Saturday, September 4, 2021

On Raising Special Needs Kids

 One of the things I have learned most acutely through the last seven years is the importance, really, the absolute necessity, of having friends who are also raising kids with special challenges. Doing this alone is empirically impossible- the feelings of loneliness, confusion...the inability to relate to people with neurotypical kids. It's a lot. Consequently, I have been so grateful to have a close friend since we moved to Virginia who GETS it. Who has lived it. Whose son is a little further along than mine at this point and can empathize and insert hope into situations. Tonight, she sent me a text as we have been in the trenches helping our son recover from Covid reminding me that it's normal to be exhausted, that our lived experience is so different from so many others, that I need to hang on but it's ok to have feelings of being alone, overwhelmed and, yes, even hopeless sometimes. 

I have her permission to share her words. My dear friend, Kim Rodgers, gives us a small, but very honest glimpse into the world of parenting kids who are outside the mold. I will warn you - these are really raw words. There is no happy, contented words to conclude. Just a glimpse into the challenge. I encourage you, especially if you are NOT a parent to a special needs kid, to read this and seek to empathize. We are a lonely bunch.  

"We are in the shadows of life and the world. Just trying to make it through. 

We are trying not to compare our now to our friends, family's or neighbor's now. Trying not to be jealous of the routine or lack of. Or the trips they take. Living life on a whim verses planned and rigid- because an unexpected change or shift ruins and hour, a day or even a week. The errands that can be run spontaneously. The "normalcy" of school days without IEPs, 504s and behavior issues.

The friends that a neurotypical family takes for granted the level of normalcy that brings to a child's life- friends that come to play and play for hours. Going to a friends house and playing for house. Snacks that don't have to be planned and monitored. Sleepovers, always having a friend in class, at lunch, in activities. 

As opposed to the special needs family that prays every day for someone to just be nice and accept our child for that one day. That they don't get picked on. That they have a nice lunch- maybe even peers that talk to them or include them in whatever nonsense is happening during an elementary, middoe or high school lunch time. That they have ONE friend to play with at recess or that they get picked for a team. That they get an invite to the birthday party, the holiday party. 

Our worlds are so different they rarely merge. And the hardest part is as a special needs parent we are so used to trying to hide in the shadows or stay in the shadows because the spotlights that get put on us are never the ones of the starts but the ones of shame, judgment and disgust. 

So we bury ourselves. Deep. To protect. To survive. Because we aren't in the light as we try to hide. We are all of the tired. All of the hurt. All of the scared. All of the embarrassed. All of the pain. And all of the worry." 

Thanks, Kim, for your honesty. And for always, always reminding me we are not alone. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Rumors of My Death

Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

Ok, ok, I'm actually fairly certain that those rumors don't ACTUALLY exist, but I certainly have gotten a number of concerned emails and texts checking in if I am alright...all because I left Facebook. I did it with zero pomp and no circumstance. No pious letter goodbye or parting darts at what made 2020 so extra crazy. 

One day I was there and the next day I deactivated.

Friends, I'm ok. I promise. 

There comes a time in a woman's life where she just has to, if you will pardon the language, get past the bullshit. I don't say that to debase how everyone else chose to use Facebook.  I say it to call out how I was using Facebook. As I tell my kids just about every day (erm, hour), "not you, not your business. You are only responsible for how you react to the situation."

Let's just say that it was increasingly clear that I wasn't reacting the best way that I could to what was swirling around me.

No, I didn't create an echo chamber. I didn't unfriend people with whom I disagreed. I got into hearty debates and I generally stayed out of the topics on which I have no business commenting. (For pretty much all of that second category, the number is significantly higher than we pretend it to be.) 

The bottom line is that I let it consume me. Distract me. Inform me. Infuriate me. I set terrible limits. I allowed way too much anxiety in my life. I tried to keep up with way more than any one person should actually be able to do. 

One day I said enough. (My husband, if you are wondering, was DEEPLY influential in this decision. He still barely has a Facebook profile.) 

I realized about a week into leaving after a few frantic texts from our Swim Team President that there were some unforeseen consequences to my hasty departure- namely, that thousands of pictures I had uploaded to our site as the swim team photographer were now inaccessible. After a little back and forth, we figured out a new way to store and share pictures and I'm working on that in my spare (ha!) time. Crisis averted. 

