A Special (Education) Back to School List

Mothers everywhere are filling carts and baskets with new binders, matching folders, 24 pre-sharpened #2 pencils (seriously, this is on our list), and a planner to help with homework that none of our kids will use. Nearly $150 later, your child is ready to go back to the routine they hate and we love. It’s pretty standard practice: one child, one class, one massive Target receipt.

But, if you are the parent of a child who has an IEP, back to school gets a little nerve racking. Special education (SPED) has a high turnover rate.  Our well-intentioned, highly qualified classroom teachers leave the profession well before their general education counterparts. And, they are just one piece of our child’s puzzle. Speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and those wonderful aides who guide our children one-on-one into general education settings change classrooms and districts leaving parents incredibly anxious about who will be on their child’s team for the next 180 days.  So, like most of our experiences with our special children, we have more work to do to get ready for school. Don’t worry, SPED parents, as your friendly neighborhood advocate, and SPED mom, I have some tips and tricks for you. 

Three More Things To Add To Your Supply List

The goal for the beginning of the school year is to create an easy transition from the lawlessness of summer to the structured days of fall. It is our job to make sure our children are seen as students, not qualifying diagnoses. 

  • Get new Releases of Information (ROI): That precious paper that allows your school team to coordinate with your private providers needs to be completed at the start of every year. All children benefit when they receive consistent messages from all adults. It takes away their superpower of “that’s not how my teacher does it” when we try to help with homework. SPED families rely on multiple experts to help our children thrive in school. But, some work outside of the educational setting. Parents need to provide schools with NEW releases every school year. You can often find these documents by navigating through the district’s website. Then, sign one release for each outside provider, including your advocate, to send to school on the first day. 
  • Create a brag book: You need to tell your new team all of the amazing things your child has learned to do when not challenged by academic goals. Climbing a wall, blowing bubbles in the water, and playing
    Jacob (circa 2017) facing sensory issues, literally head to toe, to climb a wall.
    superheroes with cousins. My son learned all of these skills over a summer break. As an advocate, I can translate these accomplishments to match his IEP goals. Climbing grew core muscles needed for posture and attentiveness. Blowing bubbles showed ability to create shapes needed for speech goals. Playing superheroes showed imaginary play skills with typical peers that checked off his social work goals for the previous years. SPED parents get trapped in a vicious cycle of highlighting deficits that keep justifying our minutes with specialists. Let’s start the year showing off what our kids can do and let the experts re-draft goals and elevate expectations to match. 
  • Re-order your day: Use the last week to mirror the demands of a school schedule and classroom expectations. In a presentation about kindergarten readiness, I give parents a simple directive, “Raise your left hand,” but mandate they wait 3 to 5 seconds before complying. The discomfort is palpable. Far from a sadistic exercise, this experience shows parents how long it takes typical children to process a request and respond properly.  Our special students may have real challenges processing information or managing the sensory expectations that come from performing tasks. But, as parents, we forget to give them the time necessary, more than the 5 seconds needed by typical peers. We tend to get overwhelmed with getting from school to…gymnastics, the grocery store, and home in order to eat, play, bathe, and get to sleep at a reasonable time before repeating. (Normally, I would create an exaggerated fictional scenario to make a point. In this case, that is Jacob’s Monday.) Start having your student independently get ready for errands and complete multistep tasks as a great back-to-school crash course. 

Spark Note Summary

A lifetime in the classroom followed by a new lifetime as an advocate means I have spent 4 decades on an academic calendar. So, this month is REALLY the start of a new year with new hope and promises to make this year the best one yet! Most of us special parents know that just means trading one set of struggles for another one. But, with fingers crossed, I’m hoping these back to school tricks will start your new year off with one less stress on your back to school list.

The Feral Children of Fortnite®

I confess. I’m a gamer. Not WAS a gamer…AM a gamer. I didn’t grow up this way (unless you include a stubborn determination to beat Mario Bros on Nintendo). In fact, it wasn’t until college that I fell deeply in love with computer games. Picture this: it’s a hot summer day in Chicago. My boyfriend, his crew, and I hit the sand beach volleyball courts of the North Shore park districts for hours. After a quick round of showers, we all gathered in an apartment lugging 90’s Apple computers, an ethernet hub, a duffel bag full of cords, and a 6-pack. That is where I was when the Bulls grabbed championship after championship, and I watched live coverage of the deaths of Princess Di and Mother Teresa. Needless to say, when families try to convince me that gaming is ruining their children, I work hard to remember I’m an objective professional. Fears of Grand Theft Auto® and Call of Duty® have come in and out of my practice without a mental note much less a blog. Fortnite® is different

Out of the Mouths of Babes…

My husband and I still sneak in some gaming time, but neither of us has ever played Fortnite®. So, I conducted some field research to learn about the basics of the game. Here is what I’ve learned from a 14-year old expert gamer and a 25-year old social gamer. Fortnite® resembles what children of the 80’s would call a Wrestlemania Battle Royal combined with the Hunger Games.

