Tuesday, November 10, 2015

our favorite veteran ever

This past March, we embarked on a 3,000-mile road trip from Virginia to Texas, in order to check things out as a family before we made the commitment that we would move south.  My goal was that at the conclusion of the trip, we would have 12 enthusiastic thumbs up.   Seeing as we're now in Texas, I'd say the trip was a success.  But the highlight of the entire trip was a surprise detour we made on our way home.

Now I may have mentioned that my nephew, Tommy, enlisted in the military last year. After thinking that he might go to the Naval Academy, he surprised us all - his mother especially - by deciding that he would instead become a combat medic in the Army.  And so it is, he headed off to basic training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma last August, a mere week after he was with us for our 20-year anniversary on Nantucket.


My children adore their cousin Tommy.  So during his time at basic training, they wrote him several letters, telling him how proud they were of their big cousin:


And they drew him many a picture of encouragement:


Tommy wrote them back:


And also included pictures of encouragement:


To this very day, William still does 100 sit-ups every night, because he knows that Tommy is doing it, too, and he pledged to his cousin that he'd be working out with him.  Following Halloween, the kids talked to several of their friends about donating candy, and we shipped off a package to Tommy that weighed nearly 10 pounds and the parents all agreed, if it had stayed in our houses - would have resulted in us gaining 50 pounds. It's a mass / caloritic ratio mystery ... so yay for 18-year old metabolism and intense PT activities every day!

On our trip home from Texas, we had a bead on Nashville, Tennessee. Our plan was that we'd make a stop and check out a show at the Grand Ole' Opry ... because as luck would have it, The Charlie Daniel's Band was playing.

In the midst of our road trip planning exercises, I received a text message from my sister, Eileen, and she asked where we were.  When I told her that we were heading to Nashville, she excitedly wrote to me that Tommy was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky - which was only an hour away.   And so it is, Charlie and I made the immediate decision that we would forego Charlie Daniel's and drive to Kentucky.  The kids meanwhile, were oblivious to all of this.  We just told them that because it was Tuesday, we'd be having a day of fun "T's".

For lunch, we'd have turkey with iced tea.  And then, we would drive through Tennessee, and stop by the T-Rex museum.  For dinner, we would have a T-bone.  But alas, on our way to the T-Rex museum, we started having terrible car trouble.  Or so the kids thought.  Little did they know, the best "T" surprise was in store.

Here's what happened next (pardon my totally obnoxious voice - I was just so excited!):

On this Veteran's Day ... my heartfelt gratitude goes to the young and old who faithfully, courageously, and willingly serve our country.


We love you, cousin Tommy.   Please (please, please, please x infinity) stay safe out there.

Monday, November 09, 2015

everybody is a part of everything

As I've written before, I'm very much enjoying our move to Texas.


From a personal perspective - we love the new community, and our neighbors are wonderful.  Not just the doctor that performed surgery on 2/6 of our family (or 1/3 if we were to reduce to the simplest form) the first month we were here, and has since been very helpful with my "brain" issue - but especially our next door neighbors who are also new to the area.  Our children are the same ages, and play soccer together.  We've bonded on a very primitive level ... they are our kind of people.

Our tribe. 

From a professional perspective, it's been spectacular.  While I'm in the same role, our new collaborative workspaces are amazing, and I'm having the opportunity to positively interface with so many colleagues.  Just last week, Charlie decided to just float his resume and mere hours (if not minutes) later, he had people calling and asking him when he could start?  For the two of us, this move couldn't be better.

As for the children ...

Elizabeth is thriving, especially socially.  She's joined the Chess Club and thus far, is undefeated.  A few weeks ago, she challenged the Assistant Principal to a game and from what I understand, won in less than 12 moves.  Much to the dismay of her siblings, she's an absolute shark when it comes to puzzles and triumphs every time she plays.  After several years of special education services in Virginia, she was positively diagnosed with dyslexia just last month, in Texas.   This can and will be it's own separate post - but the fact is, our school here zeroed in on it immediately, and she is in great hands.

Henry is thriving, too.  I'm so thankful that we opted to start him a year later, because although he is the oldest child in his class by a few months - it's been perfect for him.  He has befriended all the kids in his class, and he easily grasps all of his academic material. If he'd focus on what he was doing - instead of hurrying to get things done as quickly as possible so that he can direct his attention to reading / writing / daydreaming about dinosaurs ... he'd have straight A's.

