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My Parkinson's Journey

In which Terri shares a humorous look at her journey with Parkinson's disease and Dystonia:

For me, illness and health are not opposites but exist together. Everyone has something that is challenging to them. Mine just simply has a recognizable name. My life will take a different path because of this but that's okay. Everyone has changes in their lives that create their path.  I'm learning how to enjoy whatever path I'm on.

Chocolate chip cookies

Terri Reinhart

I love my daily rituals. I confess I have a lot of them, beginning with getting up and making my tea in the morning. It’s getting better now, but for years the ritual required me to take two or three sips of tea, then set it down somewhere, and forget about it. During the time that Uncle Bill lived with us, he decided it was his duty to search for my tea as soon as he got up in the morning, two or three hours after I had set down my cup. He would find it, lukewarm and very strong (the tea bag was still in it) and bring it to me. It was a ritual.

When I was teaching, it was a daily ritual of mine to lose my scissors. At least once during each morning, I would look around the work table, the counters, and inside the cabinets. Finally, admitting defeat, I would ask my assistant teacher if she knew where they were. They were always in the same place: my apron pocket. It’s the equivalent of losing your glasses when they are on the top of your head. But it was a ritual and if it didn’t happen one day, my assistant teacher would begin to look a little worried. Something just wasn’t right.

The kindergarten children had their rituals, too. Every morning, I would wait patiently for Ella to come in, sneak around in back of me and start pounding her fists on my back. I never scolded her for this; it felt wonderful! Katie loved to do dishes every day and Dylan wasn’t happy unless there was something to be fixed. If I didn’t find something for him to repair, he would find the screwdriver and begin taking something apart just so he could put it back together again. It was then MY daily ritual to find him, make sure the play structures outside had not been taken apart, and confiscate the screwdriver.

For one of my high school students, the daily ritual consisted of talking nonstop while I explained to the class the next step in how to bind a book. Then as soon as I finished explaining, he would raise his hand, saying, “Ms. Reinhart, what do I do now?” I was not thrilled with this ritual and finally was frustrated enough that I collared him and yelled. I will admit it would have been much more effective had he not been 6’4” and nearly 200 lbs. 

The beautiful moment with this student came the year after he graduated from high school and was hired by our school to assist the gym teacher. After a particularly trying day, he came down to the teacher’s room and began complaining about how the students didn’t listen to him. Then, graciously, he smiled and shouted out loudly, “I FEEL LIKE I SHOULD APOLOGIZE FOR THE LAST TWELVE YEARS!”

When our children were small, we read stories to them every night. All of us would sit together and listen as the story was read. We did this for years, even after our kids were old enough to read books on their own. When I took them to bed, the last thing I did was to kiss them on the top of their heads. I still do it, when they are home, but they have to bend down now.

Now that I am home, I have been creating my new rituals. Finishing a full cup of tea every morning is a delightful one. So is baking chocolate chip cookies. Having worked outside my home for most of these years, I rarely had time for this traditional mom duty. I started out small, baking one batch for our family. Once I got into it, I began making more. Then I could save some out for John and Coco. Our drama teacher loves cookies, too. So do the rest of the high school faculty. And I thought maybe my friend, Mark, might like some. And Marie should have some now and then. She used to bake for me all the time. And Mr. Thomas next door....and mom and dad...and Sr. Carol and Sr. Diane across the street....

Before long, I was making a triple batch of cookies, every week, and leaving bags of cookies hanging on mailboxes or doorknobs, on teacher’s desks, or leaving a basket full in the teacher’s office. I enjoyed this ritual all winter long and all through the spring. The house would be toasty warm and smell so good! Having homemade cookies to eat was worth the work.

But now summer has officially begun and the weather report says it will be in the 90’s for the rest of the week. Chocolate chip cookie baking season is officially over. It’s just too hot. I prefer eating fudgecicles in the hot weather, anyway. I’m a little sad, though. I can’t leave fudgecicles hanging on mailboxes. I might have to find a new summer ritual.

If it includes food, I’ll keep you posted. Or you might want to check your mailbox now and then.