All posts by jenclark242

Temper Tantrums That Don’t Go Away

“Mom, I heard a story about a kid who gets angry like me…and he killed someone.  Am I going to hurt someone someday?”

These words echo in my mind every…single…day.  I remember asking Cameron’s preschool teacher if he ever acted up in class.  She told me, “never.”  I went as far as to explain the level of temper tantrums he displayed at home and she replied, “I feel like you’re describing another kid, not Cameron.”  And over the years as his resistant, defiant behaviors progressed, I asked his teachers the same questions only to hear the same thing his preschool teacher informed me: “He never acts this way in class.”  In fact, up until junior high, his teachers often described him as the most thoughtful, caring kid in his class, always aiming to please.  The more it was reinforced, the more of a failure I felt as a parent.  But junior high heightened his defiance and he became more and more violent, with outbursts that were unpredictable and downright frightening.

It’s taken a long time for me to talk about this, even with my closest friends and relatives, because I always felt like it was my fault. Hell, I still do.  But when someone tells you he displays most of the signs of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, there is some comfort in knowing that you are no longer alone.  And quite frankly, who wants to talk about their not-so-normal kid?  I mean we spend so much time highlighting their perfections, we certainly don’t want to discuss what’s “wrong” with them.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., as a recurrent pattern of developmentally inappropriate, negativistic, defiant, and disobedient behavior toward authority figures. This behavior often appears in the preschool years, but initially it can be difficult to distinguish from developmentally appropriate, albeit troublesome, behavior. Children who develop a stable pattern of oppositional behavior during their preschool years are likely to go on to have oppositional defiant disorder during their elementary school years. Children with oppositional defiant disorder have substantially strained relationships with their parents, teachers, and peers, and have high rates of coexisting conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and mood disorders. Children with oppositional defiant disorder are at greater risk of developing conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder during adulthood.

Say what?  My son could have an antisocial personality disorder now?  Not in MY house.  Not in MY perfect world [insert sarcasm].  Today, I searched ODD on Facebook, just to see what other parents might be saying about their kids, and this is the post I found:


It was this that compelled me to tell our story.  If this person only knew what life is like in my household, day in and day out, she might think twice before spewing from her inexperienced, judgmental mouth.  Because believe me, I get it, but this goes far beyond having a “brat” for a child.  When you discipline a child with ODD, often they respond with anger, hostility, and violence.

Let me tell you a little bit about my Cameron.  Cameron is 12 years old, and the middle child among an older brother of five years and a younger brother of 2 years.  He has literally been difficult since birth.  As a newborn, he had jaundice and was hospitalized after a few days old.  He had the worst case of colic I had ever heard or witnessed that I can’t believe I risked having a 3rd child.  If you’ve ever experienced colic, you can truly relate to some instances of shaking baby syndrome [yeah I said it].  As a toddler, Cameron had PFAPA (periodic fevers with aphthous stomatitis, pharyngitis, and adenitis) which consisted of very high fevers every 2-3 weeks, on and off like clockwork, for several years.  And of course during this time we struggled with the “terrible twos” which came to be “terrible toddler-hood” and still continues to this day.  But now I’m dealing with a hormonal 12-year-old who has transitioned to junior high and trying to find his place in this world–oh and throw a divorce in the middle of that with a change in schools.

One of the worst “episodes” that comes to mind happened over the Christmas Holiday when my nephew was over. When Cameron and Ryan (his younger brother) have another person to play with, three is definitely a crowd and if Cameron feels left out, you better watch out.  I saw the situation escalating when Ryan and my nephew decided to play in another room.  Cameron became angry in a flash and charged into the room.  I immediately intervened and told the boys to shut the door and lock it while I tried to calm Cameron down. I physically had to restrain Cameron as he attempted to break the door down.  He wasn’t going to stop until he got inside that room and I fear what he would’ve done had he actually gotten in.  For 20 minutes I had to hold Cameron on the ground while he tried to break free, all while trying to destroy his surroundings.  Twenty minutes of fighting was exhausting for both of us and we both started to weaken.  Well, right when he felt my weakness he gave it one last attempt to break free and in the process busted my lip open.

