Sunday, November 6, 2016

1968 - Frightened at Five - Film at 11

I was walking with my daughter taking our morning constitutional on a brisk fall morning.  The leaves were starting to turn and the sky was a calm blue.  I tried to keep my mind focused on the positive – the beauty around me and how blessed I am to have my sweet children and a loving husband.  But for some reason I felt panicked.   I felt lost even though I knew exactly where I was.  I started to think about the election and the twinges of panic started to build – that helpless feeling I used to get in my parent’s living room when I was five waiting for dinner and seeing very disturbing images from Vietnam on the evening news with Walter Cronkite. 

At five, I wondered how adults could watch such a show – a show at that young age that I knew was real and not pretend.  The newscasters would talk about the war and good kind men like Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy Jr. would try to make the world a better place.  I liked both those men – they were dads and with big families like mine.   But sitting in the living room holding my Barbies, the world which should have seemed ordered became very unpredictable. 

I would see and hear terrible stories about the IRA (Irish Republican Army) who creating acts of terror in the name of my culture and religion and innocent people were being killed in the crossfire.  I was afraid that somehow because I was in this country and those things were happening in Northern Ireland that people would think my family was part of those acts just because we were Irish and Catholic.  I would imagine it’s the same terror an American Muslim child feels when something bad happens in the name of Islam either in this country or other places. They feel that they will be blamed because they share that same religion but like me would never raise a hand to hurt another human being but the stigma of being part of group that was actively trying to bring down the status quo in a very violent way is there.

I was afraid that my older brothers would be drafted into a hell hole that would not allow them to leave alive or if they survived they would not be the same people that I loved.  My mother threatened to send them to Canada if they were drafted which put my father who was a veteran of World War II in a bind because in his heart of hearts he knew that he could not send his sons over there.  Luckily, the war ended before they were old enough to be drafted. 

As adults we seem to forget that current events can leave its mark on our children and the terror that I felt in 1968 when the world seemed so upside-down is probably the same that our kids feel now with an election that is filled with frightening predictions no matter who is elected, a year of mass shootings, talk of deportations, race riots and the threat of armed insurrections after election day. 

For instance, I remember my older sister Kathy was having a slumber party the night that Bobby Kennedy was shot.   My child-like mind loved that the girls were going to play games and my younger sister Sharon and I got to have M&Ms in Dixie cups in our room just like the teenage girls.  Then the news came through and I distinctly remember seeing a brick wall and police sirens and red lights.  My mother was crying because another Kennedy had been shot and it brought back the memories of November 1963 which was also the year I was born.  The next morning the girls in the slumber party awoke to the news that Bobby Kennedy had died at 4:44 am.  

The day before my 5th birthday on April 4, 1968 – Martin Luther King was shot and killed.  Ironically Robert Kennedy was the voice of reason in Indianapolis when he had the terrible job of announcing the passing of MLK to a crowd that was not aware that he had been shot.   His words were pure eloquence and helped keep that town from rioting when so many cities were plunged into chaos in those days after the assassination – here are some excerpts from that speech:

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with -- be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, and he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.
My favorite poem, my -- my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past, but we -- and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

And let's dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

1968 saw too many good people cut down their prime – not just the Kings and
the Kennedys but fathers in Vietnam who would not live to see their child’s next birthday1968 was the most expensive year in the Vietnam war with the US spending $77.4 billion ($527 billion by today’s standards) on the war. The year also became the deadliest of the Vietnam War for America and its allies with 27,915 South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers killed and the Americans suffering 16,592 killed compared to around two hundred thousand of the communist forces killed.  Compare that to 4,486 U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq and 2,345 U.S. soldiers who died in Afghanistan during our current conflicts.

As adults I think we assume that our children don’t pick-up on the world around them outside of their school, after-school activities and latest shows on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.  We try to protect them from the bad things that go on outside, but they do pick-up on what is going on- with all the wall-to-wall coverage and the inevitable election they are seeing our anxiety no matter which side of the isle you sit on.  I knew my parents were upset about the things with the war, gun violence and race relations.   It was tough trying to reconcile why anyone would think sending young men to the dangerous jungles of a foreign land to fight people we didn’t need to have a fight with. The sights of Vietnam from the news are still locked in my memory and the terror of those images as a five year old is stored and accessibly managed from the safe distance of 48 years hence and the assurance of my parents that everything would be okay even when they had no idea if it would be.  But that’s what American’s do – we pull it together and get it done when we need to and many times we’re there for each other – that’s our baseline.   

