Monday, October 3, 2016

Live near a cornfield? 3 steps to teach now in case your kids are ever lost

I read a story today about a 3-year-old boy lost in a Wisconsin cornfield overnight. Thankfully he was found safe, but cold and hungry, after 20 hours by one of hundreds of volunteers and rescuers who came to search for him. Every year, I hear in the news of this happening somewhere in the country.

I remember being lost for a short time in a cornfield on my family farm at about that age. My friend Missy and I had been playing and wandered in. It was fun to run down the cool rows and let the leaves whisk over us. It was not so fun to have to be retrieved by my big sister. I still remember my mom setting Missy and me in the laundry tub to wash away the mud and the tears.

As a mother of four who lives surrounded by farmland, I deliberately teach my kids what to do if they ever get lost in the corn. It is so fun to hide in that they can quickly get lost and not realize how far in they have gone. Even when you teach kids not to play in the corn, there might be a situation when they go chasing a cat or something and not realize how far they've gone. Just a few years ago, both of my daughters went chasing their runaway pigs into tall corn. Fortunately, they found their pigs and followed the steps below to get back out.

It's easy even for adults to totally lose all sense of direction in a cornfield. The strategy I teach my children in case they ever get lost is:
  1. First stop and look around to see if you can see something tall you recognize, such as the roof of a barn or a tree. If you do, walk toward that. The whole time, shout where you are for adults who may be looking.
  2. If that fails, follow along the row you are already in, not crossing the rows. Just pick a row and follow it to one end. You might start to see cross rows toward the very end where farmers plant headlands in rows perpendicular to the rest. This will usually only be as wide as the corn planter. I would rather my child end up half-mile away at the edge of the road then stay lost in the corn for hours. When you get to the edge, follow around on the outside of the field until you find a house or road.
  3. If you know someone is nearby looking for you, or you can hear someone but not see them, see if you can break off a stalk of corn and hold it up in the air and shake it around. At least shake the stalks of corn next to you so searchers might see it moving. Keep shouting so they can follow your voice.

With harvest season here, fields will be busy. Of course tractors and combines can be dangerous, so make sure kids know never to enter a field someone's working or harvesting without an adult. Don't approach equipment. Even when I'm alone with no kids taking dinner out to my brother, I wave at him until he waves back before I start walking toward the tractor. I do that to make sure he sees me. I go so far as to tell the kids to wave at the farmers who farm our ground whenever they are working in the fields, not just to be friendly, but to be seen.

The popularity of corn mazes might make it seem like getting lost in a field is a great idea. Trust me, it's not. Teach your kids now how to get out if lost in corn.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Why Michigan families need special needs savings plans

Michigan State Rep. Anthony Forlini recently introduced legislation, House Bill 4543, that will allow the state to set up a framework so citizens with special needs can save money in special accounts. This is a big deal for my family and I hope others will join me in encouraging our legislators to pass Michigan's plan for the federal ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act of 2014.

To explain what this means by example, last year my husband and I helped our 6-year-old son with classic autism and cognitive impairment start a tradition of showing a pen of chickens at the county fair. He sold them at auction for around $150, just like his big sisters who experience hard work and responsibility by raising, showing and selling livestock and poultry. We pay for everything our son might need or want, so that money went into his small savings account at the bank. If he raises a few fair chickens each year he is in 4-H and no more, he will have the maximum amount of money allowed before a person becomes ineligible for Supplemental Security Income (disability) support, Medicaid and other federal programs based on means. About $2,000 in chicken money will max him out.

While our family is doing everything we can to help our son learn and grow to become as independent as possible, the reality is he will probably need disability support sometime in the future — whether that is when he becomes an adult or when we are gone. That means any money in the bank given to him by grandparents as birthday gifts or that he might earn during childhood, such as by raising pigs, selling eggs or helping in the family maple syrup business, would either be forfeited or deem him ineligible for disability support. We want to encourage our son to develop simple job skills, so being able to work at supervised tasks and earn a little bit of money is important to his development. And if you've met my little guy even briefly, you know he loves his farm animals!

Of course a person with permanent disabilities such as my son's is exactly why this program exists, so it makes sense to make it accessible.

"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" —Matthew 25:40

It's true that even before the federal ABLE Act passed last year, a family with means has been able to hire an attorney to set up a special needs trust, which costs $500+ in legal fees in my area. Some families have found ways to funnel funds to other places to get around the law.

Now that the federal ABLE Act passed last year, all people with special needs are allowed to keep their own money in their own names in special tax-free savings accounts that won't be taken away from them or counted against their eligibility to receive federal disability benefits. However, it's up to each state to set up a system for its citizens to participate.

Michigan offers tax-free 529 college savings plans for families to set aside money so students can attend college. My 6-year-old chicken-showing son, as well as his little brother who is also seriously affected by disabilities, won't likely be able to attend college. The boys will, however, have long-term needs. Families like mine who can help their children with special needs set aside some money for the future should be able to do so without being penalized. A Michigan special needs savings plan will make that happen.

Thank you, Rep. Forlini and cosponsoring Reps. Jenkins, Irwin, Victory, Poleski, Lucido, Howrylak, Miller, Liberati, Lane, LaVoy, Geiss, Hooker and Courser for supporting Michigan's special citizens through this bipartisan legislation. Thank you Lt. Gov. Brian Calley for testifying in support of it today. Won't you contact your Michigan senator and representative to let them know you support Michigan's implementation of the ABLE Act, too?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What's that red stuff all over the ground this time of year?

If you're anything like me, you often wonder about nature around you. (If not, don't even tell me; I'm not sure we can be friends.) Have you ever wondered what that red plant material is that's dotted all over the ground in early spring? If you live in a climate like Michigan's and it's windy where you live today, head outside right now and take a look.

What you are seeing are some of the earliest flowers of spring, the flowers of Acer rubrum and Acer saccharinum. Acer rubrum = red maple. Acer saccharinum = silver maple.

To give you an idea of the timing of the annual red and silver maple flower drops, where I live the crocus are nearly done flowering. The daffodils have been going strong several days, my forsythia just a couple days and today I noticed the first magnolia just starting to break bud.

Red maple flower.
Together with my in-laws, my family is a small, commercial producer of pure maple syrup. Knowing about the Acer species is part of our business. Each year, we invite students to visit us in the maple woods for tours. I always ask each group of visitors if they think maple trees have flowers. Young children usually guess no. Only about a third of the older students and adults realize that maple trees must flower. Very few can describe a maple flower to me — maybe only a few people in the seven years we've been holding formal educational tours.

Of course the answer is yes, maple trees do indeed flower. The flowers are tiny compared to the massive trees and aren't very noticeable until they fall to the ground. While red and silver maple flowers are red, flowers of the sugar maple we primarily tap for syrup are a bright, almost lime green. That may start to sound familiar to you now. You've probably noticed clumps of red or green maple flowers lying on your car hood or sidewalk in spring, or blown to the edge of the driveway. Reds and silvers are the first to flower.

Silver maple flowers.
Whether the maples are red, sugar, black, Norway, silver or another species, all flower so they can then fruit. The fruit of the maple tree is what I grew up calling a whirlygig or helicopter as a kid. Remember how delightful it was to toss a handful of the dry helicopters into the air and watch them twist and twirl toward the earth? That whirling and twirling is the maple seed dispersal system, sending the seeds inside as far from the mother tree as possible.

To a botanist, those helicopters are actually called keys or samara. (I won't judge if you still want to call them helicopters.) Technically, the seed is only the oblong brown seed coat and its contents at the heavy end of the double samara. The whole unit is the maple tree's fruiting body, but again, you can refer to the whole thing a seed we'll know what you mean.
Not-yet-flowered buds of a sugar maple
(Acer saccharum) in our front yard.

As nature begins to wake up from the long winter, it's satisfying to look down and notice the details — the greening grass at our feet, the emerging wild leeks, the narcissus and tulips in our flowerbeds. I also encourage you to look up. See the tree buds swelling, various species beginning to flower, and the red and silver maples just beginning to produce their fruit now that they're dropping their diminutive flowers.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hey, Michigan! Burdening homeschoolers with more government bureaucracy doesn't stop child murder.

