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 what ever 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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I Had a Dream

I had a dream last night. Ok, so it’s not going to be as profound and inspiring as Dr Martin Luther King’s, but stay with me, it might be worth your time.

In my dream, my son and I were hiking on a beautiful mountain trail. To our right were fields  of  bright, purple and yellow wildflowers dotted with wild horses grazing.  To our left was a steep hill; dense with birch trees.

horse in wildflower larry lamsa

Photo by Larry Lamsa

Birch Trees

Photo by Carter

It was beautiful, and I was with my son.

 I remember thinking this moment was worth all the hard work of parenting. Arriving at a place  of complete contentment and simply enjoying each others’ company was priceless.  It was so freeing not having to parent him in any way, not having to fix a problem, and not having to worry about his health and well being.  It was just me and a person I truly enjoyed spending time with. It was peaceful.

As we walked the trail became smaller with room for only one, maybe two, side by side. We turned a corner and came face to face with a wild horse.  We stopped, marveling at how close she was to us. Assuming the horse would walk to the right and up and around us towards the wildflowers, we backed up a little.

new pick

Photo by Carter

Instead, the horse looked to her left and rolled off the trail down the steep mountain side.  We were shocked and horrified.  Why had she chosen that route?  Why would she risk that outcome when a safer, easier one was to her right?

steep trail

Photo by Carter

Then the worst happened.  We didn’t notice the foal at first, but we quickly saw what was about to happen.  In slow motion the foal followed the mother’s path and began to throw herself off the steep side of the mountain; rolling in slow motion, her long, unsteady colt legs flailing in the air.

And then I woke up.

It doesn’t take a PhD in Psychology or Dream Interpretation to figure this one out.

Our kids are watching us.  

And, as if I needed one more reminder in that lesson, the following conversation happened this morning.

Son:  Making some derogatory comment about himself

Me: Son, you are too hard on yourself. Stop putting yourself down

Son: Gee, where do you think I learned it?

OUCH.  And true.

And I am the horse that keeps throwing myself off the cliff. And my kids are watching.

I wrote about it  years ago.  You can read it here. What Are They Going To Catch?

  But now it seems the stakes are a little higher, and it is “What Are They Going To Catch” 2.0.

I am watching my boy in the middle of big life decisions. I am watching him try to figure out the next right step; and he is a little stuck.

 And so am I.

 My dream was a reminder that my kids are watching how I handle life. 

Am I showing them how to operate out of fear, or faith? (Uhm… fear)

Am I showing them how to take needed risks? (Answer is no, in case you were wondering.)

Am I showing them that you don’t need to have it all figured out right now – just keep taking steps in the right direction? ( I don’t have to answer that, do I? You see the pattern right?)

But today, after my dream hangover has begun to wear off, instead of being down on myself, it has motivated and inspired me.  It was a fresh reminder that even though my kids are technically adults, they are still watching. And how I choose to live  can have an impact on them – for the good and the bad.

When they were younger it was easy to model what I wanted them to see…

Be Kind. Be Honest. Work hard. Don’t pee into the wind.

But now I am asking them to do things that I am not modeling. And my dream was a wake up (pun intended) call to take a right and run through the meadow of wild flowers!

teresa alexander-arab horses wildflowers

Photo by Teresa Alexander-Arab

And maybe take a risk or two

take the risk

Photo by Carter.

So, what are your kids watching?

Also, I would like to point out the real miracle in this story… I was actually sleeping deep enough to have a dream that I remembered.

And also, I am sorry for the shameless use of Carter’s pictures from his hike.



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I Didn’t Prepare For This

I dragged myself out of bed this morning and, like the walking dead, stumbled and lurched my way to Starbucks.  If I have to give up my wine,(which is another story for another time) I am at least  going to have my caffeine. You may recall I  wrote about my bookstore moment before my oldest went away to college.  Book Store Moment

Today, I had a Starbucks moment.

Today I found the tears overtake me, without warning, as I stood beside a young father cradling his one year old boy. The boy’s chubby arms and puffy hands were tangled around his father’s neck. The flawless  skin of his fragile, sweet face brought a well of emotion I did not see coming. I couldn’t help myself from staring; long enough to make the dad uncomfortable. Though I was close enough to touch that sweet boy’s face – that face with those tiny, perfect lips that one year olds have- I couldn’t reach out and touch the memories of my own boys at that age. I tried desperately to see their own fresh, innocent faces. To hold the memory of their perfectly shaped lips and cheeks. To feel their  chubby arms and puffy little fingers around my neck.

cameron baby

Those Cheeks. Those lips.

