Archive for April, 2016

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.

Here a Friend, There a Happiness

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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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