Archive for the ‘mentally ill’ Category

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!

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…

The Dance of the Snake Goddess Redux

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I apologize for repeating this post from 2011, but it is one of my favorites, and a memory that is brought to mind on those few occasions that i have to go to court for my children and I see this particular lawyer there…and I always giggle…

A very conservative lawyer friend had a very conservative lawyer wife who had taken up belly dancing.  She and 2 friends were so skilled in this talent that they were chosen to be performers for a large audience for First Night, the annual New Year’s Eve celebration in the city.  For an added “twist” to their act, my lawyer friend asked if his wife could borrow one of my son’s 5 foot long boa constrictors for their dance.  I had plenty of reservations, but I said okay. (It is always good to keep a lawyer friend happy because you never know when you will need a lawyer’s help.)  The ladies came to our house, and practiced with the snake while my son, Steven, who is very familiar with snakes, supervised.  The practice went very well, and the ladies excitedly decided to bill their act as the “The Dance of the Snake Goddesses.”

Well, New Year’s Eve came and I reminded Steven that we had to take the snake to the performance hall for the act.  Steven, who has Asperger’s and an anxiety disorder, was mortified!  There was no way HE was going to go to a large hall where there were a lot of people!  He handed me a pillowcase to put the snake in, and a bottle of alcohol “in case it bit someone”. He promptly took off on his bike peddling away to destinations unknown to me, (but far away from  First Night appearance.)  I started to panic!  These excited dancers were billed as the “The Dance of the Snake Goddesses” and they would have no snake!  Feeling extremely obligated to provide them with a snake, I decided to bring the it myself.  I had not minded the snakes when they were locked in the glass tanks, but somehow I was going to have to get up the nerve to actually take the snake out and put it in the pillowcase.  My hands were shaking as I undid the lock and took the cover off of the tank.   It looked docile enough, just lying there.  I reached in and managed to push it into the pillowcase using a long sleeved pot holder, proud of myself for not having to touch it.  Maybe I’d be okay! I tentatively carried the pillowcase to the living room, but I had miscalculated by not securing the top of it.  The snake’s head popped out, I pushed it back down.  It popped out again, and I pushed it down again.  This time it was stronger and its head came our farther.  When I tried to push it back in, it wiggle away from me and the whole snake came slithering out of the bag, which I promptly dropped.  There, on the floor of our living room, was a slithering 5 foot long snake!  I screamed.  My husband came to see what was going on, and he jumped up on the couch and screamed.  Even though I was shaking and my first instinct was to smash the thing over the head with a broom, I remembered  my commitment to our lawyer friends.  I gathered up my courage and, using the broom gently, I nudged it back into the pillowcase, this time immediately tying the top into a knot.

I was still shaking from this experience as I drove to the city with the wriggling pillowcase on the seat next to me.  I was feeling tremendous relief that I had at least caught it and was on my way to the performance. I even felt a little sorry for it, and turned the heat all the way up in my car so it could be warm.  (It had started to snow outside, which would mean there would be a larger than usual audience for an inside performance as the outside First Night performances would involved standing around in wet snow.  Great!  A bigger audience for what was sure to be a Snake Goddess fiasco!)

When we got near the theater, I put the pillowcase inside my coat to keep it warm. (MY I was brave!)  There was a line around the building waiting to see the performance.  I went to the head of the line, and quietly said to the guard at the door, “I have the snake for the performance.”  In his loudest voice, he parted the crowd by saying “Make way for the snake handler.  Make way for the snake handler!”  I wanted to hide!  As a middle aged, shaking, nervous, dowdy woman, I no more resembled a snake handler than a chipmunk would resemble Santa Clause.

I managed to get back stage with the snake and the belly dancers were very excited.  They carefully took him (her?  I couldn’t tell the difference,) out of the bag and began to practice.  By now I was shaking so badly that my stomach was in knots.  I was holding the bottle of alcohol (“in case it bit someone”.)  I was on the verge of tears, both from relief that I’d delivered the snake in one piece, but also fear that it would bite and there would be blood and screams and lawsuits.

The audience in the large theater was packed, standing room only.  The music for the dancers began.  They dramatically began the act hidden behind veils, with the snake on one woman with the head at one hand, draped across her back, and the tail on the other hand.  They did a dramatic dance, dropping the veils at different intervals for the audience to get a glimpse of the snake.  I could hear  “ooooh”  and “aaaaaah” from the audience.  I was hoping the snake wasn’t going to slither down and into the audience causing mass panic,  emptying the audience out into the street, or, worse yet, go around biting audience members with me following along with my bottle of alcohol. (Then I’d really need a lawyer for the lawsuits!)

