The wretched refuse
of your teeming shore.
the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
I once did a parody of this for my Preschool:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your fuddled mommies yearning to be carefree,
The wretched refuse of their toddlers’ screaming years.
Send these, the haggard, toddler-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the baby-gated door!
A favorite song, by a great performer. I’m trying to post lots of happy songs with the lyrics included in hopes of encouraging everyone to sing at least once a day!
On your mark, get set, SING:
Who can resist this joyous song?! NO one!!
Video with the words thoughtfully included so you can sing along:
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
“You’re not at all like my rose,” he said.
“As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one.
You’re like my fox when I first knew him.
He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes.
But I have made a friend, and now he’s unique in all the world.”
And the roses were very much embarrassed.
“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you.
To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you
–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she’s more important
than all the hundreds of you other roses:
because it is she that I have watered;
because it is she that I have put under the glass globe;
because it is for her that I’ve killed the caterpillars
(except the two or three we saved to become butterflies);
because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled,
or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing.
Because she is MY rose.”
― Antoine de St. Exupery
12 Days that Changed My Life
and the Lives of
A friend, recently back from an Operation Smile mission, shared with me a story I can’t retell without getting goose bumps, a story that when heard touches the listener. People have cried, have hugged me, have asked where they can donate. This is that story.
Operation Smile mostly does surgeries on children. But if they have space in the mission schedule they will do surgery for an adult. My friend was in the Recovery Room when a man of about 30, his smile having just been fixed, beckoned her to his bedside. “I brought an engagement ring with me,” he explained. “Could you ask my girlfriend to come in so that I can ask her to marry me.”
This young couple had long ago accepted the fact that her family would never allow them to marry because of his deformity. In 45 minutes and for about $240 (average cost to fund a cleft lip surgery), their lives were forever changed. It feels mighty good to be a part of something this great!!
If you can and you want to help, you’re a couple of clicks away from being the person that makes a story like this one, a reality. Spontaneous Smiley has funded 25 surgeries so far. Let’s aim to make that number 30.
Smile. Be happy!
BTW, 100% of your donation goes to Operation Smile. SpontaneousSmiley.com does not receive any compensation!
12 Days that Changed My Life
and the Lives of
I am here to say that play, in and of itself, is enough.
The two American teenagers who accompany every Operation Smile mission are included to provide health education for the children and parents. They learn all about, and come prepared with, handmade materials to teach everything from tooth brushing to hand washing, from burn prevention to burn care. The idea is that while all these families are waiting, waiting, waiting for their turn at screening and their child’s turn on the operating table, why not put on an educational show for this captive audience.
My understanding is that the Magees, who founded Operation Smile, brought their own kids with them in the early days of going on missions. They soon discovered that a couple of kids with nothing medical to do were incredibly valuable! They naturally fall into the role of Play-ologists and Lovey-Dovey-Liasons.
I imagine the plan for the teens to serve an educational role, instead of just being fun, helpful and nurturing, was designed to legitimize their inclusion because when one goes out seeking funding, you must justify the expense of a couple of teenagers and their chaperone (me). Can you, if play and hand holding is all they’ll be doing? If I were Boss of the World (and of the generous souls who donate to NGOs), I would tell them that play and nurturing is enough. I saw it a thousand times (honestly no exaggeration), Brendan and Hunter, the two U.S. teens that were on our mission, were making life changing contributions to the mission, to the lives of the patients and to the peace of mind of the patients’ parents.
And the boys did in fact do a ton of health lesson (We were reminded later that we were supposed to have kept track of how many of each type. We totally blew that part of our assignment! Yikes and sorry, Op Smile. Next time I’ll get my students to keep an accurate log, promise!). The boys sometimes found presenting the lessons awkward and difficult. Yes, the parents and the kids listened —well, the kids listened, but only if their parents forced them! They were having too much fun goofing around with all the cool free toys and entertainment, and trying hard NOT to think about what lay ahead. They wanted and needed fun distraction! The parents listened politely, but jeez, they were being given life changing surgery for their child for free. Of course they listened and of course they nodded and smiled.
I look at the mission and wonder if play is enough. But then I think play is enough, in many situations. I am a big play advocate and am not alone in advocating for more play for everyone. There is endless research showing that play is valuable on many, many levels.
Yet we as a society continue to grill our preschool teachers about what will be the academic curriculum for our 3 year olds and sign our kids up for after school enrichment this and advanced that. I’ve taught preschool for decades. I always tell my parents that our curriculum is kindness. I can say without hesitation, even if a preschool teacher never taught colors and shapes, or letters and numbers, almost every preschooler would pick those things up long before kindergarten any way. And as a parent, my kids were outside playing in the mud not taking pre-algebra.
So again I say, play is enough. Really. Ask T. Berry Brazillton. Ask Mr. Rogers. Ask Oprah. OK, not Mr. Rogers. I know he’s dead–I know it but I don’t much like it! So check with the other two! They’ll tell you the value of play! I am not saying that teaching medical units should be abandoned. No way! The information is too important–Oral Rehydration Therapy saves the lives of thousands of children a year. It’s easy to teach. It’s easy to learn. It is yet another way that Operation Smile is having a positive impact everywhere it goes.
It’s pretty cool that parents who come to Operation Smile for help, walk away with a child with a new smile and a family educated about important ways to keep their children safe! How about giving local teens or volunteers, who speak the language, this assignment.
But then why bring the U.S. teens if locals can do the health presentations in the native language? For several reasons. The U.S. teens and their chaperone are seen as having inside access to the doctors and an understanding of how the process will unfold, but without being as scary to talk to. This is huge! It’s such a comfort to them to have someone they can ask the trivial questions, the questions they think are silly. Additionally, going on a mission is a reward earned by the students who have given years of service to Operation Smile while they attend high school. The possibility of going on a mission certainly motivates the high school students to work hard raising funds for Operation Smile. And finally, the trip is life changing. Operation Smile takes a young adult who has participated in Operation Smile at their high school for a myriad of reasons (be honest, we all know kids do charity work in high school to beef up their college apps.) and makes them into adults who, because of their mission experience, will for the rest of their lives be active in volunteer efforts. How cool is that?! Pretty darned cool. Operation Smile rocks!!
So I assert that as parents, as educators, as people interested in a healthy society, we all need to stand up for play. That includes play for kids and play for adults. Have you played lately? If not, how about making play a priority!
And, I humbly acknowledge that I speak as someone with only the experience of one mission in a country that I imagine holds fewer challenges than many other countries! My inexperience as a volunteer on missions, may very well mean that I am wrong/naive, but I am certain that play has incredible value in this process (hand holding, too).
Smile. Be happy. Play. Be happier.
12 Days that Changed My Life
and the Lives of
When you go into another culture, you really don’t know what you will discover, what things will strike a cord because they were not what you expected.
One of the things that most struck me about Paraguayan society was the involvement of the daddies. The young dads were as active participants, as the moms were. From what I could see Paraguay was doing an awfully good job of splitting the parenting duties 50 50, especially those duties which require a nurturing approach.
Most of the kids were there with both parents. It was so touching to see that the dads were doing the cuddling, the play, the feeding, all of it. And all of it without self consciousness or the awkward “look at me, I’m doing my Mr. Rogers impersonation” sometimes seen on playgrounds in my neighborhood.
Not only were these dads being the ones to wipe up the spittle and soothe the crying infant, they also showed their emotions without shame. The dads were just as likely to cry as the moms. The dads’ faces were as deeply troubled as they waited and waited for their child to emerge from the Operating Room. I fell in love with the daddies of Paraguay for being so sweet, so vulnerable.
I have to admit that one reason I was so touched by their behavior was because it was not what I had expected. In my mind was the notion of Latin American machismo that really had no place in Paraguay. I guess the lesson here is that no preconceived notions ever have a place no matter where we go. Travel with an open heart and open mind ready to see what is really there. Even if where you are traveling is to your neighborhood grocery store.
Smile. Be happy.
12 Days that Changed My Life
and the Lives of
Surgeries begin today. Another day filled with big adventures-lots to learn and people to meet. As a first timer, even though I really did pay attention and take notes during training, I go into this situation with a sketchy idea of what I will be doing to help the team. Clearly there is much to learn now that we are here.
One of my main responsibilities is to look out for the two teenagers from the U.S. who are part of the team. Operation Smile has clubs at high schools all over the world where students work to raise money to fund the medical missions. Two students, who have been active in their club and have attended trainings, go on every mission. Their role is to educate the
children and families about various health related issues and to play with the kids during what can be very long waiting periods. Teenagers were incorporated into the process early on in Operation Smile’s existence, when 30 years ago, the Magees (the founders) brought their own children with them on the first missions. It became abundantly clear that having a couple of people free of any medical duties, and able simply to play with the kids and reassure the parents, was extremely valuable.
I could not have been luckier with the two teens I was assigned. Hunter and Brendan (a high school Senior and a Junior) were great! They needed little oversight and were great at jumping in. I’m not so sure that I, as a self conscious teen, would have had their level of chutzpah.
Yesterday on announcement day when families learn if their child will be getting surgery, my boys were total rock stars! They set up a table with toothbrushes and toothpaste and did the dental hygiene presentation all day long just outside the psychologist’s door where the parents and children exited.
They were able to talk with each family one at a time, giving them toothbrushes and toothpaste, and the hygiene instructions. They presented the dental hygiene module a zillion times that day, and in a way that was culturally sensitive and to an audience that was receptive, not distracted, and thus able to attend to what they were hearing. Additionally, the boys were able to say to each child/parent, “See you on ____day!” and “I’ll be there to take you to the operating room.” I have to say that may have been the hugest thing they did–they gave the parents a face to look for for comfort and support during a time when they were handing their child over for surgery to people with whom the could not easily communicate. The boys’ reassuring smiles were in a language they could understand.
The three of us, the American Play-ologists, arrived at the hospital everyday with our bags of bubbles, crayons, puzzles, hot wheels, stickers and pipe cleaners. The children having surgery had checked in the night before. Entire families had slept on the ward. The families were nervous. The kids were hungry and thirsty! It was our job to help both groups get through the day.
I found my role pretty quickly. As each child’s turn came, they and their parents were ushered into the area just off of where the Operation Rooms were. With the assistance of a translator the anesthesiologist met with the parents and did one last assessment of the child. (Local teens, who have been active in their Operation Smile Club, serve as translators for the mission. Everyday about 15 local high schoolers joined us and helped the medical personnel and families communicate. How cool to be 16 and assisting a surgeon to explain a procedure and a parent to explain their concerns.).
So what did I do here? No medical know how. Not much Spanish in this old noggin. But I am a mama. I became the Lovey-Dovey Parent Caretaker. Imagining what it must feel like to hand your child over to someone you’ve only just met, I decided they needed a little, no make that a lot, of TLC.
The medical staff had no time on their hands. I had only time. A nurse might simply call out a patient’s name and lead the family in. I had been playing with the kids and cajoling the parents. I knew them beyond the name and number on their hospital bracelet.
Whenever possible, I took on the responsibility of getting the families. My technique included hugs, arm squeezes, thumbs ups, hand holding, tickles and bubble blowing. It wasn’t much, but it was a lot. I sat with them while they met with the doctor. If they looked bewildered, I asked questions hoping to clear up their concerns. And when it was time to hand their baby over, I made sure they got enough kisses. And then since there is no such thing as enough, one more kiss.
And almost without exception, when I walked them out to the waiting area the questions they were too scared to ask the doctor, they asked me. It was a profound realization that these parents so wanted their children to be chosen for the surgery, that mom and dad weren’t going to take the chance of being perceived as the problem parent by asking a lot of questions.*
I walked them to the waiting area holding their hands or with an arm around their trembling shoulder. The SOP was for parents to simply walk down the hall to the waiting chairs. Instead I walked them there, with the empathy of a fellow parent. It was as if, by being kind, I gave them permission to cry. And cry they did. The whole stiff upper lip thing, isn’t really the way to go. Crying is such a great release when the situation is filled with tension and fear.
During the 1-3 hours that they waited, I stopped by and gave updates. I didn’t really need to know any medical specifics. What they needed to hear was: so far so good, it’s going well, thumbs up from the doc, about another hour, . . .
I was the Lovey-Dovey Guide. My day consisted of guiding them to the operating area, to the waiting area and then into recovery. It was an honor to be the one who brought mom or dad back to the Recovery Room to see their child’s new smile for the very first time. Lots of tears. Lots of hugs. Lots of smiles.
The parents were, of course, thankful. I hope they realize that we are thankful for the opportunity to hold their hand.
Smile. Be happy.
* What I perceived as the parents’ reluctance to rock the boat, for fear their child might be excluded, also became apparent as everyone pulled out their cameras. These were extremely intimate moments in these family’s lives. We all were careful to ask permission before taking pictures, but truthfully I soon came to understand that they probably felt they had to say yes. After the first day of surgeries, I put my camera away.