Advent Ideas Focused on Kindness

Posted Sunday, October 26th, 2014 @ 11:00 am by Kathryn
Categories: Community, Journal, Spirit

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

–Edith Wharton

advent candle

Advent is approaching! (Yes, I know I’m thinking way ahead.) Every year I put special activities (written on slips of paper) in our calendar pockets for us to do each day. This year, we’re going to do something new: random acts of kindness. Below is a list I found online (although I can’t remember where). We’ll pick 24 of these for Advent. And maybe we’ll keep doing it after!

  1. Leave a bouquet at the hospital; the nurses will know who needs it the most.
  2. Make a struggling family’s summer by buying them a season pass to the municipal pool.
  3. Help a friend see today in a wondrous new light: Hand him or her a kaleidoscope.
  4. If you are in a long line, invite the person behind you to go first.
  5. Shower the pediatric wing of a hospital with $1 coloring books and $2 boxes of new crayons.
  6. Hang a sign on a bulletin board that says “Take What You Need” — with tear-off tabs at the bottom for Love, Hope, Faith, and Courage.
  7. Bring courtesy back in an instant: Hold the door open with a flourish.
  8. Drop off combs, toothbrushes, and toothpaste at a shelter or a soup kitchen.
  9. Curb road rage: Let other cars merge onto the highway.
  10. Leave your neighbors a note that tells them how much joy you find in admiring their garden.
  11. Put sticky notes with positive messages (e.g., “You look gorgeous!”) on a restroom mirror.
  12. In low-income families, a baby can spend a day or longer in the same diaper, and laundromats often don’t allow cloth diapers to be washed in machines. Help out a mom and a baby by donating diapers (find a directory of diaper banks at
  13. Send a thank-you note to the brave officers at your local police station. (Given how we carry on about parking tickets, it’s important to acknowledge the daily risks taken by the men and women on the force.)
  14. Share the wealth: Ask the grocery clerk to apply your unused coupons to another customer’s items.
  15. Arrange to pay anonymously for a soldier’s breakfast when you see him or her dining alone.
  16. Slip a $20 gas card or public-transportation pass into someone’s shopping bag.
  17. Rekindle your Girl Scout spirit: Pick up trash at a park or a playground.
  18. Donate your old professional clothes to an organization, like Dress for Success (, that helps women jump-start their careers — and up their confidence.
  19. Carry someone’s groceries.
  20. It’s hot out! Offer your mail carrier a glass of iced tea or a $5 Starbucks gift card.
  21. Bake bread or cookies and deliver the food to a nearby fire station or group home.
  22. Be the bigger person: Cede the parking space.
  23. Check “yes” when asked if you wish to become an organ donor — and tell your family.
  24. Lay your neighbors’ newspaper at their front door along with a plate of blueberry muffins.
  25. Donate old cell phones to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (, which will use the proceeds for programs that protect families from abuse.
  26. Sing an employee’s praises to a manager or on a comment card — a little recognition goes a long way.
  27. Share happy memories. Stick an old photo in the mail to a friend and write a note about the day it was taken on the back.
  28. Send an ooey-gooey dessert over to another table at a restaurant.
  29. Leave a copy of a book you love, with a note for the next reader, on the train or the bus.
  30. Send valentines in August.
  31. Load extra change into the vending machine to buy the next person a Coke.
  32. Send somebody an e-card, just because. The funnier, the better.
  33. Name a star after someone (
  34. Forgive someone. Repeat as necessary.
  35. Resolve to refrain from negative self-talk (you deserve your kindness, too!).
  36. On trash day, wheel your neighbor’s can out to the curb.
