I told my Son’s School that he was Suicidal; They Gave him a Suspension

Dear School,

I don’t understand what you don’t understand about mental health, but I do really think you need a little more education and training apparently. You see, a mental health crisis is just like a physical health crisis. Being sick impacts all of life and every single decision we make. When you are informed that one of your students is experiencing a mental health crisis, it sure would be nice if you took that seriously and actually helped the student, rather than adding to their stress and traumatizing the whole family by your actions.

It’s been two months since my son experienced a mental health crisis and while I’ve been busy on several fronts – finding him help, getting evaluations, starting treatment, fighting the school to understand mental health, demanding emergent IEP meetings, finding an advocate, demanding better IEPs – it has taken me awhile to process everything that happened and to share it.

The reason that I do share this personal story is to encourage other parents who may be going through similar situations and to offer support for those facing scary times, heart-wrenching times, frustrating times, and to provide hope. I thank those who offered me hugs and advice and hope over the past two months.

…………………..

Laying beside one’s sweet growing boy in bed at night listening to him ask if kids his age (newly 12) commit suicide is agonizing. “Yes. They do,” I respond. It’s been a few hours since he talked about jumping out of the window to end his life. We’ve driven down to the psychiatric hospital but were not ready to go in. We’ve talked to someone on the crisis line. We talked about his big sadness. We’ve talked about hurting.

And, we’ve talked about the fact that he can get some help and that he will feel better. But right now it feels pretty awful and it feels pretty overwhelming. And it feels pretty surreal, like something that happens to other people but I wasn’t expecting within the walls of my house. And it feels pretty scary because I know it’s up to me to chart the path forward and figure out what to do next.

But after lying there and waiting for sleep to come to him, I got up and paced the house. Then I moved the big bean bag chair under his window and gathered up my pillow and blankets and eventually dozed off. I was a mess. We had driven thirty minutes into the city to the hospital, all the while I had thought he would ask to go home as I explained what might happen, including being admitted and me having to leave him there alone. All the while, I thought he would change his mind, but he didn’t. It was me who decided after the security checkpoint viscerally scared me that we needed to go home. And it was me who lay panicked wondering if I was doing the right thing.

The next morning, I reached out to family members and changed plans for the day so I could keep an eye on Mr. Ornery. I thought through what safety measures I needed to do and finally got the power screwdriver and put screws into the window frames so the windows in his bedroom could only open six inches. And I reached out to the counselor at his middle school so that she could touch base with him first thing in the morning. I let them know of this depression and suicidality and the fact that he wasn’t on any medications for his ADHD disability. I emailed his learning support teacher as well since we’d been communicating about medication changes over the past few weeks. I was assured they would take care of him.

I spent the day Monday in a state of stress and worry and researching and making phone calls. I called his pediatrician, his insurance company, the special program for teens with depression and suicidality (they didn’t think he was “bad” enough to warrant their services). I sent him to school to try to keep his life stable and hopeful, but I worried. Finally, I hit bottom and texted a friend mid-afternoon who I knew had similar experiences and said, “I need a hug.” Thankfully, she has great hugs. I got him an appointment at the pediatrician office on Thursday, but first available for evaluation was two months away. I kept talking with as many people as I could to get recommendations and to get help sooner.

Meanwhile, by Wednesday, Mr. Ornery’s apparently now heightened limbic emotional system decided it would be quite fun to create a boxing match with one of his best friends in the middle school bathroom. His underdeveloped and currently untreated executive functioning skills (ADHD) had no chance of stopping an apparently very appealing idea. The incident had gathered a crowd of boys in the bathroom and one of them recorded it. It wasn’t long before a teacher found them.

So he jumped in the car late after school in a state of panic. He had gotten into trouble at school and he was stressed because he didn’t even know what “suspension” meant. And in a typical “normal” mom fashion, I immediately began yelling at him for making a dumb decision. “What do you mean you got a suspension?” “How could you?” “Why would you do that?!?!?”  Suddenly it hit me; in his current stressed state of mind, why would I even have expected him to make any good decisions at all. We sat in the car and cried together.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, school personnel have a responsibility to responds to suicidal thinking and to never ignore warning signs, which include direct and indirect suicidal threats as well as changes in behavior. In addition, they note “severe disciplinary action” to be one of the “situations” that may increase suicide risk.

I made the school aware of my son’s suicide warning sign. I let them know that he was struggling and in a fragile state. Instead of keeping him safe, they provided a “suicide risk factor” on his third day in their presence and within five days of an active suicide threat. I kept him home for three days so that we could both calm down.

Every single night, I asked my son three questions:

  • Do you still feel like hurting yourself? Yes.
  • Do you feel safe at home? Yes.
  • Do you want me to sleep in your room tonight?  Yes.

