October is Selective Mutism Awareness Month

October is Selective Mutism Awareness Month

She talks. A lot. Sometimes.

Sometimes she can’t speak at all.

This communication disability is called selective mutism. It’s really an unfortunate term for the condition because the word “selective” sounds like a choice. It’s not a choice. There are times when she cannot force words to come out of her mouth.

selective mutism awareness month

I haven’t talked a lot about my daughter lately, and especially not about her mental health issues. I’m very careful about violating her privacy, especially since she reached the teen years. But this time, she came to me and asked me to write about this issue, and her experience.

“Most of the time,” she said, “It would be easier for me to just speak than it is to deal with people who get mad when I don’t talk to them. I don’t want to be mute.” Teachers, principals, even friends get angry with her when she doesn’t respond to them with spoken words.

Old friends she hadn’t seen for a while insist they know she can talk and get irritated with her silence, often even assuming that she is mad at them, or even that she thinks she’s too good to talk to them.

So, what is Selective Mutism?

Selective mutism is a rare disorder, a communication disability, affecting less than 1% of kids. It is related to anxiety disorders, and often co-occurs with autism and hyperlexia. There really isn’t a lot of information on this condition, but it is one in which an intense anxiety reaction causes a freeze response and prevents the individual from speaking aloud. Sometimes this situation can prevent communicating altogether, but more often sign language, gestures, and writing can be used to respond.

This becomes especially problematic when others become angry and demand a verbal response, which amps up the anxiety even more and makes the problem worse. Traumatizing someone for having anxiety wont reduce their anxiety.

Selective Mutism keychain and other items available at my Zazzle shop. These items allow non-speakers to convey their communication disability.

How can I help?

Interacting with someone experiencing selective mutism can be very much like interacting with someone with a stutter. The most helpful thing you can do is to exercise patience. It can be frustrating, I know. It’s very difficult to remain calm while you’re waiting for a response, but the more demanding you are, the more frustration you demonstrate, the more you behave as though they’re being defiant, the worse the situation gets. Allow them to respond on their own terms and you’ll actually get more information than if you demand that they speak.

  • Be kind.
  • Be patient.
  • Pay attention to their non-verbal behavior.
  • If you think you understand but you’re not sure, you can ask. “I think you’re saying you want to go home. Is that right?” Then they can nod or shake their head in response. Based on that response, you can ask more questions.
  • If you have writing implements available, you can offer those. My daughter keeps a pad of sticky notes and a pen with her at all times. When people allow her to respond that way, they get the most complete and accurate response.
  • Share this story. The more people understand what selective mutism is, and how they can help (or at least not make the situation worse), the more it makes the world a little kinder and helps people living with this condition.

The simple act of being aware of selective mutism and understanding that this communication disability is not a choice, makes a difference, even if you do nothing else.

Making Friends with My Grief

Making Friends with My Grief

What was my grandpa like?

I wasn’t expecting the question. I paused the TV and thought a moment. It occurred to me that I haven’t told her much about my father. He died from cancer before she was born. The proximity of his death to my own cancer diagnosis made it even harder to talk about.

I told her about how he always laughed at his own jokes, that his belly laugh made his whole body bounce up and down. And if he was sitting, his feet stuck straight out in front of him for the duration of the laugh.

I told her about how he loved to play guitar and sing to us, and he made up the most ridiculous songs.

I told her how he was often considered the smartest person in whatever room he was in.

I told her how we used to tease him about being short, and how he would tell his friends I was 4’20” rather than an inch taller than him.

I told her how he embraced our interests, how he dove in head first to whatever we were doing. When we got into theater, he memorized Shakespeare right along side us. When we played soccer, he trained to become a linesman. After my brother married a woman from Russia, my dad learned to speak Russian. He was all in.

I told her how he loved sports, how when I went home for a visit in ’99 I found him in his ref uniform watching the US Women’s team trounce China in the World Cup. I watched him flash a yellow card at China on the TV.

