Monday, March 31, 2014

The Thea-Tah!

When I heard that the Shakespeare Theatre Company, a well-renowned establishment here in DC, was holding a video contest, I was immediately excited.  The winner gets free tuition to its amazing Shakespeare camp this summer, and as Cadence has been practically begging to do more theater, I decided it was certainly worth a shot.

I presented it to the kids as a school assignment, which means that regardless of the outcome, they got a lot out of it.  We had great fun working with different bits of dialogue, but given the 15 SECOND time limit, we decided to keep it super simple...I am SO proud of the work they did here, and frankly the 15 second story they came up with to support the Bard's word is more elegant than anything I would have been able to conjure up on my own.

I operated the camera and did the actual editing work, but the rest was all them.  We discussed the meaning of the word "fierce", we discussed how stories can be told and what actions support it (or don't!) and they came up with a list of things that Calliope often does that fit the description of "fierce," and then figured out ways to stage each event in so that we could capture the necessary moment (without stress or tears).

Given that Cadence is the only one who will be old enough to qualify to attend the camp this year, we let her take the lead when it came to dialogue, but I would be remiss if I didn't give Hazel the credit she deserved...that kid just KILLED IT with a lot of the lines we played with, and we have actually been inspired by this experience to work on a longer scene where both big kids will get to have at this juicy text, so hopefully we will have that to share with you soon.  But; for now, I am PLEASED to present, our entry into the Shakespeare Theater Company's iShakespeare Camp Shakespeare Video Contest:

Monday, March 24, 2014


The last e-mail my mother sent me was a forwarded message about the impending publication of the book which included her essay. The last e-mail I sent to her was my response, a simple "Yaaaaaaay!!"  Had I thought about the finality of that message?  Did I know it would be the last?

There could be far worse conclusions.  It didn't end with an unanswered question, there were no harsh feelings; she was sharing something she was so incredibly proud of, and I shared my joy about it with her.  

I have found it hard to do much of late.  I can feel that, if I didn't have my own kids, this loss would be so much harsher, because to me, there is no option that involves letting my children down.  My need to encourage them and help them realize their own potential forces me to step out the door when I would rather hide; my desire to see them thrive pushes me to take care of myself in order to care for them.  I am pretty successful at the day to day, they are fed, they are clean, they seem happy, and we have even been pretty successful in our homeschooling efforts and have been making new friends.

But beyond that, it is admittedly pretty hard.  I haven't been able to write, even my attempts at documenting the amazing work these kids have been doing, or their progress in general, have proved way too daunting to tackle.

Instead I find myself hiding in social media, and searching through old posts to find tidbits from my mother. I hope to soon be able to pick up and carry on, and in her honor create something wonderful, but for now I must be kind to myself.

And so…

My mother's last Facebook post was "My nurses's name is Angel today and she is!!" 

Love you, Mama.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

My inspiration

Calliope, 14 month old wunderkind, has taken her already well established precocious climbing skills to the extreme this month when she discovered that she could relocate step stools for better access to things she would like to explore.  Pair that with her love of light switches…Her new favorite pastime is to wait until I am sitting on the toilet, and then climb up and flick the light on and off to her hearts' content.  Oh, and did I mention she can open doors?

Using the restroom has become a strobe experience.

Really, though, she is the most thoughtful, compassionate little kid…she goes out of her way to help wherever she can…she spreads jam on bread to make sandwiches, she puts things away, she DEMANDS to share whatever treat she has…she gives great loving nudges (and says "nuuuuuudge!") as she loves.  She just exudes love.  She LOVES!!! and it is wonderful.

Hazel, 3 year old wunderkind, has already begun writing.  She will still ask for spelling help, but if you tell her which letter comes next, she can write it down, legibly.  It is incredible.  And WOW if she doesn't have some serious musical chops-the kid can sing exactly on pitch and belt with the best of 'em. (Seriously.  We took them to see Frozen and bought the soundtrack the next day.  It has been on repeat for the past couple weeks and she attacks Let It Go right along with Idina.) Sharp as a tack this kid, she doesn't miss much and makes fabulous deductions.  She has recently begun asking about slavery and jumps into discussion about why people do things-bad things, good things- the heart in this kid is epic, and her brain matches.

Cadence, 6 year old wunderkind, has burned through about 10 boxcar children books, a bunch of play scripts, at least two other independent chapter books and I don't know how many American Girl books in the last two and a half weeks. She ads and subtracts two and three digit numbers, and then asks for harder problems.  She can do basic multiplication and division, and even wandered into algebraic territory when she realized that it was possible to have negative numbers.  She can reason out problems and deduct things like it's just second nature, and LISTENS so well.  She genuinely tries everything we put to her, and flourishes with it.  And she does everything with enthusiasm!  Her energy and willingness is unbelievable.  She has quickly established herself as a serious student both in our homeschool adventures and in her jiujitsu classes…and oh yeah, she lost her first tooth yesterday! But she already had her gown up tooth there so it wasn't a big deal.  Silly and exciting, but whatevs. and she doesn't even have it - she figures she must have swallowed the baby tooth,  - but it doesn't seem to bother her much…oh well, she says, the tooth fairy will just have to wait for the next one. She is an amazingly considerate big sister and helper, and stuns me in her capacity and life every day!!

And James, while maybe not a wunderkind anymore, is pretty amazing, too.  He is working his dream job, handling mom's estate, being an awesome dad that the kids totally adore and learn so much from, and instead of being weighed down by all the responsibility is inspired by it.  He has kept up with his cycling even though we moved and he no longer has to-now we are close enough that he can ride his bike all the way to work if he so chooses - and he and his coworkers have started doing exercises together during the day to keep themselves accountable and healthy.  And there is talk of taking up the game Go during lunch breaks…he has been learning about and acting on things he has wanted to do  for himself - from hobbies to lifestyle choices to medical stuff- and it is wonderful to see him flourishing.

They inspire me so much, every day, in so many ways.  I love them all so much.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Know Your Drowning

I have lots of writing to catch up on, and I don't mean to ignore all the work we've been doing that I really want to recognize, but first I want to share something with you all.

This morning a friend of mine started a conversation online about the emotional roller coaster of happening upon a small child, seemingly alone and in distress, on the streets of NYC.  Others chimed in with their own stories of similar incidents, and it made me think about how you never know when this sort of thing is going to pop up, and it re-inspired me to share a tidbit of knowledge I picked up from social media which I recently had to put to very good use.

A long while back, there was a little article circulating on Facebook about what it looks like to actually drown.  As with many things, we are often shown dramatic images of someone splashing and shouting as they begin to drown - movies, TV, y'know, the usual need for big spectacle - which gives us an unfortunately inaccurate idea of what to look out for in terms of water safety.  I read it, shared it, and filed it away in the back of my brain under "very useful things that I will probably never actually need to use and hopefully won't forget if I do."  (I had a professor in college, Saskia Hegt, who used the phrase "put it in the computer" - you decide something, add it to the information your brain is processing, and then forget about it and let the program run in the background.  She was referring to character work-you make a choice for your character and build that choice into the way you approach it, so then it is just in there informing your work without you actively thinking about it in every moment.)

Last week I had an experience that made me so very glad to have that tidbit of info installed in my brain.

One of our homeschool groups took a field trip to a REC center for a swim one afternoon. It was a big, busy pool even in the middle of the day. There was a preschool swimming class going on in one corner, a senior aqua size class in another, lots of folks there for lunch break exercise and folks enjoying the many hot tubs on the side.  There were life guards, of course, but not really enough to effectively monitor everything.  While some of the older kids had gone to swim in the deeper part of the pool, I was hanging out with some of the younger ones in the shallow area.  They found a basket of pool toys and had been pretty engrossed for a while, when the preschool swimming class ended, and the teacher came to collect the toys.  While she was going about her task of recovering them, a mom who had been standing off to the side observing suddenly came over and started shouting for her attention.  I tapped her shoulder to call her attention to the mom, who screamed "She can't swim!" The teacher looked confused, and either didn't hear her or didn't understand or something, and the woman gave up and started yelling for a life guard.  "The little one! There!  She jumped in after the big kids and she can't swim!" None of the lifeguards seemed to hear her, though, and as she grew more frantic my gaze automatically turned to the deep end of the pool.  There, right in the middle of a bunch of happily splashing children, I saw her.  She was a tiny kid, probably around 4 or 5, not in the deepest part where the other parents from our group were engaged with their kids, but in the mid-range depth where the class had been moments before, and she was definitely in over her head.  She was vertical in the water, head upturned, arms outstretched, bobbing and gasping, no splashing, completely silent.  I instantly recognized the behavior from that long forgotten article.

Without even thinking, (it was in the computer, just like Saskia said!) I took off in her direction, Calliope still on my hip.  There was no stranger danger in her eyes when I approached her, just an empty, glassy terror that gave way to relief as scooped her up and held her securely on my other hip. She hugged me tightly and sputtered to fill her lungs with air.  I talked to her lightly and soothingly as I carried her over to the frantic woman who I assumed was her mother.  It wasn't.

