Tag Archives: Stefan Ballard-Reisch

Musings on time, this week in my family’s history, and growth

Three years ago this week, my daughter Alyssa shredded her knee, severing her ACL, MCL, tearing her meniscus, and bruising everything above and below her kneecap. Through hard months of waiting, finishing the semester on crutches and a motorized scooter, surgery, PT, recovery, learning how to bear weight, learning how to dance, she persevered. Today she is again an amazing dancer. She is lovely and graceful, strong and passionate. Today she is a college graduate off on her own. So much has changed in 3 years.

Two years ago this week, I fell on the steps of Elliott Hall the building where I work at Wichita State University. I tripped and sprawled on the steps on my newly healed wrists. I sacrificed my right ankle, which I badly bruised, to keep from landing fully on my hands and arms, but it hurt. It really hurt. I sat on the steps and cried, injured and afraid. I was too shaken to move as one colleague walked around me on the narrow steps, the contents of my purse and computer case strewn all over the landing. Her disregard hurt worse than the fall, her ignoring me as I cried on the steps. The Elliott School’s administrative assistant Bill, the lifeblood of the ESC, came to my rescue. I was finally able to recover my cell phone, and I called him, crying, to come help me. He did. He picked up all my stuff, helped me stand, using my elbows, so he wouldn’t hurt my wrists, and helped me to my office. Today I am at the two-thirds point of an amazing yearlong sabbatical, three months of which I spent on a writing retreat in Florence, Italy. Today my wrists are healed and I can again do hot yoga. Today I am contemplating what I want to do with the next phase of my life. So much has changed in 2 years.

Six weeks ago this week, my son and I were robbed at gunpoint by a young man who kicked open our locked front door.  That day I had pink highlights put in my long blonde hair. For me hair is a toy. I’d worked on my website: http://DrDeborah.co with my friend Davis.  It’s still a work in progress, but that was a watershed day. I was happy and content. Then I was scared and threatened. Today, I have magenta and purple highlights in my long blonde hair thanks to the talented Jessica, and my son Stefan and I have moved into a new apartment, a lovely apartment. We are moving on with our lives. So much has changed in six weeks.

Time is an interesting thing. In the middle of rough moments it seems to stop, then drags so slowly when it finally begins to move again. In the beautiful, life affirming moments, time often moves so quickly. Time, as the cliché says, also heals.

This week has led me to reflect on the past, something I don’t do often, to examine the path that got me, that got my son and daughter, to where we are today. These events are simply a small part of our journeys.

I believe we have a choice about how we view the happenings in our lives. We can choose to view things as crises or adventures. As I reflect back on those three events and the emotions they raised, the ups and downs of negotiating them, I recognize our choices. None of us would describe ourselves as victims. We simply do not view things as crises. We are optimists. We do what needs to be done. We deal with what needs to be dealt with and we move forward. We learn and grow from our experiences.

We are stronger, as are my wrists, because of these events. We see the world differently than we did before, because of the events of this week over the last three years. I am inspired by the words of Anne Lamott on Facebook. Yesterday she wrote , “Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things”. I am inspired by Japanese Kintsugi pottery, the art of reassembling, of repairing, broken pottery with gold. We are each like a precious piece of pottery. The world tosses us about, breaks, chips, and often shatters us. We reassemble ourselves , often with the help of those who love us. We are remade, more unique, more different, more precious than we were before.

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Image of Kintsugi Pottery taken from: http://lakesidepottery.com/Pages/kintsugi-repairing-ceramic-with-gold-and-lacquer-better-than-new.htm

A Love Letter to My Daughter: You Inspire Me! <3

Alyssa looking down

My Dear Alyssa,

I sit in the airport beginning for at least the 8th time to write you this letter. I sit in Starbucks for the second day in a row in Vegas, writing this letter. I’ve been writing this letter to you since before you graduated from UNLV in December. In fits and starts I’ve written, starting fresh, talking from my heart.

Alyssa and Stefan

Every important letter I’ve ever written you probably includes the precious sound you made when the doctor lifted you from my body. I can still hear it. The tug on my heart was visceral. I didn’t want you to leave the safety of my body. I didn’t want the connection between us to be severed. I wanted to see your face, hold you in my arms, smell your smell, touch your skin. I wanted to watch you grow, crawl, walk, run, dance. I wanted you my whole life, dear one.  I have loved watching every moment of your growth, even the hard parts because they have helped you become the woman you are today. Both joys and sorrows will help fuel you to be the woman you will be tomorrow. You asked me if it’s hard for me to see you grow into an adult. That is the path you have been on since the moment of your birth. It is all I ever hoped for. I cherish it!

I once told you that coo sealed the deal, that from then on you owned my heart. To be honest, you owned it long before that and you have claimed it so many times since.  I love you, dear daughter, with a passion for which I have no words, me who always has words. At times it makes me fierce and fearless. I would stare down any demon, any monster, for you. I would protect you with my life. At times it makes me weak and tender. I can cry when I think of you, when I see your precious face. The love I have for you is beyond anything I could ever have imagined. My heart is bigger, stronger, fuller, richer because of you.

You have always been one of my most important teachers. Do you remember when we did the presentation for OSCLG on love languages and how we like to give and receive love? That was such an incredibly powerful experience for me. Showing love to and receiving it from Stefan has always been so easy. With you, often, you did not receive my love in the way I intended it. When we did that analysis, I understood. I still love it when you say “talking, Mom”, when I’m trying to support you as you work through an issue. It helps me realize that I am acting out of my comfort level, not yours. It reminds me to adapt to your style, to give you what you need, which is always what I want to do in those situations.

You have the strongest sense of fairness and equity of anyone I know. It grew in you in funny places, like your dislike for the Honda Accord because it had seat warmers in the front seat, but not the back. It didn’t matter to you that you still had to sit in your car seat. It was simply unfair that you had to sit in the back and there weren’t seat warmers there. No cajoling that one day you’d be able to sit in the front mattered, because, as you pointed out, whoever sat in the back wouldn’t have seat warmers.

It grew in your understanding of family, friends, relationships, your certainty about how you deserve to be treated, your unwillingness to let those who don’t deserve you have any place in your life, your knowledge that some people are simply not worthy of your time. I marvel at your strength and clarity. It humbles me that I have been an anti-model for you in this area. I am so glad that I have you as a model for me in this.

You were also a model to me when you hurt your knee. You were fully present. Of course in that kind of pain, it’s hard not to be. You were open about your needs and communicated clearly. Your need for touch was so strong at that time, one of your preferred love languages. You slept entwined with me, your arms or legs always against mine, your head on my shoulder. I believe I made you feel safe, secure, loved. You let me know what you needed and I cherished the ability to give. I treasure the memory of the long morning walks during which I fell in love with Las Vegas. I took pictures of flowers and often ended up at Einstein’s Bagels or someplace else getting breakfast to bring back to you, waking you gently to start your day, helping you with showers, washing your hair, helping you dress and eventually get to classes, helping less as you could do more for yourself. It was my pleasure to do these things. You were so strong and you made me feel like my support helped ground you. I loved that Stefan came to stay with us. In those days we proved again that we are the family I hoped we would be. I would never have been anywhere else but with you. Neither would Stefan. Know that I will always be there for you should you need me.

Your model helped me when I was so dependent after breaking my wrists. I had always been great at giving care, but lousy at receiving it. How you were with me after you hurt your knee helped me relax into needing care and being dependent on someone else. I had loved doing it for you. You helped me realize that others would be fine, even enjoy, doing it for me.

Watching you come back after that and reclaim dance in your own time, at your own rate was so inspiring. Your strength and tenacity impressed me. Again, it was your clarity, your strong sense of self, your confidence in who you are and what you wanted, your understanding of your body and your capacities, regardless of what medical providers or dance teachers told you, your willingness to fight for  what you wanted.

Before I had children, I wished for them to be independent, strong, and loving. You are these things and so much more. You are intelligent, insightful, witty, funny, incredibly graceful. I see you relaxing into your life, into yourself. I see a competent, confident, happy woman. I delight in you and am so happy I’m your mother. I cherish every moment of your life and watching what you will do next.

So, what words of wisdom do I have? Trust yourself. You will find your path step-by-step. There really is no right or wrong choice as long as you are true to yourself. It is all about what you do with the choices you make. I wish for you that you live your life to the fullest, in technicolor, no regrets. Choose whatever you choose with love and passion. Change your mind. Choose a different path, whenever you desire or need to do so. Apologize. Love passionately. Live fearlessly. This life is a gift that deserves to be made the most of. As the song says, “I hope you dance”. I don’t care if it’s actual physical dance or not (although watching you dance makes my heart happy). I hope that you embrace your life fearlessly and make of it whatever you choose. You are amazing, my darling and I love you dearly.

Alyssa and GreysonAlyssa at work

On Surviving and Thriving after an Armed Home Invasion

As many of you know, my son Stefan and I recently received a life lesson from a gun wielding home invader. Many people have asked for my story, so I’ll share it here.

Tuesday, February 24th had been a really awesome day. I’d gotten gorgeous pink highlights in my hair done by the wonderful Jessica Shoenhofer. I’d spend 3 hours working with my friend Davis Sickmon on my website: www.DrDeborah.co. I was excited about how it was coming along. Stefan had gotten a haircut and was feeling better after his back injury several weeks before and his WSU classes were going well. I was excited to see him at the end of the day and share our stories.

I drove home, first singing along with the Pippin soundtrack playing in my car, then checking in with my friend Andrew on the phone. I was in a fabulous mood. I pulled into the driveway, flicking the button to open the garage door, pulled into the garage, shutting the door behind me. I got off the phone, got out of my car, unlocked the back door to the house, entered, dropped my purse on the floor of the mud room and called for my son.

Stefan called back. He was in the kitchen making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I entered the kitchen carrying my computer bag and dropped it on a chair at the table. Stefan and I talked about his sandwiches and my website, laughing and smiling. Then we heard an ear splitting crash, followed by a second crash. We looked at one another, startled and headed to the living room. Stefan was ahead of me rounding the corner. He turned around quickly saying “He’s got a gun”. We both moved back into the kitchen on either side of the table and the gunmen entered, his gun in his left hand out in front of him, pointing toward us. He pointed it at Stefan first, then me and demanded my bag. I picked up my computer bag and handed it to him, my right hand to his. I raised my hands. He took my bag and I told him to just take it and go. He waived his gun back and forth as he backed away telling us to stay in the kitchen. I told him it was all good and we weren’t going anywhere. As he rounded the corner, he told us that if we called the police, he’d come back and kill us. Then he left running.

I was aware of several things: 1) He wasn’t wearing a mask or covering his face in any way and the hood of his grey hoodie was back. I remember thinking, he has a reason to shoot me. I’d seen his face. So, I forgot what he looked like. (I will remember!) 2) When he asked for my bag I had this quick, smug insight that he thought my computer bag was my purse and that it was safely behind me in the mud room. It was a gift from my daughter and I was happy not to lose it. 3) For a split second he looked at my hands, raised. I wear a lot of rings, but he couldn’t really see them as my hands were up, facing him. I remember thinking, please don’t notice my rings. I only wear rings that mean something to me. I would have hated to lose them. I felt like Obi-Wan Kenobi. “These rings are nothing. You have what you came for. Leave now.” I thought. 4) I was amazingly calm. I could tell he was scared and my immediate goal became to get him out of the house as quickly and smoothly as possible. I didn’t even think this. I knew it. 5) My communication skills training kicked in without a beat. I wanted to appear cooperative and nonthreatening. 6) I felt the solidarity between Stefan and me. I saw us as surrounded by white light, the invader, like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons, preceded and surrounded by a grey dust cloud. 6) I thought that he, the invader, was new, scared, hadn’t done this before. I was worried that he might panic, but also glad that I might be able to get him to leave quickly. I wondered if this was a gang initiation.

After he ran out, Stefan ran after him and slammed the door. Then, I lost it. I mean I REALLY LOST IT! I have never had a panic attack before and I was crying, shaking, and hyperventilating. I was terrified. Stefan got me a chair, which we used to block the broken door, told me to sit down, and told me to call my friend Andrew. I couldn’t speak clearly. I was shaking and sobbing. Andrew asked if we’d called 911. I remember saying “Yeah, right, call 911. That’s what I’m supposed to do. Call 911.” I hung up and called 911. I couldn’t remember anything. I couldn’t answer any question the kind, steady, female operator asked me. She stayed with me on the phone until the police arrived. Stefan made me move back toward the middle of the house to talk with her, reminding me that the gunman had said he’d kill us if we called the police. I moved back, but never let Stefan out of my sight.  He was so calm and composed. He answered all the questions the operator, and then the police asked when they arrived. I was still in shock and could remember very little. I was amazed at Stefan’s poise and presence, his ability to remember details I had blocked. My friend Andrew soon arrived and when the police and the crime scene investigators were done, we grabbed bags and headed to his house. His sons waiting for us, had already made a place for Stefan and his computer in their game room. They all welcomed us with open arms. They made us feel safe. I will never be able to express my gratitude.

There have been good and bad days over the last several weeks. We both went to see a crisis counselor. That at least helped us know that what we were experiencing was normal and what we might expect over the next several weeks. I was supposed to leave the day after the invasion to visit Alyssa in Las Vegas, but I couldn’t leave. I had to feel safe first. I had to get my feet back under me. I will finally go to see her next week. Stefan and I have found a new place to live with better security. We’re getting back to normal. I wouldn’t say we’re thriving yet. Our biggest hurdle is packing our house to move. I still get tightness in my chest whenever I go there and the idea of spending hours there packing is almost more than I can stand. That said, that part will all be over soon. We are moving forward!

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Reflections on Hunger, Graduation & Insights 3 Weeks after My Return from My Writing Retreat in Florence

It is 3 weeks since I left Florence, Italy. These 3 weeks have been a whirlwind. When I got home, I had a two foot stack of mail to wade through. I finally got to that last night only to realize that there was another 3 foot stack in my son’s room. Note to self: Figure out how to reduce junk mail in my life. Even though there was a lot of junk, there were some important things in there as well, business that must be taken care of. Today has been about catching up on all the things I missed while I was away. My 3 month writing retreat in Italy fed my soul in a variety of ways, teaching me things I hope to be able to sustain here.

So why was my return a whirlwind? Aside from the typical issues with reentry, a couple really huge things have happened since I came home.

Hunger Awareness

After my return, I almost immediately went to New York for the presentation of the PUSH – Presidents United to Solve Hunger initiative at the United Nations.

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The Economic and Social Counsel of the United Nations, New York

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With Jan Rivero of Stop Hunger Now

That short trip, from December 8-10 reinforced for me the importance of the WSU Hunger Awareness Initiative we’re building. I do not believe one size fits all in hunger response. As a community-based researcher and engaged scholar, I believe that solutions must be tailored in collaboration with communities and responsive to the dynamics of communities and cultures if they are to be effective and sustainable.

Although Wichita State University has not signed the alliance, it was a thrill to witness the 60 + universities who have partnered in this effort to bring the power of universities, administrators, faculty, staff and students, to bear on ending hunger. The creative energy of the academy, for those part of the alliance, and for those who choose to act independently, will lead to innovative solutions to hunger in both the short and long-term. We will play a pivotal role in ending hunger in our lifetime.

