Autism Awareness Day 2017

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I wanted to say a special THANK YOU today, on International Autism Awareness Day, to all the beautiful souls touched by this “label”. It is especially (ironically) fitting for me this weekend, when I personally was touched and blessed by some such beautiful souls.

A THANK YOU to the kind, loving, patient boy who spent 3 hours swimming around the pool with my son yesterday at a pool party. My 6-year-old son was surrounded by a dozen fun loving 11-year-old girls who (understandably) wanted nothing to do with him, so my son put on his snorkel/mask/fins (doesn’t everyone bring these to a pool party?) and swam around, on top of, and next to this kind boy who befriended him and became his “person” for the rest of the party. My son didn’t know this boy was “different”. But he did know he was kind.

A THANK YOU to the beautiful, compassionate, joyful girl today who saw my son struggling to fit in with his peer group at a big, busy social event, and took him under her wing and invited him to play and tag along with her. He was thrilled to find a kind soul to relate to and belong with.

See my son is 6 years old, and doesn’t know what autism is. He is innocent so far and hasn’t needed to see these “differences” among people, differences that require “labels”. He himself (or is it me? Or the rest of us?) struggles with his own set of labels. Highly sensitive. Highly spirited. High needs. He dances to the beat of a different drum himself, and not a day goes by for me that I don’t wonder to myself “Did I miss something? Is he on the spectrum?”. But the better question is aren’t we ALL on the spectrum somewhere or other? It’s a damn SPECTRUM after all, with a hugely wide range of colors and shapes and sounds. And doesn’t that placement on the spectrum change as we navigate life with our own highs and lows, stressful and peaceful periods, struggling and being ostracized at times and at others fitting in quite well?

So THANK YOU to you, beautiful souls. To your kindness, compassion, and uniqueness. The world is a more beautiful, colorful place thanks to you. And a huge THANK YOU to the parents…who tirelessly teach, model, and repeat the same phrase 56,432 times in hopes this time it will stick….your diligence and love does not go unnoticed. Your work is so hard, so important, and I admire you.

THANK YOU.

Ding Dong the Dic(tator) is Dead

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Versailles Cuban restaurant in Little Havana. Photo credit: Jorge Zamanillo

In a span of 12 days, the world lost not one, but 2 influential Cuban leaders. One rose to fame and power with a loud and powerful roar, making sure everyone and everything in his path knew whom he was. The other, quietly and politely from behind the scenes, led his fellow Cubans in his own way on their individual paths to freedom and the American dream. The first was Fidel Castro, the other was my papi, Miguel Perez.

My father came to this country sometime in the late 1950’s, became a permanent resident of the U.S. on December 14, 1961, began working for Pepsi-Cola in Miami in 1966, became a naturalized citizen on June 21, 1968, married my mother in May of 1971…

Why do I know all these dates? Because this last couple of weeks I metamorphosed from being his daughter to being the personal representative of his estate. Not a transformation I was looking forward to.

For those of us Cubans (or Cuban-Americans) growing up these past 40+ years in South Florida, Fidel’s death is huge news. And for those like my father who left Cuba as a young adult in the 1950’s- 1980’s, it is even more so.

My father fled from Cuba literally running away from Castro’s military forces, being shot at as he ran through the forest, hiding out, finally escaping with literally nothing but the shirt on his back. He couldn’t let his family know of his plan beforehand,  because it would put them in danger as well. He didn’t speak to them for 20 years, for fear of incriminating them back on the island.

When he finally arrived safely in this country, with no family around to help, he first settled in New Jersey (as did many Cubans). He had a couple of good friends who fled with him and who became his roommates. They lived right above a diner in a one-room apartment.

For the first 2 months, the only thing he ate was western omelets. He spoke no English, but overheard someone ordering that at the diner and it looked good, so he mastered those words. Whenever he’d come in and sit at the counter, the waiter would ask for his order, he’d proudly say “western omelet”, day after day, as that was the only thing he knew how to say.

He was briefly involved in a covert operation run by a division of the U.S. military, where he and a bunch of men were trained and prepared to ship out as part of the Bay of Pigs invasion. But shortly after they were deployed, their ship was called back, and it was over.

He eventually made his way down to Miami (as most Cubans often do) and kept plugging along. He had heard there was a Cuban man who worked for Pepsi-Cola who may be able to help him get a job there, so he went in and introduced himself. When they asked him if he knew how to drive an 18-wheeler, he said ‘of course, no problem at all!’ Mind you, he’d never driven a truck, let alone an 18- wheeler, but he really needed the job. So he faked it till he made it. He eventually rose through the ranks at Pepsi-Cola and ended up a distribution manager, retiring after over 30 years at the company. He helped countless Cubans who arrived by giving them their first job and an opportunity for success just as he had been given long ago.

I grew up fearing Castro and his power even though I’d never set foot on the island. I knew what he could and would do if you ever dared speak out against him. Even in Miami in the 1970’s you’d have been hard pressed to find a Cuban daring enough to speak ill of him or his regime out loud. All my family were there- my grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins….and there was nothing we could do to help them, thanks to the U.S. embargo. If someone was daring enough to try and make a phone call and send word that a friend or distant family member was planning a visit, sending aid in the form of medicine or money, they had to use code words because the phone lines were rumored to be tapped. The Castro regime would supposedly swoop in and take the person on the phone away, far, far away to Castro Jail where they would never be seen again.

I have heard that when Castro first came on the scene in Cuba, and was wooing the country with his charisma, he also spent some time here in South Florida. It is rumored he spent the night at my great aunt’s house…a story my maternal grandmother would tell me as a child and I would recount to people by saying “Castro stayed with my family once when he was good.”