Wrestlemania’s Battle Royal

Players are randomly placed on a map with resources. These resources can be cool, high powered guns, or lame, pile of wood.As the timer signifying the outer layer of the world disappearing ticks down, the player must gather resources to survive. Resources can only fill 5 slots of a player’s cache. Concurrently, a player can erect structures or barriers while trying to kill their way to the center. Confused, yet? I’ll give you the cheat sheet: poor randomized placement on board? DEAD; poor randomized gift of starting resources? DEAD; poor strategy balancing defense and offense? DEAD. This is how our children are having fun.

Out of the Mouth of a Family Therapist

The mental health profession studies the effects of gaming constantly. But, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders, DID NOT add gaming to its latest version in 2013. Research continues investigate whether excessive video gaming has the same effect on developing brains and neurotransmitters as substance abuse (making gaming an addiction) or obsessive compulsive behaviors (making gaming an anxiety disorder. When the experts’ research comes in, therapists will know how to help families navigate this modern maladaptive behavior. Let’s not wait for them.

What Gets Lost When Your Kids Try to Win

I mentioned some basic ways a player’s game can be cut short in Fortnite®. Here is what MAY be happening to your player when that happens.

  • Self-efficacy: Sometimes used synonymously with self-esteem, self-efficacy is the belief that you are a powerful individual who can solve problems and accomplish tasks. It is also the best way to combat anxiety and depression. The random placement of player and allocation of resources work in direct opposition to healthy development of a strong sense of “I can do it!”

    The final straw…

    This randomness also feeds the “It’s not fair” button vital to moral development.Children playing Fortnite® cannot be talked out of their honest assessment that falling off the shrinking map after the game placed them on a board with no good resources making fighting to stay alive harder than peers is unfair. They are right! It is unfair. But, providing more examples of how the world (fictional or real) is designed against them sends the message that tweens and teens are powerless.

  • Empathy: Despite the amount of hits on Google, Empathy Deficit Disorder, is not a real, psychological condition. Empathy is a learned skill. It is developed over time organically, as the brain branches out, and behaviorally, as you increase your social interactions. (This would be a great transition to a rant about social media or acceptable amount of screen time for children, but that’s for a different blog.) What makes Fortnite® dangerous, is it’s design that attributes tremendous amount of value to everything..and nothing. Let me explain. A player starts the game with some level of advantage or disadvantage of location and resource randomly. There is no skill or strategy, no concrete or intrinsic value, from the moment the game starts. Trying to win means determining how to blend building defensive structures while attacking other players. The immediacy of conjuring a wall or detachment of killing an opponent make it impossible to build value into using those methods to win.
  • Emotional regulation: Do you know why you can’t explain to your child why to accept the loss that came in 4 minutes when they lasted 4 hours in the game yesterday? You are talking to a feral animal. Yes, they know nobody is really dead. Their brains, however, do not develop the ability to put things into perspective until they are in their college years. (Talk about unfair!) Their brains are being fed stimuli from the game that trigger survival responses. “Hurry or you will die!” is the message of the game. Are you surprised when your sweet little boy or girl cannot interact like a human after gaming? Their brains are still on high alert! You may be offering to cook dinner, but their primal brain is thinking you ARE dinner. When Katniss won the first Hunger Games, she got to live in a fancy house away from the poor village. That wasn’t because she was a winner. It’s because even in fictional worlds, survivalists aren’t expected to return to normal life.

Spark Note Summary

The treatment plan for Pervasive Fortnite® Personality Disorder (not a real psychological disorder…unless my colleagues use it for future research), is ironically what makes the game so dangerous, TIME MANAGEMENT. Help your tween and teen transition back into the real world by giving them tasks that are designed to be routine and control breathing. Chores like setting the table, activities like jigsaw puzzles, or completing their reading minutes for school will bring the humanity back to your home.

Parenting Inside Out: Raising a Child on the Spectrum

North Shore Moms. Working Moms of the North Shore. Mommy Needs Vodka. My Facebook feed is a mini-map of my top priority, surviving motherhood. It’s hard for everyone. We question every decision we make starting from the first labor pain! Natural labor or C-section? Breastfeed or bottle feed? Stay-at-home or working mom? We face all of those life-changing decisions before we even see our precious baby’s face.

My favorite pastime is now my only exercise.

