Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

Made it Easy on Myself

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A secret was all mine until the news media this year touted it as a “thing”. Years ago, my teenage children would brave the cold and sit outside of Target or Best Buy at 2:00 am on the night of Thanksgiving, waiting for the stores to open early on “Black Friday”. Comradeship galore, they would toast with pumpkin spice Dunkin Donuts coffee, share cookies and sit snuggled under extra blankets in rickety, old, webbed camp chairs. It was an annual social occasion not to be missed. I distinctly remember my son joyously coming home with a television at a 75% discount from Best Buy. (No, it was not a present. He chose to keep it to himself, but the savings was still impressive!) He and his friends chose to shop on Black Friday to get the best price reductions, and no number of aggressive, pushy shoppers or hours long lines to the cash register were going to deter them. Personally, I knew that the same bargains were available on-line, even items that were limited in number in the stores. If a store had a super duper extra inexpensive price and only a few of the items available for purchase, the news would broadcast the pushes, shoves and trampling of shoppers to get to the few treasures available, until the stores wised up and started to pass out numbers outside to those waiting line. However, every Black Friday I could quietly and daintily order these same items all with the push of a button; “add to cart”. I would sit happily at my computer, sipping spiced tea, and gleefully order all of the preselected items, the best from the best at the cheapest of the cheapest, advertised in the Thanksgiving newspaper. This past Black Friday was no different, except for the fact I was no longer a clever pioneer, just part of the general public, ordering on-line, as highlighted by the news.

Christmas is always a hectic time of year, especially with children. We have a very large family of five children and four grandchildren. Each of hubby’s sister and brothers has children of his/her own, and, as we have aged, great- nieces and great-nephews have joined the fold. That is what makes Black Friday a big, fun economic puzzle, searching amidst the bargains for a present for each person. Shopping for Christmas used to be spread out over the entire month of December, and I would often purchase a gift forgetting something different had already been bought. By buying everything on the same day, it was easy to keep track, and even easier to guarantee each item was at its lowest price. Whoopee! Diet coke, popped corn, and Christmas Carols, soon replaced morning tea as my shopping continued in earnest. In the spirit of the holiday, good presents were ordered on that day instead of spending a month trying to find “the best”. (I learned a long time ago that my perception of the best might not necessarily be the best to the gift receiver, so I lightened up on myself.)

At the end of the day, my credit card was put away and my tired typing fingers rested. Pleased with my purchases, I smiled to myself with success. Wrapping paper and name tags sit by the front door so each gift can be wrapped as it arrives and placed in a spare room.

As I sit here, heart aglow with cheer for the coming holidays, my advice is simple; be kind to yourself, whatever holiday you practice. “Perfection” is a stressful state of mind. Good is good, and be confident in that. Relax. After all, holidays are meant to be enjoyed!

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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!

 

Come On, Friend!

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One of the joys of being a grandparent is spending fun time with my grandchildren. Sometimes on Saturdays my granddaughter, Rose, and I go to the Play Place at Burger King. She has so much energy that the climbing, jumping, crawling, swinging, hiding and chasing meets her activity level head on. However, the most amazing behavior coming from this innocent little tot is her ability to consider everyone her friend.

Rose, whose speech is delayed, is very large for her age of three, chunky and sturdy, but not overweight. She has a head of wild, curly hair that overwhelms her face. When other children talk to her, she cannot answer questions about her name, how old she is, or other ordinary questions children ask. Instead, she will gleefully look them in the eye, motion to them, and say, “Come on, friend,” as they inevitably run off to play together.

Rose adjusts her behavior to the age and temperament of her friends. Older boys, who would not generally want to play with a toddler, will play “tag” with her, thinking they can outrun her. Giggling, she runs beyond their speed limits with her long legs, chasing them into a corner where she tags them, and she steps back so they can run off and the game can begin again.

If Rose is playing with someone smaller than herself, her whole demeanor changes. She smiles and gently motions them along, skillfully helping them up to the next level, patting them soothingly on the back, and encouraging them with “Come on, friend.”

Rose has the most fun playing with someone her own size. They generally take turns playing “follow the leader”. Laughter streams from the Play Place as everyone is having fun.

Rose does not discriminate between friends, and merrily plays with anyone. One day a boy with obvious ADHD was running, skipping and jumping in a disorganized manner throughout the play area. Rose joined him, step by step, copying the same things he did, laughing uproariously.

