Sometime in September, I was introduced to the best-selling author Dr. Becky who recently authored the book “Good Inside.” I am trying to remember if it was on a podcast from one of my soul teachers or if it was from a friend as I complained for the millionth time about a tantrum. I honestly don’t know. It wasn’t the tantrum itself (OK sometimes it’s the tantrum itself), but it was the fact I didn’t feel I was in alignment with my own peace at the time. Last week I wrote to you about honoring your peace yet I was struggling with my own peace when my sons became dysregulated as all children do.
Of course, there are moments when I yell, when I mess up, and wish that I could have done something differently. All parents do. However, it wasn’t that I felt out of control around my children or that I was harming them in any way that made me feel out of my peace. I simply felt that there was a better way to navigate their big feelings without constantly leaning on discipline. I couldn’t find my peace in the thought, “I should be in control of my children” or “my children need to be good.” Each and every timer I set for a time-out didn’t feel like growth for them or parenting. It felt miserable. Enter Dr. Becky and her brilliant work.
Everyone Is Good Inside
In her work, Dr. Becky has one core belief she shares with her readers, “everyone is good inside.” This concept on paper felt validating of my own belief and it also triggered a lot of fears. You see holding the belief that everyone is good inside left me in relationships, extended family, and social groups well past their expiration date. Up until my early thirties (I’m 35 now…a newbie) I gave pretty much everyone a free pass while holding this belief. In creating the boundaries that have led to regaining my peace I created a new boundary to stay away from people behaving in harmful ways. Reopening this boundary felt like a hard no for me. Nope. Not doing it. But, when I look at my darling son’s faces, I know in my soul that Dr. Becky is right. We are all good inside.
Lucky for me, Dr. Becky doesn’t stop at the belief that we’re all good inside. She builds on it and teaches us how to create boundaries for our children. This felt like a relief because while it doesn’t address the boundaries I’ve built in my own life, it validated the need to uphold safety at all times. As I dove into her work and began practicing it at home a wave of peace came over me.
Dr. Becky teaches that when young children are throwing fits, having tantrums, or saying unkind words, it boils down to the fact that they are dysregulated. Not that they are disobedient, disrespectful, or bad little kids; they are good humans having a hard time. She then goes on to talk about the importance of being a sturdy leader for your children as they are dysregulated which means keeping their bodies safe. Contain the fire! Tell your children that they are allowed to feel their feelings, to disagree with you, to rage… but it is your responsibility to keep them safe.
Narrating Your Child’s Big Emotions
When the waves of dysregulation slow and my sons are able to calm down I have always talked about emotions to give language to their experience. Dr. Becky also validates this practice and writes about the importance of narrating to children their experiences after their big emotions have settled. This tiny step is the foundation of teaching children to keep their peace and that their big emotions do not define them. Instead, their big emotions are simply part of being human and they need help learning how to express them. I believe that this tiny step builds shame resilience, which in our home is a core family value as we follow the teachings of Dr. Brene Brown.
It has been about two months since I picked up “Good Inside,” and began shifting my own practices as a parent moment by dysregulated moment. I replaced time out with a “do it differently spot,” where we sit and breathe through the waves of big emotions. I began narrating what happened before the boys fell into a fit. Narrating, “you really wanted a waffle, and mommy gave you a cinnamon roll, that was tricky.” I also narrate when I am having a hard time so they do not assume any responsibility for my own stress and develop codependency. “The Pumpkin Show was loud, you wanted toys from the games we couldn’t win, and got stuck in the funhouse. Mommy was having a hard time too.” After the waves of emotions settle for all of us we settle down and I repeat, “wow, that was hard, how can we do it differently next time?”
I am not going to lie to you. You might think as you read this as you enter my house you will inhale lavender, soft music will be playing in the background, and we will all be calmly navigating our emotions while honoring our peace. Some days it is quiet here, but we are after all human, and big emotions are well known in the walls of our farm. This past Sunday by 9 am my children had broken each other’s block house, changed into two different costumes, had a do-it-different moment for hitting, requested face paint, played Candy Land, the dog got out in the back pasture, and tears flowed readily. I was short on patience and could feel myself getting snappy. At that moment I asked myself, “what are you choosing above your peace?” It was the age-old narrative that parents should be able to control their children. No thank you, not interested. I want to raise good humans who can make choices that are right for themselves and their world.
At 9:05 I called a family time out, asked Henry to pick 10 good books, and we piled into my bed to read. “Wow, that was a lot, we’ll feel better if we can sit down and do it differently.” Book after book, kiss after kiss, we settled back into our peace. I am sure later in the day someone cried. Tree climbing and being stuck is a common theme around here. But, we held our peace after having a hard time.