This morning, two Detroit legislators proposed a bill that would add layers of bureaucracy on the shoulders of Michigan's homeschooling families. Why? Because a crazed criminal killed her two children and stuffed them in the freezer.

What on earth does that have to do with homeschooling? It really doesn't. This is a knee-jerk reaction to a heinous murder because the mother said "homeschooling" as one of her many lies when somebody asked where the children were. (She also said they weren't home or had gone to live with relatives, and no one is proposing a bill to regulate children who legitimately leave their house with a friend or go stay with Grandma.)

Instead of adding another layer of costly government red tape to homeschooling families who are already choosing the more challenging path because they are that committed to their children, how about we solve the actual problem of a severely psychiatrically disturbed mother who murdered her kids? With all the systems already in place that were supposed to protect these children, but failed, why are we using homeschooled kids like mine as the scapegoat? If you are inclined to think we do need to further regulate homeschooling because of what happened to these two children— or for any other reason — consider this:

1. The mother in this case, Mitchell Blair, was investigated twice before by CPS for abusing the same children she eventually killed. How did that government intervention save her children? Should we add additional bureaucracy or fix systems already in place?

2. The children were enrolled in public school until they were murdered, or shortly before. The proposed legislation would ask existing school districts to not only care for enrolled children, but also police homeschoolers. How did public school oversight save these children?

3. Stoni Blair's teacher did call authorities when the girl stopped coming to school, yet no one did even checked into it (and not because of homeschooling either, they failed to act period.) How did this teacher's effort save these children?

4. We all know this mother was not actually homeschooling the [deceased] children, nor did she ever intend to. Had she not been able to use homeschooling as one of her multiple lies, would she have spared the children's lives? Or would she have just come up with a different lie?

5. Sadly, this is the third case in the last several years in Michigan in which a parent lied and said they were homeschooling and, instead, murdered their child. Four dead children is four too many. Are homeschooling parents more likely to murder their children in cold blood? Or are murderous criminals more likely to lie? Would murderers give up and spare their children if they didn't have the ability to use homeschooling as their lie, or would they skip town, go truant or use other lies? How many children enrolled in public school in Michigan in the last several years have been murdered at the hands of their own parents? How did public schooling save those children's lives? (My casual observation of the news tells me it is a significantly higher percentage of children killed while enrolled in public school then murdered while their parents used homeschooling is a lie. It would be interesting/horrifying to research.)

6. Are parents who intend to break existing Michigan homeschool law likely to comply with an additional layer of requirements? Or are the parents who would comply with additional laws people like me whose children are not the at-risk ones you are looking for?

7. One report said the two recently murdered children were receiving Medicaid and food assistance benefits for the last two years while their bodies were in their mother's freezer. How did involvement in these government programs, which often require check-ins and medical visits that clearly didn't happen, save these children? Would additional homeschool regulations requiring doctor check-ins get criminal parents to comply?

8. One article revealed the mother told some of her neighbors that she had killed her children. Not one of them stepped forward or told authorities. What role does this play in saving children's lives?

9. The children's grandfather attended the press conference where this proposed legislation was announced. He stood in support of additional regulation on homeschoolers. My heart aches for him, yet I cannot understand his reasoning here. Where was he when his grandchildren were missing for two years? If you are a parent, would your parents or in-laws stand idly by if you lied to them about your children's whereabouts for two years? If you are a grandparent, would you except a myriad of thinly veiled lies if you didn't see your grandkids for two years? Or are there deeper issues here?

10. In the past few days, I have heard a couple people say they know a homeschooling family where the children are not actually learning or doing anything. That makes me sad. Do you know any children enrolled in public school who fall through the cracks and are graduated without reading proficiency, don't do homework or get assistance from parents at home, or drop out? Is it possible the few bad seed parents who pretend they'll homeschool are the same ones who would be miserably failing their children in a public school environment? If we can't get that minority of children in check when they are under government scrutiny already, do we really expect additional laws on homeschoolers would have the intended outcome?

11. Where would money come from to pay for additional government bureaucracy to regulate homeschoolers? Would we raise taxes? Take from education funds that people say are already not enough?

12. One person recently asked if homeschoolers like me have nothing to hide, why would we object to additional government scrutiny? I want people to know that homeschoolers aren't afraid reporting on their children's progress. We're glad to tell you what our children are learning if you are truly interested. Some of us blog about it, share our educational experiences in Facebook posts, and have our children participate in science fairs and presentation nights to show the world what they are learning. The real question is, would government red tape improve the quality of our homeschooling or would it take precious time away from educating our children if we are required to submit additional reports, take our children to additional visits and wait for approval of our curricula?

13. If you think children need to be monitored because parents can't be trusted, what about the children ages 0–5 who aren't yet in school? They, too, are sometimes abused and murdered by their own parents, which is already illegal and already has a child protection system in place to try to stop it. Do we add a layer of bureaucracy on top of all parents because a tiny minority are criminals? Or is there a better way, like neighbors, family and friends looking out for each other and repairing existing systems that sometimes fail to protect children?

14. What laws are already in place to make murder and child abuse illegal? How is it that laws against murder and abuse didn't save these children, but we're supposed to think laws harsher laws against homeschoolers would save have saved these children?

15. Is it possible we are so deeply troubled as Michiganders by what happened to these children that we are thrashing about, looking for answers, ready to cling onto the slightest bit of hope that we can do something to stop cold-blooded child murders? Do we really want to punish the wrong families because we feel desperate and hurt by the loss of these two children?

Believe me, stopping child abuse is so important to me that it has become a key part of my calling as a Christian and as a mother. I would do just about anything if I thought it would save a child from abuse or murder. My husband and I adopted two children out of the foster care system whose lives were irreparably damaged by their birthparents. We did this with open hearts even though it has rocked our family to the core and added stress that's nearly impossible to adequately describe. When I say I would do anything to save a child, I mean it. But regulating homeschoolers? That's not the answer.

16. As those who know me are well aware, I am pro-homeschooling. I am also pro-public schooling, pro-online schooling and pro-private schooling. I am pro-school choice. I choose homeschooling for two of my children and public schooling for two of my children. I am grateful all these options are available. Do we really want to limit educational options, or do we want to solve the real problem of child abuse and murder?

Instead of throwing a tea cup of water on a forest fire (not to mention the wrong fire), how about we get to the real root of the problem? Instead of adding a whole new layer of bureaucracy over top of homeschooling families whose children score, on average, higher than publicly school children in all measures, how about we work on solutions for mental illness? Child abuse? The child protection system? Detroit in general? Poverty? Societal ills that allow people to turn their heads when children are hurt?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Disposable swim diapers for special needs

Our family loves swimming. Although I used to sew my own cloth diapers and cloth swim covers, once I had an infant and a toddler with special needs we completely abandoned cloth and switched entirely to disposables. When my sons were still small, it was easy to find Huggies Little Swimmers or Pampers Splashers for swimming. As they outgrew those by 45 pounds at about 4 and 5 years old, I searched and searched for an affordable disposable alternative.

I've posted on special needs message boards and nobody has a great solution other than cloth covers. I ended up recently ordering Swimmates by Tena from That was the best price I found and shipping was free. I ordered the smallest pack to try them out, which came out to 72 cents each. If I like them, I will order a case so they'll be cheaper.

My sons do get their pull-ups and diapers covered by Medicaid, but it does not cover swim diapers even though therapeutic swimming is part of their school program.

How I keep paperless files for my kids with special needs

If you have a child with special needs, you know that on top of caring for your child comes managing a mountain of paperwork. At the first support group I attended for parents of kids with special needs, an experienced parent urged us all to keep records. Her adult son needed a medication adjustment and she couldn't remember exactly which medications had worked in the past and at which doses. I took her advice and it has already paid dividends.

