Category Archives: Stories

The lessons of Soul Surfer, as interpreted by my daughter

Tessa, Reed and I are watching Soul Surfer, a DVD that Tessa picked out from the local Redbox with Daddy while Mommy was out of town. They’ve already watched it but we see it again together.

It’s a feel-good movie with heartwarming moments of triumph over adversity and portrayal of family unity and support, and it tackles the question, why do bad things happen to good people?

Bethany Hamilton was a 13 year-old surfer in Hawaii when, in 2003, her left arm was taken by a shark. She not only surfed again, but she surfed competitively and won. She has since become an inspiration to anyone who has had to overcome an obstacle, especially children and teens.

The main character is played by AnnaSophia Robb whom, as I’ve said before, bears an uncanny resemblance to Tessa (or vice versa). So Tessa has always identified with this grounded and wholesome actress, who hails from the Denver area.

I keep pointing out, as we watch the film, values that Roger and I have been trying to instill in our children.

  • “I’m impressed by how the entire family is on the same team, supporting each other and not fighting!” I say with particular emphasis.
  • “Look at how Bethany lets nothing stop her! She is going to surf again no matter what. Such determination!” I belabor with many exclamation points.
  • “I notice how she feels sad but doesn’t let the sadness stop her,” I note.
  • “Wow. Bethany doesn’t waste any time feeling sorry for herself, does she? She doesn’t expect people to give her special treatment.”

Just in case Tessa and Reed missed any of that.

The angel choir chimes in my head when Tessa says to me: “Mom, I’m going to be just like Bethany for the next week!”

OMG, this is going to be so fantastic. No more pecking at her brother. No more excuses about schoolwork. Feeling emotions but not letting them rule her. Commitment to her goals.

It’s gonna be a great week.

At bedtime in her room, Tessa moves around oddly as she gets ready for bed, but I can’t quite pinpoint why. She argues with me over various issues: packing for school tomorrow, picking up dirty laundry from her bedroom floor, who gets the last toaster strudel in the morning, and how she really doesn’t want to go to an after-school activity this week.

“Tessa,” I say.

“Whatt!” she says with the sullenness of a full-teenager, which she is not yet.

“What about being like Bethany this week? I thought you were going to try to get along with Reed better and meet your commitments and keep going even if some things are difficult.”

She looks at me as if I’ve got surfboard styrofoam for brains.

“Mommm,” she begins to spell out to me as if I were the child, “What. are. you talking about? I MEANT that I was going to not use my left arm for a week.”

Oh.

My bad.

Sister throws brother under bus

One of Grandma Marshmallow‘s favorite places on the planet was her family cottage on the cape. She brought her children there as a young mom, and this is where my husband learned to swim from his grandfather, Grandma Lisa’s brilliant and reportedly eccentric father.

The cottage is teeny — barely 750 square feet split between two levels. And it’s, uh, “quaint,” if that word implies run down and without amenities. If one of us remembered to call the town early in the season to turn on the power, we had power. Usually we had plumbing. The cottage has a second floor that has been stuck at the tear-out stages of a remodel since I joined the family, and the whole place has an unlived-in, musty smell, it’s heyday, when a houseful of cousins would gather here for the entire summer, long gone.

Still, Lisa’s eyes lit up when she uttered the town’s name, which became shorthand for the house.

Practically, we used it as a place to change our suits and to shower after swimming in the ocean.

To get to the ocean, we’d have to walk through an old and small cemetery. The etchings on the thin, slate or granite headstones had eroded to almost nothing, but I’m told some go as far back as the 1600s. It was eery-spooky to walk through. I amused myself by imagining the ghosts and the stories they would tell.

A year ago, the last time Grandma Lisa visited her cottage on the cape, Tessa and Reed were done swimming, done changing, and were waiting for Daddy and Grandpa to load the lawn mower onto the truck for the ride home. They busied themselves by playing with two Scottish Terriers across the lane.

There was a path to that house that was framed by railroad ties. Reed began bouncing on the railroad ties, as boys will do, not realizing that there was a wasp nest underneath.

The wasps were not happy about being jostled by this boy, and their fury was unleashed. Before any of us knew what was happening, two children were shrieking at the top of their lungs, racing for the front door of Grandma Lisa’s cottage. We adults, at the time, knew nothing of the wasp nest — we simply thought the children were playing a very intense game of some sort.

But the gravity of the situation emerged as we saw the swarm of raging wasps swirling around Reed. Tessa screamed, “BEES! DADDY SAVE ME FROM THE BEES!” She made it, insect-free, into the cottage and slammed the door behind her, locking it as protection from the “bees,” which in her mind had opposable thumbs that could turn a doorknob.

Meanwhile, Reed was at the doorstep and we were plucking angry hornets from his scalp (newly shorn in a Kojak-cut), his hands, his shoulder, his chest, his legs. The majority of the swarm returned to its railroad tie, and we worked at stamping out the offending hornets and calming down an understandably shaken Reed.

As he realized his time on earth was not over, he remembered his sister. His first words, after “GET THEM OFF ME! I’M GETTING KILLED!” were, “Is Tessa all right? Make sure my sister is OK.”

Yeah, Buddy, she’s fine. She’s safe in the cottage. Which she locked you out of.

~~~~~

Soon the cottage will be for sale. It’s the end of a summer ritual that has played out each summer of my husband’s entire life. The wasp story is a fitting end to the sting of the loss of Lisa.

If wishes were horses

Lynne stood near a pile of horse manure, leaning on a fence post, flies zooming around her in the late-afternoon sun. She squinted her eyes and watched the creatures before her, a lump in her throat and tears threatening to overflow her eye sockets. She sighed away the feeling of being consumed, which had come uncomfortably close to enveloping her.

She hated when that happened. Why couldn’t she just allow the ecstasy to flow on the rare occasions the conditions were right?

Because it didn’t seem appropriate in a horse pasture. And with this woman she barely knew. And, of course, in front of Grace. Grace freaked out at tears, even happy tears.

Lynne never thought she’d find this woman, this creature, this possible solution for her daughter. She’d searched for two years, ever since equine therapy was first suggested as an idea to try for her daughter. And though Lynne had had to be patient, the possible solution had unfolded beautifully.

Weeks before, Lynne had entered the local health foods store. She never checked the community bulletin board in the entry way, but this day, as she left the store with her baba ganouj and Greek yogurt, she stopped to read a flier. “Art/Music Festival this Fri/Sat 10-5.” Surprisingly, the address was within biking distance from her home. Lynne made a mental note to take the family to  the Art/Music Festival sometime during the upcoming weekend.

On Friday, Lynne and the kids drove past the intersection listed on the flier. Looked like a very small Art/Music Festival, Lynne thought to herself. This isn’t even in a parking lot — it’s in someone’s yard. She and the kids were on task for something else and didn’t go to the Art/Music Festival that day.

Saturday was full of duty. Lynne and Rob got their yard mowed, some weeds pulled, the groceries bought, some calories burned. The day was slipping away when Lynne remembered the nearby Art/Music Festival. She knew her husband was a sucker for local music. C’mon, let’s go, she’d said around 3:30.

They got to the teeny-tiny Art/Music Festival just an hour before closing time. Along the perimeter of the lot were maybe six white tents providing shade to vendors of knit caps, airbrushed artwork, and handmade wind chimes. In one corner was a small stage with a miked and amped guitarist, vocalist and drummer. In another corner a guy was offering chair massages.

At the entrance to the clearing, a pretty blond woman was offering horse rides.  Grace begged to ride, so Lynne approached the woman to find out how much a ride cost. “Five dollars. This is Pinto,” she said pointing to a liver-spotted horse. “He was a rescue. He’s very gentle.”

Grace’s pleadings reached a fever pitch remarkably fast, even as Lynne fished cash out of her purse. Grace’s difficulty in focusing on schoolwork was accompanied by a peculiar ability to hone in on what she wanted and not stop petitioning until she got it. The blond woman arranged for a young high school student wearing jeans and boots to lead Grace, atop Pinto, on a 5-minute circuit around the lot. Twice. Grace could not get enough so they went around a third time.

Lynne chatted up the horse owner. “Do you know anywhere around here that offers hippotherapy?”

It was a highly specialized field. Not only did the horse need to be trained in dealing with children who had special needs, but the human also had to be trained in fields like occupational therapy, speech therapy, maybe even psychotherapy. Lynne had searched for years in vain, finding such horse+therapist combination an hour’s drive north or an hour’s drive south. Not doable.

How had it come to this? It had become clear that Grace was not getting what she needed at school, at home, through their medical network. No one had even been able to figure out what she needed. Grace was falling behind academically, she was having difficulty with relationships, she was combative at home, and though infinitely lovable, Grace’s presence was a whirlwind of chaos. Lynne and her husband were exhausted in dealing with her and trying to help her. They’d tried numerous strategies, therapies, even medications. Nothing had helped Grace focus, stem her impulsiveness and tendency toward opposition, or “click” with reading and math skills. Lynne and her husband were growing more and more fearful that maybe an answer didn’t exist.

So the blond woman’s response was nothing short of miraculous.

“I do hippotherapy.”

Lynne could not believe her ears, her luck.

“You do? Where?” fully expecting the answer to be in a faraway town.

“Right here. I’ve just returned to the area and I’m setting up riding and therapy again. I’ve worked in the past with children of all abilities and with all sorts of issues.”

She told Lynne her fees, which were not as high as she’d feared. Phone numbers were exchanged, and soon Lynne had set up this first lesson.

Best of all, Grace, with her love of animals, did not even know she was getting assistance. Being different from other “normal” kids had been the downfall of other therapies and activities they’d tried. But this? This looked like learning to care for and ride horses.

In reality, the reported benefits of equine therapy include learning to be respectful, being calmer in the body, honing social skills and understanding the subtle give-and-take, improving the eye-movements essential to reading, reinforcing sequencing, building self-esteem, and experiencing trust.

It remained to be seen if Pinto and the blond woman could bring about any of these changes for Grace, now sporting a borrowed riding helmet and sitting with a straight spine atop the horse . But as Lynne stood in the glow of the afternoon sun, watching her daughter ride with confidence and focus, she was supremely hopeful.