The Empowered Caregiver

I guess today is the day for more than one post, but this is for your edification.  I haven’t gone into too much detail about my appointment with Grace’s neuropsychologist yesterday.  Surprisingly, I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it.  I am a verbal processor, but I was simply too upset by the test results to speak about them yesterday.  I had to hold back tears yesterday when I shared the results with my husband.  My husband, being a dude, was very pragmatic: “Well, Jules, we knew, didn’t we? Now it’s confirmed.  Now we know.”  I couldn’t get there.  My emotional self was ruling over me yesterday.  My thinking self was standing in the corner.  I couldn’t find my wise self.

Basically, the neuropsychological testing has provided us with a great deal of data that show that Grace is now cognitively impaired.  It is severe.  The good news here is that the doctor who did all the testing is absolutely fantastic.  She explained that she went very in-depth with Grace, well beyond the testing that was done two years ago.  She also spent a great deal of time digging through all the current research on neurocognitive decline in schizophrenia spectrum disorders.  She is now adding herself to Grace’s care team, and she insisted that she see Grace again in two years for another round of testing.

It is not characteristic of me to be pushy.  I have to work very hard to be assertive.  I prefer not to be the center of attention in groups although if no one will speak I will speak first as is typical for an only child.  I, however, have always been unusually assertive where Grace has been concerned.  I had a weird intuition about her from Day 1.  For example, I spread out her vaccinations so that she received one at a time because I had a weird feeling.  As it turns out, she was violently allergic to the Prevnar vaccine.  As a baby, she had a 105 degree fever for four days, a swollen face and lips, febrile seizures, vomiting, and a rash all over her body due to that vaccine.  I would never have known what vaccine caused the reaction had I not insisted that she receive them all separately.  She would have died had she received it a second time.

When she was seven years-old, I insisted that a clinical psychologist at one of our local children’s hospitals administer a neuropsychological work-up.  The doctor told me repeatedly that she was too young, but I had a feeling that something was wrong.  And, I was right.  Her learning disorder was diagnosed very early because of this neuropsych, and I was able to influence her school to give her an IEP.  The better part about having the data from this particular testing is that it provided another point of comparison for the latest round of testing.  We now had three points of comparison to chart, and that is how we could really see how far Grace had declined.  Having this information is vital for her care, future planning for her treatment plan, future planning for her education and IEP, and strategic planning for how we maintain and direct our own household.

The thing to know about early-onset schizophrenia spectrum disorders is that most of the published longitudinal studies have been performed in adult populations.  What is being discovered is that the results from adult studies cannot be applied to children.  The adult brain is matured, therefore, it responds differently to drug therapy and even the onset of disease differently than a child’s brain.  Neurodegeneration looks different and progresses differently in the adult brain than it does in the child’s brain.  So, childhood-onset schizophrenia spectrum disorders and even childhood-onset mood disorders cannot be treated the same as they would be in an adult.  Children manifest these diseases differently.

If you are a parent, then this will not be hard for you to grasp.  Think about those viruses that run through your home.  The virus shows up differently in your child than it does in you.  When Milly was four months-old, she caught Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease.  She had little blisters on her feet and bright red palms.  She looked uncomfortable.  I caught the illness from her, but it affected me very differently.  I had very painful blisters all over my hands and feet, and something like twenty to forty sores lining my cheeks and throat. It was agony.  I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t speak.  All I could do was drink water and drool.  I called my doctor, and she wanted to prescribe Vicodin for the pain.  But, I was breastfeeding.  I just had to ride it out.  I lost ten pounds.  The illness didn’t fully abate for fourteen days! This is an example of how something can look different in a child vs. an adult.  It’s the same with “diseases” of the brain like mood disorders and psychotic and affective disorders which are really neurodevelopmental and/or neurodegenerative disorders.  So, when people tell you things like, “Oh, my Uncle Frank is bipolar.  He takes lithium, and he’s just fine.  Your kid should take lithium, too, and she’ll be fine like my uncle,” it’s an ignorant statement because you cannot treat a pediatric psychiatric illness like you treat an adult’s.

The rate of neurocognitive decline in adults diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorders is nothing like it is in children and adolescents:

The current study is the longest follow-up study to date of early-onset schizophrenia compared with both a healthy and a neuropsychiatric (ADHD) control group using an extended neurocognitive test battery. The main finding is a significant decline in verbal memory and learning and a neurocognitive arrest (ie, lack of improvement with age) in attention and processing speed, after 13 years in subjects with early-onset schizophrenia. The results imply that impaired neurocognition is present early in the illness process (nevrodevelopmental), but certain later maturational processes may also be dysfunctional. Elsewhere we have reported findings on the dichotic listening (DL) procedure showing the same trend.25 Normal DL performance characterized the schizophrenia group at baseline, while the group showed significantly impaired executive attentional control at follow-up. The findings support the hypothesis of neurocognitive decline during postillness neurodevelopment in early-onset schizophrenia.

These results stand in contrast to stability of neurocognitive functioning reported in the majority of longitudinal neurocognitive studies in adults with schizophrenia. However, the results support the findings from the recent follow-up study of adolescents with early-onset schizophrenia, which found deterioration in immediate verbal memory and attention over a 4-year period. (Schizophrenia Bulletin)

What does all this mean?

Go with your gut.  If your intuition is telling you that something isn’t right with your child, then listen.  Don’t settle for sub-par care.  After Grace had her allergic reaction to the Prevnar vaccination, the emergency room physician told me that I shouldn’t hesitate to give her the second dose of the vaccine.  The allergist who overheard her nearly had a heart attack, took me aside, and said with emphasis, “Under no circumstance should you give your daughter a second dose of that vaccine.”  Just because someone has “Dr.” before their name doesn’t mean that they’re good at their job.  After all, what do you call someone who graduated last in their class from medical school?

Doctor.

Be assertive.  It’s hard to assertive.  It’s hard to make those phone calls and insist that your child’s needs matter particularly if there is a very long waiting list, but you have to start somewhere.  Put your child on the list.  Keep asking questions.  Talk to other parents whose kids seem to be stable or improving.  What are they doing? Who are they seeing? What kind of treatment plan do they have in place? This is how we progress.  We build a community of like-minded people who are willing to share and help each other along.  We find clinicians who are willing to bend the rules to help our kids.  For example, Eadaoin desperately needs neuropsychological testing as well, but no one is willing to take that need seriously.  I have had door upon door slammed in my face.  Yesterday, as the neuropsychologist was sharing Grace’s results, I asked about Eadaoin.  I explained her symptoms.  I asked if it would be wise for her to get testing.  Grace’s neuropsychologist looked at me and said, “Normally, a child would have to be in our system here to be seen by me, but this is serious.  With your family history and her age, she very much needs testing.  I’ll do it myself.  I’ll put in a request.  Have your PCP fax the referral, and we’ll get it going.”  So, learn to take some risks for your child, and you’ll be astounded at what you can achieve.  Yes, you will be denied, but you’ll also move forward.

Educate yourself.  Learn the lingo.  Familiarize yourself with the research so that you can enter into the conversations with good questions.  This is how you participate in your child’s care.  It’s also how you empower yourself.  You will feel a whole lot less like your life is happening to you when you can participate in your own circumstances more fully.  This is how you equip yourself.  Unfortunately, no one is going to do that for you unless you enroll in a group that you either pay for or insurance pays for.  Either way, you have to find your mettle.  You have to enter into your circumstances and be your own catalyst for change, or you’ll end up feeling steamrolled by your own life.  No one wants that.

With that in mind, here is a fantastic article to get you started.  This is what Grace’s neuropsychologist meant when she said “classic presentation”.  If you are taking care of someone with an early-onset schizophrenia spectrum disorder, then this is for you:

Neurocognitive Decline in Early-Onset Schizophrenia Compared With ADHD and Normal Controls: Evidence From a 13-Year Follow-up Study

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The Big Easy

I grew up near New Orleans, and I used to go there often.  I loved the city never mind the debauchery, high crime rate, and poverty.  Obviously, I knew about it, but it just didn’t register with me particularly when I was young.  All I remembered was the glorious history, the Mississippi river delta, the French Quarter and its architecture, the music, the food, Café du Monde and its chicory coffee and beignets, Aunt Sally’s pralines, and so on.

Well, a year after my first daughter was born, my husband went to a convention in New Orleans.  I was green with envy.  I decided to visit his mother in Houston so that she could meet our daughter, and she was to drive us to New Orleans where I would then meet up with my husband.  I hadn’t seen my own father in years, and I thought perhaps that this might be a good opportunity to reconcile.  He lived a few hours outside of New Orleans.  Perhaps this was an opportunity.  I was married now.  I had a baby.  Perhaps he and his wife would see me differently? Well, they oohed and aahed over Doireann.  My former Special Forces father insisted on changing all her diapers and carrying her everywhere.  It was weird for me to see that, and they insisted on meeting my husband.  So, they insisted on driving us to New Orleans instead of my mother-in-law.  I felt very uneasy about that decision.

Now, you must know something about my father and his wife.  They are extremely conservative people.  I don’t mean conservative like your grandparents who go to bed early and enjoy Lawrence Welk.  I mean conservative as in neo-conservative bordering on fascist with a hint of violence rooted in fear, ignorance, and racism.  They might go to church three times a week, but they say the most hateful things about others that I’ve ever heard.  Think Westboro Baptist Church.

The moment we crossed into New Orleans proper, the invective began flying.

“This place is forsaken.  It’s a modern-day Sodom.”

“God’s going to judge this place.”

“Look at all these whores and homosexuals.  How could such a place be allowed to exist?”

I’ll spare you the worst of it.  The weird thing about my going back to New Orleans is that I had no memory of the strip joints lining the streets, porn shops, voodoo shops (that really got them going!), and the clearly inebriated folks staggering around town during the day.  I only remembered what was good about the city.  I had not encoded the unsavory characteristics to memory.  My father and his wife, however, were not even capable of seeing the good.  They were too busy foaming at the mouth over the fact that one could see cleavage and thighs–during the day!

I pointed out the good things as they were driving, and they smugly retorted, “It hardly matters.  In the face of so much bad, the good means very little.”  Well, that’s one way to look at it, I guess.  It’s not a view that I will ever share.

Living with mental illness is a lot like taking a trip to New Orleans with my father and his wife.  They expected to see and experience something tawdry and bad, and they behaved as if they were being accosted the entire time.  Essentially, they acted like very judgmental victims.  I expected to go and enjoy myself even though there were going to be elements in the environment that might detract from the overall experience.  That’s life.  If you haven’t seen a guy urinating in public at some point in your life, then you’ve probably never left your house.  Get over it.  People pee.  Sometimes they do it in public.

Every mental health diagnosis comes along with its intimidating symptoms.  Mood disorders have their cycling which can then become the very scary mixed state.  Depression has its dark gravity that pulls people down and in.  Anxiety has the churning, endless thoughts that plague people resulting in physical symptoms that can cause illness if not treated.  Psychotic disorders can even be responsible for loss of gray matter, or is it the loss of gray matter that’s responsible for the psychosis? Who knows? All this is to say that living with mental illness or even spending time with someone who has a mental illness often feels like walking down Bourbon Street at night.  It might be as shocking as bumping into someone who’s puking on the corner because they had one too many Hurricanes.  It might be tempting to stare at someone who’s manifesting positive symptoms.  Sort of like you want to stare at that stripper in the window at the strip club just outside the French Quarter.  For those living with mental illness, it might feel a lot like living in poverty because you can’t see any options.  Maybe everyone is telling you that there are none.  This is it.  This is now your life.  You’re stuck here for good, and you’re surrounded by people who are as impoverished in their thinking as you are in your circumstances.  It feels hopeless.

Like my father and his wife, people tend to judge those who have a mental illness severely.  They must have done something to deserve their illness.  Surely, they could have done something to prevent this illness.  People don’t just get ill for no reason.  They made their bed.  They need to lie in it now.  Or, it’s their parents’ fault.  Funnily enough, this is the same thinking that often gets applied to those stuck in the poverty cycle, addiction, or even stripping to earn a living.  I heard more than a few people say that New Orleans “had it coming” after Hurricane Katrina.  I would wager that my father and his wife said as much.

A New Orleans street flooded after Hurricane Katrina

A New Orleans street flooded after Hurricane Katrina

Me? I think differently.  I don’t believe that people deserve to suffer.  Poverty, the sex trade, and mental illness don’t tend to prey upon the strong.  It’s the weak–children and adolescents–who are often the most affected.  Children and teens are often diagnosed too late, and early intervention isn’t provided.  Kids are often deeply entrenched in their illnesses by the time they receive treatment, using street drugs to self-medicate, engaging in high-risk behaviors, and even living on the streets, thus, continuing the cycle of poverty, addiction, the sex trade, violence, and mental illness.  A lot of the unsavory behaviors that one sees in a city like New Orleans is actually rooted in untreated mental illness.  Treat the mental illness, alleviate their negative symptoms, restore people’s dignity, hope, and motivation, and the cycle of poverty can be mitigated, addiction can be treated, the sex trade can begin to be resolved because women will be able to consider other options, and children will be able to receive education because they will finally be able to learn.  We don’t have to look upon others with judgment and disdain.  We can see others as human beings with value.  It isn’t all-or-nothing.  It never has been.

So far, our journey with Grace has been like driving the logging trails in Oregon.  We were surrounded by a lot of beauty, but the road was not really meant to be traveled.  It wasn’t paved, and it wasn’t really a road either.  One needed an all-terrain vehicle to successfully make the trip up the mountain, and we had a minivan.  I was certain that the car was going to just fall apart from the vibrations.  No one is meant to live with mental illness.  I believe that.  Having said that, it’s pretty clear that many of us are going to have to travel a road that isn’t meant to be traveled.  We will have to find our way, blaze a trail, and set forth upon it.  We can hit the road with hope looking at our surroundings with a bit of wonder and curiosity.  Sort of like how I always experienced New Orleans.  I acknowledged that Bourbon Street at midnight was full of drunken lechers, and, if you didn’t want your ass grabbed and boobs fondled against your will, then avoid it.  I also knew that there was something wonderful and valuable to experience in that city, and I explored and made every attempt to find it.  Just because part of something is unpleasant doesn’t mean that every part is.

What can I say? New Orleans is the Big Easy.  What does that mean? Well, when my husband was in New Orleans for that convention a coworker was with him.  He had never been south of the Mason-Dixon line in his life.  He was a Midwesterner born and married into wealth.  He liked to boss around the servers in restaurants and leave paltry tips.  He never said ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ to anyone.  I was very curious about how he would experience New Orleans.  Well, my husband snickered with a bit of Schadenfreude when he told me that Blaine had some money stolen.  From his hotel room.  I asked Blaine about it.  He was more than happy to unload:

“This city sucks.  It’s too damn hot.  It’s freakin’ humid.  And, some asshole stole my money! From my hotel room!! I hid it in my suitcase! How did they even find it?”

I just patted him on the arm and said, “I’m sorry about that, but, Blaine, this is New Orleans after all.  Keep your cash in the hotel safe.”

That’s the Big Easy.  It’s easy to be exploited in New Orleans.  It’s easy to be seduced by the attractions.  It’s Pleasure Island.  Some of the best food you will ever eat is there.  It’s easy to think that you’re the victim of something or anything because, if you’re not savvy, then something will probably happen to you while you’re there.  Everything is easy there.  But, you know, that’s life, too, and the ‘easy’ gets a whole lot bigger when you live with mental illness or love someone who has a mental illness.  Suddenly, feeling like a victim is a whole lot easier.  It feels so much easier to blame someone else for your circumstances.  Hopelessness and despair seem like a better option sometimes.  Negative thinking looks good.  Wouldn’t it be easier to just give in to your own dark gravity? Why bother trying if nothing is ever going to change anyway? Why not just shut out the world? Why not just die?

That’s the Big Easy of living with mental illness–all-or-nothing thinking combined with victim thinking.  It’s a potent cocktail.  Once we’re drunk on it, there’s no telling where we’ll go from there, but it won’t be good.  I believe, however, that we are more than our diagnoses.  New Orleans is more than her crime rate, right? We carry more within us than that which can be tested, measured, or diagnosed.

Saint Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

Saint Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

We all have an imagination and innate gifting that can bring forth beauty in some form.  An essence that can love, nurture, develop, and contribute to our world in some way unique to us

No matter who we are or what hinders us, we can still celebrate the world around us.

Image:

Mardi Gras

It might be easier to taste bitterness, but we can choose to find sweetness in our lives because it’s there.

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The bitter taste of chicory coffee and the sweetness of beignets from Café du Monde in New Orleans

We might not like the journey set before us, but we may find ourselves in surroundings quite extraordinary because of taking the road that should not have to be traveled.

And we might meet a friend or two or three.  I don’t think that the bad will ever outweigh the good.  I think that we just have to learn to make more room for what is good because there will always be bad in this world.  It’s up to us to determine how much good there will be.  Oddly enough, we have control over that even if we believe that we don’t.

That’s the Big Easy.  Why contribute to creating more bad when you could create more goodness in the world?  It’s a big thought, and it’s probably easier than we realize.

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Let’s go have tea here right now! (New Orleans Ritz-Carlton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sniff

I returned to the specialty hospital today to hear the results of Grace’s neuropsychological testing.  I went alone.  There was a huge back-up in the parking garage so I was late.

I sat down with the neuropsychologist in her office.  She sat across from me.  She inhaled and looked at me, paperwork in hand.

“Do you remember what you said to me when we had our first meeting? You told me what Grace’s psychiatrist told you when she diagnosed Grace with schizophrenia.  She told you what she had, and she told you that the prognosis wasn’t good.  Well, I’m going to take my cue from Grace’s psychiatrist.  I’m going to tell you what you already know.  You came in here afraid that Grace was declining.  I’m going to tell you that she is, and the prognosis isn’t good.”

I knew.  But, when someone tells you and they show you all the data points, well, it’s stunning.  I felt a lump form in my throat when I heard the phrase “cognitively impaired” and “broad impairments” and “classic presentation” and “neurodegeneration”.  I knew what the results would be before the testing, but knowing and having the hard data feel different.

I had hoped that she might have leveled off.  I had hoped that her IQ would not have dropped.

I hate this disease.  I hate it.

I just hate it.

Visiting Second Grade Again

Eadaoin started the first of her 25-week Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Group or rather I should say that we both did.  A parent has to attend, too.  I was very excited to get that show on the road because I really love DBT.  I think that everyone should learn DBT because it’s so applicable to life, relationships, and even jobs.  It’s going to help Eadaoin so much, and I’ll only come out of the group more enriched.  This is a win/win.

