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Community Spotlight: Celebrating Tiny Victories

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Community Spotlight: Celebrating Tiny Victories

At Mindr, we know how important it is to find your tribe. Connecting with others who “get you” and what you are going through - all of the sweet, crazy and frustrating moments - is critical to maintaining our mental wellbeing. As parents to children with developmental differences, Gena Mann and Carissa Tozzi realized there was a significant need for an inclusive community specifically for parents whose children have special needs. So they decided to create one. What started as a shopping platform for children of all abilities soon became a social platform where moms can meet other like-minded women in their neighborhood. The childhood friends launched Wolf + Friends on October 1st. The free app is designed to be the resource that Gena and Carissa wished they had when they first became mothers. We applaud their creation of a judgement-free space that allows members to connect with other local parents and find content specifically catered to the needs of their children from vetted specialists. We asked Gena to share with us her perspective as a parent with two special needs children and her belief in the importance of celebrating tiny victories.

When my boys were toddlers, it was almost impossible for me to leave the house alone with the two of them. Jasper was nonverbal with an autism diagnosis, and Felix was clearly symptomatic of receiving some sort of diagnosis down the line. Neither of them had any sense of danger or felt the need to stay near me for safety. If not strapped into a stroller, one would literally run off in an instant. It was not only possible, but probable that either one (or both) would have a knock down, drag out tantrum over seemingly anything - a door not being closed, a misplaced Grover toy, a long line. My stomach was in knots all the time waiting for a meltdown and the looks from strangers that would surely follow.

As they grew, meltdowns were replaced by a slightly easier time going to a handful of places that were familiar - the beach, one hibachi restaurant in town, the grocery store - but trying new things was still incredibly stressful. What if there was a long line? What if we can't get the table we sat at last time? Even when in a good mood, Jasper was way louder than your average child, making odd noises, dancing in public and flapping his hands. It was even hard to go to friends' houses as my boys couldn't play with our friends' kids and I could only handle so many questions from friends' inquisitive children about why mine didn't answer them or talk at all for that matter.

I’ve relaxed a bit and learned that celebrating tiny victories is something special needs parents do… because the big victories are sometimes few and far between.

Now that my boys are 14 and 16 (and I have two “typical” girls ages 11 and 4) the knots in my stomach, while not completely undone (I do have 4 kids!), feel looser and I have begun to feel like planning things with my children isn't much more overwhelming than it is for other parents. I’ve relaxed a bit and learned that celebrating tiny victories is something special needs parents do… because the big victories are sometimes few and far between. It’s these small, positive shifts in the way your child behaves, learns and lives in the world that feel unbelievably amazing every single time.  

It may be difficult to understand what I mean by “tiny victories.” This summer was filled with these moments that felt both small and huge, and I’d like to share with you three of these victories from our life. 

I kind of still can't believe that the kid that used to need 2 paraprofessionals to drag him from my car into school, was now calm and confident and mentoring other kids! I couldn’t have been more proud and neither could he.

First, after many years of attending different day camps with various levels of support, my son Felix, who has high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) worked as a Counselor-In-Training (CIT) at a local Y camp. He is an avid guitar player and he brought his guitar to camp and played music for the kids throughout the day. He also helped out with some of the younger kids with autism. He told them he remembered what it was like when he was younger…that he had a hard time listening and following directions too. I kind of still can't believe that the kid that used to need 2 paraprofessionals to drag him from my car into school, was now calm and confident and mentoring other kids! I couldn’t have been more proud and neither could he.

Second, my son Jasper suffers from reflux, one of the many joys of autism. In August, he had to have an endoscopy. It was the 4th time he had to be put under general anesthesia for medical necessities. My husband and I woke him at 6 am and took him to our local hospital for the procedure. I thought about the times we had done this when he was 6, 8, 10. Then, it required both of us to keep him in the room until the doctors were ready because it was excruciating for him to be kept waiting. And when it was time to insert an IV he needed to be held down by both of us as he couldn’t sit still. This time, while not the experience we would have with a typical 16-year-old - he couldn’t tell the nurse the last time he ate or how tall he is - it was so much less stressful than it had been. He followed directions, he waited quietly (albeit while Raffi played on his iPad), and when he came to, he sipped his apple juice, waited patiently to have his IV removed and got dressed. I felt so grateful for how far he has come as I walked out of that hospital with my sweet boy who is now 10 inches taller than me.