I slept on the floor in his room for twelve days before he said, “I guess you could sleep in your own bed tonight.” I had made numerous phone calls to try to find treatment for my son. I had consulted with physician colleagues. I had spoken with parents who have had children with mental health crises. I got him an appointment with his pediatrician to go back to his original ADHD medication to help bring some focus to his thinking skills before we could find a child psychiatry appointment. I really did think that the school would be supportive and helpful. I was shocked to find them instead exacerbating the crisis.

I asked for an urgent IEP team meeting to review the situation. I came prepared to show how my son’s brain was sick and unable to make good choices. The principal was unwavering. He was involved in a “fight” (whether or not it was just boys pretending) and would therefore be suspended as soon as he returned to school (thankfully a “quarantine exposure” gave him another week to stay home). He was not, in her mind, acting on “impulse” since it took several hours to complete this goal. She had absolutely nothing to say about his mental health. From the schools’ perspective, he was “fine.” He told his teachers he was fine. He told the counselor he was fine. He seemed to be “fine”….as if a 12-year-old boy would share big, scary feelings with teachers.

And as I still wrestled with how adamant this principal was that he should be punished, I was floored by her words: “It’s better for you to hear from the school that he is being suspended for fighting, than to be called by the police when he is caught shoplifting.” There it was. He had been tagged as a trouble-maker, a problem child, a bad kid …. on the path to criminality and “thankfully” the school is just trying to nip that in the bud for me. What is it about him? Is it his slightly brown skin of being a multi-racial child? Is it his ADHD struggles? Is it his energy and creativity and playfulness?  What is it about my good-natured, soft-hearted and loving son that has screamed out – this kid is destined for trouble? What is it that makes a principal completely discount an emotional and mental health crisis and focus only on “bad behavior,” despite the clear relation between the two?

Me….trying to help my boy while drowning myself….

A week after our school district held a community event to sing the praises of how much they help children struggling with mental health, they punished a kid’s disability in the midst of a mental health crisis. When I was stressed and floundering and scared and most in need of help, my son’s school hurt him more.

Now that we’ve had evaluations and started treatment and my beautiful boy is feeling better, I am driven to change this system that refuses to acknowledge the role of disability on behavior and completely ignores the impact of a mental health crisis. I will work to change a system that will not consider how the stress of a world-altering pandemic, ugly politics, and visible racism happening concurrently has affected the children in their care. A system that pretends we can all just keep going, expecting children to show up for school and do their academics as if the world around them didn’t just crash on its axis. There is a better way.

Recently Dr. Abby Schlesinger (Children’s Hospital child psychiatrist) was interviewed about the marked increase in the number of children and teens needing mental health care which has overwhelmed the capacity of the system to provide that care. One of her colleagues, Dr. Justin Schreiber, also provided an update to the pediatric community in May 2021 about the impact of COVID on the mental health of children. He noted that children are expressing overwhelmingly more depression and anxiety symptoms based on activation of their fight-or-flight system of stress. While the mental health services are struggling to meet the demand, Dr. Schreiber encouraged the pediatric community and the school communities to acknowledge the toll of stress from the pandemic on children and to support children’s mental health. I sat and listened to his webinar, taking notes, and immediately emailed him to say, “What can I do to help the schools understand this?”

I had been so focused on the older son’s clear expression of stress through numerous physical issues (stomach pain, diarrhea, headache, etc) that would make him stay home for 1-2 days every 2-3 weeks, that I didn’t realize how difficult the year was for the middle one.

Life is stressful in any given year. But on top of all our normal stresses, we all have been coping with a new and foreign stress. Where I thought my boys seemed resilient and coping well, I learned that’s not always the case. It seems to me that we need to offer to those around us (and particularly our children) just a little more grace and a little more understanding, a good serving of true empathy and some actual concrete help for those who are struggling.

Know that there is help and that healing is possible. That’s what I cling to.

Pittsburgh Re:Solve Crisis Services: (888) 796-8226

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Suicide Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

The Pittsburgh Study List of Resources

Allegheny County Youth Mental Health Services

Holding the kids’ story

A couple years ago, Mr. Ornery (now 12) was visiting a friend’s house when I received what I would describe as a panicked text from the father asking me to come pick up my son. Apparently, in the father’s brief absence (a different problem), the friend had decided to discharge the fire extinguisher all over the kitchen. The house was a mess. The boys were coughing and spluttering. Mr. Ornery had run outside with the dog for fresh air. After safely home, we discussed the dangerous situation, the sheer stupidity, the father’s anger, my disbelief and frustration, and the mandatory contribution of $50 toward cleaning the house along with an apology note. That seemed to me like the time to end this particular friendship.

