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.