What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I had lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago who asked what I’ve been doing with my time since I haven’t been working.

A fat lot of nothing. 

Riiiiiiight. (You didn’t really believe that did you? Not even for a second.)

What I’ve been doing with my summer vacation. Which basically started with Memorial Day weekend…

Went to ATL for the 2013 new baby tour. It was a road-trip that started at 9:00 PM on a Friday with decaffeinated me behind the wheel. It was touch and go until Suit and Tie came on the radio–and then it was a three hour dance party in the driver’s seat from Gaffney, SC to Suwanee, GA. We rolled in at 2:30 AM. Hey. Whatever works. (Also, WHY ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE ON THE ROAD, TOO?) But those babies are super sweet. And their parents are managing well–all things considered.

Worked on putting documents together and obtaining a passport for my Ukrainian born child to deal with citizenship stuff and learned that bureaucracy is bureaucracy regardless of the nation’s government. When Boy #1 says “This is like being in Ukraine” as you run all over the county in which you live to obtain the right forms and this one government agency only works 8:00-3:00 and you show up at 4:30 and realize you’ll have to make the trek back downtown the next day, you realize that (a) perhaps you picked the wrong line of work (I mean with hours like 8-3, come on) and (b) this mess really is crazy

Took a random, spontaneous trip to the beach with my best friend and her family while the hubs drove my new car home from Ohio and in and around Raleigh until I got home two days later. He hasn’t sat behind that steering wheel much since.

Hubs and I took the East Bloc Boys (our collective reference to the teenage boys living under our roof) to DC to deal with the Ukrainian’s citizenship and–when we realized that wasn’t going to happen without a US passport–proceeded to spend a few days playing in DC instead. Museums, metro stops, and food trucks, oh my!

Attended the graduation of my Hungarian born child (Boy #2 who moved in in April) and sent him off to his first day at a new job

Received the report card for Boy #1 and was more than a little frustrated with the results

Learned that Boy #1 was going to be fired–primarily due to complications with some faulty brain wiring that is beyond his control but increasingly becoming a hindrance–and started planning for the possibility of meds and more testing to see if there’s something more or better that we can do. Also became a little afraid of his options for the future. Meanwhile, he didn’t seem to be too concerned about anything in his world. And then frustration set in.

Interviewed for a job. Was offered the job. Didn’t know at that point where exactly the job would be. But I’ll have a job.

Left the kids at home while hubs and I went to the beach for a few days. Alone. With no agenda. Glorious.

Opened our home for weekly game nights with the youth. Their means of world domination via board game was pretty entertaining. Also, the secret is out about the awesomeness of my cookie dough dip.

I got more creative in the kitchen, making up recipes as I went–often inspired by road-trip snacks and/or food truck experiences. And those culinary experiments generally were successful.

Temporarily found some really good body confidence–long enough to sport a bikini on the beach. For the first time. Ever.

Helped a friend pack up his office to move to a new job after 13 years.

Celebrated a friend’s 30th birthday and another friend’s family adopting a child they’ve tried to bring home for far too long

Opened my home and my dinner table to countless people (we finally had to break out the leaves for the dining room table and USE ALL THE CHAIRS)

Had lunch and/or coffee with people–for more than 15 minutes. Those conversations often stretched over two hours.

Brought a third teenager home to live with us–this time a girl.

Realized once again that my life is a circus and I’m the ringmaster. Until the inmates run the asylum. And then I just leave.

Had beautiful conversations with family and friends

Was truly honored to be invited into some of the most important moments and conversations in others’ lives

Got a job assignment that was totally unexpected but has made me incredibly excited the more I sit with it.

Got thoroughly pissed off with the state government and was ready to junk punch some politicians–or a wall. Supported Moral Monday from afar–lest my anger push me to do something stupid before this job thing really came through.

Started scheming ways to take over the world–in a good way.

Realized that this whole youth ministry thing I started on the summer before college has come full circle. I learned along the way that there are many ways to do youth ministry–and often outside of church. I also made the statement at one point that once I became a youth minister, I’d have a psychologist in my back pocket as a resource. Then I became that psychologist.