But then comes along middle school and the boys are now in the same school and see each other again. It’s a Friday night and I get an unknown call on my phone. Usually one to ignore these, for some reason I answer. It’s silent as I say, “Hello, hello,” until a young voice asks, “Do you want to f*** in the backyard?” “Really?!?” I reply, heading to my laptop to try to look up the number when a text comes in from that number reading, “Sorry, my son just came inside and said his friend was making prank calls.” I called back multiple times and finally left a message asking this boy to have his father call me immediately. Eventually his mother called, was quite apologetic and upset and shared how much they’ve been trying to work with their son.

As I talk with the mother, I realized and explained to her that what was most upsetting to me is that in this action, the boys were practicing sexual harassment. They were making prank calls and when reaching a woman, they were verballing abusing the woman. I explained that I just wanted to be part of the solution with other parents in raising a new group of boys into men who will treat women with respect and dignity.

I told Mr. Ornery that he needed to steer clear of this friend. Then I put myself in the place of this mom, realizing that it’s so much easier for us to take one look at a kid in one point in time and make a quick decision. “Bad apple.” “Awful kid.” “I’ll never let him/her play with my child and be a bad influence.” It’s easy to judge without knowing the full story.

What would it be like to think about the kid in terms of his story? What are his struggles and challenges. Where is he in his life and growth curve?

My kids are not angels. They sometimes do really awful things. They can be destructive. They can be rude and obnoxious. They can swear worse than a sailor. And recently, they decided that while walking around the neighborhood at night with friends, they might try out some ding-dong-ditch excitement. (The fact that today’s doorbells and porches are now equipped with video cameras is something they were not bargaining for!  You don’t have to worry about friends snitching on you – the video is there!)

But I hold their story. I know where they’ve been and how much progress they are making. I know that what might be judged as atrocious language is actually a huge accomplishment in now using words to express big emotions, instead of hands lashing out. I know that they are making rash decisions based on a lag in the development of executive function skills due to ADHD. I know that 99% of the time they are sweet and loving and cuddly. I know them and I hold their story.

As I hold their story, I try to remember that other mothers and fathers and caregivers are holding other stories. So I thank my neighbors and friends for joining with me in the life and growth curve of my boys. And I try to remind myself to extend grace to my boys and to the others who are still working on their story.

I Just Can’t Get “Back to Normal”

I feel like we are all just supposed to be “back to normal” now. Like there’s some unspoken edict that says “Move on” and “get back to life.” We are coming up on a year since the first shut-down, and I feel like there’s pressure for life, businesses, schools, relationships….everything to be back to normal with a sprinkling of masks and a bit of physical distancing.

While I am so very thankful to have a flexible job, I still have this sense of guilt that “work” expects us all to be functioning at 110% like we used to. That the only real change is that most of the work is virtual now and therefore, “just get it work done.”  The thing is, there are no breaks at work like there used to be. There are no lunch breaks – I just heat up some food between meetings and eat during the next meeting. There are no commute breaks any more that would allow my brain to rest as I drove to and from home or to a meeting. And sometimes I would be so very lucky and would get to a meeting early and the sun would be shining and I would have a glorious 10 minutes to walk around the block and breathe in the warm spring or summer before settling in. Or I’d get in early to the meeting and chat with the couple other early birds, making small talk or connecting about a new project or idea. These days, I wake up, get kids to school, and sit….and sit….and sit…..alone at my computer (except when I’m yelling at the dogs to stop barking at everyone walking by!). My to-do list is endless and four or five things are added for every one scratched off. My email responses are days late or forgotten all together. Despite all the virtual interaction, I miss people. I miss travel. I miss the energy that comes from brainstorming and working together. And I’m certainly not back to normal.

Resting heart rate as a sign of stress – highest peak was when febrile and sick after the 2nd vaccine; second peak was the stress around boys’ school in February!

I feel like my boys’ school expects us to all be normal again now too. Literally my eighth grader has not gone into the school building all five days of a week for a month. I don’t think he’s mentally ready to do that. He got so out of that schedule that it elicits fear and anxiety in him to actually do it. Last April when I complained that the boys just weren’t able to do “remote learning” on a two-dimensional device given their attention deficit, the teachers reassured me, “Don’t worry, we’ll get them caught up next year.” That was before we knew that a two-week shut-down was a fanciful dream. Now it’s full steam ahead, as if they didn’t miss 25% of last year and had a very slow start for the first half of this year. There’s still an expectation to work at “grade level,” complete assignments, be present and engaged whether at home or at school. There’s an assumption that the kids will be flexible and resilient and go with the flow, even if they do find out at 6:00pm that they are in quarantine and have to remote learn tomorrow morning. We pretend that this constant change, this fear of being around people that’s been instilled, this interacting through a mask, this learning from an iPad, this watching teachers on a screen doesn’t faze them at all. We “speak” of mental health in our kids but we don’t make any changes.  We talk about the achievement lag that is hitting all students across the nation, but what are we doing to actively address this? There’s no way this is a “normal” school year for students or teachers!

I feel like relationships are struggling with the “are we back to normal” yet question. When we greet each other, we now ask, “are you okay with a hug?” instead of just rushing into each other’s arms. We are wary of people that we don’t think are using the same safety protocols that we’ve adapted to for our households. We limit our time together and question every move – were we together too long? Did we site too close? It’s been so long that we’ve welcomed people into our homes that we don’t know how to do it any more. We don’t know if we’re comfortable with people over. And we certainly haven’t kept (I mean, I haven’t kept) the house to the same standards of cleanliness as we’d like in case people do “pop over.” Hearing others’ stories or seeing social media posts, I see that others are hanging out together much more than I have, but I just don’t feel back to normal yet.

All of the usual stresses and challenges of life are happening in the context of greater stress and more worry. And while there’s so much pressure to be “healthy” and “coping” and handling the new situation, I must allow myself to acknowledge that it’s not normal yet and that’s okay. That I’m not managing everything as well as I thought I used to, and that’s okay. That I’m more tired and more irritable sometimes, and that’s okay.

What’s okay is that I am doing my best in the face of the greatest challenge of this lifetime and that I’m leaning on as well as supporting friends and family and relationships in the midst of this, including the three growing boys in this messy house who are also trying to figure out what’s normal now.

A friend reminded me this week of some words I had spoken six years ago…..

She gifted me with a reminder as well. We may not be ready to function as “normal” as much as we’d like things to “just get back to normal,” but we will persist.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Line (1-800-273-8255) or visit the website for resources. According to an NPR blurb this week, the increased stress from the pandemic will likely soon relate to physical health changes for many.

Let’s continue to uplift and encourage one another.

Learning to Parent a Teen: Stage 1, Managing Stress

So far, I think the three to six months stage of childhood is still my favorite. The boys slept through the night by then and smiled by day. That’s it. Pee, poop, eat, snuggle, sleep….repeat.  Then they grow taller and bigger and much bigger until they tower over you at 6 feet and laugh that you “look old” when you sit on the love seat to read a book.

Now the eldest is fourteen and the world has changed significantly. The “development” books tell you that kids this age look to their peers more than their parents, but none of the books I read have any section on “kids become completely immersed in their digital connection with other kids until their parents become irrelevant and nonexistent.”

And none of the books addressed how to help kids understand that they are woefully lacking in their medical knowledge. That the other teens with whom they communicate regularly are also lacking in medical knowledge. And that answering “It’s fine” every time your mother asks, “How’s your foot?” is just not adequate when she finally sees that the foot does not in fact look FINE to her (you know, the pediatrician!).

Super Tall Guy got a splinter in his right foot at least 2 weeks ago. He’s been “fine.”  He does not, in fact, want to go to the doctor, much less leave the house. He does not need anything for it. He does not have a problem walking. And, he definitely does not want to go get the splinter out the evening that I was entirely free of meetings or boys’ sports. But when I woke him up for school the next morning and he rolled over and said, “Can you take me to the doctor?” I immediately in my mind rearranged what I thought the day would hold….and off we went. Because if his brain has finally opened up a little mental space to push himself out of his comfort zone, that’s the window I need to grab.

Four hours later, a one-centimeter sliver of wood literally sprang out of his foot with some pressure. Too embarrassed for crutches, Super Tall Guy hobbled out of the emergency room and proclaimed himself unable to walk for two days.

For a teen with social anxiety, this pandemic ever-shifting landscape has been the complete opposite of his craving for consistency. The ever-shifting in-person learning versus remote learning has thrown off his ability to focus. I track the school attendance on a separate calendar and have noticed that this 8th grader has not been in school for five days in a row for the past month. And some of that is him either texting me in the middle of the night (my phone on “do not disturb” and I find texts in the morning) or waking up with “I don’t feel good” complaints that prohibit school.  Vague symptoms. Odd symptoms. Could it be COVID symptoms? Could it be, as I told him one day, “You know, when you are stressed sometimes your body can feel sick or not right.”  “Well, I don’t want to be stressed,” was his reply. Clearly you are, though, buddy.

Purple bars are days at least one kid has not been in school! Each has had a quarantine. Both school buildings have closed for two days. Boys have been “sick.” Blue dot – Me home CELEBRATING!

