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

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

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

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

How to thrive in the face of the unfixable

Acceptance carries with it an active, courageous honesty that brings freedom

Small tree and mushroom growing out of a log

There is an anonymous quote that goes something along the lines of, “when you can’t find a solution to the problem, it’s probably not a problem to be solved, but a truth to be accepted.”

The first time I read that I balked. It hit something in me that made me want to scream. Acceptance seemed like such a passive thing to me at the time, like if I accept this, then I lay down and die. There is nothing more to be done. And that was a place I was not willing to go. In my small world, one doesn’t have a child with exceptional needs and simply accept it. One learns and digs and fights and figures things out and FIXES IT. Seriously.

But that dumb little quote would not get out of my head.

“Not a problem to be solved, but a truth to be accepted.”

Read that again in a more mocking tone.

Once more, a little whiny and nasally.

There you go. Just like that, through my head.

Everywhere I turned, there were truths to be accepted. BAH!

I’m certain it was God twisting that little sucker into my heart, and it was relentless. Nudging, pushing, prodding at my stubbornness and egoic savior complex like a big dog with a wet nose who needs a pat and is certain you are the one to provide it.

And just like that dog, underneath the annoyance of being pushed, there was also a warmth and affection for that stupid quote. Probably because I knew it was a truth to be accepted… by me… because truth is good for us.

I’ve since learned, and am learning still, that acceptance is entirely different from giving up and giving in. Acceptance is not the same as resignation. Acceptance carries with it an active, courageous honesty that can be searing at times, and that honesty brings freedom, and ultimately peace.

It’s also important to distinguish between peace and resignation… peace carries with it hope and joy, while resignation’s companions are despair and hopelessness. Peace enlivens, while resignation is like a wet blanket.

So how do we get there?? I believe the path to acceptance is the way of thriving in the face of the unfixable, and that path will take its own meandering course in anyone’s life, but there are useful common threads to be noted. I will caution you, as you read there will be things that irk and annoy, things no one really wants to hear. And I will encourage you to stay with that discomfort… allow it to lead you to the things you need to accept. And give yourself grace, and time to get there.

Expectations

Perhaps one of the most important things we need to accept in order to thrive when we are living with unfixable things are more realistic expectations. Right away I hear the argument: we have to have high expectations or my loved one will never… (what? walk again, talk, hold down a job, write her or his name, etc.). Good. Okay. And can we consider the possibility that our high expectations are not what produce results? What if our loved ones accomplish any of the things they accomplish not because we expect them to, but because we love, support, and encourage them? You might be thinking now that I’m splitting hairs, but I assure you this is an important distinction.

Let’s look at an example. When I think about high or unrealistic expectations, vacations immediately come to mind. My expectations for vacation are good rest, doing fun things in nature all together as a family, reading at least one great novel, and going out for at least one really nice dinner. And while those may not seem wildly unrealistic, I can personally attest to the fact that those very expectations have made me and my family miserable on numerous family vacations over the years.

Because you know what actually happens on vacations in my family?

No. one. rests.

Why?

We are in a strange place doing things that are out of the ordinary and completely out of routine.

This is the perfect scenario for meltdowns, tears, and screaming, not sleep, novels, and nice dinners. This is not the scenario in which mom gets to sit back and relax while the kids play happily together. This is the scenario where mom is actively involved every second or things go off the rails… and fast.

I promise you that my expectations for rest and happy family activities on vacation do not produce rest and happy family activities on vacation. In fact, I submit to you that those very expectations, due to their disconnect from reality, produce exactly the opposite of what I want, and I end up supremely grumpy and frustrated right along with my kiddos.

However, this past summer I expected vacation to be completely hands on and exhausting. Why go then?!? Well, my expectation was that, while it might not be restful and I might not pick up a book at all, we would have a fun and different experience. I would immerse myself in child-led activities and fall in bed exhausted every night. And guess what?! We had the most fun vacation I can remember as a parent. After all these years, I was finally able to align my expectations with reality and it was fun… and even a bit relaxing.

Attitude

This brings me to the next way to thrive… paying attention to our attitude. While high or unrealistic expectations are most often a source of unnecessary suffering, an attitude that is searching out the best, looking for good, and practicing gratitude, can make any situation more livable.

