Clearing Up Communication Deficits- 5 Ways To Help You Understand Your Exceptional Child Better

Michael is growing up. Each day I see how he is pushing to be more independent and self-sufficient, yet there are still the struggles he faces with impulse control, asking for help, and realizing that when you love someone, you need to respect that they have boundaries, physical and psychological from you and you from them.

As I have realistically began to see Michael’s strengths and weaknesses and not assumed that I have to find the solution to all his problems, I have learned how communication deficits exist on all sides of the family-the parent’s and the child’s side. I have learned how to talk to Michael, get his input and give mine so that we can figure out how we can fix family fights or problems that keep occurring. Below are 5 ways our family has learned to handle communication deficits:

  1. Be honest about your weaknesses and what you are working on: It’s important to share with your child your own challenges and what you are doing to fix them- i.e. I have a temper so I take myself to a room to do 5 deep breaths and some yoga before I continue a discussion.
  2. Acknowledge their fear and frustration: It’s important that your child knows you feel bad that they are struggling. You are not okay-ing negative behavior, just saying you are there to support them through it.
  3. Ask them what tools they think could work: For a young child, ask if they need to blow bubbles, get a hug, squeeze something or walk to calm down. For an older child, let them write or describe what strategies they can use to center themselves and what they need from you.
  4. Make time to talk to them: No matter how tired you are, make time to listen and talk to your child. If they are not ready, just let them know that you are there for them when they are.
  5. Reward good behavior, and remind your child that they are not failures, they make good or bad choices: It’s important that kids see you catch them at being good. It’s also important that even when they trigger you by making bad choices, you tell them you are mad about the choice. It does not reflect the love you feel for them ever.
    Exceptional Parents, what communication challenges do you have in your family? We all have to clear up how we communicate first as parents to our children and other adults, and then teach our kids by example how they can better describe from us what they need. It’s also important that we prize honesty about all else, and work on teaching our kids that there is no shame in learning from our mistakes. Until next time.

Emerging-How To Connect To All Areas Of Your Exceptional Life and Parent Better

To say that I have this exceptional parenting thing under control at all times would be a lie, but I also have a confession to make. After an extremely challenging two years with Michael as well as personally, I am also at a point in my exceptional parenting life when I am seeing things coming together for me and how I look at Michael, myself and my relationships. How did it all start? Well, it began when I became tired of always pushing down resentments, fear and anger. Once I realized that my feelings were as valid as Michael’s, I began seeing how important it was I own them as much as I teach Michael to own his. I also realized how important my own personal happiness was too, just like Michael’s.

So now, when I am tired and need a break, I have no issues saying, I need 20 min. I’m taking it. I come back recharged and ready to handle anything. Finally, I also own failures and times when I don’t make good choices, and like I tell Michael, it’s ok to make mistakes. We live, we learn, we grow. I have even been known a few times to say when I yelled and became frustrated, Mom forgot to use her calming strategies.

Just this evening I said something without thinking that upset Michael. He felt I was treating him like a baby and he hates this. He grumbled, “Why didn’t you stop and think before talking Mom?” I almost laughed. It is usually me telling him that. “Because I forgot Michael. You are right. See, we all forget to do this sometimes.” I have also learned how to sit down with Michael and talk about what we can change to communicate better and so both of us are calmer and happier. This has made a world of difference.

But what things have helped me connect everything together in my parenting life to grow and become stronger? Here is the list I follow and continuously revise as needed:

  1. Make time for things that nourish my spirit: For me this is meditation, yoga and writing.  I pretty much do all three every day, and if I ever miss a day with any of them, I get back to it first thing the next day.
  2. Get enough sleep: No matter what I am falling behind on at home, I do not sacrifice sleep.
  3. Enjoy time alone with no guilt: Time alone for me is spent taking strolls in a bookstore, nature walks, or sitting quietly reading a good book with a cup of coffee. This is time well spent as it re-energizes me and gives me patience to handle any parenting stress that comes my way.
  4. Make time to talk and see friends: Spending time with adults, like minded ones that make you laugh and share your highs and lows, also helps you see the whole picture of your parenting life. It’s not all bad!
  5. Write down the progress your child has made: This has been one that has been a game changer for me. With all the struggles and hard times our family has had, seeing how far Michael has come in maturing, and seeing it on paper in a place in the house where we all can look at it, has helped us all celebrate the successes and look to the positive.
  6. Realizing that I am the guide, not the savior: I used to think that I was responsible for saving my child or making sure he made all the right decisions or else I would have failed as an exceptional parent. Now, I see more realistically that I am Michael’s guide. I am here to teach him, help and support him, and show him the path, but then it is his choice which way to go. His choice, good or bad, and I am not responsible for that. I love him no matter what an tell him that, but he is responsible for his choices, not me.  This has taken a lot of pressure off of me.

Exceptional Parents, how have you emerged and changed as an exceptional parent over the years? Remember, each thing you learn as you parent, helps you to grow and become stronger. You grow through the good and bad moments. You grow through learning to let go of old hurts and embrace your mistakes as well as successes. And through it all you realize one day that you find balance in your life again, and acceptance of yourself as you do of your child. This is when you can truly parent from your best place. Until next time.

How My Exceptional Son Surprised Me This Halloween

Another Halloween is officially under our belt. This year for the first time in  a long while due to the rainy weather and difficulties meeting up with school friends because of traffic woes, Michael trick or treated alone with me supervising.  It went very well. But the holiday started out differently weeks before when Michael announced this year that he didn’t want me to buy him an official costume. He wanted to partially make his costume this year. His idea? A traffic zombie, combining his favorite type of monster with his favorite activity, watching traffic. I looked for zombie costumes in many stores, but Michael was happy to find a scary mask at a local Dollarama and then found various traffic scenes across our city which he  printed up online. We then found a stick  which we referred to as his traffic staff and attached the various traffic scenes to the traffic, hence we had “Traffic Zombie.” So original. He did not want me to post a picture of him, but was proud of his costume.

Going out trick or treating with my big guy was interesting. After a few houses when the weather worsened, he did not mind turning back and coming home early. After all, he’d had a whole fun day of trick or treating and games at school for Halloween. But even with that, there was a maturity, a sureness in his step as he made the decision to go home. I enjoyed seeing him exercise his creative muscle and come up with a new costume idea. I enjoy watching the interesting young man he is becoming.  He will say things that make me laugh, make me think about the world differently. Even when he is confused or frustrating me, I am seeing how he is learning to trust himself and go his own way. Halloween, like any holiday, is tough on neuro diverse kids. It’s great to see mine learning how to make it his own, be his quirky self, and be proud of the person he is. I sure am.

Exceptional Parents, how did you and your Exceptional Child fare this Halloween? Did your child feel pressure to be like everyone else or did you? Remember, the most important thing for any child is to let them be themselves no matter what. The message you are sending them is that they are amazing as they are. They don’t need to conform to other people’s expectations of who they are. They just need to be themselves. Hope you had a Happy Halloween! Until next time.

Giving Boundaries While Letting Loose-How To Choose Where To Pick Your Exceptional Battles With Your Child

Being the parent of an exceptional child means you are constantly learning new things about balance, balancing how to present information in a clear and concise way so you know your child gets it, balancing time when you talk and they listen and vice versa, and finally balancing when to have hard and fast consequences with no do overs, and when to be a little more lenient. For me, it’s been a challenge learning to read Michael’s autistic and ADHD brain, and which part is speaking to me now. Add in a dose of puberty and well, it’s really fun and games at our house some days and nights. Still, I have found comfort in coming up with some rules that are starting to work well for our neurodiverse family.

I have also found that there are times when Dad and I have to wing it. If Michael has had a rough day and I could see that his coping skills and tolerance for frustration is low, I’ll allow some leeway in giving him extra time to come to dinner or get organized for the evening etc. High blood sugars also mean that we tread carefully. But for the most part, it’s been about understanding how Michael’s brain works differently and how his difficulty with impulse control leads to a lot of problems. He’s starting to recognize when and where he needs help though, as are we. Things are working better as a result.  I have devised some hard and fast rules that are non-negotiable and that we all follow. This has slowly become like our family Bible. Here they are:

  1. Violence of any kind is not tolerated in any form, shade or color. Of course, Dad and I have always said no violence  for any reason, but we would end up talking too much, yelling too much, and in the past, escalating situations farther along unfortunately. Now, it is a calm, firm, direct response on our part with severe consequences. As a result, the intensity has gone down.
  2. Catch frustration, anxiety or anger in the early stages and try and understand and redirect it: What has also been helpful is catching when Michael is feeling upset early on and helping redirect him so he can calm down enough to then come back and talk.
  3.  Making sure physical boundaries are in place for all: This is so important when you have a child that sits or stands too close, does not understand if you can’t stop what you are doing to focus on them, and in general has challenges with social cues. Over the years, we’ve modeled to Michael, now I’m finishing this, I’d love to hear what you have to say in five or ten minutes. For me, it’s no talking to Mom till she has her morning coffee and meditates. I need that first 20 minutes to come into myself before being able to attend to any issue.
  4. As angry as we all get at one another, we get up and try again tomorrow: This is an important rule in any family, but in an exceptional family, teaching unconditional love is very important and practicing it more so. We have always told Michael we love him and will always be there to help him. Now it is time he helps himself by changing the negative behaviors and asking for help where he struggles. We model the same thing.
  5. Use humor to teach: This has been one I have used over the years in varying degrees. You need to laugh at the absurdity of some situations you and your child find yourselves in that are out of your control. Often when unexpected things have happened that stressed Michael out, (as well as me), laughing and having an oh well, that’s crazy life, attitude has slowly helped Michael learn to lighten up a bit too.  It’s also helped Dad and I  do more of that when we are together or alone.

Exceptional Parents, what hard and fast rules do you have in your Exceptional Families that are non-negotiable and which rules do you occasionally bend? It’s a juggling or tightrope act, I know. However, the important thing is recognizing that your child, like you, is unique and has their own quirks. Once you know what works best to help them feel secure, safe and sure of what is happening around them, even if it is rules they don’t like, you will see that they will see you as the caregiver and supporter they need to learn about their world with confidence and grow into the independent and well-adjusted adult you know they can be. Until next time.

When Your Exceptional Child Gets Their Impulsivity-Techniques To Help Them Move Forward

“I’m trying Mommy, I really am, but it’s hard. I can’t stop myself sometimes. I can’t stop and think.”
I sighed. Michael and I were having yet another long discussion about his impulsivity in saying things that were inappropriate and some angry outbursts that he had had that week. We were reviewing his strategies, the worksheets he had filled out to try and understand his brain better, and other things that we could be putting into place that could help him.

“I know it’s hard Michael, but you can’t just explode when you don’t hear things you like. Being angry is ok. You just need to make sure that you are calm enough to talk about your feelings to your father and I when have calmed down.

“I am impulsive, right?”

“Well, you have impulsive moments. Your brain is wired that way, but it does not mean that you can’t find the right techniques to use that could help you. Remember, your brain, the ADHD and Autism brain is incredible. You’ve just got to work out the parts that make anger and anxiety harder to control.”

Michael nodded and again spoke of doing his best to try and learn from his outbursts. I acknowledged that I could see how doing that as well as how I could tell when his mouth was getting ahead of his brain. We talked about how even neuro typical people have their moments. I used examples when I became angry because I didn’t do my strategies in the early stages of anger or frustration. It’s important to remind our kinds that even neuro typical brains that don’t have impulse control issues have their moments as well when they may make less than stellar choices.

After having this conversation, I realized I had been using a little checklist of things that were working to help Michael and our family in understanding his exceptional brain. Here are some techniques that could help your child cope when they are having those difficult moments processing feelings:

1) Have a sheet of paper in a few places with the STOP acronym as a reminder for them to stop, think, observe and plan before they act on feelings.

2) Depending on the age, have them make a “Calm Box” of toys, fidgets, or other articles where they can fiddle and go to when they are stressed and about to lose it.

3) Have a short phrase that you can utter firmly if you see your child losing it. In our family we use room, strategies. Michael knows to pick one of three rooms to go calm down an regroup before coming out to talk.

4) Have a time limit of how long they need to regroup. In our house it’s been 15 and 20 minutes.

5) Discuss afterwards how to better communicate so as to avoid frustrations. I go with, “I can see how angry you are. I am tired of having this same fight too, how can we fix this together?” Depending on the child’s age and level of comprehension, you may need to tailor it, but the gist is that as parents we hear our child out affirming what  is frustrating them as well as us, and how we can fix it.

Exceptional Parents, does your Exceptional Child understand their impulsivity? If not, are they struggling to? If so, the best thing to do is to sit down when you are both calm, find a set of techniques that work to help them calm down and you remind them when they are going off track. In the end, if the child gets mad, is able to catch themselves, use a strategy, then learn from the frustration, you know you are on the right path. Until next time.

Giving Space And Making Boundaries-Finding the Balance With Your Exceptional Child

Finding the balance. That sounds like such a cliché for life in general, especially living in a family, but it is all about balance- having time alone, having time with your child or children, having time as a couple and with friends and extended family. And then of course, there are the strategies you need to put into place to have this happen, this balance. It’s not easy. We need to have a system in place though for ourselves, so then it is easier to show our exceptional kids what is expected of them.

It has taken me a while to fine tune a balance with Michael. What was balance when he was five years old changed when he was eight and now at twelve it is even more different. Balance for me also looks different today and is healthier. So what exactly does this mean? It means giving your child their own personal space while they give you yours. This space means they can create, make mistakes and learn from it. You as the parent have this same option. Boundaries though, are the things our kids can’t cross. Children and adults should both respect boundaries for things like hugs, personal space and time alone.

As Michael has grown up, he has needed less time one on one with Dad and I. This does not mean that he does not still turn to us for advice, sharing news, and to talk. It just means he does not need us to create his whole schedule like when he was younger. He still needs a schedule though, but he now sets the pace. Many exceptional kids need the space to set their own activities, while parents still put down the rules for other activities. Figuring this out with your child means finding what amount of time they can organize, and what they need help with. Emotionally, kids need us at all ages, but as they grow up, it’s important to have them learn how to self-regulate, handle disappointment as well as success and excitement. You are there in the wings to help them, but let them fly.

Exceptional Parents, how do you find the balance with your Exceptional Child? The best way is to start with the basic things that make relationships work-discussing time spent together, discussing time spent apart, and compromising with each other in between. Let your child take the lead in asking for what they need, then you as the parent lovingly guide them to choosing what they are capable of choosing and setting up parental rules and protections on the rest of your relationship. A child will feel safest when they have some control, and parents have rules as safeguards in place for the rest. Until next time.

It Hurts Like Hell-How To Help Your Child Get Through Exceptional Puberty

“I don’t want to go out places Mommy. People look at me weird when I am rocking or stimming. And I don’t want them seeing me check my blood sugar. I don’t want to explain that I’m diabetic.  I’m embarrassed.”
“They’re probably wondering what you are doing. You know you can tell them you are autistic and that rocking or stimming relaxes you.  Your ADHD brain also means you have a lot of energy.  And there is no shame in having Type 1 Diabetes. It’s a medical condition and lots of kids have it.”

“Do I have to tell them?”
“No, of course not. It’s your choice. Just remember, be proud of who you are because you are pretty amazing.”

This was one of our easier conversations now that Michael is a tween in puberty.  Puberty is not easy, but when you have autism, ADHD and Type 1 Diabetes you are riding quite a roller coaster of emotions, as are your family. My heart breaks for Michael at these moments. He does not like going out to stores unless he has no choice, as he has become super self conscious about who he is. Thankfully he still goes on  his solo walks and bike rides. He likes the independence, but being out in public is stressful as he learns to handle how different he is from a lot of people. Dad and I are gently encouraging him to be himself, work though the anxiety with strategies, and I hope that with time, his social fears will go down. We are always looking for new ways to help him tackle his fears.

On the other side, we have moments when he pushes us away and does not want to talk. During those moments, we respect his boundaries reminding him that we are close by when he wants to talk. Sometimes he does this politely, other times he can be rude about it. We have had talks about language, respecting our boundaries, and his responsibilities as he is getting older. We have the hyper days and the angry days. We have the anxious days. All in all, it’s challenging, and when I feel that it’s becoming too much, I take five in my corner, meditate and do some yoga, and then remember how hard these developing years are for all children. It just ends up being more challenging, like so many other things, for our exceptional kids.

I remind myself that I am doing the best that I can to be there emotionally, physically and spiritually for my child. I remind myself that I don’t have to be perfect, just show him and help him feel that is loved always, even when he messes up. I remind myself that this too shall pass. A lot of parents with older exceptional kids have shared that the early teen years are the hardest as our kids find out who they are and where they are going. Finally, I look at the list of positives our Educator suggested we make of all the amazing things Michael has accomplished even with the challenging moments still popping up. She had said it would serve as a positive reminder for Michael as well as Dad and I over how far he has come with independence, skill acquisition, and  show us all that he will get through the challenges of adolescence too. She was right. I look to that list. We all do.

