What It’s (Really) Like to Have a Gifted Kid

What It's (Really) Like to Have a Gifted Kid

 

I know, I know. You probably rolled your eyes at the title. I did, too, if we’re being honest. The term “gifted” is what does it. It has an elitist air to it, seems snooty, sounds like I’m bragging. But the truth is, most parents of children who have been identified as gifted, those having an IQ score above 130 or two standard deviations above the norm, they aren’t bragging, they’re BEGGING. Begging for help, for understanding, for answers, for a system that will recognize and meet their child’s needs. You see, giftedness does not look at all like you think it does. Some of you know my tale of tears, the years of counseling, testing, praying, dieting, oiling, reading, and sobbing, all to be told that what was “wrong” with my child was giftedness. The years spent searching for a diagnosis, knowing something was different about my boy, knowing he was miserable and hurting, wanting desperately to help and find an answer, but always falling just short of sensory processing disorder, of bipolar disorder, of oppositional defiant disorder, of autism spectrum disorders, of ADHD. Really, THOSE are the labels that came to mind before I had to be told that my child was gifted, and that the behaviors he was exhibiting were NORMAL. Those extremes are what I thought about my child, never a high IQ. I knew he was bright, don’t get me wrong, but bright and the actual classification of “gifted” are two very different things, and what I knew of giftedness was chess champions, piano prodigies, and tiny little adults. My emotional, sensitive, intense child who never slept and always worried couldn’t possibly be a – gasp – genius.

Except that he kind of is.

It’s been a year and a half since we “found out” about him, and every day I learn more about what it means for him to exist in a world that is built for people different from himself. Many days I find myself advocating, emailing, sticking up for him. I’ve been asked more than once what’s “wrong” with him. I’ve asked that myself on many occasions. Some days I have people roll their eyes. Lots of days people feel the need to question or disprove his label. One day I even had someone walk away while I was mid-sentence. There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding gifted kids – their parents are pushing them, their parents are bragging, everything is easy for them, they’re perfect kids, they can handle it. One of the most hurtful ones I’ve encountered is the apparent belief that there is some finite amount of intelligence in the world, some IQ pool that kids draw from, and my child having withdrawn more than the others somehow left less for their son or daughter. Those are the people who see him as a threat, who resent him for skipping a grade, who feel slighted that he earned a place on a math team that their child did not. Those are the adults who approach him with the sole intention of proving him wrong, tripping him up, who have made up their minds to blame him for something he cannot help and something he didn’t do. Who make no attempt to understand what it’s really like for him, how scary and overwhelming it is to have a brain that doesn’t turn off, to be able to take everything in but have no idea what to do with it.

People who think giftedness looks like this:

But have no idea it also comes with this:

 

People who assume the school sends us this:

But don’t realize they also send us here:

That’s what it’s really like, giftedness. To exist in a world that doesn’t understand you, that even resents you. To watch athletes be praised for their form of giftedness but to have yours dismissed. A world where a gold medal is earned but a grade skip is bragging. Sure, it can be high grades, athletic achievements, musical gifts and artistic abilities. But it’s also asynchronous development, where “cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences that are qualitatively different from the norm”, to have the brain of an adult, the body of a child, and the emotional stability of a toddler. It’s overexcitabilities, where the brain’s intensity creates disorder-like reactions to stimuli, creates more intense emotions than the norm, more intense physical needs than the norm, more intense everything than the norm. Giftedness is everything inside you going at 1,000,000% and not knowing how to cope, because no one else around you is having the same problem, no one else is bothered, bored. It’s having trouble finding friends because you read so many levels above your classmates but socially are so many levels beneath them, not being able to have peers because they don’t want to talk about politics in the second grade and don’t understand why you hide in your locker when things get to be too much.

It’s sometimes making great grades, but it’s also sometimes struggling with being twice-exceptional – having both a gifted IQ and a learning or emotional disorder. Yeah, that’s a real thing. It turns out there’s a lot about gifted kids that most people don’t know. I share these things not to brag, not to garner sympathy, but to educate, to help. Ever since I first shared our journey to discovering our son’s giftedness, I have received almost a message a week from a friend, or from the friend of a friend, seeking answers, wondering if their child might also be gifted, looking for support once they discover that they are. So I’ll keep sharing, keep talking about it, for the parents who feel overwhelmed and alone, for the parents desperately looking for an answer to their child’s behavior that doesn’t seem “fixable”. I’ll endure the eyerolls and the sighs, the people who think I’m bragging, and I’ll continue to share about how we endure tears on a daily basis, emotions and thoughts that are too big for a little guy to handle, how we are caught in a never-ending race to meet his intellectual needs. I’ll tell about the testing, the never-ending testing, the 504 meetings and the IEP requests, the phone calls from school, the guilt and doubt I face when it comes to school at all. I’ll share about the anxiety, the overwhelming fear I have when he’s walking the halls of school or running on a soccer field, not knowing what will trigger HIS anxiety, what will reduce him to a crying toddler or ignite him to become a raging monster. I’ll tell you about how he doesn’t have birthday parties because they’re too much for him to handle, and he doesn’t really have friends to invite to them, anyway. I’ll write about how embarrassing it is to walk into a school office, knowing how a lot of the adults in there feel about your child, how humbling and remorseful it is to message another parent about what my own has done. I’ll tell of the expensive specialized psychologist we can’t afford and the hour it takes to get to her. I’ll share about how futile it feels to try and find a place for your square peg child in a world of round holes.

I’ll also tell you about how hilarious he is, how he makes jokes far beyond his 7 years and has mastered sarcasm on an expert level. I’ll tell you about how intensely sweet he is, how he snuggles me still and says he never wants to grow up and leave me, how his love literally makes me ache. I’ll write about how thoughtful he is, how he makes crafts and cards for people he loves, includes money, Starburst, or anything else he thinks the person may enjoy. I’ll definitely tell about how creative he is, how his brain works in a way that never ceases to amaze me, how he’s able to see things from a new perspective, from a place you didn’t even know existed, how he’s able to create entire worlds and mythologies with just 10 minutes and his toes. I’ll roll my eyes as I tell you about his love for Star Wars, how he has learned every single fact you never even knew was out there.  I’ll shout from the rooftops about the advocates he has on the inside, the teachers who have helped him AND me, who get him, love him, encourage him, support him, and want the best for him. I’ll marvel publicly at how naturally he picks up math concepts, how he reads novels in a day, his herding-like abilities on the soccer field, how he can identify insects and read Roman numerals and tell you about cultural customs all the world over. I’ll share wistfully about his infectious smile, his giant blue eyes that sparkle with mischief, and his sweet little feet that still have some of the toddler chubbiness left on them. I’ll declare firmly and confidently that I know he has a purpose in this world, and I believe it to be huge.

I love my boy. My gifted boy. My intense, emotional, overwhelmed, creative, hilarious, loving boy. He is not what people think he is. Giftedness is not what people think it is. It is a wonderful, exhausting, never-dull and never-easy experience. And for the last time, it’s not bragging.

