Today I realized My Dad’s Legacy

  1. 1.
    the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.


Today marks the 30th anniversary of my Dad’s death. 30 years.

30 years without his presence in my life.

30 years without.

No hugs.

No I’m proud of yous.

No answers and advice.

30 years of not hearing my Dad say, “I love you.”

 30 years without dad jokes… and his were actually pretty damn funny.

I could tell you about a certain Shop Vac joke, but it’s rated PG and I wouldn’t want to offend. But 30 year later, I still laugh whenever I think of that moment.

Today I sat in a conference on childhood trauma and resilience. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris (take a minute to watch her TED Talk) believes it is our nation’s biggest health crisis. It is the root of most disease and dysfunction. And, I agree with  her. I see it everyday in my classroom, and I lived it with my own children. The negative effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences and toxic stress are vast and can be devastating.

Can be.

My brother  recently sent me a card that my grandfather gave to my dad on his wedding day.  My grandfather’s words were a reminder that my dad had his own set of Adverse Childhood Experiences. He lost him mom at a very early age to cancer.  He was raised by, what I considered, a cold step mother and a demanding father who didn’t give much love or affection, if any.

I sat in that conference today and thought about how I won the parent lottery. I have an ACE score of 0.  My parents were not perfect, but I was raised in a loving, stable home with parents that supported me, disciplined me in love, (except for the bathtub incident when my mom hit me with a yard stick. I now believe she was in menopause and I totally understand her actions.) and provided me with every opportunity to succeed.

I don’t know why I didn’t realize it before, but today it became clear to me that my dad left my boys and me a legacy of resilience.

He had a high ACE score, and so do my sons.

But they each have, and had, an incredible amount of resilience.

I was reminded again today that children who have experienced trauma don’t have to be defined by their adversity. If one, stable, caring adult can step into their lives,  show them their strengths, believe in them, build a relationship with them, and be a buffer to their trauma, they too can build resilience.

I want to be that one person.

After all, my Dad showed me how.




Posted in ACEs, Adverse Childhood experiences, Life's challenges, resilience, Trauma Informed Care, Trauma informed schools | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Hope for me

dark cicles

Pretty much what I look like if I were a man

“You look tired!”

Literally, the first words out of his mouth when I went to hug him after driving 5 hours on no sleep cuz my house is torn apart from a sewer line mishap… yes I said sewer…and the mold caused me to have an allergic reaction from hell.

I am tired.

The circles under my eyes have circles. Like some miniature version of a bulls eye on my face; complete with my red eyes as the center.

But I drove those 5 hours to VT to see him compete in his gymnastics meet.

I drove 5 hours to watch my son tumble for 1 minute.

And then I got in the car and drove 3 hours to see my oldest play on the band’s biggest stage yet.

And while I was driving I called my remaining son but he was with his friends and couldn’t talk.

And I couldn’t have been happier

Except I’m not.

I’m tired.

And I have a busted foot and a busted back and a busted house.

And I keep thinking, “This was supposed to get easier.”

And I know these are all first world problems. Especially since people in California have lost everything in the wildfires.

But still.

I’m struggling.

I didn’t get my usual collapse and recover time after my summer.

I went right to the classroom after 27 years.

And I don’t know if you guys know this or not but teaching is exhausting.

And how teachers with young kids do it is beyond me.

When I get home it’s all I can do to crawl to my bed ( which is quite a sight considering I’m lugging a suitcase full of teacher work and trying not to spill my wine on my way up)

And juggling three jobs has me a bit overwhelmed.

Well, a lot.

I’m whining I know.

I’ve been running on adrenaline since I started back to the classroom and now I’m hitting the wall. (Or should I say ceiling; cuz my ceiling caving in seems to have been the tipping point for me.)

I was misty eyed ( allergic reaction aside) all day with my kids.

I was thinking back to all our days of struggle.

I couldn’t picture a future for my youngest, and I’m sure he couldn’t either. But here I was in his future and he’s thriving.

Competing and succeeding.

And my oldest. On stage doing what he loves. The music was great but the best was seeing him having so much fun.

And if you had told me one day my other son couldn’t talk to me because he was with friends (notice the plural) I would have never have believed it.

And neither would he.

When you are in the depths of struggle, their is no light shining on the future.

You simply can’t see it.

All you see is the struggle. The tired and the hard.

The day with my boys was a reminder that the future is there.

And it can be bright.

And I just need to keep moving forward; just like my kids have done.

Seeing my kids do their thing and thriving gave me hope.

Hope for me.

I’m not always going to be this tired and haggard looking… oh who am I kidding? Yes I will. But I’ll thrive again. One day I’ll do my version of a perfect front tuck walkout round off back handspring back tuck. And one day I’ll kill it on stage. Maybe even one day I’ll be too busy with my friends to talk to my mom…yea, nope. That’s not ever gonna happen. (cuz tired introvert.)

I thought I was sacrificing my sleep and my free time to support my kids and remind them I’m always cheering them on and always proud of their talents and hard work.

Turns out I needed this day to remind me that after this struggle, I’ll thrive again too.

And so will you and yours.

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Maybe I Just Like Ice Cream

ice cream cone

Sometimes the simplest things can take you back in time.  Today I saw a sign advertising McDonald’s ice cream cones.

 I was instantly back in the drive thru with Cameron getting our 576th cone.

It was back in a time when my metabolism didn’t hate me and when getting ice cream with my kids was all I could muster in the form of being the fun mom.

I asked him if he remembered all the times we would get cones in the drive thru.

“Do you remember, Cameron?”

A slight grin started to crawl across his face. ” Of course I do,” he said, as the grin became a full smile.

“Do you think we were eating our feelings back then?”

There was a long pause and I braced myself for his deep, emotional, and heart-felt response.

“No, I think I just liked ice cream,” he flatly replied.

Laughter.  It has always gotten us through.

I recovered from the laugh  and muttered,”Well I sure as hell was. So I guess it was a win- win!”

“Want to go one last time before you go back to school? I may have some more feelings to eat.”

But this time they are happy feelings.

This time I am not feeling a giant knot in my stomach as I send him and his brother off to college.  This time I have not vacuumed my bedroom floor in anticipation of being in the fetal position once they are gone. This time I have not cried secret tears when they weren’t looking.

Nope, this time I am excited. (and not just because I get my clean house back)

You see, now I know it’s where they are thriving. Now I know it’s exactly where they should be. (Now I know they will actually wash their sheets more than once a semester ) And now my fears of,  will they succeed?  are behind me.  My worry for their safety and happiness has diminished. (Of course, all parents know that worry will never completely go away) This time I am not feeling a huge loss. This time I have a grateful heart that they  have found their place; and I can’t wait for them to get back to it.


Although I feel happy and thankful, I can’t help but wait for the next crisis; the next hurdle to overcome. I can  never seem to  stay in the happy moments. Maybe you experience it too.

Brené Brown writes about a condition called Foreboding Joy – and I am it’s poster child

She writes:

“…I’d argue that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel…In a culture of deep scarcity—of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough—joy can feel like a setup…We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

After all the bad my boys and I have experienced, I find it  hard to enjoy the good. I am always waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

According to Brené this is what Foreboding Joy looks like:

“Works going great. My relationship with my partner is good. My kids are healthy and happy.  Holy crap! Something bad is going to happen.”

And that is exactly what it is like for me.

I rarely allow myself to feel joy because I have to brace myself for the next hard thing that is going to happen.

Most of us have experienced foreboding joy, but those that have experienced loss or trauma, or serious illness are exceptionally vulnerable to it.   Brené Brown gives this example of foreboding joy:

“Have you ever been  staring at your precious child while they sleep and thought,  I couldn’t love this child anymore.”? You feel such joy!  Then in the next moment you  fear the worst. You think, “What would I do if something happened to them?” That happy moment of love and peace evaporates in an instant.

Foreboding Joy.

When you have experienced the worst, you are always bracing yourself for what is coming next. You can’t help but think, “It came for me once, it is surly coming for me again.” It takes practice and hard work to allow yourself to stay in the joy and the happy.

 This time, as my boys go off for their senior year of college, I may actually be allowing myself to feel grateful and joyful a little longer than I usually do.

 I am doing my best to not let the foreboding joy rob me of my moment of happiness and peace.

But don’t be surprised if  you see me today in the drive thru of McDonald’s with an Ice cream cone, or two, in my hand.

