It’s on us.

A 9-year-old girl recently committed suicide…her family says she was bullied.

Let that marinate for a second: a 9-year-old girl recently committed suicide. 

madison

Her name is Madison Whitsett…she lived in Alabama.

Look at her.

That sweet face.

That beautiful smile.

Gone.

Let’s call it out right now: kids can be mean and hateful. Some kids just have a bad day and they lash out at someone…other kids are just hell-bent on torturing others.

When we hear about bullying, there is a rally cry that follows: “THE SCHOOL FAILED! WHERE WERE THE TEACHERS? THE ADMINISTRATION DID NOTHING!”

This is the thing: it’s not a school issue. It’s a HOME issue.

Kids aren’t dumb…they’re not being mean to other kids IN FRONT of teachers. They’re slicker than that. They’re waiting until an adult isn’t around to say something mean. When they’re asked about it, most kids turn on the doe-eyes and deny, deny, deny.

The problem won’t get better if all we do is blame the schools.

It’s OUR job as parents to teach empathy, compassion and kindness. And that happens at HOME.

We teach our kids how to use the potty, brush their teeth and tie their shoes…but do we ever teach them how to show empathy?

There is a really simple way to teach empathy too: treat others how you want your kids to treat others. That includes how WE TALK TO OUR CHILDREN.  How we talk to our children becomes their inner dialogue.

I know it’s tough. I have four kids ranging in age from 1 to 10 so I am in the thick of things with a moody “tween,” a sometimes defiant 7-year-old, a threenager who knows it all and a one-year-old who, well, she is still sweet 🙂

There are meltdowns and temper tantrums that push me to the edge. My first reaction is to lose my mind like a lunatic and just start screaming. But I don’t. Well, I try not to.

I started to ask a simple question instead: “Something is clearly upsetting you…you want to talk about it?”

Their feelings are real…they just don’t know how to express them.

When we encourage our children to share their emotions and feelings with us…we are teaching them empathy without even realizing it.

Honestly, if we aren’t teaching these things at home…then it may be our kid who is the bully.

And if you’re okay with that…then you are the root of the problem.

 

A tough lesson…

If there is one thing that is guaranteed in life when you are a girl it’s this: there will be drama. Plenty of drama. Particularly, mean girl drama.

I dealt with it a lot growing up…and as a mom of three daughters, I am prepared to deal with it again. I just wasn’t expecting it to be so soon.

My oldest is 10, and she recently found out that someone she doesn’t know was saying some not-so-nice things about her.  (The cool thing was her friend defended her). Apparently it was all over a boy.

Face palm.

Eye-roll.

Come on kids…you’re 10. This isn’t an episode of Dynasty.

When Gia was telling me the whole story, I started to see red…and I was biting the inside of my cheek. Tell-tale signs that I was in full Mama Bear protective mode and I was about to blow.

So I took the “recommended” amount of cleansing breaths because I knew this was a teachable moment…and I knew it would not be the last time we had a conversation like this.

This isn’t a school issue…I would not be emailing the teacher or principal.

This isn’t an issue where I try to find the parents on social media and demand an apology.

Nope.

This is a LIFE issue.  One that you need to learn pretty early on because people never really leave the “middle school lunch table.”

Cue the talk:

“So…this girl doesn’t care for you.  She apparently doesn’t like you…at all. That’s ok. When people say mean and nasty things, it’s natural for us to feel like we want to retaliate with even more hurtful words. We want them to know that we don’t like them either…eye for an eye right? It’s okay to be angry and hurt…that’s completely normal.  Just know this…not everyone is going to like you. You’re not going to like everyone. That’s ok.  But remember this: don’t treat people as bad as they are…treat them as good as you are. Period.”

DON’T TREAT PEOPLE AS BAD AS THEY ARE…TREAT THEM AS GOOD AS YOU ARE.

It’s. A. Struggle.

Because there is that fine line of taking the high road and being treated like a sidewalk.

But if you make it a goal to only surround yourself with the best kind of people…the ones who ADD something to your life…then everything else is just noise.

It’s a tough lesson for a 10-year-old to learn.

But learning how to respond to mean girl behavior may be one of life’s most important lessons.

We will never be able to control what people say or think about us.

But we can control how we react to it all.

 

 

 

 

“CLEAN IT UP.”

Nothing brought me greater joy than hearing this when we checked into our hotel room over the weekend: “We have complimentary breakfast and dinner for you and your family during your stay.  You and your husband also get three free drink tickets each night.”

