Grief at Five

“We feel mad and sad,” these were the words my five year old daughter articulated to my mom’s neighbor when Mom couldn’t respond to his question the day after my dad passed.  Parker’s wisdom in the moment demonstrated some maturity and emotional understanding of what we were all experiencing.

And just as everyone in the family has shown moments of strength, we have all succumb to the weight of his loss in different moments too.  For my daughter, she began grieving the changes to her Papa long before he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Parker and Papa shared rituals.  She would get the stick and flashlight for Papa and they would get down on their hands and knees to get kitty toys out from under the stove.  She would bring him the DVD case and together they would put in a movie and she would snuggle on his lap to watch.  Parker would sit with him after dinner to have dessert and he would allow her spoonfuls from his bowl of ice cream even when she had her own.

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Papa would let Parker interrupt his work in his home office to let her sit in his chair and play on the computer or make copies of her hand on his printer.  She would get excited when Papa would fill up the teapot and assist by getting out the honey and a spoon then patiently waited for her helping of honey.  Parker started calling him “Poppy,” a term of endearment he adored.  And a favorite ritual before we left their home was for Papa to pick her up for a giant sandwich hug with Poppy and Nana.

When my dad injured his back we made modifications to the sandwich hug.  Instead of getting down to play on the floor, she found joy in getting to play in his remote lift chair.  She naturally became more gentle with him and found on some days when he was more comfortable, she could still snuggle in to watch a movie with him.  Parker asked a lot of questions and mourned why Papa couldn’t pick her up anymore.  I tried to reaffirm it would only be a matter of time, he would heal and things would be back to normal.

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30 July 2015 – One month before diagnosis.

This time last year, her worry became even more evident, she questioned daily when Poppy’s back would be better.  He was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma about a month shy of Parker’s fifth birthday and it seemed too complex to try to explain what was happening to her Papa.  “The doctors are helping Papa because he is sick,” seemed the only rational thing to say to a five year old.  Then we would talk about praying for him to heal and for his back to be all better again soon.

Repeating this conversation seemed to temporarily satisfy her and my dad improved through the autumn of 2015.  He was showing signs of healing and getting around easier.  Parker understood his limitations and adjusted to how their adoration for each other was changing.  A huge setback came just before the new year when a lesion on his femur broke with only the weight of his body standing.  With the exception of medical appointments, Papa lived in his own personal medical suite upstairs.  As the months passed in late winter and early spring, Parker went upstairs less and less.  I could see how nervous she felt in his presence and witnessing him suffer.  I made attempts to encourage their interactions with playing games or showing him a dance she was practicing in class.  Right or wrong, I tried to explain what was happening to his bones in five year old terms.  For months straight she would pick out the same bedtime story “Magic School Bus: The Human Body,” and often stopped on specific pages displaying a graphic of a skeleton to talk about Papa’s bones.  It was her own way of coping and trying to understand.

Dad never rebounded from the surgery, medications and treatment.  He passed at home in his sleep days after Easter.  Since it was early in the morning when I got the call, I left before Parker woke.  My husband and I agreed not to tell her, instead sending her to school so we could have a day to sort out arrangements.  The following morning, I dreaded telling Parker what happened to her beloved Poppy.  I worried she wouldn’t understand what death meant as she had no memory of losing someone.  We sat down with her in the kitchen and I did my best to conceal my tears and calm my voice.  Her tears were immediate as though she completely understood the gravity of him being gone.  We embraced and tried to turn our sadness to appreciation for him to no longer be in pain.  When we told her we would be going to Nana and Papa’s house for the day Parker begged to go to school, a place where she could be happy and forget.  She didn’t want to go to the house where Papa is supposed to be and him not be there.

As always, the opportunity to see her cousins and trumped the fear of the empty house.  She played with her cousins while the adults seemed to float around the house without intention, numb from the turbulence of the last year.  After her cousins had been gone a while in the late afternoon, Parker came running from upstairs sobbing.  Mom and my dad’s sister and I all felt the ripple of emotion and broke down with her.  I believe she had been upstairs to play in his lift chair, a game that was no longer fun with him gone.

