Friday, October 25, 2013

Flashback Friday: Gone Fishin'

 It's a Jilliefish...

A Joejoefish...

An Alizefish...

An Angelfish...

An Emilyfish...

A Mommyfish...

A Daddyfish...

And the ever elusive...

... Ericfish!

Just have to be patient and grab the opportunity when it presents itself!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Therapy Thursday: Day to Day Existence

One of the most intimidating things when parenting a child with special needs is therapy.  Whether, speech, physical, or occupational it is difficult to figure out quality time to devote to working on new tasks.  As a mom of six, finding consistent time to perfect the developmental skills that come naturally to most, is close to impossible.  

I remember the pint sized treadmill that camped out in our living room for months waiting for someone to hold Jillie above it so her feet would learn to walk.  Let me tell you, that was a bicep builder.  That exercise apparatus did not get used as much as it should have, partially because Jillie would just lift her feet and dangle in our extended arms. Mostly, it was because our time to devote to it was not abundant.  I realized, therapy needed to be tied into our day to day existence.  We needed to use the resources we had on hand, brothers and sisters.  We set them on the task of encouraging Jillie to walk, by them holding her hands while her feet were on the floor. Wouldn't you know it, she walked and still does.  One night she stood right up and took four or five steps, all at once.  Did she do it for me, nope, she walked between the Biggles, Eric and Emily.

I love Jillie's therapists!  They do an amazing job with her and encourage me weekly.  When we set goals for my daughter I look for ways to achieve our objective while making my job a little easier, if possible.  For speech therapy, for example, Jillie needed to strengthen her tongue and lips.  So, no more cutting up spaghetti noodles.  She would need to use her verbal muscles to work that pasta into her mouth.  I also would turn her string cheese into threads and feed her peanut butter sandwiches on soft white bread, anything to get those muscles working out.

Our big goals now have more to do with occupational therapy, more fine motor skills to help her be successful in kindergarten.  We have special pencils to aid in her grip.  I have apps to help her count and write numbers.  We play with play dough to strengthen her hand muscles.  Our latest OT tool is, Box Tops.  Yes, the ones for education. Who'd have thought the little money makers would benefit my daughter in a totally different way.  I set her up with a tray, paper, big glue stick and pre-cut Box Tops and she had a blast.  We practiced counting objects, each page needed 10.  She then had to glue the tiny rectangles in specific places on the paper, not just any random place, she needed to follow directions, which she did.  Paired with the fine motor skills she was strengthening, it was quite the task. After five pages, she was done, but we have plenty more to take up this project again.  Tomorrow, she will hand her endeavours over to her teacher so she can play the Box Tops game of the month.  I am pretty sure it has to something do with pumpkins.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Deterring Deviations

This past week I spent my mornings sitting in the back of my 7th grader's class.  I did not go there to embarrass him, contrary to what he thought my purpose was.  I did not go to make sure he was doing the right thing by policing him nor to investigate his friendships.  I went to observe him in his natural surroundings.  I knew my presence, though, made the common habits of a 13 year old boy difficult.  Still, I had my eyes searching for any type of academic engagement.  

My son is quite capable of a "B" average, straight "A's" if he pushes himself.  In his circle of peers, though, it is not the popular thing to raise your hand in class, whether to ask a question or to give an answer.  I guess the teens are concerned with looking too smart or too confused. As a result, some bad habits, accompanied with matching grades, have begun to emerge.  My job is to help my son overcome previous choices, but such a task can be daunting and trying to produce new habits in this kid is not easy.  Fortunately, I am a parent committed to grow responsible young people.  

 I actually had a pretty good time at school.  I sat in my designated chair, opened my tablet and then developed a system to keep track of his involvement.  Next, I diligently invested my time on Pinterest planning dinners for the next couple of weeks (complete with grocery list). Texting the hubster to keep him filled in on all of the hand raising, answering and asking of questions was of severe importance.  I then kept up on facebook, noting the new things I learned like what an "ellipsis" is.  I also did some blog planning but did not have much time to actually write. All I really needed, was my physical attendance in the back of the class. Who really cared what exactly I was doing.  My son would rarely look back to see if I was still there, it was easier to be in denial if he didn't actually see me. Needless to say, my child's teachers noticed an increase in academic activity as well as appropriate behavior.  

It has taken me a few years but I have finally realized, why must the discipline initiated for my child be a punishment for me?  I began to see the need for me to retain my sanity.  So I try to make the most of my child's corrections.  I could have sulked in that seat.  I could have documented the deviations.  Instead, I sought out positive conduct and made sure my needs were met also.

