Why a Roundabout Path Is More Than Okay

From fourth grade until about my junior year of high school, if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I proudly answered “Astronaut.” 

My goal changed. During high school, I took a class called World of Education. We spent four days a week, about two hours a day, assisting in a local elementary school classroom. That’s when I fell in love with teaching. And that’s when I changed my career goal.

That’s not how it worked for Leland Melvin. 

Leland Melvin isn’t like most astronauts. 

He didn’t grow up wanting to be an astronaut.

In fact, he’s the only astronaut who was also drafted by the NFL. 

He has had a variety of different experiences, and set-backs along the way, but still maintains a positive attitude and a desire to encourage others to reach for their dreams. You can read more about him in his memoir Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances. 

From a writer’s perspective, I didn’t particularly enjoy the book. Certain parts felt like they were missing something – a lack of introspection, personal reaction, and depth. 

From a reader’s perspective, the part of the story that stands out most to me is the circuitous path Mr. Melvin took to becoming an astronaut. In fact, he had never really thought of “astronaut” as a career possibility. 

It’s an important reminder, for me, and an important lesson to share with my son.

We don’t always know what path our lives will take. 

You don’t have to travel straight from point A to point B. It’s okay to take detours, to go in circles, to lose your place and start again.

Because you just may wind up among the stars.

Helpful or Hurtful?

Working my muscles – playing with my son at the playground.

“How long has it been like this? When did it start?”

My physical therapist asked me that at last week’s session as she was massaging my left leg.

“Nine years ago,” I said.

She made a “tsk, tsk” sort-of-sound. 

“It feels like you’ve got 10 years’ worth of tightness in here,” she said. 

She rubbed some more. “How do you walk around like that?”

“What other choice do I have?” I replied.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been going to physical therapy. Many years ago, a doctor had referred me to physical therapy. And the physical therapist discharged me after just a few visits, telling me that PT wouldn’t help me.

This time, my rheumatologist referred me because of “new” pain I described to him. After an exam, he believed I had injured my IT band, and now, because we had a specific injury to treat, physical therapy might help.

My physical therapist seems to wholeheartedly believe she can help me, but I’m skeptical. 

At my first appointment, my physical therapist told me I have a lack of flexibility and mobility in my left leg. 

I knew that already.

At the same time, going to PT has also given me a certain sense of validation. Someone else recognized and acknowledged my pain; someone else was able to “see” what is largely unseen.

I came home from my first appointment with my knees taped up. Later that afternoon, my eleven-year-old son told me it looked cooler on basketball players than it did on me.

I left my third appointment with more pain than I had when I began the appointment. 

Meanwhile, I’ll keep with it. I’ll continue going, partly because my insurance covers most of it, but also because I don’t want to entirely give up. At least not this soon.

Though at this point in my life, I wonder if anything can really help me. 

Plus, physical therapy is just more work. With the therapist, I’m working my muscles in different, and sometimes uncomfortable, ways. 

At home, I have my “homework” to do – a series of exercises and stretches I do daily. 

And there are days, when I’m just tired of it all. Tired of the work involved – of staying on top of prescription refills, appointments, and medical insurance. 

And I’m tired of the pain. 

Behavior To Be Proud Of

My little firefighter. Halloween 2013.

 

For the first several years of his life, my son didn’t want to go trick-or-treating.

Actually, for the first couple years of his life, we just didn’t take him. He was a baby. He didn’t eat candy.

But then Ryan got older, understood the idea of dressing up in a costume, and he still didn’t go trick-or-treating. Because he didn’t want to. 

One year we asked if he simply wanted to show our next-door neighbors his costume. He said no.

Now, though, we visit the homes of our closest neighbors each Halloween. Ryan always greets them with an enthusiastic “trick-or-treat” and says goodbye with a heartfelt “thank you.” 

Then we come home and sort the loot into three piles. A pile for Ryan. A pile for my husband. And a pile to donate. Some years the donated candy goes with my husband to work to be shared with his co-workers. Some years, Ryan and I take the donated candy to our local fire station. 

For Ryan, trick-or-treating has never been about the candy. Though chocolate is always available in our home, Ryan just isn’t a big candy-eater.

Likewise, Ryan didn’t learn that visiting Santa Claus meant asking for gifts until he was 5 years old.

We never told him. 

We visited Santa at the mall. Exchanged pleasantries. Wished him a Merry Christmas, and were on our way.

It wasn’t until Ryan was in kindergarten, waiting in line for his turn to take a photo with Santa, when one of Santa’s “elves” asked Ryan what he was planning to ask Santa to bring him for Christmas. 

Ryan looked at me in confusion. This was a brand new concept. Because up until then, we had always stressed the spirit of the season. The music. The decorations. The joy in finding the candle with the best fragrance for Grandma.

Ryan always received presents. Many presents. But they were always surprises. Nothing he had ever specifically asked for. 

Until that year. 

And even now, Ryan never asks for things he wouldn’t get. His requests are always reasonable. 

It makes me proud that as parents, my husband and I are raising a son who isn’t focused, first and foremost, on what people will give him (whether it’s Halloween candy or Christmas gifts). 

 

A Dangerous Question

My strong boy!

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for our family.

My eleven-year-old son, Ryan, was sick. 

Sick as in 103-degree-fever sick. 

Sick as in 2 different visits to the pediatrician’s office for same-day appointments.

Sick as in 3 absences from school.

Thankfully, it wasn’t anything more than a bad viral infection.

I am very relieved to say that he is feeling better. 

But in the midst of all that, of sitting on the bed together, of reading on the couch together, Ryan asked, “Why me?”

I tried to give him the scientific answer. He must have touched a doorknob, a chair, a stack of papers at school that had a germ on it, and the germ was passed on to him when he touched his face, scratched his nose, wiped his mouth. 

He wanted me to ask the pediatrician, and he got the same answer.

But back at home, as I smoothed the hair away from his forehead, he asked me again, “Why me?”

Why Ryan, indeed. 

There is no answer for that. 

Why Ryan? 

A boy who, just this week, earned a very high report card. A boy who, during parent conferences, a teacher told us, “You know, I wish I had 30 more just like him.” 

Why Ryan?

A boy who has already been described as “having a good heart,” by a coordinator at his middle school. An adult who has only known Ryan since August, but has already observed his good, kind ways.

It’s a dangerous question. Because there is no answer.

In the beginning, I used to ask the same question about my autoimmune disease. “Why me?”

For a while, I thought I was being punished. 

Then I thought I was being tested.

Now, I’m wiser (hopefully), and I know there is no point in asking “Why me?”

It just is. 

 

An Essay Collection for the Panini Generation

Do you remember the “Cathy” comics?

The famous comic strip “ran in newspapers 365 days a year from 1976 to 2010.” Now, the creator of Cathy has written a book. And it was her title, Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault, that first caught my attention.

I read through this collection of essays and while I didn’t enjoy them all, I did find several to be both amusing and relatable. 

This week, I’d like to share just a few of the “stand-out bits” that resonated with me.

From the essay titled “The Build-A-Boob Workshop”: 

Yesterday, the Build-A-Bear Workshop. Today, the Build-A-Boob Workshop.” 

(You’ll have to read the entire essay. It’s entertaining and rings oh-so-true!)

 

From the essay titled “Infidelity”:

“I woke up with the exhilarating urge to cheat on my Fitbit fitness tracker.”  

(Which made me think about my own personal essay about “breaking up” with my Fitbit. You can click here to read it.)

 

And the one that just screamed “Wendy,” from the essay titled “I’m Flunking Retirement”:

“They call it the ‘sandwich generation,’ but it seems much more squashed than that. More like the ‘panini generation.’ I feel absolutely flattened some days by the pressure to be everything to everyone, including myself.”

Here’s Why I Have a Complicated Relationship With My Legs

Do you have a body part, that only now, a bit later in life, you have learned to genuinely appreciate? A body part you now realize wasn’t nearly as “bad/flabby/unattractive/you-fill-in-the-adjective” as you used to think?

I have a complicated relationship with my legs, because sometimes they just seem like these “things” that are disconnected from the rest of me.  These limbs that aren’t behaving the way I want them to.  These appendages that are causing me nothing but trouble and pain.”

The paragraph above is taken from my recently published essay “Why My Rare Condition Puts Me in a Complicated Relationship With My Legs.” Click here to be redirected to The Mighty where you can read the essay in its entirety. 

 

Brave? Me?

LEGOLAND, March 2018 – Ryan and I were brave, riding the roller coaster!

A neighbor recently called me “brave.”

It temporarily stopped me, because I don’t consider myself a particularly brave person. 

I have lived my entire life within the same ZIP code. 

My first passport expired before I earned a stamp in it. And since then, I’ve had one international trip. 

But my neighbor spoke of my bravery in a different context. 

We were speaking, in very general terms, of my autoimmune disease. 

We were speaking, in very general terms, about my pain level increasing as the day goes on.

Yet, she sees me outside on a regular basis, sweeping my front steps and my back patio. Watering my plants. Going for a walk with my son. 

