Thanksgiving. The time for turkey, football and unbuttoning the top of your pants in front of the TV.
It’s the official kick-off for the holiday season. The time when you get together with your those you love for awkward family moments, just as our forefathers had with the Native Americans centuries ago.
It’s been a long time since I’ve spent Thanksgiving with both my siblings. It’s not that we don’t get along, but despite sharing some of the same genetics, we don’t have much in common. Some of that has to do with the age difference between us. My sister is twelve years older than I am, and my brother almost seven. It was not the type of dynamic to build strong sibling bonds.
The last time we all spent Thanksgiving together was a few decades ago. Our family crammed into my dad’s company car, a swanky Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, to join the thousands of other people taking the Tappan Zee bridge over to New Jersey.
The plan was to spend the day with my uncle and his family, but as anyone who has traveled around New York City, short drives on good days often turn into hours in a car. On a holiday with some inclement weather and you could be on a road trip of epic proportions. Add three siblings of varying age, and it is a wonder how my parents did not throw us over the bridge.
You see, as hard as this may be for you to believe, I was somewhat of a difficult child. I was whiny. I was an attention-seeker. I was a needler. And I certainly did not know when to keep my mouth shut. We were two hours into a car ride that should only take about 90 minutes and only halfway there. I was in full-out melt down mode.
I couldn’t keep my hands to myself. I was bored. I kept waking my sister up. I think I said a minimum of 272 times “Are we there yet?” Take your worst story about your kid, and then multiply that by seven and maybe you will get a child in the realm of how I was behaving.
It was a scene right out of a sitcom. My mom talked to me through clenched teeth saying things like: “Don’t make me pull this car over” or to my sister “I’ll slap that smirk right off your face.” As my brother kept to himself while listening to his walkman, he would slyly poke my ear or give me a charlie horse or pinch my arm. After my screams, my mom would give him the stare of death with a side of evil eye. This simultaneously occurred while she hit her imaginary brake in the passenger seat as we navigated stop and go traffic.
My father, who was a road warrior most Monday through Fridays in his sales job, was not used to this much “quality time” with his kids. Straight out of a Mad Men episode, he was a chain smoker who entertained his clients on the golf course with liquid lunches. I suspect being trapped in the car trying to get over the Hudson River with two smart-ass, complaining teens and a whiny kid constituted his worst nightmare. In fact, this trip may have been the impetus for his bleeding ulcer.
And just as we hit our breaking point with the trip — the moment where we all thought we were going crazy — my brother rolled down his window, stuck his brace face out of the car, and remarked to a passing limousine in his worst British accent: “Pardon me sir, can you pass the Grey Poupon?”
That did it. My entire family erupted in laughter. The tension left the car and the traffic opened up. I settled down and my sister stopped complaining that she wanted to be somewhere else. My brother stopped poking me. Even my mom relaxed. It ended up being a lovely day.
And that moment — that hilarious, ridiculous second in time — is forever etched in my memory. It is what Thanksgiving is all about.
And while Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for all we have, it’s also a reminder to remember where we come from, and what makes us who we are today. I live hundreds of miles away from my sister, and my brother is taking his own teenage son to look at colleges, so my family unit is spending the holiday at a water park in Wisconsin. We will eat a dinner just as the first settlers did — with a buffet located in the “Critter Corner.”
Now, as I travel with my three kids who have their own unique dynamic only being sixteen months apart, I have found myself talking through clenched teeth a few times as I answer my daughters about how long we have been on the road (20 minutes), or to stop touching their sister, or having to stop to go to the bathroom….again.
And I am transported to another time, when it was me in the back seat with my two siblings. I now know that these times, these moments, will be what my kids remember about their own childhoods. So, I laugh at some of their antics and tell them stories about their uncle and aunt, and I cherish all that Thanksgiving brings with it — the good, the bad and the whole lot of ugly complaining about road trips.
Because I know one day, not so far in the future, I’ll look at the empty back seat behind me, and wish someone was asking me how much longer.
But I know the answer will be: “Yes, dear child. We’re already there.”
