Defrosting

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Some wonderful people just visited us over the holidays. They came all the way from Mexico City to spend Christmas in NYC. The added bonus was that although I am close friends with Marifer, I didn’t know the other two very well. But by the time they left, I felt I had two new chosen family members that I will cherish for a lifetime. Marifer’s mother Arin and brother Toño (an amazing photographer and artist) had never visited our beautiful city before, and they arrived months after the untimely and unexpected death of Fer and Toño’s father. Little did they know that they would have a rude welcome in the form of ridiculously cold temperatures. But intrepid is their middle name and we spent 10 days exploring the many beautiful spaces and places in the five boroughs, including grocery shopping in New Jersey. To heck with the cold!

We shared our holiday ritual of attending a Christmas pageant at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Christmas Eve, followed by a dinner with cousins at a cozy Italian Restaurant. We shopped, cooked, chatted around the kitchen table and shouldered through holiday crowds at Rockefeller Center, Herald Square, and Times Square. We tramped up and down subway steps, dove for coveted seats on the #6 train, waved at the Statue of Liberty from the ferry, ate dumpling noodle soup in Chinatown, warmed our hands and tummies with coffee stops along the way, trekked into museums, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, The public library at 42nd street, the Empire State Building, Bemelman’s Bar, Trinity Church on Wall Street, and B&H Photo midtown. We took a carriage ride through Central Park, viewed the Christmas lights of Dyker Heights, and enjoyed Shake Shack burgers. They topped off the trip on their last day by treating us to scaling the Freedom Tower via the time lapsing elevator ride to the observatory.

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All in all, a pretty incredible week. There was one thing that we had to work around though – our freezer drawer froze shut in a solid block of ice due to a broken water hose connected to the ice maker. It took 12 full days to defrost, and we had to balance our adventures with checking in and emptying pans of runoff water to prevent flooding and mayhem. In what felt like the grip of an ice age, it was almost impossible to imagine that the freezer drawer would ever open again.

And then, before the drawer even opened, they left. They had the nerve to go back to the more moderate climes of Mexico.

A familiar rush of emotion rolled over me – I call it separation anxiety and there is a historical basis for it. I link the surging adrenaline and profound sadness to my early childhood experience of lengthy hospitalizations (2 months at birth and many more throughout my childhood). In those years, doctors did not allow parental presence overnight or for procedures, and my parents unwillingly left me alone for long periods of time. To this day, I weep and feel extraordinarily vunerable whenever I say goodbye to my parents and close friends. The separation anxiety sets in a few days before the parting, rearing its ugly head and tightening my chest against the inevitable pain.

But I have learned a lot over the years.

  • First: The pain always dissipates.  It feels crushing and paralyzing at  first. In those initial moments, it seems that it will never be okay again, that the emotions are permanently etched into every waking moment of my life. But this is not the truth, and the pain gets a bit less with each passing day, and in particularly good times with each passing hour.
  • Second: Even though I have a unique personal history, many other people suffer from this kind of agony. Talking to someone who really gets it normalizes the feeling, helps ameliorate the intensity, and lessens the shame and self flagellation that can accompany it.
  • Third: Your average person can feel down around any holiday, especially if they have suffered a loss.  Depression and/or anxiety can naturally follow even pleasant holiday experiences.
  • Fourth: Despite the intensity of my suffering, I would never choose to avoid it by giving up friendship, intimacy, and community. The gain is always worth what follows, and the sun always rises after. Like Florence and the Machine sing, “It’s always darkest before the dawn!
  • Fifth: For any clinician working with families, or anyone who knows someone suffering a horrible loss, we can reflect hope and faith in the return of joy even in the midst of pain. We can give permission for all emotions and refrain from enforcing an arbitary expiration date on the grieving process.

So, hail to all you hardy souls out there, who love in the face of loss and suffering, who choose to walk through life with an open heart. And for anyone who hesitates, but considers it, try taking a leap of faith in the ultimate defrosting process. The light and warmth will return, and the seasons of life will always sprinkle some joy amidst the sorrows.

 

 

How to talk to kids about the Las Vegas mass shooting

 

I have no words, so today I reach to Katie Kindelan for hers. The following is reprinted from ABC News  website

By KATIE KINDELAN

Oct 2, 2017, 2:09 PM ET

 

When Vickie Nieto digested the news this morning that at least 58 people died in a mass shooting in Las Vegas, the first thing she thought about was what she would tell her two daughters, ages 10 and 14.

“My 10 year-old heard about it on the TV before school,” Nieto, of Land O’ Lakes, Florida, told ABC News. “I didn’t want to tell her about it because I didn’t want to scare her.”

Nieto said her fifth grade daughter is “already scared about school shootings because they have to practice for them at school.”

But this morning, many people like Nieto woke up to the news of a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, where a gunman opened fire on a music festival crowd, starting just after 10 p.m. local time Sunday. At least 58 people were killed and 515 were injured.

In the wake of the shooting, the Las Vegas Police Department said authorities responded to a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, where police said the suspected gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, was dead. Police said they believe Paddock, of Mesquite, Nevada, killed himself prior to police entry.

Many parents and caregivers were faced with conversations about the mass shooting even before children left for school.

‘Parents should let their kids know that, ‘I’m here to answer any questions you may have, any worries you have we can discuss,”

For others, the conversation about the tragedy could begin when kids return from school, after they may have heard about the shooting from classmates or teachers.

“It’s important for parents to start the conversation,” said Robin Gurwitch, a psychologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “As much as we would like to wrap our arms around our children and try to keep anything bad from getting through, it’s unrealistic that we have that ability.”

Gurwitch, also a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, said that the conversation parents have with children should be age-appropriate.

For children old enough to understand what happened, parents should focus on letting them know that they are not in specific danger.

“Help them understand that there was a shooting in Las Vegas and many families were out listening to music when somebody, for unknown reasons, started shooting people,” Gurwitch said. “And tell them that because the police responded so quickly [the suspected gunman] is no longer a threat.”

Dr. Lee Beers, a pediatrician at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., said a tragedy does not have to be a trauma for children if it is “buffered by good, strong and caring relationships, by the adults around the child.”

She also recommends different responses for different ages, and individualizing the approach for each child.

Preschool age: This is a time when parents have a high level of control over what their children see and hear so it does not need to be brought up unless a child hears about it first. In that case, Beers recommends making sure the child knows you are there to answer any questions.

Elementary school age: This is an age when parents should preemptively help their child know about the tragedy and share basic details and leave the door open for them to ask questions, according to Beers.

Middle and high school age: Beers advises having a more detailed conversation with children. Start by asking questions like, “Have you heard about this?” and “What do you think about this?” to find out what they know and what may be bothering them.

In the Las Vegas shooting, videos taken by onlookers and shared on social media gave a glimpse of the chaos during and after the shooting.

“So hard to raise a child in this country these days,” posted one mom on Facebook. “There doesn’t appear to be anywhere that’s safe.”

Gurwitch said the visual aspect of the shooting should give parents even more of a reason to speak with their children openly and candidly, according to their ages.

“Parents should let their kids know that, ‘I’m here to answer any questions you may have, any worries you have we can discuss,’” she said. “Check in at the end of the day to see what their friends were talking about at school and what they saw on social media so they have an idea of where they’re starting from and how to continue the conversation.”

Seeing frightening images repeatedly can be traumatic for children, so talking about the images and limiting exposure to them can be important.

“Repeated exposure to viewings really does increase the stress and trauma in your emotions, in the way that you respond to it,” Beers said. “It’s very tempting to watch the coverage 24-7 so I think really self-limiting that is really important because that repeated exposure escalates the emotions and escalates the feelings.”

Nieto said she recognizes how upsetting the images on TV and social media can be.

“It’s terrifying for me and I’m an adult,” she said. “It’s very terrifying for kids to see it.”

“Acknowledge that there may be a little bit of extra help that is needed …

Nieto said she “always has conversations” with her daughters about tragedies like today’s, but is struggling for what to say in the wake of yet another shooting.

“This is very upsetting for them to have to hear about this again, because it happens all the time now,” she said.

Older children in particular may have concerns because the Las Vegas concert shooting happened so soon after the May 22 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killed 22 and left more than 100 injured.

“Parents who are up front with their kids about these kinds of things, their kids tend to do better than parents who try to hide these things,” she said. “Talk about safety issues and what we do to keep our families safe, what we do to keep each other safe and what communities do to keep us safe.”

Both Gurwitch and Beers advised parents find ways they and their children can help those affected by the shooting, like first responders.

“Little children can draw pictures and older children or teens can write letters,” Gurwitch said. “Sending these to Las Vegas Police, EMS, Fire and/or local responders to thank them for what they do every day can help children feel that they have taken a positive action and the boost to responders is priceless.”

Nieto described one reaction she had to the shooting as being scared to “go anywhere” out in public.