The (New) Stages of Grief – and How We’re Doing it Wrong

The (new) Stages of Grief - and How We're Doing it Wrong

Our world is grieving right now. World events, news, relationships, health, wealth, dreams… there’s a lot happening every day to process and mourn. And faster than we can heal, there’s another breaking news story, another blow, and we’re left reeling and feeling all over again. Grief is not new to this divided world – it’s been felt and studied and survived since the beginning of mankind. In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the world to what are now widely accepted as the 5 stages of grief, basically the 5 steps to how one copes with extreme sadness and loss.

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These stages aren’t always experienced in this order, and sometimes a person may skip a stage entirely, but in general this is the best way to understand the way that grief moves through us and how we, in turn, respond to it. This does not minimize the experience, rather it is comforting to know that, if nothing else, there is acceptance at the end: You will make it through.

However, at some point in our culture, we’ve begun to rework these stages, tossing out some, renaming others, and really just making a mess of Elizabeth KR’s work. A very powerful, very moving, and very, very destructive step was added and it began to eat away at the other steps, as well as us. It has taken over and assumed the role of trailblazer when we’re faced with grief, leading the way and dictating our actions and reactions from the moment we first hurt. The stages have been whittled down to only the one remaining, distorted stage that doesn’t allow for acceptance on the other side.

Blame.

It’s not a new concept. It’s not always an undeserved one. But it has become the sole obsession of our world when faced with tragedy. Politicians, religion, parents, culture, schools…. Read any single news story shared on social media – seriously, any – and then check the comments. You will find blame. Finger pointing. Assumptions, judgements, name-calling, armchair quarterbacks, “experts”. People who claim they would never have allowed such a thing to happen to them, people who claim such a thing would never have happened if someone else had been in charge. People who blame mothers for accidents and parents for crime.

Blame abounds where pain confounds and comfort – what of comfort? There can be no peace where blame exists. Blame is the exact opposite of acceptance – it is projecting responsibility onto someone else, literally putting your ability to heal into the hands of another person. Blame is justified bitterness. Blame being the opposite of acceptance means that acceptance cannot be achieved, one cannot heal, get over, get through, get better, so long as they blame someone else for their pain.

“But this isn’t my fault!” No one said it was, friend. Sometimes tragedy is just tragedy. Sometimes bad things happen. And never in the stages of grief is “blame” listed as healthy or necessary to the process. Sometimes there’s no one to blame, only feelings to feel, and those feelings are really hard to deal with when you feel alone in them. You can feel powerless, weak, exposed. Blame creates a false sense of justification, of power, as though blaming someone else enables you to rise above the waves of grief with the dignity of someone who should not have to experience them. Blame is a bandage, a temporary fix, an attempt to curb the very real pain without aiding in any actual healing. Blame fuels the fire, makes it easier to feel indignant than hurt. Blame is a poison disguised as a defense mechanism that will, eventually, fill the void with bitterness – something much harder to rid yourself of than grief.

Blaming your husband for your lack of finances, for the long hours he works. Blaming your kids for your lack of free time or loss of happiness. Blaming your friend for the breakdown in your relationship. Blaming your pastor for your offense. Heck, blaming your pastor for religion. Blaming your boss for your career path. Blaming world leaders for tragic events. Blaming parents for their children. Blaming your ex for… well, everything. Blaming an entire group for the actions of one. Blaming society for the actions of one. Blaming God for the actions of one.

As I type, my 3 wild kids are just feet from me, doing one of their favorite things: all out wrestling. Seriously, tripping, grabbing, pushing, rolling, all over the floor, it’s wild and chaotic and they LOVE it. They’re all giggling and smiling and having a blast… until someone knocks a little too hard or a fall is a little worse than expected. It happens, every time, and every time the crying kid is pointing at someone, blaming them, and the guilty kid stands over them, defending themselves. Through the tears, the scratches, sometimes even the blood, they are more concerned with whose fault it is than helping the hurt kid feel better. And always, before I hear opening statements from both parties, I have to remind (force) the accused to get down on the level of their hurt sibling, apologize for them being hurt, and see if they can help. Sometimes it’s an accident. Sometimes it’s on purpose. But no matter what, someone has been hurt and the important thing is to help them. Someone is hurting and needs to heal, and assigning blame has yet to be proven to help.

Sometimes there is someone to blame. Sometimes there is a systemic breakdown and a societal failure. Sometimes imperfect people act imperfectly and really are buttheads. But they still can’t heal you. And blaming them implies that they have control over your emotions, blaming them puts the responsibility for your wellness in their hands. There will be a time for assigning blame where blame is due, but I urge you not to give into the temptation to allow blame to become your first reaction, the only step in your grieving process. Do not allow blame to create a false sense of righteousness in you. Do not believe that your opinion of another is their reality. Heal, friend. Feel. Pain and tragedy are so, well, painful and tragic, that it’s easy to want to avoid them. None of us are immune. That doesn’t mean we’re deserving. That doesn’t mean the person to blame gets away with anything. It means you’re human, and you’re getting through it.

I’m no fitness expert (pause for laughter), but I do know that muscle is built by creating small tears that then heal to be stronger. You go to the gym, do werk, and are sore. You’ve created tiny tears in the muscle that now need the opportunity to heal in order to grow. Feel the burn, some might say. No pain, no gain. Well, at the risk of sounding super cheesy, the heart is a muscle. You have to be able to heal to get better. Blame is nothing you want any part of when it comes to healing. Blame is acid on the wounds, a distraction, and a missed opportunity to care for your self.

So please, the next time something comes across your path that is heartbreaking, pause. Feel the sadness. Allow the grief. Watch Inside Out to see how necessary sadness is to the healing process. Cry. Mourn. Be vulnerable. Don’t judge. Don’t react. Let yourself feel so that you can sooner heal. And get a hug if you can.

 

A Love Letter to People of Color (To Be Read By All My White Friends)

My Dear Friends,

First, let me say that I know I don’t speak for everyone, and I know I’m not an expert on race relations. I get it. I have (mostly) blonde hair, live in the ‘burbs, watch Friends and drive a minivan. I’m super white. I won’t do the thing where I give you my background and tell you about the places I’ve been and the life I’ve lived to try and qualify my statements, to make it seem like I know what you’re going through. Because the truth is, I don’t. I won’t tell you about all the friends I’ve had in an attempt to present myself as an ally. Because the truth is, having friends is not the same as standing beside you and it does not cancel out centuries of hatred. I won’t burst through your mourning with defense or rhetoric, with anything that begins with “not all white people…”. Because the truth is, you hurt, and those words do not heal.

I fear, my beautiful friends, that I’ve been grossly misunderstanding racism up until now. I’m afraid that I allowed my understanding of it to become my definition of it, when in reality they’ve been two very different things. I assumed that because there are no signs separating your family from mine while we eat that racism was a thing of the past. I thought that because I struggled with paying the bills that white privilege was not real. And I reasoned that, while ignorance still runs rampant, my generation had been taught to be color blind… which I again associated with the end of racism.