Pulled together a stack of books classified as thematic professional reading that I’m slowly making my way through

Seriously considered getting the “Mom’s Taxi” for my car because it’s true. Especially the week of youth camp when I’m the only licensed driver in the house and have two teens to care for.

Tried to let it sink in that I have finished school and have a PhD. Definitely became increasingly thankful for the training, experiences, and opportunities I have had along the way.

Stalked one of my favorite people from a parking lot into a bookstore to make sure it really was her–and then had an hour and a half long conversation standing around another store in the same shopping area.

Became a stand-in on-call fake doula for a baby who was born about two weeks later (and the daddy was home for the whole thing…which meant I could celebrate with the announcement text). 

Consulted on emerging adult male/female relationships

Provided unofficial parenting consultation

Fell madly in love with US Marshall Raylan Givens as I became addicted to the show Justified.

Worked out in the sweatbox that is my garage–sometimes twice a day. Just because I could.

Met neighbors I hadn’t met before because I started walking the dog more after a redistribution of household responsibilities

Seriously considered a new blog about DIY furniture and house projects–to be called pigtails and power tools. This after having to supply my dad with a drill or two after the battery in his cordless died as he was trying to put together a new bed. (Note: one of those drills was the same electric drill he handed down to me years ago when I moved out; also, that old faithful Black and Decker has helped us finish projects the battery packs on the cordless just couldn’t. Moral of the story: well, I think you know.)

Filled up a social calendar like never before

Received beautiful and powerful words of affirmation and hugs from people who’ve watched me grow as a person and professional over the past X number of years

Went back to yoga (kinda) and ate more fresh veggies. (Olives dipped in hummus, y’all)

Loved bigger because hubs does.

Realized that children stuck in rough family situations are my kryptonite

Struggled against having so many people in the house and this basically became my mantra about half the time. 

Saw some movies. In the theater. Even when I kinda didn’t want to. (Side note: Pacific Rim = Godzilla + Iron Man(steroids) + Independence Day speech + Armageddon)

Worked on my licensure application and found that I still had some brain matter that could ooze out of my ears. It’s just about finished though. The application, that is.

Survived monsoon season in NC this year–WITHOUT an Ark of my own

Drank the Candy Crush Kool-Aid (Note to Kool-Aid: new flavor idea!)

Finally was invited to new employee orientation and can for really real get this job thing going.

Ran outside. On some big hills. Early in the morning. And usually thought I was swimming instead. #NChumidsummers

Doled out resources in the form of book titles, notes from books I’d read, links to really great articles, and just putting some thoughts on paper

Read a few really good novels.

Squeezed some babies

Baked. A lot. And apparently even my cookies are therapeutic.

Survived #singleparentweek2013 while Al and Ryan were at camp.

Celebrated some more birthdays. Ran with my girls. Enjoyed some group therapy on a screened in porch. Celebrated new jobs with my people.

Scheduled at least half a dozen meetings/appointments to take me through my last full week of no paid work. What vacation?

And then I went to that orientation, got my shiny new ID badge, signed a bunch of forms and forked over a voided check. This job thing is official. I start Thursday.



Loving Deeply

The problem with loving people deeply is that, at some point, the relationship changes or the person leaves, and you have to adjust to the change.

The problem with loving a place deeply is that, at some point, you will have to leave…and adjust to the change.

The problem with loving your work deeply is that, at some point, the work you do will change, and you have to adjust along with it.

I realized today that, after this week, I have four weeks left of my internship. I’m working to soak it all in, knowing that I will move on to something different in a different place and with different people. I am thankful for the ways in which I have been able to love and be loved deeply this year…for the many things I’ve learned along the way…and for becoming a better person and practitioner for it.

But in about four weeks, I’mma need my own box (or three) of tissue.

Mending Broken: A Book Review

One of my longstanding professional interests is trauma and working with those who have experienced trauma. So, when SpeakEasy offered up Mending Broken by Teresa Pasquale, I was quick to request a copy.

Pasquale is a therapist who is trained in working with people who have experienced trauma. As is often the case, therapy (from the point of view of the therapist) is often self-discovery, and it is clear that Pasquale’s own work as a therapist–as well as a survivor of trauma herself–has informed her own healing as well as how she works with others to find the same. This book seems to come out of that work as well.

