Sharing recipes, crafts and frugal living, the challenges and triumphs of parenting a neurotypical child and a child on the Autism Spectrum. Yoga Instructor said goodbye to her nightly glass of Chardonnay to give up habits that were not serving her purpose in life! The CocktailMom name remains, however with a new focus on healthy and authentic living.

11/29/2017

Holiday Moments under the Autism Spectrum Umbrella

The photos that are posted on Facebook aren't capturing the whole truth of how or why the picture was taken. We have all done a really great job at learning how to wear masks on social media. Posting photos on Facebook that are somewhat planned. Oftentimes you can't see the tears and the pain behind the smiling faces and coordinated outfits. It's a snippet or slice of the story. And I am guilty of this as well! But I know that behind every picture we post on Facebook there is a story, the moment right before and the moment after the picture was taken which if we could truly see them would encapsulate the whole story.

That's the case of the photo above, this is my son Z when he was about three years old. And we can all look at that photo and immediately identify with what is going on, small child in tears on Santa's lap. I'll bet there is a website somewhere with a collection of photos like this one. But when I look at this picture I don't see the small child scared of Santa I see the intention that I had to create this image and moment for Z.

My oldest son, L, is on the Autism Spectrum and at the time this picture was taken we were deep into many various therapies and early interventions. L was attending kindergarten full time in a mainstream classroom. Twice a week speech therapy appointments, behavior therapy, physical therapy and then on Saturdays he attended a developmental clinic for a few hours where he worked one-on-one with a college student who was specializing in Special Education to work on therapies that coincided with his appointments that week. During all of those appointments that I took L to, Z was with me. A little three-year-old sitting in waiting rooms with his little bag of toys and books. Always being told to whisper and not to run around and "just five more minutes sweetie".

The guilt of it all at times overwhelmed me. My heart hurt for L to have to do the hard work of learning how to function in our world and at the same time, my heart was continually breaking for Z for having to live under the umbrella of Autism and the limitations that it created in our lives. At some point, I looked through the scrapbooks that I made for the boys that documented every moment of their childhood and I realized that I didn't have a picture of Z with Santa Clause! It wasn't the joke of the second child who doesn't get as many pictures as the first child. I was always snapping pictures and scrapbooking moments of the boys.

Truth be told it was because L wasn't able to go to large places where there would be a lot of people, places like malls. Standing in line to see Santa was impossible for L, he would have a total breakdown and I knew this about him so I would avoid going to places where there would be large amounts of people and noise. Which meant that these major milestones in most children's lives, like sitting on Santa's lap, Z has missed them because of his brother. I was determined to change all of that! I researched the mall that had the best looking Santa in our area and I made a date with my little three-year-old guy to see him. We went out to eat beforehand in a crowded, busy, noisy restaurant and then to the mall. As we stood in the long line, Z was so excited, he was dancing and singing a made up song about "me and mommy see Santa....me and mommy....". I can still hear his sweet little sing-song voice in my head.

The line continued to move at a slugs pace but that didn't hinder Z's enthusiasm, he's talked to the kids in front of him and behind him. As he looked ahead to see how much closer we were to Santa each time we took a few more steps forward, he would smile up at me. My heart was bursting! I was so happy that we were doing this together, just me and him. That I was able to give him, even if it's just for an afternoon, what feels like a "normal childhood moment" that wasn't shaded by having a brother on the Autism Spectrum.

Eventually, we are at the head of the line and watching the family in front of us take their picture, these kids are seasoned experts who know exactly what to do and the entire family has matching sweaters on. Z is literally bouncing in place, he is so excited! Now it's our turn and he shyly shakes the hand that Santa holds out to greet him with and whispers his name after Santa asks him. And like all Santa's he asks the essential question, "What would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?" I am surprised that rather than telling Santa everything he wants, instead, he tells Santa the items that L would like. I didn't realize in the actual moment how telling that was of who Z is as a person, in his core. Z suddenly looks over his shoulder and then around us, as if he just realized "where's L?, Mommy...where's L?" 
"Z, sweetie it's your special picture with Santa.", I tell him as I pick him up and place him on Santa's lap. I stepped to the side as instructed by the Santa's helper and CLICK.
That's the moment.
The scream and immediate tears, the arms outstretched as he cries out his brother's name realizing that he isn't with us nor is he going to do this with him.

I wish I could say that I learned my lesson from this experience, that I could accept that Z was totally fine with the existence that he had even if it was under the Autism umbrella. No, I didn't learn that lesson with Santa, it took a few more times for me to realize that I was projecting my own interpretation of what life should look like based on my own experiences of childhood. And rather than trying to conform my children to what my normal was...I had to embrace and accept that how we were living was pretty fine for everyone involved. That Z was not slighted in any way by missing out on Santa pictures or trips to Disney world. The Autism umbrella was his safe place, this is what his soul knows and for him it's magnificent. This is our "normal".

11/08/2017

God Lives in Three Year Olds- Yoga Summer Camp

These are not the three year olds mentioned in the article, but the picture is simply priceless.
During the summer months I teach my usual adult vinyasa yoga classes at my yoga studio, Bee Yoga Fusion, and then during the day I teach at various children's summer camps. At one camp this past summer, I taught yoga classes to three year olds.

