Archive for the ‘disability’ Category

“God Don’t Make Junk”

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This used to be my mom’s favorite saying. She believed it all of her life, but never as much as she did after the birth of my brother, Curtis. When she was pregnant with him, she was unknowingly exposed to German Measles, thus affecting him with Rubella Syndrome.

Curtis was unfortunate to acquire all of the accompanying diagnosis; he had a severe hearing impairment, congenital heart disease, an intellectual disability, an odd head shape (like a smooshed pear,) a cleft lip and palate, autism and was legally blind with crossed eyes that wiggled back and forth. (Additionally, when he was a teen, he developed schizophrenia, but that’s for another story…)

Because I was only 4 when he was born, I thought he was the cutest thing in the world! He was my BROTHER, after all. I delighted in feeding him formula through an eye dropper, trying to quell his kitten like hunger cries. I loved to rock him in the rocking chair, all bundled up and warm. He was a delight to me!

Curtis’s life in our family was as amazing as mine. Loving, adventurous, interesting, and accepting. Anywhere we went, I would explain to quizzical stares that he was born like that and he might look different, but inside he was the same as everyone else. In fact, he had an amazing sense of humor and would laugh at anything! He loved to eat peaches and watch Sesame Street. As I extoled my brother’s virtues, I could see their stares soften with understanding and acceptance.

The “gawking” role was reversed when I was a parent, and this moment is etched into my mind. Francis and I were at the zoo. He must have been about four years old because I remember pushing his sister, Dinora, in a stroller. Nearing a pen of vastly ugly pigs snorting mud, Francis exclaimed, “Look, mom! One of the animals got out of the cage.” I looked over and saw a horrified mother with a toddler in a stroller. A disfigured toddler, with a gaping mouth like Curtis used to have. And the child was snorting bubbles and drool. Taken aback and horrified by what Francis said, I took his hand and we walked over to the stroller. I smiled at the mom and told her what beautiful eyes her child had! I asked her if it would be okay if we touched him, and Francis and I leaned over and gently rubbed the child’s chubby little hands, which opened and closed in excitement. “He really seems to be enjoying the zoo!” I said, as we parted, smiling knowing little smiles at each other.

I then took Francis aside and explained that God makes all types of children, and “God don’t make junk!” His observational comment was an innocent one, (especially because he is legally blind,) but it provided an opportunity for a valuable lesson.

Every mother wants to be proud of her child, and to have others share in her positive feelings. Every child is a joy! Imagine yourself in the mother of a disabled child’s shoes. Have empathy for that mom. Join in her admiration of her child, and maybe you will also internalize the concept that “God don’t make junk!”

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For more stories about Curtis’ childhood and our adventurous family, please, read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

How Do the Blind See a Tree?

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Most people can look up and see a tree.  To a child who is blind or visually impaired, their concept of a tree is the bark they can feel. Their concept of a tree is that it is” rough”.  If they have some vision, they can tell that a tree is brown at its trunk, but “a blob of green” above the trunk.  They could grow up and their whole lives not know what a tree “looks” like.  Expanding such basic knowledge of their world is called expanding the core curriculum. It consists of concepts that are not taught in school, but are still important lessons for that child to learn in order to grow up as an educated adult who is blind.

One topic covered by the nine students, ages six through thirteen, at an April vacation program, was the concept of trees and their differences.  During a nature walk, students found that some trees were so small they could fit their hand around the trunk.  Some trees were so large that it took all nine students holding hands to encircle the trunk. Some trunks were very rough, with deep groves, and some were smooth, with little lines barely traceable by their little fingers.

They learned that evergreen trees stay green all year, and they giggled as they carefully touched the sharp needles. They never knew that trees could be so prickly!  Under the tree, they found the pinecones from which a new tree may grow.

They learned that oak trees, in the spring, have no leaves.  They closely examined the branches of an oak with a few dead leaves still attached, carefully feeling them and making the connection with the leaves they see on the ground in the autumn. Acorns which were still attached to the tree branch were felt with much enthusiasm.  They had collected acorns from the ground underneath the tree, but to actually see it attached seemed to be a surprise. They felt the new buds on the ends of the small branches, buds which would soon bloom into leaves.

Students learned about flowering trees, in full bloom during their springtime visit.  Most students were amazed that a tree could have flowers.  In their minds, trees and flowers were two entirely different things.  But there they were; pink blossoms on the end of a cherry blossom tree branch, gentle, sweet smelling little flowers.

As they were feeling and looking at the trees up close, students were in awe.  So many different types of trees!  And they would not describe a single one of them as “rough” because they were finally able to look beyond the bark.