I was not, however, prepared to be stuck in a smallish room with a bunch of strangers.  I forgot that aspect of the support group.  Group implies ‘people’.  I have never liked forced association.  You know what I don’t like even more? Forced intimacies.  Gee,  I wonder where Eadaoin got her social anxiety from?  Were I not taking Topamax, I would have left the room.  I can be honest.  I do not like sitting around pretending to like something when I do not, but this is part of being an adult.  If Eadaoin has to do it, then I should do it, too.

The group is led by Eadaoin’s new therapist, another psychologist, and pre-doctoral student.  Our first meeting was an introduction to DBT and a few Get To Know You exercises.  Since we’ll all be sitting in a room together for 24 weeks to come, I can see the legitimacy of these activities.  This is my rational mind speaking.  My irrational mind wanted to yell, “Hell, no!” when we were told that we all had to make an acrostic of our name and use it as a name placard for the rest of our time in the group.  So, we not only have to make this acrostic–something I did in second grade–but we have to read them out loud to everyone, too? Both Eadaoin and I looked at each other with horror.  The man next to me looked equally disturbed.  Honestly, isn’t knowing our first names enough? Nope.

The group leaders provided us all with markers, glitter, glue, and told us to decorate our acrostic in any way we wanted.  Oh, there it is, I thought.  My way out of this.  I spent an inordinate amount of time on the first letter , or initial, of my name in line with medieval artists, thus, excluding the first letter of my name from the acrostic.  By the time I finished writing out my name and adding a few adjectives that reveal absolutely nothing about me, it was time to end the exercise.  Then came the torture.  We all had to read our acrostics out loud.  Truly, I’d rather go to the gynecologist or get a mammogram.  I think Eadaoin felt something similar although her preference would have been for the HPV vaccination.

Finally, it was over.  We were asked how we felt about the exercise.  Everyone was reluctant to speak.  The adults were trying to be cooperative, but the kids in the room made no attempt to hide their disdain.  There were a few adults in the room who wanted approval so they were very cooperative.  There were some who were introverts so they didn’t speak much like me.  Then, there was me.  I finally spoke up because I wanted to tell the truth in hopes that it might validate some of the other people, kids as well.  I said, “I am a very private person.  I didn’t like this exercise because I don’t know anyone in this group, and this felt a little too much like a forced intimacy.  Too much, too soon.  So, I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to say something without saying anything at all.”  The group leaders looked a bit shocked, but there were some group participants who nodded their heads and the man next to me said, “Yeah, I agree.  I really relate to that.”

One of the group leaders said, “Uh, well, ahem, that was a very honest thing to say.  Thank you for sharing that.”  I was internally laughing because I know that they weren’t expecting that.  They were expecting us to talk about self-judgments.  That’s how they were leading us with their encouragements: “Now, this is the perfect time to begin practicing mindfulness.  Just let any self-judgments pass through your mind.  If you can’t think of anything right away, then that’s okay.  If you don’t like how what you’ve done has turned out, then that’s okay, too.”

But, is it okay that I did not want to do the exercise? Are my boundaries acceptable? I am certainly willing to share after I’ve gotten to know people a little bit, but trust is earned.  Just because it’s a skills group doesn’t mean that we have to jump in with both feet on the  first day.

Now, I know that I probably sound a bit childish.  I’m complaining about being forced to do an acrostic in a skills group.  It’s not really a big deal, but, in the moment, it was very unpleasant.  I think Eadaoin and I found it so unpleasant because we weren’t given a choice, and introverts like to have options regarding what they share and with whom particularly socially anxious introverts.  I think a better way to get people to reveal something about themselves is to get them to talk about things that they like so that they do not have to talk about themselves.  In this way, they inadvertently reveal something about themselves by sharing their likes or dislikes.  Plus, you get to know the people in a group, too, in a much more interesting way.  So, how about this?

Favorite beverage: coffee, coffee, and MOAR coffee

Favorite movie:  Oh, that’s tough.  “The Princess Bride” since high school,  “Goodfellas” for a good gangster movie, “White Christmas” during the holidays, “Gigi”, “The Sound of Music”, “Funny Face” when I’m in certain mood, “Aliens” for sci-fi, and “When Harry Met Sally” for great dialogue, “Charade”, “To Catch a Thief” and “Rear Window” for classic thriller,…and too many more to name.

Favorite food: the hangar steak at Salut with pommes frites dipped in Béarnaise sauce or sushi

Favorite place to visit: Devon, England or Paris or the North Shore on Lake Superior

Favorite book: This is too hard! Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy…maybe, or Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  I could read that book over and over again.  But, for sheer brilliance in writing, Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.

Favorite restaurant: The New Scenic Café on the North Shore

See? I could do that with much more ease than an acrostic of my name and so could Eadaoin.

To be honest, forcing intimacy is the one thing that I do not like about therapeutic groups.  If it’s a support group, then, yes, at some point one is going to have to open up, but that’s the point of a support group.  Going in, one knows that, but I really do not want to sit in a group of strangers and talk about very personal things.  I’m there to learn DBT.  Eadaoin is there to learn DBT.  Given some time, people will blossom, find their own level of comfort, and share on their own without being forced to do so.  I didn’t like doing the name acrostic in the second grade.  Oh, but I didn’t like doing it last week either.

So, I suppose this will be good for me, too, then.  I’ll be forced to practice my social skills and distress tolerance while learning more DBT in a group setting.  Something I do not like.

Oh, and, once again, I was that person in the group.  Everyone was prompted to submit either a question about the group or what they hoped to get out of the group.  Everyone submitted wonderful things.  I must say that this a great group of people who want good things for themselves.  I, on the other hand, was piqued by one of the DBT premises which is “There are no absolute truths.”  Well, of course, there are! Why bother going to therapy or even living life if there are no absolute truths? I’m clever enough to know that this premise has a context.  I also know that this premise, put into the wrong hands, can be used to manipulate so I wanted clarification.  I was the only person in the group to submit a question, and my question centered around that premise.  I said that there are, in fact, absolute truths particularly in interpersonal relationships.  Every person has the right to feel safe and treated with respect.  That is an absolute truth.  Every person has the right to enforce certain boundaries around their personhood and sexuality, for example.  That is also an absolute truth.  In that context, how does DBT’s premise that there are no absolute truths apply? The group leaders could not adequately answer the question.  They fumbled the ball.  They tried to explain the notion of cognitive dissonance without calling it that.  They would not admit that there are absolute truths but yet tried to say that there are true things in the world.  It was very awkward.

