We’ve Got It All Wrong: Attention-Seeking Turned Around

Let’s turn our negative assumption about needing attention on its head

Girl with blonde hair wearing sunglasses and a white feather boa.How often have you heard someone say, rather derisively, “Oh, s/he’s just looking for attention!”? There is an implied understanding that this is not good… that somehow the person in need of attention is too needy, or inappropriately needy, or perhaps even that their need is wrong, or not real.

We might even feel an implication with this statement that the person in need should be ignored or punished somehow, so they stop seeking attention, or at least stop the behavior driven by their seeking.

Do you know what I’m talking about? People label “attention-seeking behaviors” and proceed to respond to those behaviors by ignoring them, or getting upset with them.

There is something inherently wrong with this negative implication surrounding attention.

Imagine you are in a shop and you see the perfect house plant for your office. You’ve been looking for something for that one corner for a while, and this plant is absolutely perfect. Excited and pleased, you buy the plant and bring it to your office, only to discover you were absolutely right! It’s just the thing for the space!

Then you go about your business, doing your job, going home at night, and within weeks the plant starts to look droopy. You might wonder what’s wrong, but you think, “oh, it will be fine,” and you continue on with your work.

A few weeks later the plant looks like a shriveled, dried up disaster. “What happened?!?” you wonder. You consider taking the dumb thing back to the store, because clearly they sold you junk. But, you know a good plant person, and decide to first ask her to come into your office to take a look.

She looks at the plant, observes your office, and puts her finger in the soil in the pot.

“What is wrong?” you ask.

“Well, your office has no windows, so your plant hasn’t gotten any sun. And when was the last time you watered it? The soil is so dry it’s like rock,” she responds.

The plant that was so perfect is dead, from lack of attention in the form of the right amounts of sunlight and water.

We could up the ante a bit and talk about puppies. If you went out and adopted a puppy, (cutest wittle fing you ever saw, all fuzzy and wiggwy and sweet!!) and brought it home, but then gave it no attention, within hours your house would be a wreck and you would be wondering why you were so insane as to think this was a good idea.

Or, how about your spouse or partner? If I came home from work and my husband was home before me, sitting in the living room watching his favorite show, and didn’t greet me… ignored me… he would be in SO much trouble! Same thing if the situation were the opposite, and I ignored him, I would be in trouble!

When we get home, we greet each other. We hug. We kiss. We ask about the other’s day and tell about our own. We give each other attention. And if we didn’t, our marriage would not be a happy one.

My point here is that attention is a basic need of all living things, and we need to stop thinking about it as “bad,” especially in children. Our children need our attention.

In fact, I would posit that healthy relationships — between parents and children, partners, friends — are all about the quality of our attention!

So, what do I mean by that? Well, there are three components of high quality attention:

1) Good observations

High quality attention begins with good observations. It’s all about noticing the small things…downcast eyes, slumped shoulders, a change in tone of voice.

These are not things we will notice as easily if we are rushed, or sick, or having a bad day. Our ability to make good observations is strongly dependent on our own internal climate, which is part of my case for good self-care and self-regulation, which you can check out here and here.

2) Accurate interpretations

The second step in high quality attention is accurate interpretations. If we are making good observations, are we also making accurate interpretations of the things we notice?

We are most likely to misinterpret things when we have unresolved trauma, or when something we see in this moment is linked in our minds with something else that happened before.

We also are more likely to misinterpret our observations when we are dysregulated in other ways, perhaps feeling lonely, or angry, or overwhelmed, or tired, or even hungry.

Another thing to consider here is the power of an open mind that believes the best. This does not mean ignoring a problem, but to consider as many possibilities as we can, and to make interpretations which honor the highest good in the other person.

3) Respond in a way that meets the need

Once we have made good observations, and have accurately interpreted what we notice, we then have an opportunity to respond to the need in a way that the other person feels it is met.

Let’s think about an example of this process together. Imagine with me that your child has just come home from school. You are waiting at the bus stop, and notice him getting off the bus quietly, looking down at the ground. You know that usually he comes down the aisle giving fist bumps to all his friends and hops down the steps to the sidewalk, a stark contrast to what you just witnessed.

You give him a sideways squeeze, kiss the top of his head, and then ask, “what’s up, buddy? How was your day?”

You notice he is still looking at the ground as you walk and hasn’t spoken to you yet. He kicks a small rock hard enough for it to ricochet off a sign post and ping your ankle.

At this moment, you could be feeling many things. You might be worried about your typically energetic and engaging child. You might be upset that he isn’t speaking to you, and frustrated, or even angry that the rock hurt your ankle. The amount to which those things bother you is likely correlated with what type of day you have had so far and what your expectations are for your child’s behavior.

How will you interpret these behaviors? To honor the highest good in your child, you certainly would NOT assume he was just being a brat. Instead, you might start thinking that perhaps he’s had a hard day, or maybe that something has happened that has upset him somehow.

How will you respond? Knowing your child and relating to him in ways that are appropriate for his age and personality are at the foundation of your response. You might say something like, “it seems like something is upsetting you.” Or, “seems like it’s been a hard day.”

You probably don’t want to focus on the rock that hit you, or the fact that he is not speaking to you. Instead of being punitive, believing the best of your child, and understanding that he is having a hard time, will help you hear and respond to his need in the best way possible.

It could be that this is all your child needs — a bit of compassion and a ready listening ear. It could be he needs time just to be close to you, walking home, and will be ready to talk later. It could be that he needs a hug or time to snuggle together.

Meeting his need will result in the two of you feeling connected. If it all goes as we would hope, you will come through this situation with both of you feeling better. He will feel valued, understood, and cared for. You will feel like an effective parent.

