Posts tagged ‘kids’

The Original Tiny House

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When our children were young, it was evident that we could not take Steven, with his autistic tendencies and severe sensory integration issues, on vacations to touristy hotels in unfamiliar areas. It only took us one trip to New Hampshire when he was a toddler to learn that his disability might be a hindrance for family fun and relaxation.

Never one to back down from a lifetime of vacations, hubby and I went up to NH a few weeks later to search for a home away from home in which Steven could be comfortable. We purchased a small cabin, one which would qualify to be a tiny house on Tiny House Hunters. It is cleverly designed, having 2 bedrooms. The “master” bedroom consists of a double bed inside 4 walls where one has to open the door outwards to crawl onto the bed. The second bedroom had 3 fashionable twin beds in bunked style, again accessed in the doorway. There is a tiny ladder to reach the 2nd and 3rd bunks. The tiny kitchen doesn’t matter because we usually grilled our food, and the tiny bathroom may have a bathtub in which I can’t sit up, but it is better than no bath at all.

This cabin has served our family well throughout the years with swimming, canoeing, fishing, frog catching, game playing and lots of family fun. It has never been as valuable as it has the past few years when hubby and I try to go up for monthly respite weekends. Life is so hectic and busy and often problematic having children with difficult issues that we literally count the days until we can once again relax in the woods; no cable tv, no wi fi, no telephone coverage, completely cut off from the outside world.

So it was that I relaxed this past weekend. Sitting on the deck, I sipped my tea and listened to the quietness. Every so often a bird would chirp, different birds, different chirps. I had never been interested in bird watching, but hearing the variety of peeps and tweets piqued my interest.

The snake that lived under the house was sunning itself on a nearby rock. Because Steven was a snake expert, I learned that it was not a dangerous snake, and would eat field mice that might otherwise invade our tiny house. I might prefer a cat, but a snake would do in a pinch.

The silence of the woods reminded me of meditation. My mind was calm and relaxed, free floating and super observant. The trees were all blanketed in dew, and thefat dewdrops hung from each leaf, defying gravity. I further noticed that on the end of each pine tree branch was new growth, poking out gently in a light green extension, a half inch or so long. Somehow I had never thought of trees growing, much less be able to witness it in action. The same flowers that we had planted at home without much success were growing like wild flowers at our retreat; large leaves everywhere, bright, vibrant flowers so tall and large that their stems were bent over with the weight.

It seemed like eternity, no thought of time or place, as I sat there and all my anxiety fell away and contentment filled its space. I was ready! I would “put my big girl panties on” and face the stress of the week ahead with courage, knowing that in another 29 days I could return to this place of peace.

 

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If you would like to read more about our family adventures, please purchase my book The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Termites Aren’t so Bad

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My oldest son, Francis, was born “legally blind”. His visual acuity stabilized at 20/400. (In layman’s terms, what a fully sighted person could see 400 feet away, Francis could only see blurrily at 20 feet.) He used his hearing so well that it was easy to forget that he had impaired vision, but every now and then something humorous would happen to remind us!

One Friday night when he was about three years old, he entered the living room as my friend and I quietly sat amongst the pillows on the couch, munching away on buttered popcorn, and watching “Dallas” on television, (our ridiculously favorite TV show at the time.) He toddled toward where we sat and without hesitation climbed onto my friend’s lap.

“Why, HELLO there!” she exclaimed excitedly, since Francis had previously been very shy with her. He looked startled and then began to cry hysterically. He thought that he had crawled onto my lap! He could see well enough to distinguish that there were 2 figures on the couch, but was unable to focus on the differences of our faces. From that moment on, when he entered a room, he would say “Hi, mom!” and I would respond, “Hi, sweetie!” so he could tell from afar which figure I was. At the age of three he had already learned to make accommodations for his vision loss.

He made similar accommodations when he started. He loved going and had many playmates but seemed to develop a deep friendship with a little boy named Eddy, whom I had not yet met because his mom dropped him off at a later time. Francis would come home and tell me that he and Eddy played with blocks or outside in the playground or cleaned the hamster cage together. I was not only excited that he was actually telling me about his day at “school” but relieved that he was able to socialize and make friends.

One morning my lazy body did not want to get out of the comfy bed on time, so he was driven to school much later than usual. I accompanied him into the building and saw the entire class sitting on the floor listening to their teacher read a book. At first glance, the sea of toddlers looked like a blur of Caucasian, light haired children. Francis scanned the room with his limited vision, spotted Eddy, and walked over to sit down next to the only African-American child in the class. Francis was one smart kid…for his best friend he chose the classmate who was easiest to pick out!

