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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.

Strings Attached

Terri Reinhart

Standing on the sidewalk, I looked down at my feet and wished, not for the first time, that I had some kind of strings attached to my shoes so that I could simply pull the strings to get my feet going again. I was stuck, or frozen, as my doctor calls it. “How often do you have freezing episodes?” he asked me earlier today. I resisted the urge to point out to him that it was 95 degrees outside and I was hardly likely to freeze; however, common sense and exhaustion got the better of me and I answered truthfully. 

It happens almost every day now, at least once, where I will try to walk and not be able to, or I will stop after a few steps and my feet seem stuck to the ground. Sometimes I can get going again by myself. Often I need someone to help me take those first few steps. Is it time to up my medications or is this just the new normal? 

As my own ability to move becomes more difficult, I find myself more and more interested in movement. I love my yoga class and can't wait to start in the Dance for Parkinson's class. I watch movies like “An American in Paris” and “Singing in the Rain”. I also enjoy watching Cirque du Soliel, Peter Davison (the dancer), and parkour, especially if our former student, Dylan Baker, is on the team. 

A few months ago, my son brought home a DVD from the library. It was a documentary about Igor Fokin, a Russian puppeteer who performed in Harvard Square for a number of years until his death in 1996. His marionettes came alive as they interacted with the audience. I would strongly recommend the film, “The Puppeteer”, to anyone and everyone. Just be sure to keep some tissues handy for the ending. 

Here was another way of looking at movement and it looked like so much fun! I had experience making and working with silk marionettes when I was teaching kindergarten, but I had never had the opportunity to work with more traditional marionettes. I was determined to try and make my own puppets and learn how to work them. Perhaps my daughter and I could practice enough to have a small show for the school fair at Christmas time? 

I've now made two puppets and I am working on two more. The newest one is a life size squirrel monkey. Making the puppets isn't so difficult. Stringing the puppets and creating a simple controller that will allow the puppet to move naturally, that is something else again. I have to learn how to create joints that work, how to balance the weight, and how it is that this particular puppet needs to move. It's a study in movement. It's not simply a matter of the puppeteer controlling the marionette. As Igor Fokin points out in the documentary, he gives the puppet just enough string to stand up on the ground and “They take care themselves. All I do is hold them up and lend a hand.” He makes it sound so easy. 

There is something magical about puppets. I brought Pippen, my first puppet, to school with me, right after I finished making him. I was with the second grade reading groups and it was the last week of school. There were three boys in my group who were more than ready for summer to begin and they had no intention of sitting still to read for 45 minutes. I brought out Pippen and these boys were so drawn to the puppet that they ignored everything else. I finally told them that if they promised to be very quiet, they could puppet-sit in the little coat room that was within the classroom. They were silent for the next 5 minutes. Then one of the boys came out with a book under his arm. “Mrs. Reinhart, if we promise to be very quiet and whisper, can we read to him?” Of course, I calmly replied. Looking in on them a few minutes later, I saw all three boys lying on the floor with the book between them. Pippen was sitting up next to the bookshelf and the boys were taking turns, as seriously and quietly as they could, reading to the puppet. Even without the strings, they're magical.

As for me, I'm still wondering whether attaching strings to my shoes would help me to get unstuck or if it would make me fall flat on the floor. Either way, it would be entertaining.

It seems I haven't figured out my controls yet, either.