Category Archives: parenting

Kickoff to Summer (And, cancer sucks.)

The school year ended and summer has immediately come into full swing. Jackson is already halfway through his first of four weeks of various summer camps he’ll be attending.   The following is a text I received the first day of camp from one of Jackson’s many A.R.T.S. Camp counselors.

“I can’t believe it! I am beyond proud of him. Oh, my goodness! He’s been going to all his classes and made many friends today! He’s doing the group cheer too! I’m so happy for him. He’s come so far!!! #teamjax” ~K.S.

This is the second year in a row Jackson has attended Dreyfoos School of the Arts’ summer camp.  Photo courtesy of The Muse DSOA

Photo courtesy of The Muse DSOA

This report is vastly different from updates I routinely received from last year’s camp director and dear friend, Lea Jefferson. Lea, I’m grieved to report, is no longer with us. She passed away in March after bravely and valiantly battling breast cancer.  Heaven gained an angel when Lea departed this life. She was, in my experience, a saint amongst the living. Lea’s selfless and tireless dedication to not only the kids at Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, but to various underserved children in Palm Beach County as well, stands as a testament to her loving and giving character.  Those who knew Lea carry the treasure of her in their hearts. We are better for knowing her.

Lea literally dogged me to allow Jackson to participate in A.R.T.S. Camp. She began her campaign long before he was even of age to do so. Despite (my) great reservations, Lea was positively relentless. (I was certain Jackson’s sensory prohibitions would result in a waste of everyone’s time and efforts.) I am eternally grateful Lea didn’t allow me to blow her off. Not only Jackson’s life—but also OUR lives—are richer for her tenacious efforts. We hold the camp counselors near and dear to our hearts. Not only have they worked magic in Jackson’s life, but have become family. There are only two days of camp remaining. And once again, I am preparing to ugly cry.A.R.T.S. Camp Counselors DSOA 2 DSOA 3 DSOA 4 DSOA 5 DSOA 6 DSOA 7 DSOA 8DSOA 9

A Pencil Box and a Broken Mold

The Tell Tale Pencil Box

I knew what was in munchkin’s backpack as soon as I picked it up. The sound of something rattling around in hard plastic painted a clear auditory picture. I knew it was going to be munchkin’s pencil box. And my breath caught in my throat. It was a bittersweet realization that the school year officially ends tomorrow.

Star StudentI could not be more pleased with how this year turned out.   Jackson’s teacher has far surpassed any hopes or dreams I had for a teacher.   Heading into kindergarten, my teacher characteristic wish list read like this:

  • Kind
  • Understanding
  • Nurturing
  • Passionate about teaching children
  • Committed to bringing out the best in kids
  • Tenacious (won’t throw in the towel when the going gets tough)
  • Creative
  • Energetic
  • Experienced
  • Seasoned, but not old
  • Young, but not too young
  • Well-versed in the land of IEPs
  • Fun
  • And most of all KIND

Yep. If asked, those were the qualities I was seeking in a kindergarten teacher. (And yes, I realize that list sounds a bit like a Match.com ad.)  And you know what? We got that and a whole lot more. Jackson’s teacher was AH-mazing. She brought out all the best in him over the past ten months. By the end of the first week of school, she calmed many of my fears and assuaged most of my anxiety. And with the exception of one little hiccup over “seat work” early in the term, Jackson positively flourished. And here we are at the end of the school year, and I don’t want to see her go.

He adores her.

This past Monday made me revisit my past anxieties. Jackson had a substitute teacher. As always, his actual teacher was very diligent in writing copious notes to the substitute, explaining Jackson’s tendencies and what to expect and how to be effective in reaching/dealing with him. En route to school, I informed Jackson of the situation and gave him reminders of what to do in the classroom. I knew the kind of day he had, however, the second I laid eyes on him at the end of the school day. “Mom, I have to tell you something,” he said. “Did you have a bad day?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. And the tears just started flowing from his big brown eyes. Apparently he had blurted out an (or possibly more than that) answer in class. According to Jackson, the teacher raised his voice at him and told him he was being rude. And, yes. I’m sure that’s how it appeared. But it wasn’t intentional. It never is. Most often, Jackson simply cannot help himself. He is effervescent. (Think of a soda shaken and opened and you’ll have a pretty accurate illustration of Jackson. All day. Every day.)

