Monday, September 26, 2005

Watering the Grassroots

Just returning from a three-day trip to St. Louis, I feel a little bit like Pooh-—with a head stuffed with too much fluff-—and Alice in Wonderland—-with a head filled with overwhelming wonder. Each and every time I go to this forum (I started attending eight years ago) I come back with a head literally swimming with confusion and uncertainty, along with some newfound conviction...and righteous indignation to boot.

Topics ranged from our Missile Defense System to our Trade Imbalance to Job Losses to Asia to the Overmedication of Today’s Children. Hardly light material. Heated lectures were presented by Congressman and Justices, by physicians and lawyers. Most attendees were like-minded, though certainly, one could only expect that when faced with issues charged with this level of controversy and intensity, 400 folks from all walks of life—-in all age brackets, from virtually every state in the union-—we wouldn’t always be on the exact same page.

And indeed, as I sat in on my very first session, one trying-to-be-helpful attendee asked me to consider putting Nick (who’s battling leukemia) on the best-selling “Natural Cures” protocol, urging me to give up the tried-and-tested chemo regimen of forty-plus-years in the making in favor of this most recent fad. Before I could say “nobutthankyouverymuch,” I found my girlfriend grabbing me by the elbow as I felt the words “Because he’s a quack” forming quite boldly on my tongue.

Ahhh! Controversy. Not exactly something which I thrive on, but something which I acknowledge as necessary for social, economic and political progress.

I happen to hate conflict. Perhaps my distaste stems from a long-forgotten childhood experience; perhaps from pure birth order (I’m that proverbial peacemaking middle-child); perhaps it’s written in my genetic code. I do not have that lawyer’s instinct for argument, for slicing and dicing minutia, and for debating every fine point of every law on the books. I am-—as my 81-year-old “adopted” mother and conference roommate described—-much too much of a free spirit. For while I admit to heartily enjoying a good debate, I abhor intense conflict, and hate dotting all of those nasty little “i’s” and crossing those silly little “t’s.”

Not so, these presenters. They wallowed in detail. Delighted in controversy. They argued their points with passion, hoping to ignite in each one of us their urge to move their messages forward.

It is this recognition of the power of grassroots movements that impressed me this weekend. Recognition of the power of one. Of research backed by belief. Propelled by vision or divine intervention or spiritual guidance. Powered by energy and enthusiasm and determination and persistence.

Most of the world’s great movements were fueled by anger or by righteous indignation. At social injustices. Economic imbalances. Medical emergencies. Political persecution. And many of these were pushed into the national consciousness by the power of one individual who caught hold of a vision and boldly moved forward.

Amidst the “overwhelmingness” of your everyday reality: of lunchboxes and homework drills, nursings and night duty, carpools and booster clubs: seek involvement in issues of monumental proportion. Involvement not only ejects you out of your own personal problems; it injects you into the national (if not universal) equation. Something, sometime, will hit a nerve somewhere in you. Perhaps you’ve faced a life experience which has left an indelible imprint such that non-involvement would seem heretical. Dealing with childhood cancer has had that impact on me; I will be serving as a goodwill ambassador for the Make-A-Wish foundation. And Nick is contemplating medicine-—for the first time ever-—as he ponders the why’s and how’s of his personal journey with leukemia. My husband has unusually high sympathies for the plight of immigrants, as his own family fled Cuba under Castro’s regime; we now support families facing similar circumstances.

Each of us faces unique combinations of experiences, abilities and personalities which shape us into persons of unique forces for good. Working at causes far larger than those faced by our own families help us shift our focuses away from the dilemmas and concerns facing us on a close and daily basis into a much larger circle of concern. Expanding this circle, while seemingly exhausting and arduous during this overwhelming child-rearing phase, has potential for consequences of epic proportions.

I encourage you to embrace indignation. And anger. Pain. Suffering. To water the grassroots movement stirring within you. And to allow it to sprout into something which might benefit the whole world. It seems like an improbable scenario. One too far removed from the routine, mundane reality of your workaday world. But somehow, somewhere, you have your place in it. I know that I do. I wish you the joy of discovery; simply attending a national conference always has this effect on me. I wish you participation in the fulfillment of your destiny.