Three is pretty young to understand the concepts of yoga so I teach the class in a way that they can understand. We play games and sing a song during the Sun Salutation. For Savasana (corpse pose) at the end of our class, the part where you lay down with your eyes closed. I tell them to pretend they are a statue. "You can't move, you can't talk, all you can do is listen and breathe.", I say quietly as they get their final squirms out before becoming a statue.

As they all lay there so still with their little hands folded on their bellies, even the child who seemed to be jumping up and down or squirming in every pose that we did that day. "What can you hear that you normally don't hear?", I whisper.

I tell them to notice their belly going up and down every time they breathe. "It's called belly breathing and you can do this at night time when you don't feel sleepy or when you feel sad or mad." The room is so quiet and still that anyone walking by would be shocked to know that there are 12- three year olds mediating in the room. I instruct them to come to a seated position, quietly, and then we go around the room and share all the things that we heard. "The air conditioning.", "The kids outside playing.", "The lights.", "The breath coming in and out of my nose. I think I have a booger!" They get it and they love that suddenly a whole new world has been opened up to them that they never realized existed, the world that exists in quiet.

To keep the kids interested I call it being a "Secret Spy", just saying those two words together and you can see their eyes light up. I asked them, "Raise your hand if you have a hard time going to sleep." Almost the entire group raises their hand and shakes their head yes.
"So tonight I want you to try being a Secret Spy after your parents put you to bed."
The kids are hanging on my every word, to them they now have this super important mission and these three year olds are taking it pretty seriously.
"Listen to the sounds that the house makes just like we did today. And if you keep listening the sounds will magically put you to sleep."
They nod and we place our hands at prayer position in the center of our chest and bow to each other saying "Namaste" as we do at the end of every class.

There are some days when teaching this particular class of three year olds feels like the best birthday party you've ever attended. All the kids are excited, happy and having a great time. And then there are days when it feels like I am trying to herd a group of kittens, one is refusing to participate and another would rather sit and pick her nose than do a downward dog. There are good days and not-so-good days.

The next day one child comes running towards me as the camp director opens the door, "I did it! I was a Super Spy!" with a huge smile and a complete look of excitement on his face.
"That's awesome. Did the sounds put you to sleep?", I ask.
"Actually..... I listened to the dryer drying clothes and I listened to my mom washing dishes. And then I heard God."
I sit. So that I can be face to face with him. I want him to know that I take this conversation seriously, I can tell by the look on his face that he's not joking and he believes this to be real. I nod my head as if to continue.
"And God said that he's inside me and hears my sadness." The little boy stops twisting his shirt around his pointer finger and looks up at me.
"Do you believe that?", he asks. I can see tears beginning to form in his eyes.
"I do. And... I believe that you are an incredible person." I smile and reach for his hand to hold.
"I'm just a three year old."
"You are so much more than that. You have a purpose. To spread kindness to everyone you meet..... and now you know that God lives in you."
There is a pause, I can tell that he's thinking this over.
"Yeah He does..... He does!", he says with a smile.
The other kids are starting to join us on the mats and saying hello to me, I look up to say hello to another child and then he wraps his little arms around my neck. He pulls away only a wee bit so that we can see each other eye to eye, I'm staring straight into his beautiful blue eyes and I assume he's going to say something profound. I wait for it.
"It's my turn to be the leader this time!", he whispers.

And just like that, in pure three year old fashion we have moved on to something new. The class begins and it's a glorious day of yoga games and songs. It's like the best birthday party you've ever attended, everyone is having fun and smiling. And I look at their smiling, happy faces and I breathe them in. God is living in each of them, in each of us. We should treat each other with the kindness that we would show to God. We should lead with empathy and compassion and our actions rooted from a place of pure love.

11/01/2017

Adoption from Foster Care- Sitting with Sadness


A year ago today we were driving two hours away to meet who we thought would be our son. We were full of hope and fear as we drove to another state to meet face to face for the first time the child that we were matched with by an adoption recruiter and social worker.

We were intending to adopt an older child from the foster care system and inquired on over 70 children. The process took a year. A year of daily, scrolling through images and reading profiles of the children in the foster care system who are intending to be adopted from various websites. We then submitted inquiries and then scheduled phone conferences with our adoption agency and the child's social worker so that they could learn more about us and for us to learn more about that particular child. It was often in these conversations that we discovered that we weren't the right family for that child whether it be because they needed to be the only child in the home because they were sexually acting out towards other children and we already have two children in our home that we didn't want to subject to that possibility. Or that they needed services that we weren't able to commit to. We believed in our hearts that an older child would really benefit from being in our family. We are loving and kind, our family thrives on routine and schedules (which is often the thing that kids in the foster care system crave in a family structure) and we had knowledge of trauma and parenting kids with special needs. 
 
On the drive my wife and I talked about what it will be like to meet him, we were giddy with excitement. I spent more time than usual picking out my outfit that day, routinely reminding myself as I tried on several different combinations of pants and dresses, "He's 9! He won't even notice what you are wearing!". But I wanted to make a good first impression. My wife packed up a bag of balls; football, basketball and our beach frisbee to have things to play with him outside and to show him that we are an active family. Something that his social worker mentioned that he is looking for in his "forever family".

We were scared of the unknown; would he like us, would we like him? Would he get along with L and Z, our other two children? Was he kind to animals? Would he accept a family with two moms?

