Thursday, December 31, 2009

Horologe for 2010

I have a beautiful horologe or hourglass filled with black sand. I imagine that the sand comes from Kaimu Beach. Hourglasses were used both to keep track of time and for navigation. Although assumed to have been used in the 3rd century and carried around as timepieces the first evidence of the existence of the hourglasse was in 1338, depicted in a fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Ferdinand Magellan kept 18 hourglasses per ship as he navigated the globe. How did I learn this? Lost in Wikipedia of course! Fascinating!! My hourglass does not help me with navigation unfortunately but it is a constant reminder for me to slow down. When it was new to me I used it daily to block an hour of uninterrupted writing time. Over the years that ritual has slowly unraveled as have many resolutions made at the end of years past. I do love this time of year because, at least for me, it is a time for renewal and new goals, some which will be met and some not. Gradually over the years it seems that I slowly meet a few more. Time to turn the hour glass over again.

Temperance bearing an hourglass; detail
of Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good Government,

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

December 29, 2009

The morning began with "comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on" (Fog, Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967).

Soon the sun was out and coming through the cedars and firs.

Stop, stop and listen for the bough top
Is whistling and the sun is brighter
Than God's own shadow in the cup now!
(The Blackbird of Derrycairn, Austin Clarke, 1896-1974)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

December 26, 2009

I have decided to share photos for the next few days as a way to stay centered in the break between the end of one year and the beginning of another. This was taken on a walk on the beach in West Seattle. Note the paddle surfer is wearing shorts. Quite a contrast from a year ago....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Decorations of the Season

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, and a peaceful, blessed and joyous New Year to all! It is a time of mixed feelings for many. There is a busy-ness as people rush from frantic activities to their overwhelming "to-do" list and push onward and forward. There is excitement particularly for children as they participate in their own events at schools and churches, synagogues and with their families. There is also a sense of bah-humbug, anxiety, depression and a general irritation that can strike at any moment or rests within throughout the season. The singers can irritate, the traffic can madden and the lights and trees and tinsel can annoy.

Personally, I love the decorations of the season. We walked through the local botanical gardens last night and not only were the lights beautiful but it was inspiring to think of all the hours and hours of volunteer time spent stringing millions of lights. Children oooohed and aaaahhhed as the skipped and tunneled through the crowds. Grandparents and great-grandparents slowly made their way along the pathways, supported by their families. Through a partnership of the city, parks, a local radio station, local merchants and thousands of volunteers preparing for months the light display is magical. Some find the Christmas crowds overwhelming. I find it comforting, at least in short durations. It confirms my belief in my fellow humans as we gather together to appreciate the work and beauty of this light display. This morning the newspapers scream out the chilling news of another attack on two police officers. Our community has been under fire. Five officers killed and three seriously and critically injured since October. Two of the three attackers killed by return gunfire. More shootings on a daily basis darken the season. A mother and her baby were shot and killed just last night, in their home, by a man with a restraining order. We could be walking in terror each minute of each day based on the onslaught of news n our world. Yet our time together last night simply enjoying a light display gave me a sense of all the good, ordinary, and kind people on this earth.

Nature provides her own decorations as well. We have a 30 foot holly tree in our front yard that is full of red berries nestled within the impossibly glossy green leaves that cannot be replicated by man or woman. When I am tired of the crowds of the holidays I stand under this tree and I am filled with an equal sense of peace on earth. I love this tree when the berries are lit by sunlight, in the mist and rain, and occasionally like last year, covered in snow. A fleeting feeling perhaps, and fragile in this current world but treasured and kept in a special place in my heart. Merry Christmas to all...and a wish for peace on earth.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Initial Diagnosis

A special place

Mental health conditions can strike any time of the year and research indicates that depression is particularly sneaky this time of year. A new diagnosis of any mental health condition is particularly difficult and unsettling but perhaps even more so for adolescents and children and the families that make this journey with them. Bipolar disorder can arrive quickly and with terrifying symptoms for some young people. It can come with feelings of extreme anxiety, depression and mania that can include anything from racing thoughts to hallucinations and psychosis. The diagnosis is seldom simple. There is no blood test or CAT scan that can simply and positively identify bipolar disorder. This illness can look like attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, conduct disorder and even schizophrenia. Typically a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, even in adults, is a "wait and see" process and the initial diagnosis is terrifying for all involved. The diagnosis is critical for the treatment but treatment can't always wait for the diagnosis. Often the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of a medication provides information to confirm or dismiss a diagnosis. It is a very difficult and often lengthy process. I am reliving our own journey as I hear from parents, colleagues and friends who have children that are currently in the midst of an initial diagnosis of this illness. I remember the fear and anguish just hearing the term "bipolar disorder"; trying to make sense of it while not completely believing the diagnosis. My mind was racing, "Not my daughter." This cannot be. I know about bipolar disorder. I teach about it. How could it a) happen to my child, and b) how did we miss it? And...what could we have done to have prevented it? I hear all of this and more from the family members that have shared their own stories with me in the last few weeks. I wrote a previous post, "You need to step back..." sharing my thoughts on how to support someone who has a loved one in the middle of a mental health crisis. Today I would like to offer my thoughts to families who are beginning this "vast journey of ours" as my daughter calls it. It will get better but it is difficult, terrifying, and fills a parent's heart with grief. With care I offer the following thoughts:

If your child or adolescent is hospitalized (once you can take a breath and think straight) meet with the doctors and the care team. Get to know the nurses, hospital assistants, residents, social workers and therapists. Be there as much as you can to learn all you can, be aware and part of any decisions and assure your child that things will get better. If your child is psychotic he or she may say things to you that are completely unnerving and frightening. It is the illness and may have little to do with reality. Don't take it personally. Stay calm (at least in front of your child).

Meet with your own family team. Define "family" as those in the inner circle that can help support your child. Tell the truth. Divide up chores. Take turns being at the hospital or staying with the child. When one member of the family team is ready to crash from exhaustion and worry have a plan for someone else to step in. Assure that the younger children are involved in a way that is age appropriate. Kids know when something is going on and their imaginations are often worse than the reality.

Explain to others in ways that they can understand. Share as much as you feel comfortable sharing but imagine that your child had diabetes and was hospitalized in critical condition from this illness. What would you tell people? You have no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed. I decided to tell the truth from the beginning and, yes, there were awkward silences when someone asked me, "Why is your daughter in the hospital?" and I said she is in a severe depression and is being treated for bipolar disorder.

Ask for help when you need it. Someone needs to contact the school. Someone needs to talk to the insurance company or help sort through the medical paperwork. If there are other children in the home someone needs to assure that they are fed, clothed, loved, comforted, tickled, read to and played with. Sometimes you might need someone to tell others about what is going on because you just can't tell the story one more time or without fear of falling apart forever.

Accept and reject advise as you want and need to do so. Advise comes unsolicited and is sometimes comforting, sometimes helpful and sometimes scares the hell out of you. Often it reminded me of stories mothers tell a newly pregnant woman. Sometimes it becomes "can you top this horrible story" and it does you no good to listen. Practice saying, "I understand that you are trying to help but I really can't listen to any tales of woe or tragedy right now. I need to stay positive."