Blessings on your week,


A Nick Note

With the ink on last week’s Nick-is-doing-great-Nick-Note still wet, we endured a night of horror as we watched helplessly while muscle spasms sent Nick screaming in pain. A middle-of-the-night trip to Yale Hospital’s ER-—something which he fought to the end-—was aborted around 4:30 AM when the cocktail of tylenol-codeine-advil-benadryl finally kicked in. A mid-week visit to his doc proved that it was “only” muscular pain, something which we could nothing to avoid nor to help. Intense chemo sometimes does that. Relief came by the end of the week, and Nick was able to enjoy a weekend visiting friends, virtually pain-free. Today brings the start of a new four-week round, the last of this year’s intense chemo protocol. It includes a spinal tap as well as a powerful combination of three chemo drugs, all of which make him vomit more than I care to describe. We have, indeed, thrived on your prayers on his behalf. As always, we continue to ask you to keep Nick in your prayers, until his full healing has been revealed to all of our senses.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Chasing the Blues Away

The news of Chantal’s death hit me hard. It came on Friday, as I was desperately trying to chase away the predictable “back-to-school-blues,” along with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness about the victims of Hurricane Katrina…not to mention being overwhelmed by our current situation (our own fight with childhood cancer). To top it off, my husband had been out of the country for a couple of weeks on business, missing the start of the school year, the start of the multitude of activities which always coincide with such, and the start of a new round of chemo for Nick. I was physically exhausted from round-the-clock parenting duties. The many hats I’d worn-—chauffeur, cook, dishwasher, laundress, secretary, accounts payable manager, and head cheerleader-—were being tossed up into the air in frightening displays of bad juggling. A crash felt inevitable, along with a deep sense that the threatening storm cloud of “the blues” would over-run any feelings of optimism or cheerfulness which I was trying so hard to muster.

But the news of her death, instead of snapping me out of my funk, seemed to plunge me further into it. It certainly hit immediately, as one would expect an untimely death to do. I sat at my laptop, where the news of her death reached me first, not only grief-stricken, but profoundly angry for even allowing myself to experience “the blues” for even one more minute. I loathed my emotional state, yet I felt unable to crawl out of it.

Chantal was a new friend, a darling child ten years-old whom we’d met in the chemo clinic, where she was being treated for leukemia, along with our son, Nick. She’d been recovering perfectly well, having endured a bone marrow transplant with a perfect match (a rare and cherished longing for someone in that situation); her spirits were always bright, even when the drugs made her weak, nauseous and sickly-pale; and she radiated a sweet spirit, oftentimes completely unbeknownst to her, and even when she didn’t feel up to being particularly sweet. Her personal battle was nothing short of heroic. By simply showing up, she exuded inspiration to me and to everyone else in the clinic.

Yet it shouldn’t take the death of a child-—one which I cannot understand no matter how hard I try-—to chase away the blues. One should be able to just “snap out of it” at the mere click of the fingers. Right? But that’s not what experience and observation tells me. From the emails of my readers-—as well as perusals of editors of woman’s magazines, blogs and newsletters in virtually every cross-section of the western world—-“feeling overwhelmed” ranks at the top of moms’ lists. It is now nearly universal to feel overwhelmed with motherhood. Accompanying feelings of despair, desertion and depression are the “new norm.” Moms, trying to juggle the demands of “perfect parenting” (a misnomer in every sense of the word) along with careers outside of home, community service, the demands of aging parents and husband’s schedules’, can hardly find time for self-preservation. For balanced nutrition and daily doses of exercise and fresh air. Artistic expression and creativity get thrown out the window, along with dreams of “self-actualization or self-advancement. It’s as if we’re “on call” with the buzz of a cell phone or the beep of an email system. We’re needed by everyone, everywhere, all the time.

When the cruel winds of life blow particularly strongly, how do we maintain the fortitude to not only get up in the morning, but to move forward with grace, dignity and that all-too-forgotten imperative, creativity?

Acknowledge that grieving is a totally different emotional process than depression, mere frustration, or feelings of being completely overwhelmed. Everyone endures the grieving process at one point or another. It is both painful and persistent while experiencing it. For days or weeks or months or years. Allow yourself to go through the process, so that healing can take place.

Look up. Then out. The Psalmist proclaims: “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, the Lord which made heaven and earth.” Seek comfort in your Creator, even when life doesn’t make any sense. My physical, earthly life gives me little by way of comfort in the death of infants and children. I don’t yet have much-needed comprehension of those mysteries. Only by looking up, and pleading for some sort of help, do I find rest in my soul. Prayer comforts, heals, and guides. Prayer works. Even when our questions seem unanswered and our cries seem unheard.

Seek solace in bestest friends. Girlfriends have a way of helping one sort out life’s worst nightmares. They soothe wounded spirits, aching hearts and ruffled feathers. My girlfriends balance me. Keep your friendships intact, so that when the storms come-—as they will-—you have others on whom to lean.

Replace reactivity with activity. Reacting to horrible news with pure emotion is needed, at least in those first few minutes. But at some point, it’s important to make the leap from pure reaction to action. Be it cooking dinner for someone in crisis to arranging flowers to brighten someone’s day; action begets optimism. It might not happen instantaneously, but it will happen in time. The best antidote for “the blues” is—and has always been—physically moving outside of oneself.

Certainly, serious emotional crises call for a different course than do everyday, run-of-the-mill “blues.” Monthly hormonal swings do, indeed, qualify as “run-of-the-mill” by any woman’s measure (even if they do not register as such by your husband’s). As do excessive carpooling, numerous trips to the pediatrician and the grocer, or visits to the elementary school principal. Let’s face it: chocolate therapy and retail therapy usually provide just the right fix for all of the above. I’m the first to admit: a long day at the chemo clinic invariably finds me opening a dark chocolate bar and out-of-the-closet indulgence, square by square. And “run-of-the-mill blues” are able to send me for a retail therapy (or two). But they’re temporary fixes to the serious challenges which inevitably afflict us all. In the end, it is faith, hope and love that get us through the rough spots in life. Yes, these three remain. And in the end, it really is all about love. Perhaps it will be love that guides you during your week. I wish you all blessings...


Monday, September 12, 2005

Reunions and Reconnections

“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.” Victor Hugo

Just one image of a tearful reunion validates the importance of human connections. We saw plenty of them after the 9/11 tragedy: frantic phone calls finding displaced loved ones; hospital visits locating injured and missing family; and the gift of time healing injuries and trauma of the highest order resulting in reunions of hope and harmony. All reunions bringing to life the love and laughter of the living.

Katrina has brought over two hundred of her own thus far. Our televisions bring these into our evening sofa ritual, rounding out the otherwise extraordinary degree of human suffering which we’ve witnessed as fearful bystanders over the course of these past two painful weeks.

Few things grip me more than watching the strong embrace of a reunion. Be it husband to wife, mother to child or friend to friend: the call to human love-—after love of our Creator-—is our highest calling. And when one hasn’t seen someone for awhile, or when the embrace is unexpected from fear of the unthinkable, that embrace is of the sweetest kind.

This weekend held my high school reunion a few hundred miles from home (I know you can do the math so I will not reveal which one!), and I contemplated attending until one of my dearest friends from my old hometown asked if she could come and visit for a few days during the exact same time. It would be a reunion of our own, as we had not seen each other for almost two years. Because we talk often on the phone, and email each other even more frequently, we were totally up to speed with each other’s lives. No new earth-shattering tidbits to unload; no new revelations to explore; no new experiences to reveal other than those of the previous week.

Morning coffee on the deck brought us both up-to-date on girlfriend chatter-—what with the seventy-degree near-perfect weather we’ve enjoyed, it could not have been a more perfect way to start the day—-and mutual friends’ comings and goings were put back on my radar screen, as were accounts of our friend’s kids, spouses, and in-laws and outlaws. Long walks and leisurely lunches in cafes normally reserved for birthdays and anniversaries; long car rides scouting out destinations heretofore reserved for special occasions; and late night pillow talk shared only once every couple of years…all accumulated into a memorable reunion with one of my favorite people in the world. And a spur-of-the-minute decision to go into New York City on Saturday could only be described to my husband-—who I did not see until Sunday morning—-as “imagine two giggly school-girls on MasterCard.” We smiled our way down Fifth Avenue with exceptionally good behavior, being ever-mindful of how much damage we really could inflict with plastic if we weren’t truly careful.

It is embarrassing to admit that I had not seen my own sister-in-law and her two children for about eight years until a reunion brought them to our home in Connecticut in July. That same week brought my cousin, whom I hadn’t embraced for seventeen years. I “scored” only slightly better with my own brother, whom I had seen two years ago when we lived in a home one house back.

Relocating to five different homes within four years-—corporate creatures we are-—has certainly exacted its toll. It’s a human toll. Oh sure: furniture always gets banged up during a move. Small items get lost (I still haven’t found three much-needed lampshades and we’ve been totally out of boxes for two years.) Carpets and wood floors get stained and scratched. Small pieces of jewelry slip out of boxes and bone china slips past road-weary fingers, getting cracked and chipped in the process.

But the human toll is far greater. Keeping human connections on solid footing while that magic carpet is being pulled out from under you requires near super-human strength indeed. What with calendars getting tossed into the garbage by the moving company’s (and moving boxes’) mandate; finances getting realigned by repairs, reconfigurations and renovations; and energy zapping hopes of artistic creation and recreation (or even procreation, for that matter) to far-flung family and friends could only be described as pure luxury.

But reuniting with my long-lost family has given me pause. It’s forced me to think of ways in which I can mesh the overwhelming nature of motherhood: baseball, tennis and football practices and games; violin lessons and orchestra rehearsals; teacher conferences and school Open Houses; community volunteerism and church lay speaking; laundry stains and grocery line queues; vocabulary drills and middle school essay reviews...with the demands of keeping human connections on course. It’s forced me to think of ways in which I can keep friendships developed across five state lines intact, as well as ways in which I can grow those blossoming in my own backyard.

As the images of Katrina unfold this week, reunions of joy heighten our otherwise downtrodden spirits. The overwhelming nature of my own little world along with the overwhelming nature of this new world order, filled with memories of 9/11 along with tragedies in Madrid and London; the Asian tsunami along with fears of Ophelia; Iraq and Afghanistan; SARS and bird flu; $3 a gallon gasoline and the impending heating oil crises; leukemia and chemo: the dizzying complications of both first-world and third-world countries leave me feeling at once hopeless, hapless and helpless. In the end, it is family and friends-—reunions and reconnections—-which make creating a life worth living worth all of the effort which that entails.

All blessings,


Monday, September 05, 2005

A Plea for Being Outrageous

Today's Quote

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Hebrews 13:2

The lazy dog days of summer have officially ended; the sand has been vacuumed from the van’s floor mats; new shoes, clothing, pens and notebooks have been purchased; and classes have resumed.

Weeks of Newsletters have been planned; new products have been pitched; desk and files have been weeded out and cleaned up. I’m back in the saddle.

And then the images came: thousands of dehydrated, hungry, sleep-deprived hurricane victims, wading in putrid water with frightened babes on weary shoulders; cots, like dominoes, lined up in filthy, foul-smelling stadiums; busses spilling diesel fuel for destinations hundreds of miles from homes that no longer stand. Mothers crying out for lost children, husbands crying out for lost wives, and grandmothers crying out for life itself.

Out went my freshly-minted pearls of wisdom, along with desires for one last sneak to the beach and a weekend of self-indulgence.

My heart has been pierced by those images, and I have wrestled with that nausea-producing kicked-in-the-gut sensation since Friday, when I finally sat still long enough to fully absorb the devastation to our gulf coast.

One could not be fully human if she were not moved by the visuals portrayed via our media. These TV visuals became magnified because of my own visual of an hour or so before: returning from our son’s chemo clinic (where he is being treated for leukemia), and heading south on I-95 towards home, I watched thousands of cars and vans crawling out of the metro New York City area, heading north for some of New England’s wealthiest enclaves. Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Watch Hill-—they all called for visitors and vacation-home-owners alike. The interstate was filled with work-weary travelers all seeking one last respite before the official start of fall. They hardly budged, these gas-guzzling vehicles; the highway was packed in all three lanes. Many would literally sit for hours, fuming with frustration at fellow drivers who would not move forward fast enough as well as by the soaring expense of their idling engines. I hate to presume, but, being that the risk is so slight, I will venture to say that most such travelers were well-fed, well-hydrated, well-dressed and well-heeled.