A tear of joy slid down my face as I took our room keys.

We were six hours away for our daughter’s soccer tournament. The thought of 6 of us in ONE hotel room for an extended weekend was giving me anxiety and a migraine. My middle two children have NO INDOOR VOICE…at all…ever. So the majority of my time was spent saying things like, “Please be quiet…you’re going to get us kicked out of here…we’re going to have to sleep in the van…ok no pool!”

Fast forward to Sunday morning and our kids were up at 4:15. 4-freaking-15. Of course we are shoved in a hotel room for the TIME CHANGE. “Guys, please be quiet…it’s so early…please don’t wake anyone up…people are still sleeping.”

But I could tell by a woman’s look at the elevator a little later on that she was woken up by my son’s “indoor voice.” I’m thinking I need to put chocolates or mini-liquor bottles by neighboring rooms next time.

Down at the FREE breakfast buffet, the six of us piled on top of each other to sit at the only vacant table. It looked like the size of this…

small circle coffee table Unique 45 Delightful Italian Designer Coffee Tables thunder

Six of us. Around this.

But it’s now 8:00am…but it’s supposed to be 9:00am…but my kids have been awake for so darn long it feels like 2:00pm…we needed to eat and we needed to eat fast. We are slowly approaching stage 5 of complete meltdown mayhem so I was perfectly fine corralling around the world’s smallest table.

Belgium waffles…eggs…sausage…biscuits…you name it, my kids were taking advantage of the FREE buffet. But act like you’ve eaten before, ya know??

The baby of the family still has not mastered the art of getting food from the plate to her mouth. She was leaving a trail of disaster behind…in the form of Cheerios. The floor underneath her high-chair was covered.

I stood up to throw some trash away when I saw a member of the hotel staff. “I am so sorry…my daughter made a mess on the floor.”

I have made this apology MANY times over the years…so I was expecting the usual “oh no worries” response.

Nope.

Not this time.

“CLEAN IT UP!”

Before I could ask if she was serious or not, the woman handed me a broom and pan and walked off.

I heard gasps around me.

My face felt flushed…I was slightly taken back…a little annoyed by how harsh she was.

I could feel everyone staring at me…including my own children…they were waiting to see what my reaction would be.

So I started cleaning up the mound of Cheerios and then I took the broom and pan back towards the kitchen door.

As I was walking back to my table, a woman sitting nearby grabbed my arm and said, “I can’t believe that. You should not have had to clean that up!”

When I sat down, I was feeling a little mortified…slightly embarrassed…and a tad irritated. I was taken back…my initial thought was: THAT WAS NOT MY JOB TO CLEAN THAT UP!

All it took was a few deep cleansing breaths for me to snap back into reality… it was MY job to clean it up. My child made a mess…and I was perfectly capable of cleaning up after her.  Staff at that hotel is not there to serve as my children’s personal assistants. It’s no different than going to a friend’s house for dinner…I’m not going to let my children tear through their house like a tornado and not make sure it’s cleaned up.

I looked around the dining room and it was evident why that staff member had enough that morning: there were rowdy kids (like my own) EVERYWHERE…half-filled juice cups and muffin crumbs blanketed tables…straw papers and dirty napkins covered the floor…it looked like manners weren’t checked in with the bags that weekend.

Maybe hotel protocol is to clean up any and every mess.  I get that.

But it should be parent protocol to teach children that manners matter…every day…no matter where we are.

And if we make a mess, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, it’s OUR job to clean it up.

 

Give me some YULETIDE!

My name is Amanda and I listen to Christmas music on November 1st.

There I said it.

Actually, I turned on a little Nat King Cole at the end of our trick-or-treating extravaganza and it was magical. Ya know why? I had four, high-octane sugar-induced children in the car who were literally sending me down the road to Crazytown.  As soon as they heard “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” in that smooth and silky voice…they morphed into June Cleaver’s children. Calm, polite, happy.

I get grief from a lot of people every year about my decision to turn on the holiday tunes early. Apparently, this affects their lives deeply 😉

I hear a variation of “you’re forgetting Thanksgiving! So you’re not thankful for anything? You’re wishing away the year! Enjoy every day!!”

Put down the pitch forks and torches for a second. I won’t come over to your house draped in garland and Christmas lights and expect to start caroling with you.

For me, November 1st signifies the beginning of the holiday season. I know in a few short weeks that Thanksgiving will be here…which means family, food, that glorious post-meal nap and more food.  My oldest and I head out late at night to do some shopping…not really to buy anything, but to drink hot chocolate together and walk around stores in the middle of the night (it’s her favorite night because it’s just us). The day after, we all put our finest elastic-waistband pants on and head to downtown Cedar Falls for Holiday Hoopla. There’s really nothing better than small-town America lit up with Christmas lights. And then the next few weeks are my absolute favorite…to see the magic of the season through my children’s eyes. And let’s be honest, my house stays pretty clean throughout the holiday season because “SANTA IS WATCHING!!” I wait all dang year to use that line.

But let me break it down even simpler: Christmas music makes me happy. Not only does it make me excited for the magic…but it takes me back to when I was a kid.

I’m right back to being a kid in my pajamas in the back of the minivan with my brother and sister while our parents drive us around to look at Christmas lights. I’m in my footie PJs on the floor in the family room as I circle EVERYTHING in the giant JC Penny’s Christmas catalog. (I never got that Pac-Man arcade I wanted lol) Building snowmen and forts outside and then coming in for my Dad’s famous Nestle Quick hot chocolate on the stove…with toast of course.  Getting dressed up for Candlelight Mass at midnight while having butterflies in my stomach because I was so excited for Santa.  Sliding down the stairs Christmas morning to see all of those perfectly wrapped presents and overflowing stockings. Then we’re all sitting around my mom’s beautifully decorated Christmas table…and everyone is there. My Grandma Grace, Uncle Kenny, Uncle John & Aunt Marie…all of the people who made every Christmas so special and memorable are there…instead of in heaven.

After a year of medical issues, sleepless nights, bills, more bills, stories of children in our community being abused, children who will never come home again and everything in between…I want instant happiness injected into my life. Christmas music does that for me.

So if you get into my car or come over to my house, expect to be joined by Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole.

It’s more than just music for me.

It’s about the memories of the past…

And the magic to come.

 

 

“The Last Time”

At the end of every day, you will always find me in the La-Z-Boy recliner. Aria is always snuggled into the nook on my left side…Luciana crawls to sit on my right side. I was scrolling through my phone when I saw a beautiful picture that literally made me tear up. It was a friend of mine…she was holding her 12-year-old daughter…the same way we hold our itty-bitty ones.

She was talking about a poem she read that says “a parent puts their child down and never picks them up (quite the same) ever again.” I knew exactly what poem she was talking about. I popped it up on my phone to re-read it.

Now we don’t know who wrote this poem, but grab the tissues. No seriously…you need tissues for this:

“From the moment you hold your baby in your arms,
you will never be the same.
You might long for the person you were before,
When you have freedom and time,
And nothing in particular to worry about.

You will know tiredness like you never knew it before,
And days will run into days that are exactly the same,
Full of feedings and burping,
Nappy changes and crying,
Whining and fighting,
Naps or a lack of naps,
It might seem like a never-ending cycle.

But don’t forget …
There is a last time for everything.
There will come a time when you will feed
your baby for the very last time.
They will fall asleep on you after a long day
And it will be the last time you ever hold your sleeping child.

One day you will carry them on your hip then set them down,
And never pick them up that way again.
You will scrub their hair in the bath one night
And from that day on they will want to bathe alone.
They will hold your hand to cross the road,
Then never reach for it again.
They will creep into your room at midnight for cuddles,
And it will be the last night you ever wake to this.

One afternoon you will sing “the wheels on the bus”
and do all the actions,
Then never sing them that song again.
They will kiss you goodbye at the school gate,
The next day they will ask to walk to the gate alone.
You will read a final bedtime story and wipe your last dirty face.
They will run to you with arms raised for the very last time.

The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times.
And even then, it will take you a while to realize.

So while you are living in these times,
remember there are only so many of them
and when they are gone, you will yearn for just one more day of them.
For one last time.”

Just pull my heart out and call it a day!!

The cliché saying: the days are long but the years are short is so darn true…and it hurts.

I looked over to the couch where my oldest daughter and son were sitting. Just a few years ago it was Gia who wanted to dress up like a Disney princess or curl up on the recliner with me. Now she is wearing mud masks and telling me she wants to change her look to “vintage.” Umm what?  Nico was just building masterpieces out of the clunky builder blocks and now he has become a pro at coding. Again…um what?

I stared at them a little longer and wondered if they missed me picking them up in my arms. If they missed snuggling into the “nook” or me reading them a book while I played with their hair. I wondered if they missed the showtunes I would sing in a terrible key during a bubble bath or kissing their feet while they laid on the floor.  Did they miss singing Itsy Bitsy Spider over and over again or playing hide-and-seek?

Will they ever know that every last is as emotional as every first for me?

So I decided to do something so they would remember that no matter what, I will always scoop them up in my arms. I will always be their safe place. They will always be my babies.

gia

Maybe the books will change…but I will still read to you.

Maybe the songs will change…but I will still sing to you.

Maybe the things we talk about will change…but I always want to know what you have to say.

Maybe you think you’re too big to be lifted like my baby…but my baby you’ll always be.

So if Mom starts randomly crying — just humor me. I get a little emotional when I look at you four.

The days are OH SO LONG sometimes…but the years are far too short.

 

 

 

Devil in Disguise

“I don’t know if my son is on one of his tapes or not.”

When she said that, I wanted to throw up.

A woman called me yesterday and I could hear the fear and anger in her voice. Her son, who is now in college, played basketball for Greg Stephen.

“I know you write about this, Amanda. I need your help.”

Stephen was a coach and co-founder of the Iowa Barnstormers AAU team. He was popular…well-liked…respected.

greg

Stephen admitted to sexually exploiting AT LEAST 400 young boys by secretly recording them.

He first told investigators he made the videos to observe the “growth and development” of the players.

Liar.

He took videos of himself fondling young players as they slept.  He disguised cameras in smoke detectors and bath towels so he could record them taking showers.  He pretended to be a girl on social media to trick them into masturbating on camera. When his home and lake house in Delhi were searched, investigators say they found even more recording devices and a hard drive that included 400 FOLDERS with the names of different boys. 400 FOLDERS. Each one had at least one type of explicit photo or video of their genitals. There are reports that he crawled into bed with young boys during out-of-town trips for games.

The victims range in age of 11-17.

400 victims.

There could be hundreds more.

greg stephen

I saw his mugshot and I wanted to rage. Wipe that damn smirk off your face.

This devil was disguised as a great leader for young men…someone who saw budding talent in young men…pushed them towards greatness…made them promises of helping them achieve their dream of playing college ball.

There were long practices…overnight stays…trips to games…camps…great opportunities for kids to go the “extra mile” to prove they wanted to be GREAT.

When in fact it was a playground for a sicko. It allowed him to have access to hundreds of boys to feed his sick and twisted fantasies.

As parents, we talk to our kids about strangers…we don’t let them play outside by themselves…creepy looking vans driving around freak us out…we don’t let them stay home by themselves. We take every measure necessary to protect our children.

But are we unknowingly handing our children over to the devil in disguise?

They say child predators will always groom their victims…they seek opportunities.

Jerry Sandusky started a children’s charity.

Greg Stephen started a youth basketball program.

Prime opportunities.

The devil doesn’t come dressed with a red cape and pointy horns. He comes as everything you have ever wished for.

He knows that…and will prey on that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

INJUSTICE.

Injustice.

Absolute injustice.

I support the law…I support enforcement…but somebody needs to be called out on this one. Somebody needs to explain.

Because as someone who runs a non-profit designed to protect children…I do not understand.

As someone who is a mother to four young children…I do not understand.

As someone who loves her community…I do not understand.

Take a look at this man…

roger

His name is Roger Kline.

He should be spending the rest of his life in prison…but he’s not.

In fact, he won’t be spending any time in prison. He’s headed to a halfway house and then just probation.

All part of a plea deal he was offered.

Three children…all under the age of 11…were kidnapped.  Kline ripped them from their home. He shoved them in the back of his semi-truck where he handcuffed them and then drove them to an eastern Iowa park where he sexually abused them.

HE KIDNAPPED THEM.

HE HANDCUFFED THEM.

HE SEXUALLY ABUSED THEM.

How does this man get offered a plea deal? Don’t say it’s because the children would not testify. Don’t put that on three innocent children who were put through hell by a monster. Children should never have to testify. THEY’RE VICTIMS.

Imagine the fear those children went through.

Ripped from the safety of their home…

Thrown in the back of a dirty semi-truck…

Handcuffed to the truck so they can’t run away…

Sexually abused by a strange man.

Those children will never recover…they will never be the same.

And we just sent those children a message that they don’t matter…that what happened to them is no big deal.

A monster SHOULD NOT BE OFFERED A PLEA DEAL. He will strike again.

Something needs to change in Iowa.

You CANNOT hurt a child and get away with it.

Please Iowa…please stand with your children.  If you stand for nothing else, STAND WITH YOUR CHILDREN.

If someone hurts our children, let God have mercy on their soul…because we won’t.