“I invited my mom. I hope that is OK.”
This was the text I received from M.o.C.h.A. five just a few minutes before we were scheduled to meet for our session.
When I started this passion project of mine I considered asking the M.o.C.h.A.s to bring someone that they loved with them to these visits. A friend. A family member. A spouse. I decided against it because I know from experience that some things are so much easier to admit, discuss, and accept when you are sitting with someone in private that truly can empathize. Everybody has a different path to being BRAVE and let me tell you this momma was willing to be completely vulnerable in an attempt to help others and that my friends is true BRAVERY.
With that being said, this story is hard.
So as you read or listen I ask you to show grace to this momma and know that there are many, many like her that are still working their way to BRAVE.
M.o.C.h.A. five’s first relationship was verbally and physically abusive. There is no way to sugarcoat that. She survived that relationship and shortly after met the man who would become the father of her little girl. Her first baby.
When M.o.C.h.A. five’s little girl was six months old a family member used the word “autism” for the first time. M.o.C.h.A. five was furious. She could not imagine why her family member would say such a thing about her daughter. She was offended and said, “Don’t speak that over her.”
For every truth that was becoming harder to ignore M.o.C.h.A. five had an answer. Her little girl wasn’t talking so it must be the pacifier. Her little girl would howl, scream, cry and panic when M.o.C.h.A. five tried to put blue jeans on her, but she was a baby and probably just fussy. M.o.C.h.A. five was busy trying to complete her medical support certificate so that she could find a stable job to support her baby so she didn’t have the energy to deal with these tantrums. “I mean surely she will grow out of that,” she thought. Her little baby girl also had big time sleep issues and never developed a normal sleep schedule like other babies. She also would not fall asleep unless she was allowed to incessantly rub someone’s earlobe. It was the only way.
The other truth that was quickly becoming hard to ignore was that M.o.C.h.A. five now found herself in abusive relationship number two. She remained in this relationship for four years.
As the conversation got deep quick I noticed this wash over M.o.C.h.A. five’s face. It was that wash of guilt, shame, embarrassment, unworthiness. I know that look. I have seen it many times on all kinds of women and for all different reasons and even in my own mirror.
At this point, I asked M.o.C.h.A. five if she wanted to stop the conversation. I told her that we did not have to continue and that if she wanted I could put away my laptop and we could just be friends without hanging her dirty laundry for the world to see. She said no. She was there to help others and she was there to share because she had been blessed by the other M.o.C.h.A.s and wanted to return the favor.
How could I argue with that? So I kept typing so fearful of where this story would lead.
M.o.C.h.A. five survived abusive relationship number two and relationship number three followed shortly after. He was different than the others. M.o.C.h.A. five’s little girl fell in love with her new daddy fast. He was a disciplinarian and she craved his love, attention, and approval.
So imagine you are five. You have seen and heard your own father verbally and physically abuse your mom for years and now lo and behold swoops in your savior. Your knight in shining armor that doesn’t hit your mommy and doesn’t make her cry. Your new daddy that promises you what you have been desiring all of your little short life, a wedding. Oh he promised her a big fancy wedding where her mommy would be the queen in her big, beautiful white dress and YES even she would get her own little white dress to look just like her mommy on that special day and be a pretty princess just like in the movies.
Around this time M.o.C.h.A. five decided to put her daughter in little league T-ball and that is when she started to become perplexed at her daughter’s odd behavior. She described a scene to me where her daughter was sitting in the dugout but seemed distant and stared at everyone like she was watching a television screen. It was as if the world was happening without her and she was just a passive observer.
Meanwhile, back home as this little girl waited for all her daddy’s promises to come true, alcoholism was ravaging her home. Alcohol consumed her new cherished daddy and she was left scared and heartbroken. The domestic violence started again, for the third time in M.o.C.h.A. five’s life and for the second time in her daughter’s life.
But he wanted help. He needed help. He checked himself into a rehabilitation program and again promised his little girl the world when he was all better. She prayed for her daddy every single night. As expected, they were all hopeful.
Unfortunately, this new daddy came out of rehab worse. Angry. Bitter. Raging. The domestic violence continued and he was mean. Just so mean.
At this point in the conversation I had to step outside my comfort zone. Well, actually I had to leap outside my comfort zone and ask M.o.C.h.A. five if her little girl had ever been abused. I knew that if that were true I would not feel comfortable sharing this story. M.o.C.h.A. five assured me that the violence was always directed at her and not to her now three children. HOWEVER, the trauma of hearing and seeing it all was so real and the damage had been done.
