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6527212 July 06, 2009

Final Thoughts on Teens

It's seventeen days later, and we're all grown up.

Thanks for visiting Aberration Nation during the teen event! I'd also like to send out a special THANK YOU to all the brave folks who participated, including Melissa Walker, Lisa Morguess, the four teens who shared their writing with us, and Josh, who opened up about losing his leg.

I hope all who visited not only enjoyed reading the content, but also found it thought provoking and helpful. I was hesitant to share the thoughts I had and poetry I wrote as a young person, but doing so has been a positive experience for me. Like my friend Lisa, I don't want to loose sight of all the things that happened in my life. Good or bad, they molded me into who I am ... and continue to do so. I'm still evolving. If my life had ended on that dark, hopeless Louisiana night in 1985, I would never have experienced (to name a few):

- telling my Dad how much I love him
- giving life to two beautiful daughters
- knowing the kind of love that heals wounds--the gift my husband gives me every day
- eating a bagel or drinking a martini
- seeing and playing in deep snow
- visiting Europe, Utah, Southern California, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Singapore to name a few
- camping in a trailer
- lying on the hood of a speed boat, racing through Lake George in New York, the wind in my hair
- winning a 5K run
- painting a mural on a Philadelphia building
- writing four books
- being a Director at one of the largest and most respected companies in the world, Johnson & Johnson
- being boss to many people, and having the opportunity to help them not only develop their careers but also simply enjoy coming to work
- promoting someone deserving to Associate Director and seeing her face light up
- seeing a Kansas sunset
- seeing Wicked and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway
- reading the millions of books I've found since then
- knowing my wonderful in-laws, who have touched my life
- being an Aunt to seven awesome kids
- reading a history my grandfather wrote about his life
- earning a BS degree, and then an MS degree in my 30s
- watching my daughters learn to walk, ride bikes, run, read, write, etc.
- meeting a million interesting people who have taught me that life is an absolutely beautiful jumbled mess
- learning to love myself

With all that said, here's some advice from Lisa and me (the runaway girls) on how you might possibly help a struggling teen.

With regard to the teen who looks fine and dandy, but is suffering (Penelope):

1) Listen for hints and openings offered to strike up a conversation about what's bothering him or her. (I often hinted to adults but they missed it every time.)

2) Don't assume the kid who appears to be the strongest, brightest, or most cheerful is immune to depression. Remember the signs of depression. Understand that there can be a difference between diagnosed mental illness and depression based on growing up in a depressing environment. I was taught to experience life a particular way; once I understood that I didn't have to look at life through the lens of my teacher, I began to break free of that sad lesson and find my own view.

3) Take the emotional pain a teen expresses seriously. Don't talk down to them, or treat their suffering as if it's trivial. Although they're young, they are complex individuals with deep emotion. (This happened to me numerous times, even with health care professionals.) Don't offer easy fixes to teens as if their pain is a passing phase. This makes them feel even more isolated and strange.

5) When you know a teenager is surrounded by dysfunction, don't assume they're fine just because they're smiling with a sparkle in their eye.

6) Find, create, and/or offer a safe environment where the teen can unload. Even at a young age, years of trying to keep it all together is difficult to break through. If they talk a lot about pain related to their social interactions, ask them about their family. If they smile and say they have a nice family, blah, blah, blah, dig deeper.

I was a tough nut to crack (and still am sometimes), but nobody even really tried ... I eventually had to bust my own nut.

For the obviously stressed teen who is acting out (Lisa):

There were so many obvious, glaring signs that I was troubled, and they were all overlooked. To this day, I find it just really disturbing that nobody reached out to me.

I was clearly withdrawn and depressed by the time I was in high school. My grades started to slip. I often went to school disheveled from abuse I had suffered just that morning at the hands of my mother. I even often got drunk on school grounds at lunch period and then went to classes after wards, and nobody ever picked up on it or called me on it. So, I don't know . . . I guess what I would say to adults is "Don't overlook the obvious!" I mean, it's a fine line, I'm sure. A certain amount of teenage angst and even acting out is to be expected, and I don't think adults should be right in every teenager's face offering/threatening counseling over every little thing, but I do think that adults need to just try really hard to be tuned in, to be able to recognize the difference between normal growing pains and signs of something more serious.

Thanks all!

______________________________________

Up next week on Aberration Nation, On Being Societally Disabled: An Aberration Story. If you think you have challenges, wait until you meet courageous Kev. He lives in a home for the disabled. Look around now and count your blessings. Kev does ...

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6527212 July 03, 2009

Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story (Part 3)


... I understand that it is up to me to make my own happiness in this life.


Welcome back to the ongoing story of Lisa Morguess. Go here for Part 1, and here for Part 2 of Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story.


Of your six children, one has Down syndrome. What was your initial reaction to the diagnosis and how did you initially cope?

Finding out that Finn has Down syndrome was shocking and devastating. He is our sixth child, and after having previously given birth to five healthy, “typical” children, I guess I had developed a sort of arrogance: I just assumed that I would give birth to another healthy, typical baby. Finn was a planned home birth, as was his sister before him, so I had home midwifery care prenatally. Based on that, and my assumption that we didn’t have anything to worry about, I never did any prenatal screenings that would have detected his Down syndrome, despite the fact that I was 40 years old. I have come to develop a lot of strong feelings about prenatal screenings since Finn’s birth, actually, but I only bring it up here to say that we did not know about his Down syndrome until after his birth, whereas some parents know before their baby’s birth.

Finn’s birth in a birth pool in our bedroom was uneventful as far as births go. I think my midwife suspected something as soon as he was born based on her examination of him, but she didn’t say anything right away. I can imagine that for a midwife who has nurtured such a personal relationship with her clients, it would be very difficult to deliver news or suspicions about the baby that might have the power to pull the rug out from under the family.

To me, Finn looked like a “normal” baby, so I didn’t suspect anything. He slept almost constantly from the moment he was born, so for the first several hours, I only saw him asleep. There came a point, however, the afternoon following his birth when he opened his eyes, and suddenly, it dawned on me that he looked like he might have Down syndrome. I still remember very clearly my stomach just turning into a ball of knots at that moment, but I brushed the thought away because it just seemed so improbable . . . that’s the kind of thing that happens to other people, you know? My midwife was actually sitting on the bed with me then, as she had come back for our first postnatal visit. She had gone home and done a lot of research, and now, she sat there examining Finn in great detail - much more thoroughly than I remember her examining Finn’s sister when she was born 21 months earlier. She then gently pointed out a few things--the single line across each of his palms, his crooked pinkie fingers--and said I should ask our pediatrician about them. “Why?” I asked her. “Because sometimes these can indicate certain anomalies in the baby,” she answered. I knew in my heart at that moment that Finn had Down syndrome, although it would be several days before we had a genetic workup done and received confirmation.

Shortly after that exchange with my midwife, Finn began spitting up blood, and my husband and I rushed him to the emergency room. He was diagnosed with a duodenal atresia--or intestinal blockage--which I later learned is fairly common with Down syndrome. He had surgery to correct it at one day old and spent two weeks in the NICU. That was a devastating time for our whole family. We had planned a home birth and had fully expected to be at home bonding with this newest member of our family, and instead he was in the hospital recovering from major abdominal surgery, hooked up to all kinds of tubes and wires and monitors, and I couldn’t even nurse him in the beginning. It was during his stay in the NICU that we learned that he does, indeed, have Down syndrome.

The diagnosis was very difficult to come to terms with. There is a grieving process. All of your dreams and expectations for this new child suddenly must change. There is a lot of unknown, a lot of fear. And unfortunately, a lot of misconceptions based on old ideas and outdated stereotypes.

It’s been a process coming to terms with Finn’s diagnosis. I can’t say that it ever interfered with my ability to bond with him--if anything, I have felt more fiercely protective and in love with him even than I did my other babies--but it’s still been difficult to know that the future I had unconsciously mapped out for him--the dreams I had for him that I didn’t even realize I had-- that all of that was not to be--or at least not to be as I knew and expected it.

Has mothering a child with Down syndrome been different than what you expected?

I remember thinking, when Finn was a tiny newborn in the NICU, and we received the news that he has Down syndrome, “I don’t know how to be a mother to a child with a disability. Some days I barely feel qualified to parent my normal children! How am I supposed to do this?” But I realized that mothering Finn is much the same as mothering any of my other children. His basic needs are the same: food, shelter, clothing, and love, lots of love. There are things that are different in his care than my other children: he’s undergone three surgeries now, whereas none of my other children have had any sort of surgery; he has physical therapy once a week to help him develop his motor skills; he doesn’t meet his milestones on the same time line that the other children did. But for the most part, he’s just a baby, just like they were babies. I feed him. I clean him up. I rock him. I hold him. I sing to him and call him silly little nicknames. I breathe in his sweet baby smell and nibble on his toes. It’s not so different. It’s not scary like I thought it was going to be.

I’m sure that as he gets older and his needs and abilities change, there will be aspects of parenting him that will be different from anything we’ve experienced in parenting the other children. Sometimes I still get scared about the future, about Finn’s future, about our ability to meet all his needs and give him every opportunity he deserves. But for the most part, we just try to appreciate now.

Do your other children understand that your son has special needs? Do they help you and your husband, as needed?

Finn’s older siblings are 12, almost 7, 4 and 2 years old. Kevin, our oldest, obviously has a better understanding of Finn’s Down syndrome than the younger children. Kevin has done his own research and has become an advocate among his peers, refusing to tolerate words like “retard,” and taking it upon himself to educate his friends.

Joey, who is almost 7, has a very basic understanding. He knows that Finn has something called Down syndrome, and we’ve told him that it means that it might take Finn a little longer to learn how to do certain things, but really, I don’t think Finn’s differences at this point are so glaringly obvious to the other kids that they really see him as anything other than their baby brother who is really cute. The twins, age 4, like Joey, know that Finn has Down syndrome, but their grasp of it is pretty nonexistent at this point.

All of the kids are very loving and affectionate with Finn. And at this point, at 11 months old, Finn doesn’t really have “special needs.” He’s healthy (he doesn’t have any major medical issues); he doesn’t require any special equipment or medicine. He’s a baby. The kids love him and play with him like they would any other baby.

When we are teenagers, it seems like time passes so slowly, especially if you're unhappy. Could you have ever imagined having the full and busy life you now have back then? If you'd known what was in store for you, how might it have changed your attitude about life?

I spent the better part of my life in a state of deep unhappiness. When I was younger, I used to fantasize about being happy some day, but it was always with a sense of waiting for happiness to find me. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized that happiness isn’t something that randomly finds anybody--that I had to claim my life and make my own happiness.

Back then, when I was an unhappy teen, no, there was no way for me to imagine that my life would somehow be so profoundly different than it was at that time. How can you imagine something you’ve never seen or experienced? I figured my life would follow a pretty predictable line: I would someday get married, have a couple of kids, have some kind of job, and beyond that, I didn’t know. I was intent on escaping the unhappiness I lived in, and my one big grand attempt at escape - running away from home--really turned out to be trading one kind of unhappiness for another. So even in my adult life, I gradually came to accept that happiness was a myth, that the best I could hope for was to get by.

If I could have foreseen what my life would someday be like--full of life, and love--I’m not sure how it would have changed my outlook about life back then. I suppose I would have lived in a state of biding time. Maybe I would have learned a lot sooner than I did that it was within me all along to make my own happiness.

