Adapt

In the first weeks of third grade, I taught a science lesson about Living Things. The objective was for students to understand that all living things do many of the same things: grow, reproduce, and adapt to the world around them. We always did a fun activity at the end of the lesson, categorizing Living and Non Living Things from pictures in magazines.

Just a few months ago, I recalled the Living and Non Living Things lesson after a series of camping trips with my family. Sleep doesn’t come easy for me even in the comforts of my own bed, so I hadn’t anticipated sleeping much when we made reservations for our tent camping trips last summer.

The first trip was a single overnight near our home and was as brutal as I expected it to be. The noises of other campers, howling winds, and fears of bears sniffing out my beef jerky midnight snack kept me from finding sleep. I believe I finally fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning and woke up for the day just a few hours later. It was during our second family bonding experience in the tent that I found myself surprisingly adapting to our new sleeping environment. I could hear a calming voice in my head telling me that last time everybody was safe and fine. Everything would be okay if I went to sleep this time, too. And with the help of some sleep aides and my beef jerky snack, I found more and more sleep each time we set up camp throughout the summer.

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What I loved about our camping trips this summer was that we all had to adapt. We had to learn and change the way we live everyday. Without the comforts of home and our modern conveniences, we cooked, played, slept, and ate differently. For us, it was a fun challenge and it reminded me of the science lesson I used to teach. I sadly considered that in all of the years I taught that lesson, I never fully connected to it.  I never took the time to consider myself as a Living Thing, and I pretty much took for granted all of the growing and adapting my human body had done in the 30 something years I’d been on this planet.

It’s only now that my body has adapted to real food and a healthier lifestyle that I can see the power and resilience that human beings have. We were made to live outdoors and do hard work. Our bodies and minds are strong and capable, and we need to be nourished with real food. I can see now how my body broke under poor food choices, excessive stress, and inefficient exercise. All of the concepts of the ancestral health movement that are driving us back to how we should live are forcing us to continue to grow and adapt in new ways.

Many of the health issues that we all seem to face come from adaptations our bodies have made to keep us functioning and alive, but not necessarily thriving and growing. I realize now that my insomnia is a fight or flight response to keep me alive in a state perceived as stressful. Despite my best attempts, I can’t seem to make my life any less stressful, but I can begin to understand how to help my body adapts to the stress.

Just like on the camping trip, I have learned to listen to that inner voice that tells me that everything is going to be okay. It’s a very important voice. It’s often right. It’s my wisdom and intuition that has come from surviving stress and coming out on the other side. I’ve learned that it’s the key to adapting and growing. In the midst of our struggles and brokenness, there’s a system in our bodies and minds that is learning and growing and taking notes on how to do it better next time.

I’ll admit that fear holds me back from this struggle. I won’t workout because I don’t want to be sore. Even though I know that sore muscles make me stronger. I resist turning off the TV and going to bed early to be more rested. Sometimes I even eat foods I know I shouldn’t because I don’t want to be judged because my choices are different. But I’m getting better at embracing the fear and owning the struggle, knowing that these are the choices that force me to adapt toward or away from better health.

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Just last week, I watched Charlotte get an award at school for Self Control. Her teacher told me at her Back-to-School Night that she sees nothing different about Charlotte compared to any other child. Charlotte has completely adapted to living the life of a healthy 5 year old.

She has struggled. And she has learned. We have watched her struggle and learned how to make her better. It’s a been a commitment to learning and growing, knowing that it will never be “fixed” or even “right”. But through it all, her amazing body and mind has changed and grown and developed into a strong and capable child.

It’s empowering to know that we’re all human and we’re all in this together. We are all striving to be strong and capable, and nobody has this all figured out. Our kids are watching us try and fail and then try some more. Charlotte will struggle again. We know that, but what’s different now is that we’re better prepared. I firmly believe that what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger….but only if we are paying attention.

Live and Learn

The early part of June has traditionally been a happy time for me. In my years as a student and as a teacher, this part of the year has officially launched the end of the laborious school year with an all out sprint into the freedoms of summer.  I often enter this time of year with high hopes for endless lazy summer days–picturing my self relaxed and with a drink in hand, lounging, swimming, and grilling. These images soon fade when I remember that the light feelings around summer are visions of my childhood and that my adult summer actually looks quite different–managing two over-achieving, active kids who need structure and stimulation to feel normal. I learned the valuable lesson of under-scheduling last summer when I naively thought no school and fewer activities meant fun and frolic. Last summer was filled with sleep issues for Charlotte and I, regressions in behavior, and a general boredom and restlessness that created an unsettled household. At the end of last August I wrote T.G.I.Fall.