The amount of paperwork that follows each of my sons is astounding. There are Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) from school, medical test results, prescriptions, seizure action plans, reports from doctors, letters and notes from therapists, insurance forms and so much more. Because my sons came to us through foster care and adoption, the paperwork pile is even deeper — or it would be if I hadn't hit on a digital organization system that works for me. Except for the few documents that must be kept as originals such as birth certificates and Social Security cards, I keep nearly all files on my computer and backed up in the cloud. Here's how.

1. As much as possible, I request information be sent to me in PDF form by email so physical papers never have to hit my mailbox. However, most of my children's care providers don't have systems for electronically sharing documents that are secure enough to comply with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects the confidentiality of health information). That means I'm usually stuck with paper.

2. As soon as paperwork makes it into my home, I sometimes let it age on the kitchen counter for two to three months before I do anything else with it. I strongly recommend you skip this step.

3. I scan everything. I like the free DocScan app for my iPhone and iPad from IFUNPLAY. It's easy to use and can create PDF or JPEG documents. I like that I can scan wherever I am and don't need to sit at the computer and use the flatbed scanner.

4. I file my sons' paperwork in logical computer folders and subfolders, just as a would if I were filing them in a cabinet with fat hanging files and thinner manila folders.
  • Each of my sons has a main folder with his name on it.
  • From there, each has a set of category folders: Dentist, Legal, Medical, Mental Health, School, Diagnoses (named Autism, Cerebral Palsy, etc., which is where I file general information I learn about each diagnosis).
  • Under each of these categories are subfolders.
    The Medical subfolders include: Health Insurance, Immunizations, Vision, Doctors (I have a folder for each doctor by last name).
    Mental Health subfolders (in my state, developmental disabilities are handled through the community mental health agencies) are: Person Centered Plans, Respite and Programs (listed by program name, such as Autism Center and Community Living Support).
    School subfolders include: Audiologist (because this is done at school), Behavior Intervention Plans, IEPs, Report Cards, School Nurse, Transportation and Teachers (each teacher has a folder by year).
5. I use the free Dropbox cloud service to store and back up all of my information. Instead of keeping things in the My Documents folder on my computer, I keep them directly in the Dropbox folder that was placed on my computer when I installed the program, which is easy to do. That way I don't need to drag my files anywhere to back them up, which I would probably forget to do.
If you would like to try Dropbox, you could sign up from this Dropbox referral link so we would both get some bonus space.

Later I'll share how I keep a running log of my sons' medications and changes made over the years.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

This is what Sensory Processing Disorder looks like.

This is what Sensory Processing Disorder looks like. It's probably the least concerning on his long list of diagnoses, but when we can use it to our advantage to help him through his other hurts, we do. I had heard of kids who were so sensitive they couldn't stand seams on their socks or tags on their clothes, but I had never heard of hyposensitive kids — the exact opposite, who crave pressure and touch and sensations. They're the kids who are always crashing into things, always moving, always seeking more input — only his is to the extreme. He no longer bangs his own head (that was frightening to see), but still uses his teeth and fists and open hands to get pressure from other people, and of course hitting, biting and slapping don't go over well in a house full of people.

I was able to pull him out of an epic meltdown last night (Can we still call it epic when there are many in a day?) by using his sensory issues. Sometimes it doesn't work and some of us end up getting hurt. If I can catch him at just the right moment when he is able to signal to me that pressure will help him, it's always worth a try.

His signal last night was headbutting me in the side (while screaming and flailing and gnashing teeth), but I know from experience that it meant he needed pressure. Fortunately, this time none of the other kids were in the house. When you crash into your brother who has serious challenges of his own, it results in a smackdown. Because he had only crashed into me and I was somehow feeling particularly patient, it turned into soothing. This time anyway.

I pushed a big heavy Bumpidoodle pillow down onto him while doing what we call "cleaning your ears." We discovered a couple years ago that he loves getting his ears cleaned. More pressure. So now I ask him if he wants his ears cleaned and even if a Q-tip it is nowhere in sight, if he feels just so he will lay his head on my lap so I can firmly massage his ears. When I say firmly, I mean other kids would be indicating, "Ow! Stop, Mommy, you're hurting me!" But he likes it, and if I am not firm enough, he digs his skull into me to make it firmer. So I alternately squished down on the pillow and rubbed his scalp while "cleaning his ears." It's a delicate balance of giving him the pressure just where he needs it while not letting him feel like his movement is restricted because THAT TICKS HIM OFF. It's picking up his subtle cues to get it just right. If he moves an arm, that means he needs the pillow pushed down harder or heavy blankets stacked on top. If he starts to lift his head, the other ear needs massaging. It worked. This time.

What you can't see in the picture are the other pieces that had to happen just right for this to work. The butterfly movie playing in the DVD player — not too loud, because sounds ramp him up. Not too much action, or his body mirrors the action on TV. It was right at the metamorphosis scenes, which couldn't be more appropriate.

You can't see the sensory items he was hoarding in his arms under the big pillow. If they weren't there, everything else would have fallen apart. I call them sensory items because over his four years of life, we have finally figured out that he needs these items to feel right. Needs them. Like how you and I need air to breathe.

The things he needs all have something in common. He likes the feel of rubbery things, of plastic, of heavy paper, of adhesives. To you, it would look like he's holding onto a bunch of trash. I mean that literally, because he was holding onto a large black trash bag full of goodies pilfered from an afternoon visit to Grandma's and Grandpa's house. They get it, and let him fill his bag.

Inside his black trash bag was a white trash bag, a paper sack, an empty 2-liter of Diet Vernors, a big yellow punch ball covered in stickers and four aluminum pie tins on which his grandmother had obligingly drawn with a Sharpie the characters he requested (demanded?) — a horsie, a butterfly, a flower, another butterfly.

Everything was just so. And holding them under his heavy pillow, watching butterfly metamorphosis, getting his ears rubbed and his scalp massaged, allowed his brain to calm and his body to rest. For a few minutes. Until it was time to start over.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

10 things you wouldn't understand (unless you're also raising a child with classic autism)

  1. That when someone gives your child a book and isn't sure if they'll like it, you think, "It's OK, really. They all taste the same." But you don't say it because it would freak them out.
  2. That when your autism support group decides to hold a social activity for children so they can feel included for once, then plans something that's only appropriate for kids older than yours, you feel like sticking a fork in your eye.
  3. That when you see a mother happily walking alongside the big river with her child, looking at the boats and birds, you can't help but feel sad that you can't walk with your child along the water without a very real fear that his lack of danger awareness will land you in a tragic story on the 6 o'clock news. And you're not exaggerating.
  4.  Poop smears. This is a thing. A common thing.
  5.  That hearing someone complain their little darling is such a picky eater because she won't eat her vegetables is annoying when your kid literally eats three foods.
  6.  That you know it comes from a place of love, but you can't stand to hear someone tell you about one more supplement, diet change or technique that is supposed to help kids with autism. This isn't a virus. There is no cure.
  7.  That when you see your own child hurting an animal, it scares the crap out of you.
  8.  That watching your child put on his own shirt for the first time at the same age as your friends' kids are learning to read is hard. But you are just as proud.
  9. That every little thing is a monumental task. Breakfast. Getting dressed. Getting in the car. Riding in the car. Getting out of the car. Dinner. And sometimes you're just tired of it.
  10. That you long to once, just once, be a normal family for a day.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mikaela Lynch is dead: Every autism parent's worst nightmare

The back of my 4-year-old autistic son's torn shirt. He tried to escape as I wrote this.
Mikaela Lynch. You may not have heard of her, but I can guarantee every parent of an autistic child who has heard her story is torn up inside today.

Mikaela was a 9-year-old California girl with autism who disappeared from her family four days ago. Was. A couple hours ago, she was found dead. Dead in water near their vacation home.

To most people, it's a tragic story about somebody else's beloved child. To parents of kids affected by autism, Mikaela is our child. My child. Autism parents like me live in fear of a scenario like the one that took Mikaela's life, every single day.

