Archive for the ‘vacation’ 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!

 

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It Took Us the Long Way

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I have written before about the GPS, and lauded its virtues. I remember in the 80s using street maps and trying to find tiny little streets among a vast array of tiny lines. (Think “finding a needle in a haystack”.) The GPS is an easy and quick way to get to a destination.

It was with this confidence that, during a recent trip to Florida with a good friend, we punched in “Downtown Disney”. The directions started to flow, and we dutifully turned and joined highways as we were on our merry way, chatting and laughing about our families and “old times”. After about 45 minutes, we both became serious and one of us said, “This GPS seems to be taking us the long way. It shouldn’t be taking this long to get to Downtown Disney…” It was at that point we looked closer at the GPS to see the estimated arrival time…35 HOURS! WHAT? It couldn’t possibly be THAT far! We looked a little closer and, lo and behold, it WAS taking us to Downtown Disney…in CALIFORNIA!!! Being good friends, (and not spouses, which would cause the opposite reaction,) this was cause for hysterical laughing til the tears flowed. Then we calmly changed the destination to the one in Florida!

As Peaceful as Falling Snow

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My husband and I have the tradition of going to our little cabin in NH at least once a month.  We have had a real challenge raising Marie and Steven lately, so this weekend was especially timely.  Right now I am sitting in a comfy chair, feet up, air warm around me, and a cup of hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows sitting on the table next to me, adding steam to the air.  I am smiling thinking of how this cabin has served us well over the years.

When Steven came to live with us, his obsessive compulsive disorder, extreme hyperactivity and severe sensory integration difficulties were not conducive to family vacations in hotels and such. My father, who adored Steven and saw many of my brother’s mental health traits in him, generously purchased this little vacation home.  He himself had always wanted a house in New Hampshire, and he was proud to be able to give me something that would last a lifetime.  The cabin is full of his carvings, including a sign that says “RELAX!!!”  It might be a reminder to actually relax, except on the sign is a carved eagle with a beak so sharp and long and eyes so wildly life like that it kind of scares me instead.  Fortunately, I have learned to look on this sign with love, a reminder of my dad and his “quirky ways”.

On the wall of the cabin are pictures of the kiddos through the years; Francis water skiing, Dinora standing gloriously in front of Mount Washington, Steven holding up his bucket y.of frogs, one frog in his hand thrust towards the camera looking huge next to his tiny body, Andy wildly waving a sparkler on the Fourth of July and Marie holding up a huge fish she caught ice fishing, almost too heavy for her to hold.  There are other pictures of all of us together, or the kiddos playing in the sand at the beach, cuddling on the deck of the cabin, or hiking in the woods.  The pictures are a nice reminder that we have been parents for a long time, and our children have led full and happy lives with us.

While staying in the cabin is reminiscent, it also serves as a retreat for me and my husband.  It is very quiet here.  No telephone reception. No multitude of cable tv channels.  No internet.  No neighbors. No housework.   No stress.

The weekend is a wonderful interlude to our busy lives, an interlude where we are free to nap all day, laugh at silly things, eat  wonderful concoctions Raymond dreams up, (last night it was shrimp rolled in bacon and topped with cheese,) and spend lots of time loving each other.  While we are loving when at home, we go into overdrive in the secluded cabin. No neighbors can hear our screeching laughs.   No children can walk in on our sexual escapades, and no one cares if I walk around bra-less. We are “free and easy”, and the stress just melts away…

Today, the day we will be packing up to go home, I am sitting here writing this, content watching the snow slowly falling outside; soft, fluffy, amazingly beautiful snow!  Peace surrounds me now.  I am well rested and have laughed and loved my stress away, and I am ready to go home to face whatever challenges may come my way.  Bring it on!

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy,he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell

performed by Neil Diamond in 1970

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

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!

Twenty Ways to Get Your Child to Leave a Waterpark…

I took my daughter, Marie, to a water park today.  Water parks are wonderful inventions!!!  All kinds of neat stuff to do in the water.  There is a big wave pool, which is kind of like swimming in the ocean waves except for the sand and the salt.  This is my favorite part of the water park, where she and I float in tubes holding onto the handles of each other’s tube and bobbing up and down in the water.  (I do have to say that lately I have gained so much weight I could probably bob without the tube…)  We went on water slides, in the lazy river, and I even spent some time in the hot tub.  I lay in the hot tub straight out, with the water jet aimed right at the back of my neck.  I lay there floating, eyes closed, enjoying the hot, pulsating water, feeling some of the tension release in that part of my body.  The tension release was short lived, however, as I was soon frightened out of my mind by a lifeguard who jumped into the hot tub to “save” me.  Because I was lying there floating with my eyes clothes, he thought I had passed out or something.   I was very embarrassed because by now a crowd had formed around me.  I do have to say that it might have been worth it to pretend I did need saving as the lifeguard was a very handsome young man.  But I digress…