Another day, an older girl who was non-verbal with an obvious developmental delay, became her friend. Rose joined her, playing on the outskirts. She copied her; jumping and twirling like her new friend. Every now and then, this girl would make a pleasant noise and Rose would repeat it in a singsong manner, taking her friend’s hand and saying, “Come on, friend,” as they did their dance.

Anytime one of her playmates leaves, Rose runs over to wave and say “Bye, friend,” then looks around for another friend to call her own. If no other children are in the Play Place, she will come and sit with me to have a drink of water and relax a little bit. Sometimes she will stand up and look into the Burger King dining room to see if any potential friends are eating their lunch. “Friends?” she says quizzically, putting both hands up in asking the question. As soon as another child enters the play area, Rose jumps up, runs to them, pats the child on the back saying, “Hi, friend!” as they go off to play.

This past Saturday, I heard screaming coming from the upper level of the play area. Not screaming as though she were hurt, but screeching that affected everyone’s eardrums. The boy with her was screaming also, in unison. Standing on my tiptoes, I saw the boy hit Rose, and Rose hit him back. This screaming and hitting went back and forth a few times before Rose heard me calling her to come down. Generally obedient, Rose was soon by my side where I reminded her that she should not hit or scream. She looked at me with her innocent, big brown eyes, pointed up and said “Friend?” who had continued screaming while his dad sat nearby and played on his cell phone. Reinforcing my rule for Rose that SHE could NOT scream or hit or we would leave, she wasted no time in darting her eyes around the room to find another friend, and soon ran off to play with someone else.

I learned two very important life lessons from Rose that day. She could learn proper behavior, and choose not to engage in misbehavior, even if it was hilarious fun for her at the time. More importantly, she was accepting of all children, and modified her behavior to deal with their differences. What a wonderful society we would have if we all could accommodate those different than ourselves; not just “accepting” them, but actively interacting with them and providing a positive relationship.

Come on, friends, we wait to greet you!

Time Flies in New Hampshire

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We went to New Hampshire a lot when the children were younger, staying in a tent and sitting around a blazing fire, roasting marshmallows and laughing. I loved poking at the fire, which I favored when traveling with my family. Finding a big “poking stick” was mandatory, a green one so the wood wouldn’t burn too fast.

Francis and Dinora were fine with a tent, but when Steven and another foster baby or two joined our family, we had to move up to renting a small “cabin in the woods”. We had tried tent camping with Steven, who displayed symptoms of ADHD from the moment he started to walk. A campsite was too inviting for him, and we spent the entire time chasing him from among and in the trees. Either that, or he would sit motionless, fascinated at wildlife, watching an ant hill for hours on end.

Our conquests of nature were invigorating. To see Ellis Falls, we had a spirited hike down into the woods to view the magnificent wall of falling water, sunlight brightly sprinkling off the cascade. Hiking back up was just enough to make us “feel the burn”. Even though it was a short distance, to us it simulated a hike up a long mountain, including the sense of euphoria when we reached the apex, (the parking lot with our car.)

The children liked Lower Falls best, an area where the water gushed over large rocks, smooth from the years of abrasion. It was fun to crawl among the rocks, often falling into the river, a cold and a welcome respite from the warm sun. When the children aged, they dared fate by sliding down the natural water slide into a small pool of water at the bottom. Hubby and I would bring a cooler of lunch and sit in webbed lawn chairs on the side, closely watching the antics of the children. Steven especially loved this area, as there were many potential wildlife attractions to keep his attention. One year, we hit it right at pollywog season, and Steven and his net were kept busy all day catching the amazing little squiggles of black, (which were, of course, set free before we left.)

We would often take the children out into the lake in our small motorboat. They would go tubing off the end, as Hubby would drive the boat back and forth forcing the tube to repeatedly cross over the wake. They would fish; catching huge, squirmy, samples of fish, which would be released back into the water. It was so funny if they caught a similar fish, thinking it was the same one, as though the bounty of fish in the water sat by just so that the worm could trick that same fish again. There was a small island where our boat would stop and tie up, allowing the children to enjoy a huge rope swing which would send them flying into the water. Joyous fun would be had by all.

The years have gone by and last weekend Marie came along to NH. Did she want to go out on the boat, go fishing, catch frogs from the nearby pond, or swim in the lake? No. Her choice, as was ours, was to lounge around and watch old DVDs. She and hubby especially like The Three Stooges as their brand of slapstick humor requires no ASL interpretation. I never heard so much laughter as last weekend, including a chuckle or two from myself. Then, having withdrawal from Wi Fi and “talking” to her friends, we drove Marie to Starbucks where she could order a smoothie and use the free Wi Fi while sitting in a comfy chair. As we drove away and left her there to go grocery shopping, I had a strong urge to join her instead of schlepping things around the grocery store. Keeping Hubby in mind, however, I was reluctant to say anything, knowing that he would be hurt if I chose Wi Fi over spending time picking out the gourmet ingredients he would use to prepare meals.

We were too lazy to start a fire at night, using the excuse that the mosquitoes would be awful and who wanted to put on the foul smelling spray to keep them away? Instead, we watched more Three Stooges and ate s’mores made in the microwave. Ah…New Hampshire never fails to entertain us. What a great family weekend!

 

Try a Sip of Greasy Wine

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My usual low level of frustration has been tested this week. Anyone who has an adult child with disabilities can understand fully the parenting that goes beyond the age of eighteen. Steven, my wildly impulsive, curly haired son, who was born addicted to heroin and cocaine to a mom with severe mental health issues, has a brain that does not function quite right, especially in the responsibility and common sense areas. His highly valued license was suspended last year for failure to pay for a ticket. After many prompts, in January I led him to the Licensing Board to pay the fine. He then had to take this paper to the DMV to get his license reinstated. He went at least eight times, both when I took him and when he ventured into the crowds himself alone. The fact is, he does not have the ability to sit still or wait for more than 10 minutes before getting agitated, so he had been unable to get his license back. The DMV has wonderful accommodations for individuals with physical disabilities, but wouldn’t it be great if there were a quicker line for those with severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The only incentive for Steven to delve back into the commotion of DMV came when a police officer pulled him over and dispensed a ticket for driving without a license. Off he went back there, late in the day, to get his license. (He was quite excited that he only had to wait 30 minutes, but because the facility was closing shortly, the workers were all working at warp speed to be able to get out of work on time.)   The most frustrating news came in the mail today; a notice that his license is suspended again because he did not pay the most recent ticket…

My son, Angel, seems to be a very good driver, although he is quite fussy about needing to have his car in perfect working and cosmetic shape. Two years ago, he had borrowed my car and, when stopped at a red light, was hit so hard from the back that he was accordianed right into the car in front of him. His injuries were mostly mental, with our insurance having to pay for the damage to the car in front of him, (is THAT fair?) along with the newly instilled fear that he could be killed at any time. My injury was that the insurance only paid for a fraction of what we had paid for this older car, certainly not enough to purchase a reliable car again. It was so frustrating trying to make the best purchase for a minimal amount of money!

About a year later, when he again borrowed my elderly car, the engine literally blew up on him. Again, not his fault. Again, insurance paid a fraction of what we had paid for the car. We searched and searched and found a very old, one owner who only drove it to the church, mint condition car with all of the bells and whistles. (Heated seats! Sunroof! Stereo surround sound!) It was a miracle to be able to purchase such an awesome car for the amount of money we had, and I had truly enjoyed driving it. I say “had enjoyed” because this car, also, has become one of Angel’s victims. This week, while turning with a green light, another car ran a red light and “T-boned” him. He does have some injuries, especially emotional due to this most recent brush with death. My injury is the loss of this “perfect for the money” dream car, the third one in three years. My driveway is again empty.

So last night, trying to squelch my frustration, hubby and I had wine with dinner. I’m not a big drinker, but somehow the occasion called for it. Sitting back sipping it daintily, the ice chips tinkled on my lips. Half of the glass was gone before I noticed an odd, greasy taste. Looking at the ice, what looked like blobs of butter clung to them. Butter? How could that have happened? Hubby’s eyes shot open wide and he ran to the freezer. Because we had corn on the cob the night before, he had put the butter in the freezer, a technique to keep the butter from melting while putting it on the cob. Unfortunately, he had left the butter in the ice tray where it sunk to the bottom of the ice and was ground up to make the greasy ice chips in my wine. I sighed; couldn’t make this stuff up!

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!

 

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.

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