I had a day without anxiety. I did! I had a whole day! All it took was a coast guard rescue.
Yes, a real coast guard rescue. And instead of anxiety, I was filled with laughter. Oddly this was hysterical to me as we slowly sank into the sea.
We had a bit of an adventure, this I like. Adventure makes me feel alive and for some reason it takes a REAL adventure to allow me to be in the “now” recently. We boated to Block Island and then took a small boat with the kids and my two adult cousins to a small strip of beach. In true adventure spirit, we went on a hike with the kids and discovered a seagull hatchery. Babies everywhere and angry mamas too. It was amazing. Look at the view at the end of our hike.
On the way back…we ran in a bit of trouble. First, the engine was overheating, but Steve felt confident that we could make it back in time, but then a toe felt wet. Then an ankle and before we knew it the kids were up to their knees in water.
We were definitely sinking.
We immediately threw the heaviest of the lot out of the boat to slow the sink. Benno (rightfully so) started to get a bit nervous. “Are we going to die?” “ Are we sinking?” Jacob was oddly quiet, maybe too scared to talk. It was hard to say we weren’t sinking as it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the boat was taking on water. Water in boat = sinking.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t stop laughing. I couldn’t stop.
This didn’t scare me. I knew we could swim and the boys have life jackets. I just kept laughing. Look at this. We beat cancer, but here we are in a sinking ship- perfect!
Steve on the other hand was not laughing, until I think he saw how happy the whole debacle made me. And then we both laughed. Here we are world, sinking. Here is how the Brodys live, on the brink of danger all the time.
And it was gone. The anxiety vanished. Right then and there. I felt completely safe and fine as we took on water in the ocean with my two young children.
The coast guard got us before the kids were completely soaked and we got to ride a coast guard boat! And like the man he has become, Benno rose to the occasion. He started laughing too and here he was on a coast guard ship! COOL.
(Special shout out to my cousins who were troopers through it all.)
And sharing this. When we were radioing in for help. We called out to Boat US which we are members to come rescue us. No answer. This was INEXCUSABLE to Benno.
Again, pure laughter. No anxiety!
I guess in life, you got to sink before you can swim!
Yesterday Benno turned 9. Last year his birthday was at NYU hospital. There were no presents from his parents. There was no party with friends. There was just family and an attempt to smile through it all. Jacob had just been diagnosed days before.
The hospital staff allowed us to go outside on a balcony and celebrate. And then it passed, like any other day.
And looking at Benno today, it is remarkable the transformation. It hasn’t been an ordinary year and by no means has it been an ordinary year of growth. He may be turning 9, but he is way beyond his years. His empathy, his sense of self challenged every day this past year.
Prior to turning 8, our world revolved around Benno. We spent our days and nights concerned about his phobias, obsessed with his lack of nutrition, etc. But that all ended on his 8th birthday. Benno spent 8 having to fend for himself in new ways. He didn’t have the overflow of attention from adults even with a new phobia added to his list, cancer. Often dealing with his anxiety on his own and sometimes not seeing his mom for days who was living with his brother at a hospital
Looking at these pictures, I wish I could whisper to Steve and I and tell them that not only would Benno survive this year, but would come out better, a new person, he calls this person “Benjamin.”
So world let me tell you about Benjamin.
He turned 9 yesterday and he will run the world by 13. He is beyond articulate. He has an opinion on everything and often is right. Painfully right. He will tell you how it is. But, he is also the greatest friend. When Jacob lost his mask the other day when they were playing outside with others, he took his off immediately for his brother. When Jacob screams and goes nuts, Benno will often raise his hand “I got this!” and will take the first attempt to calm Jacob’s nerves. And honestly, he has the better results than his parents.
He is a kid that randomly forwarded me this email after overhearing my conversation with Steve that I want to reach more than the 1% with Mind the Gap. He took it upon himself to create a Mind the Gap digital sign in his roblox game and then wrote the customer care to try and learn more. All of this without my knowledge. Trying to lighten my load. Always trying to lighten my load.
And this Benjamin isn’t afraid of much. 2 years ago I would battle to get Benno on a beach. He hated the feel of the sand, he was scared of the water. If someone told me at NYU hospital that day, that a year from now your son would spend his birthday SURFING, I would have laughed in their face. SURFING?! Benno doesn’t like the beach and is petrified of the ocean.
But Benjamin does.
Very proud of my boy. Happy birthday my love. You have always had incredible power.
You are the sun. You are the light. In this year, you learned how to control your power and use it for good. To bring light to all in this world. You give me hope. Your light got our family through the darkness.
I’m not not a fan of therapy, I do believe it has merit and have seen results in the past, but I hate the long haul of it. I always like the quickest way out. I would rather the extreme and quick method. Can I just take some ayahuasca, live on a commune for a month and return a new person? Is there a way to get all the flashbacks and anxiety out through a good scary acid trip? Let me relive it once and put it all aside? Seriously this has huge appeal. But this whole mother with job responsibilities keeps getting in the way.
Because living like this and “working through it” is wasting time. TIME. The most precious asset. You know the freaking clock. Back to that clock. Tic. Toc. I may have left that hospital room, but I still hear that clock. The clock that I stared at and was convinced never moved night after night, keeping my family captive by its hands.
And I don’t have the time for this. I also don’t have the heart for this. I need to be able to enjoy this time. We need this so badly. I can’t do this to Steve either who is ready to launch forward into life, only pulled back by me. Watching him this summer has been my biggest joy. Seeing him enjoy the boys with all his heart and soul. Seeing him relish these summer nights. I try and cover the anxiety to not dampen his joy, but like the best friend he is, he is there for me through this too. But, I wish he didn’t have to.
AND WHY NOW?!
Seriously. Sure I had depression spouts during these last few years and of course anxiety, but it all had a reason, I was looking straight at it, living in a mother’s nightmare. And now, it just lives in my body, a relic of the past. Unsure where to go. Unsure how to let go. Or is it just preparing for the next blow? My mind can’t stop thinking…between Steve and Jacob’s cancer we had 6 months. Is my body just ready for the next shoe to drop? Is it just preparing?
I try and stop the anxiety with pure reason. But like parents, it doesn’t listen to reason. Nope. Just fear.
But I write the following reason to remember it later.
We are living on the boat, adventuring! Our family’s happy place
Jacob is doing great and is happy
Benno is FANTASTIC (another post for another time)
Steve has never been happier
Black Lives are getting the attention it deserves (another post for another time)
Education is in the spotlight getting its day of reckoning (hello unsustainable tuitions?!). This will further change
Don’t believe it, Abby, look at the pics! Every night this view for sunset in Montauk.
But there is such grief in those eyes. Grief. Holding back tears, even in the happiest place on earth.
It is pretty frustrating. Scartch that it is infuriating.
I left my last job to make an impact. To solve a real problem for students in real need. And after a year like the last one, one would think I would have learned or at least have a better ability to learn, but no. Right where I started. The same mistake.
I feel like I’m running up a hill that is so steep that I can’t even get my gripping and end up right back at the same spot even after hours of running at my fastest pace.
I must look like an idiot. Running, but going nowhere.
And it does still boggle my mind.
Even after YEARS of doing this. Even after years of dealing with parents and students. I need to be reminded that people don’t think based on reason or even what they see, we think based on the old.
I personally call it the “homework effect”. It’s the best way for me to explain it. Or maybe the “slaughterhouse effect” is more appropriate…maybe a bit too dramatic. But it does feel like we all watch child after child go into a hut and not come out and then send our child into that exact same hut. Why? Because that is what we do. That hut obviously is the path for children.
The lesson is that you can show science and reason (basic reason) to people and it still won’t matter.
Not convinced? Think you are above this? Let’s talk about homework. I bet you have an opinion on that. Every parent has an opinion on homework. They may be all over the map, but opinions aplenty. I tend not to care about opinions especially when they are answers. This one is answerable. Truly. Study after study. No doubts here. We know for a FACT that homework has no effect on academic achievement nor performance for the elementary years. AND some studies show an adverse effect.
So me…you know me…puts together a lecture to declare that homework is dead. That as a data informed educator I can in good faith settle this debate. I will share the studies with the parents. Homework will finally have its day. Let the kids play!
This did not go as planned. Sure there were those who clapped. You could see the nights of screaming children crying over homework. But the majority? UPROAR. ANGER.
Huh? It boggled my mind. Did you not hear what I said? That this isn’t really a debate? That it is fact. Homework is just busy work and not for this age important to developmental gains. Oh and don’t forget it could HARM your child! Why would you want to fill your child’s time with something that has no benefit and possibly harmful?
But I took their feedback. How it structured the child’s day. How the school’s reputation for “rigor” could be damaged. How it was good for executive skills (even though there is ZERO evidence that that is true before 6th grade). It wasn’t worth losing my job over.
But you know me…I did not give up.
So I reenvisioned it. What if we could create homework that had REAL educational benefits for elementary school students? I read everything I could about the flipped classroom model, everything I could about ways we could take this NEED of parents to have their kids do hours of homework and not hurt the actual kids.
I rolled out a new model of homework. One that brought more second language input into the home looking to increase our outcomes in second language aquisition through play and leveraging technology. It was pretty exciting work. How could this go wrong?! I was giving the homework that parents demanded, but this time making sure we weren’t damaging kids!
But it looked different. Gone were the worksheets. UPROAR. ANGER.
And I put this screen shot from my book on how the brain ACTUALLY behaves to remind myself.
And its frustrating. Why wouldn’t reason win? Maybe you have to have a child diagnosed with a life threatening disease to PRAISE science. Maybe science has to save your life like it did for Steve and Jacob to look past your opinion and study facts?
So yesterday I spent the day on the phone with gap year consultants. Yuck. Yep. I listened to them tell me their clients needs. I had to sell them on why LIFE READY is better than the hundreds of other options they have. My favorite being “Daniel” whose dad has multiple wives and he is rebelling by living with his Aunt in a masion in Tuscany. And that it will be a hard sell to the family, because it is clear that the faculty is “liberal.” I felt nauseous. I was right where I started. Right back in that office talking to parents and convince them on facts.
And not just any parents and students. So far our applicants to LIFE READY are from the .01%. All from the .01%. All the kids who have always had this advantage. Now I’m just another “program” in the mix. Another option. Sure I feel confident that i’m a better option with real research and educators making decisions to solve real issues, but this was NOT the reason I started Mind the Gap.
I started Mind the Gap to change the bigger picture. The FAIL.The fact that only 14% of our college graduates succeed (and we all know where most of that 14% come from).
Sure I can blame COVID for this failure. I could. But that’s not it. Its basic human nature that I’m going against.
I remember when I visited a charter school in the Bronx a few years ago. Most students at this school qualified for free lunch. I was invited to a 2nd grade assembly and as part of their ritual they began with a chant. “College bound! College bound!” That was the dream. That was the metric of success even when we knew that most of the students would never make it and if they did they would be riddled with debt.
I again forgot that it doesn’t matter. That the human brain will trudge on with its inputs and those inputs are formed by an education MACHINE. A profitable MACHINE. And you, the parent, that is scared shitless to mess this up. To challenge the norm. That this gift will be met with opposition, which it has.
And I failed. I did. I missed the mark. I should have known this.
Failing is not easy.
And I know (I hear you…) you did not fail Abby, but let’s be clear, this isn’t “success either.” LIFE READY is not hitting the students we want to hit. Our price point isn’t where it needs to be.
I got it wrong.
But just annoyed that this is a reoccurring event. Every time the same lesson. The same mistake.
And here I am.
Back where I started. Dealing with white rich kid problems. The 1% of the data and I’m sick to my stomach about it. SICK.
Maybe its an anniversary for you too. Maybe Jacob was the first sign of the cracking of the world around us. It does seem (from this perspective) that all the chaos sped into warp speed since his diagnosis. It may have been the first child you knew to have cancer. Maybe it shook your core too. Maybe.
It is definitely an anniversary for me. It was the beginning of the “new normal.” The beginning of having your child diagnosed with an incurable disease that will haunt our every move for the rest of our lives, even in remission.
But unlike the days leading up to it, I’m staying positive. I woke up to Jacob spooning me! His little arms draped over me and then we had breakfast together. And STEVE, he speaks again…this is a rare moment.
And thank you Nightwing for being there every step of the way.
I have a name to my condition, the Anniversary Effect. Thank you Nightwing for bringing this to my attention. Feeling less shameful about having this reaction as I seem to not be the first.
Now recording so I remember…
The “Anniversary Effect”, is a collection of disturbing feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on or around a date that marks a significant event. You could be feeling sad, irritable, anxious, emotionally shutdown, or unable to sleep, and a quick glance at the calendar will help you to connect this emotional state to a traumatic event. It might be the birthday of a loved-one you have lost, the due date of a miscarried baby, or the day an assault or accident happened. As that date nears, bad memories start to resurface, and you will realise that you are experiencing the annual echo of a trauma.
Some psychology researchers think that the anniversary reaction should be listed as a symptom of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), because even though being reminded of difficult feelings around an anniversary is a very common and normal part of the grieving process it can be really distressing. Anniversary reactions are also a signal that you are not yet over the trauma of your experience, and need to process or work through your grief.
As with many psychological phenomena, the anniversary effect happens for a reason. Research shows that our brains store painful, sad or traumatic memories in an easily accessible way so that we can be reminded of, and warned off, the dangers to protect us from something similar happening again.
Intrusion. Perhaps the most common reaction on the anniversary of a trauma is a reactivation of the feelings, physiological responses, and thoughts that occurred at the time of the event. CHECK. GOT THAT.
Avoidance. Another type of response associated with PTSD is the avoidance of trauma-related stimuli. Sometimes the feelings that are reactivated by the anniversary are so strong that people try to avoid situations, places, or people that are connected to the event.
Negative alterations in cognitions and mood. When the anniversary of an event is approaching, it can lead to sadness. Some people may find it difficult to connect with friends and family. Old thoughts of guilt or shame may resurface. Sad. Check. GUILT & SHAME of feeling this way when Jacob is doing well and others are not are out of control.
Arousal and reactivity. A fourth kind of reaction is to feel nervous and on edge. The reactivation of the traumatic memory as an anniversary approaches might be so intense that it is difficult to sleep or concentrate. Some people become more irritable and jumpy and others feel like they have to be more on guard. CHECK.
I have friends who report their stomachs, but that’s not where it is for me. It is right on my chest even in my throat. Strangling feeling.
And I just want to lay in bed.
I remember this feeling. The feeling of waking up to a nightmare. I remember laying in bed for hours thinking that if I just lay here I can pretend it all away and maybe just maybe the precious gift of sleep will come again and I can forget for a bit.
It wasn’t that long ago.
This Thursday it will be a year of feeling that way for a good 9 months.
But it’s back.
I can’t tell ya. How I wish I could.
And the judgment of the WHY is just as crippling. I am disappointed in my own feelings. This should be a time of gratitude. How lucky we are! The idea that a year ago we would be here today. The idea that against some pretty steep odds Jacob would be running around outside out of the hospital, and that Benno would thrive during these circumstances felt laughable.
A ridiculous dream to dream.
But here we are.
I just wish I could feel it. And I wonder why all of the anxiety is back. Why now?
I try and talk to her, me a year ago, she is present in each step these last few days. I try to tell her. You will survive. While at the moment it is unclear if you can take another breath, you will take many, a whole year of them. You will be okay.
I see her so clearly. I remember every second of a year ago.
I remember Jacob falling asleep at NYU as he was inpatient for a constipation procedure. I was on my phone, flipping through some social media. Sure I was nervous about the next day’s procedure, but I felt the worse was over, the IV was put in and we can finally deal with this chronic constipation that has plagued Jacob since 1.5 years old. Jacob was still so scared of that needle and even hours later refused to move that arm out of fear the needle would go further (even after explanation after explanation that the needle was no longer in his arm). Oh, how things change. Now Jacob gets a shot daily while playing on his iPad without a second thought.
“Ms. Brody is your husband here?”
“He just left.”
“Is he far? Can he come back?”
I call Steve. I tell them he is wanted here. He and I both know this is not good. I hear him yell, “turn around” to the cab driver. I hang up.
And I sit.
I don’t cry. I sit.
All I can think about is the question: “Is Mr. Brody here?”
It wasn’t obvious that he would be just 7 months ago, when Steve was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I almost even tell her this. “Maybe you should just tell me. What if he wasn’t here? Would you just tell me? Would you ask for my parent to come?” runs through my head.
And these are the thoughts for the last 3 days now. The moment playing over and over in my head. And more moments that follow. Moments I can’t even write about as understanding what was being said to us would take months to understand. Each day waking up and having to relearn.
And on this beautiful day when Jacob is busy washing cars, I can only think of where I was a year ago. I can only think of how possible it was that he wouldn’t be.
My mind boggles Steve’s mind. He is brimming with gratitude and enjoying this time.
He points out everything that is so right. It does help. It is nice to have some rational thoughts thrown in. Look at everything that has happened this year! “We are so so lucky and blessed.”
But can you tell the weight sitting on my chest and throat strangling me?
Yesterday was one of those days. When every possible unknown is laid with a dark cloud of negativity. Instead of “Oh What the possibilities it will be?” It is “too many unknowns!” PANIC. PANIC.
I’m so freaking stressed like all of you. Beyond the whole cancer mom thing, I have work and two kids at home who have finished school with no camp to go to. And “knowns” like my kids will go to school next year and we will live in NYC in our apartment are gone.
Am I allowed to take TWO years as a mulligan?
And when you believe that everything happens for a reason, all you do is look for reasons.
The glass was feeling half-empty for sure.
Until Jacob found his voice. Literally! He can hear his voice (thank you hearing aids) and has taken up songwriting. He has three great hits, but this one I felt we all could need.
So for those who need a hug from a friend, I share it with you. Jacob will always be there for you as you have for him.
So many future unknowns. It’s striking. A mathematical conundrum of possibilities.
People, all living life in some sort of relative imbalance. Established “knowns” like “I live in New York,” now all of a sudden up for discussion. While situations differ, one thing is universal, no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Businesses that used to think in quarters are now forced to think in days. Parents used to think in “weekdays” and “weekends,” now think in hours as days have no real differential factor. Every day a Monday.
And while it is hard. It is also empowering. Empowering to rethink the “known.”
When have we had the opportunity to rethink every “known?” When in our lifetimes has so much ambiguity and calls for new thinking?
Empowering to be part of a revolution. Every day a living breathing page in a future digital textbook, an entire chapter devoted to the pandemic of 2020. People will ask what it was like 20 years from now. This will be a shared era change. There will be before 2020 and after.
And what will the “after” be? Who will write that narrative? Will it be the government? Will it be the 1,000’s of marching feet? Will it be Jeff Bezos? Who?!