Attachment research tells us that if we give our loved ones high quality attention (making good observations, accurate interpretations, and responding in ways that meet the need) a mere 30% of the time, we will have a secure relationship! This gives us so much room to be human. We can be distracted and miss the behaviors showing us there is a need. We can misinterpret the behaviors. We can respond in ways that don’t meet the need. But if we are giving it our best, choosing to learn and grow, we can repair mistakes and strengthen our relationships.

“Needing attention” is the state of all things, ourselves included. Let’s embrace our ability to meet that need for those we love, and enjoy the deep and lasting relationships that result.

So much love,

~April

To Hear and Respond

Sharing our stories, and welcoming the stories of others, can be avenues for hope, learning, and growth

Close up of a shiny black mug of coffee with three steamed milk hearts

The other day, I went to two churches… one, the place where I am experiencing some healing through welcome and kindness. The other, the place where some of my deepest pain originated.

As I sat in the one service, tears came to my eyes multiple times. The singing was authentically beautiful. Words from the scripture passage in Luke leapt at me. The pastor’s words were full of grace, compassion, and truth. Tears flowed down my cheeks as the pastor said, “the very nature of God is to hear and respond.”

My son lay down on the pew and fell asleep for a while. The woman next to us smiled and shifted down so he could have more room. When he woke up and started to rock and flap his hands, no one stared or even gave us looks. When we needed to leave in the middle of a prayer, all the embarrassment I felt seemed to come only from me, not from the judgement of others.

This, for me, has been a space I could enter tentatively, my uncertainty offered grace without even knowing my story. It has been a place that has reminded me of home… of the little country church where I grew up, where people still love me after (and through) everything. 

It has become one of very few spaces in my life where I feel I can let my guard down a bit with my son, my hypervigilance in this public gathering reduced by the kindness I feel in the very air around me.

As I left that space to go to the next church, I had a visceral sense of anxiety… my chest tightened and my shoulders tensed. Even as I got in my car, I considered just going home. The excuses began running readily through my head… all the ways I could justify not going to the place I had said I would go. 

But I had said I would go. My daughter had asked me to come. She was singing her favorite songs and was excited. I had told her I would go. So I would go.

Pulling into the parking lot, I recognized every person. Some had aged, some had grown up, some seemed to have stayed just the same. Some waved, friendly. Most paid no attention, or just looked at me, perhaps wondering if they recognized me. 

I could have told you each of their names. I had made it my job to know each one.

Walking in, I passed some people who did not smile, did not greet me.

Was it because it was me, or because they would not have greeted anyone?

I made it through the doors and hid for a moment in the bathroom, gathering myself together.  Then I stepped out again. The service had started. I could hear my daughter singing.

I breathed deeply and looked in at the sanctuary to try to find a seat. A wave of relief washed over me as I spotted one of my best friends sitting with her family in an otherwise empty row. I made a beeline and sat down. It was right up front, on the side. No hiding here. Breathe.

My friend’s son saw me first and smiled, getting his mom’s attention. Welcome. A smile and a hug. “Come over here, beside me. I’m so glad you’re here.” She knew how hard it was.

Then my daughter spotted me and smiled from up on stage. I had made it. I was there for her. I forgot everything else and focused on the beautiful human up on that stage, nervous and excited, helping to lead worship. My girl.

I watched people notice and recognize me slowly. One by one, eye contact, few smiles. Perhaps it was just the space… not the time for smiling. Perhaps it was me.

The striking contrast I was feeling between churches continued as the scripture was read… a Psalm calling out to God for justice against enemies. A delineation between “us” and “them” in which the writer is the dove and his enemies are wild beasts.

My self-righteousness reared its ugly head as I related to the Psalm. The part of me that wants that kind of justice could have laughed out loud at the irony of the moment.

That part of me wants to tell my story and all of its particulars to the world. That part of me wants to blame others for the mistakes I made, to justify my failings with a childish “he made me do it” complete with a pointing finger and red-faced tears.

In some way, I know I must find expression for that part of me too. She is the hurt child who just wanted someone in a position of power to protect her, to stand up and defend her. To tell her they believed her, that what was done to her was wrong, that those who did it would have to be reprimanded, that it would not be allowed to continue any longer.

That is the part of me that feels so deeply betrayed and abandoned.

And as I let those thoughts and feelings wash over me, they were followed other thoughts…

The recurring realization that God’s justice does not look like ours. God’s justice is for everyone, not just me. God’s justice says there is no “us” and “them,” but we are all one. Loved and delighted in. God’s justice means that God wants good for me just as much as good for those who hurt me.

Indignation followed close behind. Because how will I ever find my voice if I keep being this egalitarian empathic freak?!?!? It would seem to me that one cannot tell a story about pain, without discussing the reason for the pain.

My child comes to me with a cut on his finger, and my first question is, “oh baby, what happened?”

If someone said that to me, how would I respond?

The question brought me up short. Because that is exactly how God comes to me, comes to each of us, in our pain.  “Oh my child, what happened?” Spoken tenderly. The Unconditionally Loving Parent bends down to be with us and hear our story, holding us while we cry.  That same Parent knows the best way to heal the wound, carefully tending it. And like a child, we might resist… “No!!!! That will sting!!!” But when we embrace the care, and give it time, healing does come.

God has more than enough good, more than enough healing for everyone.  For me, and for those who hurt me.

When I find my voice from this internal space, sharing my story can be for the benefit of those in similar situations.  To let them know they are not alone. To offer some hope that they, too, can make it through. It can also be for the learning and growth of those who caused pain, that they might not repeat what they did before.

As I’ve reflected on these two church services, it struck me that they are a reflection of our culture. 

For the past few years I have felt that we are at a crossroads… on one hand, devolving into “us” and “them,” in which anyone who is “them” is ridiculous, or stupid, or aggregiously wrong and “I can’t even listen to you because you are clearly insane.”  This path leads us to division and pain… to everyone losing.  

On the other hand, we could notice this time in history as an opportunity… we could allow our nature to be like God’s, ready to hear and respond. 

