Awareness to Advocacy

Have you ever hesitated to share what you are struggling with to a friend because this statement rings in your head, “stop complaining, there are others who have it a lot worse?”

If so, I hope you know that yes, there are varying degrees of struggle out in the world, but that does not mean that your struggle is not real or does not matter.

When I first started to suspect that my child had special needs or was “more”, I shoved it down deep in my chest. I read books about discipline. I tried harder.

Maybe it was fear, or shame, or maybe it was some of those common statements so readily offered. You know the ones,

“He’s just a boy.”

“He’ll grow out of it.”

“You need to discipline your child more.”

“You need to be more consistent.”

Now, when I think back about what life was like when this particular son of mine was almost 3, I remember having a baby and a pre-schooler as well, but it took ALL OF ME to contain him.

I did not want to jump to diagnosis, but I knew that I needed help.

Growing up, I learned about special needs early. My mom was an Occupational Therapist. I have fond memories of stopping by her workplace as she had to drop something off, or pick something up. While she attended to her task, I would take in the environment around me.

On one hand it was one of the coolest places I had ever been. I couldn’t stop staring at all of the toys and equipment. I just wanted to play on everything-especially the swing!

But on the other hand, I often got introduced to kids who required a wheelchair, kids who could not talk, and kids who made lots of unfamiliar noises. Sometimes I felt scared about the unknown I was witnessing. Other times I felt sad. But often I felt amazed. The love and care that the therapists provided them, and the joy that the children expressed in their own special ways was incredible.

I feel grateful to have grown up witnessing this world of amazing people. The exposure to the reality of people living with special needs impacted me in so many ways.

This reality taught me at an early age to have perspective. To be mindful of the way I view things. Sometimes that means being grateful for what I have, when my flesh wants to complain. Sometimes that means, taking a step back to gain a better perspective, to see the big picture and to avoid rash or quick judgements.

But it also taught me that it is possible to be grateful and grieve.

It is possible, to know that there are worse things, but to still worry.

It is true that pain is relative.

Just because someone’s struggle looks different than yours, does not mean that yours isn’t real.

I understand that not all may agree with my way of thinking. But for me, if I had swallowed my concern, tried harder to be better and just kept focusing on the positive, I would have not served my child well.

Let’s be real. There is being positive and hopeful, and then there is “toxic positivity.”

For me, in order to care for my son well, I needed to swallow my pride. Some might think swallowing my pride would have looked like me ignoring the temptation to default to blaming my child’s behavior on a diagnosis and simply “manning up” and being more militant. I believed swallowing my pride truly was me accepting that no matter how hard I tried, I was not going to be able to manage this struggle alone.

Through humility, I was able to walk from awareness that my child might be “more,” towards acceptance and now into advocacy.

Our journey navigating have a child (2 in fact) with special needs started about 5-6 years ago. For those curious what it looked like practically, when he was 4 we reached out to Early Steps and found an OT that specialized in sensory integration therapy. We learned all about sensory processing disorder and we were encouraged to have a continued level of awareness if his needs were to shift or change for the better or worse. And they did.

Around age 6 he was diagnosed with ADHD and we found that it was time to navigate the use of medication to support his struggles and needs. A couple years later, after prayer and discernment, we felt it best to seek out a Neuropsychologist so that we could receive a more thorough evaluation in hopes of truly identifying what might be “driving his ship.” It was then that he was diagnosed with High functioning Autism.

Each year we have experienced intense heartache as well as intense celebration as we have watched him grow and learn, and make mistakes and make progress.

Just like him, we as parents are growing and learning and making mistakes and making progress.

We may have entered into the world of “labels” that so many fear. And I understand that.

But the only real label that we have in our house, is being “A child of God.”

That is the true identity that each of us holds and clings to.

The other labels have provided me with clarity and direction. They have blessed us by connecting us with the most amazing therapists and other parents walking similar journeys. All because of being aware of a great need that I could not fill on my own, accepting and embracing that reality and now being so much stronger for it that I can advocate well for my child.

So if you happen to feel like you need to keep your struggles to yourself, like you need to stuff them down or remember that others have it worse…. Don’t.

Remember, it IS possible to be grateful and grieve. I do it every day.

I grieve that I am a sinner. And that no matter how hard I try, I probably will continue to sin on this side of heaven. It’s not an excuse to sin, but it is a reality that without the help of the Holy Spirit, my flesh WILL fail. Yet at the same time I am SO grateful that because of what Jesus did on the cross, I am forgiven and made new and will get to experience an eternity in Heaven one day!

It is the awareness of my sin, and acceptance that lead me to MY ultimate advocate.

HE who-by the way, will NEVER judge you when you share your struggles with HIM. He will NEVER tell you try harder or to remember how good you have it. But HIS love will wash over you in such a way that you can’t help but be grateful, even in heartache.

Stay tuned for my next blog, I can’t wait to share about how every Mama needs someone who gets “it” and someone who “wants to.” Because every mama, regardless of if they have a child with special needs, is STILL A MAMA. Our struggles do not separate us. They draw us near to one another. And we all have a story to tell and hope to give.

 

 

Catch me doing good.

I had this miraculous moment the other day. That moment when everything you have been working on and everything your children have been working on collides into one beautiful, epic and effective conversation. It was an out of body experience to say the least. I felt like I was watching this interaction take place from above and I was witnessing all the parenting tools I have learned being utilized AND executed successfully. To make it even sweeter- it was all falling on receptive ears!

Not only was I witnessing this miracle, there were witnesses present!

In that moment, I could feel it in my entire being that I was actually doing something right. And afterward, I received one of the best compliments I’ve ever had! This most wonderful witness encouraged me that I had done a wonderful job handling my children in the midst of some unruly behaviors. And then she said, “It was as if you knew all the right things to say!”

Mic drop.

What?!

I could not believe my ears and laughed in disbelief and shock. I was also close to crying in gratitude for it’s not every (or any) day in motherhood that someone witnesses you getting it right, AND lets you know! So many emotions all at once! I quickly confessed that I could not take credit, but the years of intervention and therapy that my children and I have experienced for their various needs were to thank. But then again, I have always struggled to take any credit.

Don’t get me wrong- I want the credit! But I often struggle with feeling undeserving of praise, or even doubtful of it, as if it happened by accident or something. Simultaneously, I also believe that anything good that comes from me is because of Jesus! But like most human beings, I can’t help but hope that I am doing something right and if I am, someone will let me know!

Have you ever tangibly felt yourself trying SO hard to get it right? Trying so hard to get better? Maybe it was piano lessons or a sport when you were younger. Maybe it was cooking meals for your family, or sticking to a budget? Maybe it was not getting so angry, or having more patience?

How about your children? Have you ever watched them experience that moment of success! That monumental moment of potty training, or eating with silverware? Cleaning their room or writing their name? I’m sure the list of things that we ourselves and our children have worked at are endless. Some progress is easier to notice, and easier to celebrate. Some progress is less obvious because the number of fails overshadows any small glimmer of growth.

Me in total awe as Garrett hopped up onto the dentist’s chair, ready to go.

Early on when my son received his first of multiple diagnoses, the Dr. gave me this advice, “Catch him doing good.”

She knew that catching him making mistakes or wrong choices would be all too easy. She knew that the attention I’d have to give towards correction would dominate. She knew that as hard as he would have to work in areas such as speaking kindly, having patience and self-control, I would have to work at catching him when he did.

Depending on your personality, you may need to work on catching yourself doing well too! I would argue that the intrinsic motivation that results from experiencing yourself doing something well is way more powerful than the extrinsic motivation that comes from fear of making a mistake.

I can see it in my child’s eyes, they sparkle when I shout, “That was so great! I loved the way you used your words and asked for help!” Just as I am sure my eyes sparkled upon receiving the compliment from this sweet woman regarding my handling of some difficult behaviors.

What you can see- 3 kids playing a game. What you can’t see- mom jumping up and down in joy celebrating three kids playing a game TOGETHER.

One week later, in the same location, and with the same friends, those difficult behaviors were not received with the same patience, grace and effective communication. Instead I felt myself exhaling, “Guys, please just stop.”

I am not completely sure why I felt so different this time. So unable to respond with the same tools. Maybe it was less sleep, or the weight of other worries and to-do lists occupying my mental space, but I just couldn’t shift into that same mode of parenting that felt like such a major milestone the week prior.

And that is OK. Because even though I did not have a repeat of that same stellar performance, I remembered it.

I REMEMBERED it even in the midst of my impatient response to my children.

It came up in my brain simultaneously as I was about to lose my cool.

It became a new reference point for what I am capable of.

And instead of giving way to my less than ideal parenting, I recovered quickly and began moving once again in the direction of parenting the way that I had the week before.

It is the same with our children. When they take 5 steps forward and make it from mommy’s arms to daddy’s, and then the next time they fall after 3 steps, that is OK. And so it should also be OK when they show incredible self-control one day, and the next day, maybe not as much.