So, we put up human bumpers to give us comfort that our parenting decisions won’t send our kids to the gutter. Our mothers, our friends, pediatricians, and the entire parenting section of  Barnes and Noble give us peace of mind that we are not alone in our parenting paranoia. There is a comfort in our mommy networks; we are all following the same path. Until, of course, your child catapults you to a whole different kind of path.

Turning Things Inside Out

Going UP the slide. Autism or silliness? Neither. It’s Jacob!

First, he stopped saying, “Bless you,” after we sneezed. Then, he flicked lights in every room and stared at the ceiling. I didn’t need to compare Jacob to his peers to notice he wasn’t a typical two-year-old. The diagnosis of autism wasn’t a shock. But, since there are countless shades of the autism spectrum, the shock comes from a constant bombardment of experts, and those with expertise, getting it all wrong. You know who gets it right most often? The dynamic duo of Mommy and Jacob! Jacob has always had an incredible, creative way of combating the overwhelming sensory noises and challenges expressing himself. It just took me some time and education to translate those skills. The trick: balancing the world inside and outside.

The Pull Inside

Many autistic kids spend their lives in their own world in fierce opposition to our drive to drag them out. (Insert anecdote about Jacob’s lack of interest in being born in direct contradiction to my need to evict his 8 lb., 4 oz stubborn body.)  It turns out that Jacob’s insistence on crawling under a table or in my lap was his way of coping with a stressor from the outside world. My job wasn’t to drag him into, what he perceived to be, a dangerous place. I learned that I just needed a passport into his world to assure him he would be safe, so he could grab my hand, and join my excitement into our shared world.

But choosing which world is safe, the inside or outside, is not easy or consistent. Parents with autistic children tend to sequester ourselves in our homes because there is a tremendous amount of emotional pain when we give in to our natural tendencies to compare our children to the others. Jacob and I love the playground! But, it’s hard to maintain focus on his shining, smiling face when he is only swinging for hours to get his sensory needs met. It’s also hard not to wince when there is a toddler baby-splaining the design of the playground to his parent when your four year old has yet to tell you his favorite color.

There is also an autistic insider’s secret world of experts with strange language and letters after their names. Suddenly, a typical kid’s demand for cookies is an autistic child’s goal of “manding for a specific item” that must be graphed and documented. (Truth be known: the autistic kid is always going to get the cookie because they have impressed you by asking for “cookies in the blue box” when the speech goal is still trying to use 3-word sentences.) Sadly, the secret language of autism and ABA therapy, added to the specialized school staff and rules governing an IEP make you feel like YOU, the most intimate warrior for your child, is the outsider. It’s hard, but it is precisely in those moments when you have to use your Tiger Mom roar to get through to those on the outside.

Giving the Outsiders Inside Information

It doesn’t take long to remember that, diagnosis or not, you are the expert on your child. It does, however, take a long time and an unrivaled well of emotional strength, to make sure that message is received. You spend hours cycling from angry tears to irate emails trying to get the world to see YOUR child. On good days, I joke that at least I have a reason for my son’s behavior where other moms just roll their eyes and blame their child’s poor decisions on paternal DNA.

Jacob’s memories are in movies and music.

Now, I challenge everyone’s conclusion that my son’s behaviors are “because he is autistic.” The common autistic behavior of scripting, medically defined as echolalia, was a great example of a teachable moment for Team Jacob. Singing during nap time got Jacob kicked out of his preschool. The outside experts in early childhood became concerned that Jacob’s inability to stay quiet while peers napped was a consequence of his autism requiring a level of care the facility did not feel they could offer. I confess: I deferred to their outside expertise. Then, I listened to the songs and movies my son was scripting. They were all about Jacob’s thoughts and feelings! When he wasn’t singing songs like “Happy and You Know It,” he was changing the lyrics (of “Down By the Bay”) to “If you ever see a Jake, eating some cake.” A typical kid may have been babbling aloud about being happy at a recent birthday party. My son sings about it!

Spark Notes Summary

You know how they say you become a new person every 7 years because you  shed a layer of skin? We look the same on the outside, but we have grown immeasurably on the inside. Jacob is only 6 years old (I’m an overachiever), but  I’m a new mom. I’m Jacob’s mom. Yes, Jacob is autistic. He is also a huge fan of Blaze and the Monster Machines, can identify each planet by picture, and enjoys a dance party with his mother every day after camp. If you want to know anything else about my autistic son, ask me. I’m the expert.

Why Does It Still Feel Like High School?

Based on a high level of interest and comments on social media, this is the first of a THREE PART series of articles on bullying.

For years, I thought it was just me.

My fellow teachers and I would gripe to each other that we felt the faculty ACTED like the kids we taught.

