Thursday, January 25, 2018

Taking Flight

(Please note that my blog design and content in the menu bar is still being tweaked and updated. I will have that Park City guide ready next month!)

If you follow me on social media, you know I recently joined Park City Toastmaster's. What on earth is Toastmaster's you ask? Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. Think: Rotary Club, but for public speaking and leadership.

I can't say enough good things about this organization. I've been able to rub shoulders with some of my community leaders, learn the life stories of an incredibly diverse group of people, work on my writing and public speaking skills, and find a new motivation to get up long before the sun.

Our first speech assignment is called "the icebreaker" and is an opportunity for the club to get to know you a bit. Though it's been a few months since I gave this speech (which is timed and evaluated in the meeting), I thought it would be the perfect way to break my blogging hiatus and re-introduce myself and my story, what my life and my blog is about.

I greatly value the community that organically created itself in my life in the wake of my loss. I appreciate you being here, sharing your thoughts, your struggles, your encouragement, and your beautiful energy with me and my family. It's an incredibly humbling, fulfilling, and unexpected gift in the wake of our tragedy.

Below is my Icebreaker speech that ended in a standing ovation (based primarily on a reference to standing ovations in my speech, not necessarily because it merited such a response) and left me in tears.

Never, ever give up. And never apologize for your progress.



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“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” –Peter Pan

There I was, strapped in an awkwardly tight harness beneath my costume (that was pinching my lady parts), I’d wrapped medical bandaging around my chest to flatten "the ladies" out, my hair, cut in a messy pixie, was especially disheveled, and my face was haphazardly rubbed with makeup to look like dirt. I was ready. It was time to take my maiden voyage to Neverland in front of an audience on the Egyptian Theatre stage for the first time.

I trusted in the techs on the fly system backstage, I trusted in my months of rehearsing...the lyrics, the notes, the choreography, the costume changes. Everything went off without a hitch. The pixie dust worked its magic, we made it safely to Neverland, lived our grand adventures with Captain Hook, I delivered the children back to their beds in London, and the audience erupted onto their feet in unabashed applause.

But I want to take you backstage where I strip off the costume, wipe off the makeup and look at myself in the mirror. Who is the real girl on stage behind the makeup and costume and sexually assaulting harness?

Little 13 year old boys who never grow up don’t struggle with bulimia, do they? This Peter Pan did. And still does. It started in 7th grade- The unrelenting tick-tock of food, body image, comparing myself to others…The crocodile swims near threatening, “She’s so much better than you. Look how tall and beautiful she is! She’s got more legs than a bucket of chicken! You’re a shrimp. You’re not good enough.”

For the most part, I’ve learned to fly away to a safe place and ignore Mr. Crocodile. But his presence is always lurking in the shadows of my mind. As they say, “You may not always act like a bulimic, but you’ll always think like one.”

Something else the audience doesn’t know about Peter Pan is her struggle in a (for back of a better term) mixed-faith marriage. She’s clever and quick on stage, but behind the scenes I’m constantly learning how a coffee-drinking, progressive, unorthodox Mormon shares a bed and a life with her true believing husband. It takes a lot of backstage work, but I’ve managed to pull myself up by the bootstraps and find common ground. We have found a way to make it work. I’m still flying, folks. WE’RE still flying.

But the true test of flight came just a few months after taking my final bow as Peter Pan.

At the time, I was a new mom. My 18 month-old daughter, Lucy, who LOVED to dress as Tinkerbell and watch her mommy fly across the stage, filled my days with diapers, the Johnny Jumper, story-time, nap-time, play-time…she filled all my time. And all my heart.

Tragically, my Lucy Sweet choked on an apple in our church parking lot, just 2 weeks shy of her second birthday. Yes, my good Mormon husband was there with me, we did the Heimlich, we raced to the fire station next door and I saw Lucy go limp in his arms. She was life-flighted to Primary Children’s Hospital, where 4 days later she became an organ donor.

Would I ever fly again?

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”

I didn’t just DOUBT whether I’d ever fly again, I absolutely believed I never would. Not after something like that. But I was wrong.

Yes, I’d risen above my eating disorder. I’d sailed above the differences and difficulties of my marriage, but I didn’t believe I’d fly after the death of my daughter.

But this community believed I could. My friends, theatre family, church members and relatives believed in me. One day, sometimes one breath, at a time, I slowly gained my power of flight again. Magical pixie dust in the form of my children’s laughter, my husband’s gentle touch, the warm sun on my face while hiking the trails in Pinebrook, enables me to stand tall, put my hands on my hips, puff my chest to the sky and take flight.


I’ve since given birth to two more children—Peter, age 8, and Zoe, age 5. I am a public speaker on loss and grief, and often speak to medical professionals about organ donation. I'm an amateur athlete, sometimes performer, part-time librarian, skincare saleswoman, and a perfectly imperfect human. These days my daily flights of courage don’t end with a standing ovation, but I consider them to be incredible feats.

2 comments:

  1. You have come so far from those early days, which offers hope to many. I directed a friend here who lost her 2 year old in a tragic accident. I hope, for her sake, that she visited.

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  2. Yours was the first blog I ever read. Back before blogging was even a thing. Back when Lucy was an itty bitty baby and I was dreaming of babies of my own.....
    Years have gone by. I have a Lexi of my own ( almost 8) and my own Peter ( my maiden name was Perers but seeing your Peter really secured me wanting to use that name ) ( almost 3. They actually share the same birthdate. Natural birth. Nearly to the hour. 5 years apart).... anyways, when peter was 10 weeks old, our own tragedy occurred. I’ll post the link to our story in the next comment.
    Anyways.... it’s been a crazy 2.5 years to say the least. The next step in this journey has been my recent spine surgery. As I lay here day 25 of being ( mostly) flat on my back in bed, the buried grief of the past 2.5 years pouring out in the form of constant tears. I remembered your blog. Hope. Shining. Brightly. thank you.
    Angela Shymanski

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Taking Flight

(Please note that my blog design and content in the menu bar is still being tweaked and updated. I will have that Park City guide ready nex...