Exceptional Parents, how easy or hard do you find your Exceptional Child’s growing up milestones? Whether they are sailing through these stages or struggling, I think as long as we continue to persevere alongside them with a loving ear, new strategies and tools to use, and lots of compassion for them and ourselves, we’re on our way to growing together. Until next time.

I Miss Your Face-How My Autistic/ADHD Tween Defines Quality Time

“Why are you always downstairs when Daddy and I are in the living room? I never see you!” Michael said in irritation the other night.

“I’m downstairs writing, Michael. I always come up right before you go to bed to see how you are and to say goodnight.”

“Why don’t you want to be with us?”
“Honey, I’m with you every day when you come home at 4:00 pm, we talk, we eat dinner, and then you are Daddy are talking or both on your phones so I take that time for me. Besides, it’s not like we are having family time. We do that during meals and on weekends. You and I spend a lot of time together. Why is it so important I am upstairs for that hour?”

Michael paused and then answered. “Because I miss your face Mommy. We are all together in one room, even if we are all doing different things.”

His words hit me full force. I miss your face. We are together, not in a deliberate way like eating, but together casually. In his mind, with his unique brain, this is family time exceptional tween style, and I was not understanding that.

“Ok. What if I come up a half hour earlier and we have this time so that still leaves me my writing time? Does that work for family time?” I asked.

“Yes, Mommy. I like that idea. Thank you.”
Simple. Such a simple change. And after I got over the shock of “I miss seeing your face,” my heart exploded with joy. He misses me. He still values family time, and even though peers and private time are tops, he wants to do family things. My big guy who is getting more independent each day misses having us all in the same room. Awww. I am doing something right. So is Dad. It’s hard sometimes when you are parenting a child so different than the typical tween. I’d forgotten that people with autism and ADHD look at life, relationships and the world differently. This was how Michael defined family time, whereas another child would want to go out to a movie or shopping. Don’t get me wrong. We still have days when we talk for a half hour or more. But more often than not, Michael will give me “highlights” of his day, key moments, then announce he wants to go to his room where he will stay chilling for a bit followed by listening to music on his headphones, then a solo bike ride or walk alone, then back home for dinner.

So this was new and appreciated. It also reminded me how as parents we need to try and see our kids through different lenses, and when we can’t, look to them for cues on where to meet them on their way to growing up. Michael and kids like him are our best teachers.

Exceptional Parents, how often do you see life through your Exceptional Child’s lens or listen to ways they’d like you to meet them? Often we push to have them meet us in our world, forgetting to respect their world and boundaries. Remember, meeting halfway between two different worlds, yours and your child’s means compromise. Let your child know their views are as important as yours and you will keep the parent/child bond growing stronger as they age. Until next time.

Growing Up and Into Who You Really Are-How Exceptional Children Teach Us Boundaries

I used to not understand the boundary between Michael and I when he was little. Most Moms blur the lines at this age. After all, you are busy doing everything for your child from dusk till dawn. Then they start to meet the typical milestones and gradually grow away from you. With exceptional kids, this does not happen right away. The milestones take longer to come. The needs from you are greater as you guide them. Boundaries suffer, until one day you realized, you forgot where you end and they begin.

Then, a funny thing happens. On the road to exceptional parenting, you start to see your child begin to meet the milestones. You see through the fights and challenges you face together, that you need to make space for you, as much for your personal health as your child’s. When I started telling Michael what I needed and when I needed it, I gave him permission to ask the same of me. He now knows, unless it is an emergency, Mom needs her 30 minutes in the morning for coffee, meditation and yoga. He now knows Mom needs her writer groups, outings with friends, and nature walks as well as other forms of exercise to fell whole.

Michael has also learned how to ask for alone time from me. He has spelled out his boundaries for time in his room, time with his music, talking to friends, bike rides or walks alone. We negotiate and respect each other’s space, and the days when things fall apart and we fight, we have both learned to go back to our respective corners, regroup and try again to talk and move forward. Michael has taught me how to fight for myself in a way I never had to before. He has taught me to value who I am before I can teach him to value himself the same way. Our kids are here to teach us to stop, smell the roses, and find that special sparks that lights us up as much as we are there to teach them the same thing.