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This year I vowed to be more prepared. I have said my proper good-byes to what I want summer to be and have embraced the challenge that it currently is–less time for myself, more time keeping the kids busy, the same amount of running around, and warmer weather. The only problem is that I don’t do anything half-ass. I take on more than I can handle, and I don’t feel like I’m prepared unless I’m over prepared. I drive myself a bit crazy trying not to re-live past mistakes. All self-deprecation aside, experiencing regression with a special needs child is painful and traumatic. Progress is what fuels the work we do and often a lack of progress is frustration enough. Regression, particularly in sleep and behavior, is a sharp stick in the eye for reflection on what not to do. It puts me in a constant state of simultaneously planning and reflecting.

I often say that I feel neurotic as I spend one season preparing for the next season. I spent the spring getting the kids ready for summer–camps, therapy schedules, math workbooks, swimming lessons, and family vacations all weaved together in a delicate structure. I’ll spend the summer making sure they have everything they need for the school year, and in the Fall, I’ll be thinking of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays in the New Year. I can safely say that I’m searching for a feeling of security. I want to know that we’re prepared for any surprise or challenge. I’m a planner by nature and this coping skill helps me find a sense of order, but not necessarily a sense of health or peace.

In April of this year, I couldn’t help myself. I began a list of all of things that I thought I could do, not only to avoid Charlotte’s dysregulation during the summer transition, but further support her for the much-anticipated start of Kindergarten in the Fall. It was a daunting and ambitious list of appointments to schedule, supplements to try, and conversations to have. When I went to the recesses of my thoughts and expelled everything I thought would help her, I had to pull back and refocus. There was too much to do and not enough time. And when our plans for the final push of Operation: Kindergarten Readiness were in place, we received word that our medical provider was planning to stop covering Charlotte’s Occupational Therapy due to the tremendous progress she has made. I didn’t process this news well, as dealing with loss at a time of need certainly provokes a fight or flight mentality for me. With tremendous patience and mental effort, I pushed my anxiety aside and advocated for Charlotte at her OT evaluation, carefully explaining that OT was the only service that we had ever received and it was only with a supportive therapist and strong communication that we had been able to move Charlotte this far. I reminded her that we were effectively using OT as a catch-all for many of Charlotte’s issues–sensory issues, low tone, fatigue, and their accompanying behaviors. The reality of moving into a mainstream kindergarten with an Autism diagnosis and no services was not something I would accept.

With much discussion over whether or not the Autism diagnosis was still valid, we were able to reach a compromise to continue her services for 6 more months through the start of Kindergarten. I took a deep breath, gave myself a pat on the back, and continued checking items off of my to-do list. Then life took us a different direction. My purse was stolen out of my car, and Charlotte got a random case of pneumonia in the same week. I also got knocked down with a virus while dealing with auto insurance and the DMV. Thankfully, Charlotte bounced back quickly as I was humbly reminded that good medical care sometimes looks like a chest x-ray and an antibiotic if it makes your child smile again.

After surviving that week and getting back on track to finish the school year, I found myself at a loss. My to-do list overwhelmed me and all of the work I had done to prepare Charlotte was only spiraling into more negative thoughts. I searched for a sense of peace that I had been working so hard to find. When the Kindergarten principal looked me in the eye and said that her school would do whatever it needed to help Charlotte next year, all I could feel was distrust and anxiety–a sandwich of pinching of fears from the past and a bright, blinding light of the unknown toward the future.

And then I had a few days away. No children and two days of nothing-ness that looked like drinks at the swimming pool and a feeling of lightness and ease that I had not felt in some time. It felt like summer used to be. And should be. I wanted to bottle the feeling of light and ease and put it in my carry-on bag. I feared that I would lose it again when I got home, but when I sat in church on Sunday and couldn’t think of anything to pray for, I realized I had made it. I’m not sure how I got there, but I grabbed the elusive feeling of peace that I have been searching for. And then I prayed that it would last. I prayed for a break in the storm and many more light and easy days with my girls.

