Saturday, December 29, 2012


Last night my husband and I had the opportunity to escape for quick, impromptu date night and go to the movies. Often not agreeing on movies, we settled on the new Quentin Tarantino film Django,Unchained. Generally I am a fan of Tarantino films although they tend to be over the top in their graphic goriness and bloodiness. This one was no exception. The subject matter was harsh, the language was explicit and the blood was flying. It is, in no doubt, and R rated film.

But the most horrifying moment of the night occurred before the film even started. It was an 8 o'clock film with a running time of two hours 45 minutes. After adding in previews a conservative estimate of ending time of the film would be about 11 PM (it was late for me to be out especially having worked all afternoon). Just moments before the start of the show, a couple came in and sat in the seats directly next to us.  With their young child, approximately 18 months-old.  Pat and I looked at each other as if to say, "Are they really doing this?  Are they really here with their young child, at a film that is so very violent an inappropriate?"  And the answer was yes.

There were so many things wrong with this scene.  A child that age is really too young to be at the movies.  The loudness in the theater is not good for developing ears, especially when you sit in the third row.  Secondly, why is a child out that late?  Young children need their sleep and routines and bedtimes.  This child was awake for much of the film, and appeared to be looking at the screen for at least some of the film.  Thirdly, the film was so very, very inappropriate for that child to be exposed to.  Not only with the use of cursing and cussing (it is a Tarantino film, so there is gratuitous use of the F word),  but with the subject matter of slavery, the use of the N word was very, very prevalent.  Not the word that a young child needs to be hearing, or think is acceptable or funny (because the audience was laughing at times when it was used).  I cannot even count how many people literally got their brains blown out during this film with massive blood spatters everywhere.  We do not need to be exposing our children to this from the time they exit the womb.  Perhaps it is exposure to this kind of violence that desensitizes them to it, making kids think that unabashed violence is acceptable with no real consequences.

When we choose to become parents, or for that matter engage in activities that may lead us to become parents, we need to realize that our own needs no longer come first. Being a parent is the most important task we will ever undertake. We are responsible for the creation and upbringing of a nether human being. We are responsible for the kind of person that child becomes. We are responsible for putting in the hard work and making the sacrifices in order to create another decent hard-working contributing member of society. If we were not responsible for this, human young would not need to stay with their parents.

Parenting is hard work. No doubt about it. For the mom, sacrifice begins with diet modification and lifestyle change when one is hoping to become or already has become pregnant. The sacrifice does not end when the birth occurs. It continues with sleepless nights, physical weariness, actual scars from childbirth, and a worry that surrounds your heart for as long as you have your child.

Sacrifice has its rewards. There is the unconditional love those bright brilliant eyes smiling at you at 6 AM in the morning. The hugs with the pat on the back which nothing can ever quite replace. The feel of the small hand, holding yours. The sound of a child's giggles that you wish you could bottle and save for a dark day. There is the reward of watching your children play a game together and feeling like your heart will burst from all the love. There is the reward of creating this human being, this tiny little baby who becomes a wonderful person.

Somehow, in our society we have forgotten that the reward does not come without the sacrifice. Perhaps it is because we are now an entitlement society where we expect to be paid and rewarded without earning it first.  Mothers see little children as dolls to dress up. They are not dolls, they cannot be put on a shelf when we don't feel like playing. Parenthood takes work. A lot of it. And it may mean forgoing date night at the movies. It may mean waiting a year or two until the movie comes out on DVD. It may mean the only time you see the inside of a movie theater is to see an animated film for years on end. But it may mean that you raise a child who was wonderful and loving and caring and a productive member of society.

It bothers me to see people so selfish that they cannot put their own need for entertainment aside for an evening for the needs of their child. I may be making a judgment here but I'm guessing this is not the first time this is occurred nor is it the last. And to disrupt a child's routine, schedule, bedtime and expose them to something so harsh and gory, is needless. We all know our children learn by what they see and hear around them. It's why our kids watch Sesame Street. They learn how to count, they learn how to sing, they learn their colors and shapes. With the amount of times the F and the N word were used it's not unreasonable to think a small child could learn either one of those words in that three hour time span.