The title of this is Twenty Ways to Leave a Waterpark which I write after my sympathy in seeing numerous young children dragged crying and screaming out of the park.  One couple near me just announced it was time to go to their young child.  They child said no.  They yelled it was time to go.  He said no.  They said they were going to leave him at the water park and go home without him.  He turned to go back in the pool. They dragged him out kicking and screaming.  After seeing this happen time and time again with all ages of children, I thought I would share my “leaving the water park”  parent wisdom…

First, close your eyes and picture doing something you really like to do  (OOHH!!!!  Wait, don’t close your eyes or you won’t be able to read this…)  Okay, just think about something you really like to do…watch a baseball game, go to a concert, eat chocolate pudding and so forth.  Then imagine that mid game, mid concert, mid bite of chocolate pudding someone in authority comes and takes it away from you and tells you it is time to go. No advance warning.  No waiting until the end of the 9th inning.  Just “it’s time to go!”  Would you go quietly or would you rebel?  Children have the same feelings.  If they are quickly taken away from something they enjoy doing, they most likely will rebel, and rebel loudly!  So, here are my ways to successfully leave a water park with a happy child.

#1  You could plan to leave the water park at closing time, which would be a natural transition for the child.  The slides and pools are closed.  It is time to go home.  This was good at the water park we were at because it closed at 6:00 pm.  It would be trickier for those parks that close at a later time.

#2  Another way to get a child to leave the water park would be: about an hour before it is time to leave, tell the child that you will be leaving in an hour.  Tell him/her again at 1/2 hour, then when only 15 minutes are left, then 10, then 5, then calmly usher the child off to the exit, as expected.  It takes time to do this, but the payoff with a hassle free exit will be worth it.

#3  Another method: if your child is the type who likes to ride on the slides, set a number of slides he/she can do before it is time to leave.  This works better with older children and does not need to be done an hour before departure, (unless the lines are VERY long….)  With my daughter today, I told her she had 5 more slides.  Then, after a few more slides I told her she had 2 more slides.  After those 2 slides, she came and got dressed to leave without complaint.

#4 For those children who need a more visual cue, there is a timer sold at Maxi-Aids called the Time Timer.  You set it at an hour, and the background is red.  The red slowly gets smaller and smaller until the time is up.  My daughter has no problem adhering to this as a reminder of when it is time to leave.  She can visually see how much time is left, and plans accordingly.  No arguments.  When the red is gone, her time is up.

#5  I was being overzealous…I only have the above 4 ways to graciously leave a waterpark.  Plus the fourth, most difficult way.  If any of the above methods do not work, one parent (or 2, depending on how large your child is,) scoops the child up in your arms and carries him/her out to the car.  The ensuing wailing and screaming will of course attract attention.Believe me when I say that other parents WILL understand.  Besides, you are at a water park far from where you live and you’ll never see them again, so what do you care what they think?  You WILL feel badly for your child, but, as a parent, you have to be brave and carry through with this.    You have to think of your child and his/her future, and what they will learn from this experience.  I guarantee, you will only have to do it once…

The Deaf Leading the Blind: “But I was just TALKING to her…”

My job is a social worker for children who are blind includes coordinating both a summer and winter program for the children with whom we work.  Last winter we went to an indoor water park during February vacation with about twenty-five children who are blind and “legally blind”.  The children had a wonderful time playing in the water park, on the slides, in the wave runner surfing area, and in the pool, as well as participate in the regular activities that we plan, such as playing bingo and dancing.  Getting together is a huge big deal for these children who are mainstreamed into regular classrooms in their neighborhood public schools where they might not ever see another student with a vision impairment.  I began this program twenty two years ago when my oldest son, who is legally blind, was six years old.

The winter program was a huge success!  Most notably for me, it was the first time my fourteen year old daughter who is profoundly deaf wanted to help out a group of younger girls who are blind.  Each girl had their own staff person who amicably allowed Marie to join their group to help with the little girls. Despite the fact that she normally communicates in American Sign Language, she somehow managed to be very sociable and get along well with everyone. Having normally been obsessed with surfing at the wave runner attraction, and being a somewhat selfish young lady, I had expected she would help for a little while, but spend most of her time surfing. However, I was pleasantly amazed that she did not choose her own activity, but spent all of her time in the water park playing with the little girls, helping them on the slides, holding their hands to guide them around the park, showing them where the food was on their plates, and so forth.  She was having a grand time, and the girls all seemed to adore her.

On the last night of this program. Marie was seated at a booth with two of the girls and their staff.  One of the girls all of a sudden started waving her hands wildly in the air. Prone to seizures, her staff person asked her if she was okay.  She said of COURSE she was okay, she was just TALKING to Marie!!  The laughter started at their table and  soon circled around the room as everyone realized what she had said…she was signing to her, of course!!!!

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