Archive for December, 2013

A Christmas Gift from Above Retold…

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Our family went last night to visit a shrine. as we do every Christmas. The lights were magnificent! The live manger was awe inspiring as the choir sang nearby. Of course, over the years it has become more commercialized…Merry Go Round ride for $3. Ride in the trolley, $5. $4 dollar popcorn and $5 dollar cotton candy. $12 for a small book about the nativity, and $25 for the accompanying small stuffed sheep. $9.95 for a children’s chicken nugget meal. Of course, with more and more lights, the expenses increase, and they have to fund it somehow. But I digress… The money making aspects of the shrine in no way minimizes the true spirituality and healing nature of the location, which is worth all of the money in the world.


We adopted Dinora from Guatemala at the age of 6 weeks, and I was so thrilled to have a daughter!!!  She came with a variety of diseases common in s 3
rd World Country, scabies, intestinal parasites and malnutrition.  But we loved her and fed her and she blossomed into an adorable baby with big black eyes and shiny black hair.

At the age of six months, it became apparent that Dinora was deaf.  She had not yet started to babble like other babies her age, but she also did not turn to her name, or looked at the dog when she barked, or seem to notice the footsteps of me coming into her bedroom.  She would be laying there awake when I walked in, (and, believe me, I am not light on my fight.)  When she finally would see me, she would startle.  She had not heard me.  The day I knew it for sure was a day she was sitting next to me on the floor while I was doing the dishes.  I accidentally dropped a huge lobster pot I was cleaning and it made a horrendous clang on the floor.  Dinora happily sat there playing, her back to the pan.  She did not startle.  She did not cry.  She did not hear it.

We then made the rounds of the doctors.  She flunked regular hearing tests, and had a brain stem evoked response test.  Her brain did not respond up to 90 decibels.  The doctor informed me that she was severely hearing impaired and that we would try hearing aids to maximize her hearing, although they would not be strong enough for her to hear normally.  They took the impressions for her ear molds.

That evening, our family went for a pre-Christmas visit to a shrine beautifully decorated with Christmas lights.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  I had a two year old son who was legally blind, and now I had an infant daughter who was deaf.

There was a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes surrounded by prayer water and many large candles.  There was also a large display of crutches and wheelchairs of people who had been healed by her.  I helped my son, Francis, who was 2 1/2 years old, light a candle. Because it was almost Christmas, and the only candles he had seen were on a birthday cake, he merrily sang “Happy Birthday Dear Jesus”.  I remember saying a non-de-script prayer, still upset that Dinora was deaf.  I still thanked God,  but was not quite as enthusiastic as usual.

The next morning, the dog barked and Dinora woke up!  I thought it was a coincidence until I started to walk into her room and she turned to smile at me. She had heard my footsteps!  I started talking to her and she started babbling back.  Only a day earlier she had been fitted with ear molds for hearing aids!  I excitedly called the doctor, who agreed to see her that day.  Her hearing was tested and it was normal!  Neither I nor the doctor could believe it.  He said in his 29 years as an ear doctor he had never seen anything like it.  He told me that it had to be an “Christmas miracle from Above”.  The visit the night before to the shrine came to mind.  A miracle HAD occurred, and I was  embarrassed because I had not thanked God more enthusiastically the night before. He had granted me a miracle even though I did not ask for one.

Dinora is now 28 years old and has had perfect hearing ever since that day! And I have lived life with a peaceful,generous heart because I know, without any doubt, that God is with me.

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To read more about our life as a family, please read my book. Here is a link:

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

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

Buy Me Something That Tickles Me

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Lately, some of the things that I say reflect things my mom said decades ago. I met a woman the other day who was cheerful and bouncy, with a large white flower in her bright, red hair and a wide smile. I immediately told my son that she looked like a hot ticket. He looked at me like I was crazy. “She’s a WHAT?” he asked.

And so it is with the items on my Christmas list that I gave my teenage and young adult children, most of whom are economically disadvantaged, (ie poor, broke, don’t have a pot to piss in). I asked them to get me something that tickles me. For those unfamiliar with this description, what I am asking them to buy me is something that makes me giggle inside. “Ahhhhh”, you think, “There can’t be too many items that do so that are inexpensive and suitable to give as a Christmas gift.” But you would be wrong.

Things that tickle me:
**Socks with far out designs. (I work with young children, usually on the floor with my shoes off. While my dress has to be “casual business”, my feet can be free and easy.)

**Jelly Bellies, especially popcorn and licorice flavors. (I would be on cloud 9 eating them, one by one, savoring the flavor.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it would be so awesome if one of my children would buy me a body wash from Bath and Body works, for my nightly bubble baths. (Sweet Pea is my favorite scent!)

I would be made in the shade if I were gifted with a nice, strong pen, preferably with purple or green ink.

A new mug with a sentimental slaying would be fab. (I LOVE to drink my tea.)

A gnarly new wallet would be welcomed, (one with extra room for pictures of all my kiddos!)