There are still several things left to do on my list. The summer is upon us as I’m just hours away from retrieving Charlotte from her last days of the safety and routine of preschool. The peace I feel in my heart is knowing that I’ve done all I can. But mostly importantly, it comes from knowing that we’ve learned how to live and learn.

Mirror, Mirror

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Last month we celebrated Charlotte’s 5th birthday. She hit a milestone number in a whirlwind week. Between traveling with both kids over the winter break and planning her small birthday party over the weekend, I did manage to find some time to reflect on everything that we have been through since her birth. What I concluded is that I am a changed person. I honestly remember very little about my life from before she was born. I can’t even recall what things I thought about, what I did with my time, or even what I ate.

I would have loved to do a full post on how much I’ve grown and learned since she was born. How the challenges of managing her health issues and my health issues simultaneously are often more than I feel like I can handle. How I now understand the depths of unconditional love in a way that I could have never before. How I see the world through a new lens of acceptance and respect. How walking on this path full of the big and little challenges and changes that raising her brings has taught me more about myself than any other experience I am certain I will ever have in my lifetime. I have found a new level of confidence with a self respect and acceptance that I never thought I would find.

But true to form, Charlotte didn’t give me much time to slow down and reflect. She kept me on my toes all week–her enthusiasm and excitement over her birthday bubbling over into overstimulation, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and repetitive behaviors. It certainly posed a challenge to get in a positive and reflective place while she became dysregulated and exhausted in anticipation of the big day.

The hardest part of managing Charlotte’s anxiety is that it is so much like my own. It knows no boundaries. It starts with happy and anticipatory thoughts of an exciting event. Without enough control to predict or prepare for every possible scenario–who is coming, what will my presents be, why can’t my birthday be here already–a spiraling and magnetic energy forms and begins grabbing at any fear or thought that she cannot control. Long buried fears of bumble bees and flies once again resurface and can’t be put to rest with mommy’s explanation that the flies and bees are more scared of you than you are of them. Her thoughts remain unsettled and the questions are unanswered. And so they are asked again and again and again.

Her repetition is a breeding ground for my own buried fears and concerns–for her future, for her relationships and for the challenges that she will continue to face. It’s at this point that my own tornado of self-defeating thoughts and emotions begin to gain momentum.

And at the same time, even the briefest moments of reflection and positive thinking actually pay big dividends. The challenges over the last five years have made me somewhat of an expert in managing my own anxiety. I have learned to painfully dig past the influences and experiences that have created the unhealthy patterns of negative self talk and found a well of acceptance and self worth that only I know how to nurture and protect. Using my own resources as tools for light and hope when the darkest thoughts want to have their way. And while it’s difficult and somewhat painful to have a mirror image of my most annoying patterns of behavior parroting in front of me, it’s comforting to know how to handle it.

It is as simple as telling myself what works for me will work for her and vice versa.

Self Talk

At about 2 years old, when Charlotte was first talking in meaningful sentences, she often repeated the phrases that calmed her. If she saw something that frightened her or if she was feeling upset or dysregualted, she would begin her mantra. “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” It was an early coping mechanism that served a valuable purpose. Her self talk calmed the anxiety storm that was brewing internally. I’ve used it often myself when I feeling myself getting worked up. A couple of deep breaths and Charlotte’s mantra are a quick fix when either one of us are on the verge of a meltdown.

Back to Basics

In the last post, I mentioned a book called The Primal Connection by Mark Sisson. This book can really be best described as a Primal/Paleo Blueprint for a healthy mind. Mark discusses all of the ways modern society has lead us down a path of anxious and negative thoughts. After reading this book, I began to understand my issues with anxiety not as the shameful character flaw that I always thought them to be, but more of a result of human cognitive abilities gone a bit haywire. Mark discusses how “technology–and the noise, sound, light, and thought pollution it produces-the fight or flight response, our bread and butter throughout evolution, is now one of the most abused mechanisms in the human body.”

All of the seemingly innocent thoughts and fears that Charlotte and I should otherwise dismiss are noisy alarms in our anxious and unsettled minds–sending off signals for fight-or-flight and the accompanying stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, keeping us both awake in the nighttime hours.

