Roller Coaster Ride

What kid doesn’t love an amusement park? The rides, the fun, the cotton candy. There was a great amusement park that was popular when I was a kid. A day at White Swan Park was every kid’s perfect outing. You just never knew what would happen there.

The summer before my fifth birthday, our church had a family picnic at White Swan Park. All of the kids were in heaven as we ran around from ride to ride with our parents closely supervising us. We came to the pride of the park, the roller coaster, named “The Mad Mouse.” The roller coaster had individual cars, instead of a chain of cars linked together like a train. It also had a series of bumps at the end of the ride, each one a little bigger than the previous one. I was put in a car with my oldest sister. It was great fun until we got to the series of bumps.

We hit the first bump. I flew up in the air and landed halfway out of the car. My sister grabbed me and was pulling me back into the car when we hit the second bump. I flew further out of the car. I was  hanging out of the car, bent at my waistline and my fingers dangling toward the track. Even in my panic, I could feel my sister frantically grabbing at the only thing she could get a hold of….the waistband of my underpants. I could see the grown ups screaming below me. My mother, who was about seven months pregnant at the time, was running along the tracks with her arms outstretched as if to catch me. Just as we hit the third bump, I thought to myself, “This can’t be good. I’m going over and I’ve never seen my Mom catch anything in my entire life.”

Fortunately, my sister’s strength and the elastic waistband of my underpants both held out as the  young man operating the roller coaster finally realized what was going on and slowed down the ride. He was white and shaking as the little car holding me and my big sister came to a stop. The grown ups came rushing up to make sure I was alright, and I noticed that my mother wasn’t looking so good. It must have been the pregnancy.

I was a little embarrassed by all of the attention. To divert attention from myself, I broke away from the crowd and ran off to the next ride. The grown ups marveled at my resilience.  My Mom still didn’t look so good. As a matter of fact, neither did my sister. She wasn’t walking so well, and I wondered why her legs looked so weak. But, it was a beautiful day, we were at White Swan Park, and everyone was having a marvelous time.

Life’s a lot like that day at the amusement park. Everything can be going along just fine when life throws a series of unexpected bumps. Sometimes you are flying by the seat of your pants. Sometimes you are hanging on by a thread. Sometimes you have to accept the fact that you’re going over, and hope that there is someone to catch you. Another interesting observation is that kids are more resilient than their parents. Most of all, I believe that if there are people to support you and love you through life’s bumps in the road, it’s a whole lot easier to recover.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

What I learned on my summer vacation.

    During my three day long summer vacation I helped my niece with her summer project. (See post dated 9/19/11). This incredible experience was rich with learning opportunities. Not only for my niece, but also for myself. And my sister. What did I learn?

    First of all, never underestimate the difficulty of a 5th grader’s summer project. Be careful about being too confident. Don’t say to yourself, “How hard could it possibly be?” You are about to find out! Summer projects for 5th graders can be incredibly challenging, difficult and time consuming.

    Second, adult confidence can be easily shattered by a 5th grade project. When that happens, it’s best to step back, take a few breaths and remember that you are the adult. If your confidence is suffering, imagine how the ten year old feels. I discovered if I treated the entire experience as an exercise in mental gymnastics, the project became more fun than work. As a bonus, neither one of us became stuck and were able to keep focused on the experience of the process, not the final goal. That helped keep my stress levels under control. I can’t speak for my niece, but if my stress levels were low, I’m guessing hers were as well. Consequently, if I started to panic, I’m betting she would, too.

    Third, find a way to create an environment of support.  Ask questions, initiate open ended discussions, share ideas, but keep your personal biases to yourself. This gives your child the space and freedom to allow their creative energy to flow. It might be tempting to take over and do most of the project yourself, or superimpose your own ideas. But, where’s the sport in that? And what does the child learn from that experience?

    Fourth, you can’t allow exhaustion and the looming deadline to get the best of you. Stop. Take a break, take a walk, use your eye drops, but keep thinking and talking about the project. Once you unleash the creative genius in a ten year old, there’s no stopping her. Her creativity and her energy are limitless. I also discovered how supportive an eight year old brother can be when his sister is faced with a difficult task. I always knew my nephew was exceptional, but his patience, maturity and support as my niece and I spent hours working at the dining room table was very touching.

    Fifth, I learned how much fun it is to read the same book as a ten year old and talk about it together. I also discovered that nothing is impossible when you work together as a team.

    Finally, I learned that I will ask ahead of time if any projects are on the agenda are so I can read the book in advance.