Be brave, consistent and on top of things with your insurance company. We asked for lots of treatment and care that wasn't readily offered but once we asked for it things fell into place. I cajoled doctors into writing letters of support for things we needed (I was actually the ghost writer on a couple of them at the doctors' request). This included longer time in the hospital, more sessions with a therapist, a different drug (non generic) or a doctor outside of our designated list of providers. Find out if your insurance company has a case manager for critical or chronic illness. Our insurance company did (thank you, Ruth, you are a saint!)! Ruth was a former psychiatric nurse and provided us with so much information and support that ultimately helped our daughter become stable and likely saved the insurance company money. If you do not have insurance meet with the social worker at the hospital and keep asking questions. If something doesn't sound quite right, ask more questions and bring someone with you to help figure it all out.

Let your child's school know what is going on. If this is the first time your child has been hospitalized or newly diagnosed you should ask for a 504 Plan to assure that accommodations will be provided as necessary. If your child misses a lot of school or falls behind in her or his academics you can make a referral for special education assessment. This does NOT mean that your child will have to be pulled out of her class and into a special education room. It does mean that he will have legal protection to assure that services and support are offered to assist him to progress academically and emotionally/socially/behaviorally in school. The school will use the diagnosis from the doctors to document a disability and may do some additional testing as necessary. This does not need to happen right away if your child is not stable but I urge you not to wait too long and do alert the school as soon as possible. That might be a job for someone on the family team!

In a mental health crisis parents aren't thinking about such things as an advanced medical directive but do remember that when a child turns 18 you might still be paying all the bills but you won't have any say in their care or privy to information about their medical treatment. Once your child is stable talk about this and investigate advanced medical care directives in your state. Have this in place by the time your child turns 18.

Find the time to take care of yourself even if it appears to the outside world that you are doing marvelously well. From my own experiences I can honestly say that I waited a little too long before addressing this and it took a toll on my health. I kept up a good front but stress does have a way of eventually reminding you to take care of yourself...when your body gives you a big wake up call. I am so glad to be healthy and centered now but it took some effort.

Finally, every one's experiences are different and we all come from a vastly different place, yet I believe we have something in common. Parents would do anything to heal their child and when you can't it hurts beyond words. I humbly offer hard earned "advice" from our own experiences with bipolar disorder and my training and experience working in the field of special education. It is complicated and frightening and not something that most of us were trained to do. Even for those of us that have knowledge and resources find the world of mental health care for a seriously ill child overwhelming. There are many, many resources available and we have listed some of our "favorites" on our website. I hope that there may a small piece of information that makes things easier for parents whose child is in the midst of a mental health crisis. It will get better. Stay hopeful. I include this picture to remind you to keep a special place and time in your memory ........

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Season: Time for Love

We are entering that time of year when some of us have a little more room in our hearts and perhaps a little more gratitude for the small things. Daughter Linea, she of the bipolar gremlins, is wrestling with a push-back from this challenge in her life. She is fighting hard against all the symptoms insidiously trying to sneak back into her life while finishing winter quarter of her last year in college. She is working on writing a "senior synthesis", a paper that breaks her heart while she looks back over her last years of college. She is studying for finals, completing all the paperwork for graduation, etc. etc. I drove her to the medical center for a blood draw today so that she didn't have to hassle with either the bus or parking as the area around the center is under massive construction. She was exhausted after a night of terrorizing nightmares and certainly not thrilled about the blood tests that go along with the medications she takes. I drove her back to her apartment and headed to campus for my own set of responsibilities while feeling worried about her and wanting to use my magic mother skills and make everything okay. As I drove her home she pointed out the bundled, bag-laden, elderly homeless guy on the street, a regular in her neighborhood. As I dropped her off I again offered to take her out for coffee or breakfast but she planned to have a bowl of cereal and get ready for her day. But she had no milk. She walked down to her local in-and-out to buy some milk and there was her homeless neighborhood man digging through his pack, trying to find a few pennies. She bought her milk...and some protein bars and water for the old man living on the streets, telling him to save his coins. A large percent of our community members who are homeless are mentally ill. We know how lucky we are to have the resources for health care and that we are able to treat Linea's health condition. Linea was hospitalized with many, many people that were released from the hospital to the streets. She was often overwhelmed by the inequity in care and support as she faced this up close and personal. Today she reminded me that even in our own lives, touched with worry and illness, there are those who manage with much, much less. In this season let's give to someone on the street, someone perhaps living with untreated mental illness. Something as simple as a power bar and a bottle of water, perhaps a hot meal,or time spent volunteering for an afternoon in a shelter. My daughter has taught me not to turn away, not to ignore a person living on the streets. I look, I speak, and acknowledge although I have to admit that it has been easier in the past to ignore a fellow human being as I rushed through my life. It is the season to notice, to give, to love.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Letting Go Yoga Style

I have been practicing yoga on a somewhat regular basis, even after teaching class until 7:00 p.m. Good for me, finally! I am so tired after working/teaching/writing/advising/talking/ administrating/ all day that I can easily put off getting into my car, driving to the studio, changing clothes and doing the work that is required of me to be in class. But every time I make the effort I leave class feeling SO much better. (I know this is a luxury and one that would be near impossible if I still had small children at home.) I thought I would share something that we did the other night that really struck me as more than just "yoga" but rather a life lesson. Yoga and the meditation involved provides lots of ah-hah moments anyway but this was particularly profound, at least to me. I hope I can properly explain what we did. Starting from a child's pose or balasana (legs tucked under and pointing behind, head forward onto the floor) we then placed a blanket roll between our abdomen and thighs. The leader told us that it would feel "somewhat" uncomfortable, perhaps even slightly painful. This would occur as our abdominal organs were moved into a different space, forcing a release of toxins. Here is the best part! IF we could simply notice the "uncomfortable-ness" but not resist, it would soon subside and we would begin to relax and feel centered. My body was initially very tense and, as our instructor noted, afraid it would be hurt so it was in "protection mode" and staying on high alert. It was so true and quite amazing that as I relaxed, and noticed but didn't fight against the stress, it felt so good. An ANALOGY for life I think. We resist things that we automatically think will hurt us, we tense our bodies and our minds. We can't quite "let go" and trust. The more deliberately we try to release and relax the harder it is to do so but if we just notice our feelings and sit with it, slowly we begin to let go and the pain is released. We feel easier and more centered. This is very hard to do with life but likely, as with yoga, easier with practice.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Linea!

It is time to write about Linea! She was born on Thanksgiving Day, finally, after making us wait through three days of snowstorms, walking miles through the hospital corridors and waiting, and waiting some more for her entrance into the world. In a family of blonde babies, she was a head of dark hair and born ready to dance with long, long legs and music in her soul and on her lips. Her seven and 1/2 year old big sister, Jordan, held Linea moments after her birth and declared her partnershp in mothering this baby. Linea became a headstrong two-year old and one that we suspected might cause us to fear the teen-age years. Not so. Yes, she was determined and strongly goal-oriented, but immensely kind and loving to her family and to the world. She was a thinker, putting pieces together like a game of Uno, like a Brahms concerto, like the workings of the brain. She is still all this and more. Just look at this beautiful picture she sent to me while attending college in Chicago. This girl has taken us all on a journey with her, an unexpected journey, yet one of immense bravery and with such honesty that our lives have been enriched beyond anything we could have possibly considered. Read her blog, and celebrate another year with our precious daughter. I can't wait to travel forward with you, Linea, and share all that life has to offer! Love, Mom

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sometimes we just need a little comfort....

