Friday, December 31, 2010


The use of IPads is exploding in the disability community. Almost every blog of a parent of a special needs child is talking about wanting one - getting one - using one. It's really amazing the impact the device is having on our day-to-day lives.

Yesterday, I found an article about yet another app for the IPad and IPhone that is designed to benefit people with disabilities. It's a communication app called Verbal Victor. Pictures are paired with recorded words, phrases or sentences and the IPad/IPhone can then be used as a communication device. And the best thing - Verbal Victor costs only $10!

I remember many years ago when I was exploring communication devices for Ashley. She rejected every single one we tested because they were too bulky, too cumbersome, and she just didn't want to be bothered. I bet if the IPad had been available then, she would have liked it. Verbal Victor will be available next week, and you can bet we will be giving it a try!

Have you found apps that you, your child or your family member with disabilities really likes? If so, please share...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Well On His Way

Chip has always done things on his time schedule. He ignored rules such as when he was supposed to start walking as a child - he started at 8 months and I was thinking I would have at least a year before I had to start chasing him. He learned to talk when he was good and ready and had something to say. He didn't let peer pressure influence any of his actions in either middle school or high school. Although he did get his learner's permit when all his same-age peers were getting theirs, he felt no pressure to get his license or even start driving. And I have never had any worries that he would be influenced to experiment with cigarettes, alcohol or drugs.

Chip has also been an excellent money manager since he first learned what money was. Once he started working, he followed the advice so many others don't - pay yourself first. He always has a reasonable balance in his savings account, and he obsessively researches almost every purchase.

So once he finally did decide he was ready to get his license and drive, he was in a great position for purchasing a vehicle. As always, he did his research, and he approached the salesman at the car dealership armed with the price he intended to pay. The salesman, the dealership manager, and the financial manager kept commenting on how prepared he was, how impressed they were, and how they wish their 20 year olds were more like him. Oh, and he did get the price he wanted plus a few other perks thrown in also.

So, at barely 20 years old, a full-time student in college (maintaining Dean's List status), and working full-time, Chip purchased his first car! Needless to say, I am very proud of my boy!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Special Exposure Wednesday

I took all the kids bowling Tuesday, and Ronnie decided he no longer wanted to use the ramp for releasing his ball. Since he uses a wheelchair, the logical bowling choice is to use a ramp. But Ronnie wanted Chip to push him the chair while he released the ball like a person not in a wheelchair would do.

The first attempt went pretty well....

The second attempt had the ball in the the lane one over from ours!

But all in all, Ronnie was very proud of himself!

Be sure to visit all the other Special Exposure Wednesday shots at 5 Minutes For Special Needs!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dang you, Mother Nature

The clothes were folded and stacked just waiting to go into the suitcases.

The travel size toiletries were bought and awaiting packing also.

Movies were stored in a binder to save space in our vehicle.

My gas-hog van was filled to the brim at only 6 cents per gallon thanks to my grocery store fuel perks card! $1.18 for 20 gallons a gas - not bad :)

The Christmas decorations were stored away so when we returned from vacation we wouldn't be facing that task. We were all excited about the prospect of a huge, handicapped accessible house on the beach in North Carolina, and then.....

Mother Nature struck with a fury. A huge snowstorm - epic was the word used by the newscasters - struck in an area that more often than not never sees snow and all roads leading to the beach were, and still are, unpassible.

(Photo courtesy of Carl Anderson, Hampton Roads Photography)

Thank goodness I had trip insurance. I won't lose any money, but I will lose a week away from work and the other stressors of our life. The vacation we couldn't take last summer due to Ronnie's surgery was not to be during Christmas vacation either.

Mother Nature can be a real b*tch sometimes...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve!

Remember earlier this month I posted a picture of our Christmas card preparation? Ronnie was chosen as this year's victim poster kid. So here is the finished product that adorned our Christmas cards! Absolutely one of the best "presents" I have ever received!

Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday full of joy, smiles, warmth, and hope for the future.

Happy holidays, my friends!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Making Deals

Breaks from the routine of school are tough for kids who thrive with routines. My kids are no exception to that. When you throw in cancelled physical therapy sessions, basketball games put on hold, and limited contact with the school mates you adore, some kids (e.g. Ronnie!) can get a bit cranky.

My solution - bribery!

For example, Ronnie does not want to continue to practice his physical therapy skills when he isn't going to have to deal with the weekly wrath of his therapist. But he still needs to practice standing with his new crutches and he still needs to work on stretching his back muscles so standing comes easier.

Here's the deal we worked out. For every 30 minutes of physical therapy practice, he gets 60 minutes of video game play.

So far it's working. What are your strategies to keep your kids on track during long school breaks?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Special Exposure Wednesday

How did your children spend the first day of their Winter Break from school? Mine made seven dozen cookies! I love these kids!

Be sure to visit the other Special Exposure Wednesday shots at 5 Minutes For Special Needs!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Slip Sliding Away

I need your help. This is the first year that we have had our wheelchair ramp and really needed to use it. It is Ronnie's only access into the house.

Last week, we had our first snow. I was dreading it - not because I don't like snow - I really love snow - but I knew that the ramp was going to be an issue. And sure enough, it was.

So here's where I need the help. What do others of you that have ramps do when the ramps get snowy or icy?

