Friday, July 13, 2012

Flashback Friday: Bliss-filled Days

from Small Portion of a Life's Journey, September 2010:

"Oh, I am so sorry!" seems to be the phrase of this week... now that I've decided to reply to the popular-to-Norfolk comments of, "Poor baby, he's so sleepy!" or, "Mommy, you should have brought toys for him! He looks bored." Now I'm able to offer a smile and assurance that Brayden is actually perfectly content, just working hard to keep it together :) as he slumps a bit in his stroller, leans his head on my shoulder, or flutters his eyes as he tries to focus on a face.... the smile he offers up, helps with my offer for assurance.

I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me or Brayden, or offer up their sympathies. My days are amazing, and most of my frustrations are actually least of all caused by anything having to do with Brayden himself. Aside from the rare occasion when he is just not receiving of my efforts to console him, he is happy and smiling and a pleasure to spend my days with. It is a constant reminder that there is nothing worth feeling pity over, or spending another second worrying about... because despite being diagnosed with hydranencephaly, Brayden is clueless that there is anything wrong in the world... because his world is a happy one, and he is more than happy to share his world with the rest of ours if we would only recognize that.

The article I'm sharing has been floating around Facebook, mostly amongst families who are on this journey with an extra special little one...since we are likely the only ones who can imagine feeling the same as this mother. It's refreshing to know that we all feel the same or similar, that despite the never-ending obstacles and battles left to fight, we wouldn't have them any other way.

Profoundly disabled: 'We wouldn't have her any other way'
Rebecca Elliott has become used to the pitying looks her profoundly disabled daughter attracts. But to her parents – and her little brother – Clemmie is perfect.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

I'm lying next to my little girl, looking into her wide eyes while she smiles that random serene smile, and holds my hand tighter than tight. She is utterly happy; she wants for nothing; she doesn't complain; she's not selfish or jealous or needy: she's just content and perfect and loved. Time like this with Clemmie should be available on the NHS – it is the most glorious therapy.

My five-year-old daughter Clementine is profoundly mentally and physically disabled. Life with Clemmie is, however, not the classic tear-jerking tale of trauma and tragedy through which, as her parents, we plough on because that is our lot. I absolutely love being the parent of a disabled child. Since having Clemmie I've been let in on a little-known secret: profoundly disabled people are awesome.

Believe me I could rant with the best of them about the hardships involved in bringing up a child with a disability – the discrimination, lack of social care, funding, respite and support; and it's incredibly important that these issues are brought to the fore. But these are not negative things about Clemmie – they are negative things about the way our society deals with her. Clemmie herself is not a negative. As with any child, there are ups and downs, good days and not-so-good days, and she has acquired an assortment of health issues. But she is also great company – a pure joy to be around – and very positively touches the hearts of anyone who spends time with her.

Children can see it. They are free from prejudice and have a natural curiosity and acceptance of all things different. This morning, out walking with Clemmie, other children smiled at us, said to their friends, "Did you see that girl?" One girl asked to hold her hand. In contrast, any adults we pass for the most part try desperately not to look our way, stare with frowning faces when they think we cannot see, and, if our eyes happen to meet, give the old teeth-sucking smile – the one that says "I'm so sorry". I appreciate their compassion, but what happens to us that turns our eager childhood acceptance of difference and disability into awkward pity and unease?

In this cynical, meritocratic world we have become fixated with milestone-reaching, SATs testing and parental one-upmanship. We are also taught that success and achievement are the things that gives us our worth, that possessions and measurable accomplishments bring us happiness. Unsurprisingly, if severely disabled children are mentioned at all in mainstream media it is invariably in the context of that bitter-sweet tale of parents coping and ploughing on despite it all. If disabled children ever appear in children's books it is usually in a "conquering all odds" way: "Yes he may be disabled and that's sad but look – little Jimmy's joining in anyway! He's normal after all!" It's the idea that a person's worth depends on their ability to perform in at least one sphere of their lives. Hence television programmes such as Autistic Superstars, featuring enormously talented children with autism displaying their skills. The audience can cope with this, even see it as uplifting, because the children have a saving grace, as it were; they can contribute, they can achieve.

