Thursday, December 31, 2009

THANKFUL THURSDAY - The Year of Zen Resolutions

I've been a loyal follower of Leo Babauta's blog Zen Habits for some time now. I've always coveted the idea of living a zen minimalist existence... but I have 3 children, 2 dogs, 2 cats and a husband who are NOT minimalists. We have a lot of stuff... unnecessary stuff. In my single life, I'd attack the idea of such an existence with vim and vigor which... is actually sort of contrary to the whole movement. That said, I do try to simplify our existence (go ahead and laugh, it sounds funny to me too) and implement the principles of zen minimalism in super-slow baby steps every day in our lives. But I think we turned a corner this morning...

As I lounged on the couch reading the Best of Zen Habits 2009, unbeknownst to me, the old soul was peaking over my shoulder and expressed interest in the concept of a clutter free home. Now if you know us at all, you know that truly MOST of my clutter comes from my everything-collecting daughter who stashes every imaginable piece of anything (true) into every drawer and onto every inch of empty counter space she can find. Why just today I emptied nearly 100 feathers picked from our down couch from one of our kitchen drawers. In another drawer I found candy kiss foils wrapped in tissues along with a couple of toilet paper rolls. Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up.

So, when she said she'd like to start with Mr. Babauta's decluttering counters advice, I jumped on it and we spent a good part of the day putting things away... the end product: a noticeably clear and very zen counter! Yeah! That got me thinking that I would like to keep the momentum going and apply the decluttering minimalist rules to the rest of our lives... again in baby steps. Instead of sharing straight up what I'm thankful for today, I'm going to intermingle what I hope to be thankful for in the coming months. Not resolutions so much as intentions for minimizing, simplifying and getting back to what's most important... my loved ones!

[1] Say less and listen more to my children... and my husband too. Sadly, I think I've been raising my voice too much -- with my children not my hubby -- and I desperately want to stop that. I don't want to be that person or that mother. Listening more will hopefully give me more empathy for their feelings instead of being so focused on mine... which is usually frustration b/c I spend all day cleaning up all their unnecessary stuff.

[2] Buy less and get rid of more of that unnecessary stuff to clear our home and minds of clutter so we can focus on what's really important... each other! I spend way too much time tidying up a myriad of toys that are pulled out but never really played with. We could have a lot more fun getting right to the things we like to do without going through or cleaning up the rest of the mess.

[3] Sell and/or freecycle our unnecessary stuff so that others may put it to good use. One day recently, I was preparing a new casserole dish... under dinner-time duress as usual. I asked the Sarge to shred some cheese for the recipe and he agreed but could not find the cheese grater. Finally, I explained that I knew we had a few graters in a box in the barn. To which he lamented, "you mean we haven't shredded cheese in the 9 years since we bought this house?" We've got a ton of stuff in the house and barn that we haven't used since we got married/moved in 9 1/2 years ago. That's actually pretty funny! And a huge waste of space! I mean, someone could use those graters!

[4] Clear the dockets! Stop saying yes to all the busy work and leave more time for the important stuff. My calendar fills up with a lot of unnecessary appointments that leave me with no time to do what is most important... be with and work with my children doing things they like and focusing on the areas where they need help. By doing so I could minimize my guilt over all the things I don't get to and eliminate my frustration over all the things I do but don't want to.

[5] Clear my mind... of negative thoughts that is. I'm tired of the critical chatter in my head. I'm burning the old tapes and rewriting them to be more positive, more me. I've gotten caught up in the complaining mode so many people I know have fallen into. I'm leaving that mode behind. I dislike it in others and despise it in myself.

I know... Easy to say. Not so easy to do. But I have a whole year to implement change slowly and I've grown really comfortable with baby steps. My boys -- blessed with an extra 21st chromosome -- have taught me well to be patient with my progress and to go slowly. I have learned through them to work toward my goals and accept that things come in their own time.

It's true... [my] children are the best teachers!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Special Exposure Wednesday: Believe In Santa?

Old Soul: Uh oh Mom! There's another Santa here!

The real Santa has a REAL beard!

