Posts tagged ‘disability’

‘Twas Once a Child

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My daughter, Marie, has reached adulthood, having graduated from a residential program that had services for both her deafness and her mental health issues. This is the age of worry for any parent, especially one with so many challenges.

When she came to live with us at the age of seven and we were told she was “just deaf”, we could not have properly prepared ourselves for the roller coaster ride of a life she, and we, would have. She was a wild child, blonde hair askew, eyes angry, mouth so hungry she would hoard food under her mattress. She was very angry she had been removed from her mother, (for doing unspeakable acts which shall remain unspoken.) Despite providing her with a healthy, well cared for childhood, Marie’s disposition had been preformed. She would lie, steal, beg strangers for money, and reject all of our efforts to parent her. A hug and a kiss would throw her into a fury. Discussing our parenting situation and our need to show her love, she reluctantly let us “fist bump” her. Years later she apologized and told us her birth mom made her promise not to hug or kiss us, and that we really wouldn’t be her parents. It took us many years of fist bumps before she would accept a hug, and many years more before she would let us kiss her. She is now a young adult, and freely hugs and kisses us if the mood suits her. She shows genuine affection and appreciation, the highest reward any parent could expect from an original wild child.

Although Marie can be very capable, she has been unable to live in a non-structured setting because of her unstable bouts with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For those unfamiliar with this life altering condition, it is experiencing horrific memories so acutely that one becomes “in the moment” of prior abuse, crazed eyes staring back as though at her accusers, ready to defend herself with flailing arms and legs and gnashing teeth. An ambulance ride to the hospital and sedation was the only thing that could bring her out of her experience. It has always been especially tear inducing, (for me,) when at the hospital, with her hand in restraints, she would wake from the sedation, look around, and finger spell (ASL) asking me where she was, having had no memory of the event. Next she would say her throat hurts, (from screaming, no doubt,) and ask for a Popsicle, which she would skillfully eat while still in restraints.

Marie is now formally an adult. A lot of planning has gone into finding an adult home for her, one that would be staffed 24 hours. My calling all possible supported living programs in our state began about a year and a half ago. With the dual diagnosis of deafness and mental illness, no program would accept her. Many of the programs who may have had prior experience in working with her, never even returned my calls.

After working closely with the Department of Developmental Disabilities, whose frustration and efforts equaled mine; they were able to establish a placement for her that has far surpassed our expectations through a program used to dealing with adults with more severe developmental disabilities. They had no prior experience with a young adult with both of Marie’s difficulties, but once they learned there was someone in such need, they stepped right up and took on the challenge.

Marie now lives in a cute, little house on a nice residential street. As described by those on the show “House Hunters”, this one would be described at “Retro”, with bright yellow tile, a front door carved with circles, and a front porch with wrought iron table and chairs. Neighbors bring over cookies and wave to each other on the street. There are three bedrooms in the house, and she is hoping that a housemate will join her soon. She insists that her house buddy like to watch scary movies, (VERY scary movies,) and, most of all, must not be allergic to pets. Marie has a guinea pig that is usually perched on her chest with both of her hands gently stroking the lucky animal, a calming activity that works for both her and Oreo, who is black with a white center, of course.

Marie is thrilled to be able to go shopping for food she likes, not necessarily the food I have cooked for her. She is no longer in school, so work activities will happily replace the classes with which she used to have such frustration. She has directly chosen the things that she would like to do during the day, throwing out suggestions I would have thought unobtainable.

Marie has always loved to ride horses but gets frustrated that when we go, her horse needs to be tethered to another due to her deafness. She recently began an activity at a horse farm that facilitates riding for children with disabilities. For such children, the riding is therapeutic, but the horse walks slowly. Marie’s job is going to be to trot the horses at the end of the day because the horses themselves get bored walking slowly. What better job than that for someone who loves to ride horses?