Her mom must have seen us from her spot on the bleachers, because she came running over just moments later, looking utterly heartsick.  She gave me the most genuine "thank you" I have ever received as she took her daughter from my arms, and turned to the teacher to demand to know what happened.  I turned back to my own kids after thanking the woman who had altered me to the child's distress - this had all gone down in a matter of seconds, and no one else noticed.  Imagine if she hadn't been paying attention…But anyway, that was it.  For all the drama I've imbued in this writing, it was actually rather spectacularly mundane, or something.  I just did what needed to be done in the moment, more or less calmly, and I left feeling more on edge from hearing the teacher snap to the child's mom "you really should be watching her" than anything else.

Anyway, the classic "if it can save one life, it's worth it"mentality comes into play here, and while I sincerely hope that someone - one of the lifeguards or teachers - would have noticed and intervened if I hadn't, there is no way to know that for sure…and since I have now come so close to it myself, I feel a strong desire to 'pay it forward' so to speak, and make sure that you all have the information in the backs of your brains, should you ever be faced with a similar situation.

So, with the hope that it will never become practically useful to you, do me a favor and take a moment to read (or re-read) the article here: Rescuing Drowning Children: How to know when someone is in trouble in the water.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Birthday gift.

I can't get a picture of what is happening right now, but I know I have found home.

We set up our brand new living room this evening, in our amazing new home that is about as perfect for our little family as we could ever hope for. Poor Hazel isn't feeling well tonight, so we created a cozy nook to curl up in all together. Eventually everyone (except me) dropped off to sleep, and the night is still and calm. I am lounging on our couch, Calliope sleeping in my arms. Cadence is dozing beside me, Lily and Carmen both spilling off of her tiny lap. Puy is curled in the fuzzy grey recliner that our new landlords gave us-it's just her color, and her delight in camouflage dictates that it is now hers. She is contentedly watching the fire while I soak in this scene; James and Hazel using my feet as pillows and the Christmas tree, which our landlords reported showed up with a bunch of elves, rounding out this little circle of coziness.

This is worth it. The relief, as one friend put it, is palpable. James' commute was halved. The kids and I were able to go out and about without the car, and the old routine of walking to our destinations made everyone giddy. They exchanged thoughts on how this was different-you can see more, so much happens when you walk, you can hear things when you walk that you'd never catch in a car. You get exercise and can breathe fresh air that doesn't smell like vents. In bad weather it can be unpleasant but even then you are at least experiencing something. 

They are amazingly smart kids. And they thrive in whole body experiences. Not being strapped into car seats for every little thing. Not being strapped to a desk for every little lesson.

This is a home. A place of comfort where we can all thrive. Not a polished cage where humanity is frowned upon. Here we can heal. We can grow. We can feel safe. 

And with that, the clock strikes midnight and it is my birthday. Here's to 29. Bet it'll be a helluva year.

Pat, Scott-You gave us the key to get out of the cage well before we would otherwise have been able to. We are so lucky to have you in our lives. I love you, and hope you'll be able to visit this place next time you can come out east. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Kelly Update

I want to offer a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who has reached out to me and my family over the past couple of days.  The scope of suggestions and offers and the way everyone rallied to try to make sure Kelly was safe and cared for was wonderfully stunning.

The important thing:  Kelly is coming home.  Her specific journey and choices are hers to share or not as she pleases, so I won't go into detail here, but we owe it to all of you who stepped up to let you know that she will be home with Dad very soon.

Thank you all SOOO much for your support and assistance. 

Much love!!!

Monday, December 2, 2013

What We Need

I am not ok.

I am writing this here because I have been trying to write for days now about how we are doing and what we need and it just hasn't been working because I have been trying to hard to be safe and polite.

Tonight I have lost the ability, or the will, to care about being polite.  We are not ok.  Not at all.

I feel trapped.  So, so damn trapped in this isolated place, this no man's land where the only memories are of my mother's death.  We have a sympathetic neighbor or two that we see now and again, and we have a couple friends in the general vicinity, and I don't mean to discount their presence…but I only see them maybe once a month or so?  It isn't enough.

My glorious godmother fedexed us an entire cooler full of frozen, home cooked meals all the way from Portland OR, and one of our NY friends had a delivery set up from a local restaurant one night.  Many people have sent us boxes of pears and chocolate. Other people have sent money so we can get food, and a cousin shopped for us-these are all wonderful, wonderful gestures, but it somehow lacks the comfort of the midwestern church ladies drowning the mourning family in casseroles that last weeks on end…that is somehow what I am used to, and it isn't here. I can't even remember who to thank when I never see faces, and I stress over where we can safely order from, and is that gifted food allergy safe?  And where are all the faces…I don't even have my sister or my dad here…the people who knew my mother existed and was wonderful and loved and loving…here I see strangers, who know nothing of her, who have no idea that she lived and died within these walls just weeks ago.

And it isn't just that.  It's the difficulty of daily life here, the fact that James spends 3 whole hours commuting EVERY DAY, which means he is out of the house for 12 hours every day and I am on my own with the kids, and I do my best but I am only one person and I am struggling with this loss and so are they and they need more than just me, and I feel so alone…and I worry about him, biking five miles to catch the train, and then five miles home after dark, riding in bad weather, cold temperatures, on the road…It isn't safe and I worry, I worry, I worry…

The chaos I feel in my spirit seems to be reflected in the situation here…this building, the first place we have ever lived where my children scream that they hate it here and want to move, the chronic fire alarms, the lack of insulation and shaky floors that lead to angry neighbors…the fact that four days after we moved in they bulldozed ALL the trees we could see from our home, and now BOTH sides of our corner unit look out over noisy, dusty, ugly construction sites.  The bulldozer under my kitchen window competing with the dump truck clanging outside the bedroom gets to be just too much, and we keep the windows closed to drown the noise, but then my allergies go haywire from the carpeting and no amount of vacuuming and air purifying seem to make a dent in it…

But worst of all is the smell.

Cancer fucking stinks.  If you haven't had a personal encounter with it you may not be aware, but cancer has a distinctive, horrible odor, that gets worse as the disease progresses.  It is a sickening stench, and strong…her whole room still smells of it, and I can't get rid of it.  No amount of cleaning, airing it out, scenting the air, anything…I can't get rid of this horrible smell of my mother dying.  And lately I can smell it in the rest of the house, too.

I cannot imagine spending Christmas here, with my children's joy stewing in that smell.

I need and want out, so, so badly.  What I need is for someone to find us a suitable home, and help us get out of here…someplace where James can actually be a realistic presence in our lives, where there is no dynamite outside the window or neighbors complaining about my vacuuming habits, where we don't have to get packages during business hours and the fire alarm doesn't go off 8 times in two months. Maybe have some outdoor space - a yard.  A fireplace, maybe, so the smell of the woodsmoke could cleanse my heart of that horrid, horrid scent that haunts every breath I take - every breath my babies take - tainting our lives with death.

Here, I can't cry.  I don't have time to mourn. This is the first I've written in days, and it is 4 am and I have not slept.  Instead, by body is physicalizing the stress.  My eczema has hit harder than it ever has before, my whole body is afflicted…my arms, neck, and chest  are more or less open wounds at this point, my skin sloughs off so easily…my eyelids have taken turns swelling painfully, and once that subsided I developed an eye twitch that kept me up the other night because my eye kept opening on its own when I tried to sleep.

I have also, horrifyingly, awoken an old, sleeping foe; the nerve disease I battled as a teenager and had finally put into remission has reared it's ugly head once again.  It isn't surprising, seeing as this thing is infamous for responding to emotional stimuli and this has been a whopper of a year…known as RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy) when I was first diagnosed, it is now more popularly called CRPS (chronic regional pain syndrome) and as that name might suggest, this bugger freakin' hurts.  Today I even had to break out my old TENS unit to cope with the pain, something  which I never thought I would do again, and weirdly offset the energy in my entire body.

My foot has been turning all shades of blue and purple, swelling, generally being an oversensitive nuisance complete with aching, burning, shooting, intense muscle locking pain, all familiar afflictions that I have no fond nostalgia for.

So there I am - trying to mourn my mother, alone, in intense pain, skin flaking off, eye twitching, with three young kids under my charge, in this uncomfortable place (described best by my friend Liz: "It's agoraphobia coupled with claustrophobia!") that is surrounded by noise pollution and the stench of death to boot.

But here's the kicker, and the real reason I am writing this negativity-ridden post:  I have it better than Kelly right now.

Read that all again, and let that sink in for you: I have it better.

I had my mother for 28 years.  Not long enough, but long enough that I was able to find my way to some semblance of adulthood with her around, and had her as a guide through the early years of my marriage and the birth of all three of my babies.  Now, I have my husband and my children to care for and focus on, to give me strength and support and inspiration in everything I do…

Kelly, though, only celebrated her 20th birthday weeks before we lost mom.  Her established life is that of a dorm, which she lost when mom's health turned because she had to withdraw from school in order to be with her.  She is just on that edge of adulthood that is so treacherous and scary for everyone who passes through it, regardless of specific life circumstance.  She wasn't done being mom's baby, and loosing her has hit Kelly the way the loss would hit a child, despite her maturity.  We are both extremely lucky in that we still have our father, who is very devoted and loving, but he will, of course, never replace our mother.

