Monday, March 28, 2011


I wrote this a while ago, but have been reminded of it lately in my work. Had a client today who absolutely broke my heart...makes me wonder, "who are you to excavate these fragile, precious caves?"

Untitled (Only because I can't think of a good one)

I sit
so still,
a vessel, half full, just waiting
waiting to be filled with
--with something—

I meet
these souls who
sit as still as me, also
waiting for
filling and I
fill them with
--with something—

I pour
myself into these
empty vessels who
tell me stories of
war—a private war,
Andrew’s Family War,
Sarah’s Civil War and
Zachary’s War Against the World.

There is blood and gore and carnage and
stories of rape and rage and rain and
sunlight and
—and something—

I find
that I am a
spelunker with
5 minutes of relationship as my light and
another person’s soul as a compass and
I go, gently and boldly with
courageously tentative footsteps
into the cave of a journey
I am not living
and yet—

I look
into the mirror and wonder
“who are you to excavate these fragile precious caves?”

I peer
into stranger’s eyes and wonder
“do you also house a cavern of
despair and
hope and darkness and
sunlight and
-and something—

I look from my windows and see
even the trees have scars.
One cannot make it through this life unscathed.

As I think
in stillness, I see
the vessel is indestructible and
full of –something—
unnamable and--

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The every day-ness of every day

Working in the developmental and behavioral pediatrics unit in a children’s hospital, you meet all sorts of people on a daily basis. Yes, I am talking about the clients I see, including the girl who thinks she’s a dog and the one who licks clocks. Yes, I’m talking about the parents I see, who are sometimes more “out there” than their kids, but I’m also talking about the other people. The woman in the cafĂ© who calls me “sweetie.” The gruff security guard who almost smiles as he warns me daily, “don’t you go making any trouble today, young lady.” The kid in the elevator who informed me that his brother has autism. The young man with Down Syndrome who held the door to the clinic for me. The random child who runs up and hugs me, drooling all over my shirt, face filled with joy that he is seeing someone new, and he needs to hug and feel and smell so he can get to know this new human being walking by. That child’s grandfather, a wrinkled, tired man who lets his grandson hug me, and makes no attempt to help me untangle myself from the boy's strong, 12 year old grasp.

Today, there are two stories.

1.) I pass the woman who cleans the bathroom and floors several times a day. I start out my day on floor 1 for a few hours, then go to 6, then down to 3, then sometimes up to 5, then back to 6. Sometimes, I feel like I am following her around. She is serious, hard-working, and slow-moving. She always seems tired. She pushes a big cart around, up and down the elevators, around all the floors, and works around clinicians, doctors, therapists, clients, and parents. As much as we see inside the clinic rooms, I am sure she sees as much if not more outside of them. Walking down the hall today, I saw her for around the 18th time. I smiled, as I usually do, and met her eyes. “Hello again,” I said.

“Hey,” she said, stopping me. “Why you always smilin’? I always see you and you always smilin’.” She chuckled. “You must be pretty happy to be smilin’ that much.”

I paused, blushed, and giggled nervously. “Oh I dunno…frowning takes more energy, I hear,” I said.

“Yeah, but you smile ALL the time,” she insisted. “Even when I see you with those little tiny screamin’ kids you smile at ‘em all gentle like while they cryin’. I always think ‘there that smilin’ girl again,’” she shook her head, as if she was completely baffled.

I laughed. “Sometimes,” I said truthfully, “the only thing I can think to do is smile.”

“Alright then,” she said, moving her cart forward. “You have a good day.”

“You too,” I answered. “Thank you for everything you do.” She went her way and I went mine.

2.) Waiting for the elevator on one of my 500 trips up and down it today, I found myself waiting with a hospital employee who uses a wheelchair. I have seen him before, although where he works or what he does, I couldn’t tell you. He sighed heavily, twice, as we waited for the elevator. The elevator arrived and I held the door as he got on, asked him what floor, and pressed 5 for him and 6 for myself. He sighed again as the doors closed.

“Some days,” he said, not looking at me, but staring straight ahead, “the only success you have is getting out of bed in the morning.”

“I hear you,” I said. “Some days, I think that has to be enough. Some days, just getting out of bed is success enough.”

He paused, thinking, then laughed and looked at me, smiling. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, that’s right.” He paused, again, seeming to mull over this concept. The elevator stopped, and he looked at me again, grinning. “Have a good one,” he added lightly, still chuckling, as he wheeled out of the elevator.

