Saturday, August 1, 2009

Faith, Friends and Ninja Turtles

My son wasn't always a tough guy, but when his first sister was born, so began his combat-related training.

Through the years he perfected those skills, practicing on his sisters with boyhood bravado. He ended up carrying his warrior spirit to the Marine Corps, and the girls finally got a breather.

However, despite the fact that as a small child he had the nerve to walk up to a grown man he didn't know and kick him in the shin, when taken into the confines of a Dr.'s examining room, his power was no more. Think Superman and kryptonite, or maybe the wicked witch and a pail of water. It’s a toss up.

But let me take you back... he had history at the doctor's office. As a toddler, health care equaled fear. There were large needles, blood drawn, screaming, crying and thrashing, that panic-stricken default mode toddlers have of coping with pretty much everything.

There was the time he had his lip sewn up and the time he had his eyebrow stitched together, or that other "fun" visit involving a mask being strapped to his face so he could inhale the medication necessary to keep him breathing clear. Unfortunately the tizzy he worked himself into during that process, combined with the scent of the medication and the overwhelming sense of helpless fear, brought on a bout of vomiting…in the mask. Another memory to add to his medical memoir.

He carried these (and a number of other) traumatic nuggets along to every subsequent well and sick appt., of which there were oh, so many throughout his childhood. No sooner would we walk into the office than my little warrior would turn into a quivering jellyfish.

After all... he knew now that scary things could happen there, and loving reassurance wasn't strong enough to quell the distress embedded in his memory. He'd earned that fear fair and square. He was keeping it.

Or was he?

Fast forward to a visit down the road a ways. We were again biding time in the little room with the crinkley paper-draped exam table, shelves outfitted with kids books, puzzles and pamphlets. The hearty antiseptic scent that is so familiar to medical facilities fomented even my own fear as the minutes ticked on and on into what seemed like doctor's office eternity.

There’s only so much to look at in an exam room while you wait with a child overcome with impending doom. So after we pieced together the puzzle, pondered the tongue depressors and the garbage can with the red bio-hazard symbol, we turned our attention to the large photo hanging on the wall. There in front of Cinderella's castle, stood Mickey Mouse, reminding us of the brighter side of childhood. Mickey wasn't alone. He stood arm and arm with a tall bald man who beamed a friendly smile. He must be Mickey's best friend.

Dr. Steiner slid the door open and sure enough, he was Mickey’s good-natured bald buddy. He arrived with his smile and his clipboard, dressed in a lab coat, and he reached out to shake Cael's itty bitty hand and began his attempt to draw out this youngster who wasn’t showing much enthusiasm.

Cael clammed up and huddled close… that is until Dr. Steiner began to carry out a most important procedure, the one that endeared him to us for all time and the childhood visits to follow.

With a swift and sure motion, Dr. Steiner opened up the cabinet and a new way of thinking for a little boy who was haunted by bad memories. The doctor’s first course of action was complete all before my son knew what hit him.

It was a heavy dose of a good medicine called distraction; a distraction that came in the form of a tupperware box full of Ninja Turtles... oodles of them.

Cael's head snapped around. What?! What's this? What's this guy doing with Ninja Turtles? He simultaneously and abruptly lost his grip on both me and his fear. Dropped us for a new fixation. This wasn't what he'd been dwelling on. Dr. Steiner turned out to be a compatriot who could talk ninjas with the best of them. Lo and behold, in my son's mind, we were no longer in a room of doom; it had transformed into a playground... a box of plastic turtles had remodeled my son's perspective.

I was not sure if Dr. Steiner did his residency at the Childrens' Hospital or the School of Illusion, and at that moment, I didn't care. He knew something valuable; you cannot effectively treat a patient who is focused on fear.

The same is true for you and I in the grown up here-and-now where the little room in which we wait holds probabilities we say we'd rather not think about, but then sure enough, we proceed to rehearse them 'til we're nearly undone. Life has flip flopped; our boys aren't clinging to us these days, we are clinging to them.

Encouraging words are nice and all, but we are sitting on that crinkley paper and the antiseptic smell is turning our stomach. We're as helpless as a toddler strapped to a table for an uncertain procedure. We came by our fear honestly and we're sort of set on keeping it. However, the first order on the way to our own well-being is as simple as that good doctor's most excellent distraction.

In the months to come as the families and friends of deploying Marines, we can focus on all the bad we can imagine in the dark of night (and even in the bright of day, for that matter). We can think about what might be and cling to our boys with tentacles of distress and wind up spending the better part of a year of our lives in a mental heap. Or with child-like interest we could take the bait and allow ourselves a bit of good medicine.

Lucky for us we have just the script: our own brand of Ninja Turtles... also known as Love and Support from Santa's Elves.

If you take out this project of support for our Marines from the cabinet, you may just get to talking, working and caring and drop the what-ifs you were clinging to. It won't change the conflict our "boys" must step into, but it will change the one we contend with on that foremost battleground within our minds.

It works. I know because I allowed this productive diversion to steal the show that was playing in my head just last year. Keeping busy with this task for our guys left barely a moment to spare for the anxiety that would otherwise hold my thoughts hostage and keep my hands wringing.

Some of those who helped with our second package during 2/2's last deployment

What we face is real. We will definitely need to hold the hand of God and a few good friends along the way. The God who gives us wise doctors who know the value of distraction when we are small and scared also provides grown up opportunities to take our minds off thoughts that will rob of us our joy.

And remember, this is about our boys. Let's make 'em proud. They are, I've found, not all that impressed with or encouraged by our tears or trembling. So kick start those latent Ninja powers and join in the mission for our Marines.

Faith, family and friends will be a must, but don't forget the value of that "Ninja Turtle" known as Love and Support from Santa's Elves. You may just need it as much as it needs you.

(Read all about it on the sidebar to the left and then, go ahead... get distracted!)


  1. Liz - That's such a great story - and what a wonderful way of tying it in to dealing with our fears and encouraging the work for Santa's Elves! I loved the pictures of Cael- they were perfect! I just love your way of thinking!

  2. This made me smile. It was so cute. I look forward to what you will post next.

  3. I just re-read this. My gosh you have a way with words. I could just read your stories all day.

    You sure you don't have a book out there I can curl up on a couch with?

  4. 2/2 was the first battalion to which I was assigned when I joined the Marine Corps 31 years ago. Although I served in 1/6, 1/8, and 1/3 over the next three decades, I will always be a "2/2 Marine." Loved your post! Keep writing! If you have time to waste--check out my blog at