THE HU­MAN BOND

FLUX Hawaii - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - TEXT BY RE­BECCA PIKE, KATIE CALD­WELL & LISA YA­MADA IM­AGES BY JOHN HOOK & JONAS MAON

Hu­mans are re­la­tional be­ings, shaped as much by their en­vi­ron­ments as by those with whom they spend their time. Th­ese four por­traits de­pict what hap­pens when paths align.

HU­MANS ARE SO­CIAL, RE­LA­TIONAL BE­INGS, SHAPED AS MUCH BY OUR EN­VI­RON­MENTS AS WE ARE BY THOSE WITH WHOM WE SPEND OUR TIME. CEL­E­BRA­TIONS ARE SWEETER WHEN SHARED; BUR­DENS BE­COME LIGHT­ENED WHEN CAR­RIED TO­GETHER. FROM THE MO­MENTS WE ARE BORN TO WHEN WE TAKE OUR LAST BREATHS, OUR LIVES, LIT­ER­ALLY, DE­PEND UPON ONE AN­OTHER. HERE, A LOOK AT WHAT HAP­PENS WHEN PATHS ALIGN.

“Birth is an in­ti­mate, sa­cred event,” says Ye Nguyen, a li­censed natur­o­pathic physi­cian. “You don’t want just any­body show­ing up.” Still, the av­er­age hos­pi­tal birth of­ten in­volves nu­mer­ous vis­i­tors and staff rush­ing in and out of the de­liv­ery room, in­tro­duc­ing tubes and tape and beeps, all be­neath flu­o­res­cent lights that add a green­ish-yel­low hue to “It’s a boy!” self­ies.

Some fam­i­lies, like FLUX Hawaii cre­ative di­rec­tor Ara Feducia, choose a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. “Ye is the per­fect com­pan­ion to have when you’re preg­nant,” says Feducia, who de­liv­ered her daugh­ter, Ada, with Nguyen’s help in Oc­to­ber 2015. “It’s such a gift, be­ing around this woman whose mis­sion is to give to other women and to em­power them to go through child­birth with­out fear.”

Re­ceiv­ing her doc­tor­ate in natur­opa­thy from Bastyr Univer­sity, which spe­cial­izes in al­ter­na­tive medicine, Nguyen is also a cranio-sacral/mas­sage ther­a­pist, mid­wife, doula, and yoga ther­a­pist. She is trained to do some of the same rou­tine pro­ce­dures that a doc­tor would do, like tak­ing blood pres­sure and fe­tal mea­sure­ments, and her ex­per­tise tells her when to take a home birth to the hos­pi­tal, as she did with Feducia, af­ter she spent 26 hours in la­bor at home.

“I have learned how to blend both worlds,” Nguyen says, care­fully and re­spect­fully de­clin­ing to im­ply that any type of medicine—east­ern ver­sus Western, al­ter­na­tive ver­sus tra­di­tional—is su­pe­rior. “I’m a firm be­liever in team care sup­port. When I do births, I have an OB-GYN for the med­i­cal side so those Western con­cerns get ad­dressed.” While Nguyen of­fers com­pre­hen­sive ex­per­tise, her pri­or­ity is pro­vid­ing emo­tional sup­port and com­pan­ion­ship to her ex­pec­tant moms. “It’s about trust,” Nguyen says. “They know they can count on me.”

Giv­ing birth at home with­out drugs re­minds us that child­birth is a fam­ily af­fair and not a med­i­cal con­di­tion to be treated. “That’s some­thing I feel we, cul­tur­ally, have lost among women,” Feducia muses. “[Dr. Nguyen] has seen me at my most vul­ner­a­ble and my most pow­er­ful. No­body has seen me like that, weak and strong at the same time.”

THE BIRTH OF SOME­THING GREAT: A NEW MOM AND HER MID­WIFE

A LEARN­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCE: TWO TEACH­ERS TO LEAN ON

At Mo‘O School in Mānoa, two women move around a large, open class­room with de­lib­er­ate, grace­ful move­ments. Over the last three years, the two have grown ex­cep­tion­ally close while work­ing in tan­dem to open the school, which wel­comed its first class in Septem­ber 2015. Sit­ting on the floor around them—calm, fo­cused faces gaz­ing up—are about a dozen small chil­dren (in­clud­ing the au­thor’s daugh­ter) who make up the in­au­gu­ral stu­dent body of this new­est Montes­sori of O‘ahu school.

Molly Jenk­ins and Mamie Lawrence Gal­lagher, the school’s founders, met in 2012, when Gal­lagher’s daugh­ter was a stu­dent of Jenk­ins’s at an­other Montes­sori school, Hoaloha o ke Kai, which closed in 2013. Founded by Maria Montes­sori in 1907, th­ese schools teach stu­dents based on a model known as the Montes­sori Method, which cap­i­tal­izes on the nat­u­ral de­vel­op­ment of chil­dren, teach­ing via sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ences within mixed-age class­rooms (ages 3 to 6 be­ing pri­mary, and ages 6 to 12 el­e­men­tary). The teach­ers, called guides, are trained to rec­og­nize their stu­dents’ stages of de­vel­op­men­tal pro­gres­sion and, us­ing ob­ser­va­tion and lessons, to nur­ture each child based on his or her in­di­vid­ual needs.

Though not equals on pa­per (Gal­lagher is the school’s di­rec­tor and teaches the el­e­men­tary class, while Jenk­ins helms the pri­mary group), the pair de­scribes their work­ing part­ner­ship as one based on a unity of pur­pose and shared re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. “I knew I could not do it alone,” says Gal­lagher, for whom open­ing a school had been a long-held as­pi­ra­tion. “Hav­ing Molly made me braver than I would have been.”

To which Jenk­ins re­sponds: “I feel in­spired by you. I like that you take ac­tion and that you’re com­pas­sion­ate. It re­flects what I want for the chil­dren.” The part­ners’ mod­el­ing of a healthy, car­ing adult re­la­tion­ship sup­ports the Montes­sori cur­ricu­lum, in which so­cial de­vel­op­ment is equal to aca­demic de­vel­op­ment.

“The chil­dren can see that we are kind to each other,” Gal­lagher says. “I see a com­pan­ion­ship as a deeper friend­ship, marked by ci­vil­ity, kind­ness, and grace. Those are qual­i­ties that we try to help the chil­dren find within them­selves.”

MAIN SQUEEZE: ONE WOMAN EM­BRACES OTH­ERS

Lealyn Po­poni, pro­fes­sional cuddler and founder of Aloha Cud­dle Com­pany, hugs and cra­dles a woman she has just met, squeez­ing her gen­tly. They are sit­ting in Po­poni’s Palolo home, get­ting to know one an­other while limbs and bod­ies in­ter­twine in­no­cently. The woman in her arms seems ner­vous and ap­pre­hen­sive, but as time passes she ap­pears to re­lax, al­low­ing her body to soften into Po­poni’s.

The only ser­vice of its kind in the state, Aloha Cud­dle Com­pany of­fers sched­uled snug­gles that range any­where from 30 min­utes to five hours at a rate of $1 per minute. Cud­dles are avail­able to in­di­vid­u­als look­ing for what The Cud­dle Su­tra calls “the ul­ti­mate in in­ti­macy” (“more in­ti­mate than a can­dlelit din­ner, more than a joint tax re­turn and yes, even more than sex,” ac­cord­ing to the book).

Po­poni dis­cov­ered the calm­ing im­pact of touch while vol­un­teer­ing with the el­derly in Colorado; how a sim­ple hand­hold or pat on the arm could soothe and calm the re­ceiver. Af­ter wit­ness­ing the power of this con­nec­tion, she be­gan re­search­ing the art of touch and dis­cov­ered its many ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing re­lax­ation but also stress re­duc­tion and im­proved men­tal health. Th­ese dis­cov­er­ies spurred a new­found per­sonal goal for Po­poni: to be more com­fort­able with touch. “I did not grow up in a touchyfeely fam­ily,” she ex­plains. “So I wasn’t very com­fort­able with it, even hug­ging.” She de­cided she needed to get up close and per­sonal, with be­ing up close and per­sonal. Po­poni be­gan mak­ing a con­scious ef­fort to use touch­ing and hug­ging more fre­quently with peo­ple in her life. As she be­came more com­fort­able with it, she no­ticed that her friends and ac­quain­tances were warmer and more open with her.

Ac­cord­ing to Po­poni, who has one other cuddler in her em­ploy, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore th­ese kinds of ser­vices start pop­ping up all over the coun­try. She pre­dicts that in 20 years, there will be cud­dle cen­ters across the United States, much like the nu­mer­ous spas and mas­sage ser­vices avail­able now. “When you think about it, mas­sages are far more in­ti­mate than cud­dling, yet it’s far more ac­cepted,” she says. “With a mas­sage, you re­move your clothes and a stranger touches you all over. Our ser­vices are much more in­no­cent.”