Bubble gum flavored lip gloss, with a hint of pink coloring, would help me look like a fox. (even if only around my mouth area…for the first five minutes…before I lick it off…,)

So, you can see, I would be tickled by a variety of inexpensive items that my kiddos could buy me for Christmas. In fact, anything that they buy for me with love will be copasetic. It would bum me out if they spent a lot of money on me, because it really IS the thought that counts!

As I crash on Christmas eve and go to sleep, I know opening my presents on Christmas morn will be a gas, yet won’t cost my children an arm and a leg.

Here’s to hoping your children get to keep their appendages also!

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

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(warning: contains disturbing, graphic content)

My brother was born in the 1960s at a time when children with disabilities as extensive as my brother’s (Rubella Syndrome, cleft palate, severely developmentally delayed, legally blind, hearing impaired, heart condition, etc.) were placed in institutions at the “suggestion” of their doctors. Without knowing the specifics, all I knew was that my mother was devastated and took to her bed sobbing, my father very angry and was rarely home, and my brother cried all of the time because he could not eat through the gaping hole which was supposed to be his mouth.

My mom chose not to follow the doctor’s “orders”, which was highly unusual for her because she was a person who NEVER disobeyed authorities. Yet, she knew in her broken, sad heart that “putting him away” was not the right thing to do. Even if her life was changed forever, Curtis would remain at home. She slowly got over her devastation, and my father was home more often and Curtis was fed with an eye dropper. I loved feeing him as he gently gurgled and mewed like a baby kitten. My brother was a part of our family, and went on to live a full and exciting life as a member of our vagabond family.

My dad loved to drive and my brother loved to ride. He especially LOVED tunnels. Dad would go out of his way during our travels to go through them, such as the toll tunnels in Pennsylvania. Riding through the darkness, hearing the swoosh of the engine motor and the echoes of the other cars would send my brother into fits of giggles. Curtis also loved the excitement of paying tolls. Hand over hand, I would help him lean out the passenger window to drop the coins into the basket, and he’d clap his hands with delight. Life was great, and Curtis was always a full, participating member of our family and our community. Our life was “normal” to me.

It wasn’t until I went for my first job interview as a rehabilitation professional at a state institution that I learned what my brother’s fate would have been had my mom decided to do as her doctor advised. The first and LAST ward I toured scarred me for life. The “dorm” was rows, 20 deep, of metal beds bracketed to the floor. Most had some semblance of a sheet on them, some not. “Blankets”, or what USED to be blankets before they became worn and dirty,were randomly thrown on the bed. Many were stained with a dark brown substance that I assumed was NOT dirt. In the “kitchen”, rows of large baby bottles filled with a mushy substance substituted for a lunch.

It wasn’t until I went into the “day room” that I became physically ill. The smell of vomit, feces and urine attacked my nose so I wanted to hold my breath. In the large, tile room, with no windows to even indicate it was day outside, sat about twenty-five people, looking more like wild creatures. All ages, men and women, young and old, sat and rocked their bodies, flailed about and screeched. Hair dirty and tangled and disgusting. Eyes either glaringly wild or no emotion at all. Most naked or with minimal clothing. There was a large drain in the middle of the floor where human waste congregated; feces, vomit, urine. (Apparently, a large hose was used to “clean” individuals and it was all shoved into the middle of the floor, hopefully to go down the drain.) No attempt at programming. No attempt at socialization. No furniture because, I was told, they would either throw it, break it or try to eat it. Most of the residents, I was told had never see life outside of the institution, coming to the institution as infants. (Thoughts of my beloved brother flashed through my mind.)

It was obvious abuse was rampart on the part of the residents, swatting and clawing at each other as I stood there. A few residents, deemed the most violent, were in shackles. The two ward attendants were obviously immune to the sight because that would be the only way possible for a human being to do their job.

I left the tour, vomited and cried all the way home. The scene still haunts me.

FORTUNATELY, this was during a time when family members and professionals started to come together in outrage to demand better treatment. To demand actual services and activities and better living situations. FORTUNATELY, these groups sued the state to hold them accountable for these horrendous living situations.

The passage of even more legislation allowed four unrelated individuals to live together in a house without having to get zoning variance. Group homes were born and life changed forever for individuals with developmental disabilities!

Thank God that the pendulum has swung the other way. Now, individuals with developmental disabilities are recognized to be individuals of equal value and respect. They can choose their own clothing, what they want to eat, where they want to go, and what they want to do. You can see them out bowling, delivering Meals on Wheels, and eating at local restaurants. They are shopping for food at the grocery stores, attending churches of their choosing, and going on cruises. They can go rock climbing, paragliding, and ice fishing. They can order sandwiches just the way they like them, and drink frozen strawberry Daiquiris. They are living life to the fullest, with staff no longer concerned with cleanliness, but with focusing on dignity, free will and respect. Next time you see a person with a developmental disability in the community, smile at them. They will probably smile back, at last!

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To read more about my life with my brother, please read my book. Here is a link:

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

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

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