Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Son is NOT Contagious

I blog because I like to write. I blog as a stress reliever. I blog because I have read so many blogs that have inspired me and helped me through another day. I blog because I have received so many amazing emails and comments from people telling me that many of my posts have inspired them and helped them through another day. I blog because it helps me remember that I'm not alone. While there are a few, the majority of the people who pass through my daily circle, don't understand and can't empathize.

I don't blog because I'm looking for sympathy or pity. I'm not looking for "poor me".  And when I talk about my son, his suicidal thoughts, his issues, my bipolar...I'm not necessarily looking for advice, but I am hoping that maybe my words will find someone else dealing with the same thing and maybe keep them from feeling so alone.

Unfortunately, the recent posts where I mention my son have become "controversial" in the tiny farming town in which I live. I realize that many people who grow up in towns where the cows and corn fields outnumber the residents have major misconceptions about depression, bipolar and most other mental "disabilities". Old fashioned values and beliefs are often more prevalent than modern research and science. I am by no means referring to everyone, but it has recently come to my attention that several fellow parents are offended by what I have written. Apparently, several have requested that their children no longer play with my son. While I only have a handful of facebook "friends" who have children in school with my son, I have a very good idea about who these people are. And quite honestly, they disgust me.

We live in America. It is 2011. Mental illness is not contagious, or any indicator of a child's behavior. His suicidal drawing will not doom their children. I'm sure that they would be amazed to learn that bipolar is not, in fact, caused by angry demons. It is caused by chemicals in the brain. It is not possible "to snap out of". More often than not, it will need to be treated with medication. It is not curable, but is most certainly controllable.

From http://www.everydayhealth.com/health-report/bipolar-depression/bipolar-disorder-misconceptions.aspx   "Suresh Sureddi, MD,(is) an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a director of Lifepath Systems, a community mental health clinic in Plano, Texas. Dr. Sureddi explains that it helps to remember that bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, like congestive heart failure or diabetes, which sometimes results in patients having to be hospitalized and needing ongoing treatment."


Bipolar is an illness and it absolutely does not define who you are. Misconceptions abound about about bipolar, and these misconceptions are far more harmful than people think. While they remain secure in their ignorance, they may be missing signs in their own children, or filling their children with hate and fear for those who think differently. Bipolar children and adults in general, are more creative and intelligent.

"I must admit that one of the reasons why I have specialized in bipolar disorder is because it seems like nearly every single person with bipolar disorder I see is unusually creative or intelligent or charismatic or something. Quite a few have been really profoundly intelligent to the point where I have trouble keeping up with their minds," Jim Phelps, M.D. Per http://www.psycheducation.org/BipolarMechanism/introduction.htm

The point? Read a book, do some research, know what you're talking about before you feel the need to judge.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

“You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”


Granny has not improved. I brought the kids to see her Sunday and they each went over to hug her, she touched Delaney’s face and Sam lay down on the bed next to her for a few moments and let her hold him. She cries, she smiles, she laughs…whether out of frustration or humor, I’m not sure. I bent over the bed and told her I loved her. Saturday night she responded with an “I love you.” This time she looked at me like she didn’t understand. I made the sign for I love you with my hands. She managed to get her fingers in the same sign and very carefully pressed our fingers together. I tried not to cry.  

Medicare only covers 4 days in the hospital, dying or not. They’d rather pull the oxygen right out of your nose and rip the IV from your skin and push you down the stairs before they would work with you. So they have to move her elsewhere, meanwhile the speech therapist is trying to explain to her that she is going to have to move, but no, she’s not going home, like she thinks. She will probably never go home. Her little dog will continue to race around her apartment looking for her.  

Sometimes you have to stand back and say, “Seriously? Seriously? Is this some kind of fucking joke? Really? REALLY?”

I took Sam and Delaney to the doctor for wellness checks yesterday, and Sam has a lump in his testical. The doctor said it was most likely a hernia but he referred us to Children’s Hospital for an evaluation.

Have I mentioned that our house is in foreclosure? The auction date is the 23rd of this month, if anyone would like to come and bid. I figure that’s one way to get rid of all our junk. Let them throw it the front yard and let the neighborhood scavengers dig through it. At least I wouldn’t have to clean the house again. Let the bank deal with the missing chunks of linoleum, where I ripped them up in a frantic, manic state. They can deal with the broken kitchen cabinet that I punched or the closet door that I kicked. I’m “working” with Wells Fargo to get a loan modification and have been for the last 5 months, with no result. They continually ask for the same paperwork, over and over and over again. The first “specialist” we had never returned phone calls.  Yesterday, our new one called to say that our paperwork EXPIRED THURSDAY. And I have to send it all in again, with current information. Unfortunately, we don’t have another 5 months to wait. Wells Fargo sucks.

“You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”

Friday, November 4, 2011

Room B467



“If I didn’t take care of myself, take my pills, I’d be in a psych ward,” The man in to room next door is loudly explaining to his nurse.  “I’m 65,” he says. “I’m not going to live that much longer.”

I’m sitting in the corner of an uncomfortably cool hospital room, in an uncomfortable leather chair. The heart monitor beeps somewhere is in the hallway. I sit, waiting for the nurses to bring my grandma back to the room. Echocardiograms, CAT Scans. She’s being submitted to those and every other kind of imaginable scan and grams that they can conjure. They’re trying their hardest to make her uncomfortable. Good intentions that are seriously annoying  the 89 year old woman that I call Granny. She can’t speak. The stroke earlier today has stolen that from her. It’s taken her ability to comprehend what people are saying. It’s taken her ability to say “yes” or “no”.  She struggles to say something, moving her mouth and lips to make words, but is unable to make them materialize as sound. She gives up, putting her head back down on the pillow with a hand over her eyes.  She cries, but can’t wipe her nose because of the lines streaming oxygen into her veins. She shakes her head, shrugging her shoulders, surrendering to another battery of tests.

Mom called earlier, saying that she had called Granny and she was completely incoherent and then she hung up. Mom babysits my nephew 5 days a week, so I packed up Sam and Delaney and headed to my brother’s house to watch the baby while my mom went to be with Granny.  By then the ambulance had taken her to the hospital emergency room.  She was unable to recognize anyone, even my mom and dad. She couldn’t function, or even follow simple directions. When she was able to produce her full name, she beamed, her face transformed into that of a child, so proud she was.

As soon as I was able, I got myself to the emergency room. She recognized me immediately as I reached the side of her bed. I grasped her hand, and even in the ER she was classy, a giant moonstone ring on her left hand, a blue-stoned silver ring on the other. A little red lipstick.  I held her hands tight and leaned down to hug her. I kissed her cotton-candy hair trying not to cry, trying not to be tangled in the wires and tubes that encased her like a strait jacket.  I held her against my chest like a child, she held me back, and we sat there for a while in silence. She looked at me, forming her lips into shapes, moving her mouth to speak, but was unable to say whatever she wanted to say. The look in her eye flashed from hope, to frustration, to fear. She covered her face with her hands and buried her face in the sheets, her shoulders shaking as she tried to hold back tears. I held her, and cried, too.  I looked at her tender pink scalp peeking through her thinning white hair, the age spots on her face, neck and hands. I imagined it was me standing at that brink…knowing that I’m 89 years old. I’ve already lived long past my life expectancy and suddenly I’m facing death.  Do you want to let go? Do you want to stay? The oxygen tubes are half lost in the crepe paper skin around her neck. She looks at me, her giant blue eyes rimmed with red.

“I…don’t…know, “  she stuttered. “I…don’t…know.”  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

HUGE Emotions


The evening I found Nick's note and drawings I panicked, obviously. I called his therapist, after hours, hoping that by some off chance she'd answer the phone. And thank god she did. If she hadn't, I think I would have been a blubbering mess all night. She moved his appointment up so she could see him sooner and gave me suggestions on how to deal with it right then. Ask about the drawing, she said, tell him that I am proud that he is able to express himself so well on paper, ask why he chose that particular topic. His first answer was because I wouldn't play chess with him, and that was indeed what set him to his room that afternoon. He blew up at me and went to his room. But obviously, it's about more than chess.

I loved how Michelle, his therapist put it. "Some people are born with HUGE emotions, while others are born will smaller (more manageable) emotions." We just have to learn how to handle them. Nick has often commented to me about the echo in his head. Sometimes it will take him and extra long time to finish his sentences because he waits for the echo to stop before he starts talking again. They've been digging into that one a little bit. Apparently Nick told her that it's not his voice, but it is a voice She says that Nick is a candidate for their "intensive out-patient" program. She said it's in its beginning stages, but right now gives the kids priority access to all the therapists and doctors, at any time. There are also other groups that they can join for extra support and different techniques on how to deal with their emotions, etc. Sounds like a class I need to take...It might also involve more hours of therapy. "Therapy" sounds so...harsh, but in reality, he has a lot of fun. They paint, play games, go outside and play. She says she picks up "nuggets" while they play and he talks. Unfortunately, she is moving to Hawaii and yesterday was his last session with her. But she paired him with someone she thinks would work. We meet him next time. He mainly uses art therapy, which I actually have a lot of faith in. It's an excellent outlet for all those "HUGE" emotions. I guess time will tell. And I'm hoping it tells us good things.