Finally, last Sunday evening, having fed my kids nothing but pizza and french fries for the better part of the weekend, I decided I needed to make a salad. Upon looking in my refrigerator, I found no lettuce (not surprising), and so was left with a dilemma. Do I pile my 4 kids into the car to drive to the market for lettuce or is it possible that for 20 minutes, I can leave them home alone and have a quicker, easier trip. When my husband is working or traveling, I am fortunate to almost always have a babysitter with me. In years past it would have been impossible to leave the house with this crew without a second adult, but lately, Jasper has grown much more independent and trustworthy. He listens, he would never leave the house alone, and he doesn’t even leave sinks running with stoppers in the drain like he used to. Felix is an incredible rule follower and always looking to help, and my 11-year-old daughter is responsible and creative and was dying to watch her 4-year-old sister. I went for it. I left Felix (14) in charge of Jasper (16) and Lulu (11) in charge of Indie (4). I went to the store and returned 25 minutes later with lettuce and to no disasters and kids who I think were extremely proud of themselves for staying alone.  

These milestones are obviously so different from the recitals, graduations and soccer games that many of my friends celebrate with their kids, but we have learned to feel incredibly grateful for our tiny victories.

Gena Mann is the co-founder of Wolf + Friends and mother to four. Gena and her co-founder mama of one, Carissa Tozzi are former NYC based media executives. The Wolf + Friends app is free and available in The App Store. 

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The High Chair: Putting Families at the Forefront of Social Change

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The High Chair: Putting Families at the Forefront of Social Change

As part of our High Chair series, Mindr sent a group to the Social Good Summit. This event, hosted by Mashable at the 92nd Street Y, focused on conceptualizing the world we want to live in by 2030. Featuring a myriad of speakers across industries and sectors, the Social Good Summit brought together individuals who are at the forefront of creating social change, with special attention on how we can “unlock technology’s potential to make the world a better place.” The event was kicked off by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who made international headlines last week by bringing 3-month old baby Neve to the UN General Assembly floor. #MINDRMAMA Audrey Symes gives us her rundown of the incredible changemakers featured at the Summit, PM Ardern’s efforts to govern with children in mind (and on the lap) and how to nurture social consciousness in our children every day.

As parents we face challenges - both great and small - from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep again (and often throughout the night!) In search of guidance on optimal nap length, finicky eaters or how much screen time is too much, we often look to fellow parents as our best resources. What we sometimes may forget is that our fellow parents - especially those with a special place on the world stage - can also serve as role models with respect to a vital but more subtle part of parenting: nurturing a social conscience. Though it may seem like a daunting topic for young children, social consciousness is and should be accessible to all ages. In fact, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that giving back can provide plays perfectly into little ones’ desires to do things themselves, be proud of their work and have their voices heard.

When I learned about the opportunity to join the Mindr delegation at the Social Good Summit, I eagerly said yes. I was excited to hear how the amazing speakers are rethinking paradigms, making workplaces and institutions more inclusive and championing innovative points of view on global issues. As an advocate myself, I wanted to learn more about how the UN Sustainable Development Goals are transforming policy, science, philanthropy and family life, and hoped to pick up some tips on how to continue to nurture the importance of social change in my daughter.

The day opened with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and a focus on Gender Equality (UN Goal 5). As a new mother herself, the Prime Minister spoke movingly of her fresh, positive and inclusive approach to both parenting and governing. PM Ardern discussed her primary goal in office - to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child. She explained her strategy for improving the lives of children by changing what successful governance means, emphasizing long-term and sustainable impacts on living standards and reducing child poverty as a budgetary priority. As only the second elected head of state to give birth while in office (and the first to take maternity leave), PM Ardern also discussed how her infant daughter (who was backstage) was often by her side at work - noting that she wished all working mothers could have the same privilege.

Being in the room with PM Arden sparked something in me to find small ways to effect change. And it made me think how I can be a champion for other mothers simultaneous to being an ever-present champion for my daughters.

I was inspired to see how how natural yet powerful the inclusion of family life into government institutions can be. As fellow Mindr attendee Kate Hughes put it, “Being in the room with PM Arden sparked something in me to find small ways to effect change. And it made me think how I can be a champion for other mothers simultaneous to being an ever-present champion for my daughters.”

The following panel, called "Early Moments Matter," featured Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, who echoed PM Ardern’s beliefs. Ms. Fore began by stating that secure bonding is a hallmark of child development. Her advocacy focuses on making workplaces more inclusive and reflective of family needs. She invited the audience members to reimagine the workplace from a child’s point of view, observing that family wellbeing will ultimately make for a happier and more productive working environment.

One common theme of the Summit was the evolution of the workplace. So many of the speakers, from Andrew Lee of UBS to Andy Pharoah of Mars Corporation, mentioned the necessity for the corporate world to embrace their employees as people and think of them as family members. This can manifest across corporate operations, from impact investing and scaling up philanthropic projects to listening more closely to what families need to thrive. Flexible and creative thinking is the key to unlocking under-utilized human capital.

Also addressed was UN Sustainable Development Goal 11, “Sustainable Cities and Communities.” Alexandra Lafci of New Story shared her commitment to reducing global homelessness through 3D house printing and discussed the amazing success she’s had housing thousands of families across the world. I was struck by her admission that while she knew her solution wasn't perfect, there was no reason not to try to solve an incredibly large problem.

All of us, even our little ones, can take small steps together in our everyday lives to make the world a little bit better. These steps make more of an impact than you might imagine.

Lafci’s attitude encapsulates everything I love about advocacy, the mission of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and why I believe in the importance of nurturing social consciousness in our children. All of us, even our little ones, can take small steps together in our everyday lives to make the world a little bit better. These steps make more of an impact than you might imagine. In fact, they are the only way that true change can happen on a broad scale. Helping my four-year-old develop compassion for and understanding of her neighbors - and seeing her take enormous pride in doing so - has been a major highlight for me as a parent. More importantly, I believe that knowing she has the responsibility, courage and power to make things better for herself and others will be a lifelong source of joy.

There are many ways to bring the Sustainable Development Goals into family life. Every family will find certain goals that speak to them the most, whether they be Gender Equality, Responsible Consumption and Production, Ending Poverty, Ending Hunger, or others. Whichever way we choose to contribute to the 2030 Agenda, it starts with our own awareness of its importance and our resolve to make it accessible to our children.

Mindr Mama Stephanie Rubino noted of her experience at the Summit, “I only realized afterwards, that by the year 2030 my child will be 18 years old. Being able to witness every speaker, innovator and changemaker firsthand made me have hope for the future. I left with more knowledge on how to become a better guide to my son and his development in this ever-changing world.” Sally Cunningham observed, “It was so refreshing to step out of my own for a day, to be surrounded by and listening to people committed to making positive change in so many different ways. It also provided me with the much-needed motivation and reminder to keep pursuing the things that matter to me.” Just like the famous mamas at the Summit, we can all be inspired in our own ways to work toward the vision of a more inclusive world for our little ones - and make them part of our efforts at being our own forces of social change.

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Insights from the Playmat: Mara Martin

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Insights from the Playmat: Mara Martin

You asked for more Mindr, and we heard you loud and clear! We’re delighted to announce Mindr’s new YouTube series, Insights from the Playmat.

Throughout this series, our founder Sarah will sit down with some of the world’s most inspiring thought leaders and cultural icons, to discuss ways to elevate women and parents in the professional, intellectual, civic and social spheres. So now you can get a hit of that Mindr mojo you love, without changing out of your pajamas.

Our first episode was filmed at the United Nations, and features runway model and mama Mara Martin, who recently made international headlines when she walked down the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit runway while breastfeeding her baby daughter, Aria. We were at the UN with Mara for one of the events in our High Chair networking series.

We hope you enjoy the show! We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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