Thursday, January 5, 2017

My One Word for 2017...What's Yours?


Happy New Year!

It's 2017...which makes Y2K look kind of cute.
Remember all that craziness?
For those of you too young to remember, our computers weren't going to be able to handle moving from 1999 to 2000...we needed Y2K kits and preparation.
Not.

Now, 17 years later, we have different craziness.
Other worries.

And a brand new deck of 365 beautiful days.
Aren't we lucky?

Stop.
Right this minute, think of the many people who wish for just one more day...
and you have a red carpet of days rolled out just for you.

*****

There's this thing going around Twitter asking you to choose a word for the New Year.
#One Word2017

This word is to serve as a guide, a motivator, a touchstone...a rudder for the year.

As a lover of words...this is a nearly impossible task.
Last year, I skipped the hype...too overwhelmed at the thought.

But, this year, my word found me.

Remember Naomi Shihab Nye?
If not, read this blog post about this lovely soul right here.

In preparing to meet Naomi, I listened to a beautiful interview with her on a podcast called On Being.
In it, she reveals a beautiful interaction with a student.

Naomi had traveled to Japan for a poetry-teaching trip.
Before every class, on every chalkboard, she would write something on the board up in the corner:
“You are living in a poem.”
She wrote this as a subliminal message.
She wouldn't spend time discussing it...she had other more important things to share...
like poems or poets or observations or ways to seamlessly include poetry in your life.

But she wanted students to consider it.

In the On Being episode, Naomi thinks out loud:

"When you think, 
when you're in a very quiet place, 
when you're remembering,
when you're savoring an image, 
when you're allowing your mind to calmly leap from one thought to another, 
that's a poem.
That's what a poem does."

After her trip, Naomi received a letter from one of the students in Yokohama, Japan.
Reflecting on Naomi's visit, the student gifts her with this observation:

"Here in Japan, we have a concept called Yutori.
It is spaciousness.
It's a kind of living with spaciousness.

For example, it is leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you are going to arrive early, so when you get there,
you have time to look around...

...and after you read a poem, 
Yutori is...
just knowing you can hold it,
you can be in that space of the poem
and it can hold you in that space...

and you don't have to explain it,
you don't have to paraphrase it,
you just hold it...

...and it allows you to see differently."

And, BAM.
In that minute, Yutori captured me.
Hypnotized me.
Like a song that gets stuck in your head, Yutori would not get out.

Maybe it's because my life is busy...
and spaciousness doesn't seem like a very common part of my life.
Maybe it's because I often feel distracted when I want to be present.

Maybe it's the world I live in...
constant constraints...
a series of reasons why it can't be done...
why it is impossible...
always feeling like I am pushing against walls...

the idea of spaciousness has stuck to my heart like a sticky leaf.

*****

One of my favorite phrases for teachers 
and parents
and mostly myself...
is Emily Dickinson's:


I LOVE to dwell in possibility.
Soak up possibility like it is a warm bath.
Anything is possible.

I believe it, completely.

So maybe Yutori is just a reflection of that.

Spaciousness makes room for possibility.

All I can tell you is that living with spaciousness, I feel different.
Open.
Ready.
Unhurried.
Willing to linger...
...and that is what I need in 2017.

My heart knows it intuitively.

So, my gift to you is this precious word.

Yutori.


I hope it offers you the comfort of enough...
more than enough.
The gift of feeling that anything is possible.
The treasure of a peaceful heart...
and a willing mind.

Roll it around in your head and let me know...
and if that's not the word for you...
test out a few others.

Share with me the word that finds you.

Until then, let your head find some open space and rest.
Let your heart find comfort in plenty of room.
Stretch out...
you're wanted here.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Why Poets Should Negotiate Peace Treaties or The Power of a Clump of Words


In the fall after Patrick was diagnosed with leukemia - Fall 2002 - 
I was making lunch for Patrick and listening to CNN.

I heard a lively anchor share a news story in an upbeat voice...
she had something great to share...
and I needed great...
so I listened.

I paused my lunch making and listened:

"The latest research shows that if your child is in day care, 
they have less chance of developing leukemia."

Shit, really?

You mean, if Patrick had been in day care we could have avoided all this?

Really?

