Posts tagged ‘life’

What to Learn from Baby Birds

 

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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.

 

Luck? Fate? or Something Else?

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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!

 

Loosey Goosey with Einstein Hair

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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!   

Termites Aren’t so Bad

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My oldest son, Francis, was born “legally blind”. His visual acuity stabilized at 20/400. (In layman’s terms, what a fully sighted person could see 400 feet away, Francis could only see blurrily at 20 feet.) He used his hearing so well that it was easy to forget that he had impaired vision, but every now and then something humorous would happen to remind us!

One Friday night when he was about three years old, he entered the living room as my friend and I quietly sat amongst the pillows on the couch, munching away on buttered popcorn, and watching “Dallas” on television, (our ridiculously favorite TV show at the time.) He toddled toward where we sat and without hesitation climbed onto my friend’s lap.

“Why, HELLO there!” she exclaimed excitedly, since Francis had previously been very shy with her. He looked startled and then began to cry hysterically. He thought that he had crawled onto my lap! He could see well enough to distinguish that there were 2 figures on the couch, but was unable to focus on the differences of our faces. From that moment on, when he entered a room, he would say “Hi, mom!” and I would respond, “Hi, sweetie!” so he could tell from afar which figure I was. At the age of three he had already learned to make accommodations for his vision loss.

He made similar accommodations when he started. He loved going and had many playmates but seemed to develop a deep friendship with a little boy named Eddy, whom I had not yet met because his mom dropped him off at a later time. Francis would come home and tell me that he and Eddy played with blocks or outside in the playground or cleaned the hamster cage together. I was not only excited that he was actually telling me about his day at “school” but relieved that he was able to socialize and make friends.

One morning my lazy body did not want to get out of the comfy bed on time, so he was driven to school much later than usual. I accompanied him into the building and saw the entire class sitting on the floor listening to their teacher read a book. At first glance, the sea of toddlers looked like a blur of Caucasian, light haired children. Francis scanned the room with his limited vision, spotted Eddy, and walked over to sit down next to the only African-American child in the class. Francis was one smart kid…for his best friend he chose the classmate who was easiest to pick out!

Francis had a wonderful, normal nursery school experience, with one notable exception. The school invited an exterminator as a guest speaker who regaled the class about the abundance and peril of termites munching on the wood of houses. Francis came home terrified at the possibility of having them in our basement. I had never seen him so anxiety ridden and he developed problems falling asleep and nightmares. After about a week of this, I finally asked, “WHY are you so afraid of such tiny bugs?” He burst into fearful, explosive tears. “TINY????” he replied. “THEY ARE HUGE!”

Driving through Providence, RI, Francis had previously seen the only termite of his young life, the famous “Big Blue Bug” atop a building on Route 95, which is 928 times the size of a regular termite. No wonder he was so petrified! His understanding was that termites that large roamed throughout his basement and were eating his house! After I stopped laughing, it was explained to him that the Big Blue Bug by the side of the road was a joke and that termites are tiny. Then his dad and I took him downstairs, searched and confirmed that our house was, in fact, termite free. Happy dreams were his again.

 

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If you want to read about Francis’ hugely successful life, including skiing, captaining a sailboat, obtaining a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, and eventual career as a high level manager at a famous Silicon Valley computer company, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Here a Friend, There a Happiness

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My daughter, Marie, was severely abused as a toddler and young child. She came to live with us at the age of 7 after being found wandering the streets barefoot at 2 am carrying her infant brother looking for formula for him. The effects of the abuse were immediately apparent. She couldn’t stand to be touched, and would cower under the table if she felt threatened. She was angry all of the time and refused all attempts at affection. (When she was with us for a few years, she finally allowed me to give her a “fist bump” as a way of showing my love for her, a love she certainly did not reciprocate because she didn’t know what love was.)

Posttraumatic stress episodes were explosive and frequent, and required restraints and hospitalization. She had superhuman strength while in the throws of PTSD, as I am sure the EMTs and firemen who came to transport her to the hospital can attest. She turned into a super kicking, screaming, biting and hitting machine, and it was amazingly frightening to see.   If put in clothe restraints, she would eat through the cloth like a ravenous wolf. The adult restraints were too large and a smaller hole would have to be cut to fit her slim wrists and ankles. She learned to bite the inside of her mouth to spit blood and they tried to put a mask on her, which she immediately sucked into her mouth and gagged on. At the hospital, she would get a shot of Haldol, go into a trance, and wake up questioning what happened. With her hands still restrained and unable to sign regularly, her little fingers would finger spell “Where am I? Why?”

The number of PTSD episodes have subsided to once every 6 months or so. She has learned to love and be loved by her family, and, fortunately, she is making tremendous progress. Marie is going to be 20 years old this month and still attending a specialized school where she can remain until she is 21.

Marie, citing her age that she is an adult, has come more into her own. On her own, she got a tattoo of a dolphin on the inside of her wrist. She loves dolphins since swimming with them at Discovery Cove on her 12th birthday. By choosing that particular tattoo, she reasoned she could look at the dolphin every time she gets upset and it would remind her of a happy time instead of the times she was abused. Like other young adults, she has colored her hair a mixture of blue and blonde, has a lip ring and likes to pick out her own clothes. Her newest adult adventure is finding a girlfriend; recently reconnecting with an amazing girl a few years older than her with whom she attended school many years ago. They have started hanging out and Marie is giddy with excitement. (Marie has never had a real friend of any kind before.)

Yesterday the 3 of us went to Dave and Buster’s at the mall. While Marie LOVES to play the games, sometimes the crowds overwhelm her and she gets anxious, moody and socially unresponsive. Her sweet friend, who does not know the extent of Marie’s early childhood abuse, kept asking her why she was mad at her, which eventually turned into a full blown argument in the car. By the time we got home, her friend was no longer talking to her and said she was never coming to see Marie again. Marie went down and sat on the wall overlooking the lake, her head drooping down. She texted me on her phone, “Help Me”. Joining her on the wall, I noticed she was crying, something I have never seen Marie do. The tears spilled out of her eyes and were running down her cheeks like an ever-flowing fountain. Her mouth was quivering and her sad eyes said it all. I hugged her and the tears turned more torrential. After a while she signed to me “She thinks I’m mad at her and that I have an attitude. I don’t know how to tell her.” Meaning she didn’t know how to tell her about her abuse and that sometimes it still affects the way she acts. She didn’t know how to tell her how much she loved her as a friend, her FIRST friend, and she didn’t want to hurt her, but sometimes she couldn’t control her emotions. She asked me to come with her to talk to her friend to help her explain.

Her friend was annoyed. Marie began about her family history and her friend said that SHE, too, had a mother addicted to drugs and that SHE, too, had been adopted. She said she learned to just “get over it” and why couldn’t Marie? With this criticism, Marie ran from the room and back to the wall by the lake. I explained that Marie had an extremely traumatic childhood, far and above just her mom doing drugs. I explained the hurt, the hospitalizations, and the challenging life she has endured. Her friend’s angry face softened with understanding. As I was talking, a tear slipped down her cheek and she got up and went down to the wall by the lake. When I looked out the window, they were both hugging and laughing.

I pray that Marie’s friend will continue to be her friend and accept her with all of her emotional baggage. It would take an amazing friend to do that, and I have a feeling she IS that amazing!

Regrets…I’ve Had a Few

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As we age, it is common to have a few regrets of things we have or haven’t done along the way. When I was a child, (and traveled cross-country with my family,) I never got out of the car to see the Grand Canyon. Always on the move, I was used to short stops at tourist attractions, the Grand Canyon being no exception. I regret my choice stay in the car because of crabbiness, carsickness, stubbornness or what have you. I simply went back to sleep with a pillow over my head to block out the beautiful colors of the sunset. Also during childhood, I did not have the joy of playing in our ocean state waves. Living on a lake, my parents never felt the need to visit the ocean, and the only ocean I saw was near my public school, Oakland Beach. Nice beach, but not so exciting on the wave front. It wasn’t until I was 16 years old and able to drive with my friends to the beach that I realized RI had waves that were unbelievable! All those youthful waveless years wasted…

I regret never telling my dad of my love for him. As a sensitive child, I misunderstood his detachment from me, seeing it as a sign of my un-worthiness of his love instead of the mental illness he suffered. Only when I aged and he was gone did the truth become clear, and by then it was too late.

