Tag Archives: awareness

My Lesson in Judgment

19 Oct

Something I struggle with consistently is judgment.  I don’t want to be a judgmental person, but it happens.  I have been working consistently, especially in the past two years, to make a personal commitment not to judge people.  Across the board.  For anything.

I had an experience this week that really brought this lesson full circle.  I can laugh about it now, and even in the moment, I did, but was still feeling humiliated.

My mom called me this week, as my oldest daughter was out of school on break.  My mom’s co-worker has this dummy mummy that they dress up from time to time.  My oldest daughter “follows” the dummy mummy (his name is Renfro) and she sends my daughter pictures for every holiday theme for which Renfro is appropriately dressed.

My mom called and asked if I would like to take my kids to the Dollar Store so they could pick out some Halloween decorations, come to her office, and dress Renfro up.  Sure, it was a homeschool day for my younger daughter, but we had already been to the library and completed most of our work for the day.  It would be fun!

So, I go into the Dollar Store (completely unprepared: we’d had a make up gymnastics class that morning, then went straight to the store, so I hadn’t packed snacks or anything, because I was not expecting to be gone for that long).  The kids are whining about being hungry, so I let them pick out snacks in addition to all of their paraphernalia to make Renfro look more appropriate for Halloween.

Side note: I don’t usually allow my kids to eat a lot of junk food.  In fact, we don’t even keep most junk foods in the house.  My husband gets migraines from MSG, so we never eat things like Cheetos, Doritos, etc.  So, that’s what my kids want.  That morning, I was feeling especially giving and high on life, so I say, “Sure, get whatever you want!”

They load up.  We get to the register to check out.  Our total: $7 and some change.  My kids are hovering around the register grabbing for the snacks and the checkout lady asks if she can give the snacks to the kids.  I respond, “Sure!”  “Will you open this, mommy?” they ask.  “Of course!”  So I open both bags of chips and the kids go to eating them like they haven’t eaten in days.  It was ridiculous.

That wasn’t the only thing that was ridiculous that day.  My credit card gets declined.  “What? That’s impossible!” I say.  The checkout lady asks me if it’s a debit card.  I say no.  She says, “We only take debit cards or cash.”  Well, I don’t have any cash.  I recently swapped my huge wallet I kept leaving places for a smaller one that only holds what I need, a credit card, id, and library card.  I don’t have my debit card.

I’m starting to turn three shades of red and am completely mortified.  I start apologizing profusely and tell the kids, we’ll have to go home and get a snack; we have to give these ones back, because I didn’t bring the right money.

My oldest daughter starts wailing.  She is crying actual tears, saying loudly, “But, I’m starving!”  I’m completely dumbfounded.  The woman in line behind me is staring.  The checkout woman doesn’t say a word.  She doesn’t know what to say.  I know both women are making judgments about me.  “How could she not know she needed cash or a debit card?”  “I can’t believe she just let her kids eat the snacks in the store!”  “Her kids are starving and she buys them Cheetos and Doritos?”  “Nice parenting!”  I started to laugh a little as I wrestle the chips from the oldest daughter and the lady behind me, after what seems like an eternity, says, “I’ll buy their snacks!”

She was an angel that morning, and I truly appreciated the generous offering of a dollar so that my children could have their junky snacks, but the looks on her face as well as the checkout lady had already registered.  I just wanted to scream, “I’m not a bad parent!  I do have money to feed my kids!  They almost never eat junk food!”

I got to thinking about it later and I realized that the shoe is on the other foot.  So many times, I’ve sat back and judged others because of actions I saw in the moment, but never considered what might really be going on.  The truth is that’s the point.  It does not even matter what’s going on.  Judgment is wrong.  It makes people feel bad and is a product of fear, and not love.  I strive to lead my life focused on love, not fear, and as a result, need not judge.  I’m so grateful for opportunities like this that I can learn from, even when they feel humiliating at the time.  I’m grateful for the awareness to see things as they really are.  The life lessons are everywhere!  Are you taking the time to discover them and make change where change is needed?

World Breastfeeding Week

3 Aug

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated around the world during the week of August 1st through the 7th.  In honor of breastfeeding moms and their babies across the globe, it is my goal to increase awareness.  If you have questions about the benefits of breastfeeding, I wrote a great blog about the ABCs of Breastfeeding – click here to read it!