     My sister learned that when her children are entering a new school, the “Welcome Package” isn’t always 100% complete. Sometimes a small bit of information may be missing, like the fact that her child has 2 mandatory projects over the summer. She learned that her sister rocks, but she already knew that! Oh, and she also learned how to duck when a golf ball comes flying at her. But that’s another story. I’m just glad she has quick reflexes.

    The truth is, we encounter rich and rewarding learning opportunities every day of our lives. We can ignore them, grumble about them, or refuse to participate in them. We need to recognize these opportunities, honor them, revel in them, and make each one count. We may be surprised by what we learn!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

What I did on my summer vacation.

When I visited my sister and her kids two months ago, I was recruited to help my young niece with her summer project. Unfortunately, my sister had just found out that my niece had two mandatory projects over the summer. What the other kids had all summer to complete, my niece had about a week. And I had three days to help her. I was up to the task. After all, she is only ten years old and starting the 5th grade. I have a master’s degree. How hard could it be?

The first day, my niece sat me down at the dining room table. She explained that she was required to develop a board game based on the book she had read. Okay, that seemed a little challenging, but again, how hard could it be? Another sister had already bought all of the supplies. My niece had finished the book the night before. I was looking at a blank board game, unmarked play money, blank white cards (what were those for, I wondered) and a blank white book that we were to somehow turn into a “Rule Book.” I was clueless on how to begin, but confident I could help her pull this together.

I asked my niece to give me a book review so we could get started. She began to enthusiastically tell me about the book. I was getting confused. I asked her a few questions. She answered them, and my confusion got worse.  As my confusion grew, I noticed her face starting to fall as she watched the expression on my face. Her voice became less animated and more uncertain as she started to look worried. My own confidence was beginning to falter, so I changed tactics. I picked up the book and told her, “You just give me an hour alone and I will speed read this baby. Then we can talk about it and get a better idea of how to get started.”  That was fine with her and she ran off to relax with a little bit of television.

I started to read. Fifteen minutes later my head was swimming. There were so many characters introduced in the first two chapters that I couldn’t keep them straight. I began taking notes. Thirty minutes later I was getting a headache. Forty five minutes later it was time to go pick up my nephew at his baseball camp. I took the book and read in the car. Good thing I wasn’t the one driving. We watched my nephew play ball. I yelled and cheered just enough to embarrass him while I read the book. We took the kids to lunch. I took the book to lunch. I was in serious trouble. This little project was proving to be a whole lot harder than I had anticipated.

By the middle of the second day, I was halfway through the book and was able to begin to talk about the story and the characters with my niece. We started planning our strategy for the board game, including ideas for the Rule Book. I figured we would tackle the money and the blank white cards later. Since I felt I had a good grasp of the story line, the characters, and already figured out the ending, I was done reading the book. I checked that off of my to do list, and we spent the next few hours discussing ideas as my niece drew several drafts on paper.

Confident once again that I had the situation under control, my niece and I discussed the story as she showed me what her ideas were. During the discussion she dropped a bombshell regarding what happens during the second half of the book. “What?” I exclaimed. “Oooops,” she replied, “I don’t want to ruin the story for you.” Well, she didn’t ruin the story, but she did ruin my day. Sighing, I told her to stop working. The new twist in the book wasn’t going to work with the rough draft she had started. I picked up the book again and started reading. She went to relax with a bit of television. Where were the other adults? They were hard at work on the golf course. Of course.

I finally finished the book the next morning. My niece and I spent the entire next day working on the project. She put the finishing touches on it just before we adults went to dinner that evening.

Viola! She and I had done what I thought was impossible. We finished the project in 3 days. Of course, we spent at least 8 hours each day working together, not counting the extra time that I was reading the book or thinking about the project.

My husband and I left the next morning before anyone else got up. Exhausted, the characters of “The Westing Game” were still swirling in my head as we went to the airport. My husband got an upgrade, which he generously gave to me. As I settled comfortably in United’s business class, I had to smile. Out of all the summer vacations I have ever had, this one was the best!

The finished project:

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT GCFP

Home is where the heart is….

    I went back to visit my sister and her family last month. For the first time in 33 years, I drove past the exit that took me to my hometown and to the house where I grew up with my four sisters.  The house that my father had built. The house that my mother had made into a home. I tried not to look at that sign as we drove in the opposite direction, away from the place that I referred to as “home” for over fifty years. Both of my parents died last November. My younger sister  moved away from the area and closer in to the city 2 months ago.