These stories are mere moments in my day. Why do I bother telling them?

I guess they are moments of connection. Moments in which I was surprised by the simple, beautiful, honest humanity in perfect strangers who reached out and made the connection. Moments in which I was able to reciprocate that connection and come away feeling…something. I’m not quite sure what.

The past two weeks have taken me back to a very difficult time, and I have been faced with some decisions and situations that have brought up a lot of “stuff.” I have not felt like smiling. Most days, I wake having slept only a handful of hours, if that, and I don’t want to get out of bed. It takes work to smile. It takes work to get out of bed. But I do.

And then, it all got the better of me and I messed up. I realize I am my own harshest critic, but I wasn’t going to let up with this one. I had failed. Now everyone will know how _________ (fill in any negative descriptor here) I really am. Now I will prove to everyone who already believes those things that they are right.

I have been trying to figure out for myself what “courage” is. What “bravery” is. What “strength” is. I tell myself I need to be these things: that if I was just braver, stronger, smarter, better…things would be different. Then I would be okay.

Then, I learn for a moment how other people see me. I am “that girl with the screaming kids who is always smiling.” I am the woman in the elevator who made someone smile. I realize then that, maybe, in others’ eyes, I am okay. Maybe, just smiling and getting out of bed in the morning is enough. Maybe that is even a measure of success. Maybe.

I know that, if a client or a friend were in my shoes, I would tell them “yes. There is no doubt. You are brave. You are strong. You are beautiful and amazing, and your actions reflect what is brave and strong and beautiful and amazing in you.” But this is me we’re talking about, and I’m different. I’m good at making every situation seem like a double-bind: damned if I do, damned if I don’t, so I never win. I change the rules of the game as I play so that what I do is never enough. No matter which path I choose, I am making a choice that proves in some way that I am indeed not strong. Not brave. Not beautiful, and certainly not amazing.

But then I come up against these little stories, and I can’t figure out where they fit. It makes it feel like, perhaps, it is the little stories just as much as the big ones that should inform our lives. Perhaps the little stories, the quiet moments that slip by, the smiles we give, mean just as much as the stories that shake us and change the very root of who we are. In a world where it feels to me so very few people are to be trusted, perhaps it is the moments we share with utter strangers that mean more: the people who are not invested in our smiling, our getting out of bed, the self we share with the world. What a bind it is to not trust the world and to live in it. To not trust people, but to need to rely on them, as we all do. To love people, and to try to shut them out of your heart. It’s impossible. These little stories with strangers let me know this.

The other evening, I took my dog out one last time before bed. It was around 10:30 PM, and my neighbor was outside smoking, with her 4 year old granddaughter running around. It was one of the few warm days we had, and the warmth was lingering into the evening. She was dancing around in the grass in her little pink jacket, jeans with pink hearts, and pink light-up sneakers. I talked to my neighbor, who introduced me to her granddaughter. I crouched down to talk to her while she pet Marshall, and she told me about how she was waiting for her daddy to come get her, because daddy is getting a new house with the new lady that she just met that lives with them. She hugged Marshall around the neck, giggling, while he licked her face. Suddenly, she left Marshall’s side and came over in front of me, looking right in my eyes. She reached out to touch my arm and, as though it were the most common thing in the world, she stated, “you are so beautiful!” She skipped off, twirling under the moonlight.

Perhaps it is the quiet moments with strangers that should move us. Perhaps these small moments should inform us of who we are in the world. Maybe bravery is hearing the small stories, and courage is taking the time to smile. Maybe trust is in the talking, the smiling, the telling, and in the willingness to hear the answer. What if beautiful is not something in us, but is in the small moments of our lives and the way we share those moments with our world? What if amazing is not something we are, but is something we live that manifests in the lives that touch us?

What if the bigger stories, the more important characters in my life, are wrong and the answer is in the 4-year old, the guy in the elevator, the woman who cleans the floors? What then?

Some days, it seems that, maybe, the every day-ness of every day is enough.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Surviving the Telling Unfinished

Surviving the Telling Unfinished

this is how I want to tell you.
like the softest moments of morning
just listen
to how I tell you because
stories aren’t meant to be told they’re
not meant to be heard
are meant to be felt and you
need to feel my story so listen
to how I try to tell you.