My family, like many countless Cuban (American) families, would often hear of and hope for the demise of Castro, and his regime. He was rumored to be dead at least half a dozen times, each time bringing a spark of collective hope to the Cuban community that meant someday they would be able to return and rebuild. But the spark was always quickly extinguished when it wasn’t true.

But now, finally, it is over. The magic spell that Fidel had cast on Cuba is broken at last, at least metaphorically. I hope it will continue to pave the way for better relations and a sense of hope for the tiny, beautiful island where all my family continues to struggle and survive, along with many other hopeful Cubans.

My father, in his own small way, made his mark in this country as a Cuban with conflicted feelings about his homeland, in quite a different way than Castro. As I slowly, piece by piece, document by document, learned about many of my Dad’s life adventures over the course of this past year, what would be his last, we somehow became exponentially closer.  So did my brother and he.  My brother finally managed to capture my father’s stories on a voice recording on his iPhone as they spoke late one night. My father was not much of a talker, but for some reason on this night, he spilled it all. Things I’d never known about for 44 years. And I know we will cherish that recording forever, all the moments of our collective cultural and family history preserved at last.

I wish Papi had been around to see this, finally, the long-awaited end of an era. But at the very least I get a kick out of imagining him laughing and enjoying the festivities in Little Havana this week in spirit, having a shot of Havana Club rum in celebration.

Someday, when it is all not so raw, I will finally listen to his stories, to his voice telling his stories. But for now, I will say a prayer, and light a couple of candles….one for my father, and one for Fidel Castro.

En paz descansen los dos lideres Cubanos, que siempre seran recordados por sus hechos,  ya sean buenos o malos.

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Photo credit: Jorge Zamanillo

Warning: Battery Critically Low

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What I learned in helping my elderly father navigate the transition from totally independent human being to end of life care in 2 months or less:

Being in control of another human’s life choices, all of them, is a responsibility too great for one person to bear, especially if that human is a family member.

Being in the hospital all the time for months on end is not good for anyone’s health, not even a really healthy human.

For an elderly person who is very sick in the hospital, things can deteriorate exponentially fast. Light-years happen in minutes.

While you are in the hospital, being a caregiver in the hospital, especially when you are nearing the “possible end of days” and you sometimes start to feel short of breath, your stomach is in knots, you can’t control the tears streaming down your face and you don’t know how you’re going to make it past the next few minutes- life goes on normally outside of the hospital. Your friends still go out to happy hours and go dancing and have fun. Life continues. Bills are due. Library books are due. Your children have to magically be taken to and from school every day. Your house plants still need water. Your car still needs gas to take you places. You still have to figure out how and what to eat for dinner for you and your family. It’s strange but true. The world keeps spinning outside regardless of what you are experiencing inside.

Having a doctor in the family helps navigate the “backstage” part of the hospital issues. Even if your “doctor in the family” is not of a specialty you might need. It still earns him “med cred” and if you’re lucky, your attending hospitalist might even extend the courtesy of sharing chart information with your family member. Who can then translate the reality of the situation to you instead of the garbled vague things the nurses have been telling you.

Charge nurses, nurse managers, and social services can either make or break your deal.

Insurance dictates what kind of care and what length of care your family member will have. Not medical necessity. So if your family member made a crappy choice of insurance providers, it may be up to you to clean up the mess and pray you have time to reverse some of the damage.

“Skilled Nursing Facility” often is a euphemism for “crappy nursing home” if your family member belongs to said crappy insurance plan.

When things start to get really hairy, suddenly you’ll see lots and lots of white coats coming in and out of the room often throughout the day, many not telling you much but handing you business cards saying “if you need something don’t hesitate to call” without bothering to tell you exactly what it is they do or how they can actually help you.

Most of these white coats are just covering their asses and really don’t give (much of) a shit about your family member. But sometimes if you’re lucky, 1 or 2 will, and will actually show you compassion and give you a glimmer of useful information.

You will learn more medical jargon in this short time than in your entire lifetime. And if a nurse of doctor uses a term and you don’t know what it means, pretend you do so you can get the most information possible, you appear informed, take mental notes, then google it later. Or call your family doctor person.

When you get home at the end of the day, you can never get the hot shower hot enough to shake off the hospital coldness.

It doesn’t matter that you look like shit, your hair hasn’t been washed or brushed in days, or your clothes don’t match. If you’ve managed a (somewhat hot) shower, to breathe, and a few minutes of meditation- you’re golden.

Some I.V. antibiotics smell like fish, and it’s nearly impossible to get that stink off.

Your cellphone battery drains exponentially faster in the hospital room and there is never an outlet that is not colored “DANGER RED” within easy reach for you to plug into.

The people you imagined would be helpful to you sometimes are not, and the people you never would have thought would rally around you or for you will.

5 year-olds are still 5 year-olds and will have melt downs, often, even though you don’t think you can handle another thing.

Your 5 year-old will suddenly get up multiple times a night again, not allowing you a solid night’s rest.

Both you and your 5 year-old may feel energetically linked to your ailing loved one, sometimes literally feeling the same pain they feel in the same places, and at the same time they are experiencing it. Which often happens at night. So again, you can’t sleep.

When you think you can’t handle 1 other thing, 3 other things will pop up at the same time and you will find the strength and resilience to somehow manage it.

Running around being Power of Attorney and taking care of all manner of other non-medical things that are urgent regarding your family member will sometimes bring you a strange sort of peace, because it means you don’t have to sit in the hospital room watching them wither away, at least not for those few hours.

This event can bring you closer to your spouse than you ever thought possible.

Family is family, and when it comes together in times like these, it’s a beautiful thing.

Slowly losing a loved one is damn hard, but slowly losing your own life must be even harder.

