She stared at me with her wet curls matted to her head. I put my hand through the circle in the clear plastic tent that encased her. The rubber glove made me feel like a robot reaching out to her. Tears dropped, dribbling down my cheeks as I gulped on a feeling of loss in my throat.
She was still so little and had not been with me long, which made me want to grab her and run away with her. But, the doctors were trying to save her. They were trying to cool the fever and keep her from having more convulsions.
When my sister was born, I thought she was my baby. I didn’t need a baby doll. I just carried her around everywhere. I held her on my right hip so much so that I attribute the severity of my scoliosis to this strange pleasure.
Her arrival left me more satisfied than I’d ever felt before.
So when death threatened to take her from me, I could hardly stand it. I slept in the lobby area of the floor where they kept her for over a week.
Burnt Orange 1970’s
The burnt orange and dark blue couches were comfy because they were nice and hard, direct from the 1970’s. I lived on hospital food and vending machine snacks because I refused to leave her, which was fine with my mom because she couldn’t bear to leave her either.
After a week of staring at her through plastic with electrodes often stuck to her body, the doctors sent us back home to Miami. But, it wasn’t until much later that any of us stopped keeping a close eye on her.
Maybe she knew how worried we were or maybe she just got tired of our sad, scared eyes because it wasn’t long before she started to make us laugh. And, once we started, it seemed that she was on a mission to continue the laughing spree.
If I was upset, she would fart.
If I was sad, she would do a crazy dance and fall down. Running in circles, she’d then spin with her arms out and collapse, shaking her head when she would stand up like a speedy yet strange little cartoon.
Sometimes, my sister Jill Michele Melean would give my dolls Ziggy Stardust haircuts just to change what was happening in the room, especially if it was unpleasant. Then, she’d tease me and say she was cutting my hair next until I was so distracted that we both forgot whatever had upset us in the first place.
As we grew older of course, her antics changed to quick quips and strange observations that sent everyone to bizarre places in time and space, always laughing, sometimes wondering and laughing, but laughing just the same.
We laughed guttural laughs that would break the patterns of sorrow and worry.
I realized, with certainty that felt like I was living in a sitcom, that I shared a room with my best friend who wasn’t just a funny friend but a talented funny friend.
Never again would I sit alone with no one to talk to except my imaginary friend.
Never again would I feel the dense space of quiet for endless hours.
Never again would laughter elude me.
And, these truths remain to this day. Although we live on opposite sides of the country, we are each other’s support system. A laugh away from a sad moment keeps us in contact with each other.
I’m sharing her latest comedy with all of you so that you enjoy the same luxuries as I do, the kind of laughter that only the funniest girl in the world can deliver, the kind of laughter that will take your mind off your troubles and lift the weight from your shoulders.
A businessman who bought up a town near Chicago, Illinois, Robert Stanford built a fortune for himself and some would say it all started with a small bakery. But, if you knew him, you also knew that it really started with his mind; the way he looked at life.
The Harvard Business Review recently published and posted research by Ashley Whillans about assigning monetary value to time, in particular the time we spend on happiness.
Rewinding to businessman Robert Stanford, he saw time as both valuable and invaluable. He stood as this thread that kept his family thriving. Although his children saw him as perfect, he was by no means a spotless, unsullied man. He met their mother while still in his unhappy marriage and it was not easy to divorce and remarry, considering that it was the late 1920s.
But, he did it anyway and happiness became him, so much so that everyone looked up, back, sideways, and forward to him for guidance. His daughter, so little, reached for his hand and felt the safety and comfort that made her feel, like everyone else in the family, so reliant on him to provide that to her forever. The problem was that he couldn’t do that forever.
He was him. She was her. The others were them.
So what made him so powerful, so prepared to find happiness at every turn?
To an outsider, there were multiple reasons why he was richer than the next man, especially during the Great Depression when everyone seemed to have nothing. But, to someone else like him, not even to his family who simply relied on him, he saw the world through rose-tinted glasses so to speak.
Let’s start simply. On a winter afternoon, walking with his daughter across the street from their home to the playhouse, which was a small apartment building, he listened to her complain about the other kids making fun of her then about her homework then about her siblings. He was a good listener and didn’t talk much.
But, when she finished her complaining, he asked a simple question, “How much good does complaining about all of that do for you?”
Now, on an average day, with an average person, even a friend, anyone complaining would likely fight about it some more and most surely resent that question. However, because this was her father whom she admired and loved more than anyone, she looked up and smiled.
Then she said, “No good at all.”
She told this story to me often and in many different ways because he sometimes didn’t ask a question. Sometimes he’d speak a sentence or just remain quiet and later tell a story over dinner about his bakery or a business deal or a chance encounter.
But the thread never changed.
If it’s not doing you any good, pay no mind to it.
As the start of the New Year lingers, I’m rethinking my approach here at BraveSmartBold as well as my approach to a lot of other things, including my conversations with my children.
In the process of sifting through my relationships with my family, I’m taking a look at BraveSmartBold, thinking, I want to highlight some of the brave, smart, bold writers and creators here on WordPress.
I’ve been following his blog and listening to his podcasts for a long while, but the latest ones hit home. The car seems to be the only place I talk to my kids anymore, at least for meaningful conversations unless I trap my kids at a restaurant table. If we’re walking or out anywhere, they veer off in another direction or escape my clutches with a bleep or a tap on a device.
Always and for eternity (or what feels like eternity) there is the beloved escape into the smart phone.
It seems, however, that a fight takes place anyway, despite our many distractions or purposeful ignorance of any being or idea outside of the one and only me, the self, the I.
Lately, we fight, not just squabble, over who did this or that, not debate a topic while learning something new or interesting. No, we fight. We fight so rough that if it were physical, we’d need boxing gloves to keep our knuckles from bleeding on impact.
Clashing Over Nothing
For the most part, I speak loudly enough to at least get a point across or make a statement even if it means demanding that the earbuds be removed.
In the car, it can be a little less painful except for the sharp strike to my neck when chopped from the passenger seat, “Well, why’d you say that then?” or “I never said that. Stop starting a fight,” after asking what I had thought was a simple question.
But then, over time, tired of the incessant clash over nothing in particular, I started to question myself. I began to wonder how they got so defensive so much of the time? Was I the one who was defensive or were they already angry from the start? No one wins in these situations, hence my drive to change my approach somehow. I had already learned that I wasn’t going to change them.
That’s when I took to social media. Not so much Facebook or Instagram, but to the legitimate news sites, LinkedIn, and WordPress. When I scrolled to How to Talk to People About Things, I discovered advice about talking to people so that everyone involved can benefit from the dialogue. McRaney’s podcast explores this concept in an interview with Misha Glouberman who teaches negotiation.
Glouberman starts the podcast by talking about questions in detail with the audience, giving them pointers on what type of questions would be most useful. He elaborates on what kind of question to not ask or rather which ones might be “bad” questions. Mainly he points out that questions that leave you with a feeling of pride might not be the best questions.
Now, that’s a short beginning to the podcast, which helps clarify what he means when he promotes the idea of having a conversation that’s beneficial to all involved. I found that introduction to questions interesting because my son loves to ask questions. They used to be the kind that left you not wanting to answer or irritated with having to answer such as, “Would you want to swim with sharks or piranhas?”
You were struggling over a no-win situation, unless you were a tween or teen, or an adult who liked to indulge in self deprecation then you might enjoy the insanity of it.
Now, my son still asks those questions, but they’re worse and slightly antagonistic, “Why do you stick your chin out like that?” And, because my son is the one asking, I either get triggered or feel insecure or both. I then fall into that all-too familiar trap of spiraling into an argument with him. Sometimes, I even start insulting him right back.
So, after a couple years of bouncing between his and my daughter’s manipulative and snarky quips and conversations, I’ve resolved myself to fight the good fight. If we’re going to talk, it better be good.
That’s why when I was looking for a positive way to begin the New Year in relation to all conversations, but in particular with my interactions involving my kids, and I found YANSS 143, I felt a thrill of inspiration and satisfaction. It was quickly followed with a sense of power over what felt so out of control as I continued to listen to the podcast.
Now, the real test was and is the answer to the question: Does it work? Does whatever revelation you had while listening to this master negotiator on McRaney’s podcast actually work? Well, the short answers are: Yes… and no. The long answers are up to you and you and you and me then you again. You sort of have to work through it and figure it out for yourself.
Work Out the Bugs
This morning, my son came out boxing. Gloves off.
I retaliated. Then, I shut it down all down pretty fast.,
We drove in silence for a good 30 minutes. We literally and figuratively had a long way to go. The last 10 minutes of the drive, a crazy woman in a white Fiat started honking at me for no reason and tried to get around me but I couldn’t move from where I was.
I was not in a fighting mood so I was willing to accommodate anyone’s anger at this point, but she would slow downthen speed up. She was in the mood to start a fight. That was clear.
This bizarre cat and mouse chase continued until we reached our destination. My son started laughing like crazy. “She’s still there.” He tried to instigate and tell me how to drive. I repeated, “I really don’t want to fight with a crazy person.”
I even added, “I think I’m going to drive around until we lose her, just in case she’s following us.” He agreed to that part.
The most fascinating part, though, was his reactions to all of it. He was thrilled with her crazy behavior. He was intrigued by my driving skills. I weaved through traffic like an expert, finally losing her in the last few minutes before we arrived.
He became my ally in the process telling me as he turned around several times, “Don’t worry. I’ll let you know if she gets closer,” chuckling between comments.
A Common Enemy
But, I don’t want us to get along only when we have a common enemy. Although that’s the key to bringing the opposing sides together in any storyline out there, it’s not necessarily the only way to handle every conflict you have with any one person. At least, it’s not how I want to deal with my conflicts and conversations.
Even so, the crazy, white Fiat lady, did her job. We were together. Later, however, in the spirit of my quest for a better solution to my ongoing problem, I attempted a conversation with a kick of conflict.
I instigated, “How can you like Donald Trump when you like Robert DeNiro who despises him?”
He casually said, “I don’t know. I just do.”
Wanting to push it further, I said, “That’s not an answer. I mean, you idolize Robert DeNiro and he really despises Trump. Why do you like Trump so much?”
No One Cares About the Outcome
“I don’t know. He’s a Republican. He doesn’t just do what everyone wants. He does his own thing. Not like the Democrats. They make you think everything’s fine when it’s not.”
I reacted in kind, “Democrats don’t think everything’s fine. That’s ridiculous.”
He threw out some statistics that made sense, but I debated the context. He agreed and disagreed. So did I.
The difference was, we accepted each other’s views. We were willing to listen without the need to win or dominate. That way, no one could lose because neither one of us cared much about an outcome. We had nothing to gain from winning or losing. We just listened.
That was the key in this situation. That’s some of what the podcast highlighted. Of course, Glouberman explains how to converse about more complicated situations when there’s more at stake than in a small argument.
What sorts of conversations cause conflict for you? It’s a question that you should explore. You might learn how to create an easier path for yourself when encountering conflict in the coming year.
LA Femme International Film Festival showcases films by women producers, writers, and directors. This year my sister Jill Michele will be hosting the ceremonies. The only depressing part about it is that I won’t see her do what she does best: Rally the crowd around a topic with the humor and grace of a writer, producer, actress, and comedian, all of which I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy.
Take a look at what women are creating. You’ll find enlightenment.
When your dog gets sick, you feel helpless, especially at times when you want to rush her to the doctor but the office is closed. The closest emergency clinic is hours away, so you search the Internet for answers.
In our case, our Golden Retriever who’s not even a year old yet started acting as if she was hallucinating, almost convulsing.
Her head jerked around. She flinched.
Her eyes searched for something with every flinch, darting around with the jerking motion of her head, closer to the floor than usual. Then she swung her head back to her side and bit at herself.
She stopped for a second then repeated this jerking and searching, flinging her head around to her side.
So believable was her search that we looked for bugs, fleas, wounds, anything.
We bathed her and hugged her. We searched her body with our eyes, our hands.
The last time I’d searched for something my own eyes couldn’t see but someone else could I was in my grandmother’s one-room home when she asked me why the little girl was looking at her over there by the door.
I told her that she was just watching over her.
This time, my 11-month-old Golden Retriever searched for something, and couldn’t tell me what she saw. But, just like the little girl, I knew whatever it was, something was wrong.
This time, I also knew that this Golden was experiencing some sort of hallucination and it had nothing to do with an aging mind.
I promised to get her help though, just like my grandmother.
This time, however, the doctor gave us good news. She would be fine.
The bad news was that our Golden, Bailey, had licked a poisonous toad.
Our own form of paranoia set in.
I had a nightmare that giant frogs were climbing the walls to get to her and I was yelling for help. In fact, in our area, Miami-Dade County, Marine Toads are dangerously commonplace. According to the Florida Wildlife Extension’s website, the Marine toad, which is sometimes referred to as the Giant Toad or the Cane Toad, is most prevalent in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties in Florida.
When it is touched or feels threatened, it produces a toxic substance from its head. Dogs and cats can die from this.
Figuring out whether or not your dog or cat was poisoned starts by noticing a change in their normal behavior. Our dog very quickly showed signs of paranoia and convulsive movements. You can also check their gums, which turn red.
Rinse the poison away.
When attempting to relieve your pet of the symptoms or rid the progression of them, you should take a hose and rinse their mouths being careful to let the water run out of their mouths, rubbing the gums, teeth, and tongue.
Not much else can be done once your dog is exposed to the poison. Some people say you should give them milk. Others say that feeding them peanut butter helps. I gave my dog a bath thinking that something had bitten her, but when she continued the erratic behavior, I knew we needed to have her checked.
Preventing poisoning in the first place.
Know what’s lurking in your surroundings. After taking her to the doctor and confirming that this wasn’t a bite or even an injury to the head. I realized that we often visited a lake that was about half a mile away. Those toads were all over there.
How did they get in our backyard?
The Marine Toads are able to climb walls and burrow under ground. Since this is Florida, every thing is basically a lake because of the rain. Water and insects provide them with perfect breeding grounds.
My whole family admonished me for letting her out in the backyard without a leash. I simply bit my tongue, having warned them that we shouldn’t get a dog, knowing that I’d be the one to care for her, knowing I would be blamed when things went wrong, loving her just as much or more than they would and having to endure the guilt that came with it.
Then, holding her in my arms through the night and after the effects of the poison had worn off, I found a love I’d thought that I’d lost so many years before. She breathed with me and lay her head next to mine, a comfort I’d last felt with my grandmother who passed a few years ago.
My mother worked hard and smart. I missed her all the same.
The 24-hour shifts paid more but meant that we’d see her less. She made up for it by taking us on road trips to Disney World for a day. That meant donuts in the car on the way and midnight car rides while we slept and she drove.
For her time, she worked as smart as she could, given the circumstances. She was a tough, single mom who was as pretty as she was smart.
Today, we all work smarter in many ways. Our smartphones make it easier for us to multitask and stay in touch. Our technology seems to improve our lives. We all appear to even have our own personal assistant named Alexa or Google.
And yet, we feel overwhelmed often enough.
We seem to have turned what should make our lives feel easier and freer into a tool to make our lives harder. Our smartphones are overloaded with apps for everything, even apps that will organize our apps. And, stress, oh the stress of perhaps losing that phone that encases everything we hold valuable.
Our computers allow us to create and communicate within seconds what may have taken days or years to accomplish less than 20 years ago. The internet is nothing less than a superhighway taking us anywhere we desire.
But, here we are: Stressed.
Shouldn’t we be working less? Shouldn’t we be happier?
Some may argue that they are, but as I see children grow up, I see more stress and tension. I see a more insidious sort of self-deprecation that keeps us from seeing who we really are and who we actually want to be.
Our demons are summoned daily with a tap on the f app or a scroll down in Instagram. We aren’t working less. We’re working more, being told what to be, our minds overloading instead of focussing.
Those white shoes walked away so many times that the little girl who watched them resented them. She hated that they needed to work, which meant they rarely stayed in the closet where she wanted them to be. They took her mother somewhere too far away.
Now, with technology, where would her mother be? Close or far? Or walking around in an app?
Preparing for the start of the school year seems even more somber this year than others. Back to school mayhem has begun in some parts of the country. Florida just had its tax-free weekend and parents were no less aggressive about stocking up on supplies. But, all of us, at some point, looked at a pencil pouch among our stacks of spiral notebooks while snagging glue sticks on the way to check out and wondered if our children would really be safe.
None of us needs to watch the news in order to understand the anxiety that many children, parents, and educators feel when thinking about the start of a new school year after the horrific violence so many students experienced last school year.
And, yet, it’s there, coming straight toward us. Anxiety Looms
The opinions and arguments about who ignored what in the recent school shootings riddle the news and the Internet. In hindsight, anyone would have done more if they knew there would be this kind of violence targeting schools.
I know, when thinking of my own students this coming school year, I just want them to feel safe with me. To just tell them this would be pointless. They won’t be able to look at me and think, Yeah, this teacher’s tough. She can deal with a school shooting, no problem. I certainly pride myself on being a strict teacher simply because I can’t stand it when kids bully each other; however, my demeanor isn’t at all tough even if you stuck me in a security guard uniform. Then again, I don’t know that many people, let alone school children, have much confidence in security guards at this point.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to dialogue and taking the time to actually, yes, literally, really, genuinely care. Enough teachers and educators just don’t care and the students know it. The fact is that teachers are human and have an extremely stressful job. Ensuring Safety
Here’s the thing, any school worth its salt will be putting together several plans to maintain a secure environment as well as other important safety precautions.
But, dialogue, conversations between the administration, teachers, parents, and students will create a powerful bond and help everyone deal with their concerns and outright fears instead of hiding them. CBS News addresses dealing with students’ concerns in How to Talk to Kids about School Violence.
Reminding students that they do have control over what happens to them and that they are in a safe environment in general gives them a sense of peace in the midst of an already stressful circumstance.
Many schools encouraged student Walkouts last school year, giving students a much needed voice at a time when so many were left speechless not just because of the violence inflicted on students but the repeat violence. Just watching the news and listening to the fears of the students involved in the shootings caused students across the country to worry about their own safety. Speak Up
Students know that they are returning not just to schoolwork and homework but also to gossip, bullying, and social interaction that some love but most have a hard time dealing with in one way or another.
They need to talk to someone about their worries, so it’s important to ask questions as teachers and parents and then to listen and reassure them that there’s no reason to believe that their school will be attacked. However, if there is a reason to believe that, then students need to be encouraged to speak up.
They especially need to feel safe when speaking up. So many students don’t want to “tattle” or “rat out” other students because they are the ones who have to deal with the insidious ways bullies operate. Watch Out for Bullying
Students experience bullying in various degrees and forms on a daily basis and often don’t speak up about it for fear of being bullied even more afterward.
A former teacher, school counselor, and school administrator wrote a good piece titled Bullying: What Schools, Parents, and Students Can Do for the Huffington Post.
Often enough, students handle the bullying themselves thinking of how much worse it would be if they were to ask teachers or administration for help.
But, students need to know when to get help. That’s something they need to be allowed to figure out for themselves.
That’s why there needs to be multiple conversations every day between teacher and student and student and parent and student and student and school counselor and student and administrator and student and right back to teacher.
And, it shouldn’t stop there. The whole of our communities need to look and listen. Ignoring problems often makes them worse. Conversations
Conversations need to happen often and need to be ongoing and available. The teachers are asking students how they are, if they got sleep, why they didn’t do the homework, why were they late? That’s just the basics.
There will be rules, oh so many rules. There is and will be security. Then, there’s life.
Students may not roll their eyes to your face, but they’ll definitely do it behind your back and then some if they think you’re anything less than genuine.
In other words, they aren’t stupid enough to think that if they simply tell on a bully that, poof, they’ll find themselves in a magical world of unicorns who fly them away to a cloud city with no guns and only sparkly do-gooders. For the most part, they wouldn’t even want that.
So, when you strike up that conversation, be ready to talk about everything… oh yeah, and be ready to talk about nothing at all, especially if it’s a tween or teen.
Then, try again tomorrow.
Our secret desires often stay hidden away until death or until we just can’t take it anymore and go crazy, delivering spurts of truths until death–the luxury of finding solace in an insane asylum wavering somewhere between picking up the kids and drinking the next Starbucks coffee.
So much of our lives are full of secrets because we’re afraid to tell the world who we really are and in many circumstances we’re right to stay quiet, but I love stories about people who find a way to express themselves anyway.
Karamo Brown from Netflix’s Queer Eye recently spoke about not hiding from who you are.
We all love to announce who we are when we’re little, before maybe age seven, maybe eight. Then, we notice the disapproval, the stares, the outright punishments if we push it too far.
Then we become teenagers and, well, we all know that changes everything, even if it’s momentary.
My husband donned a mohawk that rivaled that of a horse’s black mane. I drove across country and back again by myself just to prove I could do it. Both of us could dance at the hottest clubs in Miami almost every night and still show up to class or work the next day.
Did we change? A lot.
The vast majority of us begin to hide our real feelings in order to acclimate to the social norms that make us the good, upstanding citizens who are allowed to participate in going to a good college, finding a good job, renting an apartment, and maybe, just maybe, buying a home and keeping it.
But, it’s the remarkably brave ones like Karamo Brown who remind us that sometimes we don’t have to hide and it turns out a whole lot better than being like everyone else.