Then something strange happened. The dancers dropped their veils, and the snake actually seemed to join in the dance.  Soon its head was wriggling in time to the music, its tail was swaying around, and it seemed to be having a grand old time!  It began to slither in time to the music (a pure coincidence I’m sure,) from one dancer to the next.  It was an amazing sight, the graceful gyrating dancers and the graceful gyrating snake, all moving in time to the music.  Mesmerizing. Amazing.  The act finished to a standing ovation, and darn it if it didn’t seem as though the snake bowed his head in response to the clapping from the audience.

After the show, the dancers gave the snake a few affectionate pats and back into the pillowcase it went.  I tied it in a knot, put it under my coat, and carried it back to the car.  I felt as though I was going to cry, but this time it was tears of relief.  I don’t know how I get myself into these situations, but, again, I’d come through it unscathed, with a little more respect for the reptile in the pillowcase next to 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

And The Paper Creeped out the Bottom of the Door

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A very large, very tall, very old 15 passenger van with a wheelchair lift with over 138,000 miles on it is my vehicle. Not my ideal choice, but “it is what it is” as all of our money is allocated elsewhere. (All those cute little kiddos with disabilities grow up to be cute little adults with disabilities who, unfortunately, find it impossible to be able to work. Not that that makes them any less wonderful, enjoyable or successful, it just puts a little extra strain on our family budget.)

In the van on Wednesday, I was enjoying a beautiful, crisp autumn day, with a slight wind moving the branches around for the trees to show off their few remaining colorful leaves just waiting to join their friends on the ground. Contentment filled the van as I hummed while I drove. I didn’t quite do the lovely singing I usually do because I was on a mission for work. (While driving to make home visits is not usually included in my job description, on this day I was helping out a colleague.) Because I am awful with directions, “mapquested” directions lay on the floor next to the driver’s seat.
As the van whisked along on the interstate highway, I noticed that the directions had moved towards the door. Keeping one eye on the road and one eye on the directions, I watched with panic as the papers moved closer to the door…down one of the steps…down the next step…and finally on the third step. It happened in the blink of my eye (the one that was watching the papers!) As I was in heavy traffic, it took a while to maneuver to the side of the road to stop, and the papers inched towards the bottom of the door. (The door gasket had long ago aged out and fallen away, leaving a space at least an inch wide at the bottom.) Panic set in as a piece of paper entered the crack and ever so slowly inched out…it was like seeing my life flash before my eyes, quarter inch by quarter inch, as the paper made its way free out of the opening. It was so surreal it reminded me of a cartoon…person chasing paper in the wind and the paper is always one step ahead, teasingly just a little bit out of reach! I would have laughed, but inside I was sick to my stomach. My directions were gone! The client I was going to be meeting would be sitting, forlorn, at her home, waiting patiently for the me that would never be able to find her house.
But WAIT! There was another paper there, clinging to the bottom step. Maybe I could salvage the final steps of the street directions. By this time, the van was safely stopped by the side of the road and I flung myself out of the driver’s seat onto the floor of the van to look down the stairwell. On my knees looking down, almost crying with happiness, I grabbed that one precious piece of paper…it included the final steps to get to the client’s home. I would be able to find her! I would make that visit! I was soooooo happy!

While in the scheme of things, losing mapquested directions would not be the end of the world, in retrospect it symbolizes the constant struggles one has when raising children with disabilities. There are often solutions to their problems, but they are flighty and hard to come by. Sometimes they flip through our fingers through no fault of our own and we are left in a slight panic, (sometimes a huge panic…) Fortunately for me, I have always found that last page to my mapquested directions, just enough to make life work out. Just enough to relieve my panic and restore the happiness in my heart. Such is the ups and downs in life…

Under the “Dome of Silence”