Personally, I had noticed that if my child had multiple successes in an area that he had been working on like keeping his hands to himself, but then reverted back to hitting his brother despite the progress he had been making, my heart would sink to the lie that he would never truly grow in this area. It was almost as if the behavioral “high” made the following behavioral “low” even lower. But it is easier for our minds and bodies to remember the negative than it is the positive. We have to work at mindfulness to retain every ounce of a positive experience. And if we do this, we can nurture the brain to remember our successes so much more and as a result develop a greater chance at repeating them!

Imagine that kind of impact in a child’s brain. For every time they are losing self-control, a memory of when they displayed self-control and were utterly praised for it would race to the surface as if to say to their “down-stairs brain”- “You got this! I saw you do it before! You felt it too, you can do it again!” Imagine getting to see their eyes sparkle more and more!

I am so grateful that this woman “caught” me doing something good. It inspired me to pay more attention. I want to catch my children doing good as often as possible, and celebrate it! I want to catch myself doing well and let myself feel good about it!

I want to spend less time soaking in their mistakes or my own, and more time embracing all that we are capable of. I think it is when we focus on these things that we truly create space for ourselves and others to continue to surprise us!

That is all, for today.

Not ready.

I never thought I would get to a place where I kind of don’t want summer to end.

It felt like yesterday when we were rushing to make sure that the majority of the summer weeks were accounted for because if we didn’t……..

AHHHHHHHH!

At the time, back in May, my chest got tight just thinking about the potential unplanned weeks ahead. The Fear of the combination of boredom + siblings + FLORIDA HEAT BEING/STUCK INSIDE would practically raise my blood pressure! Even though this was only my 2nd summer anticipating the “school is out of session” dread, memories from last summer’s cabin-fever days are literally burned into my brain.

Exhausted parent/oblivious child. I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

For most mom’s I imagine the song, “School’s out for the summer” has more of the “Jaws” theme song ring to it versus the celebratory appeal it has for the kids. I confess, I have not totally experienced the full weight of the “school’s out” feeling. Yes, we have homeschooled in past years, but to be honest the majority of school days were always so interrupted that I’m not sure I have ever really had that so-called “liberating” feeling of having all of my children in school at the same time. At least not for a full day.

For the past couple years, school days have always been brief or interrupted. Our youngest only had school for 5 hours a day, and our middle child often required a mid-day pick-up or need for mama’s intervention. Not to mention half of the week, the school days always felt cut short due to a doctor’s appointment or therapy session. Nevertheless, what I assumed was going to be a summer heavy-laden with the weight of having no break from the kids, turned into one where I rather realized the absence of the heavy weight of commuting to school and appointments.

In the beginning of the summer, several attempts were made to stay consistent with my son’s therapy schedules. But sickness and travel put us in a place of going over a month without services! For those who are familiar with the significance of a consistent therapy schedule for a special needs child, forgive me- it was not neglect that we went this long! I found myself in a panic on week 3. I could tell that we were both going through withdrawal as he could not self-regulate for the life of him and I started to shut down too.

Just a typical tantrum from the summer.

But something happened in that 4th week.

I forgot.

I stopped thinking about what he was missing.

I stopped worrying so much.

I started using what I knew, exercising the ways I knew to support him instead of focusing on what was lacking.

A moment of actually not feeling so anxiety-ridden.

The absence of therapeutic intervention began to lose its intensity. My muscle memory kicked in and we managed. I mean, this wasn’t our first rodeo without regular therapy. A little over two years ago, we basically had gone a collective 18 months without therapy during our 9-month stint overseas, plus 9-month temporary move to NY. Not that I recommend it, AT ALL! I have tried to block some of those days during that 18 months out of my memory!

But when we returned to Florida after our summer travel and there were no signs of sickness preventing us from getting back on the therapy schedule, we got that first week of appointments set on the calendar.

But to my surprise, I had a great deal of mixed emotions.

I was so excited to get him back to the supports that he needed. And honestly, I was so excited to have that support for myself too! I look forward to those post-session debriefs because I get to ask questions to someone who can finish my thought, knows exactly what I am talking about and can provide me with the tools to better support my kids! That and we just have the best support team for our kids!

But after spending over a month without any appointments on the calendar, when it was “back to the grind” time, I had almost completely forgotten about the commute and all that goes into getting to an appointment!

I had forgotten about the challenge of trying to schedule appointments, that mostly likely would need to be rescheduled. By no fault of anyone either, it just is what it is. And returning to the juggling act with my spouse as we lay out our calendars and discuss who is taking which child, to which therapy and for what hours of the day was not missed either. I had greatly enjoyed the break from insurance company claims and followups as well as wrestling my kids into the car for that 40 minute drive there and back!

I think I also enjoyed the rest from reality and all of the explanations.

Getting ready for school means getting ready for the reality that we have 2 children with IEP’s, which can require a lot of explanation. That our daughter now has BOTH younger brothers attending her school, and she is already anxious about needing to explain their behaviors to all of her friends. (But what big sister doesn’t stress over that!) That the phone calls and emails home will start again, and explanations due for behavioral incidents are inevitably on the horizon.

School starting up again brings about the reality that we took on a pretty hefty commute for private school because an alternative environment was considerably necessary. It brings about the reality that with that commute and the various therapy appointments, and potential extracurriculars, I will be in the car A LOT.

I share all of this because no matter how many times I have learned it before- I relearned this valuable lesson once again- “the grass is never greener on the other side.”

And even though I write from a perspective of special needs parenting, I know so many of my thoughts and struggles are not isolated to this arena, but are relative to parents in general. Some of us may spend more collective hours of the day with our kids because they are still too young for school yet, or they may homeschool. Some of us spend more collective hours in the car with our kids because of school commutes, or extra curricular activities. Regardless, we all LOVE our kids but we all can get weary and tired of being needed. We all love spending quality time with our families, yet we all need a break from time to time.

One other way I love that parents can relate to one another despite their family dynamic, is that as parents we are always adjusting. We continue to adjust our expectations based on their age and stage. We continue to adjust our priorities to what is best for our people as a whole. And we continue to adjust our outlook based on what life teaches us.

For me, I have adjusted my outlook on “summer break.” Through a change in routine and being removed from the typical and expected, I gained space to see outside of my assumptions.

I assumed that summer was going to be hard. We are a lively family of 5. The noise decibel in our house is way higher than healthy. Everyone is spirited, opinionated and willing to stand up for themself, (which I know will pay off one day.) Many of us, (possibly even myself-haha) are a work in progress when it comes to emotional regulation. But you know what? When people ask us, “How was your summer break?” I love (and am somewhat shocked) that my answer will be- “It was so great!”

We may have driven each other nuts on occasion, but we also made some incredible family memories! We may have battled boredom some days, but I got to witness my three kids play together voluntarily! As they ran through the house living out a story of imagined characters in an imaginary world, my heart lept thinking about how no matter what friendship troubles they might have had or will have, they ALWAYS have each other.

And I am grateful for how the summer provided space outside of the routine and mental space too. Room for me to consider how much my children have grown. And myself too.

Space to realize I shouldn’t be too quick to assume that last years troubles will be on repeat.

The grass is green on BOTH sides, it just takes cultivating.

It is a new school year.

New teachers, new backpacks, and maybe even some new friends!

Even our therapy locations have all changed, and maybe even our therapy needs?

And the best NEW of all…. I heard there’s an express lane on our route to school.

When “Don’t forget to take care of yourself Mama” makes you want to punch a wall.

It is a phrase that is often delivered by well-meaning friends, family members and doctors. Delivered to you with the best of intentions. And it is often offered to you by the very people who know how hard it actually is! So why does this phrase often incite frustration and cynicism inside the sweet mamas receiving these words instead of the support and comfort they were intended to deliver?

It might be because she is sleep deprived to a level comparable to torture. Her brain is functioning at subpar levels and now focus, logic and emotional processing are extremely impaired.

It might be because she has tried to “sleep when baby sleeps”- but baby doesn’t sleep. Or, as soon as baby falls asleep and she puts him down, he wakes back up. She finds herself broken down once more by how close she was to rest and is convinced that she may never sleep again.

Maybe she has more than one child, and when the baby rests she is making sure to give her toddler one-on one time. Maybe she is postpartum and her hormones are all over the place. Maybe she promised that she would breastfeed and is determined not to give up, but the fight for success in this area is suffocating her physically and emotionally.

What if she just went back to work and it is taking all of her to perform her job well, and return home with enough energy to care for her kiddos, make dinner, try to keep up the house and still connect with her husband?

What if motherhood is so much harder than she thought? What if she is not the mother she thought she would be? What if her children’s needs are much more than she imagined? What if all of her hopes and ideals about motherhood have been challenged beyond repair?

Now imagine you see her, and you can tell she is weary, tired and emotional. And you put your hand on her shoulder in response to her venting and say, “Don’t forget to take care of yourself, mama.”

Even the most well-meaning comments can feel like punches in the stomach when your physical and emotional state is under water.

I have felt this “punch in the stomach” more times that I can share. I have been in a place where hope felt painfully impossible to even think about.

Knowing all too well how this feels, I have found myself wondering lately, “How did you end up becoming someone who says this to other moms? As I share with others about the nutrition and fitness program that I am a coach and client for, I have wrestled with this message of self-care to the mamas out there, when I know how it feels to be in the trenches.

I recently put together a montage of photos of my 3 children and I from the past 10 years. The photos spanned from pregnancy to birth to toddlerhood including both painful and precious moments we experienced. The message that I shared over this collection was meant to acknowledge how powerful motherhood really is. It holds power in the weight of its most miraculous and most painful experiences and memories. Motherhood holds power in the dichotomy that most of us could not wait for this season of life, yet once in it, we realize it is SO MUCH MORE than we could have ever imagined in both incredible and exasperating ways. It holds power in the ways that it has involved, impacted, and changed our minds and bodies. So much power that the thought of taking care of yourself when you have such a great responsibility to take care of others seems not only impossible, but even, dare I say- irrelevant.

Yet, even after acknowledging all that, how is it that I have found myself on the other side of the motherhood “fence,” encouraging other moms to NOT forget themself in the process.

Have I stumbled upon the “secret” to self-care? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Do I have it all figured out? HECK NO. Is my life easier now and without struggle? As Pete the Cat would say, “Goodness No.”

But just like the meaning behind the former name of my blog, “Yesterday’s Kurta,” every yesterday has a story to tell.

While living in India, every Kurta I wore had a major story to tell. A story of hardship and discovery. So just like every yesterday has a story to tell, every person has a yesterday- A unique experience that could provide encouragement and connection to others who might be journeying through something similar. Each person is also in a different season of life. This means that they’ve already traversed through your current life season. Even more, one thing we all have in common even if our experiences or seasons of life vary, is that loneliness and discouragement are always beckoning on our doorstep. Always “prowling around like a lion waiting for someone to devour.”

Reflecting on our yesterday’s often provides us with the ability to offer others relevant wisdom and comfort. And when reflecting with an attitude of thanksgiving, we can see just how far we’ve come. Sometimes the ability to tell someone I know what you’re going through, you’re not alone, and I will help you go through it can be priceless.

When I am facing a challenge, or helping others I am often reminded of the book, “Going on a bear hunt.” With every obstacle the family experiences on their journey to find a bear, the chorus that repeats is,

“We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,

What a beautiful day!
I’m not scared

Oh look! It’s some long, wavy grass! (Or thick mud, or a dark forest, or a pond, or a snowstorm, or a dark cave…)
Can’t go over it,
Can’t go under it,
Can’t go around it,
Got to go through it!

We’re Going on a bear hunt By Michael Rosen

Every person has a forest or a snow storm or pile of muck that they couldn’t go over or under, but had to go through.

For me, one of my “forests” was when my second child had horrible colic for the first 6-9 months of his life. I think back to that time and recall so many tears, so many books rummaged through for help, so many walks by myself because I needed a break from the crying (that despite all of my efforts) I could not relieve. So much gripe water, and trial and error with formula that always ended in projectile vomiting. Then I spent 8 weeks dairy-free to breastfeed because that was the only option. My sweet poor babe was on both C-omeprazole and Zantac to relieve some of the pain of acid reflux. The pediatric GI somberly informed me that the small sphincter at the base of his esophagus just needed more time to develop and time was one thing I had no control over. I remember thinking during his pregnancy (which was very painful with constant braxton hicks starting at 24 weeks) that maybe he would be an easy baby. Wishful thinking.

As hard as it was, his pregnancy toughened me up a bit and prepped me for his colic. And now that I think of it, his colic may have strengthened me for his childhood. Over his 8 young years of life we have been managing Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, Anxiety and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Navigating all these challenges potentially built in me a stronger base that would ultimately prepare me for my third child, who I did not know was going to have Usher’s Syndrome which comes with its’ own set of unique challenges. The needs of my children have broken me down in so many ways, but the ways that I have been rebuilt are priceless. Every single struggle has sent me running to Jesus. And with HIM and all that this life has allowed, I am much stronger than I ever was or ever thought I could be. My mind likes to tell me lies about who I am and what I am capable of, all based on how hard things have been and my feelings in those moments. But Jesus gives me strength unimaginable. He give me strength to consider hope, when everything around me tells me otherwise.

So back to the beginning. How am I able to offer those (sometimes irritating) words to other mamas out there now?

Maybe I have simply arrived in a new season of life. Maybe I have more room to breathe to consider taking better care of myself. Maybe I am less sleep deprived, maybe my kids are in school, maybe I have help.

Or maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t stand NOT taking care of myself anymore.

I started to look around and realized that the waves were never going to stop coming. The obstacles on my “bear hunt” were endless. I had and continue to have legit reasons to explain my lack of margin in my life for self-care. But I tired of them. I tired of the hamster wheel of struggle, of treading water and receiving a life raft just moments shy of what felt like drowning.

So maybe you too feel a weight on your back when someone tells you to take care of yourself.

Maybe it’s because you’ve tried before and “failed.” You’ve seen others succeed when you couldn’t and it hurts like shame.

You see no light at the end of the tunnel and no possibility for hope. The obstacles are too great.

I want to enter into that space with you and say, I know. The weight of what you are feeling is real. It really is all TOO much. There really IS no margin. And having a hope for something better often feels like a trick.

But the alternative to hope, is bitterness and resentment. The alternative to trying is being stuck. The alternative to asking for help is relying completely on yourself, burning out and falling prey to isolation, cynicism and becoming someone you swore you would never become.

Sometimes it takes one simple moment of humility, acknowledging you need help to take care of yourself. One simple prayer asking Jesus to show you how. One simple decision to break the pattern of giving up, and begin the habit of taking one baby step at a time towards healthier choices. As mamas we know all too well what “baby steps” look like. If those sweet toddlers keep getting back up, so can we.

The things we say

Sometimes you catch words coming out of your mouth that you truly never could have guessed would pass your lips. For example, “You can’t have your ice cream until you finish your McDonald’s.” Or, “You will go to the beach and you WILL have fun!” Unfortunately, those sentences were delivered more than once while we were living in India and traveling through Indonesia. Getting the kids to eat Indian food at first was quite the struggle. So when we would find a familiar food item or restaurant, out of exhaustion and in need of a minute of life without constant battle (Parents of young kids- I know you feel me,) we would give them what we assumed was EXACTLY what they would want, only to find that there was STILL something off. Like, the cheese was different on the pizza, and there was no McDonald’s cheeseburger, only chicken.

When we left India for a forced 3-month exit, we assumed travel was the best option versus returning to the US. After a month in Thailand, where we had spent most of the time swimming in a pool or at beach, by the time we brought the kids to a beach in Bali, they were “beached out.”

In the hotel room, asking if they could relax in bed and watch TV instead of the beach!

That sounds ridiculous, when I say it out loud. But in reflection I can understand. Going to the beach after leaving the summer season of India was like literal water to our thirsty souls. We were in desperate need of being outside, in the fresh air. So we overplayed the beach like you did when you were young and you put your favorite new song on replay. It was tempting to perceive our kids were simply being “spoiled” and “ungrateful” with their whining and resisting of fast food/ the sea and sand. But sometimes our perspective on what they would enjoy isn’t always spot on.

First Day in Thailand after leaving India.

I recall these stories because something happened the other day that brought them back to the forefront of my mind as if it was yesterday and not almost 3 years ago.

I found myself saying something that felt almost as foreign as it was crossing my lips, simply because it was my first time saying it.

“Wow. I am so thankful for the Cochlear aqua gear.” Try saying cochlear aqua gear 5 times fast.

I’ve realized that living in a foreign country sometimes parallels the way it feels when you are simply walking through a foreign aspect of your life (like being the parent of a child with cochlear implants). The unexpected challenges catch you by surprise. Just like the things you assumed would be tasty and fun, were not- The things you thought would be an easy, just aren’t.

When the weekend comes, we are often looking for activities that our family can do that check a few boxes. Is it outside? Is it active? Is it something that all 3 kids would enjoy? Checking all 3 boxes is not easy. But when we heard about the upcoming church picnic and kids color run, I think we registered faster than we read the event details. So when we packed up our picnic lunch and I was checking to see if there was anything I forgot….BAM! “Oh wait- what about his “ears?” (Note: We call his implants his “ears.”) I messaged his audiologist and she said he could still participate but to make sure to use his “aqua gear” to protect his implants from the residual powder that was to be thrown on him while running.

The aqua gear are incredible. They allow him to wear his implants in the pool! However, they make for a very clunky, gawdy experience for him and they do not stay put with his level of activity in a pool. They frustrate him and he often chooses to remove them and simply go without sound. Sometimes this makes my heart sad. I think because it reminds me, even though they are amazing, his implants did not repair his hearing loss. Although, sometimes I think it makes me more sad than he actually is. He has just as much fun with them off sometimes! Maybe it’s because he is an excellent lip reader. Maybe I project how I feel too quickly. Once again- assuming that fast food restaurants, beach trip and color runs are sure-fire wins, when they might actually not be.

Post-Color run. Thank God he wore the aqua gear to cover his implants!

Likewise, being the parent of a child on the Autism spectrum, sometimes it’s just simply a Saturday that catches you by surprise. Here you are thinking you will sleep in a little (because it’s the weekend, right?) and that your family might enjoy an outing and a day off of schedules. Instead you wake up to find it’s going to be one of those “off days”- the ones that remind you your child has some extra struggles. To enhance the struggle, these “off” days always seem to come the day after a couple days that felt “normal” and “functional”…“thriving” even. 

