Default to Kindness

spirit-swim

Meghan loves to swim.  I mean, athletically it wasn’t where she started, but the knees.  Six surgeries on the right knee, and there was to be no more soccer, and no more dance.  After the 6th one, there was to be even no more breaststroke.  There is no gym class in school.  There is limited walking.  There is one foot, a size bigger than the other.  The “off sides” that that creates in her body can be quite painful.  But, the pool…

Oh, how my girl loves the pool.  She is an athlete.  She is a competitor.  And the pool allows her to be both of those things to the best of her ability.

For the 3rd time in the 4th year since joining swimming, this September brought a new coach for her, and a new group of teammates.  There was anxiety about the switch on so many levels.  But, as we always say, life has a funny way of working out.

swim4

This coach is a perfect fit for her.  They practice hard, and often.  He is structured, and firm.  But he is compassionate, and constructive.  He watches.  There are sometimes 50 or more swimmers in the pool when he coaches, and I swear he does his best to make some comment to each of them every practice.  And, after they compete, his feedback always connects to practice.

And practice, for Meghan, has not been a problem.  While maintaining a “Pupil Path” account that no one could ever critique, and planning a major fundraiser, and looking for high schools, and managing doctors appointments, and a mom who doesn’t feel quite herself, this girl has, most weeks, attended practice, Monday, Thursday and Friday afternoon, as well as Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday morning.  Quite literally, swimming is good for her health.

Swimming can be a very solitary sport.  It takes a good deal of mental toughness to stare at a black line for hours.  Interactions with teammates on deck or during dryland (out of water training) are cherished.

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Even then, as the “new kid” in the group, you can sometimes wonder about the relationships.  Meghan has been very careful not to share too much of her Cowden’s story with these swimmers.  She wants to be viewed as one of them, and she is doing a good job holding her own, all by herself.

And then there was today.  We were at a meet and she was scheduled to swim the 200 yard butterfly.  If you swim, no explanation is needed.  If you don’t let me give you a frame of reference.  For the group she swam with today, 72 girls swam the 100 yard freestyle.  10 signed up to swim the 200 yard butterfly.  It is not an event for the faint of heart.

Meghan feared disappointing, herself, her coach. me.  She was scared out of her mind.  So scared that it was out of character.  Out of character for a child that has had 17 surgeries, and countless tests. ER visits, and hospitalizations.  She was that scared.

And as the race approached I watched helplessly from the stands as she began to unravel.  And I watched with a grateful heart as teammates picked her up and put her back together again.

persistence3

The one who I can only say was acting as my angel, talked her right onto the block.  It only took a second of my attempt to video the race to see that something was terribly wrong.  There sat her goggles, first mid face, then in her mouth occluding her breathing.  In butterfly you can not break stroke.  At the end of the first 50 she stopped.  She was done.

My heart sank, and ached for her.  I wanted to pick her up and hug her, and take her back to the rocking chair I used to use when she was a baby.  But she’s 13 now – so I could only watch.

swim5

The official came to her and asked if she wanted to try again in the next heat.  There were 2 lanes open.  She said yes.  And as they placed her in one heat, her friend, my angel, came to the official and asked if Meghan could swim, “in the lane next to me.”  She said yes, and as Meghan barely got settled on the block, another teammate flagged the official to wait a moment.  Meghan’s goggles were still not on.

The start went fine this time.  The goggles stayed on.  And she did it.  The whole thing.

By the time she got to her last 2 laps, most of the other girls were finishing.  But, then there was more magic.  There was cheering, from her teammates and strangers alike.  There was a push for her to get finished, to press on, and to make it.  So, she did.

I think I cried the last two laps.  I was struck by this child of mine, her life, the adversity, and the stubbornness.  The ability to not give up.  The desire to be normal, and to succeed. And as she touched the wall her team mate, that same angel, swam right into her lane and gave her the biggest, most genuine hug.

She did it.

Not too shabby for the first time.  And more than one teammate whom she respects greatly told her they gave her credit for getting up and trying it again.  So did her coach.

Meghan isn’t the “cool” kid.  She sometimes struggles a little.  But, she remains true to herself at all times.

Today, she got to see the kindness in others.  It was pure.  It was genuine.  It was unsolicited.  It was the best kind.

13-18 year olds can be a tough group.  But these kids showed today that when they are left at their “default” setting, when they are alone and see soemone hurting, they will choose kindness and compassion.

She is asleep.  Tomorrow is another day of swimming.  But, those events won’t cause this angst.

Gratitude fills my heart, that once again even at the toughest moment, good shines through.

And as she said goodnight, she told me, “Next month, when I swim the 200 fly…”

swimming

Endurance.  Persistence.  Stamina.

#beatingcowdens

 

4 Doctors and a Dog Surgery

Before the school year closed my principal told my daughter to do whatever she had the urge to this summer.  Knowing she was a good kid, she understood his meaning.  He told her to play hard, and not worry about getting hurt, or hurting.

When I shot him a look, he laughed and ignored me.  Speaking right to Meghan, (referring to an event at school last June where she climbed a rock wall and ultimately needed hand surgery) he asked her if she would climb the rock wall again.  She said, “Definitely!”

He smiled at her, knowing he had left his mark in the just over a year she spent at our school.  Her confidence was up, and she knew the satisfaction of completing a task, and sometimes even winning – far outweighed the physical consequences that simply seem an inevitable consequence of being her.

And yes they are all about the same age, mine's just REALLY tall!
And yes they are all about the same age, mine’s just REALLY tall!

 

 

Turns out that very conversation was replaying in her mind as she was first to cross the finish line in the “Fun Run” this morning, held annually in memory of my cousin Meghan, her namesake.  The pleasure in her eyes outweighed all other things as she held it together long enough to get in the front door before she asked for ice.

Reminding me today as educators we shape lives in ways deeper than the classroom.  I am grateful…

school closed

Meghan needed this morning.  As a matter of fact we needed it – so badly that I think even the rain knew.  And maybe my Dad, my cousin’s “Uncle Tom,” was able to push those clouds out-of-the-way for a while.  His angel wings are 7 months strong today.  I think we got a special favor.

angels

It’s hard to believe we’ve only been out of school for a week.  My head is spinning.

Monday was the rheumatologist, full of confusion, still perplexed by pain without swelling that plagues so much of her body.  We spent hours, and arrived home minus a copay and with little to show for the trip.

Tuesday morning as we prepped for the GI, fortunately a local appointment, I got a call from the vet.  “I know Allie is scheduled to have her teeth cleaned tomorrow, but we have a cancellation.  Can you bring her today?”  All about getting things done, I got the dog in the car and dropped her off for a dental cleaning.

Of course, I left in tears because as tough as I want to say I am about the dogs… I am who I am.

So when they called me a bit later to tell me she would need 5 extractions, my heart almost stopped.  But, there was little choice so I consented.

We headed to the GI and had a pleasant visit there.  It’s always easy when things are going well, and generally the stomach is so much better since that stint in the hospital in May that we are clearly headed in the right direction.  We left with an appointment in 6 weeks, and told we could slowly, and carefully start reintroducing some of the foods stripped from her already restricted diet after the diagnosis of severe gastritis.

I picked the dog up a bit later that night.  And her pain medication, and her antibiotics, and as I was leaving even full of relief to see her, it was hard to tell what was whimpering louder, Allie, or my Visa.

 

Ouch!
Ouch!

Wednesday another local visit, this time to the orthodontist.  And instead of getting the news that the braces are ready to come off, she left  with more rubberbands.  The initial projection of having them removed in February seemingly a distant memory, and more conversation about her teeth and how “unpredictable” they are.  Why not? So to make sure that they don’t move too far in the wrong direction – we get to go back in 2 weeks, then in 4.  We’ve got time I guess.

Thursday, after feeling confident that the dog was on the mend, we left for the endocrinologist in NYC.  A somewhat productive conversation at least led to a mutual agreement that the synthetic medicine may not be working for her.  Her fatigue, I was told, “may not” be associated with her insanely elevated blood levels.  We’ll get the labs on Monday.  Two more 6 weeks cycles for the levels to regulate.  Then we try something new.  12 weeks is a long time to look at continuing to feel less than your best, but at least we left with a more open-minded doctor than when we started.

“This is getting old.”

I’ve heard that phrase a few times from my normally happy, easy-going kid.  At 10 years and 11 months she knows chronic pain, needles, surgery and waiting better than anyone should.  When she asks about my childhood, and I tell her that I also went to quite a few doctors, (although not as many as she does,) she tells me I am “lucky I didn’t know I had Cowden’s Syndrome.”

And as I am left to ponder what it must be like knowing more about genetics and your broken PTEN gene than you might ever want to, I think about how hard it must be.  The thoughts that go through her head, the level of her vocabulary, her insight.  So much to absorb, so much maintenance.  She gets that she’s lucky in some ways, but overtaxed in others… it is so easy to forget that she’s not even 11.

That is why mornings like this one have to happen.  That is why she has to sometimes taste a little bit of victory, when she feels like the challenges might swallow her up.  That’s why she has to run as if she has no pain.  That’s when she gets to be a kid.

fun run 1

This was the worst of it – this week, for doctors.  This was my worst scheduling job by far.  On the 14th she has one and I have one.  Then on the 15th I have 4. (Genius!)  And after that things lighten up considerably.

This week I settled some paperwork that has been lingering.  I fought over medication with the pharmacy.  I began the process of organizing a few very chaotic things.

Today we got to see some family.  Meghan got to hug three great grandparents, two of which are in their mid 90s!  We got to chat and to eat and take a break.

Tonight we will sit with a sweatshirt and watch the sky for fireworks.

Tonight I will thank the angel who moved the clouds away this morning.

Come on summer – we are READY!

My Guardian Angel wears a Gold Ribbon

My Guardian Angel is 6 in my heart. That’s the age she was the day in 1991 when she got her angel wings.

Guardian angel 1

My Guardian Angel was tenacious. She was fun and feisty. She was strong, and wise beyond her years.

My Guardian Angel battled leukemia for four and a half years. She endured chemotherapy, spinal taps, bone marrow transplants, remission and relapse.

She loved watching “Lady and the Tramp” and she loved her baby sister. She loved stuffed animals, and my grandparents dog “Bo.”

lady and the tramp

My Guardian Angel was the first kid I ever got to really babysit for. We had some fun times.

My Guardian Angel is my cousin Meghan. She changed my life when she was born in 1985- and I lost a piece of me when she passed away in 1991.

My cousin Meghan went dancing with the angels the year I started college. It was snowing. It was my 18th birthday.

My love for Meghan and the deep loss permeated the next few years of my life. The pain never ever goes away- it changes you. But I decided that I would strive to be more like her. I would take her example of grace under pressure and model my life off of it.

"Angel Meghan" - 1987
“Angel Meghan” – 1987

We were already forever intertwined and then she met Jesus on my birthday. The bond- the link- is unbreakable.

My Meghan was born a decade ago. She makes her namesake proud. She shares her strength, grace and wit. She endures medical challenges beyond measure. My Meghan has an angel on her shoulder too.

And over the last few years as the reality of Cowden’s Syndrome and it’s lifelong implications set in- Angel Meghan keeps me grounded. Whenever I want to be frustrated about the cancer risks we face- I am reminded that we are afforded a warning system. I am reminded that these sometimes grueling routine screenings have already proven life-saving for us. I can only imagine how desperately my aunt and uncle would have loved the warning system- and the prevention opportunities we have.

Meghan1990

I wonder sometimes- what my cousin would have grown to be. I wonder what the 28 year old would be doing with her life. And then I stop.

Mine is not to figure out the plan. Mine is not to understand the hows and whys. My role is to take the lessons learned, and the people who have taught them and make them part of who I am today. Mine is to keep the memory of a special young girl alive- in my heart, in my life, in my actions, and in my daughter.

