What it is Like to be Caught in a Rip Current

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I’ve heard about the dangers of rip currents all my life, and have also been taught how to escape their powerful pull. I had always assumed that being caught in one would feel like suddenly being pulled away from the shore. It turns out that it can actually feel like nothing at all, and you often don’t realize you are in one until you are in real danger. And I never REALLY thought that it would happen to ME.

Let me rewind. Last week my family went on a mini-vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The winds were 10 to 15 miles an hour the entire time we were there, and the surf was very active. Some areas had red flags, but some had yellow. My children had been waiting all year to swim in the ocean waves, so on our first day we decided to travel to a yellow flag area and swim in front of a lifeguard to help ensure safety. Nags Head had even employed hang-gliders to help monitor the ocean from above (that has got to be the Coolest. Job. EVER.). In the Outer Banks there are a lot of areas with steep drop-offs right at the water’s edge, but we found an area that had a sandbar not too far out. It helped us enjoy the water without being in very deep. My husband and I were very cautious, kept our children at arm’s length, and tried not to get in water that was above waist high. We also didn’t stay in the water longer than an hour because we knew the dangers of becoming overtired. We had a fun and uneventful afternoon, and in hindsight I think that made me overconfident.  Continue reading

When Public Figures Mess Up

In the past few days and weeks several public figures have had damaging personal information come to light. I’m talking about several different situations, not just Ashley Madison revelations. Some of these transgressions are seemingly worse than others, and some actually hurt people. I don’t make light of that. However, the media is always thrilled to have these juicy stories. Details of people’s private lives and personal failings are then trotted out to the world for their entertainment value. Commenters proceed to swarm all over the Internet and some are positively gleeful, saying, “This is great!” or “Haha, BUSTED!” There are cries of “Hypocrite!” Many are brutal, saying all kinds of cruel, crude, profane statements, even wishing them physical harm. When these fallen public figures happen to be Christians the screaming gets worse, and all Christians are painted with the same brush. People rally to stand in self-righteous judgement, seemingly forgetting their own flaws.

I understand that some of these individuals are experiencing a backlash because of their own previous statements. They have stood in harsh judgement of others and hurt people with their words. The irony is not lost on me. I hope maybe they learn something when they reflect upon the reality that they, too, are flawed. That being said, I still couldn’t believe some of the things that have been said online to those individuals. Reading the comments on a well-known You-Tuber’s page made me physically ill and brought tears to my eyes (but to be fair so did the news of what he is alleged to have done).

What I keep thinking over and over again in my mind is this: All humans are flawed, all humans make mistakes. At times some of us even do horrible things. Ultimately ALL humans on some level are hypocrites. Each one of us has a gap between what we say we believe/the person we want to be versus the way we actually live. And we all must ultimately face the consequences for our own mistakes or hypocrisy. But do those consequences warrant being subjected to public cruelty? (Click here to see a conversation about this subject on my Facebook page.)

Why is it that we take such joy in seeing other people fail? Why does it make us feel so much better about ourselves? And how is it that the simple disconnect of a screen between us and another person allows us to intentionally inflict hurt upon a fellow human being? Is it because we think they are so deserving of the Scarlet A, or the stoning? It seems we have not evolved very far from colonial days when a rule breaker would be placed in the courtyard stocks so that others could throw rotten fruit at them, instead of simply allowing someone to face judgement in the court system.

I make lots of mistakes too. There are things in my past that I regret. I have also stood in judgment and been harsh to others. But I want to do better in my own life and in the way I treat people.

I hope I never rejoice in the downfall of another human being. I may be relieved that they are no longer continuing down the wrong path, and I might nod understandingly at the fact that they are bearing the consequences for their own poor choices. I will probably even be relieved that they are brought to justice. But I do not wish to rejoice in it, or participate in lynch-mob mentality. I won’t use it as an opportunity to further tear someone apart by kicking a man when he’s down, so to speak. There are better ways to stand up for what is right. There are better ways to achieve justice.

The media and harsh commenters and vilifiers seem to forget that there’s often collateral damage… family members, spouses, and innocent children. Your words wound them as well.

Remember folks, we’re all in this together. Let’s be kind.

(This post was edited to add the following: “I understand that some of these individuals are experiencing a backlash because of their own previous statements. They have stood in harsh judgement of others and hurt people with their words. The irony is not lost on me. I hope maybe they learn something when they reflect upon the reality that they, too, are flawed.”)

