Wednesday, December 11, 2013

All That Matters

Our family schedule and routine has, of late, been up-ended by a series of unusual events. First, my husband had to go out of state for business-related travel, then there was Thanksgiving (which meant we had therapy canceled and missed library day in the same week-the horror!).  Additionally, we have been at least moderately affected by the latest winter storm system and my husband was forced to take a four-weekend due to poor road conditions (also causing therapy and regular activities to be canceled).  To top it off this week, my husband was able to go back to work, but has been working ten hour days and going in before the kids are up because of holiday overtime AND big brother isn't feeling well.  Needless to say, we have been on a roller coaster of tantrums, meltdowns, crankiness, potty accidents, and all that comes with a schedule upheaval of such epic proportions.  I have (mostly) kept my cool during this tumultuous time.  It's been difficult.  My house is a mess and we've got family coming to stay with us in a few short weeks.  I have volunteered to make and bring things to places and people that I haven't even bought or prepared yet.  Laundry is threatening to envelope our bedroom and make sleep completely impossible.  I spent three solid minutes last night on the phone with my wonderful, generous, and loving husband (who in addition to making a 1800 mile round-trip work excursion a couple of weeks ago and having an awful time of it to boot, was currently on his way home from a ten-hour day at work and driving on roads that were still partially snow-covered to get there and back, all to get a paycheck that single-handedly supports all four of us) about the fact that NO ONE had helped ME with the dishes this entire week.  So....maybe I haven't completely kept my cool.
I woke up this morning with a violent headache (the kind that always end up nesting behind my left eye and festering, making me want to pluck my own eyes out...sorry, unnecessary visual), a sick kid, my daughter's normal everyday garden-variety tornado of messes to clean up, and a veritable MOUNTAIN of housework that needed my attention badly.  After posting a picture of my daughter's latest horrid mess that had been made on social media, a good friend of mine said this to me:  (in reference to her son who has some special needs very similar to those my daughter faces), "...So, when someone asks why my house isn't perfect, why the laundry isn't done, etc, I know that I have taken care of my little boy, and that's what matters!"  That comment sort of changed my attitude for the week.  Because that's exactly where my attention was needed, even more so than the dishes, laundry, and tub that was going to HAVE to be scrubbed before the end of the day combined.  My wonderful friend was right.


And so came Revelation of the Day #1:  My placement on Earth was not that of 'laundry doer' or even 'activity mom' as my husband jokingly calls me these days.  I was put here to be a mommy, a wife, a friend, a servant.  And while housework does need to be done and it's nice to have help; my stress over it NOT being done is unimportant.  What is important is that my kids built a tent together in our living room today and 'explored' it with flashlights.  What is important is that the three of us made crayons to give to the kids' friends as Christmas gifts.  What is important is the two beautiful children I am so blessed and lucky to have (messes included).
As the day went on, I received an email that discussed the 'one thing every marriage should have.'  Intrigued and because the emails from this particular party are usually well-worth the read, I clicked.  As I read, the email discussed this one mysterious ingredient necessary for a good, solid, loving marriage:  Grace.  I'm paraphrasing here, but the article basically stated that without grace a marriage would grow hateful, resentful, and stagnant.  How can two people grow together and grow their family if they lack the grace it takes to moves past petty issues like who washed more dishes this week?  Here came Revelation of the Day #2:  I am not a perfect person and neither is the man I married.  Therefore, our marriage isn't perfect.  He doesn't always read my mind and do the dishes when I want and I don't always greet him at the door with a smile on my face.  We both have many faults.  And that doesn't make us bad.  It makes us human.  (Enter Grace, stage right.  Exit resentfulness, stage left.)  


Feeling completely humbled at this point, I started to rethink the blog post I had intended to write today.  The holidays are approaching fast, and maybe soon I'll get back to the post I intended to share with you today.  But for now, I'm busy.  I'm busy making crayons.  I'm busy listening to the giggles coming from under the tent blanket.  I'm busy catching up the dishes so my exhausted husband doesn't have to do them tonight.  In short:  I'm busy taking care of my family and striving hard to do so with grace and love (and probably an apology or two).  Because they are all that matters.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Crazy Mom's Guide to Enjoying the Holidays

My husband and I chatted about our upcoming weekly schedules last night. In my mind, these chats happen either in European outdoor cafes or mountain lodges with blazing fireplaces while whiteout blizzards happen outside, steaming mugs of cocoa in hand, but in actuality occur while hanging up clothes in our bedroom (ahhh, reality)...  Conversation turned to how quickly the holiday season had come upon us this year and how busy our schedules were going to be for the next month or so.  My husband's line of work requires a lot of overtime for the holiday season and the kids and I seem to be engaged in at least one additional out-of-the-house activity each week between now and Christmas.  I'm not complaining; I have no room to do so as most of the extra activities are ones I thought of or signed up for.  My thoughts now are centered around how to survive (and even enjoy!) the holidays when schedules are hectic, kids can be difficult, and time seems to slip through your fingers.  So.  Here it is.  My "Crazy Mom's Guide to Enjoying the Holidays."

Rosie the pug is ready for the holidays...sort of.

 Tip #1.  Choose your activities wisely.
Our schedule for the month of December is getting crazy-full.  We have club meetings, playdates, parties, and service projects in addition to my husband working extra, our daughter's therapy, our son's home-school, and that's not counting family gatherings.  Altogether, it's looking like a super busy month.  However, we have NOT planned more than two extra activities a week.  And we rescheduled some activities and appointments that could stand to wait a few more weeks.  The things that made the final cut and landed on the monthly schedule were activities that the kids really love and activities that gave us an opportunity to serve someone else.
We LOVE our library.

Tip #2.  Know your child's (and your) limitations.
My son is a total homebody.  He's also a fairly easygoing kid and I used to forget how taxing it can be for him to be "on-the-go" until it was too late.  These days, I think about it this way.  If YOU are tired, stressed, and exhausted because you've over-planned or over-stretched your time; CHILDREN feel all of that, doubled.  Doubled because they are KIDS and don't have an adults' capacity for compartmentalizing and coping with stress.  When our daughter came along, we realized her special needs require us to plan ahead more extensively and as a family, we have a constant discussion of "what will happen next."  We do nothing that is unexpected or surprising.  Some parents (and children) love spontaneity, but we cannot handle it.  So we talk, we plan, we write schedules, we make lists.  This way, Mommy and Daddy remember what has to be done and the kids know exactly what will happen next.  I've also found that it is much easier to keep your engagements minimal when you have them laid out on a calendar or planner for everyone in the family to see.  My husband and I are visual people, so looking ahead at a calendar with four days full of scribbled activities lets us know we need to take a step back and rework priorities.  Doing this prevents us from having overwhelmed, overloaded, and melting down kids (and parents!) by the middle of the week.

Sometimes home is just where you need to be.

Tip #3.  Flexibility is key.
I'm not talking about as a family this time.  I'm talking about you, as a parent.  Maybe you planned to finish your Christmas shopping, go to the bank, AND get groceries today, but that screaming two-year-old has other plans.  Go home.  Leave the cart in the store if you have to, and get the heck out!  In my experience, if it has come to "that" kind of meltdown, it's better to go back to something normal, routine, and comforting and try the outing or errand again another day.  Of course, it's not always possible to just leave... for example, you're at the store because you are out of a necessity and MUST have toilet paper.  Planning ahead with a greatly organized list helps, but we are NOT perfect people!  I've been there, with a screaming child (or two), frazzled, on the verge of tears, and all I needed was a box of pantyliners!!!  For times like those, I've found it's best to smile, speak softly, and bribe your children. (My daughter's OT refers to this as 'pairing an unwanted activity with a wanted reward' and that makes me feel somewhat better about it.)  You gotta do what you gotta do.  But remember that Rome wasn't built in a day.  And neither was your TO-DO list.

We love list-making.

Tip #4.  Do for others.
My son is all about service this year.  He wants us to bake cookies for everyone we know and ship some more to Africa if possible because "the people there would probably like that."  Wow.  I read last week about people breaking out into fights over THINGS on sale for Black Friday and I literally thank God that my children are here to remind me what life is truly about.  We did go shopping this past weekend with our children (not on Friday!) and they helped us choose gifts for our close family.  They were excited to get things others would like and couldn't wait to help wrap these presents, even though they weren't for themselves.  Several of our "extra" activities this month include some type of service project or gift-giving to someone other than family.  These made the finalized schedule because they weren't about US.  If Jesus is the 'reason for the season' then I think He would be happiest if we used it to serve others.  There are many ways this can be done and I highly recommend trying to fit at least one "service" activity into your holiday schedule.  Would it be easier to stay home in your PJs and catch up on that mountain of laundry before company comes?  Absolutely.  BUT, will that laundry still be there tonight if you spend an hour or so delivering cookies to local shops you frequent, just because it's Christmas?   Yep.  (Trust me, laundry mountains are as immovable as Everest.)

Sharing; it's not just for people.

Tip #5.  Involve your children.
Fact A:  Baking and cooking are easier done in a quiet kitchen that is devoid of children.  Fact B:  My children LOVE helping in the kitchen.  I have offered in the next few weeks to bring various baked goods, candies, etc. to several different functions.  It would be easier and faster to prepare these things while my children are watching a movie, playing, or even better:  sound asleep.  I just can't bring myself to do it though.  My kids LOVE helping in the kitchen and it's a special time I get to spend with them.  I'm home with them every day, true, but being in the kitchen is OUR time.  We chat, we laugh, we make messes, we learn, and sometimes, we have deep philosophical discussions.  I hope with all my heart this is something that continues long into the future.  If I kicked them out of the kitchen for convenience, how many opportunities to discuss the possibility of God allowing dogs in heaven or to present an impromptu math lesson in fractions (courtesy of my measuring cups) would I miss?  I shudder to think.  Your thing may not be the kitchen.  That's okay.  One of my husband's times with the kids is cleaning out the cars.  It's their thing (for sure not mine!), and they do it together.  I encourage you to find something you enjoy doing with your children, and let them do it with you!  The caveat is that it must be something 'grown up' that they are being included in.  (Examples could be holiday-specific like making cards, gift-wrapping, crafting, OR something more mundane and everyday like laundry or cleaning out the closets.)  Your kids will love being allowed to do something grown-ups do, they'll learn valuable life-skills, and you'll gain instant quality time with them.  Not to mention the enormous sense of pride your children will take in their accomplishment.  (My kids practically force-fed everyone a taste of their potato casserole they made at Thanksgiving!  Total pride of ownership.)

Kitchen help.

Well, there it is.  Five tips to keep parents sane (maybe) and grounded (hopefully) during the holiday season.  From our family to yours, we hope you have a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxing holiday this year!  May it be filled with love, joy, and peace.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's OK to be Different.

I have always known my daughter was different.  Nothing I could pinpoint, just an aura of difference if you will that hung about her tiny little head and set my motherly instinct on high-alert.  Unfortunately, as she grew, I became convinced that she was simply the most high-maintenance, unhappy, finicky, and at time, just plain ill-tempered child I'd ever met (my first had been the world's happiest baby so I had no clue how to handle this squalling red-faced ball of infant).  In the first year she was alive, my husband and I only left her with a babysitter three times (twice with my mom and once for a few hours with his mom).  One of those times, we had to come home early because, as my mom said on the phone, "She just won't stop screaming and I don't know why."  That was the story of my daughter's first two years on Earth.  She wouldn't stop screaming and no one knew why.  After going through testing for stomach conditions to explain her colic, receiving a diagnosis of GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease), putting her on medicine that did absolutely nothing to help, then struggling through five straight months of recurring ear infections that finally resulted in having ear tubes placed, we thought we'd come out on the 'other side' so to speak.  Shortly after having the tubes placed and right after her first birthday, our little girl started walking.   
Opening birthday gifts with a bandaged hand.
Surely things could only get better now.  She was mobile and seemed slightly more content as a result.  Temporarily.  Then the screaming came back full force and actually, if possible, got worse.  She screamed all day, refused to wear clothes, hurt herself mildly to severely at least once a day (burns, bruises, scrapes, etc.), had tantrums that lasted for an hour or sometimes more, and if that wasn't enough, her favorite activity seemed to be climbing onto high places and jumping from them.  As parents, we were physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, and it began to affect our older son who would sometimes sit in the floor with his hand over his ears shouting, "Make her stop screaming Mommy!"  The worst part of all was that by the age of two, my daughter had completely withdrawn from me.  I didn't know how to love her or meet her needs.  And without her basic needs met (whatever they were), she was feeling rejected and unloved; resulting in an emotional void where neither of us knew what to feel about the other.

Finally, a month after her second birthday we talked to our family doctor.  At this point, our daughter wasn't talking and after doing some research, we realized this was a 'red flag' concern for a toddler's development.  Our family doctor referred us to a developmental clinic and the ball started rolling.  To make a long story short, our daughter received two major diagnoses from this referral process.  The first is one of verbal apraxia or childhood apraxia of speech.  This is a neurological condition in which her brain and muscles do not work together to enable her to perform the motor-planning and muscle function required to form words and language as she desires.  (Can you IMAGINE??)  The second diagnosis she received was that of Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD.  This too is a neurological disorder in which sensory input causes a "neurological traffic jam" in her brain.  Our blond-headed monster child was not throwing tantrums in the grocery store because she was badly behaved, but because the itchy tag on her clothes, the noises surrounding her, the fluorescent lights, or maybe just her right sock that was slightly twisted in her shoe were causing an overload of information that her brain could not process and organize like you or I could.  (Again:  CAN YOU IMAGINE???)       

At one point in time, this WAS her happy face.

Our daughter has been in speech therapy for five months.  We go "to town" as the kids say, three times a week and our daughter works with her speech and language pathologist for 45 minutes each time.  She also receives occupational therapy once a week for an hour at a time.  Both of her therapists use Sensory Integration techniques to assist in meeting our daughter's specific sensory needs, which enables her to focus and improve her attention span.  These techniques (used at therapy and at home) have also brought about a host of other positive changes in her behavior.

At her first speech evaluation, our daughter (26 months old at the time) was assessed as having the speech/language skills of a 15 month old infant.  She understood us, but she could not express herself through language (hence all the screaming and unintelligible babbling, but mostly screaming).  Today, as I write, she is conversing with her older brother about what movie they would like to watch when Daddy gets home (her vocabulary is fairly limited but growing and she is able to speak in 4-5 word sentences consistently).  To our family, that is a miracle.  I wondered what her voice would sound like for so long it catches me off guard at times that I'm actually hearing it.

Ahhh, latex.
After her occupational evaluation, her therapist informed us that our daughter is a 'sensory-seeker,' thus explaining the risk-taking behavior (jumping, climbing, crashing, banging, stomping, rolling, spinning, I could go on and on).  Combined with an under-responsiveness to pain, this has been anywhere from stressful to terrifying.  I have said half-jokingly that I haven't 'raised' a daughter, I've just tried to keep one alive!  She also struggles with some tactile defensiveness (she is overly sensitive to things like seat belts, scratchy clothes, and hair bows).  She is affectionate on her own terms, but an uninvited touch can set her off in an instant.  She has major oral defensiveness which makes teeth-brushing sound like an amputation without anesthetic is happening in our bathroom every night (a vibrating toothbrush has helped some with this).  She also struggles to stay asleep and wakes often during the night, unable to soothe herself or settle back to sleep on her own.  She is extremely sensitive to smells (she can detect very light scents/odors before anyone else notices them), but rather than avoid them she seeks them out (the stronger the better).  She smells things most people wouldn't (rocks, cans, pencils) and nothing soothes her more than the smell of a latex pacifier.  She is terribly picky eater and cannot tolerate certain food textures.  (For example, she would rather die than eat a plain piece of cooked chicken.)  I could go on, but I'm sure you are getting the picture.  Different things bother her more or less on different days, so as my husband says, you never which kid you're going to get when she wakes up.  Some days are hard.  Some days are great.  We've learned to take them as they come.

The point is, our daughter has made massive strides of improvement over the past six months.  The little girl we have today who loves cats, baby dolls, and going to the library is a far cry from the withdrawn angry toddler whose toys collected dust as she spent her days alternately terrified of the world and throwing herself off the furniture.  At the beginning of the 'journey' so to speak, as a mother, I was angry, upset, and nearly paralyzed with fear of the unknown.  I worried about what the future held for her, and was scared to get answers to questions like what if she has autism or what if no one believes me?  Today, I blog before you to say that my daughter is an amazing child.  She would be an amazing child whether a doctor had found her to have autism (she is not on the spectrum) or whether a doctor had told us we were imagining her sensory issues (we were not).  Our daughter is a person, an individual, with unique needs and wants, like the rest of the world's population.  Children with autism, developmental delays, speech problems, sensory issues, physical impairment, or any other form of special need are just that; individuals.  While their needs often differ from what might be considered 'typical,' and while I personally feel that labels are important in that they give children rights to the help and therapy that will benefit them and enrich their lives and functionality, those individual children are people who would appreciate love and understanding, regardless of their label or diagnosis.  Only those things can set them free. 

My posts about special needs are first and foremost to educate because education equals empowerment.  Secondly, they are to share tips and ideas that have been beneficial to our family, in the hopes they will be passed on and prove helpful for someone else.  Lastly, they are for parents and families of those amazing and wonderful special needs children out there.  You are not alone.  Never be ashamed or embarrassed of or for your child.  Never doubt your parental abilities or instincts nor your capacity to love and advocate for your child.  For many of us with very young special needs children, we are our child's voice.  If you have a special needs child or possible special needs child, trust your own instincts and be that voice.  Be loud.  Be persistent.  Be informed.  Find the people that listen, love, and support you and SURROUND yourself with them.  You'll need them and so will your beautiful child.  At times, your heart will break (maybe more than once) but I've found the heart-breaking times can be the most convicting.  Have faith and carry on.  You're stronger than you think.  I'm leaving you with some sites and resources our family has found helpful.  Educate yourself, then educate those around you.  Our family will thank you for it.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Childhood Apraxia of Speech

The Mayo Clinic (This a good place to research symptoms of various disorders or delays.  Reliable and concise.)

Developmental Milestones

"Red Flag" Early Intervention Guide (This page is a government resource out of Australia and is a great and easy-to-read chart of 'red flag' developmental issues.)

The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.

Don't forget to take advantage of the most valuable resource out there: people!  Talk with your doctor, call your local coordinator for Early Intervention, call a friend, have lunch with someone who's going through or has gone through  something similar, keep your family on speed dial, and use social media (it's a great resource to find support groups, as well as stay connected with friends who understand).  Most importantly, love your child and never give up.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


 We love books at our house.  Okay, that is actually a gross understatement.  We adore books.  We treasure books.  We CANNOT LIVE without books.  We have four bookshelves and two e-readers currently in our home; all of them overflowing with books.  And it makes my heart happy.  (Yes, I'm one of 'those' people who finds the smell of a book rather intoxicating and sometimes I sniff their pages...) I was a voracious reader growing up and spent nearly all of my free time reading everything I could get my hands on.  According to my mother-in-law, the total of books my husband read before meeting me was...two (not so much a dedicated reader).  A few months before we got married, I gave my husband my precious, battered paperback copy of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird with the instructions to read it before the wedding.  He must have been serious about wanting to marry me because he did.  He read every word.  And LOVED it.  In the early days of our marriage, it was not uncommon for us to be up until 3am (what were we thinking?!) and I would read aloud to him from the Harry Potter book series.  Slowly but surely, he became a reader.  Eight and a half years and two children later, my husband and I still read constantly.  Today, more often that not, I'm the one who has to ask him to turn off his book light so I can get some sleep!  I'm sure our marriage would still have been a good one had my husband not become interested in books.  However, I feel that it is bettered by the fact that we both enjoy reading and can have intelligent, lively discussions on things we've read, whether they be novels, articles from National Geographic, or a news story.  

Our five-year-old son is the insatiable reader I once was.  He started requesting chapter books be read aloud to him a few months before he turned three. For his fourth birthday, all he asked for were 'all the books about Paddington Bear.'  His favorite day of the week is "library day" and he often checks out a dozen books at a time.  It is not uncommon for him to be in the middle of multiple chapter books at once.

Together, we've journeyed through the works of Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, P.L. Travers, E.B. White, and countless other classic and modern children's novels as well as some more adult choices like The Hobbit and The Little Prince.  He often asks that I read to him from what I'm reading (whether it's a paperback or 'on the Kindle') and always has good insight or questions about the material.  Most recently, we've started The Secret Garden and his eyes grew wide as I read and then discussed with him what cholera was and why Mary was living in India, even though she was English.  Reading allows him to explore new interests.  For example, he recently read a book from the library that had a character in it that carved models.  Since finishing the book, my son has spent hours in his room constructing model cities with his Lego blocks.  Reading expands his mind and keeps it open.  It enhances and encourages his imagination.  Did those things really happen in the Mary Poppins books?  Probably not, but isn't it fun to PRETEND?!  Magic isn't real, but wouldn't it be exciting if there really were wizards like Harry Potter and Gandalf the Grey?!  Books are mesmerizing to us, and for the half hour or so we read in the mornings and again before bed, my usually wiggly, squirmy, noisy, can't-sit-still boy is silent, frozen, and rapt with attention.  

As a homeschooling family, the books we read often lead us to study new things or introduce concepts.  To some, this might not fit into their plans or schedule, but we welcome the interruptions.  If a book leads us to a new concept, we embrace it, study it, and engulf ourselves in it.  We seize the moment and learn all we can while it's fresh and new.  Just this year, we've been led to study the works of Michaelangelo, spend time together poring over maps and finding places and regions, learned about several cultures and languages, and explore various landmarks and historic figures.  And, as always, these studies bring us full circle to, can you guess?  More books.  ("I wonder where polar bears live in the wild.  Mommy, let's get a book about them at library and find out.")  Ahhh, books.

Books are so amazing to us, even our two-year-old daughter (who has sensory issues that basically prevent her from EVER sitting still) loves the library story time.  Until recently, I thought she was putting up with this just for the snack and silly songs. Then, one day last week, I heard her chanting to herself "Crazy hair, crazy hair, crazy hair."  It was a line from one of the books they had read at story time at least two weeks before!  She was actually LISTENING to the stories!!!  What an encouragement to me, especially on the days my voice is growing hoarse trying to read over the noise she is making while she jumps on and off the couch!  Even if she seems to be engaged elsewhere, she's tuned in on some level.  She might not sit cross-legged and wide eyed, but she's hearing me people!!  And one day, I fully expect her to be holed up in the play tent with big brother, listening to the adventures of Robin Hood or Ivanhoe.  


I encourage you to read.  Read for yourself.  Read to your children.  Read together.  Discuss what you read, let it permeate your lifestyle.  You'll be amazed at what your children glean from books you would never have thought they'd enjoy.  They will point out things in real life that remind them of a character or setting or problem in the story they've been reading.  Their minds will be expanded, enriched, opened and it's wonderful to watch.  And don't be surprised if people in the grocery store stop and stare because your son decided to wear a Santa Claus hat, salute, bow, and exclaim, "Balin, at your service!" to every stranger you pass.  It's part of the beautiful process of expanding his horizons.  Enjoy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Not-Your-Grandma's Parenting Advice

We have great children.  Of course, nearly every parent you talk to will tell you the same about their children.  It's rare to find a parent who doesn't enjoy regaling friends, family, and even strangers with stories that explicate just how smart, cute, funny, and in general 'amazing' their children really are.  People without children most likely find this tiresome and at the least, annoying, and I apologize on behalf of parents everywhere.  But honestly, we can't help it.  Those cute little anecdotes and dozens of pictures taken with that horrible fake mall Santa just seem to fly out like a soapy kid down a Slip-n-Slide.  (And thanks to modern technology, you can be instantly alerted and inundated; which means creepy mall Santa picks sent right to your smartphone!)  Anyway, I digress.  

My husband and I love our kids and there's not much we'd rather be doing than spending time with them.  That being said, there are a lot of things no one told us about parenting.  As expecting or even new parents, you receive a lot of unsolicited advice.  Even the person in the checkout line in front of you will, at some point, better know how to raise your child than you.  Some advice turns out to be great.  Some is well-intentioned but outrageously impractical.  However, of all these advice-givers, not many will give you the true gems of parenthood.  The things you need not only for the big picture, but for daily survival.  So let's talk about what really happens when you become a parent.  The things no one wants to tell you about beforehand because if they did you would hide in a hole, terrified to come out lest these things they call 'children' slather you in bodily fluids and eat you alive....

Sleep when the baby sleeps.  Let's be real.  Your first few weeks at home with your newborn will be spent standing over his/her crib, bassinet, or other napping place staring intently at said newborn's chest checking for signs of life.  'Are you sure she's still breathing?? Should we poke her just in case? Oh no, wait, her chest just moved!' (And insert both parents' simultaneous exhales here.)  Never fear, this phase will pass and you will soon be able to check on the infant at 3am, find and return the pacifier to that tiny mouth, and fall back into your own bed for the next twenty minutes of uninterrupted sleep, all without ever having opened your eyes!  As an added bonus, you will also find you ARE able to function the next day on those twenty minutes of uninterrupted sleep!  Yay you!!

Bio-hazard containment.  You will quickly become accustomed to all manner of bodily fluids and functions.  At one point or another, you will accidentally ingest vomit, poop, snot, slobber, or likely, all of the above.  The first time it will be gross. You might gag or even get sick.  The second, third, fourth, get the picture?  All the times thereafter,
you will perfect what I like to call 'wet wipe efficiency.'   This is the practiced swipe of a single wet wipe to ensure all bodily fluids are removed and contained in the small pre-moistened rectangle that surely was an invention of God himself.  You will, in fact, become so proficient in this skill, you will be able to perform it without looking at your target, one-handed and backward, while driving and in a manner that will save the fluid from ever making contact with your children's clothes, thus saving their super-cute church outfit just in the nick of time.  (HINT:  It's all in the wrist.)  

Never say never. NEVER utter the words, "When I have kids, they/I/we will NEVER......"  Don't say it!  Don't even think it!  By doing so, you will be dooming yourself to the very thing you want most NOT to happen.  Trust me.  It's a dangerous road.  Before we had kids, I swore to everyone and everything that our children would NOT sleep in our bed.  No way.  Not going to happen.  Due to my horrid indiscretion in voicing this NEVER thought, my husband and I currently sleep on approximately four to five inches of bed space while our two-year-old daughter stretches sideways and/or upside down across the remaining area, snoring soundly while she uses my face as a pillow and rests her feet on my husband's ear.  (Word of warning:  Moving a child in this position is a delicate operation and needs to be undertaken with the utmost care.  If the transition is not a totally smooth one, the child will wake shrieking when her body hits the ice-cold, razor sharp, flower-patterned sheets of the dreaded toddler bed and you will be forced to endure thirty more minutes of squirming, kicking, twisting toddler before she is comfortable enough to sleep again; in your bed.)

Make friends with clutter.  Cleaning is something I do on a daily/weekly basis, depending on the chore at hand.  De-cluttering is a rusty skill remembered from a time when I didn't own any Thomas trains and there was no baby-doll play food picnic held in my kitchen every day.  There's a large difference in clean and clutter-free.  Find it, understand it, and make peace with it.  In our house, clean dishes, laundry, and toilets ALWAYS supersede floors free of kid-litter (books, dolls, cars, trains, and pirate accessories).  On the other hand, keep in mind some clutter is dangerous and should always be attended to before lights-out.  Prime example:  Legos.  Legos are great toys and provide my son and husband with hours of enjoyable time together.  However, a stray Lego in the kitchen floor after dark will sprout Ginsu knife blades and shards of glass. 

Home-economics anyone? All those things you thought you 'couldn't' do before you had kids (i.e. cooking, baking, sewing, and any other domestic achievement you had no interest in)?  Yeah, you'll wake up one day and find you've learned to do them all.  At the same time.  And when your kids are grown, I expect you'll actually have time to enjoy doing them.  In the meantime, you have the next twenty years or so to perfect your skills.  The product of the countless hours you will spend in the kitchen, covered in flour and sweating profusely. The hours spent poring over cookbooks and sewing machine manuals and wondering in the end why the hat you're sewing for the baby doll has parsley sewn into the hem and the chicken breasts smell like Pledge.  And then one day, years from now, you'll be a super-cool grandma who not only can whip up some awesome chocolate chip cookies, but can sew a pair of shoes at the same time!

Most importantly, and in spite of everything I've listed above, you will love your child more than your own life.  There will be times when you won't be sure you have what it takes to parent them.  There will be times you will feel like you don't have any more patience, understanding, or even sanity left to face the remaining hours of the day.  There will be days you may not like your children very much (you will feel this especially as you navigate a shopping trip with a smart-mouthed kindergartener) and days you feel like a failure (days like when the Easter Bunny left the goodies under mommy and daddy's bed instead of in the baskets).  But you will always love them.  You may not realize it until they are asleep at night (still and quiet go along way toward nurturing good feelings), but parenting is one looong labor of love.  Our kids demand a lot from us (namely candy, just five more minutes of TV, apple juice, candy).  And though we know better than to give them everything they want, we can always give them what they need; love.  In His infinite wisdom, God tells us, "Love suffers long...bears all things...endures all things."  And when you're mopping up the third cup of hot chocolate spilled in a day or desperately searching for the Poison Control hotline number because your daughter might or might not have ingested nail polish, you're going to want to remember this tidbit of advice:

Love never fails.       

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why We Homeschool

We're a homeschooling family.  I've read several articles and books recently touting the 'renaissance' homeschooling seems to be enjoying.  I don't know if that is actually the case, or if homeschoolers (like us) are simply choosing to be a little more vocal about their choice to learn at home.  There are literally billions of different reasons families might choose homeschooling.  Some cite religious reasons, some have safety concerns, and some simply aren't satisfied with what local schools have to offer. For our family, homeschooling was something we spent a lot of time researching, discussing, and weighing before deciding to commit.  My husband is a product of private school, and I am a far less traditional cross-breed.  (Call me an educational 'mutt' if you will.)  I am a partial product of public school, homeschooling, and a miraculous program called "Dual Enrollment" where I had the chance to complete college courses for high school credit.  I went on to earn a degree in education, with the intention of teaching in the public school system (even though things didn't quite work out that way).  Needless to say, our educational backgrounds gave us a slightly different perspective when it came time to choose a path for our children's education.  The decision was made slightly more interesting for us when we realized our son was 'advanced' for his age and that our daughter had some special needs that would have to be addressed while planning her education.  And while there are pros and cons of any decision, homeschooling was the path that was the best choice and fit for us as a family.
My son's first sentence, written and illustrated at age four.
We enjoy being able to take a vested, personal approach to our children's learning.  We love that we can provide education that is absolutely individualized to their intellectual, emotional, and social needs and abilities.  Our son is doing math above his 'grade-level,' and working his way through phonics and reading using real, interesting literature, not a mass-produced textbook.  He thrives on routine and structure and counts the days until library story time and his play-date with friends each week.  My daughter has occupational therapy once a week and speech therapy three times weekly.  She also has some sensory and social issues we are able to monitor and address more thoroughly (I believe) at home than in a school-setting.  Homeschooling also allows us to 'bring it with us.'  My daughter's therapy mornings find my son and I camped out in the clinic's waiting room, reading a book, working on math, or playing a word game.  At home, we structure things (I highly recommend the investment of a cheap kitchen timer!) so that they have time to do activities together, such as Play-Doh or block building, and then time for individual work.  This enables me to spend time with each of them, working with my daughter on her apraxia flashcards, or doing a reading lesson with my son.  It is not always simple or easy.  There are many days when things don't go as planned and we have to get creative.  Some lessons work beautifully; some flop.  Some days my daughter cooperates and lets my son work without interruption; some days are just one looong interruption, with a little work squeezed in between.
Mama said there'd be days like this...
 Homeschooling is not for everyone.  My husband and I happen to love it and have a mutual passion for it.  Your house may not think or feel the same way.  Homeschooling may not be of interest to you or it may not be a possibility for you.  And that's okay.  There are great ways to stay involved in your children's education, even if you don't choose to do ALL their schooling at home.  And even though homeschooling is what works best for us on many levels, things are not always smooth-sailing.  At times, I really feel the added stress of not only having a mountain of laundry to tackle and dinner to get ready, but lesson plans to make, supplies to get ready, and record-keeping to complete.  There are times when we look at our budget and wonder if we wouldn't be doing ourselves a favor if both of us worked, instead of scraping to make ends meet for the sake of me and the kids' staying home.  However, at the end of the day, we know we've made the right choice.  Homeschooling just works for us.  It brings us together as a family, requires us to work together, and opens each of us to sharing our interests and knowledge (I have no idea how the landing gear on a plane works; go ask Daddy!).  I believe we are a happier, healthier family because of homeschooling. 

Unfortunately, we've already encountered those who seem to believe our children will be 'odd' and unsocialized; ultimately unable to function in the "real" world because of their lack of traditional classroom education.  Our answer to them goes something like this:
This is his "I'm so excited I found a turtle" face!
Our children are being educated in the "real" world each day.  Each trip to the library, grocery store, hiking trail, or bank is an opportunity for them to learn what kind of place the world is.  Their social encounters range from play-dates at the park with children of various ages, to conversations with adults in the store checkout line or a keeper at the zoo.  My kids learn values, morals, and ethics from their daily interactions and experiences, rather than from a worksheet or because they received an award for doing so.  They are intrinsically motivated to learn for the sheer joy of finding out something new and exciting.  Their idea of a vacation is a trip to visit an art museum or aquarium where they can continue to gain knowledge about things they love and the world around them.  To me, this doesn't sound odd, unsocialized, or unable to function.  It sounds rather like the kind of adult I strive to be daily.  And THAT is why we homeschool.  My message in all of this is not to try to 'convert' you all to become homeschoolers.  It is to encourage you to do what's right for your family and for your children, even if it may be the more difficult path or the road less traveled.  Trust me, the payoff is amazing. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

5 o'clock Somewhere

Ahhh, 5 o'clock.  Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet sang a song about it.  Dolly Parton was in a movie about it. (Come on, admit it; you've watched "9 to 5" at least once!)  5 o'clock is that mystical time of day when workers kick up their heels and head out on the town for some good timin' fun.  The banks close (well, some of them still do), evening officially begins, and people everywhere breathe deep sighs of relief as they leave the office and head for some place quiet and restful...  Or at least, that's what I'm told other people do.

5 o'clock at our house usually looks more like this:


5 o'clock is the time of day that finds my youngest and only daughter, whose digestive system seems to run on "Early Bird Special" time, making irrational food demands such as "Waffle!" or most recently; "Notha one off dwop!"  Roughly translated that means, "Give me another cough drop or I'll rip things off the walls and throw the barstools across the kitchen!"  (Yes, that seriously happens.  For a slightly built two-year-old she harbors surprising amounts of brute strength.  It's rather like watching The Hulk rip out of his clothes and turn green.  Disturbing, yet you can't look away.)

                                                                       Hulk smash.

5 o'clock is the time of day my eldest and only son decides he REALLY NEEDS to play a computer game, because he's only had like two and half minutes to play the computer all week!  (The five-year-old part of me sometimes shouts, "NOT TRUE!")  5 o'clock is also his cue to 'remember' that he 'forgot' to do all of his chores, then subsequently have a meltdown because he doesn't have TIME to do them now, he's busy playing Curious George games and he CAN'T pause them, he doesn't know HOW!!

                                                              Chores?  What chores?!?

What am I doing at 5 o'clock you ask?  Oh, I'm that blur in the background flitting back and forth between trying not to burn whatever is on the stove, herding children and dogs out of the kitchen so they don't burn on the stove, picking up the pretend kitchen paraphernalia that it was necessary for the children to get out so they could 'cook' dinner but forgot to pick up when it was done (plastic play knives can really hurt when you step on them in bare feet).  I am the one sweeping up that pile of crusty stuff in the corner, scooping the Thomas trains back in the basket, wiping that ever-naked rear end, and putting the dog out because she was sitting on the kitchen table yet again...

                                       What do you mean I'm not SUPPOSED to be up here?

Sometimes, I take a time-out from all that hard work to save a baby doll that mysteriously got stuck in a tree.

Other times, I pause, take a deep breath, and say a quiet prayer that goes like this, "Serenity now, serenity now, serenity now," because someone (I won't say who) decided 5 o'clock is much too late to eat dinner and they MUST HAVE SNACK NOW.

It's okay, don't apologize.  You probably didn't see me.  I was moving pretty fast.  Because 5 o'clock is my time of day to realize I haven't actually sat down all day and I forgot to eat lunch.  It's the time of day when I use every last ounce of my willpower to keep from making that ever-tempting and oh-so alluring second pot of coffee.  It's the time I usually shout to no one in particular, "WHY IS THIS FLOOR SO STICKY AGAIN?!?!"  Then I pointedly ask my beautiful daughter where she hid the mop this time, go into the back yard, wrestle it away from the dogs, remember I haven't fed the dogs, throw the dogs some food, then realize someone dumped the dogs' water out in the back doorway, get the dogs some water, come back in the laundry room, realize the laundry in the washer needs to be switched to the dryer, switch said laundry, put the white clothes in the washer (and make a mental note to come back and put the bleach in later - HA!).  At this point, I stop and stare bemusedly at the mop in my hand, trying to figure out why I have it.  During this 30 second interlude of quiet puzzlement, I hear a sizzling sound.  Dinner.  I put the mop down, step through the sticky stuff, check the pan on the stove that is now making ominous hissing noises. (Chicken breasts always hiss when they're good and done; didn't you know that?!)  Tell the kids dinner is ready and no, it's not waffles and cough drops.  No it's not hot dogs or baloney either.  Sit down and eat it anyway and we DO NOT throw rice.  We DO NOT let the dog eat off of our plate.  We EAT the chicken, not put it in other people's drinks!

By this time, an hour or more has passed and Daddy has called to say he's on his way home.  (Insert sigh of relief here.)  I'd raise my glass to all of you who are living it up at 5 o'clock (I picture you in a sunny place, drinking something fruity), but my glass of milk is covered in cough drop slobber and it's collected a few 'floaters', which look suspiciously like chicken, so I think I'll take a pass this time.

However, after dinner is over, baths are finished (that's a story for another day), and Daddy is FINALLY home...this is my reward:  

  And 9 times out of 10, I all but forget about 5 o'clock...that is, until tomorrow.

 You want my advice for the 5 o'clocks in life? See the humor.  Savor the moment.  And know there will be times that require a second pot of coffee.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I Have A Dream...

"The cost of ignorance is incredible."  My coffee cup wielding hand paused halfway to my mouth when I heard these words by Mayor Cory Booker on "Meet the Press" over this past weekend.  I found myself thinking, no kidding Mr. Mayor.  Tell that to my neighbor who dressed in a Klan hood for Halloween last year, waving at passing cars on the street corner.  Tell it to everyone who has ever raised an eyebrow when my five-year-old tells them he is homeschooled.  Tell it to anyone and everyone who has ever passed judgment (silently or out loud) on the parents of a special needs child who are just trying to make it through a public outing, despite fears, tears, and meltdowns on the part of the child.  I believe, on the whole, humanity has an innate desire to be kind toward one another.  The evidence is out there and I see it firsthand quite often.  However, somewhere, somehow, ignorance has crept in the cracks and crevices of our souls, gumming up the gears that turn compassion.  I don't know how else to explain the acts of cruelty we seem capable of as humans. 

Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.  Just last week, I found myself explaining who Dr. King was and what he stood for to my five-year-old.  He couldn't comprehend a world where blacks and whites were segregated, and frankly, I hope he never does.  As I sat listening to Mayor Booker talk on my TV last weekend, I thought about ignorance.  The more I thought, the more I agreed with his statement.  The cost of ignorance is incredible.  The cost is hurt.  The cost is hate.  The cost is a life.  The cost is HUMANITY.  Dr. King's dream had to do with peace, harmony, acceptance, and love for one another.  I, a lowly housewife and mother, also have a dream.  It encompasses all the same things yours did, Dr. King.  I have a dream that ignorance be eradicated and in its place, acceptance, understanding, and love reign supreme.  Idyllic you say?  Maybe.  Soft you say?  Probably.  (Being a mom has kind of done that to me.)  But it is my dream.  Imagine a world full of people who, rather than judge and criticize, make an honest effort toward understanding and learning about one another.  That's the world I want for my children.  Heck, it's the world I want for myself.  Don't you?   

Friday, August 23, 2013

Buddy, Friend, Pal

I've been thinking about friends this week.  If you had asked me not long ago how many friends I had, I probably would have laughed.  Friends were something vaguely remembered from a time before I was constantly covered in someone else's bodily fluids and when I showered, fixed my hair, and put on makeup EVERY morning. 
When my oldest was a baby, I read a magazine article about the five friends every mom should have.  I can't remember all of the 'friends' suggested, but they were things like the cool friend without kid of her own, the friend who has kids your own kids ages, the older wiser mom friend who's been there done get the picture.  I read this article knowing at the time that I had no friends with children, and few close friends at all.  Years passed, another child came along, and my friend scorecard went up by maybe two?  By the time my daughter was just over a year old, I was obsessively worried about our son, who was four, having no friends of his own.  We started going to the library and trying to get him to Bible class at church regularly.  He thought we were just doing fun stuff, but I was on a desperate search for a FRIEND!!  Alas, we weren't the best at getting to Bible class on time and the library visits tapered off thanks to my daughter's proclivity for wreaking havoc in all public places. 
My son's fifth birthday rolled around and there were no 'friends' to invite to his party.  He didn't seem to mind, but I was feeling like a total parental failure.  On top of worrying about my son finding a playmate, my husband (I like to think he worried as much I did, just silently) and I were also sleep-deprived, crazy people who had spent the last two years trying to get through one day at a time first with a difficult newborn, then a difficult infant, now a difficult toddler....(I've blogged about this in the past and won't go into tons of detail here.)  We weren't exactly friendly, social butterflies.  We were weary, exhausted parents who had our patience tried to a breaking point daily and went to bed on the verge of tears the majority of the time.  Our poor son's social life fell to the wayside, as did our own.  We lost touch with nearly everyone, all the while feeling as though we were drowning in daily life. 
Finally, this past June after a well-meaning comment from our daughter's speech therapist, I had had enough.  I did something drastic.  I rejoined Facebook.  Surely out there in social media land was someone who would be our friend!  I slowly started to reconnect with people.  Some of them I hadn't talked to or seen in a few months, some I hadn't spoken with in years.  I had the chance to meet up with a friend I had known since childhood and was pleasantly surprised to find we had even more in common than when we were kids.  (Mental note:  Check 'cool friend who doesn't have kids yet' off the list!)  We also as a family, got to meet up with some of our 'couple' friends for lunch.  We had a great time talking and catching up and vowed not to let it go another year before we got back together.  (Mental note:  Couple friends were not on the list, but I'm totally checking them off anyway!)  A few weeks later, my son had the opportunity to attend a local VBS and came home full of talk about all his new friends.  Instantly, my worries started to resurface.  What if these were friends he wouldn't see again?  These were kids his age who would most likely be starting school in the fall, while he would be doing school at home.  In the meantime, we started going back to the library.  After a year off (maybe the people at the library wouldn't recognize us now!), I felt brave enough to try this venture again.  Call it what you will, (serendipity, fate, destiny?) the second or third storytime later, who did we run into but my son's friends from VBS?  He was overjoyed to see them again and after chatting with one of their mom's, I found out two of his friends were being homeschooled too!  Joy of joys!!  Friends for him and friends for me!  (Mental note:  check 'friend with kids your kids age' off the list!)  Last, but by no means least, is a friend I had all along.  My mom and I try to go out and do a little shopping or errand running together once every other week or so.  On the most recent all-day outing, I shall not tell a lie; my children were holy terrors.  Their behavior was atrocious.  My son spent the entire day contradicting, arguing, and seeing just how far he could push me without actually getting in major trouble.  My daughter spent the entire day echoing his every statement with the word, "Duh!"  Not a proud parenting moment.  My mom was nice enough to find the humor in the situation.  (Mental note:  Check off 'older, wiser friend who's been there and done that.') 
These days, my friend tally is on the upward swing, but I've found that strength doesn't necessarily come in numbers, but rather quality.  Let's take a moment to do a 'friendly' recount:  I have some religious friends and some that aren't so much.  I have friend with kids and friends without.  I have friends who are also family.  I have old friends that remember me when I was gawky and awkward, and who saw me through some really bad haircuts and fashion choices.  I have new friends that I look forward to getting to know better.  The best thing about them all is they surround me with positivity, acceptance, and encouragement.  And all those worries I had about my son not making any friends all but disappeared as I watched him romp through the playground with his new buddies, taking a time out only to sit and read a book together.  Even my daughter, who as a rule avoids other children like the plague, tagged along and watched the fun from a safe distance.  Here's to friends.  Cheers to all of you out there who remind me to see the humor in life, who don't mind that I'm often covered in my children's bodily fluids, and who give me a reason to leave the house with my hair AND makeup done!!                

Friday, August 16, 2013

Past, Present, Future

Today is a beautiful day.  It's the middle of August but feels like late September outside.  There's a dry crispness in the air that hints tantalizingly of impending Fall.  Today is a day to enjoy the sweet anticipation of pumpkins, dry leaves crackling underfoot, and the smell of Russian Tea simmering on the stove.  I don't know what Fall is going to bring here at the House of Cockrell.  Thus far, summer has brought us many things.  Summer brought us family, holidays, warm nights, and plenty of mosquitoes.  June brought the beginning of a long road of therapy sessions for Aud.  August has brought Aid's first day of school.  (That was a day that not so long ago seemed an eternity away.)  September will bring Aud's developmental evaluation and all the uncertainties that go with it.  It's easy for me to look ahead (sometimes in terror, sometimes in joy) at what is to come or what might be.  I have no trouble at all conjuring situations yet to be and bringing them to fruition in my mind's eye as if they were plays unfolding on a stage.  It is more difficult to me to minutely examine choices that were already made and events that already happened.  Choice is taken out of memory.  It is easier to plan your future choices than to look back and decide if past choices were good or right ones.  However, today I am looking back on a summer that slipped away.  I've woken up many mornings wondering how months can pass unnoticed and at times feeling a sense of failure at the little I've accomplished in half a year.  I feel as though it has been a summer spent in waiting.  Waiting for school to start.  Waiting for company to get here.  Waiting for cooler weather.  Waiting for rain.  Waiting for Lego Club at the library to begin.  Waiting for this looming doctor's appointment that will give us a look at what the future holds for Aud and where the next fork in the road will lead.  I've said before that life with Aud has been one long lesson in patience.  How satisfying it would be if we had all the answers given to us the instant we wanted them.  Life would have been so much easier for the past two and a half years if they had been able to tell us everything we know now and what we're about to find out in September on the day we left the hospital to take Aud home.  I would trade a lot of things to have been able to have that understanding sooner.  There's no describing the heartache and guilt it would have saved me from as a mother, not to mention what wonders it might have done for Aud's first two years of life.  I've spent many nights baring my soul to God and praying to see the reason behind it.  More than once I've sat in her bedroom floor surrounded by untouched dolls, books, stuffed toys, etc. and I've cried until there were no more tears.  Mark has held on to me while I sobbed so hard I couldn't hold myself up.  And you might feel like that makes me a selfish and terrible person.  But it's not just for the 'normal' little girl I expected to have or for myself that I've cried.  My grief has also been for this amazing child we've been given who has strength and courage most people never realize in their lifetime.  A little girl who is misunderstood and judged by shallow-minded people I see looking at her sideways in a restaurant when she can't stop repeating the same word over and over or when she screams in public places because she can't cope with the noises or other sensory overload.  It's a physical ache to know that your child is preset to travel a harder road than you've ever been on.  I've spent time being angry at God.  I've spent time thanking Him.  And while it isn't an easy road we're on, it's the one we've been given.  Aud is who she is and while I might wish for the power to erase the prejudices of narrow-minded people who see us struggling through a shopping trip and think we don't believe in discipline or cut their eyes sideways when she acts oddly, I don't wish to change who she is.  I'm not going to lie, sometimes she terrifies me.  There are times I feel I am beyond inadequately equipped to parent and guide her.  There are days when I feel I will never have enough to give her.  Days when I feel I will never have enough patience, enough grace, enough self-control.  However, there are also days when I wish others could know the happiness of hearing your child's first two word sentence in the way Mark and I have.  Aud is teaching me little by little, day by day, the lessons I haven't yet learned from life, and there seem to be an infinite amount of them.  While I wish I could have been given understanding sooner, I also feel like I'm being given knowledge a little at a time for a reason.  If someone had given it to me all in one dose, I don't know that I could have handled it.  So with each diagnosis and impending evaluation, with each therapy session that brings a new challenge or victory, I am being given a chance to better myself, to improve as a parent, as an advocate, and as a human being.  I become less judgmental, less critical, more accepting, more flexible, more loving.  I gain, bit by bit, things like patience and gentleness.  I don't understand the 'why' behind it.  I may not ever know.  I don't necessarily believe that God made Aud this way to make me a better person.  I somehow feel that would be incredibly egotistical of me.  I do think Aud makes the world a better place, just as I feel Aid makes the world a better place.  And maybe Aud does that by forcing the people around her to find ways to better themselves, just like Aid does it with his exuberance and love for all that surrounds him.  Together, they are an unstoppable force.  I am lucky to be called their mommy.  And while some days that's easier said than done, I try my hardest to take my cues from them.  Who knows, maybe one day, the world will be a little brighter place because of it.  So I end this blogginess by saying, I have not always and will not always make the best choice for the moment in time the choice needs to be made, and that's okay.  The past shapes the future, but does not define it.  I look back on a busy and chaotic summer and know that I didn't accomplish everything I wished I had.  I'm at peace with that.  I know that life isn't only about what's already happened.  Nor is it about what will happen in the future.  Life is about the moment where things past and future meet.  Take a minute to look back and look ahead.  The moment you're sitting in is a perfect meshing of the two.  That moment is now.  A perfect combination of reminiscence and anticipation.  I think I'll take some coffee outside and soak it in.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Speech Therapy and Strong Men

Tomorrow is the first of Aud's speech therapy appointments, and will find us getting up, getting ready, and also having the kids ready earlier than usually possible to be in town and at the clinic a little before nine.  I'm sure we'll get used to it quickly as this is to be our regular routine on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday indefinitely.  I am nervous about it in the same way I expect a parent would be on their child's first day of school.  I hope she does well, but most of all, I hope it's something she enjoys and that will benefit her in many ways.  I'm also nervous for mine and Mark's sake in that I hope we will learn ways to better communicate with her, which is a thought that is exciting but also a little daunting.  Frankly, I'm wondering if it will be easier to actually talk with her instead of to her while we assume we know what she probably is thinking, as we've been doing for the past two years and also, what are we going to learn about her through improved communication...  I'm feeling a little as though I'm considering opening Pandora's Box. 

Aud also had an occupational therapy evaluation this past Friday, as recommended by Schmeiding Center.  The evaluation was done to see if she qualified to receive therapy, mainly to address her sensory problems.  I have a sneaking suspicion that when the evaluations are completely reviewed and we receive the official report from the therapist, Aud is most likely going to end up with a Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosis, maybe mild, but if I was the betting man (HA!), I would bet she receives that diagnosis from the OT.  Which is nothing new to us, because we see the "sensory issues" in play every day.  (Covering her ears, taking off her clothes, flapping her hands, jumping, stomping, kicking, spinning herself around, sniffing and licking strange things, wrapping up in any blanket or towel she can find, gagging and spitting when tasting a bite of chicken, etc.)  At first, you might not notice all these things.  It sounds like a hoard of issues that would be so obvious at first glance, but really, to me anyway, they are a little more subtle than you would think.  However, the more time you spend with Aud, the easier it is to pick up on what her likes, dislikes, and absolute 'can't-take-its' are.  Right now, she is a little obsessed with eyes and holes.  Which sounds incredibly strange, I know.  But she enjoys (or seems to) pointing out which of her toys or pictures or things she sees have eyes.  She also delights in finding holes.  I don't quite know what the fascination is, but she is intent on them and rarely, if ever, misses a hole (in the ground, in a wall, on a car, in your clothes...).  We still don't have a really specific appointment time on her evaluation that will either rule out or diagnosis Autism Spectrum Disorder, but the latest we've heard is maybe August or September-ish, since we have been bumped up the wait list through an internal referral.  To mine and Mark's observation, she is showing more and more signs of  repetitive behavior, such as lining up the toy cars, walking a small bicycle repeatedly around the perimeter of the yard, and I feel she is also becoming more set in her routines.  The toy cars have to be 'played' on the front porch, PlayDoh at the table with me sitting on her right side, trains on the living room rug.  She still is not very good at or interested in 'playing pretend.'  She will pretend to talk on a phone, but when I tried to convince her earlier today to play with a baby doll, nothing doing.  I even made it fall down and 'cry' for her to pick it up.  Aud just looked at me and shook her head, then said one word that shut me down:  "Dead."  I am positive she meant to tell me that it was simply ridiculous that I should try to tell her that doll was crying for her because it was not alive.  It was dead.  She then pointed to her toy plastic horse she was holding and repeated, apparently for my benefit, "Dead."  Wow.  Kind of hard to play pretend house and dolls with a two-year-old who knows those things are not alive, and cannot even begin to imagine otherwise.  That's just one example of her literal mindedness.  While I'm on the subject, don't ask her if she wants something unless you really mean it, because she doesn't understand if you're "just joking."  For example, things we've accidentally asked in teasing that she thought we really meant:  "Do you want to sleep outside with the dogs?" "Yeah! ME?" "Do you want me to give you a haircut like Daddy's?"  "YEAH!!" "You don't want to pee in the yard like the dogs do you?"  She wanted to, and she did.  Needless to say, we have tried to curb our sarcasm (which has been extremely difficult for me) and remember not to say things unless we mean them.  Literally.  Aud can be affectionate, even cuddly, but this must be strictly on her own terms.  Do not hug her if she doesn't hug you first.  At best, she will tell you, "Go away," and hold her hand out as if to keep you from coming closer.  At worst, she will slap your face and then flap her fingers at you and run away to be by herself.  She doesn't like for people to have a reaction when she falls or gets hurt.  It distresses her and makes her angry.  She will likely scream "NO" at you and then make an angry face and stomp her feet and stick her tongue out.  I understand that some of those things may sound cute (taking things literally) or even make her just sound like a brat (slapping someone in the face).  And sometimes, I admit, Mark and I struggle with figuring out what is bad behavior and what is "behavioral outcomes caused by sensory processing" as the sensory profile I completed this weekend put it.  For example, we thought she was just being a brat in the store last night fussing and wanting to run up and down the aisles instead of being held by Mark.  However, halfway through the store, we realized there was a ribbon decal along the bottom of her shirt that was touching her skin and it was making her insane.  Duh Mom and Dad!!  Other times, I feel like maybe we let things go that we shouldn't like throwing her pacifier across a room because she couldn't have something she wanted.  We aren't always sure where to draw the line and we're hopeful that the occupational therapist will help us with that.  It will be a relief to have someone look at things objectively and say, "Hey, I've noticed that usually when she throws her pacifier, it's because she's frustrated that she doesn't have a word for what she wants..." or whatever the trigger might be.  I could go on, but to sum it up in a shorter way, right now we're on a road.  It's a long and winding one (kind of like The Beatles sang about), and we're not sure exactly where it goes right now.  So far, the map says we're headed in the right direction, but we've not been driving very long.  We're finding out more every day about what makes our little girl tick and getting snippets of insight here and there as to how her mind is working and what kind of thoughts are governing her sometimes inexplicable actions.  That's a start, and miles ahead of where we've been in the past.

Now let's talk about big brother for a minute:
I blogged once last year about how thankful I was that the kids had each other and how glad I was that Aud would always be there to look out for her idealistic big brother.  To tell the truth, Aid is more like his daddy than I ever imagined.  He doesn't wear his strength on his sleeve for everyone to see and be in awe of.  They have a quiet reserve of strength my men.  If Mark and I had never met, we wouldn't be the same people we are today.  I believe that neither of us would be as good without the other. Not only is Mark able to temper my impatience and impulsiveness, but he's also well-equipped with a quick and searing wit to keep me laughing all the while, whereas I like to think that I surely do something that he appreciates (other than his laundry, of course!).  :)  Mark is also a very solid and unassuming source of strength.  Many times my own had run out or been thin, and he has been there for me, able to stay strong himself as well as to give some back to me and build me up again.  Aid is like that for Aud.  Idealistic he might be, but he fiercely looks out for her.  He's a stoic little guy and takes it in stride, though he's quickly becoming not-so-little.  He takes care of her and though he gets angry and sometimes jealous, at the end of the day, he would fight to the death for her.  Not to mention, he's always quick with a joke (even if the punch line doesn't make sense)!  He may not be a loud and commanding leader, but faced with something uncertain, he's able to walk by her side, quietly take her hand, and say, "Come on Aud, I'll go with you."  And I speak from experience when I say, it takes a strong man to do that and do it well and I am immensely proud to say, "He gets that from his Daddy."  Well, that's enough of my senseless ramblings for one day.  I thought it might be a good idea to set Aud at the table using dry rice in a cookie sheet as a tactile activity to run her fingers in whilst I blogged, and looking over my shoulder at said table, I see that she has made "rice soup."  So, off to clean the table I go...
Oh, last but certainly not least, if we are expecting a visit from you this summer, let me say, see you soon and safe traveling!!