Thankful

Obviously I’m thankful for my health, happiness, and loved ones. But those are such big, abstract things. And in moments of darkness or despair or sadness, those things are often impossible to channel, to comprehend, to use as an anchor. So the little things, the concrete, the every day things that give me a quick burst of gratitude and happiness, need to be highlighted, too. Like the perfect cup of coffee. The sun on my face. My sky-blue Snuggie. The feeling I get every time I’m brave enough to press “publish” on a blog post. Coloring books. Books in general, captivating and taking me away in them. The bursting, filling-up-my-soul feeling that certain songs give me. One of my kids who runs into my office, smiling and squealing, genuinely thrilled to see me every single day. Stuffed animals and how they still give me comfort and connection to my inner child. My brightly-colored, mismatched socks. Dressing up for theme-days at work. Sunsets. Sunrises. The endless wonder the sky brings me. The list goes on and on and even writing this makes me think of more. So. Today, I am thankful for all of the big things. But I am consciously taking  note of the small things, too.

What are the small, every day things that you’re thankful for?

I can’t write

I have sat down and tried to write a blog post countless times in the last two weeks.

I get bits and pieces down and then I get stuck. I can’t get more out. And then I get frustrated and put more pressure on myself which makes me more stuck and it’s a cycle (although isn’t everything?).

But I want to write, desperately. So I thought maybe I’d just say those bits and pieces and allow myself to leave it at that. Because it doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to make sense. I don’t have to be perfect. don’t have to make sense. Maybe there’s something empowering, powerful, about just being, in my rawest, truest, form. Maybe I will write and maybe it’ll be another two weeks before I can. Maybe it’ll make sense and maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll lose readers. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the only thing that matters is that I write when I want to. Even if it’s to say….well, nothing, really. So I’ll keep trying. When I can, and when I want to. And it will….well, it will just be. Whatever it is.

Talking ‘Bout the Brain

Sometimes something just works and feels right. And maybe there’s no evidence-based practice, but I feel it, and I notice the shift in energy and connection and action, so I run with it.

I’ve been talking about my students’ brains a lot.
I think it helps them understand.
I’ve noticed a shift.

In the past, when I’ve said things like, “Kelly, it looks like you’re not paying attention” or “Kelly, are you paying attention?” the response is usually defensive, anxiety-filled, or frustrated. “I am paying attention!” Kelly will say, even if we both know she’s not. When I’ve said, “Kelly, it looks like your brain is thinking about another thought” or “Kelly, is your brain distracting you?” more often than not, she will agree, and accept ideas to re-focus.

Really, it’s just a subtle shift. From “you” to “your brain”. But for whatever reason, it’s working. I wonder if it’s because it allows them to accept their actions from one step removed. It lets them understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. It doesn’t mean letting them off the hook, it doesn’t mean telling them they “can’t help it”. It just gives them a little cushioning to accept that yes, they are behaving in this way, yes, they are speaking in this way, yes, they are acting in this way, and it’s okay. It reassures them that they are not intrinsically “bad” (which is often how a lot of our special ed. kids portray themselves and name as the reason for their struggles), but their brain causes them to act in certain ways. It gives them a reason for why. And it seems to help them be more open to trying to get past whatever obstacles their brain is throwing their way. I’ve noticed a shift in their willingness to embrace their actions, and work to find strategies to bypass the obstacles.

So I say things like:
“Did your brain forget that word?”
“Looks like your brain is thinking about something else”
“Tell your brain that we’re moving on from that topic”

Remember Joey? (We still do the silly 911 script at least once during each speech/language therapy session – he now takes the “phone” from me and sometimes talks to “911” himself.)

I’ve been using the “brain” terminology with him, and he took it and ran with it. Joey used to push, giggle, or yell when he felt something. If anyone asked him why, he couldn’t identify a reason. He would say, “I’m not sure” or “I felt like it.” Now, he can often say, “Because I’m worried about _______” or “Because I’m mad about ______.” And, sometimes, even before he starts to push, giggle, or yell, he will say, “My brain is feeling worried” or “My brain is feeling disappointed.” (Do you see how huge that is for him? To identify how he’s feeling.) And that has evolved into a script, too.

He will say, “My brain is feeling disappointed” [or whatever he is feeling]
Then he says, to me, “Be like, ‘Brain? Why are you feeling disappointed?’”
So I say, “Brain? Why are you feeling disappointed?”
And he says, “Brain says, ‘Because it’s not my day to use the ipad’” [or whatever reason]
Then it’s my turn, because he’s still learning. So I say, “Hmm. I have an idea. What if we tell your brain, ‘Brain, it makes sense that you are feeling disappointed. What if we take a few deep breaths and remind your brain that you get to use the ipad tomorrow?’” [or whatever suggestion is pertinent]
Then he usually nods, and grins, and we move on.

And it’s working. For now. And when things work, I keep it going.

A weather analogy

I have said many times in my life, and probably many times on this blog, that I feel people’s feelings. I know that the highly-sensitive people out there know what I mean, know what it is like to have someone else’s emotions permeate your soul. But I also know that for the majority of people, that concept makes no sense. And for whatever reason, the other day, I found an analogy that might explain it better (and we know I love using analogies to understand things!)

