From Self Care

A fresh look at philanthropy for the overworked parent

For the Love of Humankind: A Bit of Sanity for the Overworked Parent

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Philanthropy – a word from Greek origin that translates to “ for the love of mankind”.

A fresh look at philanthropy for the overworked parent

Philanthropists are generous, donating time and/or money where profit is not a motive. This idea, though still at the core of philanthropy, is evolving. Everyday people use their buying power to effect change when they support organizations that ‘give back’, are local (less environmental impact), support fair-trade, etc. I call it ‘conscious consumerism’ and you see it everywhere these days. Many businesses have it built into their philosophy where employees are paid to donate time for a cause, where corporate sponsorship, business-lead fundraising (think of 5km runs for cancer, walks for muscular dystrophy etc.) are the norm. So how does this relate to parenting?

It comes down to mindset. Who comes to mind when you think of a philanthropist? You may think of Andrew Carnegie for which Carnegie Hall in New York City is named, or Bill Gates and his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. Both Carnegie and Gates were wise businessmen, set on amassing fortunes often before their generous spirit was sparked. The kind of philanthropy they and many who amass millions are associated with comes with brand or name recognition, and there’s nothing wrong with that, often a name helps attract and initiates further generosity, which is great. Carnegie believed his purpose (and that of industrialists) was to first accumulate wealth and to follow that by distributing the wealth to benevolent causes. In 2010, Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Warren Buffet launched the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropy. Though I have certain issues with the Gates Foundation (why not make computers that don’t become obsolete is what many argue and I would agree), the Foundation does amazing work in so many fields across the globe. But what about your neighbor, who picks up two other kids from your street afterschool and looks after them, free of charge, until thier working parents come home? Take a look in the mirror. What about you?

Since working on a book on philanthropy with Gena Rotstein of Dexterity Ventures (www.dexterityventures.ca) how I look at philanthropy and the work I do as a parent has been changing. I would’ve never thought myself a philanthropist before. Sure, I’ve donated dollars to support friends and colleagues in their donation pledges and I’ve run in a number of charity runs, but that wasn’t philanthropy, or so I though. It counts of course, but in my mind that wasn’t real philanthropy. The writing I’ve been doing with Gena Rotstein has been about actualizing what philanthropy can glean from a business – asking questions, having a goal and strong vision, being accountable – these are just a few business applications that are reshaping the landscape of philanthropy and have reshaped how I began to look at parenting as a kind of philanthropy. I’m donating LOTS of time and energy to raising a decent human being – one who is courteous, mindful, respectful, brave, thoughtful, inquisitive, playful, and innovative. This is not for personal gains alone. My son is going to outlive me of course, but before that his outreach is going to extend way beyond my personal world. Am I parenting so I can boast that he has manners and gets good grades? Not at all.

When you think about, it’s not a stretch, to see that when we engage in mindful parenting (and yes, that clause is important because I don’t think it’s applicable always, like when I let the TV run, I’m not being mindful though that’s ok too), aren’t we doing so “for the love of humankind?”

I’m not suggesting anything beyond opening up our minds to what parenting is. That in those tough moments when things don’t seem to being going right, when he’s not listening, when you are pressed for time and struggling to find patience to be kind when your kid is shouting no at you and you strive to look beyond the scene playing out in front of you. Think of me. Think of your neighbours. Think of your children’s future acquaintances. Go beyond that scene, take a breath and then respond. What happens when you think, this is not about me, or him, but how can I act here, now, that will change our future interactions for the better? This is philanthropy at it’s core – generating time, a huge dose of patience to practice asking how your actions can move beyond solving the immediate to solving the immediate AND effecting change in the future. Sounds pretty great doesn’t it? You act in a way that gets you out of a bind but is also generous to everyone else around you by engaging with your child in a way that suggests accountable actions (both yours and his) in the future. It’s a pretty great investment. It’s hard to see it like that sometimes, but it’s helped me in some of those moments and I offer it here, as possibly helping you step beyond a tense scene for a great cause: for you, your child, for me. For the love of humankind.

 

*For more doses of the philanthropist mindset Kim is starting a Daily Donation on her blog WhiteSpaceBlackArt.com where you can find generous spirit motivators useful to parents and non-parents alike and information on various charities doing work in all realms of outreach that have to do with our future: children.

 

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting: Toddlers and Mini-Carts Don’t Mix

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My husband and I recently took our toddlers to a new grocery store in town. The market is known for its amazing deals on produce, impressive bulk selection, and (among the 6-and-under-crowd) for the line of shiny red pint-sized carts waiting just inside the front doors. “They are going to love this!” I said, laughing at my son’s wide eyes as he ran into the building. My husband was already busy chasing after our daughter and picking up the oranges that were rolling down the aisle in her wake and it wasn’t long before my son was also veering off course, running full steam towards the mountain of bananas. “Okay. I can do this.” I coached myself, ready to try a few of the gentle parenting ideas I’d been reading about. And then, instead of giving in to my natural impulse (shouting “no! no! NO!” and grabbing his cart away), I simply stepped between him and the tempting tower. I asked him if he could pick out one bunch of those beautiful bananas and of course he was thrilled, placing them in his cart with such pride! I was so impressed that the yell-free approach had actually worked, my heart swelled with optimism and confidence to tackle the rest of our list. 

