Wednesday, February 22, 2012

To Assist or Ignore? The Awkwardness of Helping Others

There is a man who works at my kids’ elementary school who has special needs.  I’ve never talked to him.  I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t even know his name.  He helps with some of the facility management at the school and even though I’ve often seen him riding around on his motorized scooter…I’ve never really had a reason to interact with him.

But today I did.

I was bringing the homework folders I had been working on in the hall into my daughter’s kindergarten class when his scooter suddenly stopped right outside her classroom door and seemed to be out of power.  I watched him fiddle with switches and work the key, but it was obvious that there was something wrong with it…at the very least its battery was dead.  I stood there behind him, waiting to see if he could get it started again and even though it was obvious to me that it wasn’t going to work, I did something that I’m pretty ashamed of.

I hesitated to help.

I didn’t know if he wanted my help.  I didn’t know if by offering my assistance…if that would embarrass him in some way.  I didn’t know if I would say something wrong when I offered and make us both feel uncomfortable. 

For a moment…I just didn’t know what needed to be done.

In that moment of hesitation, I watched in complete disbelief, as staff members passed by him in the hall, not even giving him a second glance.  Not one person that he worked with day in and day out checked to see if he was okay.  They went about their business, walking with purpose, and keeping their eyes averted from the problem.

I put down the basket I was carrying and asked if there was anything I could do.  His slurred speech made communication a little hard, but eventually, he got a hold of the forearm crutches he carried in the scooter and motioned for me to push the scooter down the hall, around the corner, and into a room that would get it out of the way.  And as I pushed, also trying to steer it at the same time, once again, we passed his coworkers, going about their days, talking about what they had done over the weekend and other insignificant things while I struggled with the scooter.  And he limped behind me on his crutches.

To say I was disappointed in this lack of…well…humanity…is an understatement.  How people could watch someone else struggle without even giving a thought to helping was unreal to me.  I was angry and judgmental and flat-out annoyed with the situation.

And then I had to remind myself that even though I had helped him…I had hesitated before I offered.

What is it about helping others that makes us feel so awkward?  You know…that moment of indecision we have before we move to help someone who clearly needs it?  I guess part of it is that we don’t know what to do, what to say, and what will make them feel better and we’re worried about feeling foolish or offensive.  And that emotional clumsiness comes whether we know the person or not.  I have the same insecurities about helping a stranger as I do a friend.  And the truth is…it’s a hell of a lot easier to walk away and keep your eyes away from the problem than it is to walk up to it and boldly try to help.

But as I left the school this morning, I decided something:  It’s better to offer to help and risk embarrassment or an uneasy moment rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.  And many times it’s better to accept that offer, however clumsy it might be, rather than struggle with the problem alone.

I may have dented a few walls this morning, trying to get that man and his scooter down the hall.

But at least I didn’t just walk on by.

Friday, February 17, 2012

This Too Shall Pass

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while and it’s kind of funny that I’m typing it up now, considering how my week has gone.  Sick kid, two trips to the ER, fear of going to my mailbox to find the medical bills that I know will be lurking in there at some point soon…to say the least, I have had a somewhat problem-filled week.

There is only one thing that is getting me through it.  And that is thinking over and over again, “This too shall pass.”

I don’t know who said it first.  I just looked it up on Wikipedia and it turns out that they think it was a Persian.  Probably some woman who was on her 12th hour of beating her laundry against a rock, cursing the fact that she still had to get dinner on the table, knowing that her husband was probably back at home, kicking back in some hay and having a beer (did they have beer way back then?  I’ll have to look it up).

ANYWAY, I’ve found myself saying that over and over again this last week.  Actually, I’ve found myself saying that over and over again for the last 4 years.  And there’s a very good reason for that.

Because it’s true.

There are times when I look back and cannot believe that the things that have happened to me have had anything to do with the life I’m living now.  It just seems like it happened to a different person.  I’ve found myself saying to my mother quite often, “Can you believe that was me?” And she’ll shake her head in disbelief and reply, “I know.”

I think back to when my husband died, when I still had a child in a crib, a child who had just gotten out of a crib, and a child who was getting ready to start all-day school for the first time.  There should be a word that means “overwhelmed times 20” (deliriously astounded?) because that’s where I was in my life.  I kept wondering how in the world I would make it through, how I would get to the next day the next week, or the next year.  And eventually I realized something very important.

My problems were fluid.