Pasquale’s writing is easy and accessible–especially the technical parts regarding trauma and how traumatic experiences affect our brains. She makes it less technical and more metaphorical in a way that is incredibly understandable. She then weaves in her own experiences of trauma in a way that the reader understands where she’s coming from but not in a way that is over the top or turns off the reader. Pasquale presented a self-developed (based on her experiences and the shared experiences of others) stage model for recovering and healing from trauma–based primarily on her own experience as opposed to tying the model to research. It is clear that the ways in which Pasquale integrated her experience of trauma with a variety of contemplative and faith-based practices was instrumental in her ability to move forward.

Beyond the primary subject of the book, the thing I appreciated most were Pasquale’s statements about being a wounded healer and the reminder that “we cannot repair in others what hasn’t been repaired in ourselves.” However, when those broken places are mended, we have a gift that can be made available to others–the gift of understanding what it’s like to sit in that lonely, dark place and being able to articulate the experience for others in a way that makes sense…and often assures them that they are not crazy.

Although I have not experienced trauma to a level that leaves me experiencing the disorder that is associated with it, the parts of this book that resonated with me included the ways in which a person integrates faith into the healing process and the ways in which we can take the lessons we’ve learned in our own healing processes and give those away to others.


Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Bend Before It Breaks

I’m quickly approaching the 9th anniversary of my mom’s death–a date which is book-ended by other significant dates over the span of about 6 weeks. I usually start feeling and/or anticipating the pain that inevitably comes around mid-March.

So here I am.

This year, it’s been a different experience. My grief is much closer to the surface sooner that I thought it would be. And in many ways, it’s just as raw as it was nine years ago. This time, though, I’m allowing it to surface and to come out–and providing space for it. Because I clearly have not finished the active grief process, and I know I still need to do that.

The tag line for this blog is an African proverb that spoke to me in the months following Mom’s death. It occurred to me today that I’ve been trying to outdistance the pain and grief still residing inside of me even after almost 9 years. I’ve succumbed to it on occasion, but usually on my terms–which meant short-bursts-because-I-had-to-but-not-really-sitting-with-the-pain-and-grief-and-allowing-it-to-come-out-so-I-can-fully-heal. Grief doesn’t really work on one’s own terms, and I cannot outdistance it anymore. Nor am I trying to.

This year, when it wells up, I am welcoming it to the surface, holding it, and then letting it go. I am finally–truly–walking wading through the muck because I know I need to and because I am finally okay with doing so. Mainly, I think, because I feel better equipped to wade…or because I’ve finally come to a place where I really am okay with letting go of the pain and keeping only the memories. Either way, I’m leaning into the process in a way I haven’t before.

Babies: Let ’em cry?

Psychology Today recently published an article on the “Dangers of ‘Crying it out.’” I saw some chatter about it on Facebook, but didn’t have time to read the article or engage the topic initially.

And then a parent asked me what I thought.

So I read the article. And I have plenty to say about it. In some places I agree. In others, not so much. If you’re interested in my thoughts, I’m going to provide a couple of caveats and then dive in. Hang on for the ride.

If psychology and research sound like blah blah blah mumbo jumbo did you suddenly lapse into Chinese, this may or may not be the post for you. You have been warned.

Caveat 1: Parenting is an INCREDIBLY hard job. It’s the hardest–and hopefully most rewarding–work people do.

Caveat 2: Every child is different. Every parent is different. You have to find the parenting practices that work for you and your child. ***Please note that ANY form of abuse or neglect is NOT a viable parenting practice.

That said, here we go.

The article was written by Darcia Narvaez, PhD. She’s an evolutionary psychologist. Although there are parts of evolutionary psych I can get behind, most of it gets dumped by most psychologists who aren’t of the evolutionary persuasion.

The article appeared in Psychology Today. Although this magazine has some good stuff at times, a practicing psychologist referring to Psychology Today as his or her first line for empirical information about…well…anything is akin to a sex therapist relying on Cosmo for advice for his or her clients. Psychology Today is not a research publication. It is neither peer reviewed nor refereed. It is a publication in pop psychology.

