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Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Last 6 Months...and the Rest of Our Lives

I have completely neglected this blog for the last 6 months.  I have a solid reason, though.  That reason:

This guy.  You see, about the same time the blog went dark, my son got sick.  

What the public knows:  

Jack has Selective Mutism (a severe anxiety disorder leaving the sufferer paralyzed and incapable of communicating in situations deemed stressful or uncomfortable, occurring in only .001% of the population), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (both an anxiety and neurological disorder that can be managed through very specific therapy, but never cured and has the ability to completely control one's life, occurring in only .3% of the pediatric population), Separation Anxiety Disorder (an anxiety disorder that severely distresses the sufferer when separation from a trusted person - in this case, me, his mama - is real or perceived, leaving one unable to function normally in life, occurring in only 4% of the population), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (a disorder causing excessive anxiety and worry regarding the real, theoretical, and perceived, occurring in just 10% of the population), and Sensory Processing Disorder (a neurological condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses - in his case, sound, sight, and crowds are triggers, occurring in just 5% of the population). Jack is in therapy for his conditions and works harder than anyone I've ever known to defeat his demons, but more support is definitely necessary. 
Here's where you come in. You buy a shirt, the funds go Little Angels Service Dogs where they work tirelessly for Jack and others like him. They train the dog, we train with the dog, we bring home the dog, Jack and dog live happily and peacefully ever after. 

A service dog would offer Jack peace. It's as simple as that. It would help distract and redirect him when his OCD rears up its ugly head, provide boundary control for him in crowds, signal an oncoming anxiety attack, give lap pressure during times of undue stress, and give him an overall sense of being understood and more in control. Peace. Don't we all deserve that? Certainly, our children do. 

Jack is just the coolest kid ever. He loves tennis, pottery, reading, Greek mythology (he's currently sporting a cap, so no one can see his satyr horns), make-believe, Calvin and Hobbes, camping, wolves and cheetahs, hiking, and snuggling with his mama. Those with SM are often gifted, which is the case with the young lad. He astounds us every day with his critical thinking, adult-sized vocabulary, quick wit, and genuine caring and empathy. The kid is a riot! Of course, not many get to see him in full bloom, because of his anxieties. They're crippling, which is heartbreaking for his parents who love him desperately. Given the low prevalence of his conditions and the rad fact that he's a redhead (only about 1% of the population), to say that he is a rare gift is an understatement! We want the world to see him in his full and unique glory. Y'all don't know what you're missing!

What I'm sharing with you all exclusively:

My son has always been a worrier.  He came out that way.  Oh, he is happy and active and smarter than anyone I know, but so. much. concerns him, gives him crippling worry.  The doorbell ringing would send him into a panic wondering who it was and why.  Making decisions on what to have for dinner was enough to cause near hyperventilation.  Even his dad coming home from work after dark would bring him to tears.

My son has always been terrified of the two of us being separated.  I don't mean he has bouts of clinginess or that there are certain instances when he's afraid for me to leave.  I mean, there are times when we are not able to be more than inches away from one another, let alone even in different rooms of our own home.  

My son has always been sensitive.  Crowds (what I call "physical chaos"), sights ("visual chaos"), and sound ("audio chaos") can bring him to his knees and throw his world into, well, chaos.  He wears ear protection to the movies, his tennis coach does "whisper cheers" instead of a raucous chant at the end of practice, we avoid places we know there will be an abundance of people, we keep things simple as often as we're able to control that.  

My son has always been quiet around strangers and those he does not know quite well.  This includes children.  He has had one friend in his life and they're no longer in touch.  He's not just "shy," he's panicked when someone speaks to him.  I can count the number of people he talks to on two hands and have fingers left over.  Anyone outside of those eight people is met with his back when they try to engage him as he burrows his face into me.

