Today’s guest blogger is the incomparable Janai Mestrovich. Her story is powerful and speaks to how adversity can be used to create post-traumatic growth. Our ACEs can be our superpowers – the fight or flight response is designed to give us an adaptive advantage. Here is the lived expertise of an incredible pioneer in the work of overcoming adversity to create sustainable change in the lives of our most vulnerable population, our children.
Birth Trauma recorded in the body: April 5, 1949. I was born and died. Got revived. Evidently, I started out as a multi-tasker and an ACES child! At six weeks old I was traveling with my Mom who was running away from my Dad. Iowa to Florida. Her milk ran out in the middle of the night. More trauma for me plus the stress I absorbed in this process. Dad drove to Fla. to fetch Mom and me back to Iowa.
Birth to Three: Almost died twice from pneumonia. Doctors didn’t know what to do with me so they took out my tonsils at 2 ½ years. Fooled them, though. A second set grew back during my childhood! It was the beginning of practicing epigenetics. A younger brother was born 17 months after me whose pregnancy was not treasured by Mom. I took up the slack and they called me ‘little mother’ by the time I was 2 years old. Thus began my compassionate caring for children.
Childhood: The welts on my behind and legs hurt. They bled. The worst part was that it was summer and nothing but shorts could be tolerated in that hot Kansas humidity. And those shorts would not cover up swollen welts. I was seven years old. Maybe it was the embarrassment of being whipped with a peach tree switch. Or maybe it was feeling guilty that I was a bad girl having been sassy to Mom. Knowing the neighborhood kids would see that I was whipped was the most painful and humiliating part. The same would occur when Dad used the thick leather belt. Pants down, bare bottom took the brunt of both kinds of physical punishment. Guilt, shame, embarrassment, low self-worth, major fears, and anger were ongoing residue building up inside me with nowhere to go.
Trauma was part of life. I didn’t know to label experiences as being traumatic because they were just normal. Mom and Dad screaming at the top of their lungs that they were going to kill each other was deeply frightening. We were strictly told to never go into their closet because there was a loaded gun. My mother hen instincts always kicked in by getting the 3 younger siblings into the back room where I would try to keep them calm and distracted. Going beyond my own fears in order to protect them became a life skill that raised me up inside my mind and heart, setting a precedent for who I am today. I am grateful. Something good can always arise if we allow it to and choose that direction. I did. ACES did not own me. I owned me and used the experiences to grow from.
I watched the ongoing struggle with my parents. Bless their hearts. Dad’s PTSD from WWII took a toll and Mom’s childhood abuse and her lost dreams of being something ‘more’ than a working mother (she was a classic beauty) haunted her. Their relationship was volatile. We all lived in a confusing, emotionally tangled muddle while the best level of love and family glue Mom and Dad could muster up was indeed present. I did feel cared for and loved……and very stressed and confused.
When I was 10 Mom came to me in the back bedroom, closed the door and said I needed to make a decision. She asked if she should stay married to Dad or get a divorce. I was in shock. I knew they were unhappy but I could not imagine a life without a Dad. I told her to stay married. She did. And with every fight thereafter into my adult life, I felt guilty as though it was my fault. Guilt, fear, and worry were my secret plagues. Self-pity and self-doubt colored my inner world.
Maturing Eyes Begin to See Clearly As I matured I learned to see these experiences through the eyes of compassion. My parents both had major stressors in their lives, no skills or mental health assistance, and were both dedicated to the family. Through my compassion for their journeys, I was able to forgive actions that actually had good intentions. They just wanted to have good kids who behaved. It was their inheritance, what they learned. Their intention was good. The impact was not.
I longed to create a different kind of family life. I longed to help children to have the skills to manage their life stresses. In graduate school, I did Biofeedback training and realized there really WAS another way to handle the turmoil inside. Not only did I learn how my thoughts and emotions were connected to my body and breathing, but I realized all human beings could do that. My love for children and wanting to make a difference came to a head. Choices! Self-regulation! Healthy release! Eureka!
From ACES to Womanhood with a Vision/Mission/Passion After a B.S. And M.S. In Family and Child Development at KSU, I gave birth to two children five years apart, moved to Oregon, homeschooled my children, wrote books, had already done award-winning television series for children and struck out to eventually become an Instructor at the University of Oregon. My work teaching preK children self-regulation was heaven sent which I began 42 years ago. I discovered I had a natural knack at finding ways to captivate children and facilitate fun experiences to help them learn about their internal resources of how thoughts, emotions and body sensations worked together with breathing.
