- Every milestone is worth celebrating. It doesn’t matter how small.
- Perfect is not real.
- Sometimes, my self-care is THE most important thing.
- Take the long view. Big picture is everything.
- This, too, shall pass. It always does.
- Humor goes a long way.
- Be responsible for the energy I bring into a room.
- Be gentle.
- Notice what my face is doing.
- I get to be human. I get to be human. I get to be human.
- Forgive myself.
- Forgive my kid.
- Other kids and families might do things differently not better, not “normal” just different.
- Advocate for my kid with persistence, patience, and love.
- Saying no is really important.
- Saying yes is really important.
- Get on the floor and play.
- I’m not in control of, well…barely anything.
- People act out when they are afraid.
- I act out when I am afraid.
- People stare. Smile back.
- I am a superhero.
- My kid is working as hard as I am.
- Hold onto joy every time it shows up.
- Get help.
Before my daughter came into my life, I worked for a decade as a theater teaching artist. Children ages two to twenty-two of every race, gender, ability and learning style taught me to be a compassionate human. I got used to thinking on my feet, tuning into their particular needs, and speaking from my heart. All of this prepared me for parenting.
“That sign says Black Lives Matter, Mommy. What about me? Does my life matter, too?”
I remember the day my little girl asked me this question. She was almost seven and was learning to read more every day. She was in that exciting threshold between reading nothing and reading everything. Spacing out as we moved through the world and noticing every billboard, menu, and sign. This was a big opportunity for me, too. She was asking me, her White Mama, to unpack the Black Lives Matter movement while we waited in line at our favorite mac n cheese spot.
A big part of why my wife and I choose to stay in Oakland, CA after adopting our little girl was to make sure conversations like these were part of our everyday experience. We’re commitment to living on a street with folks of all races, sending her to a diverse school, and making sure she has teachers who look like her. My wife grew up as one of few Black people in an all-White suburb. This was hard on her. She wanted something different for her daughter.
Recently, I hit a rough patch with my confidence. First, it was facing Imposter Syndrome in my new career path as a freelance writer. Then, it was being the new mom of a deeply hurt child. Then, it was facing health challenges that kept me in bed for nearly 6 weeks. Throw the Presidential election of 2016 into the mix, and I was a goner. Confidence shot. There was nothing I wanted to write and nowhere I wanted to go.
Luckily, my wise self and life coach reminded me that there is no need to suffer in silence. I reached out to my biggest fans. I texted them the horrible things my inner critic was saying and admitted how much fear was taking over. Of course, they responded with a ton of love, humor, and solidarity. I may have felt pitiful but I was not alone in my self-pity. That mattered. Slowly, as allergens fill the air and cherry blossoms start to bloom, I am emerging. I’m ready to get my confidence back this spring.
I can take baby steps to rebuilding my confidence and model these same tools for my daughter, while I’m at it! Wanna follow along? Check out my (usually, probably, almost always) daily Facebook Live videos each morning in April and I’ll share the winding path to believing in myself again.
Let’s see what a mama who actively works on confidence can do for the little girl who’s watching.
Fat. It’s the word I dreaded most of my life. The word I spent the most time thinking about, worrying about, planning around, crying over and nearly destroying my relationship to myself about. Like so many of us, I spent my time, my money and endless hours of energy on a decade worth of diets. Now that I’ve given up dieting, I can spend that same time, energy and money on things that matter to me more than what size my body is.
I’ve learned to eat intuitively. I’ve learned that sometimes my trauma takes over and it’s nearly impossible for me to notice if I’m hungry or full. I’ve learned to forgive myself for emotionally overeating. I’ve learned there are no bad foods. I’ve learned to enjoy eating as a source of pleasure. I’ve learned about lots of other things I get hungry for- play, intimacy, creativity, adventure and most often…solitutde. I’ve learned to appreciate and respect my body at every size. And since I have been sizes 8-16, I have a lot of practice with this.
For me, the fat is no longer a problem. I honestly believe I am gorgeous at any size. My doctor tells me I am in good health and I notice that if I’m managing my stress well, I feel good. I feel happy. I am grateful for what I have and what my body can do.
So when my daughter sweetly said to me one day, “Mommy, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but do you think you’re fat?” I took a deep breath. I smiled. After 8 years of disordered eating, chronic dieting, shame and feeling like a failure because I couldn’t control my body, I was prepared for this moment.
When I started the transition out of dieting and into claiming my life as a well-fed woman, I committed to self-love above everything else. I knew how to reflect that back to my daughter. My response came naturally, powerfully, easily. I scooped her into my arms and answered with confidence.
“Oh, baby, I’m so glad you asked. Yes, it’s true that my body has some extra fat. I like to call it my curves and I don’t mind it one bit. You know why? Because I believe all bodies are okay. I know I look beautiful just how I am. And I take good care of myself to stay healthy and strong. I love my arms that can pick you up and swing you around. My lap is strong enough to hold you. My soft belly is good for snuggling. I celebrate everything my body can do.”
She accepted that. Sometimes she even tells me, “I love your big belly, Mama.” There are plenty of days I don’t love my big belly and self-doubt creeps back in. I hold onto this conversation as a reminder of what I know for sure to be true. I am just right as I am. Big belly and all.
- Join in. When you are part of a community, show up and help.
- Fridays are for take-out. Period.
- It’s okay to laugh so hard you cry. Or pee.
- Swim as much as you can.
- Ride horses in the summer even if you are scared.
- Pie is a great way to celebrate most things.
- Learn how to make chicken soup from scratch.
- If you fall in a lake, just laugh at yourself.
- Pray. It helps.
- Notice who needs help around you.
- Mothers are always there for their kids. Period.
- School is your job. Work hard.
- Find out which activities make you happy and do them.
- I will love you no matter what you do.
- Take charge of a group, even if you’re shy.
- Hold babies every chance you get.
- Blankets and scarves snuggle better if knitted by hand.
- Let people celebrate you, even if it’s hard.
- Singing makes things better.
- Make something and enter it into a contest.
- Read everything you can.
- Get excited about giving people presents.
- Decorate your house for every single holiday.
- Learn the names of trees.
- Let your kids be whoever they are and don’t judge them.
There are no bad foods. That’s what my time recovering from many years of disordered eating has taught me. I spent most of my adulthood resisting more food items than I would eat. Not just gluten and sugar. Eventually meat, dairy, tomatoes, peppers, caffeine, and all processed foods were off the list as well. Restricting this way lead me to binge on these very forbidden foods. Over and over again. This binge-restrict cycle kept me so busy that my career, relationships and sense of freedom or agency took the back seat. My food issues were all-consuming.
When my wife and I decided to adopt a six-year-old girl, I knew that wanted her food journey to be easier. My hope for my her- and all of us who suffer with compulsive eating- would be to experience food as nourishing and pleasurable. After a decade of diets, a 12 step program and too many tears, I found Intuitive Eating and Rachel Cole. I slowly learned to trust my body and accept myself at any size. I put down perfectionism and picked up compassion. I wanted to model this kind of body-trust for my new little girl and lay the foundation for her to love her own body…no matter what.
So, I read up on Ellen Satter’s how to’s and took charge of when and what my daughter ate. I let her stay in charge of how much. I kept her favorite foods in the rotation, including hot Cheetos, Cup-O-Noodles, and spaghetti with hot sauce. I added smoked tofu, homemade chicken strips, and kale salad. We made granola together. We went to the Farmer’s Market so she could taste everything. I asked her, “what would make you happy to eat this week?” before I put together the shopping list and I bought those things. We set the table together and often include candles, flowers and special dishes.
We say “play food” instead of “junk food” and talk about how some food is full of nutrition and other food is just for fun. They are all okay. I ask her to guess which vegetables I put into her egg pie or identify the fruits in our salad. Enjoying play food is never a reward or a consequence. A little bit is offered each day alongside the rest of the meal. She asks for another “sweet treat.” I say, “Of course! I can add some to your lunch tomorrow.” She can count on a sweet serving every single day. Every once & awhile, I give her unlimited sweets. We do this on a day when her brain and body are super regulated & strong. If any of us are eating too fast at the table, we remind each other to breathe. We talk about how the food tastes and how we made it. Other times, we go through a drive-through or eat cereal for dinner in front of the tv. On Valentine’s Day, we had so much fun decorating cookies together that I didn’t have enough energy to make dinner. We had cookies and frosting and yogurt and fruit for dinner. All of this is okay.
So far, it doesn’t seem like my history of food rules or body shame is affecting my daughter. As she grows up and my healing deepens, I know things will evolve. But making my home a safe space to enjoy food was a big goal for me. So far…so good.
My family has angels looking out for us. Last year, we were knee deep in a trauma cycle that made day to day life unbearable. My daughter had just been diagnosed with PTSD, which was a helpful label in that it gave context for the kinds of fits were seeing each day. I could relate to my daughter’s high levels of fear, looping thoughts and terrorizing moments of re-experiencing scary events. I have PTSD, too. My mental health was starting to suffer as I struggled to support my daughter to feel safe. With my nervous system on such high alert, I would resort to yelling or leave to take a walk when she needed me most. This was truly the best I could do. After months of this, though, I wasn’t sleeping well. Our family was exhausted and feeling at a total loss.
This is when the angels appeared. The thing about going through big challenges is that it forces us to be vulnerable. If you’re willing, this is a good time to accept help. Lots and lots of help. Our help came from a generous, loving friend who wanted to do something for us…something big. First, she recommended a wonderful, experienced therapist who had helped her family a lot. Once we were sure he was a good fit for us, she insisted on paying for treatments. We took days to respond to her offer because it just seemed like more than we could accept. But we were in no place to refuse help. We allowed her to support our family in the way she could. We said yes to her gift and in return, we got Dr. Carl as an on-going part of our daughter’s therapeutic team.
My daughter loves going to see Dr. Carl. His office is in Berkeley, CA. The waiting room is full of toys that she can’t wait to play with. She loves his gentle spirit, his sense of humor, his love of animals. Each week, my daughter and Dr. Carl talk a little and laugh together. He helps her pick out a movie and adjusts the pillows in her chair so they are just right. In the winter, he even sets up a little space heater at her feet. She loves the royal treatment! She knows that she’s there to help her brain become more flexible and her heart to feel more calm.
After 40 years as a therapist, Dr. Carl Shames narrowed his specialty to neurofeedback. In this gentle, alternative therapy, kiddos or the grown-ups who love them wear sensors on their head while watching a movie. Meanwhile, their brainwave patterns are displayed on a computer screen and the therapist makes modifications to balance and stabilize brain activity. My daughter watches her favorite shows while these sensors do their thing and her whole body relaxes at the same time. It’s all about helping her brain regulate differently. Once in a while, she gets sleepy afterward. But she always feels better.
In the days that follow the neurofeedback treatment, our little “Squirrel” is more able to use her words. She sleeps better at night. Her tantrums are shorter and less intense. Dr. Carl has helped her with night terrors, with bedwetting, and now he’s working on the parts of the brain that will help her in school, improve her focus and allow her to better understand math. She looks forward to going every single time. She even asks to schedule an appointment if we haven’t gone in a while.
I know first hand how positive neurofeedback can be because I started seeing Dr. Carl myself. I so badly wanted to undo the cycle of my daughter’s PTSD triggering my own. I wanted to have more moments of joy together and less stress as a family. I knew how far we’d come when I was able to travel for a week alone with my daughter last summer. We went fishing, rode horses, practiced swimming, navigated airports, road trips, a cabin in the woods and visiting with extended family. We kept our loving connection the whole time. As an adoptive family, this is no small miracle. All of that excitement holds the potential for triggered, out of control behavior- from either of us! Instead, we made memories we can always keep.
I couldn’t be more grateful for these two angels in my life, Dr. Carl Shames and the friend who introduced me to him. Whether you are a Bay Area adoptive family or friends to one that you want to give a healing gift to, I can’t recommend Dr. Carl enough.
Carl Shames, Ph.D. received his doctorate in psychology in 1975. He has extensive experience as a psychologist in a variety of settings, including community clinics, hospitals, criminal justice agencies. He became interested in neurofeedback while searching for an alternative, holistic treatment for ADHD, depression and other mental health issues. His passion for this form of treatment lies in the transformation clients experience. He sees people relate to their friends & family in a more centered, genuine way and become themselves in a way they couldn’t before.
“By the time they find me, most parents are at wits’ end having run around for years to various doctors and neuropsychologists and not really getting anywhere. I’m passionate about bringing neurofeedback to adoptive families in the Bay Area. In all my years as a therapist, I haven’t come across anything that works as well.”
We are sitting at the dining room table for yet another teary session of math homework. She has used up all her focusing tools- chewing gum, lighting a peppermint candle, choosing which problem to start with…nothing is helping. Then I see the light in her eyes change. They grow dark and serious in that intense way I know so well. She is fighting for truth.
“Mom, why can the kids around me do math but I can’t? I learn it but I can’t remember it. The other kids remember. Why, mom? It doesn’t make any sense.” There is shame in these words. And desperation.
I’m not planning to have this conversation today. I didn’t wake up knowing that I would be called on to deliver this news in a way she can digest it. My wife and I are still digesting it ourselves.
