Friday, September 19

Why Sheryl Underwood Is A BOSS

By: April D. Byrd

"I was bruised, but I wasn't Broken"!  We've all been there. The Powerful words came from Sheryl Underwood Co-Host of "The Talk" when she revealed a juicy secret on the show.

Sheryl's presentation of her truth turned out to be one of the most absolute boss moves I've ever seen on TV. and I didn't actually see it on a TV, but of course #SherylUnderwood was trending, because that's how BOSS it was!

If you haven't seen the video already you might want to check it out! (Below):
Share your thoughts about it in the comments section. 

What did you think about Sheryl's share? Do you think it was appropriate? Would you have done it?
Leave a comment below and Keep up with the Convo on Trey Anthony's Fan Page!

April D. Byrd is on Twitter @aprilinspired.

Wednesday, September 17

Special Needs Parenting - Superstar Miss O

by: Ajike Akande

For sometime on this here blog, I have been touching on what is going on with Miss O and G-Dog, without really getting into the nitty gritty.  I just haven’t felt like I could or should totally “go there” but I think it’s about time that I start talking about and naming my girls’ challenges. I recently started following Diary of a Mom, a blog written by a mom with two awesome girls, one of whom is autistic.  Sometimes I find the Diary mom way too perfect.   She never complains about the challenges of raising a child with special needs but focuses on how she manages the challenges.  She seemingly advocates effortlessly for her daughter and celebrates her beautifully.  She’s also a fabulous phone photographer and captures her ridiculously beautiful daughters perfectly.  A little bit, I hate her. 

The point is, though, her daily stories help me see my little monkeys in a different way.  Her posts make me feel less frustrated and more loving.  They make me want to do better as a mom to kids with challenges.  And for reasons not clear to me right now, her blog makes me feel as though I have a right to take up some space in the corner of the blogosphere occupied by parents of kids with special needs. 

This won’t be my last post about raising kiddos with special needs, but it’s not what I plan to write about all the time.  I also need to be clear that all children, regardless of their needs, are totally frustrating and stress inducing (and also awesome) so just because some of my children have special needs does not mean I won’t complain about how annoying they all can be.  If it makes you feel any better, I am 100% sure that they will (do?) complain about me and Wife just as much.  I should also say that I’m not a parent who feels like our children’s challenges are a blessing.  The children are a true blessing; their challenges are not.  You won’t hear me saying that I wouldn’t change anything about them, ‘cuz I would.  I would take away the part of their brain that makes a seam in their socks feel like a needle.  I would take away the part of them that makes surprises no fun at all.  I would take away the part that makes it hard for them to persevere when they are trying to explain what they want or what they think.  And while that absence of those things would make parenting them easier, I wouldn’t take away the tough stuff for me, I would do it for them.  Our Miss O is the happiest person you’ll ever meet but there are parts of every single day that are excruciating for her.  Nobody wants that for their child.  G-Dog has to push through a whole lot of worries which make her so angry and so defiant, to find her happy.  I feel for her and wish it were different. 

To write about both girls and their special needs, would take a really long time, so I’ll start with Miss O who is having the hardest time these days. 

Almost two years ago, Miss O went through a developmental and cognitive assessment as well as genetic testing.  In the end, we were told that her genetics were beautiful (thank you Mom and Dad and Sperm Donor Guy), that her results landed on the diagnostic cusp of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and that she will likely have a learning disability based on early cognitive testing.  In regards to an ASD diagnosis, we were told that girls are often diagnosed later than boys and that we may find that as she gets older and the social demands increase, she will meet the diagnostic criteria for ASD.  Watch and see.  When they told us about her results in the cognitive tests, we all agreed that it was too soon to really know anything about any learning difficulties.  It’s a little unfair to test what has definitely not been taught.  Let the child go to school before we decide she has trouble learning! 

But, of course, parents know their kids.  Before her third birthday she had received physical, occupational and speech therapy.  Being the superstar that she is, she took that therapy and told us all where to go when she reached every goal we set within the time we had hoped, but we still had this feeling that our superstar daughter wasn’t like other kids.  With a built in comparison in her twin sister, the differences were hard to ignore.

