California Bound

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A week from tomorrow, Zoe, Mia, and I are flying to San Francisco for fifteen nights in California. I’m making lists, trying to find things, working on packing after the girls are asleep, and some when they are awake, pouring over maps, contacting old friends, and making plans. Earlier this week, Zoe decided that she really wants to bring her American Girl doll, Sage, to California to show her cousin Alison who is getting married near the end of the trip. These cousins have bonded over American Girl dolls. I said no. I’ve been telling my girls that they are pretty lucky, getting to go to California at ages seven and five.

I first arrived in California twenty-three years ago, the summer after I graduated from college, for an internship with the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The summer before that, I spent several weeks at a geology field course in Wyoming and South Dakota. My hard work earned me this internship, and a wise professor of mine helped me contact one of his colleagues at the Menlo Park office of the USGS to see if he could use some help. He could and so it was that I got to join his field crew in Mammoth Lakes, California, working with five guys, driving a 4-wheel-drive government truck around mountain roads at night to measure crustal deformation with a two-color laser geodimeter. By day, my field crew buddies taught me to recreate – mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, and backcountry skiing in winter. I was lucky then and in the ways that life is circular, here I go again, retracing some of my path through California and eager to share it with my girls.

Back then, I was twenty-one, fresh out of college, and keen to drive cross-country to begin my adult life. My father had died a few months earlier of a brain tumor. My mother threatened that she would drive with me if I didn’t find someone else to make the cross-country trip. So, I found Jenny on the ride board at Brown University, looking for a ride to San Francisco. I loaded my little red Honda Civic with my graduation gift mountain bike standing tall atop the car, picked up Jenny in Ohio and taught her to drive stick shift as we meandered to San Francisco. I vaguely recall dropping off Jenny and sharing a meal with the eccentric family that was hosting her in San Francisco. I had friends in Palo Alto then as I do now, different friends, but a place to stay nonetheless. I checked in to the Menlo Park office to do some paperwork and then drove back east over Tioga Pass to the East Side of the Sierras to learn my field job.

The job itself involved a lot of driving on mountainous dirt roads at night to set up retroreflectors for the laser to point at for measurements. About one week out of each month, we took the show on the road to other temporary networks we monitored throughout California. I was able to extend my summer internship through the end of the year. It was eye opening in so many ways. Perhaps the biggest was that it was a pause in my life from the achievement of school, before “real” adult pursuits. It was well-timed as I was still grieving my father’s death, and welcomed the mountains to explore and inspire.

As I got restless intellectually after some months, I applied to graduate school for a Ph.D. in geophysics, both on the East Coast and on the West Coast. I visited both of my top schools. On the East Coast, an MIT professor asked me during my interview, “Have you traveled much?” I thought I had and rattled off places I had been in the United States, and on a few family and school trips to Europe. I think he was trying to sell the travel opportunities in a field focused on studying the Earth. On the West Coast, I stood on the balcony of the beautiful redwood building that is the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, part of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. The Pacific spoke to me. I could easily imagine spending years there. And, I did. Five to complete my Ph.D, and another year as a postdoc. Perhaps that MIT prof had planted a seed too as I traveled extensively, spending nearly a year abroad of those five years of graduate school. I spent a summer field season in Indonesia, took a sabbatical with my advisor in France, participated in research cruises in the Southern Ocean and off the coast of Baja California. And, while in La Jolla, I studied, researched and swam around the pier with friends and colleagues most days from April to October each year, as long as the water temperature was at least 64 degrees.

These are some of my stories that I want to share with my young girls on our trip. Our planned itinerary is oddly similar to my own route over the seven years that I called California home. We start with visiting friends in the Bay Area, then Yosemite, then the East Side of the Sierras, then San Diego with extended family for my niece’s wedding. Both of my girls and their three young cousins are all in the wedding.

I plan to mail our clothes for the wedding sometime this week so we don’t have to worry about keeping them safe through the mountains and driving adventures. I’m attempting to connect with friends along our route, including the lead guy on that USGS field crew who is still on the East Side, and some of my book group buddies from a book group I cofounded with other women in science seeking community way back in 1993 that is remarkably still active.