We go through periods of intense grief and even anger about her special needs. Spending time with other people’s kids can trigger it. After a morning babysitting my dear friend’s toddler, I spend the afternoon sobbing. This three-year-old has social skills that are more advanced than my eight-year-old. We travel to Texas to visit cousins and breathe through frustration as my daughter’s anxiety and hypervigilance exhaust everyone in the house. We go to IEP meeting after meeting and are overwhelmed by how many professionals are engaged each week in supporting my kiddo’s learning. After weeks of her violent PTSD fits, we refocus on caring for ourselves so that my daughter’s needs don’t take over our entire lives.
But here she is, asking for the truth. So, I share with her what gets me through my moments of fear and grief and doubt and anger. I share with her the truth about her resilience.
“I’m telling you the truth. Are you listening? Do you remember how you were born very tiny and that you came out early? One thing that happens when babies are born early is that their brains don’t get enough time to develop. This is not the baby’s fault! This is nobody’s fault. It happens to many babies who are born early. It means your brain has worked extra hard to develop and grow ever since you were born. And guess what? Your brain is doing very well. Very very well. That’s because you have a powerful quality in you. You are FIERCE. That means you are somebody who doesn’t give up. Even as a teeny little baby, you were so fierce that you fought to live. You fought to grow. And now, you are fighting to learn math. It is harder for you. You are right about that. But working hard and not giving up are wonderful qualities to have. You also have mama’s who love you and teachers to help when things feel hard. You are not alone.”
I hadn’t researched what to say. I hadn’t prepared for this question. I just opened my heart up and felt around for what she needed to hear. Of course what really happened is that I said the words I needed to hear.
I think healing the dissonance between our fantasy of parenting and the truth of it will be a long road for my wife and I. But moments to ignite our empathy and focus on our daughter’s amazing gifts help. They help a lot.
A month ago, my best friend called me and we sobbed. We both felt despair that the man running for President of our country admitted to groping women without their consent.
Today, he moved into the White House and 600 groups of women all over the world are marching in protest. My friend and I were determined to take action in some way. But marching with our young daughters (mine with special needs), felt like more than we could take on. My daughter is highly sensitive to crowds, to yelling, to cold, to other people’s emotions. Participating in the Women’s March would likely trigger a trauma response and days of violent fits. But this is a moment in history we don’t want to miss. I want to look back on this time and know for sure that I was intentional and conscious. I want to model a balance between self-care and activism for my little girl.
My friend and I knew that if we got our families together, we could come up with something meaningful to do even if we had to stay home. So, my BFF packed up her little girl and is making her trek to my house in Oakland right this minute. I think we came up with a pretty great plan for our Go Girls!
Read more about it on the Spotlight: Girls blog….
I’ve started groups and communities all my life. In 8th grade, I started a drama club at my little Catholic school because it didn’t have one. I really wanted to be in a school play and there was no opportunity. So I went to the English teacher and pitched her the idea. I was in my first play that spring.
In high school, I organized the drama club to go back to my elementary school and teach acting workshops to the little kids. I still have video (on VHS!) of my BFF’s helping 4th graders to project and make bold acting choices.
In college, I started a group for my peers to come together and create rituals for connection and women’s empowerment. Each of us got to lead our own circle, taking charge of the agenda and activities. I remember one month we made journals to take with us on post-college adventures. I wrote in mine the whole time I backpacked through Europe the summer after graduation.
I didn’t start earning money for my start-up skills until my early 20’s when my wife and I started our own business. I’d strung together some gigs as a teaching artist and one of them lead me to The Marsh Youth Theater in San Francisco. The education director at the time wanted me to put together a summer of camps serving younger children than she felt able to serve on her own. And we were off! In the 12 years since, my wife and I have grown that summer camp to serve 500 kids a summer and feature a girls empowerment curriculum. I’ve written and published books, bridged our classes to after school programs, lead professional development workshops for educators and now, write freelance articles for parenting websites. My family business, Spotlight: Girls has just raised over 300K in investments to franchise our camp nationally.
The point is, I have always done what I wanted in terms of my career. I didn’t always know where the money would come from but I did always honor my gifts. As I set new goals this year toward courageous earning, taking center stage and practicing radical self-care, it helps to remember where my path began. I have always manifested the thing I wanted to see in the world and called upon all my creativity to make it happen.
What did you want to do as a kid? How much of that did you hold onto? Here’s to making it happen.