Parenting in a FAS World

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It’s been a long time since I posted about our life parenting two kids with FAS and one with severe trauma. Honestly, I was simply wore out. I didn’t have the energy to write about it or even think too much about it. The day to day grind of it all was more than enough. Certainly, COVID didn’t help. It was absolutely exhausting.

It’s exhausting in so many ways, often times in ways that can be very hard to put words to. Some of the exhaustion is how few people can actually relate to what it is like to try to navigate parenting in this extreme environment. I don’t blame them, it’s very difficult to understand or relate if you haven’t experienced the things someone else has experienced. I don’t know anyone that has a child that is a flight risk at all times (many times for reasons that aren’t obvious), or a child that has made numerous death threats to other family members (how do you process that?), or a child that may simply prefer not to be part of this family.

The other challenging part we face is it isn’t easy to receive help. That may not make sense to most people that read this. We can’t simply get a babysitter for an hour or two. Often, we can’t even have family help us unless the situation is just right. We are so appreciative of all the help we do get, but the amount of effort that goes into planning and communicating is overwhelming. Not to mention watching and waiting for the text message or phone call to come that asks us to get home because something is up. I totally get why it is hard to understand why the stars must be aligned for things to go well. I know it’s also hard to understand why the kids don’t always enjoy normal kid activities and many times if things aren’t perfect or something changes unexpectedly things get off the rails immediately. I feel bad about this for those that help us. It probably doesn’t feel good and I’m sure is confusing.

I’m not a musical person, but I love music. That’s not totally accurate, I love lyrics. I’m sure I’m not alone in loving lyrics I can relate to. Lyrics that help to make sense of life and help you hold on to some hope that you are not alone in whatever you are feeling. I heard a song the other day that I’ve listened to hundreds of times before. But on this day, it spoke to me in a different way. I felt as if it was speaking about all the things my wife and I feel raising our three adopted, brain damaged, and traumatized kids.

I’ve loved the Counting Crows for what must be 25 years now. I love the lyrics that make up their songs. The song that spoke to me the other day is called “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”. The song is like one big metaphor for the life we as parents live with these challenging kids. I bet it will ring true for those in a similar situation and hopefully will help shed light on what it is like to raise challenging kids for everyone else.

“Well, I am an idiot walking a tightrope of fortune and fame. I am an acrobat swinging trapezes through circles of flame”.

This parenting life is a tightrope. One that I have not walked in any other part of my life. You end up humbled most days by just how little you know. How important the brain is and how so much of who we are develops before we can even talk. Sadly, there is no fortune and fame to be found in this life. All there are is small wins that most wouldn’t recognize as wins at all. These tiny wins are so hard to hold onto. Many days feel like we are doing something extremely dangerous, we are holding on for dear life, and there is no safety net. You can’t train for this experience.

“If you’ve never stared off in the distance, then your life is a shame
And though I’ll never forget your face,
sometimes I can’t remember my name”
.

Personally, I have to be very careful not to stare off I to the distance. I can’t give too much thought to the reality of the situation, the near future, the long-term future, what could have been or what should have been. Those are dangerous thoughts. Sometimes when tough days stack up on one another it is hard to remember what normal is. Sometimes it can be hard to remember who I am without the stress in my life. The effort never stops.

“And there is always one last light to turn out and one last bell to ring; And the last one out of the circus has to lock up everything; Or the elephants will get out and forget to remember what you said“.

These lines sum of nicely how dialed in you have to be as a parent to these kids – at all times! If you let your guard down all hell is bound to break loose. Plan for the worst and pray for something better than that. Yes, you pray for it, you don’t expect something better because you will be let down. It takes a long time to break a parent of that hope. The hope that your child will make a better choice next time or the time after that. Those are hard realizations that I think most parents don’t have to experience. You can read about some of those experiences in my past posts (I’ll link them below). I could write several more blog posts about crazy things that have happened just since we moved into a new house several months ago. We’ve made a million mistakes and try our best to learn from them all.

Our new house has more space. We were in desperate need of more space. We needed bedrooms and we needed bathrooms. We needed more space! We were very fortunate to find a house and location that fits us very well. Nothing is perfect though and we found we still didn’t get it totally right. We ended up changing around bedrooms once already to keep the peace. Every time we think we have something figured out we are brought back to reality very quickly. I think sometimes we think age (11, almost 11 and 9) will make things easier. It doesn’t. And unfortunately, I think it will continue to make it harder.

Speaking of locking the doors, we lock everything. We have locked all kinds of things. Doors, cabinets, our freezer and on and on. We lock up cabinets that we keep food in. We lock up access to certain bedrooms, my office and the basement. The basement is an important one because if we don’t thing go missing really fast and you are bound to find a kid down there watching TV all night. There isn’t much in our house that doesn’t require a password. Sometimes it can feel like a prison, but it keeps things under control and is an easy trade off considering what the alternative looks like.

All the razor perceptions that cut just a little too deep
Hey I can bleed as well as anyone, but I need someone to help me sleep.

I’m all over the place on the lines above. Those razor perceptions or judgements that go along with raising any kids, but especially challenging kids is an interesting space to live in. My personality generally lends itself to not caring about anyone’s opinions. Sometimes though it gets to me and I want to sit people down and explain everything we live with. Give me several hours to bend your ear before suggesting things seem to be getting better or we should try this or that. I understand that comments and suggestions are well intended, but they miss the mark every single time.

“So I throw my hand into the air and it swims in the beams; It’s just a brief interruption of the swirling dust sparkle jet stream; Well, I know I don’t know you and you’re probably not what you seem”.

We carry sadness of realizing we will never really know who our kids were supposed to be. They were taken from us before they were born, never to return. We will do everything we can to help them live their best lives, but these lives aren’t what they should have been. They shouldn’t be this hard. They deserved better.

“When the last king of Hollywood shatters his glass on the floor; And orders another. well, I wonder what he did that for“.

I think my wife and I feel these lines most often. The “is this real” moment. These lines represent the uncertainty we live with every day. The 0-100 escalations in a blink of an eye. The unusual and unpredictable behavior. The stories we could tell. The sadness we’ve felt. It can be a lot.

That’s when I know that I have to get out cause; I have been there before”.

These two lines are exactly who my wife and I are not. We won’t get out, we don’t want to get out, but we most certainly have been here many times before and will be here many times again. We will continue to show up. We will continue to mess this up. We will pick ourselves up. There is no other way. We will be better than yesterday!

You can see a million miles tonight
But you can’t get very far

These two lines are really sad. I think parents with challenging kids face these thoughts. Knowing the whole world is out there to explore, but you can’t leave the house (sometimes even for simple things). Knowing what they will never be able to do or experience. Knowing you will never have that full relationship with them. It’s especially hard when you have neurotypical kids and you see all the promise, the complete lack of any limitations on them.