Mark beautifully outlines in his book all of the way we can counteract these broken biological messages. Simple pleasures like a walk outside, slowing down the pace of a busy day, or taking a bath are all ways to reset the body and mind naturally. And on a day where the stress hormones are free flowing around these parts, we’ll grab a sweatshirt and head outside. A quick walk or bike ride around the block, some creative time with sidewalk chalk or just digging in the dirt for worms really brings Charlotte back to a place where she can better control the anxious thoughts and behaviors.

Ride it Out

There were obviously days during Charlotte’s birthday week that I wanted to scream in frustration. When several sleepless nights and dysregulated days were taking their toll on my mental state, I stayed above the darkness knowing that This Too Shall Pass. Knowing how you got into an anxious situation is often your quickest ticket out of it. As much as I tried to control all of the behaviors to prevent a spiral for both us, I also knew that it would all be back to normal when the birthday excitement died down.

Sure enough, several weeks have passed and I have found the space to reflect and post on how experiences like these continue to lead us down a path of acceptance. The more we anticipate and understand Charlotte’s needs, then more we are in a place to guide her toward a healthier mind.

And as I think further back, before she was born, maybe there are still some parts of me that have remained unchanged. I was a teacher, and I will always be a teacher. But these days, instead of teaching multiplication and reading comprehension skills, I’m modeling lessons in self care and ultimately the most powerful weapon against anxiety: confidence and self acceptance.

Resolutions Reconstructed

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We are officially one week into the New Year so it’s time to resolve to get fitter, stronger, richer, and better organized. I’m big on resolutions. I love thinking and planning so all of this is fun for my nerdy left brain. You may have read last year’s post where I outlined some very specific Paleo-based goals for my family, and we met many of them. I even revisited the resolutions halfway through the year in this post where I tweaked them and applied new approaches to achieve what I thought would make us healthier.

So here I am one year further along in this journey toward better health. And before I jump into doing more to be healthier, I am pausing. I’m asking myself where I really need to put this renewed spirit and inspiration. I’m thinking back to 2008 when I was so confused and disconnected to own body and mind that I let other people define my health with a slew of prescription drugs. I let others lead Charlotte toward poor food choices and regression in health. What have I learned since then? Isn’t it time to really own this journey? It’s time to think about what it takes to feel healthy, not just be healthy.

My resolutions should be achievable goals that make me feel fulfilled and even happy, and I know now that I’m setting myself up to fail if I don’t really think and understand what it takes to get there.

I want to blog more often. Well, for me to blog more often I need to feel rested, positive, and inspired. I need to have positive thoughts about my life and its challenges. I need to stay above the powerful current of stress and negative thoughts that really want to bring me down. This is no easy task for me. It takes good sleep, clean eating, and appropriate exercise. To achieve this resolution, I need to feel healthy to write more often, which in turns makes me feel fulfilled and promotes positive thoughts.

I want to exercise more. I started doing modified Cross Fit workouts this last year. This basically means that Chad creates really tough whole-body work outs that we do together in our garage. I want to do them more consistently, but I know that Cross Fit type workouts are a breeding ground for adrenal fatigue–raising cortisol and adrenaline and creating sleep issues for me. Exercises like yoga and pilates reduce cortisol and promote a feeling of well-being. So finding a balance between the two types of exercise that promotes quality sleep and generally feels healthy sounds like a good resolution for me.

So when I thought about doing this post on resolutions or getting started on your Paleo journey, it made sense to tell you to make it personal. It has helped me to create unique and personal goals or resolutions that are promoted by my best thoughts, efforts, and energy.

You may know that the Paleo lifestyle is a good option for you and your family, but you need some more direction. I’ll do my best to give you my insight on what it takes for each and every one of us to achieve good health as human beings, but I’ll also give you a bit of direction toward your unique resolutions and personal best health. Nearly three years into our Paleo journey, here’s what I’ve learned and want to share with you if you are using New Year’s resolutions as an avenue to improve your health.

Build a Community. 

Ancestral wellness tells us that human beings thrive in communities and suffer in isolation. Wherever you are in your Paleo journey, you will need some level of support and community. The internet is as good as it’s going to get for many of us. Use the resources tab on this site to connect to other blogs. Many are written by parents of Paleo families, doing all they can to make this lifestyle work.

If you are fortunate enough to know others who live the Paleo lifestyle in real life, create social opportunities to share recipes, resources, or enjoy a good hike or workout. It’s our experience that families that have come to this lifestyle have done so with a unmet need for better health and an open mind to achieve it. Get brave and use sites like Meetup.com to find others who share your passion for good health.

Be selective about your media. When you log on to Facebook or turn on the TV, lessen the energy you put into filtering the misinformation about what health is or what others tell us about being healthy. Get rid or limit TV shows, sites, or posts that give you false ideas or expectations.

Sleep.

Quality sleep is essential to completing any task that requires a significant amount of energy. Adopting Paleo and changing age-old lifestyle habits and mindsets requires will power and a tough mental state. I speak from years of experience here when I tell you that poor sleep will wreck the success you may be working so hard in the day light hours to achieve. If you want to succeed at your goals in 2013, set a bed time and stick to it.

Learn.

Failure is part of the human experience. We will fall down and make mistakes. As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you that changing your mindset around failure is the first step toward accepting your setbacks and even failing less often. Use each missed step around Paleo eating as a learning experience. Ask yourself why the regretful incident occurred. Did I eat that (bread, pasta, sugar, treat) because I wasn’t prepared, didn’t communicate, or caved to peer pressure? Whatever the reason for the mistake, don’t over-think it (like I tend to do). Move on and promise yourself you’ll learn from it and do better next time.

Find Your Healthy Place.

Here’s where it gets personal and unique to your health and mindset around change. We are all human beings but we all respond, change, and learn a little bit differently. Nothing teaches this lesson better than raising a special needs child.

Just as knowing and anticipating your child’s needs like the back of your hand gets you through life’s challenges and changes, it’s important to know the same for yourself. How do you best respond to change? What motivates you to get rid of bad habits? What thoughts or patterns of behavior promote change or work against you? If you’re not sure, now may be a good time to find out.

Try a program like the 21 Day Sugar Detox or the Whole 30 for a structured format with strict rules telling you what and what not to eat, or you may benefit from an 80/20 approach that allows more flexibility while still achieving your goals.

Give Yourself Permission

It’s my belief that we do not hear this message enough as parents. Taking some of our energy and inspiration and using it to better ourselves to promote our personal health while  leading our families toward creating uniquely healthy habits is our life’s work.

It’s my wish for you that 2013 brings learning through experience, growth, and resolutions achieved.

A Happy Holiday Season

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I often use conversations with friends and family as inspiration for my posts. It inspires me to know that others around me fret about the same kinds of things I do. And after a couple of lengthy chats with friends this week, I have come to realize that the holiday craziness is officially upon us and we’re all feeling the pressure to make it just right.

A couple of mornings ago, I was stunned with guilt when Dana announced that Annie, our Elf-on-the-Shelf, had not gone to the North Pole (to tell Santa that Dana had been a good girl and return to a new spot in the house) and the Tooth Fairy had left her tooth untouched. Suddenly, what should be fun and whimsical turns into a weird twisting of the truth for the sake of keeping the “magic” alive.

Thankfully, Dana bought my story about the storm keeping Annie away and her tooth in its case, but what about next time? In the midst of decorating the Christmas tree, finding matching dress shoes for tomorrow’s holiday performance, making dinner, helping with homework, and preparing gluten-free holiday treats, something else is bound to be forgotten. These thoughts leave my friends and I asking–How can I get it all done? Should it feel this hard? What if my kids are disappointed? And most importantly, how do I deal with all of this stress?

I think I learned the answer to this question the hard way just a few weeks ago. Upon returning home from Disneyland (a trip that took loads of preparation), our dog passed away. A few days later my identity was stolen. The dryer broke. I blinked and it was Thanksgiving, and we were hosting. I handled it all fine. No mommy meltdowns. No major dysregulation. Everybody was eating and sleeping and behaving just fine. Until, I couldn’t   sleep. And my cycle was jacked up. And then I thought I was losing my hair again. The stress that I thought I had beaten found me in a dark alley and had its way with me.