I don’t regard those activities as “brave.” They are merely the activities that make up a part of my days.

Am I brave? I don’t know. 

So I did what I usually do when I’m not sure about something, when I need more information. I looked it up. I used my computer’s dictionary to read the definition of “brave” – “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.” 

Am I “ready to face and endure danger or pain”? 

I don’t have a choice. It’s just what I do.

 

Slow and Steady

Galápagos Tortoises at the San Diego Zoo

 

Each morning, my fourth and fifth grade students began the school day writing in their journals, answering a prompt such as “What animal are you most like? Why? 

Lately, I find myself thinking about that prompt and wondering. 

What animal am I most like? 

I don’t know. I can’t narrow it down to one animal that is most similar to the person I am on a daily basis. Maybe because I feel like a slightly different version of myself each day, throughout the day.

And so begins my most recently published personal essay, “My Slow and Steady Path Forward With an Invisible Disability.” Click here to be re-directed to The Mighty and read the rest of the essay. 

Readers, I’m curious.  What animal are you most like? Why?”

I encourage you to share your responses in the comments section.

Announcing My Motto for Life

July 2019 – A memorable morning; a perfect example of “stubborn gladness”

I think I’ve discovered my mantra, or as close as I’ll get to having a mantra.  

Maybe mantra isn’t the right word.  

My motto. 

My slogan.

My maxim. 

Stubborn gladness.”

I discovered this delightful phrase while re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. 

This was my second read of Ms. Gilbert’s book.  The first time was three years ago.  That time, I read the book, used my highlighter to mark “stubborn gladness,” and that was the end of it.

This time, “stubborn gladness” grabbed me.  It stopped me from reading.  I attached a purple Post-It to the page.  And, surprisingly, it’s been my biggest takeaway from this read.

Ms. Gilbert explains that it is her destiny to be a writer.  “I’ve decided to meet that destiny with as much good cheer and as little drama as I can – because how I choose to handle myself as a writer is entirely my own choice.” 

She goes on:  “My ultimate choice, then, is to always approach my work from a place of stubborn gladness.” 

This time, when I read that passage I immediately saw its relevance to my life with an invisible disability.

I certainly don’t approach doctors’ appointments, lab work, and MRIs with “stubborn gladness.”  

And there’s nothing “glad” about daily pain.

But I most definitely, absolutely, positively approach my day-to-day life with “stubborn gladness.”

That’s the reason why I do the things I do.

The reason why I bought myself a new bike.

The reason why I go for neighborhood walks with my son and coffee walks with my husband.

The reason why I went horseback riding this summer.  (Before he started preschool, we took Ryan to Disneyland for a “big adventure.”  It’s the one and only time he’s been.  The summer before he started kindergarten, we took Ryan on his first hotel trip, spending a few days in Cambria, California.  This summer, before starting middle school, Ryan chose horseback riding as his big adventure.)

I do these things, big things and little things and everything-in-between-things with “stubborn gladness.”

Because I can’t change my health.  I can’t make my autoimmune disease go away.  I have to learn to live with it, to handle it, to live with my life as fully as I can – with “stubborn gladness.”

Sending Some Encouragement Your Way

September 12th is National Day of Encouragement. 

In honor of that day, I send this week’s blog out to you as a virtual hug.

Because, in the the 9 years I’ve been living with my autoimmune disease, I’ve learned that everyone is going through something.

We could all use some encouragement.  

A large part of the way I taught involved encouraging my students.  With a hug, with a high five, with a smile, with a positive word or two. 

But I can’t reach all my readers and look at you directly and tell you that I’m proud of your effort.  Tell you that I think you’re doing a great job.  Tell you to keep at it. 

Instead, I’ll share these words of encouragement that help me, and I hope they’ll help you:

“Faith is taking the first step even 

when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

“Believe you can and 

you’re halfway there.”    – Theodore Roosevelt

 

“Nothing can dim the light which shines 

from within.”    – Maya Angelou

 

“Believe anything is possible and then 

work like hell to make it happen.”   Julianna Marguiles

 

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters 

compared to what lies within us.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

“Promise me you’ll always remember:

You’re braver than you believe,

And stronger than you seem, 

And smarter than you think.”   

Christopher Robin, from A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh

 

And now it’s your turn readers. 

Share the encouragement. Pass along some words of support, of hope, of inspiration to someone else. 

Plus, you can help encourage me by sharing my blog. Tell a friend who may be interested in reading my weekly posts about books, boys, and bodies. Invite them to sign-up. Share it on social media.

I appreciate it!