I’ve discovered, however, that in our earnest to remain color blind, we’ve dismissed the idea of color bias. I’ve discovered, through my introduction and attempts at understanding cultural appropriation, that color blindness was never the goal. Color blindness strips you of your glorious heritage, your sacred rituals and histories. Color blindness makes the assumption that you and I are alike, when we very much are not. Color blindness has led me to believe the lie that because we are equal in personhood, we are also equal in experience. Color blindness caused many to blame the victim before they ever listened to the outcry. Color blindness spurred on #AllLivesMatter. Color blindness, in an attempt to mix this melting pot we call America, instead brought it to a boiling point where everything is in such a rolling turmoil that we’re clashing, banging, picking, blaming. Color blindness told me I was an ally, while all along I was just the stubborn friend who meant well but didn’t know what the heck she was actually talking about.

I reach out to you now, my friends of color who are hurting, who are scared. I was wrong. I was ignorant. So often we associate the word “ignorance” with “stupidity” so we are reluctant to identify with it, when really it means I just didn’t know. I was ignorant. In my passion to declare you the same as me, I was dismissing your loud cries to the contrary. I was ignorant. In my attempts to make sense of your experience, I listened to my own reasoning instead of your words. I was ignorant. In my own firm belief that I was not racist, I ignored the fact that a lot of people are. And a lot of people are ignorant to what racism is. I thought my declarations of equality were comforting to you, but in my ignorance did not see how they drowned you out. I hate it when I’m sharing a story or struggle with someone, desperate for someone to hear, only to have them respond with their own. That’s what we’ve been doing all this time, isn’t it? When we bring up stories of white people in seemingly similar situations, when we spout off our own experiences. We’ve been using our words in an ignorant attempt to relate or explain, when all along you’ve just wanted to be heard.

So here we are, friends, at the crux. Where do we go from here? I imagine you’re tired. Tired of explaining to white people how things are different, tired of answering ignorant questions, tired of seeing your race represented on the news more than primetime shows, tired of being told things about yourself by people who just don’t know. So I will urge my white friends to listen more than they speak, to hear your answers without forming a response. I cannot promise to not ask patience of you as I work around my lifelong ignorance. I cannot promise to always get it right. I cannot promise that things will get better starting now. But I can promise that I will try. I can promise that I hear you now, and I will listen. I can hope that each day will get a little better, that maybe as the roar becomes deafening some will be unable to hear their own ideas over your words. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I don’t know what will be said next week. But I know I will listen. I will hear you. I will not attempt to make sense of it, because my own experiences can never equate to yours, and because so much of it is just senseless.

 

Image from here.  I have no idea what they say or support, I just needed to use the image!

This Blog is Not About You – Which is Why You Should Absolutely Read it

I like blogs. I like reading them. I long for the time to write more of them. I see blog posts shared multiple times a day in my social media feeds. A bunch of them are open letters, which I tend to skip most of, but blogs are an enormously untapped source of information, perspectives, encouragement, and personal journeys. Whether it’s renovating a home or educating on a childhood disorder, there are blogs by anyone and for anyone. They exist to share information, for free, quickly and easily. Yet they go largely unread.

A friend texted me a few months ago, a friend who has children with special needs and regularly shares blog posts pertaining to those needs. She asked if I thought anyone ever read the blogs she shared. I told her, sadly, that there were probably very few who do, because they think it doesn’t apply to them. Not having a child with those particular struggles, they see the title and move on, figuring there’s nothing for them to gain.

After a big news event, there is always an influx of blog posts (especially those open letter ones). Gorillas, guns, Miley Cyrus…. everyone has an opinion, and everyone wants to share theirs. Which is totally fine. They’re as free to share their opinion as I am to share mine. I won’t turn this into a rant about how many of these opinions are about assigning blame rather than dealing with the issue. I won’t. But I will address the issue I take with these opinion pieces: we’re not reading them. We see the title, decide we disagree, roll our eyes and move on. It’s not for us, so we don’t click.

Here’s the problem with that: we don’t learn. When we don’t read anything new, anything that is outside of our own perspective and experience, we fail to grow, we miss the opportunity to learn how we can support someone else. We cannot be so arrogant as to believe that our perspective is the only one and our opinion may as well be fact.

A major part of blogging for me is the catharsis that comes from giving my thoughts words, sharing my experiences, and hoping that someone else who is in a similar situation can find some encouragement in at least knowing they’re not alone. But another reason I do it is in the hopes that someone will read my words, stop, and think, “Wow, I had no idea that’s what it was like.” I want to educate others on topics that are important to me, topics that I don’t see discussed. When my friend shares a blog about children with mitochondrial disease, I read it. I can’t relate to it, but it helps me understand her struggle a little better. When my friend who lives in Australia shares links to the political happenings in her part of the world, I read them. I can’t vote down under, but it helps me gain an understanding of her beliefs, and keeps me abreast of world issues. And far more sensitive, when my friends of color share blogs about their experiences, about what it means to be black in America or the discrimination they face because of their religion, I READ THEM. And you know what else? I really, truly, learn a lot from them.

Unbeknownst to me, I grew up in a bubble. I was surrounded by people who believed similarly to me and lived similarly enough to me. I came of age at birthday parties where I was often the only white girl, and since I truly didn’t see color and my friends didn’t seem to mind my lack of it, I thought racism was dead. Because we got along I assumed we had similar lives and nothing was different for us. I live in a town now that is pretty devoid of melanin, but my feelings never changed, so when the term “white privilege” first started popping up I rolled my eyes. In my bubble, there was no such thing. Then a friend of mine, a brilliant sociologist, shared a blog that I thought I at least should check out. I gave a deep sigh at the title and prepared myself to come up with a biting defense, but the words were so…. true. I wasn’t racist, but my experience as a white woman was far different from that of a woman of color. I could not presume to know what it was like to grow up not seeing people like me on TV. I’ve never gone to a doctor’s office and been unable to communicate my symptoms because no one spoke my language. I get stereotyped and people make assumptions about me, but that doesn’t mean we’re the same. Equal as humans, yes. But our experiences are not the same, and me dismissing that fact was never going to help anyone. Not agreeing with it doesn’t make it go away, and acknowledging it doesn’t make me a racist. In discussing parts of the Black Lives Matter movement with a very dear friend, who is black, I went from annoyance to understanding. No one was saying other lives didn’t matter. No one said Black Lives Matter More. They just were saying, “SEE us. ACKNOWLEDGE us. REALIZE that our experience is not the same as yours.” Because every time we dismiss the notion, we tell them that black lives, in fact, do not matter. I’m not here to discuss riots or shootings, only people. People who are trying to tell us something that we are too entrenched in our own beliefs to listen to. Admitting that our experiences are different is not admitting to being a racist. It’s listening to someone and expanding your horizon. It’s caring about someone else and doing what you can to make sure they know they’re heard.

