Celebrating Life….and all it’s Imperfections!
This is personal. Yes, that’s right, it’s personal. I don’t tend to blog on a regular basis but when I do blog there’s is typically a reason behind it. This post is shared through my business and I’ll explain that later but before you start to read just know this will be a very personal post and I think even if you know me some of it may come to surprise to you.
There’s no hiding it, as most people who have come to know me through many aspects of my life you probably know I strive for perfection. I don’t say that in the very best of terms because it can translate into a negative to my family and friends at times. To my clients, I view it as a positive for I take great pride in giving you the best possible experience and photos. I want them both to be perfect.
Today is my daughter’s 17th birthday. Happy Birthday Julia! This post today is about my daughter. Seventeen years ago today I gave birth to my first child and it’s around that time I had to come to grips with the fact that no matter how hard I tried, life just may not be as perfect as I envisioned it would be. My pregnancy was not easy, my father passed away when I was pregnant and then I gave birth to a baby girl….she was beautiful and healthy but from the moment she was born she cried non stop.
My daughter cried so much in those first few weeks that one day I took her to the doctor and I was delirious. I was on the verge of a breakdown. Literally. I remember so vividly the doctor sending me out of the office, she kept my daughter there while she was screaming and she told me to go drive around, run an errand and not come back for an hour. And I did….I left my baby there!! When I returned she sat me down in her office and said “there is something wrong with your baby”. No one wants to hear there is something wrong with his or her child. It’s scary. But I have to admit I was actually relieved. The perfectionist / problem solver in me was like “okay, what’s wrong? Let’s fix this!” The problem was my daughter had reflux and yes we did work through it, we went to a specialist, got medication which helped a little but not entirely but it did get better.
Little did I know this was just the beginning of a long road and I would hear those same words I heard from Dr. Kurra again in the future but from other doctors. We made it through the toddler and preschool years okay….not great but okay. Along the way there were times I noticed she had a tough times– leaving playdates, sharing at play dates, impulsivity among many other things. She also cried a lot and easily…she was fragile is the best way to put it, she could easily have her feelings hurt. Once she entered Kindergarten things got rapidly worse. It was one of the toughest years of our life. She struggled with friendships, transitions and was labeled a “problem child”. She cried so much going to school, at school and would get off the bus crying. I actually would go and watch her from the parking lot as she would come out to recess and she would go off by herself and sit down with her head in her lap and cry….while all the other kids around her were laughing, swinging, climbing the monkey bars….doing all the fun things a 6 year old should do. I can promise you there is nothing more heartbreaking as a parent then to watch your child suffer, especially at such a young age. We approached the teacher several times with worry and we were reassured she was fine, it was just her age and her personality. But at some point you have to trust your parent instincts and go with your gut. We knew something was not right. That summer we embarked on a through evaluation from an outside neuropsychologist.
I’ll never forget, probably for as long as I live, sitting across from the neuropsychologist and the first words out of her mouth were “I am sorry. I am sorry for all you have been through and I am really sorry for Julia who has clearly been suffering.”. Oh no…my biggest fear is coming true again. There’s something wrong. Yes, in fact there was a lot going on to the tune of a 32 page report on our daughter and the various struggles she had at the young age of six. I remember the words, ADHD, depression, anxiety…executive functioning, ODD….among others. I also remember that same feeling I had with my 3 week old baby when I found out something was wrong. Relief. Yes, relief because this was not normal and there was something wrong. Now that we know what it is, let’s fix it….that was my motto. What I have come to understand, and sometimes the hard way in the past 10 years, is that there is no quick fix with mental health. Nope, in fact it never really goes away you just learn to manage it. Hopefully.
What I have just shared is a story only my very closest friends and family know. We decided early on to not share Julia’s struggles with many or even with Julia. I didn’t want her to ever think differently of herself or think she was any different then anyone else. As a matter of fact I probably over compensated by always dressing her nicely and putting a pretty bow in her hair. That did not do her any favors because she looked so put together people expected more from her. But if you ask her now she would say she knew she was different and others knew she was different too. I wish I could say “others” were more accepting of her but they were not. I could tell you stories that would break your heart as they have mine. Over the years she was judged, we were judged as parents…yes… the parents are the first people you look to when you see a kid acting out. Little did anyone know what was going on in our life and all we ,and Julia, had been through. We had therapy and doctors appointments 4 times a week. She didn’t do sports or activities for 2 years to allow time for all of the appointments. I’ll never forget the time a girl in her class had a birthday party and invited all the girls home on the bus with her for the party….except my daughter. To say there were tears was an understatement, and to make matters worse all the girls “wore” the party favor to school the next day. Being excluded is a hard lesson to learn ever but especially hard at the age of seven.
