Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘siblings and stuttering

I am sitting in my hotel room in Aurora, CO at the end of the last day of the FRIENDS conference. Soon, we will gather for dinner and the kids will dance and sing karoeke and have fun being kids.

Having fun being kids is what the FRIENDS conference is all about. Kids who stutter gather for three days to savor the moments where they can just be kids, free from worrying about being teased or judged.

This 3 day conference was marked by senseless tragedy yet the kids who stutter are showing resiliance, grace and dignity. They have showered each other with love and support and have been talking and sharing their feelings.

We adults are pondering how random life is and re-examining our priorities. When tragedy strikes close to home, we look at things differently. Our perspective shifts – we realize how tomorrow is never guaranteed, and we must live each day as if it were our last.

For we know it can be. Senseless violence is random and can affect anyone anywhere.

Kids who stutter learn how to handle challenge and adversity every day just by living their lives as stutterers. They learn how to handle teasing and bullying and that life is not always just or easy.

The kids at FRIENDS who were touched by the violence in Colorado this week have shown how strong they are and how powerful support is.

These kids have taught me a thing or two about life. Life is about living and sharing and being true to self. No matter what you are faced with.

Episode 60 features Val Ostergaard, who hails from Cary, Illinois, which is northwest of Chicago. Val is 25 years old, graduated in May with her Masters degree in Speech Language Pathology from Illinois State University and will start a job as a school therapist in September.

This was a bit of a surprise to Val and her mom, as she always thought she was going to be a nurse. In her first year in college, she took an introduction to speech pathology course, and knew then that she was supposed to be a speech therapist.

Val is one of the original FRIENDS kids. She went to her first FRIENDS conference with her family when she was 13 years old.Val recalls being nervous and not really wanting to go, but her private therapist (Kristin Chmela) had recommended it and Val’s mom really wanted to go. The first conferences were only with 20 people and the evening activities were at someone’s home for a pool party.

Listen in as Val shares the unique perspective of having grown up with FRIENDS and seeing the organization grow and evolve into the national association it is now. Val shares how one year she and her brother actually chose a FRIENDS conference and gave up a promised trip to Disney World.

Val also shares how that same early conference in D.C. did not yet have a teen room for the kids to hang out together. She recalls all of the teens, girls and boys, hanging out in a large women’s bathroom at night, talking and playing card games.

We also discuss Val’s early speech therapy (a lot of it!), family involvement, sibling experience, courage, fears and worries about judgement.

I met Val at my first FRIENDS convention in 2008, and she has been an inspiration. Feel free to leave comments for Val or Pam. Feedback is a gift!

The podcast safe music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

I was a little reluctant to post this information here, but some friends encouraged me to do so. Last Monday, April 4, I was honored at an awards ceremony for the Jefferson Awards. These awards were begun in 1973 in the United States by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard.

The Jefferson Awards annually celebrate America’s commitment to public service. Recognizing both the famous and the unknown, individuals and organizations, the young and old, the awards reflect one of the founding ideals of our nation, that of contributing toward the larger good.

In our local area, the focus is on ordinary, non-famous people doing extraordinary things. My sister Kimberly nominated me for work I have done to raise awareness and tolerance of stuttering. She submitted an essay about my visiting schools to talk about bullying prevention, advocating in the media by having articles published and appearances on radio and television, and the podcast I started last year giving women who stutter a space to share their stories.

Of hundreds of nominations, 18 of us were chosen as finalists. I was then notified that I was chosen as one of 7 Jefferson Award Medalists. One of the Medalists was chosen to attend a ceremony in Washington DC in June to represent the Capital Region of NY. That person is a man whose son committed suicide at the age of 18, and his efforts since to raise awareness to schools, teens and parents. I was honored and touched to be part of this elite group of 7. The others were working to improve and raise money for important social causes.

I was chosen as part of that field for bringing a local voice and face to stuttering, and for giving women all over the world an opportunity to share their stories. Thank you to all of the women who have so beautifully and courageously shared your stories. Together, we have showed the world that we do have stories that need to be heard.

Thank you also to my sister for having the courage to nominate me for recognition for something that was always a taboo topic in our family. And thank you to my friends and family who attended the ceremony and cheered me on and made me feel so special.

Thank you to Claudia for immediately forwarding the details to the National Stuttering Association. They have posted this information on their page as well, which made me proud.

And thanks to my friends and listeners who encouraged me to post this here on my main page. They reminded me doing so is not bragging, rather it is inspiring. And the best way for regular readers/listeners to know that this special honor even occurred.

I have written a few times that I really only comfortably discuss stuttering with one sibling regularly. Most of my family doesn’t like talking about it, even though I do. Kim and I talk about stuttering often. She works as a nurse and feels my openness about my stuttering has helped her be more patient with some of her patients.

I did talk about stuttering twice with another sister, who was willing to do an audio conversation with me once. But that’s it.  With most of my family, it’s the same taboo it pretty much always was. Unless I bring it up.

So I was surprised when my brother called me last night. He needed a favor and also wanted some advice about stuttering for a co-worker.

A new employee works in the warehouse and in my brother’s words, has a “wicked stutter”.  He wanted to know if I had any brochures or literature on anything that has helped me that he could leave “subliminally” around. I said sure, I could give him stuff or send him some links with resources.

I had to laugh when I got off the phone with my brother. His use of the word “subliminally” tickled me. I can just see this poor guy who stutters, minding his own business in the warehouse, and suddenly he stumbles on some information about stuttering. Which would be really out-of-place in the warehouse environment.

I was glad my brother felt comfortable enough asking me about this. He never has initiated conversation about stuttering with me. But I also had a few other thoughts.

It made me wonder, how will this guy feel? Will he be embarrassed? Will he think colleagues are embarrassed by his stutter, that’s why someone left stuttering information lying around? Or will he be happy to come across something that might help him? Will he be grateful that it was done anonymously? Will he take the information or ignore it?

It made me wonder, how would I feel? What about you? Would you be OK if you found something on stuttering suddenly and randomly in your workplace?

I was in Chicago for the Friends Convention this past weekend. For the third year in a row, I came home feeling inspired, empowered, and emotionally drained. It is hard to describe what happens at a conference with 150 kids who stutter and their parents and other people who care about stuttering. It is the most accepting, caring environment that you can imagine. New comers feel loved, welcomed and supported within minutes of walking through the door. Really. Someone scoops the kids up and parents greet parents.

The Friends convention has such a special feel. You feel it right away. Everything about Friends is low-key and family friendly. From the homemade “program-in-a-binder” to the buffet style chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese meals, you know this is about the kids.

As an adult who stutters coming to a Friends event, motivation is very different. Adults are not there for themselves, or our needs or some type of therapeutic transference. Nope, we go to help, and talk to kids and parents and facilitate workshops and reassure new-comers that stuttering is not a bad thing. How can it be with all these kids stuttering freely, with absolutely no fear or shame or time constraints? And surrounded by their parents.

That is the key. Families and parents talk together about stuttering, and what works. And that it is OK to accept stuttering and still strive to be the best communicator possible, at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive goals.

All the kids go to the same workshops at the same time. And adults and parents go to one at the same time. Everything is done with a sense of cohesiveness, and the purpose of getting to know one another. We all eat together, there is only one tour on Friday night,and there are even hospitality rooms, one for teens, one for adults, encouraging everyone to hang out and socialize together, instead of going off in separate groups.

At the dinner dance on the last night, shorts, bare legs, flip-flops or even bare feet were the norm. Kids packed the dance floor and hogged the karaoke machine, as it should be. We all got in a great big circle, with arms around each other, and sang, “That’s What Friends are For”, and “Wind Beneath My Wings” to each other.

You can’t help but feel powerfully connected when engaging like this with each other. Little kids, teens, siblings, parents, grad students, SLP’s – all just become people in one big circle touching and swaying to the music, and letting tears drip a little because we had no free hand to swat them away.

I was busy most of the weekend. I ran a workshop for adults, attended several, and did videos of parents. They are wonderful. Can’t wait to get them posted.  I also did some videos with kids on “inspiration”. These will be featured as part of a video montage of people who stutter from around the world for the International Stuttering Association in October. How inspiring is that? Some of the Friends kids will be featured telling their stories around the world.

I still found time to connect emotionally with my own feelings. I was fine the first two days. Friday evening, I chatted with very good friend Heather G and found myself getting emotional as we chatted about some recent stuff I have been working on. Then on Saturday, my emotional dam burst and I just could not stop the spill.

It started with hearing the very inspiring Dr Alan Rabinowitz share his story of connecting with and saving Big Cats because they couldn’t speak for themselves, just as he felt as a kid growing up stuttering. I was choked up and teary for most of his talk. I remained so when I went to talk to him personally for a few minutes afterward. His disclosure of not feeling whole at one point in his life really struck a chord with me.

Shortly after, I listened to a panel of young people, parents and adults tell of “living successfully with stuttering”. When Bob Murphy, a tough, “wears-his-heart-on-his-sleeve” firefighter, told his story of seeking therapy himself as an adult(he has a kid who stutters) so he could have a chance at becoming a lieutenant with the Fire Department, I got a huge lump in my throat. When he shared that it paid off and he became a lieutenant just last month, I didn’t try to hold back the tears and just let them flow. I was so moved. My heart leaked.

Then I listened to a powerful closing speech by a therapist who had been a covert stutterer. She spoke with such passion, deep from her heart. The tears rolled down my cheeks. I was so happy to be in this place of acceptance and support, but at the same time I felt mournful and sad that  I had never had any of this as a child.

For the third year in a row, my insides were touched in that deep down place that so wishes I had this kind of peace as a young person. I went to talk to Kristen Chemela after her speech,  thanked her and let her know how her words had so moved me. And then I started crying and she stayed present with me for a few powerful moments.

Friends has a way of doing this. Of connecting all the dots – even the ones we thought we had pushed deep down. I am so happy to be part of the Friends organization and happy to give a little part of myself to these daring, courageous beautiful children and their parents.

My sister Trish and I talked about how she felt about having a sister who stutters. I have really only had candid conversations like this with one other sibling. I never knew how Trish felt about some things.  She was pretty honest. Actually, she quite surprised me with some things she said. She agreed to let me record our conversation, which also really surprised me.

I am truly beginning to understand the value of talking about the difficult things. Talking a little about my stuttering opened the door for my sister to mention other, harder things that we have shared, but never really talked about.

I will remember for a long time one thing in particular my sister said. “You had to take your stuttering with you wherever you went”. I never would have thought she would have given that any thought. She realized that we could close the door on other things and temporarily act like they weren’t there. But not the stuttering. It came with me.

Here is an audio clip of our conversation, which as I said, opened the door and made talking about some other things a little easier.

Trish’s perspective on having a sister who stutters (10.33)

I was really happy that my sister was willing to be so open. The more we talk about stuttering, the less difficult it becomes to talk about stuttering.

Short and sweet today, but exciting. My sister agreed to record a quick clip of us talking about stuttering, something I have never openly done with a sibling. I took a risk and asked her if she would be willing to do this, and she said yes! It’s really cool!

So she came over, and we recorded a little bit using my very cheap microphone and my audacity software. If I must say so myself, I think the quality of the recording came out pretty good. But more important is the quality and content of the conversation we had. My sister rocks! I am really glad to be able to share this with you. I am happy and grateful that at least one person in my family feels OK talking about stuttering with me!

Be sure to let me know what you think!

Kimberly and Pam Talk Stuttering

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2019.
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