Your friend who shares a personal post about the struggles of parenting a child with autism – read it. You may not be dealing with special needs in your home, but it will never hurt you to learn what her experience is like. Did you realize how much she spends on therapies? Did you realize how many different therapies she schedules? Were you aware that some schools have no programs in place… or that some states will pay for private school if your district cannot meet the child’s needs? Do you know how little sleep she gets and how badly she needs a pedicure date? Do you know what a big deal it is that her son finally took a shower without screaming? It doesn’t apply to you, but learning these things sure do help you in empathizing with her, in understanding more about her experience. It cost you a few minutes to be a better friend, and she’s better for having someone who hears her.

Your cousin shares ANOTHER link to homeopathic treatments, or FDA conspiracies, or essential oil cocktails. Read them. They are sharing because they are caring. They genuinely believe they can help people, they have seen a change in their lives and want others to experience it. You don’t have to give up your ibuprofen, but you could stumble upon a nugget of information that could boost your energy, or give a name to a symptom you’ve been experiencing, or help you find an entirely new way to treat an ailment that you’re tired of dealing with. Just like when someone blessedly shares some glorious cheesy bacon chicken something or other recipe, they see something great and want to share it with others. They say, “This is AWESOME, I have to make sure everyone knows!” You may think they’re off their rocker, and sometimes they may be, but they want to help and are offering you tools to try something new.

There’s that post again, the one about foster kids sleeping on the floors of offices. I don’t have foster kids, so I don’t need to read it. Except that children need homes, and you may be the one to offer it. If nothing else, understanding their heart-breaking circumstances can give you a new purpose in your prayer or giving. You may have thought foster kids just slept in bunk beds and carried everything in their backpacks. You may have thought it looked like Annie. But when you take the time to read about the plight of these children who did not ask to be in such dire straits that an office floor is preferable to home, your heart can grow. Those kids deserve to be known about. Clicking the link won’t get you a knock on the door with unruly teenage foster quads, but it will offer you a look into a life you know nothing about.

Your friend posts a blog entry that is going viral, you’ve seen it a few times already, and haven’t read it a single time because of the title. It’s political, and you can already tell you won’t agree. But let me challenge you – how do you know you won’t agree? Unless you read the words, unless you take the plunge and consider another perspective, how do you even know that your opinion is truly yours and not just a collective opinion formed by the people you surround yourself with? Until you’ve seen all the sides, how will you know which one you land on? One of the reasons we send our children to – gasp! – public school is because  I want them exposed to different people, different songs and ideas than they’d get at home. I want them to come home and talk about them with us, so that they can form their beliefs and KNOW WHY they believe them. I don’t want my children to blindly follow my opinions, I want them to think, listen, and form their own. So I challenge you, friend, read that blog. Read it even if it makes your blood boil. Know what’s going on beyond your own bubble, beyond your own viewpoint. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to enjoy it. But challenge yourself to test your opinions against the perspectives offered by others. Because we do all have different perspectives. We all have our bubbles we’ve grown in and the internet has given us the amazing ability to pop them. Sometimes it’s shocking, sometimes it’s enfuriating, but sometimes it’s enlightening. Get out there and LEARN. Funny enough, the more you learn about another opinion, the more educated it can make you about your own.

I hate stereotypes. I hate assumptions. I hate being lumped together with a group of people based on the way someone else views me. The longer we resist learning about the experiences of others, the more we allow stereotypes to perpetuate. Having a child with autism isn’t just a kid who rocks back and forth and won’t look you in the eye. Having a kid with severe allergies doesn’t mean she has to live in a bubble. Having a gifted child does not mean the day is full of chess and math (I mean, there’s chess and math, but there are a lot of struggles that come with it, too). Having a parent with an illness doesn’t just mean a retirement home is in order.  Being black today is not the same as being white today, and ignoring that fact won’t make it change. A lot of posts about modern feminism aren’t for me, but I’ve learned a lot of facts that are. I’ve read new perspectives and theories and my mind has been opened to learn. People need and want to talk about what they’re going through. All they’re asking is that we listen.  Not every movement is one I want to join and not every political party is one I want to jump on board with (seriously, there are NO parties for me to claim now). But I can still learn, educate myself, consider other perspectives and strengthen my own position.

It’s hard having a newsfeed with so many differing ideals.   It’s hard to see those memes you hate and statements that sting. It’s hard to see yourself lumped into a group who someone just made a joke out of, and it can make you pretty rage-y when disrespect is paid towards a topic you are passionate about. But we’re also adults. I hope I never find myself back in my bubble, sealed up with only people who agree with me and concerned only with things that relate to me. My wonderfully diverse group of friends have introduced me to countless ideas, shows, songs, foods, perspectives, struggles… all because I was willing to read them. I still know who I am and I still know what I believe. I have not been swayed to join any dark sides and my head did not explode from reading about a presidential candidate I’m particularly fearful of. Debates have happened, and we’ve all survived. I don’t unfriend anyone for disagreeing with me, and I’m delighted that most of my friends don’t, either. We’re all so much bigger than one topic, anyway, it’d be a shame to lose out on what else I could learn from them just because we disagreed on an article. Surround yourself with like-minded people, yes… but be open to considering far different-minded peoples’ perspectives, as well. Just read the stuff. Learn the stuff. Be prepared to be wrong sometimes, or at least lacking in knowledge. Embrace your friends’ experiences. Take an interest in something other than your immediate surroundings. Push yourself to take it in, then prove yourself as an adult by loving them all anyway. The people with differing opinions, the people who are in very different places from you, the people who don’t share your beliefs and the people who bash your beliefs – love them anyway. They don’t have to agree with you, either. Though, hopefully they’ll have read this blog and will and least respectfully consider your stance.😉  In this age, in this climate, in this election year and this country constantly divided by one thing or another, be the one who is big enough to reach over. Don’t let yourself be part of a split. Don’t let your friends’ experiences go unnoticed. Read. Learn. Consider. And then move on and have a great day. Because it’s not about you. It’s about a better, more considerate, more educated, more sympathetic you. Go you.

Mind the Hazard Lights

I should be embarrassed to admit this, but it wasn’t until I became a driver myself that I knew what the hazard light button was. I remember noticing it for the first time in my stepmom’s little red Civic, the newest vehicle I had ever been in and thus the epitome of technological advancement in automobiles. I saw that red triangle button on the dashboard among dozens of other doodads and whatnots I didn’t understand, but the imagery of it was such that I instinctively knew it meant “DANGER”. This could only mean one thing, of course: an eject and/or self-destruct button. Like Batman. I was always very careful in the front seat, afraid that I might inadvertently hit it while changing radio stations and send us both flying into oncoming traffic. This story doesn’t really have an application, I just wanted to share it.

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I was reminded of it when my own daughter asked a few weeks ago what the red triangle button meant. “They’re for when you have a problem, ” my husband explained, “so people know to move away from you.”

This struck me.

My husband is the most selfless person you’ll ever meet, so this isn’t a reflection on his character, only on what the hazard lights have come to mean: when did “I’m in trouble” become “move along”? Hazard lights are intended to alert the other drivers that something has gone wrong with the car or driver, that they can’t go on as normal or at the same rate as the others on the road. Their distress signal has become an annoyance to others. Rather than pulling over to offer help, the other drivers see the blinking red lights and move off to the side in an attempt to get past them quicker. We see the trouble and worry only about how it affects our commute.