Wishing you the happiest of Thanksgivings from Playdates on Fridays. May your holiday be filled with tasty food, merry drink, and yes, even awkward family moments that make for great memories. Just as our forefathers wanted.
I remember several years ago talking to a stay at home dad at my daughters’ preschool. He told me about how he lost his engineering job when his company got purchased, and in the same week his wife landed a new, well-paying gig for an accounting firm. His youngest had three years until he would be in school full time, so they ran the numbers, and determined it made sense for him to make a career change. After joking about the initial feeling of emasculation, he willingly embraced his new role.
I actually would say that he was pretty damn good at his new job. In fact, he killed it as the primary parent. After watching him, I was the one that was emomulated (see what I did there? Emasculated/Emomulated.)
It’s pretty typical nowadays to see dads playing an increasing role in their children’s lives. Some estimates say the number of at-home dads who are primary caregivers for their children totals nearly 2 million according to the National At-Home Dad Network. The 2011 census states that nearly seven million dads can be considered primary caregivers, meaning they are a regular source of care for their children under age 15. That’s nearly one-third of all married dads.
Every day I see them baby-wearing at grocery stores, early to school pick up, putting in pony tails at gymnastics and even rocking it at the completely misnomered “Mommy and Me” classes. Some of these men stay at home, and some share the child-rearing load with their partners; but the most important factor is that more dads are understanding that childcare is difficult, important, and not only for Moms.
What is particularly interesting is how men have redefined the “Mr. Mom” stigma. Instead of replicating the way their partner would provide care for their children, dads are parenting to their strengths — not to society’s preconceived notions. This is something us moms should note.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from some great dads:
+ Confidence. I would think you have to be pretty confident to be a stay at home dad — or even the primary care giver — in a world that still thinks a man’s job is to be the bread winner. The dads I know don’t seem to worry about that, and they don’t spend hours worrying about every little aspect of child rearing. They aren’t seeking advice from blogs or Pinterest or parenting sites. They do the best they can and know that it’s good enough. Point taken.
+ Efficient. I entered Trader Joe’s the other day (by myself) at the same time as a Dad and his three young kids. He had his list on his phone and was in and out of that store with his four bags of groceries before I even got out of the meat aisle. And his kids got lollipops for finding the monkey. He didn’t waste time scanning labels, didn’t get distracted by the samples, and barely was phased when his toddler had a breakdown because he wasn’t getting muffins. He moved with laser-like focus. It was inspiring, but then I lost my train of thought while trying to remember if I needed eggs.
+ Guilt-free. Women feel guilt for working too much or not working enough or not doing enough with their kids or not cleaning the house or not cooking organic — and the list goes on and on. The dads I know who are primary caregivers don’t ever seem to wrestle with guilt. They make the most of their time and move on. I need me some of that.
+ Home-making does not define them. I do not want to marginalize dads in any way, but most fathers I know who are primary care givers are not defined by the cleanliness of their house or the complexity of their meals. That’s not to say dads don’t work hard at cleaning and cooking and doing the laundry, but I’ve heard some rousing games of sock football or putting together a paper plane army sometimes gets in the way of polishing the silver. A former male colleague turned freelance writer/primary parent said this: “When my wife went back to work, our deal was to hire a professional cleaner to come in twice a month. I’m pretty good at picking up, but not so good at the details that drive her crazy. I do the cooking, grocery shopping, house management and child schlepping, and she does the dishes. I hate doing the dishes, so it works for us.”
That being said, dads’ hard work in the home should not go unnoticed. One study found that daughters of fathers who don’t subscribe to “traditional” gender roles at home grow up to become women who feel confident to work outside of the house. And teaching our daughters that their opportunities are not limited should be celebrated.
+ Identity. I once shared a carpool with a dad who left his software sales job to take care of his four kids while his wife completed her residency program. He had the kids listening to The Beatles on the drive (no Kidz Bop for him), took his whole brood ice skating every week (he was a former hockey player) and taught them how to code their own web sites. Dads have a way of being involved with their kids while keeping their identities, while most women struggle with this. Which kinda is why dads can also be more fun — even when they’re doing the parenting every single day. When they like what they are doing, everyone enjoys it more.
