Speak Up!

Last night I had to do something extraordinarily difficult.  I had to call a friend that I don’t know well to let them know that their child whom I know quite well intended to kill herself.  I had copies of the text messages to back me up in case they doubted me or my kid to whom their kid was texting.  I was blunter than I’d intended when I called, but frankly, I’d never been trained in calling someone to let them know their kid was suicidal.  We had received news earlier that afternoon that a seventh grader at their middle school had died the night before and knowing that three other friends of my kid within the past twelve months had either told my kid that they intended to kill themselves or they told her after the hospitalization that they had tried, I wasn’t willing to do anything less than call the parents directly.  My kid is one who doesn’t gossip nor believe in telling other people’s stories.  I think that’s most likely why her friends confide in her.  It was a huge deal to me that she was fast to tell me her friend was in trouble and that she was really worried that disaster was imminent.  I know my kid will struggle for a while over whether her friend will forgive her for breaking her confidence, but, after the events of last night, we have signed our own kid up to see a counselor.  I presented the idea to her as an option and an opportunity to have someone trained in managing burdens give her tools to manage those she’s been carrying for over a year.  I wish I’d signed her up sooner, but my guide to parenting this kid exactly right seems to have gone missing, so I’m just doing my best.

I’m wondering if this seeming epidemic of depressed tweens and teens is in direct response to us becoming less neighborly as a culture.  The other day I was lucky enough to catch up with an old friend whom I met in or around the second grade.  Her family had moved into the house across the street from ours and my father had greeted her parents with a bottle of wine and a handshake to welcome them to the neighborhood.  Thinking back, our family knew almost everyone who lived on that street and several on the adjacent street too.  It was a small town, but still, we all were neighborly.

Three months ago, we moved into our new-to-us home in a new-to-us town. On the day we put up the SOLD sign, someone nearby shouted happily “Howdy new neighbors!” and then were gone.  We were surprised to not actually meet our first neighbor until over six weeks after moving in.  Even then, we only met him when we went out to get the mail as he was returning home from work.  He seems very nice as do the few neighbors we’ve met since, but it was a little anticlimactic. I acknowledge the climate is different.  I grew up in a desert, but here in the PacNW, February/March are excellent months to stay indoors.  I expect we’ll get to meet others more as summer arrives and look forward to being neighborly.

The POINT is this:  When we stopped getting to know our neighbors, the parents of our kids friends and our co-workers, we seem to have adopted a mind-your-own-business attitude and defensiveness that is harming our kids.  As the situation from last night unfolds more, I’m realizing that at least one of the kid in crisis’s parents was completely blindsided. He had no idea that more than one of his kids’ friends had been struggling with depression.  He didn’t know his kid had been having panic attacks for over a year, nor that the kid like so many others in this school is struggling with sexuality and related confusion.  This is stuff my kids talk with me about. It’s not anything I would have talked with my own parents about, and I’m so grateful for the relationship I have with my kids and that they trust me enough to discuss it.

No, I don’t want unsolicited parenting advice either, but if someone suspects my kid is in emotional or physical trouble and tackling concepts way bigger than whether the dog ate their homework, I want it known here and now that I WANT YOU TO TELL ME!  Even if you think my kid may have already told me, I still want you to speak up.  Yes, it will feel awkward.  No, I won’t be happy to hear it, but better to learn about what’s going on than to have to write an obituary.  If you lose a friend over having spoken up regarding a serious concern over a child’s safety, they were never really your friend and hopefully you will have at least helped them to start an important conversation with their kid.  Lastly, don’t buy into the myth that teenagers are too far gone to save.  They’re still kids in grown-up bodies with raging hormones just trying to carry the weight of the world with an over-developed sense of self-importance while still battling an under-developed sense of self-worth.  Frankly, it’s exhausting, but we who chose to become parents really only get eighteen years to help them evolve into functioning ‘grown-ups’… in the big scheme of things, it’s only a blip in time.

As my brother said from a very early age, “I didn’t ask to be born”.  None of our kids did, but as the people who brought them into this world, we are obligated to help them at least make it through high school with some sense of purpose and a set of goals to help them on their way.  There are a million things we can do to connect with our kids, but the first thing has to be to be present and engaged.  Stay in touch with your kid. Ask questions. Put down the technology. Hike as a family and explore your town/county/state.  Make time. You won’t regret the investment.


