Tag Archives: parenting

Surviving Uncertainty: My Journey with Late-Talkers

 

It feels like, for the first time in about four years, I’m breathing again. Or, more accurately, like I’ve taken this big, deep breath and finally, after such a long time, am letting it out again.

I never expected our parenting path to turn out the way it has. I never expected to be homeschoolers, or more accurately, to be self-directed learners. I never expected to follow a respectful parenting approach.

I certainly never expected to have not just one, but two late-talkers.

In fact, when Sean and I decided to have a family, we’d always expected our journey, our kids, to follow the typical path. I mean, with all the statistics, why would we ever assume differently? I also assumed that I would hear my kids’ first words when they were twelve months old, like everyone else.

Life, however, had a different idea in store for us.

Or more specifically, our kids did.

I fully believe Kate, and then Eric, were given to us for a reason. Sean, and especially me, are the absolute best parents to help our children, to guide them, and even more importantly, to trust in them.

And wow has this been a journey.

Of learning to step away from the mainstream Way Of Doings Things. Of accepting our path and learning to trust not just in my kids, but in myself. That I am the best speech partner for our kids. That I am their best voice, their best advocate. No one else. No other medical professional or teacher, but… me.

Me.

As I have always said, your path, your journey as parents won’t look the same as mine. What has worked for me won’t work for you (or maybe with just a few tweaks it’ll work just fine). Your family, your kids, are different than mine. Your kids face different challenges than mine, whether it’s behavior, or whether your children have different challenges and different special needs, and all the variations and colors in between.

Life is never a one-size-fits all. There is no one right box that we all fit in, all nice and neat and with a big ol’ smile on our face.

For me, for my kids, our journey has been about two things: trust and patience. Trusting that my kids really and truly know their own minds, that they know their process for growing and learning. And then patience… that I will give them the time they need to develop and grow. That I will be patient and trust in their process. My two children, who are very much introverts, but who are still different with their own unique quirks.

How Kate won’t come sit at a table full of adults, especially when their attention shifts back to her (and she’ll go and runaway again; how dare you focus and draw attention to her!). While there’s Eric, who happily sits on my lap and eats up all the bacon and sliced cantaloupe. He couldn’t careless that you were looking at him. He just ignores you, happy to simply eat his food.

Two kids, two introverts, and yet in many ways, completely different.

They have taught me so much.

Taught me to focus and learn all the language that comes without speaking. My nonverbal communication with them, all their cues, their context and behaviors, it’s off the charts with how in tune I am with them. That’s what they needed me to be; that’s the role I needed to fill. To be their translator in a world that was speaking a foreign language, even though it was the only language Sean and I and the rest of the family spoke.

And yet even as confident as I am, of having gone down this road, of believing and waiting for Kate to talk, four years of patience, it still wasn’t easy.

I still wasn’t without my fears and doubts.

Heck, just last week I was in complete anxiety about bringing Eric to the doctor after a cold lasted a little too long (I wanted to make sure his ears were clear). But why all this anxiety? Why was I almost in tears at the thought?

Because I didn’t know if the pediatrician would grill me on Eric’s progress. I didn’t know if he would listen about our experience, about Eric’s progress, about the leaps and bounds Eric has made these past few months.

Or, if he’d just see Eric in comparison to all the other kids and push services on us that I knew, without a doubt, would do more harm than good. For us, anyway. (Why do I know this? Because I know my kids. I know what our experiences with Kate were like and no one way in hell would I put Eric anywhere near that. Certainly not with the cost being so high. Again, just my experience for my family, and very specifically, what was best for Eric and who he is.)

Regardless, I would have stood my ground if the doctor pushed. I would be Eric’s voice. And thankfully, it never came to that. It wasn’t needed. The nurse just checked his ears, listened to him breath, and all was fine.

My anxiety, my fears had been for nothing.

At least I recognized why I felt so much anxiety. It’s an area that I need to keep working on, to keep reflecting on and healing because I am walking a different path from the mainstream, and I’d really, really like to not use so much damn energy whenever I need to stand my ground like this, to be different and walk this different path. But, that’s my self-work and part of my journey. Something I’d probably have just swept under a rug and shrugged away if I hadn’t become a parent, if I hadn’t had these two amazing, unique children who are continuously challenging me to be better… stronger.

And they have.

They’ve challenged me and they’ve opened my eyes to this other world. It’s been an amazing journey, one which is far, far from being over…

And yet… as I said in the beginning of this post, I’m breathing easier. I’ve taken this huge breath and then, let it out again.

Why?

You’re probably dying to know, especially if you’ve followed our journey.

You see, Eric just met with our speech pathologist, Mary Camarata, who is one of the few people I trust with her knowledge of children with language differences. She’s truly an expert on them, and really understanding the why behind the child. Not that she’s always spot on the money (I had to stand up for Eric several months ago when the videos I sent didn’t accurately portray him). But truly, she can see their temperament and the child underneath. And temperament, believe it or not, can play a huge role in all this. Mary’s insight, at least for my family and who my kids are, gave us this light bulb moment of understanding. This, “oh” feeling you get when something just clicks together and makes sense.

And finally, Mary got to meet Eric, as he is now, an almost three-year-old.

Funny enough, Eric has been around speech professionals since he was about six months old. He was around when we had a private speech therapist and he’s been in the videos I’ve sent to Mary, about Kate, since he was about nine months. He was on track, developing just fine, until he just decided to not talk. He was focusing on other areas, like fine motor control (dear lord did he love his marble maze and could maneuver an entire handful with his chubby hands at just eighteen months, dropping one at a time into the small tube).

We initially started Eric’s journey not at all concerned and then slowly realizing that yes, it looked like Eric would be a late-talker as well.

When Mary was here to meet Kate for the first time, a year ago, it was still too early to know where Eric would fall. He was still in the range of normal, though as time passed it became clear that he’d be like his sister, too. Which is actually pretty rare (the chances of two siblings both being late-talkers is like 1 in 10, according to Mary). Even rarer still is having those two late-talkers follow a very similar development… which it appears, they are both doing. (Mary couldn’t quite confirm this yet since Eric’s a tad too young, but just based on their temperaments and the similarities, she feels confident telling us this.)

So, Kate in every way, has been training for Eric.

And oh my, was he a challenge about five months ago (I’m sure you remember those blogs I wrote—wow, was it challenging, especially the instant frustration, BIG emotions, and very limited ability to communicate).

And now? Now what do we know about him?

Well, we know that, besides Eric’s not talking, he’s a completely normal little boy.

And that right there, is why I just let out this huge, huge breath.

It’s why when, Mary packed up her stuff and drove away, I felt this huge, huge weight lifted off me.

It felt like I could breathe again.

This is the little boy that I have always seen, the little boy I’ve always known, and who I have been fighting for, tooth-and-nail, continually telling everyone to give him the time he needed to develop.

I knew in my heart, in my gut, who he was.

I knew his temperament and understood it, and I’ve pushed like crazy for others to see it as well. This is something, until recently—we’re talking just a few months ago—there were only a select few people who Eric would trust in this way… who he would look up and smile at, engage with and play. Not that he never did this before, or that he wouldn’t do it at all, but it was like, for a period of time, it felt unsafe to him. He needed to feel completely safe and that he completely trusted a person. I can only guess at this, guess at what was going through his little mind and why, but I understood that he had a different temperament in this way.

Heck, both my kids do and it’s not always been easy for others to see this or understand it.

But I stood my ground.

I kept my notes, my journal, and I shared those moments that proved who Eric really was (even if he wasn’t about to let the random stranger those moments himself). And as I said before, there was a time when Mary was concerned about Eric. To this day, it was my fault. It was the videos I’d sent to her (thinking to send ones similar that I did with Kate). The problem was, Eric and Kate were at completely different places, completely different concerns, if you will. With Eric, she wanted to see him engaging with me, sharing in the play, looking at me after something cool just happened (this is called visual referencing). Instead, I showed her videos with him engaged in a toy, like his marble maze, which he hadn’t played with in a while. He was super excited, super focused… and pretty much ignored me the whole time. It’s understandable why Mary was concerned that he might be orientating to objects more than people.

So, I had to stand up and ask her exactly what she was looking for, that she wanted to see…

Then, I went back through my journal and my memories and I shared how her assessment wasn’t correct. She felt better to hear all this, but I could tell she was still concerned (and again, I could understand that). She was also worried that here I was, doing all this by myself. No speech therapists to help out, homeschooling to-boot. But again, I stood my ground. I defended our way and our choices. I knew that early intervention would be an absolute failure for Eric, even damaging for him, and hiring a speech therapist wouldn’t work, either (at that age, the only one Eric really wanted to engage and play with, was me).

And you know what happened? The next round of videos I sent to her?

There wasn’t a single mention about orientating to objects more than people. Because it wasn’t true. It wasn’t there. (Believe me, when Eric was young I wished he could play more independently to give me a gosh, darn break.) And what also started happening with Eric… well, he was growing up.

He was feeling safe again.

He was looking up and engaging with others, bit-by-bit. First with my mom who played and roughhoused with him, then our mother’s helper who he started running about the room and showing off to.

I caught all those moments on video.

What Eric needed, more than anything else, was trust.

And time.

I made sure he got them both. It was not an easy road. In fact, it was scary at times and filled with so much worry because here I was, having to stand up to someone I trusted but who I knew wasn’t right in her assessment. But I held on… I kept believing… I kept on helping Eric in the way that he needed…

Trust, and time.

That’s what he needed.

And when Mary finally got here, when she met Eric in person after a whole year, someone he didn’t know… and Eric immediately started showing off. He was pushing me to the ground so he could fly like Superman, looking at her like crazy with this, did you see that?! expression.

All of those little bits of connection, so small, seemingly so insignificant and yet so very important for language. So important to show that yes, he does care about others, he is engaging, he is showing interest… even with someone he doesn’t know.

Mary got to see this and so much more.

She even got some measurements from him (which surprised both Sean and me—again, this a kid he walks to his own beat and we didn’t think he’d be interested in participating). Mary checked to see where his nonverbal communication was and I another surprise because it was higher than Kate’s when she was around the same age.

We didn’t do any official testing for Eric, but that’s not something Sean and I wanted or needed. Certainly not at his age. One of the absolute joys of homeschooling is we’re able to go at our kids’ pace. There’s no rush or push to get them “school ready.”

So even without that “official” diagnosis out of the way, I’m still breathing easy.

Why, you ask?

Because the whole time, Mary got to see my little boy. The boy he is and the one I’ve always known him to be. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. That’s all I expected her to see from this visit.

See him.

Understand him.

She told us, that other than his not talking, he was a completely normal little boy.

Which I’d known in my heart, this whole time. Not that I was in denial; believe me, I know my kids. And you know yours. Seriously, gut instincts of parents is pretty darn strong and I know for a fact mine is through the roof. It needed to be. My kids needed me to be this way, to connect with them, to meet their wants and needs, to help and guide them emotionally.

I know, for many of you other parents, you’re still in that weird between place of not knowing. That your kids aren’t so clear cut. Their manners and behaviors aren’t fully understand because maybe they’re still too young, they haven’t developed enough to give you a definitive answer of who they are. You have been patient and you’re trying so hard to not give in to all those worries and fear, and yet you still don’t have answers. Or maybe you do and those answers are hard to hear, harder to even see any joy down your particular path.

I want to send you nothing but love and support, regardless of where you are on the journey. Because it is a journey. It’s not over when our kids finally do start talking (as much as we might think so in the beginning). And maybe this will be a life-long journey for some.

But… that’s okay, too. It’s okay if your child doesn’t fit into our worldview of “normal.” They are who they are, which is beauty, joyful beings.

Joyful and happy. That’s what truly matters.

And again, it’s okay. Okay to not fit in a box.

Kate doesn’t. Eric doesn’t.

That doesn’t mean their boxes are misshaped. In fact, Eric’s box is a different color than Kate’s, different shape, too.

It’s his box.

And honestly, I think he’s just sitting right on top of it. Sitting and proud strong and really not caring what anyone else thinks about it either.

I’m going to celebrate that with him. With both of my kids.

They’ve taught me a lot about my own box, and you know what? Mine’s different too, and I love every inch of it, every dent and ding I’ve gotten along the way of living. Every scrap of duct-tape… even the ones that are beginning to peel.

It’s my box and these, these are my kids.

Happy and joyful and thriving in the world we’ve shaped… together. Our life, our journey, looks nothing like anyone else’s and I really don’t want it too, either. We’re forging our own paths, one that works for us, and one, each of us, is thriving on.

Maybe not always, I’m certainly not without the ups and downs of the journey, but every step along the way is a chance for me to learn. Learn about my kids, about myself.

As a family, we are happy and joyful, even if the journey is far from being over. And, it’s okay. For now, I’ll just breath easier knowing what I know, knowing who my son is and being able to support him in the exact way he needs.

Knowing exactly, where we need to go as a family, and that’s towards happiness. Joy.

So know that, if you’re still there, living in that space of uncertainty, when you don’t have answers and all you feel is that dark worry living inside you, eating away at your joy and your happiness, try to take a deep breath. Try to see the child you have in front of you, the child that’s yours and no one else, and remember the love. We will never get these times back, when they’re little and being silly, running around in circles before crashing to the ground because that’s what toddlers do. Weird things. Fun things. Like getting them dressed and immediately after, they walk right into a pool with their clean clothes (and the only extra dry set you’ve brought).

I know it’s scary. I know those fears, I know what that uncertainty can do to you, my dear, parent.

Focus on the love and their joy. Live in that moment with them. Live in their joy. Because that’s what matters more than anything else: their joy.

And, your happiness with theirs, together.

Am I Enough?

This is the question I’m struggling with right now, especially as the new school year starts, as new routines and schedules get hammered out. I’m also putting more focus and energy into other areas of my life that I’ve put on hold to be a parent, and once again, I feel myself dealing with the question: Am I enough?

Am I doing enough?

Am I good enough?

This is straight-up tied to being a perfectionist, something I’ve struggled with over the years to let go of, to be who I am, to do the best that I can and celebrate in what I have accomplished. And yet… every once in awhile… my perfectionist finds a new way to creep on in, to sneak into my subconscious, to create doubts and negative self-talk. A little, tiny voice nagging that I should do more

Read more with the kids.

Play more.

Connect more.

And, of course, there’s always more we could do, more to focus on, more to strive at being better…

A couple months ago, I dealt with how my perfectionist came into my writing process, and it wasn’t the usual way either. It wasn’t during the actual creation, when I put words on page and have learned to trust those words (and my unique author voice). You see, I’d already dealt with that part. Instead, my perfectionist had taken a stranglehold during an entirely different process: the end process. The part where my stories get out to readers.

I would stop dead in my tracks when it came to the editing, the copyediting, and straight-up, the publishing part of my business.

I was surprised. Shocked, actually.

I had no idea my perfectionist, my critical voice, had been sitting there, happy as a clam, completely stopping my work from, you know, actually reaching readers. Since then, I’ve worked through that part of the process, and am even making really awesome, fun strides with my publishing business.

And yet, that’s exactly one reason why I’m now dealing with this question:

Am I enough?

You see, as I focus on my business, it’s taken my attention away from other areas of my life. Mainly, my family. I’m not connecting with the kids as much, we’re not playing as much. Not enough board games or sitting down and doing art together.

Which… if I actually step back and look at my life, I would (hopefully) see how silly my worry is.

I mean, yes, I am putting attention and focus on my business — but that’s part of my self-care. This is super important, this focus on self-care. Especially too if I want to function as patient and kind parent, someone who has the energy and the reserves to help my kids through their big emotions, to even want to get on the floor and play a tickle game, or to drive to the LA County Fair or go to Disneyland.

I am important too, and I’ve finally reached a point with my youngest that I can put energy to this other area, a very important area of my life, which I had happily put on hold to grow our family.

And yet… the worries and the self-doubt are still there.

A huge, huge part of the problem is my brain, of having lived through my own childhood, of living in this American culture for 35 years, still has all these labels, this hierarchy of what is deemed as important.

And, what isn’t.

Sitting on the couch and reading books together, or learning by playing board games (especially as a homeschooler): important.

Swimming with friends for hours, playing with dolls, playing Mario 3D World with Kate, dancing with Eric: not important.

And that, really, is ridiculous.

I intellectually know this. I do.

In fact, I’ve been working on letting go of all these thoughts and worries, of what our world deems as ‘learning’ and ‘education’ ever since Kate was two years old and yet… yet here I am, questioning the importance of play and joy.

For myself. For my kids.

I know I’m feeling more pressure this year (and really, right at this moment) because, technically, Kate should be in kindergarten. I mean, she’s a baby five but, according to most states, she’d be in kindergarten and therefore:

Learning great things of importance! Learning things that are clearly not hanging out with friends and playing!

Agh! It’s enough to drive me crazy.

I know how I feel about education and self-directed learning. I know the value of simple play and social interaction… which is exactly what she’s getting. Right now. Every week. Every day.

And yet, here I am, mentally beating myself up because somewhere inside me, it doesn’t feel like not enough.

Which is my perfectionist speaking.

My perfectionist that can look at the day we had, completely filled with trying to meet everyone’s needs, of driving up and visiting with grandma and grandpa, playing with their big-ass dogs (and my helping Eric to work through feelings of his safety and growing comfort). And then after, going to the park to play with a whole bunch of other, older kids. I can look back over our entire day, and somehow, in some area, my perfectionist finds it lacking.

Here’s what my perfectionist points out to me:

You didn’t play when Kate asked you too.

Why didn’t you join her with painting? Or coloring Pinkie Pie’s tail?

You should put your own work aside. Stop typing up those notes for your online workshop. You’re neglecting her.

(Never mind the fact that I facilitated how many days playing with friends, swimming and playing with dolls, even video games? Not to mention the outings this week, from rock climbing, visiting an ice cream art museum, and spending a ton of quality, fun-time with Grandma??)

Which my perfectionist then chimes in:

Well, what about Eric??

Were you really connecting with him enough?

My perfectionist, with all her negative self-talk, doesn’t stop there either. She’ll point out: See? He’s sorting those colored Legos on the floor. By himself. Why didn’t you join him? Why didn’t you use that as an opportunity to work on his sounds and his growing comfort with turning his voice on??

(Never mind that every moment he’s awake I am aware of his speech, finding new and fun ways to play sound-games that are natural for him and me. That we play tickle games and hide-and-seek games like crazy. But hey, those moments just don’t count.)

This is my own struggle, dealing with my perfectionist and the negative voice in my head that some days (like, right now) feels like I’m in a constant, epic battle with.

You’re getting a glimpse into all these thoughts I’ve got going on, but I recognize them for what they are… and I’m trying to work through them.

I’m trying to pick apart the threads and figure out the real cause of why I’m having them in the first place. And generally, if my perfectionist is involved, it has to do with fear.

Fear, and protecting.

Clearly, some part of me is afraid of something, or feels that I (or my kids) need protecting. Maybe from the great ways I can single-handedly Screw Them Up —

Which, is just silly.

I literally just got off the phone with a friend who, after I told her what my week had been like and everything we did (as well as mentioning my struggle with these these negative thoughts) she said:

“It sounds to me like you’re doing plenty.”

Which, I am.

I mean, I know I am. Helping them through their emotions, taking the time to connect, to empathize, scheduling fun outings with friends as well as stuff for to do as a family (like rock climbing). Then there’s keeping the house in somewhat order, and the endless dishes, cleaned. Oh, and let’s not forget preparing and cooking real food (at least most of the time).

I know I’m doing the best that I can, and I know that my life, and my kids’ life, will look completely different than everyone else’s. For example, a lot of kids Kate’s age are focusing on school, on learning to read or beginning math. But for me, my focus is continuing to help her with language.

I’m getting her out with friends, focusing on my modeling and recasting, having new experiences (ice cream museum or meeting Moana for the first time at Disneyland). Those experiences are a fantastic jumping off point for more words, more language, more conversation.

That’s my focus for her, right now.

And what’s super amazing is all the people in our life who matter most, grandparents, close friends, they all intuitively understand that too. I’m not getting badgered with Kate and reading or anything else that might look school-related. Instead, I’m getting these smiles and looks of amazement over what Kate said or how she interacted with someone.

But other than language, I’m really tuning into what learning will look like for us as a family, and specifically, for Kate.

As a family, we believe in self-directed learning. You might not, you might send your kids to school or you might follow a more classic, homeschool approach. But for us, this is what we believe in… following a child’s interest, helping them to facilitate in an area they’re excited about. It means I need to be aware of Kate and her passions, and when I see something, ask myself: how can I help that grow?

For example, Kate’s aunt was over the other day and she was rolling some dice to build a character for the Dungeons and Dragons campaign Sean’s running. As her aunt was rolling those dice, she was getting quite passionate about what numbers she was rolling. She was trying to create a sorcerer, so having a high strength number and not a high intellect number, was bad.

So Kate’s aunt was having emotions about the outcome.

She was having emotions… about numbers.

Her aunt would get a set of numbers, write them down, and usually, be pissed about some number not fitting into the sorcerer character she wanted to build. So, she’d start rolling again.

And again.

And again.

And Kate, interested, came to the table and watched. At first she got a paper and pencil, and started drawing. Then, later, I noticed she was writing the numbers.

Thirteen. Four. Eight. And entire page-worth of numbers.

I was shocked.

This was the first time I’d ever seen Kate write numbers or even have an interest in numbers. But there she was, writing them all down. And then the day after, waiting for food at a restaurant, she started filling in numbers for a Sudoku puzzle all on her own.

So I asked myself: what can I do to help facilitate this interest?

Let me tell you, just rolling a bunch of dice and writing the numbers down didn’t mean squat to Kate. She just started coloring.

And that’s when I had my realization of why Kate had been drawn to the numbers in the first place, why she started writing the dice numbers down with her aunt…

It was because of the emotions. Those numbers meant something to her aunt. They had meaning. They had a purpose.

And, they were fun.

Kate wanted in on that.

I’ve already come up with some ideas, of how we can go forward from here… like, when we play our weekly Dungeons and Dragon session, to start the game earlier. That way Kate can participate or just watch. I’ve also picked up a role-playing book for My Little Pony (yes, there is such a thing) and am thinking about running a campaign for her and her friends. Sure it will require some adjusting, but it’d give her the chance to have her own emotions about numbers, about gameplay and cooperation, all of which, of course, will continue to build on her language. I even got a board game that mimics a playing style similar to a role-playing game that can scale for different ages. I’ve already put this in motion, inviting a few friends to come over, to try out the role playing game, then get into some amazing board games I have as well…

And this, this right here, is why all my worries are just plain silly.

I know what I need to do. I know what I am doing, and gosh darn-it, it’s enough.

I am enough.

I know this won’t be the last time I struggle with these thoughts. I know too it’s just not my perfectionist at the wheel here. Self-esteem is playing a huge roll, in my comfort to stand up and say, “No. I am going to walk this other path and I’m going to be comfortable doing it.”

The comfortable part is one I’m still working on and I plan on diving down into what this means for me, in how it’s manifested out of my own childhood and experiences. Journaling and really delving into what’s causing these different negative voices and anxiety.

Let me tell you, this self-exploration thing is a never-ending journey and it feels like every time I clean up one wire and one connection under my hood, I find a half-dozen more that need fixing. And, I’m okay with that. I like this feeling, this feeling of moving forward. Of learning about myself and why I tick the way I do.

As long as I try to balance my needs and dreams, of being a writer and an entrepreneur, with being a parent, I’ll be struggling with these thoughts. I doubt they’ll ever leave me… but as I said, I think I’ll get better handling this anxiety, this stress. I feel more confident in my abilities and in what I’m doing.

And also, I know parents who’ve chosen a more normal, mainstream life (meaning school but who are also engaged and supportive in their kids’ lives) also have these same doubts. That they aren’t enough, that they need to do more and more, to give even more of themselves.

I think it’s a normal part of parenting.

Also normal: when you do something different from the mainstream… like homeschooling or being the primary speech partner for your kids or being an entrepreneur —

All those doubts hit you extra hard.

And then you beat them down…

Until the darn things find yet some other way to come at you and try to take you out at the knees…

And you go through the whole process again.

And again.

The truth is, I am doing my best… my best to provide the right kind of learning, the right kind of environment and opportunities for my kids. No way in hell will it ever look perfect or will I ever be perfect. There will always be more I could add to my day, more connection time, more reading time, more social time. In fact, we could swamp our lives with more and yet, still feel like it’s not enough.

And that’s just bullshit.

All I have to do is look at my kids, at their joy and smiles, look back to where we started out journey and where we are now.

Because the truth is, I am enough, just as I am.

 

Downtime

 

 

These days it’s crazy easy to pack our schedules. To fit in two and three outings a day, an art class or two, and heck, why not stop at the park with friends because, you know, it’s a good chance to get energy out (for our endlessly moving kids) and what’s a few three or four hours of fun before bedtime?

And it’s not just a packed physical schedule either, but mental ones as well. Like for me, every moment of free-thought time and filling it with audiobooks or podcasts (a favorite pastime for me while driving) or if I’m desperate for a TV show and story, propping up my laptop on the counter during the ridiculously, time-consuming process of cutting veggies and washing, I swear, the endless supply of dirty dishes (to the point where I had no idea we actually had that many dishes!).

Well, turns out, all those events and outings, and stuff my brain’s chewing on, that’s kinda a lot. And it really starts to add up.

Not that there’s anything wrong if that works for you and your family. But what I’m learning is that time at home is critical, especially for my family.

We’re a bunch of introverts.

If I schedule both weekend days with socializing everyone is getting ready to have their own personal meltdowns and not just the two-year-old (he just gets the distinct advantage of it being, mostly acceptable, to stomp and cry and scream). So, I already look at my schedule with more awareness than most folks. Yes, I could have swimming with friends the same day as we have a play date at another’s house… except I’m gonna be exhausted, and yes, my kids will be having fun (but exhausted, and hence, cranky)… but then I still need to handle those pesky details like bedtime and teeth brushing, and of yes, you kids do need to get fed three times (or more) a day.

