My oldest son has been through a lot. Way more than a 10-year-old boy should ever have to go through. From the loss of his twin sister to brain cancer to his own battle with Type 1 Diabetes to adults disappointing him, he’s been through the wringer in more ways than one.
There was a time when our sweet little boy was so burdened by the difficulties he had faced that he couldn’t muster a smile for a single family photo. He would scowl and hide his face. He struggled to relate to other kids his age because he had walked through so much more life then they had. My husband and I have fought hard to help get him out of that place and to help our son find the joy that should come in childhood.
Last night I was laying with my little boy at bedtime just chatting about his day. He told me, “Mom, I realized something - I’m not sad anymore. And I’m not worried about anything anymore. Do you think that’s okay? Is there anything I should be worried about?”
It took everything in me to not burst into tears as I wrapped my arms around, and told him there is nothing for him to worry about. And it is a great thing that he just feels happy and safe these days!
As I finished tucking him in and walked out of his room, I was in awe as I reflected on the tremendous growth we’ve seen in our little boy. I’ve had the pleasure of watching him interact with his classmates and friends during a few year-end activities over the past two weeks and it has been such a joy to see him play and act like a joyful 10-year old kid! It’s such a simple thing, and yet such a huge victory!
It’s taken a lot of work to get to this place. We’ve sought help, we’ve had many, many tough days, but it has all been worth it to see our boy finally find joy in his own childhood. In fact, more often than not, he has the biggest, brightest smile in all of our family photos!
Our story might be completely different from yours. But if your kids are struggling with hard things, and your heart is aching as you watch them go through the ups and downs, please know there is help available for you! We have support groups in session now that are led by a licensed therapist that will help connect you with other parents who are going through similar mental health struggles with their own children.
These groups are meant to give parents a safe space to connect, work through their own feelings, and get ideas on how to tackle the tough pieces of childhood. If you are interested in joining one of our support groups, please visit https://www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org/support-groups.html and sign up. The groups are free! And are also completely confidential. Any parent, guardian or caregiver can attend these groups whether their child has a diagnosed mental health condition or is simply struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.
If you have any questions about the groups, please feel free to reach out to anyone on the OCF Staff. Just know you don’t have to walk this tough road alone!
Never would I imagine I would get to the age where I love getting to bed early, reading a good book and seeing my garden grow. But here I am with seedlings growing in every windowsill of my house, finding it hard to stay up past 10pm and I head to the library every two weeks for a new book to read.
All of these activities have become a great way for me to relax and relieve stress. Life gets crazy with all of our responsibilities: raising kids, all the sports commitments, having a career, keeping friendships alive, working on your health, providing dinner every night and somehow keeping our houses somewhat clean amongst all of that.
I’ve always been a go-go-go type of person and I was starting to burn out. So I have made much more intentional time to slow down. I prioritize taking time to read a good book instead of watching tv. I get to bed at a decent time so I have enough energy to take on all of life’s responsibilities (which many times means the to-do list doesn’t get complete but life goes on). And I’ve found a new joy in growing a garden.
There’s something remarkable about an entire plant growing out of a tiny seed and even more exciting when it provides food for your family to eat. Now, I definitely don’t have a natural green thumb but I’m learning and it’s been a neat experience to include my kids in.
Let’s explore why gardening is a great stress reliever according to Elizabeth Scott, PhD:
Sunlight has been proven to improve mood. Everyone can benefit from more Vitamin D, especially those of us who have just experienced the prolonged winter months where sunlight was limited.
“Sunlight also provides an influx of vitamin D, and the fresh air that goes with it is good for your health. Getting outdoors to work with your garden is a great excuse to get more of this good stuff.”
Spending 30 minutes tending to your garden will give you extra sunlight you may not have had otherwise.
Connection To Nature
“Being in touch with nature and the great outdoors can help you feel more removed from the stressors of daily life. With the amount of time we spend indoors (at work, watching t.v., etc), many people feel an urge to connect with nature that goes unfulfilled.”
Most of us don’t have time everyday to go on hikes, go camping or do other activities that allow us to connect with nature but simply going to your garden and helping it flourish is a great way to help mother nature do exactly what it’s meant to do!
There’s something magical about taking a seed and watching it sprout. It’s exciting and I find myself rooting for the little plants to be fighters so they can all grow into mature plants.
Also, plants can add a great pop of color to any space.
“The beauty of nature is a great stress reliever in itself. Just think of how many times relaxation has been connected with pictures of stunning landscapes or recordings of nature’s sounds.”
Create a space in your yard that can become your garden sanctuary. If you live in a small space or apartment, find a space where you can have planters and watch how it improves your space.
How to get started
If you’re new to the gardening world I would recommend doing some research before getting started. You can certainly purchase your supplies but there are plenty of cost effective ways to create your own space as well.
