Sunday, November 28, 2010

Take a Walk Over to Wordpress

Please visit us at our new home at Talk a Walk on the Happy Side at Wordpress.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Feeling Thankful!


Everybody and his brother are writing Thanks-giving posts today. I’m no exception… EXCEPT, this blog is my happiness project and one of the tenets of maintaining my happiness is to always stay focused on all the wondrous things I have in my life right now. So for me, this day is hardly different from any other except I’m in good company giving thanks AND I happily share in a HUGE Thanksgiving feast with my family… and thankful for the opportunity to do so.

Ya know, it’s pretty easy to be thankful for the good stuff. “Thanks God for letting me win the lottery! Thanks for this big beautiful house I live in. Thanks for my good looks and big brains (or is that the other way around? LOL) It’s the gifts we receive reluctantly… the tough ones that we might think [at least initially] are a threat to our happiness and well-being that challenge our thankfulness. But I’ve come to believe those are the ones that give us the most to be thankful for. And those are the ones I’m especially giving thanks for today… Because in the throes of the day-to-day chaos of my life… those are the blessings I don’t always take the time to appreciate.

1. I am so unbelievably grateful for the extra 21st chromosome that My Boys have been gifted. These two beautiful Little Men have taught me more every single day of their short lives than I learned in all the years preceding the births of my 3 children. More about the world. More about human nature. And more about myself. I am a better, more patient and compassionate person grounded in the things that really matter in life because of them. They are masters of unconditional love, dogged perseverance, altruistic intentions, inspiring motivation, undying hope, blind faith, living for today, and doing… just because it’s fun. I would not change a thing about them… especially not that microscopic little third copy of their 21st chromosome!

2. I live in the heart of keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ territory. Never mind that I can’t compete in that race…. I have absolutely no desire to even try. My focus is on my relationships. My children. My husband. My family. My friends. NOT stuff. And, I am oddly thankful for the financial challenges I faced in my young life and for those I’ve faced more recently that not only taught me invaluable survival skills but also enabled me to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle. It was knowing how to survive with little, and knowing I would survive no matter what, that afforded me the option of leaving my high-paying job to stay home to raise my beautiful children. Certainly, this is a case of “that which does not destroy us, makes us stronger!” And I am thankful for the strength and knowledge that I call on every day not only to survive, but to thrive.

3. I’m thankful for my college education in Psychology (that’s an easy one) and for my personal experience in seeing the benefit of professional counseling (sometimes tough). Having someone with an unbiased, non-judgemental listening ear to talk with, someone whose knowledge of human behavior and ability to relate it to our own behavior to help us to see the folly of our own thoughts and actions is invaluable. I am of the firm belief that everyone can benefit from counseling and I have successfully instilled that belief in my Old Soul (which, thankfully, will serve her well in life). And I am eternally grateful for the amazing and insightful Dr. Briglio in Lynbrook, NY whose ability to see and translate what I have not managed to decipher in my life, in my children’s lives, and on so many fronts, is nothing short of amazing!

4. I am glad that I’m 48. That’s not an easy thing to say because I know that I’m getting old… And I loved being 28! But, if I found myself in the wondrous place I now occupy when I was 28, I’m pretty sure I would not have had the wisdom to navigate these sometimes shark-infested waters as gracefully (if I may be so bold) as I’m doing it now. Now if you know me at all, I’m not the “graceful” sort. And I’m not even hinting that I’m a graceful old sod now so much as I’m thinking this life might have been an insurmountable challenge for 28-year-old “Margie” but for 48-year-old Maggie with her just-another-bump-in-the-road point of view it’s no big deal. and I am grateful I am me now.

5. Whoever wrote, “with age, comes wisdom” was sooo right. So was the guy who said, “youth is wasted on the young!” and the one who coined the term, “if I knew then what I know now.” All really smart guys… full of hindsight. Yeah, 20:20 hindsight is good but being nearsighted about the present is better. I’m thankful for the ability to appreciate my sometimes shady  past (only in my head, LOL), to NOT worry so much about what the future holds, and, most importantl,y to be able to bask in the sunshine of today… most days. In my children's movie, Kung Fu Panda, Master Ugway says to Po, “the past is behind us, the future is unknown but today is a gift… that is why they call it the present.”

So live for today and be thankful for it. There are many who didn’t get to live through today. Many who didn’t get to eat a Thanksgiving feast. Who didn’t share their day with loved ones. I wish you all a thankful and happy heart this Thanksgiving day and every day.

xo maggie

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Welcome 5MFSN Visitors

Welcome visitors from 5 Minutes For Special Needs and thanks for stopping by.  Feel free to peruse the site and read some past posts. But, if you happen to like what you see and decide to sign up... please PLEASE  P L E A S E... do so on my newly migrated site at You see, I've been having some "issues" with Blogspot's ability to see and track my subscribers.  And, unfortunately, since they can't see you, I can't migrate you for this move.

This and the fact that today was my first post as a contributing author over at 5 Minutes for Special Needs necessitated the move... now!  I don't want you all looking for me here at my old digs when I'm over at Wordpress sprucing up the site and posting my long-winded advocacy rants and strange nuggets of happiness wisdom going forward.

Like it or not, my new site retains the same name and content but with a slightly different, disheveled look that does, appropriately and unfortunately, mirror the state of my life just now.  While I struggle to find moments to cram Wordpress For Dummies and update the new site, I'll continue to post on both sites... giving my faithful readers here a chance to Take a Walk over to Wordpress on their own time and terms.

So bear with me during my self-directed, trial and error, strictly-aesthetic make-over (pretty much how I address everything in life!). The look will evolve but my content will continue to be about my pursuit of happiness while facing the challenges of motherhood -- working 2 part-time jobs (as an inclusion advocate and a business editor/writer), re-building "this old house" and raising my 3 beautiful children: the venerable Old Soul and 2 amazing little men who share the same genes, including an extra 21st chromosome (aka: Down syndrome).

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you'll find the time to Take a Walk on the Happy Side with me over at Wordpress.  I'll see you there.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Language Development Through Movies

I'm sitting here, where I've been sitting most of my day, working on my laptop to meet a self-imposed but necessary deadline for one of my 2 new part-time jobs.  The Boys, who are "suffering" on and off with a gastrointestinal virus (read: diarrhea) for the majority of 2 weeks now, have been marathon movie-watching most of the day... taking advantage of my distracted state. 

I don't know about your kids, but mine get a lot of expressive language practice watching movies and repeating the narrative.  They not only act out but speak the actor's lines... perfecting their articulation with repetitive viewing and rehearsal.  I and my speech therapist approve... MOST of the time!

The caveat? You have to know what they're watching!

Garfield: The Movie is our fifth movie of the day and, as it's late, they've planted themselves right smack in front of the proverbial tube -- a misnomer for televisions that no longer have tubes -- and are gazing up intently, necks strained, at the over-sized screen... I note they're being relatively quiet which tells me it's time for bed. 

Suddenly the following scene plays out: Jon is crushing on Garfield's attractive female veterinarian while Garfield is giving a cat-to-owner pep talking on the benefits of actually asking her out instead of making multiple unnecessary trips to the vet.  The pep talk begins with a very positive rant until Jon is out of Garfield's earshot when the belligerent orange cat culminates with calling his beloved owner a "Schmuck".  (I won't go into the meaning of that word here but suffice it to say it is not appropriate for anyone to say in good company much less 2 5-year-old little boys with Down syndrome.)

No sooner does that word boom out of our pseudo-surround sound system than both boys chime in together with absolutely perfect articulation..... SCHMUCK!

Huh?  OMG!!!

Now if the Old Soul didn't make such a big deal out of it by drumming into their innocent little heads that this is a word that nice kids don't use; If I wasn't covering my face and laughing;  And if they didn't know that shaking shoulders also means I'm laughing and trying to keep them from realizing it, they might not ever have figured out that this was a word the world, their big sister and their mama didn't really want to hear them perfect. 

Ahh, but mothering and language development are imperfect arts!  So if you hear My Boys use this nasty little word in the near future, please excuse them while we work on unlearning it. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Power of NO For Women Who Do Too Much!

I recently read that the key to happiness is breathing.  Ha!

I think the RADICAL minimalists might have taken things just a bit too far with that statement!  'Cause if it was that easy I'd be living on Happy Street!  But I'm not! Oh, I'm breathing, but it's the see-sawing between laughing and hyperventilating kind of breathing as my stress-levels rise and fall and my good humor ebbs and flows with the chaos of my life.  Change can be good but it's not always healthy!

Years ago, I read a book called Women Who Do Too Much.  Anyone remember that one?  I don't recall the exact qualifying conditions or the recommendations... only that I was then and am still now one of those women.  Back then it was probably because I wanted people to like me.  Boy have things changed!  NOW... I don't give a rat's.... ah, tail... whether someone likes me or not.  NOW there's only one word that describes why I do too much.... KIDS!  The Boys need.... The Old Soul needs... The Hubby... well, unfortunately, he has needs too but he's on his own 'cause the kids need so darn much from me.  Add special needs to those needs and us gals have got stuff on our plates that we really just sorta CAN'T say no to.  And when the good 'ol catholic guilt kicks in regarding how much -- or how little -- I do for my kid without special needs, I end up saying yes to a bunch more things I have no time to handle.  And who's addressing my needs?  Seriously!