I rewound the past few years of Patrick's baby life.
His birth.
His instant diagnosis of Down Syndrome...
not even a single day of life free from that label...

another diagnosis that took only a few days of life: a heart defect.
In need of open heart surgery at nine weeks old...

coming home from the hospital and just wanting to love my baby...
and somehow, some way, tend to my other kids...

day care was last on my list.

Now, just a mere two years later, the leukemia diagnosis and the Three Year Protocol - always sated with capital letters - and the big unknowns...
Life...what does it look like three years from now?
Health? Is that possible three years from now?
Family? What does that feel like three years after this?

Just hours after that CNN report, in the dark of night as I am not sleeping, 
I watch Bill Moyers interview a poet, a Palestinian-American poet,
Naomi Shihab Nye,
and I hear her voice read a poem...
this poem...
and it changes my life.
On.The.Spot.

I'm instantly different because of the words.

I gift them to you, right here:



Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

*****

Those words made everything in my world make sense.
I clung to them.
Sorrow became a tattoo that I could locate on others...
which allowed me to locate the kindness.

I wish I could convey the depth of those words in the engraving on my heart...

...but as life likes to do,
I moved on.
Patrick survived - truthfully, thrived - through the Three Year Protocol.
I stumbled and bumbled through it...with plenty of bad attitude and crushing worry.

2005 happened and our family cheered.
We snuck away from blood counts and chemo...
we hid from conversations about blood cancer...
and we got away with it.

No one came looking.

2006 arrived and brought its amazing grace, sweet baby Caroline, and life got busy...
with the regular things...
school lunches, soccer practice, homework...

Naomi's poem hibernated within my heart.

2016 arrived with election insanity...
meanness as an accepted way to live in our world...
shutting our collective eyes to refugees...
so, so, so, so many of them...
plugging our ears to the din of the poor, the overlooked, the desperately lonely...
and along comes Naomi Shihab Nye - chosen as the UC Davis School of Education's 
Author in Residence and Words Take Wing Author.

Something within me, sleepy from slumber, awakened.
What?
She will be here...in my orbit...how?

I couldn't fathom the good fortune.
Couldn't take it.
Kept shoving it down...
and then it happened.

December 13th, 2016 Naomi Shihab Nye was hanging out in Davis and our worlds collided.

I first got to hear her speak to student teachers...a room full of worn out beginning teachers...so vulnerable and shy...about 40 of them.
Do you know what she tells them?
First thing.
I know because I took copious notes the entire time she was around...
like a stenographer on steroids...
she said:

"I congratulate you on your life choice to go into teaching and knowing that teaching is the center of where it happens."

*****

You may not hang out with beginning teachers...or any teachers...but I want to stop here and point out how incredibly UNcommon this gift was that she gave the student teachers...why? 
Well, virtually NO ONE congratulates someone on going into teaching.
They get the constant refrain of one of these reactions:
A) Well, you get your summers off, that's awesome!
B) Yeah, I thought of teaching too... (as if it is the best second place option around)
C) Are you sure? You make so little money. 

It's hard work to become a teacher - really hard - and to be met with those three reactions wears even the most optimistic, badass beginning teacher down.

So, to have a world-renown, award-winning poet come in an begin with a congratulations...well, it was a gift. 
A genuine gift. And we could all feel it.

*****

She reads an excerpt from a book called, News of the World:
"Maybe life is just carrying the news...surviving to carry the news...maybe we just have one message, it is delivered to us the day we are born..."

And then she asks us to think about our message.
What is it?

She asks us to write it down.
And she says:
I'm not going to ask you to read this, it's just for you to hold.

She reminds the teachers that
"Creative writing needs to be an ongoing practice - not saved for the last weeks of May."
[Beth, are you listening??]

She makes writing accessible to each of us...
shows the teachers how to help their students write with their hearts...
makes it seem effortless...
like, of course, I could write a poem...
she shares the poems of 6 year olds and Palestinians...
she reminds us that we are Living in a Poem...
and touches us with the beauty of a lemon, a walk with a friend, a note of hope.

Her gift is helping all of us see poetry.

Like hieroglyphics, we all think it's cool. 
We feel a kinship.
We want to know what it means.

Naomi, shows us what poetry is...
and helps us to feel that it is essential.
Like oxygen.

*****

After school, Naomi does another session for the Resident Teachers that host our student teachers.

Her energy is palpable.
Her reverence for the teachers is a gift she bestows on them...
like one of the Three Kings.

She's a bright light.
Sunshine
Starlight.


