The Birthday Party

The Birthday Party

 

The Birthday Party

This week I had one of the most moving moments in my professional life.

I work in Geriatric Psychiatry. As part of my job, I facilitate 2 groups on Positive Aging.

Last week, one group began with a patient sharing that it was his son’s birthday that day.

What emerged was that this was his anniversary of becoming a father. A seminal moment in anyone’s life.

So, I decided to do the group on “what do birthdays mean to you?” And on, “how do you celebrate your  birthday now, compared to when you were younger?”

 

Aging & Birthdays

 

Then, I added to the mix one of my favorite questions, “how old are you chronologically?” And, “how old do you feel inside?”

 

What does it mean to be old?

It was a fascinating discussion.

Many of the patients shared that birthdays were not that important to them.

As they are aging, the group members shared that they are challenged by many health conditions.

Consequently, the patients feel more and more that they appreciate the gift of being alive each and every day.

Everyday is special, not just their birthdays.

Many in the group also shared that as children, they did not have a lot of material wealth. So, gifts and parties were not common.

But, one particular patient, Bob, shared that he never had a birthday party. No one in his family ever acknowledged or celebrated his birthday.

Although all the other patients voiced that birthdays were not as important to them as celebrating life — I think the thought that someone NEVER had a birthday party really touched them.

One patient, Henri,  responded to Bob, “we need to celebrate your birthday. Next week, I am going to bring you a cake!”

Henri also asked me to remind him about his commitment when I saw him during the following week.

Although I did remind him, just in case, I brought in cookies, happy birthday napkins, soda and other paper goods to work for the group as a backup.

It turned out to not be necessary.

When I walked into the group room, I saw that everyone in the group had brought in something to celebrate Bob’s birthday!

The group bought a card, 2 gifts, drinks and a birthday cake! They even bought a candle and sang “happy birthday” to him.

Since birthdays are about sharing good wishes, I also asked my patients, “if you could have anything you want, what would you wish for?

Here is a picture of their responses:

 

If you could have anything you want, what would you wish for?

It gave the patients great pleasure to give and support each other.

Truly, this was a touching and heartwarming moment!

The funny thing was, I told this story to my friend, Adelle, on my way home from work. Adelle then said, “you know, today is my birthday too!” An example of positive aging, Adelle proudly turned 70 on the day of Bob’s birthday party.

And now, today happens to be my birthday as well. I do not publicly admit my age. But, inside, I tell everyone that I am 87.

(I then remind them to tell me “you look great for your age!”)

In the Jewish tradition, a birthday is a propitious day for giving blessings to other people:

May we all be blessed with love, health, material satisfaction, friendship and peace, and many happy birthdays.

Many blessings,

Carol

*In order to protect the privacy of my family, friends and patients, please be aware that their names and personal identifiers have been changed.

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Making A Place For Jewish Children With Special Needs & The “Almost Normal” Gray Zone

  
  

Not all of my posts are going to be deep. But, not all challenges of raising children with special needs are emotionally complex. Some just require opportunity, planning and execution.

The impetus for this post was a conversation that I had this morning with a mother of a boy in Raizel’s grade, Barak.

In general, the educational needs of children with special needs are variable. They require individualized instruction and each child’s individual level of capacity is unique. 

There are children like Yaffa, who have disabilities that are visible and distinct. These children are more likely to have more basic educational needs. 

My goal for Yaffa is to give her an opportunity to learn about our faith at the level she is capable. My second goal is to give her a love of our traditions and a sense of emotional connection to our community. 

Educationally, in some ways, Yaffa is less challenging, than her “higher functioning” sister. A loving and delightful child, Yaffa is not a behavioral challenge.

Barak and Raizel look neuro-typical, and “almost pass” as “normal.”  They have special needs that prevent them from learning in a regular classroom, and they require additional support. 

But, they can learn. 

In Raizel’s case, she requires behavioral support and adaptations to accommodate her different learning style.

I call this “The Challenge Of The “Almost Normal” Gray Zone.”

  

Making a place for Jewish children with special needs in the “almost normal” gray zone is very difficult, for a multitude of reasons.  

I am in the “pre contemplative stage.” I would love to create a Jewish Education and Socialization Network for these “almost normal” children with special needs in our community.

My idea is to run it based on the homeschooling model of education. 

Each family creates their own curriculum for their child’s religious educational needs. 

However, my goal is to have parents pool their resources and have these children learn together in small groups. 

By learning together after their school day, these children could connect and socialize with each other. Indirectly, they could create a small sub community. 

I see this post as a possible social network opportunity. Perhaps it will enable me to find other like-minded parents in similar situations? Perhaps this post will be the beginning of creating a social-learning network community for other Jewish children with special needs who go to public school by necessity? 

 

We are led in the direction of our intensions. I am hopeful. 

  
  

Looking For The Good

I have been very challenged by Raizel recently. Her behavior at home has been very difficult. This past Shabbat, it reached a crescendo.

Briefly, as a family, we have experienced many changes and stressors in the past year. I think anyone of them would be objectively difficult for anyone.

As I  have shared, recently we made the difficult decision to place Raizel in public school. Now, Raizel no longer attends a yeshiva, like all of the other children in our community.

Thankfully, she is doing better and  more resources are available to meet her needs. But, it is a terrible feeling of rejection — no appropriate local yeshiva even accepted  Raizel for high school.

My husband’s health status has changed significantly in the past year as well. He is not the same person with the same capabilities.   I remind myself daily that I am grateful he is alive.

Due to my husband’s health, we made the difficult decision to sell our house. We are now in the process of downsizing to a smaller and more manageable home. There are lots of moving parts involved, and everything is in a state of transition and flux.

Raizel is not fully aware of herself and how her behavior affects others. What did emerge is that Raizel is clearly suffering from all the changes we are experiencing as a family. It doesn’t excuse her behavior, but I see her as the canary in the coal mine. This was a cry for help.

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So, we decided that every night, we  would write down our 5 G’s.

The 5 G’s is my daily writing exercise that I have developed over the years.  I practice it personally and use professionally with my patients. Since I have started using it, it has made a big difference for me. I have seen a big change with my patients as well. Over time, I have learned how to change my negative thoughts into positive thoughts. And, I can find something good and positive in all people and in every situation. Raizel has agreed to do this exercise with me before bed. So, we are experimenting.

Here are each of the 5 G’s. There are several variations that I have created, but this is what we are doing right now:

 

We write down 3-5 gratitudes every day.

Gratitude
Gratitude

 

Next, we list 1 or 2 things that we did that we are proud of, or that make us feel good about something we accomplished.

Sometimes, I find that my patients sadly struggle to find anything to feel proud of. So, I ask them to list something that they did that day that demonstrates a good or positive quality about themselves.

Growth
Growth

Oddly, it is difficult for Raizel to come up with something that she did well or that she is proud of too. So, I am glad that we are doing this together.

The next 2 pictures are variations of the same thing of looking for the good and appreciating the kindness of other people.

This version is a little simpler for some people to understand:

Good: what was the best or nicest thing today?
Good: what was the best or nicest thing today?

This one has more of a direct connection to the idea of goodness:

 

Looking for the good in others
Looking for the good in others

We do not answer all of the questions. Just one or two. I try to write down 2 things that Raizel did that day that I really like and appreciate. Raizel has to do the same for me.

In the past, I would not tell her that I was doing that. However, I noticed that on her own, she started to do more and more often the very things that I wrote down on my “good eye journal.” It really changed my relationship with her.

I had stopped focusing on including her in my “good eye journal” so I am happy we are doing this together.

I think that looking for the good is very reinforcing, even when the other person doesn’t know what you are doing. When we notice the good, we see more and more good. When we notice the negative, we see more and more negatives. This is a very simple technique with very powerful outcomes.

Glitches & Gains
Glitches & Gains

 

This is also very effective. Rather than focusing on my daily petty annoyances, I try to see and appreciate what is good about even the things that bother me.

Goals: S.M.A.R.T.
Goals: S.M.A.R.T.

With my patients and myself, I try to list daily S.M.A.R.T. goals.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals are: Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

I feel that this creates realistic expectations and sets me up for success. Every day that I feel like I have accomplished my goals helps me to appreciate and validate my successes.

So far we have been doing it for 3 days. Incredibly, Raizel already notices the difference. Raizel said, “I feel happier.”

So, I am hopeful.

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Here is a PDF of just the pictures:

5 G’s pictures 4-14-2016