  37. Relay an overheard compliment.
  38. You don’t have to send every disadvantaged child to college, but you can buy one of them a life-changing book: Try
  39. To melt away her blues, send a friend a funny video from YouTube.
  40. Volunteer to read to kids at an after-school program.
  41. Give your mom a shout-out on your birthday — after all, she deserves some credit for your life.
  42. Pause and give people the benefit of the doubt. E-mail, especially, can cause unintentional feather-ruffling.
  43. Bring your spouse coffee in bed.
  44. Treat an elderly neighbor, with a gift certificate, to a $30 pedicure. Bonus points if you can do so anonymously.
  45. Dedicate a song on the radio to someone you know is listening during his or her long commute.
  46. Take kindness on the road: Pay the toll for the car behind you.
  47. Slow way down when you drive past a pedestrian — 35 mph can seem like the Indy 500 to a woman walking her dog.
  48. Rescue a wallflower! Strike up a conversation with someone who’s standing alone at a party.
  49. Leave extra umbrellas in vestibules with notes that say “Use this to stay dry!”
  50. Deliver fresh-baked cookies to city workers.
  51. Bring flowers to work and share them with coworkers.
  52. Simply listen to someone in need.
  53. Donate a percentage of receipts for the week to a special cause.
  54. Bring coworkers a special treat.
  55. Sing at a nursing home.
  56. Offer a couple of hours of baby-sitting to parents.
  57. Serve refreshments to customers.
  58. Treat someone to fresh fruit.
  59. Pay a compliment at least once a day.
  60. Hand out balloons to passersby.
  61. Give free sodas to motorists.
  62. Transport someone who can’t drive.
  63. Mow a neighbor’s grass.
  64. Say something nice to everyone you meet today.
  65. Send a treat to a school or day-care center.
  66. Volunteer at an agency that needs help.
  67. Give the gift of your smile.
  68. Organize a scouts or service clubs to help people with packages at grocery store.
  69. Offer to answer the phone for the school secretary for ten minutes.
  70. Volunteer to read to students in the classroom.
  71. Give a hug to a friend.
  72. Tell your children why you love them.
  73. Write a note to your mother/father and tell them why they are special.
  74. Pat someone on the back.
  75. Give coffee to people on their way to work in the morning.
  76. Give blood.
  77. Plant flowers in your neighbor’s flower box.
  78. Give another driver your parking spot.
  79. Leave a treat or handmade note of thanks for a delivery person or mail carrier.
  80. Tell your boss that you think he/she does a good job.
  81. Tell your employees how much you appreciate their work.
  82. Let your staff leave work an hour early.
  83. Tell a bus or taxi driver how much you appreciate their driving.
  84. Give a pair of tickets to a baseball game or concert to a stranger.
  85. Leave an extra big tip for the waitperson.
  86. Drop off a plant, cookies, or donuts to the police or fire department.
  87. Open the door for another person.
  88. Pay for the meal of the person behind you in the drive-through.
  89. Be a friend to a new student or coworker.
  90. Offer to return a shopping cart to the store for someone loading a car.
  91. Buy a roll of colorful stickers and give them to children you meet during the day.
  92. Write a card of thanks and leave it with your tip.
  93. Let the person behind you in the grocery store go ahead of you in line.
  94. When drivers try to merge into your lane, let them in with a wave and a smile.
  95. Buy cold drinks for the people next to you at a ball game.
  96. Distribute kindness bookmarks that you have made.
  97. Plant a tree.
  98. As you go about your day, pick up trash.
  99. Laugh out loud often and be generous with your smile.
  100. Pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive-thru line.
  101. Rake leaves or shovel snow for a neighbor.
