Gentleness from the Man with the Needle

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WITH DOZENS OF BLOOD DRAWS at hospitals and clinics under his belt, Ray and I know what to do.

We strap on our crash helmets.

He never raised a ruckus as a baby.

Then, he felt so lackluster, so beset by a form of leukemia, that he took sticks without flinching or crying.

That terrified me, made visions of a graveside service beside a tiny casket well up.

So, that Ray — now 5 — freaks out these days during blood draws feels right, feels like him flexing his life force.

Until six months ago, he and I survived blood draw drama by huddling in a special chair reminiscent of a 19th century classroom for the way the desktop flips up and down to corral the patient and provide arm support.

Ray cringed and bawled on my lap as I pretzeled my arms around him to quell jiggling during the stick.

Some phlebotomists — we love you, Dawn! — consistently hit the tiny, rolly vein in the crook of his left arm the first time.

But plenty missed it, too.

That escalates the theatrics, especially since botched sticks can blow out a vein and cause a massive bruise.

Then, late last fall, we met Abe.

Ray stopped crying. I started.

Abe invited me during our first visit to take a seat on an upholstered chair, not the 19th century-style chair.

I stared at the new staffer at this clinic with mixed feelings.

“Oh, you don’t need to touch him,” he said.

Who wouldn’t relax in the presence of someone so relaxed?

On the other hand, sharp needles and 5-year-old boys don’t mix well in my experience.

Wouldn’t a competent phlebotomist charged with getting a blood sample from a new patient take some precautions?

So, I sat in the chair with Ray in my lap, just in case things ramped up to lion tamer level.

Abe pulled on his latex gloves, spotted the vein, and kneeled before us — a miracle on the verge.

I did not catch on and viewed the scene with guarded optimism.

“It’s OK, baby,” Abe cooed.

He presented the needle, and Ray whimpered.

Phlebotomists typically do not let him look at it or know when the stick is coming.

Then, Abe cupped Ray’s elbow in the palm of his hand for support during the draw.

“It’s OK, baby. We can do this,” he said, looking Ray in the eye at eye level.

Ray whimpered a little more and stared sort of aghast at his bare arm as the needle slid into the vein.

Blood zipped up the tube into the vial, and Ray held steady without restraint.

No restraint. At all.

Abe pulled the needle out slowly a minute later and stood.

He smiled.

The power of this man’s gentleness ranks among the top five most remarkable things I have witnessed in my adult life.

My eyes turned to puddles as he dropped the used needle and tube in the sharps container, tossed his latex gloves in the trash, and labeled the vial.

When we visited Abe three months later in February for our standing appointment, I wondered if it would happen again.

Was it a fluke? Beginner’s luck?

Nope.

I have deduced with help from my friend known as “The Greek,” that Abe gives Ray different cues on what to expect and how to handle the stressful event. The phlebotomist/kid whisperer brings no fear, no anxiety, and no force to his delicate work with children.

He gives them different cues altogether, cues that speak to gentleness, confidence, cooperation, and even playfulness.

After Ray’s second no pressure, no tears blood draw with Abe, I asked him about this.

He shrugged.

“It’s my gift,” he said, looking up and pointing to the ceiling tiles in a more private version of the appreciation NFL players show on national TV after a touchdown.

Ray scrambled out of the chair about then and trotted toward the door.

But not before turning around and grinning at Abe.

“Thank you!” he sang.

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

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Children as Orchids

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THE TEACHER NEVER SAID “DIVORCE.”

But I threw that word into our conversation as she gently probed for reasons that might explain why my son, Andy, 7, stood on chairs, banged his head on his desk, or burst into angry tears when demonstrating his worst behavior in her first grade classroom.

“I wish I could say that there was a divorce brewing at home,” I blurted.

Of course, that came out sideways as so many of my comments do.

But if it were true, that would explain handily why my boy’s behavior too often moves him on the class behavior chart from optimal green to warning yellow and, sometimes, to red — the color that flags privilege loss.

That afternoon, as he and I sat on the couch together, I asked Andy again why he dusted up at school some days.

“I’m one of the strugglers, Mom,” he said, matter of factly.  “There are five of us.”

Though I already knew that, his response prompted me to visit my online shrink — the American Psychological Association website — to learn more about me, why I am a struggler, too, a mom obviously in need of a tune up in the parenting skills department.

At the APA site, I read more about risk factors related to poor behavior kids in preschool through fifth grade. Many factors did not apply: a mom with multiple boyfriends; parents in trouble with the law; frequent address changes; parental substance abuse or mental health challenges; and poverty.

As the researchers expected, kids living in homes with one or more of these conditions tended to externalize that stress by acting out in the classroom and fighting. Or, they internalized the stress by withdrawing or feeling depressed.

Yet, more garden-variety stress — the kind produced by parents working and trying to keep up with obligations at home — also can make some kids act out. Those kids feel last on a parent’s long “to do” list, like they get only leftover time and energy from mom or dad.

“We often treat our relationships—which are like orchids—like a cactus, and then when inevitably the orchid wilts or has problems, we tend to think that there’s something wrong with the orchid,” wrote David J. Palmiter, Jr., a Pennsylvania psychologist and author of “Working Parents, Thriving Families” (Sunrise River Press).

The quote worked like a mirror.

“Give me a minute, please!” I say to my kids, sometimes with unveiled exasperation. “I’m right in the middle of making dinner, doing laundry, writing a story…”

Such housekeeping and work activities fall into the urgent category. Without stepping away for these reasons, the family would starve, run out of clean underwear, and be stuck with a mother depressed by no typing time.

Still, the image of my children as orchids, as lovely creations exquisitely sensitive to the environment, motivates me to press on in finding ways to make our home less stressful and more hospitable.

Chores won’t go away suddenly, nor will the stress associated with getting them done in time.

But carving out more moments to relate and recreate with the kids might turn the heat down on my boy who hits the boiling point too often at school and at home.

Last week, Andy overheard me talking to my parents and my brother about renting a houseboat on the Mississippi River for a midweek vacation this summer.

The next morning, I found him drawing the cast of family characters on the houseboat and in the water.

“Like it?” he said.

Yep. I sure do, Andy.

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

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In Praise of One-Arm Wonders

20150124_095428TWO WORDS CAUSED A COMPLETE work stop at our house on a recent Saturday morning.

I finally had gotten motivated to tackle the tsunami of rumpled clothes that grows every week in baskets behind the closed door of our bedroom closet — the security measure we use to keep the cats from confusing unfolded laundry for kitty litter.

My husband, for his part, had hauled the frame, mattresses, hardware, and drawers of a used bunk bed from the garage to a second story bedroom to reassemble it there for our oldest son Carl, 8.

Then, out came Daddy’s tools.

Clearly something about the worker bee activity prompted our youngest son — the one with special needs and a profound speech delay — to express his wish to move from audience member to participant.

“I help,” Ray said, ever so softly.

David and I could have cartwheeled over the words, by our count only the second sentence ever spoken by our boy though he turned 5 in early December.

Usually, Ray jargons — speaks fluently and often passionately with a helter-skelter arrangement of vowels and consonants in a foreign language understood by God alone.

More and more, though, one English word pops out of that mix. Words like “snowflake” and “keys.”

He started calling me “Mom” at age 3, and since then this one-word repertoire has snowballed, albeit in slow motion.

As I stood at the stove last week sauteing mushrooms and stirring boiling pasta water, Ray poked my leg and pointed at a pizza illustration in his Scooby Doo book.

“Pizza!” he near shouted, tapping the picture.

It sounds like he is getting it, getting English down like the rest of us do, one word at a time, and beginning to string those words together.

At such a juncture, I think again on the complaint a friend once shared regarding her mother.

“If she lost an arm, she would be happy because she had one left,” this friend said, rolling her eyes.

When others minimize pain, loss or struggle — especially when it is not their own — it can be insensitive and hurtful.