In the midst of handling your overflowing life, your husband received a cancer diagnosis. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, my husband was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer this past February. It was one of the single most devastating things that I/we have ever been faced with. This is another one of those things that you just don’t expect to happen to you, to your family. And the fact that this type of cancer typically strikes older people, and my husband is only 42, made it all the more shocking. It all seemed--and still seems--so unfair. We’re happy. We have six children who need and adore their father. How can cancer be a part of our life?

Fortunately, his prognosis is good. His doctors have remained very positive and optimistic that Michael will overcome this.

The treatment is a long, tortuous process, however. First, six weeks of simultaneous chemo (delivered through an infusion pump into his arm around the clock) and daily radiation. Followed by more chemo, a different cocktail of poisonous meds. Followed by major abdominal surgery, which at this writing, we are anticipating in about a week. The surgery will require several days of hospitalization, followed by several weeks of recuperation. Subsequent to the surgery, he still has several more months of chemo.

It’s been difficult, to say the least. It is like watching my husband be slowly tortured, and it is torture for me because I am utterly helpless to ease any of this for him. Compound all this with other factors, like the fact that my husband still is the sole provider for our family (how can I go get a job? I’ve been out of the workforce for seven years now, I have six children to care for, one of them a child with a disability). That has created an enormous amount of stress and pressure for him. We have very little family support, so we are isolated in this experience to a degree. The kids are stressed and scared and acting out with high emotions, clinginess, fear, etc.

However, this ordeal has also strengthened our marriage, there is no doubting that. Michael and I are closer and stronger together than we’ve ever been.

Cancer forces you to take stock of your life and your priorities. I think we have a deeper appreciation for everything we have, tangible and non-tangible.

In my own life, sometimes I feel like no matter what trials come my way, I will never feel as downhearted as I did as a kid and young adult. Do you ever feel that you've reached the limit of what you can handle?

With all the trials and hurdles you deal with, are you still happier than you were as a teenage runaway. Yes, it’s amazing even to me that even in the midst of everything going on in my family, I am truly happier than I’ve ever been. I love my life. That is not to say that I embrace the challenges, like my husband’s cancer. Yes, there are times when I feel like I can’t deal with one more thing, times when I feel like I am going to fall to pieces. And I do. I lock myself in the bathroom, or in my bedroom, and I allow myself to fall apart for a little while, crying my eyes out and ranting about the unfairness of it all. I write, which is extremely cathartic for me. And then I pick myself up, dust myself off, and go on.

How have your children responded to your husband's illness? How do you help them to cope?

When we learned that my husband has cancer, we sat the kids down and told them very matter-of-factly, “There is bad news and good news. The bad news is that Daddy has a sickness called cancer. The good news is that the doctors are going to work very hard to make Daddy better.” Kevin, as the oldest, was the only one who seemed to have some understanding about how serious it was. He asked, “Is Dad going to die?” That was hard, knowing that he would carry that fear, the same fear we were carrying.

At first, the kids seemed to be doing really well with the whole thing. For a while when Michael started undergoing treatment, the side effects were not extremely severe. He was still going to work every day. So the kids seemed to take it in stride, and we congratulated ourselves on how well we had handled it with them.

But over time, the side effects from the chemo and radiation became more obvious, more severe. And there’s never been any getting away from the fact that Dad has a “tube” in his arm (a PICC line, which is a port through which the chemo is delivered into his body). He’s had it since February, and it’s a constant reminder that he is sick. Over the last few weeks the kids have manifested some behaviors that tell us that they are, in fact, having some trouble coping. Emotions have been running very high with some of them; there has been a sharp increase in tattling, tantrums, and other attention-seeking behavior; they’ve been very clingy with Michael, becoming very upset when he leaves the house for anything, even to go to the store.

So we’re just trying to be very conscious of the kids’ feelings, to stay in tune to them and talk to them. The kids’ teachers are all aware of the situation, so we are in touch with them, as they are on the lookout for acting out by the kids which may indicated their trouble dealing with their dad’s illness. We’ve spoken to a counselor about how to help the children cope. It’s a day-by-day thing.

Considering that you've likely now reached the center of your life, how has your attitude changed from the girl who ran away?

I think the sum of my lie experiences has made me cynical and skeptical to a degree, but I am no longer that frightened, hopeless girl. I understand that nothing is forever--not the bad or the good. And I understand that it is up to me to make my own happiness in this life.

What has your son's Down syndrome taught you about life and love?

It is difficult to articulate how he has changed me. There are so many feelings swirling around in my head and my heart concerning Finn, that transfer to a much wider view of the world: acceptance, a desire to embrace every “under dog,” the fact that every life has value, the realization that my heart is bigger and more resilient than I ever thought possible.

After all that you've experienced and seen in your life, what can you say to folks--teenagers or adults--out there who believe there is nothing to live for, or that their hope is limited?

Everybody has something to live for, even if it’s merely themselves. Whatever somebody’s present circumstances are, there are always ways to change those circumstances. It is within everybody’s power to make their own happiness.

_______

Join Lisa and I for final thoughts on July 7th. We'll share a special list of adult actions that may have made a positive difference for us ... once upon a teenage time.

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6527212 June 29, 2009

Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story (Part 2)


...awareness is an absolutely necessary factor in breaking destructive parenting cycles that are handed down to us from our parents.



Welcome back to the ongoing story of Lisa Morguess. Go here for Part 1 of Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story.
Your first marriage resulted in an abusive situation. How old were you when you married? Were the issues in the marriage, or the dynamic that developed, related to the those that led you to runaway from home as a teen?

I was 19 when I married my first husband, and he was 21. He was the boyfriend I had run away with. The abuse actually started pretty soon after we began living together, but by then I felt pretty trapped; I was far away from a home I couldn’t bear to return to anyway. It is pretty typical, too, for people who grow up in abusive families to see abuse as normal. I grew up watching my father abuse my mother, and being abused myself by both of my parents as well as my mother’s boyfriends and my older brother, so abuse seemed like a normal part of existence, sadly.

