Sunday, December 7, 2014

Why ALL Parents Need to Have "The Talk" with Their Children About Guns and Law Enforcement

No one asks to be shot.
No one asks to die.
No one asks to lose their life at the tender age of 12 for playing with a toy gun.
No one asks to be murdered by a child of 12.
No one asks to be shot in the line of duty.
No one asks to serve and protect in a world where you can’t trust a 12 year old not to pick up a gun and fire.

No one asks for any of these things, and yet they're happening. Every. Single. Day. 

There’s a lot being said about the shooting of young Tamir Rice at a playground, where a bystander called 911 because the boy had an airsoft gun in the park. 

undefinedA “toy” gun with no markings to distinguish it from a real firearm. A gun that looked real enough to cause bystanders concern. Even if the individual that called 911 believed it was “probably fake”, there was enough uncertainty in his mind to call emergency services in the first place. 
The operator failed to relay the individual’s belief that the gun may have been a toy to the officers that responded-and I’m not sure it would have made a difference. In a world of school shootings and movie theatre shootings and children of 12 committing abuse and homicide, officers cannot be too careful.

The officer who first saw Rice reported that he was a black male of approximately 20 years of age. There are those who want, badly, to focus on the first part of that description-that he was a black male. The truth is, had he been a white male, that’s what the cop would have said. The important part of this was that the officers responding to the scene didn’t know they were dealing with a child.

I’ve never been able to see what it was that prompted the officer to shoot. Not because I’m looking for a specific viewpoint, but because the video is bad and my eyes suck. I can’t tell if Rice pointed the gun toward the officer. I can’t tell if he tried to lay it down. What I do know is the police treated a 12 year old with a gun as an armed and dangerous criminal.

While I would like to say the cops clearly overreacted, the truth is, the society we live in has its share of dangerous juvenile offenders. It’s entirely possible the officers on the scene believed Rice had a real weapon and had turned to fire at them, and acted accordingly. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m certainly not saying the twelve year old brought it upon itself, which seems to be the default position of anyone not screaming “murderer” at these cops.

The ending of this story could have been much, much different if the officers had spent just a little more time assessing the scene. However, had Rice’s weapon been a real one, as the police believed at the time, the story could have had another ending.We could have been adding another name to the list of names to the 20,000 officers on the memorial to those who died in the line of duty.

There are a lot of numbers rolling around, but here’s one I haven’t seen shared with the media yet. 
As of December 2nd, 107 officers had died in the line of duty in 2014. This doesn’t take into account officers killed while off duty, and it doesn’t tally injuries received while on duty. If an officer is shot and ends up in intensive care, if a corrections officer is badly beaten by an inmate and is sent to the hospital, those numbers aren’t counted. Bruises, broken ribs, broken jaws. Those numbers aren’t counted.There's a document stating that more than 50,000 assaults on officers occurred during 2014, and even the people who published the report admitted those numbers were woefully under reported. According to the DA in San Bernadino county, there were 23,000 assaults on officers in that region alone.

Here’s another number for you. 70%. That’s the increase in the number of officers killed by firearms during 2014. 70% more officers were shot and killed in the line of duty this year than last year.

Our personal life experiences shape the way we look at situations. As someone with family and friends in law enforcement, I understand only too well the sick clenching in the gut that comes when you hear an officer is attacked. When a prison your friend works at makes the news, and all you can do is hope and pray that they weren’t among the injured.

I understand the caution and yes, the fear that officers and their families exercise and feel every moment of every day, wondering if they’re going to become victims themselves-not because of the color of their skin, but because of the color of their uniform.

I can’t say I understand or can wrap my head around the shooting of Tamir Rice, but I can see how it happened.

I’m a mother. My oldest son is 13, a year older than Rice, and the thought of losing him due to a misunderstanding and bad circumstances breaks my heart. I know, however, that the best thing I can do to keep my kids safe is to strike back at the many, many things that led to Tamir Rice being in the situation he was in the first place.

And so, I will teach my children gun safety. I will teach them that toy guns should look like toy guns, and to leave the ones that do not on the shelf. I will teach them that BB guns and air guns should only be used under the close supervision of an adult, and should be handled with the same respect you would show a real gun.

I will teach them that guns are not toys the way that race cars and baseballs are toys, and there are deadly consequences for treating them that way. I will teach them that if a police officer asks them to do something, they should obey. Immediately. Silently. There will be time for questions and explanations when the situation is calm.