And a real belly... not stuffed with a pillow.

And real boots... not those plastic covers over his shoes.

And he knows our names without being told.

And he doesn't ask what we want because he already knows.

This guy is the REAL Santa. That other guy was just a helper dressed up like Santa because the real Santa can't be everywhere at once.

B E L I E V E !
(and if you can't, at least don't mess it up for them!)

Friday, December 25, 2009

THANKFUL THURSDAY - In The Quiet Hours...

In the quiet hours between dusk and dawn, especially on this particular night -- Christmas Eve -- it is easy to remember all the blessings in my life. The greatest of these by far, are the 4 people sleeping soundly and peacefully upstairs with visions of Santa Claus dancing in their heads while I wrap their gifts and tuck them under our tree. (I know at least one of them is dreaming of a BMW and, unfortunately, he isn't going to get it again this year... Sorry Sarge!)

I have so much.... SOOO MUCH to be thankful for!

[1] Thank You God for the 3 wondrous little people you have entrusted to me to raise up into beautiful big people. My wise Old Soul and these awesome little boys are nothing short of MIRACLES... and I am honored to be their mother. I hope and pray that I can do the job justice.

[2] Thank you, also, for sending me the Sarge at just the right moment and exactly when I needed him. I am lucky to have found and married such a gentle and kind man... and I'd pick him all over again tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

[3] Thanks too, for the wonderful parents you entrusted me to. They have given me so many amazing gifts including the ability to love, to believe, to live, to laugh and to care.... deeply about and for others. They have been and continue to be phenomenal teachers and I love them both more than I could ever express.

[4] I am grateful beyond words for my siblings. My sisters and brother have always provided me with the strength to deal with anything that comes my way and they do so with undying love and incredible good humor. I don't say it often enough but I feel it every minute of every day... I love you guys!

[5] And, I'm thankful for the truly GREAT friends that decorate my life. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been blessed with all the loving and caring people You've sent my way. Here's to all my friends -- past, present and future -- and all the love and support they've provided throughout the years. I hope that someday I can reciprocate in kind.

[Bonus] Finally, where would I be without all of the amazing creatures that have found their way into our lives? Every single one of our pets are just exactly the right fit for our family. Csiba, Molly, Tippy, Willow and Dottie continue to enhance our lives with their wild antics, endearing personalities and undying affection. Life would not be nearly as much fun without them!

A life is not measured by the stuff you have but by the love you share. I have heartfelt LOVE in my life every single day. I feel like one of the luckiest people on earth! And with such amazing wealth in my life, want to know what's on my Christmas wish list (besides the BMW for Sarge)? More laughter, more love and more of the blessed life I've been living... surrounded by people with whom I can share all of these gifts.

I wish the same for each of you! Truly, there's no better way to live!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Special Exposure Wednesday: Christmas Is Coming... And so is Santa!

Last year the boys barely got close enough to shake his hand...
This year, Santa so totally rocks!

Brian thought the big guy in red could really use a genuine, good old fashioned hug!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Simple, But Profound, Random Act of Kindness

I used to think that the random acts of kindness I chose to undertake had to work out well for the target. That is, I had to do something that somehow improved someone's life in order to get credit in the universe or to gain the boost in my own happiness. My happiness guru, Gretchen Rubin, once said that random acts of kindness made her suspicious... "why would the car in front of me at the toll booth pay my way?" I call that a random act of random kindness. That is, the receiver has absolutely no idea and is not in a situation where assistance is warranted. On the flip side, carrying bags for an elderly woman who's struggling to get to her car with her packages warrants assistance. I try to make my acts random... but warranted. The kindness has to meet an identified need, I thought. Holding the door open for the person behind me. Letting a waiting car enter traffic in front of me. Picking up a dropped item and handing it back to the dropper. You get it. In theory, my happiness boost would be in addition to the appreciation boost of the target. It sounds a bit selfish but then the whole concept of helping others to feel happier yourself does too. The thing is, it works exactly this way. Doing unto others [in a good way] feels good!

I recently discovered something new and interesting while performing a random act of kindness. I found that it doesn't always, or even have to, work out the way I think it should... for either party actually.