Marie’s penchant for all animals has earned her a spot working with “disenfranchised” cats and kittens, that is, homeless felines. She will clean the cages, feed them, and then “show them off” like Vanna White highlights the letters on “Wheel of Fortune”. Oreo will be jealous, I’m sure, so Marie will have to wash the cat scent off before she returns home.

At this point in her life, Marie is feeling very good about herself and her care for others. She has signed up for a Meals on Wheels route, and all of those hugs she didn’t give in her early years will undoubtedly be dispensed ten times over among her lunch recipients.

As a mom with a daughter for whom life experiences didn’t start out well, I am so thrilled that in her adult life she will be doing the things she enjoys with people who will support, encourage and appreciate her. What more could any parent ask for?

 

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To read our story raising Marie and her four siblings, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane. It is on sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thank you for your support!

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I Know Why My Family Had To Travel

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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 St. Patrick’s Day done and over, a Welcome Spring 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 was excited to drive by the nursery this spring.  During the winter after the holidays, it had withering Christmas Trees and wreaths, and was a  stark and unwelcome place. (The owners were probably enjoying sunny Florida.) Now, it is abloom with colors, flowers blazing in the sunlight, sunflowers winking at me, mums in pots and rose bushes awaiting planting.  Such a joyful place to drive by.

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.

 

 

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

Thank you for the support!

 

 

 

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.

Here a Friend, There a Happiness

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My daughter, Marie, was severely abused as a toddler and young child. She came to live with us at the age of 7 after being found wandering the streets barefoot at 2 am carrying her infant brother looking for formula for him. The effects of the abuse were immediately apparent. She couldn’t stand to be touched, and would cower under the table if she felt threatened. She was angry all of the time and refused all attempts at affection. (When she was with us for a few years, she finally allowed me to give her a “fist bump” as a way of showing my love for her, a love she certainly did not reciprocate because she didn’t know what love was.)

Posttraumatic stress episodes were explosive and frequent, and required restraints and hospitalization. She had superhuman strength while in the throws of PTSD, as I am sure the EMTs and firemen who came to transport her to the hospital can attest. She turned into a super kicking, screaming, biting and hitting machine, and it was amazingly frightening to see.   If put in clothe restraints, she would eat through the cloth like a ravenous wolf. The adult restraints were too large and a smaller hole would have to be cut to fit her slim wrists and ankles. She learned to bite the inside of her mouth to spit blood and they tried to put a mask on her, which she immediately sucked into her mouth and gagged on. At the hospital, she would get a shot of Haldol, go into a trance, and wake up questioning what happened. With her hands still restrained and unable to sign regularly, her little fingers would finger spell “Where am I? Why?”

The number of PTSD episodes have subsided to once every 6 months or so. She has learned to love and be loved by her family, and, fortunately, she is making tremendous progress. Marie is going to be 20 years old this month and still attending a specialized school where she can remain until she is 21.

Marie, citing her age that she is an adult, has come more into her own. On her own, she got a tattoo of a dolphin on the inside of her wrist. She loves dolphins since swimming with them at Discovery Cove on her 12th birthday. By choosing that particular tattoo, she reasoned she could look at the dolphin every time she gets upset and it would remind her of a happy time instead of the times she was abused. Like other young adults, she has colored her hair a mixture of blue and blonde, has a lip ring and likes to pick out her own clothes. Her newest adult adventure is finding a girlfriend; recently reconnecting with an amazing girl a few years older than her with whom she attended school many years ago. They have started hanging out and Marie is giddy with excitement. (Marie has never had a real friend of any kind before.)

