Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Concrete Thinkers

I am sure that many of you with toddlers, preschoolers and even early elementary age children know of what I speak when I say concrete thinkers.

I however have the unique opportunity to parent a dwarf that is physically WAY past this stage of learning, but because of the consequences of his biological mother's poor choices while she was pregnant with him, he is stuck, knee deep in concrete.   Since I always seem surprised by the look of confusion, and the slack jaw...  I thought, without divulging which 15 year old male dwarf this is :),  I would share some of the more recent "concrete" moments.

When discussing a basketball game played at 3 Rivers (Stadium) was the word he missed, we had to pull out the laptop, and physically search for coverage of the game in question, and a photo of the stadium, surrounded by land,  because he thought that the game was played on a barge on the actual river water. 

When discussing a man that we were about to meet for the first time, and indicating that the man's identifying feature was his salt and pepper hair... the conversation got a little confused because of course we know what salt and pepper are, but why would they be in someone's hair...

In a conversation about a "broken" alarm clock, it was difficult to explain that each time he unplugs the clock, on purpose or accidentally (because he sleeps with it beside his head) that the time on the clock automatically goes back to 12:00.  The clock is not broken.  In order for it to work, keep time it must be plugged in. Keeping time is not a job it just automatically does because it is a clock.  The appropriate power supply must be engaged.  (I suppose that this year a battery back up clock may be in order.)

On a recent day when we were having plumbing issues at the house and there was a moratorium on using the facilities for "number 2", I was struggling to figure out if he needed to use the bathroom, or if he just wanted to ride his bike to the Hess station.   I got a little short with him, to which he responded with "MOM, why are you angry?"  I tried to explain to him, that me having to deal with the plumbing problems,  would be similar to asking him to put on a tutu and dance in the Nutcracker... oh so many things went wrong with that analogy, but the biggest was the fact that he did not realize that a Nutcracker was a Christmas ballet... 

Phrases, like "dullest knife in the drawer", "Shut the front door", as a statement of astonishment, "cup of joe","you can't judge a book by it's cover"  make his head whirl.  Most times he can tell by the tone or inflections that we really do not want him to "bark up a tree" or "beat a dead horse" but the expression on his face is always priceless. 

I do rejoice that typically after the phrase is initially thrown out, and the slack face and confused eyes appear, we have successfully,  with one explanation or two, significantly explained the premise, so that he appears to understand next time he hears it... however a concrete thinker will never repeat these phrases in their vernacular because they would never be 100 % sure they were using it correctly. 

You really can't make this stuff up!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bashful, giving others a good bashing???

Okay... "Mrs. Lingle, do you have a minute? " is always a sure fired way to get my attention.  Rarely, am I refereed to as " Mrs. Lingle".     It is the youth pastor asking if I have a moment, he has a concern about Bashful.   The pastor starts out the conversation, seemingly unsure how to present to me the information that he clearly feels he needs to share about Bashful.  I just indicate to him, that he is not going to upset me or hurt my feelings, as not much surprises me any more with these dwarfs of mine. Just say it.      

So the saga begins.  It seems that Bashful, is "bragging" during the youth gathering that morning, that he is getting into a lot of fights at school.  That the kids are starting things with him, but in a confident voice indicates, that he is ending them!  He is beating them up, cuffing them a "good one" and making them wish that they had not starting picking on him! When questioned further about the name of the his most recent victim of his fists of fury, Bashful, in an off the cuff  response, replies that he doesn't know that "ginger's " name, but that he really messed him up! 

The youth pastor is concerned and felt the need  to discuss this with us.  Understandable!  I am grateful.  I am sure that the pastor did not expect that I would laugh out loud at his recounting of this situation. But I did laugh. Out loud. While shaking my head, and most likely I threw in an eye roll at the crazy lunacy of the fabricated story.

I shared with him, after asking some clarifying questions of course,  that I was 99% sure that the whole story was an untruth.  The Prince and I  shared a good laugh about it  as we discussed the best way to handle this situation with Bashful, and spent rest of the morning until we were able to talk to him one on one,  referred to him as "slugger".  (I know we probably should have resisted the name calling, but stuff happens, don't judge!)

Rest assured, all you faint of heart, Bashful is not being bullied nor is he being a bully.  He just lives in a world where his reality is what he makes up.  Additionally that morning he was also  struggling with MROS - Mouth Runneth Over Syndrome.   

You really can't make this stuff up!  

She's living her dream.

Most of the dwarfs "talk" a lot about what they want to do when they grow up.  Being a professional athlete, a veterinarian, a mom, a life time learner, a hobo.  But talk is cheap as they say.  In order to obtain a goal, one must be passionate, motivated and focused in where they want to go, and on the path to get there.  One of the dwarfs has talked since she was 10 about a life of service in our country's military.  While we thought that it was a passing phase, we have come to the conclusion that after five years, perhaps there is a bit of motivation, passion and focus for Sleepy regarding this dream.  When we lived in PA we heard the rumors of JROTC programs, but because of funding cuts there were no local programs, not even one in driving distance for her to consider.

Fast forward to March of 2014.  After much prayer and consideration and more prayer, our family...that was firmly planted in Pennsylvania, prepared to pull up 40+ years of roots and transition to the sunshine state.  Immediately we began to pursue the school options in the area as we still had six dwarfs requiring a secondary education.  We looked at private Christian schools, of which many of the dwarfs were very comfortable and familiar with, as well as charter schools.  Sleepy immediately latched on to the Sarasota Military Academy as her school of choice.   We made appointments, filled out applications and paid registration fees.  She was ecstatic! A school that she could attend that would afford her the opportunities that she had been dreaming of for years!

Through a series of events, we ended up enrolling our 5 eldest dwarfs in the local public high school.  Sleepy was on the fence about this decision, but the swaying factor was that they offered JROTC as an elective.  She filled out her form for registration, with JROTC as her first choice of an elective, confident that she would be placed in the program.  The first day of school arrives and she is nearly in tears to find that she did not get placed in the elective of her choice.  After a series of meetings and moves to her schedule, we were also able to get her a space in the program about two weeks after the start of the school year.

The rest of the month of September and part of October were a blur as she found out that there was a competitive side to the program called Raiders.  It seems that all at once she went from a dwarf with nothing to do, to a dwarf that I needed to keep a tracking device on so I knew where to pick her up at the end of each day.  She had committed to basketball training, had started working out with the Raiders, and was interning at the church in the youth program.  Some days she would leave the house at 7am, attend classes, attend Raiders training, head to the gym on campus for weight training with the basketball team and then attend practice  until 8PM with the basketball team.  We began to see her joy slipping, and cautioned her about being in over her head.  As her parents, we asked her to pray through where her commitment should be and how she should prioritize spending her time.

During this time she was convicted to go to the basketball coach and her Raiders instructor and inform them that she could not practice on Wednesdays as her internship at the church had to be her focus on that day of the week.  Jesus came first in her life and that it was because of Him that she had the abilities that she did to do the other activities she enjoyed. She was informed that she would not be able to play in any of the fall ball games because they were on Wednesdays.  She never blinked an eye and kept faithfully attending practices through most of September and early October.  But she was still weary.  Finally, she came to the Prince and I asked if she could drop basketball. (rabbit trail for a moment) If you know us at all, you know we LOVE basketball at this house.  The prince coached for years, I have coached for years,  all of our kids but one, have played, some for years! Heck,  I played in a 3 on 3 tournament when I was 6 months pregnant with our eldest dwarf .... ouch ouch ouch. Drop basketball??? The reality was that she could not keep going at the rate that she was, and something had to go, so basketball it was. 

What she has done in her time since downsizing her activities and becoming focused on just the Raiders program and her internship at the church,  has shown me that she is already at 15 a stronger, more competitive, more compassionate, more humble, more gracious a young woman than I could have ever hoped for her to be.  I look at her in amazement when she arrives to my car at the end of practice, covered in dirt, sometimes blood, and sometimes in tears and think, "crazy girl... but boy that is some dedication".  I see her with her peers working together, encouraging one another, supporting one another, and am grateful for her maturity, and her ability to see and understand that this is not just about her.  There is a bigger picture. Relationships to be built, and a goal that individually, on their own, they can never achieve outside of the team.  I would be remiss, if I did not mention that while these students, in the 9th -12th grade are the ones physically doing the time and putting forth the efforts, clearly they are blessed with some great leadership.  Instructors that give their best to these kids and their job each day. Instructors that know how far to push to get the maximum results,yet know how to be an encouragement when the kids are "off their games".  As we were transitioning here, one of our biggest fears was taking the dwarfs from the comfortable cocoons that they had built up for themselves and dropping them into the unknown.  Our fears for the most part have been unfounded.

