Every Child Deserves a Miss Honey

As a child one of my favorite books was Roald Dahl’s Matilda.  Having dyscalculia, I related to how Matilda was often misunderstood and looked at as “odd” by her family and classmates.  Like Matilda my mind would also wander, I imagined myself on grand adventures, solving problems, being a hero to my friends and defending myself against class bullies. 

In second grade I took my first standardized test. I remember flying through the reading comprehension and writing sections on the first day but once we got to the math portion on the second day, I hit a wall, I was not able to complete the test past the second page.  When we got the results, the discrepancy between reading/comprehension and math reasoning was so large that they made me retake the test three times, and three times I produced the same result.  Not knowing what to do with me, I was placed in the back of the class – with reading material and given worksheets for math so that I could “follow along with the class at my own pace.” Without remediation for math the worksheets made no sense, but I quickly learned that my teachers (grades 2-4) would not bother me if I read quietly.  I didn’t want to do math and when anyone – teacher or my mom – tried to force me to do math problems, I would become angry and resistive. This behavior garnered me the reputation of being oppositional and lazy.

It was not until the 5th grade that I met my Miss Honey.  As accidental luck would have it the fifth-grade class for Indianapolis School #43 was exceptionally small, so small in fact that the school decided to combine 4/5th and 5/6th grade classes.  For a child with undiagnosed dyscalculia this could have been the beginning of the end (children with learning disabilities are three times more likely to drop out of school than those without learning disabilities).  Luckily for me I had a teacher who, for the first time in my elementary school years, saw me.  Mrs. S  noticed that, although I did not and could not perform basic math tasks such as simple addition, fractions, and telling time, I WAS reading books of all varieties, science, non-fictions, history, and lots of them.  In the two years between testing and entering 5th grade my reading and comprehension skills had only increased. It was not uncommon for me to raid my mother’s bookshelf and I frequently asked her to check adult books from the library so that I could read.  Like Matilda’s Miss Honey, my 5th grade teacher began talking to me during break times, we often had lunch together where we would talk, I also stayed after to school with her where she would tutor me – quietly and painfully in math. When she noticed that I could complete some math tasks if I used my fingers to count (which was forbidden for 5th graders) she devised a “safe” way for me to count using my fingers and the shapes of the numbers.  (Safe in that the math teacher would not see me counting with my fingers and give me an “F”.) She gave me extra time for test and arranged for me to take my standardized test in the library un-timed instead of with my classmates.  When the school wanted to move me to a separate behavioral school because I was falling behind and acting out, Mrs. S called my mother and helped her to complete the appropriate steps so that I could attend RTI (Response to Intervention) classes twice a week for math but remain at my home school. This was 1982 a full 8 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act came into effect, so there was no 504 or IEP, there were no guidelines for teaching and accommodating children with learning disabilities. To this day I have no idea how they managed, but Mrs. S– with the help of my mother – managed to come up with a set of accommodations that would see me through middle school, high school and college. Like Miss Honey from Matilida, my Miss Honey became my biggest champion at school, my best interpreter, and my most important guide.  She helped me understand my disability and then helped me find ways to incorporate that knowledge so that I could better navigate through school and through life. It helped me navigate through graduate school, to a Ph.D. and to my current job as a professor. Every child deserves a Miss Honey and we at Mothers on the Frontline would like to give a heartfelt “thank you” to all the Miss Honey’s working to improve the experience of our children at school.

Mothers on the Frontline supports the Keeping All Students Safe Act

The Keeping All Students Safe Act (Senate Bill 3626 and House of Representatives Bill 7124) was referred to committees on November 14, 2018. It prohibits the use of seclusion and prevents and limits the use of physical restraint in schools. As Representative Don Beyer notes in this press release, “No child should be afraid for their safety when they go to school. All too often students are subjected to abusive discipline techniques, which disproportionately affects minority and students with disabilities. A majority of states have already instituted bans on seclusion and inappropriate restraint in the classroom, and it is time we do so nationwide.” This legislation promotes the prevention of problematic behaviors through the use of evidence-based de-escalation techniques, interventions, and supports and in doing so, ensures the safety of all students and teachers.
Please join us in thanking Senator Chris Murphy and Representative Don Beyer for introducing these bills into Congress and contact your legislators to express your support. You can find the contact information for your Representative in the House here and your senator here.  Please contact each member of the committees now considering these bills. You can find the members and their contact information here:

Senate: Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
House: Education and Workforce and Armed Services committees.

Share your stories about how you or your child has been affected by these practices. Together we can make this the year that our country finally address this human rights issue, bringing us one step closer to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, a key part of securing Mental Health Justice for all children.

Five Ways to Fill Your Cup

 

In thinking about National Family Caregiver Month, I was reminded of a previous Mothers on the Frontline podcast episode in the Just Ask Mom series, called “Filling up your Cup”. In it Alissa explained the phrase, “my cup runneth over” in a way I needed to hear as a caregiver. “What runneth over is for me to give you, what is in my cup is for me.” She continued: “I have to do my best to keep my own cup full or I’ve got nothing to offer – to my children, to others, to advocacy, to change – I got to do my best to keep myself whole and intact as well, or it does no one any good.” This idea is at the very heart of our work at Mothers on the Frontline, not because we live it, but because we aspire to.

Sometimes when loving and caring for someone with mental illness, it feels like there are holes at the bottom of our cup. During the holiday season, when we are barraged with images of happy families and tranquil moments of joy, those holes can feel vast. There are the practical challenges that use up our ‘juice’: finding care and services, navigating health and school systems not set up to help children like ours. There is the loneliness and isolation that stigma and discrimination places on the child, caregivers, and siblings – more spilled juice. But perhaps the most draining are the cruel comments that come from our child when they are ill and the cruel comments that come from others about our child or family who do not understand what is going on. It can leave us feeling pretty empty, and this emptiness can feel magnified during the “season of giving”.

So what are we to do? In this age when “self-care” has become a marketing slogan for spa packages and beauty products, what does it really mean to care for and love oneself, especially when one’s life is structured around caring for a person with a serious mental health condition? What “self-care” is really available to all of us, no matter our financial situation or the current level of crisis we navigate. In this podcast episode, Alissa mentions five things we can all do:

  1. Take a deep breath. Breathe out all that you are holding in. Breathe in life and self-love.
  2. Know “this too shall pass”. Whatever crisis is presenting, it is temporary. I would add that so too are good days -and so here is permission to fully enjoy those good days when they come. They are not times to merely catch up and get things done in preparation for the next crisis. We get overwhelmed by an imagined future laid out in front of us, but the moment at hand is manageable. Stay there and keep breathing.
  3. Physical exercise. If you are like me, this can be a real challenge. Try to find something doable and enjoyable for you. Whether it is light stretching, a walk outside, etc. Find something that is realistic for you and that feels good. This is not about looking good or fitting into that certain pair of jeans. This is about feeling good in and loving your own body – supporting it so it can support you.
  4. Taking care of your own mental health needs. We live in community with our families and those under our care. We affect and are affected by each other. There has been significant research into how a mother’s depression or anxiety can affect her child. Recently, researchers are finally starting to ask how a child’s mental health condition can affect their mother’s health. (See this article.) If you can benefit from therapy, medication, support groups, etc., give that gift to yourself. It does not matter whether your mental health needs predate your care giving or were brought about from stresses and traumas associated with care giving: you deserve the support you need to be well.
  5. “I am on the list too.” In our long to-do lists as caregivers, Alissa reminds us that we are on the list too. This means being intentional about filling our cup. I would like to add that how we do so will depend on our situation and we need to be flexible as our situation changes. But that does NOT mean taking ourselves off the list. Ask, “what can I do for me in this situation?” For me right now it is waking up 30 minutes earlier so I can journal and drink a cup of coffee while it is still hot before my boys wake up. (Seriously, as a mom, drinking a warm drink while it is still hot is a big deal!) This simple thing is not possible in those situations when my son does not sleep due to mania. Then I have to find something else – maybe it is using respite services for an hour so I can drink a hot cup of tea undisturbed at a coffee shop or with a friend.  For years while we were on a waiting list for services, there was no respite – then I might have used the brief moments when I took my shower to breathe deeply and intentionally – that might have been all that was available to me. But it was still something that made a difference. All too often, when the situation changed making my previous self-care impossible, I just dropped it, taking myself off the list completely and it always results in an empty cup. This November, let each of us commit to filling our cup, in whatever ways we can, so that it runneth over, nourishing ourselves, our families and our communities.

