Posts Tagged ‘coping’

Walking Home to Ourselves

Posted on: January 11th, 2021 by Jessie Topalov

As a parent, there are a million joys that come from getting to know your little humans. I’ve always been fascinated by nature vs. nurture. The thing that has taken my heart by storm, however, is children’s absolute knowledge and love of themselves without reservation. My number one job as a mama? Don’t let the world take it from them as it has taken from me and so many others. Teach my sons to honor their knowing and worth.

Looking at Ourselves

There is an awakening in coming through trauma. It’s like walking through a forest all night and finally seeing the sun slowly peek in to remind us of the love inside of us. The walk is terrifying but deep inside you know the sun always rises; that your worth is real. Yet so many of us get lost in the forest and are never able to guide ourselves back to the sun.

Walking Home to Ourselves blog featured image. A photo of Jessie's son standing next to a creek.How did we get there, to that dark forest? We get lost and follow the compass of the world instead of the compass of our hearts thinking the answer to happiness is out there. We listen to the noise of the world around us telling us things like, “I’ve got what you need, you are not enough, you are broken.” That noise is lying and pulling all of us away from ourselves.

With the world telling us that happiness is out there and we are inherently broken, our knowing from within gets buried. Materialism, greed, judgment, and power are running our world dry and hearts dry. Yet how many of us have gone through this life thinking if we get the next best car, outfit, house, lifestyle, job, or position we will in fact be happy? That the desires burning in our own hearts are somehow wrong? Then, from the people lost in these lies, we’re also taught what to value and build entire societies based on their belief of scarcity and self-hate. That everyone else must have something that we don’t. That we should all be afraid and protect what’s ours. That right there? That’s how wars get started and Capitals get raided.

This feeling is an emptiness inside of the righteous who are unwilling to look inside themselves and say, “I feel lonely, I feel unimportant, I feel sad, depressed, anxious–like I’m not enough,” and the like. It’s too painful to look inside and see what hurts, so a shield of righteousness is created. Then, those of us who believed the words the world crafted from fear get lost. When we say that our problems come from other people we are simply fleeing from ourselves.

Getting Out of the Forest

If you are of the opinion that your happiness is contingent on someone else giving you something they took from you know this; you are lost in the forest. The world is full of joy, beauty, and happiness but this joy is found in a leaf crackling under bare feet in the fall, not in your new Mercedes. It’s in seeing a child in need of a meal getting to break bread with their entire family. It’s in learning who in the world is without water and then getting water to them.  It’s in extending grace to ourselves when we are unkind, then trying again. It is in the pure knowing that inside of our own hearts is more than we have ever needed. That we are all equal. That when a person is suffering the bravest thing we can do is extend a hand not a firearm.

My grandpa was in the navy during World War II. One year, at a family reunion, he brought his trunk from the war and began sharing its contents with us. As he told us the story of his ship being hit by a kamikaze he pulled a spark plug out of his trunk. Grandpa reflected on how as the Japanese fighter lay dying on the ship, his shipmates began shouting and spitting on him. My grandpa recalled telling his fellow shipmates to stop and have respect; this man had a mother too.

So much of humanity is lost in the darkness of the forest believing they will find the path out through hate, force, self-defense, and self-righteousness. If they continue to believe they will find the path this way they’ll be lost their whole lives. Others are lost believing the stories being told by those lost in hate. Remember this; we were all tiny children who knew fully who we were before the world told us otherwise. I’ll tell you all what I tell my sons, “joy is your birthright.” I’m also in need of a daily reminder to myself because joy is my birthright too.

Changing Our Future

Collectively, I believe we are finally shifting within the world to say these fear-based behaviors are not true. It’s a small voice and a loud voice. Behavior rooted in fear is actively damaging to the world. To shift from this behavior, we have to be strong enough to know ourselves and stand up for love and against the damaging behaviors of others; to those still lost in the forest. The only way to do this is to shut down the noise of the world knowing we are enough just as we are. That we are worth love, belonging, joy, and happiness. That we can step away from any path taking us from the sun and choose again.

Through the discomfort of shedding every single thing that takes you from your knowledge, you can be reborn into who you always were before the world told you lies. For you too were once a tiny child fully in love with yourself and the breeze in the trees.

 

Xoxo,

Jessie 

Choose Pain, Come Home

Posted on: January 4th, 2021 by Jessie Topalov

It’s Monday morning and I’m sitting in my office, outside of the house for the first time since March. I also dropped off my son, Dametrius, at in-person school at 7:15 AM today.  After three weeks as my son and 10 months of e-learning, my baby finally walked into school. Up until a year ago, I thought the first baby I would give away to school was Henry; it sure doesn’t get any easier, even when they’re 15.  

So it’s a new chapter in our lives; Dametrius is out of the house for school and I’m finally strong enough to pick up my writing on a Monday morning and leave my little sons with their grandparents. As many of us are recovering from trauma, leaving the safe space we’re created is hard stuff. It’s also incredibly brave.  

The last time I wrote to you I shared that collectively we are all walking through trauma during the pandemic and that when trauma comes change is born. In re-reading “Untamed,” over break, I was reminded that there are two different types of pain. Glennon writes that the first type of pain is the fear that is born from working against the truest form of ourselves and the second type of pain is choosing to burn a life keeping us from the truest form of ourselves to the ground. This resonates with me deeply, I’d like to share more.

Choose Pain, Come Home blog featured image. A black and white photo of Jessie.Dealing with Types of Fear

I’ve written to you about becoming a love warrior over the past six months; a person who knows in their bones they are good and true despite what the world is saying about them. I don’t know how much this still sits well with me today. I think there is such a truth to this, yet so much more to uncover.

