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Friday, October 24, 2014

Today is My Wedding Day.


Today is my 16th wedding anniversary. Sixteen years ago I married the love of my life.  We weren't kids when we married and I'd made my share of mistakes, so to say I was nervous is an understatement.  As a bride those many years ago, I knew that I was marrying a man who was kind, strong and patient. He knew me better than anyone had every known me up until that point.  What I didn't know was how much our love would be tested over the next 16 years. And, I definitely did not know it would take 16 years for me to really feel like a newlywed again.

If you read my blogs or know me, our challenges have been well chronicled -- diagnosed with an autoimmune disease three months after we married; five years of severe illness; three children born with unexplained and rare disabilities, eight years searching for answers, four years of transplant surgery for my boys, 20 surgeries overall.  

Just writing the words can send a chill down my spine. 

It will never be forgotten by Mat and I, but in many ways, it is over.  Not literally, but in so many good ways that it is hard to describe.  We have made it through the perfect storm, the hurricane, the tornado that was those first 16 years and we have come out alive, we have come out stronger, and we have come out happy.  You may not understand that kind of happiness, but it is the sweetest feeling I can ever describe.  A life with fear 24/7 is far different than a life with occasional fear. If you have ever had this, you know what I'm talking about. To know now that my partner is more of a husband and a father than I could ever imagine.  That is something, that is a miracle.   That is something I never would have known then.


Our fathers -- Elio Lori & Edward DelBeccaro -- at our wedding reception


How does that happen?  It's certainly not what we planned, we could never have understood that either of us could take the knock downs, time and again, and come out on the other side.  Not in a million years.  But we did.   No small amount can be attributed to our common upbringing.  Italian, Catholic, each of us one of eight children, parents that were raised pre and post Depression & World War II. Culture, tradition, family, faith, those are at the core of how we were raised and while each of us may have wavered at different times.  Each of us may have thought, 'maybe this is more than I can handle.'  Never did it happen at the same time and that is why I am grateful.  

I will never again look out into the world with innocence and think everything from now on will be easy.  But I do have a wisdom, a peace of knowing, no matter what, that man I married, my best friend is in it with me, he is in it for our family.  I know how lucky I am and so today, I celebrate our wedding. Happy Wedding Mat!  XOXO

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#TBT 5 Ways to Foster and Teach Empathy to Children

One of the best things about my new life as a writer is the living record you keep of your thoughts, feelings and adventures.  Sharing those adventures at first is not easy but as time has gone by and people follow your blog or articles, the feedback I receive makes it well worth it.  In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, here is an article I wrote first for www.startempathy.org and then updated for Huffington Post, about a subject that is so close to my heart -- empathy. 

Empathy is something you need to cultivate again and again, no matter what your age.  Even my children who have been scrutinized their entire lives are guilty of pre judging someone on occasion and we all need to remind ourselves what it feels like to walk in someone else's shoes.  As always, your feedback is welcome.  Have a great day.

5 Ways to Foster and Teach Empathy to Children
Posted: Updated:

Three years ago, I wrote an article about fostering empathy for children with disabilities that I thought would be helpful for parents of young disabled children. At the time, my three boys were 10, 8 and 7. I got such a nice response from the piece I updated it based on my children's current ages of 13, 11 and 10 as well as added some new things I continue to learn along the way. Since I frequently tell my children that everyone in life faces challenges, some of us on the outside, others economic or emotional, this list really attempts to speak to parents of children of all backgrounds. While schools grapple with teaching children about bullying, parents should and can take an active part in helping children develop empathy. My children had a very rare medical condition called facial paralysis which made it vital for me become their ongoing advocate.

Here are my five ways to foster and teach empathy that have helped us:

1) Empathy vs. Sympathy
This is a lesson that never goes out of style in our home but our approach has clearly changed as our kids have gotten older. The way I explain the difference to my children is that sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, empathy is understanding their struggle. No small task.
To that end, rather than just educating people about our circumstances, we are now trying to reach out and understand other people's challenges as a means of giving our children a keen understanding of how they are indeed part of a world so much bigger than themselves. Leading by example is the best gift we can give them. Obvious? Yes, and no. In our case, just because our children have a disability doesn't mean you automatically are empathic. In fact, you can easily isolate yourself and feel detached from the outside world. Depression and adversity often go hand in hand.
We try to teach our kids about the numerous benefits of service, giving back and selflessness. We expose them to children and families who are developmentally, economically or physically challenged. We invite these people into our lives both in big or small ways through friendship or volunteering. We try to make it part of our everyday lives, not a lecture. You've heard of "just do it." Just live it.

2) Communication is the Key

Many disabled, disadvantaged and special needs children are pre-judged because of a lack of communication about the child. Even though my children have been at our school since pre K, we continue to educate teachers and parents, every year, about their medical history. It's not my favorite thing to do but it has to be done and we keep at it. If you have a child who has been diagnosed with a learning disability at 8 or 9 for instance, this might be new territory for you. Get out in front of it. Ask your child to come with you to meet the teacher or administrator so that you can truly collaborate on their education. New friend, coach or babysitter? No activity worth doing isn't worth explaining. Are you a single parent and can't be at every school activity, identify a surrogate -- another parent or friend who can fill in for you when necessary.
Recently, I thought a teacher/coach knew my child was hearing impaired, he did not. When my son took his hearing aids off for sports, he could not hear the coach half of the time and the coach thought he wasn't paying attention. After we realized what was happening, we explained to my son that he needed to watch the coach for visual direction and to the coach that waving and making eye contact on his end allowed my son to read lips. Small adjustment, big benefit.

3) Visit the Classroom, Playing Field or Playmate's Home

Kindergarten is the age I chose to first talk to my son's class about our children's disability and every year that followed until 5th grade when I did it more one on one with the teacher so as not to embarrass my child. No matter what challenges you are facing, I encourage you to share your story, engage the people in your child's life. It took us a lot to overcome our discomfort with telling people our personal information but once the story was out, it was incredibly liberating and heart warming to see how people surround you and support you.

4) It's Not About You, It's About Them

Make friends with the parents of your child's classmates or in your neighbourhood or church or local Y. These do not necessarily have to be people you would choose to be besties with but if it helps your child, do it. If you are reserved and not normally outgoing, work on it, overcome it. I'm not kidding. As your child grows up it will be vital to your marriage, your life and your child's self-esteem that they have friends within the community. I speak and write about parenting frequently, and overwhelmingly, this is the number one obstacle for people and yet, when you find young people who love and support your child it is also the most rewarding. Maybe your child is incapable of having a peer-to-peer relationship with a child their age, it does not mean they are incapable of receiving love no matter what age or ability. Of course, you will have to start by going back to point #3 and share your story. Then get out there and make friends.

5) Be Happy #triggerhappiness

Five years ago, I had just gone through two major surgeries with my oldest child and I took the kids on a much-needed vacation but still I could not relax. The stares of strangers followed us everywhere. Before my husband joined us halfway through the trip, we spent long days together, swimming, eating and playing but rather than enjoy it, I cried by myself every single day feeling sorry for our circumstances. One day I looked up and the boys were laughing and playing and not caring or understanding one bit about the curve balls life had thrown us. I decided right then and there to take back my life, our life, love our life. It's not all rainbows and butterflies, there are still plenty of tears, but there are much more ice cream cones, singing at the top of our lungs and belly laughs. Eliminate the negative, all of it. Surround yourself with stable, kind people, they are out there. Give yourself a break, walk barefoot in the sand, trigger your own happiness and theirs will follow. It will build self-esteem and give them a lifetime of love. We all know someone who seems happy all the time, how is that possible?
#triggerhappiness and anything is possible.


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Actress Jane Seymour with my son Zack Lori and his friends Liam Nicholson and Nicolas de la Sierra who joined us when we were honored by the Open Hearts Foundation at Carnegie Hall. Family friendships for our children has been vital to building their self-esteem and overcoming challenges.