Profoundly disabled people, on the other hand, we don't really know what to make of. There is no achievement, no normality – it's just all too hideously depressing to contemplate. We don't even know how to comfort the poor parents. There's always the classic "Well, you just don't know how much she's aware of – just look at Stephen Hawking!" line – to which I respond, "Stephen Hawking has profound physical disabilities but not mental disabilities. My daughter, on the other hand, was born with catastrophic brain damage with most of her cerebral hemispheres destroyed and replaced with fluid-filled cysts. It's unlikely that she understands much at all." This admittedly unrelenting reply, although said with a smile, often leaves the poor person floundering around desperately trying to think of some other kind of message of hope for our unfortunate family.

Not everyone is so nervous around disability, of course. On that same walk with Clemmie one woman asked what condition my daughter had, stroked her hair and told her she was gorgeous. The woman told me she used to work with disabled children. Ahh, now it's clear – she knows what the others don't; she's in on the secret. She knows that the profoundly disabled can change your life and whole world view not through achievement, not by doing, but just by being.

My husband Matthew and I were just as unaware of this secret five years ago when, after a perfect pregnancy, Clementine was born via an emergency Caesarian at the end of a hellishly long and unfruitful labor, and her limp and silent body was whisked away to the special care baby unit. The following fortnight was a blur; waiting for her to wake up, thinking we were going to lose her, being shipped around from hospital to hospital. Eventually, we brought her home, a bit shell-shocked but overwhelmingly happy that our beautiful little girl had made what seemed to be a miraculous recovery. It soon became clear, however, that she was not developing at all as she should, and at five months old she had an MRI brain scan. The neurologist told us that Clemmie had profound brain damage, and that in fact he had only ever seen one other case this severe in 25 years.

A shocking and heartbreaking discovery, of course, but, after we found out the full extent of Clemmie's disabilities it was easier to come to terms with, and rather than making us love her any less, if anything we loved her more. We started to enjoy Clemmie for who she is, rather than mourn the loss of who she might have been, and I can honestly say we wouldn't have her any other way. She is perfect. She's our fabulous, funny, curly-haired little girl who does nothing and is perfect just because of her uniqueness.

It is this celebration of difference, of life being better because of the existence of children with disabilities, of my little girl being perfect because of her disabilities – not in spite of them – that we so rarely hear about. 

Scope's marvellous In The Picture campaign was set up to encourage children's picture- book writers and illustrators to include more disabled characters in their work. While this has admirably set the ball rolling in the right direction, it seems that severely mentally and physically disabled children are still almost entirely unrepresented. Part of the reason may be that it is seen as a difficult area to wander into for an author or illustrator who has no first-hand experiences of such disability – there is a fear of offending and a trepidation about entering unknown territory.

I have been an author/illustrator of children's books for eight years and, having no such fear of offending, set about writing a picture book starring my profoundly disabled little girl. It also features my son Toby, aged two. The way Toby interacts with his big sister is naturally so joyful, so heart-warming, so interesting and so hilarious that the book just wrote itself. It starts "My big sister Clemmie is my best friend – she can't walk, talk, move around much, cook macaroni, pilot a plane, juggle or do algebra. I don't know why she doesn't do these things. Just Because." After that, Toby gives us his reasons why he believes Clemmie is the best sister ever; she's not mean like other sisters can be, she's a lot like a princess as they don't have to do a lot either, just sit and look pretty, she has enormous hair and she has an excellent wheelchair on which they recently travelled to the moon (although they did not visit Jupiter as well, just because).

First and foremost I just wanted to write a great picture book – the kind of book that inspires children to demand "Read it again" at the end – not make some grand political statement. By writing an entirely positive picture book which will perhaps have some effect on opening up the secret, wonderful world of the profoundly disabled to a bigger audience, I also wanted to nurture that unprejudiced acceptance present in all children.

I also didn't write the book to preach some moral message but I think it does subtly convey the idea that our worth is not in doing – in achieving, acquiring and winning, but rather in being. Clemmie proves to me that you don't have to do anything, to achieve anything, indeed to walk, or talk or dance or sing in order to be utterly perfect, enchanting and loved.