I do not have any experience or  knowledge of what is going on at these competitions, but I am learning.  It is fun to explore and experience these things with Sleepy.  Rope bridges, tire flipping, sandbags, liter carries, 5K's, well to be honest it all seems a bit intense to me.  However it seems to bring her great joy, and satisfaction! While the Prince spent  time  serving our country, it was before we were married, and I was oblivious to most of the details of the military life,  as my focus was relegated to running to the mailbox each day, looking for a love letter or a picture of his handsome self in uniform... so to say I have a lot to learn would be an understatement. I am slowly piecing it together, and figuring out!  Sleepy is young.  What her future holds is yet to be determined.  But for the girl, living her dream, it has been a great joy to watch her grow where she has been planted.  Bloom in the midst of struggles and difficulties of the transition, and rejoice with her in her in her triumphs!

It is in the moments such as these that I am so grateful that I don't have to make this stuff up!  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Post "Happily" dedicated to a dwarf that is "Happy" to work hard, please others and be part of something bigger than himself!

Ahhh... if we were all so eager, if we were all so teachable, if we were all excited about the little things in life...

Happy is a dwarf that you hear about less and less over the years.  He sort of blends in. While he is far from perfect, and clearly has his "moments", for the most part he is just as his name implies.  Happy!    He is a people pleaser.  He enjoys being part of something bigger than himself.  He loves doing things for others.  He is not afraid of physical hard work.  He will even rise to the occasion of mental exertion if we lay out the ground work in advance for his success.  Over the years we have determined that Happy, is content in who he is (oh there was a period of uncertainty; but we did not linger in it) and he is happiest when he is serving others or is a member of something bigger than himself!

Spoiler Alert:  If you are not interested in reading me brag about my special needs adopted kid, who has a ton of reasons to be okay just existing in life, but has chosen on purpose or by accident to be exceptional, then please stop reading now.  

Happy came to us 8 years ago at the age of 9.  He was a tall skinny kid for his age, who's most distinguishing feature aside from his smile was the size of his ears.  (I am happy to report he has finally grown into those!)  He has a heart condition, VSD (ventricular Septal Defect), he is academically behind his peers, with an significantly low IQ, making him ID (intellectually deficient) placing him academically at a 3rd grade learning level.  This can and does occasionally create significant issues in social situations and in basic communication functions, but most expressly in his ability to discuss his feelings, frustrations and even his joy.  Over all Happy is just mostly just happy.  Happy to help, happy to do something or nothing.  Happy to be alone, or to be with a crowd.

The Prince and I  have had all the regular struggles that parents of special needs children have in regards to knowing how to help him be successful, and reach goals that are appropriate and obtainable at each stage in his life.  Because of lower than average cognitive skills and low social skills it has been a constant juggling of all areas in his life.  Just about a year ago we thought we had found a good balance for him.  He had a good placement at school, was excelling in their work program and in life skills, and was doing odd jobs on the weekend with some folks from church.  He was really thriving where he was planted!

Then we uprooted him and moved him 1100 miles from everything that he knew and was comfortable with.  We girded up our loins, as we expected this transition to be very difficult for Happy.   Happy however during this time of transition, oblivious to all things that were expected of him, starting tracking his own path in this world!

In July, he determined that he wanted to get his boating license. (No we do not have a boat... but we do have friends with one, and they let him "drive" it and he was hooked)  The class was online and you did not pay for the class unless you passed and got your license.  He was relentless, he took the exam over and over and over again, until he finally got the needed percentage correct to pass.  He is officially and proudly a licensed boat driver!!

In August he began school at a new public high school in a great life skills program.  He excelled!  He was getting rave reviews from the staff and from the volunteers.  They started looking for extra things for him to do, like help in the cafeteria, so that he could do and be more challenged in his day.  It was about this time, that he started seeing his siblings wearing their JROTC uniforms, and the Prince and I would catch him star gazing at their reading materials and spending time trying to learn what he could about the program.  He even talked to the Prince on the side one day about whether or not he could be in the JROTC.  We thought it was too late in the year, but promised to look into it for next year for him.  Well it turns out while we were talking to the staff about the possibility, he was taking matters into his own hands (as much as he could) and was sharing his desire to be part of the program with his teacher.  She made some inquiries and he is now a proud member of the JROTC.   He of course takes great pride in his appearance, as I sat last night "fixing a button" on a back pocket that was not regulation tightness, I can attest to the seriousness that he assigns being part of this organization.

