Archive for the ‘Children’ 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.

 

Little Red Convertible

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Our family has the unfortunate dilemma of having all three of our cars disabled. (Children with disabilities I can handle, cars, not so much…) Hubby purchased a new (used) work van, but due some out of state issues, he is unable to register it, so his brother’s work truck has been a handy loaner. Angel, like so many other high school graduates when they get their first, real job, purchased an newish SUV, envisioning driving on the beach and sloshing through the mud puddles rather than the reality of driving in traffic on Route 95 every day, (although he did get some sloshing in during the road construction during the rain.) The transmission on that car just ceased to work; would happily drive it anywhere in reverse, but stubbornly refused to move forward. My car of necessity had been the resurrected old family van, which recently decided it outlived its purpose, refused to run at all, and is cost prohibitive to fix. Angel has the pleasure of driving a rental from the dealer where his car is being fixed, whereas the dealer of our van is long gone and probably dead. No help there!

Having hubby give me a ride is as frustrating for me as for him. “Time to go,” he announces 15 minutes before it is actually time to go. While I am standing there in the bathroom in my underwear, he goes out to the car, starts it, and beeps the horn every 10 seconds. If anyone wonders why I have been arriving to work disheveled, hair not coifed, face not glamored with make up, and mismatching socks, blame hubby.

Not having a car to go out to lunch with is a huge imposition and detrimental to my job. While I love my work and the people with whom I work, going out to for lunch to Wendy’s or Panera Bread allows me time to relax and regenerate my work ethic. Currently, by 3:00 in the afternoon after working 7 straight hours on serious matters, my brain is fuzzy and my motivation weakened. (Having lunch in the office always results in my getting pulled into some crisis, to which I can’t possibly say “no”.) How I long to be able to go out to lunch to get that much needed break!

Then there are the times I forget I don’t have a car. I readily agree to attend meetings and do favors for others, only to be embarrassed later to proclaim I can’t because the van is dead. If there is no Diet Coke or microwave popcorn in the house, the store is out of range and I must unfairly suffer.

However, not having a car enables me to daydream about what type of car would fit into my life now. Teenage life, (with my first job) saw me driving an MG convertible; fun, awesome, 2-person car, top down in the summer, wind blowing through my hair, and sunshine on my face. That lasted until marriage, which necessitated a family mini-van. As our family grew, (and grew) only a 9-passenger van would do, the very same van that now sits useless in our driveway. At this stage, after working hard and mothering most of my adult life, the possibility awaits for a return to a fun car like was driven in my teen years. Noticing so many “older” individuals driving little sports cars, at first I scoffed, thinking they are trying to reclaim their youth, unaccepting of the fact that they are now “old”. Then the realization hit that they have lived their lives and have earned the right to drive a fun car more than a person just starting out in life. The possibility that it might be my time to pick out my own, cute, fun little car is enthralling. Suddenly, having no car is exciting! The possibilities are endless! Little red convertible, here I come!

 

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

 

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.

 

Luck? Fate? or Something Else?

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I am a Diet Coke fanatic.  (Before people start telling me that it isn’t healthy for me, I have to admit that it is stress relief to take a long, satisfying sip of an ice cold soda. It might not be healthy, but it has kept me alive and perky!) Being very short on money lately, and exhausted from working a long day, visions of Diet Coke floated in the air. While fishing out a one-dollar bill that desperately clung to life in the bottom of my purse, the van automatically found its way to the convenience store where a humongous drink of Diet Coke awaited me. I put my giant cup under the spigot and filled it to the brim, excited at the prospect of getting such a delight for only 89 cents! Looking up, the large soda sign smacked me in the face; this was not an “all sizes pay same price” kind of store, and a large soda was $1.49! My heart skipped a beat and actual tears of disappointment filled my eyes when I realized I didn’t have enough money to pay. At just that point, the store owner, half my age, struck up a conversation. “That’s a mighty big van out there, must be difficult for you to drive,” he said. “I have five kiddos and it fits our whole family,” I answered with my back to him, still contemplating my payment dilemma. “God bless you!” he said, “The drink is on me!” I turned around and smiled excitedly, thanking him. He could not have understood how much that gesture was such a blessing!

The truth is, our family car situation has been difficult lately.  My Acura ceased to function several weeks ago, and my husband’s work van, 17 years old, also died.  We had to resurrect our old, 12 passenger family van, switching a couple of bald tires off with newer tires from his work van.  Driving the rickety monstrosity was a challenge for me. It wobbled terribly, and I had to grip the steering wheel with 2 hands. I complained to hubby who brushed it off as being “old, what did I expect?” I drove it back and forth to work Monday and Tuesday, still cursing the challenging drive.  Tuesday eve, Steven called me frantically. A friend’s car had broken down near the Providence Place Mall, could I come pick them up? Annoyed about having to drive to Providence after working all day, I climbed into the van to begin the arduous task of maneuvering the eyesore onto the highway.  With the van waving back and forth, I had difficulty keeping it in one lane, but finally reached Steven and pulled to the side of the road near him.  His eyes bugged out as he ran to the back of the van. “Your TIRE is almost off!” he shouted, showing me where one lone lug nut, ready to fall off, had been holding it on. Just as he said that, the lug nut fell to the ground, rolled away and the tire fell sideways onto the ground!  I shrieked in horror and felt like vomiting when I realized what that meant; I had been driving it for 3 days with the tire ready to fall off! (It was Steven and his ADHD that changed the tires…I suspect he got distracted somehow and never finished putting that tire on correctly.) I not only had driven it for 3 days, but I managed to drive it ON THE HIGHWAY at a HIGH RATE OF SPEED to get to Steven. How lucky was I that is didn’t fall off while driving where not only I could have been killed, but I could have killed someone else? I shuddered with realization. It seemed like fate! Or luck? Or something else?

The Diet Coke and loose tire incidents may seem unrelated, but to me, both are an affirmation that luck does not come into play.  I like to think it was Divine intervention, a thought both heartwarming and reassuring.  A thought that always makes me smile…and so far has kept me alive!

 

Loosey Goosey with Einstein Hair

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     My body has not quite agreed with my no stress policy on life as the muscles in the back of my shoulder had started ache.  When I grit my teeth, the pain would shoot from my jaw down to my shoulder blade.) I thought this might be a good time to try a massage, something which I have always wanted but for which there was never an actual need.      

     With a Groupon coupon clutched firmly in my hand, I made my way through the front door of the Chinese spa. Chinese decorations and symbols adorned the walls, a gold and red cat with a wagging paw sat on the counter, and a petite woman in a kimono greeted me in words I could not quite understand.  With the coupon in her hand, I was reassured that she knew what I wanted; a deep tissue massage!

     Led into a small, dimly lit private room, a comfy massage table awaited me. I considered which end of the table to get on; one end had a place I later learned was for my face and the other end had a rolled towel which could loosely be construed as a pillow.  I took off my clothes, careful to leave my underwear on.  (My bra had to come off because fixing the muscle pain on my shoulder would be hindered by the strap.)  I sat in the middle of the bed, legs dangling off the side, sheet wrapped tightly around my body, awaiting the instructions the massage specialist would give me.  Another petite woman, she motioned toward the end of the table without the towel and I started to lay on my back with my head falling backwards.  She giggled a little, then motioned for me to turn over on my stomach.  OH!  So THAT’s how it works!

     It is incomprehensible to me how a woman with such tiny hands could invoke such muscle pain on me.  Every spot she touched hurt, but her delicate fingers kneaded the pain away.  It was both an excruciating and relaxing experience all at once.  When she finished with the bulk of my body, she pulled out my arm to massage.  “Reacts” she kept telling me, (which I proudly interpreted to mean “relax.”) As much as she tried to shake out my hand, my fingers remained stiffened as a board.  She giggled again, and after much coaxing on her part, my fingers finally loosened a little with the ends of them bent down into a claw shape. That was as close to relaxing my hand I was going to get!

     My favorite part was when she massaged my neck and head.  How I loved the feel of her fingers raking through my hair; firmly, therapeutically, amazingly! I knew that the oil she had on her hands would affect my hairstyle, but my mind was beyond rationalization at that point, enjoying the experience. I was disappointed when she stopped and left the room, saying something to me on the way out.  I thought the massage was over, so I stood up, naked, to get my clothes on.  Both of us screamed when she came back into the room!  She covered her mouth with one hand and squeezed her eyes shut, keeping a firm grip on the basket of hot rocks she was holding in her other hand.  “I thought it was over!” I told her as she sweetly said “no, no!” Climbing back on the table, she completed the massage with hot stones, stones so hot they seemed to burn my back through the sheet material and I wondered how she could possibly hold them in her tender, gentle hands. But, OH what a wonderful feeling, loosened muscles and warmth on my back.  It was a joyful experience! It was an experience for which I had waited my whole life!

      When she was finished, she clearly said “Bye bye” and we both giggled, knowing that it actually was time to get up and get dressed.  My limbs were floppy and lose as I awkwardly put my clothes on. I walked out of that room euphorically with a goofy smile on my face, all loosey goosey with my hair sticking out straight looking like Einstein’s.  I was so relaxed I didn’t even care!   

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.

A Cautionary Tale about Halloween Costumes

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For some reason, one of my children’s favorite holidays is Halloween. When discussing shared custody of his toddler daughter, my son, Steven, listed Halloween as the most important holiday. Christmas…ah…he can be flexible. Thanksgiving….not all that important. Fourth of July? Just another summer day. (Of course, the fact that with his Asperger’s he is naturally aversive to the larger celebrations does come into play here.)

Steven, being the obsessive reptile expert that he is, always dressed like Steve Irwin, the famous crocodile hunter, for Halloween. Crouching down near the doors of the expectant candy deliverers, he could be heard saying “Aye! Ain’t she a beaut!” while poking at a snake (stuffed), just like his television idol. His plan this year is to again dress like Steve Irwin and to dress his precious daughter up as a crocodile, once again proclaiming, “Aye, Ain’t she a beaut!” at each home. He is excited to be able to share this pleasant childhood memory with HIS child.

Having five children and many foster children, I was always on the look out for Halloween costumes on sale at deep discounts after the holiday. I hit the jackpot at Toys r Us one year when I found an adult sized chicken costume, complete with feathers, sizable full head mask with a plume on top, suitably lifelike feet and feather-like gloves. The price was 90% off. What a find! Excitement welled up in me as I thought about the next Halloween and one of my children wearing the amazing outfit.

As it does every October, Halloween rolled around again, and the costume was perfect for Francis, my oldest son, who was very, very tall at the age of 10. He wanted a silly, popular costume like Spiderman, but I talked him into wearing the chicken costume, a really GOOD costume. He was afraid people would think he was Big Bird, a humiliating costume for a 10 year old. I assured him it looked NOTHING like Big Bird.

Of course, I was completely wrong. At each and every door, the candy presenter would exclaim, “Oh, LOOK! It’s BIG BIRD!” and they would laugh at the amazement of such an elaborate costume. Francis, of course, did not laugh. At each and every door, he would turn around to look and stare at me through the beady little eyes of the chicken mask. His steely stare said it all. He was humiliated and it was my fault!

I learned valuable lessons that day. Just because something is on sale at a deep discount does not mean I have to buy it. And maybe, just maybe, those silly, popular costumes of Spiderman may be what my child wants to wear, which doesn’t make them silly at all!

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

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