You see, the first pain that Glennon writes about are the fears we all get lost in throughout our lives. It is the fear that propels us to abandon ourselves for the sake of others. The fear that tells us that fitting in and being accepted is the goal of life and once we finally listen we’ll be happy. This fear is a Goddamn liar. I listened to it for far too long.  

As a woman, I’ve been raised to believe many lies and am lucky enough to have parents who never treated me differently because I was a girl. My mom is a feminist through and through and my dad is a champion of women. This gave me the courage to know that I was born equally but it didn’t give me the knowledge I needed to fight society as I entered into it.

I think that was part of my fear of sending Dametrius to school today. You won’t meet a wiser, kinder soul than my son Dametrius and my child has walked a path many of you cannot imagine. He’s still himself every day. “Don’t you lose you in there baby” I told him, “don’t fit in.” Me? I know school is where I began to lose myself and built up a series of lies from society from there on out.

Overcoming Personal Fears

Growing up, I believed from a young age that how I looked was the first key to acceptance from my peers. I developed an eating disorder in high school to lose the weight I thought was holding me back from fitting in. I believed that finding the perfect boyfriend-turned-husband would show the world how lovable I was and that marriage was the ultimate community and personal goal.

There’s more. I believed that I needed to be polite, accommodating, and put my needs second to everyone, including my children. I believed that the more I looked and behaved in a way that matched society norms the happier I would be. This is the first fear, this is what took me down the road of abandoning myself for so long.  

I wrote to you all that I made the choice to buy a farm in Ohio this past summer in order to follow my true path. In reality, this choice was delivered to me from the universe to burn every fear I had to the ground and build a life worth living. My farm, family, and God have saved my life. When I couldn’t choose it for myself the second pain was chosen for me.   

This past fall-into-winter I have done something I have never done before; I felt every single piece of pain I was walking through. I held it, felt it, breathed it in, and let it have a place. It was not pretty. At best it was animalistic. I spent hours crying on the floor while my babies slept, screamed to the skies while walking in my pasture, and succumbed to the raw pain that was needed to come back home to myself.  I’m just now starting to see the clearing through the trees, and this clearing is not from the world: it’s from myself saying, “welcome home.” I’ve allowed this pain to shake me to my roots and began believing that the only thing that brings true joy is belonging to ourselves.  

Someday I’ll tell you about the life event that has caused such a change in me. I’m not ready yet. What I am ready to do is tell you all that we can in fact do hard things. That this past year has been a collective of grief through the pandemic and personal pains. What pain will you choose?

Choose Your Pain and Come Home

Will you choose the pain and fear that tells you to succumb to the expectations of others? Or will you choose the pain, no matter how raw, that brings you home to yourself? If you continue to follow me, know this; I do not give a damn about what others think of me anymore and will ask myself “am I losing myself,” every second of the day I make choices. I will not put myself second just because I was born a woman or question the skills, talents, gifts, and passions that pulse through my veins. And I will not care if I make you or anyone else uncomfortable because I refuse to be uncomfortable with myself ever again.

We all have collectively been stopped in our tracks because of the pandemic. I believe I asked myself the question “Jessie, are you going to keep living in the fears of the world or come home to yourself?” Right now I’m coming home to myself and leaving the pain behind. 

Readers, what about you?  Will you walk with me? Would you like to try? I can help you to stay true to yourself. I have walked through pain that I thought was deep enough to kill me and through feeling it I was born. It’s worth it, coming home.

Xoxo,

Jessie

In loving dedication to my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, mom, and dad who have all held me in their arms these past three months.

The Valley of Winter

Posted on: December 17th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

As fall comes to an end I’m sitting on the farm surrounded by freshly fallen snow. It’s as though the universe is painting a visual for this season of life. These past few months have been extremely difficult for me. In the middle of a growing pandemic and the pressing matter of racial inequality, I know I’m not alone. Collectively as a nation and world, we’ve had to adapt overnight to changes in our culture, find ways to address what seems like trauma after trauma, and somehow keep putting one foot in front of the other. Yet life is still around us, no matter the valley we’re in.

The Valley of Winter blog image. Photo of a snow-covered porch overlooking a field.As a business owner of a company that makes my heart swell with pride, there are so many things I want to tell you. I want to tell you about the years before Instructional ABA Consultants was born–what it was like to hold the hands of mothers whose children were being institutionalized. I want to tell you how Applied Behavior Analysis changed everything for each and every client I worked with. Of my deep love of a man named David, my favorite client of all times.

I want to explain how through tears, sweat, heartache, brilliance, vulnerability, and grit my company was shaped; this came from me and the employees who built it. I want to create resource after resource for children with autism, families of these young children, and each person in the world who feels like their voice doesn’t matter. All of these things burn inside my heart.

Yet today, my win was that I got up without crying. Was this anyone else’s win?

Taking Time After Trauma

In the middle of trauma or in coming out of trauma it’s easy to expect ourselves to quickly go “back to normal.” I remember this vividly when I was awakening from postpartum depression after Henry was born. I was so joyful to feel like myself again. I wanted to pack my days with everything “Jessie” I could think of. Doing this, while very tempting, would have flattened me. In coming out of a depression I had to honor what my body and mind had been through. To choose wisely what I would add to each day.  

So what is normal and how do we choose what to add? Today we’re all so indicated by social media and marketing telling us what our lives should look like. On top of that, we’re socially conditioned to be a certain way or want certain things based on our gender, race, sex, and age. There are so many opinions swirling around us on who we should be and how we should behave. Trauma, like the COVID-19 pandemic, threatens this unnatural order.  

Many of us were on autopilot prior to COVID-19. Then we were forced to stop. I believe this is true with any trauma or major life event. It could be a cancer diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, an injustice toward a loved one, a divorce, your own mental health taking an unexpected turn, financial upset–the list goes on and on. Trauma is part of our lives and it’s the part of our lives we don’t talk about enough.

The scariest part? If a person does speak up about their own personal traumas, the systems supporting us or the people around us often bring shame. Shame to keep us small and silent. If you feel pain, scared, or threatened don’t ever let anyone tell you to stay quiet. Speak up every single time regardless of what others say around you.

What We Can Do to Recover

So what can we do? What can I do as 2020 comes to a close and the pandemic we thought would be over by June continues? Wasn’t it just yesterday I was laughing about toilet paper and schools closing over margaritas with friends? We honor the season then get the hell out when it’s time to get out. That’s what we do.

Winter comes every year and our busy-ness becomes harder to keep. COVID took much of that busy-ness already. Personally, I hope it never comes back. This season of stillness is a natural order of things. We as humans are not meant to be on high speed every second of every day. We are also not built to impress and conform. We’re built to breathe freely, live freely, and love fully.  

To do this we must honor where we are in life and love ourselves just as much when we’re crying on the bathroom floor as we do when we’ve achieved a goal. Grief comes for all of us. When we can offer ourselves compassion and grace the season is honored. On the other side of winter is spring where the flowers grow. Yet if we spend our lives wishing for beautiful flowers we’ll miss the cold beauty of a bare tree.

A new season is coming. Sit here darling ones. Hold your heart if you’re crying and take a moment to breathe the sweet winter air.

Xoxo,

Jessie

Shining a Light on Shame

Posted on: October 7th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week I wrote to you about being authentic both at home and work. This is a big topic and I feel like I’ve only identified one wave in the ocean of authenticity. Today I want to write about one big way I believe we all get lost. It’s the next wave per se I’d like to ride with you on this journey. The wave I want to discuss is why we care so much about what other people say about us and how this blocks authenticity.

Teaching Our Children to Deal with Hurt and Shame

Photo of Jessie Topalov with a babyDoes anyone else who grew up in the 90s remember this little phrase; sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? I sure do and what total bullshit. During my childhood, I was picked on a lot for how I looked and behaved. I was not a model-thin child but was by no means fat. That didn’t stop the bullying and actually caused me to gain a lot of weight that then led to some awful eating disorders.

I was also socially awkward (still am!) and got made fun of when I didn’t behave like the quote-unquote cool kids. Parenting techniques of the 90s? Push it down, it doesn’t matter, move on, and focus on school. Now, while I realize most parents were doing their best, this did nothing to heal the wounds caused in the schoolyard, as well as growing wounds at home.

Fast forward to 2020 and today’s topic is still a pervasive problem. Why?

The first is that we live in a world where people, both children and adults, put each other down. The second is as a society we’re not emotionally responding and providing healing when someone is emotionally hurt on a large scale, including ourselves.

Now I know some amazing mamas and papas raising their children to live authentically, develop shame tolerance, and show up as themselves despite what the world is saying. They’re raising love warriors. We need more parents like this and children raised like this. Yet, on a large scale, dealing with hurtful words isn’t being addressed.

To address this issue, I believe we each need to take a different individual approach. This approach is to work through our own demons which cause us to stay small. We need to fill up our own cups and overflow the world with the light starting with our children. From there we’ve got some work to do because people are marginalized everywhere based on their differences.

Starting the Learning Process

So how do we do this? My sister actually posed this question to me last night. My answer? A lot of therapy. Just kidding! Well, kind of. You see, I’m 33 years old and I’ve got a long learning history of giving when I don’t have the energy to give, pushing down my own desires, personality, and labeling what’s in my heart as selfish. Was anyone else raised that way? To label their own needs as selfish? Are you unintentionally raising your children this way? Or is there another label that’s pervasive in your home?

This is shame plain and simple. Shame tells us who we are is not good enough and we should push down our desires and stay the same. It’s a tricky little bastard and why we care so much about what the world is saying.

To answer my sister’s question authentically, my true answer is to first shine a light on the problem. Shame cannot survive when we expose it but once exposed your open wounds need care and attention. It would be a wonderful thing if this shame was identified and the world wrapped its arms around us. In truth, we’re lucky to have two or three people in a lifetime who can do this; one being ourselves. For our children, this has to be us because it is a rare thing for a child to meet another child with an open heart when they are shame spiraling. When children do know this, you’re dealing with an angel on earth. We need to raise our children to be these angels! I’m Dametrius’s new mama and fully aware of the angel in my home. I’ll be a lucky mama to have Henry and Declan follow in his path.

Responding to a Shame Spiral

So how about you? How do you respond when you are in a shame spiral? Do you begin to believe either the things the world is saying about you or the terrible things you may say to yourself? Do call yourself names or agree with the insults? These can be subtle or large in nature. It could be you love math and someone tells you you’re bad at it, that your jeans don’t zip and you call yourself fat, or it could be you’re in a heterosexual marriage and fully know you are gay. Small, big–they are all wounds.

What do you do when your body is hurt? When you’ve fallen down and are bleeding. You grab a band-aid, right? You provide care to help the wound heal. It’s easy when you can see it. But when wounds are inside of us it’s easy to shove them down and ignore them. What happens then is a mess.

We begin to lose who we were born to be, can’t give what we’re designed to give to the world, and oftentimes we start taking our shit out on everyone else or ourselves. Personally, I take my shit out on myself but I know a great deal of people (sitting President anyone? The backyard bully to all of Washington) who take it out on other people.

How do we fix this pervasive problem in our own lives and thus society?

