Archive for the ‘childhood’ Category

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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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?

 

A Mom is Forever

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    Saturday, I was perusing the bargains at JC Penney’s, picking out a deeply discounted cute grey sweater to ward off the cold while waiting for the spring that I know is supposed to arrive any day now.

     While waiting in the long line, which moved incredibly quickly, I admired the clothes on the counter ready to be purchased. They were in pastel colors, the colors that are supposed to look best on me according to my “color chart”. Of course, I never buy the appropriately colored clothes because the deep discount bargain rack is my go-to shopping place, where pristine, professional looking, pastel colored items are rarely hidden. Thus my wardrobe consists of the browns, the blacks and the grays.

     On the cashier’s counter lay two different colors of pants, a light pastel peach and a business-looking tan. The peach colored sweater had three quarter length sleeves and pearl buttons on the neck and down the front. A matching, sophisticated shirt, obviously of wrinkle-free material had a crisp collar and matching pearl buttons on the sleeve. The clothes screamed success and professionalism, and were obviously not from the bargain rack.

     The woman for whom the clothes were being purchased was about my age, with hair dyed a honey blonde and a middle aged waist holding up a pair of jeans. What struck me most was her relationship with the woman standing next to her. The two of them were giggling conspiratorially, pointing at the clothes with a look of accomplishment, arms gently around each other’s waist. The other woman was much older, with similarly colored hair and body frame. They kissed lightly, among their smiles, and as they walked away with the precious bagged items, they seemed to bounce on air. It struck me that it was a daughter and her mother, with the mother buying her daughter some clothes for her work. As old as the first woman was, her mom still wanted to care for her and buy her the perfect clothes. It was probably a special occasion and they had the pleasure of shopping together to purchase the perfect gift, a joyful adventure for both mom and daughter.

     This scene ignited such an emotional flash back for me that I almost cried out. That could have been my mother and me if she was still alive. For my birthday, she would always take me shopping to buy two wonderful outfits that I would not have been able to afford otherwise. They would be in my perfect colors, and we wouldn’t care if they were on sale or not. We would go out to lunch at local restaurant and share a piece of cheesecake for dessert. It would be a special mother/daughter day, where my mom, eventually in a wheelchair as she aged, would still be my mom, maternally caring for my needs, an emotionally bonding experience for both of us.

     My mom passed away a few years ago. My heart is conflicted with joyous memories along with a deep sadness that hurts my heart. I sit here typing this with tears in my eyes, trying not to let them fall. Mother’s Day this year was especially meaningful. Only now, with her permanent etching upon my soul, do I really appreciate the things she did for me. I wish I could tell her I love her one more time…

 

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

Kindness is Taught at Home

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The above picture is of my 2-year-old granddaughter cleaning a “boo boo” on her dog. She makes sympathetic eye contact with LuLu, calmly positions her nose with her hand, and gently wipes it with a sterile wipe. When she tries to put a band-aid on it, she wonders why it doesn’t stick on the fur like it sticks on her skin, but tries her best to get it to stay. After the dog’s medical care has been completed, she plants a light kiss on the “boo boo”, satisfied at a job well done.

Kindness is a trait best taught at home. Children learn to accept others based on how their parents accept others. If dad complains about “crazy Uncle Joe” and everyone in the family avoids Uncle Joe, they learn to be fearful of people with mental illness. If they see a person in a wheelchair while out on a walk, and their parents cross the street to be on the other side so they don’t have to walk near the wheelchair, it is inherently learned that they should be cautious of such people. Instead, they should walk right up to the person, making eye contact and smiling, commenting on what a great day it is to be out for a walk!

It is only through my fortunate life experience with a brother with multiple disabilities that my children have learned that people like “Uncle Curtis” are different than us, and therefore need understanding and acceptance. Any of them were comfortable with offering a guiding arm to sturdy and guide him to the most comfortable chair in the house and rush off to get him his treasured glass of Diet Coke. Sitting next to him during a meal, they would unabashedly take his plate to cut the food up into tiny pieces for him to be able to swallow. If they couldn’t understand what he was saying, they’d give him a pen and paper to write it down, (although it invariably said “Dite Cook” in his unsteady handwriting.)

A child living with compassion will not be a bully, and hopefully stand up for anyone being bullied. Living with compassion has stayed with my children into their adulthood, and they are now raising their own children to be caring and thoughtful of others, as evidence by my young granddaughter caring for her dog. What a beautiful life!

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To read more about our adventures as a family, please read my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

 

How Do the Blind See a Tree?

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Most people can look up and see a tree.  To a child who is blind or visually impaired, their concept of a tree is the bark they can feel. Their concept of a tree is that it is” rough”.  If they have some vision, they can tell that a tree is brown at its trunk, but “a blob of green” above the trunk.  They could grow up and their whole lives not know what a tree “looks” like.  Expanding such basic knowledge of their world is called expanding the core curriculum. It consists of concepts that are not taught in school, but are still important lessons for that child to learn in order to grow up as an educated adult who is blind.

One topic covered by the nine students, ages six through thirteen, at an April vacation program, was the concept of trees and their differences.  During a nature walk, students found that some trees were so small they could fit their hand around the trunk.  Some trees were so large that it took all nine students holding hands to encircle the trunk. Some trunks were very rough, with deep groves, and some were smooth, with little lines barely traceable by their little fingers.

They learned that evergreen trees stay green all year, and they giggled as they carefully touched the sharp needles. They never knew that trees could be so prickly!  Under the tree, they found the pinecones from which a new tree may grow.

They learned that oak trees, in the spring, have no leaves.  They closely examined the branches of an oak with a few dead leaves still attached, carefully feeling them and making the connection with the leaves they see on the ground in the autumn. Acorns which were still attached to the tree branch were felt with much enthusiasm.  They had collected acorns from the ground underneath the tree, but to actually see it attached seemed to be a surprise. They felt the new buds on the ends of the small branches, buds which would soon bloom into leaves.

Students learned about flowering trees, in full bloom during their springtime visit.  Most students were amazed that a tree could have flowers.  In their minds, trees and flowers were two entirely different things.  But there they were; pink blossoms on the end of a cherry blossom tree branch, gentle, sweet smelling little flowers.

As they were feeling and looking at the trees up close, students were in awe.  So many different types of trees!  And they would not describe a single one of them as “rough” because they were finally able to look beyond the bark.

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(I apologize, it has been a busy summer and this is a repost from 2 years ago.) For more stories about children who are blind, 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

Hotwire is My Hero!

hotel_clipart   I don’t travel very often, but when I need to book a hotel, I use Hotwire.com.  They offer wonderful hotels at a low rate; hotels that have extra rooms that they need to fill up.  The catch is, you do not know the name of the hotel, just the “type” of hotels that are included in each category.  Hotwire has never disappointed me, as they have always provided quality hotels at a greatly discounted price. This past weekend, I was scheduled to do a presentation for a large parents conference held at Perkins School for the Blind, about a two hour drive for me. Because the conference was scheduled to begin at 8:30 am, and I would be reimbursed for my travel expenses, I contacted Hotwire to book a hotel room. The least expensive one listed was $69, which was a real bargain because hotels in and around the Boston area are very pricey. I booked it on line, and awaited the name of the hotel.  It was not a brand name I had ever heard of, so Google checked it out for me.  It was listed as an “elite, boutique hotel”, and the least expensive price listed on their website for a room was $180!  Now, I am definitely NOT elite, and have never visited a boutique before, but for $69 I was going to give it my all! Upon driving up to the hotel’s front door, I learned that valet parking was mandatory. I relinquished my “Best Mom” fake jeweled key chain to the parking attendant, (pardon me…to the VALET.) Politely and without comment, he struggled as I do to climb up into the driver’s seat of my large van, and drove away in my 2002, dented, dirty, 15 passenger with a raised roof and wheelchair lift van.  He parked it right between a Rolls and a Jaguar, and it looked like a large, dirty, cheap piece of coal between 2 diamonds. Even my car was going to get a new experience! The lobby was gorgeous, as are so many in expensive hotels.  Lots of fresh flowers, a water fountain cascaded down the wall, and a lovely tray of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.  Checking in was a pleasurable experience with a tuxedo clad clerk, who offered me a cookie.  (I would have taken one anyway, so the fact that he offered was a bonus, although I would have preferred he offered me 10.) My 6th floor room, with the curtains open, had a breathtaking view of the Boston skyline at night.  The room itself was definitely “boutique”… furniture with trim lines, a wood floor with plush, beautifully designed, throw rugs  that added an elegant, clean look to the room. Because it was late in the day and I was tired, I put on my jammies, brushed my teeth, and climbed under the luxurious, fragrant, CLEAN sheets and comforter. I honestly felt as though I were laying on a cloud. In addition, there were four different types of pillows on the bed so that I could choose the one which would best facilitate a good night’s sleep.  Ahhhhhh…..sleep….on a cloud overlooking the Boston skyline… The modern bathroom had a very large walk-in shower with huge round shower heads pointed in all directions.  In the morning I took a shower, or, should I say, I EXPERIENCED a shower. It was all a new thing for me; hot water flowing over my body from all different angles.  Do people really LIVE like that?  The shampoo was ultra fragrant, with a conditioner and body wash that had complementary fragrances.  (Think orchids, strawberries and oranges…) I felt like a fruit orchard, and it was a very unique feeling! (I guess that is what makes the hotel “boutique”.) As I finished showering and came through the frosted glass door of the shower, I shocked myself when I saw another dripping wet, old, fat, ugly naked woman coming towards me in the room. I screamed.  I shuddered.  I looked closer.  It was ME.  Reflected in the mirrored wall just outside the bathroom.  Although breathing a sigh of relief, I was also filled with horror at the image in front of me.  I don’t know about you, but I NEVER look at myself naked in a full mirror.  Any illusions I may have had about my looks were proven false in that moment.  Oh, well…it’s a good thing I feel beautiful on the INSIDE… After getting over my shock, I dressed and made myself a nice cup of tea with the provided Keurig.  Now THAT is my idea of a boutique hotel…one that provides fresh tea to my liking.  Now, if only I had a few of those chocolate chip cookies from downstairs…         ************************ I would love to come and speak for your group or at your conference.  I would do it for free, but would need the price of travel. For functions in the North East, that would be only gas money. 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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