About 10 months ago, my unschooled boy surprisingly decided he wanted to try kindergarten.  It shocked the heck out of me, but it's his life, so we got him registered at the local public Montessori school, his dad even got a job as teacher there, and we set off to get supplies, meet new teachers, familiarize, and, most of all, pump each other up about this new adventure.  He was all in.  

Months before school turned into weeks before school and I began to noticed a change.  Seemingly overnight, he became interested in the proper way to wash his hands.  He began asking about this or that having germs.  At first, I wrote it off as him just being an inquisitive guy, which he'd always been.  I thought this was just his new interest.  The questions became worries fairly quickly, though, and they started coming at us more and more rapidly.  I was in denial.  It wasn't until the third instance of him awaking in the middle of the night panicked about the germs he was certain were on his hands that I opened my eyes.  He was so tired.  He was terrified of what he just knew was on his hands, but he was too tired to move, so he lay there with his hands outstretched in front of him as he dozed and woke with a start, dozed and woke with a start, dozed and woke with a start.  That's when I knew.

I stayed up all that night researching and reading and searching and contacting therapists and crying and researching some more and mentally apologizing for the couple of weeks I hindered him with my despicable denial and researching some more.  The next week, we had him in therapy.  

Through the diagnostic process, our eyes were further opened.  All of a sudden, everything made sense.  He wasn't just quiet around strangers.  He had Selective Mutism.  He wasn't just clingy.  He had Separation Anxiety Disorder.  He wasn't just a worrier.  He had Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  He wasn't just sensitive.  He had Sensory Processing Disorder.  And the stress of the new upcoming situation (rather, the stress of all that has been previously listed combined with the new situation) triggered what wasn't just worries about germs.  He had OCD.  

We got to work.  Highly specialized therapy twice a week, daily grueling homework, two hours of driving each day, and lots of life changes were all in order.  It's not enough, though.  He's making strides with his OCD.  He has learned tools that will help him throughout his life.  There is no cure for it.  He'll always have it.  His Selective Mutism and other anxiety disorders are more of a struggle for him.  We're not seeing the progress we'd hoped to see by now.  More support is necessary.  Cut to more research.  (Continued research, actually, because it never stops.)  It seems that a service dog is in order.  

After more research (you're noticing a pattern, I'm sure), we found Little Angels Service Dogs.  We're now months into the application process and we've come to the hardest part: the fundraising.  

We have to raise $24,000 (not including travel costs associated with the two weeks we have to go to California to train every day with the dog before bringing it home).  Now, I've raised a little money for others before.  I'm no slouch.  However, this is truly daunting.  That number is huge!  I can't think about it, though.  I have to think about one step at a time.  $24K is raised one dollar at a time.  Every dollar puts us closer.   We've started HERE with a T-shirt campaign.  My sister is an artist who designed this interpretation of what my son's life will be like with his service dog.  We're running a two week whirlwind campaign to get us started.  We have other fundraising campaigns in the works, but this is the first and I have high hopes for it.  

What say you?  Care to help one special little boy get his service dog?  

Here again is the link to the Booster T-shirt fundraising campaign: https://www.booster.com/jacks-service-dog

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Racism With Which I Was Raised

Recently I saw a video in which a woman ranted and railed against the victim of her verbal assault, calling her "wetback," talking about "her kind" being such abominations.  We've all seen The Donald (or, as my son refers to him, President Bunmunch) spew racist epithets more times than we can count.  People are still, in 2016, being assaulted simply for the color of their skin.  The racism with which I was raised was not nearly so bold.

The racism with which I was raised was far more subtle.  It could almost be dismissed if one didn't make a concerted effort to think critically and reflect.  It's the kind with which a great many of us were raised, perhaps still raise our own children, without even believing it to be what it is: racism.  Degree of racism does not make it better or worse.  Racism, in and of itself, no matter how flagrant or indirect, is horrifying, abusive, and terribly, terribly real.