Fear of the unknown often keeps us from going forward. It keeps us stuck in the same place which can be quite comfortable but it is limiting our experiences and the depth of our lives. My wife and I aren't the type of people who stay stagnant, we yearn for expansion. We believe in growth; physically, mentally and spiritually. A lot has happened in this past year. This incredible little boy who we opened our hearts and home to wasn't able to accept our love and decided that he didn't want to be adopted; not by us...not by anyone. Our hearts are broken, but we are healing. We are moving forward. Step by step, day by day.... I know that it will continue to get easier to heal from this experience. But today holds sadness and I'm going to sit with that for awhile.

10/23/2017

Rituals- How a Simple Action Saved my Sanity



It's 5:45am, I'm tired and wishing I went to bed earlier the night before. I sit in my kitchen with a cup of coffee and my journal. I begin to write, pen on paper, as the dogs munch on their food in the background. The house is still except the sounds coming from me and the dogs and this is why I get up at this insanely early time. To enjoy this stillness.

When M, the older child that we were trying to adopt from the foster care system, was living with us I learned to do this. To get up earlier than anyone else in the house. I knew that the moment he would wake up and emerge from his room he'd come downstairs and be disappointed that it was me and not my wife in the kitchen, every single weekday. He'd immediately want to start a fight about something; the choices he had for breakfast, the lunch that my wife made for him not looking good or simply having to go to school. The morning stillness became necessary for my soul to battle the storm ahead. And this survival skill, it stuck.

M is no longer living with us, I no longer have to prepare myself for a battle in my emotional spirit on a daily basis but I discovered how important it is for me to have this moment of calm reflection so that I can function as my best self. The time that he spent in our house was hard but I cultivated this skill of getting up early and journaling, I learned so much about myself and my needs for self care in the process of parenting him.

The coffee maker has a timer, when I arrive in the kitchen it's ready for me to pour a cup. I read an entry from a book and then I journal and drink coffee. The books have varied from spirituality and mediation, bible quotes and inspirational snippets from leaders of companies. I have no agenda other than to freely write. It doesn't matter for how long. It just matters that I do it. I know that I will feel better in my body and spirit if I do this thing every morning.

Do you have a morning or evening ritual built into your day to sit and reflect on everything that is going on if your life? Try pulling out a journal or notebook and writing out your thoughts. Any type of book will do, it doesn't have to be pretty or inspirational, a composition book will do the job. As you write ignore the misspellings and incorrect punctuation and freely write the things that come to your mind. Set aside a time to do this every day. The more you practice this ritual, the easier it becomes to do. The writing content doesn't have to be anything spectacular, that isn't the point. The point is to connect to your soul, to reflect on your life and the choices you are making. Don't read what you wrote, just close the book and move on with your day or evening. This isn't for judgment or ridicule, this is simply to put the thoughts on the page. Having a book to read an entry from has helped me to start getting my thoughts on the page. Here are some that I have used and enjoyed:

10/21/2017

What activity brings you JOY?



I feel so much joy within my soul by looking down at a new nail color on my fingertips. It may seem silly or trivial to some but I take pride in them being well manicured and looking their best. I appreciate having nail polish on my nails because it's a reminder of the time that I spent devoted to myself, some may call it pampering. I call it devotion.

This time of devotion is not to be misunderstood as "me time" or time away from the family, it's not the time spent at the gym to be healthy or time spent at a yoga workshop gaining inspiration and knowledge. This time of devotion to self, stands on it's own and only benefits me. When my health coaching clients seem as though they are at the bottom of their well and grasping desperately for self care because they give of themselves in every aspect of their lives, I tell them to make a list of what I call their Personal Nourishment Menu. To list out items that are only for you and that you enjoy. After making the list, ask yourself "does anyone else benefit from this?" If the immediate answer in your mind is yes, then cross it off and start again. Go deeper. Find the thing that is for you.

If we imagine a still pond in our minds and you pick up a rock and you throw it into the pond, where the rock hits the water symbolizes you. Each ripple out symbolizes your family and friends, the ones closest to you and the ones further away emotionally and spiritually. Now of course for arguments sake someone will ultimately benefit from your Personal Nourishment Menu items, I'm not denying that. When I paint my nails the company that makes the nail polish, the nail files and the fingernail paint remover all benefit financially from me using their products. But they aren't the people who I am giving of my time and energy. I'm not painting my nails for my family or my yoga students. It doesn't make me a better mom or more capable of my job or enhance my abilities in any way. It's an activity that is only for me and one in which I get great joy from.

So what would be on your Personal Nourishment Menu? What activity brings you joy?
Try creating a list of five things that nourish your soul and fill your well, that way you can go out into the world and be of service. Allow yourself to give from a place of abundance rather than from the very bottom of your well. I'd love to hear your Personal Nourishment Menu in the comments! 

10/12/2017

Parenting Perfectionism


I have struggled with perfectionism my entire life. And now I find myself parenting a child, Z, who struggles with it as well. In my own life, perfectionism has directed my internal drive to succeed, it has pushed me to go further than I ever intended in some areas of my life. The result is that I have mastered a compilation of several skills but they are out of place and not in line with my true passions. All because my perfectionism, which some may see as determination, is paired with my own personal struggle with failure.