And if there is a caregiver in your life, in this season of giving, there is no greater gift than helping another fill their cup. Whether it is being present with them in their pain, sending a kind note, or doing what you can to provide them a few minutes to drink their cup while it is still warm, magically that small act (which does not cost a dime) can fill their cup to overflowing.

Listen to Alissa’s full interview on the Mothers on the Frontline Podcast: Just Ask Mom Series, episode 7.

 

 

Behind the Scenes

We have been busy behind the scenes at Mothers on the Frontline. Thanks to generous funding through the Obermann Fellowship in the Digital Humanities, we have been able to make our stories more accessible through transcriptions. We are in the process of transcribing all of our current digital stories and are on track to be finished in November.

We have also been working on getting our stories on Digital Grinnell, an online archive hosted by Grinnell College. Mothers on the Frontline podcasts will be featured in the new collection called “Digital Stories for Social Justice.” This collection will also feature stories gathered from the School to Prison Project. We are on track to have our first items available through this archive by November and hope to complete our current collection before summer. A shout out to the wonderful librarians who are making this possible  – Christopher Jones, Cecila Knight, Mark McFate, and Liz Rodrigues – and to Esther Hwang, an amazing student who is tirelessly entering materials into the system. Thank you to the Grinnell College Innovation Grant for covering student wages and other costs related to the project.

Finally we have been preparing for our first interview training workshop on October 26-27, 2018. Several amazing advocates and activists with lived experience related to the school to prison pipeline will receive training to interview within their community for the archive. This workshop is a collaboration of Mothers on the Frontline and Grinnell College and will be facilitated by Kesho Scott, Stephanie Jones, Angela Riccio, Dionne Bensonsmith, and Tammy Nyden. A shout out to Jin Chang, another amazing student, and Cheryl Fleener-Seymour, an administrative assistant who are doing great work behind the scenes to make this event a success. And last, but not least, a thank you to Gina Donovan for all of her technical assistance with the recording equipment and Angie Vanderleest for assistance in preparing materials.

As you can see, these projects involve a lot of collaboration and invisible work. We are so thankful for the opportunity to work with such amazing people.

Miss Diva on Raising a Child with Schizoaffective Disorder, Just Ask Mom Podcast Series, episode 16

logo: purple lotus flower with white figure inside holding arms up on black background

In this episode, we listen to Miss Diva from the USA. She speaks about raising a son with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar, ADHD, PTSD, and Seizures in the African-American Community. Please be advised that this interview contains content about domestic abuse and may be upsetting for some audience members.

Transcription

Women’s Voice: Welcome to the “Just Ask Mom” podcast. Where mothers share their experiences of raising children with mental illnesses. Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we will listen to Ms. Diva from the USA. Please be advised that this interview contains some content about domestic abuse and may be upsetting for some audience members. This interview was recorded at the 2017 National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health Conference in Orlando Florida. During this particular recording, you can hear noise in the background from another event in the hotel. Please don’t let these noises distract you from Ms. Diva’s story.

Dionne: I’m sitting here with you and I wanna say thank you very very much…

Miss Diva: You’re welcome.

Dionne: …for agreeing to be a part of our podcast. Can you please introduce yourself?

Diva: My name is Diva and I am called Diva because I have been through so much in my forty-four years on this earth until I feel like there is nothing anybody can do or say to break me anymore. And I feel like you can try but I’m always gonna  come out victorious because the Diva is always going to hustle – get it done for her and her children no matter what. If she has a man or she don’t have a man, she don’t need a man to make it happen. And that’s me.

Dionne: Thank you. Well, tell me Ms. Diva, tell us a little bit about who you are and who you were, what are your passions? Who are you outside of and in addition to being a momma.

Diva: Oh my gosh! First of all, I honestly didn’t wanna become a mom. I was scared that I wasn’t gonna be able to give my children the love that they needed like they were supposed to have. Because when I was a kid I felt like I wasn’t loved passionately enough as a child suppose have been loved by their parent and encouraged enough because my parents didn’t give me that encouragement. They gave my younger sisters that encouragement but as for me, they didn’t do that. But when I had my children I was like, “Wow!”. When I had my first child I was like. “Ohh,hhuuhh!”, you know, like “Oh, No!”. And then had my second child after I am married. And then my third and my fourth. And then I was like, “Oh no, I’m a mom!”. So I was like, “Okay, I gotta step my game up since I’m about ten thousand times more than what they did.”. So my goal was to always let my kids know that: “I love you and there is nothing that you cannot do. I will never stand on the way of your creativity. The word ‘can’t’ and ‘I won’t’ will no longer be in existence for you all.” My kids used to think I was mean because I used to give them books to read. So, they was like, “This is a punishment”. No, it’s not though my kids one of the–it wasn’t. I have been through domestic violence, my kids have seen that. Still legally married to the man. He tried to kill me and my kids. So we are still standing the risk. That’s why I say I’m that diva because I refuse to allow you to dominate my life because if I let you dominate my life, it’s like you still have your hand in my life. “Oh no!”, because I’m going to do what I need to do. I have four children: 24, 18, 16 and 14. I have an 18 year old. He has a bipolar schizoaffective disorder and the alphabet. And once–you know what I mean when I say the alphabet.

Dionne: Yes. The alphabet soup of diagnosis, yes.

Diva: And sometimes he has his good days, sometimes he has his bad days. And it’s like, “Whoa, wait! Hold up!”, and sometimes he wants to listen to me, sometimes he don’t. But he’s at the conference with me. He’s doing good. When we walk past to come here, he was sitting in a class listening paying attention. So it’s like, that was a first.

Dionne: He stopped by our table several times ’cause he likes the candy. [laughter]

Diva: Yes [laughter] Oh it’s like you’re trick or treating huh? [laughter]

Dionne: [laughter] We talked a couple of times.

Diva: Yes, So he’s a friendly young man…

Dionne: Yes he is.

Diva: …but the thing is, I found out he was–he had these diagnosis when he was six. So, being of African-American descent, in our culture we do not talk about mental illness. It’s like the big elephant in the room and if you do something about it, “Oh no, just whoop ’em!”. Whippings do not cure everything. Then it’s the next one–oh I’m going to pray it out, Oh no, pray that God gives me the strength to endure what I’m about to go through. Pray that God gives him a stable mind or me  – so I won’t go crazy and hurt this child. Because there’s a lot of times when they say things that they don’t mean and you feel like it’s directed at you and they’re just taking out their anger. Because when they do it you like, “Oh, did you just lose your mind!” and you be wanna ready to–you be ready to like, “Oh, you know what, it’s battling time. You ‘bout to go in the corner and the fight. Put your gloves on”. So, and I tell my parents all the time, “If God didn’t want them to have the doctors here to help us, he would never had put them in place.”. He will not put the psychiatrist, the therapists, made these people that have the medicines so we can help them. And all the other people, all the little people, like these conferences, to help give us the knowledge of what we can do with – outside of–when everybody else has gone home asleep, what coping skills you can use to help your child, son or daughter, go into–when they enter that poppin’ off mode. So my son–’cause I have two sons. One has ADHD-PTSD and he has suffered from seizures. Then my older son, he’s the one that has the main ones but my younger son, he’s introvert but he’s a smarty. And he just don’t wanna go yet and it’s like I tell my kids, I gave them with the analogy when they were young. I’m the head of the household so I’m the head. My oldest daughter is my right hand. And my son that’s 18, he’s my left hand and my 16-year-old, he’s my right leg and my 14-year-old is my left leg. I say, so if anything happens to one of you guys, my limbs are obsolete to me. So I said I need every last one of you guys to do what you gotta do because if you get hurt, get killed, something happens, my limbs would no longer work the same.