I may blog during our trip, or I may wait until we return. Meanwhile, back to packing! There’s an awful lot that needs to happen here at home and at work for me in the next week but indulging in these memories and sharing the anticipation helps me prepare too.

My Last Daycare Check

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My last daycare check is in the mail. I reach this milestone with a mix of emotions.

In the first picture above, Zoe was visiting Mia and me in the hospital. Mia was just thirty-six hours old. It was a dozen hours before she had her first seizures which meant she had to be sent alone with medical staff by ambulance from the hospital where she was born to a bigger one across the river, with a full NICU, and the ability to diagnose her stroke.

In the second picture above, taken last week, Mia and Zoe are goofing around, far too big to be in the bike trailer, but asking me to take them for a ride for fun. Zoe is seven. Mia is nearly five.

In both pictures, their sisterhood is so present. It’s ironic to me now to see Mia sucking her left thumb and Zoe studying her right thumb. This was before, before we knew that Mia would become a lefty for sure.

It’s a leap of faith to have a child, perhaps a blind leap of faith to have a second as a single mom. I leapt twice and somehow we have all made it, not just surviving nearly five years as a family of three, but really thriving even in the face of some daunting challenges.

Last year, I actively participated in Pediatric Stroke Awareness Month, blogging daily through the month of May. That effort has had many benefits, new contacts with families and professionals interested in pediatric stroke, sharing information broadly that seems to benefit others, and most personally, helping me affirm how far Mia has come with my support. It was cathartic and healing to be able to share more details of our journey. And, we raised significant funds for Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association.

This year, I considered repeating my blogging streak. I could easily have written updates on all the topics of a year ago, showing Mia as an even more competent kid, now almost five. But, I made an active choice not to blog. I am investing more this year in my own self-care. Blogging that intensively last year meant lost sleep. And, this spring, we are in a big transition. I wanted some space to feel my way through the changes.

To work full-time outside the home as a single parent requires tremendous logistical support. Zoe was in a family daycare in our neighborhood her first two-and-a-half years, but even before I was pregnant with my second child, I had visited the daycare/preschool where I would later send both girls. I loved it then and still do now. Some of the teachers have been there more than twenty years. They care for infants all the way through pre-K. Both girls started there when my maternity leave ended. Zoe was in the youngest preschool class and Mia was in the infant room. For three years, both girls went there full time. For the past two years, Mia has been in preschool there and on Monday she goes for kindergarten orientation at the bilingual school where she’ll join Zoe in the fall.

Mia has just three weeks left at this beloved school. Today, she hosted me as her special guest in her class brunch. I’ve been feeling nostalgic as the end of this era approaches. I’m putting some of that energy into making a special gift for the school and cards for the teachers.

Of course, my budget will be easier without having the expense of daycare. I look forward to seeing my bank balance when my mortgage payment exceeds my childcare expenses again. That has not been true since before I had my second child. I feel grateful to have been able to afford such excellent care, to have had the amazing continuity so that both children have had many of the same beloved teachers, and that we’ve been there long enough to feel like they are part of our family, certainly part of the village supporting me in raising these beautiful girls.

When I signed us up for two spots in this daycare, even before Mia had been born, I had no idea that she would have any special needs. And then she did, and I took a lot of time in the beginning to orient the caregivers to exactly how to handle Mia when picking her up, not to prop her in sitting but to let her lie down and find her own way there. As a toddler, she went to school wearing a splint on her unaffected left hand to give her time every day to practice with righty, modified constraint therapy. The teachers followed my suggestions for sensory play with my promise that whatever was good for Mia would be great for other children too. Mia played with shaving cream, sand, water, rice. And then, after eating snack with righty, the teachers could help her take off her splint so she could go outside to play and she could use both hands and arms to master the playground by climbing, swinging, traversing the monkey bars, and sliding.

Each year that Mia has transitioned, I have met with the new teachers to orient them to her needs. I have written up a one or two-page set of suggestions for how to best support Mia’s development. Remarkably, this year, both of Mia’s teachers have marveled at her curiosity, eagerness to participate, persistence and independence, and self-care skills that are on par or ahead of some of her peers. It’s through their eyes that I have come to see Mia as so ready to take the next step, to leap from the early childhood years into elementary school with her big sister leading the way.

