October 2015

Darkness is coming

Oh, you guys.

We turn the clocks back on Saturday night, and you know what that means.

The days get shorter.

It is dark by 4:30. Even by the time our work day ends, when last period ends at 2:23 – it is clear that the day is nearly over. The world becomes muted. Faded. Quick, and yet too long. Fuzzy. Disjointed. Out of sync. Wrong.

I hate it.

I try – I really do try – to be positive, to at least not let things get to me. Oh, I know. It will pass, we go through this every year, get exercise, use your light box.

I’m not looking for strategies.

Because the truth is – it just is really crappy. And not just for me, but for so many people I know.

I feel the lack of light in my bones. Even on a day when I race home from work to get in a half hour walk in the light, the fact is that it gets dark at 4:30, and then I sit on my couch, and I feel it weighing on me. Not even as a depression. But as a heaviness. A compression. A sluggishness. An I just want to nap every afternoon feeling. A million compensatory strategies do not substitute for that beautiful, natural, rhythm of sunsets not happening until 7:30.

This fall I have spent an enormous amount of time and energy into eliminating the internal darkness within me.

I am so thankful I did it now, as I will be that much lighter when the external darkness comes.

It will still be hard.

I am wired to need light. Not bright shining, glaring sun, but light. Sun.

But. So.

All we can do, really, is wait. Wait the 7 weeks or so until my most favorite day of the year – the Winter Solstice. Where we finally turn toward the light. Where no, the darkness doesn’t end, and the yes, cold permeates our bones, but we see the warm, lit path, sparkling with garlands of fairy lights, and we move towards it, knowing it comes out somewhere beautiful.

Goodbye, my beautiful sun. I hope you enjoy your rest. I will miss you – your true self – desperately, and will cherish every moment, however muted and fake-seeming, that I get of you during the short days. I will hold your radiance inside me, as best I can, and I will make my own light. I will miss you every moment and I will bloom again, as the flowers do, when you finally return.

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(image: shockhollywood/pixabay)

Pieces of fairy tales

Phrases and sentences from fairy tales have been dancing through my head like the Aurora Borealis dances across the sky. Tales of magical lands and fairies and elves and spells and monsters.

But they refuse to make themselves more than just that – sentences. Bits of stories, here and there. That’s all. So I write down the pieces that have come, and I wait until the next page in one of the stories makes itself clear.

And at once, she realized that the lily pads did, indeed, make a path from one side of the pond to another. All those years that she had tried to solve the quest of finding the path – and it had been right there, the whole time. It had been that easy.

When she was but a girl, a witch had handed her a stack of bricks. “Take these,” the witch said. “You must carry them with you, but you must not let anyone see them, or your family will be cursed.” The girl quickly opened up her skin, stuck the bricks inside, and sewed herself back up.

She had practiced and trained for the Final Fight. She had memorized moves and tactics and combinations. On the day of the Final Fight, she was calm. She was ready. Right before she entered the battle arena, her coach came running up to her. “It’s the monster,” her coach said. “You won’t be able to fight it, after all. It’s dead.”

She stepped outside and was encased in fog. She didn’t mind. In fact, she rather liked this type of fog. For it was not the scary kind, where she felt lost and disoriented and couldn’t find her way back to the castle. No, this fog was like a blanket. Gently wrapping itself around her, making the world a bit dimmer so that her eyes wouldn’t hurt.

But the little nymph was afraid of setting the dragon free from its cell. What if something even worse took its place? she feared. But she did it. She released the dragon. It didn’t come back. Nothing took its place. And she turned the cell into a blooming garden.

The elf and the spiderweb

Once upon a time there was a little elf girl who lived in a magical land. She adored her cottage and the sprawling gardens that filled it, filled with every herb and flower and elvin fruit that existed.

When she was very young, a spider had come along and scared her. She timidly made a deal with it, saying to the spider, “You can build your spiderweb if you live over there on the wall of the far side of the garden,” as she pointed across her property. Wordlessly, the spider followed her direction, and created a life for itself on that wall.

