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Shadows and Sunshine, volume 6 in the San Francisco Wedding Planner is now available on Amazon
Snapshots from my Memory Album
I’m often asked what it’s like to parent children with special needs. Here are some snapshots—events that stand out—from my journey as a mother of children who have special needs and abilities.
Starting when the twins were two, I took them to physical therapy once a month. Every day we did exercises with them to strengthen their muscles and help them develop better balance. Levi took his first wobbly step when he was 27 months old.
One day, soon after he took that initial step, Levi was playing at my feet as I folded a mountain of laundry. Levi pulled himself into a standing position and slowly moved to a nearby chair. The next thing I knew, Levi was on top of the chair. He stood up, raised both hands in the air, and grinned at me.
I smiled back and clapped. “Yay, Levi!”
A second later I looked on in horror as Levi tumbled to the floor, landing on his face with his glasses gouging into his head. Blood spurted. Levi wailed. The wound was deep.
I loaded the children into the van and drove to Bonnyville.
“Who was looking after your son when this happened?”
The doctor shook her head. “You’ll have to hold him still while I stitch this closed.”
The doctor continued to pepper me with questions while she worked. Am I being interrogated for a crime? Guilt flooded through me.
After the stitching was finished, the doctor looked up at me. “I’m sorry if I was rough on you. I see too many abused kids come through here.”
I shook her hand. “Thanks for doing your job.”
We started using a few American Sign Language (ASL) signs—more, milk, drink, cookie—with our twins when they were about two years old because they weren’t talking. The boys did not have very good hand coordination, but most of the time we could figure out what they wanted. The Glenrose Hospital in Edmonton gave us contact numbers for several therapists. None were available in our rural area. However, after many phone calls, I was able to locate a private hearing consultant who would make the three hour drive. She provided us with tools and encouraged us to use “tough love” to help the boys learn to talk.
“Pick a word your son knows how to sign, like cookie. Then, expect him to sign every time he wants a cookie. Do not accept gestures, pointing, whining, or anything else except the proper sign. Only give him a cookie when he signs cookie. That way he will learn that signs have meaning and he will be motivated to learn more.”
We appreciated her expertise and followed her advice to start learning SEE2 (Signing Exact English). “Levi does have a hearing loss, so you could use ASL. However, there is no reason for us to believe that Levi will not be able to talk. If you use SEE2, the boys will be getting all the grammar and syntax they will need when they start speaking, reading and writing.”
Our walls became dotted with pieces of paper showing the sign for objects in various rooms. At times we found it very overwhelming trying to learn a new language as well as provide the high level of care the boys required. One day I looked despairingly at the sign alphabet. How will I ever learn it all, let alone be able to teach them all they need to know?
Months later, our efforts bore fruit. “Mom,” 4-year-old Levi said.
“Levi!” I gathered him in my arms and gave him a big hug.
I sat in the school office waiting to see the principal. I clenched my teeth and struggled to slow my breathing.
“Oh hi, Ruth, come on in.” The principal greeted me with a smile and a welcoming handshake.
I nodded my head in response and followed him into his office. After the principal closed the door and we took our seats, I forced air out of my mouth slowly. “I have to tell you that I have never been this angry in all my life.”
The principal blinked his eyes in surprise. “Why?”
“You know that I’ve been in to see you every two weeks since we sent the application in December for extra funding. We both know the twins need one-on-one help. Every time I’ve come in, you’ve told me the application is in and we just have to wait.”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve told you. Did you get a chance to talk to the division special education coordinator today?”
“Yes, I did. He told me the same thing. In fact, he even told me there was no one else I could talk to about the situation. It’s May. How long do think it’s reasonable to wait?”
The principal shifted in his chair. “I’m not sure. You mentioned you were angry. Why?”
I leaned forward. “I decided I had waited long enough. I phoned the Minister of Education today. His assistant took a message and two hours later she phoned me back. The extra funding was approved the end of December.”
