Tag Archives: family

I Hope You Dance! I Will!

Dance has permeated my life. Even before I went to my first ballet class when I was 5, I loved to dance. I still do. My favorite emoji is the dancing woman.💃💃💃 I use it regularly to express joy. I guess that sums it up. For me, dance is joy.

My children inherited their passion for dance from me, and while they far exceeded my abilities as a dancer, they grew up dancing with me. From standing on my feet while I waltzed them around the room to a fusion of swing, jitterbug, and disco that we did to anything with a beat, joy with my children has always included dance.

When we came home from my second Fulbright trip to Russia in the summer of 2001, Alyssa and I were so wound up we couldn’t sleep, so we danced around the family room to Safri Duo’s – The Bongo Song

and Culture Beat’s – Crying in the Rain – which we fell in love with during my first Fulbright in Russia.

We spent over an hour laughing and spinning until we were finally tired enough to go to sleep at about 4 am. Alyssa was 8.

Our last song that night was from our first train trip from Moscow to Kazan, Robert Miles – Children https://youtu.be/z9b09Ljnh0k

While dancing gives me joy, watching my children dance feeds my soul. Dance metaphors have filled my children’s lives and my own. Both were competitive dancers for years and nothing gave me greater joy than watching them dance.

I wanted to sing Lee Ann Womack’s – I Hope You Dance to them in honor of their high school graduations, but I knew I’d never get through it. In addition to being a dancer, I’m a crier. I cry when I’m happy; I cry when I’m sad; I cry when I’m frustrated; I cry when I find something touching. I particularly get choked up by the lines “Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens… When you get a choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance!” I want my children to live their lives dancing.

Lee Ann Womack – I Hope You Dance

As most of you know if you’ve read earlier posts, I’m going through a rough moment. I had surgery for a partially detached retina and my right leg is in a brace and I’m using crutches until I can get my knee checked out once the gas bubble in my eye dissipates. I heard this song the other day, and as she often does, Pink nailed it! “One thing I’m never going to do is throw away my dancing shoes… We’ve already wasted enough time… I’m never gonna not dance again. So let the music play till the end.

Pink – Never Gonna Not Dance Again

Shattering the cartilage under my knee didn’t stop me from dancing. Breaking both my wrists in a freak dancing accident didn’t stop me from dancing. A partially detached retina and sore knee will not stop me from dancing. I will dance again. Dance, for me, is joy!

A Love Letter to My Sweetie for Being AWESOME!!!

This is a love letter to my sweetie, my amazing partner Andrew. During this trying time, while working 10-12 hour days, he has also been my full time caregiver. In addition to being loving, compassionate, and kind, he is incredibly inventive. Because of the balance issues caused by my eye surgery, knee immobilization, and crutches, I am not especially coordinated (I see everything in 2 dimensions and as if one eye is under water, so I end up feeling off balance, dizzy, and nauseous most of the time, whether my eye is open or closed.), I can’t do many things for myself at the moment. So Andrew finds solutions to help me be as independent as possible.

He got a lift for the toilet seat so I could save my good knee. He concocted a shower strategy that involved a storage tub, a pillow in a garbage bag, sleeved in a t-shirt that I can, with help, sit on in the bath. Because my favorite way to relax is to take baths (and we tried a strategy the other night that was a little scary), he went to the store and purchased a precisely cut oak plank to sit across the back of the tub so I could more easily and safely lift myself in and out of the water. It was genius.

He helps me get dressed. He brings me what I need to wash my face, brush my teeth, get ready for my day or for bed. He prepares my office chair or the couch (doubling seat cushions so I sit higher and can more easily get up and down) so I don’t have to spend all my time in bed.

He also cooks almost all our meals, from 3 meat tacos to Fattoush salad to hummus, veggies and zatar chips, he regularly makes creative and delicious dishes that feed my soul and my body. He brings me Starbucks beverages, chocolate, and flowers to lift my spirits.

I’m getting more mobile, or at least more used to viewing the world in 2 dimensions. My knee hurts less (a sign that I may have strained or pulled rather than seriously damaging things – fingers crossed). I’ve been able to sleep a bit more. The first two weeks pain woke me (and as a result, Andrew, every 2 hours). Last night I slept 5 hours, then 3 more. Andrew got 7 hours total. Two days in the last week, I got up by myself, washed my face and brushed my teeth.

I have to be honest, I have not always handled this situation with the grace I’d like. I cry regularly. I am bored and sometimes frustrated. But through it all, I am grateful.

Ten years ago Andrew was Stefan’s backup when I broke both my wrists in a dancing accident. I was unable to do anything for 3 months, then had to learn how to use my hands again and rebuild my strength. With love and compassion, Andrew helped care for me. He made me feel safe to need care and support. He nurtured and protected me. Now, 10 years later, Andrew is my full time caregiver as I get through this strange moment. I could not ask for a better, more loving partner. I am grateful for you. I am grateful to you, my love!

Mom, Competitive Forensics, and a Saturday Surprise at Wright State University

I stood at the front of the room ready to start my speech. Then I paused. “No. No!”, I thought!  “Excuse me, may I have just a minute”, I asked the judges. “I’ll be right back”, I said, rushing from the room without waiting for an answer. I went out in the hall and found her. I grabbed her hand. “Come on”, I said. “Come now. I’m ready to start.” “I don’t want to make you nervous”, she said. “No. It’s OK. I want you to be there.” We hurried back into the room; I walked to the front, took a deep breathe, and started.

I don’t remember the actual question I was supposed to address, but the speech had something to do with Spain. It was my last extemporaneous speech* at my last regular season high school forensics competition, and my mother had driven from Urbana, Ohio to Wright State University in Dayton to surprise me. She wanted to hear me speak.

For four years she had watched me leave on Saturday mornings and some holidays to compete in forensics tournaments around the state and in neighboring states. This was the first time she had come to one of my tournaments. Parents rarely did. No one typically watched these rounds of competition, just the participants and the judges. This was the first opportunity she had to hear me speak. Because it was so unexpected, I was apprehensive at first. I was surprised she was there and honestly thrown a little bit off balance.

I had made the final round of girls extemporaneous speaking**. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to do my best with her in the room. I might be distracted, unable to concentrate. But as I stood up there to begin my speech, I knew this was an opportunity that wouldn’t come again. I knew I had to let my mother hear me speak. I wanted my mother to hear me speak.

As I began my speech, I smiled at my mom. Then confidently and with clarity I spoke for 5 to 7 minutes on whatever the question was about Spain. I knew my material. I knew the argument I wanted to make. The words flowed out of me easily. I was good. I was satisfied. My mother got to see a reasonable representation of what I had been doing all these Saturdays for all these years. I was so happy she was there.

I went on to win that tournament. My mom got to see that as well. I competed in Little and Big Districts and placed 2nd in the State that year, but in many ways, the most important speech I gave my entire high school career was the one on Spain in front of my mother.

* Extemporaneous speaking involved preparing a 5-7 minute speech with personal research in 30 minutes on a current events related topic, typically around public policy, global issues, or politics.

** There were separate categories for girls and boys in extemporaneous speaking at that time.

Lessons with Grandma #1: Hair washing, potato soup, and a visit to the ER

On Saturday mornings, when I didn’t have high school speech tournaments, I would ride my bike to Grandma’s house, wash her hair, set it in pin curls, dry, and style it. I loved this ritual. It was my time with Grandma and a chance to show her my love.

Her hair was gorgeous, pure white, fine, and soft as kitten fur. She kept it short, only a few inches long, but rolling thin strips into curls and securing each with two bobby pins took a while.  Once every strand was contained, she sat under her bonnet hair dryer; I would check every 10-15 minutes until it was dry. To check, I’d unpin a curl, unroll it to check for moisture, and re-roll it if it was damp. When her hair was dry, I would gently unpin each curl and run my fingers through it. Grandma didn’t have a lot of patience for my playing with her hair, but she did love the freedom of the pins being removed. When all the curls were loose, I would gently brush and style her hair. Sometimes she had me secure it with hairspray. Other times she just kept it free.

On one Saturday, I was moving a little slowly when Grandma called. Mom burst into my room and commanded “Get up. Grandma needs you. Take the car.” Half-awake I replied, “I’m coming. Just a few minutes. All I have to do this morning is wash Grandma’s hair. I’m just a little tired. Mom.” “She needs you now! There’s been an accident. She’s cut herself.” I leapt out of bed and threw clothes on as fast as I could. “Take the car”, mom demanded, throwing the keys to me. I drove the 6 blocks to Grandma’s house as fast as I could. The 3 minutes it took to get there were interminable. I parked along the side of the house, leapt the curb, ran up the steps, and burst through the door. I heard water running in the kitchen sink. “Grandma, I’m here.” When I entered the kitchen, there was blood from the table across the floor to the sink, a lot of blood. Grandma was holding her left hand under the faucet. What looked like an impossible amount of bright red blood flowing into the water stream from the deep gash between her thumb and index finger. “I was cutting a potato and the knife slipped. “Ok” I said. “Let’s wash it out with soap and I’ll get a towel.” “I feel woozy, Grandma said. She looked pale and as if she might faint. I gently washed her hand and quickly packed a clean washcloth against the wound, then wrapped her hand and wrist in a kitchen towel. “Ok. That looks deep. We need to go to the hospital. I think you need stitches. Do you think you can walk?”, I asked. “Yes” she replied weakly. We slowly walked through the house, my arms around her waist, her right arm around my shoulder, her injured hand against her chest. Slowly we moved across the living room, out the door, down the steps, across the street. The walk seemed to take so long, and blood was seeping through the hand towel. I gently helped Grandma into the passenger seat. “Lean back, close your eyes, and just rest”, I said as I sprinted around the car and jumped into the driver’s seat.

Grandma had never learned to drive and she was a skittish passenger (at least with me). I drove carefully to the hospital, less than 5 minutes away, (the beauty of living in such a small town), cooing and soothing Grandma as I drove. I pulled up to the entrance, told Grandma I would be right back, and dashed to the door. Two Sisters of Mercy in mid-calf white habits with short white veils that held their hair back from their foreheads were at the front desk. “Please help me. My Grandma cut her hand and it’s bleeding pretty badly.” One nun grabbed a wheelchair while the other grabbed the phone. We got Grandma out of the car and the nun rolled her straight to an operating room. They got Grandma onto a gurney and a doctor came in immediately. “You should leave, young lady”, he said. “Please let her stay”, Grandma said. “Come over here and hold my other hand”, she demanded firmly. I did. She had bled quite a bit on the drive and the towels were bloody. “Let’s see what we have here”, the doctor said as he unwrapped the towel and washcloth. “You wrapped this well”, he said. “See, it’s starting to clot off a bit, but this is deep and will need stitches. It doesn’t look like she cut anything major, so I’m going to clean this with antiseptic, give her a couple shots to numb the area, then put in several stitches.” Grandma lay with her eyes closed as the doctor flooded the wound with antiseptic. When he picked up what looked like an impossibly large needle, I noticed the room starting to get dark; the light on Grandma’s hand was impossibly bright. I noticed black spots in my peripheral vision. One on the nuns gently put her hands on my shoulders and directed me to a chair. I sat heavily, feeling dizzy. I heard a small crack and smelled a pungent aroma just under my nose. “Smelling salts”, she said quietly in my ear, “You looked a little dizzy. Just put your head down and breathe calmly. This happens. You managed the crisis, now your body is reacting to the shock. Just breathe.”

I didn’t pass out. Grandma got stitches and a white bandage around her hand and wrist with instructions for wound care and rest.

We drove home quietly, content that the crisis was over. I got Grandma into the house and into a chair in the living room, covered her with a blanket, called my mom to let her know what had happened, and cleaned the kitchen.

Grandma told me she had been planning to make potato soup, so I cut the onions and celery she had on the table, and the potatoes she had already peeled and placed in a bowl of water, careful not to cut toward my hand. I even made rivels (flour, eggs, and salt) to boil on top.

I learned a lot in that short morning. I learned I’m good in a crisis; I learned I’m not so good with blood, and maybe most valuable, I learned a healthy respect for vegetables, especially potatoes. I learned to use a cutting board to cut vegetables and never to hold a potato and cut toward my hand. I also learned that with Grandma’s guidance, I make a mean potato soup. We decided to wait to wash her hair until the next day.

My beautiful Grandma Dorothy Catherine Pence (Whalen)

Reflections on Mother’s Day and other holidays

I know, Mother’s Day was over a month ago and I should be asleep, but I’ve been reading blogs and decided there are some things I want to say about Mother’s Day and holidays in general.

First, I love being a Mom. I’ve told two of my Mommy stories in other venues.  This post will not be (completely) about that. It will be about THIS Mother’s Day and about holidays in general. In context, I’ve given birth to three children. My first son died at birth in August, 1984. He was three months premature. I can’t describe the devastation and pain of that loss. We were so close. I KNEW him; I felt him; we moved together and suddenly he was gone and I was alone. Abandoned. All my dreams and hopes, my most intimate connection, gone. My husband was amazing, wonderful, my partner through all the joy, hope, pain, loss. I was NOT… really… alone.

My second son, Stefan was born in May, 1988.  My pregnancy with him was scary, stressful. I didn’t trust my body. I didn’t trust doctors. I was fearful, anxious, on drugs that made me feel transparent. I was teaching full time until late at night. I was monitoring contractions with a Tokos belt twice a day for an hour. If I had too many contractions, I had to drink a lot of water, lay on my left side, wait another hour, monitor again, and then go to the hospital if I was still having contractions. I can’t remember how many times I ended up in the hospital for observation late at night being poked and prodded when all I wanted was sleep.

There’s a line in the movie Hook where one of the lost boys recognizes a grown Peter Pan and says “ah, there you are, Peter”. It was like that for me with Stefan, I looked at him and KNEW him “ah, there you are…”.  That knowledge has been a consistent part of our relationship.  We KNOW one another. We feel one another when we are apart. We KNOW on a deep level that we are both in the world. Our connection is transcendent. I admire Stefan’s presence in the world. He is talented and fearless. He is giving and loving. He makes others feel good. He also has my tendency to wonder at times (usually the most ridiculous times) if he is good enough. Some times he doubts. There is no need.

Two days shy of five years later, I gave birth to my daughter. I wanted her with an ache in the center of my being. My pregnancy with Alyssa was so different from my prior two. She and I were together in such a calm, comfortable way.  Everything went smoothly.  I was confident. I trusted my body. I KNEW nothing would go wrong. (Well, that’s true if I don’t count the five days between having an amniocentesis and getting the results. I’m a talisman person. I purchased a silver heart necklace that I wore constantly from the afternoon of the test until I got the results back. I still have that necklace. When she turned 14 I gave Alyssa a lucite heart to commemorate her having mine. Someday I’ll give her the silver one.)  When she was born Alyssa  made the most amazing cooing sound and my heart was hers. Our connection is different. She doesn’t feel me when we are apart. She is not confident that I am in the world with her wherever she goes. Our relationship is often contentious. I adore her! Though she lacks Stefan’s groundedness in the world, Alyssa is totally grounded in herself. She has a fierce sense of fairness and justice. She is a ferocious protector of those she loves and the most honest person I know. She is talented, gifted and capable of doing anything she sets her mind to. I look forward to the choices she will make.

For Mother’s Day, Stefan was in Reno finishing up the semester. Alyssa and I were here in Andover.  She made me a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and milk, then took me to Tanganyika Wildlife Park. We fed lemurs, petted pregnant red kangaroos, snuggled rabbits, petted a sugar glider (my family’s favorite creature – next to otters – but that’s a story for another time). We walked arm in arm and enjoyed the marvels we saw. Then we went to Freddy’s for burgers, then home, then to the Star Trek movie. We had the most incredible, engaged day. We were both fully present.

Alyssa’s mantra of the day was “It’s Mother’s Day”!. When her friends called to invite her to play soccer and eat pizza, she said “It’s Mother’s Day”. She was single mindedly committed to being with me the whole day and we had a marvelous time. Many people disparage holidays. “We should treat our loved ones with care every day”, they say. While this is true, holidays are special. They are reminders to take the time to show those we love that they are precious to us.  That is what Mother’s Day meant to me this year – time for my daughter and I to hang out to be together, to take the time.

This weekend is the 4th of July, another time we can take the time to gather with those we love. Again my son is in Reno (we’ll go there to see him perform next week) and my daughter and I are home in Andover. We’ll have a cookout with friends, play yard games, shoot off fireworks (we’ve never lived anywhere we could do this before – we love fireworks!) and revel in being together, being citizens of this amazing country, making memories, marking important moments, together. Holidays are important. In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, they remind us to pause, to take the time, to be in the moment. Enjoy the holiday! Enjoy all the moments!