You never know about those “handicappers”

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BY THE TIME I NOTICED my four-year-old son creeping on the toddler in the ruffley outfit, he already had overpowered her to snatch the binkie from her clenched teeth.

Another mother might have flown like a sparrow through the park’s monkey bars to rescue and comfort precious Charlotte.

Instead, I stifled a belly laugh because I could relate to my boy’s impulse.

A little girl blessed to be talking so clearly before age 3 needs to ditch the binkie.

But I could tell that Ray scared the bejeezus out of her by hurling the accessory he never mouthed as a baby down on the wood chips.

So, I wandered over to the park bench where little Charlotte sat melodramatically sobbing between her 8-year-old brother and 5-year-old sister.

Standing before the trio, I told them them the truth about Ray, that he never meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. Then, I promised to bring him over, even though he could not yet apologize with words.

“Is he handicapped?” the 8-year-old asked.

“Yes, he is,” I said, pleasantly surprised by the child’s perception and straightforward question.

“Well, you never know with those handicappers, you never know what they’re gonna do,” he said.

IMG_2117I laughed then at the truth of that statement in positive circumstances, too.

The boy’s comment came to mind again earlier this month during a screening of the award-winning film, “Menschen,” at the Sie FilmCenter in Denver.

“Menschen” means “human beings” in German.

The Denver-based Global Down Syndrome Foundation hosted the event in partnership with the Denver Film Society to raise awareness through the 28-minute film directed by Sarah Lotfi and produced by Anastasia Cumming of how the Nazis during World War II systematically eradicated people with physical, mental and developmental disabilities along with Jews, gypsies and homosexuals.

The film features Connor Long, 20, a Louisville resident born with Down syndrome, a genetic condition that causes varying degrees of intellectual disability.

Some may not be impressed with an actor playing someone very much like themselves until they realize that Long, who was a 17-year-old Fairview High School student in Boulder during the shoot, studied with a dialect coach to speak German lines flawlessly.

His emotionally spot-on portrayal of Radek Novak also led to him winning Best Actor at the 2013 Filmstock Film Festival.

All of the action in the film takes place in May 1945 as the Allies close in on an Austrian captain who guides his company behind Russian lines to surrender to the Americans.

During this retreat, the captain takes Radek under his wing when the boy’s mother gets killed by crossfire.

Viewers later learn that the captain’s compassion and morality stem from heartache over the German’s “T4 Action Plan,” which killed his developmentally disabled sister, Hannah, earlier in the war.

Historically, the Nazi’s gassed an estimated 300,000 people with physical or mental disabilities.

Michelle Sie, whose daughter was born with Down syndrome, established the Global Down Syndrome Foundation with her family in 2009 to “significantly improve the lives of people with Down syndrome by eradicating the medical and cognitive ill effects associated with the condition.”

She explained that the film challenges prejudice behind stereotypes like “disabled,”  “enemy,” or even “hero.”

Given the film’s celebrated festival reception, the director and producer hope to shoot a full-length feature and re-up Long’s contract.

Indeed.

You never know what those “handicappers” will do.

For more information, visit www.menschenthemovie.com and Lafayette film critic Tim Brennan’s post: http://lafayetteramblings.blogspot.com/.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303-746-0942.

Connor Long, 20, of Louisville, stands in the lobby of the Sie FilmCenter in Denver before a Sept. 4 dinner reception and screening of the film "Menschen." The film's promotional poster depicts Long playing a character in the film, which explores the Nazi action plan of eradicating those with physical, mental and developmental disabilities along with Jews, gypsies and homosexuals.

Connor Long, 20, of Louisville, stands in the lobby of the Sie FilmCenter in Denver before a Sept. 4 dinner reception and screening of the film “Menschen.” The film’s promotional poster depicts Long playing a character in the film, which explores the Nazi action plan of eradicating those with physical, mental and developmental disabilities along with Jews, gypsies and homosexuals.

