T is for Twelve, Temple, and Tourette

**I had a heart-to-heart with Nate in preparation for this post. I wanted to make sure that, since he is getting older and everything, he is still okay with me blogging about him and his experiences. I want to respect his privacy. He thought about it and told me he really is fine with it but if he ever changes his mind, he’ll let me know.**

This birthday was a big one. Nathan Robert turned 12! All he wanted to do was take his friends to see the new Star Wars movie so that’s exactly what went down. What a fun, great group of boys surrounding him! They learn a lot from each other and always enjoy hanging out and being typical boys. Personally, I’m grateful for these boys’ parents who are raising fine young men. Nate is very blessed!

Nate graduated primary. Although not required, he decided to work and earn his Faith in God certificate by developing his talents, serving others, studying and journaling, and teaching his family about some of the principles of the gospel.

For his Aaronic Priesthood ordinance, my parents and Rob’s parents came for the occasion. After the ordination blessing, the bishop gave the grandparents an opportunity to say a few words. Our dads said some nice words and helped keep the spirit in the room. Then it was my turn. Nate and I both got emotional as I told him that I don’t expect perfection from him, that we will both make mistakes through this new “teenage” phase of our relationship, and that we will keep loving each other no matter what. It may not sound like much, but since I know my son and I know myself a little better these days, it was exactly what needed to be expressed. We had a special mother/son connection happen in that moment and we both felt safe, accepted, and loved. It’s a memory I will never forget.

The next Sunday he passed the Sacrament for the first time and it’s been awesome seeing him take on that responsibility.

Next up was his first trip to the temple to do Baptisms for the Dead. Rob and I have been using the Take a Name LDS Family History app which searches for missing ordinances in your family line. It’s found quite a few for us so we had some family names to do. Nate chose to go to the Draper Temple. Rob stood in to baptize and confirm him. It was a great experience. Afterward, we went out for Utah scones.

Now, for the Tourette Syndrome portion of the post (most people say Tourettes with an S, but technically that is incorrect). I noticed Nate’s first tic when he was around four years old but just recently took him in to be officially diagnosed. A tic is an involuntary, repetitive movement or vocalization. Now, Tourette is usually recognized as bursting out swear words uncontrollably. Yes, that’s possible, but only in the most severe cases and is not very common at all. Here are the more common tics, all of which Nate has had over the years (Little Cara is also developing her own tics, including face and eye movements and arm jerks):

  • Throat clearing
  • Sniffling
  • Repetitive eye blinking
  • Stretching eyes wide open
  • Nostril flaring  
  • Stretching mouth open
  • Crunching face
  • Tongue clicking at the back of the throat
  • Different breathing patterns
  • Overemphasized (almost violent) head shaking
  • Stumbling repeatedly over the first few words of a sentence

Each of these tics come and go and he experiences at least two of them simultaneously. Each phase lasts a couple of months before moving on to the next batch of tics. They get really activated by stress, fatigue, excitement. They calm down when he’s relaxed. At their worst, he tics a couple of times per minute for a couple of weeks straight. This is the hardest time because it’s harder for him to concentrate, gives him headaches, and is exhausting both mentally and physically. As he’s reached puberty they have really kicked into high gear, which is normal. If his tics get too obtrusive or the social implications get worse as he goes through junior high and high school, medication is an option. Although he will always have this syndrome, the more noticeable tics usually slowly fade away in severity until adulthood.

The cause of Tourette Syndrome is unknown, but genetics play a clear role. TS commonly co-occurs with a number of other conditions, including ADHD, OCD, anxiety, sleep problems, etc. Nate has some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but they haven’t been too serious and we’ve been able to manage them just fine.  

Nate is fairly easy-going with all of this (unless his tics give him a headache). He understands that everyone has “something” that is “different” about them and this just happens to be his “something different”.

I have to give praise again to the parents and teachers in this neighborhood. Nathan has NEVER been made fun of for his tics, even when they’ve been at their worst at school. All the kids in his classes accept him just the way he is and that has made his life with Tourette so much easier on him. I’ve meant to thank some of you personally, but just know that you have touched my mother heart. Thank you, thank you for teaching your kids and your students to be kind.

Nathan has always pretty sensitive, but through our own emotional immaturity, Rob and I used to push him to “buck up” and not feel things so deeply. Through heaven’s help, we’ve learned how unfair that can be so we’ve done a bit of a 180-degree turn on that way of parenting. Now, it’s fine if he feels sad or upset over something…even if we don’t understand why. Now, we listen. We hug. We empathize. We try to understand and help him to understand his own deep feelings. This approach has been incredibly rewarding for all of us.  

I find myself saying, a lot lately, “He’s twelve now…” This is my way of reminding myself that he can make more and more of his own choices. He gets more freedoms but also more responsibility. It’s also a way of “pinching” myself that my little boy is not so young anymore. As I look at his pictures and videos of past years, I just can’t believe his intelligence, kindness, and humor. This boy is MY boy and I love him so dearly. He’s really close to all of our hearts.