You can never escape, you can only move south down the coast

I went through the song as it was written, except for the line above. This line is near the beginning, but I want to use it to close. It explains very well what really good parents of these challenging kids do. Good parents are those that try, those that do not give up even with the odds are against you. They are the ones that realize that they have to move with their kids. They realize they need to meet them where they are today and that tomorrow they probably aren’t in that same place. It’s not easy, sometimes they are hard to find. Sometimes they don’t want to be found. There are many potholes, traffic jams and accidents along the way, but you keep moving. You have to find what works and more importantly in this world find what doesn’t. You have to accommodate as best you can, but more than anything you have to keep moving. Isn’t that what life is all about anyway?

https://yougotnocontrol.com/2020/01/26/this-is-fas-part-ii/

https://yougotnocontrol.com/2020/02/02/this-is-fas/

https://yougotnocontrol.com/2020/02/11/fas-the-chase/

3 Pillars

This post has been on my mind for a couple years now. It looked a lot different back then compared to what I am about to write.

UBU (You Be You) was an idea that my oldest daughter and I came up with several years ago. It was born from her desire to help people feel confident in being themselves and my desire to encourage her to never stop being the fiercely independent girl (young woman now I guess 😢) that she is. I never want her to lose the free spirit she has in her. UBU would come up from time to time in passing, but really not much more than her asking me when will we do something with this idea. Can we put it on a shirt or do something “cool” like that? Nothing much happened until a couple months ago when I found this really cool local small business that prints designs on all kinds of products. They do it inexpensively and without having to order dozens of products to make it worth you while. I surprised my daughter with a UBU hat recently. It’s “real” now! Kidding aside, although small and insignificant, it was kind of cool to see our idea on a product.

UBU has really taken on a life of it’s own in my mind. A confluence of thoughts banging around in my head have brought it into focus. It’s also expanded rapidly and grew into something much more. Let me explain what is going on in my head.

First, the very clear racial divide our nation faces was brought center stage by the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks. These deaths and all the other information coming out about how difficult it is to live in this country if your skin isn’t white is overwhelming. It also took our simple idea of UBU and turned it on it’s head. For some, UBU is simply not possible, not without the threat of violence and death on your mind. Story after story about black people not feeling comfortable going for a run or taking a walk in their neighborhood sadden me. Reading a story about a black man that purposely doesn’t walk in his own neighborhood without his daughter because if she is by his side then he is “ok” was sickening. So much for UBU.

It is hard to comprehend that in this country, in 2020, we have large groups of people that are disadvantaged because of the color of their skin. It embarrasses me and I feel ashamed. Obviously this is a very complex topic and I am doing my best to work through as much information as I can. I want to figure out how best I can help to change this crisis our country faces. For now, I will read and I will listen.

While our country is playing chicken with what feels like a race war, we’ve had challenges inside our own home with our three adopted kids. I’ve written about them before. I’ve written about the immense challenges they face and the challenges we face trying to parent them. I won’t repeat those stories, but can say I am certain there is nothing harder I will ever do in my life than try to navigate this very complex world of fetal alcohol syndrome and significant trauma. Fortunately, I haven’t had any stories like my daughter yelling “stranger danger” as I try to get her back in our car recently. Unfortunately, what I am about to write is really much more difficult.

I’ve come to the realization that I have to be a much better dad to my adopted kids, to my brain damaged adopted kids. These kids have damaged brains because of what they were exposed to before and after they were born. We won’t ever fully understand the extent of the damage, but we are starting to see some of it play out as we watch our two little biological girls grow and develop very quickly on one end of the age spectrum and my two older biological kids thrive at the other end of the age spectrum.

These kids can be really, really hard sometimes or maybe most of the time. Their behaviors are extremely challenging and very difficult to understand. We go out of our way to make accommodations and do what we can to keep the peace for as many minutes of the day as possible. These accommodations help, but they can’t fix the damage that was done.

They are good kids though. I know their behaviors are not intentional. Unfortunately that doesn’t always stick in my head as the daily grind gets the better of me. As time has gone on and they have gotten older, it is becoming clear they are lagging behind their peers as it relates to school and play. This hasn’t been easy for me to adjust to. I’ve been very fortunate. My older biological kids are “easy”. They do very well at most things. I’m able to push them and challenge them to be better because I know they understand why I’m doing it and I know what they are capable of. I can already see it in my 2.5-year-old too. I haven’t adjusted to the fact that our soon to be 11-year-olds’ play similar to my 2.5-year-old. It’s even harder for me to comprehend that my almost 9-year-old’s play hasn’t evolved in the entire time I’ve known him (5+ years). His play consists of banging two legos or blocks together for hours on end, using very few words. My favorite (sarcasm) is at about 8PM every night he begins pounding on the floor directly about our living room for hours. It can be a lot.

So where does UBU fit in? I realized these kids can’t be themselves without feeling judged either. Judged by strangers, judged by their peers, and although it’s painful to say, judged by me. It may not be verbal, but I know I do it. I know my facial expressions tell them I am trying to figure out why they are acting a certain way when I should simply be ok with who they are and where they are today.

As I continue to look inward in 2020, I realize our UBU idea is a very good one. It is a meaningful one, even if I am the only one that gets something from it. UBU should be practiced and said throughout the day. It is my mantra, I say it often now. Instead of cracking that innocent joke when we see a guy driving by himself in a car with a mask on, I smile and say UBU to myself and my kids. This change in how I think has been a positive one for me. The innocent jokes were never meant to hurt or harm anyone, but I think they were harming my mind. The bottom line is if you aren’t hurting anyone, including yourself, then UBU – always!

As time has gone on something else was taking shape too. The guiding principles I want to live my life by were becoming clear. UBU took me to what I call my 3 Pillars. The name is not creative and I spent no time coming up with it, but regardless let me lay it out for you.

The 3 Pillars help guide me towards living my very best life. They are Accountability, Courage, and Effort (A.C.E). These pillars are surrounded by the Koru. The Koru is a spiral shape based on the appearance of a new unfurling silver fern frond. It symbolizes new life, growth, strength and peace.

Let me define each of the pillars.

Accountability is defined as “answerable for actions or decisions”. As it relates to my life, I break it down further into what I am fully responsible for:

  • Everything I do and say
  • My relationships
  • The roles I’ve chosen to take on

Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens oneself”. This means two very important things to me:

  • Courage to live your authentic life, free of concern of the crowd – I am not a sheep
  • Courage to evolve based on constantly learning and questioning my thoughts, opinions, and actions

Effort is defined as “a vigorous or determined attempt”. This one seems like it is the easiest, but I think in today’s world it may be the most difficult.

  • I will show up and I will do something
  • I will make forward progress, without concern for how much or how little I gain each day

As I explained above, the Koru is a symbol for new life, growth, strength, and peace. I think the Koru is a perfect symbol for how I choose to live my life. I will continuously grow. It won’t be easy and it will take time, but I will continue to grow.

How will I apply what I wrote above? As it relates to the world and specifically the injustices the black community continues to face, I’ll listen. I’ll do my very best to understand. I’ll take what I hear and will find a way to make a positive impact. Maybe that is as simple as educating my kids or maybe there is a larger role for me to play. Regardless I’ll put in the effort necessary to make a difference.

As it relates to my family, I will find a way to meet the very unique needs of my adopted kids. I’ll meet them where they are without judgment. I’ll support all of my kids in whatever way is best for each of them. And when I screw it up, I will try again.

