Friday, November 16, 2018

On Guardian Angels

Yesterday I had my CT Scan and five year check-up with my neurointerventional radiologist. Good news - all is completely stable and exactly the same as it was two years ago at my previous check-up. Next appointment in another two years.

As I was riding to the appointment yesterday (my mom drove in this yucky weather), I was thinking about my guardian angels.

Let me back up, I think I've mentioned this before in a previous blog, but when I was in Shock Trauma, the soon-to-be-MIL of the woman in the room next to mine, came in to see me one day. She gave me a guardian angel coin. I keep that coin in my car (seems obvious). I bought more to - I like to give guardian angel coins to the people who have been a guardian angel to me, or that may need a guardian angel. It's just a little symbol that says how much I appreciate them for their kindness, or that I'm here if they need me; sometimes both.

So, back to yesterday - I'm thinking about my guardian angels and how fortunate I am to have so very many surrounding me on a regular basis. Certainly my mom is in this category - she rarely left my side while I was in the hospital - not even to sleep. And, the doctor I was supposed to have seen yesterday - Dr. Jindal.

Dr. Jindal saved my life. More than once. He performed the 10 hour surgery to repair the aneurysm near my brain stem. He has taken amazing care of me, during my time in Trauma, and for these five years since. Yesterday Dr. Jindal was not available for my appointment - he was busy in Trauma helping to save other lives. We waited forever for his poor overscheduled nurse practioner to see us. She was so apologetic for the delay, and I was sad not to see Dr. Jindal. Even so, I am grateful in knowing that like the day he probably missed scheduled appointments to save me, he missed my appointment to save others. There isn't a better reason to miss an appointment.

While the rest of my guardian angels have not literally saved my life, I would say they have at least figuratively saved my life. Without them, my life would be significantly less. Each of them have given me opportunities to live a fulfilling life.

I am so fortunate - I know my list of guardian angels is going to grow each day, month, and year. I surround myself with good, kind people. I surround my children with good, kind people. And, I work to be good and kind in return, as well as to teach my children the same.

We all have guardian angels around us - sometimes we have to look for them, and sometimes they just show up exactly when we need them. I have found that when I expect good from others - when I expect to find guardian angels - that is exactly what I've gotten. So, in the spirit of a fast approaching Thanksgiving, thank you.

Monday, November 5, 2018

On A Hobble Jog

My daughter recently bought a wheelchair for her American Girl dolls. As soon as we got home, she ran upstairs and immediately started playing with it. About 30 minutes later, she called me up to her room to see what she'd been doing.

Alli was so excited - not just because she wrapped the doll's leg with a "cast," but because she also put her doll into a Hobble Jog shirt that she took off her Hobble Jog Bear. She said "look Mommy, my doll is going to have to Hobble Jog for a bit until she gets back on her feet. It's going to take a lot of work, but she's going to be fine."

The Hobble Jog Foundation is close to my heart. I am a member of the board and both of my kids have met Susan Hahn, the founder - each spending time listening to her talk about what it means. It gave me such a sense of pride seeing the connection that Alli made between her doll, struggling, and Hobble Jog.

The Hobble Jog Foundation supports teens and young adults recovering from neurological trauma, inspiring them to meet their full potential. You can see why this would be important to me and why I am a part of the organization. The idea is that as long as you keep moving forward, it doesn't matter if you have to hobble while you jog - you're still jogging. Use the analogy in any challenging situation.

I certainly have done my fair share of "hobble jogging," while recoving from my TBI and with the other challenges that I've had, both from the accident, and with those not related. We all hobble jog at some point in our life. It's part of our growth as a human being.

I am so excited to be a part of this organization. I look forward to making a positive impact on others who have experienced neurological trauma. I am especially thrilled about continuing to allow my children the opportunity to understand and value a growth mindset - that challenges have to be worked through, and with time, perseverance, and a whole lot of hard work, you can get through it and make the best out of a given situation. Additionally, they get to understand that everyone hobble jogs at some point, and we should approach those individuals that are having trouble, with patience, compassion, and empathy.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

On Milestone Anniversaries

It's been five years. FIVE YEARS! Like with most anniversaries or birthdays, it feels both a lifetime ago and just yesterday.

