Archive for January, 2011

by Shannon Penrod

I wish that life had DVR capability. I would love to be able to rewind just so I wouldn’t have to say, “Did that just happen?”  Last month our garbage disposal broke and our kitchen sinks were all backed up.  The repairman came and “fixed” the problem and then nonchalantly turned to me and said, “Okay it’s all fixed!  Just don’t run any food through the disposal if you want it to keep working!”   He said it completely straight-faced!  I started looking around for Ashton Kutcher, but the guy actually meant it. Now I have a garbage disposal which makes a pretty whirr noise and I’m looking into kitchen counter composters.

I spent the better part of my day today on the phone with our insurance company. I just wanted to find a new primary care physician who is in network but not part of an HMO.  I have a PPO plan so you wouldn’t think this would be a difficult thing.  You would be wrong.  After being hung up on (by accident, which I believed for the first 2 times but the 3rd time had me doubting), being repeatedly shuffled around and feeling my blood pressure rising I was finally told that there are no doctors in network within 75 miles of Los Angeles who are not part of an HMO.  Seriously?  Really?  So why are we are paying extra to have a PPO while being held to HMO rules?  Her answer?  “Because that’s the plan we sold you.”  Ahhhh!  Well, don’t I have huevos rancheros all over my face?

Then of course there was the real kicker.  I asked my husband last night if he would do something for me.  In all fairness I have to admit that it was no small favor, but one that I could not do myself as it involved heavy lifting.  My wonderful husband looked at me, paused and said, “Sure.  I’ll do that.”  He said that, but there was subtext.  “What?” I said.  He hesitated.  I pushed… because I’m stupid like that.  And then he said it….”I’ll do it.  I don’t really want to, but I’ll do it.”   Really?….As soon as he said it, he knew he’d really stepped in it.  I could see him desperately trying to think of someway to save it. There was no saving it, of course.  I smiled sweetly at him and told him that I really appreciated his honesty.  He coughed uncomfortably while in his head I’m sure he was calculating  the bus fare to Siberia.  I told him how much more I was going to appreciate the favor, simply by virtue of knowing that he didn’t really WANT to do it.  And that since it was such a meaningful lesson that I would make sure in the future to let him know ALL of the things that I do for him that I don’t really want to do. Then I started to list them.  At this point I have to tell you that it got so ugly so fast that we actually started laughing and then couldn’t stop laughing.  We laughed until our stomachs hurt.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could rewind whenever we want?  There are a few moments that I’d really like to watch one more time, because seeing really is believing.

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by Shannon Penrod

Sometimes bad things happen.  It’s a fact of life.  For a while the world tilts and we all scramble to get a footing, attempting to understand why…why do bad things happen?  I am fond of saying, “You are either the lesson or the student.”  because I firmly believe that, if nothing else, it is important to learn something when bad things happen.  This week I was the student.

I have been taking a class to learn more about ABA therapy and I found myself learning about something called “Errorless Learning” this week.  This is a method of teaching a beginning skill that attempts to ensure success by giving the student the answers.  The idea is that if you are told the answer repeatedly at some point you will learn the lesson.  This teaching method worked wonders for my son when he was just starting to get ABA therapy.  He is a quick learner, unlike his mother.

Yesterday our family attended a memorial service for a dear friend of the family who was killed in a hit and run accident just a few days after Christmas.  This was and is a terrible tragedy.  Imagine a young woman who was lit from within by a thousand watt lamp, someone who danced in bare feet and celebrated every person, every life within the circle of her influence.  Imagine that a life so precious could be extinguished in a moment, one horrible moment of total devastating tragedy.  My husband and I sat in a room full of people yesterday, grieving the loss of this life and trying to find that toe hold on a tilting planet.  How could this have happened?

I found myself thinking of the power of a moment.  Everyday we all makes millions of miniscule choices that change our path, our schedule, our lives.  Most of the time we are oblivious to the myriad of changes we set in motion when we make those tiny choices.  It isn’t until something horrible happens that we see them like a shimmering web just out of reach, unchangeable, daunting.  And there it is… the terrible lesson that there are no do-overs.  It is horrible and humbling. 

As the memorial went on I reached out and took my husband’s hand needing to touch him, to hold on to him. I felt the full weight of all I am blessed with.  I swam in the gratitude of being alive and safe and loved.  In light of this terrible sadness I could clearly see how unimportant so much of my day to day routine is. Perspective about what is important is so poignantly effortless in the face of tragedy.

I thought about errorless learning and could not escape the simple fact that time and time again life has shown me the answer – Be grateful, embrace life, tell the people you love how you feel because there are no guarantees.  But have I really learned it? I don’t think so. Somehow it does not seem to stick.   Sure, it does for a while and then life intrudes.  There is always homework to be done, bills to be paid, laundry to be folded and time hurries on. 

It does not escape my notice that it is called errorless learning, not effortless learning.  Today I watched my son playing a computer game.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.  I wanted to drink him in.  He will never, ever, be this age again.  I stared at him until he looked at me and said, “What?  Is there something wrong with me?”  I hugged him and said, “No, you’re beautiful, just so beautiful.”  He thought I was weird.  Then when my husband came home. I told him I loved him, that I was grateful for having him in my life, for loving him and being loved by him.  He wanted to know what he’d done wrong.  I told him I was just trying to learn and we had a nice warm fuzzy moment.  I cannot change the bad stuff, I wish I could.  For now I need to attempt to get on life’s learning curve and attempt to make the lesson stick.  In this moment I can and when all is said and done, it’s all about the moments.

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By Shannon Penrod

I’m not a country music fan, so I don’t even know what Keith Urban sings, but he was on Oprah a couple of weeks ago so I had the opportunity to hear him speak.  They were talking about addiction and what had happened to change his life.  He mentioned that he had asked Nicole Kidman, now his wife, how here heart was and the her reply was, “My heart is open.”  The audience oooohed but I loved what he said.  He said it made him think about his own heart, was it truly open?  I was sitting there thinking the same thing.  If someone asked me how my heart was, the last thing I would have said was that it was open.  I would have talked about my last trip to the cardiologist, that I have these occasional wonky heart beats and that I need to be exercising more.   It wouldn’t even have occurred to me to say my heart is open.  Huh.

Then Oprah, who truly is my fairy godmother because she always manages to show up and say EXACTLY what I need to hear, said something along the lines of  having an open heart is the true definition of spirituality, that what ever your heart is truly open to you will come to you in abundance and whatever your heart is not truly open to will evade you no matter how hard you try to attain it.  Oh, my, my did that statement lead to some personal soul searching at my house!  You know how sometimes you hear something and it’s as if the world has gone into slow motion?  You find yourself leaning forward because the idea is so big that your heart and your head have to get closer to it?  My head became like a mini computer, fact checking the statement for veracity.  I started making a list of all the things my heart is truly open to:  My heart is truly open to loving and being loved by my husband and my son.  Do I have that in abundance?  Yes, I do.   My heart is truly open to helping other families who have children with Autism.  Do I have that in abundance?  Yes, I have that in such abundance that it could be overwhelming, but it isn’t, because….my heart is open to it.  Hmmmmm.  What isn’t my heart completely open to?  Ouch!  A lot! 

If I’m honest there are a lot of things that I say I want, that my heart is at least 90 percent to, but there is a ten percent negativity hold out.  I say I want to be physically fit and I am working out more, but I can’t claim a totally open heart.  I can tell you that I would like to have a million dollars, but as unbelievable as it sounds within five minutes of contemplating winning the lottery I can conjure up stories of people who’ve won the lottery and wish they hadn’t, so is my heart truly open?  The list goes on:  Am I truly open to being thin? Am I truly open to being happy?  Am I truly open to my son recovery from Autism?  You’d think the resounding answer would be “YES!”  But I kept finding little asterisks and tiny hidden pockets of negativity as well as  debilitating shadow beliefs.  Somewhere along the way some one had comforted me about the Autism diagnosis by telling me that you can’t be drafted if you have Autism.  Odd comfort, but any port in a storm, right?

So for that past month I have decided to play with the new toy that my fairy god mother Oprah gave me.  I try to notice when and where my heart is open and acknowledge the abundance.  But I am also noticing when and where my heart is closed and testing its power to remain open.  There are too many ahhhh-hahhh moments to share, but one fun one.  I went to my regularly scheduled cardiology appointment, to monitor my wonky heart beat.  The Dr. was thrilled with my overall progress, but disappointed in my continued reluctance to workout regularly.  In passing he suggested a personal trainer.  Imagine a thousand doors slamming shut simultaneously.  My negative reaction was so instantaneous it shocked even me.  Before I could stop myself I was spewing negativity so quickly I was practically frothing at the mouth, “I can’t afford that!”, “I have no time for that!”  “I’m not in good enough shape to work out with a personal trainer!”  That was just the beginning – but I caught myself – and stopped.  I regrouped.  What would it cost me to be open to the idea of a personal trainer?  Just the idea…could I just be open to the idea?  I looked at the cardiologist and said I would think about it.  I laughed to myself, because the treadmill of negativity was still going 90 miles an hour, but I was open to the idea…Whatever!!

I came home and saw that I had a message on my phone, a message on my cell and an email message all from some one I didn’t recognize.  I listened to the messages, it was a prospective new client who needed an editing job done.  I called him and when we finally spoke I thought it was a practical joke.  He’s a personal trainer.  Not just any personal trainer, a top personal trainer who has trained top people in the white house.  Top people.  He wanted me to edit a promotional piece, but would like to send me his personal work out tapes in hopes that I would work out with them, for the purpose of knowing what we does.  No, I’m not kidding.    My fairy god mother says that whatever your heart is open to comes to you in abundance.  I believe her, maybe you should too.  Maybe be could all try being truly open to world peace.  It couldn’t hurt.

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By Shannon Penrod

It snowed yesterday.  That may not seem like a very big deal to most of the world, but I live in Southern California, in the Northern suburbs of Los Angeles.  Snow here is the equivalent of frogs raining from the sky in Alabama; we’ve all heard that it’s happened before but seeing it in your life time…well, it’s nothing short of miraculous.  We’re not talking flurries, it snowed, as in I needed a shovel to get down my stairs last night.  I didn’t have one.  No one in Southern California owns a shovel, they don’t even sell them here.

The thing that was truly amazing was the way my neighbors reacted.  My family recently moved to an apartment complex that can only be described as the United Nations meets economic downturn.  This is the apartment complex that no one aspires to live in.  It’s not horrible, don’t get me wrong, but it is transient.  This is the place you rent when you have no where else to go on short notice, the leases are 10 month because no one plans on staying.  At one time I think it was meant for people who were waiting for their newly built houses to be completed, now it is the stop off for those of us affected by foreclosure. 

I remember house shopping with my husband six years ago.  The market was insane, homes were so expensive that even a small shack in the suburbs of Los Angeles was a cool half a million dollars.  We had a new baby. Neither of us saw how it could work so we continued to rent. Shortly after that our son was diagnosed with Autism and all thought of buying a home was gone.  In a weird way it was a blessing, we would have bought on the bubble and been in huge trouble; instead we rented.  No foreclosure issues for us, right?  I can hear God laughing in the background.  We have had to move twice in the last year because we have had two landlords  lose their homes to foreclosure.  That is how we have come to live in the land of international foreclosure.

As I walk through our apartment complex I am treated to multicultural sounds and smells of families trying to recover from this economic disaster.  I hear Spanish, French, Russian, Cantonese and even a little English as people enter and exit their apartments and I catch wafts of exotic spices and aromatic sauces cooking at meal times but that is the extent of the interaction here at the U.N. No one talks to anyone else, and they certainly don’t talk to me or my family.  It is an unspoken rule that I didn’t pick up on when we moved in.  I said, “Hello!” to everyone I passed.  They put their heads down and kept walking.  I took my son to the nearby doors where we had seen children playing.  We knocked and introduced ourselves.  We were not greeted with smiles. There was a language barrier certainly, but we were treated to shaking heads while doors were politely closed.

I haven’t given up, I continue to say “Hi!” when we pass neighbors, occasionally I get a smile or a head nod.  No words. Never any words.

And then yesterday it snowed.  My son and I threw on sweatshirts and jackets and flew outside to see the wonderous event…only to find that it had created another wonderous event, the entire U.N. had come out to play!  My neighbors were laughing and throwing snow, and smiling….and yes talking.  I won’t lie and say that there was full on conversation, it was too much like the tower of Babble for that…but there was communication.  People were making eye contact and shaking their heads in wonder.  It was as if we were allowed to commune over this miraculous experience.

The snow was amazing, so very out of context amongst the palm trees and the open swimming pool, but what it brought was so much more powerful.  It reminded us all for a few moments that we are all human, that cultures and skin colors and languages and even economic failure can’t separate us.  It was a miraculous snow.

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