Look, I am trying. Baby steps. Baby steps.

ice cream 2

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Dear Teachers, I Am Sorry

Teacher helping young boy with writing lesson

Dear Teachers,

I owe you an apology.  I may have miscommunicated what I was trying to say in my last blog.  I am guessing that is what happened. I heard from parents with struggling kids. I heard from friends that discovered their high ACE scores may be the missing piece to their health puzzle. I heard from others that just thought it was some good, new information. Even Oprah is talking about trauma sensitive schools now. See what she says here But I didn’t hear from any teachers.  Well, one.

I was confused.

My words were not meant to say it is the teachers’ fault that there are school shootings or  that it is your sole responsibility to fix these children.

It was not my intent to make you feel like you are responsible for one more thing. Lord knows you are burdened with enough to do in a day.

I was not trying to say teachers need to be mental health care providers along with everything else you are required to do.

So I am sorry if I made you feel like this was your fault.

But I do think teachers can be a big part of the solution. For many students, a teacher is the only adult in their world who can provide a safe and predictable relationship.

Many of you reposted the Teacher Of The Year’s post that went viral.  And I agree with a lot of what she said.

Read post here

But that was my point exactly…it is because of the family situation that many of these kids have such high ACEs Read about ACEs here.  The family is failing in most of these kids’ lives who are causing the biggest discipline issues.  If the parents stepped up, the ACEs would be lower in the first place.

But if I may, let me tell you a story…

Years ago, my family was failing.

And my kids’ ACEs score was climbing. 4 to be exact.

But I wasn’t educated in the brain science of toxic stress and my parenting style, that had always worked in the past, was making matters worse.

I knew my son was struggling with anxiety. Stomach aches, head aches,  a racing pulse, and panic attacks were becoming a daily occurrence; and the intensity was increasing drastically in spite of all my son and I were doing to try to calm it. The anxiety was  becoming debilitating.  I was doing all I knew to do. I read books on anxiety. I provided a diet and supplements that supported a calm nervous system. We tried medication; some of which made everything worse. I found him professional help. (which is no small feat navigating the mental health system) I hired a yoga instructor. I was desperate to find help and get my happy, healthy child back.

 Even though I was in my own crisis and chaos, I at least had the education and means to find him help. Even with the resources available to me, It was still a struggle and one of the hardest things I have had to face.  So, think of all those parents that don’t have the resources or the wherewithal  to get help. How much harder must it be for them to advocate for their children; how much harder for them to “step up”.

I was trying to be the parent to, as the viral post stated, “step up”

But my parenting was making it worse.

In the beginning I was all like “get up off the floor and go to school” ” I am not going to be manipulated by this” ” Hey I don’t feel like going to work either but I have to, so you can go to school”

And the teachers were the same.

“He’s being lazy”  “He’s not doing his work” ” He’s smart, but doesn’t care” “How can he learn if he doesn’t show up” “It’s your job to get him to school”

But his brain was malfunctioning.  He was drowning in stress hormones and physically couldn’t do school things.

He could not operate out of his thinking brain when his emergency brain was in overdrive.

I was demanding he do things he physically couldn’t do; and his teachers were doing the same.

And it only compounded the anxiety.

It wasn’t until I discovered the science of toxic stress on the brain that things turned around.  And though It went against my normal parenting expectations of work hard, don’t slack, and fight through hard things, our days became about all things calm – yoga, rest, and more rest. The priority was about removing triggers and healing his brain.  His teachers thought I was enabling, helicoptering, and making excuses for his “laziness”.  Some days I thought the same about myself. But in my gut I knew this was the right thing to do.

If he had strep throat or pneumonia I wouldn’t demand that he ” fight through it” I would give him all the things that would make him well.

If I only knew then what I know now.

If his teachers only knew what was going on in our home and what that stress  was doing to his brain.

 That is all I was suggesting in my last post.

That teachers look at students through a trauma sensitive lens.

Have high expectations in an environment of high support.

It is the connection of a teacher that can make a difference. Oprah says her teachers were the difference in overcoming the effects of her high ACEs. It doesn’t take much.  It is really just about building safe, secure and consistent relationships with students.  It is about looking at what may be behind the behaviors; not the just the behavior itself.

My friend gets it. She posted this the other day.

sara beth

“I care more about loving them than I do about teaching English, but along the way they learn more than I thought possible”

And that is what a trauma sensitive lens looks like. And it is science. Research shows us that students learn, have higher test scores, and have better classroom behavior when they are in a classroom that is safe, nurturing, and relational. In other words, an environment that understands the science of trauma on a child’s brain.

