I discovered the best thing I can do for my family is spend some part of each day focused exclusively on me, serving my life’s purpose. Before I was clear about what my purpose was, I spent time focused on discovering it on a daily basis.
I know, at first this sounds counter intuitive. However, consider this list of benefits for your family.
Living your purpose:
1. Gives you energy
2. Has the naturally occurring by-product of inner peace
3. Sets a great example for your family
So, if you are not yet clear about your purpose, I suggest you immediately embark on a journey to find it.
I believe there are two major components to every person’s purpose.
The first is that it is creative. A word of caution here, I have found that somewhere in the identity forming process many people have rejected the idea that they are creative in any way. I want to be clear. I am not only talking about what would be traditionally referred to as the arts, music, drawing, painting, dancing, photography or even arts and crafts. Perhaps you are really good at creating relationships, beautiful spaces, organized living areas, balanced accounting, fun social experiences, cooking, writing cool stuff, or systems that make businesses run more smoothly. All that matters in being creative is that something new exists because of your focused time, effort and energy.
Still having trouble? Think about your life before kids and family. What did you do with your free time? Is there an activity that made you lose time? You know what I mean. You thought you had been working on something for about 30 minutes and suddenly you realized 5 hours had passed. I call that your God work. I believe that when you lose time while engaged in something creative, you are fulfilling your purpose.
The second aspect of identifying your purpose involves “the who.”
No, I am not talking about the band or the creatures from Whoville. Here is the thing. I have yet to meet anyone who has discovered that their purpose is selfserving. Every conversation I have had with someone who is either searching for their life’s purpose or believes they have discovered it, shares that their purpose involves serving others in some way. Although there is great personal benefit for the person serving his or her life’s purpose, the original intent is always about serving someone else.
There are many spiritual teachers who suggest that young children are more connected to spirit than adults. They say that as we grow to adulthood, we lose that connection. Try this – Is there someone who spent a significant amount of time with you when you were between the ages of 1 and 3? It could be a parent, someone else who raised you, or even an older sibling. Ask them what you liked to play when given time to indulge your imagination. If no one is available to ask, do your best to remember. That information will give you some clue about what your purpose might be. By the way, I have been a teacher since I was 3.
I get tired of hearing all the advice (probably really somebody trying to sell me something) that in just X number of minutes each day I can change my whole life and all my fantasies will come true.
So what I offer here are merely suggestions. Committing to one or many of these daily practices will put you well on your way to discovering your life’s purpose. Do what works for you and ditch what doesn’t.
1. Open yourself to new ideas – read, read, then read some more. You will be amazed at the difference in your life if you read just 10 pages, or for 10 minutes a day of a really good book. If you are not a reader – listen. You can get books in audio format, and listen while you are doing something else that doesn’t require your full attention like walking or folding laundry.
2. Spend 30 minutes of focused attention on your kids, husband or partner each day.
3. Create some quiet time in your day to be still. It is worth getting up early, or staying up just a little bit late.
4. Express gratitude as appreciation – you will find what you are looking for. If you spend your day noticing the things that bother you, that is precisely what you will find. The same is true on the flip side. So create a habit of searching for the positive, being grateful and expressing appreciation.
5. Put routines in place for the everyday stuff. Download “Routines to the Rescue” for free at www.connectedtoyourcore.com
6. Honor your intuition.
7. Let go of the busyness – focus your attention on the stuff that really matters.
8. Release the judgments that you have about others, for yourself or the ones you imagine others have about you.
* *A special note about #8 – Who cares what they think? You have no control over their opinion of you anyway. When you try to make everyone happy, no one is, least of all you. I’ll never forget when I realized I was working to make my affect match what I believed others expected of me. It was November of 2010. Earlier in the year, both my husband (in May) and my 12 year old nephew (in September) had passed away. I was getting ready to attend a family gathering, and I caught myself thinking, “I better not laugh too much today, people probably won’t think it is appropriate.” I challenged that thought and deemed it ridiculous. I decided to behave in a way that felt natural and no longer worry about what others may or may not be thinking. The craziest part, everyone was actually relieved to see I was doing okay.
“Mommy, I need to go potty!” “Hey Mom, can I stay after school with Joe?” “Mooooom, I am huuuuungry.” “Why can’t we stop and get French fries?” “Mom, I can’t find my glasses, oh, and I am out of lunch money.” “Ick, Mother do NOT do that in front of my friends. I mean seriously – ewww!” “Momma, I love you so much and I am giving you this worm as a present!” “Mom! The kitten pooped in my sneaker. Heeellllppp!! Mom! Where are you? I can’t wear my sneakers now!” “Where did Mom go? I think she might have locked herself in the bathroom again.”
From the moment you bring home your little bundle of joy, your role as a sexy and sensual woman seemed to take a back seat. The longer your feelings of sensuality and sexuality stay in the back seat, the easier it is to overlook them and it only becomes more difficult to reconnect with them. This has a major impact not only on your romantic relationship, but your relationship with YOU. So, how can you be a mom and be a sexy woman? Let’s count the ways, shall we.
Actually, these are just a few ways for you to revitalize your sensuality and rejuvenate your sexuality. Every woman is different. Every family has its own unique dynamics. Therefore, you, as an amazing unique woman, will likely resonate with some of the following suggestions, but not necessarily all of them. Take what feels right and use them. Leave the rest behind. This is about reconnecting with YOU.
