Termites Aren’t so Bad

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My oldest son, Francis, was born “legally blind”. His visual acuity stabilized at 20/400. (In layman’s terms, what a fully sighted person could see 400 feet away, Francis could only see blurrily at 20 feet.) He used his hearing so well that it was easy to forget that he had impaired vision, but every now and then something humorous would happen to remind us!

One Friday night when he was about three years old, he entered the living room as my friend and I quietly sat amongst the pillows on the couch, munching away on buttered popcorn, and watching “Dallas” on television, (our ridiculously favorite TV show at the time.) He toddled toward where we sat and without hesitation climbed onto my friend’s lap.

“Why, HELLO there!” she exclaimed excitedly, since Francis had previously been very shy with her. He looked startled and then began to cry hysterically. He thought that he had crawled onto my lap! He could see well enough to distinguish that there were 2 figures on the couch, but was unable to focus on the differences of our faces. From that moment on, when he entered a room, he would say “Hi, mom!” and I would respond, “Hi, sweetie!” so he could tell from afar which figure I was. At the age of three he had already learned to make accommodations for his vision loss.

He made similar accommodations when he started. He loved going and had many playmates but seemed to develop a deep friendship with a little boy named Eddy, whom I had not yet met because his mom dropped him off at a later time. Francis would come home and tell me that he and Eddy played with blocks or outside in the playground or cleaned the hamster cage together. I was not only excited that he was actually telling me about his day at “school” but relieved that he was able to socialize and make friends.

One morning my lazy body did not want to get out of the comfy bed on time, so he was driven to school much later than usual. I accompanied him into the building and saw the entire class sitting on the floor listening to their teacher read a book. At first glance, the sea of toddlers looked like a blur of Caucasian, light haired children. Francis scanned the room with his limited vision, spotted Eddy, and walked over to sit down next to the only African-American child in the class. Francis was one smart kid…for his best friend he chose the classmate who was easiest to pick out!

Francis had a wonderful, normal nursery school experience, with one notable exception. The school invited an exterminator as a guest speaker who regaled the class about the abundance and peril of termites munching on the wood of houses. Francis came home terrified at the possibility of having them in our basement. I had never seen him so anxiety ridden and he developed problems falling asleep and nightmares. After about a week of this, I finally asked, “WHY are you so afraid of such tiny bugs?” He burst into fearful, explosive tears. “TINY????” he replied. “THEY ARE HUGE!”

Driving through Providence, RI, Francis had previously seen the only termite of his young life, the famous “Big Blue Bug” atop a building on Route 95, which is 928 times the size of a regular termite. No wonder he was so petrified! His understanding was that termites that large roamed throughout his basement and were eating his house! After I stopped laughing, it was explained to him that the Big Blue Bug by the side of the road was a joke and that termites are tiny. Then his dad and I took him downstairs, searched and confirmed that our house was, in fact, termite free. Happy dreams were his again.

 

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If you want to read about Francis’ hugely successful life, including skiing, captaining a sailboat, obtaining a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, and eventual career as a high level manager at a famous Silicon Valley computer company, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

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My daughter, Marie, was severely abused as a toddler and young child. She came to live with us at the age of 7 after being found wandering the streets barefoot at 2 am carrying her infant brother looking for formula for him. The effects of the abuse were immediately apparent. She couldn’t stand to be touched, and would cower under the table if she felt threatened. She was angry all of the time and refused all attempts at affection. (When she was with us for a few years, she finally allowed me to give her a “fist bump” as a way of showing my love for her, a love she certainly did not reciprocate because she didn’t know what love was.)

Posttraumatic stress episodes were explosive and frequent, and required restraints and hospitalization. She had superhuman strength while in the throws of PTSD, as I am sure the EMTs and firemen who came to transport her to the hospital can attest. She turned into a super kicking, screaming, biting and hitting machine, and it was amazingly frightening to see.   If put in clothe restraints, she would eat through the cloth like a ravenous wolf. The adult restraints were too large and a smaller hole would have to be cut to fit her slim wrists and ankles. She learned to bite the inside of her mouth to spit blood and they tried to put a mask on her, which she immediately sucked into her mouth and gagged on. At the hospital, she would get a shot of Haldol, go into a trance, and wake up questioning what happened. With her hands still restrained and unable to sign regularly, her little fingers would finger spell “Where am I? Why?”