Attend the virtual celebration on Facebook and join me in changing your profile picture to a breastfeeding picture or breastfeeding art:


Support a breastfeeding mom this week!

No, Really, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

17 May

In honor of National Dog Bite Awareness Week, I’m re-posting this blog from last year about my daughter getting bitten by one of our dogs.  More than 4.7 million Americans (most of them children), and 5,600 mail carriers were attacked by dogs last year.  Dogs are wonderful, but they are animals.  Teach your kids to respect them!

It happened just the other day.  One of every parent’s worst nightmares – or at least in the top five.  One of my dogs bit my 2-year-old daughter.

Before you panic or shed any tears, let me assure you that she’s fine – it didn’t even break the skin.  Apparently, she decided to pull our 70-pound dog, Ripley, by her tail, trying to drag her into another room.  Ripley did NOT like that one bit, so of course she reared back and snapped at my daughter’s head.  She really only bonked her, but my daughter was FREAKED.  Screaming, crying, and suddenly terrified of Ripley.

And do you know what my reaction was, once I found out she was OK?

“Good.  Maybe that’ll teach her a lesson.”

I know, it sounds so harsh to read that, but I don’t know what else will get it through my daughter’s head that dogs can hurt you if you are not nice to them!  My husband and I have told our kids a million times to leave the dogs alone – that they don’t want to be ridden, chased, pulled, screamed at, hit with drumsticks, etc.  And they probably don’t really want to be hugged every 5 minutes, either.  Oh yeah, and don’t sneak up on them.  And don’t try to run them over with the play lawnmower or jam stuffed animals in their collars.

OK, so maybe there are lots of rules about the dogs, but these dogs are OLD.  And my kids are…well…”boisterous” is putting it nicely.  And all of them being in the same house is only a recent experience.

My husband and I had our dogs long before we had kids.  We adopted our first dog, Indiana Jones, from a rescue shelter.  We lived in a one-bedroom apartment and had no business getting a dog, but something about Indy just melted our hearts and we took him home.  A few months later we saw our second dog, Lt. Ripley, and realized that Indy needed a sister.  Soon, our dogs became the center of our world.  We had pictures of our dogs all around our house and at our respective jobs.  Yes, we were dog parents years before we had “real” children.

And then, 5 years ago, we had our son, followed a couple of years later by our daughter, the aforementioned tail puller.  Suddenly, our dogs became just pets.  They were no longer the apple of our eye – instead, they were in the way and constantly making messes that we just didn’t have the energy to deal with anymore.  When our daughter was only 6 months old, we decided the dogs couldn’t live inside anymore.

For the next 2 years, our dogs slept outside in the backyard.  They had a shed with crates and blankets.  They never stepped foot in the house.

Then, a couple months ago, my husband went outside to brush Indy, and he was mortified at how dirty and matted his fur was.  I bathed the dogs periodically, but they insisted on sleeping under the bushes in the dirt, so keeping them clean was pretty much a lost cause.  But my husband felt so guilty about Indy looking like a stray mutt, we decided to move them back in.

To the dogs, it’s like they never left.  They came right back in and settled into all their old sleeping places.  They do have the kids to contend with, but for the most part, they’re doing amazingly well in the face of my two little hooligans.  And the kids LOVE it.  They think the dogs are two exotic circus animals that supply a constant source of entertainment.  But all children need to learn that dogs, even long-time beloved pets, are still animals that will defend themselves if they feel scared.  We’re going to keep working on that.

So what happened the next morning, after our little one had such fear instilled in her?  She pranced out of her bedroom when she woke up, ran straight to Ripley, gave her a big hug and sang a song right in her face.  Back to square one!

Autism Awareness Month: Disabilities on Film

19 Apr

Even at a time where 1 in 110 kids receives an autism diagnosis—meaning virtually everyone in this country has some kind of contact with a child on the spectrum—I still get this question with fair regularity: “Can your daughter memorize the phone book like the guy in Rain Man?”

I don’t really mind.  Before 2000, when my Paige received her diagnosis, my only point of reference was Dustin Hoffman, too.  Paige (now 15) isn’t a savant and doesn’t talk.  As Dr. Carolyn Garver, director of the Autism Treatment Center in Dallas, puts it: “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.”  They are like snowflakes—each with their own unique strengths and quirks.  (Which might just sum up every kid out there!)

I do appreciate media depictions of kids on the spectrum, if only to raise awareness.  It seems most of these projects see the light of day when a producer or writer has a child on the spectrum.  So much the better:  the “insiders” perspective can only help round-out the depiction in film.