Francis had a wonderful, normal nursery school experience, with one notable exception. The school invited an exterminator as a guest speaker who regaled the class about the abundance and peril of termites munching on the wood of houses. Francis came home terrified at the possibility of having them in our basement. I had never seen him so anxiety ridden and he developed problems falling asleep and nightmares. After about a week of this, I finally asked, “WHY are you so afraid of such tiny bugs?” He burst into fearful, explosive tears. “TINY????” he replied. “THEY ARE HUGE!”

Driving through Providence, RI, Francis had previously seen the only termite of his young life, the famous “Big Blue Bug” atop a building on Route 95, which is 928 times the size of a regular termite. No wonder he was so petrified! His understanding was that termites that large roamed throughout his basement and were eating his house! After I stopped laughing, it was explained to him that the Big Blue Bug by the side of the road was a joke and that termites are tiny. Then his dad and I took him downstairs, searched and confirmed that our house was, in fact, termite free. Happy dreams were his again.

 

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If you want to read about Francis’ hugely successful life, including skiing, captaining a sailboat, obtaining a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, and eventual career as a high level manager at a famous Silicon Valley computer company, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Regrets…I’ve Had a Few

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As we age, it is common to have a few regrets of things we have or haven’t done along the way. When I was a child, (and traveled cross-country with my family,) I never got out of the car to see the Grand Canyon. Always on the move, I was used to short stops at tourist attractions, the Grand Canyon being no exception. I regret my choice stay in the car because of crabbiness, carsickness, stubbornness or what have you. I simply went back to sleep with a pillow over my head to block out the beautiful colors of the sunset. Also during childhood, I did not have the joy of playing in our ocean state waves. Living on a lake, my parents never felt the need to visit the ocean, and the only ocean I saw was near my public school, Oakland Beach. Nice beach, but not so exciting on the wave front. It wasn’t until I was 16 years old and able to drive with my friends to the beach that I realized RI had waves that were unbelievable! All those youthful waveless years wasted…

I regret never telling my dad of my love for him. As a sensitive child, I misunderstood his detachment from me, seeing it as a sign of my un-worthiness of his love instead of the mental illness he suffered. Only when I aged and he was gone did the truth become clear, and by then it was too late.

I regret the Christmas when I hid 5-year-old Dinora’s Littlest Mermaid bedspread under her bed. Pointing out that Santa had left a gift under her bed, she looked at me in shock and started crying hysterically. Was I telling her a BIG FAT MAN had been in her bedroom when she was sleeping? Seeing how upset she was, I quickly reassured her that really was no Santa Claus, causing an even bigger burst of tears. Strike one against me for prematurely destroying a little girl’s fantasy!

My latest regret came this week. Against the advice of others, an older family friend had chosen to keep her terminally ill husband at home rather than send him to a Hospice nursing home even though his physical care would be a challenge for her own aging body. A month ago I combed through the card store, finally finding the perfect card to express my support for her and to provide encouragement. I was too late in sending it. Her husband passed away this week, relegating my card to join the flow of regular sympathy well wishes, not special at all.

From now on, I will welcome Mother Nature and keep little girl’s dreams alive. People whom I admire will be lavished with praise, and people whom I love will be told, often and heartfelt, that they are loved, the same way I wanted to tell my dad so many years ago.

 

 

A Cautionary Tale about Halloween Costumes

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For some reason, one of my children’s favorite holidays is Halloween. When discussing shared custody of his toddler daughter, my son, Steven, listed Halloween as the most important holiday. Christmas…ah…he can be flexible. Thanksgiving….not all that important. Fourth of July? Just another summer day. (Of course, the fact that with his Asperger’s he is naturally aversive to the larger celebrations does come into play here.)

Steven, being the obsessive reptile expert that he is, always dressed like Steve Irwin, the famous crocodile hunter, for Halloween. Crouching down near the doors of the expectant candy deliverers, he could be heard saying “Aye! Ain’t she a beaut!” while poking at a snake (stuffed), just like his television idol. His plan this year is to again dress like Steve Irwin and to dress his precious daughter up as a crocodile, once again proclaiming, “Aye, Ain’t she a beaut!” at each home. He is excited to be able to share this pleasant childhood memory with HIS child.

Having five children and many foster children, I was always on the look out for Halloween costumes on sale at deep discounts after the holiday. I hit the jackpot at Toys r Us one year when I found an adult sized chicken costume, complete with feathers, sizable full head mask with a plume on top, suitably lifelike feet and feather-like gloves. The price was 90% off. What a find! Excitement welled up in me as I thought about the next Halloween and one of my children wearing the amazing outfit.

As it does every October, Halloween rolled around again, and the costume was perfect for Francis, my oldest son, who was very, very tall at the age of 10. He wanted a silly, popular costume like Spiderman, but I talked him into wearing the chicken costume, a really GOOD costume. He was afraid people would think he was Big Bird, a humiliating costume for a 10 year old. I assured him it looked NOTHING like Big Bird.