Dr. Becky was the reminder I needed that when children are having big emotions it’s not a problem. The problem is missing skills and the need for boundaries. It’s Applied Behavior Analysis paired with emotional regulation. The combination at least in our home is the foundation for raising good humans in a way that brings me back to my peace, moment after parenting moment.
Waiting for Life to “Go Back”
Somewhere this fall I realized that we’ve all been waiting for life to “go back” to the way it was before COVID-19. That our country and world are so inundated with stress that we have been holding on to this desperate thought of nostalgia. That if things could just be like they were before our stress would melt away and we could all breathe a little. As I watch my own life and my loved ones collectively navigate what seems like tragedy after tragedy I’ve finally come to realize that waiting for stress to leave the external world isn’t going to happen as much as I would like it to. The only alternative is to seek peace, firmly plant ourselves, and say, “not this,” to everything that steals us from our own integrity, and “darling I am so sorry,” when tragedy strikes.
Exactly two years ago I made a vow to myself to never abandon myself for anyone else again to honor my own peace. In theory, this felt like an easy choice, I would stay true to myself no matter what life threw at me. At the time I had no idea of the monsoon that would come with my divorce or the continued challenges of running a company through COVID-19. I also didn’t realize that staying true to myself didn’t just mean on a large scale, it meant small choices each and every day that allowed me to stay in integrity with myself. I’m going to be really honest with you, if I was being graded on this I would probably get a C- at best. Trying to make the right decisions in a social world, through a divorce, and as the head of my company is no easy feat. Or, if we try that again, making the best decisions for myself as a human being is no easy feat.
Why? You might ask. Why would it be hard to say yes to yourself above everything and everyone else? Well, in short, shame, fear of disappointing others, not feeling like enough, and oppressive systems (Ok society) come to mind. I don’t operate in a vacuum and neither do you. Staying true to myself in my home, where no one else is with me is easy. I can tuck into my house for days, ignore all texts and calls, and do what my loved ones now dearly call, “hippie shit.” I’m in total bliss as I’m lighting candles, saging the home, working on a new recipe, or watching endless comedians with kittens (ok, ok, they were free…) curled up on my chest. Life is good, I’m one with myself, and at peace. But then, inevitably, at some point I have to come out of this bubble of bliss. Most of the time for my children, in a choice to see people I love, or for my own work. When I come out of this bubble staying true to myself isn’t always as easy.
The World is On Fire
As I peeked out of my cocoon of peace, initially my thoughts were, “the world is on fire,” we just need to wait for this to be over, and then I can be at peace. Then, in the spring of 2022, one of my clinics actually had a literal fire and now I’ve banned the words, “fire, or dumpster fire,” from the company. The world seemingly continues to hand my loved ones and I an extremely hard deck of cards. For years we’ve all been waiting for the stress of the world to go away and now I think we’re all just holding our breath for the next thing to happen. No wonder I like my Netflix, kitten, and wine cave so much. But, in the last few weeks as more tragedy befell my loved ones (and after a night laying on the floor surrounded by candles, Dametrius peeking in, “do you want ice cream?”) I realized that it’s not what comes for us, it’s who comes to us and the kindness we can give to our own hearts no matter what.
We can’t stop tragedy and hardship. Yes COVID was a big one, but the amount of loss I’ve watched my loved ones live through, as well as myself, can feel unreal at times. In those moments it’s not the fear of pain that will carry us through, it is the willingness to be carried with the love of others until we can give that love to our own hearts. To know that no matter what life throws at us, we are worthy, whole, bruised, but not broken, and are simply doing our best at this thing called life.
The challenge for me is this: if the world isn’t going to get easier simply by waiting for it to “go back” or for COVID to “be over” how do I continue on the path of choosing my own peace? How do I stay in integrity above all else?
I’ve come to accept that pain and tragedy are part of life and I cannot avoid it coming for me or my loved ones. This type of tragedy is what the natural world brings to us, it is loss at its core. I’ve also come to accept that when pain and tragedy come because of anything in our social world I have a choice. I can either choose to stand by or back and allow myself to either contribute to the problem or I can turn away and choose a different way. Choice by choice, as social problems present themselves to me I can choose to say “not this” over and over again until I find my path back home to my peace.
Our world has hurt and it is hurting. Waiting for peace won’t happen, but choosing peace is possible. It’s not the easy path to say no to everything that does not serve you, to say no to injustice and greed, but each tiny decision that allows you to say yes to your own soul is one more tiny U-Turn (Tara Brach) back to your own peace.
