Archive for the ‘foster care and adoption’ Category

The Original Tiny House

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When our children were young, it was evident that we could not take Steven, with his autistic tendencies and severe sensory integration issues, on vacations to touristy hotels in unfamiliar areas. It only took us one trip to New Hampshire when he was a toddler to learn that his disability might be a hindrance for family fun and relaxation.

Never one to back down from a lifetime of vacations, hubby and I went up to NH a few weeks later to search for a home away from home in which Steven could be comfortable. We purchased a small cabin, one which would qualify to be a tiny house on Tiny House Hunters. It is cleverly designed, having 2 bedrooms. The “master” bedroom consists of a double bed inside 4 walls where one has to open the door outwards to crawl onto the bed. The second bedroom had 3 fashionable twin beds in bunked style, again accessed in the doorway. There is a tiny ladder to reach the 2nd and 3rd bunks. The tiny kitchen doesn’t matter because we usually grilled our food, and the tiny bathroom may have a bathtub in which I can’t sit up, but it is better than no bath at all.

This cabin has served our family well throughout the years with swimming, canoeing, fishing, frog catching, game playing and lots of family fun. It has never been as valuable as it has the past few years when hubby and I try to go up for monthly respite weekends. Life is so hectic and busy and often problematic having children with difficult issues that we literally count the days until we can once again relax in the woods; no cable tv, no wi fi, no telephone coverage, completely cut off from the outside world.

So it was that I relaxed this past weekend. Sitting on the deck, I sipped my tea and listened to the quietness. Every so often a bird would chirp, different birds, different chirps. I had never been interested in bird watching, but hearing the variety of peeps and tweets piqued my interest.

The snake that lived under the house was sunning itself on a nearby rock. Because Steven was a snake expert, I learned that it was not a dangerous snake, and would eat field mice that might otherwise invade our tiny house. I might prefer a cat, but a snake would do in a pinch.

The silence of the woods reminded me of meditation. My mind was calm and relaxed, free floating and super observant. The trees were all blanketed in dew, and thefat dewdrops hung from each leaf, defying gravity. I further noticed that on the end of each pine tree branch was new growth, poking out gently in a light green extension, a half inch or so long. Somehow I had never thought of trees growing, much less be able to witness it in action. The same flowers that we had planted at home without much success were growing like wild flowers at our retreat; large leaves everywhere, bright, vibrant flowers so tall and large that their stems were bent over with the weight.

It seemed like eternity, no thought of time or place, as I sat there and all my anxiety fell away and contentment filled its space. I was ready! I would “put my big girl panties on” and face the stress of the week ahead with courage, knowing that in another 29 days I could return to this place of peace.

 

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If you would like to read more about our family adventures, please purchase my book The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

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.

She LOVES me! She really LOVES me! (not…)

Anyone who is raising a child with reactive attachment disorder knows that love and caring is not always reciprocated. In fact, often the children are so hostile that we wonder what we are doing wrong and what have we gotten ourselves into? Raising Marie has been like that. Coming to us from living with a mom who allowed unspeakable abuse, Marie was not ready to love anyone. Not letting me touch her, in fact, shoving me away or hitting me if I tried, it took six months for me to reason with her that I needed to have a way to show her that I loved her. She graciously allowed us to fist bump. Our fists met with a minimal amount of touching as I signed “I love you” in American Sign Language with the other hand. As a mom, I desperately needed to be able to share my love with her, whether she accepted it or not.

Through the years, she allowed me to hug her. I would put all of my love forth in that hug, deep, sincere, emotional… Whether she actually got any of that through osmosis, or whether she just tolerated my hug, I never knew. But I felt better doing something to demonstrate my love.

When she was about 14 years old, we were at a carnival and she spotted a photo booth. She had always been fascinated with these contraptions, and she grabbed me by the hand and pulled me over to it, sticking her other hand out for the money to put in it. As we sat inside the booth and the camera clicked, a miraculous thing happened…she turned and KISSED me on the cheek. Whether it was her excitement over the photo booth, (and the demonstration photos on the side of people kissing,) or whether she really felt an emotion and wanted to kiss me, I’ll never know. But I choose the latter. In the picture below, you can see the emotion on my face as she does so. After SEVEN long years!

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Well, a couple of years have gone by, and she and I regularly hug and kiss (she offers me her cheek.) Not much had changed in that department. UNTIL I went to the open house at her school. She saw me walking down the corridor while she was standing with a group of friends. She came galloping towards me, wrapped her arms around me with such force that I almost fell over, and gave me a huge kiss ON THE LIPS! Then she proudly told everyone that I was her mom. SHE LOVES ME! SHE REALLY LOVES ME!

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

A Whole New Meaning to “Swimming with the Fishes”

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I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!

 

If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane  available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Angels Among Us

First blogged January, 2010

My mother passed away several months ago and it has taken me this long to write about it.  She was the most wonderful mother in the whole world, (and I am not just saying that because that is what one is expected to say about their deceased mother.)  In addition to being kind and loving, she was also very spiritual.

I remember when I was four years old and we lived in Opalaka, Florida, right behind the Hialeah Race Track.  We had a cement swimming pool in the backyard which my father built, and next to it was a palm tree my mother had planted crooked so it was growing sideways.  I had a green parakeet whose name I certainly don’t remember, and I loved watching Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo on our little black and white tv with the rabbit ears antenna.  My brother was born one day in March, and life suddenly changed for our family.  My brother was born with serious disabilities due to Rubella Syndrome, (supposedly my mother had been exposed to someone with German Measles.)  With a cleft palate, he could not nurse or drink from a bottle, so he was fed by a large eye dropper. He could not such on a pacifier and he cried constantly.  He was blind and deaf and was obviously going to be severely developmentally delayed. My joyful childhood was suddenly overshadowed by a sadness of which I had never seen from my mother.  I would witness her throw herself across her bed and sob. A deep sadness enveloped our family. I looked at my little brother, who looked so innocent and little to cause such a fuss.

One day, when the sun was shining brightly and Curtis was asleep, my mother called to me to come sit in the rocking chair with her.  She squeezed me and held onto me tightly, rocking  and crying.  It was a different kind of crying, though.  A happy cry, if I could describe it as such.  From that day on, the gloom lifted from our house and I went back to living my happy childhood with my new baby brother.

Many years later, when I was a young teenager, my mother shared her experience of what happened to her that very day.  The doctors had been encouraging her to put my brother “away”, institutionalize him as was the custom in those days. “Forget about him,” they said, “You can have another child.”  She could not bear to make the thought of doing this.  Then, on that sunny day while rocking in her chair, she told me she was visited by an Angel, a beautiful, bright white Angel.  She told me she could feel the weight of the Angel’s hand on her shoulder, reassuring her that everything was going to be okay.  Although the Angel did not speak, she knew what the message was.  She did not have to worry anymore, her son would be fine, and he was.  He wasn’t fine in that he suddenly became perfectly healthy, but he was fine in that he has led a happy, fulfilling life. Clearly, she had been touched by something spiritual on that day to turn her torrents of tears into smiles of joy over her new baby.

Several years later, while camping high in the mountains, my mother woke up from her sleep and sat up in her sleeping bag.  She was joyous!  She told me she had been to see God, whom she described as a bright and beautiful. She said it felt real, not like a dream at all.  She was confused as to the experience because it seemed as though she was there to help a friend pass over into heaven.  She did not understand because of course her friend was healthy.  It was not until we returned home from vacation that she learned that this friend had died from a brain aneurysm on that very night at that very time.

My mother lived a life of  great happiness and contentment, always seeing the good in people.  Near the end, right before she died, I stayed with her 24 hours a day.  When we knew death was near, the nurses let me lie in bed with her and she passed away in my arms.  I don’t know what I expected when she died.  No…that’s not true…I expected to see some of what she had experienced!  I expected to see her pass into heaven!  I expected there to be some reaction from her body, some knowledge that her lifetime of spirituality would somehow, through osmosis, pass through to me.  But there was nothing.  She just stopped breathing. And there was nothing.

It took me a while to accept her death, and I became angry that there was no sign from God that she was with him.  Realistically I knew this was silly, but I was hugely disappointed.

Christmas time came soon afterwards.  As the parent of 5 children, I had this habit when the children were younger of taking a picture of their sleeping faces on Christmas eve.  As they aged, they hated the existence of these pictures!  (They were usually sucking on a “binky” at the time and girlfriends and boyfriends who saw the pictures in old photo albums would always go “Awwwwwwwwwwww, how CUTE,” the most mortifying thing that could happen to a teenage macho boy!)  This Christmas eve, filled with nostalgia, emptiness and sadness,  I again went into each of their bedrooms and gazed at their sleeping faces.  I was suddenly filled with a great sense of purpose and contentment, much like the type of contentment my mother might have felt when she felt the Angel’s hand upon her shoulder.  These were MY Angels.  These were my children who had endured so much when younger, either with their disabilities or with indescribable child abuse. They have not only survived, but they have THRIVED.  They are happy and loving and successful and they have bright futures as adults.  This is miraculous to me!

If the Washing Machine Eats the Socks, What Eats the Silverware?

We all know the adage that the washing machine eats socks, which is why they never come out in pairs.  I long ago gave up trying to match them, just buying plain black socks for the boys and hoping they kind of match.  Marie gets to feel in fashion because all of her socks are multi-colored with frogs, kisses, stripes and cats.  If she can get one stripe from one sock to match the color on the cat, then she has found a match!