Then, of course, there’s my goal of being a patient and empathetic parent with my kids. They’re constantly moving in and out of their own BIG emotions throughout the day. If I’m barely hanging on by a thread, it’s a good chance I’m probably gonna lose it and yell (and then immediately regret it).

And yet, even with my awareness, I still make mistakes.

Or maybe not mistakes. Really, they’re just choices.

Sometimes I am quite aware of what I’m walking into and what situation I’m setting myself and the kids up for, while other times it’s a straight-up opps! And then other times, I still push us a bit more.

Maybe it’s a once in awhile thing, like visiting dear friends up in Montrose one day and the next have my three-hour hair appointment, which while wonderful and desperately needed (I got some super cute pink highlights, by the way), it also meant I was socializing for three-hours and I’m now freakin’ exhausted. Oh, and it’s not like I can go home and kick up my feet. Nope. I’m full aware that I’m on kid-duty because poor Sean has dealt with a distraught Eric because his mommy abandoned him in his complete and total, utmost need. Meaning: I left him… at home… alone… with daddy. a complete and total toddler tragedy, yes? Anyway, soon as I walked in the door I told Sean to check out and take a nap. He needed it.

But the point here, is we need downtime. Your family will certainly have different mileage than mine, all four introverts that we are, and for us, we need that downtime with a capital N!

Every week I almost feel like some kind of battle-planner, marking in the large events, from going to Disneyland or the Aquarium or driving through downtown LA to visit my parents or friends. The next day needs to be like nothing. Maybe we can handle a short afternoon stint, like swimming and invite some few friends over (certainly something physical for the two-year-old). Or, maybe not. And really, if I want to do stuff like playing board games or reading or art with my kids, especially Kate, well, when’s that actually going to happen if we’re always on the go? If we’re always up and about?

Plus, I still got those damn dishes to do.

And the endless snacks for all these outings to get prepared, along with the backpack and Eric’s necessary change-of-clothes (I bring several). Then there’s me, doing this crazy (or, it feels crazy at times) gig of trying to run my own writing and publishing businesses, and I’ve got to get those things in the schedule too.

Turns out, there’s only so many hours in the day. Even more important, there’s only so much brain computing power this mommy-me has.

By the end of the day, I’m shot. Just, done. Brain’s working on its low emergency mode and to do anything creative at all? Or heck, even read a book? Wow. Sometimes that’s a feat! And do some giant mental exercise of playing a board game (and against Sean no less)? Yeah. Not happening.

So… downtime.

It’s critical. Probably more so for my family than yours, but I think we when we find ourselves on the go so much, visiting with all these wonderful, exciting people in our lives and all the opportunities we’re continually faced with, all the choices we have… and I think we actually start missing out.

On the little things.

Like cuddling on the couch with me on my laptop getting in this blog post, somehow managing to type with Eric sprawled on my lap watching Wall-E and Kate, pressed against my side, asking for my help as she does the puzzles in, “My Monster Can Read” app. Or when Kate sets up her board game, Unicorn Glitterluck from HABA and says to me, “Mommy play? Come here, Mommy, play.”

I need to be able to close my laptop, with no worries or stress — what I was working on can get done later (because I’ve scheduled downtime into our week meaning I can get it done later), and then, just play with her. Then play again because she had such a great time, and now Daddy’s up so we can all play together!

We’re starting to move into art because Kate’s interest in this area is growing, and this is part of the self-directed, homeschooling journey we’ve chosen for our family, to follow their interests… so I certainly can’t ignore her when she’s giving me this big ol’ hints in bright pink My Little Pony drawings, now can I? Or when Kate starts writing out numbers as her auntie rolls a bunch of dice for her Dungeons and Dragon character (hmm… I guess we’re gonna start those game sessions early so Kate can join in too!).

And it’s not just about Kate or Eric either.

It’s me too.

When my brain is stressed, trying to gauge the timing of everything, the endless little lists that need to be complete before I can walk out the door with my kids (teeth? clothes? shoes? hair brushed… well, no one will notice and we’re seriously running late). It’s overwhelming. So overwhelming that I can’t possible be creative at that moment.

And that’s what I need to start protecting, as well as making time for.

Being creative.

Or more to the point, daydreaming.

I used to be so good at this day. Boring day at school? Boring office job? Oh man, I had the coolest, craziest adventures going on in my head. But it also helped me fall into the stories I was writing… thinking about the characters… hearing their distinct and personal voices.

I know darn well that I need this quiet. If I want even a shot to tell a story I need to give myself the quiet time to simply let my creative voice come out and play. I need to turn off the podcast, because while informative and fun, I need to be bored. Bored enough to start hearing and seeing the story come to life.

And I’m really, really bad at this part.

I mean, there’s so much I want to do and so very little time I actually have, and this whole daydreaming thing? Oh, it’s so easy to put it off as “less important.”

Big ol’ sigh right here.

Which is about when I get stuck on a story. The words flowing out my fingers ground to a halt. I mean, sure I can keep typing, and with every darn word it just feels wrong. Like the story is starting to spiral in some direction that I can’t see, or even where it needs to go.

That’s one of my first clues that I’m missing something. That I lost the story or the character did something that they wouldn’t have done. Or I didn’t jump to the right place in time.

All I’ve got is this feeling, this creative gut-thing and it’s little (quiet) red-flashing light.

If I’m to busy, if my brain is overwhelmed and overworked, I practically miss it. Then I have to go and cut about 7,000 words of the new novel and redraft cause I was kinda missing the real important character emotion in there, or, at least the one that this particular story needed.

But, I’m learning.

Really, I am.

It’s taken a lot, of trying and trying again. And I’m constantly looking back at my weeks and days, looking at everything I’d like to accomplish and just what I and the kids can realistically do. Also too, that I need to be flexible. Sure, I’ve got some staples, like every Friday I host a Nature Day outing that’s open to all ages of homeschoolers, and while I used to never miss, I’m feeling the need to be flexible again. To go to Disneyland with Grandma or some friends (especially when it’s a hit-or-miss with people showing up). But that means I can’t stick in a whole lot in those mornings (or expect to do a whole bunch when we get home). I usually get in my fiction writing for that day and that’s it. So, Thursday can’t be over packed with outings or visits, or as I’ve learned, even short Disneyland trips (we tend to not want to move much the day after).

I just got a new scheduler that allows me to pencil in the week’s activities and goals. It gives me space to write and I can flow through the week, even write in times for when something needs to start and can it, really, fit in? That’s helping. It helps too to see across the top what my goals are cause if I fill out the whole box chances are, I’m not exactly being realistic.

Like I need to start getting videos of Kate and Eric to send to our speech pathologist. I’ve got a 2-week block to get it done, and it’s important. It also takes a lot of time. I can plan for that now. I can go with the flow if one day it doesn’t go well (or the actual video got messed up).

But I think the biggest part is really looking at yourself, at your family, and being aware. Temperaments, energy levels, driving time and do you honestly have enough time to make dinner from scratch and get everyone to bed before the sun actually rises and you’ve got to start the process all over again? And how about your own daily movements, hmm? Do you have time during the week to get in your hour-plus yoga session or go rock climbing?

I think this goes double for us homeschoolers.

I mean, there’s so much we can do! There’s so many opportunities, places to visit, classes to take, and why not jump into as many as we possible can?!

Well, you can.

And then it will either work for you and your family, or it won’t.

Or you’ll find yourself craving some of that quiet at home. Of maybe just taking the afternoon to bake some cookies, letting your two-year-old playing in the flour, measuring out cups to his heart’s content (and knowing full-well that’s not going in the batter if you actually plan on making, you know, actual yummy tasting cookies). Or perhaps cracking open some books, sitting and reading and seeing if your kids come wandering over because they want to cuddle and be read to.

If we’re constantly on the go, constantly moving, how can we allow for these quiet times when the real magic can happen? The real special connection when it’s just you and your kids.

Or, for me as well, me and my creative voice?

We each need some amount of the quiet, of this downtime, and it’s really, really hard to see it for how valuable and how precious it is. And it’s hard to look at the schedule and start saying “no.” Start crossing off visits or memberships (because then you feel this need and responsibility to use it).

Allow yourself, and your family the quiet, and then just wait and see what kind of magic happens.

Because really, it’s something truly special.

Like noticing that Kate had drawn butterfly and rainbow marks from Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash (if you don’t know, they’re My Little Pony characters). At that moment, I had no idea how well Kate knew them, even picking out the exact colors from the chalk to match the character’s colors (and without looking to double-check). And yet, when I stopped moving, when I gave us all this moment of quiet, I got another glimpse into her amazing little mind.

This, right here, is why we homeschool. This, right here, is why I’ve chosen to be a parent — and this particular kind of parent.

And I’m so glad to have paused long enough to see and experience this joy with her. (And then she asked me to take a picture and send it to Daddy, which, we did.)

So, think about your busy, busy days and remember to sometimes pause and see just how many rainbows and butterflies your young one is dreaming up.

 

Parenting Children with Differences: My Journey

 

When you have a child who doesn’t fit in the so-called typical box, who walks to their own beat (or jumps or skips), or who just sees the world in these constant, vibrant and shining colors… your life as a parent becomes forever altered. Changed. It needs to be. Because these children, for whatever their unique reasons and differences, can’t be treated as a normal, neurotypical child.

That means us, as parents, have to change.

We need to switch around our expectations. Expectations we have internally, from the small ones like asking them to “go get a diaper for the baby,” or simply watching them interact and play with their same-age peers (including these increasingly social, complex interactions). Then there are the expectations society and culture has placed on them, like waiting quietly and patiently in line at Target, or the expected obedience of a two-year-old to stop turning on (and off) the Jacuzzi’s bubbles. And… when the two-year-old doesn’t listen, the stranger then takes it upon themself and threatens to put them in school. Never mind the fact that this is exactly what all two-year-olds do, or that this particular boy simply can’t understand the complex words — called language — coming out of your grumpy, old mouth.

As parents, we are expected to make our children listen, to get them to comply and attend. And I don’t know about you, but both of my differently-wired children really don’t give a shit about what other adults think or feel. Or their rules. (Though they tend to listen to my guidelines about what’s safe — because I’ve gone out of my way to give them as much grace and free reign so when I do ask them something, they generally comply.)

You see, my kids don’t fit into the “normal” box that society puts children in. I mean, I won’t even go into my beliefs that our current culture isn’t exactly welcoming to the curious, inquisitive nature of kids but I will say, the simple act of telling my kids something, and expecting (with the snap of my fingers), that they’ll listen… yeah. Not so much. Not for this family.

Which means I had to shift my expectations of what my kids can do… and then must tell society and strangers, to take a flying leap when it comes to defending them, or simply, just being their voice.

Like there was this one parent at the beach who told me: “I’m sorry I yelled at your daughter, but she’s not listening when I tell her to not put her dirty feet on the blanket.”

Me (speaking straight-forward, but definitely snippy because… this lady just yelled at my kid): “She doesn’t understand you. She has a language delay.”

Other parent: “Oh. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

Me (thinking, but unfortunately not quite strong enough to say): Maybe you should really go for kindness first and ask why a child isn’t listening.

As parents, we need to have the grace, the trust, and confidence in our children, and in ourselves, to let them be different.

To let them be who they are.

That also means this constant battle of standing up for them, and at times deciding silence is the better course of action (like grumpy old man at the Jacuzzi). And this, my friends, takes a tremendous amount of courage and bravery. To stand apart from all our parent-peers, to accept our children for who they are, little quirks and sometimes big quirks, and love them.

Accept them.

Stand by them.

I’m not saying this is easy, dear lord it’s not. And for some of you, who really do have children with differences, who are harder to handle, whose emotions are incredibly intense, or who fall on the spectrum or another type of genetic disorder where the simple act of sitting up, the path you walk will be much, much different than mine. You are amazing parents, each and every one of you, and my goodness are your children blessed to have you.

But even with this wide, wide range of differences, I think there are a few things I can share from what I’ve learned so far, on my journey as a parent.

The truth of the matter is, we love our children. Our hopes and dreams were different than the ones given to us, the ones that came with our children. I mean, when I was a parent I never dreamed that I’d be writing all these blog posts about having not one but two late-talkers! I never dreamed that I’d be a homeschooler or someone who followed a respectful parenting approach. I thought my kids when they hit preschool age would be going off to school, and yet, here Kate just turned five and she would be going to kindergarten.

Going. To. Kindergarten.

Wow, is the thought a bit mind-numbing for me. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with anyone sends their kids to kindergarten, in fact, I’m very much in the minority on this one. But let me say this, Kate literally just turned five, so she, developmentally, is a whole lot younger than her other would-be classmates. But, here’s the kicker: her language is at the level of a three-and-a-half-year-old.

Think about that. Put yourself in her shoes. Going to kindergarten, already as one of the youngest kids there, and your language is still only at a three-year-old. And maybe you also have this type of personality where you need to be precise and accurate or you get extreme anxiety… and now here’s this teacher asking you to do something, like sit down or get out your scissors for some verbally, instructed directions on some art project. Can you imagine what that would be like?? And then not having the one person, your constant, your voice, there to help you interpret what your needs are or even what the heck you’re trying to say??