My husband and I have two young sons on the autism spectrum. Both are wanderers. Many autistic people are. According to a study cited by AWAARE, a collaboration of autism groups that helps caregivers prevent wandering situations, about half of autistic children wander from safety.

Our local autism support group recently held a safety training led by a police officer from a statewide autism organization. He asked how many autism parents in the room had children who wander. I didn't see any parent whose hand didn't shoot up. The question for us isn't if our kids wander. It's what kind of wandering. Talking about wandering at a meeting of autism parents is a universal greeting, sort of like talking about the weather or football at a party. Is your daughter more of a straight wanderer (takes off to follow something interesting)? Or is she an eloper (leaves the area in search of something)? Maybe a bolter (flees a scene out of anxiety or excitement)?

Just this week, my 4-year-old scared the pants off of three responsible caregivers in three different incidents. My husband and I joke that our house is like Fort Knox or a prison. Only it's not funny. We have gates, locks and fences all over. Still, our older son managed to escape the house or yard three times this week alone. {And I kid you not, I just had to stop typing to because he just jumped the front yard fence that was specifically built high and strong to protect him. He has poor gross motor skills, the cognition of an 18-month-old, poor problem-solving skills, poor focus, yet he can do this. He ripped the back of his shirt from the hem to the yoke when it caught on the fence, which was the only thing that slowed him down enough to prevent me from having to chase him down. And I'm watching him.} Fortunately in our case, so far I've always guessed right where he's going. We have ducks, chickens, pigs and goats on our little hobby farm, and he loves them. Farm animals are one of his obsessions. (Just about every autistic person has those, too.) We always find him at the back of the property next to the barn, holding a duck or a chicken. This is despite our great efforts to keep him safe and near and in sight.

I live in fear of this happening again. I live in fear of being Mikaela's grieving parents. I live in fear of our 4-year-old deciding to cross the road to see the neighbors' cows instead of our critters, and darting into the path of a bull or, worse, a vehicle. I live in fear of him wandering to water, which he loves, yet can't right himself in. I live in fear that our 3-year-old, who's also on the autism spectrum and about as tall as the front grill of a pickup truck, will someday figure out that Grandma and Grandpa live just down the road and might take off to try to visit them alone — maybe while I'm turning to see why his brother is melting down again or what dangerous object he's chewing on this time. Our kids don't understand danger. A roaring vehicle, a lake, a fire. They mean nothing. I live in fear.

We try. We try to teach our sons to listen to directions, to ask or grunt or gesture for help, to hold our hands in parking lots, to stay near. We maintain eyes-on supervision. We teach hot, stop, danger. We use words, iPad apps, picture cards, sign language. My sons wear shoe tags in case they wander and someone finds them since they can't tell their own names, let alone their addresses or that they need help. But a picture card and a shoe tag don't save a drowned kid.

I don't know Mikaela Lynch's parents. I've heard some say they should be investigated, because who lets their severely autistic child wander off naked? They might be horrible, negligent parents. But I doubt it. I've been a licensed foster parent and a mandatory reporter of suspected child neglect and abuse; I'd be the first one calling for their heads if I thought they were negligent. I doubt it, but I don't know the facts. Here's what I do think I know about Mikaela's parents, only because it's true of every autism parent I personally know, including myself.

They're tired. You know how parents of two-year-olds are often bleary eyed shadows of themselves because they're constantly chasing, diapering, teaching, redirecting and removing things from the mouths of those active little ones who are so fully dependent for their every need? They're the "terrible twos" or "terrific twos," depending on your parenting philosophy, and it's a stage kids outgrow in several months or a year or maybe two. But sometimes they don't. Multiply that exhausting stage by years. Let's say 9 years, in Mikaela's case. Now put that active toddler in a 70-pound, 4-foot body. Or a 220-pound, 6-foot body, because autistic children who wander grow up to be autistic adults who wander.

Not only are parents like Mikaela's physically exhausted, but emotionally, too. Autism parents find themselves part of a club they never asked to join. (Somebody else came up with that accurate thought.) They're tired from worrying, from researching, from teaching, from seeking help, from fighting. They fight insurance companies for treatment their children desperately need, they fight for school services for which there's never enough staff or budget, they fight to find therapists to help, for doctors to understand. Sometimes they fight for family members to understand and for strangers to stop staring. They fight because they love their child with all their heart and soul, even when autism stops the child from being able to say, "I love you, Mommy," or from hugging her willingly or even from looking her in the eye. They fight. They're tired of fighting.

The siblings are tired, too. News articles report that Mikaela was outside playing with her 7-year-old brother shortly before she went missing. I don't even know the brother's name, but I know some things about him, too, because I know other autism siblings — my daughters, for example. No matter how hard his parents try to insulate him from the worries and the stress, he's tired of being the OK child in a house with a severely affected child. He's tired of his parents being stretched thin, of having to help care for his sibling when he just wants to ride his bike and throw a ball and read a book and play. Much as he loves his sibling, he's tired of being woken up, of hearing the meltdowns, of getting what's left of his parents' attention after they give more than they ever thought they could to the autistic sibling. He's tired of fighting his own guilt for hating what his autistic sibling does, but loving her at the same time. He's had to grow up way too fast.

So what does all this griping have to do with you? With the rate of autism today, you probably know a family affected by autism. And they probably need your help, even if they won't say so. If you don't know what it's like to spend nine straight years worrying that your child will wind up in a life-threatening situation just because you want to pamper yourself by, oh I don't know, spending 30 seconds in the bathroom peeing or something, then maybe you can help. Can you babysit? If that's too hard, can you read to the child in the next room so the parents can pay bills or shower? Can you attend a school IEP meeting to help advocate for the child's education? How about pick up groceries? Lend a hand? Lend a meal? Lend an ear?

Before the next Mikaela?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The baby and the apple

Baby Boy fell asleep eating an apple,

half on top of Big Sister,

surrounded by sleeping Daddy and Middle Sister.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Had the F-bomb and A-bomb dropped on me all in one day

We took our sons to a long-awaited day of appointments at a major university hospital (seven months long awaited). We brought our boys into the family knowing full well each had a multitude of challenges. We've had months and months to get to know their strengths and their quirks. So it came as little surprise to hear the diagnoses: One has full-blown Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The other has classic Autism.

After hours of examinations and tests, the nurse practitioner conferred with the doctors, then returned to us to share the news. Then, while my husband took one boy down the hall for further testing, she stuck around with me making conversation. After it became evident she wasn't going to rush off to see another patient, I realized her job was to help the parent process the devastating news.

Thing is, I didn't find the news surprising or devastating. I suppose things would be very different if I carried a child in my womb, expecting to bring a perfect baby into the world. Our path is different though. We had our perfect babies, then chose foster care because we were ready to take on children society left behind.

Still, the NP used some caring words that actually did cause me reflect and even shed some tears. She said it must be frightening to hear such serious diagnoses. No, I explained. "OK, so you knew they weren't headed for Harvard, but you had hope," she surmised.

"I still have hope," I shared, "but it's tempered with a dose of reality."

What I was feeling was anger. Anger at birthparents whose actions damaged these boys' brains. My boys. My sons.

I thought I had processed all those feelings.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Great Pumpkin Meltdown

When you're a foster parent, the kids in your care have been through some pretty wild stuff and they don't always have the language to tell you about it.

Little Dude apparently didn't see much fruit before he joined our family. For the first several months, every time (every time) he saw a piece of round fruit within reach he would announce, "Ball!" and launch said fruit across the room. Apples. Oranges. Tomatoes. Watermelon.

This is very taxing when your custom is to leave a fruit bowl on the table. Embarrassing when your friends and family do the same.

He now understands that an apple is food. This is after many sessions of me demonstrating, "No ball. Eat. See? Yummy!" and showing him how we cut into it and eat the pieces. An apple is still fun to throw, but now it tastes good, too. Tomatoes, potatoes, watermelon, oranges, those are still tossing toys.

This week we stopped by a roadside stand to grab some apples. I left the little ones in the car, walked the 10 feet to drop my payment in the honor box, and returned to find Little Dude wailing, kicking and screaming in his carseat. Between sobs he was pleading, "Ball!?"

Did he want an apple? No. I followed his eyes and realized we had pulled into a roadside stand in October, gaily decorated with what to him were an astounding number of orange balls. Big orange balls. Little orange balls. Huge orange balls. Tiny orange balls. Orange balls with faces. Orange balls on straw bales. Orange balls with scarecrows.

This boy LOVES balls. And I was the witch who wouldn't let him out of the car to have the time of his life throwing balls around at the great orange ball playground.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Toothbrushing Song

I've decided to put the lyrics to my new song in the public domain, a gift to all parents.

Sing it to the tune of the Jingle Bells chorus.


Brush your teeth,
Brush your teeth,
Brush your teeth today!

Brush 'em, brush 'em, brush 'em, brush 'em
Brush them every way. Hey!

Brush your teeth,
Brush your teeth,
Brush them all right now!

You act like you're being tortured,
But I swear to God you're not.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What I've learned this month about adopting hurt kids

That people want to hear things are getting better, even when they're not. So you stop saying this kid is hurting inside. That he has hurts that aren't ever going to heal. And when they ask for the third time today if he's doing better when you've already said twice that he's not, you say yes. And watch the worry melt from their foreheads.

That people don't like to hear the words mentally retarded. Even when it's true. They prefer to think about developmental delays and learning challenges. Some kids need extra time to learn to talk, you know. He's just never been given a chance, you know. As if a brain damaged by drugs and alcohol, abuse and neglect is something a child can erase if only given enough love. As if this broken child will ever be whole.

That you can take a child into your home, shower him with everything little boys need and deserve, and he can still act out in ways you can't even mention in good company. In horrible, terrible, disgusting ways. And it doesn't only make him difficult to love, but hard as hell to like. And you wonder if you're ever going to like this kid. If anybody can ever like this child. But you keep going, and hope that you'll be the first.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Saving Henry, or, An Afternoon with a Rose-Breasted Grosebeak

This afternoon I was pushing Little Dude on the swing and adjusting the trapeze bar to the perfect height for Cherry Pie when I saw our yearling cat Bo, scurry alongside the house with something in his mouth. I nudged closer, wondering if it was the large brown bat that had been flying around a few days in broad daylight, worrying me with thoughts of rabies on wings.

When I approached I saw this. Or rather, an even sadder version of this. A beautiful rose-breasted grosebeak ooking limp and quite possibly dead.

I shooed away the cat -- repeatedly -- and summoned 8-year-old Addster to fetch Baby Boy's toy basket, sans toys I called for Cherry•Pie to bring the porch broom, which I wielded to keep Bo the cat at a distance.

Then Addster returned, upturning the basket over the bird to give it shelter for recovery. We waited and periodically checked on the birdie, each time finding him a little stronger. Our newest foster son Little Dude, who is Obsessed With Birdies, by now left the coveted yellow swing and found this part of the rescue exceptionally entertaining Eventually we realized that not only could the birdie hop a little, but Little Dude actually may begin to pose more of a danger than the feline predator. I pictured George with the bunny.

So off we went down the road. The middle of the road, which you can do in the countryside to find a new home for the biedie that didn't feature a still- hungry cat perched in the branches of the cedar overhead. (We offered cat food, the cheap grocery store dry variety, but kitty wasn't having it.)

First we gave everyone a chance to briefly and gently pet the birdie, who by now was christened Henry. I had already googled to learn that imprinting human smell is only a major concern with juvenile birds.

Finally Henry hopped away, with a bit of a leftward tilt, only to circle around and rest on my shoe. (Yes, those are my pajama pants. At 3 in the afternoon. Why do you ask?)

Then Little Dude freaked out because he wanted one last chance to see the birdie! birdie! birdie! Which was OK because I remembered forgetting to show him to Baby Boy who was riding on my back in my Ergo Baby Carrier the whole time.

So Addster scooped up Henry one more time. When he bit her, we figured that was a clear sign he was feeling better and ready to go.

This time Henry hopped into a clump of trout lilies, then flitted over a mass of red trillium and wood violets. Satisfied Henry was happier, we bid him adieu. Until Grandma pulled into our driveway, at which point the children insisted upon bringing her to the woods and repeating the whole farewell ceremony.

Enjoy your new home, Henry Grosebeak.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Embarking on the foster care journey

About 20 minutes ago the county Department of Human Services van left our driveway, and it in is our foster care licensing worker and all the paperwork needed to certify us as foster care providers for the state.

It's exciting and scary at the same time.

In a month or two we expect the state to have approved our license, then we'll be on the list of families ready and willing to accept foster children into their homes.

Then, someday, we'll get the call.

I feel so many emotions all at once. Blessed, that we have a safe, loving home in which to care for children in need. Proud, that my husband and I share the same values and really want to do this — together. Anxious, about the realities of how this will affect our children. Frightened, that we may encounter a child whose needs are so great we may not be able to handle them. Or that we will. Sad, even angry, that children are treated in such a way that they need to be removed from their homes. Content, that this is what we are called to do.

Monday, December 21, 2009

ChicagoNow, tear down this wall! (ad)

Another blogger posted a picture of a billboard advertising ChicagoNow publications that says:
"Breastfeeding in public is tacky! Seriously, how hard is it to find a bathroom, mommies?"

Here's my e-mail to the ChicagoNow staff. I hope it and other letters get some quick action.

Dear ChicagoNow staff,

I understand that you purchased outdoor advertising promoting your blogs. One of the comments posted at the Armitage stop on the El reads, “Breastfeeding in public is tacky! Seriously, how hard is it to find bathroom, mommies?” This comment is discriminatory and should be removed immediately.

I get the idea behind the ad campaign. It’s clever, really. You’re posting reader comments and intend for them to incite discussion and interest people in your publications. It’s a good idea. However, the breastfeeding comment goes way too far. I know that you posted a counterpoint board later that says, “Breastfeeding in public is no big deal. Anyone who thinks otherwise should grow up.” While I appreciate the gesture, it’s not nearly enough. The original comment must be removed.

I’d like you to please think about the inflammatory breastfeeding comment in another way. What if a user posted a similarly written comment that discriminated against people other than nursing mothers and babies? Would you use it as an ad? Instead of breastfeeding women, let’s say one of these boards had a similarly worded discriminatory comment about another group of people.

Imagine this:
“Black people are so tacky! Seriously, how hard is it to find a seat at the back of the bus, people?”

Or this:
“It’s weird to see lesbians walking around in public together. Seriously, how hard is it to just stay home where I don’t have to look at you?”

Even if a user submitted these comments (and I truly hope they wouldn’t!), would ChicagoNow choose to use them as ads? I sure don’t think so!

You should also know that breastfeeding in public is a right that is protected by law in the state of Illinois. So by posting an ad that could have passersby thinking, “Yeah, I think breastfeeding in public is tacky so maybe I should suggest a bathroom next time I see a woman nursing,” you are encouraging people to violate the law. As you can read in the Right to Breastfeed Act, it’s illegal for a woman not to be allowed to breastfeed in public

Would you post an ad that encouraged people to think about violating another law via a similar comment? “Driving the speed limit is a drag! Seriously, why not just go 95 mph on the Kennedy?” or “Paying taxes bugs me! Seriously, how hard is it to hide that extra income?”

I don’t think I need to bore you with studies about the importance of breastfeeding, that a hungry baby has a biological imperative to nurse, or that we see far more breast tissue on a summer day on Navy Pier than we ever do when women are breastfeeding. I realize this comment isn’t necessarily your belief, only that of a single commenter on the site. But ChicgaoNow, you are the gatekeeper, and you have chosen to allow an inflammatory comment to be posted for all to see.

Please, remove the discriminatory anti-breastfeeding billboard now. I look forward to your response.