"Just Because" is the book by Rebecca Elliott. To order this book, go to

How to respond to a disabled child:

* Don't be scared to look – it's human nature to glance, but don't stand and stare if you feel uncomfortable or shocked.

* Don't be afraid to ask questions. Try to act as you would with any another child. Rather than looking away, pointing, or ignoring a child with disabilities, engage them even if you don't know how they will respond.

* Don't presume the adult with the child is a carer – it's more likely to be the parent.

* Don't feel embarrassed if your child asks questions. In general, children don't understand disabilities. They don't have preconceived ideas about what is considered "normal", and they're unlikely to offend.

* Offer help and open doors. It's really helpful and not patronising to hold a door open for somebody pushing a wheelchair.

Perfect as is... just as Brayden.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Merchandise Package Specials

*click HERE to order yours today! 

$35: 1 tote, 1 mug & 2 silicone bracelets

$20: toddler tee, tote bag, 2 silicone bracelets & 2 window clings

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bee-ography Monday

So, as our bee-ography availability has dwindled to a minimum... we have started to focus a bit on our bee-sibs. The brothers, sisters, and other little people in the lives of our little loves with hydranencephaly. We started with a coloring contest (the larger photos are our 3 winners from 3 different age groups):

And now are focused on our HUGE sibling book project that we need your help in making successful! 

The story goes like this (featuring little sister, complete with wheels):

Bennett Buzz-Bee's Little Sister

Bennett's family just brought home a new baby.
She is a very special baby. The doctor gave her a funny word "hydranencephaly".
Bennett thinks she's funny too!
He helps his parents take care of his little sister.
Bennett is very glad to be a big brother.

Then the question:
"How do YOU feel about your brother or sister with hydranencephaly?"

...for the siblings to answer in their own words! For those who are too young to write, parents can help write but we ask that they simply dictate their child's exact response to the question in order to recognize the value our little bees have on the other littlest ones in the family.

The story also includes coloring book pages for the sibling to color and share, older siblings can simply submit their answer to the question. 

Responses can be snail-mailed (for best quality in the reproduction process) to:

Devoney Wolfe
444 Duvall Courts
Twin Falls, ID 83301

...and include a self addressed stamped envelope if you'd like your copies returned to you. 

The compilation of stories will be published and bound, with a goal of making the book available for purchase in time for the holidays... but we need everyone's help to make this project as beautiful as we envision it to be. What a lovely sentiment to the lives our little bees share with everyone they know & love.

To download the book for your little ones to submit, visit our website or click HERE to access the pdf.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bee-worthy Share

A new blogger "friend" who has just the right words, just at the right two separate, yet oh so perfect, posts. Thank you to the mommy, AKA "Green Eyed Monster Mommy (GEMM)" at The Crack and the Light! Please visit her blog... and read more of her amazingly perfect words :)

An Open Letter to All Professionals.

New teacher, or therapist, or doctor? Is that you?
Oh hello…
I just wanted to chat with you a second. To caution you. Or warn you.
Please, tread carefully.

You see, what you might not realize as you look at me, talk to me, tell me your opinions, our options, our lack of options, and your predictions of our outcomes is that; well… you see that heart?

The slightly broken, definitely bruised one?

Yeah, that’s my heart.

My slightly-broken, definitely-bruised heart.

Now, I realize that as you look at me you might see…a confident parent… or an angry parent…or a happy-go-lucky parent…

You might think that I understand everything… or nothing…… or that I have all the experience in the world because I have done this before… or that I know the rules… or that I don’t know the rules and that is for the best….

You might believe… that I am high maintenance… or overreacting… or maybe neurotic… or disengaged and uninterested… or that I don’t really care… or maybe I care too much…

But regardless of what you see, what you think, or what you believe, this is what you should know:

I am broken-hearted. And it doesn’t matter if it is the first day or a century later. It doesn’t matter where in the “grief cycle” I might be. It doesn’t matter if the wounds are healed, or healing, or fresh and new. This heart is bruised. Slightly broken. Different than it once was and will ever be again. And when you speak, or don’t speak, in judgment or not, my heart is out there.