“What?” The principal stood and paced the floor.
“Yes. That means we’ve missed months of funding. The boys could’ve had one-on-one help for five months already.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say.”
I stood. “All I can say, is I’m glad I didn’t keep waiting. Here’s the contact information so you can confirm what I’ve told you. Give me a call when you’re ready to advertise for the additional educational assistant.”
“Let’s get ready to go, guys.” I grabbed my purse and headed towards the door.
“Where we going, Mom?” Levi looked up from where he was playing with his cars.
“We’re going to the tradeshow where Daddy’s working.”
“I don’t want to go. I want to stay home.”
“We’ll be back soon. Come on, let’s go.” I took Levi’s hand and walked out to the van. Our four other children sat waiting. Levi and I climbed in and we drove to a nearby town. After I found a parking spot, we walked towards the arena where the tradeshow was held.
Levi was holding my hand as he often does. He’s legally blind in his left eye and does not have any depth perception. As we walked, I prompted him when there was a step up or down to prevent him from stumbling. Levi was looking at all the vehicles parked along the road identifying the makes and models. We entered the arena. As I was paying the entry fee, Levi pulled away.
“What’s wrong, Levi?” I followed his gaze. I should have known there’d be balloons. Levi is terrified of loud noises, especially balloons popping. I held Levi’s hand firmly.
Levi pulled back. “Let’s go home.”
“No, Levi. We’re going to look around first.”
“I have to go pee.” Levi pulled towards the bathroom, hiding behind me.
I sent the other children into the tradeshow. After we visited the bathroom, I started walking towards the tradeshow. Levi pulled backwards, still hiding behind me. As we walked, Levi chattered to himself.
“They’re just little balloons. I want to go home. Little balloons won’t pop. Let’s go home.”
Levi and I walked around the tradeshow tables in record time. We found the rest of the children. “We’re going home now,” I said.
“But Mom, we just got here,” my oldest daughter said.
“I know, but Levi’s terrified.”
As we walked into church, an elderly couple greeted us. “Good morning. It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you too.” I leaned forward to give the lady a hug. Levi followed me. When the lady leaned down, Levi gave her a big hug and a slobbery kiss on both cheeks.
The lady smiled. “I just love your kids. Especially Levi. He gives the best hugs and kisses.
I smiled. “Yes, he does.”
On Thanksgiving Sunday the children paraded up the aisle with various sized leaves in red, golden, and orange hues. I watched in trepidation as the twins lined up with the others. One of the older girls flipped over her leaf. “Let us give thanks for a bountiful harvest and plenty of food to eat.”
Other children down the line flipped over their leaves and gave thanks for family, God, and friends. Then, Luke flipped over his leaf. I held my breath. He looked up at the congregation and read in a soft, clear voice. “Let us give thanks for the Bible, God’s Word, and the freedom to read it.”
The first pediatrician who saw the twins said they may never walk, talk, or feed themselves. Although each of these accomplishments took more effort and happened much later than “normal”, Luke and Levi have achieved them and many other things. Every day snapshots are added to my memory album. Some are sunny and cheerful. Others bring tears. Some I willingly share with those around me. Others I keep close, not sure how to handle the barrage of emotions they cause. Raising children with special needs has taught me to appreciate the seemingly insignificant things, to celebrate life, to keep short accounts, to forgive and move on, and to be a strong advocate for those who cannot speak up for themselves. I like to think of each day as a new adventure and I pray for wisdom to ride the waves of life as they splash over my family and me.
This past year I have been reminded each day is a gift. The book, One Thousand Gifts, challenges us to consciously choose thankfulness. Sometimes our problems can seem to balloon into insurmountable mountains. However, when we look at life, breath, and other things we often take for granted and view them as gifts, it changes our perspective and we start seeking for otherwise insignificant things for which to be thankful.