Did you know that we can actually wire our brains to be more positive? When we practice gratitude, the very act of looking for things to be grateful for trains our brains to seek out the positive. Notice the use of “practice” and “train” here… because rewiring our brains takes time and effort. We must not think that just because being grateful didn’t help today that it won’t ever help.

Think of it like weight lifting. If I were to pick up a 20 pound weight today it would feel pretty heavy. I don’t lift weights and have no idea what I’m doing. But if I take some time to learn, and practice lifting weights regularly, with time I will find that 20 pound weight can be lifted with ease.

This doesn’t mean that we put on a facade of always being happy. It definitely doesn’t mean we refuse to acknowledge the hard stuff. Instead, as we accept reality, we face the difficult things with clear eyes and then look for ways these very things can teach us or cause us to grow.

Help

This brings me to the third way to thrive… enlisting and accepting help. Sometimes help might come in the form of a teacher, spiritual director, mentor, or counselor who can teach us new ways of seeing and being in the world that allow us to thrive.

Sometimes the help we need to accept is at a practical, everyday level, with chores like cooking, cleaning, or getting organized.

Sometimes the help we need takes the form of respite care for our loved one which frees us up to do some other, much needed things.

As caregivers, we are very good at being competent and capable. We often over-perform to provide care, and even then we feel like we aren’t doing enough. Asking for help can make us feel like a burden, or even make us feel less worthy, as we so often draw a sense of worth and take pride in the ways we are able to help other people. These and a plethora of other factors (like how challenging it is to find respite care, or the cost of help, etc.) can leave us feeling stuck and alone when we desperately need a “village” to participate in for mutual edification and sustenance.

In the past, “villages” formed naturally through extended family and proximity. Men and women would come together to accomplish tasks, care for children and elders, and create and consume meals. In my idealistic version of our shared history, it seems it could have been simple to feel like an integral and necessary part of the whole, contributing and receiving in equal measure.

Natural villages now are rare for most of us. However we might do it, we need to get creative about enlisting help and becoming part of a true community, finding our people and welcoming each other into the messy, vulnerable spaces of our lives.

Self-care

Self-care is integrated into each of the previous components of thriving, as it’s less about doing the easy “feel good”thing, and more about doing the (often hard) work of becoming and maintaining the healthiest version of ourselves. Good self-care practices nurture each part of our being: our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This will look different for everyone, and it’s important to be realistic with our expectations here as well. No season of life is perfect, and various pieces of self-care will be more or less well-suited to each season.

Accepting ourselves and our own needs is foundational to self-care. What do we need today? Is it more sleep, a colorful salad, a long run, some quiet meditation, or good conversation with a close friend? We cannot continuously bring our best selves to those we care for without intentionally refueling our minds, bodies, and spirits.

Think about your current practices of self-care…

Do you move your body frequently throughout the day?

Do you eat food that provides the nutrients your body needs?

Do you have a spiritual practice that is meaningful and uplifting?

Do you have ways to process your emotions that allows you to stay open and regulated most of the time?

Do you engage in relationships that are deeply fulfilling, and find healthy ways to protect yourself in relationships that are needlessly painful?

In what ways do you need to take better care of yourself?

In what ways are you doing really well?

Compassion

Acceptance will come more readily over time. For now, my expectations are bound to miss the mark, cause suffering, and require re-evaluation. Even then, things will be hard and my attitude will stink sometimes. Help will not be available when I need it, and self-care will suffer. Life is far from perfect, and our acceptance of that imperfection allows us the space for compassion.

As caregivers, we may find it easy to offer compassion to others, while at the same time holding ourselves to an unrealistic standard of perfection, and berating ourselves for even minor shortcomings and failures.

Sadly, this way of being in the world sets us up for bitterness and resentment. We may seem to offer an over-abundance of compassion on the surface, while underneath we feel put upon or taken advantage of. Over time, this lack of compassion for ourselves hardens us, closing us off more and more from true, selfless compassion for others.

We cannot change this in the blink of an eye.

Our first step toward compassion for ourselves is to notice when we are not offering it.

And then we work on noticing without judgement.

And then we try to do something more kind, whether that’s speaking kind words to ourselves in our minds, or treating ourselves more kindly when we’ve fallen short.

And then we work on turning that small kindness into a practice.

This compassion for ourselves sets us up to be more open, instead of hardening. It sets us up to have compassion flow, without thought of ourselves, to those around us.

Expectations, attitude, help, self-care, and compassion are the components that lead us down the path of acceptance. What is the problem you have tried so long to solve, that is actually a truth you are being given the opportunity to accept?

May you offer yourself the grace to find your way to the joy of acceptance. May you thrive as you face the things no one can fix.

So much love,

~A

Happy Holidays??

Experiencing joy in our open, exhausted hearts

Sunlight on icy, delicate, dried flowers

I’ve been struggling to write the past several days, and I was just about to chalk it up to writer’s block, when something made me pause.

“Writer’s block?!? Maybe. But seriously, have you considered what the last week has been?” The skeptical little truth teller voice in my head likes to jump right in during my introspective moments.

I took a minute to consider this… the past week has been full of good things and very challenging ones. School was only in session two days, after a four day weekend due to snow days at the end of the previous week. And then it was off to the grandparents for Thanksgiving, leaving at different times because my husband needed to work late Wednesday, which we have NEVER done before. Not once. This kind of unusual schedule throws us all for a loop… and that’s a nice, mild euphemism.

And while I love love love being home with my parents, my thrown-for-a-loop youngest children were almost literally bouncing off the walls the entire time we were there.

Not kidding.

Not even exaggerating.

It was mind-numbingly exhausting and I became less patient than usual. If you had been a fly on the wall three days in, you might possibly have caught me screaming into a pillow.

Maybe.

I won’t bore you with the details of insufficient sleep and unrelenting teasing and sugar highs (and sugar lows!! why do we never talk about the crash, my friends?!? The crash is a terrible time of misery for anyone within ear shot of my youngest child).

We got home, and I sat at the table with my husband as our seemingly feral children ran circles around us, and I asked, “am I unreasonably impatient right now? I mean, could this be a side effect of the new supplement I’m taking, or do our circumstances warrant my short fuse?”

He looked at me, half smiled, and said, “oh, our circumstances warrant it. For sure.”

Perfect.

Happy Thanksgiving! And here’s to doing the same thing to the nth degree in just a few short weeks.

Now, today, my littlest guy has been running around playing with his toys. They are all saying, “Happy Holidays!” to each other.

We’ve been putting up Christmas decorations, and he’s been playing with Mary, “Jofuss,” and baby Jesus.

This evening we tried watching a family Christmas movie together. It was not to his liking. And as he cried heartbroken, wailing, gasping tears about wanting a monster movie instead, his big brother went and found him his pjs and his nighttime diaper. The same child who has been teasing this little one mercilessly for days, was the most tender, sweet sibling for him tonight.

Both of the youngest balls of energy are now fast asleep, and I am feeling not unlike day old bread… kind of stiff and bland, not too far from molding.

In previous years I have been aware of my expectations being too high or too different from reality, killing my joy. This year, I think I had a win on that front. I’m pretty sure my expectations were almost nonexistent and therefore impossible to be unfulfilled. I am thankful for the joy which opened up in unexpected places because of that.

And maybe this is what holidays are… exhaustion with joy sprinkled on top. Like some kind of stale cupcake with superb icing. Maybe crawling in bed early tonight is not only a gift to myself, but a reasonable response to the week we have had. And maybe, tomorrow morning we’ll wake up ready for a new Monday. Or maybe not. But at least I’ll have gotten enough rest to get me through whatever the day might hold. I hope. And if not, there’s always coffee.

Here’s to happy holidays in all their forms. May you and yours be conscious of unexpected joy springing up inside your open, exhausted hearts.

So much love,

~A

The Human Garbage Disposal

Caregiving is complex, both in the reward it offers and in the toll it exacts

Plate of spaghetti Alfredo with Parmesan sprinkled on top

Several years ago I called myself the human garbage disposal… it was sort of in jest, but like all jokes, had a pretty solid thread of truth.

Two of my kids were quite little and not only did I rarely have a moment to myself, I frequently didn’t have time to sit down and eat. I was busy preparing and serving food, cutting it up, and helping my kids eat, only to become the referee, or the bath-giver, or the naptime rocker almost immediately after they were done. When I had a chance to eat, it was what I could grab easily, and since I hate wasting food, it was most often the things my kids hadn’t eaten.