We are living through unprecedented times in our country’s history. Perhaps this is the moment my generation will have that goes down in history. When I look back or talk to my grand kids about this time I want to do so proudly. I want to be able to say I showed up and I tried. I was courageous because I asked myself the hard questions and was willing to answer them honestly. I put away my preconceived notions about many things and began to look at things through the lens of those living it. I want my kids to know I was strong enough to evolve and get better every day.

Father’s day is several days away and on my mind. When my kids think about me, I want them to remember me as someone that always showed up. I want them to remember their dad was far from perfect, but never ever stopped trying to be better. I want them to know I was willing to challenge everything and everyone on my quest to live an authentic life. I want them to know their dad was not a sheep. More than anything though, I want them to know that regardless of what was going on at the time, their dad always had their back and always loved them!

Why do I write this? I write it for my kids. I want them to be able to look back when they are adults, parents, employees/employers and know it’s ok not to have the world figured out. That things can be hard or they can be easy. That ultimately if you have your heart in the right place everything will work out.

#fitlife #fitness #fitnessmotivation #chooseeffort #ivegot2more #accountability #noexcuses #betterthanyesterday #endure #grind #7kids #fetalalcoholsyndrome #blendedfamily #trauma #ubu #coronavirus #opportunity #perspective # lifeskills #responsibility #budgeting # hardwork #sacrifice #portioncontrol #fairness #selfsufficient #covid19 #courage #effort #koru

What the f@&$ is going on?

I think my wife and I ponder this question more than any other these days. What the f@&$ is going on?

Should we fear Covid-19? Are the steps the country, and more specifically the state, is taking reasonable considering the circumstances? What does this look like in a month, in three months, in a year?

I’m rarely short on opinions, but in this case I really don’t know what to think. There are very strong opinions on both sides of this thing. One group is adamant we need to stay at home and help curb this virus to prevent many more from getting sick or dying. The other group believes we need to open up the economy in order to save jobs and ensure we don’t find ourselves in an extended recession or worse. It certainly didn’t take long for Covid-19 to become a polarizing topic.

When big things are happening in the world I usually start by thinking about the economy (the money). No one messes with the money, unless there is a real good reason, right? In this case, leaders of virtually all the major powers have shut their countries down for some period of time. India has been shut down for three weeks and just extended it two more. For context, that is over a billion people on lock down. It’s very hard to comprehend a lackdown of that scale.

The decisions being made by these countries will likely lead to a global recession and massive unemployment. It’s difficult to predict how bad this will get and how long it will take to move past the damage that has been done so far. The money is telling me that a lot of people with a lot to lose believe this is a real threat.

The most common mainstream debate I have seen is how Covid-19 compares to the flu. The same flu that kills about 50,000 people a year. Yes 50,000 people. That number surprised me. Are we just so used to the flu that we are numb to the death toll. I guess that is how we treat automobile deaths too.

With the flu we never lock down a city, state or the country. Why now? Is this really that different? It seems this virus kills those already vulnerable. I’m pretty sure the flu does the same thing. Most data points seem to indicate that Covid-19 is far more contagious, more damaging to your overall health, and more deadly than the flu. Unfortunately they are just data points now and not fact. What we do know is we are precise. We don’t know how many people have been infected, which means we cannot calculate an accurate mortality rate or understand the severity of this virus. It seems like this would be the same situation as the flu as well.

The fact that our healthcare system was overwhelmed so quickly seems to be a telling data point, but by no means does it tell the whole story. My county is fine. The hospitals here aren’t overrun and our overall cases have been and continue to be low. There are also no signs of the numbers changing in a meaningful way anytime soon.

I’ve gone along for the ride so far with little complaint. This virus is something I know nothing about (I am not a medical professional), and as such I felt compelled to rely on their suggestions during this time. That is made much easier for me because my day to day hasn’t really changed. My family situation generally keeps us home bound unless we are very deliberate about going out. School being cancelled for the rest of the year is the only real material change that has impacted us. That is only due to the fact that two of our kids have special needs and struggle a ton with school. Honestly the bigger issue is they also struggle with play. Without constant guidance, ideas and oversight they don’t do much. In a house with nine people that can be an issue.

The governor recently extended our stay at home order and added additional restrictions. This caught my attention. Nothing in particular related to the order or the restrictions, but the simple fact that we were being asked to stay in another two weeks. And more than that, that we were going to continue to comply with this without much discussion or any idea when this may end. It’s certainly got the attention of many in the state – both positive and negative. Of course it immediately turns into a political conversation or evolves into a discussion around the fact we have a woman governor. How quickly these things devolve is embarrassing for our state and our culture in general.

No, every republican doesn’t want to open up the economy tomorrow with an intent on making money while people die in hallways of hospitals. No, every Democrat doesn’t want to stay inside forever while the economy comes crashing down waiting for the government to ride in and save them. And the fact our governor is a woman has nothing to do with anything.

Why can’t we have meaningful discussions on important topics without the social media echo chamber in our minds encouraging us to regurgitate the latest crap we read posted from our favorite like-minded “friends”. Why aren’t we willing to spend real time thinking about a topic, from all angles, before putting our opinion out in the world.

I hate when people speak in absolutes, but I’ll break my own rule right now. I promise, you don’t know if you are right. You can’t be sure because you don’t have all the data and facts in front of you. This simple fact should be enough to give you pause before you spew what you believe to be the gospel on this or any other topic. There is nothing wrong with a strong opinion, but you need to keep an open mind and be willing to see all sides of an issue. Be intellectually honest.

I think we can all agree we need the economy to open back up as soon as possible, but we need to do so in a way that minimizes the risk of harming the health of this country. I would hope we can all agree too that this is a most complex problem we face and no one person or one group is going to solve it. Can we start the conversation there?

All of this does spark some thought for me around personal freedom. Very few have lived through anything like this, so there really isn’t a playbook to follow. That goes for our politicians as well. They certainly didn’t sign up for this and aren’t qualified to handle it. That is not a knock on them, it’s just the reality of the situation we face today.

I think the best thing we can do is pay attention. What changes are being made on my behalf to protect me without my consent? Do these changes stick or do they fade away as the crisis weakens. We cannot be blind to the fact our freedoms can be taken away. If that were to happen, it would happen slowly and over a long period of time. It is your responsibility to protect your own freedoms. The best way to begin is to pay attention.

Today I’m at a point where I’m evaluating everything I possibly can to figure out where we really are and where we are headed. I hope you take the time to think about this too. We are accountable for holding on to our freedoms – no one else can do that for us!!

And no, I don’t know what the f@&$ is going on.

Two quotes to keep you thinking.

The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.

– Leon Trotsky

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

– Benjamin Franklin

#fitlife #fitness #fitnessmotivation #chooseeffort #ivegot2more #accountability #noexcuses #betterthanyesterday #endure #grind #7kids #fetalalcoholsyndrome #blendedfamily #trauma #ubu #coronavirus #opportunity #perspective # lifeskills #responsibility #budgeting # hardwork #sacrifice #portioncontrol #fairness #selfsufficient #covid19

Perspective is Everything

I hope what we are living through ends up being a world that will never be the same.

This virus has brought the world to its knees on all fronts. There are deaths. Containment of the virus doesn’t seem likely in the near term. Limits put on our movements are growing by the day – a full quarantine or even stricter measures seem inevitable at this point. Governments around the world don’t seem to know how to react (I know there is a joke to be inserted here). Markets have plummeted. Grocery stores are being overrun with scared customers, some making selfish and irrational decisions. We all find ourselves living in a foreign world, one we didn’t see coming.

In times of chaos, perspective is vital. Take stock of your current state. Are your loved ones safe? Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have clothes on your back and shoes on your feet? Did you eat a warm meal today (or two or three)? Did you have a hot shower today? Most of us can answer yes to that and if you can then you have nothing at all to complain about.

No doubt the last couple weeks have been brutal and extremely confusing. It will likely get worse before it gets better. It is really important that we keep in mind the severity of the situation is different for everyone. We need to respect and understand this fact. For many, “challenges” have only come in the form of loss, loss on conveniences, loss of entertainment options and all the other distractions we take for granted. The fact we can’t get exactly what we want when we want it is truly a first world problem.

The stress and challenges are much more significant for those that have compromised immune systems. Worrying about being close to any other human at this point seems like it would be very stressful. I think and worry about the single mother and her child. She has to figure out how to work (assuming her employer is open for business) while having her child home due to schools being shut down for an extended period of time. I think about those people nearing retirement age that have lost a significant percentage of their retirement savings. The scariest part today for most is the fact we really don’t know what will happen in the coming months. The impact on this virus has been and will continue to be far and wide. Everyone will be touched by it in some way.

Regardless, we will be ok. We will eat. We will have clothes to wear. The markets will rebound. There is a really good chance what we do and how we do it will be different – and it may be different for a long time. We will adapt. We will evolve. That is what this country does. We will rise to the occasion in the face of this virus and all the fallout it will cause.

The other point of clarity I think we need to maintain is the fact we have not been to asked to sacrifice in any meaningful way so far. Staying at home is not a sacrifice. Generations before mine were asked or told to make real sacrifices. Sacrifices that had nothing to do with not being able to go to your favorite restaurant or the movies. We need to remember that. We need to maintain perspective and push through this with common sense and level heads. We need to help our neighbor in whatever capacity we can and keep moving forward. Eventually this will pass and we will get to look back at how we handled this crisis and feel proud!

A couple quotes that came to mind in the midst of the chaos of the last 24 hours or so:

#fitlife #fitness #fitnessmotivation #chooseeffort #ivegot2more #accountability #noexcuses #betterthanyesterday #endure #grind #7kids #fetalalcoholsyndrome #blendedfamily #trauma #ubu #coronavirus #opportunity #perspective

My Fitness Journey

My commitment to health and fitness over the past 20 years, like many people, has been hot and cold. For periods of time I was very committed and saw positive results. I’ve also had longer periods of time when I did not prioritize my health and fitness. It was always easy to find other things to prioritize. The main one for me was work. Whether it was my job in public accounting or my job now, it was always easy to think I had so much to do. Instead of getting up early to work out, I would get up early and go to the office. Once I get caught up I will get back to working out I thought. Sleep is a super common excuse for many people. You wake up with your alarm clock and you feel exhausted and decide to sleep in, just for today. You tell yourself tomorrow I will get up and get after it. After a couple days of this any momentum you had with exercise is gone and the habit changes. You sleep in every day. You never actually get caught up at work because there is always going to be something to do. It is always easier to choose the path requiring less effort and discomfort, but I’m certain that is not the right choice.

I’ve had an extended period of time now where I have been extremely committed to fitness and my overall health. I’m convinced it’s here to stay and can say that with confidence because of how much I love it, but more specifically why I love it. I love the process. I really, really love the process. I also love the fact that I control it all. I control the inputs – EFFORT. The effort drives the outputs – RESULTS. The weights, the treadmill, the road, those things don’t lie and don’t let you down. If you put in the effort you will see results. Obviously, this kind of effort is just one piece of a very complex puzzle. Nutrition is the other piece. I’ve been decent with nutrition over time, but I continue to make progress. My wife who has always done a great job of feeding our family healthy food has gone all in on going as all natural as possible. She is doing an amazing job of helping our family get a little bit healthier every single day. I love it even as I make fun of how obsessive she is getting about it.

The last three years have been an interesting learning experience. I’ve spent a ton of time reading and learning about various fitness and nutritional topics. It is truly a journey and isn’t going to be something that I figure out. It’s not easy to navigate all the information available, but I can say I am in a better spot today than I was when I started on this path. Ultimately that is all that matter – make progress!

Fitness has played a crucial role in my life during this period of time. It has been my meditation and therapy all wrapped into one. I didn’t realize how important it was for a long time. It became clear during some very stressful months at work (my wife would probably say years). Working at a startup is not easy. Putting in hard physical effort each day allowed my brain to reset itself. I pride myself on not “needing” much to live my life, but I can say fitness has become something that not only do I want, but I really need to be the best version of myself. I need the process. The results are just a nice side effect. The constant racking and re-racking of the weights. Trying to increase that weight incrementally each session. The display on the treadmill that shows the time served, miles per hour, and distance – constantly challenging me to do just a little bit more. Tracking everything I do – every activity, everything I eat, everything I drink, my weight – I track it all. Tracking helps identify where and how I should push myself each day – make progress!

Let’s talk details. I’m 5’11 and have always been a classic ectomorph – very hard for me to gain weight. So naturally my goal was to put on some weight and get stronger. For a decent chunk of the last 20 years I think I would consider myself skinny fat. I was thin and kind of athletic, but not in great physical shape. I took steps to change that back in 2014, but really started working hard on a consistent basis a couple years later.

For the majority of 2017 I was hyper-focused on reducing my body fat. I did a ton of research during that period and became very well versed in intermittent fasting and high intensity interval training (HIIT). I fasted several days a week and usually did HIIT twice a week for most of the year. The program worked very well. I reduced my weight to 146.4. I was very thin, but I was toned and more athletic. I certainly wasn’t skinny fat anymore. These two tools were critical to my success then and I still use them now. They are truly invaluable in my opinion.

After reducing my body fat, I wanted to really focus on putting on muscle and adding some weight. I turned to research again and became familiar with various nutritional concepts – caloric surplus, protein requirements for building muscle, macronutrient splits and so on. Obviously, there is a ton of information on all things nutrition and for every “fact” you find, you can find another that disproves the initial fact. Let’s be clear, I wasn’t getting crazy. I was not trying to be a bodybuilder or fitness model. I was simply trying to be a healthy, strong individual. I didn’t change my eating habits a ton, but added creatine and protein powder to the mix. As a result of working really hard and adding in some supplements I was able to put on 10.2 pounds in 2018. It felt great to know the work I put in was effective. I was enjoying the process more and more each day. The only issue was I wasn’t seeing the overall strength gains I was hoping for. I was clearly making progress, but I felt like something was missing.