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(I apologize, it has been a busy summer and this is a repost from 2 years ago.) For more stories about children who are blind, please, read my book. Here is a link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11 The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

A Whole New Meaning to “Swimming with the Fishes”

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I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!

 

If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane  available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

What’s In My Purse?

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As the mother of children, especially children with disabilities, I have been a frequent visitor to emergency rooms. It didn’t take me long to realize that those hours spent W A I T I N G were tedious for my kiddo and myself. In fact, for my kiddos with ADHD, they could be dangerous. With Steven, he would open all of the drawers and fling the contents onto the ground, swing from the air hoses and climb on top of the curtain. He was generally uncontrollable in an environment that he saw as a playground and I saw full of dangers that would land him in an emergency room for a reason other than for that which we had come! I had a knot in my stomach and tears of frustration. The emergency room staff and I finally learned that the only examining room suitable for Steven was one for psychiatric patients…no drawers, no air hoses, no curtains to climb. That solved the problem somewhat…but the long wait was also a major issue. Visits to the emergency room often ran six, seven hours, and sometimes all night! What to do? What to do? What to do?

Alas, out of need emerged my “emergency room purse”:
*Extra copies of medical cards and social security cards; when under duress with a screaming child coming in with the ambulance, rummaging through my wallet for these items always seems problematic and adds to my stress.

* A written medical history for each child; remembering those pesky spelled medication names and listing hospitalizations and diagnosis are always nerve wracking, having them at your fingertips is priceless.

*Quarters and crisp dollar bills for the vending machines.

*Animal and peanut butter crackers along with some juice boxes so I don’t have to spend so MUCH at the vending machines. (Dispensation of food and drink dependent upon reason for visit to emergency room)

*Cell phone charger (hours waiting…games to play…people to call…need I say more?)

*A deck of playing cards, INVALUABLE for killing time, and also for great mother/child bonding.

*Manipulative toys
for kiddos with ADHD…nothing like having that coil to twirl or that Rubik’s Cube to solve.

*Extra diaper/underwear and pants unless the child prefers to go home in a hospital johnny. (My daughter, Marie, actually loves the hospital clothing and has a whole drawer full…starting from small sizes when she was young up to the adult sizes she wears now.)

*Chap stick; the rest of me may look like Frankenstein’s monster, but my lips will be smooth and pretty.

*A large print, best selling book for me to read; when a kiddo is sleeping, (YAY!) the lighting may be dim and my eyes may be teary, but large print has always served me well.

My life has been spent trying to remain sane while raising children who can be difficult. Emergency room visits are always stressful and my mitigating solution is the “going to the hospital” purse.

Not to be confused with my “going to the movies” purse…

Give a Pat on the Back to Parents of Kids who are Autistic!

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Parents of children with autism will never tell you that raising their child is easy…it’s not! I joke around, look for the silver lining, take things in stride, and present a smiley face to the world. However, raising my son, Steven, has been, and continues to be, an extremely difficult parenting challenge.

Memories of how hard it has been flooded back to me when my hubby and I went away for a romantic weekend at our little cabin in the woods of New Hampshire. With the sub zero weather whirling around outside, we were sitting on the couch sipping hot chocolate with lots of tiny, melting marshmallows. (Okay, maybe HE had some Kailua in his, but mine really DID just have marshmallows!) As the heat rose up from the small grate on the floor, I was transported back to the time when we first purchased the cabin. Because Steven had such severe sensory issues and taking him to a regular hotel for a regular family vacation would have caused a regular catastrophe, we sought out a calm location to which he could become accustomed. Thus, the family vacation cabin was born! He was only about a year old when we bought it, and he soon adapted well…he continued to wake at 4 in the morning to run around the house (which was carefully modified for safety.) He continued to refuse to eat any textured food, subsisting on cans of Chocolate Ensure. He continued to hide under the bed if any company came to visit, or if it was too windy out, or if the clock ticked too loudly or for a variety of other reasons known only to him. He would curl up in a ball under the kitchen table if there was too much noise, or light, or if he just plain felt like it. However, he also had the little pond behind the house where he could catch frogs, turtles and snakes for hours…HIS idea of a great vacation! In other words, he behaved just like he did at home! Our family vacation home was successful!

We enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, many years of quiet, restful activities on this little house in the woods. The only reminder of a behavior to which we could never accommodate… Steven’s self-abusive “episodes”…is a scar on his forehead. It has faded over the years and resembles a tiny tic-tac-toe board.

Last weekend, sitting on the couch enjoying my hot chocolate, I glanced over at the heating grate and shuddered, remembering the one time he was so out of control that he banged his head on the heating grate before we could restrain him. A hard, deliberate bang on the only dangerous spot in the house. It was a reminder that as hard as we tried to have a “regular” life with Steven, we could not always keep him safe…

That is not to say that this is a complaint. It’s more of an observation. Raising kiddos who are autistic changes a family’s life forever. If you know someone who has an autistic child, give them a pat on the back. They probably haven’t had an easy life…

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To read more about our life as a family, please read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Out and About with a GPS!

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After my last disastrous attempt to use Mapquest directions to find a location, my husband had pity and surprised me with a new GPS. (He’s a heck of a great guy!) Marie and I have been using it to go places; new doctors, apple orchards and so forth. Like any curious child, Marie not only wants to know WHERE we are going but HOW to get there, and the inevitable “Are we there yet?” I don’t know HOW to get there, and even if I DID, to describe the actual directions in American Sign Language would be dangerous while driving, (especially because two hands are needed!) So Marie latched onto the GPS as though it actually was a small satellite guiding us. (Somehow, I think I may have misinterpreted exactly WHAT a GPS is in ASL to her.)
Hiding the screen from me so I could see, Marie excitedly gave me the directions street by street by street. In order to make it more like a fun “game”, I made the mistake of turning the sound off. The problem was, either she was a little late in signing “Left at next street”…or, more likely, I was paying intermittent attention to the road and missed her directions. Our trips ended up more zig zaggy and lengthy than I would have preferred. I confess, I cheated. When she wasn’t looking, I turned the sound on without her knowing. Now when we use it, she still gives me the directions street by street, thinking she is the sole direction provider. I no longer miss the proper street because I’ve already been prewarned by the GPS, and Marie blissfully thinks she is doing a magnificent job guiding us to our location.
Ohhhhhhh, I’m a sneaky mother….

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To read more about our life, here is a link to my book:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

For Sentimental, Sappy Souls

On Columbus Day, my husband and I spent a wonderful day just driving around and enjoying the autumn scenery. I don’t know about you, but I seem to have an unusual sensitivity to the beauty in nature, and was once again overwhelmed by the beauty of the bright white and yellow streaks of sun streaming down through the white puffy clouds. Such a sight always encourages me as if reinforcing the fact that yes, there are clouds, and yes there may be rain, but that sun is still up there in the sky, overseeing it all, just waiting to break through and make things better. As an added visual treat, the sun shone so brightly on the tapestry of peak autumn leaves: oranges, reds and yellows, that I felt a need to wear my sunglasses, but with them on I would not be able to fully appreciate the effect of the over-the-top, gasp inducing colors. No photo, piece of artwork or beautifully sung song could have replicated the intensity of happiness that brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.
My husband and I sat, holding hands as he drove. There was no need to say anything. We were at peace, pleased to have such a respite after a hectic week of raising children and dealing with problems. We were in our own beautiful bubble, cell phones turned off so as not to ruin the interlude. It was a wonderful day!
Upon pulling into the driveway of our home, I spotted the two small maple trees which Marie had planted a few years ago. She had excitedly dug them up when they were fragile saplings with broken branches, and planted one on each side of the driveway. She had added gravel at the base of each, and attached a tall, straight, thin stick to keep them growing upright. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed them before. I had NOTICED them, of course, but I had never really SEEN them. They had grown to be about four feet tall, straight and strong. My breath stuck in my throat as the brilliant, bright yellow leaves danced happily in the gentle breeze. They were a growing metaphor for my daughter, blossoming and beautiful and holding the promise of a bright future in their little yellow leaves. Despite once being fragile and broken, they would grow tall and amazing and fit perfectly in this world, reassuring me that my daughter, who was also once fragile and broken, would grow tall and amazing and fit perfectly in this world.

I Don’t Think Animals Kiss…

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One day several years ago, many months after Marie came to live with us, my husband, in a good mood, came into the kitchen, swooped me backwards, and gave me a passionate kiss.  When we had finished, I noticed Marie standing there, gaping, eyes wide, with a shocked look on her face.

“What was THAT????’ she asked in American Sign Language.

“A kiss,” I told her.

“No, no”, she signed back, “a kiss is a little peck on the lips” she said as she came over and demonstrated one on the dog. (Heaven knows a teenager would never kiss their MOTHER!)

“There is a different kind of kiss when you really love someone like your husband” I said.

“That is amazing!  How did you LEARN to do that? ” she asked plaintively.

“You don’t learn it, you just feel it.  It is natural when you love someone,” I explained to her.

“Well,” she huffed, “I’m going to wait until I’m 17 to do that,” she said as I said a silent prayer to myself that I should be so lucky for her to wait that long!