But let’s not diminish entirely the knowledge of Dr. Narvaez. Here’s where I (and LOTS of good, quality research that has been published in peer reviewed, refereed journals) agree:

  • Babies grow from being held. This is one of the reasons kangaroo care has been incredibly successful for premature infants.
  • Babies are not able to communicate verbally, so they gesture and, if necessary cry to get the attention of their caregivers in order to get their needs met. Once they have gotten what they need, they are calm again.
  • There ARE longterm effects of undercare or need-neglect in babies…and in children of all ages. (More on that in a minute.)
  • Secure attachment IS related to responsive parenting.
  • When a baby–or child…or adult–is stressed, cortisol is released, which can have physiological ramifications.
  • Disordered stress reactivity can be established as a long-term pattern (not necessarily for life).
  • Self-regulation can be undermined when parents don’t respond. But parents have to do a LOT of not responding for this to occur.
  • Caregiver responsiveness is related to a lot of positive child outcomes and positive adjustment.

WE CAN NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE VALUE OF POSITIVE PARENTING BEHAVIOR. These behaviors include warmth, sensitivity to your child and his or her needs, positive interactions with your child.

Narvaez cites several articles/books along the evolutionary psych lines. I didn’t look those up. What I DID spend time looking through was some of the stuff from the journal Development and Psychopathology. One article that was cited in particular is worth noting. I’ll spare you the summary I originally wrote because of its length. But here are the major take home points:

Ultimately, critics agree that our understanding of neurobiology and the effects of early experience on developmental outcomes is still new. We don’t know enough to make definitive statements. Here’s what we DO know:

  • A SIGNIFICANT amount of growth and development occurs in multiple areas of a child’s functioning in prenatal and early postnatal years.
  • These early years are likely a critical/sensitive period for children regarding the effects of exposure to toxins, nutrition and–possibly–stress.
  • If a child has some type of neurological disorder such as PKU or autism, this period seems to be a sensitive period for long-term beneficial effects of early intervention on brain development and behavior.
  • Parental mental health during this period is a significant factor regarding early brain activity and behavior in children, as well as long-term adjustment and outcomes.

Another thing we know:

  • Not every child with a good beginning winds up in a good place. Conversely, not every child with a bad beginning winds up in a bad place. There are lots of terms for these things. About the latter, it’s called resilience, folks. And determining the risk factors that detract from and protective factors that contribute to resilience is the stuff of which careers are made.

A few other issues with the Psychology Today article.

Narvaez NEVER defines “crying it out.”

  • I am not a proponent for neglect or abuse. Letting a child “cry it out” all. the. time. and never responding to his or her needs IS neglect, friends. And prolonged neglect and abuse DOES change one’s neural wiring. It DOES have long-term negative effects. Letting a two year old “cry it out” in a tantrum–assuming the child is not doing anything to intentionally harm him/herself–likely will not have long term negative effects. Letting an infant “cry it out” at bed time–assuming all other needs have been met and the child has not moved in the crib into a position that compromises safety (Thanks be for video monitors)–likely will not have long term negative effects. NEVER responding to your child who wakes up crying in the middle of the night–that’s a problem. NEVER responding to your child when he or she indicates a need–that’s a problem. Because it DOES compromise self-regulation (which children learn from primary caregivers, folks). It DOES increase cortisol, which affects neurobiology. It DOES create a long-term pattern of negative stress reactivity.

Narvaez NEVER talks about balance.

  • Let’s assume for a minute that you have an established bedtime routine with your child–which should start when they are infants. (If you DON’T have a routine, try it out and see if it makes bedtime different in some way.) Let’s assume that this routine incorporates some down-regulating of energy. It may be kicked off by bath time, followed by a soothing rubdown with that Johnson & Johnson or Aveeno nighttime lotion with the lavender smell. How about a book? A few cuddles? Then the child is put in his or her bed with maybe a back rub and a song or two. Then the parent leaves. And the child cries. The child has not compromised his or her safety. All other needs have been met. And you let the child “cry it out.” Let’s also assume that, when the child IS awake, you are positive and engaging with your child, that you meet your child’s needs as quickly as possible. That you create a warm, secure, enriching environment for your child. Is there harm in letting your child “cry it out” at bed time then?