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I am really dating myself, but my favorite tv show to watch when I was a child was “Get Smart”, a spy spoof where Maxwell Smart comedically played an agent who always “got his man”, even when he didn’t know how he did it! I relate so well to Maxwell Smart and his “methods”, because my life is been pretty much the same!
But their infamous concept, the “Dome of Silence” flittered through my mind recently in an unpleasant way, a way that made me change my thoughts in a major way.
My daughter, Marie, who is deaf, has been hospitalized again. For parents of children with severe psychiatric disorders, y’all know that hospitalizations are a recurrent theme, no matter how well a child seems to be doing. Life with such a child is full of peaks and valleys, and sometimes the valleys need a tune up. As conscientious parents, we probably all play the same game…do we visit every day? Do we bring food and drinks? Games? Puzzles? In other words, do we turn each hospitalization into a reward for being there?
My brother’s schizophrenia emerged when he was just emerging himself into young adulthood at the age of 18. This was a surprise disability on top of his already existing developmental, vision and hearing disabilities. As my parents aged, he eventually lived in a wonderful group home, but HE also needed “tune ups” in a psychiatric hospital, generally after an incident where the aliens told him to walk ten miles to the train station, or throw himself against the wall as punishment for some unknown offense. These hospitalizations were regular, and each and every time my mom would visit every day, bringing with her his favorite desserts, or a milk shake or ice cream sundae. Her heart ached to see him in the hospital so often, so she would sit there for hours with him, holding his hand or rubbing his back. It made her feel better to visit with him, and it made him feel better also. In fact, it made him feel so much better that the frequency of his “tune ups” increased. I learned as a young adult that being in a psychiatric hospital should not be rewarded with food and puzzles, or even with visitation every day.
I have tempered my need to mother my daughter with the need not to make inpatient hospitalizations seem better than the residential school in which she lives. Following my own instincts, which were reinforced by Marie’s social worker and psychiatrist, I have limited my visits. Yesterday, however, I changed my mind.
The hospitals have all been wonderful at providing ASL interpreters for at least 12 hours a day, which facilitates her conversations with nurses, social workers, unit workers and her psychiatrist. Marie does not, however, want to utilize the interpreter in conversations with other children. She tries to fit in with them, but does not understand what they are saying or laughing at. Being somewhat paranoid, (aren’t all teenagers?) she suspects they are laughing at her. She tries to join in, and they may include her for a few minutes, but soon the conversation continues over her head, and the children are once again laughing and joking and not including her. As I was leaving yesterday I witnessed this happening, saw the look of sadness in Marie’s eyes and noticed that she was holding back tears so as not to further embarrass herself in front of the other children. She looked so alone, and in reality she was. The other children were under a “Dome of Silence”. She could see them talking, gesturing and laughing, but could not hear or understand what they were saying. I don’t know why this obscure reference came to mind, but it did, and the visualization of it has changed my way of thinking. I realized that her isolation from others trumps the need not to reward her for being in the hospital. Nothing in the hospital could be a reward for her, as she is not part of the community as she is in her school. If anything, one would think she would be so adverse to being in the hospital that she would do anything in her power not to be hospitalized. Ah, the irony of that nostalgic “Dome of Silence.” I think I will visit for a few hours today and bring her a milkshake. We will sit there and “talk” in ASL and I will hold her hand like my mother did with my brother. She will no longer be sad and isolated, at least not during my visit…

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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/

There’s Just Something About Fishing…

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Marie has always loved to fish, and would spend hours at home fishing in the pond in the backyard.  While at residential school, she has not had this opportunity. So, after last week’s fishing mis-adventure, Marie and I went today to a nice, official “fishing spot”, (not the water reservoir.)  It was a beautiful 80 degree day as we found the perfect spot in the shade alongside a small, tranquil lake.  Despite being near a city, the lake was apparently house-less and had the appearance of being way out in the country.  The fish were apparently starving because as soon as Marie dropped the worm in the water, the bobber would go under and she would be reeling in a fish…a SMALL fish, but a fish none-the-less.  She would expertly take the hook out of its mouth, and throw it back in to be caught again…again…again, and yet again…

Sitting on the grass, looking up at the azure blue sky, with clouds so white and puffy they looked like you could pluck them out of the sky and eat them like cotton candy, I watched Marie in her excitement as she caught the fish.  It was silent except for the sound of birds chirping…many DIFFERENT types of bird noises so that the first time in my life I was aware that they actually made distinct sounds and they did not all sound alike.   And the breeze ever so slightly rustled the leaves. Lazing in this wonderfully peaceful terrain, I let all of my worries and thoughts just drift away until I filled with the joy of nature and this amazing love I have for this daughter who has had such a difficult early life, but who seemed to be so relaxed and carefree while she was fishing. The feeling was not unlike the feeling one gets when meditating, but it was so much more!  Not only was I relaxed and worry free, but I was also filled with such an innermost love that I felt my heart would burst if I broke the reverie. It wasn’t only a love for Marie, but a love for everything in my life.  A warm, gushing, face turning red, eyes tearing up, love.  And my thoughts turned to my dad…