Classroom birthday celebration

All this to say, what happened to Jackson Monday brought it all home for me. It made the end of the school year a realization, as opposed to an impending happening. The desperate hope I experienced last summer resurfaced just like that. I was again face to face with the fraught, all-consuming desire for Jackson’s next teacher—his first grade teacher— to “get” him, to understand him, to see his potential, and perhaps above all else, to be a tenacious soul who will never give up on him. In other words—a desire for Jackson’s next teacher to be a carbon copy of this year’s teacher. But I know that’s not possible. It’s just not. There is only ONE Mrs. Peterson.   The good Lord broke the mold when he made her. She’s just that special.
Trivia

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. ~Carl Jung

There was no time and half in the contract for this gig.

There was no time and half in the contract for this gig.

Daisies and Butterflies

I don’t aspire to be a writer. I have no desire to be a well-known, gal-of-the-moment blogger with a million followers. Lord knows I’m not equipped for any of that. I simply write because sometimes I feel God puts something on my heart I’m meant to share. I’m usually pretty good at following His prompts. The one thing I absolutely do not ever in a million years want to do is pen posts solely about daisies and butterflies. In other words—I want only to keep it real. The good. The bad. The ugly. Real.

I write a lot about munchkin’s achievements. And they blessedly are ever increasing. But my heart was really pricked this past Wednesday at Jackson’s weekly equine therapy session at Hopes, Dreams and Horses. It was a lackluster day at best. The instructor, Miss Kristy, had the same basic commands on repeat this day. She could’ve simply recorded a voice memo and pressed the repeat button, with an amplifier attached. “Sit up straight.” “Butt down.” “Elbows in.” “Heels down.” Hands to pockets.” “Keep those elbows in!” “Keep that butt in the saddle!” “Sit up!” Bless her. No, really. Bless her!

When you have no control, just sit a spell.

When you have no control, just sit a spell.

Jackson has been riding here weekly for two solid years. And he loves it here. He loves horses. He loves to ride. But sometimes, he just can’t put it all together no matter how many times he’s heard it or done it. It’s as if it’s his (let’s be honest without hyperbole) third or fourth time on horseback. These are the days I take a deep breath and remind myself that we’ve come a long way with a long way to go.
Walk
So why am I sharing this non-newsworthy drivel? Because someone out there needs to know that it’s not all daisies and butterflies all the time. It’s two steps forward and one step back. Or one step forward and two steps back. All that matters is that you’re making progress. Whatever that progress is, own it. Own it! Did you hear that? Own it! Don’t let me or anyone else out there whose stuff you read on social media (the interwebs!) cause you to feel less than you (or heaven forbid, your child) are/is.

I’m just sayin’… You’re awesome. Continue to fight the good fight, no matter what that fight is. Just keep moving. It’s gonna be okay.

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

A Cup of Cold Water

A Cup of Cold Water

Giving someone a refreshing drink of water is representative of the smallest act of charity one could practice. And love is never absent from charity.

According to scripture, a cup of cold water is the minimal requirement for hospitality, the definition of which is: friendliness, helpfulness, warmth, kindness, geniality, courtesy, generosity, etc. Or perhaps more simply put at its base level, the love of others, including strangers. (Hebrews reminds us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for some have entertained angels. Unaware.”)

Jesus, in speaking to the disciples, states each act of service is unto God and has its reward. We are all servants of God Almighty. All of God’s servants will be rewarded, even a person who gives a simple drink of cold water to one of God’s “little ones”—especially when given with a smile. (Matthew 10:42)

God calls us to love and has tasked us with making strangers into neighbors and friends. Jackson, my sweet son, I pray you always rise to your Almighty Father’s call to love, and may others always see Jesus in you.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. ~Charlie Chaplin

She runs. [How moms are like Marines.]

Guest post by Ashley Dickens

Ashley Wedding

Hello friends! Today, I’ve invited Ashley to write about Mother’s Day from a different angle: through the eyes of an adult daughter. Her reflection on her mom’s love might surprise you, and we can only pray our kids say the same about us someday. Enjoy!

When I think about my mom, I think about the Marines.

