Archive for the ‘happy’ Category

What to Learn from Baby Birds

 

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I drive slowly down my street to get home, which includes an area of trees, wild grasses and the occasional soda can or lost piece of paper. It is usually a non-committal drive, with my head swirling with ideas and concerns, not paying attention to the road at all. Yesterday was different. In between the trees was a mother bird, brown breast with brown-flecked wings. 6 inches in front of her was her tiny twin, obviously her offspring. The little one was walking away from her, turning to look back every second or so. Her beak seemed to say, “Go on, little one,” as the tiny bird inched farther along from her mom. It was such a sweet situation to observe!

Of course, all parents have gone through the same thing, pushing our little ones out of the nest. It is an 18, (or 19 or 20) year push. Lessons start early. An infant learns that he can depend on us to meet his needs, and trust that we are there for him. As a toddler develops, he tries to stretch the boundaries, asserting his own will, sometimes throwing a tantrum. As parents, we teach him how to handle his frustration differently, diverting tantrums into learning experiences. We give him lots of choices so that he feels in control, and lots of activities that he can do independently, giving him that sense of self he so desperately needs to develop. When it is time for school, we send them off like mother birds, nudging them along towards independence. We smile, wave, and hide the tears as he goes off to school for the first time, making it a great independent experiment!

By our own modeling, we teach him to be considerate of others, to share, to accept and to encourage. It is by demonstrating the “do unto others” concept that he learns not only his own value, but the value of all human life.

My oldest son, Francis, a manager for a large tech company, goes out of his way to hire individuals with disabilities. He often remarks it is easy to overlook their capabilities when presented with their physical impairments. As a teen, he used to build houses for Habitat for Humanity and teach Sunday School. As a teen, my daughter, Dinora, raised money for the development of a soup kitchen in her native Guatemala, even visiting and working there herself when she graduated from college. Even now, as a successful make-up artist, she regularly sends them money. When younger, Steven, with the weight of all of his own problems, looked kindly upon others, volunteering to help people carry groceries or donating his precious change to someone in need. (I will never forget traveling the subway in Boston and he kept asking me for change to give to all of the musicians and beggars down in the tunnels. He was devastated when I ran out of money.) Angel, who currently works 2 jobs to pay for his car, continues to make time to work at a camp for children who are blind where he has volunteered since he was 14. And Marie, who has so many issues herself, takes pride in leading a young schoolmate with Down Syndrom to get his daily medication from the nurse. She is gentle and kind and considerate of his special needs.

As that mother bird nudged her birdling towards independence, we need to nudge our own children to care about others. The future of Peace depends upon it.

 

Little Red Convertible

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Our family has the unfortunate dilemma of having all three of our cars disabled. (Children with disabilities I can handle, cars, not so much…) Hubby purchased a new (used) work van, but due some out of state issues, he is unable to register it, so his brother’s work truck has been a handy loaner. Angel, like so many other high school graduates when they get their first, real job, purchased an newish SUV, envisioning driving on the beach and sloshing through the mud puddles rather than the reality of driving in traffic on Route 95 every day, (although he did get some sloshing in during the road construction during the rain.) The transmission on that car just ceased to work; would happily drive it anywhere in reverse, but stubbornly refused to move forward. My car of necessity had been the resurrected old family van, which recently decided it outlived its purpose, refused to run at all, and is cost prohibitive to fix. Angel has the pleasure of driving a rental from the dealer where his car is being fixed, whereas the dealer of our van is long gone and probably dead. No help there!

Having hubby give me a ride is as frustrating for me as for him. “Time to go,” he announces 15 minutes before it is actually time to go. While I am standing there in the bathroom in my underwear, he goes out to the car, starts it, and beeps the horn every 10 seconds. If anyone wonders why I have been arriving to work disheveled, hair not coifed, face not glamored with make up, and mismatching socks, blame hubby.

Not having a car to go out to lunch with is a huge imposition and detrimental to my job. While I love my work and the people with whom I work, going out to for lunch to Wendy’s or Panera Bread allows me time to relax and regenerate my work ethic. Currently, by 3:00 in the afternoon after working 7 straight hours on serious matters, my brain is fuzzy and my motivation weakened. (Having lunch in the office always results in my getting pulled into some crisis, to which I can’t possibly say “no”.) How I long to be able to go out to lunch to get that much needed break!

Then there are the times I forget I don’t have a car. I readily agree to attend meetings and do favors for others, only to be embarrassed later to proclaim I can’t because the van is dead. If there is no Diet Coke or microwave popcorn in the house, the store is out of range and I must unfairly suffer.

However, not having a car enables me to daydream about what type of car would fit into my life now. Teenage life, (with my first job) saw me driving an MG convertible; fun, awesome, 2-person car, top down in the summer, wind blowing through my hair, and sunshine on my face. That lasted until marriage, which necessitated a family mini-van. As our family grew, (and grew) only a 9-passenger van would do, the very same van that now sits useless in our driveway. At this stage, after working hard and mothering most of my adult life, the possibility awaits for a return to a fun car like was driven in my teen years. Noticing so many “older” individuals driving little sports cars, at first I scoffed, thinking they are trying to reclaim their youth, unaccepting of the fact that they are now “old”. Then the realization hit that they have lived their lives and have earned the right to drive a fun car more than a person just starting out in life. The possibility that it might be my time to pick out my own, cute, fun little car is enthralling. Suddenly, having no car is exciting! The possibilities are endless! Little red convertible, here I come!

 

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Please consider purchasing my book, The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane.  Thanks!!!!

 

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.

 

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.

Regrets…I’ve Had a Few

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As we age, it is common to have a few regrets of things we have or haven’t done along the way. When I was a child, (and traveled cross-country with my family,) I never got out of the car to see the Grand Canyon. Always on the move, I was used to short stops at tourist attractions, the Grand Canyon being no exception. I regret my choice stay in the car because of crabbiness, carsickness, stubbornness or what have you. I simply went back to sleep with a pillow over my head to block out the beautiful colors of the sunset. Also during childhood, I did not have the joy of playing in our ocean state waves. Living on a lake, my parents never felt the need to visit the ocean, and the only ocean I saw was near my public school, Oakland Beach. Nice beach, but not so exciting on the wave front. It wasn’t until I was 16 years old and able to drive with my friends to the beach that I realized RI had waves that were unbelievable! All those youthful waveless years wasted…

I regret never telling my dad of my love for him. As a sensitive child, I misunderstood his detachment from me, seeing it as a sign of my un-worthiness of his love instead of the mental illness he suffered. Only when I aged and he was gone did the truth become clear, and by then it was too late.

I regret the Christmas when I hid 5-year-old Dinora’s Littlest Mermaid bedspread under her bed. Pointing out that Santa had left a gift under her bed, she looked at me in shock and started crying hysterically. Was I telling her a BIG FAT MAN had been in her bedroom when she was sleeping? Seeing how upset she was, I quickly reassured her that really was no Santa Claus, causing an even bigger burst of tears. Strike one against me for prematurely destroying a little girl’s fantasy!

My latest regret came this week. Against the advice of others, an older family friend had chosen to keep her terminally ill husband at home rather than send him to a Hospice nursing home even though his physical care would be a challenge for her own aging body. A month ago I combed through the card store, finally finding the perfect card to express my support for her and to provide encouragement. I was too late in sending it. Her husband passed away this week, relegating my card to join the flow of regular sympathy well wishes, not special at all.

From now on, I will welcome Mother Nature and keep little girl’s dreams alive. People whom I admire will be lavished with praise, and people whom I love will be told, often and heartfelt, that they are loved, the same way I wanted to tell my dad so many years ago.

 

 

Mothers, Help Your Sons Grow Up to be Fathers…

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My oldest son, Francis, grew up amongst a caravan of foster brothers and sisters. Specializing in newborns and infants who had been affected by prenatal drug exposure and addiction, our family was usually comprised of my husband and myself, Francis, his sister, Dinora, who had been adopted from Guatemala, and one or two foster babies. Despite the fact that Francis is severely visually impaired, he played an active role in child care, frequently holding a little one, feeding a bottle and changing diapers. When going to the mall, he and his sister would proudly push the double stroller. (With the 2 of them, he could be a pusher without having to see where he was going…) Throughout his childhood, sixteen foster babies lived with us, and caring for them was just a fact of life.

Francis is now an adult with a Ph. D. from Cambridge, a well paying dream job, a wonderful wife and a cozy home complete with a grill for grilling steaks and a lawn to mow. And, as of three weeks ago, a newborn baby. My week spent with his little family renewed my faith in the power of what is learned in childhood. Without even knowing it, I had trained Francis how to be a good father! He bundles his little girl up in a baby blanket, like I had bundled up those babies who were going through withdrawal. Newborns like being in a tidy bundle because they arrive with strong startle reflexes and without much control of their arms and legs. By pulling her arms and legs in close and securely wrapping a blanket around her little body, baby India can feel safe and secure. When she is awake and alert, Francis rocks her and sings songs to her, songs that he heard me sing so many years ago: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Hush Little Baby,” and “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”. Even though she couldn’t possibly know the songs, the sound of his voice quiets her, and these songs are easy to sing. When he is expertly changing her diaper, he plays “This Little Piggy” with her toes, gently pulling her feet to his mouth to kiss. He exaggerates the “wee wee wee home” by tracing his finger from her toes to her chin, tickling her slightly before kissing her forehead. And while she sits in his arms on the couch, ready for bed, he reads her books with very large print; “Goodnight Moon”, and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”.

On the evening before I left to fly home, he looked over at me and thanked me for giving him the opportunity to practice on all those babies years ago. All of his friends are having babies now, he said, and they are all in a tizzy. Because of the practice HE had, he is a confident parent and not at all nervous with India. I realized that by being a foster parent to infants, I was not only caring for little ones, but also nurturing parenting skills in my oldest sons, skills that will ensure he will be an awesome father!

I have repeated this post from last year. His adorable baby is now a year old, and his father’s day skills have continued to flourish!

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If you are interested in reading other stories about Francis, please purchase my book on Amazon.

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