How we covered Nick's writing on the wall about how hard of a world it is for him. With a little bit of everything.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

My seven year old wants to kill himself.

So, here I am. Back on Blogger. Reuniting myself with the girl with flour in her hair. Granted, most of you have no recollection of who I am anyway. After that year long tropical vacation, I didn't have a lot of time to blog. At least they told me it was a tropical vacation. They handed me a fruity drink with an umbrella in it, I gulped it down. I felt a little dizzy, but hey, you know. Alcohol, right? I didn't really question the white jacket with the straps on it, I just thought it was nice they were helping me to my room. The view was fabulous...palm trees, blue waters gently lapping the white sand. It seemed a little small, but my vision never has been all that great. Several months later, I woke up and realized that the palm tree poster was torn at the edges and it hadn't been a hammock I'd been laying in. The bars over the window weren't very encouraging either.

No tropical vacation, unfortunately. The past year has been a haze of depression, bipolar diagnoses, manic-depressive episodes, disassociative disorder diagnosis...chemical cocktails, medications, antidepressants...Lamictal, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Valium, Clonipin, Seroquel, Trazadone, Atarax, Cymbalta, ... many at the same time. 7 therapists, a drug pushing pyschiatrist...weekly appointments, recommended electroshock treatment. Surprised they didn't offer the lobotomy at a special price.  1/2 off the procedure if the electroshock fries your brain.

And all that would make fine blog fodder and perhaps will once I get back into the swing of things. But all that has been pushed aside. Why?

Because my seven year old wants to kill himself. He had written on his wall with a marker, "this is a hard world for me". At school, apparently, he's an angel. Struggling with every academic aspect and very likely to see second grade again, but he has beautiful behavior. At home, he's an aggressive, violent monster. Screams, throws things, hits...he ran to his bedroom the other afternoon after school and I gave him a few minutes to cool off. I went up and knocked, opening the door just in time to see him stuff a paper under his pillow. I asked him about it, and he reluctantly gave it to me. It said he was the "wrong kid", he was a "jerk", etc. Then the very carefully drawn picture of him, being shot. Then the next frame is a tombstone with his name on it. And beneath a line of dirt, he's drawn himself with x's over his eyes and mommy crying over his grave, with a flower. 

He's already in play therapy with an amazing therapist, because his mom is a fucking lunatic. So, now I discover I passed down my twisted brain to a wonderful, amazing, creative child. Who wants to kill himself. Who cries if he isn't in a violent rage. He's seven. SEVEN! Life is not supposed to be so hard. My grandpa was in his early 80s when he shot himself. But Nick...Nick is seven.

What do you do when your seven year old wants to be dead? Seriously, what would you do? I can be with him, I can watch him 24 hours a day. But I can't change his brain, his emotions. What do you do? What do you do???

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Don't Stand at my Grave and weep...I am not there..."

Six years ago, today March 17th, in an old cemetery, my grandpa, or "poppy" as we called him, shot himself in the head.

This is what I wrote in the days following. It was definitely a form of therapy for me. I read it about once a year, usually on the anniversary of his death. As sort of a tribute maybe? I'm not sure, but here it is in all it's raw glory. It's very long, so feel free to skip over it...I'm not going to claim it's well written, it was composed quickly and passionately, and that's how I've left it. I feel like fixing it or editing it somehow takes away the emotion.