Our ramp is made of wood - decking material - and when it gets icy, it gets really really slippery. When we get even an inch of snow, Ronnie's chair won't plow through it. I know we can use the ice melt crystals, but I do worry about the environmental impact of that. I used ice melt last Winter on my front porch and steps, and it took the paint off!

We do have the non-slip strips of sandpaper like stuff on every third plank going down the ramp, but they just seem to get as icy or as snow covered as the rest of the ramp. Any ideas???

(The picture above is not of our ramp, but our ramp is similar. It's about the same angle of descent, and the non-slip strips are similar.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Good News for Isla - Great News for the Rest of Us!

Friday I wrote about wanting to bottle the Christmas spirit of love, joy and peace and making it available all year long. So imagine my surprise when my brother emailed me about a wonderful blog titled "Good News For Isla." Isla's Mom has decided to document her journey to find a good story, person, event, or charity every day for a year. She is currently on day #66.

In the first post Isla's Mom wrote for the blog, all is explained:

I'm not a blogger, or really anyone who has ever wanted to have a diary or written narrative with which to hassle. But I feel confronted nearly each day when I turn on the news, radio, or glance at the internet, and see one sad story after another. Our world is clearly imperfect. We humans are definitely not making it easy on ourselves. Living, though, in this constant state of despair only creates and fosters fear. Fear of people, nature, the unknown, and life as we know it.

I am a mother now, and fear is not the legacy I want to leave my daughter. It is a choice that I (and my husband) have to make, and somehow we have to figure out how to not shelter her from reality, but to also instill in her a sense of hope. Not only do I want her to know of the good news that is currently happening in her first year or so of life, but I also have this intense desire to expose myself to good news. I need to have my hope restored. Merriam-Webster defines interrupt as "to break the uniformity or continuity of," and that is clearly what my life and thought process needs. To be interrupted. I need this interruption, to remember that there is good in this world. So that I in turn can instill this hope in her.

So, this blog is born. As a means to document my journey to find a positive story, event, person, or charity each day for a year. My wish is that some day my daughter will be able to look back and see that amazing events and people filled the days at the start of her life, and that goodness and hope continues as she grows older.

This daily good news is EXACTLY what I need, and I bet most of you will enjoy it also. I urge you to visit and visit often! And thank you, Isla's Mom!!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

An Always Holiday Spirit

A lot of people seem nicer during the Christmas season. Not everyone, of course. There are still those folks who are impatient standing in long lines or angry because you took the parking space they believed was reserved for them. But I have noticed more smiles, more "Have a great holiday!", and more considerate comments to the salespeople and service workers.

I'm glad to see it during Christmas, but I really wish I saw it more all year long.

I know that we all get impatient, get angry, and just have bad days. But it's more of the blah days I wish we could overcome. I know it's early for New Year's resolutions, but I want to thank more people in the future. I want to smile at strangers more often. I want to slow down and enjoy the life that surrounds me not just the life I have programmed for myself and my family.

I want more people to say, "What a nice person" instead of "What a b*tch." I want my children to learn to be more thankful and less expecting. I want my whole family to notice sunsets more often and comment on lovely flowers more often. I want my children to rush to help someone, not rush to criticize or complain.

I just want to bottle this Christmas spirit and let it out in dribs and drabs all year long. And if someone runs out of the Christmas spirit, say around March or April, I want them to be able to go to the Christmas Spirit store and get some more - free of charge, of course!

Tonight, this Friday of no particular importance, I will pray for more peace, more respect and consideration, more happiness, and more joy. Will you join me?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Can't Sing

I can’t sing. I know that because my third grade teacher assigned me a solo for the chorus recital, and then rescinded her offer after hearing me. I also know because my 8th grade chorus teacher gave me an ‘F’ on my report card. Throughout my entire elementary, middle and high school career, I had straight A’s except for that one F. Obviously, I could not sing.

I’ve heard the can’t word a lot of other times in my life. And I’ve heard the not-good-enough phrase more times than I feel I should have. I’m not sure why I kept hearing those things. Surely all the folks in my life sphere couldn’t be conspiring to knock down my self esteem, but it was indeed knocked down. My response to all those people was to prove them wrong (remember those straight A’s?).

I’ve spent my life proving naysayers wrong because I feel like I have to. I was told, “You can’t be a police officer.” Oh yea, watch me. “You can’t be a parent because you are not a good enough wife.” Oh yea, watch me. “You can’t do that job, or complete that, or succeed at …..” Oh yea, watch me.

Yes, I did and continue to prove the naysayers wrong, but it’s exhausting and takes a high toll on one’s self esteem in the process. I don’t want my children to travel that same path.

I refuse to let people talk about what my children can’t do – whether those people are doctors, teachers, family or friends. I refuse to let anyone say that my children are not good enough, and if anyone doubts that, I dare them to say it to me.

I want my children to grow up knowing they are unique and capable and loved, not for what they can or can’t physically do, but just for the people they are.

So, if I could only give one gift to my children this Christmas it would be the knowledge that they are now and always will be good enough and that they can do anything they want to do, regardless of what anyone says. My goal is to surround my children with people who believe as I do.

So, if you have been asked to leave our circle of friends – if I have asked for a new professional to take your place – if you feel us withdrawing from you – now you know the reason why.

Oh, and my children have never complained about my singing – especially the deaf ones :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Special Exposure Wednesday

And so it begins...Welcome Winter!

Be sure to check out all the other Special Exposure Wednesday shots at 5 Minutes For Special Needs!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Seizing Less

Something strange is going on with Ashley’s seizures – I’m seeing fewer of them. And to make it even stranger, I have stopped one of her seizure medications.

Ashley currently takes 3 seizure medications – Depakene, Keppra and Trileptal. A couple of months ago, I weaned her off Topamax at the direction of her neurologist. He wanted to replace the Topamax with a new seizure medication named Vimpat. Ashley tried the Vimpat, but the side effects were horrible, and I stopped giving it to her. I haven’t told the neurologist about that yet.

But just in the last couple of weeks, she is down from 6-8 seizures a day to 1, maybe 2, and they are of shorter duration and less intensity. The only difference in her meds besides stopping the Vimpat is that she has also been on Augmentin for an ear infection. Augmentin is a common addition to her medicine regime, so I can’t attribute the fewer seizures to that.

I just don’t understand it – but I am thrilled! Ashley seems happier, more carefree, and definitely less groggy from medication.

Has anyone else experienced this? Has stopping a medication or taking fewer medications actually brought a reduction in seizures? Might it just be a change in her body chemisty/hormones as she matures?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rock Stars!

There was no way that the end of season wheelchair basketball party could be held at some wimpy place like Fuddruckers. No, these were wheelchair warriors we were celebrating - kids with trachs, some with crutches, most with wheelchairs - kids whose basketball game resembled a rugby game more often than not.

So, kudos to the folks at Sportable for organizing a rock climbing event to celebrate, and a special thanks to the staff at Peak Experiences for making dreams come true! Most people would have thought that kids with non-functioning legs wouldn't be able to climb a rock wall. Most people would be wrong! Check out these pictures...

This is Ronnie, almost at the top of a two story rock wall!

My son, Chip, was the belayer for Ronnie.

Here's one of Ronnie's teammates making the climb!

And another teammate...

And Ronnie wasn't satisfied with the two story wall - he had to master the three story wall also!!!

And finally, here's a shot of the two walls the boys climbed. I wanted to just put into perspective how tall these walls were! Way to go, Guys!!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Avoiding The Holiday Meltdowns

Routine driven – obsessive compulsive – anal retentive…

Because my life and my family’s life is so dependent on routines, those adjectives are always applied to me. I don’t really mind because I have found over the last 15 or so years that predictable routines do help my children with special needs cope.

We get up at the same time each day. Breakfast, though not the same thing each day, does follow a predictable rotation. We follow a strict dinner, bath time and bed time schedule. We even run weekend errands at the same time each Saturday.

It works because it’s predictable – because there aren’t too many surprises for my children.

It works – except when it doesn’t. And the holidays are one of those times when it doesn’t. It’s very difficult to adhere to our routines when there are Christmas parties to attend, shopping to complete, and visits from relatives and friends. So, what do I do to make sure that the meltdowns are kept to a minimum when the unexpected becomes commonplace?

I try to insert some of the unexpected during other times of the year. I try to explain and give warnings about holiday events and how our routines may change. I try to find some extra downtime when events consume a large part of our days.

And so far, I have been pretty successful.

Ashley, the child most affected by a change in the predictable, has learned to find a quiet place and spend some time alone if her environment is getting too crazy. And with her, I try very hard to make sure she stays healthy during the holiday. Nothing makes an unpredictable routine even more difficult than being sick at the same time.

I feel like I need more tools in my toolbox though. What do you do with your children during the holidays to keep their stress levels manageable? Please share!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Full Dance Card

First there was the wheelchair. The chair and Ronnie were one.
Then came a newer, sportier wheelchair - one that is great for wheelies and sharp turns.
Hip to foot braces and a walker were next. Ronnie learned to walk upright for the first time ever, and won the crowd over at his adoption ceremony.
Now? Crutches - bright, shiny new black crutches. While Ronnie has several month of lessons and practice ahead of him, last night he took his first tentative step. It was a tiny step, and the physical therapist was holding him up with a gate belt, but it was a step nonetheless.
I predict dancing at the prom won't be far behind!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Special Exposure Wednesday


Be sure to check out all the other Special Exposure Wednesday shots at 5 Minutes For Special Needs!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

HIPP for Kids - Money for Parents!

My state Medicaid organization has done their best to keep a secret, a secret about a program that will reimburse parents for some or all of an enrollee’s share of employer sponsored group health insurance premiums. But now the word’s out, and I bet your state has a similar program. And trust me, this program could put an extra couple of hundred dollars in your pocket each month!

The program is call HIPP (Health Insurance Premium Payment). My state also has a HIPP For Kids program that makes a family eligible if their Medicaid-covered child is under the age of 19. Here’s the blurb from my state’s website – “For the HIPP For Kids program, the Medicaid eligible must be under the age of 19, the employer must contribute at least 40% towards the cost of the health insurance premium, must offer qualified employer-sponsored health plan that qualifies as creditable coverage under the section 2701(c)(1) of the Public Health Service Act and must be offered to all individuals in a manner that would be considered nondiscriminatory eligibility. “

So, from a practical standpoint, how does this work. First, you must be covered by your employer’s health insurance program – you must have a child covered by Medicaid (and it can be secondary coverage – i.e. your insurance pays first, and then Medicaid pays).

