Where each day's colors blend to become "My Stained Glass Life"

For the love of words

I’ve recently become involved in a new relationship.  Jon is actually incredibly understanding about it, although it keeps me from sleeping with him at times.  I find myself thinking about my new love instead of my husband.  It distracts me at all hours of the day and night.  I find my mind wandering at the oddest moments, while I’m washing dishes or picking kids up from school.  It makes it hard to concentrate on the task at hand.  It’s all very enticing and alluring.

My relationship is with words.  I have discovered a renewed love of words and stories.  I’ve always been a reader, losing myself in someone else’s life through a book.  But I realized this week how much more it is than that.  My revelation began with Lulu Grace.  Watching her grow into a little girl has been a treat for me.  It is like I am watching myself as a child.  She is so much like me at times that Jon has to stand back and laugh.  He loves knowing that he can see a child-like me through her.  One of the biggest pieces of that is her love for words.  She is talking, talking, talking all of the time.  (For those who don’t personally know me, that characteristic is NOT like me.  I would prefer to never talk if I could get away with it.)  She loves to make up songs, poems, and will repeat rhyming phrases over and over to herself, savoring the words as they roll off of her tongue.  She is learning to read.  It has been a struggle to help her understand the concept of letters making up words, but all of a sudden it clicked.  And now, she can’t get enough of books.  She is learning that joy of entering another world through words.

As I watched her the other day, reading Dr. Suess, I had a flashback to my childhood.  Every night for several years, I couldn’t wait to climb into bed with my favorite friend.  This friend comforted me, made me laugh, helped me feel like all was right with the world, as I dozed off to sleep.  My favorite friend was Shel Silverstein.  His book, Where the Sidewalk Ends, was my Bible.  I walked over to Lulu’s bookcase and searched for my book.  Angels were singing, a glow eminating from the pages as I reached out for my long-lost companion.  I carried it over to Lulu and told her about my favorite book and how I would like to share it with her.  So we sat and read, giggling, looking at the crazy illustrations.  I could see her begin to fall in love with the cadence of the words, the wackiness of the stories these words tell, as she repeated at the end of every poem, “One more!”

The first poem in Where the Sidewalk Ends is called Invitation.  As a little girl, it was my ritual to begin the journey of entering into my favorite world by reading this poem first every night.

Invitation

If you are a dreamer, come in,

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,

A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in!

Come in!

And so this is where I find myself, lured in to spinning a tale, with a childlike wonder over words, the possibility that they hold as I write them on a page, the world to be created through words that describe the images I see in my head.  I’m relieved that my husband is so supportive of this new relationship, although at times it takes me worlds away from our own lives.  He can see when I’m wandering off to some other place.  Sometimes he calls me back, but more often than not lately, he lets me go.  What a gift – to be allowed to share life with your two greatest loves.

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When I started dating Jon 28 years ago, I knew that he was a hunter and an avid outdoorsman.  I did not grow up in a household of hunters, which in Wisconsin is pretty rare!  So I have to say that I did not truly understand what I was getting myself into.  Even as we dated, I watched as his family would prepare for the big week, packing, re-packing, and unpacking.  Every detail was planned, from the over-abundance of food, the truckload of outdoor apparel, sighting in the guns, target shooting, the travel route to the Big Woods.  It all seemed a little excessive to me, but when I saw the joy it brought to Jon to come back with a deer, it was all worth it.  The hunter-gatherer instinct in him is strong.

It wasn’t until we were married, and then had children, that I began to understand the depth of the ordeal, for a deer hunter’s wife!  Just to give an example of what the past 3 weeks have been like…

In order to reduce the stress and bickering surrounding preparing for such a big trip, I got a jump start on preparations.  What does that mean?  Well, the Big Woods (an extended trailer with no running water or electricity) can make things tricky for cooking and cleaning-up meals.  So I prepare as much ahead of time for them as possible.  So far I have sacked away in the freezer Chili, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Chicken Noodle Soup, Venison Potpie, pumpkin bread, and cinnamon bread.  I still have to make a few batch of cookies and some muffins.  Yesterday was spent grocery shopping for the troop – which resulted in a $200 grocery bill and grocery bags packed with the essential dry goods that will sit in my dining room until they leave on Friday.  Today’s agenda is laundry.  Did you know that you can’t hunt if your clothes have been washed in anything other than no-scent laundry detergent?  I didn’t!  But so I’m told.  So today I will wash clean clothes to remove any scent of our humanness.  Right now I have 4 laundry baskets full of long underwear, sweatshirts, pants 3 sizes too big, and wool socks, in addition to the every-day clothes they will wear for 9 days.  I have suitcases spread out on my bed, which must be quickly removed to the screen porch once I put the newly-washed clean clothes into them, to avoid picking up our stink (and so that our 6 month old kitten doesn’t decide to make it her new napping place).  There are strict rules surrounding this whole ritual, most of which make no sense to me.  Sometimes I don’t think they make sense to Jon, either, but it is the way he learned to do it.  He must carry on the tradition…

So after an expensive, time-consuming process to get the gang up for their 9 days of leisure, I will then spend 2 days trying to get my house back to my standard of living.  The remainder of the time, Lulu Grace and I will try to spend some quality time together.  She doesn’t have school next week, so she will have sleep-overs in my room.  (Yes, this is for my benefit.  I can’t sleep without a warm body next to me!)  We will have an at-home spa day.  We will go to see a show.  We will visit with her cousins.  We will have Thanksgiving with my family.  We will sleep late, eat what we want when we want, and enjoy each other’s company.  This is important, because at the end of the 9 days, they bring all of their junk home so I can reverse the whole process.  I’m going to need my rest!

So why do I do it?  Why don’t I wash my hands of the whole affair?  Trust me, I have considered it many times over, including last night as I bickered with Jon over whose long underwear was whose.  I do it because it brings my husband joy.  I do it because it allows my children to slow their pace in this crazy world.  I do it so that Queenie and Bass get to spend some precious time with their grandfather, dad, aunts and uncle.  But most importantly, I do it so that Jon, Queenie and Bass can create memories together that they will always carry with them.

Queenie’s first deer

This is the photo of Jon and Queenie with her first deer.  She and Jon still reminisce about their experience together in the woods when they brought this deer home.  Jon loves when Queenie asks him for advice or looks to him for answers about hunting.  He really is quite a hunter.  He amazes me sometimes with all of the knowledge he holds, waiting for moments to pass it on.  He has instilled in them that safety is always first.  He has taught them the importance of respecting animals by shooting only if you know you have the shot.  If you don’t get a clean shot (which will happen to even the best hunter), you track and track until you find it.  You do not waste what God has given you, but utilize as much of your kill as possible, for food, suet for the birds, tanning the hide.  He has taught them respect for nature, the ebb and flow of life in the forest, the give and take of the life cycle.  These are all lessons that I could not teach them.  They have been taught values that are not taught in our every day lives.  If we want something, we go to the store and buy it, without ever thinking about where it came from.  These experiences Queenie and Bass have had with their father will help instill values of respect, grace, gratitude, and commitment.

Bass is not a hunter.  I don’t think he will ever be able to shoot a living thing.  But his time with Jon, learning to drive on the gravel roads, playing cards, listening to the adults tell their stories, is so important in his life right now.  At home he’s too cool and tough to want that interaction.  But there’s something magical about the woods, that time away from the daily stress and anxiety of life, that allows Jon to sneak in to Bass’ world for just a little while.  Bass will spend time with his grandpa, fishing the creek, getting water from the spring, maybe heading into town for lunch and a movie.  He and Grandpa love to just hang together, doing every day stuff.  Grandpa is getting older, struggling with daily life with painful joints and a lot of fatigue from a heart condition.  I know that Bass, even if he is too cool, appreciates his relationship with his grandpa.  I think he is beginning to understand that Grandpa is not always going to be here.  I hope that as much as he and Jon are able to spend some time together, he will create some special memories with Grandpa.

After all of the packing, cooking, washing, and preparations are done, I’m going to breathe a sigh of relief that I was able to pull it all off, get them on the road, and then wait to hear the stories they come back with.

Pep Talk

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Well, we are 7 days into NaNoWriMo, and I am finding that I have put up lots of roadblocks to achieving my goals.  This is nothing new.  I do this to myself on a regular basis, procrastinating, avoiding the difficult things in life.  However, this time, I am hell-bent if I am going to let myself get in my own way.

Today, waking up and dreading putting fingers to keyboard, I decided to yet again stonewall.  So we have more clean laundry than I have places to put it.  I have emptied the garbage, played with the dog, cuddled the kitty, watched the election news, looked up fancy recipes for dinner, made plans to make pumpkin bread.  I have checked my e-mail and facebook (every time I sit down to the computer to write), and selected my writing music for the day, read through some pep talks on NaNoWriMo’s website, reviewed the writers who have completed it and been published, made my cup of steaming tea, all looking for the inspiration to get back to the task at hand.  I have yet to write today, or yesterday, or the day before.

I decided to get some fresh air, sitting on the front porch wrapped in a blanket (it’s 40 degrees and damp out), watching the lake and listening to the flock of geese land in the water.  As I sat there reflecting on why I’m struggling so much, I reached a conclusion.

The background of this novel is based on the death of my sister, Beccee, who died of lung cancer almost 3 years ago.  It is a novel about sisters, relationships, love, life, and loss.  I have built the basis of my story around what-ifs and should-haves, a way to go back in time and heal the loss of my dear sister and friend.  I ask myself, what right do I have to write this story down?

I found a quote a few months ago, that I framed and put on my vanity.  It says,

“If you want to write, you can.  Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is.  Who am I?  What right have I to speak?  Who will listen to me if I do?  You’re a human being, with a unique story to tell.  And you have every right.  If you speak with passion, many of us will listen.  We need stories to live – all of us.  We live by story.  Yours enlarges the circle.”  Richard Rhodes

So my doubts go to whether this story is mine or hers.  As I sat on the porch, fingers tingling from the cold, nose running, tears welling up and spilling over, what I realized is that it is neither.  This story is fiction, based on my own desire to go back and do things differently, say things differently, to love and be loved by my sister before losing her.  I have learned from Beccee’s death that life is short, life is precious, and we don’t get second chances in life.  It’s done and gone.  But I can create my own second chance.  I can write what I know.  I can have a do-over, even if it’s only on paper, in the hopes that someone will not make the same mistakes I have after reading my words.

So what is stopping me?  Fear…

~ of feeling the pain.

~of regret.

~of not doing Beccee’s memory justice.

~of learning secrets about myself in the process.

What do I need to remember as I write this story?

~that my words are valuable.

~that pain cannot be buried.  It is always there, until you face it head on.

~doing what you are afraid of is hard, but necessary to live your dreams.

~just WRITE – anything and everything.  That’s what editing is for.

~this is FICTION, with threads of your truth, of the depth of beauty and sorrow, woven throughout.

And now that I have that dealt with, maybe the words will come more easily, the what-ifs will not be painful but lovely new memories.

“That was the day she made herself the promise to live more from intention and less from habit.”

So, yes, I fell off the face of the earth for the summer, and well, actually most of the fall as well!  But it was wonderful.  I spent some great time with the kids over the summer, got Bass set-up with a great schedule for school this fall, have gotten numerous projects done (I know, I know, I should have been letting you in on them), and am now entering a new adventure.

November is National Novel Writing Month.  The goal is over the course of the month, I complete a 50,000 word novel.  This has been a goal and dream of mine for many years, and now I’m diving in.  I am super excited and have already begun writing.  Okay, I may be cheating a little by getting a jump start, but I also know that being the mother of 3 kids, there are going to be days where writing just doesn’t fit into the schedule.  I have found that reaching the 1,600 word a day goal is really not that tough yet.  If I can commit about 2 hours a day, I’m in good shape.  The words just seem to leap out of my fingers and onto the page.  The hardest part is getting myself to sit down and actually work!  I have suddenly found ways to get my housework, laundry, and working out done.  It is all a way to avoid sitting at my computer to write.  I highly recommend this strategy if you would like a clean home!

I am working on creating a routine prior to November, a way to fit all of my daily schtuff in and still find my 2 hours.  I find that once I start writing, it is hard to stop and go back to real life.  It’s easy to get lost in the story of my characters and want to stay in their life for awhile.

I would love some cheerleaders to keep me going on those hard days, when I wonder what the point is to writing it all down, where I doubt my own ability to pull it all off, and for the days when life just gets in the way.  For those interested in following my journey, please feel free to check in with me here.  I will be posting my daily word count and probably even some short excerpts of my work.  The working title of my novel is The Sister Dinners.  It is a story that will reveal the vein of grief connecting the lives of 3 women as they contemplate life, love, and loss.

Interested in learning more about National Novel Writing Month, check out their website at www.nanowrimo.org.  For now, I’m going to make my cup of tea, tune out the world around me, and get to work!

In the past year, our family has begun to look carefully at what we are putting in and on our bodies for a number of reasons.  With the passing of my sister due to cancer, we are looking at how we can reduce our exposure to toxins and chemicals in our environment that put us at increased risk of cancer.  I have lost some of the most significant women in my life to cancer, and I don’t ever want to add my daughters to that list!  We also are looking for any environmental links that may help relieve some of the symptoms of autism that the kids struggle with.  I have been struggling with health issues for almost 2 years related to a hormone imbalance and endocrine issues, both of which have been linked to exposure to the use of paraben, a preservative used in over 13,000 cosmetic products.

We figured that if there are ways that we can reduce the amount of chemicals we use in our daily lives, that is a good thing.  So we have started in baby steps.  We started with the obvious things, like reading food labels, buying fresh not preserved, etc.  Then we began looking at the things we use in our home on a daily basis.  We started with cleaning products and laundry detergent.  These seemed like big inconveniences to change, and I didn’t really think I would like the results.  But I DID!  It takes less time for me to make a batch of laundry detergent or whip up some air freshener than the trip to the store to buy it.  And then I realized how much money I was saving by not buying a $12 bottle of laundry detergent, $6 bottle of bathroom cleaner, and the $5 bottle of air freshener.  I realized how much less waste we were producing by not replacing the spray bottles of cleaner or gallon jugs of laundry soap.  I also like the results I get from my homemade products better than the store bought.

So then I started researching personal care items.  Boy, have I gotten an education!  One of the most significant exposures to chemicals that we face on a daily basis is our personal care products!  Shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, cosmetics, nail polish, moisturizers, sunscreen, perfume, and more!  These products are marketed as necessary for daily life.  The average person uses 15 to 25 different products each day that contain at least 200 different chemicals!  And only one percent of the chemicals that are found in our cosmetics are safety-tested ingredients.  We slather, brush, rub, and beautify ourselves with CHEMICALS!  We pour the stuff on our bodies, layer upon layer, increasing our exposure to toxins and preventing our body from releasing toxins, on a daily basis!  Not only are we exposing ourselves to all of these chemicals, we are mixing them to form a cocktail of chemicals.

This is a scary thought.  The thought that the products I love, the perfume I can’t leave the house without, my favorite nail polish color, my beloved shampoo, could all be harmful to me is overwhelming.  Almost every brand of these products on the market today contain harmful chemicals. Everything from Lead in lipsticks to SLS in everything that foams (shampoo, toothpaste, shower gel),  Mercury in Mascara, Propylene Glycol in moisturizers along with DEA, TEA, MEA, PEG, Fluoride, Mineral Oil, Coal Tar, Formaldehyde, Aluminium.   The list goes on and on.  

The European Union recently passed a law banning the use of suspected CMRs —  carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins — in any cosmetics sold in the  25-member EU. The major U.S. cosmetics companies that sell abroad have had to reformulate their products to conform to these guidelines, but most haven’t changed their formulas sold in the U.S.  The FDA does not review the safety of cosmetic ingredients.

So how do you know what to look for?  Marketing of products tends to be misleading.  We buy things that are advertised as natural, hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, or organic, thinking that we are making the right choices.  But it is important to read the ingredient labels.  Below is a list of chemicals that you do NOT want to find listed in the ingredients.

According to the Safe Cosmetics Campaign, avoid the following chemicals in  cosmetics whenever possible:

Butyl acetate, Butylated hydroxytoluene, Coal tar, Cocamide DEA/lauramide DEA, Diazolidinyl urea, Ethyl acetate, Formaldehyde, Parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl and butyl), Petrolatum, Phthalates, Propylene glycol, Sodium laureth/sodium laurel sulfate, Talc, Toluene, Triethanolamine

We LOVE our pretty things.  It is hard to imagine not wearing make-up, not using nailpolish, not coloring my hair.  There are some things that I don’t anticipate us EVER giving up.  I don’t see any of us as vain, but we do feel better about ourselves when we look pretty.  However, we have decided that we want to be informed about what we are buying and minimize our exposure to chemicals that are known to be harmful.  We are beginning to wean ourselves off of some of the daily chemical cocktails we are pouring onto our bodies.  We are also getting involved in The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to voice our concern and encourage change in how the cosmetics industry is regulated.

Over the next few months, I invite you to join us in The Beauty Project.  Through The Beauty Project, I will chronicle some of our changes, how we are adjusting to doing without our favorite products, and what we are replacing them with.  We have already experienced some epic fails, but we have also found some new favorite things!  I’m excited about our journey and where this is leading.  I encourage you to make just one simple change today.  You’ll find it’s easier than you thought it would be.

For more info on how to get involved in the The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, click here!

One of the most challenging and heartbreaking behaviors of Asperger’s that we see in Bass is anger.  It is a part of Asperger’s that frustrates me, scares me, and pisses me off!  For a long time I did not know how to help Bass manage his anger.  But without even knowing I was doing it, I was slowly giving him the tools he needed.  It’s amazing how that happens!

When Bass gets angry, it is like trying to defuse a bomb before it explodes.  I have learned to watch for some of the physical signs that anger is building, but sometimes it just comes out of the blue.  It can be really scary for Bass to have such overpowering emotions, especially when he does not fully comprehend what he is angry about.  It was really scary for me, and for a long time I allowed that fear to control how we dealt with his anger.  Once I took that control back, we all feel more in control!

I talked in an earlier post about fight or flight and the physiological responses of the body.  It was an important piece of the puzzle for me in helping him and the rest of the family to understand how and why this happens.  So I decided to begin the same process in learning to cope with Bass’ anger.

The first is to understand the basic phases of anger and how it plays out in kids on the spectrum.   I will walk through what some of the key things we have learned about what a meltdown looks like for us and some of the tools we use to help as we encounter each phase.

THE TRIGGER ~  In children with ASDs the trigger may be too much stress, getting stuck in a thought pattern, sensory overload, anxiety, the inability to communicate feelings/needs, frustration over social issues, or any combination of these things.

ESCALATION ~ Escalation can go from zero to  60 in a milli-second!  You may not even have time to process what may have triggered it.  You are busy trying to head it off before it reaches crisis phase.  There are times when I am able to step in at this point and help Bass de-escalate – if I can get him distracted or off-course, help him by giving him the words to express his frustration, offer him a snack or a cold drink, give him space and time to use his tools to de-escalate.

Bass sometimes tries to de-escalate with food.  He will head to the kitchen and begin tearing apart the cupboards, looking for something to soothe the angry beast building inside him.  We have worked hard at getting him away from that tendency.  His tendency to gain weight is already high because of his meds.  So we have been trying to educate him on healthy choices every day.  We just don’t even bring the high carb, high sugar foods in the house anymore, because during a rage, these are the things he looks for.  I have found that keeping him nourished throughout the day with small snacks and making sure he stays well hydrated in general makes for a happier Bass!  He is pushed over the edge much quicker if his reserves are low!

But there are also times where no matter what he does or I do, there is no stopping it.

This is DEFINITELY NOT the time to begin arguing or questioning his feelings.  He does not need to be told that he is being irrational or silly.  He needs to be respected and listened to, even when he is being irrational and silly.  To him, whatever has upset him is life and death.  Not validating that is a quick way to escalate the situation!

We also try to eliminate all outside distractions.  When we are home, we ask his sisters to find somewhere else in the house to be.  We try to limit him to a specific area, instead of him flying all around the house.  There are times where he cannot get his thoughts to come out through spoken words.  We encourage him to write down what he needs to say.  We encourage him to listen to music.  We do not put a limit, within reason, on the volume of his music.  This works a lot of times at helping him de-escalate.

