For this weekly blog of mine, I generally write about one of three B’s in my life:
– Books (because a writer must also be a reader)
– Boys (mainly my fourteen-year-old son)
– Bodies (living with my autoimmune disease, an invisible disability).
Last week, it occurred to me just how much those three are often connected and inter-related.
Let me explain.
Last week at this time, my family and I were in Maui.
This was a big trip for us. The last time my husband and I were in Maui was for our honeymoon, twenty-three years ago. Our son had never flown before, and I hadn’t flown since before my son was born. Which means I hadn’t flown since my UCTD (undifferentiated connective tissue disease) diagnosis. Add in my worries about COVID, and you can understand why I went into this trip with a great deal of anxiety. At the same time, I was determined to experience the trip as fully as I could.
Which is where the B’s come into play.
In terms of books, I brought one book and one magazine with me. I didn’t read nearly as much as I thought I would. There were no days spent lounging by the pool. There was too much to see and do — including a visit to the Barnes and Noble in Maui.
When it comes to boys, my son was much more adventurous than my husband. During the planning stage of this trip, my son had told us he hoped we could go parasailing and ziplining in Maui. I had been parasailing once before, many years ago, on Catalina Island. That time, my husband was an observer, not a participant. And he opted for the same role this time around.
It was because of my son that I pushed my body as much as I did.
Parasailing? Me? Yes, definitely. The parasailing itself didn’t cause additional pain in my leg. The only pain and discomfort came from getting in and out of the boat. But, it was a small price to pay for the incredible experience, as my son and I rode tandem and admired Maui’s beauty from such a unique perspective.
Ziplining? Me? Yes, I think so. Neither one of us had ever gone ziplining before. We signed up for an eight-line zipline adventure that promised to be something neither one of us would forget. I worried that I wouldn’t pass the knee and ankle check that takes place before we’re loaded into the van and driven into the hills. (On my waiver, I did disclose the information about my illness, and I did pass the knee and ankle check. The woman who observed me and gave me the final clearance reminded me to just go slow and hold your son’s hand to help you.) The actual ziplining wasn’t nearly as hard on my body as the hiking and walking from one spot to another. And I admit, I did slip and fall during one of our walks — thankfully, no injuries or scrapes.
What an awe-inspiring experience we had. Views of the Pacific Ocean if we looked one way, views of the West Maui Mountains when we looked the other way.
I felt strong, something I don’t always feel.
Because on this same trip, I did something I had never done before. I used a wheelchair. A very good friend of mine had encouraged me to take advantage of the wheelchairs available at airports. Don’t waste your legs standing in line and walking through an airport, she said. And she was right. But it still didn’t make it any easier for me to ask for that accommodation. In fact, I waited for the day before our trip to submit the request.
We did a lot of walking during our trip. (Sand is so hard to walk on!) We did some hiking, too. There was so much to see (chickens and roosters in parking lots, waterfalls, flowers), so much to admire (sunsets, rainbows, puffy clouds), and so much to be grateful for (our trip, our safety, all that my body can still do).
And we each came home with one more book than we left with.
I use quotation marks around bad, because it’s a subjective term. My bad habits could be someone else’s “no-big-deal” habits. And they’re not bad-bad, they’re just things I could improve on.
1. I leave the printer on. Long after I’m done printing, I often forget to power it off.
2. I push through and keep to my schedule regardless of how I’m feeling. If Wednesday is my day to Swiffer the floors and vacuum the area rugs, I do it. Regardless of my pain level, I feel I must maintain my schedule.
3. I buy too many books. I have so many books on my shelf, waiting to be read. My “want-to-read” list on Goodreads numbers in the hundreds. Some of these books are written by authors whose other books I have enjoyed. Some are books I bought after listening to the author talk on a podcast or interview of some sort.
While this doesn’t mean I plan to stop buying books, it does mean I’m aware of the situation. And the lack of available shelf space.
How about you, readers? Any “bad” habits you want to share? Do you find yourself buying more books than you should?
Which means he’ll soon be a freshman in high school.
When I was pregnant, and right after Ryan was born, everyone told me his childhood would pass by quickly. “They grow too fast,” my mom often said.
My mom, as she tends to be, was right.
High school will be a new experience. And what is new can also be intimidating and scary. Yet I have no doubt that my son is ready. He has a good head on his shoulders and a kind heart. Plus, he and his classmates have done something never before done — they spent their middle school years in the middle of a global pandemic. (Ryan was sent home in March of 2020, as a sixth grader. He returned to campus in August 2021, as an eighth grader.)
Yet, in case he, and other graduating students, need some encouragement, I offer these famous words from Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
“You’ll look up and down streets. Look ‘em over with care. About some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’ With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”
“Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footy as you. And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.”
“You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”
“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.) KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!”
“It’s good,” I said as I held it up and showed it to the barista. He had just brought out my blended mocha and set it down on the table for me.
“It’s about Giannis, the basketball player,” I said.
“Oh, basketball,” he said it with a bit of a question in his voice.
It might not seem like a book I would pick up. Especially if you checked out my Goodreads record and saw the last book I read was Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date.
I try to alternate, reading fiction and nonfiction. And when it comes to nonfiction, I enjoy reading memoirs and biographies. Because I believe everyone has a story. The specifics may vary, but in those specifics you tend to find the universal.
On the surface, Giannis and I don’t have much in common.
But that’s okay. That’s more than okay. That’s why books are so valuable. They give us the chance to take a peek at someone else’s life. To realize the many ways we are similar. To acknowledge that what you see on the surface is rarely the full story.
My family and I are basketball fans. While we always root for our Los Angeles Clippers, we are admirers of the game and those that play with heart and soul.
In The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams with Gail Hudson, Dr. Goodall describes hope as “what enables us to keep going in the face of adversity. It is what we desire to happen, but we must be prepared to work hard to make it so.”
This book was written during the pandemic, a time when it sometimes felt like all we could do was hope; hope to stay healthy, hope to stay safe, hope for a vaccine.
This is a powerful book with a powerful message, and this week I’m sharing some of my favorite passages.
“You won’t be active unless you hope that your action is going to do some good. So you need hope to get you going, but then by taking action, you generate more hope. It’s a circular thing.”
From Douglas Abrams, “I was surprised to learn that hope is quite different from wishing or fantasizing. Hope leads to future success in a way that wishful thinking does not. While both involve thinking about the future with rich imagery, only hope sparks us to take action directed toward the hoped-for goal.”
“The trouble is that not enough people are taking action,” Douglas Abrams said. “You say more people are aware of the problems we face — so why aren’t more trying to do something about it?”
“It’s mostly because people are so overwhelmed by the magnitude of our folly that they feel helpless,” Jane Goodall replied. “They sink into apathy and despair, lose hope, and so do nothing. We must find ways to help people understand that each one of us has a role to play, no matter how small. Every day we make some impact on the planet. And the cumulative effect of millions of small ethical actions will truly make a difference. That’s the message I take around the world.”
“Jane’s stories affirmed that when we feel we can make a difference, and we’re given the means to do so, positive outcomes can happen that in turn allow hope to prevail. It was a powerful example of what the research had found contributes to hope: clear and inspiring goals, realistic ways to realize those goals, a belief that one can achieve those goals, and the social support to continue in the face of adversity.”
“From talking with Jane and doing my own research, I was starting to see that hope is an innate survival trait that seems to exist in every child’s head and heart; but even so, it needs to be encouraged and cultivated. If it is, hope can take root, even in the grimmest of situations…” from Mr. Abrams.
“Well, I always knew I had a gift for writing,” Jane added. “From an early age I was writing — stories, essays, poems. But I never thought I had a gift for speaking. It wasn’t until I was forced to make that first speech, and found that people were listening, and heard their applause at the end, that I realized I must have done okay. I think many people have gifts that they don’t know about because nothing forces them to use them.”
“That when the trials of life come, you’ll be given the strength to cope with them, day by day. So often I’ve thought at the start of a dreaded day — having to defend my Ph.D. thesis, giving a talk to an intimidating audience, or even just going to the dentist! — ‘Well, of course, I shall get through this because I have to. I will find the strength. And, anyway, by this time tomorrow it will be over’.”
Readers – I wrote this blog post before the horrific school shooting in Texas. I wrote this blog and now am re-reading it with a broken heart. Hope — it’s more than just wanting things to change. I hope my son will grow up reading about gun violence in history books, as something that used to happen, not reading about it in the newspaper because gun violence remains a current event. Hope involves action. For me, now, that takes the form of voting. Continuing to Vote in Every Single Election. And I hope my readers feel the same way.
Words are powerful. What you say, and how you say it, have lingering effects. And I’m not just talking about words spoken to someone else. Also included in this list are the words we speak out loud to ourselves (I’m not the only one who talks to herself, am I?) and the words we think to ourselves.
We know this.
But sometimes, something happens that serves as a flashing-light reminder of just how true that is.
Last week, I had two such incidents.
My neighbor and I were chatting and catching up. She’s almost forty years older than me and was talking about some new pain she’s experiencing in her lower back/side area. Thankfully, all x-rays came back fine, no problems identified. She found herself in a situation that I know all too well. Tests are negative, big problems ruled out, but still no answers about what’s causing the pain and no clear direction given on how to alleviate the pain.