I was raised hearing that black people went to jail more often because they committed crimes more often.  I was raised hearing that "Ebonics" was just laziness and a gross lack of education.  I was raised hearing the story over and over of the black girl who often picked on others, leaving them with a perma-fear of all black people.  I was raised hearing about the different definitions of "respect" that black and white people have in their communities.  I was raised in schools with, maybe (big maybe) a handful of black kids, hearing that those are the "good" schools.  I was raised hearing that it would be OK for me to date a black boy, but not to have a child with one.  I was raised in a religion that has a generous estimation of 9% black people among its members; a religion that, in fact, teaches that black people were the antagonists in many of the stories taught to the young children and converts.  I was raised hearing that Affirmative Action was a blemish on our society.  I was raised hearing that drug dealers, rapists, wife-beaters, and thieves were largely black men.  I was raised hearing that black women were spitting out kids at an alarming rate for the purpose of sponging off the welfare system.  I was raised hearing that "reverse racism" existed and was heavily in play in our communities.

At the same time that all of this was being indirectly taught, I was also being told explicitly that racism was bad, that black kids and white kids were equal, that everyone was the same.  I was taught that we shouldn't see color.  Talk about mixed messages!

I never once heard anyone say the N-word.  I never saw anyone in a robe and pointed white hat.  Never once was I told to "get a white man" the way someone driving past me and my black boyfriend once screamed at us.  Never once was a black person treated poorly or with anything other than respect and kindness in my presence.

The racism with which I was raised was insidious and understated and every bit as treacherous, harmful, damaging, divisive, and genuine.  That's what makes it, perhaps, even more injurious, because it's harder, nearly impossible for some, to detect, to deflect, to pinpoint, to challenge.  So it goes uncontested by most, questioned by few.  And it goes propagated by many.  I bet, if you think about it, you can probably see your upbringing somewhere in here, perhaps even yourself.  I bet, if you think about it, you'll get a little uncomfortable, maybe even squirm or flinch.  That's how you know this is important.  That's how you know you should read it again, contemplate it once more, share it widely to help others face their experiences and feelings about them, too.

The voices with which I was raised, the racism with which I was raised isn't erased from me simply because I've fought against them, scrubbed them with a healthy dose of critical thought and change.  No.  It's all still there.  And when one of those deeply-seated thoughts creeps up seemingly out of nowhere, I work to stop it from becoming action, I consider why it arose, I own it as a blemish, I check my white privilege, I discuss it all with my young son, and I work to change it both in myself and, hopefully, in others along the way.  This is why I write.

Hey, we can pretend we aren't racist, that we weren't raised to be that way, because we're not as blatant as Trump or David Duke, but we're doing ourselves, our kids, and our society as a whole a grave disservice if we do.  Instead, I encourage us all to continue to reflect, continue to confront ourselves, and let our children see us do so in effort to help make the future generation just a little better for everyone.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

How I Became and Stopped Being a Yeller (A 60 Day Reflection)

Yelling at children goes against everything for which I stand, for which Zen Parenting stands.  It's abusive, damaging, ineffective, and unnecessary.  And yet, somewhere along the line, I started yelling.  I don't recall it happening.  It sneaked in while I wasn't being vigilant.  Then, like a fungus, it spread.  All of a sudden, I found myself yelling at my son on an all-too-regular basis and I hated myself for it.  He wasn't a big fan either.

I grew up with yelling.  I grew up being yelled out, I grew up yelling at and with my brother.  Fighting was a way of life.  It wasn't until my late 20s that I started therapy and began questioning, well, everything.  One thing was for sure: I no longer wanted to be a yeller.  Alas, decades of conditioning aren't always that easy to break.

I went a full 3 1/2 years of motherhood without even raising my voice.  Then it happened.  And once the first one slipped out, it left room for the second, and the twenty-second, until I could no longer count...and felt I could no longer control myself.  I reverted right back to what I had grown up with, what I had once been.  

Just over 60 days ago, I yelled at my son for the last time.  I made him cry.  I refuse to not acknowledge this.  I refuse to sweep it under the rug.  It's ugly, it's real, it's honest, and I hate it all.  It broke me.  It breaks me still as I type.  I cannot fool myself into believing it didn't also break him.  I broke my son.  Not totally, no, but some and that's too much.

How had I let this happen?  How could I look into the eyes of someone I love unquantifiably and tear away at him from the inside with my volume and venom?  How did I let myself get so out of control?  How did I become what I vowed I never would?

Something had to be done.  After many thoughtful conversations with my now five-year-old, we teamed up to take The Orange Rhino Challenge.  We went to the office supply store and picked out a calendar together.  We posted it up right next to the bed where we cosleep so that every night we could, together, write the number of days it has been since I yelled.  We printed and cut out a large Orange Rhino and pasted it to a thick piece of foam-core board so that he could hold it up for me as a reminder of my commitment if and when he thought I was getting close to yelling.  Nightly, we discussed my progress and our thoughts and feelings about that and about our relationship with each other.  Regularly, he told me how proud he was of me, how good things felt for him.  In fact, he told me it was the thing he was most proud of in me.

I messed up twice.  I did.  It was at the beginning when things were hardest, the adjustment took the most effort.  So, I took my days off my count, I apologized, we discussed, we continued on.  It has been far from easy.  I mean, no matter how much you love someone, they're still going to bug you from time to time.  He's absolute perfection in my mind, but he also knows how to make my eye twitch.

Taking on this challenge has not only brought us closer just by virtue of me no longer yelling, but by opening up conversations that hadn't yet taken place.  One of the reasons I used to yell was that I felt triggered.  He used to lie on top of  me if he didn't want me to get up from where we were sitting together or run in front of where I was trying to walk and tell me he was an "immovable boulder" while physically blocking my path.  This would instantly trigger me.  Instantly and hugely.  I would freak out.  As a survivor of sexual assault and rape, having my body controlled, even if just in perception, sends me over the edge.  He didn't know that, though.  How could he?  He's five, innocent, naive, and completely ignorant of what rape and triggers even are.  So, we talked about it.  We talked about triggers, we talked about what triggers me, we talked about why.  And he hasn't done either thing since.  He got it immediately.  We're closer for it.

Another trigger for me was sound and certain physical and visual cues.  I have misophonia.  The Misophonia Institute has spectacularly informative and clear videos explaining misophonia both the person afflicted and those around us affected.  Once my son understood triggers, he was then able to understand my misophonia far better, as he was then able to grasp that certain sounds were far more than simply "irritating" to me.  As a result, he's more cognizant, we talk more about it, and we're closer for it.

Look, I'm as fallible as the next person.  Just because I'm Zen Parenting doesn't mean I don't lose my zen from time to time.  The goal is to grow.  Progress, not perfection.  I fell.  I took several steps back on my path to where I want to be as a parent, but I'm on my way back, I'm 60 days deep, I'm a better mom and person for it.  Most importantly, my son sees me working, is growing and learning right beside me, knows unfailingly that he is loved.

I don't remember the day I became a yeller, but I recall vividly the day I stopped being one.  It was one of the best days of both my and my son's lives and I refuse to let that go.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Guns, Law Enforcement, and Accountability for All