Now I am the one with the chubby arms and puffy hands.

And  I am three weeks away from sending my last, once fresh faced one year old, to college. It will be the first time in 19 years that I won’t see his now scruffy, handsome face and muscular arms every day.

I  have spent the last 26 years in the trenches of parenting. The whole of my days were spent preparing them to one day be independent of me.  And now that I am about to be alone and the weight of daily parenting is done, I realize I may  have prepared them but I have not properly prepared myself.

cameron asleep with back pack

This will most likely be me in three weeks

I have raised them to be independent of me; but I am quickly realizing I have not raised myself to be independent of them.

Not only will I have to spend the next three weeks getting a crash course on how to reset the modem when the internet goes out, learn how to work the remote to get to Netflix and Amazon Prime, and figure out how to get the wireless printer to work; I am painfully aware that I now must figure out how to be something other than the person responsible for the dailyness of raising three boys to men.

I know I will relish the quiet for a while.  When they were young, as a single mom, I would have given anything to have a moment alone to escape the weight of my responsibilities.  Now I will have what I always longed for.  But then what?

What does independent of my boys look and feel like? I still have years before they all are financially independent of me, and I know I will never stop worrying about their well being, but the days of being involved in every area of their life are done; the daily grind of parenting is behind me.

But this is not the part of the story when I tell you moms of young ones to savor every moment because one day they will leave you. I won’t ever say that.  Those days of young ones are hard! And exhausting. And did I mention hard?

Nope this is the part of the story where I tell you to hang in there because they grow to be amazing adults. Their squishy, messy hands and faces will become strong and independent. The things you love about your little ones will be the things you savor about them as adults.  The things that frustrate the heck out of you now will one day become their strengths.  I am not going to lie though.  I have learned the hard truth of  “little people, little problems; big people, big problems” So keep it all in perspective.

cameron grown

I love my grown up people.

No, This is the part of the story where I say burn those memories of their precious faces in your mind.

Stare at them now; not longingly at someone else’s kid 20 years from now.

cameron hipster

Not much has changed in regards to his style of choice

And begin to prepare yourself for independence – yours, as well as theirs.

I’ve read the articles that tell me to get a hobby. To travel. To find a worthy cause. To find my passion.

But none of them tell me how to stop the ache in my heart.

None of them tell me how to be me without them.

I am confident I will figure it out sooner or later.  And I am sure that between cussing  because I can’t get the printer to work, and complaining that no one is here to take the trash out, and feeling sorry for myself that I am alone,   I will eventually find my new independent me.

But, I still reserve the right to stare too long at your babies and toddlers.

camerond grown glasses

He’s ready



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Legacy Letterpress

 I went to a funeral today.

Recently I read a book entitled Living Forward.  And I have just spent an hour looking through my stacks of books to write a quote from it.  Apparently I am not living forward enough to be organized enough to find it. Regardless, one of the exercises in the book was to write your own eulogy – to think about what you wanted people to say about you at your funeral.  What did you want your life to stand for? What was going to be your legacy?

I doubt he had read the book I cannot find, but based on his funeral he didn’t need to.  He was too busy creating a life and a legacy.

It wasn’t a legacy created from lavish  financial donations

It wasn’t a legacy created from discovering some medical breakthrough

It wasn’t a legacy created by a heroic deed.

It was a legacy greater than any of those.

His legacy was that He loved his family well.

His children spoke of their relationship with their dad.  They didn’t speak of his career or his material wealth, or awards that he had won. They spoke of cherished times on the ball field, of weekly breakfast dates and of memories simply riding in the car together. They spoke of what he taught them.

And of his laughter.

It was obvious that he was present. And sacrificial. And kind.

 His legacy was made up of a million little choices he made for his family. Not one big sweeping gesture; but a thousand little ones. 

I know I wasn’t the only one that left the funeral wanting to be a better person, mother and friend; hoping my children will one day say the same things about me.

But what choices am I making today that will create the legacy I want? What are my priorities? What consumes my time?

What about you?

I am so sad for my friend that she has lost her husband and I am heartbroken that her children are now without their dad, I, too, know the pain and ache of that grief. But I hope it brings them a little comfort to know that his life has inspired me to choose wisely how I invest my time. To prioritize the things that really matter, to be present for my children

…and to laugh!


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Let me start by saying that the only things I have successfully kept alive are my three children.