We could take time to listen to the painful stories others share about their experience and simply believe them without defending ourselves (“but we didn’t mean to,” or “that may have happened, but it wasn’t me,” or “but you are not the only one in pain here, I’m in pain too”).

We could choose kindness, graciousness, and welcome, instead of dividing those around us into the camps of doves and wild beasts.

I believe with every fiber of my being that everyone is doing the best they can, and the path to healing involves radical belief in the highest good existing in every one of us.  

I believe that the vast majority of people do not intend to harm others, but they do.  And those who do intend harm are filled with pain in such a way that it overflows to those around them.

It is my deep hope that each of us can experience the healing of welcome, kindness, grace, and understanding… and that we can, in turn, offer the same to others in the best way we are able each moment.

Where have you experienced welcome and kindness?

Where have you experienced pain?

We each have a story to tell.  Sometimes the particulars are things we share only with our closest, most trusted friends.  Sometimes we pour them out only to God. May our stories bring us together. May they be vehicles of hope, learning, and growth for those willing to hear and respond.

Taco Bowls

Taco bowls are a simple dinner and can suit a variety of dietary needs

Avocado cut in half on a counterI know, I know, what’s with all the bowls? Everything is being made into a bowl! But I’m telling you, bowls make dinner better! From gluten free, dairy free mostly vegan me, to my dairy loving son, and my carnivorous daughter, we have a wide range of palates to satisfy… and bowls do the trick!

You can switch up ingredients to meet any dietary challenge. Autoimmune Protocol? No problem, just fill your bowl with green leafies, and top with meat (skip the taco seasoning or make an AIP version), olives, onions, and avocado. Sprinkle it all with some freshly squeezed lime juice and a little salt, and you are AIP-friendly! Vegan? Leave out the meat and dairy and check your chips. Keto? I really don’t know exactly what you all do… Skip the carbs and eat the veggies and ALL the fats? You get the idea. Bowls are gloriously flexible.

Taco bowls are really just trendy taco salad, but they are a favorite in our home. Just put each ingredient in its own serving dish and let everyone build their individual bowl to suit!

Here are the ingredients I include:

1 lb. ground beef, browned and seasoned with homemade taco seasoning

1-2 cans of black beans (depending how many bean eaters I am having around the table) …dried beans that have been cooked, seasoned, and frozen also work great! If I’m on top of things, I make a big batch in the InstantPot to freeze in smaller amounts. Cans happen when I’m not planning ahead so well.

Lettuce of your choosing (I like red leaf lettuce or baby spinach)

Chopped tomatoes

Chopped avocado with some fresh lime juice

Sliced black olives

Frozen corn, thawed, or canned corn

Shredded cheddar or a Mexican blend of shredded cheese

Chopped green onions

Plain yogurt (our substitute for sour cream)

Salsa of your choosing

Tortilla chips

Hot cooked rice

That’s it! So simple. And everybody’s happy. Taco bowls!

What would you put in your bowl?

So much love,

~April

We ALL Need to SLEEP: 12 tips for the child with sleep disturbances and the exhausted parent who loves them

Whether you have a child with special needs, or one who just struggles to sleep, these tips will help you get the sleep you both need.

Wide eyed child wearing glasses and a mischievous grin

I’m writing this from the floor of my son’s room as he lays wide awake in bed because we are trying to adjust to the time change. For some, it might not seem like a big deal, but in our home it means exhaustion and upheaval… for weeks.

Sleep has *always* been a challenge for us, and time changes have become dreaded dates looming on the calendar when I know our already challenging sleep issues will be magnified to a degree that makes me want to move to the EU, or at least Saskatchewan, where time changes aren’t a thing.

And let’s face it, even without a time change or sleep disturbances, just parenting a child who has normal sleep behaviors for their developmental age is utterly exhausting much of the time.

What IS normal? You might be asking… well, current research says it’s normal for babies to NOT sleep through the night for at least the first year of their lives. And some kiddos take longer.

Young children have a natural circadian rhythm that leads to going to bed early and waking up early, though there are certainly variations within the norm.

As children grow, it is normal for them to have bad dreams that wake them up… and it’s normal for them to need reassurance and closeness in order to go back to sleep.

It’s also normal for kids not to want to go to sleep at night and to try many different ways to push back bedtime.

Now, don’t get me wrong, none of these things are easy. In fact, they can be exhausting and exasperating! And losing sleep is really hard even when it falls within the range of normal. I will never minimize the experience of the exhausted parent who has no idea when they will again get a full night’s sleep. The struggle is real. Everything is harder when we aren’t sleeping.

Never fear, the tips I’m sharing will help you through normal sleep struggles too.

But the sleep struggles some of us face are not within the range of normal. From night wakings to never (never, ever, never) sleeping past 7am… and actually nearly always waking between 5 and 6am no matter how late our kiddos fell asleep, or how many times they woke during the night, or how long they stayed awake each time… solid sleep is something some of us treasure more than most things, because it has been so very rare for so very long.

And because I am among those who treasure sleep so much, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks over the years to help make it happen more frequently. What follows is an extensive list of all the things we have tried over the years, with varying success, as well as an “ideal” bedtime routine incorporating the things that have worked best for us.

Whether you have a child with special needs, or one who is just struggling to sleep, it’s my hope that some of these things will help you and your child get the sleep you need.

Sleep tip #1: Essential oil

We’ve tried various blends over the years, and have found that if nothing else, it sure smells great!

Our best success has been using a roller and applying it to the bottoms of feet, wrists, and behind the ears.

A diffuser is good too, but they can make noise, which can bother those with auditory sensitivities, and can also wake kids up if they shut off in the middle of the night.

Our least successful essential oil experience was spraying pillow cases with lavender mist or washing sheets with lavender detergent. Both ways the aroma seemed to dissipate quickly, and I’ve found that lavender alone isn’t as effective as a blend designed for sleep.