Here’s the other thing about soothing which was NEVER mentioned. Every child is different. Every parent is different. A child’s time to soothe (i.e., the time it takes for the child to calm down) will vary by child. If your child has a difficult temperament, the experience will be more challenging for the parent who feels exhausted, incompetent, and helpless because they can’t ever soothe their own baby for crying out loud. And the parent can become less inclined to engage with the child and less inclined to soothe distress. If this continues to occur over time, it CAN lead to psychopathology (e.g., anxiety, depression, attachment difficulties) (note I did not say psychopath…as in Silence of the Lambs. We have this generic label of psychopathology for ALL disorders lumped together).

One of the leading infant researchers, T. Berry Brazelton, suggests that if parents strike a balance between letting an infant cry for a brief period (i.e., 5-10 minutes) and providing comfort, babies gradually learn to soothe themselves better.

One of the parents who discussed the Psychology Today article on the Facey Face said that she and her husband basically do just that. If the baby cries, the wait a bit, then go in, rub her back and help relocate the pacifier. The baby calms down and they can leave. Sometimes return trips are necessary. The more regularly they do this, however, the less they are having to do it at all.

I know parents who let their baby “cry it out” at bedtime, and the parents found, in the long run, that bedtime became easier over time and that the baby grew into a competent, well-adjusted child/teen/adult (raises hand). I also know parents who respond to every cry or expressed “need” at bedtime and STILL have difficulty with putting their child to bed (i.e., the child is harder to put to bed) 3, 4, 5, or more years later.

Again, this is a practice that will vary by parent. And child. And you have to find what works (within reason, folks) because SLEEP IS IMPORTANT. I cannot stress that enough. But you also have to find balance and ways to engage in positive parenting behaviors with your child(ren). Because ultimately, that’s what seems to make all the difference in the world.

You, too, can survive prelims

Last night, I finished the written part of my prelim exam. Basically, the prelim or comp or qualifying exam is the ultimate pass/fail test. You work your tail off for two weeks writing non-stop. Then a couple weeks later, you sit before your committee as they fire questions at you–partly about what you wrote, partly about anything else they deem important. If you pass, you get to continue to jump hurdles. If you fail, you either have to re-do part of it, or they thank you for your time and wish you a nice life.

But fear not, dear reader. It can be done. Well, the written work can be done. Of course, I have no idea how I’ve done on my responses–and it’s hard to judge when you’ve proofed your work with very little brain matter left. But, hey. It’s over. And for your entertainment (and for some of you, encouragement), I thought I’d give you a little recap to my two weeks of writing.


Question 1:
Arrived at noon on Sunday; couldn’t open until the clock started at 9 AM on Monday
Time allotted to answer: 16 hours
Actual time used: 12-ish hours
Butt status: holding steady
# of pages written: 17?
Brain matter: still fully in tact
Time to compose email and attach document: 3 minutes
Time between composing email and pushing Send: 5 minutes

This question came from my scariest committee member, so I had no idea what to expect. It actually wasn’t that bad and served as a good warm-up for getting into the process. I even managed to squeeze in yoga that evening. My butt thanked me for that.

Question 2:
Arrived at noon on Monday; made the mistake of reading it then. Committee member had lapsed into Chinese. Closed the email and kept hammering away at question 1. Talked with committee member 2 on Tuesday morning.
Time allotted to answer: Him: I really don’t care how long you take. Me: Good. Because I think I need about five days to wrap my brain around this question and to formulate a response. Him: I don’t care if you take two weeks.
Actual time used: 15-ish hours spread over four days
Butt status: fair but starting to protest. a lot.
# of pages written: somewhere around 12. He wanted it short and sweet. I was happy to oblige.
Brain matter: foggy but usable
Time to compose email and attach document: 3 minutes
Time between composing email and pushing Send: 3 minutes

Meta-analysis. I knew we’d have to make friends eventually. I actually really appreciated this question since it was work I was going to have to do at some point regardless. I at least have a sense of how to analyze my data (once I have it all) for my dissertation. And, of course, I was haunted for part of the week by that damn Q statistic.

I should stop here and let you know that I realized I would need to reward myself handsomely for finishing this…experience. So I ordered a new yoga mat (one of those THICK sturdy ones for that hard floor in the studio) and a yoga towel. I even sprung for shipment so it was guaranteed to arrive by the end of the week.