Emotional Vomit (or Purge on a Page)

Gosh, I could talk for months about emotions. In fact, Rob and I have been doing just that. I usually have a pretty well-thought-out idea of what I want to say when I start writing, but when it comes to this subject my mind goes all over the place and I can’t nail down what it is that I actually want to say. So this time I’m rambling.

One thing I’ve been working on recently might seem small and petty, but that has helped me tremendously. It’s this:

I’ve riddled myself …my entire life…with substantially overusing the phrases I SHOULD do this. I SHOULD be like this. WE SHOULD. THEY SHOULD. IT SHOULD be this way. Also, I NEED to do this. I NEED to be like this. WE NEED. THEY NEED. IT NEEDS to be this way.

You get the picture.

I’ve come to realize how damaging this has been to my psyche/spirit, because when I say those things I’m not giving myself (or others) any wiggle room, any acceptance, any consideration, any way to ever be anything but an impossible, optimized version of what I deem to be “perfect”. 
I used to tell myself I was just an optimizer and if I wasn’t doing my best ALL the time then I wasn’t good enough. The problem is…not only is no one perfect (which I did already knew), but it’s not even possible to try my hardest to be as perfect as possible all the time (which I didn’t already know). In other words, I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I thought I had to try SO HARD to be as perfect as I could be all of the time.

Trying so hard…because I SHOULD be and I NEED to…is exhausting. And painful.

One day I just woke up to what I was saying and realized how unnecessary, how untrue, and how damaging saying those seemingly little phrases over and over again have been to myself and others. I started changing those two tiny little awful words to I COULD do this. They COULD. It COULD be this way. Also, I WANT to do this. I WOULD LIKE it to be this way. It WOULD be nice if.

Doing that slight little shift has opened my eyes and heart to other possible answers and solutions. It has taken so much pressure off of me to always do the perfect thing or to be the perfect way. 

What am I getting at? I don’t know, honestly. There are a thousand other things I could type about.

Honestly, this last year of emotional growth has been an amazingly eye-opening experience for me and Rob, one that has brought so many answers to so many questions regarding:

  • Who we have been
  • Why we have been who we have been
  • Who we really are
  • How to be who we really are 

After all the emotional turmoil Rob and I have both been working through together we’ve learned so much more about ourselves than we ever thought possible. I mean, it was freakishly crazy when one moment we thought we really, deeply knew ourselves and each other…and then suddenly realize that we have to start all over from scratch. We abruptly came to find out that a lot of who we thought we as individuals were, is not really who we are, but a “part” or a “character” we’ve been playing to help us get through life.

We used to think to ourselves, “This is my just my personality.” Or, “This is just who I am.” As it turns out, there are reasons we have certain personality traits and they have more to do with coping mechanisms rather than the true person we actually are at the core.

Sure, maybe we’ve gone our whole lives thinking we are “like this” but what if we don’t want to be “like this” anymore? Guess what? We can figure out why we are the way we are and be honest to ourselves about how our life circumstances have affected us. Once we clear out those closets, we can hit reset. And breathe.

It’s been a miracle to finally realize that just because “I’ve always been…” doesn’t mean “I always have to be…” There’s a surprising amount of freedom we have found in finding out about, and learning how to let go of, the parts of ourselves that don’t accurately reflect who we are and who we want to be. 

Admittedly, it’s been an awkward and even a downright hard transition at times. Fortunately, we’ve both been entirely committed to working through it together. Two or our true personality traits are commitment and hard work. Thankfully we’ve both still got those pieces firmly in place. 
I’m fairly certain that every single marriage goes through a period of tear down and regrowth. If not, then there are probably some serious issues that haven’t been admitted or allowed to surface. Because…when you marry (especially when you’re both so young when it happens) how can you possibly expect either one of you to remain the same person throughout decades of life? If you do expect that, then there is obviously some emotional maturation that needs to take place. 
Emotional maturity. Gosh. I thought I had it. Rob thought he had it. Turns out, neither of us had a clue. But…now we do have a few clues along with a few tools that we are learning how to use. And you know what? It feels right. It feels real. It feels like we are finally learning how to really care about ourselves and each other in healthy, genuine ways. 
Yes, these last 9 months have been growing months for sure. Uncomfortable. Scary. Selfish. Maddening. Sorrowful. 
These last 9 months have also been incredible. Tender. Honest. Loving. Selfless. Healing. Forgiving.
Over my lifetime I’ve heard, thousands of times, people saying they’re grateful for and stronger from their trials and that they’d never trade them for anything. When I’d hear that, I’d always want to raise my hand high and shout, “I don’t believe you! I’m JUST fine just the way I am. I’ll grow on my own without needing any prodding from trials. I can make that growth happen all by myself and save myself from hard things, so I’d rather not test out that theory, thank-you-very-much!”
Well. Now I finally understand what everyone is talking about. My eyes have been opened to how God uses our own failures and shortcomings as opportunities to bestow bounteous blessings upon us. The stuff people say about being grateful for the lessons learned from trials is all true. At least, it can be if you’re committed, hard working, and humble. (I can also see how easily it would all go awry, depending on specific situations.) 
I’m not trying to get at anything here. I’m not necessarily trying to make a point and wrap this up all pretty. I don’t have any final words of advice or motivational quotes or helpful tidbits. Just rambling…for my own sake. Just getting these chaotic thoughts out so I can think and feel more clearly.
This is my emotional vomit, my purge on a page…because sometimes we’ve just got to let it out.