After three days, three hours each, I have been asked to "pop in" anytime I want a few times a week.  Kind of keeping my son on his toes, so-to-speak.  Hopefully we can assist this boy in forming new habits both educationally as well as socially.

Today, I popped in, unannounced, went back to my chair and updated my grocery list.  Just prior to leaving for his math class, my son was invited outside to take a spelling test he had missed.  In his absence, I too became absent.  I did wait to leave the school, as he would pass the parking lot on the way to math.  I wanted him to see my van and anticipate me joining the class at any moment.  Instead, I popped into my vehicle, drove to the grocery store, pulled up that grocery list, and shopped for those dinners.  

Oh yeah, I actually had time to write today too!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Perfecting Their Skills

All photos by Brooke Photography
Brothers and sisters, sisters and brothers, part of my challenge as a parent is helping them to understand each other, not an easy task.  Usually things get loud, whether it's voices, doors, or dishes.  My inspiration for this post is continuing on as I type.  Alize is learning to load a dishwasher and Angel is teaching her, that situation in itself could power a small combustion engine.  The clattering of cookware, the sounds of adversity, the sighs of discontent can be deafening, at the same time, they are almost music to my ears, almost.

This arrangement is multi-facetted.  First, I have grown tired of teaching Angel the correct way to load a dishwasher and hand wash dishes.  I know, why would I have someone teach who hasn't seemed to have learned?  Having a feeling my son knew more than he lead us to believe, I made him the educator.  Wouldn't you know it, all of a sudden, he knows everything there is to know about filling the dishwasher.  Alize makes sure to ask plenty of questions when trying something new. Telling his sister how to do the same thing over and over is providing this brother with a life lesson in patience and how to handle frustration.  It's not easy explaining a task to someone, let alone discovering them doing it their own way in spite of the training provided.  Hmmmm, something I experience quite often.  These two are full biological siblings who came to live with us at the same time.  One would think, this commonality would provide a bond that would be unspoken.  Not so, in fact the opposite is quite true.  It is a rare moment when this pair is in the same place, doing the same thing in a harmonious manner.  Which brings me to my final purpose, simply, getting along with one another.  Forcing this brother and sister to work together will, hopefully, encourage some type of mutual understanding and hopefully, trust.

As the din dies down between the middles, my biggles start in.  Emily has a math project she is working on and is, rightfully so, very proud of her endeavor.  Eric, a calculus student who loves the numbers, was adamant in his ideas, much to Emily's dismay. My persistent son's voice grew louder while Emily emphatically declined his assistance.  Fortunately, these two figured each other out years ago.  There's has been a partnership that, until recently, ran very smoothly.  You see, Eric likes to win and Emily is not comfortable with confrontation.  Eric likes the spot light and Emily prefers supporting roles.  Over a decade of their lives was spent with Emily seceding to her big brother in just about everything.  We had very few arguments because, there was no need.  The challenge now exists due to Emily's burgeoning independence.  Eric is beginning to acknowledge his younger sibling's right to be right, although it hasn't been very easy for him.

"The Littles," Joe and Jillie are in a similar situation.  Jillie adores her bigger little, as he does her. Looking across the couch at the two of them,  watching "Go Dog Go" be recited for the millionth time in our home, her head resting on his chest as he peruses the pages, is enough to make this mom well up with pride.  There are many times, though, that this eager first grader wants to lend his sister a helping hand when she swats it away and snaps back at him with a "NO".  Her autonomy gets in the way of his authority quite often.  Nevertheless, Joe sure does love being a big brother to his sweet sister.  Personally, I think he has been her favorite from day one.  After all, his was the first name she could say.  He is the one that will be at home with her the longest.  It's not coincidental that it is "a hug from Joe" that Jillie's teachers give as an incentive to help her make good choices through out her day.  Stickers, candy, stamps don't stand up to the allure of a quick cuddle from her brother.

We LOVE Brooke Photography
I love that my boys all have a younger sister to learn how to protect and take care of all while figuring out just how strong and independent they really can be.  I love that my girls all have a big brother to look up to and help mold them into the men God wants them to be.  At the same time the young ladies in my house get to allow my young men to practice emotions they will need some day as they all find wives.

My kids are perfecting their skills socially, the girls are learning how to deal with boys as the boys learn how to handle the girls.  Eventually, they will all use what they have been taught away from home, in college, their careers, their marriages, and their families.  My hope is that they will have prepared each other well.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Note Sharing A Letter by Noah's Dad

The first time I held Jillian
I was one of the fortunate ones, my grief lasted but a moment.  My heart was won over by Trisomy 21 before Jillian was born.  I could not have imagined, thought of, wished for anyone different than our baby girl.  I don't know why but I was excited at the thought of my child being born with Down syndrome.  That response is not typical, at all.  When I look back at how enthusiastic I was, I am sure I took the medical community around me by surprise.  They were used the the devastation, they were used to the loss, they were used to emotions far different than the ones I was portraying. I didn't give them a chance to be sorry for us.  When I look back, I see nothing but my heart having been prepared by God.

With that said, I have recently read a wonderful letter posted on a wonderful blog,  The father of a child with Down syndrome having not been diagnosed until birth had experienced the typical emotions, not regretting his son for one minute.  Here is a taste of what his "Open Letter to Every OB/GYN On The Planet" says.

I’m the father of a two year old boy named Noah who was born with Down syndrome, and whom we love very much. I understand that in the course of your day to day work you often have the difficult responsibility of telling parents news they never thought they would receive; that there’s a likely chance the little boy or girl in their mothers womb is going to be born with Down syndrome.

Why I’m Writing You This Letter

I invite you to click on the link above to continue to read what, Rick Smith, Noah's Dad has to say.  It is what I hope to tell future parents.  Look for the Possibilities not the Probabilities.

She is a "Smart Cookie" just like her shirt says!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

My Biggest Cheerleader!

One of the greatest compliments I have ever received was, "Your kids feel comfortable in their own skin."  I mean, what more can a mom ask for than to have children confident with who they are?  When I say "confident" I in no way mean arrogant or selfish. No, I mean, OK with the life God has given them.

 In our family, my daughter, Emily, (the one that looks like me) embodies this the most, I think. The casual certainty in what is deemed important is woven throughout most areas in her life.  Just shy of 16 years old, Emily will tell you it is the trials she has been through that has helped her to avoid the typical teenage torrents.  I will tell you she arrived in this world with a rare mixture of quiet, independence.

As a little thing she often eyed people with a, "who are you and what are you doing in my world" kind of look.  Nap times did not consist of snuggling Mommy until you succumb to sleep.  Nope, it was, "I want my own bed period" kind of stuff.  Emily's prayers were solidly consistent.  In fact, I am sure both the Hubster and I could have recited it verbatim.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime or just because, it was the same exact prayer every time.  

Every time but one.  I was listening to her expected prayer when, quite matter of fact, she interrupted her familiar supplication with, "and Jesus please be in my heart." No big deal just accepted the Messiah as her Lord and Savior, that's all.   She then continued on as usual.  But things weren't usual after that.  My opinionated, selective little five year old seemed to soften.  Sweetness was seen more often as well as other honorable personality traits.  I remember asking our Children's Pastor whether her request that night counted or not.  I was used to Eric, 19 months older and reminded of his sin daily.  He accepted the Savior every time his head hit his pillow, just to make sure.

Soon, at school as well as at church, Emily would be the child who would embrace the new kid and make them feel comfortable.  She began to feel for others and see things from differing aspects.  This new emotional self seemed to confuse her for awhile. I remember sitting in the movie theater with tears streaming down her cheeks as she watched Boo's door disappears through the chipper. In early elementary school, her two closest friends were heated rivals.  The girls would literally fight over who could sit with my daughter. During those moments she did not feel safe but, at the same time, didn't want to hurt any one's feelings.  Our solution was to have Emily ask the teacher choose a different friend to sit by.  Then there was the seven year old Tom Cruise look-a-like who was adamant at stealing a kiss from her, more than once, at school.  She was so little she didn't even understand the emotions she was experiencing.  I would often need to shore up my daughter's overactive empathy, giving her the tools she needed to get through her day.

Amazing pic of an Amazing girl by an Amazing Photographer 
Those tools would come in handy when she was no longer the youngest in the family.  Her first three little siblings would put her through the emotional wringer.  It didn't take long before she was able to strengthen herself and stand firm as their big sister. When we came to Eric and her with the news of a fourth, now biological, sibling, she cried.  Going from zero to three little brothers and sisters in about a year had taken it's toll.  "I don't want anymore siblings!" was her lament that night.  I explained to her that, when Eric was ten months old, I certainly wasn't looking to get pregnant.  I wouldn't have missed out on her for the world though.

 After that, she was my biggest cheerleader.  Now, she is Jillie's biggest fan also, as well as being a huge fan of the rest of her siblings and anyone else who falls into her circle. At any time a conversation with my oldest daughter you can tell that her family is extremely important to her. In fact, when given the opportunity to speak solely about herself, she almost always will fit in family also.

I love that God has taught her to "roll with the punches".  Life is too short to take it so seriously.  At the same time, it's too long to not do something about it.  Living a life with purpose as well as humor has been her strong point and will get her far.  

