Category Archives: work life family balance

Cleansing Time

Three weeks ago I left my job. The month started off rocky as I had my first UTI and then my kids got a stomach bug. But things have since settled down. We’ve gotten into a good routine, but more importantly I’m starting to recover emotionally from burn out.

I’d worried that I would go insane at home with the kids, but I’m actually enjoying it. I had been working four tens, getting up at five and waking my husband (and he is not someone who is easy to wake up and get moving, truthfully, it is easier to get my autistic five year old up and moving than it is my 34 year old husband) and kids up,. And since Andy does not do mornings, I was the one getting the kids ready and in the car and dropped off at daycare. And I am not a morning person myself. The pressure of doing all of this was getting so bad that I would wake up at 2AM and stare at the ceiling for three hours, unable to sleep due to the worries about oversleeping and failing to get everyone out of bed and out the door on time.

Now I sleep through the night AND I get to sleep in till 7, have a leisurely breakfast with my kiddos and then take them for a walk.

Buddy got a bike for his birthday, and he loves riding it. Every morning he talks excitedly about riding his bike, and I love watching him ride it. He’s very good at stopping when he gets a certain distance away from me and Sissy and waiting for us to catch up. Sissy insists on walking the 10 minute walk to and from the park like a big girl, though I carry her on my shoulders if need be. She’s becoming quite the naturalist and loves chasing birds and looking at plants and trees and collecting what she finds. And considering I don’t have a lot of mental energy in the mornings and tend to become more productive as the day passes, I like being able to take an hour or two (yes, we stay there that long, and usually I’m dragging the kids home because they don’t want to leave) in the mornings to just enjoy being outdoors without doing anything emotionally taxing.

One thing I worried about when I started to accept that Buddy had autism was his ability to bond with his sister. And I can happily say they are bonding. They both love being outdoors, eating popcorn, reading, dancing, listening to music and they’ve even started singing together. And at night during their bedtime routine they’ve started cuddling with each other when I sing. Yes, they also tease and torment each other and if one of them dares touch the other’s toy it’s WWIII, but that’s part of having a sibling. Overall they seem to like each other, which is good, because they’re stuck with each other!

Monday, after a fun two hour visit to the park in which Buddy and Sissy threw a tons of rocks into the creek, I got an email from my business partner talking shop, and I remembered that heck, I’ve got to get back to work in January! It was a bit of a shock just how much I was enjoying my breather, but it’s more than that, it’s been healing.

One thing I’ve found is that most counselors experience a lot of anxiety. I’m no exception. Strangely our clients tend to think we’re perfect beings who don’t understand the anguish of anxiety, but trust me, odds are if you’ve ever seen a counselor, that counselor has struggled with anxiety.

I was starting to reach record levels this year. For the last four years I’ve been working with clients who are essentially compelled to go into treatment to get their children back from the state or for probation/parole. Naturally, these people are not exactly excited about treatment, and have serious mental health issues that warrant state involvement and tend to be a difficult bunch.

When I was fresh and excited about my work, one thing I loved was seeing a pissed off, difficult client start group and transform into someone motivated and pleasant. In fact, some of my favorite clients started off as my more difficult ones. The group process is amazing, and by and large once people realized I wasn’t going to preach morality at them for 3 hours a day they tended to come around and were eager to work on their issues.

However, while a lot of the times there were good outcomes, sometimes there weren’t, and strangely, dealing with someone who was a reluctant newby didn’t become easier with time, it became harder and more and more emotionally taxing. There was a sense of, “well, I got X number of people motivated, and still more come in.” I just didn’t have it in me to continue dealing with the anger and resentment people have when they start treatment. And knowing that someone is only coming to see you because they fear the consequences of not doing so isn’t exactly good for the self-esteem.

Worse, seeing the new people was causing clinical levels of anxiety for me. When I would see a difficult or reluctant client it would get so bad that my chest would feel tight and I would have difficultly breathing enough to speak. It was hard for me to not think about all the bad ways a session could go or wonder if I would finally have someone go off the rails and do something horrible. I even had one that I worried was going to come into the office with an AK-47 and start shooting.

