Archive for the ‘life’ Category

My Stomach Growls When I am Hungry

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I admit it, my life revolves around food. I start the day with breakfast; eggs, toast and tea. By noon time, my stomach is growling and asking for more to eat, and I unfailingly grant its wish. Because of my own feelings about food, I have extra empathy for those who do not have enough to eat.

Today, our Lutheran Church celebrated “God’s Work, Our Hands”. One of our group projects was a specialty of mine, something I do with my own children on a monthly basis. We made 128 bag lunches for the homeless. Bologna and cheese sandwiches, apple sauce and potato chips. When the production was finished, Marie and I drove to the local agency for the homeless and dropped them off. This is something we have done on a regular basis. Years ago, when we started this tradition, Marie was wary of the people milling about outside the building. Some were dirty, some were minorities, some with disabilities, some with obvious mental illness; scary people to a young girl. But, through the years, Marie has become comfortable dropping off food. Now, she understands. She smiles at them and waves “hi”. She says “thank you” in sign language when they open the door for her. And today she proudly placed the work of her hands and the hands of our congregation on the counter. As she turned around to leave, I am sure that she did as I do; appreciates that our own stomachs never have to go without food. Making lunches is such a small sacrifice for us to make. Minuscule, really, when considering the depth of hunger that abounds. But not minuscule to those few who had lunch today.

As The Sun Set in the Warm September Sky

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It was 95 degrees today! On the 6th of September! My daughter, Marie, and I spent most of the day at the movies where it was cool and comfy, munching on buttered popcorn and drinking Diet Coke. Coming home at 5:30 to stifling heat, we decided to take a swim in the pond behind our house. I had not been swimming in the lake in years. (My children, now teenagers and young adults, had lost interest in beach activities, onto other teenage endeavors that don’t involve wet bathing suits, towels, and sand between their toes.) As I stepped into the water, it was refreshingly wonderful! With Marie in tow, we each sat in a tube and paddled out to the middle of the lake. The cool water was the perfect solution for the muggy hot weather. We chatted for a while, (in sign language,) and Marie told me of the importance of wearing socks with her sneakers or her feet stink and people don’t want to come near her. She told me she enjoyed woodworking class which she had just begun, and she planned to build a house with what she was learning. We talked about teachers and boys and what her hopes and dreams are for when she “was older.” (She wants to work petting dogs and cats.)
As the conversation wore down, we both relaxed in the water, just floating and enjoying the moment. Marie took my hand in hers, a move she would have never done all those years ago when she came to live with us and would have screamed if I even touched her. I felt we were bonding anew. She shared her dreams, and now she was sharing her love. We floated in silence, watching the seagulls swoop down to get fish, and the geese fighting with them for air space. It seemed they were playing a follow the leader game, flying side by side, and then swooping into the water, geese honks and seagull squawks. We watched as the turtles poked their heads above the water. When she was younger, Marie would have taken off to joyfully capture them. But today she just floated in silence with me. More mature. More content with herself.
The time seemed timeless; we could float there all day, water lapping at our legs. But the setting sun belied the late time of day. Above the trees beautiful colors arched; pinks, oranges, purples. It was peaceful. It was relaxing. It was joyful. As we sat there in the water on our tubes holding hands…

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If you are interested in learning more about my family, here is 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

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

Mothers, Help Your Sons Grow Up to be Fathers…

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My oldest son, Francis, grew up amongst a caravan of foster brothers and sisters. Specializing in newborns and infants who had been affected by prenatal drug exposure and addiction, our family was usually comprised of my husband and myself, Francis, his sister, Dinora, who had been adopted from Guatemala, and one or two foster babies. Despite the fact that Francis is severely visually impaired, he played an active role in child care, frequently holding a little one, feeding a bottle and changing diapers. When going to the mall, he and his sister would proudly push the double stroller. (With the 2 of them, he could be a pusher without having to see where he was going…) Throughout his childhood, sixteen foster babies lived with us, and caring for them was just a fact of life.

Francis is now an adult with a Ph. D. from Cambridge, a well paying dream job, a wonderful wife and a cozy home complete with a grill for grilling steaks and a lawn to mow. And, as of three weeks ago, a newborn baby. My week spent with his little family renewed my faith in the power of what is learned in childhood. Without even knowing it, I had trained Francis how to be a good father! He bundles his little girl up in a baby blanket, like I had bundled up those babies who were going through withdrawal. Newborns like being in a tidy bundle because they arrive with strong startle reflexes and without much control of their arms and legs. By pulling her arms and legs in close and securely wrapping a blanket around her little body, baby India can feel safe and secure. When she is awake and alert, Francis rocks her and sings songs to her, songs that he heard me sing so many years ago: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Hush Little Baby,” and “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”. Even though she couldn’t possibly know the songs, the sound of his voice quiets her, and these songs are easy to sing. When he is expertly changing her diaper, he plays “This Little Piggy” with her toes, gently pulling her feet to his mouth to kiss. He exaggerates the “wee wee wee home” by tracing his finger from her toes to her chin, tickling her slightly before kissing her forehead. And while she sits in his arms on the couch, ready for bed, he reads her books with very large print; “Goodnight Moon”, and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”.