In Po­poni’s ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing within this unique in­dus­try, she has ob­served that Amer­i­cans in par­tic­u­lar are ex­tremely “touch-pho­bic,” and are quick to as­sume that ev­ery touch is sex­ual. Aloha Cud­dle Com­pany’s ser­vices are de­cid­edly not sex­ual, with providers cud­dling clients as one would a child or a par­ent. There are rules: Hug­ging, danc­ing, and talk­ing are per­mit­ted, while nu­dity, mas­sage, and sex­ual touch­ing are not. There is even a pro­to­col for chang­ing po­si­tions when “nat­u­ral re­ac­tions” oc­cur, which, ac­cord­ing to Aloha Cud­dle Com­pany’s FAQS, rarely hap­pens, due to the pla­tonic na­ture of each cud­dle ses­sion.

As it hap­pens, the abil­ity to cud­dle isn’t the most crit­i­cal skill a provider of th­ese ser­vices needs to pos­sess—be­ing a good lis­tener is. “We need peo­ple who are nur­tur­ers, some­one that’s open and com­pas­sion­ate,” says Po­poni, who speaks with en­thu­si­asm about the hu­man con­nec­tion that oc­curs when two peo­ple touch. She ex­plains that her clients need some­one to lis­ten to their sto­ries, to care about and em­pathize with their strug­gles. As Po­poni ex­plains, “The real goal is to of­fer some­one a safe space to feel loved, un­der­stood, and val­ued.”

NOBLE LADIES: CARE­GIVER AND CLIENT REC­I­PROC­ITY

“I think she is tops,” says 91-year-old Jean Ya­mada of her live-in care­giver, Lour­des Vi­var Noble. “But she isn’t al­ways tops.” When is she not? “When she’s aw­fully, aw­fully con­ceited.” Then, Jean clar­i­fies in a bare whis­per: “She gets aw­fully con­ceited if she thought I was only say­ing good things about her.”

Play­ful ban­ter be­tween Noble and Jean, who are care­giver and client, re­spec­tively, is quick. “I love you, Grandma,” Noble says. “I wish I could say the same,” is Jean’s cheeky re­tort. While their re­la­tion­ship is pred­i­cated on as­sertive­ness and wit, it is so­lid­i­fied by a mu­tual care for one an­other. Since July 2014, Noble has shared Jean’s ‘Aiea home with her client, whom she calls lov­ing, car­ing, and con­sid­er­ate of her needs. Is Noble tired? Jean en­cour­ages her to rest. “Very few clients are like her, most are fo­cused on them­selves,” says Noble, who views Jean and her fam­ily as her own. “Care­giv­ing is think­ing of the other per­son in­stead of your­self,” she says. “You are giv­ing your­self to the other per­son.”

In early 2014, Jean (who is, in full dis­clo­sure, the grand­mother of FLUX Hawaii’s editor) was di­ag­nosed with de­men­tia. She moved tem­po­rar­ily to her daugh­ter Sharon’s home in Mililani, where Noble first cared for her on a part-time ba­sis as an em­ployee of home care agency At­ten­tion Plus Care. Jean, who some­times has trou­ble re­mem­ber­ing names, came up with pet ones for Noble. “She called me Danc­ing Lady, Singing Lady, be­cause that’s what we were do­ing in Mililani,” Noble says. They also talked about the white moon­flower that only blooms at night and the dy­ing or­chids at the house that seemed be­yond sav­ing. “[They] were go­ing to be thrown away, and I said I can make them live,” Noble re­calls. “That plant, af­ter two months, bloomed. … And from then on she called me the Or­chid Lady.”

When Jean’s re­volv­ing set of care­givers topped out at 18, her fam­ily de­cided one live-in care­giver could pro­vide more con­sis­tent care. They of­fered the po­si­tion to Noble, who ac­cepted. Be­fore mov­ing into Jean’s home in ‘Aiea, Noble took a month-long va­ca­tion to the Philip­pines, where she is from. When she re­turned, she found Jean’s health had de­te­ri­o­rated. The once spritely se­nior’s weight had dropped to a dan­ger­ously low 86 pounds. Her fam­ily wor­ried that this was the end.

Work­ing with the fam­ily and Jean’s part­time care­givers, Noble, like she had done with the flow­ers, be­gan nurs­ing Jean back to life. “I ex­plained why she has to eat, and then we talk about the birds and the bees and the co­conut trees, and then she’d for­get about say­ing she didn’t like to eat,” Noble says. Three months later, Jean had gained back 20 pounds.

What is Noble’s nick­name to­day? “Sexy Wexy,” says Noble, who demon­strates how she wiggles her hips when she ex­er­cises, or when she teases Jean to make her laugh. “She doesn’t re­mem­ber my name, but she never for­gets that Sexy Wexy thing,” she says, beam­ing with pride and, even, a hint of con­ceit.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween care­giver Lour­des Vi­var Noble and client Jean Ya­mada is pred­i­cated on as­sertive­ness and wit, and is so­lid­i­fied by a mu­tual care for one an­other.

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