I’m not worried about the social and play aspect of kindergarten. Boy, let me tell you, this kid has got that part down. But the rest? It terrifies me to even think of Kate being in that situation. She’s not, though, because of me, because of Sean. Because she has a family who understands her and her particular needs.

Remember, what works for your child won’t work for her, and what works for Kate is not going to work for Eric or for your child with their own unique needs.

It’s all about the children, them and their specific needs.

But you know, it’s about us too.

The parents.

It’s about us as we face those hard, frightening, and dark moments. Our reality is that we don’t have neurotypical kids, kids who talked on time, who have great social eye contact and socially engage right on schedule. As parents, our reality is very, very different from the rest who have the “normal” kids. And I don’t know about you, but my early experience, especially with the medical professionals and early intervention, was, unfortunately, very focused on the fear, very focused on… “oh it’s so bad, your child’s not doing this or this or this.” It’s like, in their minds, you can have one kind of kid, the good and the “normal,” or the other, where they see your child as DOOMED.

I wish I was exaggerating.

And yet, it was because of those moments that gave me the strength to stand where I do now. To face those fears, the worry, that total blackness that can easily consume you if you let it… and choose instead to believe in your child.

To believe in them, for who they are.

And then, to stand there and tell the doubters, friends or family or certainly professionals, that they’re wrong. You see what you see, as a parent, and you know in your heart that you’re right.

And you stand by that because you simply know.

I write this now completely from a place of peace and of confidence in myself. My journey, as a parent, has been no less miraculous than Kate’s. From where I started, walking out of Early Intervention in complete tears, knowing that they were dead-wrong about my child, that they didn’t see the child I knew in my heart, the child I saw at home every day, that’s not who they saw. They saw instead a child who was willful, who was introverted, who wouldn’t listen… and who couldn’t understand them.

Not at all any fault of her own, Kate simply didn’t understand the words they were speaking. Not to mention the lady doing the testing was someone giving off all kinds of ‘I hate kid’ vibes and you better believe my emotionally sensitive child picked up on that.

I was terrified.

I didn’t know what to do, what options there were for me. All I knew was I needed to support, but not how or why or even what it was exactly that Kate needed.

All I had was her, and what I knew in my heart.

If you met Kate today, you never would imagine that the words “autism” were almost threatened around her. Never. Today, it would never cross your mind. And if you closed your eyes and simply heard her talk, right now, without even seeing her, you would think she was just a young child. Which is pretty typical of a language-delayed child… but one who’s completely happy, completely vibrant with life and joy.

And that success, that joy and happiness, that’s because of me, because of her dad, because we chose to walk a different path… her path. It was our believing in her that got us to the point. Our willingness to step outside the box, with her, and give her the help that she specifically needed.

And was I confident starting out? Was I sure and comfortable when we quit speech therapy and went to a consulting approach, where I was the one being coached?

Hell no.

I was super tentative, unsure, questioning everything I was doing. Sometimes I talked too much (not good when you have a receptively delayed child), or I’d talk with a question at the end… think of the up-turning of your voice to make it sound like a question or a query. Again, not good when you’re working with language delayed kids. The more questions you ask, the more they feel like they’re on the spot and they shut down.

I had a lot of learning to do. I had a lot of growing to do.

And yet… this is where I stand. At this point where our speech professional asked for permission to use my recent videos as a fantastic example to other parents with nonverbal kids.

Me.

Me, who started out so unsure and tentative, who was terrified of screwing up my kids. And yet, during our last consult call, our speech professional continually told me how wonderful I was working with them, especially with Eric, that we’ve created this fun, back-and-forth play and how incredibly patient I am with him.

Let me give you an example…

Eric’s playing on a blanket and I’m playing a tickle game with him. Eric loves the tickle game. I tickle, he laughs, and then I stop. And wait. I wait for thirty seconds. He’s looking around, at the ceiling, and then he comes back to me. He looks right at me and makes his “mhmm” sounds (which means “more”) or even takes my hands and pulls them to his stomach. And I immediately respond with more tickles.

Did you catch that?

I waited, patiently, for 30 seconds for him to respond. I trusted that he would come back to me, and he did. Because he loves this type of play.

What I just described is the essential foundation before any kind of language can happen. The enjoyment shared between us, that Eric is engaging and asking me to keep playing, the looking at me, the sounds he used for “more.”

If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d completely skip over the significance of that moment.

And you know, when I started, I didn’t know. But I learned. I learned and kept learning, and more than anything, I continued to be tuned in to what my kids needed, to who they are. I almost laughed when our speech professional complimented me on the video because a whole bunch of times I forgot it was even on.

I got lost in the play and the joy of my kids.

I was playing with them. That’s all.

Everything I’d learned has become so natural, so incorporated into our family and our life, I don’t even think about it. I can tell you too, the family members who spend the most time with my kids? They do it too, and they don’t even realize it.

They don’t realize they’re recasting or modeling.

They just do it.

Naturally.

I mean, as Kate moves more into complex language, I’m thinking best how to model language and recast to best help her, but all the rest? It’s natural at this point, it’s like breathing.

Again, I didn’t start this way. In fact, I didn’t know there were other options and explanations for children who are different, who didn’t just fit into the autism box that was being pushed on us. I had no idea there were actual language disorders when we started this journey, and for that matter, our first pediatrician didn’t know either (and when I mentioned it to her she completely discounted me — so I found ourselves another one).

And I say all this, that I’m in this amazing place of peace, and I don’t have answers yet for Eric. He’s still too young to know anything for sure… but I don’t need to know. Why? Because he’s showing me everything that matters… everything I described in his reaction to me, his engagement in play, in wanting to play… that’s what I need.

For right now, on this stage in his journey, that’s everything I need.

Eric is moving at his own pace, in his own way, and I can see that. I can see his progress and it’s been amazing — for him. I don’t need a specialist to look at him because I know, in my heart, they will only see the child they want to see. They won’t see him. They won’t know and understand the significance of Eric engaging with my mom in play, or his favorite, ten-year-old mother’s helper. They won’t know about this amazing moment where he completely engaged in a continuous play with this other mom while camping… playing peek-a-boo, hiding and seeking, asking her to pick him up (by holding up his hands) and then going limp because he wanted her to spin him. All that, without a single word. And this mom understood his cues completely. And he was looking right at her, smiling and laughing, completely engaging.

Those moments, just like that, are the little pieces we need to get to language. Little stepping stones, if you will, but not something you can see in a 30 minute consult. Or even an hour or two hours.

There are great professionals out there, people who understand where I’m coming from, the problem is you’ve got to wade through a lot of bad ones to find the good ones, and frankly, I just can’t have that in my life. I can’t internalize their thoughts and emotions (that is, unfortunately, the way I’m programmed).

What Eric needs, is me, to believe in him. To be focused and engaged and open. Because this kid can sense all that negativity. He knows darn well when I’ve got all that swirling around inside me and oh boy does he shut down fast… and then he has an even harder time dealing with his emotions.

And my speech professional totally understands. She agrees with me, agrees with my decision that’s best for Eric.

But even with her I had to stand up for Eric last time we talked. I had to explain what she didn’t see in the videos… that no, he doesn’t orientate to objects more than people, that it was my fault because of the videos I’d chosen to send her. And you know what, during our latest conversation? She didn’t bring it up one time. Didn’t even mention it. Not once. Instead, she told me how much happier he seemed, this content little boy. He wasn’t agitated like he was in the past.

I told her Eric had been growing, that he’d hit his middle-twos and had this just amazing amount of frustration because he couldn’t communicate (along with his darn stubbornness to not actually be clear with what he wanted in the first place). This was very different than what we experienced with Kate. For her, it was like a puzzle to figure out how to communicate what she wanted. With Eric, as his awareness of the world expanded, he would just go from zero to sixty in the frustration factor. And it’s getting better. Little tiny steps for sure, but the more I focus on our little successes, the more content I feel with where we are… right at this moment.

I am a very, very long way from this journey being over.

With Kate, we’re looking at continuing to help and support her as she moves into more complex parts of grammar, at reading and education (for us, in a child-led way). With Eric we’re just continuing to move forward with where he’s at, encouraging play that needs our involvement in order to be fun. To help him trust in the sounds and the words that will eventually come.

But the truth is, I know who he is and I trust in that, I trust that he’ll keep guiding me, pointing me in the direction that he needs me to go… regardless of where we’ll end up.

And that’s what I like to remember most of all:

There’s a reason these children were given to me.

They came to me, and no one else, because I was the person most equipped and able to help them, to understand and empathize with them. Me. What a gift I was given, and the more I’ve shifted my thinking to this, the more I’ve grown and learned as a parent, and also as a human being.

Kate opened up my world to being different, to raising a child who sits on top of her own box, who walks a different path and is still completely beautiful, completely her own person. And because of her, she opened the door to be the parent that Eric needs me to be.

But the real truth is that I didn’t get to this place overnight. It took a lot of work, a lot growing, and a heck of a lot of trust on my part. But I am here; I am in this place of peace and confidence.

And you know something? I’m really, really looking forward to seeing the path Eric takes me on next. It will be different, but it will be all his.

I can’t wait to see what our journey, together, will look like.

Learn by Living

 

 

With everything I’ve got going, life is a bit crazy at times. Raising two young kids (late-talkers to boot), homeschooling, not to mention my own writing and publishing business, which I’m slowly resurrecting after surviving two years of my cute little boy’s existence. I also recently hosted Kate’s fifth birthday party, an event that wasn’t complete without a lost Elsa balloon and the said cute, little boy burning his fingers on the grill. My kids had lots of emotions that day, and because they did, that meant I did. But hey, that homemade cake was really good… even if I didn’t actually get a piece, and enjoy it, until we got home.

Life there’s a bit overwhelming, right?

And sure it’s not all crazy times. In fact, I have some pretty amazing moments and days with my kids, when I’m just so connected and in tune with them, but no question about it: I’ve got my hands full.

Which is why it makes perfect sense that here I am, now starting a monthly camping group. A small, intimate (and hopefully) close group of homeschooling families. People who simply fit together, who my kids will look to as their family-in-nature, exploring different State and National Parks, going on adventures and seeing where it takes us —

And… you’re probably shaking your heads at me, thinking I’m straight-up nuts. Crazy, even.

Possibly. Probably.

(Sean certainly thinks so.)

But to me, it makes perfect sense, a perfect fit really for this next stage of our journey.

At least for me.

I’ll back up a couple decades here to where this desire, for me, actually started. When I was younger… from like 7 (I think?) to 13, this was what our family did. Every summer we would be gone for a month or two at a time, camping and visiting every National Park we could fit in between the dog trials my parents were part of. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of places we’ve been, the different little museums we checked out during those years, but what I can tell you is that it gave me such a deep, profound love for nature. Something that is so engrained that it’s simply part of my core, of who I am.

But it’s also more than that…

It’s some of my absolute best memories with my family. It’s the time when I felt closest to them, and not even the big “events” like when we went to Disney World with relatives. In fact, it was more those little moments, those snippets of memories that are the most precious to me. Like when we’d drive out of Los Angeles in the middle of the night and head to Las Vegas. I have no idea why that direction always seemed to be our first destination of choice, camping at the RV lot in Circus Circus, but it was — and I loved it. Loved driving at one or two o’clock in the morning. The roads completely empty of cars and that desert… just so darn black. Not a single light in sight (for a bit anyway, and then they got really cool and really colorful). But that empty stretch of road, that blackness, was my favorite. It’s when I got to sit in the front seat and listen to all the Classic Rock tapes my parents had, from the Beach Boys to The Who, and I would just sing and sing and sing.

It was great.

Great connection, great fun, and also, a whole lot more. You see, as a parent and when we first started looking into homeschooling, those experiences gave me the insight I needed to feel confident and comfortable in our decision, not just to homeschool but to unschool (also called self-directed learning). When we, as a family, decided where we would go together. What would interest us most?

Like that Quake Lake up in Montana, just outside of Yellowstone, where a mountain literally slid off its top during an earthquake and created this lake. You can see the tops of pine trees sticking out of the water, like silent sentinels guarding a place where people died and homes were swept away, where now ospreys make their nests and leap into the air. It was eerie, with a a kind of stillness I’ve only felt a few times since.

But… I remember that place.

I haven’t been back since I was a child, but I remembered all those images, remembered the feel of the place. It left an impression on me, one I carry with me now, even as an adult.

Looking back on my childhood, I asked myself, what do I remember? What did I learn? And almost just as important, when did I learn it? Was it during school? Or heck, can I remember learning anything in school (we’re talking specifics here)?

And in contrast, what did I carry with me into adulthood?

For me, those answers were party obvious.

As a writer, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to explore and play with these places, the experiences that touched me most. I’ve written magazine articles for Women in the Outdoors, Jakes Magazine, and Montana Outdoors. I wrote about trekking on the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska, complete with ski poles and crampons as a teenager (and with all the emotions that went with being a teen). We hiked by ice climbers and looked down these brilliant, aqua-blue crevasses and the melting water literally falling down under our feet and into the ice. And yes, it was also cold and my feet really did hurt, but it was amazing.

Besides, how many other kids got to say they hiked a glacier? (I thought I was pretty darn cool, by the way.)