Some seeds require indoor growth before planting outdoors so pay attention to these details on the seed packages. I do find the details on the back of the seed packets to be rather vague so take the time to do extra research on best methods for the plant you’re growing.
Don’t forget about local nurseries and growing clubs- these are a great place to purchase plants that are more mature and have a higher likelihood of growing to full potential.
A resource I’ve learned a lot about regrowing produce we already purchase from the store is @creative_explained on Instagram. It’s pretty amazing to learn how we can utilize the resources we already have to grow something new.
Living in a world full of information at our fingertips I know you can find what you need to grow a successful garden. Just keep in mind it may take a few seasons of trial and error and it’s more than okay to start small.
Please share any gardening tips you have in the comments!
Congratulations to our Wyoming students, schools, and parents! You have made it or are weeks away from completing another year! There are challenges that come with every year and we want to cheer loud for you all who overcame and persevered!
A well deserved break has now come for most with the approach of summer. And parents may also be scrambling to figure out what to do next, especially if they work through the whole year! While it may come with its own challenges, summer can be a great time for new and different experiences for your family, even if you have a child diagnosed with a chronic illness or medically complex condition.
There are so many options out there for “childcare” during the summer that don't necessarily have to look like or feel like your child has a babysitter from June through August. Be sure to check out your local clubs, gyms, churches and other organizations to find out about their summer programs! Even if it is a shortened experience like a week-long camp, accommodations may be able to be made if your child needs certain support (help with checking blood sugar, medications, mobility, etc.). If you’d like to find a camp that is specific to your child’s experience in life with a medical condition, I can help point you in that direction as they do exist (pending location and diagnosis) and are wonderful programs! Some summer fun with old or new friends with plenty of learning opportunities on the life spectrum can continue to help shape your child into a neat young man or woman.
Summer is an opportunity for your kiddo to get other experiences that will help them in the future from work. There are lots of opportunities to explore, even if your child has a specific interest. There is plenty of yard work to be done! If a full time, independent job within the workforce is not where your kiddo is for various reasons (age, ability, illness), your neighbors may well appreciate a responsible young person who will water gardens, mow yards, and/or take care of pets while they are away. You can also think about ways they can do the same work at your own home - plant your own garden and watch the pay out with your child learning to enjoy some responsibility. The possibilities are endless! Start a conversation with your child and see what interests he or she has and watch them learn and grow. Being given the chance to contribute and discover sparks of passion can be so meaningful as they learn more about themselves!
We all know things are difficult right now on our pocket books. So how can we face that challenge of building family memories of togetherness and adventure without breaking the bank? Living in Wyoming, our rural status has its pros and cons. One pro is access to the great outdoors and some cool things to do in our own small towns. Whether it’s a picnic in a park, camping in the backyard, walking through a museum, or getting to the next town over to experience something different - we have options here that we can make special for our own family’s needs and abilities. Parents, don’t feel pressured or shamed for not being able to pack up the kids and head to Disney. Your kids will experience the love you have for them wherever you are together in your efforts to spend time with them.
Balancing a New Routine
Summer can feel euphoric with the promise of warm, sunny and carefree days. And if you care for a child with some form of special need, the change in routines and support systems found within the school can be a bumpy one. Remember that you can build another support system for these months and it can come in various forms. Keep doing all of the essentials for your kiddos - meds, doctor appointments, therapies, etc. - and see what opportunities there may be for you, too, to kick back and from some R&R this summer. If the school year is wrapping up too quickly for you and you’re starting to feel the panic rise over what to do with your kiddo(s) this summer, our Patient Advocacy Team is here to support you. Feel free to call, email or find us on the web to see how we can help you work through this summer transition! O:307.333.1273 email@example.com www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org
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Have you ever googled parenting hacks? What about books to help you parent “correctly”? In almost 17 years of parenting, I sure have. I also have had to call poison control THREE times in one week! I am sure at least once in life your toddler or young child will “accidentally” call 911, resulting in cops coming to your house to assess the situation. Or maybe you have had to tell your child the tooth fairy got blown away in the Wyoming wind and that's why they forgot to leave money under their pillow! All these lovely scenarios come with the greatest feat of life called parenting.
I would love to say that parenting is all roses and butterflies, and that it's smooth sailing. That is how I imagined it growing up. I would have the kid, feed it and POOF…it’s grown up and on its own. As much truth as there is to that idea of it going that fast, it is far from the reality that comes with parenting. I honestly do not think anyone is ever prepared for the in between. The ups and down, the turnarounds and all arounds of having children. Parenting is HARD! There isn't one good way to get through it or navigate the unknown. And all those parenting books seem to be full of lies when it comes to what to do!