Our country has endured a Revolutionary War and the redux in the War of 1812,  the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the McCarthy Hearings, Civil Rights, Vietnam War, Watergate, Dessert Storm, Hanging Chads, 9/11, the War on Terror and any number of mass shootings – and somehow we managed to work together and get through it.  I remember crying in the aftermath of 9/11 outside a building and having a stranger give me a hug- I didn’t even have to say why – it was just understood.   Yet here we are 15 years later and the vision of American could not be more far apart between the Trump and Hillary supporters.

Just as much as I want to put on my game face and tell my kids that it will all be okay – I’m not entirely convinced it will be.  I remember people worried that the election of a black man would cause racists go to nuts and there would be carnage in the streets – but there wasn’t. 
A co-worker of mine at the time told her husband to get their boys from school  because now that there was a man of color in the White House the black kids wouldn’t listen to their white teachers and there would be gang fights everywhere in the suburbs.  Of course that didn’t happen (although race relations has been dealt several set-backs over the last few years.)

The transfer of power during the election of 2000 was a perfect example of how our democracy works.  It didn’t work out in my political favor but there were not riots or calls for an armed overthrow of the government.

But even as I despair about the divisions here in the US, I see hope in an unlikely place like Vietnam.  It’s now an international tourist destination – beautiful and a foodie haven.  Recently Anthony Bourdain went there and not only visited some wonderful restaurants but showed how US Vietnam vets where making peace and getting closure.  John McCain - a man  who was captured and a prisoner for five years in Hanoi - was instrumental in getting relations normalized between the US.  In fact the Vietnamese people in their 20’s and 30’s have never even known war – that’s how far that country has come.  When I saw that on CNN – I cried because if a country that lost so much over 40 years ago can move on – so can we.

So considering all we’ve been through America – are we up to the task of this election?  Can we look past diatribes and demagoguery to make a rational choice for president?   Are the next four years going to be nothing but each party blocking the progress of the other?  Will our children be able to sleep knowing that the adults have it under control? These questions have been keeping me up at night and there are no easy answers – I wish there were.   My optimism has dimmed but maybe we’ll rise above the pettiness of this election and forge a new path and show the world we’re better than what they’ve been seeing on CNN and FOX .  That’s my prayer and the thing I’d tell that frightened five-year old both now and back in 1968. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Finding Amber 2

It was Amber's 20th birthday - the birthday that straddles the winding river between teenage-dom and adulthood. My sweet daughter - true to nature wanted to go to Skate Country and spend the day with her sister skating and having icees and pizza.  We figured that on a summer afternoon on Friday the place would be open and didn't bother to see if was before we left the house. 

We drove up to a completely empty parking lot and learned that the skating rink was only open at night.  Quickly recalculating, I said - "Hey do you want to see Finding Dory?  I know I have Group-Ons for it."  Both girls gave a resounding "YES!" and we were on our way.  

I have blogged before about what the movie Finding Nemo had meant to me.  I had seen it with Amber in 2003 when she was seven and had been diagnosed on autism spectrum for four years at that point. Here is the link for the original blog.  Click here to read Finding Amber .  We had seen the movie again in 2012 and it touched me as a parent of a child with developmental disability and how far our journey had come: from Amber's first diagnosis as a toddler,  fearing that she would not be able to take care of herself, over compensating by doing everything for her and worrying about how people would treat her.  So here we were in a dark theater getting ready to see Dory's journey as a fish with short term memory loss and her flight into adulthood.  One of the really cool things was the audience was not so much composed of little kids but of teens who loved Finding Nemo and wanted to relive the magic of that first movie. 

As the young sweet little Dory works up the confidence to ask questions of her parents or other people - she must always preface it by "Hi. I'm Dory. I suffer from short-term remembery loss."   She also worries that she's constantly letting her parents down.  Of course, I got the feels immediately.  The sight of this sweet little thing trying to find her way in the world hit home and having to apologize for her disability was heartbreaking.   Her parents try to keep her safe but a rogue current carries her away and she is lost.  Unlike Nemo, young Dory can't remember exactly where she lives and as years go by, she starts to forget who her parents are.  It's a worst case scenario for any parent but for a mother of a child with a developmental disability it exposes your worst fear.   You then see Dory over the years - growing  up, constantly asking for help, explaining her disability and swimming further away from home.  Eventually, she meets Marlin and helps him find Nemo. 

It didn't dawn on my then, but in Finding Nemo, you had two characters with disabilities who had to take control and eventually help save the day when most people would have written them off. I was so focused on Nemo and his handicap that Dory seemed more of a comic foil than a character who was also struggling with her own challenges.  But her way of handling life actually made sense - she had confidence in herself because she didn't have any other choice.   When Marlin talks about wanting to protect Nemo from everything her response is a wake-up call to any overprotective parent:

Marlin: I promised I'd never let anything happen to him.

