The Real Reason My Biracial Son Has Long Hair

Not because I want to control him, but because it’s the one thing to which I’ve hitched the illusion that I can control the way people see him.

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When my son was born, he had a faint whisper of fine brown hair. “Have his curls come in yet?” my mother would ask each time we spoke. By the time he was two, they sat on his forehead in perfect spirals; a mop of coils that bounced about in every direction as his body did the same.

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“He’s got the good hair.” “Oh, I just want to touch it. Can I?” “What a beautiful little girl you have!”

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We couldn’t leave the house without someone strange or familiar commenting on the head of my child. If he was bothered by the attention, he never really expressed it. He didn’t necessarily thrive on it either, but rather came to accept it as something to navigate and traverse like cracks in the sidewalk.
When he was three, he quietly took a pair of kid scissors and hid in his room, hacking a chunk out of the back before being discovered by his dad. I arrived home to find my husband far more anxious about delivering the news than the would-be hairdresser himself.

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH IT?” I demanded.

“What? The hair? I threw it in the trash can. Why?”

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I scrambled to the kitchen to rescue what I could. The curls I had stroked as they lay splayed against the pillow as he slept. The curls I untangled each morning and marveled at from across the playground. I tucked them safely into an envelope and away in a drawer acutely aware for the first time that his body was not simply an extension of mine.
In preschool he came home from a sleepover at his grandparents house, his scalp tightly lined with cornrows. With his hair out of the way, it was so easy to appreciate the angular beauty of his maturing face. If he ever had baby fat, all traces of it had vanished, leaving behind chiseled features that hinted at the man he’ll become. I loved finding his eyes so easily; the eyes that always hold a soft skepticism, reluctant to give anything away before letting someone in.
He loved it, too. He said it made him faster. As he darted up the busy pedestrian mall in our tiny city, the same people who’d stop in their tracks to compliment or observe this wild and wonderful creature when the wind blew through his curls, now said nothing. I can’t make assumptions about their assessment of my son, but I know that as his mother, I sensed the world was receiving him differently. It weighed on me.
Not long after, we faced the childhood scourge of lice. Teeming with bugs that evolved simply to make people miserable, I could have shaved his head completely. Instead, I spent countless hours combing, picking, treating, and obsessing. As we sat, “Spongebob” on loop, I considered why I was so reluctant to simply cut it off. How much should a child be defined by their hairstyle? What was I teaching him?

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Little black boy at the beach with long hair
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I tried to envision him with a closely cropped cut – without the curls that echoed his sweet and silly free spirit. In my mind’s eye, he looked harder, more stand-offish and tough. As much as I had tried to convince myself otherwise, I considered what adding those qualities to his brown skin would mean.
There’s nothing I hate more than the fact that we live in a world where a child too young to cross the street alone can be seen as threatening. That police can pump bullets into the torso of a boy who closely resembled my son with only two seconds of gathering information. Black boys aren’t granted the benefit of the doubt. And it’s my duty to parent from a place of knowing that.

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He’s 10 now and with each passing year, his unruly mass of brown hair with copper streaks has grown longer and more deeply connected to how he defines himself. As far as he knows, it’s cool; a feature that makes him unmissable even in silhouette. He likes it just the way it is and for that, I am grateful.
But the day may come when he asks to cut it, and to be honest, I don’t know how easily I’ll give in. Not because I want to control him, but because it’s the one thing to which I’ve hitched the illusion that I can control the way people see him.

His body is not an extension of mine. My white, small-statured body bears the weight of mothering a boy in a world that sees him as less than.

4 Ways We Can Shift Our Language to Support Kids' Emotional Intelligence

Whether or not we validate our kids’ emotions will ultimately have an impact on their ability to manage those emotions well beyond the childhood years.

After years and years of teaching kids to “toughen up,” we now know that kids’ emotions matter (as they always have).

An increasing body of evidence suggests that kids do not misbehave because they’re bad. Rather, misbehavior is often a sign that your kid hasn’t yet learned how to express difficult feelings and emotions.

A kid who neither knows what anxiety means nor how it manifests in his body is more likely to go into a meltdown the next time he encounters an anxiety-provoking situation. Another kid will react differently. Biting, impulsivity, aggressiveness, hitting, and extreme shyness are also ways in which kids express their inability to deal with difficult emotions.

Emotions do not only affect how kids react, they also affect how they feel. It’s not uncommon for your child to develop a headache or a stomachache every time she has to go for a swimming lesson or just before school starts, if those are anxiety-provoking situations for her.

Why does strengthening kids’ emotional intelligence matter? Because kids’ inability to manage their emotions can create a domino effect in other aspects of their lives. The available evidence suggests that kids’ inability to regulate their emotions is associated with impulsive behavior, and impulsivity is detrimental for kid’s social, academic, and psychological development. Impulsive kids are more likely to engage in risky health behaviors in adolescence and even in later years.

The good news is that nothing is simpler than teaching kids about emotions. It’s neither a costly process nor does it require the intervention of a professional. In all fairness, however, teaching kids to manage their emotions is a long process and the results are not always visible at first sight.

Evidence suggests that parenting styles predict the development of kids’ ability to control their emotions. In other words, whether or not we validate our kids’ emotions will ultimately have an impact on their ability to manage those emotions well beyond the childhood years. Here are a few tips about everyday experiences you can transform into “emotion discipline” lessons.

What we tell our kids: Don’t cry, it’s nothing

  • What we should be telling them: I’m here/Tell me about it/ Crying will make you feel better/Do you want a hug?