Research in the 1930’s by Jacobson showed positive results with self-calming and control to learn, absorb and retain information easier. Students who were riddled with problems could begin untangling the knots inside their bodies. Again, Eureka! Images popped into my mind like a popcorn machine. I KNEW how to take objects in the environment that could be seen, felt, hears and help children have fun looking inside themselves. They could easily begin to understand their own inner world resources.
Having my own children was a huge stimulus to create a program with 3D learning so that they could have this advantage in life with so many benefits.
I found that when I made lessons fun (I always dress in costumes) and children could learn with all of their minds, their emotions, their bodies (whole body learning), that they wanted more. I developed 3D learning so that an abstract lesson such as having a calm center with deep breathing was demonstrated with an expanded breathing sphere.
Teaching something like a lesson on not lying became three dimensional in order to accelerate the learning process. I simply made a physical lie that could be held and seen. It did not feel good but felt prickly. I wadded up a ball of aluminum foil and stuck half toothpicks into it so it looked something like Sputnik. Holding it in one’s hand felt awful. I would have children hold the lie then ask where they felt that inside the body when not telling the truth. Immediately, children respond because they can FEEL inside what they see and feel outside of themselves. One three-year-old boy responded, “Oh I feel it right here (pointing to his stomach) and that’s where I felt it when my mom asked me if I liked the quiche she made. She gave me a bite. I kept it in my mouth and told her I liked it. Then I went to the bathroom and spit it in the toilet.” He also proceeded to confess some other lies!
My approach with 3D learning is for children to KNOW FOR THEMSELVES and to FEEL EMPOWERED AS SUPERKIDS by tapping their own inner resources. Even when trauma occurs children learn that they have a choice of how they handle their inner world. They can learn to discriminate what is someone else’s stress or problem and that it is not their fault. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes reinforcement of the skills.
Our society likes band-aids and immediate gratification. Those who help children to be instilled with these skills make the optimal investment for children to be successful themselves, in society and in relationships. I am thrilled to be a pioneer with this work. The struggle to get this work into more children’s lives at a time of educational deficits has been horrendous. I march forward because THE CHILDREN ARE WORTH IT! AND SO IS OUR WORLD! I march for a long-lasting positive change……that is made to last. When my son took me to Europe as a gift this past summer, I experienced the difference of that which was made to last compared to our country’s approach which is planned obsolescence. I choose quality and long-lasting impact on children. We must all make a choice.
Education is in a crisis. Mental health has its own crisis. Homelessness is on the rise. As I write this piece I plan to work with homeless children this afternoon. More stories will accumulate with children learning these skills. Unforgettable stories. ….here are some samples…..
A preK class learned the Calming Song I provided weekly sessions for. When the teacher became frustrated and upset, a 4-year-old boy started singing the Calming Song. The whole class saw what was happening and joined in. The teacher was signaled by her class to calm down and took deep breaths to change her tone. She was so grateful the children HELPED HER! The system was strengthened because the children had a tool to use. They were EMPOWERED SUPERKIDS.
Or how about the second-grade boy who shared his mom and dad were fighting on a covered bridge one weekend night in the cold Oregon winter. He said they forgot he was there and ‘accidentally’ knocked him off the bridge where he caught a limb hanging over the water. He said, “Janai, I thought about you and the song you taught us last week.” We had marched all around the classroom singing, “BREATHE, THINK AND MAKE A GOOD CHOICE.” He did exactly that and was able to find his way back to shore. His life changed. His eyes were no longer peaked but bright and shining. He was empowered from saving his own life.
A dying mother with terminal cancer wrote to me recently. She was using my techniques with her children, 7 and 11, to give them quality training while she is still here that will benefit their lives when she is no longer alive. Her 7 year old wanted to die to go to heaven with her mom so her mom would not be lonely there. The woman was devastated hearing her daughter wanted to die. She used my techniques in addition to getting her daughter into therapy and said it made a huge difference she was so grateful for.
For me, the highest honor is to be trusted with children. The highest compliment is to hear that parents and teachers treasure the skills for children I have created…..especially, from someone who has limited time left.
For 42 years I have taught children and trained adults to teach children. At the University of Oregon where I was an Instructor, the common response from students was that they took the class to learn how to teach these skills to children and were so delighted to see how much their own lives changed for the better. My work is twofold, impacting the children and the caretakers.
I am now finally able to provide resiliency and self-regulation skills to many children through my videos where I teach the children (people refer to me as Mrs. Rogers) and provide downloads for parents and teachers to reinforce the skilled lessons online. It is a perfect solution for busy teachers and parents.
My dream is to see these videos (and many more on essential themes as funding comes this way) in every preschool and kindergarten class. I imagine all children having these skills. We can change the conditions that lack in families, classrooms, and communities as we help children to help us create a healthier world.
Prioritized children become empowered. EVERY CHILD DESERVES THE RIGHT TO FEEL LIKE A SUPERKID USING THEIR OWN INNER RESOURCES. And what follows is equity, diversity, inclusion based on self-respect and other respect. It is all built on self-regulation skills from KNOWING ONESELF.
Videos and great audios (Superkid Storytime is a favorite with skills and stories are interwoven) can be found on Superkidpower.org
Seven books are available on Amazon. Check them out on www.grandmaboom.com
Supporters who want to be part of the solution in our society are welcome at https://www.patreon.com/EmpoweredSuperkids
Professional BIO: Janai ‘Grandma Boom’ Mestrovich
Known for her ability to captivate audiences of all ages in her innovative edutainment (combining education and entertainment) approach, Janai ‘Grandma Boom’ Mestrovich is a passionate visionary. She sees that prioritizing children is an essential basic necessity to shift the world into a more positive and healthy direction.
For 42 years Ms. Mestrovich, 69, has taught children as young as three years old how to understand their own inner world with her signature 3D approach, using objects in the environment with metaphors and holistic experiences to connect to their resources inside themselves. They learn how their thoughts/feelings/body sensations work together as a system with breathing as well as self-regulation calming skills to manage stress, build resiliency and self-worth. Her approach assists ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) for children as well as training adults how to work with ACES children. She is frequently interviewed about her work.
She taught at the University of Oregon, as well as Southern Oregon University, creating a twofold approach that introduced adults how to teach children self-help skills which provided the adults’ personal experiences for their own lives as well as understanding how to relay the skills to manage stress and develop emotional intelligence to young children. Her approach involves the concept that ‘it takes a village’ while also acknowledging the resilient ability for all children, including ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) individuals. She has applied her approach to a wide range of settings to improve the emotional/social aspects of child development. Her focus is that all children deserve to feel like SUPERKIDS. Empowering Superkids with self-help skills is the core of her life work. She knows that all children have the right to learn how to use their internal resources and feel their own SUPERKID POWER.
Ms. Mestrovich is Executive Director of the non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)3 SuperKid Power, Inc. (previously named Conscious Living Foundation), recently receiving grants to film her work for children and continue instructing all aspects of the socioeconomic spectrum including low economic sectors of the population in the preschool and kindergarten years.
Publications: Janai has seven books available on Amazon, six for caring adults to use with young children, as well as her self-help memoir endorsed by Doris Day entitled The Grandma Boom Chronicles: More Alive at 65. (Explore many resources for child development as well as Awesome Aging at http://www.grandmaboom.com). She is a blogger on AWESOME AGING for the Ashland Tidings and Medford Mail Tribune online.blogs.esouthernoregon.com Janai has been published in New Consciousness Review, Sixty and Me, Oregon Seniors, educational journals and a variety of other publications have published Janai’s work over the past few decades as well as a newspaper columnist in two states.
Ms. Mestrovich created several PSA’s for KSKQ Radio and received sponsorship for televised PSA’s on Ashland Cable TV. She has been a guest on radio and television nationally and internationally, in addition to being an invigorating, entertaining speaker.
In 2015 Janai was a guest on the NBC Bravo Reality Show, “Friends to Lovers” with her regularly starring son, Darion Lowenstein. In 2016 she and her son were chosen to be on stage in costume with Wayne Brady on ‘LET’S MAKE A DEAL’ on NBC.
Janai ‘Grandma Boom’ Mestrovich is an outrageously fun grandmother! And she serves as the Ashland Freedom Fairy in the July 4th parade as well as the Christmas Fairy in the Festival of Light parade. You can find her waving her wings over the children sitting on the curbs, creating joy, magic, and wonder for their wide-eyed enthusiasm.