Labels

2100876-Assorted-keys-on-keyring-Stock-Photo

la·bel
1. a small piece of paper, fabric, plastic, or similar material attached to an object and giving information about it.

Many parents fear the “label”. They do not want their child to be seen as a word on paper like dyslexic, specific learning disabled, ADHD, executive function disordered, autistic, bipolar…. This label is embarrassing to some, heartbreaking to others, and creates stabs of guilt that it is probably your fault. Guess what??? THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!

This is about your child. It is giving information about how they learn, how they thrive, how they make sense of school, and what makes their learning different. As a society, we spend so much time honoring the differences in people’s ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Yet, some parents try to hide the very differences that make their child special and unique.

As an educator and parent of two amazingly special children, I am here to tell you to get over yourself. You created this wonderful human being, unlike any other, and you want to hide their differences. The answer to your fears and struggles is simple. It’s car keys.

What? Yes, car keys. Think of your darling child as a car. A hybrid made from your very own DNA. They are unlike any other. There is one key that starts their car. One key that ignites their desire and ability to learn. One key that allows their engine to fire. Why would you not give their teacher the key to start your child’s car? If  you hide your child’s difference or refuse to seek an evaluation to figure out why they are struggling, you are hiding that key. You are wasting a year of learning that could be taking place. You are basically handing the teacher a key ring full of keys and saying, “Good luck. Hope you find the right one!”

Teachers love their students. Okay, maybe not all teachers, but I do and my friends do too! We want to help your child. We want to help them see success as attainable. We do NOT want to tear them down and make them feel like failures. So, when a teacher suggests that there is something concerning or confusing about they way your child is developing, listen to them. Please do not take it as a finger pointing that you have not done your job. Teachers are not neuropsychologists able to see into your sweet child’s brain and pinpoint why they are not focused, able to decode a word, or remember the three little things she/he asked them to do.

They are actually just as worried as you parents. They worry they let you down by not figuring out how to help your child learn. This is one hard part of my job as the coordinator of a resource program in a private school. I need the teachers to be honest with you. They are often afraid to burst your bubble of pride by saying your child is struggling. It is truly important to find the learning differences and remediate as soon as possible. Your child’s mental cement is still wet in their early years. It can be molded and supported in the manner they need. Do not wait to help mold them because feeling like a failure and dumb is one of the hardest mindsets to overcome.

Please consider finding the key to start your child’s car and giving that key to their teacher. Do not waste another year making the teacher figure out how your child learns. Start your child’s engine and watch them speed along the road of learning. There will still be speed bumps and traffic, but you will have given your child the chance to navigate their learning. Actually, they will be learning to navigate the rest of their life.

Control

7d91553ff53f1ec3c074c3d79fa176a7

con·trol
[ kən trṓl ]

1. manage: to exercise power or authority over something
2. restrain or limit something: to limit or restrict somebody or something

My summer before college was once again filled with new beginnings. We moved into a handsome buttercup yellow house with a sprawling front porch in Morris Plains, New Jersey. The lush trees arching over the endless streets and the rolling hills were like a dream. I had never lived in such a beautiful fairy tale type place. Once again, I prayed that this would be the place of happiness for me.

The first months of college were surreal. I made friends, ate healthy, exercised, and enjoyed my nickname, Arizona Jen. This time was filled with so many new experiences: sorority sister trips to Manhattan, the Jersey shore and big Italian families. I would joke that I was the only non-Italian, non-Catholic student at Seton Hall. In my mind though, I started to notice there were many other qualities that set me apart.

My dad lost his job the same week I started college. The very job that had moved us across the entire country. The job that had changed my plans to attend college in Arizona. The job that payed for the house in New Jersey and the tuition for Seton Hall. My parents did not want me to quit school, despite my offer. The house was sold, my dad moved back to Phoenix for work, my mom stayed in a tiny apartment in Jersey with my two cats, and worked at a furniture store. There I was at college using up the money they were sacrificing for me to be happy.

My confidence began to spiral with guilt. This guilt lead to me feeling powerless over my future. I searched for something that gave me control. Food became that substance. I could control what went in and out of my body.

I would eat secretly in my dorm room and then vomit. This way, I could punish myself for not being perfect. Mean girls, bad grades, fears, moving, and not belonging all disappeared when I was in the midst of stuffing in food. Then the discomfort would be so great, that I had to get rid of what filled my stomach. After purging, I would loathe myself for what I had done. Each time, I prayed that tomorrow would be better. I would be healthy and happy. The thing that kept me hooked in this spiral was that it occupied my thoughts. It gave my mind an hour break from the insanity.