Of course, I was completely wrong. At each and every door, the candy presenter would exclaim, “Oh, LOOK! It’s BIG BIRD!” and they would laugh at the amazement of such an elaborate costume. Francis, of course, did not laugh. At each and every door, he would turn around to look and stare at me through the beady little eyes of the chicken mask. His steely stare said it all. He was humiliated and it was my fault!

I learned valuable lessons that day. Just because something is on sale at a deep discount does not mean I have to buy it. And maybe, just maybe, those silly, popular costumes of Spiderman may be what my child wants to wear, which doesn’t make them silly at all!

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

Sucked Up by a Vacuum

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Instead of driving his 1999 work van with the worn tires, Hubby was going to take my car for an out of town trip. Knowing that our cleanliness styles are contrary, I decided to surprise him and clean up my car in the fashion he prefers. (Clean, that is.) After going through the super duper car wash with all the bells and whistles, I emptied out every speck of trash, right down to the McDonald receipts and gum wrappers left by my youngest son. Then, in a daring move, I put 3 quarters into the huge vacuum cleaner to vacuum the floors. While pulling on the hose to reach the front seat, somehow the nozzle grabbed onto the front of the dress I was wearing. Surprised, I pulled the hose up to get it off my dress, but all that did was pull my dress up over my head. Frantic, I put the hose down lower, and it then glommed onto my underwear. Pulling on the hose seemed to increase its strength until my underwear was pulled so tight it felt like a wedgie. Quite the tourist attraction, I was standing in the parking of the car wash with the cars driving by on a very busy road. My dress was up and, with my underwear also clinging to the hose, a loud, piercing scream was coming out of my mouth while I frantically turned in circles and jumped up and down trying to free myself. It was just like being sucked up into a giant vacuum. Oh, wait…I WAS being sucked up into a giant vacuum!

Fortunately, those 3 quarters only paid for 2 minutes, and eventually the hose released its powerful grip. Flinging the hose out of my hand like it was electrically charged, I slinked down into the front seat, hiding.

Oh, well, it was MOSTLY clean for Hubby…

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!

Ah…the Joys of Driving!

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When I was young, there were a few small amusement parks within a short drive. Ones where the “big” roller coaster had one big dip, nothing much else. And a carousel made in the 14th century, (or so it seemed judging by the music and the outdated horses.) My favorite ride was the “turnpike”. I would get into an impressive, albeit cheap imitation, of a real car. It had a real gas pedal and a real brake and a steering wheel that actually steered the car! (It also DIDN’T have a metal rod in the middle of the road to guide the driving, OR a seat belt!) I would proudly drive up and over the hills and around the bends, expertly stopping at the end without hitting the car in front of me. I had illusions of driving a “real” car when I was older.

And so it was with excitement that I agreed to go with Marie to drive a go cart. The same thing, right? Pretend little car. Gas, brake, steering wheel. Nice road to drive on, great memories!

I naively positioned myself down into the go cart, somewhat difficult to do because being limber is not one of my strong points. It took a while to put on the safety harness, which was invented by the same person who invented the Rubik’s cube. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get mine to fit until the embarrassing moment when the attendant helped make my harness larger to accommodate my…um…”assets”, (liabilities?)

Once properly positioned, I waved the thumbs up sign to my daughter who was in the car behind. I couldn’t turn around to see her, of course, being so strapped into the car not a muscle in my body would turn even a smidgen. But I heard Marie screech, letting me know she agreed it was a thumbs up situation.

Being first was amusing, because it took a while for me to push the gas pedal down hard enough to give the car gas. As everyone else anxiously waited behind me, I took off out of the gate at a crawl! As soon as I was on the “road”, hugging the right lane in fear, everyone else easily passed me.

This was SOOOO not the turnpike ride I remembered from my youth. It was very noisy and bumpy and the centrifugal force when turning corners necessitated me holding onto the steering wheel with all of my strength, (which got increasingly difficult as my hands started to sweat.) Worst of all, despite the restraints, my “assets” bounced up and down uncomfortably. The parents sitting in the viewing stands were silently laughing at me, of course. (It was at that point that I realized the PARENTS were WATCHING, not driving. Hmmmmm.)

Despite being the first one to take off, I was the last to arrive back at the gate. The final embarrassment was people watching as I tried to maneuver myself up and out of the car. An impossible task, until two of the attendants came over and took my hands and pulled me out.

Oh, no, not the turnpike ride of my youth. The whole thing was quite unsettling until I saw the joy on my daughter’s face, (and her laughter that she “beat me”.) She was thrilled that we had done it together. And it was worth every bumpy, humiliating moment.

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