That fear of failure has kept me in jobs or situations (my first marriage) longer than I should have been because I couldn't see that it was not the right fit or a healthy environment. My need to do it right, to fix it and be perfect at whatever "it" is....that thing quickly turns into my struggle with "failure". As a child it looked more like repetition and maybe you can identify; Does your child rewrite her answers until she deems her handwriting looks good? Does she practice something over and over again, a dive into the pool or throwing a baseball, until she accomplishes what she deems good enough though to you it looked great twenty minutes ago?

I can see through parenting Z how perfectionism can also turn into paralysis. For him, he sizes up the situation or the task and if he determines that he can't be perfect at it right away then he won't even try it. Like many parents, as I parent him I come face to face with my own issues. And I'm trying to do better, to be better and to fail more openly so that he and others can see that I too struggle and make mistakes. I'm also resisting the urge to redo things in order to put out a perfect product. I'm allowing the imperfection to be in my life and to be okay with it.

In Brene´ Brown's books, Daring Greatly and then the one that follows Rising Strong, she unearths the shame that is often associated with failure and the lessons learned by first taking the risk, then failing and then getting back up. She was motivated by Theodore Roosevelt's Man in the Arena speech, I wasn't familiar with this speech before reading her books but now I often refer to it in moments of true struggle with perfectionism.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Brene´ Brown ties the representation of the arena beautifully into the practice of parenting, “Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail. If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.”

Whether you try again or move on to something else doesn't matter. It's more important to try and fail than to never have gotten in the arena in the first place. That's what I want to teach Z. And my job as a parent is not only to be a good example of this myself, to allow my attempts at something to be seen and accept that though it's not perfect it is also not a failure. To allow myself to be vulnerable in that uncomfortable space and also to step in and push him to try something even though he may not be perfect at it right away or ever. I want to create space for us to embrace our strengths and our struggles and to feel confident in the process of trying something new. I'll probably fail a few times, but this perfectionist is going to parent in the arena. 

10/08/2017

Snapshot of Our Lives- Growth


On the wall in our kitchen hangs one of the most important pieces of paper in our family. It's not a birth certificate or a marriage license or a degree of any kind. It's hung by duct tape in a haphazard way. Completely out of place in our organized, tidy, everything matches or coordinates (in the same color palette) decorating scheme. It's physical form is two lined sheets of notebook paper taped together with scotch tape and then hung on the wall using duct tape. It's been there almost a year in that same spot where it was originally hung. It documents the boys' heights. Their physical growth. But there is so much symbolism in those two sheets of paper taped to the wall.

Life happens fast.
Not everything can be controlled.   
Love is sometimes ugly.

I love those two sheets of paper and if the house was on fire it would be one of the things I grab as I run out. It documents growth, physically, of course but it also documents where our family has been over the course of this very trying year. It has M's height, the child we were intending to adopt on the day he arrived and the week that he left. It has my height, 5 foot 3inches, and I can remember the smile on L's face as he celebrated being taller than me. It has my wife Lauren's height and you can currently see that L is about to pass her as well. I can still hear the "yes!" uttered from the back of Z's throat when we discovered he was tall enough to finally ride in the front seat.

Once the children are finished growing I'm going to frame it and hang it on the wall in a place of honor. It's a snapshot of our lives and I adore it more than the matching pillows and the perfectly aligned books. It's our life and it's messy and slightly off-balance, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

10/04/2017

Worthiness



Recently we bought a new car. Like a brand new -never driven by another person- that kind of new car. My wife and I read reviews and weighed all the various options of price and style, for several weeks. We test drove eleven different models of crossover SUVs and wagons, several brands at many different dealerships. The process was extremely time consuming and exhausting. We narrowed it down to our top two, we test drove those two models several more times. Both were in the same price range and had the same safety features. We struggled with making a decision so we took our growing teenage boys and put them in the backseat of both models thinking this would help our decision if their legs felt scrunched in either model. They fit perfectly in both.

My wife wanted me to have the final say since this would be the car that I drive the most often. So I chose the Subaru Outback with the trim level that included leather seats. It wasn't until after I negotiated the price and we drove the car home that I broke down in tears and admitted to my wife that I've never had a new car before. At forty-one years old, this was my first new car. And never have I had a car that is this nice and luxurious.

I felt anxious driving the new car and one day as my wife and I were out running errands she asked me, "Do you like it?"
"Yes, I love it!" And then I paused, a very long pause. I took a deep breath.
"I just don't feel like I deserve it."
My wife stopped in her tracks, placed her hands on either side of my face and looked me in the eye, "You deserve it honey. You work hard. You deserve it."
I blinked back my tears and nodded my head but I didn't really believe her.

It took me a long time to believe her. When friends would ask about the new car purchase, out of authentic curiosity, I would quickly quantify our purchase by explaining how we decided that now would be the right time to buy a car and have car payments before we had to start paying college bills. I felt like I had to justify this purchase to anyone who asked, and it had nothing to do with the person asking and everything to do with me and my relationship to money due to my family story.