Some of “us” parents… the ‘special’ ones… can be a pain in the ass. I know that. WE know that. But we are fighting a fight we never planned to fight, and it doesn’t end. We don’t get to clock out at the end of the day. We don’t get a vacation from it. We live it, everyday. We are fighting without knowing how to fight it, and we depend so much on you to help us. We have been disappointed, by you or others like you. And we are disappointed in ourselves. We are your harshest critics. We are our own harshest critics too. We are genuinely fearful, and driven, and absolutely devoted. And we also know, we need you. So please, be careful with us. Because as hard and tough as we may look outwardly, our hearts are fragile things.

And if that wasn't perfect enough to brighten my day & re-engage my determination.. my motivation... my reason for fighting the good fight:

A Letter to Myself and Others Like Me

You are not 'just the parent'.

It is easy to feel that way. Like you are 'just the parent'.

In the beginning, you bought the books. There are a lot of books. Books about baby care, books about development. Books about sleeping and eating and pooping. Books about raising children. And those books told you about normal. About typical. You took some classes, joined some new parent groups. You felt prepared. Ready to take on the challenge of parenthood, to love and raise your beautiful child. And you learned what you needed to learn. How to change diapers, how to feed your child, how to soothe him. You were building your story together.

But then at some point you discovered you were not dealing with typical. With 'normal'.

And the Fear and the Doubt set in. You went out and found the experts. Doctors, therapists, teachers, all well-educated, all professionals, and all very well meaning. Experts. And they are filled with Knowledge. They know what to do. They might suggest, imply that you don't. That you can't, because you don't have their Knowledge. You are 'just the parent'. They'd take it from here. Or maybe you feel you can't help. The Fear and the Doubt have made you feel Powerless.

But I am here to tell you: You are not 'just the parent'.

You are the Expert on your child!

You are! You have been there from the beginning. You know her smiles, his frowns, the things that bring her joy and what brings on his fear, sadness, or withdrawal. You are keenly aware of her strengths and his challenges. You are the keeper of her history and the foundation for his future. You love, and because you love, you mean more to your child than any other professional can possibly mean. You must trust yourself. Trust your instincts, that inner voice that calls to you.

Now, you might need to read new books. You might need to learn new skills, skills other parents don't have to learn. You might need to parent a little differently. Or a lot differently. And the professionals you bring in to learn these new skills are there to serve you. To foster your relationship. To support you and your child, together. The good, the very best professionals will do that. They will listen. They will work with you. They will hear what you have to say, and respect your opinion. You will be included. Cherish these people, because they are worth their weight in gold.

And don't let the others ... the ones to presume to know better than you... take away who you really are.

You are not 'just the parent'.

You are the Expert on your child!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Flashback Friday: The Rollercoaster Dip

From September 2010:

I am beyond the point of being full of anxiety, as much as I try to hide that huge fact... perhaps it's my self-analyzing for psychology class, or the new environment, or the fact that I'm feeling a bit like a single mommy in a HUGE new city... regardless, I'm at a loss and filled with emotions and haven't the foggiest clue what to do about any of it! So, I need advice... or I just need to vent. Regardless, I need this post so here it goes:

My daughters are ages 8 and 5, in 3rd grade and kindergarten, and very outgoing. They easily make friends everywhere that they go... but with that slew of new friends, that brings questions, and ALOT of them! On a 5 minute walk to the school for a PTA Open House, there were questions... all regarding Brayden:

~Why does his head look funny?
~Why can't he walk?
~Why can't he talk?
~He's cute, but why is he yelling?
~Why are his hands in fists?
~Why are his toes curled up?
~Why are his eyes fluttering?
~Why is he wearing glasses?

Why, why, why, why... I actually am so impressed with a kids ability to blatantly ask questions and be open and curious. I wish adults would do the same.

Needless to say, now that it is becoming blatantly obvious to my two girls with a lot of friends, who undoubtedly also have little siblings who are two years old or so, now realize that their little brother is not "typical". They have always known that, I am always completely open about everything to do with hydranencephaly and how Brayden is affected... but it isn't unusual to them, until their friends start talking and asking a million and one questions. And then I get, "when is Brayden going to grow up and not be a baby anymore?"

