Friday, September 18, 2015

Suicide - I Challenge You To Make a Difference

A year ago, on September 11th, 2014, a well-liked, outgoing student from my kids school killed himself. When the notice was emailed to the parents, letting us know of the tragedy and what our kids would be facing when they entered school the next day, I was plagued by the question "why?" Why would a young man who appeared to be so happy, take his own life? Everyone who spoke of this young man said how happy he was, how he was rarely seen without a large smile on his face and how he was well liked by a significant percentage of the school population. This baffled me. What caused him to take such a drastic measure when he appeared to be just fine.

Unfortunately, we don't always get all of the answers. The answers are silenced when the person takes his or her life, leaving those in pain grasping for a reason, understanding and a release from their own guilt and unimaginable grief.

Being that September is Suicide Prevention Month, I want to touch on the signs and behaviors to look out for among your friends and family. It's easy to dismiss some of these signs and behaviors because you may think your friend or family member would never do such a thing, but that's exactly what those left in the aftermath of a suicide say. "I never thought he was capable of this," seems to be heard all too often.

Those at the highest risk of suicide are the following:

1. Teens - This is obvious. Hormones, school struggles, family dysfunction, depression. There are so many reasons why teens contemplate or commit suicide. They are going though significant body changes causing unattractive breakouts, oily hair, body odor and so on. Because of these changes, they may be the subject of bullying causing their self-esteem to plummet. They may struggle with friendships, making them feel unliked and insignificant. They may deal with stressful family situations that they keep hidden, or they could be experiencing a true clinical depression that they just don't understand.

2. Those who have suffered severe physical or emotional trauma. Perhaps a close family member dies, a crime was committed against them, or they were injured physically in an accident. Also, losing a job, a good friend or financial stability can also have a direct impact. These traumas can take people to a dark place where they feel they can't escape.

3. Those who suffer from addiction. Whether someone is addicted to drugs, alcohol or some other addiction that runs their life, it can cause them to want out with as little pain as possible. Also, drugs and alcohol take away inhibitions making it easier to act out on suicidal thoughts.

4. Those who suffer from mental illness. Whether it's depression, Bi-Polar Disorder or some other mental illness, those who suffer from it, just want the pain to go away. Medication for these different disorders is not always as scientific or precise as we would like it to be, leaving some trying multiple different medicines without significant improvement.

5. A friend or family member has committed suicide. Oddly, suicide can be contagious. It has sometimes been romanticized as well as sensationalized making it look appealing.

Some signs to be aware of:

* Feelings of hopelessness
* Inability to sleep
* Panic attacks
* Socially isolating themselves
* Feeling of being a burden
* Anger/rage

Look for these behaviors:

* Increased use of alcohol or drugs
* Looking for ways to kill themselves; talking about how they would do it
* Acting recklessly
* Isolating themselves from family and friends
* Drastic change in sleeping habits - sleeping too much or too little
* Gives away prized possessions
* Becomes aggressive
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Also, keep an eye out for those who may appear overly happy. I'm not saying that being overly happy is a behavior that leads to suicide, but it is a way for those who hurt inside to hide. Sometimes, those who seem to have it all together and seem so incredibly happy are only using that to mask the pain that is manifesting itself on the inside.

The big question is what to do if you think your loved one is suffering from some of these symptoms. It's obvious that help is needed and as soon as possible, but that may not be welcomed by the one who is suffering. If they refuse help, you need to at least keep the lines of communication open. Always guide with a gentle hand. Forcing someone to do something they don't want to do will probably only cause them to become more resistant. If they won't get help, you need to reach out and get help from a professional so they can guide you in how to handle your friend or family member. There are a number of websites and toll-free phone numbers that can help you immediately.

I am not an expert on suicide, and I encourage you to do your own research and gather your own tools for prevention. But, I must share with you some advice based on an experience I had yesterday.

I went to order my daughter some food at a local fast food restaurant and started to take a seat on the bench to wait for my order. I already had my phone in hand, ready to check out Facebook and emails when an older woman made a spectacle of herself while trying to sit down on the bench next to me. My first thought was, "please don't talk to me, please, please please!" but, of course she did. She joked about her unsteadiness and then she introduced herself, telling me to shake her hand harder, "no, squeeze harder. C'mon, you can squeeze harder!" She then complimented me on my blouse and told me how important it was to her to make sure everyone she met, knew that she noticed something nice about them. She made this her mission. She believed that too often, we ignore those around us, not even saying hello when time and space allow for it, and I have to agree. I can't tell you how many times I would look away to avoid saying hello to a stranger. After I had left, I thought about what she said, and it really resonated with me.

