Friday, December 18, 2015

Wishing for Peace in our World: the Power of Listening

        Often those of us with a heart for social justice get excited over trying to answer questions. Questions like, "How can we help?" "What will have the greatest impact?" "Will our monetary resources be used properly?"  Some of the social, economical, and health problems we seek to address run deep and wide, and these may be worthy questions. 
     I attended "A Dinner of Hope" hosted in our community at Hide House on June 25th, 2015.  I entered the event with some fear in my heart.  I knew Kwizera Ministries was a US counterpart set up to support Solace Ministries in Rwanda.  I was afraid because genocide is a huge, terrible topic and I would be listening to a survivor tell his story.
     It's stories that can sear us to the core and ignite us to action.  Stories are a great and heavy gift to the listener.  You can never "unhear" as story.  Were these honest accounts from Rwanda in the mid 1990's something I was "ready" to hear?  Assuming I was "ready enough", I was afraid of feeling too small to make a difference.
     We have to listen to the stories.  It's the stories that transforms history to reality.  It bridges the "them" to "us". 
      That night I listened to Yves Nyamushanja tell of watching his community crumble as Tutsi people fled to churches for safety and came face to face with Hutu neighbors willing to slash and slaughter them. Hearing Yves recall a day when he, at age 12, was the only one to walk out of the church alive was wrenching.  
    Jean Gakwandi spoke next and I was amazed that he was present, as he is the original founder of Solace Ministries , established 1995.  He believes that "the first step of the healing process is to listen to survivors, comforting them".  At Solace Ministreies survivors are able to tell their stories  and listen to each other.  This itself is a  gift greater than material objects.  They received the gift of knowing they were not alone.  To paraphrase, Yves states that "without that , we would have gone crazy".  It's the stories that allow us to momentarily be with and be there for another person. 
        Jean points out that we need to listen vigilantly because history rewrites itself very quickly.  He states he is discouraged that the numbers of Tutsis murdered seems to shrink every year, as if 2 million dead is a travesty, but one million doesn't sound so bad.  When people get transformed from stories to numbers they lose their humanity.  The goal of Solace is to "become an alternative family for survivors, restoring their dignity and creating networks of support for individuals who are traumatized, lonely, poor, and desiring hope as they confront an uncertain future.
     How gracefully Jean and Yves answered my initial fears and questions!  We can help by listening. They affirmed that just seeing people in the US gathered for a dinner to support their community helps to validate and build self worth and hope.  Aren't those precious gifts?   Yes, we can also buy (super strong) coffee, beautiful woven baskets and colorful beaded necklaces.  But at the core of all missions is the restoration of humanity.  Let us carry this forward.
More information available:  and

Thursday, September 17, 2015

HIPPA & Dusty Medical Records

       "How do you make something unknown again, when it's burned into your heart?"  For those of us riding the Saturday night wave of the  Dusty Medical 10 year Anniversary Fest (8/29/15), that question had no answer.  We relived our "youth" to the soundtrack of 2006.  I don't know how old you were at the time, but I was 9 years younger than I am now.
       I had moved back to Milwaukee after spending college years in Madison and post-college years in Seattle.  I moved to  Bay View... Milwaukee's "new East Side".  Before long I was making googly eyes at the Hi-Fi Cafe guy with the goofy mustache.  Reuniting with my prom date of 1993 may seem like an obvious choice in hindsight, but took me by surprise at the time.
       We drove along the Lakefront in his blue Chevelle.  He shared new music with me as he had in years before.  We had now moved on from cassettes to cds, but the songs were intentionally ordered and selected for my ears.  "Listen to this, EVEN YOU would like it, "he said handing me a cd.  (I of course took this as an insult.)  I listened to it and he was right, I did like it.  The music was a train ride, the words were a poem.  I was forever hooked on the Goodnight Loving.
       So then he nonchalantly mentions how he will be putting out a record by these guys on his record label.  Hmm, record label ?  Chevelle?  Who is this mysterious prom date from my past?  One half of the Get Drunk DJ's; one third of the Night Terrors.  Sounds like the guy for me!
       "The thing you love about your partner will be the thing that drives you crazy later, " I remember hearing at the time.  Music.  I loved his love of music; his passion for authentic music and his persistence in sharing it.
       Sadly, I have discovered that this tendency does not lead to monstrous financial gain :)   It does however lead to a catalog of unique, original artists pouring out what they carry inside.  (see ) Many of these songs would have disappeared like drops of water on dry earth.  Happily they are now captured on vinyl.
       I am proud of my guy and the hours he has devoted to this "of the people, by the people, for the people" record label that strives to break even so it can put out another release.   And yes, sometimes  I do have to ask him to turn down the music.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Crying over Milk...