Our favorite is here: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0727V22DC/ref=ya_aw_oh_bia_dp?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Sleep tip #2: tart cherry juice

This one is a “sometimes” thing for us. We use it when kids are really wound up and need to calm down before bed. It’s not a nightly thing, which may actually make it more effective because it’s a natural form of melatonin.

This is what is in our fridge right now: https://smile.amazon.com/Cheribundi-Tart-Cherry-Juice-Ounce/dp/B004H3V1TA/ref=mp_s_a_1_4?crid=1450XKG0QST7M&keywords=tart+cherry+juice&qid=1552269084&s=gateway&sprefix=tart+cherry&sr=8-4

Which leads us to…

Sleep tip #3: melatonin gummies

Melatonin is definitely useful for helping humans sleep. It’s something our bodies produce naturally, but as a supplement it has side effects, including nightmares, and it’s likely that we should not use it for long periods of time as it may affect our bodies’ own production.

I use it only as a last resort on really rough nights and in very low doses. We have 5mg gummies that I cut into quarters. We only need a very little bit!

When it’s a last resort kind of night, this is what I have cut up in my cupboard: https://smile.amazon.com/Melatonin-Gummies-Size-60ct-Sundown/dp/B00RZPH3ZI/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=3S4J2958ZDT7I&keywords=sundown+melatonin+gummies&qid=1552269168&s=gateway&sprefix=sundown+mela&sr=8-3

Sleep tip #4: lavender Epsom salt bath

Our favorite way to relax at night is a good warm bath. Who doesn’t love a good bubble bath? Adding lavender Epsom salts takes the relaxation up a notch, by providing us with magnesium, which calms us down and helps us get ready to sleep.

We love Dr. Teal’s: https://smile.amazon.com/Dr-Teals-Soaking-Solution-Lavender/dp/B00LW1KAYC/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=3SUTT6J5PPJ4&keywords=dr+teals+epsom+salt&qid=1552269231&s=gateway&sprefix=dr+teal&sr=8-3

And we usually have the bubble bath too: https://smile.amazon.com/Teals-Foaming-Soothe-Sleep-Lavender/dp/B01HIGUUBW/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=GPZIATVGC3BW&keywords=dr+teals+foaming+bath&qid=1552269334&s=gateway&sprefix=dr+teal&sr=8-3

Sleep tip #5: Sleepology

A company called Genexa makes Sleepology… chamomile in tablet form that was really a game changer for us. With the melatonin giving nightmares, we were looking for something else and stumbled across these little gems.

After taking them for a few months, it was like my son’s body adjusted to the routine of sleeping all night and even though he has stopped taking them, our night wakings have decreased significantly.

This is our game changer: https://smile.amazon.com/Genexa-Sleepology-Homeopathic-Sleep-Aid/dp/B01FH99EFA/ref=mp_s_a_1_6?keywords=genexa&qid=1552269376&s=gateway&sr=8-6

Sleep tip #6: SnugBug

The SnugBug is a weighted blanket alternative that was the best discovery ever. Weighted blankets tend to slip and slide off the bed, and once it’s on the floor there is no retrieving it (at least not without waking in the middle of the night).

The SnugBug is a stretchy “bed cocoon” that wraps around the whole mattress. And while it’s a pain to get on and off the bed, it is so completely worth it. Not only has it reduced night wakings for us, my son’s sleep is more peaceful and he wakes in a better mood more often.

You can get a SnugBug here: https://smile.amazon.com/SnugBug-A-Weighted-Blanket-Alternative/dp/B016FZ5W88/ref=mp_s_a_1_2?keywords=snugbug&qid=1552269527&s=gateway&sr=8-2

Sleep tip #7: salt lamps

I know nothing about the science behind these lamps, or whether our air quality is improved by them, but I do know that the soft, warm glow is soothing. It is the first thing we turn on in the morning and the last thing we turn off at night.

Find one here: https://smile.amazon.com/Himalayan-Hymilain-Crystal-Dimmable-Certified/dp/B06XYZBCYP/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=3EWD4TIWEN6AI&keywords=himalayan+salt+lamp&qid=1552269629&s=gateway&sprefix=himalay&sr=8-3

Sleep tip #8: white noise machine

I’ve had at least five different sound machines, ranging from a CD on repeat, to an expensive little thing with a full range of sound choices, to a whooshing air machine that makes only one sound. By far, my favorite is the Marpac Dohm Classic. You pay a little more for this one, but our current one has lasted over two years now and is still going strong.

My son requests this every night if I forget to turn it on.

Not only does it make a soothing sound, it blocks out all the other sounds that super sensitive ears pick up on.

We got ours here: https://smile.amazon.com/Marpac-Classic-White-Noise-Machine/dp/B00HD0ELFK/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=2GIHDGAD8DDII&keywords=marpac+dohm+classic+white+noise+sound+machine%2C+white&qid=1552269696&s=gateway&sprefix=maroac&sr=8-3

Sleep tip #9: warm milk

If your child will drink it, warm milk with a splash of real vanilla is a great help with falling asleep.

While hard evidence might be lacking, this age old remedy for sleeplessness remains popular and has been effective in our home.

Milk contains tryptophan and melatonin, which should both relax us and make us sleepy.

Sleep tip #10: complete darkness

I know this one can be hard! I am very cognizant of fears of the dark and the need for nightlights not only in bedrooms, but also in hallways and bathrooms and kitchens and closets.

Ok, maybe not closets…

Room darkening shades, clocks that don’t glow, removal of any screens at least an hour before bed, no other electronics in the room… all of these things help with sleep. Any light causes wakefulness, and makes it more difficult to both fall asleep and stay asleep.

Sleep tip #11: chamomile tea

Another warm drink from my arsenal of tricks, chamomile tea with a bit of raw honey is soothing and helps us relax and fall asleep after a hard day.

