On being a “TERRIBLY” supportive mother


I’m a terrible mother. Horrible. There, now that we got that out of the way, let me tell you why I am a terrific one.

Our Project Semicolon tattoos

Our Project Semicolon tattoos

Today I took my daughters over to the local tattoo shop and we got matching tattoos. Yes, yes, TERRIBLE mother. I thought we established that already? Sheesh.

Listen, I know this place, I know the owner. It’s a clean, decent, reputable establishment that is not in some dark alleyway. Give me some credit will you? Listen to the reason and you will agree with the terrific part, (or not) but it’s what you SHOULD have done if you were me, living my life.

If you haven’t heard of Project Semicolon, then let me educate you. It is quite literally a full out movement of hope, all begun by one woman who was simply intending to honor her dad. It is a tattoo or even just a sharpie marker tattoo of a semicolon on a wrist or other area. Simple, small, and yet crazy powerful. We’ve done the sharpie version. We are ready to commit to a permanent version.

The website www.projectsemicolon.com says it this way… “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” They are a faith based movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who struggle daily with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury.  Their sole existence is to bring awareness to mental illness and to encourage, love and inspire those who live with it or even just love someone who does.

The semicolon is a conversation starter. You see a tattoo of a semicolon on a wrist and you say, “what’s that about.” The door is now open to discuss what our lives here are filled with. It’s filled with hard things, messy things, scary things, but more than anything else, it’s filled with choices that include getting up each new day, moving forward, pushing on, and knowing that each new day is not a day done alone, but surrounded by a supportive and loving family who “gets it.”

Linds watches as she has her tattoo done. She wanted to be the first to go, since today was for her.

Linds watches as she has her tattoo done. She wanted to be the first to go, since today was for her.

My daughter, Lindsey, struggles and battles Bipolar Disorder and OCD along with some anxiety and a personality disorder. Each day is a hard day. photo 2That’s just a fact. But she is still choosing to get up each day and face it. Her sister and I both love her in ways that only a sis and mom can. It’s a girl thing. We have a wicked tight bond, the three of us, and when I introduced this website to Lindsey her whole face lit up. Her sister was indignant that she was left out and she demanded to be a part of it. I told her I never intended her to be anything but included. I just hadn’t shown her the website yet!

For warriors, support is critical. It’s for important to know someone has their back. Lindsey will never wonder if her sister and I have her back. She will look at her hand and she will see her tattoo and know that the three of us are connected in a special way, remember our day of bonding, needing only to trace it to gain some needed strength.

photo 3Along with the semicolon tattoo, I am gifting each girl with a little heart, about the size of a pinky finger. It is to be placed anywhere they want it, but in a place they can readily see  I used to use a sharpie and pit one on their hand or arm when they were scared about a test, school, or when they just needed a “mom hug” to take with them as they went off on their day. This time we are making it washable and forever. It’s a personal reminder that they ARE my heart; that they carry with them my unconditional love everywhere they go. I love them forever, always, and that there is NOTHING they can ever do that will make me stop loving them. Simply NOTHING.

Alli distracts herself with her phone while she is inked. Nothing compares to broken bones and the pain of soccer injuries and physical therapy. This was nuthin.

Alli distracts herself with her phone while she is inked. Nothing compares to broken bones and the pain of soccer injuries and physical therapy. This was nuthin.

It’s a visual reminder that they can come home, no matter what choices or mistakes they might have made in life, and to know that I’ll have their backs. Life is messy. Choices are hard to make. Sometimes we make the wrong ones. Come home, anyway. I’m always gonna be there. I don’t care if they are 18, 28, or 58. That tattoo won’t wear off and neither will my love for them. If at some point they need me, and I am no longer here residing on this green earth, then they only need look at it to know I’m still only a heartbeat away, loving them from above, still supporting them.

Yes, I took my two daughters, who are 15 and 16, to the tattoo shop and we got tattoos, but the question wasn’t ever, “how could I,” but instead, “how could I NOT?”  My beautiful girls are here and this is not in “memory” of anyone. This is to strengthen us and to empower us to do hard things, because we are still alive to do them.

There is a beautiful song I will play them. An amazing friend sent me the link the other day and I have been in love with it ever since.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OCUzqbAZq3E

The refrain goes like this:

This is not the end of me.