After being told that she had the characteristics of a child with autism except that she was too social and too interested in sharing her world with those around her, we learned about ways that we could support her.  We confirmed that she has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), learned about issues of sleep and autism and starting using picture schedules and social stories to help her manage daily routines and transitions as well as new outings and experiences better.  We found an amazing school that offers an integrated program with 20% of the class having ASD, communication disorders or other developmental issues. (G-Dog has joined her sister at Yes I Can and we truly believe that both girls are getting a wonderful program that meets their needs.) We carried on as though Miss O had a confirmed ASD diagnosis, because we truly felt that that was what was coming. 

Now, almost two years after Miss O’s initial assessment, we will be heading back to the team of psychologists, therapists and nurses to repeat the assessments.  We are starting to see significant regression and loss of skills in Miss O and she is having greater difficultly getting through the day.  We are seeing our smart, funny child with excellent language skills, who expresses herself well, struggle to communicate.  We are seeing our kind and compassionate child become overwhelmed and behave inappropriately towards others.  Miss O needs more support and we need guidance and an actual diagnosis to ensure that she gets it.

Knowing that the assessment will take place in the next couple of months, I have said to close friends and Wife, that I feel as though we are on the verge of receiving bad news.  I don’t know for sure what this new assessment will reveal but I know in my heart that our awesome, superstar Miss O experiences this world a bit differently and that can be really hard for her.  And while I think the news will be “bad”, like all news, it won’t be a big deal for long.  She’ll be the same kid, that fills and breaks my heart every day, but we will, and most importantly, she will have more information about how to turn down the excruciating and turn up the joy. 

I will definitely share more as we learn more about Miss O.  Before signing off, I have to share this: One of the things that we have discovered about Miss O, is that nothing calms her hurting heart like YouTube videos, specifically Tyler Ward’s acoustic version of Rihanna’s song Umbrella.  After an epic (sorry neighbours) meltdown last Sunday evening we watched the Umbrella video 12 times in a row!  In. A. Row.  It was the only thing that would calm her down.  It was truly remarkable.    So these days, when her calm, and her joy go missing, she finds them in this video.  I actually wrote Tyler Ward a letter thanking him!  He probably won’t respond because, ah, weird mom, but I had to thank him.  He totally saved Sunday! 

Just in case you have misplaced your calm or joy, or you love a good acoustic cover of a pop song (they’re soooo great), here’s the video: 

Oh and here are the lyrics to the song that Miss O, after screaming for 20 minutes, listened to 12 times while cuddling with me with her head on my chest.  I may have cried listening to the lyrics and soaked the dear child’s head.  Just read the lyrics, you would cry too (if it happened to you)!

You had my heart, and we'll never be worlds apart
Maybe in magazines, but you'll still be my star
Baby 'cause in the dark, you can't see shiny cars
And that's when you need me there
With you, I'll always share
Because when the sun shines, we'll shine together
Told you I'll be here forever
Said I'll always be your friend
Took an oath, I'ma stick it out to the end
Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we'll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella 
(Ella ella, eh eh eh)  
Under my umbrella (Ella ella, eh eh eh)  Under my umbrella

XO Ajike  

Wednesday, September 10

Growing Out Of Babyhood

by Ajike Akande

A few months ago I took things up a notch and adopted a little “5 minute (makeup) face” routine.  I have come to truly love rosy cheeks and glossy lips, but I don’t spend the 5 minutes in front of the mirror applying makeup while trying to prevent my children, who are always crowded around me, from dumping multiple shades of blush on the floor, because I believe my beauty lives in a MAC bottle.  I quite like a natural look.  I spend the time because I don’t want the small children I see over the course of a day to be scared off by the dark circles and substantial puff around my eyes.  Quite frankly, it’s not pretty and there is nothing natural about it.  The puffy circles are the result of many years of having less sleep than required.  Sleep deprivation is not natural it’s real but it’s person-made.  Small, young person-made.  My point, because there is one, is that this morning, I should have taken a big pass on the five minutes.  I did some major weeping this morning a few hours after the makeup routine and I just ended up looking like a hot mess!   Here’s why…

This morning, being no different from other mornings I did the face thing and I was looking bright, cheery and totally on top of my sh*t, if I do say so myself.  Once all spiffied up, I packed up The Middles and The Littles to drive them (all of them) to school.  I was taking F-Jammie and Mr. Lee to their first day of Preschool.  For those of you who are just skimming this post, it bears repeating:  F-Jammie and Mr. Lee went to Preschool for the first time today.  Until now, The Littles have been left with one of three babysitters or family.  We have never set them free with other children without a grown person of their own watching over them. 

