My Family

My Family
Here we all are!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Today we had a winter storm.  Lots of beautiful, heavy snow.  Callie, Ella and I went to a dance practice for next week's church service.  Callie, as expected, learned the moves much more quickly than I did - including the boy's moves I think.  She exudes such confidence when she is dancing or singing.  She has non of the fears of messing up we other humans all tend to have.  It's always beautiful to watch.

When we left the building the snow had continued to accumulate and the parking lot had not been plowed.  As I pulled out the tires spun a little and we were stuck - not horribly, but it caused Callie great concern.  Even as I was able to pull us out of it she was bailing.  She opened the door and Ella tried to grab her from the front seat back into the car.  I was torn between what every Minnesotan knows - once you're moving don't stop.  You can barely be moving, but you never stop.  Obviously, I had to stop.  I also had a friend who's van was stuck about 30 ft. in front of us.

Callie got out of the car and refused to get back in.  I tried everything to convince her to get back in her seat.  A group had gathered to push my friend's vehicle in front of us.  Callie started pushing me, got into my seat and kicked at me to get me away from the car.  Ella, wisely, turned off the car and grabbed the keys.  We've been in this situation before, but never in the middle of a snowstorm.  Finally she started walking towards the friend's car.  She added her push to the back of the vehicle and we helped, as best we could.  Finally their car went on it's way.  I didn't know what Callie would do, but thankfully, she got in and I had somehow managed to engage the child locks on both back doors.  Hopefully, no matter what happened, we could keep her in the vehicle and make it home.

God was very gracious to us and we made it home with little spinning of the tires, which also sets off a beeper in our car - I know what spinning tires and swerving cars are - Minnesotan here.  They are also very un-Callie friendly.

The juxtaposition of Callie's confidence in singing and dancing against the inability to conquer her anxiety of the car spinning out was so typical of Callie's life.  She can be so very confident and unshaken in some things and just can not deal with other unexpected and un-welcomed surprises in life.

Just like driving a car in a snowstorm, we will continue the slow constant driving - pushing along and not stopping.   Sometimes confidently and sometimes with great insecurity in our ability to stay on the road we will just continue moving forward.  Turning around isn't an option.

Friday, November 30, 2012

National Adoption Month 2012 - Final Thoughts

As this year's month honoring and recognizing the importance of adoption closes I wanted to share some thoughts.  Adoption has been a part of my life, most of my life.  I have to remind myself sometimes that it is still a "foreign" idea to some people and one that they struggle to understand.

As a young child my parents had close friends who's two daughters were adopted.  My mother would often comment on how great it was that the adoption agency matched them to children who matched their physical traits - eye color, hair color, of course skin color.  This way no one would know they were adopted.  Clearly, the message was, adoption is a secret and somehow a shameful thing.  It seems so old-fashioned to me now, but when you see how many people spend thousands to achieve a biological child, even to the point of having a surrogate carry their biology, it's not so old school.  

I understand the desire to experience pregnancy and birth and as someone who was easily able to achieve that I don't want to be insensitive.  For me, the end goal would have been to be a parent, not of a child who looked like or had personality traits similar to my own,  just to be able to be a parent and have children that were mine.  May I add, having biological children is no guarantee that your offspring will be like or even look like you.  We all know people with bio kids who we've thought - wow how did that happen?

Just last week I helped out in Jacob's classroom and heard quite a few kids ask Jacob incredulously, "Is that your mother?"   He'd reply yes and then the obvious follow-up, "I didn't know you were adopted." Oh how Jacob loves those conversations.  In a few years it'll move on to the, "Don't you want to know who your real parents are?" or "Don't you miss your real parents?",  Comments my older adopted kids have heard.

My point is - for those who are sick and tired of hearing about adoption, I'm sorry, but until the day kids meet our family and rather than questioning our relationship they will simply say, "Cool."  It may take another generation of teaching and so I will continue, like I have a choice.

My request, plea really, is that you take the time to talk to those you know or parent and discuss family and the variety of ways God makes families and that it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with how you look or even what you like to do.  

It is fiercely, and I mean fiercely,  pursuing connections with each other and claiming over and over again - we are family.  We are a chosen family - God made us a family and chose our family by picking each and every one of you specifically for this family.  He chose us as your parents and each of your siblings to be your brothers and sisters.  You may question why, as every child in every family does, but we were meant to be together - so deal with it.  No one's going anywhere and you can count on that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Another One Flies the Nest

It's always a bittersweet day when my kids move out.  I'm happy for them, but know it'll never quite be the same again.  With this particular kid it is a definite shift in the dynamics of the family.  Although Ella is the third eldest of the next group of siblings, she is the eldest in the ability to lead as an older sibling.  She will be, and already is in many ways, the heir apparent to the throne of sibling hierarchy.

Christopher is our bridge - 6 years younger than Melissa and 6 years older than Shannon.  He is truly the middle child - five are above him and five are below him.  He is the only sibling who doesn't have a close in age brother or sister.  He is the "Boss", as Ella nicknamed him.  He was the first and still so far the only sports enthusiast of the siblings. He has never caused any serious trouble - at least that I know of so far.  It's amazing the stories some of your kids think they should tell you long after it's happened.

We are grateful he will still be near by and will still be a PCA(personal care assistant) for the younger siblings who need his services and that he will be desperate for extra cash due to his high rent.  Works for me.  I loved to tell people when Chris was old enough to watch the kids by himself that I didn't know any adult that could handle these kids by themselves.  They'd be overwhelmed.  Now, of course, the screen did much of the babysitting, but he could G-tube feed Shannie by the time he was 10 and her seizures didn't seem to freak him out either - all of which he did while also keeping track of Chad, Callie, Christian, Ella and Jacob I might add.

He has a soft spot for Shannie, although his roughhousing with her when she was little freaked people out.  I would always point out the humongous smile on her face as he as roughing her up.  Callie won his heart as well.  What he loves about her most, he often says, is that she doesn't care what people think of her.  She just does what she wants.  He always "makes" her give him a hug when they see each other for the first time.

He's been a little nostalgic the last week or so and joking about how he'll miss the constant noise and messes that come with this family.  Melissa told him how she had to have the TV on all the time when she first moved out because she couldn't stand the quiet.

Letting go is what parenting is all about.  I think I'm pretty good at it, but that doesn't mean it isn't still hard to do.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Adoption story #3 - Melissa

Every girl should have a sister and Mark really wanted to go to Korea - why not combine the two! We started the process to adopt a little girl from Korea when Kelsey was about 18 mos. We were open to special needs and were hoping she'd be under 2 yrs. old.

When her paperwork came I remember holding it thinking - I hope her BD is in the spring - already 5 family BD's between Aug. 28 and Oct. 4. Well, it was Sept. 1 - oh well it'll just be the time of year for BD's I guess. Of course we immediately fell in love with Ka-Sil Lee when we saw her. Mark wanted the name Lisa, but I wanted to keep Lee as her middle name - mine is Leigh as well, just not the Korean spelling. So, we compromised with Melissa and called her Lissy or Lissa.

Melissa had qualified as a special needs child. At 3 mos. she developed a subdural hematoma which required surgery to relieve the pressure of the blood leaking into the space between her brain and her skull. Why she developed this hematoma was unknown. It is generally from some sort of head trauma, but her foster mom said there had been no falls or bumps and there was no reason to suspect otherwise as she had a long history of taking great care of her foster children. It is a mystery to this day. Korean doctors recommended removing the shunt placed in her skull leading into her stomach after she arrived in the US. They neurologist here recommended leaving it alone as it was causing no trouble for her and it remains in place to this day. The only time it's caused any trouble was during her pregnancy - it seemed to be a situation no one had encountered and after much consideration it was again agreed to leave it be.