  102. Send friends and relatives notes or letters of encouragement on the back of your kids’ artwork.
  103. Leave love notes for your spouse or kids in places like a briefcase or clothing drawer.
  104. Bring water, coffee, or hot chocolate to outdoor workers (police officers or crossing guards, for example).
  105. Put your neighbor’s trashcans away for them after pick-up.
  106. Buy a soda or candy bar for the cashier when you’re checking out.
  107. Give a restaurant or coffee gift card to someone (bank cashier, postal worker, homeless person, or random stranger).
  108. Send a silly card to brighten someone’s day.
  109. Call or email someone you haven’t talked to in awhile, just to ask how they are.
  110. Send your spouse a text just to tell him something that you appreciate about him.
  111. Hide a kind note in a library book.
  112. Leave your trade credit inside a book or video game at the used book store. (This happened to my son last week. It was just enough to get an inexpensive game and it made his day.)
  113. Bring your spouse his favorite drink while he’s getting ready for work. (This happened to me last week and it made my day…except, I wasn’t getting ready for work.)
  114. Cut someone’s grass.
  115. Bake cookies for someone. (Postal carrier, neighbor, elderly friend, Sunday school teacher, etc.).
  116. Leave coins on a parking meter or the machines at a laundry mat.
  117. Pay the toll for the car behind you.
  118. Help someone load their groceries.
  119. Offer to return someone’s shopping cart to the store.
  120. Let someone go ahead of you in the checkout line.
  121. Let someone pull out or turn in front of you in traffic, if it’s safe to do so.
  122. Keep unopened kids’ meal toys in your purse to give to kids you encounter (with their parent’s permission).
  123. Pay for someone’s meal at a restaurant.
  124. Make extra meals to share with a sick or busy neighbor.
  125. Offer to keep a friend’s kids so she and her husband can have some time alone.
  126. Take a friend’s child(ren) shopping for an upcoming holiday so they can buy their parents a surpise gift.
  127. Make hats for kids with cancer.
  128. Make cards for nursing home residents…and deliver them with your kids.
  129. Pick up trash at the park.
  130. Thank a soldier.
  131. Make care bags for the homeless – toiletry items, bottled water, food store gift cards, non-perishable/ready-to-eat foods.
  132. Buy car wash coupons and give them away.
  133. Leave copy of the Sunday newspaper on your neighbor’s doorstep.
  134. Clean house for a friend or family member while she’s on vacation.
  135. Leave extra coupons on the store shelf next to the item they’re good for.
  136. Pack a bag for someone undergoing chemo – include snacks, bottled water, magazines, word-find games, a mechanical pencil, and a good book.
  137. Tape envelopes with quarters to vending machines.
  138. Take care packages to patients with new babies at the hospital.
  139. Take homemade cookies or cupcakes to the police or fire station.
  140. Invite a homeschool mom friend’s kids over for the day so she can run errands or do lesson plans alone – or just take a nap!
  141. Save change throughout the year and bless another family with some extra cash during the holidays.
  142. Pack a date-night box (movie rental card, popcorn, soft drinks, movie candy) and leave it on someone’s doorstep. Ring the bell and run!
  143. Take lunch to the ICU waiting room.
  144. Take magazines, word-find games, or Sudoku puzzles and mechanical pencils to a waiting room.
  145. Take flowers to a nurses’ station – for the nurses.
  146. Get a group together to make a meal for your local Ronald McDonald House.
  147. Give your unwanted newspaper coupons to the lady behind you who’s buying three papers. Chances are, she clips coupons.
  148. Fix a make-ahead breakfast for a working/school-not-at-home family to make their morning a little smoother.
  149. Purchase a store gift card or a gas card and send it to a friend in need.


Posted Friday, October 17th, 2014 @ 9:46 am by Kathryn
Categories: Buddhism, Journal, Meditation, Spirit

What is real for me in this moment: life feels bittersweet. It’s October again. Soon it’s Christmas. It’s “Where did the time go?” Then it’s a new year, and the school year ends, and summer vacation evaporates, school begins again, and then: another new year. Life is like this, every year. I recognize this, every year. I remember this conversation with myself from last year. The older I get, the more time compresses.

I practice presence — living here and now — and I’ve gotten pretty adept. Compared to the me I was in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, I focus less on past rumination and future anxiety. But that doesn’t make the time pass more slowly. It doesn’t change the fact that this life is such a short stint.

Yes, there’s Presence. The intangible subtle Mystery to which we are connected, from which we arise and to which return. It is possible to notice and experience this daily. Sometimes I even live within and from it — from a knowing that defies description or understanding with the mind.

But lately I’ve been noticing: I like this current incarnation. I like being in this body, living this life. It is precious. Yet it all changes. And there is grief.

I found a photo of myself when I was seven months old. I look into that sweet baby’s face and feel such love for her. Her softness, her open expression. Her innocence. I look at my daughter, a lovely soul, and remember the delicious intimacy of holding her.

Life is doing what it does. I’m so grateful that I am, that I’ve gotten to be this person. It’s just passing so quickly.


Me, 7 months old

you want some?

Claire, 7 months old

Good Advice

Posted Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 @ 9:34 am by Kathryn
Categories: Community, Education, Science, Social Science, Technology

I saw this clip, and I think it’s so valuable!

A Hot Tomato

Posted Saturday, October 11th, 2014 @ 4:16 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Arts, Journal, Spirit

SoulCollage® Committee Suit: Hot Tomato

I am one who is juicy and curvy and full of life. I am sweet and tangy. I am tempting. I am the dame they call a Hot Tomato.

What is your gift or message for me?
Be in the fullness of your body. Take up space. Tomatoes go with everything.

What do you want me to do?
Show yourself off to the world. Be proud of your abundance.

Why did you show up today?
Because you’re ripe.

If you have a shadow, what would it be? Or, what light do you offer?
The shadow is over-ripeness, fruit rotting on the vine. The light is celebration.

Committee_Hot Tomato

No Matter

Posted Friday, October 10th, 2014 @ 9:20 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Nature, Quotes, Science, Spirit

“Listen to me, your body is not a temple. Temples can be destroyed and desecrated. Your body is a forest — thick canopies of maple trees and sweet scented wildflowers sprouting in the underwood. You will grow back, over and over, no matter how badly you are devastated.”

–Beau Taplin

Lying and Defiance in Children

Posted Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 @ 1:12 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Education, Journal, Motherhood, Social Science, Spirit

The topic of defiance has popped up in my life in several places recently, and so today I share some reflections on it.

When I did my practicum as a therapist in training, I worked at a private mental hospital. In my work with children, they would sometimes describe a home life that sounded unreal, because the details were horrific. Some of these kids, to all appearances, came from “normal” middle-class lives. So I wondered: Could they be telling the truth? Are these kids making up stories? What is real?

I came to a conclusion. The question about truth or lies is a distraction from the underlying need. For some reason, the child is telling this story. It is an expression of need for safety, connection, love. There is a place for determining whether abuse is really occurring, but in a therapy session the goal is to be a loving, open presence with the other soul. To be concerned about whether the child is “pulling one over on me” would not serve.

I also worked with defiant children. Fundamentally, a defiant child is a deeply frightened child. Kids with a tendency to defy authority have strong wills; this quality is neutral. In fact, a strong will can provide energy and discipline to accomplish many goals.

There may be no outwardly apparent reason for a child to be terrified. Some of this is innate to personality. Or, there may be additional exacerbating factors: loss of a parent, abuse, instability at home. The bottom line is the child is afraid and protecting herself or himself by refusing connection.

This type of personality is very challenging to one’s patience. It isn’t easy to reach these souls. It is tempting to call such a child a bad seed, to want to punish and force his will to conform. This won’t work. The only approach is to build trust and connection, which these children are slow to respond to but desperately need.

One resource I found helpful in my work, and even in my personal life, is the book by Dr. Stanley Greenspan: The Challenging Child: Understanding, Raising, and Enjoying the Five “Difficult” Types of Children . His approach of “floor time” with kids — spending 30 minutes a day of time on the floor, playing whatever the child chooses — is an excellent way to build connection. You can also learn more at his website.

Grow Anywhere

Posted Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 @ 10:00 am by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Meditation, Nature

I just had a good laugh at myself. I was out doing the Sisyphean task of pulling grass shoots showing up where they don’t belong. I heard a sudden hiss and LEAPED up. It was the water system turning on (Hub’s in charge of the timer, and it’s a new system). Good to know my reflexes are sharp. I was immediately soaked. So I decided: Coffee break!

The ubiquity of green shoots in the new garden reminds me of a cherished author, Bill Bryson, and his thoughts in A Short History of Nearly Everything.

“It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours — arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additions existence. Life, in short, just wants to be.”

Prairie Creek Redwood State Park

A Love Letter to My Daughter

Posted Monday, September 8th, 2014 @ 10:51 am by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Motherhood, Nature, Spirit

Today is my daughter’s seventh birthday.

Dear Claire,

Happy birthday to you! Now you are seven, and you are becoming such an interesting person! I am writing this to you, and sharing it with the world, as a way to honor who you are.

Like me, you are gifted with curiosity, intensity, creativity, and emotional expression. You love life and meet it fully. Your passion for animals and stories deepens with each year. Your best buddies are the dozens and dozens of stuffies in our house. You make up stories with your realistic plastic animals as well as Calico Critters using teeny tiny toys. You make boxes into animals, houses, and caves. All objects are fair game for being morphed into different uses and incorporated into stories.

Right now you want to be a marine biologist when you grow up. This is a recent change from wanting to be a National Park Ranger. You’ve also wanted to be an animal rescuer, paleontologist, rancher, or veterinarian. You have watched so many David Attenborough wildlife specials that you’ve picked up the British pronunciation of some words, like “territory.” In the U.S. we say “tare-a-tory” and in Britain it’s “tare-a-tree.” You watch dinosaur shows and understand the classifications of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous epochs like nobody’s business, not to mention the Cambrian, Ordovician, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian ages.

Ironically, you are a reluctant reader. You are an auditory learner, and you have always loved being read to. You will sit for hours as long as the reader indulges you and her voice holds. You savor the intimacy of being read to. Although you are in first grade, you comprehend material that is several grades beyond. I suspect you can read more than you will admit. Remember the conversation we had about this?

I sussed out that you were expecting to learn the entire English language before reading on your own. I thought it was because you have a perfectionist streak and feared making errors. You told me it was because the work of de-coding words is hard. Once I clarified that there is no way to ever learn the entire language, and that reading is one of the crucial skills to doing anything in life, you offered to read. But you only do it on a barter basis — you’ll read one “baby” book (as you refer to with scorn anything you are currently able to read, like the Bob series) — if I read you a more complex book. You have a memory for concepts, words, and experiences that takes me by surprise.

Yet you are also visual. Only recently have you been able to tolerate watching movies. Your ability to slip into the story completely and the intensity of the visual stimulus bring the stories alive in a very real way for you. You understand intellectually about story structure — protagonists and antagonists, about plot, conflict, suspense, and conclusions — but understanding with the mind does not override your ability to immerse yourself.

You are a scientist. You form hypotheses about situations and test them. You engineer pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks into contraptions, and Scotch tape is your go-to adhesive. You like the Goldieblox toys and all the open-ended options within. You want to know why and how things work. You want to know the origins of words. You watched the Cosmos series by Neil Degrasse Tyson and it triggered a response of awe that brought you to tears. You love the Bedtime Math problems, which I apologize that we don’t do often enough for your taste.

You are a philosopher. You wonder if there is a god and imagine the possibilities of what that manifests. You view the cycle of life with equanimity. You ponder the ethics of eating meat. You are concerned about how humans treat each other. You worry about the fate of humankind and the environment. We have shielded you from much of the news of the world; soon enough you will learn harsh realities.

You are a visual artist. You enjoy a variety of media — pencil, crayon, pastel, paint. You enjoy drawing, sculpting, painting, and collage. Your favorite color remains yellow with pink being the next favorite. You enjoy crafts such as sticky mosaic, perler beads, and making no-sew pillows. You want me to teach you to knit and sew. (I will!)

You are a writer. You create characters and stories all the time. Every day we walk to and from school we make up a story together. Frankly, it exhausts me! You play on your own for hours making up intricate plots and conflicts for your characters to resolve.

You are a musician. While you haven’t yet taken up an instrument, you are an enthusiastic singer. You won’t listen to classical music because there is no singing (except opera which none of us likes). You want to be Melissa Etheridge when you grow up. You still love the Music Together CDs, and you also enjoy folk and alternative rock music.

You are an athlete. You swim and play in water like a fish. You love to run and feel the wind. Your body often frustrates you with its petite frame; there are tasks you want to do that you lack the hand and arm strength to accomplish. At the same time, you are stronger that you realize, and we encourage you to try several times before giving up.

As for your personality, you are complex. You have a strong will and a desire to direct your life as well as the lives of others. When you play with other kids, you have plots and roles for every person and a story you want them to play. Collaboration challenges you. You feel big feelings and they sometimes overwhelm you. It scares me, actually, because I feel unskilled at helping you calm down. (Which is an odd statement for a former therapist to make, but it’s oh-so-different when it’s a personal relationship.) You feel big love.

Here’s an example of the big love. At tuck-in one night, you began relating to me how you felt thinking about Voyager taking one last look back at earth as it passed Neptune, and how it felt so lonely. (This is from the Cosmos series.) It was leaving forever, would never see its parents again. You burst into sobs. Later you also asked if parents ever get rid of their kids (after I reassured you we’d only let you go when you wanted). I delicately answered that sometimes people aren’t ready to raise kids. You asked where they go, and I said there are foster parents and families, and sometimes they adopt the children they foster. You screwed your face up and bravely announced that if we ever fostered a child, you are willing to leave the family and go out into the world to make room for the child. And then you sobbed. We went downstairs to tell Daddy all this. He and I held you, loved on you, acknowledged the very brave gift you offered. We also told you we would never get rid of you, or disown you. I asked you if you felt like you needed more attention, and you clung to me and cried. If I could have brought you back inside my body to comfort you, I would have.

Seven years ago I met you and did not have an inkling of the richness you would bring to my life. I was born too, into motherhood, and you have been as much my teacher as I have been yours. You are marvelous and adorable. I am grateful to be your mother. I love you beyond expression or comprehension. Happy birthday, Sunshine Girl, my Claire Bear!


How the Universe Thinks

Posted Friday, August 29th, 2014 @ 9:59 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Nature, Quotes, Science

“I will argue that modern science, traditionally considered guilty of reducing our existence to a pointless accident in an indifferent universe, is actually saying the opposite. While it does say that we are an accident in an indifferent universe, it also says that we are a rare accident and thus not pointless.

As we look at planet Earth and the factors that came into play for us to be here, we quickly realize that our planet is very special. Here is a short list: the long-term existence of a protective and oxygen-rich atmosphere; Earth’s axial tilt, stabilized by a single large moon; the ozone layer and the magnetic field that jointly protect surface creatures from lethal cosmic radiation; plate tectonics that regulate the levels of carbon dioxide and keep the global temperature stable; the fact that our sun is a smallish, fairly stable star not too prone to releasing huge plasma burps. Consequently, it’s rather naive to expect life – at the complexity level that exists here – to be ubiquitous across the universe.

Even if there is intelligent life elsewhere and, of course, we can’t rule that out, it will be so remote that for all practical purposes we are alone. Even if SETI finds evidence of other cosmic intelligences, we are not going to initiate a very intense collaboration. And if we are alone, and alone have the awareness of what it means to be alive and of the importance of remaining alive, we gain a new kind of cosmic centrality, very different – and much more meaningful – from the religiously-inspired one of pre-Copernican days, when Earth was the center of Creation: we matter because we are rare and we know it.

The joint realization that we live in a remarkable cosmic cocoon and that we are able to create languages and rocket ships in an otherwise apparently dumb universe ought to be transformative. Until we find other self-aware intelligences, we are how the universe thinks. We might as well start enjoying each other’s company.”

–Marcelo Gleiser, We Are Unique

Thanks to Whiskey River for sharing this.

