Archive for the ‘adopted’ Category

What to Learn from Baby Birds

 

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I drive slowly down my street to get home, which includes an area of trees, wild grasses and the occasional soda can or lost piece of paper. It is usually a non-committal drive, with my head swirling with ideas and concerns, not paying attention to the road at all. Yesterday was different. In between the trees was a mother bird, brown breast with brown-flecked wings. 6 inches in front of her was her tiny twin, obviously her offspring. The little one was walking away from her, turning to look back every second or so. Her beak seemed to say, “Go on, little one,” as the tiny bird inched farther along from her mom. It was such a sweet situation to observe!

Of course, all parents have gone through the same thing, pushing our little ones out of the nest. It is an 18, (or 19 or 20) year push. Lessons start early. An infant learns that he can depend on us to meet his needs, and trust that we are there for him. As a toddler develops, he tries to stretch the boundaries, asserting his own will, sometimes throwing a tantrum. As parents, we teach him how to handle his frustration differently, diverting tantrums into learning experiences. We give him lots of choices so that he feels in control, and lots of activities that he can do independently, giving him that sense of self he so desperately needs to develop. When it is time for school, we send them off like mother birds, nudging them along towards independence. We smile, wave, and hide the tears as he goes off to school for the first time, making it a great independent experiment!

By our own modeling, we teach him to be considerate of others, to share, to accept and to encourage. It is by demonstrating the “do unto others” concept that he learns not only his own value, but the value of all human life.

My oldest son, Francis, a manager for a large tech company, goes out of his way to hire individuals with disabilities. He often remarks it is easy to overlook their capabilities when presented with their physical impairments. As a teen, he used to build houses for Habitat for Humanity and teach Sunday School. As a teen, my daughter, Dinora, raised money for the development of a soup kitchen in her native Guatemala, even visiting and working there herself when she graduated from college. Even now, as a successful make-up artist, she regularly sends them money. When younger, Steven, with the weight of all of his own problems, looked kindly upon others, volunteering to help people carry groceries or donating his precious change to someone in need. (I will never forget traveling the subway in Boston and he kept asking me for change to give to all of the musicians and beggars down in the tunnels. He was devastated when I ran out of money.) Angel, who currently works 2 jobs to pay for his car, continues to make time to work at a camp for children who are blind where he has volunteered since he was 14. And Marie, who has so many issues herself, takes pride in leading a young schoolmate with Down Syndrom to get his daily medication from the nurse. She is gentle and kind and considerate of his special needs.

As that mother bird nudged her birdling towards independence, we need to nudge our own children to care about others. The future of Peace depends upon it.

 

A Whole New Meaning to “Swimming with the Fishes”

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I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!

 

If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane  available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

And The Paper Creeped out the Bottom of the Door

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A very large, very tall, very old 15 passenger van with a wheelchair lift with over 138,000 miles on it is my vehicle. Not my ideal choice, but “it is what it is” as all of our money is allocated elsewhere. (All those cute little kiddos with disabilities grow up to be cute little adults with disabilities who, unfortunately, find it impossible to be able to work. Not that that makes them any less wonderful, enjoyable or successful, it just puts a little extra strain on our family budget.)

In the van on Wednesday, I was enjoying a beautiful, crisp autumn day, with a slight wind moving the branches around for the trees to show off their few remaining colorful leaves just waiting to join their friends on the ground. Contentment filled the van as I hummed while I drove. I didn’t quite do the lovely singing I usually do because I was on a mission for work. (While driving to make home visits is not usually included in my job description, on this day I was helping out a colleague.) Because I am awful with directions, “mapquested” directions lay on the floor next to the driver’s seat.
As the van whisked along on the interstate highway, I noticed that the directions had moved towards the door. Keeping one eye on the road and one eye on the directions, I watched with panic as the papers moved closer to the door…down one of the steps…down the next step…and finally on the third step. It happened in the blink of my eye (the one that was watching the papers!) As I was in heavy traffic, it took a while to maneuver to the side of the road to stop, and the papers inched towards the bottom of the door. (The door gasket had long ago aged out and fallen away, leaving a space at least an inch wide at the bottom.) Panic set in as a piece of paper entered the crack and ever so slowly inched out…it was like seeing my life flash before my eyes, quarter inch by quarter inch, as the paper made its way free out of the opening. It was so surreal it reminded me of a cartoon…person chasing paper in the wind and the paper is always one step ahead, teasingly just a little bit out of reach! I would have laughed, but inside I was sick to my stomach. My directions were gone! The client I was going to be meeting would be sitting, forlorn, at her home, waiting patiently for the me that would never be able to find her house.
But WAIT! There was another paper there, clinging to the bottom step. Maybe I could salvage the final steps of the street directions. By this time, the van was safely stopped by the side of the road and I flung myself out of the driver’s seat onto the floor of the van to look down the stairwell. On my knees looking down, almost crying with happiness, I grabbed that one precious piece of paper…it included the final steps to get to the client’s home. I would be able to find her! I would make that visit! I was soooooo happy!