An example? Last summer my husband and four older children were anticipating a carefree afternoon ride on horses in the backwoods at camp when a tanker truck heedlessly zoomed over a double yellow line and rammed into the van in which they were riding. The van rolled and came to a screeching halt in the ditch. (My husband describes seeing bodies flop around like clothes in a washing machine.) And we’re supposed to be thankful for things like this? Yes, I believe so. Thankful the van took a left turn, avoiding most of the impact. Thankful a young fellow passenger scooted from the corner that was hit to the middle seat because the seat belt wouldn’t hook. Thankful the worst injury was a broken leg. Thankful to see my family stumble through the doorway of the cabin, dusty, bloody, and tearful, but alive. Thankful for insurance which pays for therapy as needed. And above all, thankful for a loving, merciful God who coordinates the multiple threads of our lives into a beautiful tapestry for His glory.
What gifts are you thankful for today?
Cecile’s Christmas Miracle
By Ruth L. Snyder
Living in the desert at Christmas time is so depressing, twenty-two year old Cecile thought. She sat cross-legged in a Bushman hut made of mud and dung, with a smile pasted on her face. Her hostess, Naisa, chattered on, oblivious to Cecile’s inner turmoil. Flies buzzed a continual cacophony. Bugs Cecile had never seen in North America scurried across the dirt floor. What good am I doing here? Maybe I should just go home.
As she sipped her cup of Rooibos tea, Cecile allowed her thoughts to transport her to childhood memories of Christmas in rural Alberta. She could almost hear the melodious jingling of sleigh bells accompanied by carefree laughter and the snorts of the horses pulling her father’s sleigh. She saw cherubic faces tinted pink from the cold peeking out from a melee of toques and scarves. Voices combined in colorful harmony to scatter Christmas carols across the snow-blanketed prairies. After neighbors were gifted with the annual caroling, the whole community gathered in a local hall to share a turkey dinner complete with dressing, cranberry sauce, and a host of other tasty trimmings. Cecile always looked forward to the first luscious bite of her Grandma’s fruitcake. She smiled as she thought of the Christmas tree decorated with a combination of handmade ornaments and candy canes, and just about laughed out loud as she remembered her grade two teacher’s professed indignation as she was kissed under the mistletoe.
Naisa’s gentle tap pulled Cecile from her reverie. “Come, go work!”
Cecile followed Naisa out the door, sweat dripping from her forehead. It was only eight in the morning, and already the sun was beating down. Cecile pulled her hat tighter onto her head to protect herself from the assault of the sun. Her long-sleeved cotton blouse and loose-fitting floor-length skirt also provided much needed protection. The temperatures in the Kalahari Desert often hovered between 40 and 50 degrees Celsius during the day and then plummeted to the freezing mark during the night. Cecile clambered into the driver’s seat of her rickety Land Rover and nodded to Naisa to sit in the passenger seat. The monster grumbled as Cecile shifted it into gear. Soon they were on their way to provide much needed medical service at the local clinic. Cecile still shuddered to think she was regarded as the medical expert in the area. She only had her nursing degree. The nearest hospital was hundreds of kilometers away, and the only ambulance service was provided by plane. Naisa was her translator. The local language was a fascinating combination of clicks that still left Cecile muddled.
A cloud of dust announced their arrival at the clinic – a bare mud brick structure with simple glass windows and a tin roof. The building would have been denounced as uninhabitable in Alberta. A long queue of people waited at the clinic door. Cecile sighed. It was going to be another long day.
One after another the patients filed in to see Cecile. She treated cuts and burns, set broken bones, gave advice on nutrition, and dispensed medication. Just after noon, Naisa shooed other patients out as she helped a very pregnant woman into the clinic. “It time for baby.”
The mother groaned in agreement.
Cecile guided the young woman onto the table. “Naisa, heat the water. I’ll get set up here.”