I also have a deep love for mountain goats, of all animals. You probably have never heard of them before, and yet, they’re my favorite. Why? Because I remember, in Glacier National Park, Montana, looking up at one of those black, craggy mountains with binoculars, trying to find this speck of white that my dad had claimed he’d seen (I never saw the mountain goat myself). But all the pictures I saw while we were there?

I thought they were beautiful. Majestic.

It was a love that again, I carried into adulthood. An interest that pushed me to write what became a lead article for Montana Outdoors (along with a few others) and ended up making me a good amount of money, actually.

And it was because of that love, the unique place that was Glacier National Park, which pushed me to try our first family vacation there. The result was a definite mix, especially the whole not-sleeping-for-a-month (Eric had decided the vacation was a great time to start teething). But I got to see my mountain goats, holding my six-month old boy, and yes, I cried.

It was that beautiful a moment, that touching for me. I can’t wait to go back.

We also stayed two days in Butte, Montana so I could sneak in some research in between the needs of my kids. Butte, you’re asking? Never heard of it. I hadn’t either until some family vacations took us through there and again, a place left an impression on me. This one wasn’t as obvious as the mountain sliding into a lake, but no less powerful. I have an entire historical mystery series set there, as well as a whole new fantasy world. Also, Eric got to hang with me (literally, he was in the baby carrier) while I got a personal tour of the Dumas Brothel Museum.

All of this stayed with me. Something I saw or experienced as a child, something I learned by living.

This was why our decision to homeschool came so easily to us, especially in regards to self-directed learning. All I had to do was look at my life, at what I remembered growing up, and the answer was there.

Just sitting there, waiting. All I had to do was trust in it, trust in my children to learn, just as my parents had trusted in me.

Also, just like I’ve been waiting so anxiously for when the moment was right, when I could start this journey of exploring and camping with my kids. When they got big enough so I could, you know, actually enjoy parts of the trip and not just be in work-mode the whole time.

The camping group I’m putting together is small. There have been opportunities to join some other large group camping events, but that didn’t work for me and my family (for me it’s a mess of anxiety with all those people I don’t know). But a small group? A chance to really connect, to form some deeper friendships? That I can totally do. Especially when you get together the right group of people, people whose energies really compliment each other, especially those who share this deep love of nature, who believe a childhood in nature is essential.

I’m really, really excited.

And I’m excited for my kids. In my heart, I know this will be an even better opportunity for Eric. For late-talkers, one common thread is when they go to new places, have new experiences, you’ll hear new words start coming. It’s not a guaranteed thing, but what can happen, when they’re ready, is the experience itself becomes this little shock to the system. Or maybe a little rocking motion to get things going. Something new and exciting and super fun and the words just kinda pour out without them being able to contain it.

Again, my intuition is telling me this will be good for Eric.

Also when we’re camping he can simply run and be himself, to pee on rocks and trees. I mean really, nature is a place where our rules, ones we’ve laid down as adults, simply don’t apply. And for strong-willed little explorers, with their own (very opinionated) little minds, this is a good thing. A good experience for them.

So yes, this camping group is an added load to what I’m already carrying, but for me, it’s worth it. Worth it to finally be at this place, to share this experience with my children. One I’ve looked forward to since before they were born. And I hope I can give them the chance to build their own memories, follow their own path, and have it not be regulated to only those summer months when school is out.

They can do it every day, as often and as long as they like. And not only that, but building a community of friends and family around them, kids of so many ages, to share and grow up with, to follow their lead and learn through living.

Wow. What an opportunity. One I’m so jealous of, but just can’t wait to get started… and see where this next adventure takes us.

The Social Piece of Language: My Journey with Late-Talkers

As a parent of a late-talker, we wait on pins and needles for our children to start talking. For their words to blossom and expand, to open their mouths, to let the sounds come out, to simply trust in those words, in this very complex thing called language.

I hear this all the time from new parents on this journey, or for parents who are still waiting for their child to talk, especially as children turn three or four or five, and those parents might still be waiting… that feeling of, sometimes, desperation that comes with this simple, yet scary question:

“When will my child start talking?”

So much of our focus goes into that time, that moment. So much of our energy and worry and hope, as parents and professionals, is all focused on that one moment, if you will.

For us, for Kate, that moment wasn’t until she turned four. Her first functional word (“no”) wasn’t until she was 37 months and after that she had only a handful of words by the time she turned four (“baby” and “daddy” were two of the big ones). But she got there, she hit that “talking” milestone, the moment where she decided to open her mouth and try to talk, even as uncomfortable as it was that her words weren’t perfect. Not long after she hit her first language burst and we were off to the word-races.

You’d think that would be the end of the story. You’d think that, “Hey! She’s talking now, it’s all good, right?”

Well… no. You’d be wrong.

You see, the journey doesn’t end when the words start coming. In fact, it’s really just the start of the journey and this part here, what happens after the language burst, it’s not something I’ve heard a whole lot about. I’d really like to share this next stage in the journey for other parents out there, and for parents too who might be so focused on ‘when the words come’ that they might be disappointed when they see that the journey’s not over yet.

And hey, maybe what I’ve experienced won’t be the same for you and your child (that’s certainly not a bet I’m willing to take). Maybe your child will just start picking words up and language and will fall back into the crowd with her same-age peers and be caught up in no time.

Or, maybe not.

If not, you’re not alone. There are other families out there navigating this different world when your child doesn’t fit into any one box… or if your child decides to say, “the hell with boxes…”

And they just sit on top of that damn box.

Your child might be autistic, and there’s such a range in that spectrum alone that your journey will look different from ours. Or maybe your child was just slightly delayed with the language, or maybe they’re even like Kate who has both a receptive and expressive language disorder. Regardless, you’ll have your family on your side, your professionals backing you up as you go (professionals you trust and that fits your family and your child’s needs, of course).

This is just me, sharing what Kate’s process has looked like as she moved from “just talking” into that other really complex part of language…

The social piece of language.

Kate is turning five next week and her language is about where a normal three and a half year-old is at. Which is just super awesome. She’s making leaps and bounds with language, starting to work on her grammar, adding it in naturally as her sentences have moved into three and four words at a time. She is communicating with so many people, different moms and dads, kids her age, younger, and older. She’s my little social butterfly and just today, after I told her we were meeting new friends at a park, she goes right up to this new mom, who she’s never met before, and holds out to show her Twilight Sparkle from My Little Ponies (I imagine Kate said something like, “Rarity,” which is her word for all of the ponies). Then she’s off and playing with this new girl, saying, “Hi” and waving and running after her.

It’s a beautiful thing, one I never get tired of seeing. It has lost sparkle yet, and I don’t think it will any time soon. I feel such pride and awe when I watch her interact and play. Holy shit have we come far. Holy shit have we all worked hard (and played!) to get to this point.

She has worked hard.

But at the same time, amidst all this progress, there’s a shift occurring with language, with this age range of children.

We are a homeschooling family, which at this point, with how old my kids are, means we just play. We play a lot. We go to the park, we’re out in danger, we’re swimming.

We’re constantly inviting friends over and having one-on-one play dates with other families. Those other kids are simply fantastic with Kate. They know her language is delayed, that she’s still learning to talk, and they have a tremendous amount of patience for her (this, though, would not have been possible if not for the awesome parents involved, who have talked with their own kids to help them understand).

Kate is also a bit towards the younger end of our particular age group, which ranges from late four to seven years of age. Most often, if there are little ones around (like Eric’s age of two or younger), they’re a sibling of an older child.

Okay, you’re thinking, big deal.

Well, actually, believe it or not, it is a big deal.

There’s a developmental shift that starts happening, especially in that five and six years of age. Not that I’m an expert, this is straight-up just from antecedes and what I’ve personally seen, but there is a social change that happens.

The social play, the language, gets more complex (certainly for girls; I’ll throw that little caveat in there: what I’m talking about here is mostly for girls). They want to play house or salon. They want more rules. They want their fellow play-mates to do certain things and they expect those playmates to also suggest ideas of their own. There’s not as much patience for someone to respond to a phrase or request. It’s like, they expect this almost rapid, instantaneous response.

This is something that my child, with a receptive and expressive delay, can’t keep up with.

And also, there may not be a whole lot of kindness and grace in these five and six year olds, as they wait for the other child, who is thinking through what they heard, trying to form a response, or, if they even understood. Again, it feels like a developmental stage, especially compared to a child who is 9 or 10, like the mother’s helper I have coming over to who play with my kids, and she has an incredible amount of patience.

The stage that Kate is in right now, for language, is mimicking and repeating. She repeats everything. Seriously. And it’s fantastic! I mean, that’s a huge part of learning language: practicing the words and phrases you hear. Kate does this with me, Grandma, other adults, and other kids.

But sometimes that’s not always understood, and sometimes, it can seem hurtful.

We had a friend over at our pool and this girl told me, “Kate’s copying me.”

Well, yes, yes she was. That’s what she does. I explained that Kate was learning language and that’s why she was repeating after her. I told her that Kate repeats after me all the time. But it wasn’t enough to ease this girl’s worries and I didn’t realize until later why: where she was at, developmentally, was a completely different stage than Kate.

When other six and seven year olds repeat you, when they copy what you’re doing, it’s because they’re being mean.

My jaw dropped on that one.

Of course! How could I have forgotten?? (Well… it’s been a really long time since I was seven, that’s why.)

But knowing this now, having this information, it will help me respond in the future. How to reach out to other kids, who might think that Kate’s being mean (because again, she’s five and not the three and half she’s at with language).

Again, this is not to pick on or point out that the other kids are just mean at this age and to run for the hills and avoid play-dates until the kids magically start being kind again (there’s nothing magic about parenting, let me tell you). Yet knowing and understanding where the other kids are at, developmentally, this has helped me to respond better. The more knowledge I have, the better I’m able to help guide Kate — because even though she’s talking, guys, guess what? She still needs my help. She still needs me to step in, to guide her in what’s being asked, or to hug her while she’s upset because she needs to share her “house” with other kids (in this instance, the house was part of the playground structure).

For the record, Kate’s at the stage of ‘why the hell do I need to share???’ So even though she’s only talking at a three and a half year-old level, she still has the developmental feelings of a five year-old! Good times, let me tell you.

I’ve noticed too, with the older kids, and kids her age, they may not have as much fun when they play with Kate. If we have someone come over, especially to the house where there’s toys, they lose interest in the kind of play Kate wants to do. Her play is still at the simple stages, especially with dolls or playing with her Calico Critters or My Little Ponies. Pretending that a critter gets hurt and needs a “doctor.” Or purposefully falling down and saying, “he died.”

It’s simple play still, and pretty darn boring for the other kid (or, to be honest, me as the parent).

I mean, it’s totally fine if Kate busts out the WiiU and starts playing Splatoon or Yoshi or Mario Kart. In those moments she’s generally the one with the more knowledge and shows the other kids what to do.

But when it comes to language, to the social side of it, the kids her age are moving into much, much more complex areas, into deeper waters, and she’s still just having fun running around in the shallow end.

Which, by the way, is totally fine.

It’s just means that, as a parent, I’ve needed to adjust. I’ve shifted my approach, to friends and playmates, for her. It’s changed because she, and the other kids, have changed.

We still meet and see these older kids, but we’re often swimming or at the park or playing at our favorite creek, areas where the focus is on the physical play and not the in-depth social side.

In fact, I saw this happen just recently with an older girl, who just turned seven. Incredibly sweet, super excited to meet and play with Kate, but after a little while I could tell she wasn’t enjoying the play with Kate as much because of that communication barrier. But when the play turned to the physical, fun kind of play, the mood shifted entirely.

Part of that was giving the girls time, to meet each other halfway (it was either that or be bored), but the other part was my stepping in and engaging in play… and ironically, play that was focused on Eric.

One thing I’m still working on as parent is to let go the ‘parent side’ and just play with my kids. I can’t tell you why, but play can be a hard, hard shift for me to make. Thankfully, my little Eric responds best to this kind of play, silly fun and simply play, and guess what?

The second I start going with Eric, Kate is rushing on over.

I started a game on a little swinging bridge at the play structure, where I pretended to catch Eric’s toes. Well, about two minutes of that, of his silly laughter and my funny words, and there’s Kate.

Another minute later? Yep, the seven-year-old is asking to play too.

We all had a blast. Seriously, I had so much fun, just letting go and playing and being silly (you’d think I’d remember so the next time it wouldn’t be such a big effort to shake that being-a-mom-thing). And when Eric tired of that game, I watched this physical play, for Kate and this other girl, continue. It involved another little brother and then yet another child.

Play is infectious.

And seriously, get an adult actually playing? The kids come running to join in.

And if we do see kids her age, I might invite only one or two families along. If it’s two families, I often make sure there’s a younger child there so when the older ones go off and bond and play, there’s someone who Kate can still interact with. Or I just invite one family with one older child. It sounds simple, but it makes the world of difference for the kids involved. It helps them connect, all on their own, and find a way to interact so everyone has fun.

Another change I’ve seen in Kate is her absolute enjoyment playing with younger kids. I’ve watched as she continually chooses to not play with the kid her age (or a year older) and instead play with children who are three years old. She follows them and mimics them, they mimic her, and there’s so much laughter involved. This simple kind of play, man, she gets so much joy in it. One time I watched as her and this little boy, just two months older than Eric, made their way from rock to rock at the tide pools, how they would laugh hysterically when a wave hit them.

