Human Highlights: The Final Installment

Human Highlights is a Sunday tradition at Commode To Joy. It’s a friendly reminder to forgive your human moments, celebrate the highlights, and enjoy.

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Human Moment: I’m ending Human Highlights; this is the final installment of the series.

I started it exactly nine months ago, November 13th. At its inception, I didn’t have any idea how long it would run. It felt like the thing to do, so I did it. And, as promised, every Sunday for the past nine months, I’ve posted an installment.

Fitting that it’s run for nine months – like a human gestation period.

I’ll spare you pregnancy/birthing metaphors.

You’re welcome.

It’s been fun, and it’s time to say goodbye. Not the ugly cry kind of goodbye, but the pleasant kind that makes room for new opportunities.

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Highlight: There is a group of moms who lives in my neighborhood/nearby that gets together regularly for playdates. We’ve been meeting for a while now, though my and Miller’s attendance is sketchy at best.

This past week, a special gathering was scheduled for one of our moms/families who is moving out of state. Given the occasion, and that kids and a teacher-mom are still on summer break, we had a huge turnout; only one mother/daughter couldn’t attend.

We started inside with toys, then crafts and snacks before going outside for pictures and more play. Conversation bounces between moms as we weave through rooms looking out for one another’s kids.

There’s something to be said for the women whom you go through mothering with.

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The moms representing sixteen children.

Right now, this is my mom group. It’ll change as our children go to different schools or take up different activities.

Knowing that this stage is temporary, that our kids’ interests are and will be transitory, makes this photo all the more special.

When Miller is bigger than I am, off to college, full-grown, perhaps parenting, this picture will take me back…

to potty training and sleep schedules…

to regularly discussing when and where we’d be sending our children to preschools…

to Kim who first organized these gatherings and Ellen who always wears dresses and Holly whom we hugged goodbye.

It’ll take me back to the days when two hours of neighborhood play was a highlight, not just of my day or my week, but of this phase of life.

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Enjoyment: Saying our own temporary goodbye to the Midwest as we board a plane for a Portland vacation.

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As one journey ends, another begins. Thanks for the reads, for sharing in my Human Highlights, and for sharing yours as well.

Always,
Jamie

What are your Human Highlights from the week? Leave one of your moments in the comments below.

From Finding Joy to Finding Perspective: Two Years of Blogging

Two years ago I started a blog. I felt nudged to do it, so I did.

First, I researched naming a blog – dos, don’ts, cautions, and considerations – but I wasn’t coming up with the perfect name. I threw caution to the wind, ignored the do’s and don’ts, and told perfection to kiss it. I squished my name – Jamie Muscato – together and named my blog jamuscat.

It wasn’t easy to pronounce, it would need spelled for everyone, and what does it mean anyway? I didn’t care. The nudge was to start a blog, not to find a perfect name and then start a blog.

My tagline was “Finding Joy”. That kind of sucked too because another woman out there had taken claim to the name. Again, I didn’t care. I was coming out of a dark period and was slowly emerging by finding joy. It was fitting, so I used it. Next.

Once I committed to finding joy, I started noticing it in simple, unexpected ways, like in a book that I wrote in the second grade.

EPSON MFP image

Buried in a box of my old stuff that Mom snuck over to the house, this book brought back fond memories and prompted my very first blog post – Sometimes I Think.

I kept looking for joy. I found it while playing with sidewalk chalk alongside my then one-and-a-half year old.

Sidewalk Masterpiece

August 2015

The shirts I had made for our “Moose-Cat-Oh” family Halloween costume brought lots of joy.

Moose-Cat-Oh

October 2015

So did taking the time to document my and Miller’s matching Chuck Taylors (made even better by the matching red lips we acquired in the process).

Chucks

December 2015

In December, after four months of blogging on my old site, I came up with Commode To Joy.

It didn’t quite fit the old theme. Rather than finding obvious joy, I’d be sifting through the pieces of something less than desirable to find the good, the ode, the joy.

The name change made sense to me, because in finding joy, a second phenomenon happened: My perspective shifted. CTJ is reflective of taking a shift.

The goal of Commode To Joy is to make you think or to make you feel. I want you to feel good. Joyful even. Need relief? Lighten up. In other words, take the lessons and the good stuff with you, and move on. Grab your version of sidewalk chalk, and enjoy.

Think of it as an antidepressant using words.

None of this would have been discovered had I not first started a poorly named blog. Had I striven for perfection, I’d probably still be deciding a name. Instead, I went for it.

In two years I’ve organically increased views, viewers, and followers. I’ve gotten paid writing gigs and have been featured on larger blog sites. I’ve written a book (to be published), and I’ve adapted and grown both as a writer and personally.

It all started with a nudge. Even though my stack of fearful what-ifs was taller than me, I decided I was greater than my fears. You are too.

Whatever it is you’re thinking about doing? Less thinking. More doing. Stop questioning. Just do.

If it sucks, it sucks. You can either walk away or tweak it.

If it’s mediocre, so be it. You can walk away or tweak it.

If it’s off the charts outstanding right from the start? Well, good for you, and let me know what that’s like!

The point isn’t to be perfect. The point is that you’re listening to the nudge.

So here I am, once again following a nudge to write about a post commemorating two years of blogging.

Finding joy was the was the warm up. Commode To Joy is the main event.

If you’ve been here since the beginning, thank you. If you’re just joining the fun? Welcome.

Always,
Jamie

Human Highlights: From A-Hole to Awe-Inspired, All In A Week’s Time

Human Highlights is a Sunday tradition at Commode To Joy. It’s a friendly reminder to forgive your human moments, celebrate the highlights, and enjoy.

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Human Moment: Up to this installment, all of my Human Moments have been mistakes that I make – such as not applying enough sunscreen – or incidents that happen to me – like getting hit in the face with poop water. Not once have I written an account of me consciously choosing a human reaction.

That’s because I don’t like feeling like an asshole, so I rarely engage in circumstances or conversations that push me to that point. Friday, however, was a rare exception. I opted for a-hole status.

Miller and I went to the hospital to meet Mark for dinner. Rather than going to our usual entrance, we parked by the cafeteria. (This momma was hungry; I didn’t want to waste time walking the hallways.)

The door to the cafeteria was locked – odd, considering they were serving food for another hour and a half. Seeing a woman sitting at an inside table next to a window, I walked over and tapped on the glass gesturing to the door. She looked at me, shook her head no, and resumed eating all the while avoiding eye contact.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Fortunately, someone else saw me and Miller standing outside and let us in.

Once inside, with a direct line of sight to the woman still sitting by the windows, I extended my arm pointing directly at her, thus breaking two of the earliest rules I remember my mom enforcing – Jamie, stop staring; Jamie no pointing!

My loud chest voice caught her attention. She looked at me as I said dryly, “Thanks for your help.” I maintained eye contact and kept my finger aloft until she shook her head and returned to her plate of food.

I made my point. I called her out on her point blank refusal to help another person.

Did it make me feel like an a-hole? Yes. I had that shaky rattly feeling in my core for the next fifteen minutes at least.

Will it change her or her obstinance? Doubtful.

Did we both display human reactions to one situation? Absolutely. And that’s what I kept telling myself as I let the fumes dissipate. We’re allowed to be humans in all aspects. It’s part of the experience. Let it be, and let it go.

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Highlight: Seeing the huge response to Mindy’s Story this week was the highest of Highlights for me.

Her story is so powerful that I expected people to be inspired. What I didn’t see coming was the huge wave of support that Mindy received in return, from both acquaintances and strangers alike.

Thanks to your reads and shares, Mindy’s Light Series feature was read in Australia, Canada, China, India, Ireland, Italy, Pakistan, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Thanks to your comments and messages, you’ve become a part of her healing journey.

Me & Mindy

Meeting for our first interview – June 23, 2017

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Enjoyment: We snuck into neighboring fields while at an adoption party.

The sky, the fields, the hills, the boy. Makes the incident at the hospital cafeteria seem inconsequential. Because it is. Because moments like this – not the highs, not the lows, but the everyday occurrences? These moments make the larger fabric of our lives. The gal at the cafeteria was just one coarse thread.

This moment is what I’ll remember for years to come. This is what matters.

Summer Run

What are your Human Highlights from the week? Leave one of your moments in the comments below.

T.G.I.F.

It’s a Thursday, with the energy of a Friday.

Mark’s been worn out the last couple of nights. The guy doesn’t usually wear out.

It’s a Thursday, but it feels like Friday.

Friday.

Date nights.

Way before we were parents, one Friday afternoon, I remember thinking, I wish Mark would make dinner reservations somewhere and surprise me with a date night.

Then I thought, Well duh, if that’s what you want to happen, make it happen. Give Mark the surprise date night that you’d like.

So I did.

I booked a reservation out of town, called Mark telling him I’d be taking him to dinner and what time I’d pick him up from work/working out.

It became somewhat of a tradition. When a Friday felt particularly Friday-esque, I’d make a surprise dinner reservation.

Today’s a Thursday, with the energy of a Friday.

Mark’s been worn out the last couple of nights. The guy doesn’t usually wear out. He could use a break.

It’s a Thursday, but it feels like Friday. I could go for some fun. 

There’s only one extra step these days to make my impromptu date nights happen: Find a babysitter.

Thank God for Grandma.

Don’t wait for your partner to initiate the date night you’re secretly hoping for. Love on them the way you’d like to be loved once in a while.

As for me? I like to dote on Mark with words and gestures.

As for Mark? He does things for me – acts of service – a lot.

Like when we approached the restaurant and I remembered they don’t have Splenda and I didn’t have any in my clutch. He walked over to the neighboring restaurant and took a few packets off of their outdoor condiment cart for me.

Yeah, we have each other’s backs. It’s love. Expressed differently. Received the same.


Heaping someone with love is immensely better than harboring resentment for not receiving the kind of love you’d like.

It’s Thursday, but it feels like a Friday.

It’s a Thursday, and it feels like love. 

Surviving a Brain Tumor and Coma: Mindy’s Story, Part Three

By September of 2016, Mindy Whisnant returned home following a craniotomy and a coma. Her husband Greg returned to work while their daughter Ashley settled into the sixth grade. Mindy’s recovery at her home hospital, Decatur Memorial Hospital (DMH) included regular physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Mindy progressively got stronger, first walking without assistance, and then resuming household tasks.

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Mindy took on cooking and vacuuming, but she wasn’t interested in dusting. “Ain’t nobody dusted this house when I was asleep,” jokes Mindy. “And we have big deer heads. There are like seven in the living room. The catfish? Rags will get caught up in its little teeth. I wondered, How much would it cost for someone to come dust?”

She gladly hired someone to do her dusting. “Yeah, they still dust for me. That’s part of growth – being okay to outsource things. You aren’t a deficit mother or wife because you’re delegating work.”

In addition to gaining a clearer understanding of what matters to her, Mindy gained physical strength. “My physical therapist said, ‘Mindy, you’re about eight months ahead of schedule. We’ve maxed out everything we can do. It’s time for you to go to outpatient care.’

“My occupational therapist (OT) was a CrossFitter. She was a great match for me, because we had the same [training] language.

“During an appointment, my OT called Barnes. ‘Mindy wants to bench [press]. What can I tell her?’ They said I could go ahead as long as it didn’t give me a headache. This meant I could deadlift, bench, squat, and more even at the gym.

“My OT ended the call and set up a deadlift station – a PVC pipe with ankle weights on the ends. Probably a grand total of seven pounds. My hips hit where they were supposed to, knees hit where they were supposed to. It was my thing. I got back to my thing.”

After Mindy’s appointments, her OT communicated progress to the DMH affiliated Specific Performance Enhancement Center (SPEC) trainers. When Mindy went to the SPEC gym, she picked up where she left off at therapy.

Open communication combined with Mindy’s drive made for safe and rapid progress. Yet, starting completely over with lifting frustrated her more than anything else throughout the entire journey. “I knew my numbers. I knew what I was capable of, and now where am I starting? A PVC pipe. I had a 180 pound squat [before].”

Determined to get back to using a barbell, Mindy told her SPEC trainers they’d better have a bar with her name on it once she graduated from the PVC pipe. On October 21st, Mindy arrived at the gym to discover they’d honored her wish. “I lifted sixty-five pounds that night,” grins Mindy.

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Graduating to the barbell.

Through everything, including her workouts, Mindy continued wearing her helmet.

She took it to Giggles, a local gift shop, to have it customized. Since she couldn’t leave the store without it, Mindy waited as her helmet became Wonder Woman worthy. Hearing Mindy’s story, they decorated it free of charge, wishing her a speedy and successful recovery. Mindy especially loves their interpretation of Wonder Woman’s “big ole squat thighs”, as she puts it.

“I wore the helmet total from July 5th until the skull cap placement surgery on Nov 28th.”

Back at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Mindy underwent her final surgery of this journey. She returned home the next day bandaged and swollen, but with her spirits in tact.

Nov 2016

A meme Greg made to boost Mindy’s spirits – November 30, 2016 – two days post op.

Following that final surgery, Mindy signed into her Barnes’ online patient portal. Seeing “mild cognitive dysfunction” listed in her records startled her.

“Maybe other people see something that I don’t and maybe nobody has told me. I asked my doctor if he felt I have cognitive impairment. He told me I’ve made tremendous recovery from all I’ve been through. That I may have some mild cognitive dysfunction but am very highly functioning.

“It’s a part of my medical history just like anything else. One of those tags that will always be there. It’s a piece that I haven’t embraced. I don’t want to. But that’s the box they need to put me in. Even when I went for my driving evaluation in February, it was brought up.” In total, Mindy went eight months  – from June of 2016 to February of 2017 – without driving.

After being cleared by her doctor, on December 27th – six months following the craniotomy – Mindy resumed her position as a Clinical Research Associate at DMH.

Today, Mindy still deals with side effects. “Brushing my teeth is sound overload, but I power through it because I’m home, not at a nursing home, and because I’m getting ready for work. Most people with brain injuries/trauma are on disability because they’re considered a liability.

“Also brain freeze. When it hits titanium mesh, it don’t let go. Since there’s no vascularity to titanium, cold kinda lingers. For like a minute. Dang it, ice cream!”

Mindy’s affect has changed some too. “I’m more cut and dry than before. I don’t think it’s a neurological thing, I think it’s a perspective thing. I don’t deal with BS at all anymore. I’m not in the business of bullshitting.

“I don’t entertain doubt as much as I used to. Even in strongman competitions, I used to think, Oh, I’m only going to do this much weight. I don’t do that any more. Instead, I think, I’m going to set this goal, and if I don’t hit it, I don’t hit it.”

“Even with home goals, I don’t set myself up for failure with I have to have items one through ten done by noon. No, if I get one through three done, let’s be happy with that and move on to the next day.”

If given the opportunity to go back and change any of it, it would be her family’s struggle as she healed. “I would do the recovery fifteen times if I could avoid what Greg and Ashley went through doing their part.”

While home recovering, Mindy found a note Ashley had written during the coma. “She was trying to figure out how to get through the sixth grade without her mom. I wish I could make that go away. Those are feelings that no husband, mother, or child should have to cycle through,” says Mindy.

“But, just like the experience changed me, I think it also changed them. So maybe it would be selfish of me to take that experience from them in a way.

“We faced our greatest obstacle a year ago. There really isn’t much that could be worse than all of that. There’s very little Team Whisnant can’t handle.”

Today Mindy’s life looks as it did prior to her surgery. A small tracheotomy scar is the only visible evidence of what she endured over the past two years. She’s back to her usual routines and hobbies. Most recently, Mindy successfully pulled a truck outside of the SPEC on July 25, 2017.

 

If you didn’t know her story before, you would never guess it. But now you do know it. And maybe, like Mindy, you’re a little better off – not despite it, but because of it.

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Surviving a Brain Tumor and Coma: Mindy’s Story, Part One

Surviving a Brain Tumor and Coma: Mindy’s Story, Part Two

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