Archive for October, 2017

My Children Are Just Like Me

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My children who are adopted are of mixed races, which has instigated a lot of joking over the years about how much we are like each other. I remember shopping at Walmart with my daughter, Dinora, when she was about 6 months old.  Sitting in the infant seat, she exhibited every characteristic of a child of Mayan Indian heritage.  The woman in front of me turned around and looked at her, then looked at me, then looked back at her. “She certainly must look like her father!” she said, in kind of a huff. Incorrect, of course, she was just like us.

Three of my children have brown eyes, just like me! Two have blue eyes, just like their dad! Amazing, just like each other!  All of us love ice cream, especially cookie dough, which was hard to keep in the freezer, even though I would hide a carton way in the back under the pork chops, figuring the children hated pork chops.  They didn’t hate them enough to look behind them to find our special treat.

Swimming is something we have in common, (mostly because we live on a lake.) Dinora was able to swim by the age of 18 months old. She used to jump off the side in the deep end of the community pool with me. Everyone was shocked, saying it was dangerous for her to be so deep. But she was so tiny that even if she jumped off the lower end she still wouldn’t be able to touch the bottom, so what was the difference? My son, Francis, was on a swim team, and won a medal for the fastest swimmer.  Steven spent most of his time by the water, pretending to be the Crocodile Hunter with the ability to swim quite far if he saw one of his prey. Angel was a great swimmer, as was Marie.  Many a time Marie and I would take floats and swim back and forth across the lake.  (Okay, so using float was cheating, but the comradeship was worth it.) Hubby, I, and all of my children,  are natural swimmers, just like each other!

Three of my children are creature lovers, anything from earth worms to boa constrictors to the every day dog, cats and bunnies. It is as though any living creature is a fascination to them, handled with care and put back into their “natural environment”, a special expression of Steven’s. One day, while camping at six years old, he found a common garter snake, hunting it down as only Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, could do.  On his haunches, he followed the snake through the rocks and eventually wrangled it onto a stick. By then, a crowd of children had gathered, squealing, “A snake!  Yeeeewww.  A snake! Steven gently showed the snake, saying “Isn’t she a beaut?  Look at that great color that can hide in the forest. Nature is amazing!”

With the exception of me and their dad, everyone loves scary movies. Okay, so maybe they aren’t like us in this manner as hubby turns away anytime he sees blood or monsters on tv and I hide under a pillow anytime I hear eerie music. We can’t ALWAYS be the same!

We all love to go apple picking, to see the colored leaves in the autumn, to watch a sunset at the beach, to swim in the waves, and to help those less fortunate.  Francis was building houses with Habitat for Humanity despite his blindness and Dinora raised money for a soup kitchen in her native Guatemala.  We all worked on making sandwiches which would be delivered to Cross Rhodes. With all of these similarities, of COURSE we are related! And so we have built MY family…

Now they are building theirs. Francis has a three year old daughter who physically looks JUST LIKE HIM, (minus the vision impairment!) Dinora has a young daughter and son who physically looks JUST LIKE HER. And Steven has a three year old who physically looks JUST LIKE HIM, massive head of kinky, curly hair and all! Angel is in touch with his biological family who physically look JUST LIKE HIM. All of the similarities we fostered as a family cannot compare to the fact that their flesh and blood look similar to them. But that is not what they focus on. They bond over similarities…Steven’s daughter really loves animals and strawberries, she MUST be his daughter! Dinora’s son is great at drawing and her daughter is a little diva, enjoying make-up and nail polish, (so much like her diva mom.) Francis’s daughter loves vanilla pudding and swimming in the waves in California! Go figure!

The truth is, family is not what is built by flesh and blood, but by common interests, tastes, morals and a whole lot of love. Of COURSE we are all related, we are a family!

 

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‘Twas Once a Child

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My daughter, Marie, has reached adulthood, having graduated from a residential program that had services for both her deafness and her mental health issues. This is the age of worry for any parent, especially one with so many challenges.