I regret the Christmas when I hid 5-year-old Dinora’s Littlest Mermaid bedspread under her bed. Pointing out that Santa had left a gift under her bed, she looked at me in shock and started crying hysterically. Was I telling her a BIG FAT MAN had been in her bedroom when she was sleeping? Seeing how upset she was, I quickly reassured her that really was no Santa Claus, causing an even bigger burst of tears. Strike one against me for prematurely destroying a little girl’s fantasy!

My latest regret came this week. Against the advice of others, an older family friend had chosen to keep her terminally ill husband at home rather than send him to a Hospice nursing home even though his physical care would be a challenge for her own aging body. A month ago I combed through the card store, finally finding the perfect card to express my support for her and to provide encouragement. I was too late in sending it. Her husband passed away this week, relegating my card to join the flow of regular sympathy well wishes, not special at all.

From now on, I will welcome Mother Nature and keep little girl’s dreams alive. People whom I admire will be lavished with praise, and people whom I love will be told, often and heartfelt, that they are loved, the same way I wanted to tell my dad so many years ago.

 

 

Even the Wrong Way can Turn Out Right

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Even though our winter hasn’t been too bad in our neck of the woods, the lure to see a friend who lives in Florida was strong non-the-less. The day I left to visit her it was 57 degrees in RI, the same temperature it was in Tampa.
My first flight was to leave at a grueling 5:30 am, and I dutifully showed up at the airport at 4:00 am. The need for such an early arrival escaped me, as the airport seemed almost deserted except for the looooooong line of people waiting to check in at Southwest Airlines. Having printed my own boarding pass and with no luggage to check, I made my way to the security line where I was ushered into the ”pre-check” line generally reserved for the elderly and disabled. Miffed to be considered eligible for this line, I was also disappointed to miss the titillating experience of the full body x-ray machine, but keeping my shoes on was a good compromise.
Without much airplane booking experience, I had not realized that my first flight was a commuter flight to Detroit, which seemed to be a ridicules way to get to Florida from New England. The plane was pretty tiny on the outside, and seemed to be even smaller on the inside with a low ceiling and seats two by two on either side of the skinny aisle, through which I had to turn sideways to make it to my seat. Sitting next to a stranger, I had to keep my arms crossed at my chest in order to avoid touching his arm that had commandeered the arm rest. Positioning hardly mattered as, characteristically, I fell asleep as soon as the plane took off, getting nudged awake when we landed. Also characteristically, the next flight was taking off from a gate far, far away. As I watched others heading for their connections, women my age running clumsily, hair flying behind them, carry-on suitcase clunking along, I was grateful for my two hour layover. Slowly making my way along the “moving sidewalks”, it was enjoyable to just stand to the side and window shop the many stores along the concourse without moving a muscle. Who knew that Porsche sold suitcases and pocket books! The Dylan Candy Store looked like one big Hello Kitty ad. And if I wanted to buy golf pants, now would be the time to do so as the PGA Golf store had them for half price.
For the tunnel from one side of the airport to the other, I was pleasantly surprised by an unusual artistic endeavor. The walls of the long tunnel seemed to be made of stained glass with ever changing colors, synchronized to peaceful, beautiful music. As I rode on the walkway, my heart subconsciously rose and fell with the wave of the music, calming me throughout the long trek. This experience rivaled anything that could be found at Disney World or other Floridian tourist attractions. And it was found in Detroit! By the end of the tunnel, my heart was thankful for the amazingly emotional performance, and I was no longer upset that I had taken a commuter flight.

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