Question 3:
Arrived at noon on Monday.
Time allotted to answer: between arrival and 9PM Wednesday night.
Actual time used: hard to say…it got a little hairy those few days
Butt status: me thinks thou doth protest too much…but I’ll let it slide under the circumstances
# of pages written: 21?
Brain matter: I felt it dripping on my shoulder by Wednesday night.
Time to compose email and attach document: 1.5 minutes
Time between composing email and pushing Send: 1 minute

I appreciated this question, too, since it pertained to my dissertation and I can extract the purpose and rationale sections from it. I think. But I was feeling the crunch of time more so than on any other question. Monday, I was in the counseling center with time blocked to work on it a little. Then the front desk asked if I would take a client for another counselor who was in the midst of an involuntary commitment. Then I had two more scheduled clients. Then Tuesday, I had a doctor’s appointment and then class and then actual work in the advising office which was a little nutty. So it was really 3:00 by the time I felt like I got to start something. I worked until 10:30 that night, missing the SOTU so I could do my references section (my apologies, Mr. President). Wednesday, I opted out of work and stayed home that morning. I needed the mental break and had to go to seminar for the counseling center anyway, so I trekked over to class for that. On the way home, I received a phone call to help with the process for dealing with someone who was suicidal. I connected the appropriate people but remained tangentially connected for the next couple of hours. Thankfully, I was nearly done by that point. Actually, I finished writing, proofed (HA!) what I had, and sent it on in time to get some dinner with my family. It was about 7:00.

Those boxes with my mat and towel arrived Tuesday. They sat in my office and stared at me until…
Question 4:
Arrived at 7:30 AM Thursday. Opened the question at 9AM.
Time allotted to answer: 16 hours
Actual time used: 11.5 hours
Butt status: I. can’t. take it. ANYMORE.
# of pages written: 14
Brain matter: What brain matter?
Time to compose email and attach document: 30 seconds
Time between composing email and pushing Send: .001 second

This question was also not bad and was similar in nature to the first one. I sent it off at 8:22 last night and got an email this morning that said, “You realize you sent this a day early, right?” I’m sorry. When you tell me I have 16 hours, I assume that means I have 16 hours. So I’m done. I don’t WANT to look at it anymore. And I’m not going to. Because I have no brain left. And I have clients to see today. That oughtta be interesting.

At some point, maybe this evening while I’m home alone, I’ll clear the rubble in my office. Because I have a dissertation to work on. Specifically, a prospectus that should be in my committee members’ respective in-boxes by Tuesday. Otherwise, I can’t reward myself with my Clinique order.

Moral of the story…You, too, can survive prelims.

PS HELLO, yoga mat and towel. I can’t. wait. to use you this weekend.

Initiate Radio Silence

We are two days into the start of the fall 2010 semester.

Holy hell.

You would think at this point in my program that I would have it a little easier. And the reality is that I could have, but I needed some “professional development” that is not otherwise offered through what is required. So. Here’s what I’ll be doing this fall….

-Taking my last required class for my PhD (holler)

-Surviving my last required class for my PhD (because I will seriously have to know: This study published by these people looked at this. In what year was it published?)

-Forming my dissertation committee

-Taking prelims (basically a month long test to see how well I can write under pressure and then talk about what I wrote)

-Proposing my dissertation

-Working in the advising office

-Doing a practicum in the University Counseling Center (professional development and really (hopefully) good experience)

-Figuring out how to transport my child from home to Apex High to the Hill Center in Durham (12:00-3:00) and home again. It takes a village, people. Seriously.

-Trying to maintain my sanity and a workout routine

-Doing one more race this year (a nice, flat 10K)…although my dear friend Robin is trying to talk me into a half marathon in Novermber…

-Trying to still be a good wife, mother, daughter…and hopefully friend

-Celebrating my 5th anniversary (helloooooo Bob Timberlake Inn)

-State Fair, VA Beach for one race, the beach at Labor Day, probably heading south for Thanksgiving with a ton of people

And those are just the things off the top of my head.

So, dear readers, though I have other things about which I need and want to blog, if the blog is awfully quiet for a few months, you’ll know why.

And if you see my dead carcass lying around…well…just step over me and keep on going. At least I’ll be asleep.