As you navigate these choices for yourself and put down all that does not serve you, start with this little question “what am I choosing above my peace?”
Growing up my grandparents lived on a farm in northeast Ohio about an hour from my parent’s home. During my childhood, the farm was my happy place for so many years. As a child fitting in was not my strong suit and I didn’t have the wisdom I possess now that fitting in is never the goal; belonging to our own hearts is. Whenever we visited my grandparents I felt at peace against the chaos of the world. I suppose I knew a little about belonging because on the farm I felt it.
As a child every summer my parents would take us for a week to learn and live with my grandparents. My grandma Virginia was a beautiful quilter and wanted to teach all her grandchildren to sew. Kristen, my sister, took to this quickly and to this day has a quilt rack in her office. Me? I am perfectly capable of sewing (thanks grandma) and it literally makes my stomach sick to focus on details that small. To this day I also still take my sister my mending pile.
To escape the task of sewing I trotted at the boots of my grandpa Bob and did whatever chores he was doing. Each morning before the sun would rise we would get up and put on our “shit” boots then head down to the barn. I would pull the hose bringing water to the chickens, pigs, sheep, cows, goats, ducks, and my favorite; the cats. We would scoop food together, muck out stalls and make sure all the animals were ready for their day. After our early morning activities, my grandpa would pour me a bowl of cereal, slap it onto a metal tray, and we would watch whatever farming show was on in the morning on the shaggy carpet of their living room. Throughout the day I would drag buckets of water to my grandpa as he planted and by night we would rock on their porch swing eating popsicles made from my grandma’s grapevine.
I was in love with this life. Walking through the fields, watching the animals, nursing bottle-fed sheep in the morning, and kicking off my very important shit boots right alongside my grandpa. There was never a moment when there wasn’t something the earth needed or wanted. My grandma told me on a farm that the work is never done, it is waiting for its keeper. When summer ended we would visit the farm about twice a year to see my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Traditions of their own came with the holidays and gathering with my family, while different from me, filled me with quiet gratitude.
In the spring of 2020, my marriage was at a critical juncture and at the same time the world shut down for 12 weeks. I was at home terrified daily for my business in the first days of the pandemic and I knew in my heart that something had to change in my life. I had spent the last decade in Illinois building my business, making friendships that will last a lifetime, and becoming a mama to three beautiful boys. At the time I didn’t know my marriage would end but I did know I needed a happy place and missed my family dearly. I then did something that to this day I don’t know if it came from wisdom or fear. I bought a three-acre farm in Johnstown Ohio sight unseen in 24 hours. My children and I moved to the farm in August of 2020 and within a month I separated from my ex-husband.
Re-Discovering Life in the Country
The past two years have been nothing short of painful but they have also brought me incredible joy. I am a woman who always has to know why and to this day I’m not really sure why I’m here in Johnstown or bought the farm. The only thing I can settle into is this is our healing house. The family who built this house put such love, care, and detail into the home. Each room of the home has a detail that reminds me of beauty and each acre of the land has something new to explore. When I bought the home, I slid open their junk drawer to find a piece of paper to say thank you. Instead, I found this, “Have the Heart of A Shepherd and the Spirit of a Warrior.” It felt like my soul’s mantra and is now on a painting in my office. This home has wisdom I do not yet carry.
When I bought the farm I thought I could replicate the farm my grandparents made for our family. I imagined the 4th of July with my cousins, weekends with my aunts and uncles, and a deep gathering of family members. When I left my marriage some of my extended family turned on me claiming I was either lying about the reasons I was leaving my marriage or breaking God’s plan to follow the man in my marriage. The rest of my extended family either went silent or attacked my beautiful father for supporting his daughter.
It wasn’t the loss of my marriage that broke my heart, it was the loss of my family. It wasn’t until what felt like betrayal and grief passed that I realized I couldn’t lose what I never had. I accepted that I loved my family and they did not love me in return and that was OK. This allowed me to choose the family I deserve versus being hurt by the family I was born into. I know I’m more than the pain they attempted to bring to me and still attempt to bring by spending time with my ex-husband spinning hateful stories about me and my dad.
On the farm, I’ve learned a great many things about myself, how to be present, and how to love what is right in front of me. I have also learned that one week in the summer does not in fact give the skill sets you need to actually run a farm. Turns out I really dislike vegetable gardens, have killed my darling black raspberries, and at five Henry has a better green thumb than me with his pumpkin patch and sunflowers. It also turns out that finding time to add any animals to the farm feels like a task I’ll never have time for but something my soul is still curious for. Baby steps. This fall I’m going to take horseback riding lessons and actually take Simon, my boxer, back to obedience school instead of buying a puppy. The farm has after all taught me to pay attention to what is right in front of me.
