Posts for compassion

How I Told My Daughter That She Has Special Needs

Forever Family, Go Girl! - Allison Kenny - January 25, 2017

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.

More like this: Even though My Wife & I Get Away, Our Daughter Makes Us Pay

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.

More Like This: Dear Kids At School

I’m different and that’s awesome

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Curbside

Forever Family, Self-care - Allison Kenny - October 3, 2016

This morning was

Expected.

The refusal to get dressed

The screaming

The loud NO!

The “I don’t want to go to school”

Even the need to pack up her toothbrush, her glasses, her breakfast

The curbside drop-off

As she kicked and hollered

Puffy-eyed

Wild-hair

Snot everywhere

Shoes in a bag

Because she refused my help for an hour

My wife’s frustration

Totally expected

As she sat in the back seat

Bra-less

Her own feet bare

As she secured the seat belt again and again

For our angry daughter

PTSD fits

Are expected

After we get-a-way

for 2 days of

Self Care

Blue Waves

Crashing against the headland cliffs

11 hours of sleep

A night

Champagne picnic as the sun sets

So, it was expected

That today would be hard

The Homecoming

Turbulent.

It was Unexpected, though

When our daughter

Who had refused

Empathy

Support

Kindness

for an hour

Choosing to derail

and come undone instead

When this wild-animal-powerful-girl

Was lifted, kissed and placed

Gently on the grass

In front of her school

Curbside

It was Unexpected

To see the

4th grade Safety Monitor

Taking his duties

Very seriously.

He did not bat an eye

As we drove off

And she screamed.

We paused, of course

On the corner

To watch her put on her shoes

And go into school

Whether she wanted to or not

The 4th grade safety monitor

Held his post

Reliable

And helped my little girl

Find her glasses

Which she had thrown

In the Grass

 

 

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Dear Kids at School

Forever Family, Go Girl! - Allison Kenny - August 30, 2016

Dear Kids at School,

I know that when you see my little girl, you notice all the ways she is different from you. You see her glasses and her funny walk. You notice that she talks fast and loud, that she grabs the stuff from your hands without asking, how she sometimes tells everybody what to do. You see that it doesn’t take much to make her cry or make her mad or make her break the rules.  You notice that she is different than you. A different race. Has a different kind of family. Gets pulled from class for special ed. Why is she so weird…right? That’s what you want to know. Why is she so different?

Well, these aren’t the only things that make her unique. If you look closely, she has other qualities that might be harder to see. When you say hi, she’ll never ever ignore you. She’ll never leave you outside her house and say you can’t come in to play. She’d never ever want you to feel forgotten. In fact, my girl goes out of her way to make everyone feel special all the time. It’s her superpower. At home, she likes to put the toothpaste on the toothbrush for me and leave it out. A little surprise for me to find at bedtime. She leaves me notes and treasures and drawings of hearts that I find all over the house.  When our dogs were scared of the doggy door, she invented a contraption to hold it open for them. The first time she rode a horse, she petted it and kissed it and thanked it for the ride. You see, my girl’s heart is bigger than the heart of most people. That’s what actually makes her different. She’s sweeter than most. We could all learn something from her.

Another superpower she has is courage. She’s braver than most. Did you know the school you all go to is her 5th school in 4 years? She had to be brave and start over with new classrooms, new teachers and new kids every time. She did the same thing with families. Can you imagine walking into the house of brand new parents when you were 6 years old? Seeing your new room for the first time and wondering what this life would be like? Learning to trust brand new mommies and let them take care of you? That’s what my girl did. She had the courage to start a whole new life in a brand new town.  She had to say good-bye to everyone and everything she knew before. These are big good-byes. She had to have the courage to feel all those sad feelings and let her heart break so it could start to heal.

I can’t end this letter without talking about how hard my daughter works. You know that math packet you just got for 2nd grade homework? The same page of problems that takes you 15 minutes, takes her an hour. Oh no…it’s not because she is dumb. It’s because she was born 4 months early. Totally not her fault! But when kids are born early, their brains don’t get enough time to grow so they learn differently. Can you believe she never gives up? She doesn’t get to. She just has to work harder and harder- yes, harder than you so that she can learn the same things. She also works hard at making friends. She didn’t get to see people being good to each other when she was little, so she didn’t learn about things like sharing or taking turns like you did. She works very hard at this. She has a coach who comes every week and helps her learn to play well. She’s getting better and better at it. She has to work harder than most kids to do things like chew her food, tie her shoes, or even understand directions the teacher gives her. Pretty much all day, she’s working super hard to do things that most of you can do with no problem.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could cheer her on? What would it be like if she knew you were rooting for her instead of teasing her or leaving her out? What if you could see her sweetness, her courage, how hard she works?  What if you could help her along instead of push her down? I bet you’d feel good about yourself then. You could be so proud to know you were a good friend and accepted someone who is different than you. It would mean the world to her and  you…well, you would get a lot out of it, too. When we open our hearts and act kindly, we get to be happy. We get to be connected. We get to have more fun. How does that sound? You with me?

I can’t wait to see what you decide to do.

All the best,

Allison
Go Girls! Co-Founder
Kidpower Instructor
Mama

P.S. Speaking of having more fun,  join me in Berkeley on Sept 25th and see me perform live on stage. I’ll be celebrating magic and power we all have to be ourselves. Go Girls!  New to my blog? Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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10 Ways to Respond When Your Kid Disrespects You

Forever Family, Go Girl!, Self-care - Allison Kenny - August 22, 2016

Ever feel like a punching bag in your own home? When I’m faced with eye rolling, furniture kicking, hands over ears, screaming in my face or a disgusted tone of voice, I do my best to respond without throwing a tantrum myself…which is not easy for me. Here are the phrases I practice and use like a script to keep from throwing my daughter’s toys in the trash or cursing like a sailor.

“I wonder why you’re not listening to me…”

“I’m turning my ears right off to that.”

“I don’t listen when people talk to me that way.”

“Wow. You seem really angry. Please don’t take it out on me.”

“I’m sorry you’re mad, and stop.”

“I’m happy to listen when you’re calm.”

“I’m starting to get angry. I need some space to breathe and get calm.”

“I won’t listen when you’re yelling.”

“That was rude. Would you like a do-over?”

“Please try that again with a respectful voice.”

I want my daughter to feel powerful and know how to stand up against violence. But when she uses her power to yell, kick or fight back when I’m simply asking her brush her teeth, it’s a misuse of her power. I believe it’s my job to teach her how to treat me and others. I try to be super flexible in all other areas of my parenting, but this is a battle I will pick every time. She cannot disrespect her parents. Period.

How do you keep your girls strong and ready to fight for themselves while also keeping the peace and expecting respect?

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Welcome to (Dog) Wedding Season!

Forever Family, Love Wins, Tales from the Maxi Pad - Allison Kenny - June 16, 2016

A Flower Girl Prepares

A Flower Girl Prepares

I like to think that I’m really playful with my daughter. After working with other people’s children for a decade facilitating play and drama classes, I pictured myself being the kind of mom who gets on the floor and plays, you know?

The kind of mom who chases her little one on the playground pretending to be the monster that all the kids run from. The kind of mom who is happy to become a fairy princess with hot lava power anytime her child asks. Continue Reading

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6 Ways to Welcome an Adopted Child into Your Extended Family

Forever Family, Foster/Adoption, Parenting - Allison Kenny - June 7, 2016

So, last week we packed up our little Squirrel and hit the road. By now, we were old pro’s at traveling together and navigating the potential stress of hectic airports. She had her stuffy. Lollypop in her mouth. Mama Lynn’s hand. Special snacks in tow. We were ready. What I was not ready for was how beautifully, generously, and authentically my AZ family would embrace her when we arrived. Here are 6 things they did to make my girl feel like their girl…even if they aren’t related by blood. Continue Reading

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A Squirrel-Sized Breakthrough

Go Girl!, Self-care - Allison Kenny - May 13, 2016

Maybe it’s the scent of summer in the air: talk of Go Girls! Camp, family vacations, and lots of time in the pool. Sometimes with trauma, a season change is enough to snap us out of fight or flight.

Maybe it was Mothers’ Day. We created an altar to celebrate and integrate the idea that 4 different mothers all belong to our little Squirrel. Maybe this ritual healed some part of her.

Maybe it was meeting her sweet doppleganger—a 6 year old boy that our best friends are adopting. She got to feel competent—like, “I went through that,”—and access her big sister self. She got to feel part of a club of kids with gay parents; kids who have past lives no one really understands. “I think maybe he’s my new brother, Mommy,” she said.

Maybe it’s the neurofeedback sessions we started. When crazy levels reached an all time high, we decided extra nervous system support was the way to go. Twice a week we go together, getting side by side treatments in hopes that our bodies can find some sense of peace.

Maybe it’s taking a forced break from a friend who she’s been fighting with at school. Their dynamic went from intense to a little toxic and the school has been supporting them beautifully to take space. We navigated conversations with the other girl’s parents with respect and a mutual concern for their emotional safety.

Maybe it’s that Lynn & I didn’t give up. We cried and tried every single thing we could think of to help this little girl feel loved. Maybe after months of testing us, we finally convinced her that she is safe here. That we are not going anywhere. (Even though we fantasized about it…Mexico anyone?)

I have no idea which of these interventions helped shift the tide of panic in her little system. Maybe all of them wove together like the blankets my Mom made each of us when we were little.

All I know is that this morning there was laughing instead of screaming. Last night, there were kisses instead of thrown objects. All week was filled with love songs and imagined mermaid dance-offs. Pet names and giggling. Piggyback rides and birthday parties for her bunny. We have our daughter back. I don’t know how long we have before trauma steps in again and steals her away from us but my plan is to soak up every precious moment we get.