Clearly the household has been under quite a bit of stress. We are all dealing with the stress in very different ways. I have writing out my irritations and my jigsaw puzzles. The younger boys run around outside with the neighbor boys and consume too much screen time and food! The teen seems to be centering it in his body. The six-year old dog sleeps all day. 

The puppy? Well, the puppy accidentally locks herself into the teen’s room after apparently following sweet-to-dog smells….panics that she can’t get out and proceeds to destroy the door!!!

And you would have thought she learned after she probably spent four hours freaked out in the room….but no, two days later as I took the boys to school, she went in there again! This time, the carpet was her nemesis. On the other hand, perhaps it is I who should have learned about puppies and stress….

Guess I have new plans for the weekend – let’s see how that hard wood floor looks under that teen-stained, dog-destroyed carpet!!

PS, the photo is so blue because apparently teens can only sleep, breathe, exist in LED lighting. Who knew?

Learning to parent teens….one day at a time….

Open Letter to My Sons’ School

Dear School Board and Administration,

Do you not understand how thoroughly exhausting this is? How every single day of my life is now shaped by your decisions to constantly alter the course of my children’s schooling?

The phone rings. A recorded message informs me that my two middle-school sons will now be “remote learning” for the next two days. My brain begins its mental gymnastics (again). I begin to process what the new morning routine will look like, adjusting timings to get one kid to school and two kids logging in. My brain strums through what meetings I have to coordinate for the day and what changes we will make for the next couple days.

My brain is constantly reading, processing and filtering emails from the school. This building is now closed. A case was reported in your son’s school, but your child does not have to quarantine. A case was reported in your son’s class but your son is not deemed a close contact so you can choose whether or not you want to keep your kid home in quarantine to do remote learning or to send them to school. Because this building is now closed, your son’s basketball practice has now moved to tomorrow at 8:30 instead of today at 7:30, but the other boy’s swim practice is now shifted to Saturday to allow for….

I take a sip of wine….

Because I don’t know how else to cope with the relentless stress. The constantly changing schedules. The pervasive uncertainty. The steady level of worry of exposure to COVID or the chance of one of us getting sick. The struggle to maintain some semblance of education and growth for the boys while balancing limited social contacts and the boys’ mental health.

Is it a “he’s tired” headache or a COVID headache? Does his belly hurt because he’s hungry or he’s sick? Is there a fever? Was that a cough? Do I send him to school or keep him home? Test him or wait it out? Do I call the school nurse or fill out an absence form or ask to make him remote…..or just say to hell with it?!?!

Do you not understand how tired and stressed we parents are as we try to understand the ever-shifting “guidelines” and “procedures” in this school district? As we try to figure out whether your guidance even makes sense based on data and science? As we struggle with the basic knowledge that we can not and have not been able to trust our community leaders to make the right decision?

I take a sip of wine….

I have spent the last couple weeks starting every email with “I apologize for my delay in responding.” Sometimes I attempt humor (“my kid left the garage door open and the pipes froze; I’ve been a bit distracted”). Sometimes I am honest and confess that I’m stressed and I’ve lost track of…well, of life. Sometimes I just move right along and answer the question I should have answered last week as if there weren’t seven days missing in there.

I’ve nicknamed myself “Last-minute Lynne.” My work is done the night before or it’s late. There’s no in-between. There is no staying on top of things. There is no managing anymore. Balls have dropped. Back-burner heat went out long ago. The to-do list got so long I’ve lost the first couple pages….

There is no relief in sight. Just constant worry. New COVID variants. New guidelines on masking. New impeachment trials and messy politics. New weather patterns and slippery roads. New research and new opinions. New vaccine roll-outs and new stimulus ideas. New evidence of health inequity and disparity. New, more, different, sudden, changing, insidious, good-luck-coping-with-this-curve-ball stress.

I take a sip of wine….

I’m a physician. I trained under a great deal of stress and experience stress at work which I can manage. But this stress is different and sneaks through my coping tactics. And, as a physician, I know that this chronic, ever-shifting stress is taking a toll on me. It’s taking a toll on my family as I waffle between fatigue and irritability. It’s taking a toll on health and on productivity. It’s taking a toll on my community and my city. It’s taking a toll on our country and across the world.

Dear school board and administrators, please decrease our stress.

Sincerely,

A very tired parent.

Cheers.

Celebrating Joy

It sure has been a hard “season” of life lately. A season which has dragged on much longer than we expected when the world took a pause in March 2020. As we continued to wrestle with how to change almost every aspect of our lives, approaching the holidays in the fall brought out a lot of emotions.

There were no gatherings….no Cookie Day….no big Christmas dinner…no parties…. Despite the stress of gift-buying and trying to make Christmas day “special,” overall the seasons seemed quiet. I personally enjoy the slower-pace, but I sometimes felt guilty about not doing more for the boys. No travel. No ice-skating. Plenty of sled-riding opportunities arose though, as well as snow-shoveling.

