Archive for the ‘inspirational’ Category

How Do the Blind See a Tree?

Tree-web

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.

A Christmas Gift from Above Retold…

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Our family went last night to visit a shrine. as we do every Christmas. The lights were magnificent! The live manger was awe inspiring as the choir sang nearby. Of course, over the years it has become more commercialized…Merry Go Round ride for $3. Ride in the trolley, $5. $4 dollar popcorn and $5 dollar cotton candy. $12 for a small book about the nativity, and $25 for the accompanying small stuffed sheep. $9.95 for a children’s chicken nugget meal. Of course, with more and more lights, the expenses increase, and they have to fund it somehow. But I digress… The money making aspects of the shrine in no way minimizes the true spirituality and healing nature of the location, which is worth all of the money in the world.


We adopted Dinora from Guatemala at the age of 6 weeks, and I was so thrilled to have a daughter!!!  She came with a variety of diseases common in s 3
rd World Country, scabies, intestinal parasites and malnutrition.  But we loved her and fed her and she blossomed into an adorable baby with big black eyes and shiny black hair.

At the age of six months, it became apparent that Dinora was deaf.  She had not yet started to babble like other babies her age, but she also did not turn to her name, or looked at the dog when she barked, or seem to notice the footsteps of me coming into her bedroom.  She would be laying there awake when I walked in, (and, believe me, I am not light on my fight.)  When she finally would see me, she would startle.  She had not heard me.  The day I knew it for sure was a day she was sitting next to me on the floor while I was doing the dishes.  I accidentally dropped a huge lobster pot I was cleaning and it made a horrendous clang on the floor.  Dinora happily sat there playing, her back to the pan.  She did not startle.  She did not cry.  She did not hear it.

We then made the rounds of the doctors.  She flunked regular hearing tests, and had a brain stem evoked response test.  Her brain did not respond up to 90 decibels.  The doctor informed me that she was severely hearing impaired and that we would try hearing aids to maximize her hearing, although they would not be strong enough for her to hear normally.  They took the impressions for her ear molds.

That evening, our family went for a pre-Christmas visit to a shrine beautifully decorated with Christmas lights.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  I had a two year old son who was legally blind, and now I had an infant daughter who was deaf.

There was a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes surrounded by prayer water and many large candles.  There was also a large display of crutches and wheelchairs of people who had been healed by her.  I helped my son, Francis, who was 2 1/2 years old, light a candle. Because it was almost Christmas, and the only candles he had seen were on a birthday cake, he merrily sang “Happy Birthday Dear Jesus”.  I remember saying a non-de-script prayer, still upset that Dinora was deaf.  I still thanked God,  but was not quite as enthusiastic as usual.

The next morning, the dog barked and Dinora woke up!  I thought it was a coincidence until I started to walk into her room and she turned to smile at me. She had heard my footsteps!  I started talking to her and she started babbling back.  Only a day earlier she had been fitted with ear molds for hearing aids!  I excitedly called the doctor, who agreed to see her that day.  Her hearing was tested and it was normal!  Neither I nor the doctor could believe it.  He said in his 29 years as an ear doctor he had never seen anything like it.  He told me that it had to be an “Christmas miracle from Above”.  The visit the night before to the shrine came to mind.  A miracle HAD occurred, and I was  embarrassed because I had not thanked God more enthusiastically the night before. He had granted me a miracle even though I did not ask for one.

Dinora is now 28 years old and has had perfect hearing ever since that day! And I have lived life with a peaceful,generous heart because I know, without any doubt, that God is with me.

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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

I Thought It Was the End of the World…Really!

I led a very eclectic lifestyle when I was a child, traveling around the country with a vagabond family. It was a wonderful life, made all that more meaningful by a mother who possessed a natural spirituality. We may not have gone to church Sundays, but our life was naturally filled with the presence of God.

Because I feel that I know you all, I am going to share a personal, life altering childhood experience. We were camping high in the mountains, a favorite spot for my father because he could sit and look out over the valleys and little towns below. For him, it seemed to minimized the stressors of life. How could life be so bad when the people were the size of ants and the lakes the size of large drops of water? For whatever reason, he seemed to feel safe in the mountains Things were good. Things were peaceful. We were content.

One night while I was sleeping, I was awakened by an extremely loud, earth shattering noise. My body shook with such a ferocity I thought I was going to fall out of my top bunk. Although it was later determined to be a nearby bolt of lightning, I will never forget how I felt immediately when I woke up; I thought it was the end of the world! I thought life as we knew it was over. My immediate reaction was such profound joy and love that my heart wanted to burst with happiness. I was deeply disappointed when I found out it was only thunder, and not a joyous entrance into the world beyond and an opportunity to meet God.

