Archive for November, 2013

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been. (Madeleine L’Engle, 1918-2007) 

I made a big mistake when I told my two older grandchildren about the time my brothers climbed into the dollhouse my grandfather made for me. Since the house had been created for thumb-sized dolls, not little boys, the walls collapsed onto them.

Kate and Rebecca were horrified. Two giants had invaded precious pretend space and demolished it. Back then I probably saw the torn walls as slaughtered puppies. Now, I understand the viewpoint of my younger brothers, an exploration into uncharted territory. I really don’t think they planned destruction; it happened as a side-product of their exploration. Somehow, I expected my little girls to see with my adult point of view. They didn’t.

When Kate knew my youngest brother was coming to the house, she asked, “Is he one of the brothers who broke your doll house?”

“Uh, no, he was too little.”

I have a few weeks before my other brothers face my girls’ wrath—for a misdemeanor committed before computers, space travel, cell phones, and flat-screen television sets existed. Any pictures from that era would have been in black-and-white. They couldn’t have been instantly posted on Facebook.

Then again, my granddaughters may forget all about the long-ago dollhouse. Actually it’s likely. The holidays are filled with far more interesting opportunities. If the subject comes up I could ask if they ever made a mistake and then felt sorry about it later. The word, oops, appears early in a child’s vocabulary. I could mention again the story about the time my brothers and I wanted to play Indians in the basement when I was about four-or-five-years old. We needed a campfire. So I gathered some sticks from the front yard, placed them on the cement floor, and then lit them from the pilot on the hot-water heater. Fortunately, my mother had a good sense of smell.

“Did you get a spanking?” Kate asked.

“I don’t remember that part. But you can be pretty sure I did.” I certainly earned one.

The consequences of a fire in the basement didn’t occur to me at preschool age. I had planned to put it out. There was a faucet a few feet away, right next to the wringer washer. As an adult the thought of flames in the house strikes me with intense fear. I’ve apologized to my parents many times over the years.

Yet, somewhere deep inside me is that little adventurer who wondered what-would-happen-if? She learned to respect the parameters of reality, but appreciates the spunk of the kid with just a touch of mischief inside.

Yes, I loved that dollhouse my grandfather crafted for me. He was an incredible, gentle man. I loved my brothers even more. And, I still do.

save the kid in you

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What a pity every child couldn’t learn to read under a willow tree… (Elizabeth George Speare)

“Book,” Ella says with enthusiasm.

She hasn’t been talking for longer than a few months. However, our four-year-old granddaughter reads.

When she first began vocalizing she chose the alphabet and tried to sound-out such letters as e-x-i-t in stores and libraries. But, most of her communication remained through sign language. Now she reads with me as I turn back to page one of “The Wheels on the Bus” for the five-thousand-four-hundred and sixty-third time. Well, I feel like the doors on the bus have opened and closed at least that many times “all day long.” Ella knows these last three words especially well and repeats them with a joy that is contagious. How can I mind the repetition when she is so excited?

When we get to the last page she turns to the vocabulary words, takes my finger and points to them. She wants to absorb each one, learn, grow—and I want to celebrate that expansion with her.

I decide to see how much more our little girl understands. Down syndrome has limited, but not stopped her. Among the books is a Dora the Explorer coloring book. I ask if she wants the crayons. She answers, “yes,” but then hands them to me. I decide to turn this situation around.

“What color should I use?” I ask.

She gives me green for the grass, and then points out places that I have missed, including hidden background. The walk, as she calls it, close enough for sidewalk, needs to be gray. She chooses red for the barn. Usually when I color with my grandchildren I shade the edges, layer color, blend yellows and oranges, play the artist. Not now. The focus is not on perfection, but on Ella as director. Not many four-year-old kids gets to legitimately play that role. In less than an hour we will need to tell her it is time to get her coat, get in the car, and go to physical therapy. For now she can be the guide for the next move, however simple it may be.

Early in the evening I see a video made by Ella’s maternal grandmother on her phone: Ella and her daddy are in a restaurant. He is printing words on a placemat: up, down, do, cat, and dog. Ella reads them all with a voice so sweet I could listen to her as many times as I have read “The Wheels on the Bus.”

She isn’t performing. She reads for the innate satisfaction of language. Competition from others hasn’t appeared yet. I consider my creative projects and question my motives. Do I approach them seeking success or to live this moment through them?

