Archive for the ‘trauma’ Category

A Whole New Meaning to “Swimming with the Fishes”

                                    7Ta8z9qTA

 

I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!

 

If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane  available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

I had “THE” Talk with My Teenage Daughter

If you have been following my blog for a long time, you may know of my daughter, Marie’s, early trauma and severe abuse. When she came to live with us at the age of 7, she insisted that she was a boy, not a girl. She wore boy clothes and had a boy’s haircut. She even begged the pediatrician to sew a penis on her! Bless him for not being shocked, but for telling her that decision would have to wait until she was an adult.

Because she is deaf, she didn’t hear when I’ve called her my daughter and when I’ve used the pronoun “she”. It also didn’t seem to faze her that her name was a girl’s name. After the abuse she lived through, my goal as a mom has been to make her feel as comfortable with herself as possible. If having a crew cut and wearing boys’ underwear suited her, so be it.

Marie insisted she was male right up until she got her first period. At that point she conceded to me that she WAS really a girl, (no denying that fact,) but that she wanted to appear to be a boy so that no man would “hurt her”. This was understandably a clever accommodation on her part!

Enter Marie the teenager…and “THE” talk about sex… She brought the subject up as we were watching a teen movie on television where the heroine and hero kissed. Marie did most of the talking, (in American Sign Language of course,) asking me who was better for her to “like”, boys or girls. She said she has had childhood boyfriends and girlfriends, but that she didn’t know which she should “like” for a real mate whom she would someday marry. She looked at me with questioning, soulful eyes as I put on a brave face, pretending to be wise. The answer was simple, of course. I told her that she would end up finding a mate with whom she would feel comfortable having sex. SEX????? She signed, aghast. She wasn’t talking about SEX…..in fact, she was NEVER going to have sex….she just wanted to know whom she should marry! And just like that she dismissed my answer with a wave of her hand and went back to watching the movie….

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To read more about our life as a family, 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

For Sentimental, Sappy Souls

On Columbus Day, my husband and I spent a wonderful day just driving around and enjoying the autumn scenery. I don’t know about you, but I seem to have an unusual sensitivity to the beauty in nature, and was once again overwhelmed by the beauty of the bright white and yellow streaks of sun streaming down through the white puffy clouds. Such a sight always encourages me as if reinforcing the fact that yes, there are clouds, and yes there may be rain, but that sun is still up there in the sky, overseeing it all, just waiting to break through and make things better. As an added visual treat, the sun shone so brightly on the tapestry of peak autumn leaves: oranges, reds and yellows, that I felt a need to wear my sunglasses, but with them on I would not be able to fully appreciate the effect of the over-the-top, gasp inducing colors. No photo, piece of artwork or beautifully sung song could have replicated the intensity of happiness that brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.
My husband and I sat, holding hands as he drove. There was no need to say anything. We were at peace, pleased to have such a respite after a hectic week of raising children and dealing with problems. We were in our own beautiful bubble, cell phones turned off so as not to ruin the interlude. It was a wonderful day!
Upon pulling into the driveway of our home, I spotted the two small maple trees which Marie had planted a few years ago. She had excitedly dug them up when they were fragile saplings with broken branches, and planted one on each side of the driveway. She had added gravel at the base of each, and attached a tall, straight, thin stick to keep them growing upright. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed them before. I had NOTICED them, of course, but I had never really SEEN them. They had grown to be about four feet tall, straight and strong. My breath stuck in my throat as the brilliant, bright yellow leaves danced happily in the gentle breeze. They were a growing metaphor for my daughter, blossoming and beautiful and holding the promise of a bright future in their little yellow leaves. Despite once being fragile and broken, they would grow tall and amazing and fit perfectly in this world, reassuring me that my daughter, who was also once fragile and broken, would grow tall and amazing and fit perfectly in this world.

“All she does is screech and say No! No! No!”

 

The above description fit me perfectly.

Yes, me… perfectly.

Marie came to live with us at the age of 6.  She had been picked up off the street at 4 in the morning, barefoot, in her underwear, looking for food.  We took her in as an emergency foster placement because I knew American Sign Language and Marie was deaf. She looked like a wild animal…disheveled, matted hair, flaming eyes of distrust, so filthy everywhere that even an hour in the tub did not wash off all the grime.  Her teeth were dingy yellow, and her body was emaciated.  Being the “good” middle class mother that I was, I cleaned her as best I could and then I took her to buy some clothes.

In the store, she immediately disappeared.  I impulsively called her name, (as though she could hear me.)  When I finally found her, she was in the candy aisle, shoving candy bars into the pocket of her pants.  I screamed,  “No! No! No!”  She looked at me and ran in the other direction.  I finally tracked her down in the pet aisle, just as she was about to open the cage to the hamsters.  I screeched and said “No! No! No!”, and proceeded to grab her, pick her up, empty the candy bars in her pocket, and tote her back to the car without buying anything. If I thought this would teach her a lesson, it did not.  She was not used to buying anything, so she could not appreciate something she never had.

We ate out for lunch at McDonald’s.  Marie ate her sandwich and drank her milk and threw the wrapper and container on the floor.  No! No! No!

library_escalator

The next day I gave her a stern talking to (“signing to?)  and told her that we were going shopping for clothes and that she needed to stay with me. As though THAT was going to work!  As soon as we got into the mall, a place she obviously had never seen before, she skirted UP the DOWN escalator, laughing with glee.  Mortified, I screamed and said No! No! No!  and then watched in horror as she slid down the banister of the escalator.  Big scream! No! No! No!  Home we went. 

Once at home, she got an orange to eat.  She grabbed the butcher knife to cut it and I screamed and caught her hand just as it was about to demolish the orange. No! No! No!

The next day we were going to take a walk to the library.  She broke free from the grip I had on her hand, and ran across 4 lanes of traffic. Scream! No! No! No!

Later in the evening, while watching television, Marie climbed onto my husband’s lap, where she attempted to rub his “private parts” and kiss him.  SUPER BIG SCREECH!  No!  No! No! Oh!  This child was so “bad”!  WHAT was I going to do with her?

At the end of the week, I went to Marie’s school where she was part of a dance performance.  I was glad to be able to be there, as her birth mother had never been seen at the school before.  I watched with pride as she danced and twirled, often sneaking a peak at me to see if I was looking.  When the dance was over, I saw her talking (signing) with another student who commented that Marie had a new mom, and how did she like her? Marie looked over at me for a minute and crumpled her nose, telling her that all I ever do is scream and say No! No! No! I was shocked.  I had never thought of it before, but she was right!  I was so busy chasing and correcting her that it would seem like all I did was scold her.  And what was I scolding her for?  For what I, as a middle class mother, think is wrong.  I had never taken into account that Marie had been raised to do all of those things…to steal food, to take what she wanted from stores, to litter, to be sexually promiscuous (at the age of SIX!) and to have no worries about safety, thinking she was invincible.  This young child, who had lived on the streets and managed to survive without any parental care, just parental abuse…WAS invincible! She did what she needed to survive.

I was so embarrassed. Embarrassed because I was judging her by my standards and not stopping to think of what her standards were.  I vowed never to scream No! No! No! again, but to explain things in a loving manner to her.

We do not steal.  If you want something, I can probably buy it for you.

We do not run into streets with cars, use butcher knives, or slide down escalators.  It is not safe.

We do not just throw garbage on the ground, but in our family we pick it up and put it in a garbage can.

And, most of all, there is no need to make money by being “friendly to men”.   We have plenty of money so you don’t have to do that.  And it is not fair that you had to do that instead of just being a little girl. And you never have to do that again.

Marie did not change overnight, but each time she would fall back onto old habits such as stealing or being unsafe, I would lovingly explain why she no longer had to do that.  She had a family that loved her and it was our job to keep her safe.

Then there was the time when, walking in the mall with a soft drink in her hand, she unwrapped the straw and threw the paper on the ground. My eyes widened, and she laughed when she saw my reaction.  “I was just teasing you” she signed.  “I know I don’t litter in this family….” 

No more screaming from me…

 

 

Link to my book  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/

 

 

 

 

Angels Among Us

First blogged January, 2010

My mother passed away several months ago and it has taken me this long to write about it.  She was the most wonderful mother in the whole world, (and I am not just saying that because that is what one is expected to say about their deceased mother.)  In addition to being kind and loving, she was also very spiritual.

I remember when I was four years old and we lived in Opalaka, Florida, right behind the Hialeah Race Track.  We had a cement swimming pool in the backyard which my father built, and next to it was a palm tree my mother had planted crooked so it was growing sideways.  I had a green parakeet whose name I certainly don’t remember, and I loved watching Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo on our little black and white tv with the rabbit ears antenna.  My brother was born one day in March, and life suddenly changed for our family.  My brother was born with serious disabilities due to Rubella Syndrome, (supposedly my mother had been exposed to someone with German Measles.)  With a cleft palate, he could not nurse or drink from a bottle, so he was fed by a large eye dropper. He could not such on a pacifier and he cried constantly.  He was blind and deaf and was obviously going to be severely developmentally delayed. My joyful childhood was suddenly overshadowed by a sadness of which I had never seen from my mother.  I would witness her throw herself across her bed and sob. A deep sadness enveloped our family. I looked at my little brother, who looked so innocent and little to cause such a fuss.

One day, when the sun was shining brightly and Curtis was asleep, my mother called to me to come sit in the rocking chair with her.  She squeezed me and held onto me tightly, rocking  and crying.  It was a different kind of crying, though.  A happy cry, if I could describe it as such.  From that day on, the gloom lifted from our house and I went back to living my happy childhood with my new baby brother.