I like to use this loose organic chamomile (and the bulk bag lasts forever!): https://smile.amazon.com/Frontier-Organic-Chamomile-Flowers-German/dp/B001VNGN9C/ref=mp_s_a_1_2?crid=293LU0XWZAKWE&keywords=frontier+organic+chamomile+flowers&qid=1552269776&s=gateway&sprefix=frontier+organic+cha&sr=8-2

Sleep tip #12: regular routine

All of these things are most effective when incorporated into a regular routine. On days when we are doing well, our ideal bedtime routine looks like this:

6:30pm lights throughout house are dimmed in winter; warm lavender bath; pjs; cherry juice, or chamomile tablet; brush teeth

7:00pm dim lights in bedroom with shades drawn, essential oil, in bed, read stories

7:30pm sound machine on, and lights out

Most nights I need to lay on the floor beside my son’s bed while he falls asleep (thus, this blog post as we “spring forward” with this hateful time change).

A regular routine preps our bodies and brains for sleep, creating neural pathways that lead us more easily to sleep over time.

——————————————————————

It is important to know that even after all these things and all these years later, sleep still is not perfect for us and probably never will be. But it is good enough. We are not zombies. We do not need to walk around with an IV of coffee dripping into our forearms.

If you are still in the zombie or IV coffee stage, I hope you find these tips useful! What has helped you and your child get sleep?

So much love,

~A

Simple Blueberry Breakfast Smoothies

A delicious and refreshing start to the morning

(Vegan, Autoimmune protocol friendly)

Close up of blueberries on a wooden table

The weather has been absolutely frigid for several days now… the kind of cold I can’t seem to shake, even in our cozy home. It seeps up through the tile on the floor, and seems to melt lazily in through our windows at night.

These would typically be the days when bowls of hot steel cut oats appear for breakfast at our house, filled with apples, cranberries, pecans, and chia.

(That sounds like some fairy makes these bowls for us, and they float down through the air to our dining table… just give me some wings…)

But for a short time, oats and nuts and seeds are off the table for me, so I’ve been trying to find a tasty alternative to brighten our mornings.

While this smoothie definitely does not help out with the chill (itself being quite cold), it is absolutely delicious, super healthy, and keeps us full for a surprisingly long time.

We are using coconut milk right now, but as soon as I start eating nuts again, almonds or walnuts and water will replace the coconut milk.

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 large leaves organic lacinato “dino” kale, tough center stem removed (I promise, you can’t taste the kale!)

1 organic banana, peeled

2 cups frozen organic blueberries

1 can full fat organic coconut milk

Put all ingredients in the blender, adding water as needed (I usually add about 1/2 – 3/4 of a cup). Blend until smooth and enjoy! This makes plenty for both my husband and I.

What is your favorite healthy breakfast right now?

So much love,

~A

My Top 6 Life-Changing Parenting Books

Close up of roses with the quote “How did the rose ever open it’s heart and give to the world all of its beauty?  It felt the encouragement of light against its being.” - Hafiz

My clients will tell you I am constantly referring them to books… whether it’s parenting, spirituality, mindfulness, self-acceptance, there are so many wonderful books out there!

So today, I wanted to share a few of the parenting books I consider to be most life-changing for both myself and my clients.

I do not yet have any affiliate status, so I am not receiving anything in return for promoting these books. They are just that good.

Life-changing Parenting books

Let me first say that I am a huge fan of Dan Siegel. Like, if I put posters of rockstars on my wall, it wouldn’t be Springsteen, or Hendrix, or Prince. It would be Siegel, all the way.

And I don’t even know if the man sings.

But I do know that he has put together more than half a century of attachment research, along with the latest developments in neuroscience, to help parents rock their roles.

All puns aside, I need you to know that I am not one of those people who reads every parenting book. In fact, when I was pregnant with my first child, I swore I would not read a single parenting book other than “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” because I hated all the conflicting and faddish advice.

And yet, here we are… Due in no small part to the fact that Siegel’s approach is rooted both in hard science and deep love, two things which are arguably the opposite of faddish.

So, with no further ado, my top 6 life-changing parenting books!

Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell

This first one is, in my mind, foundational to all the others. After all, you can know all the right things to do and still struggle to actually do them. In this book, Hartzell and Siegel take time to help the reader think through what it is that could be stopping us from being the parents we want to be. They introduce the reader to the concept of “reparenting” oneself in order to overcome the barriers within.

While dense at times, the information could not be more useful and effective if put into practice.

https://smile.amazon.com/Parenting-Inside-Out-Self-Understanding-Anniversary/

Autism Breakthrough by Raun K. Kauffman

This one is for all the parents of kiddos with autism. The thing that stood out to me in this book was not the idea that autism can be cured, though the author claims that very thing happened to him, but that without ever talking about attachment theory, the author’s parents lived and breathed attachment with their son.

There is no universe in which a child doesn’t benefit from parents “entering their world,” and in this case, that idea is applied with love and kindness to parenting children with autism.

I understand neurodivergent conversations, and I am not endorsing this book for the purpose of upholding neurotypical as the only, or even the best, way to be in this world. Instead, I see this book as a guide for helping our children with autism be the best they can be in a way that makes everyone feel whole, understood, and loved.

https://smile.amazon.com/Autism-Breakthrough-Groundbreaking-Method-Families/

No Drama Discipline by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

This should be required reading. I’m talking every parent, before their child is 18 months old, should have to read and pass a test on this material.

Life. Would. Be. Better.

The title is self-explanatory. The information is accessible. The tools are practicable. Whether you have a two year-old or a ten year-old, this information will transform your relationship with your child.

Read. This. Book.

https://smile.amazon.com/No-Drama-Discipline-Whole-Brain-Nurture-Developing/

Becoming Mrs. Rogers by Cindi Rogers

I know this one won’t be for everybody, but for those in the Fragile X community, and anyone who loves someone with FXS, this book will be a godsend.

