Headbands: An Opportunity for Compassion

Ever since the World Cup games several years ago, my son has become very interested in sports. He has tried out (in this order) ultimate frisbee, soccer, and most recently, basketball.

My son uses two cochlear implants to hear, and because basketball is pretty physical with lots of body parts moving around, the implants are in danger of getting knocked off. They are held in place pretty securely by an ear mold, but anything can happen. I had encouraged him to wear a headband to prevent them from falling off, but he refused, understandably, because he didn’t want to stick out as the odd player wearing something on his head. There was another player on his team who consistently wore a bright red headband, but still that didn’t sway my son.

Then the inevitable happened.

Garfield stressed

It was the second game of the season. My son was playing during the first period and not even three minutes into the period (there are eight minutes in each period), his implant went flying off. Maybe he bumped into another player whose arms brushed against them– who knows.

Apparently the implant was dislodged off of the tube that goes inside the ear mold which holds it in place. My son was momentarily confused as he rushed to pick it up and didn’t find the ear mold on it. All I know is, I am sitting on the bleachers experiencing that panicky feeling I didn’t want to experience as I watch the events unfold, and having it get stronger and stronger. I see him frantically searching for his implant, see him thinking he also lost his ear mold, see the game stop, see the coach come out to the court to help him look for the ear mold, feel the dead silence in the gym, and I am immediately flying (leaping? jumping?) out of my seat to reach my son who has run off the court crying from the humiliation and self-consciousness he feels.

I immediately look in his ear and see the ear mold resting in there, intact, called to the coach that we found it and the game resumed, thankfully.

My son was beside himself. After I comforted him and put his implant back together and back on his head, I told him it was time to go back in. He was reluctant and I thought for a teeny tiny second how easy it would be to just avoid all this and take him home. But instead I told him he couldn’t let this stop him from doing what he loved and perhaps we could talk about using a headband for future games. I told him his team needed him.

He went back in and lo and behold, a few minutes later, they came flying off again. Same scenario, him running off the court in tears, me rushing to him, comforting him, giving him a pep talk and encouraging him to go back.

After that incident, I immediately ordered a headband (in the most inconspicuous color possible- black) and when it came time to wear it for the next game, my son refused. Aside: my son is a very strong-willed young person and it is very common for him to say no to anything new. I told him he did not have an option. He went anyway, red-eyed and morose. However, that game went by without incident.

Before the next game, he asked me to put it on him (yes!).  As I watched the boys practicing, I noticed something was very different. It took me a minute to figure it out. Every single boy on my son’s team was wearing a bright red headband!!

Here’s what happened. The coach had seen that my son was struggling with this whole issue of his implants getting knocked off and seeing him feeling so self-conscious that he decided to order headbands for the whole team as a way of supporting him and making him feel like he didn’t stand out.

Gestures like that go a long way. It made me realize that even though people are watching what’s going on, they do care and are compassionate. Sometimes they simply don’t know what to do, but this coach, he just somehow knew he had to do SOMETHING. And for my son, I think he noticed that gesture and feels more a part of the team than ever before. Thank you, Coach, for that wonderful act of kindness. You make the world a better place.

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Adopting an Abundance Mindset

I found a neat website about fundraising for nonprofits and decided to submit a post for the November Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which is “a collection of the best advice and resources that consultants, support organizations, and nonprofits themselves are offering to the nonprofit community through their blogs.”

I’m trying to get back into the swing of things, having completed a great contract as an Interim Operations Manager for a nonprofit and being very busy planning my daughter’s amazing Bat Mitzvah. Now I have some time to devote to writing, as I figure out next steps. This seemed like a great opportunity to reflect on this past year and so I plunged right in.

The theme is “What are you doing to adopt an abundance mindset?” So, here it goes:

I was recently asked to step in and help an organization through a transition period. A staff member had been let go which meant the amount of work had increased exponentially for the rest of the staff, the majority of whom were part-time. Transitions and change are unsettling and can lead to a “deficit” perspective: “We don’t have enough money to do X” or “I don’t have enough time to do Y”.

People were demoralized and communication internally and externally was failing. Some good teambuilding was needed to create cohesiveness and the feeling that we are all in this together, working to fulfill the organization’s mission.

These four steps work well in improving workplace health and creating a culture of good will and camaraderie.

  1. Regular staff gatherings. Even if staff are incredibly busy, and this is so common at most nonprofits, make the time to get together regularly for staff meetings, either weekly or bi-weekly. In this way, staff will get more and more aligned with each other on moving the organization’s agenda forward. Make time for check-ins to allow people to share tidbits about their personal lives and what they are working on. A must: include food at these meetings!   Plan gatherings as a team outside of work- it is a wonderful way to get the full picture of who your coworkers are as people. Camaraderie increases and there emerges a spirit of good will that leaves you feeling like you want to jump for joy. Colleagues need to trust one another and feel like each has the other’s back.
  1. Create priority lists. If you are part-time, your to-do list is likely going to be overwhelmingly long. Create a list that is manageable, even if it means doing two things one day instead of three. This will leave you feeling empowered and full of hope when you cross off your accomplishments. This also helps with accountability—if others complain a task was not completed, you can whip out the priority list that has been set by you and your supervisor.
  1. When conflicts arise, remind staff there is a story to be told on both sides. There was a combination of staff who were “old-timers” and newcomers. The old-timers clearly had a lot of experience with the organization and the newcomers were bursting with energy and fresh ideas, many of which were dismissed. Reminders not to take it personally and to frame ideas in ways that help the old-timers feel validated go a long way. We all make up stories in our heads and chances are, they are not true.  Be curious. Ask the other person what their story is, so you have a better understanding about where they are coming from. “When you said this was a terrible image to use, what does it remind you of?” or “Instead of using this image, what are your thoughts about what message we need to be communicating?”
  1. Share stories about challenges and successes in your job. Sometimes we get so focused on our jobs that this creates a silo effect. It is important to share information so that everyone remains focused on achieving the mission. Sharing little tidbits about interactions with your target population can go a long way. “Sally’s mother shared with me that Sally feels like she belongs in the program.” or “When I asked for feedback about why we didn’t get the grant, they told me we were at the top of the list, however we need to focus more on outcomes.”
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A Note from Malawi

Remember my post about those two Malawians who received cochlear implants?

Well, Helen Brough, a clinical scientist in Audiology from Cambridge, England, who is currently volunteering in Malawi, found my blog post and wrote me a wonderful note in response to it. It’s a perfect validation that my husband and I made the right choice to go with Med el for our family. Here is her message:

“I just read your post about the 2 children who received cochlear implants last year in Malawi.  I am currently volunteering at the African Bible College Hearing Clinic and Training Centre (ABC HCTC) in Lilongwe, where the CI switch-ons were carried out, and follow up is being done.

I was here for 3 months last year, and was present at the appointment where Richard’s implant was switched on.  Now I’m back for a further 3 months.

Firstly, thank you for raising awareness of the exciting development that 2 children now have cochlear implants in Malawi, and also thank you for raising some very valid concerns.

Internet access isn’t great here, and I can’t access the Med-El article properly, however I think I’ve seen the picture you are referring to.  You are absolutely right that the children were swathed in bandages initially, and thanks to visa problems for the tech support staff coming in from South Africa, the duration between operation and switch-on dates was closer to 3 months (I’m sure this won’t surprise you as you know Malawi!).  I think the comment about the “all smiles” must have been journalistic licence.  Peter also told me that the children were very excited because they knew that there was the chance that they would be able to hear again.

I too was concerned about follow up support, and also realistic expectations.  The staff at ABC HCTC are doing a fantastic job at providing regular follow up, wonderfully supported by the Med-El team.  Richard is from Lilongwe, and Joyce is from Mangochi.  Like you, I was concerned that there was no speech and language therapist available to offer follow up, however I am amazed and incredibly happy to see the progress they are making.  Both children were selected by the audiologists here as having a good prospect of success – they sought candidates who had not been deaf for very long, had good speech prior to the illness that caused their deafness (malaria), and have supportive and motivated families.  Both Joyce and Richard are now in school and doing very well.

There have been problems – dust and humidity being of significant concern.  Med-El rather optimistically sent electric dehumidifying kits for the devices, although neither of them have electricity.  We found a jar of rice works, more or less.  Any tiny crevice gets clogged with dust very quickly, so they switched to Rondo devices, which have fewer pieces to go wrong.  Batteries are provided free of charge on a regular basis.

The clinic has to pay for and organize transport to get the children to clinic appointments.  For Joyce and her mum, they also have to provide accommodation and food.  The staff at the clinic go far beyond anything you would ever expect of a clinic in the UK, and I have the highest respect for them.

The outcome has been so successful that the implant team are set to carry out 2 further operations in February next year.  Again there are no guarantees about successful outcomes, but the audiologists are experienced and have sought hard to find children who are likely to do well.

A quick overview of a challenging situation:

  • There are currently only 3 permanent audiologists in Malawi, all from overseas
  • Rebecca and Peter Bartlett, Audiologists from Australia, designed and built the ABC HCTC and have worked here for over 5 years, providing the first (and currently only) purpose-built audiology facility in the country.
  • The Bartletts trained 6 Malawian Assistant Audiologists, 3 of whom are now in the UK taking their MSc Audiology.  Two will return to ABC, the other will go to Blantyre.
  • Another 6 ABC students are currently in training, and it is hoped they will graduate with a BSc Audiology
  • ABC HCTC staff, and also Courtney Caron (the 3rd audiologist) from Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, carry out regular village outreaches providing primary ear care and audiology support for the entire country.

I’m very impressed with the ethics of Med-El from what I’ve seen.  The whole situation is a massive international collaboration, with the surgeon coming in from the UK, an equipment specialist from Germany, the implants and technical support being supplied from Med-El and of course the ongoing work of the HCTC here, all provided free of charge.”

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My Daughter’s Post about the Hiroshima Bomb

Singer Nana Kono welcoming Amy to the stage (Photo by Shiori Usui)

Singer Nana Kono welcoming Amy to the stage (Photo by Shiori Usui)

My 12 year old daughter never ceases to amaze me. She wrote an article about the bombing of Hiroshima– today is the 70th anniversary. We just came back from visiting that marvelous country and she participated in a goodwill piano concert.

Check it out here!

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My Good Deed for the Day

Today our family walked down to a neighborhood parade and on our way back home, ran into an elderly couple who could not remember where they parked their car. We stood with them on the sidewalk, trying to help them picture where they had left it. They didn’t seem to be terribly worried (the woman had this amazing grin on her face the whole time) and the man made a  few jokes here and there. They had thick accents and I wondered if they were Norwegians participating in the parade, which happened to be Syttende Mai, the 17th of May celebration of the Norway Constitution Day.

So we walked with them not even a block, when the man pointed excitedly to a parking lot and said, “That’s it!” And we ambled on over there and sure enough, their car was right there. We gave them directions to the freeway (clearly they do not have GPS on them) and we parted ways with big hugs and smiles from the woman and hearty handshakes from the man.

This event gave us warm fuzzies as we walked back to our house. We were glad to have been able to touch these people’s lives with kindness. It was a little bittersweet for me, because it reminded me of my own parents and where they are in their lives, attempting to maintain their independence and not having the easiest time getting around. I wish and hope they will be kind to the strangers they meet (my mother’s anxiety often gets in the way) if they ever need help as they navigate their new-ish environment.

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April 6, 2015: Day 365/365 of Exercise

The words stayed there on the screen mocking me.

Day 365/365 of exercise.

I could not stop staring at them. I sort of wanted to slap my face for getting so hooked by this seemingly simple Facebook status update. My first thought: How is it possible to exercise EVERY DAY FOR A YEAR??

A classmate from middle school had written it. I emailed her immediately asking a barrage of questions: what does this mean…how did you do this…did you really exercise every day for a year?

And she wrote back and told me she got up very early in the mornings and went to the gym. Plus her kids were older teens so she was able to pull it off.

So then I thought: well, going to the gym at 5 am is not gonna work for me. I have an elementary-school age kid and a kid about to enter middle school in the fall- there will be lots of schlepping them around to school and activities and I’m not quite ready to leave them home alone.

But as I thought about that status update, something shifted inside me. Suddenly my state of inertia completely morphed into a state of extreme motivation. I realized I wanted, no, needed, this challenge really badly.

I had been bummed about feeling out of shape and not making the time to exercise regularly- that’s always been sort of a mantra for me, to be in shape and STAY in shape. I always felt better and stronger when I was active. And I felt like such a slug a year ago.

And here was a way for me to take charge and be motivated and stay motivated.

I started telling people about my goal to exercise every day for the next 365 days as a way to make it more real. I’m not a person who likes to fail, so saying the words out loud made me feel more accountable to my success.

Most people were thrilled and intrigued. One person said: you shouldn’t set unreasonable goals. It made me wonder why people say such things, and for a moment I dwelled on: why wasn’t it possible for this person to be supportive and say: wow, I hope you can do it! That would be hard for me! which is probably what they were really thinking and feeling at the time.

I didn’t dwell on that naysayer though. Luckily, I had a neighbor who exercised regularly and we started going for walks once a week in the morning before work, then when the weather turned nasty, as it ultimately does in Seattle, we started swimming also early in the morning. I was getting up at 6 am, which was certainly better than 5 am! In recent months right as daylight savings time was just about to kick in, we would look at each other and go: are we crazy? But it felt SO good afterwards.

My parameters for exercise: I had to move my body in some way for at least 20-30 minutes straight each day. My goal was not to do intense cardiovascular workouts every day for a year, but rather, get my muscles active and spend more time outside increasing my Vitamin D levels. And here were my main activities:

biking (usually twice a week), swimming (twice a week), hiking, walking (2-3 times a week), yoga (once a week), stair master at the gym (once a week), and playing frisbee or basketball. Skiing was out this season because the snow was nonexistent. Every week was different, depending on the weather and whether I was driving carpool or working at this job or that job.

In December I was sick for a week with a horrible sinus infection that had me completely drained of energy. But I made myself exercise- and it was very gentle and mostly consisted of me going for 20 minute walks around the neighborhood or doing yoga at home.

A friend commented that I seemed more peppy and cheerful than usual especially during the winter. And it is true, I have experienced many positive benefits of exercising every day: less moodiness and sadness, better sleep, feeling stronger and more toned, and it has now become a daily habit. I feel restless and stiff if I don’t make the time to move around.

I copied this status update on Facebook and hope it inspires someone else. I am undecided if I will continue the daily exercise regimen. Maybe it will be more like 5 days a week.

Next goal: I want to meditate every day for a year.  I will let you know when I start that:).

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The Danger of a Single Story

In honor of International Women’s Day, I am reposting some reflections about Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted talk, “Danger of a Single Story.”

The Inspired Philanthropist

Check out this interesting TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie. Her message is so right on: Our perceptions of others usually arise from a “single story”.


I am keenly aware that the single story can limit needlessly people’s understanding of a person or thing.

I have a hearing loss so profound that it takes the roar of a jet engine to bring any meaningful semblance of sound to my brain (when I am not wearing my cochlear implant, of course). And even then, I may not hear anything.

The way people perceive me often comes from several different single stories (and that would take several blog posts to talk about them all!):

  • All deaf people know sign language.
  • I must be “Deaf”. The capitalization of the word indicates that people think I am part of a culture that uses American Sign Language (ASL).
  • It is important to talk louder or over-articulate…

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