Six Degrees of Cuban Bacon

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Okay, so I realize this post is completely self-serving, and I’m okay with that. Sometimes, shit happens. And it makes me think and ponder and wonder… and these thoughts yell and scream at me until they are allowed out into the world. Sometimes through spoken word, sometimes through a blog post. It helps me process.

So there’s your warning. This may or may not resonate with you. It doesn’t matter. It just needs out. But be careful if you choose to keep reading. This MAY resonate with you, and cause YOU to think and connect some dots or raise some questions.

Two days ago, I had a kind of epiphany regarding energy, spirituality, life….and our connections with loved ones specifically. Because two days ago, I wound up in the hospital surgery “Family Waiting Lounge” …waiting. Waiting to get an update about my father.

Let me back up a little.

I have spent most of my life striving to connect to my spiritual, higher self…learning everything I could that might remotely relate to that topic, through workshops, live classes, coffee dates, “date” dates… you name it. I have learned so much and awakened so much, so much so that at times now I am often shocked at how quickly things “connect” for me. How quickly, or oddly, things manage to manifest in ways I never imagined.

A big challenge for me (as I imagine may be true for many on their own spiritual path) was clearing certain blocks that were hindering me in a few places in my life and spiritual growth.  That was something I was really, actively “trying hard” to do. I’ve taken quite a number of courses on this particular area in hopes of “mastering” it, because I “needed” to be done with those blocks.

One of these blocks was the grief I still felt at losing my mother when we were both too young to be ready to part. She was 49, I was 22. Cancer took her away, and I won’t go into the details because it honestly doesn’t matter. But for a good 20 years I held on to that grief (apparently). I was angry/sad/frustrated that she didn’t get to see me get married, to become a grown-up, to have my own child…and no amount of therapy or meditation or reading or anything made a dent in that grief. And we’re not talking sadness here, we’re talking true grief.  It nagged at my soul when I wasn’t even thinking about it, and really did a number on me during holidays, Mother’s Day, birthdays, etc.

It wasn’t until almost 2 years ago that I really got a true grasp of the energy world and how it functions, surrounded myself with my “tribes” of energy people, that I was truly able to release that grief. And it was almost effortless. Well not exactly, but it felt quite miraculous and instantaneous. I had an incredible encounter, and it was DONE. Once I grasped that we truly are all one, that energy never ends or dies, just transmutes and transforms…that we never truly “lose” our loved ones, they are very much “still there” and we can still connect with them (and when I finally embraced that this was my truth, that I was brave enough to embrace that & honestly & completely accept it and own it) it just fell away, and opened up a whole new world for me.

Apparently the universe wanted to test me as it has tested many of us during this last year, just wanting to make sure we really have our souls firmly planted in our truths and we can’t be shaken. So this past summer I lost another being near and dear to my heart, another great teacher to me, my faithful and fart-full long-time doggy companion Sammy Davis Junior Jr. It happened fairly suddenly, and the loss was huge for me and left quite a gaping hole in me for a while. But knowing what I know now, I was okay feeling all my feels and allowing myself the grieving process of losing his physical presence, knowing it wouldn’t debilitate me for long. So I reached out, used my tools & newfound knowledge….and lo and behold just about a month later, I had another encounter, and BAM, the grief was gone. I do still feel some tiny bit of sadness once in a while, but it subsides quickly and is usually also mixed with love and joy and wonder.

So I am learning still how to best deal with these energetic ties… how to learn from them, to use them for good and not to let them swallow me up or overtake me. And this past couple of weeks I had a great opportunity to practice with someone still living, my Dad. I realized just this week what an amazingly strong connection we have…. which had you asked me a month ago about our relationship, I would have had a completely different point of view.

You see, of course I love my stubborn, old-school, Cuban Dad, I always have, but we never really “connected” at all growing up together. We were very similar and very different in so many ways. We didn’t live well together, and our relationship did improve once I moved out on my own in my early 20’s. But we never really have a lot of common interests to discuss. He doesn’t understand my spirituality, my passion for following my dreams. He is ever the realist, firmly living on this planet, in the practical here and now. He doesn’t believe in stress, depression, anything intangible, or discuss emotions or anything of that sort. And that’s okay! I love him as he is, I just never felt very understood or close to him on a soul level.

His health has been deteriorating a lot lately, and at 83, he is battling all sorts of issues. We’ve had a number of scares within the last year, and this man has more than 9 lives it seems. On top of his “usual” daily health struggles, he has been dealing with debilitating back pain for 3 weeks now….and ironically (not really as it turns out) so have I. Granted, I have always had a bad back, but not like this. I had sought out the help of a dear, close friend who is a chiropractor, and that provided some relief. I have also played detective, trying to figure out what could be making me feel so much pain. This back pain is unlike ANY I have had before, it just feels different, and radiates down one leg. Ironically, my Dad’s pain was very similar. But unfortunately, due to his age and other issues, his was taking away his ability to stand and walk. His health care provider (aka CRAPPY CLINIC IN HIALEAH) leaves a lot to be desired, and the awful advice and care they have given him in the past have almost cost him his life a couple of times.  So here we are both trying our best to get help and treated for our back pain (and I hadn’t really even realized the connection yet at that point)… he has been back and forth from doctor to specialist to hospital multiple times, I have been from massage therapist to PT to chiropractor…. until finally last week my chiropractor suggested me getting an MRI to take a better look. I was desperate for relief and answers, so I took the steps to make it happen. Which meant heading to my primary doctor, a DO whom I adore, who coincidentally happened to have an amazing machine in his office which provided immediate (temporary) relief, and he also laid the groundwork for me getting a referral for an MRI. I shared all this info with my Dad and urged him to find a chiropractor to get a different perspective.