We don’t help our children develop their emotional intelligence by invalidating their feelings. You’ve probably noticed that telling kids “it’s nothing” does not make them cry less. Instead of invalidating your child’s feelings, teach him that it’s okay to cry and then show him what he can do to feel better – tell someone, distract himself, ask for a hug – which will help develop his emotional intelligence.

Teasing kids about their fears does not make those fears go away. It simply amplifies the fears and leads to the development of other difficult secondary emotions.

What we tell our kids: What’s wrong now?

  • What we should be telling them: I know it’s upsetting. Do you want to talk about it?

Your kid will not know how to express her emotions if she does not know what those emotions are. There are many age-appropriate and easy-to-apply strategies to teach kids about emotions, and it’s never too early to start.

Indeed, the available evidence suggests that even the youngest kids benefit when we take their emotions into account. When we put our kids’ emotions into words and propose appropriate ways to express those emotions, we help them develop their emotional intelligence and teach them that they can manage even the most difficult emotions.

Bear in mind, however, that the strategies that work with your two-year-old will not necessarily work with your eight-year-old. While infants and toddlers often need our intervention to help them adopt appropriate strategies, older kids are capable of and need to be taught to identify effective emotion regulation strategies they can use by themselves.

What we tell our kids: You made me angry

  • What we should be telling them: I was angry because…

Yes, you have a right to be angry at your child’s behavior, but you can choose how you react.

Strengthening your children’s emotional intelligence is about teaching them that they too are responsible for their reactions. Put differently, teaching your child emotional discipline is about teaching him that yes, he will “get baited,” but he can decide whether to take the bait or not.

What we tell our kids: Why do you make me yell at you?

  • What we should be telling them: I’m sorry I yelled at you when I was angry. I will try and yell less.

Your kid is not responsible for how you react to his or her behavior, you are. We all lose it sometimes and do things we regret, but blaming our kids for our guilt only makes it harder for them to learn how to manage their emotions.

As in many other areas of raising kids, how we react to our emotions teaches kids how to react to theirs. When we shout and engage in “adult tantrums,” we teach our kids that throwing a tantrum is a valid response to emotions. That doesn’t mean that we should always be “perfect” parents. It simply means being able to recognize and apologize for our reactions when necessary.

Ultimately, the ability to understand your kid’s signals and respond in age-appropriate ways that minimize distress can help him develop emotion regulation skills. For instance, some studies suggest that distracting young kids from distressing situations can teach them to integrate “walking away” within their repertoire of emotion-regulation skills and thus help them develop the “self-control of emotion.”

Everyday life provides multiple opportunities to teach kids about emotions. Even simply commenting on emotions when reading a book or watching TV together – “he sure looks angry,” “why do you think she’s frowning?” – can go a long way in teaching your kid about emotions.

The Old Normal, and the Imperative of Self-Defense Training for Women

In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no.

I was “date raped” in college. I put that in quotes because I wasn’t on a date at all. We were merely friends, or so I thought, and he had offered to escort me home after a late-night party. He was an upperclassman, a leader in our social house, respected by all accounts and ostensibly charged with the task of getting me home safely.
Instead, he brought me to his room.
The feeling that sticks with me more than any other when I look back on that experience is the shame I feel for not having done a better job of preventing it.
I blame him, too, of course, for his calculated coercion tactics (“Let me walk you back to your dorm. It’s late.”) and his psychological maneuvering (“Here, we can just snuggle…” and not long after, “You know you want this, Jill.”).
A rugby player, he was significantly brawnier than me, and back then, I didn’t know my own strength or many tools for how to use it. When he didn’t appear to hear my protests, the following notion flickered at the edges of my jangled, buzzing mind: Resist and you could instigate him further … submit and, with luck, it’ll be over quickly.
So why do I still carry the bulk of the blame 20 years later? I’m not entirely sure, but I have a few theories….
First, I have reduced this person in my mind to the basest of characters, a coarse operative, if you will, a 20th century equivalent of the nefarious Shakespearean rogue who somehow plants himself at the right hand of the King. How can you require anything, let alone decent behavior on the most basic level, from someone so odious and depraved? He is a victim of his own awfulness. He must be sickening to himself, I tell myself. We can’t expect anything from people like this, so we expect everything from ourselves instead.
Here’s how this plays out in my mind: You see, I could have taken some right action along the way. I could have had one less drink. I could have been smarter. I could have predicted and therefore prevented the assault. How ridiculous and innocent I was! How stupid and naïve! How blind.
While those things could be true of every young, trusting undergrad, this misappropriation of guilt makes me feel less the victim somehow. It helps me take back some control. It helps me believe that I will be the one in control next time, should there be a next time. I know now that I wouldn’t give a second thought to acting “unpleasant” or “making a scene,” even though society constantly reminds us that it’s “unbecoming” for a woman to get angry.
Second, I believe that each person in any kind of relationship makes up half the equation. If you’re annoyed with your partner for being irritable, think on how your behavior exacerbates his impatience. You’re angry with a friend for not considering your feelings? When was the last time you considered hers? If your child is non-communicative, what could you do to help him feel he can talk to you? While it’s easy to heap blame on others, I do my best to own my role in every interaction, whether I’m the one who’s hurt or doing the hurting.
So how does this compute when the “hurt” is rape?
It doesn’t (I repeat over and over to myself). It is not your fault if someone abuses you. You didn’t “ask for it,” whatever you happened to be doing with your hips, like moving them when you walk, which is kinetically necessary as far as I’m concerned. You didn’t toss your head back in laughter to show him your bare neck. You did it because you thought something was funny.
And no, the abuse you’ve suffered has nothing to do with how carefully you considered your reputation – my girlhood warning to avoid emitting a sexual selfhood of any perceptible or desirable kind.
Which brings me to the third, and perhaps most difficult self-inflicted guilt-wad to deal with: the memory of my father’s reaction to the incident. I told my parents voluntarily because rape felt like less of a personal shortcoming if I could talk openly about it with the people who love me the most and had worked so hard to raise me well. I would feel like I had betrayed them less if I could tell them and have them understand and still accept me, regardless.
Of course, my father was deeply worried for me, as any normal father would be, and spitting mad at the upperclassman (I remember watching his knuckles whitening as his fists clenched and unclenched involuntarily). But in his state of shock and confusion, the words he managed to conjure up came in the form of a question: “How could you put yourself in this position?”
Oh god, how? I thought in a panic. I’ve failed them. I’ve failed at being a strong woman on my first go-round, my first chance at proving myself worthy of respect and dignity and real, untainted, caring love. I’ve ruined myself. It’s over.
I wanted to crawl inside a hole.
Despite all the shame, I talked candidly to the nurses at the college infirmary about my experience and made myself available to any other students who had suffered through abuse, on campus or in life. I figured that if we could sit together in the pain, at least we would not be alone. And while the option was presented to me, I decided not to press charges. That admired, affable upperclassman’s friends and family were, and are, none the wiser.
I am fine with that. Because I am wiser now.
In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted – and to shine a light on a systemic cultural sickness that we all knew was there long before the avalanche of allegations came crashing down – I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no louder and louder and louder and louder until we are finally heard and the perpetrators back the fuck off.
We must dismiss anything that insults our own souls until our souls are fully restored. We must break the chain of sexual discrimination and violence against women and children and anyone perceived as lesser or different or weak – a chain that’s made up of centuries of generational links of learned hostility, social exclusion, androcentrism, patriarchal privilege, and sexual objectification.
We do this through sound parenting and education and programs that support socioeconomic equity. But we also do it by fighting back, by taking the attacker by surprise with a palm thrust to the nose and a knee to the groin, by shocking the playground bully with a scrappy uppercut to the jaw. We’ve been fighting for a long time, of course, and we will continue to fight until a woman no longer shoulders the blame for a man’s reprehensible behavior.
We clearly have a long way to go. Prominent elected officials and so-called “civil servants” commit and even brag about sexual assault and somehow manage to retain their positions. The Women’s Action Team in Brattleboro, Vermont, galvanized in the fall of 2016 “with the explicit purpose of advancing reproductive justice and combating rape culture and misogyny,” said filmmaker and photographer Willow O’Feral in an interview on Vermont Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
“(W)e are here to say, ‘we are not going to take this,’” she continued. “‘We are fighting back.’” O’Feral’s latest film, “Break The Silence”, features women talking about their reproductive and sexual health histories. Proceeds from the film will support a transportation fund that helps minors gain access to Planned Parenthood’s medical support and abortion services.
I recently worked with my sons’ taekwondo teacher to organize a women’s self-defense class. When I polled my online network to gauge interest, the response was enormous – astounding, really, for a loosely populated northeastern state known for its happiness index and high quality of life. Dozens and dozens of women responded, admitting they’d been searching for opportunities to build these skills, to feel safer, to know they would have what it takes in case … just in case.
Last weekend, nine women managed to carve four hours out of their Sunday to attend. One of them was my mother, who has been reeling from an unsettling encounter with one of the night watchmen at her continuing care facility. We each had our nervous tics, our hurdles, our fear-facing moments, our breakthroughs, but no one practiced those maneuvers with as much vigor as my mom.
I don’t think I will ever forget the sight of her, a 100-pound spitfire of a 76-year-old grandma, feet planted firmly on the floor, her small arms raised, palms front in the universal gesture of defense. “Back off! I don’t know you! Go away!!” she shouted. “Back off! Back off! Back off!! BACK!!! OFF!!!” Over and over in a voice so angry and adrenaline-tinged that I hardly recognized it as hers.
At last, the instructor (playing the advancing attacker), stopped and backed away.
When it was over, my mother stood there visibly shaking, her eyes ablaze with fight and fury. It was as though she was rooted to the spot, riveted by the specter of her own power. Slowly and very gently, the instructor came to her, kneeled in front of her, and took her hand.
“You won,” she said, with a tenderness that dredged a sob from the pit of my gut. “He left. He’s gone. You won.”

Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby's Plagiocephaly Helmet

Here’s a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed a plagiocephaly helmet for your bundle of joy.

We knew our son’s head shape was “not quite right” when he was born. He was born at 35 weeks, and he had a moment of performance anxiety during the birth, which resulted in him getting stuck.
That was fun.
The combination of his early arrival (and even softer head than a full-term newborn) and his period of “stuckness” resulted in him being born with a flat head, or if you want to be fancy about it, “Plagiocephaly.” We didn’t know it at the time, but he was also born with “Torticollis” which is a stiff neck muscle. It meant he could only turn his head to one side.
Because we are avid rule abiders in this house, we followed all the safe sleeping guidelines. We put bubs to bed on his back for every sleep and nap. So slowly over the first weeks of his life, his soft little head pressing down on his firm little mattress got progressively flatter and flatter – not only on the back, but on the one side that his head naturally turned to. It now turned this way not only because of his stiff neck (we’d started doing stretches, so that was improving), but also then because of the flat spot. Think of it as cutting a segment out of an orange – the orange is always going to roll towards the flat surface and stay there.
I am a Googler (aren’t all of us new parents?), so I was pretty reassured when I saw that flat spots were pretty common and that “Plagiocephaly” is the most common craniofacial problem today (partly due to the safe sleeping guidelines – though it is infinitely better to have a baby with a flat head than one who can’t breathe, so I am definitely not advocating going against the guidelines). When I started attending a community “Mother’s Group” they covered Plagiocephaly. This was also reassuring, as a few other mums in the group raised their hands with similar concerns to me. So, I was feeling pretty good until the midwife caught side of the side of my son’s head while we were having tea and biscuits after the meeting and said, “that’s actually a really remarkable case,” turning his head this way and that. Remarkable, really? I appreciated her candor, but I definitely started worrying again then.
She gave me a card of an Orthopedist who could assess my son and perhaps prescribe a “Plagiocephaly Helmet.” The helmet’s purpose is to alleviate pressure from the flat spots, allowing the skull to grow into the spaces provided inside the helmet – they make a cast of your baby’s head first, so the spaces in the helmet match the flat spots in your baby’s head. She said she wasn’t supposed to give out the contact information, because some doctors in our area did not agree with the helmets and thought they were a waste of time and money (they thought the problem would fix itself with time). I’ll never know, because my anxious personality propelled me towards this Orthopedist’s office as fast as my legs could take me (not that fast actually, as I was also dragging along a four-month-old).
The Orthopedist certainly did prescribe a helmet. He made the cast right there during the first appointment, and I’ve made a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed one for your bundle of joy.

1 | They are not super cheap, considering they are mostly foam

Our helmet set us back $500. I guess this is why some doctors will advise against them if they do feel the problem will correct itself in time. I felt it was worth it for us, for the peace of mind of knowing we were doing everything we could at the time. Also, this cost included all follow-up appointments and adjustments to the helmet every month (as his head changed shape) so it is actually pretty reasonable when you look at it like that.

2 | It is not about cosmetics

You may think it is a little over the top for me to have gotten so worked up about the fact that my baby would have a bit of a flat head. My main concerns were not cosmetic (though of course I don’t want him to look funny!) – I was thinking about stuff like him not being able to wear glasses comfortably (both hubby and I do, so it is pretty likely he will need them), or even sunglasses. Or not being able to wear safety helmets or hard hats without having specially made ones. This may not be an issue if the flat spot was just on the back, but because his head was asymmetrical (the flatness was on the back and one side) it would have been.

3 | They are not as uncomfortable as they look

I have to go by observation on this one, because my four-month-old didn’t actually turn around to me and say “hey, this isn’t so bad.” He wore his helmet 23 hours a day. It was only off to clean it and to give him a bath. He slept in it, and his sleep did not change or regress. He was a happy, giggly baby, and didn’t really even seem to have a major adjustment period to it. It was really, truly, so fine. And when he got it off, he adjusted well to that too.

4 | The earlier the better

The earlier the helmet is on, the shorter time period it needs to be on and the more effective it is. My son was in his helmet from four months old until about eight months old. This is around the earliest it can go on. Helmets are believed to work best between approximately the ages of five months and eight months. There was another young boy who came to the office who had gotten his helmet on much later, and it was on for ages longer and didn’t end up working as well. This is apparently to do with how fast our son’s skull bones fuse together and the head being more malleable at an earlier age.

5 | You may get some looks

Everywhere I went during the months of the helmet, I felt like I was being stared at. I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they were staring because it looks so damn cute (it really does). They were also probably wondering what it was for, as the helmets aren’t super common where I live. Strangers were nice to me – they offered to let me go first in queues, asked how I was doing, or asked to carry things for me.
Sometimes people would ask what was “wrong” with my son. My usual answer was that “it’s just on to reshape his wonky head.” I would play it cool, but sometimes my feelings were quite hurt when they said that. Some people told me that they thought my son had a mental disability, or a developmental disorder and it was on for protection (for head banging). I’ll admit, it made me feel a bit self-conscious.

6 | You do miss the unrestricted snuggles and nuzzling against your baby’s head

This was the main thing I was excited for when I learned he could take his helmet off – the head nuzzles! Until then, we did lots of head nuzzling at bath-time, and at other times we snuggled him through the sometimes uncomfortable feeling of a hard block of foam on your face. He still felt cozy, warm, and snuggly, I’m sure.  It was just us who were a tad more uncomfortable! Worth it!

7 | If you don’t clean the helmet every day, it will smell

All you have to do is wipe it down using rubbing alcohol and a cotton wool ball once a day (before bath time, so it has that half an hour to dry before he gets back into it). Leave it for a day and suffer the stench!

8 | You will get creative with tummy time

Even though the helmet is on, which relieves the pressure off the flat spots, we are still told to pay attention to positioning. So, stretches to help move his heads both ways, repositioning his  head on their mattresses, and tummy time – lots of tummy time! If the child doesn’t like it (ours didn’t at first) this can be a challenge. We had to think of lots of ways to make it fun – think plastic sandwich bags filled with paint for him to squish, mirrors, music, blow up balls, and lying down with him making funny faces. It is actually quite fun to think of ways to extend the time they spend on their belly. And you get to lie down for a minute too!

9 | You will miss it when it’s gone – a bit

This is similar to when you see someone you are close to without their glasses on. It just doesn’t look like “them” for a while, as you get used to its absence. Sure, we saw the “real him” every night at bath time, but he always looked just a little bit naked (that’s a bad example because he was in the bath, but you get the idea). It probably took a good two weeks for us to not feel like something was “missing.”

10 | It isn’t so bad

It’s just a few months, which pass by in the blink of an eye in infancy. It’s a bit of a cost, but that includes everything. The babies aren’t affected by it physically or emotionally, and it really doesn’t affect their mood or sleep or anything (at least in our experience, and in talking to other helmet parents).
The best part: It worked! My son now has a perfectly asymmetrical, round head. He is none the worse for wear.

The Highs and Lows

We learned the management of diabetes is an art form. Her little fingers became paint brushes of red expressing her glucose levels.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
 

The storms of life move us in unexpected directions. Sometimes they hit us simultaneously. One spring our family survived a nor’easter where hundred-foot oak trees swayed like reeds of grass on a beach, rain hammered our windows, and power lines whipped to the ground causing  power loss for a week. Incredibly, the winds of this nor’easter paled in comparison to the gales blowing in my life.

My concern for my five-year-old daughter, Sophie, grew as she became more tired, cranky, and was drinking more water than ever before. I thought I was overreacting due to my emotional and physical exhaustion from attending graduate classes, working at an internship, parenting three girls, and struggling financially during the Great Recession. In order to appease my fears, I called the pediatrician and dreaded driving to the office in Friday rush hour traffic.

Sophie’s blood glucose level was 535 and very high. My motherly instinct was right.

How could this be? I don’t know how many times I have gone to the pediatrician’s office with a sick child and have been told they are fine. I looked at the doctor with an expression of uncertainty.      

The nurse brought Sophie into another room to get stickers and the doctor touched my shoulder. “Do you know what this means?”

I felt like the world was closing in on me. “I’m not sure.  What do we need to do?” My voice was eerily calm but I was barely breathing.

“Type 1 diabetes is a result of not enough insulin being made in the pancreas. It is an autoimmune disease and the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. Normal blood glucose levels in children range from 70 to 120.1. You need to go to the hospital and stay for a couple of days to learn about the disease and how to manage it.” His kind eyes spoke volumes.

“This can’t be happening. Can we go home first?” The churning feeling in my stomach was building.

“Yes, but you have to go to the Emergency Room tonight.”

On our way home, my husband called to find out about the doctor’s appointment. I could no longer hold back my tears and struggled to share the diagnosis. Verbalizing the reality of our daughter’s chronic disease weakened every part of me.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?” Tears started welling up in Sophie’s eyes.

I took a deep breath and looked at her. “Nothing is wrong, Soph. Don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay.”

There is no parent handbook to tell you how to handle every situation. I wanted to take care of Sophie but I didn’t know anything about Type 1 diabetes. I focused on giving her my love and calm reassurance. When we were in the ER, Sophie allowed the nurses to put an IV in her hand and check her blood glucose levels every 30 minutes.

“Do you really need to prick her finger again? She doesn’t like it,” I asked.

The sympathetic nurse replied, “Let’s just check her glucose level one more time.” Later, I realized this compassionate nurse didn’t have the heart to tell me Sophie would have to prick her fingers six to eight times every day for the rest of her life.

I didn’t sleep the first night in the hospital room. Feeling overwhelmed and afraid Sophie’s blood glucose levels were too low or too high, I asked the nurse numerous times to check her. Eventually, I cried myself to sleep.

The next day we were questioned multiple times about why we were in the hospital. I was exhausted and frustrated. In between these interrogations, a nurse gave me a 45-page guide titled, “What You Need to Know When Newly Diagnosed with Diabetes.” She showed me how to inject insulin using a syringe and an orange since I’d have to give Sophie three injections every day. My thoughts of attending classes, writing papers, working, and paying bills were non-existent. How was I going to take care of Sophie?

In the hospital Sophie and I were on our own personal journey. We learned the management of diabetes is an art form. Her little fingers became paint brushes of red expressing her glucose levels. Her small voice cried several times, “Is this the last time I have to prick my fingers?” My heart broke. I knew there was no other choice. Love and hope would be our guiding light.

Sophie’s resilience during this challenging time gave me courage to be strong. She was still an active and vibrant five-year-old who liked to swing and swoosh down a slide. I knew we would have many more highs and lows and nothing would crush our spirits.

Why I Don't Worry About the Small Stuff Anymore

When your child is born with a heart that’s broken beyond full repair, you learn what you can and cannot control.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
I used to have a recurring, panic-inducing dream about an underground parking garage. The garage lies beneath the children’s hospital where my son receives ongoing treatment of his heart defects and other serious medical conditions.
Picture incredibly narrow parking spots with load-bearing columns scattered about everywhere, creating an obstacle course that even the most compact of vehicles must navigate carefully. Scuff marks with glimmers of auto body paint litter the sides of every single one of those load-bearing columns: a reminder that many who have gone before me have failed to make it out unscathed.
I’m a horrible parker, hence the nightmares.
Thanks to my poor depth perception, visuospatial tasks have never been my forte. I’ve hit more than a few stationary objects in my nearly 15-year-long driving career.
Throw in the previously unfathomable level of sleep deprivation that accompanies the job of parenting a medically complex child (which exacerbates my depth perception problems), and I stand no chance against this parking garage.
For the first several visits, I have my husband park the car, or I give up and drop it off out front with the valets. But this arrangement eventually becomes unfeasible. Sometimes my husband and I need to arrive separately, and the valet booth has limited hours.
I realize I’m going to have to learn how to park the car in that hellish garage so that I can always be there with my son while he’s in the hospital. There’s just no way around it anymore.
I take the scholarly approach, as I tend to do. I make diagrams of the precise angles necessary to maneuver my way into one of the spots without scraping a column or a neighboring car. I visualize the garage and imagine myself parking. I even ask my husband for pointers, but he’s not much help since he’s been graced with a natural gift for this sort of thing: “I dunno, I just turn the steering wheel and park the car?”
After all that preparation, I get a chance to put it into practice at the next scheduled appointment I must take our son to by myself. I meditate on (that’s my code for “obsess over”) the task at hand the whole drive to the hospital, and I briefly contemplate saying, “Screw it, I’ll just do valet parking” before turning into the garage.
I choose my target. I take a hard pass on the spot between two huge SUVs that are barely within the lines and decide on one with well-behaved neighbors instead.
Much of the elegance of my diagram was missing in this real-life attempt, but I managed to get my car in the spot. Never mind that I’ve wedged myself into a position that will require a nine-point turn to exit. That’s a problem for “Future Me,” and it’s beside the point.
When your child is born with a heart that’s broken beyond full repair, you learn what you can and cannot control. I can’t control whether the cardiac surgeon I’ve handed my son over to will return him in a better condition than he was in before – or if I’ll even get him back at all.
I can’t control the fact that I’ll probably outlive my child.
But I can learn how to park the damn car. I can conquer that fear and make that nightmare go away. I can let go of all the anxieties that used to plague me, the worries about issues that seem so trivial in retrospect.
Now I know that if the worst-case scenario in a situation is a scraped fender or having to file an insurance claim, that’s not something worth worrying about. Those are problems we can solve if the worst should happen.
It’s the unsolvable, uncontrollable, life-threatening types of problems that are the real stuff of nightmares, anyway.

How Babies Uncovered the Mystery About Our Common Fear of Spiders

A fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.

Ghosts, skeletons, and vampires may give us the creeps this Halloween, but a fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.
This fear, technically called arachnophobia (as the 1990 movie by the same name made famous), can cause crippling anxiety for some people and impact their daily life. For years, scientists have been trying to figure out why so many people are afraid of spiders, even in places where they hardly ever come in contact with them. While some experts assumed that we learn this fear from our surroundings as children, others believed it was innate.
Now scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences discovered that the fear is quite real and, in fact, hereditary. During their research, the scientists showed pictures of spiders along with more typically pleasing images, like flowers and fish, to a group of six-month-old infants. The scientists noticed that the children’s pupils dilated significantly when they looked at the spiders. Dilated pupils are a typical measure of the fight-or-flight stress response. The average pupil dilations were 0.14 mm when viewing the spiders, but only 0.03 mm for the flowers – a considerable reaction.
Remarkably, past studies found that babies did not have this same reaction when shown pictures of rhinos, bears, or other typically dangerous animals. This latest research, therefore, proves that babies as young as six months felt stressed out from looking at spiders long before they could have been taught to have this reaction from their parents or through experience.
The research team went on to conclude that arachnophobia has evolutionary origins. There is a part of our brain that causes us to identify certain objects as dangerous so we can react quickly in order to survive. This inherited stress reaction ultimately led to humans associate spiders with fear and unpleasantness, and that we must avoid them at all costs.
According to evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians in his book “Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare”, many responses to our environment throughout history have been rooted in our survival mode. These experiences led to some of the ingrained, instinctual fears that are genetically programmed in us today.
Other common fears include snakes, microbes, pointed objects, leopard spots, rugged terrain, and eyes. Maybe it’s time to stop singing the “itsy bitsy spider” song to your littles, and definitely don’t dress up like a tarantula for Halloween.
In all seriousness, though, it’s crucial to understand where certain fears stem from so that we can address them properly with our children. Talk to your kids about their worries; if they bottle them up, it will only get worse. Let them know their concerns are common and that others experience them, too. Show that you understand what they’re going through by sharing your own personal anxiety stories, and reassure them that you’re there to support them whenever they become frightened.
It may take some simple distraction techniques to help kids overcome their fear instincts. If it becomes so bad that their fears interfere with their daily life, you may want to talk to your pediatrician.

How Parenthood Changed My View of Scary Movies

When people say that “everything in your life will change” once you have a child, I thought I knew what that meant. I wasn’t expecting this.

When my two best friends wanted to put together a movie date to see IT, I jumped at the chance to have a girl’s day without my eight-month-old son in tow. Brunch and besties? Yes, please! Plus, it’s almost Halloween, so I figured a scary movie – albeit one based on a book I’ve never read, but by an author I enjoy – was seasonally appropriate.

I wasn’t expecting to walk out of the theater unable to stop crying, but that’s what happened.

I’ve been sensitive to creepy movies and books since I was a kid, but over the past decade or so, I’ve grown to enjoy certain “scary” movies. The Cabin in the Woods pleasantly surprised me in a way I didn’t think was possible anymore in that genre. El Orfanato is deliciously creepy from start to finish. And as far as Stephen King goes, Carrie nails it.

But it’s been a while since things that go bump in the night had the capacity to reduce me into a whimpering mess. What’s different?

I have my own kid now, that’s what’s different. When people say that “everything in your life will change” once you have a child, I thought I knew what that meant. I wasn’t expecting this.

Obviously I’m not afraid of a homicidal clown like the one in the movie, but the biological instinct to protect my kid at all costs flooded my body in a way I’ve never experienced before. When I made it home after IT, I put the question to Facebook. Who else felt like this switch had flipped once they became a parent?

I was floored to discover how many parents, mostly women, have experienced this same shift. It’s as though we’re completely incapable of separating ourselves from the fictional narratives. I was flooded with responses like these from other parents:

  • “For several years after my child was born, any movie/show where the kid was the target of violence or terror just made me ill.”
  • “I can’t deal with anything involving children being harmed in any fashion.”
  • “I couldn’t wait to get home and hug my kid after [seeing IT].”
  • “When Georgie goes out to play in the rain alone, it gave me so much anxiety.”

And so on.

Even my aunt, a nurse of many years, admitted that she had to leave bedside nursing in the oncology ward after she had her three sons. She explained that “the death and difficult disease process were too much to bear after having my own children.”

If somone who faces death and decay on a daily basis felt the same trauma I felt when caught unaware, I knew this guttural reaction went deeper. Dr. Keith Humphreys, psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care, confirmed my suspicions.

“We’re pretty deeply programmed as humans to love and protect our children,” says Dr. Humphreys. “If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have survived as a species for so long.”

He goes on to explain that fathers, as well as mothers, are susceptible to this same reaction after becoming parents. Part of this is due to basic biological survival mechanisms, but he suspects it’s also due in part to our overexposure to violence in the media.

“It’s still tough for people because the media knows that stories about children being harmed are eye-catching,” confirms Dr. Humphreys. “It’s common to open a newspaper and see that every day they have another ‘horrible thing that happened to a kid’ story. It’s a way to manipulate you. That’s very upsetting, but it’s hard not to click on it. And that’s what causes anxiety. A lot of parents find it really challenging because you can’t avoid that. You can avoid horror movies – just don’t go to see them.”

This protective reaction isn’t universal. Dr. Humphreys says that even non-parents can be affected in the same way when faced with children in vulnerable situations, and some parents are better equipped to separate themselves from the fantasy.

I don’t think it’s masochistic [to still enjoy scary movies as a parent],” says Dr. Humphreys. “Some people are able to.”

After IT, I decided to test this theory by watching movies I’d seen before that I knew included violence (or implied/attempted violence) towards children in various situations. The Shining. Room. The VVITCH.

What I found was that I was better able to stomach violent images that I’d seen before. My mind had already witnessed these atrocities; I was prepared, albeit still disgusted. I didn’t “enjoy” them, but I avoided the involuntary reflex to protect.

That’s why I think IT affected me so badly. Watching a child succumb to Pennywise’s manipulations made me nauseous. It’s a worst nightmare come to life, it’s reality cloaked in fantasy. It’s masterful. It’s merciless.

This instinct isn’t rooted in weakness, it’s a testament to the power of parental love. If the price I have to pay for being a parent is an inability to digest horrifying imagery like this, I’ll happily skip seeing mother! and keep Hocus Pocus on repeat for every Halloween season to come.

(P.S. My friends, who are non-parents, felt really bad. I still love you guys!)

The Not-So-Selfish Question Parents of a Sexually Abused Child Are Afraid to Ask

Your child is protected and receiving counseling. You are left with a big, old vacuum. What about me?

The unthinkable has happened. You’re numb, panicked, and crazed with anger all at the same time. You’re precious jewel has just told you that he or she has been sexually abused – worse yet – by someone you know, love, and trust.
The aftermath of such a tragedy can be a whirlwind of events, police, doctors, social workers, and therapists. The list of new professionals suddenly intruding upon the intimate details of your personal life is staggering. Of course, you cooperate. The safety, health, and welfare of your baby is at stake.
Then, the high tide recedes as the logistics are underway. Your child is protected and receiving counseling. You are left with a big, old vacuum.
What about me?
Please feel not an ounce of shame or weakness asking this question. In fact, it’s one of the single-most important observations you can make, so, go ahead, feel some pride in your self-awareness. You, and perhaps others in your family, are the secondary victims of sexual abuse.
Coping with your reactions to the challenges that now rest on your shoulders can feel overwhelming. You’re trying to keep everything together while, inside, you’re falling apart. You need help, too, especially if you were also a child victim of sexual abuse.
A better you will make a better life for your child.
Throughout the course of my career, I’ve treated many families who have experienced this and other traumas. Individual, group, or family therapy can offer indescribable support that will point you and your family on the road to recovery.
Below I’ve listed some common concerns that emerged among the parents whom I’ve worked with. If you’ve been in this unfortunate situation, they will hopefully provide some comfort and validation.
Remember:

Above all, it’s not your fault

Many parents think, “If I were a better parent, if we didn’t argue so much, if I were home more, if, if, if, if….”  Fill in the blank with your own “if.”  The sad fact is this: There is no sure-fire way to prevent sexual abuse. If there were, I wouldn’t need to write this article.  The “ifs” are a natural way to try to gain control over an awful situation.
Although rates of sexual abuse may reportedly be on the decline, Darkness to Light reports that as many as one in 10 children will be sexually abused by age 18. So, please remember three things:

1 | You are not psychic (at least, I assume you’re not) and could not have prevented this.

2 | A determined sex offender will abuse despite the obstacles in their way.

3 | Sex offenders are exceptionally adept at setting the stage so no one would ever suspect a thing.

Your grief is a big deal

You’ve had a huge shock. It’s perfectly natural for many confusing emotions to come tumbling out of nowhere. Anger at the offender, at the system, at yourself, even – cringe – at your child because you’re wishing they had told you sooner so you could’ve protected them better.
Your child has lost his innocence, and so have you. You’ve lost your sense of safety and your trust in those around you. Perhaps you’re struggling with the profound disappointment that someone you loved is not who you thought they were.
You may even be questioning your own judgment while simultaneously feeling saddened, guilty, confused, shamed, enraged, and yet hopeful, all at once. These feelings are a normal part of the process. Finding support through your own therapist can help you navigate this bumpy terrain.

This is an adjustment period

The old day-to-day normalcy may fade as routines and relationships likely become disrupted. But soon, you will settle into a “new normal.” Don’t rush it. Allow the process to take place naturally. There will be bumps as you and your child find your way. With patience and a comfortable new pattern, an even stronger relationship will emerge between you and your child.

You need education and support

You’re in a situation that you’ve never been in before, so don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t know what to do or say. You might, but it’s okay if you don’t. Bounce situations off the helping professionals in your life.
A therapist who is experienced with evidence-based practices for sexual abuse, such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy, would be ideal for you and your child. Your child will likely be learning many new things in treatment, perhaps about boundaries, assertiveness, and healthy relationships. You need to keep up! Active involvement in your healing and your child’s growth can result in a stronger and wiser family unit.

Seeking your own support models great self-care

Remaining involved and engaged in your child’s treatment process is not the same as getting your own needs met. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of seeking out your own individual therapist. Some areas offer groups for parents of sexually abused children. You’ll have a lot on your plate and, yes, this is a crazy-busy time in your life, which actually reinforces the need for professional assistance with stress management.
You’ll be teaching your child that it’s okay to ask for help when there is a problem. You’ll be teaching her that sexual abuse is not to be kept a secret. Some children are quite reluctant to get counseling due to a fear of talking about the “horrible thing,” but research shows that’s exactly what they need to do.
By getting your own treatment, you demonstrate the importance of talking about the hard stuff. Children are amazingly resilient. At times, for whatever reason, adults may have a bit more trouble bouncing back. Your own therapy can offer a private place to break down, out of your child’s sight.
If your own therapy isn’t feasible due to budget or schedule, books like “When Your Child Has Been Molested”, by Kathryn Brohl, with Joyce Case Potter, can be an invaluable resource.
Lastly, if you’re reading this article for a friend or just out of general interest, I’d like to thank you. Parents of sexually abused children are in a lonely position and often have a small or non-existent pool of support to reach out to. It shouldn’t be that way.
RAIIN estimates that every eight minutes, a report of sexual abuse is substantiated. Chances are you know more than one person who has walked this road. Maybe you, with this information in mind, can be the person to help that parent feel not so alone.

According to Study, This Personality Trait Might Bully-Proof Your Kid

Researchers have identified one key personality trait can mean the difference between bouncing back from bullying and being incapacitated by it.

Anyone who’s ever been bullied knows that it’s not an experience you soon forget. At  28 years old, I barely ever think about the awful few months I was bullied in the fifth grade. But when I do, I still feel a twinge of pain recalling how traumatic it was, and I hate to imagine my kids ever going through something similar.
All things considered, though, I overcame being bullied as a kid and blossomed in the years afterward. I recently came across a study that helps explain why that was possible.
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire set out to discover why some youth victims of bullying recover from the ordeal while others are shattered by it. In their new study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, these researchers reveal that one key personality trait can mean the difference between bouncing back from bullying and being incapacitated by it.
That trait is resilience – the capacity to readily recover from adverse events or adjust to change.
Using a validated 10-item biopsychosocial scale, researchers looked at the relationship between the experience of bullying (including cyberbullying) and resilience. The scale contained mantras, such as: “Having to cope with stress makes me stronger” and “I can deal with whatever comes my way.” The scale was intended to evaluate resilience as a protective factor and healing force.
A Science Daily study suggests that possessing resilience can help prevent kids from being victimized by bullying and can help lessen the harmful effects of bullying when it does occur, either in-person or online. Bullying will always hurt, of course, and it should never be tolerated, but data from this study demonstrates how resilience can help kids, in a sense, choose whether or not to permit the pervasive damage it can cause.
Authors of the study, Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D. and Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D. hope that their study will show families, schools, and communities the value of raising resilient children in a day and age when finding effective solutions to bullying is more imperative than ever. The tragic consequences of bullying seem to be in the headlines constantly, and the Internet has created many more avenues through which it can happen.
“We want children to learn and develop the skills they need to deal with problems,” says Dr. Hinduja, as quoted in Science Daily, “and yet we rarely help them engage with those problems so that they can grow in their ability to solve them. Instead, we seek to constantly protect and insulate them – instead of bolstering their self-confidence, problem-solving ability, autonomy, and sense of purpose – which are all innate strengths.”
It’s important, they explain, for parents and other adults involved with children and adolescents to teach them strategies for coping with bullies, for ‘rising above’ the cruelty. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), other ways to foster resilience in kids and teens include helping them learn how to:

  • form connections
  • help other people
  • maintain a routine
  • take a mental break
  • practice self-care
  • create and work toward goals
  • develop a sense of perspective
  • develop a positive outlook
  • see the humor in life and be able to laugh at oneself
  • recognize past accomplishments and history of overcoming obstacles
  • and accept change as a part of life.

Raising compassionate kids and teaching them not to be bullies themselves is also extremely important, but that’s a whole separate post.
Continued efforts are certainly needed to tackle the issue of bullying from all angles. There are no easy answers. But this study does give me hope (and a much-needed sense of control) that by nurturing resilience in our kids, they can learn to survive and thrive at school in the face of adversity – far preferable to keeping them in a bubble.