This is the beginning.

Hold on.

I am still alive…

As long as we are alive, we are going to live like it. We are going to remember that this is just the beginning, choose to not end our sentences, to just hold on tight, get through the night, and believe that this is not the end. No one has to get it all perfect, or get it all right, we just have to get up each day and try. Put one foot in front of the other, hold on tight, ride the ride, let the day have it’s way, and best of all…come home again.

I love you girls. We can do this. We’ve got this!

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Never, EVER, give up. EVER.


I spent most of this week in utter despair. I felt lost and confused and as close as I’ve ever been to hopeless in my life. The parenting gauntlet was brutal and I was not sure I was really capable of standing up to the oncoming onslaught that was coming in wave after wave.

My assumption in having a child was that, no matter WHAT issues, challenges, or problems that arose, I would somehow be the perfect match for them. I assumed that kids were matched up to parents somewhere in the sky so that the parents were equipped to handle and help each child perfectly.  Yeah, I know, wake up kid, that isn’t how it works.

Successful parents have one very distinct difference from ones who aren’t… they simply refuse to give up on their kid. Period. They learn what they have to know, go where they must go, do what needs done, but they NEVER, EVER, GIVE UP.

LindsMy daughter, now 16, battles a daily war against her genes and physical chemical make up. She has been blessed/cursed with genes from both sides of the family which give her the level of Bipolar Disorder she deals with. She has OCD issues and struggles with Avoidant Personality Disorder. She has a host of anxiety disorders and she finds it a struggle to just leave home. While all of this is hard, the thing I’ve found the hardest is her way of venting it, releasing the pressure valve, her way of punishing herself for being who she is… self harm.

Of all the things that I do, correctly responding to self harm is the hardest. I must say I didn’t do a great job one recent past weekend. I am ashamed to say I kinda lost it. Maybe it’s what needed to happen, I don’t know, but regardless, it’s harder than hell to do it without guilt in the end. It’s an obvious cry for help, but I find it makes me intensely angry. I want to just say, “TELL me whats going on.  ASK for help.  DONT mutilate your beautiful self!  PLEASE!!”

I found the word “HORRIBLE” carved into the flesh on her arm. She’s carved HELP before. The words are even more upsetting than the act. You are NOT horrible, my beautiful child. I am RIGHT HERE; just come to me for the help you are asking for by carving into your flesh. I am not a parent who is distant, who is absent, who is unreachable. I am here at every single turn.

The Avoidant Personality Disorder is the only clue I have as to why she continues to avoid the one person who is most plugged into her every mood and cares most deeply about them. Per PsychologyToday.com, “In avoidant personality disorder, the person is persistently tense because he or she believes that he or she is socially inept, unappealing, or inferior, and as a result fears being embarrassed, criticised, or rejected. He or she avoids meeting people unless he or she is certain of being liked, is restrained even in his or her intimate relationships, and avoids taking risks. Avoidant personality disorder is strongly associated with anxiety disorders, and may also be associated with actual or perceived rejection by parents or peers during childhood.”  

Reality isn’t the focus here. Her version of it is. All I can do is love her and show her that I’m here and loving her, and consistently do this till she believes it, I guess.

This last weekend, over Father’s Day, we went to a RibFest downtown because the thing my husband loves most is Ribs. Then we went to a movie at a theater the kids had yet to enjoy, one with recliners for every seat. She wanted to do this. She wanted the family outing. She is very much trying to be a part of the family and wants to be with us.

The stress of the bajillion people who attended RibFest heaped a layer of anxiety upon her that she wore like a 120 lb rucksack on a trek through the desert, uphill. By the time we were seated in the theater, 30 minutes into our movie, her body gave into the stress fully. It didn’t matter the stress of the RibFest was over and we were in a dark theater, essentially alone. Stress works itself out whenever it chooses, and it doesn’t choose perfect timing as a rule.

“Mom, Sis is crying and she’s having trouble breathing.” My middle daughter had come over to my seat and interrupted my movie viewing. We were seeing the new Jurassic Movie. It was LOUD, and therefore I heard none of my daughter’s distress three large, reclined seats over. I traded seats with my son.