I once sat on the side of a highway for more than 6 hours with my hazard lights blinking. 6 hours. I’d experienced a tire blow-out going 70 miles per hour and miraculously maintained enough control to safely come to a stop on the shoulder, yet I did not have the knowledge, skills, or tools to change the tire. I made phone calls until my cell phone died (the car charger was still years away from being common), I missed all of my college classes that day, I was starving, exhausted, scared, frustrated, angry. I waited and waited while hundreds of cars passed me by, not one stopping to offer assistance. Could they have been a crazy axe-murderer who wanted to chop me into tiny bits? Sure. Those exist anywhere. But could they also have helped? Yes. But no one did. Despite the very obvious signs I was giving that I needed it.

“But Jennifer,” you say, “I don’t have time to stop and help a stranded motorist!” Well, friend, I can promise you that the stranded motorist probably didn’t have time to be stranded themselves. They had work and appointments and responsibilities still waiting for them, too. How much faster would they get to where they were headed, how much faster would the flow of traffic be restored if someone took the time out of their own schedule to just help?

“But Jennifer,” you say, “I don’t know how to fix a car!” Well, friend, sometimes just having someone there with you can ease the stress of a motor emergency. My stepdad was in a car accident a while back, a bad one. It was raining and he was alone, trapped. I can’t imagine how scared he must have been, let alone hurt. The wreckage made it impossible to reach his cell phone to call for help, he must have been there wondering if anyone saw, if anyone noticed, if anyone was coming, if anyone would help. Alone. Until some wonderful Samaritan took it upon themselves to climb in there and keep him company, keep him calm, until help arrived. Someone took a detour from where they were headed, got out into the rain, and comforted someone who was very much alone. Someone saw the hazard and responded.

You probably see by now that I’m not just referring to car troubles.

It applies across the board to life. The depressing social media shares, the mother juggling groceries and children in the parking lot, the elderly neighbor who can’t start their mower, the overweight first-timer at the gym who can’t figure out how to start their machine. People need HELP. Hazard lights are blinking all around us. Yet all too often we just rubberneck the wreckage, slow down long enough to see how bad it is, thank God it wasn’t us, and move on. We glare at the man whose car won’t start in the middle of an intersection, as though he didn’t already know he was inconveniencing the people behind him, when getting out to help him push the car would be much more impactful. We silently judge the single mother who can’t pay her bills when a helping hand, a tank of gas, or a night of babysitting would be much more helpful. We hate the way our depressed acquaintance makes us feel so down when they’re around, when helping them feel better when we’re around could be the difference between life and death. The mom you’re scoffing at for using formula – did you offer her breastfeeding support? The man you’re taking cell phone pictures of because his pants are slipping down – did you tell him and save him the embarrassment? The friend whose marriage is crumbling – have you offered an ear or just observed the wreckage? The relative who is battling a disease – have you visited, listened, helped, or just thanked God it wasn’t you?

People all around us need help, every day. It could be as easy as sharing a post from a friend’s business or as involved as taking in a family.

“But Jennifer,” you say, “I’m having car trouble, too.” I know, friend. Depression and anxiety are all around us. Financial struggles, relationship battles, health troubles, existential crises, kids, school, work… we’re all struggling. I know. And sometimes all you can do is climb inside the broken-down car and cry together. Acknowledging someone else’s struggle does not negate your own. There’s no way to measure who has it worse, nor should there be. We’re all in this together, all traveling the same road, and we all benefit when someone in need is helped.

There’s an actual, documented phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect. In a crisis, individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim the more people there are around. Seriously. The MORE bystanders there are, the LESS likely anyone is to offer any help. Victims will wait and wait for help that doesn’t come because everyone around them assumes someone else will do it. It’s mass apathy. It takes someone taking charge and giving specific instructions to specific people to get anything done. You can’t just yell, “Somebody call 911!”, you have to point to a person and say, “YOU, call 911.” While I’ve seen this portrayed several times on the always-accurate Law & Order: SVU, I recently witnessed it first-hand. I was in a situation that required police interference, and people just stood there. Watching. Some were in disbelief, some had their cell phones out to video. I had to be the one to call the police, because the bystander effect was in full force.

This idea, this stopping to help when others don’t, it’s important enough to have made the Bible. In Luke 3 we’re told of the Good Samaritan, the man who stopped and offered assistance when so many others before him didn’t. Jesus Himself offered up everything He had for the good of all of us. You may not have riches, you may not have influence, you may not have extra time, but if the Son of God can offer Himself to help everyone, even the jerkiest jerks and the buttiest buttheads, who are we to just keep on driving by? When did “I need help”, when did “love your neighbor as yourself”, become open to interpretation, prioritization, and impassivity?

We cannot live this way. We cannot allow our dependency on others to rid us of any responsibility. We cannot see flashing hazard lights and shrug because they don’t affect us. People need help, WE need help. So what are you going to do about it?

Diagnosis: Fat

That’s not an original title. There’s a whole hashtag devoted to it on Twitter, although it’s been overtaken and trolled enough by now to have lost its original momentum and intent.

This is not a post promoting obesity. I’m not encouraging people do “just do you” and ignore healthy lifestyles or guidelines. I’m not saying doctors who suggest a heavier weight is detrimental to your overall health are meanies or bullies. My feelings do not spare me from the realities of being overweight.

My weight also does not disqualify me from receiving quality, unbiased care. And THIS is what I’m writing about today.

I remember the first time I ever encountered a doctor who couldn’t see past my weight. I’d made an appointment with a doctor because I’d been experiencing some crippling anxiety and thought it was time to ask for help. I went through the usual routine with the nurse – weight, height, blood pressure, symptoms, allergies. Having never been a patient in this office before, I answered everything with patience. The handle turned, the door opened, and the as-yet-unintroduced doctor walked in, chart in hand, and handed me a pamphlet and a few information sheets. “These will help you lose weight.” Those were the first words he said to me. Barely 3 months postpartum with my second child, and being a WOMAN, I was embarrassed. I hadn’t yet realized that you’re allowed to stand up to doctors and demand they treat your symptoms, demand that they listen to you. I timidly tried to remind him what I was there for. He didn’t listen. Never once made eye contact, and wrote me FOUR prescriptions before he finally took the time to find something suitable for a breastfeeding mother. I never filled that prescription, a sort of symbolic “forget you” to the doctor I swore to never see again. For years I chalked the experience up to him simply being a jerk, a butthole, a tool, whatever. After all, in any profession you’ll find people like him, so I couldn’t assume I’d ever be treated so poorly by another physician.

Until I needed another physician.