At the same time, speaking of questions... why do adults feel that it is better to stare, then to simply ask what they are wondering? Ok, I know it's a touchy subject... but is it better to stare or glare, unable to look away because you're trying to understand what you're looking at, really?? Needless to say, this staring business is only amplified by the fact that I have chosen to ignore the "no-stroller policy" at my girls' school... simply because toting around a 30lb 2 year old who has little to no trunk strength or head support is next to impossible for longer than 5 minutes... and that is a shorter time-span if I am asked to sign a piece of paper or do anything else requiring one of my hands. Twice a day is more than I can manage... So, not only do I have the only 2-year old who is obviously NOT running around the hallways getting in to trouble during pick-up/drop-off times like the rest of the little siblings... but I also am the only mommy allowed to bring a stroller in to the building. Not to mention that no school officials have said a word about it... because, again, it's now blatantly obvious that Brayden needs the ride and it's not simply for my own convenience as it is with other parents. 

Anyhow, to those other parents... how on earth do I address this... ALL of this? Do I hang a sign on Brayden's stroller saying: "Yes, I am allowed to bring my ride in the building," or, "I know that I'm a cute little man and I love to smile... but please, if you're curious, just ask my mommy to talk about me. She'd be happy to." Because really, I would LOVE for everyone to just know... and to not just stare. I would love for everyone to just love him as much as those who know him do... because I know everyone would.

Then there is the whole support group thing, which will likely be resolved the second I actually interact a bit more with therapists and early intervention and meet more people within this community. However, the people I have asked have informed me that the support groups they are aware of are for children with "different" special needs... autism, down syndrome, learning disabilities, ADHD... not children that are like dying, like my own son with his terminal condition. What? I was completely unaware that families of children with extra special needs had varying levels, that there was a spectrum of severity that you had to position yourself on to fit in. Interesting concept... one that doesn't exist only here, and amongst parents, but amongst those living with disabilities as well.

So, all of this along with this self-analysis business for my classes has me completely a mess inside... and actually until I read a friend's CaringBridge post today, I was beginning to wonder if a state of denial had completely taken over and I hadn't just been consciously repressing my emotions... I was beginning to think I couldn't cry anymore, that I had cried my self out and was beyond feeling helpless. Almost as if I had tricked myself in to really believing the reality I put up to shield the truth, and not the reality that truly exists... because they're not exactly the same, although I try to (and usually successfully) maintain them that way. 

Funny since my last post, if I remember correctly, was the article about Brayden being perfectly "imperfect" and how I wouldn't change him... welcome to the rollercoaster of emotions, because now I feel completely helpless to the fact that I CAN'T. Not only that, but I find myself so envious of these families who have children with these "lesser" special needs... because at least their child isn't teetering on the edge of the cliff of life, attempting to make the plunge without a moments notice. I get frustrated with the families who are "battling" a war against any range of treatable conditions... because I feel like my "battle" was lost before I had even begun.

Hopeless and helpless is how I'm kind of feeling... I've found myself kind of stuck on the "cannots" when I usually relish in the "cans". I cannot do anything to change this. I cannot do anything to make him alright. He cannot walk. He cannot talk. He cannot even see me all of the time. So, to answer all of those questions kids ask... how? He just can't?!

A sweet little boy around Brayden's age that was bouncing up and down two rows ahead of me at the PTA meeting tonight said, "I love you mommy." and his mommy replied, "I told you to sit down and shut up until this is over." 

Heart Broken... that's me. I nearly lost it right there amongst a gymnasium full of other parents and children.

I will never hear, "I love you mommy." from my little man... I will never have to say sit down, because he has a long way to go before he can even sit up. I know that my 'lil man knows he is loved... but I only want to give him everything like I give my girls. And I want to make him clean his room, and I want to be mad over the mess he makes, and I want to ground him in high school for missing his curfew... I don't want to force him into his stander, I don't want to make him sit "in the middle" instead of looking over to one side, I don't want to force him into a fit over tummy-time, and I HATE pushing him through therapies only to take 20 steps back when we make one step forward. But if I don't, then I have given up on him... and I, more than anything else in the world, do not ever want to give up on him. 