Each day I try to find a piece of time to care for the land or the home. Some days I fail at this and some days I remember. But like my grandma said, my farm is always waiting for its keeper. Life is not what I expected it to be when I moved in night from Illinois to Ohio. There are days I still doubt where I am, what I’m doing, and if I’m making the right choices for my children. In those moments I smile gently to my soul reminding myself to bloom where I am planted
A few weeks ago I wrote to you about the power of listening to each other. This week I’d like to dive more deeply into how to navigate the multifaceted ways of listening, being listened to, or being ignored on a human level. You see, listening to others, I think, is one of my superpowers. Not being listened to is part of my shadow work and I can quickly see red become quite an unpleasant person to deal with if I don’t catch it. Basically, I have some great life experiences on both sides of listening that bring value to my life and I hope to bring value to yours.
Backing up and starting at the beginning I would love to say that listening to others is part of my nature. The truth is it would be impossible to know if I’m a good listener by nature because I watched my own dad from a young age do this across all walks of life. If you haven’t met my dad, you will know it’s his nature, because his family of origin does not possess this gift. Quite the opposite in fact. My dad owned a farm market throughout my childhood and I spent countless hours at his ankles as he met farmers, employees, and community members.
Really Listening to Others
When my dad meets a person something special happens, no matter how busy he is my dad stops what he’s doing to truly listen to how the other person is. This carried him well as a business owner but it was in his retirement I truly saw his gift for listening when he met my son Dametrius all those years ago. My dad started a community garden in the Hilltop (inner city) of Columbus to teach children to garden and provide food for the community. My son was four years old at the time and lived in the house next door. In meeting Dametrius, a young bi-racial boy without much more than the clothes on his back my dad did it again; he listened. In his listening, he found that Dametrius’s mom was sick, in listening he heard their family needed help, and from helping my son all those years ago built an incredible friendship that allowed me to become his second mom. A friendship that was not only with Dametrius but to the community of the hilltop. Each and every person on the hilltop was (and is) equal in my dad’s eyes and to this day he will give the clothes off his back to anyone in need. My dad is a walking example of the beauty that treating people equally can create and how listening creates connection.
Back to me (tada!), You can see that I had an incredible role model in listening and so when it came naturally to me I followed it. At first, I followed listening into my career and helping individuals with disabilities and autism as I’ve written to you about in the past. I’m embarrassed it wasn’t until I left my marriage that I truly started to learn to listen to my own soul. I was so fixated on helping people to repair my own wounds that I didn’t stop to listen to myself. At least not on the level that my soul truly needed.
At the time that I was divorcing both my home life and the world were falling apart with COVID. As my worlds fell apart I learned the hard way (yes mom I know) that listening isn’t a gift that everyone has much less even a desire. I was naive at the time and thought that listening to others was something everyone did just like Dad and me.
Finding Someone to Listen to You
In the months following my separation I was met with my entire extended family, lawyers, a guardian, and the legal system not listening to me. As I recanted my experience inside my marriage and the help I needed for myself and my sons, shoulder after shoulder turned away from me. For the family that I lost at first I felt betrayed, then heartbroken, and finally accepted the loss for what it was and grieved. To the lawyers, I switched to time and time again (five to be exact) until I finally found a lawyer that listened. It was through this painful process that I learned to witness the aftermath of not being listened to. Not only in outcomes but in my own reactions.
In a world that seems to be stuck in dysfunctional, and at times oppressive, systems, listening to our fellow humans is a lost art. In knowing how deeply impactful listening is, it turns out I not only see red but become a very demanding, persistent person, when I feel I am not being listened to. It was just this past week, through an experience at my son’s school, that I finally realized exactly how I slip into a controlling narrative. Turns out I become controlling when I’m not being listened to. Knowing this will help me refrain from trying to control outcomes and instead ask the simple question, “why aren’t you listening to me?”.
You see I’ve come to learn that not everything turns out the way you want it to and that control is something we (ok I) desperately want but never really had to begin with. We can’t always change the outcomes into our own perfect story or get what we want. There are billions of us on earth so I can begrudgingly put down the need to control (again, and again, and again). This would however be much simpler if we were first heard, and then were asked to put down control. In writing this I very much doubt I am the only person who struggles with control when they do not feel heard.