The shrill ring of the phone rudely jarred her from her sleep. She turned over to glance at the clock, it was before six am. A subtle wave of panic washed over her. It was too early, it was Sunday. Whoever it was wasn’t calling just to say hello. Maybe it’s a wrong number, she thought and rolled over to answer. She was a second too slow and the call skipped to the machine. No message, just a dial tone. Relieved, she laid back down. The bed was too warm and comfortable. The baby was still asleep. Immediately after, her husband’s cell phone rang. Suddenly, her heart was in her throat. She knew it was going to be bad. With shaking hands, she took the phone from her husband. It was her mom and she sounded so distant, so mechanic. Then her mother started crying. Through her mother’s tears, she managed to painfully pull the words from the receiver and piece together the story. Her grandpa, her mom’s father, Poppy, had shot himself. Is he ok, she asked? Visions of the thin, old man in the hospital, white sheets, a mass of tubes and wires...but no, there would be no hospital stay. Because he had shot himself. In the head. And he was dead. He was 83 years old, but he didn’t die naturally and peacefully in his bed while he slept. He drove his 1964 ½ Mustang, the one that he bought off the show room floor, brand new and shiny, out to an old graveyard and put the gun to his head. And he pulled the trigger.



Her husband, knowing something was wrong from her end of the conversation, had propped himself up on his elbow and as soon as she put the phone down, asked what was wrong. On the phone, she felt calm and in control. Strong. Stable. But now, now, she found that each time her mouth opened to tell him what happened, tears threatened to assail each syllable and she couldn’t seem to make the words make sense. To her ears, it sounded like gibberish. Not sure if he followed a thing she said, she got out of bed and went into the bathroom. She turned the shower on and as soon as the water began to beat against the porcelain tiles, her tears assaulted her with an uncontrollable insistence. She cried for the old man who was in so much pain, that a bullet, he thought, would be the better alternative to another day. She cried at the thought of his desolation, his loneliness, his anguish. She cried for his daughters. And she kept crying. For herself. Wishing she had known him better. Wishing she had been better at keeping in touch with him. Wishing her son had the chance to meet him. Later, she learned that in his wallet they found a tiny scrap of paper with her son’s name, date and time of birth scribbled onto it. And she cried again.


There was a Minnesotan snow storm and his body wasn’t found until the weekend. Did his spirit soar through the air, free at last from the aches and pains of old age, free from the addicting effects of alcohol? She wondered. Free at last, did he swoop down to peer through the blood smeared car window, to look at the ruined shell that once housed him? Or did he immediately see that blinding, white light where he was at once reunited with his mother, his sister, his father? She envisioned him young and spry and handsome, the way he looked in all the black and white pictures she had seen, proudly wearing his military uniform. Never too serious, the fun young man with a goofy expression, posing humourously. Always a smile. She saw him happy and carefree, like he did in his wedding pictures, his arms around his beautiful new bride. 

She tried not to envision the last few moments of his life, but she couldn’t help but replay it over and over again in her mind, like a movie reel. The gun, the blood. She wondered if he had felt anything. She prayed he had not. She wondered what he thought about those last few seconds. If he changed his mind, after the trigger was pulled. She hoped he never faltered, that he never had a doubt. It would be a horrible thing, she thought, to have last minute qualms about the decision to take your life. 
The next morning dawned, tinged with a heavy fog of disbelief. In silence, she secured her son into the car seat in her parents diesel truck and climbed in beside him, wedging herself in between the seat and a stack of luggage. Her parents were riding up front and they pulled out onto the highway, beginning the 15 hour trip to Minnesota to arrange a funeral and pick up her grandpa’s things.


The scenery outside the window slowly changed from the familiar Colorado landscape to snow flecked plains and endless farmland, spotted with the occasional antelope and coyote. As the miles were dully kicked out behind the truck’s wheels, she grew very thankful that her son’s attention was intent on the lap top computer that continuously played Sesame Street DVD’s. Constantly perched on the edge of tears, she knew she wasn’t going to be able to continue feigning the calm and collected act if the baby grew restless and started crying. She felt like she had to be the strong one, the stable one. The one her mom could rely on. She didn’t want to dissolve into a useless, weeping heap.


The continuous jostling of the rough riding backseat, combined with the slight diesel fumes that invaded the interior induced her old childhood nemesis, car sickness. She popped a couple of pills made for that purpose and thankfully, they quelled the sickness. They also made her extremely tired. When her son fell asleep, despite the seatbelt digging in her ribs and the cold glass window against her head, she was able to fall asleep as well. When she woke up, she had a kink in her neck and it had grown dark. Even in the truck, she could feel the drop in temperature. They were finally in Minnesota.


They reunited with more family once they reached the hotel. Her brother, her aunt and uncle, cousins and her grandma, even her grandpa’s ex-wife. For them, according to her grandma, it had been a very difficult 40 years of marriage and a very bitter divorce. She wondered why her grandma had come at all. Perhaps, she thought, the relationship hadn’t been as cold as she’d been lead to believe. When people are hurting, she knew, they tend to say things they don’t mean. Maybe that had been the case. That thought was one step closer to being confirmed when she saw that her grandma’s normally immaculate make up was smudged and tear streaked. Her grandma had grown up in Welcome, the small Minnesotan town where they had found her grandpa’s body. The graveyard in which the car had been parked was the same one that held the graves of her grandma’s parents. It was were her grandparents had grown up together, threw crab apples at each other, courted, fell in love, got married and had two daughters. It was the setting of all those black and white pictures she had, the ones of the young, happy couple. The handsome soldier in his uniform, the glowing bride in her impeccable white suit, the artfully crafted waves in her hair. With a jolt, she realized that she was older right now, than they were in those pictures. They were just kids. Now her grandpa was dead and her grandma was left with memories, even the happy ones clouded with bitterness. It was terrifying, she thought, to fathom the passion with which one could convince themselves that their lives had been nothing but a succession of terribly unhappy events. Is that possible, she wondered, to live every second of a 40 year marriage in misery? Even in the beginning? The wedding pictures, they seemed so sincere. Were they unhappy from the start? If she was going to learn anything from this, she concluded, it was how a good man’s fight with alcohol and the many poor choices he made along the way taint every single positive thing he’d ever done. Even after death, for her grandma, the bad decisions he made continue to cancel out every good and kind thing he ever did. Her mom and her aunt seemed to remember only the good things, her grandma remembered only the bad. She loved both her grandpa and her grandma, but it was difficult for her to understand how deep her grandma’s bitterness seemed to run. She tried to withhold judgement, knowing that from her perspective of "outside looking in" she’’d never understand it. She wasn’t there, she hadn’t lived it. She hoped she would never have that particular insight.


Her and her son retreated to the dingy hotel room they would be sharing with her mom and her grandma. Her parents and her aunt and uncle had gone to the house her grandpa had lived in, with a very wealthy old woman whom he had known since his school days. She was hunchbacked old woman who dyed her sparse hair bright red and drank beer with her breakfast, her grandmother told her as she joined them in the hotel room. That woman was always ugly, her grandma said. And she had her eyes on your grandfather from day one. That woman couldn’t wait until we got divorced. And he rushed right to her, didn’t he? Her grandma laid on the bed, suddenly turning the tv on, pushing the volume to the max. The blaring tv limited any further conversation, but she personally thought that her grandpa’s relocation had more to do with the opportunity for food and cheap shelter, rather than any long hidden desire, but she let it go.


Her brother and her three cousins had immediately converged at the hotel bar to drink. To her, it seemed like a flagrant and disrespectful way to deal with her grandpa’s death, in light of the way he lived his life and of the way he died. She was disgusted with them. And she wished with every ounce of her being that she could join them. But she had a baby, responsibilities. She was slightly heartened, because picking your responsibilities over a shot of tequila, didn’t that mean that she wasn’t an alcoholic? Wouldn’t an alcoholic leave the baby in the room and go to the bar anyway? Or take the baby to the bar with her? That was almost as bad, she thought. Reassured, she decided to take her son to the indoor pool instead.


That’s where her parents found them an hour later. Her son was splashing happily in the kiddie pool and she had actually laughed nonstop since they got in the water. She kissed her son on the forehead. There is nothing like the innocent antics of a toddler to make you smile, she thought. She whispered a quick request to the sky, please let the bad genes in this family skip over him. Please. Please let his life be untroubled. Let his mind be peaceful. Give him his father’s sturdy sense, not her own self-indulgent, melancholy dreaminess.


She heaved her exhausted son from the water and wrapped him tight in a towel. He was asleep before she could pull a up a chair. Her parents joined her. The trip to the house to collect her grandpa’s meager possessions, they said, did not go as planned. The old woman had been drunk and hurled curses at them, physically shoving and pushing and refusing to let them in the house. The woman accused her mom and aunt of killing their father, because they knew he had a drinking problem and did nothing about it. Her heart ached for her mom, she knew how deep that accusation would have cut. She knew how guilty her mom already felt.
In the years prior, her grandpa had been in numerous rehabs and although it’s a great concept, she thought, they don’t work unless the patient is willing. And she knew that when they are brought in under the power of a wheel chair because they are too weak to stand and walk out, well, that then there’s even less of a chance of recovery. She clearly remembered that particular attempt at sobriety. They visited him once and she could recall the little cell that had become his temporary home. A bed. A lamp. On his small well-worn dresser lay her most current school picture, taken her freshman year. In the picture, she was wearing her favorite red rayon shirt. She had been trying out religion that year and a small Marcasite cross hung around her neck. Her grandpa had seen her looking at it and weakly told her one of the male nurses had seen it and remarked on the pretty girl in the picture. I told him the pretty girl is my granddaughter, he had said proudly. She remembered standing there, not knowing how to respond. Her mom had prodded her to say thank you. Thanks, she had mumbled awkwardly. Her grandpa had just smiled at her. Because of those few moments, every little inconsequential detail of that school picture remained etched in her memory. She had stood there and focused on that picture, studying the wrinkles in the shirt, the too long bangs that were falling into her eyes, the crooked collar. It gave her something to examine without ever having to lift her eyes to the old withered man in the wheel chair. Normally a tall, already thin man, alcohol had reduced him to flesh covered skeleton, so weak he could barely hold himself up. It hurt her to look at him, to see him reduced to a husk.


That was the last time she had visited him in one of those places.


In the few weeks prior to his death, her grandpa had disappeared for several days. Her mom had received a call from the old woman demanding that someone come and find him and take him back to Colorado, because she couldn’t handle the drinking anymore. Unfortunately, his disappearing really wasn’t that uncommon and he’d usually return in a couple of days. Somehow sensing that maybe it was time to move him closer to his family, her mom had found him an apartment and tentative plans were made to make the trip to pick him up. And now, just like they’d planned, they had made that trip. But he wasn’t going to be coming back with them.


The funeral was held the next morning. Before the service, she was given a stack of photos and was asked to arrange them on the large boards provided. With a shaky hand, she placed each picture on the board, each picture a slice of her grandpa’s life. In one, he was just a boy holding a gun, standing proudly beside his father and the deer he had killed. In another, he sat on a pier overlooking a local lake, a cap shading his eyes. There was his senior picture, his wedding picture, pictures of him in his military uniform, pictures of him during family gatherings. There was a picture of him taken the very last time she had seen him. It had been taken at her wedding, and he was decked out in his best suit, grinning at the camera. She wished she had spent more time with him then. She wished she could have said good bye.


As the funeral home slowly filled with strangers and she started overhearing scraps of conversations, she wondered why people who attended a funeral always pretended to be so happy and jovial. Wasn’t it ok to be sad? Why make such an effort to be so merry? She was sad, she couldn’t help it and it was exhausting, smiling and shaking hand after hand, meeting cheerful person after person. But really, she was touched by all the people who kept filtering through the door, dressed in their Sunday best. The elderly men who had been her grandpa’s friends gracefully shook her hand and offered quiet words of comfort, their wives all carefully dressed and made up, offering their own words of condolence. There were friends and there were twice removed cousins, great aunts and uncles, family that she had never met. Her grandpa’s family. The people he grew up with, the people he loved. The people who loved him and would miss him terribly. People who knew him better than she ever had. They were full of humourous stories about her grandpa’s life that always started animatedly and then ended with quiet, awkward pauses. No one mentioned the way he had died.


The actual service was a blur to her. She didn’t cry. Every word the pastor spoke seemed to disintegrate in the air long before it reached her chair. She stared hard at him, trying to make his speech make sense, but found she couldn’t concentrate. Her eyes started wandering to the expressions on the faces of the people around her, but watching their grief quickly made her feel like she was observing something she had no right to see. She hurriedly looked away. She sat beside her brother in the row behind their parents, aunt and uncle and she was thankful to be sitting where she couldn’t see her mom’s face. Her brother held her sleeping son and she clenched tightly to her brother’s free hand and studied the legs of the chair in front of her. The service ended outside with the twenty one gun salute, the simultaneous shots making her jump. Her son slept blithely through it. People quickly dispersed and a large majority of them converged at a small café, where her grandpa had his coffee every morning. His cup hung on the wall. With extreme reverence, the café’s owner removed it from the wall and presented it to her mom. That small gesture was so personal, so final, it hit her harder than the entire service had.. She went outside and stood on the vacant street so no on could see her cry.


Standing on the snowy sidewalk, her tears cold on her cheeks, she found her mind wandering to the book she had so carefully picked out for her grandpa that past Christmas. It was about a downed war plane and the survivors of the crash. As soon as she saw it, she knew it was exactly the kind of book he would enjoy. She wondered if he had ever had the chance to finish it. When you’ve decided to die, do you even bother finishing the book you were reading? Do you really care what happens in the end? She decided that her grandpa would have finished it. Like her, he had a passion for books and she didn’t think he would let one go unread. When her grandparent’s were still married, her grandpa’s bookshelves lined the walls in their basement. She remembered just sitting there, in awe, looking at all of the books. The shelves were populated with Zane Grey, Steinbeck, Hemingway as well as hundreds of authors she had never heard of. Some were so old, bits of cloth would come off in her hands if she handled them. Some had elaborate gold curlicues along the spines, some clothed in crumbling dust jackets. One was affectionately inscribed to her grandpa from his long dead mother, others were stamped from libraries and schools. There were also new ones, but it was the older ones that she was drawn to. All those stories were told before she was ever born and she was eager to read every one of them. When he grandparents had divorced and he had moved to Minnesota, he entrusted all those incredible books into her care. It had been so overwhelming at the time, to realize that she now was the owner of all those little bits of history. And she had intended to read everyone of them. But life, like it has a tendency of doing, got in the way and she actually read very few of them and the books remained boxed and stored away. Standing there in front of the café, thinking of all those books, growing musty in their boxes, she felt like she had somehow failed her grandpa. She made a vow that as soon as she got home, she would buy as many bookcases as it took to get all those books out and display them with the dignity that they deserved.


That afternoon, she crunched through the snow and stood in the freezing wind along the banks of the lake her grandpa had always fished at. She huddled with her family and silently cried as she watched her mom and aunt pour her grandpa’s ashes out of a plastic bag into the frigid waters. The water clouded and as the ashes swirled around the rocks, they slowly dispersed, leaving the water clear once again. She wondered if he stood unseen among them, watching his earthly remains twist in the water and slowly disappear. Maybe he stood beside his daughters, who held each other and cried, his arms tightly around both of them. Maybe he was already gone.


Before they left Minnesota, her mom and aunt had managed to retrieve his things from the old woman, who would herself die several months later. But for her, there would be no mourning family. Just an auction that sold all her belongings to the highest bidder and quiet talk around town about how she had died choking on her beer.


The Mustang, her grandpa’s prized possession, was sold to a local man. As important as the car had been to him, one gunshot managed to turn it into a crypt. It would forever echo with terrible images and painful memories. No one in the family wanted to keep it.


That left one piece of unfinished business. On their way out of Minnesota, her dad pulled the truck off of the freeway and onto a bumpy road that led to a small, unattended lake. Tall cattails swayed in the wind, dipping into the water. Her dad got out of the truck and walked to the bank, a small gun dangling from his hand. She tried not to look at it, but suddenly it seemed huge, monstrous and it was all she could see. It made her feel faint. Her grandma who was sitting in the front seat, saw it. Is that what he used? Her grandma asked. It’s just a small gun. I would’ve kept that.


Her grandma never failed to surprise her, but those few words paralyzed her with shock. She had no idea how to respond to such a callous remark. Then, quietly, her grandma spoke. No, she said. Forget I said that. I wouldn’t want to keep it."


She put her hand on her grandma’s shoulder, her grandma reached up and squeezed it tightly.


Her dad threw the gun into the lake. As soon as the water closed around it she pictured her grandpa. But it wasn’t the same terrible image that kept replaying in her mind the last few days. It was her grandpa healthy and well, stretched out on a sofa reading a well thumbed Louis L’Amour book.


And he was smiling.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Baby Sign Language

Baby Sign Language: When Should I Start?
Guest Post by Misty Weaver
Chief Editor, Baby Sign Language

“How old should my baby be when I start Teaching Baby Sign Language?” This is a common question! Parents don’t want to start too soon, and some parents fear they’ve already missed their window of opportunity. In reality, baby sign language is not an exact science, and you can start Teaching Your Baby To Sign whenever you are ready!

Most experts recommend that you start introducing signs to your baby when she is six months old. However, there is certainly no harm in starting earlier than that. It’s mostly about expectations. If you expect your eight-week-old to start signing back, then yes, you will get frustrated. But if you just think, “Hey I’m going to play with my baby and throw some signs in just for fun,” then you can just think of it as a head start.

Now, if your baby is older than six months old, that does not mean you are too late. Many signing babies sign well into their toddler years, usually until they are comfortable speaking in complex sentences. There are many benefits to toddler signing. Signing reduces toddler tantrums and can be a lifesaver (or at least paper towel saver) when it comes time for potty training.

There are a few signs to look for that will indicate your baby is ready to start signing. First, she should be starting to develop her fine motor skills. So, if she can pick up small objects with her thumb and forefinger, then she is physically ready to start making the signs.

If your baby makes eye contact with you when you speak, this is an excellent sign that he is ready to take his communication to the next level. If you see evidence that he can understand what you are saying, e.g., you say you need a pillow and he toddles over and gets you one of his, then that is a great sign that he is ready (and also an indication that he is an absolute sweetheart!)

If your baby is pointing at objects and saying “eh!” or “ack!” as a way of telling you what he wants, then that is definitely a good sign!

So, if your baby is younger than six months, you have some time to get ready! You can take your time learning some signs and perusing the Baby Sign Language Dictionary .

Or, if your baby is older than six months, then you can get started whenever you’d like!

Remember, this is not an exact science, so just relax and try to make it fun! No matter what age your baby is when you start teaching him baby sign language, the benefits are numerous and the bonding you will experience will be well worth your efforts. Happy signing!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Music Key to Raising Kids' IQ

Music Key to Raising Kids' IQ
by Sharon Burch



In past generations, singing and playing instruments was an integral part of family life. A great way to express and entertain yourself and others. We did not realize it, but we were also exercising our brain while we played, causing us to be creative, more vibrant, smarter, etc. In our current generation, we tend to be passive listeners and consumers as a society, and as a result, shorting our mental development and our children the opportunity to reach their mental potential.

Humans are "wired" for music. Until recently, scientists did not know how music affected the brain. The advancement in technology allows scientists to actually "see" brain activity via PET scans and MRI imaging scanning the blood flow in the brain. Our brains are "wired" with neural pathways. Most activities only cause a portion of the brain to "light up" with activity; thus, the saying, right brain/left brain, etc. But there are actually four parts to the brain and music makes ALL of the areas "light up" and create new neural pathways as a person is learning and playing an instrument. Those neural pathways remain in tact and can be used for other things besides music.

Norman Doidge, in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, shares case after case of people forcing their brain to change and adapt either voluntarily with discipline, or involuntarily due to odd incidences. Studies confirm that our brain has plasticity. "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" is proven to be a case of "can't want to," rather than too old to change.

Daniel Levitin passionately explores the connection between Music and the Brain in his book of the same name. Google his name, watch video clips on YouTube, or go to his website. It's an exciting time of discovering how little we know and how much there is to learn. There is definitely enough evidence to recognize it is not in a music teacher's imagination. Music has a huge impact on activity in the brain. You can physically/visually see the growth and changes that happen inside the brain. The possibilities are endless. The implications for music therapy and music education are profound. Just check out PBS video "The Music Instinct." Neurologist and author, Oliver Sacks relays a true story from his book, Musicophilia, where a man was indirectly struck by lightning through a telephone and three weeks later composing and playing the piano for the first time. Sacks believes the man was "re-wired" through that experience. The list goes on and on.

But even if you are still skeptical about music making kids smarter, let's look at the other benefits. Socially, music is an ageless hobby creating interaction with great people. Take a look at any school band or orchestra or top-ranking choir and you will find a huge percentage of the members are in the top 10 percent of their class and college bound. Striving for excellence is a given in a musical group. Everyone has to perfect their part for the group to perform at their best--NObody "sits on the bench." Everyone has to pull their weight or the whole group suffers. Creativity, especially in jazz groups is developed, honed and embraced. Who couldn't use more creativity in their workforce? Creativity is what makes the difference and gives any company the cutting edge.

There are many benefits of being involved in making music, but the neural pathways drives home the point and gets our attention. Scientists are reluctant to state that playing a musical instrument makes you smarter, but all the indicators are there, so let's look at it from the opposite angle. Instead of trying to prove that music makes you smarter or good for you and your child, try to prove that it is not. I can't think of a single reason how learning a musical instrument is detrimental, can you?

Give your child every opportunity and advantage you can. Enroll them in music lessons and watch them grow and mentally develop as they play, create, express, and struggle through the rigors of the discipline mastering an instrument. You will discover a more creative, brighter and mature person in the making.



Freddie The Frog® Books
Nationally regarded music education teacher and advocate Sharon Burch is the author of Freddie the Frog® - a fantastical 4-book with companion CD series that helps young children learn musical concepts while they are duly immersed in Freddie's colorfully illustrated adventures. She may be reached online at www.FreddieTheFrogBooks.com.

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