Still standing

Still standing

battered butterfly - CoffeeJitters.Net

Inspired by a butterfly.

February was a difficult month. We moved, which is always stressful, and then there was all the homework for school, and all that was compounded by my illness and two hospitalizations during the month. My mom ended up coming out for a couple weeks, and that was a big help. Now, we are completely out of the old place now, and I just have to unpack at the new place. I’ll be tackling that chore at a much slower pace.

In the meantime, I’m feeling much better now, and we love love love our new Seattle neighborhood. We’ve had a blast spending the last few days exploring. Now that we survived the move, I can see that this new place will be a good change for us. We’ve already made a few new friends 🙂



It was a grey, blustery day, perfectly suited to my grey, blustery mood. I was dragging my cranky toddler and cantankerous husband through that most soul-suckingly dreadful chore: grocery shopping.


All the while I was complaining about the fatigue I’m still battling, and my ever growing list of things I STILL haven’t gotten done yet.


What happened to my inspiration, I wondered. What happened to that drive that kept me up all night, not because I had to do something, but because I was so passionate about that project that I couldn’t not work on it?

Inspired | Judy Schwartz Haley | CoffeeJitters

“You used to find inspiration everywhere,” my husband said – rather insensitively, I thought.


That comment pissed me off a little bit, mostly because he was right. (Is there anything quite so infuriating as a spouse who is right?)


I used to be able to look around wherever I was and find something, some little something, that lit something in me.


I looked around at the displays of produce. Those peppers are really orange. Look how the water beads up and sparkles on the broccoli.


It started coming back. Not the up all night because I’m so driven type of inspiration, but enough for me to come back to the store then next day with my camera.


Not a thing changed in that store to bring about that change in me, not the lighting, not the moods of my companions, just a little shift in what I was noticing.


Also: dinner tonight is rainbow chard, black beans, mushrooms, and quinoa. No recipe, I just felt inspired to put those things together. We’ll see how that turns out.


What inspired you lately? And, what’s for dinner?


How a scary looking kid helped me get my head screwed on straight

How a scary looking kid helped me get my head screwed on straight

The first night I met him, he glared at me then leaned back a ways before slamming his head down on to the table. That thud of skull connecting with wood was so hard it made the walls shake and the windows rattle. I choked a bit on my heart, and my stomach churned with that nauseous fear that comes when everything is wrong. Very, very wrong. What were we doing with this kid in our home?

To say I wasn’t thrilled about my mom’s decision to take in foster kids was an understatement. That she was specifically interested in taking developmentally challenged kids, made it worse. This was a bad idea. I was sure of it.

Matt’s case manager told mom that he was a “head banger.” Those two little words were inadequate to describe the frequency and force with which his head made contact with any nearby hard surface.

He was difficult to look at. His brain had not developed properly, and he was born with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus.  His hair grew in funny little tufts around the patchwork of scars on his head. His face was scarred, and frequently bloody from the head banging. He couldn’t stand up straight, and could barely walk.

And he was angry. Mad. Furious at the world. And with good cause.

It was Matt’s story specifically that finalized my Mom’s decision to become a foster parent.  At the time she first heard about him, he had been living in a motel with hired care givers taking shifts sitting with him in that room, because they could not find a home that would take him. He had extensive medical needs, that required a great deal of work to manage. And developmentally he was a two year old, still a baby.

He didn’t know what was going on; he just knew that most people were mean, and he didn’t know who to trust.

It was a long period of adjustment: him getting used to our large boisterous family, and us getting used to this new person in our midst with so many new needs (like needing help with toileting, among other things), and of course, that head banging.

But one day we discovered something.  If you put your hand on the table, or wall, or whatever else was the target of his swiftly moving head, he would stop mid-swing. He would bang his head, he would hit things, he would break things, but he would not hit us.

That discovery started a little shift.  For one thing, it helped us significantly cut down on the head banging by just putting a hand in the way. But it also started to change the way we saw him: self-destructive, yes, but not violent towards others.

He got easier to look at over time as well.  Eventually, we started to see past all the scars, and notice other things, like that mischievous twinkle in his eye.

Matt was a little prankster, especially once he got comfortable with us.  He was funny. He’d blame his farts on you. He’d pull your chair out as you were trying to sit down. If he was done with you, he’d dismiss you: “Bye!”

And he was gentle, so very gentle, especially with babies.

lesson from matt

The obvious lesson here is about not judging the book by the cover, or the person by how they look.  But there’s more.  It wasn’t just the way Matt looked that was scary at first. It was his behavior that terrified us. Matt also taught us a lesson in looking past the angry in others – that the attitude is likely a hard-earned, self-protective shell, and not necessarily indicative of what’s inside.  Its a difficult lesson, and one I forget frequently.  But I’m still trying.

Over the years, Matt went through dozens of procedures and surgeries.  His hydrocephalus was managed by a shunt that drained the excess fluid from his brain. That shunt frequently had issues, perhaps caused by the head-banging, but that pressure may have also been the cause of the the head banging – the pressure caused a great deal of pain, that bang momentarily equalizing the pressure.

He actually became quite popular, at school, at church, in the community. He passed away from complications of surgery when he was 24.  He was still a toddler developmentally, but he was a happy toddler. When he died he was surrounded by his family, foster family perhaps, but family still. And he knew he was loved. His funeral was standing room only; the community had learned to love him as well.

It has been 11 years since his death, today would have been his 35th birthday. I still think of him often.  He taught us so much about accepting others, and about resilience and redemption. I’m still learning that lesson about forgiving and understanding the angry.

See also: My Mother’s Gift for more on this story.



I just joined an online challenge called 21*5*800 hosted by Bindu Wiles. 21 days. 5 days of yoga per week. 800 words per day.

I am so excited about this challenge.

The group is actually on day 4 of the challenge and I just got started. I’m just going to start where the group is, then add a few extra days at the end, probably just picking up the prompts I dropped from the first few days.

I’ve already decided that I while I intend to write my 800 words every day, I probably won’t share all of it, although I may share a portion. I want to get into a daily writing, and yoga, practice. I want to be able to be honest in my writing, and I have learned that I have to be much too careful about what I publish in this format. That said, today’s topic is relevant: Fear.


Fear has become a big part of my life since my breast cancer diagnosis. Fear of death? Certainly. Fear of pain? Oh, yes. Fear of being a burden on my family? Absolutely. Fear of the effects of my cancer on my one year old daughter? Terrifying.

I have found that the yoga helps. I’ve learned to breathe through the movements: the tough stretches, holding a challenging pose. That practice transfers to the uncomfortable and painful procedures. A deep breath and long slow exhale as I endure the poking and prodding makes all the difference. The pain is still there, but it is a bit more manageable. Focusing on my breath takes my focus away from the pain.

Fear takes me out of the present and puts me into the future – a future that is unknowable, yet my imagination tries it’s best to find every worst case scenario. Pain forces me into right now – so does my yoga practice. When I’m in now, what might happen doesn’t matter. Every moment has an infinity of possible outcomes.

When I’m seized by anxiety or panic, the yogic breathing can settle me down. Cleansing breath: long, slow exhale opens up more space in the lungs for a deeper, fuller inhale. Raise the arms to expand the chest, then slowly lower them as I exhale. Before I know it, I’m focusing more on how my body feels and improving this critical function. The fear is still there, but it is a bit more manageable. Focusing on my breath takes my focus away from the fear.

That’s not to say that fear is unwarranted. I have an aggressive form of breast cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes, complicated by another rare form of cancer that has a pretty grim prognosis. This is not something I can ignore or wish away. I also cannot focus only on the present. I am submitting myself to these procedures and chemotherapy, sacrificing my comfort and well being in the present, because I fear what will happen if I don’t, and in hope of improving my well being in the future.

Fear and Hope.

What I need is balance.

That takes me back to yoga.


You can learn more about my cancer story here:

my cancer story | Judy Schwartz Haley


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