And, without a doubt, I never will... but I would undoubtedly do anything in the world to take a break from this battle, or at least not feel such defeat all of the time.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Juggling & Still Adjusting

** I originally posted this in January 2011 on my first blog Small Portion of a Life's Journey. As I'm sifting through to close that one entirely, I realized that this particular subject is still a challenge for me... but a blessfully, blissful challenge it is!

As a mommy to three children, one with a medically demanding condition, I'm told at least once a day by an on-looker how "strong" I am or how so-and-so is in awe of my ability "make it through the day" with a smile on my face. I do not feel any stronger than any other parent and I know that I definitely barely make it through some days, let alone with a smile on my face. Motivation is fleeting at times and hopeless emotions flood my evenings when I think of all the things I should have completed and look around to try and discover what exactly I managed to do... since it always seems like nothing.

Granted, our household is plagued by this "cloud" of insecurities and worries associated with the "terminal" prognosis attached to the littlest member of our family, who is living with hydranencephaly... but our household is the same as any other.. It's chaos and drama-filled on some days, for no identifiable reason, and other days are so blissful that I try and relish that time to rewind in memory when things do not go as planned.

Just like everyone else, I struggle through some days more than others. I do not always make the best decisions and I have to learn from the ones that are seemingly questionable. Crabby mommy comes out on occasion, more often than I'd like to admit, sometimes feeling at wits end and completely helpless since things are often beyond my control in the world.

Why does this seem so very difficult, especially after 4 years separated from the "traditional" work environment? After many excruciatingly long hours in the restaurant management business over nearly 10 years, with two children at home and still a household to care for, being a stay-at-home mommy should be a piece of cake compared to the previous juggling act I performed on a daily basis. Between the working world on top of mommy/wifey duties, there was a new ball to juggle thrown in every week. Strangely enough, staying home has been more difficult than working outside the home ever was! 

There are no breaks from the monotonicity, it is never-ending and ever-demanding. I do not get to clock out and have lunch or leave for the day, to allow my mind to escape the thoughts of work. A break for me is grocery shopping, and a vacation is when I can do it without any kids in tow. The people I work for now do not make demands on a set schedule, with the workload running in to the night, and even in to another day sometimes. Then there is the emotional battle with  not financially providing for my children as I used to, and envy I have for my husband who gets to come home and have time to "unwind" and disconnect from the world after a gruelingly long shift at work himself.

When I'm able to examine the reality of the situation, I know how important my new position is. I know how blessed I am to be allowed to stay home with my children, being a greater part of their lives... especially after missing years out of my oldest ones. Life is overwhelming and recognizing where you are and what you are doing in the world is essential to not cracking under the pressure of it all. The appreciation of a grateful husband makes emotions easier to tame as well... and I'm so thankful to have one!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms
By: Billy Cuchens

"Until you have a child, you've never been certain you'd give your life for someone, you've never been so proud, you've never been so tired."
~Elizabeth Vargas

The transition from working a traditional job to becoming a stay-at-home mom is tough on anyone. But for my wife who worked as a nanny before having kids, it was particularly difficult. For over twelve years, she mothered other people's children. She changed diapers and cleaned up toys full-time. These may have been long days but at least she had a paycheck and the end of the day to look forward to.

Her first job after college was working full-time for a wealthy family of lawyers. This was before we had met and here's how she has described the experience: "The husband was horrible. He turned me into a housekeeper. Every day I had to run the dishwasher even if there were only a couple of things to clean and then empty it before they came home from work. I had to fold all the clothes and towels a specific way and position them in the closet facing the same direction on wood hangers. In the winter, I had to vacuum the ashes out of the fireplace every day. He would yell at me if I didn't do things exactly the way he wanted. It was the worst job I ever had." Despite being offered a raise to stay, she quit after working for this family for a year.