I was struggling a bit before I had my accident. My struggling was more emotional than physical during that time. I was navigating a separation and subsequent divorce, my kids getting used to living in two homes, not to mention the regular daily challenges of parenting and working full-time.

Certainly, immediately after the accident and for quite a long time thereafter, I struggled. This time the struggle was physical and emotional. I still had all those other things on my plate, and I also had to fight for my life. And then, I had to recover from that fight. I had to learn how to navigate the new normal. Happily, normal is always changing, and for the most part, getting better.

Here's what I've learned in the past five years that I think will help me continue to maneuver this bumpy road of life:

  • To be grateful - For the big and small things, and that I've been able to handle what's been thrown my way. It gives me hope for future challenges.
  • Asking for help isn't a crime - Sometimes the challenge is too great to handle by oneself. I'm learning that I can ask for help and it doesn't mean I'm weak - it means that I have a greater understanding of my immediate capabilities.
  • Neither is being independent - I can and will do things by and for myself. I am not going to apologize for not needing help.
  • I'm stronger than I knew I was - I've always known I have strength in me, but there is something eye-opening about looking back over the last five years and seeing what I've accomplished, and just how strong I've had to be.
  • To fill my life with the right people - Now, I actively seek out friends who are kind, considerate, and compassionate. I look for the people I want to help and who I want to help me. I look for the people who care about my children and seek to help them when they need it. I look not for friends, but for people to add to that ever growing category of "family I picked."
  • To roll with it - I love making things certain, but I also value change and a quick pace. I have learned over the last five years to let go (mostly) of the things that don't really matter and focus on the things that do. Stuff changes, in dramatic large ways and teeny-tiny ways. Rolling with it has served me well.
  • Quality time matters - Quantity is nice. Loads and loads of time to do what needs to be done or to spend with the people that matter is great. It is also unrealistic. I try, instead, to focus on the quality of what I'm doing when I'm doing it, whether that's with my kids, my friends or family, working with clients, or working out. I may not be able to do something 24/7, but I can do a really good job in the hour I have.
  • Enjoy something about every day - This isn't always easy. We all have bad days. We all argue iwth our kids, or have a project that doesn't go quite as planned. Still, there's always something enjoyable that you can find. I love the end of the day - when the arguing stops and the kids and I read books together and snuggle before bed. There's always a good part of the day - sometimes you just have to look for it.
As I am sure you're all a little curious about how Emily and I are doing since that day five years ago when we survived our accident:

I have an upcoming CAT Scan and follow-up appoingment with Dr. Jindal, my neurointerventional radiologist. That appointment is in November, but as I haven't experienced anything to be concerned about, I'm guessing all will be well. I continue to experience pain in my hand, but it isn't stopping me from doing anything I really want to do. It just makes zipping zippers and buttoning buttons a little tricky - not to mention helping Alli with her earrings. I have great clients that I'm enjoying working with. Simon is in a new school and program this year which is good, and also an adjustment. Alli is loving field hockey, school, and her friends. All-in-all, I have no complaints.

Emily is also doing well. She has . arelatively new job that brings with it some interesting travel and new people. Her kids are growing at an unbelievable pace and she, Ryan, and the kids moved into a new home this past year. Emily still has some challenges with zippers and buttons too, but like me, all-in-all, things are well.

We are celebrating this milestone anniversary tomorrow night! I'll be sure to update the blog with pictures.

Finally, I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me (and Emily) through the immediate aftermath of the accident and over the last five years. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we wouldn't be here without you, and we are undeniably grateful for every kind throught, word, and deed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

On "The Worst Day Ever"

To say that my daughter is dramatic would be an understatement. She feels things in a big way, and expresses them that way too.

While I truly believe expressing one's feelings is important and I appreciate that she feels things significantly, these same traits can be challenging for her mother (me).

First of all, I feel things in a big way and I'm expressive with my feelings, also. This can mean a lot of drama in one house.

Second, Alli's drama tends to be gloom and doom. She frequently says "this is the worst day ever," no matter how small or insignificant the challenge actually is in the grand scheme of things. To her, in the moment, it is very significant

Perhaps I tended toward gloom and doom at her age. I don't really remember that I did, but maybe it's an age and experience thing.

When Alli says "this is the worst day ever," I respond by saying "I hope this is your worst day ever. If it is, you are a very lucky girl." She answers back with a 9-going-on-19 eye roll and a "you just don't understand me, Mom."