But this post is in praise of all of those one-armed wonders, in praise of Ray and other kids and adults who keep truckin’ without benefit of standard-issue gear, such as the 100-point (give or take) IQ most of us rely on to communicate.

When he was born, a simple analogy helped me deepen this appreciation.

I began thinking about using my left hand versus my dominant right hand to hold a fork, to write a letter, to apply mascara.

Hmmm…

The exercise exposed the efficiency, elegance, and artistry I took for granted.

It also sharpened my sense of how we all operate one-armed or left-handed in some area.

Lots of folks battling the bulge or hoping to forgive wrongdoing can relate to this.

Yet, parenting a boy like Ray reminds me that tough goes can be the most worthy ones, and that progress can be deeply in the works without many obvious signs.

Ray spoke his first sentence on a 100-degree day in July as I tried to tug off his rainboots and replace them with sandals before we left the air-conditioned car.

As I tugged, he tugged back and jargoned frantically in his exclusive foreign language.

Then, as if by magic, he spoke in perfect English:  “I want boots!”

His brothers and I looked at each other and then at Ray.

The boy wore boots that day.

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

Better hearing equals a better chance at talking. So, Ray underwent the minor surgery at the Longmont Surgery Center to have tubes put in his ears on Jan. 20, 2015. He looks like he's ready to tell you about already, huh?

Better hearing equals a better chance at talking. So, Ray underwent the minor surgery at the Longmont Surgery Center to have tubes put in his ears on Jan. 20, 2015. He looks like he’s ready to tell you about already, huh?

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Grandma’s rings ride again

Grandma Alida Mellskog holds me as Grandpa John Mellskog looks on after my dedication service at Calvary Baptist Church in Evanson, Ill., on July 30, 1967.

Grandma Alida Mellskog holds me as Grandpa John Mellskog looks on after my dedication service at Calvary Baptist Church in Evanson, Ill., on July 30, 1967.

AS MY MOTHER AND I chatted together at the farm over winter break, she cleaned out the drawers of a marble-topped chest and found two rings — both stripped of diamonds, the shanks sawed off, the gold dull.

Inspecting the empty setting with her felt very much like peering through the broken windows of an abandoned mansion.

The rings appeared just as forsaken and debased without their rightful sparkle, without the nine tiny diamonds that once lined the wedding band’s channel and the solitaire once flanked by three smaller diamonds on either side of the engagement ring.

Turns out after my Grandpa Mellskog died in 1968, Grandma Mellskog eventually asked the jeweler who catered to Swedish immigrants in Chicago then to cut the size 7 1/2 ring from her finger after 36 years of constant wear.

With those diamonds, Mr. Gustavson designed a platinum ring, a glittering ring my Mom inherited before Grandma passed away at 95 in 1993.

After we recovered the rings no one ever missed, I have carried them with me everywhere protected by Saran wrap in my wallet.

Finally, in early February, I stopped in at Snyder Jewelers in Longmont to dream a little, to get a fix on what it would take to rebuild the rings and wear them.

As the jeweler cleaned and inspected the half rings, I felt on the verge of tears.

My affection for my Grandma Mellskog comes from so many odd places.

I smell vinegar, and I think of her.

Let me explain.

During my childhood, when she lived at Fairhaven Christian Home in Rockford, Ill., about 90 miles away from our farm, she visited us for a month every summer.

Besides flipping dozens of Swedish pancakes for breakfast, she baked apple pies and braided Swedish cardamom bread — all things she learned to do as a girl in the Old Country.

She also scrubbed the bricks around the Franklin stove in our livingroom; cleaned the kitchen cupboards inside and out; and snooped in my parents’ checkbook to make sure they had enough money.

By the end of each day, Grandma’s knees ached. So, she asked me to rub vinegar — a home remedy — on them.

It never occurred to me then. But it occurs to me now that before my nightly Florence Nightingale job, Grandma still dropped to those sore knees into her 80s to pray in “Swinglish” — a mix of Swedish and English — with my brother, sister, and me. All of us kneeled in a row, our heads bowed, hands clasped, and elbows propped on her bed.

I already treasure her faith, work ethic, and generosity.

What more could her old rings bring?

But they are so storied that I study them sometimes and consider the holes as tiny portals to the past.

Grandpa Mellskog gave them to her in 1932, the year these two Swedish immigrants finally finished attending English night classes and getting established — he as a carpenter and she as a nurse.

On her hand, the rings went through all the motions of motherhood I have since assumed — from changing diapers to buttoning shirts to patting sons on the back and pulling the tabs off Band-Aids.

Those rings touched my Dad, newborn in a January 1939 snowstorm when she was 40.

They touched me, too, because I was born in 1967, eleven months before Grandma became a widow and changed the setting.

They vanished after that.

But now they are found, and that, too, makes the rings more precious than metal and stones — a reminder to me on many levels and in plain view every day perhaps some day.

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

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Tigers Against Teasers

Erie Elementary School tacked anti-bullying student artwork on the wall outside of the library in mid January. Andy, 7, placed third in the contest called "Tigers Against Teasers" with the poster featured here. A tiger is the school's mascot.

Erie Elementary School tacked
anti-bullying student artwork on the wall
outside of the library in mid January. Andy, 7,
placed third in the contest called “Tigers
Against Teasers” with the poster featured
here. A tiger is the school’s mascot.

AS THEY TIPTOE FROM THE bedsides of their half-asleep children, parents get last calls — usually bids for a glass of water or one more story.

But a few days ago, my first grader said something unexpected from his place on the bottom bunk in the dark bedroom as I gently pulled the door shut.

“Mama? Guess what? I got third place in the Tigers against Teasers poster contest,” Andy, 7, said.

Anti-bullying posters tacked to hallway walls at Erie Elementary School where a tiger is the mascot spell out the players in this story –who is a bully, who is a target, and who is a bystander — and choices each one can make.

The contest aims to enrich learning by challenging students to make their own poster, to draw and write about what good they could do as bystanders.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Tigers against Teasers poster contest coincides with the Jan. 15 birthday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed this year on Jan. 19.

Students get a G-rated version of what black people suffered and still suffer at the hands of white bullies through an MLK unit.

Teachers spare them the details of his last days — the bomb threat that delayed his plane from leaving Atlanta for the sanitation workers strike in Memphis; the bullet that ripped through his right cheek as he stood on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel; the hatred he weathered for rallying targets and bystanders to resist bullies without violence.

Yet, they get the point.

Everyone has a playground, and not everyone on that playground plays nice.

Andy’s poster, with its cave wall-like drawings, reflects that understanding.

He drew a red circle and slash across a bully stick figure thrusting some sort of weapon at a target stick figure gushing tears from a submissive position on the ground.

Andy listed the word “No” in the left column under this illustration and wrote, “No teasing. No being mean. No pushing.”

In the next frame, he drew a bystander stick figure reaching down to the crying person to give the target of bullying a hand up.

A list of the word “Yes” — as in, “Yes, you should help. Yes, you should be nice.” — stacks up under this illustration.

When I was in first grade in the mid 1970s, MLK had been dead just seven years, and it would take until 2000 for all 50 states to recognize the federal holiday honoring him on his birthday.

I am uncertain as to when elementary school textbooks wove his life and legacy into the curriculum.

But this addition, along with projects such as the poster contest to raise awareness, heartens me– makes me feel the press of progress as our youngest citizens learn about MLK’s message and good fight.

That is especially true since his work remains unfinished across discrimination’s waterfront, and bullying continues to rock our boat.

MLK wrote as much from his Birmingham jail cell: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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

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Looking Past Christmas Kitsch

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WHEN “SHIRLEY” JOINED US FOR dinner last December, our house suddenly felt like a den of Christmas kitsch, a regular truck stop full of holiday whatnot for all traveling passerby.

In the living room, a fake, pre-lit Christmas tree — a store floor model we bought 75 percent off full price in late December 2007 — glowed, but with dark patches of burned out bulbs.

On the half wall sat a cutout of the word “Peace” with a stylized Mary and Joseph touching foreheads over a baby to form the letter “a,” a letter topped with a yellow-painted coil sprouting a star.

A nativity cast in ceramic by my former first grade teacher, the late Marge Grossinger, cluttered the mantel above our gas fireplace.

My husband’s coworker, a Chinese native stateside to visit the company’s Colorado office, blinked in the midst of it before telling us the story of China’s relatively newfound infatuation with Christmas.

Turns out that since the 1990s the Chinese government has allowed a bit of Christmas into its communist public spaces.

After all, the Chinese like the idea of spending money on the things they manufacture for the rest of the world to wrap and unwrap in December.

And while controversy dogs the holiday — some Chinese consider it western imperialism — Christmas continues gaining popularity precisely because the story comes to the masses sterilized of its religious beginnings.

Even Americans familiar with the nativity scene and Christian religion often overlook the shepherds to emulate the wise men bearing expensive gifts.

My first grade teacher painted them with two-toned metallic colors and glued rhinestones on their fancy hats and robe hems. She adorned the camel blankets the same way.

But at my church earlier this month, our pastor reminded us that the first ones invited to celebrate the birth of Christ were not the the well-educated astrologers, the wise men of regal bearing and high social standing.

The angel and its choir first fluttered to the shepherds, a nomadic people working the graveyard shift guarding animals, who could bring nothing more than themselves to the manger.

For fresh perspective, some of us in the congregation met with the pastor after the sermon to picture the Christmas story rolling out in modern day Boulder County.

We figured Jesus would have been born in Ward, perhaps in the back seat of a car or in someone’s garage, before growing up in Nederland.

A modern day shepherd might be an over-the-road trucker sharing the wheel with a spouse or a homeless person watching over his buddies sleeping overnight.

The wise men could be technology mavens driving BMWs to Ward from their mountain homes in Estes Park.

Ultimately, this story shows us that God welcomes all to perceive this manger behind an army of Santas and a forest of Christmas trees, that he prompts folks across social classes to move from their usual spots for a closer look.

As the kids and I unpacked our kitschy Christmas decorations again this year, I remembered our dinner in late 2013 with Shirley — our Chinese friend who picked that office name to spare English-speaking coworkers from stuttering over her birth name.

I may never know how her understanding of Christmas evolves.

Yet, a timeless mystery swirls around the nativity and all those who step into the scene, and that mystery speaks in so many ways.

This month, for instance, I better appreciated that my nativity set — a Christmas gift from my parents in the late 1990s — includes shepherd doubles.

Did Mrs. Grossinger miscount?

Or, is this set just as it should be, with extra attention given to the ones God honored first with the news of his birth?

That question, at least, will not go back into the box with other holiday trimmings at the end of this month.

Merry Christmas!

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

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Rogue Secret Santas

David snuggles with our third son, then newborn Ray, at Longmont United Hospital's NICU on Dec. 12, 2009. It cheered us to receive a crocheted Santa hat from and anonymous giver.

David snuggles with our third son, then newborn Ray, at Longmont United Hospital’s NICU on Dec. 12, 2009. It cheered us to receive a crocheted Santa hat from and anonymous giver.

WHEN AN OLD COLLEGE BUDDY of mine in California burned through most of his savings during a career change, I figured he could always sell the house in Minnesota that he and his sister inherited when his mother died.

Instead, he explained that selling the house to claim his half would be out of the question for at least 18 years.

This stay keeps a roof over the heads of his estranged sister, a single mom, and her daughter — a girl benefiting from an uncle she knows not.

I view him as a secret Santa year ‘round and have been searching for more ways to share with mittened hands this month and into the New Year.

Ordinary secret Santas work on assignment at office parties and large family gatherings to give gifts — perhaps items suggested on smallish pieces of paper by an event planner.

But I take inspiration from leaks about rogue secret Santa activity.

These folks carry out their covert operations directed by their hearts alone and, I dare say, enjoy the thankless job the most.

After all, their work frees them from any sense of obligation as they consider the needs and wants of others.

Rogue secret Santas also strike me as people who pause. They pause in the midst of a season that jostles checkbooks, schedules and emotions to settle into a place quiet enough to focus on carrying out good intentions.

These rogue secret Santas come in every color and pattern because they do not tow the party line.

Anyone can wear these mittens.

Some come with a bank account that allows them to bridge significant financial gaps.

A doctor acquaintance of mine in the Twin Cities started secretly paying private school tuition for several of his children’s classmates after their father, the family’s breadwinner, died suddenly.

Other rogue secret Santas spend little to no money on their gifts.

One may put $20 bills in pockets and between pages when donating clothes and books.

Another shovels sidewalks before a neighbor gets home from work.

Rogue secret Santas may mail movie tickets with no return address from the post office to a family hard-pressed to enjoy a night out.

Another agent might leave poinsettias on a doorstep before scurrying off.

Whatever the item or service, these gifts appear to me as a Russian doll. Within the gift, the receiver finds goodwill, kindness and, perhaps, a wink at the heavens.

My buddy with the house in Minnesota figures that the most mysterious gift, that prayer, must explain how rogue secret Santas in every ZIP code to know just what to give to whom and when.

And unlike the presents from Christmas past that he tore into as a boy, that era’s secret Santa gestures — the shoveled walk and the bag of groceries left at the door — keep giving, keep feeding Christmas spirit from year to year.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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

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Goodbye Halloween, Hello Thanksgiving

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WE NEARLY RAN OUT OF saltine’s, ginger ale and Lysol over Halloween weekend.

IMG_2634My youngest son vomited on my husband at a pre-sunset Halloween party; my oldest son vomited in our kitchen sink 5 minutes after he got home from trick-or-treating; and my middle son got the whole ordeal started 48 hours earlier by stumbling into the bathroom around 3:30 a.m. to do this nasty, splashy business 2 inches from the porcelain rim instead of 2 inches inside of it.

He then stepped in the mess.

“Ahhhhhh! Freeze, Andy!” I shouted, still half-asleep and bewildered by the bug’s first strike on our family.

This son, my first grader, then just shivered and wept uncontrollably.

“Mama? Do you still love me,” he sobbed as I stood in my nightgown wondering what to mop up first.

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IMG_2534Like so many other parenting moments, this one overwhelmed me on multiple levels.

IMG_2554Then, just when my husband and I thought we could rest from our weekend of running a bucket from bedside to bathroom in the wee hours, the bug landed me in my own sick bed at 4 a.m. Monday.

There I curled up feeling wretched, racked, and worried about how I would ever take care of my three young boys and write my stories for work with my husband gone all week on a business trip.

I am not the only person to panic when health and wellness vanish.

Lots of people feel that way, feel that open-ended sense of being powerless and stuck — be it in illness, unemployment, a dead-end marriage, a checkered past.

Oh, what to do?

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The black and white options include: a.) chronically panicking and complaining about challenging circumstances or b.) expressing thanksgiving for one thing and then moving on to more things.

Practicing thanksgiving may not buy robust health, financial stability, dreamy marriage or an expunged criminal record.

However, like rungs on a ladder, this discipline guides me out of the basement for a looksee at what else is going on besides my problem.

Perhaps this is why November’s flagship American holiday remains as uncontroversial as Arbor Day.

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We need this fall celebration to ground us — people all subject to reversals of fortune — in the reality of what we can control.

IMG_2733Gratitude has a way of growing good things: faith and friendship, goodwill and humor, peace and generosity toward ourselves and others who struggling.

I would not wish our Halloween weekend on anyone.

But just before the pageantry of the holidays from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day begins, my time offline from usual routines renewed my appreciation for the beauty of marriage vows — “… in sickness and in health…”

The familiar phrase reminds us, no matter our marital status, of human frailty.

We can count on that in many forms. How thankful am I that we can count our blessings, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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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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