(formerly of Hoffman Estates)

I received this positive response. Thanks!

Hi Sue,

We appreciate your detailed letter in response to the ChicagoNow ad. The campaign has expired and has been taken down. You are correct that the goal of the campaign was to incite discussion and get Chicagoans talking, and we understand how the approach might be viewed negatively. We will keep your comments in mind when we approach our next advertising campaign.

Thanks again,

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My simple mother's daybook

Outside my window ... the apple tree has lots of fruit, but after years without maintenance has grown scraggly. I hope we can produce edible apples next year.

I am thinking ... about how tired I am.

I am thankful for ... my husband, who just pushed the girls on the swing and took them for a walk to the end of the woods so I could get a break.

From the learning rooms ... I'm making plans for next year. I reviewed our Noeo Chemistry I curriculum and am ordering the last pieces we need for Sonlight Core 2.

From the kitchen ... When I'm done online, I'm going to make some chocolate chip cookies. Because I want them.

I am wearing ... my favorite shirt from Target. (Not my favorite shirt in the world, but the best from there.)

I am creating ... a new home for our family as we settle in and continue to get the boxes unpacked.

I am going ... to take the girls to the farm tomorrow for some swimming and maybe fishing.

I am reading ... "7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences" by Thomas Anderson. I am linguistic smart and spatial (visual) smart.

I am hoping ... that the "good" showing our real estate agent reported to us yesterday turns into an offer.

I am hearing ... Weird alien noises. Bob and the girls are watching a Star Wars DVD.

Around the house ... the kitchen and bathrooms are pretty well organized. The rest is ... not.

One of my favorite things ... is eating fresh food. Bob dropped off vegetable bulletins at several Amish farms today and one gave him an orange seedless watermelon that we had with our dinner. It was tasty.

A few plans for the rest of the week are ... fixing the picnic table, bolting the barn door track back up, and maybe working on the chicken coop.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... Addy told me she was bored, so I pulled out one of my Mom's tricks. If we ever dared to say we were bored when we were kids she'd always say, "Well there are always calf pens to be cleaned out!" The difference is, I always found something else to do and promptly to avoid pitching manure. I told Addy that if she was bored the chicken coop could be pitched out, so she did! She helped Bob get the old (well-composted) manure for our garden. We're doing lasanga gardening to get this patch ready for next year.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Homeschooling books are like shoes

I'm hoping to win a $50 gift certificate to my favorite homeschool supply company with this tip I submitted for their anniversary contest. For the record, I'm in love with Rainbow Resource Center. They carry just about everything (the catalog is like 3 inches thick), and I've stopped comparing prices because theirs are always the lowest.

It took a few years of homeschooling before I learned curricula are like shoes. When shopping, there’s more than one right choice that can fit your child and do the job.

I used to worry at the end of each school year about what curricula we’d use next. We would be happy with our math program, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some other “perfect” program out there. I would spend hours on homeschooling forums, reading reviews, and of course reading every single word of the Rainbow Resource catalog (seriously!). Now I know our math program works for us, and I’ve stopped fretting. I simply order the next level.

Like there are many choices of tennis shoes that would fit my active daughter well and look nice while protecting her feet, there is probably more than one great curriculum fit for each child. And the end of this year I decided that our grammar curriculum was good for my daughter and promised not to even read about other materials. Then a friend told me about a different grammar book, and I wavered. I finally resolved that either would be enjoyable and help my daughter learn about language. I stuck with the one I knew.

On the other hand (or foot, to stick with my shoe analogy), I’ve learned to let go of things that don’t work for our family just because everyone else says they’re wonderful. For two years we used a highly rated phonics program that my daughter found torturous. I dropped it.

I still love poring over my Rainbow Resource catalog, mind you! But I’m much more relaxed knowing that the many curriculum choices are there to serve me rather than to rule over me. If the shoe fits …

Friday, June 26, 2009

Packing lists for the girls

When we're travelling somewhere, I have plenty to do to get ready. The kids always want to help, but it's hard to give them a task that doesn't have me tripping over them, or them packing 17 random toys in the suitcase.

Enter the child-friendly packing list.

I got the idea from an article in Cookie magazine, and adapted it myself. It's simply a table in Microsoft Word filled with clip art.
I circle what they should pack. I write in how many in the little bubble. They check off each item as they gather it. For car trips, we usually pack into a laundry basket or two instead of a suitcase, so that makes things easier.
I should probably distinguish between short- and long-sleeved shirts because the girls often grab the wrong shirt for the weather. I also haven't figured out how to get across the idea that they should pack outfits that match. Maybe I should draw a line between tops and bottoms. Or just get over it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My simple mother's daybook

I'm borrowing this idea from the Simple Woman's Daybook that I saw on another mom's blog.

Outside my window ... the kittens are probably waking up and nursing from their mama kitty on the front porch.

I am thinking ... about all I want to accomplish today.

I am thankful for ... sleeping children.

From the learning rooms ... we have started learning about Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail in preparation for our September trip to Portland.
From the kitchen ... Addy and I made peanut butter cookies for Aunt Brenda's birthday last night.

I am wearing ... my pajamas. (It's 7 a.m.!) I'll probably still be wearing them at 10 a.m.

I am creating ... a vintage look for our the new kitchen at the farmhouse. Yesterday I decided on a backsplash.

I am going ... to take the girls to their swimming lessons later this morning.

I am reading ... "My Life on the Farm" by a man who grew up in this area. Also an issue of Redbook and the Rainbow Resource homeschool catalog.

I am hoping ... that our house on the other side of the state will sell so we are not broke.

I am hearing ... Bob getting out of the shower and getting ready for work.

Around the house ... are craft boxes from the girls making Brenda's birthday present, too much clutter, and some cardboard boxes to pack for our move.

One of my favorite things ... is getting to talk to Bob before he leaves for work. Usually I'm sleeping.

A few plans for the rest of the week are ... deciding whether we'll work at the farmhouse this weekend or go to the farm to work on our doors there.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... I'm glad that Dori is growing up and able to participate in big kid activities along with her sister. This was at a homeschool nature discovery program at a state park last month. This was really the first time Dori was big enough to participate along with the other children. I also love that Dori and Addy are experiencing life together, as sisters.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When Johnny brings a knife to my house

OK, so since my niece is so desperate for me to blog about the trivia of my life, here's what's on my mind.

Little Johnny who goes to day care in our neighborhood (you know, the one who calls me Cinnamon, mixing me up with the cat) showed me the treasure in his pocket yesterday.

"Look what my Dad gave me!" It was a little pocket Leatherman, complete with pliers, mini flashlight, and blades.

Johnny is 4. About as high as my thigh.

Me: "Does that thing have a knife on it?!?"

Johnny: "Yep!" (Obviously very proud.)

I find myself using a lot of statements with this kid that begin with, "At our house, we ... ." This time it was, "At our house, kids don't play with knives. Here, I'll hold it until it's time for you to go."

So am I overreacting? Or is it absolutely nuts for a 4-year-old to have his own pocket knife? I can totally understand how some other parent (not me) might want to allow their child this tool. Under supervision. But never to run off with it to day care, and from there to wander over to the neighbor's. Am I way off base on this?

This is the same child who taught my kids to play shooting games. I know I'm a pretend-play pacifist, and that some perfectly normal children play pretend gun games. But it's too much for me. I don't even allow squirt guns in our house. "Johnny, at our house we don't play shooting games," I tell him as he points a stick toward my head.

"It's not a gun. It's a stick!"

Me: "I know. We still don't do it."

Johnny: "Aww, I won't shoot people then. C'mon, let's go shoot some deer!"

Me: "Johnny, we don't play any shooting games at our house."

Johnny: "What if we're huntin' for turkey?"

Later I'll regale you with stories of how when the kids play "jail," Johnny knows waaayyy too much of the terminology. Words like "release" and "bail" and "bond."