Cindi Rogers is the mom of two adult boys with Fragile X Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that is the number one cause of inherited intellectual disability, and the only absolutely-for-sure known cause of autism. She writes with love, transparency, and hopefulness about lifelong caregiving and learning to do life differently.

https://smile.amazon.com/Becoming-Mrs-Rogers-Cindi/

Untangled by Lisa Damour

For anyone who has a teenage girl, or a girl approaching adolescence, do yourself a huge favor and get this book now!

I love teenagers. I used to be a youth pastor because I think teenagers are amazing. They are thinking through things in new ways, with their whole life in front of them. They are planning for their futures, and charting a course for their lives. It is an exciting and critical time.

Right after my daughter was born, I used to tell people how much I loved having this tiny baby and how excited I was to have a teenage daughter some day. People laughed in my face. I’m not talking a tiny chuckle. Seasoned parents guffawed. They told me, “you just wait!!”

Fourteen years later, well, let’s just say it is a bit different parenting than pastoring.

If you need some help navigating these waters, like I do, Lisa Damour is a wise and seasoned advisor.

https://smile.amazon.com/Untangled-Guiding-Teenage-Transitions-Adulthood/

Brainstorm by Dan Siegel

And of course, my list of six books could not be complete if half of them weren’t from Dan Siegel!

Brainstorm is a scientific look at adolescence that also offers practical and transformative application.

Learn why those maddening behaviors maybe aren’t so terrible, and how to harness the very best aspects of this tumultuous time in our children’s lives.

And by the way… did you know that the brain develops more during adolescence than it does at any other time in a person’s life other than between the ages of 1-2? Wild.

https://smile.amazon.com/Brainstorm-Power-Purpose-Teenage-Brain/

No matter where you are on the parenting journey, I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have!

What parenting books have been life-changing for you?

So much love,

~A

Chronic Grief

Opening ourselves to grief can make room for joy

Sunrise over the ocean

I will never forget the first time my daughter rolled over. She was just two months old, and by some fluke she managed to flip over while laying on the bed. I made a huge deal of it, as only a first time mom can, talking to her, cheering, and immediately beginning to anticipate when she would roll over again. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. Then one day she did it. And then again. And again. Suddenly she was rolling across the living room, going wherever she wanted.

Her development continued in this way… she would consistently do the next “big” milestone, like sitting up, or crawling, or walking, one time and very early. Then she wouldn’t do it again for at least two weeks. But once she did it the next time, she had it nailed. Seriously, once that child started to actually walk, she rarely fell. It was like from the beginning of her life she was wired to only do something if she could do it well (yikes, I know).

Her brother was quite different. He took forever to hold his head up in a way that made me confident he could sustain it. Every developmental milestone was delayed, heightening my search to figure out what was going on. I think I thought if I knew what was happening, I could fix it. There must be some therapy, some medicine, some diet that would help him.

But no one seemed to have answers, and even when answers came, solutions did not follow.

It was the first time I’ve felt so completely powerless.

We would go to church and I would stay in the nursery to help, watching all the other babies doing things mine could not do.

Comparison to his sister or to his peers was excruciatingly painful. I knew I shouldn’t do it. I had heard all the people say, ” he will do it in his own time.” And I knew that if he was going to do anything, it would be in his own time. The problem for me was not the delay, but the unknown… it wasn’t about doing it in his own time, it was about what he would or wouldn’t do at all.

Each milestone that passed brought a fresh wave of grief.

Would he learn to sit up?

Would he crawl?

Would he walk?

When would he say words I could understand?

He cries so much, if he could just speak, maybe he could tell me what’s wrong and I could make it better…

Then came school, and all the things were hard. Fine motor, reading, writing, math, peer relationships, gym class, recess, field trips…

And with each struggle, grief. We can say all the nice things about developing character and growing through adversity, and I can accept that to be true for myself. But for my child? Sure, to a certain extent, yes. But not like this. When everything is hard, that doesn’t grow you, that defeats you. There has got to be a limit to what a person has to bear.

Of course, this was really just my struggle. I would guess that if my son could tell me about his early school experience, he would say it was fun. He knew he was loved, and I have entire scrapbooks filled with joyful pictures of shaving cream projects and sensory tables, PT’s balance beams and OT’s scissors.

He might have been behind his peers, but I am pretty positive he was blissfully unaware of any difference.

No, this was mostly my problem. But it really was a problem. Grief seemed to ooze from my pores, like too much garlic. Grief over the unknown, grief over the unfixable. It never quite left and it never quite consumed me. I pushed it off with prayers focusing on what I had to be grateful for, and all the things I could do to make things the best they could be. I believed in cures and new medications and miracles. But just underneath the surface, I questioned God’s goodness, and felt plagued with the why of it all.

Then one night, in the middle of the night, laying in my son’s bed as he rocked back and forth beside me, unable to sleep, I heard very clearly, “I am not going to heal your son. This is something both of you need.”

Tears welled up in my eyes and ran silently down my cheeks. This was not the answer I wanted. This was not the clarity I sought. And yet I knew it was true. Deeply and unshakably true.

Since that night, I have experienced varying degrees of acceptance, from raging against it to hesitantly embracing it. The words that God placed on my heart from that time on have been trust and surrender, neither of which seem to be my forte as I am still working on them over a decade later.

Through all these years of grief, it seemed like no one really had the right words for my experience and yet I knew it was not unique. Many other parents I talked with experienced similar sadnesses as they raised their children with special needs. This grief was not a one time event, as in the death of a loved one, with lasting impact. Instead, it was a series of events (or non-events like missed developmental milestones), each like a dull ache, lingering… chronic grief.

Sometimes I felt guilty for feeling the sadness at all… my child was not typically developing, but as far as I knew his disorder was not life threatening. How could I grieve when other parents have lost their children?

But I’ve learned that grief doesn’t follow rules, and feeling guilty for feeling what we feel rarely makes us feel any better. In fact, more often it leads to despair and stuck-ness.