For those who have not read my book, you may not know that I had a very unconventional childhood, roaming the country with my parents and brother.  My father was…odd…uncommunicative…obsessed…paranoid…”crazy”…   My mom simply explained that he had returned from World War II “shell shocked”, but his love for her had never changed.  Satisfied that that love was enough, my mom married him, and the two of them had a long and happy marriage.  She understood him, where I, as a child, did not.  I did, however, grow accustomed to his strange ways.  He never demonstrated any affection towards me or my brother, and never said he loved us.  “That’s just your father,” my mom would explain, and I would accept it.  He would not attend any childhood award ceremonies, or graduation, or baptism of my children.  “That’s just your father,” my mom would explain, and I would accept it.  He would get upset if we spent too much money on toilet paper, or bread, or hot water.  “That’s just your father,” my mom would explain.  And I DID understand.  And I DID think that, deep down, he loved me, he just never said it.

But, until this day fishing with Marie, I had completely forgotten the times he and I had gone fishing, the one activity we did together.  He liked to fish, and I rarely had anything better to do, so I would join him.  Almost silently, he showed me how to bait a hook and how to take the fish off the hook.  We would sit for hours on a lake with his small aluminum boat with the small, electric trolling motor.  Anywhere we were in the country, he could find a lake.  We would sit and enjoy this pastime, quietly, peacefully, and productively catching fish after fish after fish, all which were gently and carefully returned to the water, unharmed, and bellies a little fuller with a worm.  I learned about the habitat of a large variety of fish; catfish, eels, pickerel, sunfish, pike, trout, bass and perch, (which we both agreed was our least favorite to catch because they were so EASY!) I could see now where this activity would quiet his bad memories, enabling him to relax and find a little piece in this crazy world.  To sit quietly on a calm lake, looking up at the azure blue sky, with clouds so white and puffy they looked like you could pluck them out of the sky and eat them like cotton candy.  The boat rocking every so slightly and little waves splashing against the aluminum making a tinkling sound. I realize that maybe  he felt the same way I did today while fishing with Marie, and it was a comforting thought to think that I shared such a peaceful time with him.

And I could feel now that he loved me…

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To read about my early childhood adventures, 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/

Miracle of Miracles: Turtle Tanks and Pony Tails

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My life raising kiddos has been full of excitement, as well as challenges. Steven has been my most difficult child to raise. The 7th child born to a woman who was mentally ill and addicted to crack cocaine and heroin, we took Steven home from the neonatal unit as soon as he was able to be released.  He was unbelievably “messed up”.  (Don’t you just love my knowledge of medical terms?)  He cried constantly, his whole body twitching.  Once I learned to swaddle him tightly in a baby blanket, keep the room dark, and talk in a whisper, he could tolerate my presence.  To touch him lightly would make him scream in pain, but cuddling him strongly, the deep pressure somehow calmed him.

Whether due to the drug exposure, or just because his birth mom was mentally ill, Steven exhibited extreme symptoms of ADHD, autism, bi-polar disorder, sensory integration deficit, obsessive compulsive disorder,severe anxiety disorder and learning disabilities.   (The whole concept of “diagnosis” is fraught with contradictions in my mind, as the “diagnosis” with which he was labeled were arbitrary, useless except for the benefit of getting special education services. We were fortunate to find a psychiatrist with vast knowledge of children born addicted to drugs, and he became our mentor.  Like myself, he does not not believe in labels, but in treating the symptoms.)

Steven has led an interesting life.  With his Asperger’s-like super knowledge of reptiles, and an uncanny natural love for children, he has shined in these areas.  He would be fascinated with the foster babies in our house, and his most favorite activity was sitting in the rocking chair by my side and rocking a little one.  He is, however,  unable to understand the concept of money, wear shirts with tags in them,  eat textured foods or adapt to an unexpected change in his schedule.  A strict, structured environment and predictable schedule has been the key to helping him manage every day life.