I told her how he was one of the Palmer High School football team’s most loyal supporters. Long after all his kids had graduated high school, he was still the keeper of the Moose Gooser, a cannon fired each time the Palmer Moose scored. He even took that cannon to away games.

She asked me if her grandpa would have liked her. “Oh, my, yes,” I said. “He would have loved you. He would have enjoyed your wit and your laugh. He would have loved playing chess with you. He would have loved that you’re learning French and Russian. He would have marveled at the amazing young woman you are growing into.”

My dad cared deeply about a number of things, threw his energy into a lot of things, but I suspect that, out of everything, being a grandpa was his favorite.

My girl and I laughed and cried at the stories. She snuggled and held me tight. We both grieved his loss and the fact that they never met. But mostly, we experienced my Dad.

She wanted to know how he died, and I told her about how his friends came over with banjos and guitars and played the bluegrass music he loved so much. I told her about how they played “I’ll fly away,” and how that song was even more special at that moment.

I’ll fly away, oh glory I’ll fly away, in the morning when I die, hallelujah by and by I’ll fly away

Then when his friends said goodbye, he got tired and went to sleep with my mom and brother sitting by his side. In the morning, he flew away.

Sharing this moment was a gift for both my daughter and I. We haven’t talked a lot about death or grieving, and this opened the door for some deeper conversation. This process was healing for me too. I’d forgotten how it can feel good to talk about someone you lost.

My father has been gone for 14 years, but for a few moments last night, he was right there with us. I felt like, in a way, I got to introduce them to each other.

The grief of losing him is still there, but it’s different now. The time helps, the talking helps, too. The grief is something that I carry forward with me. It has helped shape me. I’ve grown since his death, and that grief was a part of the growth. I would be a different person without it.

That’s not something I would have been able to hear or contemplate shortly after his death, and please don’t say that to anyone in the early stages of their grief.

I shed many tears last night. I cried again after G went to bed. I do miss my dad, I miss the relationships we might have had. But the tears were bigger than sadness. There’s beauty in this story. I experienced a sense of awe when sharing this story with my daughter. It was moving, it was deep, it was the same kind of tears we experience when watching a masterful performance, or viewing great art, or hearing a story of profound kindness. It was healing and transcendent. I’m not done grieving my father, that’s not something you finish. But I’m no longer afraid of the grief. I’m making friends with it, and that starts with talking about my dad.

A conversation with my daughter about the grandfather she never met helped us both heal.
Breakfast and Legos

Breakfast and Legos


The summer heat chased us from the apartment early; we were left wandering, in search of breakfast and air conditioning.

What we found were legos.


Lots and lots of legos.

lego collage

We discovered a new cafe/kids play area dedicated entirely to legos – big duplos for the littles downstairs, and upstairs massive amounts of regular legos. The lego table is in the center of the room, with tables for the parents around the outside. It’s called Wunderkind, if you’re interested, and in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle. Wifi, coffee, air conditioning, snacks (with many healthy options), beer, wine, sweeping views of the cemetary (hey, its actually quite a serene view) – including peekaboo views of the Blue Angels performance over Lake Washington. Just the break this tired mama needed from the oppressive heat.

I could work, uninterrupted.

coffee and computer

Or, play around on Facebook.

And my girl? She had the best day ever! (her words)

legos are fun
lego table
lego perspectives

We’ll be back.


This is not a sponsored post.


This year, I am participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break. Follow the hashtag #augustbreak2015 on various social media to find more posts from participants.

Today’s Prompt is Breakfast.

The August Break - Susannah Conway
Describe Parenthood Using Only Movie Titles

Describe Parenthood Using Only Movie Titles

Earlier this week, I tried something different on my facebook page, and invited friends to describe parenthood using only the titles of movies. My friends really came through, and the results were hilarious.

