7 Things Your Teens Can Do This Summer (To stay busy and out of trouble)

Dear Blog,

“What time is it? The time of our lives. Anticipation. What time is it?” Summertime. School’s out, scream and SHOUT!” A familiar tune from High School Musical-2.

Yes, it is summer time, and time for our children to come home for a break, as they ascend to the next phase of school. If you are a parent of sons like me, you are dreading the incipient refrigerator raids and perpetually empty pantry as a result of their constant snacking and eating. And just like me, you are also reminded that there is a 2-3 month break between now and next school year, and you are filled with dread about what to do, and how to fill in that time with meaningful activities for them.

Well, worry no more! Here are my tried and tested, no-fail ideas for activities for your teens. I have used these tricks for nearly 10yrs as my sons have transitioned from middle to high school, and now to college. However, my sons are very different, so some of the ideas had to be modified for each child, but for the most part, they worked.

Relax

Since they are often just returning from a stressful school semester or year (whether you are home-schooling or they are in traditional schools) I often allow them to take the first week or two off to de-stress, rest and relax from the drama of school work. This short period of downtime comprises of sleep, eating, more sleep, their assigned housework and whatever else they like to do to entertain themselves. As you can guess, it’s mostly video games to their cell phones, listening to music and back to video games…ugh! Because two of my boys play musical instruments, they are often also rehearsing their various musical instruments.

man sitting on red suede sofa holding black android smartphone
Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

We often have dinner together as a family, and just talk. We talk about school, what they learned during the entire year, and simply catch up on each other. No electronics are allowed during this “sacred time”. This is usually the most fun time for me, in particular. I do miss them a lot when they are gone, and even the youngest who is still at home is mostly “gone” during the school year because of his homework obligations, extracurricular activities and an early bedtime. So, we try to enjoy each other this first week.

This is also the time we call grandparents and extended family members to catch up on them.

Self Care

This is something very important to me. As a pediatrician, I always ensure my patients schedule their annual physicals during the summertime when school is out, to avoid missing out on school. The appointments can also be made earlier in lieu of school closing if you like. In addition, the doctor’s offices are not often as busy because most folks are out of town on vacation. This is when you want to schedule them for their vision, their dental, general well-child exams, and get updates on their vaccines and other minor issues that might have come up while they were in school.

Since I have sons, this is also the time to get their own personal hygiene taken care of. They get a nice hair cut for the summer, refill on their allergy medications or any meds at all, and get new clothes if needed for those who have had a growth spurt during the school year. I do realize some parents wait until the end of summer to do the back to school shopping, and that is also fine.

Read a book or two

As an avid reader, this is one activity I don’t compromise on. Luckily, most middle and high schools often have summer reading assigned to the students, and that is a bonus for my children. I require as a rule that my sons read for 2 hrs daily, for every 2 hrs of video games they play! They absolutely hate this, but they still do it. What I often do is, take them along with me to the library or make them go to the library for 2hrs daily. It ends up being fun for them, but not before they have complained a lot. Reading in the summer also helps keep their academic skills going. This way they don’t forget some of the stuff they were taught during the school year.  Summer reading is somewhat more fun because the teens have the freedom to pick whichever book they like to read and read at their own pace. We often block 10am-12noon for reading, that way, we all read together, and it becomes a bonding activity at the same time.

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Photo by CARLOS ESPINOZA on Pexels.com

Finally, they have to do a book report on the books they have read, and we have a day or two set aside to discuss the books them. Once in a while, they want to re-read their old favorites, and I allow them, as long as they read.

Volunteer

For those of you who know me, you know that I am very big on volunteering. It is one of my most enjoyable past times. Teens could volunteer at home, or in a more structure set up like the regional hospital. Helping others, not only builds empathy, but it also builds compassion, mindfulness and a healthy dose of kindness and gratitude, and helps your teens learn the value of giving back to the community. These are a few of the guiding principles I discuss in my brand new Amazon bestseller, “How to Raise Well Rounded Children” available on Amazon or on my website.

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Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

I believe that volunteering not only builds character, it also opens one’s mind up to experiences well beyond their personal imagination, and will ultimately help create a much better world for you and me. If you have not tried volunteering yet, do try it. Register your age-appropriate teens for various volunteering opportunities. Check this list for ideas of places you could all volunteer this summer. Remember, these experiences could also last into their adult years, so go for it.

Get that summer job

Beginning around the age of 13yr in most states in the US, most teens can start working. It could be around the home as babysitters, dogsitters, mowing the lawn, or other odd jobs to get paid by their parents. As they get older, the type and complexity of the jobs change and before you know it, they are older teens working in the corporate world.

I love the idea of teens working for pay, be it minimum wage or more organized pay because it is often their first taste of adulthood. It is also the best way to teach them responsibility, time management, money management, and independence. It is the ideal introduction into their employee or entrepreneurial future. While my eldest son just qualified to drive uber 3days ago when he turned 21yr, he has been holding down 2 jobs at Stanford since his early days as a freshman. Though reluctantly, he worked at Pizza Hut as a young teen, and that helped encourage his immediate younger brother to also seek employment at Pizza Hut in his high school days. Both sons are well versed in money and time management today, thanks to an early work habit. Not to be left out, my 14yr old youngest son was actually employed at his middle school this past school year as a football referee.

The money earned from work can be used for their own personal needs or saved in the bank, invested or used to help out their parents. One thing I made sure I did for each of my sons as soon as they turned 18yr was to open up an investment account for them. The accounts are funded by their own employment earnings. If you are not doing this yet, I strongly suggest you consider it. In all, working as a teen has much more benefits, than not.

Travel

Whether it’s learning a new language by immersion, learning how to save and budget money,  drawing up a functional itinerary, becoming independent and responsible for oneself, or learning about and experiencing different cultures, (foreign) travel is the ultimate way to spend a summer. It could be a study abroad program as part of a college or grade school curriculum, or a family vacation, or simply traveling together with friends. Either way, teens can learn a lot about the world at large by actually experiencing it. They develop critical thinking skills, tolerance for others, communication in foreign languages, and an open-minded world view.

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Photo by favachofotos on Pexels.com

As a teen, I studied French in high school and got a rare opportunity to travel to Togo, and Benin Republic, two neighboring countries to Nigeria where French is the Lingua Franca. I also got traveled to Germany, the United Kingdom, and Greece as a young adult. All these countries shaped my life and my personality today. More recently, my children and I have visited Canada, The Bahamas, and Mexico. My eldest son toured Europe with the Stanford Orchestra last summer and came back a changed man. He sang praises about Europe and can’t wait to go back when he is older. His brother will sign up for a study abroad program with his Architecture class from Texas Tech next academic year. All three children have visited Nigeria numerous times.

I cannot overemphasize the power of travel to the developing mind. I am almost inclined to declare that “the traveler lives his or her life twice as much; first as themselves, then through the people, they meet in the course of their travels”.

Hang out with their friends

Summertime is a time for reconnection with (old) friends. Your teen should be allowed to travel with or simply hang out with their friends (vetted or not). Good friends balance you out as much as bad friends do, and teens can actually learn a lot about themselves through their friends.

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Photo by kat wilcox on Pexels.com

Case in point: My middle son is already home from college. He asked to go hang out with his friends a few days ago. I let him take the car. He returned within an hour. Puzzled, I enquired about his early return home. He explained that his friends had decided to hang out at the pool and drink alcohol at 5pm in the afternoon! Since he does not drink alcohol, he opted to return home. I was filled with so much pride and admiration for him. He made the right call. The safe call, all on his own. He chose to not hang out with his friends that afternoon because he “knew they were going to eventually get drunk and he did not want to be around them”.

Having friends and feeling connected to a group gives teenagers a sense of belonging and being valued, which helps develop self-esteem and confidence. Friendships also help teenagers learn important social and emotional skills, like being sensitive to other people’s thoughts, feelings, and wellbeing. A teen’s friends can be a powerful influence, positive or negative, and the teen must know when to say no to the negative influences of such friends.

In all, allow your teens to live their lives out loud this summer. You have done most of the hard work, the rest is on them. Remember to listen to words said and unsaid, and in all things, live your best life as a parent, so they can emulate you, their first and most important teacher.

Toodles 🙂

“You become the choices that you make, so choose wisely” ~ Dr. Lulu

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[BOOK ALERT] My New Amazon #1 Bestseller! (PDF Now Available!)

“How to Raise Well-Rounded Children”

This is the first of my “How To” series for parenting E-Books I am writing. I am truly honored to share some of the knowledge I have acquired over the years with all of you. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you feel the vibes as you immerse yourselves in my words.

In these series, I try to help parents navigate the sometimes-daunting-but-mostly-fun-and-ultimately-rewarding task of raising children, particularly teens.

Book one covers 16 guiding principles that have worked for me for over 20 years of motherhood. I focus on how to raise well-rounded, productive and resilient children in today’s world of instant coffee, instant messaging and quite frankly, Instagram.

Resilience and Kindness are the top principles I believe will make a difference in our children when it comes to the topic of bullying. As a National Keynote Speaker on Bullying, Teen Depression and Teen Suicide, these books are my way of sharing a lot about what I have learned that could help curb the alarming rates of Bullying, Depression, and Suicide in our young ones.

The book also provides easily implementable practical tips for parent engagement with their children. The main theme, however, is leading and teaching by example.

I hope you enjoy reading it and come back in the next few weeks for book two and the rest of the series over the next few months… Cheers and Happy reading!

Buy your copy

[EVENT ALERT] Dr. Lulu’s Parenting Your Teen Workshop (March 30th)

Dr. Lulu’s Parenting Your Teen Workshop is geared toward parents who want to understand AND improve relationships with their teens. Join us!

About this Event

Are you a parent? Do you ever wonder if you are “parenting” right? Do you have a teenager? Do you have difficulties communicating with your teen? Do you worry about them? What they are doing, who they are with and what they are up to on their phones? Ever wonder how they are going to turn out as adults? Would you like to spend a day bonding with your teen and getting to know each other better? Would you like to meet other parents of teens and learn their parenting strategies and share their experiences of raising children in today’s world?

Then come join us at the first ever Dr. Lulu’s Parenting Your Teen Workshop (PYT) happening right here in San Antonio!

Dr. Uchenna L. Umeh, AKA Dr. Lulu, The Momatrician, is a Pediatrician and 30 year veteran in clinical practice. She will be teaching principles from her brand new E-Book; How to Raise Well Rounded Children, available now on Amazon Kindle here

There will be lots to do; From Motivational Speeches to Group Zumba, Team Building activities and Great food and drinks (by our host Bar-B-Cuties Smokehouse on I-10 between Papadeaux and The Porsche dealership) and LOTS MORE!

Come spend your Saturday with other parents and bring your friends and family. We promise you won’t regret it…hey, you might even get to understand your teen better and what parent wouldn’t want that?

Get your tickets now while early bird tickets still last!

See you there!

 

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Is Your Child THE BULLY? 5 things every parent must do NOW!

Dear Blog,

Happy New Year…I only wish my heart was happy as I write these words this morning. The title of this blog literally pulled me up from bed, begging to be written, so here goes.

We see them on the news every day, we see them on social media every time we look at our handheld devices. Headlines: “X-year-old boy hangs himself, X year old girl found hanging in her closet” “X-year-old teen dies from self-inflicted injuries”. The headlines are not the problem though, read a few lines down and you will see them, the unmistakable words “after years or months or even weeks of being bullied” BEING BULLIED? by whom you ask yourself, then it never fails, the words, by his or her peers follows every time, and I am sick of it!

I am sick of the fact that small children are now more pre-occupied with bullying each other than playing in the sandbox or with their X-Box. Even when they do play in said sandbox or on the X-Box, they are bullying each other. They are teasing each other, they are making fun of each other, and not in a nice way, in the worst possible ways, saying the worst possible things to themselves. I often speak of how another 12-year-old child once told my then 12-year-old son “when God made you, He left you too long in the oven and you got burned” referring to his skin color. How does a 12-year-old come up with those words? Sadly, the vocabulary is now even worse, they have now progressed to calling names like “bitch” and “slut” and phrases like “go kill yourself”, and “die now” as in the case of McKenzie Adams, a 9-year-old child from Alabama who hung herself in her closet last December after months of bullying by other 9-year-olds. 9-year-olds? What do they know? How did they come up with so much meanness and hatred in their hearts and mouths and fingers? Where will a 9-year-old child find such racist statements as those that were repeatedly uttered to this poor little girl? Where are their parents when all of this is happening? Who are these people?

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As if that were not bad enough, just yesterday, the news broke about little Seven Bridges, a 10-year-old boy who not only had a medical condition that required him to wear a colostomy bag (and need multiple surgeries to live) about which he was repeatedly teased, he was allegedly called the N-word and “choked” on the bus by his “bus-buddy” for simply being himself. Where do I start? Who are these 10-year-olds and who are their parents and family members? What examples are we setting for them? How are we handling our home environments? Where are they learning this hatred from? What exactly is going on in our homes, in their heads, in their hearts?

It is easy to blame the teachers and counselors and the school system for not “checking the bullying at school”, but what about at home? What is happening there? Are we as parents now simply having children and leaving them to be raised by others? As a part of the village it takes to raise children, I must say, it is not my primary responsibility to raise yours for you, just as it is not yours to raise mine. We MUST as parents, stop and retrace our steps. We MUST accept our own responsibilities and accept the roles we are playing or not playing when it comes to raising our kids right. We MUST accept our own fair share of blame and then, maybe, we can seek to rectify. We MUST as a matter of urgency resist the urge to play the blame game. Enough already.

Earlier this week, the news broke about the suicide streak in Australian teen girls, a total of 5 girls aged 12-15 years have taken their lives since the beginning of this year, 2019. Blaming everything from child abuse and neglect, to sexual abuse, to poverty and even poor governance, nowhere does this article mention bullying, however, Rochelle Pryor’s last Facebook post clearly stated: “once I’m gone, the bullying and racism will stop”. This shows that even when reported, the news can sometimes be skewed, further compounding the problem and delaying any solutions.

As a pediatrician, child advocate and teen expert, the least I can do is join my voice with others trying to make a difference, to put an end to bullying by our children, at school, at home, at work, and wherever else it might be. Here are five (5) things every parent must do, today, now, in order to help in the fight to end suicide from bullying.

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TALK to yourself. Start at home. Check your life. It is the mirror through which your children look at life. How are you living it? What kind of language are you using when you refer to people of other races, or other convictions different from yours? Is there some domestic violence or abuse going on in the home? Is there name calling? Are you putting yourselves down in front of your children? Do you argue a lot? Should you be in counseling? Do you speak to your children about what they should not be doing or saying in school? Do you even know your children and who they hang out with at school or at play? We must realize that if our kids are the bullies, it might not all be their faults. They might be needing some love, we might be needing to change the way we are doing things at home. They might need counseling or therapy. I recommend we watch this 2006 movie about 5th graders called “how to eat fried worms“, it touches on bullying at home and some of its consequences.

TALK to your children. We are going to have to tackle these questions head-on. Ask them the question directly, “are you a bully at school, on the bus, at the playground, on the internet, in your group chat?” Explain in the simplest terms what you mean by those words. My youngest son was a member of a group chat where some name-calling was going on one time, I saw it when I looked through his phone. I addressed it, made him report it to the school authorities, and he lost his phone privileges. He had not participated in the name-calling, but he had said nothing in the child’s defense either. 70% of children are bystanders when bullying is going on. The child being picked on in the group chat has Tourette’s syndrome, a disability he cannot help. And my child’s behavior was not good enough for me. Ask your child if he or she is bullied, or if they are bystanders when bullying is going on. Ask them what they do if or when they observe bullying going on. Now, if your child is neither the victim nor the bystander, maybe he or she is the bully. Go through your child’s room and their things, see if they happen to have stuff that does not belong to them. This might be a sign.

TALK to their friends. This means we have to know their friends, and better yet, their friends’ parents. When my youngest son David, 14, had some issues with bullying at school, (he was having a hard time transitioning after his two brothers went off to college) one of his friends’ had told his mom, who in turn told me. He had taken someone else’s lunch and eaten it, and lied about it, among other things. Ask their friends directly if they are bullies, or if they know any bullies in the neighborhood, or if they themselves are bullies. We must be seen as part of the community when it comes to raising our children. I had to have a chit-chat with David’s friends a few weeks ago after I overheard him say to David, “if you don’t come out and play ball with me, then you are gay”. I was like, “what?” Apparently, the kid had wanted to play ball with him but David had made an excuse about having to finish up his homework and needed a rain check. After a little tet-a-tet with the young lad, we fist-bumped and I went along my way, content that at least for that moment, I had stopped that line of thinking.

TALK to the school. Yes, of course, the school is the extension of the home. After taking care of the home front, we must engage the school. Most of the parents of these children we read about had frequent engagements with their kids’ schools. We have to ensure that the school sees us as a present parent. You must be all about your child’s business. Get to know your child’s teachers, get to know the counselors. Get to know their coaches, their dance instructors, their tutors. Anyone who imparts any kind of knowledge on your child you should get to know. Believe me, that will make a huge difference in the end. Imagine your child was about to bully someone, the fact that they know – you know their teachers so well will put a bit of a hindrance on that tendency. Furthermore, the teachers will be your second set of eyes and ears when it comes to guidance and assistance with your child. Having an alliance with your child’s teacher can only be a good thing. Unfortunately, we hear lots of stories of how the schools in some cases claim they had no idea any bullying was going on. Like the case of 8-year-old Gabriel who was knocked out in the school bathroom by bullies a few days before he hung himself.

TALK to a healthcare provider. If you do find out that your child is the bully (and believe me, this happened to me) Talk to someone. Talk to someone right away. Get them counseling. That made a huge difference in my child. It helped us realize and understand the reasons behind his actions. There are licensed therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and pediatricians like me waiting to help you and your child. I understand that we never want to believe our children are capable of such horrific acts we read about in the news, but, they are. We have to change our mindset about that. We must do the needful and help them because the bully often resorts to that behavior as a result of their own inside pain and stress and trauma and insecurities. They too sometimes may have been a victim and as such, need some love and understanding and care. Let us remember that babies are born, innocent, then life happens. We do not of all things want to be the parent of the child who was in any way responsible for the death of another. So, pick up the phone, make that appointment and speak to a healthcare provider about your child, the bully, you’d be glad you did.

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An edited and truncated version of this blog was accepted as a guest blog post on Successful Black Parenting Magazine, check it out here.

BB

Do You See Me? Do You Know Me??

Do you see me?

Do you know me??

 

When you call me names

And pull at my hair

Drag my backpack

And mess up my books

Do you see me?

 

When you push me and punch me

And tell tall tales about me

When you jeer each time I pass by

Do you see my tears?

 

When my head pounds and my heart aches 

My pulse races and my hands sweat

At the thought of waking up…

…to another school day,

Do you even care?

 

When my back hurts and my stomach cramps

My lips swell and my shins sting

And both eyes are black

From your punches and kicks

Do you feel my pain?

 

When I cry alone in my room

And refuse mom’s best meals,

When I cut my wrists and cut my thighs…

…in tiny slits by day and by night

So as not to feel the hurt you cause

Do you know that?

