My life is divided into before and after. I’m in the after now.
Eight years ago, this coming April, my world turned upside down. Eight years ago, this coming April, I began the slow journey back. I hadn’t written a book then. Since that time, I have finished penning three.
When I got sick, my daughter became frightened. Who wouldn’t be? It was the summer before her freshman year of high school, and she spent her vacation taking care of her mother who needed assistance walking and bathing. It didn’t matter what I told her, or how many reassurances were held out, she was terrified. All the soft gentle words and reassurances never made it past her fear wrapped worry.
Sometimes you need a story.
I wrote her a book about a girl who was afraid her mother would die and leave her alone. In the book, the mother does die. The girl is not left alone, however. She has family and unlikely heroes to depend on. I wrote my daughter a book to make her laugh and cry, but most of all to help her see she was not alone and it wasn’t up to her to save the world. I think maybe it was both comforting and uncomfortable for her to discover how much I understood her.
She’s not a character in a book, and she is not this character. But young girls everywhere get angry with their mothers, at times think they’ve been abandoned, and generally feel treated unfairly by life. They’re often surprised when they discover their mothers were once girls and understand all of these deeply held, secret feelings.
Among the pages of this made up place filled with pretend people my daughter finally understood what I was trying to tell her. She wasn’t alone.
Sometimes you need a story.
A funny thing happened. Out of the story, two more grew. Each of these novels stand alone, and while they don’t lean on each other, they do rub shoulders, exploring the lives of the various characters in the same fictional small Texas town.
It’s quite a surprise to find at the end of these eight years I have three complete novels. I’d freelanced in my former writing life, and even written a novella, which resides in the dark recesses of my computer files, but I’d never attempted a novel length work.
As my health improved and my responsibilities shifted, I had more time to write books. With each novel, I learned better and went back, refining and polishing. I hunted down critique partners and entered contests. I was quite pleased with the feedback I got. Now I’m ready to start querying agents.
I’m telling you this tale because, as with all of my stories, I want to encourage and bring hope to the reader. Because sometimes you need a story.
Donna Jo Stone writes YA contemporary novels about tough issues but always ends the stories with a note of hope. She blogs at donnajostone.com.
13 Reasons Why is the Netflix special everyone is talking about. The series is rated MA for mature audiences and explores suicide, bullying, sexual assault, and many other serious topics teens and young adults face. The series contains graphic depictions in some episodes. I have not read the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher yet, but it is my understanding that the book is significantly different. This post is about the Netflix series.
I searched for a discussion guide to go with the Netflix series but I am disturbed to find some had the tendency to minimize the issues. I found an excellent list of talking points to start meaningful discussion from the JED Foundation and provided that link below.
If you have any suggestions to add to my list, please put them in the comment section.
It seems a common thread among some of the people who discuss the series often include an element of denial. Instead of closing our eyes, perhaps a better way to address the issues brought up by 13 Reasons Why is to ask questions, listen, and guide our young people. If your teen or young adult has not watched, I still suggest parents look for ways to bring up the subject matter.
Thirteen Reasons Why is rated MA.
If your teen/young adult has already watched, I strongly suggest you watch each episode, stop, and discuss. Take time to process. This series deals with heavy topics and is emotionally draining.
Advice for Parents
Talking with kids can be hard. Decide what the most important topics are to bring up to your young person and ask questions, letting them do most of the talking. This is a time to offer guidance rather than lecture. Bring the topics up more than once.
I would be very honest with your young people. Perhaps not every person they go to for help will respond appropriately, but most adults are here to help. Sometimes asking once isn’t enough.
Relate a personal story to them if you have one and offer solutions.
Do not minimize your young person’s concerns and experiences.
Ask direct questions.
Talk to them. Not only once, but continually.
Know what they are watching.
I am not a mental health professional. The questions listed below are simply the type that can be used to start a dialog. Each of these suggested questions should lead to many more.
What did you take away from this story?
What do you think this series is about? Is it about more than one thing?(Some young people may miss that this story is driven by Hannah’s revenge against those she feels responsible for her suicide.)
Which of the characters seems the most balanced or healthy emotionally? Why do you think that is?
Are any of the depictions in this series believable? Which ones? Which actions are not?
What behaviors do each of the characters engage in that are questionable or plainly wrong? What should they have done? In this situation, what would you do?
What do you think you would do if you found yourself in some of the situations Hannah does?
How can you decide what secrets should be kept and which should be told? Who should you tell? Why or why not?
What are the signs of suicide? Other emotional issues?
How can you help someone who is suicidal?
