Like a Breath of Fresh Air

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I’ve always dreaded the long winter months with all that cold and ice, but noticed recently that if I am dressed in a warm jacket with scarf, hat and gloves, the cold doesn’t seem to be as horribly frigid as remembered.  In fact, as I walked out our front door this morning with a temperature 23 degrees, a healthy dose of brisk air filled my lungs. It was a pleasant surprise.  The frigidity that swelled in my lungs really felt like the proverbial “breath of fresh air.”  It awakened me and I became acutely aware of my in and out breathing, (a technique for stress reduction that had previously eluded my abilities.) With the awareness of the winter chilliness inflating my innards, somehow the weight from the pre-holiday stressors leaked out.

Deep chilly breath in and out…my Thanksgiving turkey may have been dry, but hubby’s awesome smashed potatoes, squash and apple casserole, and pumpkin pie more than made up for it.  Why had I cared about the turkey?  With enough gravy, it was edible!

Deep icy breath in and out…the stress around the Thanksgiving table, with warring factions of children, became a thing of the past. As stressful as it was, there was nothing I could do about it. They are grown children who no longer reflect my beliefs but maintain their own truths and temperaments.  In one way, it is a relief to have them on their own, no longer my responsibility.

Deep arctic breath in and out…driving on Route 2 pre-New Year was an experience in hurry up and wait, and wait, and wait.  (Same experience trying to drive through Apponaug.) In retrospect, I did get to listen to beautiful Christmas music that I wouldn’t have had the time to do otherwise, plus traffic is now back to normal.

Deep frozen breath in and out…digging in the basement for the Christmas tree and decorations hidden under a pile of summer clothes, as well as putting the tree up with a minimal, scattered ornaments with no help from the children was a disappointment, but any reminders of such is now back in the basement, carefully put away to be easy to find next year. Out of sight, out of mind.

Deep bitterly cold breath in and out…buying the perfect gift for each was a concern, but the exhaling of cool, clean air convinced me I had the best of intentions and, in reality, there WAS no “perfect” gift, not one that I could afford anyway!

Deep frosty breath in and out…keeping the house clean through New Year’s Day while my son, his wife and daughter visited from California was a very hard challenge for me, making me anxious with every dropped tissue, spilled milk or spider spotted sitting up near the ceiling.  Pure stress, but throughout it I was still able to appreciate their company and enjoy their visit. Next time we will be going to THEIR house.

As enjoyable as the holidays were, the individual stressors had slowly added up inside me, preventing perfect New Year joy and relaxation. Perhaps I had finally accomplished the ability to use deep breathing as a relaxation technique. This was the first time I appreciated breathing in the frozen wintry weather, but it won’t be the last. On this cold, brisk day of January, that all changed.  It was like a breath of fresh air!

 

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Please consider purchasing my book, The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane.  Thanks!!!!

As We Talk of Resolutions

Over the holidays I had a wonderful time visiting with relatives from out of state, and visiting out of state with relatives. One of the topics of conversation, especially on New Year’s Day, was “What is your New Year’s resolution?”

Mine are a little more specific than others. I vow to do my laundry all in one day, (Saturday) so that washed and dried loads of laundry do not sit on my kitchen table all week long.

I vow to keep better track of my pairs. Even though 12 pairs of the same exact socks were purchased, only 1 single sock ends up in the clean laundry, leaving me scrounging around for a match. Even though I have a variety of lovely gloves of varying colors and textures, when snow time comes, only 2 singles are available to make an unmatched, interesting pair. Even though many pairs of earrings have sat side by side in my jewelry box, when it comes time to wear the navy ones or the silver ones, the mate is suspiciously absent.   To accomplish this resolution, I will have to be part private investigator and part magician.

Other friends and relatives have expressed their New Year’s goals:

Tara, a good friend who has worked with my daughter, Marie, and is always doing things that I ask, wants to learn to say NO to people. (Hope that wasn’t a hint to me….)

Sally, a friend from the Lions Club wants to be kinder to herself. She rationalizes that it’s easier for most of us to be kind to others but for some reason a great deal of folks find it extremely hard to be kind to ourselves.

My best friend, Karen wants to go skydiving and zip lining this year before she is too old to complete these items on her bucket list. Sounds very adventuresome, and watching her DO these things is on MY bucket list!

Lynne, a colleague at work, wants to spend more time visiting with friends. I agree wholeheartedly, (friends, here I come!)

Jane ambitiously would like to save more money for retirement. What she doesn’t realize is that with her husband’s military pension and Post Office pension, as well as her own work pension and both of their social security checks, she should be sitting prettier than most of us when she is old.

Hubby would like to work less, sleep more, and give up stress.

Pauline would like to work in her garden to restore it to the beautiful, serene, soul-stirring arboretum it once was. (Unfortunately, after several surgeries on her knee, she is not quite as spry as she once was.)

Of course, most people vow to lose weight during the coming year. Realistically I would be happy to just not GAIN any weight.

A new year awaits, full of promise. Here is my suggestion for a universal New Year’s resolution; go easy on yourself. Pat yourself on the back. Look at your successes, not your failures, your joys not your sorrows. Enjoy the little things in life; the waves at the beach, the sun shining through the clouds, and the smile of a child. Give yourself a break and accept yourself the way you are. No New Years resolutions are needed!

 

 

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I drive slowly down my street to get home, which includes an area of trees, wild grasses and the occasional soda can or lost piece of paper. It is usually a non-committal drive, with my head swirling with ideas and concerns, not paying attention to the road at all. Yesterday was different. In between the trees was a mother bird, brown breast with brown-flecked wings. 6 inches in front of her was her tiny twin, obviously her offspring. The little one was walking away from her, turning to look back every second or so. Her beak seemed to say, “Go on, little one,” as the tiny bird inched farther along from her mom. It was such a sweet situation to observe!

Of course, all parents have gone through the same thing, pushing our little ones out of the nest. It is an 18, (or 19 or 20) year push. Lessons start early. An infant learns that he can depend on us to meet his needs, and trust that we are there for him. As a toddler develops, he tries to stretch the boundaries, asserting his own will, sometimes throwing a tantrum. As parents, we teach him how to handle his frustration differently, diverting tantrums into learning experiences. We give him lots of choices so that he feels in control, and lots of activities that he can do independently, giving him that sense of self he so desperately needs to develop. When it is time for school, we send them off like mother birds, nudging them along towards independence. We smile, wave, and hide the tears as he goes off to school for the first time, making it a great independent experiment!

By our own modeling, we teach him to be considerate of others, to share, to accept and to encourage. It is by demonstrating the “do unto others” concept that he learns not only his own value, but the value of all human life.

My oldest son, Francis, a manager for a large tech company, goes out of his way to hire individuals with disabilities. He often remarks it is easy to overlook their capabilities when presented with their physical impairments. As a teen, he used to build houses for Habitat for Humanity and teach Sunday School. As a teen, my daughter, Dinora, raised money for the development of a soup kitchen in her native Guatemala, even visiting and working there herself when she graduated from college. Even now, as a successful make-up artist, she regularly sends them money. When younger, Steven, with the weight of all of his own problems, looked kindly upon others, volunteering to help people carry groceries or donating his precious change to someone in need. (I will never forget traveling the subway in Boston and he kept asking me for change to give to all of the musicians and beggars down in the tunnels. He was devastated when I ran out of money.) Angel, who currently works 2 jobs to pay for his car, continues to make time to work at a camp for children who are blind where he has volunteered since he was 14. And Marie, who has so many issues herself, takes pride in leading a young schoolmate with Down Syndrom to get his daily medication from the nurse. She is gentle and kind and considerate of his special needs.

As that mother bird nudged her birdling towards independence, we need to nudge our own children to care about others. The future of Peace depends upon it.

 

Little Red Convertible

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Our family has the unfortunate dilemma of having all three of our cars disabled. (Children with disabilities I can handle, cars, not so much…) Hubby purchased a new (used) work van, but due some out of state issues, he is unable to register it, so his brother’s work truck has been a handy loaner. Angel, like so many other high school graduates when they get their first, real job, purchased an newish SUV, envisioning driving on the beach and sloshing through the mud puddles rather than the reality of driving in traffic on Route 95 every day, (although he did get some sloshing in during the road construction during the rain.) The transmission on that car just ceased to work; would happily drive it anywhere in reverse, but stubbornly refused to move forward. My car of necessity had been the resurrected old family van, which recently decided it outlived its purpose, refused to run at all, and is cost prohibitive to fix. Angel has the pleasure of driving a rental from the dealer where his car is being fixed, whereas the dealer of our van is long gone and probably dead. No help there!

Having hubby give me a ride is as frustrating for me as for him. “Time to go,” he announces 15 minutes before it is actually time to go. While I am standing there in the bathroom in my underwear, he goes out to the car, starts it, and beeps the horn every 10 seconds. If anyone wonders why I have been arriving to work disheveled, hair not coifed, face not glamored with make up, and mismatching socks, blame hubby.

Not having a car to go out to lunch with is a huge imposition and detrimental to my job. While I love my work and the people with whom I work, going out to for lunch to Wendy’s or Panera Bread allows me time to relax and regenerate my work ethic. Currently, by 3:00 in the afternoon after working 7 straight hours on serious matters, my brain is fuzzy and my motivation weakened. (Having lunch in the office always results in my getting pulled into some crisis, to which I can’t possibly say “no”.) How I long to be able to go out to lunch to get that much needed break!

Then there are the times I forget I don’t have a car. I readily agree to attend meetings and do favors for others, only to be embarrassed later to proclaim I can’t because the van is dead. If there is no Diet Coke or microwave popcorn in the house, the store is out of range and I must unfairly suffer.

However, not having a car enables me to daydream about what type of car would fit into my life now. Teenage life, (with my first job) saw me driving an MG convertible; fun, awesome, 2-person car, top down in the summer, wind blowing through my hair, and sunshine on my face. That lasted until marriage, which necessitated a family mini-van. As our family grew, (and grew) only a 9-passenger van would do, the very same van that now sits useless in our driveway. At this stage, after working hard and mothering most of my adult life, the possibility awaits for a return to a fun car like was driven in my teen years. Noticing so many “older” individuals driving little sports cars, at first I scoffed, thinking they are trying to reclaim their youth, unaccepting of the fact that they are now “old”. Then the realization hit that they have lived their lives and have earned the right to drive a fun car more than a person just starting out in life. The possibility that it might be my time to pick out my own, cute, fun little car is enthralling. Suddenly, having no car is exciting! The possibilities are endless! Little red convertible, here I come!

 

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Please consider purchasing my book, The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane.  Thanks!!!!

 

Kindness is Taught at Home

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The above picture is of my 2-year-old granddaughter cleaning a “boo boo” on her dog. She makes sympathetic eye contact with LuLu, calmly positions her nose with her hand, and gently wipes it with a sterile wipe. When she tries to put a band-aid on it, she wonders why it doesn’t stick on the fur like it sticks on her skin, but tries her best to get it to stay. After the dog’s medical care has been completed, she plants a light kiss on the “boo boo”, satisfied at a job well done.

Kindness is a trait best taught at home. Children learn to accept others based on how their parents accept others. If dad complains about “crazy Uncle Joe” and everyone in the family avoids Uncle Joe, they learn to be fearful of people with mental illness. If they see a person in a wheelchair while out on a walk, and their parents cross the street to be on the other side so they don’t have to walk near the wheelchair, it is inherently learned that they should be cautious of such people. Instead, they should walk right up to the person, making eye contact and smiling, commenting on what a great day it is to be out for a walk!

It is only through my fortunate life experience with a brother with multiple disabilities that my children have learned that people like “Uncle Curtis” are different than us, and therefore need understanding and acceptance. Any of them were comfortable with offering a guiding arm to sturdy and guide him to the most comfortable chair in the house and rush off to get him his treasured glass of Diet Coke. Sitting next to him during a meal, they would unabashedly take his plate to cut the food up into tiny pieces for him to be able to swallow. If they couldn’t understand what he was saying, they’d give him a pen and paper to write it down, (although it invariably said “Dite Cook” in his unsteady handwriting.)

A child living with compassion will not be a bully, and hopefully stand up for anyone being bullied. Living with compassion has stayed with my children into their adulthood, and they are now raising their own children to be caring and thoughtful of others, as evidence by my young granddaughter caring for her dog. What a beautiful life!

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To read more about our adventures as a family, please read my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

 

shredded-tire

I am a Diet Coke fanatic.  (Before people start telling me that it isn’t healthy for me, I have to admit that it is stress relief to take a long, satisfying sip of an ice cold soda. It might not be healthy, but it has kept me alive and perky!) Being very short on money lately, and exhausted from working a long day, visions of Diet Coke floated in the air. While fishing out a one-dollar bill that desperately clung to life in the bottom of my purse, the van automatically found its way to the convenience store where a humongous drink of Diet Coke awaited me. I put my giant cup under the spigot and filled it to the brim, excited at the prospect of getting such a delight for only 89 cents! Looking up, the large soda sign smacked me in the face; this was not an “all sizes pay same price” kind of store, and a large soda was $1.49! My heart skipped a beat and actual tears of disappointment filled my eyes when I realized I didn’t have enough money to pay. At just that point, the store owner, half my age, struck up a conversation. “That’s a mighty big van out there, must be difficult for you to drive,” he said. “I have five kiddos and it fits our whole family,” I answered with my back to him, still contemplating my payment dilemma. “God bless you!” he said, “The drink is on me!” I turned around and smiled excitedly, thanking him. He could not have understood how much that gesture was such a blessing!

The truth is, our family car situation has been difficult lately.  My Acura ceased to function several weeks ago, and my husband’s work van, 17 years old, also died.  We had to resurrect our old, 12 passenger family van, switching a couple of bald tires off with newer tires from his work van.  Driving the rickety monstrosity was a challenge for me. It wobbled terribly, and I had to grip the steering wheel with 2 hands. I complained to hubby who brushed it off as being “old, what did I expect?” I drove it back and forth to work Monday and Tuesday, still cursing the challenging drive.  Tuesday eve, Steven called me frantically. A friend’s car had broken down near the Providence Place Mall, could I come pick them up? Annoyed about having to drive to Providence after working all day, I climbed into the van to begin the arduous task of maneuvering the eyesore onto the highway.  With the van waving back and forth, I had difficulty keeping it in one lane, but finally reached Steven and pulled to the side of the road near him.  His eyes bugged out as he ran to the back of the van. “Your TIRE is almost off!” he shouted, showing me where one lone lug nut, ready to fall off, had been holding it on. Just as he said that, the lug nut fell to the ground, rolled away and the tire fell sideways onto the ground!  I shrieked in horror and felt like vomiting when I realized what that meant; I had been driving it for 3 days with the tire ready to fall off! (It was Steven and his ADHD that changed the tires…I suspect he got distracted somehow and never finished putting that tire on correctly.) I not only had driven it for 3 days, but I managed to drive it ON THE HIGHWAY at a HIGH RATE OF SPEED to get to Steven. How lucky was I that is didn’t fall off while driving where not only I could have been killed, but I could have killed someone else? I shuddered with realization. It seemed like fate! Or luck? Or something else?

The Diet Coke and loose tire incidents may seem unrelated, but to me, both are an affirmation that luck does not come into play.  I like to think it was Divine intervention, a thought both heartwarming and reassuring.  A thought that always makes me smile…and so far has kept me alive!

 

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     My body has not quite agreed with my no stress policy on life as the muscles in the back of my shoulder had started ache.  When I grit my teeth, the pain would shoot from my jaw down to my shoulder blade.) I thought this might be a good time to try a massage, something which I have always wanted but for which there was never an actual need.      

     With a Groupon coupon clutched firmly in my hand, I made my way through the front door of the Chinese spa. Chinese decorations and symbols adorned the walls, a gold and red cat with a wagging paw sat on the counter, and a petite woman in a kimono greeted me in words I could not quite understand.  With the coupon in her hand, I was reassured that she knew what I wanted; a deep tissue massage!

     Led into a small, dimly lit private room, a comfy massage table awaited me. I considered which end of the table to get on; one end had a place I later learned was for my face and the other end had a rolled towel which could loosely be construed as a pillow.  I took off my clothes, careful to leave my underwear on.  (My bra had to come off because fixing the muscle pain on my shoulder would be hindered by the strap.)  I sat in the middle of the bed, legs dangling off the side, sheet wrapped tightly around my body, awaiting the instructions the massage specialist would give me.  Another petite woman, she motioned toward the end of the table without the towel and I started to lay on my back with my head falling backwards.  She giggled a little, then motioned for me to turn over on my stomach.  OH!  So THAT’s how it works!

     It is incomprehensible to me how a woman with such tiny hands could invoke such muscle pain on me.  Every spot she touched hurt, but her delicate fingers kneaded the pain away.  It was both an excruciating and relaxing experience all at once.  When she finished with the bulk of my body, she pulled out my arm to massage.  “Reacts” she kept telling me, (which I proudly interpreted to mean “relax.”) As much as she tried to shake out my hand, my fingers remained stiffened as a board.  She giggled again, and after much coaxing on her part, my fingers finally loosened a little with the ends of them bent down into a claw shape. That was as close to relaxing my hand I was going to get!

     My favorite part was when she massaged my neck and head.  How I loved the feel of her fingers raking through my hair; firmly, therapeutically, amazingly! I knew that the oil she had on her hands would affect my hairstyle, but my mind was beyond rationalization at that point, enjoying the experience. I was disappointed when she stopped and left the room, saying something to me on the way out.  I thought the massage was over, so I stood up, naked, to get my clothes on.  Both of us screamed when she came back into the room!  She covered her mouth with one hand and squeezed her eyes shut, keeping a firm grip on the basket of hot rocks she was holding in her other hand.  “I thought it was over!” I told her as she sweetly said “no, no!” Climbing back on the table, she completed the massage with hot stones, stones so hot they seemed to burn my back through the sheet material and I wondered how she could possibly hold them in her tender, gentle hands. But, OH what a wonderful feeling, loosened muscles and warmth on my back.  It was a joyful experience! It was an experience for which I had waited my whole life!

      When she was finished, she clearly said “Bye bye” and we both giggled, knowing that it actually was time to get up and get dressed.  My limbs were floppy and lose as I awkwardly put my clothes on. I walked out of that room euphorically with a goofy smile on my face, all loosey goosey with my hair sticking out straight looking like Einstein’s.  I was so relaxed I didn’t even care!   

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