Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Something To Learn

I believe it is about time you met another one of my children! But who should I start with?  I thought maybe Eric should be next, he is the oldest. That just seems so predictable and I am not one to follow rules much.  Oh, I do my best to obey laws, adhere to recipes, and stand in line to wait my turn.  When it comes to the day to day stuff, though, repetition is extremely boring!  So, if I don't see the probability of an unfavorable outcome, chances are I may switch things up a bit.  Needless to say, consistency is a learned behavior in my case.

Brooke Photography is AMAZING
Allow me to introduce Angel, my preteen for a few more weeks, middle son.  This charismatic yet insecure, strong yet fragile, funny yet easily embarrassed boy helped me to know I could unconditionally love a child who did not carry my DNA.  Angel was five and a half when CPS brought him to stay, temporarily at our home.  He was a busy, chatty, singer of a lad.  He sang constantly!  He also had an angry side and rightfully so.  
Because of life before us, our son has developed Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and has some battles to fight that children from healthy families would not be exposed to.  He has seen things I have only heard of and has not been cared for in a way to help him feel secure with himself and those around him.  Our seven year challenge with Angel has been to help him trust the grown ups in his life, remain consistent enough to outlast the residue of past history, and encourage his unique gifts and talents.

That is a squid tentacle.  Uh huh, gross.
The survival techniques he learned from not being safe, not knowing when his next meal would be, let alone not knowing what kind of mood his meth addicted mother would be in, taught him some strong habits we would need to break and turn into skills to strengthen him. Throughout the time he has been with us, considerable headway has been made.  Last year, though, our challenges hit what we believe was the pinnacle.

Our son rebelled his entire school year.  We tried EVERYTHING we could think of. RAD seemed to be running our lives. We even had to endure someone calling the police on us while Angel ran laps in a parking lot due to some very serious infractions at school. (That was fun)  I was in tears the majority of the year, afraid of where my boy was heading and I had NO power over it.  At home, at school, at church, defiance was on the rise.

I asked Angel to pose for me!  First Day of School!!!
We determined we needed more control of his out-of-control life.  His social circles would have to be limited because it was difficult for him choose not to follow suit with peers using poor judgement.  So, I have become a "home school" mom, of sorts, with the help of our school.

(hint *support your child's school and staff.  They will be there when you need them)

We knew we had made the right decision when we saw "the weight of the world" begin to lift off of his shoulders. I am excited to say, since the beginning of summer break Angel's attitude has totally turned around.  He is generally happy, helpful and honorable.  At least, he is trying to be. We still have and will continue to have our moments to work through, but, that is the reason for him staying home. It is a reason I crave new challenges.

Encouraging Jillie to help
Over the years, I have figured out that God has instilled aversion for routine in me, not so I can get out of the mundane but so I am not comfortable in it.  He knew the family He would be giving me, and knew I would need to be able to react quickly, think outside of the box, and be good with transitions.  He knew my kids would need a mom capable of outmaneuvering them, while not becoming overwhelmed.  I love that God infuses us with personality traits and allows us to choose to how we use them.  I like to say, I use my super powers for good and not evil now.

Come to think of it, there may be another reason for us being "home bound".  As we take a year to really get to know each other, as we take a year to introduce our son to himself, as we take a year to firm up a foundation that he will build his future upon, Angel's staying home is dependant upon my staying at home. His commitment is dependant upon my commitment.  His success is dependant upon my success.  You see, it will take two of us to make this work.  We need organization, consistency, patience, repetition, planning, Not necessarily my forte but, while Angel is busy learning, don't you think God has something for me to learn also?

I love Brooke Photography!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Possibilities not Probabilities

Last week we took Jillie to a "Can't Wait Until Eight" Special Olympics golf program and she LOVED it. Who would have thought our two week shy of five girl with special needs would enjoy such a sport.  I have to admit, golf is not a past time I am particularly fond of.  Chasing a tiny white ball around a massive back yard is really, not my cup of tee.  (Did you see that, pun intended)

The Hubster on the other hand, he likes the game.  His clubs, glove and shoes are gathering dust in the garage, waiting for another chance to meet up with a course for a few hours.  Unfortunately, finances have not afforded him any tee-times for many years. I know, deep with in his heart he has been longing for a partner to enjoy this form of recreation along side of him. It looks as if that opportunity may be coming sooner than we thought.  Time will tell.

What does Jillie see in golf, is the question though.  The first time she "played" her putter was just about taller than she is.  The awkward stance for a child with low muscle tone, has got to be a challenge.  The grip on the club is another difficult task all in itself.  What is she seeing that I don't?

As I watched her setting her feet and lining up her putt with Coach Mark, getting ready for her "tic-toc" swing, I spotted something.  I saw her thought process, trying to figure out what to do, willing her body to move in the direction she wants it to.  I could see her fighting her Dyspraxia.  She knew exactly what she wanted to do but the link between her brain and her body is weak.  You see, Jillie, like her oldest brother, is a thinker.  She delights in figuring things out.  She sits in front of a mirror for a half an hour examining her face while maneuvering her mouth to form sounds and words.  Her first time on a carousel she watched the gears in movement instead of the horses, people, or lights, exactly like Eric.  She loves to watch her "Signing Time" sign language DVDs over and over and over while perfecting the subtle formations of her fingers.

Again, she amazes me.  Why should I be surprised though?  After all, she has more chromosomes saying she is a Schulze than she has providing her with Down syndrome.  Why do I put such unwarranted limitations on her?  I don't do it on purpose.  I see her striving to learn daily, why should this be any different?  It shouldn't.

So here I am, again, at the putting green being reminded to raise the bar for her.  Challenge her to do things I have not expected.  Allow her time and room to grow.  Stop thinking, I know her probabilities and start looking for her possibilities.

The thought comes to mind that, I need to make sure I am doing just that with the rest of my family.  Sometimes, I rely on history to play out our future.  When I should be relying on history to be the foundation for our future.  I believe God wants us to build upon each and every event in our lives whether positive or negative.  He doesn't want us to live life in repetition. He wants us to stop looking at our probabilities and begin searching for our possibilities.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sing or Scream

Hi, my name is Cindy and I am a recovering "yeller".

Back when my oldest, Eric, was about four, I had issues with a short fuse and a loud, intimidating voice.  As much as I did not want to admit or see what this was doing to my family. I knew something had to be done.  At the time, I was a relatively new believer and knew that I wanted my husband to be the "head of our home".  The battle that I was engaged in, though, was that the wife is the "heart of our home."

God made this mama strong and heavily opinionated.  That whole "sweet and gentle spirit" stuff, couldn't have applied to me, could it have?  It was easy for me to point out the Hubster's emotional outbursts but mine?  I was "stuck" at home with two small children and took care of four others under the age of five during the day. That verse in Colossians 3 about "do not aggravate your children" that was for the fathers, right?  Or were those the words God was trying to get through my strong willed skull.

I don't know if it is the same with you but, in my house the old adage, "If Mama ain't happy, no body's happy" kind of rings true.  You see, if the Hubster comes home from work and has had a rough day, I can provide a shield for the kids and things still run relatively smoothly.  If one of my kiddos is on the edge, again I can field those emotional foul balls.  But, if I am moody, off kilter, cranky or outwardly frustrated, everyone is affected.  All of a sudden, it is like nuclear fallout as each member of the clan succumbs to the poisonous attitude emanating from my heart, through my words both spoken and not.

I finally built up the courage to take on this ugly side of me.  Who could call me on the carpet when needed though?  Mature witnesses were few and far between, so I went to my kids.  I pulled Eric and Emily aside and admitted to them my dilemma.  I no longer wanted my voice to ring angrily throughout our home.  I, humbly, gave them permission to tell me when I was yelling.  That was rough.

