The Exceptions

Trigger warning: this post references childhood sexual abuse. You decide, in this moment, if you want to read it, or not. If not – that’s okay. Because ultimately, above all, I blog for me.

—–

I can’t stop thinking about it lately. From stories in the news, kids I work with, loved ones’ past experiences, memories creeping up for people…it’s everywhere. And I won’t say more than that. Nearly every story seems to have one common thread:  Everything is about context. There are a million exceptions to the rule.

—–
“Nicole, remember how you learned about Stranger Danger? Don’t go with someone who tells you he has candy in his car, or who says he lost his dog and needs help finding it. Run and scream and go the other way.”
Nicole is 6 years old. She knows that. What she doesn’t know, and has never heard, is a rule for what to do when her violin teacher sometimes has her sit on his lap during her lesson. It doesn’t feel right and it’s uncomfortable. But he is not a Stranger. So it must be okay. Even though it feels wrong.

“Tommy, nobody except Mom and I, and your doctor, can touch your private parts.”
Ten-year-old Tommy has heard this a million times. And it’s his doctor who is touching his private parts. So, despite the fact that at age ten, he knows that the frequency and the way in which his doctor touches him is wrong, and doesn’t feel right at all, everyone says that doctors can touch him. So he doesn’t say a word.

“Phoebe, I get that you don’t want to see your dad for the weekend, but he’s your father. He has every right to see you. Just be a good girl, okay, and listen to what he says.”
And four-year-old Phoebe tries. She tries so hard to be a good girl, and to listen to what her father says, even when it involves him asking her to do things that make her cry and feel yucky. And she doesn’t tell her mom because he says not to. And she’s a good girl. She’s a good listener.

“Mommy? You know how Uncle Trevor gives me my bath when he visits and we play the splashing game and it is so fun and I love it? Well, Henry said that HIS uncle gives him a bath sometimes and he washes him to make him super duper clean, but Henry doesn’t like it because he said his uncle shouldn’t touch him down there like that. But it’s okay, right? Because Uncle Trevor washes me and I love Uncle Trevor and he is not hurting me. So it must be okay with Henry’s uncle, too. Because the rule is that uncles can help gives you baths and part of giving baths is washing down there.”
Ben’s mom  takes a deep breath. How is she supposed to explain to her five-year-old that rules come in a million shades of gray – and that the exact same situation that both he and his best friend are in, are actually totally different?

—–
I just….

There are so many shades of gray. So many exceptions to the rule. And nobody can cover them all.

All we can do is hope. And try to teach our kids to trust their core, their gut. To teach them to listen to that voice inside of them, and if that voice ever says, This is wrong, to tell someone. To tell someone other than the person who is making that voice speak. And I think that’s a concept that kids of all ages can grasp, on some level, if it’s taught in an age-appropriate, developmentally-appropriate way, and reinforced over and over again. Trust your core. Listen to that voice.

Yom Kippur + Imperfection

Rabbi Harold Kushner is the Rabbi Laureate at the synagogue my family has belonged to for my entire life. He is famous world-wide for his books, his sermons, and philosophies on life and Judaism.

On Yom Kippur, I sat in synagogue with my family, and listened with a silent congregation as he delivered what I feel to be one of the best sermons I have ever heard. I think what I like best about it was that its message could be taken to heart by anyone. Of any age, of any gender, of any religion.

Getting something out of this sermon is not dependent on your religion or your religious beliefs. But if you work with children, if you have children, if you have ever doubted yourself, if perfectionism has ever taken hold of you, if you’ve heard about the suicides last year in Newton, MA, if your heart hurts for teenagers…..read this. Its message does not have to be one of preaching religious beliefs, but rather one of self-love and acceptance.

Imperfect People are Good Enough for God

Body Shaming

These thoughts are spinning around in my head and I wish I could create an organized computer program that would efficiently extract the thoughts and put them into a coherent essay. (Maybe some day one of my students will invent such a thing…?!)

So, rather than wait for a perfect beginning that won’t come, I’m going to start in the messy middle.

—–

It’s not okay to skinny-shame someone. Or fat-shame someone. Or shame ourselves. Shame is rampant in our environment. We shame ourselves, for our pasts, for our experiences, for our choices. We shame others when we’re feeling bad about ourselves. There is so much shame around that we don’t even realize it. We don’t realize that we’re shaming whoever it is that we’re shaming.

The world is focused on losing weight. The world praises individuals who lose weight. Tabloids and magazines have headlines titled, “20 pounds lighter: how she did it!” and “5 tips for shedding those extra 5 pounds.” The focus is always on losing weight. And yes, of course, there are individuals out there who physically need to lose weight, from a health standpoint. For their organs to better operate. For their physiological system to function better so they can breathe and pump blood through their bodies and think and live. And those who are overweight are overweight for a reason. Maybe it’s lifestyle choices, maybe it’s binge-eating disorder, maybe it’s a thyroid problem, but guess what: it doesn’t matter. No matter the reason, the person doesn’t deserve shame.

There are also individuals who physically need to gain weight, from a health standpoint. For their organs to better operate. For their physiological system to function better so they can breathe and pump blood through their bodies and think and live. And those who are underweight are underweight for a reason. Maybe it’s anorexia, maybe it’s a metabolic disorder, maybe it’s due to a medication. And it also doesn’t matter.

And then there are the rest of the people. Who are physically stable. Whose organs are operating, whose physiological systems are functioning, who are breathing and living and thinking. Who don’t need to lose, or gain, any weight.

An individual who gains weight, who physically needs to gain weight, is accomplishing something healthy for her body. Similarly, an individual who loses weight, who physically needs to lose weight, is accomplishing something healthy for her body. And an individual who maintains her weight, who physically needs to maintain her weight, is accomplishing something healthy for her body.

We all have different needs. I know people in my life in all of those three categories. But the messages we receive, from the media, from each other, from ourselves, make us forget that. We sort ourselves into the wrong category, the category we hear so often: fat is wrong, skinny is shameful, everyone should lose weight, skinny people have no reason to ever be anything other than happy. And we lose touch with reality, with who we are, what our body is like, what our body needs.

Body image is about how we perceive ourselves. Not how others perceive us. Which is why we might not see ourselves as how others see us. Which is why, if someone talks about disliking their body, saying to them, “Omg no, you’re so skinny” or “Please, you have nothing to complain about, I weigh so much more than you” isn’t helpful. It’s not about how you see them. And it’s not about YOU! All you’re doing is invalidating their feelings, their struggles. Reinforcing the shame that they feel for themselves. Essentially, telling them, “You have no right to feel that way, you shouldn’t be allowed to have those feelings and emotions, I have no compassion for you.”

When a person is being critical of their body, the last thing they want to hear is more criticism. Of anyone. They want to hear compassion. They want to hear, “I understand. I get it. I’ve felt that way. I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m here. What do you need from me? How can I support you?” Because ultimately it’s about the underlying feelings. The fear, the shame, the disgust, the anxiety, the sadness. Whatever it is, for whatever reason it’s there. The more you continue focusing on their body, and shaming them (even if you don’t realize you’re doing it, even if you’re well-meaning), the more it reinforces the negative beliefs they have.

Also? Skinny does not equal happy. Fat does not equal depressed. Feelings, in general, happen independent of one’s body. And if they are happening because of one’s body, that’s a distortion.

And also: if you have been shaming yourself, or others, and are only now realizing it, you get to NOT use this as an excuse for further shame. Don’t let this spiral into, I’ve been shaming others, oh gosh I’m an awful friend, I am an awful person…...

[Edited to add: Moving away from shame does not mean that you can never dislike your body. It means that you feel the dislike, you acknowledge it, but you move on without shaming yourself for those feelings and for having those feelings. It doesn't mean always loving yourself or always feeling confident and beautiful. It means being compassionate towards yourself, with whatever it is that you're feeling.]

Feel compassion for yourself, and push the shame away.

Please. You deserve it. We deserve it.

The silly 911 script

I’ve written before about scripting, how it’s safe and comforting to our kids, how it’s often a way for us to get “in” to their brain and form a connection, how scripting can be so positive and we should utilize it. (And as a side note, I thought of another real-life example of scripting. When my favorite yoga teacher ends a class, she always, ALWAYS ends it with, “Drink water, be good to yourself.” And it’s a routine and I love when she says it, and if she didn’t, I would feel unsettled)

There’s a script/routine that I do at least once a day with one of my kiddos, Joey [not his real name]. Joey has high anxiety and often feels as though a problem is an emergency, and will react as such. For example, in the past, his anxiety combined with his impulsivity would lead Joey to push a child if he lost a game, call a peer stupid if Joey wasn’t picked to go first, or just get stuck ruminating if he wrote his name messily. Joey has learned all about the problem scale and though in a moment of calm he can understand and identify what’s an emergency and what’s a glitch, and what’s in between, he has a hard time accessing that in the moment.

When I teach the Problem Scale, to any of my kids, I often say that since a number 5 is an emergency type problem, if there’s a problem for which we don’t need to call 911, it’s probably not an emergency (e.g., though your pencil falling on the ground might feel like an emergency, we don’t need 911 to help with it, so we don’t need to react as though it’s an emergency). Joey latched onto this almost as a security blanket, and for whatever reason, it clicked in his brain.

So when a problem arises, like he spills water on his worksheet, he often turns to me and mimics dialing on a phone and says, “Do it, boop boop boop.”

And I hold out my palm like a phone and I pretend to dial and the noise I make for the pretend numbers is, “Boop boop boop.”

I hold up my “phone” to my ear and I say, “Hello, 911? Yes, we have an emergency. Joey spilled water on his sheet. Oh. Really? Hmm. Okay. Thanks. Bye.”

Then I “hang up” and tell Joey, “911 said it’s just a glitch and they don’t need to come.”

And Joey laughs and laughs and then moves right on. Calm. Comforted. Reassured.

We have done this countless times. For not winning a contest, for tearing a corner of his paper by accident, for not getting to have speech one day if there’s an assembly, for losing a game. The script is always the exact same, and it brings Joey comfort. For whatever reason. The reason doesn’t matter.

So yesterday when there was an assembly and a something happened that Joey perceived as upsetting and problematic, he tugged on my sleeve and I knelt down and he mimicked dialing, so we whispered the script to each other – and he was fine. He rocked that assembly and not only was I psyched that the script worked, but I was proud. He sought it out, he used self-advocacy, he knew what he needed and what he needed was reassurance, and this is how he got it. And that is no small accomplishment.

Without judgment

IMG_20140930_174417

Today was a gloomy, rainy, gray day. I hate feeling cold – internally, down-to-my-soul cold, and at times I did. I hate when my feet are wet in my flats, and they were. And I felt a few rushes of sadness come over me, as I often do on gray and gloomy days. And at first my brain automatically responded, with “Stop, don’t be sad” and “Try to be happy” and “Why are you sad, there’s no reason to be sad” but in the spirit of noticing and observing without judging, I gently reminded my brain, “I can feel sad. I have a wave of sadness right now and that’s actually okay. And embracing the wave makes it less scary and less intense. It’s when I judge and criticize it that it gains power.” And it worked, and I felt a wave of sadness but it wasn’t all-consuming by any means. And I had a meeting for work this afternoon, so I went, and I left driving in the rain, and I went to the gym because today, in that moment, the gym felt like self-care, and right now, in this moment, I feel good. And whatever the next moment brings, it’s okay. Because I’ll be there, too. Embracing it, whatever it is.

There’s something to be said for staying present, staying mindful. Noticing. Observing. Without judgment.

Scripting

I realized that I don’t actually know a really great definition of scripting. So, if anyone else has one, please pass it along. The way I talk about scripting is that it is repeating phrases or words, sometimes from books or movies or t.v. shows, sometimes from social stories, sometimes from what a parent, teacher, or friend has said. Sometimes scripts are used in place of novel language, sometimes they are used because they’re comforting, and sometimes they’re just fun.

Examples of scripting can include:

-The 7th grade boy who, every Friday, says to his friend, “What day is it today?!” and waits for her to reply, “Friday!!” and then giggles and laughs to himself

-The 5th grade boy who will only communicate in metaphors related to the Muppets

-The 6th grade boy who, when another child is acting silly, quotes his something his speech therapist said once, and says, “Ohh, let’s remember to keep our silliness at a level 2!”

-The 4th grade girl who, when anxious, says, “I do not know how to tie my shoes” because on a t.v. show once, the character was anxious about not knowing how to tie his shoes

Now for all of those – they serve a purpose. Scripting is purposeful. It’s not useless, it’s not a detriment to communication. It IS communication. And I got to thinking the other day, how we actually all script. Not in the same way that our autistic kiddos might, but we all have our little rituals and sayings and routines that we say and do and enjoy.

Like:

-When my dad used to come home from work when I was little, he would always say, “Hello hello!” and if he didn’t, something felt off

-A parent saying, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” every night, before leaving their child’s room

-My brother, upon seeing me, saying, “How’s your face?” and me replying, “You know, it’s okay” [which makes no sense, but it makes us smile and it's our routine, and it's communication and scripting and who cares]

-My extended family reciting the same stories over and over again because they are funny and comforting and it’s routine and ritual

-Quoting “Friends” episodes with my friends, because they’re hilarious

Think about the phrases, the words, the scripts that you use to communicate with your loved ones. We all do it, to a degree. And it’s okay.

So when a child you are working with is scripting, script with them. Use their interests and scripts to communicate. Figure out what they’re trying to convey. And yes, there are times that they might just be having fun, because scripting is fun. Like my student last year who preferred scripting episodes of “The Simpsons” to doing any work, ever. And in that case, it’s okay to call it what it is. And to say, “First let’s do some work, then we can script at the end of class.” But if a student says something seemingly random, and you’re not sure why, there’s usually a reason and a purpose. It might take time to figure it out, but it’s there. And it can really help you figure out how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, and what they need from you.

What has your experience been with scripting, either personally or professionally?

I am not a poet.

But, the other night, these words tumbled out of my brain down into my hands, and out my fingers into a word document. And right now in a moment of feeling brave, I’m sharing, before I can talk myself out of it.

—-

Shame and Compassion

Shame and Compassion.
Dark and Light.
Black and White.
Night and Day.

Shame is twisted, sneaky, sly.
Smoky, conniving, hurtful
Wrapping itself around you
In chains
Squeezing the breath out of you
Tainting each one of your cells

Compassion is a white cloud
Wrapping itself around you
Fresh air
Breath
Oxygen
A blanket of love

Shame whispers,
You deserve this
You have brought me upon you
You deserve darkness and misery
You deserve that black feeling within

Compassion counters,
Let me fill you with light
Love
You are okay
You are a child

Shame often wins
Zapping energy
Leaving cold
Numb
Despair

But Compassion gathers strength
And eventually dispels Shame
Using powers
Of Love
Not weapons
Not Pain

And you thaw
And you fill with light
And you try to hold onto that feeling
For next time Shame tries to get at your soul