Not much changed for most of 2019. I was doing the same things and seeing some progress, but it was fairly limited. That’s when I decided to really get serious about what I was eating. I had been eating pretty clean for a long time at this point, but it was becoming clear I was not eating enough to see the strength and muscle gains I wanted. Honestly, I think all along I was more worried about putting on fat by eating more than what it could do for potential muscle growth. It hadn’t been worth it to me. So, I started tracking my food intake much more seriously. I was able to easily see that my calories were way too low for my strength goals, so I started to make some changes. At this point in time I was lifting three days a week and doing HIIT two days a week, the same as 2018. Almost immediately after adjusting how much I was eating I began to see strength gains. I was really excited because I hadn’t stopped my cardio routine, which I thought I may have to do to put on weight.

At the end of 2019, I had only added a pound compared to 2018. That was disappointing, but was offset by the fact I knew I was getting stronger. I could tell by the weight I was pushing around and the ability to add more weight consistently each session that things were moving in the right direction. Ultimately this is proof that health and fitness are a journey and not a destination. There was a lot of discouragement and ups and downs in 2019, but I carried on. I was confident that 2020 would be a great year.

We are now nearly two and a half months into 2020 and my focus couldn’t be better. I am dialed in as it relates to nutrition and my fitness program. I did adjust it some based on a challenge I created for myself. I really like this change and may not deviate from it anytime soon. I’m lifting five days a week and running five or six days a week. I had to break down my lifting to one body part a day to accommodate the additional running. So far it’s worked great.

The challenge was inspired by Jesse Itzler. He did the calendar club challenge in February. He ran miles corresponding to the day of the month. So, February 5he ran 5 miles. February 27 he ran 27 miles and so on. Totally insane effort required, but he got it done. I wasn’t willing to be that crazy – yet. Instead I put together what I call the birthday challenge. I took my birth month, birth day, and last two digits of the year I was born and the total is how many miles I’ll run In March – 113.

I’ve never been stronger, and my weight is up three pounds this year, which again has surprised me due to all the extra cardio. I haven’t adjusted my diet a ton but do pay very close attention to what I eat versus what I am burning. The progress I am seeing in my strength, weight and cardio health is all the encouragement I need to continue grinding.

I had set out goals for myself for 2020, but I am rethinking all of them as we close in on the end of March. The goals in place were exercising 235 days this year, weigh 160 pounds, and run a 20-minute 5k. The first two seem easily achievable now barring injury, so I think a revision is necessary. The 5k goal is a challenge, especially since running for distance is not something I particularly enjoy. I may keep it because I think I would be proud to get that done. I’m considering adding something that will test me in a more holistic way like a triathlon or a spartan race. Time and balancing our busy life will tell. If I have to I will do something 100% on my own. I enjoy what I do enough to realize that a formal race isn’t necessary for validation.

So why did I write this? I want to tell people that investing in your health is worth it. The process and the grind are worth it. I understand that it is easier to choose complacency and avoiding pain and discomfort. It’s not always easy to put in the time. I totally get it, but I can tell you from my experiences that the pain, the effort, and the discomfort are all worth it.

It doesn’t matter what the goal is. What matters is how you will feel when you put in the effort to better yourself. If you need a goal, think about your kids or the type of grandparent you want to be. I can’t think of anything more motivating than that. Whatever it takes to take that first step, figure it out and take it! You won’t regret it.

If you aren’t willing to prioritize your health, don’t bother making excuses, it’s unnecessary. Excuses are simply telling the world you don’t care enough about it and that will be obvious anyway. We all can justify our way out of anything we don’t want to do. I could say I can’t focus on my health because I have too much going. I have seven kids. I have a three-month-old that doesn’t sleep well right now. I have two older kids I have to get to the bus stop, to practices, and to games. I have a couple disabled kids that take a ton out of me most days. I have a very demanding, high stress job that takes every minute I am willing to give it. And most important, I have a wife that I want and need to spend time with every single day because our relationship is critically important to my happiness. It’s not hard to find an excuse or try to justify why you aren’t going to do something. Don’t fool yourself though, you are making a choice and that is completely under your control.

You have the time. You can make it work. And I promise it is worth it. You will never look back and regret prioritizing your health. It is worth it today and the value will only grow as you look at who you will be in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years from now.

Always choose effort!

#fitlife #fitness #fitnessmotivation #chooseeffort #ivegot2more #accountability #noexcuses #betterthanyesterday #endure #grind #7kids #fetalalcoholsyndrome #blendedfamily #trauma #ubu

Where’s Your Coat?

I’ve been asked this question more than any other in my life. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I don’t think so. It’s snowing, where’s your coat? It’s cold outside, you are going to catch a cold, where is your coat? It’s goes on and on and on. So why don’t I wear a coat?

It’s simple. I don’t need one. And you don’t either!

Feeling discomfort and pain is good. Working through these things end up empowering and energizing you. You quickly realize the things you worry about are really not that bad. You realize even the worst things can and will be endured.

Most of us have the luxury of living a life that is almost always comfortable. We grew up comfortable and we continue to live comfortably as adults. In fact, we seek out more comfort as time goes on, not less. You eventually realize you have been conditioned to live and think this way and you are likely passing this mindset on to your kids and those around you. You can change it though if you want to. I think you should.

How comfortable are our lives? I’m not sure they could be easier. If we are hungry, we eat. Not only do we eat whenever we feel like it, we eat exactly what we want. We have more clothing than we will ever wear. We have clothing for any scenario we may find ourselves in although we rarely venture outside of our comfort zone. My personal favorite is the full ski gear I see parents in at the small sledding hill near my house. I could understand it (maybe) if those parents were sledding too, but no this is for fashion and of course the desperate need to stay nice and warm. They must think I’m crazy in my sweatshirt and sweatpants. If it’s hot outside, we crank the AC. If it’s cold outside, we turn on the heat. Our cars have remote starters and seat warmers. It takes far too long for that car to warm up or cool down with me sitting in it. Avoid discomfort at all costs.

I don’t wear a coat. I get the mail in the dead of the winter with no shoes and no shirt. I take the top off the jeep on the first sunny 50-degree day we have. I spend long periods of time fasting (feeling real hunger). I do all kinds of stupid shit. I am fully aware that none of these things are truly significant or difficult in the grand scheme of things (I’m hooked on old war documentaries – you want to see suffering watch some of those). So why do I do it then?

I do them because they serve as a reminder that I can endure and tolerate pain and discomfort. They remind me that almost everything that happens in life is not as bad as it may seem. They help set the tone for my mindset. They help me grow and they absolutely help me thrive.

We are truly fortunate to have all the comforts we do, but I don’t think they can be appreciated properly if you never feel discomfort and pain. The comforts are simply taken for granted and become a given in our lives. Imagine the pain and discomfort you will feel if they are stripped from you, how would you go on?

Push yourself. Challenge yourself. You may be surprised what you can endure. You may even find yourself seeking out the pain and discomfort. Choose it. Choose to be different. Choose to evolve. Choose to be better than yesterday!

#fetalalcoholsyndrome #ivegot2more #7kids #endure #grind #accountability #noexcuses #blendedfamily #betterthanyesterday #fewwillhunt

FAS – The Chase

Two of our children have fetal alcohol syndrome (it’s possible the third adopted child does as well). Having FAS is life changing. Living with someone that has FAS is life changing. These kids never had a chance at a normal life and will never experience most things you dream about for your kids.