 

 

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Why white pants don’t work

My friend, Tricia Sargent, and I enjoyed wearing our white pants on my family's porch swing on July 6, 2010, as I held my third son, Ray. I have not worn them much since then because they -- like other high maintenance items -- have become more trouble than they are worth.

My friend, Tricia Sargent, and I enjoyed wearing our white pants on my family’s porch swing on July 6, 2010, as I held my third son, Ray. I have not worn them much since then because they have become more trouble than they are worth.

A PAIR OF WHITE PANTS — hiphuggers with a button fly and boot cut — will hang in my closet untouched every summer for the next six years at least.

My youngest child turns 10 then, and that may be when mama dares to wear white pants again.

Much as I would love to slip into these white pants a few times between Memorial Day and the Labor Day — the official season — I keep them in the closet for the same reason I keep 99-cent dishes versus antique china in the Lazy Susan.

I don’t like feeling livid.

And that is exactly how I feel when, not five minutes after buttoning these pants, one of my three young sons tumbles into my lap with an uncapped purple marker or orange Popsicle dribble around his smile or dusty hands fresh from excavating behind the garage in the weed patch that I got too busy to plant in May as a vegetable garden.

Eight years into my parenting adventure, I finally value these white pants on a symbolic level and better understand why they are incompatible with the messy work of mothering.

Classic white summer clothing, be it a linen jacket or a tennis skirt, speaks to a season of staying cool and looking good in the heat. The color alone hints at a certain leisure, a certain expectation of remaining spotless.

Chef hats and doctor coats make notable exceptions.

But since I wear neither to work, I have no business wearing this color, especially when the whitewear sets me up to send a regrettable message to my little ones: “Stand back!”

I suspect most people have their own version of white pants that, upon reflection, can refine the questions we put to behaviors we hope to change.

Why, for instance, would I keep trying to wear something that predictably requires Spray ‘n Wash and just as predictably makes me fume at my children when they plow into my legs for a hug?

None of us can ignore all our pet irritations by wearing blue jeans instead.

But most of us can decide what matters more — something or someone — as a guide on how to get comfortable in the life we live.

Since I consider my children my magnum opus, the great work of my life, it helps to view them as I did on the day there were born — with delight — and to forget about fashion.

Wearing something else, like serving kids food on plastic plates, comes with its own satisfactions, after all.

Spills and breakage no longer create a crisis. They create space for grace. My work as a mother suddenly becomes lighter when I can get say “No problem” and mean it.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303.746.0942.

 

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Red, white, and blue moments

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THE PILOT PANICKED WHEN HE heard the rumble from the back that day in 1974. His stomach tightened at the thought of flying Marines home and instead getting hit just off the runway by Viet Cong below.

Moments later, as the jungle shrank in the oval windows, the flight attendant explained the goings on behind the cockpit.

IMG_0679IMG_0674IMG_0688The men sensed the pilot’s struggle to get lift in the sweltering heat. They knew bullets to the fuselage could ground the flight, and they pounded their muddy boots on the carpet to give him their power.

I interviewed that veteran pilot about 10 years ago, and I still remember his final thought on the subject.  

“It sounded like endless thunder,” he said before taking a moment to compose himself.

Though I did not live through this story, I still consider it a red, white, and blue moment — one of the many short stories that explains my patriotism, my sense of gratitude regardless of the political climate, for all of the men and women who have served this country in uniform.

I suspect many Americans shape their patriotism in the same fashion, by reflecting on published and unpublished stories that help tease the best from the worst of who we are as Americans overseas and at home.

For most of us, visiting battlefields and cemeteries as we do on Memorial Day may be the closest we ever get to the dearest sacrifice.IMG_0729

So it was for me, at 20, when I stood on the cliffs above the beaches at Normandy, France.

Never have I felt the same mix of pity and pride as I did then, in 1987, when I peered at the steel-grey English Channel through the slats of German bunkers used there during the Allied invasion in 1944 on D-Day.

The Germans were so protected in those bunkers, so above the fray with seemingly nothing but their eyeballs and the muzzles of their weapons exposed.

How our seasick, waterlogged men managed to battle on … That question still haunts this girl’s heart.