That's why they play at my house. I give out homemade popsicles to make sure.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The bead-up-the-nose incident

A month later, I'm able to reflect on the night Dori stuck a bead up her nose and finally laugh about it. We spent part of the day making bead necklaces, and for some reason Dori thought this shiny red Lifesaver-looking bead would be just perfect up her right nostril. Of course I wasn't in the room and learned about it when Addy came running and yelling.
I couldn't get it out on my first attempt. Having no idea how large the bead was, I was worried it was smaller and would be snuffed up into her sinuses. I was finally able to push it down from the outside and extract it. Ugh.

Second child syndrome

Poor Dori. It's true that the first child gets all the attention and the second child gets the leftovers. Just because Addy never had the knack for puzzles, it never occured to me to pull them out for Dori until recently. Turns out Dori loves puzzles and is very good at them!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My response to the New Yorker breastfeeding/pumping article

You may have seen Jill Lepore's article in the New Yorker, "Baby Food: If breast is best, why are women bottling their milk?" Then you may have read Kate Harding's critique on, "Throwing the baby out with the breast pump."

I posted this letter at Salon under the critique:

Pumping isn't the only option

It's a pretty comprehensive piece. What's missing: That pumped milk is a better choice than none, but a poorer choice than actual breastfeeding for reasons beyond emotional (physiological and medical). That an option somewhere between lactation rooms and lengthier maternity leave is on-site or nearby day care so the baby can breastfeed (the real thing, with actual human contact) a few times a day, taking no more time than pumping. And even better, employers realizing that babies in the workplace (gasp!) and mothers working from home are not revolutionary, but something that has worked well for many since the beginning of human existence. (I personally know it works for farm women, for example, but maybe not for on-duty skyscraper window-washers).

It's true that pumps may actually have a negative effect on breastfeeding in some, but certainly not all, cases. They're not nearly as efficient as the baby, so seeing a measly few teaspoons in the bottom of a bag can be disheartening. I've had a number of women who were WIC clients call and ask me how they can get an inexpensive pump, believing one was necessary for breastfeeding even if no mother-baby separation was in the cards.

The author was just plain wrong here: "Pumps put milk into bottles, even though many of breast-feeding's benefits to the baby, and all of its social and emotional benefits, come not from the liquid itself but from the smiling and cuddling (stuff that people who aren't breast-feeding can give babies, too)." Other caregivers can smile at and cuddle the baby, but it's not the same as Mom. The Salon piece seems to recognize this.

Regarding the Salon review, I don't see the ulterior motive she thinks the New Yorker author was trying to say. The New Yorker author is a writer; I'm pretty sure she could have found the words to state her point if it was anything other that what she did write. Those who are reading something into this that isn't there might be feeling some pangs of guilt themselves.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dori is starting to recognize letters

Yesterday Dori spent a long time at the easel, drawing circles. Then she started calling them Os. She made mommy Os, daddy Os, baby Os.

Last night she sat on my lap as I read the paper. The “Blondie” comic title caught her attention. Right away she pointed to the O in Blondie and said, “O spells me!” as she pointed to herself.

Then she became concerned. “O spells, Dori,” she insisted, “it doesn’t spell them!” and she pointed to the characters.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nasty old sweater turned fabulous

My sister Kathy gave me china for my birthday.

I'm giving her a chunk cut out of a sweater I found in the free box at the church rummage sale. I upcycled this old wool sweater into something better ... this handmade flower brooch.

It was argyle, so feeling whimsical I decided to retain the diamonds and use them as leaves. I shaped them with a little nip and tuck.

The flower was once a portion of sleeve.
  1. To make, cut a piece of the purple about 2 inches by 8 inches, with the grain running the short way.
  2. Fold that in half the long way, wrong sides together, then baste along the raw edges by hand with a running stitch.
  3. Simply roll up the long piece, tucking under the raw edges until it becomes an appealing rose shape. Stitch the underside to keep it in place.
  4. Cut out two diamonds for leaves.
  5. Pinch them from the underside, about in the middle, and tack, forming a leaf shape by hand and adding tacks as needed.
  6. Stitch the leaves to the bottom of the rose.
  7. Sew on a safety pin or brooch pin.

No surprise, this sweater has also spent time as a diaper. A large piece from the front became this butt sweater for Dori, and the cuffs formed the leg openings (peeking out under here dress here). You'll have to use your imagination, but the bottom is super cute with the argyle.

Check out the gorgeous felted wool ornaments I made

My sister invited the girls to Aunt Carol's Christmas Craft Camp (read: two days of a quiet house for me to get some work done). Poor Carol broke her foot on the way out her door yesterday to come pick them up. Only she didn't know she broke her foot until tonight when she went to the ER. She thought it was a mere sprain from slipping in the snow.

I can't fix her foot and she insists the girls are fine there, so instead I made her these ornaments while watching Letterman. I never get to watch Letterman anymore.

And tomorrow I'll go pick up the girls.

  1. I started with a gorgeous red boiled wool jacket that met an early demise when somebody put it in the dryer. It was Carol's, so she's getting it back now. She figured I could do something crafty with it after the horrible shrinkage. My first creation was a cute wool diaper cover for Dori last year.

  2. I found a suitable clip art heart shape, and printed it in a few sizes.

  3. I pinned on the pattern and cut out two hearts per ornament.

  4. I used embroidery floss — all 8 strands — to stitch the names of the her family members in a folksy sort of way.

  5. Next I held a personalized heart and a plain heart together, matching the edges (kind of) and stitched around the edge with the same floss. They're supposed to be folksy, so I forced myself to rush and not get it perfectly spaced.

  6. Finally I added a loop of floss to hang the ornaments.

Incidentally, here's how cute Dori's bottom looked in the bum sweater.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to teach a young child about God.

Another blogger asked how to start teaching a preschooler about God when church isn't a part of their regular life. It can seem intimidating to teach our children about something so big and vast as God. It can be easy to start though. The best part is that we as mothers can learn more about God, too, as we teach our children!

The best and easiest thing is to simply pick up a Bible and start reading. So many nice children’s Bibles are made now.
  • Our littlest girl (age 2.5) likes Baby’s First Bible. This one is not really a Bible, but a very short board book with verses and text about God and Jesus. I think she likes the cut-outs, the pictures of Jesus and that it has a handle so she can carry it around.
  • She also likes Little Girls Activity Bible for Toddlers. It has cute, short stories, mostly about women of the Bible, and easy activities or crafts you can do at home to go with each one.
  • For a children’s version of the major Bible stories for the youngest children, I like My First Read and Learn Bible, a board book with very short stories.
  • We also have at our house The Beginner’s Bible. It’s similar to the one above, but with slightly longer stories and it’s not a board book. Stories are easy words to read and are short so my 6-year-old reads this aloud.
  • For kids of maybe kindergarten age and up, the very best I’ve seen is Egermeier’s Bible Story Book. It truly summarizes the entire Bible instead of picking out stories here and there. It would still be great for younger kids, but probably only for those who like to sit for stories. Stories are written in smaller print as an adult book would be, and are about a page and a half long with one illustration for every few stories.

I grew up active in church, but by reading to my children, I have learned so much about God and the Bible that I never knew before!

We participate in Sunday School, and that helps the girls learn. At this age, it’s all about hearing some of the major Bible stories, which they’ll hear again and again as they grow (Noah’s Ark, Daniel in the lion’s den, etc.) When I teach Sunday School, my goal is simply to instill in the children a sense of hope in Jesus and that they begin to begin to trust in faith.

Vacation Bible School is also fun for kids. They’re usually short (a few hours a day for a week) and welcome all children.

Another idea is to help children learn through music. Kids love to sing and dance, so we put on children’s Bible songs at home or in the car. Lots of choices are available. Some of the songs my girls remember the most are the most basic such as “Jesus Loves Me.”

Learning simple prayers can help kids learn how easy it is to talk to God. You can start with simple, easy-to-remember ones and say them before lunch or at bedtime. My 6-year-old likes, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Amen.” You can teach children to say their own prayers, and that they don’t have to be fancy. If they want to start to learn how to say their own special prayer, you can teach them to praise God, thank God, and ask something of God. You can start by praying for the big things, such as asking God to heal a sick friend, then start to incorporate it into your everyday life.

I tried couponing.

My mother-in-law invited me to a couponing seminar.

Yeah, that was my thought too.

I went, with a smile smeared across my face.

The cheesecake and hors d'oeuvres made the trip worthwhile.

Then the seminar started, and it was actually good. A hip young woman had all kinds of info about blogs she uses to find deals, printable web coupons, online rebates, and which stores in my area do double coupons on which days (I've always been too lazy to find out).

So I decided to try couponing one time. (Don't you love it when ing is added to a noun to make a fake verb?) Instead of buying three copies of the Detroit News and two of the local paper just for the coupons, I decided that finding coupons online only would be my limit. I also had a handful in my rarely used coupon folder. Most were long expired, but a few manufacturer's coupons had no expiration date.

I spent an hour online, mostly at, finding deals. At the seminar I appreciate that the speaker narrowed down the list of money-saving sites to the few she likes best, and this was one of them. I tried looking for online coupons once before, but I spent tons of time online with few results and an inbox full of spam. This site does make it easier.

I then spent two hours shuttling the kids among three stores. One was out of what I wanted, so that was a complete bust. I guess the other couponers beat me to it. At Kmart, my best buy was a can of Pledge that was free after an in-store sale, plus Kmart double coupon days. On a regular day with no coupons, my total would have been $13.27. Instead it was $6.00.

At Walmart (which I abhor, but I have few choices in my rural area) I got a number of freebies or nearly free items. Did I really need these things? No.

  • I had a $4 coupon for cat food, so I chose the small, $4.50 bag, making it 50 cents.
  • Trial-size Wet Wipes were 97 cents, less my 75-cent coupons. I'll give these to my brother who keeps them in his truck. Total spent: 22 cents for a little goodwill.
  • I got a little money back for buying two little Johnson & Johnson first aid kids for 97 cents each, less my coupons for $1 off on each. I made 6 cents (but paid 11 cents in tax, so really I paid 5 cents for them). A nickel is worth it for the number of Band-Aids we go through.
  • Another freebie was six bars of Johnson & Johnson toddler soap. Each was 97 cents, and I had two coupons for $3 off three J&J items. Total spent: 17 cents in tax for six bars. We'll use these, but I don't feel great about the overpackaging as compared to what we usually buy. I'll also be storing these for more than a year.
  • Baking soda was also free. It was 46 cents each and I had a coupon for $1 off of two. I actually made 8 cents on this. It will now take me two years to go through it.
  • Wheat Chex was at a good price of $1.66/box. We go through a lot of this anyway. Less my $1 coupon off two, I paid $2.32 for two boxes of cereal. That's less than one box normally.
At Walmart I used a total of $13.30 in coupons. It paid for me to watch the cashier carefully and have an idea in my head what the total should be, because she initially missed one of my $3 coupons.
Was this all worth it? For me, not really. I spent three hours to save about $18, some on odd items I didn't have to have, or at least not right now. Some of the time I would have spent shopping for groceries anyway, but not the hour of online coupon time and not nearly this much time looking for oddities such as trial-size Wet Wipes in the store.
If I were younger and without children to drag from store to store (like the seminar speaker), this may be more worthwhile. If I lived in a more urban area with more store choices so I could flit from retailer to retailer scooping up only the best buys, this might be worthwhile. Staples, CVS, Kroger, Meijer and Rite Aid are apparently among the favorites of couponers and rebaters, but none exist within an hour drive of my home. If I didn't have a completly scuzzy house needing to be cleaned, if my kids were 100% caught up on their homeschool lessons, if I didn't have a pile of free-lance writing work clamoring for my time, if I didn't have volunteer work I promised to get done ... this might be worthwhile.
As a happy medium, I'll probably check one or two money-saving blogs before my regular grocery shopping trip. If I find something good, I'll print it and try to limit my time. I won't go off on wild goose chases or spend an hour looking in the wrong department for that elusive bar of free soap.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dori has rowed three books.

We use a resource book called Before Five in a Row (BFIAR) with Dori. The idea is to read the same classic children's book for five days in a row (specific books recommended in BFIAR), doing a different learning activity with it each time. We don't necessarily read each selection five days straight, but I do love the ideas in BFIAR and the book list is excellent.

Above are the books that Dori has "rowed" so far. To add to the BFIAR fun, I decided that we should have a way to visually remember what we have done. I came up with the idea of a BFIAR wall. We cut a shape out of construction paper that reminds us of something in the book. I went to and printed off a picture of the cover of each book (I also could have scanned them). Dori sticks the book cover onto the construction paper, then I tape it to the wall.
So far we have rowed Corduroy, Blueberries for Sal and Goodnight Moon.

Fun in a bottle for little ones.

Dori had fun finding the hidden treasures in this water bottle turned treasure trove. It's a cute activity that could easily be made at home.
Simply dry out an old water bottle, drop in a dozen or so household items, then fill it the rest of the way with rice. Make a list of the items on a card (ours is covered in clear Con-Tact paper) and attach it to the neck of the bottle with ribbon. Make sure the lid is screwed on tight. It wouldn't be a bad idea to wrap it with electrical tape to be safe.
Either let the child discover items as they wish, or challenge them to find the white button or find the green paperclip.
A friend gave us this bottle. She and several other mothers of homeschooled preschoolers got together and each made up enough of the same activity for every family. That made it quick and easy to do, then they distributed them so each family went home with a bunch of new games and activities to do at home. Most of them were fit into standard gallon-size zipper bags. Her daughter is older now, so she shared some of the activities with us. They have worked really well to keep Dori constructively busy while Addy and I do school.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Preparing for siblings at the birth.

I get asked often what I did to prepare Addy for Dori's birth, so I'm pasting my most recent answer here.

My daughter was 3.5 when I was preparing for the homebirth of our second child. I did three main things that helped:
  1. I told her that I might act funny and make loud or even scary noises. I even demonstrated them ahead of time, "Arrgghh!" "Oooohh!!!" and we laughed. That made her more comfortable with the fact that I was moaning during the actual birth.
  2. I told her that there would probably be blood, but that it wasn't "hurty" blood. I told her that the baby might be born with blood on it, or white stuff, and that the baby would look a little funny.
  3. I enlisted extra help to focus only on my daughter during the birth. I knew that my midwife would be busy, and I wanted my husband to be 100% available to help me. I asked one of my sisters to come, one that I knew would totally respect my wishes for the birth and be super supportive of my daughter. I was really careful about who I chose. I feared that some people would try to take her out of the house or distract her too much when she wanted to be part of the birth.

I tracked down a copy of Children at Birth by Marjie and Jay Hathaway, the Bradley birth people, and that was helpful. It was a really old book, but my library was able to get a copy by inter-library loan. (Cool side note: I met the baby from the book, the Hathaway's son, at the LLLI conference in Chicago last summer! He's about my age.)

One thing I did not do was prepare myself for the fact that I ended up needing absolute peace and quiet during transition. I kicked everyone out except for my husband and midwife, and my poor little girl was really upset about it. She was downstairs crying, thinking she was missing something. My sisters were there supporting her, but it was still hard. I wish I had known the intensity of the moment might not have me wanting my daughter there every single minute (she couldn't help but jump around and be chatty at her age). If I had just told her ahead of time that there would be times she could come in and times when she couldn't, but that I wouldn't have her miss the actual birth, she would have been satisified as she has always been quite mature in her thinking.

I also had my daughter watch a video of a real birth. It was a long video showing a lot of the labor and she asked to watch it again and again! As if it were Elmo or something! I thought it was great for her to see the mom looking uncomfortable so she knew that was normal if I looked that way. She was able to see where the baby would come out and see how the mom acted.

My second baby's birth was an awesome experience, and I'm so thankful my older daughter was there to witness it. She told me, "Good job, Mama!" and she gave her little sister her first kiss! I am teary eyed thinking about it.