Many years later, when I was a young teenager, my mother shared her experience of what happened to her that very day.  The doctors had been encouraging her to put my brother “away”, institutionalize him as was the custom in those days. “Forget about him,” they said, “You can have another child.”  She could not bear to make the thought of doing this.  Then, on that sunny day while rocking in her chair, she told me she was visited by an Angel, a beautiful, bright white Angel.  She told me she could feel the weight of the Angel’s hand on her shoulder, reassuring her that everything was going to be okay.  Although the Angel did not speak, she knew what the message was.  She did not have to worry anymore, her son would be fine, and he was.  He wasn’t fine in that he suddenly became perfectly healthy, but he was fine in that he has led a happy, fulfilling life. Clearly, she had been touched by something spiritual on that day to turn her torrents of tears into smiles of joy over her new baby.

Several years later, while camping high in the mountains, my mother woke up from her sleep and sat up in her sleeping bag.  She was joyous!  She told me she had been to see God, whom she described as a bright and beautiful. She said it felt real, not like a dream at all.  She was confused as to the experience because it seemed as though she was there to help a friend pass over into heaven.  She did not understand because of course her friend was healthy.  It was not until we returned home from vacation that she learned that this friend had died from a brain aneurysm on that very night at that very time.

My mother lived a life of  great happiness and contentment, always seeing the good in people.  Near the end, right before she died, I stayed with her 24 hours a day.  When we knew death was near, the nurses let me lie in bed with her and she passed away in my arms.  I don’t know what I expected when she died.  No…that’s not true…I expected to see some of what she had experienced!  I expected to see her pass into heaven!  I expected there to be some reaction from her body, some knowledge that her lifetime of spirituality would somehow, through osmosis, pass through to me.  But there was nothing.  She just stopped breathing. And there was nothing.

It took me a while to accept her death, and I became angry that there was no sign from God that she was with him.  Realistically I knew this was silly, but I was hugely disappointed.

Christmas time came soon afterwards.  As the parent of 5 children, I had this habit when the children were younger of taking a picture of their sleeping faces on Christmas eve.  As they aged, they hated the existence of these pictures!  (They were usually sucking on a “binky” at the time and girlfriends and boyfriends who saw the pictures in old photo albums would always go “Awwwwwwwwwwww, how CUTE,” the most mortifying thing that could happen to a teenage macho boy!)  This Christmas eve, filled with nostalgia, emptiness and sadness,  I again went into each of their bedrooms and gazed at their sleeping faces.  I was suddenly filled with a great sense of purpose and contentment, much like the type of contentment my mother might have felt when she felt the Angel’s hand upon her shoulder.  These were MY Angels.  These were my children who had endured so much when younger, either with their disabilities or with indescribable child abuse. They have not only survived, but they have THRIVED.  They are happy and loving and successful and they have bright futures as adults.  This is miraculous to me!

A Whole New Meaning to Swimming With the Fishes

I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!

A kiss is a kiss is a kiss…

Showing my two youngest children, Angel and Marie, that l love them has always been a challenge.  I can tell Angel I love him 100 times a day, but he will never believe me because he feels unlovable (due to early childhood abuse.)  He has dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder.)  Sometimes, this 210 pound young man will come and sit on my lap.   He is not 15 years old at the time, but three.  He will snuggle his head against me and I will put my arms around him, (although that is getting more difficult due to his size!)  Then I will sing the Song “All of you…”  Only my words are “All of you. I-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i love all of you.  All of you, even your angry o-n-e.”  He smiles at this, because it is his angry part that feels so unlovable.  I can sing it over and over again, and he will smile.   The three year old in him believes I love him, but his angry part has been lied to many times before.

Marie has a different issue with my love.  She promised her birth mom that she would not love her “new” mom.  She is very resistant to kisses and hugs or any other signs of affection because she feels she is being disloyal, (She has expressed to me she cannot show me affection because if she sees her birth mother again, she will be very angry with her.)  So, we have survived on fist bumps and the “I Love You” sign in ASL.  However,  I have ways to show her affection in every day life.  For example, ever since she came to live with us at the age of seven, I have dried her off after her shower. This has involved sitting on my lap on the toilet seat while I hug her deeply with the towels on.  She melts into my lap and I can tell that she really enjoys it.  If I stop too soon, she will ask for more because she is “still wet”.  She is 13 years old now and I still towel dry her, (although she modestly wraps herself in the towels before I come into the bathroom.)  She still needs my love, even if she cannot accept it in the normal way.

Both children, however, get the biggest kick out of giving me one special kiss.  This is not an ordinary kiss, (so it would not go against Marie’s promise to her birth mom.)  This is a “let the dog lick them all over their mouths and then they run to me to give me an extra sloppy dog kiss”.  I make the obligatory “YUCK!” face, and they both convulse in laughter.  Ha ha!  They “got” me again.  Hey, a kiss is a kiss and I’ll take it any way it comes, even with dog slobber!

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