Monday, March 21, 2011

Patrick...My Teacher

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." --Buddhist proverb

  Happy World Down Syndrome Day!!!

Today is March 21st, which means that today is a day to reflect on the gifts of a little something extra, Trisomy 21 -- otherwise known as Down Syndrome. For those that think this date is random, it is intentionally chosen to remember the extra (or third) copy on the 21st chromosome that is the hallmark of Down Syndrome.This is World Down Syndrome Day which means that all over the world from Brazil to South Africa, people are celebrating!

Now, if you are new to this, you may think: "What is there to celebrate?"  The kids are retarded and learn everything much more slowly than typically developing kids.  Fifty percent of children with Down Syndrome can develop a heart defect that requires open heart surgery. Check.  Patrick had that.  At nine weeks of age, at the lovely weight of nine pounds, nine ounces my sweet baby boy had his heart cracked open and repaired.  The irony is not lost on me: the person I know with the biggest, most beautiful heart needed a "repair".  I am forever grateful to Dr. Mohan Reddy at UCSF for re-creating the four chambers of his heart and repairing both valves so that Patrick can run and play and dance his heart out. (Yes, pun intended.)  A whopping one out of 100 kids with Down Syndrome can develop leukemia.  It is a 1 out of 10,000 chance if you have 46 chromosomes.  Sadly, Patrick developed that at the ripe old age of almost three. Words cannot express the debt we owe the hundreds of families and doctors who came before us who refined the treatment that gave Patrick a real chance at living a normal life.  Money and smart people can change the world -- many forms of children's leukemia are curable and treatable today because of their hard work and tenacity.  Patrick is a lucky beneficiary of all of that research and we know it.

Today, Patrick is a healthy and thriving 11 year old.  He's a big brother and a little brother.  He's an avid reader, music maniac and happy traveler.  He plans on living in New York City and working on Broadway. He has taught me so many lessons that I could dedicate my entire blog to his teachings.  Today in honor of this awesome day, I'll focus on my favorite three life lessons from Patrick:

One: Celebrate Everything!
Patrick knows how to celebrate like no other.  When you arrive home, even after a few minutes of being gone, he greets you with all out abandon.  He hugs you tight.  He smiles and acknowledges your presence.  He lets you know that you matter and not just a little!  He will cheer for you at your lacrosse game, watch your latest dance moves, reflect with you over photos or scrapbooks and jump up and down with raucous cheers if the Aggies win.  Let's not even discuss Christmas or weddings.  And, watch out on your birthday!  He will sing the loudest, sidle on up to you and let you know how very special you are.  Compared to Patrick, the world looks downright stingy.  Why, oh why do we not celebrate more?  Why do we wait to squeeze those we love tightly?  Why do we hold anything back?  Patrick has helped me to live and celebrate everything. Remember, there is a reason I get his wisdom on a daily basis, I'm a slow learner.  Eleven years into this and still I find myself holding back. Ugh!

Two: Live in the Moment
Of course, lesson number one fits snugly into lesson number two.  Life is so much better when you take it moment by moment.  For eleven years, I have been alongside someone who values the present.  Yes, Patrick can look forward to an adventure and/or a celebration in the future very willingly but that doesn't seem to get in the way of right now.  When you wake up in the morning, Patrick tenderly greets you.  When you eat dinner, he knows how to enjoy his food and gratefully pauses to thank the person who prepared the meal.  He will wait for you to begin eating, not because he is being overly polite but because he knows that the meal will be so much more enjoyable once every person is there.  He's ready to jump on a rope swing and sing; eager to grab a sandwich and head on a road trip.  Patrick doesn't get caught up in any past wrongs or any future angst.  He is busy living right now. Again, I take my cue and try to model my teacher.  I mess up pretty much everyday...but don't worry, I will get my remedial lesson.

Three: Slow is Beautiful
We live in a world that values speed.  We talk about it with our internet, our cell phone system, our children and even our cooking. But, stop, take a minute and think about it.  Anything that is worth doing is worth doing slowly and carefully.  Let's take eating...would you rather gulp down a meal or linger and visit and actually savor your food.  No question, the relaxing meal wins.  How about reading a book?  Having a conversation? Thinking about the world? How about living? Better yet, breathing?  When was the last time you: savored, cherished, relaxed, lingered or really listened.  With my daily teacher, I've gotten good at knowing what matters and slowing down.  I call Patrick "My Freedom Train".  Before Patrick I believed in the need for speed.  Today, I have learned the beauty in stopping and noticing the details.  I've been witness to a flower unfolding in slo-mo and boy is it stunning. I no longer want to race, rush or even fast forward.  Life is too gorgeous to speed it up.  Thanks to my boy, I've embraced a slower pace of living.  I'm a better parent and a better person for it.

So...on this day to celebrate that little bit extra, I cherish my son, Patrick.  Born with Down Syndrome, a heart defect and a leukemia survivor you'd think he'd be pissed off, ripped off or bitter.  Instead, he lives with real grace, love and humor. He's ready to make a friend, celebrate any occasion and have fun. The guy knows how to live.  He knows the secret and I'm humbly grateful he's shared it with me.  We all need a little extra.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

To All of the People Who Clean Up the Mess...

We are all caught up in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever effects one directly effects all indirectly.
- Martin Luther King

This morning I was making the bed and Thursday's familiar sound woooshed by me outside the window.  I paused and noticed: the street sweeper swept the gutters of my block.  He always does, every Thursday.  I have an irrational fondness for our street sweeper.  For me, he harkens back to the old-fashioned guy with the broom who used to sweep the streets in the 1920's in a Dick Van Dyke kind of way.  It makes me happy that with all of the government cutbacks and things we have to scrimp on and lose that we still have somebody who takes the time to sweep our streets.  Listening to those big round brushes scrub away gives the satisfying feeling that even our streets can be clean.

Instantly, my mind flashes to the horrific disaster in Japan.  The colossal mess that the tsunami and earthquake have created make me discouraged and defeated just seeing the images.  I cannot even begin to imagine the level of depression and overwhelming impossibility that the Japanese must feel.  I am no expert in Japan but this I know: they take pride in their cleanliness and tidiness.  Their demolished towns, mounds and mounds of dirty debris and physical ruin everywhere must be a nightmare of the highest proportions for them.  

And then, seemingly out of every corner, you see them...the people who clean up the mess.  We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed by disorder and we all know the way to clean it up: one step at a time. Tackling an impossible closet, an overstuffed garage or even debris-filled streets begins the same way: with the first step and the belief it is possible.

I remember the seemingly infinite mound of steel, concrete and dust that covered lower Manhattan in late September 2001. The idea that that area would one day be clean and clear seemed impossible and yet, today if you visit, it actually seems sterile and sacred.  Those people did it, one piece of crap at a time.  Those people who stepped up and agreed to breathe in the dust, get filthy, risk personal injury to clean up the World Trade Center are heroes. They are the ones who got busy and stopped being discouraged.  

Their twins with determination and passion are rising in Japan as we speak.  They put on the haz-mat suit, wear the mask and go for it.  Many will risk their own good health for the health of their neighborhoods and country. They are the street sweepers on steroids and I feel nothing but admiration for them.  The insurmountable difficulty before them doesn't stop them.  One piece of crap at a time they will clean up their precious homeland and restore order.

I like to think of our local street sweeper as a brother to them, a friend with a common interest.  Today I'm grateful for the ordinary pleasure of seeing a street sweeper and knowing that all over the world people like him help to keep our world clean -- unsung heroes in the grandest way. Thank You!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Our Brush with Japan, Kana

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." 
                             -- Marcel Proust

Life has most definitely NOT been ordinary around here.  We've been gifted with a new pair of eyes, Kana.  Mary Kate's high school has a "sister school" -- how cool is that?  Her sister school is located in Fukuoka, Japan. Usually, twenty five students from the Nakamura Gakuen Girls Senior High School visit my daughter's high school but for some reason 37 were on the list for their visit in March and so a scramble began to find some extra families willing to host a student for 10 days.  I saw the email, checked the dates, and then dismissed the thought from my mind: life is too crazy -- two high school sports, four different kids and school schedules, maybe next year.  Then I got a text from John citing the email..."What do you think?  It'd be pretty cool." John and I often have a synchronicity that's weird and this was one of those times.  His text was the nudge that made me switch from: life's too crazy to why not?  And that is how we found our family holding up a sign welcoming a complete stranger, Kana Shimizu, into our lives for the next 10 days.

Did we know what we were getting into?  No clue.  My whole world for the past nine days has been mind-bending and world altering.  Suddenly, I see my world with new eyes.  As I was driving home from picking up Kana that first day I was so proud.  Weirdly proud to show off my country.  I wanted to take her to my favorite places, have her delight in my favorite foods, show her what made my city great and just generally be "the hostess with the mostest".  

But, as I got on the freeway, it was as if I was seeing my world for the first time.  People, freeways (at least in my neck of the USA) are not attractive.  There's no pretty landscaping, no sleek roadways, just a whole lot of ugly billboards and pretty lame plants in the divider.  I wanted to begin weeding the divider!!! Where was our national pride?? How could my precious homeland be so junky?

