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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.

Never Put Birthday Candles on Lasagna

Terri Reinhart


It’s a tradition in our house, on the night before a birthday, to set the table beautifully, with nice china plates and our best cups or glasses.  We have a candle or flowers as a centerpiece, and a birthday card waiting on the table.  Sometimes we even drink our orange juice out of wine glasses.  Birthdays are important days and need to be celebrated.

Patrick’s birthday was on Saturday, the day after the end of the first week back at school.

As a teacher, whenever we came back to school after a holiday, it was an adjustment.  Teaching takes an enormous amount of energy, which if fine, once you’ve gotten used to it, but until then, tired doesn’t even begin to describe how you feel.  At least, that’s how it was for me.  One of my colleagues tells me that I should never say I’m tired.  That’s too negative.  I should instead say, “I’m relaxed”.  It’s a way to turn it into something positive, he says. 

I don’t buy it.  When I’m tired, I’m not relaxed.  My Parkinson’s nervous system takes over and my muscles have their own agenda.  They don’t consult me to see what I want to do because they know I’m going to want to sleep, or at least rest.  That’s not in their plan.  When my body is tired, I don’t have the strength to stop my muscles from doing whatever they’re going to do.  My medications don’t work when I’m tired, either.  I have no choice but to go with the flow… or in my case, the jerks, shaking, and occasional collapsing onto the floor.

School started again and I’m teaching an art class every afternoon.  By the time Saturday and Patrick’s birthday came, I was…tired.  The table was not set nicely.  There was no birthday card.  We had one present for him, but the book we had ordered hadn’t arrived yet.  I felt awful.  What a terrible mother I was to neglect my son’s birthday celebration.  So what if I was tired. 

I decided I would make lasagna and bake a nice cake. 

At noon, I was gathering ingredients together.  That’s when John and Coco and the baby came to bring Patrick’s birthday present, have lunch, and visit for awhile.  I hope they didn’t think I was being rude.  I was too tired to talk much.  I hardly even noticed when Mattheus learned how to open the glass door of the book case where all our breakable knickknacks are kept.   I did enjoy their visit, however wonky I was feeling.  It’s always good to see them. 

By the time they left, I knew I wouldn’t have the energy to make lasagna and cake.  We decided to hold off baking the cake till the next day when we would have a big family gathering with the Reinhart clan.  Then everyone could celebrate together.  It made sense.   I still felt awful but at least I could make a nice big gluten free lasagna; a good birthday treat for Patrick.

When I helped with the afterschool program, I always celebrated birthdays with the children.  However, because I rarely had warning of when a birthday was coming up, I learned how to improvise.  We had candles on muffins, cookies, and even once on a rice cake that had a thick layer of cream cheese spread on it.  When you sing “Happy Birthday”, there must be candles.

This is why we ended up with candles on the lasagna.  At the time it seemed like a good idea.

I served Patrick first, of course.  He was the birthday kid.  I put the candles on his generous helping of lasagna and set it at his place.  It looked wonderful!  Then I served the rest of the family and we sat at the table.  I had just instructed everyone that we were about to light the birthday candles and sing to Patrick, when I saw that he was taking the candles off and putting them on his plate. 

“Why are you doing that?” I asked.

Patrick picked up a candle.  “They’re melting,” he said, and I could see the rest of them slowly sinking into the very hot lasagna. 

In the end, Patrick lit one candle and held it while we sang.  He was gracious about it, as he is with most things, and even ate the little bit of wax along with his meal.  He didn’t have much choice about that.  Today, Sunday, we’ll have leftover lasagna with John and Coco and Mattheus.  Our big family gathering has been postponed due to the snow but we’ll celebrate here.  We’ll even have a cake.  It’s done already and cooling in the kitchen. 

I think, however, I’ll wait awhile before I put the candles on top.



Happy birthday Patrick!!