Our Rearranged Family

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile. I just don't know how to start. I know what I want to say in the middle, and even the thoughts I want to finish up with, but I have no words to start the story... so I leave the post unwritten. And when I run into casual friends out and about and they ask me how Jason is, or how his business is going, I say fine. I don't say, "he's fine, but we've been separated for nearly a year actually." Because that seems like a weird place to start the story. Especially in the middle of a grocery store.  But he is fine. And so am I. And so are our kids. I guess I want to start there. Telling you we are all fine. 

And some of you might be confused. You might be thinking, but wait, I've seen you together this past year. Or I've seen pictures of you at holidays and special occasions. Or if you were at Salsarita's yesterday, you might be thinking you saw us having lunch together. You would be right on all counts. We do still hang out together. We did not separate in anger. We separated out of need to do what is best for our relationship. We decided we function better apart. And it was not a quick decision or an easy process. But we are ok. Really. And so are our kids. In fact, even the day we told them about the separation, they were ok. Our 9-year-old asked, "so does this mean I'm going to have 2 bedrooms?" We said eventually, yes. She replied, "Great. Because I have a lot of toys, and I could use a place to move some of them." 

Now I'm not saying everyone took the news so well. When one of our extended family members heard, she cried. And I felt horrible that we were breaking up our family. And then my soon to be ex-husband said perhaps the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me, "We are not breaking up the family. We are just rearranging the family." Still brings tears to my eyes thinking about that moment. And I cling to its truth. We are not a broken family, we are a rearranged family. This might just seem like semantics. But words matter. And I don't want my children to feel like they are from a "broken" home. 

We have raised our kids to respect differences and accept people and families as they are. They know families look different. And they know that love is what makes a family. And I know from personal experience growing up with step family members I love dearly and parents who showed me a healthy way for divorced parents to act with one another, that it is possible for kids to not be traumatized by divorce. And for families to function well after a divorce.

 And yet when I tell people about our separation, I still sometimes feel shame. Like I've done something wrong. And so sometimes I don't say anything. Sometimes I hide for fear of the pity or judgement I imagine others to be passing on our broken family. But it's time to stop hiding. And time to stop feeling shame. I'm not saying divorce is the best choice for everyone, or even for anyone. I'm just saying it is not a choice to be ashamed of either. Because we are not broken. We still love one another. We still work together to raise our children. We will always be a family- one I am quite proud of actually. A rearranged family. 

So if you see me in the grocery store and ask about Jason, I will tell you he is fine. Because he is. We all are. I wish you all the kind of love and support and happiness I've found in my rearranged family. 

Normal Love

A few months back, a mom in one of my Parent/Child classes confided to me that her child was born with a section of brain missing. I'll give you a moment to reread and absorb. Yes, she was born with a piece of brain missing. I've taught nearly 1000 toddlers over the last decade. I thought I'd heard it all. But I was surprised. And not just because this diagnosis was unfamiliar to me. I was more surprised to hear that anything was wrong with this particular child, let alone something so serious sounding. 

In my interactions with the child in class, it never entered my mind she might have any serious developmental delays. I saw a curious, attentive, well-adjusted, happy, beautiful toddler. And she is all of those things. She is also missing a Corpus Callosum. A fact that her mom keeps a guarded secret. She doesn't want anyone to treat her differently.  

So while I respect and admire her mom's decision to keep the diagnosis private, I was inspired by this amazing child and asked if I could share her story anonymously on this blog. My first thought was that I wanted to write a story about how incredible the human brain is. Emphasize the ability the brain has to grow new connections and expand. Tell you all that in addition to bringing her to The Little Gym, they take her strawberry picking, and to museums, and to parks, and they do Pinterest Projects, and play in water and sand and paint. I wanted to point out that by exposing her to rich and varied environments and experiences, her brain is building connections and expanding its capacity everyday. I wanted to say that no one should assume someone can't or shouldn't do something because of a diagnosis, or because of a test score, or because of their gender, or because of the opinions of others. I wanted to say, feed your child's brain and your child will learn and grow. Because the brain is elastic.  

But the more I watched the family, and the more I talked to her mom, I realized that as amazing as the capacity of the human brain is, the more amazing part of this story is the capacity of a parent to love a child in a normal, healthy way. This mom did not let a diagnosis or doctors define her child. She is letting her child define herself. At the same time, she is not unrealistic or unprepared to help her in any way she needs. Sometimes she'll ask me in class, "do you think she is doing this because of what I told you?" And so far, I've been able to honestly answer, no. I don't. Every issue her mom has identified to me, I've seen many times in other toddlers with no brain defects. This is not to say that this child will never exhibit delays due to her condition. But when and if she does, her mom is ready to handle them and support her. In the meantime, she treats her like she is completely normal and healthy. 

The result of her family treating her like she is normal and healthy, is that she is normal and healthy. Her mom says she wants her to have a normal life, whatever that means for her. She made a conscious decision to not be frightened by the doctor's list of scary possible outcomes. She told me she decided to treat her like she was able to do anything until proven otherwise. She wrote, "To me it's the same if you were told you're not smart. Then you are not going to try your best. I think you get a better outcome if you feel supported from the very beginning." The same as if you were told you were not smart. While I agree with her, I also want to point out how remarkable this mom is. Her child was born without a piece of her brain. If anyone deserves to feel sorry for themselves or be over protective of their child, it certainly would be her. But she chose not to feel sorry and not to hide her daughter away. She chose to parent and love her child in a normal, healthy way. 

And I believe that when or if any developmental delays manifest, this incredible little girl will still be normal and healthy. That just might look different in her. As it does in many people. Healthy doesn't have to mean perfect. Normal doesn't have to mean identical to everyone else. Maybe being healthy and normal should mean being loved in a healthy, normal way. 

Our children deserve to be defined by who they are and what they have to offer the world. To be supported when they need it but expected to do great things. And we all deserve to be loved in a healthy, normal way. 


Did your child throw a fit?

Did your child throw a fit?

Your heart is beating fast. You start to sweat. You can’t concentrate on anything around you. It’s like you have tunnel vision. Don’t worry; you are not having a heart attack. You are simply a loving parent watching your child behave in a way you find totally inappropriate. And you are sure everyone in the room is watching your child and horrified. This magnifies your anxiety, and you just want to run. Fight or flight your body is saying. Scoop up that child and flee! And on your way out, you are thinking, apologize to anyone listening…
I can’t tell you how many times a parent has approached me after a class at The Little Gym to apologize for their child “throwing a fit.” My response is almost always the same, “did your child throw a fit? I really hadn’t noticed.” And I’m not saying that to be nice. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am direct and honest sometimes to a fault. Ask my staff…
But anyway, back to you and your experience...

Finding your voice- Or Lessons I've Learned from Isabella

Finding your voice- Or Lessons I've Learned from Isabella

I've been working with children since I was old enough to babysit. Been teaching children in some capacity for the last 23 years. So I don't want to say I've seen it all, but I will say not much surprises me. And I generally think I'm pretty good at reading kids and meeting them where they are and bonding with them from there. Or at least I thought that until this past year when a creative, loud, happy child named Isabella surprised me and taught me a new lesson that will help me now to be a better teacher- and maybe even a better person.

Let me back up- when I first began teaching Isabella, then 2 years old, about a year ago in one of my parent/child gymnastic classes, I did not see her at all as creative, loud, or happy. In fact, I saw her as timid, introverted and nervous. She hid most of the class behind her dad's legs. And her kind, supportive parents, along with her kind, well-meaning teacher would encourage her to try skills and push her to participate. But if I'm honest, she didn't really ever seem to enjoy the class in those days. But I thought she needed time- time to get to know me, time to be comfortable in the environment, and time to just watch and observe before doing.

You are not that special

I've learned an important lesson this week. I am not that special. And even as a child, I wasn't that special either.

Teaching Parent/Child classes for the last 8 years, the question I am most often asked by parents is some variation of "is it normal...?"
Is it ok... Do you think I should be worried about... My child does___, do other children do that?

And not once has a parent been hoping I would say, "Wow! That is unique! I've never seen that before!" That would not be a comforting answer to a parent trying to figure out if their kid is ok.
As parents, we can all see the wonderfully unique gifts our children have. We don't need reassurances that our children are special. But sometimes, we do need reassurances that they are not. We want to hear that our children our normal- that the behavior is not that strange...

And you know what? Without fail in the hundreds and hundreds of times I've had a variation of this conversation with a parent, I've always been able to reassure them that yes, their child is ok. Sometimes I have to say honestly that the behavior is not typical. But I've never had to say the behavior was unheard of... and that is all the parent needs to hear to feel less scared. Another child has gone through this. Another parent has dealt with this too. They are not that special.

I would wager that no one in the history of parenting has ever worried a child is too normal. No one stresses when a child hits all the developmental milestones on time and falls in the 50% on growth charts. We take comfort in our children being like everyone else even as we celebrate and encourage them to be different.

As grown-ups though there are no charts to gauge our averageness by and tell us where we fall compared to everyone else. We don't have casual conversations where we can ask others if our behaviors, thoughts or feelings are normal. And so we start to imagine that we must be the only person on the planet who feels or acts the way we do.

But this week I've heard from a quite a few people in response to my openness on this blog about issues I've dealt with, and I've learned another person has felt what I have. A lot of other persons actually. And I am less scared for hearing it. I am not that special. And you dear reader, you are not that special either...