Cecile performed a quick physical examination. “Naisa, ask her how long she’s been having pains. This baby is breach.” Naisa looked puzzled. “We have to try to turn baby so the head is down.” Cecile punctuated her words with actions, trying to help Naisa and the mother understand. She gritted her teeth. Valuable time was being used up in communicating. She didn’t want to lose the baby, or the mother.
Cecile bowed her head. “Heavenly Father, you know this situation is beyond me. Guide my hands and help me deliver this baby, please!”
Late that night, Cecile limped into the hut. Her legs felt like jelly, her back ached, and her arms felt like they had been squeezed through a wringer. However, Cecile’s smile stretched from ear to ear and there was nothing fake about it. The birthing process had been a struggle for all of them. The baby had been almost impossible to turn, but after many grunts, tears, and screams, the head was in the proper position. After that it was a matter of minutes before the baby was born. The woman had delivered a healthy boy. Cecile knew she had witnessed a miracle.
The baby’s birth was not the only miracle. Cecile still missed her family, the snow, and childhood traditions, but she knew God was with her. Cecile decided she would create her own Bushman Christmas traditions. Christmas in the desert wasn’t going to be so depressing after all.
NOTE: This story won second place in the December 2011 Fiction in Five Contest. Check out the other two stories and authors who won the Fiction in Five Contest
Different Roads Home
By Ruth L. Snyder
Have you ever tried to define what “home” means to you? What experiences encourage you to say you “feel at home?” Is there a place or feeling that comes to mind?
In my early years our family moved many times. As a result, my definition of “home” does not include a physical place. Yes, I do have fond memories of certain houses we lived in and there are particular towns I still enjoy visiting. However, I would define “home” as anywhere I feel comfortable, where I can be myself (no pretenses), where I am unconditionally loved and accepted (at least MOST of the time!) despite my actions or reactions, where my needs are met, where I can ask any question and not fear being mocked, where there is stability, responsibility and structure, where I have my own “space” but also learn to share with others in my family, and where my family is together a majority of the time.
I would venture to say that “coming home” is a different experience for each foster or adoptive child. “Coming” denotes that it is probably a progressive process, one that happens gradually over a period of time. “Home” could include a variety of definitions. Perhaps for some, the journey never ends.
Our oldest child, Grace, joined our family when she was 8 months old. She was used to change and a variety of caregivers. It appeared that the transition to our home was easy. However, the first time Grace cried when I left her with her (new to her) Grandmother was many months after she joined our family. It was at that point we recognized that Grace was beginning to bond with us, making attachments that had not previously been made. Grace continues to be a very social person, but now she has “roots.”
Luke and Levi joined our family when they were 18 months old. However, due to medical challenges they were more like 8 or 9 month-olds. I had the heart-rending experience of surrendering Levi to a surgeon three days after he joined our family. In the recovery room the nurses commented on how quickly Levi settled when I took him. Somehow he seemed to sense that his heart could begin the journey “home.” We quickly established bedtime routines with the boys, including reading stories, praying and giving hugs and kisses. At first both boys were very unresponsive – deadpan faces, no returning of affection. However, as the routines continued the responses changed. Today if they are sent to bed without the usual routine they become very upset and beg for hugs.
Jayson was 2 ½ when he joined our family. As I sat at the end of his bed the first night, Jayson took some stuffed animals his foster Mom had left with him and threw them against the wall. Then he grabbed them and hugged them tight. Next he took the stuffed animals we as a family had presented to him and threw them against the wall before hugging them tight. There were no tears. When I had to take Jayson for bi-weekly visits with his birth Mom, then the tears came. Jayson very clearly expressed that he did NOT want to participate in the visits. Jayson always did what he was told, but when he couldn’t handle it any more he would go to sleep. If something bothered him enough he would get physically sick – diarrhea or vomiting. It was over a year before Jayson enthusiastically returned our physical affection. It was almost two years before Jayson said, “I love you, Mommy!”
Different children, different needs, different roads “home.”