Gossip? Check

Body shaming? Check

Bullying? CHECK

Forbes recently published an article which shared the research from the Workplace Bullying Institute, 75% of workers are the subject of bullying in the workplace. One of the reasons bullying in the workplace occurs is because the office is physically and socially designed the same way our schools are.

Schools Teach Offices How to Judge Others

  • Location, location, location: School tracks, advanced placement or remedial, is a well-known example of institutional bullying. Kids’  labels on their schedules and transcripts easily translate to “dumb” or “gifted”. But, as someone who has walked the halls of dozens of schools, there is also geographical bullying. Special ed classrooms are most often clustered at the end of a wing on the bottom floor while the AP classes enjoy the natural light and open windows of the top floor. Anyone think offices are different? Who doesn’t mentally decorate the CORNER office or the one on the top floor, the offices synonymous with power and status?
  • Darwin Did It: Strength, agility, and strategy help predict who wins in a fist fight. Friendliness and sensitivity seem to predict who loses that fight. Not according to Social Darwinian researchers who concluded that personality traits of bullies were adaptive skills of survival just as much as physicality. Researchers gave children identified as bullies, students involved in three or more referrals for name calling, aggression, or defiance, the Eysenck Personality Inventory — Junior. Results showed that bullies had pro-social traits like friendliness and sensitivity. Not a surprise when you consider that bullies are only successful if there are bystanders to cheer them on. Bullies were also measured as passive aggressive, dependent, and “histrionic”. (Histrionic on this personality inventory is defined by suggestible or easily influenced by others.) Climbing up the corporate ladder calls upon the skill set of the bully.

Spark Note Summary

The reason there is bullying at work is because your offices are designed the same way your schools are. Bullying is not “boys will be boys” that have a slug fest or “girls will be girls” that tease and exclude. It is literally a social construct. Schools and offices are designed to feed into our natural instincts to compete for survival. The good news is trite but true: knowledge is power. You can take a mental ride in a Dolorian, armed with the information gained here, and choose a new, better way to navigate the halls of life. The best way to survive and be the fittest, is always to live the lessons you have learned.

Learn How to Scrawl: A Book Review

Click here to read reviews on Amazon!

Welcome to the first book review from Lessons Learned! From time to time, we need a brain break, a way to escape the facts of our life by exploring fiction. Books can be a great way to learn some lessons while relaxing. My first recommendation is Scrawl by Mark Shulman. Before you raise your eyebrows, or close the blog, let me prove how a book marketed to tweens and teens has a few lessons for all of us to learn.

From Cover to Cover

As we read the first line in the novel, we read the first journal entry of Tod’s detention journal: “Think about a pair of glasses for a second.” 230 pages later, Tod’s journal ends with an exchange between himself and the guidance counselor who has been reading and commenting in his journal for the 5 weeks he was in detention: ” ‘Was that all that kept us from getting kicked out of school?’ And you smiled back at me. ‘Yes.’ ” What we learned between the first and last pages, is how we all judge without knowing, watch without seeing, and speak without listening.

  • Who? The book is formatted as a journal written by Tod, a bully, who is serving detention under the supervision of Mrs. Woodrow, a guidance counselor. But, the more you read, the more you question what you know about bullies. For example, Tod explains his environment to Mrs. Woodrow by explaining, “Every neighborhood downtown has its own violent Neanderthal troglodyte hell-raisers” (8). He also plays euchre at lunch with his friends. Euchre, not poker. And, helps his blind lab partner. Questioning your facts on bullies, yet?
  • What? Punishment. The journal is a punishment for getting caught. (You don’t learn what he got caught doing until the near-last page…and I’m not spoiling that for you.) Tod’s friends are outside completing their more typical, juvenile delinquent punishment of picking up trash under the supervision of the head custodian. But, who hasn’t inflicted punishments upon themselves? True story: my mother accidentally ran a red light. (It was one of those that is only for a small strip mall.) When I pointed this out to her, she literally pulled HERSELF over! This is not a serious example, but it is a serious issue. Instead of listening to me, listen to Tod: “The more important you treat yourself, the more you’re worth” (41).
  • When? Let me be a typical therapist, here, and answer a question with a question: Which events in your life mark the difference between then and now? There are the usual markers in life, births, deaths, weddings, and graduations. Traditionally, developmental psychologist have stopped there. But, since late in the first decade of the new millennium, we are starting to understand that the life span has markers in adulthood, too. We see Tod accidentally enter the spelling bee only to come in second when a teacher cheats, and we question what we know about bullies. We admire the large statue created by Luz, and we question what we know about the goth/artist. How long does it take, how old do we have to be, for stereotypes to be broken? Changed?
  • Where? The longer you read Scrawl, the more it reminds me of a house of mirrors where each turn reveals a different, exaggerated version of yourself and surprises you each time. You realize that Tod is more complex than the school bully. You see what he is like at home, a not-surprisingly poor house where he wears layers of clothes to sleep in order to combat the lack of insulation in his “bedroom.” Tod surprises us in the auditorium as he becomes a reluctant accomplice in creating the costumes for the original play written by the stereotypical school freak. In detention, Tod writes much more than is required and is more honest than is expected.  reflection.
  • Why? It is surprising that, as a therapist, I loathe this question word. After reading Scrawl, are we supposed to long for after school specials? Do the readers labeled as bullies feel vindicated? Do we donate more to the Salvation Army in case a ne’er-do-gooder needs to help a friend? Sure, why not. Or, maybe we just needed some perspective on how far we have come. Or, maybe we just needed a way to talk to our children about how to treat others.