And I will ask the toy companies to help me in this. Because they are not blameless. By manufacturing toy guns that look like real guns, they are helping to put our children in harm’s way.

Because an officer cannot stand in front of a twelve year old holding a gun and assume that the gun, and the child, are harmless. I wish they could, but they can’t. Law enforcement will continue to be cautious, sometimes overly so.

We as parents MUST take the responsibility to ensure that our kids stay safe.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How to Help a Depressed Teen

A quick note to readers: This post reflects my experiences with depression, and may not be applicable to every case. If you feel your teen is in immediate danger of committing suicide, contact law enforcement or your health care provider and let them know.  

Depression IS a disease, and like any disease, it claims its due. The information in this article is to help parents prevent teen suicide. Please understand, however, that sometimes there really was nothing more you could have done. If you are the parent of a teen who has committed suicide, it doesn't mean you have failed-as a parent, and as a person. I share these thoughts with you in the hope that they, and your personal experiences, will help you reach out to others in your community.
Earlier this year, a friend of mine lost his nineteen year old son to depression and suicide.

I look at my children, now entering those difficult teenage years, and like so many parents, I am afraid. I am afraid of what these years are going to bring us. No one should ever have to bury a child. I can only imagine that family’s pain and loss.

I can, however, understand, intimately, the pain his son felt in those final days before he took his own life. Depression has been an enemy I have fought for what feels like my whole life, and it’s an enemy that too few people ever truly understand. Because it’s sneaky. Like diabetes, it’s chronic-some days will be better than others, but you’re never truly “cured”. It’s always sitting in the wings, waiting. Perched to pounce the minute you make a mistake, or have a bad day, or start feeling overwhelmed.

I can’t bring the Fiorellas’ son back, although I desperately wish that I could. I wish that I could look that young man in the face and be able to tell him, I understand. I’ve been there. I know this road you’re walking.

You’re right-you’re never going to get off this road. You’re never going to be the carefree person that you want to be. You’re never going to see life through the same lenses your friends do, no matter how hard you try.

But if you’re willing to fight, if you’re willing to reach out, it can get better.

Because I can’t do that, I want to share the lessons I’ve learned through a lifetime of depression with other parents like Sam. Like myself. Parents who watch their teens grow and wonder what they’re going to do if the black spectre of depression comes to claim them. Parents of teens with depression who feel helpless to bring their children out of the hell they’ve made their home.

Parents, you CAN help. But before you can help, you need to understand.

Understand that your child needs you to listen, not talk. As parents, we want to share our life experiences with our children. We hope through our experiences, they’ll be spared from learning some lessons the hard way. But your child with depression isn’t walking the same road you did. They need to be able to share THEIR road with YOU.

Understand that your child needs to be freed from your expectations for them. People with depression believe one of two things: Failure is inevitable, or failure is unacceptable. Either way, they feel shoehorned into a position where they have no right to be human. To try new things. To make mistakes. To them, criticism and encouragement are fatal in equal measure, because both make them feel as though they have failed in being themselves.

Understand that right now, they are incapable of being happy. It’s not that they’re choosing to be morose and dramatic. It’s not that they’re choosing to be critical or miserable or apathetic. Their minds are choosing it for them. The person who is severely depressed feels apathetic on their best days and like they’re going to fall apart on their worst. Which is why they need you to…

Understand that their feelings need to be validated. It’s too easy to look at their lives and think, “What do you have to be depressed about? You’re a kid. This is the best time of your life!” They know that. They understand, through the message you send, that they are expected to be happy and carefree. And so that’s the face they put on, for your benefit, for their friends, for their teachers. Then they leave you swinging in the wind when they explode, having bottled their feelings up to the point where they literally cannot take it anymore. 

If your child is angry, let them be angry, even if what they’re angry about seems ridiculous to you. (I once sat and cried for an hour because I couldn’t get a sweater to stay on a hanger.) If they are sad, let them be sad.

Understand that depression is as insidious as cancer…but no one judges a cancer patient for getting chemo. Depression, and other mental illnesses, still carry too much stigma. For a period of time in my twenties, I was on antidepressants following a major breakdown. I told no one I was going to the doctor, didn’t even tell my husband I was on antidepressants until months later. 

It was too embarrassing to admit that I needed help to get through the day. I was humiliated that I was carrying so many fewer burdens than people I knew, and I still couldn’t handle it. People with depression are embarrassed and scared to ask for help. They need you to encourage them to seek medical care.

Understand that people with depression feel isolated. They feel like no one understands them. Watch out for teens who appear to be “good listeners”, always listening to their friends and family and sharing little about their own lives. Beware if it seems as though your teen is always deflecting the conversation away from themselves. It may not be because they’re shy, or modest. It may be because they don’t see the point. No one is going to care anyway.

Understand that “I don’t understand what’s wrong with you!” is the worst thing you can say to a teen with depression. To anyone with depression.  Especially when it’s followed up with bits of parental wisdom like, “You’re a kid! What do you have to worry about?” Or, “You have a roof over your head, food on your plate. You have a thousand dollar computer. You have everything!” This will only push them away.

Understand that teens with depression need to take things day to day-sometimes minute by minute. Long term planning may literally be too much for them. Big projects are overwhelming-to this day I still have to break my to-do lists into teeny tiny micropieces that don’t take more than a few minutes each, then write them down so I can check them off in order to feel like I’m accomplishing something, even if that something barely scratches the surface.

The severely depressed may need help walking through their tasks one at a time, and learning that what they’re doing right then is the only thing they need to think about. Multi-step instructions like get out of bed, take a shower, eat breakfast, brush your teeth and get on the bus may seem overwhelming. Cleaning their entire room may literally be more than they can handle. (Especially if it looks anything like mine used to.)

Be willing to be flexible. Let chores wait until another day if they have a lot of homework. Help them with tasks that are usually their responsibility if you see them struggling. I promise you, they need the helping hand more than they need the reminder of what their responsibilities are.

Understand that your teen has to know they can come to you. Pushing someone with depression to talk about their depression leaves them feeling trapped. Not pushing them, on the other hand, can leave them feeling like you don’t really care. It’s a lose-lose situation….but it doesn’t have to be.

If you have a teen who suffers from depression, it’s up to you to open the door. Spend time with them alone, in a low stress environment. Encourage non-specific conversation about their lives, and ask them questions that make them know they’re the center of your attention. I know it’s almost instinctive, as parents, to remind teens that the world doesn’t revolve around them, but the teen with depression sometimes needs to feel like it does. “What do you want?” is a big one-often people who are living with depression are too wrapped up in day to day survival to worry about the future.

It can be hard, at times, to feel like they have one.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

An Open Letter of Apology to My Pediatrician

To Our Amazing, Wonderful Pediatric Providers: 

You see me, and other mothers like me, in your office every day. Overtired, under-caffeinated, without two brain cells to rub together to have a real conversation, looking at you with desperate eyes, expecting you to magically fix whatever brought us there in the first place. 

I see you once or twice (or five or six times) a month twelve months out of the year, so you know my face. But you don’t know me. In fact, there’s a good chance we’ve never met. Because that woman in your office? She’s not really me. 

I’m not really that crazy.

Pediatrician Need a Drink Toddler T-Shirt
This is how I pretty much figure our pediatrician feels after every visit. (T-shirt for sale at

Please understand, by the time we make it to your office, I’m usually on day three or four (or ten) of not nearly enough sleep, often buried under the guilt of missed work hours and trapped in a house with a sick, whining, clingy, fussy child who is all too aware of the fact that I’ve failed as a parent. It doesn’t matter how magical or mysterious my mommy powers may seem when I can produce another lollipop out of my purse or immediately recognize ‘who started it’ from two rooms away.

Those magical mommy powers are useless here. I can’t make whatever is wrong with them go away. They need you…

…But they don’t want you, because even though you’re wonderful, and the kids really like you (I swear they do), you are the bringer of shots and things that taste yucky, and therefore should be avoided at all costs.

A typical visit to your office begins with me crawling bleary-eyed out of bed 30 minutes after the child that screamed all night long magically falls asleep, punching buttons on the phone I can’t even see, praying I got the right ones and that you’re there and that you have an opening. The sooner we get in, the sooner I can give the shrieking devil child that body snatched my little angel some medication that will make them feel better and maybe, just maybe, we can both go back to sleep for an hour or two.

You have no idea how badly I want to bake your receptionist a cake. Or send her flowers. Or buy her the Taj Mahal. Because the minute she answers the phone and tells me you can squeeze us in, an invisible weight lifts off my chest. Once we walk through the doors of your office, I don’t have to be Supermom anymore. You’ll know what to do. All we have to do is get to you, and so, without showers or breakfast or songs or games or cartoons or coffee or the million little things that start our day, we pack up and head out the door.

Do you know how much whining and complaining can take place between my front door and the moment you walk into the examination room? I do. Right down to the very last clause. It’s too cold. Too boring. Too hot. Too wet. Too boring. Too dry. It smells funny. It’s too noisy. Too quiet. Too scary. Too boring.

Did I mention it’s boring to sit and wait instead of swinging off the bed or the fan or the doorknob like a giant monkey (somehow they’re never too sick for that) and the only cure for this fatal condition is to drive mom as insane as humanly possible by tap dancing on her last nerve??? (Hint: Before coffee and a shower, it doesn’t take much.)

I’m not writing this to complain. I never mind waiting for you, because I know once you get to us we’re going to have your full, undivided attention for as long as we need it. That matters to me. It’s a big part of why we chose you to be our doctor in the first place.

But I am so, so sorry doctor. Because by the time you walk into the room, I…am…done.

I really WANT to ask you about your kids, and your garden, and where you’ve been that you’ve gotten so tan, because I know it wasn’t here. (Believe me, if there’d been that much sun, I would have noticed.)

I want to ask where you bought your shoes, and answer your questions about the book on my lap with the witty enthusiasm I’m known for in certain circles.

I want to know what you thought about the movie I saw you and your family at last weekend.

I want to let you chat with my child, because their face lights up every time you do and they giggle about it for days afterward.

I want to know YOU, because you’re one of the most important people in my family’s life, and that deserves to be recognized.

This is what I want to do, but I can’t. The minute you walk into the room my exhausted, tired, stressed-out brain loses touch with my mouth. Instead of greeting you politely and asking about your day, which is what I really mean to do…

…I hit you with a list of symptoms and complaints, because by the time you get to the party I just want you to figure out what’s wrong and write me a prescription so I can get the hell out of there, spend half an hour at the pharmacy while they explain to me how their e-prescribe didn’t work (again), call and interrupt your busy day yet again so you can fax it in, go home, put on cartoons, pour the Gatorade, then hide somewhere for half an hour to suck down a cup of coffee and gather up what’s left of my mind before I have to go back out there and be Supermom all over again.

This is when I’m going to start feeling guilty for the way I once again managed to walk into and out of your office without letting you know how much I appreciate the fact that you are who you are, and you’re there, and we’re so lucky to have you.

This is also usually where I come to grips with the fact that you probably think I’m my own special brand of crazy, and I’m REALLY sorry about that.

You know what amazes me most, doctor? That you see people like me all day, every day, and yet you still do what you do.

You are savior and inconvenience, with people looking to you for answers while at the same time wishing they were anywhere but there.

And yet, you’re still smiling.

Even when your eyes are dark with exhaustion and I can see how badly you want to be irritated with me, you smile.

Even when I’m being over the top and paranoid in the way that only a parent can be, you listen.

Even when you’re pretty sure at a glance that nothing is really wrong and you could be spending those 20 minutes sitting at your desk instead of on your exhausted feet, you do a full exam, order tests and follow up, just to be sure.

Even when you don’t have to, and no one expects you to (I swear, I really didn’t), you once spent the first half of your lunch hour calling for lab results instead of eating a meal in peace because you knew that I was waiting, and then spent the second half going over each and every piece and part and translating every result so I could be informed and involved rather than patting me on the head, giving me the short story and sending me on my way so you could enjoy your break. You’ll never know how much that meant to me.  

Even when you have office hours in the morning, when you’re on call I know you’re going to be understanding while I panic over fevers and rashes and casts that fall off and a million other little ailments that could have easily been dealt with in the office the next day.

No matter how irrational I’m being, or how badly you’d love to tell me to leave you alone for five fricking minutes so you can think (and maybe pop an Advil or two for that headache you’ve had brewing all day), I know you’re going to be patient with me.

Regardless of how long your day has been, or how very much of it is still ahead of you, you smile.

Do you know what that smile says, doctor? It says, “You’re not alone. It’s going to be okay. I’m here now, and together, we’re going to fix this.”

Right then I want to cry, because thank you isn’t enough to tell you how much that smile is exactly what I need.

And I’m sorry that I’ve never found the words to say how much I appreciate it, and you, and everything you do.