I can honestly say with the help of a lot of people from family support, school support, doctors and therapist Julia did come a long way from 6 years old through middle school. Not that there weren’t times of trouble…like the time she went to the lunch room in middle school and a group of girls placed a trash can in her normal spot because they didn’t want her sitting there. Yes, that’s right girls can be mean. It took a few weeks of therapy and working with Julia to get over that one, among others, but we did make it through.
The turning point came on a day I left Julia home at the age of 13 by herself and went out to run errands. I didn’t know or think she would go looking for something in her school files but she did. When she did, what she found was the 32 page neuropsychologists report. Oh boy. It’s not that we never were going to tell Julia but I guess we didn’t think she would find out that way. Big fail. Probably worst parent guilt ever. Imagine the guilt I felt when I found her crying with the report in her hands having read it front to back and asking me why we never told her all that she had just read. She admitted she knew something was not right and she knew she was different then other kids and treated differently. But the question she asked that I will never forget was “Why were you ashamed? I mean if I had a food allergy or diabetes you would tell people right? So why did you not tell me or anyone else”. Good point. My only answer is that we just did not know what to do and that’s how we chose to handle it. And now as we deal with it again with her brother we are taking a different approach and are much more open about his struggles.
It was from that moment, that Julia took all that she had been through and decided she was going to make good from it. It’s not to say that she did not go on to have struggles. As a matter of fact her Freshman and Sophmore years of high school brought about multiple situations that proved to be the most challenging of all. But she made it through. She did make it through. She dug deep into all we had worked to create in her to get her through the toughest times and we know they won’t be the last. The teenage years can be very isolating.
I chose to share this now because as Julia celebrates her birthday today and this past year has been the best ever for her. She has come to a place that I never thought we would find. She has passions and acts on them. She wants to help others who struggle as she has struggled over the years. She strives to include others that may be excluded so no one feels like she has felt at times. She worked tirelessly for the past year creating a Mental Health Foundation (www.littlemindsct.com) and Mental Health Awareness week in the Wilton public schools. She is strong, courageous and so much braver then I could ever be. When she first came to me with all of her ideas to help others my first thought was…”wait then everyone will know.” I feared for her, she had already been socially outcast by so many. How on earth could this help? I had a pit in my stomach. This could go really well and she could help so many but it could go really bad and she could end up in a really dark place. But as I tell my kids all the time with risk comes reward, if you don’t put yourself out there and try then you can’t succeed. And that’s what she did. She put herself out there without shame or fear and the reaction has been overwhelming. The amount of people who have come forward to say the difference she has made already is incredible.
If you have stuck with it this long, thank you. I know it’s a lot….and the reason I share is because I hope if anyone else is struggling the way we have that you don’t give up. No matter what happens do not give up, try something different until things click and start to work. But don’t give up. And don’t be ashamed. I think you will find more people struggle with issues then you know. I know first hand people are not always as they seem. So many appear on the outside to be fine and they really are not. Some act out and it’s often for a reason that is beyond their control. I am guilty of it myself, as I have acted out irrationally at my child’s defense. I do what any other mother with a hurting child would do and at times my actions have come at a cost.
How does this relate to my business you might be asking at this point? Well, it does. You see, I interact with so many clients at various stages in their life. From new parents in my studio while I am photographing their 10 day old baby to families with special needs children to high school seniors under great stress. I get to know my clients well. I find myself so often giving advice….whether it’s wanted or not…but I really feel I have so much to offer as there’s not much I haven’t experienced with my own family! The comment I get all the time is “your family is so perfect”….and yes I admit I strive to send out the “perfect” holiday card just like everyone else and on paper we do appear to have it together. But in reality, we’re just like everyone else trying to get through the day and making decisions about what is right and what is wrong for our family, and we have our challenges as you can clearly understand now. We are not perfect in any way and I am okay with that. Because you see 17 years ago I came to realize that I was taking on a new role –the role of an Imperfect Perfectionist!
So, please bring your family to me….perfect or imperfect….I have come to appreciate both sides! I never judge….I know what that feels like to be judged so let your kids be who they are and no need to be perfect or behave a certain way. Just let them be who they are….that’s perfection!
And if you see this pretty 17 year old today or any other day give her a HUG! She deserves it!!