Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is the room spinning or is it just me?

Usually, I like my blog to be about ideas. About pulling them apart like cotton candy and examining them, but I'm preoccupied right now. So I'm going to share what has me preoccupied. It's a funny little personal story. If it isn't funny feel free to throw tomatoes.

Recently I started having dizzy spells, a couple times I thought I was going to faint. No feminine Scarlett O'Hara swoon, but an awkward kerplop. I have also had some chest pain and shortness of breath (minor details, I'm invincible remember?), so my doctor wants me to wear a heart monitor to see if heart arrythmias are causing the problem. No, that is not the funny part, hold those tomatoes!

I called the Cardiology people and they set me up with this "event monitor." And it has a name: the King of Hearts. Don't you love that? Some doctor out there has a sense of humor. That should have been my first clue of the crazy things to come.

It's pretty basic: two electrodes and a monitor that is just the right size to fit in my "fifth pocket" (translation: my bra). When I have an episode of dizziness, I just push a button and it records the "event". Simple. Oh, one minor makes this continuous beeping sound for about 60 seconds while it is recording. "Will that be a problem?" the nurse asks. I tell her it won't since I work overnight shift and the boys will be asleep. Oh, and "please bring this back. Some people don't, and it costs $1500." Gotcha, bring it back.

I admit I was a little nervous at first. Not nervous that it might pick up some arrythmia, but nervous that it would not. What if I had one of those "mechanic" moments. You know like when you take your car to the mechanic because it is making a strange noise. The mechanic test drives it and says, "Sorry, ma'am, we can't duplicate the problem." All the while, he is looking at you like perhaps YOU are the problem (loose wiring inside your head.) So I'm wearing the monitor and waiting...

Here is where the fun begins. I go to work and we get a call on the radio, "Girls Program requesting Back up." Remember I told you we don't "put hands on" on Overnight shift because there is not enough staff, so I mosey over there thinking there will be some "planned ignoring" or maybe some diplomatic negotiations ahead. (Yeah, right, emotionally unbalanced teenage girls do NOT negotiate.) When I got there, I found another staff member (from Swing shift, uh oh!) saying to two girls, "Ok, girls, your direction is to your rooms. I'm going to give you a five count and then we are going to put hands on."

As he is counting down, I'm thinking, "Hey, we don't do 'hands on' on this shift!" And, "ok, can I at least take off this $1500 heart monitor, first?!" I can't help but laugh to myself when I imagine what his reaction would be if I actually said that. "HEART monitor???" he might say as he turned pale. Fortunately, the girls went to their rooms, disaster averted. And no, I never told him.

The first "event" actually happened while I was home alone, so no problem. I started to feel a little more relaxed this won't be a "mechanic" moment after all.

The next time was more complicated. I was at work and wouldn't you know, the boys were not going to bed. I was sitting in the hallway near them doing my "planned ignoring" thing when it hit. This episode was pretty strong and I thought, "Oh no! The machine beeps." Once again, there was an imaginary conversation, "That's it boys, I've had it. I'm going to explode! When you hear the beep, you better take cover!" Maybe not.

Meanwhile one of the boys is talking to me, and I'm feeling dizzy and short of breath and not really listening so I mumble, "ok, whatever" (as all moms sometimes do). Discreetly, I push the button. The beep starts and I pretend I am engrossed in my book and don't hear it. The boys, however, are looking all around and trying to figure out where the noise is coming from. "Does he have an alarm on his door?" asks one who is opening a door that he shouldn't be and quickly closing it, I might add. I'm trying not to laugh...gotta be still for monitoring, you know. I guess even teenage boys get a little freaked out about unexplained noises in the night because they all got up and went to bed. That was handy.

The next "event" happened while I was in the library at my children's school. I had just sat down at a computer and several other moms, friends of mine, were sitting close by talking quietly with one another. Then it hit, dizziness, shortness of breath, pain in my left shoulder. "What timing" I think to myself and push the button. As the now familiar beep sounds, I hear the women around me wondering aloud, "What is that sound? Is that the computer booting up?" asks one. "I've never heard it make that sound before," says another. I just sat there staring at the computer and pretended I didn't hear anything, not the questions and certainly not the beeping sound. Afterwards, I thought about confessing, but nah, somethings are better left unsaid.

That night as I arrived at work a couple boys were fighting. The Staff were trying to keep them apart, and well you guessed it. We had to put "hands on". (I don't know why I keep telling you we don't do that on my shift, apparently we do.) The boy ended up on the floor in a "T restraint". I was kneeling on the floor holding the young man's left arm. Another staff member was holding his right arm, and there were two other staff members on his legs. Then all we have to do is wait until he calms down enough that he is no longer a threat to himself or someone else. No problem, we've done this before. guessed it. I started getting dizzy! "Shall I push the button now," I thought, not without some amusement. I wondered what the nice folks who lent me this $1500 equipment would think if they knew I wrestling on the floor with teenage boys? For that matter, what would my doctor, who recommended the heart monitor, think if he knew what I was up to? I think I'll keep that question rhetorical.

