Sunday, November 30, 2008

Child Development: What Do You Do?

Now that I've filled up your screen with tales of my efforts to foster my children's development. I'd LOVE to hear your ideas and activities. I'm always looking for new ways to help my kids. What unique activities do you do to help foster your child's physical, mental and intellectual development? Post a comment and share your ideas to benefit kids everywhere (or at least the kids at my house). Thanks, in advance, for your input.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

DS & Development: What I Did To Help

When you walk into our home you might think we're a bit over the top when it comes to our kids. That's a nice way of saying that we're toy clutterers.... which may be true. Yes, our home is a shrine to our children. In part, that means there are lots of toys around. You can pretty much find a dinosaur, matchbox car or ball in every room, every nook and every corner of our home. But, mostly, this is about being 100% dedicated to our children's development. You might say it started with Olivia's birth. But, as a matter of fact, it actually started way before that when I experienced really cool things in my friend's and neighbors' homes as I was growing up. The McMahons had a removable slide on their stairs and parallel bars in their backyard. The Gunther's flooded their backyard every year to double as an ice skating rink for the whole neighborhood. And, The Goods had a swing in their great room and a gradually-angled ladder, instead of stairs, leading to their balcony (they had the main stairs on the other side of the house). And, PB&J Otters had a turbo slide from their bedroom right into the kitchen breakfast nook. Yes, I take my ideas from everywhere and anywhere. Some we've implemented, some are still projects in waiting and some will never be implemented because I can't convince my husband that they're not too far-out... like the turbo slide from our balcony to our great room. How about a fireman's pole? No?

Enter Brian and Michael, diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth. We were told to expect their development to be be slower than "typical" children. So, we redoubled our efforts to support their development.

Most children take their first steps between 9 and 18 months. The average age for this milestone in children with Down syndrome is somewhere between 2 and 3 years old (24-36 mos). Jill, the boys' Physical Therapist, used a half rubber ball mounted on a heavy plastic platform to simulate a soft surface where, she told us, balancing helps stimulate the muscles used in standing and walking. She suggested we help Brian and Michael by standing them on our king-sized mattress... being very careful that they don't fall off. Definitely doable, but not as easy a task as it sounds. In thinking about the dynamic affects of a dynamic surface, we went out and purchased an 8 foot round trampoline, complete with safety net, and assembled it on our indoor balcony. Instantly, Brian and Michael [and Olivia] had a wonderful and safe play space with a dynamic surface that promoted standing and walking. They could be in there alone, with each other, with me or with the therapist... consistently using those otherwise underutilized standing and walking muscles. Brian and Michael took their first steps at 14 mos. They might have done so without the trampoline... but I believe it helped. We also believe that this "tool" has improved their balance overall and hastened their ability to jump and run as well.

On another occasion, Corinne, the boys' Occupational Therapist, noticed a characteristic of the boys' grasp that generally translated to a weakness in the upper body/shoulder region. I hearkened back to my gym days and recalled the machines and movements that targeted the muscle groups in my shoulders, upper back, neck and arms. Then, I thought about play situations where a child might use those muscles. With my husband's permission, I purchased some hardware from "Ace, The Hardware Place" and installed heavy-duty hooks into the main "microlam" beam in our great room/kitchen ceiling. (Note: I chose our main micro laminated beam because it is 2" x 12", has extra support and is stronger than a standard wooden beam.) I brought the trapeze bar/rings combination toy in from the kid's outdoor swing set and hung it from the hooks. The boys pass these rings hundreds of times a day, being right smack in the middle of our living space. And, every time they pass, they grab on, pull themselves up, swing back and forth, spin and perform other gravity-defying acrobatic moves. Within 2 weeks, the weakness our OT had seen was gone. She was so amazed at the boys' significantly increased hand and arm strength that she recommended this highly effective indoor apparatus to the parents of other children she worked with. She was surprised when not even one other family chose to implement the idea. Later, when my sister suggested we move the rings to the basement ceiling so that we could rearrange the furniture in our great room to be more aesthetically pleasing, we declined... Knowing that part of the effectiveness of the rings/trapeze is it's accessibility and consistent use.

Recently, the boys' preschool OT said writing on a vertical surface, such as an easel, is good for handwriting development. Well, we've already addressed this by integrating vertical writing surfaces into the design of our home. Our hallway/entryway has 3 large, framed squares that resemble wainscoting, painted in deep green chalkboard paint over a heavy coat of magnetic paint. In a nearby bottom drawer (accessible to the children) are large- and small-grip, round- and pencil-shaped colored chalks as well as various buckets of magnetic shapes, letters, jungle animals and dinosaurs, all for use with the chalk/magnetic boards. And, as an added bonus, to promote their healthy self esteem, 3 framed bulletin boards top the chalk/magnetic boards where we proudly display each child's most recent artwork. With much fanfare, I change out this breathtaking and public display of their creativity on a regular basis to help them take ownership and feel proud.

To further strengthen their core and abdominal muscles, we can change out the rings/trapeze bar with a disc swing. Holding on tightly to the center rope strengthens their bodies' core muscles and the vertical positioning of their grip on the rope (vs. the horizontal position used for the rings and trapeze bar) is a good OT exercise, working different muscles in their hands and arms that are useful for writing. And, keeping their legs tightly wrapped around the disc so they don't slide off presents more opportunities for building stronger hips and leg muscles.

Additionally, we have 2 different, interchangeable swings that hang from the exposed rafters in the children's bedrooms -- the standard child's bucket swing and an oval-shaped hammock swing we received as a wedding gift. Either swing can help address any feet-off-the-ground/swinging sensory issues my kids might develop (they don't have any now) and the latter is more than big enough and great for rocking a restless child (or parent) to sleep. We have a slide on each floor of the house and encourage not only the standard use -- climb up and slide down -- but also walking up the angled slide surface which is a wonderful leg strengthening exercise (picture severely up-hill walking on the treadmill). To assist with one-foot standing, I pull the vacuum cord out of the canister and have the boys stand on the button to retract it. Then make them switch feet. Currently we also have secured a 6' climbing wall to the top of a 4' tall fence in our driveway. The boys climb up and down after school nearly every day on their way from the car to the house. And, instead of carrying them or plain old walking into or out of their school, we do the "up-down walk" where they take one step up on the curb and the other down in the street (obviously, I'm on the outside keeping them safe). Doing so on the way in and out of school, makes them use both legs/hips equally and helps strengthen their weaker sides. All of these things make exercise and therapy more fun... so they love doing it.

Our most amazing effort yet, (still a work-in-progress) is the backyard tree house on a 12' x 16' platform. I designed and my husband is building this incredible structure. 7' off the ground, when completed the house will have 2 split doors, 2 swing-out plexiglas windows and a sitting/sleeping bench (with twin trundle bed beneath) along with a fold-from-the-wall work table. There's a standard-rise stairway (so adults can participate) that's only 24" wide with ever-so-slightly lower-than-average rails so the boys can practice going up and down stairs holding onto either/both side(s). The stairs turn at the top and again halfway down (1-step down to the first landing, turn, 4 steps to the next landing, turn, and 4 steps to the ground) so no one can fall down a flight of stairs. There is a 14' scoop-style wave slide and there will be a 5' x 12' large-gauge climbing net set at the same angle as the slide so no one can "fall" (rather they'll roll) down to the ground. These are each set on a separate railed platform that is a step down from the main platform, again making sure that no one accidentally ends up in this area. And, finally, there's a locked gate that will access a 70' zip cord complete with a handle and sitting ball that will end on a cushioned platform very near our back door. Heaven on earth for our kids... And, they don't even know they're doing PT and OT while they play.

I can go on with other unique implementations and activities but you get the idea. I am driven to think outside the box when it comes to fostering my children's development. My boys are now 3 1/2 years old and are in the borderline-delayed range for their physical and mental development. It's possible they would have developed just as well had we not done all these things... But, I'm certainly not willing to take that chance. Not now nor going forward. I will continue to do everything and anything I can to help foster my children's development. The boys' therapists are thankful that we're such involved and out-of-the-box thinkers when it comes to helping them and our children. And, at the very least, when my children are all grown, I will be able to say I did everything I could to help them become the awesome and capable people I am sure they will be.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Last night, on the way home from a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family, my elderly father reached into his pocket and pulled out a very small, stuffed panda bear. An old Christmas tree ornament based on the shredded loop of string at the top of it's head. In the darkness of the car he handed the bear to me and said, "I found this at home and thought the kids might like it." I immediately gave it to Olivia who, I knew, would care and play appropriately with it. We bid our fond goodbye's to Grandpa and cruised on home with thoughts of our family and the fun we'd had throughout the day. It had certainly been a great day!

When we got home, in the light of our kitchen, Olivia had the opportunity to examine the gift Grandpa had given her. The panda bear, a mere 3" tall, was patchy with yellowed fur. Some of the black had worn away too and his beaded eyes were gone. A beat up old thing... probably left over from my childhood many [many] years ago. Olivia looked at the bear with sadness and kissed it gently. She said, "Mommy, this bear is losing his fur. Maybe we can sew on some new threads to fill it in." I looked at the bear, thinking to myself that most of us would have thrown this beat up old thing in the garbage, and told her I thought the bear's fur was probably too far gone to fix. She took the bear back from me, kissed it again and, teary-eyed, asked where Grandpa had gotten the bear. I quietly told her, "Oh Olivia. This bear has probably been sitting under some old pile of newspapers in Grandpa's basement, rotting for years and years since Mommy was a kid". Big giant tears rolled down her face. Now, you might be thinking, as I was, though only briefly, that Olivia was not happy with the bear because it was old and decrepit. "Mommy" she whispered, "this bear has had no one to play with it all those years? He's been all alone with no kid to love it?" She began to cry in earnest. My eyes filled with tears too and I told her, "Well, now he has you. That's why Grandpa gave him to you. He knew you would take care of him and love him." She half smiled -- one of those sad but brave smiles -- through her tears.

She went to the drawer and pulled out some Sharpie markers and asked me to color in the fur where the black and yellowed fur had worn away. She suggested that the next time we come across two small white pearls we could sew them on for his eyes. Then, she ran to the playroom and came back with a large, stuffed, mechanical panda bear, placed the little bear in the bigger bear's arms and said, "Now he has a Mommy." I suggested that perhaps the bears could have a special place near her bed since the little one had gone so long alone and she brought him and his new Mommy upstairs and placed them at the head of her bed where they spent the night.

This morning, those bears sat at the breakfast table as she ate. My little Angel had been heartsick with the thought that a toy (to her, a tiny baby) had gone any length of time without a friend and without a Mommy. She hadn't cared that the bear was old and beat up at all. She only cared about him! The bear! She only cared about his feelings and his lonliness. I'm sure she'll see to it that this little bear, which she named Saint Patch (short for Patrick and representative of his patchy fur), will never be alone again.

Sometimes the Angel Amongst Us is sitting right beside us unrecognized. Sometimes, all you have to do is listen to their words and appreciate the thought behind their actions.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Today, being Thanksgiving Day, is a day we should be especially mindful of what we're thankful for. Being thankful helps me to focus on all the good things in my life instead of attending to the things that, I think, may not be going so well at this moment. I recently read an apropos quote from Helen Keller, I believe. The gist of her statement was that if we're going to compare our lives to others, we should not compare to those few who seem to have everything but to the masses who have less. In doing so, we will be more satisfied with what we do have and less focused on what we do not have. I have always found that I fall short in side-by-side comparisons. However, when I'm Thinking Thankful and comparing myself to the masses (not the millionaire next door), I feel as though I'm on top of the world. Taking Ms. Keller's advice, here are just a few of the things that I'm thankful for this cold Thanksgiving Day:

[1] I'm thankful for all the young men and women of our armed forces. Because of their selfless career/life choices, they are spending their Thanksgiving in tents halfway around the world, that I may spend mine with my family enjoying the freedoms they work so hard to protect.

[2] I'm thankful to have a home... a [solid] roof over my head and 4 [insulated] walls to keep the wind and cold at bay. Sure, it'd be great if my heat worked... Still, I am beyond thankful to be inside this house with sweaters and blankets to keep me and my family warm rather than be outside where it is infinitely colder, lying in a box on the sidewalk with no protection from the elements or in a shelter with no privacy or personal belongings.

[3] I'm thankful for my husband's job... that it pays him well enough to put food aplenty on our table at every meal, every day of the year. God knows there are others who will eat nothing today. I'm glad to be able to give a few cans of vegetables or a couple of bags of stuffing to help those less fortunate... I wish I could, and hope to, do more for those with less.

[4] I'm thankful for a caring and loving family. I love that I have a good relationship with my parents and all my siblings. We are fortunate to be so close. And, I'm thankful that this closeness extends all the way out to my 3rd and soon to be 4th cousins. Truly, we are so blessed.

[5] I'm thankful for the opportunities that God presents to me each day -- to laugh, to love, to learn, to believe, to live life to the fullest -- no matter what the outcome. And, I'm thankful that He gave me a "calculated risk" personality to enjoy all these things without destroying my faith, myself, my family, or our livelihood.

[6] I'm thankful for today. Just the way it is, just the way I am. I am here... Thank God!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Learn Something New [& Laugh] Every Day!

We've all heard the saying, "Learn something new everyday!" As I understand it, it's meant to be a road to -- or, at least, a method of gaining -- happiness and self-satisfaction. I recently found that learning something new by accident can be a lot more satisfying and occasionally downright hilarious due to the shock factor.

My family loves all kinds of animals and nature, so much so that we joined the Wildlife Nature Conservancy. Through them, we now have memberships to The Central Park Zoo in NYC/Manhattan, The Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, The Bronx Zoo in The Bronx, The Queens Zoo in, you guessed it, Queens, and The NY Aquarium in Coney Island. We frequent these locales whenever we have a couple of hours to kill and always come home with fun, new knowledge. But, it was our trip to Hershey Park's ZooAmerica in Pennsylvania where we all learned a most amazing and amusing fact.

My husband, Olivia, Brian & Michael and I were leisurely strolling thorough the small zoo of native North American wild animals -- a different and interesting arrangement of zoo inhabitants -- one sunny Saturday in early October. As we meandered up the wooded path, flanked on either side by animal pens and habitats, I overheard some native Pennsylvanians airing their displeasure at all the rude people from New York and New Jersey. Though I don't generally admit this in the company of New Yorkers, I do, sometimes, think it... being a New Yorker and frequently finding myself surrounded by such abruptness. Further up the hill, I spied what might have spurred the Pennsylvanians' displeasure. A woman I deemed a typical New Yorker... complete with high-heeled sandals; a bright yellow and white, coordinated ensemble; bejeweled in large golden accessories and screeching in an unnecessarily loud voice, "HEEEERE KITTY KITTY! MEOW! MEOW! HEEEERE KITTY KITTY! MEEOOWW!" Could ONLY be from New York, right? Well, I dare say, I was just as taken aback as the poor mountain lion who paced wildly back-and-forth along the front perimeter of his cage! As we -- the mountain lion and I -- surveyed the situation, I found myself passing judgement (not a good road to happiness, by the way) in my mind. I looked at my husband, about to privately poke fun at this clueless New Yorker who clearly didn't know that the BIG cats ROAR, when that Mountain Lion thought he'd teach me my "learn something new" lesson for the day! He sat down right in front of that gaudy woman and in an abundantly louder voice than hers said, "MEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOWWWW!"

Talk about jaw dropping news! That cat said, "MEOW"! A clearer meow than my own little house cats say on a daily basis. I had NO IDEA that big cats actually say, "MEEEOOWW". I was waiting for that big mountain lion cat to roar the golden hoops right out of that lady's ears. But, what did I hear instead? MEOW! MEEOWWW? Holy mackerel, I almost doubled over in laughter. And, apparently, the security guard standing nearby must have been reading my mind, or at least my facial expressions, because he started laughing too. I explained MY stupidity to him and we both had a good laugh. Then, I ran to get my kids and make sure they heard the BIG CAT say, "MEEEOOWWW" so they would never find themselves as ignorant as their silly, New Yorker Mom. It's been months since that day and every time I think about it, I laugh out loud. I LOVE fun new knowledge! Now, however, I frequently find myself wondering whether a lion roars or says, "MEOW"!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Embracing Our Differences

I belong to a message group of mothers of multiples where one or more has Down syndrome. That's a relatively small group as you can imagine. And, as much as we all have in common, there are distinct differences amongst us and how we handle the details of our lives. In another small support group I belong to, the common thread is that we all have a child with "special needs" attending a particular school. In both groups recently, there's been discussion about medications, nutritional supplements and/or special diets, and various other treatments for our children's afflictions. Please note, not all of the children I'm referring to have Down syndrome. That's not really the point I'm trying to make here...

I don't intend to discuss any of these methods, nor to support or detract from any of these methods, nor to condone "treatment" versus "non-treatment" for our children's afflictions. MY POINT IS that we are all different. Each of us has the freedom to choose. And each has the choice to do or not do what they believe is right for their child.

In both groups, the discussions were absolutely intelligent, well-thought out and considerate and accepting of alternative points of view. My hats off to all of these parents, from all over the country, from all walks of life, having an educational and civil discussion of such intimate matters. You are all a shining example of how and why our children will be accepted into this society if not now, then, I tend to believe, sooner than later! Our ability to see, understand and accept the differences between our own opinions will surely help others understand and accept the differences in our children. As much as we are all different... we are more the same!

Thank you all for being so accepting. It bodes well for our children.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thankful Thursdays

Here I am again, specifically thinking about what I'm thankful for on Thankful Thursday... and feeling good about all my choices. That IS what this is all about isn't it? Feeling good! So, contemplating the good things in my life really does keep me Walking on the Happy Side.

[1] I'm thankful for the brain God gave me and for the 20-year career I've had in database/direct marketing. My ability to learn and the knowledge I already have makes me feel good about myself. And, some things are better at reminding me that I'm an intelligent being... like the internet marketing seminar I attended yesterday. And, I bet I'll feel even more thankful when I put the information I learned yesterday into action ; )

[2] I'm thankful for the heat in my home. Nothing reminds me more of this than waking up before the morning heat has kicked in, suddenly realizing how very cold it would be in my home if I didn't have heat. So, thank God for the boiler, for the earth's natural gas and for my husband's job so we can pay for that gas.

[3] I'm always thankful for my children... but I'd like to shout that out again... THANK GOD FOR MY BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN! We spoke as a family in one of the local college classes this week (as we do every semester at 4 local colleges) advocating individuality and acceptance on behalf of people with Down syndrome and other special needs. And, once again, my children were absolute angels and outstanding ambassadors for all people with Down syndrome. I'm sure that the 30+ students who met Brian, Michael and Olivia will never forget them or the experience.

[4] I'm thankful to be able to lay down at night on a soft bed, in a warm room and sleep. God knows not everyone in this world, country or town has that luxury... Our military forces abroad, people living in poverty all over the world, new mothers tending to sleepless babies and so many more. I want to acknowledge how much I appreciate it and hope that those who are less fortunate are afforded this comfort soon.

[5] I'm thankful to be able to write this blog and have people who care enough about me or what I have to say to read it. It is an outlet for me and one I'm very lucky to have. It's my physical reminder to Take a Walk on The Happy Side!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Avoiding or Accepting Unhappy Situations

Happy thoughts and activities do help to keep me happy. Likewise, avoiding unhappy thoughts and activities, are a pretty effective way to boost my happiness quotient too.

These days I log 60+ miles a day driving Olivia and the boys to and from school. For me, that's a lot more miles than the 10,000/year I've been used to for the last 7 years. Now, don't get me wrong, I actually love to drive. Heck, my husband and I made 6 round trips between KCMO and NY in 2 1/2 years when we lived there. For me, driving usually means good music, think-time, pretty scenery, and, if I'm not alone, good conversation. When the boys are in the car for the 30-45 minute commute, I have a captive audience to practice their talking, pronoun concepts and answering W-questions. (If you have a 3-year-old with special needs, you can probably appreciate that.) However, one thing I've noticed encroaching on my happiness is the pressure to arrive at school at a particular time. Don't get me wrong, I totally believe in getting my kids to school on time.... but it's that deadline that creates the need to rush. And, it's the need to rush and the actual rushing that makes me a pretty unhappy camper... or commuter.

Getting 3 slow-moving, need-help kind of kids to wake up and get ready for school each morning is no small task. I generally wake up a bit early, shower, dress, pick their clothes out and start the lunch/snack process so I can be more focused on them when they awaken. Sometimes this back fires when they wake up early with me and demand my attention... OR, when they wake up late because I'm not there. Either way, everyday, the last 10 minutes is a wild push -- complete with running, yelling, and, unfortunately, sometimes tears -- toward the exit door as if the house is on fire.... and I'm always going back multiple times for some forgotten but necessary item... like my eyeglasses, the boys' juice cups or the car keys.

To add pressure, on Long Island, the commute is king! If we leave our home at 7:59 am, we'll probably make it to school on time -- assuming no accidents or road construction -- because everyone else leaves at 8:00 am. But, if I leave at 8:05 am I'm positively screwed (excuse my language), backed up in traffic and stuck at multiple traffic light cycles the whole way. That 6 minute difference in departure causes a 20+ minute delay in arrival. There's no getting around it. Every alternate route is just as backed up as our favorite route -- I've tried everything -- and I just have to sit patiently behind the wheel and wait... like everyone else. But, God help the guy in front of me who lets the garbage truck get in front of him to further delay ME! Or, curse the crew of landscapers blocking the right lane of traffic to pick up leaves for the Jones' or Smiths. Where do they get off doing this at rush hour? RUSH HOUR! My nephews have dubbed their mother's similar reaction -- she's doing a similar commute -- as "Marshall Law". (Marshall being our maiden names.) That is, I am so much more excitable and reactionary and outright verbal when I'm rushing like a mad-woman and missing my deadline anyway! Don't worry, I fall short of road rage but I sure do understand it. Folks driving willy nilly, irresponsibly cutting each other off just to get to their respective destinations a minute sooner. It does sound crazy. And, I absolutely drive safely with my precious cargo! But, if I'm going to be honest with you all, I must say there are times when I sound more like a truck driver than a Mom.... sadly. And all that yelling makes me feel bad about myself and doesn't make the boys happy either. I apologize to them and they blow me kisses (as though I've been hurt).

Yesterday, a young girl refused to yield to my signal and lane change, specifically speeding up and swerving into oncoming traffic JUST to make sure I didn't get ahead of her. Mind you, there were 2 police cars with lights and sirens at a dead stop in my lane and I had more than enough room to maneuver safely into her lane as long as she didn't speed her pace... which she did. She just didn't want me to get ahead of her! As it happens she was going my way almost all the way home and so I steadily followed behind her as I made my way home. I could see her glancing in the rear view mirror nervously, as though I was following her, which, while I was behind her I wasn't technically following her I was just going home. Each time I caught her eye, I smiled and waved... Enjoying her discomfort. But, by the time we got closer to home I had managed to talk myself down from my anger and wrote her off as just another terrible and selfish Long Island driver (I meet a lot of them these days). When she pulled right to turn where I would continue straight, I did seize the opportunity and rolled down my window, tapped my horn and said, "You should drive more carefully. You could hurt someone with a move like that! Admittedly, I added a name, ONLY in my head, at the end of that sentence. (See, there you were thinking I might be a totally reasonable person.) Still, she specifically stared in the other direction and never looked at me. For the record, when I have made a mistake while driving, I specifically address the driver whose space I breached and apologize, waving the white hand of surrender. Mea culpa!

Back to my happiness... I was proud that I'd quickly talked myself down from the incident, and noted that, while my calm reprimand was impressive, it didn't actually help me feel happier... though I did get a giggle out of waving to her during the rest of the drive. I also recognize that having to rush makes me angry. I've tried before to get the kids to bed a half an hour earlier so that I can wake them earlier but that doesn't work for them or me, honestly. Evenings are our together time as a family and I don't really want to cut it short or rush around before bed. But, perhaps I could try 10-minutes earlier and see if that helps. Either way, I've discovered that my happiness hinges on my acceptance! Acknowledging that the last 10 minutes of every morning are going to be crazy and as much preparation as possible to smooth that transition from house to car and car to school is necessary. And, acceptance that I have no control over the traffic situation means leaving myself a reasonable amount of time to commute which may still result in our late arrival. It's out of my control at that point. I'll just have to fore go the mother's guilt and work a little harder on this last piece of acceptance (so will the boys' teacher). But, I do believe my happiness and my children's happiness are worth it!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quick Off-Schedule Angels Amongst Us

I think I've mentioned how happy my pets make me, right?
So, now we're sort of officially in the market for a new dog for Csiba, our 12 1/2-year-old Chow Chow. Since we lost Isaiah, our 12 1/2-year-old lab/boxer mix to cancer in September, Csiba has been down dooby dooby do down down. It's not terribly surprising that she's so sad since they were raised together from pups and, being nearly deaf, she lost her ears when we lost Isaiah. So, here I am on-line, cruising for local dog rescue organizations in search of a good-with-kids/cats/dogs, kind, calm and quiet, BIG dog that will fit nicely into our 5-person, 1-dog, 2-cat and 3-fish family. I know, we're expecting a lot....

Here's the amazing thing about this process... We've run into so many inspirational and caring angels out there working/volunteering their time to save the hundreds of adoptable dogs and cats that are abandoned daily by their owners for various -- some bogus, some not -- reasons. But, there's one person -- an Angel Amongst Us -- that I'd particularly like to mention, Lori of, who dedicates so much of her life -- as well as some of her husband's and son's lives too -- in pursuit of the best dog and cat owners for her many homeless, 4-legged charges. God bless Lori and the people like her who work tirelessly to save the innocent animals our society deems disposable.

So yesterday we asked to adopt a new-comer to their shelter, a very-pregnant, abandoned Boxer -- as well as fostering and then helping to adopt out her puppies when they're ready for forever homes of their own.... We might even consider fostering another one of their dogs just because she's a wonderful black-lab mix who needs a home and doesn't deserve to live in a cage!

So, if you happen to live in/near the metro NYC area and you're inclined to adopt a pet, or if you have the heart and space to foster a pet, or if you have the time to volunteer to walk a few homeless dogs in the afternoon, or donate a dollar or two, please give Lori a call at (718) 424-3340. If you're not nearby, go to to view the needy animals and rescue organizations that need support in your local area.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Motivating the Low Muscle Tone (Or Any) Child

Often, a child with Down syndrome exhibits varying degrees of low muscle tone. Please note that muscle tone is different from muscle strength. Muscle tone refers to the resting state of the muscle. And, low muscle tone means, when not in use, the muscle is more relaxed than a high-tone muscle. This also means it takes more effort to get that muscle moving and to keep it moving. This is one of the laws of physics in action: an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless a force acts against it (or something close to that). Note: I've described low muscle tone in analogous terms in a previous post if you want to read more about it:

The behavioral impact of low muscle tone on a child also varies depending upon the degree of low muscle tone and their personal motivation. I've heard folks with and without children with Down syndrome describe them as lethargic, couch potatoes, or worse, lazy and unmotivated. I can tell you, as a person in the low range of normal muscle tone who used to "run" on a daily basis, none of these hit the nail on the head. The truth is, it was just harder for me to run than it is for many others (like my high muscle tone husband). I loved to run mentally but I struggled every step of the way physically, frequently talking out loud to myself, "pick up your right foot. Put it down. Pick up your left foot. Put it down...". My heart and head were in it but my body... not so much. This being the case, I find the last of these unfortunate descriptions -- unmotivated -- is totally off the mark! As a matter of fact, it's opposite -- motivation -- is actually the key to my and my children's activity level and progress.

My little guys, 3 1/2 year old identical twins with Down syndrome, have muscle tone in the low normal range and are borderline delayed in their gross motor skills. As such, they receive Physical Therapy 2 times per week during their school day. I recently took part in my sons' therapy sessions -- taking advantage of their schools' "open door" policy. BTW - Most schools that offer special education services have this policy and I highly recommend taking advantage of it so that you can feel comfortable (or otherwise) that your children are getting the best and most appropriate education and services for their needs. That said, unfortunately, I found that the boys' Physical Therapy sessions were not as productive as I'd hoped... Potentially explaining, at least in part, the regression in gross motor skills I've noticed since September when they transitioned to this school and their new therapist. But, rather than bemoan what I did not observe in these sessions, I'd rather focus on what I happily did observe during the boys' Occupational and Speech Therapy sessions. These therapists were VERY effective in motivating my guys to do what they wanted them to do thereby practicing and improving their related skills. I was wildly pleased with the way the OT and Speech therapist worked with my boys each in their own personal way.

Here are some of the critical elements I observed in motivating my special needs children:

  • The therapists each worked side-by-side or hand-over-hand with the boys (as appropriate)... providing just enough support but NOT performing the task for them.
  • They demonstrated unfamiliar and familiar tasks alike, prior to each activity to ensure proper form and performance.
  • I LOVE that they continuously praised my guys not only for succeeding but for trying too!
  • Like cheerleaders cheering for their teammates throughout the game (not just at the end), the boys received constant encouragement during each step of a multi-step task!
  • And, their praise and encouragement came in a form that my boys like best... crazy loud whoops and high-5s... Which my guys LOVE!

This is EXACTLY what MOTIVATES MY children to get up and move... despite their low muscle tone!

So, here's the pitch...

For parents/caretakers: First, know what motivates your child. Then, take advantage of your right to participate/observe their therapy sessions so you can determine what is and isn't working. After identifying the gaps, use your personal knowledge of what motivates your child to better assist your therapists in optimizing their limited time with your children. Finally, make sure you carry through at home. One of the most memorable and important things a therapist told me was, "The 30 minutes I spend with your child on any given day will not make much of a dent in their development. It's what you do with them -- carrying through on the exercises we do -- that will help them the most."

For Therapists: Please let us parents help. Invite your clients' parents to come in and participate (not just to observe though that's better than nothing!) Engage the parents to find out what motivates their child. And, then, just like being a parent, do your best to follow through. Take a vested interest in the outcome.... it pays a fortune in gratitude and achievements!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thankful Thursdays

Recognizing the blessings I have in my life makes me focus on the positive things I have going on... and that keeps me walking on "The Happy Side".

[1] First, I must give credit where credit is due: I picked up 'Thankful Thursdays' from my blogging friend, Heidi, who picked it up from her friend and so on and so on. I'm thankful that Heidi introduced me to Thankful Thursdays so I can purposefully remember the things I'm thankful for!

[2] I'm thankful that my family and I have health insurance and that my father has medicare so that we were all able to get our flu shots this year. With young, school-age children, the shot is pretty critical in avoiding the otherwise inevitable week+ in bed feeling miserable this flu season. And, for my elderly Dad, this shot can be a real life-saver... literally!

[3] I'm thankful for the beautiful pets I have -- all rescues -- and for the people who make it possible to adopt such wonderful animals. As I go through the process of [maybe] looking for another dog-in-need that might fit happily into our family, I'm saddened at the number of homeless pets there are. But, I'm massively impressed with the quality people who choose to dedicate their lives to help carefully re-home these desperate and deserving animals.

[4] I'm thankful that I have a good relationship with my daughter. When something bothers her, she never fails to discuss it openly with me so that we can come up with some ideas together to help resolve her issue. I'm sad that she occasionally encounters problems but I'm happy that she's learning to communicate and talk things out... and that she trusts me.

[5] I'm thankful for my half-finished mess of a 200-year-old, bayman's cottage with all it's inherent problems. I know I'm lucky to have a roof over my head while so many others are having trouble keeping theirs.

In honor of Thankful Thursdays, take a moment to think about the things that make you feel thankful today!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Last Saturday morning I packed the kids into the mini-van for our bi-annual trek to one of our local colleges... to speak on behalf of people with Down syndrome. We do this at 4 local colleges in various areas of education -- Speech/Language, Psychology/Psychology for Exceptional Children and Education/Special Education -- for 2 primary reasons: [1] to allow students who aspire to work with children with special needs to meet face-to-face my extraordinary boys, Brian & Michael, who happen to have Down syndrome, so that they may put a human face on what is more-than-likely an out-dated, text-book impression of this diagnosis; AND [2] Our more self-serving goal... to help clear a peaceful life-path for Brian & Michael. The more people that meet them and come to understand and experience, first-hand, the breadth of possibilities for people with Down syndrome, the greater their acceptance and opportunities will be in life. (Pic: Ellen and Olivia on the last day of summer)

That said, on what we hoped would be an informative expedition for others, we were exposed, ourselves, to a few Angels Living Amongst Us:

I was impatiently waiting at a traffic light, already late for our speaking engagement and anxiously awaiting my green signal. As the light turned, I was, I admit, a bit disheartened to see that I'd be further detained by a feeble, old man hobbling across the street on his cane -- against the light! I waited with new-found patience, concerned for his safe crossing, as cars swerved around him. He navigated a straight path, oblivious to the cars around him. He reminded me of a scene from Toy Story 2, where Buzz Lightyear and his friends were on their way to rescue Woody. They crossed the highway, blind beneath their construction cones, with trucks and cement tubes rolling perilously close but, luckily missing. I was suddenly brought back to reality when a passerby ran across 3 lanes of moving cars, yelling and waving his arms wildly, bringing traffic to a screeching halt... Much to the chagrin of those who were attempting to drive around the old man, impatient to be on their way. I nodded my appreciation and the gentleman-turned-traffic-cop-turned-Angel told me that the old man was blind. Though this stranger's faith in mankind might have been diminished that day, mine had been restored as he intervened on the old man's behalf. No doubt, an ANGEL AMONGST US!

And, of course, it is only right to recognize the significant and angelic role Ellen, our EI therapist/college professor, plays in creating a peaceful life-path for my sons. Ellen is the one who jump-started my college speaking career. By consistently inviting us back to Nassau Community College to speak on behalf of people with Down syndrome she continuously validates my need to proactively educate people about the human side of the diagnosis. And, in her own rite, she is certainly doing her share to make a difference in the world for people like Brian & Michael. Not only does she help me to spread the word, but she spreads the word herself, working as a family social worker in the Early Intervention program as well as teaching Psychology for Exceptional Children classes where she consistently ensures that her students remain open-minded about what's possible for people with Down syndrome today and in the future. She also brings her more-than-willing husband/college professor into the halo-light by giving him the opportunity to have us speak with his students as well. The more people we touch and teach, the better! And, they make a wonderful team of angels! My deepest appreciation and my children's heart-felt thanks go out to both of these angels...(

Knowing there are caring and proactive people who take the time to do the right thing for others in this fast-paced and frequently selfish world is a breath of fresh and heavenly air for me. There are angels all around us, if we only pay attention. Thanks to the powers that be -- God, for me -- for helping me to recognize these people for what they are... Angels Amongst Us!

I [Heart] Your Blog! Q&A

I was given this "I [heart] your Blog" award by my friend, former KC-er and fellow blogger, Sara. The idea is to answer some personal questions much like those Q&As that go around via email. I LOVE those things! I love finding out little tidbits of information about my friends... It makes me happy! This being a happiness project, it's appropriate for me to keep the fire burning.

So, I thought, sharing this information about me might help make someone else happy. If you want to help propagate my happiness, please feel free to comment with your answers or copy & paste your Q&As into an email and send it to me. Sure to make me smile! The challenge to this one? 1-word responses ONLY!

Here goes:

1. Where is your cell phone? Waistband.
2. Where is your significant other? Work
3. Your hair color? Brown
4. Your mother? Sunshine
5. Your father? Debater
6. Your favorite thing? Nature
7. Your dream last night? Olivia
8. Your dream/goal? Happiness
9. The room you're in? Playroom
10. Your hobby? SCUBA
11. Your fear? Death
12. Where do you want to be in six years? Working
13. Where were you last night? Home
14. What you're not? Thin
15. One of your wish list items? Odyssey
16. Where you grew up? Oceanside
17. The last thing you did? Chocolate
18. What are you wearing? Jeans
19. Your T.V.? News
20. Your pets? Awesome
21. Your computer? Overdrive
22. Your mood? Anticipatory
23. Missing someone? Isaiah
24. Your car? Works
25. Something you're not wearing? Perfume
26. Favorite store? Target
27. Your Summer? Short
28. Love someone? Kids
29. Your favorite color? Orange
30. When is the last time you laughed? Today
31. Last time you cried? Yesterday

Having completed this, I can tell you that limiting my responses to one word does NOT make me happy. It's like being told to stop talking... not easy for me. But, I survived.

Passing the love to other bloggers I know. Only do it if you want to. I certainly wouldn't want someone pressuring me to blog on any particular topic. As I said though, personally, I like these things... (though not the one-worders!):

Sarah at:
Heidi at:
Janete at:
Monica at:
Bonnie at:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pets! Pets! And, More Pets!

Losing a pet can be a devastating event. I know! We just lost one of our beloved dogs, Isaiah, to cancer in September. And, while his brief illness and quick death were heart-wrenching, I would not trade the wonderful 12+ years we had with him for the world. He was the most loving and tolerant dog ever to grace our immediate and extended families' lives by every one's account. How lucky for us, that we found him in need of a home and chose to rescue him all those years ago. Despite 4 months of harrowing training where I was heard to complain to my husband more than once, "You've ruined our lives by adopting this dog." Catching onto the training before he chewed up all of our belongings including our 500-count CD collection and the telephone wires more than once, it all turned out more than well in the end. He was a precious gem -- with a heart as big as the state of Missouri where we rescued him -- and one that could never be replaced. That said, we now find ourselves in search of another canine companion, as much for me, my husband and our children as for our remaining nearly 13-year-old chow chow who has all but lost her hearing and needs a new best friend to be her ears the way her big brother did. (Pic: Michael, Isaiah and Brian)

So... Pets! They bring me that unconditional love I so often seek but rarely find from my spouse and still find for now, thankfully, most often from my children (until they hit that stage of development where they're not so sure how much they love me... or at least how much they're willing to show they love me... especially in front of their friends). As a child, I remember occasionally seeking out my actually-quite-aggressive dog, Clyde -- I've got the scars to show for it -- for a crying session when I'd gotten into trouble or felt sad for one reason or another. I distinctly remember saying to him, "You're the only one that really loves me!" and, it made me feel better to cuddle with him. To have a non-judgemental ear to listen to me (and not answer back that I was wrong to do blah blah blah) and a warm body that wanted me and only me to huggle (hug and snuggle) up to. (Pic: Csiba, our Chow Chow)

But, it's not just dogs that fit that bill. I have spent countless hour huggling with guinea pigs, cats and dogs, stroking their fur and peacefully talking out my problems with them. I've driven miles and miles across country with the happy companionship of my cat, Miko, and/or my dogs, Isaiah and Csiba. I've even shared some deep thoughts with my peaceful aquarium fish -- Mia, Alex Rover and Patrick -- as I watch them stop cruising their tank to huddle in front when I stick my big ol' face nearby. Yes, I know they do it because I'm the one that feeds them most of the time. My point is that even my pet fish bring me happiness. (Pic: Heckscher & Rosie our angel-guinea pigs)

I've occasionally given the following advice to my friends, "You want unconditional love? Get a cat!" Well, I believe in that mantra though you can replace cat with the most convenient pet for you and get nearly the same result. My pets make me happy! So, perhaps I should change that phrase to, "You want unconditional happiness? Get a pet!" As an animal lover, it has always worked for me. (Pic: Olivia with her cats, Tippy & Willow)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I've Been Tagged -- 6 Things About Me

Oh, I'm so thrilled to have been tagged to write about 6 things you didn't know/didn't need to know about me. Being tagged has helped me to feel more like I belong here in the world of REAL bloggers. Many thanks, Kimberly. And, that leads me to my first "thing" about me:

[1] Until recently, I have often felt as though I don't belong. As though I'm on the outside looking in. Perhaps, it's a function of being the 4th of 5 children or not having a voice in childhood -- I've found it since -- to be heard above the din in our home as I was growing up. Regardless of it's origin, since getting married and having my 3 beautiful children, I have absolutely found the place in this world where I truly belong. A place where I am on the inside and others are looking in at, and choosing to become part of, the wonderful life we are living.

[2] Above almost any other activity, I LOVE LOVE LOVE to be swimming with the fishes -- SCUBA diving, that is. I love the peacefulness and unexplored beauty of the underwater world. The quiet hum of my own breathing and the slow, graceful movement of all God's sea-faring creatures... It is my Zen! I used to teach SCUBA diving and would jump in the water -- pool or ocean -- every chance I got... before work, after dinner or in the middle of the night! Whenever the tide was right. Though I have not gone SCUBA diving since having my children (sadly, it is contraindicated for pregnancy and nursing), I know that I will return to my favorite past time very soon. AND, I know that, when the time comes, my children will be my most avid SCUBA buddies as they love the water as much as I do. But, most especially, it is my daughter who eagerly awaits coming of age to be SCUBA certified and who I happily anticipate sharing this beautiful underwater world with.

[3] MY favorite color is ORANGE. Surprised? Actually, not many folks I've met choose this vibrant yet warm color as a favorite. It reminds me of a beautiful summer sunset; of Halloween, my favorite holiday; of autumn leaves; and of a warm and cozy hearth fire or camp fire... roasting marshmallows and listening to my mother's or husband's beautiful guitar strumming. It brings me peace to see it and be near it. As such, I love to wear orange and to decorate with orange (not highly recommended by HGTV, by the way). I have 3 bright orange jackets/coats. So bright that folks frequently comment that I must be a hunter. (LOL, I am SOOO NOT a hunter!). My great room is painted 2 shades of orange like a sunset. And, I have a large, orange sectional that brings out the orange accents in the area rug in that room too! And, as of yesterday, I even have an orange cell phone. YEAH! As a matter of fact, I have so much orange clothing for myself and for my children that we actually have a separate "orange/red" bin that fills up and needs laundering just as quickly as my "dark" and "white" bins do. I think the color must suit me, though, because those closest to me are never surprised when I choose orange.

[4] I believe that we humans have free will and make our own choices and that things happen by chance... and, maybe sometimes, by circumstance. I don't believe God is playing a great game of chess with us little people down here on earth and that all the moves are predetermined. Which, of course, seems like a direct contradiction to my very strong belief that I was destined to have these beautiful boys -- my identical twins who happen to have Down syndrome. That said, I do believe that God intervenes on our behalf when necessary. As such, I always feel like the song "Amazing Grace" was written about me... when God intervened and gave me these heavenly children. Almost 15 years ago, my then boyfriend (now husband and father of my children) and I were seated in an IHOP in Kansas City, Missouri with friends who were all mesmerized by a 3-year-old boy with Down syndrome at the next table. My beau stole infrequent and uncomfortable looks while everyone else went outwardly ga-ga over this handsome child. Once outside, I questioned his reaction saying that we had not been together so long that if he were uncomfortable with the possibility of having a child with Down syndrome -- as this was "always a possibility being I am 8 years his senior" -- it wasn't too late for him to go his own way. Obviously, he did not choose that path but instead chose the one with me and, happily for both of us, these incredible children. Upon the boys' DS diagnosis at birth, we both immediately hearkened back to that brief, but apparently poignant enough to remember, conversation. In hindsight, it certainly seemed a glimpse into our future. And admittedly, my husband and I both feel strongly that we were "meant" to have these boys. God's hand, I'm sure!

[5] Nature makes me happy. I'm the lady driving down the Southern State Parkway with a big grin on my face. No, I'm not having a funny conversation on my wireless phone! The smile and joyous feeling is the direct result of seeing the leaves changing colors almost right before my eyes. I LOVE nature! I like watching squirrels scurry around burying their acorns, birds sitting on the telephone wire or flying their migration formation, a hawk soaring overhead, a mouse scampering across the path, a cat basking in the sun, a happy dog walking -- tail wagging -- with his master. Heck, a flowering weed peeking through the crack in the sidewalk makes me happy. Nature is resilient. It exists despite man's best efforts to thwart it! I like that! It makes me feel like I want to help restore and grow it versus break it down. And, that makes me feel good about me too -- because I'm focused on conservation, environmental responsibility and preserving our planet for future generations.

[6] If you have children and watch Noggin, you might know the song, "I don't like candy corn!" Well, here's my 6th confession, I don't like candy corn or, for that matter, any candy at all. Please Note: this statement excludes chocolate which is not candy but a food group unto itself. Right? Given my lifelong struggle to control my weight (that 'c' word might actually be part of the problem), it's surprising even to me that I absolutely don't like candy. Cookies, cakes, bread -- and chocolate, of course -- are my poisons... But, I could be starving and never touch a single piece of available candy. For those who know me... isn't that sorta surprising?

OK, so now that you know things about me that you didn't need to know, I have to figure out how to tag a few of my blogging friends and pay it [the fun] forward. Watch for that in my next and related blog : )