I was sure there was something terribly wrong. Again. I had bloodwork done to make sure I was okay, and I was. Just more adrenal issues in response to stress. Things are back on track, and well, now it’s Christmas as well as Birthday Season around here, and I feel the same pressures as my friends to make everything special and sweet and wonderful for my children over the next few weeks. I want to do it all without stressing myself out too much. Is that possible? I can only continue on my journey and learn as I go.

I realized that over the month of November, where it felt like the universe was working completely against me, I pushed through some important messages from my body. Sit Down. Skip Your Workout Today. Breathe. Eat. Relax. Smile.

I got a lot done, but I let my Type A tendencies kick the pants off of anything restorative or helpful. So, today, with less than 3 weeks until Christmas, here’s how I’m attempting to find some balance and cheer this holiday season.

Sit. Breathe. Read.

Since Charlotte is in school more often this year, I have more time to myself in the middle of the day. I’ve learned over the last few months that I’m only going to find quiet and restorative time if I do it during the school hours. Once I pick the girls up, the second half of my day begins, and I’m pushing myself too hard if I start at 6am and don’t stop until bedtime. I’m forcing myself to stop what I’m doing and sit down in the middle of the day  to have a cup of tea, read a blog, pick up a magazine, or just close my eyes until pick up time.

Bathe.

A hot bath at any point in the day is a restorative luxury for me. I instantly feel my cortisol drop and am forced to relax, once I clear Ariel and her mermaid friends out of the tub.

Write.

After I did the Disneyland post, I felt more reflective and connected than I had in a long time. It was a very healthy exercise for me to think back over our previous experiences and  tell a positive and inspiring story. Taking a look how far we’ve come keeps me focused and  inspired to keep doing all I do for my family. (And thanks for supporting this habit by reading what I feel inspired to write about)

Observe.

Dana takes ballet class two evenings per week. Often, I drop her off and run errands, chat on the phone, or try to get something done. But lately, I’ve been watching her during her class. Really watching her. Studying how strong and graceful she’s become. Taking pride and feeling grateful for the sacrifices we’ve made to make her lessons happen. And feeling pride and gratitude as a parent is never a bad thing.

Forgive.

Last week when I was fretting about the food budget and gifts and affording everything we needed to buy, it was Chad who gave me the permission to just buy the cheaper eggs and meat at the grocery store. No, we haven’t left Paleo or high-quality, real food, but we have given ourselves permission to eat less-than-perfect foods this month without guilt or anxiety. We’ve put our time in with this lifestyle and we’ve learned what allowances our bodies can handle. I can forgive myself for subbing conventional ground beef for grass-fed when there are many other expenses this month.

Keep it Real.

At a time when we’re bombarded with society’s images of the perfect holiday, I’m going to remember all that our little family has gone through. Many less-than-perfect moments have added up to a lifetime of happy, shared, memories that are uniquely ours. I don’t look back and regret any of the lessons we’ve learned, the mistakes we’ve made, or the triumphs we’ve shared.

As I continue on this journey toward better health for my family, the more I realize there are no easy answers. Each day, each season, and each experience brings us closer to knowing what works and what doesn’t–if we pay attention. Christmas time will never be easy and our grandmothers and mothers will tell us it was equally hard for them. There’s no extra credit points for getting it just right, and no reward for the picture-perfect experience.

Happy Holidays. May your holiday season be uniquely yours.

Triumph through Judgment

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One day over the summer I took the girls with me on a marathon of errands. It was not an ideal situation, but on that particular day I had no other choice. One of our stops was school supply shopping at Wal Mart. Charlotte’s behavior in the store had not be great and while I was loading my bags from the cart into the back of my mini van, I was talking to both girls about making sure they were good listeners at our future stops in order to earn their reward of protein-style burgers at In-n-Out.

During my lecturing and unloading multi-tasking, I noticed a man clearly eavesdropping as he slowly parked his cart in the cart corral next to our car. My mommy instincts kept me close to my car as he approached me and said he couldn’t help but overhearing the conversation I was having with my daughters. He continued to say that he was a parent and grandparent and that he had great success with this particular parenting book.

I heaved a sigh of relief and thanked him politely. As I quickly got in the car, buckled myself and drove away, I took a deep breath a felt a flood of emotions and feelings–Violated and Defensive. Shocked and Angry. I was upset that I hadn’t defended myself and my actions. I replayed the scene in my head where I retorted in anger that “My kids are my kids and mind your own business.” I was overwhelmed and stressed at having to continue the rest of my errands under this blanket of negative feelings.

I posted my experience on my personal Facebook page and received many warm messages of support. Many of them encouraging me to just let it go, and I did, for the most part. But the encounter got me thinking a lot about parenting and judgment.

As a parent and grandparent, the man in the parking lot felt that our shared experience as parents and his status as an elder or more experienced parent granted him the right to share a resource that had helped him achieve success in parenting. I can certainly understand the logic in that.

But what I have come to understand is that any of us who witness parenting in action on any given day have a choice to make. We can observe the interaction between the parent and the child and leave it at that. It’s like taking a picture–it’s a moment in time when the child needs the help of the parent to control impulses, stay safe, learn appropriate responses, etc. The same situation may look different tomorrow or even an hour from now, based on the temprement of the child, the patience level of the parent, or even the time of day.

Judgment comes in when we take our experiences and project them into the situation. Whether helpful or not, our personal parenting successes, fears, and triumphs can be whisked into the interaction we are witnessing and sometimes create a false and unncecessary need to help the arguably struggling parent.

What I realized about the encounter in the Wal Mart parking lot is that I have become uniquley adapted to handling judgment. I once naively believed that a child’s behavior was directly tied to how well they were parented and even how much they were loved. This theory was tested when Charlotte, at age 2, began sensory meltdowns and temper tantrums everywhere we went. I felt out of control and helpless and also judged by others and myself.

It has been years of therapy and hard work, but I have learned to silence the harmful thoughts of judgment in my own head. Charlotte’s behavior is not a direct reflection of my parenting or love. I have come to see any behavior as a moment in time when she is calling out for help or letting us know she’s feeling comfortable in her environment.

Last week I picked Charlotte up from school and had our first “rough day” report of the school year. While anxiety, fear and self judgment wanted to bang on the door and take me down, I was pleased to ultimately feel numb and disconnected from any judgment. I used the opportunity to begin a back and forth journal with her school staff, sharing information about what helps Charlotte at home. I included notes from our recent success–using key words like “warning” help her set boundaries and know that a consequence is coming if she continues he behavior. I let the staff know we were comfortable with reports of Charlotte’s poor behavior and its consequences.

The next week I spoke to Charlotte’s Occupational Therapist about a disinterest and  resistance in certain activities. Again, I let the numbness and lack of my own judgment take hold of my thoughts. As we continued our conversation I was reminded of how she had recently behaved similarly at her summer ballet class. I spoke with Chad about it over the weekend and we began to put some big pieces of information together about Charlotte’s behavior when there’s a lack of stimulation or challenge.

After the yogurt experience earlier this month, I can clearly say that eating Paleo has improved her health in such a way that these patterns of behavior can be monitored and adjusted with our parenting. Had we not been eating a Paleo diet, the sensory issues, behavior issues, and sleep issues would be unsolvable mysteries, wearing down our energies and fueling more self doubt and judgment. We can now proudly say that own parenting triumphs include using Paleo as a tool to help our child, allowing fixable patterns of behavior to emerge. The success and rewards we see and feel everyday in the smiles and laughter of our children.

The experience in the parking lot sat deeply with me for a lot of reasons. I got so comfortable with not judging myself that I dropped my guard and let myself be judged by someone else. It stung to think that the man with the cart thought that I needed support or help in parenting my kids. Maybe my tone was too harsh or maybe my words not encouraging enough for his parenting style and his experience with his own children.

If I were to have that encounter again, I would have taken a step back from the harsh and shocking feelings of being judged and explained what I would write in my own parenting book. Parenting is a deeply personal experience. The way we care, love, and discipline our kids is uniquely ours. Please give me the freedom to find my own success and triumphs.

It takes Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom

Each day I pick up Charlotte from preschool, I immediately check her lunch box. She has recently started attending 3 full days of pre-kindergarten and now eats lunch and takes naps at school. The transition has been exceptionally smooth and I find that if I stock her lunch full of her favorite foods, I’m pretty guaranteed to see only crumbs left in her Planet Box.

Last Wednesday I found her precious salmon cakes in the protein compartment completely untouched. I got little information from her teacher’s aide about why her lunch wasn’t finished, and it was ultimately Charlotte on the car ride home who provided me with the key piece of information that I needed.

When she shared from the backseat that she had enjoyed a smoothie at school today, I pressed further. When I asked her what was in the smoothie, she promptly reported strawberries, raspberries, and yogurt. Yogurt? I began scanning my brain for the last conversation I had with her school staff about dairy. Had I made it clear that she couldn’t have dairy? I probably didn’t remind them this school year. So worried about gluten and grains, I completely forgot dairy! Swirls of guilt and confusion set into my thoughts and they were only made worse by what I saw when we got home.

I asked Charlotte if she had experienced a tummy ache or if anything hurt. She told me she felt fine, but while I watched her watching her favorite movie, Dora Explorer Girls, I saw the regulation and predictability around her behavior that we had recently gained slowly evaporate. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t sit still. Sensory seeking behaviors like pacing around the table, pushing on the edge of the table with her foot, and inverting herself in weird positions into the couch cushions were telling signs that things were not right in her body–all of a sudden.

A few minutes later she was arguing with her sister and communicating less. What she was saying wasn’t making sense. Her delicious Paleo dinner sat untouched, and I predicted a difficult night shift for myself, as Chad was out-of-town. Sure enough, at some point in the middle of the night, I woke up to find her pacing around my room in the dark, argumentative and upset about going back to bed.

Thursday morning I woke up feeling overwhelmed and upset. We had a full day ahead, and I was dysregulated myself–struggling with PMS and interrupted sleep. I was feeling angry and distressed, wondering why everything in my life has to be so hard.

And then I stopped. 

I found the strength that is found in clear and healthy thoughts, and I pulled out the mental tool box I have developed to help myself in these situations. I meditated a bit in the morning, said the Serenity Prayer several times, and then made a plan to help Charlotte.

When we arrived at our Occupational Therapy session a few hours later, I explained the situation to our wonderful therapist and asked for a restorative and regulatory session to get Charlotte’s nervous system under control. I took a brisk walk during her session to regulate myself and when she emerged, I could already see by the way that she sat down in the chair next to me that she was restored on many levels. I thanked our therapist profusely, and we went about our day with very few issues. The next day I spoke to her school and asked that dairy not be served to Charlotte. I asked the staff to substitute the gluten-free cookies that I had provided as an alternate treat.

I’ve often said that when Charlotte’s routine changes, it’s like a switch is flipped internally. She becomes dysregulated, withdrawn, frustrated, and just more autistic than we normally see. This was the first time I had ever see it happen with food. It was scary and empowering at the same time. I thought back to The Autism Revolution, which I continue to reread in parts every couple of days. The following quote stood out to me about our recent situation. From page 107 in Chapter 5 Help the Body Mend the Brain:

“…that autism may be more of a ‘state’ that can change than a ‘trait’ that is fixed and unchangeable. Change can come very quickly when a blockage is somehow removed or a previously unworkable connection is made.”

As parents we know these workable connections so well. In the form of eye contact, verbal processing, clear and understandable questions and answers, or even a lack of repetitive speech or nonsense talk, it’s when we reach our kids and see them respond. It’s exhilarating and inspiring. We keep at it and work toward more growth, improved communication, and the holy grail of self-regulation.

It’s my belief that when the workable connections break down, the child needs our help to restore order. No one else knows what they need like we do. From twisting into pillows in the couch to screaming at me in the middle of the night, I knew that Charlotte was calling out for help.

It’s a big responsibility. It’s overwhelming, exhausting, and lonely.

Parents of special needs children must wake each and every morning and recommit to helping their child get exactly what they need using varied skills and strategies–carefully planned meals, critical but objective observation, appropriate and efficient communication with others who deal with the child, as well as walking a tight rope schedule that challenges the child to be a part of the outside world while preventing their total load of stressors from reaching the dreaded tipping point.

My victory over yogurt last week taught me that in addition to all of things listed above, the skill of taking care of myself is a crucial step in regulating Charlotte. After pushing through PMS symptoms, anger, and guilt I was able to get to a place of problem solving and solutions.

It’s taken me years of difficult experiences to build a tool box full of helpful strategies and support, but over time I am learning to find the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can and most importantly, the Wisdom to know the difference.