Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Early Experiences: People With Disabilities

I was introduced to disability from birth. As a result, I never thought anything about it. It seemed just as "normal" to me as any other difference between people: hair color, eye color, skin color, height, etc.

Half a Leg

My grandfather on my father's side used crutches.

When my dad's family lived in California, before my parents even met, their car broke down on the side of the road. As my grandfather was at the back of the car, another car lost control and rear-ended his car. I think he fell asleep at the wheel. My grandfather tried to jump away, but one leg did not make it completely out of harms way - so he lost his leg from the knee down.

I was never close to my grandmother on my father's side - not sure why. She seemed so cold, we never felt comfortable with her.

Maybe she was just overly concerned with us not messing up her house, or maybe she never got over not liking my mom, or maybe she did not like kids, or maybe she just did not know how to show affection. Who knows.

But my grandfather was such a nice and happy man.

We used to sit in his lap. He would hug us, tell us jokes, and share stories. I remember him always smiling and laughing.

Monday, June 27, 2016

More Uncomfortable Childhood Life Lessons

Other lessons learned on Eddie Lane involved dishonesty, injustice, insecurity, and parenting.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Amity, Arkansas before I started school and during the summers. I think it was easier for my mom that I stayed with my grandparents because she was a single parent of four kids working full time.

Both my grandparents also worked sometimes. My grandfather was a handyman around town and my grandmother often worked in restaurants or the school cafeteria as a cook. She was a great cook.


My great-grandmother, on my grandfather's side, also lived in Amity. She lived in a one-floor apartment complex only for retired people. Her name was Eula but we called her "Granny."

Her husband, Andy, had died before I was born.

We used to spend a lot of time with her when my grandparents were working. When we were younger, we loved it. We could play outside because her complex was away from the main road and we knew a lot of the other retired people in the complex.

Next door to granny was Hatty Wilson. We loved to visit her. When I started doing our ancestry, I found that she might actually be the sister-in-law of Granny. I never knew that. I knew they spent time together but I also got the impression that Hatty and Granny did not like each other very much.

Granny had other grandchildren, mostly older than me, that sometimes came over. I was never close to my cousins. Granny had a record player and they sometimes left their records. I remember listening to the Beatles on a record with an apple picture on it.

Another thing we often did at Granny's was put lotion on her feet. She had really scaley feet. I knew at a very young age I never wanted to have such scaley and scratchy hard feet.

We did not mind putting the lotion on her feet for a long time, but it did get old, and we started not liking it.

One time she asked me to do it and I refused. She insisted and I refused. I told her I wanted to go home - back to my grandparent's house. She said we couldn't and again insisted I put lotion on her feet.

I decided I was going home and ran out of the house. I ran out of the apartment complex, down the long side road, and then started running up the long main road that led to my grandparent's house.

Granny, even at her advanced age, was running after me, yelling. She told a teenager on a bike she would pay him if he caught me.

A man in a pickup truck saw us, turned down one of the side roads from the main road ahead of me, and captured me.

He held me until granny caught up.

I was very mad at that man - but of course, he was actually nice because I was probably less than five years old running on the sidewalk of the major road that ran through Amity.

I am sure I got in trouble, maybe even a spanking, I don't remember. I also probably got a spanking, and definitely a stern "talking to" by my grandfather when I finally made it home that night. Again, I don't remember.

I do know I went to visit granny less often after that.

When it was time to start school, I went to kindergarten and first grade in Amity with my grandparents. 

Attending kindergarten in Amity was great. My grandparents taught me the alphabet and numbers before I even started. I really liked my teacher. Mostly I remember coloring and making crafts as well as practicing the alphabet and numbers sometimes.

My grandmother worked in the school cafeteria. I remember whenever I was sick, I would take my tray through the line to get my portions. My grandmother would meet me at the end of the line with a spoon of Robitussin. I would take my dose, then take my tray to the lunch table to eat.


My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Sutton, was different.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Children Know More Than We Think

My parents were high school sweethearts. I am not sure my mom ever got over it - her first love.

They also had a very rocky relationship. I was two when my father left, so I have no memory of when they were together, but I heard stories. Without any first-hand knowledge, I can neither confirm nor deny the stories, but most of them revolved around my dad cheating on my mom and beating her.

I do remember my mom had a broken collarbone. The official story was that she fell down some steps - years later I "heard" it was a result of one of my father's beatings.

My family, like many of my generation, and I would suggest is still true, did not explain such things to children. That is too bad - because children hear more than we think. 