I love you, Ella, and I hope to become a better me because of you.

flower blooming in adversity

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There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day. (Alexander Woollcott) 

Ordinarily quiet and I get along like cake served with ice cream. However, I’d rather be at my aerobics class. Unfortunately, my breathing sounds as if my lungs were tossing pebbles at one another. After a while those pebble turn into stones and they sting. This isn’t the best time for lively exercise. Left kick, right kick, mamba, turn, and wheeze. Besides, my cough could scare off a class of battle-trained marines.

Since the monster wheeze responds only to steroid treatment I am now faced with the steroid monster’s side effects. I have the attention span of a two-year-old who has devoured half a bag of candy, and I probably won’t sleep much for the next twelve days. However, breathing is not generally considered an extra.

Okay, Ter, focus. How can I do that when one-thing-at-a-time feels as possible as collecting a foot of snow in a thimble?

First, drain that coffee and switch to herbal tea for heaven’s sake! Then try one task that requires physical effort—but not too much since my mind may think I’m marathon-ready. My body will balk.

Ah yes, one small section of an untidy cabinet. Face it, girl. Only one portion of cabinet. Slowly. Yeah, I know buzzed-on-prednisone brain, you also want to write an entire synopsis, make your Christmas presents, scrub the floors, finish this blog, annihilate every cob web in the house, and do laundry…all before your husband comes home from that beloved exercise class and the grocery store. Oh, and you will check your e-mail 47 times in between.

Right. Maybe that’s not the most efficient plan.

After that one reorganized section looks decent, I notice there’s a spill in the microwave. My actions snowball, with only one, okay two stops to check e-mail. As I struggle to keep my thoughts under control and lungs working properly, I think about the difficulties other people face. My husband is reading, “The Reason I Jump,” by Naoki Higashida. When Jay is finished he has promised to let me read it. When he comes home from class and the store he tells me he is ready to share the book.

I turn to David Mitchell’s Introduction and I’m lost in words, in pages, in this world opened by a boy born in Japan in 1992. This story explains the autistic world. It isn’t what an observer sees; it is as different as the interior and exterior of a locked cabinet, a wrapped gift, or a capped unlabeled bottle. Seeing the actions of an autistic person doesn’t tell what happens inside.

Day dissolves into dusk and I continue to read, needing to pause once for a drink of water and once for an inhaler break. Naoki answers questions that appear almost rude, with style and grace. He is thirteen. He cannot speak. He uses an alphabet board. Not all autistic people are alike any more than all people are alike.

One experience Naoki relates concerns listening to others instead of looking at them. Eye contact is too overwhelming. He sees with his ears and that is sufficient stimulation. Thanks to Naoki for helping me to focus, using my heart, paying attention to someone else instead of my own petty miseries.

Here is the Amazon link to his incredible and beautiful story: http://www.amazon.com/Reason-Jump-voice-silence-autism-ebook/dp/B00BVJG3CS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384473869&sr=8-1&keywords=the+reason+i+

walking in someone else's shoes

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Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. (Winston Churchill)

The electricity goes out late Thursday morning seconds after I hear a loud blast—probably a transformer on an adjoining street. My husband has left the house to pick up Ella from preschool. My job is to have lunch ready. Our kitchen is small, with one window and low light. Fortunately I have a gas stove, and can turn-on the burners with a match. An open back door provides enough sun to let me know when my homemade soup is warm enough and the sandwiches are toasted, not transformed into charcoal. A chilly breeze slips through occasionally, but natural sun beats a candle flame.

Our little Ella adapts. After lunch she opens her school bag and pulls out her glasses. “Book,” she says. She doesn’t complain about inconvenience. Down syndrome has delayed her ability to communicate verbally. Nevertheless, she gets her point across, with a gentle, loving style.

She is way ahead when it comes to self-acceptance. She doesn’t battle pride on the level many people do. She doesn’t need to be the most accomplished kid in her class—among the most loving will do. People can live to be in their eighties without reaching her ability to accept, to give, to be without pretense.

As my husband reads to her I remember another child I saw last night at a memorial service for my father at his church.

Across the aisle was a family with a young boy who had some serious handicap or illness. I did not know him or anyone in his family. However, I noticed the way his mother held his hand and stroked his hair, how his father and siblings paid attention to him with simple, yet significant gestures. I watched as the mother nodded to the boy, unstrapped him from his stroller, and then lifted his limp body onto her lap. She carefully attended to his breathing tube. Then, smiling, she caressed him as if he were a newborn.