Combine this with caregiver fatigue. At work I took care of people. People who by and large have experience trauma. And then at home I took care of people.

To handle it I started detaching emotionally at work. I was pretty much doing what doctors do. I went to work for 10 hours and didn’t feel and walked around detached. It didn’t matter what anyone said or did to me because I’d turned myself off. It’s not a good way to live or practice counseling.

I have a lot of thoughts about CPS, probation, substance use and treatment, but I still can’t get those down yet. I’ve tried several times to get something together but keep hitting a dead end.

Overall I really needed this change. At the time I realized I was detached but I didn’t see how bad it was. Now I’m moving onto a career where I will be seeing clients who aren’t being forced to attend treatment, and my friends who have gone down that path before me assure me it is easier on the ego, more satisfying and less soul crushing. In some ways I’m kicking myself for not getting out sooner, but I think the important thing is that I got to this point.

Because it means beautiful mornings walking in the park with two little people who want to be with me more than anyone else in this world, as opposed to a cheerless room with a group of people who are compelled by the state to be with me. I’ll take the former, any day.

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Why I’m Not Putting a Christmas Tree Up This Year

Me and Christmas have a complicated history. I think if I didn’t have young children and family who celebrated it I would not observe it. But I have both, so I do, some years more enthusiastically than others.

Traditionally in my family the day after Thanksgiving was reserved for decorating the house for Christmas. My parents would give my sister and I an ornament every year and decorating the tree was a nice trip down nostalgia lane, something the whole family would do together. We’d see the ornaments from previous years and talk about the memories tied in with them. We’d play Christmas carols, bake cookies, etc. It was nice.

I figured my Catholic husband would enjoy decorating a tree. While we were dating we never bothered, but when we got married we got a tree. And I was the only one decorating it. Turns out Andy really doesn’t care about the tree. His lost his father and oldest brother around the holidays and it soured him on them. He just likes the good eating on Christmas Day but other than that doesn’t want to do much with them. After Buddy came around, I was still the only one decorating the tree while wrangling Buddy, and then eventually wrangling Sissy as well. All by myself. And wondering why I was putting in such effort for a holiday I merely tolerate. Especially as the thing that made decorating the tree enjoyable was sharing memories with someone who could speak. And neither of my kids have that kind of vocabulary yet.

But if I mentioned to people I was thinking of not decorating they would insist I had to. I have young children! It would be horrible if they didn’t have a Christmas tree! So I did. Resentfully.

Last year Buddy loved the tree, but in his excitement was not as careful with it as he should have been, and keeping the tree safe from him, our German Shepherd, and our cat was an exercise in frustration. We also lost some ornaments, some of which I was secretly glad were broken, others which had sentimental value to me.

And then of course after all this effort to decorate and keep the tree safe, there’s the extra effort in taking it down. Which is also a tremendous pain in the ass.

So after taking the tree down last year I decided that this year we aren’t doing a tree. Or decorating. And damn what anyone else thinks!

Considering my kids are so young and do get so excited about the tree, something about not decorating seems downright scandalous. But I’ve been working on creating other traditions instead. For instance I got some green felt and cut it out in the shape of a tree and had them decorate that with little pompoms, which they liked. They liked it so much I’m going to have to run out and get more pompoms as soon as I’m sure that the stores won’t be crowded (yeah, I have issues with agoraphobia). And they both enjoyed dancing to Christmas carols.

They’ll be cookies to decorate, shows to watch, and we take them to plenty of activities where they can meet Santa and see Christmas trees that they won’t be lacking in Christmas activities. But for now dealing with a tree is just more stress than I can handle, especially when the bulk of caring for it falls disproportionately on me.

And perhaps, once the kids get older and more mature, we can get the tree out again.

Disappointed in Humanity

Last Friday, my usually even tempered Sissy became irritable. She’d dissolve into tears at the slightest thing. She started running a fever and lost her appetite. Then she got a rash on her hands and feet. In short, she got hand, foot and mouth.

I’d never heard of hand, foot and mouth until Buddy caught it a few years ago. Buddy’s case was very mild. A mild rash, I don’t think he even ran a fever and it didn’t seem to bother him any. Sissy’s case was a lot worse. She was in so much pain she couldn’t sleep for more than thirty minutes at a stretch and woke Buddy up with her screaming. Andy and I took caring for them in 4 hour shifts through the weekend. By Sunday we got her sleeping mostly through the night again, though Buddy’s sleep schedule was so thrown it’s taken him till yesterday to sleep through the night (autism and sleep problems go hand in hand). Her fever broke over the weekend, but the rash has been persistent. Andy stayed home with her Monday, while I stayed with her Tuesday and Weds, and Andy again on Thursday. I think/hope the rash will be completely gone tomorrow.

Friday, of course, was when the attacks on Paris happened, and it was while comforting a distraught Sissy that I read about it. So many thoughts, so much to say, but mostly in addition to being physically weighed down, I was emotionally weighed down as I thought about the consequences of the attacks.

On Monday I went to work. Whether or not to tell my boss I was planning on leaving was something I grappled with, and eventually I had to come out and do it simply because to get on insurance panels I would going to need access to a database that they had my information on, and there was no way to get access without them knowing. I was scared to let them know, given my history of working for companies that react poorly when people give notice that they are leaving.

The good news was that I had originally told them I’d leave in February. I assumed that getting on insurance panels would be a tedious, drawn out process. Thankfully it hasn’t been, and I’ve got that part done. Now I just need to build a client base. The bad news is no one wants to start counseling around the holidays. So I told my boss I’d stay through December. I wasn’t exactly thrilled. I’m burnt out and ready to leave, and I was worried about emotionally balancing full time work, private practice AND family responsibilities, but I also wanted stable income during the holidays.

Well, on Monday they told me that starting in December I would have to work part time. Considering the cost of daycare, can’t. What I would bring home would barely cover the cost of it. So I turned in my two week notice.

In some ways I’m relieved that I won’t have to stay through December and, if I do manage to get some clients, I won’t have to balance seeing them with a full time job and taking care of my kids. In some ways I’m mad that my hand was forced. Predominately, I’m numb. I’m exhausted, both physically and emotionally and I’m just ready to be done with this job and to move forward.

Cut to today. It’s Buddy’s fifth birthday! I picked him up from daycare and took him to the store and told him we were getting a birthday cake. He got excited. “Cake! Birthday! Give you hug! Give you hug!” he exclaimed as he ran and hugged me. For him, this is very impressive communication and encouraging.

He happily chose some cupcakes from the bakery. When we got home, we found that Andy had gotten hand, foot and mouth from Sissy. Adults usually don’t get it, so I wasn’t worried about her giving it to us, but it looks like I should have been. For the record, Andy says it is very painful. And Andy can be a rather big baby about these things. Really, I’d rather be sick than him be sick!

So I loaded the kids in the wagon to take them for a quick trip to the playground before it got too dark. While there I got a phone call. Hoping it was from a prospective client I picked it up.

“Who is this?” a female voice of indeterminate age asks.

Stupidly I told them my name. I was still thinking/hoping it was a client. “Who is this?”

“Riaza.”

“What are you wanting?”

Silence. A giggle. Then a little boy says, “We’re going to blow up your daughter.”

“What?” I said, stunned.

More giggling, “We’re going to blow up your daughter.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing on the phone. They hung up. I stared at my kids on the playground in shock. The phone rang again, it was from the same number. I picked it up. Silence. Then I said, “I have caller ID and if you keep harassing me I will call the police.”

They hung up and did not call again. And yes, they were stupid enough to not block their number.