Lying became second nature for me. I had to hide what I ate and where I went after eating. This contradicted everything I was ever taught, but I felt that I had to. The binging and purging had become too demanding. I could not stop. Each moment in my day was consumed with thoughts of food, exercise, and how I needed to fix myself. It drove my every action and conversation. Soon, I became unable to maintain most of my friendships.

My freshman year of college finally came to an end. I needed a new start. A new start would make me healthy and happy again. My parents had already moved back to Arizona. God did give me a couple of friends that stuck with me despite my sickness. Perhaps they did not know about it, or maybe they liked me in spite of it. I am thankful these sorority sisters were the people that saw the good in me through the fog. They deserved a full time friend. I was not capable of being one.

After summer, I was very excited to start at the University of Arizona as I had originally planned. My high school friends had made new friends, pledged different sororities, and started new social groups without me. That was totally to be expected. Their lives were full and busy. I was happy for them, but sad we would not pick up where we left off in high school. So, sophomore year turned out to be much like the last.

I was in self-destruct mode. To make things worse, I started to control food by restricting my eating and using laxatives. I could live on bran flakes with water for breakfast and a frozen yogurt for lunch. But, that did not always feed my need to get the sickness out of my mind. I was trying hard not to throw up anymore. My mouth had sores in it, and my stomach ached all the time. I was always constipated and bloated. Laxatives seemed to be a good alternative. I figured that if I took a couple, my body would be purged of all the bad things. I would not have to throw up any more.

This seemed to be a good idea to me. I thought I would get better. Unfortunately, I did not. My body became more and more resistant to the laxatives, so I had to take more. Two laxative pills turned into ten, then twenty, thirty and more. I had to shop at different stores to keep people from noticing my disgusting habit. The large numbers of pills I was taking would keep me up at night, cause me to vomit, dehydrate, pass out, and miss out on activities because I had to be close to a bathroom.

My inability to manage my eating disorder culminated one night in the spring of my sophomore year. I felt I needed to take sixty laxatives in hopes that it would clean out all of my bad habits and thoughts. If it worked, the next day I would awaken to a new me and fresh start! Obviously, it did not work. My roommates had to take me to the university’s urgent care. I needed several bags of IV fluid to survive. At the end of the day, I was transported to the hospital, for what I thought was more IV. It turned out to be more than an IV. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward under the label of a suicide attempt. I did not think I was trying to end my life, just end all of the bad thoughts and habits. That is what I kept telling the doctors and nurses.

This place was awful! They took what few things I had away from me like my pencils, pens, shoe laces, and more. I had to sleep in a room with no door, next to a woman who cried out to non-existent people. Each morsel of food I did or did not eat was monitored. There were group therapy sessions and leather lacing. The lacing was not just a fun art activity. I think it was supposed to occupy my mind so that I could talk about my problems.

My parents called on the pay phone in the hallway soon after I was sent to the ward. They responded in opposite manners. My dad said he loved me, but did not understand. My mom was angry that I hid this from her and not asked for help. In my attempt to be the perfect daughter, I could have left my parents with no children. They must have been devastated. Cancer took my sister, and I was trying to end the life that God let me keep.

Lord, I am so ashamed by my disrespect for the body you gave me. This body is a temple. You made it specifically for me. You loved me so much that you even numbered the hairs on my head. Yet, I tortured and loathed it. Please forgive me. Let my future days be filled with honor and care for the gift of life you have given.

 

Shields

piper afo

human (adj) having human form or attributes as opposed to those of animals or divine beings

Today, Piper and I walked at the train park to get her exercise before it was too hot. As I helped Piper meander up the play structure, a little girl looked at her, ran to her mom, and asked loudly, “Is it human?” This was a question I had never heard before. It took me off guard. As a parent of a child challenged with special needs, you learn to arm yourself with shields. Shields to deflect the stares or looks of pity. Shields to only hear the positive and drown out the words of people being thankful they have a “normal” child. Shields to stop the pain that pricks your heart each time you realize that life is harder and different for your child.

So after I put up my shields and quickly diverted Piper away from the area, I started to chuckle. This little girl had seen Piper’s enormous AFO’s (braces) that help her to walk steady, and focused on the metal and plastic. She could not see the inquisitive human girl inside. This is probably because there are currently many kid movies about robots living life like humans. She wondered if I walked my robot to the park!

I am blessed that my Piper is in human form. Some of that form is flawed and works slowly. But she has never known life to be different. Her struggle has always existed, and she has had to rely on her “robotic” aides to function. If we are honest with ourselves, we could realize that we are all in a flawed human form. We just put up our shields to hide the flaws, divert attention, and hear only what makes us feel good.

He has made many parts for our bodies and has put each part just where he wants it. What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part!  So he has made many parts, but still there is only one body.  1Corinthians 18-20

God picked each part of Piper when he was forming her. He picked each part of you when he was forming you. There is a reason we are all here. We each have a part or role that God plans us to play in the lives of others.

Currently, my back and arm parts give me the strength to assist Piper with her mobility. My brain part gives me the ability to help my struggling learners learn. My heart part helps me to understand the struggle some parents face and equip them with knowledge to help their struggling child. If I do not take down my shields, these God given gifts will be unused.

Perhaps, the little girl was able to glimpse the honest, flawed, intricate design Piper has from her divine being/creator. In the absence of a shield, she may have wondered if Piper could be a human.

Lord, please help me to embrace my flaws and not hide behind shields. I know there will be hurt and anger at times. Allow me to use those to become the person you created me to be. Amen.

 

Move

moved

move [moov ] 1. change position: to change position or location, or change the position or location of something 2. change residence, job, or school: to change your place of residence, work, or study, or make somebody do this

My freshman year of high school, my dad’s boss let him go for spending too much time away from work during my sister’s illness. He was able to get a job in Arizona, my mom was seriously grieving, and I was somewhere in limbo. The “sand” continued to rub as I placed pressure on myself to do everything perfectly. I was my parents’ only child now. The only one to do things right. There was no one to come along behind me and do better. My sister was gone.

In the middle of my sophomore year, my mother and I joined my dad in Phoenix. I did not want to move to the desert at all. It was made worse, because I did not like high school. Actually, school in general was not my favorite. I did well, but had to study more than the rest of my friends. The compulsion to not mess up continued. I wanted to be perfect. Every time that I did not measure up to my standards, I felt beaten and worthless. It also did not help that I spoke with a southern accent. It was something that drew attention to me and made me sound ignorant.

At my new school, there was a flier posted about pom line auditions. This was much like a spirit line or dance team. My parents thought it would be a good way for me to make friends. We had taken dance classes before Amanda got sick. She and I loved to make up dances. It was those joyful memories that prodded me to try out. My confidence waivered when I saw the beautiful girls at the try out clinics. I feared being laughed at again. God’s crazy plan allowed me to make the pom line. There were twelve girls that danced and cheered at all of the football and basketball games. Many times were spent fooling around on the sidelines of games, practicing, and being busy all of the time. This saved me in high school from becoming lost or turning into a recluse.

My image of myself started to become an obsession. I wanted to be the smartest, prettiest, funniest, and most liked. The real me began to disappear under these pressures. My actions caused me to lose friends and hurt feelings. All of my efforts to fit in, caused me to not really fit in at all. The fragmented thoughts in my mind began to chip away at the real Jennifer. If I could go back to high school and be the real me, I would.

Toward the end of high school, my father took a job in New Jersey. My mom stayed in Phoenix with me until I graduated. I had already been accepted to the University of Arizona and had my dorm assignment. Many of my classmates also planned to go to Tucson for college. The potential to start a new chapter in my life was exciting. I hoped that it would be a time for me to develop deep friendships with those God placed in my life and actually feel like I belonged.

Fears began to creep up that I would be “left” on the west side of the country all alone. If I needed help, there would be no one to come to my rescue. My parents were all that connected me to life, so I decided to head for New Jersey with my parents. I declined my admission to the University of Arizona, and decided I would attend a college in New Jersey. Which university, I had not a clue.

The weekend after graduation, we loaded up the car and drove to New Jersey. This was far from the fabulous graduation trip that my classmates were having in Mexico. However, it was a memorable trip for us. We were in another state with another new address. It was our seventh state to live in, and I am not sure how many different apartments, condos, and houses we have lived total. All of the friends I had while living in Georgia had become a distant memory. It was too hard to send another “We’ve Moved” letter. This is another area that I should have been more diligent about. There were friends that I wish I had not let go.

My world kept changing so quickly. It seemed that as soon as my feet were planted, they slipped. My need to be in control started to consume me. I was not able to control where we lived, where I went to school, that I felt lonely, or afraid. My ability to make friends and keep them was poor. I had no long term friendships for me to learn from. I had become an only child when Amanda died. Siblings teach people how to relate and share with their peers. My understanding of my role in life was shaky. At that moment, I found a crutch that almost destroyed me. The one thing I could have control over was food. This was the beginning of an eating disorder that peppered my life for many years to come.

Lord forgive me. I did not know that my choices were going to affect so many people. You gave me many gifts that I hated and tried to change. I was made in your image, yet I tried to change that image. Forgive me for turning to food rather than you.