Garrett did NOT enjoy the powdered color!

But what’s my point?

Like always, I find solace in both rejoicing and lamenting, sharing my experiences with words and hopes of affirming not just myself but anyone else who might be reading this and longing for this kind of connection.

I bet all parents can relate to this thought, that a lot of days simply just do not turn out how you thought it would.

I remember back when we were newlyweds, dreaming about what values we wanted to instill in our children. Back when people asked how many kids we wanted to have and we would answer romantically, “five.”

And now….10 years later with 3 children, I can understand why those receiving our answer of “five” held the facial expressions and the muted responses that they did.

But just as important as it is to recognize the struggle and process those emotions so we can support one another better the next time around, the “great” days and moments need to be meditated on too.

Family walks….. 50% chance of success, am I right?

So on that note….the other night we were all sitting at the table eating dinner.

The end.

Just kidding! (Kind of.) Because to be honest, THAT sentence alone is a victory worth noting. 

Because getting 2 boys with sensory issues, ADHD and Hearing Loss to sit at a table and have a functional dinner time meal is like getting a fish to NOT flop when it’s first out of water.

But lately…… we’ve not only been sitting together….. and eating…but talking too! Talking in a group conversation type style! You know the kind- where people take turns, and finish each other’s sentences, and connect!

Just lately, we have seen it. And it’s priceless.

Some days, you are taken aback, because your 6-year old cochlear implant wearer just told you in full sentences, “Will you go wait in line for me and ask for a velociraptor balloon animal- but if she can’t make that- will you get a monkey?”

I remember when he only had 30 words total that he could say.

Some days, your 8-year old, chooses to give his balloon animal to his 6-year old brother. EVEN THOUGH he obsessed and fixated on getting one, spending the majority of his time at the picnic event worrying about getting one, and almost had a full-on episode when pulled out of line…..

A rare moment captured.

Some days you get to see your child grow. You get to see your child do something that was either SOO very difficult for them to do (but you know that they’ve worked hard on it in therapy) OR something you NEVER thought they’d be able to do! Because miracles DO happen, and walls DO come down and limits CAN BE surpassed.

And for the moms and dads out there who can relate- sometimes you get to encourage your own self because you have seen and felt that YOU TOO have experienced growth!

I remember the days when I worried if I would ever be able to NOT worry. I remember when my daily prayer was to not get mad or let my frustration with kids’ behaviors get the best of me. I remember when as a couple we grieved over if we would ever experience a social event where our family was functional, socially appropriate or without crisis. 

I still sift through all of these thoughts, but I am anchored by experiences of success, muscle memory, thicker skin and above all else, an unshakeable faith in my Sovereign God. My God who sees all of my days, all of my weaknesses, all of my efforts, all that I carry, and all that I hold dear. 

And because of that I GET to honor my son’s sacrifice of a ballon animal- even though there were a number of unfavorable behaviors that preceded…. 

I get to give myself a pat on the back when I chose patience and resisted the felt social expectations and judgements surrounding me and chose NOT to reprimand my kids, but instead walked them through a “do-over” so they could experience how things could have gone. So they could experience the possibilities of how life could be.

Because of God’s grace and mercy and the life experiences that HE has allowed me to endure, I understand better WHICH behaviors to place my mind and my heart on. I understand better how to handle the unexpected.

I am definitely, still flawed and dependent on Jesus and will be until Heaven. Thank God HE is with me every day until then. Because I know there will be many more moments of failed outings and wrong assumptions of what our children should think is fun and great and tasty.

But I look forward to more unexpected phrases like, “Thank God for the aqua gear.”

Tomorrow, I will do better.

“Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it… yet.”

― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Growing up, my mom would speak these words to me, providing the comfort and encouragement I needed to let the heartache of that day fall away and turn towards the hope of a fresh start in the morning. Curling up on the couch and watching the Anne of Green Gables movies with my mom was a favorite past time of ours. So when my mom spoke these words over me, it wasn’t just the motherly reassurance I received, but in those moments I could literally hear Anne’s voice and feel the hope and inspiration that I felt every time I watched the movies.

Whether it was the mistakes I personally made that caused heartache, or the pain inflicted from others, the hope of morning, a clean slate, the sun rising again making all things new once more was, and still is of great comfort. I think it is safe to assume that the majority of people would gladly welcome the offer of a new day, or a second chance when they themself are to blame for the heartache of their present day.

The other day, Garrett had made a pretty poor choice out of anger and lost some technology privileges as a result. The pleading that resulted was intense. “Mom, please give me another chance! I am SOOOOOO sorry. Please, Please forgive me!”

Side note- Finding a child’s “currency” when it comes to consequences is priceless. However, our hope is to not only discipline using cause and effect but helping our kids to understand how the heart is involved as well. With developmental delays due to hearing loss and social weaknesses due to ASD and ADHD, teaching this has felt impossible at times. So when Garrett’s grief went beyond the loss of his ipad to grief over how he hurt me, I felt like we struck gold. As we cuddled at bedtime that evening, without prompting from me, He apologized again and told me that tomorrow was going to be a better day.

Garrett’s excitement for NYE fireworks!

On a similar note, Jackson was having a particularly challenging afternoon the following day. After enough exhaustion, I got down on my knees, hands on his shoulders, guided his eyes to mine and said, “Jackson, it is OK to feel frustrated, but it is NOT ok to hit or yell at Mommy.” His reply was, “OK Mom, Tomorrow I will try again.”

I laughed at his reply and said, “Jackson, you can try again RIGHT NOW!”

Jackson is tired of hearing the word, “no.” (haha)

It seems the hope for a better tomorrow begins at a young age. The idea of second chances that come with “tomorrow” is so full of hope and promise. Maybe this is why the “New Year” brings so much excitement and anticipation for goals to be set and yesterday’s to be washed away.

There is something sacred about the first few pages of a notebook, or a brand new planner unmarked and uncreased. Something so magical about the quiet of a new day, drinking a warm cup of coffee in solitude. Could I even go as far as to say there is something sacred about a house after you just finished cleaning and everything is in it’s rightful place? When nothing is out of order, the air smells clean and/or scented and the house is quiet and empty, except for you-admiring the work your hands have done and enjoying it’s newness.

I think it is innate for us to desire the purity of newness, or something being “made new.”

My boys.

In the Bible it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Genesis 1:1-31

God stood back and reflected on what He made. Something new and untouched. And what was before is noted as well, “darkness,” “without form,” “void.”

When I step back to enjoy the results of a clean house, a new planner, or a new day- the peace I feel is tangible because I remember what the chaos before felt like. I know the peace is momentary. I know that the pages will be written on, or bent or torn. I know the house will be dirtied and things left out on the floor, and the day will move beyond that “just woke up- first cup of coffee moment.” But the peace, for a moment, erases the darkness or void from the “pages before.”

May we all have Jackson’s energy.

There are so many pages I wish could be erased. Pages where my sin is plain for all to see. Pages filled with regret, or shame. There are moments that I hope my children will never remember. Moments where I lost my patience, and reacted adding anger to the chaos instead of providing comfort that their little hearts so desperately needed.

There are pages of heartache that I wish never to read again. The ones that your brain reads on replay without your permission of past trauma or grief.

Sometimes I think we can become so overcome by our pages of late that we begin to dread the pages of tomorrow. Assuming that we know exactly what they hold, and if our assumptions are correct, it will just be a continuation of our yesterday and one that we do not want to repeat. We can go through seasons where it feels as if life is a single day of misery stuck on repeat and we fear going to bed because we know that it will begin again all too soon.

Maybe that’s why so many people stay up long into the night binge-watching shows on Netflix. We try to keep a good feeling or experience going as long as we can because for a moment, it feels like we actually have control and are not just at the mercy of our circumstances.

I find it interesting that in Matthew 6:34 He says “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I completely agree that each day has enough trouble of it’s own, yet I am not sure I have lived one day without worrying about tomorrow. Sometimes the tomorrow I worry about is the one that is actually 24 hours away. Often though, it is the far off tomorrows that worry me the most.

I worry about the tomorrow’s for my children. Am I providing enough love and grace, yet also enough wisdom and discipline? How soon will Jackson lose his vision? Will Garrett grow up mentally and spiritually secure? Will he believe in the good in himself that we see or will he become jaded by the struggles and consequences that often result and go hand in hand with some of his ADHD/ASD behaviors? Will Gracelyn resent us or feel bitter because being the sibling of two younger brothers with extra needs can take such a toll? Will our marriage remain strong and will we remain steadfast in the midst of all of life’s challenges?

Our sweet Gracelyn, I’m thinking God lead us to her name for a reason.

Or even worries as simple as, “Lord-am I gonna make it through this day? This hour? This minute?”

As heavy-hearted as I might be at the end of a day, I cannot imagine going to sleep without the ability to talk to my Heavenly Father. In the evening I can say it all in prayer. I can praise Him because I know deep in my heart He is good no matter what. I can ask for forgiveness for all the ways I bent to my flesh that day. I can cry out for things to be different, for strength or comfort for myself or for others. And I can ask for His blessing over my tomorrow.

And when I awake, I can give thanks for a new day. For the sun rising again. For a fresh start. Even when I don’t feel it, often the act of giving thanks inspires hopes and strengthens faith. Lamentations 3:21-23 says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” When it is hard to believe that hope is possible, I can recall on His faithfulness that I KNOW I have experienced. I can remember the daily grief after we returned from overseas, unsettled, displaced, unsure of what was to come. Each day felt like we were no closer to getting answers on the future for our family. I can reflect on that season from where I stand now, a place where so many of those unanswered prayers during that time are now answered.

Proof of an actual weekend away!

Isaiah 42:16 says, “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” He has done this time and time again and we MUST practice remembrance or we we fall prey to despair and bitterness.

I remember a day when I felt like I would never be able to exercise again. Now I am in the best shape of my life.

I remember a day when I wondered if Jackson would ever speak with ease, and now he speaks full sentences.

I remember a day when I felt so hopeless in my ability to care for both Garrett and Jackson, now they both have an incredible professional care team to support us.

I remember the day when I felt like I would never overcome my fear of moving overseas, and we lived overseas for almost a year!

I remember a day when I felt like I would never sleep through the night again, now our firstborn is 10 years old and we have 3 children who sleep through the night.

I think it is important to practice remembrance. To recall the grief and the sorrow of our yesterday’s so that we can celebrate the blessing of our todays and tomorrows. This process seems natural at the start of a new year, or on our birthday. Because the newness seems more tangible. A brand new year-2022. A brand new age- 39. But imagine if we could embrace a brand new day the same way.

Because He made “Day” and “Night” ON PURPOSE.

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Genesis 1:1-31

The Bible is filled with verses about light. Scriptures full of how Jesus is the light and whoever believes in Him, lives in the light. Verses about how HE is the light to our path, and HIS light erases the darkness. Every new day is new light shining and removing all that was dark.

God is the God of second chances. His mercies are new every morning. He has made a way for us to be made new, to become a new creation. On this side of heaven we will sin, and He knows this, and provides us with new mercies every day. He does not want us held captive to yesterday, And HIS promise of salvation is eternal.

May we embrace this new year, this new month, this new day, heck-even this new hour, with hearts full of hope and the belief that joy can be restored. May we believe that this season of sorrow or grief will not last forever, and there is a day coming where our hearts will feel light once more. May we believe in the possibility of achieving this year, what has felt impossible. May we reach for those goals we once held so high but have since discarded out of fatigue from not reaching them yet.

May we find hope in the God that hears every cry, knows your every day, and has never left nor forsaken you.

May we find hope in tomorrow once more!

Phone calls & field trips.

“Hello?”

“Hi Mrs. Braucher this is the school nurse, Garrett is complaining of a stomach ache, can you come pick him up?”

For weeks, this exact phone dialogue was on repeat. After the first couple phone calls, as any “good mama” would, I picked him up and kept my eye on him throughout the afternoon. It’s amazing how fast kids can recover from a stomach ache once they’re home watching TV and requesting snacks, am I right?

But as any “smart mama” would (this is where I would insert the sarcastic laughing emoji) I could see through the facade. As consistent as the “stomach aches” became, the one consistent truth that remained- Garrett wanted out.

School has never been easy. In fact, if I could homeschool him (and I have tried twice now) I would. Ever since Pre-K, while Garrett was physically in school, we would receive a phone call for one reason or another, and when we picked him up- we would receive the dreaded “report.” Failure to stay in his seat, failure to follow directions, failure to keep his hands to himself, failure to wait his turn, speaks out of turn and the list goes on and on. Most littles one struggle with these same issues when they are learning to attend school. I would tell myself and others would tell me as well, “He’s just a boy being a boy, “He’ll grow out of it.”

When the same issues stick around grade after grade, and the reports evolve, any “smart mom” would begin to wonder, right? The reports got a bit more interesting though…

“Mrs. Braucher, Garrett cut his classmates hair.”

“Mrs. Braucher, Garrett peed in the grass during recess.”

“Mrs. Braucher, Garrett won’t stop kissing the girls.”

“Mrs. Braucher, does Garrett have a lunch account? He continues to get school lunches and claims they can ‘put it on his tab.'”

And over the years the phone calls started to get more impressive….

“Mrs. Braucher, Garrett has a lady bug stuck in his ear.”

“Mrs. Braucher, Garrett says that he was stung by a bee, a wasp, and a hornet simultaneously.”

This sweet boy of ours makes me laugh and smile greater than I ever could have imagined, yet at the same time makes me want to shout his name like the names Alvin the Chipmunk and Dennis the Menace have been shouted before.

There was one phone call in particular though that required some intervention. The day the school nurse called and said, “Mrs. Braucher, Garrett said that he has a dairy allergy and that he had chocolate milk for lunch and he needs to see a doctor immediately.”

This kid.

If you have a child like Garrett, a witty, clever, brilliant child that can manipulate like the best of them, never let them know things you are not certain of yourself. They may just use it as ammunition.

We had speculated a possible gluten and dairy sensitivity over the years. But we didn’t know for certain. In fact, we had removed dairy from my diet as a nursing mother, and gluten from his diet twice already. I also was not a stranger to the notion that these “food allergies” can be deemed the culprit cause of ADHD, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder and the like. But we were also in the midst of discerning if Garrett was battling an anxiety disorder along with his ADHD. He was already taking ADHD medicine and I hesitated to place him on a second medicine, so navigating the root cause of these “stomach aches” as potentially a food allergy was the next step.

Unfortunately, the pediatrician required bloodwork in order to confirm this theory. For me personally, I will consider everything, and will pray and discern what I feel the Lord is leading me to do for my children. Somewhat easy for me to say, however getting THE CHILD in question [with anxiety] to get bloodwork done is a whole other basket.

See, for Garrett, over the past couple of years we discovered it is necessary to make “field trips” to certain doctor’s appointments. This is our best chance at success. And success in this case equals “going through with” the appointment and not say, exiting the building and running down the street. Which HAS happened. Thus, our hope is by the 2nd visit, he will go through with the appointment. So we had our “field trip” for the blood work and surprisingly it went well!

So, when Garrett told the nurse that he ingested dairy and it was time to see the doctor, I decided to capitalize on his request and took him straight from school to the lab. Always better when he thinks it’s HIS idea.

I wish I could say our “field trip” prepared us for victory. But ultimately, what happened during the bloodwork was not a complete surprise. I think deep down I knew it would happen, but I was so hopeful. Maybe that’s why it hurt so much when it happened the way it did. Garrett was able to get through the check-in process, the waiting room, and sitting in the lab chair. They even were able to demonstrate tying the band around his arm to locate a vein. Once the blood work process began, that’s when the fight kicked in. He screamed, lashed out, head-butt and bit. He did anything to anyone out of defense.

I know that these reactions are not isolated to a child with special needs. Getting a shot or blood work can be scary and painful for any child, and even adult! But I think the difference is, when it was over, no hug or embrace, no sticker, lolly-pop or words of encouragement was going to help him recover. The anxiety, the pain, the adrenaline and the inability to self-regulate took over and he continued to physically and verbally take it out on me. I knew his fear and anxiety had turned to anger, and I was the scapegoat. I could see that his nurses were in shock (even though I gave them forewarning) and one of them even began to yell at him. I could see that they wanted to teach him a lesson and protect me. And I appreciated their concern. trust me, I do not condone this behavior. But knowing what I know about him and the needs that he has, this was all so much more than a boy being disrespectful. And this was not the first time I was the recipient of this verbal backlash. Hence, why we take these “field trips” or “practice runs.” But regardless, no level of prior experience, or special needs education and comprehension can remove the pain I felt. It took everything I had to get both of us out of that building.

Once we made it outside, he refused to get into the car and hid behind a column for about 10 minutes. I let him while I just cried. As hurt as I was, I could only imagine all of the emotions he was battling. I could see it on his face. Fear, anger, shame, confusion. FIGHT AND FLIGHT at it’s finest. When we got into the car, we both cried for a solid 15 minutes. It was one of the first times that I experienced his geniuine remorse. Even though, about an hour later he was fine. I saw remorse nonetheless. Something that most of the time, he had lacked and brought us concern. He even asked me if he could keep the bandage on his arm and wear it at school to show his classmates of his bravery.

Part of me wanted him to do so. He needed to be able to celebrate victories if he was going to be able to do it again! But I kept battling the question, was it really a victory? He seemed to feel so. But I wasn’t fine. I was grieving.

I still am.

In fact, I am not just grieving the struggle and heartache that can come with some of these experiences of being a parent of a child with special needs. I am battling shame and loneliness as well.

See, I actually wrote everything that you have just read in this blog post, over 3 months ago.

This particular doctor’s visit happened in June of 2021.

Today is October 4, 2021.

I tried to sit down several times in the past few months in an attempt to finish this blog.

Then I settled on the idea of writing something unrelated to special needs because I have felt so broken and messy in this part of my life. I doubted that I had the wisdom or right to write on such a topic.