It was special.

So, I’m following Kate’s lead in regards to social play. And really, that’s what this whole journey has been about: following her lead.

I’m moving away from play dates with only her peers, to the younger ones. How one week, at the local creek, she followed this one mom and her 20-month-old boy around. Later this mom told me, “She’s so good with him.”

Again, special.

Our kids don’t need to be “normal.” They don’t need to fit into any one shape or size or colored box. They are, in fact, telling us what they need, what they want, if we’re aware enough to listen.

Often, as parents, we might need to shift. Shift our expectations, shift our way of doing things, especially as our kids outgrow one way and start heading in another direction. That’s what I’ve seen so far with language, at least language involving little girls. I imagine Eric’s experience will be totally different and yet, in some ways, very similar.

As the social complexity and expectations have grown, Kate is finding her place and her joy among the little ones. It’s beautiful and something I treasure dearly. To think she might have long-lasting relationships with a two-year-old, someone that might see Kate as a very special friend as they grow up.

My late-talkers are a gift and a treasure. It’s not an easy path, especially since we’re figuring things out as we go, certainly as we’re moving forward into new this new territory, but as we do I hope to reach out to other parents and say: this journey doesn’t have to be so lonely and scary and dark.

Your journey, your path, is yours and yours alone.

It’s one you and your family, your children, will make and it will be so incredibly unique and different, just as your kids are unique and different. And while many of us have worried and wondered and fretted about when our kids would start talking, it’s also still a journey, one that could be over shortly, or one that will never fully be over.

The choice we have, as parents, is the mindset we bring with us. Worry and fear, or joy and love?

I will do my best, every day, every moment, to chose joy and love. I don’t always succeed, but I’ll try, and try again. All I have to do is look at their smiling, joyful faces to see the blessings I’ve been given. And every day will be a new experience. I’ll keep learning, keep seeing where this language journey takes Kate, and then Eric. We will surround ourselves with friendships that continue to help them blossom and grow. For now, that means making a shift in our play, in the ages and groups we’re playing with, but making those shifts and changes, it’s really what parenting is all about… whether you have a normal child or one who sits on top of that box.

Finding Joyful Moments

 

Let’s be honest here: when life is hard, when parenting feels like the hardest, most thankless job on this planet, finding joy can feel like pulling teeth (or downright impossible). And yet, there’s something to be said when you take a breath, step back, and try to find some small positive nugget in an otherwise unending gauntlet, trial of a day.

Because it works.

Because suddenly, when you find that one little piece, suddenly the world doesn’t seem quite so against you (or your children plotting to single-handedly destroy you). I mean, sure your day probably still sucked, you probably still yelled and lost your cool, and there were most likely tears (from the kids and you), but that one little piece, that one glimmering, positive thought, is like a beacon.

You’re trying.

You’re doing what you can.

You are doing something in the direction you want, the kind of parent you want to be, in the way you want to be connected with your children. It’s not a whole lot, but that little glimmer is hope. And sometimes all we need is hope to keep from falling down into those dark pits of sadness and loneliness. (Hope and a few good, nonjudgmental friends who are willing listen while you pour your heart and failures out to them. These friends are essential, I’m telling you.)

Our “job” as parents, this role we’ve chosen, it’s 24 hours, 7 days.

You may have no breaks. You may have no family around to lean on. You may not have money to pay for a babysitter or a mother’s helper to give yourself a small ounce of a break or the essential connecting time with your spouse or loved one (without having to referee a knock-down, drag-out fight between kids or getting the toddler and his chocolate/sticky hands before he runs wild touching everything in your house). You may also, like me, have children who fall outside the normal, who walk to their own beat, who don’t care about society and their stupid boxes and decided to create one of their own (or hell, to just sit on top of the damn box).

This parenting role is hard.

This parenting role is also, incredibly so, joyful.

I am constantly reminding myself of this. When the day is upside down and all I want to do is crawl away and cry (you know, those kind of days), I still, somehow, try and remind myself… to find the hope, to find one little joyful moment. Even when I’m upset, when I’m at my rock-bottom lowest, I have this little voice in the back of my head reminding me: if you connect with them, you’ll feel better.

Sometimes, I’m in a position to do this. Sometimes, I still want to have a tantrum myself.

All that is good and easy to say, I know. ‘Hey! Just think happy thoughts and magically your mood will turn around you.’

Yeah. Parenting life don’t work that way, but there are a few things I’ve found that work.

Call a friend. Or text. Or whatever.

Just someone, a compassionate adult who you feel safe with to reveal the awfulness of the parenting moment you’ve just survived (or are trying to survive). Connect with an actual adult, a human being who can wipe their own butt, and let out those feelings to them. All of them.

You need to be heard. You need to be felt.

When I call Sean at work he almost always picks up (if he’s not in a meeting) because he knows I’m hitting the panic button and I need support. And often times, that little bit is all I need.

Journaling is good for this too, and so is actually writing out what your grateful for about your kids (I try to actually list what’s so frustrating, but in a positive light, a way that their temperament or actions is actually good for them). I’ll be honest, I don’t get to this nearly enough. I usually reserve journaling for those really hard times, when I can’t let go or when I’m so disappointed (in myself) or so worried/afraid. I write out what happened, throwing in every judgmental thought about myself (and my kids) that I can think of. Then, I state in facts, as if I were an observer without judgments what happened and why. I try to list what my feelings were in that moment, and the needs I had that weren’t being met (I do this the same with the kids). I then try and list what I could do differently next time. This isn’t to say next time will be perfect, but this exercise is really helpful in deconstructing the situation, helping me ‘get under the hood’ of why I reacted the way I did. It also gives me a plan for the future. Plans, though, especially with parenting (and especially when the tactic you’re taking hasn’t been hard-wired into from your own childhood) often fall apart. It’s called practice. The simple act of reflecting and thinking forward will give me the barest hint of a roadmap, but one that means if I keep on going, keep on trying, I will find success.

I’d journal more, if I could, but finding the quiet time in this house, with my little Eric getting into everything, isn’t working. I’ve decided to reserve the quiet moments for my own writing or my publishing business unless again, I’ve hit a really hard bump and I need that time for reflection.

I’ve also found that removing ourselves from the house, getting outside for some fresh air, is huge. To be honest, the house is generally the battleground that all these big emotions take place in. Which, makes sense. We all feel safest there. It’s also the place with a whole lot of rules (no, you can’t stand on the entertainment table, no we’re not having four bananas [or chocolate] for breakfast). By leaving the house, getting outside, getting movement… it satisfies a lot of our individual needs, even ones we may not be aware of. Eric might be needing more movement. Kate might be needing space from her Godzilla brother. I just need to be left alone god-damn it!

When we go on walks we automatically invite connection between us. The running ahead of me, glancing back and smiling. Or jumping in place and then looking at me to show me how darn cool that was. All of those moments, eye-blinks, really, are chances to reconnect as a family, to get us back to center after a particularly bumpy moment.

And with all seriousness, I’m the one who’s usually most resistant to reconnecting.

The kids, I swear, it’s like magic. The second the door opens and they go running down the hall barefoot, all is forgotten. All is forgiven. I’m the one still carrying the baggage. But by going on a walk, or going to the pool, it’s giving me enough space, enough time to mentally calm down. It’s enough to finally bring me back from that angry/frustrated place. And when I do, my kids, including Eric who is currently the source of much frustration, they’re waiting for me. With a smile. With complete joy and love in their face.

They’ve already forgiven me.

They’ve already moved on.

Now I just need act like a grown-up (or truthfully, like a child) and follow their lead.

Yes, I know, easier said than done. If you follow this blog you know my son is hitting right in the middle of the two’s, gets incredibly frustrated and physical (with me) when he doesn’t instantly get what he wants. He also doesn’t talk yet and that adds to his frustration. Sometimes it takes all of my control to not lose control (and some days/moments I’m way more successful than others).

But I keep trying.

I keep listening to that little voice: find the joy.

At least, I eventually do. I’m no miracle-worker over here. I’m generally overtired and overworked… and also so incredibly grateful to be home with my kids, to be helping them on their journey, one that is as different and unique as they are. Sometimes all I need is a 30 minute break of someone else stepping in and managing the toddler. Often, I don’t get that.

Those days are about surviving and doing the best I can with the resources I have.

I try to be honest with myself, and kind. Kindness because I’m not perfect, because I am tired and I am overwhelmed. And after I take those deep breaths or go outside and get some much needed movement in…

I see the absolute joy in Eric’s face. His complete love for me and his love of swimming and he wants to share that.

With me.

And I get to see his growth, his expanding awareness of the world, how he’ll jump on the couch and look at each adult in turn to make sure they saw just how awesome what he did was. Or his growing understanding (or maybe even just willingness) when we ask him to do something. Or how he’s finally got this potty training thing down.

Or Kate, who’s making leaps and bounds with language. How she’s answering simple questions now and how she will go to Eric when he’s upset, kneel down and rub his back saying, “It’s okay, Eric. It’s okay.”

Little moments of joy… little moments of success… even when we’re in the middle of some seriously hard times. Because, and I know it’s hard to remember in the moment, the times won’t always be bad. In fact, the very next moment can be an amazing one!

Parenting is all about the fluctuations, the movement. It’s a straight-up rollercoaster and it’s hard, especially when there’s only two adults doing everything… bringing home the bacon, actually cooking the bacon, the required house-cleaning, laundry, and never-ending dishes. And, let’s not forget the actual act of parenting. You know, teaching and guiding our young ones to be kind, caring individuals. Talk about a tall order here!

And as is often reminded to me, it’s when we make mistakes that we have the opportunity to learn the most. A mistake today, an unkind word or reaction today, means tomorrow you can do better. You can learn, about your kids, yourself, and then find a new way, a new path, for tomorrow.

Give yourself a bit of grace, my dear parent.

We are doing our best, every day, every moment.

Often times, all we need are those little moments, a little bit of space and quiet, to calm down and meet our children in that place of love, and forgiveness. Because really, they’re already there waiting for us. All we have to do is let go of our own feelings, all that frustration, anger, worry, and meet them with loving, open arms.

They always come running because they love us, for exactly who we are, as imperfect as we are.

Talk about a true gift.

The Hidden Toll of Parenting

Our bodies, as human beings, are crazy resilient. I mean, really. They can put up with a lot …. months (or years) of poor sleep, eating McDonalds Chicken McNuggets by the pound (me, in my youth, anyway), the constant stress pouring in from every which way possible, from family, work, heck, even getting on the freeway and driving to Grandma’s. And yet, at some point, our bodies slam the breaks on and says, “Enough is a enough, dude.”

Let’s go ahead a little one or two to that mix and see what happens. You know, children. Especially young children who you can’t reason with (or beg), who have their own very clear needs and who really, really couldn’t give a shit about yours (like sleeping).

And while we’re at this, let’s up the ante some and add a special needs element just for fun.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

It is the most beautiful, rewarding journey I’ve ever been on — and it’s also the one that’s tested me beyond what I thought was physically and mentally possible.

And, I’m far, far from being out of the woods.

I realize my recent posts have this kind of desperate tinge to them, but what can I say? This is the life I’m living. It will get better, it will get easier, but right now, right at this very moment? It’s hard.

Hard.

And there are days when I feel so completely alone, trapped by the needs (re: demands) of my two-year-old, and I’m doing all I can to simply keep breathing (and somehow still being the parent I want to be). Eric is literally smack-dab in the hardest part of his young years. He has the usual ‘can’t-wait-even-a-second’ when he wants something, which then usually results in a crying, screaming meltdown, with hands (and sometimes feet) flying and doing his best to smack me.

Why? Because he knows I don’t like it.

Now, I’ll be honest: it’s getting better. Sometimes he’s a foot from me with both hands going and he’s aware that while he wants to hit me he’s not supposed to.

Why am I mentioning this?

Because every little positive step forward counts, and when you’re right in the thick of things when all you can see of the forest are the pine needles sticking into your eyes, you’ve got to hold onto the positive things. Just like the potty training bit, which is finally, finally coming together. We’re almost there. Not that we’re “done” (done in my mind is when I almost never have to think about it), but Eric’s initiating on his own, and he’s communicating with us when we’re out of the house and he needs the potty.

That’s huge.

Huge.

Especially from a child who’s been completely reluctant to use any form of communication… unless he darn well feels like it. Ah, the stubbornness of kids. (And the intense, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me stubbornness of late-talkers. )

And while I have some positive moments throughout my day, some little successes whether it’s the potty or Eric engaging in play with Kate or me, it doesn’t take away from how crazy hard life is right now.

For Eric, all his feelings, his intense toddler emotions, it’s compounded by a ton of frustration because he has no functional words yet. He doesn’t even have the word “no.” And Eric’s not taking this mid, two-year-old stage with grace the way Kate did. She saw the communication piece as this great giant puzzle… “Hmm, how can I tell Mom that I want to watch a Tinker Bell movie even though it comes from the strange red Netflix button?”

And yes, she’d figure it out. That was in her personality.

Eric? Not so much.

Like, really, really not so much.