My now school-age kids come with a whole new set of professionals pressuring me to do more.  The CPSE/CSE folks, teachers and therapists all want support through parental involvementt at home and in meetings that usually require preparation and cause added stress. Then there's the PTA, SEPTA and don't even get me started with the Girl Scouts who demand their chunk of us Women Who Do Too Much but offer a triangular badge instead of a little support.  And if my poor husband wants a piece of me, he has to negotiate for it against school, sleep and the paying jobs -- yes plural -- I now hold to help our family financially instead of leading that leisurely life you see left-coast Hollywood Wives enjoying.  The one that usually includes morning workouts with her private trainer, liquid lunch with the ladies and afternoon mani-pedis before calling to remind the Nanny to pick up her kids after-school!  Yeah, that's not my life.  I unintentionally limit contact with friends to grabbing a salad at Fridays once a year and, thankfully-rare, late-night girlfriend-to-girlfriend phone calls to ward-off those inevitable near-collapses when life hands you the last straw and the camel drops to his knees.  Besides those luxuries...  Ive barely seen my friends in ages or done something good just for me. 

A man goes to work, comes home, maybe watches a little news before dinner, a little baseball after dinner and goes to bed when he gets tired.  On weekends, he mows the lawn and watches some football.  If it's on the calendar and his lovely wife-who-does-too-much has the time and energy leftover from all her other commitments, she might even let him take her out to dinner.  That's living a simple, minimalist life, isn't it?  And that's why the name of that book isn't Men Who Do Too Much!  YES, I recognize that this is an over-simplified view that does not accurately represent the Sarge's role in our family -- though I'm sure he'd LOVE it if it did!  This is absolutely NOT a DIG on my hubby or men in general but rather a DIG ON ME and Women Who Do Too Much!  It's an outright honest admission from this particular Woman Who Does Too Much that maybe the men have a slightly better handle on all of this... Let's call it what it is... cr*p. 

Maybe, my latest arrhythmia-causing last straw is a wake up call!  The camel needs some life support and if she doesn't get it, things are gonna get ugly!

The key to Happiness is one word.... But it's not "breathe"... (THAT'S the key to staying alive, not to happiness.)  For us Women Who Do Too Much the one word is "NO!" 

As in... I could have said NO to the Social Worker at Mercy Medical Center, where The Boys were born, when she asked if could she give out my number to new parents of children with Down syndrome.  But that would not reinforce the love and acceptance I have for my beautiful children with Down syndrome nor help others who find themselves walking in my shoes.  So I said YES.  Not a big committment and one that fits itself neatly into the nooks and crannies of my life without interrupting.  I could have said NO to the CPSE/CSE committee chairpeople when they asked if I would volunteer as a parent-member.  But where would I have learned so much about how my district doles out services to children with special needs like my children?  And how would I become a known entity so they deal most effectively with me and My Boys.  So I said YES.  I have the option of saying NO to the meetings that don't fit my schedule (an option I need to learn how to exercise).  I could have said NO to the Girl Scouts when my Old Soul's former leaders up-and-quit.  But then I'd be taking my lovely Old Soul on Mother-Daughter-brother-brother adventures instead of having fun with 9 screaming-but-very-happy little girls.  Saying NO might have disappointed some of those little girls (unless some other Woman Who Does Too Much stepped up to deliver).  But saying "NO" would have exacerbated the "I don't do enough for her" guilt of having 2 OTHER children who have special needs.  And the forced schedule makes me do the things she and I love to do together but might not otherwise get around to because I'm an over-scheduled Woman Who Does Too Much... So I said YES and am proudly fostering the positive self-esteem of 10 little girls -- including my own daughter -- so maybe they won't grow up to be Women Who Do Too Much.  And, more recently, I could have said NO to the two jobs that afford me not only a much-needed paycheck to help relieve some of my family's financial stress in these tough economic times but also gifts me the extrinsic sense of accomplishment and professional recognition that being a stay-at-home-Mom never does.... Hey, I'm sorry for feeling that way... but it's how I and a lot of women feel... sadly!  Except for a Mother's Day card once a year, the compliments that sustain us as viable members of this society are few and far between. 

