Archive for the ‘inspirational’ 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.

 

Luck? Fate? or Something Else?

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I am a Diet Coke fanatic.  (Before people start telling me that it isn’t healthy for me, I have to admit that it is stress relief to take a long, satisfying sip of an ice cold soda. It might not be healthy, but it has kept me alive and perky!) Being very short on money lately, and exhausted from working a long day, visions of Diet Coke floated in the air. While fishing out a one-dollar bill that desperately clung to life in the bottom of my purse, the van automatically found its way to the convenience store where a humongous drink of Diet Coke awaited me. I put my giant cup under the spigot and filled it to the brim, excited at the prospect of getting such a delight for only 89 cents! Looking up, the large soda sign smacked me in the face; this was not an “all sizes pay same price” kind of store, and a large soda was $1.49! My heart skipped a beat and actual tears of disappointment filled my eyes when I realized I didn’t have enough money to pay. At just that point, the store owner, half my age, struck up a conversation. “That’s a mighty big van out there, must be difficult for you to drive,” he said. “I have five kiddos and it fits our whole family,” I answered with my back to him, still contemplating my payment dilemma. “God bless you!” he said, “The drink is on me!” I turned around and smiled excitedly, thanking him. He could not have understood how much that gesture was such a blessing!

The truth is, our family car situation has been difficult lately.  My Acura ceased to function several weeks ago, and my husband’s work van, 17 years old, also died.  We had to resurrect our old, 12 passenger family van, switching a couple of bald tires off with newer tires from his work van.  Driving the rickety monstrosity was a challenge for me. It wobbled terribly, and I had to grip the steering wheel with 2 hands. I complained to hubby who brushed it off as being “old, what did I expect?” I drove it back and forth to work Monday and Tuesday, still cursing the challenging drive.  Tuesday eve, Steven called me frantically. A friend’s car had broken down near the Providence Place Mall, could I come pick them up? Annoyed about having to drive to Providence after working all day, I climbed into the van to begin the arduous task of maneuvering the eyesore onto the highway.  With the van waving back and forth, I had difficulty keeping it in one lane, but finally reached Steven and pulled to the side of the road near him.  His eyes bugged out as he ran to the back of the van. “Your TIRE is almost off!” he shouted, showing me where one lone lug nut, ready to fall off, had been holding it on. Just as he said that, the lug nut fell to the ground, rolled away and the tire fell sideways onto the ground!  I shrieked in horror and felt like vomiting when I realized what that meant; I had been driving it for 3 days with the tire ready to fall off! (It was Steven and his ADHD that changed the tires…I suspect he got distracted somehow and never finished putting that tire on correctly.) I not only had driven it for 3 days, but I managed to drive it ON THE HIGHWAY at a HIGH RATE OF SPEED to get to Steven. How lucky was I that is didn’t fall off while driving where not only I could have been killed, but I could have killed someone else? I shuddered with realization. It seemed like fate! Or luck? Or something else?

The Diet Coke and loose tire incidents may seem unrelated, but to me, both are an affirmation that luck does not come into play.  I like to think it was Divine intervention, a thought both heartwarming and reassuring.  A thought that always makes me smile…and so far has kept me alive!

 

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.

 

 

I Know Why My Dad Had To Drive

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I had always hated driving, which may have something to do with the fact that I traveled cross-country for most of my childhood years.  My life lately includes a lot of it, with a granddaughter in Northern Massachusetts and a daughter attending school in Hartford. Surprisingly, I have learned to enjoy it!  I find myself bopping away to music, using my right arm as a conductor’s baton, (one, two, three, four; the movements from music class carefully ingrained into me.) Worse yet, one can find me huskily singing along with great enthusiasm.

Taking non-highway routes as my father always did, the variations of scenery are fascinating. Children play on swings, grandmother sitting nearby, and clothes swing on a clothesline; do they use an old wood stove for cooking?  Do they have an “icebox” instead of a refrigerator? Have I crossed over into the Twilight Zone? I remember driving through the same scenes as a child.

Many of the houses are memorable.  One with natural wood and white shutters has a toddler standing in the window, waving, green curtains framing her. It is only after a few trips that I realize that that same child is always in the same position, waving, but wearing different clothing. It is not a child at all, but a doll that is lovingly cared for and placed in a prominent spot for all to see. Another red shuttered house has a flag waving on the front porch, a decoration to herald in the seasons and special occasions. With Valentine’s Day done and over, a St. Patrick’s Day shamrock now blows in the wind.  Driving, I take stock of such silly things as how much wood is piled in front of the lumber factory.  (During the winter, the pile has diminished.) I await the spring when the nursery, which had Christmas Trees and wreaths, blossoms in beautiful colors of the multitude of flowers, but now a stark and unwelcome place sits in its spot.  (The owners are probably enjoying sunny Florida.)

It was only as an adult that I realized that my dad and our family traveled so much because of his severe posttraumatic stress from the war. We criss-crossed the country, driving on the back roads. Driving hypnotized him into peace, keeping the awful memories at bay while experiencing the delightful ones of finding new places and exploring the many geographical areas of the country.

Driving the back roads has become more important to me now.  No flash of highway exits and speeding cars, but leisurely driving through the countryside, relaxing my thoughts.  Often, when observing the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds, the bright yellow sun will make its way down as a brilliant stream of light, and tears will inexplicably sting my eyes.  Pure peace and joy. I have finally been able to fully understand the importance of traveling.

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

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