moving forward

navigating through the life that was and moving into the life that is

Heavy Bowls

on September 2, 2013

A video of a little girl being asked to clear the table and struggling with a “heavy bowl” recently was shared at my church. She makes comments such as, “I am not big enough” and “it is so heavy” as she is crying and falling on the ground. The bowl is clearly not too heavy and it really is amusing. Check it out…

As much as we can all enjoy the video, the toddler tantrum occurrence is a reality in the lives of parents every day. The thing that strikes me most about the video is not the girl, although she is a riot. The star of this video for me? The dad. The father who lovingly reassures her, lovingly encourages her and allows her to successfully complete the task on her own.
I laughed as I saw it for the first time, thinking of the number of times Cameron has said “my legs are tired” or “it is soooo far”.

In that moment, as parents, we have a crucial decision to make. Force or support.

For me, instead of forcing him into submission and being harsh on him, I have always felt that getting on his level and supporting him is the best medicine. I could force him to do what I’m saying. I could yell at him, I could scold him or make comments like “you are being ridiculous” or “get up and do it”, but I chose to remain calm and work with him until he accomplishes it on his own. Now let’s be honest here, that doesn’t always happen. First and foremost, if it is a dangerous choice he is making, force is the best option. Other times, well, calm is a distant second cousin: I’m tired or impatient and I snap. However, those times we both end up in tears. Angry tears, mad tears, frustrated tears. When I remain calm, though, he may still cry unbelieving tears and I may cry for him but they are transformed to tears of effort and success and accomplishment. They are tears worth crying.

Just as the dad does in the video, he first acknowledges her challenge and after encouraging her a few times, he eventually uses a firmer tone and she does it! She accomplishes the goal and proves it to herself amidst her dad’s joy that she can do it! She has just won a huge battle. All by herself. She accomplished the task that she insisted she couldn’t do. There are going to be many times when she comes upon “heavy bowls” in her life and this dad is perfectly modeling how to get through them. The 1:21 seconds that the whole episode took could have ended so much worse, with feelings of anger, disappointment, failure and helplessness. Instead, success.

I am certain that some of my tantrums looked a little like this girl. And although the bowl wasn’t really heavy, or, for me, the curb wasn’t really a big step down, in our minds it was a gigantic bowl and a cliff of a curb.
Here is how I know how the little girl feels. On November 5th, 2011 all of the things I had already spent 29 years learning were gone.
My family was in a horrific car accident that took my husband’s life and left me with a traumatic brain injury. Although certain things have come back with ease, other seemingly easy things have been “heavy bowls”. After waking, my first major challenge was following commands like sticking my tongue out. My mom sat and supported me for hours while I just kept trying to get my tongue out of my mouth. Although I have no memory of this (short term amnesia), from my mom’s retelling and knowing me, I am certain that I was frustrated. “Stick your tongue out” seems like a relatively effortless type of request. And yet, I had never ending failed attempts. One after another. Disappointment. Frustration. Then, I did it. Slowly, very slowly and not all the way out but I did it!! All of my mom’s encouragement, all of her support and I accomplished it. I am certain that there was joy in my heart that my mom will never know which gave me the first dose of the “keep fighting” attitude that I have held unto ever since.

The difference from the video, for me, is that the battles are occurring within myself. The support, however, was the same. Once I began to follow commands, the next challenge was getting me up and moving. A significant “heavy bowl” was getting up a wooden three step staircase in physical therapy at the hospital. So again like the father knew that his daughter was capable of lifting the bowl, I knew that my body had been capable of walking up steps. My thoughts were telling my legs to move, but my brain could no longer submit that message to my legs. Exasperation, fear, anger, disgust with myself even and then the gentle words of the physical therapist, “you can do this Sandra, just get up one step.” Not “come on Sandra, this is easy. It’s three steps. Come one.” Gentle encouragement through my frustrated tears, “you can do this Sandra, just get up one step.” That one step eventually moved to three and on the day of my husband’s funeral, the day after I was released from the hospital, I practically ran up about 7 steps because I was so excited to see friends from church. I got up, turned around, saw the steps behind me, and asked them if I just walked up those and they all smiled and said “yes”. My mind was blown, my brain was starting to make that connection again. The axon had been severed when the accident occurred, but through therapy and practice and practice, the connection was reforming. The best illustration I can give for this was given by my doctor at the hospital.

I have a Diffuse Axonal Brain Injury which involves sheering of the axons which are the pathways between the neurons in the brain. Many of the connections or “roads” in my brain were sheered – broken. For example, say that for my legs to move the message has to travel along the axon from neuron A to neuron B. The axon is sheared. There is no longer a complete road from A to B. Think traffic jam on the road. Now I can keep trying to go from A to B on that road, but I will hit the break, the “traffic jam” every time. Over and over and over again I can try the same old way and I did! Until I try to “drive” another road, I am going to meet failure. There are 3 processes that my doctor described to me. This one meeting with him in May of 2012 changed everything. It gave me power. It made me realize that my brain did not control me. I controlled my brain. For the brain injured patient, this is an epic moment.


Here are the 3 process that occur when you are healing: (remember I’m not a scientist so these are my understanding of of them with a little country music thrown in 😛 )

Unmasking – unmasking is similar to revealing or exposing back roads
You know how irritated you feel when you are in a traffic jam? Now come on and admit it. 🙂 Irritated was my nice word for how some of you feel.

Now imagine if that happened all day long. Every day. And then suddenly you discover (unmask) a back road and you are moving again. You are free to get on with where you were heading. Imagine sitting in that traffic jam for days or months, waking up everyday in the same old jam and then one day, Bam, you are free. Yeah, unmasking those connections feels that good!

Collateral Sprouting – now this one is a bit more difficult to explain
An axon is sheared, several axons are sheared. Axons can sprout though. Intact axons being used for other processes can sprout. I have loved this one because my brain is sprouting! There is such celebration in new life. 🙂 The new sprouts can allow for the movement from Neuron A to neuron B to occur albeit differently. I went to for this definition:
collateral sprouting – Intact axons located near damaged areas may sprout to reestablish connections with, and in place of damaged areas; cannot be assured that the new connections function exactly as their damaged neighbors did.

Axonal Branching – and this one is almost impossible to understand without research. 🙂 This process seems similar to sprouting but it is more significant and the axon will continue to branch until it joins another branching axon.  Then it may continue to branch after that.

ALL this to say, we all have “heavy bowls” in our lives. Something that is so difficult to us that other people can not even begin to understand. A “heavy bowl” which people may self righteously judge us for.  Remember those steps I ran up at church? Yeah. Well getting down them? That was a whole different challenge. Going down stairs was about 10 times harder. I needed assistance on getting down. But you just went up the stairs. You must be faking. You must not really need help.

That day, I did need help, despite that it looked like I should be able to do it.  So I pray that when you come to the day when the reason for your “heavy bowl” is invisible to others, I hope there is somebody there who will help you, encourage you, and love you.  I hope that there is someone there who can rejoice in your successes and applaud you as you face your challenges. Above all, when your “heavy bowl” arrives, because it will, I pray for you the courage to keep trying, the courage to get up off the comfort of the kitchen floor and give it one more try.

2 responses to “Heavy Bowls

  1. Tonia says:

    As I started reading this I was thinking about Glenn and the funeral (and the stairs!!!!) We were ALL so excited to see you, and to see how far you had come. You continue to inspire and teach us ALL…..and AMAZE me. You have the strength of Job and the knowledge, presence, and compassion of a Saint….you never cease to amaze me with the leaps & bounds you make everyday. That forward motion, well that is you day in and day out. I am blessed to have you as a friend!!! Keep walking those stairs girl!!!

    • Sandra says:

      Hehe, I love you so much Tonia. Thank you for this encouragement. Thank you for being a shoulder to cry on in the green room when the world was such a scary place and a steady presence when I couldn’t hold myself up. I am grateful to have you in my life as well!

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