Tag Archives: parenting

Let the Joy Begin

Joy 2015

It has started, and this year it is already so much more. More joy.  More dresses.  More excitment.  Joy Prom is seven weeks away.

Our church, the creator and host of Joy Prom, has dresses and tuxes at no cost for the honored guests. So, on a joyful Tuesday evening, Savannah and I met up with Ms B and Ms D.  Ms B is the large-hearted woman who co-ordinates not only Joy Prom but the special needs ministry at our church, and Ms D is Savannah’s personal angel who makes personalized lessons every Sunday just for Savannah to learn the greatness of God. They are our blessings.

We arrived at the church for Savannah’s personal fitting. Like some upscale store catering to a movie star, dresses were brought in and shoes were laid out and accessories were bountiful and pop-tarts and VeggieTales were there on demand.

For over an hour, Savannah was Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Betty Davis. She tried on purple dresses, black dresses, pink dresses of one shade and then another, Dresses with sequences. Dresses with layers. Dresses with many colours. The child with sensory issues wore bracelettes and rings. Eventually, she settled on an off-red, one-strapped dress with flowing scarf, accented by silver sparkly three-inch heels. Her first pair of heels. She chose, out of all of the shoes showered at her feet, her first pair of heels. I took my little girl to try on dresses and an hour later left with a beautiful excited young lady.

Savannah left that evening with a new dress, a purse, jewelry and of course shoes. More importantly, she left happy, confident and feeling both beautiful and loved.

Seven weeks before prom: let the Joy begin.

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Bowling Without a Safety Net

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There’s no way to know what to expect. There could be a melt down or an aggressive episode or a potty accident. On the other hand, there’s no way to know what to expect. There may be stares, judgements or ignorant words that hurt nonverbal feelings.

Every outting is a gamble. There’s no guarantee nor predictability. All I can do is consider if there’s a possibility Savannah may enjoy it and be prepared with an exit strategy.

Last night we went bowling. Not Special Olympics Bowling. Not bowling with the expectation of disabilities. Not bowling with a safety net. We went bowling. Ordinary bowling alley with ordinary kids on an ordinary Tuesday. . . Well, it was suppose to be an ordinary Tuesday. Instead, it became the Tuesday we went bowling.

Savannah’s brother is a Cub Scout, and all families were invited to bowling. All families. All parents. All siblings. And so we went.

At first Savannah was overwhelmed by the noise. We lingered in the entry way, enjoying the rubber duck collection in an arcade game. And then in happened, her brother’s den leader came over to say hi to Savannah. She visited and admired the ducks with Savannah before returning to the boys. Then the assistant troop leader came over and said hi to Savannah while trading in her shoes.

Shoes.

Once Savannah saw the bowling shoes, she was ready. Once her shoes were on, we cut through the noise and crowd and to the Scout lanes. She only bowled three frames before she was ready to leave with a large proud smile, but while there, with each throw, the Scout parents cheered. It may have only been three frames, but they were three successful frames. Three frames that taught me, we could bowl again.

There’s no way to know what to expect. There can be smiles and bravery and bowling. On the other hand, there’s no way to know what to expect. There can be acceptance and cheers and hidden blessings.


Thank you, Katie!

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I’m not one to watch daytime talk shows, but then Katie Couric had an episode on mental illness. I knew I had to watch. Usually, when a talk show addresses a disability (Autism and ADHD are popular subjects) it’s to draw in an audience, make a statement and, to be honest, rarely is accurate. So, holding my breath and with great skepticism, I watched Katie.

I can only say thank you.

Okay, I can say more. Living with a child with mental illness, the sometimes violent, aggressive and too often self-injurious kind, I can say how much I appreciate the bravery of the parents on national television, the realism of the professionals and the honest decision of Katie Couric to shine more light on a subject no one wants to face. The show exposed the horrid and ugly truth of living with mental illness and alternative reality of everyday life.

Everything the parents, Jeff and Sarah Blalock, mentioned resonated within me. They could’ve been talking about my life. “Watching your son change right in front of you”, “he’s a good boy, but he can go off just like that. We don’t know where it comes from”, “it could happen in the grocery store or over dinner.” All are statements that describe life with Savannah, but the one who that hit me the hardest was, “There are moments where all you can do is cry and pray tomorrow will be a better day.” I have lived that sentence countless times. Every mother I know with a special needs child, whether mental illness or physical defects or developmental delays, has lived that moment over and over and will continue to. It’s a moment that ebbs and flows, not like a gentle tide but instead a massive tidal wave, drowning you in sorrow and desperation until somehow you can breathe again.

“We live a dangerous world,” Sarah says, and its true. Living it everyday, I easily forget this is not the norm. Most families do not worry about leaving two children alone in a room together to play. Most families don’t regularly patch holes in their walls or keep pillows in every room for easy access in case a self-injurious head flies in the floor, the chair, the wall. When was the last time my neighbor had to restrain their child just to keep them safe? I have an eight year old son who still gets up in the middle of the night to come sleep with me. I’m sure he is too old, but how can I say no? This is a child that has been woken up by being hit or shoved or to the beastic screams and thuds of a neighboring room. How can I not let him sleep somewhere he feels safe?

Jeff and Sarah talk about the effects mental illness has had on their neuro-typical son. It’s tragic that the person usually most effected by a child’s disability is the one most often overlooked. I tell people, it’s not a special needs kid, its a special needs family.

But that’s another blog for another day.