While those are all things I could have said NO to but chose to say YES, in re-examination, I think I have pretty good reasons for sticking to it.  So I'm not really rethinking those decisions for now because they're written in ink on my calendar already.  But I am beginning to consider all the extra little unnecessary requests I've been asked commit to!  NO to the Class Photographer role.  Just another scheduling conflict that presents prep and post-work I don't want to nor have time to do!  If I can get to an event with my camera, cool!  If not, oh well!  NO to the incessant donations and clothing pick ups for the War Veterans Fund, Lupus Foundation, National Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and any other callers. All great causes but I can pack up and donate on my own time versus theirs.  NO to the PTA meetings and SEPTA meetings.  NO to the Class Mother role or even the unofficial offer to "help out"! NO to the play date with the kid my child doesn't really like.  NO to the Salesman wanting to meet about Special Needs Trust Funds (We have NO extra money right now anyway).  NO to the CPSE/CSE meeting that just doesn't  fit on the schedule that particular day.  Saying NO doesn't mean saying NO to every meeting request, but NO to the ones that don't fit on my already too crowded calendar!  NO to Facebook.  NO to Twitter.  NO to the cell phone.  NO to texting.  NO to the computer. NO to Netflix. NO to the telephone. NO NO NO NO NO!

My new Happiness Mantra is "Just say NO!"  This fosters my happiness!  Relieves of my stress!  STOPS the arrhythmia's and strained phone calls to girlfriends.  Stops the yelling.  Eases the crazy schedule.  And slows the constant race against time.  It gives me a little wiggle room to relax and BREATHE!  Ahhh, yes, the key to a long and healthy life!  It affords me the time to watch a football game if I want to (LOL, I don't).  To work in my overgrown, untended garden if I want to (I do).  Or maybe even to watch Lipstick Jungle.  (I've never seen it but I think I might like it based on an ad I saw once.) 

The first step is to contemplate the activities I've already committed to that I could drop without hurting my kids, myself or my family and to age-out my old YES requests off the calendar.  Meanwhile, I have to plan for how I'm going to say NO to new requests that don't fit within my YES criteria.  That is, I have to find a voice, MY voice, that's committed to saying NO to anything that doesn't enhance my happiness and/or improve my health (with cautious attention to requests that enhance my children's happiness and/or improve my children's health without jeopardizing mine).  NO to anything that can't be finished inside of a random (read: one of my choosing) half hour time slot not currently filled by any other commitments already on my calendar.  And, NO to anything that requires more than a half an hour of preparation or follow-up tasks.  For example, attending my child's class holiday party is OK but committing to baking the cupcakes or downloading my pics to the yearbook committee within 2 weeks of the event is a NO.  These self-serving criteria should pretty much leave me with only the necessary stuff for my children's and my health and happiness and might even allow a few impromptu dates with my elliptical machine and, if I really embrace the NO, I might even find time for an opportunistic date with the Sarge or an ocassional lunch with friends.  Now there's a happy thought! 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Developmental Boost for Your Child with Down Syndrome (or Without)

When it comes to my children -- 2 of whom happen to share identical genes including an extra 21st chromosome (aka. Down syndrome) -- I'll do anything to help them be happy, succeed on their own terms and to clear a peaceful path for them in life. But their path -- like every one's -- is bound to be a little different, especially given their special needs. That doesn't mean I can't facilitate their development just like and maybe even more than I do for my very special (but not special needs) daughter.

I"m talking about doing relatively simple, if not a tad odd things to help my kids achieve milestones and skills that I was told would be late, elusive, impossible.  I never believe the naysayers.  I believe in my children!  So...  at less than 6-months-old, before my babies could walk, crawl or roll-over, let alone jump, I bought a full-sized trampoline and put it inside my house so we could use it daily and year-round!
Why, you ask?  Because the Boys' Early Intervention Physical Therapist told me that my babies could improve their balance and strengthen the muscles in their feet -- both critically needed for walking -- by moving about on a dynamic surface. She suggested giving them belly- and crawl-time on a large mattress... using extreme caution monitoring the edges to prevent falls.  I gave this some thought and decided there's nothing more dynamic than a trampoline's surface. So I bought one that was only 18" off the ground and 8' round surrounded by a safety net with a closable entry.  Then I assembled it on my indoor balcony right outside the kids' bedrooms. The shorter than usual height was critical for indoor use -- fitting well within our standard 8' ceilings -- and being well-placed and large enough (including a high weight limit) to fit several children plus adults, made it easy for everyone to use together multiple times daily. The Physical Therapist used it during her sessions too. And, we had belly time on it every day and read bedtime stories on it every night. We had naps and sleepovers on it.  We belly-dragged and crawled on it.  Laid on our backs and bounced our butts up and down.  Laid on our bellies and bounced.  Kneeled on all fours and bounced.  Rocked and bounced, kneeled and bounced, sat and bounced and stood and bounced.  You name it, we bounced.  Eventually, we even did fancy tricks bouncing.  Yes, even The Boys learned how -- jumping up and bouncing down to our butts, then up to our feet and down to our butts again.  You know the move?  We did the same bouncing to our knees.  And guess what? With all that bouncing going on, My Boys rolled over at 6 months, crawled at 10 months and walked at 14 months. Might they have done the same without the trampoline? Maybe! Maybe not.  But I'm a take action Mom and the action I took absolutely helped them develop better balance, stronger muscles, increased stamina and a love for jumping... all good!  And that trampoline is still helping them with these skills today. 