While in the scheme of things, losing mapquested directions would not be the end of the world, in retrospect it symbolizes the constant struggles one has when raising children with disabilities. There are often solutions to their problems, but they are flighty and hard to come by. Sometimes they flip through our fingers through no fault of our own and we are left in a slight panic, (sometimes a huge panic…) Fortunately for me, I have always found that last page to my mapquested directions, just enough to make life work out. Just enough to relieve my panic and restore the happiness in my heart. Such is the ups and downs in life…

Under the “Dome of Silence”

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I am really dating myself, but my favorite tv show to watch when I was a child was “Get Smart”, a spy spoof where Maxwell Smart comedically played an agent who always “got his man”, even when he didn’t know how he did it! I relate so well to Maxwell Smart and his “methods”, because my life is been pretty much the same!
But their infamous concept, the “Dome of Silence” flittered through my mind recently in an unpleasant way, a way that made me change my thoughts in a major way.
My daughter, Marie, who is deaf, has been hospitalized again. For parents of children with severe psychiatric disorders, y’all know that hospitalizations are a recurrent theme, no matter how well a child seems to be doing. Life with such a child is full of peaks and valleys, and sometimes the valleys need a tune up. As conscientious parents, we probably all play the same game…do we visit every day? Do we bring food and drinks? Games? Puzzles? In other words, do we turn each hospitalization into a reward for being there?
My brother’s schizophrenia emerged when he was just emerging himself into young adulthood at the age of 18. This was a surprise disability on top of his already existing developmental, vision and hearing disabilities. As my parents aged, he eventually lived in a wonderful group home, but HE also needed “tune ups” in a psychiatric hospital, generally after an incident where the aliens told him to walk ten miles to the train station, or throw himself against the wall as punishment for some unknown offense. These hospitalizations were regular, and each and every time my mom would visit every day, bringing with her his favorite desserts, or a milk shake or ice cream sundae. Her heart ached to see him in the hospital so often, so she would sit there for hours with him, holding his hand or rubbing his back. It made her feel better to visit with him, and it made him feel better also. In fact, it made him feel so much better that the frequency of his “tune ups” increased. I learned as a young adult that being in a psychiatric hospital should not be rewarded with food and puzzles, or even with visitation every day.
I have tempered my need to mother my daughter with the need not to make inpatient hospitalizations seem better than the residential school in which she lives. Following my own instincts, which were reinforced by Marie’s social worker and psychiatrist, I have limited my visits. Yesterday, however, I changed my mind.
The hospitals have all been wonderful at providing ASL interpreters for at least 12 hours a day, which facilitates her conversations with nurses, social workers, unit workers and her psychiatrist. Marie does not, however, want to utilize the interpreter in conversations with other children. She tries to fit in with them, but does not understand what they are saying or laughing at. Being somewhat paranoid, (aren’t all teenagers?) she suspects they are laughing at her. She tries to join in, and they may include her for a few minutes, but soon the conversation continues over her head, and the children are once again laughing and joking and not including her. As I was leaving yesterday I witnessed this happening, saw the look of sadness in Marie’s eyes and noticed that she was holding back tears so as not to further embarrass herself in front of the other children. She looked so alone, and in reality she was. The other children were under a “Dome of Silence”. She could see them talking, gesturing and laughing, but could not hear or understand what they were saying. I don’t know why this obscure reference came to mind, but it did, and the visualization of it has changed my way of thinking. I realized that her isolation from others trumps the need not to reward her for being in the hospital. Nothing in the hospital could be a reward for her, as she is not part of the community as she is in her school. If anything, one would think she would be so adverse to being in the hospital that she would do anything in her power not to be hospitalized. Ah, the irony of that nostalgic “Dome of Silence.” I think I will visit for a few hours today and bring her a milkshake. We will sit there and “talk” in ASL and I will hold her hand like my mother did with my brother. She will no longer be sad and isolated, at least not during my visit…

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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/

But She was Just Talking to Her!!