This week we’re just addressing wave number one and, if you’re brave enough, trying to dive into someone else’s wave too. This week I’d love my readers to walk alongside me and think about ways you are calling yourself names (mine is selfish, among others) and begin to unpack it. Once you see why you’re name-calling, give your great big heart a great big hug and do something to recharge. If you’re brave maybe reach out to a friend and let them know something you love about them. Or notice someone struggling and offer a listening ear. Then get ready because next week we’ve got to talk about raising love warriors at length. We’ve also got to spend some real time on people in power and marginalizing minorities, something I’ve been thinking about as I write through this week’s topic.

I don’t know about you but I refuse to raise my boys in a world that they can’t be who they are. Step one? Mama needs to be who she is.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Authentic Love Warriors

Posted on: September 30th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

This past week has been a long and eye-opening one for me. It started with Henry and my first trip back to Illinois since our move out to the farm in Ohio. I crammed every second with people I love to work with. I couldn’t even walk into our old sitter’s home, now a dear friend, without crying because I miss her so much. But that’s the good stuff right there. Loving someone so much your heart explodes when you see them. I’m so lucky to have such wonderful women in my life and a work team that accepts me as I am. I think they’re lucky to have me… but I’m even luckier to have them. It’s reciprocal.

Living Authentically

Jessie Topalov BCBA and ASD expert sitting outsideDuring my time away from home, I was able to take a deep dive into my emotions. Remember, our feelings are messengers. I wrote to you all a few weeks ago that I haven’t been feeling like myself for awhile at home. I thought self-care would fix it; it didn’t. During the trip back to Illinois I spent time reflecting on the “why.” A very good therapy session later it was loud and clear; I’m not being authentic at home.

Guys! This is tough stuff. One of my content buckets is authenticity. I show up at work each and every day with my whole heart. To have it pointed about that I’m authentic at work and holding back my true self at home was hard to hear. It was also necessary. A lightbulb went off in my head that indicated I needed to feel like myself again. I’m not joking–as soon as I saw it for what it was I felt like myself again. This reminded me about “A Course in Miracles,” that a miracle is shifting back to love. That’s it. What more is authentic than loving ourselves?

Let’s dive in.

Losing Authenticity

Over the last five years, I’ve slowly shifted away from living authentically at home, which corresponds directly to becoming a wife. I somehow got this tiny, mad idea that I was responsible for how everyone was feeling (gender norms anyone?). Day after day, year after year, I started giving away pieces of myself to keep the peace. Now, while I did and still do activities I love, I still wasn’t showing up as myself. I was overwhelmed by the idea of making my husband uncomfortable because of the way he responds to my preferences. Holy crap, what total bullshit.

It’s not that my husband said, “hey you need to make me happy all the time!” but he sure didn’t and doesn’t stop me when I make concessions for myself if it benefits him. For me, this looks like giving up the things I hold to be true for myself that come across and bossy or uptight. I have a very specific way I like to do things based on my values. I love my values (they’re mine!) and yet I hate being labeled as a perfectionist, overbearing, and the like. I know that this is because I am a woman. If I was a man who was detail-oriented, confident and organized I would be labeled as sexy. Dare I say women can be labeled as bitches for this characteristic?

So I held back, pushed through, and fought. This looked like giving up on arguments surrounding how we eat, how I clean the home, how I organize bills, activities I like for the boys, not using shame, screen time, and so on. Sometimes I would fight the fight and sometimes I would concede because I was tired. On and on it went. This is how I lost my authenticity. Because I don’t want to be called bossy. Seriously Jess? Girl, it’s time to stop that bullshit.

You see, I actually am bossy. I employ over 75 people and run a multimillion-dollar organization built from my own heart and with an amazing team. I have to protect my company, employees, and clients which calls for being precise, protective, and loving. I hold the line on quality and values at Instructional ABA Consultants. I love what I do and love my team. Ask any one of them if my directness means they are not heard? That will be a resounding no because even though I’m holding the line, it’s my job to listen to my team. I honor their skills, they honor mine.

Learning to Be Yourself (Again)

So why is it that when I became a wife I adopted this story? That to be assertive at home isn’t Okay? I’m guessing I’m standing beside millions of women who may be asking themselves the same damn question. My idea? Society benefits from keeping women small and in their homes. Period. So even if my husband doesn’t outwardly say, “I need less of your personality,” he doesn’t have to. I stepped into a female role and while I fought sometimes it wasn’t always the case. I still found myself doing the laundry if no one else did it or wiping counters at 10:00 PM because crumbs bother me.

After I realized this is not self-love and to keeping myself small doesn’t serve my heart or the world, I did something radical. Ready for it? I woke up and embraced myself and told my husband I would never compromise my worth again, not ever. That ladies will be the daily practice of my life.

You see, a love warrior, as I’ve written, is someone who knows they are good, whole, and true despite what the world is saying about them. Sometimes that world is as small as our own homes. I’m committed to living this life authentically. Will my fellow love warriors join me? What a gift that might be.

In putting down what I felt my role was and the title of “bossy/uptight,” given to me by my husband, I am standing fully in my power through my heart. I poured a glass of wine last Thursday night and made charts for my home. How the boys and I eat, love charts for myself and the kids (for connection styles), labeled my pantry, wrote our values, wrote my boy’s daily schedule (the littles). Then you know what I did? I folded Martin and Dametrius’s laundry one last time and left a note, “You both need to clean up after yourselves, this is so not my job,” and left it on the stairs for when they got home.

Because you know what? It’s not my job to take care of the whole house, it’s my job to live authentically so my boys can live with their whole hearts. The cleaning crew comes tomorrow. I’ve got other things to do.

Xoxo,
Jessie

 

P.s. Proof

photo of a laundry basket with clothes

What’s Your Wish Mama? Building a Brand for Parents

Posted on: September 16th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Okay, so I’m beyond excited to write this blog. It’s short but it’s a good one! I mean, I know I tell you week after week that I’m loving writing but this week I get to do one of my favorite things; dream.