You fill out an application – it should be on your state’s website page. The application for my state was very simple. It had some basic information about my family, and there was also a section that your employer fills out. In my state, a decision must be rendered within 45 days of the original application, and I’m betting it’s the same in your state.

Once you get the approval letter, you then have to send in copies of your pay stub showing what you paid each month for your employer sponsored health insurance. In my case, my portion of my health insurance premium payment is $220. So each month, if I send in my pay stubs, I get $220.

Easy peasy, and who couldn’t use some extra money. Heck, in my state, I am even provided envelopes for sending in my pay stubs, and I don’t have to stamp them!

Check it out!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Robert Latimer, Murderer

On October 24, 1993, Canadian farmer Robert Latimer decided it was time to kill his twelve-year old daughter. Tracy had cerebral palsy; she had undergone three successful surgeries to improve her quality of life. A fourth surgery was planned to ease pain from a dislocated hip. Despite the remarkable success of previous surgeries, her parents were horrified at the prospect of the fourth, and Robert Latimer decided to take matters into his own hands.

Robert Latimer planned his daughter's murder for close to two weeks. He considered administering a drug overdose, or shooting Tracy in the head, but he finally settled on gassing her to death. On a bright sunny Sunday his wife, Laura, and their other children went to church, leaving Tracy at home with Robert. He murdered her with exhaust fumes from his truck.

He took Tracy's limp body, reeking of exhaust fumes, back to the farmhouse and put it in her bed (as though sleeping) for Laura or one of their other children to find when they got home. Everything worked according to plan: Laura discovered the corpse after coming home and preparing lunch. She cried that something was wrong with Tracy and called to her husband to phone for help. Robert called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), telling them Tracy had died in her sleep.

Robert Latimer was convicted in 1994 for second degree murder of his daughter.

Canada's National Parole Board has released the details of two special conditions its members set in granting the 57-year-old's Latimer's release from prison last week - Latimer must not have responsibility for, or make decisions for, any individuals who have a significant disability, and he must continue to participate in one-to-one psychological counselling.

Has justice been served? Absolutely not...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Your Magic Wand

What would you do if you had a magic wand? Would you make changes for your children with disabilities? Yourself? Other members of your family? Or would you use it to help those outside your family – doctors, therapists, neighbors, extended family, friends – understand and accept your children with disabilities?

I think most people outside the sphere of disability would immediately think we would use the magic wand to ‘cure’ or ‘fix’ our child with a disability. My co-workers, for instance, would be sure I would wave the wand and make Ashley see and hear, or Ronnie hear, or Jessica stop her raging behaviors. Well, other than Jessica’s raging behaviors, I wouldn’t use my wand to change my children – unless they asked me to.

I love my children exactly the way they are. If they preferred to have their disability taken away, then most certainly I would use my wand for that. But it wouldn’t mean they would be any ‘better’ in my eyes. They are perfect already.

I believe I would use my wand to make their lives and my life a little easier. I would wish that we would all not catch so many colds and get so many infections. I would wave it before walking into a doctor’s office. My wand would go shopping with us to stop the stares and rude comments. And of course I would use it to instill a belief in their teachers’ minds that they were capable and worthy of an appropriate education.

I might use it to help Ashley sleep a little better at night, and to get things done around my house to make it easier for Ashley’s and Ronnie’s wheelchairs to get around. Then of course, I could use it to make the grass and landscaping in my yard always look perfect!

Having a magic wand would indeed be fun for a while. How about you? How would a magic wand help you?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How About Some Cheese with that Whine?

I go back and forth on what the most difficult situation is as a single parent – at least when it comes to illness.

Is it worse when my kids are sick and I am well? Or when I am sick and the kids are well? Or when we are all sick?

My view might shift based on which situation I find myself in at the moment, but I really think the hardest for me is when I am sick and the kids are well. Single moms don’t get to call out sick and not show up for work. At my paying job, my co-workers can fill in for me until I recover, but there’s no fill-in for my Mom job.

This week, I am sick. I have a sinus infection – one of the worst in my recent memory – one that borders on flu-like symptoms. When I get sick like this, I am unable to take my rheumatoid arthritis medicine. So, on top of the sinus infection, my joints scream in pain with every move.

I know – whine, whine, whine. But just every so often, don’t I deserve to whine?

I am very blessed that some of my children are able to take over some of the tasks like meal preparation and straightening the house. But, there is no one, and I wouldn’t ask my children, to get up the 3 or 4 times a night that Ashley wakes – or to make sure everyone gets to the doctor and therapy appointments – or to make sure there is adequate and healthy food in the house.

Fortunately, my doctors understand my situation, and are aggressive in their treatment options. My antibiotics are starting to work now, and I am climbing back out of the abyss of sickness. Which is a good thing because we have a vacation planned soon, and I really really need one.

What about you? How do you handle the sick times in your family?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Special Exposure Wednesday

Each year, I choose one of my children to grace our family Christmas card. This year's victim/child is Ronnie! I can't show you the completed card just yet, but I can show you a picture from the card preparation shot!

He's probably starting to wonder what kind of crazy family he has joined!

Be sure to visit all the other Special Exposure Wednesday shots at 5 Minutes For Special Needs!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Water of Life

Today is the last day of National Adoption Month. I hope my posts this month have been helpful and informative, but more importantly, I hope they may have led someone to consider adoption.