How do our actions impact others? How do their actions impact us? How can we deal with that?
Who is the victim in this story? Is there more than one victim?
How does the school depicted compare to your school?
After each episode ask you young person for their takeaway, and what they thought. Examine the ideas put forth. Ask “what did you think” and “why or why not”.
If you seek help and are ignored or denied, what should you do then?
Does this story have a ‘call to action”? What is it?
What do you think of some of the reactions people have had to 13 Reasons? Can you give examples of appropriate/inappropriate reactions? Explain.
For further reading
Click here for a link to resources on 13 Reasons Why the Netflix Series from the National Association of School Psychologists
It will be scary hard. You will be forced to plant your feet, take ownership of your failures, and stare them down. You will fall short but you will be forgiven. You will learn to forgive yourself.
You will be pulled and stretched until every bit of your bounce is gone. Flexibility will be your middle name. On certain days you will wonder if the shape of deflated balloon is the permanent price your spirit will pay. But then, when you develop eyes to see the magnificence of stretch marks, the vision will leave you without air.
You will breathe beauty.
You will take a small hand in yours. If you don’t let go you will both grow into your feet, getting big enough to walk in the land of giants. You will begin to understand that perfection does not dwell in the world of mortals. In times to come, a backward glance will reveal the perfect, unerring, working out of the distance you have already traveled.
This year will be my twenty-third year. That’s a long time to be enveloped by the lifestyle of home education. It will be my twenty-third year, and my last.
In the beginning, I was angry. I wasn’t ready for this. I felt forced into it. I graduated with honors and the inability to do much math beyond the basics. I could not analyze literature to save my life. Home educating was not part of my plan. We had moved to the best school district within driving distance of my husband’s work, but then it didn’t work out and we were going to home educate.
I wasn’t prepared.
It was a large undertaking, and I had a lot of studying to do. We got quite a few head shakes. Most people tried to convince me to quit. They couldn’t understand that I had made a commitment. The promise had been made and there was no going back.
There have been things I have kept to myself. Struggles no one but God has seen. I have kids with learning differences. I have a few myself. Health challenges. Incredible financial burdens. Other messy stuff. There is not enough Samsonite in the world to hold all this baggage, and not enough room in Texas to unpack it all.
But I made a promise. Was it hard to keep? Yes and no. Teaching them was not the hardest part, unless you caught me on a bad day, before I figured out bad days happen. Bad days don’t mean much in the grand scheme.
Teaching them was not the hardest part, unless you caught me on a bad day, before I figured out bad days happen. (Tweet This)
When Baby Girl came along and we knew she would be the last, I added up the years this home educating commitment of mine would take. In a moment of self-preservation to maintain mental health, I immediately forgot. I refused to count the days for a long, long, time. Instead, I decided to make them count for us.
We have made each other rich. The focus has always been relationships. Putting relationships first has arranged all the elements of teaching into proper place. Our purpose in educating is to give a foundation to fulfill each child’s calling and prepare students to do life. Listen more than speak.
Putting relationships first has arranged all the elements of teaching into proper place. (Tweet This)
My daughter chooses her own path. It is our philosophy to let the student lead. It is my job to provide guidance balanced with respect. Confidence in a student’s abilities and encouragement to do their best has been the method that served all my children well.
Many years ago a mom once asked me, “Is homeschooling hard?” I laughed. It was good I did not answer her that particular day.
A mom once asked me, “Is homeschooling hard?” I laughed. It was good I did not answer her. (Tweet This)
Some days it is hard. Very hard. There were days when I considered the cost, hard pressed to weigh out the pros and cons, and days when I thought about taking a different path. There were even a few in-between days when I felt unsure, and reevaluated plans, mulling over options. But in the end, after discussion and prayers, we kept on. My steps were careful. Cautiously bold is how I traveled this way.
In the quiet morning hour, the house is empty. Everyone is living their lives. My senior is at her job, teaching. She says she doesn’t understand why people get frustrated at those who are trying their best. Was this something I taught my children, or something they taught me? The best, most lasting lessons are the ones like these.
I wasn’t prepared for this either, the brilliant gifts that litter the days like gold strewn along an otherwise mundane path.
When I look back I am overcome by the enormity of this job well done, and overwhelmed by gratefulness. I am grateful for the freedom living in this land allows, the wisdom so generously shared by others who went before, and for the grace covered love that carried us through.
If you see me crying in the toothpaste aisle at the grocery, it’s not because I’m sad, or overcome with the prospect of empty nesting, or having a moment of regret.
It is because it’s beautiful.