I remember what it was like when I taught in a Title 1 school. I know there are kids that are “out of control” in your classroom and you don’t get the support you need from parents. I know teaching is demanding and draining and that many times you are expected to do the work of 10 people.  But I also know that you have the potential to change a struggling students life with your connection. Maybe even the next Oprah.

I am thrilled to say that today my boy is doing fine in college. (and he is anything but lazy.) I’ll be honest, I never thought this day would come. It breaks my heart to think back on those days and how we struggled. I often wonder how different the outcome might have been had one of his teachers  understood the science of trauma and toxic stress, and instead of asking him “What is wrong with you?” had simply asked “What has happened to you?”

That is all I was trying to say.

Most teachers didn’t’ go into teaching to hold a gun. They got into teaching to hold hands and hearts and minds.

And, of course, to have summers off.

Schoolteacher posing with her pupils

“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship” -James Comer


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Yes, Damn It, There Were Warning Signs!

Warning stampThis is not about gun reform; though it plays a part.

This is not about blame; though there is enough to go around.

This is simply about me sharing with you what I have learned about children who have experienced adversity.

I am not talking about the kind of adversity that grows a kids’ character and teaches them about life and it’s hard knocks. This is not about excuses for kids behavior; it’s about causes. And before you jump down my throat about raising snowflakes, hear me out and have a look at the science…

I have a pit in my stomach as I write.  My eyes keep watering and it’s hard to see the keyboard.  All I wanted to do yesterday was crawl under the covers and stay in bed. Maybe it is because of all the research I have been doing lately on trauma and it’s effects on kids, but this latest school tragedy has hit me harder than most. And based on twitter and FB, it’s hitting you hard too.

I keep hearing the words of the newscasters. “Were there any warning signs?

Yes.  Damn it. Yes, there were warning signs.

The talking heads keep asking, “Why do the shooters shoot?”  I don’t have all the answers, but I am pretty confident I know a very big piece of the puzzle.

Without fail all of the school/church shooters have experienced one or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). And the toxic stress that results from those ACEs  have altered their brains and bodies; and the evidence is in their behavior.

And there were warning signs. There are always warning signs.

And the majority of our schools are not equipped to recognize or deal with the real life, messy effects  of students who have experienced adverse childhood experiences ( ACEs)

So here is what I have learned as I have tried to give my own children all they have needed to heal from their  ACEs

In  the 1990’s Dr. Vincent Felitti  and Dr. Robert Anda along with Kaiser Permanente and the CDC conducted a Study of 17,300 middle class adults in what became known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences study. The data showed the direct correlation between the number of  ACEs and health issues as adults like obesity, addiction, heart disease, auto immune diseases, and more. (sounds like common sense doesn’t’ it?) And as a result of this study, we now know the effects of the toxic stress, caused by these adversities, on children and their brains and bodies

“ACEs are defined as some of the most intensive and frequently occurring sources of stress that children (from birth to 18)might suffer in life.  These range from physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, witnessing violence in the home, living with an alcohol/or substance abuser, and community violence” -Jim Sporleder  The Trauma Informed School

Felitti and Anda created the following list of the most common ACEs.  Your ACE score is one point for each of the ACEs that you have experienced from birth to 18.

You can take the ACE test here

And this is what science has shown us:

“These types of chronic adversities change the architecture of a child’s’ brain, altering the expression of genes that control stress hormone output, triggering an overactive inflammatory stress response for life, and predisposing the child to adult disease. ACE research shows that 64 percent of adults faced one ACE in their childhood, and 40 percent faced two or more.” -Donna Jackson Nakazawa

That means almost half of you reading this have at least one or more ACE.

And if you are a teacher, think of your students and the possible number of ACEs in your classroom.

From what the news is reporting about the shooter, his ACE score is at a minimum 3; but my guess is it is probably higher.

The ACE study has shown us that children with multiple ACEs are bathing in stress hormones that leave them in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze; also known as  survival mode. These are the students who are viewed as “the problems”.  A study out of Washington State University showed that students who had at least 3 ACEs were three times more likely to fail academically, 5 times more likely to be truant, and 6 times more likely to have behavioral problems.

Without going into too much neuroscience, students living with this toxic stress  are operating with their primitive or reptilian brain (amygdala), and the top part of the brain that controls their emotions and behavior and learning (neocortex) is not accessible.

