Friday, September 1, 2017

Anxiety in Kids - Part 3: Just Between Us Parents


Previous parts to this article:
Part 1:  Empathy and Calming
Part 2:  Coaching Your Kid Through Life

Show No Shame
Even if you secretly believe that you are to blame for your child's anxiety try to let it go. Parental feelings of failure communicate to your child that you believe they are somehow defective, setting off a domino effect of negative emotions. It can erode their self-confidence, exacerbating their problem by essentially becoming anxious about being anxious. Physical differences are easy to spot, we wouldn’t ask a short person to reach a high shelf without providing some scaffolding; likewise, kids with anxiety need emotional scaffolding, but since it isn’t apparent, they have to ask for it. While they are learning these skills, we need to be able to discuss anxiety with respect and openness with them and others, to show them that they can do the same as they face difficulties in life.

Inform her instructors.
Let her teachers, instructors, and coaches know that she has anxiety and what she typically does to help herself, so her calming exercises won’t be misinterpreted as not paying attention. Also, information about a specific fear can be helpful, e.g., my daughter was terrified of the diving board at the pool and was worried her instructors would make her jump. I let the instructor know she has anxiety, and my daughter asked if the diving board would be part of the lesson and said she needed to be able to to do it when she was ready. If she doesn’t pass, then she doesn’t, but she's still learning other important swimming techniques and I know she'll do it when she's ready.

Give him control.
Anxious kids need to feel in control of their situation, for example, if he’s afraid of being confined to the car during trips, let him pack a kit that includes what he needs to keep himself comfortable and distracted from the situation e.g., a tablet, crayons, paper, snacks, or whatever works.

Teach her the power of “so what”.
So what if everyone in my class is a better swimmer than me? I’m improving.
So what if I get car sick and throw-up? It washes off.
So what if I failed the test? I can study and do better next time.
So what if I never score a goal in soccer? I’m still a good defensive player.

Our anxieties often become self-fulfilling prophecies, by being scared of getting car sick, we get car sick. We get so bound-up mentally about a test that we can’t think, and fail the test. If we let go, or so-what, the fear by remembering that we can shrug off even the worst case in most scenarios, we shrug off the anxiety too. The trick is remembering (and deeply believing) that our intrinsic value as human beings is still intact no matter the outcome of a situation or performance.

Encourage him to educate himself on the topic. 
What to Do When You Worry Too Much, by Dawn Huebner, is an excellent example of a book he can work through himself, if he’s at a second-grade reading level or better. It is also a great read-aloud for younger kids. It was a relief to my daughter to know that there are enough children just like her that someone wrote a book about it. For older kids and teens, the website at http://youth.anxietybc.com is an excellent resource for self-help information.

A word for parents:
If you decide to get outside help, a professional therapist can help your family design an effective solution, and it’s a great starting point. But, nobody knows your child like you do. Listen to all advice selectively, experiment with parts that make sense, and disregard everything else. Be aware that you will need to continually refine your coaching technique as your child moves through the phases of growing up. Your child may never be anxiety free—who is really?—but with your help, he or she may learn to control it and channel that energy into a drive to excel in his or her chosen path in life.

My girl's first-day-of-school face.
The snakes of anxiety can take innumerable forms, from falling asleep at night, to school, to a birthday party, to losing sight of you in the shower—be warned if you drop by my house... Being a parent of an anxious child is often frustrating and disappointing, but remember that your child isn’t trying to give you a hard time, she’s having a hard time. (This is difficult for me--I get so frustrated!) She needs your patience and compassion. It’s amazing how many anxious situations can be diffused by saying, “There’s no rush. I’m right here if you need me.” Also, be conscientious about taking care of yourself, and work in more unscheduled time into your family’s week than you think you need.

Lastly, be kind to yourself, it feels hard because it is hard.

Resources for further reading:
  • Anxiety BC has an informative website at http://www.AnxietyBC.com and another at http://youth.anxietybc.com for young people to use by themselves.
  • Go Zen at www.gozen.com has animated videos that are helpful for younger kids as well as adolescents.
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America - http://www.adaa.org
  • What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety, by Dawn Huebner
Sources:


I'd love for you to add your experiences and advice in the comments.  

Anxiety in Kids - Part 1: Empathy and Calming

This is the first installment of a three part series about kids growing up with an anxiety disorder. It covers the physical changes in an anxious person’s body, how to achieve understanding through empathy, and how to apply your understanding to your child’s daily struggles.

***

The hot days are giving way to the cool crispness of my favorite season. The trees put on their warmest colors, and the nights are brisk for cozy sleeping during the extended night. Reflecting on our summer, I see my children, slippery with sunscreen, splashing and jumping in the water. Their smiles sparkle like the sunlit water as they squeal with their special brand of joy. The one thing marring this vision is the cumbersome life vests wrapping their torsos.

My girls haven’t yet learned to swim, so I think: swim lessons. I bask in these visions as I call my six-year-old daughter over and propose the idea. Instead of excitement and anticipation—she loves water!—her eyes widen with fear, and her chest rapidly rises and falls with shallow breaths.

“Will you be there!?”

“Sure, I can watch, but you’d be in the pool with an instructor and other kids.”

She flops on the floor, her voice is grating with distress, “No. No. NOOO! I don’t want lessons!!”

“What!? Why not?”

With her eyes squeezed shut, she unleashed a hurricane of questions that blew away the pleasant scent of wet rocks and damp hair; clouds darkened the sunny picture in my mind.