I was single and childless then. I am a wife and the mother of three young sons now.

Honestly, we might not get to Normandy together.

But we can learn in our kitchen why flags never touch the ground anywhere, and why waiving one on Main Street honors our veterans and our country.  IMG_0500

Together we can pay tribute on U.S. highways and byways as we did in August 2011 on the 18 Mile Road Bridge in Michigan, where we were vacationing. The bridge spans U.S. 131, and we stood there with veterans and their families as the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall headed northbound to Cadillac for installation.

IMG_0749IMG_0486Vets wearing dark embroidered ball caps from various wars — including World War II — showed up with their families and draped flags over the bridge rail as the motorcade proceeded below.

Who knows what sticks with my kids or how such images and stories will shape their patriotism?

But what sticks with me is the Vietnam vet who stood silently beside us on the bridge and held up two fingers.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at Mellskog@msn.com or 303-746-0942

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The Other Mother’s Star Power

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THE OTHER MOTHER, THE ONE I hope to meet after her first year of grieving passes, delivered her son with special needs in 1954.

IMG_8971By the time I read the obituary she wrote about him in April, this boy had grown into a man who took on many of the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood. He did so in spite of his diagnosis at birth with Down syndrome, a genetic condition that causes intellectual disability.

IMG00533One line in the notice of his life and his death moved me so much — probably because my third child, Ray, has the same syndrome — that I read it aloud to my husband.

After listing her son’s birth in Iowa to her and her late husband, this other mother mentioned his diagnosis and wrote: “This did not deter him or his parents from a full and rich life.”

By commenting in the obituary on the good quality of the life they shared, this other mother raised a good question.

What, exactly, might be big enough to deter a mother or her child from living a full and rich life together?

IMG_8775I suspect this other mother could scan a long list of deterrents — disabilities, personality conflicts, divorce, differing value systems, reversals of fortune, etc. — and peg them for something else, peg them for a new normal with new opportunities.

Hollywood loves characters like her.

I visited that place last month to catch up with an old friend working through a midlife crisis that prompted him to leave a corporate law career — at least temporarily — to write screenplays.

For months, I have been listening by phone to all he has learned about filmmaking and script formulas at the University of California at Los Angeles 20 minutes from his home in West Hollywood.

IMG_9364In a nutshell, I learned what I already understood — that every engaging story happens between two worlds, the old one and the new one.

First, we see the main character living in his or her usual context. Then, preferably within 7 minutes of the film’s opening scene, that character experiences a so-called cute meet with the love interest or another inciting incident that shakes up everything.

Most of the action takes place in the new world either to win over the love interest, defeat the bad guys or solve some other seemingly insurmountable threat to peace and prosperity.

IMG_9352After four days of watching movie after movie with my friend to analyze script formulas, character development and action, I came home with a deeper appreciation for how much star power ordinary people bring to their new world.

A Down syndrome diagnosis in the mid 1950s catapulted the other mother — the obituary writer I want to meet– into such a place.

Then, doctors recommended institutionalizing these babies.

IMG_9356She brought him home from the hospital instead and enjoyed her boy.

Cheers to her and to all mothers grabbed by some circumstantial turnstile and thrust into an unexpected reality — big or small.

It is the call to action, and the Academy Award performance of your life awaits.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Pam Mellskog can be reached at Mellskog@msn.com or 303-746-0942.

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Good Neighbors

IMG_3879JUST PAST MIDNIGHT ON TAX day, April 15, my husband stole out the back door to set up a tripod in our driveway.

Then, he pointed our zoom lens camera slightly above our neighbor’s second-story master bedroom with the balcony to photograph a total lunar eclipse.

Never mind that our neighbor lady describes herself as an insomniac.

David briefly worried that she might peek through her shades and brand him a creeper.

But tinkering with slow shutter speeds and witnessing the moon turning copper-red as it moved directly into Earth’s shadow tempted him too much.

IMG_3884Folks like to say that you can’t pick your in-laws.

Well. You can’t pick your neighbors either, right?

