Archive for the ‘happy childhood’ Category

Kindness is Taught at Home

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The above picture is of my 2-year-old granddaughter cleaning a “boo boo” on her dog. She makes sympathetic eye contact with LuLu, calmly positions her nose with her hand, and gently wipes it with a sterile wipe. When she tries to put a band-aid on it, she wonders why it doesn’t stick on the fur like it sticks on her skin, but tries her best to get it to stay. After the dog’s medical care has been completed, she plants a light kiss on the “boo boo”, satisfied at a job well done.

Kindness is a trait best taught at home. Children learn to accept others based on how their parents accept others. If dad complains about “crazy Uncle Joe” and everyone in the family avoids Uncle Joe, they learn to be fearful of people with mental illness. If they see a person in a wheelchair while out on a walk, and their parents cross the street to be on the other side so they don’t have to walk near the wheelchair, it is inherently learned that they should be cautious of such people. Instead, they should walk right up to the person, making eye contact and smiling, commenting on what a great day it is to be out for a walk!

It is only through my fortunate life experience with a brother with multiple disabilities that my children have learned that people like “Uncle Curtis” are different than us, and therefore need understanding and acceptance. Any of them were comfortable with offering a guiding arm to sturdy and guide him to the most comfortable chair in the house and rush off to get him his treasured glass of Diet Coke. Sitting next to him during a meal, they would unabashedly take his plate to cut the food up into tiny pieces for him to be able to swallow. If they couldn’t understand what he was saying, they’d give him a pen and paper to write it down, (although it invariably said “Dite Cook” in his unsteady handwriting.)

A child living with compassion will not be a bully, and hopefully stand up for anyone being bullied. Living with compassion has stayed with my children into their adulthood, and they are now raising their own children to be caring and thoughtful of others, as evidence by my young granddaughter caring for her dog. What a beautiful life!

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To read more about our adventures as a family, please read my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

 

How Do the Blind See a Tree?

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Most people can look up and see a tree.  To a child who is blind or visually impaired, their concept of a tree is the bark they can feel. Their concept of a tree is that it is” rough”.  If they have some vision, they can tell that a tree is brown at its trunk, but “a blob of green” above the trunk.  They could grow up and their whole lives not know what a tree “looks” like.  Expanding such basic knowledge of their world is called expanding the core curriculum. It consists of concepts that are not taught in school, but are still important lessons for that child to learn in order to grow up as an educated adult who is blind.

One topic covered by the nine students, ages six through thirteen, at an April vacation program, was the concept of trees and their differences.  During a nature walk, students found that some trees were so small they could fit their hand around the trunk.  Some trees were so large that it took all nine students holding hands to encircle the trunk. Some trunks were very rough, with deep groves, and some were smooth, with little lines barely traceable by their little fingers.

They learned that evergreen trees stay green all year, and they giggled as they carefully touched the sharp needles. They never knew that trees could be so prickly!  Under the tree, they found the pinecones from which a new tree may grow.

They learned that oak trees, in the spring, have no leaves.  They closely examined the branches of an oak with a few dead leaves still attached, carefully feeling them and making the connection with the leaves they see on the ground in the autumn. Acorns which were still attached to the tree branch were felt with much enthusiasm.  They had collected acorns from the ground underneath the tree, but to actually see it attached seemed to be a surprise. They felt the new buds on the ends of the small branches, buds which would soon bloom into leaves.

Students learned about flowering trees, in full bloom during their springtime visit.  Most students were amazed that a tree could have flowers.  In their minds, trees and flowers were two entirely different things.  But there they were; pink blossoms on the end of a cherry blossom tree branch, gentle, sweet smelling little flowers.

As they were feeling and looking at the trees up close, students were in awe.  So many different types of trees!  And they would not describe a single one of them as “rough” because they were finally able to look beyond the bark.

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(I apologize, it has been a busy summer and this is a repost from 2 years ago.) For more stories about children who are blind, please, read my book. Here is a link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11 The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

They Ain’t Like they Used to Be!

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When I was a teen, every Friday night my best friend and I used to be dropped off at the local amusement park and ride the rides til late into the night; exciting thrill rides like the Tilt A Whirl, stomach churning rides like the Spider, high in the sky rides like the Ferris Wheel, and funny/scary rides like the House of Horror.  I still can’t get the image of the evil man sawing the girl in half…tame by today’s standards because there really was no blood and guts showing, but scary enough to be etched in my memory none-the-less.  (Without digressing, it would be interesting to know if today’s spate of horror movies leave the same indelible nightmare etched into children’s brains…)

Driving the little cars on the Turnpike ride was awesome, especially in my early teens.  Keeping the car straight on the twisty “road”, over bridges and under tunnels, was a harbinger of the days when I would be able to get my real driver’s license.  However, at that point I quickly learned that there are no bumpers on the side of the real roads in real life and one must keep the car centered or a pedestrian or telephone pole could be taken out. I also learned I had to drive faster than on the amusement park ride lest a line of cars pile up behind me, honking and gesturing…

Our favorite ride was the roller coaster the Wildcat. I can still remember the nervousness in my stomach, the dread, and the excitement as the car started up that first steep hill. It was probably only a few seconds, but the anticipation was interminable. Then the “whoosh”  down that first hill which set the car in motion for the twists and turns to come. Because this was the age before seat belts were mandatory, flinging out of the car during an enormous turn on the tracks really did make the ride seem to be death defying. (Truth be known, people occasionally did fall out and die, but, as teens, we were immortal and nothing like that could happen to us.)  By the time we reached that final hill on the Wildcat, the laughter and excitement falsely camouflaged any nervousness of what was to come…until it came!  Going down that final steep hill, where gravity seemed optional and your stomach literally moved up into your throat, was the greatest feeling ever! It was such a “rush” in our innocent teen lives, that as the ride was over, we’d run over, get in line, and do it again and again and again until my cheeks were hurting so much from laughing that we’d stop to snack on some cotton candy or a snow cone.

Oh…..how the years have changed things. Recently I took my two youngest children to a “family” amusement park, (i.e. not Six Flags, from which my daughter is banned for life…buy my book for the details!)  The park was quaint with its refurbished candy store and carousel. with antique horses.  Even the popcorn stand that looked like a huge box of popcorn had been freshly painted, and the familiar smell of popcorn filled the air.  Street lamps guided the way on the walkways, and beautifully colored flowers grew in abundance.  A nice, comfortable, enjoyable family park.  Until you looked at the rides….the roller coasters were HUGE, with the tracks going on forever and circling 360 degree upside down!  With rider’s legs dangling loose!  Gravity pulling at hair until riders looked like they were cartoon people afraid of a ghost! With shrieks so continuous and loud I had doubt that any rider would ever be able to speak again! And there rides named the Boomerang!  The  Wipeout!  The Cannonball and the Corkscrew; each ride bigger and better and faster and turnier and more stomach churning than the next.  I was excited to find a familiar ride, The Wildcat, and I ran towards it with longing and anticipation based on my childhood memories.  But this Wildcat was the grandpappy of Wildcats, where the one I rode when I was younger could only compare now as the Wild Kitty.

I know times have changed in many, many ways, but I mourned the loss of the family amusement park the most, possibly because it was such a large, happy part of my childhood.  I was happy on this date, however, to learn that they still served cotton candy and snow cones, which I ate in abundance while I watched my children happily, (and crazily) ride the rides, making their own childhood memories.

 

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To read more about our life, here is a 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/

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother

I led a very untraditional lifestyle when I was growing up.  My father, whom I later realized was schizophrenic, had the wanderlust to travel, which our family did for about 6 months of the year. He would remove me out of school and we would take off for various areas of the country, living in our Volkswagen van. ( Although I am sure that today’s public education system would not allow it, somehow I think my father would have taken me out anyway.)

It was quite an adventure for a child like me.  I have a vivid memory of cracking eggs in a big, black, iron frying pan over a campfire in the Badlands in South Dakota.  The rocks the pan was on were not sturdy, and the pan fell sideways with the eggs slowly leaking out onto the pine needles on the ground.  (Clumsy then…still clumsy.) I remember traveling in southern Georgia, driving for miles watching red clay cover everything…the houses, the cars, and even the clothes hanging on the lines.  It was at the beginning of the civil rights movement, and I was uneducated in this area, (probably because I didn’t go to school!) The whole concept of a bathroom for “whites only” was a shock to me.  Did that mean that only people wearing white clothes could use it?  (I’m picturing nurses, dentists, pharmacists…)  I couldn’t use it because I had on my only pair of pants, jeans, and a multi-colored t-shirt. But I had to go to the bathroom baaaaad, where would I go?  Behind the bushes? How degrading!  My misunderstanding of this concept is now a slight reminder of what it felt like be African American in the 60’s. I also have the memory of  a bear at Yellowstone Park coming onto our campsite to eat our dinner as we all huddled in the car. My brother, Curtis, was upset because he had left a package of Cracker Jacks on the picnic table.  We had to restrain him from leaping out of the car to get it.  Afterwards, I was not so keen to sit by the campfire…