Spoiler alert: we shared starlight...big time.

She shows us our humanity and the thread that binds us.
Holds it up and then weaves it...
reminds us of our connection...
our beauty...
our messages and stories that we each MUST share.

She reads us poem after poem - of other poets -
friends of hers, mentors.

She shares the story of Juan Felipe Herrera - our nation's current Poet Laureate - how when he was in school, he said no words out loud, tried to disappear -
embarrassed by his inability to speak English - he hid behind a bush and sang a song that his mother and grandmother sang to him during lunch...passing on the other side of the bush, Juan Felipe's 3rd grade teacher...she stopped to listen.

Juan Felipe tells the story that after lunch, his teacher asked him to come to the front of the classroom and sing. He was shocked! Afraid! Disoriented...but his teacher had asked and so he did.
The classmates applauded and the teacher said the words that changed his life.
Five words.
"You have a beautiful voice."

With that little bit of encouragement, Juan Felipe began raising his hand, began seeing himself as a student, began to believe in himself and share his voice.

Sprinkling that story on the teachers, Naomi reminded them that they too,
have a beautiful voice...and beautiful profession...
a noble duty.
A sacred calling. 
She gifted them a chance to see the beauty in their work.
The importance of their influence.
Pausing and reminding them that they change lives.

She had us write "clumps of words" and used those clumps to help us write poems.
We shared them in this small group at 5 o'clock at night...
watching the twilight...
feeling connected.

This Palestinian American poet brought with her a cloud of grace...
peace...
community...
and it was then that I wanted to be in charge of the world.

I wanted to be able to appoint peace negotiators...
what if we had a Palestinian poet, an Israeli poet and a Palestinian-American poet all gather and forge out some peace with a few "clumps of words".

It might only take five words, like it did for Juan Felipe.
It might take twenty five...but we know poets are known for their choosy, careful way with words...we can be sure that unnecessary phrases would be absent. 
No posturing.
No facades.
No misleading text...

everything cut away to just a few words:


Thank you, Naomi Shihab Nye for your heroic ability to 
step out of your line and draw a larger circle.
Thank you for reminding me of the power of a clump of words...
the beauty in Kindness...
the love of the ordinary...
and the gift of a few clumps of words.

My circle is larger thanks to you.











Friday, December 2, 2016

How The 4 Rules of Improv Are The 4 Rules of Inclusion...Maybe The 4 Rules of Life


Recently I read Tina Fey's Bossypants for my book club.
I don't usually like to read autobiographies of celebrities...
but Tina Fey offered some lightness and laughs that I have been sorely needing,
so I did what I've been doing since I was a little girl...
escaped down the rabbit hole of story.l

Tina Fey offers all sorts of insights and observations that are pretty spot on in our crazy world.
One of my favorites is when she speaks about her dad, both a Korean War veteran and a firefighter, who was no nonsense and sensible at every turn.

This quote as she considers what she can do when parenting her tiny daughter, Alice,
 was a classic insight into the insanity of our times:
"How can I give her what Don Fey gave me? The gift of anxiety. The fear of getting into trouble.
The knowledge that while you are loved, you are not above the law.
The World Wide Parental Anxiety System is failing if this many of us have made sex tapes." 

#truth

What the heck is going on?
Do we need a world-wide Don Fey moment?
Sure feels like it.
Maybe we can all get called into the principal's office, 
reconsider our transgressions and straighten the hell up.

But, the part that made me become a Fan For Life is Tina Fey's 4 Rules of Improv.

Let's start with Rule #1 - SAY YES 


This is a pretty great place to start.
Just imagine if you began with an open mind every single day.

Mom, can I climb that tree?
Yes.
Can you help me out?
Yes.
Can that student be in your classroom?
YES!

In education - and especially at IEP time - (which is the Individualized Educational Plan for a student with identified learning needs - go buy yourself a lotto ticket if you have never heard of such a thing and thought it meant I Eat Pancakes) - teachers and specialists sit around a table and ask burning questions, like, how much time can the student be in the regular classroom.

Cheat sheet answer: ALL THE TIME
YES!

Yes, we can figure it out.
Yes, we can do this.
Yes.

What if we started with yes in our lives??
What if we lived an open-hearted life?




Rule #2: It's not just Yes...
SAY YES, AND...

Add something of your own.
This is huge.
Because sometimes when you say yes, you are just dragging your feet.
You don't really mean it.
So it's a half-hearted yes.