By then it was dark. I was a little bit unnerved. I gathered up my kids and went home. While I got Sissy ready for bed my husband and mom started a reverse number search on the number. It wasn’t anyone we knew, and the LinkedIn profile of the owner shows someone in a prestigious position at a big bank. We’re thinking his kids got a hold of his phone and played a really sick prank. My mom has messaged him on LinkedIn.

It’s sick enough making threats against someone’s daughter, even if you have no intention of acting out on them. But using an Islamic sounding name and making threats to blow her up takes it to an even worse level. Because it perpetuates ugly stereotypes against a group of people and fuels terrorism. I just cannot put into words how disgusted I am by their actions.

Sissy got off to bed. We gave Buddy his gifts and they were all hits. And then he went to bed. It’s been an exhausting week for him as well. And now I’m trying to process everything that has happened and remember that there have been encouraging things even though this week has been draining. I didn’t feel like I had a weekend last weekend because taking care of Sissy was so grueling so I went into this week drained and exhausted and running on fumes, and found I was in for a pummeling when I didn’t have a lot of emotional energy to spare. Now I’m even more drained, exhausted and, though I’m trying to cling to the speckles of hope I’ve found here and there, just disappointment in humanity.

That’s it. That’s how best to describe it. This week, I am disappointed in humanity. We can do so much better.

The Decision to Homeschool

I recently came to the conclusion that it is in Buddy’s best interests to homeschool him. Schools in Texas are simply not kid friendly, and I am very worried about some things happening in his pre-school and that are happening in the districts. I am excited about being able to take this path with him, but I’m also mad. I’m mad that the public schools are so toxic to learning that I feel my only two options are to pay a lot of money I don’t have for private school or to homeschool.

Some background. Pretty much everyone in my family has been a teacher at some point in their careers. Three of my four grandparents have taught in the schools (the fourth gave flying lessons). My mom has worked as a kindergarten teacher for a private school, and I’ve studied child development, worked with children who are differently abled, and taught children and adults in several different settings.

Growing up, my parents were very anti-homeschool. They had a lot of valid complaints about it. It’s largely unregulated. Concerns about Evangelically Christian curriculums and socialization. However, I also have many different learning disabilities, and I really struggled in school in elementary school. My parents advocated for me, and often it was like hitting a brick wall. I know people look at me and say I have a Master’s degree so it can’t have been that bad, but I often feel like I made my accomplishments in spite of school and not because of it.

People who know me now also don’t realize that in elementary school, I hated it so much I never planned on going to college. It wasn’t until things got easier for me in junior high that I changed my plans. But what I found in elementary school made me hate learning.

My parents had been disillusioned by their experiences with me, and for my mom I will say not pulling me out and homeschooling me is one of her biggest regrets. Right now I have the means to generate income in the evenings so I can stay home with them during the day, and though it will be a tremendous amount of effort on my part I feel it is the best route to go down.

That said, I am angry. I am angry that the schools in my area are so not kid friendly. I’m also angry that I have yet to meet a parent in this area who is happy with what is happening in the schools, and I wonder why these policies are being pushed through even though they are so unpopular.

What am I talking about when I say schools are not kid friendly?

