Archive for April, 2012

College bound

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

If you had been eves-dropping on the conversations in our house a couple of years ago, every third word would have been “college” or “application.” For about six months, Valerie’s college application process was the all-consuming topic. We got sucked into the angst of it to such an extent that once Valerie was tucked into her dorm room at Chapman University in Orange County, our younger daughter Jennifer Lynn, who was just starting high school at the time, forbade us from even mentioning the “C word” to her – she was that sick of us talking only about colleges.

For two years, Jennifer Lynn wanted nothing to do with thinking about college. But recently, that has all changed and she dreams about where she wants to go to college. I think part of it has to do with our move last year – she sees college as her ticket out of a 1600 square foot condo in Cotati that she has to share with her “Can I get the senior discount on that?” parents.

Also, once she took the PSAT and marketing materials with photos of ethnically diverse 19-year-olds with perfect teeth lounging and laughing on manicured lawns with ivy-covered buildings in the background started filling our mailbox, her heart leaped at the thought.

So when Steve spotted an ad in the newspaper for a College Fair with representatives from 150 colleges, it sounded like an all-you-can-eat buffet of college opportunities for Jennifer.

When we arrived at the Dominican campus for the College Fair, there was already a line of over-achieving students and competitive parents – like us – waiting to get in. Once we were let inside the gym, there were rows upon rows of rectangular tables covered with a tablecloth bearing the school’s name and if they were smart, the city and state that the school is located in.

We stayed together as a family for the first few tables but it was obvious that Jennifer wanted to ditch us and do the college version of speed dating on her own. That was fine with Steve and me. We were very happy leaning against a door playing a game of “match the student with their parent.”

Jennifer is interested in studying art and quickly picked up that when a school said that their art department was “very small but the students get a lot of individual attention” it was code for “our art department is in the sub-basement under the parking garage and we’re really interested in engineering students.”

She spent several minutes talking to the cute guy at the Cornish College of the Arts table, skipped over the not-hot guys at several public universities and then landed at the table for the Savannah College of Art and Design. One look at their cool brochure and she was smitten. Georgia sounds so exotic to her. “The only thing I know about Georgia are peaches which I really like.” Reason enough to go 3,000 miles away to college.

With open arms

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

I was fortunate last week to have the assignment from the Argus to write the follow up story on the winner of the 2012 Small Business of the Year, Drew Hittenberger.

Drew is an orthotist and prosthetist, which must be such an unusual profession that Spellcheck doesn’t even recognize those as legitimate words.

While orthotist and prosthetist don’t exactly roll off my tongue, I’m quite familiar with the terms because our middle daughter, Valerie who is now 19, was born without a left arm below the elbow.

She was fitted with her first prosthesis when she was six months old. It’s really quite a cute little thing. It looks like a doll’s arm hinged to a plastic cuff that slipped over her upper arm. It had a figure eight-type strap that looped over her other shoulder so it would stay on. She still has the arm; it’s packed away with her favorite stuffed animal, yearbooks and other mementos of her childhood.

I had never met Drew before last week because Valerie got all her prostheses from Shriner’s Hospital for Children. I can’t really remember how we originally got connected with Shriner’s; the best I can recall, it was suggested to us that they had a lot of experience working with children. We just got started with them early on and for the most part, Valerie received excellent care from them.

In my interview with Drew, one point that he emphasized was how he listens to his patients. He wants to understand at the deepest level what their heart’s desire is, what about their disability frustrates them, and how he can provide the tool that will help them achieve their vision of themselves.

It made me think back to a couple of our experiences working with prosthetists at Shriners. There was one time we had made an appointment because Valerie’s prosthesis was causing her a lot of pain in her elbow, so much so that she couldn’t wear it. However, she had a rhythmic gymnastics meet coming up the next weekend for which she needed to be able to wear her arm. I remember the white examining room feeling like it was closing in on us as Valerie, me, and the prosthetist sat in silence. He seemed unwilling to offer up any kind of solution to the situation. Eventually he sighed and said he could try one other thing as a last resort. Fortunately, it worked to relieve the pressure and she was able to wear her arm and compete.

The reason I tell this story is because after talking with Drew, I was reminded of the contrast when we worked with a different prosthetist who was much more like Drew in his approach. Instead of making Valerie feel like her discomfort was her fault, his attitude was one of “I know there is a way we can fix this. It may take some experimentation but we’ll get there. If you want to be able to do (fill in the blank), I’ll do everything I can to help you achieve your goal.”

I would consider Drew extreme – and I mean that as the highest compliment – in his “can do” approach. He is committed to helping his patients reach their goals but as he put it, “wrapped in reality.” After all, we’re not talking about creating the Bionic Man or woman here. But patients who work with him are very blessed because when you work with someone like him, the world expands with possibilities instead of shrinking with limitations.

Closed Easter Sunday

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

I had an experience On Easter that reminded me how spoiled we are in to be able to get almost anything, almost any time we want it,

It was probably mid-week last week on the drive home from picking her up at school when Jennifer Lynn asked me if we could make a trip to Michael’s to buy face paint for a video project for her Spanish class. I was probably barely paying attention; I’m sure I was much more consumed with thinking about whether or not I could scrounge something out of the freezer – hmm, Costco potstickers and pizza, that will work – thereby avoiding going to the grocery store for one more night.

“Sure, we’ll go there sometime over the weekend,” I said and then didn’t give it another moment’s thought.

Even though we passed by Michael’s six more times before the week was over, I was always focused on the next item on my agenda and Jennifer Lynn’s request for face paint wasn’t on it.

I think she mentioned it again on Friday, and I brushed it off with “we’re all going into the city on Saturday so we’ll get it on Sunday.”

Somewhere between home and church on Easter I remembered that she needed it for first period Monday morning. No problem, we can get it this afternoon. Michael’s is open on Thanksgiving; they are certain to be open on Easter. And if not Michaels, there’s always Target which is open way past my bedtime on any given night.

Amazingly enough, Target, Trader Joes, Costco, and Michaels are closed on Easter. It was shocking to seeRohnert Park, which is after all – all shopping centers – looking like a ghost town. Easter and Christmas are the only days that those stores are closed.

You mean there are two days out of the year that I can’t have instant gratification? I can’t buy face paint at the exact moment that is convenient for me? I had to abide by someone else’s schedule? How dare they!

Yes, I was bummed that Michaels was closed but we found an alternative for face paint at CVS that worked just fine – non-toxic, washable Crayola paints.

Am I glad that there are some stores that find a day worthy of being closed? Yes. How would I feel if CVS and Safeway also chose to close on Christmas and Easter and so I wouldn’t have been able to buy the paint?

I would feel a little inconvenienced and I would have to plan ahead better but somehow the generation before us managed without stores being open 24/7.  I think I could too.