Being heard is the key because when a person is struggling, what I learned from my wise father is they have a story to tell. In that story might be a gift, a lesson, a kindness, and often is a need not met. If you spend the time listening, you can learn the needs of others, if you learn the needs of others you find that they aren’t much different than yours. That we are all more similar than different.
So how do you struggle, when are you not your best self, who is not listening to you?
What my darling do you have to say? Perhaps today, pour a cup of coffee (or wine), find a trusted companion, and start to share.
This past weekend I celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Instructional ABA Consultants. 10th! It is hard to believe that a decade ago, with no business experience whatsoever, I founded this company. A decade ago I was 25, clinically talented, and pissed as hell that my clients with state funding were not able to access services.
I celebrated our 10-year anniversary by walking into our Oak Lawn clinic and meeting the first Medicaid client in our company on his first day of ABA therapy. A decade later we are still on a mission to provide access to care across funding sources. The difference (among many) is that a decade later I stand with my work tribe leading together; it is not just me anymore. It’s us building my business.
There are many times I look at myself in disbelief. It’s hard to imagine that fresh out of graduate school with a new degree and passion I would be able to forge my way into the creation of my company. At the time I was fearless. I simply saw that there were thousands of individuals with autism and disabilities being denied care in Illinois because of their funding; medically necessary care. Money, not humanity, was making the decision for them.
Life Changing ABA Funding
As a clinician, I knew that applied behavior analysis was/and is life-changing. It is a science that seeks to understand why an individual has a barrier to learning & communication and can use maladaptive behaviors instead. Each client I worked with before founding Instructional ABA Consultants had something to say and the science of behavior analysis gave me the tools to listen.
The tools to listen to a child who was non-verbal but wanted to speak. To listen to a blind man and hear he was hitting others because he was scared when they approached him from behind. To listen to an adult with autism who routinely hit his peers because his feet hurt and he needed new shoes; he was in pain. And tools to listen to the parents who had willingly signed their children up for residential care only to find their children malnourished, abused, and traumatized. To hold all of their hands with care and kindness while offering them treatment that worked.
Yet this treatment was short-lived. When the crisis ended and our team was discharged the treatment program ended. The clients were left to live a life without ongoing care, their parents at the mercy of a system without the type of therapy and care their children needed. What might have seemed impossible to others seemed so simple to me. These families have state funding, I have a license and the science they need. Why not just put the two together? That is exactly what I did.
Making Positive Changes Yourself
In the beginning, Instructional ABA Consultants was just me and a caseload of perhaps 20 clients. I knew then that I would have to learn about how to scale my own services by building an organization that had my mission at its heart and the science implemented correctly. These past 10 years have been a journey. I have learned more about myself and how to run a business than I ever thought possible. I can tell you more someday I’m sure. But for now, the most important thing that I have learned is that as a leader listening can never stop.
The key to positive change, whether it be for a client or for the capacity of the organization itself, is just that; listening. The systems and clinical programs surrounding both the organization and the clients should always have the needs of the clients and employees at the forefront–at its heart. I have been lucky enough to have built a leadership team whose hearts emulate the mission of IABA (and people who are easily smarter than me). They also know that listening first and then creating is the foundation to our success. All of their incredible skills are used daily because of this culture and a decade later I sleep with a full heart knowing that hundreds of clients are served in the same capacity they were when I was doing it myself a decade ago.
Fighting for Basic Needs
To top off my celebration, after a good margarita, I watched “Crip Camp” on Netflix with my partner. It is a documentary about the development of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the incredible leader Judy Heumann. The documentary begins by talking about Camp Jened, which ran between 1951-1977. It was a camp for disabled teenagers that created an environment where they were treated the same as their abled peers. It was a place where they were allowed to be regular teenagers and have their voices heard. It’s heartbreaking but also true that this was not their experience outside of the camp.
Following her time at the camp, Judy Heumann became an activist who ultimately not only got the ADA enacted but also implemented. In the film, when asked how she did this, her response was simple, “I listened to the stories of my fellow Americans with disabilities without question; if they told me about their experiences I knew it was true.”
That right there is it. I’m a small fish in the big sea of life but if Judy could pass the ADA Act and over 60 years later I could start and successfully run my company by simply listening, then I know that this is a tried and true method of change. I look at our local news each day, as well as my own experiences, with a bruised heart. I am hurt by the loss of humanity in the systems that suppress us. I do not have words to describe my grief for the darling ten-year-old girl who was raped and now is part of the national focus of hate and questioning. This is not the way.
The way to rebuild our world and the systems that support us is not by challenging the experiences of our fellow human beings. The way to build just about anything is to listen. Listen, believe, and do something. Even if that something is just to make your small corner of the world a better place.