Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

Time Flies in New Hampshire

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We went to New Hampshire a lot when the children were younger, staying in a tent and sitting around a blazing fire, roasting marshmallows and laughing. I loved poking at the fire, which I favored when traveling with my family. Finding a big “poking stick” was mandatory, a green one so the wood wouldn’t burn too fast.

Francis and Dinora were fine with a tent, but when Steven and another foster baby or two joined our family, we had to move up to renting a small “cabin in the woods”. We had tried tent camping with Steven, who displayed symptoms of ADHD from the moment he started to walk. A campsite was too inviting for him, and we spent the entire time chasing him from among and in the trees. Either that, or he would sit motionless, fascinated at wildlife, watching an ant hill for hours on end.

Our conquests of nature were invigorating. To see Ellis Falls, we had a spirited hike down into the woods to view the magnificent wall of falling water, sunlight brightly sprinkling off the cascade. Hiking back up was just enough to make us “feel the burn”. Even though it was a short distance, to us it simulated a hike up a long mountain, including the sense of euphoria when we reached the apex, (the parking lot with our car.)

The children liked Lower Falls best, an area where the water gushed over large rocks, smooth from the years of abrasion. It was fun to crawl among the rocks, often falling into the river, a cold and a welcome respite from the warm sun. When the children aged, they dared fate by sliding down the natural water slide into a small pool of water at the bottom. Hubby and I would bring a cooler of lunch and sit in webbed lawn chairs on the side, closely watching the antics of the children. Steven especially loved this area, as there were many potential wildlife attractions to keep his attention. One year, we hit it right at pollywog season, and Steven and his net were kept busy all day catching the amazing little squiggles of black, (which were, of course, set free before we left.)

We would often take the children out into the lake in our small motorboat. They would go tubing off the end, as Hubby would drive the boat back and forth forcing the tube to repeatedly cross over the wake. They would fish; catching huge, squirmy, samples of fish, which would be released back into the water. It was so funny if they caught a similar fish, thinking it was the same one, as though the bounty of fish in the water sat by just so that the worm could trick that same fish again. There was a small island where our boat would stop and tie up, allowing the children to enjoy a huge rope swing which would send them flying into the water. Joyous fun would be had by all.

The years have gone by and last weekend Marie came along to NH. Did she want to go out on the boat, go fishing, catch frogs from the nearby pond, or swim in the lake? No. Her choice, as was ours, was to lounge around and watch old DVDs. She and hubby especially like The Three Stooges as their brand of slapstick humor requires no ASL interpretation. I never heard so much laughter as last weekend, including a chuckle or two from myself. Then, having withdrawal from Wi Fi and “talking” to her friends, we drove Marie to Starbucks where she could order a smoothie and use the free Wi Fi while sitting in a comfy chair. As we drove away and left her there to go grocery shopping, I had a strong urge to join her instead of schlepping things around the grocery store. Keeping Hubby in mind, however, I was reluctant to say anything, knowing that he would be hurt if I chose Wi Fi over spending time picking out the gourmet ingredients he would use to prepare meals.

We were too lazy to start a fire at night, using the excuse that the mosquitoes would be awful and who wanted to put on the foul smelling spray to keep them away? Instead, we watched more Three Stooges and ate s’mores made in the microwave. Ah…New Hampshire never fails to entertain us. What a great family weekend!

 

Inconsiderate Moi

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Sometimes people are not thoughtful!  I am embarrassed to say that this category fits me.  Just in the past week, several mishaps have occurred which have demonstrated that my mind is just not aware of my surroundings all the time. Thoughts of life, work, and children, or just daydreams about what else I would love to be doing, (lounging on a beach in Florida, or getting a massage), have interfered with my ability to do 2 things at once.  That is, think while paying full attention to what is going on around me.

One day last week I joyfully went into the bakery to purchase Marie’s graduation cake.  Being thrilled with the way it came out, I felt lighter than air and, with a whiff of happiness, I opened the door to the bakery and let it close behind me, smacking an elderly woman with a huge tray of cookies, almost knocking her and the cookies over. Of course, I apologized immediately, but with the cake in my hand, I couldn’t offer much besides “I’m so sorry.”

