The Power of Touch: Learning Tactile Communication

24 Feb

The power of touch.

What does that mean?
Touch.
For many different people, it can mean many different things. Really it depends on what the person’s touch memories are. These are memories that mostly come from childhood.

Were you hugged and kissed a lot? Were your parents constantly rubbing your head or holding your hand? Were they more distant? Did they frown on public displays of affection? Were you abused as a child? Were you hospitalized a lot? Do you associate touch with warmth and love? Or do you associate it with pain and fear?

For many people it can bring up a flood of memories when I say the word “touch”.
Couple the word “touch” with the word “power” and it can bring up strong memories for some.
Some good. Some bad.

For many special needs children, touch can be scary. Especially if they are visually impaired. Most of our kids spend at least some of their childhood in and out of hospitals.
A lot of times doctors don’t know what’s going on with them medically and our tiny babies must be poked, prodded, stuck, pinched, measured, x-rayed, scanned, biopsied, operated on, casted, molded, fit, helmeted…. The list is endless.

This must be terrifying for them.

Even the most compassionate nurse, technician, or doctor may unavoidably traumatize our child as we stand there feeling helpless and scared ourselves.

Add to the mix a visual or hearing impairment or both…and our child is experiencing negative touch inside a black hole, strange instruments assaulting them from every direction.

Touch? Will then become the enemy.
A thing to pull away from and fear.

As we leave the hospital, confident that once we are home with them we can make it all better with a little snuggle, we may be met with resistance.
Which leaves parents even more devastated.

So how do we teach our children to begin to trust us and learn that touch is good?
That touch can be calming and loving. How do we teach them to begin to explore their world though a different form, a more positive form, of powerful touch? How do we teach a non verbal child that touch can be a way to communicate with another person? That touch has power.

This was the topic of a conference that I recently attended at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Before I go on I must state that I AM NOT a teacher of the visually impaired.
I DO NOT work for TSBVI nor represent them or their employees in any way.
The opinions and experiences contained in this blog are strictly my own.
I am only stating what I learned in this workshop and my experiences as a mother of a blind child who is non verbal and has other disabilities.

Okay. Whew. That was awkward.
Moving on.

When Oli was first born there were two things that were emphasized constantly.

1. Carry her around everywhere.
“Attach that baby to your body as if you had grown a second head. If you go? She goes.”
Okay. I carried her around for 9 months inside my body. It shouldn’t be that hard to carry her outside it. And it wasn’t. For about a month. And then do you know what happened? She got bigger! How dare she! So it became a bigger deal. But I did it and I carried her around faithfully for a very long time. Now she’s almost 7 sooooo… You know what’s funny? I STILL carry her around sometimes. That girl can walk! So now I get yelled at for carrying her. “You need to let that girl walk! Don’t you carry her!” Ah well… Whadaya gonna do right?! Old habits and all that.

2. You need to talk to her.
“Constantly. Talk about this and that and the other thing. Talk about all of the things all of the time. Talk. Talk. Talk.”
I’ll let you in on a hard to believe secret.
I wasn’t always as talkative as I am now.
No really! I promise! I used to be quiet!! Ask my mom!
But when you give birth unexpectedly to a blind child, you adapt.
So I became a talker.
Another little secret.
I don’t just do things a little bit.
Oh no. I do them all the way and around the block, down the street, running, racing. I do them until everyone wishes that I would stop doing them and then I do them some more because…
what do THEY know?!
I’m going to do all of the things.

I talked to that baby morning and night. I explained and described, sang, whispered, made up voices, chanted, hummed…if you could do it with your voice? I did it.
All the time.

Do you know what they told me at this conference? Almost 7 years later.

That I don’t need to talk so much.

Ummmmm….

Excuse me? I don’t think I heard that right.

Apparently I had heard right. I talk too much.

Shocking, I know!

When you start to use touch with a visually impaired child and pair it with too much auditory information the child becomes overwhelmed and cannot focus on what you are trying to teach.

If I’m trying to show Oli a cup and she’s holding it I can guarantee you, if I’m trying to teach her about that cup, I’m going to tell her it’s yellow and has a picture of a flower on it and that she drinks juice from it and that the lid is green and that it has a straw.

But I don’t NEED to tell her all of these things.
I just need to say “cup”. That’s it.

Here we get into the nitty gritty information from the conference.
Here we talk about touch.

Don’t touch your child right away. Observe your child.

Man this is confusing right?! First I tell you we’re going to talk about how to touch your child and then I tell you not to touch them! Just wait. Next I’m going to tell you not to talk to them either.
Stay with me here guys.
I’ll explain. I promise.

Do not talk.
Do not touch.
Just watch.
As you watch them think about these words…
“I notice…”
and
“I wonder…”

Notice that every movement your child makes may have meaning to him or her. It may be some kind of communication. And then wonder what they are trying to say.

For example, one of the teachers noticed that Oli flaps her hand against the side of her face sometimes. She wondered if maybe that movement had meaning. Maybe she was replaying a particular movement from a song they sung at school or something that she had played with earlier.
I had just always assumed that it was a stim, but maybe it’s not. Maybe it means something to Oli.
I had never thought of that before.

Watch to see if the child is open to talking to you.

Nope. Don’t do it. Don’t touch them yet.
We’re getting there. Trust me.

First of all you need to check your own agenda. Are you wanting to force some information and touch on a child that is clearly showing that he/she is not open to talking with you? Did they turn away from you? (Oli does this a lot. Especially when she knows someone is going to make her work.) Or is the child displaying an open posture with relaxed hands (or as relaxed as that child’s may get)?

Second, greet the child. This does not have to start with words.

Yep. Don’t touch them yet. Don’t talk to them either. Even in greeting.

I know!
This is just crazy stuff right?!
Really though. You don’t want to overwhelm them if they have shown an interest in talking with you.

I’ll say it again.

This does not have to start with words.

You may just go up to the child and place your forearm or hand next to theirs. You can also offer them an open hand and place your hand under his/hers.
Go slowly. Go calmly. Even if you say nothing and don’t even touch the child, they know you’re there.
(Trust me. I’ve had many, many experiences with my daughter where I walk in the room and she knows I’m there immediately. It’s impossible to sneak around her.)
Afterwards you can say “Hi. It’s mommy.”

Then you wait.
DO NOT GRAB THE CHILD’S HAND.
Let the child decide whether or not they want to say hi.
Limit the auditory communication and just focus on touch so you do not overwhelm them.

Tactile following.

Yay!!! We get to touch them!!

Finally.

This is to do be done all hand UNDER hand. NEVER hand OVER hand.
You are just going to have your hands under theirs.
Don’t anticipate their movements or cues, but get them from the child.
The best way to keep any conversation going is by asking the person you’re talking to questions about their topic.
That’s exactly what you are going to do with the child.
By following the movements of their hands with your own, you are “talking” about THEIR topic.
Not your own.
You are just following or imitating their hand movements.
When we follow them we are attending to their conversation topic.
If we do this hand over hand the child is not having the experience because we are doing it FOR THEM.
This is not their topic.
If the child will not allow your hands under theirs that’s fine. Don’t push it.
Just leave your forearm against theirs and mimic their movement. They will still feel your movements. You are still talking with them. Eventually they may allow you under their hands.

When you introduce an object to explore and play with, do the exact same thing.
Offer the object with an open palm, allowing the child to touch or grab it as they wish.
Then as they explore it, put your hand near or under theirs and follow the movement. If they tap? You tap. If they bang? You bang.

Tactile Modeling or Sharing

NOW we can talk. A little bit. A VERY little bit.

This is where you are sharing something with the child.
You are trying to get them to “watch” what you are doing with their hands.
This does not mean you are grabbing their hands and forcing them.
You are still maintaining your hands under theirs and are starting to direct the conversation to let them know something about you.

For example, if you are telling me about a movie with a tornado in it and you go on and on about this tornado and I’m asking all of the questions about the tornado “Have you been in a tornado? Have you ever seen one close up? Did you watch that other movie about the tornado?” eventually I’m going to want to tell you about my experience in a tornado.
(I really have a good story about a tornado.)

This is how a conversation works. Both parties give and take from the dialogue.
This is what we want to do with our non verbal kids with touch.
This is also where we begin to label objects with words.
Not up there in observing or following. In the sharing stage.
Make sure to use simple consistent labels, Don’t use too many words.

We take the topic that the child is interested in and we begin to change it and show them a different perspective.

For example:
With Oli, the common topic with her hands is clapping.
My god that girl loves to clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. All. Day. Long.
So as I observed and then followed her, she wanted to clap. I followed her clapping for a while and then I began to rub my hand together back and forth. Well, she was NOT going to talk about that. She wanted to clap! So she began clapping her hands again. I followed her hands for a bit and then began to rub them together again.

Once again she didn’t want to talk about that! She could care less about my experience in the tornado. She wanted to talk about herself!

I again followed her clapping and then began to rub them together again.

She stopped.

And then she hung on to my hands and followed along while I rubbed them together!

And then she went back to clapping.
Because my girl is nothing if not stubborn.

But as we repeated this over and over she started to want to talk about what I was talking about and began following my hands more and more.

Finally, as I rubbed them together, she stuck her little hands in between mine and felt the inside of my hands as I moved them back and forth.

And then she did something amazing.

She pulled her hands away and STARTED RUBBING THEM TOGETHER!!

She rubbed them quickly and then smiled HUGE and clapped her hands, but this time like “Yes! I see what you’re saying girlfriend!! I want to talk about your tornado!!”

It was awesome!!
She was so excited and it was so beautiful to watch as that lighbulb went off inside her head.
She understood.
She knew what I was saying.

It was beautiful and I was so SO very proud of her.
I wore a smile the rest of the day with that memory and the knowledge that my girl was beginning to understand that touch meant communication for her.

That her touch had power.

I am so very grateful for these moments with my daughter.

Through all of the sadness and the heartache and that continuous guilt that what I do for her is never enough…

That I am never enough…

There is a light in the darkness and it is moments like these when I know…

that I am.

If you would like to see a good example of tactile following, there is a video below of Seth and Oli demonstrating it with a shaky can. A toy that she normally would have thrown over her shoulder in about 10 seconds. Because Seth was playing with her she was engaged for at least 5 minutes. She probably would have played longer, had we more time.

Here is the thing about our kids and toys. They do not have to play with the toy correctly. The same with objects. They do not have to use them appropriately. Just go with it. Just play however they want to play and follow their lead. Don’t feel guilty or bad if they are like my daughter and lick the hairbrush instead of brushing their hair. They are exploring and learning and it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. There is plenty of time to teach them what a hairbrush is for. And if they never learn it or use it appropriately? Then it’s still fine. They are who they are and will be how they will be. Regardless of the amount of time we waste trying to force them to be different. Just love them and play with them and enjoy them. It will be how it’s going to be and I promise you it will be fine.

It will be MORE than fine.

It will be amazing.

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Instead of talking about it, let me show you.

20 Feb

Since I have been sharing so much lately about my son Kekoa and his recent sadness surrounding Oli and her seizures, I wanted to tell you about their relationship.

I could tell you about the moment when he first met her. The time that he immediately closed his eyes and started walking around the room with his hands out in front of him.

I could tell you that for some reason, my son knew that she was blind, even though he was only 17 months old and no one had told him.

I could tell you how he immediately fell in love with her and kissed her whenever given the opportunity.

I could tell you how much he loves her and protects her. How he defends her and supports her. How he believes in her and admires her.

I could tell you a lot.

Instead?

I’d like to show you…

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Kekoa and Oliana in June 2007 070

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K & O June 14

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K & O trailer3

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That was only a fraction of their first year together.

6 years later? Not a lot has changed.

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That’s why it really is a pretty big deal.

She’s already blind so it doesn’t really matter.

19 Feb

Last week’s episode with Oli going to the hospital was really difficult on Kekoa. More difficult than I even really realized.

We all know that she is fine.
We all know that a child’s life with seizures can be unpredictable and scary.
We know that her seizures are treatable and that she returns back to normal fairly quickly.
We know that there are interventions that can be done and medications that can be adjusted and doctors that can be called.
WE know that.

But does a child?

I mentioned in my blog last week that Kekoa was very tearful the day after the ER visit.
The following day at school for him was no better.

I picked him up after school last Monday in the car and was met with a boy who had pain and sorrow written all over his sweet face.

“Hey buddy. Are you okay?” I asked him as he climbed into the front seat.

“Yeah.” His one word response was nowhere near convincing.

“Are you sure? Do you want to talk about it?”

“No. It’s nothing.” Nope. I’m still not buying it.

I pull the car forward and ease into the street, heading away from the school. I stay quiet for a few minutes, hoping that he’ll warm up and decide to talk. When we’re almost home, I try again.

“Kekoa, the last few days have been really tough. I know it was hard for you and scary. I’m here if you want to talk about it.” I sneak a quick glance at his face to see if my words register anything with him.

They do.

I see tears pooling in his eyes as he hardens his face, trying to be strong. Trying not to cry.

It breaks my heart. I wish he would just talk to me.

Finally. FINALLY he does.

“Mom? Some kids at school weren’t very nice when I told them that Oli had to go to the hospital yesterday. I told this one girl about it and she said ‘So. Seizures are no big deal. Cancer is REALLY bad.’ Why would she say that?”

I can feel the heat creeping up the back of my neck as my face begins to burn.

He’s not done. “And then she said ‘Well she’s already blind so it doesn’t really matter that she had to go the hospital.'” A tear leaks down his cheek.

I’m too stunned and too mad to cry. I want to turn the car around and drive back to the school. I want to find out who said it and where she lives and I want to drive to her house and corner her parents…

I was SO mad.

The little irrational voice in my head urged me to do all of those things, but fortunately the rational voice in my head is usually louder. Plus, what I would say next would set an example for my son on how to deal with situations like these.

“Kekoa she just doesn’t understand. That’s why she said those things. She’s a kid and she just doesn’t have any idea what life with Oli is like.” I tried to steady my voice as we pulled into the garage. “If you’ve never had a special needs sister or seen a seizure or the paramedics race into your living room…you just don’t know.”

What else could I say to him?

As we walked into the house my mind was racing a million miles a minute trying to figure out how I could fix this unfortunate and hurtful day for my son.

He has been through so much. So much.

THIS. This very situation was the reason that when Oli was exactly 3 days old I gave my son, who was only 17 months old at the time, a bath and promptly sat on the side of the tube bawling my eyes out. I cried and I apologized to my toddler because I knew then that situations like these would happen. I knew it and I just sat there, tears streaming down my face, with my son looking up at me with confusion on his face as I just repeated “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Over and over again.

Now 6 years later, the moment had come. I apologized again.

This time was different though.

This time I didn’t apologize for Oli. I didn’t feel sorry for him because he had a special needs sister that would make his life more difficult at times. Which I had done before.

Yes. I’ll admit it.

I don’t feel like that anymore. Obviously.

This time I apologized for the words of a little girl who probably had no idea how much it hurt my son or myself.

She had no idea that by stating that it was “no big deal because she was already blind” she was devaluing my daughter as a person. That she was reducing her to something less than the incredible little girl that she is.

At least in my eyes, that’s what those words meant.

She probably had no idea that she was being a bully.

I immediately sent my friend a text. She has a daughter in Oli’s class who also has seizures and she has a daughter just a year younger than Kekoa.

I rattled off what had happened and asked if Kekoa could talk to her daughter. She said yes.

“Kekoa if you want you can talk to Chloe. She completely understands. Her sister has really bad seizures and has to go to the hospital a lot.”

“Maybe later mom.” He just looked defeated.

After dinner I typed an email to his teacher, who was not at school that day, but in a conference.

She responded immediately, apologizing for what had happened, and offered to speak to the guidance counselor. She also suggested that maybe the guidance counselor could speak to the whole class.

I told her how much I appreciated her help and also said that I’d be more than happy to come and speak about different disabilities and siblings.

It’s been a week now.

Kekoa is mostly back to normal.

Mostly.

I’m trying really hard to support him and help him however I can.

I’ve enrolled him in a workshop for siblings of special needs children that will be in May.

Oli’s occupational therapist at hippotherapy has offered to give him therapeutic riding lessons for relaxation and stress reduction. He starts on Thursday and is beyond excited.

He’s always had his own individual sports and time alone with me or Seth.

I can just see it all building up though.

I can see the pressure and the weight that being part of Oli’s life can bring. We just came off of a particularly bad stretch with her. Our days were filled with her screaming, biting and scratching herself, banging her head, and being completely inconsolable for weeks. Then the seizures…

I feel it and I see it and I know it’s there weighing him down…

but I’m powerless to either fix it or take it away.

Right now I’m just trying to do what feels right and praying that we are going to go down the right path with him.

I really believe that siblings of special needs kids can be greatly affected by it all. The good and the bad.

I know that he is an amazingly supportive, kind, compassionate, loving, generous little boy who is always looking to help the next person in need.

And I know that he is this way because of Oli.

But his soft heart can be broken so very easily.

Especially by a few words spoken without any thought by someone who just simply doesn’t know.

My husband mentioned to Kekoa that maybe that little girl knew someone who had died from cancer so to her, cancer IS really bad.

Cancer IS really bad. Especially when it happens to someone you love.

So are seizures. Especially when they are happening to someone you love.

It was a very good point.

Kekoa considered it and it seemed to sit well with him.

It’s all relative. We only know what we know.

I just hope that in the end I can give him enough opportunities to support him and validate that no matter what, his feelings are his own. No one can argue them or make him feel like they are any less than what they are.

Stating how you really feel is one of the ultimate truths in this life.

I want him to know that no one can take that away.

TEAM OLI

17 Feb

I’m going to start posting the races that we do together for Team Oli. The 5K’s, 10K’s, and triathlons.

I’m doing it mostly to keep a diary for me, to remember all of the fun we had doing these together. Another reason I wanted to start this is to share with other people some fun pictures, video’s, inspiring moments, accomplishments, or just plain funny stories from the many races that we do together.

I also want other people to be able to experience what this has really done for Oli.

What it has done for my ENTIRE family.

When we started “we” was just Oli and myself. Now it is my husband Seth, my son Kekoa, my daughter Ginger, Oli and I, and most recently our dog Shaka. The “Baby Genius” as his trainer calls him. Shaka is a one year old rescue pup that is completely deaf and missing one eye. He is currently in training to become Oli’s service dog.

He's so cute.

He’s so cute.

It has been so much fun doing these races with my entire family. It also has been so incredibly humbling and inspiring to watch Oli as she sometimes struggles to walk across the finish line. She has never given up, never cried, never sat down. She may stumble, lose her balance, and reach out for me, but she just keeps trying.

Every single time.

She has walked across every finish line since we started back in August 2013. She has gone from timidly walking to confindently blazing across that line clapping for herself. It’s been amazing.

I wish I would have thought about doing this sooner. But, better late than never.

Our race for today Sunday, February 16, 2014 was down in San Antonio, TX at the McNay Art Museum. This was the 60th anniversary of the museum.

The race start.

The race start.

This race was especially nice because not only was the course on the road, it didn’t start until 10am.

SCORE!

Ginger, Oli, and I? We’re not morning people.

Once we got down there everyone was ready to go.

Shaka couldn't decide whether or not he wanted to lick Oli's face or eat her pop tart.

Shaka couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted to lick Oli’s face or eat her pop tart.

We had plans for Kekoa to run all of the race. Well. Run/Walk. He had trouble finding his confidence and rhythm at the beginning and was a bit tearful. After he got going he was fine. He rode a little bit in the stroller…WITH THE OTHER TWO KIDS!! (Yeah. My husband is awesome.) He was on his feet for most of it though.

He was exhausted, but he did it.

Looking tired Kekoa.

Looking tired Kekoa.

Now you're looking good. Look at that nice, poofy hair!

Now you’re looking good. Look at that nice, poofy hair!

Even little Ginger ran a lot of it!

I think one of my favorite parts, besides the finish, was watching Oli walk the middle part of the race. This was the first race that she walked in the middle.

She’s at the point now where she doesn’t just want to walk at the very end, but wants to walk throughout the race. She is able to go for longer distances and more frequently so we are more than happy to encourage her. Plus?
She’s HEAVY! It’s nice to let her out!

She just smiles and bops her head along, letting us lead the way. She’s so unbelievable adorable.

My MOST favorite part, as always, is watching my beautiful girl cross the finish line of any race.
She has gone from a tiny little baby with an uncertain future to a confident young lady with a future full of dreams.

The sky is the limit.

The whole family.

The whole family.

Because of these races Oli will never let her disabilities define her, nor let them determine what she can or cannot do.

This girl can do ANYTHING!

It makes me really sad mom.

9 Feb

I got the call that I am always terrified to get when I’m away from Oli.

“Shannon. Something is wrong with Oli. I think I need to call an ambulance.”

My heart fell to the floor and stayed there until she was wheeled into the ER on a stretcher and I could see her.

“What do you mean? What’s wrong?” I asked as my heart raced, but my mind cleared.

“Well she’s breathing really funny. Like holding her breath and I can’t keep her awake. Here. Listen.” My mom, who had been home with her while I took my other two kids to a horse vaulting stable, put the phone up to Oli’s lips.
I hear a strange grunting sound coming from my daughter.

“She’s been doing this for a while now and it’s getting worse. When she falls asleep it’s better, but as soon as she stirs she does it again.

“Mom. Listen. Lift up her shirt. Can you see her ribs or her sternum as she breathes? Does it look like she’s sucking in?”

My mom quickly checks. “No. No I don’t see that.”

“Okay good. What about her lips? Are they pink or do they look blue?”

“They’re really pale. I just don’t feel right about this. I feel like something is really wrong with her. She just keeps falling asleep.”

“Mom. Do you feel like you should call an ambulance?” I ask calmly. Going into more nurse mode at this point than mother mode.

“I’m not sure. Maybe. Something is wrong with her breathing.” She answers. I can hear the fear in her voice.

“Okay. If there is even a question that maybe you should, I need you to call. I am at least an hour away and by the time I get there to check her, things could have gone dramatically downhill. My phone is almost dead. I only have about 10% battery left. I’m going to call Seth and tell him to go home right now. I’ll have him call you on the way. He should be there in 10 minutes. Hang up and call 911.”

“Okay.”

I hang up and quickly call my husband.

No answer.

I call again.

No answer.

Oh my god. My phone is going dead.

I shoot him a quick text.

‘Call me NOW.’

He calls back immediately.

“Seth. I need to you to go home right now. Oli is not breathing right.”

“I’m on my way.” He replies in a calm voice.

I start to tell him that I’m leaving the stable now and that I’ll be about an hour…but he’s gone. I’m talking to dead air.

That morning Oli woke up happy. My mom and I had plans to take all three kids down to a stable in south Austin where their horse vaulting team has a Barn Buddies day once a month to raise money. The kids get to come down, learn some tricks on the barrels, and then get up on the horse to practice them with an experienced horse vaulter.

After Oli got up on Saturday morning she fell back asleep right after breakfast. I sent my mom a text and told her that maybe Oli shouldn’t go. I thought maybe she wasn’t feeling very well. My mom decided that she would just stay home with her and that I would take the other two kids and our dog. Shaka had service dog training right after the kids were done riding.

When I left, Oli was playing happily with her toys.

Kekoa and Ginger had an awesome time on the horses. It was really great because they always watch Oli ride at hippotherapy, but never get to ride themselves.

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That morning of fun quickly turned into a nightmare.

This was not Oli’s first ambulance ride.

Not even her second.

Her first executive ride to the hospital was one of the absolute worst days of my life.

October 4, 2011 is a day I will never, ever forget. Never.

That morning I woke up next to Oli violently convulsing and gasping for breath. She ended up being intubated with a machine breathing for her for two days.

The next ride was August 26, 2012.

And the last was on Saturday February 7, 2014.

I’d like to say that this will be her last, but I know that it might not be.

Her seizures, any person’s seizures, are no joke. I know that lots of kids have them. Some have hundreds a day. Some are lucky like Oli and only have them once in a while.

It’s really all about perspective. I don’t know anything but what I know about Oli. Her journey is no more or less than anyone else’s. We only know the life we live so it’s important not to minimize or over exaggerate something that we have no experience in.

I get really uncomfortable when I meet someone and they say “I just don’t know how you do it?! I could never do what you do!”

Yes you could. Yes you would.

I find myself thinking those same things though when talking with my friend who has a daughter who literally can have 100 seizures per day.

How does she get through it? How would I?

But I don’t have to worry about that because that’s not our life. I can talk with her about it. I can tell her how extremely terrified I was to get that call. I can tell her how Oli wasn’t breathing well and how awful it was because I’m sure she had more than one seizure yesterday. Like maybe 3 or 4 or 5. (I don’t know because they were seizures that we couldn’t see.)

And you know what she says? Not “Well that’s NOTHING! You should be grateful it was only a couple. My daughter…” Blah blah blah.

Nope. She doesn’t say any of those things.

She says “Wow! How scary! Do you need anything? Do you want to talk about it? How can I help you get through this?”

She validates my reality.

She doesn’t compare it.

That is powerful.
So incredible powerful.

I hear people compare themselves and their struggles to other families all the time.
Why?
Why are we judging when we should be supporting?

I’m so lucky to have so many incredible families in my life who do just that.
They support Oli. They support me. They support my kids and my husband.

We desperately need support because scenarios like the one we had on Saturday, do not leave a family unscathed.

The words I spoke to my children in the van as we left the stable, will not soon be forgotten.

Especially by my 8 year old son.

“What’s wrong mom? Why aren’t we going to take Shaka to training?”

“Your sister is having trouble breathing and is on her way to the hospital. We need to go there now.”

He immediately becomes quiet.

My three year old, Ginger, does the exact opposite. She has a million questions.

“What do you mean? What is she doing? I’m hungry. Can we stop for lunch? Can I have a snack? Do you have any juice? Are we going to see Grandma now? Are we going to Shaka’s training? Where’s Oli? Where is she going? Where are we going again?”

Oh. My. God. Ginger.

Ginger is either the best person to have with you in a crisis or the absolute worst.

I’m leaning towards the worst. 🙂

It was good because she was distracting me with her 5 billion questions and it was frustrating because I was trying to figure out where I was going, who was going to take the dog, which hospital they were taking her to? Did my husband get home? Are they on their way? When was Ginger going to STOP TALKING!

I got a hold of my friend, Cat, who just happened to be at the stable with me.

“Cat. I need you to come get the dog. Oli is being taken to the hospital by ambulance. They’re taking her to Dell Children’s.” I speak rapidly into the phone.

“I’m on my way.”

Man I have some good friends and family.

I had so many people texting and messaging me, offering kind words, support, and offers to watch my other two kids. It was very very humbling to realize how many people were willing to drop what they were doing and help.

Once we got to the hospital Kekoa was even quieter and Ginger even more inquisitive.

Fortunately Cat got there as soon as I did and took the two kids before Oli was wheeled into the room.

We didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I didn’t want my kids to see her surrounded by hospital staff, talking, asking questions, and working on Oli.

My son has already seen too much in his short 8 years.

Once Oli got there she was breathing better. She was doing some breath holding off and on, but didn’t seem to be in distress. She definitely wasn’t herself. She was constantly falling asleep and wasn’t really moving at all.
If you know Oli, this is completely out of character. She is always going.

After we had been there a little while Cat asked if we could bring the kids in. Just so they could see that she was okay.

Unfortunately as soon as they got there a team came in to start her IV. My poor Kekoa was so flustered that when Cat escorted him back out of the room he grabbed my purse and tried to walk off with it.

After that, they didn’t come back in.

I can’t even begin to imagine what he must have been going through. I know what I was going through and it was awful. And I knew what was going on! He only knows that one of the times his sister took an ambulance ride, she almost didn’t make it back home.

Oli stayed at the hospital for about 9 hours. They ran a bunch of tests and then did an EEG.

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By the time they did it she was mostly back to herself. She was worn out and acting sick, she had been running a fever too, but she was aware of what was going on and awake. Once the EEG came back normal at 11 pm they said that, if we were comfortable, we could take her home.

We opted to go home.

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Oli was more than happy to be sprung from the hospital.

The verdict was seizure activity brought on by… we don’t know. A little virus maybe.

Seth had taken the kids to another friends house in the afternoon and then my mom went and picked them up so they could stay with her for the night.

Shaka stayed with Cat and his girlfriend Dubi.

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Yeah. He didn’t miss us at all. He is in love.

This morning my mom said that Kekoa was very tearful at her house.

We finally got him to talk about it when he came home.

“It makes me really sad mom.” He admits in a quiet voice.

He also said that he was really scared for Oli. Really scared.

Me too buddy. Me too.

It’s important that I never ever minimize his feelings.

I need to never compare, judge, or make him feel like he has to feel any other way, than the way he does.

As important as it is to me to have my friends and family validate how I feel…it is more important to me

that I validate my son’s.

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Where was my key?

9 Jan

I used to read blogs and find links on the internet after Oli was born about children with special needs. More specifically I looked for those words describing BLIND children with special needs. Blind. They had to be totally and completely blind or I couldn’t relate. They couldn’t be JUST blind either. They had to have other disabilities. Other delays, or I couldn’t relate. The children couldn’t be too much older, they couldn’t live in another country, they couldn’t be able to walk or crawl… or I couldn’t relate.
Looking back on it now, I just couldn’t relate to anyone.
I would find the differences in the people, circumstances, and situations so that I was left standing utterly alone, unable to find comfort in any of the sentences that I read on the screen.
Reading those words and seeing the hope and the progress as the parents of these children reveled in their accomplishments, left me yearning to find the key that opened the door to their secret world.
The world, in which people who believed in their special children and accepted them, lived.

Where was my key?

How do you learn about all of the differences in your child, how do you sit through evaluation after evaluation of disappointing prospects and yet still find the key to acceptance?
How do you get to that place?
I sought out those stories of the milestones these children met, delayed yes, but nonetheless met, and wondered if my girl would ever do any of those things.
I wasn’t sure that she would.
I tried to compare her to similar children (when I found them which was rare) and felt defeat after defeat as they surpassed her by miles.
They learned to crawl and walk and talk and when my daughter reached that same age? She just didn’t.
The remorse and regret and guilt of all the possible things that I could have done different or better or faster… It just crushed me.
When she didn’t do the things that I thought she should do, I felt like such a failure as a mother.
I had failed her.
I hated that feeling, but I just couldn’t make it disappear.
I met lots of doctors who, when asked questions of what she would do, responded with shadows of “might not”‘s.
I also met lots of therapists who replied to the same questions with cheerful “might”‘s.
I tended to drift and focus more on the might nots.
When I would try to discuss my fears of the future with people, and I did so rarely, they responded as people do.
They told me to believe that she would grow up normally. They told me that my fears were silly and that I shouldn’t think such things.
They told me to look on the bright side.
Easy to do when it’s not happening to your child.
In truth, they were well meaning people with good hearts who wanted to help me but were completely
clueless.
Sometimes it’s hard to talk to people like me.
People who, when in such a place of darkness, find fault with every well meant comment or upbeat possibility.

Where was that key?

As time passed I just stopped talking about it. I didn’t want to be the downer of the conversation wallowing in all of the shame I felt. The self pity, that I didn’t see as self pity, but most definitely was.
I couldn’t talk about the guilt.
Who do you tell when you have feelings like that?
God?
Ummmmm…. No.
God and I were definitely NOT on speaking terms after Oli was born.
How could HE let this happen to a child? To MY child more importantly.
My husband?
No.
I felt like it was all my fault and I couldn’t admit that to him.
I guess I felt that it was his fault too.
Like this was something that we had done to her. Something that shouldn’t have happened.
I couldn’t tell him that.
My friends.
No. We already talked about that up there^^.
My mom?
Nope. Not her either. Too much guilt. Too much shame.
What had I done to her very first granddaughter?
Sooooo… that left?
No one.
Except it didn’t really.
It turns out there were a few people that I would meet along the way that would help me to find my key.
People who had been in and out of my house since this whole thing happened.
People who saw mothers like me and children like Oli every single day.

They were the therapists who worked with my daughter.

Not all of them were warm and cuddly.
Not all of them were inviting.
Not all of them I could open up to.
But some of them… I could.
Some of them had a compassion and a keen sense of understanding for a situation that they had never lived.
Some of them didn’t even have children of their own!
But it didn’t matter.
For some reason they had the right tone of voice, they said the right words, they were silent when I needed them to be, and the outer shell that I had created began to dissolve.
It turns out that I met a succession of these therapists in the exact right time in my life where I was able to hear them.
I was able to be honest about my fears and my wounds and as I listened they began to heal me.

In the beginning I guess they couldn’t help me because I was so engrossed in putting on a good front. I was so focused on pretending to be strong that I never let my fear seep through the words of strength that I wove together.
I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone let alone a stranger!
I ended up learning that sometimes a stranger is a heck of a lot easier to talk with.
Especially a stranger that isn’t really stranger because they come into my house every week and watch me fold laundry (including my underwear that likes to fall out of the basket at the most I inopportune times!)
They watch my children bicker and me burn the dinner.
They watch my 3 year old run out of the bathroom naked from the waist down and listen as she recounts less than savory tales of our household.
Basically they just see us…as us.
They see me…as me.
Eventually it becomes very difficult not to open up to someone who sees you as you are.
It might have started with a simple question.
“So how are you doing with all of this?”
Followed by a quiet stare as I repeated my all too well known response to that question.
“Fine.”
It might might have started with that stare that bore through my soul.
That stare that unequivocally meant
“No really. I know you can’t be fine so how are you?”
I don’t really remember, but I know it started with them.
It started with them showing kindness and empathy and it started with a trust that developed between us.
As I allowed the door of communication to be opened, as I began to finally relate with people who understood me, they began to lead me down a path towards finding my key.
My key to peace.
My key to happiness.

My key to acceptance.

…to be continued.
First part of an upcoming speech on communication between team members.

It’s a beautiful life.

20 Nov

When Oli was born my son Kekoa was only 17 months old. He had not even spent a year and a half in this life. On this earth. He was so incredibly young that I was still getting to know his little personality. I was trying to figure out what kind of person, what kind of man, he would grow into.

What kind of grooves would this little boy fall into after having a sister born with significant disabilities?
Would he stay locked into hers? Would he be able to find his way out? Would he be able to tread his own path, defining his own grooves? Would he be able to define himself and to find his own identity or would he continually be forced to follow along behind her?

Would I force him to follow along behind her?

Would he be mad at ME? Would he resent ME for the events in his life that were about to take place?
Would he resent HER for being born the way that she was?

As I sat on the corner of the tub, bathing my 17 month old little boy, I asked myself all of those questions. I cried over all of the possible answers that lay before me.

I cried for the little boy that I had promised to do everything for. I cried over the fact that I had somehow unintentionally just made his life so much harder. I cried because I was not going to be able to fix this for him. I was not going to be able to make this easy.

When she was born I never even considered the possibility that her birth could be the best thing that would ever happen to my family. I couldn’t even dream of recognizing the positive outcomes because I was so drawn into the pity parties and the negativity. I couldn’t stop feeling sorry for myself long enough to see the beautiful forest from the trees. I was stuck in an outcropping of horribly ugly, brown, leafless, dark, gnarly, trees. I hated those stinking trees.

As life moved on…

As I moved on…

As the world moved on… I began wondering what kind of person this experience would mold my son into. I began realizing that we had a unique opportunity to view our daily life as a constant lesson to learn about humanity. The good and the bad.

I learned and began to teach my son how to respond rather than react to people and situations that might not always be positive. I learned and then taught my son compassion and understanding rather than anger and resentment.

We talked about WHY people sometimes respond the way that they do to Oli. We talked about HOW we could and should respond when people are mean. We talked about how most people just don’t see the world the way that we do. We talked about how people are generally good and that sometimes they just don’t understand and are curious, but might not know how to ask about her condition.

We talked about a lot of things. We still talk about a lot of things.

Kekoa is 8 years old now. We talk like we’ve always talked, but now I try to get him to tell me how he feels about things. I try to get him to tell me how it makes him feel if someone is mean to his sister, but it’s hard.

He’s only 8.

Mostly he just says that it makes him sad. He says that he wished people understood her better. He wishes that people knew that she was just like them, but unable to speak or to see. He says that he wishes that they would consider her feelings when they were mean and not treat her like she doesn’t understand.

I wish that too Kekoa…

So we talk about those feelings and the actions that we can take to make it better.

I never really know how much he understands when I try to help him work through these things. I never know what he does with these talks and these experiences when he walks out of my front door in the morning and heads off to school.

Until now.

The mom of one of the girls in Kekoa’s school emailed me this morning to tell me a story about my sweet boy.

She said that her daughter Rachel, was being picked on by some boys at recess earlier this week. Her daughter told her that Kekoa had stood by her, comforting her, and helped her to reach a teacher who could help. Rachel told her mother later “Kekoa knows how to treat girls because he has sisters.”

Because he has sisters.

Because he has Oli.

Really that’s what it comes down to.

He has learned such compassion, such respect, such infinite wisdom because he has Oli to teach him.

He has a sister who has never looked into his eyes, never spoken his name, never uttered a sentence, but has taught him to be an incredible human being.

She is teaching him how to become a wonderful man.

I can see how beautiful my trees are now.

I can look my son in the eyes and never feel remorse or sadness about the way our life has turned out.

I can look at him and see the amazing gift that Oli has given all of us.

She has made every single one of us into a better person and has allowed us to live a life that I never even would have imagined.

It’s a beautiful life.

THE MOTHER OF ALL MELTDOWNS- Virtual Blog Tour

7 Nov

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I recently had the honor, and I do mean honor, of being selected to participate in The Mother of all Meltdowns virtual blog tour. (Click on the title to purchase the book on Amazon.) Author Crystal Ponti has joined forces with 30 other fantastic, well known bloggers to recount their most memorable mother meltdown moments. If you’re a mom, if you’re a friend of a mom, a dad, if you are the child of a mom…you NEED to read this book. I found myself so totally absorbed within the first few minutes of starting it that I was surprised when my 3 year old daughter suddenly stuck her nose in front of my Tab, looking up at me with concern on her face, and asked why there were tears in my eyes? “Are you crying mommy? Why are you laughing and crying mommy?” She was completely confused. “Just reading a good story Ginger.” “A good story” is a total understatement. It was like these women had wandered, unbeknownst to me, into the confines of my head. Like they had been sitting front and center to the stage that had held some of my meltdowns. They had been where I had been. Of course, my 3 year old wouldn’t understand all of THAT. I couldn’t tell her “Well Ginger, see you kids drive mommy crazy sometimes and sometimes all you can do is sit back and hysterically laugh to the point of tears at the fact that you are not the only one being slowly driven to insanity some days.” “A good story” was the short and sweet answer. Satisfied, she wandered away and I was left alone for 20 more minutes to read a few more chapters. In my opinion, if you can laugh and cry within the first few pages of a book? You have gotten all of your moneys worth and more. There is no such thing as the perfect mom. Some days our houses are messy, our dinners are over cooked, okay… burned…I was trying to be nice there, our clothes are pj’s, and the laundry may be rewashed 3 times before making it into the dryer. Some days…mothers have meltdowns. But no matter what, our children are always loved.

As part of the virtual blog tour some of the authors have complied a list of Q & A’s for their readers.

What color is a meltdown?

“Black…by the time I am in a full blown meltdown mode, I feel the depths of despair. I feel like I just can’t fix it.” ~ Michelle Nahom, A Dish of Daily Life

“Clear. Like the color of vodka.” ~ Danielle Herzog, Martinis and Minivans

“I would say that depends on the nature of the meltdown. If it is an angry meltdown, it would be bright red. If it is a sad meltdown, then deep blue. Sometimes, there is even a meltdown born from panic. That one would be neon green.” ~ Lisa Witherspoon, The Golden Spoons

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘meltdown’?

“Puddles…big puddles of kids (or moms) on the floor. You have to be very careful about stepping around the meltdown or you might get caught up in it. Kinda like quicksand, I guess.” ~ Rabia Lieber, The Liebers

“Someone curled up in the fetal position hiding in a corner. Or so I’ve heard.” ~ Jennifer Barbour, Another Jennifer
“Yelling and crying and ending up in a big heap of someone that you don’t recognize as yourself.” ~ AnnMarie Gubenko, Tidbits from the Queen of Chaos

What was your story about?

“My story was about the holiday havoc that went down in history. My son was sick, but we brought him to my parents’ house to celebrate Christmas anyway. Little did we know that we were about to set off a massive family flu pandemic. I was so stressed out from taking care of everyone that I ended up fainting! (One of my friends actually thought I made my story up…but I swear on the lives of my children, it’s 100% true. Sad…but true.)” ~ Marie Bollman, Make Your Own Damn Dinner

“My story is about how an ordinary day can go off the rails and head towards a meltdown before you realize it. Starting out with locking my keys in the car, and ending with my kids not doing the thing I’ve asked them (nagged them??) to do constantly. Meltdown city!” ~ Angela Keck, Writer Mom’s Blog

“It’s what REALLY happens when you find out your pregnant. From taking four pregnancy tests at once, to then driving directly to the OBGYN’s office holding my pee sticks; it was the meltdown before the baby was even born.” ~ Danielle Herzog, Martinis and Minivans

What did you like best about working on The Mother of All Meltdowns project?

“Hands down, my favorite part was getting to know all of the other collaborators and feeling less alone in my insanity!” ~ Rabia Lieber, The Liebers

“I loved being part of a group of terrific authors, bloggers and mothers! We come from all over the country and have different kinds of blog, yet we all have so much in common with each other, including our meltdowns.” ~ Ginny Marie, Lemon Drop Pie

“I loved putting together my story and realizing that it was just one part of a much bigger project. The most fun part of the project was when I got that first draft and read through all the stories and really got a sense of how it was all coming together.” ~ Karen B., Baking In A Tornado

What advice do you have for other mothers who melt from time-to-time?

“The next time you’re in a long check-out line, look at the person in front of you and know they’ve had a meltdown. Look at the person behind you and know they’ve had a meltdown. Go home and reread The Mother of All Meltdowns. You are not alone.” ~ Karen B., Baking In A Tornado

“Don’t pretend you can handle it all. If you’re stressed, talk about it. Motherhood is the toughest job there is. We can only get through it with the support of others who are going through it too. It’s okay not to be perfect, it’s okay to lose your cool, it’s okay to talk about it. We’re all in this together.” ~ Marie Bollman, Make Your Own Damn Dinner

“Meltdowns happen. I remember my mom (and dad) having meltdowns, and I do the same thing they did after blowing up at their kids. After we calm down, I take my kids in my arms and we cuddle, read a story, say we’re sorry and that we love each other.” ~ Ginny Marie, Lemon Drop Pie

What is your favorite story in the book? Why?

“Oh, there’s no way I could pick a favorite. I’d probably pick a different one depending on my mood throughout the day. That’s the beauty of the book. There are so many perspectives. At least one story will speak to you at any given time!” ~ Jennifer Barbour, Another Jennifer

“Do I really have to pick just one? I truly found myself nodding along with each one. Even if it was an occasion, like a teenager getting her driver’s, that I haven’t experienced yet, I still could understand the emotions. If I had to narrow it down, though, my two favorites were probably “A Dresser Full” by Ginny Marie (because I have TOTALLY been there with my daughter, too) and “The great Powdered Sugar Fight of 2007” by Marcia Kester Doyle (because it is a more joyful meltdown that actually sounded kind of fun!).” ~ Lisa Witherspoon, The Golden Spoons

“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jennifer Barbour of Another Jennifer is one of my favorites because I can relate to trying to stay calm in public but then unleashing the frustration the minute you’re alone. Plus, I love a mom that admits she dropped the f-bomb since I’ve uttered that very word in a meltdown or two.” ~ AnnMarie Gubenko, Tidbits from the Queen of Chaos

Why should people buy the book?

“It’s freeing in a way. It makes you realize you aren’t alone. When you lose it, you feel like you’re the only one. But the reality is, we all have our moments. When we have a meltdown, it’s not just one thing that sets it off…it’s usually a series of events.” ~ Michelle Nahom, A Dish of Daily Life

“These stories could be shared by your best girlfriends sitting around a coffee shop and that’s exactly how it reads. It feels like you are sharing your worst moments with a group of women who totally get it. We could all use a little community in our lives and the feeling that we’re not on our own.” ~ Melissa Galileo, Completely Eclipsed

“To read talented writing! And just as importantly, I think if you are a parent, or you’re going to be a parent, or you had a parent, (so that makes everyone) you will be able to relate to these stories. Each one is unique and there are obviously many incidents that set us off into the land of meltdowns. It’s nice to get perspective because the 30 writers of our book tell very different stories, and each one is powerful in its own right.” ~ Tamara Bowman, Tamara (Like) Camera Blog

If you could associate any one song with the word meltdown, what would it be and why?

“I would choose “I’m Sexy And I Know It” – I have to keep telling myself that when I have a Goldfish stuck on my ass and spit up in my hair.” ~ Danielle Herzog, Martinis and Minivans

“I never thought about a song for meltdowns, first one that comes to mind is Hysteria by Def Leppard because a meltdown is definitely becoming hysterical! (And you’re welcome because I’m sure the song is now stuck in your head…)” ~ Angela Keck, Writer Mom’s Blog

“I can’t help thinking about “End of the World” by R.E.M. Just when he starts going off and singing all of those lyrics very fast and even if you Google the lyrics, you can’t quite repeat what he’s saying? That’s totally it for me.” ~ Tamara Bowman, Tamara (Like) Camera Blog

What made you want to contribute to The Mother of All Meltdowns?

“I think in some ways, it allowed me to look back on that time with fresh eyes and see what I learned from it. I think getting away from the stress would have been helpful for me. It’s not as if I didn’t have the support. My in laws live next door, and they were a tremendous help. But I was in a tunnel…my stress level was over the top at that point. Going through this also gave me a new respect for how precious life really is.” ~ Michelle Nahom, A Dish of Daily Life

“Honestly, I was a little intimidated at first because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share my worst moment! What would people think? Then, I realized that I would love to read other mothers’ real stories of the challenges of motherhood and how it overwhelmed them sometimes. The great part is that we also share how we overcame the meltdowns. Being a part of such a talented group of writers was also a no brainer!” ~ Jennifer Barbour, Another Jennifer

“Several things made me want to contribute. For one thing, when I saw the list of others who would be contributing, I knew I was in excellent company and felt honored to be included on the project with them. I also liked the idea of the project – sharing our worst moments; laughing at ourselves a little, and, hopefully, offering some comfort to other mothers. Finally, I won’t lie – the knowledge that something I wrote was actually going to be published for the whole world to read was incredibly exciting (and it still is!).” ~ Lisa Witherspoon, The Golden Spoon

What’s next for you?

“I’ve been working on a couple of articles for Queen Latifah’s website, and one has been published already. Another story of mine will be in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game, coming out in December. And of course, I’ll be writing on my blog, LemonDropPie.com. If Crystal has a follow-up project for The Mother of All Meltdowns, I’m in! It has been such a pleasure to be a part of this book.” ~ Ginny Marie, Lemon Drop Pie

“I’m writing a memoir about the letters my grandmother and I wrote to each other for over a decade. It’s the story of my life weaved through our correspondence. It’s her words of advice and wisdom she shared with me during my clueless thirty-something years of life.” ~ Danielle Herzog, Martinis and Minivans

“I’ll just keep muddling my way through motherhood and blogging about all my misadventures at Make Your Own Damn Dinner.” ~ Marie Bollman, Make Your Own Damn Dinner

I know I’m okay as long as I don’t make pancakes for dinner.

21 Oct

“Close the door Michael. I can still hear them.”

Michael obediently pauses Zelda and walks over to the lightweight door, closing it on the sounds of my parent’s argument.

“Now turn up the sound on the TV and just ignore them.”

Michael again complies without protest, spinning the volume control on the old 32” TV. He picks up the remote control of the Nintendo and scrunches up his little face in concentration.

He is probably about 7 years old.

I am probably about 10.

This is not the first time we have performed this ritual.

It will not be the last time either.

About an hour later my mother knocks softly on our bedroom door.

I get up, reluctantly pausing Link mid stride across his never ending quest through the green maze, and open the door.

Michael looks at me worriedly.

I look up and into my mother’s red rimmed, glassy eyes.

I see the tears still pooling in the corners of them just about ready to spill over. Just about, but not quite.

My mother will rein them in, sparing me from having to wipe them from her cheeks.

My mom will pretend to be strong for me.

Even though I know she’s not.

Even though I know that she has once again been defeated.

“Are you okay?” I ask although I already know what her response will be.

“Yes. I’m fine.” She answers in a voice that is too high, too cheery, to be anything but fake.

It is only now that I notice that she is carrying two plates in her hands. She lifts them up towards my face.

“I’ve made pancakes for dinner!” She says this like someone would announce that they are going to Disneyland.

She says it like she’s just given me exceptional news.

I’VE MADE PANCAKES FOR DINNER!!

“Thanks mom.” I respond quietly. I try to pretend that this is good news. Pancakes. I love pancakes and so does my brother Michael.

I know what those pancakes mean though.

My eyes cast around her to the doorway and towards the silence that sits awkwardly beyond it.

My mother is confused at first by my sad expression. Then she meets my gaze with eyes pooling with tears once again.

She knows that I know.

She knows that even though I am only 10 years old, I now understand that pancakes for dinner is never a good thing.

Pancakes for dinner means that my mother is not okay.

I’ve kept that memory since childhood. I still associate pancakes and dinner as a very bad thing. I’ve had my own children now. Three of them. And guess what?

I’ve made them pancakes for dinner a few times.

Very few times, but I have and I cringe at that memory too.

I told the young child me that I would never do it.

I would never turn those light, fluffy, syrupy plates of deliciousness into a dripping plate of sorrow…but I have.

I have fought against instinct and upbringing and tried to swim against the tide that tries to push me in the direction of my mother’s life.

To no avail.

Points in my life have begun to mirror my mother’s despite my every attempt to fight it.

Of course it doesn’t all look the same. But a lot of it does.

More than I’d probably like to admit.

And so when my life falls apart and the tears stream down my face and my sobs threaten to choke me… I do what feels right. What feels comfortable.

I make pancakes for dinner.

That’s how I’ve come to measure my sadness and my coping skills.

Am I making pancakes for dinner?

If I am?

It’s bad.

Special needs parenting or nauseating roller coaster ride?

11 Oct

I wanted to write something for the people who may have babies and are just beginning to fall, head first, into this world of special needs parenting.

If you are like me, you are most definitely feeling the bounds of gravity as you plunge down screaming towards an end, a ground that seems impossibly far away. You’re racing towards a bottom that you cannot see, you cannot feel, and you believe you may never reach the end.

Let me assure you that you will.

Oh yes.

That end, that bottom, that ground is there.

BAM!! CRASH!! BANG!!

stock-vector-bang-crash-54901102

Or maybe you’ll land a bit more softly.

Soft_Landing_by_Domo__Kun

Or maybe you’ll even receive a warning prior to landing.

SoftLanding-300x203
(Where was this sign when I was approaching?)

There will be a moment, a second, an hour, a day, a week, a month… I cannot say how it will happen for you…where everything will begin to smooth out. It will begin to even out. You will start to once again feel comfortable in your own skin again.

Or you will smack your face on a rock buried in the mud at the bottom.

This was me.

For me it happened in an instant.

A head jarring, face slamming, body crunching SMACK onto the bottom.

I cruised along downward in misery, in self-pity, in blame, regret, remorse, grief, sorrow…for years before a light bulb went off in my head like a giant flashing beacon begging me to notice it. It had been there all along. Drawing me down. Steadily building momentum and pummeling towards the forefront of my brain waiting for the right moment to come out and slam me into that pit.

Hello?!! Here is your awakening! Here is the answer that you’ve been waiting for!

THIS, MY FRIEND, IS THE END.

STOP FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF! STOP FEELING SORRY FOR HER!
SHE IS WHO SHE IS.
NO MORE.
NO LESS.
JUST BELIEVE IN HER.

And that was it. That was all I needed to “get over” the sadness. I was able to move on at that point.

All of the self hatred, self pity, sadness…it all just went away.

It seems pretty simple.

Looking back at it, it seems like someone along the way should have just told me that. They should have been able to say “just get over it”. “Just accept her.”

In truth… they did.
Lots of people did.

But hearing the words with my ears and believing them in my heart are two totally different concepts. I heard lots of people telling me how to go about moving on from this thing that had happened to me.

I heard lots of people tell me how they had dealt with something similar. How they had moved on from it.
I listened and listened. I prayed. I pleaded. I just did not feel it.

Until I did.

Until I understood with all of my heart that this was really not something that had happened to ME.
Until I threw away all of my expectations and just expected her to be the very best that she could be.

Which may not make sense to you at all, but it makes perfect sense to me.

How can I not have expectations for my child?

This is how.

I expect nothing at all of her and I also expect everything.
I expect that she will do everything, nothing at all like anybody else in the world.
I expect that she will do nothing but everything that she can do.
I expect that she will do and be who she is and I love her for that.

It’s just a different perspective. A different way of viewing life and the world in general.

Before she was born I had all of these dreams, all of these visions, of how we would be, how we would exist in the world as mother and daughter.

After she was born I mourned the loss of THOSE dreams.

I didn’t realize that I could come up with NEW dreams.

I didn’t know that I was able to re-create this new life however I wanted to.

I didn’t know what a blessing and a gift Oli truly was to me.

Once I began to realize all of these things my whole life began to change.

I wouldn’t want it any other way now.

So.

If you’re just beginning this terribly bumpy, painful, twisting, and nauseating roller coaster ride of special needs parenting I want you to know, it gets better.

I promise you. It gets better.

You may have to be patient. You may have to hang on, white knuckling your life for a little while before it does. But it gets easier.

People used to tell me “time heals all” and I thought they were full of B.S.
I never thought that it would get easier for me.

You know what?

I was wrong.

It did get better and it continues to get better all the time.

I just have to leave those expectations and pre-conceived notions of how I THINK it should be, at the door.
I just have to live my life loving my Oli however she is.

Or…

Maybe it will be totally and completely different for you.
Maybe you’ll be given a diagnosis and be fine with it from the start.
I’m not trying to speak for the whole world here. I’m just trying to give someone else hope that if they’re feeling like I felt in the beginning, it will get better.
Besides…what do I know?
Some days I’m still trying to figure this whole thing out.

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Logan is challenged but not limited, and he is living his life like a boss. I am just lucky enough to be along for the ride.

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