Here I stand on the other side. Twenty-three years isn’t such a long time after all.
When she asks me why I am crying, I can not speak. I send her away with the words all mommas use so often it’s second nature.
“In a minute.”
She has come upon me unexpected, caught me in the grip of a journey’s end emotion.
I redirect her, unable to untangle my thoughts and feelings.
“Don’t you need to get ready for dance?”
She looks at me sideways, then nods. She knows me well and gives me the small moment of peace I need. I know her, too. She will be back in two heartbeats. I breathe.
When she returns, I am ready and not ready.
I start out OK. I tell her how proud I am of her. Half a sentence into the conversation, words have trouble squeezing past my heart. They come out wobbly but march on.
Baby Girl has had hard, hard times. Life is harsh to our young. No one grows up without a heavy dose of pain.
If I had one real come-true wish I would make the world gentle for her, but I can’t. The enemy is often invisible, but the battle scars are there, plain to see. When she lets me.
On this day she is going to rehearse a dance she choreographed to Beauty From Pain. One she will dance on stage in front of the whole world and everyone who is watching. She will dance with all the grace she can muster. She will dance with all she has, speak with movement and make the song sing a new way.
I tell her, “I know what the dance means—I know what this cost you.”
We can’t look at each other in the eye because now is not the time to puddle up.
Instead, I wrap my arms around her and she rests, enveloped. Her hair is in my face. It should be pony tailed or bunned. She needs to get ready. I don’t release her yet. I tell her to make sure she takes a water bottle. An experienced dancer, she does not need this advice at all.
I wanted to write this post because my heart is breaking. Right now, girls are keeping destructive secrets, cutting, starving themselves, engaging in risky behavior, feeling trapped in abusive relationships, bullied and bullying, all right under their parent’s noses. I don’t even know if parents want to know. This post is for the strong of heart who are willing to take stock of their relationship with their daughters.
Teens cover up. They all do it. It doesn’t matter how close a parent is to their teen, deep secrets can end up buried far away from parental eyes and ears. Teen girls always keep a bit of themselves to themselves, and rightly so, but when they are engaging in potentially harmful behavior or need guidance teens need to be able to talk with parents. It’s part of our job as a parent to be available and aware.
Why Teen and Preteen Girls Don’t Talk to Parents
Even if there is apparent evidence to the contrary, our teens want to please us. If they feel ashamed of the opinions or thoughts they are having and are afraid of being shamed for them, teens will resist letting the parent in. They really do care what parents think, even when the teen disagrees.
It seems like a teen girl is embarrassed by everything. Discussing intimate feeling or touchy subjects is brutally embarrassing. Did I say teen girls? I still get embarrassed by certain subjects with my mom and a fair amount of time has passed since I was a teen!
Fear of rejection keeps us all from sharing our feelings. Who wants to have a heart to heart with someone when there is less than a 100% chance of your feelings being recognized as valid?
How to Get Teens to Talk
No one wants to talk with a hypocrite, and teens tend to operate from a black and white perspective until they gain experience. Teen will call you out on your inconsistencies. Be as honest as possible about your failures. Admit that you don’t know it all, but you are giving them your best advice.
Be Understanding of Your Teen’s Point of View
Teens are full of drama, and it is easy to dismiss conversations that from an adult point of view seem frivolous. Try to remember what it was like to find a place to be in a confusing world.
Realize that they may be coming from a vastly different place than teens in years past have ever experienced. The first step to seeing from another person’s point of view is to realize they have a different perspective and respecting that perspective. You don’t have to agree with someone to respect their right to have an opinion. Finding a place to relate to each other is key to communication.
Listen Don’t Lecture
As parents it is our job to correct, admonish, and train but jumping in too quickly with advice or even worse, “I told you so” will bring any conversation to a screeching halt. Most of us have already done a fair job of laying down the rules and letting our kids know what we think and believe. Fostering a two way communication is an entirely different scenario. Listening is hard work. Resolve to postpone your input. A big part of communicating is found in quietness.
Schedule Time to Talk But Talk Outside the Schedule Too
Communication takes time. Building trust takes time. Setting a teen down to ‘have a talk’ is not the same as ongoing dialog that is relationship building. Be deliberate in your pursuit of communication with your children.
All of these suggestions apply to boys as well as girls. While girls tend to talk more, it seems they also keep certain things to themselves. I do not know if it holds true for all girls, but of all the girls I’ve known, we talk more but hold back more as well. We learn to do this young.
I wrote another post about Raising Conversational Men, but I am not so naive as to think my children tell me everything. The best I can do is to make it crystal clear to them that if and when they want to tell all, tell bits, or tell anything, I am here.
Do you have any tips for getting your teen to talk to you? I’d love to hear from you! Add your comment to the conversation.
When I first started asking around in the Asperger’s and Autism community about the whole church issue, the stories I heard made me mad. By the time I’d gotten a few more responses, I was sad. Overwhelmingly sad. The stories did not stop coming.
It breaks my heart when people say they regret staying at their church and wished they had left sooner.
The responses I gathered were from Christian people desiring fellowship. Many of these believers are actively seeking a church or Bible study in spite of bad experiences.
Why is church so hard for people on the autism spectrum?
Getting to the Church on Time, Late, or At All
Every mom knows this is a battle, but with Autism Spectrum Disorder it is multiplied. Most people on the spectrum have terrible issues with insomnia, getting restorative sleep, and waking. When I say trouble waking, I am not kidding. A regular topic is how to wake up. I read somewhere in an autism advocate’s writings about the need for an alarm clock that shakes and shrieks.
Trouble organizing, estimating and managing time, the other hundred hurdles every day brings with sensory, eating difficulties, motor skills issues, and so on make getting out challenging on any day. Sunday is no exception.
Sensory Overloads and Processing Problems
Sensory overload is another big issue. Loud music, flashing lights, over powering perfume add up to an sensory cocktail that can quickly overload. While these things may be a minor irritation to some, for others the input is akin to a sensory onslaught.
The format and language of today’s church can be difficult for a literal-minded person to understand. An emphasis on emotion rather than thought and logic make it hard to grasp the message.
It is a social setting. This is a minefield for someone who can’t read body language, has difficulty recognizing faces, or any of the myriad of other cognitive or social skills typically lacking in a person with ASD. Often, children and young adults are expected to be “friends” at church to the same people who bullied the child at school. People who greet with a hug then ignore the minute they step out of the church door, or even before, will probably be interpreted as hypocritical.
Rejection at Church
Rejection and bullying is something I heard about over and over when I brought up the issue of church. Family members of all ages were bullied. Adults bullied children. Being rejected by people at church is an issue I heard about over and over. You can read about an instance that happened to my kids at church here.
And, no, this one situation did not cause us to leave that church. Often we have to weigh the cruelty of ignorant people against the benefit for our children of continuing to attend.
One of my kids visited a local church a while back. An adult in the youth group began making derogatory statements about persons with disabilities. The fact that this man felt comfortable saying these things in front of leadership and the students made it clear this was not a place we cared to be. Talk about how to keep visitors from coming back!
While the majority of people are kind and caring, I’m sad to say I wasn’t particularly surprised by this encounter.
People assume that since this person is not connecting socially they are not aware of these slights, but sometimes appearances are deceiving. Some autistics are exceptionally intuitive. The inability to express oneself does not necessarily mean a person has no thoughts or feelings on a matter.
Leadership that avoids their students with more needs, or even become hostile to students who ask too many questions is a frequent problem parents cited. Aspies tend to have no qualms responding to the challenge to “prove me wrong”. A lack of social skills coupled with honest answers from a young person who may have an above average IQ can be misinterpreted by youth workers and lead to exclusion.
Do You Want to Be the Church?
I was heartened to find some excellent resources for churches and ministries interested in reaching the “one out of the ninety-nine” as Dr. Stephen Grcevich from Key Ministry put it.
This YouTube video is a good condensation explaining a complicated topic. I think it is an excellent start.
Why Church Should Be Accessible
I talked to many parents. Most have tried church after church. Many gave up on ever finding a church home. Some of the children, scarred and confused by their church experiences, have given up on God. Not all have not turned away. There are those who continue to search for a place to belong, a safe haven to worship and fellowship with other believers. People they can call “brother”.
Some church leaders think church is for the majority, and they can’t afford to spend time making church available to everyone.
God has designed every person with a purpose. There is room in the body for every believer.
God has designed every person with a purpose. There is room in the body for every believer. (Tweet This)
Dr. Grcevich stated in the video that he believes God has a reason for the influx of students and people with Asperger’s and similar conditions.
Qualities common to people with Asperger’s are the tendency to be truth and knowledge seekers, be persistent in faith, have a strong sense of morality, be deep thinking, justice minded, and analytical, to have zero tolerance for hypocrites, and pay no heed to church politics.
Is there room at your church for these kind of people?
I felt the need to add to this post for clarity after some feedback from readers.