Many addressed the general chaos of living in a house with kids

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Armageddon
  • Flying Circus
  • How to Train your Dragon
  • Into the Wild
  • It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Sharknado
  • Sudden impact
  • The Crying Game
  • The Fast and the Furious
  • The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
  • The Greatest Show on Earth
  • The Hunger Games
  • Toy Story
  • Transformers
  • War and Peace
  • War of the Worlds
  • We Bought a Zoo

And the way they can be little monsters

  • Aliens
  • Animal House
  • Monsters, inc.
  • Psycho
  • Revenge of the Nerds
  • Ruthless people

There were allusions to the fact that there are no easy answers in parenting

  • Adaptation
  • Catch-22
  • It’s Complicated
  • Mission Impossible
  • Spies Like Us

The way it consumes our whole lives

  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • From Dusk ‘Til Dawn
  • Six Days Seven Nights
  • The Theory of Everything

And it’s impact on our social lives

  • How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

The exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and brain drain

  • Altered States
  • Clueless
  • Dazed and Confused
  • Groundhog Day
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • The Neverending Story
  • Waiting to Exhale

The fraying last nerve

  • Big Girls Don’t Cry
  • Despicable Me
  • Drive Angry

Sure, they can be naughty

  • Catching Fire
  • I Can Do Bad All By Myself
  • I Love Trouble
  • Liar, Liar
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • The Invention of Lying
  • The Usual Suspects
  • Throw Momma From The Train

But they’re our little mini-mes

  • Identity Theft
  • The Imitation Game

Then there’s the high cost of raising children

  • Million Dollar Baby
  • Money Pit

The things you keep hearing yourself say, over and over again

  • Please Don’t Eat the Daisies
  • PS I love you
  • Scream

And of course, the joy of parenting

  • All that Heaven Allows
  • As Good As It Gets
  • Eat, Pray, Love
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Life is Beautiful
  • Love Actually
  • Twice Blessed


What were your favorites?

And, what would you add?

A Note to Mom | Listen to Your Mother

A Note to Mom | Listen to Your Mother

The day before Mother’s Day, thirteen Seattle area writers came together to share their thoughts and observations on motherhood at Seattle’s inaugural production of the Listen to Your Mother show.

I was one of those writers.

Today, videos of each segment of the show were released.

What an amazing experience. I’m so honored to be included with this amazing group of writers.

What your mom wants for Mothers Day

What your mom wants for Mothers Day

What your mom wants for mothers day

* She wants the handmade crafts – the pictures, the paintings, the little sculptures, the handprints, the inedible breakfast – But the coffee, she wants the coffee to be good, so if you haven’t mastered that skill yet, step aside

* She wants to laugh without peeing her pants

* She wants her great aunt’s ring back that you tried on because it was sparkly but then lost somewhere in your bedroom

* She wants you to clean your room

* She wants some privacy in the bathroom

* She wants you to know that loves hearing you say mom, or mama, or mommy, or mumum or whatever it is you say – It’s the most beautiful sound in the world to her, until you say it 30 times in a row – or if you say it after bedtime

* She wants a nap

* She wants some help around the house

* She wants you to eat your vegetables – Yes, those of you who are grown up, you too

* She wants you to soar, but she wants you to remember where you came from – and she wants a hug and a kiss before you go

* She wants you to call more

* She wants you to chase your dreams, but do it safely and wear your seatbelt

* She wants more for you than she ever dreamed possible for herself

* She wants you to be happy, but not just a momentary glee, but the deep soulful happiness that comes when you are using your body, heart and mind to their potential

* She wants you to know that you completely changed her on a cellular level and through every aspect of her life

* She wants a little respect


* She wants you to know that she loves you

Ok, Moms, leave me a note; What else do you want for Mothers Day


listen-to-your-motherIf you are in the Seattle area, celebrate your mom and motherhood by joining us at the inaugural production of Listen to Your Mother in Seattle.

I will be joining a cast of 13 local writers sharing the joy, the pain, and the mess of motherhood.

This show will be pee your pants funny, with a side of tears. Bring tissue.

Saturday, May 9, 2015  2:00 pm

Bloedel Hall at St. Mark’s Cathedral

Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets