Sunday, June 23, 2024

June 23: Playing the Perfect Card

We escaped the brutal heat of Monday by heading to the Jersey shore for a fun day with Carl’s cousin’s family. Amy played hard as she always does at the ocean, getting completely covered in sand and romping for hours in the waves. Sarah mainly watched the waves and chased birds. We spent the rest of the week visiting Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop and Grammy, Granddad, my brother, and my uncle. It was wonderful spending time with everyone and we dealt with the heat with water balloons, sprinklers, and air conditioning. Amy also dressed up as if she could go to the Met Gala, wrapping herself in a pride flag and using my mom’s costume jewelry with a giant stuffed animal lion serving as her purse. On Wednesday we saw Inside Out 2 in a theater. Sarah hasn’t seen a movie in a theater since Frozen 2 came out years ago. Usually she likes to talk a lot during movies so it was a surprise and a testament to her love of Inside Out movies that she was quiet the whole time. If you haven’t yet seen Inside Out and Inside Out 2, I highly recommend them for any age. 

Ever since Inside Out became a family favorite, we sometimes talk about our own emotions as if they are the characters taking over. Carl handled many of Sarah’s upsets beautifully by talking about how Anger really took over. I was glad he had the space to do that because my own Anger and Anxiety were too strong in those moments for me to have any flexible or creative grace towards Sarah. 

At Grammy and Granddad’s Carl got to open an early birthday present of Fritos wrapped in tissue paper, which led to the usual silliness of tissue paper hats because what else are you to do with it?!

Friday the girls and I drove home so we would have plenty to time to get them ready for their sleep-away camps that start this afternoon. Carl stayed in Delaware for a very hot couple of days of rowing races. The amount of laundry I did between Friday night and Saturday night was immense since I wanted to wash everything from our week in Philly so any items could be packed for camp. Luckily the blisteringly hot sun helped everything dry quickly. I helped each girl put everything needed into their trunks, then take everything out of the trunks to label each and every thing now that it was decided-upon and pack it again neatly. We took a midday break to pick up prescriptions, get hiking boots for Amy for camp, and to enjoy water ice at Rita’s. I organized all of Sarah’s pills into individual labeled baggies for her camp. I lost track of how many times I wrote names on things - and that was with Amy helping!

Amy has notably been stepping up to help with unloading the car and she was also immensely helpful yesterday during our outing. After we stopped at a lemonade stand, Sarah announced as I drove that she didn’t have her seatbelt on! Egad! I stopped immediately and said she needed to buckle up before I would move on. This was not long after she had thrown herself on the floor of CVS because she desperately wanted new sunglasses, and I could tell she was ramping up her resistance as I awkwardly sat at a red light praying it wouldn’t turn green until she was buckled. Amy brilliantly said, “remember Sarah, click it or ticket.” That is one of Sarah’s favorite signs on the highway. That reminder worked not only to shift Sarah’s energy to relaxed fun, but also to get her to buckle up. I told Amy I felt like we had been playing a card game where you can stop one player’s intended move by whipping out a certain card in your hand if you  have it. It was as if she had the magic card to whip out just as Sarah played her resistance card. It was masterful, creative, and oh so helpful as I was just heading towards tension.

I hope you aren’t roasting too much in the 95 degree heat we have had in Philly and Pittsburgh. May you have the perfect card up your sleeve at all times.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

June 16: Meltdowns and Going “Dewn”

Amy is now a rising 8th grader and already seems taller and more grown-up, but I tend to think that every morning when I first see her. To finish out her 7th grade year, students were required to do a volunteer activity. Hmm. Think about that phrasing. Anyway, the activity could be of their choosing as long as parents took a picture of their kid doing whatever it was and sent it in. I arranged for Amy and her bestie to volunteer by hanging out with my sister-in-law’s one-eyed foster cat. They had a great time and I loved the chance to hang out with Sonia. 

Thursday was Kennywood day for Amy’s school to celebrate the end of the school year. Remarkably, the timing was right for us to be able to get a ride with Sarah’s beloved taxi driver who had been her bus driver for 10th grade. She was delighted and so was he. 

Kennywood (an amusement park) itself went about as I expected. Amy and her friends went around on their own and stayed until the park closed. Sarah was interested in getting ice cream at Millie’s, which has dairy-free options, and riding the carousel. Last year I wasn’t able to climb on a horse because my hip wasn’t flexible or strong enough but this year I did it with no trouble. Sarah and I walked around a bit more but there wasn’t anything else she wanted to do so we ubered home. 

The drive to Philadelphia on Friday was mostly smooth, aside from a totally unexpected Sarah-meltdown in the middle of the rest area parking lot. Carl was on a work zoom so was unavailable to help. I had Amy stand on one side of Sarah while I stood on the other so we would be visible to cars since Sarah had thrown herself onto the pavement in her upset. Eventually I got her to the sidewalk but then she still had some times of throwing her shoes or trying to run away from me. Overall I stayed notably calm and handled it well, but for the rest of the day I felt like I didn’t have my usual reserve for handling things. There weren’t really many other challenges but I still felt like I was moving through things slightly grumpily or sadly and I was missing how grounded and happy I had been for much of the week. 

We came to Philly for a family Bat Mitzvah, and Sarah made it through half of the service yesterday before wanting to go. Given that she had had another huge meltdown in the hotel, once she was happy sitting outside of the synagogue, I didn’t want to push her by suggesting we go inside to be able to hear. I was sorry to miss so much of things, but grateful that Sarah was calm and happy. After lunch, she and Carl napped for over 3 hours! Then we all had fun dancing at the celebration dinner, cutting a rug like starfish, as Sarah would say. 

The other fun part of this trip is the hotel elevator. It announces which direction it is about to go, but it has a bit of an accent when it says “down.” Amy and I kept trying to imitate it, laughing uproariously. What was especially fun was watching Amy’s whole face change with her different attempts. Then I realized I did the same thing. Carl recorded both of us saying it in different ways so we could compare our faces.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

June 9: Zooms and the Zoo

This was Sarah’s first full week of summer and she helped me with short errands in the time we had each day before I took a zoom class for three hours. Then she watched her favorite shows, played outside with bubbles, and took naps. The zoom class was about health and healing and was taught by Bears and Samahria Kaufman. They are the people with whom I studied for a summer during college and who taught me to run a Son-Rise Program, known here as Sarah-Rise. It was such a treat to have them co-teaching each class. I find that the Option process that they teach is similar to the Alexander Technique in that it is both incredibly simple and something you can study for your whole life and keep learning new things. Or maybe it’s not new things, but it is that I come back to the original principles as if they are new. Both processes are about noticing what we do and kindly inquiring if that is what we want to be doing, whether with our bodies or our minds. This time around I realized how I spend so much time, energy, and effort trying to control things and people that I actually can’t control, but that I spend relatively little time, energy, and effort on shifting what I can control, which is me and my thoughts. The most notable and easily accessible shift for me pertains to my cat. Every time I feed her dinner and she refuses to have her meds - meds that she sometimes consumes easily - I get frustrated and upset. Or I used to. Now I am remembering that I am actually in control of me. Can I control my cat? Absolutely not. Can I decide to maintain my inner calm even if she doesn’t cooperate? Yes. Yes, I can. And it matters. The next forefront is of course my children. While I can set rules and pararmeters and make requests, ultimately I can’t control them. Sometimes I get upset about this, but I am giving myself more moments to pause and reevaluate the situation and how I really want to be. Usually the reason I get unhappy about them not doing what I want is that I think if they do what I want then we can all be happy, gosh darn it! I’m trying to avoid them being unhappy in the future because I’m scared of the upset. If I can remind myself that I am safe and all is well even if they don’t do what I want and even if they get upset, then I can stay more relaxed and maybe even come up with new ways to ask them for what I want.

Historically, when I go for the gold of being calm and happy more often, then I leap to wanting it all the time, ignoring how I actually feel or judging myself for any feelings that aren’t happy and calm, which leads to massive tension and unhappiness. Cue the Alexander Technique. I understand that trying to hold onto an easy neck is the fastest way to a stiff neck, so now I remind myself that trying to hold onto happiness can be the fastest way to misery. My free neck or free happiness can only come from noticing what I am actually thinking, feeling, or doing, giving room and acceptance to whatever reality that is, and then seeing if there is a shift I would like to make in how I am approaching the situation.

One evening there was a family day at Carl’s work that Sarah and I attended. She liked sitting in the small firetruck, eating Millie’s ice cream, and jumping down the giant cushioned steps. There were so many kids jumping down the steps it seemed like a kid waterfall. Amy didn’t attend because she had her afterschool Attack Theater class and she didn’t want to miss making props for the characters they had been creating. 

Carl and I enjoyed a dinner date on Wednesday at Bourbon and Bridges. We ate in our own tiny private clear glass castle. It may have been made of plastic, but either way it seemed magical.

Friday was an open day with no zoom class so Sarah and I went to the zoo. It was lovely to be there with no goal except to be with Sarah and go at her pace. She really wanted to find a postcard to mail to her bus driver. We searched many of the gift shops to no avail, but she did find a mood bracelet with an elephant which she purchased with her own money. She likes to pretend that it is a tiger watch, acknowledging that it has no watch hands. She loved getting lunch at one of the restaurants and she spent many minutes watching kids go down slides. She went down the slide a couple of times, but she mainly loved watching all of the action.

Sarah did mail a card to her bus driver on Thursday during our morning time together. I picked a mailbox that would be a bit of a walk for us and she ran most of the way, practicing for the Run Around the Square that happens in August. I’m impressed with her endurance lately whether she is walking, running, or swimming. Friday after Amy came home we drove to the mailbox, since we had already done a ton of walking, and Sarah mailed a second letter to her driver. Then we visited with someone who used to babysit the girls from the time Amy was an infant. This person now has a baby of her own. How did my own kids become such grown-ups??

Yesterday we celebrated an early Father's Day for Carl because we will be busy with other things during the actual Father's Day. Carl played guitar and then attended a beer festival with grown-up family members while the girls and I stayed home. Then we all went to the opening of a park by a riverfront. The girls enjoyed the big slides that look like legs of a giant metal person. It has probably been ten years since we last went to that particular playground and the kids have grown just a wee bit. It was a long wait for food and Amy wilted a bit, but cannolis and noodles helped, as did jumping on a mesh net stretched over water. After sitting on giant blue chairs, we made our way back to the car and drove to a different venue for a concert by The Beautiful Mistakes. Sarah loved dancing and “cutting a rug like a starfish." Amy struggled with the noise. I haven’t fully appreciated her sensitivity to loudness, but it is something for me to consider more thoughtfully in the future so I can come prepared with ear protectors. We finished the day with milkshakes at the Milkshake Factory, which has three dairy-free options that are Sarah-friendly. 

Lots of love to all of you. May you have kind space to notice any patterns that aren’t serving your sweet self the way you think they are.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

June 2: A 25 Year Reunion

Although this cannot possibly be true, apparently Carl and I graduated from college 25 years ago. We just wrapped up a wonderful reunion weekend, traipsing all around Swarthmore’s gorgeous and ever-changing campus, belting out “I Will Survive” with our classmates in our favorite party room, staying in one of our old dorms, dancing to “Like a Prayer,” visiting my sixth grade teacher for whom I babysat when I was a college student, and generally taking many steps down memory lane. We also climbed to the top of the bell tower, which was not something accessible to students in our college years. I’m not sure why I decided to go up, given my fear of heights. But somehow I thought it would be good to do, and I have survived climbing similar things in the past. When I got back down I gratefully flopped onto the grass, and I will not need to climb it for any future reunion. 

This was our first reunion without kids since we became parents. Sarah and Amy had a fun Grandma and Grandpa weekend that included a trip to the history center. Amy enjoyed her evenings doing art with our cat on her lap, and Sarah spent some time calling us to share how much she misses her bus driver, which is her frequent feeling when not riding to or from school. 

Friday was Sarah’s last day as a sophomore. To commemorate their year of rides together, her beloved bus driver got her a custom-made hat to echo the hat he always wears and that she likes to talk about. Now we have our fingers mightily crossed that we get the same driver next year. Part of that will depend on the renewal of the contract between the pittsburgh public school system and Z-trip, the taxi company that provided Sarah’s bus service this past year. 

Since Monday was a holiday we went to the zoo with some friends. Amy and her bestie did drawings of several animals, and Sarah held the zoo map while pretending to be a tour guide. That day also included lots of walking, but once we got to the aquarium, Sarah sat watching the fish for many minutes. We also watched the penguins hopping in and out of the water. Amy and her friend were observing the gorillas when a large male gorilla charged the glass window, much to their startlement. When Sarah saw a metal jaguar statue, she promptly hopped on its back and sang “row row row your jaguar gently down the zoo.”

May you all have gentle jaguar rides and good memories of your past moments.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

May 26: Swimming and a Sneaker Gala

Last Sunday we attended a luncheon to celebrate the marriage of one of my cousins to her fiancé. It was a beautiful day, it was wonderful to see lots of family members that we don’t often see or haven’t seen in many years, and there were bubbles galore so Sarah was in heaven. Amy made use of the drawing pads and crayons, while Carl and I observed all of the much younger kids and wondered how we came to have the big kids! 

Before heading home, we went to the site of the Battle of Bull Run. It was a hot day and Sarah was initially not wanting to get out of the car, so Carl offered to give her a piggy back ride. That offer resulted in short rides for each kid. I always find it hard to reconcile knowing that an area saw a terrible battle with the beautiful, calm, sunny day we observed. After a few minutes we were on our way since we had many hours to drive and the girls had school the next day. We made another stop at our favorite Virginia Farm Market that we had stopped at the day before. This time the girls were even more into playing on the wooden train and in the sand than they were the previous day. It was hard to make them get back in the car since it is increasingly rare for them to play together. We also got more cider donuts, of course! And blueberries, strawberries, corn, and tomatoes.

Monday was momentous. Sarah swam a lap in the big pool were she takes lessons. I don’t know if it is Olympic in size, but it is a normal big pool. She swam a lap with her teacher beside her holding a pool noodle in case she got tired. Sarah’s swimming isn’t quite standard form because it is hard for her to get her body horizontal and her legs tend to look like she is running through the water. But still! She moved safely from one end of the pool to the other and back again with no help. That is huge. 

Our new chair-and-a-half was delivered on Tuesday and our cat approves, in that the sleeps on it, but she doesn’t claw it (knock on wood) and that was the point. We also wanted a smaller piece of furniture where our previous couch had been so that Carl can have an area in which to play his guitar. Luckily, the junk removal people that I called to take away our old couch never called back. To make room for the new item, Carl and I put the old couch on the porch. Now we have a porch couch and we love it!! 

Amy and her friends attended their school’s Sneaker Ball on Friday, getting dressed in fancy clothes and sneakers. Amy looked gorgeous in a blue dress with the sparkly black mesh overlay dress she got at the fairy festival. She said they didn’t actually dance much, but there was lots of food and it was fun to hang out with her friends. Towards the end of the evening they moved to the hall where it was quieter because the main space was quite loud. She slept well that night. 

In preparation for the Ball, Amy wanted to take a shower. She explained to me later that she now knows how to do so without Sarah getting upset. She recently drew a musical note on the mirror in the condensation because she always draws something on that fresh surface. Sarah sometimes barges in and tries to erase what Amy has drawn, but seeing the musical note gave her pause and she left it all there. Now Sarah knows Amy may draw something she likes, so she doesn’t barge in to erase and even was patient while Amy was in the shower. I heard Sarah singing “All Shook Up” to pass the time. Amy and I discussed the possibility of using this new dynamic to her advantage and providing a pencil and paper in the bathroom so anytime Amy goes in she could draw a picture for Sarah. If Sarah knows a picture might be coming, maybe she will wait easily. Of course, so far there hasn't been a moment of screamy impatience.

Sarah is in the home stretch for her school year, with only one full-length school day left. Tuesday is a half-day because the boys’ baseball team made it to the championships and they want the whole school to be able to attend. Wednesday is a full day, and then Thursday and Friday are half days. I don’t remember ever having a half-length school day in my life. If you are reading this and went to school with me or are my parent and remember otherwise, please update my memory!

Yesterday we had a beach day and Amy and Carl braved water that I deemed icy. Sarah put her feet in but mainly stayed in the sand. It was a bit windy and at one point our cabana collapsed around a seated Carl, so all you could see was his upright form draped in blue. It was hilarious. Meanwhile, Amy lovingly hones her skill at roasting Carl for being an old boring potato. To prepare for our upcoming college reunion, Carl and I have been looking through old pictures. He said it was weird that our older selves can look back at pictures of our younger selves but our younger selves never get to see pictures of our older selves. Amy said something like, “if you could see your older self, that self would be in the compost.”

Sunday, May 19, 2024

May 19: Screamies and Faerie Magic

Last weekend Sarah had many screamy moments. It seemed like she didn’t have her usual capacity to handle being told “no,” whether it was us telling her to stop doing something or that we weren’t going to a bakery. If it had been later in the month I would have assumed her period was about to start. I was uncertain about sending her to school on Monday, but she really wanted to go. Monday morning at 9:30 her teacher called to say she had a big screaming meltdown and it would be best if I could come get her. Things mostly were back to normal after that, but normal does include screamies. It is just how often they happen that marks a difference.

Wednesday evening she had a big screamy time when Amy used the bathroom. This is unfortunately a common occurrence and is accompanied by pounding on the bathroom door. We have tried many things to shift this dynamic, to no avail. The confusing thing is that Sarah doesn’t do it a hundred percent of the time that Amy uses the bathroom. Sometimes she is calm and says she will go downstairs. But often she screams and insists that she needs the bathroom that instant, refusing to use the other two in the house, and then not actually needing to use it when it becomes available. On Wednesday, Carl tried covering his ears and saying she was really hurting his ears. Sarah proceeded to be upset for a long time afterwards, feeling sad that she had hurt Carl’s ears and trying to do things to take care of him. She hasn’t had such a big screamy time since then, and Thursday morning she seemed extra clear and focused on getting ready for school. She didn’t ask to look at pictures on my phone and she got out of bed and came downstairs completely on her own. She also hasn’t pounded or screamed about Amy’s bathroom use. I don’t expect this to have solved it permanently but any respite is welcome. 

We had a routine checkup with Sarah’s neurologist and learned that one medication, that she has always had as a liquid via syringe, comes as a tablet!! We are on our last bottle of the liquid and then our lives will get easier in that tiny way, which actually feels huge. No more possible hitch when going through airport security due to carrying a large bottle of liquid! No more worrying about the glass bottle breaking! No more syringes!

When I arrived to teach at the massage school Thursday morning I thought I must be in a dream. . . There were kittens! Walking around!! I could hold them! They spent the morning mostly in their cage so we didn’t worry about stepping on them, but on every break we cuddled kittens. Two of my students have been fostering them and apparently they have been at school every day for weeks, just not in my classroom. I felt my whole body chemistry shift towards calmness in a way I didn’t know I was missing. I don’t get that from having my cat on my lap. It must be something about kittens for me, but maybe that calm is what Amy gets from any cat.

Sarah was home on Friday because school was closed due to the Prom. What?! In my day… Anyway, Carl worked from home since I was teaching. That was a convenient arrangement to have in place given that Amy wasn’t feeling well and needed to stay home too. Yesterday morning she still didn’t feel great so we had her checked by her doctor. Nothing to do except rest and hydrate and take ibuprofen. Those remedies can be powerful though.