But most of all, I remember my constant companion; Curtis.  He was four years younger than I was, and he had been born with Rubella Syndrome; developmentally delayed, cleft palate, legally blind, and severely hearing impaired.  He was my buddy.  Because my dad was extremely frugal, (ie obsessive compulsive disorder frugal,) I did not have many toys to play with.  So, in addition to reading a lot, I played in our surroundings with my brother.  I have a memory of  sitting by a stream, sun shining down on the water through the leaves on the trees. Curtis was happily splashing about in the shallow water.  I was looking for rocks that somewhat resembled people.  (They were no Barbie dolls, but some kind of looked like Alfred Hitchcock and Potato Head.) All of a sudden I heard a whoooooosh!  Curtis had ventured too far into the water and the current started to carry him downstream!  Fortunately, I had long, slim legs (in those days,) and with a few strides, I picked him up by the back of his pants. He was laughing heartily.  To him it was a real adventure.  Like the poor person’s substitute for a ride at Disneyland!

We actually had a lovely childhood together. I had to carry him everywhere because he could not walk sturdily.  Carrying him was just a natural way of life for me.  I don’t know why, but I never thought to be embarrassed by him, (although his screeching and attempt at speech WAS pretty scary).  I never ever thought of him as a burden.  He was just my buddy, Curtis.

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My parents rarely took pictures.  (The money thing again…) But I do remember ONE picture.  It was a picture of me and Curtis, standing in front of Mount Rushmore.  I was characteristically giving him a piggy back ride.  The photo shows Curtis, looking over my shoulder, eyes squinted shut by the glare of the sun.  I was wearing a stupid, treasured, red velvet derby hat, (you know, like jockeys wear.) As the dead presidents loomed behind us, I gave my characteristically stupid, toothy grin, (like all children do when their parents ask them to smile.) And on that day, I first heard the song from Neil Diamond which fit my sentiments exactly: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.  It was a powerful moment to think that someone had put into words what my life was like.

I was so very lucky to have been raised the way I was because it formed my personality, my temperament, and my compassion for others. I personally cannot take credit for the way I live now, fostering and adopting children. I am not selfless, nor amazing, nor wonderful, nor any of the other adjectives readers have used to describe me. I am simply living my life the way I was raised and it is a wonderful life!

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Link to my book  The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

 

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy,he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell

performed by Neil Diamond in 1970

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Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

Aside

I Saw the BEST MOVIE EVER with my Daughter…and It had Nothing to do with the Title of the Movie!!!

Yesterday my daughter, Marie, and I went to the movies.  The name of the movie isn’t important, (except to say it was  a Pixar film.)  The reason it was so great was because, for the first time since we adopted her nine years ago, I finally got to sit and relax and enjoy the movies!

Marie is profoundly deaf and communicates in American Sign Language.  The movies we tend to see are movies such as Shrek, Finding Nemo, Ice Age, Madagascar and so forth. The negative thing about these wonderful movies is that there is no way Marie can lip read what the characters are saying.  “I love you so much” can look like “Go jump in a dump.”  In order for her to enjoy the movies, we have long sat in the last row, underneath the single emergency light in the far left corner, and I have “signed” what the characters are saying.  Although my signing isn’t fluent, she laughs in all of the appropriate places, so I am happy.  (A happy child makes for a happy parent.)  The bad part of all of this is that I don’t get to really enjoy the movie.  I am so busy signing that I don’t get to see what is happening on screen. PLUS, (major disappointment…sob…sob….) I don’t ever get a break to eat any of the popcorn Marie happily munches away on.

Then came rear window captioning.  It sounds like a great idea. It is basically a screen of plexiglass that sits in the cup holder and it has to be positioned JUST RIGHT in order to reflect back the words that are coming off the projector at the far end of the auditorium.  The problem with Marie is that she also has ADHD.  She fiddles with it and fiddles with it until it is covered in popcorn butter and it is impossible to read the words. Plus, it must be damn annoying to the movie patrons sitting anywhere near us.

Well, yesterday the heavens opened up and dropped down a device only God could have made to relieve me of my signing duties…a small device that also sits in the cup holder but has closed captions.  Marie positioned it perfectly to fit her view of the screen the same as she watches closed captioning on television.  To her it was no miracle.  She’s used to closed captioning, and it probably didn’t mean all that much, because she gets to enjoy the movie either way.  But for me, it WAS a miracle. For the first time in NINE YEARS I finally got to enjoy that delicious (?) movie popcorn and I could watch the movie and actually enjoy it.  It was the BEST MOVIE EVER!!!!!

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t remember to mention my e-book available on I-Books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, etc.  The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane.

The Dance of the Snake Goddesses

I apologize for repeating this post from 2011, but it is on of my favorites, and a memory that is brought to mind on those few occasions that i have to go to court for my children and I see this particular lawyer there…

A very conservative lawyer friend had a very conservative lawyer wife who had taken up belly dancing.  She and 2 friends were so skilled in this talent that they were chosen to be performers for a large audience for First Night, the annual New Year’s Eve celebration in the city.  For an added “twist” to their act, my lawyer friend asked if his wife could borrow one of my son’s 5 foot long boa constrictors for their dance.  I had plenty of reservations, but I said okay. (It is always good to keep a lawyer friend happy because you never know when you will need a lawyer’s help.)  The ladies came to our house, and practiced with the snake while my son, Steven, who is very familiar with snakes, supervised.  The practice went very well, and the ladies excitedly decided to bill their act as the “The Dance of the Snake Goddesses.”

Well, New Year’s Eve came and I reminded Steven that we had to take the snake to the performance hall for the act.  Steven, who has Asperger’s and an anxiety disorder, was mortified!  There was no way HE was going to go to a large hall where there were a lot of people!  He handed me a pillowcase to put the snake in, and a bottle of alcohol “in case it bit someone”. He promptly took off on his bike peddling away to destinations unknown to me, (but far away from  First Night appearance.)  I started to panic!  These excited dancers were billed as the “The Dance of the Snake Goddesses” and they would have no snake!  Feeling extremely obligated to provide them with a snake, I decided to bring the it myself.  I had not minded the snakes when they were locked in the glass tanks, but somehow I was going to have to get up the nerve to actually take the snake out and put it in the pillowcase.  My hands were shaking as I undid the lock and took the cover off of the tank.   It looked docile enough, just lying there.  I reached in and managed to push it into the pillowcase using a long sleeved pot holder, proud of myself for not having to touch it.  Maybe I’d be okay! I tentatively carried the pillowcase to the living room, but I had miscalculated by not securing the top of it.  The snake’s head popped out, I pushed it back down.  It popped out again, and I pushed it down again.  This time it was stronger and its head came our farther.  When I tried to push it back in, it wiggle away from me and the whole snake came slithering out of the bag, which I promptly dropped.  There, on the floor of our living room, was a slithering 5 foot long snake!  I screamed.  My husband came to see what was going on, and he jumped up on the couch and screamed.  Even though I was shaking and my first instinct was to smash the thing over the head with a broom, I remembered  my commitment to our lawyer friends.  I gathered up my courage and, using the broom gently, I nudged it back into the pillowcase, this time immediately tying the top into a knot.

I was still shaking from this experience as I drove to the city with the wriggling pillowcase on the seat next to me.  I was feeling tremendous relief that I had at least caught it and was on my way to the performance. I even felt a little sorry for it, and turned the heat all the way up in my car so it could be warm.  (It had started to snow outside, which would mean there would be a larger than usual audience for an inside performance as the outside First Night performances would involved standing around in wet snow.  Great!  A bigger audience for what was sure to be a Snake Goddess fiasco!)

When we got near the theater, I put the pillowcase inside my coat to keep it warm. (MY I was brave!)  There was a line around the building waiting to see the performance.  I went to the head of the line, and quietly said to the guard at the door, “I have the snake for the performance.”  In his loudest voice, he parted the crowd by saying “Make way for the snake handler.  Make way for the snake handler!”  I wanted to hide!  As a 55 year old shaking, nervous, dowdy woman, I no more resembled a snake handler than a chipmunk would resemble Santa Clause.

I managed to get back stage with the snake and the belly dancers were very excited.  They carefully took him (her?  I couldn’t tell the difference,) out of the bag and began to practice.  By now I was shaking so badly that my stomach was in knots.  I was holding the bottle of alcohol (“in case it bit someone”.)  I was on the verge of tears, both from relief that I’d delivered the snake in one piece, but also fear that it would bite and there would be blood and screams and lawsuits.

The audience in the large theater was packed, standing room only.  The music for the dancers began.  They dramatically began the act hidden behind veils, with the snake on one woman with the head at one hand, draped across her back, and the tail on the other hand.  They did a dramatic dance, dropping the veils at different intervals for the audience to get a glimpse of the snake.  I could hear  “ooooh”  and “aaaaaah” from the audience.  I was hoping the snake wasn’t going to slither down and into the audience causing mass panic,  emptying the audience out into the street, or, worse yet, go around biting audience members with me following along with my bottle of alcohol. (Then I’d really need a lawyer for the lawsuits!)