Which brings me to a new movie making the art-house rounds (which I’m hoping comes to the Angelika in Dallas ASAP!): “FLY AWAY”.  Here’s the news release with a link to the trailer:

A powerful film directed by Emmy Award winner Janet Grillo (Autism: The Musical), FLY AWAY narrates the story of Jeanne (Beth Broderick, Bonfire of the Vanities, Sabrina the Teenage Witch) and her autistic teenage daughter, Mandy (Ashley Rickards, One Tree Hill).  Jeanne has cared for Mandy since the day she was born, growing closer every day to a child who is charmingly offbeat one moment and nearly impossible to manage the next.  In the dog park, Jeanne encounters Tom (Greg Germann, Ally McBeal, Friends with Money), an easygoing and accepting neighbor who sparks a romantic interest, but she finds juggling Mandy’s care and her own career leaves little room for a new man.  As the pressures of work and her child’s needs increase, she must decide whether or not to enroll Mandy in a therapeutic residential facility.  Over the course of a few weeks, Jeanne is confronted with the most difficult decision a parent can make: to let go, allowing her child to grow, but also grow apart; or to hold on tight and fall together.

Statement from Director Janet Grillo, who won an Emmy for her film, “AUTISM THE MUSICAL” (which is awesome, BTW):

As the mother of a child with disabilities, I was immediately thrust into the challenge every parent must face at some point: meeting the needs of your child when it is at great cost to yourself.  Perhaps the very measure of love is what and how much we are willing to sacrifice.  Although parenting someone with Autism is particular, the primal drive to do the best for oneʼs child is universal.  FLY AWAY tells this story.

FLY AWAY is a personal film, derived from experience.  As I have journeyed with other parents of children with special needs, Iʼve witnessed great pain and extraordinary passion.  Iʼve also watched parents unable to place their children in full time therapeutic residences, when it was clearly needed.  While such placement is not best for all or even most children on the spectrum, it’s tragic when parents are too plagued with fear and guilt to make the choice when it is.  If FLY AWAY eases the pain of even one parentʼs torturous decision, or if it expands the heart of even one person untouched by Autism to accept our children and appreciate our struggles, it will have been well worth making.  The authenticity of our story can provide insight and hope.  Truth often does.

-Janet Grillo

Check out the trailer: http://flyawaymovie.com/the-film/.

Autism Awareness Month: Upcoming Event!

12 Apr

One of the most challenging aspects of having a child with autism is the isolation. Before and many years after my now-teenage daughter was diagnosed with PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, the medical term for autism), I would feel uncomfortable around other parents and their children, excruciatingly aware of the differences between Paige and typical kids.  I am not the most social chick at the outset; anxiety over my daughter only amplified my introverted tendencies.

But that was then.  Five years ago, I started writing columns about Paige for The Dallas Morning News.  The overwhelming response (a lady in Germany emailed me to thank me after one piece hit the web!) gradually lured me out of my shell.  And the support of friends, teachers, colleagues, and even strangers has helped me immeasurably, too.  Which in turn helps Paige.

In that spirit, I would encourage any parents with children on the spectrum to check out an event my friend and More than Mothers contributor Leigh Attaway Wilcox is co-chairing.  Her son, Ethan, has Asperger’s, and Leigh is a tireless advocate on his behalf.  She inspires me in countless ways.

Here are the details:

In honor of Autism Awareness Month – April 2011
The Autism Trust USA
Warrior Parents of Dallas
& the National Autism Association of North Texas
Warmly Welcome:
Dr. Andrew Wakefield
Rupert Isaacson & Kristin Neff
For a FREE Presentation and Book Signing on
April 28th, 2011 at 7pm
Angelika Film Center
7205 Bishop Road, Suite E6, Plano, TX, 75024

Learn more about the ongoing outreach and offerings of the National Autism Association of North Texas (NAA-NT) & Warrior Parents of Dallas & discover how Pay It Forward will work as a catalyst to forward progress for The Autism Trust USA.

Dr. Wakefield will discuss the Primate Project and Rupert Isaacson and Kristin Neff will share about life with their son, Rowan, who lives with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

For more visit theautismtrust.com or naa-nt.org. For updates, look for our event page on Facebook by clicking here.

Autism Awareness Month, Part I: What is Autism?

5 Apr

Eleven years ago this month, my daughter, Paige, was diagnosed with autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), the preferred medical term back then.  I’ll never forget the day at the Cook Children’s neurology office.  My mother had flown in from California for the appointment, which we’d waited six months to get.  My husband took off from work.  The grim-faced doctor made autism sound like a death sentence.  I cried so hard and so much it looked like I’d been to a funeral, even days afterward.

It felt like one, too.  What the doctor didn’t tell us—couldn’t have, of course—is that autism would become just another fact in our life, like Paige’s blue eyes or that I write for a living.  No one could have known that autism would define us in some ways—from the schools Paige would attend to our constant search for appropriate therapies and services—and not in others (we go places, have friends, live life!).

Along this journey, which I plan to discuss in detail during this month’s posts, I have been asked the most fundamental of questions countless times: what is autism?  Here is how Autism Speaks defines this condition that 1 in 110 American children will be diagnosed with this year.  (For more, visit www.autismspeaks.org.):

What is Autism?

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD).  The other pervasive developmental disorders are PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), Asperger’s Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.  Many parents and professionals refer to this group as Autism Spectrum Disorders.

How common is Autism?

Today, it is estimated that one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.  An estimated 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide are affected by autism.  Government statistics suggest the prevalence rate of autism is increasing 10-17 percent annually.

What causes Autism?

The simple answer is we don’t know.  The vast majority of cases of autism are idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown.

The more complex answer is that just as there are different levels of severity and combinations of symptoms in autism, there are probably multiple causes.  The best scientific evidence available to us today points toward a potential for various combinations of factors causing autism – multiple genetic components that may cause autism on their own or possibly when combined with exposure to as yet undetermined environmental factors.  Timing of exposure during the child’s development (before, during or after birth) may also play a role in the development or final presentation of the disorder.

There is a growing interest among researchers about the role of the functions and regulation of the immune system in autism – both within the body and the brain.  Piecemeal evidence over the past 30 years suggests that autism may involve inflammation in the central nervous system.  There is also emerging evidence from animal studies that illustrates how the immune system can influence behaviors related to autism.  Autism Speaks is working to extend awareness and investigation of potential immunological issues to researchers outside the field of autism as well as those within the autism research community.


9 Feb

Being a mother means so many things.  Every day, I am pulled in a million different directions.  With each new day comes a new lesson.  I learn from my children, from my friends, from other mothers, from my husband, from my family, and even from strangers.

One lesson that keeps coming up for me personally is forgiveness.  I like to think I am a very forgiving person, but when it comes down to it, and I really start to reflect on my life, it becomes clear I have a lot of work to do.

Through meditation and yoga, I have learned to be more present in my daily life.  When I take that awareness and apply it to every day situations, it becomes easier to learn life’s lessons.  More and more I am trying to act upon my thoughts.  When I see someone struggling, instead of thinking to myself, “Oh, someone should help her.” Or “If I didn’t have my kids with me, I would help him.”

A breaking point for me happened a few weeks ago while I was shopping at a local grocery store.  My husband was home with two of the kids.  I was wearing the baby on my back.  A store employee had accidentally knocked over the recycled bags bin and was struggling to empty all of the bags from the bin, into another larger bag.  Here I stood, completely able-bodied, just thinking to myself, “Someone really should help him.  I can’t believe none of his co-workers are helping him!  He clearly needs help.”

Then what did I do? I kept walking, right on out of the store.  The entire way to my car, I beat myself up, in my mind.  I thought, “Oh my, I should have helped him.  Why didn’t I help him?  I don’t even have all three kids today.  I am wearing the baby, and could have easily bent down and helped him.”  I debated over and over whether or not to return to the store.  I knew I should, but ultimately, I just got to my car, loaded the groceries, and drove home.

For this inaction, I must forgive myself.  How can I learn to forgive anyone else, if I am unable to forgive myself?  In fact, how can I expect anyone else to forgive me, if I cannot forgive myself?  Once I forgive myself, it is easier to forgive the guy who cuts me off in traffic, or my friend for being insincere, or my husband for saying something to me or the kids in a negative manner, or even my kids for misbehaving.

In forgiving myself, I extend a little bit of light to the world.  It creates space for me to forgive others.  When I forgive others, they can more easily forgive themselves and in turn other people.  One person at a time can create a ripple of change within the Universe that can snowball into something big. All it takes is that awareness!

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