Have you learned anything from a modern dad?
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I read this article a few weeks back and have been corresponding with the author, Vanessa Schenck. I love what she is all about. She’s an entrepreneur, she’s a mom, and she’s concerned with what’s happening to our girls. And she remembers David Cassidy too, so we totally get each other. I asked if I could republish this article that originally appeared on Girilla Warfare, and thankfully she said yes because I love the message.
What I am even more excited about is Vanessa will soon be launching a lifestyle brand for Tween girls called TIA Girl Club – an online community-based retail store providing girls an encouraging and supportive place to shop, play and discover their authentic voices. You can find Vanessa on Twitter at @VanessaSchenck or more information about TIA by visiting the website tiagirlclub.com
“So, something happened to me at school today,” said Julia, my nine-year-old daughter just as we were sitting down to eat dinner the other day.
I could tell it was not going to be good.
My daughter went on to tell me one of her best friends had crushed her that day. Apparently, in gym class, the girls played a game that required everyone to find a partner. Julia told me she had asked one of her best pals to be partners and was told, “Sorry. I already have a partner.” To which Julia tried to reason with her by saying, “The teacher said you can have three in a group” and was told, “Why not go ask someone else?”
Knife to the gut.
This left Julia feeling awful, as it would anyone who was just rejected by one of their best friends.
Being rejected by anyone tears into your self-confidence, let alone a really good friend.
This is not the first time I’ve gone through a BFF Crisis-Management Situation with my daughter, and it surely won’t be the last. Let us remember: Julia is in Middle School.
Ah, Middle School! I’ve done my research, and what I know about girls this age is that it’s the time in their development when they are most likely to change their behavior, act in a certain way that’s not really who they are in order to “fit in”. And they will put up with a lot to do just that — fit in.
Girls this age are more likely to compromise their authentic voices, not say what they really want, need or think to be accepted by their peer group.
One psychologist — Dr. JoAnn Deak, author of Girls Will Be Girls, Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters, calls this time in a girl’s life “camouflaging.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. You change who you truly are in order to blend in with those around you. And, like with any good camouflage, you render your true self invisible. As Dr. Deak tells us, camouflaging isn’t all bad. It can provide “an opportunity for self-discovery and growth”. But taken too far, Dr. Deak says a girl can “hide herself not only from others, but ultimately from herself”.
How many of you remember saying you loved David Cassidy because everyone loved David Cassidy (did I just totally date myself)? Or, how many of us dressed as Princess Leia for Halloween because everyone else did, even though you truly didn’t like Star Wars. One bit.
Here’s the thing: At first it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, not speaking our truth. But the more we do it, the easier it becomes.
Although, as easy as it may seem, it does come with a hefty price-tag. You see, eventually, Dr. Deak says, by continuing to camouflage, we can lose any sense of our authentic voice, and then, suddenly, it’s gone.
Dr. Deak tells us it can take up to three decades for women to get their true, authentic voices back. Thirty years, Moms! She calls this “The Three-Decade-Power-Outage” — and rightly so. Thirty years we go around pretending to be someone we’re not — and most of us don’t even realize it! We’ve played the part for so long it’s become our normal. Yet, it’s not. Not even close. We are being controlled by fear.
Fear, as everyone knows, robs us of living the lives we were meant to live.
That, my friends, was me. I absolutely lost my voice, my confidence in Middle School.It manifested in my life in more ways than one. I attended a University that clearly was not a good fit. But who was I to tell my parents my dream school was in California? Disappoint them? Are you out of your mind?!
Let’s not even begin to discuss my ex-boyfriends. Okay, lets. There was my college boyfriend who was verbally abusive. Remember Oprah’s sage advice: “The first time they show you who they really are, believe them.” Well, the first time he told me I wouldn’t have any friends if I ever left him, I knew exactly with whom I was dealing but I didn’t have the confidence/voice/strength, whatever it is you want to call it, to stand up for myself and leave right then and there. Eventually I did, only to repeat the cycle with the next one. Who I married.