Dionne: Alright, that’s a beautiful analogy.

Diva: And they’d look at me like, “What?”. I said, “come here”. So my son just said, “What?”. I pinched him, he said, “Ouch!”. I said, “That’s how I feel” If something happens to you –  and your my left arm. So if you’re gone, my pain is there. And until you come back in one piece, whole, my pain goes away. And he was like, “Oh, got it!”. I was like, “Thank you.”

Dionne: That’s a wonderful analogy of just how–I don’t think our kids realize how much they are literally, a part of us.

Diva: Yes. yes. And I feel like–I used to tell my son when he was younger when he needed help when he was in school I said, “Baby, look at it this way. I need for you to get your slinky–look at the slinky in your mind. When you had the slinky here at both hand level, you’re fine. Once that slinky starts sliding down, you feel like you need help, you get that help.” I said, “Once that slinky fall all the way down, you’re out of control, you can’t get that help no more.” I said, “Once you get it started moving up and down, you can get the help.” I said, “But once it falls and go all the way across the room, there is no coming back from that. He was like, “Okay, ma.”. So a couple of days ago he said to me, ” Ma, I’m trying to be that slinky.’ And I have the strangest look on my face like, “Okay babe”.

Dionne: He heard you.

Diva: But this analogy was given to him when he was six, seven years old.

Dionne: I know. He heard you. He heard it. That’s awesome.

Diva: And it’s like it’s still there.

Dionne: Yeah!

Diva: And he was like, “Mom, I’m still that slinky.” And I’m like, “Okay love. When you need that help, you tell me.”

Dionne: Yeah

Diva: Because if he hear voices, he tells me.

Dionne: That’s great.

Diva: He’s like, “Ma, they’re talking.” And I’m like, “Okay babe,” because I’m one of those parents, I listen. Because when I was a kid, it was be seen and not heard.

Dionne: I see.

Diva: And I was raised up in the church and, people ask me, “Why don’t you go to church anymore?” Because the people that raised me, I feel like they’re the biggest hypocrites there is. Because you tell me to do as you do, do as you say but not as you do.

Dionne: Right.

Diva: But then the whole entire time, you’ve been lying to me. You’ve been hiding stuff. You’ve been sneaking around! What do you want me to do? How do you want me to take this and God said, “Do not do this,” and you did it! So you want me to feel this way? So, I tell my mom, we were talking about something and I said, “Ma,” and she was just, I had to you know, “Ma!” She was like, “What?” I was like, “Look. For everything that you come at me in the Bible with, we’re going to come back with you on this one right here!” She just said,” Lord.” Yes! So she said, “What?” I said, “The Bible tells you, children obey your parents and the Lord.” And then it comes again, children obey your parents and the Lord, for this is right that that days may be long upon the Earth.” I said, “This is what the scripture your parents hate!” Should parents, “Provoke not your children to wrath!” I said, “Woman, what are you doing to me?” And she said, “Uh, shut up and get off my phone.” I said, “No, you’re provoking me to wrath! I mean, you’re provoking me!” I said, “So, you are not listening to what the Bible say.” I said, “I told you, you that scripture!”

Dionne: So does that translate ever with your kids? What I’m hearing you talk about is, the way in which you want to raise your children differently than the way you were raised.

Diva: Because I have. Like I have a 24-year old. At 20, I had her. She has gone to nursing school, no kids.

Dionne: Go on.

Diva: They told her she was going to be a dropout. She’s going to have a house full of kids and I told them, “Hold up. Don’t put that into my child’s life. We don’t speak that in someone’s child’s life.” Because I always told my children, “Be the best at whatever you do. If you’re going to be the best bum, be the best bum you’re going to be,” and that’s how I’ve always been with my kids. I always told my kids, “Be the best you.”

Dionne: Good.

Diva: Be the best whatever it is you’re going to be. Be the best whomever you’re going to be. Don’t let anybody stop you. Don’t let anybody tell you how far you can dream. Don’t let nobody get in your way. I said, “If you feel like I’m getting in your way, be like Mom, I need you to move!” “I will get out your way!” I said, “But I’m here. I am going to forever be your cheerleader until God takes me away.” Because I tell my kids, “I’m going to push you for the better. I’m not going to push you down. If I see you slip, I’m going to help you pick you up.”

Dionne: So with that in mind, what would you say has been the greatest challenge in you getting help or raising your children around their mental health diagnoses and their mental health challenges?

Diva: Getting the help from the community, knowing where to go in the community that offers the help where we live.

Dionne: Okay.

Diva: And when I found the FIA, it says what it is on the card.

Dionne: Okay.

Diva: I just don’t want to say it because it will say where I’m from.

Dionne: Yes, I see it.

Diva: But Miss Harrison, she’s awesome. She’s been God sent.

Dionne: Good.

Diva: Because like my son was put into a transition  – he got arrested. DHS did nothing. They didn’t even show up. So Miss Tammy was there with me. We went and his attorney said, “Miss Diva, the Judge say, he can go home. Would you take him home today?” “Sure will!” But I’m like, I’m not feeling like I can stay in jail –no.

Dionne: Yeah.

Diva: So, because I learned something when I was growing up, I’ve learned that you’re going to have 10 children. Each one of them have a different personality.

Dionne: That would be true.

Diva: Each one of them have something different to offer, like you have 10 fingers, not one finger look alike. Each nail on your finger, one might be longer than the other. One might does more than the other finger can do because each one of my kids give me a different strength. Like my 18-year old, he really pulled out of me that I can go above and beyond.

Dionne: How does he do that?

Diva: Because he lets me know, “Ma,” with his diagnosis, I go above and beyond to find out where I can go to get more help for him, what’s there for him, what options are there for him because normally, when I was coming up, mental health issues was never talked about.

Dionne: Yeah.

Diva: It was just like, “Get that rug and broom, sweep, sweep, gone.” You never talked about it. So, when I got my kid’s help after fleeing my abusive husband, it’s like me and my kids develop and play.

Dionne: I see.

Diva: My own sisters, biological sisters at that. One, she’s his godmother.” He asked her for a game. Why lie to a child?

Dionne: Like?

Diva: “I have to take care of some bills” “But I’m watching you on Facebook post live pictures going live, posting pictures of you and my other sister in the Bahamas. What? Did you just lie to this child?” And he called me the aunty – huh –  I haven’t talked to her honey.

Dionne: I see.

Diva: So, when you have to lie to your child about somebody else lying, I hate lying to my kids.

Dionne: Yeah.

Diva: That’s one thing me and my kids promised that we wouldn’t have to because I had not lied to my kids about anything that is important to them. Like that kind of lie, I fell like that’s not full lie.

Dionne: Right.

Diva: But it’s still a lie.

Dionne: But in terms of their diagnosis and treatment?

Diva: And then you have to realize, they are more sensitive than the other kids because the other kids can handle it. Their diagnosis, they can’t! Because they’ll be like, “What? They lied to me? They what?”

Dionne: Right.

Diva: They spaz out and go off, do a whole bunch of other stuff.

Dionne: Right.

Diva: It’s like, you would have to tread lightly with their diagnosis.

Dionne: So, what you say in addition to learning how to talk to your children, and you’re doing a wonderful job of —

Diva: Thank you.

Dionne: — just giving them and I mean, your son is one of few people that I met and so, of giving them this sense of confidence and something stable of love.

Diva:  I constantly tell my children, “I love you.” I constantly let them know, “I got your back.”

Dionne: Good.

Diva: I constantly say, “Hey, remember who’s here. She’s here. I need her. I’m here. Because like, right now I’m sick and my youngest is here with me and even though he has his moments, I don’t care what he is going through. You say something is wrong with his Momma, he snapped. “What? You what, what’s going on with my Momma?” He is going to find out what is wrong with his Momma and try to make his way back to his Momma because like one of his siblings was like, “Momma can’t get her shoes on. She is so swollen she can’t even move.”

Dionne: Right.

Diva: So he came upstairs and was like, “Momma, let me in.” I’m like, and I saw my youngest son. I was like, “Open the door for your brother.” So he came in the room and put my shoes on for me.”

Dionne: Oh.

Diva: So when I say my kids have my back just as much as I have theirs, when I think they don’t have my back and I feel like they don’t me pay attention, they do. They pay me a world of attention.

Dionne: That is wonderful!

Diva: And I feel like they don’t but they do.

Dionne: That’s good.

Diva:  Because like my 24 year old. Sometimes I feel like she don’t have my back, but she does.

Dionne: That’s Wonderful. And that’s so important.

Diva: Cause I had asked her, I said, “If anything happens to me,” – she was like, “Ma, you don’t even have to worry about it. Them three – I’m already on it – I already know I got to raise them.”

Dionne: Wow.

Diva: She said, “you ain’t got to write it down, I already know. What my job is. To make sure them three is good.” I said, “You got my back!” She was like, “Oh, no doubt,” she’d say, “you know  even though we argue and fuss, you are my only mama.” She’d say, “You’ve always been there.”

Dionne: Wow.

Diva: So, I’ve always made sure my kids – and always will make sure my kids –  know that I love them, even if I can’t talk – my kids know sign language, so we tell each other “I love you” in sign language. So we like, we go this way and touching your face. Because when he was in court I did this and touched my face  – and he was like …

I used to be a teacher. And when I did Scholastics, I wouldn’t send all of the Scholastics home with the kids. I’d be like oh, I can use this at home. So my kids know a little sign language. I am like, because I told them “it is good to know another language.” And they were like “Sign language? What?” I was like, “What is at the end of that word  – it’s ‘language’ – It is another language.”[laughter]

Dionne: So what is your self-care routine – how do you take care of you?

Diva: Oh, gee. [laughter] I love music. I love going to the gym when I’m not sick. I used to be a size 24, now I’m a size 18.

Dionne: Oh, wow.

Diva: And I started in the gym in January, so when I turn 44 in July, there was a dress that I was trying to get into  [snaps three times – laughter] “Nailed it!” [laughter] So, I have been out of the gym for a month because my Fibromyalgia’s been acting up – but oh she mean – will get back in the gym. But I do talk to – I do have my own therapist, my own shrink. I talk to her because if I don’t take care of me, I can’t take care of them.

Dionne: Exactly.

Diva: Because I learned that the hard way. Cause I had a therapist when we lived in the middle of the state. You have to take care of you first. If you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of them. And that’s where a lot of parents stop. They only seek help for the children, they are there for themselves as well.

Dionne: Right.

Diva: Listen, if you don’t seek help for yourself and get educated for yourself,

To know what is going on with yourself and your child, you will never be able to advocate for your child.

Dionne: Right

Diva: The Best. Because you are your child’s best advocate. And you are your child’s best voice, because if you don’t get that education on what’s going on, and read what they put in front of you, instead of just signing…you’re going to miss that. Because with me, I learned that the hard way. So I do girl days with my gym buddy.

Dionne: Good.

Diva: As you see my nails there.

Dionne: Oh yeah, You have  – nobody can see this but I can see it – you have fabulous nails.

Diva: Thank you. And they are mine. I just go get the acrylic overlay and get the nails…

Dionne: They are gorgeous.

Diva: Thank you. I have my green nails for mental health.

Dionne: yes. Awareness.

Diva: yes – mental health awareness – and the rest of them are black and I have white one blue  – I am not going to tell you which finger is blue.

[laughter]

Dionne: We can’t say that –even on the podcast –

[laughter]

Dionne: But it stands out.

Diva: Yes!

Dionne: My son calls that his expression finger.

Diva: Yes – and it is mine, because my 24 year old be like, “Ma, Ma”, she be like, “yes, I did”. [laughter] But yes, I do my music, I do my girls day with my gym buddy, either that, we go get our nails done, we go out to eat, get a drink.

Dionne: That’s great. Self-care is so important. So, that’s self-care. How do you advocate for yourself?

Diva: Oh. Umm..

Dionne: Not for your kids, but for you.

Diva: For me, I am a very soft-spoken person. And a lot of people think because I have this little girl look, because I everyone thinks I am in my twenties or thirties

Dionne: You are very young-looking.

Diva: And everyone thinks I am a little girl because I look so young, I’m like, “Don’t let it fool ya.”

Dionne: That’s cause your youthful.

Diva: [laughter] Thank you. And I tell people, “Don’t let it fool you.” Cause I’m very knowledgeable about what I want and what I need. And if I’m telling you what I need, and you’re not helping me to get what I need, I am going to go around you or above you to get what I need.

Dionne: I see.

Diva: And if I have to go through you to get what I need, I will do that too. So, my needs – I will do that too.

Dionne: You will advocate for your needs. So, in all of this, and this journey that you’ve been on, this journey that you are still on, if you had to point out some of your most laughable moments. Moments where you just have to sit down and just laugh about life. What you say is your most laughable moment is? So far?

Diva: Ooh. [laughter] I was in one state where we lived in, the principle kept saying, “we have done all we can do for your son.” And he kept saying, “your son”. He didn’t know my son’s name.

Dionne: I see.

Diva: So, the table was about as long as this table. And I looked at the table, and I didn’t see the assistant principle. I said, “Do you know anything about my son?” And he looked at me, “picked up a pile of papers . I said, “He don’t know jack squat about my son.”

Dionne: Right.

Diva: And he looked at me and everybody looked, cause I’m a soft-spoken person, so my voice raised, and he was like …I said, “All you know is what you are reading on that paper,” I said, “Do you not know my son is a little comedian at times?” I said, “Do you not know my son’s name is dadadada – not ‘this child’?”

[laughter]

Diva: And I said, “You don’t even work with this child.” I said, “Could you please bring in your person that works with my child?” And he was like, “Can you please get her?”  Because I said, “if we keep sitting here we’re not going to have this meeting. “

Dionne: Right.

Diva: And he looked at me like I was crazy. And they were talking and I was sitting there. And he got up and went and got her and she came in and sat down and the meeting continued. And it was so funny because, when we were done, my advocate was like, “I can’t believe you did that.”

[laughter]

Diva: And I was like, she was like – wow – “Silence was golden with you.” [laughter] And she was like, “I can’t believe I heard you yell. She said, I have never heard you yell. She said, “yeah, you would be a great peer specialist.” I was like, “who said I wanted to be.”

Dionne: Is there any particular organization, since were at a major conference, that you would like to give a shout out to [can hear writing on paper ] Oh Ok. Can I say the organization? I won’t say the state.

[This portion was deleted because it was not possible to identify the organization without identifying the state.]

Dionne: Thank you very, very much Miss Diva!

Diva: You’re so welcome!

Dionne: And this was, and I always say this, but I totally mean it, it was eye opening, it was inspiring, and you are amazing.

Diva: Thank you.

Dionne: Thank you.

[music]

Female Voice: You have been listening to “Just Ask Mom”, copyrighted in 2018 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Dionne Bensonsmith The music is “Olde English”, written, performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to MothersOnTheFrontline.com or subscribe on  on Itunes, Adroid, Google Play, or Sticher.

 

 

 

The School to Prison Pipeline Project

image of black bars against grey background. White words written over bars: Suspension, Restraint, Seclusion, School Resource Officers, Special Education, Institutional Racism, Push Out, Poverty, Ableism, Classism, Zero-Tolerance, Expulsions, Homo-Transphobia

It goes by many names: ‘The School-to-Prison Pipeline’, ‘The School-to-Confinement Pipeline’, ‘The School-to-Court Pipeline’, ‘The Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline’, etc. These names refer to sets of policies and systemic practices that lead to the over-representation of people of color, poor people, LGBTQ+ individuals, persons who have been in the foster care system, and people with disabilities in prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities.