Lately I have had these lines by Eminem in my head, “Have you ever been protested and demonstrated against? I have, I’ve been protested and demonstrated against.”

They have been rattling around my brain as we have gone through some craziness with our FAS daughter. Let me try to bring you into my world.

“Have you ever chased your child through the neighborhood as she attempts to runaway? I have, I’ve chased my daughter through the neighborhood as she attempts to runaway.”

“Have you had to physically restrain your daughter so she doesn’t harm herself, others, or your house? I have, I’ve had to physically restrain my daughter so she doesn’t harm herself, others, or my house.”

“Have you had your hands bit (and I mean chomped on) by your daughter as you try to protect her from harming herself? I have, I’ve been bitten by my daughter as I try to protect her from herself.”

“Have you ever had to pull your daughter back through a second story window as she threatens to jump? I have, I’ve had to pull my daughter back through a second story window as she threatens to jump.”

The first three happened yesterday. I guess I threw in the fourth for good measure.

It went down around 5:30 PM. I’m sure many are thinking there had to be things you could have done before it got to the point of restraining. My wife and I would give anything if that were true in this situation. I’m not sure there is anything we hate more than this.

We know with our daughter once she crosses a certain point there is no going back. There is also no successful negotiating. Incentives don’t work. Threats don’t work. Nothing works.

Can you imagine your child going up to a stranger’s door and telling these unsuspecting people she wants to live with them instead of you? I can, that happened yesterday too.

Back to the chase. My wife drove down the street of our neighborhood and quickly spotted our daughter. As always she was optimistic. Even on this dreary winter day she saw nothing but rainbows. She thought she could deescalate the situation. I don’t think she really thought that, but she puts on a good front and I had a brutal day at work. She was trying to ease my load – we really are a great team. She made all the standard passive and loving attempts to get things under control with no success. Similar to our son, when things get really crazy we are willing to give anything to get the situation under control. It never works though. Ultimately all this talking led to my daughter running further from home. At this point our daughter can’t really be contained in an open area by my wife. If she wanted to keep running that was what was going to happen.

I, being the realist in the relationship figured this was going to continue to escalate and sure enough I got the call from my wife. As I drove up, our daughter took off. She made it into a different neighborhood. This neighborhood connects to our via sidewalk. The chase was now on foot.

At this point we have no hope left. It’s clear nothing is going to work (nothing ever works, but we always try). My job changes. Instead of negotiator, I play the part of arresting officer. I have to get her back to the car by any means necessary and ideally without anyone in this neighborhood calling the police.

Let’s be honest, an adult white male, carrying a thrashing 10 year old black girl doesn’t look great.

Let me reset the stage. My wife and I are on foot. We have two vehicles in the general area. I have a thrashing ten year old in my arms. If anyone was witnessing this there is no other conclusion one can come to other than this is a kidnapping.

I decide our monster van (Bertha) would be best given there is more space and this short car ride home wasn’t going to be easy. My wife quickly unlocks the side door and rips it open. I manhandle my daughter into the car while she is screaming “Stranger Danger” (what the hell does that even mean? this can’t be the best thing we come up with for kids to scream if they are in trouble). My wife quickly slides the door shut and we drive away. Like any good van the windows are tinted, so no one knows what is going on inside – it wasn’t pretty, but we were in the van. I’ve played this game before, it’s almost over.

We get home, success! Not time to celebrate just yet. The inevitable battle of wills/wrestling match is ready to commence. This can go on for an hour if we are unlucky. Luckily today it only lasted five to ten minutes.

Now the sadness kicks in. No she isn’t feeling sad, we are. When she breaks she really breaks. It’s not gradual, it’s immediate like a glass shattering. The best way I can describe what happens now is uncontrollable ugly crying.

I have no idea what she is thinking in these moments. There is no apology. There is no more anger, but there is also no remorse. I have to think she is realizing, again, that her brain is not normal and she is trying to process what is going on. It is so sad!

I don’t think the breaking is the worst part though. The worst part and what scares me to death is how often she doesn’t really have an explanation for what triggered this extreme reaction. It just happens and then there is no going back.

Obviously this isn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last time we face something like this. Luckily my wife and I know what to do when it happens to keep everyone safe. We are hopeful though because it does seem like the amount of time in between each episode is growing.

#fetalalcoholsyndrome #ivegot2more #7kids #endure #grind #accountability #noexcuses #blendedfamily

FAS – Christmas Tree Edition

Two of our children have fetal alcohol syndrome (it’s possible the third adopted child does as well). Having FAS is life changing. Living with someone that has FAS is life changing. These kids never had a chance at a normal life and will never experience most things you dream about for your kids.

I think I’m going to start every FAS post this way. I think it is a needed reminder – it is for me.

My wife and I take two very different views on some of the craziness we experience every day. I tell her all the time I don’t know how she can laugh at some of the things that go on in our house. She always says if she doesn’t laugh, she’ll cry. I think the real answer is she is a great mom and meets our kids where they are. She really is the very best, and she inspires me to be better.

One of my daughters jokes often that we could do a show, “Keeping Up With The Carter’s”. Sadly, I think our family has enough going on that it would be very interesting for people. You’d likely run the gamut of emotions each episode. I remember the famous Jim Valvano ESPY’S speech where he said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.” I think we’ve met that criteria by 8am most days.

Where to begin? Let’s start with a tradition of ours. We like our traditions, just like every normal American family. What’s more traditional than cutting down a tree and sticking it in your house for a month?

We are fortunate because my wife’s family member owns a tree farm close by, so we can go out as a family and cut one down each year. It’s also helpful we can do it whenever it works for us. I can feel the tension building as I type these words, just like it does as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.

Why tension? Mostly because I live in reality and my wife lives in a world of rainbows and butterflies.

I’m mentally preparing for the worst (I’m mostly expecting it with 1, but possibly 2 of the kids). I’m prepared for someone to make a run for it (no, not me), unpredictable and weird violence or fighting, the use of objects that I didn’t know could be thought of as weapons, the fact I have a saw (enough said). You get the picture.

My wife, on the other hand, is all giddy with Christmas spirit and looking forward to getting the annual family photo. Usually this entails balancing her camera on the car while we try to get everyone halfway close together and looking in the same direction.

She doesn’t appreciate my attention to detail as we plan this amazing adventure.

We drive separate vehicles because there are no vehicles out there that fit a family of nine and a Christmas tree. If there are, I don’t want to hear about it because my wife may want to buy it.

As my oldest son drives to the farm, I prepare in the passenger seat like it’s game 7 of the World Series.
> Step 1 – Get everyone out of the vehicles.
> Step 2 – Find a tree as fast as possible.
> Step 3 – Set a record for how fast I can cut a tree down.
> Step 4 – Realize again that a soft top Jeep is not a great vehicle for hauling an unbounded tree.
> Step 5 – Get the hell out if there. Shit – times up, we’ve arrived at the field.