About the same time of the JROTC change, the school started announcing that in October there were going to be soccer tryouts.  Now Happy has played baseball for a season, and soccer for a season, but typically ended up being placed on the teams because of lack of players or the fact he had other siblings that were playing.  We did not hold any hope that he would make this high school team, as most of the boys trying out, I think came out of the womb playing soccer. Additionally, he has no working knowledge of the game, or the rules aside from you kick the ball into the net.  As a diligent parent I contacted the coach, and explained that while we were happy to send Happy to the tryout's, I wanted him to be aware of some of the issues that he has, and limitations.  I was told that they were happy to let him attend the tryouts, could make no promises, but indicated that they would treat him fairly and if he was dismissed or awarded a spot on the team, it would be based solely on his efforts.  Because it is hard to get the accurate information, we thought tryouts were one week long.  They turned out to be three weeks in length.  Happy was at every tryout.  He did everything he was told to do.  He ran hard, never quit and ALWAYS had a smile on his face.  Each night as I picked him up from the fields I started to notice a strange phenomenon... he went from standing alone waiting for me, to standing beside the other boys trying out, to wait for me.  Instead of not acknowledging the other boys and them responding in kind to his departure, there began to be head nods at one another and grunts.  One day Sleepy came home to report that a young man trying out for the team asked if Happy was her brother, she replied, "yes one of 4" to which this young man said "well we are all rooting for him to make the team, he is really working hard!"  Ah, how simple words uttered in casual passing can make a mommas heart soar!   Well he made the team. Not the varsity team, but the JV team.  Not first string, but 2nd goalie.  He is so proud.  I went last night to the game, I headed over around halftime.  There  he was tending our vacant goal. We were in the second half of a game, which was really a blow away - 7 us, zero them, to find him contently standing there at the ready, to defend that goal.  When his team scored an 8th and final goal, and they called the game with 20 minutes left, he was a bit dazed, but his teammates quickly called him in, and he hustled to join them in the end of the game huddle.  He is learning.  Why?  Because it is important to him.

Somewhere between Pennsylvania and Florida, whether he realized it or not, Happy made a decision to participate in life, not let life pass him by.   The Prince and I could not be prouder of him!  I am SO grateful to the Lord that Happy is thriving in his new environment and  that I don't have to make this stuff up!! 

Monday, November 3, 2014

I have never been a fan of Halloween

I have never really been a fan of  Halloween. Understand when I say Halloween, I mean trick or treat.  Even as a child, there was so much energy and effort put into getting ready for the holiday, and the build up just never met with the reality.  We had cleaver costumes, and my parents bought candy, for the ghosts and goblins that came by our home.  One parent always stayed behind to hand out treats, and the other put us in the car and drove us from house to house since we lived in a rural area.  At the end of the night, every one returned home in less than a happy mood, because of falling on a dark driveway, or a costume that failed the" in and out" of the car 20 times test, or we wanted to go to "just one more house" but that one more house was another 4 minute drive, in the opposite direction and the driver wanted to just go home...

Of particular interest to me and my most vivid memory was the year that my brother was the Incredible Hulk, and my mom made him a great costume, however the green food dye she used on his hands and face and neck, stuck with him for a while! I did wonder why after his shower he was more red than green, but now that I have children of my own, I am sure my mom scrubbed his arm neck face and hands until the were red, trying to make the green fade!    I have a great clown costume, and perhaps this was the year that I wore it, but it currently sits in my collection of childhood memories that I know my mom lovingly made for me, but have no memory of ever wearing it.

So when it was time to start a tradition with our own family, we started out with Doc.  Born in January, I had plenty of time to consider her first costume.  I do believe that it was a very traditional baby pumpkin suit that she adorned.  But again, I am a bit fuzzy on the details, because who in their right mind actually goes out in search of candy for their 10 month old?  I think we may have driven to my parents (because we are still living in a rural wooded area of my childhood) and oohed and took some photos.

I recall the next year, she was walking and she was a shark.  But again, I do not remember if we even went out on the great candy search that year.

After that I have no more recollections of Halloween costumes or outings aside from a very ambitious sunflower costume that I made for Doc.  I spent a week crafting the petals and the hat that fit easily over her head and would bear the weight of the sunflower, searching high and low for a  green sweatshirt that would be the perfect shade of green for the the stem, and when the day arrived for the Halloween Parade at Preschool, she refused to wear the costume!  She refused to march in the parade!  She refused to go out trick or treating!   She was just a stem!