“It terrifies me to even go to the store, especially with my children,” she said. “Because you never know who has a gun these days.”

Gurwitch shared language parents like Nieto can use to reassure both themselves and their children that it is safe to continue life as normal, while being alert to safety issues.

She recommends parents say something like: “I also know that there are a lot of people that this is their job to keep us safe, so I’m going to continue to do the things that we like.”

If parents and caregivers notice children are overly worried or having trouble focusing at school or at home, Gurwitch said to not delay in reaching out for help, and to have patience.

“Acknowledge that there may be a little bit of extra help that is needed with homework, care and attention around bedtime, and that’s true for younger children as well as teenagers,” she said. “If you don’t know what to do or what to say, there are people you can turn to ask what you can do for your child.”

Gurwitch and Beers recommend as resources for parents, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, school counselors, family physicians and local mental health counselors.

Paper Tigers

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What are paper tigers? Well, they refer to a byproduct of trauma. When kids grow up in environments where toxic stress is an everyday occurrence, their brains wire to keep them in a constant state of fight or flight. They are perpetually on edge, vigilant in assessing their surroundings for dangers, real or imagined. The imagined dangers are paper tigers, not real but emanating from traumatic experiences and just as threatening as a raised fist or an unwanted touch.

The documentary Paper Tigers depicts a school in Walla Walla Washington where teachers and leaders have found a new way to reach and teach kids who see paper tigers around every corner. Instead of responding to acting out teens with punishing discipline, they seek to understand the adverse childhood experiences or ACEs that effect their students and get in the way of their learning.

More than two decades ago, two respected researchers, clinical physician Dr. Vincent Felitti and CDC epidemiologist Robert Anda, published the game-changing Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. It revealed a troubling but irrefutable phenomenon: the more traumatic experiences the respondents had as children (such as physical and emotional abuse and neglect), the more likely they were to develop health problems later in life—problems such as cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. To complicate matters, there was also a troubling correlation between adverse childhood experiences and prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, unprotected sex, and poor diet. Combined, the results of the study painted a staggering portrait of the price our children are paying for growing up in unsafe environments, all the while adding fuel to the fire of some of society’s greatest challenges.    (http://kpjrfilms.co/paper-tigers/about-the-film/)

Adverse Childhood Experiences include eight experiences that impact future health and longevity of children. They fall into three categories: Abuse, Neglect and Household Dysfunction. The eight ACEs are physical, emotional or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, and whether mental illness, the incarceration of a relative, domestic violence, substance abuse or divorce are present in the home environment. The more ACEs present, the worse the outcome.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that something can be done. Trauma informed therapy and emotionally responsive teaching are two interventions that can buld resiliency in children facing traumatic stress.

Last night I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel made up of policy makers and practitioners  who work tirelessly to address the inequities that perpetuate toxic environments for large numbers of our country’s children. The US rates number two in developed countries for  how many children live in poverty, second only to Romania. In my eyes that is nothing short of a crime. Poverty is the single highest variable coralated with ACEs.

We screened the movie for a standing room only audience at the Grace Church School in Cooper Square in lower Manhattan. Moderator Andrew Solomon, the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, led us in a lively discussion of the film, fielding questions from an audience of parents, teachers and community leaders.The event was sponsored by many schools and community organizations, including The First Presbyterian Church, Go Project, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, NIP Professional Association, Academy of St. Joseph, Prevent Child Abuse New York and the Corlears School. The room was filled with caring citizens who want to see change. Teachers spoke about their own trauma in working with troubled children in broken schools with no resources or administrative support.

Joy Farina Foskett, the organizer of this important event, reminded us all that ACEs cross all socioeconomic boundaries and exist in every culture. Some of the panelists themselves spoke to the ACE of divorce in their own families. We listed some valuable resources in the program: community organizations, websites and books. Included in the list are “Divorce is the Worst” and “Death is Stupid”, two great books by Anastasia Higginbotham, that help adults open up important conversations with children who may suffer alone through painful ACEs. Kathleen McCue’s “How to help Children Through a Parent’s serious Illness” is another great resource to assist parents and teachers.

Trauma informed, emotionally responsive teaching seems like a no brainer. It doesn’t cost more money, and it prevents costly medical care, incarceration and strengthens our country’s most valuable asset, our children. If it worked with teens who’d already been labeled as unreachable and no good, how much more could it do within early childhood settings? In Early Intervention?

We were all left with one question on our minds. Why isn’t every school in the country following in the footsteps of Lincoln Alternative High School? What are we waiting for?

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