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The Spirit Animals of Our Children

When I think of special needs parenting, I feel exhausted... mainly because I'm living it daily, as many of you are. Those daily "quirks" that make our kids extra crunchy, the idiosyncrasies that feel like nails on a chalkboard - those are the things that nervous break downs are made of. After all, there are times when I look at my children and all I see are wild animals. They act like they can't be tamed and they have the social skills to prove it!

So, this week, I decided to battle these quirks with some humor. In a day and age of memes and gifs, I thought it would be appropriate to create a post that let us giggle a bit at our children's oddities...

These are the Spirit Animals of our children.

The Isolator

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The Depressed

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The Binger

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The Tantrumer

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The Self-Stimmer

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The Liar

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The One With No Personal Space

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The RAD - Inhibited

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The RAD - Disinhibited

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The Anxious

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The Self-Harmer

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The Unmotivated

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The Oppositional Defiant

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The Attention-Seeker

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The Artificially Charming

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The One With Pica

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The Uncomfortable Starer

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The Bully

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The Fecal Smearer

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The Inappropriate

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The Hoarder

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The One With ALL The Rage

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The One With A Few Learning Delays

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The ADHD

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The Refuser of Showers

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The Runaway

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The Illegal Substance Experimenter

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The Thief

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The Promiscuous

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The Screamer

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The One With OCD

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The Property Destroyer

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The Socially Awkward

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And Finally....

The Mama by 8:00 pm

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"Strength and dignity are her clothing,and she laughs at the time to come."

                                     Proverbs 31:25

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To Place or Not To Place

I expect to receive backlash from this post, but as I contemplated writing it, I found that the pros outweigh the cons. The ability for parents and guardians to be able to have an open dialogue about placement of their child in a hospital or residential facility is a need that oftentimes goes unmet. Whether it’s due to stigma, guilt, or the feeling of having failed a child – we speak less about the emotional turmoil leading up to placement than we do the everyday battles themselves.

And quite frankly, it is that very place of being in the unknown, the questioning and the decision-making, the wondering if you’re making the right or the wrong choice – that is the time that your emotions are the most raw. Wondering if you were meant to parent this child, handle this situation, manage this mental illness / behavioral problem, etc. It’s in those moments of questioning that we can become muddled and dizzy with what is right in front of us.

When do we contemplate placement? When have we done all that we can do and hand the reigns over to a team of others?

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For me, I sit with these very questions in this moment. After months of making apparent progress, my daughter with Reactive Attachment Disorder put my 3-year-old son in a very unsafe situation. This is not the first, second, nor third time we have faced this dilemma with her. However, this time she reported that she did not feel badly about this and that she doesn’t believe she was wrong. Upon further investigation into the situation, other evidence around her room suggested that this was not a singular relapse.

I feel the betrayal and heartbreak of knowing that my son has been compromised because I allowed myself to let my guard down – because I believed that things were getting better, that she was learning emotions and empathy and how to control her impulses. I let us feel “normal” together… and now I must pay the price for that. I also know that I will be scoffed at for sharing too much personal information about my family and our situation. And yet how else are we to support one another and create a community of help for one another if we limit ourselves to speaking of only what is comfortable – what is “permissible”?

So many parents have emailed me over the past several years, struggling with this same dilemma. They ask for input on agencies and when they should finally let themselves take a break while the professionals give it a try with their child. And I have always said the same thing – this is a personal choice, but when you know you have loved and persevered and done all that you can, and you or your family are still being endangered, then you never have to feel like you’ve let anyone down, including yourself and your child.

The regular world of parents and families doesn’t understand the daily lying and theft – the number of calls from the school you get and the emails from angry parents. They don’t lay awake with anxiety over their child’s behaviors every night or feel physically ill on a regular basis because with every 2 steps forward, you’re forced to take 10 steps back. The regular world sees your child as charming and amiable, while you experience something far different behind closed doors. The inability to connect with your child – to feel honest emotions with them – to cuddle them and to look forward to the future together – these are things that the RAD parent faces.

And sadly, children with this disorder come by it quite often from serious neglect and abuse, cycles that continue to play out as they grow older, forever compromising their relationships with the world. As the parents, we feel guilty for even thinking of handing them over to the state, an agency, or even to a hospital – we know our children didn’t create their diagnosis. They didn’t abuse themselves. They were not in charge of anything that lead them to where they are today…

But neither did my 3-year-old son. And whereas I cannot put my daughter’s abusers on trial because this judicial and child welfare system failed her and my older son in such horrific and atrocious ways, all I can do is promise safety to each of them from this day forward. So, to the best of my ability, that is how I will make my decisions. Whether we place or we don’t, I choose to keep my promise to all 4 of my children. I will continue to fight for change to be made in child welfare and I will continue to advocate for the least of these… starting right here in my own home.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, know that you’re not alone. You’re not a failure and you’re not weak. Do all that you can and then trust that God will utilize whatever else is available to do the rest, even if that means it is no longer in your hands.

We’ve got this and we’ve got each other. Many prayers and much love to you all.

 

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"Shame!"

          Last night I discovered that my 4th grade daughter has been forging my initials on school documents for almost a month to avoid missing recess. That means that for 3 and a half weeks, I have been harboring a felon. Now, honestly, this is the behavior I expect from my 6th grade son. With all of his mind-boggling tantrums and homicidal threats lately, forgery didn’t seem like something too far off of his grid. However, I generally ruled out this type of behavior because it requires, how do I put this… intelligence… to pull this type of scheme off. And quite honestly, we haven’t had to worry about that particular amount of intelligence as of yet.

            But it seems that I have underestimated my daughter’s capabilities, as well as the lengths she will go to avoid sitting out for recess. It’s odd, but there was a certain part of me that felt almost impressed that she was able to pull something like this off for so long. I had been doing what 4th grade parents are instructed to do – start pulling back on being “helicopter mom” and allowing the kids to fail or succeed (to a certain degree) on their own. It’s their time to learn how to organize their papers, be responsible for getting signatures, and miss recess when things are not signed or completed accurately.

            That being said, I secretly watch her grades on the new school Skyward program, and since most of them were in the average range, it didn’t occur to me that I was being played… until last night, when I realized that she didn’t want me to see her planner. THEN I knew something was up. She had been hiding behind the distraction of her older brother’s rages and her toddler brother’s Terrible Three’s, and she had been doing so extremely well! My daughter actually banked on the fact that I wouldn’t check up on her because of the other chaos going on. She played me like the fiddle that I am, whispering words of how proud she is of herself for doing so well lately, and saying how she “feels just awful” that her older brother can’t seem to get on track. (Blah, blah, blah.) She blew so much smoke up my rear end that I could’ve passed for a chimney.

            Oh my gosh, I seriously just recalled half a dozen times that my daughter massaged my feet or complimented me out of the blue recently… that tricky little monster! I should’ve known something was up when she told me my unwashed hair of 3 days was “stunning”, because seriously? Stunning? You’re NINE. Say “cool” next time you’re trying to cover up your sneakiness!

            On top of all the manipulating and the forging and the deception… this child had the audacity to LIE, to my face, 5 times in a row – digging herself deeper into the trench that will now be the burial ground for her social life. Because the Fiddle has regained her rightful spot as the Fiddler, as Fiddlers tend to do. Goodbye gymnastics! Adios birthday parties and play dates! Bon voyage recess! (Because YES I emailed her teachers and informed them of her need to sit and find repentance during the 25 minutes that used to be her school play time.) At the risk of going overboard, I actually thought about cutting out an “F” in red cloth and requiring her to wear it on her clothing until I feel she has securely learned her lesson, but apparently the letter F could cause some confusion that is unnecessary for the 4th graders of our rural community.

            Therefore, if you live in the local area and see my child out in public, feel free to point your finger at her while yelling “SHAME!” I would consider this fair and equal punishment.

          (PS, before you get all judgy and condescending, my daughter came up to me after school and told me that missing recess is just fine with her because they miss it half the time anyways because the class talks too much. Yeah. She told me my consequence meant nothing.)

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Three Reasons You May (Definitely) Like Your Pet Better Than Your Kid

           I’ve always grown up with pets. Whether a cat a dog, a fish or a frog, I’ve been a parent to many a small creatures. So naturally, when I found out that I’m allergic to dog and cat hair, that was a sad day. Luckily, I already had three dogs – so I decided that allergies were going to take a backseat and I would suck up my fear of needles until my little fur-babies bought the farm. My kids, including the big hairy one, all whined and moaned. I want a cat, I want a dog, I want a monkey! Everyone wanted something I was allergic to and I gave my resounding NO to all who breathed an animal request in my direction. That is until…

            Ok, so I lost my entire resolve when three small kittens found their way into our shed. Surrounded by dogs and all the wild creatures hanging out in our woods, we had to save them from a life of orphanhood until we could find them a good home (aka, our home). They were 3 or 4 weeks old, had an absentee mother, and they yanked on the part of my heart that still loves to foster small, needy things. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as you have to eye-dropper feed little creatures, you’re kind of attached… especially if you choose to name all three of them. (Let’s be real… this was a done deal from the first meow anyways.)

            Ok, so here we are. A family of 2 adults, three kids, three dogs, three kittens, and we are moving into our new house with our two in-laws and a grandmother. I say I want to simplify my life, but I just keep adding things in threes! Yet their big, sweet eyes and tiny, pink noses bring me so much happiness that I’m contemplating getting rid of the three kids instead of the cats. (Because if we’re being honest, the cats are way cooler than my kids.)

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            Three reasons why I may like my kittens more than my kids:

1)      My kittens were potty-trained in 12 hours.

          Do you even understand the irony of this in my life?? I have been potty-training my toddler for 2-and-a-half YEARS! He is never going to be out of diapers or pull-ups. NEVER! I even tried to shame him into toileting.

          “Wyatt, even the KITTIES go pee in their potty and they’re just babies.” But his response was this. “Mama. I’m not a kitten! I’m a little boy!” (I have no idea how he thought this fixed things, but it did in his mind.)

          My son is the king of announcing that he peed in his pull-up. At the store, in the yard, next to the toilet, it doesn’t matter. I picture him in his cap and gown, shaking hands with the college president, switching his tassel to the other side as he proudly announces “I peed in my pull up!”

          Or maybe he will be in his double-breasted tuxedo, standing in front of 100 of his closest family and friends, looking deeply into the eyes of his bride-to-be. Only instead of vows, I see him lovingly whisper to her that he peed in his pull-up.

          And can we take a moment to remember Taylor being 6 before bed-wetting stopped? Not to mention that Cameron still has the occasional accident at age 11? Even my dogs can’t hold it anymore. All I do is clean up urine in my life. All day, every day, I deal with pissing and moaning in the most literal sense.

          So yeah, I definitely like the kittens more.

2)      My kittens are content to snuggle in silence.

          Whereas my toddler chooses to use cuddle time to try out his WWF moves, the kitties snuggle sweetly into the crook of my neck. Whereas my toddler bites, pinches, sits on my head, and randomly humps things, the kitties stay in one spot, occasionally nudging me with a nose to encourage a head rub. They never leave me bloody or feeling violated, and that’s a huge improvement in my life.

          And then there’s my daughter. She LOVES cuddling. Like, if she could crawl into my skin and join her cells with mine, it still wouldn’t be enough physical contact and emotional oneness for her. People talk about their children being up their butt all the time, however, I literally feel like my daughter tries to imitate a butt plug during 98% of her waking moments. She’s a human enema.

          Finally, there’s my oldest. He refuses to cuddle or have physical contact in the slightest. His idea of snuggling is sitting on the bed and asking me 9 trillion questions as I lay there with my eyes closed trying to go to sleep. Does he not see? Does he not realize? Does he not think? The answer to all of the above is “Duuuuuhhhhh… I’m a pre-teen boy… I have no social skills… duuuuuuhhhhh.”

          Do kittens ask me questions? Do they have to be inside of my body? Do they smack my back fat and laugh at the jiggling?

          No. No they do not. Because cats don’t have an 18-year learning curve. And that is why kittens are awesome and kids stink.

3)      Kittens are self-sufficient.

         Seriously, have you ever had a cat ask you to wipe its butt? Or does your kitty scream that your neighborhood is stupid because there are no other cats their age to play with? How about this, has your cat ever thrown a royal tantrum and then asked you to give them money minutes later for a new toy?

          No! Of course not! Cats are thrilled with whatever you serve them for dinner with nary a complaint! They go to sleep without a tuck in, 4 drinks of water, bedtime prayers, or a story! You guys, cats are quite literally over the moon with a piece of freaking string. On the other hand, my children require an entire circus, a posse of friends that rotate every 5 minutes, and mind-numbing electronics to keep them from complaining that they’re bored (and even these things only last for a half hour, if we’re lucky).

          Kittens enjoy their shadows. Kids want constant entertainment. Kittens can play with a tiny piece of paper for hours. Kids can tantrum for hours when asked to pick up said piece of paper and put it in the garbage. Kittens smell like sweet fur and milk. Kids smell like neediness wrapped in week-old socks.

          When it comes right down to it, don’t we all like pets just a little bit more than we like our children? You don’t have to speak your answer out loud, I won’t make you feel guilty about your secret contempt for parenting… but just remember that the next time you hold a little baby in your arms and your spouse looks at you with a glint in their eye that says, “You wanna?” – I want you to smack them square across the face and go get a kitten. It’ll save your life, I promise.

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Though I Walk Through The Shadows

No holding back, right? That’s what I promised when I started writing 7 years ago. This is not something I take lightly, not at all. Because honestly, it puts me in a bad light and makes me even more vulnerable than I already am. However, the idea is to be a living example of the testimony that can come out of one broken life. Show people your weaknesses and they will see God’s strength even more. And so, Friends, I offer up this free association of my failures… God’s hopefully about to do an awful lot of shining.

This continuous nagging at my insides is all too familiar, I fear. That reminder that things are not as they should be. I am not who I should be, I am not where I should be, I am not the mom I should be nor the wife I should be. I am not enough for my church. I can’t actually enjoy life when there’s so much sorrow in the world. My kids make me angry. My kids make me feel inadequate. They make me hate waking up and so I find myself sleeping more. They exhaust me when I already feel so tired. When I feel this way, their constant bickering and tattling and testing limits seems so intolerable that I have to run away to escape my feelings towards them. Their screams are like needles to my eardrums. I try to “fix” my children… one who doesn’t even want to change, I’m pretty certain. And despite the wrongness of it all and the fight that I put on daily, I lost one child to a system that I loathe with all my heart. I beat my hands on my chest because I realize I can do nothing to change things. I am a person and I am fallible.

My marriage is broken. I don't want it to be, but it just is. I can’t tell my husband real things I face because we aren’t on the same page about anything important. I have failed to show him Jesus and have fallen so short of what the Bride of Christ is supposed to be. It seems like the harder I pray for our family to work, the more aware I am of all our broken pieces – shards of glass that cut open our feet as we daily walk through our messy lives. I’m convinced that my husband thinks I’m weak or incompetent –  even when I feel like I’ve given all I have to be strong… only to collapse in front of him reaffirming my weakness.

I’m also pretty sure that my extended family things I’m weak, too… and dramatic. That I’m lazy and that I do too much, all in the same breath. That if things don’t go exactly my way, I can’t cope. And yet I wonder if they know what it’s like to live a life of constantly feeling like things are going the wrong way, that things are always breaking and collapsing, and that no matter what I do, it will never be enough anyways. I feel like I constantly do everything wrong in someone’s eyes. I take on too much and feel too hard, and then I get tired all over again. I don’t find contentment for long because there’s always something more that needs to be done. Then there are days where I don’t do anything and I feel even more tired than before.

It has been the worst summer I’ve had in all my life. There has been so much loss and unresolved grief, so much chaos and fighting this RAD disorder that seems hell-bent on destroying our family, so much personal pain and acknowledgment that people (myself heavily included) will constantly fail. There has been more need than there has been of me to go around, and even the part of me that’s there to help has been ground up and amounts to very little of anything useful it seems. Those in my world see me as both a martyr for a cause as well as a ticking time bomb. I’m the strong advocate and the closet weeper. I scream about as much as I pray. One moment I am utterly certain I’m doing what God has called me to, and the next day I want to pick up and start life over afresh. I feel like a chameleon and a fake, all at the same time. One day I know that I can be what I need to in any situation, the next I feel like I don’t even know who I am anymore – just who I don’t want to be.

You see, Depression is not my friend, but she is sometimes my shadow. Often on the sunniest of days, her presence is seen most. A wife and mom, friend and family member, an author, therapist, worship leader, public speaker – I have a beautiful family, a new house being built, most of the bills are paid… And?

And there I sit with my shadow.

It feels like death and despair are all around me – every child that is being hurt, every mom who is crying out, every lost soul who is desperate for something… I feel it all the way through me. When those around me tell me to stop taking on other people’s burdens, I don’t even know how they’d like me to achieve that. Aren’t the world’s burdens ours to bear? Are we not to carry one another’s crosses with them and stand in the gap and hold their hands when they feel alone? Not because we can do anything in and of ourselves, obviously not – and I know that’s part of what ails me. But we’re Jesus with skin, aren’t we? How do we walk the tight-rope that is joining with those at the cross and leaving those burdens there?

I know my shadow will fade once again. She will not stay permanently – she never does. She can’t, because God has claimed victory over her, over each and every one of my conflicting feelings of discontent, self-doubt, and helplessness. I feel the presence of depression now, but I hold an unwavering Hope that my God will not leave me with her alone.

This is not a feel-good message, in case you haven’t noticed. But this is my brutal honesty.

I also know that there are many of you out there who also struggle with depression. Anxiety. Panic attacks. Fear. Worry. Self-doubt. Disbelief. And I encourage you to take comfort in your own sadness.

I know that sounds strange, but when we reach a certain point of sorrow, we are reminded so brightly that our light is not from ourselves but from the Lord. I do not feel happiness by the standards of this world – when I see all the suffering around me, I don’t know what happiness would even feel like. But then again, happiness is temporary. It is Hope that is eternal.

Even when your shadows are creeping up and the walls are closing in, remember that there is joy in sorrow, peace in chaos, and strength in Hope.


“Though sorrow may last for the night, joy comes with the morning.” ~ Psalm 30:5

 “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all”. ~ Psalm 34:17-19

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31 

 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11 

 “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”  Psalm 94:19

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