And I do know that part of what makes me better able to parent my children is that I do get breaks from them. My husband and I need time with just us to work on providing a stable foundation for our children. I'm a big advocate of date nights. If you can afford two or three movie tickets, the jumbo size popcorn and soda, as well as candy bars and designer clothes and iphones, you can save for a few more weeks to get a babysitter. But people don't want to wait. They want instant gratification. They don't want to stop and think about someone else's needs before their own. And this is just another thing that is wrong with our society and our mentality.

People need to stop and think. They need to realize that raising their child is their first priority. They need to be prepared to put their own needs somewhat lower. It is part of being a responsible parent.

Responsibility is a big issue these days. No one wants to take it because it often means we are at fault. Or it means we are sacrificing. We all wonder what the world is coming to.  What is wrong with society. We all need to start taking a little more responsibility. We will never fix our societal problems unless we do. We can not teach our children that we have to give to receive, that we have to work to get paid and that we do not just deserve stuff.  And it starts in the home with parents making the first sacrifice.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Best Gift I Have to Give

In homes across the country, and I assume the world, the stress levels have peeked.  Christmas is TOMORROW!  Moms are in full blown panic mode.  (Except, of course for those who are all set. For the record, I don't like you.)  We have run around like chickens with their heads cut off for the last five weeks.  We have poured over sale fliers trying to find just the right gift at the best price.  Then, about a week ago, we said "screw it" and paid more money just for the sake of not having to go to another store.

We're up to our elbows in wrapping paper and bows and cookie dough.  We've had lots of late nights with one more to go.  If I could receive sleep wrapped under the tree tomorrow, I'm pretty I would be very happy.

The events of the last few weeks have helped me figure out why I go through this every year.  Magic.  I want to give my kids magic.  They are children for such a short time.  Innocence is lost earlier and earlier with each generation.  Giving my children a sense of family and tradition and faith and magic is better than any toy I can give them.  All of this subterfuge helps them feel that there is magic in this world.  And they need that.  They need to think that they can be rewarded for being good children.  They need to think that the specific thing they have asked for can magically appear just for them.  They need to see Mom and Dad working together to get things done.  They need to see us putting forth the effort to do things for others.

It is a time to talk about family, those here and those who have already left us.  They need to know that it's ok to miss those who are not here, but that we need to continue living.  Pulling out my grandmother's recipe box and making some of the treats that she used to make makes me feel closer to her, even though she's not here.  I get a sense of whole-ness when I make the cookies with my kids, just as I used to do with Mimere.  I hope someday, they'll do the same with their children and grandchildren.

I want my kids to believe that there is good of an unseen nature in this world.  They see enough evil.  I'm happy to say we have taken the time to watch some classic Christmas specials.  We have listened to and sung Christmas songs.  We have decorated.  We have baked.  We have wrapped.  We went on the Polar Express.  Today, we'll read "A Visit from St. Nick."  We'll go visit family.  Pat and I will stay up late tonight, making sure the tree is perfect.

Even though our tree will be full of stuff, the best gift we're giving our kids is not anything that can be wrapped.  The presents, the songs, the baked goods, the lights, the traditions...they're the physical embodiment of love. And that's the best present of all.

Monday, December 17, 2012

My gift

Normally, I look forward to going to sleep each night, but especially on Mondays.  Going to bed tonight is going to age me a year.  Sometime in the wee hours of the morning (ok, 2:54 am to be exact), I'm going to turn a year older.  I'm going to be, gulp, 37.  That's officially late 30's.  How did that happen?  Most days, I don't feel a day over 50.

I have more lines on my face.  My freckles are no longer cute.  And they're getting larger.  And they can kind of be called age spots at this point.  My joints hurt some of the time.  I make involuntary grunting noises when  squatting down or standing up.

But I'm sort of ok with it.  I'm at a good point in my life right now.  My kids are great ages, especially during this holiday season.  I like my job and think that I have enough experience now that people kind of, sometimes respect what I have to say.  My husband and I have worked through the ups and downs of 11 years of marriage and are there for each other.  I am truly blessed to have a wonderful life.

