I Can’t Write Their Story

 

Once upon a time 

I reached for the steaming hot ducky felt rice bag for the umpteenth time.  “Thank you, son” I weakly whimper to my fourteen year old.

Lying helpless in bed is not the Mom-image I dream of being for my boys. In spite of the storybook family image I try to write for them over the years, I finally resolve, “I can’t write their story.”

While my youngest boy perfected the ability to stitch straight seams in his 8th grade class, I am certain he never imagined his Mom would be getting so much use from the ducky bag he made.

Up and down the stairs he runs as he takes care of me, commenting how the bag stinks now. Zapped so many times,the rice burns beneath the soft flannel duckies. I place the bag on my gut where bright red burns have created a design the doctor thinks may never go away.

It’s the middle of summer and I have spent weeks in painful misery and long hours in the E.R. I’ve experienced too many blood tests, cat scans and increased doses of ox-codeine than I care to count.

This is not the plan I envisioned for myself or family this summer. The boys and I were going to cook from Alton Brown’s cookbook together. I hoped they would teach me how to lift weights in the garage. I took for granted sitting in my lawn chair cheering on the soccer team, taking videos of their swim meets and watching them improve their stroke.

Instead, I am an absent mom and my husband has taken on the role of Mr. Mom in their summer frolics.

I certainly never planned to listen to the family laughing and splashing in the backyard or conversing around the kitchen table from the misery of my darkened bedroom. I roll over saddened, maybe even ashamed, as I watch my boys walk quietly past my door.

“Please take him out of the room” I whisper to my husband as he shuffles our boy with special needs away from his mom. I can’t bear the thought of him being confused or anxious as I groan and weep in pain.

“Feel… better…. Mommy” he carefully tells me.

This is not the perfect family story I wrote for my children. I don’t want them to have a helpless mom. They shouldn’t have to take care of me at their age. They shouldn’t have to completely care for themselves throughout the day.

I should be vibrant, energetic, interacting with them. I should.

I should be cooking for them and driving them for milkshakes.

I should.

I should.

Wrestling with pain…Wrestling with “should’s”… Wrestling with God…

He stills my heart.

He reminds me this is what I prayed for over the years. I ask the Lord to grow character in my boys, to make of them godly men. I ask Him to orchestrate opportunities for them to rely on Him in a deep and personal way.

This is their opportunity to experience disappointment, even fear and worry — then learn to lean on and listen to their Heavenly Father.  They need to witness the hand of God, to experience their own answers to prayer.

It’s what makes faith real.

On my sick-bed I relinquish to God my rights as Mom. I confess my delusions to control the fine details of my children’s lives. 

Jesus, You be their Master Teacher.

Step into my children’s lives when I cannot and should not.

A sickly Momma is not the image I create in their story. But, God is working with them to create His own story in their lives.

He weaves their joys, disappointments and life experiences for His own good pleasure.

I don’t want to get in Your way, so Lord I am letting go–again–today.

“Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him and expect help from Him,  He will never fail you”-George Mueller

Friends, it is almost a year since my surgery and diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. I have taken time to get my life back in order and enjoy a pain-free summer with the family. Now it’s time to share with you what God keeps trying to teach me at my bedside.

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Faith Conversations with my Teenage Boys

Despite the long hours this mom-on-the-go spends in her vehicle, and the uneasy sense of my rear growing four times its size as a result from sitting so long every day, I do enjoy van-time with my kids. The daily detailed stories, questions and practical faith conversations are shared freely in the confines of our cushioned metal cage. But recently I notice, the boys are more quiet in our daily drives. I wonder if its due to their teenage testosterone or if they are doing more internal thinking. But no, with one glance over my shoulder I understand its those darn smart phones. The addictive games and texts are pulling them in to cyber play, drawing them away from life’s in-the-moment interactions.

Beside me in the passenger seat sits my fourteen year old son. He is nurturing his new smart phone. To my dismay, this has become a common scene. His conversation of late has been centered around his praises and concerns for his new treasure.

“How is your precious?” I asked in a friendly manner.

Huh?

“I think you are going to make a great Daddy one day.” His face twisted in disgust as he looked at me curiously. “When you were a baby, your Dad and I loved holding you and patting you and talking to you and talking about you. We adored you.”

Yea?

He was still wondering where I was going with this.

“You seem to be nurturing your own precious cell phone that way. If you take care of your own children like your precious phone, you will also be a great attentive Dad,” I say with a voice of encouragement.

Oh. Uh-oh.

He got it. Similar conversations have taken place over the course of his young lifetime. It has been our parenting intention to model the futility of loving things–how easy it is to place the temporal above our love for God and others.

I pulled the van slowly into the garage and gently added, “All things will pass away, my boy. Only God and people last forever. Love them more than your technology.”

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How Great is the love of the Father

Father and son

 

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are” I John 3:1

Meditating on the Father’s great love for us, this picture comes to mind. A.J. missed his Daddy so much while he was away for a week serving in Mexico, that he ran quickly into his arms as soon as he saw his Dad return.  “Daddy! Daddy!” I was able to click my cell phone camera in time, because the strong embrace lasted so long. How great is the love of this father and son.

I have been a little wound-up lately.  My heart is racing as though I have consumed a tank of caffeine. It has been a difficult “Special Needs Month” as we deal with battles and situations beyond our control. The aching in my heart pulls me to crawl under the covers and sink into my sadness. But the Lord keeps giving me this picture of my child running into the arms of his father.

Is that the kind of love You have for me, Lord? Is that the kind of love You have for my child?

I choose not to hide under my covers in despair. Instead, the love of the Father draws me to His embrace with these comforting words from Psalm 121:

“I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber” NLT

It isn’t easy being vulnerable, but I have finally learned to allow the body of Christ to bear with me in my burdens. I am entrusting my special requests to trustworthy friends who pray on our behalf.

This is when I cry, when I let the walls of self-preservation drop and allow others to come along side us. Augh, this isn’t fun.

As anxiety rises up within me, my mind plays certain ugly scenarios over and over. The Lord interrupts my anxious thoughts, “Be still”  He says, “And know that I am God”.

I ignore Him, “Wait a minute Lord, I need to finish this thought”.

“Be Still” my Father interrupts me again, “And know that I am God.”

I took my thoughts captive and rested in the God who knows all, who loves my son and who will tend to His needs as the Loving Shepherd He is.

Today I choose to rest in the arms of our Father. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!

“You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

It is high; I cannot attain to it

If I ride the wings of the morning,

if I dwell by the farthest oceans,

even there your hand will guide me,

and your strength will support me.”  Psalm 139:5 & 10

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Operation: Button your pants continues

Time slips through our fingers. It has been almost 3 months since we began Operation: Button Your Pants! To refresh your memory regarding our special challenge to teach our 17 year-old son how to button his pants, you can read about it here: http://www.womangonewise.com/2012/01/30/operation-button-your-pants/.

Because the days do pass so quickly, I am more deliberate in setting practical goals for our growing young man. Teaching a new skill to a child with physical or developmental challenges requires breaking the skill into small steps. Each step is carefully approached with patience. The time it takes to acquire the step is not as important as keeping each goal in mind.

I am happy to say A.J. has passed each of these first steps:

Operation: Button your Pants

  • Work on pincer skills by playing “Feed the Dog” every day. Celebrate every attempt!                   Check!
  • Breakdown the steps to buttoning. Practice one step every day. Celebrate every attempt!         Check!
  • Progressively practice smaller button holes.           Check!
  • Practice on a pair of pants.           Check!

What a surprise to see A.J. enjoying the process so much. He is so pleased with his new accomplishments that he initiates the “Feed the Dog” game and button cards. Without any prompts from us, he practices daily.

The Motivating Factors

Personal pride for his accomplishments is not his only motivating factor for working on the buttons. I have to admit, he has become a little sneaky.

He knows he cannot access gummy treats whenever he wants, so he has learned to zip through his button games and exercises and go directly to the treat cupboard to get his gummies–multiple times a day! It took me a couple of weeks to catch on to my sly boy. I guess that means he has trained Mom pretty well.

I was not thrilled with the notion of introducing sweet snacks as a reward, but the fact is treats are highly motivating. When a skill needs to be taught to a highly frustrated or stubborn individual, I tell you, a reward that works is worth it!  But, because the new skill  became so easy, its time to create the next step of challenges toward buttoning his own pants.  This means he will have to really work for those gummies again!