The number of PTSD episodes have subsided to once every 6 months or so. She has learned to love and be loved by her family, and, fortunately, she is making tremendous progress. Marie is going to be 20 years old this month and still attending a specialized school where she can remain until she is 21.

Marie, citing her age that she is an adult, has come more into her own. On her own, she got a tattoo of a dolphin on the inside of her wrist. She loves dolphins since swimming with them at Discovery Cove on her 12th birthday. By choosing that particular tattoo, she reasoned she could look at the dolphin every time she gets upset and it would remind her of a happy time instead of the times she was abused. Like other young adults, she has colored her hair a mixture of blue and blonde, has a lip ring and likes to pick out her own clothes. Her newest adult adventure is finding a girlfriend; recently reconnecting with an amazing girl a few years older than her with whom she attended school many years ago. They have started hanging out and Marie is giddy with excitement. (Marie has never had a real friend of any kind before.)

Yesterday the 3 of us went to Dave and Buster’s at the mall. While Marie LOVES to play the games, sometimes the crowds overwhelm her and she gets anxious, moody and socially unresponsive. Her sweet friend, who does not know the extent of Marie’s early childhood abuse, kept asking her why she was mad at her, which eventually turned into a full blown argument in the car. By the time we got home, her friend was no longer talking to her and said she was never coming to see Marie again. Marie went down and sat on the wall overlooking the lake, her head drooping down. She texted me on her phone, “Help Me”. Joining her on the wall, I noticed she was crying, something I have never seen Marie do. The tears spilled out of her eyes and were running down her cheeks like an ever-flowing fountain. Her mouth was quivering and her sad eyes said it all. I hugged her and the tears turned more torrential. After a while she signed to me “She thinks I’m mad at her and that I have an attitude. I don’t know how to tell her.” Meaning she didn’t know how to tell her about her abuse and that sometimes it still affects the way she acts. She didn’t know how to tell her how much she loved her as a friend, her FIRST friend, and she didn’t want to hurt her, but sometimes she couldn’t control her emotions. She asked me to come with her to talk to her friend to help her explain.

Her friend was annoyed. Marie began about her family history and her friend said that SHE, too, had a mother addicted to drugs and that SHE, too, had been adopted. She said she learned to just “get over it” and why couldn’t Marie? With this criticism, Marie ran from the room and back to the wall by the lake. I explained that Marie had an extremely traumatic childhood, far and above just her mom doing drugs. I explained the hurt, the hospitalizations, and the challenging life she has endured. Her friend’s angry face softened with understanding. As I was talking, a tear slipped down her cheek and she got up and went down to the wall by the lake. When I looked out the window, they were both hugging and laughing.

I pray that Marie’s friend will continue to be her friend and accept her with all of her emotional baggage. It would take an amazing friend to do that, and I have a feeling she IS that amazing!

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As we age, it is common to have a few regrets of things we have or haven’t done along the way. When I was a child, (and traveled cross-country with my family,) I never got out of the car to see the Grand Canyon. Always on the move, I was used to short stops at tourist attractions, the Grand Canyon being no exception. I regret my choice stay in the car because of crabbiness, carsickness, stubbornness or what have you. I simply went back to sleep with a pillow over my head to block out the beautiful colors of the sunset. Also during childhood, I did not have the joy of playing in our ocean state waves. Living on a lake, my parents never felt the need to visit the ocean, and the only ocean I saw was near my public school, Oakland Beach. Nice beach, but not so exciting on the wave front. It wasn’t until I was 16 years old and able to drive with my friends to the beach that I realized RI had waves that were unbelievable! All those youthful waveless years wasted…

I regret never telling my dad of my love for him. As a sensitive child, I misunderstood his detachment from me, seeing it as a sign of my un-worthiness of his love instead of the mental illness he suffered. Only when I aged and he was gone did the truth become clear, and by then it was too late.

I regret the Christmas when I hid 5-year-old Dinora’s Littlest Mermaid bedspread under her bed. Pointing out that Santa had left a gift under her bed, she looked at me in shock and started crying hysterically. Was I telling her a BIG FAT MAN had been in her bedroom when she was sleeping? Seeing how upset she was, I quickly reassured her that really was no Santa Claus, causing an even bigger burst of tears. Strike one against me for prematurely destroying a little girl’s fantasy!

My latest regret came this week. Against the advice of others, an older family friend had chosen to keep her terminally ill husband at home rather than send him to a Hospice nursing home even though his physical care would be a challenge for her own aging body. A month ago I combed through the card store, finally finding the perfect card to express my support for her and to provide encouragement. I was too late in sending it. Her husband passed away this week, relegating my card to join the flow of regular sympathy well wishes, not special at all.

From now on, I will welcome Mother Nature and keep little girl’s dreams alive. People whom I admire will be lavished with praise, and people whom I love will be told, often and heartfelt, that they are loved, the same way I wanted to tell my dad so many years ago.

 

 

detroit

 

Even though our winter hasn’t been too bad in our neck of the woods, the lure to see a friend who lives in Florida was strong non-the-less. The day I left to visit her it was 57 degrees in RI, the same temperature it was in Tampa.
My first flight was to leave at a grueling 5:30 am, and I dutifully showed up at the airport at 4:00 am. The need for such an early arrival escaped me, as the airport seemed almost deserted except for the looooooong line of people waiting to check in at Southwest Airlines. Having printed my own boarding pass and with no luggage to check, I made my way to the security line where I was ushered into the ”pre-check” line generally reserved for the elderly and disabled. Miffed to be considered eligible for this line, I was also disappointed to miss the titillating experience of the full body x-ray machine, but keeping my shoes on was a good compromise.
Without much airplane booking experience, I had not realized that my first flight was a commuter flight to Detroit, which seemed to be a ridicules way to get to Florida from New England. The plane was pretty tiny on the outside, and seemed to be even smaller on the inside with a low ceiling and seats two by two on either side of the skinny aisle, through which I had to turn sideways to make it to my seat. Sitting next to a stranger, I had to keep my arms crossed at my chest in order to avoid touching his arm that had commandeered the arm rest. Positioning hardly mattered as, characteristically, I fell asleep as soon as the plane took off, getting nudged awake when we landed. Also characteristically, the next flight was taking off from a gate far, far away. As I watched others heading for their connections, women my age running clumsily, hair flying behind them, carry-on suitcase clunking along, I was grateful for my two hour layover. Slowly making my way along the “moving sidewalks”, it was enjoyable to just stand to the side and window shop the many stores along the concourse without moving a muscle. Who knew that Porsche sold suitcases and pocket books! The Dylan Candy Store looked like one big Hello Kitty ad. And if I wanted to buy golf pants, now would be the time to do so as the PGA Golf store had them for half price.
For the tunnel from one side of the airport to the other, I was pleasantly surprised by an unusual artistic endeavor. The walls of the long tunnel seemed to be made of stained glass with ever changing colors, synchronized to peaceful, beautiful music. As I rode on the walkway, my heart subconsciously rose and fell with the wave of the music, calming me throughout the long trek. This experience rivaled anything that could be found at Disney World or other Floridian tourist attractions. And it was found in Detroit! By the end of the tunnel, my heart was thankful for the amazingly emotional performance, and I was no longer upset that I had taken a commuter flight.

clouds

I had always hated driving, which may have something to do with the fact that I traveled cross-country for most of my childhood years.  My life lately includes a lot of it, with a granddaughter in Northern Massachusetts and a daughter attending school in Hartford. Surprisingly, I have learned to enjoy it!  I find myself bopping away to music, using my right arm as a conductor’s baton, (one, two, three, four; the movements from music class carefully ingrained into me.) Worse yet, one can find me huskily singing along with great enthusiasm.

Taking non-highway routes as my father always did, the variations of scenery are fascinating. Children play on swings, grandmother sitting nearby, and clothes swing on a clothesline; do they use an old wood stove for cooking?  Do they have an “icebox” instead of a refrigerator? Have I crossed over into the Twilight Zone? I remember driving through the same scenes as a child.

Many of the houses are memorable.  One with natural wood and white shutters has a toddler standing in the window, waving, green curtains framing her. It is only after a few trips that I realize that that same child is always in the same position, waving, but wearing different clothing. It is not a child at all, but a doll that is lovingly cared for and placed in a prominent spot for all to see. Another red shuttered house has a flag waving on the front porch, a decoration to herald in the seasons and special occasions. With Valentine’s Day done and over, a St. Patrick’s Day shamrock now blows in the wind.  Driving, I take stock of such silly things as how much wood is piled in front of the lumber factory.  (During the winter, the pile has diminished.) I await the spring when the nursery, which had Christmas Trees and wreaths, blossoms in beautiful colors of the multitude of flowers, but now a stark and unwelcome place sits in its spot.  (The owners are probably enjoying sunny Florida.)

It was only as an adult that I realized that my dad and our family traveled so much because of his severe posttraumatic stress from the war. We criss-crossed the country, driving on the back roads. Driving hypnotized him into peace, keeping the awful memories at bay while experiencing the delightful ones of finding new places and exploring the many geographical areas of the country.

Driving the back roads has become more important to me now.  No flash of highway exits and speeding cars, but leisurely driving through the countryside, relaxing my thoughts.  Often, when observing the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds, the bright yellow sun will make its way down as a brilliant stream of light, and tears will inexplicably sting my eyes.  Pure peace and joy. I have finally been able to fully understand the importance of traveling.

cold weather

 

I was fortunate to purchase a very warm, name brand coat from an expensive store eons ago.  When the weather seemed to turn wintry last week, I donned this comfy, warm coat, which would have kept me warm even if a trip to the Arctic was in my future. Pulling on my gloves, I made my way to the car to head to work.

Providing reassurance for the winter ahead, the car boldly turned right over, no fluttering or stalling in the cold.  However, even when the temperature gauge showed it was hot enough for heat, no heat flowed to warm my feet.  What a horrible time for the heater to break!  In addition to frozen toes, my fingers had also frozen and a pain set in that rivaled none other. Where did I buy those gloves, at the Dollar Store?  They obviously were broken because my hands weren’t warmed at all.

Cursing my bad luck, it took me a few minutes to come to my senses.  The bold thermometer that hung on our maple tree signaled that the temperature outside was 12 degrees! With the heater blowing its best train imitation: “I think I can…I think I can”, the car was suitably livable within 10 minutes and my hands had begun to unfreeze. In this kind of weather, I need to buy gloves that would also keep me warm in the Arctic in the future.

 

To read more about Linda’s cold and warm adventures, read her book The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane, available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

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For some reason, one of my children’s favorite holidays is Halloween. When discussing shared custody of his toddler daughter, my son, Steven, listed Halloween as the most important holiday. Christmas…ah…he can be flexible. Thanksgiving….not all that important. Fourth of July? Just another summer day. (Of course, the fact that with his Asperger’s he is naturally aversive to the larger celebrations does come into play here.)

Steven, being the obsessive reptile expert that he is, always dressed like Steve Irwin, the famous crocodile hunter, for Halloween. Crouching down near the doors of the expectant candy deliverers, he could be heard saying “Aye! Ain’t she a beaut!” while poking at a snake (stuffed), just like his television idol. His plan this year is to again dress like Steve Irwin and to dress his precious daughter up as a crocodile, once again proclaiming, “Aye, Ain’t she a beaut!” at each home. He is excited to be able to share this pleasant childhood memory with HIS child.

Having five children and many foster children, I was always on the look out for Halloween costumes on sale at deep discounts after the holiday. I hit the jackpot at Toys r Us one year when I found an adult sized chicken costume, complete with feathers, sizable full head mask with a plume on top, suitably lifelike feet and feather-like gloves. The price was 90% off. What a find! Excitement welled up in me as I thought about the next Halloween and one of my children wearing the amazing outfit.

As it does every October, Halloween rolled around again, and the costume was perfect for Francis, my oldest son, who was very, very tall at the age of 10. He wanted a silly, popular costume like Spiderman, but I talked him into wearing the chicken costume, a really GOOD costume. He was afraid people would think he was Big Bird, a humiliating costume for a 10 year old. I assured him it looked NOTHING like Big Bird.

Of course, I was completely wrong. At each and every door, the candy presenter would exclaim, “Oh, LOOK! It’s BIG BIRD!” and they would laugh at the amazement of such an elaborate costume. Francis, of course, did not laugh. At each and every door, he would turn around to look and stare at me through the beady little eyes of the chicken mask. His steely stare said it all. He was humiliated and it was my fault!

I learned valuable lessons that day. Just because something is on sale at a deep discount does not mean I have to buy it. And maybe, just maybe, those silly, popular costumes of Spiderman may be what my child wants to wear, which doesn’t make them silly at all!

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Please consider purchasing my book: The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane on Amazon.

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