When she came to live with us at the age of seven and we were told she was “just deaf”, we could not have properly prepared ourselves for the roller coaster ride of a life she, and we, would have. She was a wild child, blonde hair askew, eyes angry, mouth so hungry she would hoard food under her mattress. She was very angry she had been removed from her mother, (for doing unspeakable acts which shall remain unspoken.) Despite providing her with a healthy, well cared for childhood, Marie’s disposition had been preformed. She would lie, steal, beg strangers for money, and reject all of our efforts to parent her. A hug and a kiss would throw her into a fury. Discussing our parenting situation and our need to show her love, she reluctantly let us “fist bump” her. Years later she apologized and told us her birth mom made her promise not to hug or kiss us, and that we really wouldn’t be her parents. It took us many years of fist bumps before she would accept a hug, and many years more before she would let us kiss her. She is now a young adult, and freely hugs and kisses us if the mood suits her. She shows genuine affection and appreciation, the highest reward any parent could expect from an original wild child.

Although Marie can be very capable, she has been unable to live in a non-structured setting because of her unstable bouts with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For those unfamiliar with this life altering condition, it is experiencing horrific memories so acutely that one becomes “in the moment” of prior abuse, crazed eyes staring back as though at her accusers, ready to defend herself with flailing arms and legs and gnashing teeth. An ambulance ride to the hospital and sedation was the only thing that could bring her out of her experience. It has always been especially tear inducing, (for me,) when at the hospital, with her hand in restraints, she would wake from the sedation, look around, and finger spell (ASL) asking me where she was, having had no memory of the event. Next she would say her throat hurts, (from screaming, no doubt,) and ask for a Popsicle, which she would skillfully eat while still in restraints.

Marie is now formally an adult. A lot of planning has gone into finding an adult home for her, one that would be staffed 24 hours. My calling all possible supported living programs in our state began about a year and a half ago. With the dual diagnosis of deafness and mental illness, no program would accept her. Many of the programs who may have had prior experience in working with her, never even returned my calls.

After working closely with the Department of Developmental Disabilities, whose frustration and efforts equaled mine; they were able to establish a placement for her that has far surpassed our expectations through a program used to dealing with adults with more severe developmental disabilities. They had no prior experience with a young adult with both of Marie’s difficulties, but once they learned there was someone in such need, they stepped right up and took on the challenge.

Marie now lives in a cute, little house on a nice residential street. As described by those on the show “House Hunters”, this one would be described at “Retro”, with bright yellow tile, a front door carved with circles, and a front porch with wrought iron table and chairs. Neighbors bring over cookies and wave to each other on the street. There are three bedrooms in the house, and she is hoping that a housemate will join her soon. She insists that her house buddy like to watch scary movies, (VERY scary movies,) and, most of all, must not be allergic to pets. Marie has a guinea pig that is usually perched on her chest with both of her hands gently stroking the lucky animal, a calming activity that works for both her and Oreo, who is black with a white center, of course.

Marie is thrilled to be able to go shopping for food she likes, not necessarily the food I have cooked for her. She is no longer in school, so work activities will happily replace the classes with which she used to have such frustration. She has directly chosen the things that she would like to do during the day, throwing out suggestions I would have thought unobtainable.

Marie has always loved to ride horses but gets frustrated that when we go, her horse needs to be tethered to another due to her deafness. She recently began an activity at a horse farm that facilitates riding for children with disabilities. For such children, the riding is therapeutic, but the horse walks slowly. Marie’s job is going to be to trot the horses at the end of the day because the horses themselves get bored walking slowly. What better job than that for someone who loves to ride horses?

Marie’s penchant for all animals has earned her a spot working with “disenfranchised” cats and kittens, that is, homeless felines. She will clean the cages, feed them, and then “show them off” like Vanna White highlights the letters on “Wheel of Fortune”. Oreo will be jealous, I’m sure, so Marie will have to wash the cat scent off before she returns home.

At this point in her life, Marie is feeling very good about herself and her care for others. She has signed up for a Meals on Wheels route, and all of those hugs she didn’t give in her early years will undoubtedly be dispensed ten times over among her lunch recipients.

As a mom with a daughter for whom life experiences didn’t start out well, I am so thrilled that in her adult life she will be doing the things she enjoys with people who will support, encourage and appreciate her. What more could any parent ask for?

 

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To read our story raising Marie and her four siblings, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane. It is on sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thank you for your support!

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