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My job includes coordinating both a summer and winter program for children who are blind and visually impaired.  Last winter our lovely little group of about 40 went to an indoor water park during February vacation. If you have never been to an indoor (or outdoor for that matter) water park, you are missing one of life’s most wonderful playgrounds with water slides for all ages and skills. My age may indicate I could manage the “black hole”, but my skill kept me in the kiddie area!  (Ohhhhh!  The KITTIE pool again!!!)   Lounging in the lazy river on a double tube was a great way for staff to keep an eye on their child without letting them float gleefully away amongst the throng of people enjoying the current. A huge water playground centered the park, with slides and little pools and tons of water play, including the huge bucket of water atop the structure.  Every so often, the bucket, filled with water, would tip over and the torrential water would come gushing down, soaking everyone as though…..well….as though a bucket of water was dropped on their heads. Because my daughter, Marie, was also on school vacation and she joined us, I chose this particular water park because it featured a surfing pool.  Marie LOVES to “surf”, and on every other occasion we have come to this facility she has spent the entire day doing so, waiting, nose pressed against the glass, at the door first thing in the morning to come in, and being the last one for the security guard to throw out at closing time.going to this water park.

My big surprise was that Marie wanted to help out a group of younger girls who are blind.  The girls had staff who amicably allowed Marie to join their group. Despite the fact that she normally communicates in American Sign Language, she somehow managed to be very sociable and get along well with everyone. Having such a strong love for “surfing”, my expectation was she would help for a little while, but spend most of her time surfing. Surprise of surprises!!!!  My wonderful daughter did not choose her own activity, but spent all of her time with the little girls, helping them on the slides, doing the “sighted guide technique” to maneuver around the crowded park, showing them where the food was on their plates, (using the clock method,) and so forth.  Marie was having a grand time, and the girls all seemed to adore her.

On the last night of this program. Marie was seated in the booth at the restaurant with two of the girls and their staff.  One of the girls all of a sudden started waving her hands wildly in the air, not just once, but she kept going! Prone to seizures, the medic ran over and asked her if she was okay.  Of COURSE she was okay, she said, she was just TALKING to Marie!!  The laughter started at their table and  soon circled around the room as everyone realized what she had said…she was signing to her, of course!!!!

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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 Didn’t Know Cats Like to Swim…

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Because my youngest daughter, who is deaf, goes to school out of state, I sometimes rent a hotel room for myself, my oldest daughter and her son, Alley (Alejandro) to visit together.  Last weekend was one such weekend.  I love to see the interaction of the three of them, Dinora signing in ASL to Marie and Alley trying to copy the signs with his small hands.  (He explains that Marie can’t talk because her ears are broken, so she has to use her hands…)  His favorite sign, “swimming”,  is used often because he wants them to spend all of their time together in the hotel pool.  It was during one of their swims, while I was sitting in the lounge chair by the pool, sipping a nice tall plastic cup of Diet Coke, and smiling while the three of them frolicked, that I was overwhelmed with a feeling of joy in my heart. They were beaming with laughter and exuding a happiness that one could not overlook…a deep, profound happiness which doesn’t often come to Marie. Seeing her eyes glint with laughter, tears stung at the back of my eyes, then slowly slipped down my cheeks.  To think that a child who had been so severely abused as she could come through all of that darkness and  despair to ultimately be able to experience such joy made my heart want to explode with love for the three of them.  I could not remember ever having been so content in my life, but my reverie was soon disturbed, but not unpleasantly…

My tears of joy were soon replaced by tears of laughter.  Alley came out of the pool and looked around…  “Where’s the cat pool?” he asked.  “The CAT pool?  There is no cat pool!” I replied.  “Yes! Yes!  In hotels there are sometimes CAT pools!” he argued, frustrated that I could not understand what he was asking. “You know, the pool for the kitties.”     Ah!  The KIDDY POOL!

