Emily Orton | Running Down a Dream

Emily Orton is a former middle school teacher turned New York City SAHM and part-time writer.  Her most recent offerings can be found on Work. Life. Balance., The Apron Stage, and Segullah.  She is a huge fan of Dare to Dream and pleased as punch to contribute.  When she's not reading or writing, Emily enjoys walking all over Manhattan, coastal sailing, and editing her apartment.  She and her husband, Erik, home school their five children. 


By four months old, my daughter Mermaid was showing signs of developmental delay.  Despite reassurances from my midwife and my pediatrician, I wearied myself with inconclusive internet research about Down Syndrome.

My husband called me paranoid.  I craved certainty.  Even the highly praised geneticist of thirty years couldn’t give it to me.  Finally, with Mermaid at six months of age, blood tests revealed the microscopic extra chromosome that shook our paradigm.  There was some reeling and some relief.  At least now I didn’t have to worry if anything was wrong.  I could get to work.

Source:  istockphoto

Genuine acceptance and resilient humor, two of my husband’s hallmark qualities, buoyed us over the first few hours of transition.  He wanted matching T-shirts that said, “We put the O in Chromosome” or “I’m down with Downs.”  He said Mermaid’s four older siblings would be so jealous of all the cool trips Mermaid got to take with us in our wild retirement years.  Encouragement from friends and family enveloped us as a whirlwind of evaluations and a battery of medical tests, I thought reserved only for politicians and celebrities, ensued.

Through it all, I held my girl.  I nuzzled her soft warm head.  I considered her future.  So much was still uncertain, but I knew she would have to work hard for every achievement.  I wanted to do something hard, too.  The circumstances of my life aligned to make a marathon possible.  It had been scratched off my dream list for years, but the shape of my dreams was changing.  I wanted to run to honor Mermaid.

Source:  istockphoto

I began training by taking the stairs instead of the elevator.  I had worked up to ten miles with my steady friend, Heather, as my trainer/partner when Mermaid began having seizures.  Tracking down a pediatric neurologist on a holiday weekend (these things always happen on weekends or holidays, don’t they?) was a saga unto itself.  She interpreted the mass of EEG scribbles as electrical misfires in Mermaid’s brain and we had a shared suite in the NYU pediatric ward within three hours.

Fortunately, Mermaid obliged us by having a seizure shortly after she was hooked up to the EEG and video monitors. She was immediately diagnosed with Hypsarrhythmia.  Sounds like a dance craze, right?  I wish.  It was actually the beginning of an insurance tango, learning to give my infant injections, and more tests than I ever took in college.  By day two of hospital vigilance, I needed to run.  I knew I might have to give up the marathon, but my body needed to move.  My husband took over the bedside duties while I held my other children, slept in my own bed and ran with Heather.

Source:  istockphoto

That crisp morning air, the steady rhythm of our tandem footfall, the oxygen, the endorphins and the encouragement of my dear friend convinced me that, now more than ever, I needed to run this marathon.  Mermaid came home and I continued training. The neurologist assured me that the chaotic electrical impulses in her brain weren’t causing damage. Mermaid descended into a developmental pause.  I ran.  She got very fat.  I ran.  Her eyes were dull and unfocused.  I ran.  She never smiled.  I ran.  My husband and our four older children needed me, too.  I ran.

Almost every day I trained with Heather.  On weekends a larger party would form for the long runs.  Sometimes the conversation would transport me into the concerns and joys of the other women.  Miles of quiet along the river was the sanctuary for my searching prayers.  Often enough that Heather wasn’t surprised, my voice would tremble and the wind would send my tears sliding sideways across my cheeks as I uncovered my unbearable fears.  But we laughed a lot, too.  I always came home with flushed cheeks and the crazy notion that I could do hard things.  I could carry my load that day.

The whole family came to cheer for me at the marathon.  They were at
mile 1, mile 20 and mile 26.2.  The older children held signs, waved
bright orange pom-poms and shouted out to me.  Mermaid was slumped,
disinterested, in her stroller.  The medication wasn’t working.  I
hugged her and gave her a big kiss.  I ran for both of us.

Source:  istockphoto   

Running down my dream kept me two steps ahead of despair.  This unexpected
protracted trial gave focus and purpose to my marathon dream.  My training schedule gave routine, energy and sustaining friendship to my uncertainty.  Achieving what I set out to do reminded me that I can do hard things one step at a time.

Epilogue:  There are only two medications for treating Hypsarrhythmia.  The second one worked for Mermaid.  She is alert, engaging, determined and curious.  She’s beginning to walk and talk.  She smiles and laughs.  She will be two in December.


What's the hardest thing you've ever done?  How has running that down helped you face other challenges?  Achieve your dreams?

After you read Emily's post, re-read Elizabeth Stewart Dunford's post Solace in Creativity.  What similarities do you find?

I'd also re-read Emily Anthon's Suiting Up and Showing Up.  What similarities do you see here?  What can we learn?

And finally — Stephanie Soper's Portrait of an Artist.  

Elizabeth Stewart Dunford | Solace in Creativity

Elizabeth Stewart Dunford studied music and photography as an undergraduate, and is currently pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts at Harvard, one class at a time.  She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, Michael and their three children with whom she has the opportunity to spend the bulk of her time.  

My mother told me never to read anyone else’s diary.

Is that why all the diaries I coveted growing up came adorned with a miniature lock and key?  To ward off all those who didn’t observe social protocol? Ashamedly, I have found myself in this category at times. (I have older sisters). So, when an opportunity to research Charlotte Brontë’s diary arose, my childhood impulse was to call my mom and ask if she thought Brontë would mind.

Charlotte Brontë fascinates me. She already had my attention with Jane Eyre, but after I read the following words from her diary, she commanded my attention.

How few would believe that from sources purely imaginary such happiness could be derived! … What a treasure is thought! What a privilege is reverie! I am thankful I have the power of solacing myself with the dream of creations … May I never lose that power, may I never feel it grow weaker.

Charlotte bronte
(This is my favorite image of her; a chalk drawing by George Richmond, 1850, commissioned by her husband)

Empirical data supporting the healing influence of the arts upon one’s subconscious, thoughts and feelings was not defined until the early 20th century—yet Brontë understood and utilized the healing effects of writing and painting in her life more than 150 years before the advent of art therapy.

A study of Brontë’s life reveals many sobering reasons why she turned to creative pursuits. The death of her mother and older sisters created a void that she felt obliged to fill. It was expected of her to assume the position of mother figure to her remaining younger siblings. It is a burden Brontë shouldered throughout most of her life.  Creative expression is how she dealt with her day-to-day problems.  As her diary firmly establishes, she found solace in creativity.


I identify with her.

Last summer I recorded some songs that I had written over a five-year period. Recording my songs facilitated a creative process that allowed me to find closure to painful relationships and celebrate current relationships.  As I lost myself in the process and didn’t focus on the outcome, my creative endeavors healed and invigorated me.

The benefits inherent in creative acts are accessible to everyone. Creativity shows up differently from one to another: could be strengthening relationships, could be collecting sporks, or could be creating an edible dinner with what’s left in the fridge.

Creativity is not only available to everyone but easily visible during one’s early years. Think about this for a moment. All children draw. All children sing. In fact, it’s easy to find a 3- or 4- year-old child who will have a go at creating or trying anything. I am lucky enough to have one currently living within my walls—my daughter Ella Sophia’s creations are delightfully present all over the house.

_MG_8203 (Noah's Ark animals being fed cut-up Twizzlers)

What happened to us between preschool and the present? We’ve all heard these reasons before—being taught that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to do things, others’ criticism and fear.   Even Charlotte Brontë feared rejection of her writing. Shortly after the publication of the wildly successful Jane Eyre, thirty-one-year-old Brontë nervously wrote to her editor “It has no learning, no research, it discusses no subject of public interest.”

So where to start? How can we, like Brontë, find solace in creative pursuits?

Observe the creative process undefiled. Grab the nearest preschooler and ask her to draw. Watch what she does. The preschooler has no fear and is almost always happy about her creation. If the preschooler is still present (hasn’t run off and “seatbelt taped” the Playmobil girl into the car—my recent favorite from Ella Sophia) you’ll notice that she enjoys the process as much as or more than the final outcome. You don’t need to create a masterpiece—a wildly successful novel or painting or song. Creation itself is the therapy.


What is creating? Your answer will vary from that of everyone else. The point is that you create without judgment. In the context of art therapy, the art created is secondary to the process. Go out and be a child. Create something and remove the critique.

Maybe I’ll get that diary with the lock and key and start by filling the pages with a story about a creative little girl who uses tape for seat belts.


Does your creative outlet sustain you through loss, grief, your day-to-day difficulties?

Mine is not a traditional outlet, like painting or composing, but when I can help bring to life to someone's story and ideas on ‘dare to dream', this for me is an act of creation — one that brings me happiness. As Elizabeth said, creativity can take so many forms — what does yours look like?

As we consider gifting the art of expression to our children, you may want to re-read Tie-Dye, Daughters and Dreams.

Finally, when Elizabeth and I first discussed a guest post after Kimberly Carlile's presentation at Fusion (Kimberly's presentation also inspired Julie Berry's Embracing Round post), I had no idea Elizabeth was a composer/vocalist/musician!

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