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In the Blink of an Eye: Autism and Wandering

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We had a little scare yesterday. I went to pick the Ninjas up from camp and found the littlest Ninja waiting outside the building by himself. He explained matter-of-factly that he was just really ready to leave, so he decided to go look for me. It didn’t even occur to him that he was doing something wrong until he saw how upset I was.

For anyone who has ever questioned why I am so hyper-vigilant with my son, this is why. Because incidents like this can happen far too easily.

I immediately brought him inside to the director of the camp and the three of us had a talk. The director was horrified, apologetic, embarrassed, and very concerned. They had let their guard down for just a second, and it happened in the blink of an eye.

It usually does. Children with Autism can be prone to wandering behavior, and that can put them at risk. Caregivers must put strict measures into place to help ensure a secure environment. Turn your back for just a moment and you could have a dangerous situation on your hands. We want to keep these precious children safe!

In the case of my young Ninja he can be impulsive, distractable, and not have a clear grasp of danger. He is also creative and wonderfully inquisitive and notices things the rest of us do not. Unfortunately that can mean that if he is busy noticing something interesting he does NOT notice if he wanders off or gets left behind. It has happened to me, and it was frightening.

I explained this about the Ninja when we first came to camp, and stated that a watchful eye was needed during transitions. I know from experience that dangerous situations can happen to even the most vigilant and nurturing of caregivers. People often assume that the Ninja functions on a certain level because he is able to be mainstreamed, and can forget that he still requires a certain level of care. He was once accidentally locked outside his school because he was behind a climbing wall and didn’t hear his teacher call the class inside at the end of recess. When he realized what happened he was left pounding on the door, crying and alone. Within a few minutes another teacher let him in, but it left him (and me) shaken.

While I am upset that these incidents occurred I am also grateful that my son escaped harm. I want to help prevent similar incidents from happening to ANY child. That is why I am talking about this. Not to shame or chastise anyone, but to help raise awareness.

When a parent tells you that a child in your care is prone to wandering, BELIEVE them.

I am still pleased with the camp and the leadership. They have been supportive and accepting of BOTH Ninjas. They’re also going to put more strict safety measures in place from now on. Still, when I stop and think about it I get chills. The adult watching the door looked away for just a second yesterday, and that’s all it took. My son slipped out in the blink of an eye.

It makes me want to sleep with one eye open from now on, just to be safe.

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20 Things That Parenting a Child With Special Needs Has Taught Me About Life In General

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I am married, have two children, and I’m still growing. Each day provides opportunities for education about my inner self, about relationships, and about life. Many of these lessons were learned when my youngest son, who has autism, was very little. His needs during that time could certainly be described as “special.” I love and respect my son, and wanted to do whatever I could to support him and help him to thrive. That’s when I slowly began to develop some guiding principles that still I try to remember when I find myself in difficult situations… I TRY to remember. I may have learned these things, but that doesn’t mean I have mastered them. I am still a work in progress. Here is my list so far of things that parenting a child with special needs has taught me about life in general:

  1. Beauty can be found in unexpected places. This first one may sound trite, but is an essential truth I cling to. Life can present us with struggles, yet it is in the midst of darkness that we truly appreciate the light. During our journey I have learned about strength, love, perseverance, and forgiveness. I have also met some amazing people along the way.
  1. Embrace what makes life unique. The world is full of opportunities for adventure. It is also populated by a gloriously diverse people who have a lot to teach us, and deserve our respect and acceptance. Different is AWESOME, and can provide a refreshing new perspective on things. In my house we call it “Not Boring.”
  1. Parenting can be hard sometimes. Special-needs or not, it can be exhausting to have another human being be dependent on you for all their needs. That doesn’t mean that our children are a burden, because we LOVE them. However, full schedules, perpetual problem-solving, and things like constant medical concerns can make us weary.
  1. Ask for what you need. The people in our life don’t always know how best to help us. They may also assume we don’t need anything if we don’t ask, so speak up. Sometimes we require assistance to get through. It’s not selfish or weak to ask for help.
  1. There will be periods in our life where it feels like we take more than we give. This can be especially hard for caregivers to accept. Remember that our worth is not defined solely by what we do for others. There will be other times in your life when you will be in a position to help someone else who is in need. The scales are never balanced.
  1. You are stronger than you think. “I don’t know how you do it,” I have heard people say. We just do what we have to. I think we often underestimate our own abilities and don’t realize how strong we are until given an opportunity to flex our muscles. I am immensely impressed by the strength and resilience displayed by my son, and some of the obstacles that he has overcome. The power of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me, and adversity can teach us and help us to grow. But it is important to remember this next one…

