Avoiding the label – and why it matters

When I was a graduate physical therapy student at West Virginia University, I was blessed with some incredible professors. I learned from, worked side by side with, was challenged by, and inspired by some amazing professionals that taught my classmates and I about the many basics and specialized area of the practice of physical therapy. This morning, I was thinking about of my favorites. Dr. Mary Beth Mandich was (and is) the chair of the PT department and is a pediatric specialist. She inspired me through the research she did, the collaboration and influence she had on the NICU department at our university’s medical center, and her deep knowledge in many pediatric interventions. And while I remember all of that, it is something different that I remember most about her. Often times, when discussing a case, or teaching, it becomes automatic for a therapist (or other medical professional) to describe the patient by their diagnosis. For example, “I had a 54 year old right hemi,” to describe someone who had a hemiplegic stroke. This was a NO-NO in Dr. Mandich’s code of ethics. I remember her passionately explaining to us, that these people, OUR patients, were people, not diagnoses. She firmly but passionately explained that “that hemi” could be a father, a son, a golfer, a dreamer, a wood maker, a friend, and a sports fan. Labeling them by their diagnosis lessened their individuality and lessened the focus on WHY it was so important for us to do the best job we could to rehabilitate them. When someone would slip and label their patients by diagnosis, Mr. Mandich wouldn’t lecture or belittle us. She, like a seasoned Mom, would give us “the look” until we caught our own mistake and corrected ourselves. That lesson of love has stuck with me for 13 years of practice.

I am married to an occupational therapist. This is helpful when we can support each other with knowledge and experience in out own fields and quirky and weird when we have conversations on the beach about people’s gait deviations as they walk by. Yes, most couples might comment, “Wow, look at those abs!” Brent and I say, “Wow, what an antalgic hip…it needs replaced!” Strange, I know. Anyway, Dr. Mandich’s lesson has even permeated our marriage! When my husband comes home and says, “I had this below knee amputee today,” I now give him “the look,” and he quickly corrects to “I had a man today who had a below knee amputation.” He’s gotten pretty good at avoiding the label over the years himself!

So I was thinking about Dr. Mandich and labels today. Is it human nature to label people? Is it easier for us if we can put them in clearly defined little boxes? I think it might be. We do it all the time, but it doesn’t mean it is a good thing. We label other mothers….”Type A, Anti-vax, homeschooling, drill sargent, stage mom, granola cruncher”…whatever. We do it to professionals in our lives…”the grouchy teacher, the inattentive doctor, the crazy post lady.”  We even do it to our kids! “This one is lazy. That one is high strung.”

Here’s the thing. It’s true that these labels might be ONE describer of an individual (or maybe not). But would you want to be identified by just ONE word? I would not. Especially this morning because it would be GRUMPY!

So here’s my Monday morning challenge to myself…and to you.  When you encounter people this week, anyone from the clerk at Target to your spouse, the child you work with to your own child,  try to avoid the label…even in your mind.  And together let’s see what consciously doing so does to change US!

Need a visual inspiration to do so? I love this one!  Have a great week!

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What Can You Do With Ribbon, Marbles, Golf Tees and Pom Poms? We Have Some Ideas for YOU!

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Going into homes to serve children can be tricky when it comes to engaging them.  Therapists can be tempted to take in their own toys because the child will quickly join in the fun when a new toy is presented.  But we certainly don’t want parents to feel pressure to purchase the toys we bring into the homes.  Contrary to popular belief there is no magic in our toys!  So it is often best practice to play with what is available in the home and sometimes that is very little.  It can be heartbreaking to be in homes with not even a single book or stuffed animal.  Until I worked as an EI therapist I thought EVERY child owned at least one of each of those.  So in order to help these children have access to developmentally appropriate toys we often help families create toys out of everyday items that can be found in their homes.  At the request of another early intervention therapist we are posting this blog with photos of a few homemade treasures you can share with the families your serve or your own family at home!  I think creating homemade toys is a great way to engage children and their imagination and drives home to parents that it is not the toy that matters but the “PLAYING” with it that does!  We hope you find an idea here you like but if not be sure to visit our Pinterest DIY PLAY board for more ideas.  And certainly refer to 1-2-3 Just Play With Me for more fun PLAY at home ideas paired with developmental milestones for kids ages birth to three.  PLAY BUILDS BRAINS people!  Spread the news!

 

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Create crazy creatures with plastic golf balls and pipe cleaners

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Putting pom poms into a plastic bottle with the bottom cut off or a paper towel roll tube. Then pull up the bottle/tube for an explosion of pom poms! The mirror adds an element of interest as the little one can watch what they are doing.

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Use a lidded plastic container and a few ribbons. Have the child pull the ribbons through the lid.

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Color matching with play-doh and colored Q-tips.

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Fine motor work with golf tees and marbles. To add more difficulty have the child use tweezers to place the marbles.

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Make a Munchy ball by cutting a slit in a tennis ball. This could be used as a reinforcer as well as work on fine motor strength.

What I learned from a real life superhero without a cape

A few weeks ago, amongst the CRAZY of end of school year activities, we traveled to our state’s capital Charleston, WV.  My youngest daughter won our county’s Young Writer’s Contest for her age and with that came an invitation to spend the day on the University of Charleston’s campus with published authors in writing workshops. Charleston is a 5 hour drive from our home and the event was on a Friday, but there was no way she was missing this one. My mom is an English teacher and literary nut and so for the two of them this was the Superbowl.  So my husband and I and both our mothers (super grandmas) escorted her to the event. Here’s a few pictures from the day.