And as far as I can tell, what I am missing is a myriad of people's opinions on news articles from sources that may or may not be trustworthy. I am missing hateful speech and name calling and a remarkable lack of humility. I am missing lies being shared as truth. I am missing thinking up my next status or wondering what people will say. I am missing the false connection, albeit lovely in the moment, that disconnecting from the real life around me and logging into Facebook creates. I am missing making Facebook WAY more important than I should ever have given it the power to be and I am missing letting it compete with God for my attention, heart and mind. 

In short, I am missing mothing at all, friends. 

Nothing that I can't gain through phone calls and emails, texts and marco polos, and when covid allows, in person visits. Real life hoohah celebrations and grace sister reunions and actual family time face to face. Firepits in my backyard and a Christmas sing-a-long on my driveway around a firepit with my neighbors.   

You remember. Life before Facebook. Before social media. When, as Phoebe once so elegantly put it, I spent more time with the three dimensional people in my life. When we didn't spend actual time with people thinking about how we will respond to the next jab or barb or how we will filter the story about it later. We just SPENT TIME with them. 

So, I suppose if there are rumors of my death, after all, they aren't actually all that exaggerated. I have put to death, in a way, that part of myself that couldn't tear herself away. That looked for friendship and well-being and hope and peace in an app that was only ever meant to steal those things from me. The part that couldn't set healthy enough limits to keep myself from destruction. 

I don't plan on coming back. I do plan on writing. If you've followed my blog via facebook, feel free to follow me here so you can continue the journey. I've cherished the feedback from my friends during this 10 year writing journey and I know that being off facebook and more mindful in my day is opening me up in new ways. I'm excited to explore them. I'm conquering old demons that have needed to be conquered for decades. I'm choosing life. In Person. I'm not running anymore from the parts of my story that build walls. 

Hopefully never again. 

Maybe this is my official Facebook goodbye, if it ever makes it there. I don't plan on going on to post it myself. 

Instead, I'm about to go cuddle with some of my favorite three-dimensional people and then call it a night. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

A Brighter Day

 One of the perks of being a one on the enneagram scale is that when I decide to do something, I plan it out and it gets done. Lists are my friends, spreadsheets my loyal companions. I have been called a lot of things in life, but the word that tends to come up a LOT is the very unromantic descriptor "responsible." In movies, my character tends to throw off all inhibitions by the end and do something reckless that manages to transform her life for the better, but that's just Hollywood's spin on learning how to be yourself. In real life, I am definitely learning spontaneity in ways I never would have imagined before I turned 40, but not at the expense of my good traits - as a complement to them. 

That said, I have had the song Brighter Day in my head for a few days now. If you don't know it, it's an old school Kirk Franklin song playing off an even older school Bill Withers song has a catchy refrain that goes "it's gonna be a brighter day, brighter day, brighter day, a bright-er day!" (Go ahead and take a little dance break if you need it, I'll love you even more for it.)


And as it's been tooling around in my head, I have been pondering just how insane the last six months have been. So much uncertainty. So many unknowns. So MUCH togetherness in the family home. So many days that do not feel any brighter than the one before. It's been truly difficult for so many of us, adults and kids alike, to have so little of life be familiar or plannable. And for those of us with kids who may now be planning to guide them through at-home virtual learning and IEP's and homeschooling, it's so easy to be focused on what we are doing to keep the family functioning, to help our kids' mental health as we transition into yet another unknown, and for many, uninspiring, reality. 

It is so very easy to feel like we are in the dark. To feel sad. To feel angry or hopeless. And it's so very easy to neglect ourselves when so many around us need so much to stay stable. 

I've mentioned before my struggle with PMDD. After a few years of trying more conventional methods to treat it, I stumbled upon a book by Dr. Jolene Brighten called Beyond the Pill. As the pill is the most commonly used way to treat it but as someone who does not enjoy its unhelpful side effects, I was eager to hear if there were alternatives. I read the book immediately (another thing us ones are good at), developed a plan of action and took it to my doctor. I refrained from boring her with a powerpoint presentation about why I should go off the pill and try it, but I was sorely tempted. Thankfully, she was on board with the protocol as it was rooted in nutrtion, exercise and rest (woohoo, science!) and the next day I was busy buying supplements and making schedules. 

Oh the sweet joys of a freshly minted calendar and plan! Within a week, I was happily ensconced in the challenges of lifestyle changes that I knew could make a significant impact on my health. 

One year later, I have seen amazing success when I have stuck to it. I have learned about my body in new and amazing ways. I have a deep and newfound respect for my adrenal gland in all it's glory and power. And as I sit on the cusp of all these changes for my family, I have been reminded anew that I need to get back on this protocol with a new focus. It fell to the wayside when all my kids ended up home from school in March. It was just too much to keep up with three super-energetic boys (one with significant challenges himself) AND the protocol. It was survival mode.

But I can't abide living in survival mode for too long. I want a brighter day. 

I know, it feels like the last thing most of us need, to add something to our life, our schedule. But I know for some of us, this has been such a hard time of sacrifice that we are in danger of losing ourselves, our health, our sanity, to this pandemic. Stress deeply affects us as women. Our hormones respond in ways that make us feel absolutely insane sometimes. 

So today, I picked the book back up while my littles swam at the pool. (and yes, I paused and issued a prayer of gratitude that at the ages of five and six, I can trust them to swim without me in the water, may God bless swim team and all the saints in heaven.) I turned to the chapter with the quiz that helps you isolate what's going on in your body. And lo and behold, my answers had changed after a year. What I had focused on over the past year was doing so well that it is time for me to move on to focus on a different area of health. Adrenal glands check, now we conquer the ovaries :) 

Am I oversharing? Quite likely. 

But I have learned as I hit my late 30's and now have moved into my 40's that we women need to talk about this stuff - hormones and sex drive and body image and reproductive health.That so much of how we grow up talking about these things and learning about them ends up steeped in shame and secrecy and that is NOT any way to be living our lives in connection to this beautiful vessel, our bodies, in which we travel through life. 

So, if you have STUFF going on with your parts. If you don't love the way you feel, if you are struggling with body image or health issues or PMDD or PCOS or menopause (can I get a witness on how MANY fans I now need on in my room at night?), I'd like to issue you a friendly challenge. 

THINK ABOUT YOU.

Seriously. Think. Do you want to feel better? Do you want to be a healthier version of the already beautiful you? Are you tired of people promising quick fixes and just want to make some lasting changes in your life that take a shot at it being a brighter day?

I may not be great at empathy or helping us figure out our emotions, but heck am I good at accountability and dreams! 

So in a moment of spontaneity, BEFORE I have made any lists or plans on what it would look like, I'm diving in.

I'm going to reboot my journey with Brighten because I know it worked for me and I know I need to concentrate on my health as I move into a new phase of helping my kids learn at home. I am not selling anything, nor am I an expert. If no one wants to join me, I'm doing it anyway, because I'm also a raging introvert and perfectly happy to do something alone. 

BUT, if this resonates with you at all, I'd love to invite and challenge you to join me. We can do it together. It's a plan written by a doctor and based on science that involves exercise, nutrition, rest, spiritual growth and joy. 

Adding community to it can certainly only help. 

Who is in? 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Facebook, Friendship and the Trials of Seventh Grade

Her text came through at a moment that I wasn't ready to read it.

"You are isolating yourself again," it read. I glanced at it, ignored it, and moved on with my day. It's a pandemic, for goodness' sake. EVERYONE is isolating him or herself. There's no problem here.

Except, there was. There IS, really.

About two weeks ago, I decided to get the heck off facebook, for the most part. I found that watching people call each other names, watching bullying, watching the extreme ways in which we are willing to be keyboard warriors that shout and rant from the privacy and seclusion of our homes was taking a huge toll on me. Particularly on top of all the uncertainties with the pandemic. It was affecting the way I parent, how I do my job, which thoughts and voices I let set up shop in my head during the day. It was sucking time from my day and energy from my soul. It was distracting, disheartening and, most of all, paralyzing. 

But why? 

As I have slowly detoxed from that world, God has brought something sharply into focus for me: Seventh grade is still a big part of how I do life.