The contrast to the TV images of the next hour proved a glaring disparity so painful that, as if by centrifugal force, I found myself ejected off my down-filled sofa and onto my office chair, sending emails to the broadcast media, begging for answers to this rescue mission crisis. The image of cars and vans sitting in traffic en route to weekend cottages and second homes contradicted any sense of comprehension of the images of the convoy of military tanks and commercial buses (wading through bacteria-infested water) en route to makeshift shelters in cities hundreds of miles away.

How could we allow ourselves to sit idly-—let alone vacation heartily—-while our fellow citizens struggled for mere survival! Could we really lock up our weekend homes for the “off season” knowing that tens of thousands were now homeless?

I have nothing against home ownership…and certainly nothing against second or third homeownership, either. I am a bona fide capitalist, after all. But the contrast between the have’s and the desperate have-not’s is brutally stark, and it needs to be addressed in the most practical-—as well as in the most creative-—ways imaginable.

Be Sensible

It almost goes without saying that donating to the Red Cross or through your religious or community organization of choice is the safest and surest way to help relieve the suffering.

Or purchase a case of bottled water and drive it to a station set-up to handle goods and material donations. Many stations are scheduled for pick-up by the military for drop-off to the temporary housing areas.

Be Creative

Look at your material possessions in a new light: are you holding on to things that you know you’ll never use? Do you have multiples or bulk supplies of common, everyday items that should be put to use in this national emergency? Do you own a business or work in an industry whose products or services could be easily donated to the stricken?

Be Outrageous

Could you buy airline tickets for an entire affected family and fly them to your vacation home...and let them use it rent-free for those months during which it would otherwise be lying vacant? Could you adopt a family and take them in to your own home until they regain equilibrium? Do you own rental property which you could lend out? Could you lend them your second car?

It’s an almost outrageous plan. It would be inconvenient. Hospitality almost always is. It could be uncomfortable. Treating perfect strangers as family almost always feels that way. It would be disruptive. Deliberately turning one’s world upside down is never the natural state.

But the refugees would emerge forever changed.

As would you.

One thing that coping with childhood cancer has taught me is that life always carries unexpected turbulence. Just when you’re cruising at a comfortable altitude, something, seemingly out of nowhere, smacks you right in the face. It’s always inconvenient. Always uncomfortable. Always disruptive.

Hurricane Katrina came with a few days’ warning. But its devastation caught most everyone by surprise. Unexpected turbulence. None of us are immune. Some of us have witnessed far more than have others. And we’ve learned, in our struggle to regain altitude, that sitting idly by is just not acceptable.

I hope your heart has been similarly pierced. Perhaps its gaping holes will demand your attention. And a leap into the outrageous.

A Nick Note

Nick has seven more weeks of intense chemo to complete before he goes into the maintenance chemo part of his protocol for ALL leukemia. He’s handling it like a champ, despite the fact that his support group of best buddies have all left for college. Separated by not just miles, but by those first fresh college experiences, he’s a bit down-hearted. Feeling like he’s missing out, but resigned to the fact that there’s nothing he can do about it, he looks forward these next four months to chemo, chemo, and more chemo. We’ll be doing our best to keep him occupied and in good spirits, but it’ll be a challenge. Please continue to keep Nick in your prayers. We, of course, pray for his complete and total recovery.

It has been extremely touching to receive emails from readers-—most of whom I have never met—-telling me of how your family continues to keep Nick in your children’s daily prayers. I always pass these messages to Nick, and they truly hearten him as well. We simply cannot thank you enough for intercessing on his behalf.

A Quick Note

Several new ventures are in the works. One is proceeding with a high degree of probability, and will, hopefully, offer you even more tools for parenting. Coupled with ROCKET MOM!, the book, and this Newsletter, more resources coming shortly should set you on the right track. Give me a few more weeks to get that off the ground. Word on another book venture is just a few weeks away; I promise to keep you posted! Lastly, I’m hopeful that a possible new media opportunity will work out. (There’s that long-shot.)

Here at FourQ Press, I’m always working on projects that will help make you view your job as the most important one ever invented. As much, I’m working on tangible products towards that end...stay tuned.

A Helpful Note

I recommend with confidence, World Concern (based in the Seattle area) as an organization through which to channel support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. You may direct inquiries to: Or email: Rebecca Sill.