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If I took care of myself like I take care of my daughter…

Foster/Adoption, Gay Parenting, Girl Power, Parenting, Self-care - Allison Kenny - January 26, 2016

…I would…

Rub lavender oil on my feet at bedtime

Cheer myself on when I’m learning a new skill

Add extra hot water to a bath so I could stay in as long as I wanted

 

If I took care of myself like I take care of my daughter, I would…

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Post-Adoption Wonderful

Forever Family, Love Wins - Allison Kenny - November 19, 2015

Post-Adoption Wonderful
Sounds like…

Okay Mommy

And

I love you, Mommies

And

Please can Mama Lynn come in for one more hug and kiss

This is different
New
Defenses down
Deeply relaxed for
Maybe
the first time
Ever

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6 Ways to Be in the Presence of Trauma: Yours or Someone Else’s

Forever Family, Girl Power, Self-care - Allison Kenny - November 5, 2015

6 Ways to be With Trauma- Yours or Someone Else's

We’re on our way to camp and I hear that familiar longing in her voice.

“Mommy, I just really want to take my locket into camp today.”

“I know, love. That’s so disappointing that you can’t bring toys in. I’m glad you are getting to hold it in the car and play with it now.”

Silence. I look in the rearview mirror and see a single tear fall from her left eye. Her right eye is covered by a mermaid eye patch so the scene is particularly heart-wrenching. She drops her head and I can see the wave of grief coming on. Having to leave something she loves behind is an enormous trigger for a girl who lost her family, her neighborhood, her toys, and all of life as she knew it before coming to live with us. I take a deep breath, like I’ve learned to do, and focus on my own heartbeat to stay calm.

“I see you are so sad. I understand. As soon as we park the car, I can hold you.”

And I do. We sit in the backseat rocking while I kiss her teary face and hold her tight. She lets me. After a few short moments, I see her take a deep breath.

“Are you ready?” I ask. She nods and we stand up. I offer to hold the locket and key in my pocket so she knows it’s safe. I reassure her that she’ll get to hold it again when I pick her up after camp. She nods again and we walk hand in hand into Art Yowza Camp where a dozen kids are running happily and playing tag. She drops my hand immediately and joins the game.

Let me break down exactly why this scenario is a HUGE FREAKING MIRACLE. Just three months ago, the drive would have been very different. My daughter’s grief would have been mixed with rage and fear so enormous that her tears would escalate into screaming, taking her seat belt off, kicking the driver’s seat with full force and on the worst days, pounding the glass window with her fists. And it would have lasted anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. And on one terrible day, four hours. Literally. But the difference in her behavior now is not the miracle I even want to focus on. The real magic is in how differently I behaved.

Her rage and PTSD used to trigger my own rage and PTSD before I could stop it. If I was alone with her in the car during an epic tantrum, I had no way to access all my skills as a compassionate girl advocate and educator. I became a frightened child and my logical brain shut down completely. More often than I’d like to admit, I responded by yelling, shaming, and on the worst days, grabbing her arm or leg roughly to try and make her stop. I felt so ashamed of myself. Why couldn’t I be compassionate? I knew that meeting a child’s trauma response with a calm voice and reassuring presence was the only thing that could help. Why couldn’t I stay calm when I knew I was “supposed to?” I was afraid it meant I was a bad mom.  Luckily, just a few months later, I know it means I was a triggered mom. And I knew enough to get help managing my PTSD symptoms so I could do better. Here’s the best of what I’ve learned to be the compassionate Mama I want to be… most of the time

  1. Try to notice when I’m triggered and say to myself, “Oh, I’m triggered.”
  2. Keep my mouth shut (Kidpower says, “Mouth closed power!) and breathe. Focus on my own breath. Notice my heartbeat. Breathe to help it slow down. Did I mention, DO NOT TALK?
  3. Accept that her tantrum is not my fault. I did not cause it. I cannot stop it. It’s just what is happening.
  4. Help keep her physically safe—like putting a pillow under the head of someone having a seizure (move tables out of the way, pull the car over, move out any objects she’s throwing or hitting).
  5. Hug her and tell her I love her when it’s over. Wait until everyone feels better before talking about anything logical like what she can do to feel her big feelings without hurting herself or anyone else.
  6. Forgive myself immediately if I cannot do any of the first five things.

My therapist is a PTSD specialist. She works with war vets and now…foster parents to stay in the moment and help our brains rewire to feel safe. She recommends mindfulness practice as the number one tool to deal with fight, flight or freeze symptoms. Pema Chodron’s Unconditional Confidence, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and John Kabat-Zinn are the resources she shared with me.

For any of you parents who need a miracle to shift the way trauma plays out in your homes, I hope this helps!

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