Parenting is complicated, and gives you every emotion known to mankind, even ones you didn't know existed. You wait 9 long months to have this sweet little bundle of joy in your arms, wanting to cuddle you and easily get comforted when you rock them. Then one day, years from that moment you are faced with the teenager that all of a sudden looks like a young adult and you find yourself asking “why”, “how” and “when” did this happen! I swear the sweet years FLY by. But the hard days, turn into long grueling nights of wondering where you went wrong. The tough days seem to drag on. And the easy days seem to be forgotten. You are the last person in the world your child seems to want anything to do with and every little thing you say or do is wrong.
As hard as it can be, it's always good to try and remember the good days. Your child at any given moment has NEVER been this age. It is important to remember that the uncharted territory of parenting in this moment is all new, just like the exact moment of their childhood is new to them as well. They have never been here. But we have. As their parents we have grown through all these ages that we get to help our own children through.
I have heard time and time again people say they won't let their children go through what they themselves did and want to make it “better’. To us it seems common sense that you don’t put aluminum foil in the microwave, you make sure you don’t over boil the water, you make sure to brush your teeth EVERY day and shower regularly. But how do our kids know this? These are all things we LEARNED. Did we do it the hard way? Or did our parents have to teach us these things? More than likely it was a mixture of both. It is possible you might learn something new while growing with your child as well.
My advice as a parent is simple really. Just let it ride. Let go of all those expectations you ever thought parenting would look like. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look textbook perfect. You and your child will know what you need to do. I can guarantee that parenting is the toughest yet most rewarding thing you could ever do. On hard days, try and remember it won't be like this forever. Remember the good days and how far you've come as a parent. Give yourself grace and understand no one is perfect. Also know that what other people do for their parenting, might not work in your situation. Everyone is different. Which means that every single person learns or grows differently.
The cool thing about parenting is, as long as you are doing your best, that's just how you do it. Your children have to learn certain things on their own, and it is our responsibility as their parents to be there for them. Sure maybe you don’t want them to make mistakes like you yourself did. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. Because sometimes we have to fall before we can rise.
Yesterday was International Bereaved Mother’s Day. In a million years I never thought I would be a part of this group, but here I sit, nearly 9 years into my bereavement of my own daughter. And my grief is still as real today as it was all those years ago when Olivia took her last breath.
You would think that with time, the grief has gotten easier. Or less heavy. But in reality, it never really lifts. It just changes. Sometimes it’s a little bit lighter, but other times it comes in like a wave, and without warning, it knocks me back down like a tidal wave.
When Olivia first died I went into shock. I was there. I knew she had died. But I simply couldn’t allow myself to feel the magnitude of losing her because it would have overtaken me. So instead of grieving, I went into survival mode. I was determined to love the rest of my family well, and to try to make all of them okay so that our family could survive the loss.
That survival mode went on for years. I would continually live almost in a dream, trying to make everyone else okay, while never actually dealing with my own grief or my own feelings of loss.
It wasn’t until I met and married my now husband that I finally had the space, love and support I needed to deal with the loss of my daughter. And let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty! Thank God he’s a patient man who was determined to put the pieces back together for the three very broken people he found in my children and I.
For about a year the grief and the brokenness were almost too much. I was exhausted! I felt like I was drowning in it, and I didn’t know if I would ever be able to come up for air. But with a lot of patience, prayer, and time spent healing, it did get better. And I can say now that I live in a much more real place with my grief, and I no longer try to stifle it like I did in my earlier years.
Today I am 8.5 years into this loss of a lifetime. And I am still actively grieving. I miss Olivia every single day. And I am still dealing with all the ways her loss has affected me and the other members of my family.
I won’t pretend for a moment to have all the answers for how to live successfully with grief. There are days when I think I’m doing okay, and there are days when I still need to spend a day or two in bed just allowing myself to feel the weight of this huge loss and all the sadness that goes with it. There are also days when I don’t have the luxury of getting to do that, and instead those around me sometimes pay the price for the tornado of grief that’s spinning around inside of me.
I wish I had a lot more than 20 months with my daughter. I wish I had a 10 year old girl right now who was growing up into a beautiful young woman. I miss having my mini-me and I'm sad for all the experiences I will never get the chance to share with her.
Today and every day, take the time to pray for and love on the bereaved mothers around you. You may not even realize some of them exist. You may think they are so strong from all they’ve experienced that they don’t actually need you. But I am here to tell you, they do. They just won’t be very likely to ask for it. They have probably learned a lot about suffering in silence and solidarity because it’s a loss unlike any other. But they shouldn’t have to keep living like that. Give them a hug. Invite them to coffee. Take a little time to learn about the child they lost and maybe even a little bit about the woman they were before they became a bereaved mother. You have no idea how much that would mean for both of you.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.