So as I brace to celebrate my 40th, on a day when emotions promise to run high, I remember.

guardian angel 2

Sweet Guardian Angel Meghan, flying with your gold ribbon friends.
Forever young.
Forever loved.
Forever remembered.
May 16, 1985- November 12, 1991

Maybe it wasn’t a “Total Loss”

The Insurance Agent called Friday night.  He told me my car was a “Total Loss.”  I think I knew that after I saw this picture the first time, but it was still a little hard to hear.

I really did love my Hyundai
I really did love my Hyundai

Even though I understand the term “Total Loss” has specific connotations in the insurance world, the terminology wasn’t sitting quite right with me.  To me, a “Total Loss” means I didn’t learn anything.  It was a waste.  I took nothing from it.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I have taken something away from every experience I have had in my life, especially the very trying ones that seem to be pelting me like hail on a blustery day.  Sometimes what I take away is positive, and sometimes – not so much.  But I always, always learn something.

1. No matter how long you stop, and no matter how hard you look, and no matter how sure you are that it is safe to go – a speeding car may hit you anyway.

2. If there are no witnesses to an accident – there is no way to “prove” excessive speed. This is the case no mater how many times your car spun around.

3. When you ride in an ambulance its less scary when you take someone you know.   And, there are people kind enough to ride in the ambulance with you even though they hardly know you at all.  There are real live angels among us!

4. When you are in an Emergency Room of a local hospital – burn your socks after walking on the floor, and don’t look too closely at the walls.  Don’t expect the doctors to have any idea – or to really care what Cowden’s Syndrome is, and how it affects your body.

5. There are some really really nice insurance people, and some really obnoxious ones.

6. Many doctors do not accept “no fault” insurance, so finding one to check you out may be a challenge.

7. The pain is worse before it gets better.

8. The pain of being told you are more liable than the guy speeding through the school zone simply because th stop sign is on your side of the intersection may not be physical, but it hurts your pride.  Especially when you know you handled it right.  It  is hard to get over hurt pride, but you can find peace with a clean conscience.  So glad I have one.

9. It doesn’t matter much to anyone that the guy who hit you didn’t even try to stop, swerve, honk, or perform any evasive maneuver before plowing through you.  It’s all about the stop sign.

10. Whiplash, and muscle spasms are real.  Muscle relaxants are useless because they can’t be taken during the day when you have to be a full-time teacher and mom, but they help you sleep a bit at night.

11. When you stop and consider your accident scene, and you realize all the things that could have gone so much worse, you are reassured that the angels really do watch over us.  (Thanks Angel Meghan… and all the others)

12. When you have Cowden’s Syndrome, and hamartomas on your spleen, they will send you for an abdominal sonogram right away, and then – like everyone else around here- be totally unsure what to do with the results.

13. Fax any important test results to a doctor you trust.  I am grateful the spleen didn’t rupture, but for those of you on my team, cheering for it to stay – cheer louder please.  The hamartomas are growing.  I will talk to my doctor at NYU this week.

14. When you are really at your lowest point, hurt, aggravated, and discouraged – make a decision to DO something positive. After realizing a child could have been easily injured in this mess,  I have established a petition for our local councilman to reevaluate the speed limit on the street where the accident occurred, and to label it a school zone, as well as to consider multiple two-way stops and speed bumps.  I have reached out to the local “Improvement Society” who already reached out to DOT on my behalf.  I have parents in my school fully supporting me and working to gain signatures on a petition.  Their children’s lives are in danger every day.  I want some things to change to make the children safer.

15. It is more fun shopping for a new car when you are ready to buy one, but my husband is helping make our current search more pleasant.  Always marry someone with a sense of humor.

16. Wear your seat belt!  Darn it if Cowden’s Syndrome isn’t going to kill me – a car accident won’t either.  So glad I was buckled up.

17. Those silicone implants can take a good hit.  Thankfully – nothing popped!

18.  I am not going on the teacups at Disney World ever again.  I have had enough spinning for a life time!

There… not a “Total Loss” at all…

to-be-continued