I had no idea how rough it would be though until, I was in the heat of the moment making my frustrations heard when, in a small, quivering voice Eric said, "I don't know if this is a good time or not but..."  He need not say another word.  My heart sunk.

I am happy to report, even though we slip up at times, our voices can not be heard in the neighbor's living room anymore.  I say "we" because, when I made the choice to tone down my tune. the Hubster and then the kids followed suit.  It goes both ways you see,  I can sing or I can scream.  What ever I choose, will set the mood music for the adventure of our lives, LIFE.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Now is Jillie's Time

I LOVE this photo!  Every kindergarten year for every child, I have a photo very much like it.  The new schoolchild hand-in-hand with Daddy, approaching the building they would begin their academic career in.  To me it represents my husband leading my child to his or her first step towards independence.  

This particular photo, though carries a little more weight with it.  My baby is off to school.  The little girl who has surprised me day after day with her eagerness to learn will be learning from someone else.  I have to admit also, I have a tad bit of fear for the moment she encounters someone who does not appreciate just how special she is and chooses to tease her instead of protect her.  But, now is Jillie's time to stand up for herself.  Now is Jillie's time to show the world just what she is made of.  Now, is my time to step back, a little, and allow her adventure to continue, at times, without me.

After One Week of Kindergarten

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Beginning of Jillian

This past March I received a message asking if I would be interested in writing and entry for a friend's blog.  This friend was Katie Reid.  Katie and I met because of Down syndrome.  You see, I was and still am the odd woman who approaches you at church, (or on the street, or at our kid's school, or at Target... OK, anywhere) if I see I have something in common with you.  (I frequently get the "CRAZY LADY" look from people I am only trying to connect with)  Sometimes I think I might scare people with my over zealousness.  Anyways, I digress.  Katie's brother happened to be at church with their parents that day and, he happens to have Down syndrome.  I introduced myself and the relationship began.

Needless to say, my entry to her blog  Deep Breaths appeared May 6th, 2013, as part of her "Intentional Mothering" series". I am so glad I did because it lit a fire in my heart to share our entire story. Jillie is an integral part as you will read, but still, only a part of our adventure.  

Please join me in following Katie's amazing blog, Deep Breaths. I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Thanks Katie for helping our family's story be told.

All photos in this post are provided by Brooke Photography

I was forty-one when the shocking news of my pregnancy came to me.  I woke one morning with a whisper in my heart saying, "You're pregnant."  I laughed.  It was January 2008 and our family had recently grown from two to five children in less than two years through the foster/adoption of three siblings.  My last pregnancy had been eleven years prior.  Surely, this thought was foolish, just a remnant of something I had eaten the night before.  Still, it resonated in my soul.  A few weeks later, it was confirmed, we were to be joined by child number six.  "What was God thinking?" ran through my mind.  Our roller coaster of a life was rushing through the starting gate with seemingly no intentions of stopping anytime soon.

Being of “advanced maternal age”, I was treated to a variety of tests, one of which tested for chromosomal abnormalities.  The initial results returned with an appointment to a high-risk pregnancy center where a detailed ultrasound was given.  By the end of our visit, we were told of the one in five possibility that our baby would be born with Trisomy 21, Down Syndrome.  
A month later we had another appointment, another ultrasound and another result; our chances had risen to fifty percent.  We decided to find out with certainty so that we could know whose life we would be celebrating.  Our outlook on our newest child was a breath of fresh air to the doctors, nurses and technicians in the office.  We were the only couple, out of four families with similar diagnoses, that was planning to continue their pregnancy.  Later, I found out that babies like our Jillian have less than a ten percent chance to be allowed to see the light of day, because the majority of parents, who find out early on, fear the unknown.  
The amniocentesis was simple, the waiting was difficult, but not for the reason one would expect.  I found myself longing for my baby to be gifted with that extra chromosome.  We went out to dinner the night of the procedure and saw a couple with a baby boy, just months old, he had Down Syndrome.  My heart ached for that baby.  The urge to cradle him in my arms was overwhelming.  He was what I longed for.  That weekend was spent, convincing myself that a typical child would be okay too.  Monday came and, to my delight, Trisomy 21 was the diagnosis.  My heart had been prepared.

I remember sitting in church worshiping, Jillian inside of me doing her usual flips and kicks with the melody.  With eyes closed, my heart and mind were thoroughly engulfed in the music and verse filling the immense room while I prayed, “I want to see your face.”  I opened my eyes, looking across the room at the contingent of people signing their praise to God and the words, “This is My face” came to mind.  My hands were settled on my restless belly when those same words, “This is My face” washed over me once again.  At that moment, I knew, my baby would be born perfect.  Jillian would be perfect for the tasks my Lord would prepare for her.  She would do things that He would trust only her to accomplish.
I am beginning in the beginning for a reason.  Do not think for a moment that it was my idea to give birth to a child with special needs.  The thoughts of what she would miss out on flashed through my head.  Would she go to college, get married, enjoy a life as I have known?  I had no idea.  

What I did know was this... I had yet to see an adult with Down Syndrome who was embarrassed of their parents.  I had yet to hear of someone with Down Syndrome smoking, let alone choosing to use drugs.  I had known many people with Down Syndrome and have found, while experiencing the same array of emotions we all do: they are content with the life handed to them and, in fact, they cherish it.  

God knew, my family, at this point, was not easy, nor would it be.  The last thing we needed was to add more social workers, doctors, nurses and therapists to our already consumed lives of foster care and all that comes with it.  But, God did know and He choose the perfect place, the perfect time and the perfect family for this extraordinary little girl.

Life as we knew it continued throughout my pregnancy.  Visits with social workers, lawyers, judges, and birth families kept us busy.  My children, new and old, were still trying to understand where God had placed them.  Eric and Emily (12 and 11 yrs old) soon recovered from the shock of their parents producing a new life and were enthralled that their baby sister would be born “special”.  Often, people would respond to the news of Down Syndrome with, “Oh, I am sorry.”  Emily did not understand why.  I was blessed to realize that I needed to explain the world’s view on this extra chromosome and that her outlook was nowhere near that of some.  We were thankful to have friends cheering us on in our adventure of a family. Educating the rest of the world about our daughter was now on our “to-do” list.
The effect of this new life on the latest additions to our family was something that made me pause.  Before the news of her uniqueness was known, Angel (7 yrs) asked me who the baby would look like.  He had been experiencing a kind of identity crisis.  A few months into our relationship, this became evident when my oldest Hispanic child expressed his thoughts on his appearance.  You see, at six years old, he believed himself to look just like my oldest son, blond hair, blue eyes and all.  When he finally realized his true image, he was a bit discouraged.  I spent my time encouraging him that I fell in love with the boy God had made and I wouldn’t have him any other way.
My heart was blessed when I realized that Jillie would be born with features that neither Kevin nor I have.  She and her brother would each carry traits just like ours as well as those very different from ours.  Maybe he would be able to understand that it isn't what is on the outside of a person that we adore, it is what is in their heart.

Our daughter, Alize, at 4 years, was (and still is) one tough cookie and extremely strong-willed.  Jillie has given her the opportunity to sharpen her nurturing skills and has worn away some of those rough edges.  I adore watching Allie’s soft side grow stronger, knowing that when she needs to be tough, she will be.  Jillie will need people like Allie in her life to advocate for her.
Then there is Joseph, one year old when our pregnancy was confirmed.  Joe has a protective instinct in him that has caused him to stand up to boys ten years his senior.  What a perfect place for a big brother to be positioned, just 18 months prior to our special needs daughter.  Just today I watched my son, in true Joe fashion, wrestle “opponents” twice his size.  Moments later, when his baby sister expressed her need for his attention, his gentle hug and kiss on her forehead made my eyes well up.  God has given Jillie a brother who will be with her in places like school where she will be out of my grasp.  This little man has such a heart for his sister that, I know, he will take care of her when I cannot.
That brings us to Jillian.  She is the cherry on top of this crazy sundae we call a family.  Ask any of her siblings who their favorite is and they will, without hesitation, say Jillie.  At four years old, she amazes us almost daily.  As a mom, I expect my children to do their best in life.  Not anyone else’s best, just their own.  Jillie’s best is far above anything I expected.  Before she was one she discovered her shadow and played with it often.  At two years old, she had over 300 signs to communicate while her verbal skills were growing.  When she was three, she began recognizing letters of the alphabet.  She knew all of the signs but I had no idea she had been picking up the written at the same time.  A year later, numbers and counting grabbed her interest.  Now, waiting to enter kindergarten in August, she is working on letter sounds.  Not because I drill her but because of her eagerness to learn.  As her parent, I provide her with constant opportunities to grow and be challenged.  I make sure what I set before her is something worthwhile, something to encourage her, to educate her, or for her to emulate.  Children with Down Syndrome learn a lot by mirroring the actions of others. I have learned that this girl with special needs, needs me to continually raise the bar of expectation so that her innate contentment does not cause her to become stagnant. I know God has given Jillie to me to protect her, to praise her and to prosper her.  And now I realize she does the same for me.
Jillie at 10 days old

Jillie today

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Summer to Remember

Written in a personal journal mid July 2013...

In two weeks we will be celebrating our final weekend before school starts up again. We don't have big plans for a party or anything like that. It won't be all about Mom getting her "free time" back after all of these years, even though Jillie is off to kindergarten. The excitement won't be about Eric's senior year and all that comes with it.

No, this celebration will be about the summer that we turned a corner as a family. Summer 2013 will be remembered as the season we first felt like a typical family. The weeks that were spent observing my children enjoy one another more than being frustrated with each other, I have loved. Watching the middles begin to step into the shoes of the biggles was a delight. Seeing my littles leave the baby/toddler zone and be able to play and carry on conversations with their siblings, blessed my heart. These things couldn't have happened at a more perfect time.
The reality is, though:

This year, Jillie does start kindergarten. We are excited about her typical class, in our school of 13 years now. She and her friend will be the first children with Down syndrome to attend Acorn Montessori Charter School and we didn't have to fight to get her in.   Maybe it had something to do with our lengthy relationship with our school. Maybe it's because they have fallen in love with our family.  Maybe it is just our good looks! (OK, probably not)  I know the staff told us they wanted her but I could sense a tad bit of apprehension.  The fact is the same people who have taught, cared for and loved my first five children are willing to take on the unknown abilities of our sixth.  I don't think my heart could be more blessed.

This year is Eric's last year.  Senior year and all it includes will soon envelop our lives.  The emotion I will experience at his graduation will, itself, gradually grow throughout the year, I am sure.  While the excitement and apprehension build, memories will be made.  I am so looking forward to seeing the man God has made out of the 5lb 7oz baby boy He gave us less than 18 years ago.

This year Emily will become the fourth driver in our family.  Let's just say, putting the lives of your children as well as the community-at-large into the hands of your teenager can be a little bit daunting.
This year, I become a home school mom and am actually excited about it.  The Lord orchestrated Angel's 6th grade year, knowing we would need some extra bonding time.  My only child I did not change the diapers of, my only child to not spend time alone at home with me, will be able to explore emotions and memories with his Mom as well as reading, writing and arithmetic.  Prayer, both mine and those whom it is laid upon their hearts, will be a key ingredient to make this time successful.

This year Allie does it again!  Encouraging Allie to do her best can be challenging.  The repetition of the fourth grade will be good for her.  Although her intelligence rivals that of her siblings, she has a magical way about her.  The innocence blossoming from a beginning that was not so naive is sweet to watch.  Even though life for her began in negativity, our girl looks for the best in people and situations. What more can a mom ask for?

This year, Joe will lose more teeth.  His grin, currently, is rather toothless.  This year he also gets to be a big brother at school.  He absolutely LOVES his little sister.  Spending moments with her in his day is becoming great incentive.

This year my hubster, Kevin and I will achieve the 20 year mark in our marriage.  I pray that we can tear ourselves away for some special time, just the two of us.  I know I will need it and I am sure he will too.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Excitement is the Ride

All photos by Brooke Photography
Well, here I am wondering who would be interested in reading the ramblings of this Mom of six.  I guess people like to hear of our "adventures".  Not that we go many exotic places, most of our excitement is found in the confines of our Arizona home, our twelve passenger van and our minivan (or the "date night" van as I like to call it).  Our family IS the adventure, although, to us it feels totally "normal".  

The Hubster and I are going on twenty years of marriage and we have kids ages seventeen to five to show for it.  Our first two came to us the old fashioned way.  For many years, we were happy with just our foursome.  We had one that looked like me and one that looked like him.  What more could we ask for?  

Our first born, a son of course, a blond haired, blue eyed boy who gave me a birth story to tell, (oh man) but this is not the time to share it.  He was able to keep us on our toes all on his own.  Little did we know, he was preparing us for something greater.

Before we knew it, his sister was on the way. Born 19 months after her brother, this girl would be my own "mini-me".  She was, and still is beautiful inside and out with an enviable strength about her.  I would have never known that my independent, let-me-sleep-in-my-own-bed, daughter would become such a rock for me throughout what would be some tumultuous years.

We now come to the “Family Explosion.”  Our original two were 9 and 8 years old when, after quite a bit of prayer, we became a foster family.  Loving what we already had, our goal was to love the kids and cry when they left.  All we wanted to do was provide a safe, temporary home for youngsters in unfortunate situations.  Little did we know, we would fall in love with the first two children that would cross our entryway, ages 5 and 2, a jovial, songster of a boy and his sweet, spitfire of a sister. Ten months later, they were officially part of the family. 

Now, we felt the need to rest and allow our boy, girl, boy, girl clan to fall into place.  That was our plan, once again happy with the family God had given us.  But He had a different design in mind.  Less than two months after adopting this brother and sister, their little five-day-old brother appeared in our arms.  That morning, we had no idea, nor were we even thinking about a baby, let alone actually getting one. That is exactly what happened. The fastest pregnancy ever had me literally walking in circles trying to think what I needed for our newest member.

That was February; we hadn’t had a newborn in ten years.  Our collective heads were spinning as our screaming little fireball took over.  Just as the Hubster and I started to get a handle on things, wouldn’t you know, eleven months later the news came, we found out I was pregnant.  Yes, can you believe it?  Just 24 months prior we had two children.  At 41 years old, I had five and most certainly was not on the baby train!  Yet again, our dear Creator put us right back on the tracks.

A couple of months into the pregnancy we found out we were having a girl!  Boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl would be the make-up of our family.  There was something else that we found out also.  This baby girl would be born extra special.  She would be blessed with three copies of her 21st chromosome, Trisomy 21, or Down syndrome.

You see, we have adventures just waking up in the mornings.  Five years later, on a daily basis we move from almost adulthood to special needs kindergartener in a blink of an eye.  That is not even counting what is in between.  Our lives consist of ADHD, trauma, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Dyspraxia, Down syndrome, congenital heart defects, methamphetamine exposure and more.  But in no way do those things encompass our existence.  We are a family, filled with laughter, loudness and love.  Each one of us is here for a purpose from the Hubster to the Bean.  The excitement is all in experiencing the ride.