I've made the decision and commitment in the last month or so to actively pursue happiness.  It is my gift to me this year.  And it is my gift to my family.  Especially in light of recent tragedies, both local and national, we have no guarantees about how long we have on this earth.  I always think about my father-in-law, who was forced into early retirement at the age of 57.  He was not happy about it, but took they next three years to teach (which he loved) and enjoy retirement.  He died, very suddenly, at the age of 60.  If he had not had those three years of unplanned retirement, he would have worked until he dropped.

Despite my rapidly advancing age, I don't have the option of early retirement.  But I want to take each day for what it can offer.  I want to be happy.  I'm letting go of the small things.  I'm trying to react less to the medium stuff.  I'm trying to roll with the biggies. I'm trying to live so that I don't have any regrets.  It's not always easy, but like anything worthwhile (relationships, marriage, parenting), the reward is worth the work.  Should my number get pulled, I don't want to have any regrets about how I spent my time here.

I really believe that happiness is a choice.  I know people who bad things keep happening to, but they are always smiling and chipper and with a glass-half-full attitude.  Conversely, I know people with seemingly good lives who are so full of negativity that they feel toxic to be around.  I cannot and will not be that person.  I choose happiness.

So my birthday gift cannot be found in a store.  It cannot be returned or exchanged.  But, just like a pregnant cat, it is the gift that keeps on giving.  And instead of something that is consumed, I'm giving my birthday gift out to those around me.  To those friends who are my village, whom I could not survive parenting without.  To my kids, who are the sun in my world.  To my family, who keep me focused on what outcome I desire.  And to my husband, who, for better or worse, is my partner throughout this journey.

Me, 37 years ago.  Already a ham.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Underlying Issue

The events of Sandy Hook are truly, truly horrible.  I'm having trouble even formulating words and thoughts about the atrocities that took place.  My heart breaks for the parents of those twenty children, and for the families of the valiant adults who, no doubt, tried to protect the innocent lives.

Social media is on fire right now with talk about gun control.  That tighter gun control could have prevented this.  That now is the time for increased gun control.  That increased gun control is the answer.

But what I do not hear anyone talking about is mental illness.  I have to believe that the man who did this was mentally ill.  Because if he were not, he was soulless and evil, and I cannot believe that a person like that actually exists in this world.  In this country, we do not have adequate health care for people with mental illness, especially severe mental illness.  The largest clearing house for people with significant mental illness in this country is prison.  We do not have adequate inpatient facilities to treat our mentally ill.  The inpatient facilities for children are rumored to be rampant with sexual abuse.  At least 25% of homeless people are mentally ill.

This is the time to look at how we are supporting those with significant mental illness.  What treatments are available?  What is out there?  Advocates like Pete Earley and Susan and Michael Schofield are fighting because they were forced too--their children have mental illness.

When someone is not connected to society due to lack of empathy, psychosis and delusions, a law about a gun will not deter them.  And if a gun is not available, they will use a knife.  Or a bomb.  Or a chemical.  Most serial killers do not kill with guns.

In 2007, over 41,000 people were killed in automobile accidents.  In that same year, 12,000 were killed in homicides with guns.  Another 5,000 were killed by law enforcement in legal interventions.  About 700 were accidental discharge deaths.  Cars caused more than twice the amount of deaths than guns caused.

We don't need tighter gun control.  We need more help for people with mental illness.  If this case, along  Aurora, Tuscon and Virginia Tech do not illustrate that, then nothing will.  Too many lives have been lost.  77 innocent lives in those four events, plus the four lives of the mentally ill individuals (as well as those wounded, but who survived).  Let's not fight about gun control.  Let's fight for proper mental health care so this does not happen again.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One step back and two steps forward

Every so often, things do not go how you expect.  Like when I deliver bad news, and it is awesome.

Yep, you got that right, awesome.