If I were going to be honest, this is when any of my love of the holiday left me.  Add a few more children, 6 to be exact and over the next 15 years, I just scrapped the idea. We would take the kids out of school early so that no costumes were needed for the all school parade and we would go to dinner or the movies or bowling on trick or treat night, and avoid the chaos.  I could take 7 kids out for dinner for less money than I could spend creating the perfect costumes and shuttling them around for buckets of candy that they did not need, or than what was good for them.  We would take them to the store and let them each select their favorite candy bar. I would even let them eat it all in one sitting,(I know, shocking to you that know my aversion to having junk in the house.), in an effort to fill that need that they thought they had for candy.  You may be wondering what was the issue.  Why do I not like Halloween and trick or treating?  Was I some zealot that thought the holiday was evil, or to frightening?  Was I a parent that was protecting my children from "glamorizing" the dark side of the holiday?  Nope.  Not at all, I was a parent who was opposed to 7 candy baskets full of a food group that was of no value to them.  I was a parent that was opposed to dropping $19.99 (or more), times 7, on costumes that were made of poor quality and would rip before getting out the door which lead to tears, and the someone having to go to the bathroom and then to someone's feelings being hurt... In a herd stuff just happens. 

Then an amazing thing happened. The rules of trick or treat as I recalled them from childhood, took on a new twist.  Kids were trick or treating later in life.  During my childhood, no one went out in costume after their 12th birthday. In my mind I was figuring my kids were to old, save one, to go out trick or treating.  Once we moved to our more suburban housing development, I let the kids hand out candy, and I noticed a distinct shift in the size of the kids coming to my door.  I thought these kids look older .. like the age of some of my dwarfs....  so  I looked at my dwarfs and thought, they could do this all themselves this year.  I would have to do nothing.... they can all walk, and if they start to meltdown I can send them home...  The year was 2009.  As previously mentioned, we had moved to a new neighborhood the year before, and at dinner, 30 minutes prior to the community trick or treat event beginning,  I looked at the six kids around the table and said,  "Hey... anyone want to go trick or treating tonight?" Our youngest girl dwarf literally had NEVER been out and she was 12.  To say they were surprised, would be an understatement.  Then it started and I thought I was going to lose control of the group...the "I don't have a costume, I don't know what to be or do..."  Quickly, I laid the ground rules...  you may go out trick or treating if you pull together your costume on your own, with a bag to carry your sweets in, and be on the front porch in 30 minutes.  Almost all were in agreement.  It was a fun time for them, we even have this photo (curtsey of a neighbor)as documented proof of 5 of the 7 dwarfs went out for the adventure.  They talked about it for days, as they started making their plans for the next the next year.  

I was still not a fan of the obnoxious amounts of candy with no perceived nutritional value, so we 
solved the problem by combining it all on the table. Everyone picking out a few favorites and the remainder was donated to a local charity.  (I am aware that many find candy to be a staple in their home, so I do not mind donating and that nothing went to waste.)  

This year, we are in a new area and  while I am sure, according to the articles I have been seeing on the internet, my kids still all fall into the realm of acceptable age and size for trick or treating... However, we opted to try something different this year.  While I think the craze was starting at home a few years ago, we had never really gotten into it since our kids were older, the ingenious idea of  trunk or treat events.  A safe place to take the family for candy gathering, game playing and fun. So this year we determined that the kids are all old enough and big enough to help out in the spirit of the  holiday by serving others.  Really who doesn't like to dress up, and play games and hand out candy?    I created a trunk design for our 15 passenger van, and loaded up all the children, drove to the school parking lot where the event was being held, and the kids and I spent the evening serving the community - handing out candy, manning game and food tables and just enjoying the holiday in a new way. 

The look of joy on the faces as children of all ages, yelled "Trunk or Treat" at the elephant's trunk or his face, and a piece of candy (or three) fell out of the trunk right into their basket, bucket or bag, was worth the brainstorming and painting and creativity that went in the creation of our trunk.  I believe that if these events would have been popular when my kids were little this is the type of thing that we would have done.  There was free food, hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy.  There was live music.  At least 20 cars were decorated and set up all handing out smiles and candy.   It was a safe place to for parents to bring their kids.  It was simply good clean fun.  It goes to show that an old dog can learn new tricks, and that while my stance on Halloween is still the same, I am still not a huge fan, it is simply a lot of work, and I would love it if there was something else to give away besides candy. The future looks a bit brighter for my grandchildren...especially if Trunk or Treats are still popular when they are ready to head out to celebrate Halloween!  

You really Can Make up a Elephant trunk design for the back of your 15 passenger van, if you are a fan of Pintrest and have some spare time on your hands!