And, it is nearly time for me to make that transition too, to escort Mia to kindergarten orientation, to believe that we made it, not just through the financial hurdle of getting care for two kids from birth to five while working full time, but through the developmental hurdles put in our path by Mia’s stroke.

Here are my girls in action recently, Mia on her 16″ bike, confidently making a turn, Zoe joyously swinging on the trapeze swing.

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I will close with gratitude for making it to this transition with the love and support of many. Here’s one of Mia’s recent pieces of art, where she so clearly affirms her left-handedness.

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600 Days of Reading Aloud

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We reached another milestone today with 600 days in a row of reading aloud together.

In updating our main Reading Streak page, I noticed some patterns of interest. While we’re still in the Little House books, having finished our third reading of the Laura books and now into the Rose books for the third time, and closing in on Zoe’s goal of reading about all five generations of Little House girls and women, we’ve branched out a bit too.

Both girls love American Girl books and we’ve read all the Molly books, both Saige books, both Mia books, and three Josefina books. We also had a nonfiction run with Jane Goodall’s wonderful, “My Life with the Chimpanzees” and “The Chimpanzees I Love” and a couple of her picture books too. I’m including select picture books on our list that are notable. We read lots of picture books that I don’t note. Mia also discovered “The Puppy Place” series at the library, which I don’t love but the kids do.

The book trail pictured here is Mia’s work on a day when she napped for thirty minutes and then entertained herself late into the evening by paving a path of books. I like to imagine her walking through all these books as she was building her path. I only discovered the finished product when I was ready for bed myself.

Mia requested “Charlotte’s Web” again within the past 100 days. It’s her perennial favorite, the one book for which she can sustain attention more than any other chapter book. Often, while I read, Zoe lies or sits next to me and listens intently while Mia plays nearby. But, I know that Mia is listening too as she’ll comment on the characters and plot in surprising ways.

The girls and I are proud to have made it to 600. We manage to fit in reading time twice a day most days and once a day even on the busiest days.

 

Shifting Acture, Shifting Emotions

I was just interviewed by Suzanne Kronisch for her “What’s YOUR Feldenkrais Story?” series.

One of the things that came up in our discussion was this essay I wrote in 2005 to my classmates when I was in a four-year Feldenkrais training program. I’m sharing it here so Suzanne can link to it and to give more context for some of my Feldenkrais musings on this blog.

Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2005
To: <My NY Feldenkrais Professional Training classmates>
Subject: shifting acture, shifting emotions

Hi,

Sunday morning of our last segment, David began by saying that he was going to teach a rarely taught lesson. It began something like this. Sit on the floor. Bring your left foot to standing, extend your right leg in front of you. Lean on your right arm behind you. Place your left hand on your left knee. Exhale and slowly push out your lower abdomen. Inhale and slowly pull in your lower abdomen….

I don’t want to repeat the lesson here as you were all there doing it with me. I do want to share my experience of doing the lesson, and the experiences I had immediately afterwards and continue to have now, more than a week after this lesson.

Sometimes I am fully present for an ATM, and this was one of those times. As I heard David say “rarely taught lesson” and then go into a story about where he remembered it being taught, I said to myself, I’m gong to do this lesson really carefully, really attentively. Of course, I’d love to do every lesson with these qualities but I’m not there, sometimes I am, sometimes I am not. This one particular lesson, I was there.

During the lesson I stayed in a tiny range. The position is not the most comfortable for me, but it is a whole lot more comfortable than it used to be. Even at the beginning of the lesson I could feel how my hip flexors were engaged. My lower leg was not quite standing vertically, but more at a 45 degree angle with the floor. Other people had their lower leg planted almost at 90 degrees to the floor which seemed closer to the instructions. I closed my eyes and told myself again to find my own ease, my own starting place. I kept coming back to this.

Part way through the lesson I began to feel the tonus in the leg that was long change for me. I could let it rest more fully on the floor. That was one of the first shifts that I noticed. I also noticed that for me to stay in the tiny range that was fruitful for me required just allowing a tiny movement in my hips and pelvis, really tiny, maybe not even visible, but I could feel it.