“But I can’t swim! What if the other kids splash me in the eyes? What if everyone is better than me? What if I sink? Can you save me if I sink? Can I wear a life jacket? Will the pool be deep? Is the water cold? Where will I change? What if the big drain at the bottom opens up and sucks me into the abyss and the purple monkey runs away with my sparkles?! No! I don’t WANT swim lessons!”

OK, the purple monkey thing was mine, but that’s how it all sounds to me.

I make the same mistake I've made countless times and try to reassure her, “You’ll be fine. They would never let a student drown.” But her panic only deepens. That’s because I have an anxious child. She gets this way whenever we are fording to new territory. If this sounds familiar to you, you may have one too. We’re in good company, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that close to 10 percent of children and adolescents struggle with one of the many forms of anxiety. The good news is that there are effective ways to coach your children to learn skills for managing their anxiety, whether it is General Anxiety, Separation Anxiety, Social Anxiety, or one of the other flavors.

What’s Going On?

The culprit is a part of our brain called the amygdala. In response to alarming stimuli, the amygdala triggers the fight or flight response, charging the body with adrenaline. This releases sugar into the bloodstream, which speeds up the heart and breathing, and opens airways to fuel the muscles and the brain with oxygen.

The amygdala acts automatically, without checking with the logic centers of the brain. For our primal ancestors, that threat might have looked like a prowling lion; whereas my daughter’s lion is a pool of water, an instructor, and five other six-year-olds waiting their turn to practice forward strokes and long legs.

For people with an anxiety disorder, the amygdala is overactive, firing life or death responses when facing daily challenges, new situations, or sometimes for no overt reason. It is very similar to the way the immune system of a person with a peanut allergy.  It is an inappropriate and automatic response that by one of the body's protective systems.

I'm not giving you a hard time.
I'm HAVING a hard time!
All of us experience anxious moments, but it becomes a disorder when the anxiety controls the person’s decision making and/or the constant strain of daily anxiety affects their physical health.

The amygdala may not check with logic centers, but our logic centers can check our amygdala. First, my daughter must recognize what’s happening in her body, use her calming techniques, then, usually later, work through the issue that caused the anxiety. It is a difficult skill set, but it gets easier with practice. Lately, I’ve noticed she doesn’t have to work so hard to control her anxiety, and fewer situations (or suggestions) trigger the flight or fight response. This confidence is powerful; more powerful than the imaginary beasties that lurk in the shadows of her mind.

How is this done?

The first task was to understand how she’s feeling.

I am afraid of snakes. When they surprise me, I have a strong fear response. However, I don’t have anxiety so I can quickly regain control. When she started getting scared about something that seemed silly to me, I would imagine a room with several loose snakes hiding out in the furniture, and someone pressuring me to go in there.

OK, I get it.

This exercise brought to light several points about how to work with her when she’s anxious.

Point 1: Don’t shame me for my fear, I can’t help it.


Point 2: Change is hard.
Sure, some form of snake fear therapy could help, but I don’t want to. Facing a fear is uncomfortable and difficult.

Point 3: I need control of the process.
If I needed to seek snake-fear therapy, it would need to be on my terms. If you tried to decide for me and pushed me into a room of snakes (even cute little harmless ones) and closed the door, I would hate you for ever. Period.

Point 4: I want to be equipped before I face my snake.
I would want to learn and be prepared with calming techniques beforehand and know that I could go at a pace that felt safe, even if it took years.

Point 5: This is for my benefit, not yours.
My fear response to snakes might seem silly or exasperating to you, but I would need to confront this issue for me. The worry of disappointing someone else would make the pressure unbearable and almost ensure failure.

How to apply these points to a child:

Resist the urge to reassure. A crucial part of this process is to abandon attempts to reassure your child. His body is readying him for a fight to the death, telling him to calm down, that it’s just a friendly little snake (or imaginary) doesn’t help. Instead, describe what you see with genuine concern, “You’re breathing really fast and your eyes are wide. You must be really worried.” Then reflect his fear back to him, so he knows that you know there’s a snake there—you know? This practice also creates awareness of his physical responses to anxiety, so he can eventually recognize it and head off the process on his own.

Inducing physical calm. Practice belly breathing through the nose, clenching and releasing muscles, prayer, and/or meditation. These techniques can help a child to shut off the flight or fight response. Following up with a physical activity is a great way to discharge the remaining adrenaline to prevent it from causing the typical anxious child tummy ache or headache.

Distraction. Before his mind can return to what caused the anxiety, coach him to engage in a mental distraction, e.g. reading, or playing a mental game like trying to remember the alphabet backward, or counting by threes, until he feels in control.

Make a list.
Once your child has refined a process that works, suggest making a list for her to keep in her pocket or backpack. It’s difficult to think clearly when under duress, and a familiar list of things to do can help be confident that she can regain control.

Recognize her effort.
If you see her belly breathing or mumbling numbers in order to induce calm, once she's regained control, notice her efforts in the same way you would with a great report card or a three-point shot.  

That’s it for now. Let that soak in then come back for the next segment in which we will explore coaching techniques to help our children work through difficult situations.


I'd love for you to add your experiences and advice in the comments.  

Anxiety in Kids - Part 2: Coaching Your Kid Through Life

Now that your child has learned to return to calm during an anxious episode, (Part 1:  Empathy and Calming) let’s look further into the future and explore ways to coach your child through an anxious situation.