I want to be smiling because smiles
smooth the jagged edges of a burning story and
I want you to hear the story but
I want to be angry because I want
you to hear the me that says
“can you believe he said that” and
“how dare he touch me there” and
“he left bruises where…” and
I will be angry because he
broke me open
left me only
sleepless nights, so
when I tell you
hear me angry.

Hear me angry and watch
me smile because I
am so fucking strong I can smile while I’m breaking.
I want you to know I’m strong, but
sad. I want to cry so you will hold me and say
“you don’t have to carry this alone” because
being strong leaves me so alone and
I won’t cry to you but
I want to know that you want me to because
you want to cry with me but
be willing to be strong for me because
you don’t even know the half of it and I
have been so strong for everyone else and sad
is almost harder than angry so say
that it wasn’t my fault.
Know I don’t believe it but
dare to love me anyway because one day
I won’t swallow his lies as truth and
some day
it won’t hurt so bad
but today
it’s been a year
since the night he left me broken
since the night she cracked me open and
it hasn’t healed yet but

I don’t want you to know this story because then
it’s one more person who knows that I’m hiding.
One more person
whose trust I’m buying
with hopeful eyes and not much more.
We’re all only human but I
have nothing left to give
cause I spent the rest just trying to survive
to make it through the nightmares alive, so I
tell nothing. Not the way
I remember shaking
knees pulled to my chest and the way
I refused to sleep because sleep
means trust
and nothing
was meant to be trusted and thoughts
are like armies
holding me hostage in my brain, while he
lives on without shame, and she
tells lies that dissolve me in others’ eyes
so listen:

I just want to know you hear the story
that you see I survived
cause tonight
it’s been a year.
I don’t know where the year has gone cause now
I wake shaking
knees to my chest
forgetting anything I ever knew
so if you hear me
remind me
that anger
is beautiful and
is loveable
and sometimes
no takes more confidence than yes
but the world
doesn’t know it.

I forget to remember
that no always means no
loveable isn't a privilege you earn
and hate can’t touch beautiful
so I need you to hear me
when I say
(are you listening?)
is my story
these words
house my fears
I don't know where we go from here
you, holding the story,
me, surviving the telling
even as the telling's unfinished
cause I don't know the ending
the mending may never come, but

if anger is beautiful
and intellect is loveable
if no means no and
no takes more confidence than yes
if loveable isn't something you earn
and hate can't touch beautiful
then I

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Boy in the Balloon

I wrote this a year or two ago but edited it recently. Since I am not writing much of anything worthwhile right now, I figured I would post this. I originally wrote it for a "journal" for my Humanistic/Existential Psych class. It's kinda weird. I think my teacher thought I was weird. I think his comment was "This is interesting...."

Whatever. I'm used to people not "getting" me at this point anyway! (BTW, if you haven't read "The Man Who Was Put in a Cage," I recommend it. I recommend any Rollo May, actually. But I'm weird, so I guess I would!)

I just finished reading “Psychology and the Human Dilemma,” and was inspired by the chapter, “The Man Who Was Put in a Cage.” How neat to try and convey the same stories through a parable, fable, myth, or semi-fictionalized story! I was inspired to try and write a parable or story, and this is the result.

I love working with children with autism, and I’m discovering that I also enjoy working with their families. I want to find some way of conveying to parents what I see in their children, and help them to strengthen the bond of their relationships based on the strengths they see and love in their child. It breaks my heart how many mothers I talk to who cannot name one thing their child does well, or one strength their child possesses. So many parents talk about their children being “taken” from them by autism, and I watch them fight so hard to “reclaim” the child they imagined they had that they never see their child in front of them. Yet, it is also apparent that they love their child in a way they can’t describe and have a bond and a relationship indescribable to the world outside. I can teach children appropriate social skills, how to engage in the world more appropriately, and try to pull them out of their “autism balloons,” and this is important simply because they need to live in that world. I think it is equally important, however, to show their parents it is okay, and perhaps even necessary, to rise to the child’s plane and meet them there. If we can’t meet them halfway, why would they be willing to meet us?

The Boy in the Balloon

Once upon a time, a child was born. The mother held the boy in her arms, amazed at his soft skin, his beautiful face, his round arms, his tiny toes. She watched him watch his world and she found him perfect. She protected him with her heart and soul, and there was no doubt in the child’s being that he was loved. She and her husband made plans for the child going to school, playing Little League, and becoming a doctor or a lawyer or an architect. They were certain he would be successful. They looked at their son and were amazed they were able to create something so perfect and beautiful together. Together, they named the child Brandon.