Own Your Sensuality
You own your sensuality. No one else owns it or has control over it. It is up to you to enjoy and find pleasure in things through your senses. It is not up to someone else to create this for you nor is it for someone else to keep from you. It is, also, important to remember that sensuality is not necessarily related to sex. Sensuality can lead to sexual activity, but it does not have to. Sensuality is about gratifying your senses – taste, touch, sound, sight, smell, and intuition. So, relish the taste of a delicious meal. Enjoy the way certain clothes feel against your skin and how you look in them. Wear lotion or perfume that gratifies your sense of smell. Listen to a favorite song or the sweet sound of your children laughing. Be aware of your moments of inner knowing and your connection to the Divine or to the Universe. Be present in each moment and savor the sensations – whatever they are.
For you to live alive and feel sensual again, you need to reconnect with YOU and the things that light you up. It is common for moms to feel guilty or selfish if they spend time on themselves instead of focusing all of their attention on their family or work. Yet, when you lose touch with the core essence of yourself, you are actually doing a disservice to those around you let alone the disservice you are doing to yourself. You can only give to others what you have. If you are disconnected from you, if you are exhausted and lacking energy, if you have little to no love and compassion for yourself, then you can’t be at your best and you can’t shine your beautiful inner light upon those around you. Instead of feeling guilty about taking time for yourself, you need to realize that doing so is actually vital to your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health and it will greatly benefit your loved ones, your friends, and your co-workers too.
Be Playful and Hands-On
Laugh, smile, goof around, be silly, and share jokes with friends, your kids, your lover/partner/spouse. Open up to the playful child inside of you. She is deeply connected to your soul. Not only will she bring you joy, but she will help you relieve some of the stress and tension that we all endure. But, laughter is only one connection to the playful inner child. Typically children enjoy hugs and snuggles. Bring that back into your adult life. Touch and hug throughout your day. Obviously, if you have co-workers or employees, you need to be conscientious about touching, but you should hug your kids often teaching them that loving, appropriate touch is wonderful. Are you in a romantic relationship? Touch your lover’s arm or hand whenever and wherever. Feel the warmth of his/ her skin against your skin. To take this a step further, pay attention when you touch your own skin. In fact, take a moment right now to simply run your palms down your thighs from your hips to your knees. Simply be aware of how it feels. Notice the warmth; notice the energy slightly vibrating after this motion. If you close your eyes as you do this, you can heighten the sensation.
Communication is Key
You have probably heard this a million times, but it really is true. Letting your friends, family, and sweetheart know what you like and dislike is key to maintaining and/or building a strong bond between you. Of course, there are powerful communication tools that can help you achieve this, but that isn’t what this article is about. This is about revitalizing your sensuality. Therefore, have you/do you communicate with yourself? Do you know what you like and dislike? Are you open to finding those things out in a loving and compassionate way? We are so often told to communicate verbally and non-verbally with others if we want to connect with them, but we are rarely told to communicate with ourselves. Yet, the real key is having powerful communication with yourself – with your true self, your soul. It is important to better understand your emotional self, your mental self, and your spiritual self. When you do this you will better be able to understand your physical self and once again enjoy the sensuality of your physical body.
Enjoy your body and the sensations it offers you. Be open to your sensuality throughout your day everyday. As mentioned above, you need to open lines of communication with yourself, become truly aware of your senses as often as possible, and let go of any potential guilt for connecting to you! And as you finish reading this article, stand up, slightly bend your knees (keep your weight even throughout your feet), and circle your hips or bounce them from side to side. If you are ready, then add the sensation of running your palms up and down your thighs at the same time. This can be sexy, but the point is for you to start moving the sensual energy through your body, feeling it and allowing it to flow. And, if you feel silly, then woo hoo! You have also tapped into your playfulness.
You deserve to feel sexy and you deserve to feel sensual. Open yourself to your playfulness, selfcommunication, freedom from guilt and take back your sensuality.
I love the season of Spring because it signifies Alive-ness, Freshness, Starting Anew, bright colors and emerging out of “hibernation” to live life at a higher level than before. For me, it also means that we are closer to warm and hot days, which is my favorite type of weather. The warmth of the sun, the green grass and bright Spring flowers brings an energy around us that makes us want to accomplish more.
This is the perfect time to shift or refocus. No matter how busy life gets, make your #1 priority YOU – your wellness and life balance. I believe this to be the utmost importance. Why? When you take care of you and are aware of keeping your life-balance, you will be a more effective Mom, wife, business/career woman, friend, etc. On the other hand, if you leave yourself last and empty for too long, you will have nothing left to give. You can’t give out what you don’t have.
So, let’s make this Spring Time Promise that you put yourself first and you take into account your own well-being and life-balance. Do things that you love, laugh, be active, spend some quiet time, read inspiring things, take some cleansing deep breaths and spend your minutes and days on purpose. This will shift the tone in everything you do and with everyone in your life, especially your kids. Ultimately, they will learn the importance of self-care, treasuring their own spirit and loving themselves enough to take the time for their life-balance.
They learn this not be hearing your advice and life lessons, but by seeing the happiness in your eyes and feeling the love and peace that you bring into the home. They will FEEL it intrinsically.
So, let’s toast to the promise! May you all have a wonderful, renewed Spring season with peace, balance and many blessings for you and those you love.