I want to close the month with my all-time favorite quote about adoption. It is from the Jewish Talmud:

"A mother is likened unto a mountain spring that nourishes the tree at its root;
But one who mothers another’s child is likened unto a water that rises into a cloud and goes a long distance to nourish a lone tree in the desert."

Will you consider providing nourishment for that lone tree????

Monday, November 29, 2010

Stacey's Story

As National Adoption Month draws to a close, I want to devote one post to a very difficult subject - disruption. Disruption is the word used to describe an adoption failure. Actually, I don't like the word failure, but it usually goes hand in hand with disruption.

I truly don't believe anyone goes into an adoption thinking that if things don't work out, the child can be given back. It's like a marriage. Ask the bride as she is walking down the aisle to meet her groom if she ever thinks she will divorce her beloved, and the answer will be a resounding NO. The same is true for adoption. But sometimes, things just don't work. Fortunately in adoptions, unlike marriages, the not working out is very rare.

Having never lived through or even considered adoption disruption, it's very difficult for me to describe what I think the adoptive parents may feel. But, I know someone who can describe those feelings, and describe them in heartbreaking detail.

Stacey is one of the bravest and smartest people I know. She is completely devoted to her family, and she shares her stories of that devotion as an artist shares her craft. Read this post, and I believe you will understand completely the effect adoption disruption has on everyone involved.

Thank you, Stacey, for having the strength to share your story.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Leftover Children

Leftovers – lots of leftovers – turkey, gravy, yams, stuffing, green beans, rolls. One of the best things about Thanksgiving dinner is having leftovers for the next few days. One of my favorites is a hot turkey sandwich – leftover turkey piled high on leftover yeast rolls and then covered in leftover gravy. After a few days, we are driven to get creative with the leftovers, but to me, they are still just as good.

Did you know that a lot of the children in foster care, children waiting for a family to call their own, feel like leftovers? They have watched their friends and sometimes their family members get adopted, but they still wait. The feel like the leftovers that everyone has grown tired of.

But just as we get creative with our Thanksgiving leftovers, we can get creative with the children who wait for a forever family. It’s certainly not going to be easy to bring a teenager into your family, a teenager who has been rejected so many times that he will try to reject you. It’s not easy to bring the group of three siblings home to your quiet, clean house, but trust me, they won’t have much to bring with them to mess up your house. Or the child with significant disabilities that is spending her life in an institutional setting – all she wants, even if she can’t verbalize it, is to wake each morning with the knowledge that she is loved and wanted.

As National Adoption Awareness Month draws to a close, I implore you to examine your lives closely and see if there is any way possible that you can bring home a child who believes he is a leftover that no one wants.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Blessings Galore

I am thankful for so many things this year that it is impossible to list them all. But, I'm going to give it a try. If I leave anything or anybody out, it's only because I'm also old and tired and my brain is slow :)

First and foremost, I am thankful for my family. It is a family that has grown in unconventional ways over many years, a family that seems to fit together perfectly.

I am thankful for all the people that have helped architect my family - the birth mothers, the extended family members, the social workers, and the friends and family that have supported me through the years.

I am thankful for the people who stand by me - the people who haven't laughed at me or shaken their heads in disbelief at the decisions I have made for my family.

I am thankful for the shoulders that are always there for a good cry, and the hands that reach out to lift me up when staying down seems to be the answer.

I am thankful for the people and organizations that fight along with me for my children's rights and needs.

I am thankful for my job and the means it provides to meet my financial obligations. We have a comfortable, warm house when others struggle to survive in the cold. We have food when others are hungry. We have clean clothes and books to read. We have things to occupy our leisure and vacations every so often. We all know we are loved, and we know that our family is our refuge in the storm. We have what so many people long to have, and most importantly, all my children understand how blessed we are and are always willing to share those blessings.

I am thankful for all of you in this blogosphere. You read what I write - good or bad. You reach out to me when I need support, and you graciously share your stories with me. Friendships are defined very differently these days then they were 50 years ago, and I am thankful for that. Because of our friendships - near, far, friends who have grown up together, or friends we have not yet met - we find the strength to fight for our children, and to make their lives the best they can be.

I hope that each one of you knows how very important you are to me, and how blessed I am that our paths have crossed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Special Exposure Wednesday

A Boy Adopted!!!

This picture was taken on National Adoption Day just after Ronnie had walked approximately 100 yards out of the courtroom and down the hall - a brand new record for him. that's probably why he looks a little tired!

Be sure to check out all the other Special Exposure Wednesday shots at 5 Minutes For Special Needs!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Rich, The Famous, The Adopted!!

During Ronnie's final adoption ceremony last Saturday, the judge listed famous people who had been adopted. I was pretty amazed at the list, so decided to share the list with you also. If you are considering adoption, maybe a future president, musician, or company founder will be joining your family!!!

Steve Jobs
Larry Ellison (head of Oracle Corporation)
Deborah Harry
Ray Liotta
Babe Ruth
Nelson Mandela
Marilyn Monroe
John Lennon
Faith Hill
Jamie Foxx
Dave Thomas
Jesse Jackson
Sarah McLachlan
Scott Hamilton
Bo Didley
Melissa Gilbert
Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Bill Clinton
Jesse Jackson
Greg Louganis
Eleanor Roosevelt
Lynette Cole - Miss USA 2000
Priscilla Presley
Edward Albee (playwright)
John J. Audubon
Sen. Robert Byrd
Peter and Kitty Carruthers (skaters)
Nat King Cole
Christina Crawford (author)
Ted Danson
Eric Dickerson (professional football)
President Gerald Ford
Art Linkletter
James Michener
Tom Monaghan (founder of Domino's Pizza, owner of Detroit Tigers)
Moses (Biblical leader)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Three Miracles

Saturday, National Adoption Day, was a day of three miracles.

