“But some souls are never ready to leave. They are too sublime, too pure, too sensitive to be thrust into the harsh realities of worldly existence. It would be simply too cruel to plunge such a gentle soul into a body, to enter a world polluted by evil and selfishness. So instead of descending further, these souls float back to where they came from the higher and holier realms where they feel at home. Perhaps they will come down some other time. Or perhaps their mission is fulfilled, having come down far enough.”
I asked Isabelle’s new teacher if she’d like me to volunteer on Mondays — except for weeks when I have consulting commitments — to work with the kids during journal time. (My desire to volunteer was prompted by my freak-out about Isabelle’s journal writing last spring.) Granted, most of my experience has been with kids in grades 1 – 5, but her preschool teacher said “yes.”
Today was my first day.
Let me be honest, I am exhausted. Do you know how hard it is to get three and four-year-olds to sit down and write while there are other centers happening in the classroom? Magnatiles were being erected into skyscrapers. Jungle puzzles were being pieced together. There was something exciting inside of the sensory table. And there I was in the writing center. But somehow, I met with every single kid in the class in one hour. Well, except for one who walked away from me. I guess the idea of writing a true story about something from her life wasn’t enough of an enticement.
Thankfully, Isabelle was willing to sit with me today. In the midst of our discussion about me coming in to work with her friends, we also talked about what she’d write about today. She had a story she wanted to tell, which made her willing to come right over to the writing center. The requirement was that she bring a friend. Thankfully, her friend Grace was not only willing to join us, but she had a great story to tell (about her brother’s birthday party over the weekend). Grace was highly independent while I worked with Isabelle, which allowed me to give Isabelle lean prompts to help her (e.g., turn your paper to the side to show someone laying on the ground; “Should you draw a smiley face or a sad face if someone is hurt?), without intruding too much on her writing process. After all, today was supposed to be a baseline of what the kids could do.
I have no idea what the unlabeled parts of the picture are, but what I do know is that this is a marked improvement from where she was in the springtime. (And, yes, I have worked with her on storytelling — oral and through pictures — at home this summer.)
I noticed she started another page in her journal when I started working with one of her other friends. I didn’t have time to coach her at all, but she did have a story to tell about her picture:
The second picture is what I’d consider her default. This is the kind of picture Isabelle defaults to when left to her own devices. And that’s okay. It counts as writing and will live in her writing journal at school, just like the previous page will.
I’m looking forward to watching her grow this year — one Monday at a time.
I thought I knew what Hersheypark Happy meant. I thought it was:
- holding hands atop the Ferris wheel or the Kissing Tower.
- witnessing the joy of becoming watching my child become a Reese’s..
- eating ice cream any time of day.
And it kinda was all of those things, but today I discovered what a Hersheypark Happy truly looks like.
I found Isabelle sporting a Hersheypark Happy smile while the three of us spent way too much time under the sun’s hot rays in the wave pool at The Shore. Isabelle took turns holding my hands and Marc’s as we jumped the waves for well over an hour. Her face glowed beneath the sun’s rays. She giggled incessantly. Her pearly whites gleamed. She didn’t complain about the water being too cold or the pool being too crowded. Instead she grinned from ear to ear (trite, but true) as she bobbed up and down with us. At one point, when it was my turn to hold her, I asked her if she was having a good time.
“Yes!” She squealed. “I like being a kid! Did you like being a kid?”
“I did,” I replied.
I continued with an answer, but my response doesn’t matter. Watching her, seeing her have a good time, and then hearing her say she likes being a kid. Priceless.
“Where’s Teddy?” I asked Isabelle as she followed me into the library’s family bathroom.
Her eyes darted down to her arms. Teddy wasn’t there.
“I dunno,” she said.
Oh sh*t! Not again!
This tiny teddy bear — whose been so loved that its head is hanging on by threads — was lost again.
“Where did you leave her?” I asked Isabelle leading her out of the bathroom back to the stacks.
She shook her head.
For the love of G-d!
“Do you remember when you last had her? Was it by the toys? Was it when you were sitting with Yonatan over there? Was it at the checkout desk?”
“I don’t,” she paused, “remember.”
“What are you looking for?” asked a mom with a baby strapped to her chest.
“My daughter lost a small, tan teddy bear,” I replied.
She crouched down and helped us search the floor with her baby in the carrier. How kind is that?
We searched for a minute, but nature was calling.
“Mommy has to go to the bathroom, Isabelle. We’ll come back in a minute.”
As I led her away by the hand, she sniffled and started calling, “Teddy! Teddy! Where are you?”
“She’s not going to answer,” I snapped.
Isabelle’s lip quivered. I softened my demeanor. “I promise I will help you look for her as soon as I use the bathroom.”
Isabelle was weepy while I took care of things. “We’ll find her,” I reassured. But I wasn’t so sure. What if some kid had walked off with Teddy and placed her where we hadn’t been? What if some kid had taken Teddy home. What if Teddy was gone — and I mean seriously gone — and we had to go home without her. She’d been lost in the supermarket and at a Bat Mitzvah. We’d already lucked out twice with Teddy being returned. What if we didn’t get her back this time?
Once we were out of the bathroom, we enlisted one of the librarians to help us. I showed her a picture (one of the many) of Isabelle holding Teddy — who is like an appendage — so she’d know what to look for. Then we split up. We retraced our steps from the art area to the book stacks to the play space to the benches to the circulation desk.
And that is where, on the way to the circulation desk, we found Teddy. She was nestled into the corner of an orange chair just waiting to be discovered and loved again.
I dropped Isabelle’s hand and raced ahead — as if walking slowly would somehow diminish me finding the bear.
“Isabelle! Look who I found?”
I grabbed Teddy with my hand and pivoted around to Isabelle holding the bear out towards her.
“Little Teddy!” she shrieked. She rushed over and enveloped the bear in a hug, kissing her all over. “It’s okay Little Teddy. You’re all right. I’m here now.”
Shortly after their reunion, I laid down the law. “This is the third time Teddy has gotten REALLY lost, Isabelle. You can’t keep taking her inside of places with you.”
“But I love her,” Isabelle said.
“I know you do. But searching for her is taking years off of my life.”
Isabelle looked at me perplexed, but a few passers-by chuckled. They knew what I meant even if my four (and a half!) year-old didn’t. I changed my line of reasoning.
“You don’t want Teddy to get lost again and feel sad, right?”
“No,” Isabelle said.
“Well then, for her sake, you have to leave her at home or keep her in the car when we go places. We don’t want her to keep getting lost.”
“Okay,” Isabelle said. She kissed Little Teddy again.
And while she agreed — for now — with me, I have a feeling this is a conversation we’ll be having again soon.
I’ve been recuperating from the surgery I had on August 12th. I haven’t written since August 11th. Earlier today my father told me, “you’re back to reality now. Start writing again.” (Thanks for the tough love, Dad!) So here I am.
I’m taking some inspiration from a piece Dana Murphy shared on Facebook last weekend. It was written by Glennon Doyle Melton. I read it as her way of preparing herself to have a conversation with her son about being compassionate to others. And it reminded me of a conversation I want to have with Isabelle before she starts her second year of preschool this week. In fact, this conversation has been on my mind ever since I overheard her say, “He holds his marker like a baby,” about one of her peers after she learned how to properly hold a writing utensil this past March. She starts school on Thursday so here’s my letter to Isabelle (which I’ll use as fodder for the conversation I will have with her tomorrow).
You start preschool this week. Well, one of the two. The other one starts after Labor Day. I can’t believe you’re going to be out of the house, doing some type of school, every weekday this school year. Sometimes I wonder if it’s too much school for a four-and-a-half-year-old… But you love your first preschool so hopefully you’ll love the second one too.
But that’s not what I want to discuss. Instead, I want to talk to you about struggling and kindness.
Struggle is defined as proceeding with difficulty or with great effort. I hated to watch you struggle to crawl, to stand, to walk, and — most of all — to talk. Things haven’t come easily for you. You’ve exerted great effort to attain every goal you have reached. And while I could look at those struggles as weakness, I’ve reframed them in my mind. You have an excellent work ethic. You’re tenacious. You have grit. And that’s why you’ve been able to overcome your struggles.
I know you will continue to struggle with things in school. And that is okay. Everything happens for you. However, things often happen later than they do for your peers. And while you might have to work harder to attain things that come naturally to other kids, I’ve come to believe it will make you a stronger adult since you’ll know what it is like to work diligently to do something.
You’ve overcome so much in the past two and a half years since your CAS diagnosis. I am so proud of everything you’ve accomplished in speech and in OT. And while I know you’ll have to continue to work at things, I know some things may actually be easier for you (e.g., using scissors, imaginative play, following classroom rules) than they will be for some of your peers who haven’t had as much practice as you at doing some of those things. And that is okay. Just because someone cannot do something you can do doesn’t mean they are a “baby.” All it means is they haven’t mastered that skill yet.
It is important to stay calm if someone’s actions, behaviors, or habits annoy you. Trust me, I know from experience, that’s really hard to do. But part of being a good friend is being patient. And part of being patient is being a kind person. Instead of making someone feel bad if they cannot do something as well as you, you can show them how to do it (if they want your help). And if they don’t want your help, you can play together or do something together both can do. We want to make our friends feel good. Being sweet towards others usually makes people happy.
I hope you’ll be the kind of person who chooses to be kind, especially when you see a friend struggling. That’s what I’d want for you if you were struggling. I hope you’ll choose kind, again and again and again.
I hope this year is filled with happiness and growth. I look forward to watching you develop into a confident five-year-old this school year. I hope life hands you an easier path — one that’s not riddled with struggles — in the years to come. But if it doesn’t, I will be your biggest supporter — always.
Sometimes, when it seems like nothing is going right, we need to take a step back, look around, and count our blessings.
And that’s what I’m trying to do today. I’m trying to think of what’s going right instead of focusing on what’s going wrong. I’m trying to have a little perspective. I’m trying to be grateful for those who give without expecting anything in return.
In no particular order, I am grateful for…
- Rachel — my friend of 20 years, who has checked-in on me from her new home in South Africa almost daily.
- Robyn — whom I’ve known for nearly six years, who sends me short messages nearly every day and called me — from her vacation — to see how I was doing yesterday.
- My neighbors — Kathy and Lori — whose encouragement and willingness help remind me I’m not alone even though I don’t have family nearby.
- Michelle — whose card brought a smile to my face.
- Emily — whom I’ve known since a high school summer trip to France — called to check-in on me as soon as she returned from Europe.
- Sarah — who walked over to me when she saw me at Hersheypark yesterday when she could’ve walked away and avoided an uncomfortable conversation. That’s the mark of a true friend.
- Lynne — who is both a mentor and friend — is doing the lion’s share of the work for an upcoming conference proposal we’re putting in together. I would’ve understood if Lynne didn’t want to pick up my slack, but she was willing.
- My critique group — Catherine, Julie, Margaret, and Melanie — who are accepting of my absence as part of our Sunday night writing group. I know they’ll welcome me back with open arms when I can rejoin them, which will hopefully be by the month’s end.
- The #TWTBlog team — Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, and Tara — whose willingness to do whatever it takes to keep TWT running smoothly for the next few weeks moves me to tears. Thankfully, I’m healthy-enough to run tonight’s Twitter Chat!)
- My in-laws — who I know are just a phone call away.
- My parents — both of whom have given me unwavering support.
- Isabelle — who despite her tender age and doesn’t know what’s going on, knows that Mommy is going through a tough time. She’s been there with gentle kisses and arm rubs when I’ve least expected it.
- My dear husband — Marc — who knows hugs are better to give when there are no words left to say.
Today, though, I’m most thankful for my neighbor Lori, her daughter Sophie, and their dog Clementine (aka: “Tiny”). The three of them watched Isabelle when I went to the doctor since Marc came with me. It was the kind of appointment we didn’t want to bring Isabelle to so the three of them gave up their morning to spend it with Isabelle in their home. (NOTE: I’m not dying of some kind of awful disease. In a few weeks’ time, my body and spirit will recover from what it’s going through right now.) It’s quite incredible to have someone you can leave your child with without any reservation. I went to my doctor’s appointment and “took care of business” this morning with a clear head. Lori sent me photos of Isabelle playing (and posing) with Sophie and Tiny, which brightened my morning.
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.“
Through HONEST writing I’ll do once I relocate my muse, I am sure I will make lemonade out of the lemons life handed us nearly three weeks ago. Until then, I am counting my blessings (as trite as it sounds) since I have an incredible support system of friends and family members around me. I am grateful.
To say the last 11 days of my life have not gone as expected is an understatement. The equilibrium in our lives has been thrown off. (At some point I’ll write about it. Not yet.) The phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is all that comes to mind as I navigate life right now.
Marc called at eight yesterday morning to tell me Isabelle was sick. My mom wouldn’t be bringing her to NJ to meet me (I’ve been out of town since Wednesday for consulting work.) before I headed to NYC for the TCRWP Writing Institute. My heart sunk. With everything that’s been happening all I wanted was to spend Saturday and Sunday with my little girl. Yet again, plans were changed. (Fortunately, I still got to spend yesterday afternoon and this morning with my Dad. We haven’t had much “daddy-daughter time” since I moved out of Manhattan eight summers ago so it was nice to have some time together.)
My father dropped me off at my hotel around 2 p.m. this afternoon. I checked-in, unpacked, and called Isabelle’s new preschool teacher who emailed me with some questions last week. Once I hung up I realized I could stop acting like a mommy and do something — myself. I walked to the Subway went to 14th St. I decided I’d walk from the bottom to the top of the High Line and then head back to use the hotel gym. But that didn’t happen because I got off on 12th and 7th, made a wrong turn, and found myself “lost” in the Village. (Even though I lived in the NY Metropolitan Area for more than half of my life, I am pretty clueless about finding my way around the unnumbered streets.)
I sat down on a bench, pulled out my phone, and opened the map app. I wasn’t that far from the High Line, but what if I took a detour. What if I went where the City took me, regardless of whether or not I knew where I was going. What if I walked without purpose, but with heightened awareness like NYT Travel Writer, Stephanie Rosenbloom, did through Paris last year? So instead of walking straight to the High Line, I strolled from the Village to the Meatpacking District. Eventually, I landed up in front of Chelsea Market. Maybe I could go to Ronnybrook to get some ice cream? Sure I could! I was a flâneur (or would it be a flâneuse since I’m a woman?) in Manhattan!
I meandered through the Market and learned Ronnybrook was no longer open. Drat! I kept walking, looking for something gluten-free to settle my sweet tooth. A couple walked by me with cups of gelato.
“Excuse me. Where did you get that?” I asked.
They pointed behind them. “At the end of the Market.”
I walked a little farther and found a gelato stand. Rather than going for my usual chocolate chip, I sampled some new flavors, specifically amarana variegato (milk cream with sour cherries) and mascarpone (Italian fresh cheese). Each one delighted my taste buds in unexpected ways. I purchased a cup with both flavors. Instead of eating in the Market, I held my cup and walked towards the High Line.
And then I walked. I walked from 16th Street to 32nd Street stopping every now and then to sit down to people watch, to look at the City, or to watch helicopters landing and taking-off. But then, just as I was about to embark on the last two blocks of my walk, I got a hankering for a bagel. I started searching for bagel shops with gluten-free bagels (NOT EASY!). Eventually, found one that was open until 7 p.m., except it was on Sixth Avenue and 13th Street. (I was sitting on the equivalent of 32nd St. and 12th Avenue, which is quite a hike.) It was 5:30 p.m. so I could make it… as long as my feet could hold up. I was wearing flip flops, not sneakers, because I didn’t expect to do so much walking.
Once my brain started thinking about a bagel with lox and cream cheese, I decided I was going to stroll back to 14th St. But, oye, my feet. They were aching by the time I reached the 16th St. section of the High Line, which is why finding High Line water feature happened at the perfect time I plodded right through it — though I kept my flip flops on, thankyouverymuch!
I walked down the stairs at 14th Street and started walking east towards Ninth Avenue. As much as I wanted to walk to Sixth Avenue, I just couldn’t. I could still wander and think even if I was on the bus.
And so I did.
I was delighted to walk into Murray’s Bagels on Sixth Avenue (which is ‘related’ to the Murray’s in Chelsea I frequented for years when I was able to consume regular bagels) to find they had whole grain gluten-free bagels. And even though it didn’t taste anything like a delicious NY bagel, it was a better-than-nothing vessel to deliver the nova and cream cheese into my body. And that made me happy.
By the time I finished my bagel dinner, I decided to walk towards the Subway. I couldn’t walk to Midtown with the way my feet felt. (NOTE TO SELF: Wear sneakers the next time you engage in flânerie!) Three and half hours after leaving my hotel room, I had returned. I put my feet up for a few minutes before heading into a shower.
I can’t remember the last time I wandered around, with no particular place to go, with time to think and for hours on end. While I would have preferred to have spent today with Isabelle and my parents in Manhattan, I have to admit, my 4+ mile stroll was a lovely treat.
I should’ve known better. Just because she “mastered” something a few months ago doesn’t mean I shouldn’t return to it. But that’s what happened. As soon as Isabelle mastered basic patterns, I stopped working on patterns at home. Because, you know, there are about 50 other things that need to be worked on. I should’ve revisited them, at least a little bit, but patterns seemed to slip my mind since other things like /l/ blends and writing uppercase letters seem to be more top-of-mind these days.
Yesterday, we were playing with pegs at home. There was a purple peg, then a blue peg, then a purple peg, then a blue peg. “What comes next?” Isabelle couldn’t answer. She didn’t realize the purple peg would come next in the patterns. We tried again with different colors. Again, she was unable to correctly answer which peg came next. My heart sank. Why couldn’t she generalize the pattern work we had done several months ago to what she was working on now?
This morning, I walked into Isabelle’s play room where she was playing with Legos. I inserted myself into her play using errorless teaching to help her with identifying patterns with the Legos to minimize frustration. It worked, but she didn’t really want to do patterns.
“I don’t like patterns. Patterns are not good!” Isabelle declared.
“Oh, I love patterns. Patterns are so interesting. And they’re everywhere. Look at your dress. The polka dots are in a pattern?”
“Yes, they are. They repeat over and over again.”
“Oh. Well, I still don’t like patterns. Patterns are not good.”
“I used to teach my fourth and fifth graders about patterns. They loved learning about patterns. In fact, I have a book I use with kids when I work in schools about patterns. It’s a book for bigger kids so I’m not sure you’d be interested in it.”
I gave her a sideways glance. She was looking at me so I continued.
“It’s a book about patterns for big kids. I used it with some six- and seven-year-olds this year. Would you like to see my big kid book on patterns?”
I was expecting a no. But instead I got a “Yes! Show me!”
Even though we were going to be a little late for camp if I showed her the book, I hustled to my office to grab I See a Pattern Here by Bruce Goldstone. She loved the full-color photographs on the first two page spreads, which is all we got to this morning since it took her awhile to complete the bead patterns, using the errorless teaching method, on the page spread pictured above.
“Would you like to look at more pages now?”
“After camp. Let’s do patterns after camp.”
“Okay,” I said. “Go get your socks and shoes on.”
We got through two page spreads of Goldstone’s book with no yelling and no tears. We have a long way to go, but at least she was willing to work with me this morning, right?
I slept with a night light every night until I was 12. And not one of those four-watt jobs. I mean a lamp that pumped out something like 40 – 60 watts of light into my childhood bedroom while I slept.
I was afraid of the dark until the summer of 1989. I attended a summer camp that didn’t have electricity in the bunks. And I don’t mean no overhead lights. I mean not even a single electrical outlet! I slept with my flashlight for the first four weeks of sleepaway camp. By the middle of the summer, I stopped hugging my flashlight like a stuffed animal and set it on the shelf behind my head. I didn’t like the dark for a long time, but by 1990, I stopped wasting electricity and switched over to a four-watt night light in my bedroom.
More than 25 years after I’ve gotten over my fear, I have to admit I didn’t understand what was so scary about Indian Echo Caverns, where I took Isabelle on a tour with one of her preschool friends today. After all, there are over 1,700 lights inside of the limestone cave. And I was right there, holding her hand the entire time.
Her unease turned to discomfort when the guide turned out the cavern lights (with advance warning) so we could experience true darkness. I held both of her hands just before the lights went off. Three or four seconds into the darkness she cried, “I wanna go home!”
The guide sensed her unease and tried to placate her by saying something. It didn’t work. She cried again. “I don’t like this!”
I bent over, felt her curls touch my lips, and kissed her head. “You’re going to be fine. The lights will be back on in just a minute.”
It was probably only 20 more seconds, but it felt like we were in the darkness for an eternity. As soon as the lights flooded back on, I looked down at Isabelle. Her body was leaning against my belly. She cocked her face towards the ceiling and just stared at me. She wasn’t crying, but she looked so small. And then she smiled a half-smile and said, “I didn’t like that, Mommy.”
“I know, sweetie. But you’re fine now. And it’s light again.”
She recovered quickly. She asked to leave a couple more times, but made it to the end of the tour without any real hysterics.
I don’t know if I would’ve been as brave as she was when I was her age.
Isabelle has been thinking aloud a lot., which is great. I want to hear what she has to say. I really do. But I am trying to reframe what she’s talking about. Why? Well, that’s because she has a keen eye for spotting and pointing out portable toilets (That’s what she remembers from the concert we took her to on the West Lawn of the Capitol in May. Not the incredible music or the tributes to those who have served our country. Nope, she remembers the portable toilets she saw.) and trash on the ground (Ever since Earth Day she’s been agahast whenever she sees litter.)! I bet you’d be a little frustrated if your child was constantly pointing these things out, wouldn’t you?
This afternoon I decided enough was enough. I embarked upon a new motto, “seek beauty,” when we’re out and about. It’s very simple. Look for things that are beautiful in the world. Notice those. Share it with the other person.
Here’s a listen to our first conversation about seeking beauty. (NOTE: I hit record when we were in dead-stop traffic. I pulled over to the side of the road to end the recording.)
American Flags. Flowers. Houses. Now those are things worth noticing. I still heard about one more portable toilet (which I ignored) on the way home. And she did point out some rubbish on the ground, which appalled her. But she also noticed more pretty flowers and a neighbor’s American flag on the ride home. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll talk her into this seek beauty thing after all.