A.J. Hits a Roadblock

Whenever I have the opportunity to interface with Occupational Therapists or Behavior Management Consultants, I tap their brains for any resources they have for teaching pant buttoning. One of the most important tidbits of advise I received was to place a pair of pants on his lap as though they were on his body. This way he will not learn the button skill backwards!  Backwards buttoning had never crossed my mind.

I found the largest and oldest (softest) pair of jeans in my husband’s closet and placed them on A.J.’s lap. First I sat behind him on the floor and placed my hands on his hands, trying to guide the button through the hole. That did not work well.

A.J. had his own idea to  place his hands on my hands as I slipped the button through the hole.  That was a good idea, because he could feel the way my wrists turned and how fingers have to move behind and beside and in front of the button.  Did you realize you move your fingers and wrist that much when you button your pants?!

Finally, I sat beside him as he attempted to slip the metal button through the stiff little hole. Frustration mounted. He grunted and motioned for me to help. I kept my hands away but sat closely to encourage his efforts. He must wonder why this button will  not cooperate as easily as the buttons he has been practicing on.

Disappointment set in for both of us. Eventually, I placed my hands on the waistband, giving him a sense of support. A week or so went by without any success.  Both of us have ignored those jeans lately. Feeling a little defeated myself, I have not taken any further steps toward getting those jeans buttoned.

I have my finger and hand issues due to arthritis and am aware of adaptive tools for everyday tasks. After a little online research, I discovered a handy tool to help with buttoning pants. I stared at the picture and considered what it would mean for A.J. on a daily basis. Not only would he have to carry the tool on his person daily, but it would be very difficult to get him motivated to button his own pants after using the tool. Any adaptive tools at this point will be our last resort.

Give him every opportunity to excel

Our philosophy since his infancy has been to give him every opportunity to excel, and then let him show us what he can do. If I resort to the tool so soon, I would be cutting the process short.  Through his willingness to continue buttoning  he is still showing us a desire to develop.

So, I called on the school Occupational Therapist. She agreed it is best to stay away from the adaptive tool at this time. She suggested cutting into the buttonhole–a little skill I know about from my earliest days of learning to sew. Then I got the idea to cut up the waistbands from a few pair of old jeans and make a new button board. This will be my project for the week.

Operation: Button your pants–Step 2

  • Create a button board made from jeans.
  • Clearly mark the Top of the board to be closest to the body.
  • Practice short amounts of time to limit frustration. Celebrate every attempt.
  • Do not give gummies until at least 3 attempts are made on the denim board. Celebrate attempts!
  • Practice every day.

Cross your fingers!  Well, that would mean I believe in luck. I don’t. Through prayer and hard work we will keep taking steps towards success!  I will let you know how it goes.

 

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Holding my loved ones loosely

Father and Son on their way to Mexico

 

Over the weekend, the driver in front of me kicked up a stone and cracked my windshield.  This is the third incident mucking up my new van in less than a year. I was instantly reminded how accidents even happen at home, while doing the mundane.

How many of us cling to our families and material things as though it will keep them safe from harm?

When our 12-year-old son left for the Dominican Republic on a mission trip a few summers ago, the popular response from my friends was, “Aren’t you scared?” The truth is I am more afraid of clinging to my kids and my fears so tightly, that I thwart the Lord from doing a mighty work in their lives. In spite of my Mama-fears, I must hold my loved ones loosely.

Friday morning I waved goodbye again to the same son (now 16 years old) and his dad as they left for a Spring Missions trip to Mexico.

This morning I said goodbye to my 13-year-old baby.  He is serving the local Salvation Army, homeless, and planting trees at schools downtown with his Junior High youth group.

 

Sweet Baby Dane goes off to serve

 

I was hoping to go with him, at least drive a van load of kids back and forth. But through a series of events, I lent my van to a driver I don’t know, to be filled with hyper junior high kids. The thought of a hole punched in the seat or a shovel scraping the ceiling has crossed my mind.  But, I must also hold my van loosely.