As she grew up, the elf girl avoided walking around that part of the garden. If such an occasion arose where she absolutely must, she held her breath while doing so. She knew that if she spent too long near the spider, it would scare her again.

The years went on, and that spider’s wall and part of the garden became overrun with weeds and vines. It was tangled and messy, and the girl felt torn. She adored her garden more than anything in the world, and she wanted it to thrive and bloom the way it did when she was very small. But on the other hand, she was afraid. Afraid of that spider. She took one quick walk near the wall and realized that the spider was no longer there. The spider was gone – possibly moved on to a new location, possibly dead. But all that was left was the web.

Ultimately she decided, I will just go destroy the web. It’ll be quick, and even if it’s a little messy, I’ll clean it up and my garden will bloom and I will no longer be afraid.

So one early morning, she set off into her garden with shears and a hose and gloves. She took a deep breath and began to wipe the web away. Out of nowhere, the web grabbed hold of her. Its silky strands wrapped around her arms, her body, and she was so frightened, fearing an immediate death. After some time, though, although still feeling paralyzed with fear, the girl realized that the web was not going to kill her. It had her in a deep hold, but she could breathe, and could walk. So she slowly made her way back to her cottage, feeling defeated.  I shouldn’t have ever gone near the web, she thought. Now I’m even more afraid, and in even more trouble than I was when I was just ignoring it. 

As one day turned into the next, she realized that she had to act. She realized that though dealing with this web was going to be hard and challenging, she had no other option. Patiently waiting day after day was doing nothing, and willing it away was doing nothing. The web was making her chores harder, and she couldn’t enjoy her days with a web so tightly wrapped around her body. After spending days rummaging through her musty old attic, she finally found what she needed – a pair of magic shears. She began to cut away at a part of the web, surprised at how, as she cut, it tried to hold on tighter. She realized that not only was the web wrapped around her, but it was wrapped around itself, in a series of intricate loops. Night began to fall and she had only eliminated a tiny piece of the web. Defeated, she went to bed.

The next morning she woke up, realizing she felt both discouraged that she still had the web around her, but hopeful that she could cut away at more of it.

Day by day, bit by bit, she cut away at the web. She took rest periods, for this was a hard job. She needed naps in the hammock in her garden, and plenty of healing elixers. She didn’t have time for many of her chores or other responsibilities, for this had become her priority. She learned to find patience, and though she frequently felt discouraged, she channeled that hopeful feeling, too.

One day, months later, as the season turned and fresh plants began to bloom around her cottage, she realized that she had done it. The web was gone. And she realized, despite how long and tedious of a process it had been, despite how many other chores and duties had been neglected during this time, it had been worth it. For not only was she free of the web, but she was free of the fear of the web. So, she thought to herself. Maybe it was all worth it. Maybe it’s a good thing I tried to just wipe away the web. If it had never taken hold of me, I’d never have gotten rid of it for good.

She walked out to her garden, and took a deep breath, as she walked right up to the wall where that web used to be. And she knelt down and weeded, and watered, and planted, and beautiful, colorful flowers instantly bloomed.

She was free.

Playing with the animals

Polly and I had about ten minutes left in our session today. She had worked so hard, keeping her brain focused, keeping the sillies in her thought bubble, and staying positive, that I gave her the choice of what she’d like to do.

“The animals!” she exclaimed, pointing up.

Do any of you remember those “Critter Counters” that Lakeshore Learning used to sell? It’s a container of rubber farm animals. There are two big and two small of each kind of animal, in each color, and my kids are in love with them.

I got out the animals and we dumped them out, and she got right to work.

“Okay,” she declared. “Come on guys, we need to get in our lines.” She narrated as she went along, and I happily listened, knowing that the presence of pretend play is anything but insignificant. So many of my kids never engaged in pretend play during “typical” developmental time – they just weren’t there yet. So it doesn’t matter how old they are now – if now’s the time, now’s the time. Let’s play.

“Where should I go?” she had a piggy ask. “Over here! Come on, you can go right behind me,” said the Mama pig.

She lined them all up in their respective groups, making sure that each line had a “Team Leader” (a grown-up animal) in the front. Animals frequently seemed to not know where to go, and other animals were very helpful in telling them which line was theirs.