First Miracle - all my children were up, dressed and in the van by 6:35 AM so we could make the trip to DC for Ronnie's final adoption ceremony. 6:35 AM - I still can't believe it.

Second Miracle - The adoption ceremony was incredible. Thanks to our social worker and many other people, the celebration made all the families feel so special. There were pictures, tears, laughter, yummy food, and gifts for the children and families. The judge was very kind as well as inspiring, and did a great job of getting each child to sign their own adoption order. At around 11:45 AM, Ronnie became a legal part of our family, and had his name changed. He always was my son, but now absolutely no one can dispute that!

Third Miracle - When we left the celebration, Ronnie's spirit seemed lighter, happier. I can't find the right words to describe it, but it was almost like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. We had our own celebration when we returned home, and Ronnie got his favorite meal - Kentucky Fried Chicken. At bedtime, as I always do, I told him 'good night' and then signed 'I Love You'. Finally after 8 months, he signed it back!

I hope to have more pictures later, but here are a couple I was able to get with my camera:

The judge chuckled when I offered him a 'cigar'!!

Ronnie's birth siblings attended the ceremony to celebrate with him. They were so sweet, and offered their congratulations as Ronnie walked (yes, walked) out of the courtroom. Ronnie had been practicing and practicing with his new braces, and was determined to walk to receive his final order of adoption. He succeeded and there wasn't a dry eye in the courtroom!

Friday, November 19, 2010

National Adoption Day

Tomorrow is National Adoption Day. Tomorrow many, many families will celebrate the joy that adoption has brought into their life by finalizing their children's adoptions.

We will be one of those families.

We are traveling to the Washington, DC area - all of us. We will walk forward with Ronnie to acknowledge before the court that he is really and legally a part of our family.

We will laugh and we will cry. We will be forever joined together. He is my son every bit as much as the son to whom I gave birth. I hope he feels that. I hope he knows how much we all love him, and that we will always be there for him.

I wish you could all be there to share in our celebration, but I will be sure to share pictures next week!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Their Story Needs Telling

I was one of those parents who didn’t do a baby book for my son – I did a baby box! Well, actually several boxes. I think I am up to 4 boxes and he is now 20 years old. So many things were precious to me, and I had to save them. I want my son to have the mementos of the earliest moment of his life, and all the important things that have come since that beginning.

I have a recording of the first time I heard his heartbeat in utero. I have ultrasound pictures. I have all the cards from the baby shower my co-workers gave me, and I have the first stuffed animal he ever stared at. I have his first kindergarten registration form, and his awards for winning first place in the PTA Reflections photography contest. I have his first T-ball uniform, and his scrapbook from his trip to Space Camp in Florida. The list goes on and on.

I remember my dear mother-in-law presenting me with my ex-husband’s memory boxes when we were first married, and I plan to share my son’s boxes with the special person he chooses to spend his life with.

Sadly, I don’t have all those things for the children I have adopted.

Most of my children came with a few memory items – a random picture, a first outfit, maybe some early school photos. While I cannot recreate all the special moments from their birth until they joined my family, I can create a life book for them. I found this wonderful explanation about life books and what can be included in them from the Adoption Blog at Forever Parents. The information was compiled by Joanne Greco:

Your childs lifebook is their story. It’s their past, present and future. It’s a record of their life though words, photographs, memorabilia, artwork and more. There is no wrong way to do a lifebook. It’s really more of a concept. If your child is old enough to participate in helping to put together their lifebook, encourage them to do so. It is great way for open up lines of communication about how they feel about having been adopted, feelings they may have about their birthfamily, etc. Plus, it is a fun thing to do as a family.

For those of you who are starting the process, start early and plan it out. Invest in a journal or notebook where you can make notes of things you want to include in the lifebook. Be sure to include your feelings. When you actually sit down to do your lifebook pages, then your journaling information will be already put together and you can use it as a reference. Save mementos & pictures that you may want to use.
Here are some page ideas to get you started. Some may apply to your adoption, some may not.
~ Why you decided to adopt
~ Why you chose a specific country
~ The process you went thru
~ Those who helped you with the process
~ Copies of paperwork that you might want to include
~ Agency letterhead
~ The referral call & what you did when you got it
~ Referral photos & other photos you receive (be sure to write down all those emotions you felt when you saw the photos)
~ Medical exam info
~ What you did during the wait to keep busy
~ Your child’s name – who named them, significance, how decided upon, etc
~ Their room you fixed up for them
~ Preparing your home
~ Family trees (both your family tree and birthfamily info & pictures, if any is known). If you want to wait before sharing more detailed birthfamily info with your child you could put these pages in a separate private album and let your child decide if they want to add them to their album, etc or you add them once you have discussed these issues with your child. Whatever you and your child are most comfortable with.
~ Pictures of your child that you received during the process.
~ Information about their birth place during this timeframe – significant events, stats on what life was like at the time of their adoption, relevant articles, etc
~ A newspaper from the date they were born
~Picture of you ready to embark on your journey to meet or bring your child home.
~ Travel itinerary
~ Ticket stubs
~ Brochures of places you visited
~ Something from the hotels you stayed at, etc.
~ Notable events & people from your trip
~ Pictures from your trip
~ Pictures of the orphanage, caretakers, foster family, foster family home, birth location
~ adoption quotes
~ adoption poems
~ Your first family picture.
~ Your feelings on finally meeting your child.
~ Information your child’s foster family or caretakers share about your child.
~ Your court appearances or visa appointments.
~ First day in their new home.
~ Adoption timeline.
~ Copies of any adoption announcements you placed.
copyright 2007 Joanne Greco