What if we all spent more time with our eyes open to those around us? What if we said the one thing that a person who was struggling, needed to hear? A kind compliment, a helping hand - something that says I CARE ABOUT YOU. Think back to the last time someone complimented you on something you wore - your hair, your smile or a great job you completed. Didn't it make you feel good? And what if that person was a complete stranger? Wouldn't the compliment heighten that feeling even more knowing someone who doesn't know you, noticed something special about you?

I challenge you to reach out. Try finding something special in those around you and pay homage to it. You never know when that little act could have such an enormous ripple effect and change the direction of someone's life for the better. Sometimes it's the little things that make the biggest difference.

If you're in for the challenge, post yes in the comments. Please share your experience with us as well! I would love to hear how people reacted to your positivity!

Monday, September 14, 2015

"But What About Socialization?"

My neighbor asked, her eyes widening slightly. Ah yes, the number one question all homeschoolers get upon disclosing their status. Yes, what about socilization? We were at our annual neighborhood pig roast (because my neighborhood is cool like that) when I encountered this question, and not for the first time. Amist good food and chatting, my next door neighbor asked me how my first grader was doing in school. This is a friendly, straightforward, small talk type question. I responded that he is doing well, and oh by the way I don't know if I told you this but I am homeschooling this year. She said I hadn't told her, and what led me to this decision? I shared some of our struggles in kindergarten and some of the factors leading to our decision. Then came the question I was expecting:

"Well, you should get him back into school next year, because, you know, what about socialization?"

I looked across the blocked off street to where my six year old was digging and running around with several other neighborhood kids of varying ages. Hmm, yes, what about socialization.

I was going to make this a mad Mondays post, except I relized that this question doesn't actually make me mad. Aside from the fact that I love my neighbor and I know she has the best of intentions, I think this common question most often comes from a lack of knowledge about and exposure to homeschooling. After all, homeschooling isn't mainstream although it is becoming more common, and aren't homeschoolers just a little weird, a little, extreme, a litle rebellious?

Before I began looking into homeschooling my own child, I didn't know a single person who homeschooled or who was homeschooled. I had neither positive nor negative opinions regarding benefits or drawbacks. It literally wasn't on my radar. Deciding to homeschool for me was like deciding to move to outer space. People either admired and supported me, nodded and smiled the way you would at someone who has lost touch with reality, or openly worried for my sanity hoping that this was a phase that would pass, like my college days of drinking cheap beer and wearing graphic tee shirts. Realizing I needed additional information and additional support, I sought out other homeschooling moms. Turns out, they do exists! *Channeling Santa from M&M's over played Christmas commercial.

I found some wonderful moms through the church where my son attended preschool and when I shyly asked if I could pick their brains, they set up a homeschool Q and A session over coffee. They showed me curriculum materials and shared the ins and outs of their homeschool days, even inviting me into their homes to see homeschooling in action! One mom had just finished her first year of homeschooling and she assured me that it was normal to feel overwhelmed in the beginning, that when she started she felt as though she'd jumped into the middle of the ocean without a life vest. I couldn't have come up with a better analogy (although my outer space analogy was pretty bad ass). Both of these moms have first graders. I would have expected some competition among homeschooling parents. I saw the opposite. They were falling all over each other telling me how smart the other person's kid was! I am now part of their weekly social group and they welcomed me with opened arms. Both of my boys get to play with kids their own age since as it turns out they all have toddlers as well. I have found the homeschooling community to be very supportive. They believe strongly that homeschooling is best - not for every family - but for their family. Also, I think they like chatting with people on common ground. My first grader also attends a co-op eight hours a week where he learns, prays, plays, and eats with first and second graders in a smaller classroom. He also takes two elective classes at a local church on Fridays. These classes are multi level which give him a chance to work with older and younger kids. After all, how many offices or companies do you know of that segregate people by age? Learning to interact with people of all ages is definitely a useful social skill.

Aside from co-ops, cub scouts, religious education at our Catholic Church, and karate, he also sees his long time best friends often, which means I get to see my friends often. Win-win. He has known these kids since preschool or earlier, and he knows the value of maintaining long time friendships no matter where life takes you. Besides, his "girlfriend" lives just across the street and we live in a neighborhood full of kids.

Now, I don't like to make waves. I am not excited by controversy and believe it or not I hate arguing. Often times it's easier for me to smile and nod in a let's agree to disagree fashion in these situations. This was my first instinct when my neighbor asked me the socialization question. But I felt like I had to show my confidence in my decision to homeschool my son. Also, I know I can express a differing opinion politley, after all we were just two neighbors shooting the breeze at a barbeque. I told my neighbor that in traditional school socializing is limited to a forty minute lunch and recess, and then after school play or activities. I shared with her all of our activities, the wonderful, diverse people we have met, and our unwavering relationship with "old" friends. I also told her that homeschoolers are afforded far more resources than I had even imagined, and that homeschooling does not mean we sit in our house by ourselves all day every day. I mean, if that were the case I am pretty sure I would eventually resort to inviting Jehovah's Witnesses and solictors in for margaritas and adult converstion. (Both of whom are perfectly nice people, don't get me wrong.) After listening, my neighbor's gaze drifted over to my son, who was recruiting a gaggle of neighborhood kids to help him with his construction work, and ditch digging in our front yard, much to my husband's chagrin.

"Well," she responded, looking back at me, "Well, he sure does seem happy."

That's a good enough answer for me.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Toys That Seem Like a Good Idea But Actually Aren't

What is one of the most fun parts of having young kids? No, it's not the parent and toddler parking at the mall, although that is pretty sweet in the sub-zero weather. As a side note: owner of the two-seater sports car parked there,you are not fooling anyone. Actually now that I am thinking about it a lot of things are fun about having young kids, like having an excuse to eat ice cream in the middle of the day, the ability to play arcade games that I - I mean you secretly love without looking like a pedophile, the ability to chase the ice cream man without looking like a crazed stalker, the ability to swing on swings at the park without looking like a loser, and a chance to eat free birthday cake.

If this post has taught you anything so far it is that I am actually a child in an adult's body, but thirty-two-year-old women can't go around playing arcade games, unless we are "suffering through it" for our children. Also, I'm hungry for some cake and ice cream. Actually none of that is what I was going for but you know, I get distracted. I am really thinking about toys. No, not those kinds of toys. It is so much fun to sift through rattles and loveys while preparing a baby registry, or explore all the new gadgets while saying wistfully, "They didn't have shit like this when I was a kid". Except you say
"stuff" because, you know, your kid is with you. I am also irrationally excited when I see the retro toy section at Target. (Remember: kid in adult body.) I recently bought a wooden pull along snoopy for myse - I mean my two year old. I remember pulling my own tug a long snoopy around at his age, until our cannibalistic Lhasa Apso chewed it up.

Yep, you can find a lot of great toys out there, but I am here to warn you about the toys that seem great but actually are not. Now you can't trust yelp or any other hokey product review site for this information, because the people posting on those sites are either A), An undercover sales rep getting paid to pose as a satisfied customer (Like, I would totes give it six stars, but it only goes up to five!), or B), an actual parent who has children that LOVE the toy. What the B group doesn't tell you is how they, the parents, actually feel about the toy. I mean what kind of grinch insults classic children's toys? *Meekly raises hand in air. Hey, listen it's our money so we deserve to have an opinion about the toys we have been conned into buying outside of the opinion of little Johnny who thinks it's so much fun. A lot of these toys are classic and actually do seem great. Until you are cutting play dough out of your carpet. Which brings me to item number one:

Play Dough Remember the rubbery smell of play dough? Remember the feel of it in your hands as you rolled snakes and cut shapes? Remember the salty taste when you thought it was a good idea to eat some? No, only me? Okay, then. Play Dough is so great, it allows for creativity and the building of fine motor skills. You can make it yourself using a pound of organic peanut butter. It is in every preschool classroom. Do you know what else is in every preschool classroom? Cheap carpeting. Let's face it, no matter how many times you tell your kids to keep the play dough on the art table on the tile floor, pieces of play dough will inevitably make it into every crevice of your house. A piece will wind up on the carpet where someone will step on it with shoes on, because why not wear shoes in the house? At this point the play dough will be ground into your carpet to be removed only with scissors. Also, the "non-toxic" dye in the play dough will leave a nice stain on your carpet. If you want an excuse to buy a new throw rug, play dough is for you! Before you think I really am Scrooge, I will tell you that my kids have an entire bin of play dough and play dough sets, which they play with in the kitchen under supervision. All is well until I spend the next month sweeping up dried play dough crumbs. Oh, don't get me started on the dried play dough crumbs....

Bath Crayons I naively put this item on my son's first Christmas list. Drawing in the tub? What could be better to enhance the creativity of my future Picasso? Why not kill two birds with one stone and get clean and dirty at the same time? Besides, the crayons wash right off the walls of the bathtub just like they are designed to do, right? *Cue evil laughter of bath crayon manufacturers everywhere. If you feel so inspired after completing the task of yelling at your kid to get in the tub, scrubbing your kid, and yelling at your kid to get out of the tub that you find subsequent fulfillment in forcefully scrubbing your tub, then bath crayons are for you. My son was so creative that he not only wrote on the bathtub, but also the adjacent wall tiles and grout. No big deal, because it washes off, right? I may as well have given him a can of Benjamin Moore. The kids' bathroom looked like a greyhound bus station until a friend told me to try a combination of toothpaste and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. Those things really are magic! Now the grout is only tinted slightly blue...

Bath Squirt Toys They are so cheap and cute until they start spitting tiny flecks of black mold into your nice soapy bubble bath. Mold bath, anyone? All you have to do is throw them out and replace them. Just do it on the sly because whatever fifty cent squirting duck that winds up in the garbage will suddenly be your child's very favorite bath toy, and oh, mom, can't you just clean it?

Toys That Include Microphones Giving a child a microphone is like giving the energizer bunny caffeine. They really don't need anything to amplify their natural noise level. This also applies to toys that sing, beep, or make otherwise obnoxiously loud noises. These toys will instantly be the ones your child gravitates toward. Especially when you are on the phone or trying to "rest your eyes", or fighting a migraine.

Building Sets That Brag the Inclusion of an Obscene amount of Pieces We have all seen those boxes: Includes 1,000 Pieces! The more pieces the smaller, by the way. If you A ), love to crawl around on the floor picking minuscule pieces of plastic out of your carpet for an hour each day, B), have no nerves in your feet, or C), get perverse pleasure out of building miniature Ikea furniture only with less explicit directions, then these play sets are for you! If you are thinking of buying one of these sets when it's on sale, factor in the inevitable ER bill when your toddler shoves a plastic screw up his nose. Also, good luck when your child screams, "Where is that little black triangle piece?"

Toy Food I know, what could be wrong with plastic food? Isn't it great for pretend play? Yes, yes it is. The reason young kids love pretend play is that the lines between fantasy and reality are still blurred. You child will lick and bite the plastic slice of pizza before forcefully offering it to you. Of course this will occur after he has resurrected the cat hair covered toy from underneath the couch.

Toys That Need A Team of Mechanics To Assemble These toys are usually great once they are put together. Just make sure you have your team assembled and no fewer than seven screw drivers handy. You'll need tools, too! These types of toys are especially useful on Christmas morning when everyone is overstimulated and wants the kitchen set up NOW!

Dolls That Pee and Poop Okay, I don't have girls so I can't speak to this one from experience, but just why? A real baby that pees and poops wasn't exciting enough? Besides, dolls are creepy. Think Chucky sans potty training. No thanks.

What are some toys that your kids love and you love to hate? You can tell us.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Do You Suffer From FEELHAPERG?

On Friday, my husband, daughters and I moved my son into his college dorm. On Sunday, we said our goodbyes and walked away. I have been preparing for this day since the moment he was born, or at least I thought I was. But, no matter how much you prepare yourself for that day when you say your last goodbye and part ways, it will be emotional beyond what you ever imagined possible.

Sadness is not what I feel, although my tears may have indicated as such. I am not sad that he is leaving the nest and going on without me. Just like a momma bird, pushing her fledgling out of the nest and hoping it doesn't fall, I too, hope for that same result. My husband and I have nurtured him for eighteen years with as much love, attention and education as we were able to provide. We  have hopefully armed him with compassion, strong morals and values, a great sense of self-worth, a keen desire to absorb and devour an education not offered to all and, of course, survival skills when life becomes challenging. All of those things create the wings from which to fly.

But what is it that I feel? It's all so confusing and new. If I think of my emotions as colors, each one has an assigned color. Sadness would probably be blue, happy would be yellow, angry would be red, proud would be purple, and so on. Most often, I can associate with just one emotion or color, but now, I have so many emotions, that they all spilled and mixed and created a new color. It's a mix of pride, fear, happiness, envy, excitement, relief, eagerness, gratitude, amazement, and Love.

PRIDE: When a child completes certain milestones it's only natural to be proud of his/her accomplishments. I was so proud of my son when he crossed the stage and received his diploma. While we had some hiccups along his school journey, he persevered and made it. His struggles made the walk across the stage mean so much more than just getting a diploma, it meant he (we) survived the uphill marathon that ADD can create and we all came out fairly unscathed. Then came the college acceptance letters - schools that wanted our son to be a part of what they offered. He had a few choices but knew exactly where he needed to be. I am so proud of his hard work, for the young man he has become and for his choice of college. My heart swells with pride.

FEAR: Did I do enough? Teach him enough? Prepare him enough? Love him enough? Was there something I missed that could cause him to fail? Will he be safe? Will he make bad decisions? All these questions keep a sense of fear within me. Bad things can happen while away from my protective care, yes. And I can tell myself that he will be fine, but there will always be a feeling of fear because I am not there to protect him.

HAPPINESS: How can I not be happy for him?! He's going off to college! I am truly happy for him.

EXCITEMENT: I am also excited for him. A new chapter in his life has just begun. There are so many possibilities to explore, so many choices to make, so many new people to meet and forge friendships with. He's also moving to a completely different climate with actual weather that includes snow and rain!

ENVY: After strolling on his campus, I began to get a little envious of him. I loved college, and being on campus brought me back to those carefree days full of activities, people, camaraderie, and a sense of community and school spirit. Just being on campus put a little extra pep in my step with all its energy. I said more than once, how nice it would be to go back in time and experience some of my college days again.

RELIEF: Yes, I am relieved he's away at college. I don't think I could handle having him at home while taking college courses. I would feel as though I would need to micromanage him, and that would create a negative experience in our home and at school. He needs to take control of his education now. Other than paying for it, his education is completely in his hands and now I only have to micromanage two kids instead of three!

EAGERNESS: I am eager to see how he does away from home. I can only assume he will do great things. I can't wait to hear his excitement about people he has met, interesting classes he is taking and fun groups he joins. I am eager to see him shine and succeed and to grow into a self-sufficient, well rounded, educated man.

GRATITUDE: There is so much to be grateful for, and I owe it all to the Big Guy upstairs, God. I was given the gift to be my son's mother. God entrusted him to me and my husband to nurture, and while it has not always been easy, it has been a journey I would take over and over again. I am also grateful for the wonderful schools he attended, the teachers who inspired him, his caring and supportive friends, his extended family, and the opportunities he has had to see the world. I am also grateful for the fantastic university he is attending and them expressing their gratitude to us, the parents, for entrusting our son into their care.

AMAZEMENT: I am truly amazed at my son. When I held him in my arms after he was born, I couldn't even imagine what he would be like in eighteen years. It seemed so far away, with so many bridges to cross and milemarkers to pass. I wondered what he would look like and act like. I wondered if he would be super smart like his dad, or face challenges like his mom. I wondered if he would be into sports or music or technology, if he would be a leader or a follower. There was so much to wonder back then. But now, I know and am amazed at how amazing he truly is and how each step he took in his eighteen years has formed him into who he is today.

LOVE: I love him, plain and simple. No matter what choices he makes, good or bad, I will always love him with all of my heart.

So, with all of these emotions running through me, there is not a way to really say how I feel without going into great detail with each emotion. I decided to create my own emotion by creating a new word using the first letter of each emotion and arranging it to my liking. I first came up with flagherpee, but that sounded like what someone at a doctor's office would say when you are giving a urine sample. Nope, that would not work. Then I came up with feegraphel, refhapglee or feelhagper, but those didn't do it for me. Finally, I got it. FEELHAPERG! It's perfect! I feel happy and erg at the same time! I have created a new name for my emotions, so now, when someone asks me how I feel about my son being away at college I can say, "I'm feelhaperg about it."

If you need to share my new emotion, feel free. I am certain I'm not the only one experiencing feelhaperg. If you suffer from feelhaperg, please share in the comments!