When you are in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend/husband, the dynamic is a little different, though. There tend to be enough periods of calm that you hang on to this hope, this belief, that the periods of calm are reality, and the awful periods are aberrations, if you will. Every time he smacked me around, I tried to believe that it would never happen again.

Then, too, there is the typical modus operandi of the abuser: to slowly but surely take away just about every bit of self-esteem and self-respect of their abused. The physical abuse is horrible, but the emotional abuse is more insidious and has much deeper and longer-lasting effects.

My husband was a drug addict and an alcoholic. When we were teenagers, we partied together. I did my share of drinking and getting high. . .but by the time we got married (even before I turned 19) I got to a point where I realized how dangerously we were living and I wanted no part of the drugs and partying anymore (and, in fact, I haven’t touched an illicit drug since then, in over 23 years). He led me to believe that he felt the same way, but it wasn’t long before I realized that he was still doing all of it on the sly, and it became a recurring nightmare of an issue throughout our 12-year marriage. He would tell me that I was the one with the problem. “My drinking wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t have a problem with it,” he would tell me. “It’s your fault I hit you,” he would tell me. “You bring out the worst in me, you make me do that,” he would say.” “Nobody else would ever put up with you. Nobody even likes you. Everyone says behind your back that you’re nothing but a bitch,” he would say to me. “You’re crazy,” he would tell me. “YOU need help,” he would say. After you’ve heard those things enough times, you begin to believe them.

So, in a nutshell, I would say that his alcohol and drug addiction played a big part in the abuse and the general issues in our marriage. I think he was just naturally a very controlling person, too, and I think now, looking back, that he would have been abusive to anybody he was in a relationship with--not just me. When he and I got together, I was so young and needy, and he clearly wanted somebody to rescue. I think he got off on that whole damsel in distress thing. So he saved me from my family and then his own demons took over. And although I was victimized by him, I grew up, and he never really did--when he died at the age of 33, he was the same exact person he had been at 18. And I think the more I “grew up,” the more determined he was to keep me under his thumb.

How did you find the courage to leave such a destructive relationship and move on?

There are a couple factors that came into play in my finally getting out of the relationship. The first one was our son. We struggled with infertility for the better part of our marriage, and didn’t end up having a child until we had been married for 10 years. After Kevin was born, I realized that it was one thing to put up with that kind of destructive life when it was just me, but it’s a whole different story when there is a child involved. And having grown up watching the horrors of abuse and alcoholism with my own parents, I didn’t want my son to grow up with that. To my knowledge, my husband never abused Kevin, but Kevin certainly witnessed a lot of ugliness. By the time Kevin was born, I think I knew in my heart that the marriage was never going to make it. . .but it’s another matter to find one’s way out of something like that. I tried to get my husband to go to counseling with me--he refused, time and time again (after all, I was the one with the problems, according to him). I begged him to enter rehab--he wouldn’t, even after he finally admitted to me that he was addicted to cocaine. I gave him ultimatums, even leaving him once, only to be coaxed back with empty promises.

The impetus for my finally leaving for good was two-fold: the friendship I had with a guy I worked with at a law firm began to develop into something more than a friendship. I was committed to making my marriage work for far longer than I ever should have; the marriage was over--in every aspect--long before I actually filed papers. Without going into a lot of detail for the sake of privacy, I’ll just say that Michael allowed me to believe, finally, that somebody actually could not only put up with me, but love me, and treat me with kindness, respect, and dignity. That’s an incredibly strong motivator.

The final straw came one evening when my husband grabbed our two-year-old son and disappeared with him overnight. He was clearly on a binge. I was frantic all night, not having any idea where they were. My husband called me from payphones throughout the night, screaming obscenities at me. He returned home with our son the following morning, and I went to see an attorney that day to draw up divorce papers.

What did you learn about yourself though the ordeal? Looking back, do you believe it was part of a unique circuitous path you had to follow to find the great place where you eventually landed?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself throughout everything is that I am strong. I feel weak at times--who doesn’t? But I’m a survivor. I’ve survived some really terrible things, and I am not only here, but thriving and happy. At the risk of tempting fate by saying so, I feel like I can survive just about anything.

As far as it all being a circuitous path I had to follow to get to where I am now. . . I’m not so sure. I’m sure under different circumstances and with different choices, I could have landed in a good place much sooner than I did. But I will say that the struggles I’ve faced and overcome have certainly made me more appreciative and grateful for my life as it is now. Not a day goes by that I don’t consciously take a moment to reflect and acknowledge how fortunate I am.

How did you meet your current husband? Was it difficult to trust again after such a devastating first marriage?

As I said, I met Michael at work. I had been working as a paralegal for a small law firm for several years, and we hired this guy as a law clerk who was awaiting his bar results. He passed the bar and was given an associate attorney position with the firm. He and I hit it off immediately and became friends--just friends. We were friends for a year and a half before it developed into something more than that.
Yes, it was very difficult to trust again after my first marriage. I had been lied to so much, for so long, and in so many ways. . .yeah, trust was a big issue for a long time when Michael and I got together. And the first couple years of our marriage were rough, in large part because of my “baggage.” We’ve worked very hard to make this marriage work, and it’s all paid off a hundred times over. Michael is my best friend in the world, and in spite of the challenges our family is now facing, I love my life, and I feel like this is the happiness I was waiting for for so long.

You have six kids now! Did you always want to have such a large family?

I never dreamed I would have this many kids! I will say, though, that I loved being pregnant so much the first time, that when Kevin was born I instantly decided that I’d love to have ten kids! With my first marriage falling apart the way it did, though, I got to a point where I had to accept that I might never have another child. Then Michael and I got married, and he was eager to be a dad (and he took on the role of dad to Kevin from the get-go, even making vows to Kevin at our wedding).

We never set out to have six kids. I think early on, we talked about having a total of three kids (including Kevin). By the time Michael and I got married, we were both already approaching our mid-thirties, so we didn’t feel we should wait too long to get started on expanding our family. So Joey was born a couple weeks shy of our first wedding anniversary. When Joey was about 18 months old, we were ready to try for a third, and we got one of the biggest surprises of our lives: twins! Even after four kids, we weren’t sure if we felt “done,” and it’s funny because I still remember having this long, serious discussion when the twins were about 16 months old: should we have another, or shouldn’t we? We agreed to wait until the twins turned two to make a decision, but a couple weeks later I found out that I was already pregnant. So Lilah was born shortly after the twins turned two, and then when Lilah was a year old, I became pregnant again, with Finn (so obviously we were still open to having another, although he was a surprise, in more ways than one).

Your youngest son has Down syndrome. How has your family had to adjust to ensure he is well cared for and given the attention he needs?

We did not find out that Finn has Down syndrome until after he was born, and it was quite a devastating shock, probably made worse by the fact that he was a planned home birth and had to be rushed to the hospital when he was less than a day old and had major surgery the day after he was born and then spent two weeks in the NICU. I think the adjustment our family has had to make concerning Finn has been much more of an emotional adjustment than a logistical one. When you are expecting a baby, you have expectations of what that baby is going to be like, and on some level, you map out his life even before he’s born - you imagine him learning to walk, talk, going to school, playing baseball, learning to drive a car, growing up, going to college, getting married, and having children of his own. When you receive a diagnosis like Down syndrome, a lot of your dreams and expectations are shattered . . . and a lot of them you might think are shattered but really aren’t at all. So there was a whole grief process that I went through; I grieved for the baby I thought I was going to have. It never interfered with my love for and acceptance of Finn - I’ve felt this fierce love and protection for him since he was born - but it’s a process of accepting a new reality. My husband didn’t have as tough a time as I did with the diagnosis - maybe because he worked with people with various disabilities for many years, so it didn’t seem so foreign and frightening to him, maybe because he’s just a much more laid back, accepting person, I don’t know. The kids have been very accepting, and honestly, the youngest kids still don’t really understand what Down syndrome is, and I don’t think they feel like Finn is “different” in any way - he’s just their baby brother.

Practically speaking, there haven’t been a whole lot of adjustments to be made. Finn’s a baby - not even a year old yet, so for the most part, he just does what babies do. He’s had a couple of surgeries, and he has a physical therapist who comes over once a week to help him achieve his gross motor skills, but other than that, he doesn’t require any more specialized care or attention than any other baby. I’m sure that as he gets older, we’ll have to make more adjustments as his needs change, but it’s a gradual process.

How did your experiences as a runaway, and as a partner in an abusive marriage, prepare you for the stress involved in having such a large family, including a set of twins and a child with a disability?

Like I said: I’m a survivor. Every challenge I’ve overcome and every heartbreak I’ve lived through has shown me that I’m made of pretty tough stuff. Having a large family, having twins, having a child with a disability. . . those are all big challenges, but they’re also things that enrich my life to a much greater degree than the challenges they present.

Do you believe that your teen and young adult experiences will help you be a better parent to your kids, particularly as teens?

I think those experiences have definitely made me more aware--and awareness is an absolutely necessary factor in breaking destructive parenting cycles that are handed down to us from our parents. That said, I fail sometimes. I fall short of being the parent I want to be, the parent my kids deserve. And at those times when I know I’ve failed, I think about what my experiences as a young person were, and how I felt, and I endeavor to be accountable, make amends to my kids, and purposefully parent them in a positive manner.

When you ran away from home as a teen, did you ever imagine that your life would one day be filled with so much love?

No, I never imagined it. I spent the better part of my life--into my thirties, waiting for happiness to find me, and believing it never would. And it wasn’t until my first marriage fell apart that I realized that happiness doesn’t find anyone, you have to make your own happiness.

Now, I truly feel like I’m living the life I always wanted to have, even with all the challenges we face as a family.
_______________________
Come back on July 3rd for Part 3 of Lisa's story.

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6527212 June 24, 2009

Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story (Part 1)

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During fits of teenage rage or deep despair, I'm guessing a large percentage of you considered running away from home at least once. My guest today not only had the idea, but at 17, she also methodically planned her escape, and made a run for it--crossing state lines and childhood borders.

Lisa Morguess ran away, and never looked back.

Through determination, hard work, and a pinch of luck, she survived. She grew up. Today Lisa is an insightful mom of six, a loving wife, super blogger, and advocate. On her various blogs, she describes herself and her life this way:

I'm a 41-year-old, married to my best friend, stay-home mother of 6 children: Kevin (12), Joey (6), twins, Annabelle and Daisy (4), Lilah(2), and Finnian, born in July 2008 and diagnosed with Down syndrome. Oh, and my husband is currently battling cancer. I'm just trying to hold it all together.

This is her story.

Lisa shares her experience in three parts. Part 2 will be posted on June 29th, and Part 3 will go up on July 3rd.

You were a teen runaway. Can you tell us what prompted you to take such serious action?

I grew up in, as what has almost become a cliché, a very dysfunctional family. There was a lot of emotional and physical abuse from the time I was very young - in fact, even before I was born, as my understanding is that my father abused my mother while she was pregnant with me, and they both, in turn, abused both of my brothers and me from the time we were very small. I grew up knowing that my mother had never wanted to have me, as I was born a mere 10 ½ months after my older brother, and she told me flat out as I was growing up that she hadn’t wanted to have me, and that she didn’t actually feel like she loved me until I was about 2 years old. That was apparently an epiphany that came to her as she was about to place her hands around my throat to choke me because I cried a lot as a baby and toddler. So I grew up with that kind of start in life, and it continued all through my childhood.

My mother was generally an emotional wreck and she leaned inappropriately on me from the time I was very young, so I became her emotional caretaker. It was a lot of responsibility for a child to have. She also expected me to change roles at her will from her emotional sounding board back to a child whom she could bully. As an adult, I can see now that I suffered a lot of depression as a child, and by the time I was an older teenager, it just all got to be too much to handle. Although I was never actually suicidal, I thought about death a lot, and spent a lot of time wishing I were dead.

When I was 15, there was an incident at home during which both she and my stepfather were beating me up, and it was bad enough that my younger brother ran to a neighbor’s house and called the police. The police came , and it was basically my parents’ word against mine and my brother’s. I don’t know that my parents were cited or anything - I’m guessing not since I was not removed from the home. I did, however, of my own accord, move in with an aunt shortly after that for several months. That situation wasn’t much better, for different reasons. I ended up going back home eventually, and things only got worse. I had a boyfriend by then, and there came a point when my mother tried to force us to get married (I was 16 at the time, and no, I was not pregnant; there was no reason for us to get married, this was just another power play by my mother). We called her bluff and told her we would get married, and then she forbade us from seeing each other and threatened to have him arrested.

It was all very crazy, and I just reached a point that I couldn’t live with my mother (or my step-father) anymore. I felt like I was really already an adult anyway; although my parents provided food and clothing and shelter for me, they certainly were not meeting any of my other needs, and emotionally I felt like I had already been on my own for years. So it didn’t feel like that big a stretch to decide to run away and make my own life. I had tried living with my aunt and that hadn’t worked out, and my father and his wife didn’t want me, so I didn’t have a lot of places to go. I could either stay where I was and continue spiraling down further and further into despair and hopelessness, or I could try to make my own way in the world. Shortly after I turned 17, I left home again, this time with my boyfriend, and we left the state, and none of my family or friends knew where I was for a year.

I'm guessing your family situation played a role in your decision to run away. If so, what was the family dynamic?

My mother and father divorced when I was 5, and it was an on-again, off-again relationship for many years after that. I had an older brother and a younger brother. When I was 14, my mother remarried, a man she had known for three months. Their relationship was horribly dysfunctional and abusive as well, and he was never any kind of father figure, he was really just one more person to abuse the kids.

Did your family search for you? Are you in touch with them now?

When I left home, I left a letter for my mother telling her not to look for me, and that if she found me and brought me back, I’d just leave again. My understanding is that she stormed the house of the parents of my boyfriend, demanding to know where I was (his father actually did know where we had gone, but he never let on to her), and she filed a Missing Person Report with the local police, and that was it. To my knowledge, no other effort was made to find me. I did call my mother periodically from payphones to let her know I was okay, but she would just scream at me on the phone.

I am not in touch with my family now, no. When I reached adulthood, my father and I were somehow able to mend fences and became very close, but he died very suddenly a little over 10 years ago. After I turned 18, my boyfriend and I moved back to California and eventually got married. I had an on-again, off-again relationship with my mother for several years, but it was never an emotionally healthy relationship. She was never able to see me and treat me as an adult, and she continued to bully me for years.

I finally reached a breaking point with her when I filed for divorce from my first husband. I applied for a restraining order against him because he was an alcoholic and a drug addict (and he ended up dying from a drug overdose shortly after I filed for divorce) and very abusive, and I feared for my own safety as well as that of our two-year old son. At the court hearing for the restraining order, my mother showed up with my estranged husband and tried to tell the court what a horrible mother and wife I was (and the truth is, my mother had had virtually no contact with me or my family for a number of years already at that point, so she had no idea what kind of wife or mother I was - this was clearly just another opportunity for her to try to hurt me). Of course, she was not even a party to the hearing, so the judge was not interested in anything she had to say, but that was the last straw for me. What kind of mother does something like that? That was almost 10 years ago, and I have had no contact with her since then.

As far as my siblings, I lost touch with my older brother about 15 years ago. He has/had a lot of problems: never able to hold a job, in and out of jail, drug addiction, etc. Last I heard, he had moved to Idaho. He and I were never close. My younger brother and I, on the other hand, were very close growing up, but I think he never forgave me for running away. When I came back to California, we re-established a semblance of a relationship for a while, but it was never the same - maybe just because we were both a little older. There was a lot of conflict between him and his wife, and me and my first husband, so after a while things just became too strained for us to really have much of a relationship. Then when my husband died, my brother and his wife, in all their new found Christian zeal, decided that I had driven him to his death with my evil ways, and that I was going to burn in hell. Needless to say, I don’t have a relationship with them.

Where did you go and how did you take care of yourself? What did you do for income? Did you finish school?

When my boyfriend and I left, we went to Utah, of all places. None of it was impulsive; the entire endeavor was carefully planned out over the course of 2 or 3 months. I was in high school, but working part-time at a pizza joint, and he was graduated from high school already and working full-time for an exterminating company. We both saved up our money until we had around $2,000. He wanted to go to Utah for the skiing, which is funny because we ended up being so poor when we lived there that I think he skied once while we were there.

We agreed on a date we would leave, and on that morning, I feigned illness so I could stay home from school. After my brothers had both gone to school and my mother and step-father to work, my boyfriend came over with a small U-Haul trailer attached to his car, and we packed up as much of my things as we could, and then we went and packed up all of his things from the apartment he was sharing with his brother at the time. He drove the car with the U-Haul trailer, and I took a Trailways bus until we crossed over the Utah border - that’s how carefully we had planned it out: we knew that because I was a minor at 17 years old, and he a legal adult at 19 years old, it would be a federal offense for him to take me over state lines, so I took the bus.

When we arrived in Utah, we lived in the car at a KOA campground for several days. We scoured the newspaper every day looking for an apartment to rent. This was in October, and it was already beginning to snow, so we were a little desperate. We found an affordable apartment listed in the paper and called the number and the manager said he was leaving town, but if we could find a way in, the apartment was ours. It turned out to be an old house that had been subdivided into three apartments. We broke in through a window, and the apartment was ours.