Interestingly, the prominent placement in our house definitely facilitated the use of that trampoline.  Once relinquished to the not-quite-finished basement playroom, it's been used less often and that's not good.  So, I'm in the process of rearranging my home to find another in-the-way spot for our trampoline.  So far, my husband hasn't agreed to swapping the great room couch with the trampoline.  But, I'm not giving up.  NEVER give up! 

Recognizing that not everybody has room or wants a very conspicuous in-house trampoline -- or if you decide this is just not your gig -- try putting a mattress on the floor or in a roll-away trundle along the length of your child's bed.  At the very least, your child will have to walk across it to get into and out of bed every night and every morning, it provides cushioning and a safer distance in case of night-time or jump-time falls and it's a great place for Mom to grab some shut-eye during those middle of the night wake-ups.  All the while, your kids are benefiting through improved balance and increased lower body strength from the dynamic surface.  

Trying to sell the idea to a hesitant spouse or your internal nay-sayer?  At one point in our learning to crawl, stand and walk process, I contemplated laying wall-to-wall mattresses across their bedroom floor.  Doesn't that sound fun?  Almost like a trampoline room!  They'd have nowhere to go to avoid the dynamic surface and they could literally jump and sleep wherever they want.  No cribs or beds necessary, just check your shoes at the door!  A little crazy, sure!  But from here, an indoor trampoline is an easy step comparatively speaking. LOL

For my now older and already-walking children with Down syndrome who have a slightly weaker gait, slower run and sometimes compromised balance, we still use the trampoline but we also challenge them with barefoot beach walking (walking in the sand). This -- which runners have known for a long time and I know, 'cause I used to be one -- is also really good for strengthening leg and feet muscles and improving balance.  While being a lifelong resident of Long Island gives us seemingly never-ending access to sand and beach, the first time I dropped My baby Boys in the sand they hated the sensation of sand between their toes.  How weird is that?  Oddly, to a lesser degree, they start every new beach season with some trepidation.  Acknowledging that their discomfort can seriously discourage beach walking, we found that feeding and chasing a pack of seagulls made them instantaneously forget all about the "yucky" feel of the sand on  their feet.  To this day, a big bag of bread or Tostitos still keeps the birds coming around and My Boys on the run... sand be damned. If you're landlocked, fear not, for those colder days when the beach is too chilly even for us, we came up with this solution.  We sectioned off the part of our back yard surrounding the kids' play equipment,  laid down weed prevention sheets and dumped a thick layer of sand on top.  It's a great padding for falls and there's no avoiding it.  The Boys have to negotiate the sand to get to the slide, climbing net and treehouse. And, on any given day if that's not enough motivation, kicking around a lightweight bouncy ball in the sand often does the trick. Even in sneakers, it does wonders for their balance and lower body muscle strength. 

My Boys are big, healthy and physically active 5-year-olds. They're getting stronger and improving their balance every day. Meanwhile, I keep trying to come up with workable activities and methodologies to facilitate their development physically, intellectually and emotionally.  As such, I plan to make this a series of posts sharing some of the proactive, out-of-the-box solutions we've implemented here in my home to facilitate The Boys' development in all areas and encourage their participation in activities they find less than desirable but are key to their ongoing development. Maybe one of these tactics will be just right for your home and your child's developmental needs.  Or, maybe it'll get you thinking outside the box to help push your child's development. 

If you've come up with something interesting, please share!  I'm always looking for ideas to help get my creative juices flowing fast and wild with ideas that boost the ongoing development of my children with Down syndrome. I'd love to hear what you've done to benefit your child's physical, intellectual and emotional development.  What traditional or non-traditional methods, activities and tools/toys have you tried to help your child with special needs be all they can be?