Let me just get this out of the way: Fat people know we’re fat. No one is telling us anything new. We shop at different stores, take elevators to separate floors in department stores. We own mirrors and scales. We read the same articles and see how big of a deal it is when Target announces they’ll carry something in our size. We rarely see anyone like us in the media, and most of the time it’s only because someone felt it was their place to point out how much bigger that person is getting. Kirstie Alley has become a punch line for struggling with something the VAST majority of Americans struggle with, and somehow the same majority feels it’s okay to laugh. She knows what number stares back at her from her closet, long before anyone writes a joke about it. She knows. We know. We all know.

if you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’ve battled PCOS for most of my life. A few years ago, it began to get out of control. Not that it was ever a walk in the park, but it was truly affecting my quality of life. I sought help from a highly-specialized doctor, a man with incredible reviews and a very fancy office. I saw him several times, went through some invasive procedures, bloodwork, and tests, then sat in his office and slumped my shoulders when all he said was, “Yep, you have PCOS.” I reminded him of my symptoms, my complaints, my misery, of how I’d gained 50 pounds in a single month. Through tears I asked him if there was nothing else that could be done to help, nothing else to look for. “Well, you’re fat, so you’re not going to feel well.” Ouch. He offered to send my information to a surgeon he knew who performed bariatric surgery, despite my insistence that diet had not caused my appearance.

I worked up the courage a few months later to see another doctor. I knew that my weight was a symptom of something going horribly wrong in my body and was determined to find out what it was. This new doctor interrupted me as I tearfully shared my complaints with her to ask about my diet. My nearly 100% organic, home-cooked, acceptably-portioned diet. She was puzzled, I could tell. The confusion on her face was clear: How does she eat like that but look like this? When I told her I drank a Pepsi every day, she looked relieved and let out a huge sigh. She thought she’d solved the mystery. “Well, are they two-liters?” Out loud. She said that out loud. To me. A woman in tears, begging for her help. She didn’t care what was wrong with me, she couldn’t see past my size.

Months later, I braved the MDs again. This one actually handed me tissues as I cried. She scheduled surgery, bloodwork, tried really hard to figure out a lot of the symptoms I was experiencing. At the end of the months-long process, we were none the wiser and I was no better. Having earned my Google University medical degree at this point, I asked if she could check my thyroid. She, instead, handed me a Weight Watchers flyer. Again, yet again, this prison of fat was being seen as a cause, not a symptom. I lost my cool that time, handed her the flyer back, and gave her quite a speech on how many patients she’s probably missed the mark on because she couldn’t see past the weight.

I read a blog a few months ago that discussed this very topic, how doctors are so blinded or biased by weight that they fail to treat the actual underlying cause of a patient’s complaint. A sore knee is seen as the byproduct of bearing too much, not a possible autoimmune disorder, a legitimate injury, or even a blood clot. Labored breathing or chest pains in a plus-sized patient are met with eye rolls, not concern. There is no sympathy, no dedication. As soon as the weight of a patient is assessed, it becomes a hurdle the patient must overcome in the long path to getting a doctor to LISTEN. Yes, we know we’re fat, but please listen to what else is bothering us. Please stop staring in judgement long enough to listen with care. If doctors attend medical school for so long to help people, then start doing it already. Yes, obesity is an epidemic that causes an incredible amount of health concerns, disabilities, and death. Yes, it’s bad for us. But so are doctors who don’t pay attention to anything more than our waist band. Google “doctor fat bias” and you will find numerous studies indicating that doctors tend to treat thinner patients better and more effectively. I, for one, am less likely to seek medical care because I don’t believe that my concerns will be heard or addressed, and I don’t feel like dealing with the judgement or embarrassment that comes from being ignored.

This is a problem. All patients, no matter their size, deserve equal, empathetic care. I spent hundreds, heck, thousands of dollars trying to find a doctor who would behave like a doctor. My money is the same as that of a thin person’s. I wasn’t looking for a pat on the back, I wasn’t looking for someone to make me feel good about myself, I was looking for a DOCTOR. Yes, I’m fat, now let’s find out WHY, please. Despite treating the PCOS (which causes weight gain, hurray), I still had extreme fatigue. Hair loss. Mental fog. Aching joints. Hives. More weight gain. The overwhelming diagnosis was that I was fat. Fat people are supposed to feel miserable. Fat people only get fat by eating a whole lot. Fat people are unhealthy. Lab result after lab result showed that I was actually in incredible health. (One doctor even said “wow” when she saw my healthy blood work.) My cholesterol is fine. I am not diabetic. My heart and lungs and liver and everything else work great. I just feel terrible and won’t stop gaining weight. They all missed it. Every doctor I saw, every doctor I begged, every doctor I worked up the courage to share my struggles with, every doctor I trusted to help me. They were blinded by my size and their objective abilities to help left the room. They didn’t see the pattern. They didn’t see the fatigue, the weight gain, the hair loss, the joint pain, the mental fog, the hives, the sleeping troubles. They didn’t see a woman in front of them with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Because that woman is fat.

When I got the phone call from yet another doctor (who asked in our initial consult if I’d ever eaten a salad), I knew what was coming. A simple Google search had provided me with a diagnosis more than a half-dozen doctors couldn’t reach, months before. I knew what was wrong with me and I knew what to ask for. And while he was quite rude about it, that last doctor ran the tests that needed to be ran all along. I’d cried for years that my body felt like a lemon, like it was attacking itself, and it was finally confirmed to be true. I cried VICTORIOUS tears after that phone call. I wanted to call every doctor I’d seen and tell them the news, tell them they’d failed me. Instead my mind went to all of the other potential patients they’d failed. How many other people were walking around with treatable illnesses because they’d been diagnosed as fat? How many people who become statistics each year by dying from obesity-related issues actually have years left, but were written off as collateral damage caused by cake? I kept this news largely to myself, mostly because I’d complained enough about my health. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder, so there is no cure, only treatment. It was likely caused by the extreme imbalances from the PCOS, but everyone is different. It takes, on average, 5 years for a patient with an autoimmune disorder to get a diagnosis. And with the way autoimmune disorders work and how connected every hormone and organ and gland in our body is, those with autoimmune disorders often develop other autoimmune disorders. So we are quite literally getting worse as we look for help. We are actually wasting away. Our health deteriorates with every doctor we visit. Doctors, who take oaths, who vow to help, who wear white coats and earn letters after their names, are making their patients WORSE, simply because they don’t have their listening ears on.

I love Humans of New York. If you don’t follow Brandon and his project, you’re really missing out on an incredible glimpse at humanity. Similar to what Post Secret used to be, it shows us, every day, that we can’t judge a book by its cover, that we truly have no idea what’s going on inside someone. Until we listen.

Last night I had to go to the doctor. My throat burned like lava, I had a fever, and my lymph nodes were swollen. I needed a doctor. He walked in, sat down, and asked if I had diabetes. “No, but I have a sore throat.” It turns out I have strep throat. Treatable. Temporary. And in no way related to my weight.

Listen up, doctors. Your patients are dying and don’t care what size their coffins are.

Reasonable Expectation of Dignity

I don’t want to share this.

My hands are shaking. My heartbeat is visible through the skin over my collarbone. I’m so nervous and humiliated that I feel lightheaded. I do not want to share this.

