pre-school and I am honestly often self conscious about T’s wacky behavior. When we arrive for drop off, most of the kids are sitting nicely, waiting with their parents, while T is running around, hollering and leading dance parties on the playground. I’m conscious that we’re different. The fact that I look like I fell of the side show carnival train doesn’t help. It makes me try extra hard to fit in. I think my desire to be socially accepted at the school is one factor in my silence.

Another factor is practice. It can be helpful to think situations like this through before we get blindsided with them. When I was first walking around in the world with Tariku, it used to be a lot harder for me to speak up when people said boneheaded things about adoption or race. Now I’m more experienced and I have a handful of standard responses that allow me to speak my mind in a way that doesn’t generally create a confrontational dynamic. I rarely wind up in the car later obsessing about what I might have said.

I’ve been thinking about the standard narrative of Rosa Parks. I was always told that she was tired from work one day and refused to move to the back of the bus. The reality is that she was a trained civil rights activist and that her refusal to move was a planned act of civil disobedience. We could all benefit from a little training, from a little practice. Perhaps on all of those back-to-school nights that we spend looking at their macaroni collages, we could take ten minutes to have a conversation about diversity.

Whether or not it’s incorporated at an institutional level, this does remind me how important it is to keep an open dialogue about these issues at home.

I’m going to a parent meeting at the school tonight and I’m going to bring up the idea. Because, as I would say to T when he screws up, “We’re gonna do better next time!”

Wish me luck!

To read more from Jillian Lauren, check out her blog

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T’s Cha Cha Day!

By Jillian Lauren

cuteus

guitar

beach

party2

Last year Tariku renamed his “Gotcha” Day (the anniversary of the day he was finally in our arms), “Cha Cha Day.” Which is obviously the most awesome name for any day. Woe to the mother who expresses enthusiasm for such a thing… This year the Cha Cha name was strictly verboten. But between you and me, I’m keeping it.

We threw him a small party, just a few friends and neighbors. We ate cake, moved the coffee table out of the way in the living room and danced to “What Does the Fox Say” like sixteen times. And we told the story of his adoption. A family fairy tale, woven through with sorrow but ultimately triumphant. I stole the denoument from psychologist and author Brenè Brown (with whom I’m obsessed):

You are imperfect. You are wired for struggle. You are worthy of love and belonging.

I always get reflective and nostalgic around his Cha Cha day. I wrote this poem early that morning. I suppose it is less for him, exactly, and more for the moms out there. He’d rather have a dance party than a poem at this point anyway. I thought I’d share it with you.

TO MY SON ON HIS CHA CHA DAY

Perhaps I know what other mothers do not.
Of necessity, I know that you were never
mine to begin
with that you are merely a loan
so precious that, Gollum–like, even though I have it in
hand it leaves me wracked with longing
like cherry blossom festivals or a great
song you hear at the coffee shop and can’t
rewind.

Perhaps I know too what other mothers
all know that you have always been mine
settling into my skin
long before there was even a seed
of you taking root miles from here.
These fingertips caught fire some nights for
reaching, the same that first touched your silk
cheek.

Out of nowhere you say:

I was only a baby when Jesus died on
the wooden cross. I think it was, yes
I know it was a
Tuesday. In March.
I was there.
It wasn’t my fault.

I have no idea where
you got ideas of fault
or wood
or belonging
or March
or Tuesday
or God at all.

I wake up to your vinegary breath, your hands
on my face, a
mastiff puppy’s paws, too big,
for your tectonically shifting frame
a missive from the future these
hands, that I cannot read
except to know it
ends with.
Love,

Somewhere on a red dirt road
flanked by corrugated tin lean-tos painted
blue/green like a sea that is
nowhere to be found, by waxy green leaves of false
banana trees and round huts the same color as the
ground, miles every day she walks in rubber
flip flops toward the well
and back again, red kerchief over her
braids, carrying a burden of
water, dreaming a shared
dream.

To read more by Jillian Lauren check out her blog and go to Amazon for her books “Pretty” and “Some Girls: My Life in a Harem”

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Reproductive, Right?

December 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Family, Meika Rouda

By Meika Rouda

ivf
When I was in college I attended my first pro-choice rally. We wore t-shirts with slogans like “U.S. out of my Uterus” and “Uncle Sam Stay Out of My Pants”. We went to Washington D.C. and marched for women’s rights.That was twenty years ago. While abortion is still a right that we need to fight for, reproduction freedom has changed greatly. There are several new debates on the table, things that are complicated and raise intense moral questions. For example, how many fertilized eggs should be implanted into a woman? We all remember the horror of Octomom who now says it was a mistake to go back for IVF treatments when she already had 6 children. Um… yeah. Wasn’t there anyone in the fertility to clinic to talk to her, make sure she was stable mentally and financially before they implanted her with multiple embryos? What about sperm donors, should there be a limit to how many times a donor is used for fertilization? What about the concern regarding cross-pollination of half siblings, meeting and falling in love and having children of their own? What about donor eggs? And what about age? Should we limit the age that women can undergo IVF? Is it natural for a 50 year old woman to be pregnant? How does the later age of motherhood affect the current population of children?
All of these reproductive questions makes abortion seem like a simple issue. You either believe in the right to choose or you don’t. While artificial reproductive technology is a pandora’s box of topics to be considered. There are clinics that will perform low cost abortions to those who need or want one but there are no low cost clinics for IVF in the U.S.This is a business with very little ethical boundaries for right and wrong. So while we feel entitled to having our own “natural” children with completely unnatural procedures, we think little about the repercussions of those actions on our bodies and our society. In the past 35 years, since the first “test tube baby” 5 million children have been born through artificial reproductive technologies. In 2009 in the U.S., 60,000 babies were born through IVF and the number has been steadily increasing each year. There needs to be regulation in place to make sure parents and children are cared for responsibly. While women are still fighting for the right to choose and new laws are being placed constantly restricting a women’s right to an abortion, no one is governing reproductive clinics. We know Octomom and Kate Gosslin have regrets and yet the people who will suffer the most will be there children. The science has clearly gotten ahead of the ethics. IVF is something that has been accepted by society as the new normal yet abortion is still a major battle in the U.S. Does anyone else think we may have our shirts on backwards?

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Gratitude

December 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Family, Meika Rouda

By Meika Rouda

thanks

I haven’t been writing much this year. A slow spell of overwhelm came over me and I found it hard to muster the energy to write. It felt selfish of me, a purely indulgent act when so many other things needed to get done. First off are the kids, they need, well, everything. Food made, butts wiped, shoe laces tied, booboo’s kissed, nightmares scared off, hugs and kisses and books read constantly. Then there is housework, the laundry, the bills the groceries and the dinner to be made for my husband not to mention the bonding dinner time conversation so we can continue having a loving relationship even though I just want to go to bed and read a book alone. The writing was for me and me just isn’t a priority right now. I don’t mean to sound like a martyr but I realize I am always in a rush, not just on a daily basis to get the kids to school or be at an appointment on time but in a rush to make things happen. I want to finish my book and move on with other projects. I want to see The Next Family Anthology come to fruition and be published. Everything feels like it needs to happen now or else. Or else what? Maybe rushing isn’t what it is about? Right now I need to think about my family, my son’s multiple doctor’s appointments to treat his self control issues, my daughter’s gymnastic classes, my husband’s demanding job and allow myself a stint on the sidelines. I haven’t exercised in ten months and the lines on my face are growing at an alarming rate but still I am grateful that I have this life. That these children who tirelessly need things are my children. I am grateful to have this time to be with my kids even if they drive me crazy sometimes. I know that my time will come, my time will come.

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Supreme Decision Making

July 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Family, Meika Rouda

By Meika Rouda

babyveronica2
While last month’s Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act received much due attention and celebrating, there was another Supreme Court decision that also deserves a toast.
The Supreme Court had an adoption case pending regarding the rules of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Veronica Capobianco nee Brown was adopted at birth. Her biological mother placed her with a family she had chosen in South Carolina. Veronica’s biological father, Dusten Brown, who is part Cherokee Indian, relinquished his paternal rights through text message to Veronica’s biological mother before she was born. Dusten Brown served in the Iraq war, never paid any child support and didn’t request to see his daughter until she was 22 months old and he learned that his ex-girlfriend had placed her with an adoptive family. Once he learned of the adoption, he claimed he didn’t understand he was relinquishing his parental rights and tried to regain custody under the Indian Child Welfare Act whose intent is to preserve Native American families. While Veronica is 3/256th Cherokee, the court sided with the adoptive parents, saying that the biological father had given up his rights to the biological mother so the ICWA does not apply to this case.
Supporters of adoptive parents have a lot to celebrate. While Mr. Brown is now trying to adopt his daughter through the Oklahoma courts, it seems unlikely that he will succeed and she will be placed back with her adoptive parents.
The victory here is that so often with adoption, the biological parents have many rights and adoptive parents usually don’t. In this case, since the biological mother technically had sole custody and chose to place Veronica with the Capobianco’s, the adoptive parents have rights too. The Capobianco’s were at Veronica’s birth and raised her for the first 22 months of her life. They are her parents too. And while I am sorry that Dusten Brown has regrets about giving up his parental rights, and perhaps he should have had more information or counseling before making that choice, it does not excuse the fact that he never paid child support nor even asked about his daughter until she was almost two years old. The Capobianco’s are her parents and she deserves to be reunited with them. Cheers to the Supreme Court for making not one but two good decisions this summer.

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