On the evening before I left to fly home, he looked over at me and thanked me for giving him the opportunity to practice on all those babies years ago. All of his friends are having babies now, he said, and they are all in a tizzy. Because of the practice HE had, he is a confident parent and not at all nervous with India. I realized that by being a foster parent to infants, I was not only caring for little ones, but also nurturing parenting skills in my oldest sons, skills that will ensure he will be an awesome father!

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For more stories about Francis childhood and our adventure with foster children, 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’ve Never Been So Happy to be Sick!!!!

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Just like everyone else’s, my life sucks from time to time! This past month has been one catastrophe after another. Marie, my daughter who is deaf, had again been hospitalized due to a dangerous PTSD episode. When in a dissociative state, she downed staples in an effort to kill herself. Ever the optimist, I was hoping against hope that her memories of severe abuse would begin to soften, maybe even heal. Alas, not yet…this will be a lifelong battle.

My son Angel, who had just begun to drive, was involved in a rear end collision. While slowing down for a red light, KAPOWEE! another car hit him in the rear, pushing him into the truck in front of him. He was briefly hospitalized for whiplash, but the emotional impact was even worse. Sleeping is a luxury he no longer enjoys; wild fears and thoughts flood his already befuddled mind. He has stopped doing the things he used to do, clearly depressed that his means of freedom no longer sits in the driveway. Through no fault of his own, his major pride and joy, his ability to drive around and help others all day, has been destroyed. The car, safe and well running, was bought new in 2008. The insurance company only paid the Blue Book value of $4200. Because we do not have additional financial means, trying to find a car for such a small amount of money has been a real challenge, and every day that goes by without a car for Angel pushes him further and further into depression.

Marie’s recent birthday party was ruined when Steven “acted up”…having a full fledge outburst. (He has a severe sensory deficit with which he can not tolerate crowds or things not in his regular schedule. I should have had the foresight to arrange for him to be elsewhere.) Steven punched a hole in the wall and swore obscene obscene obscenities, (I know most obscene obscenities, but he came up with a few that were even more hard core.) As he stormed off down the street to settle himself down, the damage had already been done. Mortified at this behavior that most of our guests had never seen, everyone left, making a bee line for their cars, children in tow. Marie, who in her deafness had not heard the commotion, had been fishing on the dock behind our house. When she turned around, everyone was gone! She was quizzical at first, but not being a real “people person”, she took it in stride, especially because everyone had left their gifts for her!

My own work has been more difficult. The agency has hired a public relations person, and suddenly referrals have been flooding in. With an exponentially increased workload, putting in 50 hours a week has not been uncommon. What HAS been uncommon is the wrenching ache that developed in the pit of my stomach. Food would spew out of my stomach a half hour after I’d eaten. I felt awful, but I trekked on, saltine crackers and ginger ale bottle in tow. All my life, stress did not bother me. I could handle anything! No problem! Que sera sera! A little stress was not going to deter me from my job duties! (Like a mailman, neither ran, nor snow nor dark of night would keep me from my mission.) But as the stomach ache dragged on, my enthusiasm waned. I actually became depressed! My life, as I knew it, was over… or so I thought…..

After two weeks of eating nothing but chicken rice soup and saltines, I dragged my depressed little body to the walk in clinic. Taking one look at me, they sent me to the hospital emergency room where an intravenous was started to alleviate my dehydration. Laying there, I watched several bags of liquid force fed into the little vein in my hand. They did many tests, some to which I may have objected but I was too weak to stand my ground. Lo and behold, I was really sick! It wasn’t stress! It was salmonella poisoning from an egg breakfast at a local diner two weeks previously! Although I lay there on the gurney still feeling ill, happiness filled my heart. I was sick, not stressed! Life would return to “normal”, including all of the small tragedies and heartbreaks and problems associated with having five children with disabilities. But I could handle it! Life would go on!

Jiggles, Coat Hoods and Personal Space

images-2 Raising a child with a sensory disorder, whether autism or not, is always a challenge. When younger, Steven was the type of kid who would have a huge meltdown if there were tags in his shirts or seams in his socks. Meeting new people was too overwhelming, and a change in his schedule would send him into a tizzy. Holidays were disasters and birthday parties…forget it!
Not used to going out to restaurants because of Steven’s behavior, we threw all caution to the wind and went out to a dinner buffet for my 35th birthday. We chose a very large booth waaaaaaayyyyyy in the back of the restaurant, away from the noise and the crowds. Six year old Steven, who was still on a liquid diet due to sensory issues, curled up in a ball in the corner of the booth. He pulled his hood up over his head to block out surrounding activities and had a jiggle toy in each hand which kept his fingers busy. Giving him a wide berth of personal space, I was pleased as he sipped on his can of Ensure and was part of my birthday dinner. We talked in a soft, low tone and Steven even participated in the conversation from time to time.
It was a delightful night out…until SOMEONE told the staff that it was my birthday. (I suspect is was my youngest son, Angel, who was always selfishly delighted when Steven acted up, thus in his mind reassuring his place as the “good son”.) The staff came over with a lit candle on a cupcake, and sang Happy Birthday in out of sync voices. Steven immediately jerked up from his position, covered his ears and started to screech. He threw himself on the floor under the table and started banging his head against the wall. The happy moment was gone. I imagined people were looking at us as though we were the worst parents in the world! For the first and only time in my life as a mom, I emotionally stomped out of the restaurant in tears, bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t even have a normal, birthday dinner without accusing eyes watching as my husband carried our screaming child out. I was sure they thought he was a spoiled brat who couldn’t behave. Little did anyone know that he had been born to a homeless, schizophrenic mom addicted to heroin and cocaine and that he was so emotionally fragile in those early years that we could rarely leave the house. Little did anyone know that our family had worked hard to help him develop to the best of his abilities, working on his sensory issues so that he could fully participate in our family life to the best of his abilities and that it was a huge accomplishment that we were able to go out to the restaurant in the first place.
Both Steven and I calmed down quickly in the car and life returned to normal. Little did anyone know how deep our love and acceptance was for this child and for all of the issues that came with him and for all of the issues which were to come.

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For more stories about Steven’s childhood, 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 NOT to Raise a Child with a Disability

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When your child is a toddler, focus on all the things he can’t do. He’s not walking as soon as other children. He’s not talking as good as other children. It is embarrassing to take him out in public because everyone comments on his looks. Blame your spouse for his disability. Or, equally worse, blame God. Whey has He forsaken you? Why has He saddled you with this tremendous burden? Spend your child’s infant and toddler years lamenting the sadness, disappointment and loss.

As your child gets older and goes to school, always blame the teacher or the principal if he can’t do something. After all, it MUST be their fault. They are discriminating against your child if they try to make him behave or actually complete his school project. He has a disability! Doesn’t that come with the right not to have to do homework or obey the class rules?

Try to force the sports teams to let your son play, and they will. But your son cannot play soccer/baseball/basketball as well as the other children and he is humiliated by his poor skills and the disappointment from the other children when their team loses. Make sure to yell at your child for his poor performance. After all, if he didn’t have a disability, he would have made a great soccer/baseball/basketball player, and it is a horrible loss for you to admit that your son is a failure.

Argue with your partner/spouse over your son. You don’t both agree on the best style of parenting, so each do your own thing and teach your child that he is a constant source of distress between the two of you. Possibly get divorced. And blame your son. If he hadn’t been born, you would have had nothing to argue about.

You see your son as worthless…he can’t play sports, he gets in trouble all of the time in school, (as you have been his best advocate that he doesn’t have to follow the rules because he has a disability,) and he has minimal social skills. Do not be surprised when he turns to drugs.

He assumed that he was SUCH a disappointment that you would be better off without him. Do not be surprised when he takes his own life…

This rant follows a recent suicide of one of the students who is visually impaired with whom I worked. Like all adults who were a part of his life, I wonder where I was to blame. I tried in vain to impart my enthusiasm for a bright future for him. I tried in vain to make the parents realize that by setting their child apart they were denying their child an equal part in society. I tried in vain to tell the parents that their child may not be good at basketball, but he could swim spectacularly! Maybe he couldn’t play soccer, but give him a bowling ball, a bowling ramp and a lane of pins and he could get a strike two times out of four. He had such a way with younger children that I imagined him a teacher one day. But his parents did not see it. They only saw their own disappointment. Their own embarrassment at having a child who looked different. Their own anger at each other for the having “caused” this disability. They only saw their own feelings and never once stopped to think about how this was affecting their child. Their child who would never become the teacher I envisioned.

My suggestion to parents of children with disabilities is this: your child is a wonderful creation who, for whatever reason, was born with a disability. Rejoice in your child! Look for the things he CAN do, and incorporate them into your daily life. Plan for his education in a realistic, non-judgmental manner. Sure the teachers may screw up once in a while, but haven’t you also, at one time or another, misjudged your child? Try to keep the peace at school. You only meet with the teacher once in a while, your child has to go to school every day. If you and your spouse disagree over parenting, see a counselor who can help you work together. Most of all, find something in which your child excels and enjoys, and fly with it! Everyone wants to have success in life, and your child is no different. Whose to say one type of success if more important than another?

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For more suggestions on how to raise a child with a disability, 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

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