Posts tagged ‘foster parent’

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

“That’ll be $20 a Mile, M’am”

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While driving on the highway last weekend, on our way to our little cabin in New Hampshire, the alternator “went” on our van. I didn’t even know what an alternator WAS, so it is a good thing that good ole hubby was driving. He noticed the problem while we were on the highway, and the amazing GPS on my phone led us right to a Sears Automotive where, pulling into the parking lot, the car stopped working. (My life is just SOOOO filled with luck…we could have broken down on the highway which would have been much more problematic!) The time was 6:45 pm, too late to have them fix it, but enough time to talk to a mechanic who promised to fix it first thing in the morning. He recommended we stay at a nearby hotel for the night and he graciously called a taxi for us.

My husband and I are not world travelers. I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve ridden in a taxi, and my husband never has. We enjoyed the sweet smelling cleanliness of the car, and were treated to tour of the city on the way to the hotel. It sure did look pretty with sparkling with city lights. The driver told us they had a one price policy, $10 for anywhere we wanted to go in the city, and our hotel was within the limits. What luck! When we got to the hotel, my inexperienced husband graciously handed the driver $12 while he shook his hand and thanked him for the smooth, scenic ride to the hotel.

Hubby and I checked in to the hotel and had a wonderful evening in a much more elegant setting than that of our tiny cabin in NH. (Electricity!! Cable tv!! Hot showers!!) The next morning, we feasted on at the wonderful breakfast in the hotel. We could make our own WAFFLES!! And I could eat more than ONE!! Joy, joy!!

Gathering up our things, we sauntered, (as experienced travelers,) into another taxi for the return trip. On the ride back, the taxi turned left on the main avenue, then took another quick left and we were there. The mileage on the meter read .5 miles and the cost was $3.95!! Our hotel was only a half mile from Sears! ($20 a mile per the evening ride there!) I realized that the scenic tour of the city, and giving us the “special” low price of $10, was a “con”. I suddenly felt “worldly”! What an adventure! And what great fodder for my blog!

Another Year, Another Memory

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(cartoon reprinted from Readers Digest. Two angels are standing on Cloud 8 with the caption “Well yes, I’m happy. But I could be happier…) Don’t let this be you!

A new year has begun! Whoopee! I am so excited to see what great things the new year brings! I only have two annual New Year’s resolutions:
Resolution #1: I think back on last year, and am grateful for all of the wonderful little things that worked out well.

*Found out about Orange Leaf yogurt place where I could get healthy sugar free, non fat yogurt with my choice of toppings, m&ms, hot fudge (yum!), gummy bears, snickers and all the whipped cream I can fit!

*My daughter, Marie, has finally found a counselor trained in trauma and abuse who is fluent in American Sign Language. After all these years! FINALLY she is able to make some progress in this area. As her mom, I have been the only one she has confided in, and it will be nice to share that weight with a professional.

*I loved watching The Good Wife! And Storage Wars! And Survivor!

*I lost a pound and a half. Not quite my goal of 30 pounds, but at least it is in the right direction!

*I have two new grandchildren on the way with a whole lifetime to enjoy them. (Long live nana!)

*Another year accident free…where’s my check from Allstate?

*Another year major illness free! (The hubby had a bout with colon cancer a few years ago, but has been fine ever since surgery because it was caught early.)

*My daughter, Dinora, has a great new job, a fiance, and a cute little house.

*My son, Steven, (who has autism and ADHD,) has a wonderful new fiancee whose OCD keeps things structured and in place for him, stabilizing his disability. (There IS someone for everyone!)

*During several great movies, (The Butler, Gravity, and all of the Pixar films,) I ate plenty of buttered popcorn and jelly bellies. (Ahhhhh! May be the reason I didn’t loose more weight.)

*My son, Angel, who has Dissociative Identity Disorder, has miraculously made it through high school without seriously harming anyone. (Except for the refrigerator he overturned on a teacher…which turned out to be the teacher’s “fault”. In Angel’s IEP was the stipulation that he cannot be yelled at lest the “angry part”, over which he has no control or memory, comes out to protect him, a reflex reaction.) Life with Angel is quite interesting…

*Our cars, both over 8 years old and with more than 150,000 miles each, are still running and getting us places.

*My son, Francis, who, despite his blindness, is still making boatloads of money in the Silicon Valley computer industry. (On less child I have to support.)

*All in all, another successful year with more ups than downs.

Resolution #2: I look forward to the coming year with optimism and enjoyment. Hopefully it will be another successful year with more ups and downs, and I will make memories to put on my list for #1 next year!

Hopefully, your life will also have joy, happiness, love, and some interesting foods to eat!

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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

The Little Things for Which I am Grateful

Joining my blogging friends, I am thankful for my family, friends, and our comfortable life. However, the holiday of Thanksgiving also provides a wonderful opportunity to express my appreciation for the “little things” in life. For instance, all of those wonderful times when you get green lights all the way to work! I actually treat traffic as though it is the norm to prevent getting annoyed or anxious. That way, I am super happy (and thankful) for those times when all of the traffic lights are green and it’s like smooth sailing all the way!

There are several other little things for which I am grateful:

curling irons: without them my hair would be frazzly and I’d look like Einstein, (no offense Mr. Einstein, if you are reading this from heaven…)

working pens, preferably in a lively color: who has not had the problem of searching frantically for a pen only to finally drag one out that doesn’t work?

TIVO: there are only a few television programs that I like to watch, and they inevitably are televised during a time I am unable to watch them. TIVO is a life saver AND a time saver because I not only get to watch “my” shows at a convenient time, but can fast forward through the commercials!

reading glasses: yes, I have reached the age of needing reading glasses. How wonderful it is to put them on and not to have to squint!

coin holders in cars: putting all of my spare change in the coin holder serves me well when quarters are needed for a parking meter or a Diet Coke at McDonald’s! (No reprimands, please, I know Diet Coke isn’t healthy, but I love it anyway!)

money found in the dryer: isn’t it exciting when you have emptied out the dryer and several quarters and a dime are sitting there at the bottom? I was SUPER lucky the other day and found a twenty dollar bill! (It was like winning the lottery!)

half and half cream: we go through so much milk in this house that there was a time when there wouldn’t be any left over for…..sob, sob…that first, steaming, wonderful cup of morning tea. My wonderful husband discovered half and half which no one would dare drink. Problem solved!

comfy shoes: there is nothing that stabilizes and calms me more during the day than wearing a pair of warm and snuggy comfortable shoes.

spritz of body spray: not being a perfume person, there is nothing better to lift my spirits than a nice body spray of citrus or apple cinnamon. (Of course, if it is late in the day, it COULD make me hungry…)

I am very thankful for all of these little things in life that have, in some way, added to my happiness in life. Now, if ONLY I had an automatic car starter, (hint, hint, hubby dear.) MAYBE I will get one for Christmas. Then, in the freezing winter, I can walk out to a WARM car with my comfy shoes, stylish hair, smelling of fruit. Ah….I can only dare to dream…

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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/

I Don’t Think Animals Kiss…

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

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

“A kiss,” I told her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

They Ain’t Like they Used to Be!

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When I was a teen, every Friday night my best friend and I used to be dropped off at the local amusement park and ride the rides til late into the night; exciting thrill rides like the Tilt A Whirl, stomach churning rides like the Spider, high in the sky rides like the Ferris Wheel, and funny/scary rides like the House of Horror.  I still can’t get the image of the evil man sawing the girl in half…tame by today’s standards because there really was no blood and guts showing, but scary enough to be etched in my memory none-the-less.  (Without digressing, it would be interesting to know if today’s spate of horror movies leave the same indelible nightmare etched into children’s brains…)

Driving the little cars on the Turnpike ride was awesome, especially in my early teens.  Keeping the car straight on the twisty “road”, over bridges and under tunnels, was a harbinger of the days when I would be able to get my real driver’s license.  However, at that point I quickly learned that there are no bumpers on the side of the real roads in real life and one must keep the car centered or a pedestrian or telephone pole could be taken out. I also learned I had to drive faster than on the amusement park ride lest a line of cars pile up behind me, honking and gesturing…

Our favorite ride was the roller coaster the Wildcat. I can still remember the nervousness in my stomach, the dread, and the excitement as the car started up that first steep hill. It was probably only a few seconds, but the anticipation was interminable. Then the “whoosh”  down that first hill which set the car in motion for the twists and turns to come. Because this was the age before seat belts were mandatory, flinging out of the car during an enormous turn on the tracks really did make the ride seem to be death defying. (Truth be known, people occasionally did fall out and die, but, as teens, we were immortal and nothing like that could happen to us.)  By the time we reached that final hill on the Wildcat, the laughter and excitement falsely camouflaged any nervousness of what was to come…until it came!  Going down that final steep hill, where gravity seemed optional and your stomach literally moved up into your throat, was the greatest feeling ever! It was such a “rush” in our innocent teen lives, that as the ride was over, we’d run over, get in line, and do it again and again and again until my cheeks were hurting so much from laughing that we’d stop to snack on some cotton candy or a snow cone.