I'm hesitant to say that I grew up poor but rather my family would be categorized as lower middle class. Our house was small compared to my friends' houses; 3 bedrooms and one bathroom for four people. As a child, it always felt like my mom was making things for us (dresses, dolls etc) not because she wanted to but we couldn't afford it otherwise. Our local public school wasn't good so my parents decided to adjust their spending and lifestyle so that my sister and I could get a better education at the local Catholic school. Looking back I am so thankful that they made this decision but as a child you can't see that. All you can see is the difference between you and the other kids. Not only were we the only ones in our class who weren't Catholic, our family seemed the poorest. I was always sensitive to this and it shaped my relationship with money. Rather than spending frivolously as an adult to compensate my childhood, I've been a penny-pinching saver.
Spending this much money on a car seemed frivolous and left me feeling unworthy.

Throughout the course of my life when I feel this way, when life feels like it has me pinned against the wall and I know that I need to move on but I don't know how. I sometimes write out questions to myself to think on and ponder. I've been exploring these questions and my emotions about it in my meditation practice:
Where in your life has your family story played out in a way that you didn't expect? 
Are you wrestling with worthiness or the inability to accept that your past doesn't predict your future?

In that quiet stillness I've given myself the opportunity to lean into the emotions that appear, to embrace the response that comes with answering the hard questions that lead to self discovery. It becomes a practice of humility and acceptance. Now when I get into my new car rather than feeling anxious I pause before putting the car in reverse, I take a deep breath in through my nose and I feel the leather steering wheel in the palm of my hands and I say to myself, "I deserve this. I am worthy." Some days it feels true and other days it feels like a routine I'm doing but I do it anyway. As I continue this practice I know that one day I won't need it anymore because I will know that I am worthy of what the Universe has provided for me. But until then, I breathe in and I repeat this mantra to myself. "I deserve this. I am worthy."

9/29/2017

Adoption From Foster Care- This House Needs Healing


In the last two months we seriously contemplated the idea of moving to another house, in the town in which we live. Actively doing Zillow searches and drive by of potential houses on the market in our price range, while making mental lists of our “must haves”. Then we thought what if we stay in our current house but purchased a small condo at the beach! Our weekends became about scheduling day trips to make the two and a half hour drive to the beach to look at properties. We found a community we really liked and put an offer on a condo in order to have another place to go and escape to.

We bought this house with the intention of expanding our family. The fourth bedroom was supposed to be his room, and it was his room for a short period of time but now it is nothing. And it has been nothing since he left three months ago. We refer to it as the “guest room” but it doesn’t feel that way, nor have we had any guests since he left.
It feels empty, both physically and emotionally.

After our offer was countered for a second time on the beach condo and the asking price was at a dollar amount that we didn’t feel comfortable spending, my wife and I sat down to talk about what we need in our lives and what we want.
We need more healing.

We need to not walk past this empty room everyday and feel broken-hearted. It’s hard to move on when there is a constant reminder of what was supposed to be. For my wife buying a new house felt like a fresh start but for me, I started to feel waves of anxiety. In previous years, I typically am the one leading the “let’s move” crusade. But I like this house, I like being a part of this community and I don’t have the energy right now to redo a kitchen or a bathroom again. I just want to feel settled for a little while.

“What if…” I say to her with a sly smile. “What if we did something untraditional?”
My wife just looks at me guarded and I imagine in her mind that she is thinking to herself, “No Gretchen we are not hanging silk hammocks from the ceiling and turning the room into your personal acro yoga space.”
I continue, “Okay what we don’t like about this house is having an eat-in kitchen and not having a dining room to entertain and invite people over for dinner.”
She nods waiting for me to continue.
“On the other hand, we never invite people over to watch television. We never actually even sit in the living room when people come over, we end up cramped in that tiny eat-in kitchen area. So what if we moved the living room to the fourth bedroom, it’s just us watching a movie up there anyway. We can turn it into a media room! And then what if we moved the dining room into what is currently the living room, we can then expand the table and invite a lot of people over. And then we can create these little corners of contemplation in there. Where we can sit and look out at the woods and read a book, to have these glimmers of life that feel like vacation in our house.”

She thinks about it for a few seconds where the air feels stagnant and then she smiles at me. “I love it!”, she says.

The conversation goes in a whirlwind as we talk about buying a new sofa and definitely needing different chairs for the dining room that feel more comfortable to sit and talk. I look into her eyes and at this point I’m crying, “I don’t want to hate this house because he’s not in it. We loved this house before he came and we still love each other and the boys. We need to face these emotions and not run from them. I want to feel settled. I want us to heal. And yes we bought this house with the intention of expanding our family but “life” happens. There are so many points in our lives when we set out on one course expecting to do one thing and then something happens to change our opinion or a different opportunity presents itself and we go in an entirely new direction. We need to heal, we don’t need to run.”

We hold each other in an embrace and cry, the tears that we have been holding inside since he left finally are released. And it feels like the very beginning again, it feels full of hope. And now with the decor renovation coming to a close it feels like a rebirth in this house, healing feels possible.

7/19/2017

Autism and Scripted Speech- How we Conqured!


Picture by Ryan Benyi

I often get asked how did I know L was on the Autism Spectrum and the answer is, I didn't. I knew something was "different" with him though. We were in a playgroup in Seattle from the time that L was 6 months old, up until we left Seattle to come back to the east coast. For 4 years we met these other mamas, who became my best friends, and their kids each week and all of the kids were the same age. It was an incredible experience as a first time mom. You were a part of every child's first moments; first steps, first tooth, first words. And right around two years old all the other kids in the playgroup began to talk and string words together in small sentences. As they played they began to use those sentences with each other. L had words but not really sentences. He wasn't stringing words together the same way that the other kids were.