The lesson continued and I continued with the same quality of attention to myself. When I stood up, I was rewarded tremendously. My feet were making an entirely new pressure pattern on the floor, balanced more along the line between the heel and the ball of my foot towards the inner border of my feet. My legs felt as if they were completely underneath me. My knees felt free. And my low back and hips and pelvis felt remarkably free.

I happily wore this new pattern all day Sunday. I didn’t pay as close attention to any lesson after that, I had gotten my weekend’s fill. That evening, I got curious, I posed a problem to myself to try to find my way from my brand new pattern back to my old familiar pattern. I was afraid to do this, afraid I might lose this newfound freedom, but I was also curious to see just how much I could sense in the difference between what I was doing. And, I wanted to have a choice. I know from past experience that if I can find the way there and the way back, I can choose, just as Moshe taught, just as we’re taught, to stop any place along the way.

My sensations were there to guide me. Because standing was where I noticed the difference most clearly, I did my experiments in standing. At first, I used the new sensations as they were prominent – the pressure pattern of my feet on the floor, my sense that my legs had turned slightly inward and were somehow more aligned to support me, my sense that my low back was long. Then, I started to make small adjustments, thinking of changing the pressure pattern of my feet, thinking of rotating my legs outward a tiny bit as the outer borders of my feet accommodated more pressure, realizing this made my lower back arch more. I found my old pattern eventually. It’s a pretty strong magnet.

It was harder for me to find my way back to the new pattern from the old. The thing that was most dramatic was how far I had to shift my pelvis backwards to get there. That became the key, the place from where I could initiate the entire shift in pattern. It’s not a small change in terms of physical distance. My pelvis actually shifts several inches backwards to get to the new pattern and that’s accompanied by my low back lengthening, actually my entire spine lengthening and my neck becomes free. My legs rotate inward and under me, and my feet are there to help me easily balance.

I showed a few of you the old and new pattern on Monday. You told me that I grew in the new pattern. I do, at least an inch I’d guess. The shift is so amazing to me that now that I’m home, I’ve been playing a game in the mirror where I stand and look at myself in the mirror with something behind me that I can see to monitor my height. I shift from the old to the new pattern again and again almost to convince myself that I can, and I see with my own eyes that I grow in the new pattern. I feel all the openness that comes with this new pattern. Then I allow myself to shrink again and my chest collapses as my low back takes on too much work and my knees nearly lock and my ankles become stiff and my neck feels strained.

Monday, the last day of our segment, began with Marie-Lauren teaching a fun lesson that I approached with too much exuberance with my newfound freedom. The position of kneeling with one foot standing, and then doing all kinds of side bending, led me to do too much. I didn’t feel it at the time, just on the bus that evening, I felt my outside of my left leg as if I had strained a muscle. My low back and hips still felt free, but I knew I had overdone it. Tuesday, in my yoga class, I was careful to just work on allowing that muscle to let go again, and it did.

Thursday, I went again to yoga, and my teacher who is very tuned in to energy took one look at me and told me that my energy had shifted. She knows about my Feldenkrais training, so I told her about my breakthrough. I showed her the old and the new pattern. Again, she exclaimed how much my energy hadshifted.

I can’t see or sense energy in the same way that she can, at least not yet. But, I have noticed that my mood has been better than usual, my energy level has verged on manic over the past week, and my overall emotional tone has felt less anxious, more calm.

I’ll attempt to describe a little how I understand this. In my old pattern, it’s almost as if my neutral is very far forward of what’s possible for our human structure. For me this seems to fit with my alpha tendencies to often be first, to act quickly, to plow ahead, not always aware of all that’s around me. It’s almost a starting place that doesn’t allow so much reversibility because I’m already committed to going forward.

In my new pattern, I can sit back with comfort and ease, I can shift easily forward or backward or left or right. I can take in my whole environment and choose when and how to respond. I feel as if I have more time. I feel less tightly wound. I feel as if I need to get to know myself all over again, which is exciting and fun, and a little odd. Every little thing I do, from walking, yoga class, shoveling snow, even doing dishes and brushing my teeth, each is an opportunity to attend to my pattern, to catch myself if I fall back into the old pattern, to delight in new sensations and new options afforded by my new pattern.