Enjoy your Spring issue!
This question, so commonly asked by concerned parents, has understandably gotten even more significant, given the multiple mass shooting tragedies of last year and the national conversation that has ensued.
It’s also been a central topic in my parenting classes, as families strive to understand their children’s timeless interest in “good guys” versus “bad guys”, determine what is developmentally appropriate and normal, and reflect upon their individual family values.
I remember when I took the boys to Disneyland a few months ago and saw firsthand this utter fascination with weaponry. Whether it was the mini Luke Skywalkers and Darth Vaders sparring with light sabers near Space Mountain, or the Captain Hook/ Jack Sparrows dueling with pistols and swords in the Pirates of the Caribbean store, I saw children (mostly boys) of all sizes delighting in any type of power weapon they could get their hands on. And this fascination seemed to transcend all ethnic, cultural and even generational barriers when I saw many Dads, Uncles, and even Grandpas joining in!
I know the first time I saw Conor, age 4, fashioning a gun out of a banana and yelling, “Pow, pow, you’re dead Mama!” I immediately had visions of a violent future and wondered where I had gone wrong!
Yet the first issue to remember is that a four-year old saying “Pow you’re dead” is not the same as an adult saying it. A four year-old has a preschool level understanding of what a gun or killing is (often when I asked Conor about the meaning of “kill” I got answers like, “you’re asleep, you’re a skeleton or you go away for a long time”). So it’s important to remember not to put an adult level of understanding of guns— that shooting people means they want to be violent and hurt people–on young children’s play.
In their book, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, Laura Davis and Janis Keyser outline a number of reasons, both developmental and societal, that make this type of play so common in young boys. One of the primary reasons is the need to gain power. As children grow from toddlers into the preschool/school age years, their awareness of the world around them becomes bigger, but so does their realization of how little they control or understand it. So, as Janis and Laura state in the book, two of the underlying questions children often ask during gun play are, “How can I have power in this world?” and “How can I make things happen?”
That’s why this is also a common time to see other types of power research including physical aggression and exclusionary play emerging. Children at this age are also beginning to understand the power of language, so this is also a time where body and poop words, and sometimes even name calling and swearing surface.
Other reasons the book gives for gun play include trying to learn about our society’s deep interest in guns, trying to understand death (which is another awareness that becomes stronger at this age) and also seeing the cause and effect that gun play has on adults.
Of course, pre-teen and teenagers also have the need to feel powerful, and also have the added social need of impressing their peers. A great reference article from Family.com, describes the developmental needs of boys at this age, and what to observe in order to determine if their gun play (both with toy weapons and video games) is normal and when to be concerned: (http://family.go.com/parenting/pkg-tween/article-791794-war-games-and-preteen-boys/).
Overall, knowing the reasons behind gun play and putting it in a developmental perspective is a great start to feeling like you are not raising a violent child. And deciding how to handle it, gives you the opportunity to reflect upon your family vision and think about the values you want to teach your children during those moments.
For example, one of the fundamental values in our family are the ideas of compassion and empathy. This meant that in addition to trying to understand my children’s point of view (like why power play was so important) I also wanted them to hear my feelings around it. So to strike the balance, I began saying, “I can see you want to shoot, but I don’t like being shot. If you both want to play with each other, make sure that shooting is okay with both of you.” I also knew I didn’t want real looking guns in the house. A reallooking gun would always only be a gun, while a Lego or branch that was a gun one minute, could also be something else another. This rule about no real-looking guns also gave me the opportunity to talk with the boys about how we feel about guns and their impact in the world.
So next time your sweet, loving son (or daughter) raises their weapon of choice at you, don’t panic! Remember that it is normal and empowering for them and also another opportunity to clarify and teach the values that are most important to you and your family.
Moms wear many hats. They are not only moms, but wives, entrepreneurs, they play doctor, taxi driver, math tutor, they cook and clean. Moms basically run the show, making sure their families are well taken care of. But how often do they have time for themselves?
I work with a lot of moms, and it’s the same story: “I know I shouldn’t eat the chocolate, but I just can’t help myself. I see it and I have to have it. I just can’t stop.” One of the biggest struggles I see is that most women (moms especially), just can’t seem to curb the sweet tooth. It comforts them. It fills them up. Then they come to me full of frustration, wondering why they just can’t get it together and improve their diet. When I dig a little deeper, I discover that the problem rarely has anything to do with food. These women are burnt out! They run themselves ragged and have no balance in their lives. Food is the little pleasure they get out of their day, and often the one thing they feel they can control in the mass chaos that is their day. Once I bring this to light, we can start peeling back the onion, layer by layer, and try to figure out how to get things back on track. What can provide comfort instead of food? Why does she need comfort in the first place? What’s missing that food is trying to fill? What these moms really need is a little more balance!
Don’t you just love that word— balance? What does that even mean anyway? Can you really achieve balance? What balance really does is keep you sane and feeling on track. What allows you to take a pause and just breathe. When you are out of balance, it means that most of your focus is on one area of your life, but not enough on another. Being out of balance can effect so many different areas of your life: your health, your finances, the quality of your relationships, and your mental well being. Because I’m so so concerned about my client’s health, and because I find that tends to be the first to go when you’re out of balance, I decided to interview my friend who I think lives a very balanced life. She’s one of the busiest moms I know, yet she is also one of the healthiest.