If Bass is able to stop the cycle at the Escalation phase, this is the point where we reward him for making good choices.  We verbally thank him for taking a time-out, praise him for keeping his emotions in balance, and find a way to reward it.  The reward can be as simple as suggesting that a hug would be good (we don’t hug him uninvited, but we allow plenty of opportunities for him to hug us), a ride in the car listening to music with either his dad or I, a drive to a local restaurant for some quiet time to sit with coffee and a snack and talk.  We have had some of our best talks and breakthroughs by hanging out at a local restaurant.  It is a safe place for both of us.  Our discussions are civil and heartfelt.  We do not yell or get upset.  We have talked about bullying, middle school, puberty, girls, emotions, life, relationships, family, friends, and so much more.  We also use this tool during the post crisis phase as a way to discuss what Bass is feeling, to help him identify his emotions and learn better ways of managing them.  This has been invaluable time for us and for Bass.  Never underestimate the value of your time in your child’s life.  They listen more than you think they do.  Being able to relay some of my own experiences with bullying, relationships, family, and anger management at his age have helped him to realize that he is NOT alone.  Being able to put myself back in that place and help him understand that I really do realize what he is going through has been invaluable to him and to me.

But, alas, we are not always able to get him to de-escalate!  And then we are in CRISIS MODE…

CRISIS MODE ~ He has fully ramped up.  We clear everyone out!  Meltdown has occurred!

We have provided clear rules of behavior for his rages, ensuring that he does not take his rage out on people.  There is never to be physical violence against another person, and he follows that rule.  He is not allowed online when he is in a rage.  If he wishes to express his feelings, he needs to do it directly with a person, not online.  He is not allowed to destroy property.  He is not allowed to leave the ‘safe zone.’

In the past he has become physical.  He has kicked holes in the wall, broken doors, smashed glass, broken a skateboard in half, turned mattresses off of beds, knocked dressers over.  As he has gotten older, his meltdowns have gotten scarier, for him and us!  He is over 200 pounds and 6 feet tall.  His strength is enhanced by his rage.  As we have learned how to better cope with his anger and help him learn some tools to manage his emotions, we have seen less and less physical destruction.

He has a punching bag in the garage.  He has a kicking bag in the back yard.  He can walk laps around the outside of the house.  He can crank his music.  He can throw eggs at a tree.  He can scream into a pillow.  He can spend some quiet time with his dog.  We have even taken a whole watermelon and allowed him to smash it with a hammer.  It was so much fun and such a mess, that the crisis was quickly averted.

Crisis mode is also the point where fight or flight kicks in for Bass.  We reinforce with him at this point that if he leaves our property, the ‘safe zone,’ we have no choice but to call the police in to assist us.  There has been a time or two after putting this into place where he just cannot pull it together and leaves the ‘safe zone.’  It was really hard the first time for me to call the police, but I did it!  He is crafty when he takes off, and it has taken several hours to locate him at times.  When he is located, he really panics.

It is really important that your local police be educated on Asperger’s or ASD’s, no matter how young your child is.  This is your opportunity to begin that education process, so that when or if you ever need help, the tools are already in place.  Call your local police department and ask for an Emergency Form.  They will give you a form to fill out, providing them with details they would need in case they are called in to assist you.  If you have a younger child or a child who is non-verbal, it is a good idea to create an emergency contact card or bracelet that they carry at all times.  Make sure to list on the card/bracelet that the child is on the spectrum.

There was a time that Bass was out of control after being located by police.  The things he was saying and doing were really just him panicking.  If the police had not been educated, he would have found himself handcuffed and thrown in the back of a squad car.  He would have been institutionalized immediately.  Because our local police department has taken steps needed to educate their staff, they handled the situation with grace and dignity.  They were able to convince Bass that he needed to return home with us.  They were able to talk him down.  They allowed us to call our counselor in to visit with Bass (at midnight) in order to assure his safety, rather than bringing a strange social worker in from the County.  Because they knew us and the situation, they were able to determine that the statements he was making about what awful parents we are were unfounded.  We were able to get their support instead of their suspicion.  They were able to help us help Bass.

RECOVERY ~ It may take longer for kids on the spectrum to recover from a meltdown.  It can seem like forever to reach this point, and even when you get there, you’re walking on pins and needles trying to avoid a new flare-up.  It is so important for Bass to have time alone to recover.  He needs a moment to breathe, to allow his body to recover, his breathing to return to normal, his brain to relax, and for him to realize that he made it through the crisis.

The key is to listen to your child.  Allow them to tell you what they need at this point.  If they don’t want to be touched, don’t touch them.  If they want solitude, allow it.  If they want you to help them settle down, create a soothing routine.  Some of the things that have helped us when Bass was little and with Lulu is running our fingertip over their eyebrow, rubbing their back, reading, music, quiet time outside under a tree, swinging.  It takes some trial and error, but you are the expert on your child.  You will find the ‘thing’ that helps in this phase.  Trust your instincts.

POST CRISIS ~ Think about how you feel after a meltdown with your child.  You are drained, exhausted, relieved its over, feeling a little guilty for what some of your thoughts or reactions may have been, sad that you weren’t able to stop it.  Your child is likely feeling all of this and more.  They are tired, emotionally spent, physically depleted, and feeling a lot of uncertainty and remorse.  It is important to help them begin to replenish their physical energy with a snack and a cold drink. They will need reassurance that you still love them.

At the end of an episode, I always take a small snack and some milk or juice and just set it next to Bass.  I don’t even say anything to him.  I watch how much energy it takes for him to try to stay in control.  And when he’s not able to stay in control, his energy reserves are depleted!  I have found that in order to help him get back on track, replenishing his body is NECESSARY!

I have also found it necessary to reassure him.  The past few rages we have experienced, Bass’ outbursts are hurtful and filled with rage.  His vocabulary has become very ‘colorful’ during his rages.  This devastated me the first time I heard it, because that has NEVER been allowed in our house.  Even the word stupid is a big no-no.  But once the floodgate opened and he realized that those colorful words were a real expression of his anger, they seem to just spew forth.

However, when he is in post-crisis, he really beats himself up over what he has said.  He knows that the things he said aren’t true.  He knows that he would never use those words in daily life.  He knows that the things he says are very hurtful.  And he is so remorseful and disappointed in himself.  We take a moment to reflect on what he could have done or said differently.  We discuss that language and words hurt.  And then we close the topic by reassuring him that there is never anything that he can do or say that will make us stop loving him.  He still beats himself up for a day or two, but he realizes over time that we forgive him and that he needs to forgive himself.

This is a fairly new thing for him, and I am confident that just as we have guided him through the rules of physical violence, we will help him find more constructive ways of dealing with his anger.  I think the next tool we are going to add to our arsenal is that he can spew whatever made-up words he chooses, but he is NOT allowed to swear.  He’s a pretty creative kid, so I’m curious to see what kinds of words he comes up with.

It has helped me tremendously to consciously recognize the stages that Bass’ anger goes through, so that I can help him recognize and become more aware of them.  We have begun to replace some of the angry thoughts with more positive statements that he can repeat to himself.  We have given him tools to help him realize that these feelings are overwhelming, but they aren’t going to last forever.  And probably most importantly, I have stopped being afraid for long enough to take control of the situation so that he feels less out of control!

When you are soothing the angry beast, you can feel lost and alone.  Please know that you are not.  There are many parents out there who are learning right along with you.  Feel free to use the form attached here to begin a ‘Soothing My Angry Beast” book with your child.  Print out sheets as you need them, fill them out together, and create a binder for your child to review.  This can begin to give you both an insight into what some triggers may be, what body cues your child is recognizing as their anger builds, and some of the things that are working at helping them to soothe themselves.

Soothing Angry Beast

Fruit of Your Labor

Okay, I have a confession to make, and I’m going to make myself sound dumb.  But oh, well, we all have these moments!  I’m just not too proud to share mine.

One of my favorite times of the year is the beginning of June.  May rolls around, and I am anxious for it to end.  Why?  Because the beginning of June brings STRAWBERRY PICKING!  This is one of my all-time favorite things to do!  I started going strawberry picking with my mom in my teens.  It was always a big event, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I reached adulthood!  The first year I was married, I decided I was going to be a grown-up and venture out on my own strawberry picking excursion!  I was ill-prepared for what I was getting myself into!  I went on a 90 degree day at about noon.  I went without sunscreen or bug spray.  And I went by myself.  Since then, I have learned that I broke all of the rules of strawberry picking.

There is a reason my mom dragged us out into the fields before 8 a.m.  It’s because by 10 a.m. it is scorching out there!  Rule no. 1!

I have an allergic reaction to mosquito bites, resulting in big, ugly red welts that are extremely painful and itchy!  In case you’ve never gone strawberry picking before, mosquitos love to live in the midst of those berries, where it’s all warm and damp, surrounded by layers of hay on the ground.  Mosquito paradise.  Rule no. 2!

While some people may enjoy the solitude of berry picking on their own, I believe it must be a group venture!  Go with your mom, sister, kids, or hubby!  Over the years, my kids and hubby have been my group, with a sister/mom thrown in for good measure.  It is so much more enjoyable to endure the back-breaking labor of berry picking with your loved ones!  You get to watch your kids gobble up the berries as fast as they pick them.  Your husband will appreciate that strawberry jam on a winter morning so much more if he has picked the berries with you.  But more than that, it’s the experience of doing it together.  It builds memories like no other.  Rule no. 3!

My first year of berry picking was a learning experience.  I made one or two batches of jam, sweating over the stove, hating every moment of it.  But something drew me back every year.  I think it is the satisfaction of hearing that lid POP on the fresh jars of jam on the kitchen counter as I sweat over the next batch!  Every year, the stockpile of jam grows!  And when I have filled up all of my jars with jam, I freeze the rest for strawberry shortcake in the dead of winter!

And so yesterday, my husband was a little annoyed with me when I announced that the ‘berry hotline’ said that berries were ready to be picked.  He clearly had other plans for the day, and he also despises the fact that I love to fly by the seat of my pants.  Plans?  What are those?  Plans are made to be broken.  But loving me means that when the berries are ready, we go!  The berry hotline clearly stated that due to a frost late in the season, berries were less than ideal and few in quantity.  After being almost jamless last year because of a bad berry crop, I refused to let it happen again!  So, we were ready and out of the house at a speed I generally do not move at 8:00 on a Sunday morning!

Unfortunately, I threw my back out 2 weeks ago and am still babying it along.  I decided we would just buy the pre-picked and head back home.  But Lulu Grace had other plans!  She was GOING to pick berries.  So we headed out into the field, and Jon and Lulu picked away!  Lulu resisted the urge to eat the berries for awhile, but by the end of the excursion she was in berry heaven – juice running down her chin, berry stains on her shirt!  I tried to pick, but my back squealed in pain after about 5 minutes!  So I had the joy of standing on the edge of the field and watching from the sidelines for a change.  It was fascinating to watch people work.  An older man with one arm helping his wife, very diligent in their task.  Two young families with 4 children under the age of 3, trying to keep their little ones from trampling the berry plants.  A woman who clearly had not been berry picking before, or she never would have worn the pants she had on (the worst plumber butt I have ever witnessed).  A couple on the heavier side, standing up every 5 minutes to soothe their aching backs and knees.  A mom and her teenage daughter working in silence side by side.  Each of them building their own memories.

Lulu insisted on picking a whole flat of berries, which I made into jam last night!  We had toast with fresh strawberry jam for breakfast.  As I was spreading the jam this morning, the verse from Psalms 128:2 popped into my head.  “You will eat the fruit of your labor.  Blessings and prosperity will be yours.”

So here’s my confession.  I paused from the busyness of life for long enough to fully understand the meaning of the verse.  Not that I didn’t understand what it meant before, but I actually realized how by fully living each moment and appreciating all that we are given each day, life has a depth and meaning that we can easily just stumble past as we live our lives.  Work is just work, unless you are able to find the joy behind it – sweaty brow, aching back, mosquito bites, and all!

We were blessed by our berry picking experience in more ways than I can count.  We had a wonderful morning together.  Lulu will carry those memories with her always, the way I have, of working side by side with her mom and dad.  Lulu got to visit with some newborn calves, even daring to let them suck on her little fingers! We carry that memory of what a warm, juicy berry tastes like fresh out of the field.  I thoroughly enjoyed people watching and gained a new perspective on the whole experience.  And we will all relive that experience with every bite of jam we eat over the next year.   In the end, the labor of picking berries and making jam is nothing compared to the blessings that pour from the experience and the feeling of richness and prosperity that comes with opening a ruby red jar of jam on a cold winter morning!

Berry picking season has just begun.  You should go today…