M.o.C.h.A. five, now single and determined to change the narrative of her life, moved to the Rio Grande Valley to be near her family, specifically her mom. Now entering first grade, M.o.C.h.A. five decided to enroll her daughter in a small faith-based charter school.
It didn’t take long for the ever-dreaded “daily notes” to begin coming home. M.o.C.h.A. five was horrified as she read reports of her daughter talking so much and so loud to the point of distracting an entire class. Reports of her crawling under tables. Reports of her becoming a habitual liar and compulsive thief like the time she stole something from a backpack and then told everyone it was a gift.
M.o.C.h.A. five was livid.
She screamed and yelled and spanked and grounded and did all the things that she could think of to make her daughter feel the consequences of her “bad” behavior. When that didn’t work M.o.C.h.A. five truly believed that is was the trauma and heartbreak of her past relationships that had taken a toll on this little girl, which is why she was acting out.
The pediatrician referred her to a pediatric neurologist to see if an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis was appropriate. The pediatric neurologist diagnosed ADHD and recommended that stimulant medications be initiated immediately.
The problem was that M.o.C.h.A. five had already started feeling uncomfortable with sharing too much with her daughter’s school because they seemed to really discourage testing her daughter for ADHD or any other label that would require accommodations. Her daughter’s school did not have a standing “special education program” and M.o.C.h.A. five feared that if the school knew about her diagnosis and medications they would ask her to leave. So she did not share the diagnosis with the school and did not agree to medications.
The daily notes continued.
With every single “clothespin drop” from green to yellow to red on the color chart and whatever other ridiculous “behavior chart” or behavior tracking method was used, this little girl started to fall into a deep depression.
During the second grade school year, M.o.C.h.A. five was called in for a parent-teacher conference. The teacher showed M.o.C.h.A. five a picture that her daughter had drawn in class. It was a picture of a bunny with a knife that was killing another bunny and red was obviously the dominant color on the page.
M.o.C.h.A. five was stunned. Embarrassed. Confused. When she got home she sat her daughter down and asked her to explain herself.
M.o.C.h.A. five’s daughter said this to her mommy that evening:
“I am always causing problems.”
“I don’t know how to stop being myself.”
“I don’t know how to stop being bad.”
“I don’t want to live anymore. I want to die.”
Oh my friends, I can’t even deal with this. My stomach started to churn and even though I had never met this little girl and didn’t even know what she looked like, my heart jumped out of me for her in that moment. The words “second grade” kept playing on repeat in my head. What was I thinking about in second grade? Surely, not suicide.
We sat quietly for a few seconds and I decided to give M.o.C.h.A. five an emotional break so I turned and directed myself to her mother for a while.
Her mother told me that right after this incident they took this little girl to a psychologist who she sees weekly till this day. M.o.C.h.A. five’s mother said that her granddaughter has a team of psychologists that focus on managing her anger and improving her socialization skills. She said that these psychology visits helped tremendously at first but only temporarily. She was diagnosed with executive function disorder (EFD) and began weekly sessions with an occupational therapist as well. EFD is a little more all encompassing than ADHD. Both ADHD and EFD make it really hard to complete tasks and stay organized but EFD includes LACK OF: self-awareness, self-restraint, non-verbal working memory which helps you hold things in your mind to guide your behavior, verbal working memory which is retaining internal dialogue, regulation of emotion, self-motivation, and planning and problem-solving skills.
By third grade M.o.C.h.A. five knew she had to give in to the one thing she had been dreading, medications. She went back to the pediatric neurologist and her daughter was prescribed two different medications for ADHD.
The result was a third grade zombie.
She was constantly in a daze, lost, groggy and stubborn. With a switch to evening dosing of the medications some of those side effects subsided.
M.o.C.h.A five kept the medications a secret and did not share this addition with the school. Her daughter continued to struggle. She was only able to process conversation in the most literal terms which caused many misunderstandings and problems. For example, if a classmate was joking with her as they were playing at recess and said, “Oh my God you are so dumb” she would run and weep in a corner devastated and humiliated and would feel overwhelmingly outcast. She was extremely territorial, jealous, and dramatic. You can imagine this made making and keeping friends and maintaining a positive relationship with her siblings almost impossible without constant conflict and tension. Her social cues were just so skewed so her stories of “what happened” were always drastically different than her friends’ versions. M.o.C.h.A. five persuaded her daughter to join volleyball and basketball but the social anxiety this little girl harbored was too severe.
