Posts tagged ‘parenting’

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!

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.

 

 

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.

Little Boy Tadpoles

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Communicating with a daughter who is deaf can be particularly challenging, especially because my signing skills are not at her level I have always said, however, that I have enough signs for her to understand what I am saying.

For instance:
Marie loves camouflage shirts, pants and sweatshirts. One day she asked me why the clothing looked like leaves, and I told her it was made that way so people could hide in trees in the woods to shoot deer or other animals. As expected, her mouth opened wide and the surprise showed in her glinting blue eyes. SHOOT an animal? She would never do that! She thought for a minute and then told me she was going to say the leave shirt is for playing hide and seek in the woods and no one could find her. I tend to think they might be looking for her for a very long time…

Another time I had difficulty explaining things was when we were talking about sex. She wanted to know how women get pregnant. She knows about the mechanics of “sex”, (she was abused for years.) What she couldn’t understand was how the woman got pregnant. So, in my best non-professional way, (and I will skip over the highly graphic part) I told her that the male has tiny tadpoles which he shoots up to meet the females tiny eggs, then the two would get together and a baby would develop. Tiny tadpoles, huh? She looked at me quizzically. Tiny eggs? After a minute or two, she shrugged and accepted my explanation. However, when she was fishing recently in our backyard, she saw some tadpoles. And caught them. To give to a boy who might not have any…

To read about Marie’s traumatic early years with us, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane on Amazon.

The Words Every Adoptive Mom Longs to Hear…

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Like most other adoptive parents, I adopted children because I, selfishly, wanted children. (My theory was if I had children to care for, I really didn’t have a lot of extra time to clean the house. I would rather care for a child than mop the floor…) An adoptive parent should never think their child who is adopted is beholden to them. The child didn’t choose to be born into their circumstances, and they certainly didn’t ask to be adopted. And I have had more than my share of emotionally unstable children, (aren’t all teenagers unstable anyway?) and never expected them to be happy about my choice to adopt them, (or at least not to express that feeling.)

But I was wrong. I went to Marie’s award ceremony at school today. Most parents didn’t go, it was during the day and I’m sure it was hard for them to get off work. It was hard for me to get off work, too, and I will have to work on the weekend to make up for it, but I went because I wanted to support Marie, who had been doing phenomenally in school. Marie didn’t know I was coming, and she was sooooooooo excited! She ran over, gave me a big, wet, on the lips kiss, and put her head on my shoulder while she hugged me tightly. She was genuinely happy to see me, (and not just because she knew I would take her out for ice cream after the ceremony.) She dragged me to all of her friends, and announced to them in American Sign Language something that made my heart stop and tears come to my eyes. She said, “This is my mom. She wasn’t my real mom when she adopted me when I was 7 years old, and at first I didn’t like her, but she made me feel safe and she gave me food and clothes. Now I love her very much and she is my real mom because now I have a happy life and I know I will have a happy future. And someday I will have babies and make her a grandmother!” I am her mom, indeed!

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To read about our traumatic early years together, please purchase my book, The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane on Amazon.

Mothers, Help Your Sons Grow Up to be Fathers…

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My oldest son, Francis, grew up amongst a caravan of foster brothers and sisters. Specializing in newborns and infants who had been affected by prenatal drug exposure and addiction, our family was usually comprised of my husband and myself, Francis, his sister, Dinora, who had been adopted from Guatemala, and one or two foster babies. Despite the fact that Francis is severely visually impaired, he played an active role in child care, frequently holding a little one, feeding a bottle and changing diapers. When going to the mall, he and his sister would proudly push the double stroller. (With the 2 of them, he could be a pusher without having to see where he was going…) Throughout his childhood, sixteen foster babies lived with us, and caring for them was just a fact of life.

Francis is now an adult with a Ph. D. from Cambridge, a well paying dream job, a wonderful wife and a cozy home complete with a grill for grilling steaks and a lawn to mow. And, as of three weeks ago, a newborn baby. My week spent with his little family renewed my faith in the power of what is learned in childhood. Without even knowing it, I had trained Francis how to be a good father! He bundles his little girl up in a baby blanket, like I had bundled up those babies who were going through withdrawal. Newborns like being in a tidy bundle because they arrive with strong startle reflexes and without much control of their arms and legs. By pulling her arms and legs in close and securely wrapping a blanket around her little body, baby India can feel safe and secure. When she is awake and alert, Francis rocks her and sings songs to her, songs that he heard me sing so many years ago: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Hush Little Baby,” and “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”. Even though she couldn’t possibly know the songs, the sound of his voice quiets her, and these songs are easy to sing. When he is expertly changing her diaper, he plays “This Little Piggy” with her toes, gently pulling her feet to his mouth to kiss. He exaggerates the “wee wee wee home” by tracing his finger from her toes to her chin, tickling her slightly before kissing her forehead. And while she sits in his arms on the couch, ready for bed, he reads her books with very large print; “Goodnight Moon”, and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”.

On the evening before I left to fly home, he looked over at me and thanked me for giving him the opportunity to practice on all those babies years ago. All of his friends are having babies now, he said, and they are all in a tizzy. Because of the practice HE had, he is a confident parent and not at all nervous with India. I realized that by being a foster parent to infants, I was not only caring for little ones, but also nurturing parenting skills in my oldest sons, skills that will ensure he will be an awesome father!

I have repeated this post from last year. His adorable baby is now a year old, and his father’s day skills have continued to flourish!

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If you are interested in reading other stories about Francis, please purchase my book on Amazon.

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