The warmth of the beginning of the week wanes into a more gradual spring-coming that demands a coat and suggests gloves without insisting. Julia groans and inwardly I mirror her reaction. We want spring. During the weekend and again on Monday, I raked garden beds. I usually make myself rake the lawn in front of each bed and so I tend to drag my feet with the raking. Not so this year. I’m doing the beds, all the beds, first and then attend to the grass. My reward, as if gardening needs any, was the first sighting of a clump of snow drops. Not quite in bloom yet. Tomorrow. And Julia will be happy to see them. We are aching for this spring; however, it is March and not really yet spring in Wisconsin.
In my neighbor’s side yard the daffodils are emerging. They are some of the first daffs of the neighborhood. The side yard is a microclimate — a small place that tends, because of protection or exposure to be slightly out of step with the land around it. I wish for microclimates but I don’t really have any. Still, I enjoy the early daffs and few tulips. My plantings will come up eventually and it is so nice to see color even if it is not mine.
I taught the first session of Mindful Circle today. I had hoped for at least 4 participants, would closed the class at 8, and had 3. Unashamedly, I admit to wanting more and wondering whether I should cancel. Ego? Probably. A few minutes into the workshop with three, the number made no difference. I was very happy to be there. Still, not the smooth, inspirational leader that I envision as the appropriate teacher, I stumble through parts of the teaching and stutter during the readings. I am so far from perfect or even proficient and I steadfastly hold to just doing it. I taught breath meditation in a few different ways, read two lovely readings, got to know the moms and distributed handouts for at home practice.
The workshop will run for 6 weeks, with a second round to begin mid-April. I promised myself to refrain from judging the work, the goals, the delivery and the level of dedication it needs until I finish both sessions. Am I still merely a performer who needs to share what I find valuable and helpful? Can I manage to promote this project sufficiently to make this a success? Can I step out of the ego space and let the work happen? Is this work worth so much time and effort? Am I the right teacher? Some questions for June pondering.
Late winter, early spring has seen some challenging weeks with Julia. Frustrating. Not always present. Not willing to do anything that she doesn’t want to do. And definitely not listening to anything being said in a pleasant tone for the first time. The time has been challenging enough to ask her meds doc to change some of her daily cocktail, which he did and which did not work. Higher dose ADHD meds did not improve behavior and so we are back to what she was on before. (A few days of a lower dose showed me that her dosage is probably right where it should be.)
And then a few weeks ago, Julia’s speech therapist gave her a battery of tests which she usually does once a year to chart change and growth. In general, Julia has always shown progress in these tests. Sometimes very small. During the latest test, however, Julia’s marks in comprehension — reading and listening — showed absolutely no progress from last year. During the testing, I could hear as the therapist read the stories that Julia would not be able to answer the subsequent questions. Julia’s grasp of anything beyond the simplest story line is very slight. When she is very interested — HP, Starwars, Dragon Stories — she will understand a bit more, but it is the unusual detail not the complex or complicated story line. This lack progress scared me. Was it a plateau? Was this it for Julia’s learning? Was I going to live with a virtual 8 year old forever? And how was she going to work and live and be in any community?
Yes, a bit of a dramatic response to one test. I blame it on the problem of living without prognosis. Because I have no idea of how far she can go and what she can learn, I can take any one test as an invitation to judge her entire life. But I have been here before. Way too many times from initial diagnosis day to the casual remark by a friend who sees Julia only infrequently. The life path of any child, of any adult, is no where near certain, and yet I still desperately want some certainty for Julia. And absolutely all that I have and all I will ever have is today, this morning, this minute. And I have this lesson in front of me constantly. Will there come a time when it is learned down to the bone?
On the other hand . . . .
Julia played her cello for the Strings Festival on Saturday. She played up to level 5 which is a decent amount of progress for the year. Last year, her school aide went with her to the festival and sat next to her. This year that was not possible but her school music teacher arranged to have another sixth grade cello student sit next to Julia. I asked that Julia’s be allowed to use her music — ordinarily kids memorize the pieces that they play — and the other student had not memorized as much as she could play. It was going to be a win-win, Julia would have someone to keep her on task if she needed it and the other student would have Julia’s music to look on with. Julia liked that plan, especially because she would not be sitting with a grownup; however, the other student didn’t show up to rehearsal or performance. Julia was disappointed but she was able to roll with the changes. Something that would not have happened a few years ago. Her teacher sat with her when she was able and Julia was alone when her teacher was conducting or doing festival related duties. In therapy terms, this is fading support, and almost surprisingly, it worked. Julia was able to sit by herself and keep on task and playing. She looked like she was listening when she was supposed to listen and I could see her fingers moving when she was supposed to play.
In math, Julia is working on operations with fractions. She doesn’t understand it all yet but she is adding, subtracting and multiplying fractions. She is not changing to common denominators or simplifying yet but this is well beyond where she was at the beginning of the school year. Telling time is getting better as well.
In social studies, the class is researching ancient India and Julia’s assigned topic was Buddhism. This was an easy topic for her because the meditation practice that we have is based on Buddhist metta meditation, her FUS religious education class this year is exploring different religious traditions, and she is fascinated with the Indian religious art that she’s seen. It is interesting and very joyful to see her investigating a topic that has caught her interest and is not related to Harry Potter, dragons or Star Wars. She is amazingly proficient at googling for information.
One of the activities that Julia’s Vision Therapy doc suggested we do daily is physical mirroring. We manage to do it about three times a week. Julia was truly awful at it about two months ago. It was as if she did not know where to look when I did something as simple as touch my hand to my shoulder and then to my knee in a pattern. I’ve broken down movements into their simplest forms and built up movements that require more than one body part very slowly. We are doing what could be described as very simple dance moves at present. The learning goes slowly but I can see progress. I don’t have to tell her where to look anymore. I can almost see those processing wheels turning as she tried to do step 1, step 2 and step 3 in succession.
And finally, this next Sunday will be the last day of adaptive ice skating at Madison Ice. Julia has been skating since the fall and has definitely become more confident on the ice. She is still unable to comfortably push off with her right foot which suggests that balance on her left foot is incredibly hard. But she perseveres.
I’m persevering on ice as well. I’ve ice skated since before I can remember. My first ice skates were double bladed and a very tiny size. My dad was a good skater and had hockey been a high school sports in pre-WWII Nutley, New Jersey, he would have been a star. He told stories of skating the Passaic River when he was a teen with friends. Long days on the ice getting as far north as they could, making a fire to cook whatever they carried and then skating back home after dark. The Passaic River was far too polluted to even freeze during my childhood but we skated our winters at flooded basketball courts and community ice rinks. He taught my mother and then his kids. I remember with much fondness linking arms with him and feeling his stability long before I had my own. He pulled me along for years until I was able to match his stride. I could depend on his control, his ability to stop and loved the speed. The support on the ice, that he was unable to give to so many of my other pursuits, did instill something that I can draw upon.
I’ve been on the ice most Sundays since January with Julia. We did not skate together. I was far too unstable for her to rely on mEach week, I made my way slowly and with little balance around and around the rink, praying not to bump into anyone less stable than I was and not to fall too hard. I have not been on skates in years and was, at times quite disappointed that it was taking me months of Sundays to reclaim any ease and proficiency. Last Sunday, my stubbornness not to declare that I am far too old for such foolery, finally paid a dividend. As I skittered around the ice, I remembered my father’s steady grip. I longed for some steady grip to help me find stability and ease and speed. And then I remembered that it was me who was that steady grip for David on ice as skating was not part of his family’s traditions, and for Cheshire as she was learning. It was as if remembering both of those I could claim a bit of what was once steady and stable in me. There were not as many helpers on the ice as usual during Julia’s skating time and I was urging her on. Close to the end of the hour, I offered her just a pinky to hold and we went around a time or two, and then a bit more of a hand and then a real hand hold. I steadied her off-balance moments and she did the same for me. We laughed as we named who was almost falling between the two of us and we skated holding hands for twelve minutes without stopping.
We are coming out of this challenging winter into a Madison spring.
One thought on “process”
Suzanne — I LOVE the image of you and Julia steadying each other with joy in the endeavor. An image, perhaps you can carry with you for those times when it is needed, just like the memory of helping David and Cheshire steadied you moments before this new image. Another image in this blog speak volumes: “microclimate” — we can create these spiritually, I think — finding ways to be in life regardless of the immediate weather pattern. I thought about that this morning, when I set up a beatiful pottery vase with baby’s breath in the midst of laundry piles and dishes to do. I thought about the importance of creating spots of beauty or calm that we can refer to when hope or respite is needed. something John O’Donohue named “canons of beauty”.