I want my binky. I want TWO binkies. I want all my binkies and I want them right now. Give 'em to me!! We have all been there. Too many things going on in our lives and not enough of them on the positive side. Too much anxiety, too many bills to pay, too many sick kids or too much homework. We need some comfort. The vast majority of us can and do provide comfort to everyone else in our lives. We often provide more than is asked of us and sometimes comfort that is not necessary or even wanted. Why can't we do that for ourselves? Eighteen-month old babies know how to get what they need. As well we mostly provide for them and try to comfort them the best that we can. Why not ourselves? I am going to yoga this week and more than once. I am opening the expensive wine and enjoying a glassful by the fire with the dear Husband. I am getting up from my darn-hard writing project at least every 40 minutes and walking outside, even if it is pouring. I look forward to spending 3 days with family over the holiday, not thinking about or doing anything that is work-related. You, too, find your binkies! A blessed and peaceful week to you!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I would say that overall my posts are fairly upbeat and my thoughts as well. This is not the case today. Be prepared for a sad tale.... but there is a message within this tragedy. Have you ever imagined that your child could be hospitalized and that you would not have have input into her care? If your "child" is 18 years old this may very well be the case. There are so many things that can go wrong when someone is hospitalized and it seems much more likely in the mental health arena. I have written in previous posts about my friend whose daughter is currently hospitalized for a severe mental health condition. She is in "no-(wo)man's land". She is not yet out of her teens but considered an "adult" in the legal world. She is too ill to give consent for her care, and now is spending her time in a horrifying limbo of health care hell. She has been in three facilities and is now at a state mental hospital. She is too ill to give consent for the initial recommended treatment and her parents are prohibited to do so since she is no longer 17 or younger.
How did this happen? This high school girl was struggling with a tentatively diagnosed illness but suddenly things took a turn for the worse as she spiraled into a psychosis and was hospitalized. She was unable to sign the paperwork allowing her parents into the system of her care. She was assigned a guardian ad litem. Doctors could not share information with her parents without breaking the HIPAA laws. The parents are seeking guardianship but this is taking too much time. The parents (a teacher and medical doctor) are seeking custody of their daughter; custody so they can speak with the doctors, make decisions and move thngs along as we would with any health condition. Meanwhile they wait in agony.

Their daughter's mind betrays her. She is lost and unable to find her way back to any semblance of normalcy. Her parents weep. No one knew that this insidious illness was coming as quickly as it did. It moved too fast to complete all the legal requirements necessary for the parents to make decisions for their daughter's care. It moved to fast for them to recognize that they needed to have an advanced directive in place. If these two highly educated parents cannot make things happen, what about parents that are unaware of this possibility? Laws were passed back in 1967 by then California Governor Ronald Regan, setting a national precedent of required judicial hearings for extended involuntary commitment and the prohibition of forced medication, among other mandates. I get this. We have moved greatly and thankfully from forced commitment and treatment but where-oh-where is common sense humanity?

There is no answer today for this horrible situation. The parents are struggling to keep themselves from falling apart while doing what they must to support their child. I urge parents to consider having an advance directive for health care in place by the time a child turns 18. The consequences can be devasting for everyone involved if this is not in place. Yes, it may be unlikely that your child will have a major psychotic break at the end of their teenage years but this time period is when these insidious mental health illnesses show up and sometimes quickly. As well, consider this for every member of your family. Linea and I heard Kay Redfield Jamison recently speaking about her new book, Nothing was the Same, and author of, The Unquiet Mind. She is a professor in the psychiatric department and co-director of the mood clinic at John Hopkins and a leader in the research and treatment of mental health conditions. She has bipolar disorder and spoke of her own advance directive for care. As part of my professional responsibility I will include this information in my classes and assure that our future school psychologists, school counselors and teachers are aware that student become independent from their parents at age 18.

I spoke with my friend this morning and she not only again gave me permission but wanted me to share her story. She is not ashamed. She is a terrified mother. Take care, good friend. Let us all send prayers and good wishes to her family. My heart breaks for her and her family.

(Solemn and Triumphant, Painting by Jordan Swain )

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where's Sister?

It is time to write about sister Jordan! I wanted to give the "Dad-post" the spotlight for a few days before bumping him down for the "Sister-post". While waiting to post this over the last few days I noted that a number of blogs were posing the question of the impact on siblings of kids with disabilities. I guess we were all thinking along the same line. Hopefully Jordan will comment on this and let us know what SHE thinks about Mom's comments! She is invited to guest blog!

Jordan is Linea's big sister, seven years, five months and thirteen days older than her and about five inches shorter. Jordan has always been a big sister to Linea as well as practicing her mothering skills on her from the time Linea was born. Jordan led Linea through her childhood with care and love and her own unique brand of imagination. Which, as a budding artist, was considerable (check out her art at Jordan was the chief instigator and designer of the Phantom of the Opera birthday party when Linea turned nine. The party was complete with a Phantom cake that Jordan made, decorations, music and all the materials (under Jordan's directorship) for each child to make a Phantom mask. The girls have a remarkably loving relationship. Linea loved her sister so much that she and her best friend, Kim, interviewed one of Jordan's first dates. In trench coats and writing on their clipboards, the two girls quizzed the poor kid on everything from his favorite food, football team, and pets to when and how he would bring Jordan home. Jordan and Linea hardly ever had arguments or competitions or any hints of jealousy between them. The only time there was any real friction was when Jordan was in the last months of her high school days and preparing to go off to college. Linea wanted to go with Jordan everywhere she went. She knew Jordan's time at home was short. Jordan was trying her hardest to prepare to fly away from the nest and Linea was trying her hardest to keep her home.

They have remained incredibly close and as a mom it is so heartwarming to see that they are best friends and will be there for each other no matter what. So how did Jordan react to Linea's illness? These two girls have very different temperaments as anyone who knows both of them can attest (understatement?). Jordan said at one point in the beginning of all of this, "I don't understand why Linea is so sad. I just get mad!" When Linea was finally hospitalized Jordan was there, continuing to fight for her sister. I had to remove Jordan from the psych unit when she wanted to take on the nurse that wouldn't let Linea leave for a walk outside. She finally left with me pulling her arm, but proclaiming that the "nurse was a b*%$h." Once out through the locked doors and into the hallway of the hospital Jordan burst into tears because she was so afraid for her baby sister. Jordan is a tough, beautiful and feisty woman but barely below the surface she is incredibly sensitive and vulnerable (just don't tell her that!). One of her strongest traits is loyalty. I can think of nothing that would fray her loyalty to her sister. Jordan's love for her sister is kinda like a mom's. I don't see any jealousy or resentment of any of the support or care that Linea receives as she works her way through her diagnosis and treatment. I only see great protectiveness and love. Jordan never shies away from the diagnosis, the treatment or the acceptance of her sister. She also has so much optimism and belief in her future that even in dark times she buoys us all up and forward. Jordan, you are our hero.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Where's Dad?