Again, because I have decided to save so many things, my children don't have life books, they have life boxes, and they enjoy looking through them every bit as much as my birth son likes looking through his!

Make sure your children - all your children - have access to their special stories. It will help ground them in so many positive ways, trust me!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Special Exposure Wednesday

Today's Special Exposure Wednesday is dedicated to a waiting child - a child who wants nothing more than to be a part of a family. Look at her - read about her - and know that there are thousands more like her...

When first meeting Cassandra, she is quiet, soft-spoken and shy. But once she warms up to you, she easily engages in conversation. Her face lights up when you talk about music. According to her music teacher, she is a talented singer. Cassandra has a job at CiCi’s pizza and enjoys having her own money. She is eager to be adopted and prefers a home with older kids and to be placed with an African American family. She wants a family that is relatively active; going out to eat and doing other weekend activities. A family with dogs or cats would be fine according to her. Cassandra needs a family that will help build her self-esteem, demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance, and be willing to make a lifetime commitment to assist with her vocational training and special educational needs, giving her positive feedback and encouragement.

Be sure to visit all the other Special Exposure Wednesday sites at 5 Minutes For Special Needs!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

RAD - An Adoption Issue

In celebration of National Adoption Month, I written many things about the joys of adopting, especially adopting from the foster care system. However, adoption from the system does not come without its share of problems. Today I want to address one of the more common problems - Reactive Attachement Disorder.

The Mayo Clinic describes Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)as:

Reactive attachment disorder is a rare but serious condition in which infants and young children don't establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers.

A child with reactive attachment disorder is typically neglected, abused, or moved multiple times from one caregiver to another. Because the child's basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren't met, he or she never establishes loving and caring attachments with others. This may permanently alter the child's growing brain and hurt their ability to establish future relationships.

Reactive attachment disorder is a lifelong condition, but with treatment children can develop more stable and healthy relationships with caregivers and others. Safe and proven treatments for reactive attachment disorder include psychological counseling and parent or caregiver education.

Here is a link to a post I wrote in 2007 about how RAD had personally affected my family.

I know when reading about RAD, many people would ask, "Why in the world would I want to adopt a child like that?" And my answer would be "Because these are the children that most need a loving, secure family in which to heal."

As the Mayo Clinic notes indicate, there is hope for healing for a child with RAD. I know it can happen - I have witnessed it first hand.

Just read my post from May of this year, and you will understand.

And please, if you are considering adoption of an older child from the foster care system, don't shy away from the children who need you the most. There are resources to help you all become a healthy, loving family, and who doesn't want that?!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Adoptive Parenting

Over the years people have asked me if I have to parent my adopted children differently than my birth child. Well, at least in my family, the answer is yes and no.

Everyone in the family has basic rules to live by. For instance, no hitting is allowed - calling some stupid is forbidden - and making fun of someone in a malicious way will not be tolerated. If someone breaks ones of those rules, there will be consequences. It usually doesn't take too long for any child to learn that - whether they joined the family by birth or adoption.

But sometimes the differences are more subtle.

This past weekend, Ronnie made some very bad choices - choices that cost his brother, Chip, about $100. I don't think Ronnie did it on purpose, but I do believe that he wasn't thinking about what choices he was making.

Once the offense was discovered, a discussion ensued and consequences were doled out. And that's where things got interesting. Ronnie sat stoicly through the discussions about his poor choices, and when Chip told him that he was NOT happy, the briefest flicker of fear passed through Ronnie's eyes. When the discussion was over, Ronnie went to his room and curled up on his bed.

Here was a time when a child had to be parented differently.

Since I just became Ronnie's parent 7 months ago, many, many things happened in his life before he joined our family. His time in foster families may have resulted in poor parenting, different parenting, and maybe even no parenting. Ronnie really had no reference point when he became a part of our family. He needed to learn that even if he made bad choices, it didn't mean he was a bad person.

In his most recent foster placement, Ronnie made a bad choice, and from that point forward, the foster dad made up his mind to have Ronnie removed from the family's home. The fear I saw flicker across Ronnie's eyes during the discussion about the poor choice he made this weekend was very real, and Ronnie probably wondered if now he would be moved from our family.

I hope that after a longer discussion in his room - a discussion during which he was told he was loved and nothing, absolutely nothing, would cause this family to want him to leave - he felt better. He did seem to perk up, so I am hopeful.

That is one example of how an adopted child might need to be parented differently. It' not rocket science - it's just understanding that your child has many life experiences that you have not shared.

In time, I believe Ronnie, and most adopted children, will relax and learn that the words forever family mean forever.