Stones will hit the window while I drive it around the corner, rust will destroy it, and thieves may break in and steal it. Scripture reminds me, “Where my treasure is, there will my heart be also.”  So, I handed over my keys as an act of worship.

I am left feeling a little lost this morning.  A.J. and I are home alone for the week. It’s a funky feeling when most of your family is gone and you are left tooling around on your own. Normally I would welcome the time to myself, but I am feeling as though a large piece of my heart is gone.

Honestly though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Opportunities abound for our kids to grow deeper in their walk with the Lord while serving the world.

So here are the strange prayers from a Mama learning to hold her loved ones loosely:

I pray they get dirty for God! I hope their fingernails get dirty from playing with children and planting trees.

I pray their bodies get smelly from living away from the conveniences of home but being filled up from serving the Lord.

I pray their hearts are broken as they encounter people who have so little. And their hearts stretched as they experience the joy of sharing the Good News and treating others as better than themselves.

I pray they build lasting friendships working side by side with like-minded kids. While they share in the work and the worship, I pray they would come back to their schools and sports teams and shine brighter together!

I pray they will feel uncomfortable or afraid, and step out of their comfort zone, take a step of faith, and watch God show up in personal and mighty ways!

When they feel tired and sore and lay in their sleeping bags feeling homesick, I am grateful they can’t text me. I pray they would lean upon God as their comfort and  provider.

This mom is holding her loved ones loosely today, trusting if I cling to my life I will lose it, but if I lose my life for Christ’s sake and the Gospel, I will save it (Mark 8:35).

I couldn’t have it any other way.

 

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Operation: Button your pants

It is easy to take certain developmental milestones for granted when you have typically developed children. I never had to teach my second and third child how to use their pincer grasp. I may have tilted their wrist a time or two when teaching them how to use their knives correctly, but they were able to grasp the knife and complete the task successfully on their own. I know I never had to teach them how to button.

Things are different with a child who has low-muscle tone issues. Knife work, shoe-tying and slipping buttons through tight little holes are skills our 17-year-old son does not yet have. With ten stubby fingers and limited dexterity, A.J. has weak fine motor skills. I confess we haven’t required a lot of detailed work from those stubby fingers. Instead, we have spent the last 17 years working largely on speech acquisition, writing and reading skills, behavior management and social skills.

I began teaching A.J. how to read as soon as he could sit up. I consumed every book I could find on the subject of teaching children with Down’s Syndrome how to read. He learned to spell both phonetically and by sight. A.J. presently reads at a third grade level and has a great interest in sounding out words and writing each day. His interest in words is exciting! But, teaching him how to button his pants, is a different story.

Thankfully, Land’s End has cargo pants, denim and khakis with elastic waist-bands. Land’s End receives an order from me twice each year. However, A.J. will soon grow out of their big boy pants and he will be left to wear sweats every day if we do not soon get this buttoning skill achieved.

Each year I request the Occupational Therapist at school to help him with his fine motor skills. He has received minimal assistance. We consider the ability to button his own pants a key independent living skill. So, it is time for me to get to work! Last week I purchased the fine motor game, “Feed the Dog”. It has a large pair of tweezers–just the right size for A.J. to try to manipulate without frustration. Whenever we attempt a new task, it is always helpful to find items with a Disney or dog theme: two of A.J.’s favorite interests. I also purchased a game board to practice large button skills. Now it is time to create a plan for our family to attempt together, “Operation: Button your Pants”.

Operation: Button your Pants

  • Work on pincer skills by playing “Feed the Dog” every day. Celebrate every attempt!
  • Breakdown the steps to buttoning. Practice one step every day. Celebrate every attempt!
  • Progressively practice smaller button holes.
  • Practice on a pair of pants.

Week One Success

Excited to see what I brought him, A.J. pulls the doggie game out of the bag. We placed 30 plastic bones in the doggie bowl, and I model the use of the tweezers. A.J. takes his turn, and is unable to pinch the tweezers closed. Frustrated, he grunts at me several times. I ignore the grunts, and he quickly ceases the resistant sounds. Placing my hand over his, I attempt to place his fingers in the proper formation for pinching. Quietly, I  grunt with my frustration! His fingers are confused. The two of us fumble with the tweezers until finally he is able to pinch them and pick up a bone.

Each step of the game (designed for 3-year-old children), is met with frustration. The game requires him to continue the pinch in order to get the bone to the doggie’s mouth. Then the tweezers have to turn just-so, in order to get the bone into the doggie’s mouth. Alas, he is able to do it. After 10 bones, I cheer and invite him to stop the game. He presses on.

Willingly, he opens the game and enjoys feeding the doggie the plastic bones each day. His pincer grasp is strengthening and he is enjoying the new skill!

Have you ever tried to break down the steps to placing a button in a button-hole? It is a long and challenging process! Operation: Button your Pants may take us some time. I’ll let you know how it progresses.

What skill comes after the ability to button his own jeans? I am afraid it will be teaching our young man how to shave. Oh boy, talk about a challenge!

 

 

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Two brothers and a doctor

Cade hangs with his brother in the waiting room

 

You can count on one hand the amount of times I take my kids out of school for reasons other than illness.  Today it may appear I had no good reason to take Cade out of school.

His older brother, Anker, had a doctor appointment with the Pediatric Cardiologist.  Anker doesn’t often do well at doctor appointments.  He equates doctors with poking, prodding, and the need to fight for his life.  Growing anxiety is the way he prepares for the doctor.  The last time we visited Dr. Van Gundy, Anker was too anxious to sit on the doctor’s table.  So, the 6-foot something doctor bent his knees as he sat on the bare floor and invited Anker to lay down beside him.  Anker responded to this gentle giant, and lay on the floor, allowing the doctor to examine his heart.

I was touched by a doctor who understood our son’s increasing anxiety. Try as he may, Anker could not utilize the resources to successfully express his fear.  Dr. Van Gundy communicated compassion to our son, while offering us a great sense of relief. After all, it is no easy task taking a growing boy to intrusive doctor appointments…we have the bruises and bite marks to prove it.

 

There are two things about Cade which prompted me to take him along to this appointment.  Cade adores his older brother. In the fifteen years of his young life, he has loved his special needs brother with a depth of understanding and strength which blows any observant onlooker away. He gently guides Anker to try the things the O.T. or speech therapist, or optometrist request Anker to do. He models the task, and playfully and patiently invites Anker to follow his lead. Down Syndrome individuals respond well to peer role models, and with gratitude, we have a wonderful role model sharing life beside his brother.  Anker felt relief today, with his brother beside him.

We have experienced many doctors in our special needs journey: doctors who have little sense of compassion, those who lack understanding of our child’s specific needs, and those who are absolutely outstanding.  These outstanding doctors are the ones who speak with compassion as they offer respect and care to our child.  They are acutely aware of the specific special physical needs of our child, and are the very doctors we remain faithful to. Since Cade desires to be a doctor himself, we find great value in exposing him to the characteristics of these outstanding doctors. I knew Cade would offer support to his brother, while gaining an education himself.

Cade sat closely as the nurse examined his brother.  Anker began to shout with anxiety, and Cade talked gently to his brother.  Anker calmed down.  Dr. Van Gundy entered the room and carried on a conversation with Anker,  “You are growing whiskers, aren’t you, Anker?” He took time to visit with our boy. He took time to ask questions, and he gently examined Anker while sitting beside him, this time on the examination table.

Heart problems are prevalent in individuals with Down Syndrome.  Many are born with heart defects and require heart surgery. This is one statistic we have not had to bear.  But, Anker does have a murmur, which we must continue to watch closely. Dr. Van Gundy referred us to a Pulmonary Specialist to rule out sleep apnea issues, and blood tests to check for Leukemia, Diabetes, and thyroid–all medical issues which have a higher occurrence rate in individuals with Down Syndrome.

So, we take the yearly tests, and we continue on with life. We stop for a special milkshake topped with whipped cream and a cherry, then head back to school.  Anker asks to stay home with me–feeling a little too stressed to return to his afternoon classes.  Cade returns to his texts and tests; having gained a little more knowledge from experiencing a life lesson on character with his brother and an extra-ordinary doctor.

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Six values I gained as a military brat

My father, Colonel Howard F. Smith,Jr. was a career military officer in the U.S. Air Force.  He served in the Vietnam War in the 60’s, and Desert Storm in the 90’s.  When he was not overseas, he walked through the front door of our home every evening at 5:00 p.m., wearing his blue uniform decorated with ribbons and pins he earned in his 30 years of service to our country.

When he passed away, I requested a pair of the silver bars which were always fastened to his hat. The blue hat with pins was a constant in our home, and it represents the consistent work ethic and military commitment of my father.

Just as a missionary or a pastor is called to the ministry, I believe military personnel and their spouses feel a similar calling.  It is a unique person who is willing to invest their very lives in the risky unknown. Unknown danger, unknown housing options, unfamiliar living conditions, constant moving, unpacking, and moving again. One might wonder what kind of toll this takes on the spouses and the children.  While I can only hypothesize about a spouse’s point of view; I am able to speak from a kid’s point of view.  These are the reflections and values I learned as a Military Brat.

Always, always stand at attention for the National Anthem. 

Whether in the movie theater on base, in the classroom or at a football game, we must stand up for the National Anthem.  Give the anthem your full and complete attention and respect.  No talking.  No squirming.  No hands in pockets.  No hands touching anyone else. No fumbling in your purse.

The National Anthem represents our story; the story of the United States of America, her fight for freedom, and the ones who gave their very lives for the freedom we enjoy.  The anthem represents our own grandfathers, fathers, mothers, siblings who risk their lives daily so we can live freely.

If any kid dared to goof around during the National Anthem on base, that kid and his friends were kicked out of the movie theater, game, or classroom.  No exceptions.

So my friend, if you ever try to talk to this girl or attempt to do business with me during the National Anthem; expect to be ignored.  That’s just the way it is.

Make new friends and keep the old

I remember vividly coming home from school, after laughing and enjoying my friends, and hearing the words, “We got our orders.” That meant we must move to another base, another state, possibly thousands of miles away.  It happens frequently. Sometimes we received our orders to move, only to have the location changed again.  Flexibility becomes a common character trait.

It takes a person an average of 2 years to become comfortable with friends and settle in to a new community.  It is tough on a military family who just begins to warm up to their new friends, then it is time to pack up and leave again.

Tears, fears, lost friendships and the stress of starting all over again can take its toll on a kid. Many of us learn through inevitable trial and error to make friends quickly and support one another.  I am often saddened by the friendships I have lost over the years.  There were no social networking options to keep us connected. But I gained the ability to make new friends, and the compassion to help others feel included.

When I first attended a big public school in my teens, I heard friends say they went to school with their cousins.  I thought it was a joke.  I had not lived near extended family.  I rarely saw my grandparents, cousins, Aunts and Uncles since my father joined the Air Force when I was 5 years old.  A military family rarely has the luxury and support of living close to their extended family, and the children don’t have the same opportunities to know them like the civilian families.  We learn to support those around us when anyone is in need.

I am grateful for the opportunities to travel, to see our country from different perspectives and landscapes.  I write a funny cursive “r” which I learned in Alabama and I have a mild mix of accents due to living in different regions.  I never knew what city to call my hometown.  But, the travel helps a kid understand their narrow world from a broader perspective.  It is important to me to expose our own kids to travel, world studies, different cultures, and the National news.

Respect the American Flag

We were taught how to respect the American flag.  Our instruction included how to fold the flag properly, not to jump up to touch it when we walked near it, not to wave a ragged flag, and the list goes on.  As I grew up, I loved to sing songs about America and the flag.  How obnoxious my dorm mates must have thought I was as I sang “You’re a Grand Old Flag” at the top of my lungs down the hallway.  I did it frequently.  Did I mention I attended a college in Canada?  Years later, my Trinidadian roommate asked me to kindly quit playing Lee Greenwood’s song, “I’m proud to be an American”.

What can I say?  I am a proud military brat.  I know our freedom comes at a great cost. I benefit from it every day, I am grateful, and sometimes I gush!

Sacrifice for the greater purpose

There were many times I did not fully appreciate the fact that my dad was a Prosthodontist.  Often times when I was having my teeth worked on, young airmen in training would stand around the dental chair to observe.  As a junior high student, I didn’t enjoy good looking guys standing around me while I was drooling and having spit sucked out of my mouth. I’ll never forget the day one of the dentists walked into the waiting room and reprimanded me for leaving the chair too early.  I sat horrified.

I clearly remember the long days my dad worked to identify bodies from the Canary Island plane crash.  He had the job of examining the teeth in order to identify the horrifically burnt bodies.  He worked round the clock and changed his toxic clothing outside our house before entering in.

It wasn’t until my twenties when I entered the fabulous home of a local civilian dentist, that I first recognized the contrast between a civilian dentist’s pay and a military dentist’s pay.  My father had made a great financial sacrifice when he chose to serve our country.  It is admirable.

Do you know there are military personnel and their families who live on the poverty level?  Yes, they serve our country daily, and scrape to make ends meet.

Respect a person’s title and leadership

Military kids learn to call people by their official titles.  This gives military personnel the respect they have earned.  Everyone is addressed by their rank.  We answer those in authority with a “Yes, Ma’am” or  “No, Sir”.

We may not personally believe in the political decisions of our leaders, but they deserve our respect.  This is a biblical principle as well.  Submit to those in leadership, even if they are unreasonable.  That is my role.  The Word of God tells us our leaders will have to give an account to God.

Cade meets Veterans on Pearl Harbor Day

When my son was in fourth grade, we attended a Pearl Harbor reenactment downtown.  It was a rainy school day, but I thought this was a great learning opportunity for our boy.  We stood in the small crowd, squeezed together under the umbrella and listened to Veterans reenact radio announcements from Pearl Harbor.  They read the names of local heroes whose lives were lost that day.  My son soaked it all in. I nudged him to shake the hands of the Veterans who stood in their decorated uniforms.  We thanked them for their service.

“Even though we feel shy about it, and don’t always know what to say,” I teach my boys, “always shake the hand of a Veteran and thank them for their service on our behalf”.

Stand up for what you believe in

I don’t remember the day my father left for Vietnam.  My mother tells us that I made such a scene crying in the airport, that everyone around me was in tears.  I do remember my father’s phone calls from overseas.  Our phone calls were monitored, and whenever we took a turn talking, we had to say, “Over” and wait for clearance to talk again.  The scheduled phone calls were brief.

Letters from my father, sent in envelopes trimmed in red, white and blue were delivered from across the seas.  He sent pictures of himself in his fatigues and holding weapons while riding on the back of a truck.  I didn’t know much about the war, only that my father was gone.

One day my mother brought us to Mather Air Force Base where we were stationed in Sacramento, to see President Nixon.  There were crowds of people and “hippies” on loud motorcycles.  There was shouting and a chaotic feeling in the crowd.  We viewed President Nixon stepping off of the plane as the crowd protested and yelled profanities at him.  My mother pulled us kids close, and then she told those hippies off!  I guess that’s where I first learned to stand up for what I believe in and who I believe in.

Life as a military brat was a good life.  I have fond memories of playing kick-the-can in the streets and enjoying the guards at the gate of the base with their fancy salutes.  I have a broader world view and an ingrown respect for our country. Life was good and I thank you, Mom and Dad, for the valuable experience of being your military brat.
 

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When Mom messes up

Cade was biting his lip and wincing his eyes as he walked out of practice and stumbled toward me.  My heart often melts as his smiling face approaches the van, but there was no smile this afternoon.  With a look of discomfort he asked, “Mom, can I get a new pair of shoes?  My toes are bleeding again.”

Again? I was clueless my 15 year old had outgrown his soccer shoes for the 2nd time this season. He pulled off his shoes and exposed the bloody sock.  What kind of a Mom have I become?  I am always on top of these things; keeping my kids from wearing high-waters when they grow out of their pants and pressing my thumb at the tip of their shoes to check for perfect fit.

“I let my son down,” I thought.

I questioned myself as we drove to the sports store to purchase new shoes.  My oldest son loves to do whatever his brother is doing, so he too, wanted to try on shoes.  We noticed A.J. has been limping lately.  We inspected the bottom of his feet for splinters or other offenders, and could not figure out was going on.  When he stepped on the foot pad to measure his feet, the problem was evident.  He too, had outgrown his shoes and was limping around with scrunched toes.

How could I have neglected such basic needs of my boys?  I felt a little sick inside.

When I was a new Mama I imagined my husband being the one who would blunder with our kids.  I worried he would carry the baby seat out to the car, load up his briefcase, hop in the driver’s seat and speed away; absentmindedly leaving the baby on the curb.  I recited safety concerns when he rough-housed and reminded him of everything he needed to be aware of when I left him alone with the little ones.

But, the not-so- funny thing is, the blunders occurred on my watch.  I am the one who dropped a 1-pound can of kidney beans on our toddler’s head. I cried and stewed even though I knew he was alright.  After fretting for hours, I finally called the pediatrician in the middle of the night to explain the bean accident and tell him I feared I had damaged my son’s brain.  He told me to go to sleep.

“Give it a rest,” was the message I began to consider.  Being a faulty parent is inevitable.  Try as I might to be on top of every detail in my parenting, I’m going to mess up and make some blunders. 

We completed our shoe selections and walked to the cashier to make the purchase. My head hung a little low, but I resisted the urge to call myself any names like “Dingbat!” or “Bad Mom”.  I put my arm around my teenagers and squeezed them in to kiss their heads, “I’m so sorry I didn’t know you grew out of your shoes, son.  We want to take care of these things for you.”  They both leaned in.  “Next time you feel your feet do not fit your shoes, please speak up.”  (After all, one of them is capable enough to share the responsibility.)

Are you a mom who messes up?  With every blunder learn to give yourself a measure of grace, ask for forgiveness if needed and learn a little something from the circumstances. And if by chance you’ve been a little harder on that husband of yours, he will be grateful if you pass some grace and praise along to him, as well.

The words of a song written by the late Keith Green encourage me today:

 “Keep doing your best, and pray that it’s blessed.  Jesus takes care of the rest.  Yes, the Lord says that He’ll take care of the rest!”

 

 

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We swallowed our pride and invited in help

 

Our Family

Some months the stress and challenges of raising a child with special needs is pressing, tiring, even close to unbearable. I say close, because God always comes to the rescue when we’re in our greatest need!

On the other hand, there are weeks when life becomes status-quo…as far as special needs families go. We can laugh as a family like only a family who knows, can. These days, we are in challenging/laughing mode.

Our sweet, funny boy with Down’s Syndrome, has gone through his own tough times. In his pre-teen years, he developed behavior that is difficult to manage. It stumps his social and intellectual growth. It stumps our family’s ability to do things together in and out of the home. And it stumps me—the Mom with the M.A. in Marriage and Family, the youth worker, the educator of family life. After the trial and error of contacting “helpful” professionals, we requested the best, oldest (sorry if that offends you young ones), and most experienced behavior specialist.

Six months later the old male version of “The Nanny” walked into our home. I will call him Ned. Thankfully, he was not sporting a camera crew, but he interviewed, scrutinized, analyzed, and labeled our every move! How unpleasant to have all of our parenting and child’s idiosyncrasies listed in a ten page document.

Ned touts his prescribed behavior plan as if it is his religion—the only way, the right way. He talks down to us if we don’t entirely agree with him. My husband and I sit open-postured, trying to remain humble as we consider a new view. Silently, we are struggling with some of his philosophies. We burst out laughing sometimes when he leaves, yet we are ever so willing and desperate to try his plan.

Ned trained us, followed behind us and coached us. He plopped himself on our chair while I was cooking, or by the pool as the boys splashed and played. He entered our home for hours of observation. Sometimes Ned gave us a thumb up for his approval or pulled us aside to the dining room for a “talk” if we needed to respond differently to our child. At his direction we have role played, high-fived each other, yelled “yeah, great job!” louder and more enthusiastically than ever before. It has worked wonders!!

In a short amount of time our boy is productive, happier, using more effective communication, and negative behaviors are dwindling away. But it is not the end. Our family is in the midst of a grand process. Together we are struggling and giggling as we work it out. We can’t afford not to. As long as we desire our children to thrive and our boy to live his best life possible, we will diligently stick to the plan.

Have you ever thought about seeking outside support for your personal or family struggles? What keeps you from pursuing help?

I’d love to hear how you have benefited from the help of pastors or other professionals in your life.

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