When they arrived at school and walked into their classroom, they were greeted by their super enthusiastic preschool teachers (You know, the kind of teachers who can smile through anything including a kid peeing their pants while they are holding them on their hip.)  At first my guys were pretty happy.  I told them that I would be back and left the room.  Unfortunately, I made the rookie mistake and stayed in the building - out of sight but in earshot.  When I heard Mr. Lee scream “No! Put me down! No!  I want mommy!” I lost it.  Really, really lost it.  Can we say, ugly crying?  I went over to the two-way mirror, (God’s little gift to the neurotic parent) and took a front row seat to view the movie Mr. Lee Has a Tantrum When He Realizes Mommy is Not Close By.  (Can we just pause and think about who would play the part of me?  Please post any thoughts in the comments.)  I watched him carry on while being held by a smiling, calm teacher.  I watched his twin sister, F-Jammie, follow him and the teacher around the room until he calmed down, which made me cry even more.  She was making sure that her brother was okay.  I wasn’t surprised; she is loving like that.  I felt proud that she showed so much compassion for her brother but also guilty because she felt as though she had to make sure that her sad bro was being taken care of while mommy up and left.  

 Finally the inside voice kicked in – “Leave woman!  Go pee alone, drink coffee while it’s hot, make and finish a phone call!”  I don’t often get time to myself in the middle of the day.   I left the school, still sobbing and called a friend to cry to her.  She reminded me that Mr. Lee and I are both ready for some time apart and that F-Jammie was born with her bags packed for university and her attachment to me is really about the snacks!  After the pep talk, I went for coffee and thought about how the phase of parenting babies is coming to an end.

We have been in the “baby” phase for years.  We never “saw the light”.  We were fortunate to be able to plan and have our children very close together.  Please note that these plans were made assuming that we would have one baby at a time.  Please also note that I am aware that we went for another round even after we had evidence suggesting that the assumption of one baby at a time was weak.  Point is, after asking, “What the actual f%&k were we thinking?” about a million times, we settled into the all baby all the time, way of life.  Seven years later, nobody is breast-feeding (Breast fondling – always; breast-feeding – never.)  Daytime diapers and cribs are a thing of the past.  Scooters are increasingly the mode of transportation and the stroller more often gets left at home.  Things are changing.  Praise God, things are changing.  Also, I totally hate change. 

After just over an hour, drinking hot coffee and thinking about my changing life, I went back to the school to pick up The Middles and The Littles.  These are the happy, suddenly older, proud-of-themselves, sibling-loving faces that came through the door. 
I have felt drained, the way you do after a good cry, all day.  The makeup has been wiped away by the waterworks and I can’t seem to lose the home-sicky feeling in my gut.  I guess the home-sicky feeling makes sense.  When we are home, we are surrounded by the familiar, what we are used to.  I am used to being a mommy to babies.  I have never had babies grow out of babyhood without another baby, two actually, to take their place.  I am losing a little bit of what is familiar.  It really is time, but I still feel a little home-sicky.  I wonder if my babies, The Littles, feel the same.

XO Ajike

P.S.  I am looking for excuses not to go grocery shopping the two mornings a week that The Littles are at school.  Who wants to meet up for hot coffee? 

Wednesday, September 3

School Is In Session

by Ajike Akande

Where I live, this is the first week back at school.  As a mother of many, including, three school-agers, it will come as no surprise that this blog post is about sending The Big and The Middles as well as Wife back to school.  I could share all the details of everyone’s first week, but wow, that’d be a snore fest so instead I am sharing a letter that I have written to The Big’s grade two teacher.  She will receive a copy of this letter shortly after I post this, so if you think it’s totally weird and inappropriate please let me know ASAP ‘cuz eeek, don’t want to be weirdo mom. 

Here it is…

Dear Ms. P,

You did it!  You survived the first days of the 2014/15 school year.  I stood back watching you on the first morning wearing your back-to-school best, doling out hugs - down low to the bigger, but still so little grade twos that you taught in grade one, and up high to the parents who were feeling excited to be sending their kids back to school in general but especially excited to be sending their kids back to you in particular.  You looked so happy and bursting with excitement about the fresh start that the new year offers.  I wanted to tell you that I recognize your bright expression and genuine joy to see your new and returning students.  I recognize it because that used to be me greeting bouncing kiddos and their parents.  Honestly, I felt a little jealous.  Don’t get me wrong; I know that day one is the beginning of a teacher-student honeymoon that if you’re lucky, lasts about three weeks.  Eventually the kids will stop being on their best behaviour.  So will you.  But the hugs, nervous energy and excitement are so real and truly set the tone for the year.  I am thrilled for all the members of the Room 22 crew.  I know that you will do all you can as crew leader to create a brilliant, safe, bad-ass (in the best way) community. 

Before you slip into the school routine, I want to tell you some things about my little dude who is in your class for the second time, this time as a big grade two kid.  Our Z absolutely ADORES you.  Some time around the end of July, he stopped accidentally calling me Ms. P!  He has been attending school since he was 18 months old and I have never seen him respond to a teacher the way he has responded to you.  His teachers have always enjoyed him and he has always been genuinely happy to learn with and from them, but with you, it’s different.  When you started teaching his class last January Z, almost immediately, saw himself in you.  You, a black (like him) woman with Caribbean roots, who loves music and dancing, hooked him right away.  You laughed at his antics and were charmed by his unbelievable ability to tell a good story.  You nagged him when he didn’t do his best (which was far too often) and sent home homework when he didn’t complete his work because let’s face it, he is more interested in being social than in completing math worksheets.  You consistently responded with genuine warmth whether you were disappointed in him or whether he “made your heart sing.”  You did this better than me and his mama.  He noticed and he appreciated you for it.      

I don’t think Z was aware that, once speaking to you and realizing that you somehow, even though you are not yet a mama, intrinsically understood how hard it can be to raise a black boy in North America at this time, I too felt comfortable with you.  I was relieved when I discovered that you would support my tough black mom approach as well as my insistence that my little guy has a chance to learn in a safe community with love, respect and fun (yes, fun) at its core.   

Our Z (your Z) is still squirrelly.  Seriously, seriously squirrelly.  He still doesn’t love the “learny” part of school.  He will talk your ear off and possibly drive you to drink!  The other kids will love him and think he’s hilarious.  This is extremely important to him so don’t be surprised if his perseverance and focus is most frequently exhibited when he is trying to entertain his classmates.  But if you bring your most dramatic self to the lessons you are teaching he will hang on your every word.  If you stay close by and be his anchor he’ll get his work done – eventually, because he doesn’t just want approval from his classmates, he wants yours too.  If you take dance breaks with the class and let him be your office runner he’ll still be squirrelly but he’ll get some of the movement that he craves. 

I know that teaching is one of the hardest jobs out there.  I know that your class is full of kids who need all sorts of things to make their days successful.  Z is one of many.  I also know that our boy will frustrate you.  You’ll want to raise your voice and send him out of the class.  You’ll want to complain to your colleagues about this very capable kid who doesn’t always apply himself and focus.  I know all of this.  I know because I know my Z and I have taught my share of Zs.  When your patience is low, tell him and then tell me.  I am always happy to discuss our little guy.  I’m happy to let you vent a little and then I am happy to make a plan to support him so that he can do better.  Your job is to support Mr. Z at school and it is our job to support him at home.  I believe that it is also my job to be one of the people who supports you in your efforts to support our boy.  I’m on your team.  You’re on mine.  We’re on his. 

This is going to be a long, maybe hard, hopefully awesome year.  In preparation I’ve purchased all the wine.  (Let me know if you need any!)  Alright, Ms. P here we go; let’s do this!