If Eric wants to have four bananas for breakfast and I’m in the middle of saying, “No,” (with good reason, I might add) and there he goes. His switch has flipped and I’ve got to stop what I’m doing (usually in the midst of making an actual breakfast) and help him through those emotions. This means being present and calm (ok, I try really hard to stay calm but flailing hands certainly has an effect on my inner cool), sooth him with understanding (and hopefully words he can understand)… and just ride it out.

I have to support him.

I can’t get mad or leave the room. Or yell. Or let my own inner frustration (re: tantrum) out.

Time outs don’t work for us (even if they’re actually for me and I shut myself in the bathroom). Now, this might work on some kids. Not Eric. He gets even madder and goes right for that thing he knows he’s not supposed to do. Like bang the gate surrounding the very expensive electronics. Or climb into the toilet.

You know, toddler things.

Your family is gonna have different mileage here and oh boy, do these two-year-old years vary. Your family is gonna have different needs. Heck I’ve got two kids and they handled this stage completely differently. Kate ran off and cried in her crying castle. Eric wants to hit me.

Throw in any kind of special needs, from late-talking and sensory, to those of you parents with even greater challenges (who have my utmost respect and awe for), and these years are just tough. Tough. And as I’m slowly (sadly) realizing, there’s not some magic technique or spoonful of sugar that’s gonna make these moments go away (or any easier). It’s part of their development and us poor parents, we got to do our best and help the frustrated kids through the ginormous disappointments in life.

Like not eating as many bananas as you damn well want.

And sleep?

Oh, dear lord, do I miss sleep. Even right now, on a good sleep schedule (for us), I’m looking at only 3-5 hours of solid, consecutive sleep. The rest of my morning is dealing with Eric waking up every 3 hours. If I’m lucky, he goes to bed immediately. If not I’m up for an hour, comforting him, helping his body settled back down.

You’re probably wondering why the heck I’m bringing all these challenges up, why I’m listing out each reason why life is so freakin’ hard life is right now.

I just had a blood test confirm what I already knew: the sleep deprivation and stress has taken its toll.

I mean, I knew this was most likely the case but I didn’t really know. I do now.

My blood work is wonderful. Really. Green all across the board from cholesterol to Vitamin D. Except, I have inflammation. Inflammation that is directly related to sleep and stress.

Well, shit.

Now, I’ve suspected this for awhile now. Parenting my two young kids has taken a toll on my body. But the question remains (and it’s a big one): what the heck can I do about it??

I mean, it’s not like I can just decrease my stress by handing my son off to daycare (if you haven’t been following my blog, just know this would not be a good move for Eric).

Also, since March I cut out almost all sugar. I had to. All the broken sleep, when we went through that terrible patch for six months, I needed to stop the sweets and give my body a chance to heal (it did, and still is). My poor metabolism was shot and I was putting on a few pounds. Not a lot but enough that the negative self-talk in my head was adding more stress, not to mention feeling bloated and icky all the time.

Again, I focused on what I could do: not eating the sugar and focusing on sleep. Not that I can control how often my kids wake up at night, but how much caffeine and alcohol I was drinking, how long before bed, even making the bedroom more sleep friendly. I even added an scented candle, nature music, and an acupressure mat to my bedtime routine.

It’s helped.

But the question is, what do I do now?

I mean, the blood test confirmed I’ve got some inflammation issues and the sleep guide the Dietitian sent me is all great… except I’m already doing it. And it’s not like I want to be waking up 2-3 times a night. It’s not my choice. It’s my kids’ choice. You know, those little individuals who I have zero control over.

And I think that’s what’s so frustrating about this. I have all these wonderful recommendations to help with the inflammation, but it feels like half of them simply don’t apply to me. Because I’m a parent. Because the reasons for the sleep, for the stress, are because I’m a parent.

And a parent of a very frustrated, right-in-the-middle of being a two-year-old… you know, exactly what he’s supposed to be doing at this developmental stage.

I know darn well the best medicine for us is time. Eric needs time to grow and mature, to settle in with his language, with his sleep. I know in my heart that’s what he needs except… what about me in the mean time? How much of myself, my own health, is getting sacrificed in the process?

How can I focus on my own self-care, on healing my own body, when the cause is my children?

The answer is no. The answer is also yes.

I mean, there are some things I can do, small minor tweaks to help myself out as much as possible, but the source of the stress and the sleep deprivation, well, that ain’t goin’ away (probably not even when they’re grown up with families of their own).

And sure I’ve got the stress of Eric’s frustrations, the instant explosions he’s having these days, but I haven’t even touched on the anxiety I feel about an upcoming video consult with our speech therapist. I mean, here I am, Ms. Confident when it comes to this late-talking journey, and I’m still scared. Scared that she won’t see the progress that Eric has made, which has been huge for him. Yes, he’s behind. Yes, he’s not where other boys are at, but oh my gosh, we’re making progress. We’re making these huge stride forwards, even if on the outside they only look like little itty-bitty steps.

The point is they’re there.

All of them.

All the visual referencing, how Eric will engage with people he trusts and likes in some kind of play, or will show off to his aunt and uncle as he falls splat-face-first on the couch.

But I’m still scared that our speech professional will just come back and put more worries or doubts in my mind. I don’t need those doubts. They’re not gonna help me. Not now. Not when I know we are already doing everything that Eric needs, and honestly, everything he’ll accept. (Strange speech therapist, who he doesn’t know, trying to play with him? Prompt him when it comes to play? Oh hell no.)

All that above?

That’s stress.

It’s a hidden kind of stress, something that most people who look at me will never see. I generally don’t talk about Eric and his journey because again, I can’t have your doubts or judgments in me. I simply can’t. I’m already treading water here, doing my best to support my kids in the ways that I know they need.

Which again… all this… it’s taking a toll on my body.

And truthfully, there’s not a whole lot left I can do to make it better. I’ve been focused on thinking creatively, of thinking outside the box, but the challenges of my particular family means I can’t just drop them off with a baby-sitter or a co-op or a daycare. Maybe in a few years, sure, but not now.

I know I’m not there yet, and while there are things I can’t simply make go away (fear of the upcoming video consult), there are other things I can do.

Like my self-care. Like making sure that every day, I leave the house for at least 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of just me, my thoughts, and no kids. I need that. I need a chance to breathe. I mean, really truly breathe… without every exhale wondering what the heck the two-year-old is banging into now. I’ve already talked with Sean about this. I understand it’s hard for him when Eric’s screaming because Mommy is leaving without him, but I need this more.

I need time with no kids.

I’ll grab my laptop, a book, a journal. Maybe I’ll do some writing, maybe I’ll just sit outside, and again, just breathe.

I’m also setting up times when a mother’s helper can come over and play with both kids. This isn’t going to give me any alone time, but it will take some pressure off. Maybe I can cut up veggies for dinner then or write an email the requires my whole brain actually paying attention. Or hide out in the bedroom and work on my publishing business.

I guess what I’m saying, is I’m asking for help. Mostly from family at this point, but I’m asking. And, I’m prioritizing my time. When Grandma comes over for a visit, instead of doing the dishes or working on food, I’m going to leave the house. Again, time for me and me only.

That’s so not an easy thing for me to do, but I’m gonna do it.

Small, little shifts.

I went out to breakfast with a dear friend and I left feeling amazing. Like I was filled with this wonderful energy. I’ll do that more too. Just getting away and connecting with someone who I know will make me feel good.

I’m going to surround myself with the right kind of people. People who add to my energy and happiness rather than take away from it.

Again, small little shifts.

This stress of parenting, especially right now, it’s real. And I’m right in the thick of it.

I know too, I’m not alone. I’m not alone in feeling trapped, frustrated, at times, even depressed. And those of you who have kids who walk to a different beat? You’re not alone in all those feelings either.

And I’m here to say: I get it.

I mean, I can’t get exactly what you’re going through, but I empathize with you. And I applaud you. Truly. With all my heart. It takes a courageous person to embrace being different, whether you have a special needs child, you homeschool, or you’ve chosen a different way of parenting than the norm.

At times parenting is a real lonely journey and we have no choice but to keep moving forward, keep doing our best. It’s hard and it takes a physical toll. It does. And it takes a mental and an emotional one, so let’s all recognize that together. Let’s all recognize that the journey is wonderful, and it’s all really hard and draining, especially as every day we try our best.

Because you know, when your little child smiles at you, you know, without a doubt, it’s totally worth it.

Yes, yes it is.

But we, as parents, we matter too.

So take the time to care for yourself. Do whatever it is you need to feel whole and healthy and alive. Maybe we can’t do a whole lot, but even doing a little bit, it matters.

Just like you.

You, dear parent, you matter too.

Parenting: A Roller-coaster Ride

There really is no question about it: parenting feels like you’re getting strapped into a rollercoaster, shoulders pressed firm and hard to that rubber-plastic chair, and then just holding on.

Sometimes, for dear life.

Sometimes, in utter and complete enjoyment.

And within all that, all those curves and loops, those corkscrews you barely saw coming, you have these wonderful moments of pause, as you catch your breath and continue to climb higher (with the telltale ‘click, click, click’ of the track), and you finally get a chance to see where you are.

How high you’ve climbed…

And how far you’re gonna fall next.

Then, you get to do it all over again.

But even that analogy doesn’t quite work because it means that us, as parents, have no control. And while there are a ton of things we can’t control such as… my dear children, can you please sleep through the night? Or, is this really the time to get chicken pox and be housebound for two weeks (or four since Eric’s probably getting it next)? When in fact, there’s actually a ton that we can control, even if it doesn’t feel like it at times (especially with the younger ones).

My little Eric still isn’t a great sleeper. It’s better, though. I mean, I’m getting a solid couple hours of sleep as opposed to six months ago when I was lucky to get 2-3 consecutive hours. I can’t control his sleeping. At all. What I can control is me. It’s my choosing to drink less coffee, eat dinner earlier, finish my wine two hours before bed. I’ve started a bedtime routine, complete with candle, nature music, and an acupressure mat. Oh, and bedtime? Yeah, I’m heading into bed, lights off, by 8:30 these days. I have to. My little guy thinks 4:30 a.m. is a perfectly acceptable time to start the day.

This new bedtime means I’ve had to cancel plans with friends, to say no to dinner dates and Moms Night Out.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely.

I’m getting a solid four hours of sleep in, and when I do wake up to take care of Eric, I’m falling asleep easier. I’m also not as angry because I’m no longer living on that edge of being crazy and desperate for sleep. I feel good, mentally, physically, and I can tell my body is finally healing from the years of massive sleep deprivation.

I’m a long way from being done with the sleep ride, some nights are still just bad, and when both kids tag-team me? Oh, dear lord, meet Zombie-Chrissy the next day. But overall, it’s creeping towards better. I’m focusing on what I’m eating, on daily movement, and overall, it’s hitting my big reason for wanting to do all this… to be a patient, calmer, person with my children (and to be honest, with myself as well).

The new changes are working. I’m not yelling as much, I’m in a better position to be present and centered during those times when even the holiest of saints would have their work cut out for them (and you know exactly those times in parenthood I’m talking about).

I decided to focus on what I could control, and then, got creative.

Not that I’m always successful on the creative part. In fact, I’m still on this rollercoaster ride when it comes to fitting in board games with Sean and and my friends. And fiction writing? I’m still figuring it out.

With the writing, what makes it challenging is because I’m facing a high-ass brick wall filled with stuff that I truly can’t control. Mainly, my son. I can only fall into my worlds, into my storytelling, my writing, when I’m away from him. Why? Well, he has some pretty strong beliefs about being separated from me and has zero issue letting the whole world know about it (so locking myself in the bedroom with ear buds in ain’t gonna cut it; my poor subconscious spends half the time shaking her little head saying, “it’s not safe to come out yet.”)

I would love to write while the kids are sleeping. Except… I’m a morning person. By the end of the day I am dead-tired exhausted. Okay, then, that means I’ve got to wake up early… you mean, earlier than 4 a.m.? And wait a minute — I can’t do that, I’m working like mad trying to recover sleep!

I know of other writers who drop their kids off with other moms and take turns with this co-op babysitting. Kate is almost ready for that, especially if she trusted the mom, but Eric? Oh hell no. Nope. Not gonna happen. A huge part has to do with language; I am literally Eric’s foreign translator in this big scary world of rules and people who can’t stop talking. The other part is just his temperament. He is very, very attached to me these days and not even his dad looks forward to those times when it requires me to leave the house. (Translation: so everyone joins me when it’s time to get my hair done.)

I’m writing this all out, sorta like thinking out loud, and I’ve realized I’ve only been focusing on the reasons why I couldn’t write or couldn’t use the same methods of writers can with their young kids. I mean, there’s no doubt about it, my language-challenged son can’t be treated the same as others his age, but I really need to start shifting my focus…

And moving it back into the realm of what I can control.

I can make the effort, physical and mental, to grab my laptop, get dressed, and head outside to write while Sean’s still home in the morning before work. An hour, or maybe just 30 minutes. Let’s say I don’t even write, but just the act of getting up and getting some actual alone time… that’s gonna go a long way to helping my subconscious feel safe again.

And I throw in that part about “you don’t have to write” because there are days when I can’t.

I mean, straight up, we’re going through the intense middle of living with a two-year-old. Eric can be very opinionated, stubborn, and has zero patience. I’m gonna make that real clear: very. And it’s not like you can even attempt to reason with the guy (again, language issue)! There was straight up one morning, I’d gotten about 3 hours of sleep, been up since 2? 3:41? There also poop involved in the bathroom sink, while I was trying to make breakfast (and hence not able to respond to Eric’s crying). It was not a good morning. I lasted as long as I could but eventually burst into the bedroom bawling my eyes out. Sean got up, watched the kids, and I locked myself in the bedroom and just played with doing some book covers.

I played. And I got a bit of myself back.

I was able to finish that day, and then the one after that.

Some days are just not easy. (Not kidding… I ended up walking out of Disneyland with a crying, screaming toddler, who was trying his best to hit me in the face, all because he couldn’t have the French fries he saw some lady carry out on a tray. Didn’t mattered that I offered him other food or to go to a place that didn’t have a line. Didn’t matter one damn bit. He was upset and the only choice I had, after being present and calm with him, was to walk the whole mile to our car.)

Then some days are totally fine and chill. Those are almost the worst because it’s so deceptive… like, you think this is what the new norm is like, the new routine, and then you start having these grand plans, gonna pull out my story and write, get back into publishing… which is about when the two-year-old decides to skip his nap.

For three days in a row.

Yep. We’re in the nap-skipping stage too (imagine me crying in sadness right here).

It’s also one thing for me to tell this to you and quite another to see it. My mother-in-law just saw the tiniest glimpse of The Eric Meltdown, and we were actually having a good day, and she was like… no, I’m not real comfortable with you and Kate going on a ride at Disneyland and leaving me with him.

Sigh.

It’ll get better, I know. Heck, every day it’s getting better.

But then some days are straight-up like that roller-coaster. I’ve been strapped in (maybe?) and I’m just holding on, trying to keep breathing and not lose my shit.

Some moments I’m successful, some moments I’m not.

I’m trying hard to forgive myself, to be patient and gentle, especially on those days when I really, really need it, to not strive for that completely unobtainable goal of perfection (you all know that doesn’t exist in parenting, right??).

I’m not perfect.

But I’m trying to be a good parent.

I’m still working on being a writer, and because I worked on those covers, it got me interested in this one series I hadn’t written in awhile, and I’m pulling out and updating the world glossary for it, and there’s this little voice inside me, my own little two-year-old, that really wants to jump out and splash in the mud naked.

One of things I can do, one thing that is in my control, is going with the moment when I feel it. Not putting it on hold, but just jumping right on in and playing.

Just, playing.

I’ve realized too, the more time I give Eric before I leave the house (or disappear into the bedroom behind the locked door), the more connection he gets from me, the joy of playing one-on-one, he’s better able to handle these short moments of separation.

So together, as parents, let’s flip the lens and look at what we can control.

What can you do to help promote your own self-care? To get the sleep you need, the food and exercise? The autonomy and creativity? For me, this is what my writing gives me. But for you… your kids, your family, your life, all of that will have a different line up then mine, especially in terms of priority. And only you (and your family) can figure that one out. I urge you to do the work, to sit down and think creative, to shift your focus and put the power, this control, back in your hands.

And also, take time to acknowledge those in your life who are trying to help out (especially when it comes to your sanity). I realized I hadn’t done this enough with Sean. We’d played a board game and everyone was having a really awesome time… except for me (mostly because of the worst combination of random elements possible). The next day, he listened to me and heard how upset I was, especially since playing the game meant I didn’t go to bed until 11:30 (it was his Father’s Day board game event). Later that day, I thanked him and told him how much I appreciated him just listening to me. I needed that support, and I needed that hour without the kids because I was at my wits end.

Thank the people in your life, thank yourself for doing everything you can, even though you’re not, and never will be perfect. And then, shift your focus. Look to what is in your control, because seriously, it just feels better to focus on the positive and what we, ourselves, have the power to change.

I may not have any control over the chicken pox, but on the bright side it’s meant I’ve had to completely free up my schedule. I can take this opportunity to connect with my kids, do painting and board games, or roughhouse on the floor, all those little things that are so easily pushed to the side when I’m focused on cooking meals or getting everyone out of the house. And another added benefit, we’re connecting with friends and getting some one-on-one play in. I hadn’t expected that, but we’ve all benefited. We’re enjoying ourselves and having fun. You know, all those moments of why we choose to be parents in the first place… those moments when the coaster clicks on up to the top of the hill and you’re looking around in breathless wonder of how really cool your life is…

Right before you plunge back down into the next parenting adventure.

The Introverted Parent

 

Society, at least from my point of view, doesn’t really give a shit about us introverts. You know, those people who get incredibly exhausted being around others, who feel completely drained when they go to big group gatherings, the kind of people whose idea of a day off (or heck, a vacation) is staying at home.

That’s me.

Actually, that’s my whole family.

Sure we spent four wonderful hours on Saturday, socializing and catching up with long-time friends and their adorable kids (in which everyone had a fantastic time), but throw in two hours of driving (thank you, downtown LA) and for the rest of the weekend, each and every one of us, were fried. Fried. From me and Sean, to Kate and Eric.

We’re introverts.

Going out and having fun means we need time to re-center ourselves, to settle in and fill up our cups. The day after a fun, socializing event, we’re in front of iPads or playing video games or reading books or coloring. Sure Eric might be sprawled across my lap (he usually is), since that little boy needs constant connection, but he’s also doing his own thing and he doesn’t want interaction. The same with Kate too. I jokingly tell Sean I’m never alone because I’ve got one kid pressed against my side, the other on my lap, each of us lost in our world but still having this connection.

We each need our own space. We all need quiet, this alone time to recharge our batteries, to refill our cup (or throw in your favorite description here).

The point, is we each need this time to refill our well of energy.

Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “So what? You’re different. You need to time at home, what’s the problem?”

Or, maybe you read all that and you’re nodding your head going, “Wow! I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

The problem is society, and pretty much anyone with an opinion on parenting. Think about it for a moment. Think about all the stuff you’re supposed “to do” to be a good parent, to help raise healthy, happy kids. Constantly engaging with your child, through play or talking. Lots of one-on-one interactions. Lots of play outside. Parks. All the feeding and care associated with such outings.

Oh, and make sure they’re having healthy, whole foods and none of that drive-thru crap. Which, of course, means the endless cutting of vegetables and bucket-loads of fruit (while at the same time praying your toddler doesn’t get into too much trouble, or if you’re living in my shoes, he doesn’t take that moment to poop on the floor because he knows darn well you aren’t watching).

There are some of us, who, for that day I just described, can’t do that.

Like really and truly, can’t.

We’re not built that way.

Some of us can’t go out to endless events, art classes, park days, and on top of that, have one-on-one play dates (or go to school, if you’re the schooling family). Oh! And let’s not forget two different outings in one day, each lasting hours each.

There are some of us who, when we stumble into our glorious home (sometimes with upset, crying kids cause they’re also are low on energy) all we want is to collapse on the couch and drink a glass of wine.

Or two.

And yet… as a parent, I’m constantly bombarded with messaging all around that I’m not doing enough — that what I’m doing isn’t good enough.

Because…

What about the book time and reading together?

What about sitting on the floor, playing one-on-one?

What about the speech play for Eric? Did we have enough physical play? Did he get outside enough to run around?

Well, what about Kate? She’s Miss Constantly-Wants-to-Socialize.

And guess what’s that means? Going out. Together. And me using energy resources to help her and guide her, while running after Eric and making sure he steers clear of the street (not kidding, park days usually clock in a good mile for me).

Oh yes, and let’s not forget the message that screen time is bad for kids. That we will damage our kids if they’re watching too much TV or playing on the iPad or whatever. Now, you can totally have your own opinions about this, I’m certainly not judging you or your family or your values, not at all. What I’m saying though is we’re all different and we all have different needs. And can we please, at least for the moment, lay off of putting all this blame and guilt on people who are just exhausted? Parents who, truly, are trying to their best??

For me, by the end of the day I’m bone-tired exhausted.

After an outing I need my kids to be quiet, to give me some peace and quiet, even if it’s just so I can get together dinner. It doesn’t matter that all I want is to call it a night and go to bed at 6:00 with the kids. But what’s hard is constantly hearing the critical voices in my head, whispering that I’m this bad parent because they spent how many hours playing games or watching movies?

Guilt. Shame.

I swear, it feels like I’m constantly fighting them. Constantly fighting this message that I’m not doing enough. How, pretty much every day, being Super Mom isn’t enough (or Super Dad, whichever parent or caregiver is at home).

On top of the usual parenting challenge course (I swear, sometimes I feel like those little dogs running through those competition-obstacle courses), I’ve decided to be the main speech partner for both of my kids as well as homeschooling them. At this point in our life, the homeschooling part is literally just playing and living life. We’ll color and paint, play some board games, but it’s really following Kate’s lead and where her interest is (like making word hide-and-seek books).

But…

It’s the one-on-one time that’s challenging.

Playing board games requires Godzilla-Eric to be napping (or Daddy around and keeping his little hands from grabbing the scissors Kate’s using for her word books). Or with Eric, the speech play means Kate needs to be engaging in her things and willingly to leave us alone for a few minutes.

Why?

Well, for the speech part, Eric needs one-on-one time. Time where I’m able to pause, give him a chance to think through what I’m doing, what my words (or actions) are asking of him. He needs time and space to do this, which for him means comfort and a feeling of safety…

And the minute I start engaging and playing with him, as I’m laughing or clapping when he puts the shape into the puzzle box, Kate comes running over because she wants to play too.

Cause, we’re having fun.

Which is all well and good except, again, Eric is a “need-my-space” kinda kid. He gets frustrated when she starts putting her grubby hands on his shape pieces. And his only mode of dealing with frustrations is, no surprise, crying and trying to hit her.

It’s not going well.

Or I should say, it’s not easy.

Kate has needs (she wants to play too!). Eric has needs (translation: leave me the heck alone; I want to play with Mom. By myself.). And then me, well, I have needs too (oh please, just give me five minutes of quiet).

For us, all of those needs are also tied to our energy. And how much we have (or often, don’t have).

Because we’re all introverts I really need to have my awareness keyed on the energy pulse of each of us… myself, the kids, Sean too. In the situation above like I just described with the puzzle box, and while this is true of all kids, it’s especially true of mine (who are both introverts and late-talkers). I need to set back and see why the heck this situation (Kate’s interference, Eric’s frustration) is happening in the first place.

Kate wants interaction and play of her own. With me.

Eric wants the same… but without Kate butting in and doing the puzzle for him.

Well, okay then.

Let’s just add that to the energy schedule as well as shopping at Costco and farmers market. Oh, yeah, and we’ve got Grandma coming over that day too.

It’s a constant juggling act and one I’m slowly starting to accept (and internalize), is going to look different compared to everyone else’s. The life choices we made (homeschooling, speech play) as well as the ones we didn’t get to choose (introverts, late-talkers), all that means our home life will look different than most of the families out there.

There are choices we need to make, like screen time or only one outing a weekend (or day), that fit us. That fit our needs.

And really, parents, we need to start accepting that for our kids to be happy and whole, we have to be happy too. We need to start taking care of ourselves, to start putting our needs in there too. Because we can’t be patient and kind, can’t be centered and present if we’re constantly on that edge of exhaustion. We’re gonna snap and yell and whatever.

Our needs matter too.

And for you introvert parents out there, who know exactly what I’m talking about, you have double-duty because society as a whole doesn’t understand us. They like the people who are constantly chatting and socializing, going out and all these grand adventures… well, that works for them and that’s fine. But it doesn’t work for us.

And it’s okay.

But all of us, truly, we need to be in tune with our kids and their energy. It’s really a juggling act, of checking in with ourselves, checking in with our kids and our spouses. Like how on the Saturday we saw our long-time friends, I made the choice to let Sean sleep in while I went to farmers market with the kids (which means I’ve got a wiggling Eric in my arms as I try to pay or stuff the food in the stroller). It’s stressful for me but I did it because I knew Sean’s needs were greater than mine… if we were to survive the day. I also did the driving (it’s also too stressful for him). But the second we got home? As soon as the kids were in bed?

Oh man I went to bed.

I checked out.

Cause that’s what I needed.

Being a parent is hard. Being an introverted parent is even more challenging. We need to monitor our energy levels and that of our kids. For those of you introverted parents with extroverted kids, those kids who thrive on all the outings and socializing, oh man do I really feel for you, and how you’ve really got to be aware of your own self-care. (Truly, you guys are amazing!)

All I’m trying to say here: is it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be a different kind of family because all of our needs our different.

We need to care for our kids, and we need to care for ourselves.

So if you find yourself getting hit with all those messages… that you’re not doing enough… that you’re not good enough… keep in mind, a lot of those messages are geared towards an extroverted world.

And guess what?

That’s not me. Or my family.

We do what work’s for us, what makes us happy and whole, and that means we can’t be wrong.

All we can do as parents, day in and day out, is our best. To simply try… and even if that means our world and our life look different than everyone else’s.

We try.

And then the next day, we try again.