At the awards ceremony at the end of the day, the winners from each division were chosen to read their entries from the stage into the microphone. As the host of the event gave us an overview of what we were about to hear, my ears (and heart) perked up when he said that the 3-4 grade winner had Autism and would share his entry that gave us a view of what living with Autism is like. My protective therapist nature kicked in and I immediately was concerned for the boy I did not know. Inside my head I thought,

“This room is filled with hundreds of people.”

“They want him to speak in a microphone?”

“There’s an echo in here and loud clapping, will that overwhelm him?”

As Sawyer Hinton from Mingo County approached the microphone, my worries all melted away. This was a composed, bright, confident boy. His thick Appalachian accent required me to intently focus to clearly hear each word, but his message was as clear as could be.  His goal was to share what he knows about Autism as an advocate not just for himself, but for others. He doesn’t consider himself to have a disability, but a superpower. As he finished, the whole auditorium stood and clapped for several minutes. I couldn’t stop the tears just like those around me – men, women, kids – all blubbering. It could have been a scene from a movie.  I was as proud of this kid as I have ever been for my own and I didn’t know him!

My daughter was blessed to be given the opportunity to spend the day with many inspiring teachers and authors, but we were all blessed to hear Sawyer Hinton, who in my opinion had the best sense of himself and the world around him  than any other elementary kid I have ever seen. I only wish I had had a video to show you the incredible moments.

Autism now affects 1 in 68 children in the US. You likely have a relative or a friend with Autism or someone you know has a child with Autism. Sawyer’s goal was to use his day to spread awareness. We’d like to use our blog to help him as he helps others. This boy will do big things in the world. Enjoy! (and please share!) And thank you Sawyer!

Superhero Without a Cape

by Sawyer Hinton

Grades 3-4 winner, Lenore PreK-8, Mingo County

Did you know that not all superheroes wear a cape? I have a superpower that makes me very special. I am completely different from every other 8-year-old that I know. The thing that I call my super power is what most people call Autism. I know that it is normally seen as a disability. But I look at it in a different light. I would much rather call it a special ability. Autism allows me to process everything in the world around me differently than the average child. My family has helped me cope with my diagnosis. So hopefully after reading my story, you will discover that there are superheroes all around you. They just don’t wear capes.

I have been called some really ugly names for being different. But being peculiar is just who I am. I want to explain how you could always turn a disability into a superpower by just looking at things in a different way. Take my obsessiveness of order routine for example. Most people consider that a disability. I, on the other hand, just think that I am more organized than everyone else. Now doesn’t that sound more positive by just changing the words? I prefer to be alone most of the time. But I really have more time to think, read and dream. I come around people in my own time and at my own pace. Is that not how most people get to know one another? I just take a little longer. My brain is larger than normal. Seems to me that is a positive trait. I have room to learn more. One of the stigmas placed on people like me is that we are mentally retarded. That could not be farther from the truth. I am a genius when it comes to certain things. Putting what I know on the outside is what I struggle with. However, the ability to retain information by just hearing or reading it once is definitely a perk. So, has it become more apparent that I am super special? I cannot bear the thought of certain textures, smells, tastes and things that have to do with sensory perception. Guess I am just set in my ways. But isn’t every single person that way? I am a little extreme but still not disabled.

I have not mentioned all the quirky things that I do. But what superhero reveals all his secrets? I just hope that I can make a difference to someone else like me. I urge you to take the time to look at the things that make you different and embrace them. Never accept something as a disability, look at it as a special superpower that makes you unique! Hopefully now you can see the superheroes living all around you.

– See more at: http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140510/GZ05/140519982/1101#sthash.4ocuBaXx.XD82HGUW.dpuf

The Day My Little NINJA Drop Kicked the ANGEL on My Shoulder – MY MESSY BEAUTIFUL

Like so many others my life is MESSY and BEAUTIFUL but I wouldn’t want it any other way.  As a speech-language pathologist I am privileged to serve young children in their homes getting to know their families on an intimate level.  It’s incredibly rewarding to work so closely with those who want to impact their child positively and celebrate every ounce of progress they make.  It is BEAUTIFUL.  And then there are families I work with who are afraid and unwilling to accept their child’s unique challenges, have misinformed and unrealistic expectations for their baby and are dealing with more than just a child with developmental delays, like relationship woes, financial hardships and/or personal illness.  It is MESSY.  But in my 10 years working as an early intervention therapist I have come to love both the MESSY and the BEAUTIFUL.  Because often times in the middle of the MESSY emerges the BEAUTIFUL.  And I am beyond proud to be a part of that!

 

My life as a mom to my 3 children can be somewhat like my work.  BEAUTIFUL are the days I feel confident in my job as their mom, days when everyone is happy, I’ve played with them, everyone is fed and clothed and dinner is made and on the table (somewhat close to dinner time!).  MESSY are the days when I raise my voice too often, days when I feel incompetent, guilty and tired, days when I go to bed at night feeling defeated.

 

The jaws of MESSY about to swallow O and I up!  *Notice the clueless smile on my face!

The jaws of MESSY about to swallow O and I up! *Notice the clueless smile on my face!

 

You know that saying, “You’re preaching to the choir”?  That’s how I feel most days.  Inside my head is the therapist voice saying, “You know they shouldn’t watch more than 2 hours of television a day,” “They need at least 90 minutes of exercise everyday to regulate their sensory system, of course they’re acting up because you didn’t take them outside,” “Why are you yelling, AGAIN, you know that method of discipline isn’t effective”.  The voice that won’t stop!  The voice is like an angel on my shoulder reminding me of what a “good”, well-educated parent should do in each tough situation according to the textbooks.  This voice adds to my guilt and makes me feel my parenting is nothing near BEAUTIFUL but just a hot MESS!