Continue reading

Autism & Empathy (A LOT of it)

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There is a common misconception that people who have Autism lack empathy. I beg to differ. Autistic people may have difficulty at times understanding the emotions of others around them (honestly, don’t we all?), but that does not mean that they lack empathy. They may just respond to the feelings of others in an unconventional way, and we need to work harder to understand and appreciate those reactions.

My youngest son is Autistic and cares very much about his family and friends. Hugs might be a little too tight or knock you down, but they are meant with every inch of his body. The intensity of his Big Feelings can also cause him to act out at times, and the Little Ninja has needed coaching over the years to learn how to more properly express his empathy. For example, when he was four years old we needed to do some allergy testing on his big brother. It took all the strength of both the nurse and me to hold the Big Ninja down for the blood draw, and he cried and was very upset. That was too much for my tiny vigilante to handle. When we were done my youngest rushed at the legs of the nurse and started swinging, yelling, “You leave my brother alone!” Luckily she was a good sport about it, and was impressed at the passionate way he defended his big brother. I had a talk with him later about finding less physical ways to stand up for people. This is an especially important lesson for the times that he misinterprets a situation because he can come off looking as the aggressor.

There are other times that my son feels so intensely for other people that he is overwhelmed by his emotions and doesn’t know what to do with it. Continue reading

Way To Go, Kelly Jo!

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During a recent family outing to a theme park I decided to ride a terrifying roller coaster for the very first time. The park had just opened so there weren’t many people around yet, and I walked to the seats in the very back. My husband and children declined the opportunity to join me for this particular ride because they’re not fond of extreme heights ;-). A lady walked up and asked if she could ride with me. I responded that I was happy for the company.

We started chatting and she told me that her name was Kelly Jo and that this was her first summer since losing 100 pounds! She was incredibly excited to be riding this roller coaster because she was never able to fit into the seats before. As she told her wonderful story I found myself tearing up. I then asked if I could share her story with you, and she graciously agreed. She said she lost the weight simply by changing her diet and exercising. I found her story especially inspiring due to some recent personal struggles. I was also thrilled and honored that I could share such a fun and incredibly meaningful experience with her.

We totally crushed that coaster, and the picture at the top of the post is our celebratory pose afterwards. Awesome job, Kelly Jo, and I am so glad to have met you! Thank you for sharing your exciting, happy story!  I am sure you have many more adventures ahead.

My own children had a recent victory of their own at the theme park. They used to be terrified of all roller coasters and this is the first summer they have even been willing to entertain the thought. We rode a couple small ones at first, and even then it took a lot of explanation and prep work. Then one day they simply walked onto a new roller coaster and trusted me that they would be okay, without knowing any details about the coaster (other than the fact that it didn’t go upside down). And guess what? They LOVED it. They didn’t even get upset when it got really dark.

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Victory is ours! This is a BIG DEAL, and it’s about more than just roller coasters. Most of you know that with spectrum disorders comes a lot of anxiety. BatDad and I try to walk a fine line between respecting the Ninjas’ sensibilities and also encouraging them to try new things. I am incredibly proud of them, and took the above picture when they were done. They conquered the coaster AND their fears. Anxiety: 0, Fun: 1

Who knew that a theme park could also provide opportunities to celebrate overcoming personal obstacles?

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Is It Summer Yet?

There is still over a month left in the school year for my children, but I am pretty sure I hit a wall this week. Somewhere between recent school projects, Standardized Testing review, and my complete and utter failure at appreciating my boys’ teachers during Teacher Appreciation week I hit critical mass. It was all I could do to drag myself out of bed this morning and pack lunches… AGAIN. And it happened earlier this year than in years past.

I was reminded of a picture from two years ago, so I dug it out.  This was the state of the Littlest Ninja’s backpack when there was two weeks left in the school year. That little safety pin had been bravely hanging on, holding the ripped pieces together, but finally just said, “Screw it. I give up.”