My boyfriend got a job very quickly in a sales position. I lied about my age and got a job first working as a cashier in a little Greek diner, and then later at a microfilming company. I was always afraid of being found out - after all, I provided my social security number on the W-2 forms I filled out to be employed, and I lived in constant fear that somehow through that they were going to discover that I was actually an underage runaway. But it never happened.

When I left home, I was about a month into my senior year of high school, so that meant that to leave, I dropped out of school. I had always been a bright, hardworking student, so it was certainly a shame to throw that away. However, at the time, it just seemed like a price I would willingly pay for my freedom. After I returned to California, I eventually earned all of my missing high school credits and got my diploma.

Was there a turning point in all this? Did anyone in particular help you?

As I said, I left with my boyfriend. We had a plan, and we had saved up some money, so I think in many respects my story was different from many teen runaway stories. I never lived on the streets or had to eat out of garbage bins or sell myself into prostitution. Alt hough we were very broke at times - I remember having to scrounge for change between the sofa cushions to come up with enough to buy a loaf of bread and some bologna - we both had jobs almost the entire time we lived there, we had a roof over our heads, and clothes to wear. I don’t think I would have attempted to run away on my own. I was well aware of the stories of teen runaways and how they could end up. Having somebody to go with made the whole thing seem a lot more doable and less frightening.

Looking back, do you believe there were better options? What advice do you have for teens teetering on the edge you found yourself on?

I don’t have any regrets about what I did, although I am well aware that my story turned out a lot better than other teen runaway stories. At the time, I really didn’t feel like I had any “better” options. I had tried to live with my aunt, and that was not a positive experience . My father and his wife didn’t want me. The situation at home with my mother and stepfather was unbearable. My high school guidance counselor knew what was going on, at least to some degree, but never reported anything to the authorities or tried to reach out to me in any meaningful way. So I really felt very alone and hopeless, and then this guy, my boyfriend, comes along and wants to save me and suddenly I saw a way out, so I took it. Even now, almost 25 years later, the only alternative I see to my running away was to have stayed in an intolerable living situation with my mother and step-father.

I guess the best advice I have for any teenager teetering on such an edge would be to get help. Find a trusted adult - through church, through school, a neighbor, somebody - who will listen and, if not help you, then at least give you some direction as to where to find appropriate help.

What did you learn from your experience as a teen runaway, and how were you able to use those lessons as you came into adulthood?

I’m not sure that I learned any great life lessons in my experience as a runaway. I think sometimes, experiences are just that - experiences. I survived. It was a chapter in my life. I think if anything, it confirmed the underlying feeling that I grew up with, and that has to do with a sense of self-reliance and not believing that I could really ever count on anybody except myself.

Many teen runaways do not survive either physically or emotionally. How were you able to do so? Life is a long road. Did it get worse before it got better?

As I said, we found an apartment when we arrived in Utah, and furnished it using the money we had saved with thrift store furniture and necessities. We both found jobs, but even so, it was a very hand-to-mouth existence. We were usually very, very broke. His car broke down shortly after we arrived in Utah, and we couldn’t afford to have it fixed for more than a year, so we walked and took the bus everywhere. We ate a lot of Top Ramen and bologna sandwiches. We often couldn’t even afford the laundromat and washed our clothes by hand in the bathtub (I still remember the blisters on my hands from wringing clothes out).

I will say, also, that ours was an extremely rocky relationship from the start. He was abusive to me very early on, but there I was, an underage runaway, hundreds of miles from any friends or family. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and besides, I had grown up watching my dad abuse my mother, and being abused by both of my parents and my mother’s boyfriend and new husband, so abuse was familiar to me, almost normal in a sick sort of way.

What top three things would you say to parents who are dealing with flight risk kids?

Listen to your kids. Take them seriously. Take responsibility as a parent and realize that as long as your child is a child (and even a teenager is a child) you are responsible for his/her emotional and physical well-being. If your family is out of control, get help. There is help out there.

Do you think the average adult takes teen emotions and issues seriously enough?

In my personal experience, no. However, I realize that I only see things through the very small and jaded window that looks out onto my own past. I don’t know what the statistics are, but obviously not every teen ends up so profoundly unhappy and desperate, so clearly there are good parents out there who are taking care of their kids, listening to them, and taking them seriously.

Of my six children, my oldest is on the cusp of teenhood at twelve years old. I see already that he is changing, and that parenting a teen will not be an easy task. I hope that I always remember my own past and that it will be a reminder to me to make sure my kids feel loved, valued, and taken seriously as they make their way to adulthood.
________________

Come back on June 29th for Runaway Lisa (Part 2).

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6527212 June 21, 2009

Why I Care About Teens

Who blew out the candle?

There are multiple ways to run away. When I was nineteen, my attempt to run bought a three-day stay in intensive care. On the third day, one of my high school teachers happened to walk past the large, rectangular window of my room. I hid my face under the sheet. I hid my real face under all kinds of sheets for a long time. Lisa, who is highlighted in the Aberration Nation Teen Event (that starts today), ran away, too. We both survived. While the lives we enjoy today are certainly not perfect, they are much more than we ever imagined remotely possible once upon a teenage time.

A lot of the people in my young, lonely life wondered what in the Sam Hill I had to be so upset about. "She's a smart, tall blond. Her mom is such a strong Christian. Her dad is a high school guidance counselor. Her smile lights up a room; she's always has a date. She made straight A's last semester. Blah, blah, blah, blah." Some of those same people may now ask themselves, "Why in the Sam Hill would she share something like that on the Internet?"

You know who you are. Go ahead!

I've shared my secret because it's the most provocative and honest way I can explain the deep soft spot I have for teenagers.