It’s an unlikely pairing, given that the only uniform my mother has ever worn is a cringe-worthy little number from her high school cheerleading days. However, several years ago my husband’s dog-eared copy of It Happened on the Way to War by former Marine Rye Barcott radically altered the way I thought about motherhood. It’s a gripping read that made me forget to breathe more than once, arresting my attention with the repeated refrain, “Marines move toward the sound of guns.”

The fierce imagery of that captivated me. The defiant, almost irrational courage of unquestioningly running toward what others are running away from makes my heart beat wildly. I see that same unflinching courage in so many mothers across the globe—women who run toward danger simply because that’s where they’re needed. It’s a universal truth that transcends culture, race, and socioeconomic status—from suburbia to the Sahara, where you find a mother you will find a woman fighting fiercely for her children.

My mom isn’t a Marine. She’s a world traveler, an unapologetic risk taker, a passionate activist, and a killer chocolate-cake baker. Pint-sized and with an unflappable conviction that both zebra stripes and sequins are neutrals, she imparted the delicate art of sarcasm to me like it was a precious family heirloom and taught me that walking with Jesus is about infinitely more than being a “nice girl.” You’re far more likely to find her in a pair of feisty red heels than combat boots and fatigues—and she is the single bravest woman I’ve ever known.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.11.48 PM(photo credit: USMC archives)

Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, Hallmark tells me to buy her a flowered card with a cotton-candy-fluff sentiment penned in careful cursive—something the Ingalls sisters might have given to Ma. The absurdity of it puzzles me—something about a generic pink card has never quite seemed right for my mom. Or, I think, a lot of moms.

My mama is a force to be reckoned with. I remember standing wide-eyed and nauseated in our kitchen as a little girl when, without warning, I began to projectile vomit all over the white-tiled floor. The whole scene looked like something from The Exorcist—minus a Catholic priest or two. Indelibly etched into my mind is the memory of my mom running toward me, her hands irrationally cupped open.

She’s been running toward me my entire life.

My mother’s unflinching bravery carried her from the comfortable little town she grew up in to a doll-sized apartment in the post-communist city of Kiev, Ukraine. She packed up three children under the age of six and as much Jiffy peanut butter as she could stuff into her carry-on and moved our lives to a place where the only thing she knew how to say was a hopeful, “Do you speak English?” In a city with no workable educational options, where those who had come before her had thrown up their hands in surrender and left, she opted to start a brand-new school for her children to attend—one that still exists today. Her bravery has carried her into crumbling refugee camps and crumbling marriages—to the places that looked irreparably dark and broken. Very hardest of all, two years ago it carried her into a dark ICU where she held her 21-year-old baby’s hand as he died of cancer.

It’s what mamas do, isn’t it? They run toward the hard, the ugly—they run toward the sound of guns. Our mothers bravely dive into dark and splintering brokenness with us and show us who Jesus is over and over again. They’re the first on the scene when our bones and hearts are shattered, when savage insecurities rear their ugly heads and our dreams feel worn out and hollowed. They hold the midnight watch beside cribs and cancer beds, speaking life over our dead places and believing on our behalves when nobody else will. Our mamas love wildly and fiercely, mirroring the God who runs toward us as they teach us to be like Him—second-chance-givers, hope-bringers, restorers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.12.45 PMMy belief in the power of motherhood is an enormous part of why I love HOPE International so much. Through the power of the gospel and a small loan, HOPE empowers mothers around the world to keep running toward hard and holy things, to keep bravely fighting for their children, their communities, and the broken world around them. At HOPE, we have the breathtaking privilege of watching mothers trapped in poverty harness the power of a small loan and a safe place to save their money, and run toward the most broken places in their communities. Day after day, they courageously step into the hard work of building stronger families, neighborhoods, and churches, one person at a time.

Mamas and marines—they have more in common than I ever imagined. This Mother’s day, if a generic pink card doesn’t quite reflect the valor of your mom, consider joining me in framing this for her instead. “There is no fear in love”—moms across the globe put flesh and bone on it every day.

If you’d like to join me in giving this digital print to your mom, you can snag a free download here.

Why We Support Autism Speaks (And why you should to.)

It’s no secret our family supports Autism Speaks. And although our son is on the spectrum, our support isn’t based on any tangible benefit received from the organization. Our support is rooted solely in the commonality we’ve found within.

If you know our story, you know I recognized symptoms of autism in our son, Jackson, very early on. Our son was officially diagnosed in early November 2011, just three weeks shy of his third birthday. Although I had suspected autism for quite some time, I was devastated when the neurologist delivered the diagnosis. I was so fearful of the unknowns. I had no idea what life held for our son and was terrified of facing the future with a “team” comprised solely of my husband and me. In retrospect, my fears were unfounded, but that was my reality at that point in time.

Following our son’s diagnosis, I found a much-needed sense of community within Autism Speaks. I perused the organization’s website ad nauseam. As anticipated, I found a wealth of statistics, information and resources. We participated in our first Walk Now For Autism Speaks in 2013. Words cannot express the overwhelming sense of community I felt when we stepped into a literal sea of families at that first Walk. It was overwhelming and very much needed.

So you see, this is why Autism Speaks is an organization near and dear to our hearts. Please join us in supporting them. If not for our family, then do it to benefit the millions of other families affected by autism. Chances are, this means you.

#1in68

About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. (CDC, 2014)

Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 births. (CDC, 2014)

More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. (Buescher et al., 2014)

Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention. (Autism Society estimate based on Government Accounting Office Report on Autism, 2006)

Pour it On

Motoring.

Motoring.

I snapped the above photo en route to school this morning. This has become our typical commute, as munchkin has declared he no longer wants to be a car rider. And as long as weather permits, I’m okay with this.  There are so many benefits to this two-mile ride.

Of course, the most obvious benefit is the fitness factor. Jackson and I are both burning calories and building strength and stamina while bathing our brains in awesome mood enhancing, stress reducing chemicals. The benefits don’t end there though. The greatest benefits can’t readily be measured. I do believe, however, they’ll be immeasurable in the long run.

Our twice daily, 20-minute commute amounts to perhaps the richest 40 minutes of my day. I use this time to pour into Jackson’s soul in a manner I am unable to achieve at any other time of day (with the exception of bedtime perhaps). He is my captive; he is my teammate. There are so many elements at play while we make our way to school. We have wet, moss-covered and very slippery sidewalks to contend with. We have elevated sidewalks, driveways and intersections to navigate, which we do so fluidly. I guide Jackson along, subtly yet sternly. With all that’s going on, there is no room for carelessness or wanton disregard for my instruction. Do you know what? He steps up to the plate every single day. He is my captive listener. As I see it, some of the myriad benefits for Jackson in this (literal) exercise are:

  • Learning to rely on someone for guidance
  • Learning patience and grace as we wait to cross driveways and streets
  • Observing my expression of gratitude to drivers who patiently wait for us to cross said streets and driveways, and to the crossing guard for being there to keep us safe every single day, rain or shine
  • Learning how to use all our senses—not solely sight—for safe travel
  • Learning how to accommodate others in our path as we make way for fellow walkers, joggers and bikers
  • Learning to acknowledge (value) others as we greet each and every individual with a hearty, “Good morning!”

The greatest benefit of all, however, is our ability to have meaningful conversations virtually free of distractions. We observe cloudscapes and nature. We talk about God, heaven and this beautiful world He created for us to enjoy. We talk about anything and everything (Montana, family, horses, animals, weather, rocket launches…), unimpeded. I use this valuable time to remind Jackson of the importance of being a good listener, why we need to be kind to others and why he must be a good team member as it relates to his teachers, and peers. I use this precious time to pour love and encouragement into Jackson. I bolster his confidence by pointing out all of the things he has done and is doing right. These 40 minutes are an extremely, extremely valuable opportunity for me to affirm and reaffirm Jackson’s worth as a child of God.

Would I prefer my morning workout be more challenging? Absolutely! As a former (decades long) early morning gym rat, I miss the daily intense cardio workout and strength training I did religiously in my “former” (pre-Jax) life. I can unequivocally promise you, however, those workouts were not nearly as rewarding as my present “work out.” Would I trade it if I could? No way. Not in a million, billion, trillion years. God doesn’t give us what we want. He gives us what we need.

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. ~ Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)