My first husband? Disaster. He and I were no more meant to be together then Jlo and Ben Affleck. I sat in my bedroom and bawled my eyes out the morning I knew he was to propose. Why? Well, because I knew it was coming, the proposal, but, again, I’d lost my authentic voice to be true to myself and say, “Um, no thanks.” It was buried deep under years of pleasing those around me, trying to be someone other than my genuine self.
For me, I managed to recover my voice when I hit my late 20s (this was done through loads of what I call soul-work and self-reflection). I guess you could say I was one of the lucky ones, as my “30-Year-Power-Outage” was cut in about half.
I remember waking up and saying, “Enough!” Once I recovered my confidence the first thing I did was use it to get a divorce (no kids, thank God), move to NYC from Seattle and follow my dream of working in fashion.
I also started my first business. And, last but not least, met and married my one true love, who still makes me belly-laugh after 14 years of waking up together.
My life exploded when I recovered my true voice.
Back to Julia. So, when my daughter sat down at dinner and told me about her friend, the first thing I did was ask her how that made her feel. Knowing about the “30-Year-Power-Outage” and how Julia could slip into it at any given time — starting now, in Middle School — I wanted her to exercise that beautiful voice of hers, to express her true feelings and to know she was validated in those feelings. She didn’t disappoint.
She told me she was upset. Confused. Hurt. All of it. My job, as her Mom, was to listen to it all. And hold her. And tell her everything she was feeling was totally reasonable. That she was allowed to feel it all.
Here’s the thing: Losing your voice is a direct result of losing self-confidence. You are robbed of your empowerment, you feel unworthy and begin to shut down your authentic self. Feeling unworthy leads to all sorts of self-destructive behaviour, for example:
But how does this start to happen? What causes girls to lose confidence? For that answer, let’s look to the Procter & Gamble study — the one which resulted in the Always #LikeAGirl campaign. You know the one? It’s been viewed on YouTube 70 million times!
In that study, 89% of females agreed that WORDS can be harmful, especially to girls.
It is my belief harmful words (“I already have a partner. Go ask someone else.”) are the driving force behind our girls’ drop in self-esteem — especially in Middle School. Is there any time more impactful than having someone say something hurtful to you than when you are in Middle School, on the brink of, or are going through puberty?
And it’s not just other people saying harmful things. It’s also you, saying them to yourself.
“I am fat.”
“I am ugly.”
“I am stupid.”
We’ve all said them. It’s you, telling yourself, “I am not good enough.” It’s you, telling yourself you need to change who you are to be accepted. To be liked. To be invited to the party.
So what can we do as Moms?
Well, if I could give my daughter heaps of self-confidence and empowerment I would. But, as Dr. Deak says, we simply cannot GIVE our daughters any of it. They have to EARN it themselves.
All is not lost, though. Because, what I can do is provide her with a safe and encouraging home where she knows her voice IS heard. And loved. That, I can do in spades. By providing her a secure home environment, Julia feels safe to express her authentic self. And Moms, that is so incredibly important. By being able to use her beautiful voice, Julia is learning what she has to say matters. She has self-worth. We do care. We do hear her.
We can also teach our kids that words matter. What Julia says about herself and others not only matter, but also actually create the world in which she lives. Oprah said it best when she said, “What you say becomes your reality. You speak life into being.”
There’s energy in words. By speaking what it is you want in YOUR life, you are drawing exactly that to you.
There’s more. As her Mom, I am Julia’s most influential role model.
By living my authentic life, by speaking my truth, I am showing my daughter every day how my words are creating the life I want.
The day after Julia told me about the gym class incident we were at the mall buying shoes for her Halloween costume and we ran into a classmate. Afterward, Julia turned to me and said, “Mom, that girl said I was ‘freakishly’ tall.”
I was getting ready to give her the “You-Can’t-Control-What-Other-People-Say-About-You” speech when she stopped me short, grabbed my arm, smiled, and said, “Mom. It’s okay. I don’t care what she said. I like being tall. I just wanted to tell you.”
And, you know what? I believe her. My little girl is becoming her true self. Her beautifully tall, authentic self. And I have a front row seat to watch it all unfold. Lucky me.
I read a lot of blogs. A lot. I think it’s a great way to “hone my craft” (I’ve always wanted to say that now that I’m part of the “artistic community”) and get inspired.
And I’m a huge supporter of anyone who puts herself out there. As moms, sharing our stories is an important, dare I say an essential, part of building a world where all women can stand together, hand in hand and say there is more that unites us than divides us (or is that all those mid-term advertisements talking?)
For example, the other day, a really sweet young blogger popped up in my feed with a new post. It was a touching tribute detailing her birth story to honor her son’s first year of life. She talked about how her pregnancy was completely dictated by intuition and she did not even seek a doctor’s care. She experienced every symptom with joy and trust, knowing her body could handle the task. She had a home delivery using a birthing tub and a doula. Her piece was poetically written using all sorts of beautiful phrases like blissfully intense, birthing heaven and life-giving power surges. For this sweet, strong mom, she would not change a thing, as the process from beginning to end was “an amazing and peaceful journey that ended in the priceless gift of motherhood.”
By the time I got to the end of her piece, I was convinced her vagina was a magical portal. I imagined a place with rainbows and unicorns and babies popping out from ornate tunnels into fields of flowers.
It was almost exactly how my birth experience went.
I delivered twins ten years ago. Before you ask if they were natural, they weren’t. They were completely un-natural. In fact, my husband and I weren’t even in the same room when they were conceived. He “delivered the goods” early one snowy January morning before heading out of town for a meeting. I followed two hours later and had intercourse with a tube that shot my husband’s best swimmers up to my overly ripe, hormonally-charged eggs. Just to make sure the first group of swimmers weren’t slacking off, we sent a second batch up the next morning. It’s totally possible that I got pregnant with one daughter on a Tuesday and the second on Wednesday. This beautiful process is called intrauterine insemination.
Eleven days later, a blood test — which could barely be taken because my veins were collapsed from all the prior needles used to inject drugs and check hormone levels during the “fertility” process — did indeed show that I was with-child. I wanted to trust my body, but my doctor had trust-issues, so she suggested I stick progesterone suppositories up my hoo-hoo to make sure those kids weren’t going anywhere. My husband and I were blissfully happy for about nine days. That’s when the acute morning sickness kicked in.
By about week sixteen, I started feeling great, but I had to visit the doctor regularly because I started having edema in my feet. To quote my husband, Fred Flintstone had nothing on me. By week twenty-six, it was official. I had preeclampsia and pre-term contractions. My life-giving power surges were happening a little early.
Somehow by the grace of God, bed rest and the power of off-script pharmaceuticals, I made it to thirty-five weeks with my precious cargo. Because my kids have a sense of humor, one decided to lay breech and the other transverse, which basically means she was stretched out horizontally across my belly. My doctor lovingly said, “You never had a chance of a vaginal birth anyway.”
After a very intimate experience with an anesthesiologist who placed a six-inch needle between vertebrae in my spine, I was surrounded by 18 strangers I had never met before all ready to leap into action. It was a soothing environment. As my husband held my hand and stroked my hair, I laid on a cold metal table like Jesus on the cross, and I was resurrected as soon as I heard those two little cries.
They were little, but strong. I did it. That’s when I found my zen and calmly turned to my husband and anesthesiologist and said, “I think I am going to throw up now.”
And I did. No one was safe. I vomited on my husband, and then continued to heave for forty-five minutes while the doctor tried to sew me up as I swore to her that I did not eat anything after the ice cream sundae I devoured at 9:30 the previous night.
But it didn’t stop. I threw up on my mother in law in the recovery room, which was a beautiful bonding experience. Then it was the nice nurse’s turn who checked in on me before leaving her shift. Even my sister-in-law wasn’t spared during the epic puking phase. I was so sick that I don’t even remember the first time I actually held my kids, which I only did because my husband insisted. He wheeled my magic catheter bag and IV drip and drug-induced self all the way down to the NICU so I could hold those two beautiful miracles. Or so I am told.
About two days later, I started coming around. I took a shower, changed from a hospital gown into my pajamas and met my new best friend, my industrial sized breast pump, which got more action than my husband for the next six months.
This was my journey into the priceless gift of motherhood, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
I told you our birth stories were almost the same.
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Every year, right around this time, I give a big, fat middle finger to a pediatric developmental therapist. Yep, that’s the kind of girl I am…I send a telepathic middle finger to a woman who tries to help children.
And yes, there’s a little bit more to the story.
In short, I have a daughter who has struggled developmentally since birth. Although she is age-appropriate now — in fact, I would call her developmentally kick ass — there was a time when we had a lot of concerns. Speech delays, fine motor issues, toe walking, sensory issues, motor planning, and the list went on and on.
But we were on it like white on rice. Starting just after my daughter turned one, we started receiving early intervention therapies.We sought out a physical therapist that integrated sensory play into their sessions. We had her screened by one of the top neurological pediatricians in Chicago. She went to a special preschool with a speech and occupational therapist in the classroom. We tested her for autism since she had several behavioral issues listed on the “checklist.” Various doctors also tested her for every other behavioral disorder that ended with an -ism or syndrome or -axia. We were going to do everything and anything for her to succeed, just like any parent would.
And she was succeeding. Very slowly, but she was making a little bit of progress considering we did not know what we were treating. She received five different diagnoses in four years, but none of them seemed to exactly fit. And although she was progressing in some areas, her social skills were almost non-existent.
That’s why when our speech therapist — a woman I loved like a member of our family — suggested we run one more diagnostic test to see if she qualified to have a developmental aid in her preschool classroom to help her with her social skills. I was all for it. My husband and I embraced the philosophy that therapy would never hurt our kids, and the farther we could get my daughter before entering kindergarten, the better.
A nice woman — a child psychologist with the letters Ph.D. written on her business card — came to my home to discuss my daughter with me. I was in good spirits since we had been seeing a lot of progress lately. “She’s been improving a lot lately, but I will give you all the background.”
This is the part where I would pull out two or three binders of health assessments, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), medical files, etc. We chatted about how I saw my daughter, her positive relationship with her sisters, and my concerns over her lack of desire to interact with other children. I answered all sorts of questions for this woman honestly. I wanted to help my daughter in any way possible, and I knew how the system worked.
I laid it all out for her: Yes, she had a lot of sensory issues…she was a toe walker, she chewed on things incessantly, she rubbed her hands on soft fabrics over and over; but she liked to be held, gave great hugs and liked a routine. No, her speech was not very good, and she could barely hold a short conversation, her eye contact was poor and she did not like change. She often “scripted” words she heard off of TV shows, which was a good sign she was starting to develop language, but also a sign something was amiss.
She listened and took notes. She watched my daughter play with some toys. She drank the tea I offered her. I thought this nice lady and I had bonded when I sent her off to observe my daughter in her preschool setting the next day. We were simpatico. Or so I thought.
Two days later I received a phone call: “I know you don’t want to accept it, but your daughter has Autism. PDD-NOS specifically. I am quite confident of that. You need to listen to me.”
I felt like someone had slapped me. “Wait a second…we have already had her screened for autism, and the doctors do not believe this is her issue. I did not even know you were testing her for anything specifically….this was just for additional support in the classroom,” I stammered through tears.
“PDD-NOS often gets diagnosed later. I am extremely qualified in this area. After talking to you I understand that you are in denial, but your daughter needs help. We need to get her additional therapy as I think she will need a full-time aid to get her through kindergarten.”
In retrospect, there are a million different words I would have liked to use to end that conversation differently. There are a million different things I would have liked to tell that good doctor. There are a million different ways I would have given her the proverbial middle finger.
Because sometimes De-Nile is just a river in Egypt; but that didn’t mean that woman did not shake me to my core.
For several weeks I didn’t sleep. Did I waste three years of my daughter’s life not treating her appropriately? Could I have made changes in her diet that could have impacted her health and well-being? Was I worried about a stigma more than my child?
I did research, contacted friends who had children with autism, and talked to my daughter’s therapists, who were all now toting the proverbial line, using phrases like “She is more qualified than I am to make that sort of diagnosis” or “Even with an autism diagnosis, it won’t necessarily change her therapy regimen.” I was feeling pressured just to move on with it all.