I’m going to admit it here.  This is going to be the one sticking point in the group for me.  It’s not this premise.  It’s the inadequacy of the leadership to communicate well.  There are two other DBT premises: I am doing the best that I can followed by I can always do better.  These two statements are called the ‘dialect’.  Two true but opposing ideas that are held at the same time, and it’s hard to do.  Combine these two ideas with ‘There are no absolute truths’ and it feels like a hornets’ nest.  I could see myself arguing with the group leaders.

“So, you’re saying that when a mother beats her child in a rage, she is doing her best in that moment? And, really, there is nothing absolute about that? It’s not wrong, or it’s on the spectrum of wrong? And, for the mother, maybe she was, in fact, doing her best because she didn’t see any other options? I mean, at least she didn’t kill her child?”

Yeah, I will have to just sit back and listen and keep myself in line.  I will also have to listen and observe.  How will these group leaders apply the principles? Plus, I don’t have to personally agree with everything to get something beneficial out of this group.  It is in no way all-or-nothing.  We call this “spitting out the bones”.  We take in what is useful and good and leave the rest.

This will be good, right? Right? Right.

 

 

 

6 Words You Should Say Today

In an effort to be less verbose, I’ll just say this: This is so worth reading. Thank you Team Kindness for posting it.

Kindness Blog

6 Words You Should Say Today

by Rachel Macy Stafford – New York Times Best Selling Author and Certified Special Education Teacher

Rachel Macy Stafford

Very rarely does one sentence have immediate impact on me.

Very rarely does one sentence change the way I interact with my family.

But this one did. It was not from Henry Thoreau or some renowned child psychologist. It was invaluable feedback from children themselves. And if I’ve learned anything on my Hands Free journey, it is that children are the true experts when it comes to grasping what really matters in life.

Here are the words that changed it all:

“… college athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame.

Their overwhelming response: ‘I love to watch you play.'”

The life-changing sentence came at the beginning of an article entitled, “What Makes a…

View original post 1,536 more words

The Golden Rule

Relational aggression.  It’s an odd phrase.  Most of us are familiar with passive aggression.  Most of us have probably been passive aggressive at some point, and passive aggression doesn’t necessarily favor women above men.  I’ve met a fair number of passive aggressive men in my time.  Relational aggression, however, seems to be a uniquely female behavior designed to alienate, disempower, and undermine girls and women through their relational connections so that the aggressor feels empowered and superior.

When I try to imagine boys or men being relationally aggressive, a rather amusing scene materializes in my mind:

“Wow, John, those are really nice pants you’re wearing.”

“Thanks, Chris!”

“Oh yeah, John, I really like your pants.”

“Thanks, Mike.”

“I bet Christine will appreciate those pants, too, because they look so great on you,” Chris says while stifling a laugh.

“Okay, what’s going on?”

“What? Oh, nothing,” Chris says while looking at Mike who is now laughing.

“I feel like you’re both laughing at me.  What am I missing here?”

“Aaaaw, we would never laugh at you.  We’re your friends! Oh, look, gotta run.  Come on, Mike.  Well, enjoy those pants! I know I did.”

John can now feel excluded, insecure, and devalued for the rest of his day, and he’ll probably go home and burn those pants.  What’s more, he will avoid seeing his girlfriend wearing those pants, too, although he’ll have no idea why.  This is relational aggression at work, but it’s weird to read it in a script among men, isn’t it? That script would have been more believable if I had put women’s names in it.  A more appropriate male interaction would have been something like this:

“John, what the hell are you wearing?”

“Pants.  What the hell are you wearing?”

“No, I mean, you look like an idiot in those.  You should go home and change.  In fact, never wear those again.  Christine will never sleep with you again if she sees you in those pants.  Seriously, what were thinking, man? Hey Mike, take a look at John’s new wardrobe choice.”

“Holy shit, man! The 80s have called.  They want their pants back! Dude, where did you get those? What are those? Are you actually wearing parachute pants? Wait, wait…I have to get a picture of this.  This is going on Instagram.  The day John wore parachute pants to work and it wasn’t even Halloween! I’m dying…I’m dying…Chris, you have to take the picture.  I can’t hold my cell phone.  I’m laughing too hard…”

“Dude, I will totally take that picture! Okay, John, stand up! If you’ve got the balls to wear parachute pants to work, then you’ll be immortalized in the Instagram Hall of Fame for Worst Pants Ever Worn by John.  Say cheese!”

“FINE!!! I’ll go home and change.  I was just trying to be…retro.  You guys suck!”

“No, we don’t suck.  Your fashion sense sucks.  We’re actually saving you from a life of no sex and bad pants!”

::Chris and Mike high five each other::

Was there ridicule? Yep.  That’s typically male.  Did John walk away from the interaction knowing exactly what was wrong with his pants? Yep.  Were his friends straightforward with him? Oh, yes.  He looked like an ass in his outdated parachute pants.  A grown man should never wear parachute pants.  In fact, the boys that wore them in middle school looked like idiots.  Retro or not, they should never be resurrected and worn in public.  Mike and Chris did John a favor, and, even though John is embarrassed and mad, he didn’t walk away feeling excluded or disempowered.  He is just as much a part of his social group as he was before he decided to wear some of the worst pants ever designed.

Sadly, this is not how females operate.  Relational aggression begins around third and fourth grade and continues from there.  Once girls figure out how to manipulate other girls effectively, they do it.  The hierarchies begin to form.  Queen Bees emerge along with the Middle Bees who behave like drones doing whatever the Queen Bees dictate leaving behind the girls who don’t fit within that social hierarchy because they are either not wanted or chosen or because they don’t value or understand that sort of social interaction.

Grace’s BFF is becoming a Queen Bee, and her behavior is not without consequence.  Grace and BFF have been friends since fifth grade.  She faithfully stuck by Grace during the prodromal phase of her illness, the diagnostic phase, and even the lowest point of her illness.  I remember BFF’s mother calling me one afternoon, her voice trembling as she asked me what was wrong with Grace.  She was scared to allow her daughter to come over to our house because she heard BFF mention the word ‘schizophrenia’.  She didn’t know what that meant, and I was actually relieved to be able to explain it to her.

Grace and BFF, however, don’t attend the same school now, and BFF is making choices in her daily life that Grace would not make.  BFF is an only child.  Performance and achievement are the goals that are valued in her home.  From what I can tell, if she is getting all A’s and doing well in all her sports, then she is judged to be a successful human being.  That is not our measure of success.  I do, however, understand the temptation to equate success with performance.  I was an athlete as an adolescent.  I was the high achiever in my family taking all AP classes.  I was the varsity athlete swimming with the seniors when I was a freshman.  I lettered in theatre during my freshman year.  I was the first person in my school to do that.  I know what it means to perform and achieve a lot as a young person.  I know about pressure and high expectations, and I know that it is absolutely not a reflection of the content of one’s character.  It is not an accurate measure of a truly successful person.

What does it mean to be successful? If success is defined as having money, status, a great job, the admiration of others, and a hot significant other, then there are those who have arrived.  BFF is on her way.  I was on my way in high school.  I was on my way in college.  I had a scholarship.  I was admired.  I dated hot guys.  I once dated a guy that was so good-looking that a server completely forgot to take my order at a restaurant because she was so taken aback by his attractiveness.  He was a 10.  No doubt about it.  He was, however, dumb as a stump.  I’m not kidding.  He could barely read.  I almost had to order for him, the poor lamb.  The Law of Deficits and Benefits was definitely at work in his life.  I did not date him for long.  Honestly, I think he got together with the server which may have worked out for him, and I reevaluated by choices in boys after that date as well.  Anyway, if that is how we judge our own success–by exterior standards–then there are certain standards of success that we can never hope to achieve.

Look at Bill Gates.  Is he successful? If we are measuring people solely by the external rulers, then we have to exclude him based upon wardrobe, haircut, and appearance.  This is shallow thinking, but this is exactly the sort of thinking that fuels relational aggression.  Bill Gates is a brilliant thinker and incredible philanthropist.  It is a pointless endeavor to compare ourselves to him, but this doesn’t stop us from doing so.  How do we cut Bill Gates down to size in order to falsely create an accurate comparison? It might look something like this:

“I can’t believe how bad Bill Gates’ hair looks! Have you seen it? He is so frumpy! The man is a millionaire! No, a billionaire! What is it with billionaires and bad hair? I mean, I have better hair than Bill Gates! And his clothes!! I look better than he does.  Don’t even get me started on Donald Trump…”

Do we feel better about ourselves after we compare ourselves to him? Am I somehow better now because I have better hair than Bill Gates but less money and status? Comparisons between people make no sense because there are seldom valid comparisons qualitatively speaking.  Where one person is gifted, they are deficient in another area.  Comparing them to another person makes little sense because, while one person may be deficient in one area, another may be sufficient or even gifted in that very area.  It’s a question of values, and this brings me back to BFF and the idea of the system of values.

We live in a culture and educational system that place a high value on achievement and performance that also assess and measure said achievement and performance through excessive testing in order to produce a general score in order to rank and thusly predict outcomes for future success.  Historically, these scores have been generally lumped under the term “IQ”, and IQ has been the predictor for whether or not a person would be successful.  Let’s look at what Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University has to say about this:

Belief in a singular intelligence implies that humans possess a single general purpose computer, which can perform well (hi IQ), average (normal IQ) or poorly (low IQ). Belief in multiple intelligences theory implies that human beings possess several relatively independent computers; strength in one computer does not predict strength (or weakness) with other computers. Put concretely, one might have high (or low) spatial intelligence and yet that does not predict whether one will have high (or low) musical or interpersonal intelligence. (online source)

Dr. Gardner is a psychologist and neuroscientist who developed the theory of multiple intelligences (MI) in 1983.  He explains his theory thusly:

I developed MI theory in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In doing so, I drew on evidence from a wide variety of sources, disciplines, and research tradition. I presented the theory for the first time in 1983, in my book  Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. The theory is a critique of the standard psychological view of intellect: that there is a single intelligence, adequately measured by IQ or other short answer tests. Instead, on the basis of evidence from disparate sources, I claim that human beings have a number of relatively discrete intellectual capacities. IQ tests assess linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, and sometimes spatial intelligence; and they are a reasonably good predictor of who will do well in a 20th (note: NOT 21st) century secular school.

But humans have several other significant intellectual capacities. In my original book, I described musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal (social) intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence (understanding of self). A few years later, I added the naturalist intelligence: the capacity to make consequential distinctions in the world of nature. I also have speculated about two other possible intelligences: existential intelligence, the intelligence of ‘big questions’; and pedagogical intelligence, the intelligence that allows human beings to convey knowledge or skills to other persons (online source).

I think that Dr. Gardner is right, and I’m not the only one.  MI theory has gained ground since its introduction, and I’ve raised my daughters to view themselves through this lens rather than through the culturally applied filter which insidiously states that if one lacks good spatial intelligence and logical-mathematical intelligence, then one is or will eventually be a failure.  Or, as is now so prevalent in American culture, if one isn’t gifted athletically, one is a loser.

How does this relate to relational aggression? Relational aggression comes down to two things: objectification and what we value in ourselves and others.  What do women value? How do we define our success? Generally speaking, women define themselves by their relationships.  Men define themselves by their achievements and the power therein.  Obviously, there will be exceptions in each gender.  The reason, however, that relational aggression is so potent among women is because it makes relationships the weapon.  Men use power in their aggressive engagements.  If you want to deprive a woman of her sense of worth, take her relationships away from her as well as her ability to control others through those relationships.  If you want to completely disempower a man, then symbolically castrate him.

I’ll give you an example.  This is not one of my finer moments, but it paints the perfect picture.  I once dated a boy in college who turned out not to be a great match.  I broke it off with him over the phone.  He lived 45 minutes away, and I wanted to end it cleanly and quickly (he kept flirting with other people when he was with me).  We only went out for a few weeks anyway.  He immediately became cruel and lost his temper.  He said awful things to me.  I felt very good about my decision after having experienced this part of his personality (I had to eventually hang up the phone in the middle of his angry rant).  A few weeks later I was on his college campus visiting a friend when I bumped into him.  He lost it.  He screamed at me, called me profane names again, and I felt threatened and, frankly, angry.  Yeah, I had issues with being a doormat, but how much was I supposed to put up with? He accused me of all sorts of unsavory things all because he couldn’t accept that I broke up with him.  A crowd of boys and girls had gathered to listen to his invective.  They looked at him.  They looked at me.  It was like Wimbledon.  Finally, I drew in a breath and said, “Oh yeah? Well, you’re really clumsy in bed! Like…so bad.”  Now, I never slept with him.  I was lying, and he knew it.  Like I said, not my finest moment.  I was deliberately humiliating him because of his horrible behavior.  I knew what I was doing.  I socially castrated him because, for him, sexual prowess equaled social status and social currency.  I just knocked him down to the bottom of the social hierarchy.  So, what happened? Well, there was a general “ooooh” that washed over the crowd; the mid-90s equivalent to “Oh snap!”, and he shut up instantly.  He glared at me.  He looked murderous.  I’m sure I looked smug, but that was the end of it.  He stomped off in a fury.  Of course, now all the boys were looking at me as if I knew what “good in bed” meant, and all the girls were looking at me judgmentally.  That’s how girls are–“So, she slept with him! Slut…”  My 19 year-old brain clearly did not fully understand cause and effect.  I wanted to punish him for his awful behavior and shut him up.  I wanted some justice, and, let’s be honest, some revenge.  I didn’t exactly think it through.  I learned a valuable lesson.  Don’t get justice at someone else’s expense.  Even if it’s a nasty ex.

This incident, however, provides a glimpse into the male experience vis-à-vis the female experience and how both girls and boys operate within differing value systems.  What does this have to do with Grace or her best friend or even you and me? Well, Grace’s BFF is athletically gifted.  Grace has hypotonia which makes her awkward.  She doesn’t do well in sports.  Her very poor working memory and executive function combined with the side effects of her medications can cause her to process information slowly.  This can get in the way during conversations and making plans particularly if one isn’t patient with Grace, and 13 year-old girls are not known to be patient.  If one comes from a family where performance and achievement are at the apex of the value system, then how will that translate socially? Let me ask this in different terms.  How would Grace’s relationship with BFF evolve if BFF was raised to view others through a filter of kindness and empathy? What if service was the higher value rather than competition? What if volunteerism and community involvement were part of BFF’s family value system as opposed to performance and high achievement? What if valuing people, preserving relationships, and character development were part of her family’s value system rather than getting ahead, looking out for number one, and academic success regardless of how its accomplished?

When we’re honest, we have to ask these kinds of questions because our culture is founded upon a value system that worships the individual and the pursuit of self at the expense of everyone else.  There is little room for mercy or compassion when competition, high achievement, and performance define you.  And, it makes sense, in terms of the market place.  But, let’s be honest.  Who do you want to come home to at night? Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle (one of the most narcissistic CEOs you’ll ever NOT be privileged to meet) or someone a little closer on the character spectrum to Mister Rogers?

On Sunday, BFF was at our house.  She has recently begun to mistreat Grace when no one else is around.  This tells me one thing.  She knows that what she is doing is wrong.  She might say something cruel about what Grace is wearing: “Ohmigod, like, what is that? My preschool cousin wears something like that.  The girls in my school would totally make fun of you for wearing that.  You look so stupid…”  She might behave childishly: “I wanna play a game on your phone! Come on! Come ooooon! Fine.  If I can’t play with your phone, then you can never touch my phone ever, ever again.  Like EVER.”  She might aim for her illness: “Yeah, I know you’re slow.  Like, I’ve known your brain processes information slowly.  Where do you think I’ve been for the past two years? So hurry up, okay!”  It won’t matter if Grace attempts to reason with her.  It won’t matter if she speaks honestly.  BFF doesn’t want to be told the truth or even corrected.  She wants her way.  Honestly, this is a parenting issue.

Girls who engage in relational aggression are more likely to have mothers who do it.  They learn it from somewhere.  Or, they are insecure, lacking in empathy or experiencing empathy erosion, and overcompensating for an underdeveloped or inappropriately developed identity in relation to their age.  What BFF is displaying is a poorly developed empathy response.  It’s up to parents to address that in their children and help their children develop that as they grow.  Not every child is a born empath.  We often nurture empathy at home through conversations, modeling, and shared experiences.  The American public school system with its emphasis on competition, testing, performance, and sports is not going to do that for us.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not against healthy competition or an athletics program.  I was an athlete and benefited from the programs available to me, but we have become an extreme culture with misplaced values lacking in balance.  An athletics program is not a substitute for good parental relationships and influence nor should athletes be off the hook for pursuing the highest level of education that they can achieve for themselves.  There is a legitimate problem when school districts spend millions of dollars on their athletics programs forsaking their special education programs and even general education programs in their districts not to mention some of the cover-ups that have gone on recently in an effort to protect star athletes from natural consequences due them associated with, at times, grievous misconduct (see article).

That being said, the first thing that needs to be declared in a family system is that empathy and its development are core values.  That’s only step one.  Step two is developing a lifestyle that promotes learning and developing empathy through conversation, shared experience, and relationships.  Step three is acknowledging that empathy is not enough.  Empathy is the precursor to compassion which is an action taken to better someone else’s circumstances.  Once compassion has been achieved, then all forms of aggression are subdued.  We are now so accustomed to putting ourselves in the place of others that acting on behalf of others is the natural next step.  Lashing out at others in order to preserve our position, as I did with my ex, suddenly becomes just one option.  It isn’t the only option.  There are other choices.  We are no longer impoverished emotionally.

To me, this is really what aggression, particularly relational aggression, is.  It is emotional poverty because it is rooted in scarcity thinking.  When girls and women look at other girls and women as a threat to their social standing and, therefore, feel the need to undermine and thwart their perceived worth in order to prevent displacement, that is fear at work.  That is also the objectification of others.  We can’t mistreat another person if we view them as we view ourselves–a person with value worth receiving love.  If I, however, know that I have value and will be cared for regardless of how many people enter and exit my social strata because I will always show up as an emotionally generous person, then I am free to be open and kind.  I am now fully responsible for my position in a group, and I am trustworthy as well.  This is the opposite of emotional poverty and scarcity thinking.  This is generosity and empathy.  I can be counted on to treat others how I want to be treated, and I will take ownership of my behavior regardless of how others treat me.  This is a mark of emotional maturity.

If we were mentored in this way beginning in school, how would our social groups look? Would women attempt to manipulate other woman using relationships as the currency? Would men participate in power plays? What would the state of bullying in this country look like? What would our educational system look like if we stopped measuring children’s intelligence, future potential for success, and ability to contribute in the present solely by their linguistic and logical-mathematical capabilities? What about Dr. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences? What if we began introducing children to that in preschool?

“Okay, so you got a D in math.  You’ve got incredible social intelligence though, and the world needs that, too.  You may not be a mathematician, but you might be an amazing sociologist or therapist.  Never forget how capable you are.”

I think that we must never forget our role as parents, mentors, neighbors, and even acquaintances.  There is incredible power in our words.  There is incredible power in our actions.  How we live and show up in the world every day can be an example of what is truly good be it with a smile or an extra big tip or an affirmation to the child down the block.  We can make small choices every day in how we listen, make eye contact, and shake someone’s hand that convey to someone else that they have worth.  We can choose to develop an empathetic lifestyle that will, little by little, counter the broader culture that is, like it or not, bent on self-interest.  As women, we can take the initiative and refuse to engage in relational aggression and teach our daughters how to do the same.  Men can model healthy masculinity that does not exploit or overpower others.

No one can change a culture in a day, but a generation of people could bring change to a culture in less time than you realize.

Isn’t that a fanciful thought? We could teach our culture the Golden Rule again.  We could actually teach others to care again.

We just have to teach our kids first.

 Resources:

Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice by Dr. Howard Gardner

Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees by Cheryl Dellasega

Club Ophelia: for an excellent description of the behaviors associated with relational aggression (RA) in adolescence and even elementary school click the link provided.  Also, learn about mentoring opportunities and strategies to reduce RA through Club Ophelia’s website.

 

Breaking Cycles Can Be Fun

Yesterday was a very cool day.  Doireann and I were touring colleges.  Two colleges to be specific.  We live in a college-saturated state.  I don’t know if people think of colleges and universities when they think of our state, but we’ve got ’em.  So, we headed an hour south yesterday to the little town that’s home to two of our state’s very well-known schools.

We were only scheduled for a tour of that school, but it was thorough.  It was two hours, and it was a gorgeous day for walking around.  This college is known for its beautiful campus.  It’s seductive in its natural beauty, and there are fireplaces everywhere.  There was a rooftop garden created by a collaboration with the environmental science department and the art department.  They win in the aesthetics department.

The first tour ended at noon.  The second tour began at 1.  Doireaan was infatuated with the first college.  It was impossible not to be.  Our second college, however, is in the top ten of liberal arts colleges in the country.  They are a highly selective college with a 20% acceptance rate.  The first college has a 60% acceptance rate.  It all became a question of what made the second college so outstanding.  I was dying to know.

There was an informational meeting first.  The Dean of Admissions himself led the meeting.  He was a soft-spoken, avuncular gentleman with a white beard that reminded me of Santa Claus.  He smiled a lot, and, to his credit, he had a way with helicopter parents.  There was a father and daughter pair from Illinois that had come to see the college.  They were in the meeting with us along with a boy from Oregon.  Strangely enough, we were the only people from within the state.  I heard this man talking to his very meek daughter.  He was loud and obnoxious, going on about the benefits of a research university vs. a teaching university.  Once the meeting began, we were all to introduce ourselves–even the parents–and the kids were to state their interests.  His daughter was so quiet, and he bossed her around without hesitation.

 “Tell them your name.”
“Tell them your interests.”

She was only a sophomore.  According to her father, she was interested in genetics.  I kept an eye on her peripherally, and I watched her play with her hands and blush every time her father hijacked the meeting.  The dean, however, handled him with aplomb.

The tour was similar to the other tour, but the second college was vastly different in its culture and attitudes.  At the end of the tour I looked at Doireann and asked, “Well?” She declared, “I’m going here.  I will go here.  I will live here.  I’ll apply to both, but this is where I’m going.”

We had an early dinner in this little town’s downtown area at a place called The Hideaway.  They have little niches in which you can hide yourself while you eat, and Doireann told me that she finally realized that life didn’t end after high school.  She saw that she could survive the rest of her high school experience because a much broader experience was waiting for her.  Also, why have her teachers been lying to her? For the most part, her teachers have made college sound like another level of Dante’s hell.  I’ve been trying to tell her that it’s not, but she had to see it for herself to internalize that.  Now, she can finish strong.  She’s worked hard.  She deserves to do that.

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The Hideaway’s dining niche

We found a darling boutique on our way back to the car.  Totally girly.  Men might break out in hives if they stepped foot in this place.  I bought Doireann a necklace as a reminder of her day, and I serendipitously found a bracelet that I brought home as well.  It had metallic beads strung together that spelled ‘gratitude’.

Doireann played DJ as we drove home.  There was a moment in the car that I know I’ll never forget.  Last year during Doireann’s finals, she became overwhelmed and very frustrated.  I found her lying prone on the floor.  So, I told her that she needed to let off some steam.  Have a 5-minute dance party.  Doireann glared at me.  She does not dance.  I told her that she misunderstood me.  The choice of music mattered.  She needed to choose music that would let her get out her stress.  Her response? “There is no such music, Mom.”  Au contraire, my daughter.  There is one band that will do the trick.  I am a closet fan.  No one really knows this about me except my husband.  I brought my iPod upstairs, plugged it in, and played Rage Against The Machine’s “How I Could Just Kill A Man”.  Not very positive music, but it will get you off the floor in no time.  It worked.  “Ohmigod, who IS this?” She sat wide-eyed and listened.  Then she tapped her foot.  Then she looked at me.  “Do you want me to just leave the room and leave my iPod up here with you?” She nodded.

She was going to dance…or jump around.  What else can you do to Rage Against The Machine if there isn’t a mosh pit around? Throw things?

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Also great for helping with stress due to final exams

Well, on the way home yesterday, she put on Rage Against The Machine.  I laughed so hard.

Eadaoin sings songs from broadway musicals.  Grace loves the Muppets.  Milly likes Demi Lovato and gospel music.  Doireann and I? We have Rage Against The Machine.

I never had this sort of relationship with my mother.  When I went off to college, I did it alone.  When I looked at colleges, I did it alone.  When I graduated, no one acknowledged it.  So, it is a real pleasure for me to break that cycle and create a different life for my daughters and even for myself.

Sometimes it’s hard work, but sometimes it’s just fun.

What am I thankful for today?

  • that I had the forethought as a young parent to know that I had to do it differently…and did.
  • spring weather
  • a working vehicle
  • my iPod
  • a day with my daughter