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Archive for April, 2011

For the past 8 months people have been asking me, “So how is it being an empty-nester?”  And my answer has been, “I don’t know;  I can’t answer, yet.”  I have not been able to get a handle on this concept.  I need time to settle in to this pretty major life transition.

I guess you could say I’m in the process of rebuilding or recreating my life in this new phase. 

My major life work, certainly my most important, meaningful part of my life,  has been raising my children.   With all the frustrations, difficulties, and day-to-day challenges, it’s proven to be ever so rich, rewarding and satisfying.  And of course hair-pulling, stressful, anxiety-provoking and worrisome.  And fun, pleasurable, joyful and oh so Loving.   

So what Big thing will replace my major focus of the last 20 years?  That’s not to say I didn’t have many other important ancillary facets of my life – work, travel, pleasurable and fun activities.  And these will hopefully continue in even greater measure.    But for sure my life’s work centered on parenting and consciously working on being a good mommy.   What will be my life’s work now as an empty -nester?

That’s yet to be discovered, to unfold.  And so I cannot answer, as I feel void of my pre-existing larger purpose.

I have tremendous satisfaction seeing each of my children set up in their adult lives according to their own standards:  Esti, my oldest daughter – living the life she loves in an extremely religious lifestyle  in Israel  with her husband and five children;  Nava, my middle daughter- who in September moved into a group home a few minutes away, and has adjusted beautifully; and feels so independent and good about herself having  ‘moved on and out’;  and Penina, my youngest daughter – living fairly close by with her husband and new first baby.

I also have twinges of sadness at the passage of time.  My child-rearing years are over; remaining are the memories that flood through my mind at so many openings.  It was just yesterday that Esti was 7 years old wearing her ridiculously large red-framed glasses that were  in style then;  as she reports to me now on the phone of her eye-glass frame shopping escapade for Moshe, her 9 year old son.

So I’m in an ambivalent mix now, not quite sure of my standing and where my next step will take me. I’ve got to feel all this out and see what takes hold. 

What’s your life’s work in your phase of life now?

 

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I want to share an awesome u-tube that I just received in my email.  The person who sent it, my old exercise trainer, clearly knows what moves me.  I feel compelled to post this here.

Time gone, youth gone, time passing.  There’s nothing to hold onto but the tide of change.   As Gretchin Rubin of the Happiness Project  says, “The days are long, but the years are short.” 

The passing of time saddens me.  And as Seals and Crofts (baby boomer group) sings, “We may never pass this way again.”  All this makes me really try to hold onto the moment and be cognizant of it. And then we can let it go knowing we had it in all its fullness.

When my daughter got married a couple of years ago, I told her, and myself, that “the six hours will go by in the blink of an eye and then all you’ll have are the memories.  Try to focus on each and every aspect; hold it, take it in and be mindful of every part.”  Throughout the wedding, we’d remind each other to appreciate each moment.  And we did.  And it didn’t run away without us even noticing.  We felt it all and held it.  It was a full and rich experience.

Are we making our time here something to write home about??? Are we mindful of  it and not wishing it away?  Are we pursuing our dreams, interests, goals?  Or are we coming up with all the Excuses of life to avoid, delay, run away from,  rationalize; and then it’s too late. 

While we’re here, it’s not too late.  These men (in the video) showed us that.  Do the extraordinary.  Become remarkable.  Go for it!!

How did this video resonate for you?  What will you shed and take on?

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The purest, simplest beauty –that of a newborn. 

I have spent the last few days looking at my new granddaughter; sitting and just watching her.  Talk about holding onto the moment, being in the moment; I have been  melting into the softness of this little and huge miracle of life.  When I’m with her,  everything else gets washed away and disappears.  True bliss surfaces and I feel at peace with this most serene little being.

I don’t recall feeling this way when I had my babies.  Perhaps this is part of the grandparent perspective or just an older one; having lived through and experienced many trials and tribulations of life one gains the wisdom of appreciation and the keen awareness of the awesomeness of this most common daily miraculous happening – having a baby.

And then I think- the first exit point away from this moment of perfection-  how unfortunate that life has to get so complicated, filled with the antithesis of this newborn essence.

Struggle, angst, hardship, harshness, challenges are left outside of my purview, for now.  I am drawn in to this oil of infancy, dabbing it on all over and taking in its lasting scent.

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The Fruition of Labor

“Birth is an opportunity to transcend. To rise above what we are accustomed to, reach deeper inside ourselves than we are familiar with, and to see not only what we are truly made of, but the strength we can access in and through Birth.” –Marcie Macari

I supported my daughter in her labor as she struggled to bring forth the new life from within her.  She and her baby worked together to create a new beginning; she working through the pain as the baby made her slow progression down, coming closer to the entrance of this outer world.

Out of the pain, out of the  struggle, came the reward.  And I was blessed to bear witness to this journey to life.

Welcome Rachel Tamar – April 10, 2011

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I stood by the curb and watched Nava work hard at climbing down from our mini-van.  Although this certainly wasn’t the first time my mother witnessed ‘this torture’ I was imposing, she expressed her annoyance at me for being “so tough” on her.  Her idea was, “give her a hand to make it easier; you see how slow and tentative she’s being because it’s so difficult.”  I heard these types of comments a lot from my mother throughout the years – “don’t let her struggle so;  have a heart”. 

I never really questioned whether or not I “had a heart”, although it did bug me when she said it in her various ways.  I knew where this came from; it came from her parenting belief that a Good mother does everything for her child and always looks to make it easier.  (This is certainly a common practice  nowadays where many parents enable kids to death by being ‘helicopter parents;  but more on that in another post.)   I simply had a different view on raising kids, and certainly one with disabilities.

Since my main goal for Nava was for her to grow to be as independent as possible, then my plan of action was to encourage her to do all that she could for herself, even if it proved to be difficult.  

For it’s in the struggle that we grow and push out beyond our realm of comfort.   A beautiful example of this is the butterfly story.

When Nava was in rehab relearning every motor function, her physical therapy was pretty gruesome. It was also painful for me to watch her struggle, to stand for instance, each time vomiting because her balance was so off.  But she had to push through it to slowly get stronger and better at it.  And she did.

Having a goal and knowing where you want to go, helps you cope with the {difficult} means of getting there.

After Nava had an ileostomy, which requires her to wear a pouch, she went through months of being taught to manipulate this apparatus on her own.  I was not sure she could actually do this by herself because of her weak fine motor skills.  But with the help, encouragement, patience and coaching skills of wonderful ostomy nurses, Nava miraculously learned to manage her ileostomy completely on her own.

So what can we do to enable less and encourage growth more? 

Witnessing the struggle towards independence:

  • A You Can Do attitude
  • Take a breath and hold your tongue
  • Step back and watch the struggle
  • Patience
  • Hold tight onto your rescue hands
  • Verbally encourage and praise each step of the way
  • Guide, teach, but don’t do

What small struggle can you stand by and watch?

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Raising a Service Dog

 

I have been on the other side of service dog work.  Whereas my most recent interviewee, Ms. Brill, is assisted by dogs, I was a foster parent to a puppy, raising and training him to become a service dog. 

My husband and I started off applying for a companion dog for my daughter, Nava.  As I read  all the incredible tasks these dogs can learn to do to assist their owners, I began to have reservations about getting one for Nava.  The last thing I wanted was for her to become dependent on a dog and therefore become more passive and inactive.  She wouldn’t even have to get up to turn on the light or open the frig.  I decided this might not be in Nava’s best interest. 

However, in reading further, the idea of becoming a foster parent was quite intriguing.  How awesome to get a puppy at 8 weeks old and raise him for 1 ½ years to hopefully become someone else’s service/companion dog.  That seemed like such meaningful work to do and pass on.

Work – yes; purposeful – yes; separation difficulties – oh yes.

The yes’ won.  After the first couple of months, I was ready to give Yael back.  A pre-toddler-like child at his worst; never listening to ‘no’ and deciding he was running the show, I questioned my sanity in voluntarily taking on this additional workload. We called in the agency people and they suggested we take on some new tactics.  Out came the spray bottle of sour apple. I cringed just to spray it in Yael’s face.  But I did become the alpha parent.  My shoulder stopped hurting from his leading, tugging and pulling me along, as he learned to walk alongside me.

Two years later, Yael walked up on stage beside us, as we handed him over to his new owner – a little boy with cerebral palsy.  With tears in our eyes and pride in our hearts, “our” doggie was fulfilling his mission to become a service dog.

This rates up there as a very meaningful life event.  Despite the tremendous amount of work entailed (unlike parenting kids, Yael came with a large instruction manual) and the frequent difficult and frustrating times, it was well worth the time and effort to raise a “mensh” of a dog.

What kept me going when the going got rough? 

  1.   Sought out and learned new techniques/skills. 
  2.   Asked for help.
  3.   Stayed attuned to the goal at hand. 
  4.   Remained focused on the bigger picture – the ‘cause’. 
  5.   Held onto the meaning and purpose of what I was doing.

     

What has been a meaningful event in your life despite its hardship?

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I am pleased to post my third interview with Leigh Brill, writer, speaker and advocate for people with disabilities.  I read an excerpt from her new book, A Dog Named Slugger, in Ability Magazine, and was immediately drawn in.  Ms. Brill, who has cerebral palsy, has spent more than 10 years “in the company of service dogs”.

I contacted her and she graciously accepted to do this interview for my blog.

What qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

 I’ve been called stubborn at times, but I have found that my determination has served me well over many years.  I also like to think beyond the obvious limits in life.  That’s one reason I love working with service dogs-  our partnerships have helped me grasp the potential and power of creative problem solving.  I often depend on my sense of humor to keep a good perspective.  My dogs help with that too.

I’ve also found personal strength in recognizing that my life, my experience, is part of a bigger picture; my goal is to make the most of what I’ve been given while at the same time be part of a goodness far greater than me.

Did you/do you go through periods of self-pity?  What helped lift you out so you could see beyond it?

I feel the saddest about my situation when I look back at what I had to endure as a child.  I have an easier time dealing with more current issues because I have the benefit of a more mature perspective.  The best way I have found to deal with the sadness I feel about some of my past struggles is to make sure I use the gifts I have in my life now and try to make a difference for other young people who may be going through some of the same struggles I faced years ago.  That brings healing to other people and to me at the same time.

What thoughts propel you forward?

I have many blessings in my life.  Acknowledging them, and expressing thanks for them, is important to me.  That’s where I find strength to move forward, even if that means taking slow baby steps.

My service dogs also help me move forward, both literally and figuratively.  In addition to the mobility assistance they provide, they have each shared valuable wisdom. 

Slugger taught me that even the greatest challenges in life can hold the promise of something good.  Kenda inspires me to be mindful of the question: “What will I do with the gifts I have been given?”  And the newest canine member of our family, Pato, proclaims, “Live, love, laugh!” in everything he does.  With such lessons, I can’t help but move forward!

What are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you going strong?

I always try to remind myself not to over-complicate or worry too much about day-to-day ups and downs.  There is peace in taking life as it comes.  I’ve also found that pacing is good – if I stay in touch with my physical, emotional and spiritual self, I’m better able to determine the best way to spend my days.

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by loved ones who understand this; and in fact my loved ones are a vital part of my coping skill set.  I have discovered that life is much more positive and rewarding when I make a point of surrounding myself with the people and things I love.

Speak to your phrase of “making possibilities out of challenges”.

The question I often ask myself is: What will I do with what I have been given?  This applies to challenges as well as victories.  Personally, I wanted, I needed, to give some meaning and purpose to my congenital disability.  And writing A Dog Named Slugger allowed me to do that.  I guess I am too stubborn to let the hard aspects of cerebral palsy have the ‘last word’.  I choose to define myself not by what I must overcome, but by what I have the strength to Become.  I also believe that every part of life offers the promise of something good; and making possibilities out of challenges means reaching for that goodness, no matter what.

 What advice would you offer someone going through a tough time in life?

When facing a challenge, here are the points I try to keep in mind:

  • Breathe.
  • Stay in touch with yourself and who you are; do things that keep you grounded.
  • Remember that life holds a bigger picture than what is right in front of your eyes in this particular moment.
  • Find people and causes with whom you can connect and stay in touch.
  • When you need help, ask for it.  When you can give help, offer it.

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