Patricia is a wife. She’s a mother of 3 kids under 5. She’s involved in her kids’ school, after school activities, birthday parties on the weekends, etc. Oh, and she works full time. Patricia is thin, fit and healthy. After picking her brain for a bit, here are some pearls of wisdom on how she manages to find balance and stay healthy. (I have included my thoughts on how you do this):
Anything is ok in moderation.
Don’t deprive yourself of anything, just enjoy it in small doses. If you absolutely must have a slice of cake at your son’s birthday party, take a tiny slice and enjoy every bite of it.
Staying active not only helps keep your body in shape, it provides mental relaxation as well. Working out is time away from the distractions of your kids, husband, work (i.e.. your life) and allows you time for you. Even if it’s only 10 minutes, that’s better than nothing. Plus, you can’t beat those feel good endorphins.
When opting for a snack like chips or crackers, take one handful, close up the bag, and leave the room. Don’t bring the bag with you and mindlessly eat handful after handful until you finish the bag. This is particularly important for those who tend to stress eat!
Take a nap.
When feeling overwhelmed, take a time out. Lay down or sit still for 5, 10, 15 minutes and just relax. It may seem like there’s no time to slow down, even for 5 minutes, but I promise taking that 5 minutes now will pay off and actually save you time in the long run.
Make balanced choices.
Pick and choose things that you can and will avoid. For example, make it a principle not to eat fast food. Or if you know you’re going to want dessert with dinner, order a salad or something on the lighter side. When eating out, try to eat out only once or twice a week. Pack meals and healthy snacks to take on the road which can help you avoid temptation.
Stay sane by taking care of yourself.
Take some “me” time when you need it. Ask for help with the kids, but make yourself a priority. Find moments throughout the day or set aside time for a manicure or lunch with a girlfriend. Moms tend to be excellent at managing a schedule, so make sure that “me” time gets in there.
What are some ways that you can achieve some balance in your life as it pertains to your health? Do you see areas where you can improve? Can you try to incorporate one or two of Patricia’s tips into your week?
As I mentioned earlier, when trying to be healthy, lose weight or just simply improve your diet, sometimes diet actually has very little to do with it. If we can clean up other areas of your life, everything else seems to fall into place. Diet is actually the easy part. So look at where things are a little off balance. Maybe you eat right, but don’t exercise. Or maybe you give so much time to others, but you don’t have time for yourself. Start small. Look at a couple of areas where maybe you need more balance, make a few small changes, and suddenly, you’ll develop a momentum.
Need help? Head over to www.JamieLeffNutrition.com, take our assessment and set up a complimentary consultation to see where you could use a little improvement.
It’s no secret that our homes are extensions of ourselves. We begin and end our day here. We entertain friends here and enjoy special moments with family, creating memories along the way. But what does it take to be happy in your home?
At my very core, my whole outlook on interior design is ‘Believe in a Better Life by Design’, so I recently began thinking of what steps I take for clients to give them a better life in their home. Interior design is generally about ‘Out with the old, in with the new’. If you’re thinking about re-designing your home, you want something new and fresh, something that will make you feel alive, relaxed or happy and something with better function. We lose the feeling of happiness in our home because we end up tolerating things in our home that don’t support us. The New Year is a new opportunity to create a new home and a new you! I’ve found that a few tweaks to how you live can help you have a better life in your home, increase your productivity and overall, your happiness. Making just a few small adjustments can not only help you create happiness in your home, it can help you feel more in control of your surroundings.
» Here are a few tips:
1. Design your home with pieces that mean something to you and your family. Just recently, I added a photo to my desk of my mom and I playing on the beach on Cape Cod when I was just 6 years old. I found a beautiful frame for it and I feel happy and uplifted each time it catches my eye! I remember the happiness I felt at the time because my mom holds such a special place in my heart. It’s important to make the memories, then enjoy looking back on them, and if you surround yourself with things you love, your home will make you happy.
2. Give yourself the space you need to do what you want to do in life. Above all, our environment should support who we are and what we do. I know that seems basic, however it’s true. If you love music, create a space that supports you in playing or listening when the mood strikes you. If you love art, look into creating an environment where you can draw, paint or be creative on the computer, or arrange a gallery of collected pieces for yourself. We’re not just designing a home; we’re creating an environment for ourselves to grow, as well.
3. Touch it once. Clutter drives me crazy and I work to create design solutions for clients that reduce what I call their ‘clutter experience’. Clutter creates stress in our lives and it wastes time and energy, so I believe in making each room as ready as it can be when I leave. If you set something down in a room, set it down in its place. If this is difficult, take 2 to 4 minutes before leaving a room to put things back in drawers, close cabinets, hang up clothes or put them in the laundry hamper. A cleaner room will greet you when you return and will feel so much better. Trust me!
4. Make a statement where you enter your home. Whether it’s pictures of your children, a vase of fresh flowers, a beautiful lamp, wind chimes or even new wallpaper on one wall, take the time to put something at your front door or in your entry area that will make you happy. You’ll notice you’ll feel much differently when you look at these things than at a pile of shoes, the dog’s bed, a stack of laundry or a cluttered table.
5. Make your bed. When the bed is made, the bedroom looks infinitely better because the bed is the focal point. Also, statistics show that making your bed allows you to begin functioning in an organized way each day because you are accomplishing a goal first thing in the morning. Making our bed also sets a good example for our children and a neater child’s room definitely makes for a happier home for Mom and Dad!
As a mom of 2 beautiful girls, one with Down Syndrome and in remission from Leukemia, Jocelyn Joiner doesn’t skip a beat. With the foundation she started, she inspires inclusion and acceptance for children with special needs in schools.
Jocelyn candidly shares her journey that led her to launch her foundation, how she discovered that her younger daughter has Down Syndrome and how her experiences helped her live a more fulfilled and purposeful life.
Tell us about yourself and what you do.
First, I am a mom of my two girls. Alyssa is 3 and Kendall is 9 years old. I run my volunteer-based nonprofit foundation called SNAP, which stands for Special Needs and Abilities Project. I started SNAP in 2009 after Alyssa was born. She has Down Syndrome and was diagnosed with Leukemia. She inspired me to start this foundation.
We mostly work in the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) to facilitate the Best Buddies and the Best Friends Programs in as many schools as possible. We work for children with a wide range of special needs. I named it special needs and abilities so it will have a very broad range to include children who are experiencing medical, physical and mental issues.
I knew there was a need for programs that inspire people to be more accepting of children with special needs and to bring awareness to the belief of inclusion which brings them together in school classrooms instead of sending them to a different school or to the other side of the campus.
How do the Best Friends and Best Buddies Programs work?
The Best Friends Program takes the class of special needs children and they bring them into the class with the typical children. They have their buddies or partners and it is a one-onone program. They play games and do crafts together, build friendships, sing songs and/or go outside to the obstacle course. It’s mainly for the kids to get to know each other and reduce the fear that children feel about people with special needs. The program really develops their friendships and from their friendships, they become more accepting of each other. They discover they have more in common than different.
The Best Buddies Program was started by the Shriver family, Maria and her brother, Anthony Shriver. They do the same thing, but at the college level and it’s now in the high schools in LBUSD. However, they have their own counselors and programs. We just try to facilitate with them and bring more awareness to the program.
Share your journey to what led you to start your non profit.
When I was pregnant with Alyssa, I did not know she had Down Syndrome. I didn’t want to take any of the tests because of my age. I was over 35 years old. I knew about the risks, but I didn’t believe any diagnosis would change my mind. So I just thought I would wait and see. When Alyssa was born, I honestly didn’t know she had Down Syndrome. I couldn’t see it in her physically, probably because I was so exhausted from labor or just because I was filled with love for my newborn baby. The next morning, her pediatrition came in and she noticed certain physical characteristics. In addition, Alyssa had some issues with feeding and they ran some tests. After the results, she was diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
After her diagnosis, the responses I received from people were interesting. Instead of congratulating me, they felt bad for me and kept saying they were sorry. I thought to myself, that she was healthy and so beautiful and meant to be in our loving family. There’s no need to be sorry. I was confused by that. I see it as more of a gift for myself, my family and my older daughter. So then I started pondering on the reasons why people have this attitude, because I didn’t really see it as a problem.
Since I had past experience as a teacher for children with special needs, I was exposed to that world. That made me really think that I needed to do something to change people’s perception. There was so much in the special needs world to focus on, but I wanted to focus on acceptance and inclusion. Since the world of elementary school was the environment I knew, I contacted LBUSD and told them about SNAP. Once they were on board, I worked with the Best Buddies program to spread the word out to schools and parents.
The schools are so overwhelmed right now and class sizes have gone up along with the teacher caseloads. They love the idea of the programs, but it’s the workload involved that scares them. However, my vision is to help the teachers and facilitate the programs in the classroom and not make it a big ordeal like field trips and parties. It is a very simple philosophy. One-on-one during lunch period, playing games, making crafts, listening to music, etc. Simple.
We need volunteers that want to do projects or help at events, such as the silent auctions, security, selling tickets, helping the bands get on and off the stage. I love volunteers. I welcome anyone who wants to come and help.
What top advice would you give a mom who just found out they have a child with special needs ?
I think accepting help would be the first bit of advice. Also, to educate yourself on what the child’s rights are as far as getting them services and early intervention. Get in touch with their local Harbor Regional Centers as soon as possible to get their child evaluated. A lot of people want to get the tests done and the paperwork started for the necessary services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and respite care starting from birth to three years old.
Lastly, maintain a positive attitude by speaking to other moms who can share with you their ideas and journeys or reading other people’s blogs or starting your own. There are a lot of great books out there. I read a book called Babies with Down Syndrome. It goes through the type of medical issues they may have, what to look for, what to monitor, doctors, physicians and centers you can go to for help.
What do you say to your older daughter or family members on how to handle other people’s perception of Alyssa?
I talk to Kendall a lot about other people’s perspections of Alyssa, because she has only seen the positive reactions. I tell her that some people might be afraid of Down Syndrome, because they really don’t understand it. Other people may act in a mean way towards Alyssa and that is when she will need to protect her in some ways. I also tell her that she may need to educate her friends and tell them that Alyssa has Down Syndrome, which means she is just like them except that she may look and talk different, but inside she is the same.
I have friends of mine with typical children who have told me they’re really happy that their child gets to grow up with Alyssa, because they won’t grow up being afraid or have that negative attitude when they see someone that may be different than themselves.
