putting a “face” on the “unknown”

Glad I stepped away from the keyboard to visit with dear friends last night. Because of them I overcame my reluctance to get gussied up for a fundraising event in the city. My husband knew nothing about the organization sponsoring the dinner; he didn’t know what the letters “HRC” represented. The hours slipped by quickly, as we listened and learned about the “Human Rights Campaign.” 

We’ve attended other fundraisers over the years, ballet balls, zoo events, symphony dinners, among others. At the ballet ball, I remember ending the night rocking to the deejay’s music on the dance floor. At zoo events, I thought it was cool to visit the butterfly house, and witness the jaguar feeding, afterhours. And at a symphony fundraising dinner, my husband bought me my favorite watch, which I wear every day. Unlike these, last night’s event had no gimmicks, unless one considers the guest speakers as the “drawing card.” If so then, in my estimation, they were the most relevant “gimmicks” I’ve ever entailed.

Washington’s U.S. Senator Patty Murray spoke of her genuine efforts on behalf of her constituents. She focused on 2 in particular, who wrote letters asking for  her help. One was sent by a young girl whose dream it is to proudly serve her country in the military, but isn’t allowed to do so while proudly “owning” who she is, because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The other letter was written by a dedicated teacher of 30 years, who tried to help a young student suffering the harassment of peers after she “came out.” Failing to garner official support for the youngster’s plight, the teacher informed the girl. Three days later, she committed suicide.

In his turn at the podium Joe Solmonese, HRC President for 5 years, brought me “up to speed” on the organization’s efforts to achieve total equality for a segment of the population that has been disenfranchised for too long. I was especially impressed when he emphasized that they are NOT victims, that they will not be deterred in their efforts, no matter what obstacles they encounter as they campaign for their freedom and rights. In the evening’s program, Mr. Solmonese wrote, in part, “Our community’s voice has never been more influential and never have we had a more friendly audience in our lawmakers. With your support, HRC can make our community’s voice heard loud and clear.”

A Child Protection Social Worker, Janice Langbehn, related a moving story of “man’s inhumanity to man,” to coin a phrase from a long ago episode of “All in the Family,” where Gloria attempted to explain a simple truth to her family. While she elicited chuckles from the viewing audience, including me, Ms. Langbehn’s words resonated with both my husband and I. With her legal partner, Lisa, and 3 of their 4 adopted children, they celebrated their 15th anniversary in February 2007, by boarding a ship in Miami to cruise to the Bahamas. While waiting to sail, Lisa oversaw a basketball game the kids were playing. Within 20 minutes they ran to their stateroom to get Janice, telling her that Lisa was sick. Janice and the children made their way to “Jackson Memorial Ryder Trauma Center, where Lisa had been taken. When her family, Janice and the youngsters, arrived they were told by a trauma social worker that Miami and Florida were “an anti-gay city and state” and were not allowed to visit Lisa or receive any news of her condition. Despite securing the couples Medical POA required by the Center, Lisa’s family continued to meet with resistance, until Janice accompanied a priest who gave her partner the Last Rites. The children were also finally allowed a few minutes with their mom. But in the end, Lisa died alone on February 19, 2007. Since then Janice has publicly spoken on behalf of change to homophobic policies like those of Jackson Memorial. In April of this year, President Obama phoned Janice apologizing for “the treatment her family received and described the Presidential Memorandum he sent to HHS to direct Federal Regulations to allow same-sex couples the same hospital visitation rights as other families.”

What makes Langbehn’s story even more compelling is the dedication with which she and her partner committed their lives to helping children. “Their love and life together was defined by their care and passion for aiding special needs children. In 1992 they were the first openly gay foster parents in their county, fostering 25 children, 4 of which they adopted, and all with special needs due to drug and HIV exposure. Janice’s long history of social work and care for children began while employed with DSHS and the State of Washington as a Sex Offender treatment provider in a juvenile prison. She saw a need to intervene earlier in a child’s life and so became a Child Protection Social Worker. Janice completed her first Master’s in Public Administration in 1995 and in 1997 was accepted to the University of Washington Master in Social Work Program. In April of 1999, Janice was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. From 1996 until Lisa’s untimely death in 2007, the two were intimately involved in their children’s lives. They managed HIV appointments, taught first communion classes, volunteered in the children’s school and began a successful Girl Scout troop.” Janice continues to speak out as part of “the educational process that comes with the fight for equality.” To a standing ovation and thunderous applause, she was honored with the HRC Equality Award.

Introducing the final speaker of the evening, was a dentist who shared a childhood secret with us. He had always dreamed of becoming a figure skater. But he put aside his dreams, and fulfilled his mother’s dream instead. Forty years later, thanks to Johnny Weir, the dentist is taking ice skating lessons. Bravo!

The name meant nothing to me, until a video clip showed Johnny Weir in the spotlight, representing the U.S. at the last winter Olympics. He is a flamboyant figure skater, in his style, dress and makeup. He was not my favorite, so I wasn’t as impressed with his performance as I was with some of his competitors. But after hearing his story, I have more admiration for him, as a person. Starting late, he taught himself to ice skate at age 12 on the frozen ponds in back of the cornfields at his home in Amish country, Pennsylvania. With the love and support of amazing parents and younger brother, Weir “hopped, skipped, and jumped” his way into figure skating history, capturing the hearts of millions around the world (he is knowns as the “people’s skater”), and U.S. Figure Skating’s 2010 Reader’s Choice Award for Skater of the Year (Michelle Kwan Trophy). 

Weir makes no excuses for being gay, embracing his “fabulosity.” Having concluded that he wasn’t representative of the image of the U.S. Olympic figure skater, and would therefore not medal, he decided to do his best, for himself. So he brought to his dynamic performance 13 years of hard work, sacrifice and passion for his craft. When he finished skating, and stood up from a back bend, his eyes were met with an arena of waving flags from around the world. I understood his joy, for as a ballerina, my daughter strives to connect with an audience appreciative of her talent, sacrifice, hard work, and passion for her art.

I think in our own personal struggles to come to terms with life, we don’t see that others are also struggling. I’m guilty of such tunnel vision. It’s human nature to think there’s not enough time or energy to be stretched so thin. Some of us are more capable than others, depending upon our own circumstances of health, finances, and commitments. We needn’t all react exactly alike; we can’t, by virtue of our individual DNA. Perhaps what we all CAN and SHOULD DO, is “put a face on the unknown.”    

Senator Patty Murray, HRC President Joe Solmonese, Johnny Weir, the dentist, and most prominently, Janice Langbehn and her children, are the “faces” of the Human Rights Campaign. America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are no longer the “unknown.” I now know who they are. Each is someone’s child living on the periphery of society, “assigned” rights which are already theirs by virtue of their citizenship in the human race, and their birthright as U.S. citizens. I don’t feel their rights are mine to give or withhold. I believe they’re inalienable, as written in our Constitution. I am a spiritual person, a member of the Catholic church. I think religion offers us sound principles with which to live our lives, but I think we’ve succumbed to using religion as a weapon to pass judgment upon, and excommunicate, those who are non-compliant. I’m not God, and I don’t want to be God. As with Oprah, the job has serious responsibilities which I’m not equipped to handle. Better I leave it to the experts, God in his domain, and Oprah in hers.

I’ve been fortunate to know the men behind the “faces,” good friends we’ve known since moving to the Pacific Northwest. Leon and Ken made me feel comfortable and welcome, when I met them at the first gathering my husband and I attended at his boss’s home, 13 years ago. Before their arrival, I felt self-conscious and awkward, being a stay-at-home mom trying to mingle with career people. The 2 men were interested in knowing more about me, and soon we were joking and laughing like old friends. Through the years, our friendship has remained steadfast, and I’m able to relax in their company as soon as I see them. They’ve never had an “agenda,” other than to know that I’m fine. I always welcome that concern in friends, straight, or gay.

My friendship with Brent and Rick is more recent, although my husband’s known them for several years, because he and Rick are employed by the same company. Although I was acquainted with both men, I got to know Brent better when we accompanied our significant others on a business trip to Victoria, BC. As with Leon and Ken, I felt comfortable in Brent’s company because he made me feel my contribution to the conversation was valuable. Although he’s taking college courses toward becoming a social worker, I never felt like my 60’s college experience was arcane. In fact, Brent complimented my common sense approach to life. That’s music to the ears of a senior citizen! A smart man 20 years my junior is inspired by what I might have to say. Kind of novel in this day and age. Needless to say, I’m very happy to be in the company of Brent and Rick, 2 men with discerning tastes for quality of life for all, including the elderly.

Personally I know that I’m unlikely to be swayed in my opinions unless I can put a “face” on the “unknown,” whatever that might be. Rather than having someone force me to think differently, I’m inclined to change because of personal motivation. I don’t think any of us like being browbeaten into a decision. My husband and I made a contribution to the HRC, because last night we were educated about their worthwhile efforts, and because Leon, Ken, Brent and Rick are real “faces” for the cause of human rights.

Another real “face” is a nephew of mine who “came out” to his parents decades ago. He was a wonderful, young man when I knew him. He played the piano beautifully; he seemed a sensitive soul. Having lost touch, I learned years later that he’d contracted a near fatal disease. His partner at the time helped nurse my nephew back to complete health. He has shared his life with another partner for many years, adopting 2 girls who had been students in my nephew’s middle school class, several years ago. Before they became a family, the youngsters were in and out of foster homes.

Children are my concern, because of my childhood experiences, and because I wish all children would know the unconditional love and support to be who they are, and not what others want them to be. Our gay peers are intelligent, resourceful and hard-working. They will evince long-term change through their commitment not to return to the “dark ages” of society’s earlier days. We can either embrace the inevitable and co-exist, all striving to live our best lives, or we can maintain our isolation from certain segments of society, holding onto historical prejudices. It’s our choice; it’s our freedom. I choose, that others might enjoy the same freedom. I may have an island mentality about driving on freeways, and fear of black bears, but not in matters that are substantive. In these cases, I prefer to draw from the “aloha spirit” inherent in my native fibre, and welcome all as “ohana” (family).

hugs for conquering our fear of the “unknown”, by putting a “face” to it…hugmamma.

the past, only a reference point

I don’t think it’s possible to escape one’s past. From what I’ve observed first-hand and with others, childhood experiences, good and bad, establish the paths our lives take. Where improvements are possible, we should make them for our own sake, and for the sake of our children. As parents we are empowered to discontinue the cycle of negativity.

Remembering back to when our daughter was to begin kindergarten, one specific memory stays with me. An evaluation was required to familiarize the staff with, among other things, her likes, her needs, her trepidations, as well as our own. On the appointed day, I met with the school psychologist. As I approached her I was nervous, as though I was the kindergartener. In reviewing the form with her, I lingered over a particular answer. The question had asked what qualities we would like in a teacher. It was amazing to think we had a choice. I replied that our daughter was with me most of the day and I was the disciplinarian. Therefore I would prefer that her teacher be more fun-loving like my husband, who enjoyed play time with our daughter. As I spoke, tears welled in my eyes and my voice choked. When I confessed to my guilt at not being more playful, the psychologist assured me that my husband and I were each performing very crucial tasks in our daughter’s upbringing. My equilibrium restored, I left feeling we were on the right path to being good parents.

As a child I wasn’t allowed to play until all my chores were done. Though not unique, it probably influenced the direction my life took. Because my mom was a single parent, working much of the time, it fell to us children to keep our home in order. Once a week I had to clean my room, dust, sweep and mop the living room, weed the small patch of garden at the front of our house, and help my siblings wash the car. Daily chores included setting the table for meals, as well as clearing it off afterwards, and watering the greenhouse plants. When I was older I also had to hand-wash clothes in the water-filled tub; hang them to dry on the clothesline; and hand starch and iron dressy-wear. Then there was homework to be done which, of course, took precedence over everything else. For a number of years, nap time was always part of the mix. So when I was allowed out to play, for I had to ask permission, I enjoyed every precious second, staying out until the sun set if possible. Summers spent with older sisters in Honolulu meant fun, fun, fun. Even though I still had chores to do, there were less of them, and no school meant no homework!

For the most part, doing chores before playing remains my life’s routine. Being 61 and married 40 years has given me license to cut myself some slack. So now I blog before I clean the bathroom. But keeping a clean and orderly home will never be wiped from my DNA, it is too deeply ingrained from a lifetime of repetition, beginning as a child. Just as allowing myself to “play” will never be without a sense of guilt for which I will always apologize, looking for a “pass” from my husband. Raised as 1 of 5 sons, with 7 sisters, he was not as burdened with chores as a youngster. So a clean house is not a must for him, but it is for me. The obsession can also extend to the orderly functioning of my mind as well. If my surroundings are in disarray, my brain seems overwhelmed by what it sees, becoming immobilized. That alone motivates me to straighten and vacuum. Since the presence of dust is only in the eye of the beholder, my mother-in-law living too far away to perform the “glove test,” dusting is one chore which is left for tomorrow, or the day after, or…

I did not insist that my daughter do a list of chores growing up. The cycle was broken with her. I enjoyed keeping house, having youthful energy on my side then. Being a mom was preferential to commuting into NYC to sit at a desk, watching the clock. But perhaps while I was doing what I knew best, keeping house, I allowed our child to have a different life. She was able to find her own passion, not one imposed by circumstances. I like to think that’s why she’s a career ballerina. And, she has proven to be a good housekeeper too. Having lived in an orderly home probably became part of her DNA. Fortunately she tends to play without first having to do all her chores. Thank God!

we are who we are, making the best of it…hugmamma.

no more pain, only friends

Saw one of my favorite people, for what had been one of my least favorite appointments,… seeing the dentist. Dr. Quickstad and his staff have allayed whatever fears my teeth and I had about hands poking around inside my mouth. To say they are considerate is an understatement. Never have I been queried more about my well-being during a dental visit. But they are so efficient and capable, that they needn’t worry. 

My first experience having my teeth looked at was the summer before entering 6th grade. Our family was too poor to afford such luxuries as repairing what we already had. We could only take care of our daily needs; the future would have to wait until we hit the lottery (nonexistent in those days). I’m not certain whether it was a nagging toothache or the desire to look better when I smiled. I had skipped 5th grade, going from 4th into 6th. I wanted to “measure up” to older students who would be my peers. But knowing myself as I do, my mom probably dragged me, “kicking and screaming” to the dentist because of the hammering ache from a tooth.

As it turned out I didn’t know pain until I sat in the chair of a middle-aged, Chinese dentist wearing wire-rimmed eyeglasses. The framed certificate hanging on the wall across from where I sat, probably indicated where he’d trained. All I remember is hearing someone say that he’d been an army dentist. He went on to demonstrate on me, how he’d worked on strong, military guys. I should’ve enlisted after the treatment I received.

The dentist was kindly, but formal and stiff. From his demeanor I understood that he didn’t stand for nonsense. Not that I would cause any; I didn’t want him to get carried away with his drill or needles.  I don’t remember there being an assistant, but there might have been. I can only remember watching the dentist’s every move, with eyes like a hawk’s.

Over the course of many months, the dentist worked a miracle. Badly decayed teeth were removed or filled with silver. The improvement gave me the self-confidence to open my mouth without hesitation, smiling, laughing, grinning, speaking. But I must admit the path to my new look was sheer agony.

Novocaine was administered with a needle that looked like it was meant for a horse. And there was no numbing the area beforehand. As the dentist stuck the huge needle into my gums, administering the sedative, I pressed my head as far back into the headrest as it would go; it would’ve gone further if it could have. I was only anesthetized for extractions, fillings were done “cold turkey.” The drilling felt like a jack hammer inside my head. When it hit a nerve, it took all my self-control not to want to kick somebody, anybody. But as a Catholic school student, I was expected to suffer in silence, and I did. 

I came to like and admire the middle-aged, Chinese dentist, wearing wire-rimmed glasses. He discounted my fee because of our financial situation. My mom always paid what she could each time, $5 in cash. I felt proud when I handed over the money; for a moment I didn’t feel so poor.

My first dental experience ended happily, but it didn’t negate my fear of dentists. So throughout the years, I’ve not attended to my teeth as I should have. Somehow that chore always fell to the bottom of my list of things to do. But I did make certain that my daughter’s teeth were always looked after. I didn’t want her suffering, physically, mentally and emotionally, as I had. Her teeth are gorgeous, thanks to braces.

At 61 I’ve found Dr. Quickstad who, with his staff, has made dental appointments more like…visits with friends. They’re ensuring that through the remaining decades of my life, I continue to bite, chew, swallow, and smile, grin and laugh with all my pretty teeth showing.

no more pain, only friends…hugmamma.

alternative medicine

My daughter has taught me much about the health benefits of alternative medicine. A serious student of dance since age 11, she is aware of every nuance of her body. She knows when it’s in tip-top shape, and she knows when it’s in need of tweaking. Alternative medicine helps her correct imbalances in her anatomy. Being in alignment ensures that she can do her job with utmost confidence. Practitioners who assist her are physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists and accupuncturists. My daughter turns to all of them for help, as needed.

My first encounter with a chiropractor was about 6 or 7 years ago. Living away from my home with my daughter in another state where she was training with a ballet company, I suffered chronic pain in my lower back. Not being able to “live with it” any longer, I searched the yellow pages for a chiropractor, a female one. I wanted sympatico, not brute force. My eyes fell upon an ad in a box. Not only was the doctor female, but she was described as “gentle.” She proved to be that and more.

Dr. Geier adjusted my problem back and in the process, did wonders for my disposition. Throughout the 2 1/2 years of self-imposed exile from my husband and all that was familiar to me, she was a friend with whom I could commiserate about life. With her adjuster, an instrument that makes anatomical corrections through sound waves, Dr. Geier straightened out my back when it was out of alignment, and did the same for other body parts as needed. I came to depend upon her to keep my aging body in working order, and my soul open to the positive energy she imbued. As a bonus Dr. Geier, a practitioner of homeopathic medicine, gave me a better understanding and appreciation for a vegetarian diet (not that I became one) and the use of natural remedies. (My daughter and I use Arnica for muscle aches and pains. It works after being in one’s system for about a week). I will always be beholding to this wise doctor who put me on the right path to caring for myself, body, soul and mind.

Returning home after my daughter’s career was launched, I found an equally competent healer in Dr. Babcox. She is younger than Dr. Geier, but no less capable of adjusting my body parts after my abuse of them in the daily grind of living. She’s convinced me that I can’t expect my body to do what it always does if I don’t give it a “hand-up” once-in-awhile. Quickly throwing luggage onto security conveyor belts and hoisting them up into overhead bins, are sure-fire ways to get me into my chiropractor’s office. I’ve tried to stay away at times, thinking my shoulder and back pain would somehow disappear. But after paying Dr. Babcox a visit I always think “Now why didn’t I do this sooner, I would’ve been rid of my suffering before now.” I may go months without a visit, but I know my chiropractor is always there just in case. And believe me, there will always be ongoing need of her services, until the day I stop living. So it looks like Dr. Babcox is onboard for the long haul.

Several years ago my daughter had strained her groin muscle in a rehearsal. Not attending to it more seriously, the ache lingered for a couple of years. It became an issue when she wanted to be considered for meatier roles during a summer gig. Choreographers tried her in solos, and she tried even harder to make them happen. No matter their consideration or her over-the-top effort, the ache finally got the best of her. She came home to us and spent the remaining summer months recovering.

Throughout her season of regular employment with her dance company, my daughter continued to suffer the niggling ache in her groin. She muscled through and looked forward to a great summer working the gig she’d been with the previous year. Happily, she did dance the full 12 weeks that summer.  But a few weeks into the job, the strained muscle began rearing its “ugly head.” Frustrated, my daughter spoke about it with me. 

One day while browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble, I happened upon “The Permanent Pain Cure” by Ming Chew, PT. Perusing the introductory chapter, I had a “lightbulb” moment. This man’s advice “The Breakthrough Way to Heal Your Muscle and Joint Pain for Good” seemed tailor-made for my daughter.  So I bought the book, called her on the phone, told her to buy and take certain supplements prescribed by Ming Chew, as well as soak in epsom baths as he also advised. A few days later my daughter called announcing that she was feeling tons better. The problem muscle felt looser, more relaxed. She could dance more fully, not afraid to put pressure on the area. And so it continued to feel fine. I convinced her and my husband that she needed to see Ming Chew for some hands on therapy, for I was absolutely certain he could eliminate the pain for good.

After I exchanged emails with Ming Chew, my daughter flew to NYC where in a week and a half, she spent 3 sessions in physical therapy with him. Not until a year later did she tell me that the treatment was somewhat painful. I say somewhat, because dancers have a high threshold for pain. I would have probably bolted through the ceiling at the hands of Ming Chew. My daughter likened it to Rolfing, another alternative medical treatment which she’d endured at 14 years of age, when a ballet teacher recommended that it might give her more flexibility. (I didn’t learn of the pain my daughter felt at this man’s hands until many years later. Talk about high thresholds?) But after all is said and done, Ming Chew’s treatment DID resolve my daughter’s persistent groin muscle ache. So she owes him, at least in part, for being promoted from apprentice to full company member the year after being treated. 

On the inside flap of the back cover of the book is a description of Ming Chew “…a physical therapist, former champion bodybuilder, and martial artist whose work also uses concepts of Chinese medicine. The Ming Method, which uses no surgery or drugs, has healed thousands of clients, including many high-profile athletes. Ming Chew’s work has been covered in the New York Times, Men’s Health, and the Daily News. He has a private practice in New York City.” You can visit his website at www.mingmethod.net. I highly recommend him, especially if your life, or job, depends upon it.

Finally I’ve been convinced, largely owing to my daughter, that massage therapy is a necessity, not a luxury. And so I see Jennifer, my massage therapist, regularly, if not every month, then every other. She is not one who gives me a spa massage, although I’m sure she could. At her very able hands I am relieved of sore muscles which, if left unattended, would become a chronic issue, and perhaps a major one. Equally important is that massage therapy helps regulate one’s limbic system (A ring-shaped area in the center of the brain that consists of a number of connected clusters of nerve cells.) It’s one of those tidbits of information that I’ve heard but couldn’t tell you where from. But trust me, remember my header is HUGMAMMA’S ATTENTION TO DETAIL. And I am anal about details.

According to “The American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine,” “The limbic system plays a role in the autonomic nervous system (which automatically regulates body functions), in the emotions, and in the sense of smell. The limbic system is extensive, and the different substructures within it have been named (for example, the hippocampus, the cingulate gyrus, and the amygdala). Much of our knowledge of the limbic system comes from the observation and investigation of the behavior of animals and people known to have damage to or disease in the limbic area of the brain. The most commonly observed effects are abnormalities of emotional response, such as inappropriate crying or laughing, easily provoked rage, unwarranted fear, anxiety and depression, and excessive sexual interest.”

My daughter is fortunate to be with a company that cares about the well-being of its dancers. They are regularly seen by physical therapists, and a chiropractor. And the dancers avail themselves of a great massage therapist who makes his sessions more affordable for them.

While I must find my own team of alternative medicine practitioners, doing so has been a “no-brainer.” I see them more regularly than my medical doctors, and gladly so. I have been free of prescribed drugs for a few years, giving my liver a break from processing all those potentially harmful chemicals. (Now it can just focus on breaking down and getting rid of the stuff that’s in the food I still can’t stop eating, like peanuts, and a dessert now and then.) My chiropractor and massage therapist help “heal” my body, soul and mind. These services are priceless in the grand scheme of things…

my best life going foward…hugmamma.