Around this time is when her little girl started losing interest in God, faith, or church. Her grandma told me that for years they prayed for God to help her in school and they prayed for the daddies to stop being mean and they prayed for so many things that didn’t come true. So now when her grandma or mom says, “Let’s pray about it” this little girl will say, “Why? He doesn’t listen to me anyway.”
Now in the fourth grade everything began to escalate with constant outbursts, cursing, spitting, foaming at the mouth with rage, destroying property and the hate talk started. “I hate you. I hate everyone” type of talk.
M.o.C.h.A. five said that throughout this year, after all of the documentation and observation, the psychologist group diagnosed her little girl with autism.
Diagnosed at age ten.
M.o.C.h.A. five told me she was embarrassed and ashamed that she had ignored or missed it all these years but everything WAS in fact pointing and screaming to autism. In fact, after reading my book M.o.C.h.A. five truly believes that her daughter may have the same unique subset of autism that my Isla has. It is called pathological demand avoidance (PDA) and many times gets misdiagnosed as oppositional defiance disorder (ODD). PDA however is directly related to autism whereas ODD can affect children without autism.
For every oddity she had attributed it to something else, specifically the trauma and psychological damage done by the men that had come and gone in her short life. She realized that the diagnosis changed so many things for them as a family. It explained why her “typical” parenting and discipline attempts fell flat so often.
The psychologists also believe that the behaviors are escalating due to hormonal changes as puberty is just around the corner. M.o.C.h.A. five said the psychology group was hopeful for her daughter and is starting a weekly group for kids just like her to work on social skills together.
I asked M.o.C.h.A. five what her daughter was like at home, “When she comes home every day and you ask her about her day, what is her response?”
M.o.C.h.A. five looked over at her mom then back at me and said, “She gives me one word answers. We don’t talk very much. It has been that way since the beginning.”
I was flabbergasted. That is quite a word to use, I know but it’s the only word I can think of.
This little girl has one safe haven. One retreat. One place with one person that truly accepts her with no judgment or expectation. In the arms of her grandmother.
M.o.C.h.A. five said that because she is a single mom and works late and is trying to advance her career for her children she is not around much. Her mom does all the pick-ups, all the doctor and therapy and counseling visits. Then on the weekend M.o.C.h.A. five is so exhausted all she has time for is to clean the house because her daughter cannot tolerate mess or clutter. So Saturdays consist of M.o.C.h.A. five cleaning the house as quickly as she can while her daughter sits on the sofa covering her ears and moaning until the mess is put away.
I selfishly wanted this to stop. I didn’t want to hear anymore. My heart was breaking. I was angry. I was sad. I wanted to shut my laptop and say, “Thanks for sharing!” and walk out. But I couldn’t. This woman was making herself 100% vulnerable and pouring her heart out to me and was willing to do that for you too all in the name of helping herself and her daughter and others.
The mood was so somber and both women looked defeated. I had a feeling they came to share but also for help. To get answers.
I decided to change gears and I smiled and said, “What does your daughter want to be when she grows up?” M.o.C.h.A. five’s face changed instantly, she smirked and said, “So far she has told me a police officer, wrestler or a scientist.” I laughed out loud and felt so relieved that not all of the dreams had been crushed for this little girl. She still envisioned a future for herself which was what I needed to hear.
M.o.C.h.A. five then said something that threw the whole session over the edge for me. She said, “My daughter is an incredible learner. She makes all A’s and is an excellent reader. She is also very talented. I mean you should see her artwork. I will send you some. You have to see it for yourself. She also loves to dance and is on the dance team and in art and science club.”
People, I literally slammed my laptop shut. I put it completely away and in five seconds under my breath I asked God to use the next words that came out of my mouth for only good.
Feeling that the session was going to be over soon, M.o.C.h.A. five’s mom said quickly, “I am really worried about my daughter because she has never bonded with her daughter. How do I help her?”
Now I know for those that follow me you may be tired of me making distinctions of nice and kind. But this was the perfect example. The nice thing to do here would have been to hug them, tell them I was so sorry they were struggling, tell them I will pray for them, encourage them to never give up and walk away.
But I already told you how I feel about being nice. So instead I was kind.