Many teenagers have wonderful, functional families that help them successfully navigate their way through the ups and downs of those years. Others, despite great environments, struggle. Then there are those who don't seem to stand a chance in hell, and yet, they sail through. Some don't make it. Many do but then think about the desperate actions they took for many years, trying to understand what happened and why. Others separate out the early parts of their lives as if they're merely photographs of someone they used to be. The album snaps shut and that is that. As teens and as adults, we're all different.

During my mid-to-late twenties, I wrote a novel called Boundaries based the culminating struggle I went through to finally emerge on the other side of all the painful, lonely experiences I had as a child and teenager. It was a painstaking project that took many years. When I finally finished, I wasn't sure if I'd said all I could, or if I'd properly explained the complex situation, and how I felt about it. At thirty years old, I still wasn't sure if I fully understood it all, or if I ever would. Part of me wished I could be the type of person who closes the album, stuffs it in a box, and skips away.

I began trying to express myself through writing at a very young age. In recent years, I spent hours reading my old journals and stacks of poetry. What struck me is the phenomenal growth, and expanded contemplation and insight that evolved over the years between 12 and 21.

Here's a journal entry I wrote at 14, the age of most of my guest bloggers for this special teen event:

Some people live to make others die inside. They laugh at you and your feelings. Never think this is because they're older than you. It's not. It's because they're cruel, and anyone can be that way. (1980, 14 years old)

And here's a poem from the same year:


Loneliness


Who blew out the candle?
Burning, burning,
Did you?
I didn't.
I still want to see beauty,
When the flame is gone,
It's lonely in the dark,
I can't see,
Help,
Light a candle,
Hurry,
Time,
Running out ...

(1980, 14 years old)

At 14, my voice was young although my emotions ran deep. Life was confusing and I attempted to make sense of it with a beginner's toolkit. In reading the teen stories submitted for this event, I realized again why writers are so often drawn to their youth. Even the brightest or most talented teens can't always understand, describe, and fully express their experiences and emotions. The ability to do so can significantly increase as each year passes on that reckless highway between childhood and adulthood--and then continue ... The aberrations stories shared with you in the coming days were written by teens just completing the 8th grade. They're on the sharp edge of high school, where, in many ways, it all begins.

As you read their stories, I ask that you not only consider the words provided, but also imagine the words that may be missing. The voices you'll hear were our voices years ago. I wonder what these young people will say about their aberrations next year, or at 19, 30, or 43? They'll have seen adventure, accomplishment, and perhaps tragedy they can't imagine today. Yet at the core, at least in part, they will still be the selective mute, the amputee, the Muslim, and the stubborn boy who visited Aberration Nation in 2009.

Interspersed in their stories, you'll hear from Lisa, an adult who was once a teen runaway. Consider how she might have described her life at 14. What would she have shared and how would she have said it? Would she have understood her situation, emotions, and actions so well? What type of lens did she peer through all those years ago?

So what's the point of all this?

Well, I'm not a teacher, psychologist, physician, Oprah, or Dr. Phil, but I have a feeling we can all do a better job of listening to the teens in our lives. We could try just a little harder to remember what it was like once upon a teenage time. It's so easy to look into a bright, young smile, shrug off any doubts, and say, "She's fine. She's a beautiful, smart cheerleader," or drive the kid who wants purple hair and five piercings crazy although he's actually got a great head on his shoulders.

Through out this event, I'll also post brief excerpts from my journals, as well as some of the poetry I wrote between the ages of 14 and 21. Don't expect award winning writing, but you will find honesty. My aim is to use my early content to further support the idea that our understanding, and the ability to express ourselves matures dramatically during those years. I believe this is important because the depth of my emotions never changed. They were as strong and real at 14 as they are today.

The recognition of this disconnect seems important. I hope you'll agree.

Come back Tuesday for our first teen aberration story: Selective Mutism.

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6527212 June 17, 2009

YA Author Melissa Walker Invites You ...

Popular teen magazine editor and Young Adult author Melissa Walker invites you to join me for a special teen event on Aberration Nation:

I've been a teen magazine editor for years, and I write Young Adult novels as well. Here's why: I love teenagers. It may sound strange, but I don't think I ever left my 17-year-old state of being. Sure, I know more, maybe I'm a little wiser, a little more mature ... but at my core, I'm still that girl who swooned over a new song and cried her eyes out when she left her best friends for college.

The high highs and low lows of that stage of life are the stuff of fairy tales, of epic adventures, and, of course, of novels. The teen audience is honest and open, raw and real--they'll tell you if they lovelovelovelovelovelove!!!!! something, or if it just plain sucks. And they care about whether it's good or bad. They care about the story you're sharing. They're engaged in a way adult readers often aren't.

And so I'm excited to read the Aberration Nation Teen stories ... because at that age, which is full of aberrations, every moment is alive and singing with possibility and passion.

Thanks for having me here, Penelope.

Here's how it will go down beginning on Sunday, June 21st. Every other day for approximately two weeks, the following posts will go up:

1) Why Teens: Penelope's Explanation

2) Selective Mutism: A Teen Aberration Story

3) Runaway Lisa (Part 1): An Aberration Story

4) I Lost My Leg: A Teen Aberration Story

5) Runaway Lisa (Part 2): An Aberration Story

6) I Did Not Cause 9/11: A Teen Aberration Story

7) Runaway Lisa (Part 3): An Aberration Story

8) I'm Stubborn: A Teen Aberration Story

9) Final Thoughts

As always, each post will include a few introductory thoughts from yours truly. Also expect a glimpse of the poetry I wrote as a teen throughout the event. (And if I'm brave enough, I may toss in some of my journal entries.)

Don't forget to join Melissa and I for a thought provoking journey into the differences and similarities of how we experience, view, and express our aberrations as teens and as adults.

See you on Sunday!

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