“Breathe baby, breathe…be calm. It’s gonna be okay. Tell me what’s going on. No, breathe in slowly, tiny breaths. Now relax your muscles.” I put my hands on her stiff limbs and tried to make them still. Her arms were stretched out hard as boards and her legs were moving on their own in spasms. It wasn’t a seizure. It was a mass panic attack. Her body was attacking her and it was without a trigger this time around. Well, the trigger was not present anyway; it was long gone.

She was flushed hot inside but clammy to the touch, she had a headache, felt like her body was shivering/shaking, and as if millions of ants were crawling through her veins. She was more scared by her body’s reaction by the minute. She was breathing in bursts and not being able to breathe made her able to breathe even less. The panic rolled like a snowball downhill, gaining size and speed. Calming her was critical or we’d escalate and need emergency care right here and now.

Slowly I was able to calm her and as I rubbed her arm we sat together and let the movie end and the guests leave. We dropped the kids off at home, a friend, who may as well be family, came and stayed with them while my husband and I took her to the ER for rounds of tests to rule out anything physical. In my heart I knew it was the last draw.

This has been building for weeks. Over little or nothing my daughter would stress out and panic, be unable to make simple choices, and just getting dressed would take her eons, in a completely different way than the normal teen, “I don’t know what to wear,” way. It was more. A kind of more that I can’t give you words for. You’ll just have to trust me. She has a 15 year old sister and I get the differences, okay?

My daughter’s body had been having medicine issues and reactions, and she’d been mucking around with not taking them because she hated how they made her feel; then not eating and taking meds on an empty stomach if I forced the issue… it all landed us where we were right then.

It was time to deal with it. It was past time. And if we truly loved this kid, we’d do what was right and say enough was enough and we’d not only figure out the ER visit issue, but deal with the meds and deal with the core issues and the reasons behind needing the meds.

So we admitted our daughter to the Behavioral Health Hospital that night, against her will, and walked away. We loved her enough to make her stay. We love her enough to insist on her working through the tough things she needs to address in order to get well. We know she CAN do it if she decides she wants to. The key is to WANT to. Sometimes if you love your kid enough, you will do what is best, not what feels good.

And I’ve never been more broken in my entire life. Day after day I lay fractured, in pieces, trying to put myself back together and be a parent to my other two kids. An amazing set of friends stepped in and took our kids, so we didn’t have to be parents at all. We could just fall apart. And so we did. A lot.

And now? Now we are getting stronger. A little more each day. And with God’s help, the love of our friends and family, and supportive staff and doctors, our kid is gonna come home and we are gonna try this again, and this time we are gonna make it work.

Why am I so sure? Because I refuse to FAIL.

I will never, ever give up.

Ever.

Hard things are ALWAYS worth doing


We sat in the car at a stop light and my daughter let out a nervous, “UUUGH!” I smiled at her and said, “Hey, you can do this. It’s gonna be okay.” She was headed in to the orthodontist, about to be fitted with braces for the first time.

Ortho appointments are nothing new for me, as we’ve just gotten kid No. 1 out of braces just a few short months ago. Finances dictate we do kids one at a time. Kid No. 2 had to wait a while longer for hers to begin than her sister did. Long before senior pictures are taken they will be off, and that is all that matters. At least in her book. It’s gonna be a long and painful road till then.

I must be a cool mom. My kid wants to take a selfie with ME! Whoa...

I must be a cool mom. My kid wants to take a selfie with ME! Whoa…

We park and I look over at her. She’s this tough, defensive soccer player. One who just plowed her way through some intensive physical therapy to recover from a soft tissue injury, so she could get back on the field and be the immovable force at the goal. Yet she looks like my little Alli-girl all of a sudden, scared and nervous, unsure of what’s to come. I reassure her. She can do this. Really.

I drop her off and run errands. I can’t wait to see her flash her winning smile that will now be lit with bling. (She’s worth every single penny of that bling too.)

I come in and she shyly waits for me and it’s impossible for her not to smile. There it is. Bright blue bands that match her eyes. She’s a beautiful mess of feisty fire and blue bling. I’m so proud of her I could pop. I could see the pain in her eyes. It wasn’t an easy appointment. I know not just from her sister’s years in braces, but from my own five years of orthodontics. It’s a tough road.

Our kids have so much to do in order to grow up. They have to learn, to grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually; then they have to mix it all together and figure out who they are, what they want to be, and begin to walk toward that goal, all while doing hard things like braces. It’s easy to blow it off. As an adult we forget how hard the day-to-day growing up years are. We can say, “been there, done that.” But hey, they are here now, doing that. It’s hard work. And I want to remember each day that it’s not easy to be a kid, choosing to do the right thing is hard, and doing so while having added things that just plain hurt can make a hard day more like brutal.

IMG_3443I tell my kids, weekly, this one simple fact: “Hard things are worth doing.” I don’t want them to shy away from things because they are hard. In fact, if it’s hard to do, it’s a good bet it is probably worth it. Easy things are exactly that. Easy, and everyday. Hard things? Only the ones who really want it go after it and achieve it. Those are the people that do great things. That’s who I want them to NOT be afraid of being. Don’t be afraid of failing, getting back up, and continuing to run hard after a goal. It’s worth the finish line.

At the end of the years in braces, this hard thing will have been worth doing too. In the meantime, flash that blue bling and let the world know you are going after your goal. There ain’t nothin stopping you, baby! You go girl!

Raising future adults — one chore and life skill at a time


So, here I am over at 123 Parenting Lane and thought I would share what’s up. I’ve begun to change how I am doing this parenting thing and I think it’s because my kids are growing up so danged fast.

It hit me a while back that I am not raising kids anymore. I don’t have babies, toddlers or little kids. I have one preteen boy and two teenage girls. Frankly the last thing I want to do is raise kids anymore. Why do I say that? Well I don’t WANT to have grown KIDS when I’m done with the official parenting thing and become an empty nester. I want to have grown adult offspring.
IMG_2233I’ve changed gears: I am now “raising future adults.” This change in mindset has completely overhauled how I do things, how I parent, how I work at parenting and how I see the day-to-day struggles and challenges. I found it actually takes a lot of stress out of the things that we once fought over. With a mindset change, it’s become easier to distance my self personally and see the end game for what it is: a practice game, dress rehearsal, a run-through before the big shindig.

Take cooking, for example. I used to cook all the meals, clean up all the mess, do all the dishes and work hard to make everyone happy. Now? Yeah, I don’t do most of that anymore. Oh, I still have dishes that I do here and there, I still cook some and plan meals, but I’m not the main source of all of it.

We have a weekly rotation of chores. One main chore for each kid, one empties the dishwasher, one fills, one cleans up the bathroom. At the end of the night, everyone takes their own stuff to their rooms and doing this keeps the house relatively sane. They do this daily. Then they each are assigned two nights to create a meal they know how to make or want to learn. Three kids + two meals each = six nights off and only one night for me to cook. My husband helps my son cook his meals. One day he will be on his own for that too.

The kids cooking not only teaches them how to make a meal but also the work involved in prep and getting it done and served. They pick meals they like, but they also respect the efforts of their siblings and that the sibling likes the meal. I rarely hear “I hate this,” or “I want something else to eat.” It’s not an option to eat anything else, and no one will die from eating something that isn’t their favorite. On a positive note here, they also know they have at least two meals a week they like, because they get to pick them.

I sit in the kitchen and work on my laptop. If they need help, I am available to answer questions, give pointers or give a hand. Often they will use the crock pot and even stick the dish in before school. Then there is precious little to do that night. They love that, and we all eat well.

Why am I making my kids cook and do all the kitchen work? Because I already know how to do all that. THEY are the ones who need to know how to do it and how to do it well when they leave home. These future adults need to know how to care for a house and themselves and feeding themselves more than PB&Js. It’s something I want them to leave home with. I remember my friends asking me how to cook stuff when I was in college, and let me tell you they were beyond clueless. When both my brother and I moved out we had cookbooks full of recipes. He’s now an amazing cook and baker on top of being an awesome dad, husband and engineer. We left home knowing things because my mom did this exact same thing with us. She rocked, even if I didn’t appreciate her smarts at the time.

So yeah, I’m done raising kids. They do complain now and again about it. I listen and say, ‘yeah, sorry about that.”  It changes nothing. We are a family and we work together to do what it takes to function and get through this life thing.

It’s important they also know that I don’t love what I have to do daily either, but I do have to do it anyway. Once they leave home, they are going to have to do lots of things they won’t love to do. It’s good practice doing things you don’t want to do and developing a decent attitude about it. After all, they can’t yell back at a boss that they don’t FEEL like doing something, or they hate that job chore, or they don’t like working next to so and so.

Giving them practice doing things they don’t enjoy, but which are needed skills, is just good parenting. It took a while to get it to work like a rusty, badly functioning clock, but, hey, we are plugging away, the hands are moving, and regardless as to if it’s timely or not, we do eventually get it all done and learn things along the way.

Eventually someday, I’ll look back and be glad I had the headaches and stress associated with raising adults, because they will invite me over for dinner and we will have food on the table and their kids will unknowingly thank me with their shrieks of “EWWWWW, I don’t LIKE that!”

Sometimes it takes a hug to make life play nice


IMG_2243We’ve had a rough week around here. It’s not really abnormal, in fact it’s pretty standard, but it’s rough nevertheless.

Each kid has their own hard spot. They’ve each had their own struggles and worries. I’ve found myself floating from one kid, one thing, to the next, trying to be flexible and able to meet them where they are. I’m not always sure what I’m doing.

What am I sure of? Hugs. Never underestimate the power of a hug.

There are many different ways to give and get a hug. The standard one is pretty great. My oldest and I were having a conversation. She was upset, in tears, overwhelmed, and ready to just give up. I said, “No way! We don’t do that in our family.”

Giving up is the easy way out, but it’s also much harder than knuckling down and setting your chin. Truly. It’s easy in the moment to just say, “I can’t do this” and allow yourself to stop trying. The only problem with that is you get further and further buried in your mucky pit and find it harder and harder to climb out. It’s not worth that. Just when you think you can’t do another minute, with a little love, you can.

I had no words, no way to change the reality she was dealing with. I did have arms, though, so I just stopped her, put out my arms and invited her to lie with me on her bed, cuddled up, and we squished our cute pup between us. Our furry baby then slathered on kisses and made us giggle. Nothing in the world changed, but cuddling up in a hug made a world of difference.

From the bus, my middle kid texted me this morning. She was stressing out over a presentation she has to give. She has to have it ready by Monday and has tons of stuff to get done beforehand. She has a science fair project due and then the regular stuff. It’s tough being a kid these days.

While it’s easy to say kid stress is nothing like we have as grownups, it’s simply not true. Every single thing they have to do is just as hard as our deadlines, our financial stress, our worries. Helping them deal with theirs in a healthy way, however, will give them the confidence to handle the adult version later.

So I texted her back and first said I was sorry she was stressed. I asked what was up.  I asked about the deadlines and began to break things down into bites. I found that some deadlines were not today, so we will work on stuff together at home.

I’ll drop all I can to help my kids. I regularly will drop my stuff and work on theirs with them, then pick my to-do’s back up after they are in bed. A little less sleep is worth the fact that they CAN sleep. She sent me silly stickers and we back and forth sent ridiculous selfie pics. She was laughing by the time she got off the bus and I knew she’d carry those smiles with her all day.

My youngest has been making some poor choices lately. He doesn’t like the book he has to read for his Lit Circle group. The girls keep picking the books and he is far from impressed in now reading the whole series versus just one book he has zero interest in or tolerance for. In frustration, he began just NOT reading the book. Mad. What resulted is being behind by 170 pages versus being right  on time.

He is a fast reader, and so when he was so behind, he knew his teacher would call him out on it. He began fretting and worrying, teary, trying to fib his way into a sick day. The rule at our house is if you’re sick you have no electronics, you just sleep and get well. Or read a book.  Hmmmmmm. Yeah, he wanted to be sick so he could score a read-all-day-on-the-book day and catch up.

My “hug” to him was to say “no.” I pulled him into an embrace and we talked about it. I asked what was going on, we got it down to the bare bones and figured out where all the fiasco started. I had already been in contact with the teacher before this over some issues similar and so I knew more than he knew I did. My extra hug to him was to lay down some new rules. He needed to read 25 pages a day, before he touched any electronic device, and then he would be ready for the next Lit Circle group, all caught up, and no more stress over it.

His big take away? The fact that regardless if you like something or not, you have to do it and be prepared. I told him there were lots of things I didn’t want to do, every day, but choosing NOT to do them was not on the list of OK ways to deal with it. This is gonna come up over and over in life, and if I really want to love on my kids, I’ll help them through it, learn to do things anyway and support them while they learn the lesson.

Hugs can be literal arms around you. Hugs can be notes of encouragement, silly selfies and the promise of help and support. Hugs can be consequences, new rules and life lessons that will stick with them forever. Hugs are love, given however needed, at just the right moment, tailored to fit.

Want to know the best part? My kids are learning all about how to give hugs, not just get them. The other day I was stressed out and worried, sure I was gonna fail, and then I found an “I Love YOU!” note scribbled on the papers I was working on. I find random sticky notes that send me hugs when I least expect them. I find silly drawings in places when I’m trying to get things done. I always smile and feel so much better, stronger, able to push on and through whatever it is I am doing.

Hugs. Need one, give one, take one, receive one.  Hugs make life livable.

This post is reposted from my parenting blog over at Will Settle for Chocolate 

The perks of raising a techno kid


IMG_2244My daughter Alli came home the other day and said she had won some art award and that she was to go to an award ceremony at the Grand Wayne Center and get a certificate. She was all shoulder shrugging “whatevs” about it. I was tickled pink and signed us all up to attend right then and there. What I failed to understand, however, was the scope of the award and the fact it was not just a citywide contest, but a national award. We are a bit new to the whole thing, I guess.

We arrived on Sunday and a guy was yelling, “Students to the right, family to the left.”

In a split second, as we were shuffling along like cattle in a squished line of parents and award winners, a prick of panic welled up in Alli as she realized she would not be waiting to cross that stage sitting beside us, but by herself. “I don’t wanna sit alone,” she hissed at me under her breath as we got closer to the doors. I wanted to change it for her, but I couldn’t. So I did what any mom would do, I said what I knew ultimately would be true, but would not feel true for a very long time… “hon, you’re gonna do fine, it will be OK.”

With that, we went out separate ways.

We found our seats and then noticed Alli was not finding hers. It was by schools. So I went up to her and together we tried to figure it out. She was the only one from her school getting an award and so with only one chair to find it was a bit harder to do. While other kids were sitting with friends, Alli was sitting by strangers. My heart sank. I really hated that for her. I wanted to scoop her up or sit right down in the aisle beside her, but instead I slowly walked away, back to my seat a bazillion rows behind her.

My pocket buzzed. My phone was on silent. It was Alli. She was texting me. “I’m scared,” it said with sad faces beside it. With that we began a conversation and though I was a bazillion rows away, I was also only a second away via text. Technology was now this mama’s best friend. I tried to build her up, to get her to believe she could do this, that she wouldn’t trip crossing that huge stage that loomed in front of her, and I may have almost succeeded until the program began and the over-excited emcee hadn’t just declared the headcount for the afternoon at around 2,000 or so attendees, with 750 awards from 52 surrounding counties. The winners were for Scholastic Art and Writing Achievement awards, all of which were currently being displayed over in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

Immediately, Alli began freaking out via text at that info tirade. “2,000???” she texted. I told her the truth. It was gonna feel AWESOME when it was over, she’d get a rush, she’d be filled and over flowing with adrenaline and she’d be on cloud nine. She just had to get up there and cross that stage first. And I KNEW she could do it. (What I didn’t say was what she already knew, that it was gonna stink waiting until her school was called, and since it was alphabetical, “Towles New Tech” was gonna be a while down the line.)

I know there was no way for my mom or dad to virtually hold my  hand when I wished they could, back when I was a kid. I know it had to be hard for them to have to simply let go. I can honestly say, letting my kids go, grow up, to do hard things and to go be amazing is far easier when they can check in with me a bit here and there when the going gets tough. Yeah, it’s easier on me and them both.

For that little bit of time, when we were a bazillion rows away, she and I were only a few fingertip pushes away from each other. A few goofy faces sent from me to her and she was laughing in spite of herself. As much as growing up techno kids is scary, it also has its perks. Sometimes I don’t hate it at all.

And I have to say, “way to go Alli — you make me busting-my-buttons proud, girl!”

 

This post is reposted from my parenting blog over at Will Settle for Chocolate