Yesterday the 3 of us went to Dave and Buster’s at the mall. While Marie LOVES to play the games, sometimes the crowds overwhelm her and she gets anxious, moody and socially unresponsive. Her sweet friend, who does not know the extent of Marie’s early childhood abuse, kept asking her why she was mad at her, which eventually turned into a full blown argument in the car. By the time we got home, her friend was no longer talking to her and said she was never coming to see Marie again. Marie went down and sat on the wall overlooking the lake, her head drooping down. She texted me on her phone, “Help Me”. Joining her on the wall, I noticed she was crying, something I have never seen Marie do. The tears spilled out of her eyes and were running down her cheeks like an ever-flowing fountain. Her mouth was quivering and her sad eyes said it all. I hugged her and the tears turned more torrential. After a while she signed to me “She thinks I’m mad at her and that I have an attitude. I don’t know how to tell her.” Meaning she didn’t know how to tell her about her abuse and that sometimes it still affects the way she acts. She didn’t know how to tell her how much she loved her as a friend, her FIRST friend, and she didn’t want to hurt her, but sometimes she couldn’t control her emotions. She asked me to come with her to talk to her friend to help her explain.

Her friend was annoyed. Marie began about her family history and her friend said that SHE, too, had a mother addicted to drugs and that SHE, too, had been adopted. She said she learned to just “get over it” and why couldn’t Marie? With this criticism, Marie ran from the room and back to the wall by the lake. I explained that Marie had an extremely traumatic childhood, far and above just her mom doing drugs. I explained the hurt, the hospitalizations, and the challenging life she has endured. Her friend’s angry face softened with understanding. As I was talking, a tear slipped down her cheek and she got up and went down to the wall by the lake. When I looked out the window, they were both hugging and laughing.

I pray that Marie’s friend will continue to be her friend and accept her with all of her emotional baggage. It would take an amazing friend to do that, and I have a feeling she IS that amazing!

Dad and Daughter shared Ice Cream

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My heart has been very heavy lately, which is a feeling that I am very unused to. The fact is, as my children age, some into young adulthood, their problems are more real life problems, not just a tantrum in the grocery store. 2 of my younger children, with as many good traits and skills that they do have, do not having the capacity to be fully self-sufficient as adults, including incapacity to maintain a paying job. Yes, SSI is a possibility when they are adults, but even that provides only poverty level income. They are my family and my financial responsibility, which necessitates looking at the ability of our extremely diminishing finances to care for them during their lifetimes.

Although hubby and I both work, often 6 days a week, and are considered solidly middle class, our bank account does not reflect this. Every time Marie has a PTSD episode, (every 6 weeks to 2 months,) the ambulance bill exceeds $1000, money that is not reimbursable. (She requires additional emergency personnel because restraining her safely requires at least six, strong professional emergency adults.) We have funded one college tuition, and are currently funding another at expensive colleges to best meet the special needs of my children, (for which they received no financial assistance because we are, after all, “middle class”…) In order to attempt to give them the best education to be able to succeed despite their disabilities, we subsequently have taken a large second mortgage on our home. And then a third… Hubby and I live “paycheck to paycheck”, as I am sure many parents of children with disabilities live.

But I digress…what I was saddest about is that Steven now has partial custody of a beautiful, vivacious daughter who is one year old. (Note to parents: make sure you talk OFTEN about birth control to your teenagers, especially your teenagers with disabilities…) He, and we, do not have any extra money to support her in the manner to which we are accustomed to supporting our children. With his Asperger’s (and extremely capable skills in caring for animals,) Steven is a doting dad. Not working, he has tons of time to spend with her and can generally be seen sitting on the floor of the living room playing with her interactively, rocking her for a nap, singing her nursery rhymes, or taking her in the large, fenced in back yard to swing and explore and play to her heart’s content. What he does not have is money to pay for her needs, and this breaks my heart. This morning, he asked if I have any “change” and if he can go look in the car if there are any quarters that have fallen behind the seat. At last count, he’d managed to scrape up $2.19.

Driving home today, I was stopped by the light near our house. On the corner is an ice cream stand where our family often used to take a walk for ice cream. The kiddos would giggle over whether they would get the chocolate jimmies or colored ones, (the sprinkles were free!) Today, I noticed the young man sitting on the picnic bench. Across from him was a stroller with a young girl in it. Both had tan skin and wild, curly black hair. Holding a small container of ice cream in his hand, he was using a spoon to feed her, laughing and playing the “airplane” game to put the ice cream in her mouth. She was giggling also, throwing her arms in the air as if to say “wheeeeeee!” after every spoonful. Steven exhibited pure happiness, that special kind of happiness a parent has for their child. They were joyful and the fact that she wore cheap diapers and wore hand me downs that didn’t always fit did not matter at all. Suddenly I felt a little bit better about not have any money, because Steven taught me today that money does not makes life purposeful, but it is love, which is free. Life is good!

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The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane
Authored by Linda Petersen
The link to the book:
https://www.createspace.com/5321986?ref=1147694&utm_id=6026

That Disability Line Looked Awfully Tempting!

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Needing to get a picture ID, Marie and I went into the black hole named the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Despite many years of revamping, that place can still take 4 hours to navigate. It was with this background that I bring up the option of the line for people with disabilities. Actually, there WAS no line. Tempting. MMMMMMMM. Marie has a disability. Teaching her to be more independent, I was actually only accompanying her while showing her that SHE can maneuver through the system. Without parental assistance, she really DID have a disability. But I have raised my children not to see their disabilities but their abilities. She may not talk or hear, but, armed with all of the appropriate paperwork filled out and the certificates of existence she needed, (birth certificate and social security card,) she has the capabilities of writing what she wants to say and reading back what the other person writes to get her ID herself. She can function as fully as a non-deaf teenager in the registry. And that meant she was fully capable of waiting in line like everyone else.
There have been many times in life that a disability line looked tempting, especially handicapped parking. What parent of a child with a disability hasn’t dreamed of getting that front row spot. Granted, many parents of children with disabilities DESERVE that front row spot, but not us. My kiddos can walk fine. No need to park there, even if the only other spot was a half mile away. But it certainly was tempting…
Just like that line at the registry. After about an hour of snaking through the regular line, the disability line looked awfully lonely. Marie could just zip in there and be done with it. But Marie isn’t disabled. She can communicate fine, just differently than others. She does not need a special line.
And such is our life. To let the children think they can use a disability line to get through life would be unfair to them. They have been raised to know they can do everything anyone else can do, they just may have to do things differently. No disabilities here!

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The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane
Authored by Linda Petersen
The link to the book:
https://www.createspace.com/5321986?ref=1147694&utm_id=6026

We Had a Rockin’ New Years Eve with the Three Stooges!

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Celebrating New Year’s Eve with the children has always been a challenge. They have different tastes and interests. It is especially difficult with Marie because she is deaf. Movies are okay for her with closed captioning, but she only has a first grade reading level, so most of the words are beyond her understanding.

On Christmas day hubby hit the jackpot. Our oldest son, Francis, bought him the entire collection of the Three Stooges! We took advantage of this thoughtful gift on New Year’s Eve. The whole family sat around the television, gourmet pizza in hand, and apple juice as our simulated alcoholic drink. And we watched the Three Stooges. For HOURS. From 2014 to 2015. Their slapstick humor, so completely socially inappropriate now, was so funny that we doubled over with laughter and tears ran down our cheeks. THE WHOLE FAMILY! ESPECIALLY MARIE!!!!! Near the end of the evening, Marie, who had been sitting on the couch next to her dad, leaned over and put her head on his shoulder and her arms around his robust body. Almost afraid to move lest he scare her away, he gently put his arm around her, and looked at me and smiled. This child, who has a serious attachment disorder and from whom affection has been doled out in minuscule doses, was cuddling with her dad!

Afterwards, when we were all laughed out and the morning was near, one by one we reluctantly sauntered off to bed. While hubby and I were cuddling before allowing sleep to take over, hubby began to cry. “Did you see how Marie cuddled with me?” he asked. “It was the best night of my life.”

Yes. Yes it was!

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