My kids weren’t always going to be toddlers.  They were going to grow up.  Those days of not wanting to go anywhere because I didn’t have the energy to strap all three of those kids into their five-point harnesses and booster seats, gave way to hopping in the car with all three of them and backing out of the driveway while they all buckle themselves in.  Taking 20 minutes at the end of every meal to clean the floor after three young kids who seemed to have secret trap doors in their mouths that always allowed food to escape and miss napkins and bibs is no longer an issue because I can hand any one of them a broom and say, “Clean that mess up.”  Trying to tie shoes, change a diaper, and kiss a boo boo all at the same time doesn’t happen anymore and has been replaced by potty-trained shoe-tiers who can put their own band-aids on.

Just like my kids, my problems aren’t going to stay the same either.  They’re going to change, some for the better, some not.  I may have some of the same problems tomorrow that I have today, but for the most part, I’m either resolving them or they’re resolving themselves.  And yes, new issues will come up that will either force me to figure them out or adjust to what they’re bringing to my life.

Life is change.  It’s shifting, altering, and fluctuating right before us.  So are problems.  And usually the reason why we can’t see that is because the bigger the problem, the more gradual the solution.  The problem of losing my husband 4 years ago and dealing with 3 toddlers is not the problem I have now.  I don’t know exactly when it changed…it just did.  Gradually.  In its own time.  On its own schedule.

So when I find myself so overwhelmed in the “now,” I remind myself that the “now” is changing all of the time.  Tomorrow could look completely different.  It could look better, it could look worse.  But with every new day that dawns, the possibility of change rises with the sun.  And that’s worth getting out of bed for.

Oh.  And I just looked up when beer was invented.  Wikipedia says that it was probably around 9500 B.C.  Which means there was a good chance that that Persian woman’s husband was kicking back with a frosty one while she was working her fingers to the bone.  And when that husband woke up the next morning, head aching and stomach churning from the primitive adult beverage he had consumed the night before…you want to know what he probably said?

“This too shall pass.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

I Dare You to Follow This Stream of Consciousness....

Totally random stream of consciousness.  But I’m tired and that’s all I’ve got.

I was sitting in the car the other night, listening to a country station that was playing songs that were oldies, but goodies.  And a song came on and gave me a feeling I don’t know how to explain.  I didn’t have a specific memory.  It was just a feeling.  And it was so strong.  I could have closed my eyes and imagined so easily that I was sitting in the passenger seat of my husband (then boyfriend’s) Trans Am, just before we got married.

I wasn’t remembering anything in particular.

It was just a time.

A time when I couldn’t wait for him to call.  When I couldn’t wait for him to show up at the door to my dorm room.  When time seemed endless because I was sure that, if anything, we’d have plenty of it.  So secure in the life we were going to have…even though I wasn’t sure what it was going to bring.  I was just so sure of the life.  Of time.  I just had no idea that that would be the one thing I wouldn’t get.

As I tucked my youngest daughter into bed when we got home that night, she sleepily said, “I had a dream last night that you and Daddy got married.”

And there are times…that seems like a dream to me too.


I’ve spent the last 6 days sitting with my oldest daughter, watching her writh in abdominal pain that no one could figure out.  Out from school the last 2 days of last week (and again today), I finally took her to the doctor on Saturday so that they could take blood.  I felt sure it wasn’t appendicitis, because that wasn’t where her pain was, so I left the office after giving the doctor my cell phone number and asked her to call me with the results.

So much for my motherly intuition.  High white blood cell count.  Get her to the hospital.

I drove her downtown, after leaving my youngest daughter and my son (on his 8th birthday) with my parents, asking them to hold down the fort and keep the birthday party that we had scheduled later that day going.  And being the saints that they are…they did.  My daughter and I spent all of Saturday in the ER only to have them determine that it wasn’t appendicitis and say those dreaded words we hate hearing from doctors, “Well, we don’t really know what it is, but we think it’s….”

Don’t “think.”  This is my kid.  KNOW.

I made it back to my house, writhing daughter in tow, just in time to host 4 little boys for a sleepover and video game extravaganza, which I know sounds hideous, but really wasn’t so bad.  After years of hosting girl sleepovers with a bunch of pre-teens…a gaggle of boys with Wii remotes in their hands was a piece of cake.  And, thankfully, my son assured me that he had had a great birthday…which was a huge relief to me.

But I still didn’t know what was wrong with my daughter.

I’m pretty shocked that I didn’t worry more than I did.  All I can say is that my widow/mom brain just wouldn’t let me “go there.”  As I sat in the ER room, watching her, waiting for signs to see if she was any worse or better, I wouldn’t let myself focus on anything other than what was right in front of me.  I didn’t think about what had happened before.  And I didn’t think about what could happen.  I literally just sat there and thought about each minute as it came.

My worrying came last night.

Deprived of sleep and still watching my daughter toss, turn, and moan in the bed next to me, I began to do what a lot of people do when it’s dark and there’s no one to talk to, nothing to keep you company but your own dark thoughts.  After not eating for over 5 days, I worried about her strength, even though the doctors assured me it was okay as long as she was drinking.  I felt helpless and like a bad mother because I couldn’t fix this for her. I began to get impatient and I knew that she thought I was getting impatient with her…when I was just upset with the situation.  What in the hell is going on?  Why can’t they figure this out?  Why can’t I make this go away? 

And what if it’s something that won’t go away?

And as the sun rose and my thoughts were still sinking further and further into the abyss, my daughter rose, sore but with color in her cheeks, gave me a little smile and said what I’d been wanting to hear for 5 days.

“I’m hungry.”

And so now I sit here, while my daughter sips Sprite seemingly pain-free, attempting to make sense of the words in front of me, because I need to write a short story for the writing group I just joined.  The assignment is to write about a “bad romance” using the name they picked out of a hat for me.

Pee Wee Herman.

Perfect assignment for the sleep deprived.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Valentine's Day: The Best Way To Acknowledge It...Is To Acknowledge Others

It’s time to address it.  The day that has widows all over the world saying, “Shit.  It’s here again already?”

Valentine’s Day.

Now, as I said last year, I am of the opinion that Valentine’s Day is not a day that should just be considered romantic.  In fact, since the moment I had kids, Cupid took one look at my messy house and decided that he would come back in about 20 years when things had settled down a bit.

Wait.  Now that I think about it…since I had a husband who loathed Valentine’s Day and now a significant other who is never in town for it…I don’t think I’ve had a “romantic” Valentine’s Day since I was about 7-years-old and the little boy sitting across from me in class gave me an extra sucker.

Valentine’s Day is a family holiday now and one, I will admit, I’m not too crazy about.  This year will be better since all of my kids are now old enough to write and I don’t have to address 75 Sponge Bob cards all by myself.  Now, I just have to hand them a class list and a pen and hope that the candy to card ratio comes out right.  And if it doesn’t, I’ll have to go around the table, checking hands for stickiness to see who ate the two packs of Nerds that we needed.

My mom and I were talking the other day about the lost art of the hand-written note (I promise you this is all related…just stick with me) and how nice it is to get something unexpected like that. 

She said, “You know, I read something the other day about how it just makes you feel good to let others know how much you appreciate them.  Maybe that’s what you should put out to your widow’s group:  Have them just send a card to someone to say ‘Thank you and I’m glad I have you in my life.’”

Being a good daughter with a good mother who is always coming up with good ideas…that is what I’m doing right now:  Encouraging you to send a Valentine’s Day card to someone…not because it’s romantic.  But because you love them and, believe me, it will not only make their day when they receive it, I’m betting it will make you feel pretty darn good too.

Along those same lines, I wanted to share this story with you that I found this morning on the West Seattle Blog website.  It’s what happens when kindness, in the memory of someone we love, touches a stranger.  It moved me so much…and I know that this, of all groups, will appreciate this story:

Reader report: Teen finds ‘mystery gift’ on West Seattle bench

February 2, 2012 at 10:05 pm | In West Seattle news, West Seattle people | 76 Comments

My name is Gabriella and I am 15 years old. I wanted to share my experience because I found it touching and very sweet.

While on a bike ride to take photos today, I found a gift sitting on a bench with a note attached that read “To the finder of this gift” overlooking the Seattle skyline near Salty’s.

I sat on the bench and opened the card, which was from a woman remembering her younger sister today, which would have been her 59th birthday. The woman shared her younger sister’s interests, accomplishments and love of life, and how she died suddenly in 2001 due to a pulmonary embolism from a foot injury. The gift was left at this location because her sister’s ashes were scattered on Alki and she loved the view of the skyline.

In the letter, the writer asked the finder of the gift to please express their love to those they care about. She also said that she learned that “all our love, memories, and connections are still there as true and strong as ever” even after death. The writer expressed her deep love for her sister and that the best parts of her are still with her.

I hope the writer of this letter sees this and knows how much it touched me.

P.S. The gift was a LED head lamp for riding and was with a card that read, “May a luminous dream light the way.”

Thank you, Gabriella

Happy Upcoming Valentine’s Day to you all.

I appreciate you more than you will ever know.