Dory: Hmm. That's a funny thing to promise.
Marlin: What?
Dory: Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

When I first saw this - Amber was a child and the idea of her

being out in the world was theoretical - it would be years before she would be on her own and it was just something I didn't want to deal with at that point.  I just wanted to keep her out of harm's way, keep her from getting her feelings hurt from kids who might make fun of her, keep her from trying something new that she might fail at and feel embarrassed.  But the reality was that I wasn't so much protecting her - I was protecting me.   The idea that the world would not embrace your child because they are out of the norm is scary so you overcompensate.   You answer for them, you do as much for them as possible to soften the blow of anyone hurting them.  

There are so many plans that you make from the time your child is born - the birthday parties, the dances at school, the first boyfriend, the prom date, the wedding day.  Then you are told that they are on the autism spectrum and will go on the special education track.  The idea of how they will be as an adult one day is sidelined so you can get them from pre-school, to kindergarten, to grade school, hoping they can make it through the challenge of middle school and then high school.  At graduation, they will get a special education diploma which means that after 12 years of school they still need to take a GED to get into a community college or get a job.  You see the posts from parents who spend the spring of their child's senior year on social media wondering if their child got into the college of their choice.  You are just hoping that your child will be able to find a job, find an apartment and make ends meet.  You worry that you need to plan financially to still support them in adulthood and provide for them in your will to help them when you're gone and pray that her sibling will keep an eye on her finances.  It's pretty heady stuff to deal with when your kid is just getting out of their teens.  

As time goes on - you realize that your plan was just that - an idea but that nothing is set in stone.  You have a chance to create something out of the norm and because there are so few books about girls with autism.  You realize that you are going to have to make it up as you go along.  A plan is not really something you can ever really count on and you have to take things day to day.  Dory exemplifies that and says rather forcefully at one point, "I've never had a plan in my life!" 

For us control freaks that line seems like heresy. How can you never have a plan - how can you go through life without knowing how to get from point A to point Z - there always has to be a plan for God's sake!   But as Dory explains further,  “The best things happen by chance."   So I reflected on that quote and having a daughter who has what the world perceives as a disability - autism.  She is in my life to teach me that the most wonderful things happen when God laughs at your plan, throws it aside and gives you something incredible that you might not be able to comprehend at the time.  

Amber cannot be simply defined as someone with a disorder, a disability, or a disease - she is my daughter and one of the sweetest, kindest people I've ever met.  While some signs of autism, particularly Aspergers, can seem like the person you love is not connected and can be obsessive/compulsive - we've been lucky that Amber's symptoms are pretty mild and how they manifest are different in girls than boys.   She gets jokes, has a sense of humor and loves animals.  She still has a hard time making eye contact but her social skills have come a long way since she was younger.   She's rarely given me any type of female teenage drama that most parents must endure.  I can count on one hand the number of times that she's ever rolled her eyes and said "Whatever!" 

In a recent interview, the director of Finding Dory Andrew
Staten explains how he sees Dory and how he wanted to bring in her back story and relationship with her mother and father.  "Her parents don't try to change her. They just want to help her own who she is. Being a parent and seeing my kids grow up and enter the world, I realize that all kids are born with certain temperaments, flaws, quirks — and it will probably be who they are. You probably spend most of the time worrying about those things as a parent, too — you don't lose sleep over the things they do well. The best quality I could give Dory's parents is that they never doubt her." 

At the end of the day, I think most parents worry if their kids can make it on their own.  If we've done our jobs hopefully they will be creative, independent and loving people you've always prayed they would be.  Dory, even in light of her short term memory, is strong, smart, loyal and can even speak whale.   To quote Dory, "You have to let go and see what happens," because despite your best efforts - you won't be around forever no matter how hard you try.   And when that day comes - hopefully you'll have a good laugh with God about your plan. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Guide to Women’s Rooms for #Trans-Phobs and other stuff

As a mother of a trans daughter, it amazes me that some people believe that men are going to use the trans-bathroom issue as an excuse to throw a skirt over their Johnsons to accost us.  I thought I would give the law makers of North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, South Dakota and Wisconsin, as well as the Arizona Department of Education a tutorial on how women’s and girl’s rooms actually work. 

Okay, so you know how women usually travel in packs especially to
to the restroom right?   You see the lines going out the doors because there is very little downtime in a ladies’ room.  Do you actually think we are going to stand by and watch a man accost a young girl or woman on our turf?  REALLY?!!!??  I mean have you ever seen a cat fight between two women – that is nothing compared what we would do a man that was posing as one of us and then trying to assault a little girl.  It would be bad, super, super bad.  Really.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – for you men – those tampon or napkin dispensers that are on the wall –simply for show.  We actually keep those supplies in our purses.  So while we are in the bathrooms not only do we plot total world domination but we get vital training.  Because those dispensers have weapons and switch blades in them so that if the event a man posing as a woman with a skirt over his Johnson tried to hurts us – we have the training to slice his Johnson in half.   

Now many of you legislatures might be thinking that “Wow – I have never heard of that.” There’s a good reason – it’s because we’ve never had to use it because it’s a 100% myth that a man dressed as a woman is going to attack us in a public bathroom. You’re trying to legislate against something that does not exist. 
Let me tell you what does exist – in encounters involving trans people in bathrooms, you know who does get attacked? Trans people. A survey of 93 transgender adults in DC found that 68% had been verbally attacked in a public restroom, while 9% had been physically assaulted. Over half of trans people developed health problems like urinary tract infections from avoiding using bathrooms in public.

Another survey found that 70% of trans respondents reported being denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms.
And ironically, it’s anti-transgender legislation that will put men — transgender men — in women’s restrooms, and transgender women in men’s rooms.

Not only that – most women bring their young sons into the ladies room rather than having them go into a men’s room unattended.  Are you really going to tell an already stressed out mother that her five year old son can’t be in the women’s room because his gender does not fit those perimeters.  God help the cop or security guard that tells a mother that.  Seriously – snip, snip.
For you educators that are also fighting the federal government over the use of bathrooms by transgender students, a study by Georgia State University has connected anti-transgender policies with increased suicide rates among transgender students.

Now I realize that in 2008, many of the trans-phobs got freaked because Barack Obama was elected president by a majority of Americans and in 2012 he was re-elected by a pretty decisive margin.  There were not hanging chads like in 2000 when the election was between two white guys. But this is the year 2016 and trans-phobs - you can’t tell people where to go to the bathroom – you lost that right in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. 

The Federal Government is telling states if you discriminate against transgender students in schools - you will lose Federal funding for your state education program under both Title 9 and the Equal Access Act.  So now some of these states like Texas want to make it a State’s right issue when it comes to transgender students and their access to using bathrooms and are suing the government.   REALLY!!  

Let me back it up another 100 years from the Civil Rights Act to the Civil War when the Federal Government had to let folks know that you could not use “States rights” argument to justify enslaving another group of people because it’s just wrong on every level – there’s no defense for it.   It took a Republican like Abraham Lincoln and four bloody years of fighting to bring the country back together after over 620,000 people died in a conflict that never should have happened.  He’s probably spinning in his grave that now that his party is supporting all this state’s rights crap.  

But there are people like the Target Lady who has 12 kids and wants
wants to use the bible to legislate.   Let’s back it up to 1776 where we had the Revolutionary War in which we fought England to separate church and state to insure that all men are created equal and entitled to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.   Another fun fact, our founding fathers wore wigs, ruffles and hose so maybe being trans is actually guaranteed by our constitution.

Look, my daughter is one of the sweetest kindest people I know.  When she uses the bathroom she uses for the same reason we all do to just pee and nothing more.   She’d be the first one to bring down anyone who wanted to hurt a child in a bathroom.

If you want to put your righteous indignation to something real that helps children - how about the fact that 13.5 million kids in our country do not have enough food to eat.  That’s one in five kids in the greatest country in the world who go to bed hungry.  For the law makers in Mississippi – it’s 29% or roughly one in three kids in your state – if I were you I’d be more focused on getting your constituents help for something that really exists like hunger rather than a fake problem made up by homo-phobs.  Now that summer is here – many of those kids won’t have access to subsidized breakfast and lunches that they do during the school year which makes their hunger more of a crisis.

Heck – 12 children bible totting anti-Target Lady – I’ll stand by your shoulder to shoulder if you take community hunger on as a cause and we ask people who are shopping  at Target to donate groceries to their local food banks and your first Starbucks is on me.

So to recap, you can’t segregate people by bathrooms as per the Civil Rights Act and Title 9.  Mothers are probably going to bring their young sons into the bathroom because they don’t want to expose them to a men’s room.  Let’s work to stop something real like food insufficiency in this country. 

And if a guy comes into our public bathrooms with a skirt over his Johnson and tries to assault us- we ladies can handle it and by handle it I mean cut his penis in half – so we got this REALLY!!

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Fine Art of Failure

I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed.”      - Booker T. Washington

was doing some research on a completely unrelated topic when I stumbled across a Psychology Today article called “Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges” by Dr. Peter Gray.   It spoke to the fact many students are starting college without basic life skills to help them handle adversity or even (gasp!) failure.  It’s a result of controlling parents who either push their kids too hard to be successful or refuse to see their own child’s foibles and blame everyone in sight for their own parenting misdeeds.  

These well meaning parents have been orbiting their children for years to prevent any adversity including dealing with disappointments or even simple life challenges to darken their child’s door. One university reported that emergency calls for counseling had doubled over even the simplest disagreements such as a student being called at bitch by her roommate or dealing with finances for the first time.  Two other students needed counseling after they called the police when they spotted a mouse in their off-campus apartment.  The officer was kind enough to set a mouse trap for the errant rodent.  

My question is not so much what has happened to kids these days but what the

hell happened to us as parents that made us  think that by wrapping our children in emotional bubble wrap we could keep anything bad from happening to them?  I’m not talking about abduction or sexual assault.  No, I’m talking about dealing with the consequences of being a total dumb ass - forgetting to do your homework, not studying for tests, forgetting to do things that they promised to do and just not knowing how to be a good friend because being self-centered takes precedence.  Where has the disconnect come between the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millennials?  Why can’t we let our children fail or stand to lose when clearly they were bettered by an opponent with a higher skill level?  Why does everyone have to be a winner and get participant ribbons?  The very notion is pulling down the whole idea of success.   If our children don’t have obstacles - how will they grow?

Take learning to walk.  Now, your parents could have coaxed you, could have held your hands while you took those first tentative steps but through trail and error - you finally figured it out.  They didn’t get on the ground and lift one leg up and down for hours and days on end until the synapses figured out how to accomplish this basic life skill.  Babies get up, they fall down, they get up again, they fall down.  Sometimes they think it’s funny - sometimes they get frustrated but eventually they figure it out in their own time.  It comes from failing hundreds if not thousands of times until the light comes on and then one foot goes in front of the other.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been around a baby or toddler at the moment that they finally figure it out but the look on their face is nothing short of pure joy - the moment they develop that first sense of autonomy.  It’s a bitter sweet moment for parents - it’s the first of many steps that they take away from us.  Maybe that reality is why some of us work like hell to make sure they are never too far.  

We're reaping the effects of making sure our children have every advantage and
over schedule them to the point the have little down time to examine who they are because each block of time is devoted to baseball, football, soccer, ballet, piano, etc.  They are expected to exceed and when they don’t - it’s not because they might lack the drive or talent but it’s because the coach, the teacher or the director is not giving them a fair shake.  Worse, some parents are doing their children’s homework to keep their grades up while they are rushing from one activity to another.  The reality is that is that facade will crack - the test grades will prove that the brilliant insights these kids have at home for some reason do not transfer to the classroom.   Further, because of those schedules, they are not expected to do housework, clean their rooms, learn how to do laundry or cook because it’s done for them.  

Then when it’s time to go off to college and Mom and Dad are not scheduling every hour - they are at a loss.  The parents struggle with that separation because while they’ve been running them everywhere - they have not developed outside interests so when that empty nest presents itself both parties are at a loss as to what to do.   They both mourn the loss of this phase of their life but rather than move onto the next phase they are stuck.  Parents are literally calling college professors about poor grades the same way they did in grade school and totally unaware of how frankly messed up this is.  The kids feel unworthy at the dawn of any adversity and the rate of depression among young adults is at an all time high.  A  2012 Healthline article written by Michael Kerr found that:
  • 1 out of every 4 college students suffers from some form of mental illness, including depression
  • 44 percent of American college students report having symptoms of depression
  • 75 percent of college students do not seek help for mental health problems
These statistics keep some college professors from giving bad grades for fear of causing emotional distress that can lead to serious psychosis.  As a result, colleges lower their standards because they are afraid of lawsuits resulting from nervous breakdowns or suicides.  Of course, this is not news to teachers who have been seeing this trend for years and now those overly protected children are off to college no more able to handle things then when they were in the sixth grade.   

Which is why we need to sit our kids down and tell them it’s okay to fail.  It’s okay to try something new and not hit it out of the park the first time at bat - hell it might take many times at bat to even make contact with the ball.  That’s okay - it’s life and not everything you try to do is going to go perfectly the first time or the sixth time or the 100th time.   It might even be good to abandon the whole concept of perfect - it just doesn’t exist.   Sorry you A-type personalities, you can try for excellence, you can try to go beyond the parameters of the project but it will never, ever be perfect - so let yourself and your kids off the hook.  Studies have shown that many successful CEOs and American Presidents were actually C students who could see the big picture rather fixating on small details that just slowed them down.   Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were C students as were John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and George Bush both Jr. and Sr.  

One of my colleagues told me recently that her son was asked to do a paper on a historical figure and one of the paragraphs had to be a time that person faced adversity or failure.   That is an important lesson for kids to absorb - that greatness is not achieved overnight and it can be a lifelong process.  Here’s a short list of great people who failed many times before they finally got it right:
  • Thomas Edison tried 1,000 lights prototypes before he finally was successful creating the light bulb. 
  • Albert Einstein was expelled from school and refused admittance to Zurich Polytechnic School. 
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a TV reported because she was “unfit for TV.”
  • Dr. Seuss’ first book To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected 27 different times. 
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California film school three times.  
  • Elvis Presley was fired after one show at the Grand Old Opry and told to go back to driving a truck. 
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team but it didn’t stop him
    from pursuing what he loved doing. "I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Success takes risk and risk comes with failure.  I’ve bombed on stage more times then I’ve felt like I’ve done a good sketch and I’ve been doing comedy improv for almost 30 years.  But I learn so much more from the stuff that tanks than I do from the scenes that are a hit.  Failure helps me figure out what audiences want and by eliminating the parts of scenes that have failed in the past - it helps me figure out what will work in the future.  

“Success requires passion, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to understand the value of failure.” - John Haltiwanger, Elite Daily

If we don’t allow anything to happen to our children then nothing will ever happen for them.  The reality is that failing is part of life - it should not be feared - it should be embraced as part of our learning process.  As parents we must give our kids room to fail and give them a soft place to fall.  Just don’t rob them of the opportunity to take that leap of faith because falling before you reach the other side is half the journey. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Sonny Side of Life

The first time the kids and I saw Sonny is was at a shelter called CatNip Cottage.  We were looking for a companion to our tuxedo kitty Skittles who had just lost about 1/3 of his tongue in an accident and was now permanently regulated to being inside.   We felt bad and wanted to find him a companion to make up for the friends he was losing on the outside. 

I had researched places to adopt kitties and found this lovely shelter that had a website where you could look at videos of the cats before you went to adopt them. Sonny’s profile had the headline “Instant Purrer” and in the video you could actually hear him purring.  His on-line bio stated that he had been abandoned with his sister in a box at a stop sign in Alpharetta.  Some volunteers noticed the kittens and brought them to the shelter.  Sonny’s sister was adopted first and he was left there just waiting for a family to love him.
So on that Fourth of July weekend eight years ago, we went to the shelter after selecting him on-line hoping that our hunch would be correct- that this little kitty would be the right match for the cat we had at home.  The woman at the shelter opened the crate and this little black and white cat immediately walked up to Amber and licked her face.  We were smitten and knew immediately he was meant to be part of our family. 

We brought him home and our other cat Skittles was not so sure- he hissed and spat at him.  Sonny took it in stride and didn’t answer back – realizing this other feline was the alpha cat.  We reassured Skittles that he was still our baby and by the end of that Independence Day weekend – they were grooming each other and the best of friends.
Amber finally had a cat who she could put in a baby blanket and hold like an infant.  Sonny would gladly oblige because being loved by his girly bear beat being in a shelter any day.  Skittles realized there was someone who actually liked playing baby-time with Amber and it took the heat off of him. 

As Sonny grew – he got taller than Skittles, but he never forgot the pecking order.  One time I saw them both standing at a door that was closed.  Skittles looked a Sonny who got on his hind legs and tapped the door until it opened – he then waited for Skittles to walk through before he also went inside the room.   It was hilarious and almost a little cartoonish but that was there relationship and Sonny never pressed his size over Skittles.  
Then one day four years later, Skittles started to not feel well and was losing weight.  We tried doing everything we could to help but nothing – even feeding him with eye droppers and making kitten glop seemed to help.  I had just been laid off and we just didn’t have the money to take him to a vet to find out what was wrong.   Sonny stayed by his friend’s side even grooming him because Skittles didn’t have the strength to do it himself.  He was pretty weak and I gave him a bath to make him feel better.  We were posting updates on Facebook and people were sending prayers.  The next morning he was gone.   After we said good-bye to our little cat, our Son-bear would lay down in the spot on the rug in our bathroom where his friend had died.  He often stayed there for hours at a time. 

In the months that passed, Sonny became more serious and not as playful because he
missed his friend.  People like to dismiss animals as not having good memories or not capable of grief but he was grieving.  He visited all the places that his friend used to go in the house to hide from the chaos that two kids can bring about.  He did start to jump up on the chairs or even the table at dinner time and wanted to be part of the conversation.  He wouldn’t try to steal food (at least not most of the time) he just wanted to be included in the conversation.   He would still tolerate baby time with Amber but it was more out of duty then being playful. 
Four months later on New Year’s Eve, we decided that like Skittles, he needed a friend to play with and went to the same shelter were we had adopted Sonny.  This time it was a six month old white kitty named Vanilly who was ironically the last cat to be adopted out of that shelter since they were closing their doors.  We brought him home in a pink pet carrier.  He was afraid to come out of the little box since he had spent almost all of his short life in a shelter not used to the sights and sounds of an actual home.    Sonny was near-by wisely trying not to scare this new-comer who warmed up to him and after a few hours left the security of the carrier and began to investigate things.  He started to play with Sonny who played back but without the vigor he had before Skittles died.  He felt more like the elder statesman and Vanilly was the young brash cat who had a knack for knocking things over and running to Sonny for help.

Many times Sonny felt like more of a dog than a cat.  He’d beg for lettuce even though he was well over 20 pounds.  He would sit on the couch 
and watch TV with Amber or make a hammock under the lining in Danielle’s box spring and hang out there.  He would come when I called and asked him to "see mommy."  On Sunday nights, he’d come upstairs and watch Desperate Housewives with me.  I would actually turn to him and ask if a specific plot point seemed weird – he’d just look at me and meow in agreement.   When DH went off the air, he’d sit and watch The Walking Dead with me, Max and Amber or Breaking Bad with us on Netflix.   More than anything he wanted to be part of what we were doing.   Many a morning, I would wake up to find Sonny at my feet – touching my toes while purring in his sleep.
On Max’s 50th birthday, Sonny started to choke on a piece of food.  Max was home luckily and gave him the Heimlich maneuver and the food was expelled but for a minute there it seemed too late and Sonny got limp as if he was dead.  Then he came back while Max was holding him.   After that day, he was seemed to be his old playful self, bopping Vanilly on the head, pinning him down and chasing up and down the stairs – all of which Vanilly loved and thanked him by grooming him on the head.  Our best guess was that he was dead in that minute but the angels and Skittles sent him back knowing how heartbroken we would be if he left us. 
Sonny also had a knack for being the center of attention and when I would record my Princess or Ann Coulter videos, he would jump on the chair I would be using with the lights blaring – ready to perform with me.  I’d write parts for him such as The Royal Kitty; Ann Coulter’s Stupid Cat named Stupid and most recently – Sister Mary Cat in a web-series about a rogue Nun who says what she thinks and ends each segment with a chat with her beloved kitty.  It would amaze me how well he would put up with me and the cameras but he seemed to genuinely enjoy it.  And as far as acting partners go, he was one of the best I’ve ever worked with – on-time, hitting his mark and always knew his cues.  He also was not distracted by his cell phone which also helped speed up the production process.  He also looked great on camera.

A few weeks ago while getting ready for a visit from the Vice President and High Holidays at the synagogue where I work, Max called me to tell me that he thought that Sonny we not feeling well.  That morning I had seen that one of the cats had gotten sick on the carpet but didn’t think much of it since Vanilly does that from time to time.  I got home and tried to see what was wrong.  He seemed to be dry hacking and spitting up.  Later that night, he went into the bottom of our master bathroom shower and just wanted to stay there.  I tried to get him to drink but he was not having it.  He had been sick before – in fact when he choked and Max saved him – he was having hard time getting food down.  He spent the night in our bathroom and was purring but not really connecting too much with us.
I woke up that morning and tried once again to get him to eat but he was not interested which for a 20 plus pound cat is not normal.  I asked Amber to keep an eye on him and she said around noon that he still had not moved much.  This time around – we had the money to take him to the vet’s office so I made an appointment that afternoon.  Max picked him up and brought him in a laundry basket because being the big boy he was – we did not have a carrier big enough to bring him.  Max called me and let me know that the exam revealed that he had a blockage in his bladder and that they could unblock it and he should be fine.  I felt a huge sense of relief and moved some money so that we could pay for his care. 

When I got home – he seemed out of it from the procedure so I just figured it was the anesthesia.  I sat down and got him some water which he started to drink and really it felt like we had turned a corner.   That night – he wanted to stay in our bathroom and we brought in his litter box, food and water so everything was in one place.   The next morning he was still groggy but again I figured he was still wiped out from the vet's office.  I brought him into bed and told him how much I loved him.  I got ready for work and asked Amber to keep an eye on him and see if he managed to get something to eat.  We had a case of special food and antibiotics to give him that the doctor had prescribed.
I was in a meeting all morning and when I got out – I called home and Max answered.  I was surprised and wondered if he came home for lunch to see how Sonny was doing.  I asked if he was doing okay – Max paused and said “Sonny passed away about 30 minutes ago.”  I lost my breath and I uttered a very loud “NO!! NO!!” over the phone to the point that a co-worker came in to see what the matter was.  I told her that Sonny had died while trying to keep from completely losing it.   Max told me that Amber had called him after she checked on him and he was not breathing.   He cancelled the rest of his meetings and went home.  He was not sure how to tell me.  I told him I would be home early from work that I could not leave immediately but I would cancel the rest of my appointments as well.  I went into the bathroom and closed the door.  My body shaking because I had just lost a very dear member of the family.  I managed to pull myself together – do the rest of my work and get some checks signed to cover the Vice President’s visit.  I was amazed at how well I was able to function probably because I was still in shock and the reality had not really hit me yet – maybe it was just a colossal mistake and he would be just sleeping when I got home.  Once I was in my car, the tears started to flow and the song “See You Again” played.  I just let it play as the warm salt of my tears flowed down my face.  I got home and asked Max where Sonny was.  “He’s actually in the same place that Skittles died.” 