Then something strange happened. The dancers dropped their veils, and the snake actually seemed to join in the dance.  Soon its head was wriggling in time to the music, its tail was swaying around, and it seemed to be having a grand old time!  It began to slither in time to the music (a pure coincidence I’m sure,) from one dancer to the next.  It was an amazing sight, the graceful gyrating dancers and the graceful gyrating snake, all moving in time to the music.  Mesmerizing. Amazing.  The act finished to a standing ovation, and darn it if it didn’t seem as though the snake bowed his head in response to the clapping from the audience.

After the show, the dancers gave the snake a few affectionate pats and back into the pillowcase it went.  I tied it in a knot, put it under my coat, and carried it back to the car.  I felt as though I was going to cry, but this time it was tears of relief.  I don’t know how I get myself into these situations, but, again, I’d come through it unscathed, with a little more respect for the reptile in the pillowcase next to me!

An Active Life with Limited Vision

Francis, who is severely visually impaired enough to be considered legally blind, was skilled enough that he was able to attend a mainstream kindergarten.  He needed some modifications, including large print materials.  He adjusted well to the class, but one week came home and told me that they had a guest speaker come to their classroom.  An exterminator came to the classroom to tell them about termites and such.  He was clearly shaken by the presentation, and for the next several nights he had nightmares, couldn’t sleep, and kept the light on in his room.

He was petrified of termites!  Trying to calm him down, I said “Why are you afraid of teeny tiny termites?”  “TINY???” he cried, ‘They’re HUGE!”  Only people who have driven through Providence, Rhode Island and have seen the 30 foot long, 10 foot tall “Big Blue Bug” as an advertisement for an exterminator which sits proudly right next to Route 95 would understand why he thought termites were huge.  After all, he was too visually impaired to see a real termite, and thought that all termites were that big! No wonder he was so frightened!  We’ve had a good laugh over that story for years!

Another interesting story was how he chose his friends.  With limited vision, he could only make out vague details of the other children.   Yet, he had one good friend named Eddie.  He and Eddie always hung out together.  One day I brought him to school late, and as I looked over the sea of Caucasian, blonde haired little five year olds, I heard Francis say “There’s Eddie” as he happily jumped through the crowd to sit next to the only African American boy in the class.  Real easy to spot!

As Francis got older, he wanted to participate in sports.  He took up wrestling through the Police Athletic League where his vision would not impair his performance.  I, however, had never been to a wrestling match before.  At his first match, he was wrestling with another boy his size and he reached over while the other boy supposedly made an “illegal move”.  Francis’ arm cracked the boy in the nose, and soon there was blood everywhere.  I’m screaming.  The kid with an obviously broken nose is screaming.  And Francis was screaming because he had won the match!  That was his one and only wrestling match. Okay, so blame me for being an overprotective mom, but the sight of blood tends to sour me on a sport.

After that, Francis took up swimming, a sport he excelled at, and one in which he could not get hurt or hurt anyone else.  He remained in this sport for many years, and won several honors for his fast swimming.  It gave him a chance to be a member of team and compete with other people where vision was not an issue.

Francis also became an excellent skier, skiing by following closely in the tracks of a lead skier. He went to winter camps in Colorado run by the Christian Braille Foundation from the age of 14 years old, flying alone across the country to join other skiers with vision impairments.  By the time he was a young adult, he was easily skiing black diamond slopes in Maine and New Hampshire. much to my chagrin.  I was petrified he was going to ski into a tree!  (This was around the time one of the Kennedy’s died by running into a tree.) In his early twenties, while Francis was attending college in Cambridge, England, he made several forays skiing in the Alps.  He sent me a gorgeous picture of him at the top of the mountain, the sunshine on his back, his dark glasses gleaming in the sun with a big smile on his face.  He signed the picture “Look, Ma!  No trees!”  because skiing in the Alps is done above the tree line.  I felt much relieved.  What a great place to ski!  Until I learned from someone that there are not TREES on the Alps, but there are plenty of AVALANCHES!

While in Cambridge, Francis joined a punting team. His team was very successful because he was the lead “punter”.  (I don’t know what it is called…) He would stand at the front of the long, flat boat with a long pole.  Because of the fact he was 6 foot 4 inches, his pole would go deeply into the water and propel the boat forward.  He was also very agile and could do this very fast. His team members would direct him on which way to steer, and they became a champion team!

Despite all of my fears and worries as a parent, Francis has successfully made it to adulthood and continues to try new sports, surfing in Hawaii, wind surfing in California,  and, , jogging in marathons.  He even obtained a license to captain his own sailboat crew.  It just demonstrates that being legally blind does not have to hamper your activities, they just are done in different ways!


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