As any parent, I have thought a lot about his future and how he could possibly survive as an adult…

Then, a miracle happened…he found the perfect girlfriend to love him! Wonder of wonders!  Joy of joys!  I never thought is was possible, but the adage “there is someone for everyone” is true in his case!

Wonderfully patient Alexandra loves to keep everything controlled.  Where other young men would go running in the other direction at the sight of a young woman in strict control, for Steven, it was just what he needed!  She manages their time, his money, and their life together with strict precision.  JUST WHAT HE NEEDED!   They also have similar interests in reptiles, with Steven using his vast knowledge to ensure the safe upbringing of their many “pets”; three turtles in a tank, (recently caught in the lake behind our house, during one of their day long fishing adventures,) a small snake, a Chameleon and two lizards.  They are affectionate with each other, with Steven smiling brightly as she gives him deep bear hugs. The icing on the cake, as far as both of them are concerned, is her young daughter.  Again, where other young men would go running for cover, Steven goes running towards her sweet three year old daughter! He adores her!  This very large, 6 foot talk, husky, bi-racial, often scary looking young man who has an aversion to shaving, is like a loving angel with her daughter! He gently holds her hand to guide her when they are walking.  He plays Shutes and Ladders and Go Fish with her. He helps her pick out her clothes, (shirts without tags, of course!) Most amazingly, he has become her hair stylist, putting her hair up in braids and pony tails.  She loves showing off her new hair styles, proudly telling everyone that STEVEN did it, as they both stand there and beam happily!  She needed a dad to love, and Steven needed a family of his own. He adores Alexandra and she has a huge calming affect on him. And he has such a natural caring for children, and for Emily in particular, that it melts my heart every time I see the three of them together.  He LOVES them…an emotion I once thought he would never feel…as a boyfriend, (husband?), and father. Yes, he has found comfort in his own family…and has a content, structured, “normal” life.  Isn’t that amazing?????  Miracle of miracles!!

Is there no greater joy as a parent than seeing your child happy as an adult? Especially when you thought that may never happen…

 

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To read about Steven’s early childhood, 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/

Also, for just the cost of transportation, I am available to do presentations for your groups.   I can be funny on serious subjects…

Mother’s Day and Delayed Rewards

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Mother’s Day is a wonderful time to appreciate moms, step-moms, birth moms, adoptive moms, wanna be moms and women who love children. Bless you for making a difference in a child’s life! Don’t you get joy from seeing the joy in a laughing child, the shy smile of a child with twinkling eyes, and the serene look on their faces when they are sleeping?  Ahhhhhh……..what sweet little rewards of being with a child…

Most of us know, however, that it is VERY difficult to be a mom and sometimes the REAL rewards are far apart….

When my son Steven was in nursery school, it was a real challenge because of his autistic and ADHD problems. He had been born addicted to cocaine and heroine and his nervous system was “messed up” (my professional diagnosis.) Bringing him was a real challenge as he would kick and scream and cry, yet I did it because he could not hide out safely at home for his entire life with me vacuuming around him. At first, he would  spend most of the time in school hiding out in the “quiet tent”, playing with his plastic reptiles, sometimes soaking in the information from the teacher. Eventually, he sauntered out of his safe space to see what was going on.  He did not join the other children, but he was with them…a huge improvement.  Eventually, nursery school became normalized for him; part of his routine.  He would come home with his little projects; a paper flower, a painted snake, a play dough alligator.  I had learned not to make a “fuss” over these things, but to quietly tell him they were wonderful while his head dropped to his chest, eyes closed.  (He was not a child who could tolerate excitement of any kind.)  He survived two years in that classroom, and I wondered how he would act on “graduation day”, a celebration seemingly out of his tolerance level.  All of the children stood there in their little paper graduation caps, tassels dangling in front of their noses so they had to keep blowing them away.  All of the children except Steven.  The children sang a song, and thanked their moms and generally wowed the crowd with their antics.  All of the children except Steven.  The children walked in a nice, straight line to get their nursery school diplomas; all except Steven.  When all but one diploma had been handed out, the teacher walked over to where Steven was hiding under a chair, butt facing outwards. (If I had been smart, I would have sewed a smiley face on the butt of his pants, but, alas, I had been unrealistically hoping that he would join the other children in the graduation ceremony.)  The teacher bent down with the document and Steven’s  little hand reached out to grab it.  He quickly pulled the diploma out of sight.  Calm and cool under the seat, he had made it! Steven had graduated from nursery school without a tantrum, yelling or screaming.  He graduated in the manner he felt most comfortable, but graduate he did!  What a reward that was for me; I was a proud mother, indeed!

