Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A visit with my boy

A stop to see Dad on the way to see Isaiah.

We made it to the West Penn Trail!
Isaiah and Esther-Faith were anxious to get going.

We saw tons of butterflies, more than at the Conservatoria.
We saw woodchucks, bullfrogs, katydids, and more.
We only saw five people the whole time.
Two of them were park rangers.

Most of the trail was in the shade.

And so peaceful.
I could have hiked the whole thing.
But we only had time for 5 1/2 miles.

The bridges over the Conemaugh River were
not shaded. Nor did they seem all that safe.

The river.

Throwing rocks in the river. 

Hustling across a particularly long bridge.
The drop was about 1000 feet.
And we could see the river
through the cracks in the bridge.

I'd love to go back and hike the whole trail, but Pennsylvania has so many beautiful trails, we'll probably try a different one next time we visit Isaiah.

I miss him already.

The whole time we were there, I missed Isaac.

I missed Isaiah the minute we pulled away from the group home.

Like part of my heart is there with him.

I so look forward to the day my family is under the same roof again--the roof of HOME.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Daisy Dash 2015

Pre-race posing.

Approaching mile 1.
It was HOT.

Mile 2. 

Every time she saw Isaac along the route.

When she made the last turn, she was pretty far ahead of me.
Tim was at the finish line, Isaac was at the other end.
She turned, headed toward the finish, and spun around to face Isaac.
Then she did this.
And then she went backwards.
And then she spun again, swizzled a bit,
and went as fast as she could across the finish line.
Into Tim's arms.

Photo by Isaac.

Photo by Isaac.

Yep. She saw Isaac was taking her picture.

Making the last turn.

Heading toward the finish.

One last spin for dramatic effect.
And lots of cheering.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day: My meltdown in the card aisle of Kroger

It was supposed to be a quick stop. Tim had already been to the grocery that day, but in his reshelving of items the kids were sneaking into the cart--oreos, candy, toys--he forgot to grab milk and a Father's Day card for his dad. So, I was stopping to grab milk and a Father's Day card.

I got to the card aisle first and thought I found a perfect card, but I wasn't sure. I needed to read at least two dozen more. Actually, no I didn't. The cards between where I was standing and the two dozen I felt at the time I needed to read were all of the "to dad from daughter" cards. From sappy, emotional cards to funny, satirical cards.

I miss my dad. It has been three years since he passed. I realized recently that I have not fully grieved his death. I've been sad. I've mourned. But I have not grieved. My life since his passing has been filled with job changes for my Tim. Chaos and near-constant crisis with my Isaiah. And the normal living with my family. That's the thing about busy, though, I have not grieved because I have not taken the time to grieve.

Well, I've started. Right there in the Kroger card aisle standing in front of a collection of cards that no longer applies to me. Cards I will no longer purchase, for a dad who is no longer living.

I stashed the card for Tim's dad that I wasn't sure about in the wrong slot and I hightailed it out of the stationary aisle. I put my sunglasses on. And I moseyed. I ended up with meat and vegetables and cheeses and soda and pretty much all the stuff that Tim had reshelved earlier that day. I went from needing two things to needing a cart.

Then I walked back to the cards. I stopped at the end of the aisle and worked up the nerve to try again. The Kroger manager approached me and asked if I was finding everything okay. I chuckled and made a joke about "yeah and then some." He must hear that joke a lot. He didn't think it was funny.

I pressed on.

Slowly approaching the cards. I knew the sentiment I wanted for Tim's dad. He's confident and unassuming. Helpful, but not forceful. Present, but not loud. Strong, but not overt. He's been amazing to Tim and to me and to the kids.

I was asking a lot of a greeting card.

When Esther-Faith was in the hospital in 2010, and her situation became dire, we called Tim's parents and told them what was going on. By the afternoon, they were pulling into the Children's Hospital parking lot. And not a minute too soon. The medical staff had just arrived to place Esther-Faith's NG tube. She was sick and uncomfortable and miserable. The NG tube was setting her over the top. Knowing that I was about to kick the medical people out of her room, Tim sent me on a walk. He knew his parents had arrived, so I was sent to retrieve them from the lobby.

As I turned the corner to where they were waiting for me, I saw Dot slip into the ladies room and I saw my father-in-love take something from her to hold while she used the facilities. From nowhere and having done nothing like it before or since, I ran into his arms. Every emotion I had been holding in since we arrived at the hospital more than 24 hours before came pouring out. I couldn't even stand up. Bruce just held me. Strong arms held me as I lost it right there in the lobby of the hospital. He didn't say anything for a while. I don't know when Dot came out of the restroom, but I felt her hand on my back. Finally he whispered to me, "How is she?" I pulled away and told him not good. I told him about the appendix and the shunt and the NG tube and the other tubes and the emergency surgery and the pain and the chance of survival. I told him everything that I knew. That I had been told by more doctors than I could count. He pulled me in again and just let me cry all over his shoulder.

Weeks later as Esther-Faith was recovering, my dad made his last visit anywhere before his own medical journey started. The medical journey that eventually took his life. Of course, it wasn't the last time we saw him or that he prayed for Esther-Faith. But it meant so much to me that he would--in his own pain--make a special effort to see my girl.

I stood in front of the cards knowing that my family was waiting on me for dinner. I reached out and picked up a card. Skimming it, I knew it was the wrong card. I did this many times. Until I found the right card with the right sentiment and the right words. A card that says how much he means to us without being cheesy or overly sentimental. Because there isn't a card that says, I will never forget what it felt like to be held by you in one of the darkest moments of my life and know that even though you didn't raise me, you honor the man who did, and you honor the man you raised in loving the woman with whom chose to raise his kids. 

There isn't a card like that. So I did my best to pick a card that sort of implies those things, but also says how much he means to us. Actually, there isn't a card that does that either. I just hope that he reads this someday. Or that I have the courage to actually say it to him.

And then I stood in front of the "to dad from daughter" cards for a moment. I brushed my fingers over the cards I will never buy for a dad who is no longer living. I took off my sunglasses and gave myself permission to cry in the card aisle of Kroger. And I know that as I finally begin to grieve the loss of my dad, there will be many moments that I will need to give myself permission to grieve. To cry in public. To be sad for no apparent reason.

I stood by those cards remembering my dad and all that he meant to me and all that he taught me. Remembering being able to visit his grave after three years and plant some flowers. Remembering that as we finished planting flowers by my grandparents' grave stone, Esther-Faith excused herself, wheeled back to my dad's grave, and said she just needed a minute with Papa. Perhaps as I allow myself to grieve, I can--by example--give my children permission to grieve as well.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Upside down: A trauma mom's review of the movie "Inside Out"

Almost everyone I know with kids has seen the movie "Inside Out" this weekend. We saw it, too. For the most part, we loved the movie. It is uniquely written and beautifully animated. We're suckers for a good movie.

We met at the theatre, Tim bringing the kids from home and me meeting them there from work. We settled into a row of seats and sat through the previews of some more good movies coming soon. A friend had posted a review of the movie on her facebook page, so I kind of knew what to expect, but I was not prepared for the onslaught of emotions that I felt as the character Joy and the character Sadness learned and discovered their own usefulness in Riley's life.

We had originally planned to go to out for pizza after the movie, but both kids voted to go home and grill instead. Since we had a small window without rain, we did just that. Isaac decided to ride in my car home while Tim took Esther-Faith.

I made conversation. If you've raised teenagers, you know that talking to them can feel like a trip to a dentist violent with the floss. Especially if they're not in the mood to talk. But I tried anyway.

Me: "What did you think of the movie?"

Isaac: "It was okay. Kind of sad, but really funny, too."

Encouraged that he had answered my question with more than one word, I pressed on.

Me: "What did you think was funny?"

Isaac: "The way the characters interacted with each other and had their own personalities."

Me: "What did you think was sad?"

Isaac: "I don't think my core memories were happy to start with."

Not expecting that answer, I didn't say anything. A few moments went by before he spoke again, "I might have more than five emotions. I think I have some bad ones," he said. "Yeah?" I asked. "Yeah," he said. "Like bad emotions that keep touching my happy memories."

And that was it. He asked if we could listen to some music. I really (REALLY) wanted to press him to keep talking. But, he's a teenager. And he struggles to get out what he wants to say as it is, so I switched on the radio to something we both like. We rode the rest of the way home in silence, save the radio.

I hadn't considered how the movie might make him feel. How it might make any child who was a victim of trauma in their early life feel. But, I'm thinking about it now. I can't stop thinking about it.

Because I think he's right. The five main "emotion" characters are Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness, and Fear. Sure, some of what he experienced can fit into the "fear" category, but I still think he has lurkers in his head. Abandonment. Neglect. Trauma. Distrust. Maybe others. These emotions distort every one of the others. When something sad happens to him, it is distorted and he has a hard time distinguishing whether he should be sad or angry or what. These lurker emotions are liars. They tell him that he can't ever trust his happy memories. That JOY is not something he deserves or needs. So all of the JOY he feels is colored with distrust.

None of his core memories are happy. I think he's getting there, but he struggles. I think most kids who have experienced trauma will struggle forever with understanding how they should feel because none of their emotions are as simple as JOY and SADNESS and ANGER and FEAR and DISGUST. And because of their trauma, some of those emotions haven't grown with them. For example, when my Isaac gets angry, he still throws a temper tantrum like a much younger child.

I know that the movie is an oversimplification of how our emotions and memories work. I know that. But it has really opened the doors for some good conversations around here about how our early life, and how maybe we didn't form happy core memories in that early life, can really influence how we react to everything that came after.

And that is not an oversimplification. The trauma my boys suffered early in their lives has colored and influenced everything that came after. From the very big feelings and very deep struggles they are facing now to things as simple has how they give and receive love.

It took 10 years for Isaiah to allow himself to be hugged and loved by his forever family. 10 YEARS. That's a long time for DISTRUST to have it's hand on happy memories. It took him three years to stop asking us if we were going to send him away to a new family every time he got in trouble. Imagine that.... Every time he was corrected for anything--from using his fork wrong to stealing something from a sibling--EVERY TIME he asked us, "Well, aren't you going to send me to a new family?" For three years.

I ache in the remembering of it.

The movie "Inside Out" is a great movie to describe how lots of kids feel when the trauma in their life is moving away from friends or losing a game when playing sports. It would be a very different movie if it told the story of a child who experienced trauma that changed the way they think and feel about themselves and everything around them. It would be a different movie if it showed the trauma a child feels in going to school hungry every day. Or not being sure where they will sleep that night. Or being locked in a closet. "Inside Out" shows the emotions of an ideal childhood that is not colored by abandonment, neglect, trauma, distrust, and others.

Those feelings are very real for thousands of children every day. Including mine. I sure wish I could go back in time and make all of Isaiah's and Isaac's core memories happy. But I cannot. I can simply give them happy memories now and help them do the work necessary to not let those happy memories be distorted by the lurkers.

"Inside Out" is a good movie. If you're parenting children who have experienced trauma, expect some emotional confusion in your kids. Be prepared to talk to them about how they might have some lurkers. And that is okay. Nothing in life is as simple as a movie might suggest--even for children who have the most idyllic childhoods.

And remember, the people around you--adults included--might not have happy core memories. There are people you see every day whose core memories are colored and influenced by lurkers.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dance Recital (finally)

We interrupt the regularly scheduled Disney programming to bring you a RECITAL POST. Only, this is the post I wrote a year ago, edited countless times, and never quite had the nerve to click "publish" until now.

But, I guess I should finish the 2014 recital post before I talk about how awesome the kids were in the 2015 recital...


I sat in church, two rows behind a row filled with friends and family. I stayed sitting when the pastor said stand. Because Esther-Faith stays sitting unless she's wearing her braces. And I looked down that row of friends and family. From neighbors to cousins to best friends to grandparents.

It had been a long, emotional day already. Lots of tears. And laughter. And surprises.

I felt cold fingers on my arm and I turned to my right to find Isaac standing there with a big, amazing grin on his face. He leaned into me and gave his half hug that I've grown accustomed to from my 14-year-old son. I whispered, "How do you feel?" He pulled away, but stayed close. "Awesome," he whispered back. It didn't seem possible, but his grin grew bigger. It spread across his face and consumed his eyes and even up to his brow line.

He left his cold fingers on my arm and dropped his soccer bag that contained his wet, baptism clothes onto his sister's wheelchair. He squeezed past me, then past his dad, and assumed his normal worship position: Tight lipped, staring at the screen, not singing out loud. Only that Saturday, the smile just wouldn't go away. Every time he looked at me, it grew a little again.

What a day.

After Isaac's baptism and the church service, we went back to the house, had root beer floats made with Isaac's favorite homemade root beer from his dad's favorite growler place. Then he played video games with his best friend while the rest of us sat around, ate cake, and enjoyed the evening.

And frankly, we had a lot to enjoy.

Our day actually started the night before. With Isaac's dress rehearsal.

Recital weekend had arrived.

With a vengeance.

We showed up to the high school with plenty of time to spare. Isaac was wearing his costume and carrying his polished tap shoes in his left hand. We tentatively made our way to the auditorium. Just before we entered, Isaac went into full meltdown mode.


"I am NEVER doing this again," he vehemently whispered to me. "NEVER," he said, stomping his soccer slide for emphasis. Stunned, I just looked at him. I did not expect nerves to this degree. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to do, Sweetie," I tried. "I am NEVER going out on that stage," he said. "You can't MAKE me."

Tears stung my eyes. I didn't know what to say. I turned to one of the teachers from the studio, my eyes pleading for help. She walked over. I thought it was going to be helpful. But she said, "I don't get nervous because I'm always so excited to go on stage!" she enthused.

Isaac looked at her like she had two dinosaur heads on either side of her ears. He spun on his heels, skulked over to a couch and schlumped down. "Leave me alone," he seethed, without looking up. "I just want to be left alone."

The tears slipped out as I realized there was nothing I could do to help him. Standing halfway between the over-enthusiastic teacher and the lounge area where Isaac was schlumped on the couch, I was frozen to my spot. The only thing moving were the hot tears racing down my face. I looked over to Isaac. He had slipped out of his soccer slides and was sliding his left foot into his black and white oxford tap shoe.

I walked into the auditorium where Tim had set up two tripods, three cameras, and was working on setting the new lens on the "big" camera to capture the dress rehearsal without having to use his flash. He had already set up the "small" camera to record video.

We looked at each other, and without saying a word, Tim knew what I was feeling. He walked over, wrapped his arm around my shoulders, and I buried my face in his neck. Behind him, Esther-Faith, in a leopard print sundress, was dancing along with the group that was on stage.

As Tim loosened his grip on me and kissed me right below my eye where a tear had stopped rolling, Isaac came in the side door and schlumped again, this time into an auditorium seat. He propped his face up with his fist and sulked.

I wanted to go to him and hug him. Tim held me back, whispering, "Just let him be... for a moment."

So I did.

I made myself busy with text messages and Instagram and watching Esther-Faith. But I kept sneaking peeks at my boy. My confident, compassionate, true-to-self boy who seemed more scared than I had ever seen him.

Finally, it was time for pictures and his turn on stage. Honestly, I had no idea if he was going to be on that stage when the music started. I closed my eyes and whispered a prayer for him. For us all.

Click-clack-click-clack. I heard the unmistakable sound of his tap shoes on the stage. Esther-Faith turned to me and held both of her hands over her mouth, excitement pouring from her eyes as tears had poured from mine just minutes earlier. She turned back to the stage, leaned forward in her chair, and stared intently at her big brother. Her best friend. Her biggest fan.

For a few minutes, the role was reversed. She was HIS biggest fan.

She sat there in awe of and amazed by her brother.

He barely came from behind the curtain, performing the entire dance on stage left. He never picked his eyes up or looked in the direction of the audience. But he didn't miss a step either. I had seen him do that dance a few times, but heard it HUNDREDS of times as he had been practicing it since Christmas. I'm telling you, he didn't miss a step.

New tears slipped out and down my face. I texted our family, "Well, we got him onto the stage," I typed into my phone. "Looking up and smiling are another matter."

But he DID look up. When Ms. Judy, his teacher, came onto the stage to give him notes. I could see the relief and joy on his face. I think he liked it. The dancing. The lights. The sound of his feet on the stage. Ms. Judy ushered them off the stage to practice it one more time.

And he did better the second time. I found myself becoming very, very excited for the performance the next day.

When he was done, we packed up and headed home. While we were waiting for Tim to bring the car around, Isaac admitted that he loved the "dancing part," but that all of the "stuff" leading up to the actual dancing he hated.

So, to review. He loves to dance. He "likes" to perform. The rest of it, he's not really sure about.

We thought he was adjusting well and his nerves had calmed by the following morning. We put a roast in the crock pot. Made a cake. Started to get ready for Esther-Faith's dress rehearsal and the performance that afternoon.

He seemed fine, but we should have suspected that his nerves were getting the better of him when he ate an entire can of Hershey's chocolate syrup and 10 strawberries for breakfast. We asked him how he was doing. He shrugged and said "okay." We told him we were proud of him. And he blurted out, "I was happy until Papa died."

For two years he has not mentioned his grandfather's death. Two years.

We were not prepared with an answer to that.

While we were staring at him, he got up from the breakfast table, and he proceeded to vacuum the wood floors for two hours. Using the extensions to get the dust that had settled into the cracks. He sang at the top of his lungs and vacuumed.

So much nervous energy. And maybe a little too much chocolate sauce.

We decided to not make him go to his sister's dress rehearsal. Tim suggested that he play minecraft or something to take his mind off of his nerves.

And we took off for the high school again. This time with a perfectly cleaned and make-upped and primped ballerina who was also a bundle of nerves and excitement.

Although, in her case, just a little bit more excitement, and a whole lot less nerves.

Tim set up again to record and photograph every second she was on stage. Her group practiced their number two times. She seemed overwhelmed and nervous to be on the big stage. She missed an exit (and subsequently an entrance) during the first run-through. And because she was a line leader, half of the dancers missed an exit (and subsequently an entrance) during the first practice.

I was sitting with an old friend (whose daughter was in Esther-Faith's dance class) and we had (more than) a few giggles about it.

Esther-Faith just positioned her arms and continued with the dance.

Then, everyone was kicked out of the auditorium. Tim took down his tripods and cameras and packed them away. He kept one camera out to use during the performance.

And we waited.

When the doors opened for the performance, we made our way to the front row. The dancers typically sit in the balcony, but the balcony isn't accessible, so Isaac and Esther-Faith sat with us until intermission, and then they headed backstage.

At that point, I ate all of my mom's cinnamon altoids, shifted in my seat roughly 657 times, and couldn't really stop the nervous tears from leaking out of my eyeballs. It is possible that I was more nervous than the kids. Because I wasn't even sure if one of them was going to appear on the stage at all.

When Isaac danced, just like in dress rehearsal, he didn't miss a single step. He also didn't look up from the floor, smile, or acknowledge the audience in any way at all, but he didn't miss a step. I was a wreck. I think I broke my mom's fingers I squeezed her hand so hard. But when he peeked up at me at the end of his number, I thought my heart would stop. What an amazing child. He had so many opportunities to quit or feel discouraged throughout the year, but he just loves tap dancing so much that he didn't. I'm not sure I've met anyone more true to them-self than Isaac. Nothing will stop him from doing what he loves.

When Esther-Faith danced... I can't even type those words without launching the tear duct parade. This child was born to dance. I use the hashtag #borntodance when I post pictures of Esther-Faith in rehearsal or in class or in the aisles of the grocery spinning her chair. Because she was. She is.... born to dance. Her lines and structure and grace. With every memory of being told what he wasn't going to be able to do, all of the surgeries and heartache and struggles she's endured, and the echoes of all the studios who couldn't find a place to fit her swirling in my head, I cried the whole number. I didn't try to stop myself. I was just allowing myself to feel everything I could feel in seeing my child so happy doing what she loves to do.

What she was born to do.

I will never be able to fully express how grateful I am to Kathy and Bartelt Dancers for giving my kids a chance. We had been turned down by more studios than I can count because they "didn't have a place" for Esther-Faith. Or they "didn't have an appropriate class" for her "at this time." Or they wanted to put her in a "movement" class instead of ballet. In the more than two years it took us to find Bartelt Dancers, Isaac started to teach himself to tap with videos, and Esther-Faith memorized every position and ballet word she could.

And all of the frustration of our search and the sacrifices and the pain and the patience and the anxiety and the love spilled into the not-enough tissues I held tightly in my hand. Tim was sitting next to me with his camera that takes eight pictures a second holding the shutter down for the entirety of the time the kids were on stage. Both of us inconsolably emotional. It has been a journey. For the kids. For our family. And we sat there with fresh wounds of someone missing, knowing that we did everything we could to keep life normal for our dancers--even as we are at a fork in the road with Isaiah.

When the recital was over and all of the dancers had danced, there was a final number with all of the dancers. Kathy gave awards for perfect attendance (which the kids both got!), and then she awarded a scholarship to a promising dancer who shows aptitude, passion, and determination.

Isaac was awarded the scholarship.

He was surprised. We were surprised. There was a whole new round of tears. His teacher, Ms. Judy, hugged him and gave him a certificate and a rose. He grinned sheepishly. Like she did the night before, Esther-Faith covered her mouth with her hands in awe and admiration of her big brother. We could not be more proud.

After the presentation, parents and loved ones were allowed onto the stage to collect their dancers. I stayed in my seat. Tim and my mom and Tim's parents and Isaac's best friend and his parents and Esther-Faith's Debbie all went onto the stage.

My dancers sure have a lot of "loved ones" supporting them.

And then church, and Isaac's baptism, and root beer floats. As we sat on the deck in the setting sun, Esther-Faith scrolled through the thousands of pictures while Tim told stories about the importance of underwear and how he feels it should be required.

It was an emotional day. The good kind of emotional. The kind of intense emotions that stick with you for a long time. They have stuck with me. The look of sheer panic on Isaac's face when he realized what a recital is. Contrasted with the look of pure peace on his face after his baptism. The elegance and grace with which Esther-Faith dances. And the amazing applause when she finished her first recital. The stories and the fellowship and the love and the pride and so, so much more. There are moments in my life that are seared onto my memory. These are some of them.

© 2014-2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.