Navigating the topic or the life with a “special needs child” or a child with “extra needs” or a child with “more” can feel so overwhelming. I have one son with an obvious need. He now has 2 cochlear implants and is progressing amazingly in his therapy and at his special school for children with hearing loss. I am so grateful for all the growth and celebration we have experienced this past year with and for Jackson.

But my sweet Garrett. My incredibly bright, witty, charismatic, Garrett has struggles that are not as visible and can often be mistaken for bad behaviors and bad parenting. We have have watched him grow from this adorable curly haired 4 year old boy with the greatest “Garrett-ism’s” and no fear/no filter personality, to a now 8 year old boy with the same quirks, but the fearlessness has more clearly presented itself as a struggle with impulsivity, and the “no filter” has brought on concerns of autism spectrum disorder.

We have been through so many evaluations, received a new diagnosis every year, have trial and error-ed our way through prescription medicines and dietary changes. We have struggled with shame, frustration, failure, and loneliness in this arena. And when I say we, I mean all of us. Not just us parents, but his siblings, and he himself have struggled with the impact that a social/mental/learning disorder can have on all facets of life.

It is so easy to misunderstood and it can be quite isolating when all most people see is the ” behaviors” that your child exhibits without the full understanding of where they come from. It can feel hurtful when instead of validation, as a parent you are offered correction after correction with a pinch of judgement and a splash of failure. And so for me- It can also be tempting to think- “I’ll wait until we get through this season, or until we have the next evaluation, or until we make headway in therapy or until I have it all figured out before I even consider that I have anything worth sharing with the world.”

If I continue to “wait until”, I will be waiting forever.

So today I will write.

Not for the mere purpose of “airing my dirty laundry” or to drop a “Dear Diary, I had the worst day ever” type of post into the google-sphere. But because I feel compelled to share about my journey with anxiety and with parenting children with extra needs. Back in June, I was not finished processing my experience and emotions from that particular doctor’s visit. I even struggled with this nagging voice in my ear that was telling me I have no right or authority to share on the topic of parenting children with special needs. A condemning voice whispering that I have no right at all to share about life’s trials because “it could always be worse.” Maybe that voice was the enemy, intending to prevent me from being transparent with others. Because sometimes the greatest encouragement can be simply reading someone elses’ words and connecting with them, realizing you are not alone. But the enemy wants us to feel alone. He wants us to always doubt God’s presence or goodness. So he capitalizes on our struggles and whispers lies to keep us held down by the weight of our pain.

I also hesitated to share my experience because I respect the fact that I am sharing about a real person, who one day will be an adult himself. One day in the future, if he reads these stories, I want him to ultimately see how “human” I am, how very much I love him and will never stop, and how very big our God is.

So today, in the middle of the mess, in the thick of the dysfunction, in the heat of the troubles-I am going to write to remember.

I am writing to remember that life has been messy and hard, but never once has God been absent. I want to infuse it in my brain. I want my children to know it. I want other moms to believe it and to take inventory on their past experiences with a new set of glasses. Not the rose-colored ones, but not the tinted ones either.

When I draw near to Christ, I have eyes to see and ears to hear. I am able to look back and see how he has prepared me for such a time as this.

I look back on the day that we received the news that Jackson has Usher’s Syndrome. I reflect on the various diagnoses that Garrett has collected over the years. And I continue to process the recent news that all of his challenges explain how he too, like so many amazing children before him, hold a special place on the Autism Spectrum. I remember all of the feelings. I still experience them now. Sadness, pain, worry, confusion, anxiety, guilt, grief. Some days can be so heavy with life’s challenges that it feels like you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other to keep going. It can feel like if you stop moving, the waves will overcome you.

But I have committed with my heart to remember that with Jesus, they won’t. With Jesus, the waves may keep coming, but HE is still greater than the waves.

With Jesus, I continue to be guided towards relationship with HIM and to prioritize self-care. You see, God chose me to be the mama for these kids. I may have to remind myself every day, but He did. And he did not choose me without promising to equip me. By the power of His word and the power of the Holy Spirit guiding me into specific friendships, specific doctors and therapists, special grants and scholarships, I continue to keep going.

He will never leave me or forsake me. This is true for Garrett, Jackson, Gracelyn and Adam.

This is true for all of God’s children.

This is true for you mama.

You are not alone. You were chosen to be his mom or her mom.

God WILL carry you and strengthen you, and be the parent when you are bone-dry.

His promises are forever.

“For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14

I am FOR you.

We are FOR each other.

I still remember the first time I heard this, the first time I tangibly felt and received this message of hope and truth. It was during a moment when my husband and I were discussing our kids. One of those tense moments, when both parents are sharing their concerns, and stresses and desperately searching for validation from one another. Sometimes this kind of sharing can come off sort of defensive, as if you are trying to make certain your spouse knows that you have nothing left.

When I reflect on this moment we had, one of countless many, it was not that we were competing against one another to win a battle over who was more burnt out, or who had been working harder. Rather, we were both simply crying out to one another, seeking connection and validation. My husband was wise enough to discern what needed to be said next.

He placed his hands on my shoulders and with a bit of firm pressure he said, “I am for you. We are FOR each other.” I knew in that moment he was offering affirmation. He affirmed that he could see how hard I was going, and he connected that he knew exactly how I felt. I could sense his eyes saying, “We are both weary, but let’s remember and let’s promise that we are FOR EACH OTHER.”

12 years ago.

This phrase has been spoken many times since that first time. And every time it speaks life and creates connection. I can imagine like most, our family’s life and all that it entails often looks like a tangled mess of electrical cords that results from two many devices plugging into to the same power source, overlapping, and overwhelming one another. On a daily basis we are juggling the needs of our 3 children and our own. Most of our discussions end up being completed via email and text message because the noise level in our house is close to impossible to overcome. Decisions need to be made daily on who is taking which child to speech therapy, to occupational therapy, to school, to gymnastics, or to the doctor. Then debriefs need to be held, on what strategies need to be implemented at home after said appointments; to help our boys build on what they are learning and generalize it to the home and other contexts.

Most weeks, there is urgent need to discuss a school or social situation that went awry and how we can better support our boys to be more successful the next time. I fully believe that every child regardless of ability is growing and learning how to participate in this world at their own levels and in their own ways. However, in our experience, when there is a disability involved, navigating raising a child can become confusing and complex. Many disabilities are not isolated, impacting only the one “said” area of development. Whatever it is, whatever form it takes, the disability or disorder impacts all of their senses. How they take in and process the environment around them, and how they interact with others socially is greatly challenged. For a parent of a child with special needs, impairments in areas such as executive functioning, self-control and emotional-regulation caused by a Syndrome or Disorder can result in social interactions that make you hold your breath, never knowing how it will turn out.

Just a normal day with these 2 goof-balls.

But like most parents, regardless if the child is neuro-typical or neuro-diverse, your hope is to protect them from heartache, rejection and consequence. Your goal is to provide them the tools they need to recognize their weaknesses and work to overcome them on their own. We don’t want our children to live in a bubble, never experiencing the challenge of working through mistakes and overcoming adversities. But when we know that there are elements of their mental and physical wiring that are limited, we have to be “extra” present and involved. We have to serve like training wheels on a bicycle. We have to be that buffer until they gain the ability and confidence to do what “most” people can without assistance or intervention.

Parenting a child with “extra” needs is often an all-encompassing job. The management and discussion of their needs can be overwhelming. The temptation to beat yourself up for not ALWAYS parenting with “therapy” skills is constant. It is easy to condemn yourself for getting irritated or impatient, momentarily forgetting that their disability is constant. And it takes ongoing awareness to control the amount of time spent sharing these thoughts, battles, schedules and strategies with your spouse.

It takes conscious thought and awareness to recognize when my neuro-diverse childs’ needs have become a monopoly and my neuro-typical childs’ needs are being passed over. Parenting is a juggling act, no matter how many children you have, and regardless of abilities or needs. All any parent hopes for at the end of the day is that they loved their child well and that they themself can have a moment to breathe.

Our incredible 9-year old daughter.

I am so grateful for the ways that my husband and I work together as partners and as teammates to keep our family boat afloat and moving forward. But if we all talk about is logistics, it becomes easy to forget about each other. It becomes easy to stop “seeing” one another. And for the health of our marriage, it is imperative to balance what we say to one another, and to never stop “seeing” each other.

I will never forget something I learned during a therapy session with my counselor years back. I had just been officially diagnosed with anxiety and started taking medicine. We were discussing how anxiety can look different in each person. He offered me a visual that has always stuck with me. For me, anxiety is like an “object” hovering over my face. The stress from whatever the trigger was has become so all encompassing that I can barely see what’s in front of me. I can hear all the voices, and sounds but cannot differentiate enough to attend to who or what is talking. I may have a little peripheral vision, but I have become clouded and unable to “see” the person in front of me. I can only feel that something is not OK and my flesh wants to “fight or flight.”