My wife has a family of her own now -- a toddler son, an infant daughter, a fifty-pound Australian Shepherd, and a little Pomeranian/Chihuahua puppy. She's been trying to cope with the fact that cleaning the house is a losing battle. I came home from work the other day and all the children ran to greet me, including the furry ones. My wife was sprawled on the couch and was the least enthused to see me. "Sorry about the house," she groaned. I surveyed what was left of the living room. It looked like the cave of a pack of wild animals. The floor was littered with toys, granola bar wrappers, and clumps of black dog hair. The coffee table was strewn with the day's mail, multiple board books, and overturned sippy cups. Sitting next to my wife on the couch was an unopened package of diapers. I put my keys on the kitchen table and noticed several used diapers next to the laptop.

I headed to the bedroom to take my shoes off and get comfortable. I saw a layer of toys on the floor and another layer in our bed, along with some folded laundry and a few snack wrappers. I made enough room on the bed to sit down and took off my socks and, as I threw them in the hamper, I saw the dirty clothes piled up to my waist.

My wife walked into the bedroom. "Honey, I know the house looks bad and I don't want to hear it," she said.

"I didn't say anything." But I couldn't help but think back to the obsessive lawyer and his dishwasher and wonder what he did right that maybe I was doing wrong. I decided to say, "I'm sure you've had a rough day," which I thought would be a neutral statement. However, she received a different message -- you are not doing your job -- and felt the need to defend herself.

"I have had a rough day. The baby's been crying since she woke up this morning at 6:00 A.M. She cried anytime I wasn't holding her. When I picked her up, she either thrashed around or hit me. The dogs got into the trash again. All your son ever says is, 'Can I watch a show?'" She paused for a moment. I thought she might be done but she was only considering how to go on.

"I know I should straighten up when they take their nap but I'm so tired I just need a break. You get to leave your job and come home. I never get a break. Even when you're here, they're still constantly all over me. They start before the sun comes up and don't stop until bedtime." She took a breath and put her arm over her forehead and lay on the bed quietly.

I waited a few moments to make sure she was done. When I thought it was safe, I said, "I'm sorry you've had a hard day. What can I do to help?"

"I don't know. Just keep everyone out of the kitchen so I can make dinner."

She got up and headed to the kitchen. I sat on the edge of the bed for a few moments. I thought about what she said and tried to sympathize. I'd worked a long, hard day but I had something to show for it, I had a boss and coworkers to tell me 'good job'. I felt bad for her because the house was in such bad shape that I couldn't even notice what she had done.

I realized the difference between the lawyer's home and our home was that she was being paid for her work. Keeping their home clean was her job. Mothering my children is not just her job, it is her whole life. It's futile to think that I could pay her an adequate salary for the tireless work that she does or the endless hours she puts in.

I remember a story my wife told me about another family she nannied for. She had been taking care of a boy who was around three years old. The two of them had a perfect day together. They played games and read books all day. He took a decent nap and ate his lunch well. He had no tantrums and she hadn't lost her temper once. They were watching a show together when his mom came home from work. The boy went into the next room as his mom and my wife discussed the day. After a minute or so, my wife looked over and saw that the boy was naked from the waist down and lion-taming the family dog with his step stool. "So we just looked at each other and laughed. Then I grabbed my keys and said, 'See you later.'"

I would think incidents like this one, as well as things like diapers and the countless hours without adult engagement as a nanny, would have worn her out before she even became a mother. But they haven't. She's so glad to have kids that she rarely complains about that stuff. It's the clutter that stresses her out. And it's not because she doesn't notice or care.

That's what I love about her. She does notice the pile of laundry and the dishes. But she's just one person, who is drastically outnumbered.

I may be home only a few hours every day, but even I see the children pull toys out of their toy bins just to pull them out. They don't even play with the toys, they just move on to emptying the next bin. I think about the lion-taming incident and consider how my wife took for granted her job as a nanny, when at least she could look forward to going home at the end of the day. And I realize, as a grateful husband, that the workday of a stay-at-home mother never ends.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bee-Aware: Communication

Taking a deep breath before I boil over.... some people need a lesson in communication skills and interpersonal relations. I personally, have taken more than one class in both, one was very recently. I recognize the importance of clear and effective communication, but in case you're not for certain... here's a quick lesson!

by Connie Podesta

Sometimes it seems that folks just don't get it. No matter what you say or how you say it, they simply don't have a clue - and don't seem too worried about getting one either! It's not their nature to understand; that's just how they "are." Maybe so, but more often than not, the problem is a result of a communication breakdown.

In this digitally inter-connected world, you'd think we could "fix" such basic differences. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as plugging another device into the system. Maybe they're the problem. Maybe you are. We all know difficult people - and, in fact, we can all be the difficult person.

A little background on communication styles can help us understand the issues and learn how to alter our approach to eventually make life a little easier for both parties.

The Basics
Every time we speak, we choose and use one of four basic communication styles: assertive, aggressive, passive and passive-aggressive.

Assertive Communication
The most effective and healthiest form of communication is the assertive style. It's how we naturally express ourselves when our self-esteem is intact, giving us the confidence to communicate without games and manipulation.

When we are being assertive, we work hard to create mutually satisfying solutions. We communicate our needs clearly and forthrightly. We care about the relationship and strive for a win/win situation. We know our limits and refuse to be pushed beyond them just because someone else wants or needs something from us. Surprisingly, assertive is the style most people use least.

Aggressive Communication
Aggressive communication always involves manipulation. We may attempt to make people do what we want by inducing guilt (hurt) or by using intimidation and control tactics (anger). Covert or overt, we simply want our needs met - and right now! Although there are a few arenas where aggressive behavior is called for (i.e., sports or war), it will never work in a relationship. Ironically, the more aggressive sports rely heavily on team members and rational coaching strategies.

Passive Communication
Passive communication is based on compliance and hopes to avoid confrontation at all costs. In this mode we don't talk much, question even less, and actually do very little. We just don't want to rock the boat. Passives have learned that it is safer not to react and better to disappear than to stand up and be noticed.

Passive-Aggressive Communication
A combination of styles, passive-aggressive avoids direct confrontation (passive), but attempts to get even through manipulation (aggressive). If you've ever thought about making that certain someone who needs to be "taught a thing or two" suffer (even just a teeny bit), you've stepped pretty close to (if not on into) the devious and sneaky world of the passive-aggressive.

So now what?
Clearly, for many reasons, the only healthy communication style is assertive communication. Surely you can identify many people in your own life that favor each of the four styles. Most of us use a combination of these four styles, depending on the person or situation. The styles we choose generally depend on what our past experiences have taught us will work best to get our needs met in each specific situation. If you take a really good look at yourself, you've probably used each throughout your lifetime.

Understanding the four basic types of communication will help you learn how to react most effectively when confronted with a difficult person. It will also help you recognize when you are using manipulative behavior to get your own needs met. Remember, you always have a choice as to which communication style you use. If you're serious about taking control of your life, practice being more assertive. It will help you diffuse anger, reduce guilt and build relationships - both personally and professionally.

Take Action!
Begin to pay attention to which communication styles you use throughout the day. How often do you use a communication style other than assertive?

Watch and identify the communication styles some of the difficult people in your life use. Can you begin to notice how others use manipulative techniques to get their way?

Those who have known me for some time, know that I'm pretty passive most of the time. I'll avoid a confrontation, mostly because I don't feel like it's worth the wasted time. However, If I have a reason... and that list of reasons seems to grow with age... I will turn on the aggressiveness like a switch. 

You have to flip-flop communication styles to accommodate the difficulty of the situation you find yourself in, or the hard-headed idiot you're dealing with, in order to make your case heard and get what you want. In my case, I'm finding a lot of incompetence which makes communication one-sided and completely ineffective, I'm still not getting what I want or what I need! 

The following hint, from the enlightening and brutally honest words of Jon Bentley, pretty much sums things up for the day:

"Brilliance is typically the act of an individual, but incredible stupidity can usually be traced to an organization." -Jon Bentley

My much needed, post-frustrating phone call, moment of deep breathing is now complete. Thanks for allowing me to, hopefully, effectively communicate that to you.