Still I haven't had one of those near fainting moments, so the King of Hearts and I will be spending a little more time together. Time enough for some more funny incidents, I'm sure.

You may be wondering if I will tell you the test results. Only if I can find a way to make a joke out of it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Shadows of memory

You never forget your first love, or the first time you were fired from a job (hopefully, the only time).

A friend of mine at work has recently been reunited with her first love. If there will be a happily ever after for them, remains to be seen. It has me thinking though about first loves. I confess; though I adore my husband, I still think about my first love now and then. I don't want to be friends with him though. Nope, I just want to know how he is, are he and his wife happy, did they have kids; the sort of things you write in a Christmas letter. In fact a Christmas Letter would be plenty. My first love and I were best friends, but it was an unrequited love. So yes, painful memories. I think all first loves are unforgettable, I wonder if the memories are bittersweet for everyone as well.

Likewise, I can't forget the first (and only time) I was fired from a job. I feel a some shame and pain in the remembrance of it even these many years later. The crazy thing is I hated that job. I was a clerk in a law firm, and multi-tasking was a big part of the job. I don't multi-task well, so it was not a match made in heaven. I was 8 months pregnant when they fired me, and my insurance was through my job so I was frantic. Remarkably, before the baby was born, my husband got a new job, with fantastic insurance that paid for the delivery (even at that late date) for less than we would have paid with my old insurance. I should thank them for firing me! And yet, I still feel a tinge of failure when I think about it.

Lost loves, lost jobs and other bittersweet memories are some of the things that shape us into the better person we are today. Unforgettable, they are like a shadow that grows longer at some parts of the day and shorter at others, but it's always there when you look back. Try to keep your face towards the sun and let the shadows of painful memories fall behind you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Who knew art could be so addictive?!

I'm thinking that I should rename my blog, Inspired by Dr. Rao. In the same post that he mentioned Bharathnatyam, he mentioned that there was a sunflower painting by Van Gogh that he had seen a thousand times and yet never tired of it. I was intrigued, and a little embarrassed that art had never moved me that way.

Still, there are books that I feel that way about. Well, I don't have time to read any book 1,000 times, but I love classic books because I can read them over and over and get something different out of them every time. If fine art could move me in the same way; I had to know!

So I went to the library and got a book. I settled for one of those books with the name everyone loves to hate, Art for Dummies. The author, Thomas Hoving, made a similar observation about being able to see a painting or sculpture over and over and still marvel at it. Even better he claimed that anyone could have this experience if they simply immerse themselves in art. He was even generous enough to say that one could start with clay frogs, and that gradually one's taste would evolve. With that encouragement, I went to the Internet to look at art. As a working mother of five, I couldn't just run out to an art museum! Being the impulsive person that I can be, there was no way I was going to mess around with clay frogs and hope my love of art would evolve. I just googled fine art. Why not jump right in?

Wow! I was almost instantly addicted. The amazing thing is that I have looked at fine art before and it didn't move me the way it does now. There is a quote by Clinton Fadiman that says (paraphrasing), "When you reread a classic you see things in it that you did not see before. Not that the book has changed, but you have changed." I'm grateful that I have changed into someone who can appreciate art.

Because I love people and cultures, I approached the art (this time) from that perspective. What was the artist trying to say? Why did he chose this subject, these colors, etc? More importantly I asked myself, what does this painting say to ME?

In hopes that you will also be moved to explore fine art, I would like to share some art that has captured my heart and why it moves me so.

Irises by Van Gogh I was at first drawn to this simply because I love Irises. What really moves me though is that Van Gogh painted this picture while he was in the hospital. It was a hospital garden. I remember one of the times I was in the hospital (in the past 3 years I spent a little over 3 weeks in the hospital...not not consecutively.) I remember during one of the week long stays being feeling very afraid about the future...if indeed there would be a future. I remember when the hospital staff let me go on a walk without a chaperon. I walked outside to a beautiful garden. The flowers, the sunshine, it was so uplifting. Sometimes words are not enough to describe a feeling, but it was a tender moment. When I look at Van Gogh's Irises, I am reminded of that time.

Starry Night Over the Rhone I love the stars. I love water. How could I resist this painting? I love the couple in the right corner. This reminds me of my husband and I facing life, both the storms and the sunsets together.

Maternity Before I started really looking into art, there was one thing I thought I knew...that I didn't like Picasso. I still don't have an appreciation for abstract art, but this painting by him is incredible.

Breakfast in Bed This is my favorite picture so far. To me it is a celebration of motherhood, which I love. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. So I will just let you see the picture, and hope you understand what I can't find the words to say.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tantrums...not just for kids anymore

After I wrote my blog entry about tantrums, I ran across an article about football player, Jeff Reed from the Pittsburgh Steelers throwing a tantrum over the lack of towels in a restroom.

I had to wonder if Planned Ignoring works for football players too?

And considering the recent news stories about Lindsey Lohan having a tantrum in the airport, Christopher Bale having a tantrum on set (he apologized) one must wonder, how old is too old for a tantrum?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Toddlers, Teens and Temper Tantrums

Mothers know that when toddlers melt down into a tantrum, often the best thing you can do is just ignore them until they calm down. There is no reasoning with them when they are in that state. Recently I have been pondering the similarities between toddlers and teenagers.

One of the cool things about my work is that there are a lot of trainings, and I love learning. Amazingly after all the trainings I have been to, my best tool is the one I learned from my own children when they were toddlers. Planned Ignoring. As a mom I never gave it a name, it was just something that I did. "Planned Ignoring" is actually one of the treatment tools we are taught to use in my work. It means just what it sounds like: ignoring bad behavior, and giving attention to positive behaviors.

Most of the time it works well and quickly: remove the negative attention and they calm down and go to their rooms. Teenagers obviously have more verbal ability than toddlers and they like to argue. Planned ignoring thwarts this as well. There is just no point in arguing or getting into a power struggle. Sometimes it is not quite so simple. The boy will sometimes take his bad behavior to the next level in an attempt to get attention. One night we were ignoring a boy whose main problem was that he was high on marijuana. When we ignored him, he walked into the staff office (a huge violation of the rules in itself), we pretended not to notice. Then he got some shaving cream and toothpaste (the boys hygiene supplies are stored in the office) and proceeded to decorate the office with them. If he had done that on Swing shift, they would have restrained him, but we don't have enough staff for that so we just kept ignoring him. Then he sat on a chair outside the office and sang to us and made squirrel noises. It was hard not to laugh at that point. Finally, he got tired and went to bed. Ah, relief!

I would like to tell you that we made him clean up the mess the next day. If one of my children had made that mess, that is what I would have done. However, he wasn't supposed to be in the Staff Office to begin with, and "inviting" him back in to clean up his mess was really not an option. Besides it needed to be cleaned up before Day Shift arrived. So he received some other (less effective) consequence instead. The point is he did go to bed. It took longer than we would have liked, but it worked.

The moral of the story is: the next time you ignore a screaming toddler who is in tantrum mode, remember you are not just a parent ignoring a child, you are giving him or her a therapeutic treatment. Don't you feel better already?

Toddlers, or teens, planned ignoring is powerful.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Well, Dr. Rao author of the blog "my thoughts" has done it again. He inspired me that is. In his recent post he mentioned Bharathnatyam, an Indian dance. You know I had to check that out! Please don't ask me how you pronounce it, you can direct that question to Dr. Rao. Enjoy the dance it is beautiful!


Yippee! Orion is back!

Orion, the name likely brings to your mind "Orion's belt" one of the more commonly known constellations. That is exactly what I am talking about, well not the belt but the whole constellation. I love it!

When I come home at night and he is right there over my house, it is as if he were a neon guardian angel. There are months that I don't get to see him though. You see the stars move on a a rotation about 4 minutes different than ours so there are times that I can't see Orion because he is "up" during the day. After a few months of his absence, I am always thrilled to see him again.

I have been fascinated with the stars for a long time. My fascination has its limits though. I want to look at them as a hobby, not a serious scholarly study. Most books written about constellations and astronomy are way too wordy and scientific for my taste. I just want to know the basics, you know, the fun stuff.

For years, I looked for a "good" (by my standards) constellation book. Notice I didn't say 'astronomy', I didn't want to get that complicated! I had heard a story about one of the constellations, and I wanted more of that sort of thing. It took awhile but finally I found it the perfect constellation book!

This book taught me many interesting stories about the constellations like this one: in Greek mythology Orion was killed by a scorpion. Asklepios, a physician who never lost a patient tried to bring him back. However, this alarmed Hades, the God of the Dead. (He didn't want to be laid off!) So Hades asked his brother, Zeus to dispatch Askleios. Apparently, Zeus was happy to help out, but in recognition of Asklepios' good work (sorry, you were great at your job, but I have to kill you anyway) he was put into the sky and his constellation is known as the Serpent Holder. Zeus also placed the scorpion near by in the doctor's honor. He was careful though to place the Serpent Holder and the Scorpion far away from Orion so there wouldn't be any more problems. Thus the Serpent Holder and the Scorpion are never seen with Orion because they are on opposite sides of the sky (that is a long time out!)