Friday, November 12, 2010

You Don't Have To Be Perfect

I wanted to close this week of posts with something a little more light-hearted. I love, love, love the following adoption public service announcements, and I hope you will also! Happy weekend!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An Adoption Opus

**Warning - long post today - you may want to get a cuppa tea before reading**

While my heart belongs to special needs adoptions from the foster care system, other types of adoption do exist and are quite popular. While I have some reservations about these other types, and I will share those reservations with you, here first is a short explanation of those other types.

At least in my state, there are two types of adoptions – agency placements and non-agency placements.

Agency placements occur when the child is in the custody of a public or private social service agency. In an agency placement, all parental rights are terminated by the courts OR the birth parents sign an "entrustment" to the agency. The termination or entrustment gives the agency the authority to place the child for adoption, and the agency consents to the child's adoption before the child is placed for adoption. These are the special needs/foster care adoptions about which I write.

A non-agency placement occurs when the child is not in the custody of an agency. In a non-agency placement, the birth parents or legal guardian(s) consent to the adoption and parental rights are terminated via direct consent of the birth parents in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Non-agency placements are broken down further into three types.

Parental Placement Adoptions - In a parental placement, a licensed child-placing agency completes a home study report, conducts the Simultaneous Meeting (no longer required by law, but is required by this agency for our clients) between birth and adoptive parents, and provides a Report to Court. The Report includes home study information, background information on the birth parents and birth of the child and certifies to the Court that all identifying information has been exchanged, all parties are making an informed and un-coerced decision and recommends that this placement appears to be in the best interest of the child. The adoptive parents' attorney files a petition in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for execution of the birth parents consent and awarding of custody of the child to the prospective adoptive parents. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court reviews the Report to Court to determine whether the requirements of law have been met, accepts parental consent, and transfers custody to the adoptive parents. An Adoption Petition may then be filed in Circuit Court. Please note that this type of adoption frequently has the physical placement of the child into the adoptive family occur prior to court consent, usually from the hospital. This means that the adoptive family accepts placement of the child under "legal risk" as the placing parents still have time to change their mind about adoption

Stepparent adoptions - A stepparent adoption is when the spouse of the birth or adoptive parent is adopting the child. Typically, no home study is required unless the parent whose rights will be terminated disagrees with the stepparent adoption.

Adult Adoptions - An adult adoption is the adoption of any person who is 18 years of age or older at the time that the adoption petition is filed.

Adoptions may also be facilitated from other states and from foreign countries.

Interstate Adoptions – An adoption where the child from one state is adopted by parents in another state. All Interstate Adoptions must comply with all regulations and procedures of the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) office, in both the adoptive parent state and the child’s state of residence.

Intercountry Adoptions – An Intercountry adoption is when parents adopt a child from a foreign country. This is a type of adoption I know the least about. However, I know and have many friends who have chosen this route to adoption.

So what are my concerns with non-agency adoptions and intercountry adoptions? First – a disclaimer. My concerns are based solely on observations and information from families that have chosen those types of adoptions. I do not, in any capacity, claim to be an expert in these matters.

I have several friends who chose intercountry adoption because they believed they could get a healthy, Caucasian infant or young child, something that is often difficult in the states. I have seen some of those adoptions flourish, but I have also seen many problems and failures.

Children who grow up in institutions will not be unscathed by the experience. Some children can handle that and grow into healthy, happy young people. Some cannot. The same issues often seen in adoptions from the foster care system – Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, emotional problems, developmental delay – will be seen in children adopted from other countries. Added into those issues is almost always a language problem for some period of time.

Earlier this year, I posted a story about a mother who sent her adopted son back to Russia. Unfortunately, I have many friends who have had similar experiences with children adopted overseas. While none of them put their child on a plane to go back to their home country, life continues to be difficult for those families.

I also have friends who have adopted their children through parental placements – children who at birth were placed in their adoptive families. There are success stories and there are horror stories. As we all know, just because a baby is born seemingly healthy, does not mean they will have no issues.

My primary concern then is that the children from parental placements and intercountry placements do not have access to many of the supports that children from foster care placements have. And those supports are often lifelines.

Medicaid is one example. Most children from the foster care system come with full Medicaid benefits, and those benefits are not based on the parents’ income. Children without those benefits must be placed on their parents’ insurance policies. That’s great when it works, when the deductibles are manageable, and if the parents do not lose their jobs.

Most children from the foster care system are able to access subsidy payments, money that adoptive parents can use for supports they otherwise couldn’t afford. Without the help provided me from social services, my bathroom would not be accessible for Ronnie.

Again, these are just example, and are truly just my observations. I KNOW adoptions of all types can work and work well, and the bottom line is, ALL children deserve a loving family.

I tip my hat to all the families that have been built through adoption, adoption of any sort.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Special Exposure Wednesday

I wrote yesterday that prospective adoptive parents don't have to give up on the 'firsts' of their child's life when adopting a teenager. While they may not be there for the first words, first steps or the first day of kindergarten, adopting a teen provides just as many 'firsts'! Here are some pictures to illustrate my point!

Ronnie's first go-cart!

And his first shave!

And his first girlfriend!

And his first time participating on a sports team!

And yes, even his first steps!

I urge you all to consider sharing the 'firsts' with a teenager in need of a forever family!

Be sure to check out all the other Special Exposure Wednesday shots at 5 Minutes For Special Needs!