I know this isn't her worst day. This is a child who has lived through her parents' divorce, her mom's life threatening car accident, and a tornado hitting her house. She's only 9. She's had worse days, months, and even a year. And, I'm sure there will be other things that will qualify as worse.

I try to explain to both of my children that there is always someone in the world having a harder time than we are, and there's always someone in the world who is having an easier time. The only thing we can control is how we respond to our own situations and challenges. I try to move their perspective out of their own personal bubbles to the world around them. Not suprisingly, this is one of my bigger parenting challenges. Kids are egocentric. I know they have to grow into opening themselves up to others' experiences and perspectives.

It seems as though my children are listening to what I say less and less as the years progress. I know this is developmentally appropriate for their ages, and it is still frustrating and disappointing. I can only hope that I am modeling the lessons I think are important for them to learn.

I hope they learn, from my example, to take things as they come, and to do the best with what they have. My desire is that they will some day understand the value of working hard to make changes in themselves and in their situations. I want them to get the value of serving others. Finally, my intention is that they learn, through my actions, to be grateful for what they have, as well as to be grateful for the challenges they haven't had to experience. I believe that it is our gratitude that allows us to muscle through the "worst days" so that our experiences can lead us in a positive direction.

Think about today. What if this is your "worst day ever?" Doesn't that mean tomorrow will be pretty good? And, when you get through this worst day, won't you have proven to yourself that you are strong and can get through some pretty tough things? Isn't that worth having a "worst day"?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

On the Unexpected Village

I truly believe the old saying "it takes a village to raise a child," and so, I've always made sure to surround myself with a village. I cannot raise two healthy, strong, intelligent children without some help. Family, friends (the family I picked), teachers, mentors, doctors, therapists - all of them are a part of our village. And, I am grateful for each person's contribution to the well-being of my children.

I did not, however, in the midst of our travels home from vacation, expect to add to the village - but I did.

Travel is difficult for many people, but imagine if you will having sensory processing challenges, and think about the size, number of people, and just sheer volume of noise in an airport. It gives me a headache, and I don't have those challenges.

Imagine hearing everything louder, seeing everything brighter, and not being able to tune out any of the fast-paced stimuli coming your way. Its exhausting to think about it. Does it make you want to run away and hide? Now add in security lines - really long security lines. And complete and total exhaustion from an action-packed vacation. How much would you be able to deal with?

The first addition to our village came in the security lines. As I was trying to get Simon to breathe and he was having an increasingly difficult time managing all of that stimuli, a very nice family, closer to the end of the line, allowed us to go before them. They had been waiting even longer than we had, and yet, they reached out and gave us a helping hand when we needed it.

The second addition came when we realized we were at the wrong gate and had to get all of our stuff together and move to another gate. I finally got Simon to sit down and was doing my very best to convince him that he could get on the plane so that we could go home. This woman came over to us and was trying to engage Simon and help distract him. He calmed a little bit and I thanked her and she walked away. Ten minutes later she returned with a stuffed animal for each of my kids - for Simon so that he could have a friend on the plane and for Alli for being such a great sister. Oh how I wish I knew this lady's name or any information about her, so that I could thank her properly.

The third came Michael at Southwest. I went up to the agent at the gate (Michael) and explained the situation. I said I just wanted to make sure that all three of us were sitting together. I didn't care where on the plane we sat, just that we were together. He changed our boarding passes and allowed us to pre-board. We were the second people on the plane and able to sit in the second row of the aircraft.

As soon as we sat down, Simon raised the armrest between us and fell asleep in my lap. He had exhausted himself with the stress of the day.

The final kind stranger who became part of our village was the guy sitting directly across the aisle from us. We both tried to get up to use the bathroom at the same time. He allowed me to go first, even though it took me longer to extract myself from Simon. And, he took our suitcases down from the overhead bin when the plane landed and we were getting set to get off. Finally, still, I got on the escalator ahead of Simon, forgetting that he had trouble navigating the escalator with his suitcase. The same guy helped talk him onto the escalator, showing him immense patience and understanding.

I expect a lot from people because I will treat others the way I want to be treated. I'm rarely disappointed. When you give people a chance to be kind, they generally are. And when they are not kind, it is rarely about you.