My concern is our silverware.  When we first had kids, we started out with a full Faber ware set.  As we saw pieces disappear one by one, we had to replace the set several times.  (We now have 72 knives and six spoons left.)  We do not know where the silverware goes.  As far as we are concerned, we eat with it, put it  in the sink, in the dishwasher to be washed and then back in the silverware drawer.  It is not rocket science.  It IS, however, way too complicated of a system to work in our house.  For some reason, our silverware disappears!  One would assume that the washing machine/sock theory would work for the dishwasher and disappearing silverware, but, alas, that is not the answer.

Theory #1 is that ours is the “HOUSE OF THE DISAPPEARING SILVERWARE”, oooooooooh!  We sometimes stay awake at night imagining the silverware whisking away into thin air with a whoooosh here and a whooosh there, kind of like witchcraft.  In the morning, half of the spoons are gone!

Of course, another explanation is that, somehow, the children are involved.  Maybe they take a paper plate of left over supper to their bedrooms and the silverware gets thrown away with the disposable dish. I shudder to think of this dirty, tragic end to our fine and selfless silverware. They die in the line of duty.

Whatever the reason, and whatever the consequences we have put upon our children for not taking care of the silverware, it continues to vanish for no reason.  (Thus the plausibility of theory #1.)  We have given up our concept that the ideal home has good silverware and we have replaced it with spoons and forks from WalMart.  Ours is still an ideal home in my eyes, we just use cheap silverware.  You wouldn’t imagine the amount of stress it relieves!

PS.  I have this fantasy that one day when I die, all of the lost forks and spoons will find their way into my casket, making up for their lifetime of disappearances.  Unfortunately, they will also drag with them the bits and pieces of food, which have now petrified onto them.  Of course, no one else in my family will ever know, because by then my casket will have been closed and sealed…

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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/

Darn it! He’s a Teenager Now!

I have been remiss in my writings, basically because I have been involved in the day to day activities of raising three teenagers with serious disabilities.  For some reason, these disabilities were not serious before.  I could find humor and joy in every day facets of our lives. Now that they are teenagers, humor sometimes escapes me, replaced by more serious concerns such as driving, (yes, every parent’s nightmare has come to me,)  and drugs.  Well, “only” a little marijuana, used by my nineteen year old son with ADHD, Asperger’s and OCD who has refused to take his more traditional drugs.  He says that pot helps control his symptoms better, and although I was mortified, by all standards except the legal one, pot is the lesser of the evils of the strong psych meds he was on.  The meds he insisted made him feel “out of it” and nauseous all day.  The ones that either plagued him with nightmares and kept him up all night, or made him so tired he could not function well.  Steven has tried a boatload of drugs, none of which controlled his symptoms as well as pot.  This is a very difficult concept for a sweet little old mother like me to understand.  I still tell him NO NO NO NO and I kick him out of the house every time he comes home smelling like…well, YOU know…   But I have to admit that his mellow mood also mellows me out, erasing the fear I always had that he would have a violent tantrum at any time, punching a hole in the wall, or throwing the newspapers so they scatter around the living room.   Please don’t send the police to my door, my precious door that does not have a mark on it because Steven no longer kicks it.

Steven has reached “adulthood” in the legal sense, (although he will never be an adult in my eyes.) He can refuse to take his medication and I can’t make him.  Not that it helped all that much anyway.

His life is in flux.  His disability prevents him from doing a regular job because focusing is still an issue for him.  The only thing he had been interested in were reptiles, alligators, snakes, turtles. (OCD makes strange obsessions.)  He had volunteered at a local facility for such creatures, and loved it, but the facility closed down.  Now he struggles daily to find something to do.

I recently visited a friend who lives near the Everglades in Florida.  She lamented the ever present alligators, and their risk to her little pups, Scottish Terriers.  She told me how the alligators show up in the man made lakes in mobile home parks, and on the banks of the rivers nearby.  How Steven would LOVE to live in such a place, I thought.  He would make a wonderful critter catcher in that area!  It crossed my mind to purchase a small house in Florida, use it as a vacation home, and bring Steven down to live there.  He would be in his glory working in a company that catches nuisance alligators.  Or he could use his experience as the alligator wrestler he was for the previous reptile facility that had closed.  I wonder how many employees fill out an application at the alligator tourist spots having already had such experience as an “alligator wrangler”.  I became excited at the idea that the perfect job DOES exist for him, except it is in Florida, 2000 miles away.  Maybe, if I am ever able to save any money, I can follow through on that vacation home dream and find a place for Steven where he can live happily.  And maybe then he won’t need the marijuana…

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