Sunday, December 31, 2006

Laughing at Those Pesky Little New Year's Resolutions

Those of you familiar with my work as a writer have probably already figured out that I'm big on adding a humorous take to even the most infuriating and exhausting life challenges. My experience says that savoring regular loud guffaws, complete with a couple of loud, ugly snorts, can be a pretty useful survival tool, one that allows us to claim renewed perspective for even the toughest life events.

I believe that a hearty belly laugh, or even a good joke that makes us smile wide enough to show all of our teeth, holds the power to cure most of what ails us. In my efforts to help you end your year on a more positive, uplifting note, and keep all those 2007 resolutions that you are making (or not) into perspective, I encourage you to read the words of one of favorite columnists, and my friend, John Schneider. John's words about his own failed New Year's resolutions in today's Lansing State Journal made me laugh as I choked down my healthy bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with wheat germ and blueberries, and prepared to wave bye bye to 2006.

I hope that John's refreshing, human take on our mad pursuit of New Year's perfection rarely achieved will brighten your year-end celebrations, and put your own take on New Year's goals into clearer focus, too. Enjoy! / John Schneider, columnist/ Sunday, Dec. 31st entitled: "I'm not perfect yet, but it could happen in 2007."

You can also check out John's blog at

...And be sure to come back and read mine regularly, too!

So long 2006! I'm ready for you 2007! I think....

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Taking Time Out for You!

One of the toughest realities facing parents of children with special needs is the loss of treasured personal freedom.

If you are thinking about making valuable New Year's resolutions that can make a difference in your life in 2007, consider personal time away from the demands of special needs high on your list of priorities.

Remember all those carefree hours you once spent going to the latest movies, hanging out with friends or going for a beer after work? What about all that free time you once wasted reading current magazines cover to cover, or gardening, washing the car, or singing along loudly to the radio on last minute weekend adventures to the beach?

Remember when you could actually take the time to shut the bathroom door to answer nature's call?

Gone in an instant.

These once simple daily decisions have been replaced by big family commitments and limited free time. But with thoughtful planning, you can begin to regain some of that precious time away for activities that will help leave you feeling refreshed and renewed. Reclaiming personal freedom in families of children with special needs often requires creative thinking and lots of juggling, especially if your child has physical, medical or behavioral needs that make finding, and keeping, babysitters difficult.

Then there is the sticky little issue of the costs involved with special needs parenting that often strain family budgets to the max, especially when one parent has given up their income to stay home and raise the children.

Don't let these realities stop you.

While such concerns can make time away seem like a luxury you can't afford, time away from the demands of special needs parenting is crucial to your physical, mental and spiritual health. Think of it as going to the well when you are very thirsty. A solid commitment to self care can help you better face the unexpected parenting challenges that lie ahead, and even handle them more successfully.

With a brand new year just around the corner, this is a great time to add personal time back into your life. Here are just a few simple and inexpensive tips designed to help you escape the demands of special needs in 2007, if only briefly.

Feel free to add some of your own- then go take a walk!

Address and Prioritize Child-Care Needs.

Seek support from family, friends and community agencies to meet this need. Knowing that you have help in place on a regular basis is priceless and grants you the freedom to take time out just for you, free of guilt.

Read a Favorite Magazine Cover to Cover.

Try to avoid tough-life stories and hard news. The idea is to lighten your own mental load for a bit so you can return to your parenting role feeling more inspired, motivated and relaxed.


Take long walks, go for a run, or work out in the privacy of your home. Jump rope, take a bike ride, or dance in front of the mirror. Exercise helps relieve stress and can heighten self esteem, enhancing your ability to handle your parenting challenges more effectively and more positively. Practice deep breathing, too.

Give Your Partner a Foot Massage.

Or just cuddle together on the couch and share your fondest hopes and dreams. Ladies: paint your toenails, condition your hair, shave your legs or take a bubble bath. Use great smelling lotions and soaps that help improve your mood.

Make Time for Those Leisure Activities that Matter Most to You.

Golfers can practice their swing in their own backyard or at a nearby park. Anyone can shoot hoops in the driveway or at a local playground, community center or during open gym at the local high school. Visit the library or go out for great java at a favorite neighborhood cafe. If you enjoy taking photos, carry your camera with you. There are lots of great photo ops to be had during those daily outings.

Advertise for Help in College Newspapers that Attract Students Majoring in Education or Health Careers who are Eager for On-the-Job Experience.

Once you have quality childcare in place, commit to a regular date night and make it a priority. Nurturing your relationship with your significant other can make a big difference in how you handle your special needs challenges, while also enhancing and further solidifying parenting teamwork.


Watch funny movies, tell funny jokes, ready funny stories, even laugh at the absurdity of your own parenting demands. Laughter is healing and a great stress release. And it's one terrific, and free, coping tool on the toughest days.


Having a child with special needs produces a wide range of powerful emotions that need a healthy, safe release. Journaling helps us express strong feelings without fear of judgment or harm.

Nuture Your Faith.

Find solace in heartfelt, honest prayer. Whatever your beliefs, there is solace and comfort to be found in spiritual practices, especially during the most difficult days.

Visit Museums, Cathedrals and Synagogues.

The beauty of these places can feed your spiritual side, and your soul, leaving you refreshed and reconnnected with something larger than yourself.

Sit and Do Nothing.

Meditate or light a favorite candle. Quiet time is rare in families of children with special needs, and the addition of it to our hectic daily lives can prove healing, soothing and relaxing. When we are quiet, it is easier to hear our own voice, and as a result, become clearer on the parenting choices we need to make now.

Take a Nap!

Many parents of children with special needs often walk around sleep deprived. Taking a nap whenever you can to help support your body's need for additional slumber, may leave you feeling more energized and in a better frame of mind for facing your demands.

You can find more tips and resources to help you better meet the demands of parenting a child with special needs in my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Movies of Note

As 2006 quickly comes to a close,and a brand new year waits in the wings teasing us with all those enticing new life adventures, I again find myself in need of some renewed inspiration for all those professional and personal challenges that I am sure to face in the Near Year.

So I've added a little mindless holiday fun into my life, seasoned with some solid inspiration for 2007, something I highly recommend for all parents.

At no time was this simple recipe for year-end renewal greater, or more necessary, than during the nearly thirteen years that I parented a child with cerebral palsy, complete with its many rewards and significant daily demands.

Because Eric's needs made every day life a bit more complicated than that of many other families, I learned early on to look for inspiration and renewal in simple ways, like that found in going to the movies (or renting a dvd on those days when getting away was nearly impossible with my son's demands). One of the things I love most about the holidays are all those great new movie releases, and the rare break in my schedule to actually indulge in my passion for them.

As a writer, speaker and advocate for those with special needs, I am particularly fond of stories that inspire or motivate us to become better human beings. I like those that champion the causes of the common man and woman. I love tales that call us to action.

I like movies that make us think, and then challenge us to act more boldly and fearlessly in our own lives. I like movies that help us believe that we, too, are part of the solution to real-world challenges, big and small. I like movies that make me feel better about the future of our world, not worse.

I cherish movies with good writing, great acting and real substance- movies that feed my brain, while also fueling my heart and soul. I like being reminded of the potential and the power that each one of us holds to change the world for the better, no matter how dire universal events appear at first glance. I like being moved to tears for all the right reasons.

I deplore senseless acts of violence and cruelty and crudeness in films that contribute little if anything to the betterment of mankind, and leave me in danger of feeling hopeless about the world's dicey course, and terribly concerned for the future of our youth. (Think lighted match in a room overflowing with spilled gasoline).

I like walking out of the movies feeling moved and empowered and responsible for my role in creating my own rich and colorful life tapestry. I appreciate knowing that my valuable time and money have been well spent. I like believing that all those people who made the movie somehow valued my intelligence and their own creative integrity. I love movies that challenge adults to do better by the world's children, especially through our critical parenting choices.

I like seeing underdogs succeed, in light of all the bad odds and the loud voices of those ever-present naysayers.

I like leaving the theater feeling ready for another year, whatever life plans to throw at me. I love believing my carefully thought out New Year's resolutions really are possible, not just pipe dreams fueled by too much holiday chocolate washed down with too many glasses of warm wine.

I like knowing that I've got yet another chance to pursue all my fondest life dreams, and a clean slate to do it on. I like thinking that I can still finish the important work that I began during this year--that my life is not over until it's over.

As I prepare for another year of trying to create greater awareness and understanding of the value and potential of those with special needs, in a society obsessed with physical perfection and celebrity, I welcome this brief and energizing seasonal break.

And sometimes, I just want to be entertained.

Here are a couple of year-end movies that worked for me.


I wish that everyone could see this movie. BOBBY explores a day in the lives of the people who work at or are staying in the Ambassador Hotel, on the day that Bobby Kennedy is shot. The film's power is in its simple story telling; it shares with the viewer the stories and personalities of everyday folk going about their daily lives. This human focus is made more powerful by the commitment Bobby Kennedy came to have for all those who struggle or face discrimination of any kind, something fueled by his own pain and loss and introspection after the death of his brother, President Kennedy. BOBBY reminds us that we all lost something big that day, and the world has never quite regained its just course, or its innocence.

Perhaps if enough people see this movie, that harsh reality will change, and maybe the hope and light and concern for the human condition that Bobby Kennedy shared with the world will be again be reignited. After viewing this movie, we can hope...and then we can act.

Also recommended: THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS: starring Will Smith.

Inspiring, motivating and worth the price of admission if only to see Will Smith's young son in his amazing film debut. The kid is cute as can be, and he can act. This is a great real-life story about one man championing over the toughest life odds. I especially like the message to all dads to step up and be good parents and role models for their children, especially their sons, an example sorely needed in today's world. This movie will remind you that you don't have to look far to find someone who has it tougher than you do. This happy ending will leave you cheering, and the real-life example of serious parent power at work will inspire you.

Next Up: Dreamgirls

And be sure to catch CARS now out in dvd.

Don't forget to write me and tell me what inspires you in the New Year, but no attachments please! I won't open them! If you want me to read your heartfelt words, please put your messages in the body of your email.

Happy 2007!

Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Gifts Money Can't Buy

It's hard to believe that Christmas Eve 2006 is one week from tomorrow.

Between now and then, the masses will descend in droves to shopping malls with too few parking spots, or attend work parties and family gatherings that test our social graces and sanity and latest diets, and take part in last-minute online shopping. All this in our determined, if sometimes frantic annual effort to uncover the perfect gift, enjoy a perfect family moment, or create a sense of holiday magic that too often will elude us.

In our rush to create holiday perfection, most will become sorely disappointed and increasingly disallusioned.

Many of us will overspend, overeat, and fly through this season taking little or no time to embrace the true meaning and spirit of this sacred season. Too few will sit silently mesmerized by the power of those tiny white lights on evergreens to charm us. Too few will stop to actually think about why those Salvation Army kettle bells are ringing outside the busy shops,or stop to ask others how they are doing with their own life challenges, then really listen to the answers.

Too few will question the magical appearance of those oversized snowflakes that often fall unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, or stop to pay tribute to those who no longer grace us with their physical presence.

Too many adults will miss the enchanting ways in which children, wise little creatures that they are, mirror the true magic of this season in their gentle faces, bold questions, and wide-eyed wonder. Children are great teachers.

Far too few of us will put down our cell phones and have a face-to-face conversation with another human being, including with those busy store clerks.

Instead, we often fly through the very life moments and spiritual practices and experiences and personal reflections that can help fuel us on to face the difficult life challenges presented us during the rest of the year. In a world overcome by high tech and bad news, this is one time of year when we have permission to slow down and be transported to a quieter, more beautiful place that can help recover from the madness of the prior year. No wonder so many of us are so exhausted.

My gift to you this holiday? Some simply words from a newspaper column I wrote a few years ago about my definition of the word holiday gift, and how having a child with special needs redefined that term for me. I share it with you today, with one week before Christmas, in the hope that during this season of wonder and retail madness, you will slow down long enough to read it, then reflect on your own priceless blessings, most of which will never be found in any store. I know.

I wish each one of you a joyful holiday season and a terrific New Year, one that again offers us all the exhilirating promises of sparkling new beginnings. I hope you make those new choices matter, and I'd love to hear all about them.

Please visit my website to find out how you can share your life experiences with me.

Happy Holidays!!!


"What do you want for Christmas?" my twin sister asked me.

Janice had e-mailed me from her home in Los Angeles, the land of movies stars, gold Mercedes and physical perfection, far from her deep Midwestern roots.

Before I became the mother of a child with special needs, I recited wishes easily: silver jewelry, fine cotton garments and anything from Tiffany in Beverly Hills.

But that was before I had a child with cerebral palsy, something that forever changed my definition of a gift.

My reply to Janice was vague.

"I love books and good tea and uplifting classical music," I e-mailed back. "But I really don't need anyting."

Why was her question so tough, and my answer so obvious?

I began a list that started in my head and traveled to my heart. I want more sleep, gentler circles under my eyes and increased energy for superhuman parenting demands. I want freedom to pursue my career with no personal constraints. I want more time to nurture my marriage and quality child care for all kids.

I want to make a difference in the lives of others.

My wishes quickly gathered emotional steam.

I'd love to see my son walk and tell me about his day. I wish adults would look past his wheelchair and risk inviting him to their house to play. I want Eric to ride a bike or skate through his neighborhood on a hot summer day or chase fireflies or do a human cannonball into a pool.

I want Eric to sneak out of bed early on Christmas morning and marvel over Santa's magic or swat a pesky mosquito and confidently voice his hopes and dreams, something made nearly impossible with his limited motor skills. I want him to ask me the tough questions about cerebral palsy, including "Why?"

But I already know that if these gifts never grace my life, I won't love Eric any less, or marvel more when he struggles to say, "I love you." His physical challenges have demanded that I stop long enough to savor fireball sunsets, and freed me from the commitment of Sunday morning soccer, which grants our family a sacred day of rest.

Our daughter, Jenna, was only six when our special needs adventure began. Now she towers over me, resplendent in ballerina toe shoes. Her sophisticated and heartfelt poetry puts my own poetic ramblings to shame. My first-born helped prepare me to successfully parent a child with special needs, because it was Jenna who first taught me how to love unconditionally.

I wish I could give her back all those moments stolen by the demands of having a special sibling. Yet, I would never trade the compassionate young woman she has become, embracing the skills that empower her to champion over future adversity.

My children's gifts are priceless, indeed.

In return, I wish them a more compassionate and tolerant world. Yet in this day of hate crimes, road rage, global warming and escalating war, I am not naive enough to believe this is guaranteed.

The intensity of my parenting journey has blessed me in countless ways. My faith in God has been solidly nurture and keeps me on course. I have gained valuable communication skills while advocating for needed societal change.

But I would love more precious moments with nurturing friends who remained loyal when Eric's parenting demands made reciprocation impossible. They understood, and when I returned from exhile, these incredible, talented women warmly embraced me.

Today, I still overindulge in books and fine clothing and silver jewelry, but I no longer need these things to feel complete, a gift in itself.

So I suggested my sister send me a gift card from a national bookstore where I will probably buy another special needs resource to help me better meet my daily parenting demands. My decison won't make me a poster child for the retailers, but it will make me proud of whom I have become.

Fact is, I already have enough gifts to last me every Christmas for the rest of my life. If I never again received an enticing, ribbon-draped parcel or prized blue box from Tiffany, I would still be rich beyond measure with gifts that money can't buy.
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Remembering the Life of a Child through The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting

A quick reminder to all those who have lost a child, or to those who want to support others in such a loss, this Sunday, December 10th, is the annual Worldwide Candle Lighting started by The Compassionate Friends.

At 7 p.m. local time, candles worldwide will be lit in memory of children who have died throughout the world.

"The Compassionate Friends is a national nonprofit, self-help support organization that offers friendship, understanding, and hope to bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. There is no religious affiliation and there are no membership dues or fees."

What began as a rememberance on a much smaller scale on the Internet in 1997 has become a worldwide movement and yearly tradition that gives families worldwide the opportunity to honor their loss, while also paying tribute to their children's lives.

For one evening, the world grieves together. There is powerful healing in the reality that on this single evening millions of flames burn brightly across the globe. For one evening, our grief is universal and understood. We do not carry our loss alone. There is comfort and solace in such numbers.

My family has taken part in this ritual for three years. We find something comforting in this peaceful, quiet act that validates our loss and helps offset the emotional reactions that loom large during some family activities and seasonal events, actions that many who have lost a child may find surfacing during the holiday season. These are powerful, tough-to-explain emotions that the masses who have escaped such tragedy rarely understand.

But on this evening, however briefly, we are allowed to sit quietly, mesmerized by a candle flame and recall fond memories of our son's life. We laugh loudly, or let healing tears fall silently. We are reminded of our son's continuing presence in our lives and in our hearts.

It is a priceless holiday gift that we give ourselves yearly, a simple act that I highly recommend.

For more information on the Worldwide Candle Lighting and the important work of The Compassionate Friends, visit

May it grant you peace, if only for an evening.
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs