August 20, 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Kindergarten

August 18, 2014

The Summer Series - Paula Kliger

Paula Kiger lives in Tallahassee, FL, and believes her Twitter bio almost says it all: Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. And it is Twitter where I first connected with her.

Throughout the years, reading and writing have always been a thread running through her life. In New York, she proofread professionally for Ballantine Books. She is a voracious reader who actually still communicates via snail mail with some people. And the “go to” girl for friends who need “one more eye” to tighten up and clarify their writing.

She spent the past 20 years in the non-profit health care insurance environment as an administrator for Florida’s State Child Health Insurance Program. She also writes, and enjoys being an extra in Florida State University Film School productions.

There are other things she likes to give her energy to: acting, running, being with my church family, and mobilizing volunteers.

The Ride

For almost 20 years, my father-in-law was the primary driver for himself as well as for my mother-in-law, Barb, who was blind. After his stroke in October 2012, he stopped driving. After Barb’s death in November 2013, he continued to live alone and my husband picked him up daily for the short trip from his house to Corner Pocket, a bar where he has been meeting up with the same group of men for more than a decade. After his worsening balance resulted in head injuries from falls, he moved in with us. We do not live a short trip from his bar.

The 20-minute ride from my house to the Corner Pocket bar covers eleven miles. Since I quit my job shortly before he moved in with us, the job of transporting him to the bar has fallen to me.

For him, “the ride” is a means to an end. For me, it sends my mind on a different route every time.

He needs to get to the bar. I need to get to a place of acceptance.

Acceptance of the behaviors that are more “child” than “adult”

I can count on him being ready to go 15 minutes before the departure time, a lot like a young child knowing he has a playdate scheduled. I have finally learned to tell him a departure time that is a bit of a white lie (4:45 when I know I plan to leave at 4:30).

Acceptance that silence is not a punishment or failure

As the ride continues, the car remains eerily quiet. Although I like my silence (usually) and listening to an audiobook when I am alone, being in a car with someone who is saying nothing is unnerving. It’s not unusual for him. It is his way.

Acceptance that “home” is a faded memory

About three quarters into the trip, we pass within a few hundred yards of his currently unoccupied house. He never says anything about that. After he moved in with us, there was a period of time where we would drop him off there at his request to spend a few hours every day but that didn’t last long. Maybe all he needed was to say goodbye to the life he had. Maybe he doesn’t remember.

Acceptance that he needs to be needed

Dad has always taken a somewhat less than direct route to Corner Pocket because he believes the traffic lights are better timed with his favorite route, so we turn where he wants, which leads us to a particular three-way stop. Each and every time, he says something he has uttered to us in traffic for decades: “clear on the right.” I love him having a job to do. (But I also check myself!).

Acceptance that it doesn’t take much to make him happy

After the three-way stop, we are in a race to make the green light to get to the bar’s parking lot. He has an entire pattern he assesses as we approach the light. “You might make it,” or “there’s a countdown (of the ‘walk light’).” If we do make it, I can tell he is excited. I love how something so small can make his day!

Acceptance that I can’t do this alone

When we arrive at the bar, my husband usually meets us outside. My father-in-law often has difficulty walking in on his own power and needs a stable adult to provide support. Occasionally if my husband isn’t available and I’m obviously struggling, one of his friends meets him, takes over, and provides that support.

“The ride.” Twenty minutes. Eleven miles.

He gets to the bar.

I only wish MapQuest would help me figure out how to get to my destination: acceptance.

This post really touched me. Perhaps due to the journey I recently traveled with my own father. Or the one we are on now with my mother-in-law. Acceptance of the changes our parents go through as they age, and the way our roles/lives changes as a result is not easy. I think your last point, Paula, is the most important to remember.

Check out the other Summer Series contributors:

August 15, 2014

One of a kind - Artwork painted by a tiger!

I have been spending a lot of time at our local zoo while SB attended camp there this summer. I took hundreds of photographs, some of which I shared here. I also enjoyed simply observing the animals. I spent a lot of time with SB's favorites, the tigers.

One day I had the opportunity to get into a conversation with a few of the tiger keepers. They mentioned they had started having the tigers paint as an enrichment activity. Some of the tigers were really into it, and the keepers were excited the zoo would be selling the artwork.

My immediate thought was, "I HAVE to get one for SB."

I was told the art would be sold at a special event planned for Global Tiger Day. Unfortunately, we had plans for the day and time that event would held. But I was not to be deterred.

I contacted member services and asked if there would be any other opportunities to purchase the art. I shared a link to SB's Save the Siberian Campaign. What happened next was, in my opinion, extraordinary.

A zoo employee from membership relations replied and told me the staff was so moved by SB's efforts, they wanted to create a special painting just for her. The tiger keepers wanted to know what colors she would like and which tiger should paint the canvas for her.

I was blown away. I thought it was amazing they would do something so special for my child. Yes, we would be paying for the artwork (with the money going to tiger conservation), but the care, time and effort the staff put into this project was so touching.

I couldn't wait to pick SB up from zoo camp to tell her. She seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing:

I found out from my contact at member services the staff was also taking a collection to donate to SB's Save the Siberian Campaign. When we combine that with what we paid for the canvas, our overall amount raised for tiger conservation will reach over $600. It will take much more to save the world's tigers, who continue to be in serious jeopardy.

As the week went on, I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with several of the tiger keepers, introducing myself and thanking them personally. They were really excited about the whole thing. They had discussed at length the best way to approach the project, to produce the best painting possible.

One of the tiger keepers took time to show me a sample of the artwork the tigers had already painted. I think she wanted to make sure SB did not have unrealistic expectations. After all, these are tigers we're talking about. Their art looks very much like something a two or three year-old child finger painted.

Except for cool features like paw prints and tiger fur embedded in the paint! I assured her SB would love the painting no matter what it looked like. The keeper said the female Sumatran tiger, Lucy, was most into painting. So we chose her, since it was an activity she would enjoy. And she is the only female tiger at the zoo, which automatically makes her SB's favorite.

When I received an email last Friday morning telling me the painting was ready, I knew I had to figure out a way to get up to the zoo. In the late afternoon, SB and I went to the administration building to pick it up:

Membership Sales and Relationship Supervisor Lyndsay Plemmons, who organized the project, reveals the painting to SB.
Deputy Director of Animal Care and Conservation Dan Maloney thanks SB for her efforts to help wild tigers, and talks with her about what it takes to become a zoo keeper.
Proudly displaying her new piece of art. When we got home she asked, "Can I just sit and stare at it all day?"
The soon-to-be-matted-and-framed canvas! In orange and black, as requested. Painted by the tiger SB selected. Can you find the paw print?
There it is, complete with a claw print and tiger fur embedded in the paint.

When we first found out the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens was going to have tigers, we began a black and orange countdown on our family calendar. The day of the special member preview, I took SB out of school early and we were first in line to see Land of the Tiger. SB was essentially the first member of the public to step into the new exhibit that day, in advance of its official opening.

That was in March, and I have lost count of how many times we have been back to visit. We can't get enough. Land of the Tiger is a world-class exhibit, housed in a zoo we know and love well. I often say the cost of our family membership is the best money we spend each year.

My love for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens grew tenfold thanks to the thoughtful actions of its staff. Special thank you to Lyndsay and Dan (photographed above), as well as the awesome team of tiger keepers: Dan, Elena, Janel, Rachel and Tirzah.

You have inspired my child, who wants to be a tiger keeper when she grows up. You have also reinforced the the importance of getting involved, and made her incredibly happy. I wish you could see her showing off her painting to family and friends.

The canvas is currently at a framing store, where they are executing our special design for displaying this one-of-a-kind artwork in SB's room. It will hang over her bed. I'll be sure to share pics once it is up...

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