The YES, AND forces the issue and asks you to be better than that.
The YES, AND asks you to be ALL IN.

You have to put some of yourself out there.
If you're in an IEP meeting and they ask, can this student be in your room...
if you are following Rule #2, you must say,
"Yes, and..." and create a real path to being fully in that room.

Tina Fey goes further, she reminds us: "Don't be afraid to contribute. Always make sure you are adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile."

Meaning, you're better than the simple yes.
The lazy, wimpy well, ok.

Commit.



Rule #3: Make Statements
This means, don't ask questions all the time.
When you ask questions, you are putting pressure on someone else to come up with all of the answers.

BE PART OF THE SOLUTION

Get creative.
Problem solve.
Think like a kid.

Don't be the person who is just sitting around pointing out all of the obstacles.
As Tina Fey so clearly says, "That person is a drag."
Can I get an Amen?

We've all been around that person.
The It's-Always-Been-Done-This-Way person...
Or the I'm-Not-So-Sure person...

Schools like to reach consensus on difficult decisions...
but those side-line questioners make that nearly impossible...
which means things never get done...
or students wait on the sidelines hoping to get a chance.

Find a way to figure it out.



Rule #4: There are NO mistakes
This is the Growth Mindset in its stealth fighter jet mode.

If we come from the vantage point that there are no mistakes,
all we see are opportunities.
Or as Tina Fey likes to remind us: Beautiful, Happy Accidents.

Adults get good at avoiding moments that are risky.
We opt out.
Or say no.

What if we stepped out of our comfort zone and found a way to enjoy our mistakes?
Now, that could be life-changing.
Now imagine a child watching you...
learning from you...
realizing that this is where the growth is.

The sweet spot of learning.

Besides, it just makes for a happier workplace and a happier home.

It's not so serious.
Take a chill pill.



Put them all together and I'm thinking you have a great life mantra...
or at the very least a guide to improv,
AND a guide to inclusion in schools.



We need more people to say yes.
Laugh a little.
Open your heart.
Be one of those people.

We need you now more than ever.







Friday, November 11, 2016

Grace Under Pressure: America's Teachers


Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, the day after the most contentious presidential election in our recent memory,
was a school day.

School teachers and principals everywhere had to find a way, any way, to create unity in a time of division and open cruelty.

Donald Trump is now the President.

Donald Trump - who acted throughout the entire election season in a disrespectful, antagonistic, loud-mouthed, divisive way - won.

So, teachers who work on holding their students to standards of respect, tolerance and kindness for the first time had to look at their President and then look away.

Then they had to enter their classrooms and find a way to change the message.

As the universe would have it, I had to be in classrooms that day.
Normally, in the fall, I only go into classrooms on Mondays and Tuesdays, but because of a scheduling glitch I had to be there this Wednesday.

I like to think of it as divine intervention.

I was melancholy watching so much hatred and vitriol and as someone who loves children - hangs out with children all the time - I couldn't comprehend this new reality for them.
For us.

What would school be like?
What would my student teachers face?
How could a school create unity when the country was so divided?

How can you hold kids accountable when the adults in the room are acting anything but?

I walked onto an elementary school campus and was greeted with three third graders marching and saying: "We need a recount. Recount. Recount."
Who even knows that word in third grade?

I walked into a classroom before school had even started and found two veteran teachers in tears...and my student teacher just quietly watching.

"What do we tell the students?
How can we ask our students to behave with kindness and respect when we have this President?"

Good questions.

But time was ticking.
They didn't have a script.
No instruction manual...
students were coming.

Deep breaths.
Game faces on.

Good morning.

I watched it unfold in classroom after classroom.

Sat in awe as teachers comforted and listened.

Sometimes they gathered their students together and reaffirmed for them that this school in this place was safe and most importantly was theirs.

Sometimes they talked about democracy and founding fathers and the idea that every single one of us gets a vote.

I watched a student teacher guarantee her students safety, tolerance and respect in such a commanding way that I got teary eyed taking my notes with her words.
She helped her students see the beauty in our nation...
in our equality...
in our traditions and our government.

She offered every student herself.

If they didn't feel safe;
if they felt like they wanted to talk;
if they wanted to share a story...
she was there to listen.

I know a teacher who took the last part of the day to make friendship bracelets.
"Go ahead and work on a bracelet and think about who you will give it to in this classroom."

We are all friends here.

That guidance.
That steady hand.
Those loving arms.
Big hearts.
Listening ears...
that's what happened in school today.

All around the country, America's teachers steadied the course.
They went to work...
picking up the pieces and creating a beautiful mosaic.

Holding the expectations high.
Showing children what it means to be American.

These incredible people are stitching our children together,
binding them with love and kindness.

Living tolerance.
Breathing respect.
Inhaling peace.
Exhaling chaos.

If you want to know where to look during this time of disequilibrium and division...stop at a school.

Watch a teacher in action.
Listen to her big book about friendship.
Let the music of children's voices float over you.
Rise to the expectations of a child's best version of you.

We can do this.

We have their example.

Follow their rules:

Be safe.
Be productive.
Be kind.

America's teachers offer all of us a glimpse of extraordinary grace
during the least ordinary of times.

All we can do is follow their lead.






Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Growth Mindset - Literally!

Do you recognize Dr. Suess's Oh! The Places You Go! Here's one of the places I've been hanging out lately.
Yes, my arms are sore. 


It's been eight weeks of being one legged from a broken ankle. 
No weight-bearing.
It shouldn't really be that big a deal right? 
I'm in good health otherwise...but this whole thing has shaken me. 
Big time.


Every single step, every single movement, even sleeping or waiting at a stand still, is difficult.

Every ordinary difficulty: your keys falling under the car, your scrap of paper on the ground, putting your suitcase away, taking a shower, buying groceries, eating, sitting, waiting in a line...everything.is.hard.

Or you can tell yourself: another chance to be brave.
And, man, am I brave!

It can become a mental test...
as the universe would have it, I had decided to embrace a new way of looking at students and learning right before this whole thing happened.

Two days before that fateful meeting of basketball and foot,
I excitedly told Caroline that the theme for this school year was having a "Growth Mindset".

For quite awhile, educators have been throwing around the term "Growth Mindset" and I've been doing that famous thing we all do when we think we already know about things: 
"Oh yeah, yeah, yeah..."

But then I started listening to Jo Boaler - math educator extraordinaire - and my mind started soaking it in. Jo Boaler is an educational math researcher and she is revolutionizing the way math is being taught. Her research out of Stanford is stunning; her results are extraordinary.

I became a convert.

The tenets of a "Growth Mindset" include these things:
Struggle is the sweet spot of learning - this is where your brain grows. During struggle, you form new synapses and create new brain pathways. You want to struggle. [In classrooms that really embody the Growth Mindset, it is not unusual to hear a student say in a disappointed way, "Aww, I didn't get to struggle!" when somebody else shouts out the answer.] 

Mistakes are a good thing. There is no shame. There should be no embarrassment. Accept that mistakes are going to happen...wait for them and feel excited. When we analyze our mistakes, more growth happens.

Speed is not important. Deep thinking matters. Careful consideration matters. Considering different viewpoints and other angles matters. What is so awesome about being speedy? That's for Google. Humans can slow down and focus on what matters.

The Power of Yet - our brain has plasticity...it changes and grows with every new experience. If you can't do something, it doesn't mean you won't. With the right support, you can learn and do anything!

• There is absolutely no research that supports the idea that you are born with a "math brain" or an "art gift". Simply untrue. These are the limits we place on ourselves and on our children or students. We MUST dismantle that fixed mindset

If you believe you can, you can! Ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy...that is real.

Imagine learning in a classroom that embraces a Growth Mindset?

How about living with a Growth Mindset?

I highly recommend it!

These past eight weeks have been ridiculous.
Difficult.
Annoying.
Agonizing.
Slow.
Humbling.

But with a Growth Mindset, they have been bearable. 
Every insane obstacle became an opportunity for my brain to grow. I accepted my mistakes. I keep telling myself that I have The Power of Yet with me. Instead of thinking of all the things I couldn't do, I was able to tell myself YET and believe that I will - eventually.

These eight weeks have been hard...but if I hadn't believed in the Growth Mindset, 
I would have been in a full funk.
And, hey! I am literally growing something...not just my brain.

It's clear that this injury is going to take a long while to heal fully.
No biking.
No walking my dog.
No long walks just because...
but with a Growth Mindset, I know I will do those things again.

It's a tiny, powerful word: YET.

I'll get there.
Eventually.


Until then, go enjoy your ankles. :)




Friday, September 23, 2016

Help! Thanks! and Wow! The Combo Platter


I got a phone call a couple of weeks ago from my sister-in-law asking me if I would be willing to say the blessing before the Rehearsal Dinner of my nephew, Andrew, and his bride, Jenny.

I paused.

I'm a big fan of blessings...any kind.
Lord knows we need them...
but I don't really feel like the person who should be giving them out.

But, this was a special ask...and of course, I couldn't say no.
At the end of the conversation there came a reminder,
"You know, Beth, not everyone who will be at the wedding is Catholic, so..."
and the unspoken message that this can't be too preachy...
too religious...
too Jesus-y.

Of course.

Now what?

I was gifted with the blessing of giving a blessing.
I had better figure it out.

It's been 32 days since I broke my ankle...
who's counting?
Me!
Which means that my normal gift of thinking deeply in the shower just hasn't been with me.
I'm too worried about not bearing any weight on my ankle in a slippery shower.
All of my focus is on the task at hand...
no time to think.

Like a yoga practice, I usually enter the shower with an intention.
Let my mind tumble it over as the water pours over me...
but all of that had gone out the window with my broken ankle.

After the conversation with Audrey, I tried to think of a simple blessing.
I wanted it to contain the magic of love,
the gift of family,
the power of the sublime mysterious.

In the shower, I was profoundly grateful to see my ankle, however swollen, once again.
My cast was off and I could (slightly) stretch this newborn ankle.
I could shower without a covering over my leg.
I still could not bear any weight...but I felt less broken.

I let the water run down and soaked in thanksgiving.

Thank you!

Thank you Dr. Angel for setting it right.
Thank you bones for slowly healing.
Thank you city for clean, hot water.
Thank you shower and soap and suds.
Thank you.

And that's when I remembered:
Anne Lamott

She's the one who distilled every prayer ever written in any faith into three simple one word prayers:

Help!
Thanks!
Wow!

Her book by the same title had intrigued me...
was it really possible to simplify prayer that much?

For me, for Anne, it was.

And so it came to be that in a candlelit room last Friday night I found the simple words to bless a beautiful couple.

Andrew and Jenny.

Andrew was a Wow from the very start.
My first chance to be an aunt.
A smart, funny, darling guy...who found his match in kind, intelligent Jenny.
Another Wow.
A Wow for the gorgeous spot where you are choosing to marry - Carmel, California.
A giant-sized WOW that both sets of parents are still married and here in this moment, healthy, 
getting to see this gift.
A Wow for the family and friends who traveled so far to be here.
A Wow for love and the magic of connection.
Just Wow.

And then there's Help.
I'm in the middle of the Help prayer almost everyday with this ankle so...
please always remember to ask for Help.
Look at this room, take a mental picture, remember this moment forever...
...because these are your 2am people.
You can ask any of us at any time to come and Help.
We will.
Look at each other and don't be afraid to yell Help!
You will need it...
marriage is like that.

And finally, there is Thanks!
Thank you for this country that lets us gather and keeps us safe and envelopes us in freedom.
Thank you for the careful parenting and love that has always surrounded you both so that you could be ready to find another.
Thank you for health.
For love.
For Anne Lamott and 
three simple prayers...
for blessings and blessed moments.
Thank you for the gift of family and friends.
Most especially, thank you for this moment right now:

A crystal moment of pure love and joy.

Sometimes one simple prayer isn't enough.
Sometimes you need the combo platter...
a deluxe portion of all three.

Last Friday night was one of those times.
Help! Thanks! and a whole lotta Wow!
Thank you for such a gift.
Blessings to you, Andrew and Jenny.

Congratulations! 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Diminished Capacity


On Saturday, I attended a funeral.
For a single mom...of 8 children.

Yes, 8 children.

Her name was Bernadette
She was the definition of love and light.
Sunshine and faith.

It's an absolutely huge loss for all of us.
Impossible to understand.
Please keep all of us in your prayers, but most especially, Bernadette's beautiful kids.

*****

On Sunday, I dislocated and fractured my ankle.
I wish it was a good story but it was a terrible combination of a basketball near my desk.

I had the gift of an incredible crew who stabilized my ankle and got it ready for more x-rays and orthopedist recommendations -- 
Dr. Angel lived up to her name. I am forever grateful for the kindness and care I received in that emergency room:
Alicia, the nurse, Mike, the X-ray guy, and many others.