Although not a typical special need Melissa's conception was not ideal to put it mildly. Melissa's birthmother was a 16 yr. old farm girl from a small village outside of Seoul who was walking home from school and a Korean soldier "forced himself upon her" which resulted in her pregnancy. It was information important to her story, but made no difference to us. Regardless of the soldier's decision, ultimately God alone decided that Melissa should have life and nothing else was important to us. We knew she was meant to be our daughter. I will say that I grieve more for her birthmom then any other due to these circumstances and all that she had to cope with as a young innocent girl. I wish she could know what a great daughter she created and what beautiful grandbaby girls she has. Since that is more then unlikely, I pray she has found great joy in her life.

Mark's first international trip, other then Canada, was to pick up Melissa. He was excited and probably just a little nervous. An adoption escort, a person who brings back children to their adoptive families, asked Mark to help her move 26 boxes through customs in Korea. They loaded 2 large carts, each pushing one, and customs split them into two lanes. Customs asked Mark what was in the boxes and he replied explained he didn't know they belonged to "that lady" who had already passed through customs as she was a frequent visitor. He explained the boxes had supplies for the orphanage. They opened up one box and to Mark's dismay they were full of syringes. They then removed him to the a small room with a bright light over the chair like a movie scene of an interrogation room. They proceeded to open the boxes finding tourniquets and syringes. After about 6 boxes they called in a supervisor who was very angry and shot questions at him about what these supplies were for and why didn't he know what was in these boxes. The 13th and final box had baby clothes and formula in it - thank the Lord. Then he believed Mark's explanation and let him leave. Not a great introduction to international travel, which I might add never seemed to dim his enthusiasm for it.

Mark had some paperwork to finish up the first day in Korea and was ready to meet our little girl.  He went with Miss Park, the social worker, to the foster home where she'd been since she was born, other than when she had surgery.  Mark meet the foster parents, two other foster girls that lived with them and their biological 20ish daughter.  He was able to coax her over with an Asian pear, apparently her foster mom did not think that suitable food for a toddler.  The irony is Melissa had terrible onion breath from some onion chips her foster mom had given her.

After a bit they all went outside to walk around the neighborhood.  Many of the neighbor ladies seemed to be giggling at Mark.  He wasn't sure, but wondered if it was odd to them culturally that a man would come to get a child.  We'll never know I guess.

The next day he went back to social services to finish some more paperwork.  The building was huge, but overcrowded with hundreds of kids, foster parents and social workers.  They had a tiny elevator and it was stuffed with people.  Mark, who is generally not claustrophobic, was anxious to get out. They told Mark he would need a full fare ticket, a cost we had definitely not planned for as he'd brought an employee pass for her.  Finally, all was in order to go home.

Early the next morning the foster mom, social worker and Melissa met Mark at the airport.  The foster mom, who had been very stern and stoic looking up until this point.  Cried non-stop until Mark got onto the airplane.  He was a bit shaken by that as she'd shown no emotion previously.  In hindsight it was, of course, a good sign that she was attached to Melissa.

Melissa seemed quite bewildered by the whole situation.  While waiting for take-off Melissa fell asleep.  About an hour later she woke up and started crying and screaming, "Ahma!".  Mark didn't know what she was saying, but a Korean woman nearby explained she was crying for her mother.  He felt so sad for her.  Of course in those days we had not thought about attachment or how terribly traumatic this was for her.  Seems ridiculously ignorant, but we adopted through Children's Home Society, a very reputable agency and taken all the classes required and not once do I recall anyone mentioning the fact that this would be an emotional and heart-wrenching loss for her.  It seems so ignorant, but we all just thought we were doing a good thing and were excited to have this new daughter in our family never really considering the impact it would make on her to suffer such a loss.  Loss of the only mother she'd known, the only country, culture and language she'd known.  All of that was left behind.

After about two or three hours she finally cried herself to sleep and the rest of the trip went smoothly.  When they arrived the other kids - Chad, Conor, Jonathan and Kelsey - and I met them at the airport.  Some dear friends were also there to welcome her home.

None of her early health issues have caused any problems for her and for that we are so very grateful.
She's a beautiful, strong, smart young married woman now with two beautiful girls. I found a Korean proverb that says  - Even children of the same mother look different.  How true that is in our family.  Melissa once told me she would forget that she didn't look like us until she looked in the mirror and was reminded we didn't resemble each other. Her daughters, Kaia and Brynn, have given her faces to look at that resemble her own, something she'd been missing a long time, which I'm sure have healed some of her loss in a way nothing else could.

Thank you God for choosing us to be her parents and thanks Melissa for being our daughter.
                                                          We love you Melissa!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Menial Means Meaningful

Gratitude.  Thankfulness.  Contentment.  Satisfaction.  All great words for the month of November. Many people are submitting daily, or multiple times a day, things or people they are grateful for on facebook.  Maybe it's just inherent in the life I lead, but thankfulness is a feeling I never have trouble realizing.

Today both Shannon and Chad needed showers.  I helped Mark lift Shannon, he showered her and I dressed her and braided her hair.  Mark ran Ella and Jacob to school and I got Chad into the shower.

Every time and I mean every time I perform these, menial if you will, tasks I am overcome with gratitude.  I'm grateful that I can do these things for myself.  I'm grateful that today Shannon enjoyed her shower pain free.  I'm grateful that Chad, generally, has a wonderfully positive attitude and enjoys the process of showering, shaving, lotioning and dressing. I'm ever so grateful my body is strong and the process generally never causes me any physical pain.  I'm grateful for warm, clean water that's there whenever I need it.  I am sometimes absolutely overcome with gratitude and reminded yet again how incredibly blessed I am that I live a life that is so full of meaning and significance.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Super Storms - Super Scary

I am not a worrier at heart.  I'm really not - but - watching this monster storm, Sandy, hit the east coast creates just a bit of panic in me.  I wonder what in heavens name we would do if it happened to us.

Years ago, before our final 3 kids arrived, we lost power after a terrible thunderstorm for about 4 days.  We lasted about a two days before we packed up and hit a hotel.  Last winter we lost power a couple days and ended up at a hotel pretty quickly due to the cold.  I spent the night with Callie as I thought she'd do better at home and Mark stayed at the hotel with the kids that were left.  It was below 50 when we woke up and ran to our car hightailing it to the hotel.  Thankfully, by the time church was over the power returned and I'm even more thankful we could afford to go to a hotel, although it did blow the budget temporarily.

For us, loss of power means loss of water - we have a well, which is a lot more difficult to live without than just lights and electronics.  No water means no flushing, no showers or water to clean various people at all for any reason - catching my drift? No way to make Shannie's liquid diet, nor keep it safely refrigerated.  It's pretty much a disaster for us, but again, so far we could afford a hotel in a pinch.

So my thoughts and prayers really go out to those I know and love in the east coast, but especially those with disabled family members who have medical equipment that depends on electricity or medical disorders that make it difficult to regulate their body temperatures.  For some people it's not simply an inconvenience that'll make for awesome story telling some day.  It can be life or death and that's why I feel just a little bit panicked at the thought and ever so grateful that we are safely in the middle of this great country.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ode to Aunt Jo

A week ago my Aunt Joanne passed away.  I've been trying for the past week to put into words what Aunt Jo meant to me and to my family.  

When I was young, people who knew the Smith side of my family would call me little Joanne.  Not, as you might think, because my mother's name was JoAnn, but because I had an energy much like my Aunt Joanne.  She was full of energy and was athletic long before that was a "proper" activity for girls.

Aunt Joanne had many many fine qualities.  She was the hostess with the mostest, as we would say.  When she prepared a meal it was a thing of beauty.  I remember when we were together in New York, to take care of my dad as he was recovering from a bad infection, and I had flown out for a few days.  She made my dad a simple lunch of cheese, crackers and fresh fruit.  The way she arranged the foods on the plate and added a sprig of something or other made the simple meal a work of art.  As I commented on it she seemed surprised.  She made the common something special.  

She made my kids feel special as well.  She found out how much my Melissa loved horses and invited her to spend a couple weeks at her ranch.  Although Melissa was a little homesick, she had an amazing time.   Joanne filled her horse love to overflowing with lessons and non-stop time to ride, groom and just love on horses.

For my two youngest, Ella and Jacob, she was the grandmother they didn't have.  We were able to spend time in Idaho three of the last 4 summers.  When I gave them the choice of going to Y camp or going to Aunt Jo and Uncle Dick's house - there was just no choice for them.  Idaho won hands down. They absolutely loved being there, and I did too.

She made me feel special too.  My mom died when I was 19 and the older I got, the more time I was able to spend with Aunt Jo.  She filled a spot I hadn't realized was empty.  I was able to spend a few days with her this past Nov.  Unfortunately she ended up spending much of the time in the hospital.  She was more concerned that it was ruining our time together than about how she was doing physically. She had planned massages, something we were to do together, but insisted that I still go ahead with mine.  It was so very thoughtful, just what you'd expect.

Two and a half years ago when Melissa was married, Aunt Jo came to Minnesota.  It was a DIY wedding and even though she had only recently recovered from a serious lung illness, she couldn't wait to come. She helped me choose the salads and sent me some of her favorite recipes, which I will especially cherish now.  We spent the afternoon before the wedding preparing the salads and she helped, as she had helped so many family members so many times.

Along with her horses she loved her adopted state of Idaho.  She loved everything about Idaho and the BSU football team.  A year ago when I was out to visit by myself she had her royal blue and orange outfit on the night before a game, including the scarf she had made as she'd taken up knitting again as her energy level was lower.  She was never idle.

She was fiercely loyal to family.  Not just her nuclear family, but her extended family as well.  I knew something wasn't quite right this August when for the first time I didn't receive my usual birthday card.  She had never forgotten my birthday and mailed me a card even when I moved nearly every year for about 5 years.  She was always sure to get my new address and never missed my birthday.

One of our last conversations included a discussion about my cousin who had recently had brain surgery, but had complications and has been really struggling ever since.  It was so frustrating for Joanne that she was not able to go and help.  Doing, helping and supporting others both in a physical sense and in an emotional sense was who she was.

 Last Mother's Day I sent her a card which, unbeknownst to me, was really meaningful to her.  She pulled it out while I was there this summer and told me how much it meant to her.  My note read something to the effect that I learned much about unconditional love from watching how she treated others.  I hadn't even remembered what I had written, but she sure had and I'm especially grateful now that I sent that card.

Thoughtful, loyal, generous, giving, hospitable, caring, she loved greatly and greatly loved others.  I will miss you so much Aunt Jo and whenever I entertain you will be close beside me in spirit because no one could make people feel welcome and comfortable like you could.  Thanks for teaching me that and so much more.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thoughts on Callie Turning 12

We've had a little over 9 years with Callie girl and they have been so full - very full.  This past year we had some highs and some lows.  We survived the lows and relished the highs.

Callie's level of anxiety became unbearable and was stealing her joy in life and spreading anxiety and concern to those of us who love her.  We finally felt we were at a spot where pharmaceuticals were no longer avoidable as a tool.  It was a timely and appropriate decision.

As she prepared to enter middle school this year we were especially concerned with the increase in noise level and number of bells she would have to endure on a daily basis.  From all that I've heard she has adjusted very well.  On her birthday Fri., I heard that a group of girls came to her table and serenaded her with the Happy Birthday song.  She was thrilled and gave hugs all around.  How cool is that?

She also was able to enjoy roller coasters - really enjoy them.  She is participating in Special Olympics and, for the most part, handling the sensory overload that is involved very well.

So as we finish out her preteen years who knows what is to be.  I've been toying with writing a book, specifically about Callie and her amazing story.  Myrikle in the Making is my "working" title.  I guess since I haven't written one page it's really an "un-working" title.  If you don't know the story Myrikle was the name her birth mom gave her.  As I've said before her name was far more prophetic that I could have imagined.

Watching how God works in Callie's life has and I know will continue to be one of the most exciting adventures of my life.  I learn so much from her and am always amazed by how much influence she wields on so many people.  She's effected so many others by her huge personality.

                                    Here's to an awesome 12th year full of amazing adventures!
                                                          We love you Callie Girl.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Just another Friday night

Tonight we have the privilege of having Dominic for an overnight.  It's a rare honor and we love it.  Tomorrow when he wakes up hours before everyone else does my opinion may change, but now while he is sleeping in the other room - priceless.

We don't know why, but Dominic's happy spot in our house has always been under this piece of furniture.  Usually he would lie on the shelf there, but tonight he fell fast asleep up against the wall underneath.

When Mark and I were having our first meeting with a psychologist for one of the kids and we were discussing our family Mark commented on the fact that for some reason we really hadn't considered the overlap in grand parenting while still actively parenting.

 We may not be able to be as available as some grand parents are, but on the other hand we didn't have to re-childproof our house, we never un-childproofed.  We often hear from other grandparents our age how exhausted they are after their grandkids visit.  We're still pretty used to the exhaustion that is parenting, albeit we do enjoy our down time much more these days, and frankly require much more of it.

Best finish up it's tIme to send the aunts and uncles to bed before the grandson's night is half over.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Always Greener on the Other Side

As long as we've been raising children there have been disparities in the expectations between siblings. Chad joined us when Conor was just 2 and Jonathan was born shortly afterwards.  So, there have always been siblings whose abilities were sharply different than other siblings.  Explaining why this is and why our expectations for the typical will be different takes time and maturity for the kids to understand.

I have often heard complaints about how unfair it was/is that the typicals have to do chores the atypicals didn't.  My approach is generally to try to help them appreciate how blessed they are that they can perform chores or do homework on their own.  Occasionally I'd hear out of exasperation, "I wish I could be like Chad and never have to do anything."  By the way, he did and does do some chores, but his abilities are definitely limited.  That comment would always lead me to ask them to really think about whether they'd like to trade places.  If you were Chad you'd never drive, never date or possibly marry, rarely get to choose what you'd like to eat because you can't cook or learn to, can't take a pain reliever if you have a headache or even tell someone else you need a pain reliever or travel without someone else choosing the time and activity.  "Do you really want to trade places?"

Someone once said to Mark how much they envied Chad as he had such a carefree life.  No worries or troubles.  Mark's reply was essentially what makes you think just because Chad's not worried about business problems like you that his worries are any less important or troublesome.  Maybe his worries are more basic, but if someone forgets to get him lunch at his usual time why would he not be concerned about whether he's ever getting lunch.  What if something frightens him, but he can't tell anyone what that is to be reassured or have it explained.  Mark's feeling was basically, how dare you think just because your concerns involve money or a business that makes them bigger than Chad's basic concerns.  To Chad they are hugely important, doesn't matter if you think so or not.

I never had a kid try to further argue that they'd still rather be him.  Now, I think Chad has a pretty terrific life and he seems quite happy with it.  However, he does have his frustrations and we can't really know if he loves the life we've chosen for him.  He can make some choices, but the pool from which he chooses is decided by us.

I wonder how frustrated Chad would be if he could understand the choices we typicals make and why.  I wonder if it would drive him crazy to think we could have made all kinds of different choices, but didn't choose them because of fear or insecurity.  I'm thinking if I were Chad and became typical overnight I'd have some choice words for me.  "Why didn't you do this, why did you waste time on that?"  "I would have taken advantage of every opportunity if I'd had all that you have."

Isn't that just how it goes.  I always think I know what's best for other people and could do it so much better.  Why wouldn't Chad?  It's what I would do and really that's the point.  Chad is just like me - and you too.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Yesterday I found myself doing something that still surprises me.  I had to shush Callie.  Since our Callie was completely silent when she arrived and it took about 2 years before we got to the point where she could answer our questions with a yes or no.  She was nearly 5 when she achieved that great milestone.  That was huge progress and immensely helpful in meeting her needs.  FInally she could make choices.  Rather than throw her food across the table she could answer yes or no before we set it in front of her.  The simple ability to answer yes or no opened up many doors.

We had an amazing speech therapist and learned so many skills to use at home by sitting in on her speech sessions.  Amy helped us take Callie from a silent little girl to one who was non stop talking yesterday as the public health nurse was doing her yearly review for personal care attendant support.  Amy also became as outraged as we did when the school speech pathologist wrote, "Callie has no functional speech" in her report.  That speech pathologist had already written Callie off - that was a terrible mistake and her great loss.

So, as I sat there trying to have a conversation with the public health nurse over Callie's exuberant playful conversation I couldn't help but smile.  The nurse commented about how great she was at entertaining herself and I told her the short story of her speech and language development.  It's a story we will be repeating for a very long time and one I'll never tire of telling.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to School 2012

We are off and running into the 2012/2013 school year.  This is a pivotal year for pretty much all my kids.  Jacob is in third grade learning cursive, not sure why they still teach that - just sayin'.  Ella began middle school.  She is in a K-8 school, so she didn't have to leave the building, but does have to move from classroom to classroom.  Callie also started middle school in a whole new building with a whole new staff.  Our little sound sensitive child now has to deal with the hated bell many times over what she's had to deal with before.  Christian is finishing up his middle school years this year and Shannon officially began high school.  I say officially because her program was in a high school the past two years, but this year she is actually high school age and is back in our school district, albeit not our neighborhood high school.

One bummer about having kids in "low-incidence" special ed. classrooms is we've never had their program in the school our neighborhood kids attend.  So for kids who have grown up with typical neighborhood friends, they ride a different bus to a different school rather than attending the same school with other neighbors.  In addition to that Callie and Christian didn't get to move into the middle school that their reg. ed. peers went to when they left their elementary school.  This is also true with Shannie.  Building relationships with typical peers isn't easy and is especially difficult at that middle school age when most kids are not the most comfortable in their own skin, so to speak.

Callie's teacher was excited to tell me how well she did on her first day.  She was definitely the one I was most concerned about as far as adjusting to a new building, teacher, schedule etc. etc.  She reiterated what we hear time and time again - "she's so smart".  I'm always glad when I hear that because I know that whoever said it will "get" her.  More often than not now people figure that out quickly, but that wasn't always the case.  There are a few preschool teachers I sure'd like to show her off too - in a totally non-judgemental in your face kinda way.

After a quick light clean up of the house I've enjoyed a wonderful leisurely lunch under our gazebo in our yard in absolutely perfect weather watching my ridiculous dog try to catch a chipmunk who is ruthlessly baiting her.  In about an hour the peace and quiet of right now will completely disappear with the first bus arriving as well as two grandie girls and that too will be thoroughly enjoyable.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sleep Biking?

Well, what do you know.  Apparently Callie was learning to ride a bike in her sleep.  I haven't even seen her sit on a bike this summer.  I'm thinking it's been 2 years since we had a bike with training wheels on it for her.  We've not encouraged it as I don't trust her iffy implulse control to keep her safe.  If she got out of the house and found a bike and just took off - oh, boy head between my knees - breathe just breathe.

She jumped on Ella's bike and just came down the driveway.  We were standing towards the end of the driveway and it didn't even register who was riding the bike because she'd just never done that before.  Jacob excitedly starts yelling, "Callie's riding a bike - Callie's riding a bike."  Thankfully he also road by her side.  She wanted to ride down the front grassy hill in our yard and I told Jacob to tell her how to us the brakes.  Then I got my camera out.  It was only after filming her successful and very controlled ride that I realized she didn't have a helmet on.  Probably not the best idea.  I was still so in shock I just wasn't thinking.

She road around and around our cul-de-sac with Jacob, then they went further down the street and Jacob started yelling at her not to go down our hill.  For those of you who don't know we have a pretty steep hill at the beginning of our street.  I started running as fast as my flip flops would let me go, but, amazingly - she had a controlled ride and stopped before charging into the busier street at the bottom of our hill.

Sometimes I think I shouldn't be amazed at what Callie does anymore.  Then I have to look at her file as I did this past week to remind myself of birth facts, wasn't there so it just doesn't stick.  The school paperwork asked for her apgar scores.  I looked and couldn't find them.  Then I looked again and the words Full Code slapped me in the face.  I'm sure I knew this, but I'd forgotten.  Callie was, well basically, born dead.  Callie - who learned to speak, walk, read, do math, write, conquered her fear of rollercoasters and darn it - rode a bike.  She also learned to love, laugh and gives us more joy than we can count as well as challenging every parenting skill we've developed over 31 years.  I've said it once and I'll say it again - Callie is a miracle!  But, no, it is not the end of the story.  There will be more, yes, much more.

Monday, August 20, 2012

KISS - Keep It Simple Silly

Yesterday we had a couple kids over for play dates.  Jacob's friend had never been to our house and all our kids were home.  I always feel a little sorry for anyone who hasn't been fully warned about our family before entering our abode.  It's a lot to take in and not be freaked out.  When you live it every day, you just forget how it must look coming from "normal", whatever that means.

I asked Ella what she tells her friends before they come over.  She said, "I tell them some of the kids have disabilities and if they say something you don't understand, just ask me and I'll interpret."  I'm not sure Jacob is yet aware that his friends might not have experience with special needs kids and so aren't necessarily being "warned".

Jacob's friend asked a few questions which we answered as succinctly as possible.  It's kind of like if a little kid asks you say how hamburgers are made and you tell them about raising cows.  Too much info. is just too much info.  My theory is to just answer the question that was asked and no more.  Every kid that walks into my house doesn't need to know the gory details of what happened to each of my kids to create the intricately made people that they are.

Someday when they're older and if the friends have been around for quite some time, then perhaps a discussion about where they've come from will be warranted, but for now my motto is - keep it simple silly.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Medicaid from Inside the System

Our first job after college as "houseparents" in a group home convinced us that we wanted to adopt a special needs child.  The emotional stability the adults who had spent most of their time with their families possessed compared to the adults who had grown up in the institution was very obvious.  Thankfully we live in a state where we do not place children or adults in institutions and haven't since the 90's.  This is not the case nation wide and one of the many reasons I love Minnesota.

Much of this deinstitutionalization was accomplished due to Medicaid waivers for the disabled which is in grave danger of huge cuts as well as the end to the current right to coverage, i.e. entitlement, due to disability depending, in part, on the outcome of the next election.  In 1998 nearly 44% of those on Medicaid were the disabled and blind. 
The $800 billion in cuts, that has been proposed by one candidate, is a frightening prospective for parents like us.

 Our family is incredibly fortunate to have an amazing support system in place, which is not the case for the many parents who are raising disabled children.   Our support system is in place, partly,  due to the financial support we have at our disposal.  If that is taken away, it's likely we'd lose many of our support people as they have families of their own to support and would be unable to "volunteer"  their time.

Two of our children are on Medicaid waivers and three others receive significant financial assistance via state grants and medical assistance.  Being pro-life is an expensive long term stance, not a one time expense.  Special needs kids require tax money, lots of tax money, to raise, educate, "therapize" and in general, keep alive.  Shannon's specialized liquid nutrition costs more than $1500 per month - there is no way we could pay for that ourselves.  We rely on medical assistance to cover that cost as well as the many other expensive medical supplies that she needs.

Medicaid waivers were used to provide community based services for DD (developmentally delayed) children and adults.  This is how deinstitutionalization was made possible.  Most of the DD population requires a variety of support to stay in a community setting and many of the people who transitioned out of institutions were and are wards of the state.  I know at least two of our adult children's biological parents were told to put their children away and try again if they wanted a "normal" child.

Now, at least in Minnesota, parents are expected to raise and care for their own children no matter what their needs are.  Don't misunderstand, I obviously strongly believe that this is how it should be, but there are many many children surviving today that never would have survived 15 or 20 years ago and not without significant costs both financially and emotionally to parents.  Many people are ill-equipped to handle the stress and financial cost of parenting children with profound needs. We chose our children and yet people often remark, "I don't know how you do it?"  Parents who did not make that choice are just expected to deal with it.

                                                Shannon post back surgery in July 2010.

                                                Robby, our foster son, at his group home.

My concern is that there are many who seem comfortable with gutting a program that is in place to keep the most vulnerable citizens among us alive and well cared for.  If these are not "the least of these"  that Jesus told us to care for, I frankly don't know who is.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Black and Proud - Hopefully

Two of my children started school this week.  Sassafras and Little Man go to a charter school and Monday morning - off they went.

The school they attend is 80+% caucasian.  Sassafras' grade level is very diverse.  Nearly 25% AA and about 6 of the 44 sixth graders also happen to be adopted.  That is so great for her.  Unfortunately, Little Man is the one and only AA child in his grade level, and I'm not aware of any other adopted classmates.  For him, this is very difficult.

At dinner this week as we were discussing school he stated, "I don't like being black."  A simple statement, but a very disturbing and deeply sad statement for him to make and for us to hear.  He has struggled through so many deep feelings related to adoption, loss, being a part of a transracial family, knowing he's lagging behind classmates in his studies.  All these have been attacks on his self-esteem.

Whenever your child makes a statement that reflects possible self-hatred you can't help but cringe.  If you're experienced parents, as we are, your cringing is on the inside and your child has no idea how deeply sad the statement has made you.  We probed asking why he feels that way.  He repeated statements I've heard from him before, "Every time they talk about a black person in history everyone turns and looks at me - I don't like that."  He would love to blend and that, is impossible where he is.

My responsibility as a white mother raising black children is to raise a child who is proud of his heritage racially and culturally. We thought we were doing a relatively good job. We have many people in our life from a variety of racial backgrounds, but we may need to take another look at how we are addressing raising a black young man in a predominately white area.

We recently took a vacation to Idaho to visit family.  Our Idahoan family is a diverse family themselves, but Idaho in general is not.  While traveling through Idaho, Wyoming, Utah etc. there were several times I felt very uncomfortable as we were the only family with any black faces.  More than once I couldn't help but exclaim, "Where are all the black people?" One restaurant stop in particular I cut short because I just felt we weren't real welcome.

I was feeling a little bit superior as we rarely have had that feeling here at home - it has happened, but it is fairly rare.  Transracial adoptions are also relatively common in our area.  Yes, we often get stares, but there are more friendly curious ones rather than we don't want you here kind of stares.  I'm so use to it I forget that it probably bothers my children. We can't go anywhere in public without someone - a sales clerk, the sample hander outers, fellow shoppers, etc. implying that we don't belong together.

So, I'm reflecting on ways I can help him become a proud young black man.  He has come so far in so many ways and gaining confidence in himself is a process.  A process that needs fine tuning on occasion and this is one of those occasions.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Who's a Pretty Girl?

A couple days ago Sassafras asked me to pineapple her hair for bed.  This is the process of putting her twists atop her head with a binder so she can get her satin bonnet on.  Anyway, I did and she started prancing around saying, "Look I'm a Vegas showgirl!".  After laughing hysterically - gotta admit tis funny - I had two thoughts.  First was, where in heaven's name did she learn about Vegas showgirls?  Secondly, over YOUR dead body cause momma will take you out before you look to Vegas for employment.

After the verbal attacks she's endured to her physique the past 6 mos. or so I almost wanted to applaud. My girl has such a firm understanding of her worth.  Since the time she was tiny I would hold her up in front of the bathroom mirror exclaiming - "Who is the pretty girl in the mirror?"  "Who's a beautiful girl?"  She would grin from ear to ear and when old enough would, of course, answer "ME!".  "That's right precious girl - you",  I would reply.

Now, before you think I only praise her for her appearance let me make myself clear.  The reason I do emphasize her appearance, along with her amazing personality traits, is because I know full well that my girl is not the American standard of beauty.  I know, many who know her will argue with me.  I agree she is beautiful.  But, go into any store with a magazine rack right now and tell me you see any cover girl with skin the color of my girl and natural hair, or in her case this week one with yarn twists including blue yarn - it's called a protective style, by the way.  Not a chance.  What you'll find are covers highlighting articles titled, "Fuss Free Hair - 5 best summer styling secrets" or  "No more frizz!  Smooth, Pretty Hair".   Let me just stop there.  Smooth pretty hair?  Really.  I know I  know - some people will say, but I have curly hair or my daughter has curly hair - she has that "problem" too. There are curling irons to straighten out those caucasian locks, if one so desires  - this doesn't work on my girlies.  Even if through chemical processing and ironing etc. it was relatively "straight"  it would never blow in the wind or flip over her shoulder.  She was trying to blow her twist out of her face the other day - like some of her friends do - and, of course couldn't.

So, I've decided I will not be renewing my subscriptions to these magazines when renewal time comes around and will instead be getting magazines with cover girls who mirror my cover girls.  I won't be inviting in possible attacks on their self worth and their dad and I will continue to tell them how gorgeous they are, along with how amazing they are, how smart they are, how confident they are, how loving and caring and generous and funny and clever and sweet and brave and resourceful and most of all how much God loves them exactly the way they are no matter what.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Thoughts on Income Taxes

Mark and I are always a little flummoxed by all the complaining about income taxes.  You see we have a solution to this problem.  Our solution allowed us to pay no income taxes whatsoever for 10 years - completely legally.  What is this amazing plan you might ask?  Well, just have more dependents than you have income and voila - no taxes.

I won't say it's an easy way out of taxes, but it is effective and, I might add, a very fulfilling life.  So it'll save you from seeking meaning in life - not enough time and your meaning is living under your roof.  You won't have nearly as much time to complain about how much you have to pay in taxes or wonder why you should have to pay your hard earned money in taxes.  Just work really really hard, make a modest income and support too many people with said modest income.

I'm pretty sure a financial advisor wouldn't recommend it as a great investment, but I'm pretty confident Jesus would.   Works for us.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Privacy - Not a Chance

Most of my children have grown up without the opposite gender's body being a mystery.  Generally, I'm guessing, families who have both genders eventually have to address issues of modesty and privacy and appropriate behaviors in the home.  When you have a family like ours, it's much more complicated.

 Some of our children are unable to protect their privacy.  If they have to go to the bathroom they just go, even if it means running to the bathroom without clothing, or perhaps pulling down their pants on the way to the bathroom.  These are things we are working on, but it also means that Ella and Jacob occasionally get an eyeful.  More than once I've heard, "Mom, (so and so's) naked!"  We're working on it, but it takes time - lots of time - and in some cases these skills may never be fully conquered.

Tonight Daddy and big brother Jonathan were preparing Shannie for her shower.  Ella walked by her room, turned around and asked them to close the door.  Although, I think she was more interested in protecting her eyes than Shannie's dignity, I complimented her on thinking of Shannie.  This is not to say Dad and Jon weren't thinking of her, but in our house sometimes time is of the essence and in the need to speedily accomplish the task we forget to, oh, I don't know, close the door.

So, a warning to all who may enter our abode.  It is possible you may get an eyeful you didn't want.  I promise you that it will not involve either parent in this house, but other than that, all bets are off.  I do promise - there's never a dull moment.  If you're good with that, then come on over.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Listen to your Gut

I have a few basic pieces of advice I like to pass on to young parents.  One of the most basic is - listen to your gut.  No one - no matter what their training or diplomas say, know your child better than you do.  You, only you, as parents are the experts when it comes to your kids.

Today Shannie had an arthrogram and a steroid injection into her left hip.  She has had two hip surgeries called derotational osteotomy on the hip and once on her right side.  She has what is called a wind swept left hip - both her legs sweep to the right.  It causes her left hip to pull out of it's socket and yes, it's as painful as it sounds.

Today the arthrogram showed that her left hip is once again pulling out.  It's not completely dislocated, but it is sometimes slipping out, which is why it is inflamed and causing pain.  When discussing how to avoid further inflaming the hip, we asked about the use of the stander.  A stander is something she is strapped into while laying down and then it is put into a standing position.  Shannie has never been a fan and therefore neither have we.

From our experience physical therapists are huge fans of standers.  Our guts have always said - not worth the time, energy and discomfort that Shannie experiences while in them.  Today we heard the same response from our favorite surgeon.  His reasoning matched our own - a chair dependent person has no need to spend time in the stander or having range of motion (ROM), which is basically stretching her muscles, on the troublesome hip.

Now, in spite of the fact my gut had told me we were right to avoid both the stander and range of motion here at home the insistence of the professionals made me doubt.  We refused to have a stander here and I'm glad we stuck to that decision.  Today a top specialist surgeon confirmed that our guts had again, not steered us wrong and we now have a prescription in hand telling the powers that be at school to cease and desist all stander and ROM until further notice, which in his words would be till he is no longer in practice.  To that I say - Hallelujah!

If the steroid injections fail to stave off the pain, the surgeon mentioned another possible surgical option.  It's called the femoral head osteotomy (FHO).  It is basically the removal of the femoral head and then, as I understand it, muscle is pulled over the end of the femur instead.  Our surgeon has only done this surgery 15 times in his 20 years.  It is more often used by veterinarians.  Of course, we will be praying Shannie is not his 16th and that somehow the injections, no stander or range of motion will somehow be enough, but as is so often the case with our sweet Shannie-Boo, the easy road does not seem to be the path she gets to take.

We saw a young couple with a daughter who looked so much like our Shannie did when she was about 3 yrs. old sitting in the waiting room post procedure of some sort and our hearts broke for them.  We know something of the path they will be on and how difficult it can be.  The stress and strain on families and marriages of couples with special needs children is immense.  The divorce rate is higher than for typical families - at least twice the rate.

 Shannie brings us much joy as I'm sure their sweet daughter does, but it can be a hard road, especially for a young family.  In our case, it's brought us even closer together.  When it comes to our Shannie - don't even think about messing with our girl.  We are a force of nature when we are in defense of her and I am so very grateful to have Mark to lean on and sometimes hold up when times are tough.  It would be a very lonely road to travel alone.

For now, we should see some relief, and as we often remind ourselves to be grateful for good, comfortable days when our girl laughs, smiles and enjoys life.  These are excellent days.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Road Trip

I'm so excited that in 5 days Ella, Jacob and I are going on vacation.  It will be an awesome road trip and we will have tons of fun and it will be the highlight of our summer.

For several summers now I've wanted to find a cabin where we could take all our family - all 19 of us for a long weekend.  Someplace where Shannie could come with us as well.  I always feel a little uncomfortable when the summer ends and we weren't able to take all the kids on a vacation.  I've found several reunion cabins that are wheelchair accessible,  but the cost is more than we can handle.  Hopefully some day we'll be able to pull it off. For now we'll enjoy the summer, although it's really a scorcher.

I'd also love, love, love,  a long luxurious vacation with Mark.  A whole week someplace warm around our anniversary, or any time I guess.  No place in particular, but just a relaxing time together.  Someday they'll be time, oh and money, for that. For now I'm packing and planning a road trip.  Something I enjoy so much more now that I get to stop whenever I want, whenever we need to.  Not like when I was a passenger, whenever dad needed to stop.  It's one of the joys of adulthood I really relish.  I get to be in charge - woo hoo.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day 3 and final thoughts on the SO State Meet

Christian and Chad both had their 100M run and walk respectively.  Chad did well and came in 4th which was great for him.  Christian did great and came in first - a gold medal.  He was quite proud of himself.

There are always so many characters who stand out in my mind.  There's Joe who I observed in the staging area with a very crabby look on his face.  A sweet young volunteer was just trying to make small talk and Joe loudly and expressively said, "I should be at work.  I had to take two days off for this?  I'd rather be at work".  Poor volunteer had no idea what to say - I, on the other hand, tried hard to suppress my giggle.

Then there's Dennis - every time I saw him he was grinning and joking with everyone around him.  His joy was just ridiculously contagious.  Who wouldn't want to be around Dennis.  He seemed to have an entourage everywhere he went - no wonder with his infectiously positive attitude.

There was also the young lady who walked with a walker and tipped over the curb falling down hard.  The person with her couldn't get her up alone, but within seconds many hands had her up and were brushing her off.  That's why many of us were there - because we care about this group of people - as a group and individually.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Day Two Special Olympics Meet 2012

Today Callie had her 100M run definitely her best event.  Thankfully it was the first event and our plan was to arrive without too much time before hand for her to get worked up about the starter guns.  We had a little time to spend at the Olympic town before her run.

Soon, it was time to go to the staging area.  The guns could now be heard and were frequent.  She knew they were coming and that for her a whistle would be used.  The rules allow for the use of a whistle upon request.  This is quite the sore spot for me.  There are so many athletes who have sensory issues and the guns are enough to keep them from competing in the first place.  A mom in front of me said that their team practiced with two pieces of wood being slammed together - we practice with starter guns, but that's no assurance that on a particular day she won't have a meltdown.

Callie was now clasping her ear protectors firmly to her head and her body firmly against mine.  We sat down in our assigned seat - Callie in my lap - not so easy to do anymore.  I tried everything to distract her - sang songs, kissed her arms and cheeks reassured her again that the gun would not be used for her race.

Finally it was her turn.  The miracle was that for at least 10 minutes before her race the guns had ceased.  Thank you Lord for that.  She was really excited to run.  She loves to run.  Are you getting the picture?  The volunteer mentioned the gun and Callie jumped - I reassured her that the whistle would be used.  I looked over and the starter man had the gun in hand.  Oh, no, no, no I firmly said - no gun - whistle for Callie.  The lady with the list of races checked her list questioning me and finally agreed that a whistle start was noted.  I thought for a minute they were going to see a meltdown far surpassing Callie's last one if they didn't blow that darn whistle and put the gun away - not from Callie but from this Mama Bear.

At last all was settled and they were lined up ready to go.  She took her mark.  The whistle blew and a second before it was blown she took off.  I thought they would stop the race as it was clearly a false start.  As I was expecting the race to be stopped I just stood there.  Clearly there was no stopping the race and I can see that Callie isn't stopping and no one is stopping her.  She's running out of the track area and I am running as fast as I can to catch up to her.  There must have been at least 10-15 volunteers at the end of her 100M, but no one stopped her.  I ran as quickly as possible, but she's really fast.  Thankfully, she stopped and I could reach her.

Now I was worried that she would be disqualified and one person was surprised they didn't have a restart and another said if it didn't change the outcome they'd just let it go.  Oh, by the way, she came in first - way ahead of the pack.  Again my Mama Bear was ready to meltdown if she didn't get the medal she clearly deserved because of her early start.  But, no worries - she did get her gold medal and she was so proud - but not as proud as I was I'm sure.  Callie shows us time and time again what an overcomer she is.  That's my girl!

Christian had the running long jump, which was probably a bad choice on my part.  It takes a lot of coordination to run, but not over the line before jumping.  He scratched all three of his jumps.  He took a participation ribbon, but he was fine with that.

Chad had the standing long jump.  Mark watched him and he was pretty sure they were measuring in millimeters.  He has huge finesse swinging his arms back and forth and back and forth and finally jumping like an inch and falling forward and rolling around like he's making sand angels.  It's a hoot.  For some crazy reason - has something to do with his division - he took the gold.

We've decided that Callie has had enough of the sensory overload and we will skip her running long jump tomorrow.  I'd rather end on a positive note for her and continue to praise her for making through her run without a meltdown and staying "calm, cool and collected".

                                                   Olympic Town - Fun and Games
                                                       Chad getting his dance on.
                                                  Callie - clearly ahead of the pack.
                                                 Christian attempting his long jump.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day One Special Olympics Meet 2012

Today was the first day and there were mixed results.  Christian and Chad had softball throws and Callie was to have her tennis ball throw.

Chad went first and took the silver in his division.  Christian was next and he took 5th place. It was his birthday and he was in rare form.  He kept telling the kid next to him that it was his birthday and pointing at me and telling him I was his mom - which was confusing for him.

On our way to the track Christian got more than a little ahead of himself and totally biffed it on the blacktop.  He nailed his ear the most and it bled for quite some time, but he got over it just the same.  It reminded me of a time he fell down at the zoo and every parent around us sucked in their breathe.  Mark and I both just looked at him and said - "you ok?"  "Yup" he answered and on we went.  He falls much less frequently, but falling was, is and likely will be a part of his life forever.  His cerebral palsy just keeps him off-balance and his desire to be independent and occasionally dismiss the warnings to slow down are a recipe for spills.

As we watched some other athletes run or roll their races Callie was a little anxious about the starter guns, but she'd done so well at the area meet I wasn't too worried about it.  We took a little break in the van before her throw and she seemed fine.  It was her turn and she sat on the bench ready to take her turn and then a gun went off and so did she.  She ran and Kylie, her friend and also a college sprinter - I'm no novice - chased her.  We got her to stop, but she dropped to the ground.  She was crying, threw her ear protectors and refused to get off the ground.  We tried everything to get her to go back, but nothing worked.  A volunteer came to ask if we needed medical help.  Thankfully her big brother also came along because he had to carry her to the van.

We're thinking that the gunshots may have been cumulative and so for tomorrow the plan is to arrive in time for her run - just, which is her best and first event for the day and then get her away from the track and the guns.  Hopefully that works - if not she will be done until next year.  Here's hoping that's not how it pans out.

Last, but not least - Christian turned 14 today!   Happy Birthday Christian!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Perfect evening - well, it could have been

Last day of school for Ella and Jacob - now summer is really in gear.  We decided to take some KFC to the park and walk around Sunset Pond.  It's a gorgeous cool evening and all was perfect.  There were 6 of us - Ella, Jacob, Chad, Shannie, Mark and myself.  We enjoyed dinner and everything was going great.  We started walking around the pond and about 1/3 of the way around Shannie started crying.  Sometimes if we walk faster she settles down, but that didn't help, it wasn't the wind, weather was perfect, it had to be muscle pain.  She started kicking out her legs and it seemed clear that was it.

The rest of us were having a fabulous walk, but we decided for Shannie's sake to head back and Mark went quickly while we traveled at Chad's pace, quickly would not quite describe his pace.  By the time we got to the van she was loaded in music playing and settled down.  As soon as we unloaded her at home she began crying again and kicking her legs out again.  We gave her some ibuprofen and she has settled down comfortably in bed.

It's such a rare occasion when everything lines up perfectly and we can go out as we did tonight, which is why I feel so bummed that we had to shorten our evening out.

Thankfully Jacob was in a cooperative mood - Ella pretty much lives in that mood - and we got home without any objection.  Earlier Jacob was shielding Shannie's eyes as the sun was quite bright.  I love how protective they are of Shannie and her comfort.  I can't think of a time when we've had to leave early or change plans due to Shannie's discomfort that they've loudly objected.  They just get it and I'm so glad they do.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ella Turns 11!

Ella's 11th birthday was last week.  She's had a couple really busy weeks.  She was in a play, had a band concert, was in a skit and had soccer tournaments. Whew!  I do not belong to the "keep them really busy" style of parenting.  I believe my job, in part, is to teach moderation in all things.  Having something to do every night and all weekend is not moderation.  It's too much and attitudes, not good ones, flourish.

This week we have track and field tonight and then absolutely nothing else on their calendar.  Love it!

Saturday was full of soccer tournament games and open houses.  Ella had 4 games and Jacob had 2.  We had to do the parental split - Mark took Jacob and I took Ella and then the boys joined us for Ella's last 2 games after a well planned break at an open house - free lunch!  Ella's team had a great season.  They had no losses - made 49 goals and only had 4 goals made against them.  They sweeped their tournament games and had no goals made against them.  When Ella received her trophy she was introduced as the girl with the hair and a great sense of humor.  She signed the coaches thank you card, "Ella was here."

She has 3 more days of 5th grade then she's officially a middle schooler.  I'm so grateful that her school is K-8 and she will simply have a change in schedule and many classmates, but many of her closest friends will remain.

It won't be long and Ella will be old enough to help with her older siblings when Mark and I need to be away.  Notice I didn't say mature enough - that she already is, but 11 sounds too young to be left in charge.  I have no doubt that she could be trusted caring for several of her siblings.  She has helped with Shannie's lifts in a pinch as well.  We are very careful not to expect our typical kids to be caretakers so they develop resentment.  When it's a job, well that's entirely different, and she will love the extra spending money.

I'm so grateful for Ella's calm, kind and funny personality.  She has always been the balance when all goes a little nuts in the house.  As she gets older she will occasionally retreat to her room and that is a very healthy response and I applaud that as well.  Moderation - that's our goal.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

End of the School Year 2011/2012

It's the last day of school for 3 of our kids and in a week the other two will be done as well.  Overall it was a successful year for the kids and I'm very happy with the progress they've made.

There have been awesome achievements - Jacob jumped way ahead in his reading levels nearly catching up to grade level.  And there were some difficulties - Callie's behavior took a nose dive in the spring.

Through it all I realized how many people it takes to raise our kids and how very important they are to us. Last week I took Callie to 3 appointments with 3 professionals 3 days in a row, every one of them plays an essential role in raising a healthy happy Callie.  On top of that I saw various school staff members when I picked her up or dropped her off and was so appreciative of the awesome staff she has had at school.  That was especially bittersweet as it's her last year there and we've had children there for some 8 successful years.

Next year will bring a number of changes in the school setting.  Callie is moving to the middle school which will be a huge adjustment for her.  Ella will move to the middle school level in her school, although the same building she is in now so a little less adjustment.  Shannie's program is moving to a different school, but the same staff - so grateful for that.  Jacob will have new teachers, of course and Christian will have to adjust to Callie riding the bus with him and attending his school.

Now, we have summer to look forward to, endure, enjoy, survive, appreciate - all of these apply - in no particular order.  There was a rainbow last night - always a symbol of hope and promise - a great way to start of summer I think.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Offended or Uncomfortable - Both

Jacob is studying civil rights leaders in history right now.  Now, for some reason, Jacob is the only black child in the class - I'm not sure there are even brown skinned students in his class, so he stands out.  I asked him how he felt about the discussions and he said, "I'm offended".  I asked him what he meant by that and he said everyone always looks at me.  We discussed that offended might not be the exact feeling he was having - uncomfortable perhaps.

Today I looked up the definition of offended.  It said, "to cause displeasure, anger, resentment, or wounded feelings in".  Well, my bad, he very well could have been offended.  I'm sure he resents sticking out

Jacob prefers to blend and subjects that obviously set him apart from everyone else definitely makes him uncomfortable.  When we pulled up to his first soccer practice this year he talked about how he's always the only black kid on his soccer team and Ella piped up - "yeah, me too".  I'm really hoping that next year there is an infusion of some color into his grade level.  It's a bummer as Ella's class is quite diverse.

On the other hand, Ella wanted me to do her hair while we're on her 5th grade overnight trip next week.  Many of her friends are curious as to how her hair looks "down" which isn't exactly the word that reflects her hair undone.  I told her there would likely not be time.  So, instead we did an updo in which most of her hair is froed - is that a word?  I must admit I was glad to see that two of her friends, who are also African American, are in our room for the trip so when she puts her bonnet on to sleep in and oil her hair at least some of the kids won't be surprised.

I'm glad Ella is comfortable with "teaching" if you will.  She seems to understand the curiosity of some of her classmates and knows they are simply interested, especially in her hair.  Jacob, on the other hand, is uncomfortable and yes, Jacob you may be offended as well.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Go Callie Go

Our gal Callie has endured anxiety probably since she was about 4 or 5.  We first started noticing her hands flying to her ears when walking through a parking lot and a car would start it's engine.  Pretty soon she would just automatically have her hands on her ears when we walked through a parking lot.  Then she would just have her hands on her ears whenever we were anyplace she viewed as unpredictable.

It was suggested we try a therapy where she would wear headphones which would play varying sounds and the idea was she would become desensitized.  Seemed like a good idea - a $100 headphone idea by the way.  However, the first time it played a sound she didn't like - headphones flew across the room and that was the end of that therapy.

It became so bad sometimes that she became adept at opening things or picking things up with her elbows as he hands were covering her ears.  Someone suggested putting headphones with music on, but that was a no go as well.

Somewhere along the line we'd also tried various supplements and dietary changes.  All which seemed to help, but not to the extent that was needed.

One day all the kids went outside to play as did she, but the wind was blowing and she immediately flew into the house sobbing.  She wanted to play outside so much, but just couldn't handle the noise.  She slams all the windows open whenever she's inside - just in case there is a noise, any noise she can't handle.  Mark suggested she try his ear protector headphones and I thought no way will she wear those they'll just bug her.  She stuck them on and flew happily outside to play.

Needless to say we were thrilled and before long we didn't go anywhere without the earphones.  Then her sensitivity or anxiety to sounds started troubling her even with the earphones.  Among other things it added to an anxiety level that caused meltdowns as I've written about a few weeks ago.

Finally, it seemed time to look at medication as an aid to control the anxiety.  As I discussed the different med possibilities the medical provider said, "oh you probably know all about these."  No, I assured her, this was the first time that we have had to look to meds to help with a behavior or non-medical issue.  She seemed quite surprised.  In a way, that made me feel better as I knew for sure that we had tried many other ways to help Callie without resorting to pharmaceuticals.

She started on the med just last week and we saw immediate results in her sleep pattern.  She was a frequent middle of the night awakener - dancing away in her room, playing with her dolls etc.  Thankfully once her sister was able to move out and into her own room she would keep it down to a volume that we could sleep, or should I say doze, to.  We have had nearly a week of nights without those wake up calls and that alone seems a miracle to me.

Last night I decided to give it one more try at Special Olympics.  If she couldn't make it last night she would be done for the season for sure as the area meet is this Sat.  I was all over her and we repeated our SO mantra, if you will, of I will stay cool, calm and collected and for crying out loud she sure did.  Only one time did I notice her pooking out her lower lip which can be a "tell" that she is about to blow, but she pulled it out.  By the way, it was because someone passed her on the track.  She is a bit competitive - believe me she didn't get that from us.

I doubt that we are ditching the earphones anytime soon, but I'm so good with that.  So off to the area meet we go this Sat. I'll be a bit anxious, if you will, till we make it through the day and it will take more than a week of relative calmness for me to get over where we've been, but we are definitely on the right track - sorry it had to be said.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Yesterday in yoga the teacher pointed out that genetics determines how much flexibility you have.  You can improve it with practice, but to a great degree you can only go as far as your genetics will allow.  Those are musical words to my completely inflexible body.  There's nothing more discouraging then seeing other yoga-mates bend themselves into pretzels while I'm still trying to forward fold without bending my knees.

Flexibility in life is a completely different subject.  With a family like ours, flexibility is essential.  However, it is a trait I learned with my first child and I would say it's a very important trait for any parent.

When you are able to be flexible you can enjoy those spontaneous moments when your child finds a butterfly and marvel in it's uniqueness or drop everything and just sit and read the book your child came running into the kitchen to bring to you.

I remember when I was a young mom and another mother said something to the effect, "you know when you just can't go to bed knowing there are dishes in the sink?"  No, I don't know anything about that - partially because I'm not a neatie I'm a messy, but also because the dishes are probably there because I chose to help my kids with a project or sit in their room and just talk and by the time I finished that, I was just too tired.  Guess what - the dishes were still there in the morning, and they eventually got done.

I'll be honest enough to say that after parenting as long as we have I really relish every new helpful skill my able body kids learn.  I'm thrilled that Ella can now assist in lifting Shannon and help Callie pour her juice.  The more capable hands the better in this house.  I also know every new skill she develops brings the day of her autonomy ever closer and I am not anxious for that.

So, although it's been said and said I'll say it again.  Find time today to enjoy the serendipitous moment that is sure to come your way.  If today is just too stressful and you're just too tired after a long week - don't worry about it.  Just like the dishes, they'll be more tomorrow.