Jeff and Sarah both stress how deeply they love their child. I’m certain that is the hardest part. You cradle a colicy baby full of love, knowing it will pass and hoping for future triumphs and dreaming of years of fun and laughter. Somewhere along the way the fun and laughter turns into coping and surviving. I have replaced couches and repaired walls. Savannah has given me bites and punches and kicks and one concussion. But she is still the baby I held. We still have fun. We paint our toenails and work puzzles and giggle at cute boys. But when she sleeps, most often after one of her bad days, when she lays sleeping after the banshee screams and self-abuse, that’s when I see the sixteen month old girl who loved to dance, the two year old with a contagious laugh, the three year old that played drums at three in the morning.

It’s the love that makes it so hard, and I think that’s something Katie Couric’s show exposed.

If you would like to take 15min to watch Katie’s recent show on mental illness, it can be viewed for no cost at the links below. I highly recommend letting it expand not only your knowledge but your compassion.

Jeff & Sarah Blalock: http://katiecouric.com/videos/parents-of-a-child-with-mental-illness-share-their-story/

Professionals Dr. Harold Koplewicz & Muriel Jones:
http://katiecouric.com/videos/what-every-parent-needs-to-know-about-mental-illness/


Back to Better

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We finally caved when Savannah’s boot breezed past my face, the heat of it tingling my lips. We drove the rest of the way home with her screaming and banging on the glass, trying to escape. She repeatedly smashed her head into the window and her fists and her knees. Fears of cops filled the gaps of the anxiety laden air. We had to make it home, but we were hours away, and had found traffic.

The next day we sat in the doctor’s office. Our regular and fantastic pediatrician was on vacation, so we were seeing his partner, Dr B, for the first time. Purples, blues, pinks and greens tainted Savannah’s beautiful fair skin. The bruises and knots and scrapes started in the center if her forehead and littered one cheekbone and her chin. They covered her arms and legs and torso, even the tips of her feet were tarnished. The deepest stains were on the sides of her hipbone, from punching herself; the tender length of the outside of her arm between the wrist and elbow, from slamming her arm on the floor, the table, the chair; and above her Achilles’ tendon, from repeated beatings into her footboard.

My bruises seemed minor only to hers. They fell across my skin, down my arms and legs and back and hips and shoulders. They were from punches and kicks and bitings. My muscles ached, and my flesh was tired. My body seemed fueled by adrenaline and fear. The fear coursed through my veins, making me jittery. What if Dr. B didn’t believe her bruises were self-inflicted? It did seem unbelievable that this beautiful little seven year old child could inflict this on herself. The fear we could be blamed was poison. I held my breath and bit my lip.

As we talked with Dr. B, it hit. A full blown, albeit short-lived, episode. She lunged and screamed and threw her head into the wall. John tried to pick her up. She scaled him, still wailing and kicking and beating and biting, until she finally passed out. The doctor turned to me. “You realize this is not normal?”

I exhaled. Dr. B understood, and the process of pediatric psychiatrists to medicate for self-abuse began.

It’s been four years. Medications have helped, although it fluctuates. There are always adjustments to be made and tolerance levels change. Some days are great, others are as difficult as before. As I sit and look and the recent bruises staining my thigh and as I ice my wrist, I remind myself it’s just one day. This used to be everyday. I cling to the hope or prayer or whatever it may be, that tomorrow is back to better and not the beginning of a decline that tells us its time to change medicines once again.


B-A-B-Y doesn’t always spell Baby

Savannah was an early talker, but more impressively, an early reader.  I’m certain I wrote it in my obsessive list of Savannah’s accomplishments, but my memory only places it around very, very early.  I am certain, however, that it was at Super Target, during a time when we lived in a dingy apartment.  We had one car we divided between us, so errands were run in the evening, after a day of baby care and a sleepless night.   I was exhausted and spent, trying to pinch pennies and calculate coupons.  Savannah sat in the basket listening to me ramble, describing everything around us, everything in the cart, everything we needed and couldn’t afford.

“Bay-bee!” Savannah interrupted.

“What are you saying?” I asked, the way any parent would  It is the automatic relex that kicks in even when you’re half asleep.  It replies and encourages without demanding any thought on the parent’s part.

“Bay-bee!”  Savannah demanded thought.  She reached and squirmed in the basket for an object behind me.  I began to back the cart up to find the interesting object, to stop the squirming.  We weren’t close to toys, and I found my curiosity piquing. Then she snatched it, dragging it off the hook and into her chubby little hands.  It was a small black purse with a chain shoulder strap, a chain draping across the front and silver charm letters which hung ever few links:  B-A-B-Y

Months later, while looking through a Clifford book at Barnes and Noble, waiting for the weekly story time, it happened again. Whle I read the words circling around Emily Elizabeth, Savannah yells “Ahh-Choooo!”  They were the letters arching over Clifford’s sneeze on the next page, blowing the fall leaves in his path.

A few months later, it happened again, with a most annoying book about busy bees. The book hummed the bzzzzzz of the bees with each page turned.  She opened the book to the first page, “Biz-beez.  Biz-beez.”

And then it stopped.

It has been years since those spontaneous readings.  It was a skill she lost after losing speech.  A skill that gave us hope her speech would return, until it was gone as well.  Now, she has a closet full of purses.  Pink, purple, black with fur.  Yellow, blue and green quilted.  Velcro-able with PECS, knitted and woven, laced and lined with glitter and sequins.  What she doesn’t have, is the ability to read B-A-B-Y.

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