    As my husband and I drove passed the exit and continued on in the opposite direction, I wanted to grab the steering wheel out of my husband’s hands and turn the car around. I wanted to yell, “No! We go this way”!   If I could only turn the car around, I was sure I could turn back time and go home again, where my Mom and Dad were waiting for me. As usual, I ignored the emotional tsunami building inside me that threatened to sweep me away. I said nothing, blinked back tears, and stared straight ahead. I guess that explains why I get headaches.

    But, the closer we got to the city, I started to feel an unusual sensation. The sensations grew stronger as we drove through the neighborhood where I had lived, worked, and played during my junior and senior year of college. I finally recognized what I was feeling. It was excitement and anticipation. I was happy to be coming back to an area that was home for me during the last two years of my college life. I did a different kind of growing up (and a lot of it) during those two years.

    I spent those two years in clinical training at a huge teaching hospital. I also spent a great deal of time in that same hospital during the last year of my parents’ lives. Of course, most of that time my heart was heavy with sadness and my mind was full of worry. I wasn’t able to appreciate returning back to the neighborhood that I knew so well and loved so much as a college student.

    But as we drove through that neighborhood and I pointed out the familiar surroundings, I felt at peace. I had a sense of coming back home again, in a different way. A circle closed. The beautiful thing about a circle is that once it closes, it has no end. It continues to move. In spite of struggling with the loss and grief of saying goodbye to both parents and my childhood home, I was back home again, in a different way, at a different time of life.

    Home is where the heart is. Most of us have several homes during our lifetimes, in the physical sense as well as the emotional and spiritual sense.  We leave a little bit of our heart and ourselves in each one, and we take a little part of each home to live in our hearts forever. If you think of it that way, we can go home again. All we have to do is open our hearts.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Free your neck…

    I remembered this helpful tip when I strained my neck last week. Give it a try and see if it can help you, too. For the sake of simplicity, I will give instructions for working with the left side of your neck. However, feel free to turn the directions around to work with the right side if you wish.

    1) Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your feet on the floor. Slowly and gently turn your head side to side. Notice how far you can easily turn without stress, strain, or the feeling of tension. Pay attention at what point the tissues of your neck begin to tell you to stop moving. Do not go beyond that point.

    2) Take your right arm across your chest and place your right hand gently on the left side of your neck. Keep your thumb together with your fingers. Gently explore the soft tissue of your neck and shoulder. Don’t press or dig into the tissues. Experience the sensation of your hand touching your neck and your neck touching your hand. Take the time to allow your hand to fully connect with your neck and shoulder. Explore the size, shape and contours of your neck and shoulder. Lower your arm. Stop and rest.

    3) Place your right hand to the left side of your neck. Gently lift your shoulder toward your ear and lower your shoulder back down. Slowly, gently, lift and lower your shoulder. Many times, very slowly, making small movements. Let your hand explore the changing shape of your neck and shoulder. Stop. Lower your arm and rest.

    4) Place your right hand to the left side of your neck. This time, as you lift your shoulder to your ear tilt your left ear toward your shoulder. You are bringing your ear to your shoulder and your shoulder to your ear, then return. Slowly, gently, many times. Your right hand provides comfort and support as you bring your ear and shoulder toward each other and back to your resting position. Listen to the quality of your movement as you make your movements small and slow. Stop, lower your arm, and rest.

    Notice the sensations in your neck and shoulder. Slowly and gently turn your head side to side. How does it feel different now? What is the quality of movement as you turn your head side to side? Is it easier to turn your head? How do your shoulders feel?

    The ability to “listen” to yourself unlocks the key to self care, self help, managing stress and taking control of your own life. This goes beyond the physical discomfort that we all experience at different times in our lives, but extends into the mental, emotional and psychological aspects as well. This level of awareness allows us to take care of ourselves when appropriate. It directs us to ask for help when indicated. It gives us the wisdom to know the difference.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov PT, GCFP

There’s a car in our living room.

It was late winter. It was late enough in the evening for it to be dark outside, but not so late that my 2 older sisters and I were in bed yet. I was 4 years old.  My mother was working on a project at the dining room table. My oldest sister was doing her homework at the kitchen table. My other older sister was in the corner bedroom that the three of us shared. My father wasn’t home.

I had just put my pajamas on and walked into the dining room to my Mom, turned around, and asked her to snap up the back of my “jammies”. Just as she started, a horrible series of explosions rocked the house. I fell over backwards and could hear myself and my sisters screaming. My mother immediately reacted and yelled, “Girls, the house is blowing up! Quick, get your coats and shoes and get out of the house!”

