Fear and ignorance could have killed me.

I can’t let other people’s fear keep me from taking care of my health.

I didn’t get a mammogram for years because everybody told me how painful it was. Friends and comedians would joke that getting a mammogram was like slamming your breast in the freezer door, or putting it in a vise. Who would want to do that?

I didn’t go to a gynecologist because my mother never impressed on me that I should. She never went as far as I knew, once she had stopped having children. She thought that sex was dirty. Sex was something you did once a week as a duty to your husband. So she certainly didn’t teach me how to keep my female parts healthy.

Also, friends talked about how uncomfortable it was to go to the gynecologist. Awkward, unpleasant, strange – they really weren’t selling it as something I should do. They always talked about going for a checkup as a chore, kind of like how my Mom talked about sex. One even said she’d rather have a root canal than go to the gynecologist. Either she has a great dentist or a terrible gynecologist.

Then three years ago I read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and I realized that a woman in her 30s could die of cervical cancer. For some reason I thought that was an older woman’s disease. So I went for my first checkup in 20 years. I found that I had moderate to severe cervical dysphasia. Not cancer, but cancer’s next door neighbor. I had surgery to get it removed. If I had waited, I’d be dead by now from something totally preventable.

Fear and ignorance could have killed me.

Now I’m going to a chiropractor. My friends are now saying what they’ve always said about chiropractors. They are quacks. They insist you come a lot and they don’t promise anything. They heard of somebody who got paralyzed by one. But if I’d gone to a regular doctor for my slipped disc a week ago I would have been given pain pills and muscle relaxers. I still would have had a slipped disc. I just wouldn’t have cared.

I’m sure there are true stories of chiropractors who have accidentally harmed patients. But how many regular doctors have perfect records? There is a reason medical malpractice insurance is expensive. Nobody is perfect.

My chiropractor has a good point. We get our teeth checked twice a year, and if one of them goes bad we can get a replacement. We can’t replace our spine, yet we never check it.

Sure, I’m not happy about having to go several times a week, but it isn’t forever. It is just for a few months, then it won’t be that often. Plus, it feels amazing.

I like to think of my back as like a bonsai tree. Change can’t happen overnight. When I had braces it took 4 years to get my teeth straight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and my back won’t be healed overnight.

Meanwhile I’m going to try to unlearn a whole lot of nonsense that I was taught, and try not to spread any more of it around.

Kidnapping? Or just a tired kid?

I was on my lunchtime walk today and heard a child screaming. I looked to my left and saw a skinny man in a dingy t-shirt hauling a young girl in pink to his car. Was she not ready to go home? (The playground was nearby) Was she tired? (It was around 1:30, a common time for kids to need a nap) Or was she being kidnapped?

I stopped walking the way I was headed and started walking towards them. I considered taking a picture of his car. It was beat up, ratty, faded blue. It was a cheap car. He suited it. He had stubble and a ball cap. He looked trashy. I started to regret that there was a stream between us so I had to walk the long way around. It made me take a little more time than I wanted.

When I got there he had already put her in her car seat in the back. I stopped on the passenger side, where I could see him and her, but not put me in a vulnerable position. He had rolled down the front passenger window to cool the car off. He hadn’t driven off quickly. She had stopped crying. I thought maybe I’m jumping the gun, but I’d rather be sure. She looked to be around 7. I asked in a sing-song voice “What’s the matter?” while looking at her. I wanted to seem non-confrontational, but obviously I am confronting him. I wanted to seem like a casual observer, an interested passerby.

He told me that she didn’t want to leave. “You know how little girls are. I had a little boy once and he was fine.” Notice he said “I had a little boy once.” He didn’t say “my son”. This really didn’t feel right all over again.

I looked her in the eyes, willing her to tell me that something was wrong, or everything was alright. Nothing. She gave me nothing.

He gave her a drink to sip on. Surely only a Dad would think to have a beverage for his kid, right? Nope. A smart kidnapper would do the same to keep the child quiet. So that didn’t help me figure this out.

I was going to have to push it a little. I looked at her and asked her – “Do you know each other?” I got nothing from her. I was a stranger. Don’t talk to strangers, you know. But I’m a small woman. I’m not threatening. But yes, I’m a stranger, and this is a strange interaction. I don’t blame her for not answering.

He got defensive. “She’s my daughter!” I pointed out that screaming like that sounds like she’s being kidnapped. I kept looking at her. Nothing. I wondered again what to do. I felt it out. I weighed everything I knew, everything I saw. I wasn’t getting that “push” feeling I get when I have to act.

I decided to let it go. His story could be true. By this point no other parent is running up. I’ve bought some time. He looks like a strict disciplinarian. She hasn’t indicated to me that anything is wrong. She also hasn’t indicated everything is right.

I backed off. I walked away. And then I stopped, looking at the car, looking at them. He drove away, slowly. She didn’t scream. She didn’t hit on the windows. I still felt like something was off, but I don’t think he was kidnapping her. I think he was her Dad, and that he was frustrated and tired and not sure how to deal with a child who is equally frustrated and tired.

I don’t know what I would have done if I’d actually thought he was kidnapping her. I could have called the police but I had no way of keeping him there until they came. Take pictures – of him, the car, the license plate? This would probably be my best option. That way I’d have something to give the cops.

I still don’t know for sure what happened. But I’m glad I stopped.

Kindergarten 9-25-13

I was able to get to work with three children today, all of which I had before. It is amazing and delightful to see progress and disheartening to see them still stuck in some areas. Sometimes it isn’t school that is the problem. Sometimes there are home problems and school is the last thing on their minds.

V was much more focused today, which is encouraging. She likes to draw and make up stories. I’m totally for creativity, but when it is time to work we have to get cracking. She stayed working with me a lot longer this time and did great on her numbers. She still is a little wonky on her letters, but she is getting better.

At the end of my tutoring session today I found out from her teacher that yesterday was an entirely different story. Numbers were impossible. 5 fingers resulted in an answer as varied as 5, 2, and 8. But yesterday she also heard from V that her Mom was in the hospital. Mom is in the hospital because she is an alcoholic. This changes everything. Of course she is distracted. Of course she wants to make up stories. Who would want to focus when that is happening? When you are five your whole world revolves around your mom. If she isn’t well, then everything else falls apart. I will give her extra attention next week.

Sometimes what we give them isn’t learning, it is love. Sometimes the greatest thing is just to spend time with them, one on one, and let them shine. Sometimes the teacher will assign a new child to me just because something bad is going on at home. We work together on them, to help them get over the humps of life. Sometimes healing can come in the form of something as simple as reading a book together.

Today I also had S. He is a delightful Mexican boy, all smiles and sunshine. He worked hard and is doing well. I’m curious how long he will need me.

I only get the kids who are at the bottom. When they are doing better they go to the next tutor. I like the challenge of trying to figure out new ways to get the information into them. Fortunately the kids haven’t realized that there is a pattern to who I work with, so there isn’t a stigma. In fact, when I come on Wednesdays they all clamor to work with me. It is kind of cute. I try to make learning fun, so they just see it as a game. Sometimes when I “pick” a student (I don’t pick, the teacher provides a list for me) he or she will say “Yes!” and think this is great. This makes my job so much easier.

One of the students who gets excited when I “pick” him is J. I worked with him today as well. I think he might be dyslexic. I can tell learning is hard for him. I gave him easy things to work on to build up his confidence. We have a blue letter board that is really cool to work with. Letters are really hard for him, and he was mixing up h and n and u. I can understand that. They look at lot alike if they are flipped around.

Letters are hard. They are just symbols after all. We take for granted how easy it is to read, but really it hard because it isn’t a native intelligence. It is all symbols. This shape doesn’t “mean” this sound at all. There is nothing logical about it. It is rather arbitrary. Nothing drives this home more than teaching a five year old his letters.

At the end I wrote up my impressions. This helps the teacher know what are their strengths and weaknesses. Interestingly they will work differently with me than with her. She and I see different faces. When one is obstinate on one area with her, he will be perfect with me.

When I came in to return my impressions and pick up my keys, J hugged me. Hugs from kindergartners are so sweet. When I first got hugged three years ago I wasn’t sure what to do. I was caught off guard.

We have rules that we learn. Don’t touch strangers. Hold your emotions in.

Kindergartners don’t know these rules yet. Sure, they know me, a little. They know my name, and I work with them a little every Wednesday. But adults who know me better don’t hug me. It is just a social rule. We are a very hands-off kind of society.

But hugs from kindergartners are the best. They are so loving and open. I think the world would be a better place if we all had that kind of love and were able to show it. I think this may be the answer to everything.

Hug more. Cry when you are sad. Go play outside for an hour every day. Color. Take a nap with a teddy bear. Make up stories.

Maybe being a kindergartner is the secret to happiness.