I have learned to identify and sense the tension in my body and the tightness in my chest. I have learned to recognize my feelings and to validate them, yet also my ability to “take control.” I can imagine as if I am grabbing the “mass” (aka-anxiety) from over my face, removing it and placing it down on the seat next to me. I am then free to truly see the person in front of me with clarity. I can see others for who they are and not see them through anxiety’s threatening filter. Once anxiety has been safely placed to the side, I am more abIe to see and hear my husband, or my child, or whoever it may be, sharing their weary heart. I can better identify that the anxiety is a side effect of pain, hidden somewhere, trying to be eased. Practicing this exercise has helped to avoid the all too common tendency for people to unconsciously “bleed” on one another. We are all susceptible to pain. We are all hurting from something. We all want the pain to subside and have our own ideas of how to absolve it. When we stop seeing the humanity in one another, others, especially those with differing opinions, challenging behaviors and attitudes simply become an unconscious threat to our own ability to keep the peace, and avoid pain.

Imagine if we all could promise to never stop seeing the humanity in one another. To never let fear rob us of clarity. Imagine if we as people could truly believe that we are all “FOR each other.”

Be still, my heart.

My prayer and hope is that deep down this is true. That all people, at the base of their soul have a heart for others. That regardless of ethnicity, gender, political party, vaccination status or anything else that divides, we all want to be loved and offer love. But because of pain and fear, we just forget how.

So in my own small way, I am trying to pass on a love that is unconditional within my family. Modeled after the love of Jesus, who while crucified on a cross, sentenced there by an angry mob said, “Father, forgive them, For they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

I still can’t imagine what it was like to offer that kind of grace and mercy. But I believe that He was able to do so because HE trusted in the Father. He trusted his life into the hands of God and trusted in His plan, even though He had to face such great suffering and death. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us that, “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The following verse says, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

When I meditate on the life and death of Christ, I am compelled to cling to Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” And I store in my heart the truth of Romans 8:31, that “If God is for us, who can be against us?” I am in awe that we have a God whose love is unconditional and who is FOR us. I am so grateful that my husband started this phrase for our family. And I am blessed to be able to extend the same love and grace to my children.

On one particular day, I was able to offer this love to my son. I was waiting for him as he was getting off the school bus. As he descended the steps, another student immediately followed after him, racing to get to me first. This child wanted to make sure I knew that my son had teased him. On this particular day, I had a sense that the other child was not completely innocent. And if I’m honest, I was getting fatigued by this after school routine repeating itself day after day. I briefly acknowledged the other child’s complaint and began walking my son home.

I remember looking at my son while we were walking, and I could tell he was getting himself ready for another “talk.” This time, I looked at him and I said, “I need you to know, I am on your side buddy.”

He looked surprised and even a little confused. And then he said, “No, you’re not,” and he hung his head.

At that point, I stopped walking and placed my hands on his shoulders and told him, “Whether you made a mistake or not, I am for you. I am on your side. Whether I need to teach you what you did wrong, whether there is a consequence, or whether the other kid started it, YOU are MY son. I am here for YOU. I am FOR you.”

And that was all we said that day.

Getting out of my own way: Part 2

The days following the decision to no longer pursue a business with Young Living passed by with plenty of distractions. COVID for one. Yup, I had it. And if there is anything you do not want to do when you have the coronavirus, it’s post on social media. I imagined that people wouldn’t even want to click on a post if I had shared one for fear of infection….I mean-isn’t that what the news said anyway? Just kidding.

But once that month of life was over, and we had the freedom to leave our home, it was time for Jackson’s second cochlear implant surgery! What timing, right? Regardless of the stress of it all, we were very excited for Jackson to receive his next implant and all the growth that was to come. During this time, I shared a lot about his surgery, his healing and the day when they turned the implant on!

But inside I was heavy hearted. COVID quarantine isolated me in more ways than one. March and April were trying months for our family. Our middle son was struggling. We had been treating his ADHD with medicine and social skills therapy, yet school was becoming a nightmare. The stress he was experiencing in life was creating stomach aches, frequent calls to come home from school, and requests to sleep with me every night. The pediatrician was concerned about Celiac and the Specialist was concerned about Anxiety. We were just worried in general.

Sometimes it feels as if the waves never stop crashing. One minute you get wrecked from a wave, finally begin to come up for air and catch your breath, and the next wave swallows you up.

My mind was consumed with Jackson’s healing, Garrett’s struggles, as well as preparing for his upcoming 504 meeting with his public school. I have learned that it is not uncommon for parents to get consumed with the needs of their child. I have also learned that this is not always OK. I know that life has seasons, ebbs and flows and periods of time where our focus shifts from one area to another. But if I was going to be of any worth for my children, I needed to take care of myself as well.

Early into 2021 I knew that I needed to commit to taking better care of my health. Wine and ice cream had become close friends that needed the boot. Nothing like the anniversary of a pandemic to reflect on what types of habits you have developed. In fact, there are several times throughout a year that offer the potential for a fresh start. The New year is an obvious one, the start to a new school year another, the beginning of a new job, moving to a new town, or a new home, the end of an era, the beginning of one….. you get the picture.

When we moved from New York, out of my parents house and back into our old home in Florida, I took this as an opportunity to start developing some new patterns and routines. I committed to a pelvic floor therapy program called MUTU and experienced great healing, mobility and strength that I had been lacking for years postpartum.

(Read here to learn more about MUTU…http://heatherbraucher.com/2021/01/15/the-core/)

At the start of 2021 I really want to to commit to do the Whole 30 program, but I had failed that before and felt so overwhelmed by the program again that I decided not to go through with it. Instead I committed to exercise more regularly and track my macros. Simple, yet effective. For a short time. As I shared in the beginning, that’s when life came barreling back in trying to convince me to give up on any self care routine. Covid, quarantine, cochlear implant surgery, children’s school troubles, anxiety, celiac…… the list goes on and on.

So here I was, realizing that my plans had gotten a bit derailed, but I didn’t want to give up. I had repeatedly seen posts on social media about a program called the Faster Way to Fat Loss. I remembered a close friend of mine had done the program so I decided to reach out to her about it. She shared the benefits she had been experiencing from participating in the program and connected me to her coach.

I did some more research on my own and felt extremely drawn to the program layout. It wasn’t JUST workout routines, or JUST meal plans, it was all of it! For $199 I would receive a coach, an accountability group, and a 6 week experience where I would learn about whole food nutrition, intermittent fasting, carb cycling as well as receive incredible daily workouts all provided via app and Facebook. That was a whole lot of ALL that I was looking for, in ONE place.

I shared with my husband that I had been following this program- The Faster Way to Fat Loss (FWTFL), it’s CEO Amanda Tress and other friends doing the program all on social media and I really felt pulled to give it a try.

Then I realized, it was happening again! Social media was making a play in my life. The kind of play you are supposed to avoid, right? I was buying into something that was being sold on social media. AHHHHHHH!!!! Run!!!!!

Well friends, I am SO glad that I bought into this one. In my 6 week experience with the Faster Way to Fat Loss, I learned SO much about whole food nutrition, and how to transform the way I eat and the best part- I learned it in a non-threatening, non-budget crushing, slow and progressive way! I began tracking my macros and understanding the important balance of these nutrients. The guidance from the program and my coach exposed some of the myths I had so readily believed regarding the nutrition content of my regular diet. The accountability was a game changer. There is nothing like having to track and report your food/macros to your coach and other fellow program members to keep you honest! And the workouts!!!! Oh my goodness the workouts. I am in love with the workouts. The trainers are excellent, the routines and strategies are brilliant and the support presented in each workout via low impact options, modifications, and variety of modalities (tubing, dumbbells, home, gym) sets each person up for success.

This last part was so significant for me. My brain wants to train like I did when I played college field hockey, but for so long I have felt trapped in this rehab, physical therapy, limited-ability mindset and structure. So long in fact, that it has been years since I have experienced progress. Yes, I have prevented relapse and injury with this method over the years, but after my pelvic floor therapy program- I really felt like my body was ready for more. Over the years I developed a motto of “Success is not in the outcome, it is in the attempt.” This way of thinking has given me the freedom to try and fail, to celebrate small wins and not give up when things do not turn out the way that I had hoped.

(To hear more about my motto and fitness story, read here) http://heatherbraucher.com/2020/07/07/the-mirage-of-arriving/

So imagine my joy when I learned that one of the mottos of this program is Progress not Perfection. Ever since I joined the FWTFL program, I have felt healthier, stronger and more motivated to set goals. I have lost 2 inches and am beginning to see body composition changes! It feels as if a little of my former self is being unearthed. I am remembering what it was like when I was a trainer, working with adults and athletes, helping them work to reach their goals. A passion that once was has reignited. An ability that I thought I would never have again, has returned.

Because of my experience in this program and the encouragement of others, I have decided to become a Coach for the FWTFL program. I am currently studying to pass my certification exam and hope to be able to offer and coach my first week community round in August. This job opportunity offers the ability to bring in an income, which I am praying turns out to be fruitful for our family and allows us the ability to support others in ministry as we have been supported by others in ministry all these years. But this job opportunity feels like it will offer so much more.

Click here to learn more about the Faster Way to Fat Loss program https://www.fasterwaycoach.com/community#HeatherBraucher

Click here to Join my August round! https://forms.gle/Rfqty8k5GcLiQgzh7

There are countless moments in life that I find myself asking the Lord if everything will truly end up ok. I pray for deliverance, wisdom, answers, patience and trust. It is easy to remember all the hard stuff. My brain doesn’t need help with that. But it takes mental training to recall all of the good stuff. This is some of the good stuff.

The Lord has brought me to and through many places, callings, challenges, and hopes. I am grateful for this one, and can’t wait to see what happens.

Isaiah 61.

Fatigue doesn’t care, but I do.

The room was pitch black, minus the dull glow from the star stickers on the ceiling above Garrett’s bed. The sound of pouring rain coming from the white noise app on the ipad was at max volume, but it still couldn’t drown out the tapping and clicking noises that each child was creating as they waited for sleep to wash over them. Every “tap” and “click” felt like nails on a chalkboard as my stomach tensed at their sound, over and over again. At this point, my mind and body were convinced that one more request, excuse or interruption to the bedtime efforts meant this day would never end.

This wasn’t a new experience. In fact, it was typical. So in all reality my brain knew that the boys would inevitably fall asleep and the day too would come to its end. But fatigue- be it emotional, physical or mental, did not care what my brain “should” know to be true. Fatigue doesn’t care how much I actually love these kiddos and cherish the cuddles. Fatigue pays no mind to the fact that once they fall asleep, my heart will leap a little as I peek at their peaceful faces. No. Fatigue only wants to hijack the brain with feelings of desperation.

So as I stare at the stars on the ceiling, and try to remain perfectly still in hopes that Jackson will forget I am there and fall asleep, my fatigue-hijacked mind keeps anticipating the glass of wine and TV show that lies ahead. Or alternatively (depending on the type of day I had) my body aches for the incredible feeling of a shower and crawling under the covers of my own bed that feels like the finish line I have been racing to cross for decades.

Then, it happens. Stillness and slow breathing. They are asleep! I made it! After what felt like an eternity, I am finally alone and can rest. No more requests, whining, begging, arguing, serving, running, redirecting, cleaning, mediating and just pain loudness. I have a couple solid hours to myself, if I can keep my eyes open. But then, upon finally making it to the shower, instead of basking in my solitude, my brain immediately reflects and condemns. I begin to ask myself questions like, “Did bedtime really take over an hour? Why does it take them so long to fall asleep? Why do I have to be there? Will they ever grow out of this? Was I even nice to be around? Why am I so angry? Why can’t I just be patient, and enduring?” And I pray, “Lord, help them not remember me like this, exhausted, irritable and quick-tempered.”

I remember the first couple years of motherhood, a veteran mom told me, “You are going to make mistakes as a parent, it is impossible not to. But thank God we can ask for HIS mercy to wash our mistakes away and HIS grace to fill in the gap.” She encouraged me not to sit in self-condemnation, but instead bring it all to the Lord. So every night, sometimes every day, every hour, every moment, I bring it all to the Lord. Because I am frustrated. I am exhausted. I am weary. I am tired of making the same mistakes, I am tired of how hard it is. I want to be stronger, more patient, more disciplined now. Because every moment that I am not, is another opportunity to blame myself for the misbehaviors of my children. Because that’s what I am tempted to do, all day long. Blame myself.

In the early years, it was less of my own and more of others playing the blaming and shaming game. The all too often, ever present answer to a mama’s cry for help was, “Oh, you JUST need to sleep train….you JUST need to breastfeed… you need to bottle feed so someone else can feed them…you need to expect immediate obedience with a happy heart on the first try… you need to spank… you need to stop letting them control you…you need to get rid of gluten and dairy… you need to get rid of TV and devices…YOU need to… you NEED to… you need TO…. and the list goes on and on.

I’m not sure if the “mom wars” are still as active now, if mama’s have become more supportive of each other’s varying styles, or if I have gotten better at tuning them out, but my battle these days are more of my own condemnation than the condemnation of others. For so many years, I tried to avoid making mistakes. I wouldn’t make decisions, or actions without doing my research to ensure that the success rate was high. I couldn’t offer myself the grace necessary to make a mistake and learn from it. It was too costly, so I had to make sure to get it right the first time.

That is, until a series of life-altering events happened that showed me just how little control I have. In Fall 2012, our firstborn ate her first peanut butter and jelly sandwich the day after her first birthday only to discover she had a life threatening peanut allergy. In Fall 2016 at age 33, I found out that all these years I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. And again in 2018 when our youngest son was 3, we learned that he had bilateral sensorineural hearing loss caused by a genetic syndrome called Usher’s Syndrome. And again, in 2019 at the age of 6 when we learned that our middle son had significant ADHD and Anxiety that required medication. Those are a lot of things to find out down the road. A lot of information received later than I would have liked. When you do not have all the information necessary to make all the right choices, you are given a lot of opportunity to make mistakes and get it wrong.

Let’s be honest, in life do we ever have all of the necessary information to make all the right choices? No. But we can do our best with what we have and never stop learning. We can be humble and offer ourselves the grace to face our mistakes so that we can grow. And if as an adult- I am still learning to do this, how much more can I offer this to my children who have much less years of mistakes to learn from.

Here I am, 38 and still making some of the same mistakes. Still struggling not to condemn myself.

Our middle son has been facing many struggles as a result of his disorders. The decision of whether or not to add anxiety medicine in addition to his ADHD medicine was a difficult decision to make. We had all of the necessary data to suggest that this was the next best move.

But I couldn’t get past myself.

And all the voices and all of the questions that have raced through my head before, came flooding back.

“Are you really going to put him on another medicine? He’s only 7.” … “Why don’t you strip his diet of all gluten and dairy?”… “Maybe he’s just a boy being a boy and you are not disciplining him enough?” … “Maybe you need to increase your anxiety medicine before you put him on another one.”… “Why can’t you just homeschool him?”… “Maybe all of his behaviors and struggles are because you are too weak.” …

So many voices. My own, and others.

Sometimes it feels as if the voices can consume me. Very similar to the actual noise in our household. It can be so loud, so overwhelming. When you have a 5- year old who is hard-of-hearing and still learning how to moderate his voice, and a 7-year old with ADHD who has one volume level- loud. And also a 9-year old who unfortunately learned that in order to be heard she has to push through and talk over the noise, and 2 parents who sometimes have to do the same in order to communicate who is picking the kids up from school, it feels like I am a thermometer about to burst. You know the cartoon thermometer? I can feel the red liquid rising quickly to the top of me about to burst, and I literally have to take myself to the front porch, shut the door and the noise behind me and breathe….or else.

So much noise, so many voices. I find myself preferring silence whenever I get the chance. When I go for a walk, a run, a bike ride or even in the car, I choose the quiet. I have to seek out the quiet. Not just to give my ears a rest. I desperately need to hear HIS voice. In the quiet, I can pray and ask for HIS voice to speak to me what is true. And I am reminded of what I know to be true about HIM, about myself, and about my circumstances. I am reminded that we waited until the doctor said it was OK to introduce peanut butter. I am reminded that we had Jackson in speech therapy for 2 years before they diagnosed his hearing loss. I am reminded that we sought council and nurtured Garrett’s sensory processing disorder as best as we could and even removed gluten from his diet before we went the medicinal route. I remember how we use essential oils to support our minds and body in a natural way. I remember that we tried many different ADHD medicines, and had him tested for celiac as we discerned his need for anxiety medication. And I remember how we have prayed every step of the way.

And in the silence, after they have fallen asleep, after I have snuggled with each of them and endured their restlessness and repetitive “clicks” and “taps”, I am reminded that I am FOR them. I love them so stinkin’ much.

I am frustrated, exhausted and weary BECAUSE I love them so stinkin’ much. I am frustrated and exhausted and weary BECAUSE I make mistakes, and I am not gonna stop trying to be better. I am frustrated and exhausted and weary BECAUSE they keep making mistakes, and often drive me nuts, but I am not gonna stop trying to help them grow. And I am frustrated, exhausted and weary because I have 3 children under the age of 9, two who are neuro- diverse, and motherhood in general is hard! To quote my mom, “It is the hardest job you’ll ever love.”

I had to remind my son the other day, “I am for you. You are MY son, and I am on YOUR side.” I said it with a bit of intensity because it had been one-too many tattle-tales from the same child. One who is quick to blame Garrett, and never takes responsibility for their part. I had had enough. I respectfully acknowledged the complaint, addressed the behavior and what needs to stop or start. But after, when it was just us, I made sure he knew I was for him.

And I will make sure to offer myself the same reassurance. Because my God is always with me, and He is always for me. He gives me the grace to forgive myself, and the strength to try again. He sees me. He knows my struggle. He sees my children, and He knows all of our weaknesses. And when the voices in my head start chiming, whether it be from others, or my own, I will remember- “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” Romans 8:31. And all of Romans 8 for that matter because this entire passage of scripture reminds us that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus Christ. It reminds us that Jesus frees us from the power of sin, and His Holy Spirit affirms who we are as children of God. That HE helps us in our weakness and helps us to pray and that NOTHING can separate us from HIS love. And when I am feeling hopeless, and do not have the strength to try again, I can remember HIS perfect love for us and how many times he stood back up with that cross on his back- for us. And there is no amount of fatigue that God’s love can’t conquer.