IMG_3899This is less of an issue when you grow up as I did, on a 200-acre farm at the end of a mile-long lane in northwestern Illinois.

There, my parents still see only barns and pastures out every window in their home.

IMG_3911They hear the occasional airplane quietly sketching a contrail on the sky high above or a barge sounding off on the Mississippi River to the west or the tornado siren blasting from the historic fire station in town at noon every day.

IMG_3917However, on the farm the outside world remains at bay apart from these sounds.

Here in Boulder County, our mortgage paperwork lists our our lot as < .25-acres.

IMG_3950So, neighbors have come into focus for me in a relatively new way, in a good new way as we get comfortable with the sounds and sights of others in the midst of our own noise and mess.

Such close proximity makes plain how another family’s quality of life can go up or down depending on what kind of neighbor you set out to be.

The people we know here feel likewise and often pass goodwill and goodies over the fence or across the street.

We pet sit and babysit for each other. We share casseroles and cookies. We scrounge our pantries for a single ingredient — a tablespoon of soy sauce, a cup of bread crumbs — to  spare another a trip to the store at dinner time.

Because I forget to watch the gas gauge and because my kids like to turn on the dome light when I am not paying attention, I also borrow a vehicle from my neighbors when mine won’t start in the morning, and we need to go.

This, for the record, has happened at least a half-dozen times to my utter shame since we moved into this house in November 2007.

My neighbors keep on loving our little family in spite of the mistakes I make and the toys that spill from our yard onto the sidewalk.

Perhaps a good neighbor simply tolerates the harmless idiosyncracies others bring to the block.

When David finally crawled into bed with cold hands, confessions from the driveway, and chuckles as he told the story of photographing the lunar eclipse, I decided to find out.

I needed to ask April if any of the goings on that morning in our driveway below her bedroom window prompted her to think about calling the police.

She knew nothing of it.

We then both laughed uproariously as women will do over men caught catting around, be the report real or imagined.

“Call the police on Dave? Oh, I wouldn’t be calling the police, Pam,” she said as we talked by phone and stood in our side-by-side homes. “I would be calling you!”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at Mellskog@msn.com or at 303-746.0942.

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A Gold Standard

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OUR SECOND GRADER AT THE end of March brought home a writing assignment from school that tickled my husband and me.

“A thing more important than a pot of gold is my parents Pam and Dave because they help me in hard times,” he wrote. “They feed me, buy me stuff, help me with homework.”

Carl, 8, printed these words on lined paper framed with the black outline of a pot and topped with coins he colored yellow before drawing a dollar sign on each one in pencil.

When he left the room, we laughed out of happy disbelief that he wrote “buy me stuff” third, instead of first, on the list of things that he values about us.

This kid loves to shop and pesters us often to head down aisles with the slip of paper that tells him how much money remains in The Daddy Bank – the tally my husband keeps of Carl’s cash reserves garnered from generous friends and family members.

We figured that introducing the bank concept might help him learn how to save and spend more wisely.

Not everyone agrees.

The materialism in our culture jaded one mother I know so much that she banned her two boys from celebrating anything with gifts including Christmas and birthdays.

But her boycott seems destined to backfire.

For one thing, materialism describes an attitude about things versus the possession of things.

A poor person with nothing theoretically can be as materialistic or more materialistic than a rich person with everything.  

Secondly, I believe we practice sharing and delighting when we give and receive gifts, be they with or without cash value.

Who wants to get rusty in those areas? 

So, my husband and I give our boys toys along with broccoli and set bedtimes, and we trust that they will grow up with a healthy sense of love’s symbolism.

Re-reading Carl’s assignment shows me that maybe, just maybe, our gifts of service – helping him through “hard times” and with his homework – already might be received as gratefully as our ability to buy him “stuff.”

His writing hints at the developmental progression from concrete to abstract in all of us.

If a child consciously cherishes a thing, he then consciously may cherish an action and, finally, a relationship with himself, with others, with God.

After all, stuff and service both only go so far in terms of how much they can enrich a life.

Both seem like coins in the pot – things we can stamp with value and bank – versus the rich veins of gold running on mysterious paths through the earth awaiting discovery.

Carl’s teacher last month asked him and his class to write about “a thing more important than a pot of gold.”

This month, with Easter fresh in mind, I am taking the same challenge to cherish treasures unseen by faith once again.

I pray for what I cannot pay for – for hunger and for joy in my life and the lives of my children.   

The hunger is to know more of God and His ways. The joy is to celebrate what is known already, and the blessing is a gold standard that puts lesser things in the proper place.   

Pam Mellskog can be reached at Mellskog@msn.com or 303-746-0942.

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Andy’s Leprechaun Trap

IMG_0649ANDY’S KINDERGARTEN HOMEWORK LAST WEEK challenged him to build a leprechaun trap, another sure example of the imaginative springboards kids get these days.

I love it.

How delightful to see him gently peel a green foil shamrock with filigree borders from our kitchen window. Then, he mounted it atop an empty notecard box he found in our shelves loaded with toys and unsorted junk.

After coloring the margins with lime green crayon, my boy laid down an entire roll of Scotch tape in neat horizontal lines across the cover.

I eyed the ridged tape lines thick as shaker shingles and wondered aloud about the heavy duty fortification.

Andy, 6, shot me a bemused look before proceeding to the trap’s interior design.

“It needs to keep the rain out, Mom,” he said.

After weatherproofing the trap, he baited it with a chain of reflective shamrocks and tiny bits of marshmallow that he stuck all over in a one-nibble-for-me, one-pinch-for-the-trap fashion.

That way, the leprechaun’s slippers would get mired, but he wouldn’t starve waiting for Andy to find him the next morning.

I wished then as much as I’ve wished for anything, really – that I could make a nimble sprite for him to find trapped in sweet stuff.

Instead, I explained away the empty box, explained that leprechauns cleverly avoid capture to keep the path to their pots of gold secret.

Disappointing as this was for both of us, it did give me a segue into the ways Andy can catch something more important than a leprechaun.

His older brother Carl, 8, jumpstarted the conversation over dinner recently by admiring Andy’s towering social skills on the playground.

So, I interviewed Andy as we ate as if he were an expert, and the kid just rocked that interview.

Me: Andy, why do you think you are so good at making new friends on the playground?

Andy: I don’t know, but I think it starts with me walking up to a person and looking into their heart.

Me: What are you looking for, exactly?

Andy: I’m looking to see if they need a friend, if there’s even a little bit of lonely in their heart.

Me: Oh? If there is, then what do you do?

Andy: I ask them if they want to play. But I always tell them that they can pick the first game, and that I will pick the second game.

Me: What else do you do to make sure that once you’ve made a friend that you keep that friend?

Andy: Don’t be rough on them, because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. Never ever say something mean or say a naughty word to your friend.

Is that not building a better mousetrap?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Pam Mellskog can be reached at Mellskog@msn.com or 303-746-0942.

 

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Why I Can’t Send the Cats Packin’

20130824_153247MY HUSBAND GETS AN AUDIENCE when he walks into the upstairs bathroom at night.

Our two cats jump on the closed toilet seat lid before hopping on the toilet tank lid to lick their whiskers and watch him dish kitty food.

For them, the rattle of dry mix sounds like trumpets at the theater – the signal to take their seats before the red velvet curtains sway open and they may feast on what lies before them.

But recently, two typically male breaches in lavatory courtesy stopped the show.

One of our little boys both forgot to flush and forgot to do what all girls and women want boys and men to do religiously.

Andy, 6, forgot to close the toilet lid after he forgot to flush.

So, when the first cat jumped up for the nightly show, she fell into the brine of little boy pee up to her soft belly fur.

The cat skedaddled then, dripping like a Labrador fresh from a duck fetch.

20130824_15340820130824_153534IMG_1820This caused David to drop the kitty chow and chase the cat with a towel over and under couches, down and up basement steps and around the dining room table as she scrambled for cover – a quiet place to cleanup and figure out what went wrong in her evening feeding routine.