The last weekend before school started again, a neighbor friend texted a video of the “explosion cake” she and her daughter had just made. Mr. Ornery said, “Wow, I hope we get a piece of that!” when I showed it to him right before bed. Waking up the next morning, he stood in front of me with the silliest, most excited smile, “Today we get a slice of that cake!” which was followed a couple seconds later with, “Let’s make our own.”

That’s all it took. After trying to think through all the steps during my shower, I called my friend and asked for the general directions. Brilliantly, she offered to drop off not only a couple slices of her cake, but the cake pans, circle cutter and neon food coloring for us to use. We got to work and over the course of a day, we had created a six-layer rainbow cake with candy in the middle. Mr. Ornery held it on his lap as we drove over to show it to the cousins. Gathering the boys in a crowd, we sliced through the cake and watched with joy as candy spilled out.

As Facebook replaces quite a bit of the in-person connections void, I shared the photos and video. A friend asked, “What’s the occasion for that cake?” Pausing after reading her comment, I responded with the first thing that popped in my head, “We’re celebrating Joy.”

Celebrating being in the moment. Celebrating spontaneity. Celebrating an activity that brought brothers together. Celebrating the eagerness to share joy with cousins. Celebrating that we have each other, we have a home and food. Celebrating friends who drive in the rain to drop off supplies. Celebrating the gift of time when activities have paused and the craze of life slowed down.

This season has been long and hard. Wrestling with the uncertainty of a dangerous pandemic, the trauma of continued racism in our country, and a growing division spurred by politics and lies and misinformation has been truly exhausting. Top that with single parenting three wild and wonderful boys through remote learning and the usual trials of training up sons, and it is important to find moments to Celebrate Joy.

So, to celebrate the fact that my son’s COVID test came back negative, I’m grabbing a slice of Godiva cheesecake tonight (for after they go to bed and I have quiet time and sole control over the remote!)

To celebrate the beauty of finding two passionate women to join me in leading a team to create our region’s first crisis nursery, Jeremiah’s Place, we have formed a “Founder’s Day” coming up February 4th to sponsor the cost of keeping the center open for a day.

And the biggest celebration of this year happened January 20th when we turned back toward civility and morality and empathy. We elected a woman to the Vice Presidency for the first time and listened to the wise words of a young poet in a day filled with Joy for so many.

May we continue to Celebrate Joy in all the moment we can possibly capture.

Broken and yet….

 

Broken

Too tired

Just done.

 

Lonely

I miss

Hugs

 

Pandemic

Death

Denial

 

Confuses

This

Physician

 

Individual

Rights

Selfishness

 

Makes

Me eager

For change

 

Vaccine

Hope

This is our shot.

 

Waiting

For mine.

 

Waiting

For Change

Working

For Change

Waiting for Peace, Joy,

Hope, Love.

And loving

puppy dog

tails.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Traditions in the Year of COVID

Two years ago when I walked into this house, I knew it would work for my family. Actually, the most important thing was that I knew it would work for me – because I knew the kitchen was big enough to host the annual Cookie Day in December. A tradition dating back since I graduated from college, it had moved to Pittsburgh and I was determined to host Cookie Day.

But this year is the year of COVID. The year when traditions have been upended. The year when we can’t figure out what’s happening from one day to the next and find it almost impossible to plan anything.

This year it’s the weekend before Thanksgiving and I walk around the house feeling sad and trying to come to grips with the fact that being responsible in the time of a viral case surge means making some hard changes.  This includes coming to grips with the fact that my parents will have a quiet small Thanksgiving at their home, rather than my mom bustling around in my kitchen with pies in the oven and sweet potatoes on the stovetop. COVID means that the boys have switched to remote schooling and I’m struggling with how to be patient with their constant interruptions as I try to maintain enough stream of thought for my own work. It also means that it would not be a good year to host Cookie Day. Blah.

But it’s coming up on Christmas. A season of great joy. A season of gathering. A season of sharing love with others. As the emotions of Christmas season start to rise, it’s hard to think of being apart and not engaging in all usual gatherings. It’s hard to think about not having parties and meals together. To not have the extended family come visit. To possibly not sing out “Silent Night” with lit candles at the traditional Christmas Eve service at church.

Saturday morning, Mr. Ornery skipped into the kitchen and exclaimed, “I’m starting to get the vibe of Christmas.” Starting a batch of chocolate chip cookies, I said, “Okay….Alexa, play Christmas music.”

That’s all it took. Mr. Ornery began cleaning up the family room and before I knew it, we were dragging the tree from the garage and he was stringing lights everywhere. Tradition has it that we start decorating the day or weekend after Thanksgiving. Tradition has it that we don’t mix the holidays. Tradition has been there’s no tree before turkey.

But traditions have gone out the window this year of COVID. Easter was a live-streamed church service and spontaneously hiding eggs in other people’s yards. The Little Guy’s birthday was a drive-by parade of cars after the firetrucks squawked through the neighborhood. Independence Day was a small group of friends lighting fireworks in their cul-de-sac. And for the first time in so many years, Labor Day weekend was just another couple days at home rather than the sights and smells of the Great Geauga County Fair.

I opened the flue and Mr. Ornery carried up some logs for the season’s first fire. A strand of twinkling lights were hung in front of the orange pumpkins on the mantle. The younger boys put (obnoxious) blinking multi-colored lights on the Christmas tree and I just left it as they placed them rather than correcting the spacing or stringing my preferred white lights. This year, we let the Christmas “vibe” come early. We let “Silent Night” stream through the house. We let Super Tall Guy break into smile at the glow of lights around every window and doorway in the family room. And we invited my sister’s family (our extended COVID “household”) for a spontaneous mish-mash dinner of shrimp, crab legs and fondue (traditionally the New Year’s Eve feast).

Because why not?

This year, we find new traditions. We find new ways of being “together.” We find new ways of working and learning. We find new ways of self-care and coping. We find new ways of appreciating those working the frontlines of the stores and services and hospitals. We find new ways of connecting and growing and thriving. We find new ways to experience peace, comfort and love. (And, I might need to find a new way for the Cookie Day tradition – like Zoom!)

This year…..there’s a little spark of Christmas Hope and Joy mixed with the Gratitude of Thanksgiving.

Shhh….don’t tell anyone 🙂

Pandemic Puppy’s First Christmas

Cry over what Matters

“History has it’s eyes on you” (Hamilton)

A few days after the hamster’s untimely demise, as the usual group of neighbor boys milled around the front yard jumping BMX bikes over ramps and turning tricks on scooters, one boy commented to Mr. Ornery, “Sorry to hear about your hamster.”  I was just returning from walking the dogs and as I neared Mr. Ornery sitting in the grass, he reached over to pet puppy Moka. “Thanks,” he replied. “The black dog did it because blacks kill more than white people.”

You might have heard my head explode depending on your location. The whole neighborhood heard me yell at my son and march him inside where he sat on the bottom step as I continued to rail loudly at him. Doors and windows wide open, the other kids began to sheepishly clean up the yard and head for home.

“I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry. I didn’t know what I said.”

And he’s right. He’s eleven and he’s learning. And the world around him is feeding him lies and teaching him to view white as the norm and other shades of color as deviations from the norm. But I have little tolerance anymore for what the world is feeding into my children. For most of my life, I thought I was pretty awesome and aware and sensitive about race and doing things generally right. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know until the unrest this summer helped me identify some of my ignorance and defensiveness. I started reading (White Fragility is hitting me in the soul) and realized it was on me to choose to learn more and do better.

So when #45 stood on the debate stage a few weeks ago and at the moment he asked to strongly condemn white supremacy, he instead asked a white extremist group to “Stand back and stand by,” I wept. Seeing in that moment the pain that this man continues to inflict upon people of color and weeping in that moment that he would dare spur on people who would have no qualms about attacking my three brown-skinned sons. I lay in bed for hours fearful for what is to come in this country. I knew the power of those words. A call to continued racism and discrimination, to violence and use of force, to asserting power and dominance.

Many years ago, a friend passed along some wisdom. Do not get caught up or frustrated or sad about the little things of life, but focus instead on what matters to God – “to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). Cry over what matters.

I cry because the Earth is crying.

I cry because the people are crying.

I cry because the oppressed are crying.

I ache for the plight of the poor as millions more Americans fall into poverty while the millionaires in Congress avoid economic relief packages. My patients that I see every week are struggling and stressed and running out of resources.

I cry over senseless killings of people of color and the injustice that follows. I honor those in law enforcement who balance a difficult job without the right resources and training and improvements can be made. But it is time to recognize that Black Lives Matter means that at this moment in our history, it’s time to work towards true acceptance and dignity and honor and equal resources and opportunities for all people of color. That is why people march. Because this is our moment. To be the change.

I weep as I see infants separated from their parents knowing the stress from that trauma writes itself into the rest of their lives. Adverse childhood experiences leave lasting consequences. Thus, I cry for the lack of compassion in matters of immigration that leads to pain and trauma rather than working on policy changes and solutions.

And I cry for the families of 217,000 people (and counting) who died by a virus knowing that more could have been done to save people. Grandparents, parents and so many more would still be alive had this country received clear leadership and strategy out of the White House rather than mockery, dismissal and pressuring experts to change their guidance. Our leaders have “taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy” (NEJM, 2020) and too many people have died.

And I continue to cry as the current president continues to incite violence and domestic terrorism and unease about democracy. The division, the anger, the hate tears at my soul and I find myself in a perpetual state of stress as we press on toward the election.

In all this stress and all this pain that I witness, I mostly cry as I struggle to figure out how to relate to family and friends who do not “see” the ways that the president, in words and actions, jeopardizes the very life and future of my family and my precious sons. In 2020, it is not about politics or taking “sides,” it is about love and humanity and decency. It is about protecting the lives of my boys and so many other people.

Depending on which version of the Bible one is reading, Isaiah 1:17 calls on us to “defend the oppressed” or “rebuke the oppressor” (NIV vs. New King James). I am committed to spending my days doing both. This week I took the biggest step I could by casting my ballot to vote out the evil that plagues us and begin to shape a more unified and peaceful society. I sent letters and postcards to encourage others to take a stand against power and greed and white superiority.

I cry because it matters.

Take my tears, Lord, and guide my steps to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly.

Be the Change that you want to see in the World.

“Worst Kid Day Ever”

Some days are just not your day.

We started with the usual remote learning chaos. “Mom, this program keeps kicking me off the live session with the teacher.” “Mom, this app doesn’t work that I’m supposed to do a quiz on.” “Mom, I can’t open this file.” “Mom…..mom…..mom…..

And that was the first hour, before the middle guy said, “I feel like I’m going to throw up” and rapidly barfed all over the couch before I could blink and run for a garbage can. In my very “supportive” (NOT) Mommy way, I suggested sternly that he could have run to a sink, bathroom, kitchen….anything!!  “Oh, I’m sorry you’re feeling bad, honey,” I apologized profusely several times as I google how to get vomit out of a couch (no, I don’t have club soda; yes, I’ve used up all the baking soda on the couch now so I won’t be baking for you for awhile!!)

Back upstairs to try to get a work project done amid multiple interruptions when I hear, “Mom, Moka got a rat.”  It was not a rat. It will be a long time before the image of the escaped hamster (and stains on the carpet) leave my brain.  After hugging a sobbing pet-owner and sending him off to the living room, I scooped up the poor animal and tossed it. A few minutes later, I had to secretly retrieve poor “Scarlett” and wrap her in pink tissue paper and put her in a “nice” box to bury in the hole that said puppy loves to dig in the front yard. We held a short funeral service where I cried as I prayed for the hamster in Heaven.

Back upstairs to work, just to be called down again for some school issue, but also the need to run to the local grocery store to buy flowers for the burial site. It was a bit for the 11-year-old to explain without many words the purpose of the flowers to the inquisitive cashier. But we stuck them in the ground (where they kept falling over and we decided they looked better that way anyway).

Back upstairs to keep working on that presentation while fielding multiple tech issues and issuing multiple reminders of what time it was and what “class” the boys should be logging in to next. Finally, went to the school to pick up my nephew and drop him and The Little Guy off at my sister’s so I could have a nice evening out with a friend. Mumblings at the school pick-up zone informed me of an email about a COVID case at the elementary school. Trying to show this email to my sister a little later as I dropped off the boys brought to my attention a general email from the middle school….followed by a direct email “To the Family of Mr. Ornery” – your student may have been exposed to a student with coronavirus and should quarantine and stay home from school for 14 days.

At this point, I’m now in a calm panic mode. This is the kid who vomited this morning (a minor COVID sign). This is the kid who had a headache and mild sore throat 3 days ago (minor symptoms). So, this is the kid who now was dragged into the local urgent care for COVID testing because his mom just had to have an answer (particularly because of possible exposures to other kids in the neighborhood).

The rapid test after miserable nasal swabs was negative. The PCR test after a really miserable nasopharyngeal swab “that tickles your brain” will come back tomorrow or the next day. The poor, brave young man survived all this. Two hours later, as he sucks on the straw of a cookie crumble frappuchino from Starbucks (nice Mommy), Mr. Ornery reflects, “This has been my worst ever kid day, hasn’t it?” Yes, buddy, it sure has.

But you’ve still had moments of smiles in between tears.

You’ve had moments of fun in between frustration.

You’ve had moments of joy in between discomfort.

You’re going to have some hard days and some days will be harder than today.

But you have a sweet, tender heart to sustain you.

You have amazing friends to encourage you.

And you have a mom who will cry right along with you (especially when you need a moment to lay beside the grave and say good bye to your little dwarf hamster friend before bed…and I watch you through the closed door weeping within).

I’m here right with you, buddy.

Always.