Carolyn is doing amazing.  For all of the concern that I had about whether or not to take her tonsils and adenoids out - and the remorse that we did the surgery as we went through a long and difficult recovery - there's no question that it has changed her life for the better.  She really is a changed child.  I'd never believed how much of a difference it would have, if I hadn't witnessed it myself.  Gone is the child that would need to be reminded 25 times to do something.   The post-surgical Carolyn takes responsibility for herself and her belongings and her grades have been steadily climbing.

Then there's William. Academically, he's at the top of his class.  He's one of those kids that just "gets it."  Everything comes to him very easily and he's motivated to do well, so it's the perfect combination. Book wise, he's golden.  But socially, he is struggling so hard.

In Virginia, William was quite possibly one of the most popular kids in his class.  He befriended everyone.  In fact, a few years ago for Thanksgiving, one of the boys in his class - who had just moved to the area from New Jersey - stood up at an assembly about "Giving Thanks" and shyly read to a gathered audience, how thankful he was for our William, because he was so kind to him and made him feel comfortable and welcome in this new environment.   Given his track record in Virginia, I thought for sure he'd do fine anywhere. 

Ah, but remember how William and his sister had their tonsils removed the second week of school?  They then missed two weeks of school for their recovery?  And when they returned to school, they were in study hall for the next two (plus) weeks, catching up on various lessons and missed assignments.  Because they were in study hall - they ate lunch at their desks and didn't go to the cafeteria or recess.  At their new school, they have various periods and move around from one class to the next with differing students, so the only time they really have to socialize with one another is at lunch and recess.  But because he was out for more than a month - the first month of school - he missed out not only on schoolwork, but on the social circles that were being established.  For whatever reason, it hasn't slowed Carolyn down at all.  But it has derailed William.

In a nutshell, he hasn't found his school tribe yet, and it's been excruciating.

For the past month, beginning at around 5:00 on Sunday night, he'll start to dread a new school week beginning.  Last week, he was so distraught, and there was absolutely nothing I could do or say to help him, unless my words in some way involved pulling him out of school and teaching him at home.   Eventually, I told him to sit down and write out his thoughts because it always helps me to get things out on paper.    He started writing, and writing, and writing.    

Once he'd wrapped up his epistle, and I got him settled in to bed for the night, I crafted an email to his teacher and the School Counselor.  I told them that I was very concerned about his transition, and then I copied and pasted a portion of what he had written.  The part where, "school is a foreboding institution - a monument of sadness that robs me of my joy and sucks at my soul." 

The next morning, the Counselor reached out to me with an email that effectively said, "Wow, thank you for letting us know.  We're ON IT."  She then swung in to action and had William come to her office for a chat.  The science teacher also swung in to action and appointed William to the Ecology Club. Among his gardening activities that he gets to do on a monthly basis, he also gets to police the kids in the cafeteria a few times a month, and ensure that they do not mix recyclables with trash.  It's a big responsibility!

Still, he is distraught.  And it really didn't help matters that on Friday night, the kids had a grade-wide social at their school and at one point, William tripped and bumped in to a boy. The friend of that boy thought it was intentional, and retaliated by punching him in the chest and pushing him in to a wall.

I was there, manning the drink booth.  And while I didn't see it happen, I did hear about via a devastated William ... and if you think that my response was to immediately find the boy and have a little "chat" you'd be 100% right.  Meanwhile, William was hiding in the dark cafeteria behind the refrigerator.  Mortified, not by my actions - but that someone would do that to him.

Last night, as I was tucking him in to bed, he asked me to please come to school and have lunch with him, today.  Because this is likely my last week in the office for the rest of the year - I have a million things to do.  I didn't commit to William, but today I realized that none of my work activities, are more important than being with my little guy in his time of trouble.

So at 11:15, I packed up and left for the school.  When I arrived and walked in to the crowded cafeteria, I immediately saw Carolyn at a table with her friends. I then saw Elizabeth at a table with her friends.  And then I saw William, sitting all by himself.  His shoulders were slumped and he was sadly looking around.  My heart broke and fell down in pieces to my knees.   When he turned and saw me - the look that came across his face, I can't even describe it.

I pulled up a chair and said, "How you doing, big guy?"  He broke in to a huge smile said, "I'm doing GREAT, now that you are here.  Mom, I love you so, so, so, so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you."   We talked for a few minutes, and eyed out the scene in the cafeteria.  I asked why his sisters weren't sitting with him (WHY?!?) and he explained that he came in after they did and there were no seats at their tables. And they can't move seats once they sit down because the Cafeteria Ladies rule with an Iron Fist called Detention.

Also, even if there had been seats at their tables ... they are girls.

Sitting next to us, were a table full of boys.  I asked William if he knew them - and he said yes.  I then asked if he'd take any exception to me talking to them - and he said no.  So without further adieu I stood up, and walked over to their table.  All of their eyes turned to look at me, this grownup, who surely has something VERY IMPORTANT to say.

I said to the boys, "Hi guys, do you know William?"  Then I nodded my head over my shoulder.  They all said that they knew him.  I then continued, "Did you know that we JUST moved here?  And that William had to have his tonsils taken out the second week of school?"  They didn't know that.  So I continued, "And because of his surgery he missed TWO WEEKS of school. And then, he missed TWO MORE WEEKS because he had to go to study hall.  And by the time he was able to stop going to Study Hall, he felt like all the friends were gone. Can you imagine?" 

Their eyes looked legitimately concerned and they arched their necks to look around me, at William, who was playing with his mashed potatoes.  I concluded by saying, "Can I ask you guys a favor?  If you happen to see William sitting in the cafeteria by himself - or wandering around at recess by himself, can you maybe invite him over?  Will you keep your eye on him, because he's having a really hard time fitting in."

In unison they all said, "YES M'AM!" Then they all pointed out that there was an extra chair at the table and would William come over and sit with them RIGHT NOW?

He did. And so did I.

And for the next 15 minutes, we talked to them about their favorite sports, movies, and food.  We then talked about a delayed birthday party for William ... and maybe they could come help us celebrate.  And that's how it is that I made plans to take a bunch of fifth grade boys out to play paintball in mid-December.  Not sure my neurologist will give me clearance to do that - so Charlie might have to be my backfill.

As I was getting up to grab a pen so I could write down all the boys' telephone numbers so we could coordinate our paintball outing,  I happened to walk past a table and sitting there - all by herself - was a little girl with slumped shoulders, playing with her mashed potatoes.

And my heart broke all over again.

I swooped by Carolyn's table and asked her to come with me.  She initially resisted by saying that she'd get in trouble if she left her table, and I told her that she'd get in trouble if she didn't.   I asked my daughter what the girl's name was, and she said, "Ashley."  Walking back to the table, I leaned down and said, "Hi Ashley. How are you doing?"   She looked surprised and said, "Um, I'm OK."  So I very gently asked her, "Ashley, why are you sitting over here, all by yourself?" And she whispered, "I don't have any friends."

My hearing isn't so great at the moment, so the poor child had to repeat it THREE TIMES before I heard what she said.  Carolyn, who undoubtedly heard it the first time and had more time to process this information, stepped forward and said, "I'll be your friend, Ashley, and I'd really like to sit with you."

As I'm standing there with beams of sunshine coming out of my ears, the Lunch Lady came over to tell me that they really make every attempt at spotting kids that are sitting by themselves and try to get them to sit with others.  "But" she told me, "We can't MAKE them move. If they want to sit by themselves, that's their choice."

I told her, "That's why it helps to have me here, because as a parent, I can make them move ... and I will make them move.  If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that no fifth grader wants to sit by themselves in a crowded cafeteria. They might tell you that they do, but it's a 25-minute torture sentence."

After I told her what has happened with William the past several weeks, the Lunch Lady promised me that she'll step up her efforts.  And I promised her that I'll drop by several times a month to help.

Tonight over dinner, William was in great spirits and is excited about the prospect of friends, and paintball.  And Carolyn and Elizabeth have Ashley in their crosshairs - or anyone else that might be sitting by themselves.


As it turns out, taking a one-hour break from work to spend with my fifth graders, was quite possibly the most important lunch meeting I've had all year.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

the power of distraction

So in other news ....

Halloween was this past weekend and I didn't get a single picture of all four kids in their costumes.  Although I'd asked them to please not leave the house without me taking a picture of them, do they listen?    (Usually yes ... on Halloween night when everyone is desperate to get outside ... no.)

For the record, William was a werewolf, Elizabeth was Frankenstein's daughter, Henry was a dinosaur trainer (Owen, to be exact), and Carolyn was a zombie colonial girl.  It brings me great joy that Carolyn still wears her costume from Colonial Williamsburg that I purchased two years ago, after one too many ales, when I thought it would be a superb idea to spend the equivalent of a mortgage on handmade colonial garb for the whole family.  It's good to know that at least one of my children is getting our money's worth out of the costume.

Here's Elizabeth with her haul ... she lost count at 420 pieces of candy.


Charlie and I were dressed up, too ... as Colonial people, of course.  When we arrived at the neighborhood block party and we were the only adults dressed up, Charlie said aloud to everyone, "So ... it would appear that WE were the only ones that received the memo?!"  

After the neighborhood shindig, we retreated back to our house, dragged out our fire pit, and hosted several friends at the base of our driveway.  And so it is, our tradition of Halloween 'smores has successfully migrated and taken root in Texas.


Last week, I was away on a business trip in Puerto Rico, and after our very productive meetings during the day, I had the privilege of kayaking with one of our senior managers (my boss' boss) through a bioluminescent lagoon in twilight.  It was so awesome ... one of the coolest things I've ever done in my life.  We paddled through a twilight harbor, and entered this lagoon where the pitch black sky was drenched in stars.  We put our hands in to the water and splashed around to see the phytoplankton light up, and over head, there was a huge shooting star.   A fiery meteor so large, I could make out the shape and texture of its rocky surface as it flew through the atmosphere.

It was a truly spiritual experience and I felt the most amazing sense of peace in my soul.

On our paddle back to the loading zone, we navigated a canal that was draped in mangroves.  Our guide shined a light up in to the trees and pointed out the 4-foot iguana that was perched on the limbs above us and told us how these huge reptiles, with their huge claws, will often teeter off the branches and fall in to the boats.  In that moment, we heard a loud "SPLASH!" and both my senior manager and I let out a scream and startled so hard, we almost capsized.  We then started rowing so fast, our previously synchronized paddles were clanking off each other.

(Good feeling GONE.)


While I was away, Charlie received this letter from our insurance company. I'm not sure why this cracks me up ... it's really not very funny, but it is nice to know that my insurance has approved me for brain surgery.  


As word travels that I'll be going in for surgery in the next few weeks, so many people have expressed that they are amazed how "composed" I seem to be during all of this.  To which I've replied, "What is the other option?"  

As my sister Janet says, ours minds can be like a bad neighborhood, so she prefers not to go in there, alone.  You've got to roll up the windows, lock the doors, turn on some happy music, and keep your eyes on the road.  

Perspective is important.  Consider, if not for modern medicine, I would have checked out of this world 40 years ago, when I had a ruptured gangrenous appendix at the age of 5.  Charlie would have checked out at 18-years old when he had a ruptured gangrenous appendix.  When I look at things that way, I clearly see that each day has been nothing if not a gift.


Between me and the kids, this week I've been at the doctor's office almost every day.  I've been going through a lot of tests, and the triplets have been going in for their 11-year-old check ups.

What I didn't realize is that ELEVEN is a big age for shots.  In addition to the flu shot, they get their tetanus vaccination, and a host of other things (at least three that I could count).  To say that Elizabeth turned inside out at the prospect of a shot is an understatement.  Yesterday, she received her flu vaccination, and the only way she could get it, is if she was cradled in my lap with her head on my shoulder.  When she overheard me talking to her father that she would be going back in two weeks for more shots, she imploded.

So I told her exactly what I've been telling myself the past few weeks.

"Why worry about something that hasn't happened? Why distress ourselves with dark imaginings for what may or may not occur? It's not in the here.  It's not in the now.  So let it go and just be present in THIS moment."   Then I showed her a picture of the 38 shots I had to have when I had my allergy testing last month.


At the sight of this, she screamed like a 4-foot lizard had fallen in to her boat.

And agreed, yes ... it could always be worse.