I think now it is better than when we were growing up, but I think in the special needs community there are still some fears or prejudices that people have. They don’t see with education, people with special needs can become so much more than what they have been labeled with. With Down Syndrome, just like Autism, the spectrum range is so huge. I have friends with children that have Down Syndrome who are not verbal and I also have others with children who are reading and writing and functioning just like a typical child.
One thing about Alyssa. She doesn’t have a problem having Down Syndrome, but a lot of other people have a problem. Alyssa has no issues with who she is. She is a very happy, confident and out going girl who is friendly to everyone.
When was Alyssa diagnosed with Leukemia?
When she was 18 months old. People with Down Syndrome have a higher probability of being diagnosed with Leukemia. Fortunately now with all the funding for research, people who have been diagnosed with Leukemia can live a lot longer. One of the doctors told me that when people were first treated with chemotherapy, they were afraid to try it with people who have Down Syndrome because they already had low immunity to begin with. They thought treating them with chemotherapy would kill them, because it is so hard on the body and it basically just wipes out any immunity that you have. Interestingly with the type of Leukemia Alyssia had, which is called AML, people with Down Syndrome do better during treatment, not necessarily with the outcome of survival, but during treatment they don’t’ have as many side effects. So when Alyssa was treated, she did lose her hair, but she was not nauseous, she had a good appetite and she was not physically wiped out. She was up at 6:30 in the morning until 6:30 at night with no nap. At that time, she was not interested in TV in the hospital. So it was 12 hours of providing continuous entertainment for her. She had a lot of energy.
Alyssa lived in Millers Children Hospital in Long Beach, CA for 6 months when she was treated for Leukemia and she had a great time there. She was surrounded by nurses, doctors, therapists and staff who were so positive and loving towards her. They were all phenomenal. Currently, Alyssa is in remission.
What is your biggest challenge as a mom of a child with special needs?
Time management is hard to balance with my older daughter’s activities which are swim team, dance and homework and the daily routine of preparing meals and the activities with Alyssa throughout the day and evening.
Another big challenge for me is keeping myself organized and not overbooking. I tend to take on too much. I do PTA for my older daughter’s school. Once a month I go to Miller Children’s Hospital to meet with a social worker for a foundation called, Parents Against Cancer where we meet with newly diagnosed families and talk to them about the experiences, because when your child is newly diagnosed your world as a parent changes in an instant. You are forced to make medical decisions and change your home life. A lot of times, a parent will come and live at the hospital with their child and if there is a second parent, that parent will need to run the household on their own.
So how has your perception on life changed because of Alyssa?
Huge. I think probably the biggest change for me was to not be so hard on myself as far as setting goals, achieving everything and trying to being the best at it all. I was so overwhelmed and lived in a state of hyperactivity by being constantly on the go. I have learned so much more from Alyssa than she could ever learn from me.
I have learned to be much more patient, kind, forgiving, honest, strong, sympathetic, apathetic, loving, affectionate and she has also given me the determination and confidence to start my foundation. She has opened my eyes to a new world and to see life from a different perspective. I am able to be more accepting of other people and see where they are coming from. I listen more and don’t judge people. I am so very lucky to have her and if I had a magic wand I wouldn’t use it because I wouldn’t want to change anything about her!
Talking with friends and family helps alot. I pray. I accept help. I try and find the little things in life that help me be more organized. I eat healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle by going to the gym, walking to the park with Alyssa and getting a good night sleep. I have to have my sleep! I mostly like to read about health or education and to find the best ways my children can learn.
One of the most important things you can have to maintain your life is your faith, whatever that may be. Having faith in a higher power, something that is bigger than you that has good energy or vibrations can help tremendously.
When I went through my journey with Alyssa, I really felt that God gave her as a gift to me because he saw me heading in a path that was a little more egocentric and I was missing out on things that counted more.
As a mom of 4 beautiful children, Danielle Augustin has tackled a variety of challenges head on with her strong faith and determination to turn obstacles into something positive in her life. From living a difficult childhood that sunk her into depression, to discovering that one of her children has special needs, to battling cancer and traveling thousands of miles to adopt her daughter, Danielle shares her journey through it all and how each event led her to a blessed and magical life today.
Share a little bit about your life growing up.
I was born to an amazing mother who had a rough marriage. My father was an alcoholic and basically left us when I was around 3 years old, which was the same year my mom was diagnosed with terminal Lymphoma Cancer. She was given 6 months to live, but she really defied the odds and lived well beyond that.
When I was 7 years old, she married my stepfather who is my dad still today. My mom survived until I was 15 years old, but no one really knew that she was sick. She had so much energy. She was my softball coach showing us how to slide and run the bases. She coached hundreds of kids for 10 years and had one of the most profound impact on them. They still talk about that today.
She just had this amazing, positive light in her life and had so much peace. And I think that’s where I get a lot of that from her. She was basically dying most of her adult life, but you’d never know it.
While my mom was living such a vivacious life throughout her illness, I struggled watching her because she would go in and out of remission. She would be this bundle of energy and then went in and out of remission three times. Even when she lost her hair, she would still be at the softball field or at a slumber party and she would rip her wig off and run around. The kids just loved it! She had the best sense of humor and that’s where I think I get my sense of humor. However, at that time, I was 13 years old and I felt humiliated seeing my mom running around with her bald head in public. At that point, it wasn’t funny to me. Now, it’s hysterical to me and I love that she did that.
When my mom passed away, I really fell into a deep depression for about a year. I went from playing sports like softball, soccer, cheerleading and being on the honor roll to basically just giving up. I stopped playing sports, my grades flipped and I started to hang around kids I shouldn’t have been hanging around with. I dropped out of school and I ran away from home.
After a year, I was finally able to pull myself out. I definitely had those moments where I was at my wits end because things were incredibly crazy for me. So, I decided that I needed to get away. I was living in San Diego, CA at the time and ran away to Orange County, CA to my grandma and told her that I needed help. I wanted to get back in school and live a good life. I wanted to make my mother proud. So, within a week, I enrolled back in high school and I resumed that positive life that I was living. I started getting good grades, ran track, played softball again and made the varsity squad for cheerleading. Although that was a bizarre time in my life, the things I saw and experienced as a teenager was what formed the empathy for me to do what I do today. I now represent boys and girls just like that as an attorney.
What was your journey that led you to become an attorney for kids?
In college, I met my husband when I was 19 and then was married 2 years later. I continued my education at California State University Fullerton and was 7 months pregnant with my first daughter at my graduation. Then I enrolled in law school (Western State University College of Law) when my daughter was 18 months.
One of my last assignments as a District Attorney was the domestic violence deputy. Coming from a father who had perpetrated domestic violence on my mom, I’d seen that as a child and just to come full circle and be the domestic violence deputy at Central Court was pretty amazing.
My son was born during my 2nd year of law school. Then I had my 3rd child, my son, while I was involved in the D.A.’s office. At that point, I really wanted to spend more time with the kids since I had been working full time. So, I switched over to a job sharing position and worked part time.
During this time, we were noticing some socialization issues with my 2nd son when he was in kindergarten. We were meeting with his teachers and day care providers. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome. This is what opened my eyes to Special Education Law, which is what I currently practice. I had never been exposed to that at all and it was a shock to me. I really didn’t know how to handle that. When they gave us the diagnosis, I was devastated. There were a lot of tears not knowing what to do and just worried about his future. But we really got deeply involved in his therapy and dedicated ourselves to him living a healthy and happy life with friends and success in school.
After a year of crying, thinking “why me” and feeling helpless, I began to pray with grateful tears and felt so blessed to have him as my son. He has taught me so much about faith and love, which made me a better mom. All these trials that we went through brought us closer as a family.
This is what really motivated me to open my law office. Based on that experience, I wanted to dedicate my business side of my life and beyond to practice Special Education Law. So, in Spring of 2003, I opened my law office out of my home. I had a computer, a phone and an idea. But before I left the D.A.’s office, I had been assigned with my job share partner the Truancy Deputy to prosecute parents and kids who weren’t going to school and that’s what really opened my eyes to Education Law.
I spent nearly 2 years of my career in the D.A.’s office implementing a truancy project and that’s how I met a lot of administrators for the school district and special education administrators. I was exposed to children who weren’t going to school and who had disabilities. I realized there was another side to why some kids weren’t going to school.
I designed my own website, put it up, got a phone number and just started making connections from scratch. I started getting clients and donating my time in pro bono cases just to give me experience.
Now, my firm has 4 other attorneys and a full legal staff in Anaheim Hills, CA that represent children and families with special needs and kids that are involved in school matters and juvenile court.
In the midst of all that , you discovered you were diagnosed with cancer. How did you find out?
In the Summer of 2006, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. We caught it early enough to where I just had to have surgery. I did not have to go through chemotherapy or radiation. And I’ve been cancer free since the surgery. It was scary on so many levels, because I had seen my mother struggle with cancer. Then when I got that news that I had cancer, it was incredibly emotional. Going to the oncologist office was so surreal. I could not believe that it was happening to me. Fortunately since the surgery, I’ve been cancer free and the doctors believe I will remain cancer free. Although having cancer was devasting, going through my recovery was the catalyst to adopting my daughter, Gracie.”
What inspired you to adopt your daughter and how did you adopt from Ethiopia?
I always have a lot of energy and I’m usually on my feet on the go. As I sat in bed for weeks recovering, I had my laptop and I just felt a calling. Prior to cancer, we discussed possibly having another child and now I couldn’t because of the surgery. We always talked about adopting. I started researching and calling a lot of adoption agencies and I was basically rejected from every one of them because I had cancer. It was an absolute deal breaker if you had any kind of illness like cancer within a 5 year period of time or at all for some agencies.
Finally, I found an adoption agency based in Oregon called, All God’s Children International. They just requested a letter from my doctor stating that my prognosis was good. So we started the long process with them and wanted to adopt a child from Ethiopia. My husband and I knew what was going on in that country in terms of the poverty and diseases and we felt called to go over there.
In May 2007, we received a phone call that they had identified a “referral”. Originally, we had thought that we would adopt someone a little older, but I was told she was born on August 2nd. Well, that date is my mother’s birthday. When we heard that, the chills that my daughter and I felt were unbelievable. We couldn’t believe it. She sent pictures within 5 minutes and we knew she was our little girl.
In July 2007, we traveled to Ethiopia for 3 to 4 days and she’s been with us ever since. She is an unbelievable light.
