This Little Octopus


Coping Skills



Reposting from March, 2016. I have this little octopus pendant that I wear and people often comment on it. I’ve been asked several times if it holds significance for me. It does.

Overcoming Trauma

My son fell out a second story window when he was three and fractured his skull. He spent six days in intensive care. He was intubated for the first three days and had a bolt drilled into his brain to monitor the bleed. It was traumatic in more ways than one, but God is good and my son emerged miraculously intact. He’s ten now and he’s bright, articulate, funny, and charming. He’s also moody. A lot of ten year old boys are­­— but he has ADHD and can be hypersensitive at times.

We were told that the impact to his frontal lobe might make him angry and impulsive. I decided to channel my anxiety over what that might mean for him into teaching him coping skills. I’ve blogged before about some of the techniques we’ve used and you can read about them here. One of our tools was a wonderful book called THE ANGRY OCTOPUS by Lori Lite. It has beautiful illustrations by Max Stasuyk and it teaches muscular relaxation. My son loved this book. One day, mid-tantrum, he stomped upstairs and pulled the book off his book shelf. He thrust the book at me with rigid arms and demanded through clenched teeth that I read it to him. He was incredibly self-aware despite his anger. The book was working.

Harnessing the Fascination

Octopi held a fascination for me even before the book came into our lives. It started with a simple quip about the first question I will ask God when I get to heaven: why didn’t He give mothers more than one set of arms? We need them. When we moved to Bainbridge Island and learned that the Puget Sound is home to the world’s largest octopus, the giant Pacific Octopus, my fascination grew. I watched videos and read articles and marveled at their intelligence and their ability to camouflage, propel, use tools, open jars, and shoot ink. They’re really cool.

And then my son fell out a window and struggled with rage and I googled anger management for children and discovered THE ANGRY OCTOPUS book. This little octopus— who built a lovely seashell garden only to have it ruined by lobsters— wound up stewing in his own ink because he couldn’t control his anger. It’s dangerous for an octopus to stew in its own ink. reports that “the defensive concoction is so potent, in fact, that octopuses that do not escape their own ink cloud can die.” In THE ANGRY OCTOPUS, A lovely mermaid comes along and teaches him how to let go of his anger.

The octopus became a symbol for us.

My sister-in-law knew I was looking for an octopus pendant and she found me the perfect one and gave it to me for Christmas a few years ago. I love it. It reminds both my son and I to let go of our anger, anxiety, and frustration; to notice the beauty around us and repair the damage before we end up stewing in a cloud of ink. Unfortunately, my sister-in-law was swallowed by a cloud of depression this past summer.  She’d been fighting it for years and I still struggle to understand why she lost. I’ve spent the last year watching my brother overcome insurmountable grief. He is the bravest person I know. He handles his grief more gracefully than I’ve handled anything in my life. He’s had some inky days, but he keeps rising to the surface and he’s an amazing example of someone who knows how to hold beauty and pain at the same time. He’s a surfer and he gets a lot of salt water therapy.

So yes, this little octopus that I wear holds great significance for me. Thank you for asking. We all ink from time to time, but if we haven’t mastered avoiding the action all together, we can at least learn to minimize the damage. Do you have a talisman that holds significance for you? I’d love to hear about it. If you know someone who needs a little octopus in their life, feel free to pass this along.


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