Ten years later, I say that prayer counted and is evident in the way she lives her life.  Is she perfect?  No, one look at her room and you can see that.  Does the "teenager" ever creep in?  Occasionally, but she doesn't stay for long.  Does the future make her nervous?  Most definitely, growing up has not been easy for my oldest daughter.  That alone is rare in today's society.  I have been content with her slow road to adulthood. In our fast paced world, taking your time to mature is a precious thing.  I'm glad she makes sure to have fun on the way.

Amazing pic of an Amazing girl by an Amazing Photographer 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Make It Worth Their While

After five years of Jillian I have come up with a few tricks and noticed trends in how she comprehends the world around her.  The learning tool she uses most is emulation or watching what others are doing and trying it out herself.  Because she absorbs most of what she sees (math is pretty difficult right now) I really try to only put things in front of her that I would like to see her put into practice. 

Signing "Mom" for the first time.
When she was learning to communicate, we played "Signing Time" DVDs constantly.  Children with Down syndrome are born with low muscle tone.  Our tongues are just a muscle that we learn to manipulate to form specific sounds, most of which when combined, form into words.  Because she lacked control over this necessary speech tool, yet was wanting to interact with those around her, we surrounded her with opportunity to learn.  Learn is exactly what she did.  Not only did she gain around 400 signs but she observed and identified her written alphabet as well.  It is a little surprising when you special needs child points to a wall in her sibling's school and announces "H" and is correct.  After naming a few more letters I found she had a skill I had not been practicing with her.  It was all due to emulation.

The mirror and our friend

Even when she is all by herself she emulates.  Jillie, as with many who have Down syndrome, is enthralled with her reflection.  Early on in her speech therapy career we learned she would not actually speak to her therapist.  Give her a mirror, or any other shiny item, though and it was difficult to keep her quiet. Our solution, mount a full length mirror sideways beneath a window.  That provided enough room for Jillie, her therapist as well as any brother or sister who chose to accompany them.  I have some great mirror stories and uses I will post at a later, reflection specific, date.

Christmas Morning
Often times Jillie watches what people are doing around her and links a response to an action, but she doesn't quite know why the action elicits the response.  Take Christmas morning a few years ago.  Jillie was three at the time and her brothers and sisters were excitedly opening their gifts.  She learned the expression of amazement.  The only thing is, she would tear one strip of paper off of her present, revealing a minute portion of the package beneath, and respond, mouth and eyes wide open.  She had no idea what was in the box but she knew what to do.  Laughing right along, we all then chose to respond in a like manner.

"The Cup Song" in Irish Gaelic
Being the youngest of six, Jillie spends a lot of time watching her brothers and sisters.  That in itself is great therapy, she wants to be just like them.  She tends to pick up on what is trending with them.  I have watched Jillie compete in "Just Dance", row an erg (rowing machine), and attempt a scooter all from observing her siblings in action.  One of my favorite things to watch is Jillie and her red Solo cup, while she is watching a YouTube video of the song that has all the world's preteens and teens tapping and twirling the popular drinking device.

My advice for our special needs and typical kiddos is to place before them what you want to see in them.  Whether it's TV shows, DVDs, video games, friends, siblings, or mirrors, our children look to external influences for cues on what to do next.  Make it worth their while.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

We Had No Idea

Have you ever seen a photo from your past that makes you pause and think, "we had no idea what was about to happen in our lives"?  I mean, we thought we knew, but in reality we had no idea.  This is one of those photos.

Tonight, almost seven years later, this picture flashed across my screen saver and I realized, less than six weeks after it was taken we would have a newborn baby boy in our arms and eleven months after that we would confirm our pregnancy with child number six.  We had no idea.  In this photo, we were celebrating our new family, and taking our time to let everyone settle in.  Angel and Alize had not even been in our home for a full year when this moment had been captured.

This was an occasion we had not pictured a year prior.  Our venture into foster care did not involve permanency at all.  The four of us had prayed over this decision and were planning on loving children and crying when they left.  We had been happy with the family God had given us, but after two weeks as our first foster children, we offered Angel and Alize an opportunity to join our clan for life.  They said yes and that is when our adventure really began.

I mentioned the year prior because, that is when our endevor into foster care came to fruition.  After experiencing a situation at my children's school my heart was heavy.  Having unsuccessfully approached the Hubster twice before, I told him again of my desire to do foster care.  Surprisingly, "I think I could do that." was his answer.  With that possibility we began to seek God's approval in the matter.

Prayers had barely left our lips, it seems, when confirmation after confirmation began to appear in our lives.  After a week or so of commercials, TV shows, friends, family and strangers unknowingly reinforcing the thought, the Hubster and I brought the idea to Eric and Emily.  After all, they were the ones that would have to share their rooms, their toys, as well as their parents.  Without hesitation, they were all in.  I do recall the four of us continuing in prayer as the evidence of God's response was so overwhelming we felt anything but proceeding on that course would be against His will.

Accident Aftermath
One of our prayers consisted of the need for a larger vehicle than our current Dodge Stratus.  One week into that plea, I was in an accident, on a road adjacent to our church.  On that chilly morning a young woman and her friend proceeded to drive her lifted Tahoe right up my hood, stopping a dozen, more or less, inches from my windshield.  As scary as that sounds, I felt 100% safe during the altercation.  In fact my first thought was, "I wonder if this is how God is getting us a new car?"  I immediately called 911, the Hubster, and our pastor (who arrived with a latte from our coffee shop)  Sure enough, our seven passenger Town and Country was soon in our driveway.  

Moments of my son rushing to acknowledge our discipline techniques of the wooden spoon and a baby in my charge crawling into the dog crate and sitting, quite contently, in front of our licensing worker, would make me cringe and the social worker chuckle.  Instructors giving us the gory details of "the system" and the emotional baggage many children arrive with prepared us, somewhat.  Still, our prayers continued.  They continued but they evolved, no longer were we concerned with IF we were supposed to do foster care, instead we began to petition for the children and families we would be experiencing.  We would regularly ask our Lord to prepare our hearts as well as the hearts of those whose relationships we were about to encounter.  Little did we know, we were not the only ones praying about this.

A year of taking our time, filling out paperwork, sitting through classes, hosting social workers, having home inspections and living our seemingly busy lives brought us to December and our license for foster care being issued.  After two "false alarms" and a full week of illness lingering in the four of us at the same time, January arrived, and later in the month, so did Angel and Alize. By mid February we were destined to become a family of six.

 A few weeks past our decision to adopt, I was approached by my friend, the wife of one of our pastors.  She began to tell me of a high school classmate of hers whom, she felt, God had laid upon her heart to pray for.  Not having seen him in decades and not knowing his need, she was obedient to the conviction.  My friend told me she had been praying for a year when we received who would be our newest family members, the niece and nephew of her teenage comrade. Our life choice was confirmed yet again, this time with a big, ol' exclamation point.  "God has to have something big planned." I remember thinking.

Boy did He, and boy did He prepare all of the hearts involved.  He paved the way for us to "fall in love" with our children's biological family, which happens to be a pretty big name in some circles of our area.  He helped all of my children to have a third grandpa who would have dinner with us and come to our birthday parties.  Our pastor was able to play guitar and sing hymns with him in the hospital before he died.  My friend was assigned to be his nurse the night before he passed away.  We were able to deliver peace that only God can provide to a man whose family had gotten out from under him.

We practically adopted the young woman who carried three of my children to term yet would lose them due to addiction.  I was able to sit in a church office, our pastor answering her questions, wiping away her tears and praying with her for Jesus to be the Lord of her life.  I was there to help her choose an adoptive family for her newest baby as her old life was not completely discarded after her commitment.  I was there to coach her through the labor of her little girl she would be able to parent because her decisions had made positive strides. I was able to encourage her and stand firm when the options she chose pulled her right back into frightening habits as well as prison.  I have been there to pray for her heart to be touched and fully transformed into one she can be proud of.  I was there to write her after two years of our healing and show her what the repercussions were from turning away from the opportunities God had provided.  I was there, quite recently, to open a letter streaming with optimism about life both present as well as when she is free from her consequences.  I will be there to assist in her healthy journey or admonish her if she chooses otherwise.  I love that I represent the hope that only God can give to her.
Dedication and prayer following Joe's adoption.

In no way were we expecting the experiences nor the relationships we have had.  Our lives have truly been bustling since the moment the photo at the top was taken. Court, therapy, doctors, school, hospitals, more court, jail visits, made up a large portion of what felt like a roller coaster. We were standing in line, waiting for our seat while trying to predict the ride, only to find out it is much more scary, thrilling, and fullfilling than we had thought. Foster care has meant much more than loving on children and helping them heal.  We have loved on grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, bio-parents, lawyers, social workers, therepists and adoptive families. Our existence has been an open book for all to see, experience, and touch.  Healing is continually happening in our home but has become more about growing rather than escaping history. After holding on for our lives for seven years, our adventures have just begun to seem to level out.

We are now a family of eight that has a connection with our birth family only God could provide.   There is no way either the Hubster or I could have imagined such relationships.  We are truly thankful that our Lord, stirred the heart of an old, teenage friend and was thinking of us.