Another morning, driving near the junior high school, my line of traffic was stopped so students could cross the street in the crosswalk. There were many students, and I was anxious that I would be late for work. With that single thought rattling in my brain, as soon as the students were safely across the street, my car lunged forward.  As I drove by, the crossing guard, who had not yet fully returned to the sidewalk on the other side or officially let traffic “go”, looked at me with anger and hatred.  Little ole me!  Hated by a crossing guard.  I’m so sorry, it was a mistake!

Then there was the time at the mall that Marie and I had to stop in our tracks so I could focus on what she was signing. There is the joke about a person who can’t walk and talk at the same time. For me it is I can’t walk and “listen”, (i.e. pay attention to interpret her signing) at the same time. This caused much annoyance from those behind us who were walking at the same rate of speed as we were with the purpose of getting somewhere. When we stopped suddenly, the pedestrian flow of traffic stopped, resulting in people bumping into each other, surely NOT a pleasant experience for them. Sorry gals and fellas, didn’t mean to do it. I tried to get Marie to wait to talk until we were somewhere less crowded, but she is a teenager and she has ADHD, so there wasn’t much hope for that.

The worst thing I did was on that rainy day last week when my car was whizzing (speed limit wise) down Warwick Avenue. Being careful to stay in my lane, my front tire hit a puddle and a deluge of water sprung into the air…and landed on a person who was standing at a bus stop, drenching them from head to toe. I was mortified, and too shocked to know what I should have done.  If that person is reading this, I am SOOOOOO sorry!

The only safe solution is for me to stop thinking unless I am safely seated and nothing is expected of me.  At all other times, my eyes will be on the environment, scanning for possible areas of disaster I could cause.

 

His or Her Graduation

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My youngest child, Marie, will be graduating from high school at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford this week. When she came to live with us at the age of 7, her wild child behavior was so bad I never thought either of us would live to see this day. But here it is! She surprised me, this child of mine who prefers to look and dress like a boy, for which with her abuse history, her justification has always been “if you look like a girl, someone will hurt you.” She has chosen to wear a dress for graduation, the very same dress she wore uncomfortably as a junior bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding. Even though that was several years ago, she is determined to squeeze every ounce of flesh into the dress. It is fortunate she will also be wearing a graduation gown or I am sure something would get flashed somewhere!

Although she insisted on wearing her work boots with the dress, I convinced her to wear something “less hot because the day will be warm out.” She agreed to a slide on sandal, and I have chosen a pair that could be used by any sex, (once you take the bows off.)

But my choice of shoe for her makes me wonder if I have not totally accepted her for the person she feels to be. I know many parents would have great difficulty understanding if their son or daughter were gay or transgendered. Marie insisted for many years that she was a boy “inside” and even begged her pediatrician to sew a penis on her. He was very sweet with her, and suggested she wait until she was a teenager before discussing that issue again. After much counseling, it was determined she felt that way only out of desire to be safe, to no longer be abused as she had when she was a young child. Being a boy is still a façade she wishes to project, but not one she innately embraces.

Which brings us to the most recent lifelong dilemma; whether she was going to love boys or girls, a discussion SHE initiated one day. She went back and forth on the pros and cons of both. Bravely, taking a deep breath, I mentioned it would be best to love the person she would feel most comfortable having sex with. Her eyes widened. “SEX?” she asked incredibly, with great disgust. “I never want to have sex with ANYONE!” Too funny! I really jumped the gun!

Despite my desire to buy her flip-flops with bows on them, I really WOULD have accepted her decision to wear work boots, or even to have her doctor sew a penis on her if she was truly transgendered. I have survived my life by learning not to get upset over such matters; it wouldn’t change anything and would only draw us apart, possibly ruining our relationship for years to come. I love my daughter too much and will support whatever adult decision she makes. When she is older and still finding her way in the world, she won’t remember the shoes she wore at graduation. But she will remember my unconditional love and support. What more could a parent ask for?

 

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!

 

Just Like a “Call the Midwife” episode

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For some odd reason, I love the show “Call the Midwife”. Every conceivable scenario for “birthing babies” (obscure reference to “Gone with the Wind”) is explored. For this reason, I will be sharing the birth of my brother.

I got swept into the drama of childbirth at the tender age of four, an early memory that was etched into my tender brain. Several months before my mom was supposed to go to the hospital to get her new baby, my dad ushered both of us into the car, handed me a very large bag of Hershey kisses and dropped me off at my grandparents. My grandparents were not your usual huggy kissy type, but the standoffish, can’t stand kids type. So I sat there alone in their oven of their Floridian sun porch, eating Hershey kisses and watching Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody on their tiny tv. As the chocolate melted, it was imperative to eat them right away, which, of course, I did! Covered in melted chocolate, I was able to enjoy the taste for quite a while afterwards, licking my fingers and scooping up melted spots from my dress.

When mom came home from the hospital, I jumped up and down in excitement to see my new sibling. Mom was not her cheerful self, but managed to open the blanket to show me my new brother. I had never seen a new baby before, so I thought this one just wasn’t done yet. He certainly was tiny! His baby blue eyes were tenderly open, but in the middle of his face was a gaping hole where his nose and mouth should be. Still had to grow in, I thought in my childlike innocence. He had these huge ears that stuck straight out. He was going to be able to hear everything with those ears! He was a fine looking baby!

In my childhood innocence, and before post-partum depression was a diagnosis, it seemed odd that my mother spent all of her time in bed, crying softly. She picked Curtis up to feed him with an eyedropper, but most of the milk dribbled down the side of his mouth spot. Her tears would continue to fall, and I could tell she was upset because he didn’t seem to want to drink the milk. When she laid him down for his long daily naps, he would make mewing noises like a cat. I thought it was cute until learning later that he was crying.

My childhood was turned upside down. My loving, sweet mom changed. There were no more of her tender kisses and words of encouragement. She didn’t want to play games with me, or go for one of our walks around the block. In her place was a stranger.

I was brave and tried to take care of myself, but my heart ached at the loss of my mom. She spent all of her time in bed, sleeping or quietly crying. She continued to try to feed Curtis, but most of the time the milk spilled out and she would put him down again for a nap, where his mewing was heard constantly. Sometimes, when she was asleep, I would pull a chair next to his cradle and unwrap Curtis, letting his tiny fingers hold onto one of mine. I would sing songs my mom sang to me, and sometimes he would stop mewing. Time would go by with me sitting there, stroking his bald head and telling him the story of The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I would be pleased with myself if he would go to sleep and not mew. He looked so peaceful and sweet!

A few weeks after Curtis was born I was sitting in the living room eating out of a cereal box and watching “Lamb Chop”. The sound of the rocking chair in my mom’s room indicated she was again fruitlessly trying to calm Curtis as he mewed. Her room suddenly brightened, as though she had turned on a million lamps. Streams of light spewed out the door of her bedroom into the living room. It was curious and strange, but I was just a kid and saw new things every day, it was no big deal. Returning to watching my favorite lamb puppet sing and dance, I was annoyed that the streams of light made it difficult to a see the tv.

From that time on, the sleeping/crying mom was replaced with my real mom. Carrying Curtis out of her room for the first time, she came over and gave me a kiss and told me she loved me. My own heart softened, and tears started to slide down my cheeks in relief. I had been brave and tried to take care of myself, but having someone else care for me was much preferred.

Mom and I went to the hospital so she could learn how to feed Curtis better. They showed her how to thicken the formula so it would not spill out of his mouth spot. She learned to squeeze little amounts in and wait for him to swallow it. Soon, both Curtis and mom got the hang of it, and he was happily gobbling down the formula. His mewing, which we had become accustomed to, stopped. As weeks went by, he gained weight and I was sure he smiled at me. Of course, it was hard to tell because he had such a strange mouth spot, but his eyes twinkled in such a way that I could tell he was smiling. What a lovely new baby brother!

Fact #1: My brother had been born with Rubella Syndrome, and was hearing impaired, legally blind, severely developmentally delayed and had several physical deformities. He was born this way because when my mother was pregnant, she came in contact with someone who had German Measles. Thankfully, a vaccine was invented to prevent this disease, which can harm more than the carrier.

Fact #2 It was years later that my mom explained what happened that day when the bright light filtered out of her room. She had been rocking mewing Curtis, herself crying and uncharacteristically cursing her life and the life of her deformed, newborn son. Unexpectedly, she was engulfed in an unbelievably bright light that emitted the feeling of unconditional love and encouragement. It washed the sadness out of her, and seemed to tell her everything was going to be all right. She knew it to be a Divine Being, and this experience changed her life, and mine, forever.

 

 

To read the life story of Linda’s sweet brother and Divinely amazing mother, along with her own passion for caring for children with disabilities, please purchase her book; The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane. It is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

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.

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.

 

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