So what happens next is where it starts to get crazy. My Dad is now to the point where he can’t walk, or stand, or control his bowels or bladder, and his pain is so great he says he can’t go on another day, and heads to the hospital (all this from a man who avoids doctors & hospitals at all costs). They send him home within hours after running all sorts of tests and attribute it to a fall 3 weeks ago, his age, and his general health. One day later he is rushed by ambulance to different hospital in the wee hours of the morning because now he can’t even move his legs or get up into a sitting position. He finally gets taken to a “real” hospital, and they run tests. And you know what solves the mystery? An MRI of his back. Revealing a huge, deep infection pressing against his spine, compressing T9-10 to be exact. He needs immediate (Laminectomy) surgery if he hopes to walk again. So he’s transported to a bigger, regional hospital with a Neurosurgery department, gets examined, and indeed, they agree surgery is needed.  The infection has branched out and compressed his spinal cord and is the reason why he has had all sorts of issues for MONTHS. As have I.  I just didn’t know what my back was trying to tell me.

So oddly enough, now my back pain is virtually gone (without the MRI, or any further treatment since this all came to light). And he has answers, and has had surgery, and is on his long road to recovery, rehab, and learning to walk again.

Coincidence? I think not.  It’s like a strange “6 Degrees of Cuban Bacon” or something.  But what came first, the chicken or the egg? His back pain or mine? Did mine help save him? Did his help save us? Who knows.

All I know is the universe never stops communicating with us, teaching us, connecting us. We just have to be quiet and aware enough to listen.

Questionable Carnivals

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Motherhood

Today we went to one of those questionable carnivals…you know what I’m talking about, right? The ones you go to, pay for a wrist band so your kid can ride everything a zillion times, then you take a look at the rides and you question their safety? You constantly wonder if the screws holding the pieces that are holding you were tightened all the way? And if you’re going to enjoy the ride or plummet to your death? Yeah, one of those carnivals.

My son is a thrill seeker, he loves all the rides. The faster, the crazier, the better. Which is great because I (still, mostly) love roller coasters and thrill rides myself. But my husband, not so much. So this carnival was fun, I won’t lie. But as I’m getting older, and have become a mom myself…well, I kind of (sometimes) see things from a different perspective now. And since I still love rides, or rather I can still stomach them (and my husband cannot), I’m the lucky one who gets to join my son when we see that sign: “YOU MUST BE AT LEAST 48″ TALL OR BE ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT“. Because unfortunately right now, his stature doesn’t quite measure up to his daring.

So on days like these, when I get to share these moments with my son, I jump at the opportunity. Someday, he will be tall enough to go solo. Someday, he won’t want his mommy sitting next to him laughing her head off with him. Someday he will want his girlfriend sitting next to him, and I won’t even get invited to the carnival. So for today, spinning-metal-car-of-vomit-and-death it is.

The truth is, we were both truly laughing so hard the entire time we were on it, we both may have peed our pants just a little bit. And he’s five.  Right now he thinks me laughing out loud, especially when I’m pretending to be scared (I was NOT REALLY SCARED! Merely beginning to get just a little queasy…), is the funniest thing ever on the planet. So we spun, and laughed, and laughed, and gasped for breath, and spun some more…until the ride finally (safely) ended.

When we returned to where my husband was standing, gratefully, on solid non-spinning ground, he said, “I got a great picture of you guys” and showed me this shot. Immediately it reminded me of motherhood…what it feels like so many times….how as mothers we fluctuate constantly between being terrified and laughing our asses off, worrying if we’re totally screwing them up, or reveling in the fact that we are doing an amazing job of raising our tiny humans.  I especially love how happy and carefree my son looks in this moment. He looks like the wise sage who is wordlessly saying, “RELAX woman, and enjoy the ride! Can’t you see how easy that is?” I also realize and appreciate how, in a different situation (or in a different moment of the very same situation), our faces may just as easily have had the opposite expressions.

And that’s the beauty of raising a child. We learn as much from them as they do from us. If we allow ourselves to, that is.

Spin on, mamas, spin on.

The Magic Formula

The universe is ALWAYS speaking to us, sometimes in subtle ways, other times, more like a bonk on the head. That is a given, there is nothing we have to “do” to have it speak to us. We do, however, have to take the time to LISTEN. Which often means being more aware, creating space for that awareness by being still, pausing, listening, and being open to what is being said.

The week before last for me was a doozy. I didn’t plan it that way. It just kind of happened. I was diligently and with painstaking detail putting together a new PowerPoint presentation for a Peaceful Parenting Workshop I was giving on that upcoming Saturday. I had previously given this workshop a few times using my own notes, but it was time to kick it up a notch and make it pretty and use visuals to get the points across.

In the midst of working on that, beside my usual responsibilities, I somehow crazily (over)scheduled myself to see 4 doula clients in 1 day. No problem, I can handle that! There are plenty of hours in 1 day! Besides, that was on Wednesday, and left me 2 more whole days to put together everything I needed for the workshop. Plenty of time!

Then the Universe bonked.

But let me back up. About that formula. One of the tools I teach in the Peaceful Parenting world, which is easily applied to any relationship, and actually to every single thing in our lives, is how important it is that WE be at peace and as present as possible in every moment. How real/inner peace can be attained no matter what our circumstances, no matter what storms are raging around us. We have a huge say in what our world really looks like to us, we have immense power. We often fear that power and therefore prefer to play the role of victim to our circumstances. But the truth is we do have the power, to a great extent.

So what’s the formula, you ask?

EVENT + RESPONSE = OUTCOME

It seems very simplistic. But it really finally made sense to me and hit home with me about a year and a half ago. I guess I was finally truly ready to hear it and grasp it. It’s a game changer. But you have to be ready for it. Because it means taking responsibility. You really need to be in a good mental space to have it work it’s magic, otherwise, it will have the opposite effect & you will fall flat on your face. Because you see, no matter WHAT event is taking place, be it not getting that raise you were hoping for & counting on, a tantrum your child is having, a cup of spilled milk, a serious illness, no matter WHAT the “it” is, it is YOUR REACTION/RESPONSE to it that will greatly impact the outcome. It can literally change the course of history in that moment.

Take milk, for example. Let’s say you are in a hurry to get out of the house in the morning to drop your kids off at school and make it to work on time for a meeting. So everyone is a teeny bit on edge because just maybe you’re a little stressed about the time. Then, let’s say your highly sensitive 5 year old son, in his haste to finish up quickly, accidentally spills his cup of milk all over the table and the floor. He then looks up at you in horror, with huge round eyes…..waiting…….an eternity…..for your reaction. Because he knows you’re already stressed, and this could put you over the edge. You could yell, scream, say all sorts of choice words to him and about him, or instead perhaps start slamming things  about and possibly then hurt yourself, which could lead to tears (both you and him possibly), him yelling back because he feels hurt (not to mention guilty), a struggle to get in the car, more fighting in the car, a longer than usual wait at car line, an accident causing extra traffic on the way to work….etc. Catch my drift? Because the universe is so in tune to you, it will provide you more of whatever you are putting out there energetically.

But what about the flip side? What if, instead of getting upset and going down that road, you CHOOSE instead to take a moment, pause, then take it as a cue to slow down and not take things so seriously.  Instead of getting mad, you take a deep breath and then say to your son “Hey, no biggie, let’s each grab a rag and work together to clean it up. We can pretend we are robots and make our best robot noises!”. Chances are, that will be met with a lot more joy, cooperation, and a more peaceful exit out of the house as well as a more peaceful commute. Most likely, that energy will continue to permeate your day and smooth things out for you in all aspects of your day.

Because really we are 50% of the equation, and the outcome. We can choose to see everything in a positive or a negative light. Its not always easy, I know, I get that. But it’s like a muscle. The more you work it, the easier it gets.

So back to the Universe bonking me.

The night of my 4-clients-in-one-day-while-preparing-my-upcoming-workshop, when I finally got home at 9:30pm…I got a phone call that my 83 year old father, my “Papi” (who has a myriad of serious health issues to say the least) is being admitted to the hospital and needs immediate gall-bladder surgery the next morning. 1 hour away from where I live. This wasn’t a complete surprise as we had been dealing with his delicate gall-bladder issue for 6 weeks now, but careful measures had been taken to delay having the surgery as long as possible, to make it as smooth as possible since he has so many other issues that impact him undergoing surgery with general anesthesia.

So off I went the next morning….after dropping off my son at school, the 1 hour commute to the hospital in Miami rush hour traffic….to meet him to prep for surgery. I was nervous of course, he’s elderly, sick, and he’s my Papi. But from the moment I got the news I made a choice I was going to be positive about this and trust that all was happening as it should, and all would be well. I tapped into the peace inside me and let it ride. It was a smooth sail to the hospital. Things that morning sort of just clicked. I got there in time to meet the orderly who was wheeling him to the OR prep/triage room (who happened to also be Cuban, as are we. My Dad takes great pride in it). My aunt/his sister was also with him. The kind orderly asked my aunt & I to wait outside in the OR waiting room and promised someone would give us updates along the way. So my aunt and I prepared to hunker  down and wait.

Not 4 minutes later, a nurse came out (Russian, gotta love living in an International melting pot!) calling my name, and told us we could come on back. She let us in to the prep/triage room to wait with my Dad while they started on all the prep necessary for surgery. Papi was in good spirits, cracking jokes. I was also trying to keep the mood light and positive for us all. We could hear everything going on in the adjacent “bays” in the room (each separated by paper thin curtains) as others were also getting prepped (and prodded, and poked). And it was taking a really long time. Like for real, not like just because it’s happening to you  it just feels like a  long time. Other patients were coming in and then moving on. More nurses (Cuban) came to prepare him, kindly flirt with him, and ask more of the same questions we’d already answered at least twice previously. Anesthesia (American, maybe?) came and talked to him, then the surgeon (Cuban). He explained there was a need to possibly transfuse blood/plasma as well as this possibly turning into more than just a  quick laproscopic surgery. So prep would take a little while longer than usual.

I’m still choosing to remain calm and at peace, even while reading between the lines of everything he was saying.  I will say that I did have a moment just then of a little panic and doubt. I took a moment and tried to go within, to ground and center myself, to ground the staff, everyone present, the room. I breathed. I felt the need to stand up and stroll a few steps away from my Dad and towards the exit leading to the OR. And there it was, my message. My reminder. Clear as day, big and bright, on a bulletin board (Really? In an OR triage room?) no less:

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EVENT + RESPONSE = OUTCOME!

What are the freaking chances??? I literally laughed out loud, am I’m sure sounded momentarily psychotic to the nurses around. Then I snapped a picture on my phone and almost got kicked out of there. I had to explain to the nurse in charge that the message on the bulletin board was EXACTLY the message of my upcoming workshop, how that same equation was literally the last slide in my PowerPoint and how meaningful it was. Luckily, she smiled and got it and it sparked a conversation between us and then we were good.

I (silently) thanked the Universe for the message, and I was all good again. I knew then no matter what transpired with my Dad, all would be alright. That no matter what happened in life, period, it would all be alright. I had faith. I felt supported. And I was reminded by that not so subtle detail on the bulletin board. My perception makes the difference.

I then took a moment to take in the bigger picture, to look for more signs (why not?). Then it hit me, we were the only family members in this triage room for the last 3 hours. Not 1 other family member. All the other patient’s family members were all outside in the waiting room. Why had the nurse come and gotten us to come and stay with my Dad when no one else was allowed/invited back there? Why only us? There was absolutely no logical reason.