My husband is an engineer.

The chaos, what with the cat flicking pee water over furniture and floorboards, about unhinged him.

I can’t fault my out-of-state friends and relatives for passing on our standing invitation to visit us in Colorado when I know stuff like this happens in our house.

Yet, every family with pets probably goes through episodes like this, the ones that threaten to send the four-leggers packing for the humane society.

I always beg for a stay, though, because our cats are our kids’ dollies, the ones they dress up and talk with to reenact the days of our lives.

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For instance, when Carl, 7, and Andy viewed photos of Ray in December during his sleep apnea test at The Childrens Hospital in Broomfield, they thought he looked like a cute mummy with his head swaddled to secure electrodes.

IMG_0223 Next thing we know, one of the cats is skulking around with an inside-out sock on her head.

“Why does that cat have a sock on her head?” I hollered while removing the cat’s headgear.

Carl, with a straight face, explained that the cat might need a sleep study.

However misguided, this boy loves this cat.

IMG_8989 Carl named the tiger cat Black Susan after the black cat in Laura Ingalls Wilders’ Little House on the Prairie series we read. He carries her on his shoulders the way his daddy carried him before he hit 40 pounds.

 

He also traps the cat at the bottom of his sleeping bag so that they cave it together and mummifies her in toilet paper.

IMG_1811Even little Ray, 4, likes to chase the other cat – an orange tabby Andy named Bow and Arrow – into the basement bathroom. With the door shut and the lights off, Ray stalks her with his flashlight in and out of the dry, empty tub.

I am sure that both Black Susan and Bow and Arrow would prefer the serenity of a single retiree or anyone with a soft lap and a penchant for novels or cable TV.

But these cats are young. They won’t pass their first birthday until April.

So, instead of considering them at risk for a kitty variety of post-traumatic stress disorder, I am hoping that David will keep feeding them and changing their kitty litter.

They need to earn their keep, and we need our fur fix and the adventure they bring to family life.

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Pam Mellskog can be reached at Mellskog@msn.com or 303-746-0942.

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Ice Cream Unlimited

IMG_0592MY DAD STILL ENVISIONS THE surgical team that removed his tonsils as body snatchers.

They came for him that day in 1944 gowned in pale green scrubs and caps with white masks. Then, they pulled him from hugging his parents and wheeled him on a gurney down a long, linoleum hallway to an elevator en route to the operating room at Evanston Hospital in Evanston, Ill.

The elevator doors closed.

Dad, just 5, started crying then.

Tears turned to some form of trauma on the operating table as the doctor told him to breathe into a mask that looked like a black megaphone while counting down from 10.

Dad eventually woke up in a ward noisy with about 50 other kids crying from surgical wounds or sickness. Then, he felt that pain in the back of his throat that reminded him why he was there.

“It left an imprint,” he said last week when I called from The Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora to let him and my Mom know that Ray, 4, survived the same surgery. “But the one good thing was that there was ice cream and as much of it as you wanted.”

So much has changed for kids undergoing a tonsillectomy in the 70 years between then and now.

IMG_0577On Ray’s surgery day, he and I held hands as we strolled back to the operating room. There, we smelled his clear mask, one laced with bubble gum fragrance, before the anesthesiologist gently cupped it over his nose and mouth.

Then, we held hands again.

As I told him what a big boy he was and how much I loved him, the mask filled with medicine. Ray gulped a few times and whimpered a bit. But then, he drifted off to La La Land.

IMG_0581About an hour later, as he roused from the anesthesia, I got to cuddle him in a rocking chair beside his bed.

Hospital staff then led us to a private room on the sixth floor. They pushed the gurney and pulled the red wagon with our luggage while I carried Ray, a groggy boy tethered by the intravenous line on the top of his left hand to a pole with a fluid bag dangling from it.

Then, as this 30-pound patient emerged from a mental fog, we watched “Despicable Me 2” – a 98-minute film rated PG due to “rude humor” and “mild action” – three times together.

IMG_0598Our nurse told us that during her rounds, several other families were watching the same movie that debuted in 2013 and popularized the minion characters – goggled, bright yellow creatures that toil on a jam canning production line, the legitimate work their boss does to leave his life of crime.

In the mid-1940s, my Dad listened to radio shows like “The Shadow” at home.

But at the hospital, ice cream – not entertainment – helped him pass the time and soothe his sore throat.

IMG_0612 I doubt anyone then took issue with giving a child a bottomless dish of the cold, creamy dairy product.

IMG_0611Now, though, our nurse told me that some parents want to forgo the classic treat.

They want their kids to eat broccoli, brown rice, fish and strawberries.

IMG_0616My husband, David, underwent the surgery in 1978 at age 5.

He secretly snacked on popcorn during his home recovery time with disastrous results.

The popcorn tore the incisions open, which caused him to hemorrhage and his father to faint on the kitchen floor at the site of the blood.

IMG_0617David’s mother, pregnant at the time, then needed to rush both of them to the emergency room.

Lyrics from the American folk rock band, The Byrds, serve here. The group’s 1962 hit, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There is a Season),” somehow makes the biblical message from the dusty third chapter of Ecclesiastes catchy.

Alas, there is a time for ice cream unlimited when something hurts and needs healing – a time off from the usual due diligence to recover with one of life’s luxuries.

Ray’s nurse put it this way.

“Everything will swing back into balance when he gets past the pain,” she said. “So, baby him.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at Mellskog@msn.com or 303-746-0942.

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Usual Underdogs Double As Everyday Olympians

IMG_3513 MAYBE A SECRET CRUSH ON one of the snowboarding beauties at Sochi drove the women’s halfpipe commentator to gush during the first week of the Winter Olympics.

“She’s a machine gun of awesomeness!!!” he hollered as soon-to-be gold medalist, American Kaitlyn Farrington, went airborne with one stylish trick after another before skidding to a stop.

My husband and I – two couch potatoes cheering Team USA in the glow of our basement TV – took up his exuberance by repeating the phrase and laughing at how goofy we all get when an underdog delivers.

Our son with special needs regularly turns us into that guy, that overexcited commentator so wowed by what just happened that he can barely talk straight.

IMG_3504Since 2009, when Ray got diagnosed as a newborn with Down syndrome – a genetic condition that causes intellectual disability and some physical challenges –we have learned that usual underdogs can double as everyday Olympians in the games they play.

IMG_3506IMG_3499IMG_3509For instance, I coach Ray, now 4, with a game I made up to train his brain to learn colors and the concepts of under and over.

It starts with me giving him mini M&Ms to hide under colored cups – a red M&M under the red cup, a blue one under the blue cup, and so on.

Then, I give him a flashcard with a color for him to place over the like-colored cup. When he makes a match, he gets to lift the cup and gobble the candy under it.

During the early phases of this game, Ray mismatched colors more than 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent of successes seemed more like lucky guesses.

He also called every color, “geen.”

Now, though, this boy matches the cards to the cups without much color confusion, and the color names have begun to roll off his tongue.

No wonder I sent my husband the following text message in January – “Ray said ‘yellow!’” – and we both celebrated as if our little guy just barreled across some finish line first on a world stage.

We might as well be those parents in parkas standing at the bottom of the halfpipe shaking cowbells and waving flags.

IMG_3514I suspect that we share the same joy and satisfaction in supporting our children as they push limits – be it at special education preschool classes in Erie or at Rosa Khutar Extreme Park events near Sochi, Russia.

As Farrington made her gold medal run, her parents held a small, hand-made sign that read: “Cowgirl up!”

The spirit of the Olympic Games and of parenting comes down to that, comes down to getting onboard and riding again and again to refine abilities whatever the stopwatch or scorecard shows.

Let these games begin for us all every day.

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Pam Mellskog can be reached at Mellskog@msn.com or 303-746-0942.  For more Mommy Musings, visit http://mellskog.pmpblogs.com.

 

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