He had won…Physically and emotionally, he had broken me.  I let go and ran to the bathroom hysterical.  And when he knew he had hurt me, he immediately broke of his anger and came to my side, apologetic, tearful, and broken as well.  He had hurt the one person that he trusts the most and I could tell, in that moment, he was just as devastated as me.  Seeing this behavior and knowing the person who “loses it,” you can see that he loses control, becoming irrational.  That’s the only way I can explain it.  It doesn’t make it okay, and it doesn’t excuse any of his behavior, but just like any psychological disorder something else takes over and controls him.

This is only the beginning of many posts I plan to share as we struggle with this illness.  It is a struggle every single day as I also have to try to explain to my other two children that their brother is “different.”   I’m only now learning how to manage these situations and what to teach my other children about it without anyone feeling preferentially treated so I don’t have the answers.  I only hope that if anyone who is experiencing a child with these behaviors and is feeling helpless, believe me, I feel helpless most days and spend many in my bedroom completely overwhelmed on the floor in tears.  But now that I know there is help, I have hope.    16684066_10210170361547790_4870290907438234722_n


Succeeding at Life: The Face of a Hero

When I decided to write this, I realized it had been one year to the day since I posted about Brittany Maynard, a hero who chose to live life to the fullest until the side effects caused by a brain tumor no longer allowed her the quality of life a young woman desires.  When the time came, Brittany chose to free herself from the pain and suffering of her disease after sharing her brave story with the World…she is a hero and inspiration to all of us, both those who’ve suffered past and present from illnesses, and those who face it through the lives of others.

HeroTwo years ago I lost a dear friend to cancer.  I’ll never forget perusing through my newsfeed on Facebook and almost missing his post announcing to the World that of his almost certain terminal diagnosis.  It was surreal to me what seemed to be such a nonchalant post; I couldn’t imagine what he was really thinking. “FUCK CANCER,” he said at some point during his battle, and we all just started saying it.  He once said, “Doesn’t really matter what you say … for me, it’s just knowing people care. Never thought that mattered much, but it really does. I couldn’t get through this without everyone, especially my wife. She’s incredible … taking care of me while she’s nine months pregnant. I’ve actually discovered I’m incredibly lucky in a lot of instances. I know I don’t take people for granted anymore. And you’re right, who knows why … and who cares. I just have to get through it. And I will.”  He fought until the end and enjoyed every minute to the best of his ability, just like Brittany did…and the way many others do, too.

Facebook has brought to light many others’ battles, some so humble about their experience you don’t even realize they have cancer because they rarely talk about it.  They simply count their blessings and maybe share a picture of the progress they’ve made during their treatment.  What an amazing woman you are Kelly Smokovitz Gaynier, for showing us your strength and for having such a strong faith…YOU are a hero.

To Frank, who’s battled cancer longer than I’ve known him, never for a moment showing signs of weakness as to your affliction.  And now, having your child face cancer and have to go through the pain through the eyes of a Father…YOU are a hero.

And to our children with cancer…innocent to the sins of the world, yet afflicted and punished by them…how unfair it is to have face such tribulations and have to learn about life far sooner than you ever should.  And yet, always smiling, always positive, and always looking forward to your futures.  Jordyn Chwalik, the World watches as you kick cancer’s butt, always with a smile on your face…YOU are a hero.

Some of us defy fate and surprise everyone, even when the odds are stacked against uswpid-wp-1447145548166.jpg.  Little Alex has been a fighter since the day he entered this World and even when he developed a brain tumor and no other kid in the World had what you had, along with all of your other challenges…you set a precedence for other kids and parents’ around the World.

In 2013, dying patients were polled about their lives’ regrets so others may learn and live a fuller life.  The top five regrets were:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Are you headed towards a life of regrets (or possibly already there), and what can you do to change it?  After reading about those who’ve remained positive, even during their most troubling times, and learning from those who reflected on life’s regrets in the face of dying, what conscious decisions can you make now that will lead to a more fulfilling life in the future?  You only get one shot at a fulfilling life.

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter. ”


In the Moment

August 25, 2014
Everyone says to “live in the moment” as if it’s just that easy. Especially if you are as “Type A” as me and with a million things going on—Full time job managing an ICU, full time mother, and full time student obtaining my doctorate—it’s hard to remember to breath at times. But here I am in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, certainly the most beautiful place in Michigan, Tahquamenon Falls, and I’m reminded of this phrase “living in the moment”, just one week before I begin my last year of school and maybe my most challenging. I’ve been in school full time for five years straight, without a summer off, and I’m SO over it. This year will challenge my skills, my time management, and more importantly my family as I will be worn thinner than I have in the past; and my motivation is far from elevated.
So here I sit around the campfire reflecting on what has been, what is about to be, and what I’m going to do over the next several days to be “in the moment.” The most powerful thought is the realization that tomorrow may never come, so worrying so much about the future, something Americans are so fraught upon, is nonsense. And for me especially, I’ve spent the past five years worrying about the end of each semester and the completion of my degree. Too little do I worry that my children have missed me, have gotten used to my lack of participation, and accustomed to me and my computer. At least I know that they are learning the importance of a good education and the meaning of a good work ethic, something that most people don’t know a thing about these days.

So tomorrow we are taking the 5 mile walk from the lower falls to the higher falls and I’m not going to rush. I’m going to live in the moment because my body and soul needs to reenergize for the long year ahead, and my family needs to remember what it’s like to have ME, full body and spirit. But, I’m scared I can’t do it. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I can’t make my head stop thinking, planning, worrying. I can’t pull my head in the moment and focus because that’s usually the problem. It only takes a millisecond to wander off and start thinking, planning—was that a squirrel? Wait! Did I lock the door? What are we doing for dinner? Should I reapply the kids’ sunblock? STOP! Be in the moment Dammit! We’ll see how this goes….

August 26, 2014
Success! I will say I lived in the moment to the fullest today and enjoyed every moment (even while complaining). First, Jamie and I woke up early to drink coffee by the river. The water was very calm and soothing. We watched the fish jump and even watched two large fish create a wake along the drop off—pike, muskie? Either way, I ran back to the camper to get Brendon and he was down by the water, fishing pole in hand, within 10 minutes. No success.
The little guys and I hung out all morning while the big guys rented a row boat and went fishing. 20140826_133116 20140826_122046Without worries of the “real world” I appreciated their cute shenanigans. The two have become quite the pair, two years apart and a perfect complement of each other. Cameron, the middle child, has grown to be the worry wart and protector, ensuring his baby brother goes unharmed by others; however first to swing and lose his temper if things do not go HIS way. Ryan has no fear. He will go all the way, no boundaries. Scary, I know.

After lunch we all headed out for the so-called 4 mile hike from the lower falls to the upper falls. I don’t know who did the measuring but that was the longest 4 miles I ever walked in my life!  Anyways, the boys made it with very little complaining, considering how hungry they were and how long they walked and in a difficult terrain. Jamie and I are certain we heard a bear (there’s no question I was in the moment then, that’s for sure). After I heard it the second time I asked Jamie to confirm it. He heard it too, which is why he had picked up the pace. After the third time we were pretty much jogging up the hill.

Brendon spent much of his time tripping over tree roots, so I stayed behind him to ensure I stayed amused as much as possible.20140826_130949 Didn’t see the “meese” (moose plural in the Reynolds’ dictionary) even though our brains played tricks on us (Jamie) several times. It still amazes me that this scenery is in Michigan, just a mere weekend away, and so many Michiganders spend their time either working their entire lives and missing out on these little pieces of Heaven, or spend thousands of dollars on vacations to exotic beach resorts and never come here. My kids would enjoy this much more and have already begged to come back, nominating this their new favorite campground experience.

After breezing through the upper falls and heading straight to the restaurant for a comfortable seat, refreshments, and nourishment, we hitched a ride for $24 back to the campground.  After my nap, I was dragged back to the lower falls with the family so the big boys could fish and the little guys could walk the falls. Ok so I may not have been in the moment for a minute, but after falling in the water and almost losing a shoe, I was taken by the beauty of it all and quickly brought back to the present. We took quite the journey from one fall to the next and I will admit was quite nervous at one point letting them climb the falls, hand in hand. 

Cameron was on a mission. He knew there was an area he could go behind the falls and he was determined to find it. So off we went, hiking through the forest to the other side of the falls and sure enough he remembered the blue towel hanging on the ledge and knew we were in the right place. I will never forget the enjoyment on their faces as they crossed under the falls, looking through. Cameron just held his arms out and screamed with the biggest grin on his face that he could hear an echo. He begged his brother to come with him a second time. Ryan was afraid for a minute (usually it’s the other way around), but the two of them went together and boy was it a sight because they had so much fun together! I took it in, that moment, thinking to myself, no matter what happens, DON’T FORGET THIS MOMENT. I looked up at the Heavens, looked around at THIS “Heaven” and thought, in this moment, Jennifer, no matter how busy or how challenging life gets, look back on this moment and remember that life is about these moments. This place is a little Heaven on Earth and if you haven’t experienced it at least once, you haven’t experienced a little piece of Heaven and it’s only a car ride away.  20140826_124624  20140826_104222 
For people like me, it’s a miracle that we can take our mind off of life long enough to enjoy these moments.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Today we slept in listening to the rain. I love listening to the rain drizzle on the camper…the dogs, not so much. But, that just makes them want to cuddle that much more. Nothing is better than a bed full of kids and dogs in the morning, especially on a cold, rainy day.
Today we went on a boat tour to Pictured Rocks—breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe what we saw. Who knew this place existed in our corner of the Earth, just a few hours from home? 20140827_155801Along the shoreline of Lake Superior we explored some of the most beautiful rock walls changed by centuries of nature’s “touch” forever changing the view. 20140827_152044Jamie was speechless many times, he’s a true kid at heart, awe struck by the natural beauty our land has preserved over the centuries—this place is proof. Again, if you are one who insists on travelling to the tropics and Vegas, you need to come here for a long weekend. Your senses will not be disappointed. The water is as clear and colorful as the ocean. 20140827_150259The smell of fresh air keeps you repeatedly deep breathing for more, and you will find yourself smiling in disbelief that, as a Michigander, you MUST live in the most beautiful of all the fifty states.

August 31, 2014
Bitter sweet. That’s how I feel today as we pack up to head home after a long, relaxing nine day camping trip; bitter sweet because this will be our last camping trip at Alcona park. We’ve been camping here since Cameron was just a few months old. We have so many memories here. I remember one of our first camping trips here we broke the awning and nearly killed Theresa in the process. Many memories include Theresa and Tony. They were such suckers for the kids. We still have the hillbilly golf game the Tony made me for my birthday probably 8 or 9 years ago.
And how the dynamics of our trips have changed, too. Where we used to love staying up all night partying with friends, praying the kids would sleep until a decent hour (often we had midnight feedings). We used to make deals every night as to who would get the kids to bed, who would get up in the middle of the night with the baby, and who would get up in the morning with them. It definitely made a difference as to how much partying you would do. Back then I used to spend much of my day pushing kids around in strollers, walking through the woods. Now they are much older and do their own thing mostly. And we are in bed early, even set the alarm early so we can get up before the kids to enjoy a peaceful cup of coffee in the morning. We didn’t even drink coffee until the past couple of years.
Some of the highlights: Frog catching at the cove. Midnight walks with Jamie. Watching the stars in the field. Tony getting in the play pen with Cameron. Theresa and I playing “Shot Checkers” and our brilliant idea to take the rowboat out for a spin in the pitch black around 3am…getting lost in the middle of the water (we actually never left shore unbeknownst to us)…but boy did we laugh for a long time after we almost cried. Brendon getting a staph infection in his ear. Cameron breaking his collar bone.

Getting lost on the river with Kristy and Ronnie and having to be rescued (where is that newspaper article anyway). Our first camping trip with Julie and Chad that started a lifelong friendship (I hope)…two tracks are not meant for campers and you should never buy a power converter from creepy old men (CHAD)20140828_174524. Raccoons CAN chew through coolers if the food smells right (Ronnie and Kristy) and a family of raccoons alone with a weekend of food will result in an expensive weekend because it will be gone when you get back (Tony and Theresa).

The Time is Now

Teasing my senses at Central Park
Teasing my senses at Central Park


I’m sitting in Central Park digesting all I have seen and done on my trip to New York City and Ireland. I have watched many families from around the world share in the history and culture of so many extraordinary places. But one thing I didn’t find, although not too surprised, was that not many were American families. Don’t get me wrong, I saw many Americans but not many groups travelling with their children. This, however, did not surprise me because we have become well known for being too busy to enjoy life. We always say we are going to do this or that, but before we know it we are either stricken with disease or life passes us so quickly that it’s too late to do those things.

The beauty of Central Park
The beauty of Central Park

Besides learning about end of life practices in healthcare, and doing those things I came here to do to sort of “set up” my career after graduate school, I hope that I never forget that there is this world out there that needs to be seen and not forgotten; a history so full of life, just waiting to be rejuvenated. Is the “American Dream” that we are so committed to, with the big house and the expensive cars, so important that we can’t get out of our small little bubbles to show our children where we all originated from? When I am done I hope I fully commit to sharing the world with my husband and children and I encourage you all to do the same. My husband and I said we’d tour Italy for our 5th anniversary…that would have been in 2009. So far we haven’t done anything–but we have to change that.

On a lighter note, staying in the city just reinforced more that I am NOT a city girl, but a country girl at heart. I am tempted at this point to move to the countryside and get those horses I always wanted and not wait. Wait for what…more time? If I keep waiting I will be too old to do the things I want to do someday, or maybe my destiny finds my days much shorter than the average person. The point is, the time is now. Embrace life as if each day is your last. Today especially, as a I remember my friend who was taken early by Cancer shortly after bringing a baby girl into this world, I never want to forget that the day-to-day hassles of life aren’t worth missing out on the important things.

May you rest in peace
To you Larry Cathey…May you rest in peace

The Human Condition

I just finished taking the class, “End of Life Issues” and didn’t take from it quite what I had hoped.Death  Sure I wanted to use what I learned in practice, but truthfully I was hoping I would get at least half a step closer to relieving some of my death anxiety.  The only real thing I took from the class was that certain Middle Eastern cultures loathe the way they THINK we treat our elders.  That theme became evident very early in class. I’m not going to elaborate; I’d need an entirely new blog for that topic, so I’m just going to move on.  What I did find in my search was several books related to this fascinating topic of death, the “main task of human life” (oddly put, but all-in-all very true), of which I have chosen “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker to begin my literal venture.  The title, for obvious reasons, caught my eye since all my life I have tried to deny that my death is evident. Tried to set it aside in the back of my mind….but that never works, let’s be honest.  And I can’t say that I’ve chosen the best career path, nursing in an ICU, if I was actually trying to avoid the thought altogether.

But lately, series of events have made my “natural phenomenon of life” become real as ever and I have been having pretty severe  anxiety because of it.  As kids we think of ourselves as invincible, death to us is so far away it barely exists to us–we almost consider ourselves immortal.  The evidence is in our careless, “it couldn’t happen to me,” actions.  And here I am the nurse who works in ICU who sees tragic diagnoses that change the lives of families in the blink of an eye.  My friends getting surgery to prevent cancer and, sadly, friends getting cancer.  Hell, my own three year old cousin is fighting cancer right now.  So what will be my fate? What life-changing phone call will I receive?  Or will it be me with the cancer, my family at the next terrorist attack, my care hit by a drunk driver? These thoughts never leave me. They follow me constantly as I try to “live life to the fullest”, my so-called motto.

So I’ve set out in search of some comforting words that may make some sense of it all and it seems that my fears are the “paradox of man.” “…to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one’s dreams and even the most sun-filled days…everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate.” OK. So this guy Ernest and all the philosophers before me get what I’m feeling, so what do I do about it? I’m too literal to turn to the Bible…I just don’t get the Message.  Pope John Paul could have lunch with me and it’s not going to make me feel any better because he can’t give me the proof I need.  Is this my temporary body? Will I see my loved ones on the other side?

“The great boon of repression is that it makes it possible to live decisively in an overwhelmingly miraculous and incomprehensible world, a world so full of beauty, majesty, and terror that if animals perceived it all they would be paralyzed to act.”  So maybe I was an animal in a previous life because sometimes I feel semi-paralyzed. To be continued….

Strength, Comfort, and Light

This, ladies and gentleman, is what life is all about. God doesn’t answer our prayers by giving us materialistic things…he is there to support us and guide us when we call on him. He can’t be to blame for everything that happens, which is what we tend to do when tragedy finds its way into our lives. He created our World and we have made it what it is today. We need to accept things as they are because they just happen…there is no one to blame; it’s just a fact of life.

What makes me Tick

ImageI can remember ALWAYS wanting to be a Mom.  I used to dream of my dolls being real.  I wanted the Snuggle Bear and the Magui to be alive.  And, when I became a young Mom, I knew that people pitied me, but the truth is that everyone should have been envious of me. I mean how unbelievable is the creation of life? And now I have three amazing boys, am happier than I can ever be, and have my kids to thank for that.  It’s amazing what one chapter in your life can do to change the plot of your story…for me it’s made all the difference!