Lots going on!

There’s a lot going on at Tracy’s Kids this week. Our show at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St., NW goes up on Tuesday and opens with a reception from 4:00-6:00 on Friday afternoon. We will have artwork by kids from all five Tracy’s Kids programs, including our newest one at Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio, Texas.

 We’ll have paintings, drawings, and sculptures by kids of all ages and young adults—including a poet who plans to perform a short reading at the reception. We’ll put up lots of pictures after the show goes up, so check back in a day or two.

 

One piece that we’re really excited about is the premiere of our music video. Inspired by artist Wayne White, who created a Big Head of LBJ and other cardboard puppets, the kids in our Summer Art Workshops made any kind of “Big Head” they wanted to, and danced wearing their heads to Andy Grammer’s song “Keep your Head Up.” It’s fun and whimsical and inspiring. We hope our local friends will come see it all at the gallery, and in a few days we’ll post the video online for everyone to enjoy, so stay tuned!

Miniature Worlds

Yesterday I stopped in at the US Botanical Gardens on the National Mall  in Washington, DC. They have an amazing holiday display, including a Fairy-themed Holiday Train and “The Mall in Miniature,” a recreation of many of the buildings on the National Mall made of natural materials.  Pine cones, willow branches, acorns and other natural materials combine to make amazing, rustic recreations with incredible details. I have included a number of pictures of these amazing sights.

Fork in the track

Log Tunnel

The Capitol

These displays were made by professionals, and they are simply amazing. But many participants in Tracy’s Kids love to make miniature environments. One year we made a miniature hospital for the Washington Post Peeps Contest. Last year’s Tracy’s Kids exhibit at Carroll Square Gallery featured a whole complex of playgrounds made by kids in our program.

“Peeper Fever”

Carroll Square 2011

As the creator of a miniature world, a young patient can escape from the world of hospitals and limitations and enter an imaginary world where things are exactly as they want them to be. Pretending doesn’t make it so, of course, but activating the imagination awakens hope and helps kids cope with the challenges ahead.

Holiday Traditions

As you can imagine, dealing with a serious illness can throw a wrench in a family’s holiday celebrations. The ultimate bummer for a kid is to be in the hospital on their birthday, Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, or some other special day.

Trick or treating at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital

 Holiday traditions can be more meaningful for kids than grownups realize. They punctuate the year and give kids a way to remember life events—the year of the big snow; the year the cousins came to visit; the year I was in the hospital. I remember a pair of candles shaped like choirboys in red and white robes that my grandmother put out on the mantle every Christmas. She never lit them, but packed them away and got them out year after year. To me they were very special. We weren’t allowed to touch them, they only came out for a few days each year, and my church didn’t have choir boys at all—so they represented some abstract holiday mystery to me when I was small.

 When I was eight, I came down with mumps a few days before a long-anticipated family vacation. I remember not only feeling sick from the mumps, but guilty for ruining the holiday for the rest of my family. The mumps came and went in a matter of weeks, but my experience helps me understand how young cancer patients must feel. Many times a cancer diagnosis causes a family to call off a vacation or postpone a celebration, and cancer treatment goes on for years, not months!

            

 Most any holiday has special food—latkes, doughnuts and chocolate “gelt” for Hannukah; turkey and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving; gingerbread and peppermint for Christmas—and every family has its own customs that make the holiday special. If families can bring a little of the holiday to the hospital—decorations, food, games or crafts—it can help the child who is ill feel more a part of the family.

Cardboard Gingerbread House

Anything a family can do to preserve holiday traditions without compromising the patient’s care can help everyone feel more like celebrating. Holidays put the focus on families, because the special things we do bring us together. Decorating the hospital room, bringing “goodies” to share with nurses and visitors, and giving the patient opportunities to make gifts or cards for others can be important ways to be part of the holidays even when you’re sick.

Sock Monkeys Part Two

Here is the update on Operation Sock Monkey at Lombardi. So far we have two complete monkeys and one in progress. We are starting to get a lot of interest in the project,  so I am going to pick up some more colorful socks so the groove can continue. We have until December 10 to send them in. Bet you can’t look at the photos without smiling!

Sock Monkey Project

This week at Lombardi, some of us will be participating in a Sock Monkey Exchange project. Fellow Art Therapist Gretchen Miller has organized the exchange, whereby you make a sock monkey and either exchange it with one made by another sock monkey maker (deadline November 12 to sign up for that) OR you contribute your monkey to Operation Sock Monkey, which is coordinating an effort to give sock monkeys to people affected by Hurricane Sandy. Here’s the link to Gretchen’s blog if you want to get involved. We’ll post pictures of the Lombardi monkeys next week!

 http://6degreesofcreativity.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/sock-monkey-swap-service-project/

Sock Monkey Swap & Operation Sock Monkey Service Project!

 

It’s time for another 6 Degrees of Creativity Sock Monkey Swap!

Earlier this year, the 6 Degrees of Creativity community was inspired by Art Therapist Kat Thorsen’s Sock Monkey Therapy Workshop and we organized an exchange to swap sock monkeys with one another.

Now, the sock monkey fun continues for not only another swap, but also an opportunity to create a sock monkey to be donated to Operation Sock Monkey for someone in need.

Read below for more details about how to participate:

  • Sock Monkey Swap:  Make a sock monkey, Receive a sock monkey! Everyone who signs up for the sock monkey swap will be randomly paired with another sock monkey maker.  You’ll be making one sock monkey for someone, and someone will be making one for you. To sign up for the swap, e-mail your name and a mailing address to Gretchen at 6degreesofcreativity@arttherapyalliance.org by November 12, 2012. During the week of November 12, you will receive mailing info on where to mail your sock monkey to. Please note you are responsible for postage, which may be to an international destination. Don’t sign up for the exchange unless you are committed to the swap and following through. All sock monkeys should be mailed out by December 10, 2012. to their new home.
  • Sock Monkey Service Project– You can also create another sock monkey to be donated to Operation Sock Monkey (OSM). OSM is a volunteer-run initiative in support of humanitarian organizations that provide laughter, hope and healing to communities around the world affected by disease, disaster and social/political turmoil through sending handmade sock monkeys to children in need. Currently, we are working on trying to donate some of the sock monkeys to individuals who have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy. If you’re interested in creating and donating a sock monkey for this effort, send a message to the above e-mail by November 12 to receive more details. Thanks to OSM for their excitement & willingness to collaborate with this project!

 

Cow Story

I want to share a particular picture that a little boy did with me because it is about the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, which is observed this year on October 26-29. According to CNN, “Eid al-Adha commemorates when God appeared to Abraham — known as Ibrahim to Muslims — in a dream and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience. As Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God stopped him and gave him a sheep to kill in place of his son. A version of the story also appears in the Torah and in the Bible’s Old Testament.” (http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/26/world/eid-5-things/index.html?npt=NP1)

 

Of course I had heard the story of Abraham and Isaac many times, but I wasn’t thinking about it when a little guy in the clinic began enthusiastically drawing a picture. It started with a cow, and evolved into a picture telling the story of sacrificing a cow–part of his family’s tradition that he had witnessed when visiting relatives back home. After he finished the picture I asked him to tell me about it, and he told the story of the sacrifice on Eid, and pointed out the extended family members gathered for the celebration. The United States is a melting pot, and Washington, DC is an international city. It is really a delight for me to learn about another culture through the eyes of a small boy. Even though he has been through so much in his treatment and recovery, he is full of curiosity and enthusiasm, and I love that he wanted to share this story with me.

Kailee’s Run–Thank-you Kailee!

 Every Spring since 2008, the Ashburn, VA community has come together to honor Kailee Vance, a young cancer patient who has inspired a whole community. Kailee’s Run, which is held in the neighborhood around Newton-Lee Elementary School, combines a 5K Fun Run and a 2-mile walk.

 As the Kailee’s Run website says: “The race will be held in Kailee’s honor, with all race proceeds going to Tracy’s Kids (www.tracyskids.org), an organization that helped Kailee through her tough times at Georgetown Hospital.”

 Kailee continues to be a creative and prolific artist—and she even runs the race herself now that she has finished treatment! She is back at school and doing great, but the other day when she came to the clinic for a checkup she handed me a check to Tracy’s Kids for $5,000 from the 2012 run.

 Thank-you, Kailee—and thank-you to all her friends and family who come together to support the work of Tracy’s Kids.

Tracy’s Story

The Tracy’s Kids Art Therapists have been writing about how they came to the field of art therapy. My path, like most of theirs, was a winding road. When I was eight years old, the thought came to me “I am an artist.” Not, “I want to be an artist when I grow up,” but I am an artist and I always will be.

I come from a long line of teachers—specifically early childhood educators—so I always assumed that would be my profession. Having arrived on the planet at the tail-end of the baby boom, by the time I graduated from high school the early boomers were already into their careers, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities on the horizon, even for teachers!

Since there wasn’t much point in going into education, I decided to follow my heart and major in art. Art school was tough—much tougher than most folks think—and the mid-late 1970’s were a time of transition in the art world. But I earned a BFA in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1978. My BFA mainly qualified me to wait tables, work retail, and cashier at a ski lodge–and do art.

After several years of doing seasonal work and continuing to develop my art, I was hired to be the first County Arts Coordinator in Watauga County, NC. My duties included supervising all the arts-related programs for the county Parks and Rec. Department, and starting and directing a community Arts Council. I held the job for four years, learned a lot, and worked with many wonderful artists in the community—but because it was successful, the workload grew and grew. I found that I was regularly working 70 hours a week, and no longer had time for my own art. I gave up the Arts Coordinator position and became the Secretary at the Mission School Conference Center in Valle Crucis, NC in 1984. That was a mostly nine-to-five job in a pastoral setting, and it allowed me to again focus on my own art.

During the two years I worked there, I had a one-person show at a local gallery and got back into woodblock prints—one of my favorite media. Since I had more free time, I joined the church choir—and it turned out the choir director’s day job was as a Music Therapist! I had never heard of such a thing, but I asked her if there was something similar for visual art. It sounded like a profession that resonated with my personality and my reasons for making art. She put me in touch with the American Art Therapy Association, and by August of that year I was enrolled in the Art Therapy Master’s Program at GWU—ten years after I earned my BFA!

As part of my training, I was lucky to have a second-year internship at Georgetown Hospital that included Pediatric Hematology-Oncology. I loved the work immediately—setting up with a plastic basket of art supplies in the clinic waiting room, engaging patients, siblings and parents and supporting them through the ups and downs of treatment.

I treasured the experience, and when the opportunity opened up for me to help write a grant to start an art therapy program back at Lombardi, I jumped at the chance. I started out part-time in September 1991, and the Prevent Cancer Foundation in Alexandria, VA, started funding the program full-time in January 1992. They supported the program for many years, until Tracy’s Kids became a free-standing non-profit in 2009.

Today, with programs in five Pediatric Hematology-Oncology treatment programs, staffed by eight art therapists, Tracy’s Kids is much bigger than Tracy—but it is wonderful to see the model I developed at Georgetown adapt so beautifully in others’ hands. The profession of art therapy is all about using one’s inner resources to meet life’s challenges, and it is my daily privilege to help with that process in whatever way I can.

 

Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer

Author Danielle Navidi has turned her experience as the mom of a kid with cancer into an amazing resource for anyone who wants to cook and eat healthily!

 I first met Danielle when her 11 year old son was diagnosed with cancer. He and his siblings were active participants in the Tracy’s Kids art therapy program at Lombardi throughout his treatment and recovery—creative, open, bright and funny despite the intrusion of cancer into their family’s life!

 She was already a caterer, but something Fabien said shortly after he finished treatment inspired her to pursue an MS in nutrition. One night at dinner Fabien said, “This is my new favorite soup, Mom. It tastes like someone is taking care of me.”

 Happily Hungry

While the recipes were in development, Danielle did cooking demonstrations in the clinic at Lombardi—filling the whole clinic with the colors, smells and sounds of delicious food being prepared. Kids would take a break from their art-making to help Danielle chop vegetables or prepare smoothies. The kids and their parents gave Danielle feedback on her recipes—“not sweet enough;” “it tastes healthy”; “I like it, but I didn’t think I would!” and she chuckled and encouraged them to keep an open mind.

 Happily Hungry is already available on Amazon.com (click here to go to the link at Amazon). Here’s an excerpt from one of the online reviews:

 This cookbook is the most awesome cookbook I’ve seen in years. Of course, it was written with an eye for kids with cancer, but anyone who has a picky eater in their household can benefit from these great recepies and tips. I have made the chicken soup, the muffins and the smoothies. The kids and I have a plan to make all the recipes before the end of the year. The recipes are absolutely fabulous and the book itself is beautiful, moving, fun and enticing to both adults and kids.

 As an art therapist in pediatric oncology, I see kids and families dig deep and come up with the courage and resilience to fight through some really tough stuff. It is an incredible privilege to share Danielle’s story and the amazing accomplishment that is Happily Hungry.

The Tale of Two Bad Mice: Anger in Young Children

At one time or another, parents, teachers, and other caregivers encounter the wrath of the young children in their charge. Temper tantrums, testing limits, and refusing to cooperate are inevitable and developmentally appropriate as young children assert their independence. But little ones’ anger can test the limits of their grownups’ patience and equanimity. If it comes to a power struggle, I always bet on the kid to win. Kids are smaller and less powerful, so they have a lot more at stake, and they tend to keep on until the adult gives in or loses their cool.  

 Kids with cancer have a lot to be mad about. They have gotten a raw deal. They have to go through a lot of awful stuff for no discernible reason, and their parents and caregivers have to insist that they take medicines, get checkups and infusions, and keep on plugging away for a very long time. But kids tend to be amazingly resilient—they might be enraged and pouty and silly and relaxed all in the span of the same half-hour. Keeping up with all that requires a lot of emotional intelligence from grownups.

 

Stories from children’s literature can be a great resource in articulating the emotional life of children and helping both children and adults develop resilience and coping. One of my all-time favorite kids’ stories is “The Tale of Two Bad Mice,” by Beatrix Potter. Miss Potter is best known for “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” but the story of Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, the mice who lived in the nursery, offers wonderful insights into what makes kids tick.

 

The two mice see that the nursery is empty, so they go exploring in the dollhouse. A beautiful feast is laid out upon the dining table—ham, fish, lobster, pudding, fruit—but they soon discover that it is all fake—made of plaster. Potter writes “there was no end to the rage and disappointment of Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca.” It is important to note that they are not just angry, they are disappointed—they have been duped! Appearing foolish is especially difficult for young children to tolerate. They have limited knowledge, but they want to be competent, so it is terribly painful to be shown to be wrong!

The mice proceed to wreck the doll’s house, destroying everything in their path—but then Hunca Munca realizes that she would like to have some of the things they are destroying. They take a feather bed and a cradle, among other things, to outfit their mouse hole, as Hunca Munca is about to have babies herself! The dolls return, and the people with them to find the dolls’ house wrecked. The little girl stations a policeman doll outside the house to guard it, and the nanny sets a mouse-trap.

 

The mice are too clever for the trap, and they return—but they do not destroy things again. They find a sixpence under the rug and leave it in the dolls’ Christmas stocking to pay for what they have destroyed, and Hunca Munca comes early every morning to sweep the dolls’ house. The mice have gone from being angry and out of control to being responsible, cooperative citizens of the nursery–showing young children the pathway back from a scary, angry place to one of fairness and self-control.