Ever since I was a little girl I would spend hours a day dreaming about what I could create. As a child, it was more whimsical dreams, like “Wouldn’t it be cool if we built Japan for our Barbie dolls?” On a side note, we did this among many creative and scrappy things. Today that dreaming is still in me but I’m using it for the real world.

photo of brothers on a farmWhen I wrote to you all at the beginning of August I alluded that I’m building a new chapter in my life and company. I can’t wait to tell you more! But today is about you and all the parents we support. Today is about dreaming together.

Turning Dreams into Reality

Instructional ABA Consultants was built on my dream over eight years ago. It was all about building an inclusive company for children with autism and adults with disabilities. I was (and am) on a mission to close the funding gap that causes the disparity in service models.

I also wanted a place where Board Certified Behavior Analysts, now Registered Behavior Technicians, and our administrators could be fully supported in their work. I’m no dummy, my employees are my most valuable asset and deserve to be treated as such. They are also human beings and you all already know how I feel about equality, humility, and grace. This was my dream, I’m living it and just like any good dream, I’m adding to it.

I’m in this awesome space at work. We’re dreaming, building, and preparing for the next steps at Instructional ABA Consultants. We’ve gotten the ABA thing down and our clients have come to expect a one-size-doesn’t-fit all treatment plan and therapists providing care with their whole hearts. What we also know is that in behavior analysis our client is not just our client. Our client is also anyone who surrounds the client. For kids, that’s their family. That’s what I want to write about.

As a mama, the amount of resources that I need to wrap myself in on a daily basis is incredible. Prior to having kids, I wish someone would have told me the luxury I was living in. Things like waking up when I want, going to the bathroom by myself, going to the gym, leaving the house, you know basic freedoms. Day after day I’m presented with challenges in how I want to parent, what I want for my children, running a home & a business, and being plain human. I burn out, tune in, recharge in some ways, and start the next day all over again.

I also know I’m very lucky to have resources I can plug into academically when I’m struggling and a loving community personally. I also know that a huge part of my success and evolution as a human comes from asking for help and connecting with others. I’m curious about what you need and want if you’re a parent of a child with autism. You see I’m a mommy but I’m not a mommy of a child with autism. I need your voice.

In a therapeutic relationship you’re used to us serving your child but what about you? What additional support do you wish for from a therapy company? Is it an online platform to connect with other parents? Is it in-person (I mean COVID, but you feel me, right?) parent groups for both mom and dads? Is it educational nights? Date night outs? Self-care workshops? A playdate forum? More company events the kids can come to? More training from us about ABA? I could go on and on because as I’ve told you I’m a dreamer.

ABA and Your Dreams

But what about you? If we at Instructional ABA Consultants added a Community Corner what would be there for you? While I can’t promise to build everything I can promise to listen, really and truly. As I listen to our parents and readers I can get a better understanding of the wishes. Once I understand the wishes I can start seeing what is possible to build. I’m really good at building things, remember? And I just spilled that I love dreaming. I also thrive when I’m able to create.

I hope by reading this today you feel inspired to tell me what supports you’re looking for. I’m building a Tribe for us, so it’s best to start by hearing from the village.

Xoxo,
Jessie

The Other 25%, Leaning into Love

Posted on: September 9th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week I wrote to you about the gift of applied behavior analysis to mamas and children with autism. I had every intention of talking about building a brand that works for mamas this week. Hang tight, it’s coming up next week! You see, when I sat down to write I realized I hadn’t finished the story from last week. Please let me try.

In writing to you last week I wrote about my little lion Henry and how applied behavior analysis helped him once again. As Henry’s mama, I’ve used function-based intervention with him since he was about 18 months (hang tight Declan! You’re 18 months this month baby boy). It’s been a wonderful tool I can use outside of work with my children, letting Henry know what behaviors will receive reinforcement and which won’t. ABA creates some really great boundaries we can operate from as a family. I noted last week that Henry’s behaviors had decreased by about 75% after returning to an ABA approach with him.

Changing Behavior with ABA

What I want to write about today is the other 25% of Henry’s decrease in behavior. Let’s get going!

Now to start I want to let you know this will be controversial. In applied behavior analysis, we would look for the final decrease in Henry’s challenging behavior based on the success of his intervention. While this is correct, there is another piece to this I think is monumental if you are a parent running the behavior plan. To be able to truly change your child’s behavior I believe you have to re-evaluate both your and your child’s internal needs. We don’t talk enough about this in ABA.

When I became a mama something incredible in my awoke. In birthing both Henry and Declan, I chose medication-free births to stay connected with my body and babies as they made their way into the world. I know them because I’ve birthed them and my body knows them. Now please don’t get me wrong, children can be deeply connected to non-birth parents too. I’m walking this connection with my son Dametrius. What I’m saying is that as parents we all have a deeper connection than I think we often remember that can guide us and our little loves.

So back to the present, to today, and Henry’s other 25%. As his mama, I knew (and have known) that my own energy inside of the home contributes to his outbursts. When I’m able to stay calm and be grounded within myself I let off energy to Henry that he can be calm too. And that when Henry isn’t calm (or Declan, or Dametrius) that I won’t match his unrest with mine. I will stay in my peace. I set the energetic example of what I want to see in my home. I’m going to be real with you, I haven’t really been this example since October last year.

Pushing for Inner Knowing

On a very personal level, I’ve been going through something that is incredibly hard for me that I can’t fix or think my way out of. Trust me I’ve tried and it’s done nothing but create frustration in me. I’ve been holding onto an outcome that I can’t force and refuse to surrender to. I’m not ready to say what this situation is to the public but can say I’m going through something. What I realized this past week when I was working on being calm for Henry again was that I had forgotten myself and my deep connection with my children during this period of unrest. I had pushed my inner knowing and connection to my children’s inner worlds aside.

Have any of you been through something like this? A death, job change, loss of income, divorce, an international pandemic? I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has gotten lost in themself and forgotten to attend to their own inner world and children’s consistently. I know personally I feel a lot of shame around it. To break this shame I can name it and shine a light. That’s exactly what I did.

Stepping Back & Detoxing

In order to help Henry finish decreasing his bursts in behaviors, I took a huge step back. I’m actually still taking this step back. It will take time to detox all the stress I’ve been holding in my body and the same I’m guessing is true for him. I’ve made a choice to surrender the outcome I was so desperately hanging onto and notice when my body is operating in frustration or anger. Personally, I feel a little flicker of heat at the top of my head when I’m operating from this space. Once I notice anger has come I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and come back to peace in my body. Becoming calm and placing peace in our home is the most important thing I can do for my children’s alignment. To let them know uncomfortable emotions do happen and peace is always waiting afterward.

This step back into my own alignment helped me to look at my little lion beyond ABA. I immediately saw Henry was reflecting on controlling outcomes (holy shit) and demonstrating bottled emotions (double shit). While Henry, as a child, needs me to step in with an intervention on what behaviors aren’t OK, he also needed me to be his positive model, not the negative one.

So I surrendered and decided for a full weekend to sit in full alignment with my children. To put myself and them first. These past three nights Henry has found his way to my bed and co-slept which we haven’t done since babyhood. We’re hugging more, kissing more, laughing more. Declan still fills my days with giggles and hugs. He’s my lamb. Dametrius gives me an attitude and a smile that will break many women’s hearts someday. I’m a full-blown boy mama with a heart full of love for each of them.

To decrease the negative behaviors in my family home I had to lean into love for myself and through that love lean into loving them fully once again.

Xoxo,
Jessie

P.s. No burst from Henry three days and counting!

ABA Works: It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This

Posted on: September 2nd, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

These past two weeks have been rough from a parenting perspective. It’s completely understandable. Our Henry’s defiant behaviors flared up big time during the move. I’ve done a ton of work in the past on myself to stay calm when working with Henry. In the middle of moving to a new state, though, I had zero reserves. I’m guessing I’m not the first (or last) mama to be emotionally entangled with my child’s disruptive behavior and also contributing against my own wishes.

Photo of Jessie Topalov with child outsideLet me back up a bit. Henry is a strong-willed child. When he was a baby, about six months or so, we started sleep training (future blog here!). We would watch Henry on the monitor and you know what that little stinker did? He would watch the door to see if we were approaching, popping his pacifier in and out of his mouth, and when he heard us he’d flip over and start crying. I’m not joking! At just six months old. I knew at that moment I was in for a long parenting journey.”Buckle in Jessie,” I told myself, “this one is brilliant.”

Through Henry’s short lifetime he has met every milestone early and used each new phase in life as an opportunity to let us know why he knows more than us. From the crib into today. Henry believes Henry knows best.

I absolutely love this brilliance and fierceness in Henry. I tell him he was born to either save us all or take us all down and honestly I don’t know which one. Don’t worry–if he’s taking us down it will be systems that don’t serve us like his mama! Yet this fierceness in Henry also means he does not want to accept that grown-ups or his parents are in charge. As a child in our family, it’s our job to let Henry know what behaviors he can use to let us know his opinions and which ones he can’t.

It’s also our job to teach him we’re not on call for him 24/7 and sometimes no is no. All kids need this. This means that, in parenting Henry, I’ve put in more interventions that I can count. This does a hell of a lot of calming down my own nervous system (See “How Not to Lose Your Shit with Your Kids”) while parenting him.

Even the Best Parents Struggle

As a mama who is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) I realize that I have a gift not all parents have. This is what I want to share with you! Let’s jump back to the present day.

Our family is in the middle of the move and I’m a wreck too. I wasn’t able to step back and look at my child objectively. While I did some simple things, like time outs, his behavior wasn’t getting better. The reason is I wasn’t being consistent with him and had no plan of action to follow in response to what he was going through. Now I know I sound all bookish here but let’s be real. The moment I realized I was in the weeds with Henry went like this.

We were at my aunt’s house, day two of our transition to Ohio. Henry was engaging in a ton of screaming when I asked him to do anything, followed by running out of the house without permission. This led to a ton of chasing. I also was trying to say yes whenever possible, leading to Henry thinking he had the green light to be in charge (which he happily took).

I decided to take my own advice and be present with him. I took my coffee outside and sat to watch him play. I was also reading while he was swinging to cool myself down.

…and then I heard my car horn beep.

I jumped up and saw Henry in my car pointing to something. I opened the door and to my horror, he had taken a shit in my car! He was honking to inform me. That was it guys. I was done. My emotional parenting (being a ‘yes’ mama & punishment for challenging behaviors) was not working. I asked my aunt to objectively observe our interactions. I also started listening to the Podcast “Unruffled” and running again.

Through this experience, I was able to reset my own emotional responding to Henry, cut myself a huge break, and put together a behavior plan for Henry. It took being calm, having outside support, and Applied Behavior Analysis to begin changing Henry’s current spike in challenging behavior.

One evening, after wine, I re-identified that Henry was still escape maintained, secondary to attention (ref. said shit story above). Hen’s plan is this:

  • Mama & Daddy = increase attention & decrease demands (watch the number of requests we make, so when we make one Henry isn’t overwhelmed)
  • Screaming = planned ignoring, let him feel his feels while not providing attention (positive or negative)
  • Refuses to do something = escape extinction (follow through every time)
  • Tolerance to no = positive reinforcement earns one star
  • Listening behavior = positive reinforcement earns one star

Each morning we pick out a small prize (I got a 50 piece Pokemon set for 20 bucks) and through the day Henry earns stars. He needs 10 stars to earn his toy at bedtime. Through this little plan, we’re filling Henry up with attention and lower demands (attention/escape prevention) and then not providing him the consequences he wanted from his negative behaviors. We’re also rewarding him with what we want to see more of. It’s been a week and we’ve decreased Henry’s screaming and refusals by 75% already. Mamas, Papas–that’s the joy! That’s the message. ABA does work. It doesn’t all have to be poop in a car.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy for Everyone

Applied Behavior Analysis is available to all parents when we need it. I’ve been in the field 12+ years and I forgot it during the move (give me a break! I was overly stressed too!) and yet, I was able to rely on it to create the change I want for my child and my family. I didn’t blame Henry’s behavior on his personality or developmental age. I took a step back and used science with self-care (remember I need to calm here) in order to shift our dynamic at home.

If you are having trouble with any of your child’s behaviors (um, yes please for all of us??), Applied Behavior Analysis is a wonderful tool to change behaviors by decreasing problem behaviors and increasing desirable behavior. It’s also the only empirically-based therapy for children with autism. If your child has a diagnosis of autism, ABA goes much deeper than I described above and studies the missing neurological milestones to decrease symptoms of autism over time. It’s this beautiful scientific gift to us all.

I hope by writing this I’ve spurred a little interest in all my readers to take a look at how ABA can help their family. And, if you need support for your child with autism, come check out Instructional ABA Consultants to see how my beautiful team of therapists can support your child.

Not in your neighborhood yet? Missing a service you’d like to see more of? Next week I’m coming to you to ask what you need. We’re expanding and building a brand for mamas. Starting dreaming mamas, I need you to build the best ABA-based company you’ve ever seen. We’re building a Tribe.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Love Warriors

Posted on: August 25th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

It’s been two weeks since I picked up my laptop for work and writing. I thought after writing “Going Dark” that I would be fully rested and ready to conquer the world by the time this blog was due. I must have forgotten the tiny detail that I’m still a mama to three little men and was starting an out of state move. The rested part will come but clarity is with me, and for that I’m grateful.

Coming back to work made me realize it wasn’t a simple break for me. I didn’t take off to come back to the same job–I took off to prepare my heart for what’s to come. I’ve always been this way. Once I’ve learned all I need from one chapter of life I start the next chapter.

I shared a piece of this process in “Going Dark” to explain my career in the field of applied behavior analysis and autism thus far. I’ve got a gut feeling that these rest cycles will become more frequent as I fuel up inside for the next chapter because it’s a big one. I’d like to share my vision with you.

My Vision of the Future

Since childhood, I have always challenged authority and was misunderstood. A rebel, if you will. Looking back, I wasn’t a rebel, I was a misunderstood love warrior. I felt and still do feel that much of our human experience and suffering is brought on by arbitrary systems. We become so conditioned to these systems and rules we forget who we are. We become stuck.

I was stuck and broken-hearted for decades not knowing that my constant questioning was my gift. As I write this I need to remember my little lion Henry because he has this gift too. Gosh, he’s easy to love but my oh my he’s hard to parent! When I look at my sleeping son I know in my bones that if I love him fully he will not be broken-hearted or get stuck. My son will fly free. This is my vision for humanity, to fly freely with us.

This seems simple in writing but in reality, is a mountain to climb. To deconstruct the systems around us–who holds power, money, food, social conditioning, and the like–would take a lifetime of work. But if we do this together, my loves, could we deconstruct the world? I’d like to think we can and, in deconstructing it, we can rebuild it in love.

I believe every woman, man, and child can be exactly who they are and be fully loved for it. If we all stopped confining ourselves to the labels others place on us who would we be? I think the world is scared to find out and there is a reason people in power want to keep others small.

Over the past two weeks, I was really struggling with my victim story. All survivors have it and when I go there it’s tough to get out of my inner child. I believe the Spirit around us delivered me to my aunt who held me in a cocoon of love for three days. I needed her. Once I was whole and we moved into our new farm, a card literally fell out of a mantra deck onto my feet that read “I am not the victim, I am the lighthouse.” Hell yes, I am! And whatever the story being said of you, a story that may be keeping you small, you can be healed too. You are a lighthouse too.

Making My Vision of the Future a Reality

In finding the fire and light inside my sisters and brothers of peace I hope, as I’ve written before, to build a new world. You see, I’m very good at building systems that work. I bet you’ve got some wonderful talents too. I want to find those already enlightened in love and those yearning to heal. And from there find their talents and what lights their hearts on fire. I can offer my gifts to the autism world, to the world of motherhood, survivors, my readers, families, and friends. But you? Who can you offer your gifts to once you unlock them?

Today I’d like you to join the narrative. Leave a comment below, tell me your story, what you deeply love, and who you want to see live more freely, with more support, or more love. Together we’ll connect, with compassion at our core, and become Love Warriors.

Xoxo,
Jessie

P.S. If you’re wondering where all the beautiful photos for my blog come from:

Photo Credits: Amber Riveria our beautiful friend and artist

Changing the Narrative

Posted on: July 29th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week, I wrote about our collective back to school blues. I’m still living through this; grief is a process and I don’t know that I’ll be fine for a while. In learning about all who are impacted by COVID-19, including my own children, I feel grief. Last night, I spent almost two hours on the phone with my aunt talking about homeschooling. In my heart, I want to pour every inch of my soul into Dametrius’s education. Also in my heart, I’m grieving that he may never know “normal.” From this paradox, I actually see a piece of myself. I’m going to share it with you.