The animals encountered a few problems as they lined up. “Did you just push me?!” Polly made a duck ask. “No!” the sheep replied. “I think you did,” the duck retorted. “I think you bullied me.” Then Polly looked up at me.

“Who could help?” I asked. She brought over a grown-up animal, who said, “I think it was an accident. It wasn’t bullying.”

The animals are talking to each other. They are problem-solving. This is not insignificant. This is Polly learning, and processing, and applying.

After a few more minutes of various line groupings, and discussions among the animals, I regretfully told her, Polly, we’ll need to clean up in one minute. It’s almost time for lunch.”

At first she had the animals hop or gallop back into their container. But then, she seemed to make a decision, sighed, and grabbed handfuls of them, throwing them back in.

“They’re back to normal,” Polly told me.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked, curious.

“They’re just toys now. They’re not alive anymore.” She said sadly.

I was fascinated. Speechless.

Not only did Polly, a 10 and a half-year old, engage in some seriously awesome pretend play, not only did she use language and perspective-taking to have the animals talk, not only did she demonstrate an understanding of problem-solving, BUT she demonstrated an understanding of what pretend play is. Polly knew that toys can be two things – real in her head sometimes, but also, ultimately, just toys.

I think tomorrow, we’ll play some more.

It’s Time to Let Go

I was over at my beloved Some Talk of You and Me last week, writing about realizations, visualizations, and lightbulb moments that had been a long time coming.

If I was vulnerable enough to submit and publish it there, I might as well do the same here…..right…??

It’s Time to Let Go, originally posted on Some Talk of You and Me (edited and formatted by the wonderful Brandie Smith, who continuously gives my words space to be heard):

“This is a perfect example,” I told him.

“I’m fine. My mood is fine, I’m not crying, we’re having a perfectly fine morning. But I feel tight and low in my chest.”

You know how something can happen a million times, but it only clicks when it’s ready?

That’s what happened today. I was on my way to a yoga class and before going into the studio, I took out my phone to type in my thoughts before I lost them.

“Makes me think maybe the heaviness isn’t my mood, doesn’t dictate my mood. Maybe the heaviness isn’t depression. Maybe it’s just all that little kid stuff, that fight or flight, that panic, that decision to stop talking and keep it all in. Maybe I need to talk to it and nurture it.

Tell it,

“I know what you are. It’s okay. You don’t have to be here. I’m taking care of me this time around. You don’t have to hold it in. You’re free to go. I promise.”

This makes me cry.

Maybe so many of the tears are about just that—relief at finally being soothed, relief at not keeping it in, shock over how intense the feelings are that I’ve buried down for months and years and decades.”

During an appointment on Friday, we were discussing the physical feelings of the emotions.

I had been so focused on the emotions themselves—the panic, the fear, the shame, the guilt, the despair—but she had been gently encouraging me to go beyond that.

“Where do you feel it in your body?” she asked.

I quickly scanned my body, but knew exactly what I’d fine, knew what I always find:

“Pressure behind my eyes, tightness in my throat, a heavy constriction around my chest, and a pit in my stomach.”

She encouraged me to focus on the tightness in my throat.

“What happens if you focus on it, if you pay attention to it? What purpose do you think it’s serving?”

“It gets worse when I pay attention to it.” I replied.

I thought some more, and then added,

“I think….it’s about fight or flight. It’s the panic, the wanting to fight. I’m a talker and a problem-solver. I like to find solutions right away. But there were no solutions, nothing I could do, or nothing I perceived I could do, so I think the tightness is the words trying to get out—but there are no words. So, it’s some sort of being trapped by silence.”

She suggested I tune into that feeling. I used one of my visualizations—the sparkly white light that clears away murkiness, and tried to clear it away from my throat.

And promptly started crying.

“I have no idea why I’m crying,” I said.

A few moments later, I added,

“It makes me feel young. I mean. I don’t know how to explain it. Um…so, when I imagined the white light coming into clear it away, it felt soothing, like the light was comforting the tightness, telling it that it was free to go, that the light would help, that the tightness didn’t need to hold the burden of solving all of these problems.