I went upstairs and saw my sweet little guy – looking like he was asleep but obviously was not.  His pink nose was now gray.   I touched his fur which was still soft but his purr box was silenced.  Max said that he would wait until the kids and I said good-bye and that there was a special place in the garden just for him – next to Skittles and Coogy – a stray baby cat we tried to nurse back to health but who died 10 days after we found her.   I told him how much I loved him and how much I valued his friendship.  I talked about the shows we watched, how wonderful he was to Skittles and Vanilly and how much we were going to miss him.  I had the kids come in to say good-bye.  They talked to him too and petted him – Danielle even got some of the fur and put it in a plastic bag.  I wanted them to see that death could be peaceful and not something to be afraid of. 
I told them how lucky we were to have known him and at least he didn’t suffer for long.  He knew we loved him and that maybe God found a family that needed someone like Sonny to help them and that’s why he was called away from us and back to heaven.  Souls like Sonny are very rare and there is only just so much to go around.   At the point that we had said all our good-byes – Max wrapped him in our best golden towel and buried him under the rose bush in our garden. 

That night I hugged my family a lot tighter.  We sat around saying how on Sunday, Sonny was jumping on the counter, drinking out of the faucet and chasing Vanilly and now on Wednesday night – he was gone.   This one really hit hard.  Skittles had been sick a long time so at the point that he died, it was sad but not unexpected.   We had Coogy just 10 days so while losing one so young was tough – we had only known her 10 days  We had a cat expert tell us that something was wrong – her mother sensed it and left her behind – so there was nothing more we could do for her but love her and make her comfortable.  But Sonny was a huge blow – we just thought we had more time with him.   We tried to do right by him - we had money to get him the medical treatment he needed. The vet assured us that he would be fine in a few days but it was not even 20 hours after the appointment and he was gone. 
In the days that followed, all of us would veer from sad to sobbing to feeling better and then feeling bad that we did not feel worse.  That’s the nature of grief – it’s not consistent and you never know when you’ll go from laughing to crying.  I wondered if Sonny had been living on borrowed time after he nearly choked to death and if God had extended his time with us because we needed to learn more from him.

Some of my greatest teachers have been my pets.  They give you love and understanding and see you as someone worthy even when the world can make you feel lower than pond scum.   They teach you how to love, how to care for something greater than yourself. They teach you that miracles can happen – that animals like my cat in college Gizmo can survive being hit by a car and falling off a third story balcony, that Skittles can survive losing 1/3 of his tongue and that Sonny can get the Heimlich and come back to life.  They teach you that life goes on and while you may swear that you’ll never get another pet and open yourself up to that kind of heartache – the universe sends you another creature to love just as much but without forgetting those blessed pets that came before whose lessons will help you become a better person.
Their greatest gift is to teach us how to deal with their loss so when we lose someone that we truly love and feel that searing pain that brands our hearts which seems impossible to overcome - we've learned there will come a day where you can talk about that person not in sadness but about all the wonderful things they used to do that made you happy, that made you love them and as long as you have that – they are never really gone.  They are as close as that blessed memory.

Yesterday, we were pulling into the parking lot at Target and we saw a little stuffed bear in front of us that looked like it had been left behind by a child.  We put it up on the cart area so that if the person who had lost it came back they would find it.  When we came back 90 minutes later and the bear was still there.  We decided to take it home rather than have someone throw it out.  As I put the little stuffie on the dashboard I realized he was waving to us.  I then started to cry because we used to call Sonny our little bear and as much as some people think the universe is random – this sign was not.  It was Son-Bear saying “Hi- it’s me and I’m fine – tell everyone I said hello and I love them too.”   That seemed a fitting message and wherever possible – I’ll always try to see those little miracles whenever they pop-up.  That was my friend’s greatest lesson - to always look at the Sonny side of life.