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To read about Marie’s early childhood, 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/

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother

I led a very untraditional lifestyle when I was growing up.  My father, whom I later realized was schizophrenic, had the wanderlust to travel, which our family did for about 6 months of the year. He would remove me out of school and we would take off for various areas of the country, living in our Volkswagen van. ( Although I am sure that today’s public education system would not allow it, somehow I think my father would have taken me out anyway.)

It was quite an adventure for a child like me.  I have a vivid memory of cracking eggs in a big, black, iron frying pan over a campfire in the Badlands in South Dakota.  The rocks the pan was on were not sturdy, and the pan fell sideways with the eggs slowly leaking out onto the pine needles on the ground.  (Clumsy then…still clumsy.) I remember traveling in southern Georgia, driving for miles watching red clay cover everything…the houses, the cars, and even the clothes hanging on the lines.  It was at the beginning of the civil rights movement, and I was uneducated in this area, (probably because I didn’t go to school!) The whole concept of a bathroom for “whites only” was a shock to me.  Did that mean that only people wearing white clothes could use it?  (I’m picturing nurses, dentists, pharmacists…)  I couldn’t use it because I had on my only pair of pants, jeans, and a multi-colored t-shirt. But I had to go to the bathroom baaaaad, where would I go?  Behind the bushes? How degrading!  My misunderstanding of this concept is now a slight reminder of what it felt like be African American in the 60’s. I also have the memory of  a bear at Yellowstone Park coming onto our campsite to eat our dinner as we all huddled in the car. My brother, Curtis, was upset because he had left a package of Cracker Jacks on the picnic table.  We had to restrain him from leaping out of the car to get it.  Afterwards, I was not so keen to sit by the campfire…

But most of all, I remember my constant companion; Curtis.  He was four years younger than I was, and he had been born with Rubella Syndrome; developmentally delayed, cleft palate, legally blind, and severely hearing impaired.  He was my buddy.  Because my dad was extremely frugal, (ie obsessive compulsive disorder frugal,) I did not have many toys to play with.  So, in addition to reading a lot, I played in our surroundings with my brother.  I have a memory of  sitting by a stream, sun shining down on the water through the leaves on the trees. Curtis was happily splashing about in the shallow water.  I was looking for rocks that somewhat resembled people.  (They were no Barbie dolls, but some kind of looked like Alfred Hitchcock and Potato Head.) All of a sudden I heard a whoooooosh!  Curtis had ventured too far into the water and the current started to carry him downstream!  Fortunately, I had long, slim legs (in those days,) and with a few strides, I picked him up by the back of his pants. He was laughing heartily.  To him it was a real adventure.  Like the poor person’s substitute for a ride at Disneyland!

We actually had a lovely childhood together. I had to carry him everywhere because he could not walk sturdily.  Carrying him was just a natural way of life for me.  I don’t know why, but I never thought to be embarrassed by him, (although his screeching and attempt at speech WAS pretty scary).  I never ever thought of him as a burden.  He was just my buddy, Curtis.

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My parents rarely took pictures.  (The money thing again…) But I do remember ONE picture.  It was a picture of me and Curtis, standing in front of Mount Rushmore.  I was characteristically giving him a piggy back ride.  The photo shows Curtis, looking over my shoulder, eyes squinted shut by the glare of the sun.  I was wearing a stupid, treasured, red velvet derby hat, (you know, like jockeys wear.) As the dead presidents loomed behind us, I gave my characteristically stupid, toothy grin, (like all children do when their parents ask them to smile.) And on that day, I first heard the song from Neil Diamond which fit my sentiments exactly: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.  It was a powerful moment to think that someone had put into words what my life was like.

I was so very lucky to have been raised the way I was because it formed my personality, my temperament, and my compassion for others. I personally cannot take credit for the way I live now, fostering and adopting children. I am not selfless, nor amazing, nor wonderful, nor any of the other adjectives readers have used to describe me. I am simply living my life the way I was raised and it is a wonderful life!

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Link to my book  The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

 

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy,he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell

performed by Neil Diamond in 1970

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

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