There was the time I told a mom that I thought her child needed a wheelchair.  When I said it, she paused, and there was an intake of breath.  She listened to the reasoning and rationale.  She listened when we reiterated that is was her decision, not ours.  She listened to the pros and cons.  She listened to the process.  She listened to me when I explained how it would help her child and her family.  She listened when I explained how I could help her.  And then she told me to go ahead and do it.  Awesome.

This is one of the crappy, but often unspoken parts of my job.   In the schools, my job is to make sure that kids can access their education in a safe and efficient manner.  Physical therapy in the schools is not designed to meet all the therapeutic needs of a student, but rather just those that impact access to one's education.  It involves a lot of accommodating and problem solving.  It is why I don't work with kids older than 3rd grade a whole lot.  At that point, most children with developmental disabilities are relatively stable.  PT stays on in a consult mode to help classroom and building staff by training them with lifting and positioning, on using equipment appropriately, and with wheelchairs and braces.

I have seen a lot of kids with cerebral palsy (CP) in my career.  CP is a catch-all term to describe a condition that results when there is brain injury prior to, during, or shortly after birth.  Often, children who have strokes before the age of 2 are usually labeled with CP, although I do think they present much differently.  CP is quite common in children born prematurely, with the risk increasing the earlier a child was born.  CP ranges in severity, and its effects are varied, depending on the area of the brain injured and the size of the insult.  As such, people with CP can have normal cognitition, or be severely intellectually disabled (which used to be what was called mental retardation).  People with CP always have a motor impairment, but is can be a minor tightening in the calf muscle, impairment of one arm, impairment of one whole side of the body, impairment of just the legs or the whole body can be involved.  Most people with CP have spastic, tight muscles (but there are different types that can also cause loose floppy muscles, random uncontrollable movements, or difficulty with coordination).

In kids with the spastic type of CP, the pre-pubescent growth spurt is a nasty thing.  We all know that kids seem to shoot up overnight once they hit 10, 11, 12 years old.  They come to school seemingly 2 inches taller than the day before.  Generally, during these growth spurts, the bones grow quicker than the muscles.  In people with spastic CP, the bone growth causes the muscles to be stretched, which increases the spasticity and tightness, which makes the already tight muscles tighter.  This makes joint deformities and limited range of motion even worse.  So, if before the growth spurt, a kid had tight hamstrings, he would have difficulty straightening his knee all the way.    After the growth spurt, the knee would straighten less and be bent even more.

Now picture walking this way, on your toes, with your knees bent.  It takes a lot of energy.  Now, go up on your toes a little more and bend your knees a little bit further.  Hold it that way.  Now walk.  Pretty tiring, right?  Hard to hold your balance, right?  Walking for people with spastic CP is very energy costly.  They can fall a lot.  Also, the chronic stresses placed on joints that are in poor alignment causes early degeneration.  Arthritis is common, often by the teen years.  Adults with CP can have a lot of pain because of this degeneration.

Often, we hear reports that children are falling asleep in school because they are so wiped out from moving around.  Anxiety and fear often begin to limit the child as he or she is afraid of being in crowded areas where they might fall.  Kids give up physical activities that they used to love.  These kids are often in pain.  Use of a wheelchair can help the child preserve energy while at school, thereby allowing the child to use energy to attend to learning, rather than moving from point A to B.  The wheelchair can also diminish anxiety in the school, home and community, which can improve the quality of life overall.  Pain can be diminished as well.

I know that some people with CP who are ambulatory do not feel that a wheelchair is a good solution.  I have gone many rounds with many families about this.  Their children have worked so hard to walk that they do not want to take that independence away from them.  I feel that a wheelchair, especially when a person still has the ability to walk, actually gives more independence, but it is from a different perspective.  There is no perfect, one size fits all solution.