…And How?

How do you take the lessons learned from Scrawl and use them to make yourself stronger? First, let go of the memories of high school that have flooded you for 238 pages. Second, make an impromptu book club with your kids (ages 10 and up are fine) to discuss how they feel about the characters and if anything is similar in their lives. Third, it’s never to late to start a journal. It is infinitely more healthy to get any thought or feeling out than to “suck it up.” Last, start now to be who you want to be regardless of who you were then or who others think you are now. Like scrawling, life can be messy, unconventional, and unpredictable. Enjoy!

LeVar Burton, Accidental Therapist Extraordinaire

Click here to bask in the nostalgia of the theme song!
Before the costume designers of Star Trek: The Next Generation chose an 80s banana clip for a futuristic visor, LaVar Burton was the host of Reading Rainbow. Each episode had a theme similar to ones that my son has in his pre-K class…space, animals, transportation, etc. Books were read to us by famous celebrities like Kermit the Frog. LeVar Burton took us on “field trips” to a fire house or farm. But, the best part of each episode was at the very end. A child just like me, a cute, book-loving precocious child, would tell us all about a favorite book. These were heartfelt testimonials that always ended with the phrase, “But, you don’t have to take my word for it.” No? But, I do! You love books…I love books! We are virtual book club buddies!

Bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy is a real, accepted modality for treatment of some mental health issues. It started with the turn of the century when soldiers were given medical books to learn about their injuries. In the 1960s, bibliotherapy became an official modality under the American Library Association, and psychotherapists mainstreamed the practice as an additional tool during more traditional therapeutic treatment. As Lessons Learned begins adding an occasional book review, it is important to understand the mental health benefits of reading.

  • Pacing: Shakespeare wrote in poetry, iambic pentameter, for his audience to get caught up in the music of his words. Before you twitch into a mess of
    Click here to hear modern day iambic pentameter.
    horrible memories of school, it may help to understand that iambic pentameter is exactly the same cadence as the theme song from Gilligan’s Island. Prose also has an intentional rhythm. Short, choppy fragments mirror the mood of the character. Endlessly long sentences (see anything Faulkner wrote) drone you into a lull; “what did I just read in those two pages that were three sentences long?” Mental health practices of mindfulness and meditation help suffers of anxiety and PTSD, for example, use careful control of breath as a self-healing tool. Being whisked away into an author’s linguistic pacing can have the same benefits. 
  • Guided imagery: All of my students will tell you I have a hard and fast rule about movie adaptations of books. I refuse to watch a movie in which I’ve read the book. I refuse to read the book if I’ve seen the movie. Case in point: I’ve seen all 8 Harry Potter movies without cracking the spine on any of the 7 novels on which they are based. My snobbery is based on protecting myself from dashed expectations. As I read any book, I imagine what the characters look like, how they speak, how they dress, etc. I like to use my internal CAD programming to design their homes and neighborhoods. Getting lost in the story is why reading a book with Fabio on the cover can be more healing than one with Dr. Phil on the cover. One of the most preeminent medical facilities, the Cleveland Clinic, has concluded: “Imagery can stimulate changes in bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory patterns. It can help you tab inner strengths to find hope, courage and other qualities that can help you cope with a variety of conditions.”
  • Empathy: One of the major impacts of bibliotherapy is to see yourself, including your challenges, in a character. It is also extremely cathartic reading how someone just like you works on fighting mental illness without stigma or despite of it. This process, forming a bond with a character that reminds you of yourself, builds empathy. It also allows you to have empathy, not sympathy or pity, for yourself. Now that you are starting down the path of empathy for yourself, you have made the most difficult step in self-care: appreciating who you are without apology. Not sure what the difference is between empathy and sympathy? Watch this remarkable animated short.Spark Note Summary

Bibliotherapists are most often English majors with a depth of knowledge about “who” and “what”. Therapists are most often psychology majors with a depth of knowledge about “how” and “why”. As a woman with a bachelor degree in English Education and a master’s degree in psychology, I am your unicorn. As this blog takes on an occasional book review, have some faith in the magic of some more of the lessons I have learned.

Take Your Time, Don’t Waste Your Time

My father just got remarried. My anniversary is approaching. I’ve received three emails in the last two days about new clients for couples counseling. And, the cover of my last professional magazine was about marital counseling.

“Marriage, that blessed arrangement, a dream within a dream..”

Message received: it’s time to talk about marriage.

My husband’s aunt and uncle were high school sweethearts, but my husband and I didn’t get married until our 30’s. Our family seems to prove the statistics in Gallup’s analysis of the last census: When Gen Xers (see: me) were aged 18-30 years old (see also: no longer me),  32% were married. Our parents’ generation saw 40% still pledging till death they do part. And, the numbers of matrimonial bliss drop to 20% for the millennials currently aged 18 to 30.

There are a plethora of cliches and metaphors to try to get others to understand marriage. Science minds nod when you say “opposites attract”. Spiritual minds smile in agreement when you introduce the ying to your yang. When and why you chose marriage is not important. To some extent, neither is who you married. As a family counselor for almost a decade, the secret to a lasting marriage is all about time.

It’s All About Time Management

Not the real John Gottman, but the “real” grand poohbah.

In grad school, I bought thousands of dollars of textbooks that got me through the licensing exam before being boxed up and shipped to another counseling student for pennies on the dollar. The only book that I keep coming back to is one I bought at Barnes and Noble, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. John Gottman is the grand poohbah of couples counseling. His Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (of Marriage) are the common mistakes couples make when fighting, the mistakes that allow Gottman to predict with 90% accuracy couples that will remain together or split up. The only behaviors I can predict with the same 90% accuracy are my own. But, I have my own true-isms to add to the field of couples counseling:

  • Explain OR emote: This is not the time to practice what you have learned from me about dialectical behavior theory. It is a neurological miracle to be able to speak eloquently about your feelings while you are having them. Why? Fun fact #1: the area of the brain that processes emotions is as far away from the area of the brain that uses language without leaving your head. Fun fact #2: most people do not naturally possess a high emotional IQ to identify and discern the cornucopia of feelings in the human experience. Fun fact #3: anger, the most primal and present of emotions during a fight, is an alarm emotion.
Fun fact 1 + fun fact 2 + fun fact 3….it doesn’t add up

Anger lets you know that someone or something has breached an emotional, psychological, or physical boundary that you set up for your protection. No matter how you try, it simply does not add up to explain how you feel during a fight.

  • Set an expiration date: You cannot go back twenty years in a fight that started twenty minutes ago.  Yes, there are ongoing unresolved issues in marriage. No, they don’t need to be rolled into every disagreement. Today’s fight is happening because of today’s circumstances. There are some days when getting ice for a glass of water will trigger my startle reflex causing me to launch a full attack on my husband. I have known my husband for 20 years; the startle reflex is not breaking news. He may laugh, duck, or (justifiably) hurl a counter-assault my way.  It all depends on how full our buckets are the moment the fuse has been lit. Giving an accurate chronology of each time my husband has surprised my unconscious in the last 20 years is time consuming and as ridiculous as it sounds. However, focusing on the context of the current quarrel may give you insight and traction on tackling the larger issue.
  • Nice to meet you, again and again:You don’t stop growing up when you are growing old. For those of you who choose to parent, please understand that parenting puts you into stasis. Your world revolves around being a parent, a distant second cousin twice removed from the individual who took vows. A journalist documented this worst-kept secret in the book, All Joy and No Fun; it’s my favorite “homework” to assign  to couples because it freely discusses the not-so-fabulous world of parenting most of us are afraid to admit. A poll conducted by Pew Research in 2014 revealed that 54% of children under the age of 18 were living a traditional home, one with heterosexual birth parents. My unofficial research tells me that these children grew up in homes where the parents stopped learning about themselves and their partners. Who you were when you took vows is not the person you become as you live your life, 585,600 minutes a year. If you don’t share the new you with your old partner, you lose the chance to have a lifelong connection.
  • Spark Note Summary

    Maybe the secret to a marriage that lasts a lifetime is to live in all times. You need to cherish the past shared experiences that have kept you together, hope that the future will keep getting better and brighter because of your relationship, and choose your partner every day.

    A Reason, A Season, Or A Lifetime

    I have a crew. We have been a dance crew, a tailgate crew, a movie crew…you name it, we have banded together to laugh and cry for the past 22 years. But, we didn’t start that way. "Hey! I'm not just a fair-weather friend. IWe met in college. (Go Cats!) To bore you with the backgrounds would sound like a logic puzzle: 2 of the crew were from NJ, all but one of the crew were roommates at one time, 2 of the crew majored in theater, 2 spent a year abroad in France, blah, blah, blah. We spent four years getting to know each other. At any given time, some were closer to me than others. The magic happened when the cocoon college years were over; that’s where the work began.

    It should not come as a surprise that psychologists have studied the art of making friends. It should also not be surprising that their tips for making friends are eerily similar to dating tips. Like most topics, my take on friendships is a mixture of common sense and humorous practical tips.

    First, There is a Reason

    Mommy friends are a hot commodity. Once you become a parent, you develop an incredible need to find out if YOU are normal, THEY are normal, or LIFE will ever be normal again. The same can be true when you are starting a new job, moving to a new town, or starting a new hobby. Transition is the best chance to start a new friendship. Just be careful not to fall into a few pitfalls:

    • Self-deprecation will never make it out of a friendship’s honeymoon phase. Healthy adults celebrate themselves and their accomplishments,

      fishing-for-compliments
      Fishing for compliments

      like rewards for surviving the teenage and twenty-nothing years of “ooops”. You are not looking for a cheerleader; you are looking for more a teammate.

    • Strangers don’t know where you’ve been or what it took to get where you are now. (Thank goodness!) New meetings with new friends act like a snapshot of this version of you. This is your chance to become the version of you that has been exiled to “what if world.”

    Then, It Has Been a Season

    After the reason becomes less urgent, you have accepted your role as a mistake-making, best-intentioned parent…or employee….or neighbor, the NEED for friends also becomes less urgent. You need to decide who you want to know better. You need to ask yourself if there can be more connection with your new friend than the context of your initial meeting. It’s also ok if your new friend becomes a new memory.

    • No more first date rules. You need courage if you want your new buddy to become a real friend. Religion, politics, past relationships…all topics are on the table. When we were younger, our views swung between the ones in line with our parents and those in complete, rebellious opposition. pile-of-shoesThe gift of cultivating friendships as an adult comes from living in the Big Gray World. Your ability to be close to someone with different views is a sign that you have a tremendous capability for empathy. After all, you have had more time than your younger self to wear more shoes…

    With Enough Time, Friends Last a Lifetime

    I have nothing fancy or funny to say about the depths of love I feel from my crew. It took time. Time together AND time apart. Those days, months, and years let you know if the friends you have made can be responsible with the most precious thing you have to offer…yourself. You cannot measure your friendships in secrets kept or capers completed. Frankly, it is not even important how often you see each other or talk on the phone. You have earned lifelong friends when the time apart has no effect on whatever time you steal together.

    Spark Note Summary

    Part of life’s roller coaster is choosing who is best to join you on the ride. As you change, you need to find new friends and reconnect with old friends. Accepting that is okay for friends to come and go gives you permission to have fun by meeting new friends. There is always a reason to grow your support network that will carry you through a rough season and become part of the family that you rely on for your lifetime.

    In Gut We Trust

    I’m not sure when it became standard operating procedure to tell the story of how you met your spouse when you first meet people. My snarky retort for “how did you and your husband get together” is ALWAYS: “It’s an awful Nicholas Sparks novel, and I don’t look good in it.” It’s true. thI have known my husband since I was 19, dated him briefly when I was 21-22, but didn’t marry him until a decade later. We stayed friendly over the decade between “it’s not you, it’s me” and “I do”. He came for a visit in 2010. I cooked dinner. We laughed and were ridiculous until he left to return to his primary reason for the trip from Tucson to Chicago, a family visit. The second the door closed behind him, I called my best friend. “I think I just let my husband walk out the door.”

    What!?!?! I didn’t know until….I knew!!

    Common Memories and Legacies

    I spent most of my 20’s learning how to trust my gut. I had spent the previous two decades relying only on my intelligence. I had lost touch with my instinct, my gut. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. There is so much focus on HOW you know WHAT you know, we have let our instinct diminish.

    • What Is It?: Our instinct is actually the primal part of the brain, commonly referred to as the subconscious, that kept us alert and alive during caveman times. Despite being ignored, your primal brain is responsible for your automatic responses to stimuli. Our brains have been hard wired over centuries to be afraid img_4029of some objects while understanding and accepting others.Here’s an example of (cultural) subconscious. While visiting my family in NJ, my son picked up a phone (that was not ringing) and said, “Hello!” Let’s do the math: I haven’t had a land line in 15 years, and my son is 4 years old. How did he know that was a phone?
    • Where Does It Come From?: Carl Jung would attribute that knowledge to archetypal memories, or a collective unconscious, that exists as the combination between instinct and archetypes. Consider how many people have a fear of snakes. Their instinct tells them to be wary of this creature as a potential sense of harm. Jungian psychologists trace that instinct to the snake

      "Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes?" - Indiana Jones
      “Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes?” – Indiana Jones

      as a common character in world religions and mythology that deceives others. In fact, most of you probably took some form of the Myers-Briggs Personality test designed by Jungian psychologists; they are often disguised as employment surveys. Intuition is the second letter of your four letter personality profile.

