TRIGGER WARNING – Please read with caution. I am often asked about the origins of Simply Kids. I think it fascinates (or confuses!) people that I help mostly parents without being a biological parent myself.
I was recently contacted by someone who’s putting together a project where we’re sharing our stories, our most vulnerable stories, and writing a letter to ourselves. To be more specific, I’m writing a letter to my 21-year-old self and giving her advice, telling her my biggest takeaways in the last 15 years, the three truths that I live by, and alllll of the things. It’s going to be published and people are going to read it. And that’s scary. It makes me question myself whether I have anything to say, if I have anything to contribute to this incredible project. I’m one of many. I think it’s 150 people who have been asked to do this. And I guarantee they all have incredible stories.
Before I write this letter to myself, I’m going to share my story. I think that that will put me in a place where I’m ready, because I’m not yet.
I’ve been working with kids across various facets of childhood development and behavior for the past decade and a half. I worked as an early childhood educator, preschool teacher. I worked in early intensive behavioral intervention as a special needs therapist. I ended up working as a co-supervisor and a training coordinator for behavior clinic before I started running my own business, Simply Kids.
Simply Kids is a resource for parents, educators, carers, teachers, nannies, grandparents, anyone who is committed to the positive impact on kids, anyone who is committed to working with children, and raising children, and providing them with care. That’s what Simply Kids is all about, is helping those individuals navigate early childhood behavior. The reason that this is so important is because, man, difficult behavior has a way of creating a wedge like nothing else can between an adult and the child. If a child is disrespectful, or defiant, or rude in public, that adult feels it to the bone. They feel attacked. They become defensive. And when the brain is feeling defensive, it disconnects. It separates itself from that person that has hurt it, and that disconnection is heartbreaking. You know why? Because what children need the most, what the brain needs the most is human-to-human connection. It’s connection that empowers the brain to think critically, to be reasonable, to process emotions, to express emotions, to communicate.
It’s connection that allows the brain to do all of those things, to process an experience, categorize the feelings, and make a decision. That’s everything we do in our life. That is every minute of every day impacted by our connections to other people. It’s huge.
I started Simply Kids as a resource for individuals who are dedicated to positive parenting and gentle discipline, but struggle to put it into action. We take theory and turn it into an actionable step-by-step plan for that family or that classroom, that student, that foster family, whoever it is. And I’m very passionate about it. I love my business. But if someone had told me 15 years ago when I was 21 years old that I would be running a business that was all about children, and their ability to regulate emotions and decisions, I would never have believed it. That wasn’t what I studied and planned for.
When I was 21 years old, I had been working for Rural/Metro emergency medical services in Orlando, Florida for years. I was working on an ambulance responding to 911 calls in the city and that was the last year that I would be doing that. I left when I was 21. Everything changed that year. And not to sound overly dramatic, everything in my life changed that year.
It was our last call of the day. I knew it was the last call of the day because we only had a few hours left. And everyone knows that when you’re holding up the wall in the ER (that’s basically waiting for a room for your patient, it’s called ‘holding up the wall’) you know it’s going to take hours.
We didn’t receive much information. All that we knew was we were responding to a church and that the patient was a baby. I believe she was around 14 months old. We didn’t know her condition. We didn’t know the situation, the circumstances. We didn’t even know who had called it in. I remember pulling up to the church and thinking we had the wrong address. Surely this is the wrong church because there were tables everywhere in the lawn, and there was food and people standing around serving their plates. It looked like a feast. Clearly, there was an event going on at the church.
We definitely stood out, two ambulance workers wandering around a church event. It took us a couple minutes before we found who had actually called us there. I remember following a lady into the church. My partner was in front of me, so he was between the woman and myself. She brought us downstairs and in the basement was a kitchen. It was very noisy. There was a lot of people. When I walked into the kitchen, I saw more tables, the same tables that were outside, and more people, and more food.
My partner, he dashed to the middle of the room. It took me a few seconds because I was behind him, and I was caught up with the noise, the laughter, and all the food. The thought of an emergency wasn’t even in my mind anymore. So, when I saw his blurry movement it took me a couple seconds to register what I was seeing. Between his knees on the floor, when I caught up to him, I saw her. I saw a beautiful 14-month-year-old girl. But, she wasn’t looking very pretty in that moment because her face was swollen.
No one else was looking at her as she laid on the cold tile floor. No one was holding her and waiting for us. In a room full of people, she was alone. FOURTEEN MONTHS OLD. We were the only people acknowledging this baby who was almost unrecognizable because of the beating that had happened to her.
After maybe a minute or two, I knew that I wasn’t going to learn anything from this crowd who seemed hellbent on pretending we weren’t even there. Maybe they were afraid of being held responsible. Maybe they were afraid of ambulance workers. They knew the police would be soon behind us. I mean, sure enough, when I walked out of the church, the firefighters were there.
“She stopped breathing. We’ve got to go.” My partner’s words brought me back down to earth. His face losing colour. We tried to intubate her on the spot, and we couldn’t. Her airway had completely collapsed. We both knew. We didn’t say anything, we just both knew.
…Yeah, still a kid. I was 21, and now I have to write a letter to myself that year. This is a hard year of all years to have been invited to do this project. It’s like it’s meant to be, like I’m meant to heal, like maybe I’m meant to forgive myself after all this time.
This small, lonely child did not make it to the hospital alive. She was murdered by her 14-year-old father and died in my arms that afternoon in the back of an ambulance.
I didn’t realise then but this would spark a fire in me for years to come.
A lot would happen the following years including being diagnosed with depression, exhibiting signs of PTSD and struggling through alcohol dependency. (These are surprisingly common symptoms for ambulance workers.) But, a lot of good was on the way too. This was just the beginning for me.
I have never shared the full story on FB so I’m taking it in steps. Thank you for forgiving my messy writing! Your origin story matters.