When the boy turned two, the mother noticed that he was quiet and preferred to play by himself. He played with one toy, alone, for hours. “It is because he is figuring out how it works!” said the husband, and they believed the son was a genius. The boy began to line up his toys on the carpet, making line after line after perfectly straight line, and they called him a hard-worker and a perfectionist.

He preferred to do things on his own, rarely seeking out his parents comfort or attention. He never brought them things he found on the ground or pointed to things he saw. “He’s independent,” said his mother, and she and her husband smiled at their independent child.
The child fell and bumped his head and his knees and he never cried. “He’s strong like his dad,” said his father, puffing his chest in pride.

Then, when he was three, the boy went to daycare and the teacher said “he is walking on his toes, and rocking back and forth,” and she was concerned. “He’s not like other children,” she said, “there is something wrong with your son.” Then his mother noticed that his words were further and further apart. He spent his time alone, spinning puzzle pieces, or finding pieces of string on the carpet and dangling them before his eyes, fascinated. He stared for hours at the ceiling fan, giggling, and examining it from all angles. The mother expressed the concern to her husband, and he told her to shut off the ceiling fan and vacuum the carpet to get rid of the strings. So she turned off the ceiling fan, and the boy screamed and hit his mother and kicked his father. She turned on the vacuum and the boy cried, covering his ears and running into the walls.

The father pulled out a toy with lights and sounds and took the boy to his bedroom. He sat on the floor with the boy and pressed the buttons, making the toy beep and whirr and light up blue and red and green. The boy sobbed and threw the toy and hit his head on the floor. The mother came in to soothe her son, but when she touched him, he shrieked and ran to lie under the cushions of the couch and the mother cried.

After she cried, she pulled out a book on children and parenting and she read it, cover to cover, only to find that her child was no longer the perfect child described. She found another book, and her child was not in that book either. She looked at her husband and knew his dream of Little League was disintegrating before their eyes and she was sad. The mother was confused as to what could have happened to her son, but she loved him all the same and used words like “unique” to describe him to herself and others. “He just needs time,” the mother thought. “Boys develop slower than girls. Even Einstein was slow to learn. He is smart and creative and independent. It will all settle down with time.”

Every morning, the mother woke early and went into her son’s room where he was sleeping. In these moments, she could see him as he was and could marvel at his perfection. One morning, she quietly entered the room and found her son enveloped in a big transparent balloon. The mother was confused as to why her son was in a balloon, but she loved her son and was not about to believe he was anything but perfect. She tied a string around her son’s balloon and she took him everywhere she went, but as she walked, she found other mothers with their sons in strollers looking at her strangely and she wished her son would sit in a stroller as well. She noticed people staring and knew how strange it looked, but felt that others must just not see the brilliance of her son. As time wore on, however, she became tired of the looks and the stares and the comments about her son’s behavior and his balloon. So she went to her husband and said, “I think there is something wrong with our son,” and this time, he agreed.

The mother took him to the pediatrician and told him the story: “This is my son and he is brilliant, but he is in a balloon and I can’t find him in the books anymore. He is independent and hard-working and full of energy and emotion and life. He gets angry because we don’t understand him, and he’s frustrated that he’s in a balloon. I need you to rescue my son.”

The pediatrician looked, and he felt and he poked and prodded, and tried to pop the balloon, but it wouldn’t pop. “This might be a problem, tell me about his history,” he said. The mother told him everything she knew about how he loved to play by himself for hours, learning to take his toys apart and put them back together. She told him about how he had such a long attention span he would sit and look at picture books by himself at school. She told him about how he lined up his toys in perfectly straight lines, and how her husband thought he might grow up to be an architect. She told him of the morning she found her son in the balloon, but how she loved him all the same. The pediatrician said: “your son is reclusive and has limited social interaction skills. He has obsessive and compulsive behaviors, appears ritualistic, and he is stuck in a balloon. This might be a problem. Give him this pill and see if it will make the balloon pop.”

So the mother gave him the pill and the boy became tired and lethargic, and his joy in bouncing around in his balloon was gone. The mother knew this was wrong, so she threw the pills away and called the pediatrician who said, “This is a problem. Call this specialist and she will help you get him out of the balloon.”