Best,
Mara

Case Study: Ponytails and Folding Socks

Zoe is a great inspiration to Mia. Just this morning, Zoe put her hair in pigtails, and before I knew it, Mia had too. Zoe is seven. Mia will be four years and nine months old tomorrow. Zoe wasn’t even aware of the idea of doing her own ponytail or pigtails until she was in kindergarten last year and saw a classmate doing it. Mia has the good fortune of watching Zoe do everything day after day so she gets the idea that she can too.

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I don’t always see it coming with these new challenges that Mia defines for herself. A couple of weeks ago at bedtime, I noticed that Mia was brushing her hair a ton with leave-in-conditioner and getting frustrated with the tangles. I thought her frustration was related to hairbrushing. It wasn’t until the next morning, when I was sitting on the couch reading to them and Mia was attempting a ponytail and getting frustrated and then going into the extensive brushing routine again that I realized her quest to give herself a ponytail.

Mia is very dominantly left handed and she can do a lot with her right hand, especially in bimanual (two-handed) activities, but learning a new skill behind her head seemed pretty daunting to me as the observer.

So, here’s what I observed in an e-mail I sent to her occupational therapist. “Mia has embarked on teaching herself to do a ponytail on her own hair. She has many of the concepts and steps but not all so is getting frustrated. I am looking for ideas and ways to support her. She puts the elastic on her left hand, uses both hands to gather the hair into her right hand to hold it there. She uses her teeth to get the elastic from her left wrist onto her left hand, and then manages to get it around the bunch of hair somehow but gets frustrated and stuck after that. She then claims her hair is tangled and embarks on a lot of spraying of leave-in-conditioner and brushing with her left hand which migrates her part further to the right. Can you help Mia work on this, break it down, etc?”

Then, I went online and searched for “one-handed ponytail” and posted to ask other families with stroke survivors for their experience with kids learning to do ponytails. One replied that her daughter had learned at age eight. Another told me how ambitious Mia is to be attempting this so young.

I thought about putting out elastics of various size and texture to let Mia experiment. But, life is busy, and I haven’t done much to support her, and still she’s learning, very much on her own initiative and with the ongoing model of Zoe.

At Mia’s weekly occupational therapy, that first week of March, they talked about how frustration comes with learning something challenging. They experimented with doing things in front of Mia so she could see and feel to get the concepts more solid. The therapist even offered that Mia could try on her hair. Instead, they made a bunch of yarn to use for practice. And, in that way, Mia learned the concept of twisting and doubling over the elastic to loop it through a second time.

I’ve seen Mia successfully make a ponytail in her hair once. Even doubled over, the elastic was too loose and fell out after about half an hour. I had no idea she could do pigtails, and since I didn’t see her doing them, I don’t know exactly how she managed, except that she must have reached over around her head to do the major work with lefty.

Since I don’t have good video of her working on this new skill, I thought I’d share another recent clip of a different self-defined fine-motor task. I got the girls new socks and Mia set herself the task of folding them all into balls. Enjoy and look to see how she uses her two hands differently. And, if you listen, you’ll hear Zoe in the background, alternately vying for attention and cheering Mia on as she folds socks. That’s our normal. Zoe said just this morning, “Mia’s learning early with the pigtails and ponytails!” Mia’s persistence, determination and inner drive are all quite remarkable, even more so because she’s not yet five.

Update from March 21, 2014

I managed to capture a video of Mia making a pigtail. Notice how she gives each of her hands different jobs at every stage of the process. And, you can see her moment of pride as she accomplishes what she set out to do. Enjoy!

500 Days of Reading Aloud

Today marks 500 consecutive days of reading aloud to my children. We’ve been recording every book we’ve read. If you want the full list, check out our Reading Streak page. Most of the time we have at least two chapter books going in parallel, one chosen by Zoe and one chosen by Mia. I make suggestions too but the girls have veto power.

Right now, we have three books in circulation. We are reading “Saige Paints the Sky” and “Charlotte’s Web,” and we are part way through our third reading of “The Long Winter” expecting to finish it after Saige.

Our reading streak means many things. It means that we make time for 10-20 minutes of reading every morning, even on school days. We alternate whose day it is and so on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Zoe gets to hear her book being read first. On Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, Mia gets to hear her book first. Tuesdays, I choose theoretically, though both girls lobby for me to let them go first on my day.

Our reading streak also means lots of bedtime reading snuggles. We don’t time our reading at night, we finish chapters, and occasionally get to read extra, depending on how late it is.

And, our streak means math. We log what we read each day with the date and the day of the streak. As Zoe pointed out this morning,, “Five hundred is half way to one thousand.” She’s got big goals, and seems to want this streak to go on and on.

Zoe wanted to celebrate the reading streak with an extra big dose of reading this morning, five chapters for each girl. Mia was done after listening to two chapters of “Charlotte’s Web” and Zoe didn’t want me to stop after I read her five chapters of “Saige Paints the Sky” so I read the final two chapters, a reading marathon on a day when we skipped Saturday morning hockey as Zoe was performing in “The Wizard of Oz” as a jitterbug and cyclone. We also celebrated today with twilight sledding and pizza for dinner.

And, uncharacteristically, we skipped bedtime reading to spend time cuddled together on the couch watching the Olympics, “because we read so much this morning.”

Recently, we had to adapt the rules of our streak to allow for a guest reader. Thankfully, the girls’ Uncle Steve was delighted to fill in for four days while I was out of town.

Zoe continues to want to see through our Little House theme. We are on our third reading of book 6 (of 9) of the Laura books. Then, we’ll likely read the Rose books one more time to complete the chronological reading of all five generations of Little House women. It’s been quite a journey through history and geography.

Meanwhile, Mia has continued to return to “Charlotte’s Web” again and again. We may be on our ninth reading. Zoe practically knows it by heart now so if I misread some sentence about a “fish getting a friend,” Zoe is quick to tell me, “It’s fried, Mommy, not friend!”

But, we have branched out too. Mia found the “Freddy” series at the library, and we enjoyed the first three books of the golden hamster saga. The fourth got scary and so we stopped reading that.

Both girls have recently discovered American Girl dolls and associated books. So, we’re working our way through the two Saige books and have read the first Molly book. We currently have all the other Molly books out from the library. Molly books are set during World War Two, so we’ll be delving into some new themes and questions with that series.

I also keep a list of suggestions from others and books I want to introduce to the girls. And, I make extensive use of our library through online requests that get delivered to our local library.

All three of us are proud of our reading streak. I love that the best celebration for its longevity is to read more!

Mia’s Skating, Play Detective with Me

Play detective with me as you follow along in this post and the videos.

Here’s Mia skating forward this past Monday, eight weeks into the hockey season, skating twice each week.

Note that when she skates forward, she can rotate her left leg (unaffected side) outward and push off on the inner edge of the skate blade. But, she is doing something else with her right leg and foot (affected side). She has the foot oriented such that she’s leaning on the outer edge of the blade and the foot is pointing straight ahead. When Mia skates fast at hockey practice across the ice, she literally starts at the goal line and ends up at the blue line and turns around and does the same thing again, progressing at roughly a forty-five degree angle across the ice from where she starts. At first, I thought she was trying to get to where Zoe was along the boards. But, now it makes sense. Her left leg is doing most of the work to propel her forward so she’s not skating in a straight line.

Here’s Mia skating backward from the same session.

Note that she has a hard time spending much time bearing weight on her right leg and doesn’t seem to know how to orient it. Unlike many beginning skaters, her ankle is bent outward.

Each practice, the kids do some routine skating drills including “making snow” where they brace one foot against the boards and use the other foot to repeatedly push outward to make a little pile of snow. They do this first with one foot and then with the other. After that, they do “C cuts” which helps them learn to skate backwards. Mia has complained that it’s hard for her to do these skills with righty. This might be her first direct experience of finding something difficult with her right leg and foot. She has expressed similar frustrations with her right hand when trying to do certain tasks.

Other coaches sometimes help orient Mia’s stick so it won’t trip the other kids, packed tightly, nearly forty of them lined up along the boards between the goal line and the blue line.

In my previous post about Preparing for First Hockey Season, Mia was not so advanced in her skating so she was essentially walking on ice, falling and getting up. There was no obvious difference in how she was using her legs in that video clip from two months ago, repeated here for reference.

When walking and running, Mia has no obvious issue with her gait, despite her early stroke. I’ve been wondering about her footedness. In soccer, she chooses to kick the ball with her left foot, and briefly balances on her right foot. She has grown skillful on a scooter, balancing on her left foot and pushing off with her right foot, even using her right foot to depress the rear brake on the scooter which is an advanced maneuver. Here she is on the scooter in early November.

In recent discussions on a forum for families with children who have hemiplegia or had a stroke, there’s been a discussion about how to support the development of these children’s affected foot or leg. I chimed in mentioning my observations about her scooter usage and her soccer preferences, and suggested that skating would be an excellent activity and indicated that Mia is learning now. Part of my goal in documenting Mia’s learning process in detail here is to share the nonlinearity of learning, even for Mia who by all accounts has so far had the best possible recovery from her early stroke.

Mia’s attitude continues to be incredibly determined. She was moved up from the “chair pushers” after just a few weeks to the Red group. Then, when she outgrew her skates and had a few rough practices as she adjusted to her new skates, I offered that she could go back to chair pushers. She declined. Then, in a moment of frustration, she asked to switch groups. She only stayed with the chair pushers a few minutes before returning to the Red group. She is starting to skate faster and wants to keep up and learn. She seems to not mind being among the slowest in the group, and may not notice as she’s so focused and determined.

As I observe and document Mia’s progress, I wonder what to do to help her. My goals are to support her in having fun and learning new skills that are good for her overall development, regardless of whether she wants to continue with hockey.

I could pursue a direct route and send her for private skating lessons or talk with Mia about what she’s doing and how it affects her skating. For now, at this age, I prefer a playful approach combined with giving her neuromuscular system time to mature and figure out how to skate.

I’ve been consulting with others and thinking myself of off-ice activities, inspired by Feldenkrais to introduce variablity in a playful way that will both wake up and strengthen Mia’s ability to stand upright on her skates, and freely shift her weight and use her legs and feet in a variety of ways that she will hopefully be able to transfer at some point into an improved skating stride. I will attempt to experiment with some new warm-up activities for all three of us, so it’s just something we do as a family to get ready for skating, and see what emerges.

Gymnastics Update – December 2013

The girls had a makeup class for gymnastics today as they missed their usual Wednesday class last week when we were traveling. I was able to go watch today for the first time, and was very happy to see them both enthusiastically practicing their skills.

As a young child, I was kicked out of gymnastics because I was not able to do handstands and cartwheels to someone’s satisfaction. And, then that story got told and retold by my mother in a way that was shaming. So, it’s with some relief and joy that I can see my kids in this environment that is clearly very fun and supportive.

Here’s Mia (purple leotard) in action, though somewhat distracted:

And, Zoe (black leotard) too, hamming it up for the camera:

Today, I chatted briefly with Mia’s teacher, who is not her usual teacher, and he hadn’t noticed her right side being weaker. He said she did great! It was hard to get good still pictures with the camera I had on hand so I’d like to go again with a longer lens to get some shots of Mia doing the crab walk and other weight bearing activities that are awesome for her strength and balance.

I struggle with wondering if our lives are oversheduled. It’s a lot to keep up with, even with the help of an au pair. But, then I saw the quality of teaching and therapeutic value of this activity and we’ll keep it for now. The next session starts next Wednesday for both girls.

In beginner hockey, the girls are improving their skating through practice twice a week, but the ratios are not great so it’s mostly through practice and less through instruction that they’ll learn. When we go to open skating, I can give my girls more 1-on-1 tips.

In contrast the gymnastics classes are small, and the teachers are insisting on proper form, offering lots of encouragement, and keeping an eye on helping the kids develop their skills. Mia’s class has three or four kids. Zoe’s may have six or seven.

Preparing for First Hockey Season

My girls think it’s hysterical that my first hockey shin guards were improvised, soccer shin guards paired with foam knee pads. That didn’t hold me back. I played one year with boys, starting when I was eight, and then joined the girls’ league. I went on to play Division I hockey at Brown University, just as the game was shifting to a more competitive level.

Two weeks ago, I signed the girls up for hockey and myself up to coach. The season has already started, but soccer still fills our Saturdays for another couple weeks. After figuring out that their skates still fit, and Zoe had a helmet, but Mia did not, we went shopping. I bought full sets of equipment the first weekend we decided the girls want to play but we hadn’t had time to touch it since. Sunday, they tried it all on, I showed them how to tape their sticks, we labeled it all with their names and color-coded tape (green for Mia, pink for Zoe), and the girls got so excited that they wanted to go to public skating.

October 2013 – Mia 4.25 years old, Zoe 6.75 years old
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It was not crowded, skating was fun and leisurely. Both girls wore their hockey gloves. Mia brought me her right one and asked for help to find spots for each finger. She kept it on easily throughout the hour of skating.

Both girls picked up where they had left off with their skating after a season of lessons last winter. Zoe was too fast to capture well on video in the low light. She progressed a great deal last winter, which was the first year when it was feasible for me to take both girls skating regularly, both to open skate and to weekly lessons for four months.

Here’s a moment when Zoe wanted to skate with Mia. For me, it was so lovely to be on the ice with them both. They needed much less help from me than last year, or any prior year, and I can glimpse ahead that in a few years, they’ll be skating circles around me. Zoe told me that she feels lucky that I know all about the equipment and about hockey. She has noticed that most of the soccer coaches are men and it already makes a difference to her to have me there on the ice with her.

In this tiny clip, I captured Mia falling and getting up quickly and easily. Anyone familiar with hockey knows this is the first and most important skill. The notable moment of this video for me is that to stand up, Mia first stands her right foot. Last winter, she used her left foot exclusively. Her right side is the side affected by her stroke. I’m so happy to see her using both sides now to fall and get up. And, I was also happy that she was able to manage her glove on her right hand.

The girls wanted to stay to watch the Zamboni clear the ice but there had been so few skaters that they didn’t need the Zamboni. I promised many more opportunities to watch the Zamboni.

Just to show our history of attempting to skate each winter, here’s a photo log. We missed one winter when Mia was an infant.

January 2008 – Zoe, 1 year old
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January 2009 – Zoe, 2 years old, with Mara (pregnant with Mia)
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January 2011 – Mara helping Mia get her skates on
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January 2011 – Mia, 18 months, with Mara
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January 2011 – Mia, 18 months
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January 2011 – Zoe, 4 years old
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Thanksgiving 2011 – Zoe, almost 5 years old, with cousin Alex
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Thanksgiving 2011 – Mia, 2-and-a-half
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Thanksgiving 2012 – Mia, 3-and-a-half
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Thanksgiving 2012 – Zoe, almost 6 years old
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October 2013 – Mia 4.25 years old, Zoe 6.75 years old
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Occupational Therapy – October 4

Mia has her weekly half-hour occupational therapy session on Friday mornings. Tighter school security means I can no longer observe. Fortunately, Mia’s therapist takes time to describe what they did together, sometimes using pictures as she did this past Friday. The sequences are so compelling that I want to share them.

Mia chooses where she wants to start and the therapist goes with Mia’s preferences while still keeping her goals in mind.

On Friday, Mia wanted to start in the gross motor area, throwing balls from inside the ball-pit Jump-o-lene into an inner tube with righty.

Here, Mia is carefully using her right hand to pick up a ball. Notice how she is concentrating.

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Really beautiful extension with her right arm as she throws a ball.

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Cleanup time. Mia spontaneously used both arms to help put all the balls back in the ball pit!

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Fine motor practice next. Mia was feeding the ball pennies. She initially tried to pick up the ball and squeeze it with her right hand but that was too challenging so she switched hands and held the ball with her stronger left hand while practicing pincer grasp with righty.

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Picking pennies up off the table with pincer is tricky so you can see in the final picture that Mia got creative using righty pointer to slide the penny to the edge of the table.

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