Archive for the ‘happiness’ Category

Remembering Mom

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A memorial service to honor our deceased family and friends was held last week. I often think of my mom, but never with such a sustained respect as last week. Lighting a memorial candle and watching the wick spring to life with fire made me think of HER life, and all the wonderful things she had done, always with a smile on her face and never with a complaint. Tears slid down my cheeks and were wiped away silently, inconspicuously. How is it that after all of these years her memory can still cause such emotion?

In her honor, I decided to treat myself to a day at the mall. I hadn’t been in a while because, unlike when I was younger and had children to buy for, my own wardrobe was overflowing with clothes and I had nothing to shop for. Or so I thought.

Entering the mall, decorated for Christmas with festive frills and lights, the atmosphere welcomed me, and I felt a spring in my step and cheer in my heart, just as if my mom were by my side as in “olden times.” I meandered into Macy’s, being the first store I came to, looking for the magnificent bargains like mom and I did. We had a knack for finding something spectacular at a deeply discounted price, and this trip was no different. Humming to myself as I browsed the numerous sales rack, my radar led me to the 50% off the 50% off discounted price. My kind of sale! There were many awesome clothes from which to choose, and soon I was purchasing a blue and green sweater for only $4.49. Pleased with my purchase, (something comfy to wear in the winter,) I smiled brightly leaving the store, feeling like the Cheshire Cat.

It was after noon and my stomach led me to the food court. I couldn’t help but buy myself some General Tsao’s chicken, our favorite meal. The ironic part was, my mother always told me she would “have just a little bit of mine” instead of getting her own order. I resented this at the time because I would always walk away unsatiated. Then, I sneakily learned to order double the chicken so she could still share my order without realizing more chicken had been added. She was happy because she wanted to be frugal for lunch and not spend any money, and I was happy because she was happy! On this date in the mall, it made me a little sad that I didn’t need to order extra chicken, but I did think of her as I wolfed down the meal, smiling between bites in her memory.

I walked by Bath and Body Works, a store into which I had to drag her. According to her morals, a bar of soap was the best thing to wash with, so why waste money on frivolities? It was difficult to convince her that the Sweet Pea or Vanilla Cinnamon scents were relaxing for me, and I would feel so much sweeter after using them in the bath. So, I only took her in when I had a coupon and there was a deeply discount sale. Trying to get her to take a bottle to try, she always gave it back and said she was fine, thank you, soap did the job just as well. On this date, I purchased several new holiday body washes, and I didn’t even have a coupon!

Walking slowly by the stores window-shopping, the tinkling of the piano keys was heard from the middle of the mall. Coincidentally, the pianist was playing live music, and I sat to listen. If my mom had been with me, she would have swayed to the music, and sung the words to the old songs. Often, she would got up and dance enthusiastically. Most children may have been mortified if their parent did that, but my mom was not just ANY parent, she was special in so many ways. She exuded joy, and if that joy inspired her to get up and dance, then so be it. It was that joy that inspired my life so dramatically, and continues to let me appreciate seeing the sunbeams streaming brightly through the clouds and the love when my grandchildren come running to me for a kiss and a hug. It is the kind of joy that makes your heart tingly and the sides of your mouth turn into a smile. I was so fortunate to have had her inspiration.

*****

To read about our hilarious and warm relationship, or to read about the success of my 5 children with disabilities, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane

 

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‘Twas Once a Child

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My daughter, Marie, has reached adulthood, having graduated from a residential program that had services for both her deafness and her mental health issues. This is the age of worry for any parent, especially one with so many challenges.

When she came to live with us at the age of seven and we were told she was “just deaf”, we could not have properly prepared ourselves for the roller coaster ride of a life she, and we, would have. She was a wild child, blonde hair askew, eyes angry, mouth so hungry she would hoard food under her mattress. She was very angry she had been removed from her mother, (for doing unspeakable acts which shall remain unspoken.) Despite providing her with a healthy, well cared for childhood, Marie’s disposition had been preformed. She would lie, steal, beg strangers for money, and reject all of our efforts to parent her. A hug and a kiss would throw her into a fury. Discussing our parenting situation and our need to show her love, she reluctantly let us “fist bump” her. Years later she apologized and told us her birth mom made her promise not to hug or kiss us, and that we really wouldn’t be her parents. It took us many years of fist bumps before she would accept a hug, and many years more before she would let us kiss her. She is now a young adult, and freely hugs and kisses us if the mood suits her. She shows genuine affection and appreciation, the highest reward any parent could expect from an original wild child.

Although Marie can be very capable, she has been unable to live in a non-structured setting because of her unstable bouts with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For those unfamiliar with this life altering condition, it is experiencing horrific memories so acutely that one becomes “in the moment” of prior abuse, crazed eyes staring back as though at her accusers, ready to defend herself with flailing arms and legs and gnashing teeth. An ambulance ride to the hospital and sedation was the only thing that could bring her out of her experience. It has always been especially tear inducing, (for me,) when at the hospital, with her hand in restraints, she would wake from the sedation, look around, and finger spell (ASL) asking me where she was, having had no memory of the event. Next she would say her throat hurts, (from screaming, no doubt,) and ask for a Popsicle, which she would skillfully eat while still in restraints.

Marie is now formally an adult. A lot of planning has gone into finding an adult home for her, one that would be staffed 24 hours. My calling all possible supported living programs in our state began about a year and a half ago. With the dual diagnosis of deafness and mental illness, no program would accept her. Many of the programs who may have had prior experience in working with her, never even returned my calls.

After working closely with the Department of Developmental Disabilities, whose frustration and efforts equaled mine; they were able to establish a placement for her that has far surpassed our expectations through a program used to dealing with adults with more severe developmental disabilities. They had no prior experience with a young adult with both of Marie’s difficulties, but once they learned there was someone in such need, they stepped right up and took on the challenge.

Marie now lives in a cute, little house on a nice residential street. As described by those on the show “House Hunters”, this one would be described at “Retro”, with bright yellow tile, a front door carved with circles, and a front porch with wrought iron table and chairs. Neighbors bring over cookies and wave to each other on the street. There are three bedrooms in the house, and she is hoping that a housemate will join her soon. She insists that her house buddy like to watch scary movies, (VERY scary movies,) and, most of all, must not be allergic to pets. Marie has a guinea pig that is usually perched on her chest with both of her hands gently stroking the lucky animal, a calming activity that works for both her and Oreo, who is black with a white center, of course.

Marie is thrilled to be able to go shopping for food she likes, not necessarily the food I have cooked for her. She is no longer in school, so work activities will happily replace the classes with which she used to have such frustration. She has directly chosen the things that she would like to do during the day, throwing out suggestions I would have thought unobtainable.

Marie has always loved to ride horses but gets frustrated that when we go, her horse needs to be tethered to another due to her deafness. She recently began an activity at a horse farm that facilitates riding for children with disabilities. For such children, the riding is therapeutic, but the horse walks slowly. Marie’s job is going to be to trot the horses at the end of the day because the horses themselves get bored walking slowly. What better job than that for someone who loves to ride horses?

Marie’s penchant for all animals has earned her a spot working with “disenfranchised” cats and kittens, that is, homeless felines. She will clean the cages, feed them, and then “show them off” like Vanna White highlights the letters on “Wheel of Fortune”. Oreo will be jealous, I’m sure, so Marie will have to wash the cat scent off before she returns home.

At this point in her life, Marie is feeling very good about herself and her care for others. She has signed up for a Meals on Wheels route, and all of those hugs she didn’t give in her early years will undoubtedly be dispensed ten times over among her lunch recipients.

As a mom with a daughter for whom life experiences didn’t start out well, I am so thrilled that in her adult life she will be doing the things she enjoys with people who will support, encourage and appreciate her. What more could any parent ask for?

 

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To read our story raising Marie and her four siblings, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane. It is on sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thank you for your support!

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!

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.

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.

The Hospital Vacation

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An unexpected vacation came my way last week via a trip to the local emergency room when I experienced severe pain radiating from my shoulder down to the tips of my puffy fingers. The ER receptionist immediately had me whisked away in a wheelchair for a cardiac work-up, (not a recommended way to beat the line, but it was nice not have to wait!) The orderly swished me by all the cubicles so fast I did not have time to be nosy and glance in to see what everyone else’s commotion was about. The thing about the ER is that is houses REAL people with all their unglamorous appeal. No high heels or make-up. Unruly hair which obviously had not seen a comb in some time. Morning crustiness still in the eyes, line of drool down the side of the mouth. Bra-less, face contorted into an ugly grimace of pain, posture slumped over..and that was just ME, I could only imagine what everyone else looked like!

Once admitted to the cardiac ward, the nurses got right to work hooking me up to all kinds of do dads and thing a ma jigs. Their cheerfulness belied the seriousness of their work. I was comforted not only by their reassurance but also by the toasty, warm blanket that soon enveloped my body. Once the morphine took away the pain, I was a happy camper and willing test participant. Wheee! Off with another orderly for another test. Lay still like a sardine in a tiny metal tube while it sounded like the room was crashing all around me? Piece of cake. Electrodes super glued to my breasts? No problem, I wasn’t using them anyway. X-rays this way and that? Show me how to pose. (Those 5 modeling classes I took as a gawky teen finally came in handy!) Then there was the added adventure of being maneuvered, gurney and all, back to my room, bumping in and out of the elevators, around other patients and gurneys, and trying to fit through slim doorways all the while piloted by friendly orderlies. It was reminiscent of trying to scooter through Disney World with my daughter last May, and I tried to hide my silly smile lest the orderly think I was not in my right mind. (And, yes, the morphine was still working.)

Once back in my room, taking my blood pressure and poking and prodding for blood tests and glucose monitoring became commonplace at any time of the day or night. What an amazing staff of nurses and CNAs whose job it was to wake me only to poke me with a needle to capture my blood, and to do it all pleasantly when I felt less than pleasant for them having to do it. Although I tried not to be too crabby at them, my roommates were often less inhibited and grumbling was commonplace. Still, the staff smiled and carried on with quiet reassurance, seemingly immune to the barrage of complaints.

The most exciting thing for me was “room service”. Yes, “room service”, just like in a fancy hotel! Armed with an actual menu, I called down to the kitchen and my custom order would find its way to my bedside table. How amazing! Being a person obsessed with food, this was the highlight of my vacation. (Well, that and not being home to have to clean my house.) I carefully selected each meal; scrumptious omelet with tomatoes and onions, muffins and fruit, macaroni and cheese and broccoli with custard pudding, pot roast with salad with cake for dessert! Yum! It all sounded as good as I am sure it tasted, IF I were ever able to eat it when it arrived! Unfortunately, my food delights were delivered while I was away for one test or another. Imagine…meals being interrupted by medical procedures! What kind of vacation is that? The nurses offered to heat it up for me or to get me something else, but this seemed to be a silly request with all the important medical stuff that they had to do. When they took their jobs, I am sure that “waitress” was not in the job description.

Fortunately, it was the kind of vacation where the primary focus was my health; where what was going on INSIDE my body was more important that what I put INTO my body. With the utmost professionalism, the staff were unwaveringly pleasant, reassuring and kind. My medical care was top notch, and I was soon sent on my way home with expert instructions for the next chapter in my medical care.

Nothing could beat my hospital “vacation”. Next time I really want something as frivolous as a hot meal, I will go to a restaurant!The

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