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Chandra's Blog

 

Thursday
Jul072016

Learning to Fall

For the third summer in a row, in the first week of July, Piper has fallen from something and broken bone(s). First, when she was 7, she fell off a pony on a trail ride. He caught her jaw/neck with his front hoof on the way down, and when she hit the ground, though he tried desparately not to, he stepped on her chest, breaking ribs, her collarbone and puncturing her lung. Two ambulance rides, two days in ICU, and eight months for her bones to mend.

 

Back on the horse literally and figuratively a year later, she was jumping a palomino at a friend's barn, and came off over the handlebars, breaking two bones in her right elbow and upper arm. Six weeks in a cast and six months of PT to regain her range of motion.

This summer, her first day of rock climbing camp, she was bouldering (climbing without ropes) a tricky V2, and at the top, 9 feet up, missed a hold and unfortunately, missed the landing mat as well. Sprained wrist and elbow fracture, left arm.

Another sweltery summer with a cast.

 

Piper and Mercy, July 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let me back up. This started last winter, with gymnastics. After two tough tumbles off a horse (my sport), J and I agreed to her pleading to try a season of gymnastics. 

 

 

Though we both had reservations about the culture of the sport, the inherent wear and tear on developing bodies, and it being a good fit for her, we thought it might help her learn to fall. 

We bought the leotards and basement tumbling mats, learned a whole new vocabulary--brannies and Bratayleys. When the Quiet Room at the gym where I usually graded papers was closed and I had to sit in the general waiting area, I suffered through disparaging stage mom monologues that made hockey parents sound like Dr. Sears.

"Mine's that one with the big butt who still can't get her pull over. Do you see her? Pathetic. She's never going to get her goddamn ass over the bar! I told her she has no hope of ever advancing if she can't pull this off. I make her practice at home, an hour each night, but, it's useless. Ugh, I can't watch." [pound pound pound on the glass] "Get your fat butt over that bar!"

This hopeless kid? She was five, maybe six.

Piper enjoyed the class, but complained that there was a lot of waiting in line. And then, one night in February, I said the wrong thing. She was watching floor routines on the computer, musing about competing and I told her we weren't on board with that, that to us, gymnastics was about learning body control and balance, having fun and tumbling, but she was probably too tall for the sport, long term. Though we don't have a crystal ball, she is already 4'6", and in the 90th% for height.

"What?" Piper narrowed her eyes. She paused YouTube and googled, "world's tallest Olympic gmynast." For the next ninety minutes, she railed at me, sobbing. "Why would you let me do a sport where I have no chance of winning in the Olympics?!"

After the storm subsided, she came back out of her room with the laptop, wiping her eyes a little sheepishly. 

"Here," she turned the screen to me. "Watch this. This is what I want to do." It was a video of Brooke Raboutou, the Colorado-based world-record setting rock climbing phenom. Later, when I dug back in the search engine history, I saw that Piper found this because she had googled, "best sport for tall girls with long arms and legs."


the tree from which our apple fell, New Mexico 1994

Perfect. For years, in college at Arizona State University, J's whole identity was as a climber. He traveled all over, Hueco Tanks, Joshua Tree, Smith Rocks--hiking in, sleeping on cliff faces, pushing himself. Plus, though we ride horses together, all three kids golf and play hockey, Piper has been hungry for something to do with her dad, just the two of them.

 

 

 

They joined the local rock gym. On her second day, she was conquering routes where I had maxed out, back in the pre-kid days when J and I used to climb. She asks to go to the gym nightly, begging to do one more route when her body is clearly maxed, hanging by her fingertips off the lip of our stairs to increase her grip strength. 

 

 

 

Piper and J take on a challenging 5'10

We agreed she may have found her sport. Solitary, independent, constant opportunity to reach farther, try harder, climb higher. She has this quiet, jutting chin determination, a steely, silent core that is just waiting to be challenged.

And then on Tuesday morning, her third route of the long awaited rock climbing camp, she fell.

The thing is, the staff didn't realize it, didn't even write an incident report, because she kept climbing. The rest of the day, she ate snack and lunch, tie-dyed her camp shirt, played team building games and continued to quietly top rope and boulder, with a broken arm.

When I asked her why she didn't have them call me when it happened, she said simply, "Because I wanted to keep climbing."

We talked about it last night while we went on evening walk with Sampson. I told her the coach had called to find out how she was, and was astounded to learn her arm was broken.

"Did you ask him if I can finish camp later in the summer, when my cast comes off? Will it be too late to try out for the team?" she worried, and I promised we would talk, thinking one positive from the fall is that at least now the coaches know this about her. One of the biggest challenges in coaching Piper will be teaching her to respect her limits, and how to fall.

"I'm stubborn, aren't I, mom?" Piper mused.

"Pip," I told her, "you're tenacious."

"Isn't that the same as stubborn?"

I thought about this.

"Well, to me, stubborn has a negative undertone. Listen to the word--stubborn, synonym: obstinant. I picture a grouchy, hard, face, someone who has dug in their heels, maybe to their own detriment. But tenacious feels like ferocious. Like a tiger. Like someone who will not give up, even when things are hard."

"Like someone who keeps climbing," Piper said, swinging her cast hand in mine, "even if they fall."

* *** *

Waiting for the cast room, CHOP, July 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday
Mar262016

Ticking boxes 

Over Easter weekend, I was searching for a recipe from a Caymanian woman for a heavenly, dense cassava cake I had jotted down in one of my notebooks, when I stumbled across this:

 

Boxes waiting to be ticked

 

My To Do list from the morning two years ago, after my sister and I discovered our father, ankles crossed, jeans, soft chambray shirt and Carpe Diem sweatshirt folded at the foot of his bed, with his hand over his heart, quietly gone.

On the list, there is everything from writing an obitaury and creating a memorial slideshow that somehow honored his long and vivid life, to gathering his eight children from the corners of the country for a service. There is the mundane, like cleaning out Dad's kitty litter box and fridge and contacting his attorney. And there is the emotionally loaded--calling his cardiologist and asking for his implanted heartrate recorder to be downloaded, so I could know once and for all, if I had gotten there earlier in the day, could I have saved him? (The answer was no--he experienced a silent heart attack before dawn. Dr. Harding said he probably didn't even wake up, reminding me of the line from one of his favorite Kenny Rogers' songs, The Gambler, "the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep". )

For weeks, through shock, grief, and excruciating jaw pain from gritting my teeth at night, I woke up and made these lists, with empty little squares in the lefthand column, waiting for my attention. My sister was making lists of her own, and at night, when we would check in with each other--how many times that day had we felt sucker punched by the realization of this new reality, life without him, sometimes we recounted our lists to each other, the squares we had filled, adding items for the next day.

"How are you?" we asked each other.

"Ticking boxes."

"Ticking boxes" has become code. It means we are getting up, going through the motions of getting things done, in spite of wanting to curl up and cry.

Today, my To Do list includes attending the memorial service of a friend murdered by her ex-husband, orphaning their three boys. She died a year ago. There was a funeral then too, standing room only, and a reception, in the gym where J and I once played hilarious, margarita-inspired couples' badminton across from Nicole and her husband after a swim team fundraiser. It feels like forever ago. 

When a loss is this huge, when it comes with the baggage of domestic violence, when a whole community is broken, it is necessary to acknowledge it again. To honor and remember Nicole, for as long as it takes.

The end of March feels like death and sadness to me now. I don't want to go to this anniversary service, to relive the feelings of this time last year, and the year before, and at the same time, I can't imagine being anywhere else. 

Ticking boxes.

Sunday
Mar132016

Mother of Girl 

Two nights ago, Piper woke me up at 2 am, standing beside my bed with her hand gently shaking my shoulder. As the dreaded 12 hour barf-a-thon norovirus just made its rounds through her school, I sat up straight, ready to bolt for a bowl.

"Mom?" she said in a tiny, anxious voice.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," she took a trembly breath. "I'm just... feeling an inexplicable sadness."

Oh. I lifted the covers of our bed like a protective wing and invited her in.

At eight, nearly nine, she is experiencing the beginnings of the high and low mood swings and sensitive feelings that may be her emotional lot for the next fifty years or so.

almost nine years ago...I am realizing this is one of my most important parenting jobs right now--helping Piper navigate these feelings, identify who she is, and doing my best to soften the harder edges of the world for her.

So I tucked her into my crook, and listened as she listed all the things that weren't wrong, but tearfully recounted that her heart just felt heavy, and she worried because sometimes these feelings happened in school.

I told her I remembered being super-sensitive in third grade, the feeling of taking on other students' embarassment or discomfort like it was my own. I told her sometimes I would go into the bathroom, and turn the sink on, and plug the drain. I'd fill the bowl with warm water, and put my hands in, imagining I was home in a bath, until I felt like I could go back to class.

I promised her it got easier, but being a sensitive person is part of why I cry when a favorite chicken dies, and pretty much every time we read The Lorax, why it is an emotional commitment for me to read a novel--because I live the characters' experiences viscerally. It is also why I rarely watch anything but the Flyers, the occasional funny movie or the most formulaic HGTV shows.

 

"But how can I stop feeling things so much?" Piper wailed.

I smoothed the hair off her sweaty forehead and told her I would help her learn some ways to cope, but that she doesn't necessarily want to stop.

"Being someone who feels things deeply is part of your creative, sensitive soul. It will help you be a great artist, a musician, a writer, a lover of animals. It will make you a good, caring friend, a worthy partner, and one day, an excellent mother."

"Nobody is good at all of those things," Piper scoffed.

"Um, have you met me?"

She giggled, which was my hope.

But there is a fine line as mother of girl between projecting healthy self-confidence and setting up unrealistic expectations, so I countered in a more serious tone,

"Well, I'm actually not great at everything."

"Yeah..." she allowed. In the darkness, I imagined she was making a mental list of all my shortcomings, and I started one of my own, creating my family's additions. I am often three to five minutes late for everything from meetings to car pick-up. I have a hard time staying on top of the laundry. I sometimes drop balls when juggling our crazy sports schedule, getting the right kid to the wrong field with half of his brother's gear bag and no water bottle. Dinner is frequently uninspired. I sometimes beg off reading aloud at the end of the night out of exhaustion. When I have a training project, I disappear to the horse barn for hours. I get busy with teaching and writing and work, giving the best of me to the outside world, leaving my family the dregs...

"Yeah," Piper said matter-of-factly, adding on a sleepy yawn, "I imagine you're not very good at badminton."

Badminton? And in those moments, I saw myself through her shining eyes.

"You're right, honey, I am not very good at badminton."

* *** *

 

 

Monday
Feb292016

PASSION

In Writing 101, I posed a question to my college freshman: what are you passionate about, passionate enough to stand up for? What do you care enough about to leave your warm cozy bed and sleep out in the cold?

 

For long moments, there were crickets in the classroom. And then came the answers:

1. Black Friday sales.

2. Money.

3. One girl said, "Well, I have never been camping, so I guess I would sleep outside to try camping."

 

Before you lose faith in the youth, when I tried to come at this same question from another angle, when I thought I had come up with something to ignite a fire under their apathetic butts--a hypothetical reinstatement of a mandatory military draft--their passion and patriotism floored me. I promise you, there is hope for the future.

 

But this isn't the point of the story. The point is, it made me think about what I would actually leave my bed for. I started posing this question everywhere: to my own kids at the dinner table, lying beside my husband as the snow fell outside our bedroom window, at dinner parties and coffee dates, volunteer groups and morning walks.

Each time I asked it, as the other person spoke, I learned something new about them. The answers have been both touching and telling.

                                                                                                                                                                                    I'll pose the question here, and maybe even challenge you to ask it yourselves. I'm not trying to start something political (the president I want to talk about on this blog is a fat cat for sure, but more of the white belly than the White House variety.) El Presidente

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you care enough about that you would leave your warm cozy bed, that you would sacrifice your time and energy to stand for or against, in protest or support?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday
May292015

Arachnophobia

My father had a serious spider phobia, the source of many funny stories and practical jokes. 

My brothers inherited this phobia, and while I reserve the serious heebie jeebies for house centipedes, I am not a huge fan either. In 1998 I actually moved out of a cottage in Grand Cayman when a huntsman spider the size of my whole hand with her peach-pit-of-an-egg-sac moved in. You would have too.

 

Giant Hunstman Spider

Yesterday, my sister and I were finally going through the last of our father's things, listing and itemizing and donating. This task keeps falling off our To Do list, because once we are through all of this, the alligator suspenders, the tasseled loafers, the five gallon hats and the linens (that still, freshly-washed smell so much like him a year later Piper insisted I make them into her bed last night), the last physical vestiges of our will be gone, and that will be sad.

Holy-frickin-spider-batman

But we had promised my mom to get them out of her basement by the end of the school year, so we took the last of our kid-free mornings to conquer the task. I told Linden at the beginning that I was determined to stay lighthearted. We would not linger over photos or get depressed or bury our faces in his dress shirts. This was harder than either of us thought.

 

 

 

As I reached for one of his signature leather Orvis vests, I saw the most hideously huge wolf spider that skeeved me out so much I dry-heaved. So of course, I made my 7-months-pregnant sister deal with it while I filmed.

(I actually have made a lifelong practice of surrounding myself with people who do better than I would in a crisis.)

See below:

 

 

 

After he was safely relocated far far away from either of our houses or vehicles, after we wiped the hysterical tears from under our eyes my sister and I realized: somewhere, up in Heaven maybe, Dad is doubled over laughing.

 

Thanks for helping keep it light today, Dad. We miss you.