The Unseen Journey

F966FA38-AB8D-4145-95ED-468F386F31C2             Today the sun is shining.  The weather is clear.  It is not unlike that fateful day five years ago when so much changed.  Then I was a “soccer mom.”  Every week was filled with trips to the practice field and weekends were coordinated around games. My daughter was dedicated and determined.  In her sports career of soccer and basketball, she had suffered injuries. It was a natural expectation in competitive sports. Play tough, have a setback, return.  I still keep a tiny remnant from one of her casts as a reminder to never quit no matter how often you get knocked down.  This was different.

 Everyone said concussions in soccer are among the worst injuries.  Yet, this proclamation was followed with the assurance, “but the chances of your child suffering such an injury is so remote, don’t worry!”  A year before that fateful day, my daughter had suffered a severe ankle fracture through the growth plate with joint damage after a player standing behind her in a penalty kick unbeknowingly, and purposely, placed her foot between my daughter’s feet so that if she moved, she was destined to fall.  Such is the risk in a game where coaches have taught their players to win at all costs.  Winning fairly is one thing. Winning using dirty tricks is another.  My mother stepped in to help with the doctor’s appointments and seeing the extent of that injury, she did not want my daughter to play any more.  She called it “too dangerous.”  In hindsight, mother did know best, but my daughter was driven to return to the field and the sport she loved, so we allowed her to sign up for another year.

 Everything seemed to be going well.  We were two games away from the end of the season.  No injuries.  In fact, injuries were not even in my thoughts.  The game was being played on our home field, an astroturf field, maintained in good condition in stark contrast to the many fields she had played on with ripped astroturf, divets, and a myriad of other tripping hazards.  The team they were playing was aggressive, but more than that they played by the “whatever it takes to win, and not get caught” strategy.  On several occasions the ref had raised his hand and yellow-carded (warned) several players on the opposing team.  Two minutes left in the game.  Our team was ahead.  The opposing team had kicked the ball. My daughter was a defensive player.  The ball was headed straight to her and she had a clear shot at heading it to her teammate. Out of nowhere, a player who had already received one yellow-card, raced at my daughter. The speed of the game disappeared and everything seemed to go into slo-motion. I sat in the stands and held my breath as the opposing player collided with my daughter’s head. The first shot, a head-to-head collision. The second shot, my daughter flying backwards and watching her head bounce against the ground, once, twice. And then nothing. She was down and motionless.

The referees didn’t even notice for a few moments, but her teammates had stopped playing and her coaches ran out on the field.  My motherly instincts wanted to race out to her as well, but even in that horrible moment, I was a rule-follower. No parents on the field.  I told my nine-year old son to stay with another parent and raced around the perimeter of the field as fast as I could.  The distance seemed to grow the further I ran and I felt as if I would never reach the team bench.  I kept running.  Finally, I arrived.  She had been moved off the field.  She was awake. A huge lump was over her forehead.  The coaches kept saying she would be fine.  I looked at my daughter. She was giddy, trying to brush off her injury, and asking to return to the game despite the lump and the ice pack being pressed against her head.  Natasha Richardson!! All I could think of was the story I had read about her fatal injury.  She had laughed, brushed off her injury, and said she was fine.  This time, my mother instincts were not going to be suppressed.

The clock had run down. The game was over. I helped my daughter to the car and grabbed my son.  Cell phone laws be damned. I called my husband at home and said to meet me outside with fresh ice packs and to get our son. All I could think was not wanting him to be a witness anymore than he already had. As soon as I dropped him off, I was going to take her to the Emergency Room.  We had not made it very far down the road, when she was in tears crying about the pain and the light.  My son passed a folded towel forward to put over her head.  I tried to focus on driving, silently cursing every light that slowed us down and wishing every other car would clear off the road.  This injury was different. I knew it with every fiber of my being.

We were brought into an examining room as soon as we arrived at the hospital.  The nurses accommodated her request that the lights be off in the room, but it wasn’t dark enough.  A blanket was used to cover her head and shield her eyes.  I sat silently by her bed praying as she underwent tests, prodding, exams, and medical staff spoke in hushed tones too soft to hear. The ultimate diagnosis was “concussion.” We were to follow up with our pediatrician and a neurologist.  The unseen journey had begun.

For most, recovery from a concussion takes days or weeks. Sometimes, it may be longer.  Then there is the small percentage of athletes who suffer a concussion and never recover. She had suffered a double hit to both the front and back of her head. In those brief seconds her brain had been knocked backward and then forward. The odds were not in her favor. June 8, 2014, began a journey down a long road of endless doctors appointments with specialists in all different fields; experts all claiming to have the answers or knowledge how to make life bearable; how to relieve the symptoms; how to eliminate one problem or another. They have done their best; used their expertise and knowledge; but to date, she continues to suffer from Chronic Post-Concussion Syndrome.

Today marks five years of countless MRI’s; x-rays; CAT-Scans; medicines; vitamins; therapies; exercises. Today marks five years of watching my daughter suffer debilitating headaches; memory losses; hand tremors; visual disturbances; imbalance issues; lost appetite;  depression; and unimaginable stress. Today marks five years of having to explain that she does not drink alcohol and that is not why she is falling down or stumbling. Today marks five years of trying to shield her from trigger noises that can render her helpless. Today marks five years of learning which foods and beverages make her symptoms worse. Today marks five years of having to explain to teachers and administrators that she has a disability even if they cannot see it.  I think that is the hardest thing of all.  An unseen injury on an unseen journey following a traumatic brain injury that friends and family alike have long since forgotten ever occurred.  But she can’t forget and neither can we.

There are times that I flash back to the days when she first started playing soccer.  Those early days of colored pinnies, tiny cleats, and my daughter running in the opposite direction from the ball because she didn’t want to get dirty when the field was muddy, seem like an eternity ago.  I  think back to those days when every player rotated positions and I pled with the coach not to put her in the goal because it was too painful to watch her practice gymnastics, sit on the ground, twirl about, and entertain herself rather than pay attention to the game.  And then I remember watching her take to the game. She practiced endlessly in the backyard. At the end of the third grade there were tryouts for the travel team.  The best players would be chosen.  When the call came that she had made the team, her love for the sport grew tenfold.  She was ready and willing to train, practice, and give her all every game.  I sat through cold winds; nor’easters, sweltering heat, and a myriad of weather to cheer her on. Over the years,  I drove thousands of miles between practices, games, and tournaments. I cleared space for the myriad of medals and trophies that accrued  and I kept that small scrap of cast that says, “never quit.”

She is still fighting the fight to make it back.  This time it isn’t to the field. The hope of that died five years ago.  This time the game she is fighting to get back to is the game of life; a life with a day without a headache, a hand tremor, a loss of memory, falling down, feeling depressed, or taking a pill.  I do not know where the next turn in the road will lead or what lies over the next rise. The journey remains as unseen today as it did five years ago.  I still pray. I still hope. I still believe in miracles. And, I still look up to my daughter as an inspiration because the cross she bears is a heavy one, but even through tears, she has carried it with strength, faith, and a determination that one day she will be able to lay down her burden and be cured.

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Pixie Dust and Parenting

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     Any lover of Disney knows that Pixie Dust is supposed to make experiences more magical and wonderful, in addition to granting one with the power to fly.  It is not so much the ability to go skyward, but to feel elevated with a feeling of euphoria known simply as happiness.  After all, the myriad of Disney locations are referred to as “the happiest place on Earth.”  So, this past week I found myself searching high and low for Pixie Dust, yearning to sprinkle it over the heads of my children and make all their troubles go away.  I failed miserably. All the love of a parent can’t always make things right. 

      No parent ever wants to pick up the phone and hear the abject anguish of grief in their child’s voice.  I was helpless.  I had no words to turn back the hands of time. I couldn’t erase the tragic truth. I couldn’t spare her from her loss of a friend who had made her a better person. In short, I had no Pixie Dust.  

