Actual, Real, Helpful Help

Swallow, My Sunshine: Bridge

A family in crisis, if they live in an active community of family or friends or both, will find themselves fielding regular offers of help. This is so many orders of magnitude better than the alternative of living in isolation, surrounded only by one’s own panic, but offers of help are not nearly as good as actual help, delivered while requiring as little as possible from the people who need it.

Article after article have been written about “ring theory,” the idea that, using a map of concentric layers around a person or family in crisis, support and comfort go in and complaints and requests go out. At the center of the circle is the person with the core issue; in the example of a family with a sick child, the child is at the center. While a parent might find their child’s howls of pain excruciating to hear, she would never dream of complaining about them to the child himself; more appropriate would be to complain to a good friend.

from story at http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407-story.html#axzz2kF8iBw9U

Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times

This is common sense, but sometimes, the farther out from the center, the harder it is to remember.

Everyone knows not to complain to the parents of a sick child about how much work it is to support them and their child during this crisis, even though it is indeed HARD to be involved in a crisis, however little it really touches your own life. Being around fear and anxiety is, itself, traumatic. Still, we know, as ring theory tells us, to “dump out.” It becomes trickier when it’s not so much “dumping” our complaints as it is “dumping” the hard work of finding out what our struggling friends really need. Continue Reading…

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Oversharing, Awareness, and the Muddled Middle

http://mamalode.com/story/detail/how-blood-dancesWhen my medically complicated daughter was only a few years old, a close family member said something that I’ve never been able to forget. I’ve thought about it often, especially as I’ve been writing about my daughter so publicly.

This family member was a new parent with a fussy, unhappy baby. He was complaining that nothing he and his wife were doing to soothe their baby was helping, and I asked if they’d asked any of the parents in their new baby group for ideas.

“No,” he said, “we’re just more private.”

“But maybe someone knows of something — a product or a position or something — that might help,” I countered.

“Look, that’s not how we are,” he answered. “That’s more you. You’d tell any random stranger in your kid’s kindermusic class all about her medical problems no matter what they’d think about you.”

At the time, I felt slapped. I felt hurt, and I felt judged. The tone with which this was delivered was so derisive, as though I was indiscriminately blurting out the story of Sammi’s first cardiac surgery to anyone who didn’t run away when I opened my mouth. It made me feel like an embarrassment.  Continue Reading…

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6 Things Not to Say to a Family on a Medically Restrictive Diet

talkingBetween my daughter Sammi’s birth and her ninth birthday, she spent nearly all of her life on some kind of medically-restrictive diet. Whether it was being forbidden to eat grains as a baby, following an acid-free diet as a refluxing toddler, using the six-food-elimination diet to uncover the cause of her (incorrectly-diagnosed) eosinophilic esophagitis as a little girl, or choking down the unpleasant fat-free food that kept her safe from chylothorax after her cardiac surgery, we often had to define what our whole family ate by the things that Sammi had to avoid.

During all those years, I heard a number of unhelpful comments about what I fed my child, ranging from the well-meaning but insensitive to the downright offensive. If someone in your world is eating a diet that their doctor has prescribed, the following comments should never, ever come out of your mouth. Continue Reading…

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Gracias, Mil Veces: A Mother’s Day I’ll Never Forget

handheartThere were so many things to which we had to say “no” in the weeks after my 8 year old daughter, Sammi, had major cardiac surgery.

Soccer? Recess on the playground? Gym class? Wii games? No, far too much running and too many opportunities to get hit where her back was freshly stitched together.

Decent-tasting food? No, she had to be on a fat free diet to treat chylothorax.Birthday parties? No, too many off-limits foods and too many germs.

We said no — had to say no —  to almost everything she liked. It was heartbreaking. Still, there was one very wonderful, very life-affirming refuge for her: her third  grade teacher, Andrea Macksood. Continue Reading…

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What Wasn’t

calendardatesSome days, I selfishly look back at all the time we waited for an answer to my daughter Sammi’s health challenges and see only how it wrecked my image of what motherhood should be.

I was newly a mother of two when a doctor – a kind doctor, a thoughtful doctor – told me that my new daughter would almost certainly end up in the hospital with every respiratory infection she got. Not a great idea, he said about twice-a-week daycare. Probably not, he said about baby-and-parent music classes. No, I don’t think so, was his answer to my hopeful questions about baby swimming, a smaller daycare, a playgroup. After two hospitalizations in her first five months, I believed him.

Through that first winter watched through front windows into an empty courtyard or through car windows into big sister’s preschool, my new daughter and I eyed the world with suspicion: me because it contained too many germs and her because nothing in it made her feel quite right. There was no sleep, no break, no time apart for the two of us to learn the beauty of missing each other and being reunited. There was just us, with the world outside the window unavailable.

The winter turned into years, isolated and treading water. Continue Reading…

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