Tag Archives: moms

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

Eme’s Army: Fight for Sight

30 Sep

Oli was recently given an amazing opportunity to work with another special needs child on a campaign by a company called Paper Clouds Apparel.

Paper Clouds sells t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, hoodies, and totes featuring the artwork of special needs children. Oli has her handprint heart on two different t-shirts and a tote that is now available for purchase. She is featured alongside another child named Logan and together they have some incredible things to choose from.

Paper Clouds Apparel employs special needs adults AND they donate 50% of the proceeds to a charity that we choose. We chose http://www.emesarmy.org. Emerie is a little girl who needs our help to get her eye sight back. Please visit http://www.papercloudsapparel.com and check it out!!

“The Cause (Sep 30 – Oct 13):

Eme’s Army
Eme is 6 years old and she is being robbed of her sight by CRB1-LCA, a very rare genetic disease. Eme’s Army, made up of supporters and volunteers like you, raise awareness of childhood blindness and fight for those like Eme. CRB1-LCA has no treatment. A gene therapy clinical trial is being conducted for RPE65-LCA right now that is working and is giving blind kids like Eme their sight back. By replacing the mutated/broken gene with a good copy of the gene, blind kids can see again. It is a fight against time. If too many of their retinal cells die, the cure in clinical trials will not work. So please join Eme’s Army and help them FIGHT for SIGHT! All money raised by Eme’s Army funds research through the Curing Retinal Blindness Foundation (CRBF). An all volunteer organization, CRBF was co-founded by Emerie & her family to stop CRB1-LCA.” -Quote from http://www.papercloudsapparel.com

I can’t even begin to describe what this means for Emerie and her family. Imagine having a child go blind and then find out that there may be a way to treat it…it’s beyond incredible.

I would do ANYTHING if there was a way for Oli to see.

Anything.

I may not be able to help Oli get her vision back, but I can help Emerie in a small way.

What an opportunity. What a privilege it is.

It’s a privilege not only to work with Eme’s Army, but also to work with a company like Paper Clouds Apparel.

What they are doing for the special needs community is remarkable. They are making a difference in the world. They are making it better and more accepting and more “normal” for kiddos like Oli.

That’s something that I am extremely proud to be a part of.

If you can, please visit their website or their facebook page.

Share this campaign with your friends. Let them know that they can help too! I never ask you guys to share anything, but this is important. The more money we raise the better chance Eme has of seeing her family again.
You don’t have to share it from here. Share it from Paper Clouds Apparel. It doesn’t matter how, just tell people about it.

Thank you!

Here are a few of the shirts to choose from:

emes5

emes6 (1)

emes7

emes8

emes10

emes9

Autism is just one color on the rainbow

27 Sep

I am doing an autism walk with and for Oli tomorrow. Because of that, I have been thinking a lot about what autism looks like and what it means in my family.

Oli was diagnosed with autism 3 years ago.

She was diagnosed by a team of specialists who specifically look at the differences between autism and blindness because they can appear on the outside to have shockingly similar behaviors.

Flapping in a typically developing sighted child is not part of normal (and I use that word loosely of course) development.

Flapping in a typically developing NON sighted child IS part of development.

A child speaking with echolalic patterns is not normal in a typically developing, sighted child.

Echolalia can be normal for a blind child.

Speaking, followed by a sudden lapse into being completely non verbal over a period of a few months, that is not caused by anything neurological…is NOT NORMAL in any child blind or sighted.

Yet this is exactly what my child did.

This is what led me to seek further answers by a team of specialists in Philadelphia.

This, along with other things, is what led to Oli’s diagnosis of autism.

So…there I was…3 years ago…raising a child with no vision, no language, and no way of communicating with me…

I was devastated.

This is the thing that kept running through my head,

“She can’t see. She can’t speak.”

Can you imagine, as a mother, what that feels like?

I had to face the reality that #1 Oli was never going to meet my gaze. She was never going to look into my eyes or look at me at all. I was never going to be able to look into her eyes and see an unspoken emotion that might lie hidden there. I was never going to be able to discern ANYTHING from her eyes.

And #2 Oli may never speak. I might never hear “I love you” roll off of her tongue.