But I have to. For a week I’ve been fighting this, and for a week I’ve tossed and turned and been awakened by my brain that seems to want to write this on its own. So while I don’t want to share this, I need to.

I love fashion. I hang out in sweatpants and Backstreet Boys t-shirts and revel in the no-makeup days, but I love fashion. I also love to laugh. It seemed a given that I would enjoy a marriage of the two, Fashion Police on E!. I DVR’ed the heck out of it, I wanted Joan Rivers’ job (and wardrobe!), I laughed, I looked forward to it. Until a few months ago when I read an interview with a random celebrity that I can’t even remember, but their words stuck with me. She said that she did not watch Fashion Police, because it was hurtful. The women they tore apart on that show left their house feeling beautiful, and those “judges” thought it was their place to say otherwise. Boom. I haven’t watched since.

Many of you know that I struggle with my weight. Yes, I say “struggle”. I’m still battling the irrational anxiety that has popped up in the last year. I went from fat and happy to fat and terrified. Terrified of what people thought, terrified of what people saw. Leaving the house means winning an internal battle some days. As much as I love to encourage others, I cannot seem to rally myself to hold my head up as often. Yes, my husband loves me and tells me how beautiful he thinks I am. Yes, I am HEALTHY. No, I never share this struggle with my children. Because this weight is beyond my control, I feel like I am grasping at nothing, drowning, falling down a well. I want to wear a sign that says “Yes, I know I’m overweight, but NO, I did not do this to myself.” I feel like I need to explain myself to the perceived disgusted public. It’s a truly overwhelming feeling to not have control over your body. Enter the hot tears. I can take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). But the outside? The part that people see? All I can do is shave my legs, do my hair, and put on some makeup. Well, it’s winter, so the legs can wait. I have literally had panic attacks in the middle of stores because I was so ashamed of how I looked and what I thought people were thinking. Again, I know it’s irrational. But again, grasping at nothing.

Last week, my worst fear happened: I caught someone taking a cell phone picture of me. This is where my hands shake and my heart races again. This person was trying to go unnoticed, pretending to check emails or Facebook, until the flash accidentally went off. I was sitting alone, just a bare wall next to me. When I climbed far enough out of my shame cloud to tell my best friends and husband what had happened, they all tried their obligatory encouraging alternatives: “Maybe it was your beautiful hair! Maybe they liked something you were wearing! Maybe this, maybe that…” Nope. Momma was having a ROUGH day that day. Ponytail, my black flats with the holes in them, glasses. Also, we had been chatting, so a compliment could have been offered up at any time. I also know that this person is a member of a very trendy gym, one that prides itself so much on fitness that the various branches host competitions for members to prove themselves. I’m not calling this gym out, I’m just saying that given this person’s trained way of thinking with regard to fitness, and my appearance that day, it is not hard to conclude why that person took a sneaky picture of me.

I’m fat.

As a fat person, I’m allowed to say that. It’s not the worst thing someone can be, so I’m okay with saying it. It’s just a descriptor, it’s not my identity. But when that’s all someone bothers to notice about you, especially as a woman, it hurts. You can’t tell by the picture that person took that I love my family and friends, that I’m a beast with a glue gun, that I can quote every episode of Friends, that I’m freaking funny and flippin’ awesome. That picture doesn’t show my dedication, my creativity, my desire to help other people. It doesn’t show the rivers of tears I’ve cried over pants that stop fitting, the number of doctors I’ve met with to find a cure, or at least a STOP. It doesn’t show the fear I have when I approach a folding chair, an amusement park ride, or when I pass someone leaving a restaurant. It doesn’t show the internal battle being waged by my hormones, how my body is turning against me, how I have no control and no end in sight to this horrible, horrible disease. But you know what it does show, that image of my outsides? It shows the insides of the person who took it.   

As a photographer, I can assure you that this person was within their legal rights to take my picture. Once you attend a public event, you lose what is called a reasonable expectation of privacy. As a human, I want to shout that they had NO right. I am a mother, a wife, a friend… not a punchline. I may not meet that person’s standards of beauty, but then again, I’m not trying to. I can call that person rude, judgemental, callous, a butthead… I can say whatever I want, but it doesn’t take away the shame. Again, I wanted to scream, “I didn’t do this to myself!” I don’t owe that person an explanation, but I was so humiliated that I felt the need to justify my measurements. Instead, I just hung my head. My worst fear, that a stranger was internally laughing at my appearance, had just played out in front of me. Me, the strong-willed, opinionated, loud, energetic force of nature, had been reduced to a lump of indignity. My friends and husband also gave me the obligatory accolades, but the facts that I’m caring, sweet, thoughtful, funny, or made of concentrated awesomesauce don’t show up in sneaky, malicious cell phone pictures. It hurt. Bad. It still hurts. Writing this has helped some, given me a sense of control over how I will react to it. Like I said, it says as much about the person who took that photo as it does about the way I look. But beyond a personal victory, I needed to share this so to offer my perspective, the person on the other side, the person who is likely in someone’s newsfeed with a crude caption.

Please consider this side the next time you do the same. People of Walmart can be hilarious and mind-boggling, and you KNOW there are people who dress that way intentionally in the hopes of a POW appearance (or the $50 gift card), but what about the innocent ones? The people who don’t have any fashion sense, the people who say “Screw it, it’s Walmart and I need toilet paper!”, the people who don’t have the money for nice clothes, or even a home to hang them in? What about the people who don’t have the mental capacity to arrange a Milan-worthy look, the people you see wearing holey clothes, too-tight clothes, too-short clothes, too-dirty clothes, too-ugly clothes, too-old clothes… what if those are all the clothes they have? Can you imagine how they would feel to see their photo on a website devoted to judging peoples’ appearance, to read the comments of strangers about how they look, when no one knows their circumstances? I myself am guilty of taking a sneaky photo of a cashier who was dressed exactly like Blanche from Golden Girls. But now I ask myself, “Why?” Why did I need the picture? Why was it my place to secretly tease this woman? And what pain and embarrassment might she have felt, what insecurities might I have unearthed if she’d noticed? When did our desire to judge and tease become greater than someone else’s right to dignity? If I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), if I was knit together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), if I am God’s MASTERPIECE (Ephesians 2:10), then so are you, so is Blanche, so are we all. Taking pictures and laughing isn’t going to change that person’s life for the better. And it certainly won’t make you a better person. So please, stop.

Grocery Store Etiquette

In order to mark the momentous occasion that is my first official blog post, I decided to go big. Go exciting. Talk about something earth-shaking and mind-blowing and controversial that will make you glad you took the time away from playing Candy Crush on the toilet to read this.

Apparently grocery store etiquette doesn’t exist. At least not anywhere formal. There are sites dedicated to what NOT to do (wear) to the grocery store, but I’m not aware of any that tell you how to behave like a human. So I would like to make grocery store etiquette available to all who would Google it. Even though, let’s be honest, the people who are Googling “Grocery Store Etiquette” aren’t the ones who need it most, amIright?

