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ACEs, three people who saved my life, childhood, adverse childhood experiences

This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.

2020 has been a crazy year. Things have happened to all of us that we never could have imagined. As an adult, it’s been trying. It’s hard to get your bearings when the world feels like it’s on fire. I can only imagine how hard this must be on our children; struggling to make sense of everything and trying to function in this new normal. It’s not normal for any of us. 

I’ve stayed vigilant these past 9 months since the pandemic began, trying to keep our lives right side up. It takes effort, work, ingenuity, and creativity. I’ve spent the past 15 years trying to help my daughters avoid the pitfalls of ACEs because I suffered them myself and know the effect they can have on a child.  Hopefully, our vigilance as parents being safe nurturing caregivers will help our girls fair better should the pandemic be traumatic.

READ ALSO: Sending Kids Back to School during a Pandemic

 ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are negative childhood experiences that impact children and can have long-lasting effects. There are 10 ACEs, and they fall into 3 categories: 1) Abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual); 2) Neglect (physical or emotional); and 3) Household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, divorce, incarcerated relative, substance abuse). Thankfully, ACEs can be prevented or mitigated when adults and children have strong support systems through individuals or organizations. 

There are a lot of traumatic things that can happen in a child’s life—including death, pandemics, or natural disasters—over which we have no control, but ACEs can be prevented either directly with help from another person, or indirectly through policy, education, or society changes such as paid family leave or prison sentencing laws. 

Luckily, I had adults in my life who helped me navigate those ACEs in my life and get through them. Since then, my goal has always been to be an advocate for children and to pay forward the kindness that was given to me by the three people who saved my life without ever knowing it, even more so this holiday season.

READ ALSO: What Every Mom Needs to Know about Coronavirus

This is not something difficult. I’m not special. But being there for a kid when they need it most can make a huge difference in their life as it did for me.  We all have the capability to be kind to others, to help others in need, especially children. Experiencing an adverse childhood experience can be traumatic and can set the tone for the quality of life going forward. Having a support system in place can mean the difference between moving through and past hard things in life or getting stuck or even regressing. 

ACEs, three people who saved my life, childhood, adverse childhood experiences

This year, coronavirus has taught me a lot of invaluable life lessons. The most important is how important it is to be able to ask for and give help when needed. But kids can’t always do that. Just the way toddlers can’t always verbalize what they feel because of their lack of vocabulary, bigger kids and teens still have difficulty expressing their emotions, especially during a pandemic. It’s hard to turn to the adults in your life for help when they are crumbling under the enormous weight of an international health crisis. We’re all trying our best but sometimes, as parents, just like our kids, we have to be willing to ask for and accept help. 

ACEs, three people who saved my life, childhood, adverse childhood experiencesThe most important thing is to create safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments for our own children and the children around us. This is the foundation upon which their entire lives will be built. This foundation is not only essential to lifelong health and happiness but could even prevent ACEs from happening in the first place. 

For my own children, I check in daily; sometimes hourly. A big part of being there for them is being present in a time when, honestly, a lot of us just want to check out. Another thing I did was put both of my girls into virtual therapy. I am diabetic (underlying condition) so we have only left the house a handful of times in the past 9 months. The girls are doing school virtually. I’m doing grad school virtually. I’m working virtually. We’ve been wearing masks and quarantining for a long time. There have been no family visits. No friends to talk to in-person or at birthday parties. There was no family Thanksgiving celebration. Our world is pretty much the 4 of us who live in this house and as much as we love one another, it is a lot. I didn’t spend all these years doing everything so my girls didn’t experience ACEs just for the aftermath of a global pandemic to mess everything up so I’ve learned to pivot. I know my limits, and I’m not too proud to ask for help.

Therapy helps my daughters talk to someone other than me and express any anxieties or fears they might have and don’t want or can’t talk to me about. It’s a pressure release. I’ve also encouraged the girls to video chat with friends and family and encouraged my husband to initiate his own conversations with them. I want them to feel connected even when we’re physically not and feel heard when the world is so noisy. 

I’ve noticed my daughters’ friends also experiencing these same issues as my girls. I’ve always been the mom who the kids know they can talk to about anything. I’m the mom who isn’t afraid to go to school and speak up for the kid getting bullied. I’m the mom who if I see your child struggling or reaching out for attention, I will tell you. I know it might not be popular with my daughters, but if I see a child talking about depression or suicide (needing help), I will and have reached out to their parents or school officials. I can’t ignore it when it can mean the difference between life and death. The thing is you never know what kind of desperation is behind a social media post (especially during coronavirus), and I just don’t feel comfortable taking that chance. I know it’s not a lot, but it’s a small way that I can provide kindness and advocate on behalf of the children in my life.

READ ALSO: Surviving Child Abuse

Being there for children is free. It only takes a willingness to help, time, and genuine concern. This pandemic holiday season, I am going to make sure to send personalized cards to the kids in our lives to let them know they are not alone and we are here to support them. I am also going to take some time to personally call and check in on some of them. I’ll also be checking their social media accounts including the fake accounts their parents know nothing about. The holidays are always a hard time of year for some, but I think this year is hard probably for most. 

My gift to the children in my life this year is to be one of their three if they need me, like the three people who were there for me when I needed them most. If I can help a child get through these uncertain times by being part of an unconditional support system and providing some stability, that would be a gift to me.

We’ve all had our three (or more) people in our lives who’ve been there to help us when we needed them most. This holiday season, let’s all pay it forward. Who were the three people who helped create a safe, stable, and nurturing relationship or environment when you were growing up? What will you do to be one of a child’s three this holiday season?

 

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ACEs, three people who saved my life, childhood

This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.

I grew up in a big family with an even bigger extended family. Our family wasn’t just the people we were related to. It was also the people in our community whom we loved and who loved us and cared for us, too. I am grateful for those people who were there when I needed them most. 

My parents are good parents. They’re even better grandparents. When I was small, they were new at parenting and, like all of us, they didn’t always know the right thing to do. I’ve made mistakes as a mom, just as all of us do. But I survived those moments thanks to good intentions and the village that was there to help guide me when I was a little lost and couldn’t find my way. In many ways, I’ve thrived because of the positive childhood experiences I’ve had.  

I did however live through my fair share of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). ACEs are negative childhood experiences that impact children and can have long-lasting effects. There are 10 ACEs, and they fall into 3 categories: 1) Abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual); 2) Neglect (physical or emotional); and 3) Household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, divorce, incarcerated relative, substance abuse). Thankfully, ACEs can be prevented or mitigated when adults and children have strong support systems through individuals or organizations. 

There are a lot of traumatic things that can happen in a child’s life, including death, pandemics, or natural disasters, but ACEs can be prevented either directly with help from another person, or indirectly through policy, education, or society changes such as paid family leave or prison sentencing laws. 

The ACEs that I experienced were physical and emotional abuse by a father who was an alcoholic. He has since stopped drinking. He has been sober for most of my adult life, but those early days have left their scars. His alcoholism sucked all of the air out of the room. This isn’t to say he wasn’t a good dad. When he was sober, 5 days of the week, he was a devoted, loving, and involved father. But when he was drinking, he was selfish, mean, quick-tempered, unpredictable, and volatile. He was scary, maybe even more so because when he was sober, he was so good.

His behavior had ripple effects. His instability caused my mother to spend a lot of her time distracted, overwhelmed, afraid, and unhappy. She loved us so much, but it always felt like she was withdrawn, even though she was always physically there. She teetered between being emotionally removed and overly emotional. For me, I never felt like she was completely present; putting out fires while awaiting the next crisis. 

ACEs, three people who saved my life, childhood

In turn, this caused me to pick up the slack, and that impeded my childhood. With 6 children, a volatile father who drank, and a mom who was always overwhelmed, worried, and afraid, I was left feeling abandoned even when I was living in the house with both of my parents. They were physically there, but I felt very alone. I needed to talk. I needed to be seen. But I was just one more thing on their lists of things to survive, and sometimes, my needs were too much for their patience that day. 