I did not quite expect the vast amount of kindness we received on that very long and grueling afternoon at the airport, but that's what we got. And for it, I am truly grateful.

I do not generally go around worrying that people are judging me or my children. Perhaps when your child has special needs you just have to be secure in knowing that you are doing your best and not care what others think. That being said, it is also nice to know that the people around me have realized that I am working hard to be a good mom to a kid that doesn't quite see the world the same as everyone else, and I'm trying to be a good mom to his sister, too.

I will gladly add these people to my village any day.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

On Anniversaries, Part 4

Do you ever feel as though you have lived three days in one?

I had a day like that recently. I wouldn't categorize it as a bad day or a good day really; it was just a long day. A lot of things shifted and changed throughout the day. Those shifts left me feeling as if the minutes, hours, and days were going, all-at-once, triple time and slow motion.

Time is a tricky thing. 

As I reflect on time and the fact that it’s been four years since my accident, I realize that I have lived a lot of life in these four short years, often seeming more than what the average person lives in the same amount of time. Let's just put it this way, I haven't been bored. 

We cannot always choose what happens to us in life, but we can always choose how we react to it. I feel fairly confident that I have reacted to both the challenges and the greatness in my life, not perfectly, but equally, with grace. I am grateful for my blessings, and I am grateful for my hardships.  

I've said it before and it remains true: I do not wish to give any of it back. The challenges endured these last four years have made me strong, they have solidified my determination and ability to persevere - these things have made me who I am. I don't want to give back who I am today, so why would I give back anything that has been a piece of the puzzle that is me.  

Soon I will celebrate this occasion with Emily, as we have done each year since October 11, 2013. We will talk, laugh, cry, and be grateful - for each other; for our family and friends; for the support, compassion, and kindness that we have been given; and for our experiences - for the weird time shifts in our lives. 

My wish for all of you on this anniversary is that your challenges become your strength - that when time shifts, you learn to hang on and roll with it. I promise you that one day you will be glad for anything that leads you somewhere amazing. 

Here is amazing. Trust me. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Privilege

I am privileged in a way that only white, middle-class Americans can be. I grew up in a nice house, went to great schools (elementary through grad), and was always secure in the knowledge that I would have enough... Even in my most challenging moments, I have always had enough: money, freedom, medical assistance, education, safety. Always enough.

Let's take this a step further because I am also privileged in a way that only white, middle-class American women can be. You see, I have been afforded the luxury of being able to play dumb or to at least turn a blind eye to what is going on in the world. I can proclaim it too much to deal with, turn off my tv, and go about my business - I can do this because the things that are going on in our country right now are not directly impacting me. I am privileged.

I cannot change the circumstance of my birth. Quite frankly, I don't really want to. I both acknowledge and am grateful for my privilege.

I think, though, that this quote from Spider-Man is particularly appropriate for what is happening in our country and what I can do about it.
"With great power comes great responsibility."
(I believe that power and privilege are fairly synonymous here so we'll make the substitution for the rest of this blog.)

I am privileged so I have a responsibility to seek to understand those who are different from me; to understand different cultures and ethnicities certainly, but more importantly I should seek to understand experience. Fear has been my reason for not always doing this - fear that my questions would be misunderstood as insensitive. Not acting for fear has not moved me forward on my quest to understand. I will work harder on this.

I am responsible for standing up to hatred displayed around me. I must speak for those who are not as privileged as I. I will no longer give the message that I condone this behavior because I am silent. I will not be silent. I do not want to be part of a group that spews hatred, so I can rid myself of the fear of not fitting in, and speak against what I believe to be wrong. I will do so with the loud, powerful voice my privilege extends me.

My children are also privileged and it is my responsibility to teach them how to use that privilege for good. It is my responsibility to teach them that responding to others with kindness, empathy, respect, and acceptance is how we should respond to all people, not just those that look like us or practice religion the same way we do. I feel like I work hard on this one every day and I can work harder. The future of the world depends on this.

So this is me standing up against the hatred so prominently displayed in Charlottesville, VA recently, and for the hatred displayed at any time.

I am not a better person because I happened to be born white. I will be a better person because I will uphold that all people deserve the privilege that I have received. All people deserve understanding, love, tolerance, and kindness. Not one of us is the same as another. We are all different. This is what makes us great.

I will take my white privilege responsibility seriously. Will you?