But that was not the point. In my heart, I knew this was wrong, and if she was autistic, I would be fine with that. I just wanted to help her appropriately. But the doubt kept creeping in.
My husband and I decided that we needed a second opinion, so based on the referral of a friend, we set something up. Unfortunately, it was not before we had to meet with our early intervention providers who wanted to amend her IEP.
The only time in my entire life where I have threatened legal recourse was during that meeting. I refused to sign the report and risked losing a portion of my daughter’s IEP. We discussed the diagnosis and why I did not concur. I encouraged a reassessment so they could see how she interacted with her sisters. I talked point to point on the evaluation to clear up some mis-reads. Finally I said: “Just give me two weeks to get a second screening completed. If it comes back the same, I will sign it. But we will not add this to my daughter’s file until that time. Period.”
One week later, we had a full scale behavioral assessment completed on my daughter. Before we had even left the building, the team completing the interview told us they did not believe my daughter fell on the Spectrum. She had some developmental delays — some of them significant — but the test results and the interaction she had with the team did not lead them to believe she had PDD-NOS.
“What do you think it is?” we asked.
“She does not fit a specific diagnosis that we can tell, but motor planning seems to be at the crux. But she is a happy, good-natured little girl making progress. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
As any parent of a child with special needs can tell you, I was both elated and dejected at the same time. I was happy with the outcome, but still frustrated with the lack of answers.
With the report in my hands, I met again with my daughter’s team. We amended the report with the new assessment, and with a lot of aggressive persuasions, she received the additional support even without the PDD-NOS diagnosis.
The last words the child psychologist said to me was, “I think this is a mistake.”
And this is usually the part where I give her ten middle fingers in my head and a series of expletives that would embarrass my family. It is my own form of therapy, along with a big glass of chardonnay.
But this year, now that my daughter is thriving academically and socially, I want to thank that woman, because without her, I would not be the advocate I am today for my kids.
Because of her, I became even more aggressive in my daughter’s care. I read more books on helping kids with social issues, employed more strategies at home, and had more discussions with her therapists on care options. The more educated I was, the more confident I became as her advocate, the more confident I became as a mom. And because of this, I pushed our physical therapist to send us to an orthopaedist that changed my daughter’s life, the doctor that finally put the round peg in the round hole — my daughter had a mild case of cerebral palsy in her lower extremities.
While the news was a shock since most cases of CP are diagnosed at birth, I was relieved at the same time. CP often causes issues with speech and fine motor skills, but it is non-progressive, which is why we saw her continue to improve from a developmental perspective. I also found that I had several of the risk factors that cause a CP birth, including carrying multiples, pre-eclampsia, pre-term contractions and pre-term birth with associated low birth weight. Other doctors and therapists had missed it since we felt her toe walking was a secondary symptom to something else. No one had looked at it as primary.
My daughter had surgery to lengthen her Achilles cords on both her legs five years ago. Being able to stand normally centered her and improved her speech. Fine motor skills became easier. Her newfound confidence enabled her to be more social. She began making progress in leaps and bounds as opposed to bit by bit.
And she walked into kindergarten the next year on two flat feet and without an aid. It was a victory for our entire family.
And while the CP still impacts her speech at times, she has continued to flourish in every way possible, and we could not be prouder.
But I’m also proud of myself. I am not sure where we would be right now if I had accepted this woman’s diagnosis. This woman who was qualified, was educated, was a Ph.D. A woman who knew much more about developmental disorders, helped many more children, studied many more cases. This woman who looked me in the eyes and called me out.
But this woman — this woman who I want to believe was looking out for my daughter’s best interest — was wrong. She was wrong about my daughter and even more wrong about me.
Because the only thing I was in denial about was my ability to advocate for my daughter. I share my story because raising kids — especially those with special needs — is freaking unbelievably hard.
We don’t need people to make it harder. We need people who will work together with parents, not against us. We need people who listen and help us advocate, not those more interested in being right or shoving their expert opinion in your face. We need people who empower us and feed our confidence, not those that target our insecurities.
And when you get to the point that you just can’t take it anymore, there’s always the telepathic middle finger. It’s great therapy.