First two things to remember:
  1. Your child's anxiety isn't your fault.
  2. This is their problem to fix, not yours.
Even though we can't fix their anxiety any more than we can go to bat for them at their ball game, there is a lot we can do to help.

Be a coach. First, we must don our hat, whistle, and gym shorts. Becoming a coach can ease your own feelings of frustration. Coaches teach skills, give encouragement and recognition, but never play for their players. Coaches look for progress, not perfection. To begin coaching work together to find a time of day when she is usually relaxed.

Explain what the amygdala does. If she's little, try encouraging her to name it something silly. Teach her to recognize those feelings when they start to rise by verbally noticing the changes in her body, e.g., “Your eyes are so big, and you’re breathing so fast. Looks like Alexa Amygdala spotted a snake.”

Talk back to the amygdala. Ask her if she can think of forceful things to say to her amygdala, e.g., “Alexa, stop bothering me! I don’t need you right now!” Feeling powerful can help ease anxiety by switching to the offensive, the words also discharge some of that frantic energy. She might feel silly practicing this, but as it is with sports, practicing it when relaxed will make it come more naturally when she really needs it.  Try it during your own anxious moments; it can help if she can watch and emulate you.

When confronting a situation like swimming lessons or school fears, be persistent, but reasonable. When you automatically pull a child from an activity that triggers their anxiety, the message they receive is that you think she’s not capable, leaving her feeling defeated and ashamed--albeit relieved. Instead, explain that swim lessons (or whatever it may be) will keep her safe when having fun around water this summer, but that you’ll wait to sign her up until she feels ready.

You’ve showed her that there’s something in it for her, lots of summer fun!, and that she’s in control of the situation. That said, anxious kids should not be shoved into something scary, it may cause panic to set in and damage trust. For children with anxiety, it is a short trip from fear to phobia. When you’re ready, is the first mantra to remember. I can help, is the second. However, if a situation has become toxic for her, trust your decision to allow her to quit the program.

Hand the Question Back
Take each concern your child has in turn. First, listen carefully, then put the problem back to him using his words.

Using the swimming lesson example, “What if I sink?”
“Do you think you will sink?” or “What do you think you could do if you were sinking?”

“Will I drown?”
“Do you think you will drown?” Try your best to sound concerned; not mocking.

Keep putting the question back to the child. The feedback loop shows him that you hear his concern, but that he’s still in charge of the concern and that you are confident he can handle it. When he hears his words coming from you, sometimes he will realize it isn’t likely or logical. If he’s getting stuck and the amygdala starts firing again, get out the list of calming techniques, then try a fresh approach. But first and foremost, let you child do 90% of the talking, it’s his problem, so he gets the floor to talk it out. Listening is difficult, you may want to talk and impart your wisdom and experience, but as soon as your lecture gets rolling, he’ll disengage.

Externalize the Questions

If he’s old enough to write, suggest writing down his fears on a piece of paper. If your child is a visual person, or not able to read yet, help him draw a picture of the scenario. This process helps him unload his fears from his head onto something external so he can engage his logic centers to process them one by one. Sometimes he’ll feel better just getting them externalized--snakes don’t look so scary in crayon--but resist the temptation to stop there, the crucial part is taming each fear one by one.

For the swim lesson example, let’s draw a picture. Two square swimming pools, children in the water, the instructor, and other people swimming. Let your child draw a picture of someone struggling to swim. He might realize that other people would be alert to help the child, but if not, ask, “Do you think the other people in the pool might notice the person struggling?” He may also need information, but phrase it as a question, “Did you know there are lifeguards at our pool? Where do you think the lifeguards would stand? Do you think they would be able to help?”

Next question: 
“What if other kids splash water in my eyes!? I don’t like that!”
“You’re worried about water splashing in your eyes.  I don't like that either. Can you think of anything you can use to protect your eyes?”
“No!”
“Humm, do you think a pair of goggles might help?”
“Yeah - goggles would be cool! Can I get blue ones?”
“Yes. Do you want to draw them on your stick figure?”

Even have him draw in the purple monkey and huge drain. Then let him cross them out, thereby eliminating the irrational concerns. Ask if the drowning person can be crossed out too.

The questions are prompts for him to engage his logic centers and to separate the rational concerns from the irrational. You want him to feel as though he is coming up with the solutions for the rational concerns, even if your questions are leading. Engaging his logic centers has the wonderful side effect redirecting energy away from the amygdala--it is a mental distraction and a problem-solving exercise rolled into one.

OK, what’s next?

After working through the issues, ask if he’d like to see the pool where the swim lessons will take place. If he’s old enough, have him call the pool center to find out when lessons are and whether or not watching a lesson in session before joining would be OK. The more empowered he is, the more confident and in-control he will feel. You can take it further by asking to meet the instructor, so your child can meet the person and ask questions directly. If he gets nervous and forgets, remind him what his questions were, but try not to do the asking yourself. Feel free to break the ice with introductions and let the instructor know your child is anxious about lessons.

Ok, that’s it for segment two. Feel free to take off your cap and whistle, but keep them on hand, you need to be ready when your child approaches you with that look of an imminent anxiety attack.

In the final installment, you and I get to talk about the challenges of being parents of our anxious kids with more ideas and techniques.


I'd love for you to add your experiences and advice in the comments.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Losing My Dad

On Father’s Day, my life changed. The toughest, coolest, scariest, man I’ve ever met died.

My Dad.

Over the last ten years, Dad’s contemporaries have been dropping off one by one. I was sad, but also secretly relieved that I still had my dad. It was like the Reaper kept putting him off, like “Ug, really?! John Turner’s number is up? I have to go after that ornery old bastard?! Maybe next year—2016 about wore me out.” I was beginning to think he'd go on forever, like Keith Richards.

Dad was healthy and taking good care of himself. He was happy too. It was rare for me to call up and catch him in a bad mood. The kind of mood that used to make me try to feel his vibe through the phone before dialing it.

Dad and Tibs
He was making plans. He was feeling good, other than a recent issue with bradycardia which the doctors were working on, he was good. He loved being a grandpa and we were getting to know each other a whole other level; as fellow adults, as friends.

Then he caught the flu and was sick for over a week. On Father’s Day he started feeling better. He talked to me, Charley, and then later my brother Reed. Then he took a nap and died.

The Reaper finally got up the nerve to deal with him...when he was napping.

Reed and I were devastated. I couldn't believe it.  At the funeral home, I opted to see him because if I didn't, I knew it would never be real to me.

It was real.

This summer has been a whirlwind of phone calls, trips to his house to clean things out, sending and receiving condolences, and finally having a gathering to remember him.

We tried a few dates, but the only one that worked fell the day after my 40th birthday.  I felt crushed under the weight of passing time. 

I was stressed out trying to create something worthy of his life. Something loud. Something big. There should be fire and brimstone, cannons and roaring motorcycles, wailing virgins, a clashing of swords beneath a murder of circling crows, then a flaming boat to carry him to Valhalla. But all I could do is stake out a spot on the river and brings some stuff for a potluck. It all seemed so...inadequate.

Preacher Bob
It wasn’t. It was wonderful.  There were Dad’s friends old and new. There were wise words spoken by a preacher who was once Free Soul biker.  He normally holds services in a tavern and baptizes sinners in a river. There were motorcycles and leather chaps. A skunky smoke wafted in the air. There were drinks of whiskey & Coke prepared by a friend who used to tend bar when they were young. There were tears and laughter, and rambunctious kids underfoot. And there were wonderful hugs. There were stories told from open hearts about what Dad meant to them. There was a feast of delicious food. The sunlight percolated through the leaves warming us.  The river wept and told us of her remembrances too. Forest fire smoke spoke of death and renewal.



Karen, Barry, Geno and Les
I could feel Dad there too, and he was having a helluva time.

Although I will forever miss my dad, I am grateful to everyone who has reached out. For every bunch of beautiful flowers, hug, I love you, and card or note through FaceBook. I am so lucky to be surrounded by all of you. I have been pouring all that love right into the hollow place that Dad left when he died and my heart feels full.



Doc & Ginger
For those who couldn’t make the memorial, here is what I had to say about the man who was my father.

****************

The last time I talked to my dad was on Father’s Day.

He had been sick with the stomach flu for over a week, but on that day was feeling better. His fever was gone and he’d felt well enough to shower and eat a little bit.

I talked about my girls finishing up their school year and about my new garden.

I told him about a neighborhood party we were about to have to celebrate the kids getting out of school. And that by the next summer my new berry row should be dripping with blackberries and raspberries, and how I was thinking I’d make some pies for a social, and how I’d love for him to come for that and stay for a few extra days.

He thought that sounded great.

He told me about the tomatoes he’d planted in pots and was excited to see how they’d turned out. “I’ve never tried growing tomatoes before.”

When I was cleaning out his house after he passed, there they were, two beautiful tomato plants in pots sitting in the sun. I loaded them up too and brought them home with me. They’re doing well and setting out beautiful fruits.

He told me again how much he liked Trader Joe’s.

I had introduced him to that store during his last visit. We went shopping together and he was excited about all the health food stuff: the fresh ginger, avocado oil, a stevia sweetener he liked, organic coffee… The man was always a foodie, and as of late he been reading a lot of about nutrition and holistic health too. He’d send me emails about things he thought I should know, like the dangers of non-organic potatoes and coffee because they absorbed toxins from pesticides and herbicides.

As I packed up his kitchen, there was a stack of Trader Joe’s paper bags that I loaded up with all of his organic goodies.

He sounded tired on the phone, but I didn’t want to hang up. I kept telling him how I hoped he’d feel better soon and that I wish I could make him some chicken soup and hang out and watch The Quiet Man with him.

He wished that too.

I gave the phone to Charley so they could wish each other Happy Father’s Day. They talked for a bit and Charley handed me back the phone.

Eventually, I realized he wanted to go, but didn’t want to have to say it, so I said good-bye told him Happy Father’s Day yet again and said, “I love you” two or five more times and hung up.

Reed called him later that afternoon.

Then my dad fell asleep and left us.

Two days later I got a text from Reed that said, “Call me ASAP.”

*Oh fuck.*

I called, and before he spoke I said, “Is Dad OK?”

His voice broke he said, “No.”

I don’t remember anything else from that conversation.

I do remember the fear and adrenaline that was running through my body. I can feel it now too.

I’ve been thinking about how to talk to all of you about my father. But most of you already know. That’s what it is to be among family. You can drop half formed sentences and the other person knows enough to correctly interpret what you’re trying to say.

So that’s what this is a long half sentence that I know, you know, how to infer all that I can’t find the words to say.

There’s no doubt that I was a daddy’s girl. I was the smallest of the crew that we grew up with, but I was scrappy. With a father like big JT, what did I have to fear from anybody?