Those of you that have read my blog or heard Linea and I speak around the country about our experiences with her bipolar disorder may wonder how her Dad is doing with all of this. A lot of dads fix things. Linea's dad wanted desperately to fix anything that was wrong with his daughter. He was always the one that raced to the airport and flew across the country when she was her sickest. He was the one that brought her home from college when she crashed into a life-threatening depression. He was the one that flew back and packed up her life and brought it home again. He was the one that told me, over and over again and even when he might have been unsure himself, "It will be okay." Linea wrote in her journal after a particularly hard time that she remembered when her Dad had glued her broken Tinkerbelle figurine back together and she said, "I need him to repair me. I am broken." He tried so hard to fix everything and when life was finally a little more stable he wondered why we would want to talk about the not-so-stable times all over again. But he continues to support us and he is proud of the strength of his daughter. She is putting herself back together again. Meanwhile he is out in a Seattle down-pour trying to keep the gutters open and the flood from coming in the back door. Staying on guard, fixing our lives. Thanks, honey!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The innocence and wonder of a new-born simply takes one's breath away. We hold our new babies and wish and pray for a life-time of health and happiness for these wee and fragile beings. Keep the pain and hurt away! Yet, we can't. The first ear-splitting hysterical cries of hunger remind us of the impact of this tiny life on our own. Soon there are cries of irritation, two-year old tantrums, pouts, and eventually maddening teen-age silence and unpredictable moods. Mixed in are larger than equal parts of joy and crazy-funny-silliness and almost more love than a parent's heart can hold. While life is never easy there are some children that just have more than their share of struggles and their families along with them. I have been privy to tales of sorrow for many years from my position as an educator. While sharing our own writing and experiences across the country, my daughter and I have heard heart-breaking stories of children and families struggling with mental health conditions as well as all other disabilities. There is no magic to ease the heart. Given that this blog is an "inside meandering" of my thoughts I guess that is what I am doing this early morning. No answers to all the pain we share with our children. But is there exceptional joy when you experience those times when things are finally or momentarily better? When a child is happy? Is there less living on auto-pilot when you known this pain and then you are granted times of grace? Just a thought.....
(photo by Jordan, beautiful grandson)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Travelling with Linea

I have been in Savannah, Georgia. presenting with daughter Linea. We were at a conference with a theme of preparing students with disabilities for life after high school. Linea and I presented on bipolar disorder and information and thoughts on supporting young people with mental health disorders. I have friends all over the country and many of them were at this conference. Linea was completely amazing and touched everyone in the audience. I am never worried about her when we speak at events but it felt a little different having friends in the audience. Particularly friends that had been with me through the times that she was so sick. It really hit me how far we have come since just a few short years ago right before she was hospitalized and we were all together in Portland, Oregon. Now she is with them in a professional capacity as well as developing personal friendships. Life has many twists and turns. Jane and Deanne and Karen and many more friends from all over the country supported me and Linea through some very tough times. It was extra special to spend time with them and Linea just having fun together and learning from each other. I am so grateful to have such great friends...and for a daughter that is able to offer so much to others. Thank you! And, P.S. I am writing this from an airplane somewhere over Tennesee as we wing our way back to Seattle!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Apple Cheeks

Aren't 20 month old's just the cutest things ever?! A grandson provides a window into a world that we mothers quickly forget once our babies are off into the world. Every moment is precious, hilarious, completely lovely and sometimes heartbreaking. But mostly full of utter joy! Remembering my babies turning into toddlers and moving on to grade school, high school and college makes my head swim. Where did it all go? You think you will never forget the delight of simply watching your child with his first armful of apples on a beautiful fall day. And in the midst of work and running here and there and scrambling to meet all the tasks that come with raising children and keeping a roof over their heads we forget those blissful moments. My wish to you is to simply take a minute or two and watch a little human explore his or her first fall days. Precious!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

You need to step back...?

I have been talking with a new friend of mine whose daughter is in the midst of a mental health crisis. It is somewhat unusual in most people's circle of friends to know someone who has a child in a lock-down psychiatric facility and who was placed there after spiraling into a psychotic meltdown. But, it happens and it happens to the best of families, moms, dads, sisters and brothers. Having gone through this myself I know that friends and acquaintances generally want to help. They want to offer the right words to support you in your panic and fear of the unknown. My new friend reminded me of what was helpful.....and what was not helpful.

Hope, hope and mostly, optimistic hope.

Things to say:
It will get better. There is excellent treatment available. It can take time and what can I do for you while it is taking time? Let me run errands, make a meal, buy you a coffee, pick up your children/dry-cleaning/paycheck and deposit it for you so that YOU can spend time with your sick child.

Run away, change the subject, interrupt to change the subject, look horrified.

Not-so-helpful things to say:
Oh-my-gawd, what are you going to do???? (not kidding, this has been said). Oh dear, this is so horrible, what will ever become of her/him? Let me tell you about my friend who's daughter/son had (fill in the most awful story you can imagine) and then add (and she/he is now living on the streets, completely destitute, fried on drugs and the family can do NOTHING)!

The last not-so-helpful thing to say deserves a few comments. "You should try to give (your son/daughter) space. You are too tied up in all of this. You need to back away some." Well, please change the crisis from a mental health crisis to a medical crisis. Your child has just been hit by a car and is in the ER and then in intensive care. What parent is ever advised to "give them space"? Friends and family rally around so that the parents can be there, doing everything they can to support the care team. Our friends and family offered that to us and no one ever suggested that we should lessen our time and effort to support our daughter. Thank you, family and friends! The above and not-so-help comments have been said to my friend. Somewhere in these comments, even if meant to be helpful, lies the subliminal message, "Could your parenting style have caused this?" Parents question themselves enough as it is in the midst of these crises. We need no nudges to consider our own feelings of guilt and fear.

So, dear friend, your daughter will get better. You will have some times in the near future when you can breathe again. There is hope. Your support and advocacy and sometimes even down right pushiness is critical for her recovery. Tell your friends what they can do for you even if it is just to listen. Stay the course. I wish you peace.
Salome Painting by Jordan Swain (

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Do something for yourself today!

It is almost the week-end and I have been working non-stop. The cold and flu season is sneaking up on us as it always does this time of year. It coincides with the university quarter system which means that we are halfway through and students are stressing out over mid-terms, term projects and papers, late nights and early mornings. I am proposing that any of you that read this post join me for a "mid-term" break of at least one hour today, Friday (don't wait until Saturday!) to take care of yourself. I am remembering my trip to Nicaragua. The picture was taken at the experimental farm outside of Matagalpa. The land had been completely stripped by poor farming methods. The amazing Nicaraguans working here have slowly and steadily returned the land to its glory. The jungle, the plants and even the howler monkeys returned to their home. It takes nurturning. A little bit every day. Go have tea in a coffee shop with a good book. Take a walk (under an umbrella if you are in Seattle) and look at the colors on the trees. Be alone. Don't talk. Pet your dog. Go home for lunch and soak in the tub for an hour. If you live in the city go to the nearest park and people watch. If you live in the country go outdoors and sit quietly until you notice all the life around you. Turn off your phone, don't read your email, close out all the requests and complaints and whines coming at you. If you are home with babies, do not clean/make dinner/pick up toys/ or run errands with baby in the car seat. Take just one hour and breathe. We all need to refresh ourselves...and keep breathing after we leave our "hour". Join me and if you take this challenge, tell me what you did for yourself!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New York City

Wow! New York City is an awesome place. Yes, true, I have never been there and was thoroughly immersed in the adjectives that everyone uses to describe this city. Huge, busy, crazy (cab drivers), crowded, anything you could want in food, shopping, sightseeing, ambience, culture (or lack thereof), ethnicity, music, etc. etc. etc. I loved it. Although this was a short visit the people that we had contact with were helpful and kind and certainly nothing like the stereotype of the New Yorker. (Speaking of stereotypes not everyone in Seattle necessarily wears Birkenstocks, drinks Starbucks and/or holds in their emotions). Anyway, I digress. We went to NYC to meet with our agent. Linea and I have written a book together and we are in the throes of getting this published ( Another step forward in this effort!
Less than five years ago we all supported Linea's dream to finish a degree in music performance and end up in New York. "Waiting tables while I tried to get music gigs," said Linea. Then she spiraled and crashed into a bone breaking depression that involved hospitalizations, medications, treatments beyond our comprehension and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. With a big, wide and unpredictable detour she did not end up in New York in the music world. But she was in New York as we spent time with our agent in her office on Union Square discussing the publication of our book. Life is so mind boggling at times.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dear Daughters...

I write this letter to you, my two daughters, hoping to set you loose from the grip of trying to do it all. One of you has finished a bachelor's degree and one of you is getting close. Both of you are struggling with the next steps. Big steps, high steps, fast steps. Overachievers, both of you. I wonder where you learned this? Let me set you free from any expectations that you may carry deep in your souls. Yes, I appeared to have set the bar incredibly high for you. I worked and worked, adding degrees and experiences while, I think, mothering you with powerful love and support. But I also lost so much precious time to just "be". I spent too much time adding additional tasks and responsibilities to my own list, somehow thinking that the world would stay safe if I just worked hard enough. Don't fall for the enticement of filling every minute of every day with another step towards....what? Read this carefully, take what you want and need and feel powerful to reject anything else. Save time for yourself. Give those you love the gift of time. Listen carefully to yourself. Do work that is honest and important to your life but adds some small benefit to the world or others. I can tell you that there are more important things in life than your job or your title. You both knew that at one time but it gets harder to remember as everyone around you seems to be scrambling for the top. It is okay to let go of the expectations that you think others have for you. Be happy. Be secure. Stay kind and sometimes small and silent, listening to your own trustworthy voice. Love. Mom

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Home from Spain

I have been away from this blog for too long! A could it be? After finishing a busy spring quarter and teaching a quick summer session I was off to Spain to present at a conference. It was an incredible trip. In addition to meeting people from other universities and programs I had the opportunity to spend time in Madrid and Alicante. Both were fantastic. Where can I begin? The beauty, the music, the food, and the rhythm of life in Espana! It took a few days to settle into the late lunches and even later dinners. It took awhile to slow down in the afternoons and early evenings before going out to join the families and friends that meet and talk and eat and drink, sitting at the tables in the pedestrian streets, beside fountains and in the plazas. But soon it became ever so pleasant. A different pace than life in Seattle. So much to learn from this country of close families and friends, deep faith and a community spirit that is apparent as one walks the streets and alleys, providing a brief time to peek into another countries' lives. More to come!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sorrow of the Classroom

Recently I "tested" a man to determine his reading, writing, math and cognitive abilities. I don't do this often anymore but when I do I am always deeply touched. Never more so than the recent testing of "Almondo". This 30-something year old man from an inner city in a very large state, from the slums, poverty and crime, can't read. Or write. Yet he is of at least average intelligence. He was identified in 3rd grade as having learning disabilities but his head-of-household-mom couldn't "afford to pay" for him to attend a school that could provide him services. Well, that is what he and his mom understood anyway. Of course this was not legal even 20 plus years ago but for a mom that doesn't speak English and a dirt poor 8-year old that is the way it was. This man was "moved on" (his words) from grade to grade without ever learning to read. Special education IEPs followed him but to no avail. He dropped out at age 14, got himself a fake ID that said he was 18, and went to work packing hamburger for the next 6 years. Finally got himself a "good job" running a lift truck in a state up north of his birth city and state. Part of the job was pulling garbage and cleaning up after everyone else. He severely tore his bicep, along with a shoulder injury and various other major bodily injuries. He was afraid to tell anyone because he thought he would lose his job for getting hurt. Now he can't use his left and dominate arm and... he still can't read or write. He has waited two years for the local community center to find a volunteer to teach him to read. He had a tutor for a week but she quit just when he was learning his vowels. He cried (with embarrassment and apologies) when he told me his daughter also has learning disabilities and can hardly read and he can't help her...because he can't read anything. He didn't know how to get the schools to help her. I wanted to cry myself. Teachers do tremendous work and I teach men and women in graduate programs that have done everything but taken a vow to not leave any students behind. What happened with Almondo? Who didn't notice? Why do over half of our children with learning disabilities drop out of high school? How can we stop this cycle? Almondo can't read. Almondo has lived on the teetering edge of poverty for years and now with an injury that prevents him from doing physical labor he has fallen deep into the pit. His children had so many difficulties in school. His son dropped out. His daughter barely finished but only because she didn't "cause trouble" but she still can't read well enough to get a job that provides a quality of life that we all want for our children. Almondo tried to hide his did I.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tangled and lovely webs

It has been quiet on the blog front for both Linea and me. It is the end of the quarter (as well as the school year) and always an incredibly busy time. I think we are both overloaded with work and projects and deadlines. I will let Linea tell you about her overloads if she wants to...I am just trying to remember that sacred space within me that I need to keep open and not let fill with the trivia of everyday life. In addition to teaching we have presented at a conference in Seattle and once again we were touched by someone that attended. "Don't forget to remind people that substance abuse is often a symptom of mental health conditions in adolescents and not something for which they should be punished." This passionate plea came from a mother who had lost her son to suicide a very short time ago. I am continuously reminded that every person is connected somehow to mental health conditions.

So here is a story of our closeness to each other. I see us all connected through a web of vines like those blossoming on my garage. I will try to write this in the least complicated way possible. My mom is an artist and has painted for many years. A woman bought a painting from my mom sometime in the late 1960's while she and my dad were living in another city from where they now live. This woman ended up living in the same city (40 some miles from where my parents now live) as my sister's sister in-law. Yes, it is tangled! I think it would make it easier if I assigned a pretend name to the woman-that-bought-the-painting. Grace. Let's call her Grace. It will soon fit the story. So Sister's sister-in-law somehow let Grace know that the artist of the unsigned painting was in fact living close and well within reach. Grace always wanted the painting signed and contacted Mom to see if she would do so. My parents were actually out of town with us, while Linea and I presented at the conference in Honolulu. Finally Mom returns Grace's message and it is decided that Grace will come to my parents' home with the painting and have it signed. Grace is thrilled as she has always loved the painting. My mom is a little worried because she doesn't remember the painting and hopes it won't be something she doesn't like after all these years. Grace shows up, Mom is okay with the painting and signs it. Even though this is a strange enough coincidence, as they talk a connection is made beyond the painting. As they discuss Mom's trip to Hawaii she shares that Linea and I presented about bipolar disorder at the conference. Grace revealed that she has close family members with bipolar disorder. The two woman have a conversation that I would imagine doesn't just happen when two people meet for the first time. They share their stories and common experiences. Mom shares our website. Both of their worlds have expanded a little bit. They talk some more and Mom finds out that one of Grace's loved ones will be in Spain this summer the same time that I will be there. It wouldn't surprise me if we meet on the train travelling out of Madrid and end up in the same hotel on the Mediterranean! We are truly all connected.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mental Health and You

My daughter Linea and I just presented at the International Pacific Rim Conference on Disabilities in Honolulu, Hawaii. Yes, I know. Someone has to do it! Although it was certainly different weather from what we experienced at the Wisconsin State conference in January (!) when we presented there was a well-recognized familiarity in our exchange with the audience and our contacts after presenting. NAMI (National Institute on Mental Illness) tells us that one in every four families deals with mental illness and one in seventeen people live with a serious illness including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

So it isn't surprising when we hear from people in our audience about their own struggles with mental illness. These people are almost always professionals, psychologists, social workers, teachers, and counselors. Yet they share their fears of divulging their stories, let alone their needs, to their colleagues and employers. They send emails and notes telling us that they are so glad we are brave enough to talk about "it". They tell us they have kept silent for years for fear of misunderstanding or rejection because of their illness. If our audience of professionals that work in the field of education and mental health are afraid to share their story how much more difficult is it for someone that may not understand their own illness or have people around them that don't even know what a diagnosis or treatment plan might mean? It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of fear and hopeless- and helpless-ness. We have a long way to go, don't we?

Invisible City (Jordan Swain)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Crying Cup

This beautiful cup is known as the "crying cup" in my family. It was given to me many years ago as a gift from my sister. I kept it in its original box, wrapped away in delicate pink tissue paper. It stayed there for a number of years until Jordan came home from school one day with a flurry of hurt feelings and tears. She may have been in the first or second grade. I was making tea so I pulled out the beautiful bone china cup and served Jordan from it. She was so very careful and felt so important sipping from this special cup. Jordan and then Linea anointed it with their tears over the next twenty years. Slowly the cup was awarded the distinction as the crying cup. It was used to soothe hurt feelings, broken hearts, missed opportunities and lost pets. Yet is mostly remembered for the closeness of mother and daughters, the eventual smiles, laughs and giggles, and the ceremony of bringing out the crying cup.

Monday, April 20, 2009


It has been almost three years since my youngest daughter was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It may have been stealthily moving closer over the previous few years but none of us recognized it as bipolar, that crazy-making illness with phases of depression and mania and symptoms of which I was not yet aware. The mind boggling severity of the depression was a major piece of the puzzle in the diagnosis. The mania took a little more time before it became
something mean enough to also cause hospitalizations. As Linea and I have shared her story and mine, we have been moved to tears by the people that have told us that they, too, have similar struggles and fears, tragedies and hopefulness. I am particularly touched by the mothers. We are a club of sisters that know the bone-shaking, middle of the night terror, constant alertness and worry of having a child on the edge of an unknown precipice. As my mom says, "Sometimes all you can do is make it through one more minute, not just one more hour or one more day."

Sometimes the movement forward is a single minute at a time. Three years past the terror of an unknown illness taking over my daughter's life and changing all that we thought we is better. Life is stable as Linea stays within the parameters of a healthy life, sometimes up, sometimes down and sometimes bobbing on the edges but she is managing and in control of her own life. It would be easier to try and forget those years of anguish and worry and pain. But I think it is important to never forget. Never forget the closeness and the love of family as we held on to each other, we five (Linea, Linea's mom, dad, sister and brother-in-law), her grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. Things were clearly in perspective from most important to least important when life was falling apart. Little things mattered. A sunny day on the lawn of Harborview Medical Center. The quiet sanctuary at St. James Cathedral. The song Blackbird played to me in a psych unit on Mother's Day. And finally, a day on the beach in Mazatlan. I don't want to forget. I am thankful.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

As part of my trip to Nicaragua we were asked to write a reflection paper. I will confess to my grad students that I put it off until the day before it was due. Bad idea but like many of my students, I managed to get it done. Here is a snippet of what I wrote.....

Thank you for providing the opportunity to participate in a trip and an experience far beyond what I ever expected when I arrived at this university. It was a life-changing occasion and one that I strongly believe will continue to reverberate in my soul for years to come. I was humbled by all that I saw, heard, tasted, touched and smelled. I write this with Carlos Mejia Godoy’s folk mass, Misa Campesina Nicaraguense, blasting throughout my house. I ate rice and beans for breakfast this morning with a cup of coffee purchased from CECOCFEN, a coffee co-op of peasant farmers. This with the hope of bringing back memories of time in Nicaragua and turn my feelings and thoughts into words. Yet it is extremely difficult to write a “reflection” … me, of many words, both spoken and written.

I hold joy and pain for the people of Nicaragua simultaneously in my heart. I see the face of the tiny child playing with a plastic hanger in the center of Managua with no adults nearby to care for him but I also hear his laughter as he and his brother chase each other around the center courtyard. I remember the young girl sipping coffee at the farm while her mother and her friends talked to us about their union work. She looks wise beyond her age. She, too, will lead.
What can I do to assist in the efforts of the Nicaraguan people? For each person I pray for health, family to love and support, food to sustain, education, and meaningful work. How can I help? I do not know but I have learned a little something about aid to other countries and provided to people at the local level. I heard a woman say, “When aid comes with strings it takes away some of our soul.” How can I help? I am percolating. I do know that my life has been vastly changed by this experience. It has affected my teaching, my relationship with my colleagues and with my family and friends. Yet I still cannot talk about the “trip” with any sense of clarity.

I ramble. My mind rambles. I waited too long to write this because I did not know what to say, likely for the first time in my life. Words are my business. My faith in man and woman-kind has deepened. As I wrote previously, I am humbled.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lucky charms, amulets, and talisman

Given this blog has "meandering" in the title, I guess I will.
Meander from my thoughts of Nicaragua for a day or two and discuss lucky charms.

Do you have a ritual to bring you luck or keep you safe? Here are a few to try courtesy of my children and my own childhood.

While going through tunnels: Make a wish while holding your breath and keeping your feet off the floor of the car.

Whisper, "Parking goddess lift your face and find me a close parking space."

Burn green candles for money.

When the digital clock reads 11:11... Make a silent wish.

When you see a small pony, yell, "Eee-oooo-hypogus" (WHAT?).

Worry about what can go wrong hard enough and maybe it won't....oh-oh, that one is serious. It was brought to my attention via my daughter's psychologist that I may use this technique as my own personal amulet. Hmm, not very productive, do you think? Will it keep my children safe? My family? Illness and accidents can strike without any warning or we can keep guard and worry. Illnesses that strike the brain can be sneaky. But I am trying something new. Trusting my daughters to stay as well and healthy as possible and to ask me for help if they need me. That is the talisman I am currently trying on for size. If there happens to be any readers out you have a lucky charm?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nicaragua: Fenced In

Managua is fenced in. Guards are posted. Gates are closed and locked. Children play behind fences topped with barbed wire. The poor cobble together metal siding; the middle erects bars and wire; the rich hire workers to build tall concrete, brick and artistic walls with lethal spikes placed carefully on high. I felt confined.
Life went on for the people that lived there. I witnessed a
spirit that would not stay behind walls and fences and wire.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thank you, Nicaragua, Humbly yours.....

I just returned from a week in Nicaragua on an immersion trip with colleagues from my university. It was a powerful experience and one that is not yet finalized within me. I was overwhelmed and humbled by the laughter, openness, spirituality and wisdom of the people living in and around Managua, Matagalpa, and Masaya. They gave of their precious time to fourteen professors and administrators from Seattle. I have much to think about as I remember the experiences I had. At this point I have just returned from a long trip, little sleep, hot, hot weather, and what, on the surface, appears to be vast differences between a small country in Central America and a city in the US. But over the next few weeks as I sort through my notes and journal, photos and videos, I will return to this journey again and again. Tonight I am too weary and spring quarter begins tomorrow so I will be brief with a few ramblings. We can't go into countries such as Nicaragua (the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere) and save anyone. We are not the experts. The poorest women from Matagalpa joined together to form the Union of Organized Women of Yasica Sur (UMOYS). Over twenty women walked to meet with us, many walking for more than an hour during the hottest part of the day. They generously shared their story. More than 300 women strong just in the Yasica Sur basin area, these women talked of their work to better the lives of women and families by assessing the needs of their communities. They need roofs to keep the rain out, medical care, shoes for their children so they can attend school, peace in the home. They talked with us for over an hour, sharing how they have built a strong and sustainable organization. A woman said that, because of her work with the UMOYS, "I now feel free, liberated. I did not know what was out there. We are poor. But now I can talk to anyone." I will listen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


It is the end of the quarter at my university and life has been extremely busy. I was out in the field (schools that is!) observing my grad students at their practicum sites. It is so fun and makes it very clear why I love this field so much. The KIDS!!! I have dedicated, awesome grad students that are teaching KIDS (children and young people with disabilities). These kids are so amazing, brave, funny and endearing. I will give each of them a name as I tell their story but of course you know it is not their real names!

Carrie is a middle school student that cannot speak in school. She is able to speak to her family but not her teachers or peers. She listens, she writes, she works in groups but she does not talk. Her teacher (my student) is completely supportive and accepting as she communicates with Carrie and carefully puts her with other students that treat her with respect. Carrie comes to school to learn; the school is helping her and waiting patiently for the day that she might share her thoughts with her voice. But, if not, she continues to receive a great education.

J is a thirteen years old and struggles to write at the 2nd or sometimes 3rd grade level. There is nothing wrong with his ability to learn; he has a disability in written language. The students write in their journals every morning before beginning their lesson. My grad student was amazed that J had increased his writing from one or two sentences to an entire page. She asked if he was willing to share his writing with the small group of students. He said he would and haltingly read his journal, describing his fear as he went out with the garbage before coming to school and found that his families' car had been broken into and the stereo torn out. He read how he ran back into his house to tell his parents and that they did not believe him at first. He retold the sad tale of his morning ... reading his own writing. It was important to him and relevant to his life. The teacher gave him the respect and support that he needed to find his own words on paper.

Nate is also in middle school. A clumsy, crazy and unique time of life for a child moving to adolescence and on to adulthood. My grad student has a class of unique and wonderful students with a range of severe to more severe disabilities. She manages a crew of paraprofessionals that teach and care for these children with respect and appreciation of their own individual stories. I observed "award time" where my student announced three or four awards for her students that had done exceptional work making it to classes on time, sharing space with other students; seemingly small accomplishments but huge to the individual kid. Nate's name was announced and he went mad with joy. He leaped into the air and hugged each teacher in the room (he stood in front of me with a huge grin and debated whether to hug me or not, he didn't!) and then ran in ecstatic circles waving his small piece of paper in the air. Someone watching through the window would have thought he had just won American Idol. It was wonderful and life-affirming to witness his happiness for his recognition for doing something small.

If you know a special education teacher tell them they are doing a great job. If you know a child or young person in special education find time to share their accomplishments. Each of the students that I saw in the schools will contribute to our society in so many ways. Work, school, friendship, inspiration, and sometimes a nudge to others to take joy in the small stuff.

Just a cool picture taken on the Mississippi River.....

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hong Kong and Post Offices

I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at an international conference on special education in Hong Kong. It was amazing, enlightening, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Although the picture with me under the umbrella does not do justice to the crowds of people, yes, it was hugely crowded. There were people everywhere, in every nook and cranny, every street and side street and scrunched into every mode of transportation. Even without my red umbrella I stood out as a tall, blonde woman from the USA. Small children turned to stare at me with wonder.
It is absolutely astonishing to me how our world has grown smaller and smaller. Just as small children turned at me and stared, I did the same thing at the age of three. I spent my first twelve years in small towns in eastern Washington. I had not seen a person with dark skin before that tender age. I ran around the corner at a post-office and stopped and stared, completely astonished. The woman kindly allowed me to inspect her as she laughed at (with?) my horribly embarrassed mother. From that very small life I led at three I became, in Hong Kong, subject to the same scrutiny from children (and some adults) that had never seen a white, blonde woman towering over them at 5'9 1/2"! Living in Seattle and most other places in the US provides the wonderfully rich opportunity to meet, talk to, work with and do business with many different people and cultures. Recently I stood in the line at the post office and while whistling away ten minutes of wait time I saw and heard people from all around the world. China, Japan, Russia, India, Indonesia, Africa and all the smaller and discrete cultures in between. This was not the post office that I experienced at age 3. I am so lucky to not only have different ethnicities, cultures and worlds come to me but I can go to them. I did not travel out of the country until I was an adult ...and with children. I listen to my own children discuss their possible travels to far away lands and I wonder if we all realize how fortunate we are to have such opportunities. I am so curious about the world. I don't know that I have enough time to go everywhere I want but I need to spend more time listening and learning from the people that are in my own post office. Don't you just want to sit down with the man on the ferry below and have tea? Ask him about his travels? His first post office encounter? Who does he see in his post office now? Any tall, blond women from the US?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How do you write?