Funny what we realize when we take that moment of pause. Everything becomes illuminated.

In the end, the operation was way more complicated, they had to do a lot more than anticipated. It took twice as long as they had said, they had to call in an additional surgeon, make quite a large incision, transfuse plasma, rewire some internal connections in my Dad, but he got through it all with flying colors. He even came out of the general anesthesia and was breathing on his own way quicker than normal, despite all his other medical issues and concerns that had delayed this surgery so long in the first place.

So yes, I was bonked. I spent the next 2 days driving back and forth, 1 hour each way, to spend the day with my recovering super-hero of a father. I did NOT have any time at all to further prepare for my workshop as I had originally planned on. But in the end, it didn’t really matter.

Turns out, I had everything I needed all along. And luckily, and most importantly, I still have my Papi.

 

Our BIG Night

 

Every night we have a routine. It has pretty much been consistently the same, with a few slight variations  since my son was about 3 months old. Relaxing music on his iPod plays in his room, we do bath time (I must restrict the number of Hotwheels cars he is allowed to bring into said bath to 7, don’t ask), I, or his Dad, or both,  put on his pajamas, we read a book or two, I “help him” brush his teeth and comb his hair, we snuggle in bed, exit stage right. Sounds beautiful, right? Except sometimes it’s not. Many times, it’s not.

We went through a whole phase (at least 2 months, I kid you not) where we (my darling husband and I) had to sit around on the floor with him after we put on his pj’s,  which was a HUGE battle, and make up stories using Hotwheels cars as characters. We ALL had to make up a unique adventure story that had to meet certain random criteria which changed nightly….. that phase passed eventually.

But still, it’s SUCH A STRUGGLE most nights!!!! From one transition to the next, usually SOMETHING triggers a need in him to NEED TO DO SOMETHING ELSE. And believe me, I’m zenmamalove, the self-proclaimed “Mama Lama” herself. I’ve got mad patience. I really do. But lately, and at certain ages and stages, it’s like pulling teeth, and by the time we get to “tuck into bed” I am tense, jaws are clenched, and I’m just dying to get out of there. Like last night. It was a disaster. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember losing my shit at the end, and telling him, in a not-so-great a tone of voice, that I was SO TIRED OF THIS STRUGGLE EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. That I hated going to bed angry and tense, and that’s how most of my nights were ending, and I hated feeling that way. I was completely honest with him about how I felt. And it must have somehow struck a chord.

Because tonight, the strangest thing happened. After his bath (which only required 5 Transformers), he got out WILLINGLY, and he asked me to help him then take off his bathrobe. Then he told me to close my eyes and ears and stay there until he called me, and he left the bathroom. He said it might be awhile but he promised he wasn’t playing around. Hmmmmm……my curiosity was killing me. But I stayed put, eyes closed, praying for the best. Time passed. I heard (of course we both know I could still hear what was going on) a rustling of clothes and it dawned on me…..he was trying to surprise me by getting dressed himself! This is huge! I know to most of you, you probably think “big deal, he’s 5  right?” But to this mama of a highly sensitive, sensory challenged boy, this is a HUGE deal.  We’ve been working on this skill for MONTHS. Sticker charts, incentives, you name it. Hit and miss. Most times I still have to be in his room, reminding him to stay focused, but distracting him with conversation enough that he doesn’t realize he’s actually getting dressed. Because God forbid his arm gets caught in a sleeve or a leg goes in the wrong pants leg, that the sock seams are uncomfortable or the shirt hangs the wrong way…..it could mean disaster and the end of trying for the day.

But tonight, my sweet, wet boy put on HIS UNDIES AND HIS PAJAMAS, all facing the right way I might add, BY HIMSELF, and sauntered back into the bathroom with the BIGGEST smile on his face, showing off his accomplishment, beaming with pride. I made a HUGE deal of it, I was honestly so flattered and touched, it was amazing. I thanked him profusely, told him how happy it made me feel…..then he said “What else can I do by myself now?” Well, shit, I’m going to roll with this!

“How about go find a pair of socks and put them on by yourself?” (do I need to mention how I had to abandon practicing that skill every morning on the way out to school because it just wasn’t worth the torture to both of us?).

“Okay!”. Pitter patter of wet feet down the hall to the basket by the front door, he puts on his socks WITHOUT A PROBLEM OR COMPLAINT and returns smiling.

WHO IS THIS CHILD AND WHAT DID HE DO WITH MY SON??????

So we head into his room to start story time and he says “Be right back!” and runs away, promising he needs to do something important, but not play.  A few minutes pass and I honestly have no idea what he could be doing, so I yell out to him “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” to which he responds “MAKING A DRAWING FOR YOU!”.

Now? At bedtime???

Okay, I will remain calm and patient and let him finish his very important task and be grateful he is being so kind and caring instead of rushing him. He eventually returns with 3 of his latest works of art, all which read “I ❤ Mom” (he started writing this on his own only 2 days ago and it has become a trend….I have quite the collection now). It is so sweet, it is honestly. I show him my gratitude and try to get him into bed to read our bedtime books. But he surprises me AGAIN and proclaims “Tonight, I am going to read you a story”. So he digs out the very last, hardest BOB book, Volume 1, which he hasn’t even cracked open let alone master, and proceeds to sound out every letter on every page and turn them into the proper words with very little coaching at all (that’s my boy!). This is the best reading he has ever done, mind you. He allows me to read the second book for the night, 4 pages of “The Children’s Encyclopedia of the Human Body” which we have now read from cover to cover officially. Nothing like some light reading right before bedtime….”But Mom, what is the pituitary gland exactly and what does it do again?”.

After books, it’s time for teeth brushing and hair combing….aka THE FINAL BATTLE SCENE. He says he’ll do it all by himself, no worries. I stay in the bedroom. He does it. WTF? Then he comes back into the bedroom to show me he has, and asks if he can comb my hair for me. Well, why the hell not?!?! Let’s just see how far this can go for the night! So he combs my hair a little till its “Perfect!” and then puts the comb back in the bathroom where it belongs (!) and comes back and TUCKS HIMSELF INTO BED WITHOUT A PEEP.

And then it hits me- one day, he seriously is NOT going to need me to help him at all with ANY of this. He will be grown, have body hair, be slightly smelly, and will do these things on his own, with very little prompting. No wrestling him into is pajamas, no reading 2 books before lights out and snuggling together in bed….none of it. And I realize how bittersweet these “battles” are. I also realize how much of the “battle” has to do with his sensory issues, transitions,  maturity level……..and my reaction to his BIG NEEDS at the end of a long day. How much my own thoughts and words plays into it. I get just a little taste of what it will be like when he is older and some of these things have worked themselves out…..and it’s such an odd sensation.  I am thrilled he CAN do all these things by himself, and a teeny weeny bit glad he still needs me still a little.

Okay, a lot.

We will see what happens tomorrow night when it’s time for bed. But for tonight, I am proud of my “big boy” and his many accomplishments. And I will bask in all it’s glory for as long as it lasts 🙂

Felix pajamas

The “Back to School” that wasn’t

Empty class 2

This past week was tax-free saving week a.k.a. back to school shopping week here in Florida. So I did what any respectable parent and teacher would do, go shopping for back to school clothes and supplies. But what you don’t know is for teachers, it is about that same  time where we start to feel the “Oh my God, is the summer really over? Do I really have to go back so soon? What’s my schedule going to be like? How many students will I have this year? How many desks will have this year?”. This is usually accompanied by a big ol’ knot in the pit of my stomach, accompanied by a need to start drinking a nightly glass of wine…..or two…..in order to mentally prepare for another year of “being a teacher”.

Empty class 4

Empty class 3

But this year, want to know what I added to my back to school wardrobe during tax-free shopping week?

Nothing.

Nada.

Zilch.

Ni una cosa.

Because this year, I will not be going back to school. For the first time in forevvvvveeeeer…..sorry, Disney song took hold of me there. For the first time in 15 years, I will not be going back. I chose not to go back. I chose to follow my heart and my soul and my calling.  I listened (finally!) to what my soul was saying, and I prepared, and I have been working hard to create my new reality, which for me includes my new business. I have slowly but surely been building bridges, making connections, starting a client base, educating myself….all that stuff it takes to help me build my dream. Most importantly, I have been doing what brings me the most joy, which is helping people find their peace and their inner power, while still having time to spend with my family. I am helping new parents welcome their children into the world in the way they choose, feeling empowered and supported. I am working with individuals to help them discover who they really are and had forgotten along the way. I am teaching (yes, I know, I can’t escape teaching) parents that there is another way to relate to and connect with their children, one that involves mutual respect, connection, and patience.

Is it easy? Nope.

Is it scary? Sometimes.

Risky? You bet, you could see it that way at times.

But I don’t have that knot in the bottom of my stomach that I used to have every year. I don’t have the dread of “D-day” looming over me (which this year, would have been today).

And what I do have instead is worth all the gold in the world. Freedom. And hope.

Freedom

The Highly Sensitive Gardeners

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Gardening to me is therapeutic. I love being outside surrounded by nature, feeling with wind, the sun, and the soil between my fingers. Planting seeds, or a tiny plant, is like the opportunity to aid in bringing forth new life into this world. You plant them, nurture them, tend to them, and wait, wondering what exactly will come of the hard work and love that you’ve put into the process.

My 4 year old son and I often garden together. We prune the flower beds, cut off the dying flowers, and pull out roots and stems that are way too far gone.

“Mom, this branch says ‘No!!!! Ouchy!!!! Don’t pull me out!!!’ and this other one says ‘Help me! I need more water please!’.”

I can’t help but smile at hearing the dialogue that his vivid imagination creates for the things around him who cannot speak (out loud) for themselves. What a beautiful thing it is to be that in tune with your surroundings that you feel what they feel. I think back to last summer when we first planted these very same flowers that we care for today, when they were teeny, tiny plants. We dug holes together, and he insisted we relocate every earthworm we came across. He said the worms were scared and needed a new home deep underground, not too far away, so they’d be safe and happy.

And although many times, hearing his words, the intensity of how much he feels things is a beautiful thing, at times it feels like both a blessing and a curse. You see, my son is not only highly sensitive, but also highly spirited (i.e. more stubborn, determined, and strong willed than any MLM salesperson you ever met, but in a tiny person’s body with huge lungs). I was able to recognize it pretty early on in his life because I am also highly sensitive.

I struggled most of my life, not knowing why I was “different”. Why each seemingly little hurt, each little disappointment to me took on a giant emotional gorge in my heart. I can remember as early as kindergarten feeling like I just couldn’t fit in. Throughout grade school, I was always the youngest in my class, the most timid, and the most emotional. The lyrics to a song could easily make me cry, heck even the beauty in a symphonic piece with no lyrics could bring me to tears. I was sure something was terribly wrong with me since everyone around me seemed so happy and so care-free. It wasn’t until my adult life and many years of researching and soul searching that I found a name for what I was, highly sensitive. It was a beautiful moment because finally I knew I was not broken, crazy, or alone. I just felt everything “more”. I learned to understand it, accept it, embrace it, and learned how to better deal with life and it’s situations as a result.

With my son, I suspected very early on he had inherited my sensitivity, which as a child, usually also comes coupled with sensory processing issues. He started off his life with horrific reflux, so pretty much from birth if he was awake, he was screaming. Like bloody-murder-somebody-please-save-me screaming. Feeding him took lots of emotional preparation. I recall one of our first outings as a “new family” to McDonald’s (don’t judge, we made it out of the house after our first week, that was huge for us): He was starving, but when he would drink from the bottle (as breastfeeding did not work out despite my very best efforts, but that’s a post for another day). He would arch his back, pull off from the bottle and scream as if we were pouring hot lava down his tiny developing throat. This would happen every time we fed him. Repeat this process every 3 hours ’round the clock. We couldn’t go out if we would be out and about during a feeding, as his screams could clear a room, and break the heart of any mother in a 2 block radius. Finally, around week 7, and after numerous doctor’s visits, failed medications, fights on the phone begging with insurance companies, etc. we had a “cure” that worked, and it was like a huge weight was lifted. We were finally able to enjoy our baby.

But that was just one tiny piece of the sensitivity puzzle. The world for him was often times too much, too overwhelming in general. He had to be worn in a sling or wrap all the time to feel safe. There was a vigorous rocking-chair-motion and shushing required to get him to sleep early on that even Dr. Harvey Karp would be proud of. Eventually, when he was old enough to watch some hard-core television (after, of course, the magical age of 2 years old when the “experts” deem it safe to expose our young susceptible children to the evils of television), the slightest hint of Thomas the Tank engine making a bad decision to play for a little while longer instead of getting back to work and chugging his cargo back to Tidmouth Sheds would cause my son to hide his eyes in terror, or run out of the room in tears to hide. There was a time, for years (yes YEARS) that the only way he could sleep was on top of me. Like lying vertically on my chest. Like nonstop, all night. It was the only way he felt “safe” enough to allow sleep to take over. To this day, at 4+ years and 40+ pounds, almost every night when I put him to sleep he requests a few minutes of snuggle time with him laying on top of me. Mind you, at this point his body is almost longer than mine. But when he does this, he snuggles in like finally all is right in the world, and its okay to relax.

The flip side of the sensitivity coin is the amazing compassion and kindness he feels towards even the tiniest living creature. How he will go out of his way when riding his bicycle to avoid crushing the myriad of earthworms that have somehow made their way to the center of the sidewalk. How a song can touch him so much that he will cry big, fat, silent tears, or ask me to please change the station because it is too much. How something as simple as dancing to a great song, or blowing dandelions, or riding on any type of public transportation can make his day completely perfect. His squeals of joy are as loud or if not louder than his shouts of discomfort.

I explain all this, the good and the bad, the joy and the pain, the duality of it all because raising a highly sensitive/highly spirited child is beyond hard. Beyond exhausting. And is probably something that is nearly impossible for anyone who is a) not highly sensitive or highly spirited, or b) not the parent of a highly sensitive or highly spirited child to understand.

Life for us HSC’s or parents of HSC’s is different. We are faced day in and day out with situations that for you, may require redirection, a stern look, or a firm “No”. But for us, it can escalate to World War 3 in a heartbeat because they are feeling completely overwhelmed and misunderstood. We have to parent these beings differently to make it work. Every transition is carefully planned out & announced multiple times in advance, every outing thoughtfully prepared so we have the right emergency food, drink, or toy. A neuro-typical person might see a child crying and throwing a fit, being a brat because he doesn’t want to walk from the shore of the beach to the sidewalk. To a highly sensitive child, the feel of the hot, wet sand stuck to his feet while it rubs against his shoes like scalding sandpaper is a sensation so overwhelming it can push him over the brink into the red zone. And because of this, sometimes you judge us. I know you do. Sometimes silently. Sometimes out loud. Sometimes to our face. Sometimes behind our backs. And I get it. Because you haven’t lived it. You have no idea what it’s like to deal with that kind of intensity nonstop, with the crazy situations that most people cannot fathom or understand. You look at us as if we have three heads when we negotiate or try to explain our way through a difficult situation. But we do this because we know this is the way it must be done in order for them to understand and feel understood, and for us to try and maintain our sanity. And the “Thank you, mama” in that tiny voice I get, accompanied with a gigantic bear hug that could crush my ribs when I do understand, stay calm, get it right and work with his sensitivities instead of dismissing them as nonsense let me know how integral it is to his sense of self-worth, sense of stability, sense of “this world is actually a safe place to be in after all”.

So please, next time when you feel that judgment creep in, take a moment and pause, and remember our experience is different than yours.

My heart breaks a little for him for all the times I know people will deal with him in ways that will do more harm than good, for both their sakes. I know I can’t protect him from it all, nor should I. So I don’t. But we talk about it a lot. I strive to make him self-aware of his own needs, and work on expressing them in ways that are socially acceptable. I know as he grows and matures, things will get easier for us all. Not easy, but easier. I know these traits he has can and will be honed in to something amazing, and he will one day discover a new planet or design and build a new technology racecar/rocket ship hybrid. His intensity and focus will be used for the powers of good and the advancement of humanity. It’s just for now, he’s 4. And for now, it translates into him obsessing over that one toy that the one kid on the playground has that he wants to take a turn with soooooo badly, and that he will cry about, tantrum about, plead about 100 gazillion times “But WHEN will it be my turn?!?!” And this can go on for hours, and leave an emotional mark for days, or even months. Like an elephant that never forgets.

Time and patience and teaching are the solution. There are no short cuts for us on this journey that will not backfire if we try to take them.

So for now, we garden. And relocate worms, and listen to the sounds & words of nature and flowers, and laugh and breathe get through the rough patches. I have learned to appreciate all the facets of this unique type of personality. I have learned to appreciate his extreme sweetness, as well as his extreme determination when he is so engrossed in the task at hand that he literally can’t even hear me asking him to put on his shoes or brush his teeth. I appreciate his “more-ness”. And as usual, it makes me wonder, who is the teacher here and who is the student?