So the mother called and was put on a waiting list for weeks. When the appointment time came, she went to the specialist who said, “He is in a balloon, and this is a problem. Tell me about his history.”

the mother told her about his bizarre behaviors. “He lines things up and looks at toys like a crazy child,” she said, never remembering that he had once been hardworking and brilliant. “He never comes to me and is reclusive; he doesn’t seem to care if I am around,” she told the specialist, forgetting that her son had once been independent and creative.
“I see” said the doctor. And she felt and poked and prodded, and tried to pop the balloon, but it wouldn’t pop. “This is a problem,” she said again, and she named the balloon Autism.

The mother heard the name of the balloon and she cried as she told her husband the name of their son. She turned again to books to try to find her son, and she found him in the books about other children named Autism. Soon, she was lost in a world of Early Intervention, Individualized Education Plans, and Applied Behavior Analysis. She talked to the doctors, and they said, “he is still in a balloon, and this is a problem." She talked to other parents and she took everything artificial and all wheat and dairy out of his diet. When the boy was four years old, the doctors said, “He will never come out of the balloon. You must learn to just accept that your son is in a balloon named Autism.” At this, the mother knew that they thought her son was lost.

But the mother loved her son, and she was sad, and tired, and angry, so she took her son to a psychologist. On her first visit, she said, “I am the mother of this balloon named Autism.”

The psychologist looked at the mother and smiled. Then she looked at the balloon and said, “Hi there, Brandon.” The mother was startled, and realized she had not heard a professional speak her son’s true name.

The mother asked the psychologist, “Can you bring him out of the balloon? He is ritualistic and impulsive and hyperactive and has stereotypic behaviors.”

The psychologist shook her head and said, “I can help you to meet him on the boundary of the balloon. I can take you to the balloon so you can understand, I can help you to love the balloon, and I can help you let the balloon disappear sometimes from your sight.”

The mother did not know what to say, so she said, “I am angry.”

“Yes,” said the psychologist. “Your son was lost and then renamed, and your dreams were left for dead. You have had to create a new life. Of course you are angry.”

The mother said, “I am sad.”

“Yes,” said the psychologist. “You feel your son was stolen from you. You have been told to just accept your new son, when no one ever checked to see if Brandon was still here. Of course you are sad.”

The mother said, “I am tired.”

“Yes,” said the psychologist. “You have been fighting to find your son, and you are realizing now he has been before you all along. Of course you are tired.”

The mother said, “I want to be hopeful.”

The psychologist smiled. “Then I will teach you to enter the balloon,” she said.
Together they sat, and the psychologist spoke of Brandon, and the mother felt a warmth flow through her. As she connected to her son, the mother was amazed at how she had known her son all along. The psychologist slipped in and out of Brandon’s balloon, and showed his mother it was possible. The mother was skeptical, so she asked the psychologist, “But why does he scream?”

The psychologist took her inside Brandon’s balloon. Inside the balloon, the mother saw that the world was cloudy and the sounds were loud and muffled, and it was sticky and hot. She saw the toy with lights and sounds, and when it flashed red and blue and green, she could feel the colors racing through her body, and the whirrs and beeps made the world look like an overexposed picture and made her ear drums reverberate. She felt as though the world was spinning by so quickly she couldn’t keep up, and everything was off balance and heavy. The mother felt tired and sticky and overwhelmed, and could not find the words to say it, so she screamed.

So she asked the psychologist, “why does he stare at ceiling fans and walk on his toes?”
The psychologist took her inside Brandon’s balloon and as the mother stared with him at the ceiling fan, the world became clear. As she focused on the fan going round and round, the rest of her world reached a calm center, and everything else faded away into a blissful quiet. The mother was so relieved at the calmness, she began laughing, and lifted onto her toes at the lightness of her body.

As time went on, Brandon’s balloon got smaller and smaller until his mother could barely see it at all and she was amazed by son’s brilliance and his love and deep way of being. Brandon was still impulsive and hyperactive and ritualistic and had stereotypic behaviors, and the mother still felt sad and angry and tired, but she also saw her son and was amazed that she and her husband could have created something so perfect and beautiful. One day, she asked the psychologist, “how did you know Brandon was there? How did you know how to find him in his balloon?"

“I didn’t,” said the psychologist. “I simply showed the part of him that was reaching for you, to the part of you that was reaching for him, and I created the space for you to meet.”

The mother looked at Brandon and smiled. Then together, they floated out of the office.