Child Life Mommy to the Rescue!

There is always an interesting story to how a child life specialist discovered the field and how they provide services in a non-traditional way. I was thrilled to be interviewed by child life colleague, Katie Taylor, from Child Life On Call. Listen to the podcast and find out my journey to the child life profession, […]

via My Child Life Journey: Podcast Conversation — Child Life Mommy

Free Talk: Medical Play Therapy & Child Life

Bank Street College Library

Presents…

Library Salon #15

Friday, March 9, 2018

5:30 to 7:30 pm

A panel discussion with child life practitioners
and alumni contributors to:

Moderated by: Troy Pinkney-Ragsdale, MA, CCLS, has over 25 years of experience in the field of Child Life, including directing several child life programs in the tri-state area. She has served as the director of the Child Life Masters Program at Bank Street College since 2004. She has been a member of the Association of Child Life Professionals, served as the Co-chair of Graduate Accreditation Task Force and member(2012-2014),  served as Director on the Board (2015-2017) and has been a member of the Education and Training Committee for many years.

Panelists:

Lawrence C. Rubin, PhD, the editor of the Handbook of Medical Play Therapy and Child Life, is a professor of counselor education at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida, and an online lecturer at the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Rubin is a practicing psychologist in Fort Lauderdale, where he specializes with children, teens, and their families.
Jon Luongo, MS, CCLS, is a Bank Street graduate, past adjunct instructor, a delegate with 1199 Healthcare Workers’ Union, and a child life specialist at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. He began his career in healthcare as a performer in the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit in 1997.
Suzanna Paisley, MS, CCLS, is a Bank Street graduate, a parent of two young children, and a child life specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. She has lectured on trauma processing with children of all ages at national child life conferences.
Deborah Vilas, MS, CCLS, LMSW, is a Bank Street graduate, a current faculty member, a writer and a public speaker. She has taught play techniques to child life students, hospital play specialists, nursing students, social workers and psychologists in 6 countries around the world.

Patty Weiner, MS, is a mother and grandmother whose career spans over 35 years as a child life specialist and educator. She is the founding director of Bank Street’s Child Life Program and is an educational consultant for The Making Headway Foundation in NYC.

Library Salons are a series of informal lectures, panels, and group discussions
held after hours on Friday evenings.Refreshments Provided#BankStreetLibrarySalon

Copyright © 2018 Bank Street College of Education, All rights reserved.

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Click Here and Scroll down to Register and for access to live stream link

Frightened Teens: Supporting Your Adolescent in Scary Times

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Another Shooting.

It takes all of our strength as grown-ups to not give in to despair, anxiety, and fear in the face of yet another young person accessing an assault rifle and murdering his peers. School is supposed to be a safe place for all children — teens included.

As the political debates about gun control make our brains feel like exploding, we have to remember to reach out to the adolescents in our care. If it is that tough for us to wrap our heads around, how much harder is it for teens? We must be proactive in engaging teens in conversation every day, about life, about what is important to them, and about the awful things that happen in the world. When something truly terrible happens, it is even more important to take the time to listen, witness, and validate their struggles. And this often means admitting that we don’t have the answers.

Teens have the capacity to reason, to wrestle with abstract concepts, and to articulate their feelings. But their brains are still developing, as is their self-concept, their ideas about who they are in the world. A random act of extreme violence will shake their new identities and burgeoning belief systems to the core, and they need calm, kind adults to prop them up as they try to make sense of their new reality. They need to know what to expect as much as possible, who they can count on. We know it isn’t always easy, so here are a few tips from the experts.

Tips For talking with Teens

What Mental Health Experts say to Their Kids

Fear and trauma responses can sometimes look like anger and disconnect. The teen who is suffering the most, without the ability to articulate and share their feelings, may be the one who needs your best efforts. Often teens find it easier to talk about tough topics when they are involved in an activity. Consider a cooking project, or gathering some art supplies, maybe magazines for collage. Or how about the ingredients to make a mini volcano? As you create something together, you can talk about how the shooter was a volcano waiting to blow, and how many feelings are often seething underneath. The teen can write down questions they have about life or list things that make them feel like blowing their top, and these items can be folded and put into the volcano before you set off the eruption together.

Volcano!

Introduction

This technique helps release anger through a structured activity providing an opportunity to discuss anger and to problem solve. It works well individually and in groups with preschoolers to teens.

Materials

  • Small paper cup or medicine cup (Dixie brand bathroom cups work great)
  • Plastic cereal bowl
  • One container of Play-Dough (The kind that comes in a 4-pack) or homemade.
  • White vinegar
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Baking soda
  • Red and yellow food coloring
  • Teaspoon

Activity

  • Place a small paper cup upright on top of an upside-down plastic bowl. Secure it with a few pieces of tape.  Wrap it in play dough to make a volcano, leaving the mouth of the cup open.  Pour ¼ cup white vinegar, two squirts of dishwashing liquid, and several drops of food coloring into the “mouth” of the volcano.
  • If the child wishes, they can write down or dictate things that upset them (make them scared or angry or mad) on tiny pieces of paper and place them in the volcano.
  • Spoon in a heaping teaspoon of baking soda and watch the eruption!
  • For instant replays, alternate adding a little more baking soda and vinegar. A group can make a larger volcano using a large salad bowl and more playdough. Miniature people, animals, and props can be added to add aspects of dramatic play.

 

 

 

 

 

Walli Kids: Spotlight & Giveaway

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Many parents arrive in hospitals for unexpected visits, sick or injured child in tow. In emergency situations, they probably don’t have a child’s favorite toy or game with them,  and they may find themselves waiting long hours without a way to distract or occupy their unhappy child. Even during expected hospitalizations, there are times when a child has to visit and wait in areas of the hospital, for tests and procedures, where they have nothing but institutional walls to greet them. Child Life Specialists know the value of great distraction tools to soothe anxiety during long waiting periods and painful procedures.

With this in mind, I would like to welcome guest blogger Patricia Montouchet, the founder of  Walli-Kids. She has a great product for parents, child life specialists, hospitals, and doctors’ offices. 

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Today I am going to tell you about Walli-Kids, the company I created a few years ago.

You might wonder what started Wallikids ?

Difficult to pinpoint exactly how the idea and the vision fell into place, but …

Many years ago, as every mother, I recall being awfully stressed when my son crashed his bicycle, hard enough to break open his helmet. We had to rush to the emergency room and… I will skip all the details. Needless to say, we had to wait long hours on that Saturday afternoon…

What to do? How to distract Lucas? What could I do to ease his pain, anxiety and hide the waiting.

Nothing, I had nothing… In our hurry, I forgot to take his books, games or even his favorite stuffed animal friend as time was of the essence. There was no picture on the walls to help distract him, no child books.  Without any doubt, this was a difficult and striking experience for me.

When my children left for college, I decided it was time to do something I would really enjoy. My daughter Margot is very creative and together, we started  drawing Ralph the Giraffe© and  Mitch the Fish© which would, after a few years, be part of our Animal Buddies collection.                              

 

Coleman the Pelican© was created after a family vacation at the beach.

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Myrtle the Turtle© after reading about the Great Coral Reef and

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           ED ABIGAIL 36x30 Abigail the Snail© to remember our  many summer vacations in our native French Alps.

Walli-Kids Animal buddies Collection is for younger kids that don’t know how to read: they have to look for numbers and pictures, soon they will start having fun. Under an adult supervision, all the many details can be highlighted such as a frog group or a crab family… These colorful designs are a conversation starter for the medical staff as it is easy to start a storytelling or ask to find other hidden animals. These posters are perfect for kids to learn new words and discover new places

At that point, we had something for younger kids but nothing for the ones who could read, so our Puzzle-Jumbles collection was created…

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This was countless hours of assembling arrays of diverse and colorful objects. Enough to keep the children entertained for a while and well-hidden to make their focus last longer…

Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun figuring out what would go into each activity-poster and then counting and re-counting each object to make sure that it was all there. The hardest Puzzle-Jumble activity-poster you might wonder? Without any doubt Animal XL© and #8 XL©

 

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We are still working on our 3rd collections: Same difference. I will keep you posted soon…

Now, the best part is that I can write about how excited I am to share with you our newest product: Acry-Walli. Our designs are reverse printed on a rigid 1/8  inch thick sheet of clear acrylic with a white vinyl backing. The end product displays vivid colors and is very durable. It is very easy to clean with any antibacterial solution, it will not be damaging to the ink as it is reverse printed. These activity-posters can be screwed on to the walls , hardware and color snap-caps are provided to hide the screws. All our designs have rounded corners to avoid catching little fingers.

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You might ask where is the best place to put the Acry-Walli? On walls, in waiting rooms, consulting and treatment rooms. Note that since we design and manufacture every product here in Atlanta, we are able to offer any size, or even incorporate our customers’ mascot or logo in the design.

There is another product that  I should mention as it has become Child Life Specialists’ best friend: our Walli-Kids lap-posters printed on a high quality styrene. All of our designs are available in this 12”x10” hand held size. We came up with this smaller dimension to make it portable and help young patients focus on something colorful and attention grabbing during medical procedures such as treatments, vaccinations… I must mention that many hospitals use them in their waiting room to help with the waiting.

As you read my article to the end, you deserve “a little something”, so if you enter your contact information on our website, Facebook or Twitter, your name will be entered in our drawing for 2 free lap-posters, one from each of our collections.

Should you have any questions on our products, do not hesitate to email me at patricia@wallikids.com.

Get Well Maps: Road to Recovery

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Please welcome our guest blogger, Christina Connors, who I interviewed after she connected with me on Linked In and sent me samples of her incredible Get Well Maps.

What inspired you to create these maps? My son’s medical experience in 2014, and my desire to help other children and families facing medical challenges, inspired me to create Get Well Maps. Andrew was 5 years old when he was hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia and H1N1 flu, and his condition quickly became life threatening. He was air lifted to our closest pediatric hospital (~2 hours away) and was transferred to the PICU secondary to respiratory failure. I felt completely helpless to care for him. There were so many uncertainties. My “Mama Bear” impulses were raging, and yet my background as an Occupational Therapist was underpinning every effort I made to advocate for my child.

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I felt compelled to have a visual that would depict his “Road Home”, because despite the uncertainty of prognosis, timeline or discharge plan, we needed to SEE our goal of getting home in the midst of adversity. I asked my childhood friend to make a map that had a road, photo of our home and matchbox car to move along as his condition progressed (My son has always loved anything with wheels). She was eager to do anything to help, but found it strange that my request of her was a “craft project” (Child Life Specialists & OTs get it). She graciously obliged, anyways. What began as a desperate mother’s attempt to provide a tool to help her child, began to draw interest from his medical team, and sparked communication that connected us throughout his care (“Is that your house?”, “Do you like to play outside?”, “Buddy, you’ve already rounded that bend”…). It was months after our experience, and after becoming involved in our pediatric hospital’s Family Advisory Committee, that another parent encouraged me to develop this idea in a way that would help other children and families throughout their medical experiences.

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What was the process like from your idea to creating the product and your company? I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared! I was exposing a time in our family’s life that held much vulnerability. But I was also excited about the possibility of having a creative outlet that helped me process our experience in a way that helped others. My faith was strengthened by our experience, and I felt like I was being called into this work. I felt that this was a unique opportunity to combine my experience as a parent and healthcare professional (& my husband is an educator) to make a positive impact in the healthcare experiences of other children and families. I began slowly. Brainstorming, then drafting prototypes, researching materials, production options, searching for the right illustrator, and learning the basics of establishing a business. I use the analogy of a foggy road when I think about the process of transforming an idea into a company, and even now as I continue to navigate and evolve. I can’t always see where I am headed because the road is foggy, but when I have faith enough to move forward, the fog lifts briefly and becomes a little clearer just in front of me, which in turn gives me the confidence to keep going. (Just can’t seem to get away from the road/car analogies!)

Can you tell us a bit about your work as an OT and your experience as a mom? I graduated from the Occupational Therapy program at Towson University in 2002, and have been practicing as an Occupational Therapist for 15 years. I became interested in Occupational Therapy after my Aunt was in a car accident and sustained a C4-C5 spinal cord injury. It was the 1st time my family was truly impacted by disability and I was inspired to learn more about the professionals that were helping her. Since beginning my career as an OT, I have always had an equal love of pediatric and adult rehabilitation. I have experience in hospital, inpatient rehabilitation, home healthcare and school settings. I have always found my work as an OT very rewarding, and am very passionate about working with individuals with neurological disorders and sensory needs. My greatest loves… my hubbie, Mike, and my 2 children are at the center of my world. There was a lot we experienced emotionally as a family during and following my son’s hospitalization that changed my perspective as a mom. I don’t worry as much about small decisions and details, don’t take as much for granted, and really value the importance of finding moments of “calm” in our hectic day-to-day routines. Their love, support, and boundless energy are driving forces behind Child Inspired.

What do you want parents and medical staff to know about children in hospitals? I think many already know, but I think ALL medical professionals need to know that (many, if not most) children and families are not processing auditory information effectively during stressful medical events. Children and families want (and need) medical teams to disclose accurate and honest medical information, but it needs to be delivered with a compassionate, child-centered approach. Don’t be scared of informing children and parents of setbacks or regressions in progress. They know setbacks occur. They just need consistent, jargon-free language that helps them understand what is happening and supports them through the disappointment. Families and medical professionals also need to know that emotional healing will often take much longer than physical healing, and need to be educated on resources that the family can access if emotional or behavioral concerns arise after discharge.

 

What are your hopes for your company? My hope for Child Inspired is that our Get Well Maps will become a model for child-centered discharge planning, and that our tools will also help children and families visualize their progress as they re-integrate back into school and community activities after medical events. In this fast-paced, digital age where much of what our children encounter is instant gratification, many children need support and encouragement as they work towards goals that require time and perseverance. It is my hope that our Maps facilitate positive, encouraging language and communication between children and the adults providing their care.

 

Do you have any tips for how parents and child life specialists might use these maps? I love your profession and the amazing work that you do with children, siblings and families, as well as the work you do to model and advocate for child-centered care among your other medical colleagues. I think that Child Life Specialists can play a pivotal role in daily medical rounding and discharge planning, and that Get Well Maps provide a method for facilitating child-centered communication and visually tracking medical progress. A Get Well Map is fun, and individualized to the child’s interests and goal, therefore, it reduces anxiety by helping you relay and reinforce information discussed in medical rounding (often laden with medical jargon) in a way that is developmentally appropriate and child-centered. Contact us to learn more about how a CCLS is using Get Well Maps with children after bone marrow transplants, and how her unit now has a physician order and pathway to initiate Child Life assessment and intervention (including Get Well Maps) from diagnosis to discharge.
Anything else you want us to know? Thank you for all that you do! As always, I would love to collaborate with you and your teams to develop solutions for your patient populations and healthcare organizations.

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Defrosting

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Some wonderful people just visited us over the holidays. They came all the way from Mexico City to spend Christmas in NYC. The added bonus was that although I am close friends with Marifer, I didn’t know the other two very well. But by the time they left, I felt I had two new chosen family members that I will cherish for a lifetime. Marifer’s mother Arin and brother Toño (an amazing photographer and artist) had never visited our beautiful city before, and they arrived months after the untimely and unexpected death of Fer and Toño’s father. Little did they know that they would have a rude welcome in the form of ridiculously cold temperatures. But intrepid is their middle name and we spent 10 days exploring the many beautiful spaces and places in the five boroughs, including grocery shopping in New Jersey. To heck with the cold!

We shared our holiday ritual of attending a Christmas pageant at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Christmas Eve, followed by a dinner with cousins at a cozy Italian Restaurant. We shopped, cooked, chatted around the kitchen table and shouldered through holiday crowds at Rockefeller Center, Herald Square, and Times Square. We tramped up and down subway steps, dove for coveted seats on the #6 train, waved at the Statue of Liberty from the ferry, ate dumpling noodle soup in Chinatown, warmed our hands and tummies with coffee stops along the way, trekked into museums, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, The public library at 42nd street, the Empire State Building, Bemelman’s Bar, Trinity Church on Wall Street, and B&H Photo midtown. We took a carriage ride through Central Park, viewed the Christmas lights of Dyker Heights, and enjoyed Shake Shack burgers. They topped off the trip on their last day by treating us to scaling the Freedom Tower via the time lapsing elevator ride to the observatory.

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All in all, a pretty incredible week. There was one thing that we had to work around though – our freezer drawer froze shut in a solid block of ice due to a broken water hose connected to the ice maker. It took 12 full days to defrost, and we had to balance our adventures with checking in and emptying pans of runoff water to prevent flooding and mayhem. In what felt like the grip of an ice age, it was almost impossible to imagine that the freezer drawer would ever open again.

And then, before the drawer even opened, they left. They had the nerve to go back to the more moderate climes of Mexico.

A familiar rush of emotion rolled over me – I call it separation anxiety and there is a historical basis for it. I link the surging adrenaline and profound sadness to my early childhood experience of lengthy hospitalizations (2 months at birth and many more throughout my childhood). In those years, doctors did not allow parental presence overnight or for procedures, and my parents unwillingly left me alone for long periods of time. To this day, I weep and feel extraordinarily vunerable whenever I say goodbye to my parents and close friends. The separation anxiety sets in a few days before the parting, rearing its ugly head and tightening my chest against the inevitable pain.

But I have learned a lot over the years.

  • First: The pain always dissipates.  It feels crushing and paralyzing at  first. In those initial moments, it seems that it will never be okay again, that the emotions are permanently etched into every waking moment of my life. But this is not the truth, and the pain gets a bit less with each passing day, and in particularly good times with each passing hour.
  • Second: Even though I have a unique personal history, many other people suffer from this kind of agony. Talking to someone who really gets it normalizes the feeling, helps ameliorate the intensity, and lessens the shame and self flagellation that can accompany it.
  • Third: Your average person can feel down around any holiday, especially if they have suffered a loss.  Depression and/or anxiety can naturally follow even pleasant holiday experiences.
  • Fourth: Despite the intensity of my suffering, I would never choose to avoid it by giving up friendship, intimacy, and community. The gain is always worth what follows, and the sun always rises after. Like Florence and the Machine sing, “It’s always darkest before the dawn!
  • Fifth: For any clinician working with families, or anyone who knows someone suffering a horrible loss, we can reflect hope and faith in the return of joy even in the midst of pain. We can give permission for all emotions and refrain from enforcing an arbitary expiration date on the grieving process.

So, hail to all you hardy souls out there, who love in the face of loss and suffering, who choose to walk through life with an open heart. And for anyone who hesitates, but considers it, try taking a leap of faith in the ultimate defrosting process. The light and warmth will return, and the seasons of life will always sprinkle some joy amidst the sorrows.

 

 

Kindness as a De-stressor for the Holiday Season

 

Whether or not you are a Christian, the month of December descends upon many of us all with an overload of stress: pressing consumerism, forced merriness, and social and family expectations that can make us feel less than and despairing in so many ways. We can lose sight of the sense of hope that the season is meant to embody, the acceptance of darkness before the dawn, the preparing and waiting for the light, the igniting of that light within ourselves and others, all in the maelstrom of media messages.

Well, today, I am thankful for this calendar that I found on social media, and I want to share it with all of you, I see it as a template. It might be a wonderful activity for you to do alone, with children, or with family members. If you make your own kindness calendar, you can add to it acts of kindness that hold specific meaning for you and are within your reach to accomplish. You can place a piece of oaktag or cardboard over it and cut out little doors and windows to open each day.

Just contemplating this activity makes me think of kindnesses I have witnessed in the recent and not so recent past.

A fellow teacher had a particularly bad day when a troubled student lost control, trashed the classroom and scratched the teacher’s face. My assistant teacher, Elizabeth, entered her colleague’s classroom during her lunch break to find her fellow teacher crying. Elizabeth quietly went about the room, righting chairs, picking up toys, and straightening up the chaos. Then she went to the nearby market and brought back some chocolate. These gestures spoke so much louder than words of consolation might have.

At a family gathering in the basement of a local Baptist church, where parents and children worked on arts and crafts, a family struggled with finding positive ways to respond to their preschooler. I watched as each parental admonition ratcheted up the child’s resistance and anger. For a few moments, my friend, Edna, joined the child in play, and gave him some gentle, corralling, positive feedback, helping him to self regulate and giving the parents a break.

On the city bus, a loud and hostile argument broke out between two passengers, fueled by both, but with one person definitely being more aggressive. As his voice grew louder and louder, an elderly lady finally stood up, and approached the yeller. “You need to stop,” she said. “It’s not okay to use that kind of language.” Once she spoke up, others did as well, and the situation calmed down.

A nurse responds to my tears of fear facing chemotherapy by putting down her medical implements, drawing her chair up to mine, taking my hands in hers and telling me that God will help me bear whatever I must face.

A yoga teacher guided our class in breathing with intention and awareness yesterday. He said that when we breathe for ourselves, we are breathing for all of our loved ones, and for all humanity. When we feel so overwhelmed that even breathing feels like a colossal task, it does help to know that it is enough, and that breathing can be more than a self sustaining act. Breathing can sustain others. So whether your acts of kindnesses are as simple as breathing, or a single word, a glance, a gesture, it is all within your grasp to ignite the light of loving kindness in yourself and others, one act and one day at a time.

 

 

Velvet Revolution Remembered

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November 17, 2017 marked the 28th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, when  Czech citizens rose up against communism and succeeded in toppling the regime, foretelling the coming dissolution of the USSR. This date is no coincidence, as it echoes a previous moment in history, when the Nazis responded to students’ protests by closing all Czech universities, killing 9 students and imprisoning 1200 in concentration camps.

On the national holiday, the Kralovecs and I joined the throngs at Wenceslas Square in Prague to remember and celebrate the arrival of freedom and democracy  to their country. A large stage with a giant screen broadcast live music and political speeches. When we first arrived, yards away a news crew interviewed one candidate for the presidency, surrounding him with bright camera lights and microphones.

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Booths lined the street, some displaying candles in red glass jars, and ribbons in Czech red white and blue, others offering political information. One encouraged passers by to sign a petition calling a stop to the hunger strike of a man protesting the current president running again for office. People feel that his life is more important than the foolishness of the current president.

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The self sacrifice is reminiscent of a student’s martyrdom in 1969.  Jan Palach set himself on fire at Wenceslas Square after the Soviet Union invaded his native Czechoslovakia to crush the reforms of Alexander Dubcek’s government.  The actions of people who sacrifice themselves in order to awaken awareness and resistance against oppression are as disturbing as they are inspiring. Why should this have to happen in order for people to wake up and resist?

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We headed to Narodni Trida, the place where the protestors and police clashed on the fateful day. Entering a building where an exhibit of enlarged photos of the revolution hung in the lobby, I noticed a father explaining one photo to his small son.

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The photos told the story of the revolutionaries, who were students for the most part. They carried signs calling for freedom. One showed students with raised and open hands. A banner read “Our hands are empty!” indicating their lack of weapons. Apparently the wording for “We have sticks in our hands” is very similar to their statement, and the authorities later lied in the press, reporting that the students were inciting violence. In fact, it was a peaceful demonstration and many students handed or threw flowers to the police in riot gear, who responded with violence.

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Outside the building a sea of glowing red candles and flowers surrounded the edifice. Citizens young and old  approached the flickering monument to add their own candle or flowers. Small children crouched at the edges, observing the firelight while they braved the cold night.

 

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A marching band made its way up the middle of the street along the trolley tracks and stopped beneath a balcony to accompany a singer whose voice silenced the crowd. She sang a rendition of a song performed from the same balcony during the protest, and I could see that many people were moved to tears by her words. Even though I don’t speak Czech, I too felt a stirring and energy that seemed synergistic with the crowd’s mood.

I  had many questions for Jiri  and Marketa about what they recall from that day in 1989. They explained that their role was a small one, handing out pamphlets and showing up for the protests. The people of Prague were mostly open to the ideas of change and democracy, but the citizens in rural areas were more closed to the revolutionary ideas and less willing to risk protesting Communism. Well known actors took up the cause to travel in groups from village to village to impart the message of freedom and facilitate change. It makes me think of what evil can do in the face of no action at all, and it was the many risks that people took, large and small, that brought about tremendous change.

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We drove home watching the television broadcast of the Memory of the Nation Awards broadcast from an elegant theater on the Square and streamed on Jiri’s smartphone. A dear friend of the Kralovecs, Father Frantisek Lizna, was one of three recipients. The nation celebrated the Jesuit priest for his service to the country in taking a stance against Communism that landed him in jail, and for a life of service to those in need. I had met him on one of my previous visits, and I recall his kind, open and playful nature. Indeed,  jokes and banter peppered his acceptance speech, and he exuded humor and lightness even in this formal environment.

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Funny enough, we found out later that we all appeared on the national Czech news prime time that night, as the news cameras caught us unaware in the crowd. I felt extraordinarily blessed to stand witness to the history of this place and to share in the personal memories of my revolutionary friends. As we headed home through the dark and foggy roads to the village of Malejovice, I thought about how the students proclaimed that in unity there is strength, despite the authorities’ attempts to separate the workers from the educated classes in order to tamp down knowledge and resistance. I think of our own country and how coming together may be the only way to survive and thrive as a true democracy.

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Whose Woods These Are

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I awoke to my first snow of the season dusting the rooftops, fence posts and trees of Malejovice. The woods called to me and so I donned hiking boots and set out over the fields to the forest. The snow sifted quietly, the mud of the unpaved road sucked at my feet and the utter silence filled my heart.

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Arriving in the forest felt like entering the haunts of Hansel and Gretel.  I stepped past the trickling brook and into the peace of the sheltering pine trees. The pine needles cushioned my steps and the trilling of birds and patter of melting snow the only sounds. I passed a fallen tree, it’s root system an earthy sculpture.  Pine cones and balsam branches decorated the forest floor.  Mossy tree stumps stirred memories of nature walks with my dad when I was very young. He used to point them out to me and tell me that they were fairy castles.

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I stood still and closed my eyes and listened. The first poem that I learned and memorized at age seven welled up from within.
“Whose Woods these are
I think I know.
His house is in the village though.
He will not mind me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely dark and deep.
But I have promised to keep
And mikes to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Robert Frost

Indeed I knew that friends and breakfast awaited. I reluctantly left the silence of the woods and headed back to the warmth of Malejovice over fields glistening in the melting snow.

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Over the River And through the Woods to the Czech Republic I Go

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I greatly anticipated my fourth visit to collaborate with the Klicek Foundation in the Czech Republic. The cold weather brings to mind the song from my childhood of traveling via horse and sleigh through the woods to grandmother’s house. For me, it meant taking a new route flying to Prague via a stop over in Zurich, which provided me with my first glimpse ever of the majestic Swiss Alps. I had no idea they covered such an expanse.

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Our adventures began immediately, as Jiri and Marketa Kralovec included me in some important errands along the way from Prague to their home in the small village of Malejovice.  The Klicek Foundation has secured a plot of land close to the Motol Hospital, on which they will build a new hostel for parents of sick children visiting Prague for specialized medical care. Our assignment for the day was to measure the distance between several trees and a wall, so that an engineer could design the parking lot to meet the requirements of the environmental council.

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And so, armed with measuring tape and a clipboard, we gathered the necessary measurements. We then wound through the city, making stops at two publishing companies and an electronics store, where we gained sustenance in a lovely cafe to tide us over before the hour long trip home to the village.

Molly the dog and the many cats greeted us, and there was hot homemade soup waiting on the stove and a crackling fire in the green ceramic fireplace. Having missed a night’s sleep on the plane, I was happy to fall into bed in the dark country night, and I slept deeply without remembering my dreams until rising early for a full day’s work the next morning.

The first scheduled event was a gathering of three schools that are housed in one building in Prague. There are two secondary schools, one for nursing and one for social work, and a college of nursing. The students came together in a chapel at the school of nursing Jana Paula 11, and we presented a workshop on the value of play and the psychosocial needs of children in hospitals. The room was jam packed with young people, and the more interactive we got, the more engaged they became.

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Following this seminar, I accompanied Jiri and Marketa to a city council meeting where they advocated for permission to build upon the plot. There are many steps to take before they can announce the council’s approval and begin fundraising for their project. A well known actor, David Vavra,  who also happens to be an architect, is designing the building.

Following a challenging meeting, we headed over to the famous Old Town Square, to the medieval building that houses the Skautsky Institute. There we hosted a gathering of hospital play specialists that also included the medical director of a hospital on the northern border, a book publisher, and a British law student studying abroad at the Charles University. We discussed the challenges facing the profession, many of which involved issues of racism regarding the care of Roma families. The thorough marginalization of the Roma leads to trust issues between the families and the staff. The play specialists often feel overwhelmed by the intersectionality of the many societal factors that impact the lives of Roma families.  They feel helpless in the face of such poverty and hopelessness.

The law student, of Roma heritage, adopted by a British family, is researching the educational inequities and racism that Roma children face in Europe. He hopes to champion their cause as he progresses in his profession. He had connected with me after reading my blog about the children of Chanov — such a small world after all

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