Monday, May 30, 2011

A Legacy of Magic

When I was a girl, I believed in fairies.  I used to make little "houses" in the woods where I lived, hoping to entice a fairy to settle down and stay for awhile.  I would check on my house everyday, hoping to find some evidence that a fairy had visited.  Once I found a toad residing in my fairy's house.  But I never saw a fairy.

My Grandma lived next door to us, and she loved nature.  My siblings and I would see her every day in the summer.  We'd help her in her garden, climb her mulberry tree and eat its fruit until we were sick, and sit on her porch with her as she named each bird visiting her feeders.  She showed us the butterflies that laid their eggs on her milkweed, and we'd check on them every day as the hatched and grew and eventually spun their own cocoons.  She taught us which plants and berries growing in the woods were edible, and which would make us sick.  She took us on walks and showed us how the ants made their anthills next to the path, and how to spy the tadpoles and minnows in the creek, and how to look at the sun and know which way to turn in the woods to head towards home.  I never saw a fairy with my Grandma, but I learned to see the magic all around us.

My mom (being her mother's daughter) knew all about the magic in nature too.  She showed us how to dig up bulbs, and how there was life inside something that looked dead and shriveled.  She knew the names of every flower and bird and weed in the yard, and always knew some interesting fact about each one to wow us with.  She taught us to explore and get dirty and find the joy in the simple things that God created.  And she entertained my thoughts of fairies and allowed my creative stories to find a voice.

When I had children, I vowed they would see the magic in life too.  And they have!  One day last week, we watched a mama robin chase a squirrel away from her nest, then fly off.  We heard the tiniest little peeps, and soon mama robin returned with a worm in her beak, and we got to watch her feed her little babies right in the tree over our heads.  My kids went to school that day with magic in their hearts and huge smiles on their faces.

My daughter, like I did, believes in fairies.  She checked a book out from the library last week about how to make fairy houses.  She cannot wait for summer days to play outside and build these houses!  I show her the real "magic" in the world--one flower bud opening up into a cluster of hundreds of purple flowers.  The plant we discovered this week that smells just like lemon drops.  The spittle bug who lays his eggs in tiny bubbles on plants.  And she sees this magic, and is amazed, and searches for more.  But what's the harm in believing in Peter Pan dreams and looking for a little magic of the imaginative type as well?

My son sees more magic in this world than most people do.  He's the one who will hold a leaf up towards the sun and look at it to see its veins.  He stops a million times on our walks to examine a rock, or twig, or bug, or flower that catches his eye.  He notices that one orange flower in a field of wildflowers because it stands out to him.  And he knows how to use his imagination too, though I sometimes wonder if he's really imagining things, or if they really seem that way to him.  A few days ago we were walking across a parking lot, and he said, "Look Mom!  X marks the spot where the treasure is!"  I looked up to see that two crossed lines left by airplanes had made an X in the sky.  He then went on to tell me that the treasure was up there with Jesus.  My child is wise beyond his years!

I cannot wait for this summer, to be able to spend more time with my children enjoying the magic that is all around us.  We're making plans already...plans that bring to mind times spent with my mom and my grandma on those summer days of my own childhood.  My Grandma started an amazing legacy when she taught my mom, and later us, about the magic in the world.  I thank God for her influence in my life.  And I thank God for my mom, who wasn't afraid to let us imagine and discover and make-believe, and who showed us how it all points to the God who created this magic just for us, His children.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Great Medication Debate

I was reading an article the other day in which the mother talked about how she chose to medicate her son who has Fragile X Disease.  The author of the article gave a lot of coverage to both sides of the issue (to medicate, or not to medicate), with "experts" weighing in with their opinions as well.  I always said I would only medicate my child for anything as a last resort.  I've counseled many parents of students to try other things before "resorting to" medication.  But that was before Squirrel was diagnosed with ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Depression--before I was forced to confront my biases fast!

In all honesty, it wasn't that hard for my husband and I to figure out. Our neurologist, who we have the utmost respect and admiration for, told us that she almost never recommends medication--but that this was a little girl who needed it immediately.  I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my adult life.  If you also suffer, you know just how horrible this makes you feel--mentally, physically, emotionally.  When I realized my nine year old daughter was feeling these things?  Well, I really saw no choice but to start her on medication.  

So Squirrel has been taking medication for anxiety and depression for about three months now, and WOW!  What a difference it has made!  Of course, she's also going to counseling, which I think is a critical peice of the scenario as well.  But I've made a few observations about a nine-year-old on a daily medication.
  1. When the child also has sensory issues that make pill-taking hard, you must always have yogurt on hand. A few times we've run out of yogurt.  The pills just don't go down with ice cream very well.  (And pudding, jelly, and syrup don't make the taste-buds cut.)
  2. When the child misses one pill, the ADHD kicks in stronger than usual.  So instead of telling her to do something two or three times, you will now will have to tell her twenty.  With much huffing, stomping, and crying on her part before it is done.  Fun times.
  3. Also, with one missed pill, she will come home from school either cranky and angry at the world, or hyper and silly and REALLY LOUD.  Either way, you will want to lock her in her room until bedtime.  But of course, you won't, because you are not that kind of parent.
  4. If, God forbid, you forget to call her refill into the pharmacy until she's out of pills, then you get sick the next day and can't even crawl out of bed, and the next day is Sunday and the pharmacy is closed, (which makes 3 days of no pill)--well, things get really bad then.  And there's no humor to be found in the situation there...we only had this happen once, and she sank into a severe depression that scared the snot out of me.  The kind where she won't get out of bed and cries all day long.  So we will never let this happen again, even if I have to drag my sick and dying body to the store.
All that said, we have seen huge improvements in her behavior, her mood, and even her attention issues since she started taking this medication.  You know, I was looking back at some old pictures a few months before her diagnosis.  As I looked through her life in photographs, I noticed a definite point where something changed.  The carefree, joyful, spirited little girl we knew changed into a serious, mopey, withdrawn kid.  I don't know why we didn't see it sooner, because this change showed up in the pictures around age four.  So, for five years my little girl was suffering with these horrible, awful feelings, and we didn't realize how bad it was for her.  I could beat myself up for this, but I won't, because who looks for depression in a child?  You don't even expect it!  But here's the thing:  she's smiling again.  She's a little more carefree, a little more joyful, and a lot more spirited.  For her, medication has given us our little girl back.

You know, this is just like so many of these foolish parenting debates. Why do parents feel the need to share their opinion on every matter we  face?  And why do we make such blanket statements like "I'll always..." and "My child will never..."  Such statements will always come back to bite you!  Until you are faced with a particular scenario, you cannot possibly know what you will do.  It's a lesson I'm learning well on our journey!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Life and Death

Today my heart is heavy.  Today, I mourn with a family I am just getting to know in the loss of their nine-year-old daughter.  I cannot imagine the heartbreak they are enduring right now.  To have held your daughter last night, and to kiss her goodbye for the last time today is unthinkable to me.  I have cried for them all day, but if I'm honest, some of my tears are for me too.  Because to hear of their loss reminds me that life is so very fragile, and that everything can change in the blink of an eye.

Today I got my own nine-year-old daughter up and moving.  As I was planning to take her to get her ears pierced, they were planning their daughter's funeral.  As we were making a new memory together, this family was remembering every memory they had with their daughter.  As we were talking and laughing and holding hands, they were mourning and knowing they'll never hold her hands again.

I know that God has a plan.  I know that He loves each of his children very much and does not want them to suffer.  And their daughter did suffer in this life.  She had a form of epilepsy that had left her in a wheelchair, unable to talk or walk, unable to see clearly, or think clearly.  And now she's free from that chair, she's free from the pain and fright of seizures.  Now she's sitting on Jesus' lap and talking to him.  She's running and laughing and singing and dancing.  She's in that amazing place we all long for (though not just yet, perhaps).  But knowing this doesn't stop the pain felt by those she's left behind, especially her mom and dad and brother and sister.  And knowing this doesn't take away all the heartache, though I pray it makes it easier for her family to find hope in the pain.

As for me, I am holding my children a little closer tonight.  I am thanking God for the amazing gift of life He's given them.  I'm thankful for their health, and for the fact that though they struggle with disabilities, I don't have to live in fear of what each new day might bring, as so many parents do.  I am praying for this family.  But if I am honest, I am also praying it never happens to me.  For the reality is, we are all just one chance encounter from being in their place.  This is just one more reminder to make the most of every day we're given, to love without reservation or fear, and to make time for the things that really matter each and every moment of every day.

And until that day that they are reunited in Heaven, I pray for peace and healing for this family and all who knew and loved this little girl.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Full Circle

I have been thinking a lot about homeschooling lately.  Not that I'm necessarily thinking of jumping on the bandwagon yet, so all my homeschool friends out there--don't get overly excited by this!  But I am starting to consider that maybe this is possibly an option that might bear looking into.  (How's that for commitment?!)

I have a lot of friends who homeschool their kids.  I admire the flexibility it affords them.  I love the idea of being able to follow a line of interest until the child knows all there is to know, or is ready to move on to something else.  I greatly appreciate the ability to focus on the child's strengths and address their weaknesses in a personalized way.  Before I ever had children, I had a friend who homeschooled her two kids.  I spent several weeks with her one summer and got to see first-hand what this looked like.  It was my first introduction to homeschooling, and I was impressed.  At the time, I was taking all kinds of child development courses in college, and some of the philosophies behind what she was doing made total sense to me based on what I was learning about brain development.  I remember coming home and telling my hubby (who was only my fiance at the time) that I thought I wanted to homeschool our kids when we had them. 

By the time we actually had our kids, and Kindergarten rolled around for Squirrel, our financial situation depended totally on two incomes.  The option of homeschooling was not even on the table anymore, and that was alright with me.  I wasn't sure I really wanted to do it anyway!  I greatly doubted my abilities in that arena.  So we looked at our public schools and were not at all happy with what we found.  That is how she ended up attending the private school affiliated with our church.

It's been a good fit for her.  She has an incredibly high IQ, and the curriculum there challenges her and allows her to explore the material further when it interests her.  She benefits from small class sizes and she's been with the same group of children for four years now.  She loves it, they love her, and I am really happy with the school. 

We intended for Munchkin to go there too, but, of course, the autism curveball kind of changed that plan.  So he's in the public schools here.  And I actually love his school too.  The special education team is amazing.  I've had a few interactions with board members, and they have been very accomodating and helpful.  The curriculum was a little too easy for him, but now they do allow him to work at a higher level in reading and math, as he's ready.  The only thing I hate is the neighborhood.  His school is located in one of the higher-crime areas of our town.  There are incidents involving the police from time to time.  It's not uncommon to get a note sent home that the school was on lock-down for one reason or another.  The teachers and staff do a wonderful job of protecting the children, but worries a little.  And, it goes without saying, that many of the children attending the school are not who I would choose for my child to hang out with.  In Kindergarten this is not such a big deal.  But in 3 years he'll go to a 3-5 grade school, and it will be a big deal then.  Our hope is that Munchkin will improve so much that he will no longer need all the support services he's recieving now.  With enough success, we'd love to see him at Squirrel's school by third grade!

But therein lies a greater in the world will we afford two kids in private school?  For the amount of money I spend to send one child there, I could feed a small village for a year.  And when I look at my income (minus work-related expenses: clothes, supplies I buy myself, gas for commuting, etc.) compared to tuition for two kids--well, it doesn't even equal out.  I'd have to work another job just to pay for school for them!  So I'm beginning to consider what else is out there.  It seems my choices may be to move somewhere else with better schools, or to keep the kids home and teach them myself.  Isn't it funny how things come full circle like this sometimes?  Good thing I have a few more years to decide!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Deserving of Motherhood

Yesterday I was talking to a teacher I used to work with, and I found out about a family that I used to teach.  The children (3 siblings--5-year old twins and a 4 year old) were 3 of the sweetest, silliest, most lovable kids.  The fact that their home life was terrible made them all the more lovable.  I've wondered all year (since they left our center) what became of them.  And yesterday, I found out.

One twin has been diagnosed with some pretty heavy mental health issues--the kind kids are usually placed in facilities for.  He just spent several months in a mental hospital, and will likely need to go back soon if he doesn't show improvement.  His twin is about to enter the same mental hospital to participate in a program for overly-sexual behavior.  Yes, at 5 years of age.  And the littlest one is a ward of the state and living with a foster-parent right now after the mom gave her away.  The twins have just been taken from the mom and placed in foster care as well.  It breaks my heart to hear about children in this kind of situation, but even more so since I know and love these kids.  I wish I could take them in and love them and care for them.  They are good kids.  They've just never had a chance!  Their mom is on drugs.  She sells her body to pay for these drugs.  Her kids watch all of this.  They spent much of last year homeless, living in one shelter until mom got kicked out of it, then moving to another.

As my fellow teacher told me all this, she said, "Some people just don't deserve to be parents."  And I know what she means.  These kids have dealt with more in five years of life than most kids will ever deal with.  But despite the choices their mom has made and how badly she's screwed up her kids' lives, I've talked to this mom, and I know she loves her kids.  She wants what's best for them, but she doesn't know how to do it.  She can't get out of the cycle drugs has created in her life.  She can't stop using.  She's been beaten down and abused and mistreated all her life.  It's a sad cycle that now her children have been cursed with too.

But does this make her undeserving of motherhood?  In my line of work, I see a lot of bad parenting.  The kids I teach come in and tell me stories that make me want to cry.  Not all of them as drastic as this one, but little girl in my class gets up every night to give her baby sister a bottle because mommy won't wake up.  Another child gets spanked every time he gets an answer wrong on a worksheet (in Kindergarten!) and then has to redo it.  Another comes in every morning and says she didn't get any breakfast because they don't have any food in the house.  And one boy's father was arrested this month after he beat the kid up.  Not to mention the parents who "just" yell and scream and degrade their children all the time.  Or can't get off their cell phone long enough to say goodbye to their child.  Or don't ever tell their child NO but wonder why their kid's in trouble all the time.

But I don't think that means any of these parents don't deserve to be parents.  What it does mean is that there are a lot of parents out there who need to be taught.  They need to learn a different way of raising their children than the way they were raised themselves.  They need to learn how to put their child's needs above their own.  Many of them just need to (literally) grow up.

In the case of my little friends, I'm glad the state intervened in their situation.  I'm so grateful that they are getting professional help, and are living with people who will take care of them and meet their needs.  But my heart really goes out to their mom right now.  I cannot imagine having my children taken away from me.  I can't even think how it must feel to wake up on Mother's Day and not know where your kids are, or if you'll ever see them again.  And even worse, to know that you only have yourself to blame.  How might her life have been different if someone had intervened earlier?  If she had straightened her life out before she actually became a mother?  If she had never gone down that path in the first place?  If someone had taken her under wing after those twins were conceived, and taught her how to be a mom?

Maybe we need to be less quick to judge.  Maybe, when we see a parent who we don't think deserves to be one, we need to step in and help them learn how to succeed instead of writing them off as a failure.  I don't know what this might look like for you, but I do know that I want to be love in action to those who need it.

And not only that, but which one of us actually "deserves" to be a mom or dad anyway?  Are we such perfect parents that we set the bar by which everyone else should be judged?  I mess up everyday!  I yell at my kids. I say things I don't mean.  I ignore them to fool around on Facebook, or clean up messes, or read a book.  I feed them junk because I'm too tired to cook dinner.  I nod and say "Hmm" while they talk but don't listen to a word they're saying.  I count down the minutes until bedtime, or until Girl's Night Out, when I can "get away from them" for a little while.  Don't you?

None of us is a parent because we "deserve" to be.  We're parents because God gifted us with these children, and allows us the privilege of raising them and teaching them and loving them while we're here on this earth.  If God sees fit to give any of us such a precious gift when we don't deserve it, then all we can do in return is the best we can with them.  And as you sit and hug your children tomorrow, and call or visit with your own mom, remember those who struggle everyday to be a mother to their children.  When you see those moms, give them a hand, or say a kind word, or smile at them.  You never know what difference one little action may make for their child.  As for me, I am seriously considering how I can do more for moms like the one I just told you about.  Because there is one thing I know--we all deserve to love and be loved.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How We Survive Haircuts

Last week we went for haircuts after school.  There's nothing like the well-groomed, adorable look of a child with a new haircut.  It's so cute!  If only people knew the traumatic experience a haircut can be for our kids with SPD!

Take Squirrel.  My little bald baby didn't even need her first haircut until she was 3 1/2.  We knew there would be issues involving the salon chair (she hated things that moved, hated being in a high place where her feet weren't on the floor) so I held her on my lap for that first hair cut.  And I knew she feared every new experience, so we tried to prepare her by going early and letting her watch me get a haircut first.  Even so, I didn't expect her to be so fearful of everything.  She jumped at the sound of the blowdryer being used on the other side of the store.  She clung to me as they snipped her hair with the scissors, saying the noise hurt her ears.  She was shaking and terrified throughout the whole experience, and asked if I would please never make her get another haircut again when it was over.  Well, I couldn't promise that, but I told her it would be awhile before she needed another one.  I praised her and rewarded her for being such a good girl.  And she's had many more haircuts over the years, some of them even at her own request.  But the anxiety over haircuts has never left her.

Last year she decided to grow her hair out long.  It's now more than halfway down her back, and we just go every six months for a trim.  I think part of her motivation for growing it out was not to have to deal with the trauma of the haircut.  I watched her yesterday, sitting across the room from where I was with her brother, all by herself in the chair.  She had her shoulders hunched up, and her hands absolutely clawed at the chair's arms, clenching them as if to hang on for dear life.  She didn't smile, make small talk with the stylist, or even look in the mirror.  She kept her eyes screwed shut tight and just endured the haircut.  I felt so bad for the distress it was obviously causing her, but I also was proud of her for being able to handle it herself.  When it was over, she took a deep breath and relaxed her body, and was ready to move on.

Munchkin has always been a different story.  He has a full, thick head of hair, and got many haircuts early in life.  These haircuts were always tough, because like any toddler, he wiggled and squirmed the whole time.  But he never showed any fear about getting a haircut until he was around 3 years old.  He had gotten into his sister's scissors, and cut several clumps of his own hair off, including most of his bangs.  The only way to fix it was with the clippers.  This was right around the time some of his own sensory issues were starting to show up, so I wasn't really surprised when the noise of the clippers sent him into full meltdown mode.  But, with his hair in shambles and now with a wide razor-sized swath missing down the middle, our choices were a buzz cut or hats for a long time.  So, with a guilty heart and a sick feeling in my stomach, I pinned his little fighting body down and secured his jaw in my hand so he couldn't move, and they cut as fast as they safely could.

Thus began the nightmare that haircuts would become for Munchkin.  At barely three, he couldn't tell me how bad haircuts bothered him (though I could certainly read a lot from the screeches and the fight).  And I wish I could say that this was the last time clippers were ever used on his head.  (But it wasn't.)  For about a year and a half, haircuts were a knockdown-dragg out fight which resulted in a frazzled stylist, a sweaty, hair-covered mom, and a hysterical angry child.  But things have gotten better over the years.  He is now almost six, and still hates haircuts.  However, we have learned a few things that make them more tolerable for him along the way.

First, he gets to say if and when he wants a haircut whenever possible.  This year he is finally able to explain to me his criteria for when his hair needs to be cut: "Mom, I only need my hair cut when I have to go like this (head swoop to one side to get the bangs out of his eyes) so I can see.  Or if my hair is making my forehead so sweaty."  So we have embraced the homeless Munchkin look on him, and have let his hair grow pretty long between haircuts.  Lucky for him, he is stinkin' cute no matter what haircut he does or doesn't have!

Second, we have learned to pack an arsenal of things to help him tune out that haircut when it's time.  For us, the i-pod is a great tool, especially when Daddy puts a new Thomas video on it.  The earbud-style headphones stay out of the way of scissors, and watching the screen helps him remember to keep his head down.  Other things that have worked include small cookies or candies (like M&Ms--but NOT suckers--what a hairy mess!), hand-held video games, a new book to look at, or anything else that keeps his hands occupied and away from the scissors and his head looking down.

Third, we've learned to let Grandma cut his hair in the quiet of her home, where there are no other distractions.  Or we try to hit the haircutting place right away after school...the daytime rush is over, and the evening walk-ins haven't started yet, so there is less commotion.  We've also learned to call ahead so there's no wait, to walk out if there is a wait, and to request the stylists that we know can work with our limitations.  (Specifically, no clippers, no hair dryer, minimum spraying from the water bottle, and--most importantly--to be able to cut the hair of a child who never stops moving without cutting the child.)

Most importantly, we let Munchkin control the haircut.  When it's obvious to us that he desperately needs one, we start talking about getting a haircut every chance we get.  It usually takes about a week for him to agree to one, so if we know he needs to look nice, we start talking it up early!  He then gets to pick who he wants to cut his hair, where he wants to go, and what he wants to do while they cut his hair.  Giving him control of this situation has made all the difference in the world!

Actually, this particular hair cut was a big thing for him too.  He didn't feel he needed it, so there was some arguing back and forth to try to convince him of it.  Once he did agree to it, he said he didn't want the i-pod.  He actually sat in the chair for the first time yesterday without anything to occupy him.  He needed lots of reminders to "Look down" and "Keep your hands down."  He squirmed and wiggled and wanted to see what was going on everywhere else in the salon.  He reminded the stylist at least a hundred times not to cut him.  But he got a hair cut without all the props he's needed for so long!

Of course, he also was smart enough to figure that he deserved a reward for doing such a great job.  And no small one, this one cost me a trip to Target for a toy.  And, of course, Squirrel needed one too.  But two toys are a small price to pay for watching your children conquer their fears and overcome their obstacles yet again!