On the Verge of Seven

Posted Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 @ 2:37 pm by Kathryn
Categories: Journal, Meditation, Motherhood

Sometimes I am not certain I have the fortitude of heart — the courage — to be a parent. It’s too late, of course, because I am one. Yet as Claire grows up and into her personality and the world at large, there are times when I am uncertain who she is. The little darling I adored, and who was so much more manageable, has disappeared into a volatile, mercurial, brilliant, curious, glorious, and intense girl. Like me, only much smarter. She is so very quick to anger, and she turns that anger on herself.

I have what is called a “spirited child” — a child who is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and energetic. Certain behaviors emerged in 2012 and 2013 that made us curious, and then concerned me. Particular social interactions, repetitive behaviors, and hyper-sensory issues made me wonder if she had Asperberger’s. So with a referral from her pediatrician, we saw a specialist in February. (It took eight months to get that appointment.) I was permitted to be in the room during the entire evaluation of her behavior and intelligence. It was fascinating. In the end, the experts declared that she does indeed have some traits, but that she is “too social” to be classified on the spectrum. High sensitivity is not considered a diagnosable or real condition of its own, though as a Highly Sensitive Person myself I believe it’s real. And the last test result is that Claire is really, really smart. Gifted smart. As some people (a family of teachers) we met while camping said, “Sick smart.”

Now, I’m bright. My husband is smarter. Our daughter is a combination of highly intelligent and acutely sensitive to not only the physical world, but emotions.

Yesterday she was home with a fever. We had two conflicts that resulted in meltdown. Now, I know young kids have meltdowns. However, I’m not sure how many of them say they want to hurt themselves because they are so angry, or try to scratch or bite themselves in an effort not to physically destroy things. And I’m not sure how many first graders sob and cry about how afraid they are of growing up and say, “I feel like no one understands me! I feel like you liked me better when I was younger. I wish I wasn’t so science-y and had so many big words, because everyone expects me to behave older than I am! I feel different from everyone. I don’t want to be so smart. I wish I didn’t exist.”

She cried because she wants to control her world, but at the same time, she doesn’t want the responsibilities and high expectations she feels are placed on her. She used words like “always” and “never,” and places the responsibility for her feelings externally. “You made me mad! It’s your fault!”

So what did I do during all this sturm und drang? I opened my heart. I breathed through my own exasperation, fear, and anger, my wish to grab her and lash out. I told myself, “This isn’t an emergency. It just feels that way, emotions are high.” I asked her to identify where in her body she felt the anger, and what it felt like. She said her chest felt like it had flames inside. She wanted me nearby but not to touch her. And I told her how my body felt listening to her. “My chest feels heavy, listening to you say you want to scratch yourself,” I said. “My story is that the anger you feel is very huge and scary and feels like a monster inside you.” She relaxed a bit. She agreed.

I talked to Claire a bit about the pain-body, a term Eckhart Tolle uses for the ego as an entity of negative energy. I described that we all have a pain-body, and that we have a choice whether to feed it our energy and attention and make it grow, or not. Negative self-talk, angry thoughts, judgements — all this fuels the pain-body. She said the pain-body is bad. And I replied, “It just IS. Whether or not you judge it good or bad, it exists. If you judge and resist it, you push away that part of yourself, and that feeds it too.” I told her that’s why I’m always suggesting she breathe and connect with the stillness inside.

As for the other part, about being different, I simply acknowledged all these feelings and contradictions. I held her as she sobbed. And within me, my heart quaked with this realization: I cannot protect her — from the world, or from herself. I parent diligently, I try to let go and give her independence, I teach her to understand and don’t parent autocratically or through intimidation. In other words, I’m trying to give her a loving, supportive home, and yet she has such anger and feels disconnected from others. I once said to another parent who was coping with a challenging child, “The trick is to accept the child you have, not the one you imagined you’d have.” Well, those words are coming back to me.

She is her own person, on her own journey. She is my heart, walking out in the world. My heart, completely bare and vulnerable. How will I survive this?

What else did I do when she was storming and I felt overwhelmed with this seeming stranger? I prayed, “Help me. Help me trust you, Life. I’m in over my head.” And I keep breathing and being still.

small heart