Instead, I have come to expect this chronic grief. It seems to be a natural partner to chronic illness, but I never know when it will show up, I just know that it will. And when it does, the only thing to do is to acknowledge it. Look at it, full-on, without hiding. Much like a storm, it is here now. It was not yesterday, and it likely will move through by tomorrow. Somehow acknowledging this makes it both less surprising and less overwhelming. I feel more able to roll with it, and not be drowned.

And just like an unexpected rainbow immediately following a storm, as I have come to expect grief, I have also been amazed by joy. As I get better at letting go of my own expectations for what “should” be and accept what is, I am finding that what is can be exquisite. Joy springs up in the recognition of goodness that still surrounds and upholds us. Joy slips in in the simplicity of mutual care, expressed through small acts of kindness. Joy underpins the creation of our own path, making a unique life that works for us. Joy overflows in watching my children grow at their own pace, in their own ways, light-bearers all.

Grief still settles in beside me at times, usually accompanied by some worry about the future, or perhaps some present pain, but it is a familiar presence, lacking the power it used to hold. This life, all of it, is making me soft and strong. It is forming me and my family into the shape of grace.

Wherever you are on this journey, may hope accompany you. May you see dawn breaking on the horizon, because even if circumstances don’t change, you can. May this path open you up and fill you with grace.

So much love,

~A

Acceptance and Resistance

Acceptance could be the most important New Year’s resolution for all of us

Close up of praying mantis on wood siding

Let’s talk about acceptance and resistance, shall we? And let’s get real. Today I hurt all over… my left elbow, my back, my neck, my right ankle and foot, my knees, my head, my hands, my abdomen. My hands and arms tingled and felt numb. I was home with my littlest guy who wanted to jump on me, slide down my legs, hang on my arms, but everywhere he touched hurt.

It hurt my body to play with my baby.

And I have not done very well at acceptance. Nope. I have resisted this bullishly for months, and today was prime resistance material. In fact, by this evening I was angry. I do not want this to be a real thing. I do not want to feel this way. I completely sabotaged my healing diet by eating Christmas candies and cookies filled with sugar and gluten.  I drank a rum and Coke.  It is New Year’s Eve and I want some semblance of “normal.”

And as I brushed my teeth, grumbling about the unfairness of life, melting into my own pity party like it’s its own New Year’s celebration, Eckart Tolle’s words came loudly into my mind… “whatever the present moment contains, accept it as though you had chosen it…”

Chosen it?!?? What would it look like if I had chosen this? Why in the world would I have chosen this???

And then, quietly, like a silent tidal wave, I was overwhelmed once again with a realization (because I simply don’t catch on quickly, my friends, not at all)… this whole thing is an invitation to take care of myself like I never have before. To notice my body, give it what it needs, move it, feed it, sit it only on soft seats, and give it many pillows. It is a chance unlike any other to nurture myself.

I know that self-care is important as a caregiver. I have tried to practice good self-care for many years. But this thing takes it up a notch… or ten. This thing is demanding my attention and forcing my focus on deep self-care. I cannot be the caregiver my son needs for the rest of my life if I don’t take care of myself now, figure out this body of mine, and give it what it needs.

So, this year, my New Year’s resolution looks a little different. This year, my goals are not big in the traditional sense. This year my goal is to fully accept this thing… to listen to and care for this one body of mine.

We all have ways in which we resist ourselves, turning away from our deepest needs as if they aren’t real. For some of us, it is the need for emotional connection that scares us most. For some of us, our need for food gets ignored. We kick against our needs as if somehow being human is itself wrong or a nuisance. We work harder, longer, faster, and get exhausted, but we can’t pause long enough to really refuel. We resist being the vulnerable, limited beings we all are.

But somehow it is really those very vulnerabilities and limitations that we need. We need the humility. We need the realization of how much we need others. We need the unity of understanding how connected we all are. We need the openness, kindness, and compassion these things can grow in us.

We need acceptance.

Acceptance of ourselves in all of our glorious complexity. Acceptance of our weaknesses and the things that make us tender. Acceptance of others, in all of their complexity, glory, and flaws.

Tonight we celebrate the end of a year and the beginning of a new one. Whatever the past year has held, it is closing. We are being given a fresh start, a chance to try new things, to begin again.

We have an opportunity to practice acceptance rather than resistance. To move peacefully instead of reactively.

How do you want to begin again? In what ways do you need to accept yourself and your needs? Who or what motivates you to do that well?

So much love,

~A

4 Ways to Find Rest When It Seems Impossible

Rest is a vital part of resilience. Here are four ways to sneak some rest into any day.

As anyone who is a caregiver will tell you, one of the hardest needs to meet when taking care of another person is the need for rest. Sometimes it can seem like we are barely making it through the day, only to find the rest we so desperately need is also elusive at night, whether due to our loved one’s night wakings, or our own struggle to stop (physically or mentally) and sleep.

From boosting our immunity to improving memory, there are a multitude of reasons why rest is a necessity, but as caregivers it can seem impossible to get all we need. Here are four tools to help you squeeze a little rest into almost any impossible situation.

Black and white cat asleep on a table with a vase of small white flowers

Mindful moment

Simply put, mindfulness is any act of being entirely present in this moment. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve immune function, and enhance relationships, among other things. The great news for caregivers is that anything can be done with mindfulness.

Breathe in deeply through your nose. Exhale through your mouth. Continue breathing this way as you engage your five senses.

What do you see?

What do you hear?

What are you touching?

What do you smell?

What do you taste?

Allow yourself to be fully present where you are… let thoughts about what you need to do, or what you wish you had done, float away. Take as long as you can… just a few moments, five minutes, even 20 minutes, if you are able.

Incorporating mindfulness into caregiving might look something like this: while making a smoothie for your loved one, you allow yourself to totally engage your five senses in the task, breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth as you notice the smell of the blender as you take off the lid, the feeling of cold on your hands from adding frozen fruit, the sound of the bag, the appearance of the ice on each piece of fruit, the sound of them hitting the blender cup, the swirl of the blender mixing each element, the rattle settling into a loud whir as the ingredients become smooth, and the taste of the smoothie you’ve just created. Add in an element of gratitude for each of those sensory experiences, and you’ll raise the benefit of the entire experience tenfold.

Energy medicine

Donna Eden offers a quick afternoon pick-me-up exercise: stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hold your left shoulder firmly with your right hand, then run it across your body down to your right hip (think about following the line of a cross-body bag) and let your right hand rest. Take your left hand and hold your right shoulder firmly. Then run it across your body down to your left hip. Let your left hand rest. Repeat the whole process a few times and notice how you feel rejuvenated. For Donna’s daily energy routine, check out this video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Di5Ua44iuXc

15 minute nap

Let me just be clear: I hate naps. Always have. Not because I don’t need them, but most often because they are either interrupted, insufficient, or (rarely) I sleep too long and wake feeling worse. But when they’re done correctly, naps give us an energy boost and enhance our ability to think clearly.

Make sure you set a timer for this, because oversleeping (anything longer than 20-25 minutes) will have you feeling worse when you wake.

It’s also important to note that if you suffer from insomnia or depression, naps might make things worse instead of better… perhaps choose one of the other options instead.

Sometimes we can have so much going on that we find it hard to fall asleep (we are thinking of all the things that need to be done while we have 15 quiet minutes, or wondering if we even have 15 quiet minutes). Don’t get upset about this. Close your eyes and try to let go of those thoughts. Remind yourself that everything that needs to be done will be done better if you have a little rest first. Breathe deeply. Rest your body and your mind. Even if you don’t fall asleep, this 15 minutes can be rejuvenating.

Stretching and breathing

Here is another restful break that can be done almost any time. Choose any stretches you enjoy, or try any combination of these: side stretches (one arm over your head while leaning to the opposite side, then switch), lunges, standing toe touches, or any number of yoga poses. While stretching, focus on breathing deeply and notice how your body feels. Focus on stretches that meet your body’s needs for opening and loosening. Ending with some jumping jacks or running in place will help you feel energized.

Close up of black and brown hound dog sleeping curled in a willow basket

Rest is a vital part of resilience. While a solid 7-9 hours of sleep each night is still important, these activities will help you make it through when ideal sleep is out of reach. What do you do to rest?

So much love,

April

I want to be a Wiping Wizard

It’s all about the small moments

Close up of hands rinsing a soapy white cloth under running water in a sink

When I was staying home with my very young children, I used to joke that my primary job as “Mom” was to wipe… wipe noses, wipe bottoms, wipe tables, counters, floors.

If you were to add up all the hours spent wiping, it would be around 27 hours a day. That’s right, more than 100% of any given day as a SAHM of multiple youngsters is spent wiping something. Spilled milk, my shirt, drool, my pants, my child’s shirt, spit up, poo, the potty seat, my child’s face, my face, my hair, my child’s hands…

You get the picture. All. The. Time. Wiping. I dreamt about wiping… messes too big for any cloth. Laundry piling up. Washing machines breaking under the strain. My flabby triceps becoming svelt and defined from the constant effort of it all. (There’s always a silver lining, folks)

Then one day it dawned on me that really, honestly, being a good mom to my kids could actually be all about the quality of my wiping. I realized that this thing I do constantly mattered deeply.

We spend so much of our time worrying about how we are doing as a parent… how many months (or years) of therapy will our kids need as grown-ups because of us? Are we providing enough support? Too much? Are they having too much screen time? Do they need more activities or more rest? How are they when they are away from us? Are they respectful? Kind? Do they tease other children the way they tease their siblings? Are they hitting their developmental milestones on time? Are they hitting other people?

What I’ve learned over the years working in attachment is that it is all about the small moments. We get caught up in those questions and miss the fact that our child’s face flashed with shame when their milk spilled on the carpet, right before they started to cry.

If we are doing a good job of wiping, we are present. We notice not only that the milk spilled on the carpet, but also that our child feels bad about it.

If we are doing a good job of wiping, we selfregulate. Rather than letting our initial annoyance or frustration take the lead and cause us to say or do things we later regret, we take a deep breath (or five) and lead with compassion.

If we are doing a good job of wiping, we are responsive. We might be worried about getting the milk up or the possibility of lingering stink if it’s not cleaned properly, but we choose to respond first to our child’s emotional need. It might only take a moment, getting down to our kid’s level with a hug… “oh dear, your milk spilled! That’s ok, I know it was an accident. We’ll get it cleaned up, don’t worry. You can help! We’ll work together.” Or we might need to spend a little more time with our kiddo before it’s ok to start wiping, responding first to their needs and then to the task.

If we are doing a good job of wiping, we are kind. This may be the 7 millionth spill we’ve cleaned up in the past 30 minutes, we might be ready to lose our minds, but we recognize that our child is not the bad guy. Our child is just that, a child. And children spill things. Kindness allows us to treat our children as we would want to be treated. Kindness allows us to look past the momentary frustration to see the beautiful little person we value more than life itself, and to treat them accordingly.

We can learn a great deal about ourselves in these small moments… Are we patient or do we lose control of our emotions? Are we servant leaders or dictators? Do we understand our children or miss them entirely? However we are, our children soak us up.

In these small moments, I have the unique and weighty opportunity to be the person I want my children to become.

I no longer feel exasperated by all the wiping (though, admittedly it has lessened somewhat). It has become for me a sort of barometer for how I am doing… on good days I am present, regulated, responsive, and kind. Other days I might struggle with one or all of those things, and then know I need to give myself a little care in order to get back on track.

These days, my parenting goal is to be a wiping wizard.

So much love,

April