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting

If only it were so simple! The rest of the trip was a marathon of near-misses and small disasters. We suffered two early cart-tippings (Have you ever seen an avocado explode? Instant guacamole.) and entirely abandoned our search for cheese when we realized it was located right next to the looming display of fancy glass-bottled oils and vinegars. The freezer section was prime for toddler cart drag racing: the displays lit up like a runway as my little maniacs barreled down the aisle, drunk with freedom. There was a bit of a tussle as we zipped past the bulk bins (so many enticing treats just begging for a sample!) but the end was in sight: a check-out lane was just opening up and the doors to freedom (and child-restraining car seats) shone as bright beacons of hope just beyond the registers.

I tried to hype it up to my kids as I steered them toward the empty lane:  “Look guys! Now we get to put all our treasures on the shelf and buy them!” [ahem. marketer I am not.] I reached into my son’s cart and he threw himself into the wall of check-out snacks and then onto the floor, full-on meltdown mode. Screaming, crying, kicking at other customers, grabbing things off the shelves. It was intense.

So see, I’m trying to become one of those gentle parents. You know the ones. We’re all waiting patiently in line and their kid is throwing the biggest fit but they just take a deep breath and squat down nearby saying things like, “I see you’re really frustrated. You want to keep the cart, it was really fun to push. It’s time to buy our food so we have to be all done. I see you’re really upset. I have to move you so you don’t hurt anybody.” and we’re all like “Lady. Did you rehearse that monologue? Do you really think he’s even listening? How could he hear anything over that piercing scream? Drag that child to the car so we can check-out in peace. Your kid is out. of. control.”

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting

Gentle Parenting

Gentle Parenting. Attachment Parenting. Respectful parenting. My foray into this new-to-me parenting philosophy has come as my twins approach their second birthday, well into the frustrations of little people who possess intense desires and sub-par communication abilities. The world around them moves sometimes much too slow and sometimes much too fast and it takes a toll on their already taxed reservoirs of calm.

As their mom – an introvert who often feels out of step with the social expectations of my peers – I should be able to relate to their struggle. I should have compassion and insight and patience, understanding the miserable reality of being forced to do something you don’t want to do, especially in front of other people. Except, I don’t. I feel embarrassed. I want to crawl into a hole, drag my toddler down with me, and disappear. I feel the laser-eyes of annoyed strangers, their huffing as they move out of the way of my kid. I doubt myself and think ugly things about my children and vow never to run errands with them again.

But there I squat, trying to be calm but mostly not knowing what I’m doing. Eventually I decide it’s time to get our loud little show on the road. I leave my daughter with my husband to pay for the groceries and I head for the car, carrying my screaming son in one arm, hunched over so I can push the absurd little cart with the other. I’m about to totally lose it on him (and on my husband, just because I’ve got rage to spare and want to spew it everywhere) when some sweet grannies stop us, look me in the eye and tell me my son is darling and that he must have had so much fun with the cart, adding “poor dear” for good measure. *Poof* Rage be gone. Grannies of the world, what would we be without you?

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So it seems I’m learning less about how to be a good parent and more about how much baggage I bring into my parenting. I’m realizing that the ways I was disciplined as a child have a huge influence on how I feel about my own kids’ behavior. How much respect matters to me. How much I want to be complimented on well-behaved kids. How I hate to be the center of (negative) attention. How personal it feels when my children catapult us to center stage.

Gentle parenting involves a lot of checking in on my own motives and expectations. It requires me to keep working out my own issues and to remind myself of what I’m really working for (strong, capable, thoughtful, emotionally intelligent people) and what I’m working against (my ego-protecting anger, children who behave out of fear). Gentle parenting takes the long view while being present in each moment. It empowers parents to provide helpful limits and boundaries for their child’s world while also making space for and respecting their child’s needs (emotional, physical, and developmental). I.e., I’ll let my child have a tantrum on the floor in the middle of the store because I respect his frustration and the intensity of his feelings, but I won’t let him knock over a display or ram a cart into someone’s legs. (In retrospect, I suppose I can sympathize with him. During his scream-fest all I wanted to do was throw something massive across the floor as a diversion and run out of there.)

At the end of the day, I realize I keep coming back to my discomfort at my own lack of control over my kids’ behavior. I want to minimize my own embarrassment. I want other people to be impressed with my kids. I want my kids to “get it”, to respect me and my decisions. I’m looking to them to validate me, to prove my worth as a mom. It’s a startling realization and a pretty scary place to try to parent from.

So, I’m going to start making the same plain observations about my own emotions and asking myself the same questions I ask my toddlers. A meditation of sorts, one I can dive into even crouched down in the check-out lane: “Julianne, it seems like you’re really frustrated. You thought the shopping carts would be a fun new experience for the kids. You’re feeling embarrassed about your lack of foresight. You’re feeling exhausted from running around a crowded store, hunched over a tiny cart and a screaming little person. Now he’s on the floor and you don’t know what to do. It’s okay. Breathe. You’ve got this. They trust you. You’re a good mom. You will make it to the car.”

“But, Julianne, never again, okay? Never. Again.”

Trixiewithlove

To Trixie With Love – An Open Letter To My Child’s First Best Friend

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“Your friend is your needs answered.”

— Kahlil Gibran

In this life, not all friends are created equal. Friends come and go, based on the time of life, your environment, based on silly phases, fun phases and not-so-fun phases. They all do serve their purpose.

But, then, there are those special friends. Friends that can last a lifetime.

This is a story about the latter. It’s a true love story. If you met my daughter, you would not doubt her love for Trixie.
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Trixie is my daughter’s doll. She was Adelaide’s first birthday gift. As Adelaide grew up, Trixie had many of the same experiences as my daughter. When Adelaide tried peanut butter for the first time, so did Trixie.  When Adelaide got in the bath, she did her darnedest to bring Trixie in with her.