*Use this reference for the conversation below with each letter indicating who is speaking.* L – Lisa M- M.o.C.h.A. Five G – Grandma
L- THIS ALL STOPS NOW! Stop it. Right now. Girlfriend you need to stop hating yourself and forgive yourself RIGHT NOW! Your daughter is in CRISIS and you are so ashamed and feel so guilty about your past and so broken by men you can’t even bring yourself to realize that you are the ONLY thing your daughter needs right now. FORGET THE MEN. FORGET THE PAST. FORGET IT. It’s over! You made crappy decisions, horrible decisions… so what… we all do. DONE. STOP IT.
(Right here, right now was the first time M.o.C.h.A. five broke down. Her mom got up to get some Starbucks napkins for them both. I did not hold back.)
L- It’s NEVER too late to change your life. NEVER. It starts today, right now. You have been so resentful and bitter towards your little girl for years because you are doing so much for her behind the scenes that she doesn’t see or appreciate and she continues to misbehave. Now all of your resentment and bitterness has reared their ugly heads and looked right back at your face and have made you feel so freaking guilty because you missed that autism was the problem all along. Guess what? Too bad. So what? Now you know the truth and now you move forward in truth. Your little girl needs you. MORE THAN SHE NEEDS YOUR MOM. SHE NEEDS YOU. Your love, your attention, your APPROVAL, your warmth and caring and nurturing. Oh my God my friend I am scared to ask you but we are all being brave here so tell me, when was the last time you told your daughter you loved her?
M – I can’t remember.
(The tears were really flowing all around by this point.)
L – Fine. Just fine. When was the last time you told your daughter you were proud of her?
M- Probably never.
L – It is absolutely not enough, NOT ENOUGH to think these things in your head. No one can read your mind or my mind or anyone’s mind. There is power in the spoken word. There is power and healing when we hear truth from those we love and trust the most. You are going to start today. TODAY. EVERY SINGLE FREAKING DAY for the rest of your life I want you to hug your baby girl. Not a wimpy side hug. A huge big BEAR HUG. You are going to tell her you love her and that you are sorry for being distant and that she makes you so damn proud. No. You know what? You are going to tell her YOU LOVE HER NO MATTER WHAT! NO MATTER WHAT! You are going to tell her why. I love you because you are part of me. I love you because you are you. I am proud of you. I am proud that you are so talented and make straight A’s and work hard at school and I am so proud that you have survived all these years without someone really understanding you. Oh my Lord, wait. Have you talked to her about the autism diagnosis yet?
M – YES! I saw the video you posted on Facebook that is used to educate children her age about autism. We both thought it was so helpful but it is really her brother and sister that don’t understand and it’s so hard to explain to them how their sister can be “mean” but still love them so much. They are too little to understand the video.
L – Holy moly. I totally know how that feels. Yes, OK listen. There is a book that is great for your little ones to start the conversation titled, “All My Stripes”. Autism is a very difficult thing to explain to many kids especially when they are young but you can start by setting the example for them of how to be patient and kind to your daughter. Also, continue to use online resources to your advantage. There are HUNDREDS of YouTube channels and videos run by KIDS that have AUTISM! They talk about their challenges and what makes them unique and YOUR DAUGHTER NEEDS THIS DESPERATELY. She needs to feel like she belongs and that she is not alone and MOST IMPORTANTLY… that she is not bad. Who she is is not wrong. She is good and created with so much love. Oh my God so much love. Speaking of GOD. My friend you need to teach your little girl to pray differently so that she is not convinced that God is just another person who will let her down in her life. I learned a long time ago that teaching kids to pray is tricky. The best example I can think of is my little June Bug. When we first started doing bedtime prayers together she would always ask me to pray that she wouldn’t have bad dreams. So the first night that she DID have a bad dream she was mad and sad. “Why didn’t God listen to me?” she asked. “Why did He give me a bad dream when we prayed just like we were supposed to?” I told her this, “Hey June, remember in school that you learned about your brain? Well, your brain is sooo cool and God made it so that it learns and sees and hears and remembers things that you see and feel and taste and hear all day long. So sometimes our brain remembers some things that are a little scary while we sleep and that is OK because that happens to everyone. So tonight let’s pray for God to help our brain rest and think MORE about ice cream and play dates.” June would giggle and it was over. Done. I didn’t lie to her. I didn’t shatter her faith. I didn’t tell her to pray harder. I didn’t make God the bad guy. So teach your daughter to pray for God to help her use the tools she has been given to have better days, instead of praying for God to make her behave or make her not be “bad”. Teach her to pray for God to help her remember all the tools and tricks she learned during her psychology visits to control her anger and be kind to others. “God help me remember and use my tools for self-control.” -NOT- “God help me not be bad.” Do you see the difference?
M – Yes. It’s awesome. Yes.
G – I think you are an angel.
L – Oh no please take that back. (I laughed out loud and quickly realized I was almost shouting and practically giving everyone at Starbucks a sermon whether they wanted it or not. ) I am far, so very far from an angel. I have just learned these lessons before you. I have a different story but such a similar one. I have gone through all the nasty phases of resenting a child that is so innocent then living with the guilt of feeling resentful. I have gone through the brutal phase of bitterness and feeling sorry for myself and then living with shame in my selfishness. I have prayed the wrong way and tested God and I have prayed the right way and trusted God. I have been stern and strict and loving and kind. I just know what works because like you I have felt it all. The only difference between me and you is that I troubleshooted a little more.
M – OK so I can do that. I can tell her I love her and that I am proud of her but she probably won’t care. She will go to her room and not talk to me. We have never had a strong relationship so how can I just expect her to open up now?
L- You can’t. Just like all of this damage happened over time, so will the healing. So will the relationship building. You mentioned that she loves art and is talented. Does she have an area at home where she can create?
M – She has a small art box.
L – Get that girl an easel. Paints. Colors. Ask for her input. Ask her for a list of things you can get for her to create her own art corner. Tell her to make a video on her iPad of her drawing or painting something and then you can watch it together. It will start slow. Maybe she won’t want to watch it with you at first which is fine. You will still watch it alone and tell her how awesome she is and how proud she makes you. You will stand outside her closed bedroom door and profess your love to her every night like a brokenhearted teenager that has been dumped. Tell her she can keep a video diary for you and talk into her phone or the phone camera and talk about her day and what happened and about her friends and times when she felt she was “bad” or “good”. So if she still doesn’t want to talk to you, you will have the video to listen or watch. You need to start getting creative my friend. Get creative and no idea is a dumb idea. You need to win your daughter back…NOW.
G – Oh my God thank you so much. We needed this so much and I am so glad I came and I just … Oh my God so can we do this weekly?
L- Giiirrrllll….I wish. Unfortunately God has not opened that door yet to making this a full-time job that pays.
WE ALL LAUGHED!
L – OK so time for ACTION. Words are nice but action is kind. Get out something to write with. There are three things you are going to do. Tell me the first one.
M – Tell my daughter I love her every day.
L – YES! I LOVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT! And I am proud of you. You make me proud. OK what else?
M – Something about YouTube?
L – Yes. Secondly, you need to find a way to make her feel special and uniquebecause of her autism by showing her kids like her. So you search first. Look for YouTube channels or videos with children her age that have autism but present as close as possible to the way she does. This will help her start to feel accepted and like she belongs. Third, use art and technology to build your relationship and encourage communication. Make her an art corner. Give her a place to display her art in your home. Those Saturday’s when your cleaning, art time. She will know those hours are for her to make something beautiful and when you’re done cleaning she will have a clean space to enjoy the finished product.
(I turned to her mom, the grandma and said…)
You ma’am. You are the rock. You are the hero. You are the warrior. Continue being the example for your daughter of true acceptance. Don’t be sad about their broken relationship instead be hopeful and encouraging and help her now be creative in finding ways to bond. Remind her of these three things and don’t let her give up.
(I turned back to M.o.C.h.A. five and said…)
Hey and you… there is nothing wrong with you. You are worthy. Did you hear what I said? YOU ARE WORTHY. You are worthy of forgiveness and compassion and love and happiness. You have worked your ass off for jobs and positions to advance yourself for your children ALONE with three kiddos as a SINGLE MOMMA and that makes you strong not weak. But now you know the balance is delicate. NOTHING is worth losing your children for. NO ONE and NOTHING. You are smart at work. You are creative at work. You find ways to excel at work. All you have to do is transfer that to your home. Be a smart momma. Be a creative momma. Excel at being a momma. You have already proved you are more than capable.
We all hugged. We all cried. We said goodbye.
I drove home with an overwhelming feeling that we all need to learn to extend more grace to each other and more importantly, to ourselves.
Extend grace… especially to yourself.
LET'S JUST BE KIND TO EACH OTHER TODAY