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The inaugural group of University Presidents committed to the PUSH alliance

It was inspiring to see the power, insight and energy of all involved in this event. The alliance was invited to return to the UN in September to report our progress in line with the UN post-2015 development planning. Amina Mohammed Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning delivered Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message to the assembly. Here’s a link to his statement: http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=8272

University Graduation

On December 12, I left for Nevada to prepare for my daughter’s graduation from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on December 16. I’m not sure I’ve attended a college graduation in which I was not a faculty member in academic regalia since my own graduations. It was interesting to be on the other side. I loved the efficiency, the pomp, and circumstance of the UNLV ceremony.

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Matthew Gob, Mary Elton, Robert Reisch, Stefan Ballard-Reisch

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Alyssa with the Gob family

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Mary Elton, Alyssa, Andrew O’Leske

Surrounded by family and friends, I felt pride and admiration for my daughter, as dressed in her scarlet robe, she processed into the Thomas and Mack Center, found her seat, walked to the stage, received her diploma, and returned to her seat.

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Proud Mommy and the Graduate

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Proud Daddy and the Graduate

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Proud Brother and the Graduate

I was the first person in my family to graduate college. For me education has always been a ticket to fulfilling my dreams. I wanted that for my children. While college graduation was not expected of me, it was of my children and here was my daughter, completing her degree in psychology and communication in only 3 ½ years, the same rate it took me to complete mine. I look forward to what comes next for her. Her journey is only beginning.

Several weeks ago, Alyssa asked me how it felt to watch her grow up and become an adult.  I told her I had been watching her grow on this trajectory since she was born and that I loved every moment of her development. This is true. While many parents seem to view college graduation as the end of something, for me, it is simply a step into the next phase of her life, an important, momentous step, but a step nonetheless.

I stayed in Las Vegas with her until December 19th to help her prepare for the holidays. She won’t be able to come home due to her job, one of the realities of having adult children, but I wanted her to be fully stocked with food, household items, a full tank of gas, etc. before I left her. We’ll FaceTime Christmas morning and open presents together. The amazing advances in technology allow us to be together even when we can’t physically be in the same place.

What have I learned?

The last 4 months have been amazing in so many ways. The last 2 days since returning from Las Vegas, have allowed me to reflect on a number of things and I have several insights into myself:

  • I’ve learned that I value peace and calm, a more measured approach to my life. I gained this in Florence on my writing retreat. I know that to sustain this, I will have to consciously nurture the patience I have been developing since I broke my wrists slightly over 2 years ago, and reinforced over the last 4 months. I will have to be conscious of my desire to live my life mindfully. This will require scheduling time to walk and work out. I’ve performed at a C- level on this so far since my return. I’ve succumbed to a lot of fires. Fitting walking in as smoothly as I did in Italy will be important to maintaining this balance. I realize that this will require planning. It will also require saying “no” when “yes” is the wrong answer and remembering that because I “can” do something, doesn’t mean I “have to”, and because I care about someone doesn’t mean I have to agree to their requests. Still working on this one.
  • I’ve learned that I write all the time. And while much of the writing I have done since I got home has been directed toward grant applications for organizations I care about, email messages to friends and family, feedback to colleagues planning conferences, it has also been consistent with the two books I outlined in Italy. It’s a new approach for me to realize how often in my daily communication with others, I engage topics of importance to my writing. That said, I need to again make time to write in a focused, directed manner in order to continue to advance these and my other projects. Because I am living them, this is easier than it might be.
  • I spent 3 months largely in seclusion, a unique experience for an extrovert. I am back and the pull of social engagement is very strong, especially at this time of year. I need to remain mindful here as well. I need to make time for myself to continue to nurture this work that I am doing while engaging the world again as an extrovert.

Into my family:

  • It took my friend Andrew to point out to me that BOTH of my children graduated from college this year. My son earned an associate’s degree to go along with his theater certificate in spring and my daughter graduated with her bachelor of arts degree less than a week ago. I am so proud of both of them.
  • I have 2 very capable, independent, strong adult children. I am so honored to be their mom and I look forward to what the future (and our present together) holds for them.
  • I’ve learned that I can love as much 5000 miles away, as I can 19 hours away, as I can in the same house. That’s cool!

Reflections: On my worst (and best) Thanksgiving ever

Let me say first I LOVE Thanksgiving! It is my favorite holiday of the year. I love to make a big dinner for my family. For us there are traditional “must have” foods: monkey bread in the morning, and for dinner, turkey, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole with fried onions on top, 7-up salad, homemade bread, cherry cheesecake and homemade pumpkin pie. Without these foods, it just isn’t Thanksgiving.

At least that was the case until two years ago on Thanksgiving. I had fallen the month before at my favorite academic conference. When I fell, I broke both my wrists. The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving were difficult ones in a variety of ways. I was learning how to be helpless. I was accepting with as much grace as possible that someone else had to do absolutely everything for me. I was dealing with incredible pain.

I was also dealing with the fact that my daughter, who had a job in retail, and who was a student at UNLV, a 19 hour drive away, was not going to be able to come home for Thanksgiving. I was trying to cajole, persuade, manipulate my son into accepting my plan that he and I should fly, or drive, to Las Vegas to be with his sister. I was desperate! Our going to Las Vegas was completely unrealistic on a lot of levels, not least of which was my physical incapacity, the exorbitant price of airfare just days before the holiday, and the fact that there was no way I was up to a 19 hour drive. But I just couldn’t handle the idea that we would not all be together for Thanksgiving.

This was a very emotional time during my healing process. The day before Thanksgiving my daughter messaged me and asked me for the recipe for 7-Up salad. As it turned out she was going to be able to have Thanksgiving dinner with some friends in Las Vegas after all. I did not respond well to this request. In fact, it made me cry. I no longer have the text messages that we sent back-and-forth. Stefan typing for me or me voice texting. But I know they went something like this. Me: “Wait! I thought you had to work all day on Thanksgiving! But I want you to come home and be with us! I miss you! :-(” Alyssa: “Mom, I just get to have dinner. I don’t have the whole day off. If I could come home I would. I can’t. You know that. So will you give me the recipe or not?” I gave her the recipe. “Stefan”, I began after Alyssa hung up the phone. “Mommy, we’re not going to Las Vegas”, he replied gently. I burst into tears. It’s hard to cry with both your wrists in splints when someone else has to wipe your tears and hold the Kleenex to help you blow your nose. I felt hopeless.

As it turned out, this was my best Thanksgivings ever!

I was moping around the house on Thanksgiving Eve when Stefan told me he had to run an errand. “Ok”, I replied without much enthusiasm. I don’t think I even offered to ride along. “It will take me a while. I have several stops to make”, he hollered from downstairs. “No problem”, I replied. “Be safe. I love you.” I curled up on my bed in the dark and waited for him to come back. I think I dozed off.

When Stefan got back he hollered up the stairs, “Hey Mom, I’m back. Can you come here a minute. I have something to show you.”. “Ok, I’m on my way”, I replied. As I turned the corner of the staircase I saw my beautiful daughter sitting on the couch. She jumped up, “Surprise”, she hooted. I burst into tears. She ran across the room and wrapped her arms around me. “I didn’t mean to make you cry; this was supposed to be a good surprise”, she said. “It’s a wonderful surprise”, I sniffled. “These are happy tears”. I rested my head on her shoulder as she wrapped her arms around me. Stefan wrapped his arms around both of us and we just stood there, happy to be together.

Alyssa had gotten the whole weekend off, purchased her plane ticket, and collaborated with her brother to surprise me. It was the best surprise I could have imagined.

That weekend, Alyssa took over my care, helping me shower, dress, brush my teeth and hair, manage the bathroom. She fed me with ease. I felt her love, care and compassion. I observed her learning, at her own rate, how to care for me, as I learned how to relax into her rhythm. I was still emotional at times, but incapacitation, pain medication, happiness, and holidays will do that to me.

We ended up having an amazing weekend. It quickly became clear that I had made no plans for Thanksgiving dinner and that I couldn’t cook anything. Alyssa said that was no problem as she and Stefan had decided we were just going to spend the weekend making our favorite foods and hanging out. She said, “You can tell us what to do, Mom, and we’ll do it!” We focused on comfort foods. I stood in the kitchen, or in the dining room looking over the counter, giving instructions. We made macaroni and cheese, 7-up salad, and monkey bread. Everything was delicious.

We snuggled in bed together and watched movies and all the episodes we could find of “Once Upon a Time”, Alyssa’s favorite show. I slept a lot. I would awaken to the sound of Alyssa and Stefan’s laughter or quiet talking. I would either smile and drift back to sleep, or wake to spend time with them. I was still on pretty heavy pain medication most of the time. But I was surrounded by the two people I love most in the world, my children. I thank my daughter for doing all she did to be with me, and her co-conspirator, my son, for giving me the best Thanksgiving ever.

A Love Letter to My Son on the 2nd Anniversary of the Dancing Accident that Broke My Wrists

We wish things for our children before they are born. In my case, I wished that my children would be loving, strong in character, and independent. My son and daughter are all these things in very different ways. This love letter, though, is to my son. Often we don’t get to see the full measure of who our children become. As they grow, they live their lives more and more separate from ours. I got the opportunity to see my son for the man he is. It is an opportunity I will always cherish.

Stefan

On October 13, 2012, our lives changed. Stefan was in Wichita, Kansas visiting me before joining the Navy. He was preparing for boot camp and contemplating signing his final admittance paperwork. I was at my favorite academic conference of the year, the place where I have found both my creative inspiration and my best friends. This year the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender Conference was held in Tacoma, Washington.

That fateful day was perfect. I walked the city streets exploring and shopping for gifts for family and friends. In the late morning and afternoon, I attended research panels and communed with friends and colleagues. At the awards banquet, I was awarded the prestigious Feminist Teacher / Mentor Award based on letters of support from dozens of colleagues, students, and former students. This is the most treasured honor of my academic career. To top it all off, I was selected to host the induction ceremony of Dr. Bren Ortega Murphy into the Wise Women Council. This day was without question, one of the highpoints of my academic life.

Later that evening, following dinner with some of my best friends, the organization sponsored a dance and karaoke party. I love to sing and dance. Could this day get any better? As fate would have it, my best academic day also became the start of one of the most challenging adventures of my life. On the dance floor that evening, one of my best friends spun me around. I reeled backwards, lost my footing and fell, fracturing my right wrist in 3 places, and my left in 2.

I would be fully immobilized for the next 3 months and slowly and painfully thereafter, learn to use my hands again. My convalescence, during which I needed constant around the clock support, was 6 months. Even after that, there were some things I still couldn’t do, open jars, cut meat, negotiate some articles of clothing, etc.

My motto has long been that you can view any situation as a crisis or an adventure and that not very many things rise to the status of a crisis. These events allowed me to put this belief into action, to try to live it under some of the most challenging circumstances I could imagine. My belief has not changed, but I have learned to recognize the critical role others can play in making it a reality. Because of the love and care of my son, breaking both my wrists, being completely helpless, and learning how to use my hands again was not a crisis. It was an adventure. I have written in earlier posts about the trip back to Wichita, about losing my graduate students and making the trip alone, about the scary woman who thought I needed hot coffee, about my seatmate and later a flight attendant who took care of my hair for me, about the young basketball star, traveling with her parents to Wichita State University to check out the school, who fed me and gave me pain medication.

I have not written about my son, about our adventure. Maybe because it was so big, so all encompassing. It wasn’t time bound like 2 plane flights. It was day-to-day for over 6 months. It was emergent with no set ending that we were aware of. During this time, my insurance company told me on multiple occasions that because I could walk, I was considered too mobile for any in-home nursing support. This, despite the fact that I could not use my hands at all and therefore could not accomplish any activities of daily living on my own. My 24/7 care fell to my son.  There was never really a conversation about his doing this. He just smoothly moved into the role of my nurse and full-time caregiver.

I remember very little about the early days. To manage my excruciating pain, I was in a drug induced haze much of the time. I do remember my son giving me pain medication, brushing my hair, helping me to the bathroom, feeding me, and a myriad of other little things, none of which I could do for myself. I remember him being there when I needed something, often before I realized I needed it. In those early days, we developed a routine and designed our own ways of managing sensitive issues. Taking care of someone completely requires suspending modesty. It requires an unparalleled level of intimacy. It can be a humiliating experience, an embarrassing experience, an uncomfortable experience. Because of his grace, it was never humiliating or embarrassing. and we developed work arounds for the uncomfortable parts.

There’s something you should know about me. While it is easy for me to help others, it has always been hard for me to ask for help. While I never see those I help and support as burdens, for some reason, I believe (believed) that if I needed help I was an inconvenience, a burden. Through his compassion and care, my son showed me that this was not the case. He made it ok that I needed support. He showed me that I was not a burden, an inconvenience. He showed me that he was glad to help me.

Once the drug haze wore off a bit and my pain became more manageable, I could think for several hours at a time between doses of pain medication, and I wanted to get back to work. I was still teaching a class (fortunately I had 4 weeks of guest lecturers lined up prior to the accident) and running the search for our new director at the Elliott School of Communication. Stefan policed me to make sure I didn’t work too hard. We both learned that if I did too much too fast, I would pay in pain and exhaustion. He limited people’s access to me, determining when and for how long my graduate students and friends could come work with me. We identified what he was willing and comfortable doing and what I needed to ask others to do. He didn’t like emails or any work related phone calls, so my graduate students and friends helped with those.

On Thursdays he would get us Buffalo Wild Wings, mango habanero and Asian zing boneless wings that set my mouth on fire. We would eat them propped up on my bed, him feeding me. For a lot of the early months, I was mostly bedridden. Because of my multiple fractures, and to avoid surgery, I was not permitted to move much as my wrists healed. Eventually I was put in casts and I could move around a bit more. During my immobile time, we watched the entire series of Third Rock from the Sun on Hulu+. Sometimes if my pain was too bad, we would watch episodes over and over until I was alert enough to remember them. As I got more alert, it became clear to me that Stefan needed breaks. With some coaxing, he would take some down time when friends would bring meals and stay to chat and feed me. Eventually, he let friends take me to their home for the weekend so he could get some real time off. He was very protective, but we both knew he needed that time.

What I remember most about this time is my son’s presence. He was just there with me. We had few disagreements. The biggest was over his putting mascara on me. “You don’t need it. You’re beautiful without it”, he’d say. “Yes I do. I’d put it on myself if I could”, I’d reply. “I’ll poke your eye out”, he’d say. “No you won’t”, I’d reply. Then he’d help me with mascara.

I don’t believe that Stefan or I are the same people we were before this experience. To be helpless is not easy. To be completely reliant on someone else for everything is not easy. To be completely responsible for another is not easy. To negotiate this type of situation with love and compassion, with presence and commitment, is an incredible gift. To make it an adventure that we grew through together was the most amazing part of this experience, and our relationship will never be the same.

I think that we are both stronger, better prepared to deal with whatever life sends our way. I am easier, more open to asking for help when I need it. He knows his strength and the depth of his compassion. I am more grateful to my son than I can put into words. He made me safe. He loved me. He nurtured me and he treated me with compassion and respect during my helplessness. I learned firsthand that he is compassionate, thoughtful, intuitive, and very kind. He has a calm, peaceful spirit. Not much seems to faze him. He is an incredible man and his strength of character puts me in awe and fills me with joy. He is the most amazing man I have ever known, and I am blessed that he is my son.

Stefan and me 3

Stefan and me 2