It's no fun.
A real drag.

Oh well.

*****

On Monday, Patrick had to get his blood drawn and we had to wait for the blood count numbers.
Tuesday, he had his big appointment with both his cardiologist and his oncologist to just have a check up...see how his heart is doing...make sure it all still looks good after having leukemia years ago.

Those blood count numbers still, 11 years later, haunt me.

All day long, I wait on the panel of numbers.
Acting casual.
Heart racing.

The numbers should be good.
Everything in Patrick's world has been healthy for quite awhile.
I try to talk myself down off the ledge.

Deep breaths.

So, on Monday night, waiting for the numbers,
I try to check Patrick's email and Kaiser account that would give me the full range of numbers.
The nitty gritty details.

But I couldn't remember his pin code. 
So I had to call for help.

If you're 13 years of age or older, your medical information is private and separate from your parents.
No kidding.
Parents need their child's permission to see anything in their record.

That's messed up.

I know I will have medical bureaucrats telling me why it's not messed up...
but on Monday night, it was messed up...
and on Thursday morning, it still is.

I just wanted to know his blood count numbers.

So, I call up Kaiser and ask them to give me the numbers.
I ask to have access to Patrick's medical online information.
AS HIS MOTHER.

I even use the Down Syndrome card, thinking it might give me an edge.

"Oh well, now that you mention that, Mrs. Foraker, I can help you get in to his records."

Awesome.
I'm so stoked.

Leg up on pillows, I follow the voice's advice.
I click this and type in this and get to new page after new page that is letting me into the system...

...and then I have a choice:

I have to click that my family member has "diminished capacity".

What on earth??

And then, like some movie with a million tiny photos flashing by, I picture Patrick...
typing up Romeo and Juliet into a screenwriting app.,
creating his favorite crazy sandwich combo,
riding his bike to school,
chilling in the backyard with John,
giving relationship advice to Jack and Mary Kate,
directing his cousins and younger sister in various stage ensembles,

backwards in time...to tying his shoe
taking his first shower on his own
winning school awards
surviving open heart surgery and looking up at me as a tiny baby waiting for me to be brave enough to nurse him afterward
dancing and thriving through freaking leukemia...

...and I am embarrassed to admit that I clicked that damn button and agreed with the computer that my kid has "diminished capacity"

I sold my soul to the devil.

Yes, I protested it as I did it.
I let the voice know that I didn't agree with it...
but I was desperate. 
I wanted the numbers.

And then, the universe did what it does in moments like this...it gave me a one-two punch.

"Oh, wait, you live in Northern California, so that won't work, you'll have to get your child's pediatrician to let you access your son's records."

Of course.

The voice did have the courtesy to let me know they were
"in the normal range".

But, being a leukemia/blood count expert, that didn't help much.
I wanted the numbers.

*****

Ever since that moment, I've been trying to wrap my brain around those sickening words
"diminished capacity".

It's settled on my heart that this is the reality of how the world sees Patrick.

The truth is that at this very moment, I'm way more diminished than he is.
Can't get around at all.
I need tons of help.

Nobody begrudges me that help.

*****

We all need help.

I've found solace with Desmond Tutu's wisdom.

Speaking about Ubuntu:

"It is the essence of being human.
It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours.
I am human because I belong.
It speaks about wholeness;
it speaks about compassion.

A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share.
Such people are open and available to others,
willing to be vulnerable,
affirming of others,
do not feel threatened that others are able and good
for they have a proper self-assurance
that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.

They know they are diminished when others are humiliated,
diminished when others are oppressed,
diminished when others are treated as if they are less than who they are.

The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience,
enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them."

*****

So, somehow, some way I feel the need to clean the slate...
to let the world know and Kaiser know and every other person on the planet know that 
I DO NOT BELEIVE THAT PATRICK IS 
DIMINISHED IN HIS CAPACITY
In.Any.Way

That legal term needs to disappear.
NOW.
That medical model of disability needs to have bricks thrown at it.

We are all human.
Inextricably bound together.
Interdependent.
Vulnerable and Needy.

We all need support.

I want to live in a world where Ubuntu is what we expect of each other...
what we give each other.

I'm starting with myself.

World, I pledge to offer Ubuntu.
to everyone.
everyday.

Please join me.

Let no one be diminished.
by words or deeds.