As we arrived into our driveway and began to get out of the car, the local ice-cream man drove by.  I kid you not, the man made a U-turn and stopped in front of my house.  OK, I'm willing to admit that we buy a lot of ice cream from him in the summer...but a rainy day in March?  Now. The man picks now, to have the hard sell?  I cringed but I had to buy some ice cream from him.  How American can you get having a Pakistani entrepreneur welcoming my Japanese exchange student with a Bug's Bunny popsicle with blue bubble gum eyes?  It was classic.

Thankfully, Kana is adventurous in almost every way and food is no exception.  She loved her rocket pop and with a level of Japanese neatness I am personally in awe of managed to eat every last molecule of that taste treat. After more than 24 grueling hours of travel, Kana put up with our extremely limited ability to communicate with good humor and extreme patience.  We discovered that you don't need language to take a dog for a walk, play Uno, learn how to fold origami, play hide and go seek, play ping pong and eat snacks.  We learned that a smile and a curious heart can let you travel all the way across the world.  

I learned how to count to ten in Japanese, how to say "Happy Birthday" in Japanese and many details of Japanese life.  Did you know that cars in Japan have the steering wheel on the right hand side?  Except for if you are really rich, then you buy one that drives on the left as a status symbol. :)  That conversation has made me ponder for days the reason our steering wheels are placed where they are.  What is the purpose? 

Showing Kana our world has made me open my heart to another part of the world.  As I watch Kana's bravery in navigating bleachers at Jack's volleyball game, trying nachos for the first time which includes dealing with that oozy cheese, and see her repeat herself with a shy smile and communicate in halting English when I know this brilliant girl could spill out a flurry of Japanese if only I could understand, I want to hug her parents a world away.  I want them to know just how grateful I am that they allowed her on this adventure.  I want them to know how proud I am of her ability to work through the cultural differences and find the commonalities that we all know to be true: laughter, love, smiles and acts of generosity are beyond any language barrier.  Mostly, Kana's parents have shown me that letting your child spread their wings is most definitely a worthy endeavor.

In just a few short months I'm going to have to let Jack go and begin his life adventure with college.  I'm going to have to hope that his bright light will be nourished and nurtured by the people he meets along his travels. I'm going to have to know in my heart that he is brave and brilliant and adventurous and most of all, ready.  Just like Kana.  Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Shimizu, your bright light, Kana, has certainly lightened up our world and helped us all to know the joy of learning and growth, most of all me.

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Am A Rockstar!

"To the world you may be just one person, but to one person, you may be the world." -- Brandi Snyder

Little did you know just how endangered and sad Buzz Lightyear is in this classic Foraker photo.  Buzz is often rescuing all sorts of people all over our house, saving them from danger, distracting villains, and flying "to infinity and beyond" off of various pieces of furniture.  In short, he's the man.

But, if you look carefully he's missing one important tool: his space helmet. Poor guy has been breathing earth's oxygen for far too long and has been at a severe super-hero disadvantage.  Being the semi-conscious parent, I didn't even notice.  When I took this picture, I thought Buzz was his super-hero bad ass self. Apparently not.

Yesterday I found Patrick with a pouty face sitting in his room holding Buzz.  Since this is not too unusual I did my classic mom-reaction: ignore.  It lasted a bit longer, so I finally asked what was not exactly perfect in his life. He informed me that Buzz was needing his space helmet.  We had seen two pieces of clear plastic in the game cupboard.  High five to whoever thought to put them there and not toss them into the garbage. (We know it wasn't John since his default notion is always throw it away!)  So, I ask him if those pieces were his helmet and he nodded sadly yes.

I find the pieces and head with trepidation back to his room.  This is so not my strong point.  I'm excellent at getting the grass stain out of the dress pants, really good at making comfort food, usually I fly into the stratosphere like Buzz when it comes to finding the right gift to give one of my kids but fixing a broken something...not all.

So, there I am in the bedroom crouched over plastic and feeling my potential credibility with Patrick and Caroline hanging in the balance.  Can she do it?  I finagle my way through the moment and somehow coax two pieces of plastic into their spots.  Patrick attempts to close Buzz's helmet all the way down and it doesn't work.  He looks at me, unimpressed.  In a normal moment I would tell him to be happy and move on.  The helmet was back on his head and even though it didn't work exactly right he should be thrilled it was staying on his head even for a moment.  However, that unimpressed blank face and the subsequent: "The air can still get in, Mommy," made me pause.

I can do this, I tell myself.  It isn't that hard.  You can figure this out, Beth.  Sure it's plastic.  Sure, it's counter-intuitive and it should not be this hard but you can do it.  Think like an engineer. Stay with it.  So, I look at the two pieces.  I really contemplate the engineering and magically notice that I had the pieces on upside down and reversed.  I make another attempt and it really feels tight...too tight...that plastic is very close to breaking.  If that happens, it's all over.  A full-on tragedy.  I push my luck -- knowing that my dear yoga teacher friend would be telling me to yield instead of push harder.  I force the plastic and cringe...waiting for the inevitable crack and the disgust from both of my kids that "Daddy could have done it."

The universe holds its breath and gives me a break...a big one.  The helmet slides in, crackless, and actually works perfectly.  Oxygen is no longer a life-threatening problem for Buzz! Best of all, I was the recipient of a breathless moment myself, a moment of awe from two kids.  "Ooooooh, thanks Mom!" a big high five.  A hug.  It was done.  I was a rockstar!

Sure it was fleeting.  Sure it won't last through the day...but for a few seconds I was a hero.  A hero that can't be bought with money.  A hero that has to be present in the daily nitty gritty to even get the opportunity.  I was the hero that made it all better and it felt great! :)

Buzz and space helmet among friends.

Added note: John has revealed that it was his good foresight to save the plastic helmet pieces in the game cupboard...high five! Sorry for throwing you under the bus, hon!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Perfect Shoe

We've all been there...we need an outfit and we also need the perfect shoe, right now, this minute, time's up.  The universe has graced me with two daughters and they both have opinions about their outfits.  Shopping for the "special outfit", although fun, can turn more into a power broker frenzy than a memorable mother/daughter bonding moment.  Trust me.  When your baby girl is little and in your arms, you dream of finding the breath-taking First Communion dress, the knee socks and chubby stockinged legs with little black patent leather shoes, searching for the stunning prom dress and yes, even finding the perfect shoe.  I imagined a dream-like time where we would walk arm in arm smiling and just full of joy...little did I know it would be an endurance test: a series of negotiations and compromise.  More than anything it was a tangible moment of the daughter seeing herself one way (grown up, stylish, hip) and the mother trying to remind the her that she was after all 15 (youthful, sweet and covered up!).  We have had our nightmare searches...the seemingly endless saga of an appropriate First Reconciliation outfit being the one that remains above all others.  We morphed into mall rats and became familiar with even the underbelly of the mall and still we had no luck.  We settled for a pink poncho and striped skirt with some sort of undergarment purchased from Nordstrom's.  It worked, but like the budget compromises in Washington, nobody was happy.

This week-end we went in search of an outfit that Mary Kate needs to wear for several upcoming occasions.  It had to be dressy and suitable for church, grandparents, high school friends and everyone in between. Believe it or not, we found the dress quickly and easily.  See, miracles do happen! It was the perfect shoes that eluded us.  Mary Kate had a definite vision.  She wanted tall (very tall) and sophisticated.  I thought a wedge was did every other mother, grandmother and twenty-something in the shoe department.  Everyone had an opinion and it became a Seinfeld moment when Mary Kate finally looked at me genuinely puzzled and asked,"Why do they care?"

How can you explain that every woman remembers her first amazing pair of shoes and every woman in that store department recognized that it was happening for her right then.  I told her it was the thrill of the hunt.  We all enjoy a little treasure hunt and Mary Kate was clearly on one. She held her dress up, wobbled on stiletto after stiletto toward the mirror and played the imagination game: I'm not in my sweats, I don't have a ponytail, I'm even wearing make up and wearing this...does it feel right? Do I look amazing?  She easily tried on 15 pairs of shoes and for some reason I was not annoyed or hurried -- hence the grace.  I was enjoying the hunt too and I had no skin in the game.  This was her call.  These were going to be her favorites and she was going to own them for a good long while. She finally found them: tall, suede, nude and zippers in the back.  I'm sure someday, she will take a look at these shoes and see just how 2011 they really are but for now they are fabulous.

She came home and immediately tried them on with the outfit and then went on to do the fashion show of all the other outfits that would look ever so amazing all because of these rockin' shoes. She wore them with jeans, skirts, shorts and anything else she could find. She wore them while she was doing homework, petted them while she was reading and placed them in the perfect spot in her closet where they are protected.  They are keepers and I am grateful I got to be part of the search team. Grateful more for my evolution in clothing longer a gate-keeper but a team member up to the challenge.

I remember my first pair of amazing shoes but more vividly I remember my smokin' hot skin tight dark jeans from the GAP. Man, how I loved them.  How I wore them for any reason whatsoever and felt fabulous each and every time.  Do you remember your first pair of shoes?  How about your most adored article of clothing when you were a teen? I'd love to hear your story.  March 6th is Mary Kate's day to be decked out...think of her! :)