Nearly 100% of law enforcement officers and personnel I know (which is a considerable amount given my background)* are for citizens owning and carrying weapons. The current sheriff of my own former department has gone above and beyond to expedite the process of obtaining one's concealed weapons permit in that county. Here's the problem: how then do they know a good guy from a bad guy especially in a fast-paced, chaotic situation? Those blurred lines are creating even bigger issues than we had before, which were already plentiful and myriad.
Traffic stops are some of the most dangerous encounters law enforcement officers ever have. Tensions are already high. Suspicions already abound. Wouldn't you then want to know that someone with a gun in the car you just pulled over is *certainly* not legally justified in having one? Wouldn't you want to eliminate any question so you could act accordingly and appropriately without fear of being fatally incorrect?
Open carry is applauded by many of you I know, as well, and yet that only further blurs lines and creates confusion and heightened danger. If someone outside of a store is wielding a gun and you respond to that call in an open carry state, how can you instantly tell which person holding a gun is the bad and which is the good? Wouldn't you want to eliminate any bewilderment so you could more confidently and efficiently do your already terribly dangerous, stressful job?
Your unending support of the "guns, guns everywhere" mentality is creating infinite problems for you, for us, for everyone.
Your unquestioning loyalty for those sharing your profession does nothing but create further distrust as opposed to the feelings others would have for you if you would simply evaluate each case on its own merits, stand behind that which is right, but also firmly admonish and distance yourself from that which is wrong. People can get behind someone, anyone who says, "Ugh. I'm so sorry that one not-fully-trained or mentally unstable or highly emotional or inexperienced or just plain mistaken in this circumstance officer did what they did. It wasn't right. It also isn't representative of the overwhelming majority of us. As ever, we continue to do our jobs, because we care." People can get behind someone, anyone who says, "That was a mistake" regardless of its egregiousness. People distrust unfailing support of that which is sometimes so very clearly wrong, sometimes questionable, sometimes riding the line of morality.
As a teacher, I am understandably sensitive and defensive when others post negativity about teachers. My knee-jerk reaction is to stand up for them. What does that say to others, though, when it turns out the teacher has done something unconscionable? How does anyone trust me as a teacher if I jump to the defense of all teachers blindly and without regard for offense? They can't. And I can't ask them to.
I know you. I see you. Let down your walls, allow your humanity to show through, give others a glimpse of your heart as opposed to the coldness of your blue walls.

I wrote this just a couple of hours before seeing a similar plea about peer accountability from Officer Nakia Jones and then as she expounded upon that in a press conference the next day.  I wrote this days before hearing Chief David Brown speak eloquently and passionately about guns in public making his job and the jobs of his employees infinitely harder. I wrote this a week before reading the Associated Press' pointed questions as to the logic and wisdom of laws permitting open carry gun laws to which people are still vehemently responding with their standard 2nd Amendment quotes that serve no purpose in driving progress.  I am not alone in wanting, no, demanding more and better both for our law enforcement officers and for the people they serve, all the people they serve.  We will continue to set high expectations, hold each other accountable even when it is an unpopular act to do so, press the loud and well-armed minority on the prudence of their votes and decisions.  We do this precisely because we do so appreciate the intensely trying and, at times, life-threatening jobs our peace officers do and wish for only the cream of the crop to represent them.  We do this not because we value only black lives or only blue lives while dismissing the lives of the other; we do this because we value lives and care most immediately about protecting those that are most in danger, most at risk. 

*  6 years working in both training and as a Sheriff's Service Specialist with the San Bernardino** County Sheriff's Department, as well as living as a child of and family member to law enforcement officers ranging in rank from deputy all the way up to sheriff of the largest county in the United States. 

** Yes, that San Bernardino.  The one that got shot up and terrorized.  The one in which my sister-in-law and four-year-old nephew were having lunch around the corner from gunshots ringing out, feeling unsure if they'd make it home alive as they fled.  The one in which a former classmate of mine lost his life.  This is personal.  It's all personal.

Your "Drama" is My Reality - Racial Disparity in the U.S.

Guest Post by Tramane

A lot of you will not understand this, but that’s the problem. You don’t understand and you don’t try to.* People of color live in a very different reality than their white counterparts when it comes to law enforcement. The narratives we hear growing up are very different. If you watch or read the same news stories I do, then you should understand why. What I once thought were isolated incidents have somehow become commonplace. The reality is African-Americans are killed at a disproportionately higher rate than others.

I have an irrational** fear of being confronted by police officers and it not ending well for me. This thought runs through my head quite frequently. So much so that I play scenarios in my head of how the aftermath might play out. I have a list of four people who I would want to speak on my behalf or the behalf of my family in the event that I am unable to speak for myself. I wonder what pictures the news or social media will use to share my story. Will anyone even get my side of the story or will the anchor simply say, “A man resisted arrest today and police were forced to shoot him”?