Trixie had birthday parties, Christmas mornings, got new clothes, and Adelaide was once absolutely petrified to find Trixie in the washing machine. She knew that wasn’t safe.  What kind of monster’s are her parents? To put her best friend in the WASHING MACHINE!!!

Each year, Trixie lost a bit of stuffing here, stitches added there, and after a few years, Trixie’s rips could no longer be patched. Her seams could no longer be mended.

We received many well-intentioned ideas of how to wean Adelaide away from her friend.

But it all seemed so cruel. Trixie was part of our family.

Now, she is a tattered mess. She is still used just as much as when Adelaide first got her. As a true member of our family, I wanted to write this letter to Trixie, to show my appreciation for a wonderful friend:

 

Dear Trixie,

You have been the favorite companion of my daughter for over 5 years now. Adelaide has not slept without you in that time. Not once. You have been on many adventures, and the truth is, you’ve seen better days – in fact, let’s just be honest: You have very little time left. Trixie7

There was the one time, 3 years ago, we tried to replace you with another cleaner, more sterile Trixie. You see, you were ALWAYS getting lost, and we were NOT allowed to clean you – so, in all honesty, you grossed us out and gave us headaches. But what you have done for our daughter is something spectacular. But Adelaide was suspicious from the get-go. It wasn’t long before Adelaide spotted your leg popping out of a box in the top of a closet.

My wife and I still have nightmares about the vacation when we left you in a restaurant and Santa Fe. We were 2 hours removed before we noticed. It was a really tough decision, but before Adelaide even knew you were gone, we spelled our way to a conclusion – We have to go back for T-R-I-X-I-E!

 

On a very memorable night, our third child was born. Adelaide immediately

trixie4 decided that Uma needed her own Trixie, so she sweetly gave the replacement Trixie to Uma, to comfort her, as you had always comforted Adelaide.

 

So, thank you, you have helped my daughter work through fears, anxiety and other complex emotions. You were that stable force that she needed when we moved to a new home. When we paid $40 for you at blablakids.com – we had no idea what we were really getting. So, I ask of you now Trixie, as your end looms near, in the immortal words of Dylan Thomas: 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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Practical suggestions for mindful living.

Mindful Living

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Practical suggestions for mindful living.I know I’m not the only one lying awake at night thinking of our hurting world. I hold my babies tighter not sure of their future and what it might look like. I say this with a compassionate attitude towards those that are truly suffering. I’ve been feeling empathy pains and aches for those people whose lives have been shattered and live in fear on a daily basis.   In order to keep moving forward, I choose to focus on the moment and pay attention to what’s in front of me.  “Be present,” said Ms. Lei, J’s teacher during her Empathy Parenting workshop a month ago.  She gave an example of when we treat ourselves to a cup of coffee. Often we are instantly pulled in six different directions, breaking the silence, and missing it’s greatness.

“When you are in the now,” she said, “you will be aware of every last sip.”

Every.last.sip.

What a wonderful idea and journey we could all take through life. She shared with us the children’s daily routine of circle time at the beginning of each day. By asking each child to “come into the circle and feel your breath,” she’s inviting them to be present and practice mindfulness.

I challenge us all to begin to live our lives this way. When a friend shares with you her struggle over her child’s behavior, put aside your to-do lists and personal struggles. Be in the moment. Practice empathy friendship. This could just be undivided conversation and a hug or offering to babysit. If your child is struggling to put on his shoes and your arms are full of library books, purse, water bottle, and you’re halfway out the door. Stop. Put everything down (you can huff and puff in your head, if it helps) and help him through the struggle. If your partner seems tense from work (and if you two can grab a moment alone) lend an ear to those struggles, even if you have no idea what their job entails.

Mother Teresa said “small things, done in great love, bring joy and peace.” This is absolutely true. Tuck that note into your kids lunchbox. It might just be the lift they need to get through a tough day of middle school. Pick up dinner for a family of five,  just because. Practice random acts of kindness. I can say with absolute certainty that the reward will be two fold. You get to make someone’s day but the joy in giving will be all yours.

In addition to mindful living, recognizing what we’re grateful for can also lift our spirits.

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Star Wars Blog

10 Parenting Lessons Learned From Star Wars

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So, not long ago, in a galaxy all too familiar, there was a rainy day, and restless siblings at odds with each other. A decision was made to join the rebel alliance, and begin the Star Wars experience.

Star Wars Blog

Since then, There have been moments of great despair, a night of confusion when the kids find out the relationship of Darth Vader and Luke (I’ll never forget the looks I got that night, as if all father’s were now suspect), there were times for parents to cringe (J.J. Binks), and times to rejoice for all.

But what we didn’t expect were the major parenting wins.   Important themes and life lessons frequently met with eye rolls when coming from the mouths of my wife or myself, but suddenly appreciated and heard thanks to new friends in a galaxy far, far away.

  1. Use The Force.
    Perhaps long ago, midi-chlorians were necessary to access the all-encompassing Force. Thankfully today, we have the knowledge of, and power to use Conflict Resolution. We all have the ability to solve problems, calmly with Jedi-like zen – and not let fear rule our lives and decision making ability. And we know “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
  2. Choices made in anger are usually not our best choices.
    How many times did I use my Yoda voice in my head when my middle child revolted putting shoes on, instead slinging them to the other side of the room. “Mmmm… much anger I sense in you. Anger is the path to the dark side.”