There are many other constellation stories like this one. To me that is part of the fascination of the constellations, first to know that I can look at Orion and a friend a couple states away can see it too amazes me, but then to know that people hundreds (thousands!) of years ago saw the same constellations and created stories about them, wow! That is better than an antique show any day!

Another thing that I found complicated about other astronomy books was the pictures. They show drawings of the constellations that look nothing like the arrangement of the stars! How could I remember that?! My "perfect constellation book" presents the constellations in a "dot to dot" formation so they actually look like their names! Genius! With "the perfect constellation book" in hand my children and I have spent memorable hours lying on the grass looking at star charts and the sky, making friends with Orion, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper, and others.

THE perfect constellation book was written by the same man that brought us Curious George! Isn't that something? Yes, H.A. Rey was a scientist. And yet he is best known for his darling children's books. I'm not very comfortable with what that implies about our society...but that is a discussion for another day.

The book is called simply, "The Stars: A New Way to See Them" by H.A. Rey. You can get it used for about $5.00 (including shipping). I can't think of a better way to spend $5.00. While I was checking out the price, Amazon reminded me that I bought this book in 2004, and I still recommend it to everyone who will listen. Not bad!

Orion, Cassiopeia and the others are waiting for you to pay them a visit!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


There are times when silence is golden. Three o'clock in the morning when you are pacing the floor with a colicky baby and he finally falls asleep, yep golden. Or after 10 pm, when you have 5 children and they have all gone to bed, on pretty much any given day. Perhaps the car ride home after a noisy basketball gym in a crowded and sweaty gym. Or my personal favorite, when you have earned the right to say "I told you so", but you don't, because you know and you know your spouse knows that you have earned that right and just a smile says it all. Yep, that is golden.

Far more often though, talking is much more valuable. Suppose I tell my friend that I had a meltdown, kicked the dog, threw the kids out on the curb, and locked my husband in the basement, (or at least wanted to) would I want the response to be silence?

Silence at that moment would be a condemnation. The best thing my friend could do is talk to me. Maybe she would say, "I've had days like that too." Ah, sweet relief!

That actually happened to one of my friends and I recently. We both had a "shove hubby down the basement stairs" kind of day. Talking about it and knowing we were not alone was the best kind of therapy.

So if silence is golden, talk is platinum.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mom guilt...every mother's shadow

Mothers vary in many ways, but no matter our differences, whether our families are large or small, whether our children are young or old, biological or adopted, we all share one thing in common. Mom guilt.

Last night, my mom guilt reached into my dreams. That was rude! In my dream, one of my children was missing (not one of the five darlings that actually share my life) but some extra child whose name I could not remember in the dream. Isn't that awful? The poor child was missing and I couldn't even think of what his name was. Taco? Paco? What did we name that boy? In my dream I felt a tremendous sense of guilt about this poor unloved child. I think the dream was motivated by a long night at work, helping out in a different "program" with teenage girls, whose names I did not know and whose antics did not create any desire to get to know their names...thus the unloved, nameless child.

Mom guilt is part and parcel of parenting. From the time your first child is placed in your arms it begins. It is like an invisible diaper bag that accompanies you everywhere you go. The decisions of parenting are sundry and varied and each bring the potential for mom guilt. I know many mothers that dread Mother's Day...not me, who could resist breakfast in bed and homemade cards? Many Mother's dread it though because they go to church and they hear talks about wonderful mothers and they slouch down in their seat certain there is a neon sign pointing at them that says, "doesn't measure up!" So instead of a day of feeling appreciated (at last!) for an often thankless job, they feel even more mired down than before.

I don't know what the answer is (don't tell my kids I used the forbidden phrase). I started writing this with hope that I could somehow lift your burden of mom guilt (and my own as well.) But alas, some problems are not resolved so easily. What I can offer is this:

Knowing that we all suffer from Mom guilt, be free with your praise and thanks to other moms you know. Tell them the great things you see them doing, even if you think they already know. I guarantee they are beating themselves up over something!

Give yourself permission not to be perfect. None of us are perfect, and yet we almost kill ourselves trying to be! I work with teenage boys in foster care. For the most part their stories are tragic. Most of their parents deserve a healthy dose of mom guilt (and yet, I can't help but wonder, what tragedy made them they way they were...), but the point is, you are doing better than that! Your children are fed, clothed and most importantly loved beyond measure. Isn't that what we are here for?

Will you make mistakes? Of course, you will! But you are doing your best and loving those little ones (or grown up ones) that share your life and that is all anyone could ask for.

So give yourself a break. Take a nice long bubble bath (with a good book, of course) and realize that you are a great mom! Greatness does not mean perfection, and that is ok!