In the days and weeks following we cried together frequently.  We expressed gratitude he was free from pain and we talked about how he would always be with us.  I encouraged Parker to know he could be with her whenever she felt she needed him.  On the way to school she would say she was going to bring him with her and talked to him on our way there.  She joked “He’s going the wrong way, no Poppy that’s not the right turn…”  And when we talked about him being with his mom, she would sometimes bring Grame along to school too.

It seemed the tearful sadness of losing Papa was lessened during the early summer.  She could talk about him without the heavy emotion and I was relieved she was coping so well.  Then there were times I wondered if I was doing everything right to help a five year old with grief.  On a few occasions she got stuck looking at pictures and would break down unable to catch her breath.  I validated her feelings by recalling stories of him and the funny things we would remember him by to help in the moment.

I had been concerned maybe my daughter was reflecting my emotions, maybe she was feeling the grief I was immersed in and so I have been careful to not initiate her thoughts or feelthelightfeelings.  I know her moments of grief are her own because many times I am blindsided by her eruption of sadness.  Like a peaceful ride in the car interrupted by a quivering voice in the backseat “I miss Papa.”  Parker recently began associating one song to Papa, a song she has loved for a long time but now can’t manage to hear without thinking of how much she misses him.There are even joyful celebrations where she turns to despair because Papa is not there to share in it.

The variety of ways Parker has expressed her heartache demonstrate how much she deeply loved her Poppy and also resemble the complicated way our whole family is coping with his loss.  In the last six months there have been times when talking about him was easy and then there are days when even the sight of a bird soaring can cause hysteria.  We know we each have individual triggers which can cause deep sorrow; a song, a date, a place or any synchronistic event.  And then there are other waves of grief which don’t seem to have a pairing, the misery builds to a peak and subsides.

The helplessness I felt with my dad in the last year of his life has transitioned to feeling helpless to support my mom and my daughter.  I want to always have the perfect words to make them hurt less.  And just as there were days I couldn’t do anything but stare at my dad, there are moments I am paralyzed in the faces of my mother and my child.  I am managing as best I can and accepting the unpredictable nature of grief and how it is impacting us in unique ways.  I understand it will get easier over time, though the waves may be less intense or less frequent we will ride these waves of grief indefinitely.

My hope is the waves Parker experiences will calm much sooner and easier than my own.  I want her to be able to remember the love he had for her without the deep sorrow of missing him.  I worry her memory of their rituals will fade, though I know she will never forget how much she loved Poppy.  And I know the pride he had in her will live on forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living History at Mahaffie

With the kid’s Kansas City Passport to Adventure, the adventure always started in the car with learning.  En route I handed them their own passport and gave them the name of the place we were going, making them sound out the words and finding the page in their book.  They competitively searched until they could find the page and look at the picture of where we were headed.  This also made it important for the kids to proudly reopen their book to the correct page to collect their stamp when we got there.

Looking at the books on the ride to an adventure always made the kids look ahead for where they wanted to travel to next.  One picture they always stopped on and couldn’t wait to check out was Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm.  This also became Parker’s favorite adventure of the summer and one my mom said she wants us to go again and bring her along.

On a near hundred degree day we decided it was finally the day to make the trip to Olathe and investigate what Mahaffie was all about.  Due to the heat, we were about the only guests on the property and received undivided and personal attention from the farm staff dressed in 18th century attire.  The farm itself was a landmark for stagecoach travelers headed west, where they could stop for a hot meal and restock supplies.  We toured the actual farmhouse and learned about the Mahaffie family.

04mahaffiefarmThe kids were intrigued by the kitchen set-up in the basement of the home.  I quizzed them on where traditional kitchen equipment was located to help them discover how they would wash dishes, keep food cold and cook.  The woman working in the kitchen was patient to show them the inside of the wood burning stove, how coffee was made, to answer their inquisitive minds and offer them cookies which were made in the kitchen.  I was alarmed at the thoughtfulness of the questions the kids were asking, considering how could they see with no electricity?  The hostess showed them lanterns and demonstrated how it took the place of lights.

We stepped out of the house and headed to the barn where another hostess met us outside to show the kids the horses.  She escorted us into the barn to talk about the stagecoaches and encouraged the kids to climb aboard the oldest one they had at the farm.  Once the06mahaffiefarm horses were harnessed up to another stagecoach we took a ride all to ourselves.  The kids bounced along looking out the windows with silent gleeful smiles until Parker interrupted with “This is the best day ever.”

We also checked out a smaller barn where the blacksmith allowed the kids to take turns helping him stoke the fire and then hammer an iron into a hook.  I felt humbled and grateful to have this man working the fire for our enjoyment on such a hot day.  He and the others on the farm all were gracious to give us the experience and attention to make this adventure amazing.

Before we could leave the farm, the kids also experienced how they would have been washing clothes if they were born centuries ago.  I don’t think they would have been so happy to be splashing rags into water if it were their job, they certainly enjoyed it at the Mahaffie Farm though.05mahaffiefarm

Before entering the farm, we were directed through a building to pay the entrance fee.  We ended our trip back in the building where there is a small museum with more to read about the farm and history of Olathe.  The kids tried on farm clothes and created mail to simulate how mail used to be delivered by stagecoach.

I was never a fan of learning about history in school, experiencing history is so much better.  We will definitely be back to another adventure at Mahaffie Stagecoach, next time on a cooler day and I will bring my mom along too.

Kemper Outdoor Adventure

One hot afternoon at the end of June, we found ourselves set off for another adventure to fulfill out Kansas City Passport to Adventure book.  This time we stepped into the scenic landscape near Lake Jocomo in Blue Springs, Missouri at the Kemper Outdoor Education Center.  It was clear they had amazing day camps where kids were canoeing on a pond andkemper-outdoor friendly camp counselors aimed us on path to hike.  The path took us over a marshy area with a long wooden boardwalk and lead to prairie and forest areas.  With the heat and hungry irritability, we decided we had seen enough and retreated to the cabin to collect our passport stamp.  Inside the kids not only got a stamp, they got to select a small nature figurine.  Parker got a turtle while Jones picked up a plastic ant to take home and fool Mom when she walked in the door.

We were also instructed to not miss the hoofed animal enclosure just a short ride around the lake.  There Jones fed an antelope through the fence with some other patrons who brought carrots.  Since Parker’s mood reflected the heat of the day, I required her to ride with her eyes closed home from Kemper (in hopes she would nod off and get some much-needed rest.)  Jones softly sang a lullaby about stop lights to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle” to her the whole way home.

Kemper Outdoor and the hoofed enclosure were two unique finds for outdoor fun in Kansas City.  I would take advantage of participating in the activities they offer, enjoying another hike or returning to check on the antelope up close – this time I will know to bring some carrots.kemper-outdoor3

Kindergarten Tears

My daughter started kindergarten and the immediate response from people I have encountered since has been “Were there tears?”  The short answer is no not that morning anyway, we all went to school smiling and prepared for this new experience.  We did have a tearful exchange long after bedtime the night before the first day, Parker stated she could not sleep and was full of anxiety.

“My friends won’t be there, what if I won’t have any friends?” she muttered out in between sobbing.  After her body and mind finally relaxed she woke up excited and ready to put on her new outfit declaring “I look fresh.”

