THE HUMAN BOND
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.