 

My second child, my Owen, challenges me beyond my wildest expectations.  He makes the angel on my shoulder shout even louder, “Why can’t you figure this child out?”  “Where is your expert knowledge now?”  Which in turn makes me feel like I am failing as his mom.  But there came a time in my journey with parenting Owen when even the angel didn’t know what to say.  It was as if my little ninja boy had dropped kicked her right off of my shoulder!  My mommy instincts and my therapist knowledge were both stumped.  With the look of a deer in headlights I thought, “What now?!?!”

 

At my wit’s end, realizing I no longer had any more tricks left in my (parent or therapist) bag I humbly turned to my family, friends and coworkers.  What I saw as only MESSY, my failure to know what to do with my own child, with time and lots of help turned into something BEAUTIFUL.  I struggled to get out of bed, afraid to face another difficult day of battling Owen’s strong will and control seeking behaviors…MESSY.  My coworkers offering their expertise out of the goodness of their hearts, giving me behavior modification and sensory strategies to make our days easier, allowing me to enjoy my son again…. BEAUTIFUL!  Being scared to take on the challenge of beginning a new diet that may or may not help Owen’s behavior, attentiveness and health…MESSY.  Being encouraged by friends that I could do anything for 30 days, council and guidance offered freely by friends who had tried the diet…. BEAUTIFUL!  Navigating the new diet with every outing, birthday party, school and church function so that Owen wouldn’t get anything he shouldn’t have…MESSY.  Owen’s preschool and Sunday school teachers offering to serve snacks that were approved for his diet so that he didn’t feel excluded…BEAUTIFUL!  The guilt that I had messed up and there was no fixing it, that my failure as a mom to my son had ruined him forever…. MESSY.  Kind words from family and friends that we all do the best we can, that we all learn along the way and are forgiven…BEAUTIFUL!   Taking the chance, putting in the extra time to consult with others, the effort required to follow through with suggestions, the headache of staying strictly on the diet to test its effectiveness…hard and MESSY.  The fact that all our hard work paid off, our family has less stress as a whole, and I have been given the unexpected opportunity to personally relate to other moms….ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL!

 

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BEAUTIFUL!

 

In the BEAUTIFUL MESS of my life as both a mom and a therapist I have learned over and over again that we are all in this together, that we all belong to one another, and together we can do hard things.  It was difficult for me to share with others my struggles with figuring out my own kid despite my education and training as an early intervention therapist.  I feared judgment; I felt like exposing my MESS would make me look like a failure as both a mom and a professional.  But once I began putting myself out there to ask and accept help, once the feeling of vulnerability melted away, I felt proud, honest, authentic and more at peace.  Feeling alone, denying yourself the opportunity to be helped by others, pretending to be something you’re not feels MESSY.  Reaching out, accepting help and forgiving yourself feels BEATIFUL.  My hope and prayer is that my confession of my MESSY BEAUTIFUL life will inspire others to embrace their own MESSY BEAUTIFUL life.  That they too will forgive themselves enough to see that from the MESS comes something BEATIFUL if they will only give it a chance.

 

My BEAUTIFUL MESS!

My BEAUTIFUL MESS!

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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“The Look” And What It Silently Says to Me From A Sibling Of A Child With Special Needs

Last week I got the opportunity to speak at career day at my daughter’s school.  I drag my big therapy ball, some thera-band and thera-putty, my anatomy coloring book, a baby doll, and other interesting goodies that I play with every day into the school every time I am asked to do this.  The “regular grown ups” (aka lawyers, mortgage brokers etc.) laugh kindly.

 Last week, I had 20 minutes to share what I felt was most important about the profession I love. And then I did it again 3 more times. 100 4th graders and me. I gab on and on about how Physical Therapy is repetitively listed as one of the “happiest” professions, how great the job outlook is in coming years, and what I love about my job. I share that interested students need to like sciences, can’t be repulsed by touching people, and need to enjoy social interaction with many kinds of people.  I am a total nerd, but I get misty eyed sharing about how I love the teaching part of my job and what a blessing it is to motivate parents who get such satisfaction and joy when they get to be the ones who teach their child to roll, crawl, or walk!

I’ve done this for years for elementary, middle, and high schoolers. Without a doubt, when I ask for questions at the end, I get the same ones every single time – no matter the age.

“Did you ever work with an NFL player, NBA player…Professional Wrestler?”

“What’s the grossest thing you have ever done?”

“How much do you get paid?”

“You dissected a real human in school? Ew. Were they alive or dead? Was there blood? Did you cry? Ew.”

As consistent as these questions are, I am always ready for them. And there’s another one that happens every time as well. Usually when we are almost out of time, a child will somewhat sheepishly raise a hand and when I call on them will ask…

“Have you ever worked with someone with Downs Syndrome?”

 

or

 

“Have you ever worked with someone with Cerebral Palsy?”

 

or

 

“Autism?”

 

No other comments. But none are needed. I get the look and I know. This is the sibling of a child with special needs. No words are needed because the look is enough.

The look says, “I know you get it.”

The look says, “Someone like you has been to my house every week and knows us.”

And, “You know how hard my family works for small things that people take for granted.”

And, “You know how sad it is for us when people make hurtful comments.”

And, “You know that I am often expected to be more patient that most kids my age, and that that isn’t easy, and sometimes I’m resentful, or wish for more attention, and jealous. And you know that I feel bad about that but I still can’t help it.  And you know that despite these sometimes “yucky” feelings, nothing makes me feel more proud than when my sibling overcomes and obstacle or learns something new…because they don’t do it alone…my whole family does.”