The tears I may or may not have been shedding were related to the stress of delaying and then choosing a kindergarten.  I felt my daughter was kindergarten ready last year, therefore 1st grade ready now…  Unfortunately birth date restrictions prohibit or mandate kids start according to a standardized system of laws out of my control.  So I waited, continuing her education through Montessori school and at home.  There were so many things I loved about her school, it

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The Montessori school also offered ballet lessons, which Parker’s teacher Ms. Deja taught.  This is after the recital in June 2016.

made the search for kindergarten all the more emotional.  Parker had the same adoring teachers for three years, ones who I faithfully trusted and appreciated.  She had home cooked, healthy lunches and I knew she was eating better than what I would have been scrambling together at home for her noon meal.  Her classroom was autonomous, she got to engage in activities she was interested in and learned at her own level.  Over the course of three years I watched Parker thrive, put creative effort and pride in her work and challenge herself to learn more.  Her school does offer kindergarten and it was a consideration to stay.  However, I knew our attachment was already so strong after three years, if we stayed a fourth I would be desperate to keep her in the pre-school setting until college.

 

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An example of the type of work Parker was doing in Montessori school.  She individually punched out states, labeled, puzzled, glued and painted her own maps of the United States, Australia, North America and South America.

With so much to love about Parker’s Montessori school, I may have been hyper critical of other schools when checking out kindergartens.  I researched online last fall, had information packets sent and began touring.  I walked the halls of not one, not two but eight different elementary schools.  Some tours were more out of curiosity or comparison purposes, I wanted to really see the variety.  I toured public schools, a charter Montessori school, private schools, religious schools and a language immersion school.  I asked a lot of questions and I kept a lot of my observations and judgements to myself.  There were things I liked about each school individually and equally unfavorable items everywhere too.  I’ll admit to being personally critical of common core curriculum and an advocate for increasing teacher’s salaries due to their inadequate financial appreciation.  I examined the diversity of the students and staff, the quality of work hanging on the walls, the cleanliness and organization of the buildings, and the menu of food served in the cafeteria in each elementary school.

 

Ultimately I came down to two favorites.  The first happens to be the closest private school to our home and one which I was surprised to enjoy so much.  It was a small school with one classroom per grade level and went up to grade twelve.  Their quality of work, academic achievement, atmosphere and friendliness of the students (all grade levels) far exceeded any other school I toured.  Their art teacher and classroom were impressive and since Parker toured with me, she continued to talk about it for months.  I was also ecstatic about their lunch menu as it was another school with daily cooked, healthy farm-fresh ingredients.  As if this weren’t enough – no common core.  The curriculum is structured as Classical Christian and would require memorization of bible versus.  While there is a lot to admire about Classical Christian, including the cursive handwriting she would be practicing this year and the focus on grammar, logic and rhetoric, I am not Christian and know little about the bible.

The other favorite school I considered is one modeled from Waldorf education. A short YouTube explanation of Waldorf can be viewed by clicking here.  The belief is music, theater, literature and writing need to not just be learned but experienced.  They aim to cultivate a desire to learn within each individual child and eliminate the need for competitive testing.  My artistically inclined five year old would be encouraged to dance, perform and learn about her world by exploring on their seven acre rural property.  Students in the school had cubbies containing slickers, hats and rain boots because they spent a lot of time out in the gardens no matter the weather.  When we viewed the school it was for a May Pole Celebration, I observed teachers redirecting students by singing them back into attention.  Parker participated in a treasure hunt in the sandbox to find shells, rocks and feathers which she got to add to a fairy house she made out of clay.  While students hung upside down from trees, swung on tire swings and picnicked with their patchouli smelling dreadlocked parents, I knew this would be the school to encourage her creativity.  About half-way through the Native American story puppet show, when the scent of the burning sage had worn off, I realized it may be unrealistic to plan to attend a school so far from home.

Based on so many variables, cost and distance to my preferred schools, it seemed like I would be having issues no matter where she attended.  Ultimately we chose the free public school option with the hope she would be assigned to the kindergarten teacher with the most experience as we indicated to the principal.  Unfortunately our request was not respected and she was added to the classroom with a first year teacher with the principals statement “Don’t worry, it will be great.”  And every day since the teacher comments “Parker did great.”  I understand the teacher is commenting on her behavior, which compared to peers in her class, I’m sure the teacher feels she hit the jackpot with my daughter.  Except the quality of work Parker brings home has declined from

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Quality public education.

what I know she is capable of, not great.  The countless worksheets she brings home on a daily basis is equivalent to introductory work she is too advanced for, not great.  And the post-it notes I found in her backpack this morning with words Parker said her teacher wrote for her to copy: “speggitti” and “basktball,” really not great.  The excitement she had for school and learning is transitioning to becoming a chore and while this happens for many students, it definitely shouldn’t happen in kindergarten.

 

More tears may be shed over kindergarten, it may be me or it may be her teacher and principal – and we haven’t even gotten to the common core math shenanigans yet.  I think the worst part is knowing my daughter has parents who will advocate for her and ensure she gets what she needs, while there are a lot of other kids who have to settle for what they get and will not meet their full potential.  I will be speaking with her teacher and without improvement, the principal.  Choosing a kindergarten took more effort and thoughtfulness than I took in choosing a college, however, just like in college – there is always an option to transfer.

How would you recommend speaking to the teacher in a way that will promote change without making her offended?  Or would you abandon the school?

 

Gorman Passport Adventure

Our next trip for the Kansas City’s Passport to Adventure was to the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center.  I was most surprised and slightly embarrassed to find this little eight acre gem nestled into the city near the Country Club Plaza.  There is no telling how many17anitabgordonILKC times I’ve driven right by it and never paid attention.  This discovery center has both indoor and outdoor adventures to explore.  Inside there were classrooms (I imagine were for scout meetings, field trips and summer camps) filled with nature experimentation and live animals.  On a separate wing of the building we could hear the high energy fun of a group of day campers.  A gift shop and information counter are to the right at the entrance for anyone looking for information on wildlife, plants and conservation.  The person at the information desk was excited to greet the kids and patiently answered their four and five year old questions, she also offered each kid an animal temporary tattoo.  The building had a formal presentation area facing a wall of windows where my two adventurers found entertainment in performing dances and songs to an audience of one after our hike outdoors.  The building also is an example for sustainable features like geothermal and water waste systems.   18anitabgordonILKC

The eight acres outside provides nature trails lines with native plants to demonstrate how beautiful nature can be in an urban setting.  The kids enjoyed picking the paths and alternating between the wood chip trails through the foliage and the paved walkway.  We hopped over a creek, watched water bugs on the ponds, identified details on flowers and plants, and climbed logs in the outdoor classroom.  Now that I am aware of the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center, I look forward to checking out more events there.  Next month alone they will have several story times, a presentation on Missouri Bats and Monarch Mania.19anitabgordonILKC

Following our outing to the Discovery Center, we cooled off at Loose Park’s splash pad.  One thing I love about Kansas City is the many free splash park areas were kids, and parents alike, can go to play during the summer time.  We made a quick wardrobe change in the car, brought in our water bottles and some water toys and smiled through the rest of the afternoon.

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Summer Passport

I am grateful for the time I get this summer to spend with my five-year-old daughter and my friend’s four-year-old son.  The two have grown up together and lovingly refer to each other as “Brother” and “Sister.”  They do behave a lot like siblings when spending any volume of time together; they truly adore each other though the laughter can easily turn to bickering and arguments – especially when not properly fed, hydrated and entertained.  At the start of the summer, the plan was some weeks I would have the two together three days during the week.  I knew this would require some thrifty creativity.

In the first week we had already gone to some of our favorite and free spots; Matt Ross Community Center (for their indoor play gym), Kaleidoscope (the art activity center at Hallmark), and Crown Center (The Adventures of Mr. Potato Head Exhibit).  I knew the air conditioned play would not last and we would have to be finding some unique outdoor activities too.  After the first few days of making it up as I went along, I stumbled upon an idea which would help guide our summer experiences.  I found Kansas City’s Passport to Adventure created by The Interpretive Site Coalition; “a not-for-profit organization comprised of historical sites, museums, nature centers and like agencies in the Kansas City region.”

I picked up two passports and have each child bring their own on each adventure we attend now.  The passport contains nineteen different locations to visit around the city, information about each location including address, hours of operation and admission fees (though most are free).  At each location there is a question for the kids to answer about what they see or learn on the visit and they provide their answer to an employee to earn a stamp.

While the kids are excited about earning stamps and playing, I am interested in checking out places in Kansas City I have never visited and avoiding fussing between the two by keeping our adventures fresh and new each day.

Our first adventure was to Burr Oak Woods, or as Jones called it, “Broke.”  This park contains 1,071 acres of forest and prairie, with hiking trails, picnic areas and a discovery nature center.  Upon entering the park I encouraged the kids to look for wildlife and to my surprise, the four year old voice in the back seat quickly responded with “There’s a deer.”  I put the car in reverse and we sat to watch a deer in the prairie for a few minutes before continuing on our path.  We started with a short hike on the trail so I packed chemical free bug07jonesIL spray and bottles of water to stay comfortable in the heat.  Because of the tree coverage and small breeze the June temperature didn’t feel as bad as I dreaded.  We listened to the sounds of nature, climbed on logs and held hands until their little legs were tired and then we went to explore the nature center.08jonesIL

Inside the nature center there was a 3,000 gallon aquarium with Missouri fish, smaller tanks for snakes, frogs and turtles and a long wall of windows for wildlife viewing out back.  Along with hummingbirds, squirrels and finches there also happened to be a gang of wild turkeys wondering through.  The kids turned every knob, flipped every switch and pulled every lever to explore all of what the exhibit offered.  They had the children’s play area all to themselves where they put on a puppet show from a hole in a log they could crawl into.  The kids had a blast sliding down the slide and using their imaginations to learn and grow.

Burr Oak Woods is definitely worth the trip to Blue Springs to enjoy the hiking and the nature center.  You can also pick up a passport there to begin your own summer adventures.

My Little Storyteller

In the moments Parker will go play by herself it’s not unusual to peer into her room and find her occupied with books.  Sometimes she curls up in her brown corduroy rocking chair and looks through the illustrations.  My favorite is when she lines up her dolls or stuffed animals and presents the books as though she is reading to her own make-believe classroom.  She carefully tells the story of each page before lifting and turning the book to her viewers to see the pictures.  01booksEach night we read each other one story before bed too.  She has several stories or lines out of books memorized and even mimics the inflections and character voices I use when I read to her.  A lot of her reading is completely made up as she goes along incorporating characters from the story I had read or from events that happened in her day.  It won’t be long before she is truly reading the words on the pages but for now she is using her imagination and her own words for storytelling.

Parker has an advanced vocabulary and communication skills for her young five years.  She is full of opinions, questions and comments and is fearless about opening her mouth to speak.  I want to empower her to continue this since it demonstrates curiosity and leadership, while also trying to rein her in and ensure she remains respectful with her words.  It’s also been a priority for me to educate her on the proper use of her vocabulary and practice pronunciation.  It’s not uncommon for her to completely make up words and throw them into sentences.  She has a few words she frequently stumbles over, like before she could say computer and asked to play on the “paduter.”  There are two words which come to mind I hear currently mispronounced, as long as she is not still saying them this way five years from now they will be a fun memory of her growth.

“Mom, we are out of skabetty?  That’s just rediclius.”

(*Spaghetti, ridiculous)

Teddy Bear and the Nightmares

babyWhile both of my parents are significant influences in my life, I have to give the majority of the child rearing credit to my mom.  Mom fed us, dressed us, bathed us, got us to school, chauffeured to activities, read bedtime stories, fixed boo boos, and knew all the details of her three children’s lives growing up.

There are some memories I have of my dad during my childhood which stand out, like the time I ran screaming from him when he asked to do my hair during a summer trip to Colorado.  It was in fact the first and only time I can recall him showing any interest in doing my hair and it was my mom’s job…  Or so I thought, until she pointed out how upset he looked at my response.  Remorsefully I agreed to let him try to which he responded, “Nevermind.”

My dad may not have been successful at styling his daughters’ hair, though, he did have a knack at resolving my childhood nightmares.  I had a reoccurring nightmare which likely stemmed from cartoon watching and stranger danger lessons in early elementary school.  To a six year old, the Care Bears being kidnapped was a wickidly frightening dream and one I would wake up from crying.  Whether from brilliant parenting insight or just an effort to keep me from trying to sleep in my parents bed, my dad reassured me in a way I found strength and confidence.  My dad told me to fall asleep holding my teddy bear up to my head and it would scare the bad dreams away.

It was a simple piece of advice from my dad and helped me sleep soundly through my childhood.  A few weeks ago I was fondly remembering how this memory made an impression on me when the realization hit me, my dad lied to me.  The teddy bear didn’t scare anything away, it was a false sense of security which tricked me into sleeping.  Now some people might say “so what, you got to sleep.”  Except my parents raised us with the belief and my dad maintains it is important to never lie to children.  He stands by the necessity of being truthful, not misleading with fairytales or disception.  Granted, this does not mean full disclosure to kids, there are times to limit topics into adult conversation.  For my parents it was important to set the example for always being honest.

In a quiet moment with my parents I broke the silence by asking my dad if he remembered this childhood advice.  I told him how I affectionately remembered the influence it had on me and my nightmares, he closed his eyes and smiled.  “It was a lie,” I pointed out, “The bear didn’t scare anything away, you lied.”  I felt so cleaver to finally uncover the one example in my lifetime where my dad was intentionally dishonest with me and hung to the thought for only a moment.

“It wasn’t a lie,” he said softly, “I helped you to change your perception so you weren’t afraid.”

As soon as he said it I understood what he meant, since a fear of a dream is unique from real danger.  The power I was given by the teddy bear wasn’t false at all, I was able to envision the protection it served me and it did provide me safety from my Care Bear nightmare.  The change in my perception gave me the confidence to control how I felt and what I didn’t need to fear.

Our conversation was broken up by a lab technician coming into the hospital room to take more blood samples from my dad.  He laid weak under the florescent lighting on an emergency stretcher, medical machines beeping with IV fluid being flushed through his body.  Dad’s skeletal frame had been deteriorating over the past six month, starting as a back ache escalating to full blown crisis.  Knowing what we know now, I wrestled with the guilt of thinking he just wasn’t trying hard enough to get well.

Dad was admitted to the ICU and the following few days were met with a whirlwind of doctors, blood tests, CT scans, X-rays, medicines and finally a bone biopsy.  For a man who had escaped injury and illness throughout his life, it was a nightmare come to life to watch him dependent on help from others.  My mom, siblings and our significant others rallied to support Dad during his hospitalization.  After an emotionally taxing weekend, we surrounded my dad when a doctor confirmed the diagnosis of multiple myeloma.

Six days after entering through the emergency room, Dad was sent home and began preparation for cancer treatment.  Taking advice from my sister-in-law to heart, I have not looked into the statistics of the disease and only focused my attention on gaining knowledge of treatment.  I am not naïve about his frail condition or the long road ahead, instead I am making a choice not to dwell in what we cannot change.  Dad’s advice of the teddy bear and nightmares seems to be relevant even more today.  By changing our perception we can develop strength and avoid fear, keep our minds open for opportunities and be confident about handling what the future brings.

My dad continues to reinforce life lessons and bring a positive influence into my life, as does my mom.  Through all of this, my mom has stayed the consistent caregiver.  She makes meals, helps dress, chauffeurs to doctor’s appointments, and maintains all the details of dad’s needs.  Mom even helps him with his hair.


For family and friends who are interested in knowing more about his diagnosis and treatment, Dad and I are keeping a journal to document the road to recovery on Caringbridge.  You can find him by searching his full name.

Funny Thing in Threes

In a family of funny quirks, my daughter was bound to have a few of her own.  Though it is no surprise, some of her peculiar habits have me scratching my head.  Honestly, it’s scratching my head wondering where in the world that Little One has gone.  002See the Little Ones in her little world are small stuffed animals or toys, they are paired in sets of threes, there are certain ones for bath time and certain ones for bedtime, and the bedtime ones are interchangeable with different sets of Little Ones – following along?  She has never been a kid with a comfort item, no particular blanket or stuffed animal.  Instead she has lots and the important one of the moment.  Sets of Little ones are invited to ride along in car rides or on trips.  At Nana’s house she is thrilled to make tiny pillows for her Little Ones complete with tiny tassels or bows.  I find tiny pillows all over my house and car.  Sometimes it seems our lives are ruled by the Little Ones.

By some bizarre miracle I can follow along with which Little One she is referring to, even without it’s specified name.  And by my own psychic will, seem to be able to predict who will fall in and out of the set of three for bedtime.  With my mommy night vision, I am capable of reaching into the dark and find the missing Little Ones after lights go out and bedtime stories are long finished.  All of my super mom power still cannot fathom where this all began and how she came up with calling them the Little Ones.  I just chalk it up to my little girl and her funny things, this one being a funny thing in threes.

01

Kid Art

Each child is exceptionally unique in so many ways.  One thing which makes my daughter unique from other typical four year olds is her artwork.  I began noticing this difference when she plays with other kids, paper and a box of crayons.  While most kids near this age are focused on stick figures, my girl is coloring abstract shapes.  Even with piles of coloring books, this kid would prefer a blank sheet of paper to color her own abstract designs.

PJart2Sometimes I ask her what she is drawing and she always has an explanation.  “It’s a map to Aunt Bev’s house, and here is the park, and a dog, and a tree.”  All of which are blobs of color in a neatly connected Crayola collage.  She always has an explanation for everything so I never know if she is actually imagining these things as she is drawing or if when pressured to come up with an answer – makes it up on the fly.

Curious about her unique work lead me to inquiring with an art therapist friend and several Google searching sessions.  All of which lead me to no definitive answers.

PJart1Some sites claimed too much use of red and black has indications of anger or depression, then other sites added blue, brown and orange into this as well.  Other sources stated black equals dominance while red demonstrates excitement.  Contradictions in interpretation are confusing, especially if the explanation really has more to do with a child’s favorite color being red or black.  There may be parents out there freaking out with a child only drawing in red and missing the fact that it is the only available crayon not broken.

There was also some indications about the meaning of where the drawings are typically located, my daughter’s coloring is almost always oriented towards the top left part of a page.  Unfortunately, there was not a lot of consistency in this either.  Some references stated the left is often associated with mom or nurturing, whereas right is for dad’s.  Additionally left might be related to considering the past while right side is future thinking, then again another source reported drawings oriented to the top of the page indicate future thinking and confidence.

No matter what search terms I came up with I couldn’t find anything explaining what it means for my child to draw abstract patterns instead of the pre-schematic drawings typical for most four year olds.  Then, just like she does when I think I have any pattern of behavior established, she switches it up…  This morning while cleaning up the kitchen I glanced around the corner where she was quietly occupied on her dry erase board.  For the first time in nearly 6 months, she had drawn a pre-schematic drawing.

PJartAs my art therapist friend stated she does during her sessions, I simply asked her about her drawing.  “It’s me and you, Mommy.”

Now, I am not sure what a professional kids’ art interpreter would say this sketch means, to me it’s pretty clear.  Obviously that’s me on the left and a pretty accurate depiction if I say so myself.  Eyes so large they make half of my face, a skinny (stick-like) body and big ol jugs.  Then with her hand on like me, (as she usually is hanging, holding or laying on me somehow)  you can see her little body has wings since she is my little angel.  Her other hand in the drawing appears to be holding something and I am pretty sure I see a dollar sign, meaning this girl brings a wealth of happiness wherever she goes.

The use of only orange is a good indication she didn’t bother to remove the caps off any other markers.  And the random letters show how she loves to practice letters and is excited about words, though is stubborn about asking for help with spelling.  She chooses to write letters and hopes her random guessing will turn out something readable.

Who knows what her next art project with look like?  I think instead of figuring it out, I will just stand back and appreciate her uniqueness.