Oh…..how the years have changed things. Recently I took my two youngest children to a “family” amusement park, (i.e. not Six Flags, from which my daughter is banned for life…buy my book for the details!)  The park was quaint with its refurbished candy store and carousel. with antique horses.  Even the popcorn stand that looked like a huge box of popcorn had been freshly painted, and the familiar smell of popcorn filled the air.  Street lamps guided the way on the walkways, and beautifully colored flowers grew in abundance.  A nice, comfortable, enjoyable family park.  Until you looked at the rides….the roller coasters were HUGE, with the tracks going on forever and circling 360 degree upside down!  With rider’s legs dangling loose!  Gravity pulling at hair until riders looked like they were cartoon people afraid of a ghost! With shrieks so continuous and loud I had doubt that any rider would ever be able to speak again! And there rides named the Boomerang!  The  Wipeout!  The Cannonball and the Corkscrew; each ride bigger and better and faster and turnier and more stomach churning than the next.  I was excited to find a familiar ride, The Wildcat, and I ran towards it with longing and anticipation based on my childhood memories.  But this Wildcat was the grandpappy of Wildcats, where the one I rode when I was younger could only compare now as the Wild Kitty.

I know times have changed in many, many ways, but I mourned the loss of the family amusement park the most, possibly because it was such a large, happy part of my childhood.  I was happy on this date, however, to learn that they still served cotton candy and snow cones, which I ate in abundance while I watched my children happily, (and crazily) ride the rides, making their own childhood memories.

 

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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/

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…

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/

The Dance of the Snake Goddesses

Forgive me for re-posting this from a few years ago, but I thought you might enjoy it as it is a New Year’s Eve story…

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photo from Ophidiophobia – Fear of Snakes (Picture by Dev Khalsa)  honorslounge.com

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 55 year old 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!

 

Thanks for reading.  If you want to read more here is the link to my book:The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Beyond One’s Own Problems

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I work with a social/educational/recreational group for teens with disabilities.  When first getting this group together at the beginning of the school year, I asked them what they wanted to do as part of our program.  Every single one of them said they wanted to “help other people”.  Here are students with a variety of disabilities and medical needs, and they wanted to help others! They were mature enough to look beyond their own problems to the problems of others.

Various suggestions were tossed about; opening a soup kitchen, visiting with the elderly in nursing homes, working at the local pet shelter, and so forth.  I suggested the easiest thing to do would be something we could do as a group within our program.  They chose making sandwiches for the homeless.

Every other Saturday we meet.  Yesterday we had some social skills activities, some recreation, (does anyone remember the game Simon?), and then they all baked cookies and made sandwiches.  As they were working, they chatted happily, teen music playing in the background.  When one song came on, they all broke out into what I call “dancing like you are riding a horse”.  (I am sure all teens will know what I am talking about, even if parents don’t.)  As soon as the song stopped, they all went back to their sandwich making. It was hilarious!

They worked as a team and made 165 sandwiches and twelve dozen cookies. As they worked, they talked about who might get to eat them, what kind of bad luck may have fallen upon that person and so forth.  They talked with much empathy, and not once during their conversation did they mention their own problems.  They were caring about the problems of others.

After the sandwiches were made, I drove up to Traveler’s Aid, a local spot where the homeless hang out.  The kids got out of the car to bring the sandwiches and cookies in.  They helped each other.  One girl in a wheelchair held a box of sandwiches on her lap while a girl who is blind held onto the wheelchair as her sighted guide.  (Instead of a using a guide dog, she was using a guide wheelchair!)  I stood back as they went into the building and delivered the goods. They were so proud.  The large group of people milling about parted like the Red Sea, and left them easy access to the front desk where they would be dropping the food off.  They walked and wheeled to the front desk which, fortunately, was wheelchair accessible.  The crowd murmured appreciatively, politely, thankfully.  The kids faces beamed as they turned around and came back to the van.  They were no longer disabled, but capable of helping others.  Suddenly, their problems were not as bad as the people who thanked them; people without shelter and food.

 

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

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