That Nagging Feeling

photo of a farm house at end of dirt road

Photo credit: Rochelle Mast (previous farm owner)

Throughout my lifetime I have always had a nagging inside of me. The nagging says to me, “this isn’t it,” as I navigate life. While many people may equate this to anxiety and unsettledness, I know differently. This nagging inside of me is a combination of my knowledge and experiences and when I follow it I always unturn a new truth. The truths I find run the gamut from personal to professional but all of them guide me.

You see, I see the world differently, and when I follow the nagging feeling I can unpack both the loving-kindness and the lion inside of me. I think everyone has this nagging feeling inside of them and when I read “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle it was confirmed. You may not be a lion but you know what is inside of you far better than anyone else in the world.

If we collectively listened to these nagging feelings, we could challenge ourselves and our leaders to unwind from a world based on fear and build a new one based on love.

So, back to my nagging, that piece of me that pushes me. My internal nagging has moved me through every stage of my life. It’s like a path I walk along, stopping for a while at a few spots to enjoy, fight, question, and then move on. I often meditate and see myself on a path with a deep light at the end. I know I’m walking toward that light in this life and not towards death.

During the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, my nagging had me under its thumb. I sat in the middle of my beautiful home, with my dream career, 3 beautiful children, husband, and dear friends and I was utterly confused. How could this not be it? I had to sit and take a critical look at my situation to discover what was ‘wrong.’

What is Normal?

I was living in suburbia because the world had told me this was the goal and I listened. The world doesn’t know have my knowledge or experiences, so it occurred to me that I have been listening to the wrong authority for most of my life. Shit. Well, once I knew that I was listening to the wrong authority, a mental pandora’s box was opened in my mind. What else had I been believing as gospel because society told me it was so? Shit. Again. How can I unpack what is truly me and what the world is telling me is me? How can we all do this? And if we all do this, can we actually build a new world?

Deep inside of me, I believe the answer is “yes.” We can change the narrative. We don’t have to keep living in a world built on the foundation of broken systems and systemic disadvantages. There are solutions to our problems and those solutions are in our hearts. Believing in the goodness of people as a whole is the light I see in my meditations–where I want to go. And I want you all to come with me.

In order for me to honor my own nagging feelings, I had to thoroughly unravel my life. I sat with myself and asked, “well what now?” Answer number one? Get the hell out of suburbia, you hate it here.  While a great many people love the suburbs, I am not one of them. I need the country like I need air to breathe.

I also need my sister and my family. Like, I really need my sister and family.

I buried both of these truths while I built a business out-of-state and settled into the suburbs. So, I asked my team at Instructional ABA Consultants, “Can I move home to Ohio and still be a good leader?” I got a resounding yes, followed by a fabulous discussion about what all my leaders needed in their own environments to thrive. They shared their feelings. I had no idea what most of my team really wanted!

I hope with all my heart Ingrid makes her way to Paris while running our company! I know that woman can do it. Once I got the resounding message of “it’s OK, we’ll support your dreams because you are honoring ours,” I told my husband. His feelings aren’t there yet, but he’s working hard to find his own truths so when I change things up it won’t be too hard for us. He told me (lovingly) that if Ohio makes me happy and I need the country he’ll follow me there. I know we’ll struggle through this as he finds his own truths and I am so, so grateful that he’s standing beside me.

Saddling Up & Moving to a Farm

Once I realized these personal truths, that life could go on, I started looking for farms. And do you know what happened? We bought a horse farm. A fricking horse farm!* A realtor was supposed to line up properties for us to see when we traveled in June. One night we got sent information on the farm we ended up buying. I pulled the info up and if I had drawn a dream home when I was five years old this was it!

The universe honored my newly discovered truths and literally planted a 3-acre horse farm in my lap. The kicker? It’s only twenty minutes from my sister’s home! My dad agreed to drive over and see the property and within 24 hours, against all logic, we bought the farm (literally). It makes no sense! I can’t explain it to anyone, yet my heart is telling me loud and clear to go for it. For the first time in my life, I’m saying yes to my true feelings and believing that honoring them will guide me through all odds.

After we made the choice to move, a lot of other factors have come into play, as other factors tend to do. When you make a big decision it impacts everyone around you. I will deeply miss my dear friends here in Naperville. I’m grieving for my dear friend Dana who has been raising Henry and Declan for the last three years while Martin and I work. I don’t think kinder soul than her exists in our world and when she finds her true feelings I’m sure angels will sing.

Living two states away from her won’t be easy, yet I know I’ve gained a sister through our time together. It’s hard to change course, to follow a knowing beyond ourselves, but I know that the light promised by following my true feelings is real. Yes, I’m sad to leave and yes, I know that in following my path I’m honoring myself and getting ready to light the world on fire. To do this I need the country, quiet, and family.

On my farm, I’ll get to truly be myself. I will joyfully get eggs each morning, grow a garden, can food for the winter, sew, sit on a porch swing each night, and swim in the love of my family all around me. I will get closer to nature because I don’t like the accepted ‘speed’ of the modern world. I might even write letters to my friends. It’s a mystery to me what day-to-day activities will look like, which makes this unplanned future even more exciting for me.

I know to be true; when I honor myself I honor the world and the same is true for you. Your truth is probably not a horse farm in Ohio. Your truth also isn’t what the world has been telling you to do.

My aunt in Colorado sent me a quote, so I’ll leave you with this, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise & get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – John Lewis

 

Xoxo,
Jessie

 

  • *I can’t bring myself to drop the F-bomb in my blog. Maybe I’ll get worked up enough someday…