    • How Is It Helpful? There was a comprehensive study documented by Kelly Turner in her book, Radical Remission, which recounts amazing stories of terminal cancer patients who survived by making decisions based on their intuition. The belief that a strong intuition can create positive situations and outcomes has even made its way into the world of business. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink uses the term “rapid cognition” instead of intuition. (I assume he wants to get the connotations of hippie-belief and mysticism away from his best selling books.) Card tricks, car buying, and marriage have all been researched through the lens of intuition. The results don’t change: people who are advised by their brain but decide with their gut are happier than those who out-think their instincts. 

    Spark Note Summary

    Your instincts are primal. Your primal self is emotional and relational. It will be easier to trust others when you trust yourself, trust your gut. The best way to nourish and nurture your gut is to disconnect from our devices and reconnect with our friends and family. (After texting, tweeting, and sharing this blog, of course…)

    I Bed In My Read?

    “Je lis dans mon lit.”

    reading in bed“I read in my read?”

    “I bed in my bed?”

    Oh….”I read in my bed!”

    I embraced my 7th grade French class to its fullest when I carried that foreign language study all through high school and into my first year of college. I was even quite proficient in French by the end of my studies; I could hold my own in conversations with native speakers and French majors pretending to be native speakers. Sadly, the topic sentence of this blog, in all of its punny-ness, are (mostly) what remains of that knowledge. Written, this French sentence is easily and correctly translated by my high school self. Heard, the only way you know what is said is if you have context to the sentence.

    Literacy Builds Lifelong Learners

    That is a loaded statement that packs a big promise. Literacy is far more than the ability to read and write.

    Bloom's taxonomy of thinking
    Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking

    The National Council of Teachers of English has broadened and deepened their definition of literacy to reflect the need to interact with technology. More importantly, their definition of literacy demands that we can “manage, analyze, and synthesize” multiple forms of communication as well as “create, critique, analyze, and evaluate” the myriad ways we find information. As usual, professionals and their organizations tend to intimidate the world at large. Never fear, good citizens, I am here to to make sense of the senseless, to translate the nonsense, to boldly go where (most educators) have never gone before (the Star Trek fan in me couldn’t resist)…

    • Read, Read, Read: It really doesn’t matter what you or your family reads. Magazines are great! Graphic novels (see also: comic books) are fantastic! Don’t think just because your child has never completed an assigned novel, (yes, we know) is a sign that you don’t have a reader. Young adult literature has blown up over the last decade or so. There is a topic for everyone. Caveat: the reason young adult novels have become the last fodder for epic films is the reason you need to pre-read them with your child; there are some topics that you would rather introduce to your child in your own way at the right time.
    • Play Word Games: I grew up playing Scrabble with my mother and siblings. What I mean is that I grew up developing muscles from bringing the two volume dictionary by World Book into my mother’s room to be testing on spelling and vocabulary. dictionariesI loved it! I even played Words With Friends with students over the years. Sadly, these are not the word games of which I speak. Remember the goal is context, not spelling or vocabulary. Games like Taboo or Balderdash require kids to create connections between a key word and situation. You can even play some of these games online as you wean off electronics for a few hours a day.
    • Create Languages: J. R. R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings and one of my personal heroes, created new languages for his novels. Lesser known Marc Okrand created the Klingon language for Star Trek and worked on closed captioning for news programs. What point is my sci-fi geek screaming to make? The silly practice of creating your own language may seem like a waste of time and excuse to annoy parents; but, it can also be very lucrative. Just in case your child’s new language is more the former than the latter, consider how intense creating a new language can be. This practice precisely illustrates the struggle with second-language learners. You have to be really literate in the function of words in a language in order to re-create those tasks in a new form. (Pause for much-earned adoration for English Language Learners in all schools.)

    Spark Note Summary

    My little Wildcat, 2013
    My little Wildcat, 2013

    Children spend 8 hours a day in school for at least 18 years. Some years, they have a great, creative teacher who makes them think about more than the standards to pass a state exam. But, that isn’t every year. Meaningful connections can connect school assignments, informational text (see also: non-fiction), and natural interests through literacy. Then, maybe, your child can be a graduate of a prestigious university (Northwestern) who owns her own business focused on helping others while achieving a personal best of THREE sci-fi references in one blog!