My sisters and I dutifully ran to the hall closet with our Mom close on our heels to make sure we got our coats and shoes on before leaving the house. (You may be wondering why anyone would insist on grabbing our coats when the house was exploding. If you are thinking this, I guarantee you have never spent a long, cold winter in Western Pennsylvania).

Anyway, as we were grabbing the appropriate outerwear, our mother looked back into the living room and said, with obvious relief in her voice, “Girls, girls. It’s OK, it’s just a car.”  We looked back with her and, sure enough, you could see the blinking red tail lights of a huge green station wagon that had gone through our picture window right up to the stone fireplace!

Just then our neighbor showed up at our door. The poor man was hysterical and inconsolable. His family was with him, all equally upset. It was their car that had come crashing through our window. They had just come home from an evening out. He had parked the car in his driveway. He and his family (thankfully) got out. He opened his garage door, turned around to get back in his car and pull it into the garage, and the car was gone.  Unfortunately, he forgot to put the car in park, nor did he engage the emergency brake. Oooops.

We lived at the top of a hill. Well, almost at the top. Our neighbors lived across the street and slightly above us. They watched in horror as their car rolled down their driveway, across the street, picked up speed and momentum to come crashing through our window. I can’t imagine what that experience was like for them. As upset and terrified as we were, it must have been even worse for them, wondering if anyone had the misfortune to be in the living room at the time. Had anyone been in there, they would not have survived.

Our Mom took us a few houses down where another neighbor looked after us. She comforted our neighbor and his family. She realized that as bad as the situation was, it could have been much worse. She knew she had a mess on her hands and that my Dad was in for a huge surprise when he got home. But her family was safe. I remember sitting next to one of our neighbor’s boys in front of their fireplace as he peeled an orange for me. Even though I had been through what could be considered a trauma, I knew all was well with the world. I was safe. I was in front of a warm fire, and I was eating an orange. The grownups were in charge. They would figure it out. And fix it.

There are several life lessons in this little story. First of all, even if your world is exploding around you, you still need to get your coat and shoes on to protect you from the elements. You made need them. Second, no matter how much you are suffering, someone else may be suffering more, and needs your reassurance and comfort. Third, it’s important to use your emergency brake. You never know when it may come in handy. Last of all, oranges in late winter is a luxury. Especially if your house just blew up.

The quality of touch….

We use our hands constantly during the day. But, do we really appreciate the quality of our touch? Our hands and fingers are highly sensitive with many nerve endings that send messages back to our brain and tell us how to respond to our experience of touch. So, how can we awaken our sensation of touch?  Try this little exploration:

1) Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your feet on the floor. Place your dominant hand gently on your leg. Take a moment to allow your hand to soften. Let your hand contact your leg and your leg contact your hand. Take a few moments to fully connect with the sensation of your hand and leg touching each other.

2) Begin to gently lift and lower just your palm away from your leg and back down to your leg. Your fingers stay in contact with your leg the entire time. Lift your palm, lower your palm. Your fingers will gently come toward each other and slide against your leg as you lift your palm. Your fingers slowly slide against your leg as you lengthen your fingers and lower your palm. Do this many times, very, very slowly. Stop. Let your hand rest on your leg.

3) Lift and lower your palm against your leg. This time, as you lift your palm, let your fingers slide toward each other, bringing your fingers and your thumb together. Now allow your fingers to open up again and slide back down, reversing the movement until your fingers are long and your palm is on your leg again. Do this slowly and gently, really listening to the quality of the movement. Stop. Rest with your hand on your leg.

4) Lift your palm from your leg, let your fingers slide toward each other and come together. Now, lift them off of your leg (as if you were picking a piece of lint off of your leg).  Then allow your fingers to open completely, lower your hand back down onto your leg with the palm contacting your leg first, and then the fingers. It’s an undulating movement. See how you can make this movement smooth and continuous. Pay close attention to the quality of your movement. Stop.

5) Once again, let your hand rest on your leg. Let your hand contact your leg and your leg contact your hand. Take a moment to gently press and release your entire hand into your leg. How has the quality of your touch changed? Are you more aware of the sensations in your hand? Could you imagine touching a baby, stroking a beloved pet, or touching the face of a loved one, with such a quality of touch? Perhaps you can even touch your own face with the same amount of awareness, caring, and sensitivity. Stop and rest.

Using our hands as an instrument to communicate to others is a gift. The gift of touch also helps us communicate with ourselves and our environment. Our hands can comfort, caress, create, and heal. The possibilities are endless, so why not cherish the gift and nurture the quality of our touch?

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP