Archive for the ‘ASL’ Category

His or Her Graduation

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My youngest child, Marie, will be graduating from high school at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford this week. When she came to live with us at the age of 7, her wild child behavior was so bad I never thought either of us would live to see this day. But here it is! She surprised me, this child of mine who prefers to look and dress like a boy, for which with her abuse history, her justification has always been “if you look like a girl, someone will hurt you.” She has chosen to wear a dress for graduation, the very same dress she wore uncomfortably as a junior bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding. Even though that was several years ago, she is determined to squeeze every ounce of flesh into the dress. It is fortunate she will also be wearing a graduation gown or I am sure something would get flashed somewhere!

Although she insisted on wearing her work boots with the dress, I convinced her to wear something “less hot because the day will be warm out.” She agreed to a slide on sandal, and I have chosen a pair that could be used by any sex, (once you take the bows off.)

But my choice of shoe for her makes me wonder if I have not totally accepted her for the person she feels to be. I know many parents would have great difficulty understanding if their son or daughter were gay or transgendered. Marie insisted for many years that she was a boy “inside” and even begged her pediatrician to sew a penis on her. He was very sweet with her, and suggested she wait until she was a teenager before discussing that issue again. After much counseling, it was determined she felt that way only out of desire to be safe, to no longer be abused as she had when she was a young child. Being a boy is still a façade she wishes to project, but not one she innately embraces.

Which brings us to the most recent lifelong dilemma; whether she was going to love boys or girls, a discussion SHE initiated one day. She went back and forth on the pros and cons of both. Bravely, taking a deep breath, I mentioned it would be best to love the person she would feel most comfortable having sex with. Her eyes widened. “SEX?” she asked incredibly, with great disgust. “I never want to have sex with ANYONE!” Too funny! I really jumped the gun!

Despite my desire to buy her flip-flops with bows on them, I really WOULD have accepted her decision to wear work boots, or even to have her doctor sew a penis on her if she was truly transgendered. I have survived my life by learning not to get upset over such matters; it wouldn’t change anything and would only draw us apart, possibly ruining our relationship for years to come. I love my daughter too much and will support whatever adult decision she makes. When she is older and still finding her way in the world, she won’t remember the shoes she wore at graduation. But she will remember my unconditional love and support. What more could a parent ask for?

 

Best…day…EVER

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I was fortunate to be chosen to do a presentation at the National Foster Parents Conference in Orlando last week. Sponsored by my employer, two hours were spent educating professionals on the importance of recognizing and treating mental health issues in children as early as possible, including facilitating school support services such as Individual Education Plans. In an attempt to try to prevent additional mental health issues for undiagnosed teens, (such as depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, and eating disorders,) support and services for mental health issues need to start as early in childhood as possible.

In order to be able to socialize with other foster teens, I brought my daughter, Marie, with me, as it also coincided with her birthday. My presentation was well received, and Marie’s time went swimmingly; the teens congregated in the pool for volleyball, basketball and movie night. (They would have also played Marco Polo, but deferred to Marie’s deafness.)

The day after the conference was Marie’s birthday so she got to choose which Theme Park she wanted to go to, The Magic Kingdom. The last time I had been there was 20 years ago when we had a tragic visit with Steven for whom the park was a sensory nightmare. Since that time, and with 5 children, we had never been able to afford a trip back and the conference offered us the perfect opportunity.

Despite the fact it was Memorial Day weekend, one of the busiest days, and a bright and sunny 98 degrees, we had an amazingly awesome day. Marie was like a young child, soooooo excited about the sights. With a broad smile on her face all day, and lots of laughing and pointing at things she found especially funny, we had the BEST DAY EVER! With the use of the Fast Pass, (free) we were able to book the attractions so we generally only had a 5 to 10 minute wait. (It was astonishing to see how many people were willing to wait in the “stand by” line of 2 hours.)

Marie took pictures of EVERYTHING, including each and every country represented in “It’s a Small World”. (Being deaf, she wasn’t affected by the constant repetition of this song, which is cute for a few verses, but by the end of the ride can be almost unbearable.)

It was our lucky day because an ASL interpreter was provided for those attractions where listening was important; Country Bear Jamboree, Jungle Cruise, Monster’s Inc Comedy Show and so forth, making the attractions much more “attractive” to Marie.

In addition to the rides, Marie was super excited to see the Disney characters all over the park; Mickey and Minnie, Goofy, Cinderella and so forth. (She has pictures of each and every one of them.) She wanted to get pictures of the characters from The Incredibles, but they were leading dances in a dance area and people walking into the crowd to take pictures were not allowed. I told her she had to dance her way in, which she scoffed at. However, with the beats of the song flashed in bright lights all around, and desperate to take their pictures, her body started moving to the tune and she danced her way toward them. She soon was able to snap many “incredible” pictures of the characters as they interacted with her. She was so happy that when the dance ended, her body kept dancing, and danced all the way down Main Street.

Nothing was more amazing to her than the nighttime electric parade. It was comical to see her reaction to the brightly lit floats boarded by all of the Disney characters. As the characters waved into the crowd, Marie enthusiastically waved back, as though they were waving directly at her. “Wow! Look at THAT!” she kept signing to me, giggling.

Fireworks topped off the evening. Although Marie has seen fireworks before, none were as spectacular as when seen over the spires of Cinderella’s castle. Splashes and configurations of color decorated the sky. Even Marie went “ooooh! ahhhhh!” along with the crowd, and clapped heartily when they were finished.

On the ride back to the hotel, Marie gave me the biggest hug and kiss. “I am so lucky to have you for my mom. That was the best day of my life. Thank you for adopting me!” she signed. Yes, definitely the best day EVER!

 

Like a Breath of Fresh Air

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I’ve always dreaded the long winter months with all that cold and ice, but noticed recently that if I am dressed in a warm jacket with scarf, hat and gloves, the cold doesn’t seem to be as horribly frigid as remembered.  In fact, as I walked out our front door this morning with a temperature 23 degrees, a healthy dose of brisk air filled my lungs. It was a pleasant surprise.  The frigidity that swelled in my lungs really felt like the proverbial “breath of fresh air.”  It awakened me and I became acutely aware of my in and out breathing, (a technique for stress reduction that had previously eluded my abilities.) With the awareness of the winter chilliness inflating my innards, somehow the weight from the pre-holiday stressors leaked out.

Deep chilly breath in and out…my Thanksgiving turkey may have been dry, but hubby’s awesome smashed potatoes, squash and apple casserole, and pumpkin pie more than made up for it.  Why had I cared about the turkey?  With enough gravy, it was edible!

Deep icy breath in and out…the stress around the Thanksgiving table, with warring factions of children, became a thing of the past. As stressful as it was, there was nothing I could do about it. They are grown children who no longer reflect my beliefs but maintain their own truths and temperaments.  In one way, it is a relief to have them on their own, no longer my responsibility.

Deep arctic breath in and out…driving on Route 2 pre-New Year was an experience in hurry up and wait, and wait, and wait.  (Same experience trying to drive through Apponaug.) In retrospect, I did get to listen to beautiful Christmas music that I wouldn’t have had the time to do otherwise, plus traffic is now back to normal.

Deep frozen breath in and out…digging in the basement for the Christmas tree and decorations hidden under a pile of summer clothes, as well as putting the tree up with a minimal, scattered ornaments with no help from the children was a disappointment, but any reminders of such is now back in the basement, carefully put away to be easy to find next year. Out of sight, out of mind.

Deep bitterly cold breath in and out…buying the perfect gift for each was a concern, but the exhaling of cool, clean air convinced me I had the best of intentions and, in reality, there WAS no “perfect” gift, not one that I could afford anyway!

Deep frosty breath in and out…keeping the house clean through New Year’s Day while my son, his wife and daughter visited from California was a very hard challenge for me, making me anxious with every dropped tissue, spilled milk or spider spotted sitting up near the ceiling.  Pure stress, but throughout it I was still able to appreciate their company and enjoy their visit. Next time we will be going to THEIR house.

As enjoyable as the holidays were, the individual stressors had slowly added up inside me, preventing perfect New Year joy and relaxation. Perhaps I had finally accomplished the ability to use deep breathing as a relaxation technique. This was the first time I appreciated breathing in the frozen wintry weather, but it won’t be the last. On this cold, brisk day of January, that all changed.  It was like a breath of fresh air!

 

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Please consider purchasing my book, The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane.  Thanks!!!!

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!

And I was WORRIED about My Daughter’s First Date; Silly, Silly Me!

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Marie is a teenager who has had her eye on both boys and girls for a possible boyfriend or girlfriend for several years, with no actual luck finding anyone. We had “the” talk a while ago when she asked me if she should like boys or girls. Knowing her proclivity to try to dress like a boy due to her early childhood abuse, I told her that whether she had a boyfriend or a girlfriend would depend on who she wanted to have sex with when she was an adult. SEX? She looked at me in astonishment! She didn’t ever want to have sex with anyone!!!

Even though she vehemently denied ever wanting to get intimate with anyone, I still had a knot in the pit of my stomach when she went off on her first date with a guy she knew from a previous school. She wore her bright orange Kool-Aid guy t-shirt, which I had suggested she change. (She is quite stout, and actually looked like the Kool-Aid guy in that shirt!) She felt she looked fine, taking no interest in looking good for Carl. When he came to pick her up, they easily chatted in sign language, having not seen each other for about 3 years. She told me they were going out to dinner and I asked if she needed any money. She looked at me incredulous. Of COURSE she didn’t need money, Carl was going to pay! I asked them what time they would be home. They looked at each other quizzically and Marie finally signed “11”. And off they went.

Being the opposite of a night owl, I plopped myself on the couch in the living room with lots of caffeinated Diet Coke to keep me awake. Because I don’t have a lot of free time to watch tv, it was nice to enjoy Netflix and The House of Cards. After only an episode and a half, home came Marie! I asked her if she had a good time on her first date. She was non-committal. She said she enjoyed eating dinner and talking to him, but they didn’t know what to do after that and it became boring, so she came home. That’s my girl, Marie!!!!

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The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane
Authored by Linda Petersen
The link to the book:
https://www.createspace.com/5321986?ref=1147694&utm_id=6026

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