  1. No talking at lunch. One of the school districts in my area has a policy that kids eat in silence and then lay their heads down when they are finished. If they talk they are sent to detention. Um, isn’t one of the selling points of school socialization?
  2. Standardized tests. Texas started this trend. It is deeply entrenched here. No one particularly likes it but the general attitude is, “I survived standardized testing and I turned out OK, so I’m not going to protest it.” When I worked as a substitute, one classroom in particular stands out in mind. The lesson plan for math was to have the kids go through the testing manual, just like they were taking the test. This teacher had her lesson planning book out and I looked at it. It was not just something she had assigned for the sub, EVERY DAY all she did for math was having them answer questions in the testing manual. I had several kids ask me about a question that tested their knowledge on the mean, median and mode, and I had to stop class and give an impromptu lecture on it. None of them had heard about these concepts. In short, I do not want my kids to go to school where the textbook is a test manual.
  3. No playgrounds. I have subbed at elementary schools with no playgrounds and no recess. Kids need to move, and they need to play. They both learn better and behave better when they have time for unstructured play. But these days people see unstructured play as worthless…
  4. Homework. My son is in pre-k. He gets a packet of handwriting homework to complete throughout the week. This is not age appropriate work, it also doesn’t teach handwriting that well, and if anything seems like torture for the parents. It also advantages kids who have parents who have the time/means to do this with them over children with parents who do not.
  5. Labeling kids instead of behaviors. When I took an educational psychology class in college, we were told about a study where they gave a group of students a test, randomly selected several students and told those teachers that those students were gifted and they would be the next Einstein. Let me make this clear, these kids were actually average, no different than their peers. The only difference was in how they were labeled to their teachers. At the end of the year, those students who in actuality did no better or worse than their peers, surpassed their peers on a test given to them at the end of the year. The reason was because of the attention that their teachers gave to them. Cameras in the classroom showed that the teachers subconsciously set those kids up for success in a way they did not set up other students, and those students benefited. Sadly, we also know the reverse occurs. A kid gets saddled with the label of being “dumb” or a “troublemaker”, and teachers look for behaviors that confirms those labels while they discard behaviors that don’t as flukes, if they notice it at all. So I was very angry when I started getting notes home that my four year old with autism was being “defiant” for not staying in his assigned area. For one thing, I’m not even sure he understands the concept of staying in an assigned area, for another, teachers should know better than to label him as defiant! They should describe his behavior, not saddle him with a dangerous label that could follow him as he progresses in school! (Further, they have the behavior color codes, and every day he gets the perfect color code, which tells me his behavior is not disruptive and giving him such a negative label for not following instructions or staying in his seat when he has documented issues showing he does not always understand what is expected of him troubles me).

As someone who knows so much about child development, it is frustrating to see so little of the fruits of what we have found works best to help children learn in the schools. Kids learn best through play. Kids learn a heckuva lot more playing with blocks than they do with flashcards. Kids often want to please, but sometimes can’t figure out what we want because their brains and senses are still developing, which is why we describe the problematic behavior rather than labeling them as troublemakers! Or rather, this is what we should be doing, but aren’t.

I want to send my children to a school environment that is based on play, that gives them lots of time outdoors to move, that has someone help them as they learn to interact with others. We know so much about what works when it comes to educating children. And I am mad as hell that we do not see this in our schools.

I’m mad that my tax dollars are going to support a school system that I see as being so kid unfriendly that I am worried about continuing to send my son there. And the general consensus among my fellow counselors and specialists in autism when I tell them about my decision has been, “that’s the best thing you can do. The earlier the better.” The fact that people know and accept that the schools are not kid friendly, especially for kids who are differently abled, and movements to change it in my area are practically non-existent (I’ve checked) is maddening.

It also concerns me that in Texas, there’s pretty much a two tier educational system. A quality one for those who can afford private school and/or have the means and education to homeschool effectively, and then the lesser public school options. Yes, I could put my efforts to trying to starting a movement for reform, but my parents were never very successful, and I figure any change would happen too late for my children to benefit. The better option seems to be to put my efforts into giving them a quality homeschooling education.

I found a secular curriculum where the lessons plans are done out with modifications for children with autism. My child’s progress will be tracked by a computer, which will make things easier on me as I still will have to see clients in private practice to stay afloat financially. I also plan to keep Buddy in private therapy and to find a music group and swimming classes for socialization. He also loves his Sunday School class at the UU and will be exposed to different points of views there. I really dislike the idea of homeschooling to indoctrinate.

A final thing I think is imperative is to read the critiques from adults who were homeschooled. And reading and listening with the intent to understand and learn from them. What did they like about it? What would they change about it? What can I do to avoid the mistakes their parents made and build on what successes their parents had?

I’m making a big decision that will impact my kids tremendously. I owe it to them to make sure I give them an education that will prepare them for life in the real world.