This actually helps me from becoming angry and to use the FORCE to solve problems. And that’s just for my benefit. Hopefully my daughter will eventually learn that it’s much harder to build up your block tower when you’re angrily throwing blocks at the tower. This also leads to…

  1. Problems are best solved when we are calm.
    Young Padawan learner, “You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

So in other words, when you’re brother takes your toy, and runs away, find a way to make peace, not scream, cry and chase with harmful intent.

  1. Conflicts are going to happen.
    I love the squabbles of C3PO and R2D2. They are connected to eachother through all the movies, but they also drive their hard drive’s batty sometimes.

Much like the relationships of … well anybody in the household. We love each other, we are dedicated to each other. And we will drive each other crazy.
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  1. Size doesn’t always matter.
    From birth, our oldest daughter has been in the bottom of the percentiles for weight and height. She’s petite and likely always will be. But she has this longstanding dream of being “the biggest kid”. Friendships have been cast aside because a friend (truthfully) told her that she was the shorter child.   So when our kids got to watch Yoda do battle with Count Dooku, my wife didn’t hesitate to point out that Yoda was physically smaller than his nemesis. Yet, not only did he hold his own, he clearly is a great warrior with a smaller stature. Therefore, it’s ok to be smaller because:
  1. Hard work and perseverance are the way to achieve your goals.
    You may be angry, you may be sad, you may be scared, or you want to give up. Your ship may be deep at the bottom on a swamp in the Degobah system. But if you stick with your work, with your training, you can be a magnatile jedi, or a math jedi. Learn from your failures, and continue to push forward.
  1. Even when things seem darkest, there is always reason to hope.
    Maybe this one is more for us as parents. Even when your kids didn’t nap, and have been fighting for an hour, and at your heels with every move you make, you know that bedtime is coming. “Mmmm… sleep they will.” I say to my wife, “I am not afraid!” and she responds back: “You will be, you will be.”
  1. “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”
    You see it with Jengo Fett/Boba Fett, the climax with Darth Vader saving Luke from the Emperor, and even when Shmi Skywalker lets her only son go with the Jedi, there’s a feeling that these movies are a lot about relationships between parents and their kids. Our kids think a lot differently than we do – and that is an amazing thing that we should all appreciate.
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  1. Silly Jedi, Mind Tricks are for all of us.
    Obi Wan might consider this an abuse of power, but my wife and I were pleasantly surprised how we can use The Force to our advantage over our kids. “You do not want to stay awake, you want to go right to sleep.” OK, that worked 0 times.
    How about when we pass the $1 bin at Target, you just wave your hand and say: “These are not the toys you are looking for.”
    What Jedi Mind Tricks do you think your kids may be playing on you?
  1. Love wins. Always.
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Finding Balance in a Media Saturated World

Finding Balance in a Media Saturated World

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While writing a few weeks ago, a photograph of Perez Hilton showering with his toddler came across my newsfeed. (Technically, I was taking a break from writing and scanning Facebook. Writer’s downfall.) Anyway, I struggled to move beyond the obvious questions, like, Why should I care when victims from the latest mass shooting remain in the hospital? and Why is this even news? Why would he post this? I stop and take it in. They look happy, like they’re having fun. Father-son clean-up time. In our home, there were many times whoever was going into the shower took the dirtiest toddler for a quick rinse-off before dinner. Universal commonalities of parenthood.

I read the comments. (Ugh! Why do I do that?) Some people were outraged. Mortified. Scolding. Outspoken, in a way only the internet allows, because a grown-ass man shared a shower with his son.

Finding Balance in a Media Saturated World

Let me acknowledge something. I’ve worked in environments where it’s frowned upon to discuss showering with your child, sleeping with your baby or letting your child run around naked. I worked where these activities waved red flags of inappropriate adult-child behavior. I’ve been among sexually abused adolescents and adolescents who were perpetuators of sexual abuse. It’s not pretty. It’s humbling and it’s a million other things all at the same time. I know these photos can spark the dark things in life.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.11.42 PMBack to Perez’s shower posts. Granted, they weren’t the most well thought-out in Instagram history. They were, however, mild compared to other instagramming celebrities. They appeared authentic moment-capturing posts of a day-to-day parent living in a selfie-riddled world. Could they trigger those living in fear of an adult hurting a child? Absolutely. People who fear abuse happening again; individuals who fear they themselves may be tempted to abuse a child in a shower; and those living in a world of generalized constant fear could easily and grossly be triggered by that photograph. Sometimes, fearful people live shackled by rules. Rules including: Thou shall not shower with your toddler. And, thou shall scorn and judge all those who do, for they most certainly have evil intentions.

Somewhere, we have to step back. We have to take ourselves from the centricity of every post, every photo, every story on the news. We can relate it to our lives, without making it our lives. Relating to others makes their lives relevant, meaningful to us. We have to be mindful of where they stop and we begin. We also have to tend to our needs and identify and understand our triggers.

Somehow we’ve got to find the good in others, for it most certainly exists. Check your surroundings. If you hear a meow and you’re not in Africa, a zoo, or a big cat refuge it’s probably not a lion. It’s most likely a common domestic house cat. If you live in San Antonio, it’s probably a feral un-neutered stray. You definitely don’t need a high-powered rifle or bow and arrow to shoo it away. Don’t let fear become negative judgementalism, leaving you in fear for your life and the lives of everyone else.