Being a dad’s girl never changed. Reed and I visited our mom occasionally and she’d try to talk us into staying with her, but that was never an option for us. We knew we belonged with our dad. We loved growing up on the river and everybody in our extended family here. Several times mom challenged him for custody and each time he fought to keep us. It would have made his life so much simpler to unload us on someone else, but he didn’t. Reed and I will never forget that. My dad was far from perfect, but we belonged together. And there’s not a face out here today that didn’t in some way help keep us together.

The crew. 

Here are a few of my favorite memories of my dad:

I was about six and after a long drive home from town, I pretended to be asleep in the backseat of the car we’d borrowed for the trip. I was hoping Dad would carry me inside. He picked me up and carried me like I weighed nothing. I still remember the feeling up being curled up next to his chest. I’m pretty sure he knew I was faking and carried me in any way.

At about eight years old, we were at The Rope swimming and I had yet to work up the courage to jump off the high rocks—but I really wanted to. Dad and I walked to the top and he executed a perfect swan dive from the rocks into the pool below. He came up and shook the water from his hair and wiped it from his face and mustache and treaded water waiting for me. I stood up there, holding on to the snag trembling. He called up, telling me it was OK, that’d he’d be right there to catch me. It took me forever to work up the courage to do it, but he didn’t get impatient, just treaded water and kept sending up encouragement. Finally, I let go of the snag, shuffled up to the ledge, pushed off...it was exhilarating. And when I resurfaced Dad was there to tell me how proud he was.

Running the River
Going down the river on Dad’s drift boat was always a treat too. He was always at ease with us and the world out on the water. Fully engaged, he taught us how to fish from a boat, and to read the water to find the best holes and how currents drifted in food to the fish. He also taught us to oar the boat and explained how to read the water for hidden rocks, holes, and how to best position the boat to hit the rapids. He was always relaxed and happy on the river and in the woods. To this day that’s where I go when I find life weighing me down.

He taught us to fish, to shoot, to forage, and to take care of each other. I left home as a 18-year-old adult, fully capable of taking care of myself, holding a job, paying my bills, and keeping my home. He gave us strong work ethic and principles.

My dad also had a soft spot for cast-off animals and people who needed a leg up. Until recently, I’d never raised a puppy. Our dogs came to us fully grown, usually unwanted by their former owners. We always had two or five cats. Dad never hesitated to take in friends that needed a play to stay either, sometimes for a year or more. Kids were no exception. It was usual for us to have one, sometimes two, extra kids living with us for a while. In fact, there are really only a few times I can remember where our house consisted of just the three of us.

Even without live-ins, our house was usually full of people. He was never so happy as when he was surrounded by friends. Not just friends, but people he called “Brother” and “Sister.”

They were people he loved and who loved him in return.

All of you.

Ten years ago, I became a parent. Seeing first hand the trials of being a parent I gained a new respect for him. I think he saw me in a new light too. I could call him when my parental frustrations were causing me to lose my mind and he’d talk me down. Then we’d talk about other things and I’d hang up feeling so much better. I leaned on him a lot. I needed him and he was there. Just like he always has been.

My girls loved him. Tiberius loved him. Dad had grown into a soft touch in his grandpa years and doted on our kids. As I was cleaning out his things, all of the pictures and art the kids had made and sent him over the years were either on display or carefully tucked away. He always had the patience for their little kid ramblings on the phone. There was a wonderful day when we were all at the Blue River Boat Landing and he was teaching my littlest Berzo to fish, just as he did with me thirty-five years ago.

The thing I admired most about my father is that he never apologized for who he was. He owned his strengths and shortcomings and moved through his world with confidence. The Japanese people have a tradition called Kintsugi, which means “golden joinery” wherein they repair cracked pottery and with gold or silver, making something broken into a work of art. My dad was like that, cracked from his mistakes, but made more beautiful by the repair. And when he’d see my brokenness, he’d pour gold in those too. So I stand before you, with all my shimmering breaks accumulated over my life proud to say John Turner was my father, and I will miss him every day for the rest of my life.

















Thursday, May 4, 2017

Tiny Tyrants all in a Row

I help out in my daughter, Berzo's, kindergarten class once a week.

Today, the kids harassed me the entire period to go out to recess afterward to push them on the swings.

The first recess I spent with her kindergarten class, Berzo and I went to the swings and I gave her a push. I offered a push to Berzo's two best friends too. Suddenly all the swings filled up and hung still (the ones that were already swinging stopped) as the rest of the class sang out, “Push me! Push me!” Ug. So I do. I push each kid in turn, as the ones not currently being pushed yell at me.

Berzo loses interest and wanders off with her friends. I finish up, wave goodbye to all the yelling kids and follow after Berzo . A flock of kindergarteners comes with me. Berzo isn’t amused. *sigh*

Soon recess is over and I walk Berzo back to her class. I give her a hug and tell her good-bye. All the other kinders crowd in for hugs too and their teacher tries not be annoyed by the distraction.

So I usually avoid going to recess.

Today, in a moment of desperation, I said I would go to recess if they were extra good for the teacher while I was there. They weren’t, but I went anyway because they are adorable little tyrants.

They all ran for the swings and hung there shouting at me to swing them. I faced each kid on their swing, pulled them towards me, and let them go.

Berzo says, “I don’t need a push because I know how to pump!”

She’s going pretty good by the time I get to her so I skip her by and swing the rest of the kids. I come back to Berzo and ask if she's sure she doesn't want one too.