As if losing your mother before you've fully grasped adulthood wasn't enough, poor Kelly caught a kick while she was down when, the day before mom died, she discovered that her long time boyfriend wasn't just returning to his overseas studies when he left her side, but that he was, in fact, returning to another woman.

Catch that?

Yeah.  it hurt every bit as much as you can imagine it did. And probably then some.

Listen, he gets credit where credit is due-he came when we got him a ticket to be with her, he was helpful to us as a whole while he was here, helping to feed and entertain the kids…I don't mean to make him seem like a horrible demon, because he has many wonderful qualities that made her fall in love with him…my point here is to explain her pain, not slander him, but:

When she confronted him, and they were trying to work it out, he had the audacity to tell her that he couldn't stop seeing the other woman because she "was sad" - her boyfriend left her and she needed comfort.  As Kelly dealt with the fact that she just watched her mother die.

She is suffering so much.  So much loss.  So much halted potential.  And she can't go back to school until next semester. And only a few of her friends (albeit awesome ones) still live near her home base with dad.  And that house itself is fraught with memories, since mom lived there for 12 years, and she wants nothing to do with this place, either, which means building a new,  safe space here with me isn't a viable option.  She feels so lost right now.

Anyway, my point is she loves this boy so much, losing him right now is a huge blow…just when she needs support the most, the support she did have totally imploded.  It's so so hard and so so scary to admit that two of the most important relationships in your life are just suddenly gone without warning…mom took away much of her past, and she felt like this boy was taking the future she had relied on to get her through that pain.

She didn't like the way things were playing out, breaking up via Skype and Facebook, and she honestly believed that the best thing for her was to utilize the tickets she already had to fly to Iceland and see/deal with him face to face.  So she went.  She knew that we would worry, and as such has been making a concerted effort to check in with us/respond to our messages just to let us know that she is ok.

But she is not. Not at all.  The main thing keeping her going through all of this has been her friends, but her phone doesn't work overseas, and she doesn't have the proper power adapter for her computer and thus doesn't even have good internet access. She has been using his computer consistently, but it doesn't allow her to rely on her extended network of friends at all.

I was going to say that what she needs is a travel companion.  I was going to ask all of my well traveled friends if anyone would happen to be passing through Reykjavik, or would be headed to Europe and might be willing to have a companion for your travels, because what Kelly needed was a friend, someone to travel with, have new, fulfilling experiences with, to get out but not be alone.

But then I got a call from Dad.  Evidently Kelly is in a really bad way-a bad enough state that her now ex boyfriend is scared and called his mom because he didn't know what to do, he is afraid to leave her alone.  His mom contacted dad, and now Dad is trying to figure out how to get to her, to bring her home safely.

So now she is in Iceland, a cold, wet, dark place where they only have 4 hrs of sunlight a day, almost completely cut off from most of her friends, trapped with her now ex boyfriend and the woman he left her for, and is in way over her head.

We have both been trying to get in touch with her by any means possible, calls, texts, email, Facebook…we haven't had meaningful responses from her since friday, and now this distress call…I got really worked up last night after trying to reach out to a bunch of her friends - wonderful friends, she is lucky to have so many people around her - but young, an inexperienced.  They honestly believe they are watching out for her when they tell us we need to just give her space and not try to reach her or intervene, that her ex is just being dramatic and overreacting and this is his problem not hers, but frankly, I've seen too many people that I care about go through this, I've seen people lose this battle, and I am not willing to take chances.  I know now from experience how distorted reality can get from the inside, and how easy it is to think you have your own best interest in mind, when you don't.  Often, what you want is totally different from what you need, and things can turn south quickly. In those moments, no phone or computer can reach out and stay your hand.

Again, as Liz said: "No one regrets intervening. Everyone regrets not doing so if the end is tragic."

I didn't post this last night because it was written in an emotionally elevated state and I know this is going to be a huge thing to put out there in the world, and part of me knows it is a dangerous thing to do - And if absolutely nothing else, Kelly would be mad at me for doing it... But I know that the more people are aware of the problem, the better the chances we have of her getting the help and support she needs, both now and down the road.  And truthfully, I was also hoping beyond hope that her friends were right and that this morning I would wake up to a pissed off message from Kelly, being annoyed at our fretting and telling us to chill out, she's fine.  But there are no such messages today.  When she has been so consistently checking in to let us know she is well, this radio silence screams "I am not ok, please help me" just as loud as anything can right now.

And I will have no regrets.

Kelly, we love you beyond words.