No doubt, terrible things inhabit our world. I believe we’re called to speak up and protect the lesser among us. BUT, not everything is horrid. Not every white van wants to kidnap you. (Women understand this, men may not – another post lurks here.). We can be mindful of our surroundings walking to the car at night, without frantically running in a chaotic panic only to lose our keys while fumbling in the parking lot darkness.

When I walk across our pasture, sometimes I get stickers in my socks. Sometimes, I find beautiful, tiny things. Some of the beautiful tiny things have pointy sharp edges. I don’t stop walking and I don’t quit looking. The beautiful things I find are worth it.

This teeny little sharp bud is smaller than a babies new tooth.
This teeny little sharp bud is smaller than a babies new tooth.

We pay a hefty sum for constant media and never-ending connection into all the world’s multiplying minutiae. Within this sum, we lose something valuable. It’s conscious work to see things for what they are. Instead of a photo of a smiling dad and an impishly grinning toddler in the shower (all parts, but smiles covered), do we, instead, see a pedophile? Do we see a toddler at risk for becoming (gasp!) gay from showering with his father? What are we seeing? I’d really like to know.

I see a dad, a happy (and squeaky clean) toddler. That’s all.

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There are and will continue to be movies of the week; best-selling books; heart-wrenching recollections from a best friend who, as a child, suffered at the hands of an adult; and maybe our own traumatic haunting childhood memories. The dark side exists. If we don’t take care of ourselves, and seek counsel when needed, that free-reined darkness can permeate our perspective and existence leaving us seeing the world through a dark lens. What do we miss? Do our children begin to see the world through our darkened glasses? Do those dark lenses affect how we treat others? Our health?  Our soul? and so much more? Therein lies the tally of the cost ringing up a long receipt.

We need balance. Something between fear and full-on devil-may-care destructive risk taking attitudes and behaviors. How is balance found? Where is it found?

 

The alien looking planet surface on the bottom, is really a close up of one of the leaves in the above photo. #perspective
The alien looking planet surface on the bottom, is really a close up of one of the leaves in the above photo. #perspective

This brave new interactive open-viewing world calls for introspection, honesty, and mindfulness. And dialogue. Dialogue without fear. Courage to ask questions of ourselves and others. It calls us to show up — for ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and our children — show up before fear takes over. It’s begs perspective, too. We need to acknowledge of our perspective.

In re-reading my post, I want you to know, it didn’t escape me — the nonchalance with which I wrote this sentence: “Why should I care, when victims from the latest mass shooting remain in the hospital? and why is this (Perez Hilton) even news?”  And, then, I talked and talked about Hilton’s photograph and the thoughts it bore, anyway. All the while those victims still recover. That, my friends, is a whole other post whose words currently bounce off the walls of my brain.

A sweet letter of encouragement to moms who just found out their child has Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome: A letter to a mama who just found out…

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October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I hardly knew a thing about Down Syndrome before my daughter came along. I’m sure many people who receive this diagnosis for their child don’t know much about it either.

A sweet letter of encouragement to moms who just found out their child has Down Syndrome

When we received the news 22 weeks into my pregnancy, just days after Christmas, that our daughter had Down Syndrome, I thought my world was imploding. I had no idea what to expect, or what was in store for us.

I was almost 40 and we wanted a baby so very, very much.  There was no way we were going to do anything other than keep her – we decided that the day we found out I was pregnant. This baby was who we were supposed to have, and that’s just how it was meant to be.

But… I. Was. Terrified.

So this is what I would like to say to any woman who has just been told her precious child has Down Syndrome…


Dearest mama, with that sweet baby in your belly…

I can’t pretend I know exactly how you feel.  But I understand a lot of it.

Yesterday you found out that your baby has Down Syndrome.

I know this morning is so hard for you.  It may even be harder than yesterday.

I remember clearly the first morning after we found out.

I woke up after finally falling asleep for a few hours and had about 2 seconds of consciousness before the news I had received the day before hit me all over again, almost like for the first time.

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. 

Like the walls were closing in.

Like someone was squeezing my heart in a vice.

And I’m not going to sugarcoat it: I had the same feeling for many mornings after.

But I want to share this with you, for what it is worth:

Each day it hurt a little bit less.

Yes, there were spikes of pain when some incident triggered it. Lots of them.

But overall, it got less and less and less.

On the day of our diagnosis, I said to my husband “What are we going to do?!”

He simply said,

“We are going to LOVE her.

Above all else, she is a BABY. She will eat, sleep, poop, pee, smile, giggle, laugh, and cry – hopefully not too much!

And we will deal with whatever else comes along, as it comes along.

But let’s not guess, or imagine bad things for her. Let’s wait and see.”

And that’s what we did.

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And as the days then weeks then months passed I found that,

almost proportionally,

my pain, which had been overwhelming and consuming and I thought would never ever go away decreased,

while my love and hopes and excitement to meet my Vallyn increased until I simply felt like I could not wait another single moment to hold her in my arms!!!

After Vallyn was born, they laid her on my chest and my first thought was “yes, she does have Down Syndrome – I can see it a little bit”.

But almost before that thought processed in my head another voice inside shouted

YES!  This is MY DAUGHTER and I finally get to see her and hold her and tell her how I love her so much! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” 

And she turned her head and looked straight into my eyes and I couldn’t believe the wave of love and peace that washed over me.

And now I find that every single morning since she was born, without fail,

no matter how tired I am,

instead of feeling that awful pain of those first few months after diagnosis,

I look down into that crib and I see her looking up at me, smiling, and

it feels like the best Christmas morning ever.

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And I can’t believe that on the day the doctor told me my daughter has Down Syndrome, I thought my life was over and would never be good again.

I was so, so very wrong.

Now, sweet mama, I’m not saying everything will be perfect. (Remember, no sugar coating.)

It won’t be – not with ANY kid – Down Syndrome or no Down Syndrome.

I’m saying honestly to you that there will be times that are scary and hard and frustrating.

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But there will also be times when you feel you can take on the world.

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There will be tears of both joy and sorrow.

There will be ups and downs.

There will be so much laughter, and SO MUCH LOVE.

Please don’t feel like you have to give up having dreams for your child.

Because you don’tyou may just have to change them a little.

And they may or may not come true.  So what?!  Make some new ones.

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I never could have dreamed that Vallyn would be as truly amazing as she is.

But she conquered a heart surgery at five weeks old.

 

A sweet letter of encouragement to moms who just found out their child has Down Syndrome

And it took a while, but she’s walking, practically running now.

She has hiked on her own two feet almost a mile around a lake at 9,400 feet.

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She has been in four Scottish Highland Festival parades and brought joy and smiles to those along the way, waving and blowing kisses and causing people to run into the street with their cameras to get her picture as she rides by.

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She got through having the flu, RSV, and pneumonia all at once, and with a smile on her face!

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She has ridden ponies.

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She has been a flowergirl in a wedding.

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She has been to the Grand Canyon.

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She has splashed with unadulterated joy in alpine lakes.

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She has spread her infectious smile to so many people; at the grocery store, doctors offices, and pretty much everywhere we go.

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She goes to preschool, plays with her cousins and friends, has been to both coasts, had multiple photos in a book on physical therapy for children with Down Syndrome, has met Miss Colorado (twice!), met government figures and important researchers, and had the most liked photo ever on the Rocky Mountain National Park Facebook page.

She has fought so hard her entire life – to be strong, to learn, to overcome. Her strength and determination and stubbornness blow me away on a daily basis.

SHE IS MY HERO. 

And she is a wonderful, caring, fun, silly, LOVING big sister.

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And she’s not even three and a half!

I had no idea that day so long ago that she would do all these things.

And I can’t WAIT to see what else she can do!!!

So…dear mama, I don’t know your exact circumstances, thoughts, beliefs, or feelings.

Or exactly what challenges you and your sweet baby will face.

Or what your baby may or may not eventually be able to do.

What I do know is that this is scary and it hurts and it is not what you expected.

And you are allowed to feel all the emotions you are feeling – please don’t believe otherwise and don’t stuff those feelings in.

Get them out of you, as much as you can, so that when that baby gets here, all that’s left is

LOVE and HOPE.

I can tell you that ‘it gets easier’ and you may feel like punching me – I might if I were you.

But please, please don’t give up on this baby. Or yourself. Ever.

I beg you – don’t place limitations on this child you haven’t gotten to meet yet.

Instead, choose to picture this child doing wonderful and amazing things.

Being healthy. Brave. And fighting hard.

And being so full of life, and joy, and LOVE that you will be utterly floored.

Please celebrate the little victories as well as the big ones.

(Often those that seem ‘little’ to others are GIGANTIC to us.)

Know that while your family may not fit into the “typical” or “normal”, what you have will become your normal, and it will just be what it is. (Plus, after Vallyn’s diagnosis a friend said to me “Well, normal is boring anyway!”)

When you feel ready, please reach out to other mamas who are going through what you are.

(I cannot emphasize this enough!)

They will be a source of strength, knowledge, laughter, tears and support.

Please also contact your local Down Syndrome organization. They can help connect you with resources and with other families. (That’s how I found my other mamas!)

I have not forgotten all the times along this path that have been so hard.  And I’m sure there will be more hard times for us in the future.

But I do know where I am now and I am so thankful.

Brave mama, you are so strong.

You can do this.

It may not feel like that now and you may feel beat up, but I know you will survive.

And please know that you are being trusted with, and gifted with, a very special child.

So give that little baby in your tummy a love pat, think good thoughts, and don’t stop dreaming!

Because dreams can come true. Even dreams we didn’t know we had.

With much love and MANY CONGRATULATIONS on your baby,

A mama with a beautiful girl that has Down Syndrome, and who I wouldn’t trade for the world

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Resources on Down Syndrome:

Down Syndrome Pregnancy

Support for Parents Preparing for the Birth of  Child with Down Syndrome

National Down Syndrome Society

National Down Syndrome Congress

Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Rocky Mountain Down Syndrome Association

You can find more of Cassie’s writing at Expectant…

Great ideas for putting the phone down and being present with your kids.

Ring the alarm: The Phone is on

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I’m calling it CPADD – cell phone attention deficit disorder and I’m guilty of it. Are you?

I like to think I am pretty good at being present. I’m a good listener. I can shut the world out and focus on a task. I play with my son. I do yoga. I read. Books and articles start to end. I do breathing exercises while sitting in heinous traffic jams.

So why can’t I put down the phone when I’m at home? Why do I need to bring it to the park? It has a camera right? For safety, ah ha. Why do I need to have my phone in my line of vision for 80% of my day?

Great ideas for putting the phone down and being present with your kids.

 

In my city, using a cell phone while driving is illegal. Distracted driving comes with a fine of $400, a potential court fee, a potential fine of $1000 if you receive a summons or fight your ticket and three demerit points applied to your driver’s record (we have a total of 6 points). Our governing bodies have had to police hand held use in vehicles yet every day you can see people using their phones in their car. What is it about our nature to want to be everywhere all the time? Why do we feel the need to respond to emails/texts/call immediately? What is it about the present that is so daunting that we need to escape it?

Something that resonates with me from my travels in Northern Canada is the idea of sitting silence. To paraphrase a dear friend of mine, Paul Andrew, “learning to sit in silence and be with yourself is a great challenge, but offers great rewards.”

We all have tasks and needs that require our attention, of course. But since I’m not in a profession that demand that I be ‘on call’, why can’t I put away my phone when I’m parenting my son? Why can’t I be present in extended moments of time with the people I’m closest to?

Since I’m the only one who can change my CPADD as I’ve yet to hear of a law for distracted parenting, I’m putting myself on a challenge and calling out to others who want to join me in opening even just a small part of the day to be cell-phone free. There’s a basket that sits in our front hallway that acts as a catch all for keys, mail, lip balm, sunglasses. And it’s now officially been made my free zone. The place where I drop my phone when I get home that allows for two things: one, my phone has a place to be out of my sight and reach and two, I can be present with my family for the precious hours in the day we have together.

It’s a challenge, for sure. But just when the urge to reach out and see what is going on ‘out there’ creeps in, I tune in to a softer inner voice, that of Paul reminding me of the rewards to sitting silence. Of being present, of parenting as best I can, in play and in guiding, in the sound of wind or music or laughter and tears in the playground or at home that need nothing more then my acknowledgment and being. Hands free.

10 Small Things That Make My Day Brighter

10 Small Things That Make My Day Brighter

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Life has gotten so much busier since Jack started half-day school, 5 days a week. I truly thought life would breathe a little easier once the school year began. Although I laugh every day at my naiveté, we couldn’t be happier with the decision to send him to our small, heartfelt Montessori school. He runs right into class every day.  It makes me so proud to see him loving this new part of his life but I have to admit that I’ve felt a wave of emotions these last several weeks. My little boy is in school! Our long days together have come to an end. Sniff. Sniff. Etc. Etc.

Need a pick me up? Check out these ideas for appreciating the moment.

In times of big change and big emotions I like to take a step back, take a deep breath, and look around at all the little things that make my day brighter. The following is a list (with helpful links) of my ten favorite things of the moment.

  1. I purchased this bento box from Zulily.com nearly two years ago in anticipation of making school lunches. Am I the only one who can’t pass on a good deal?  I thought it would be a great way to eliminate Ziploc bags and even more fun to get creative with food. Boy, was that an understatement.  I’ve had a total blast (most mornings) making food fun for little dude. Sliced cheddar in the shape of tiny teddy bears was a big hit.
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  2. If you want to give yourself a kick in the pants, GET A FIT BIT. The holidays are coming up. Make sure to get your letter to Santa in the mail now.
  3. After Pops gets Jack to school in the morning, it’s an absolute treat when his sister graces me with an extra hour of slumber because that means I can have my favorite breakfast-of-the-moment in solitude. There is no better start to the day than with a bowl of blueberry oatmeal and a piping hot cup of coffee.
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  4. On the days that I’m thrown in the driver seat full throttle I turn to my new friend The Complete Cookie. These little vegan, kosher nutritional gems are conveniently perforated into two servings. For a full cookie it’s 16 g protein and 6 g of fiber. They have many delicious flavors but at this moment peanut butter cookie is my favorite.
  5. Two books that I would highly recommend…
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    Mom’s One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book. This is one of those grab in a fire things for me. It is so wonderful to look back on my babies’ lives and see what they were doing each day and how they’ve changed. This is a wonderful gift you could give to new parents. There have been many days when Albert has picked up the pen and taken over too. I love that this book is chocked full of love and so much pride. What a treasure!
  6.  Small Victories (Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace) by Anne Lamott. She is such a breath of fresh air. I laugh, cry, and ponder when I read her books.
  7. Tortilla wraps have become a bit of an obsession for me. I’m especially fond of the big spinach ones by Mission that only set me back 210 calories. The following is a quick list of what I’ve put in wraps lately; Spring mix, spinach, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, smoked Gouda cheese spread, black beans, crab cake, tuna salad, Trader Joe’s roasted eggplant dip (2 tbsp 30 calories), hummus, peppers, cucumbers, pasta salad, cannellini beans, edamame, etc. The list goes on and on. The key to a healthy, happy wrap is portion control with a variety of fillings. So yummy and for someone who gets in a rut with meals, perfect.
  8.  When I saw these Saucony tennies (found here on Amazon) on the sale rack at Nordstrom ($25!!!) I knew they were coming home with me.  My Emmaline has a teeny tiny fondness for all things shoes. I blame it on her Nana and her turquoise sequined house shoes that E has been after since birth. My Mom informed me recently that those slippers have been bequeathed to my sweet daughter. For now, she will have to slum it in these wee things.
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  9. IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Under Eye Concealer & Hello Light Liquid Brightener. These early mornings aren’t doing my under eye area any favors. I picked this up at Ulta for half off during their recent 21 days of beauty. A Beauty Blender sponge works really great with this product.
  10. Radio Flyer Ultimate Wagon. This contraption was a well thought out purchase for us. Sadly we have not taken it to an amusement park or major outdoor excursion yet, but those times they are a coming. We have been enjoying this as a way to wind down our evening taking a nice stroll after dinner and before we settle in to the night time routine. It’s easy enough for big boy to pull when he feels inclined and handles like a dream. Cup holders and a pouch that fits a good sized picnic are also a plus.

I would love to hear about all the little happy things that bring joy to your lives, especially on those slumpy days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practical advice for helping friends when their child is critically ill.

Parent to Parent: Helping Families with a Critically Ill Child

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As we wave goodbye to September, we also wave goodbye to the “go gold” ribbon month of Childhood Cancer Awareness. Did you know that in the month of September alone, approximately 14,600 children worldwide were diagnosed with cancer? (St. Baldrick’s Foundation) That’s about 486 kids per day… and 486 families whose lives will never be the same. I know that ours hasn’t.

Serious childhood diseases are devastating, and they do not discriminate. We know that children get sick every day of every month from cancer and many other debilitating diseases. The family of a critically ill child may pull back, isolating themselves physically and socially, but there are ways that family and friends can show support. What if that child is your own? How can you ask for help?

Practical advice for helping friends when their child is critically ill.

As a parent of a childhood cancer survivor, what I’d like to say is that friends and family will be supportive and understanding. That might be the case, but not always. No one can truly understand what it’s like to be in the whirlwind of a childhood disease. It’s living, intensified, and not everyone understands or sometimes cares to. Here are a few hard-earned, parent-to-parent tips:

Not everyone will understand, nor should you expect them to. Your friends will continue to have lives that revolve around politics, work squabbles, half-yearly sales, and soccer tournaments. Your friends might post trivial things to Facebook or Instagram at the exact moment you feel your life is caving in. No one can truly understand the journey unless he or she has set foot on the path, so be gentle with people. I wouldn’t wish parenting a child with a serious illness on my worst enemy.

Set limits. Think hard about the people you let into the sacred space of your life. Limit time with friends who attract drama or crisis of their own. The same goes for those who swim in an ocean of negativity. This is a hard thing to do. I know because I’ve been there. In survival and recovery modes, try to surround yourself and your family with kind, compassionate, unassuming people. That’s a tall order, but one you will appreciate later. Be attentive to your child’s needs. Even a room full of kind, compassionate, unassuming helpers can be too much at times. Be a champion for your child. Sometimes that means limiting visitors. Ask your child if he or she wants visitors before inviting. Likewise, parents can become overwhelmed. Take a social break if you need it. Or take a mental break. Ask your loved ones to call before visiting to see if it’s a good time or not. People shouldn’t just drop by unannounced. If they do, have a loving conversation: “You know we love to see you, Aunt Phyllis. We want to make sure your visits are special. Please give a call next time so that we can pick a time that’s best for you and for Timmy.” Make sure to let friends and family know that sometimes it’s a day-to-day thing. Kids can unexpectedly spike a fever or suddenly feel ill. Ask loved ones for their patience. Put scheduled visits on a master calendar.

If you need it, ask for help. Generally speaking, people want to help and aren’t sure how. Speak up if someone asks what they can do for you and you can think of something specific. It might be picking up a sibling from school or bringing a hot meal or coming by the hospital to watch your child so you can take a shower. You might consider asking someone to help you build a CaringBridge site or a Facebook page. Post any needs or “wish list” items. Here are some ideas:

  • Gift cards: Starbucks, Subway, Amazon, gas, supermarket
  • Gift card to a nearby restaurant that delivers
  • Hot meals
  • Babysitting for siblings (for a parent date night or a “short break” respite)
  • Small household tasks: a load of laundry, dishes, shopping, taking out the trash
  • Help with the yard: mowing, edging, weeding, watering
  • Caring for pets: walking the family dog, feeding and watering
  • Movies: funny or upbeat titles
  • Books (for the child and parent): age appropriate and interest-based
  • Puzzles, games, coloring books and crayons

Drop expectations, appreciate what comes. Like many things, this might be easier said than done. However, letting go of expectations will save you grief in the end. We get into trouble when we expect people to act a certain way or to do a certain something. It’s a better plan to expect the unexpected and appreciate what does come your way. You have little control over what others do or do not do. We can’t control others, but we can control our response to what happens (or what doesn’t). Take on an attitude of gratitude and assume the best of people. Assume that people are doing the best they can with what they have. Assume that people would come to visit if they could.

Know early that you may lose friends. To be blunt: some folks don’t know how to handle sickness or grief, so they disappear. It happens. These friends and family members may come back when things settle down, and when that happens, you can decide if their love and/or friendship is still of value to you.

You will also gain new friends, if you are open to the experience. If you are having trouble connecting, look into a parents’ group that either meets in-person or online. One of my greatest joys was becoming a part of online support communities. You might also meet parents from your child’s doctor or specialist, at the hospital, or from living in a facility like the Ronald McDonald House. Exchange information, get the digits of your new pals, reach out to them, and keep it positive. Parents and their children can support one another!

Be respectful. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need a reminder, but parenting a child with a serious illness is far from a perfect world. Do your best to extend basic courtesy to others. If you must, walk away. Count to ten or twenty or one hundred and twenty. I found it helpful to keep a gratitude journal, a small thing I could keep in my purse to jot down notes about things that made me or my child happy. Looking back, we gave thanks for some funny things. I still smile today thinking about quality toilet paper and the first flowers of spring. Extend your gratitude outward and others will feel it.


Parenting a sick ill child is challenging. We can feel isolated and alone at the very time we need kindness and connection. Whether you are the parent of a sick child or want to support a family in need, the very best thing you can do is to keep an open heart. Ask for help if you need it and offer help to others if you are able. ♥