I expressed concern to my pediatrician and family members and everyone kept consoling me that some kids are "just late talkers." But in my gut I knew it had to be something else. Right around that time our second son, Z, was born and our "no TV rule" that we so proudly stuck to was thrown away as I was exhausted and needed 30 minutes to stick L in front of something so I could breastfeed. He became obsessed with the Thomas the Tank Engine show and Bob the Builder. Within 5 minutes of turning off the TV he would grab his trains or his Fisher Price Little People and reenact the entire episode word for word! The kid who wasn't speaking in sentences, but yet could memorize a 30 minute television show. It wasn't making sense.

I would lay down on the floor next to him getting my face close to his as he would roll one train back and forth, in one place, reciting the lines from the Thomas the Tank Engine show that he just watched with the correct emotional emphasis. I would lay there and look into his eyes, which were somewhere else, listening to him talk. I could say his name repeatedly within five inches of his face and he wouldn't react, the only way to get him back into the present moment was to deliver the wrong line. Since I watched the show with him, I knew the plot so I would interject and it would immediately snap him out of it. He would look into my eyes as though he hadn't seen me there before and then he'd furrow his little brow and say, "No mommy!"

These memorized lines from television shows became his language and he would use them in real life to communicate. When he wanted something to drink he used a line from Bob the Builder, "Want a spot of Tea? Why yes, I'd love one." As an exhausted mother of two I rolled with it and began to understand my son in a way that I didn't before, we had a language now to use together. Friends and family members thought it adorable and hilarious when this little 3 year old could instantly talk in a British accent and deliver a funny line in order to get more water in his sippy cup. That line, "Want a spot of tea?" would later be the line that would have me sobbing on the floor and doubting myself.

Once we moved to the east coast we began seeing an incredible speech therapist who informed me that I needed to stop obliging L with his memorized script, she called it echolalia and it's also referred to as scripting which can be a form of stemming for kids on the Autism Spectrum. My homework assignment was every time that L said "Want a spot of tea?" in order to ask for more water in his sippy cup to look him in the eye and tell him to say "L, say I want water please."
L would look at me confused, lifting his sippy cup higher in the air. "Want a spot of tea?!?!"
"Say, I want water, please."
"Spot of tea!!!", L would begin to get tears in his eyes and a confused look on his face.
"I want water, please.", I would repeat.
"Spot of tea!", yelling and with tears now streaming down his face.
He would stomp his feet and eventually throw himself on the floor, a sobbing mess mumbling "spot of tea...spot of tea..." At this point the baby would be crying as well. This would happen several times a day. The same exchange of lines. The same amount of tears.

The speech therapist told me to be consistent, she reaffirmed our goals each week and insisted that though it's hard it will be worth it. "Hard" is not the word I would use to describe it accurately, torturous would be a better word. To stand there and repeat the line you want your child to say while he cries and looks so confused, not understanding why I am not going along with the ususal script. It was emotional torture. But in my intellectual mind, I knew it was for the best in order for him to develop appropriate language communication. I wasn't perfect in the process, I caved several times. I'd give in because I didn't have the fight in me that day. But I always regretted it later knowing that I wasn't helping him by continuing to allow him to use scripted language. And then there would be the moments when neither one of us would back down and the result would be L and I intertwined in a hug sobbing on the kitchen floor holding on to each other as though our lives depended on it. As we each mumbled "water", "spot of tea.", "water", "spot of tea."

That's what Autism looked like in our house in the very beginning. It was beyond hard, both for him and me. But we did the hard work of early intervention therapies and looking back now, he's about to turn 14 and recently accepted into the National Junior Honor Society, all of those moments of sobbing on the kitchen floor were totally worth it!

7/12/2017

Parenting- Am I Doing This Right?


Photo by Kate Remmer
A few weeks ago our church held their annual youth led service. The children of the church of various ages from kindergarten to high school design the service, choose the songs and the readings and then conduct the service themselves. And on this particular Sunday four teenaged girls each wrote a part of the sermon. The theme was "Loss" and each girl stood in front of a rather large gathering of familiar faces and strangers within this city church and spoke her truth. Expressing the idea of loss in various ways from death to leaving a country.

The part of the sermon that has stuck with me, weeks later, was the young woman who spoke of loss in terms of divorce. She bravely shared with the congregation and expressed herself so eloquently about her personal struggles navigating her parent's divorce. How, now as a high schooler, the simple act of filling out forms that require having to write an address would cause her to have a panic attack. When she saw the line "Address" on a form; her heart would race and her breath became shallow. She shared that she lives equally at both houses, yet on these forms there is only room for one address. And her mind begins to spin "What address should I write?, Will mom get upset if I write dad's address? Will dad's feeling be hurt if I don't choose his?". On the edge of my seat waiting for her to disclose exactly which one she choose, which house did she feel compelled to write down?

She never said and I still wonder weeks later how my boys will deal with this same situation. See my children are not yet of the age where they are filling out paperwork for themselves, I am still doing it for them. Maybe my boys won't care or won't give it a second thought when they have to fill out the address line on a form. Maybe the address they put in will be the address that they live at on that particular week or maybe like the only phone number they have memorized (mine) they will automatically put in my house address since we are the ones that coach them on knowing the information.