And that makes me feel like I would’ve as a little kid.

If I had talked about things, and allowed myself to be soothed and comforted. But, I usually didn’t.

Because, well, bodies didn’t contain emotions for me. Someone else’s feelings just moved right through their body and into mine, and I was maybe even more hypersensitive than I am today. And I had no idea what it was, I was just a little kid, all I knew was that I felt so much all of the time and it made it hard to breathe.

And if I told someone I was sad or upset or having a hard time, I felt their empathy, and it’s good that they felt empathy, because it meant they cared, but then I felt it in addition to my own feelings, and it was too much and hurt even worse than if I hadn’t said anything in the first place.

And so, consciously or subconsciously, probably subconsciously, I decided to stop sharing, to stop reaching out. And I just feel sad about that.

I see the little kids that I work with and I can’t even bear to imagine that one of them would just decide to hold everything in from then on, because they viewed that as the only possible option.”

I paused and took a breath.

“Wow,” she said. “It sounds like maybe you’re grieving. Feeling sadness and grief for the silence you felt you had to undertake.”

So, I sat outside the studio and I typed those thoughts into my phone, and I talked to the tightness in my throat like I would to one of my students, and I told it,

It’s okay. You can go. I’ve got this. I’m taking care of me. You don’t have to stay. I know what you are. You are panic and fear and wanting to scream and wanting to run and silence. I know. You can go. It’s okay. I promise.

And slowly, tentatively, it left.

And slowly, tentatively, I allowed it to go.

Winning materials

[Ed. note: While these are both affiliate links (meaning if you purchase them from Amazon, using this link – I will receive a very tiny referral fee), this is not a sponsored post. Just sharing some truly wonderful materials!]

As I’m sure nearly every single one of you SLPs can agree with, when a child is motivated by a game, a book, or any sort of material, sessions are infinitely more successful and productive.

So far this year, the two most popular (and most frequently asked for by kids) products have been:

Tell Tale (<–click on link)


Tell Tale is a game created by Blue Orange, the company who also makes Spot It. There are probably 50 or so cards, and each card is double-sided with two random pictures. A princess, a moon, a pig, a city, a hospital, etc. We play it as a story-telling game. Each player gets 5 (or however many) cards, and one person chooses one of her cards to start the story (e.g., Once upon a time, there was a princess named Jen). The next person chooses any of their cards to add on to the story (e.g., She had a pet pig named Snorty). We go on and on until all cards are done.

There are endless ways to play this game, and endless targets. I use it for articulation, fluency (clear speech, using speech strategies), story-telling, grammar (past tense, future tense), turn-taking (even if you have a great card, it’s not your turn yet), flexibility (hmm, that wasn’t what you wanted to happen in the story, but we are working as a team and he had a different thought in his brain), and the list goes and on and on. (We have also played where one person has to create a story with their five cards; where we put random cards out and then create a story and retell it; we have written out the narrative that we’ve told using story elements; etc.)

The kids are obsessed. I can pretty much motivate them to do anything throughout the period as long as we leave 5-10 minutes for a quick game of Tell Tale at the end of class.

I can’t even stress it enough – this is a MUST HAVE in your bag of tricks, and for such a cheap price, you will not regret it.

The Froggy Books (<–each word is a separate link)


When you work with little ones who beg to be read to (and who have reading and language disabilities, so you will happily indulge them in being read to), you are constantly on the lookout for books.

The Froggy books, by Jonathan London, are fantastic. They have that repetition and rhythmic sound about them as I read them, and they are also a wonderful balance between predictable (Froggy’s mom always yells, “Frrrooooogggggyyy!!”) and surprising. They hold kids’ attention and the illustrations are interesting enough that even kids who can’t read can practice telling or re-telling the story from the pictures alone. My 8-year-olds loved these books so much that I just ordered three more. We work on story elements, retelling, inferencing, answering WH questions, predicting, and good old reading aloud.

Again – a must, at least one of them!

What are your gold-star materials these days? What motivates your kids at all costs?

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