I laughed inwardly at her innocence, this worldly child who, because of her child abuse knew the mechanics of sex more than anyone her age.  I doubted she ever saw anyone really “in love” before, and she had never seen anyone kiss passionately, which really surprised me.  The more I thought about it, though, I realized she hadn’t been exposed to it in her young life and the only other way she might know would be from watching television.  Because of her deafness and lack of early education,  she had a low reading level and was not able to understand the captioning on tv, so she did not generally watch comedy or drama series.  Her favorite tv channel was (and still is,)  the Animal Planet where captioning is not really needed to enjoy the shows.  What wonderfully active lives those animals live!  Exotic lives!  Interesting lives!  Dangerous lives!  Sometimes romantic lives; nuzzle noses, lick, bite, cuddle, hug, dance and flap their wings as a means of showing affection.  But a long, romantic, “mushy” kiss? I think not….Marie had to learn that from her parents…

 

 

 

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To read more about our life, here is a link to my book:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

“It Smells Like Flowers and Sunshine”

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Working this summer running an educational/recreational program for kiddos with disabilities, I have been giving my good ole, 12 passenger van with a wheelchair lift a run for its money.  Surprisingly, despite numerous past mechanical difficulties, it has become a war horse for transporting us throughout the state to many wonderful adventures!  Because it is an industrial type van, it supplies the children with a lot of extra bounces, creaking, twists and turns.  (It is good thing they are all snapped down into booster seats and seat belts or by now I would have many little dents in the ceiling from their bouncing heads.)  They laugh and screech and go “weeeeeeeeee” as though they are on a ride at an amusement park. (I dare say, some of the children have never experienced such excitement…)

Over the weeks, I have become somewhat lax in van cleanliness…food wrappers, discarded art projects, broken recreational items (such as water guns and deflated balls,) and, EWWWWWW, old clothing left by the children, litter the floor.  I KNOW it is not proper, but, somehow, I am so busy with the program arrangements, supervising the children and driving them back and forth from their homes that at the end of my 12 hour day, that I am too pooped to do anything but sit in my lounge chair at home and watch Judge Judy.  I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances…purchased a couple of cute, little, purple, sweet smelling air fresheners for the van.

The day after this ingenious addition, the children filed on one by one for a trip to the aquarium.  Many of them commented on the smell, including one little girl who is blind who remarked “Do you have flowers in the van?  It smells beautiful, like flowers and sunshine!”  Thus proving to me that those Febreeze commercials where people are put into smelly, messy enclosures really DO smell only the Febreeze!

I Get All of My Exercise in the Driver’s Seat of My Van

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My daughter, Marie, is in a residential school, out-of-state.  I drive the hour and a half to see her at least once a week, sometimes twice.  If you have read my book, you know that I HATE to ride.  (I spent my childhood zig zagging across the country.) Driving is no better, and I need to focus or I will fall asleep.

Talking books on tape used to keep my attention for the ride, but taped books are getting harder and harder to find.  Music has become my new listening alternative.  Not just ANY music…noooooooo….only the rock music of my youth; Proud Mary, Sweet Caroline, Born to Run, Papa was a Rolling Stone….   Of course when one hears this music, one’s body can’t help but “dance” to the beat and one’s mouth HAS to sing along, and I am no exception.  The fact that I am in a van somewhat limits my moves, but not altogether.  While driving down the straight highway at 55 miles per hour, (the fastest my 2002 van can manage,)  I can safely swing and wave my arms, (alternately, of course,) bounce, tap and kick my left leg, twist at the waist, and move my shoulders, and do so with great veracity in time to the music.  I have found this new driving routine to be loads of fun helping to both pass the time AND exercise!  Although I am not self-conscious, and the stares from others would not bother me,  I am so busy looking at the road that I don’t see them! Reality comes into play every time a tractor trailer truck drives by because our seats are at the same height.  I am sure that the driver is mortified at the sight of me, as I am no substitute for the sexy young woman for whom he was looking, but what sexy young woman would be driving a huge old old, rusty van like mine anyway?

As the summer approaches,  I will be singing with the windows down because the vans air conditioning met an untimely death last summer.  Most people DO have air conditioning and thankfully (for them) their windows will be closed and the buzz of the air conditioning will drown out any ear shattering notes coming from my van.

If you see me doing my “moves like Mick Jagger” on the highway, I will be too busy driving and exercising to see YOU. However, if you happen to see a somewhat middle aged woman, hair wild and wind blown, climb her way down from the seat of a very old, high van seat, and she has skinny arms, a skinny left leg, tiny waist but a big butt and plump right leg, smile and wave because that would be me….

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Link to my book

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

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