Seventh grade was 30 years ago. I really only remember small details of that period in my life. A lot of what I know about it is what my mom has told me. Apparently I cried. A lot. Probably more in that year than I have total in the 30 years since. I dreaded school.  I isolated myself because the risk of friendship became too painful. I had very few friends and basically none at school.That was the only year of my life where that was true. I have mostly loved school, craved learning. I was mocked for being smart, left to sit alone at lunchtimes. In recent days, I've started to remember how closely I watched the clock on the wall in the cafeteria, begging for free time to finish. It's made me wonder if my inability to sit peacefully in the now, to practice mindfulness and presence, is rooted in that wish for time to hurry up and finish then. I started my struggle with insomnia, a struggle I deal with to this day. I started running to dissipate the anger and sadness, a practice that has served me well, but has also sometimes taken the place of the hard work of lament and healing. 

Mostly, though, in this past week, it has become clear to me that the way I view female friendships, the way I retreat and isolate and keep to myself, is largely a product of that time. I don't trust women. I don't trust that they aren't gossiping. That they don't have nasty things to say behind my back or, honestly, straight to my face. Have I had some truly amazing friendships with women since 7th grade? Absolutely. However, do I assume those women are rare and unusual? I do. Do I avoid all women's ministry events at church? 100%. 

As I think about how I feel after I spend time scrolling or commenting, I recognize that facebook doesn't bring out the best in me. Nor in many of us, if we are honest. It reinforces my assumptions. It tightens and defines the boxes I have built. It allows me to villify and "other" people and it drives me inward. Bottom line, it usually makes me worship and focus on what I can do or say or believe much more clearly than who God is or what He is doing or saying. 

And that's a dangerous place for me to linger. 

Seventh grade still has power. But I don't want it to. I have never really sat down and hashed it out. I've never truly asked God to heal me of those deep wounds. To show me the ways I have let the pain of that year drive my relationships for 30 years now. So while I am grateful to facebook for unearthing how clearly that period still has power, I also know that it's time for a real and true break so I can lot God do the deep work of healing that He is clearly in the business of doing.

If you have been a friend I have pushed away, I truly apologize. If you have been a friend I have othered or vilified, may God reveal that to me so I can ask for forgiveness. If you have been a woman who has pursued me and tried to love me and been met with rejection, please know that I am working on this. I truly am. Part of what God has been showing me during this pandemic is who I truly am, in all the areas that are good and beautiful but also all the areas that still need growth.   

In the meantime, I'm going to sit back and breathe. Journal. Paint. Run. Speak with humans face to face. Stay pretty much off of social media. Garden. Try to find my laughter and smile. Love and serve the heck out of humans on my ambulance. Pursue my husband. Use my punching bag. Pull out the guitar. Have amazing conversations about justice and shalom and grace because those things give me life. And just ask God to heal. To reveal. To redeem. And to infuse my soul with hope that this pandemic WILL one day end and that I will come out of it stronger, kinder and a better friend. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

End of an Era

March 2020
Two weeks ago, I had my last conversation with my Granny. She had been talking about having dinners in her memory care facility and talking with the men there. I asked her if she had a boyfriend. She replied "I don't remember...most likely!"

Sass until the end.

I didn't know that would be our last conversation. She was doing relatively well at the time. She remembered who I was, but wasn't sure at all who the little four year old with me was.
Me and my grandparents, 1979

Just a few days ago, it became clear that things were coming to a close. And in the midst of all that is going on in the world, we all knew that meant that she would be mostly alone when the time came. My mom, thankfully, lives close by and they lifted the Covid-19 visiting restrictions so she could move in with her for those final days.

Since there is no real place to be alone right now, I spent an hour in my car yesterday morning. I recorded my granny's favorite hymns (How Great Thou Art and Holy, Holy, Holy) on marco polo and my mom played them for her. What a miracle technology is! My mom is certain she heard me singing. Afterwards, I told her I loved her and that it was ok to say goodbye if she was ready.

But now.
Granny and her whole crew, late 80's

She's gone. 41 years of memories of an incredible woman are all that remain for me. Some of those memories are just captured in pictures but many others are clear to me...summers on the Cape with all the cousins and her digging for clams with our heels, the balcony view in her Florida condo. The hilarious interactions between her and her twin sister, Ann. She and my Gramps shouting back and forth when they both became hard of hearing. She was always up for a trip to the beach and she knew EVERYONE in her neighborhood. You could find her in the hot tub talking with anyone and everyone or on the golf course or taking classes just to enrich herself or at mass. Bringing my besties in high school down for spring break and then again my Hoohah friends down four short years late and Granny just fussing over all of us the whole time. My husband and I visited her the week after we got engaged and she insisted on taking us to the "club" for dinner and dancing. I will never forget she and my Gramps dancing to their song (Harbour Lights) and wishing us the best in our own upcoming nuptials.

She was a one-in-million kind of lady.
Their family: 60's

And now my family wrestles with how to say goodbye when we can't go travel. When there won't be a funeral anytime soon. When we have to grieve alone in our homes while the demands of everyday life continue around us.

I'm not sure where to go from here. I'm not sure exactly what grief looks like during a time like this.

I guess, just like real life right now, it's one day at a time.

Hank and Bea
I got the news of her passing just as I was getting my littles down to rest. They didn't really understand why I was crying and why I couldn't really read them books or do all the normal things. After I had them settled, I sat on my bed and looked through pictures and just remembered. Remembered a woman who always made me feel safe and loved. Who always made me laugh and stuffed me to the brim with food. Who insisted I take pre-frozen bottles of water from her freezer to the pool anytime I ever went. Who wasn't afraid to call out bullshit when she saw it but always did it in love. Who loved God and her family fiercely and faithfully.

Granny, words can't fully express how deeply you were loved and how much you will be missed. I can't wait for the day when all this current craziness passes and our family can give you the celebration you so truly deserve.

Rest well, good and faithful servant, beloved mother and grandmother. The world is changed forever.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Seeing Him

He walks slowly through the hallway. No one can see his beautiful smile or know the depths of his heart because his eyes are cast down, hoping, praying, that today, they will leave him alone. He just wants to go to school like everyone else. To learn, to make friends, to get through the whole day, ONE DAY, without being pushed or insulted or mocked. Without someone focusing on his differences and using them against him.

But he doesn't make it. Someone whispers "stupid" in his ear as he passes in the hall. Or "wouldn't it be better if you killed yourself?" They push him in gym class, to the point of injury. They interrupt his learning in class to the point where he has to ask to move chairs. Again. But the teacher warns him that the other side of the class may not actually be greener. Kids are mean. Seventh graders, in particular.

His mother cries herself to sleep. She has tried everything. Talking to the other parents. Getting the administration's help - but they barely return her calls. Speaking to the teachers about a safety plan. She builds him up as much as she can. He has friends outside of school who love him, who support him.

But none of this makes a difference. She can't protect him. He isn't like the other kids so they see him as expendable. To be forgotten or tortured or flat out ignored.

So, every day, he comes home heavy. Exhausted by another day of just trying to keep it together.

I was this boy. I remember. When you have no friends around you. When the people in your classes can only find terrible things to say. When people don't see you for who you truly are. And make you wish that morning alarm would never go off.

I was this boy. I have not yet been this mom.

Are you her? Do you know the terrified, exhausted pain of wondering if you are going to get a call that your child has been hurt by bullies? To take him to the doctor to get a concussion treated? Do you know what it feels like to watch him or her cry? To give up? To start to believe the things people are saying to them?

You may be neither this boy or his parent.

But are you human?

Because this is happening. Every single day. Kids are being cruel and horrible. And while some parents react well and make it clear that there are consequences if their children are the bully, too many either ignorantly believe it couldn't possibly be THEIR child or else they say that kids just need to toughen up and get over it.

I think we all know that our kids are capable of a lot we wouldn't necessarily be comfortable with. THAT'S why we teach them to be kind. THAT'S why we teach them to be anti-racist. THAT'S why we teach them about disabilities and inclusivity. They aren't going to be magically empathetic and loving. One look at a facebook thread on just about anything these days will show you just how cruel we humans can be.

So, parents.

This is happening. It's happening at the school down the street. Kids are killing themselves around the country because of relentless cruelty. We have a president who has normalized bullying and name-calling, so much so that I can't even let my children watch a presidential speech.

But we shouldn't be ok with it. We cannot tell our kids to just get over it. Can they be brave? Of course. Can they keep waking up and going to school? SURE. But I refuse to believe that this is who we are. Cruel adults telling kids to grow up and handle it on their own have no place in our society.

Discipline the heck out of your kids who do unkind things. Use those moments to teach them what it means to choose love and to speak up. Show them heroes who have done good, brave, kind things, who have fought for the rights of those who are in the margins. Teach them to see the kid sitting alone. To look around and notice those who are hurting. To sit with them, extend friendship, embrace awkwardness if it's a part of reaching out.

But whatever you do, do something. Don't wait for it to be your child who comes home in tears. Don't wait until you are the one crying yourself to sleep in helpless, terrified frustration.

Our kids lives depend on it.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

How You Do It

Time wound down towards the end of my therapy session. I hadn't had to cancel this one for an emergency, which was rare and lovely. As I began to pack up my things, he looked at me, took a deep breath and said "I'm going to refund your money for this session. I just can't charge you for it. I don't know how you do it."

I don't know how you do it.

Those seven words.

How often have I heard them over the years? Daily? Weekly? Hourly? I guess it has depended upon the season, the level of relentless impossible parenting we are experiencing.

The past two months have been the hourly type of stretch. I have heard those words from doctors, therapists, friends, parents.

I have said them to myself, then taken a deep breath and kept going. Because here is the honest truth.

The quick answer is that you don't. You don't really. There's no choice to do it or not. You just wake up and, to be honest and raw, get the shit kicked out of you for about 12 hours straight, try to reset as best as possible in the evening while worrying about all the things you couldn't accomplish that day, sleep too briefly and start over again.

The only other options are committing a felony or leaving. I'm not exaggerating. That's what it's like.

Normally, when people say those seven words, I just shrug and say "you would do it if it were your life." Which is the trut- most people would. While there are things we can pick and choose, decisions we can make to steer our life in a certain direction, there is also plenty that is out of our control. Some people want to get married and never do. Some people want a child and can't conceive. Some people envision family life the way it's portrayed in the movies and end up with a chronically ill child. Some people have dreams for a career and life and get stuck in a cycle of poverty because of medical bills or job situations or natural disasters.

The illusion of our choices being completely our own - well, it's just that. An illusion. Our only real choice in life is how we react to what is happening and what choice we make in the aftermath. That is literally all I have control over. And, sometimes, I don't even have that. Sometimes I am just too tired, too done, too overwhelmed to choose a healthy reaction. We all have those moments.

I don't write this to ask for sympathy or pity. The thing is that we all have something, at some time or another, that someone else cannot imagine handling. Loss, grief, addiction, illness, divorce...we could all list a time when we knew it was too much for any one person to handle, but in that moment, we did. A friend of mine recently shared the story of the stillbirth of her son and I could not imagine having gone through what she went through and having come through the other side. She did, though. Unscathed? Of course not. But she did it.

I write this because we all "do it." We look at others and think they have it all and then find out they have "done it." The bible says that in this world we will have trouble but that we should "take heart" because Jesus has overcome the world. At its core foundation, the "doing it" is an act of audacious hope. That life might get better, that we are not alone in the hardest moments. That Jesus knows what it feels like and hasn't left us out to dry or told us we have to dry our tears or suck it up.

Do I know if anything will change?

Nope.

Do I go to bed dreading the morning a lot of the time? Wishing that I could sleep for 24 hours and see if I might feel better?

Of course.

But we wake up. We do it. We work. We play. We remind ourselves of the truth. We love, even in the most unbelievably exhausting circumstances.

And we choose how to react to it all, when we can. We can choose honesty and rawness and even find gratitude in the days that seem to hold nothing for which to be thankful. And in that choosing, in the doing it, in the perspective, even when we cannot see what's happening, God is at work. Molding our story to encourage someone else. Slowly healing the places in ourselves and our families that we cannot or will not see.

When I head back to my next therapy session in a week, I'm going to hand him this blog and tell him to keep his money. The refund only made me wonder how I possibly COULD keep doing it. And the reality is that I can't. Not alone, not really. That's why I am in therapy. That's why I have friends and family I ask for help. That's why I wake up in the morning before I have to parent, sip my coffee and find perspective for the day in prayer and writing and scripture and song.

That's how you do it, friends. One minute, one step, one choice at a time of how to respond to life, even in its most vicious and relentless moments.

We were never promised ease.

We were just promised we aren't alone in the doing.

On Raising Special Needs Kids

 One of the things I have learned most acutely through the last seven years is the importance, really, the absolute necessity, of having fri...