       I know all the things that I did the past few days. I held her in my arms as she sobbed. I wiped her tears. I held her hand. I traveled with her so she would not have to face her loss alone. I propelled her forward when her legs threatened to fail her when it was our turn to offer condolences. I used every means of distraction I could think of to make the unbearable, tolerable.  Yet my maternal bag of magic held no Pixie Dust.  

       Over and over again she asked, why. I have no answers. I can’t explain something that I cannot understand myself.  I don’t know God’s reasoning. I can offer guesses. Perhaps He did not want her to suffer from Chron’s Disease any longer.  Perhaps she had touched the hearts and lives that He intended she touch and had fulfilled her purpose here on Earth even as we mortals look around at all that was seemingly left unfinished. My guesses are mere speculation. It is not my place to know. I was blessed with the gift of parenthood, but not a wand filled with Pixie Dust to sprinkle at all the right moments. That was never mine to hold.

          I have loathed that feeling of helplessness; the inability to create magical moments of happiness allowing my child to forget the pain and sorrow. And, then I remembered, I too am a child seeking answers. In the end, the answers lie not in the words of mortals, but in faith, knowing that the Pixie Dust of life is not sprinkled here on Earth, but in Heaven where there is no pain, no sorrow, no suffering. There God sprinkles his own form of Pixie Dust for those who trust, and believe. He heals the body, restores the soul, and embraces the faithful in His loving arms.  That is the magic that lies in my maternal bag of tricks; the ability to teach my children that the tears they cry today, will water the flower beds of eternity. My Pixie Dust is Hope, Faith, and Love.

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The Struggle is Real and Common

It has been awhile since I have written.  It isn’t for lack of words, but quite the opposite.  I have been immersed in a torrent of words that have flowed, swirled, and floated in and out of my mind.  At times they have crashed to the forefront only to dwindle and disappear much like a wave as it hits the shore; midway through a post.  At other times, my words have flowed like a mountain stream, but wisdom and conscience prevailed and I decided that pouring out my opinions onto a page was enough without sharing them.  Then there have been moments where I waited for my muse to appear only to discover that our schedules were simply not in sync.

It dawned on me that what I have experienced is something that many writers go through.  The ideas flow, crash, dissipate, rise again, or become nothing more than mirages in a desert of literary  granules.   It is a common struggle and one that is very real.  I often ponder how the multipublished seem to have an endless font of unique stories.  I ask myself, “where do their ideas come from?”  For every writer the source is different.  For some it is life experiences, for others it is life’s observations.  Sometimes success is born amidst failures like the phoenix rising from the ashes.  Characters from one story morph into a place or adventure they are better suited to.

When I first decided to write romance books, I thought I was destined to write Regency with an element of suspense.  I had the plot all worked out as well as the characters, and I even had sequels planned.  After all, I reasoned, I love history, and I had read countless Regency romance books to the point where I felt I could predict every potential plot.  I had grown familiar with all the locales of the period, the dress, the verbiage, and the customs.  I was wrong.  The elements were there, but not the voice.  I was echoing what I was familiar with, but my voice was missing.  Those stories are tucked away in a file which is exactly where they belong.

Recognizing what was missing is only half the battle.  The true crusade is finding your voice and putting it into your stories.  It is a lot like Don Quixote doing battle with windmills.  The effort is there, even if the antagonist is a bit unorthodox. I wasn’t even sure where to look or how I would recognize my voice when it passed through the words on a page.  Countless trees are grateful for the fact that there is a delete feature that erases the mistakes, misdirections, and the hapless accumulation of grammatical errors I am destined to make.  Yet, through the journey, I found my voice and the types of stories that my voice lends itself to.  Sweet Historical Western Romance, set in a mythical town where characters come to settle, come to  grips with their pasts, and find their happily ever after.

The inspiration for the first book in the series came at the most inopportune time.  I was sitting in my car at a light,  in my midst of wearing my parental taxi driver hat when it struck like a lightening bolt.  The names of my characters popped into my head and their conversation kept playing over and over as if they were on a loop.  Abigail and Jake. I could picture their interactions, their pasts, and their future.  Their story was written followed by book 2, William and Maggie’s story.  And, the plots for more have been mulling.  I, like my stories are a work in progress; subjected to much editing as I move onto the next phase of the writing journey.

The written word is as much an escape from reality as the words upon a page are for a reader.  They transport us to a world of our imagination; befriending our characters, and experiencing their emotional highs and lows. Their struggles and triumphs become ours as we strive toward an ending that is filled with joy and jubilance.  We become the crashing wave and the streaming river; filled with highs and lows, rushing currents and ripples that grow imperceptible and still.  We become the lifesource that is needed for our own survival and for the hope we can give to readers; taking them to our worlds and fulfilling needs we can never imagine.

I would be deceiving myself, and others, if I said “No, I don’t ever want to quit.” The idea of walking away has hit me often as I find myself treading to stay afloat; doubting my ability; and believing that no one would want to read my story.  Then I am reminded of the kind friends who have stepped into Hobart, Wyoming Territory with me and helped me to give Abigail and Jake eloquence and fascination. I am grateful for their inspiration and indebted to their faith in me.  They have enabled me to delve into the well and discover it is not dry, just deep. The struggle is not just one a new author faces, but even the seasoned ones.  There is no magic fix, but what I have discovered is that where there is dwindling, just dig deeper.  The words, the stories, and your voice are there waiting to bubble to the surface and immerse you.

 

 

We Have a Responsibility Too

In the wake of the horrific event in Parkland, Florida, the nation is once again divided, pointing fingers, and laying blame. It is so much easier to do this than to admit that the responsibility is shared and we may also be to blame.

It all begins at home. We are our children’s first teachers. They look to us for protection and security, as examples for behavior, and yes, as disciplinarians.

Stop and consider for a moment. Where do you believe your child is safest? The answer, invariably will be, at home. Using this as the foundation of where the narrative begins let us look inward and ask ourselves, what can we do to ensure that our child is safe from himself/herself as well as others?  The most difficult thing we can do is acknowledge that we might be doing it wrong or need help. All too often we justify, rationalize, excuse, or blame someone else for what our child has done or said. Yet, we need to be honest with ourselves, ask the tough questions, and then take the steps to do better.

1.  Do I know who my child’s friends are?

2.  Do I know who my child speaks to in social media?

3. When my child is on his/her computer, do I know what sites they are visiting, who they are engaging with, what they are watching, doing, or listening to?

4.  What music is my child listening to and what are the lyrics? Do I talk to them about this so I understand what message they are receiving from this music or why they enjoy it? And, what books are they reading?

5.  What video games, if any, is my child playing? Is it violent? What is it awarding points for? And, what is my child learning or what message is he/she receiving from playing these games?

6.  Do I engage with my child, spend time with my child, go places, share in their hobbies and interests?

7.  Do I engage with my child’s school and teachers to ask them what is my child doing during the school day; are they socially engaged; involved in class or extra-curricular activities?  Am I listening when the school says something is wrong and accepting that my child needs help instead of excusing or justifying the behavior?

8.   When was the last time I spoke with my child’s friends or their parents?

9.  Do I know my child’s passwords so I can see for myself what they are doing?

10.  Do I listen when my child speaks or read their posts? What are they saying, is it a cry for help or warning that something is amiss?

11. What are my child’s interests? Are they healthy, and safe?

12.  How is my child spending their time in and out of the house?

13. Am I letting my child fail so they know how to cope with disappointment in a healthy, constructive way when they grow up?

14. Does my child need help and where can I get it?

15.  Do I need help in handling/raising my child?

These aren’t easy questions to ask or answer. Parenting itself isn’t easy. Our children don’t come with manuals or guidebooks. They don’t fit a pattern and no two are alike.  We are human. We will make mistakes, but we can do better by being more involved, engaging more, listening, and being less afraid to be parents setting limits, saying no, and following our own moral compass regardless of what any other parent is doing with their child.  The conversation must begin somewhere. Let it begin at home and maybe, just maybe, we will be the ones to begin to make the changes we desire that will keep our children safe.

 

Two Voices, One Body

Every writer faces the same dilemma. How do I express my words, thoughts and ideas? How do I give life to these characters dancing about in my head and yearning to have their story be told? We separate ourselves from the reality of our circumstances and delve into the pages transporting us to new times and new places.  We immerse ourselves in the lives of our characters, experiencing their emotions and sharing in their journey.  In many respects we are no different than our readers, except we have control over how the story will end.

When we assume the persona of author, we have one voice that is focused on telling the story.  Yet, there is another voice we live with. It is the voice we use every day to speak with our family and friends, our colleagues at work, our neighbors. It is the voice we use to express our personal ideas, beliefs and thoughts. Try as we might, these two voices can conflict.

As a reader there are expectations and preconceived notions of who the author is and what they are about. Books are a form of escapism from reality and while we may struggle to disassociate our personal selves from our author selves, readers are less inclined to understand that there can be two separate voices.

These days the conflict among these voices is palpable.  Politics seems to have permeated and saturated every nuance of existence.  Even when we fight to suppress our political thoughts it is nearly impossible to do. Although readers, and others, may not understand, both voices are an inextricable part of who we are.  We can no more stifle the voice of our passions, beliefs and ideologies, than we can keep our characters hidden away and silenced.

Unfortunately, for many, the balance between the voices has shifted.  Whether consciously or sub-consciously, the personal voice has gained a stronghold against the professional voice.  Subliminal lines are being drawn where colleagues and peers are aware that if they are not in agreement they are viewed in a new light. The feeling of inclusion has been supplanted by a feeling of being less welcome.  There is still an overt effort in person to separate politics and professionalism, however, the veiled protection of the computer screen or mobile, is just that, veiled.

Just as it is impossible for the voices to be disassociated from the speakers, it is similarly impossible for the listener  to disassociate the voices. It is a strain to credit sincerity and genuine heartfelt welcome when posts and messages have been flooded with name-calling, and terms like “us” and “them.” When day after day you see someone write how members of one political party or ideology must be of a certain mindset, ilk, or attributed to believing in things or behaving in a way not necessarily true, it is difficult to ignore. Opinions change. Relationships are altered.

Two voices, one body. How do we distinguish them? Perhaps it is with introspection and objectivity, with candor and with honesty.  Perhaps it necessitates stepping back to strike the balance again between the voices. Perhaps it is by being less judgmental and accusatory in a generalized sense and more specific. Perhaps it is simply by using both voices simultaneously to communicate better or, perhaps it is simply by listening more.

 

 

If I Knew …

 

image     This past week a five-year old boy passed away in the arms of Santa Claus.  The last words he heard were Santa telling him he would now be “chief elf.”   Turn the page of the news and it is fraught with political angst and turmoil, fights and discord.  Social media continues to be plagued with negativity notwithstanding that this is a season of peace.

The differences among these stories is palpable.  I found myself asking a question.  What if I knew how many minutes, hours, days, weeks,, months, or years I had left to live? How would I want to spend my time?  What would I do?

I don’t know the answer.  In point and fact, I don’t want to know the answer.  Yet, the mere thought is jarring because it leads to the better questions. Am I using my time, my talents, my gifts, to the best of my ability? Am I seeking out the positive the world has to offer or focused on noticing the negative? Do I worry more about what isn’t done rather than feel a sense of accomplishment for what is? Do I complain too much that life is unfair or accept that my world is what I make of it? Do I appreciate what I have or dwell on what I don’t? Do I strive to see the glass as half full or do I fret that the worst is yet to come?  Do I think of others and their needs or am I selfish?

Life isn’t filled with guarantees.  There are disappointments, failures, setbacks, and heartache.  In an ideal world everything would be perfect, rosy, and we would always get our way. We would never know the pain that comes from things not working out the way we wanted or hoped.  However, life is also filled with joy, love, success, accomplishment, laughter, and contentment.  It is all a matter of perspective.

Do you cry because the stars fade away or celebrate because the sun has risen? And, when the sun sets do you, in turn, marvel at the brilliance of the stars twinkling above? Do you see that each provides a form of light?

That little boy passed away looking into the face of Santa. It was where he chose to be.  There he saw hope for children everywhere. There he found joy and happiness.  With his last breath he looked forward with an eye to a better future, a future as the chief elf.  It was a beginning not an end.

There is so much I can learn from that moment because sometimes children have the ability to teach us with a wisdom born of innocence. Children don’t know to hate. They are taught to hate. Children don’t know to give up. They learn to deal with failure, and disappointment by the way we teach them. Children are far more resilient than adults. Instinctively they let go, move on, and start each day anew.

If I knew what tomorrow will bring I know now what I would not do.  I would not waste a single minute painting a picture of doom and gloom.  Rather, I would open my eyes so I can look into the face of Santa Claus.

 

 

We’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

Have you ever seen the musical South Pacific? There is much to be learned from this World War II story.  In particular, Rodgers and Hammerstein included a song titled, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” which reminds us that fear and hate, especially of those who are different, is not something we do naturally.  These are things that are taught.

Whether we are cognizant of it or not, our words, our actions, our habits, our practices, our off-the-cuff comments teach our children.  They are what we learned from our own parents and, with the choice of free-will, we opted to include or exclude from the way we live and interact with others.  These things have influenced our religious and political beliefs, our morals and values, our feelings and thoughts, just as our own experiences have.

Understanding that we are products of our upbringings and experiences, as well as the potential influence we have on not only the lives of our children, but on generations to follow, it is time to stop and reassess what it is we are teaching.  Self-introspection is not easy.  It means facing and accepting that at times we may have been wrong.  When we speak in generalizations we are particularly vulnerable to error because we may be saying or doing something against those whom we never intended to offend, insult, critique, or oppose.

What a different world we would live in if we consciously taught tolerance and acceptance of differences, if we promoted inclusion,  if we spent more time exercising empathy and less time seeking to put down, isolate, and segregate.  What if we challenged ourselves and our children to sit with someone new at lunch and engage in conversation to discover that we are more alike than different.

Every one has a story.  Every one has a cross they bear that you know nothing about. We are all guilty of judging too quickly and projecting our own ideas and beliefs into situations without considering how unfair we are being.

Do you know why  she may seem to sit more often than stand? Do you know why the one over he is standing alone or quiet? Do you know why she is crying? Do you know why he was absent?  The scenarios of why are endless and the answers just as plentiful. Perhaps she is suffering from a pain or illness they never speak of as they quietly fight to overcome and endure, rather than complain.  Perhaps, he is grieving, worried, upset, or simply forgotten because no one took the time to make him feel included.  As for the one crying, it could be anything, pain, fear, grief, worry, loss, loneliness, etc.

We cannot assume to take on the burdens of the world as those are far too great, but we can lighten them by teaching kindness, offering help, inviting  and including, welcoming and understanding, discovering similarities rather than focusing on differences.

In a recent Facebook post I wrote, “we are all threads in life, but it is only when we are woven together that we create a beautiful tapestry.”

Don’t teach fear or hatred. Don’t teach our children to see the differences.  Teach them they are wonderful, but they are no better nor worse than anyone else.  Teach them to value their uniqueness and make it a gift to add beauty to another’s life.

What we choose to teach is critical. It holds the power to help, heal, and unite. A drop of kindness may go on forever. Yes, we’ve got to be carefully taught.

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