(I’m digging into the archival history of the 10+ years of postings I’ve made here and found three consecutive stories about Vacation Guy, Ella’s most important childhood toy. I’m reposting them over the next three days, starting with today. The original is from March 9, 2012. –Andy)
In Ella’s hands here is Vacation Guy, so named because she got him in 1997 while we were on a vacation. The four of us were in Sun River, Oregon and we found a little toy store in town. There on the shelves was the cute, soft, cuddly doll, perfect for 8 month old Ella. It became THE soft toy, the one that stayed with her wherever she went, including to bed in her arms each night. I believe in psychology they call such a thing the “transitional object.”
Over the years, Vacation Guy’s family grew. I found his “female” (pink) compatriot on, of all things, eBay and “won” her for Ella. This doll became Vacation Girl. Then there was Vacation Kid and Vacation Joey. Each of these had their own song, part of Ella’s bedtime ritual.
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow when I tell about some sound advice I gave to Ella about Vacation Guy.
Today’s Prompt:Share a story about your most important soft toy, pillow or blanket.
The date on this photo is May, 1994 which means two specific things. One, it means Chloe, my daughter, wasn’t really a baby. She was 15 months old. And two, given the jackets and such, it must have been chilly in Seattle.
Anyway, the charter members of this exclusive club were Tammy and Stephanie (two of Chloe’s cousins, pushing the stroller), as well as Granny (Chloe’s paternal grandmother — my mom, hey!). The club held its first meeting in March of 1993 at the home of my parents, specifically on their living room floor where Melinda had placed a two-week old Chloe in front of her cousins and doting grandmother.
I’m not sure when the fan club last met. But if I can be so bold and include myself as a member of the club, I’m pleased to report to the members that Chloe is doing quite well in life. Engaged to be married this summer, gainfully employed as a school counselor, proud puppy mama to Tino, she’s made this parent proud.
In the book “The Power of Kindness,” author Piero Ferrucci talks about how human beings are able to “resonate” with other human beings.
I love this concept.
He tells us that the ability is with us from birth, but if it doesn’t develop sufficiently we are in trouble. Me, I think the ability can be cultivated at any time in our lives. It’s certainly easier when we are younger, before we’ve had years of not resonating or not resonating well. But the ability is always there inside us, waiting to be tapped. I think the means is through storytelling.
In other words, if you’re ever feeling out of sorts, alone, or untouched, try telling the story of something that has touched you.
A few years back, I developed a class for teenagers on the subject of empathy. I wasn’t at all sure how many students would be interested. And since the classes that get scheduled at Puget Sound Community School are determined by student interest, I honestly wasn’t sure if this class would make the cut. Typically, more than 75 classes are offered to the students for each of the school’s main three terms, and the maximum any student can attend is around 20.
When I pitched the empathy class, I told the story of visiting my newborn daughter Ella in Children’s Hospital one Saturday morning in early 1997, she having been admitted (along with my wife, Melinda) because of a possible case of meningitis.
Ella was only 2 weeks old.
The day before, we had taken her to the doctor because of a high fever and the doctor ordered us to the emergency room. There, Ella experienced a spinal tap, during which the nurse’s assistant passed out and Melinda had to step in and hold still the crying/screaming baby Ella while the doctor inserted a needle into her spinal cord to get a fluid sample. Fearing meningitis, the doctors hospitalized Ella and treated her as if she had the illness while the fluid was tested over a period of three days. Melinda stayed with Ella while I was at home with her older sister, Chloe, not quite 4 years-old.
So early that Saturday, with my mom having come to watch Chloe, I arrived at Children’s Hospital to be with Ella and Melinda. At that time of day, they have a special entrance for parents. I entered there and took the elevator to the Intensive Care Unit, where Ella was being watched.
Exiting the elevator, I encountered one of the most moving scenes of my life – a young boy playing with a remote control car. 8 o’clock, Saturday morning, playing like little boys all over the world, down the hospital hall came this pajama-clad boy directing his car, remote control in hand. Keeping up next to him was his father, pushing the IV cart, making sure it stayed attached to his little boy’s arm. It was so poignant that it took my breath away. A little boy just being a little boy on a Saturday morning. And a dad just being a dad, doing what he needed to do so his boy could play.
I told those stories to the students during my class pitch. Lots of students prioritized the class after that. It made it on the schedule.
I’m not sure if the class ever matched the stories that I think sold it, but it was a great class. The second week I brought in photographer Lynette Johnson as a guest speaker. Several years previously, when I first heard of her, she was trying to start a nonprofit organization.
To provide professional photographs to parents of their terminally ill children before they died. Yeah. Kind of hits you right there, doesn’t it?
Lynette succeeded in starting her nonprofit and has since been featured in People Magazine and on the TV show “Today.” She calls her nonprofit Soulumination and they’ve since expanded their services. They now take professional portraits, at no charge, of terminally ill parents so their children will have photos to help remember them.
Lynette told the students why she started the nonprofit, tearing up each time she told the story of one of the children she has photographed.
Two weeks after introducing the students to Lynette, I took them off campus to meet a couple in their 90’s who were living in the same retirement community as my parents. Both had lost their spouses and finding the other, they thought it made sense to share an apartment rather than pay for two. But the conservative retirement home wouldn’t allow this unless they married. So they got married. As it turns out, we learned the woman was at Pearl Harbor in 1941 when it was bombed.
What stories these two people had to tell a group of teenagers!
Feel the resonance? If so, did experiencing this resonance change how you were feeling? Pay attention to this.
As I’ve written before, when I was a little boy I experienced significant night terrors for about two years.
My parents took me to a child psychiatrist who recommended family counseling so we tried that. A behavior modification program was created. Still, the terrors got so bad that I was hospitalized for a week when I was in 4th grade, studied by doctors and nurses to try to determine the root of the problem. One memorable experience in the hospital was when electrodes were attached to my head to study my brainwaves. Nothing significantly wrong was determined and I returned home.
Ultimately, I grew out of the night terrors, but the experience cast a dark shadow on me for years. For instance, I was horribly shamed by it, even into my young adulthood, and never talked about it.
It was my deepest and darkest secret.
But during college I started to make peace with it and even started to appreciate how the experience helped make me who I am. I believe the empathy and compassion I have for children is a direct result of my experience with night terrors, of undergoing counseling as a child, and from the experience of spending that week in the hospital.
These days, I use my childhood experience with night terrors on a nearly daily basis as I mentor children and coach parents. The Haiku I wrote and to which I added one of Fish Astronaut’s drawings above demonstrates that the experience is deeply embedded in me.
The summer of 1988 is one of the favorite periods of my life. I had just graduated from college and had decided to take a job that had nothing to do with what I’d been studying, but had everything to do with something I loved.
To explain, I have to take you back a few years before that.
Picture a little boy on his father’s shoulders. The little boy asks, “What number?”
The father tells him. And for the duration of the horse race that’s the little boy’s focus, yelling for that numbered horse to run, “Go number four! Go number four!”
I was probably two or three years old, and that’s the way I remember the story being told to me. Years pass and it’s just something my dad and I share, a passion for the horse races.
And in the summer of 1988, I was hired as a statistician by the Daily Racing Form and would be at Longacres racetrack every day, as would my father as part of his side job as a handicapping expert for a couple of national horse racing magazines.
We spent hours together that summer, just the two of us, together, completely absorbed.