Procrastination is a type of behavior which is characterized by deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. Psychologists often cite procrastination as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. [1] Psychology researchers also have three criteria they use to categorize procrastination. For a behavior to be classified as procrastination, it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying.[2] (Wikipedia)

Counterproductive, needless and delaying. ARGH. Do you procrastinate when you have big task ahead of you? Writing is a task that finds me in either overdrive or stalled...procrastinating. I have huge amounts of writing to do right now. I am writing 1) a book; 2) an article on teachers, mental health conditions and helping adolescents; 3) an article on life after high school for students with emotional and behavioral disorders; 4) a very boring article for everyone but two other professors in the world on conducting research on post-school outcomes (don't ask); and 5) a really interesting piece with daughter Linea about US (yes, self-centered but fun!). Oh, and I am overdue on about three huge reports...So, what do I do? I am good at organizing my office(s), both work and home, so that I am in a lovely and comfortable environment where my creative juices feel welcome. I make excellent tea, warming the teapot just so and steeping for at least 5 minutes. I stop and look whenever the sun comes out. I answer phone calls from my family. I spend time walking from one end of the house to the other to get a cracker and a piece of cheese. I nibble. I read the acknowledgements in the back of the three books I am currently reading. I WRITE ON MY BLOG.

But, somehow the thoughts that need to go from my brain to my fingers to the screen and on to the paper flutter and turn and eventually settle where they are supposed to. I forget things while "procrastinating" like my keys, my phone, my teeth cleaning appointment. Which, by the way, costs extra $ and is punishable by a three month wait for another opening. But the contemplation sorts and sifts through the ruminating and the writing comes, finally, in long and steady doses. I sit in pajamas (home office only) and write and write and write and I am lost in a space that finally makes sense. Procrastination may be Delaying but perhaps not Counterproductive and Needless. How do you write?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mothers and Fathers and All Things Similiar

My daughters are young women now but always in my care. Mothers and fathers and those that do the work of parents have a secret. Our lives change completely when we became responsible for a small person's life in all its intricacies. When my daughter Jordan and her husband had our first and only grandson I knew that shortly after his birth she would be knocked over by the power of love for one's child. This overwhelming love is quickly followed by the dark side of that incredible joy. Can I keep this child safe? What would happen to our world if something happened to this child? We parents carry this unspoken, unacknowledged backpack with us as long as we are parents. I spent the week-end with my own wonderful parents. Even when I worry about their health they never seem to lessen their own love and concern about mine. In a loving family this becomes intricate layers at best. When our daughter Linea was so sick I knew that my parents worried about her as much as they did about me. And now, I understand.

When you become a first time mother suddenly you realize how much your own parents love you. The same happens when you become a grandmother. I love that baby boy crazily and I also know the power that he has over my daughter's life. We could simply love and fret ourselves to pieces, couldn't we? I know that there are children out there that do not have the generations of love and care that my children (and I hope most children) do. In my family the four grandchildren and one great-grandchild has parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and great-aunts and great-uncles all in the circle ready and willing to offer care and support. With the love comes the responsibility and the vulnerability of loving a child. It is so much easier when you have other family to help with this. I hope that every parent has this support, during the joyous times and particularly during the frightening times. It makes it so much easier.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Place of Peace

Occasionally the universe (however one may define universe!) provides a gift and reminds us to live in the moment. On a particularly horrible day I experienced a tap on the shoulder that literally brought me front and center to the present. My 19 year old daughter was in a psychiatric unit of a trauma 1 hospital in Seattle, newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, preparing for a series of ECT treatments. It was Mother's Day. She is a musician and had just played and sang "Blackbird" for me as my gift when she suddenly crashed again, back down into her depression and asked us to leave. I was about as low as I had been over the last 6 months of hell. My husband talked me into taking a walk through an old growth forest arboretum. It was an absolutely beautiful day and suddenly I had this feeling of smallness in an ancient world. I was simply in the moment of that beautiful place, a tiny speck on our earth's curve. I relaxed, I let out and took in a breath of air. I was in that moment, at peace.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Every other quarter I teach a graduate class on disabilities and special education. I ask the students to write a paper discussing diagnostic labels. In special education there are 13 disability categories. Do we need these labels? What do you think and why, I ask them? I read pros and cons of labeling and most of the students write very convincing papers from whichever side they take on the issue. So I thought I needed to write my own response. Wouldn't it be nice to have a world in which we didn't need to "label" anyone as having learning, mental or physical disabilities? Let's just treat everyone in a way to address and support strengths and needs. I want schools to provide a variety of learning supports based on individual assessment. Wouldn't it be great!!! But how do we make sure that we access the research that is available to provide support that is grounded in science? My daughter was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder after numerous treatments and medications. I don't want her to be known as the "girl with bipolar" but I do want the doctors to tap into the newest research and the best medication and treatment for her. I want her to know her strengths and talents and to embrace and manage any of the symptoms of bipolar.
I want the same for children and young people with learning disabilities in reading, with Asperger Syndrome, with emotional behavioral disorders, with ADHD...I want the correct diagnosis so as to identify and provide the best support and treatment for every child. Not to "label" a person but to give every opportunity for the fullest potential and choices. Labels can be so negative, diagnosis can shut down dreams and increase fears. I want diagnostic labeling to add to knowledge and support for each person and embraced in a way that adds support and takes away fear.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On the Ropes

Linea and I just returned from presenting at the Wisconsin State Transition Conference. We shared information about bipolar and the issues around transitioning from high school to post-high school for young people with mental health conditions. Although I have presented for many years to many audiences presenting from a personal perspective is different...and scary. We are providing information and research but also a very personal story. The participants at the conference, held at Wisconsin Dells, could not have been more receptive and supportive. It is all worth it when we hear from people that have also been diagnosed with bipolar or have family members that have and are inspired, even in a small way, by our story. Thank you, Wisconsin, for your warm welcome! Let’s get rid of the stigma and prepare young people to advocate for their needs and be proud of their strengths. Let's make sure that there are services and support for young people when they turn 18 and may not be under their parents' health care. But, I learned even more than those that came to our presentation.

See, I am afraid of high places. My palms sweat simply watching a movie with the actors dangling even 20 feet above the ground. I am terrified when my feet are off the ground. It doesn’t matter if my brain tells me I can’t possibly fall. I did something highly unusual at Kalahari Resort where the conference was held. The first night we were there I had watched Linea and her dad climb all over the ropes course. I took pictures and turned away to catch my breath when they walked across the skinny planks and ropes. But then, I, most fearful of high places, managed to walk across (and back through) the ropes course. Yes, I know I was there for professional reasons but I did it. Know why? Prior to this huge event (ropes course!) we had a small dinner in the bar at the resort where a band, including special education teachers, was playing to the great delight of the conference participants. Wisconsin is different from Washington State in that you don’t have to be 21 to be in a bar with a band. Mingled with all the teachers and school psychologists and DVR personnel were young people with disabilities, also attending the conference. As I watched them dance I was so inspired. The kid in a wheel chair that bumped down the stairs on his own and backwards to get out on the dance floor so he could spin with the little blond girl…the young man in his Packer’s jersey that was dancing away very happily all on his own…the young man dancing with two girls at once and did it so gracefully. You all encouraged and touched me in a way that caused me to say, “I’ll do the ropes course.” And I did.