Mothers on the Frontline is collaborating with Grinnell College on a project called “Digital Stories for Social Justice: The School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Professors Stephanie Jones (education), Tammy Nyden (philosophy) and Kesho Scott (sociology) received the Grinnell College’s Innovation Grant to create a story archive and new kind of course.

This project aims to document this social injustice by digitally recording stories of people touched by these policies and practices and providing a platform for their stories to influence public narratives about justice reform. The project is adopting the Mothers on the Frontline’s methodology of story work, which insists that the interviewer share salient lived experience with the interviewee, so as to prevent the violation of an outsider coming in and shaping one’s narrative. The interviewee determines how they are introduced, having full control over their level of privacy. Questions are designed so as to give space for the interviewee to take the conversation in any direction they want, while maintaining the natural contours of an informal conversation. These interviews are not a study: there is no particular research question to be answered. Such studies, despite their best intentions, necessarily start out with a narrative that the researcher imposes on the interviewee. This method, rather, is completely inductive. It allows a gathering of the stories the interviewee wants to tell in that particular moment. This methodology is built on the premise that more interesting themes will naturally arise if not held down by preconceived notions from current narratives. We believe that this archive will inform researchers about what qualitative and quantitative research questions need to be asked and studied.

This methodology is also built on the idea that when people are given a safe space, they will tell the story that they need to tell at that particular moment. This is where the story work becomes transformative for both the teller and the listener. This is where the healing of story work is found – in the agency, integration, and holism of story work. (Future posts will discuss these key principles of the Mothers on the Frontline story work methodology and its influences, such as Q’um Q’um Xiiem’s / Jo-ann Archibald’s book Indigenous Storywork.)

This School-to-Prison Pipeline project involves three main components:

  1. The creation of an online digital story archive that is freely available to the public and will be housed in Digital Grinnell. (A subset of the stories will also be housed at the Iowa Women’s Archive at the University of Iowa.)
  2. The creation of a new course: “Digital Stories for Social Justice” that incorporates a Digital Humanities lab in which students develop both story work and digital media skills to inform and influence public discourse on justice reform. The story archive serves as an important anchor for the course. While data stories and various digital story techniques will be studied and practiced, they will never be far removed from the reality that the numbers and visual representations are only meaningful to the extent that they intersect with and respect true, personal lived experience.
  3. Opportunities for students to work with activists, advocates, and scholars to practice the skills they learn in the lab and make real difference in the world.

Mothers on the Frontline is excited to be part of this project and particularly looks forward to co-facilitating two of its events:

October 26-27, 2018: The Digital Stories for Social Justice Archive Workshop: Participants with lived experience will learn how to record audio interviews in their communities for the archive.

May 8-10, 2019: The School-to-Prison Pipeline Story Center Workshop (co-facilitated by StoryCenter). Participants will create and produce their own 2-4 minute video based on their lived experience.

The grant culminates in the first teaching of the course Digital Stories for Social Justice in the Fall of 2019. Students will take a 4 credit interdisciplinary course on the school-to-prison pipeline along with the 2-credit digital storytelling lab. During fall break, students will meet with activists, advocates, and non-profit leaders during a two-day workshop, in which they work together to produce a public syllabus on the issue. Students will consult the organizations to create class projects (print and interactive info graphics, podcasts, and videos) that will become part of the public syllabus and freely available resources to those on the frontlines of this important justice work. Mothers on the Frontline looks forward to participating in that event as well.

Subscribe to our Newsletter for updates on these events and other events and to receive additional resources.

It’s Giving Tuesday!

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Mothers on the Frontline.

Click here to make a tax-deductible donation

Mothers on the Frontline began earlier this year with the idea that mothers of children with mental health needs are on the frontline of our most intractable social problems, from epidemic youth suicide to the school-to-prison pipeline. Because mothers are often the only constant among the many fragmented systems meant to serve their children, they have a unique insight into those systems, how they intersect, where they work, and where they fail.  Our mission was to find a way to collect and share their stories, which all too often are silenced by stigma. Our hope was that these stories would help increase understanding and reduce stigma for the purpose of children’s mental health advocacy.

Along the way, it became clear that these stories were doing something else as well. Mothers were thanking us for the opportunity to be heard, telling us how transformative the experience was for them. We came to understand our project to be as much about healing as about advocacy, with storytelling being central to both.

We are proud of how far we have come in 2017!  This year we created a unique interview methodology that respects and empowers mothers. We recorded over 25 interviews (10 of which are already published as podcast episodes). We designed a website and gave several presentations (including at the Please Pass the Love Iowa Parents of Children with Behavioral Health Conference and the Black Women for Wellness Annual Reproductive Justice conference.) We also gave our first storytelling workshop at the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health Annual Conference.

It has been an incredible year! We have met amazing people, learned a lot, and are excited to be registered as an official non-profit public charity with 501(c)(3) tax status.

Won’t you become part of this movement? Your tax-deductible donation will help us make 2018 even better! Your donation will allow us to:

  • Offer new “Just Ask Mom” podcast episodes
  • Air our new Podcast series called “Ask the Advocate”, in which mental health advocates share their advocacy journey
  • Offer new Storytelling workshops that help mothers tell their stories
    • for healing and wellness
    • to advocate for their children’s needs
    • to advocate for positive change in children’s mental health policy and programming
    • to advocate for their needs as caregivers
  • Partner with Grinnell College to create an online story bank in the Digital Grinnell Archives, which can be used by advocates, scholars, and the public to better understand children’s mental health issues.
  • Train and provide mothers around the country with recording equipment to record interviews in their own communities, growing the number and diversity of stories for the Mothers on the Frontline podcast and archive.

Together, we can make a difference!
Our stories have the power to:

 heal

 help others know they are not alone

 beat stigma

inform policy

inspire action

Click here to make a tax-deductible donation

Asperger’s, Bullying, and Unsolicited Advice, Just Ask Mom Podcast Series, episode 9

In this episode, a mother shares her experience of the recent diagnosis of her son with Asperger’s Syndrome. She discusses the journey to the diagnosis and how well-meaning, but often misguided advice from family and friends can make this already difficult journey all the more painful. She discusses her son’s experiences being bullied in school and the pain of watching your child grow up without friends.

Transcription

Voice: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where mothers share their experiences of raising children with mental illness.  Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we will speak with a mother whose son was recently diagnosed with Aspergers.

Tammy: Tell us something about yourself.

Mother: That makes it really tough.

Tammy: I know.

Mother: Right? You think it’s all easy and then you are like…. I’m a middle age woman that is a mother of a single child. We’re on the path for a diagnosis of Asperger’s. This was a recent diagnosis, or process of a diagnosis, for us. It was a bit of a shocker. Prior to having my son, I nannied for 17 years, so I was around kids, help raise kids, manage kids. My son came along. Everything seemed fine, until now, when we really started to notice some differences and the fact that he is very routine-oriented. And just some of the changes that we’ve seen compared to the other kids. But this is tough.

Tammy: It’s tough.

Mother: Man.

Tammy: It is.

Mother: My favorite thing to do – technology. It is always something with a cell phone or the computer – a gadget of some sort. So, that is what I spend a lot of time doing, that and taking pictures.

Tammy: So that’s what you enjoy doing.

Mother: My son lives in front of the camera. Poor kid. I love him to death but.. he’s like, “Hey, you got that on my face again?”.

Tammy: It’s nice to share a passion, right?

Mother: It is.

Tammy: So that part is really good. So, you are going through this with your son. I want to know what you would like other family members to know. Who you know, because we have a lot of people out there who are going through this and they probably feel the same way. What, you are the one in the middle of it, what do you want family members who they mean very well but don’t- aren’t in the middle of it. What do you want them to know? What would you want to say to them?

Mother: So, let’s go back probably about seven months ago, when we hit a rough spot with our son, who had a day where he was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t function at all. And at that point I knew we needed to do something. We needed to figure out what was causing all the behavior and triggering this because he literally was just a body. His eyes were glassed over. He just would sit and cry. He couldn’t get dressed. The thought of going to school made him physically sick. This is a kid who up until this point loved school.

Tammy: Really?

Mother: That’s when I intervened and said, “Okay, you know, we got to do something”. After talking with family members– they were giving great suggestions, you know, trying to help —but we knew we weren’t on the right path. So we intervened with a therapist who has worked really hard with our son. With a suggestion of a friend I looked at what we felt potentially was Asperger’s and looking at our son knew that he had a lot of the same characteristics. A lot of the same things – looking back of course as a parent you feel really guilty. Because you didn’t see these things sooner but getting that groundwork work with that therapist helped me immensely sit down with my parents, with my in-laws, with my husband, with my siblings, and talk to them about what we’ve seen, what we see going forward, how we are going to try to approach things for him. Because it’s not easy. It’s very stressful. His stress is also my stress. And when he is worked up, then I can’t relax and it just throws the whole family dynamic off. Of course we got the “it’s because he is an only child? It’s because you are too hard on him. maybe if you did more with him. If you took him out and have him do more things he would be more social. That’s part of it. You are not exposing him to enough, you know? Are you sure that he’s on schedule that tight? Have you, you know, really sat back and watched?” Most definitely. The kid gets up in the morning. He has his specific clothes in mind before he gets out of bed. We lay there and talk for five minutes. He gets up. He gets dressed in a specific order. I have tried to change that up. It turns the world upside down. I’m just thinking, “Ok, so much as putting your socks on before your pants can’t be done”. But if in your mind that’s what you need, I’m fine with that. I’m okay. But until I tested that a couple of times, did I find out, right? I just thought, “Oh, it’s just him being particular about one thing”. But we have a certain routine with getting dressed. A certain way to put deodorant on. A certain way to put cologne on. We have to hit the bathroom at a certain time. We don’t do our hair, we make our hair.

Tammy: Really?

Mother: Yes, he makes his hair every morning. So, whatever style he has in his head, he makes it.

Tammy: I see.

Mother: I don’t understand where that comes from, but that’s ok. It’s not worth an argument over come at the end of the day. He eats the same food for breakfast every day until he is tired of it. He eats the same for lunch every day until he is tired of it. So, it’s very, very specific. We have to live this with him every day.

Tammy: Does he get very anxious if anything goes off his schedule?

Mother: Yes. It causes major issues. And he’ll start to fidget. Mostly he’ll either pick at his fingers or hands to try to calm himself. Compression shirts have made a huge difference for him.

Tammy: Wonderful.

Mother: Convincing him to wear them on the other hand was not easy. It took a lot of work but we’re there. It’s a safety blanket now so we don’t leave home without them.

Tammy:

Mother: I’ve invested in. I don’t know how many shirts we have in every color because for him his shirt has to match his pants. And his shirt and his socks have to match or we have an awful day. You cannot use black or blue as universal color. It is specific. It has too match. So it’s very, very tough. I never thought about this. We can do a whole series on shopping with an autistic child – it has to be a certain fabric, a certain color…

Mother: They have to fit a certain way.

Tammy: If you do it then that it’s going to help the child be well throughout the day.

Mother: Yes. It makes a huge difference. And for someone who doesn’t see this, for someone that’s not behind those closed doors on a daily basis, they can throw all kinds of great ideas out there to help you, but until they are in your shoes, they are not going to get the full picture. I would like to have more family members there to see how our days go. To give them more insight because until your hands on, you don’t get it. You see him as this spoiled child who’s throwing that temper tantrum because something, you know, to us seems so small that didn’t go right. But to them it’s significant. It’s hard for them to process it. And the lengthy talks that we have incorporated into everything that doesn’t go right to turn it into a lesson, and explain why things are going the way they are and try to help, navigate through so that they get it. It’s not easy finding the correct language to use so that you don’t frustrate them that much more. It causes a lot of stress on mom.

Tammy: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Mother: Because it’s a lot of trial and error, and with family you get stuck in the middle of that because you’re trying to do what’s best for your child. But yet, you are trying to get them to understand and you don’t want to offend anyone by not doing what they have suggested. But if you go back at them with any sort of evidence then they are upset. Even though they’re meaning well and trying to help, they are mad because you didn’t try it. And it’s just- you feel like you’re stuck in the middle of a cyclone. Because everything around you it’s just spinning so fast.

Tammy: But everyone else gets to conveniently leave the cyclone except for you and your son, right?

Mother: For sure. You’re exactly right. And it’s so crazy because when it comes down to it the more schedule oriented we are, the most smoothly things go, and the better days that he has. But if we are off task, it’s hard to get back on. I didn’t realize how hard that could be until I started reading and understanding what we are dealing with. And now it’s like a light bulb moment and to me it’s becoming second nature. When we took a trip over the weekend, to not come home is significant for him. He has his bed, a certain routine. We don’t mess with that very often. But when we do, we know it’s going to be bad. And so we talk about it for days. I have family that would say, “You’re treating him like a two-year old”. “You are talking about this way too much”. And I’ll say, “But we need to talk about it so that our trip goes better”. If I don’t, his behavior is going to be horrible. And I get the push back. “He’s 11, he knows better”. Theoretically, yes. But with what we are working on, it doesn’t click. It’s ok. We talk about it, we’ve got it all figured out. Just don’t mess with his routine and it will be ok. Once we get there, it’s fine. And he’ll have fun. But we have to work through that on a daily basis. We talk about his school schedule on the way to school every day because he has a couple of classes that change. It’s ok. If we don’t, he gets confused.

Tammy: So it’s very important for him to know what to expect. But if that’s expectation is disrupted, it’s very anxiety participating for him.

Mother: Oh, for sure, it’s definite. And it can through the entire day into depression. And come evening, after we do supper, and we shower, and we take our night time pills, and it’s time to brush the teeth and head to bed, don’t take mom out of the equation. If mom is not there to tuck him in, he will stay up until who knows when. It is horrible. I want to be home because I know if I’m not then he is not going to bed until I get there. I can even text. I can call and tell him goodnight, and he is still staying awake.

Tammy: That’s a lot of pressure because I think as a mom you expect that the first few years of life, right?

Mother: Yes. Yeah, you’re exactly right. You know, being a nanny. Not that I was there a lot for those kids –  I was on call 24 x 7, 365 because the family that I worked for had commitments that would pull them out at all hours of the day and night. I would go in early in the morning. I would be there late at night. I could put those kids to bed, right? Wasn’t a big deal. Or you can be like, “Ok, it’s 8:30 it’s time to go to bed”, and they go. Not with him. Oh no, you will be there, you will tuck me in. We talk about our day and then I’m going to sleep. Until then, it’s off the table. He will find any excuse possible to be up. And it’s so hard because then you’re confined to being home all the time or being with him all the time, in which case you never get a break.

Tammy: Right. And that backs up on us as moms?

Mother: Yeah.

Tammy: That affects our mental well being.

Mother: For sure.

Tammy: Because we need a break, right?

Mother: You need that break. You need that time away. Yeah you go to work in most cases.  Mom takes the kids to school and then she goes and that’s her eight hours or whatever of work. But you come home and there they are and they want to see you, and you want to see them. And so, that cycle continues. You don’t get that downtime, the time to process that you really need to so that you can stay healthy. Because it’s tough. The stress level. And of course, you start to adapt to it. But once you do, there’s a new challenge that comes your way. And then you are like, “Ok, how am I going to face this? How do we approach this?” You learn who you can lean on.

Tammy: Yeah, that’s true. You do know who your friends are, don’t you?

Mother: Yes, and you find out really quickly. Because you’ve got those friends that regardless of what you just find out, call you and say “Hey, how’s your day?”. You’ve got some family that do but really they are prying for information. They really don’t care – because they just want to know what the latest scoop is and what you find out, right?

Tammy: I see.

Mother: But I’ve got a really great friend who no matter what willl call and say “Hey, you know. I know you guys have supper schedule in 30 minutes, can we go for a quick walk?

Tammy: That’s wonderful. So you have a support system.

Mother: I do, but I’m learning that sometimes what’s convenient for her, it’s not convenient for me. And so, having to work on that because if I say, “Oh well, yes, supper is not for other 30 minutes”, “I’m leaving”. I’m sunk because now he’s home – which he’s fine being unattended for a day. I check in on him all the time. But I’ve walked in, I’ve talked to him. We’ve discussed few things. Maybe worked on homework. And now, I’m leaving. It does not go well. If I come home and I say, “Hey, I’m leaving in 30 minutes. Let’s get this, this and this done”. And then I’m going to go for a walk and I’ll be back. It’s ok.

Tammy: Because it’s all part of the plan.

Mother: Yes.

Tammy: So, spontaneity it’s sort of off the table.

Mother: Completely off the table. Whether it’s at any giving point, whether it’s changing– the beginning of the school year is always awful because the unknown in the schedule. The school year changing buildings was horrible. It took over a month to get squared away. And that was before the diagnosis, so we were clueless. And of course, I was extremely frustrated because I’m like, “Oh my goodness, man. It’s not that hard”. And now I’m like, “Oh, yeah it was”.

Tammy: It was that hard, yeah.

Mother: Because he’d smile, he’d go to school, he wouldn’t complain and now I’m thinking, “What was in his head? How is he getting through all this?” Because if that were me, I’d have been blown away. I would have been crawled up in a corner somewhere thinking, “I can’t do this”. And at his age, he went through it- I mean, yes, his behavior was a little rough. But all things considered, I was shocked.

Tammy: I think that’s something we don’t talk about enough is how incredible strong our kids are. They are managing and coping with so many things that other people can’t even see, including us, that are invisible to us.

Mother: Yes.

Tammy: And they are getting through it, and they are not getting kudos for that, right?

Mother: And that’s what I talked to a teacher about. You know, when we’ve talked about things- and kids in general-  when they are doing well, they need to know they are doing well. It’s not just that bad behavior. It can’t just be that because when they start to predict that they are that bad kid. And that their bad behavior  – no one wants to be around them. And nobody wants that.

Tammy: No, no.

Mother: You know, we’ve talked to our son about it– he has no friends.

Tammy: That’s one of the hardest parts, isn’t it? Just saying that, yeah, that’s very hard.

Mother: So in the meetings with the teachers, in the meeting with the family, I’m like, “Can you guys name who he hangs out with?”  They are usually like, “No, I guess we never paid attention.”  My family is like, “Well, I guess we’ve not really noticed that.”  Come birthday parties —  he doesn’t get invited. You know, come time for his birthday party, nobody shows up. Which…

Tammy: …it’s heartbreaking.

Mother: It is. And when it comes down to it, he doesn’t have that buddy that he wants have over on the weekend or someone who will hang out with and play video games or any of that. To see that and to talk to him about that is tough because he doesn’t see that other kids have this going on. In his mind, he’ll tell you he is friends with everyone because he’ll speak to everyone and everyone speaks to him. The response he gets may not be a friendly response, but in his mind, “Hey, they talk to me”.

Tammy: Does that worry you in terms of him being teased or bullied?

Mother: Yes, because it’s happened already.

Tammy: So, he thinks someone is being his friend but they are actually not treating him well?

Mother: Yes. Perfect example of that it would have been late fall. He was riding the bus. And he could tell the name of this other student that he walked to a corner with and the student went one way and he went another to come home. And it was just like casual talk about this person who were there. But then at one point I tried- I texted him, to see what was taking him so long to get home because I’ve got the alerts that it go off when he gets within so many feet of the house so that I know he’s home. So for my peace of mind I can rest a bit. You know? And he wasn’t getting home on time. And so, I texted his phone and I said, “Hey, can you tell me why you are running late?” And I got a really weird response back. Not a normal response from my child. So, I picked up the phone and I called. And someone answered it but there was no hello really quickly on the other end of the phone. And once he got on the phone I said, “What is going on?” And he’s like, Oh, well, so-and-so had my phone. And I said, “We’ll discuss this when you get home, but I’m going to keep talking to you until you walk the other way, and I know that you are home. And when I get home, we’ll talk”. When I got home that night, we talked about it. He said “when I got my phone out of my bag pack like I always do every day and I unlocked it and she reached over and took it from me.” And he is like, “Mom, I don’t understand why you are mad. She was just joking”. [I said] “No, that’s not a joking behavior”. I said, “What were you told at school?”. “Oh, yeah, we’re not supposed to touch other people’s property”. And I said, “Is your phone your property?”. “Yeah”. I said, “See? That is not acceptable behavior. What else has she done to you?” Feel free to tell me. I need to know these things so that we can take care of you. Of course she was shoving and picking on him. I said, “Can you explain to me how or why you think that she is your friend? He said, “But we talk”. “No buddy, that doesn’t make anyone your friend. A friend is going to stick up for you. A friend is going to be there when you are having a bad day to cheer you up. Shoving someone around, calling you names, taking your phone, that is not acceptable behavior”. But we are also talking about a child who got kicked in the groin in the kindergarten and has permanent damage from it.

Tammy: Oh, poor guy.

Mother: When that happened, we weren’t told.

Tammy: Really?

Mother: Not at all. We brought him home. I brought him from home school that day. Nothing was said. There was nothing in the bag pack. No phone call, no email. I went to put him in the tub that night and his whole groin area was black and blue.

Tammy: Oh, the poor guy.

Mother: So, of course, that result in mom being, “what happened to you?” And by the way, dad needs to come check you out because that’s totally awkward for mom to do it.

Tammy: Was he able to explain what happened?

Mother: He told me that another child was holding the door open when they were walking in from recess and the other child decided to kick him.

Tammy: But he didn’t think to tell anyone?

Mother: He told the teacher who said, “You’ll be ok”, and told the other student to settle down. He wasn’t sent to the office and I said, “I understand you all can’t check his groin. I get that. But a phone call so that I could have come to check him out.

Tammy: Make sure he is ok.

Mother: Or the offer of an ice pack would have been nice, but instead we find it at 8 o’clock at night when we are putting him to bed.

Mother: He went to the doctor the next day. He has a testicle that’s lodged up inside from this.

Tammy: How old was he at the time?

Mother: Six.

Tammy: Oh goodness.

Mother: To make matters worse, for three months twice a day I had to try to manually move that.

Tammy: Oh, poor kid.

Mother: How awkward for him and I both, right?

Tammy: Oh, absolutely.

Mother: When the other child- they called that child’s parents. It was, “Well, I know that sounds bad but, he’s like, what did he do to deserve it?”. That’s what was said back to us. So he’d had issues and again. He thought that kid was his friend. I was just thinking, “Buddy, you deserve so much better than this”. You’re such a good kid.

Tammy: That’s hard. So, we ask everybody at this moment, right now, do you feel like you’re swimming, draining water, drowning, what do you feel like you are at?

Mother: Treading water. We’re- we’re getting there. Two weeks ago I would say we were sinking immensely. Um, we’ve come a little bit- we’re getting a little ground. So I can ease up a bit but as summer’s coming, I’ll be drowning here soon.

Tammy: Yeah. Summer is tough.

Mother: It is. And trying to figure it all out for them.

Tammy: What do you do then? Like, what’s your self-care routine or if more relevant, what do you to survive those tough times?

Mother: I turn a lot to my camera. Whether it’s loading up my son and we go to a sporting event and I know it’s something that he will want to watch, and I’ll take pictures. And then I can go home and be on the computer and edit those. Just kind of not really completely shut everything out but be in that bubble. And just focus on the task at hand and not have to worry quite as much. It helps immensely.

Tammy: That sounds great. So, through all of this, what do you think has been your most laughable moment?

Mother: I know this sounds really bad, but watching my son talk to his therapist and get a full idea on his diagnosis, because he himself grasps it now. And he laughs at what we see and so we can laugh with him over it. Because it was so stressful to even get him to go to the therapist. And now he’s comfortable there. He knows that what we are working on it’s not a life-threatening thing. And he can joke with us about things like that now which eases family tensions so much. I know that’s a tough thing to really have us a laughable moment. But come the end of the day it’s made things so much easier for all of us that he’s taking us with this with a grain of salt. He laughs, he jokes, and he understands what’s going on. Taking him to the doctor was another good one. The poor kid had four shots.I laugh as I’m holding him.

Tammy: Right. Every mom, every dad can relate to this. No one likes their shots.

Mother: No. And we’re- we’re strategizing right? Like, “Okay, don’t look. Look at mom. Mom is across the table. Don’t watch the nurse”. You know? And he’s screaming at the top of his lungs. We’re thinking, “Come on, it’s okay. You’ve got four of them, it won’t take long”. And he watched the first shot and he’s like, “Wow, what’s the big deal here?”. He’s like, “That didn’t hurt”. We could let go. And he laid there.

Tammy: And it was nothing.

Mother: No, it was nothing. He is like, “No big deal”.

Tammy: That’s great, that’s great.

Mother: So, he provides a lot of laughable moments for us.

Tammy: Yeah. Well, that’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

Mother: Well, thank you.

Voice: You have been listening to “Just Ask Mom”, recorded and copyrighted in 2017 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is “Olde English” written, performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to MothersOnTheFronline.com.

 

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder and what a good day looks like. Just Ask Mom Podcast Series, episode 8

In this episode, we speak with a mother of three. Her eldest son has Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD). She discusses how the condition affects the family dynamic and what a good day looks like.

Transcription

Voice: Welcome to the Just Ask Mom podcast where parents share their experiences of mothering children with mental illness.  Just Ask Mom is a Mothers on the Frontline production. Today we speak with a mother of three. Her eldest son has Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD).

Tammy: So why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?

Mother: I have 3 kids, 3 boys, ages 1 to 12. My oldest son has a mental health diagnosis. He’s right now diagnosed with the DMDD. Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. He was severely violent, had to be removed from the home for a total of about a year and 8 months, 2 different placements. Now he’s in the home, he’s non-violent for the most part but I have worked and then trained to restrain him, if need be. And I also went to school and have my Bachelor’s degree in Human Services. I switched to human services because of him.

Tammy: Very good. So, before we start, I’m going to ask you to tell us a little bit about yourself before or beyond mothering?

Mother: Well, before mothering, I was a teenager. So there wasn’t a whole lot going on. But it wasn’t until recently that I started to decide that other than mothering, I needed some hobbies. Most of my time was just spent mothering. So, I decided to help with just giving myself something to do other than the kids. I’m really into running. But I don’t like running in the cold. So then I had to figure out something to do outside of running to really get rid some of my stress so, then decide to start painting and like kind like those wine and canvasses people go to. But I don’t drink, so I find them on YouTube and I do them at home. And so, for about their hour worth of work it takes me about 3, but I do the paintings at home.

Tammy: Oh fun.

Mother: And so I really like [it]. I do painting and running.

Tammy: Very nice. So, I want to ask you to pretend you’re talking to your coworkers, right? What would you want them to know about your experiences as a mom?

Mother: Just how much time and effort it puts in, not with just my mental health son but all of my children and that trying to balance, making sure all the kids have the attention they need. I don’t think anyone realizes outside of our household really what it takes to raise a child with mental health needs. What a typical night looks like in our house, it’s not just having fun and getting through homework, it’s a very regimen routine. We have to stay very on top of our routine, we can’t just fly by the seat of our pants. Everything is very much — 3 out of 5 nights during the week we have appointments. The other nights are ball practices. Everything is laid out on calendars. We can’t go off of the routine otherwise we spend the whole night with a kid that’s having a meltdown because we went off of a routine and he didn’t expect that. It’s a very much different type of household and very much a different type of atmosphere having a household where there’s somebody that, you know, has a mentality of a 4-year-old and he’s 12.

Tammy: How do you keep that schedule because a household is not an institution, things happen — like you have to cook dinner and so on. How do you try to maintain the schedule? Can you give examples of how it’s hard to do that at times?

Mother: It is extremely hard to do. It means a lot of times where I’m one-on-one with my son and we both are left out of doing things as a family. On a lot of times, it’s just me and my oldest son. We’re together if he’s having a rough day– it’s me and him having a rough day together. It’s me and him that are together all of the time. Luckily, I am blessed with having an employer, and it’s taken me 12 years to find an employer that completely understands. I work for a school district where the principal came from a large school district and he understands mental health and he allows me to be home when my son needs me to be home because we don’t want my son not to make it through this. And so when my son can’t get out of bed and can’t make it to school, I’m allowed to stay home. But me and my son are very much left out of the rest of the family. My 16-month-old son, him and my husband and my other son go and do a lot without us if my oldest can’t go. And that’s terrible and that’s–it’s very sad, I don’t mind it so much and people, “Oh, poor you.” [but] I’ve lived my childhood, it’s not poor me, it’s too bad for my 12-year-old, it’s very heartbreaking for him. I don’t care what I miss out on, I care that my son can’t live a normal childhood. It’s heartbreaking for him. it doesn’t matter what I miss out on.  I just wish he could have a childhood and that’s where it hurts the most is to see him suffer and to see he can’t get out of bed because it’s Friday and I don’t even know most time why he can’t get out of bed and the voices in his head are mad at him that day and they’re telling him that he’s going to get hurt at school when he knows he’s not going to. That doesn’t make sense to most people.

Tammy: I think it’s hard to see any of your kids suffer in any way and this is particularly difficult, right?

Mother: Yeah. And I cut his chicken wrong, so now he has to go bed for the night, I mean, that’s…what?

Tammy: Do feel like you’re walking on eggshells sometimes?

Mother: All the time. All the time, and really you just can’t get mad at him for it because he can’t control it. You just have to let it go and be like, “Okay, well, that’s how our nights going to go.” Like, alright, cool.

Tammy: So, right now where would you say you are? Do you feel like you’re swimming, drowning, or treading water at this moment? Because for many of us, it differs from moment to moment.

Mother: It does, I feel like everything’s hour by hour. Monday, he didn’t make it to school but today’s Wednesday and so I feel he’s at school and I–so I’m treading water. Meds are doing okay, we’ve made it to everything today and I haven’t gotten a call, so I’m treading water pretty good.

Tammy: That’s a good day.

Mother: That’s a good day.

Tammy: That’s a good day.

Mother: He’s at school and I’m doing what I want to do so it’s a good day.

Tammy: That’s awesome. So, what’s your self-care routine or if more appropriate, survival technique?

Mother: Survival technique would be to know when to walk away. I’m not a single mother doing this–know when to tap out with my husband. If my son is getting– he doesn’t get physically aggressive anymore but verbally aggressive — it’s to know when I’m getting verbally aggressive back or when I feel like I’m getting upset. It’s to know when to tap out with my husband. Or even to listen to my husband when he’s like, “You need to stop and you need to walk away. You need a break.” So that’s my survival technique. Self-care is just to take time for myself. It was my 30th birthday recently and my best friend made me take the day off and we went to the mall not to shop but to do like get our nails done and to get the 5-minute massage. That sort of thing. I’s just taking time for yourself.

Tammy: That’s so important. What do you think is your most laughable moment?

Mother: I couldn’t think of a most laughable moment but it’s just finding something to laugh at. Because every day there’s something funny to laugh at and everybody gets so stressed out. It’s just always finding something funny for the day.

Tammy: Wonderful, is there anything else you’d like people to know?

Mother: I don’t think so. It’s just about reaching out to someone. Somebody’s going through something and just making sure — everybody’s having a hard time and there’s always someone having a bad day. So if someone treats you like crap, you know, just realize they’re going through something.

Tammy: That’s a great advice. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

Mother: Yes, thank you.

Voice: You have been listening to “Just Ask Mom”, recorded and copyrighted in 2017 by Mothers on the Frontline. Today’s podcast host was Tammy Nyden. The music is “Olde English” written, performed, and recorded by FlameEmoji. For more podcasts in this and other series relating to children’s mental health, go to MothersOnTheFronline.com.

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