A Drowning Duckling Dies: How We Deal with Sadness

One beautiful summer evening our family walked around a park full of trees, flowers, and a pond. In the pond lived some fish, turtles, and ducks. The children love prancing around the perimeter of the fenced-in pond, interacting with the little creatures as much as humans can.

Rob and I wandered off and left the kids to play. I returned a short time later and all three children ran up to me, frantic and full of feelings. They told me of tragedy, taken place right before their innocent eyes.

One of the little baby ducklings was missing patches of down (probably the result of bullying, the kids concluded). This little guy had caught their eye and they’d been keeping a close watch on him all evening. Suddenly, the duckling found himself too far from the shore and unable to catch his footing on the rocks. Stuck in deep water, he tried, helplessly, to swim. Still new to this sport and being further impeded by his missing built-in flotation device, his bitty head slowly dipped lower and lower into the water.

With big eyes and the inability to save the duckling through the fence, Nate, Madeleine, and Caroline looked on in helpless horror as the dear little duckling drowned to death.

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Now, a few different morals to this story could be had here, but I’m not here to talk about morals. Instead, I want to focus on the dissimilarities in emotional response encountered by each member of my family. For an event that was experienced together, it’s interesting how they individually coped with it.

Once the retelling of the event took place and the initial shock wore off, each child was left with the horrible (yet completely natural in nature) scene stuck in their brains. I found myself empathetic to their plight and immediately initialized my comforting-mom mode.

When Rob arrived at the scene, the children frantically retold the happenings once again. Caught off guard and unprepared to respond appropriately, Rob laughed. I chided him with “the look” and he composed himself, then offered due comfort. Once the children’s trauma was acknowledged by both parents, each of their true distinctive emotions became evident and began to show and seep.

Each child reacted to the same trauma in starkly unique ways. Nate became suddenly quiet. He was solemn. He worked hard to hide his tears, even after Rob and I assured him it was okay to cry. After some minutes of allowing himself to feel really sad, he was able to come back up for breath and refocus on moving forward.

Madeleine, through brute force, instantaneously allowed her spunkiness and goofiness to override any of her sorrow. She didn’t want to feel anything unpleasant so she ignored the fact that something bad even happened. She became hyper, silly, and tried so hard to get everyone else on board. She wanted to move on, pretending nothing was wrong. Even though her brother and sister were feeling deeply, she wouldn’t allow herself that opportunity.

Little Caroline openly bawled, unconsolably, for 30 solid minutes. No amount of hugs or listening ears or words of comfort had any effect. The terrifying image replayed itself over and over again in her head and she kept saying, “I just like the word death…I don’t actually like death in real life!”

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Don’t you find it fascinating how each child responded to the same event? Of course people cope with hardships differently, but to see these three contrasting emotional responses by three different children at the same time was an eye-opening glimpse into their hearts.

Nate needed reassurance that it was okay for him to not be a “brave” big boy, and that feeling sad isn’t something shameful. Madeleine, in addition to learning how to allow herself to feel a completely natural response, also needed to understand that others may have different emotional needs to be acknowledged instead of ignored. Caroline needed to feel the full extent of her grief and given enough time (and patience on our part) to do it.

As the father and mother of these sweet souls, Rob and I are working harder than ever to not only listen to them, but to feel with them. We are working harder than ever to not only be in their proximity, but to truly connect them to us through honesty and a sense of emotional safety.

Rob and I both used to believe that this type of parenting would raise weak personalities. However, we are slowly learning that the opposite is true. We are now beginning to see the differences between coddling and comforting, cajoling and communicating. We are now beginning to understand that the intentional act of consistently offering a feeling of emotional safety and emotional acceptance are, indeed, at the core of confidence.

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I’m really sorry that an innocent little creature had to perish and that our children had to witness it, but I’m also grateful for the glimpse it gave us into who our children really are and what they each really need. It is an understanding that we will need to tap into throughout many future occasions, I’m sure.

For the last 6 months, Rob and I have been working so hard at becoming emotionally whole human beings.  We have a long way to go, but these little moments of clarity are the fruits of our labors and the motivation that keeps us moving forward together.