As a child who had never read the Bible or been “religious”, in retrospect it is surprising that my first thought was not fear at the concept of the end of the world but joy! It was not something I had learned about in catechism, or had even thought of before. My first feeling was automatic and unbelievable happiness and love. And it is that feeling that I carry with me to this day. For I know that the heart of that child so many years ago experienced a true and prophetic revelation…that God lives in the hearts of all of us, we just don’t always see it. Wouldn’t the world be different if we all knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a joyous eternity awaits us? I was so very fortunate to have learned that at an early age…

Cracker Jacks and Oranges: My Kids Have the Best Dad!!!

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I suppose I am prejudiced, because I picked him, but Raymond is a wonderful dad!  I am sure when we dated and eventually married sooooooo many years ago, he didn’t have a clue about the roller coaster ride we were in for.  Sweet little marriage with 2.5 kids, growing old together, holding hands and walking on the beach….forget that!  As the parent or foster parent to 19 children, we have spent our marriage trying to have a positive, loving impact on the the children who have passed through or are in our lives.  I am the flakier, impulsive, eternally optimist slob.  He is the more grounded parent, making sure we have enough money to pay the bills, the house is somewhat clean, and the meals are on the table.  He is like a big kid himself with the children…enjoying playing with them and gently bopping them on their beans when he tells them he loves them. He despises the lime light, and has asked me never to write about him in my blog…hopefully he will forgive me for this post.

During a recent visit to the grocery store, he demonstrated everything I love about him:

The store we shopped at was one in which the discounts are great, but the ambiance is lacking, as are the shopping bags.  This was his domain, as he does the shopping weekly. This is his life…no frills, just get down to business.

Filling the cart with basics, (pasta, spaghetti sauce, bread, cheese, eggs and milk,) he purchased enough to provide for our home as well as for our 2 young adult children who are struggling financially. Because I do not generally go grocery shopping with him, I did not know he did that. His sense of support for his children extends into adulthood. Even though they are out of the house, he is still their “go to” person for flat tires and a listening ear. When he listens, he takes things more serious than I do…for me, there is always a silver lining.  I will try to cheer my child up,  make her/him happy.  However, sometimes children just want to bitch that sometimes life just SUCKS!  He listens, commiserates, and gives them that affirmation.

Because he was shopping with a budgeted amount,  I was playfully reprimanded more than once for putting something in the cart that was not absolutely necessary.  However, he DID justify the expense to put in one special thing for each of our children; Cracker Jacks for Steven, fresh oranges for Dinora,  pasta salad mix for Angel and Lay’s Salt and Vinegar chips for me to bring on the weekend visit with Marie. Most importantly, while getting in line at the cash register, he reached over into a bucket of flower bouquets and spent time picking out the best one for me.  (Yes, he DOES buy me flower every week.)  Practical, loving and romantic.  Isn’t he great?

After filling our cart at the grocery store, despite a long line at the cash register, Raymond was patient.  So patient, in fact, that he let a woman with only a few items pass in front of him.  Smiling, he said “Go ahead of me, please. I’m in no hurry”.  He chatted with the cashier, expressing genuine interest, and he assisted an elderly woman in carrying her groceries to the car. He cares about others, strangers, anyone in need. Is it any wonder he has been a great father to our children?

Any set of parents will experience difficulties of varying degrees.  Raising children with disabilities magnifies those difficulties.  It is a huge financial strain, and any thought of retiring and spending our days walking on the beach holding hands is for naught.  Potential retirement savings have been spent on the care of our children, funding therapists who do not take our insurance, taking time out of work when they are hospitalized, transportation to hospitals and therapists out of state, and other expenses many parents would never dream of having. Quality time between Raymond and myself can’t be spontaneous, but needs to be scheduled. (Rest assured that romance is alive and well with us!) Family and friends are often not our best cheerleaders. (Is that a polite way to put it?)  The challenges have been huge, but Raymond’s support has never been greater.  He has rolled with the punches, as though having a screaming child rescued by paramedics from the side of ferris wheel during a PTSD episode, having a child with twelve personalities (and trying to get along with all twelve), spending the whole day at Disney World in a quiet cove of trees while our son who is autistic collects bugs and worms, never knowing whether to buy girl clothes or boy clothes for your daughter are normal parts of parenthood. It’s is just normal family life to him. And I thank GOD for that…because I could never do this alone…

 

 

 

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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/

“Look Mom, no trees!”

Skiing460

My son Francis is amazing!  Although legally blind, he has led an incredibly successful life.  I think one of the reasons he has done so well is because he was raised without having a disability. If that sounds odd, you have to define disability as not having the ability to do what one wants in order to lead a full and happy life.  With proper modifications and technology, Francis has never been held back in any area of life.

Of course, we have chosen achievable goals when he was growing up. One of the many topics we tackled was how to fit sports into his life. Of course he could not play baseball or soccer, but he could be on the wrestling team and swim team. (He excelled and won championships in both areas.) The one sport that I worried about  was his skiing.  He learned at an early age to traverse the White Mountains in New Hampshire with a sighted guide skiing in front of him, usually his dad.  This petrified me because I was afraid he was going to ski into a tree and die. The fact that he is still alive and kicking today is proof that he didn’t, but that did not lessen my motherly concerns.

When Francis went to college at Cambridge in England, he had the good fortune to make many friends with whom he could travel all over Europe.  One day, I received a photo via e-mail, accompanied by the comment “Look, mom, no trees!” The photo was one of  Francis in ski gear, standing at the top of a ski run in the Alps.  The sun reflecting off his dark goggles was no match for the shining smile on his face.  There were no trees to ski into because they were above the tree line.  He was safe!  And, most importantly for a mom, he cared enough to send me a picture to SHOW me that he was safe.  The little cockles of my heart warmed at the thought…what a considerate son!

It wasn’t until a few months later that I saw the news of a large avalanche in that same area and three people were presumed dead.  DEAD?  I immediately remembered that beautiful picture of my thoughtful son, and I laughed.  (Yes, I laughed.)  That picture shows that my son does not have a disability because he had the same chance of dying as the skiers buried in the snow.  He is truly successful!

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Links to my book:

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/

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother

I led a very untraditional lifestyle when I was growing up.  My father, whom I later realized was schizophrenic, had the wanderlust to travel, which our family did for about 6 months of the year. He would remove me out of school and we would take off for various areas of the country, living in our Volkswagen van. ( Although I am sure that today’s public education system would not allow it, somehow I think my father would have taken me out anyway.)

It was quite an adventure for a child like me.  I have a vivid memory of cracking eggs in a big, black, iron frying pan over a campfire in the Badlands in South Dakota.  The rocks the pan was on were not sturdy, and the pan fell sideways with the eggs slowly leaking out onto the pine needles on the ground.  (Clumsy then…still clumsy.) I remember traveling in southern Georgia, driving for miles watching red clay cover everything…the houses, the cars, and even the clothes hanging on the lines.  It was at the beginning of the civil rights movement, and I was uneducated in this area, (probably because I didn’t go to school!) The whole concept of a bathroom for “whites only” was a shock to me.  Did that mean that only people wearing white clothes could use it?  (I’m picturing nurses, dentists, pharmacists…)  I couldn’t use it because I had on my only pair of pants, jeans, and a multi-colored t-shirt. But I had to go to the bathroom baaaaad, where would I go?  Behind the bushes? How degrading!  My misunderstanding of this concept is now a slight reminder of what it felt like be African American in the 60’s. I also have the memory of  a bear at Yellowstone Park coming onto our campsite to eat our dinner as we all huddled in the car. My brother, Curtis, was upset because he had left a package of Cracker Jacks on the picnic table.  We had to restrain him from leaping out of the car to get it.  Afterwards, I was not so keen to sit by the campfire…

But most of all, I remember my constant companion; Curtis.  He was four years younger than I was, and he had been born with Rubella Syndrome; developmentally delayed, cleft palate, legally blind, and severely hearing impaired.  He was my buddy.  Because my dad was extremely frugal, (ie obsessive compulsive disorder frugal,) I did not have many toys to play with.  So, in addition to reading a lot, I played in our surroundings with my brother.  I have a memory of  sitting by a stream, sun shining down on the water through the leaves on the trees. Curtis was happily splashing about in the shallow water.  I was looking for rocks that somewhat resembled people.  (They were no Barbie dolls, but some kind of looked like Alfred Hitchcock and Potato Head.) All of a sudden I heard a whoooooosh!  Curtis had ventured too far into the water and the current started to carry him downstream!  Fortunately, I had long, slim legs (in those days,) and with a few strides, I picked him up by the back of his pants. He was laughing heartily.  To him it was a real adventure.  Like the poor person’s substitute for a ride at Disneyland!

We actually had a lovely childhood together. I had to carry him everywhere because he could not walk sturdily.  Carrying him was just a natural way of life for me.  I don’t know why, but I never thought to be embarrassed by him, (although his screeching and attempt at speech WAS pretty scary).  I never ever thought of him as a burden.  He was just my buddy, Curtis.

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My parents rarely took pictures.  (The money thing again…) But I do remember ONE picture.  It was a picture of me and Curtis, standing in front of Mount Rushmore.  I was characteristically giving him a piggy back ride.  The photo shows Curtis, looking over my shoulder, eyes squinted shut by the glare of the sun.  I was wearing a stupid, treasured, red velvet derby hat, (you know, like jockeys wear.) As the dead presidents loomed behind us, I gave my characteristically stupid, toothy grin, (like all children do when their parents ask them to smile.) And on that day, I first heard the song from Neil Diamond which fit my sentiments exactly: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.  It was a powerful moment to think that someone had put into words what my life was like.

I was so very lucky to have been raised the way I was because it formed my personality, my temperament, and my compassion for others. I personally cannot take credit for the way I live now, fostering and adopting children. I am not selfless, nor amazing, nor wonderful, nor any of the other adjectives readers have used to describe me. I am simply living my life the way I was raised and it is a wonderful life!

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Link to my book  The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

 

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy,he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell

performed by Neil Diamond in 1970

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

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