Melissa & Doug Toys

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What can I say?  When it comes to giving toy recommendations, one of the brands that immediately comes to mind is Melissa & Doug.  I love toys that are not only made for entertainment, but that are also didactic in nature, in other words, provide with a learning opportunity as well as being fun. Melissa & Doug’s products provide just that.  Their products are 1) creative, 2) versatile, 3) durable, and 4) fun. 

There is no substitute for creativity.  Children’s brains are plastic, and as such it is imperative that we use all tools available to cover all kinds of possibilities.  Take wooden blocks, for example.  Parents/teachers can use blocks in a variety of ways, for example, to encourage free play while building structures and to encourage observation skills by having children imitate block designs.

Versatility is a great quality and it is present in these toys.  What does this mean?  I always encourage the parents I work with to select toys that can be used in many different ways.  Puzzles, for example, are a great way to start.  If you are working with an alphabet puzzle, you may be concentrating on just learning letters, recognizing them one by one, but you could also work on letter sounds, labeling objects (the pictures on the puzzle), counting (the letters), and transitioning (putting letters and puzzle away).  You can come up with any number of activities based on the toy that you have in front of you, but rest assured that Melissa & Doug toys are made to be versatile.

Melissa & Doug toys are made to last!  I have had some of their toys for over 10 years!  Just make sure that you save all the pieces, and the toy you bought will be yours for years to come.  And last but not least, these toys are fun!  Who would want to play with toys that aren’t fun and engaging? We want children to be able to stay focused on those toys, fully enjoying them and playing with them.

When you are out shopping for fun toys this holiday season, think of all the positive skills that children can learn while playing with their toys.  I recommend this brand whole-hearteadly!

If you have any questions about this post of any other, please leave me a comment!

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Carrying My Mother’s Bags

Personal Stories Series

My brother, Fernando, was born when I was 7 years old. As I remember, my mother suspected that there was something wrong all through her pregnancy, although she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. To her, something just didn’t feel right.

Her fears were partially confirmed when she had to have an emergency C-section at 7 months gestation. And it didn’t stop there. She continued to observe how this child, her third, would not walk when he was expected, or talk when he was supposed to. My parents did all they could to make sure that they visited the every specialist or doctor that they were recommended by well-meaning people.

At that time, and where we lived, there was no early intervention, or good special programs. My parents had to fend for themselves. My father worked as much as he could, as many hours as it was humanly possible, to supply what the family needed.

I remember very clearly when my parents tried to get speech/language services for my brother. It was just a gamble whether the insurance would pay or not. Most times, my parents ended up paying out of pocket, and barely able to cover one or two sessions a week.

There is a clear picture in my head of my mother, holding my brother, who was a big 2 year old boy at the time, while we were travelling by bus to make it to the therapy center. No one would give up their seat. I guess, in their minds, they could not figure out why a seemingly healthy child would not stand up and hold the bars. What they didn’t know was that my brother had just recently started walking and was quite unsteady on his feet.

I accompanied my mother on many of these trips. It was just impossible for her to carry my brother, who was a quite robust 2 year old, and all the bags she needed for essentials. She tried to schedule appointments when I was available so that I could help. I remember clearly carrying my mother’s bags. And I remember clearly my mother carrying my brother.

To this day, I can clearly see how my mom continues to “carry” my brother, in every aspect of his life. And I, for one, do my best to try to help her with her bags. Love you Mom!

Thank you.

My mom with my brother Fernando in 1979

Pets and Emotional Strength

Raising A Doodle

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It is not secret that I love animals, and by that I mean not only the commonly-found animals in cities across America, but also the ones that people do not typically find  cute and cuddly and they’d rather eat.  I love and protect them all.   I’m an animal lover, vegetarian, can’t-live-without-a-pet (especially a cat) type of person.  I am also not shy in sharing my love for my four-legged children with the world.  As a person, I have experienced the one of a kind benefits that stem from having a bond with a pet. 

As a professional, I’m always encouraging the families that I work with to teach their children to love and care for someone else in the world by encouraging them to welcome a pet in their lives. There is simply no substitute for caring for another being, than the opportunity to provide this caring and affection to a pet.

Theresa Piasta, the author of Raising a Doodle and owner of Puppy Mama, shares her own experience as she dealt with the aftermath of serving in the military, to working in the high stress environment of Wall Street, to dealing with her own experience with PTSD. She found healing in her dog, Waffles, and quickly understood the unique relationship and bond that comes with this type of relationship.

As her bond with Waffles grew, so did her emotional strength, and the desire to share this knowledge with other women. Hence, Puppy Mama was born. Raising a Doodle delves into Ms. Piasta’s personal experiences, the experiences of hundreds of women who experienced the healing effects of caring for a dog, and the community that they formed since the creation of the Puppy Mama community.

If you are interested in learning more about how a pet can help you heal, and teach your children the importance of caring, grab a copy of this book here.

Cheers,

Dr. Klimek

Personal Stories: Learning from Our Collective Experience

Personal Stories define us.  This is what we tell ourselves and tell other people about us.  They are part of what we use to understand ourselves, understand the world, and come to terms with the choices that we make throughout our lives.

This is why I’m opening this section to the special village in its entirety.  Do you have a story that you would like to share?  Did you learn from any particular experience that you had with your child (brother, sister, grandchild, etc.)? Is there anything that you would like to share with the world so that you can enlighten all of us?  We want to be here to share our experiences and support each other.

I would not be in this space if it weren’t for my youngest brother, Fernando.  He is seven years younger than me, and five years younger than our middle brother, Hernan.  I have so many stories to share about how tough it was to grow up in a time and place when caring for the disabled and including them in every aspect of life and decision making was not mainstream.  I grew up understanding how judged my parents felt.  I grew up feeling the isolation that stemmed from this experience.

The good news is that none of this stopped us.  Families can be very resilient and can thrive in the shadow of extreme pain.  It is because I want to showcase that resilience and foster an environment of understanding that I would like to feature YOUR story.  Share your thoughts (or your story) with me at ourspecialvillage@gmail.com.

Fernando 🙂

Hope to hear from you!

Dr. Klimek

Dr. Vanessa Lapointe’s latest book: Parenting Right from the Start

It was nothing but refreshing to read Dr. Lapointe’s professional take on attachment and development.  Let’s just say that many of the ideas that she talks about in her new book Parenting Right from the Start are the very same ideas that I have been teaching my families for quite some time.  This is all especially true when dealing with special needs families, and at the same time, harder to crystallize.  It is worth pointing though, and I can firmly say that this will be one of the first books I will be recommending to my families from now on. 

The wholistic, and at the same time, individualized approach that she teaches the families she works with very much approximate the message that I try to instill in the families that I work with, namely:

  1. You got this!
  2. Don’t let fear of judgement by others take over!
  3. Don’t let judgement of yourself take over!
  4. Relax and enjoy the ride!

My knowledge is not only based on years of experience but also on years of working on the connection between Eastern and Western thought.  I can only summarize it with what a parent told me this morning, as we were talking about his daughter’s traumatic past, “worrying and dwelling are like a rocking chair, they give you something to do but you won’t get anywhere with it.”  Those wise words carried me through the day, and they can get you through the worst crises as well as the not-so-terrible ones:  temper tantrums, defiant behavior, resistant behavior, and normal developmental challenges that all parents are exposed to. Did your child have a tantrum?  Did you yell when you shouldn’t have?  Forgive yourself and move one.  Learn from this experience and take a step back next time. 

Parenting Right from the Start focuses on exactly what the title claims:  Parenting way before you decide to have children, but in a non-judgmental, caring way.  It explores common milestones from the parents’ point of view and from the child.  It teaches parents to look at the world through the child’s eyes.  The result is a more confident parent who is in control and understands that it is normal for parents to feel overwhelmed sometimes.  It teaches parents to deal with those feelings of defeat and provides an avenue not only to help the child grow, but to help parents grow.

To get a copy of this book, click here.  The paperback is out on October 8th, 2019. 

Highly Recommended!

If you have any questions of comments, drop me a note!

Cheers!

Dr. Klimek

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Confessions of a Plastic Surgeon: Life and Living

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Like Dr. Jeneby, I also have a confession.  I wanted to read Confessions of a Plastic Surgeon even though it had no relation (or so I thought) with what I typically write about on this blog.  But then, I read the book, and I realized that this doctor’s outlook on life has more in common with mine than I want to admit.

For starters, in his book Confessions of a Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Jeneby refers to his childhood, his journey through school, his different, “one-of-a-kind” personality, that made him stand out, and all these things reminded me of my life.  Like Dr. Jeneby, I often felt like an “outsider,” whether in school or at work.  I mostly felt like the odd one out of the bunch.  I was never part of the “cool” clique, and most days I was called the “nerd.”  Dr. Jeneby talks very candidly about how this phase in his life gave him the fuel he needed to stay motivated and prove everyone wrong.  Like him, I do have an insatiable drive to show everyone what I can do, and in my case, what WE, as a special village, can do.  We have a similar story, even if on the surface it looks very different.

Dr. Jeneby is very close to his family and takes the opportunity to show us his life.  He credits his mother for providing the strong role modeling of a strong, motivated, professional woman.  Her strong guidance spearheaded him into a successful life, but the support of his family through thick and thin is what keeps him afloat. In Confessions of a Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Jeneby talks about his desire for success, his motivation, and his realization that he could only be himself if he worked for himself.  In this particular regard too, I felt connected to what he describes.  I spent so much time working for “others” when it didn’t suit me, that my only regret is not having set myself free sooner.

He dedicates a good amount of the book talking about his charity work, which he pours his heart into.  Like him, I cannot live without this aspect of my life, which is why I pour my heart into The Bocha ProjectConfessions of a Plastic Surgeon is the unveiling of a world that I you can only see in television programs like Botched, plus everything that comes with this world:  the craziness, the unstoppable hours, the constant running for time.  If you like to watch plastic surgery shows on television, you will definitely like Confessions of a Plastic Surgeon, and you will get to know an awesome professional as an added bonus.

Woman with face covered by a hat.
Confessions of a Plastic Surgeon

Treat yourself! 

Cooking with your Family: One Dish Four Seasons by Jordan Zucker

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I remember years ago, when I first discovered my love for cooking.  Up until that point I was somehow “afraid” of the kitchen: Afraid of being judged by my inability to produce masterful dishes; Afraid of being categorized as the brainy girl with no desire for practical things.  But as luck would have it, I ran across a good cookbook (or two, or three…) and it showed me that cooking is an experience, one that starts way before we enter the kitchen.  The culinary journey starts in our minds, imagining what we are in the mood for eating or drinking, and then, it continues while we shop, selecting those ingredients.  The end result is us settling at home, or with friends, while we cook with our family and enjoy the company of our loved ones.

As a therapist, I often get asked what activities to use to promote the transfer of skills from one activity during therapy to everyday activities at home. Cooking with your family and including your child every step of the way is one activity that I recommend very often.  There is simply so much to learn during the process of getting together to prepare a meal!  Jordan Zucker’s new book, One Dish Four Seasons, supplies us with the elements we need to make this engaging, social-emotional activity as enjoyable as possible.

There is no replacement for such an opportunity to share a bonding experience, while being able to engage with your child at a cognitive, social-emotional, and gross/fine motor level, labeling objects such as food items, cookware, utensils, following directions, as in following the recipe step by step, and having the patience to see it through.  Furthermore, One Dish Four Seasons is color coded so that each recipe honors a particular time of the year.  Jordan Zucker takes one dish and prepares it four ways, so that each variation is thought out and seasonal.  This provides a unique way to teach children about what grows during what times (i.e. why we eat pumpkins in the Fall, for example), and the importance of seasons.

Jordan Zucker’s recipes are both extraordinary and simple.  The pictures are incredibly yummy and an opportunity for children to see the dish they are preparing ahead of time, the finished product.  For me, the pictures are just mouth-watering.  Ms. Zucker, who grew up in a very creative family that also placed a great deal of importance on family and food, makes it even more interesting by adding the wine pairings for every recipe and the record you should be playing while cooking!  For me, these are two very important points:  I tend to sip wine and listen to music when I cook! 

If you asked Ms. Zucker what she is likely to do on a Friday night, she will say that Friday nights are just the same as any other night.  You might just find her cooking!  And like me, there is one book she cannot do without:  Siddartha by Herman Hesse.  Definitely a classic!

You can take a look at her book, and buy it, right here.  If you are interested in learning more about Jordan Zucker and One Dish Four Seasons, you can learn more at onedishfourseasons.com

One Dish Four Seasons

Victoria’s Voice: Book Review

I recently read Victoria’s Voice:  Our Daughter’s Wish to Share her Diary and Save Lives from Drugs.  I have to admit, it was tough for me to even pick it up and start to read it.  Don’t get me wrong:  I’m an avid reader, but to read the diary of a young girl who had died of an overdose and to have her parents, through their agony, share their experience, was an emotional adventure.  Victoria was only 18 years old when she passed away.

The book is a very personal account by Victoria’s parents, David and Jackie Siegel, of what their daughter was like and the experience of emotional stress that they went through as they saw their daughter struggled with anxiety, addiction, depression, and anorexia, and the inevitable fallout that all of these issues led her to.  They also share the agony of their daughter’s passing, and the struggle to figure out their next steps, as they tried to make sense of such a tragic event. 

It was right after their daughter’s death that the Siegels received a text from Victoria’s friend that changed the trajectory of their lives.  Victoria had asked this friend to share the text with her parents, in case she ever died.  In this text, she directed her parents to search for her diary, and to share it with the world.  The Siegels struggled with this decision, but ultimately they decided not only to share her diary with the world, but to become educators and advocates, so that no other parent would have to go through what they went through.

They shared that since their daughter’s death, they learned so much.  In fact, they wish that they would have known what they know now before Victoria’s passing.  They can’t turn back the clock, but they can help save another family from tragedy.  They want everyone to learn about this issue so that it is not too late for a family who is experiencing this issue.  They want everyone to recognize the signs:  Addicts can become very good at hiding their addition.  They want everyone to advocate for a safer environment for young lives. 

David and Victoria Siegel have worked tirelessly to promote laws that protect children, implement ample access to Naxolone (a drug that can save lives from overdose), and advocate for safe-keeping of even day to day drugs.  They have testified before Congress and have advocated for more comprehensive rehabilitation for individuals who are suffering from addiction. 

Victoria’s Voice is full of insight.  I recommend it as a family reading.  Families who are going through the pain of addiction are very special families that need the support of our entire village. 

If you are interested in the book, you can buy it here.  Proceeds from the sales of the book benefit the Victoria Siegel foundation.  Please visit their website (here), to learn more about drugs, addiction, the Siegels, and their advocacy, or simply to get help.

Victoria Siegel

Thanks!

Entrepreneurial Chronicles: Working for Myself for 3 months!

Last Sunday (September 15, 2019) was the official three month-mark of my entrepreneurial life, of working for myself!   As in any still-quite-new phase in life, being an entrepreneur comes equipped with a myriad of new learning opportunities.  These learning opportunities come not only with a look to the future, but also a look back, while being completely engaged in the present moment.

After working for the same organization for over 21 years, being able to enjoy life as an entrepreneur feels nothing short of a great feat and accomplishment. However, I don’t want you, readers out there, to think that this is not hard work.  I actually feel that I’m working more than ever!  The difference, however, lies in the fact that I work doing what I absolutely love, and I don’t have to settle for any less.  As a matter of fact, doing what I love keeps me quite busy these days!

I think it is important for anyone contemplating the jump from employee to entrepreneur to contemplate all the pros and cons of this decision.  At the three-month mark, these are the ones that I think about the most:

PROS

  • Your time is yours:  Yes, you own your time, and you get to distribute it the way you want to.  Want to work 15 hours today?  You can do that.  Want to take off so you can catch up on your reading?  Go ahead.  You don’t need permission to do as you please with your time.
  • You get to express our own thoughts and professional opinions:  As an employee, I was forced to say things that I knew were misguided, inconsistent, and sometimes plainly wrong.  As a matter of fact, in my last position, I endured a great deal of bullying from my supervisor/s for standing up for what I believed.  When you work for yourself, you represent your business, and your opinions matter.  Being free to express myself is one of the most precious gifts of being an entrepreneur.
  • There is virtually no limit to your professional growth:  Your work is what you make of it, and you can take it in any direction that you want.  In my case, I’m moving towards a more mobile alternative, so that I can basically work from anywhere, most of the time.  You are able to design the type of work, and the type of work/life balance that you want.
  • You get to interact with the people who matter to you the most: Every day, I get to experience the triumphs as well as the challenges of the people that I serve, and I do so intimately.  I get to establish a mutual working relationship of trust, as people entrust me with what they value the most:  Their children, their families.  This makes my heart shine like a thousand splendid suns and there is simply no better reward than this. 

CONS

  • PTSD is real!  Learn to recognize the signs, talk to your doctor, talk to a therapist. You may have left your job behind, but the triggers are still there.  I get a very automatic reaction every time something reminds my body (not conscious “me”) about a particular place or experience.  Don’t think that only veterans can suffer from this condition.  People who are or have been bullied can suffer from this too.  If you are experiencing bullying at work, please seek help!
  • It’s hard to STOP working:  Just because you can work as many hours as you want, does not mean that you should work every waking hour, but when you are an entrepreneur, it is hard to say no!  I have been growing exponentially for the past three months, and there are days that I think I can work from dusk to dawn.  It is important to recognize your limits, listen to your body, and take care of yourself! I’m learning to do this, little by little, and every time I do something just for myself, it feels GREAT!

If you have any questions about entrepreneurial life, career or work issues, or would like help building an exit plan that would work for you, drop me a note.

Working from anywhere!

Cheers!

Dr. Klimek

The Toxic Work Environment and PTSD

Yes, a toxic work environment can lead to PTSD (Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder).  We typically would not think of it, as this is usually what we hear when we refer to combat troops, people who have gone through severe trauma, or those who have experienced serious injury or abandonment.  But there is a category of people who have been showing up to their doctor’s office more and more these days, and that’s those who are being subjected to a toxic work culture.  These employees tend to exhibit symptoms similar to those who have experienced trauma. Why?  Because in reality, they are experiencing trauma!  There is no room to breathe when exposed to a pressure-cooker type of work environment.

What symptoms do employees present with that are cause for red flag?

Let’s name a few:

  1. Hypervigilance:  Employees feel like they are constantly “walking on eggshells,” not able to understand how to behave and having to account for other people’s feelings and emotions. 
  2. Problems concentrating: It is hard to focus when you don’t know when the next shoe is going to fall.  Fear is the enemy of concentration.
  3. Persistent negative feelings about oneself:  Feeling depressed sad, and helpless.
  4. Having nightmares, distressing dreams:  You repeat the distressing events over and over and as a consequence, you have difficulty sleeping.
  5. Difficulty sleeping (see above).
  6. Physiological symptoms:  Digestive issues, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, high blood pressure.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, or similar ones, you may be in a toxic work environment, and you need to figure out your next steps.

I thought of no better time to bring up these issues than right now.  Even though I have been free from this type of work bullying for almost three months now (Yayyy!), I still experience some of these symptoms, and I want to share them with you so that you don’t have to go through what I went through. 

In my old job, my boss(es) ganged up against employees, made them feel devalued, unwelcome, and unimportant.  I used to constantly have nightmares about events at work, a situation that many of my coworkers also shared with me.  Some of us had difficulty sleeping, eating, and experienced physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches.  I actually experienced what it meant to be “disgusted” by a situation as my gut told me exactly what that was. 

I was lucky enough to seek the help of my primary health care provider.  When I told her what was happening and what I was feeling, she recognized the symptoms right away.  She let me cry for about 30 minutes, non-stop during that first visit.  She constantly checked on me to make sure that I was putting myself first.   I will be forever grateful to her for helping me understand that I need to take care of me

This is the message that I want to leave with you today:  Remember, your number one responsibility is to YOURSELF

Girl crying by a rained on window.