It’s a chilly, overcast day. Overall though, it couldn’t be a better day to kill a tree for no good reason. My wife’s cousin and wife meet us there. “Fuck” I think to myself (let’s be honest, I’m sure I said it out loud). I wonder what fireworks they are going to witness. They were there to guide us to the trees that wouldn’t be sold and likely felt some obligation to provide support on this adventure. My guess is they wanted to protect their trees from the storm that was about to come through.

Step 1 is an overwhelming success – high fives all around. Not really, I don’t celebrate victories the way I should. Instead, I only can think of Step 2. Crap, forgot about the family picture. My wife finds the perfect location. I play my part – kid herder. The picture is actually a success as well. May be one of the better pictures we have taken. I’m surprised, but quickly my mind turns back to Step 2. Let’s find this tree. This many years into our life of crazy, my wife is actually on board with moving quickly through activities when our 8-year old son is present, so we are in alignment and the search is on.

Yep, Derek was right again. Right to be paranoid, scared and anxious. Not 120 seconds after the picture was complete, my 8-year old son was done with this family tradition. Back to “Big Bertha” he goes (this is the name our children have given our ridiculously large van). Ok, not the end of the world. I don’t love that he is in the van by himself, but we still have a chance. All kids are accounted for and no violence has broken out.

Step 2 is complete. We found a tree very quickly (under 10 minutes) and I start Step 3. I am getting after that tree, which, by the way, had the most crooked trunk I have ever seen. My dad has taught me many things, but maybe the most important is to never cut down a Christmas tree with a crooked trunk. Those words would mean something in a normal family and situation. We found a tree, and by God, I was going to cut that thing down. Let me give you a little window into my brain. As I saw the trunk, I was thinking to myself, “this tree is like our family – it’s like a disabled tree – perfect for our family.” I think the stars aligned and this tree was put on Earth for us. And regardless, I’ll make the damn thing straight at home – keep cutting.

I was able to get that tree down real fast. As I finished up though, I could sense something was up. My wife was nowhere to be found. Maybe it’s OK, I thought. We have a baby and 2-year old, so maybe she is back in the van keeping them warm. Unfortunately, I never really believe these optimistic thoughts. They are almost always wrong, and then I feel let down.

My 10-year old daughter has also decided she wants in the van. So we have both FAS kids in the van at the same time. Them being together and fighting was inevitable. I love that sometimes they are very predictable. I should celebrate that more often.

The van turned into the site of World War 3. The war ended with a very detailed death threat made by my 8-year old. Don’t worry, at this point he is mostly harmless due to his lack of coordination. It took about 10 minutes to get this all settled down. When things like this happen, we are literally willing to give anything at all to stop the madness. You want candy? Sure! You want a Minecraft world? Why not. More often than not, this doesn’t actually help deescalate the situation. It takes a lot of time and some weird, unpredictable distraction to settle things down. Ok, it’s under control. He will ride in the van and she will ride in the jeep.

Step 4 is always a trip. My soft top Jeep is less than ideal to haul a Christmas tree around. The van is not an option because there really isn’t a good way to keep a tree on top of it for a 20 minute ride home due to the way it is set up.

Flashback to 2018: I didn’t bring anything to put on the roof (to protect it) because I was certain it would be fine to shove the tree in the back of the Jeep with the backseats down and back window out. This idea made total sense to me and honestly still does. Another quick glimpse into my brain – if I say I am going to do something, I am going to do it. So you better believe I shoved that damn tree in the back of the Jeep in 2018. We were a sight to behold driving home that year. More on that in a second.

This time I had planned it out more. I brought a blanket to set on top of the Jeep so we could get the tree strapped down. With my wife’s cousin’s help, we got the tree loaded on top of the Jeep. There is just something about an unbound Christmas tree on (or in) a vehicle to make you feel completely ridiculous while also giving off the aura of, “I give zero fucks what anyone thinks.” I just cut down and loaded a damn tree. I have 7 kids in tow, ranging from less than a month to 15 years old. There isn’t anything I can’t survive. Step 4 complete.

After more negotiation with my 8-year old, we were ready to go. My anxiety is still maxed out because I don’t love he is in the same car with the baby and 2 year old. It’s not over until it’s over as the saying goes.

You may be thinking, “Man, you are really paranoid. Chill out.” Let me take you back to 2018 again. At this point, one traumatic event replaces another in my brain, so I don’t recall the events leading up to what I am about to tell you. We had successfully completed Steps 1-4 and were on our way home. I have the tree tucked snugly in the back of the Jeep. My wife has the van and all the kids. To be efficient, we take the highway home. Abruptly, my wife pulls the van to the side of the highway. I’m behind them and am panicked. What is going on? It can’t be good if she has pulled off on the highway – she hates doing that. My 10-year old is angry and is attempting to open the side door of the van to jump out while on the highway going 70+ miles per hour. This is the kind of stuff we are living with every day. When I say it is not over until it’s over, I mean it.

Back to 2019. My ride is calm. My 10-year old is with me and is very quiet and under control, especially considering her life was just threatened by her brother. We have a good conversation most of he way about all kinds of random things – basically anything she sees out the window. We get close to home and she turns to me and says in a really somber tone, “in his heart, I know he loves me.” I assured her that was true. It was heartbreaking to hear her say that. It was also a little bit of recognition that she knows he has major issues. She is also starting to understand her brain is different too. As much as it can appear that she despises him, deep down, she loves him and has a ton of empathy for him.

What a day. By day, I mean under 30 minutes. And those 30 minutes felt like a lifetime. We had some laughs, there was a ton of thought, and tears were shed. It was a full day.

Oh, our disabled Christmas tree proved to be as much trouble as what it took to get it home. After getting it up and the lights strung, it decided to fall over during dinner. My 2 year old thought that was hilarious. The only option was to cut a large part of the trunk off. Our tree was great this year, just a little shorter than normal. And like all of our trees, it had a story to tell!

So what would you do, laugh or cry?

#fetalalcoholsyndrome #ivegot2more #7kids #endure #grind #accountability #noexcuses #blendedfamily

Perspective – Kobe

I just released a blog post on perspective. I had written it weeks ago, but given the passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and three others (unidentified as I write this) it felt like the right time to release that one and to write this one. Why write this one though?

My 12 year old non-basketball fan texted me to tell me he had passed. Our conversation continued about how sad this all was, but more specifically how close in age he and his daughter were compared to her and I. I’m not sure why, but I was really surprised his death had hit her radar. It seemed to have reached everyone very quickly based on all the reactions on social media.

Unfortunately or fortunately what goes on in a celebrity’s life reaches far and wide. This can be a good thing or a bad thing obviously. I hope it goes without saying that his passing is no greater or lesser a tragedy than anyone else. Every death is an unimaginable loss for someone.

Back to my daughter, I told her how sad I thought it was and how I can’t really comprehend a loss like this. His wife lost her husband and a daughter. I can’t fathom that. I can’t picture what my wife would be like in the same situation. I can’t picture what I would be feeling in that situation. The pain and the grief must be overwhelming. I’m embarrassed I can’t find words to do this justice. So very,very sad.

Obviously I don’t know Kobe and have no interest in speculating about his life. I can say this though, I loved his killer instinct – the black mamba. I loved his willingness to do whatever it took to get the job done. Take the final shot, play relentless defense, play through injury, and when necessary throw everyone on his back. His relentless focus, pursuit of his goals, and accountability resonated with me.

I want nothing more than his family and friends to heal from this tragedy. I also desperately hope that this tragedy will wake at least one person up to how limited our time is on this Earth. This is very real – time is running out.

Take advantage of every minute. Take nothing and no one for granted.

#fetalalcoholsyndrome #ivegot2more #7kids #endure #grind #accountability #everymomentcounts #mambamentality #perspective

FAS – This is Real Life

FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome) is a very complex condition. Two of our children have fetal alcohol syndrome (it’s possible the third adopted child does as well). Having FAS is life changing. Living with someone that has FAS is life changing.

FAS sucks – period. The worst part of it is these kids never had a chance to live a normal life. They will have struggles forever that most of us cannot comprehend. As a parent, it is heart breaking to know they won’t get to experience the things in life you dream about for your kids.

As a parent of a child with FAS, you realize (eventually) and hopefully accept that FAS is about change. As a parent of a child with FAS, YOU must change. You won’t be able to change the majority of what comes with FAS (I am speaking of my experience – there is a spectrum so to speak with this syndrome – our two FAS kids are on the severe end of this spectrum). You likely won’t be able to change the impulsiveness and unpredictable and often times aggressive behaviors. Maybe you can somewhat control them with medications, but even that is a process and often times fruitless. It’s important to keep in mind at all times that the cause of all of the behaviors and craziness is brain damage.

I’ll have to write several posts on this topic. It’s far too complex and all consuming to get it down in one post. I think I’ll start with the some of what we have learned and adapted and save the craziness and extreme things we have dealt with for a later post.

Man how I dread that question. You know the obligatory “how are the kids?” question. I never know what to say to it. One, I don’t really think most care to really know how the kids are doing. My wife thinks I’m crazy for thinking that and she may be right. Two, I never know how to answer when it comes to my FAS kids. I probably should answer, “how long do you have?”

I feel like to really answer that question, I have to give a lot of context. You need a foundation before any answers will make sense. A major reason I wanted begin this blog is to get some of this out in the world. I’ve been very diligent to keep this part of our life private. It seemed necessary because we were (and still are) trying to figure this out and get it under control. I think we have reached a point now where it is a good time to make a change. Who knows, I may change my mind again.

First it’s important to point out this won’t ever be ok. This life is going to be challenging forever – mainly emotionally, but certainly the management of day to day life for kids that won’t be able to really take care of themselves. It is very hard to work through this every day. My wife and I have to be very structured and always on the same page to make this work. All these words are hard to read and even harder to type, but they are my truth. The only chance you have at living your best life with this terrible syndrome is to change. You need to change. You need to change in ways that don’t feel natural, that don’t make sense, and the change will never end. You will not figure this out.

One of the most important words we use as parents in this world is Accommodation. I am not sure I used this word much before I came into their lives. It is probably the word that best describes our parenting philosophy and all the success we have experienced.

We have learned over the years and through an insane amount of trial and error that almost all battles with them are not worth it. The emotional and physical scars my wife and I have are proof of that. Not to mention the scars on our home. I’ve read that many parents with children with FAS have PTSD. I used to think that couldn’t be possible. I can absolutely see it now. The ups and downs that are 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds can change a person. I don’t know that anyone is born to parent this way. I think it is a learned behavior – learned based on our survival instincts.

The most significant accommodation my wife and I have made relates to medications. We believe medication is a last resort, not something you default to. Our two FAS kids take a significant amount of medication now. We are very fortunate to have worked with a doctor that is an expert with FAS kids. He helped us navigate most of this. We are working with a new provider now. She seems great, but there is a lot to learn about what we have going on.

We need special approvals for many of these medications as they aren’t normal for kids to take. We have tried and moved on from more medications than I can remember. I’m certain my wife could be a pharmacist at this point.

The medications aren’t there to cure anything. That isn’t possible. It took me a very long time to realize and come to terms with that. The medications are there to help the kids live their very best life. Most days that means simply surviving this world. The medications below are just the morning routine. We do the same thing in the evening. And it’ll probably change again next month.

Some other ways we accommodate that are in opposition of our parenting beliefs. We are fairly strict with our other kids related to time on electronics. For our 8-year old, we have essentially given up on that. Time on his ipad is his favorite thing in the world and the only way we have seen him learn anything in years. We have tried many, many things to help him learn basic things (numbers, letters, etc), with no success. This includes school, which failed in an epic manner. His school accommodated him more than I could have ever dreamed of. They couldn’t have been better with their willingness to adapt and their overall patience. The only thing he can talk about that kind of makes sense is Minecraft. Thank God for Minecraft.

We’ve learned that the 8-year old hates leaving his safe place – his bedroom. Going outside, including to relatives houses or simply running through a pick-up line at the grocery store (in the car) is too much for him. He doesn’t go on family vacations anymore. It is difficult to know if he just doesn’t care about not going or doesn’t even know we are gone – how sad is that? A couple years ago he decided he can’t handle the feeling of clothes, so now he only wears pajamas. You are probably thinking we didn’t try hard enough. We took it to the extreme of taking all PJ’s from his room, leaving only sweatpants and soft shirts (which closely resembled his pajamas) to see if we could break it over a period of time. What happened? He chose to only wear underwear and socks for a week straight. Needless to say, he is still in PJ’s. I assume it will end at some point, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’ve gotten over what I used to be embarrassed by related to this – I changed.

Our 10-year is a little easier to work with because she can communicate in a way we typically can understand. She has also gotten to a spot where she can self-select out of things. We were at her grandma’s house for Christmas. She chose to leave early because there were too many people there. This wasn’t a big deal for us because we know we need to drive separately to events now.

We have locks on almost all doors in our house, including our refrigerator and freezer. We have moved knives to a locked cabinet. We have several cameras in our home to try to get ahead of any escalations and also keep them safe. It also gives us comfort if we do leave them home with a sitter.

Unfortunately, none of these actions were proactive. These are all reactionary and us learning from what our reality is. It is vital you own your reality, not pretend that it is something better or some improvement is just around the corner. You are doing no one any good with that idea – not yourself, but especially not the kids.

We have built an incredible structure in our home, which I am certain helps these two live their very best life. They need the structure. They crave the structure even though they can’t say it. They also need accommodations in almost every area of life. We are learning these every day and will continue to learn them each day because this never gets to a steady state – it’s a constant evolution.

Almost everything above is against my nature as a parent. As a parent, I expect my kids to follow the rules, use common sense, be responsible, and so on. That doesn’t work with these two. I have learned to adjust. It is a constant work in progress though and many days I feel like a failure. I’ve also learned to not give a shit how people (strangers and sometimes family) look at us when a kid is behaving a way that makes no sense and can seem crazy.

I have gotten far more from these kids than I’ve given to them. They have helped me change the way I see the world. Change how I view individuals and their behaviors. I see the world as an even more complex and constantly evolving place. Most important, I realize how little I can actually control.

#fetalalcoholsyndrome #ivegot2more #7kids #endure #grind #accountability