The result was a pretty sad food existence… Not only was I not eating the things I wanted, I had diversely picky eaters dictating the food I prepared.

Don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed a good homemade mac’n’cheese in my day, but we all know that a steady diet of refined carbs and dairy does not a happy body make.

Through the years I have frequently resolved to treat my body better by eating more veggies, less sugar, and only whole grains, but my resolutions have consistently failed in the face of uneaten food that I can’t bear to throw out (hello, awful-day-old-cookies-sitting-out-in-the-open-on-the-cooling-rack-getting-stale). But with the birth of my youngest son a couple years ago, my body decided to stage a sit-in and get my attention.

It started in my hands as I was driving long distances for work: sharp pain around my thumbs. Then numbness and tingling in my hands and up my arms. Then in my feet and legs. My body needed my attention.

“A whole-foods plant-based diet is great,” my doctor said, “try to reduce your stress and get some exercise as well. Yoga would be good.”

So while my doctor is running tests, I am trying to eat better. I cook oil-free vegan food every chance I get and research kid-friendly options for my picky eaters. I throw away more things that they aren’t finishing, and have just about eliminated added sugars and caffeine.

The food part of taking care of my body is going a whole lot better. But the exercise? Not so much.

When does one fit such a thing in? 4am seemed like my best bet. By 5am my middle son is almost always awake. My youngest is a natural night owl, so by the time we outlast him with the bedtime routine I am a virtual zombie, unable to walk up stairs let alone get into some at-home exercise routine from YouTube.

Getting up ridiculously early didn’t work. My body was also telling me it needed sleep, the rarest gem in my life for over a decade. My next idea was to exercise during my toddler’s naps on the days I was home. That went well for about two weeks.

Last Saturday I sat on the couch with my husband and started to cry. “What is the balance?” I asked, tears streaming down my face. “How do I balance taking care of everyone else and taking care of myself?”

Like the good man he is, he listened. He heard the whole thing… all the reasons why cooking is so hard and exercising is even harder… all the struggles to take care of our family and not slowly kill myself in the process.

You know there’s some octopus (maybe all octopuses??) who lays her eggs and spends all she has left nurturing them into being. Then she dies.

Melodramatic me feels like that octopus sometimes… like raising these kids is going to take everything I’ve got. They’ll grow up, move out, and I’ll be dead.

Totally over the top. Untrue.

Maybe.

The honest truth is raising kids is hard. Special needs ups the ante. How do we, as parents, do this well and not die trying? Even better, how do we truly, deeply enjoy the life we are living? I want to thrive!!

But there are many times when taking care of ourselves is in direct opposition to taking care of another. How do we manage that? Is there such a thing as balance?

Caregiving is complex, both in the rewards it offers and in the toll it exacts.

So I come back to breath. I come back to this moment. Today I ate wonderful, healthy vegetables. Today I fit in exercise by playing with my toddler. Today my kids enjoyed their food and, most importantly, they enjoyed being with their mama.

It is not as simple as putting the oxygen mask on my own face first, nor is it as sad as being a human garbage disposal. It is a dance… a moving, flowing creativity of caring for myself as I care for my babies, constantly changing and growing with each other. Rough patches and false starts interwoven with deep connection and overflowing hearts.

We may not be able to make a fixed plan that works like a charm, but we can be attentive to ourselves and our loved ones in each moment and discover new ways for everyone to have all that they need.

So much love,

~A

Trust Yourself

I will never forget that first night in the hospital… after a long, hard labor I had welcomed my beautiful little boy into the world, slightly jaundiced, but otherwise healthy and whole. My emotions were a mess as my two year-old daughter held her brother for the first time, snuggled beside me on the hospital bed, clearly still recovering from the terror of Mama being gone when she woke up that morning.Baby’s hand holding mama’s shirt

But as night fell and visitors left, I entered the first of many very long nights with my son. He cried inconsolably, struggling to nurse, struggling to sleep. Nurses tried to come and take him to give me a break, but I couldn’t rest, wondering how he was when he was away from me.

The confidence I felt when my daughter was born seemed to evaporate like early morning fog, as all my best efforts to soothe and nourish my son proved ineffective.

“Is something wrong?” I asked one of the nurses. “I can’t seem to help him. Why doesn’t he latch well? And why is he gagging?”

Patiently and calmly, the nurse told me some babies just took a little longer to figure it out, that some babies were fussy, that I should give him to her and get some sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it’s just a difference in personality… or maybe it’s a boy thing… after all, I had no experience with baby boys…

I tried reassuring myself. I tried to believe the nurse. But fear had started to set up camp in my brain. I knew something was not right.

Two days later we were sent home with a clear bill of health, apart from instructions to hold him in the sunlight to keep working at curing his jaundice.

My parents stayed to help, my mom holding her newest grandbaby in the sunlight with all the delight of centuries of grandmas glowing in her face. I held my daughter and rested as much as possible. We kept working at nursing. My baby boy kept crying.

“Something is wrong,” I told my husband. I told my mom. I told my pediatrician.

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine,” they all said. “It’s probably just colic. He’s probably just a fussy baby. He’ll outgrow it. He’ll be fine.”

I turned to the dark and frightening world of self-diagnosis on the internet. Words like Developmental Delay, and Fragile X Syndrome, and Autism Spectrum, and Sensory Processing popped up. And I read, and read, and read.

And I cried with my baby as he tried to nurse, as he tried to sleep, as I rocked him, and bounced him, and shushed him with lullabies and humming.

Our first diagnosis from our pediatrician was at 6 months. We got a referral to a local early intervention program.

My husband got angry. Clearly I was just worrying too much. Our son didn’t need therapists. He was going to be fine. I was too uptight and needed to relax. Everything was fine.

But it wasn’t. So therapists came anyway. Speech was first, helping him swallow. OT came with a Wilbarger protocol. PT came and he started to walk.

And still he cried. And never slept through the night. And hated going to noisy restaurants, or being buckled in his car seat, or pushed in his swing.

Those first few years were painful, and exhausting, and lonely. I fought with my husband over every doctor visit, every intervention, every therapy appointment.

I still didn’t know what was going on, but I knew we were making progress, and I wasn’t about to quit.

Diagnoses came over the course of a decade. Puzzle pieces started fitting together. I became fluent in the language of visual schedules, and sensory inputs. I learned how to be the safe harbor my son needed by holding him close and bouncing instead of rocking. No humming. Definitely no singing. He needed me close with a firm touch and unintuitive silence.

He learned what he needed, and was soon able to let me know when he needed to jump on his trampoline, or just have some space by himself. He knew when he was ready to engage again, and did so with joy.

A divorce, remarriage, a stepson, and a toddler later, we have learned SO much. I feel like I will never stop learning.

My boy is able to be in the present moment unlike anyone else I’ve met. He loves people and forgives almost instantly. He has a huge, tender heart and a mischievous streak that inevitably gets him in trouble.

But even now I can’t allow myself to go too far into the future very often. There are too many unknowns. Too much is still uncertain.

Throughout our lives we face a multitude of uncertainties. What is the next right thing to do? Are we being lead by true intuition or by our worst fears? What if those two coincide?

Perhaps you have your own story of diagnosis. Maybe you’re in the middle of it right now. Maybe there is something else entirely that is your unfixable thing to be faced.

Whatever it is that kept you reading this far, take a moment.

Breathe in deeply through your nose.

Let the air expand not only your lungs, but your abdomen as well.

Let your breath out slowly through your mouth.

Let your face relax, your jaw loosen.

Drop your shoulders.

Breathe. Slow and deep.

Trust yourself.

Settle in.

Pay attention to that voice of wisdom inside you.

I could never have imagined all those years ago what life would be like today. But I didn’t need to. I usually had no idea if what I was doing was actually the next right thing. I fumbled around filled with fear and uncertainty.

You don’t have to do that. Or you can, if you want. But right now, you can breathe.

You can do the thing in front of you to do.

And you can do it with kindness for yourself and for those around you.

All will be well.

It may not be as you expected, planned, or wanted, but all will be well.

There is Love guiding us.

There is enough light for this moment.

Breathe.

Trust yourself.

All will be well.

So much love,

~A