(Granted, I might never hear the words “I hate you” either, spoken from the angst filled heart of a teenager, but that’s a different blog topic.)

Trying to explain this sadness to my family and friends was and still is difficult for me.

Most of them, when I do try and talk about it, respond with “Yeah but what if’s…” or “Yeah but it could be worse…”

They are right.

But it doesn’t make me feel any better.

I would rather hear “That must be hard” or “I’m sorry” or nothing at all.

I have found that the majority of the times that I do speak about the sadness, I do it NOT looking for answers to this problem. I am not looking for a solution to fix my heart. I am looking for an ear just to listen. I am only looking to get it off of my chest and express my sadness in words rather than bottle it all up inside and never speak about it. Which is what I did when she was born. I would rather tell you about it and leave it out there on the floor for those 5 minutes than carry it around with me for the next few days or weeks.

I know that Oli’s blindness is never going to be fixed or cured and it will never even improve. It just won’t. That’s life. That’s reality.

It took me longer to accept the fact that her autism will never be fixed or cured and it may never improve either.

But the truth is that it does not matter what label she has or what diagnosis she is given.

It doesn’t matter if those horrible evaluation histories label her as “Globally developmentally delayed” or “Autistic”.

It doesn’t matter because she still receives every possible service that would be available to her through either diagnosis.

And it doesn’t matter to me because that label says nothing about who she IS as a person. It may make her act a bit different on the outside. It may make language more difficult, but it will never define who she is as a person.

Just like the blindness will not define her.

It just won’t.

It took me a long time to figure that out too.

So today autism means less to me than it probably does to other people.

Autism for Oli is just one more color on the vibrant rainbow that makes her who she is on the outside.

But it can’t even come close to touching the spectacular kaleidoscope that she is on the inside.

She finally called me mom.

23 Jul

Yesterday was the first day that Oli ever called me mom.
Today when she said it again someone else was here to validate for me that she actually said it. My husband heard her.

She is 6.

She called me mom.

Not mom-mom or ma-ma-ma. Not ommm or mmmmm or ahhhh or any of the other things that she has called me in the past.

Just mom.

I knew she could. I hoped she would.

I just didn’t know when?

As we were sitting on the chair this morning after breakfast she quieted her head shaking, tipped her head towards mine and said “Mom”. Then she smiled and leaned forward to give me a hug and pat me on the back. She hugged me tightly like “I know mommy. I know you’ve been waiting to hear that from me for a very long time. There you go. I said it.”

I was so shocked that I don’t even think I registered the fact that it was SUCH a big deal until after she left for school. Until after I came back upstairs and sat down with my coffee.

And then it hit me.

I finally heard the word that I have been waiting to hear since she was born. The word that I have dreamt of all of my children saying since the moment that I knew that I wanted to become a mother.

After 6 long years…I finally heard it from Oli.

If she has taught me anything it’s patience. If she has shown me anything it’s that we have to celebrate the tiniest accomplishments because for a child like her, the smallest things become the most memorable.

I remember each of her little moments like it happened yesterday. The pictures of those things are etched in my brain like a tiny portrait of the perfect day. I remember where we were sitting, what we were saying, who was in the room, and the big smile on her face once she realizes what she has done.

I’ll give you an example…

The second time she put two words together (the first time was at 2 years old before she stopped speaking) happened a few months ago. Kekoa, Ginger and I were playing a Lego board game. Kekoa was working on building a car out of red Legos with grey doors and black rubber wheels. Ginger was sitting to my left pulling out all of the tiny grey pieces, trying to annoy her brother. Oli was sitting with my mom eating applesauce. My mom asked her if she was all done eating. Oli tipped her head to the side and quietly said with the confidence of a super star “All done.”

Cue the big smile that graced her perfect lips and the huge yells of celebration and congratulations from the rest of us.

The itty bitty moments, in a regular house, on a regular day, mark the events of my lifetime.

THESE are the moments that I will remember when I grow older and reflect on the good times in my life.

I won’t remember when I bought my first car, when I moved into my first house, or what I wore on my first date.

I WILL remember when my Oli girl said mom for the first time.

I will remember when all of my kids did, but she works so much harder for these milestones. Months and months turn into years and years of therapy to achieve the things that other children seem to do so without effort.

And yet…that is almost exactly what she did today.

Somehow, working on it for all of these years instantly turned into a distant memory.

She said it so clearly, smoothly, and confidently that it just rolled off of her tongue like it had always been there.

Like she had been saying it all along.

I have many people joke with me and say things like “Just wait! Wait until she starts talking all of the time and then you’ll wish for the days that she didn’t.”

I laugh and say “Yeah” like I have some comprehension of what they’re talking about.

I don’t.

I can’t imagine a day that I wouldn’t want her to speak. She could speak to me all day, every day for the rest of her life and I honestly don’t think that I would ever get tired of hearing her sweet voice.

Can you imagine the day that she could have a conversation with me? Can you imagine a time when she could tell me what she wanted for dinner?

I can.

It gives me butterflies.

Nope.

I will never ever wish for these days when she can’t.

But, I know that she will be able to someday because she surprises me all of the time with her accomplishments.

It may have taken her 6 years to call me mom, but she said it!

She said it.

That’s all that matters.

And then there were two…

18 Jul

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the ICAN conference in Chicago, IL. ICAN stands for the International Children’s Anophthalmia/Microphthalmia Network. Every two years, children and families from all over the world, travel to learn about and meet other people with anophthalmia and microphthalmia.

It’s always great to learn about the new technology available for blind people. It’s always fantastic to learn about new advancements in the treatment of these conditions.

But nothing beats what it feels like to look at another child or another family that knows exactly what your life is like.

No one knows what it’s like to raise a blind baby, to deal with the trials and tribulations of conformer therapy, to deal with other people who stare at your child…

Than other parents with a child just like yours.

No one knows about the breakdowns in the car because someone said something hurtful about your beautiful daughter…

Except another family who has walked in your shoes.

No one knows what it’s like to hide your newborn baby underneath a pile of blankets in her car seat because you just can’t stand to have one more person comment on how your very wiggly, giggly, very AWAKE baby, is sleeping because she can’t open her eyes…

Than the other mom who has had it happen to her.

The families that I met this weekend? Know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

It’s so refreshing to talk about all of these things and to look into another mom’s eyes and see that flash of recognition. That spark of “Yes! Yes! That’s happened to me! That’s how I feel!” I don’t have to explain everything. Half the time, I didn’t even have to finish my story. I would get half way through and then see her head start to bob up and down and a knowing smile, play on her lips. Ahhhh…yes. You get it.

There was still some explaining to be done though. There were still a lot of walking, talking, interactive blind children running around the halls that weekend.

There were many many children who were NOT like my Oli.

To be honest…it makes me feel a little bit weird and strange to be around them. I feel kind of awkward. I don’t know what to say to a talking blind kid. Give me a non-verbal, blind kiddo with multiple disabilities and I feel right at home. Otherwise, I’m out in deep water. Do I offer my hand to them? How do I introduce myself? What do I say?

I’m just not used to it. I don’t know that life. I only know my own.

It was still pretty cool though. I was sitting at dinner and was watching a new friend talk to her son at the table. She was telling him where his knife and fork were. That there was a little lip on the edge of the plate. And then she took his hand and guided it over the plate to show him. I could only stare and smile and think to myself, “Yes. I must be doing it right. I do all of those things with Oli even though she can’t tell me if that’s correct or not. It must be, otherwise this other little boy would tell his mom that it wasn’t.” I need to see those kinds of things. I need to know that I’m doing it right with Oli.

There was one little girl that I just can’t get out of my head. A 14 year old girl from Italy. She was just like my Oli. After seeing her, I don’t think I’ll doubt Oli’s autism diagnosis again.

Little Eliza from Italy was JUST like Oli and she also has the diagnosis of autism. She too, is totally blind and non verbal.

Her and her parents sat next to us at dinner on Saturday. I had spoken to her parents a little during the day. The geneticist wanted me to talk to them about some different forms of communication techniques and tactile symbols, to use with her.

I knew that when they described her, I had that look on my face. I know that as I listened to her mother speak about her, I had that spark in my eyes. “Yes. Yes! I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

Meeting Eliza, was a whole different experience. I have never met another child that was like Oli. I mean like her in EVERY SINGLE WAY!

I couldn’t take my eyes off of her during dinner. Her mannerisms, behaviors, the way she moved her hands, the way she ate her food, the way she relied on her mom…it was ALL like Oli.

It may have been a little strange for her parents. More than once they caught me with my mouth hanging open, looking like an a-hole, staring, smiling, and nodding in their daughter’s direction. More than once I had to excuse myself and say, “Oh my gosh!! She’s just so much like my daughter!! I’ve never seen that before! I’m sorry for staring.”

More than once I felt like bursting into tears because I was just so happy that I had found another mom who knew what it was like.

There are, of course, other children born blind and who have the autism diagnosis. I’ve met some of them.

They were not like Oli.

I later asked the genetic counselor at the convention what made Eliza and Oli so similar. They have the same eye condition, but different gene deletions. Oli is missing the OTX2 gene, while Eliza is missing the SOX2 gene.

She couldn’t really give me a definite answer, other than to say that there had to be some genetic correlation that caused the blindness and the autism. Somewhere in those genes lies the answer, or rather, the missing answer to the puzzle. Something about those missing genes that caused their eyes not to develop and then whatever caused the autism, is the same in Oli and Eliza.

It was fascinating.

The next day when it was time to leave, I said good bye to Eliza at breakfast. She took my hand in hers and ran her fingers over and over my palm. She found my ring and was twisting it around. She smiled and smiled… Her mom said, “Wow! She really likes you!” I told her “I know. It’s because I just totally understand her. It’s because we have this bond that ties us together. It’s because of Oli.”

And that is the story of the day that I finally met another child like Oli.

When the sun goes down and the rainbows disappear.

18 Jun

It’s almost time for Oli to start summer school. She goes for 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, for 5 weeks. She has gone to summer school every year since she began going to school at 3 years of age. ESY (extended school year) is for special needs kids who have shown regression over the Christmas break. If you regress, you go to summer school.

It’s a win, lose situation for us. It’s great that she gets to go because summer break is so long, I don’t want her losing any of her skills, and she really likes school. It gives her more of a structured day and a schedule, which she does well with. It’s bad because it means that she isn’t doing as well as some of the other kids. I guess it makes me a little sad because she NEEDS it. Although, her teachers have told me every year (the 3rd year now) that they are qualifying her based on the emergence of critical skills. Walking and talking. I’m not sure if these really were emerging at the time of her evaluation though.
When they qualified her for ESY this year she wasn’t talking again yet. She didn’t start that until a few weeks before school got out. They agreed on ESY sometime after Christmas. Her walking skills have improved over the last 3 years since she took her first steps. I wouldn’t classify this as emerging however. She’s stronger now, but her walking isn’t that much different than when she was 4 or 5. I think it’s mostly a balance problem. I’m hoping that one day her balance will get better. It has, little by little, year by year, but it’s a slow process.

All that being said…she gets to participate in summer school. With all the other kids who NEED to be there. Who cannot afford to have a regular summer vacation like all of the other kids. This is the part that is hard to swallow. She isn’t like the rest of the kids. She never will be. This is both wonderfully special and woefully heartbreaking.

I try to be positive and upbeat. I focus on what she can do, how far she has come, and the progress she’s made. I try to focus on all of her abilities and not her disabilities. But I would be a terrible, fake, fraud if I told you that I never get sad or mourn her struggles. If I told you that I never get angry at the injustice and unfairness of her multiple disabilities.

Here’s part of the real, honest truth. I get sad. I get sad a lot. Not every day. Not even every couple of days, but it happens. When she’s having an especially hard day and the meltdowns become epic, and the tears become frequent and she refuses to walk and she doesn’t speak a word, and it feels like the day will last forever, I remember exactly how much she is NOT like other children. I am faced with how different she is. I am reminded of what makes me a different kind of mother. I’m not very fond of those days because I REALLY want to be like you. Most days I try to pretend that I am. Most days I treat Oli like she is just like your child. And then we have those days where I just can’t pretend and I can’t ignore the fact that she’s not.

It’s during those days that it becomes hard to chronicle our story and write about our journey through our unique life. I mostly wrote about the positive and people always love reading about the warm fuzzy encounters we have. The pink cloud moments where everyone is smiling and life is full of rainbows and roses. Everyone knows though, this is not always the reality of our situation.

No ones reality looks like that all of the time. So sometimes I’ll write about the hard times, the sad emotions, the tears, and the fear…in the hopes of portraying an accurate account of her life. Of my life. I’ll write it knowing that people will worry about me, they will worry about her, they will question my strength, they will be afraid to offer words of comfort, they will offer too many, they will feel sorry for us, and they will be glad that they don’t have a special needs child. I will write it knowing that some people will not want to hear about this part, they will refuse to read about the struggles because life is easier when you don’t know about the difficulties of it all. Life is easier when you ignore the pain and only celebrate the happiness. I know. I was like that too. Some days…I still am. People may choose not to read this part, but hopefully… they will come back. Hopefully, people will continue to be inspired and hopeful about my daughter even when I describe my hard days. Even when I talk about my pain and disappointment.

Because this is our life. We live life on life’s terms through the good, the bad, the smiles, and the tears.

And I really wouldn’t want it any other way.

Mother Moments

14 Jun

In the darkest of my fears, I sat alone, watching my little girl sleep. She was three days old. I felt like I had aged 50 years in those three short days. My life as I knew it, was over.

Before me slept an enormous responsibility. Before me slept one of the most vulnerable babies I had ever known. Before me slept my fear, my betrayal, my heartache…my love, my new life…my daughter.

From the moment that I found out that she was blind, I began to have “moments”. Moments are hallmark to all new mothers, but mine became drastically different from theirs. I began to have special needs mother moments.

In order for me to describe to you what those are, I have to tell you about my moments when my first chid was born. When he was born I had lots of those mommy moments where my heart filled with fear and anticipation. My brain would race full speed ahead to the future and I would begin to worry about what would happen to my baby boy.

Will he sit up before he’s 6 months old? Will he crawl by 9 months? Will he walk before he turns 1? Will he be potty trained by the time he’s 3? Will he learn his colors, numbers, and letters before kindergarten? Will he learn to read without difficulty? Will he get good grades, make friends, join the soccer team or play basketball? Will he be a responsible driver at 16? Will he take a girl to the prom? Will he graduate high school with honors? Will he go to college out of state?

All of my worries with my son were not questions of “what if he doesn’t___”. They were questions of will he do this now or later? Will he do this or that? I never feared that he wouldn’t walk or talk, be potty trained, learn the alphabet, read, write, drive, play sports, have girlfriends, graduate or go to college. I knew that he would do all of those things.

I simply worried the biggest worry since the invention of motherhood. My uneasiness festered within the age old question that millions of moms before me have tortured themselves with.

“Was I doing it right?”

After the birth of Oliana my moments of “Was I doing this right?” became overwhelmed by the heavier contemplation and an inward reflection of myself. I began to worry “Can I do this at all?”

In the beginning I had no one to lead me down a previously cultivated path, pointing out all of the obstacles. I had no mother who had been there before me who could assure me that I was doing this thing correctly.

When my son was born I simply picked up the phone and called my mother if I had a question. If she didn’t answer I called a friend. Now when I asked my mom questions about what to do with Oli or what the next step should be, she shrugged her shoulders and responded “I just don’t know.” My friends didn’t know either. If I tried to describe how I felt they all got a look in their eyes of total compassion, but complete incomprehension. They just didn’t understand.

I had been thrown into a tumultuous sea with a flimsy life raft that had a slow leak in it.

No one knew what I was supposed to do. No one could tell me how I was supposed to feel.

I began to ask myself some of those same questions that I asked myself with my son, but with a completely different context. Instead of wondering when she would do things, I began to wonder if she would EVER do them.

Will she learn to read, write, or spell her name? Will she ever be able to tie her shoes? Will she learn to walk down the street by herself? Will she one day be able to say the alphabet, be potty trained, or learn to use a fork and spoon by herself?

I didn’t know.

I started to have moments where I just could not stop myself from reliving what my life had been like before and what it was going to be like in the future. I began to daydream and create alternate realities where I would live the best and worst case scenarios.

The best of the best case scenario was one where upon a trip to an eye specialist, he would look into her non-existent eyes and tell me that there had been some kind of terrible mistake. She wasn’t blind at all.

Best case scenario was that she was only blind and cognitively and developmentally appropriate.

Worst case scenario involved a wheel chair, hospital bed, ventilators, and round the clock nurses. Life would creep slowly by with every minute spent worrying about her health for the rest of my life.

I ended up somewhere in the middle.

These “moments” now take on a whole different perspective as she gets older. Most often it happens when I see another little girl that is her age doing something normal. Something completely average and typical. Running through the park, laughing and playing, tying her shoes, eating an ice cream cone, hugging her mother, saying I love you.

These moments creep up on me and slam that heartache fiercely into my chest and steal the breath from my lips.

Those are the things that my little girl should be doing. I close my eyes and superimpose my girl’s face onto the other child’s body and imagine her living her life without blindness or delays. I imagine her running and playing. I see her looking into my eyes and feel her breath against my cheek as she whispers “I love you mommy.”

But when I open my eyes, those dreams disappear and vanish quietly. Thin, transparent, wisps of smoke that drift effortlessly through my fingers.

This was simply not how it was meant to be. She has a disability. She will ALWAYS have a disability. I cherish who she is and what she can do. I celebrate her numerous victories and feel gratitude towards what we have.

Sometimes…I still get sad. I’m human. I’m a mom.

Those are some of my moments today.

What is it like to have a special needs sister? A 7 year old gives his opinion.

13 Jun

I wonder all the time what it is like growing up as the sibling of a special needs child. My 7 year old son, Kekoa, opened up and answered some questions about life with Oli.

What is the very first memory you have of Oli?
-“I think the first thing that I saw about Oli was that she was blind. Well that, she had ummm…she had no eyes and that was kind of creepy at first.”

Do you remember her getting her first pair of real looking eyes?
-“Ummm..I think I remember. I just saw online that she had the clear ones first.”

What do you want people to know about Oli?
-“I want people to know that just because she doesn’t have eyes, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t know what you’re saying. She understands whatever you say. You should talk to her normal.”

How does it make you feel if people stare at her or say mean things to her?
-“It makes me feel sad. It makes me feel like I’M the person being bullied by those people because she’s my sister.”

What would you say to those people?
-“She’s a normal person. She just doesn’t have eyes.”

What does it feel like to have a sister with a disability?
-“I’m just worried about people being mean to her. Sometimes I worry about her falling down and getting really hurt. I worry about her having to go to the hospital.”

Do you remember the first time Oli had a big seizure and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance?
-“Yes. I remember daddy telling me to go upstairs. I remember wondering if she was going to be okay. Or was she not. I was just really worried that she wasn’t going to be okay that time.”

Do your friends ask you questions about Oli?
-“Yes. A bunch of times. They ask me like ‘Can she blink?’ I say yes. ‘Why does she have fake eyes?’ I say that people will accept her more because she looks like everyone else. I don’t think it’s very important to look like everyone else because everybody has differences and God just made us that way. That’s the way He wants us to be.”

Are you excited that she started talking again?
-“Yes. Very excited. I think that since she started talking, she’ll start doing other stuff too.”

What kind of stuff do you want her to be able to do?
-“I want her to be able to walk. To have lots of friends. I want her to be able to like do normal things like everybody. I want her to be able to play with me.”

Is it hard at home to have a special needs sister?
-“Sometimes. Because it’s hard to do stuff and concentrate when she’s crying.”

Is it hard because she has lots of therapy and doctor appointments?
-“Well no. Not really.”

Is it hard because it takes more time away from you, for mommy and daddy to help her?
-“Yes. You guys spend more time with Oli, helping her do things, than Ginger and I do. You guys just know more about her than we do. I like to help her. I like to help her walk. I like to hold her hand.”

If you had one wish for Oli, what would it be?
-“I would wish that she would be able to see. And that’s it. I just wish she could see because it would be easier for her.”

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