So, you know when you go outside? If it’s windy out, you feel the wind. If it’s cold, you feel the cold. If it’s rainy, you get wet. You can’t NOT feel the weather. And that’s how it is for me. I’m wired to feel people’s emotions, such that I can’t not feel them, the same way that I can’t not feel the warmth from the sun on a 90 degree day.

Of course, you might feel the wind but not be bothered by it. Like, it’s there and you notice it but it doesn’t consume you. And that’s what I work towards. Knowing that I’m wired to feel people’s emotions, but, like the wind, I can notice it and move on without letting it become the main focus of every single cell in my body. And it’s hard! If you’re outside on a day where the temperature is 3 degrees Fahrenheit, you are going to feel cold to your core. Your bones will feel cold. Try as you might, you can’t really ignore it.

But you can try. You can feel the cold yet know it will pass when you go inside. And I can feel the emotions of the loved ones around me, without letting them become my own, without letting them permanently take up residence inside.

Does this make any sense? Can anyone relate? Does anyone have another way to explain it?

Finding myself

When I put out a survey a while back, asking people to vote on what they were interested in reading about, one reader wrote, “liking yourself, being comfortable with who you are, finding a sense of self”. I have slowly been mulling that over in my brain, trying to piece together some words that make sense. This is what I’ve come up with.

I didn’t always love myself. I felt awkward and out-of-place for a lot of my childhood years. So I did what I could to try to feel normal. This included: reading teen gossip magazines, even though I didn’t like them, so I could be up on the latest celebrity news; watching TRL on Fridays, even though I couldn’t care less about music videos, so I could discuss them with peers; buying a shirt from Abercrombie and Fitch, even though I didn’t really like it that much, because that’s what everyone did. As I got older, it became: staying out late and going to a lot of parties; buying Uggs and other “trendy” clothing; pretending I liked watching football and other sports; the list goes on.

During my sophomore year in college, I hit a turning point. For various reasons, my life shifted a bit, and when that happened, some pieces fell into place. It’s funny how once a certain filter is removed, you see things differently. Once the shift happened, I realized: I didn’t like football. I didn’t like staying out late every night. I didn’t like bars. I craved my routine. I liked studying and spending my weekends studying with a friend and a coffee, and my evenings curled up on the couch, watching Grey’s Anatomy with my roommate.

So it was progress. I was realizing what made me feel good, and what made me, well, ME, but I still didn’t always do anything about it. Because honestly, I was terrified. If I showed the world who I was, what if they rejected me? Wasn’t it better to play it safe and at least know I sort of fit in? For a while my answer was yes. I knew some of what made me happy and what made me feel good, but I didn’t always act on it. I kept my mask on. I wanted to belong. And sure, I often felt happy and content. But it didn’t fill me up. It wasn’t as authentic as it could me.

When I started grad school, I started over. For the first time in years, I had a fresh start. I was feeling good, positive, and full of life. I no longer had illnesses or disorders standing in my way between me and happiness. I only had ME. I was my roadblock. So, I began grad school as my true, authentic self. I didn’t always wear makeup to class. I didn’t hide my perfectionism or anxiety. I talked to all sorts of people. I geeked out over things we were learning. I embraced awkward moments. And the result? I made friends. True, wonderful, forever friends. People liked me. They liked me for me. And the funny thing is – making friends and being liked was the easiest it had been, up until that point.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was when I fell in love – and even more so, when a man fell in love with me. When I met Jeremy, and as we began dating, nearly four years ago, I was determined to be me. Enough was enough, I had told myself. There was no point in faking it, in hiding who I was. If he didn’t like me for me, then that was okay, it just meant he wasn’t the one for me. I raised the bar, and told myself that I would not settle. I embraced myself and so somewhere out there, was someone else who would embrace me, too.

And that someone was Jeremy.

He loves me for my quirks. He loves me for my weirdness. He loves me for my personality. He loves me for who I am. He fell in love with ME. Not a shadow version of me, not a fake version of me, but just the real, true, authentic, unique, me. I am a person who was worth falling in love with. I am a person who is worth marrying. I am the happiest, truest, most real I have been in my entire life. He has not only accepted who I am, but embraced it, hugged it, nurtured it, and encouraged it. I blossom with him. I am the luckiest.

And so – I do love myself. I have embraced myself. I know that I love wine, but I don’t like beer. I know that I am a hardcore introvert. I know that despite being an introvert, I have wonderful friends. I know that I still wear mismatched socks. I know that four stuffed animals sit on our bed. I know that I make up words and songs as I go about my day. I know that I’d prefer reading to watching sports. I know that I prefer a few, true, forever friends, over a bunch of casual friends. I know that I love a handful of t.v. shows, but I don’t like reality t.v. I know that I love deep, intense novels, but dislike chick lit. I know that I am sensitive and often tear up. I know that I squeal when I’m outside in nature. I know that I kneel down to take pictures of snails, frogs, and worms. I know that I look up to take pictures of skies, trees, light. I know that I don’t really care about fashion, and often just reach for whatever colors feel right. I know that all of these things make me who I am. And I know that I am okay. That I am enough.

Embracing myself does not mean always being happy. Those things couldn’t possibly be synonymous. But embracing myself does mean accepting all parts of me. Working towards acceptance of where I’m at, in each moment. Having compassion for myself, in a variety of situations. Knowing that despite the external circumstances, I am at peace in my core.

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