     "Watch out for the crack!"  was the battle cry we heard each night at dinner as one of my brothers or I inevitably spilled our milk cup.  Classic tupperware cups in orange and gold rolling towards the edge of the table.  But that was the easy part, quickly wiped up after hitting the floor.  It was the dreaded crack that was home to lost crumbs and "gunk" where the milk would.... ?? Well I'm not sure exactly.  Curdle? Require the disassembly of the kitchen table?
     At any rate, moms for decades have indeed been crying over spilled milk. Whether we "should" cry about it or not is debatable.  My heart especially rockets out to the moms, including myself who have chosen to attempt to breastfeed yet found that our bodies were unable to produce luxurious quantities of milk.  Yes, we guzzled the tea.  Yes, we ate the cookies (thanks Monica!).  Choked down supplements along with the chunky vitamins.   Yes we shed a silent tear when other moms posted their "problems" on Facebook regarding what to do with their freezers full of excess milk.
    Today is a day on my breastfeeding journey.  I wanted to say the "bittersweet final day of"... but I can't.  Today I rediscovered my last 2 bags of breast milk.  Last, last; as in we are not planning to have other children.  As in, my current 2 year old laughs if I try to offer him breast milk.  With each child a different journey of nursing for various lengths of time for various reasons.
     Those 2 "measly" bags peeping out from behind the unused frozen bananas (someone will be over soon to make us smoothies and banana bread) and below the food coloring-rich freezie pops.
     I can't yet let them thaw in the sink and slip down the drain.  I worked so hard to extract each drop of milk.  I was hooked up to a fancy 1st world pumping machine where I pumped in my car between work shifts.  Each day I squeezed out just 1/4 ounce to one ounce of milk at a time.  I remember carefully shaking each drop into the bottle, letting it regather and shaking again for one last drop. I certainly did cry over spilled milk more than once.  Precious for the hopes, determination and even fears carried within.
     So I will tuck those 2 tiny bags back into the freezer, not even close to 1/4 full.  Hey, it's one of the few times I can choose to not spill the milk.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Listen To Your Mother 2015!!

What a thrill to step onto the stage at Alverno's Pittman Theater Sunday April 26th and read aloud!  I was able to share a bit of my story with many ears, hearts and even some bright lights.  I hope that those who recognize the story can find solace, reprieve, and even hope.  Read on....

New Motherhood: New Identity?
        Becoming a Mother involves a great transformation of identity. Dormant traits rise up, and familiar characteristics sink below the surface. With my first two children, I experienced personal growth in some areas, and crumbling in others. Key parts of my identity were whittled down or stripped away. My ideas changed as who I thought I would be as a mother were replaced by less pretty realities. But despite the changes, I maintained my core identity of being a kind, understanding person with an appreciation for art and  nature. I was still bright, still a problem solver.
        After the birth of my third child I experienced an emotion I had never felt before: Terror. It did not descend all at once, but crept in during the year following his birth. 
        It began with feelings of anger and frustration. Everyday bumps in the road felt like catastrophes. I was constantly rolling my eyes and sighing with irritation. I would not have allowed other people to yell at my children the way I was doing. This brought with it great shame and self-judgment.
        As time went on, I began to have trouble concentrating and remembering. I had to leave myself notes to Eat Breakfast and other everyday tasks that shouldn't require a second thought. I once thought to myself , "Why is that woman waving at me like she knows me?" Hours later I slowly remembered that we had met multiple times before.  
       Over time, my identity changed to the point that it no longer felt like me. I thought that there had to be some physical explanation for this. I researched brain tumors, neurological diseases, thyroid problems. I tried everything I could think of to feel better: accupuncture , healthy eating, an antidepressant, supplements, martial arts; on and on. Each thing seemed to provide a fraction of relief, but only briefly.
       As I got worse, the minutes would drag on so that surviving one hour felt like the feat of the century. Other days the time would slip by, and how did it get so late, as I didn't even get my coat off yet or make dinner? I still had to pee! Could it possibly be bedtime for the kids? This  was terrifying.
        My exhaustion became debilitating. Each day was a race to make it to the kids’ bedtime, when I could collapse into bed. At night I did not have the energy to fill my pillbox correctly or even plug in my cell phone.  My husband described me as "listless" at the time.
      Eventually, the anger I felt turned into rage. My irritation turned to a physical sensation of agitation. My thoughts were filled with irrational hatred towards almost everything.  I felt like I was losing my mind. I felt the terror of not feeling like myself or knowing who I was. I no longer felt kind or understanding. Once at the top of my class, I was no longer smart.  I wanted to live, but I could not stand living in my body. When I tried to tell people about my concerns, their cheerful reassurances only made me realize they could not comprehend what I was going through.
      Having 3 kids seemed too much for me with all the details to manage: grooming, meals, homework, sports, not to mention keeping track of library day, hot lunch day, spirit day...  My secret fantasy was to lie in a hospital bed with brief visits from my children and husband.
     Nearly a year later a friend recommended the Postpartum Progress website.  When I read things like "symptoms include rage", I began to cry with relief.  This meant I was not alone.  I went from thrashing around in a dark sea with my head underwater, to having a point of light to focus on.   If this was postpartum depression it needed a new name. Something to capture the disintegration, the terror, the trauma, the drowning feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.  Recovery has been slow and involves being knocked underwater again and again.  Medication helped me reach a turning point, and taking care of myself through time, baths, hobbies and friends is essential.

         I now feel I have my identity back. I have some of the old me, as well as the continued transformation motherhood brings.  I am here.  I enjoy things again.   The terrible buzzing in my head is usually gone.  That is enough. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

On why we switched schools...

My low down on why Montessori was not a good match... Number one, because it is ONE approach when I believe the best teaching is a combination of constantly evolving approaches that meet the needs of the individual learners. I mean c'mon , how could Maria Montessori have gotten EVERYTHING right? That being said, each individual school and teacher is different and may have more or less to offer.
  • Some of my personal complaints are as follows... This approach values work but does not value play. As an active 3, 4, and 5 year old my son needed play time. Imaginative play is discouraged in Montessori, so no dress up etc. I realized how much I believe children learn through play. Also I feel this age needs to work on social skills and a lot of that is done through imaginative play.
          There was very little art at his school... none of the typical kindergarten cutting/ coloring/ pasting etc that I think is so good for kids. Although the kids got to choose what activity to work on, once a task was selected, it had to be completed in a very rigid manner. Each task has a specific sequence to follow. Thus my son got "in trouble" for building with blocks because he was supposed to stack them one certain way only. Montessori teaches cursive writing first which my little guy did not take to and became very tearful, frustrated that he could not do. When he switched to traditional school, he did much better with the printing. Much of the work in a Montessori room is individual/ side by side , thus the social skills taught are "don't disturb others" and "keep to yourself" rather than actually HOW to get along with others..
         I don't know that Montessori has a specific discipline approach.  I believe that is left up to the teacher, but the discipline used in his classroom was a deal breaker for me. Snack being withheld was one of his consequences (and this is a chronically underweight dude- still hasn't hit 40 pounds).  I found out (from the janitor!?) that he was being put out in the hall on a regular basis as a way to manage his behavior. I know the teacher was not a bad person and she was doing what she thought would work.  With the large classes sizes in public schools now (his was 35), what's a teacher to do when there are kids with special needs whether they be physical, emotional or behavioral?  I don't have the answer to that question but I am glad we switched to a smaller, private school. His mood, behavior and academic achievements have all improved.
         I also checked out the Waldorf schools.  It was very cool in many ways, but again ONE approach and a bit too extreme. I think I would have loved attending a Waldorf school.  It was interesting to tour a traditional  public school where the teachers bragged they had computers in the kindergarten classroom and then go to Waldorf where the kids don't do computers until middle school and even then just for typing. The students in a Waldorf school don't learn letters until first grade which seemed a bit slow to me.  I don't have TV in my house, but my kids do watch videos on the weekend mornings. However you are asked to sign a no TV contract when you attend many Waldorf schools.  
         The search for a new school did make me aware that comparing schools is not comparing apples to apples.  I felt like I had a pear, pineapple and a peach to choose from!  What's more amazing is that each school feels and truly believes their way is the best way. So good luck parents and find the match that's right for your child!  (I sure hope I don't end up with 3 kids at 3 different schools!!!)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Why OT for me?

Thanks to Cindra for asking the questions!
1. OTR/L  (Occupational Therapist Registered/ Licensed) .. Nationally Registered, State Licensed...
2. I currently work in a home health setting.  This is a great place to treat patients... in their natural surroundings.  They are usually more motivated and happy to be at home.  Also the teaching is relevant and specific to them and their home (such as teaching how to get into a claw foot tub, etc..)  I pursued occupational therapy after a volunteer job at a day program for adults with brain injuries.  The person who led the group addressed so many things: physical games, cognitive skills, fine motor arts and crafts ,social group;  I loved the holistic approach!  I asked the leader what her degree was in and learned it was OT!
3. To get into OT school required a minimum of 2 years of prerequisites (but I did 4).  There was also a review of transcript, required hours shadowing an OT and an essay.  OT school itself was an additional 2 years for a Bachelors.  OT is now an entry level Masters program.  I applied to 4 schools.  There was no gap before starting school for me because we started Anatomy with dissection that summer.  I think that class was meant to "weed out" a few before starting the 2 year intensive course work.  We had 2-4 Level I fieldwork experiences lasting several weeks each.  At the end of our course work we had 2 Internships lasting 3 months each, with an optional 3rd Internship.  I did one at a Veterans Hospital in California and one in Pediatric School District in Wisconsin.
Then came the big OT test to get Registered nationally.  That was difficult!!  The state licensing tests have been pretty easy; more about rules than OT itself.
4.  I started right away as an OT, but looking back it may have been more fun to be an OTA (less evaluations and paper work!).
5. I worked while going to school.  I worked various part time jobs:  children's day care, line therapist for children with autism, home worker for adults with disabilities.  These all gave me experience to complement my education.
6. My future plans? I would love to return to Seattle!  I would love to do more with aquatic therapy again.  I would love to open a center that combined health care with community wellness such as a Kids Sensory Center.
7.  I have worked so many places... Washington state had a lot of great opportunities.  I worked in aquatic therapy, a skilled nursing facility  for Dementia patients, a school district, adult day health center, and home health care.  They all had something unique.  I love being in a profession with so many options for places to work and so many different groups of people I can work with.  This job is never boring!
8.  Before entering my profession, decide whether being an OT or an OT Assistant seems more appealing to you.  (compare schooling, pay, job requirements...)  Know that occupational therapists are a bright, caring, creative, hands-on group of individuals who want to make a difference especially helping clients do what is personally meaningful.  If that sounds like you, shadow an OT for a day and then come join us!  Job outlook continues to look good as far as I can see!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hey! Unto You A Child Is Born!

Two (and a half!)  Christmas cookies for C. today was "one too many" according to Dad as a flash of limbs blurs by us.  "Careful!" I say more than (insert large number here) times, sometimes before the crash, sometimes after.
Balance.  Rhythm.  Priorities.
These themes surface more and more now that I am of "advanced maternal age".    And yet, Pandemonium reigns.  Well maybe it doesn't reign, but it sure rains down upon us often enough.
Advent and preparing for Christmas has always been a special, favorite time for me.  Advent wreath lighting, advent calendars (sometimes hand wrapped messages from mom), watering a real tree in our home, setting up the Nativity scene, decorating sugar cookies, even circling rock tumblers and easy bake ovens in the JC Penney catalog... what's not to like?
Now that I have children of my own, I realize that what made it into our lives and traditions must have in fact been very deliberate.  The amount expected to be crammed into this season is hectic and overwhelming, and even pandemonium inducing.  Without some sense of balance and priorities you are likely to be run over by a reindeer.
As toddler L. sings "Dudo" the red nose reindeer, I realize that although animated reindeer are not on top of our holiday priority list, music is.  Although I favor some of the more religious, heart wrenching tunes (What Child Is This, O Holy Night), little C. would be happy to keep "Albert" and the Chipmunks on repeat.  Watching my kids dance along with records just as we did, gives a very warm feeling indeed. 
Tripping along is how we are doing in regard to the rest of our traditions.
St. Nicholas did come!  Luckily we forgot to check our stockings in the morning as they weren't actually filled until a bit later.
The tree was decorated... not a real one... not white lights... But pleasantly weighted down with 3-4 ornaments per branch by toddler L.
We do have an Advent calendar on the wall and remember to read it... at least every day or two.
The Nativity scene is up, but C. made our stable out of a Melissa and Doug frog, singing tea kettle and lavender pillow (so the angel could look down where he lay)  :) There may also be a chip in baby Jesus, but I am not exactly sure when this occurred. 
We light a candle at dinner, but only tonight (on the second Sunday of Advent) do I realize it's C.'s Thanksgiving candle and maybe we should have moved on to Advent candles by now...
No decorating of sugar cookies (thanks Mom!, that must have been a lot of work!!), but we did mix up some Puppy Chow and Krispy Treats.
We have no art project's involving  a child's hand or footprint yet (we need Erica to help us with those anyway), but we did make some potpourri and wreaths!  Wreaths were possibly my favorite activity with C. this year because they were made with Daddy's old 45 records on a day that was exceptionally warm.  They were absolutely free to make and they turned out cute!  C. wanted to stay out cutting branches (from our bushes) all day!
Priorities?  Time together.  Treats.  Traditions.  Music.  Making. 
Balance?  Involving the senses of smell, taste, sight, touch, sound.  And as my children remind me, movement! 
Rhythm?  Well, maybe next year!
Happy Holidays to you and yours!!