I Got It From My Mama

I didn’t always call my mom mama. Somehow, for some reason, I started calling her that after she got sick. It just seemed to fit. Today is her 85th birthday. I didn’t think she would still be with us to celebrate this birthday, so I am grateful. But, watching her fight this stupid disease and suffer all the indignities it brings with it has been a grief I have never known in my 58 years.

Yet, she continues to show me how to do life even as she gets closer to the end of her’s.

One pandemic, virtual teaching, stress shopping trip I found this shirt, and this poem was born.

I am no Amanda Gorman, but I hope it honors my mama.

Tj Maxx for the win once again.

I Got It From My Mama

I’ve been told I am a natural leader

That I am also a voracious reader

And the tickets I have prove that I, too, am a speeder

Of course I am, I say,

I got it from my  Mama

Some have asked how I endure

How I work hard and always do more

How I keep going even when my joints are sore

I don’t know, I say,

I guess I got it from my Mama

I love to teach the underserved

The lost, the helpless, those below the curve

Most times I want to give people more than they deserve 

I’m not sure why, I say,

I must have gotten it from my mama

People ask how I survived as a  parent

I did it mostly by myself, that is apparent

It wasn’t always easy if I am being fully transparent

 I had the best role model, I say,

I got it from my mama

I wish I could say I don’t complain

Somehow I didn’t get that; I can’t explain

But there are so many more things that I did gain

To list them all would be insane.

The one thing I do know,

Is all the good that is in me

I got it from my mama

Posted in Cancer, comments on life, family, gratitude, grief, LEGACY, Life's challenges, parenting, resilience, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

vir-tu-al-ly (nearly, almost) Impossible


When I started teaching some gazillion years ago, I cranked out (literally, you cranked a handle) copies on a mimeograph machine. I had the purple fingers to prove it. I taught so long ago, that I was one of the chosen few who had A computer in my classroom…an Apple IIe; the e was for enhanced in case you were wondering. It sat in the corner of my room like a shrine to the future of technology in the classroom. To be honest,  I was a bit afraid of it.  Cranking a handle I could do, but computers have always stressed me out. Maybe it was because I never recovered from  the trauma of taking a computer science class in college and dropping all the BASIC computer cards right before I needed to turn them in.  It was a dark time in my life. I would rather not revisit it. Who knows. Suffice it to say, I am no Steve Jobs. Technology has never been my forte.

Thanks Covid. Now my entire teaching  life is technology.

Teaching is now all…


and Loom

and Zoom

and Play Posit

and Flip Grid

and Pear Deck

and ClassLink

and Google Classroom

and Securely

and Schoology

 and I can even create a Bitmoji classroom.

But you know what I can’t do? I can’t shake hands every morning with my students.  I can’t look them in the eye and know how they are doing.  I won’t know who didn’t have a good night based on their body language.  I won’t be able to celebrate a win on the court or field from the night before.  I won’t know who needs a hug or be able to give them one.  No more high fives. No more almost getting knocked over by a particular student giving me a hug. ( I think I will  miss this the most) No more jokes in the hallway as students pass my room. No more spontaneous conversations about life. No more up close and personal interactions.

Virtual relationships are not the same.

And for me, teaching is all about the relationships.

Authentic, spontaneous, genuine, relationships.

Not the sterile, virtual kind.

 I can learn how to use Screencastify and Pear Deck. I hate Flip Grid, but I will use it. I will Loom and Zoom and Play Posit.  Maybe I will even figure out how to have a Bitmoji classroom. Who am I kidding? No I won’t.

But how am I going to build relationships with students virtually like I could when they were right there in front of me?

How will I build trust and create a safe place for them to land?

These are the questions that keep me up at night. Well that and the fact that I have gained enough Covid weight that now I snore and wake myself up every two hours.

But still.

I believe building relationships is more important than ever before for our students. Creating meaningful connections is the second pillar of creating a trauma informed classroom. You can read about the other 2 pillars Here . All of our students are coming to us having experienced the trauma of a pandemic. Some will have less of an impact than others, but all will have experienced  some negative effects.  More than ever, all students will need  a classroom that creates safety and strong connections.

The challenge is to do it virtually.

I do not have it all figured out yet. But one thing I know for sure is, as educators, we will make it happen.

But does it have to be with Flip Grid???

Also, if Mr. Rogers could do it then so can I.

mr rogers







Posted in ACEs, Adverse Childhood experiences, Building Relationships, comments on life, Education, Trauma informed schools, Trauma Sensitive Schools, Uncategorized, Virtual Learning | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Was That My Last Hug?

The last time I was here taking care of my mom we were staying in a lovely VRBO.  There was homemade chicken soup on the stove, yoga in the backyard, and basketball on the TV.

And hugs. Lots of hugs.

In a weird way, it felt a little like a vacation.  But, it wasn’t.  My mom, who barely weighs 100 pounds now, is fighting pancreatic cancer.  She had survived a 9-hour surgery, weeks in the hospital and rehab, and was about to begin chemo and radiation. But during that little stay, we were able to find some normalcy.  We shopped.  We went to lunch. We sat in Adirondack chairs with our faces towards the sun. And, we hugged.

 For a brief moment, it didn’t feel like cancer.

This time, I am here in a hotel room.  Last count, I am one of 7 here at the hotel. I’m a little like the grandparents in Willy Wonka, leaving the bed only to go to the bathroom. If I am not careful I may end up with bedsores. The bed has crumbs in it from all the junk  I have been devouring. Sweet then salty.  Sweet then salty. It is a vicious cycle that I do not have the will power or desire to escape. The nightstand is littered with disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, candy wrappers, old mugs of tea, and wine stains. My roommates are books and laptops. If it was under different circumstances, it would be this introvert’s dream.

Instead, it is my worst nightmare.

For the last week, I have left the hotel only once a day to go pick up my mom and take her to her radiation appt.  We sit in the car instead of a waiting room.  When the appointment is done, I drive her back home. I walk her up to the front door of her senior living community, and though I am desperate to hug her, I don’t; like I am some awkward teenage boy dropping off my date.

I can’t help but think, as I watch her walk away, will I ever get to hug her again?

This virus has robbed all of us of so many things.  But what I am grieving the most is the loss of my ability to care for my mom during her cancer battle; during, what is maybe, her last year with us.

This is a new level of helplessness. 

So I really don’t know what to say.  It all seems so inadequate.  It has all been said before.

We are in unprecedented times.

Stay home.  Wash your hands. Self-quarantine.

Do your part.


Because she needs to feel the sun on her face once more.

Because I need to hug my mom again.




Posted in Cancer, Coronavirus, family, grief, loss of a parent, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

What Is In Your Cart?

Image result for food scarcity

I was exhausted. Managing classrooms full of anxious, stressed out students is draining. But I had survived teaching on Friday the 13th amidst the coronavirus chaos, and now I was racing to the grocery store to prepare for this quarantine.  I was like, “Yea! No school for two weeks! I can finally get my house in order, evict the last remaining squirrel, put much needed time into my other job, sleep in, and most importantly…READ A DAMN BOOK FOR PLEASURE!” I innocently walked into the store and leisurely strolled the aisles.  I patiently picked the produce; lettuce mixes for salads and every veggie known to man. Except brussel sprouts. They smell bad, and I fail every time I try to cook them.  And do not at me with your perfect, delicious recipe for them because I have closed the door on  them forever.  I poured over the labels on which salad dressing I would get. This one or that one? Oh, what the heck get them both. I spent a ridicules amount of time in the cheese aisle. I found a new frozen french fry to try, because everyone knows you cannot be quarantined with out french fries.Then it was  on to the wine aisle where I read more labels to find the right blend to go with my london broil that I will not be serving with roasted brussel sprouts.

Then I turned the corner and saw one of my students.

At first I was excited. “Hey! So fun seeing you here.” I wanted to ask a million questions.  ” Are these your brothers? Is that your dad?  Do you live near here? Did you charge your Chromebook?” (kidding about the Chromebook)

But I was suddenly overcome by shame and embarrassment.  And it was obvious to me, so was he.

Me, because I instantly took notice of the contents in his cart.

Him, because he took notice of mine.

Ramen. Chef Boyardee. Peanut butter. The end.

And my privilege stopped me dead in my tracks. I know the reality of the majority of my students.  I know they live in poverty. But today I felt my privilege like I haven’t felt it before.

All I could think of at 4:10 this afternoon was, “Thank god I get a break from this crazy, stressful job!”

And at 5:10 all I could think about was my student’s food scarcity.

I know poverty and poor nutrition go hand and hand.  And do not get me started on what we are feeding our kids in schools. I mean where is Michelle Obama when I need her? I stood in that line and debated.  Should I pay for their ramen? Should I fill a cart of healthy food for them? In the end, I went with my gut that said to spare his dignity.

I felt helpless when I left.

For so many of my students school is their safe place. They know they will eat two meals and the ever anticipated snack. They complain about the food, but they are not hungry. And now they face at least two weeks of uncertainty. I thought about flying drones over their complex and air dropping food into their neighborhood.  Should I stake a claim at their local 7-11 and pay for their Takis and what ever else they want? Could I mail them hot fries and apples? Obviously none of my initial ideas were rational.

So what can those of us who do not experience food scarcity do to help those who do? The following links are realistic ways you and I can ensure  our students have enough food to get through this difficult time.

We Are VB is an excellent program that gets food to those in our community that are in need.  Here is the link We Are VB

VBCPS accepts donations to fill their Beach Bag program.  Here is the link Beach Bags

Food pantries will need donations. Here is a link to donation information.Food Pantry donations

Stay safe. Wash your hands.  And next time you are casually filling your grocery cart with what ever you want, remember there are many who do not have that privilege. So please, do what you can.

Also, tell me again why everyone is stocking up on toilet paper?

Posted in ACEs, Adverse Childhood experiences, comments on life, food scarcity, hunger, poverty, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Today I realized My Dad’s Legacy

  1. 1.
  2. 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 his 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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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


Posted in comments on life, Education, School shootings, Teaching, Trauma Sensitive Schools | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.  Suzanne_pease@yahoo.com


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