Gracie is now 7 years old and in first grade. If you meet Gracie, there’s something very magical about her. Everybody that meets her says that when she walks into a room, it just lights up. She has this amazing personality that’s bigger than life. She greets everybody by name. When people meet her, they just fall in love with her. She’s had such an impact on our family, friends and our entire community.
What would you tell a mom who feels a calling to add to her family by adoption?
Especially if you are a couple, make sure that you both are feeling that. It’s a really big decision to make. I think really the decision is if you adopt domestically or outside of the United States and to do a thorough research. There are a lot of agencies to look into and call. I contacted multiple agencies and I really got a feel of whom I was comfortable with. You’ll want to work with someone who has done this before, who is well respected and works efficiently. You can research a lot through the internet, but be sure to pick up the phone and call them, ask them questions and you can tell pretty quickly if they’re going to be a good fit for you.
There are groups that provide adoption assistance and support for those seeking to adopt and post adoption. There are so many services out there that offer help to get you through the process and even after it’s done. There are so many ways to adopt. I think after some prayer, open communication and researching, it will come to the point where you’ll feel what’s right for you and your family.
What do you do to stay balanced?
Even though I work hard as a mom and a business woman, I also play hard. My family and I enjoy life and take time to travel together. We may drive down to San Diego for the day and go out to lunch.
I also find it important to have good friends in your life that love you and support you. Take time to be with friends. Take a group of 3-4 women friends, go out and have lunch and laugh, go to a movie and eat popcorn.
Also, finding balance for me is with my husband. We’re really conscious about taking time for each other and having a date night at least once a month, if not more. We go to the gym or have a quick lunch. We find that time.
In addition, finding balance is that spiritual side. I do have a very deep faith in God. And I’m constantly working on personal development. I’m always reading and listening to audios or videos and going to seminars on character. I really believe that if we live a life of character and pursue the dreams that are personal to us, we are going to be better moms, business women and in life. That’s really how I find balance.
All your experiences and insight has led you to become a speaker who inspires women. What is your main message to your audience when you speak?
My message now is that you can overcome obstacles in your life and live a magical life. I could have given up many times, but I chose not to and chose to overcome and rise above it. You can take those obstacles to climb higher to where you’re supposed to be and turn it into something positive to find your destiny and live magically.
The following is a story of a mom who after having tried to become pregnant for several years found her family welcoming twin boys into the world this past October. She is well accomplished in her career and was returning back to work after her 12 weeks of maternity leave. She wanted to capture her feelings that she could later share with the twins in the following journal entry. This is a true sentiment of the wealth of a mother’s love and maintaining her wellness in the process.
This is not to say there weren’t trying moments, exhaustion, breastfeeding struggles and tears, but she knew when to access support. This mom joined two twin support groups and a local parent group that provided meals for the first two weeks of the babies’ lives. Local families generously donated clothes and baby items…to the point that they did not need to buy any clothes. She was able to access the grandparents, friends, and family to help in the beginning weeks and plan for future visits as well. Her wealth in support, strong partnership with her partner Theresa, and ability to ask for support when she needed it are a testament, which leads to this beautiful journal entry as she prepares to go back to work.
I’m desperate to capture this time—to commit to memory my first months of mothering, your first months of life. I take dozens of photos, videos to remember. But how do I capture this— the softness of your tiny hairs against my cheek, the sounds of your sleepy sighs, the way you gently lean into my kisses upon your forehead. How will I remember the feel of your cheeks on my lips, the weight of your body on my chest, heart to heart? I want to pause this moment and revisit it a hundred times. My heart is opening so wide—an ocean of love overtaking me. And I know there are thousands of moments like these to come. But I don’t want to forget your little squeaks and grunts, your crinkled nose, the first time you smiled at me. I want to stop time, have your little fingers remain wrapped around my pinky, your soft breath on my neck. This is the most beauty I’ve known. I’ve never been in love like this. I’ve never felt this full, this present.
I feared parenthood would close me in, stifle life. I could not have been more wrong. This is the most expansive thing I’ve ever done, the most wide open path, the greatest journey. I feel more love, more meaning, more possibility, excitement, hope, anticipation. In just two short months I have felt more, grown more, and loved more. I feel blessed, chosen, lucky, and grateful. I feel something sacred and magical. I am in awe of you both. I want to commit it to memory—the feel of your skin, the soft hairs on your back, your breath. I want to remember me and your mom sitting side by side in the love seat in the nursery, each of us holding one of you, giving you your last bottles of the night, tired but adoring. Together in the late night moment, loving you both, loving each other, pointing out to each other the tiny details of your faces, your movements, your sounds- discovering you together. It’s like falling in love again for the first time, with you and with each other. My life just got so much bigger—the love is overflowing, washing over me. And we are just at the beginning of this journey. There are so many moments to come, so many details to try and capture. I know I will fail to remember the way I want—I know it will slip by- through my fingers like sand. But I can only hope to remember the awe, the wonder, the sweetness of this time, and to be open to embrace all that is to come. To stop and breathe in the feelings and say thank you for this life—these blessings, these magical moments.
Everyone’s journey through the many Transitions in Motherhood is so personal and individual. We thank this mom for sharing the wealth of her love and her ability to access the support she needed to lead to such a beautiful love letter. No one should feel alone in their parenting journey. If you are looking to connect with support, you can find it on our website at TransitionsInMotherhood.com.