My hubby Brad and I have two boys — one little, one big — who are funny, messy, energetic, stubborn, sensitive, thoughtful, loud, joyful beings who mentor me every day — knowingly or not — in patience, purpose, passion and unconditional love. They know how to push all my buttons and touch my heart in the span of six seconds. Equal parts exhausting and exhilarating, right?
On top of the normal ups and downs of family life, we’ve faced some unique circumstances that have shaped us, bonded us and empowered us as a family. I share those aspects of our journey on my blog, in social media and in speeches because I know there are so many other mamas out there wondering how to navigate rough waters, how to lean on holy forces in challenging times, and how to embrace and explore their kids’ innate gifts and intuitive awareness. If sharing pieces of our stories can add light to yours, it’s well worth being vulnerable and transparent about our journey.
You can click the tabs below to peek inside some of these experiences + a few favorite resources…
Our oldest son, Ryder, entered the world in pretty bad shape, with a collapsed lung and his heart in the wrong spot. It was terrifying, but he made a miraculous recovery. I didn’t fare as well.
The trauma of that long and scary ordeal catapulted me into a mental health crisis; I spiraled down quickly and it was super hard to find my way out. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t function; I couldn’t really see the point of going on. During my eight-week check-up after Ryder’s birth, I told my nurse practitioner that I couldn’t stop crying and thought something might be wrong. When I asked if there was a hotline I could call, she asked if I wanted to hurt my baby. I said no (what woman would risk saying yes, I wondered?). So, she said I’d be fine and to just read some parenting magazines. I felt ashamed. I figured every new mother must feel that way, and that I was ridiculous for bringing it up.
After a more than a year of struggling in the dark, Brad and my parents intervened. A potent blend of awesome therapists and important medicine rescued me. Whaddya know! Turns out feeling numb and sad and crazy isn’t normal! My healing journey through postpartum depression (PPD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was long and hard, but well worth it. Those years cracked me wide open; I got to redefine what brought me joy, learn to work with the intuition that was rushing back in, and decide how I really wanted to live out my days.
I have a special place in my heart for mamas who have struggled through the same kind of darkness. You are meant to be happy and healthy, no matter what it takes, and our children are so much better off when they have happy, healthy parents. When I was going through it, there were few resources and little compassion (the shame-and-blame on the internet was horrific when I first started telling my story a decade ago!). If you have a sense something isn’t quite right after becoming mama, please do not be afraid to ask for help. Here are a few of my favorite resources:
When our youngest son, Truman, was two-and-a-half, we had him assessed for speech issues; he was a giggly snuggle-bug but was hardly saying any words. We had speech therapists come to our home…and they sent more therapists…and after a few months, we had a meeting to get the results of their evaluations. I can still feel myself standing in the parking lot with Brad after that meeting, feeling stunned by the news about our boy. It wasn’t just his speech. It was cognitive. It was social-emotional. It was sensory. It was motor skills. It was probably autism. And there was no instruction booklet for any of it.
Eventually, further testing revealed he was, indeed, on the autism spectrum. It felt like jumping hurdles at first – leaping over barriers like superheroes, trying to beat the clock with early intervention and nourish his little brain as much as possible. Deep down, I hoped it would be enough to just make all the D words go away: delays, deficiency, disorder. Maybe we could cure him. Maybe we could make him the poster boy for early intervention. Maybe someday he’d eat more than three foods or be willing to walk in the grass or be able to say a full sentence.
Irrational? Maybe. But that’s how I get through the muck: I focus on the positive and remind myself that anything is possible. I called in the angels, big time. And when I did, it wasn’t to beg them to help him get smarter or stronger or less sensitive to the world around him — but to stay happy. And you know what? That boy has made such incredible progress. Every little milestone feels like such a victory. But more than those milestones, I am proudest of who he’s becoming as a person — a jumping, singing, imaginative boy with a rich inner world and a reputation for exuding joy. He has remained happy. Hallelujah! He is wonderfully kind. He notices details and remembers moments like no one I’ve ever known. In so many ways, his autism is a gift.
Parenting a child on the autism spectrum is hard, people. Heartbreaking, sometimes. But it’s also amazing. To see the world through Tru’s eyes brings me tears of gratitude and awe. It’s why I’m so thrilled about Tera Girardin’s new book, Faces of Autism, which features 30 kids on the spectrum — including our Tru! He is so thrilled to be in it and to use it as a tool to tell people how his brain works. The book and her evolving work celebrates these kiddos and their superpowers, which is so needed and so cool.
Minneapolis NBC station KARE11 did a story in April 2017 on Tera, her book and our bundle of joy. Click here to watch.
When I was a little girl, I could fly.
I’m not talking about the times my dad would lift me in the air and twirl me above the crowd, nor about my great big imagination carrying me off to faraway places. I’m telling you heart-to-heart, hand-to-God: I flew. I realize it sounds preposterous, impossible. I don’t understand it myself, but have such vivid memories of it that I’ve never doubted it. And that’s saying something, because I’ve doubted a lot about my lifetime of paranormal, hard-to-believe experiences.
I can still feel myself, till I was eight or nine, sitting on the front step of my childhood home, frequently aware of otherworldly beings in my midst – loving protectors, ethereal guardians. They kept me company, made me feel safe and sometimes, on my favorite days, they helped me fly. Only up and down the sidewalk of our tree-lined avenue, mind you; they were very respectful of my parents’ rules – no leaving our side of the street!
All I had to do was move my arms like I was swimming the breaststroke to pull my body forward. I could see the sidewalk three or four feet beneath me as I’d make my way up and down the block. It was the most incredible feeling; I was absolutely giddy, my whole body buzzing with glee and awe. Were they out-of-body experiences? Astral travel? Lucid dreams? I have no idea. They felt real – and they still do, all these years later.
The last time I remember it happening, I reached the end of our block and looked across the street to see a bunch of the cool neighbor boys driving their Big Wheels and bikes in circles on a driveway. One stopped cold and looked straight at me. I felt instant panic, my feet fell to the sidewalk and I ran home. I remember how heavy my body felt as I ran down the block, and how my heart ached, unsure what he saw but sensing that I’d done something wrong or abnormal – and that he might tell others. That fear kept me from flying again – literally and metaphorically.
I clipped my wings, so to speak; dimmed my light. I was very cautious about whom I shared my not-so-normal experiences with, growing quieter as the years passed. But I never forgot the flying. And I never forgot the angels at my back. Or the spirits dancing around me, singing to me, applauding for me. That I had parents who didn’t shut me down when I spoke of those beings, of those experiences, is some kind of miracle. Even though I knew many people doubted the things I heard and saw, my parents never made me feel awkward or weird. They encouraged me to do and follow whatever felt good and positive and light-filled. And that was so important to have that foundation of trust and unconditional love.
So that is my aim with my own kids, too. Many people ask me if my gifts are genetic and whether my boys are as intuitive as I was. For their privacy, I refrain from sharing many details about their experiences as they’re getting older. These boys of mine are certainly feeling their way through life, working their way through understanding and interpreting and using their own gifts. And you can bet their dad and I encourage them to lean into the magic, into what feels good and positive and light-filled.
In fact, that is my best advice for all the parents who ask how to handle things with their own intuitive kids: help them lean into their magic. Don’t be scared; they can feel your concern. Don’t try to hide it; encourage them to be themselves and share with those whom they feel safe with. Trust their knowing, and let it inform how you tap into your own intuition.
Many people dream of changing the world; my dad actually did it.
Dr. Peter Benson (1946-2011) was known worldwide as a pioneer in the field of positive youth development. I got to grow up watching him impact the way schools and communities help kids thrive, and I later got to work alongside him on projects we had a shared passion for. How lucky am I!?
Even though he crossed over in 2011, his work lives on and continues to inspire so many educators, leaders and families — including my own. One the world’s leading authorities on positive youth development, he served for more than 25 years as president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Search Institute, where he and his team conceptualized, created and extensively researched a new way to help youth thrive. Rather than focus on fixing what was wrong with young people, my dad proposed focusing on what was right – pinpointing 40 Developmental Assets that kids need to succeed. The Developmental Assets framework has become the most frequently cited and widely utilized approach to youth development in the world.
Throughout his renowned career, he encouraged parents, educators and caregivers to redefine success in terms of thriving – a state of being fully alive and in love with our lives. My dad’s ultimate goal was to unite and engage all adults in the mission of raising young people to possess a strong sense of purpose, joyful passion, and the courage to be their best selves. In the last years of his life, cut short by cancer in 2011, he devoted much of his energy to his notion of sparks – the innate and positive traits, interests and passions every child needs help nurturing.
Want to now more about his work? My dad wrote or edited more than a dozen books on child and adolescent development and social change, including:
Sparks: How Parents Can Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers
Vision: Awakening Your Potential to Create a Better World
Parent, Teacher, Mentor, Friend: How Every Adult Can Change Kids’ Lives
All Kids Are Our Kids: What Communities Must Do to Raise Caring and Responsible Children and Adolescents
You might also love watching his inspiring TED Talk about sparks…