Diagnosed in elementary school with Dissociative Identity Disorder, Angel, has been very carefully placed in specialized classrooms.  Although intelligent and able to do grade level work, he frequently changes “parts”, (his word for his alternate personalities.)  His teachers and teacher aids, bless their souls, understand him well, and manage to educate him, even if it means repeating the same lesson because a different “part” was out that day, or giving his the test over because the “part” that studied for the test is not the “part” that took the test!  He has a baby part which necessitates him to just “veg out” in a large mushroom chair.  On those days, nothing was learned.  His condition has been kept top secret and no unnecessary teachers or others in the school know about it. Fortunately, he has been living a very “normal” life.  I have found one surprising benefit…he has a “Game Show Host” part.  I work with a recreational group of adults with disabilities, and every now and then we play Bingo or Family Feud. Angel, as have all of my children, regularly comes with me.  One day, he asked to be the moderator for Family Feud and his “performance” was beyond hilarious.  Usually a reserved child with groups, all of a sudden he channeled Richard Dawson! He went down the rows of “contestants”, gave each of them a peck on the cheek, and, while holding their hands in his, asked their names and a little about themselves.  The older women, who probably have not had much attention in their lives, giggled and smiled and blushed.  Then, Angel read each question with gusto, and made a “ding” noise when they got it right, and a loud buzzer noise if they got it wrong.  It was sooooooooooo funny because it was so out of character of the Angel that they knew.  This group of adult with disabilities, many of whom live alone on a minimum income with this once a week outing their only time out of their houses, were laughing hysterically that evening. Ever since then, they look forward to Family Feud and “Gameshow Host” Angel! What a reward for me to see Angel’s  give such joy to these wonderful people!

As a graduation present, my daughter, Dinora, and I took a trip back to her birth country in Guatemala.  She had done fundraising to assist with the opening of a soup kitchen in Antigua, and we were there for “opening day”.  We went shopping that morning, taking a little “putt putt” (2 wheeled open air taxi) into the village, giggling all the way as it bounced along. We bought flowers of all bright shapes and sizes, which stuck out of the putt putt on the way back, narrowly bopping passers by on the head. We spread the flowers out in front of  the  alter where a mass was to be said in honor of the opening of the facility. An overflowing crowd of people filled the make-shift pews, and it was a beautiful, emotional mass. Even though it was all in Spanish I seemed to understand every word, and I could certainly feel the emotion in the songs which the Indigenous Guatemalans sang.  After mass, people lined up for the food in their brightly colored clothing. There was my daughter, a young adult, behind the counter, dark hair pulled back into a pony tail, serving food with a beaming smile on her face showing dimples I never knew she had, (or perhaps she had never smiled so brightly.)  She was old enough and cared enough to give back something and help “her people” as she called them. I will never forget the sight of her…sweat on her brow, wiping her hands on her apron, making pleasant conversation in Spanish while smiling that amazing smile…   How could that sight NOT be a reward for a mom after years of raising a difficult teen?

Raising Marie has been the most difficult because of her many serious challenges.  When she came to us, she was street smart at the age of seven.(See post “All She did Was Scream and Say No! No! No!) She had no thought of danger and no social skills.  Although this may sound silly, one of my concerns was the fact that she would litter.  Get a drink; throw the bottle on the ground.  Have a piece of gum; throw the wrapper on the ground. Popsicle; stick thrown in the grass.    Repeatedly, I would have her pick it up and throw it away, explaining that we don’t litter in our family.  Marie could not have cared less…she did not want to be in our family anyway…  It took many months with us before she learned not to litter.  That’s why it shocked me when we were at the mall one day and she casually flicked the paper from her straw onto the ground.  My eyes widened, and just as I was about to ask her to pick it up, she bent down and picked it up, signing to me “I was just teasing you!  I know we don’t litter in this family!”  What a reward it was to hear her say that!  Finally, she felt part of our family!