Before embarking on one’s mission to the local grocer, there are several things to consider. Am I wearing the appropriate undergarments? Are said undergarments UNDERNEATH a layer of weather-appropriate clothing? Are all of these undergarments unseen? Am I wearing a recent application of deodorant? Have I showered recently enough to remember when? Only when the answer to ALL of these questions is yes are you prepared to exit the home and shop amongst the natives.

Upon entering the parking lot at a safe and appropriate speed, proceed up and down the parking aisles ONLY in the direction intended. If you have to bust a u-turn to get into your chosen spot, you are going the wrong way. In this scenario, we are in America, where drivers stick to the RIGHT side of the road. This applies later, as well. If you can see tail lights of the cars parked around you, congratulations on driving the right way. If you see headlights, try again. While browsing for your dream spot, heed the pedestrians. Yes, they walk like a herd of turtles. Yes, they intentionally spread out and leave no room for you to eek past in your parking quest. Yes, they load their groceries into the back of their SUV so slowly that it’s likely the expiration date on their milk will be reached before they finish. And you better believe they know what they’re doing when they sit in their idling car, updating Facebook and returning texts while you wait for their spot. But heed the pedestrians. Because it is REALLY awkward when you tap one with your bumper on the way to snag a spot, only to have them limp past you when you get out. Once that prime bit of real estate has been spotted and confirmed vacant, proceed at a speed of less than 20 mph. If you see someone else headed towards the same spot, it is not a race. I promise. Be the bigger person. ESPECIALLY if you see carseats or a pregnant belly. Let chivalry reign in the parking lot. Once you have claimed your spot, examine the lines on either side. Can you see them both? Are your tires free of any contact with them? Are your tires INSIDE both of them? Is your car angled to mimic those lines? The parking lot is no place to get fancy with geometry. Just park inside the lines. Can the customers and fellow human beings on either side of you comfortably enter and exit their vehicle based on the proximity of yours? If the answer to any of those questions was “no”, then go home. You have failed. If you can’t nail the parking thing, you’re probably going to be a turd inside the store, too.

Now you find yourself approaching the entry to your favorite store. You’re overwhelmed with choices – do I grab small arm basket? Do I need a motorized cart with a tiny basket? Do I select a shopping cart and risk  getting stuck somewhere behind the people who chose the motorized cart? Here’s how you choose: If you are getting anything other than a small bag of marshmallows, don’t get the arm basket. Groceries are deceptively heavy, and the metal handles hurt like a sonofagun when they dig into your arm. So just carry your two things. Plus, there’s always the awkward “Where do I put this basket?” moment at the checkout. If you’re buying more than 10 things, don’t get the motorized cart. You can see how small that basket is. They’re like actual denim blue jeans, not jeggings. No stretch. You can’t get away with shoving more than you should into them. Should you require the motorized cart, please, for the love of ALL things holy, drive on the RIGHT SIDE OF THE AISLES. The middle of the aisle is not conveniently open for your cruising. The bread aisle was not dreamed up for you to park and argue. Do your part to squash that crotchety-person-on-the-assault-wagon stereotype. If you tag a customer in the behind or take down a corner display, do the right thing and apologize. The grocery store is not a big whack-a-mole game of ramming legs. Look at me like it was my fault, and I may just grab one of your items and put it on the top shelf.

Obviously, at this point, we’ve deduced that the safest choice is a cart on wheels, a buggy, a doohiggy. Whatever. Maintain control of your cart at all times. Push your cart down the RIGHT SIDE OF THE AISLES at all times. If you get a defective cart with a wonky wheel, do not abandon it in front of the macaroni. Kindly return it to the shopping cart bay, or pull up your big girl britches and get your list checked off while dealing with it.

At some point during every shopping trip, I encounter someone. I’m not talking about the people I know. Not the people I prepared to see by putting on undergarments and deodorant. Seeing someone I know is inevitable. But so is happening upon THAT person. The time suck. The weirdo. The person of seemingly below-average intelligence and above-average loneliness. I’m told this doesn’t happen to everyone, but for me it’s as much a grocery store staple as milk. If you put off the same freak beacon as I do, you will encounter someone who wants to talk. And talk. Then ignore your attempts to back away or check the time. And continue talking. Be kind. My husband tells me it’s God drawing them near to me because I’ll listen and they need it. My head tells me it’s because I tapped a pedestrian with my bumper earlier. Either way, be kind. This trip may be their only interaction with people who don’t have tails. Since I believe in God, I have to believe that there is some divine reason, something I have to offer them. If YOU are the time-suck… for gravy’s sake, get to the point. You see my frozen items. You hear my cell phone going off. If you need someone to talk to, then maybe let’s walk and do it. Come to church and meet new people. Be efficient in your time-sucking, and I’ll be a lot more receptive. If you’re the old man who backed me into the Ovaltine and talked for twenty minutes about forcing uninterrupted eye contact on your children… just stay home and order out every night.

Your unwanted cheese does not belong amongst the Gain, so don’t leave it there.

“I seen” is not an English phrase. Do not refer to a sale you eyed on aisle 6 in this manner.

Place a jar of organic peanut butter and a bag of carrots on the very top of your cart to avoid being judged by the contents underneath.

Special considerations: Shoppers with children and couponers. Nobody WANTS to take their kids to the grocery store. Trust me. If you see a parent at the store with their children in tow, then their kitchen is BARE. They waited until they could wait no longer. As a hardcore-stockpiling-couponer-turned-casual-money-saver, I would ask you to extend couponers some courtesy. It took a lot of time and organization for them to haul their giant notebooks out. They’ve likely been there for hours doing countless math scenarios and coming up with back-up plan after back-up plan when they don’t find what they’d anticipated. If they clear the shelves, yes, they’re jerks. The world will keep spinning and gravity will keep working. And don’t worry, they’ll most likely encounter a really rude cashier who thinks they’re trying to steal from the store, so that will catch up with them REAL quick.

Have you ever noticed how the person who smells the worst/curses the loudest in front of your children/talks your ear off/walks the slowest always seems to have the same grocery list as you? Yeah, I haven’t found a solution for that one.

As this post has already gotten much more lengthy than I anticipated, I’ll try and sum it up: Be kind. You are not the only person in the store. You are not the only person in the world. Everyone is there because they need something. Grocery stores are great equalizers. Be considerate. Be kind. When someone inevitably wrongs you, let it go. Kroger is not the place to make a stand and prove a point. If you must be on a cellular device, do not speak loudly. Try and refrain from using salty language. When you reach the cashier, put your phone away, smile, and TALK with them. If you read People magazine while waiting, don’t set it on top of the Ice Breakers mints when you’re done.

And for the love of GOD, if you see someone you know and can’t possibly wait until a more convenient time to get caught up on the last 8 1/2 years of each others’ lives, then find a spot that DOESN’T BLOCK PEOPLE. Remember, we’re all here because we need something, so try and keep an open mind about what someone else may need – frozen pizzas, companionship, or uninterrupted eye contact.