My ex and I share custody and the kids rotate between the two houses on a weekly basis. We practically share a backyard, the kids can just walk over to the other house when they have forgotten something that they need. I've tried so hard to make the divorce easy for my kids and have taken great care in remaining neutral and never putting the kids between their dad and I. But as they grow up I think to the future and wonder which house will they choose to spend Thanksgiving at when they are adults? Will they continue to alternate the holidays as they do now? And though I think that I've made the divorce easy on them, does their heart speak differently? Will they someday stand in front of the church and tell a story of being torn between two worlds?

Because I see that, I see the contrast between who they are in both houses. How their music choices are influenced by the parent, how they react and carry themselves differently. They are shifting between two worlds, though the two houses are on the same block, they might as well be in different states. The boys are never fully integrated into one group of people, the social dynamics and social groups between the two houses are so vastly different. We co-parent beautifully, but we are divorced for a reason and our rhythms and values in each of our houses clash. The ground under their feet must always feel as though it's shifting and changing. And it's no wonder why the day in which they transition to our house is still, years later, such a struggle for them emotionally to navigate.

As parents we constantly wonder, am I doing this right? We read parenting books, we take parenting classes to learn how to navigate a new stage or development, we surround ourselves with other parents just like us and yet as we stare at the ceiling willing ourselves to fall asleep our minds racing from thought to thought and we ask ourselves.....am I doing this right?      

7/07/2017

Greek Beef and Rice- One Pot Meal


I love a recipe that I can cook and only use one large, deep skillet. Not only is this recipe equipped with an easy clean up but it tastes delicious as well. The original recipe is from Budget Bytes and please go over to her site and look around, there are so many amazing recipes on her site! I adjusted the recipe to fit my needs and what we had on hand in our house. That's the beauty of cooking and being inspired by other bloggers, you can take something and turn it into a different version of what you like or the supplies that are in your fridge. So go ahead, try my version or compare my version with the original and see if you can find somewhere in the middle that fits your family and what's inside your fridge- it's so much fun!

So here is my take on Budget Byte's Greek Turkey and Rice Skillet. This version serves 8.

  • 1 pound ground beef: we had organic ground beef in the fridge so I used that in place of the ground turkey.
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic, I buy this in bulk (in a jar) from Costco.
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 10oz. frozen box of chopped spinach, you don't have to thaw!
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes sliced in half
  • 3 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 oz feta cheese
  • Super Greens Organic Girl salad greens; or any type of spinach or spring mix
  • salt and pepper to taste
Using a large very deep skillet, ground the beef until cooked through. Drain out the excess fat and add the rice, the chicken stock, the spinach and the tomatoes. Stir to combine as best you can and cover till it begins to boil on medium/high heat. Once it's boiling, uncover and stir again, chop up the spinach so it's not a big block in the center of the skillet. Lower the temperature so that it continues to boil and cover for 15 minutes. Uncover and take a taste test to be sure that the rice is done. If needed add a wee bit more of stock or water to cook further but if the rice is done go ahead and turn off the heat. Add the lemon juice, oregano and parsley, salt and pepper and stir. 

Place a handful of salad greens on each plate and spoon the rice mixture on top (I served about 1 cup per person), sprinkle with feta cheese. ENJOY!      



6/28/2017

Adoption From Foster Care- What's my take away lesson?

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

After I have endured a difficult experience in my life and once it's over and some time has passed I like to take a moment and reflect on the lessons learned throughout the process. I believe that the Universe oftentimes holds a mirror up to you and reflects back to you what you need to see by putting those people or experiences in your life. What is my "take-away" from this experience? What am I supposed to learn by parenting M?

The lesson that I think I learned by having M in our home is how important self care is, luxuries that maybe you didn't allot for previously. And by luxuries I'm not just talking about things that cost money but also about the luxury of time spent doing something. When M was living with us I was depleted; emotionally, spiritually and physically. I was at the bottom of my well. To be honest, it's been a really long time since I've been in that place and it scared me to be back there. So I reached out and grabbed for life preservers. I immediately went for the self care items that I have used in the past; yoga and meditation. But I have practiced yoga and meditation on a daily basis for many, many years and it use to feel like self care to me but now it's just a part of my normal day like having a cup of coffee. I needed something new. Someone suggested acupuncture and when I was pregnant with Z (12 years ago) I did acupuncture my entire pregnancy, so it wasn't exactly a new idea for me but it had been so long that I had forgotten about how wonderful it was. I made the appointment and fell in love again with the practice.

I also bought running shoes. I've never been the type of person who loves running and I still don't know if I would utter the word "love" in the same sentence as the word "running" but let's just say I enjoy running now. I enjoy the feeling of power in my legs and the way my lungs feel filling up with air. I enjoy the psychological twist, like I am "running from my problems". After sitting in meditation where I lean into problems and explore their depths. It's nice to feel as though I can run away from them as well, we can do both. It's a beautiful balance.

And the most important part of my lesson on self care is that I am writing again. Two years ago when we started this process of adoption I was near being finished writing my book, a memoir mixed with yoga philosophies, and I put it on hold because I was scared to throw it out into the world when we were trying to adopt a child. That somehow it would cloud other people's opinions of me since I have lived a very full life and in the book I talk openly about my struggles with addiction. But now I know how important these stories are and I want to share them with the world. Maybe each of you can see a glimmer of yourself or someone you know within the stories I'm retelling. And rather than feeling judged, I'll feel as though I am a part of someone else's healing and self care. What if we each sent out into the world the energy that we needed in return? What if we each influenced the self care of others by simply being an example, of living by example. By allowing ourselves the luxury of time spent devoted to ourselves and rather than going through our days feeling rushed and stressed out instead we entered the world full; emotionally, spiritually and physically.
That's the world I'd like to live in, wouldn't you?

6/21/2017

Adoption from Foster Care- Saying Goodbye


Many of you have followed along via this blog and social media as my wife and I and our two boys navigated adoption from the foster care system. It's been an emotional experience. We did the proper training, read so many books on parenting children who have experienced trauma and neglect, we felt prepared and to top it off we have personal experience parenting a special needs child so we know how to navigate IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and specialized therapies. We created calendars and charts to relieve anxiety for him and to be clear on expectations. We wanted to set him up for success and to feel at ease transitioning into our home. 

We have been working with a private agency and he came into our lives from another state. We spent months visiting him twice a week so that we could get to know each other, to ensure a successful placement. We thought that this was the perfect match. 

But it wasn't until he arrived that we were aware of some of his diagnosis, and his history of behaviors in prior placements. Though he never expressed these behaviors prior to placement in our home, during our visits he seemed like a different child. But once we were living with those behaviors for 24 hours a day, it was then that we truly understood them. What we didn't realize is how one person's behavior in our house can cause so much turmoil.

On a random day when everything was going well and everyone was in a good mood, he confided in my wife that he doesn't in fact want to be adopted. At nine years old he is allowed to make that choice and he would rather jump around from home to home and age out of the foster care system than to be adopted by another family because as he puts it, "I already have a family."

It has been two weeks since he left and we have slowly put the pieces of our family back together again. It's surreal how this child was a part of our lives and now he's out there in the world and we have no idea where he is or how he's doing. My heart is sad for him. I include him in my daily prayers, that he will find peace within himself. That he will be able to be open to love and accept it willingly. I ask God to watch over him and to someday allow our paths in life to cross again. Greatness is inside of that child. He could be someone quite amazing some day. And I hope that that special person, whether a foster parent or a coach or teacher, is able to connect with him on a deeper level and allow him the space to accept that his past does not define who he will become. Our stories shape us but they don't define us. 

For now we say goodbye. And we heal. Thank you for your support and love. We appreciate all the kind words and gestures as we navigate these new emotions of loss. 

5/15/2017

Adoption From Foster Care- How are you?

Picture by Oscar Keys
"How are you doing?", it's a question I get asked almost daily. We all do. By your office mates, the check out girl at the grocery store or your mom when you call her for your weekly check-in. "How are you doing?" Often times we respond with a simple, "fine" or "good". But the truth is never that simple, not for you or me. And for some reason it takes a few rounds of back and forth in the conversation before we really get to the heart of what it is that we are feeling, if we get there at all. 

How am I doing?

I feel like I'm treading water in the ocean and my legs are exhausted. If I stop, I'll drown so I keep treading water because it's all I know how to do. Pumping my legs round and round, trying to keep my head above water. (Of course I'm not actually treading water but it's the best analogy I can come up with.) 
I'm running a successful business, my wife and I are trying to make time for our marriage while we navigate parenting a child from the foster care system that has experienced so much trauma in his short life and expresses himself through defiance on a daily basis while also parenting our two other kids (who are thankfully going through a calm period in their lives-knock on wood). We have a lot of balls in the air that we are juggling and somedays it feels like they all might go crashing to the floor at once.

Things have not gone as we had hoped and planned for. The child that we visited for five months, twice a week and participated in family therapy is not the same child that currently lives with us. Physically yes, it's the same child, but behavior wise he's different. We never saw the defiance, anger or the negativity when we visited him, but now it's constant. There are no triggers that will set him off, an everyday request like "Get your shoes on, it's time to go to school." will spin him into an argument. It is extremely difficult and stressful to be around every single day, I feel as though I'm walking in a mine field and at any moment I might step on a bomb. My guard is up all the time, and I personally don't like to live with my guard up.

To be honest, I don't like the type of person that his defiance makes me become. The type of person that calls out demands instead of talking or discussing, which is more my style. I prefer to parent from a place of love and kindness. But he's never known love or kindness and so it feels foreign to him and different and what he has learned is to defy what is different. To push it away in order to protect himself. We received training, I've read more and continue to read more books on his diagnoses, we've been counseled by doctors and therapists and I want to believe that we are the right family for him, that we can give him the safety, support and love that he deserves and that will make him see that he can live a happy life. But each day, I feel like the waves are getting bigger and my head comes closer to sinking under.    

"How are you?"
I'm going to stop asking this question to other people when I see them because I don't know if I can answer the question myself without it feeling like I'm taking a seat on the therapy couch or avoiding answering truthfully and giving a blanket "fine". I'm going to replace it with "What is new in your world?". That's a question that I can answer without breaking down into tears. That's a question that propels us into conversation and connection. So...what is new in your world?

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