Be gentle. Be kind. #BeThe1To

During 1991-1992 school year I had lived in the fine arts dorm on campus and had my favorite school year ever.  My very rough freshman year saw me living off-campus with virtual strangers, not playing tennis or taking any dance classes due to injuries for the first time since I was five, hitting an all-time weight high and bulimia-low. I almost flunked out of school and my only real friend in Irvine at the time was the upstairs dance major who bonded with me over our shared eating disorder.  Near the end of that year, at the urging of my brother, I underwent testing and was verified to be ‘learning disabled’ (they don’t call it that anymore).  Signing up to live in the dorm the next year was a fresh start and the first place I found my tribe.  It was also the only year while in college that I didn’t struggle with bulimia or depression.

In December of 1992, I was in my junior year at UC Irvine and living with friends in a townhouse off campus. Aside from usual pressure of being in college, around this time, my sister told my parents that I had been making myself throw up. My Dad called to tell me that if it continued, he’d pack up all of my stuff and make me quit school and move home.  I got better at hiding it.  I was being stalked for the second time in my life by someone who would follow me home from campus and work and even was waiting in our back yard when a roommate and I got home from a late-night grocery run.  Another night, a male’s voice was calling my name as he threw small rocks at our upstairs window. When my roommate turned on the light, he jumped the fence and ran off.  Police were involved, but the ‘incidents’ continued throughout the school year and that person was never caught.  With winter break coming and no roommates staying in town, I’d been advised by the police not to stay alone in the house.  I’d been working retail part-time in nearby Costa Mesa. Although I’d kept my manager appraised of the stalker situation, she told me in no uncertain terms that taking any time off at the holiday season would mean I’d be unemployed when I got back.  As most college students are, I was under immense pressure and didn’t know what to do to improve things.

There was a common occurrence almost any time I was alone during this period.  My face would leak.  It would start automatically, and it usually came as a surprise.  First the tears would flow and then I’d berate myself for crying which spun out into all of the reasons I was a worthless burden to anyone who was dumb enough to put energy into loving me.  I knew it wasn’t normal to cry as often as I did, but dang!  I can be really mean! Conversations with myself in private left me with little doubt that my friends and family would be better off without the burden of me taking up time and space.  Really, I was sure that if they didn’t have me to worry about, everyone, myself included, would be so much better off.  About a week before winter break, I bought sleeping pills from a local drug store.  I’d planned to take the whole bottle that afternoon while my roommates were out.  I was sitting on my bed with no intention of leaving a note trying to summon up the guts to get it over with when I heard my roommates come home early.  I heard Pez cheerily bounding up the stairs. She flung open our bedroom door with a big grin on her face and pushed a small Christmas tree into my lap.  She gave me a hug as I began to cry and told me that they’d been worried about me.  Having had a similar conversation with my brother sixteen years later, I know how hard that must have been for her to say out loud and I don’t know if she ever knew what her coming home early that day prevented.  I wish my conversation with my brother had been as effective.  Matt took his own life on December 12, 2008.

While December 1992 was my lowest point in college, I don’t pretend that I didn’t cycle back into a dark place ever again. I do know that I had no idea at the time how much better my life was going to get.  I am grateful every day for the amazing adventures that I get to have and the team that loves me through them.  Is every day great?  No! Of course not! But the great thing I finally know is that there is something great in every day as long as I am willing to see it.  Adding up all of the great things is a much better use of my time and energy than comparing myself to others and counting all of the ways someone else may be luckier, happier, prettier, smarter, etc.  I’m a very competitive person, but I was never going to win a competition against someone else’s genetic code, karma, luck or destiny.  I’ve made peace with that side of my persona.  It helps that I spend more time offline than on these days and that I don’t watch TV beyond Netflix.

I did get help, and, with some key people in my life who stay tuned in, I have gotten better at identifying my triggers, asking for help and at helping myself. I also improved my relationship with my body and with food.  The bulimia and depression combination is one that works easily together to tear you down. In my own struggle with depression after my brother died, I finally told myself that suicide is no longer an option for me and I believe in my heart that I mean it.  The challenge is, no one can say that for you, no matter how much they want to.  I’ve had several people over the years ask me to “promise” that I wouldn’t end myself and I lied to each of them. Telling them what they wanted to hear at that moment was the only way to end a lecture I was being subjected to rather than a conversation that I needed to have.  There is a distinct difference there.  I will always be grateful that it was Pez that walked into the room with that Christmas tree that day.  She was the only one of my roommates who could have started that conversation and listened rather than lectured.  Pez did go on to become a therapist.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and with that are a few quick points I’d like for us all to remember:

  1. If and when you are worried about a loved one for any reason, reach out. Even just a quick text message letting them know that you are thinking of them can make a difference.  Don’t do it later. Do it now.
  2. Follow up. Check in with them again.  Are you still worried?  If so, follow up more.  Use your words. Say specifically that you fear they are thinking of suicide.  If you’re still worried after you talk with them, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Yes, YOU call them because you are worried about your friend. They can guide you on what to do next.
  3. Be gentle and be kind. With ALL people, be gentle and kind. No matter how well you think you know someone, you never really know the sum of the things they’ve been through or what they say to themselves when they’re alone.
  4. The only true shame in suicide is that the world will never know all the amazing things one could really accomplish and contribute in a full lifetime. That really IS a shame.

A few really awesome resources:

The Jason Foundation, Inc. is dedicated to the prevention of the “Silent Epidemic” of youth suicide through educational and awareness programs to equip young people, educators / youth workers and parents with the tools and resources to help identify and assist at-risk youth.  @JasonFoundation  contact@jasonfoundation.com www.jasonfoundation.com

Suicide Prevention Lifeline The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. By dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the call is routed to the nearest crisis center in our national network of crisis centers. The Lifeline’s national network of local crisis centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals day and night.

@800273talk  www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

911  If you genuinely feel your friend/loved one is in imminent danger of self-harm or suicide, dial 911.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is the leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide.  http://www.afsp.org

If you have lost someone you love to suicide visit: http://www.afsp.org/copingwithsuicide

The Emily Program  888-364-5977  888-EMILY-77 @TheEmilyProgram info@emilyprogram.com           http://www.emilyprogram.com

There’s Help. There’s Hope! Millions struggle secretly with food and body issues. One of the most comprehensive eating disorders treatment programs in the country, our care is personal, warm & welcoming.

#BeThe1To #NSPW #BeThere  #noshame #lightthetrailride


When I was sixteen years old and growing up in a small desert town on the Mexicali boarder, I was lucky enough to get a part-time job at a shop called Mirage. It was one of only a few really cool independent shops in town where a fashion-conscious young woman could find cutting edge clothing options.  My mom had taken me and my sisters there many times to shop, and I loved talking with the owner, Vicky.  She was one of those people who could light up a room just by entering it.  She had impeccable taste and a delightful sense of humor.  Beyond that, she was genuinely kind and, although she was a great listener, I loved hearing her talk.  She was always so animated when she spoke. She loved talking about her daughter and (then) new grandbaby, but my favorite was when she was planning to head to New York for fashion week.  It seemed so odd to me that anyone from our small town would make that trip, but Vicky never seemed to be a ‘small town’ person.  She was well traveled (later opened a travel agency) and worldly.  Her closest friends who came to visit her at the shop often were fascinating women and, as a teenager new to working in retail, I felt so lucky to be a fly on the wall when they came in.

As one of four kids, one learns early on that people assign identifiers to kids in larger families to help remember which kid is which.  My grandmother designated my oldest sister as the smart and beautiful one. She looked the most like my father’s side of the family, so it made sense that she’d get that identifier.  My brother, the only boy and the only male grandchild who’d be likely to carry on the family name remained MATTHEW throughout his lifetime.  My middle sister LOOKS LIKE MARTHA (Martha is our mother) because she’s the shortest and least physically WILLIAMS of the four of us. Melissa is definitely beautiful, but more German features like the Grams side of the family (Mom) than Welsh/Scottish Williams (Dad) side.  I was assigned LOOKS LIKE MELINDA because, while I wasn’t the SMART AND BEAUTIFUL ONE that the eldest sibling is, I was as tall as my brother and looked more like our eldest sister than I do like our mother’s side of the family.  Other grown-ups assigned other identifiers too, but they ran a similar theme:

Melinda=Oldest, Smart & Beautiful, The Creative One

Melissa=Looks Like Martha, The Funny One

Matthew= The Boy

Kristol= The Youngest, Looks Like Melinda

Working with Vicky at Mirage never felt like work and it never felt like I was working FOR her but always WITH her. It’s an important distinction because I would have dropped everything my teenage brain was planning to go help out at the store if ever she needed me.  I like to think she knew that and that she trusted me.  She was the first grown-up to notice that I had an eye for color and design. She encouraged me to explore putting different merchandising plans together to keep the shop looking fresh.  Later, she let me design the store-front windows which had me looking into merchandising positions later in college and in my early days in Seattle.  Vicky was the first grown-up I’d known who didn’t seem to need to assign identifiers to people. She made a point to learn names, tastes, styles and passions.  I wonder if I’d have been bold enough to audition for our school’s rock-band had I not had her cheering me on.  When my brother and I were in it together my junior year of high school, we often performed at the farmer’s market and we’d set up across the street from Mirage.  Vicky and her friends would be there with glasses of wine cheering us on.

When I left for UC Irvine in the fall of 1990, I told Vicky to let me know if she ever needed me and I’d be there.  For my first two years of college, she’d occasionally call and I’d head home for the weekend to see the folks and work at Mirage.  I was also working as a waitress at IHOP, so taking off for a weekend got difficult with a manager who didn’t build relationships the way Vicky did.  I worked at IHOP through my graduation from UC Irvine with a few other retail jobs smattered in between, but I never had another Vicky.  I moved to Seattle two months after graduation and have really made very few trips back to El Centro since.  I’m not even sure when Mirage closed and Vicky started her travel business, but I suspect she told me in a card or letter.  She surprised me many times with a quick note just checking in.  I was a lousy pen-pal.

On June 9th, I posted a blog entitled “The Things I’m Not Dying To Tell You”.  I can honestly report that I lived up to my personal challenge to write to my friend every week and to also write to at least one other person each week as well.  As an artist, I take a lot of photos and have made hundreds of photo cards that I have sitting in a box near my desk. I occasionally sell them, but more often, I like to gift them to people.  I’ve been using these cards for my writing project.  I mailed my first two cards on June 9th as promised.  The next week, I wrote to my friend and also wrote to three other people who had been on my mind.  I mailed out cards for five weeks in a row, but It never occurred to me that anyone might write back.  Three weeks ago, I received a note from one of the people I’d sent a card.  The following week, I received a thank you note and very nice message from Vicky.

This past week, my daughter and I went on a trip down to Vancouver, WA to visit my middle sister.  We took a day trip on Wednesday to explore along the Columbia River Gorge, hiked Multnomah Falls, checked out The Bridge Of The Gods and wandered through the Stonehenge replica which is a WW1 monument in Mayhill, WA.  As is often the case when I’m road-trippin, I hadn’t spent time on Facebook in a while (I only have my artist account set up on my phone, so it reeks of effort to log into my personal account). I was excited to share the photos I’d taken that day, so when we arrived back at my sister’s home after dinner that night, I logged on.  I was heart-broken to read the post by Vicky’s daughter that she’d passed away the day before.  I am lucky to have had the opportunity to be her friend.  I was even luckier to be able to say she was my first mentor.

As for my writing project?  In the first card I sent, I thanked Vicky for ways she’d very specifically made my life better by having been in it. While I don’t believe the last card I mailed to her reached her in time, I am so thankful that I made the effort to pick up my pen and mail the cards. It’s one more way Vicky enriched my life, and I’m not going to stop sending cards now that she’s gone.  It feels meaningful.  It feels important.  I appreciate the connections I am reviving through the writing project.  I received another surprise response to a card I sent last week in the mail when we arrived home from our road trip.   As for my cards to Vicky, If I can bring her family any cheer sending cards to them, then I’ll continue to do so in her honor.  For Vicky…


But I Digress: Mr. Crab’s Great Escape

Back in 2010, I was working for Kraft/Nabisco as a merchandiser building displays in grocery stores and stocking shelves.  I managed to get hurt on the job with both a shoulder issue that caused me to sporadically lose control of my right arm (problematic for so many aspects of the job and of life) as well as two discs that were dislodged from their rightful place in my spine and now and forever bulge into my sciatic nerve root.  As someone who doesn’t willingly sit still for more than a few minutes at a time, being medicated and unable to walk more than a block without significantly spiking pain levels proved both challenging and rather disheartening.  I worked hard to manage my pain without medication, but my physical limitations while healing were very hard on my spirit. Some turn to pills. Others turn to alcohol. Still others turn to religion.  I turned to writing.

I don’t pretend that the stories I wrote while healing from my injuries will change anyone’s world. I wrote them to amuse my children who were at that time only six years old and wondering if Mommy was going to get off of the couch and take them out to play.  I wrote them for myself too, as my other creative outlets made my pain levels shoot up and were therefore not an option.  There was something very therapeutic about laying on the couch propped on pillows and typing away.

I don’t look back on the experience as a bad thing. I really enjoyed my job and met lots of really awesome people. If not for the injury, I wouldn’t have started writing stories. I am not an amazing writer, but I do enjoy the process and felt pretty lucky to have had a creative outlet when painting and sculpture weren’t an option. At least through physical therapy, I regained full use of my arm and managed to avoid the surgery that had been recommended. My back will always be an issue, but never an excuse. I hike, walk & explore more now than I ever did then. When I push too hard, I have an amazing acupuncturist in Tim who is willing and able to get my pain in check. I’m lucky! I know many who resigned themselves to ‘old age’ after injury and it broke their spirits. I have a great group of cheerleaders who remind me that I am not done exploring yet. and, I have more stories to tell.

I should note three things about this particular story:

  1. The story is based loosely on aquatic pets we had at the time I wrote this and their names are as they were in real life.
  2. There is at least one part of the story where I gave too much detail.  If you choose to read on, you can decide for yourself which part.
  3. I did have two small publishers interested in this story back in 2013. Both wanted me to illustrate the story, but I was never able to create images that I felt complimented the story. I am not an illustrator in practice. I am not opposed to illustrations for it, but I am not the right person for that job.

If you read on and enjoy it, please consider letting me know and feel free to share.  If you choose to move on without reading, that’s fine by me too.  I know not everyone can make the time. Heck, it took me seven years to put it out here for you all, so I certainly won’t judge you for not making the time now!  And now, with no further ado whatsoever;

The things I’m not dying to tell you

A couple of weeks ago, my mother called me to say she’d run into an old friend of mine and wanted me to know that the friend isn’t alright.  She’s battled cancer off and on for several years, but last I’d heard, it was in remission.  From my Mom I learned that not only was her cancer back, it was back with a vengeance.  I immediately thought to write to her and tell her she was in my thoughts.  She often is.  This friend was my first mentor. She was the first grown-up who was more my friend than anyone else’s in my family and she was the first to really encourage my creativity.  More than that, she gave me my first public art installation and full creative control over her public space without ever asking to see the idea on paper.  She humored me at sixteen with all of my unabashed sassiness and sarcasm.  She trusted me at a time where I didn’t feel like many grown-ups did.  So why am I struggling to write to her?

Over the last few weeks, I have been reminded of the constant of life. The busy-factor will always be there.  Two weeks ago, when our kids’ schoolmate passed away suddenly, our daughter pointed out how odd it was that time keeps moving for those of us still here.  At the start of this week, we learned that our friends’ fiancé also passed away suddenly and again, we’re reminded that there is no guarantee of tomorrow for ANY of us.  So why then am I struggling to write to my friend?

There is a small voice in the back of my head telling me that maybe she’s actually going to be fine.  Maybe, if we don’t acknowledge the cancer, it will just go away.  Maybe if I keep ignoring it, my Mom will take back the concerned phone call that started me in this downward spiral of denial.  Or maybe (just maybe)…

I’ve heard several people who knew either of the two people in our circles who passed recently say “hug your loved-ones a little closer”.  Hugging is the easy part so long as your loved-ones live close.  It’s more difficult to reconcile with the knowledge that life’s busy-factor usually leads us down a path away from those loved-ones who formed us in our youth.  Distance and time haven’t made me love them less but rather seem to have frozen our relationships wherever they were when last we were together.  As social media works to superficially reconnect us, it can’t resolve time and distance or the nagging guilt that I’ve lost touch with so many who meant so much. I am the one who left. I’m the one who moved two states away.  I could try and write myself a pass, but this particular friend DID try and stay in touch with cards and notes. I’m the one who got too ‘busy’.

For my friend, I am walking to the mailbox and dropping in a card.  The note won’t rock anyone’s world, but the simple act of mailing it is a grander gesture than I’ve mustered in two decades.  In her honor, I am putting myself to task for the summer to mail a card to SOMEONE out of state every week.  As long as she is around to receive them, I’ll mail my friend one too.  There’s something significantly more intimate about a hand-written note than an e-mail or a Facebook post.  Perhaps it’s simply the lack of spell-check in handwriting that makes me feel more vulnerable?  Whatever the reasons I’ve used to hesitate, I feel that the Universe is trying in it’s not-so-subtle-way to nudge me forward and open the Rolodex.  Time to connect.

You Can Choose To Be Offended If You Want To

While I am very much looking forward to Fremont First Friday Art Walk tonight at the Saturn Building in Seattle, I was surprised to get a message that some of the tenants in the building are offended by my piece entitled Play Time. I was then asked to take it down.  Play Time features several well loved and well used old toys that are very much the type my brother and I played with as children.  I was so sad when I got the e-mail and, frankly, somewhat confused.  I’m not a particularly ‘offensive’ sort of artist.  All of my work is kid-friendly.  My themes are almost exclusively healing in nature.  Frankly, I feel like it takes a lot of effort to get offended by my work.  Then I took another look at the piece through over-sensitive eyes and I saw it!  There’s an old cap-gun at the center of the piece.  GUN!  GUN! GUN!  If one were to look at the piece and fixate on that GUN!GUN!GUN!, then sure, let’s all be offended together. Heck, we should probably burn the artwork in effigy.

Then I moved back into my brain and asked if I could post an explanation of the piece rather than take it down since the sentiment behind it so speaks to the good works the therapists in the building are trying to achieve.  Here is my explanation of the work as well as a photo of it.  I don’t ever aim to offend…only to mend myself through the process of creating art and if I’m able to help others heal as well, even better.

Play Time

Like all of my work, this piece came from a place of processing and healing.  This resin based collage in a salvaged frame includes remnants of a toy tractor found during a low tide beach combing and other well-loved toys. While the tractor piece instigated the overall design, this piece was very much inspired by the life and death of my brother, Matt.  Our childhood together was full of imagination, games and, yes, similar toys to what are featured in this piece.  Like so many adults, Matt forgot how to play as the pressures of being “grown-up” suffocated him.

As you search the piece, what do you most connect with?  The sling-shot? The stick horse?  The cap gun from the good old days of playing cops and robbers?  Or were you the builder? The car mechanic? The sailor?  The Commander of your little green army?  Whatever your toy of choice, Play Time endeavors to remind you to remember that kid…the one with the big imagination and plans to change the world.  Honor your childhood no matter how busy, serious or ‘important’ your life may seem by making time to play.  With no work/life balance, we find ourselves with only work and no LIFE.

Make time.

Metal tags read: Make Time To Play.      Find Balance.      Simplify.     Salvaged.
This one is in honor of my brother. Lessons learned.

Mr. In-between

Last week roared in like a lion and trudged out with a whimper.  Off the heels of a great weekend including a BBQ birthday party for our now thirteen-year-olds, I awoke early on the 22nd to get the traditional birthday cinnamon-roll cake into the oven.  The day was filled with fun, memories and sunshine.  The kids went to school after their breakfast cake and stayed after for just a few minutes to check in on the hatching trout eggs that our daughter was using for an experiment for the upcoming science expoThey asked us to take them out shopping for gifts for one another with gift cards they’d received from their grandparents.  It was a good afternoon with each getting their sibling something they really wanted.   They’d specifically asked for their birthday dinner to be at the local casino buffet, which was a break for me from the kitchen where I’d baked a total of three cakes from scratch already that day.  As a mom of a food allergy kid, eating out doesn’t happen often (don’t worry; this post isn’t about food allergies).  After dinner, we headed home so that Dad could get to bed (he’s a first-shifter at his job and has to get up at 2:30 every morning) and then the kids and I went to our favorite beach and took in the sunset and low-tide.  Really, an excellent start to their new year and we couldn’t have asked for a better day.

The week started flying by. I was finishing up some new artworks in preparation to install my first new show in six months in Seattle.  The coordinator / curator e-mailed me late Monday asking if I could install early rather than wait until the scheduled install date the following Wednesday.  We agreed I’d install on Saturday, but that meant I had to get focused a.s.a.p. and finish the last eight pieces and get them gallery-ready.

Meanwhile, our daughter’s trout eggs were hatching nicely and we’d planned to help her do a 50% water change on both tanks on Thursday after school.  Around 11:30, our daughter texted me that we couldn’t do the water change because there would be no after school activities. Before I could ask why, the school emergency line called to notify us that an 8th grader had died suddenly that morning.  This wasn’t ‘just’ an eighth grader. He was the kid that so many others wanted to be.  He was dynamic. He was intelligent.  He was multi-talented. He was the student body president and really, one heck of a good kid.  Our daughter had been in the first semester school musical with him.  I’d known him from that as well as from having him as a student when I was substitute teaching.  He was the boy that would light up the room when he entered.  The news came as a huge shock, and for our kids and so many of their peers, grappling with the loss of someone their age proved overwhelming.

The school gave us the opportunity to pick up kids early on Thursday and also said any absences on Friday would be automatically excused.  I went to the school to pick up our kids.  I hugged several parents and we all tried to stifle our tears before our kids emerged from the halls needing consolation.  I watched the staff trying so hard to maintain composure and just finish out the day.  I’d never seen the school so quiet.

A friend sent me a message that there was a prayer service being planned for that evening and both of our kids asked to attend.  We opted as a family to go to the beach and walk in the sunshine.  I blew bubbles from a green bubble wand (green was the boy’s signature color) and we walked along the shore together.  Suddenly we remembered that our daughter and I had acupuncture appointments in just a few hours and our son had his boy scout court of honor that evening.  Our daughter stopped walking and said “It seems so weird that time doesn’t stop and that we’re expected to just go on living our lives”.  Indeed.

We kept our appointments, went to the court of honor where our son achieved his First-Class rank and where we learned that, through some valiant efforts on the parts of many in the community, the Scout Shack sale has been canceled. The troop and its history will remain intact!  The news felt hollow on that particular day, but the gratitude for all who rallied to keep the troop in its home is both real and heartfelt.  We adjourned after a moment of silence for their lost schoolmate and went to the prayer service as a family.

While a huge number of students were absent on Friday, my husband and I agreed to send our two to school.  I explained to our kids that each teacher there (6th, 7th and 8th grade) that had had Jamin as a student had given a little piece of their hearts to him, as they do for all of their students.  Those pieces shattered when he left.  If they’re able to be a bright spot in the day for even one of their teachers, then that was the best way to honor this boy.  They agreed and were on the look-out for teachers and friends who needed extra support.

My husband surprised me by coming home early on Friday and we together opted to surprise our daughter by going to school early to help change the tank water for the trout fry.  Our daughter met us in the office and we went down to the lower level science storeroom where she’d set up her tanks so they’d be out of the way and less likely to be messed with.  We knew as soon as we opened the door that something was wrong.  The cold water tank was twice as milky and foamy as the warm water tank and the room smelled of fish.  Our daughter saw that someone had turned on the tank heater on high killing all of the eggs and fry.  More tears.  We completed the water changes with heavier hearts and hoped for some survivors.  The science expo is next week. There’s not enough time to order more fish eggs and repeat the experiment. While we may never know who sabotaged her experiment and killed the fish, we are working with her on utilizing the data she was able to collect and drawing conclusions enough for a presentation.

I nearly hated this week.  I say “nearly” because it’s not my nature to hate, but this week really challenged our natures.  I am so grateful for the two amazing teenagers that I have the privilege to call my kids.  I’m proud of their achievements, their kindness and their willingness to be thoughtful of others even when they themselves are hurting.  I am inspired by their curiosity and fortitude.

I am proud of the new artwork I completed this week and, with significant help from my husband, got installed throughout the 2nd floor of the Saturn Building in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood (30 pieces in all).  I am happy to have my work in a place where it is so well received and in an area that was such a huge part of my pre-parenthood life.

I am thankful for our friend who, recognizing how overwhelmed we were, came to our home and picked up our kids Saturday as my frustration over printer issues and general pre-installation panic hit a fever pitch.  She announced that she was keeping our kids and would bring them home tomorrow.  Knowing the kids were in good hands, my husband and I took our time in Seattle and went on to have one of the nicest dates I can remember (in 21 years together, that means a lot). 

Life is not a balance sheet.  I awoke this morning with an old song in my head and am running with it as my theme for this week.  I hope you do too.


Accentuate the Positive

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene
To illustrate his last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do
Just when everything looked so dark
Man, they said we better, accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
No, do not mess with Mister In-Between
Do you hear me?
Oh, listen to me children and-a you will hear
About the elininatin’ of the negative
And the accent on the positive
And gather ’round me children if you’re willin’
And sit tight while I start reviewin’
The attitude of doin’ right
You’ve gotta accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom, down to the minimum
Otherwise pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene
To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they say
Say when everything looked so dark
Man, they said we better accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
No, don’t mess with Mister In-Between
Songwriters: Johnny Mercer / Harold Arlen
Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC