Parenting Series: Child of Mine

Jack 2003As a school counselor working with parents who walk the path Amy Mitchell has with her son, it’s my privilege to share  her heart and journey.

By Amy Mitchell – http://unchainedfaith.com

You know that moment when you’re pregnant, and you imagine what it will be like when the baby is born?  Maybe you picture yourself just like the women in magazine ads: You, showered and dressed with your makeup on, holding your adorable, little sweetheart while she dreams in your arms.  Maybe you see other moms, at church or in the mall, feeding contented little bundles of joy until they drift off to sleep.  Maybe you remember what it was like when your sister gave birth last year to a baby who settled easily and seemed happy and calm most of the time.

Jack and mom 2003That was me.  And then reality happened.

My baby was born, and I wondered where on God’s green Earth this child came from.  Unlike all those perfect babies in the magazines, the mall, and my grandmother’s house at Christmas, my baby never seemed to sleep right.  My baby was fussy and cried all the time.  My baby was only happy if we were walking and rocking, and even refused a baby carrier or sling.

My baby wasn’t perfect.

Even so, I thought that it would pass.  Well-meaning mom friends told me it would get easier once he was past this stage or that stage.  I watched other babies grow into toddlers and preschoolers and school-age children.  I observed them coming out of each stage and transitioning to the next one with ease.  I thought, This won’t be so bad.

Except that my child was one challenge after the next.

Mine was the one who was labeled “busy” as a baby and a toddler—the one who got into anything and everything.  Mine was the one who scaled the baby gate and dropped into the bathroom headfirst, only to pop up grinning at me after he tumbled over the other side.  Mine was the one who learned to crawl at six and a half months.  Mine was the one who climbed the outside of the tube slide at the playground to choruses from other parents to stop.  Mine was the one who went to the hospital with an arm injury from swinging himself off the chin-up bar.

My child had more energy than I—or he—knew what to do with.

And yet, I still thought that he’d grow out of it.  I homeschooled him for a while, hoping that he would “settle down” in a couple of years.  I found ways to wear him out so that maybe he’d play quietly for a bit while I made dinner or read a book to his younger sister.  I sent him outside when I finally needed a break.

He still hadn’t become easy to manage.

I sent him to school at last, because he has this intense drive to be around other people all the time.  All of the rest of us in our family are introverts, but my son is not.  I thought that giving him a broader social scene would enrich him.  It did, but he also had trouble sitting still and paying attention.

It wasn’t really all that different from what I’d seen at home.

When a teacher finally suggested that he had needs beyond her scope and recommended that we have him checked by a professional, we agreed.  We didn’t have any other ideas about how to help him.  What could it hurt?

It turned out he has ADHD.

I wasn’t surprised, really.  I thought, Well, he came out of the womb that way.  We worked with the school, the therapist, and the other members of the family.  We did what we needed to for him to be confident and Jack 2012successful.  We prayed that it would get easier (we’re still waiting).

And then one day it hit me.

My son may use his brain a little differently.  He may have the energy of ten children plus two.  He may drive me up the wall with all the times he leaves a mitten or a homework assignment or his shoes at school.  He may speak without thinking or act without warning.

But I love him that way.

I wouldn’t want him to be a different child.  I like that he is a dancer and a saxophone player good enough to join the jazz band a year ahead of his peers.  I like that he reads anything he can get his hands on and makes up his own comic books about characters called Dorito the Triangle and Bob the Marshmallow.  I have fun losing to him at Mario Kart.  I love the joy in his eyes at every new discovery he makes.

Being his mom makes me feel like the most blessed woman in the world.  I wouldn’t change a single moment.

Jack and mom 2013

Amy is a homeschooling mom from western New York State.  She is a family woman, feminist, progressive Christian, reader, writer, and nerd.  In order to have the energy her son has, she needs at least three cups of coffee a day.  You can find her on her blog, http://unchainedfaith.com or follow her on Twitter, @amyunchained, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/UnchainedFaith

Tanya’s Story: A Response

Today I’m posting at She Stands.  Stop for a heart check!

If you didn’t read Tanya’s inspiring story posted this weekend, read it here.  It’s a beautiful story of hope and redemption after a life of child abuse and rejection.  If it touches you, feel free to share that with her here

As a counselor for elementary students, former teacher, and a professional counselor, here’s a note in response to Tanya’s story of abuse.

A reader commented they realized how sheltered their life has been.  This comment could come from many, many people. When it comes to abuse there seems to be two camps:  those who experience it and those who are unaware of it. As a reader, you fit into one of those categories.   Those who are unaware of it, it’s with you I share my heart.

Schoolboy Struggling with Math ProblemsAs I read Tanya’s story, I see a young girl, boy or teenager in a classroom.  I see them in a desk, trying to master angles of an isosceles triangle.  I see them lashing out or standing in the corner by themselves at recess.  I see them trying to listen to a classroom teacher when their mind keeps going back to the night before.  This is a child you know.

Statistics say one out of every four women will be sexually abused or assaulted some time in their lifetime.  Statistics for men are anywhere from one in seven to one in five.  Statistics would be higher if all incidences were reported.  Most of them are not.  As a professional working with people in a counseling relationship, the disclosure of childhood sexual or physical abuse is common.  Too common.  Adults have the capacity to work through the damage from childhood.  But each adult was once a child.  A child you know.

Each one of us lives in community with others.  But I wonder how many of us live in “the bubble.”  The sheltered-life bubble.  You may not work in a school like I do, but you interact with people.  You’re in a work setting, a church sanctuary, a check out line at Walmart. Where ever you are, there is one in four or one in five who have been, currently are, or will be abused.   It’s around us.  It knows no boundaries.  Gender, socioeconomic level, education, religion or race does not determine where abuse happens.  If you think it does, you’re deceiving yourself.

I want you to do more than read Tanya’s story and say you’re inspired.  I want you to see people, to hear people, to reach out when someone shares their past with you.  If a child discloses they are being harmed by someone, legally and ethically you have a responsibility to report it.  Don’t be afraid of this. For more information, click here.  A great advocacy site for children can be found here.

For those of you who have people in your lives who’ve been abused, don’t shrink back.  For male survivors, Cec Murphy has a wonderful ministry both for men and those who love them.  Visit his ministry here.  For women, feel free to reach out to Tanya or other sexual assault agencies nationally or in your community.

Abuse is complicated because it usually involves family members or friends.  It’s usually not the creepy guy hanging around the mini-mart.  You need know this.

Life is not simple.

We are called to be givers of life and hope in the darkness.

Pop the bubble.

 Reach Out. Listen.

A person you know needs you.

Fear, Security, And Stereotypes

Recently my daughter and I traveled to an East Coast city to look at an internship site she is considering for next summer.  We’ve never been to this city.  We booked a B&B, made arrangements to meet with a mutual friend, and off we went.

I was marked by the experiences we gathered in that twenty-four hour period.  She’ll be interning at a small local charity that ministers to refugees.  In the ninety minutes we were there, we interacted with individuals and families from MP900227710the Congo, Iraq, Nepal, Thailand, and others who, we were instructed, did not know their true nationalities because they have been in so many refugee camps before arriving in the United States.

Each person was at home in this neighborhood ministry.  The ministry provides their clients assistance with food, clothing, and childcare while learning the English language.  In the face of each person I saw my immigrant grandparents.  In the face of the director and her assistant, and soon my daughter, I saw my social hero, Jane Addams.

When my grandmother came to America in 1930, she did not know anyone but my grandfather, of whom she had been Maria Quaranta Lazzaraseparated since 1924.  He came to the United States by himself, leaving his wife and infant children behind.  Both only knew his brother and wife.   When Maria Lazzara came, she left her family and village behind.  She didn’t know the language.  My father remembers going to citizenship classes with her as a small child.  This summer, her great-granddaughter will be teaching English to immigrant refugees.  Full circle, by God’s creative grace.

While we were also on this trip, we worshiped in an inner-city Latino church, attending both their Christmas program and Sunday morning worship.  Though Baby Girl is fluent in Spanish, I am not.  But I didn’t need to be.  I was moved by the joy, the music, the facial expressions of those around me.  I didn’t need a translator.  These individuals loved Christ with their entire being.  I was blessed.

We walked through different neighborhoods.  According to the news, these streets are dangerous.  But as one person said, “They are just regular people going about their lives, going to their jobs, raising their families.”  Good counsel. MC900434912

That same weekend, a place I’m most familiar with experienced heinous violence.  “Just regular people, going about their lives, doing their jobs, raising their families.”  Now, according to the news, the school environment is considered dangerous.

Baby Girl left for Guatemala this weekend.   She’s returning to a place on a mountain that captured her heart this summer.  This time, she will be entering the jungles to translate for medical teams, near villages where drug wars broke out this summer.  Just regular people, going about their lives, doing their jobs, raising their families. 

I hear a lot about stereotypes, fear, and keeping safe these days. If I submitted myself to stereotypes and fears, I would shrink back from encouraging BG to pursue these experiences.   It’s challenging to step outside comfort zones to engage with people and cultures we’re not familiar with.   It’s scary to step into places where dangerous things happen.

But in 2013, where does danger lurk?   What is security these days, where does it lie?

MP900403070For me, danger does not reside with people holding weapons, and neither does security.  Security comes when we get to know one another, when we look into each other’s eyes, seeking to understand each other.  Fear builds when we add another “group” to be afraid of.   In our reach for more security, I’m afraid we’re reaching for more fear.

Mom, anywhere I go, it’ll be dangerous.  I feel safe” she says.

A challenging statement.  Everyday I drive my car, not knowing with whom I’m interacting with on the roads.   It’s potentially dangerous, yet I feel safe.

  A paradox.

Yet, it’s not.  I know in whom my security lies.  It’s my Heavenly Father of whom gives peace in the midst of pain, trouble, and danger. In Him lies my hope, my rest, and trust.

“Perfect love casts out all fear.”   1 John 4:18

I don’t fear death.  But I don’t want to fear life.

  In between, the challenge is finding and receiving peace.

Please, Stop

I’m a teacher. a counselor in an elementary school. a parent.

Please stop.

Kids in classrooms witness violence in their homes.

Please stop.

Kids play shooting games for entertainment.

Please stop.

Kids have anger they don’t know what to do with.

Please stop.

Kids hurt.

Teens hurt.

Parents hurt.

Why is everyone hurting?

Please stop the hurt.

We go to movies and get shot.

We go shopping and get shot.

We go to school and get shot.

Please stop.

Please look at children – in their eyes.

Please listen to them. What he’s saying is important.

Please read to them. It feeds the heart and soul.

Please don’t get self-medicate. He’s watching.

Please don’t spew venomous words. She hears them.

Please don’t let retaliation and violence be an option. He learns from you.

The time is now.

We have all the luxury the world offers in this country.

And yet we are poor.

Please stop the pain.