 

Have you known a pain so deep

From being left out and all alone

When y’all don’t look at me, play with me or even speak to me,

When y’all sneer at me and make fun of me,

Do you know what that’s like?

 

Did you know that my stomaches never go away,

My leg pains don’t get better

My sadness has led to depression

And now I want out?

 

Al have you know that

I won’t tell anyone,

I can’t tell anyone because

They don’t really care,

They don’t want to help

And they can’t really help.

 

I want to end it all

 

Do you know that I have thoughts?

Thoughts about killing myself,

Thoughts I’d be better off dead

Thoughts about getting a gun

Thoughts about using a knife?

 

I also have other thoughts

Thoughts about getting even

Thoughts about ending your life

Thoughts about getting it done

Ending your life and mine

 

Do you know that

When you tease me daily,

When you mock me and make me feel small…

…invisible and insignificant

I want badly to get even?

 

Do you know I have a plan?

I want to show you that

I am strong

I COULD hurt you

I CAN bounce back

And I WOULD hurt you

Like you hurt me

 

Yes, I want to hurt you

And ensure you are not here when I am done

You will have a hole in your heart

You will hurt, like I hurt

You will pay for all my pain

Yes, that’s my plan.

 

But you know don’t you?

That I will NOT carry out my plan

That I will NOT hurt you back.

 

But, one thing is for certain,

I will not let you hurt me again, EVER!

I will put an end to it

I will…

…today.

 

 

 

To all who have been hurt by bullies everywhere,

I see you.

BB

Out Of The Darkness…

November 04, 2018.Nov-4-13

 

 

 

A day I will always remember.

A day that I totally had to have in my life.

My first Out Of The Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention.

A day that opened my eyes to the reality and the magnitude of this problem.

I found out about this day from my nurse at work. I signed up after my good friend Mari told me she had signed up. I signed up not knowing exactly what it was going to be like, but trusting that the day was going to be…in the very least, fine. I signed our team up and placed the info on my website, partially expecting and also not expecting much response to the call for donations. While no donations came indirectly, I managed to gather a team of about 15 walkers through the help of my good friend Mari, totaling about 375usd!.

The day started like any other. We arrived early. The first emotion that struck me was that of amazement, at the number of cars already in the parking lot, even though the walk was to start about 2hrs later.

There was a sea of colors of tee-shirts, most in groups, a few scattered around, all there for one thing, in remembrance of a loved one. There were purple tees, white tees, green tees, red tees, blue tees, and multicolored ones. There were people, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, teens and young adults, toddlers and even a couple of babies. But one thing struck me hard; they were mostly Hispanics. About 99% strong! Where are the Caucasians?? Most studies I have read indicate that White males are the leading sex in Suicide, so where are they? And what about the African Americans? Do we not suffer from depression, do we not commit suicide? Are the recent studies about African American children aged 5-12yr being more likely to commit suicide than their Caucasian counterparts incorrect? Wait! I know what this is. This is the grand state of denial that is so rampant in our community. As a Nigerian, I dare to say this problem started from the Mother-land where mythic quotes like the following run rampant. “We don’t get depressed”, “such things don’t happen to our people”, “we can pray it away”, “it’s a sign of weakness, and of laziness”, “depression is not even real”, “those medications do not help, they actually make you worse”, “therapy? please, that is for Hollywood, we are black folk, we do not do therapy… Or my favorite, “don’t tell anyone you are depressed, we don’t want them to start looking at you/our family funny”.

I walk around distributing my business cards to different teams, introducing myself and explaining what I do, sharing my story about my struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, and my own son’s depression,(which I totally did not recognize while it was happening) I notice folks sporting different color beads signifying the kind of loved one that has been lost: White for children, orange for siblings, blue for support, red for spouses, etc. I pick up some beads for my team, my wife lost her brother to suicide. On my way back to my team, I hug as many as will accept my hugs as we wait for the ceremony to begin. Some of them have lost multiple family members to suicide.

After the opening ceremony, the names of the victims are read out, I again am amazed that my assumptions are right. A huge percentage of the names called out today are Hispanic.

 

The organizers are happy to announce that over 64,000usd were raised so far,  over 273 teams registered (many more are not in organized teams), at least 300 names are called ( I don’t have the actual count, but the name calling went on for at least 30 minutes or more. They inform us it’s a 5K walk, kicked off by the release of white balloons by the family members in honor of the lives lost. Again, I am amazed, excited at the opportunity to be a part of this, yet saddened by it all.

Along the trail, I speak to dozens of parents and family members affected by suicide. It’s easy to find the parents, they are wearing white beads, they are not as animated as everyone else, and you know that look when you see their eyes. I interview a few of them, I hug ALL of them, I am touched deeply by their stories.

One young man who took his life just last month was only 25yr old. His parents still obviously devastated. His mom says she “sleeps with his picture every night, and talks to it every day”. She has lots and lots of unanswered questions. His grandmother found him in the backyard in Austin, sadly, they were not able to make it on time to the hospital.

Another mother was carrying the picture of her son-in-law. He had first served in the Army, then joined the police force, but his PTSD got the better of him.

When asked who he was walking for, one little boy simply pointed to the picture on his tee-shirt and said, “my uncle”. He had never met him.

I met yet another mom, this time, of a young 10yr old boy, who would have been 13yr this year, she is still crying for her baby lost. He had been bullied. A lot. I hugged and hugged and hugged her, and held on a little while longer. She found him hanging from his bunk bed, his belt around his neck.

Yet another beautiful lady, Ms. Alyssa’s younger sister, Marisa, spoke to me. Alyssa had battled with depression for a long time and finally lost. The words inscribed on the back of Marisa’s tee-shirt read “I have run the race, I have fought the fight, now I lay me down to rest”. Her own prescription antidepressants, her path to said rest. The sisters’ resemblance is so uncanny that Marisa’s own daughter (who never met her aunt) always calls her ‘mommy’ each time she sees her photograph. It has been six years.

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The heartbreaking story of a handsome 17yr old was shared with me by his maternal aunt. She told me he had attempted suicide three times in the past. He had gotten help, he was on medication, and getting counseling, but (in her words) “the demons got to him before we could”, this happened on September 18, 2018. So fresh is it, that his mother could not bear to come for the walk.

Then, I talked at length with one mother whose team carried the flag of the Cycle Around The Globe for Suicide Prevention and Awareness. Her son, a former Special Ops US Marine, spent only 9yrs active duty, but deployed 8 times in that short time! When he eventually got out in 2012, he battled nightmares, sleepless nights, and severe PTSD. He could only sleep when heavily medicated. He eventually tired of “the voices in his head” and one single bullet did it for him, only 3yrs after he got out, a few days after his 30th birthday. “He will forever be 30” she added at the end of her story. Again, all I can do is hug her, and hold on a little longer.

On the homeward trail, I walked up to a nurse and her co-worker, both walking for someone else. She shared that her friend and ex-boyfriend had taken his own life soon after his 60th birthday. His story is unique because she states in retrospect she now realized that, after they reunited 40yr later, he had one day suddenly started “acting out” his desire to end his life, he was making specific requests like going to visit a cemetery to “say goodbye”, returning to the place they had their first date, giving away his belongings and generally no longer caring about the world. She remembers he stopped wanting to hang out with her, and only wanted to talk about death.

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The last two stories are etched in my mind. The first is from my good friend Mari, who shared that a long time ago, her friend and classmate in nursing school had gotten dressed for work one morning, arranged all her nursing books against the walls of the garage, got in the car, turned on the ignition, closed the garage door, and went to eternal sleep. Her husband found her when he returned from work. She had 2 children.

The second is from the only non-Hispanic family that I met during the walk today. There were at least 15-20 of them in their team, walking for the family Patriarch. I recognized the non-Hispanic name right away and wanted to speak with them. I spoke to his wife, his son and his daughter, as well as the rest of their family friends and relatives. He was Indian. It’s been one year.

I, myself have felt the pain of depression. I have felt the need to end it all. I didn’t, my wifener wouldn’t let me. I felt like I was a failure, a disappointment. My first marriage was over, my private practice sold for zero dollars profit. The military was stressful, and I had to file bankruptcy following bad business choices in my private practice, stemming from a poorly qualified practice manager in the person of my ex-husband. Somewhere along the line, I felt I had failed myself more than anything. I wanted out. All my pairs of shoes, my fancy designer handbags, and even my beloved children did not save me. I simply felt that ending it all was just what the world needed. I was a failure. My marriage had failed, my practice had failed, and I had failed, and nothing you could have told me would have made a difference. Luckily, my wife would not hear of it and went all the way out there, in the darkness to find me and bring me back. I owe my life to her.

In the end, I can only say that I am thankful for the Out Of The Darkness Suicide Awareness walk, thankful for the experience, thankful for the stories shared, for the hugs given and received, and praying that the families can find closure, somehow. Thankful for my family that came out to support me, my wifener who walked for her brother; mi Madre, my biggest cheerleader; and my little man-child for trouping along. Mari and her family and friends who walked with team Teen Alive, for the sparkle they added to a cloudy day. And to all those who walk for their loved ones, in the words of a Kenyan proverb, “may the grass you stand and walk on, sprout again”, and may you never have any cause to weep for your loved ones again, Amen.

 

Nov-4-11

“gone, but never forgotten…”

#enddepression, #endsuicide, #endthesilence, #talksaveslives, #itsoktonotbeok, #Icare

4 Airmen, Diego and Megan

 

Dear Blog,

Howdy? Long time! Just wanted to touch base and check in with you. I am having a fabulous life, you? So, after about one month off from my Rideshare seat, I returned to it today, and as usual, I was pleasantly delighted to meet my clients. The beautiful thing about Rideshare is you never know who you might pick up next. My clients are often so different from each other. Each one teaches me a new and different lesson about life. Again, that is why I do this. The story goes like this… I am writing a book on teens, depression, and suicide. I woke up this morning and as usual, I worked on a couple of chapters, but I just didn’t feel like it was flowing the I wanted, I was having a hard time getting into my characters’ minds to tell their stories, so I declared to my mother “I NEED a depressed and suicidal teen in my life right now!”. I proceeded to explain why, when I saw the puzzled expression on her face. We both shrugged and concluded that-that was going to be a tough one to pull off. So, I go about my business for the day.

Later on, since my numéro très had a birthday party to attend for 2 whole hours, I decided to seize the opportunity, take a break from my preparation for my Executive MBA midterms next weekend, and go online on my UberXL/Lyft apps to see if anyone was interested in a fun ride with Dr. Lulu! Unbeknownst to me, the Good Lord was going to use my clients today to show me yet again that He alone is Lord and King and more importantly, the Author of the universe.

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My first client, whom we shall call “Joe” was picked up less than a mile away, he was going in for his night shift at the “Howl at the Moon” downtown San Antonio. We exchange pleasantries, and I decide on a whim to give him one of my brand new business cards and inform him that I am a Public Speaker on Teen/Young Adult depression and suicide. He, in turn, gives me two free admission coupons to HATM, with discounts on happy hour drinks etc, and proceeds to sign me up for their email list for more (free) Happy Hour goodies! I am elated, accept my coupons graciously, thank him, and self-declared it would be a good shift for me today because I had started my day literarily touched by an angel. I inquire about his choice of music vs my audible book. He says he doesn’t really care, he would rather watch “Sex and The City” on his phone, and he would have his earbuds on. We both settle in for the ride downtown, and I proceed to continue listening to my “Four Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferris”. As we approach downtown, I shut the audible off to focus on the traffic and the people, I ask him if he heard about the 12yr-old boy who had committed suicide in a nearby town lately, his response almost knocked me off my seat! “Oh yes! my co-worker’s younger brother is his best friend, they are from Jourdanton” was his immediate response! I had never mentioned the name of the town, but he knew the right one… At this, I am completely speechless at the smallness of this world! What are the odds? How could it be? But it sure was. Sitting right behind me, in my car, was someone who knew someone, who knew someone, who knew the 12-year old that had been bullied on to taking his own life at a local middle school yesterday! Wow! I LOOOOVE doing this!

Next, I pick up a (two couple) party of 4 baby boomers at the Westin. One of them is disabled and has a wheelchair. Though my Sasha is a 7/8 seater UberXL-ready 2017 Toyota Highlander, they had the hardest time getting that wheelchair to fit in her trunk. They eventually did, and I sensed they were a bit flustered with the entire process. When I asked my usual icebreaker question “so how has everyone’s day been today?”, they all grunt and puff and reply “it has been a rough one”. Trying to cheer them up, I gingerly quip, “well, at least we are on our way to fun now”, to which one of the ladies retorted, “well, we are late to our event”. I think to myself, I had nada to do with it, then I hear myself say “well this Saturday evening downtown traffic is not going to help that”… an awkward silence follows. Then I change lanes and perk up by sharing a bit about what I do as I distribute my business cards. Front seat guy now informs me that they are from Florida, but he would certainly keep my card and keep me in mind…I am like, YES! We have some small talk about hurricane Michael and its toll. Things get a bit worse when the address that he had put in as their destination on the Uber Navigation, was in the middle of the nowhere! not Shuck Shack, on Grayson and Broadway as they had wanted. Turns out all that initial frustration I had sensed was because they were with a food tasting party and had missed their bus! A couple of phone calls and a couple more U-turns later, they are safely delivered to their destination. “Bon Appetit”, I think to myself as they say their thank yous and I drive off.

I hop over to Nueva Vista, an enchanted and quaint neighborhood tucked away next to the Pearl to pick up a couple who right away complement me on Sasha. I thank them and start my usual icebreaker questions. He quickly responds, “we are doing fine, but we are interested in this your car, we are looking for a multi-seater vehicle”. I happily tell them everything I can about my Sasha, as he tells me to ignore the Uber navigation system, and proceeds to guide me through their wonderful enchanted streets instead. I note the air is different there. I inform him that I am officially in love with his side of town. We make a right turn into San Pedro on our way to the movie theater on Route 410 and he points out Alta Vista a sister neighborhood on the left, another whimsical looking part of town. As I drop them off, I note to myself (be sure to bring the wifey here for a “romantical” drive someday) Ironically, his wife or rather, lady companion did not so much as utter a single word throughout the ride, and I can’t even remember if she said goodbye. But before I could process that thought, I got a chime to pick up my next client.

Handsome “Diego” joins my space at North Star Mall. He is an energetic, mid-to-late-twenties sweet smelly, colorful young man, getting off his shift at Michael Kors. He gets in the front seat, acknowledges my white LV Neverfull which I pick up and place on the floor in the middle row, thank him for the compliment, and tell him to get comfortable, as we start our ride. With a megawatt smile, he shares that he is “dog tired” because even though he had known he had to be at work this morning at 0900hrs, he had proceeded to go out last night, and got back really late. I go into mama-bird-mode and we talk a bit about growing up and taking responsibility for actions and such. We talk a bit more about his dreams and somehow get to the topic of his roommate with whom he had had a recent fight, he gently adds that he had bought him a small (make-up) gift from MK because he “hates the energy in their apartment when they argue and fuss”. I am full of admiration for this young man, who wants to make the world a better place, one gift at a time. I like him. We arrive at his apartments shortly thereafter, but he remains in the car because he is telling me all about the recent shooting at Pegasus downtown. Apparently, he had been there that night. He recounts how his mother had unusually texted him up to three times that night, the last text coming just minutes before the shooting. He says he suspects his mom somehow sensed something bad was going to happen and had been trying to reach him. I share my own mama-bird story about me and my son at Stanford, the night I had seen him in a dream reaching out to me, I had woken up with tears in my eyes, and when I called him, it turned out he was burning up in a fever and needed his Mama. An instant friendship is born. Diego left my car after earning one of my world famous warm hugs and promising to text me his employee discount code at MK…another satisfied client.

To pick up Ms. Megan, I had to make several U-turns, drive into the gated apartment complex, and wait for almost 2 minutes. As Uber starts charging her for my wait, I note a tall slim female approaching the car. As she walks up to me, wearing the latest millennial garb of a black mid-section-revealing-cropped-tee, on black double slashed jeans and tousled hair, I note that she is easy on the makeup and I think to myself with a corner smile… “that is exactly what my daughter would be wearing if I had one”. She greets me pleasantly, apologizes for her lateness, gets in the middle row, I move my Neverfull back up front, and she gets comfy. Right away I sense she has had a sad life. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.comShe has an ever so slight air of melancholy. I note that unlike most teens her age, she is not on her phone. She is not texting, she is not talking, she is looking straight ahead, both hands resting on her thighs and deep in thought. I remark on that, to break the ice, and she smiles ever so slightly. I know I am right. I start telling her about what I do, give her my business card. She asks for more cards and the next 23 minutes fill me with more awe than I could have ever imagined. She opens up and says the words that every parent of a teenager or everyone who is acquainted with one would give money to hear… “that is pretty cool that you are doing that”… I smile as I say, “thank you”. Then she not only proceeds to tell me that at her high school, they have had 7 suicides in the past 5 years, (the last two in the past year, one of which its anniversary is today!), but that she herself has had not one, or two, but three attempts at suicide! I CANNOT believe my ears! Earlier this morning, when I had asked the universe for a suicidal teen, I had absolutely NO IDEA this was in store for me. I thank the good Lord immensely, reach back with my right hand and take her right hand, she grabs it with both hands. and holds on, and I simply let her hold it as long as she needs to. I take a long deep breathe after she gets off at the LongHorn Steakhouse on I-35 South, shake my head slightly, and vow henceforth, to only speak out, that which I know I really want because it will come to pass.

Last stop for the evening was about a mile up the road on I-35 south. I pick up four Airmen from “the best tattoo place in town” according to front seat guy. They are young, late teens, early twenties-ish, full of life, and bright expectations for what the future has to offer in the best Air Force in the world, the United States Air Force, “first in flight”. After back row seat guy curses twice, I clear my throat and proceed to tell them I am a veteran of the USAF and ask how they were doing. Front seat guy tells me they are recent basic training grads from Lackland AFB, and currently at Camp Bullis for Security Forces training. Then comes a barrage of questions from all of them at the same time; “did you go through OTS?”, “did you ever get to deploy?”, “what do you think about Tyndall AFB?”, “would you do it again if given a chance?”, “what’s life like on the outside after a brief taste of the inside?” “did you do your 20yrs?” “what did you do while you were in?” etc. I smile and try my very best to address all of their concerns. One tells me he is from Kansas and would love to be stationed at McConnell AFB after I mention my brief manning-assist there. Another wants to know if I know anyone at Robbins AFB in Georgia, yet another asks me what I think about going in the reserves afterward, and then another wants to know about Alaska and if I could confirm that it is truly considered an overseas deployment. I marvel at all of this. It turns out to be such a fun trip, but I made sure I still got time to squeeze in a quick note on depression and suicide and the need to ensure they formulate good relationships and stick to the straight and narrow. By the time I drop them off at Top Golf I feel truly fulfilled and thankful for a fairly eventful and awesome shift. In a little under 3hours, I feel I have gained much more in knowledge than the nearly 80usd I have earned in cash today.

“if you want light to come into your life, you need to stand where it is shinning”

                                                                                             ~Guy Ginley~

backlit dawn foggy friendship