This might sound “dramatic” to some of you but it’s my reality. I’ve seen too many examples that started with a broken tail light and ended with a body bag.

Tramane is a beloved public high school teacher, passionate world traveler, and hopes to one day be a social justice warrior.

He lives his life consciously, learns as much from his students as they learn from him, and immerses himself in all cultures he encounters in effort to gain greater and deeper as a global citizen.

Tramane makes the world just a little better by being himself in it.

*We cannot all understand, but we can acknowledge our privilege and use it to effect change.

**Zen Parenting does not agree with Tramane's assessment that his very real fear is irrational, rather based on awareness.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Motivation Kickstarter Day 24: Area of My Life I Want to Improve

As part of my quest to find my motivation, I've accepted the 30 Day Writing Challenge.  Each post will be added to the main post HERE.

The Area of My Life in Which I'd Like to Improve

Budgeting.  I suck at it.  

I probably don't give myself enough credit, because we're able to live in home we own, under oppressive student loan debt, without significant other debt, and all on a single teacher's income in the 49th lowest state for teacher pay.  That we're all still able to eat, let alone sometimes have a little extra fun ("sometimes" and "little" being the operative words here) is fairly miraculous.  

Still, though, budgeting is not my forte.  When I take the time to write out my financial and budgeting goals, I am able to stick to the plan, but I too often try to wing it and that always ends in disaster.  At age 38, it's not cute.  I simply need to do better.  There's no way around it.  

So, that's it.  That's my secret.  I suck at budgeting, at managing my family's finances, at saving (with what money?), at money in general.  I suck at it and I'm working on it.  So far, I still suck at it after working on it, but I suppose I suck a smidge less.  

What area of your life do you need to work to improve?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Motivation Kickstarter Day 23: Lesson I Learned the Hard Way

As part of my quest to find my motivation, I've accepted the 30 Day Writing Challenge.  Each post will be added to the main post HERE.

One Lesson I Learned the Hard Way

I'm not one of the smart ones who learns from the mistakes of others.  No, no, I'm ridiculously hard-headed, I require my lessons to come at high costs.  Now, this does mean I really learn those lessons, they stick like glue, but, boy, it'd be nice if I didn't have to get hit upside the head quite so hard in order to gain clarity.

One lesson that took me a particularly long time to learn over the course of a particularly arduous internal battle was that I cannot trust my mother.  I don't write that lightly.  Just the mere act of stating what I stated is enough to cause Familial War XXIV.  However, I made a agreement with myself to always be honest on this blog (and in my life), so here we are.

There is no real need to go into the specifics of why I learned this lesson or all the myriad and multitudinous incidents that went into learning it.   Suffice it to say, my mother has spent a lot of time over the years touting the importance of honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity, but has spent the same amount of time showing she has none of it.  It's as vital to learn who you cannot trust as it is to learn who you can.  It only took me 32 years to finally, finally catch on.   

In the years since learning my lesson, things have become much simpler for me in my dealings with my  mother.  I know my boundaries, I clearly lay out my boundaries, I stick to my boundaries.  As even the word "boundary" is met with near violent derision by her, my simpler life has made her life as my mother more difficult.  I can no longer be gaslighted, I am no longer intimidated, I no longer let my guard down with her.  When those are your basic interpersonal tools and your tools no longer work, life gets difficult.  Part of learning this lesson has been becoming comfortable with the fact that I am not responsible for those difficulties.  I am responsible for me and my son solely.  Simple. 

I wish I had learned this lesson far earlier in my life.  I could've avoided so much pain and heartache.  However, I am the sum of my experiences and I like who I am now and who I am becoming.  I learned the lesson, however long and hard it was coming, and for that I am grateful and satisfied.  Perhaps it was the long and hard that made the lesson so worthwhile.