Archive for the ‘deaf’ 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!

 

Just Like a “Call the Midwife” episode

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For some odd reason, I love the show “Call the Midwife”. Every conceivable scenario for “birthing babies” (obscure reference to “Gone with the Wind”) is explored. For this reason, I will be sharing the birth of my brother.

I got swept into the drama of childbirth at the tender age of four, an early memory that was etched into my tender brain. Several months before my mom was supposed to go to the hospital to get her new baby, my dad ushered both of us into the car, handed me a very large bag of Hershey kisses and dropped me off at my grandparents. My grandparents were not your usual huggy kissy type, but the standoffish, can’t stand kids type. So I sat there alone in their oven of their Floridian sun porch, eating Hershey kisses and watching Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody on their tiny tv. As the chocolate melted, it was imperative to eat them right away, which, of course, I did! Covered in melted chocolate, I was able to enjoy the taste for quite a while afterwards, licking my fingers and scooping up melted spots from my dress.

When mom came home from the hospital, I jumped up and down in excitement to see my new sibling. Mom was not her cheerful self, but managed to open the blanket to show me my new brother. I had never seen a new baby before, so I thought this one just wasn’t done yet. He certainly was tiny! His baby blue eyes were tenderly open, but in the middle of his face was a gaping hole where his nose and mouth should be. Still had to grow in, I thought in my childlike innocence. He had these huge ears that stuck straight out. He was going to be able to hear everything with those ears! He was a fine looking baby!

In my childhood innocence, and before post-partum depression was a diagnosis, it seemed odd that my mother spent all of her time in bed, crying softly. She picked Curtis up to feed him with an eyedropper, but most of the milk dribbled down the side of his mouth spot. Her tears would continue to fall, and I could tell she was upset because he didn’t seem to want to drink the milk. When she laid him down for his long daily naps, he would make mewing noises like a cat. I thought it was cute until learning later that he was crying.

My childhood was turned upside down. My loving, sweet mom changed. There were no more of her tender kisses and words of encouragement. She didn’t want to play games with me, or go for one of our walks around the block. In her place was a stranger.

I was brave and tried to take care of myself, but my heart ached at the loss of my mom. She spent all of her time in bed, sleeping or quietly crying. She continued to try to feed Curtis, but most of the time the milk spilled out and she would put him down again for a nap, where his mewing was heard constantly. Sometimes, when she was asleep, I would pull a chair next to his cradle and unwrap Curtis, letting his tiny fingers hold onto one of mine. I would sing songs my mom sang to me, and sometimes he would stop mewing. Time would go by with me sitting there, stroking his bald head and telling him the story of The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I would be pleased with myself if he would go to sleep and not mew. He looked so peaceful and sweet!

A few weeks after Curtis was born I was sitting in the living room eating out of a cereal box and watching “Lamb Chop”. The sound of the rocking chair in my mom’s room indicated she was again fruitlessly trying to calm Curtis as he mewed. Her room suddenly brightened, as though she had turned on a million lamps. Streams of light spewed out the door of her bedroom into the living room. It was curious and strange, but I was just a kid and saw new things every day, it was no big deal. Returning to watching my favorite lamb puppet sing and dance, I was annoyed that the streams of light made it difficult to a see the tv.

From that time on, the sleeping/crying mom was replaced with my real mom. Carrying Curtis out of her room for the first time, she came over and gave me a kiss and told me she loved me. My own heart softened, and tears started to slide down my cheeks in relief. I had been brave and tried to take care of myself, but having someone else care for me was much preferred.

Mom and I went to the hospital so she could learn how to feed Curtis better. They showed her how to thicken the formula so it would not spill out of his mouth spot. She learned to squeeze little amounts in and wait for him to swallow it. Soon, both Curtis and mom got the hang of it, and he was happily gobbling down the formula. His mewing, which we had become accustomed to, stopped. As weeks went by, he gained weight and I was sure he smiled at me. Of course, it was hard to tell because he had such a strange mouth spot, but his eyes twinkled in such a way that I could tell he was smiling. What a lovely new baby brother!

Fact #1: My brother had been born with Rubella Syndrome, and was hearing impaired, legally blind, severely developmentally delayed and had several physical deformities. He was born this way because when my mother was pregnant, she came in contact with someone who had German Measles. Thankfully, a vaccine was invented to prevent this disease, which can harm more than the carrier.

Fact #2 It was years later that my mom explained what happened that day when the bright light filtered out of her room. She had been rocking mewing Curtis, herself crying and uncharacteristically cursing her life and the life of her deformed, newborn son. Unexpectedly, she was engulfed in an unbelievably bright light that emitted the feeling of unconditional love and encouragement. It washed the sadness out of her, and seemed to tell her everything was going to be all right. She knew it to be a Divine Being, and this experience changed her life, and mine, forever.

 

 

To read the life story of Linda’s sweet brother and Divinely amazing mother, along with her own passion for caring for children with disabilities, please purchase her book; The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane. It is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

With messy hair and an ear to ear grin

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One of my favorite cartoons as a child was The Jetsons. The portrayal of the future was colorful and amazing; cars flew around in the air and people chatted to each other on videophones.  Contemplating the “picture” phone, I shuddered with dismay.  I would NEVER want to talk to anyone on such a device, picturing myself answering with my hair askew, clothes rumpled and dirty dishes in the sink in the background.  If and when it was invented I would never use it, thank you anyway.  My regular phone would do just fine!

Who could have imagined then that one day we would chat on videophones as a normal part of life.  The first time it became significant to me was when my daughter who is deaf went away to school. Using a video monitor, we could chat in American Sign Language, which is SUCH a visual language.  Not only are the hand gestures important, but this special language includes facial and body gestures. For instance, she could sign “school okay”, with a facial grimace and thumbs down sign or with a smile that indicated “okay” was synonymous with “good”. Not to mention the fact that ASL is a visual language that cannot be conducted on a regular phone, and regular mom/daughter conversations would have been impossible. With modern technology, she can call anyone anywhere and an interpreter on her screen would interpret her words for the hearing person she called and sign back what the other person said.  Several times she has ordered pizza from Dominoes in this way, pleased with herself for her independence. She has had the great fortune of using this method for telephone communication during her lifetime.  How much more difficult would it have been had she lived 10, 20 years ago.

The other wonderful advantage of video chatting is being able to be a grandmother to my California son’s 2-year-old daughter.  We have been visiting with her by phone since she was about 6 months old.  I’d sing nursery rhymes and Papa would pretend to tickle her belly.  We were there as she developed, rejoicing in each new little trick she’d learn. When we see them twice a year at Christmas and for her birthday in May, Lailya readily runs into our arms for hugs, sticking her belly out so Papa can tickle it and sitting on my lap so the 3 Little Pigs story can be told in person. After all, she KNEW us because we graced her living room for games and songs every Sunday evening.

With my son being so far away, these visits were also parental support for him. He was very proud to be able to share his daughter with us, beaming with happiness when we told him what a great job he was doing as a dad and what an amazing daughter he has. He would ask our opinion on toilet training and how to get her to eat more vegetables. We were a family and chatting with him made the distance between us immaterial.

Now when I think back to the Jetsons and my aversion to using a video phone because my hair might be messy, I laugh.  Yes, this past Sunday, while singing, talking and laughing with Lailya and Francis, my hair WAS a mess.  I also had on a bathrobe because it was almost time for bed, (due to the 3-hour time difference between us.) With an ear to ear grin, enjoying our granddaughter’s antics, suddenly what we looked like wasn’t important at all.

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!

The Words Every Adoptive Mom Longs to Hear…

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Like most other adoptive parents, I adopted children because I, selfishly, wanted children. (My theory was if I had children to care for, I really didn’t have a lot of extra time to clean the house. I would rather care for a child than mop the floor…) An adoptive parent should never think their child who is adopted is beholden to them. The child didn’t choose to be born into their circumstances, and they certainly didn’t ask to be adopted. And I have had more than my share of emotionally unstable children, (aren’t all teenagers unstable anyway?) and never expected them to be happy about my choice to adopt them, (or at least not to express that feeling.)

But I was wrong. I went to Marie’s award ceremony at school today. Most parents didn’t go, it was during the day and I’m sure it was hard for them to get off work. It was hard for me to get off work, too, and I will have to work on the weekend to make up for it, but I went because I wanted to support Marie, who had been doing phenomenally in school. Marie didn’t know I was coming, and she was sooooooooo excited! She ran over, gave me a big, wet, on the lips kiss, and put her head on my shoulder while she hugged me tightly. She was genuinely happy to see me, (and not just because she knew I would take her out for ice cream after the ceremony.) She dragged me to all of her friends, and announced to them in American Sign Language something that made my heart stop and tears come to my eyes. She said, “This is my mom. She wasn’t my real mom when she adopted me when I was 7 years old, and at first I didn’t like her, but she made me feel safe and she gave me food and clothes. Now I love her very much and she is my real mom because now I have a happy life and I know I will have a happy future. And someday I will have babies and make her a grandmother!” I am her mom, indeed!

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To read about our traumatic early years together, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane on Amazon.

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