Happy Thanks-Sibling!!!

While it is not uncommon to see various artistic depictions of turkeys during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Tracy’s Kids Art Therapy team at Children’s National Medical Center hosted to a very special GIANT turkey.

Patients and staff members of all ages decorated feathers, writing out WONDERFUL reasons why they are so thankful for their siblings. Things like… 

“Thank you for ALWAYS, ALWAYS making me laugh!”

“I love playing Candyland with you. It’s so fun!”

“When I need him, he’s good to me.”

“My little sister is a ROCKSTAR!”

The brothers and sisters of patients undergoing treatment for cancers and blood disorders experience their own unique challenges in dealing with the stresses and changes in daily life. “Happy Thanks-Sibling” was an opportunity to highlight the amazing strength of siblings and to recognize the important things they do to support their brothers and sisters undergoing treatment. This wonderful project was made possible by one family’s generous dedication to the support of siblings, after one of their children was the bone marrow donor for her younger sister.

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!

Tracy’s Kids & MyCause Water

Tracy’s Kids has joined with MyCause Water!

MyCause Water is a bottled water company that gives 5 cents from every bottle of water they sell to a nonprofit that you can choose–and Tracy’s Kids is a great option!  The way you can get involved is easy:

 

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!

 

In This Corner…Sadie!

Sadie is an 8-year-old girl who is small in stature but big in personality.  This drawing beautifully reflects the tough spirit of a kid facing cancer.  Here she represents herself wearing giant boxing gloves and a big muscle in her left arm.  And that little kidney shaped object to her right?  Well, that’s the Rhabdomyosarcoma tumor that she just knocked out!  She does not view herself as a sick child, but rather a strong, determined person who is going to beat this disease.  Art has created an avenue for her to see herself as a hero and a fighter.

Unexpected Puppetry

 

 

 

 

 

 

When working in a hospital setting it is common to focus on the medical aspect of the child. How they are physically, mentally, and emotionally handling their diagnosis and their treatment. However, coming to the clinic often affects more than just the child medically. They are affected socially as well. The missed school time, the inability to play sports, the feeling different can be a heavy burden to school age children. While most oncology children have the loss of hair and other physical changes to make them different, many children with chronic diseases have more subtle changes. It is the subtle differences and the longevity of their treatment that may affect these children for their whole lives. For the chronic diagnosis, such as blood disorders, the child must come to clinic every month for transfusions. Depending on the severity of their illness, they may not be able to play contact sports, may tire easily, even end up in the hospital frequently for pain or complications. As these children grow the feeling of being different can grow as well. At no time is this more apparent than in middle school. Middle school can be a rough time for any child, let alone a child who may medically feel like an outcast. This showed itself the other day when a thirteen year old boy with a chronic blood disorder came in. He often is talkative and likes to build skate ramps, or show off his drawing skills, before he settles into an iPad game or a movie. This time he was fairly quiet and unsure what he wanted to do. After going through a few choices i suggested making a puppet. I thought he would say no to this, as he is thirteen, but he jumped at the choice. I gave him a cloth puppet and explained all the materials he could use to decorate it. He said almost immediately he wanted to make a stage and put on a puppet show. A puppet show of a nerd and a bully. While creating these puppets, he said he wanted the play to be about a nerd who beats up a bully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He completed the puppets and the stage, but became shy about putting on the show as he now had an audience. Having recent experience with middle school bullying I put on a short play for him asking him to prompt me along the way. What followed was an open tale discussion about bully’s and being bullied. While this play did not have anything to do directly with his medical condition, being aware of his social predicaments will help us to treat the whole child and not just the physical. In the end he asked that the puppets and stage remained at the clinic for others to play with.

Sparkles & Sprinkles

Glitter… that rather playful material that tends to defy any traditional cleaning methods and frequently manages to sneak itself into places where it does not belong – including my purse, my shoes and sometimes even my hair. Anyone who has children or who works with children knows the dangers of introducing the sparkly substance into any kind of art project – even the best laid plans typically end up covered in a sticky shine or hidden beneath a heaping pile of glitter.

This is no childhood obsession – glitter can be just as enticing for adults, as evidenced by the amount of sparkle habitually incorporated into numerous holiday decorations and in the (somewhat) secretive smiles of parents as they help their children add a little “shimmer” to their artwork.

So, what’s an art therapist to do when someone asks (oh, so innocently) for “glitter,” “sparkles,” or (the most popular among toddlers) “sprinkles, please…”

Just watch a child’s face light up with pure joy as she enthusiastically shakes copious amounts of glitter onto a miniscule dot of glue… With that little extra sparkle, she has created something perfect and beautiful that she will proudly show off to any adult within earshot (and even beyond). In that fleeting moment, in the art therapy room, her feeling of overwhelming success and happiness make all of the sweeping totally worth it.

Pinch Pots

Each year in October we invite the Georgetown nurses to create pinch pots during one of their monthly administrative meetings. Many nurses come to the meeting excited by the opportunity to create art.

 

Pinch pots are very simple and are created using a technique believed to be 12, 000 years old- one of the first ways that people formed clay objects. The repetitive pinching of the pot and its circular shape can make the creation process very calming.

For our nurses, the creation process stirred up conversation, provided a space for relaxation and allowed for the creation of beautiful pottery!

Dress-up for Grownups

For many of our children, Halloween is a festive and exciting time of year – one that can be especially disheartening for those spending it in the hospital. For some of these kids, the typical childhood “trick or treating” from door to door fades into a dream rather than a sugary reality. So, we make an extra special effort to transform the hospital into something extra special for the holiday – including fun decorations, a fantastic party sponsored by Hope for Henry and staff members who dress up in costumes hoping to get a good laugh out of the kids.

So, during the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, I set to work creating my Halloween alter-ego…

Elizabeth & Katharine in their Halloween Headgear

It was so much fun putting my costume together – adding each detail and imagining the kids’ reactions. With my pile of felt and my hot glue gun (and a few mild burns), I felt like a little kid again. As art therapists, we typically spend a lot of our time and energy encouraging the children and teenagers we work with to find new ways to express themselves through the act of creating. It is especially wonderful (though not rare) when the children drive us to be more creative.

Reliving the simple joys of just “being a kid” during the rainy days of the hurricane also reinforced the importance of helping our patients to more fully experience their childhoods, especially when they are in the hospital. Each one of the children and adolescents we are privileged to work with is so much more than a diagnosis and a medical record number. The art therapists with Tracy’s Kids get to help children expand the world of the hospital and to cope more effectively through art making, a powerful part of childhood for so many.