On Columbus Day, my husband and I spent a wonderful day just driving around and enjoying the autumn scenery. I don’t know about you, but I seem to have an unusual sensitivity to the beauty in nature, and was once again overwhelmed by the beauty of the bright white and yellow streaks of sun streaming down through the white puffy clouds. Such a sight always encourages me as if reinforcing the fact that yes, there are clouds, and yes there may be rain, but that sun is still up there in the sky, overseeing it all, just waiting to break through and make things better. As an added visual treat, the sun shone so brightly on the tapestry of peak autumn leaves: oranges, reds and yellows, that I felt a need to wear my sunglasses, but with them on I would not be able to fully appreciate the effect of the over-the-top, gasp inducing colors. No photo, piece of artwork or beautifully sung song could have replicated the intensity of happiness that brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.
My husband and I sat, holding hands as he drove. There was no need to say anything. We were at peace, pleased to have such a respite after a hectic week of raising children and dealing with problems. We were in our own beautiful bubble, cell phones turned off so as not to ruin the interlude. It was a wonderful day!
Upon pulling into the driveway of our home, I spotted the two small maple trees which Marie had planted a few years ago. She had excitedly dug them up when they were fragile saplings with broken branches, and planted one on each side of the driveway. She had added gravel at the base of each, and attached a tall, straight, thin stick to keep them growing upright. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed them before. I had NOTICED them, of course, but I had never really SEEN them. They had grown to be about four feet tall, straight and strong. My breath stuck in my throat as the brilliant, bright yellow leaves danced happily in the gentle breeze. They were a growing metaphor for my daughter, blossoming and beautiful and holding the promise of a bright future in their little yellow leaves. Despite once being fragile and broken, they would grow tall and amazing and fit perfectly in this world, reassuring me that my daughter, who was also once fragile and broken, would grow tall and amazing and fit perfectly in this world.
Archive for the ‘PTSD’ Category
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…
To read about my early childhood adventures, here is a link to my book:
Link to the Readers Digest review of my book: http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/
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. 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…
Link to my book
Link to the Readers Digest review of my book: http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/
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.
I wrote a while ago about the damage I did to my daughter, Dinora’s, prom dress eight or nine years ago. I miscalculated my ability to hem such a delicate item (ON the day of the prom when she told me it was too long to go with her shoes…after weeks of my asking….) The hem was crooked and the dress was gathered in places it should be gathered! I was saved from the humiliation of being a terrible mother by a local taylor who miraculously fixed my mistake, leaving her prom dress in pristine condition.
Well, my youngest daughter, Marie, who is deaf, is going to a prom next month. This is the daughter who has always preferred to wear male clothing, even men’s bathing suits! Her theory is, if she dresses like a boy, no one will think she is a girl, so no men will “bother” her… She, of course, does not realize that at sixteen years old, she has developed in such a way that men’s clothing can no longer disguise the fact that she is a girl.
Marie had a talk with her counselor, and she actually decided she wants to wear a prom dress, which would be the first DRESS she ever wore. She was mortified at the thought of a short dress, but warmed to the idea of a full length gown. So, last weekend I took her shopping for a prom dress, every mother’s dream activity to do with her growing daughter. Again, my dream activity quickly turned to a nightmare, but then I was again saved from disaster.
The day started out fine as we went to the mall. Marie led the way to a major store she knows I have a credit card to. (Thus my laments that I “have no money” would be moot to her.) The gowns were dazzling bright with sequins and frills, but not enough fabric to cover Marie’s “growing” body. She ran from rack to rack, picking out modest gowns to try on. Looking at the size 11s, I knew she was not going to fit into them. In the dressing room, she kept asking me to help her zip them up. I tried to explain to her they were too small, but she accused me of not helping her enough! We had an argument in the dressing room and she flew out in anger. We walked the length of the mall with her seething inwardly, when she spotted JC Penney, another store to which I have a credit card. We found the prom gown section, and BLESS this store…they had gowns all the way up to size 19/20. Marie, in her glory amongst the choices, found what she thought to be the perfect gown and they had it in her size. It was white with rhinestones and layers of ruffles and her eyes glowed happily as she tried it on. She looked like a bride and my eyes filled up with tears. I thought of the despair we felt as she left the previous store without a dress, and the joy we both felt as she found a dress to fit her. I say thank you to those stores who have clothes of all sizes for teenagers, especially JC Penney’s, which enabled one sixteen year old girl who is deaf to move one step closer to her date at the prom.