My most favorite reward I saved for last.  For all of you parents, especially parents with children with disabilities, I will share that there has been no greater reward in my life than seeing my son, Francis, become a successful adult. Despite being legally blind, he has a college degree, is very successful in a job which he loves and through which he is benefitting others, and he recently married a great woman who not only loves him for the wonderful person that he is, but can also drive a car so he won’t have to take public transit to work any more!  There IS no greater reward for a parent; to know that the problems, fun, hard work, love, difficulties and dispersed joys of childhood have come together in a positive way. My son has officially “made it” to adulthood.  Now he can look forward to the rewards he will experience in raising his own children. Then I get the extra rewards of grandchildren!

To all of you mothers and others out there, Happy Mother’s Day!  Beyond the handmade cards, the flowers, the breakfasts and dinners out, and the gifts of the day, so many more rewards await you.  Sometimes you just have to be patient…

Easter reminds me of the Easter Bunny and the Easter Bunny reminds me of Santa…

easter bunny

Easter.  Ham.  Easter Eggs.  Jelly Beans.  Marshmallow peeps.  Chocolate Easter Bunnies, (see picture.) AND the EASTER BUNNY!!

(Spoiler Alert:  Do not let anyone under the age of 7? 9? 12? read any further.)

 

I am sure that most of us of a Christian faith believed in the light, magical myths of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus.  Bah Humbug!

My realization that there was no Santa Claus happened on the day before Easter when I was seven years old.  Friends and I were playing hide and seek in our house, and my hiding space of choice was my mother’s closet.  I opened the door and plopped in…right on top of a cellophane wrapped Easter basket!  I could feel the jelly beans fall out, trickling down my legs, and the weight of my body squishing the basket with a sickening sound.  As the marshmallow peeps were flattened, my childhood fantasies vanished before my eyes!  It was only reasonable to assume if my mom pretended to be the Easter Bunny, then the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus were also non-existent.

This was actually a good realization for me.  For many years I had questioned Santa’s fairness.  If he was omnipresent, then how did he not know what I wanted to Christmas?  Even when I sat on his lap and told him…repeatedly…and wrote letters…repeatedly…he still did not bring me that all important, desperately desired, Barbie Doll for which I had asked. The Santa who came to my house had always disappointed me.  Having parents who were obsessively frugal, Santa would bring me unexciting gifts…a new toothbrush, a t-shirt, hair ribbons, and small bottles of shampoo (which I later learned came from the times my father traveled for work and stayed in hotels.) One year I even got 3 pairs of underwear that were much too big, but, judging from the price tag which Santa had neglected to remove, they were on sale for an unbelievably low price!   As a child, I could never understand why my friends and classmates received wonderful gifts of not only Barbie Dolls, but Barbie houses, Barbie cars and tons of Barbie accessories.  They would receive many, and I longed to own just one… but it was not meant to be.  When playing with my friends, they were always kind enough to share “Midge”, Barbie’s “best friend”.  While I appreciated this, I still felt resentful of their good fortune.

It wasn’t until I realized that Santa Claus did not exist that I understood that my parents had purchased all of those “gifts”.  As my childhood revolved around my dad’s “crazy” obsessions, I suddenly understood the significance of the gifts.  It wasn’t that Santa didn’t love me, or that I was somehow less worthy than my friends, or even because my good behavior wasn’t appreciated, it was because our family life was very different than most other families. And I took some solace in the fact that my dad, on his work trips, was thinking of me when he brought home the shampoos.

The whole concept of “Santa” has been a difficult one with my children. My oldest son, Francis, who is blind, hated the thought of having a stranger he could not see come into his house on Christmas Eve.  It was the one night of the year that I let him lock his bedroom door.

One year, I made the huge mistake of hiding the gift of a Little Mermaid comforter set underneath Dinora’s bed.  When she discovered it, she became hysterical, screaming that Santa had been in her room and he could have hurt her!  (She was going through a particularly rough phase with PTSD where she was seeing apparitions of “Bloody Mary”, so her sensitivities to having Santa in her room were heightened.)   She was only five at the time, and the only way I could calm her down was to admit that Santa did not exist, which caused her to cry even harder at the loss of this icon.

Steven, with his autistic tendencies, never did admit that Santa existed.  He was used to his strict schedule, and gifts from a stranger were not a welcome change.  He would wake  up every Christmas morning, walk by the Christmas tree under which the gifts sat, go down to the kitchen to grab breakfast, and sit in the family room to watch The Animal Planet on television.  It was his familiar routine…he never did acknowledge or look at his gifts. (In fact, to this day I have the SAME bag of gifts.  I bring them out every Christmas Eve, and pack them up every Christmas Day, only to be brought out again the following Christmas.  It is very selfish to say, but I have saved a LOT of money by not buying him gifts!)

Angel, my son with Dissociative Identity Disorder, (multiple personality disorder) had a great time each year developing his very eclectic request for gifts to satisfy his many “parts”, male, female, baby, toddler and his appropriate age.  I am sure that not many other boys asked for a complete manicure set along with baby rattles, Superman and Spiderman toys, and a complete bow and arrow set, (don’t ask…)  The problem that developed was that Angel had finally begun to trust me, a conviction he had previously  not held in his four other foster placements. Everyone else had lied to him and let him down.  But here he was in our family with a family he could finally trust, a family that would not lie to him, a family in which he felt safe.  When he found out that Santa Claus was a lie, he felt devastated, furious, betrayed, conned, tricked and misled.  This lie has left an indelible mark on his life, one which he continues to discuss with a counselor.  Every single time I have gone into a therapy session with him, the fact that I am a liar comes up, and that lie is always about Santa Claus. While it is easy for us to say “just get over it”, for him, it has been impossible.   If only I knew then what I know now, I would have done things very differently.

Marie, I am embarrassed to admit, was a young teenager who STILL believed in Santa Claus.  Learning from my experience with Angel, I have never perpetuated this myth on her, but she came to live with us with this belief.   Because Marie is deaf and developmentally delayed, she had few opportunities to “heard” or learn that Santa is not real. This became very apparent to me last Christmas.  On Christmas Eve I put out the individual bags of gifts from “Santa”, which included one expensive item for each child, (a DVD player, Gameboy, camera and so forth.)   On Christmas morning, Marie woke up before all of us and deftly went through the bags, taking out all of the expensive items and putting them in her bag, leaving the other children with only minor items.  She excitedly showed me the wonderful bag of gifts Santa had brought; HER gifts, along with the valuable gifts from everyone else’s bag.  I was mortified to think she would be so selfish, and I told her so!  I told her that there was no Santa Claus and that I had bought the items and they were not all for her.  She tried in vain to argue with me that Santa left them all to her because she had been good, but both of us knew better…

So, this has been a long winded way of saying I DISLIKE SANTA!!!  While he may be a wonderful myth to many, for me and my children, he has been nothing but trouble. BAH HUMBUG!!!!!

The Easter Bunny?  Hey, SHE’S okay…

 

 

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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/

 

I Won’t Wear That to Church Anymore

I’m just returning from church.  I go to an inspiring, welcoming church, which I love!  Everyone is friendly, and we make a special effort to include people with disabilities.  We have pew cut-outs throughout the church for people in wheelchairs.  (After all, just because you are in a wheelchair does not mean you want to be relegated to the back row, or, even WORSE, the front row.)  We have a sign language interpreter and large print materials for the church service.  If a person who is totally blind attended, we would no doubt get the materials in Braille.  People with developmental disabilities, as well as people with mental illnesses are welcomed with open arms.  Having the children I do, it has been a God send (literally) for our family.

The congregation members help out during the service in many roles, and today I was helping to serve the Wine.  The people serving communion stand on a step while serving the bread and wine.  Learning from an earlier experience when I fell while trying to get a group together for a photo, I always firmly grip the hand rail while walking down the few steps. (Falling while taking a picture is understandable, but more care needs to be taken with the wine. I am sure it would stain the carpet terribly!) When offering the wine to the congregation members, I frequently have to bend over because I am tall and on a step, and they are often shorter.  Today, after I bent over the first time, I noticed that my shirt parted from my body in the front, and everyone had a clear view down to my belly button. (Well, they COULD have seen my belly button if my big breasts had not gotten in the way.)  I was mortified!  While I do not embarrass easily, once I notice something askew, of course I have to fix it.  So, I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances; I squatted for each person.  Do you know how incredibly hard it is to hold a squat at one particular level and then move that squat up or down depending upon who was next?  If I were athletic, it may have been easy.  But I’m not…    I felt like one of those baby crib toys, all scrunched up (squatting low) and then being pulled straight, (standing tall) and while music plays it slowly moves up to the low squat again.That’s the way I was today; up and down and up and down all to the beat of the choir’s music.

I will never wear that shirt to church again…

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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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