You may have heard that I guilted myself into getting two cats for my youngest.  I am truly afraid that when he goes away to college in the fall, they will die from my neglect.

I have never kept a plant alive for more than three months. I have even killed a cactus. A cactus that did not need anything from me; yet I managed to kill it.

Here is what happened to the garden, that my middle son so lovingly planted and tended to, when he left it in my care

Look, we all cannot be Martha Stewart.

I’ve had a few other things on my to do list.

So when I came home to find this flower blooming out of the graveyard that is my lawn, I was convinced it was a botanous miracle.(not that that is even a word)


In my defense this part of my yard had a fence on it until recently; so save your landscaping judgement for another day please.

Rest assured  I have never, not once, planted a flower of any genus or species in my yard. As you can see, nothing but a weed or two is growing in my side yard where this flora sprang up out of nowhere.

And isn’t that a bit like life; Beauty from Ashes

I watched Moana last night.  Yes, I was watching a children’s movie on a Saturday night. Alone. (Again, please hold your lonely on a Saturday night judgement for later) And it was AMAZING!

Bear with me.  I’m going somewhere with this whole flower out of a dead yard and Moana thing…

Alcoholism stole my heart.   My divorce left me wounded and took whatever self esteem I had and buried it deep; so deep. Hurt and failure slowly removed my heart a piece at a time and left me unsure of who I was. I believed I was my failures.  I believed what the alcoholism told me about myself. That I was second place. That I wasn’t worth fighting for. That I was the cause of it. That if I was just more loving, giving, and kind I could fix it. If I was more than…  If I was stronger…If I had a deeper faith… If. If . If.

Years later, I know in my head that the lies I believed were not true; yet my self esteem was still buried deep. The years of single parenting left me little time and energy for any real emotional recovery.  It was survival mode at its finest.

But now I find myself in a season of healing; uncovering the wounds that were scarred over and beginning to replace my heart piece by piece. (Hang on the Moana tie in is coming)

Recently I started back to therapy and my very astute therapist quickly realized my self esteem was in shambles. It was obvious that I had many wounds that had not been properly cared for. Though my lousy self esteem was not why I went back to therapy, it was where we started the work. The first assignment my therapist gave me was to make a list of all the things I had accomplished since becoming a single parent. I was to give myself validation. I was to declare the positives. She couldn’t have asked for a more difficult assignment. I am way more comfortable dwelling on how I need to improve.  Focusing on my weaknesses is my strength.  I don’t know why it is difficult for me to give myself credit, but it is.

So that night, huddled under my comforter (appropriately named, by the way) I began to meekly write out my list of validations – my list of I ams and I dids.

And for the first time, I affirmed myself.

And it was powerful.

And this is where Moana  comes in.

It wasn’t until she is affirmed by her Grandmother and sings about who she is that she gains the confidence and strength to go after her calling.

Sometimes the world seems against you
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are

The people you love will change you
The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you
And when that voice starts to whisper
“Moana, you’ve come so far”
Moana listen, do you know who you are?

Who am I?

And then she belts out who she is!


And then, like the badass she is, she mends her sails and repairs her boat and sails on.

My therapy assignment was my Moana moment; reminding me of who I am and what I am capable of. 

 The end of Moana slayed me. Totally slayed me. Leave it to  Disney to have me alone on a Saturday night sobbing at a cartoon.

I was that lava monster. I had let the alcoholism and divorce steal my heart and harden me. For years I let it define me.

 In the end, Moana sings to the lava monster and restores her heart.

I know your name

They have stolen the heart from inside you

But this does not define you

This is not who you are
You know who you are


And  then she turns her lava ashes into beauty


And my dead yard produced a flower.

And my wounded heart can be restored.

It is so hard to understand how good and beauty can possibly come from our wounds, our grief, and our hard. But somehow God promises it will; that He will exchange our ashes for beauty.  And it starts with restoring our heart and declaring who we are.

So who are you? Declare it. It will give you strength and courage to go on; to keep fighting through your hard things. It will exchange  beauty for your ashes.

But now for the real question regarding Moana.  How did she keep her tube top up the entire movie? I mean seriously, the one time I tried to wear a strapless shirt I was pulling at that thing the entire night. Oh, the magic of Disney!

“The Ocean told you you were special and you believed it”




Posted in alcoholhism, choosing to be happy, comments on life, divorce, getting back up, gratitude, happiness, Life's challenges, self esteem | Tagged , , | Leave a comment