Exceptional Parents, how has your Exceptional Child helped you define your personal boundaries with them and others? If you are still trying to be and do all for them, remember, you need to nurture yourself, your passions, and your adult relationships. By doing so, you will be a better guide for your child in how they need to conduct their life in a healthy way. You will also be teaching them how to say no to others who may try to infringe on their personal space. Until next time.

When Similarities Between You and Your Exceptional Child Cause Clashing-5 Ways To Survive And Thrive

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As Michael and I each went to our “calm corners” the other day after a fight, I realized, and not for the first time, how similar our temperaments really are and why I am so easily triggered by his anger and anxiety when I am not taking care of my own stress. It was both comforting and annoying at the same time to see that when I am failing at handling our crises calmly, it is usually when I am overtired, stressed and anxious myself. My anger comes out at that point and I feel the need for controlling his outburts. I can’t. It’s that simple. I cannot control my son’s anger and anxiety. The days I realize this are the days I stay calm and the crisis is resolved faster.

I used to make it a daily task, thinking it was my job to not only teach Michael to control his emotions but if he failed, it meant I had failed, and not failed to show him a technique, but to stop it. Crazy huh. I finally stopped believing I had to control every single one of his emotional outbursts after he officially entered puberty. He was already well on his way to knowing how to express himself. He was stronger and getting taller by the minute, and most of all, though I had known this all along, puberty really brought home the fact that he was and is a separate entity from me. We are not joined at the hip as too many Moms think of themselves and their child. I had to stop taking everything he messed up on as a personal failure and address my own need to super control what I could not.

The next thing I realized was my own anxious and angry temperament when I was not using my newfound strategies to not ‘push down’ feelings. Yes, I was a pusher when younger. I had even fooled myself that I was happy, calm and had it together. I was really quite perfectionist, and thought that I didn’t deserve a heck of a lot. Over the last fifteen years I have worked hard to set up personal boundaries with people, practice self-care and learn about what helps curb my anger and anxiety. This is all thanks to my son who still challenges the hell out of me to make myself a better human being.

So how do you survive (and even allow yourself to occasionally laugh at) the possibility of having similarities with your Exceptional Child? Here’s what works for me:

  1. See the spirited side of you both: Yep. You heard me right. You know how we say hyper or anxious kids are spirited? Well, so are the adults. You bring people a different perspective on things because while over analyzing problems you see all the angles. Your child is like this too, so look at the positives in this. You are detailed, creative and ready to stand by your opinion. Just don’t let it consume you day and night and it is a positive.
  2. Recognize your needs for exercise or movement: What works for an upset me or an upset Michael is moving- rocking, walking, having a good cry or scream. Let it out in a safe place and then regroup and talk it out with each other.
  3. Celebrate the quirky, don’t diminish it: Whatever weird thing your child does you celebrate because it is who they are. If you have one of these traits, do the same.
  4. Don’t try to fix everything for them or you: Don’t be a perfectionist person or parent. It will only make you and your child miserable. If you want to do something special for them and they are not interested, don’t push it because you think you are a bad Mom for not doing it. Listen to what they say, unspoken and spoken. If you are not sure, go with your gut on what makes you and your child happy in the end. It won’t steer you wrong.
  5. Don’t take your child’s attempts to trigger you personally. Oh so hard if you are a sensitive parent yourself, but it really is true. Make sure you are as rested, calm and balanced as possible, and don’t let your child’s attempts to trigger you with words and actions seriously. Two out of control people won’t help. Show them what you’ve learned about self-control and practice it. If you mess up, and you will because you’re human, fess up. Take yourself somewhere to calm down, talk about what you did wrong, and how you will fix it. This will help them see what they could do right next time too.

Exceptional Parents, how many times have you been hard on yourself for yelling at your child for some of the same traits you had growing up? We’ll all done it. The important thing to remember is that by you recognizing your similarities with your child personality wise, the good and bad ones, it will bring you both closer as you continue to encourage the positive traits in each other and work on supporting your child while healing yourself of the negative traits. Remember, you are both raising each other in the end. Sometimes it will be beautiful. Sometimes it will be painful. In the end, there will be growth either way. Until next time.