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I looked at the pitiful sight and I was all, “I know, Backpack. I KNOWWWW.”

Is it summer yet? I am ready for relaxed schedules and days spent at the pool.

I am also fully aware that it won’t be long until I am asking, “Is it time for them to go back to school yet?” But today, I am that backpack. Or maybe the safety pin, I dunno. But you get the analogy.

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Bill’s Message to Reba McEntire (He is her NUMBER ONE FAN!)

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Remember our awesome friend Bill? He does so much to brighten the lives of so many that I thought it would be nice if we did something for HIM. As I mentioned before, Bill is a HUGE fan of Reba McEntire. His birthday is May 13 and what he wants more than anything is simply for Reba to wish him a Happy Birthday.

Bill recorded this video for Reba to tell her how much he loves her and that he is her “NUMBER ONE FAN!” (He also has strong words of warning for anyone who would mess with “my girl Reba.”)  We posted his message here in the hopes that Reba might see it. Please share it if you want to help spread the word, & thank you for watching his video!

Also, please share any birthday greetings you have for Bill in the comments. It would mean the world to him. More than anything I wish my wonderful friend a birthday FULL of joy.

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What Bill Has to Teach Us

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This is Bill, and Bill is SERIOUSLY Not Boring. He is 50 years old (almost 51!), lives with his sister who is his loving caretaker, and his favorite things are his sister’s homemade cookies, his nieces and nephews, and Reba McEntire. Bill has Down Syndrome, and he has a lot to teach the rest of us about love and enthusiasm. Bill has some BIG feelings, and it is contagious.

I had the privilege of meeting Bill this winter. We were at a chili cookoff at our church, I introduced myself and we started talking. He started telling me about his nieces and nephews (he has their pictures in his wallet and proudly shows them to everyone he meets) and how much he loves kids. He told me that he would like to help and volunteer with the children’s activities at our church. I found it interesting he would mention that to me since I am not involved in the leadership of that ministry. I think now that it was divine intervention. I told him his idea sounded great, and that I would have to talk with his sister and the children’s ministry leadership and I would get back with him.

Then you know what I did? I am shamed to say, not very much. His sister agreed that he could help out and that she could bring him. I mentioned it via text or FB to a couple people involved with the ministry and didn’t receive a response. I don’t think they realized I was asking permission to move forward, OR they didn’t see my message. It was an incredibly busy time of year so I let the issue drop for a couple months. I didn’t want to overstep my bounds, and I knew that helping Bill get involved would take a bit of logistical work. I was worried that people would see that as an inconvenience (as an aside, that is exactly why a lot of families of children with special needs avoid church, because they are afraid their children would be seen as an inconvenience). I should have given more credit to my church and the loving people that are a part of it.  Continue reading

The Top Five Autism-Related Posts from Seriously Not Boring

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Another Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Action month is drawing to a close, and I hope that everyone’s efforts made a difference. This world becomes a better place every time someone new reads about Autism and learns to be more accepting. To close out the month here are this page’s Top Five posts about Autism in the hopes that you might find them helpful. These are the topics that seem to have resonated the most with readers, even years later. I feel honored and overwhelmed that when we share our journey it has the potential to help others.

#5. Autism, Meltdowns, and the Unexpected Kindness of Strangers in a Supermarket. Many years ago, when the Ninjas were very small, we were new to the Autism world and spent a lot of time feeling confused and overwhelmed. A difficult incident happened in a grocery store, but the graciousness and compassion showed to us by the employees there helped us through it. I wrote this piece for the Parents Magazine special needs blog. NOTE: This is a change from the original article that was featured at #5. Because reasons.

#4. The Talk: How I explained my son’s Autism diagnosis to him.

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There is no shame in Autism. When my son was old enough I wanted to explain his unique brain to him in a positive way, because how you do it is incredibly important and can affect a child’s self-image for the rest of their life. I wrote: “… I had to be very careful with my words and how I presented Autism. There is still so much stigma in attached to special needs, or even to simply being different (not in my mind, but society seems to feel otherwise). I didn’t want him to see himself as flawed, or view his diagnosis as restrictive, limiting his expectations of what he could achieve in life. I did not want the truth to be damaging. I wanted it to be illuminative and empowering. I hoped that having knowledge of Autism would improve his understanding of how his brain works and help him be more patient with himself.” A version of this story also appeared on the website The MightyContinue reading