Children really are sponges for what is going on around them.  When we fail to help them understand what is going around them, often erroneously assuming they "don't know" and we are protecting them from the ugliness of life, children make their own associations about situations. Children make these connections based on little or no information, and no relevant life experiences.  

The conclusions that children come to can be quite shocking and often shape their ideas about life in negative ways.

For me, the story about my mom "falling down stairs" and breaking her collarbone had two effects on my life.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Early Childhood Experiences and How They Shaped Me

I was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, but I never lived there. My dad moved our family to Little Rock while my mom was in the hospital with me. My mom and step-dad moved us from Little Rock to Alexander while I was in second grade. 

My earliest memories were when I lived at 7115 Eddy Lane in Little Rock, Arkansas - all memories before I was eight-years-old. 

Eddy Lane was a couple of blocks away from "Sin City" (Adkins Street between Oak Grove and Chico Rd via Acorn Place) - an apartment complex ("the projects") that was so dangerous police rarely responded to 911 calls - at least that was the story.

The common joke was: "You ride in on a bicycle and come out with just the handlebars."

As kids, we did not understand that, but we did fully comprehend our mom's warnings of bodily harm if we ever wondered off our street alone.

Eddy Lane was a dead-end street that had one other dead-end street connected to it, Lark Place. Most of my memories happened on these streets since we were not allowed anywhere else.

My Sweet Farrah

I remember one Christmas begging for a Farrah Faucett "barbie." I was so in love with Farrah Faucett. I watched Charlie's Angels religiously. It was my favorite show.

Looking back, I wonder why a child under eight could have been so interested in such an adult show, but I was.

I could not wait for the big day to come. I looked over my wrapped presents frantically for a box that could be "the one." When I found the shoe-box sized one, I knew I had found gold. I tore open the paper and looked at the box. I was ecstatic!

After all the excitement died down, I opened the box, took out my Farrah...

And started crying.

The Farrah Faucett doll was larger than a "Barbie" and looked nothing like my Farrah. It was quite an ugly doll, in fact. 

I was crushed. 

It was my first lesson in words - what we call things is not always true for what they are.

Learning to Fly

Before I started school and my working mom was home with me for some reason. About the time school let out (my sisters went to school a couple of miles up Oak Grove street by our house), my mom heard an ambulance going up the street toward the school. I remember her pure panic while she grabbed my arm and ran toward the school. She was worried a car had hit a child on their way home from school - she was most worried it was one of her children. She was correct that a car did hit a child - fortunately, it was not one of hers. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

It Could Never Happen

While talking to my niece about the Orlando shooting, I mentioned the North Carolina bathroom law. My niece said she did not see why that was a big deal and that she did not want men using the bathroom with her.

I explained that the law was not really about bathrooms but was anti-gay sentiment wrapped in law.

I also told her transgendered people have been using the bathrooms for years without anyone noticing and without incident.

She agreed but again said she did not want men using the bathroom with her. 

I asked her if she understood that the law required people to use the bathroom of their birth gender, which is a problem for those who have had surgery, and also forces people who are now men into women's bathrooms. 

She responded that when a person has surgery to change their gender they can have all their identifications changed. 

I responded that changing identification may not include the birth certificate and that the law specifically states "birth gender" - meaning the gender listed on their birth certificates.

She responded that police were not going to be checking people's birth certificates to go to the bathroom.

I agreed. It will be based on complaints of other bathroom users. 

I described a long-term friend of mine who is female but is very tall, broad, deep-voiced, and could easily be mistaken for a man dressed as a woman - if someone was so inclined. That if my friend were to go to a bathroom in North Carolina, and another person were to "report" her to police, she could very well be required to satisfy the law by providing her birth certificate - something very few people carry around.

She again repeated that this was not likely to happen.

I asked her why was the law passed then? 

For which she had no answer.

And there is the real problem. 

I hear constantly, "That is not likely to happen." "That would never happen here." 

A few months ago, my nephew started supporting the "temporary halt for all Muslims entering the United States until we figure things out."

I reminded him that my husband, his uncle, was Muslim and currently out of the country on business. I pointed out to him that my husband, his uncle, would not be able to return home.

He responded that he was not talking about my husband.


Is that a promise?

I am not sure if people are ignorant of history, unable to make connections to larger consequences, lack empathy, are not paying attention, or are simply living in denial. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Thoughts of Suicide

I have always had mixed feelings about suicide.

In junior high school, I knew several people of different ages who either attempted or were successful in ending their lives.

Yes, junior high. Yes, the 1980s. No, that is not as unusual as we like to pretend.

Kids know what is going on even when we try to shield them from it. By not talking about uncomfortable topics, we force young people to create an understanding based only on their very limited knowledge and experience. We are doing them no favors by not adding to their information.

For me, suicide made no sense. Why would people want to end their lives?

In my mind it seemed so illogical... dead was the end. All possibilities would end. No opportunities for things to change or get better... just nothing.

But I did want to understand it. I wanted to understand it because I recognized that it must make sense on some level or so many people wouldn't be doing it.

In my naivety, I thought if I could figure it out, I would know out how to recognize the signs ... maybe I could figure out how to help them.

Unfortunately, in those days, the vast knowledge of the internet did not exist. My only options were adults and the library.

My research showed the  socially (not scientifically) espoused "reasons" for suicide (threats, attempts, successes) are many:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ramadan: Fasting While Eating

Ramadan begins. Muslims all over the world are fasting from before sunrise to after sunset. For weeks, if not months, Muslims have been sharing the countdown and messages of anticipated joy.

The most common references are about not eating and drinking during daylight hours - to which people who are not Muslim often comment, "Not even water?!!"

No, not even water.

Islam specifically allows for those facing medical conditions that require daily medication or regular ingestion of food or drink to be excused from fasting. Pregnancy and diabetes, for example.

Islam allows for other exceptions too, such as travel and any bleeding beyond a pinprick.

Exceptions, like everything in Islam, have a purpose. Medical conditions, pregnancy, bleeding, and travel (even with the easier travel of today) can tax our bodies and weaken our immune systems. God, in his mercy, does not want us to put additional pressure on our bodies when it is already under extra stress from these conditions.

But those exceptions are only for the eating and drinking part of fasting - a small part of what Ramadan fasting is all about.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Life Well Lived

While living in Arkansas in my twenties, I drove with some friends to Dallas, Texas for the weekend. Outside a restaurant where we were eating, a sumo-wrestling activity was set up on the grassy knoll nearby. We went out to see what was going on. They had set up a giant mat on the ground and had huge sumo suits people could wear. The suits had helmets that looked like the heads of sumo wrestlers - complete with the hair in a bun on top. 

Another person in my group and I decided to do it. The suit and helmet were huge - both making me a giant rolly-polly. We got on the mat and started trying to wrestle. It was hilarious. Every time I would get hit, I would lose my balance and fall over. I couldn't get up wearing the huge suit. I would roll around trying to find a way to get on my feet - which I could not even see poking out of the bottom of the suit. The other person would try to help me but I was laughing so hard it was impossible. Most of the time the other person would end up falling on top of me. Then both of us would be rolling around the mat laughing til we could hardly breathe. 

And we got it all on tape. 

Unfortunately, I misplaced the tape when I moved to Arizona. It is a fond memory of mine and I wish I still had it. 

Recently I was recounting the story to my niece. I was telling the story and laughing, really enjoying the memory.

She replied, "How could you do that? It would be so embarrassing."

That made me think. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Three Steps To A Solutions Oriented Mindset

Almost two decades ago I got married. I am originally from Arkansas and my husband is from Iraq. We met at work in Arizona. While courting, he mentioned diabetes runs in his family and his mother had died from diabetes complications. They lived in Iraq under the United Nations sanctions and insulin was considered "dual purpose" - meaning theoretically insulin could be used to make a weapon of some kind. As a result, people in Iraq were unable to get insulin and many, like my husband's mother, died as a result.

I did not know anything about diabetes at the time. No one in my family had it and I never knew anyone with it. But I had heard about the symptoms (maybe through public service announcements growing up): frequent urination, constant thirst, and cravings for sweets.

Soon after we married, I noticed my husband had these symptoms because we still worked in the same office all day. I suggested he go to the doctor and get checked out so we would know.

After a few days, he got the results back and shared them with me at the office - he had diabetes. I told him to meet with the nutritionist and then we would figure out what to do.

In the beginning, we lived with his brother and his family. When I went home from work I found everyone sad and crying. I asked my sister-in-law what happened. She replied, "You don't know?" "Know what?" I asked. "Ali has diabetes," she said. "Yes, he told me," I replied. "He's going die!" she exclaimed with tears running down her face.

Here I am... a new bride, barely a month married into a new culture, and suddenly everyone is saying my husband is going to die. Ya, this is not working for me.

I racked my brain for information. Had I ever heard diabetes was a death sentence?

After a few days, my husband met with the nutritionist who basically told him he had to eat uninteresting food for the rest of his life. I watched every night for about a week, the entire table set with plates of pasta, a variety of meats, loaves of bread, and rice... while my husband sat with a plate of salad and skinless baked chicken.  Every day.

Finally, I turned to him and said, "This is no way to live. It's better to die. There has to be another way."