That family understood love.

The priest spoke of loss, its meaning. He also talked about life. I had no idea what hope the family held for this child, but they were living the present to the fullest.

Our little Ella has had pulmonary hypertension. We were told that she could, possibly, outgrow it. When she was small she was on oxygen 24/7; as she grew older she needed it only at night. Last week her numbers indicated that she no longer required oxygen. Our family celebrated as if a war had ended. My celebration changed, deepened perhaps, as I watched that family.

I still cherished our granddaughter’s healing, but I wondered about the strength of that family’s gifts. All I saw was a single moment in time, like the cover of a book that held thousands of pages filled with stories, some tragic, some beautiful. In my own tiny church community we can speak to one another, no one left out except by choice. In this large congregation that wasn’t possible. The ceremony was formal, and these folk left before we did anyway. Actually, I didn’t know what I could have said. My thoughts didn’t have words, only a vague sense of awe that would have been cheapened if I tried to translate them.

All I know now is that there is a book next to me that I can open at any time, or a pad of paper where I can write. However, on my other side is a little girl named Ella giggling over a computer game. And I don’t want to miss one second of it.

you are of infinite worth

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The potential of the average person is like a huge ocean unsailed, a new continent unexplored, a world of possibilities waiting to be released and channeled toward some great good. (Brian Tracy) 

The outdoor parade at Rebecca’s kindergarten is cancelled. An indoor march will need to suffice. I’m surprised by the silence I feel inside the school.  I may be a few minutes early. But I can’t be the only parent or grandparent who wanted a good parking place. The lot isn’t empty.  I don’t look for Rebe’s daddy. He couldn’t have arrived yet. He called from work less than an hour ago to let me know about the change of plans.

The closed inner door is no surprise. It’s a security measure. The quiet, however, shouts change. The violence at Sandy Hook and other schools has affected facilities everywhere. When Kate was this age there would have been a group in the waiting area outside the office. Camaraderie, enthusiasm, and anticipation would have swelled, even in a small group, perhaps moved to the gym.

Someone from the office I recognize smiles and gestures me inside. I sign-in and she gives me a neon red badge. “Do you know where Rebe’s room is?” she asks.

I don’t. She leads me to the correct corridor. A few adults, probably teachers and aids, seem to be planning something. No children are in the room. Rebe’s teacher says the class is in the music room next door. I am welcome to visit. All this time I wonder where the rest of the visitors are hiding. Is hide-and-go-seek on the agenda? No one was in the gym. My watch reads 10:20. Class dismisses at 11:00. I assumed 10:30 should be a good time to arrive.

Rebe’s smile widens, yet she refrains from rushing into my lap. I can tell by her body language that she is using considerable restraint. When the teacher announces that the children will be watching a movie with Disney songs I see a chair in the back of the room and ease toward it. Perhaps if my granddaughter doesn’t see me the temptation to step out of line won’t be as difficult.

“Sing if you know the words, boys and girls,” the teacher says. A few of the kids turn around as I join in on such oldies as “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” and “A Very Merry Unbirthday,” but they don’t comment. I keep my voice soft. After all, this isn’t a performance. I am visiting their space.

I am the only adult visitor in the music room.

If the action begins at 10:30 it will start late. My watch reads 10:40. Greg, Rebe’s daddy, calls my cell phone. He is in her classroom. Security has fragmented the visitors. Their numbers don’t appear until our little parade reaches the gym, hardly a mob. How many folk can get off work on a Thursday in the late morning? However, there are enough to create an audience to make a circle of children feel special. Greg may be present, but he needs to return to the office.

The children look no different than they did when fourth-grader Kate was beginning school. Superman flexes his immature muscles, ghouls rule, and one boy asks if he got to be in the picture Greg took of Rebe. I nod. He beams. However, I don’t recall Kate telling me about the drill they had at school about what-we-would-do-if-the-bad-people-came.

Rebe hugs me as I leave. So does one of the other girls. All I know about her is that she is in Rebe’s class, and that she is a precious kindergartener. One hug can’t overcome hate and fear. The problems that lead to violence are deep-rooted. They don’t have an easy fix. They need the attention of all, an awareness that transcends security.

Rebe is Rosie the Riveter. She wears a badge that reads “Yes, we can.” Perhaps that message can be extended beyond World War II. It will take time. Any worthwhile cause does.

hug power Charles M. Schulz Museum

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