“I tell you, living with chronic pain is no fun,” she said.
“I don’t know how you do it,” she said.
I bit my tongue.
She went on a bit, describing the discomfort, and again said, “I really don’t know how you do it.”
I looked at her and said, “I don’t have a choice.”
I do it, I live with chronic pain, because I have to. Because there is no alternative.
And though not her intention at all, and though I’m not fully sure why, her words got under my skin and bothered me.
The second conversation occurred the next day, during a telehealth appointment with my rheumatologist. Near the end of our conversation, I asked her about a trip my family and I are thinking of taking.
“We’re thinking about going to Hawaii,” I said. “But I haven’t flown since before my son was born, and he’s 14. I haven’t flown since I have this condition. And I’m worried, because of the blood clot I had after my biopsy.”
(In case you missed it, I had a second biopsy in September 2020. A “routine” procedure that was supposed to provide some answers to my rheumatology team. No answers, and I developed a “very rare” blood clot in my left calf. You can read about it here.)
She answered my questions, told me some things I could do before, during, and after flying. And then she said something that has been on repeat in my head since she said it.
“Oh, go, you need to have some fun.”
And that advice, given with a smile through a screen, was encouragement and validation I hadn’t realized I needed.
Here are some of the quotations that stood out to me:
“Every single child has boundless promise, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money their parents have. We’ve got to remember that.” – National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, November 2016
“I never cut class. I loved getting As. I liked being smart. I liked being on time. I thought being smart is cooler than anything in the world.” – Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, London, April 2009
“We can’t afford not to educate girls and give women the power and the access that they need.” – Mulberry School for Girls Skype conversation, June 2015
“Women in particular need to keep an eye on their physical and mental health because … we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own to-do list.” – Real Health magazine interview, November 2007
“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” – 60 Minutes interview, February 2007
“You don’t come up with the right answer if everyone at the table looks the same and thinks the same and has the same experience.” – White House screening of Hidden Figures, December 2016
“In those darkest moments, you will have a choice: do you dwell on everything you’ve lost, or do you focus on what you still have and find a way to move forward with passion, with determination, and with joy?” – Oregon State University commencement, June 2012
“What matters are the true friends you make, the activities you throw yourself into, the books you read, the skills and knowledge you acquire. Those experiences — the ones that make you stronger, smarter, and braver — are what really matter.” – People Magazine essay, October 2014
Sophie Cousens wrote that book. Just Haven’t Met You Yet is the delightful escape I was hoping it would be. But it’s also more than that.
This week, I wanted to share some of the passages that really moved me.
“Ted looks thoughtful for a moment, then he says, ‘Someone told me that growing up feeling loved allows you to go on to love other people. Maybe love is simply a huge chain letter, passed down through the generations. The details of the stories begin not to matter’.”
“ ‘She was a part of me,’ he says softly, the pain palpable in his voice. ‘When you are with someone for a long time, you grow into each other, like adjoining trees with tangled roots. It’s hard to extricate yourself and find the part that’s left — who you were before’.”
“ ‘This is not something that gets better,’ Gerry says with a calm smile. ‘So, if I can’t look back, and I can’t look forward, I’m forced to live here, right now. Today I can sit around a campfire and talk to my friends. Today I can watch the sunset, even if the outline is getting hazy. Today I have made a new friend and I’m enjoying her company and her vibrant conversation.’ He makes a single, slow nod in my direction. ‘The Roman poet Horace said Don’t hope or fear, but seize today, you must! And in tomorrow put complete mistrust.’ All any of us have is today’.”
“People like to fill in the gaps, to paint their own picture, but no one really knows the truth of someone else’s story.”
“I have no illusions about happily ever afters — I know life will bring its challenges and nothing is forever — but I hope we might be happy today, and for as many todays as we are lucky enough to have.”
“Ryan didn’t know it, but his response soothed my heart and made me feel good. Here was a flashing neon sign that our son was okay — more than okay. Here was the confirmation I needed that despite all the changes and the scary situations, Ryan felt safe and secure. After a year-and-a-half of distance learning, masked walks to our favorite neighborhood cafe for smoothies to go, and celebrating holidays with grandparents over FaceTime, Ryan was okay. More than that: he was optimistic, positive, and confident.”
I’m proud to share the news that the paragraph above is taken from a recently published essay, “My Son’s Optimism For the Future Continues to Amaze Me.”
You know how, as parents, you often wonder if you’re doing enough? If you’re handling a difficult situation well-enough?
This was my son’s way of saying, “Yep. You’re doing enough.”
You can click here to be re-directed to Moms Don’t Have time to Write to read the essay in its entirety.