She says, “OK...” (Like not really, I was doing good on my own, but whatever…)

So I catch her swing and pull her towards me to let her go. Her body weight was already shifting back and plop she falls right out onto her back and bottom. Essentially, I jerked her right out of her swing.  I let go of the swing and she’s lying flat, saying, “I’m OK. I’m OK." The swing passes right over her. Then she sits up and the swing clocks her on the back of the head. She’s still trying to keep it together as I scoop her up and take her over to the bench to sit down.

The rest of the dangling kinders kept yelling, “Swing me, Amy!”

Berzo said into my shirt, “Why did you have to swing me? I was rocking it on my own!”

Her back is all scratched up, her head is bonked, and worst of all she’s super embarrassed.

I did all that to her.

She is angry with me as she clings to me for comfort and uses me as a shield so no one can see her tears.

Soon her friends run over and check on her, she puts on a brave face. Then she gives me the what-for a couple more times. I give her a last hug and flee the playground.

Whatever they pay kindergarten teachers, it’s not enough. They are miracle workers. I’m with the class one hour, one day a week, and I leave with a headache. Every. Damn. Time.

Where’s the chocolate?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Lilacs and Mrs. Eleanor


 I love lilacs.

Really? Come on!
My fur-kid Adi and I take a walk every morning on pretty much the same route. On a corner, a tall lilac waves hello. I stop and take its flowery hand in mine and breathe in their lovely scent. The perfume triggers a wormhole in the spacetime continuum to the spring and summers of the early eighties.

In those years we lived in the small town of Blue River.  It had a tiny grid of houses on gravel roads that nestled into the north and south sides of the main road.

Good morning.
In many ways, it was the best of all worlds. We had plenty of neighbors and had no trouble finding other kids to play with. We had a beautiful park that was bordered by the Blue River, which drained into the Mckenzie River. Since the Blue River was more of a creek, we could play in it without worry of being swept away, as we were taught would happen if we became complacent around the cold, swift Mckenzie. There were stores that would exchange our cans and bottles for candy money. There was a gas station, post office, liquor store, cafe, tavern, and a laundry mat. We even had a library.  It was established and run by Mrs. O’Brien, who welcomed us in and forgave us the books that got left in the rain.

It was all very cozy.



Bordering the town was wilderness to be explored. And we did. Every inch of it. We found every cave, climbed every hill, and rolled in every patch of poison oak.

“What’d you do—roll in it?”

"I dunno. Maybe."

One house down the road from ours had a tall fence dripping with lilacs. The fragrance greeted me whenever I cruised by on my bike.

Although I don’t remember how or when it started, my brothers, sister, and I would let ourselves in through the beflowered gate, pet the dog, knock on the door, and ask for food.

Seemed so natural at the time, and so odd looking back.

Through the gate was a secret garden of sorts. Flowers bloomed in tidy beds that bordered the bright green grass. The dog, Winnie, was short of hair, pudgy of body with skinny legs, and black with white tuxedo markings. He greeted us with licks and a wagging tail, paws dancing in the grass.

The lady who lived there was known to us as Mrs. Eleanor. To everyone else, she was Leanora Walp. She was the archetypical grandma. She was short and roundish and usually dressed in pastel colored polyester pants with a flowery top or knitted sweater. She had lively eyes behind her glasses, and a kind face topped with short, fluffy white hair.

She greeted us like we made her day.

Regina, Me, Johnnie Lee

“Hi Mrs. Eleanor!” We’d sing out in chorus.

After a bit of small talk, she would offer us something delicious. She had a large garden in her backyard and grew and canned her own food. She made the best pickles I’ve ever had. They were fat cucumbers with flowers of dill floating in the jar. She also made delicious fruit leather; thick strips of dried berries and apples that were both tart and sweet. We thanked her in turn and ran off with our goodies.

Someone should have warned her about feeding the wildlife because once that got going we knocked on her door all the time. Never once did she seem annoyed by the grubby little beggars at her door. Sometimes she invited us in. Once I remember touring her garden. Mostly we went as a group, but I remember knocking on her door solo too.

That witch from Hansel and Gretel was onto something… Luckily for us, Leanora was as kind as she seemed.

Looking back I can see her influence on my life. I like to ensure I have plenty of my family’s favorite food around and I also add things that I know my kids’ friends love. The girls and I make treats around the holidays to share them with friends and neighbors. We also bring around goodies from our garden. I specifically planted lemon cucumbers with Boot's friend in mind and raspberries for Berzos'.

When I’m elderly, I hope that instead of a lawn I have a lovely secret garden with lilacs spilling over the fence. I hope I have a Winnie-dog. I hope I'll get surprise visits from my grandkids and their friends.

I’ll have to start working on my pickle recipe.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pondering Superpowers

I love to ponder the BIG questions.

I’m made of stardust. That guy huddled in the corner of the building with poop stains on his pants is too.

I’m connected through time in an unbroken line from the first life form that zinged into existence.

What are the odds that I'm sitting here, in this exact point in the spacetime continuum, wearing these clothes with these freckles on my nose?

Did bacteria cultivate "higher" life forms as mobile housing units?

How many times have the water molecules I’ve just sipped passed through another lifeform?

Do snakes creep themselves out too?

If I could choose a superpower what would it be?

Today, I ponder superpowers.

Why, invisibility of course—hands down. Or are they up? You don’t know because I’m invisible…muhuhahahaha...

Seriously, Amy? Not flying? Not ice, fire, super-strength, command of the Force, weather, shape-shifting, breathing underwater, speaking with animals?

Those powers would be awesome too. I could use the Force to keep my dog off the neighbor’s lawn. I could use my laser vision to vaporize her poop. I could shapeshift into a monkey to get my kid’s kite out of the tree. I’ve always wondered what a raven has to say. Flying—so awesome.

Invisibility wins it all though.

When I’m in the store in my scrubby clothes, carrying a basketful of tampons and chocolate bars, and I see the cute boy from high-school, all grown up with his lovely family. Boom-invisible.

Charley and I go to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. What's that odd flattening of the grass out in Center Field? Is it a micro-wind? Nope, that’s me rolling around. I’d probably watch the game perched on the dugout. Might sneak in the locker room right before game-time to hear Maddon giving the guys the game strategy.

At a concert, I’m on the stage rocking out! Am I naked? Maybe…

Long line for the Ladies' Room and the Men's Room is empty? Invisible.

Next time I go fishing in the ultra clear Mckenzie or Metolious? Invisible.

I’d get some amazing wildlife photography.

Step out of the shower and there’s no towel and all the windows are open. Invisible.

Shower at the campground. Invisible.

Changing from swimsuit to clothes at the swimming hole. Invisible.

Out for a run and see a creeper being creepy. Invisible.

Out on a long run and nature calls. Invisible.

All of high-school. Invisible.

Kids are playing together peacefully and don’t want to break the spell but need to cross the room. Invisible.

A pristine lake that begs to be skinny-dipped in that also happens to be surrounded by a packed campground. Invisible.

Think of the pranks and shenanigans invisibility would facilitate! No one would be safe! Muhuhahaha!

Ah! To be able to move through the world and this life in complete confidence and anonymity whenever I so choose. The things I could experience. The truths to discover. The fun to be had!

So yeah, invisibility wins it all.

Conversely, it would also be awesome to be able to dial up my visibility when I want to be noticed. I’m open for a shot on the basketball court—see me! I lose my kids in the store—see me! I spot an old friend across the field—see me! When my girls are on stage and they’re looking for me in the crowd—here I am! Pick me, ooh ooh, pick me!


Amy. Oh, hi. I didn't see you there…


What superpower would you choose?


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hair Day - An Inside Look at My Outward Appearance

On my way home from a doctor appointment, I sailed through light traffic. I had no other obligations and plenty of time before my girls get off the school bus, so I took an early exit and decided to see if I could get my eyebrows done and my hair cut. It had been about six months since my last haircut and I was looking shaggy. Charley and I have a fancy dinner next weekend, and it would be nice to be less shaggy.

But I don’t wanna.

I gave myself a pep-talk, “I’ll just pop in, and if there's no wait time then I’ll just do it. Get it done. If there’s a wait, then I’m off the hook.”

OK. I can do this.

I go in and the stylist is elbows deep in a young woman’s long hair applying something thick and noxious.

Yes! Colorings take forever, she won’t be able to help me.

She greeted me and called for reinforcements. A woman with long brown hair, about my age, emerged from a secret door in the back somewhere and asked me what I wanted to have done.

Darn.

“A brow wax and cut please—if you have time.”

“I’m booked up all day, but I can fit you in right now.”

Ug. Perfect timing. 

I sat in a chair she indicated and she played with my overgrown locks while I scrunched my reflection's face. She asked me what I’d like. I’ve always handled that question poorly. I’ve always wanted the stylist to say, "I know exactly what you need." And just do that. I don’t care. Like really. I don’t even know what style looks best on a 39-year-old woman with an oversized forehead. So as usual, I loft a few half-sentences out there, “A trim? Maybe long layers? A bob cut?” If you were reading a list of peeves as written by a stylist, I’m sure my response would top the list.

I don’t know, just make me look better than I do now. I’m not a fashionable person. You are. Save me from myself.

We settled on a trim.

We headed over to the washing station and I put my neck in the guillotine lunette and she prepped to wash my hair. The same hair I washed three hours ago in the shower.

“Will you have time to do my brows today too?”

“Oh, yes. Maybe I should do that first.”

“Oh, good idea.” For some reason, they always go for the hair first and then back to the sink afterward for the brows. It's faster if they do it when I'm already there. Fast = good.

The stylist was not chatty, and my thoughts turned inward.

I’ve always resented being groomed.

Thanks Karla. ♥
I like having been groomed, but I have resisted the process for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was usually allowed to run feral, but on school days, and for church and holidays, grooming was inflicted upon me by my step-mom, Karla. In my elementary school years, my step-sister and I sat on chairs in the kitchen. Karla would then lift our hair from behind the chair and set to work. My hair was very long and fine and she brushed it with snarls that matched those in my hair, all the while cursing my rubber neck. Then Karla parted my hair down the middle and put it in pig-tails. The kind that the boys in line behind me would use as horse reigns and snap them with a, "Hyah!" On fancy days, she tied in ribbons.

I endured it all in stoic silence. At least that’s how I remember it. Today I’m certain I was as whiny, loud, and obnoxious about the procedure as my girls are when I brush their hair. Must be a Karmic circle thing. I know I’m just as snarly as Karla was about it. I ask them daily, in all earnestness, "Can we just cut it off?"

Looking back, I'm eternally grateful for Karla’s ministrations. My social position in school was precarious enough as a gingery mouth-breather. I didn't need all that topped off with chronic bedhead.

The stylist's breath is heavy on my face as she applies warm wax. She presses on a small cloth strip.

Brrrring! Brrring!

“I’ll be right back.”

She talks on the phone and flips through the appointment book. I lie on my lunette, experimentally raising my eyebrows to watch the shadow of the cloth strip flash up and down.

Zip!

Now we’re cooking.

Before
Warm wax, strip, zip. Examine. Adjust. Repeat. Tweeze. Tweeze some more. Breathe in my face. Ignore her tummy rumble. Zip. Tweeze. Done. Whew.

The stylist hands me a mirror. Ah yes, much better. My wild Scottish eyebrows have been tamed.

After
During my awkward teen years, one of my dad's girlfriends once told me, “Amy, one of these days I’m going to pin you down and pluck your eyebrows.”

I was mystified. Was something wrong with my eyebrows? Had she asked me before and I refused?

I was interested in ways of looking less awkward. Had she showed me what a difference it would have made in my overall appearance, I would have gone willingly—no pinning required.

Still in the guillotine lunette, next came the hair washing... Soap and scrub. More soap. More scrubbing. Like a lot of scrubbing. More scrubbing. I begin to wonder if my scalp is bloody.

Rinse.

Process repeat for the conditioner.

Rinse.

Some kind of leave-in conditioner is applied

The toweling is as vigorous as the scrubbing and pulled hairs send zings down my nerve pathways: a ping into my shoulder, a ping into mid-back. Nerves are weird.

As a youngster, we had to take baths two kids at a time. There were four of us (me, my brother, Reed; step-brother, Lew; and step-sister, Regina) and if we wanted to be finished with the baths before Rapture, some sharing was necessary. Bathtime was playtime of course, but at some unspoken point, it became a race to the finish. There were always two towels available; one being more desirable than the other. The challenge was to transition from play to washing without tipping off my bathmate. I had to be cool, smooth, unhurried, then boom! "Huh, guess I’m all done. Oh look, I think I’ll use this towel."

I rarely succeeded, and if skipping a step was necessary to win, I was ratted out, “Amy didn’t use soooap!”

“The point of taking a bath is getting clean. Get back in there and wash!...with soap!”

No honor among thieves—or kids.

Smaller towels were better for wrapping your hair anyway… And we girls always did. We turned ourselves upside down, laid the towel over the nape of our necks and with a wrap, twist, flip, the wet-hair turban was applied.

The stylist moved me and my wet be-towelled head back to the hair cutting chair facing a mirror.

As she squeezed the stray molecules of water from my hair, I felt a surge of gratitude that she wasn’t chatty. I’m fairly quiet, so chatty stylists will fill the vacuum with endless stories, anecdotes; oftentimes incredibly personal stuff. They will sometimes get so involved in their stories, they’ll stop working altogether for the benefit of gesticulating or pacing around as they speak.

The combing done, she twisted some of my hair up and fixed it with a clip. She combed some of it straight and began to cut. Yay! She is exceptionally nice. She is meticulous as well. Hair is important to women...well, not all women. Once I went to a barber shop thinking, barber shops are for guys so they’ll be fast. Nope, it was worse, the woman who helped me did a great job on my hair but was super chatty. My kids were taller by the time I got home. I once tried to convince Charley to trim my hair. He wouldn’t do it.

My permed chick-mullet.  You should
have seen me first thing in the morning.
Karla cut our hair for us at home and did a really nice job. She was fast. She was not chatty. Then years later my dad traded services with a woman, Leilani, who worked at the local hair shop. He’d take her brothers on a drift boat trip down the river, she’d cut me and my brother’s hair. She never asked me what I wanted, she just took the modern style and applied it to me. I had perms. (They never lasted over a week.) I had a chick-mullet. I had a permed-chick-mullet.

In my uber self-conscious teen years, I decided that I no longer wanted stylish hair, I wanted long hair and bangs. They blended in better with the wood paneling at my high-school. So, I stopped going to Leilani, and instead, I went to the mall SuperCuts 50 miles away “in town” for trims and a little shaping once or twice a year…

Sometimes my bestie and I would just trim each other's hair.


The hairstyle that I wore throughout high school.
I call it wood panel camouflage cut.
My stylist was done cutting and handed me a mirror. I pretended to look it over carefully as she swiveled the chair around. We are both happy. I’m ready to bolt out of my seat for the door.

Then she pulls out the blow dryer. I open my mouth to protest, but then I think, ah what the heck, I’ve been here this long, a quick blow-dry and my hair will be nice and sleek all day.

I should have protested. She dried my hair layer by layer by layer.

Maybe I just need one of these.
The blow-drying still going on, I can’t help but keep watching the clock and thinking of all the other ways I wish I was spending this precious kids-at-school time.

The dryer clicked off. Done. Finally!

Then some pomade. Mmmm smells nice. I have to “hold still” for another few moments while she gets some Freeze hairspray. I get sprayed. My hair feels plasticky.

Done. HOOORRRAY! I pop out of my seat at little too fast and hand her my apron and thank her. I really do look better. 

She rings me up and I’m so grateful to be free (and I feel slightly guilty for my internal ranting), so I add a generous tip to my bill. She says, "Thanks. I really appreciate that."

I said, “You’re welcome.” and internally added, And I’m so glad to be out of here

Less shaggy, right?
I close the door to my pickup and shake the hairspray bonds free and my hair feels silky and sleek.

I go about my day. The kids get home. Charley gets home. I go for a run. We have dinner. Charley and I exchange days, I tell him about my doctor appointment and mention that I got my hair cut.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t even notice.”

Charley looks genuinely abashed.

“That’s OK. It’s no big deal.”






Hugging Uncle John wearing Karla's pigtails.