Yesterday we drove to Virginia because today we are celebrating the wedding of a family member. Amy recovered rapidly as the miles passed, napping most of the time. Since the only thing on our agenda was the drive, we had the flexibility to stop at Berkeley Springs, WV when we saw a faerie festival in the main square. Amy walked in as a human being and emerged as a fairy, seemingly fully restored to her usual vivacity. The festival had a Fairy Clothes Closet where clothing donated by thrift stores was available for people to purchase for whatever amount worked for them. I found a sparkly blue top and Amy put together a remarkably perfect outfit comprised of a green dress, a sparkly black mess over-dress, and a scaly shiny green jacket. After that we went to the face painting area and Amy completed her transformation with green leaves and gems around her forehead and eyes. Meanwhile, Sarah added to her sunglass collection with a pair of purple-tinted butterfly sunglasses.

We capped off that uplifting experience by stopping at our favorite Virginia Farm Market. Sarah loves the sand area and the flags, and we all love the cider donuts. We may need to stop there on our way home later today.

Lots of love and fairy magic to all of you.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

May 12: Cards and Concerts

On Friday Sarah was upset when she came home from school, as she usually is on a Friday, because she would have to wait until Monday to see her beloved bus driver. After her initial upset she went off to her room. When she came back downstairs she was carrying a construction paper card that she made with scissors and glue. She informed me it was a Mother's Day card. . . for her bus driver! I’m sure he will be delighted! I say that in gest, and yet…he will be. Many people who are not mothers extend a nurturing energy towards others that is meaningful and deserves to be recognized. The bus driver certainly fills a meaningful, nurturing role in Sarah’s life so I couldn’t begrudge him the card even as I wondered if she had made one for me. 

This morning, after enjoying a fancy coffee and a chocolate croissant that Carl brought to me while I worked on the Spelling Bee game, I came downstairs to a pile of cards and presents. Sarah had in fact made a card for me too, and it is heart-melting. Under where she wrote “Happy Mother’s Day” there is an indistinct drawing that Carl informed me was her attempt at drawing my lips. Inside the card she wrote, “I love your kissis.” Carl said that was all her idea; all he had done was ask her what she loved about me. Amy made a beautiful heart drawing with smaller pictures that represent me and our connections, such as the dresses I have passed along to her, snuggling our cat, the bread I make, and a tiny picture of my book. I feel seen and loved.

Earlier in the week, Sarah and I had a relaxed walk to her eye doctor because she felt like her glasses needed to be tightened. She initiated our walk, and when we arrived she walked up to the desk and told the people what she wanted. I said nothing. I was merely her companion on this journey, making sure she crossed streets safely, but she did the whole thing herself.

On Tuesday night Carl and I went to a Decemberists concert. We saw many people we knew from different parts of our lives and were glad to have our ear plugs since it was loud. Although I tired of standing for 4 hours, it was a good concert. In preparation for this concert we had listened to the Decemberists’ latest album and were surprised that it was comprised of two normal-length songs and one 20 minute song. I never listened to the 20 minute one all the way through. I just didn’t enjoy it and couldn’t stick with it. When the group came back onstage for their encore they said, “We have one more song for you.” I turned to Carl and said, “As long as it’s not Joan in the Garden." Cue Joan in the Garden. I didn’t enjoy it and would have left early except that we wanted to see some friends we knew were in attendance but hadn’t yet seen. Aside from that, it really was a fun night.

Last night was a double concert extravaganza with Carl going to a They Might Be Giants concert, while the girls and I stayed home with Amy’s bestie and livestreamed a concert by Bandits on the Run. Sarah promptly got her own guitar and strummed and sang along. In the picture I took you can barely see Sarah because the room was dark, but you can see her white guitar strap around her back as she faces the Bandits. Long ago when Adrian volunteered in the Sarah-Rise program he would bring his guitar to his sessions. Somehow Sarah getting her own guitar to play along with him seems to bring everything full circle. 

Topping off our week, we have seen a baby bunny in our backyard! It is soooooo cute. Amy and I have been beside ourselves. 

Lots of love and kisses to you all.