People with Asperger’s don’t need a special program. Dr. Grcevich explains in the video above that being funneled into the typical special needs ministry would not serve well and be completely inappropriate. What do they need? Respect, understanding, and a helping hand every now and then.
If this post resonated with you, please share it. Have something to add? Join the conversation by commenting below. I want to hear from you!
Side Note: I have focused my energy on writing a YA series that has a character with high functioning autism. Currently, all three novels are in the editing stage. One of them features an aspie romance. If you’d like to stay informed about my novels, you can sign up for my newsletter. It’s the second sign up box.
If you would like to be a beta reader, sign up for my newsletter and send me a message to let me know you are interested.
It all started when I went to look for a literary analysis book. One trash bag full and three boxes into the job, I started finding things. Treasures, really.
We must keep the carousal horse and other drawings, and the book Drawing With Children. I would be happy with only the drawings, but my daughter insists. What if she needs that book for her kids?
This binder says right on the cover Mind Twisting Stories which means it is a titled work, so it cannot be discarded.
Little sister even decorated it.
Most of our materials and assignments come with decorations of some sort, be they toddler explorations with marker, coffee rings, important reminders (reschedule dentist, pay water bill, need 27 styrofoam cups and toothpicks for gumballs) or even teeth marks. My youngest literally teethed on Shakespeare for Young People: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I like to think that makes her sound smart.
I tossed that chewed on copy, but when my middle son came by to visit he noticed the boxes. “But mom, I was in this play! TWICE.” Since he has his own house now he was welcome to dig through the boxes to his heart’s content.
When I was in the midst of the juggling act, I never realized how precious all those spills and scribbles would be someday.
We must keep the Book of Jokes. This is slap full of things nine year old boys find hilarious. Or HE-larry-US.
Obviously, these cannot be tossed out.
I adore reading his jokes and remembering that boy laugh. You know the one. The one that makes you laugh along even when nothing is funny. For a second I hear it again. I picture that grin and tousled up hair. It’s so present I can practically smell the little boy smell.
Also making the cut we have a songbook and cassette tape of Down By The Creekbank, a few original one of a kind, hand-designed space themed board games, and a smattering of materials we may actually need sometime next year.
I offered to keep the dissection kit (It’s in perfectly good shape) and order some extra specimens to do for fun.
The girl said, “No, thanks. I’m good.”
Party pooper. Truthfully, I am not so sad to say goodbye to that stage of my homeschooling mom career. Frog guts. Ugh.
Eventually, I loaded up boxes with a bunch of materials, some brand new. I think you may be able to discern why sometimes busy moms end up with duplicate unused workbooks.
My cabinet looks better now, but some old books are still firmly entrenched in the Stone Family Collection. Yes, those are ancient Abeka and National Geographic books. My kids loved them. Old books are friends.
I did find the book I was hunting, but after I skimmed through it I discovered it was not exactly what I was looking for.
I found something better. Messy, hoarded memories and plenty of room for more.
I wanted to write a nice, heartfelt mother’s day post, but I’m having a hard time. Here’s a confession: I have allowed myself to be snared by the entitlement trap. The one that makes you question, “Is it too much to ask for a little appreciation one day out of the year? One measly day?”
I know letting these kinds of thoughts in only makes me and everyone else around me unhappy (If Momma ain’t happy . . .) so I try to not be that way. I really do. But when other moms start posting their pics, that familiar monster of discontentment rears its head and takes a big old bite out of my good intentions.
I know them all well, every member of my little family. I know the intricacies of who each one of them is, their hopes and plans for the future, and how they like the jam spread on their toast. Sometimes I want them to know me, too, to see me as something more than she-who-takes-care-of-us.
It makes me cranky. Extremely.
Here’s the very, very foolish thing about this mind set. I say all the time that what I do, being a mom, is the best investment I could ever make. I love being mom, and there is absolutely nothing I would rather spend my time doing. I mean it with every single molecule of my being. I say it to friends, strangers and my beautiful family constantly.
I think I want breakfast in bed, and nicely wrapped gifts of writer’s books that show deep consideration and thoughtfulness. Something that shows me they recognize my soul. I do get gifts. And I appreciate new cookware, it’s only that I would like a more personal gift item every now and then, perhaps one that reflects my interests. I want to be seen, acknowledged.
But instead of recognizing me as a writer or the girl who likes roses, this is how they see me:
Reader of every single text you send her. Ever.
Possessor of magic mommy spit.
Emergency cash fund.
Lady with the mop bucket when they get sick all over the floor.
The soft, cool hands laid on a forehead and a kiss on the cheek.