Career day is a joy. It’s a day that recharges me with excitement about my job and my calling in this world. But, the sibling “look” gets me every time. 

Sometimes I wonder if those kids can silently read my “look” back to them. If they can, I hope they read,

“You are brave. And strong. And important. Not just because of the kind of sibling you are, but because of who YOU are. All alone. As YOU.”

And I hope they hear, “What you are learning from your sibling experience is compassion, and empathy, and a patience, and an awareness, and gratitude greater than average people will ever even know. And it is a gift. And it will make you do great things in your life.”

And I hope they know, “Your parents love you for you. Not because of what you do to help but for who are you are. Are for the special gifts you yourself have.”

And finally, I hope my look back says, “I get it.” And even though I don’t know you, “I’m proud.”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the kid that asked that question last week and the kids who have asked that same question in the years before.  April is a month dedicated to Autism Awareness, Child Abuse Prevention, Mesothelioma, Children’s Footwear Awareness, National Minority Health Month, and Genocide Awareness & Prevention among others.  All are so important.

But I’m here to say, let’s let every month be awareness of siblings with special needs month….awareness of their own special needs. 

How can you celebrate?

Do you know a sibling of a child with special medical or health care needs?

       Take them out for a special day celebrating just them..doing something they love and often can’t do.

       Better yet, volunteer to watch their sibling so their own parent can do the same.

       Make a donation to the many camps that offer attention and love to these super siblings so that a child can attend. Financial costs are often a struggle for families. Sharing your resources to help a sibling attend camp, or play a sport would be a gift!

       Simply be aware of the challenges with families you know or don’t know. Offer help if you feel comfortable. Offer a smile. A “we are all in this together” wink. All can go a long way.

       Teach your child compassion and friendship by modeling it. Siblings of children with special needs have their own special needs – quality friendship is one!

 

Do you have a child with special medical or developmental needs? How do you feel their siblings are best supported? What are their needs? Join our conversation!

 

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Can you feel the LOVE tonight?

It’s February.  The month of love! Is love in your air?

Love is on my mind. I’m not talking “romantic sweep me off my feet hubby love” (although I do love that kind!) Also not talking about “stare at my beautiful sleeping children in awe and adoration and forget how crazy they made me today love” (yep, guilty of that sometimes too.)

I am talking about love of life.

I had planned on blogging about magnet play today. We’ve been collecting and playing with some really cool magnets (and I promise that post is to come), but the thoughts of loving one’s life has been right in front of my face no matter where I turn for the last few weeks.

I’ll share a few examples.

A few weeks ago, our church took a turn hosting WATTS guests. WATTS is a brilliant idea of love turned into action – that helps churches in our community take turns housing the homeless through the coldest nights of winter. But “housing” seems like a generic word because what people do is much more – they cook, sweat, share, sleep, eat, and visit with guests. In a simpler explanation – they become vulnerable to what happens when we allow ourselves to have deeper exchanges than a casual “hi” as we walk by someone on the street. You know what happens when we open ourselves up, right? We usually get scared, but we also usually receive more than we anticipated. Example #1 – Lulu – with her megawatt smile, who shared the most soulful version of “This Little Light of Mine” with us in the kitchen as a thank you gesture for the meal we shared. As you can guess – not a dry eye.  Example #2 – another guest – we’ll call him “Jim” who was brave enough to show up for our fairly traditional church service for weeks after his stay with us and sit next to a majority of fairly well dressed folks. He beamed as he smiled with pride and shared with me in the hall that this was his “second week here.” He was so proud.So happy.

LOVE.

That same week my husband Brent came home with tears in his eyes.   He is a home health Occupational Therapist and had just left the home of a family where the husband has a terminal illness. He is fed through a feeding tube and kept alive by breathing with the help of a ventilator. That night before Brent left their home, the wife was preparing to tube feed her husband, but first they stopped to say grace and say thank you. They stopped to say thank you.. for a feeding tube – because it help sustain his life. This week, while we all complained about the never ending cold, snow, and ice, he was late coming home because he helped prepare her to use a generator that their friends had gifted them with in case the electric went out – so that she could keep the ventilator going, and he could keep breathing.

LOVE.

 

I talk and write often about the love of my patients and the many gifts they have given me. One special little person I have written about in the past is a friend of mine with Spinabifida. You can read more about his incredible journey HERE. When I first met him, through referral to the early intervention program that I work for, I also met two other little boys with various forms of Spinabifida. They were all born within 4 weeks of each other and all were referred to me at the same time. I knew it wasn’t a coincidence. (side note: in the 5 years since then, I have only had 1 referral for a child with Spinabifida). 3 Families with 3 different initial levels of acceptance to their sons’ diagnoses, 3 different sets of questions, expectations, hopes, and dreams. I could go on forever about this and all they taught me, but what stands out most today is the memory that one of the fathers had a long list of blunt questions regarding his then 4 weeks old infant – Will he walk? Drive a car? Play baseball? Date?.  Of course, I did not have all the answers, but promised we’d do our best together to make him as independent as possible. Fast forward 5 years. These boys are school aged. Many peers their ages are starting activities and sports, and while some activities (like music, art etc) and wonderfully accessible, all sports are not. These sports loving dads did not throw in the towel. They did not accept limitations. They are starting a wheelchair basketball league. They are recruiting, finding practice space, and even finding old adult chairs so they can play with their sons.

LOVE.

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These 3 examples are some of the purest forms of love.

Love of sharing any gift you have. Love of being welcomed and looked at as a person for the first time in a long time. Love that comes from sticking with something for the first time in a long time. Love strong enough to care for another full time. Love of a child in the highest form – acceptance.

Many kinds of love that all have one thing in common – LOVE OF LIFE.

Love of their lives.

Right where they are.

Without complaint.

Without hesitation.

Sure, there might be a wish for something different – permanency, stability, or health – but those wishes don’t threaten that intense love of life.

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It’s been cold, and icy, and snowy here for weeks. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the sun. We’ve been inside – allll together – for a reaaaaalllly long time. It’s easy to fall into winter blues and want for more. Or different. Look around. Find the bright spots  – like Lulu, and “Jim,” and Brent’s patient and his wife, and my brave Dad friends.   In my twenties, looking at these examples would make me feel bad or guilt ridden. I won’t lie – the day he came home, I thought, We can’t even remember to say grace every night for our healthy, warm, homemade food, that we have the luxury of chewing, tasting and swallowing….and they remember to be thankful for a feeding tube.  The difference is – that in my 30’s instead of feeling bad, I feel inspired. I look to those who are bright spots to me and to my family and instead of hearing “You should do better,” I hear, “I want to try harder” and “I want to love like they do.”

As parents, and grandparents, and teachers, and therapists…like it or not…we are the example that has been given to our children. Will we choose to teach them through example to wish for more and hope for different than what we are fortunate to have? Or will we find favor with each day and be the bright spot they will remember to model after?

Go Shine friends! Spread the LOVE!

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Growing Your Own Virtual Village

I’m a big believer in the concept that a village raises a child. Whether it’s your Mommy Posse of friends that become family or your actually family, in my mind, the more people loving a child, the better for that child.

My family is big (in numbers and personalities). Growing up I believed it typical that everyone’s grandmother watched them daily (along with most of their cousins) and cooked dinner for 10 or more people many weekday evenings, 15 or more on weekends, and 40+ on holidays. Everyone does that, right?

Growing up, I also knew there were MANY eyes on me. Eyes that read me stories, eyes that smiled when I had a birthday, a sporting event, or a good report card, and eyes that were watching if I chose to make a bad decision. It was like having many sets of parents — the good and the bad parts (coming from a child’s view) but now, as an adult,  I know it was all good.

My mom has a much younger sister (a surprising joy to our family) and her children were born when I was in my late teens. They moved to Canada but that did not stop the family village. We spoke regularly enough to know, celebrate, discuss, & analyze most of their childhood and teen years – from first steps and words, to first dates, to first day of living in new college apartments. We drove them crazy, but I loved really “knowing” them, despite the geographical distance. (p.s. my hunch is – they will agree with me one day).

As our family grows – and grows – and grows (our next baby is coming in February!), and spreads out across this beautiful world, it could be harder to stay in “the know” with the family, but it hasn’t been…because of the two miracles we call FaceTime & Skype.

As ignorantly irritated as I get when I don’t have wi-fi or our home server is down (how impatient and obnoxious is that?), I am incredibly awed by the fact that I can share a conversation with my cousin Tania in France while she gives her baby a bath at night and I prep dinner. I adore the fact that we get to see Halloween costumes and Christmas gifts live with my cousin Nina’s boys in Colorado. We are able to see my newly married cousin’s exciting house renovations and weigh in on tile and paint choices. I’m amazed that my 83 year old immigrant grandmother spends many hours a day warmed by the virtual presence of her cousins across the globe (literally).  Years ago, they might be luckily to have 1 phone call a year!

And as a mother now myself, I am so thankful that my family stays connected with my daughters and that they learn what life is like all over the place in a “real time” way. My cousins in Kuwait have shown them sand storms out the window of their home. Australian cousins have shared their view of winter even though it is blazing hot summer here in WV at the same time (this BLOWS the kids minds!). My Teta (grandmother) shares live cooking shows of what she is making. My girls read books and share art projects and lost teeth with my in-laws. My Aunt Lisa watched my daughter’s entire 4 year old birthday party via her laptop (yes she’s awesome). Skype and Face time bring those we love and miss right into our living room and next to us at the dinner table.

The aspect that I love the most about the endless opportunities of “virtual visiting” is when it comes to babies. I LOVE my family and I LOVE their new babies even more. It’s actually painful at times not to be able to scoop up those babies, bring over a lasagna and do a load of laundry, or babysit in a pinch when distance forbids it. But visiting through the web is the next best thing. I want the babies in my family to KNOW me and my family. I want to be a part of their village. I want to be the eyes that celebrate, love, and watch out for them.

Our newest baby for the moment is sweet Lilie Rose, who lives in the lovely South of France (lucky her).  (Side note: if you are interested in how having a baby in France differs from the US — Read HERE – it’s our personal family observation). We saw her last April and won’t see her in person again until July.  She has and will change incredible since then, and thanks to Face Time, I haven’t had to miss much. I’m sure I drive my cousin crazy at times, but when I Face Time with her I also do some of the same things, (most of which are act like a total lunatic) because I want her to recognize and know me too. I always sing her the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (it’s our thing) and she now smiles as soon as I start despite the fact that I am a HORRIBLE singer. Family loves you no matter what, right? Here is Lilie and I sharing some time together (excuse the appearance – ehh – It’s because of the time change 🙂

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Banana Phone Call For Miss Lilie Rose

 

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Imitation – she can open her mouth like me (luckily she is not as scary!)

 

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Washed the Spider Out! (her favorite part!)

 

If you have family (or friends that are like family) spread out, do you spend time visiting them via the Internet? What are fun ways you engage with them? If not, I encourage you to give it a try. There are many ideas to connect and play with babies and young kids even if you can’t be in the same room.

Here are some to try:

  • READ – chose the same bedtime story to share repetitively (make it YOUR thing) or introduce new ones.
  • SING –  (even if you are bad – like me). Young children love songs and finger plays (and they really enhance language development).
  • BABBLE AND PLAY – babies learn imitation before they learn conversation (more on that HERE). Be a part of the team that uses purposeful play to start that first conversation.
  • SHARE – Your meal, your home, your yard, your day. Children learn through exposure. Your environment is certainly different that theirs, so play show and tell online!
  • QUESTION – if they are old enough to talk, ask questions. How was their day? Where is their favorite toy? Can they jump yet? Ask them to show you!

Need more ideas to enhance purposeful play in person or online? Click here! (We ship for free and can include a personal gift card when sent as a gift!) 

 

I am Physical Therapist. I don’t have extended formal training on how the minds of young children emotionally develop. I am not a child psychologist, but I am a daughter, a mother, a niece, a sister, a granddaughter, a daughter and sister in law, a cousin and a BELIEVER that growing the number of people who love and are involved with your child can only be a good thing.  It was for me. I know it will be for my girls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings From The Other Side – What I learned From A Much Overdue Girls Trip

Hi there.

It’s me, writing from the other side.

Yep, that other side. The side where children sleep through most nights, get on a bus and are away from you for 8 hours daily, and when they toilet so independently that you can longer discuss their bowel patterns with your spouse.

Yes, there is actually this side. It’s kind of odd at first, like visiting a foreign land where you keep looking around for “your people.” Just like when you became a parent for the first time, you feel a little awkward and unsure of your role and your place in line.  You have a smaller purse and no longer carry baby wipes or a change of clothes. It’s weird, and foreign, and oddly unfamiliar, despite the fact that you spent a much larger percentage of your life in this world (Bk Read: Before Kids) that the one that feels comfortable to you.

But there are some serious perks too. Date nights, uninterrupted exercise (and other things), feeding yourself  while not simultaneously feeding someone else, and none greater than sleep.  Oh yea – and there’s another – travel. BY. YOUR. SELF.

I know it’s not everyone’s thing, but I love to travel. I love to see new places, meet new people, sit and people watch, taking in what the daily rhythm of random places feels and sounds like. I like asking waiters what “the thing” is on the menu the town in known for, and buying trinkets made from local crafters. I grew up in a family that also loved to travel. My mother’s talent for scoring deals combined with the fortune of having relatives that worked for the airlines made travel possible for the daughter of a teacher and plumber and that is one of many things I am thankful to my parents for. When I met my husband, we traveled together (gratefully he enjoys travel adventures as much as I do), and when our daughters were born, we held tight to our belief that seeing the world and experiencing life as others do, is not only essential to development of self, but is…well, super awesome. So we mastered closing a stroller and popping it back up through long security lines at the airport like masters, carted them around in carriers on our bodies while pulling wheeled luggage and balancing car seats in the other arm, packing our SUV to the roof with snacks, baby gear, and enough entertainment to go hours in the car.We ignored naps and routines many times in favor of jetting to new time zones and chose spending any extra cash on travel (places both close and far) over new clothes (I’d rather be in Hawaii in my old Target t-shirt with holes in it than home with a new spring wardrobe any day) or an updated house. We took an 11 month old and a 2 year old to Hawaii. 11 hours flying. YES. WE. DID. All in the name of exposing our kids to the world (never mind neither of them have ANY memories of the newborn whale nursing from it’s mother 7 feet from us. Oh well — another reason to go back!)

But here’s the thing, even though having kids did not stop me from traveling, it did stop me from traveling the way I used to. I don’t mean ultra posh resorts with all inclusive bars. I mean, having a whole hour to read a book. I have been a mother for almost 10 years and I have not traveled alone or with girlfriends for reasons other than work (read: child development therapists having dinner while discussing rising Autism rates – what a party!). So when I had the opportunity to join my Aunt at one of the nicest resorts in North America at a reasonable price (just plane ticket and meals) AND bring a friend – I couldn’t resist. We planned and I spent lots of time with my friends over at Trip Advisor. We aligned scheduled and secured child care (aka Daddy back up – thank you grandparents) and all was good… until my Aunt’s plans changed and we were forced with decision to still go or not. After much deliberation, we voted YES. Why not? Spontaneous choices are healthy, right? Except that rocking a 7 year old to sleep while she sobs that she doesn’t want you to leave her (WHY does this not happen when their adored father goes on guy trips?) and spending more time writing out directions by the day for your husband (“What day does she go to dance again, honey? …really?) and laying out clothes for the week complete with notes for what shoes and headbands to wear takes more time than actually flying across the continent. No wonder so many women don’t indulge themselves with time away on a girls trip. Is it really worth the hassle of (heaven forbid) arranging life without you?

I am here to say, yes, ladies, it is. And while you have all the options in the world (we keep reminding ourselves, we don’t have to hurry for ANYONE. No kid. No dog. No doctor appointment. No practice. No PTA), there is one undeniable fact. Becoming a mother changes you forever. And no matter how far you travel or how long you are away, they are never far from you. I am writing this from a time zone 2 hours away from home, but I got up at 4:50 because that’s when I would be up to get kids ready so we don’t miss the bus. I keep forgetting to shut the bathroom door (because no one is going to interrupt me). I only have 1 carry on and 1 personal item. Only 1. No booster seat. I could read on the plane – or sleep. You know what I did?

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Yes. I found this guy. His mom was having a rough day flying alone and he liked us. (I almost tried to keep him and I think she might have considered given her level of tiredness).

Even though they never leave us, it is good for us to leave them. If you can rip the bandaid off quickly and give yourself time to think or be quiet enough to listen to what you need to hear, you won’t miss the message. You’ll know that reminding yourself about the woman you are will make you a stronger mother. Showing our children that we have interests (outside of them) provides a strong example of self and a positive model of a work/life/service balance. We are their first and most influential teachers. We know this without a single doubt when considering the responsibility of teaching manners, or letters and numbers, or our faith practices. Why don’t we consider it within the context of us being individuals – and not just their Moms?

It took me almost ten years to get the courage (and lose the guilt) to take the plunge (and I still almost chickened out), but I am happy I did. They are surviving this week and so am I. When I get back, I am certain we will appreciate each other more. Plus, I got to see this yesterday morning, and drink a whole cup of fresh coffee. That I didn’t make. And I didn’t have to reheat in the microwave – not even once.

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Knowing when the time is right for you to step away and recharge may come at a different season than it does for a friend. But I am here to say, whenever that opportunity presents, it is worth it dear girl. Promise yourself, that even if it is a short drive away to see an old pal, that you will eventually gift yourself (and your children), with the opportunity to see the world through another’s eyes — perhaps the eyes of the very person you are right now, because even though THEY are never far from us, if we aren’t careful WE can travel far from ourselves.  And there really is no place like home.

Dear 28 year old Mommy (aka the me I used to be),

Dear 28 year old New Mother (otherwise known as ME),

There are some important things you need to know. Things that I need to tell you not only to make your days a little easier, but more importantly so that you can stop being so hard on yourself.

First of all, you have 2 girls (drama for the mama assumed in this case) that are 21 months apart. Forget the clean house and burn those to-do lists. They will only leaving you with the dread of disappointment when in fact, you are accomplishing HUGE things – you are raising two future women, mothers, friends, daughters, healers, helpers, listeners…two future warriors. Here’s your new to-do list: If everyone is safe, fed, relatively clean, and happy for at least part of the day – you are WINNING!

Feel the stress of “keeping up” creeping up next to you? Give it the face palm, sista. Your babies don’t need more toys, classes, or lessons. They need more you. On the floor..hugging, singing, and sometimes even just napping next to them! Tune out most of that exterior noise and listen to the coos and giggles next to you, for they will soon turn into nonsensical whining and bickering about trivial topics like…WHY.DON’T. I.HAVE .ANY .SHOES. TO. WEAR? (while looking at a closet full of shoes). Coos and giggles are magic friend.   P.S. The one thing you should buy and play more with.. is BLOCKS. Here’s why (remember your struggle with Physics?)

Some things you are going to be good at. Others you are not. This mothering thing is not unlike your experiences in gym class years ago (sports that involve just you – you fare decently. Throw a ball in the mix…well, at least you tried). Just like you did with softball, try harder every day, but find peace accepting both your strengths and weaknesses. Do you expect your daughters to be wonderful and simply amazing at everything they ever try? I thought so. Give yourself the same consideration.  You deserve it.

On that note, I’ll give you a sneak preview – you are totally gonna rock breast feeding, potty training, and ignoring things in favor of play and naps (see above). Sleep on the other hand – like I said, we all have our gifts. Stop comparing yourself. Yes, your dearest friend is like a sleep fairy that magically kisses her awake (no joke) baby and places her in that gorgeous basinette to fall into hours of glorious slumber. Yes, you will nurse, rock, rock while walking, rock while placing down, rock the crib, and keep rocking yourself while you walk out of the nursery door every night, only to have those babies scream out for you when you hit the door. Yes, you will read (or will ask your sweet husband to read) many books on sleep, you’ll make feable attempts to Ferberize your sweet girls, you’ll talk to the pediatrician about your noble efforts with no success, and you will lie for 20 minutes that feel like an 20 hours with a pillow over your head trying to not cry and lactate at the same time. In the end, you will cuddle that precious gift next to you – exhausted, guilt ridden but relieved at the same time, and you will only sleep with one eye open anyway for fear you will suffocate her. You are weak, but it’s ok (potty training will come soon and it will be REDEMPTION time). Keep trying, but accept who you are!

Going to a friends house for a playdate? Bring a blindfold – just in case! If you see site words labeling the toy room – put it on! Take a deep breath and remind yourself what you know – what you studied & believe. Small children should not be forced into learning to read too early. The brain is not actually ready until 6 YEARS OLD – you have time, dear girl. Read books every day, label vegetables in the grocery store and sing about them while people look at you like a lunatic, dig in the dirt, jump in the rain puddles, don’t forget the blocks, but don’t worry about that baby reading yet.  Your friends know this too – they just see other play rooms, with other site words, and they worry too. ** Spoiler alert – one day not too long from now, your soon to be 5 year old will teach your soon to be 3 year old how to read while playing (gasp) school, all the while –  you will be doing work in the next room (feeling guilty for not being the female version of Mr. Rogers while your children suffer alone). When people become shocked that the 3 year old can read, you’ll swear up and down you had absolutely nothing to do with it and they wont believe you – until, the 3 year old tells the nice people that Mommy was busy and that her sister taught her everything she knows (breathe – embrace the weakness and the strength (siblings are the best gift to each other, and you always wanted a sister yourself).

Things happen because you and your lovely little family need them to. Stop feeling cheated out of a natural childbirth. Listen to that doctor when she says that if you had a baby with your large headed husband in the olden days, both you and your baby wouldn’t be here. Some things are meant to be – your C-section was one of those things. You are allowed to always be mad that they made you wait so long to hold pink bundle #1, but you redeemed yourself and got assertive 21 months later with even pinker bundle #2. Look for the silver lining. Always. One day, you will be one of few thirty some year old mothers, who can jump rope and sneeze safely.

Another thing, those ladies all around you. Your Mommy Posse. They are a GIFT from above. You are already realizing this one. Cherish them and their babies. They are your lifelong family. Others come and go, but those that brought you magical ice packs for mastitis, walked miles with you and your ridiculously heavy stroller,  rescued #1 when #2 screamed 22 out of 24 hours a day with undiagnosed acid reflux, and listened while you heard yourself think out loud about how you were going to make all these important child rearing decisions…those chicks – they are FOREVER YOURS.

You might lose some of that baby weight. You might not. But one day you will think back and belly laugh about the time you set up the Pack-n-Play next to the treadmill, carefully placing the puffs container in the cup holder so you could haphazerdly spill the puffs into/on top of the children to keep them happy for…just…twenty…minutes of heavenly exercise. You will give up the dream of a two piece bathing suit and embrace the reality of health, strength, and a positive example of self image  for your daughters. And that will be way sexier to your husband anyway.

Speaking of him. He’s a gem. Remember that. You are going to go to dinner one day soon when your generous mothers insist you have a date night. You will stare at each other – exhausted – and not know what to say to each other. This will FREAK YOU OUT and you will wonder what happened to “you.” Keep trying. “You” are still there. “You” always will be. Give it 18 months, a good shower, and a few nights in a row of decent sleep. It does wonders. Don’t worry. “You” still got it babe.

Some things will change. Like most things in life, while you will still have some insecurities, but you will get confident with practice. Trust yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to not sweep your floor. Don’t be afraid that you always seem to have baby puke on you. You do. But it’s ok. No one cares.

A few years down the road, your 9 year old (excuse me, HOW did this happen?) will stumble in to your room at 1:00 am sleep walking with a zombie look in her eyes and mumbling about her state mandated standardized testing (another blog – another day) and you will feel guilty because you failed the whole sleep thing – and well, now there’s this. You will look at her face, and her sister’s —  once they are soundly and peaceful (even if briefly) asleep and you will still wonder why YOU were trusted with these incredible human beings.

And you will take a deep, confident breath, and go to sleep, waking to be a more confident and more rested version of the self you are today. And you will be satisfied with trying your best and spending less time worrying and more time saying “Thank you.”

Love,

Your soon to be 36 year old self

P.S. Remember that friend with the angelic sleeper? One day you guys will put your crazy heads together and dream about the resource you wish you had when you became Moms…the thing that tells you that YOU are all your baby needs (with some mud, blocks, and pots & pans). And you will work. And sweat, And cry. And pray. And talk – alot. And one day – you will make THIS. And she will write all the parts about SLEEPING. And you will write all the parts about POTTY TRAING. And your 36 year old self will find peace with her parenting skills with sleep – because, there is always a silver lining.  ALWAYS. And that child who would NEVER nap on a schedule, can now sleep ANYWHERE at ANY TIME. YOU ARE WINNING MY FRIEND! KEEP IT UP!

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INCLUDING THE TRUNK OF YOUR SUV AT AN OUTDOOR TAILGATE WHEN YOUR ALMA MATER IS IN THE THICK OF A SUPER CLOSE FOOTBALL GAME!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Time To Thank a Teacher

Did you know this week is teacher appreciation week? Here at Milestones & Miracles, we both have been busy bees helping our children’s schools show appreciation for the many things our teachers bless our children with.

Teachers have the occupation that might have the longest lasting impression on a child. Besides parents, who we believe are THE best first teachers, those who teach spend their time, share their talent, and leave their individual stamps on our children’s passports of learning.

I was thinking about those teachers who did the same for me and how fresh their personalities remain in my memory.  Mrs. Pietration (3rd grade) had beautiful long red hair and I can still remember her voice reading Super Fudge to our class as we rested our sweaty heads on our desk after recess (back when recess was long enough to work up a sweat!). Mrs. Serdy (4th grade) sparked my love of science and tapped into my creative side by letting us have countless class pets (from plants, to butterflies, to hamsters) and helping us “self publish” our own class newspaper.  Mrs. Kendrick(8th grade) made math enjoyable for me and helped me realize that God was present in all I did. Mr. Quattrone (High School) introduced me to my loves of Physiology & Anatomy and planted the seed that is now my vocation – being a Physical Therapist. Dr. Corrie Mancinelli (graduate school)showed me by example and gentle nudging what female medical professionals could do.

Teachers work hard. My mother has been teaching for over 40 years. She never stops learning. She never stops grading papers or finding new books or creative ways to encourage her students to write.  More importantly, she reads what they write (even though often this makes her worry), and does what she can to build confidence and offer support to help children aim higher than a good grade in her English class — she helps them reach for a better life.

When I think of my Mom, my own teachers, and the amazing people who encourage, challenge, and love my daughters as much as I love them myself (and I believe that), I’m almost breathless. We trust teachers with much, and my family has been blessed with much.

Take time this week to thank a teacher. Write a former one of your own or send a note to your child’s teacher. Speaking as the daughter who has read the letters my non-scrap booking mother has tenderly tucked into a portfolio, YOUR WORDS MATTER. They make the low pay, snotty noses, and federal test guidelines worth it. These selfless individuals got into teaching because they wanted to change lives. Gift them by reminding them how they have changed yours!

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