I know when I have this talk with a family, it is difficult for them to hear.  It does not seem like many of my families are prepared for the changes that puberty bring (other than the obvious) for their children with CP.  I don't feel that the physicians prepare the families for the decline in function that accompanies puberty for many individuals with spastic CP.  The mom that I am thinking of  handled the news with such dignity and grace.  She had seen the decline in her child.  She knew that her child was having problems.  No one ever explained to her why, or how it was impacting her child (for example, she knew anxiety in crowds was becoming problematic and that her child was avoiding going out, but she didn't realize it was due to fatigue and unsteadiness while walking).  At that time, I don't think she knew I was going to suggest a wheelchair.  I'm sure that she cried over the recommendation.  I'm sure her child cried too (which breaks my heart, because I never want to make anyone cry) .  It is a loss for them.  But with the child's increased mobility, energy and confidence, it will be more of a gain.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

'Tis the Season

So, it's December again.  Which means one thing...MY BIRTHDAY!!!

No, seriously, it's that busy Christmas season where the words 'chaotic' and 'cacophony' can be used almost daily.  The moms I know are running around, even more frenzied and harried than usual.  The dads must still believe in Santa, because suddenly, Christmas has been delivered to their house.  Even though Thanksgiving was early this year, there never seems to be enough time (ie, weekends) leading up to the big day.

I gotta admit...I love the lights.  I love the way my house looks all decorated.  I hate taking the stuff down, not just because it's a lot of work, but because my perfectly respectable house looks dull and blah afterwards.  I love that the kids plug the tree and indoor lights is every night.  There is just something indescribably peaceful about sitting in a room lit only from the soft glow of the golden Christmas tree lights.

Singing Christmas songs really does lighten one's mood, I find.  I just wish they wouldn't convert the radio stations over to all Christmas until after Thanksgiving.  And I wish many of the stations would vary their selection.  There are so many cool versions of songs out there.  My favorite Christmas song has historically been Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses.  I don't hear it that much anymore.  I have, on many occasions, sat in my car, just to listen.

A leftover remnant of my childhood piano lessons is a book of Christmas carols.  I remember a lot of them without the music, so Christmas time is the one time of the year that I really sit down and play the piano.  My kids are fascinated by it.  Makes me wish I had kept with it, but I like at least being able to play some favorites.  Sometimes I feel like Janie in "It's a Wonderful Life" practicing 'Hark! The Harold Angels Sing' over and over.

Speaking of "It's a Wonderful Life,"  I love all the Christmas specials.  Sophia listens to the "A Charlie Brown Christmas" soundtrack year round, every night to fall asleep (long story--neighbors were being loud one night, and it was the only instrumental CD I could put my hands on in the dark at 10 pm).  It's a little odd to be listening to 'O Tannenbaum' in July, but it seems to fit now.  All of us, even Pat, can watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" over and over.  I mean, the dancing kids are just the best.

And "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (the cartoon, not the movie) is one that I cannot miss.  Imagine my delight when Jake started doing his best "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" at breakfast yesterday morning.

My Christmas show this year is 'Elf: The Musical.'  It's extra special this year because Sophia is in it with me.  Her very first one!  We all love the music and have been singing it non-stop for weeks.  I find myself waking up at all hours of the night with the songs running through my head.  I still have to sew trim onto five more ballet costumes before Sunday's performance, yet here I sit writing instead of sewing.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to make a gigantic ass out of myself, but it can't be any worse than the year I was Fiona in "Shrek the Halls."  I was GREEN for pete's sake!
Last year, when we did "The Nutcracker, All Jazz'd Up,"  I was a little more respectable as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

So, we have that for the next two weekends.  Good thing the house is all decorated.  Shopping is mostly done, but wrapping has not yet even been considered. Christmas cards are in process.  I cut back to 80 this year.  Snapfish only lets you order in bundles of 20, and for the past few years I've been sending out around 90.  Sorry to some that may have been cut.  Blame Snapfish (or blame yourself for NEVER sending a card back to us).  I really like getting the cards too.  Only two so far this year, but it's early yet.  

So, in other words, I'm not sure how much I'll be able to blog over the next few weeks.  We have the Christmas show, birthday parties (not just for me), charity events, and getting though the next few weeks of school.  

Here's another Christmas song to get you all in the spirit of things.  If this doesn't help, then you're just a big Scrooge.

Oh, and in case I forgot to mention, my birthday is coming up too!