On the way to dropping the boys off to school, in a rush to get back to my home town for a CPSE meeting, I noticed a pigeon flailing in the middle of the street at a busy intersection. The poor bird had apparently been clipped by a passing car and as others rushed past to get where they were going, they drove over the bird -- wheels on either side -- so as not to crush it. It disturbed me to think that this poor bird was injured and terrified while cars continued to pass over it again and again. Despite already being late, I pulled over and ran out into the intersection to pick the bird up. Amazingly calm, the bird allowed me to gently lift it out of harms way. I walked to a nearby house and placed the bird carefully in the grass. This beautiful bird, suddenly peaceful, allowed me to lift it's wings one by one to make sure they were intact... They were. It was as if he recognized I was there to help him. He quietly nestled into the grass to rest as I took my leave. Though it was cold and I felt immense guilt abandoning him there, the boys still had to get to school and I still had to get back for my meeting. I worried for his well-being but felt I had little choice. So I gently touched his head, said a little prayer and left. The rest of the day, I kept thinking about that poor little bird. Hoping it had flown away. Thinking that pigeons don't migrate and that it wouldn't be too cold for him to sit in the grass until he felt strong and calm enough to fly away. I'd saved his life, I thought. I hoped.

Sadly, on the way home from the afternoon school pick-ups, I saw that the pigeon was flipped over, one wing extended into the air... He had died right there on the lawn where I'd left him. I was overcome with regret that I hadn't kept the pigeon in my car to help nurse him back to health, or to bring him to a wildlife veterinarian who could do so. Slowly, I realized that no effort on my part would have saved that bird's life. His injury was fatal. His fate sealed before I ever stopped to perform my random act of kindness. So, had my actions made any difference whatsoever?

Recently I've watched my elderly father fighting the unfortunate illness of Alzheimer's. Losing his memory and his way, not gracefully but in a slow and emotionally painful process. Masking his fear with humor... I know he is scared. I thought about how he'd expressed his desire, just a handful of years ago, that he never wanted to go this way. And I thought about that pigeon, flailing in the street, cars rushing past, driving over him. Terrified at what had befallen him. He too, I'm certain, would not have chosen to go this way.

My father is much like the pigeon. Flailing. And, as his illness progresses, in a way, I am there in the street with him... flailing. Afraid of what is to come. Looking for a peaceful place, a peaceful state of mind, to live out these last moments... however long they may last.

I gently carried that pigeon away from his terror. Relieved him of his frantic flailing. Perhaps I calmed his fear, if only for a moment. Maybe I brought him to that peaceful place where he could relax and come to accept what was happening. That the end of his life was upon him. And, recognizing the end was near, perhaps he sat in the grass, marveling at what a beautiful blue sky there was today; what a wondrous world he'd had the opportunity to affect; what an incredible life he'd managed to live; and what a legacy he was leaving behind.

Or perhaps, that bird performed the random act of kindness for me. Showing me the peaceful place in the warm sun to relax and stop being afraid.

I hope when it's my time, if I am flailing, that someone is there, to perform the random act of kindness that affords me a peaceful place to spend those last moments (however long they last). Or perhaps, I will not be flailing, remembering that pigeon and marveling at the blueness of the sky.

That random act of kindness was far more profound than I could ever have imagined...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

THANKFUL THURSDAY - Dedicated to My CPSE Committee

Yep, today was one of those days. As I said previously, the parent of a child with special needs makes all educational decisions by committee. You convene the committee if you want to change anything, add anything, question anything, remove anything... anything anything. This is no easy process -- but I'm sure you gathered that from my last post. More than anything, it's VERY stressful for the parents. Will I get what I believe my child needs (never mind what I WANT)? Will it work? Will it be enough? And the list of questions and doubts run through your mind at breakneck speeds. As soon as you resolve one issue, another quickly takes its place. Still, in the midst of the difficulty, there are moments where someone or, if you're really lucky nearly everyone, stands up for you and the planets align and the decisions seem just right and you walk away relieved. Today, was one of those days. Maybe because I was hyper-prepared with research to back my every desire. Maybe because it was just the right thing. Or maybe because the Sarge was there to chime in and innocently ask that question that makes everyone secretly fear a discrimination lawsuit. LOL. WHATEVER!!!!! We got what we went in for... and sort of more. So here's to that wonderful committee who, in my mind, did the right thing for Brian and Michael today!

[1] A bit fat thanks go to the Nassau County Rep who shall remain nameless lest he becomes inundated with so many requests for out-of-the-box solutions that he won't be able or willing to do so in the future. He TOTALLY looked at the boys' challenges, listened to the concerns of the school and ours and then tweaked the suggestions I had put together to come up with a solution that fit for everyone. He was awesome! I'd have hugged him -- instead of just shaking his hand -- if that wasn't totally inappropriate. Thanks H!

[2] A "Right ON!" and big thanks to the District school teacher, Ms. Toni Marchetta, who pointed out that individualized teaching according to each child's needs is what she does every day -- help kids at their level -- and what every teacher should be doing for every child. It was exactly the right comment at the right moment to set the mood and expectations for ALL of the committee members. I'm looking forward to the boys' attending kindergarten in her school and hopefully, in her class... Her attitude is absolutely right on target! She gets a second shout out for mentioning that she deals with behavioral issues in her "typical" kindergarten class too. Great reality check... THEY ARE 4-YEAR-OLDS!

[3] I'm ever so grateful for my school districts' and committee chair person's accommodating nature. I'm not saying she's a pushover and gave us everything we asked for... What I'm saying is that she immediately recognized that we were in a unique situation where some needs were being met in one environment while others needed more intensive and creative attention. Then, she listened to what other committee members were saying without feeling the need to exert her authority. That's not an easy thing to do as the leader of the committee.

[4] And, thanks to the Sarge who interjected just the right comments and questions at just the right moments. I'm telling you, he turned a few heads today! You could train a husband all your married life and never achieve that. I'm glad that mine arrived at the same station, at the same time I did! He was the yin to my yang today and I love him for it!

[5] Finally, I am thankful for the boys' teacher, who brought her concerns to me regarding the growing gap in the boys' academic achievement and their typically developing classmates. I'm glad she felt comfortable and recognized that she could talk to me and for getting that ball rolling! Though I'm not sure the solution was what she or her colleagues had in mind, I hope that it is one that works well for the boys and for her. I'm grateful for her immediate post-meeting willingness to jump right in and embrace the solution and address the identified challenges at hand. Upon pick-up today, she was already making plans to team with our home service providers to ensure success; putting in place some of the recommendations of the committee to encourage language and facilitate demonstration of their existing academic skills (given the expressive language delays... that's not easy to establish). Her job is not an easy one but I hope that the boys' progress -- as a result of these changes and her effort -- makes it a rewarding one this year!

Finally and most importantly, I want to thank all of the people who helped me put together a workable recommendation that was totally specific to my boys -- their needs, strengths, weaknesses and personalities -- and solidly backed by fact-based evidence, for the committee to tweak. My undying gratitude and respect to Kathleen, Valerie, Jessica, Cindy, Jo, Steve, Trish, Lori L, Annmarie, my Multiples w/ Down Syndrome online family, and every other professional and lay person who offered their experience, expertise, opinion and advice... and for all of you who listened even when you were sick and tired of being my sounding stone on this topic. Thanks. We -- the Sarge and I and the whole committee -- could not have done it without each and every one of you.