” When the student is living under high amounts of stress or has had an intense history of trauma, this top-down control system fails and the lower parts of the brain become more dominant. They physiologically cannot make appropriate decisions or calm themselves when they are functioning from a bottom up control.  They are in survival: their brains are flooded with the stress hormone, cortisol” -Jim Sporleder

So what? How is this science going to stop children from being murdered in their classrooms by other students.

I don’t know that it will, but if our schools start looking at our students through a trauma sensitive lens, we can start to make a difference in some of these students lives; before the shooting happens.

We have to start implementing strategies that help our students return to a calm brain and to a regulated stress response. Traditional discipline has not proven to be the answer. Zero Tolerance with its’ suspensions and expulsions does not address the underlying cause of the behaviors; and many times can make the situation worse. Our locked doors and security cameras and shooter drills are not preventing it from happening.

The science and data show that if children with high ACE scores have at least one stable, caring and safe adult in their lives, they can build resiliency and learn to overcome the effects of the toxic stress. It takes time.  It takes relationship and connection. And many times, the only stable, caring person in that child’s life is a teacher.

We have to focus on the “before the shooting”.  

What if we start asking our students “what happened to you?”  instead of “what is wrong with you?”

I highly recommend the documentary Paper Tigers.  It follows a school in Washington State that implements a Trauma Informed School approach with life altering results for their students, the teachers, and the almighty test results.

I wonder if the shooter had attended a school that was implementing a trauma sensitive curriculum would the outcome be any different?

I know the answer is not as simple as knowing what our students ACE score is, but it’s a start.  If we can educate ourselves on the effects of toxic stress on our students, and find ways to get them  from a disregulated stress response to a regulated one (and there are proven ways to make this happen) we can begin to make a change in our students, our classrooms, and our world.

ACE slide

Reproduced from The Trauma-Informed School By Jim Sporleder

I dare say most teachers got into teaching because they wanted to make a difference in a child’s life. (It is certainly not for the pay or the chance to hold their bladders for 8 hours a day.) I know It is why I became a teacher.

What if we can begin to implement strategies that address students with a high ACE score? What if those strategies can help a child succeed and a teacher to have a classroom with fewer distractions and discipline issues?

I know it does not fall solely on our  teachers shoulders to reach these children that have been impacted by childhood trauma, but many times they can be the difference these hurting children so desperately need.

I am attending a Trauma Sensitive Schools conference this week and I am anxious to become better equipped to share what I am learning about children and  toxic stress in the classroom.

And I am ready to be a small part of the solution to one day ending these school tragedies.

If you are a teacher and are interested in learning more about the ACE study and Trauma Sensitive Schools, I will be holding a focus group in March. Email me your name and contact information and I will be in touch.


The Trauma Informed School -Jim Sporleder

Childhood Disrupted- How your Biography Becomes Your Biology And How You Can Heal -Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Paper Tigers, A documentary See Trailer Here

Resilience The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope, A documentary See Trailer Here

Ted Talk on ACEs Listen to Ted Talk here

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Now Who Am I Going To Joke With?


IMG_7425 (1)

Oh! so clean and clear!

In an effort to focus on the positive now that I am alone in a big,(well, it feels big when I clean it, but really it is just an average house. I don’t want to lose any sympathy points because you all think I live in a mansion. And if you really want to know, my floors are caving in requiring $8,000 in repairs, I have a leak in my ceiling, and a family of squirrels is harassing and taunting me in spite of the fact that I point a BB gun at them daily.  And don’t think I haven’t thought about setting up a  “Help A Poor Pitiful Single Mom With Two In college GoFundMe page) empty, quiet house, I have started a list of all the things I like about being an empty nester.  I have heard being positive and grateful is the key to a happy life. I am still not convinced, but here goes:

  • It has been a week since my last boy abandoned left me for college and there has not been one dish in the sink.  Can I get an Amen!
  • I have  done exactly 1 load of laundry in a week; and that was just my sheets because I needed to feel productive.
  • My dining room and kitchen table have remained “crap” free.  No one is leaving their books, jackets, mail, socks (yes socks, damn them) on any surface.  It is glorious.
  • My phone charger has remained exactly where I left it. Praise be!
  • I can pee with the door open. Some days it requires too much energy to shut the door.
  • If I want to cook, I cook.  If I don’t, I don’t. No more asking to no avail, “What do you want for dinner?” The end of food mom guilt is exhilarating. Yes, please, another night of wine and Trader Joes cheese puffs. (actually I haven’t had a carb in two weeks and I am about to kick the cat)
  • My water bill is cut in half; my grocery bill by 3/4.
  •  I saved the best for last. I no longer have to clean a nasty “boy/man” bathroom

See, lots to be grateful for.  And I am grateful.

But I am also wandering around on my sinking floors a bit aimless. 

Moms, I know you get it.  We may be doing things like work, exercising, cleaning, or a myriad of  other things, but a large portion of our brain is always on mom duty.  There are always thoughts of, where do they need to be, what are they doing, what should they be doing, am I doing enough to make them kind humans, I need to go to the store for XYZ, I need to return XYZ, or, OMG, when was the last time Johnny actually took a bath. The minute by minute mental-ness of  raising kids is constant and exhausting.

Now I have all this empty space in my brain. And I miss him.

I am not so much lonely, (cuz introvert, silly) as I am alone.

I miss his humor. There is not much to laugh at when you are by yourself.  There is something about shared laughter that makes it so rich and connecting. When I watch a show we used to watch together,  I find myself turning to his spot on the floor to share a laugh or a snide remark. Now, my LOL has been reduced to a quiet Ha.

I miss his help.  Most times I didn’t need to ask, he just saw it needed to be fixed and fixed it;  the wobbly table tightened, the wifi back on, or the trash to the curb.  It’s not that I’m not capable, it was just nice to have help.

I miss his inspiration.  He was fighting through some hard things, and every time I would watch him make a hard decision and take action, it motivated and inspired me to do the same.

Dare I say, I miss parenting. I can’t believe I am saying that.  It was SO. MUCH. WORK. I think I miss being needed.  I know they still need me for somethings, but mostly not. I realize that was the goal. But, now that I have reached it, I am a bit lost.

I know I will eventually settle into this new normal and I’ll fill my empty brain with whatever  I darn well please.  But until then, I sure did pick a bad time to give up carbs, wine included!

Also, sometimes I just stand and stare at my empty, clean, and shiny sink.  If I listen closely, I can hear the angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus!


Never thought I would see the day!



Posted in choosing to be happy, comments on life, empty nest, family, gratitude, happiness, leaving for college, Life's challenges, parenting, single parenting | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

False Alarm; Real Response

hawaii alert


“Her son got the text first and rushed in breathless. He couldn’t speak but showed them the text. The family gathered and huddled in a circle to pray when the sirens went off telling them to seek shelter. She said it is going to take a long time to come down from that one.”

A long time is right.

Can you imagine? My pulse is quickening and my breath is getting shallow just thinking about the fear they must have experienced in Hawaii when they received the alert.

And the sirens continued for 38 minutes before they were told it was a false alarm; I imagine  the anxiety and panic increased with each second they blared.

It was a trauma I cannot imagine enduring.  And before we dismiss it is as, “It’s over”, “Nothing to worry about now”, ” Just a scare”, “Let’s move on”, their bodies will  feel the effects of that scare for a long time; unless they take specific steps to recover from the stress.

The news is telling the story.  The mistake.  How it happened.  Why it took so long to get the word out that it was a false alarm. They are telling the who, what, where, and why.

But no one is talking about the toll this kind of trauma will take on everyone that lived through it, especially the children.

The fear they faced might have been a false alarm, but their primitive part of their brains that control the fight or flight response, couldn’t tell the difference.  And all of Hawaii was awash with stress hormones coursing through their bodies.

We have been designed with a built in alarm system.  The minute that sweet boy, and countless others, got that text their primitive brain took over.  Immediately the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline were released to prepare the body to fight or flee.  And I am assuming the desire to flee was pretty strong, to say the least.

We have all felt it. From sweaty palms to shortness of breath to racing pulse. It could have been a car accident that triggered it for us, or a scary incident with a child, or something as seemingly harmless as a bump in the night that caused the surge of hormones.  To our brain, the response is all the same.

But, I venture to say none of us has experienced the fear and panic of what was thought to be a real nuclear missile heading towards them. 

Did they make phone calls to say goodbyes?

Did they collapse when the word came that it was not a real threat?

And now what? How do the people of Hawaii begin to recover?

I don’t claim to be an expert on trauma and it’s effects on the body, but I have learned a thing or two as a result of helping my own children heal from their chronic and toxic  stress.

One of the surprising things I have learned is that, to our primitive brain, the threats to our safety are all the same.  Our brain cannot distinguish between real or perceived threats; unthinkable ones like a nuclear missile, or seemingly harmless ones like being chased by a Chihuahua (I am not Chihuahua shaming, it is just the smallest dog to pop in my head). It all triggers the same response; A flood of stress hormones. And unless you bring your body back to  a state of calm and equilibrium after the threat, those stress hormones can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds.

According to Robert Sapolsky Phd,”The stress response does more damage than the stressor itself as we wallow in stress hormones”

Once the brain has experienced a trauma, it becomes hyper alert.  The stress response is much more easily triggered in an effort to prepare for “what’s coming next”. We all know the stories of veterans coming home from war with PTSD, but it can happen in lesser traumatic experiences as well.

I think of those poor children (and parents) and how they may be sent into a state of anxiety and fear at the next unpredictable event; always on alert for the next threat. A loud horn screeching could be all it takes to send them back into a state of fear and panic.

So how do they, how do we, recover from the trauma and stress? Because, it may not have been the threat of a nuclear warhead we have experienced, but I dare say we all have experienced  our own fight or flight experiences.  Caring for a sick child or spouse.  Living with someone with an addiction.  Losing a job. Divorce.  Grief. Even public speaking.  All of these can, and do, cause our bodies to release stress hormones.

I don’t know if it will help, but these are the things that gave us back our life after seasons of chronic stress, fear, and anxiety.

Some are so simple you may be quick to dismiss them, I know I did. I promise you they are based in science and truly help bring the brain back to a place of calm and safety. Everyone can benefit, but my heart is especially thinking of the children as I write this.

So here is what I discovered helped my children and me get our stress response back to normal:

Breathe: It is the simplest and most effective way to calm yourself and boost the parasympathetic nervous system ( the part of the fight or flight response that serves to get your body back to calm).  Long deep inhales and exhales. Just breathe. When you see your children showing signs of stress guide them to breathe deeply.  Do it in the morning at breakfast table and at night before you go to bed.

Meditation:   When you become aware of your breath and your body (grounding) you literally change your brain. You actually rewire your brain to not be so hyper vigilant to stressors.  I was not a fan of meditation for a long time.  “I pray, I thought.  Isn’t that the same thing?” Not really, but both are helpful.

Yoga: Yoga was the final key to relieving my sons’ crippling anxiety. I literally watched it change his brain.

“PET scans show that after practicing yoga, cerebral blood flow to the amygdala, the brains alarm center, decreases, while blood flow to the frontal lobe and cortex increases”  “Yoga also increases levels of GABA- a chemical that improves brain function and promotes calm” -Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Write: Especially if it is not easy for you or your children to share  emotions.  Writing is a safe way of releasing your feelings associated with a traumatic event.  Keeping those emotions bottled up, or repressed, will only have negative consequences on your health;  both physical and emotional.  If your children don’t have the verbal or written skills, or would prefer, drawing is another option.

Prayer/gratitude:  Just like meditation, prayer and gratitude can reroute and calm your mind and body.

Create Fun: It is hard for your body to be scared and stressed when you are laughing and having fun

Exercise: Do I really need to go over the benefits of exercise? Just do it. Get your kids to run, jump, skip and play.

Therapy: Last, but not least, If you find the stress is too much to handle on your own find a good therapist!

I wish I had known then, when my children were younger, what I know now  about the effect of stress on children’s growing brains. It may have saved us years of struggle.

And one more thing. Parents, your children are looking to you to be that one stable person in their life to help them through stressful situations. So, if it means feeling silly by writing, drawing, breathing, or getting into yoga pants…do it anyway.

I wish I could  give Hawaii a giant hug. But this was the only way I could think to help the stressed out island.



PS.  There are lots of resources available on managing trauma and stress.  Here are some that helped us:

Headspace: A meditation AP

Yoga: If going to a studio is not an option, my son just practiced with Adrienne on YouTube. Here is the link

Gratitude journal:  There are several on Amazon.

Books on Meditation: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book

“Knowledge is power.  Once you understand that your body and brain have been deeply affected, you can at last take the necessary, science – based steps to remove the fingerprints that adversity has left on your neurobiology.” -Donna Jackson Nakazawa

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