Each day was an unknown—maybe it would be a day at the beach followed by a cookout and laughter, or maybe it would be a drunk dad, an overwhelmed mom, and a slap or a belt buckle for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I just never knew, and that was my entire childhood until I went away to college, which may have never happened if not for a few special people who saw me drowning and threw me a buoy. University was my escape plan, but these people were integral in helping me get through some of the rough patches. 

ACEs, three people who saved my life, childhoodThankfully, for as many adverse childhood experiences as I had, I also had many positive childhood experiences with my parents. Luckily for me, a few very special people’s simple acts of kindness towards a little girl in crisis helped me to grow into the person I am today. They’re the reason I’ve always made myself available to lift children up when I can, to advocate for my children’s friends, and to be a champion and cheerleader for my girls. I learned from the mistakes and the kindnesses of the adults in my life. Our actions, good or bad, have ripples and can make a difference in other people’s lives, especially a child’s. 

There were many but these are the three that I would like to thank:

Mrs. Vrabel, my 2nd-grade teacher who took a special liking to me and saw me at a time when I needed to be seen. She nurtured my gifts and praised me at a time when I was one of five children under 7 at home. She made me feel special when my parents were too busy, tired and overwhelmed to do it themselves. 

ACEs, three people who saved my life, childhood

My Tio Narci and my Tio Ramon, who both made the time to talk and listen when I was trying to understand what was going on with my parents’ fighting and my dad’s drinking. They made me not feel alone, and I felt safe knowing they were there to intercede when my mom couldn’t. I felt heard when my voice felt small. They stepped in on my behalf to remind my parents we were still there watching—afraid and confused. They made me feel normal at a time when my life felt out of control.

ACEs, three people who saved my life, childhood

My friend’s mom, Linda, who I will never forget. To this day, I adore her. A lot of things were happening at home when I was a senior in high school. It was all so much that I was depressed and, at one point, suicidal. School wasn’t very important to me. I knew college was my escape plan and I got good grades, but I was depressed and I just didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be anywhere.

ACEs, three people who saved my life, childhoodBy that point, I was suffering from eating disorders, and that was just one more thing I had to hide. I suffered from a lot of stomach issues from anxiety from my home life, so I missed a lot of school. My mom let me stay home because she knew what was going on and that was the only thing she could do to help. My English teacher tried to fail me for the last quarter of my senior year because of my attendance issues despite my grade being an A. 

He would have succeeded. I was terrified when he gleefully told me. Yes, he smiled. He didn’t know what was going on at home, and he didn’t care. That wasn’t his job. He just knew that I missed his class a lot, and he felt that deserved punishment. Did I mention I was #3 in my class? Did I mention that I had been in journalism, yearbook, and newspaper for all 4 years of high school? Did I mention I took 2 languages, all 4 years? I was the nerdy girl who worked her tail off to get accepted to every college she applied to. I got a gold seal on my diploma. But he tried to fail me, and I had no one to advocate for me because my parents were otherwise engaged.

I didn’t know what to do. Then my friend, Laurie, stepped in with her mom, who happened to be on the school board. The teacher was overruled because all of those journalism classes counted as English coursework, so his one quarter was not going to affect my overall requirements. She saved my future when no one else could or would. 

I’ll never forget what these people did for me. They saved me at pivotal moments in my life when I could have been lost. It’s so important to create safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments in childhood, which are essential to lifelong health and success as well as the prevention of ACEs. Prevention or mitigation is possible when adults and children have strong support systems through individuals or organizations. That’s the idea of preventing them directly. You can help other people and stop ACEs from happening, and other people can help you and stop ACEs from happening. That’s why support networks are a necessary component of preventing ACEs. 

ACEs, three people who saved my life, childhoodThese three people changed the trajectory of my life. I am who I am, in part, because they were in my life when I needed them most. Are you one of some child’s three people? Are you a  resource that children can rely on to create those safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments? How can you be part of someone else’s “three,” and provide that vital support that every child needs growing up?

 

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