I still have a lot of footwork to do to get the solution implemented. And, the solution puts a lot of onus on me and will significantly change our after school routine and home life. It also opens doors and endless exciting opportunities for the boys to progress. Change is not always easy... but, I have found, it is usually good in the end. I'm certain, the changes that will be implemented on behalf of my boys will have a positive outcome for them and hopefully for others with Down syndrome who face similar challenges in the future.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Down Syndrome Awareness --CPSE: It Works If You Work It

I'm in the throes of preparing for the boys' transition from CPSE (preschool) to CSE (Kindergarten). Though the process of collecting information started at their birth, 4 1/2 years ago, the boys are getting closer and closer to the reality of kindergarten each day. As such, I've talked at length with every known-to-me expert in the field of educating children with special needs including other parents of children with special needs -- especially Down syndrome but also those whose children have autism (I explain that later). I've met and spoken with CPSE Chairpeople from my and other school districts, to past and present SEPTA Presidents and special educators, to the boys' Early Intervention and current therapists, social workers, teachers, special education administrators, school psychologists and even to a few self-proclaimed know-it-alls and been-there-done-thats... I've pretty much talked to anyone who might have any tidbit of information or a unique perspective that can teach me more about how best to educate my boys...who happened to have been blessed with an extra 21st chromosome (aka Down syndrome).

What I've discovered is a lot of disparate information and unique approaches with one over-riding theme. Each child is different. Each child's educational, developmental and social/emotional needs are different. Each child has a different learning style, pace and temperament. And the public schools are mostly a one-size-fits all approach to educating typically developing children with a small group of people dedicated, in theory, to addressing the special needs of atypically developing children like mine. I also found that my school system mostly wants to do the right thing with regards to helping my children learn and develop... but that they don't necessarily know what that is.... THAT's my job to determine with the help of all those folks I mentioned above.

I've also found that gearing up for the fight that every parent of a child with special needs goes through in the days and weeks leading up to each CPSE meeting, is necessary preparation as --I've just begun to understand -- services are provided to the children of parents who are well-prepared, understand the components of their children's developmental and educational needs and can suggest proven methodologies and services to address those needs. So if I can prove it's effectiveness -- not just for children with Down syndrome but for MY children with Down syndrome -- then I can have it... within reason... mostly.

So here's what I discovered thinking specifically about my boys and how they're doing with their multi-faceted development:

My boys have shown significant growth socially, emotionally and in the life skills area when participating in the daily activities of their 15:1:2 integrated classroom with their typically developing peers. However, in academics and speech development & articulation, the teaching staff, speech therapist and I believe that my boys need one-on-one attention to grasp the academic skills and essential building blocks they need, not only to keep up but to succeed in life. One might then assume, as I thought last year, that the smaller "self-contained" classes made up entirely of children with special needs might offer a better format for academic achievement. However, further discussion ferretted out the truth. In groups as small as 3:1, their teacher felt that MY boys still underperformed, needing additional attention to grasp academic concepts. That means that a smaller, self-contained class with a higher teacher-to-student ratio -- which I do not advocate for the boys -- is NOT the best answer... for MY children.

To further increase my knowledge of academic achievement in children with Down syndrome, I attended a conference on Best Practices in Educating Children with Down Syndrome, and discovered that discreet trial training -- a component of ABA therapies typically prescribed for children with autism -- is proving to be an effective method for teaching and pre-teaching academic concepts to children with Down syndrome as well. Got it!

So, now that I've determined specifically how MY boys learn and I have research to support the implementation of appropriate methodologies to address their educational needs, all I have to do is present it all in a comprehensive way to my CPSE... right? Unfortunately, not!

It's pretty much also up to me to understand and suggest our desired solution for how, how much and when these services should be delivered. Will the boys participate in 1 hour of discreet trial academic therapy every afternoon after school, at home or in a center? Or, should these services be provided during school? Should it be 1 or 2 hours each day? Is there a therapist available to deliver said services in any of these locations? Some of these answers are in the existing research and some will require a little more footwork before I can determine what the best scenario is to address the boys' educational needs, determine the logistics of working it into their current schedule and then present it... all with fact-based evidence that it's the right methodology and the right amount of available services for MY boys, specifically.

THEN I've been advised to ask for more than we need and compromise down to the solution we've come up with and to make sure my husband takes the day off to attend the meeting and is prepared to speak eloquently about every aspect of the challenges, research and our desired solution. I've heard that CPSE committees take parental recommendations more seriously when the Dad is there and has a critical speaking part. Sounds as crazy as it is unfair but I've seen it work and I wouldn't take the chance on not getting the right services for such a ridiculous (and arguably illegal) reason. The Sarge is well-versed and has the day off to attend. We know what we want, what we're going to ask for, how we prefer it to be delivered and can provide fact-based evidence specific to our children that this is the right solution necessary for them to meet their academic needs.

And if they say no... we sit tight and quietly insist that this is our preferred solution. If the committee (usually the chair, if there's a hold-out) absolutely does not budge, then we'll be advised to get a lawyer. And the lawyer will tell us to get an expert. And the expert -- who we already know and has assisted us in putting together the solution in the first place -- must be called in to scientifically document the appropriateness of the solution. She does so and the committee approves our original suggestions with no further ado. LOL

It's a process. One that kinda, actually works once you learn how to work it (may it always be so). And, in truth, I recognize that we're incredibly lucky to have it. In the past, the options were limited and, for the most part, children like mine were confined to institutions for life with devastating outcomes. As stressful as this CPSE process is, I'm glad for the opportunities afforded my children today. And, I hope that their opportunities continue to grow as our body of knowledge on how best to educate our special children increases.

Friday, December 11, 2009

THANKFUL THURSDAY - Better Late (Maybe Not This Late) Than Never

I was tossing and turning and finally decided to get up and get thankful so I can go back to sleep peacefully. Maybe I couldn't sleep because I was worried that I hadn't gotten my Thankful Thursday post up on Thursday or, for that matter, my Special Exposure Wednesday post up in several weeks... sorry, gotta download the 834 pics the boys took so I have room for more photos on my camera. Or maybe it was just too hot in the bedroom. Or maybe one of a hundred other things running through my mind at 3:07 AM. Who knows? But, each waking thought points to something I'm thankful for, so I thought I'd come down and share:

[1] I'm thankful for the heat in my house. It got REALLY cold yesterday afternoon and into last evening and we finally dropped below the freezing mark last night. But, my home is toasty and warm and welcoming. Like I said, my bedroom is a little too warm for my taste... However, my boys who currently share the room with the Sarge and I (due to ongoing construction in their bedroom) have not yet mastered the use of a blanket so a little too warm is perfect for them. Otherwise I'd be up worrying that they were too cold. And, I'd rather be warm than cold. Once again, I'm ever so thankful I have the luxury (and it is a luxury to be warm inside when it's so cold outside) of heat when so many do not.

I hear that the orphanages in Russia that house countless numbers of children with Down syndrome who are given up for adoption don't bother heating because, I understand, the cost of the heat and the value of the residents are not considered worth it. God help those poor babies who are layered with clothing in such a frigid place just to survive... barely. I'm grateful for the heat in my home that keeps my beautiful children, 2 of whom also happened to have been born with that extra 21st chromosome, warm each day and night. I wish every one of these babies had the same!

[2] I'm grateful for the computers -- that' right 3 of them -- that I have in my home. Sure one is more than 10 years old, another is 5 years old and one is pretty new... But I have 3 good working computers that I, the Sarge, and our children use daily as tools to help us learn something new every day. The boys love all the educational games we have and play to the point where I can barely get them off the computer to eat dinner. They especially fight for time on the one that has the Dora Lost City game... or the one that runs the Jump Start Animal Adventures game. The other day, the boys and I were watching the movie "The Hulk" (they LOVE that film) and there was a scene shot in a small, remote city in Brazil. I noticed the living conditions in this city were unbearably crowded (bear in mind that I come from one of the most crowded areas of the USA here in the NYC suburbs) and sparse. The most basic amenities were missing. Now I know it was just a movie, but I'd venture to say that this is more the norm than it is the exception in many parts of the world. So, I'm grateful to be here, in my toasty warm house, with 3 computers to choose from, back in the good ol' USA. It's a huge luxury and one that I do not take for granted at all!

[3] I'm thankful for all the engaging and EDUCATIONAL computer software and games available to help my children with Down syndrome learn. At last year's national Speech & Hearing Conference held in Chicago, they held a special track of workshops focused on working with children with Down syndrome. The outstanding emphasis was to get these children on the computers because, generally speaking, this population does incredibly well using and learning via this amazing tool. My guys are no exception! They LOVE the computer and are mastering and demonstrating academic skills that their Pre-K-4 teacher still does not believe they are capable of (because they don't have the opportunity to demonstrate them in the classroom the way they do on a computer). Yeah, I'm all for the use of computers in educating my children! I'm for anything that helps push them along academically. So if any of you have any suggestions for computer-based educational programs I can use with my boys, please drop me a line and let me know.

[4] I'm thankful that my Dad is still here and well enough to walk around the corner -- as he did last night -- to visit with his grandchildren. With his rapidly-declining memory, his independence is waning... I and the Old Soul were relieved to see him looking so well after reports otherwise. The Old Soul has a special relationship with her Grandpa as he's been picking her up from school for the past 3 years. And, though his stint as her sole pick-up guardian has recently come to an end -- he still rides with me for afternoon pick-ups -- she has not lost the connection and misses his company terribly. I was heartened to see the relief in her eyes when he showed up and to watch her hug and kiss her grandpa and engage in their special give-and-take teasing as they have always done. There's a special relationship there, and regardless of what difficulties have passed in our lives, it is there with my Dad and I too.

[5] And may I never fail to recognize or take for granted the beautiful relationship the Old Soul and I have with my Mom who supports us in extraordinary ways on a regular basis... not the least of which is participating every other Wednesday as a chaperon for the Old Soul's Brownie meetings. During meetings and trips, she helps me keep track of the boys and is ever engaged in the activities of the troop with all of the girls too... all of whom are getting to know and love Grandma Alice as well. This week we took the troop caroling at the local senior center. With only 10 girls, the Old Soul commented that it was harder than the trip they made with the entire 2nd grade last year because "there was nobody in front of you to hide behind" (LOL, she' NOT a performer). After singing their 6 songs for about 60 old folks in the "big dining room" we went to share our holiday cheer with the 15 people in the "little dining room down the hall". THAT was tough! Those relegated to the little dining room are suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. Unfortunately, a few of the residents' behaviors there were a bit upsetting for some of the girls and for one mother. Honestly, I'm sorry for their discomfort, but I couldn't have been prouder of each and every one of them for the way they bravely carried on gracefully through their performance despite what felt to them as heckling. I explained to the girls what had been taught to me all my life -- not so much in words but in action -- that the folks here were old and not necesarily in control of their minds and mouths. Hence what seemed like heckling during the performance was not personal or directed at the girls at all. I explained how thankful these folks were to see and hear the girls perform. As I talked with the girls, I realized that watching my Mom, my daughter and even my little boys engage with the residents, shaking hands and touching them, my Mom even putting an arm around an upset resident -- even in that little dining room -- that my ability to see past an individuals difficult behaviors or physical limitations and to recognize the human being within comes from my Mom. Some of the girls were traumatized by the mental condition of residents... but not me, not my Old Soul, and not the boys. My 3 children followed their Grandma's beautiful example, as I have always done, and walked away from the experience not traumatized but grateful for the opportunity to bring a little joy into the lives of people who might otherwise not have been visited. I recognize it was hard for each and every one of them. But, when I asked the Old Soul how she felt about the patients' behaviors, she said, "Oh, it was just a little distracting." She's a chip off the old block all right... I'm not talking about me so much as about Grandma's block, really! It's true, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I'm happy that I had my Mom to teach me that no matter what the conditions, you need to see the person. And I'm grateful that this lesson has been passed on to my Old Soul and the boys. Thanks Grandma.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dark But Funny Thoughts

Here's a little glimpse of my [and my family member's] dark sense of humor:

Yesterday evening I got a telephone call from my sister. She jumped right into her stream of thought and said, "We're going to make funeral arrangements for Dad on Tuesday night around 6-ish. Is that convenient for you?"


"Ahhh, no, I'm busy Tuesday. Could we make it next week?"

LOL! How could I answer such a question so callously??? You've gotta know where the question is coming from!

No, Dad didn't die! He is quite alive and continues to wreak his own variety of havoc on our lives with his memory and health issues (typed with the utmost love in my heart, truly!). It's just that we were advised by our elder care attorney to spend down -- in legal ways -- Dad's savings before the state spends it for him. One of the lawful expenses we're permitted to incur on Dad's behalf is a pre-paid funeral, burial and service. But, to do so effectively, you sort of need to understand your elderly loved one's wishes. When he was a slightly younger man, as one of the oldest High School football officials in his association, he used to say, "if I drop dead on the field, just dig a hole in the end zone and roll me in." But, Dad updated that thought when he stopped refereeing. Now he says, "I don't care what you do with me once I'm dead. Just don't waste any money on me. Throw me at the curb for the garbage men to pick up!"

So within the realm of what's possible -- and what's legal -- given his wishes, we're trying to make the appropriate arrangements ahead of time.

Tuesday or next week... I don't think the garbage men would take him. That might actually require a special pick-up. LOL

Thursday, December 3, 2009


You know, I've spent way too much time feeling overwhelmed lately by the chaos that seems to have invaded my life. And, I've gotta say, I'm a little sick and tired of feeling this way... Locked up in the house with sick and/or recovering kids has definitely taken it's toll on my happiness. But, as my smart little brother once prophesied so many years ago, the sun came up again today (yeah -- 70 degrees and sunny) and I felt a little less stressed than I did yesterday (45 degrees and rainy -- ugh). And I knew that I had finally turned the corner and was about to go over the proverbial hump. I just knew, somehow, that I was moving on to better days, to feeling good and to healing... Yup, just in time to prep for the next big hurdle... the boys' CPSE-to-Kindergarten transition meetings (show of hands if you've been there, done that)!

Trite as it may sound, all day long the song "Here Comes The Sun" has been running through my head and out my lips.... "And I say... it's all right!" (did you sing it?)

So, for what it's worth:

[1] I'm thankful for the beautiful 70 degree day we had here today on Long Island. It's December 3rd and that's about 25 degrees warmer than it should be. Surely, that's a sign... or, at the very least, it's just what I needed to pick myself up, dust myself off and get back in the game.

[2] I'm grateful for the recent realization that I have an opportunity to make amends for unintentional hurts I inflicted a few years ago. For the record, I heard this 'make amends' message three times recently. And, I'm proud to say I finally got it! While the gory details are really none of your business (LOL), I am hopeful that my forthcoming apologies might start a chain of healing for all parties involved.... them and me. I know this is cryptic.. but that's so maybe others might come to their own realization that it's never too late to say you're sorry. And, I am...

[3] I am grateful that the young man who accidentally rear-ended me today did so gently, at low-speed and at a point when I was NOT looking in the rear view mirror so I had NO IDEA he was about to hit us and didn't tense up on impact... No whiplash for me or my dear old Dad who was safely seat belted next to me. (Maybe it had something to do with that little fish on his bumper that said "Jesus"!) Anyway, no damage done. Apology accepted. A handshake and off we went. Then it occurred to me that it happened because he was so preoccupied with looking at what was behind him as he attempted to merge into traffic that he simply forgot to look ahead to see if the car in front of him -- namely, me -- had already merged. It was a message to me to stop dwelling on what's behind me and pay more attention to what lies ahead. I swear this was the second time I heard THIS message today! I must be thick or something... OK, I GOT IT!

[4] And, I'm thankful for my 10-year old, VCR-format yoga practices tape (and a barely working VCR to play it in). That morning regeneration routine is the best 15 minutes I've spent in a long time. And, it's a good start! That's all it takes... that and 2 or 3 reminders, apparently!

[5] A strange sense of calm has recently settled over my mind. Maybe it's the yoga. Maybe it's the healing (the boys and mine) or the counseling. Or maybe I got some sense knocked into me in that little accident today. A wake up call... Or just the winds of change? (Did you hear that wind howling last night?) Whatever it is, I'm grateful for the calm... Man, I hope it's not the proverbial calm before the storm ;o). But, even if it is, I'm grateful for it. The calm feels way better than the chaos it replaced any day of the week.

Time to go rest my weary non-whip lashed bones! And tomorrow, the sun will come up again...