Saturday, December 17, 2016

Surviving in darkness, reaching for light: The toll of depression.

I would have never even given a second thought that I'd still be battling depression 5 years after originally being diagnosed.
I started treatment and felt great for a couple of years.
Now, I *thought* I was doing well the 3 years after that.  I didn't recognize the slip again.  The slip into depression's waves and tides, the grasp it takes and slowly pulls you down, is often subtle and unnoticed until someone or something makes you take notice.

This has got to be one of the hardest posts I have ever done, one of the most heartbreaking for me.

There was no one moment, one day, one week where suddenly I was swimming in the depths trying to reach the top.  It was a slow dissent.  A thought here, a misread conversation there, an over analyzed look from someone, small situations, all that began eating away at simple sanity again.

I wanted to believe that the first time around, the medication treatment, and the attention to it that my mind was brought to, would 'cure' it and my life would go on.
I had no real idea that it would become something that I'm going to continually have to battle.

I remember days of feeling as if I had lost all my friends.  I remember the sadness I felt as I believed they had pulled away from me and went on with their lives without me.

I remember days of analyzing conversations in my head over and over and over wondering what I had done, or said, to push people away.  All the while not realizing it was I who pushing them away.
It became to easy for me to go inward and shut everyone else out.

It became normal to feel as if no one cared, especially as we dealt with David and his special needs.  It became normally sadly to push even my husband away, slowly, over time, until he was shut out completely.  All the while thinking that he was to blame, when it was my own battle causing me feel things that were not true.

Depression is hell.  It's a hell where nothing is as it seems.  The loneliness for me was self induced even though it appeared it came from everyone else pushing me away.

As I look back now I can see the patterns.  I can see that the summer of 2015 when David was diagnosed with his auto-immune disorder, that my dissent became deeper.  I didn't realize it then.  I realize it now.
For over a year, I lived in a personal hell.  As David's condition became relentless and showed no signs of remission, no response to treatments, I dived further into feeling so alone, so abandoned, so overwhelmed.
I know now people reached out.  I know now, I refused help.
Then, I felt they didn't mean it.  Or the "right" people didn't reach out.
The year moved on, it seemed the world was just against my son, myself, my family.  I had removed myself mentally and emotionally so far from my husband most importantly, but also family and friends.
I was so far...gone, I didn't know how to come back.  I didn't realize I needed to come back.
I thought several times how easy it would be to put the kids in the car and just drive and drive, to anywhere but where I was.
I thought several times of leaving alone, to be anywhere but where I was, dealing with what I was.

2015 passed into 2016 and for a couple of months there was a little light but that grasp was so strong and I was pulled back in.
I hate depression!
The downward spiral became worse.  I had never felt more alone.  Even with the arrival of my mother and sister back to the United States, I felt I had no one.  Of my own accord again, pushing all away.
I didn't know how to accept help.  And it was easier for the depression to take hold and believe no one wanted to help.

The summer of 2016 brought deeper sadness, deeper darkness.  A trial by fire truly.  A situation occurred that a few now of, it doesn't matter now what, because it's in the past, it's forgiven, we've moved on.
However, when it occurred I can honestly say I was at my darkest night.  I remember that evening and night more clearly than I ever wished I did.
I had never felt so alone and deserted than I did the day the situation came to a blow.
That night in a quiet house, I lay in my bed trying hard to will myself to sleep.  Sleep would not come.  I had just started my new job teaching, and the next day was the first day for students.
I remember thinking how am I ever going to make it through the day.  The sadness from the situation had taken over me.  I couldn't even think about teaching much less how I'd ever facet the morning.

For the first time in my life, I did not want to face the morning.
My thoughts drifted to how easy it would be to end the pain I was feeling.  I lay there thinking of the medicines I had in my home.  I imagined which ones I would go get and saw myself dumping the pills in a pile and then lining them up to take.
I thought how I'd not have to feel anything anymore.
Never I had been in this position.  Never had I thought of ending my life.  Never had I believed it was an answer.
But that night, I felt it.  I felt the despair.  I felt the sadness.  I felt the utter abandonment created in my mind.  I felt the loneliness.
I did not want to live to see the morning.  I didn't want to face the pain and the choices I'd have to make in the morning and the following days.
And then...I looked over in the bed.  There lay my sons.  David and Aaron were fast asleep, no knowledge of what had taken place.  No knowledge of what their mother was thinking.
I wept.  I wept all night.  I didn't sleep at all.  I couldn't leave them.  They were the one reason I had to go on.
The sun came up, the sadness and heaviness of adult choices still loomed, but I was able to get myself out of bed for my sons.
That was a turning point.  I sat on the edge of the bed a moment and realized that the night before was a wake up call.  I was not healthy.  The depression still remained.
The coming days and weeks brought healing in some ways [to my marriage and life], but it brought a tough realization that I will never be "free" of depression.
That it is something I will always have to keep in check.
I made an appointment with my doctor and began therapy as well.  I realize about 4 months have passed and so many times it seems like a lifetime ago.
Each day, each week is still a step forward.  However not without fear that the cold claws of depression will try to drag me down again.

Safegaurds.  I can't imagine going through the journey of depression alone.  I can't begin to imagine how people who truly are alone, do it. And sadly, often they don't make it out.

I say safeguards because now I understand some things to look for.  I have my husband, my family, my friends look out for me.  If they recognize anything, it can be brought to my attention.  If I don't or can't respond properly, I've advised that they get me somewhere for help.

If you feel hopeless often, alone, like you don't want to go on, please please please now that you are NOT alone.  You CAN reach out.
If nothing else I am always here!
Call your doctor.
Call a friend.
Call family.
Call a hotline.

Don't ignore feelings of depression, hopelessness, or suicide.
While I'm a firm believer in prayer.  please know that prayer alone will not help.  It's great when people say they will pray for you.
But please, please get professional help.
DO not get to a point that I did.  I shutter to think what might have happened had my sons not been sleeping with me that night.
It is OK to talk about it.  It is OK to scream about it.  Do not be embarrassed.  Do not think that others will think less of you.
You are NOT alone.  Ever!  People do care.  I care.

Suicide Hotline

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Marbles as friends.

I stood at the sink absent-mindedly doing dishes.   A million thoughts running through my head of upcoming doctor visits, blood draws, back to school shopping, grocery lists. 
I'm on auto-pilot as David comes into the kitchen.
DAVID: "Mom, have you seen my marble that was on the breakfast bar?"
ME: "Yes I put it in the basket when I was cleaning."
DAVID: "There it is.  I painted a face on it mom."
ME: "Yeah I saw that!  It was cute."

DAVID: "I did it because I don't have any friends, so I made one."

Then he hurried off back to his room and I began hearing the clank of marbles.
I stopped doing dishes and absorbed what he just head.  My heart broke again for him, my eyes filled with tears and all the issues associated with Autism came flooding back, as it does almost daily.
A feeling of loneliness and friendlessness is common among ASD children.  David is no different.  His social awkwardness drives many away.  He doesn't mean too.  And believe me we do teach him daily about social cues and such.
Though ASD children can learn and adpat, it can take years to do so.  In the meantime as he makes baby steps, he still loses friends.

I can't lie, a feeling of failure as a parent washed over me as well.  Though I know it's not "my fault", it's still hard to get the heart to believe it. 
Like any parent these are the times that you wish you could wave a magic wand and make it all better.  Yet that's not reality and life goes on.

I'm thankful for the few friends that he does have.  And I'm saddened when his social awkwardness pushes others away.  What I as a mother see as silly or even endearing, often is annoying and a put off to others.  I know that.  I accept that.  But I wish it didn't have to be that way.

You see, I know that David is smart, funny [even when he doesn't mean to be], curious, and creative.  In between the constant chatter, meltdowns, and an inability to read people in social situations there is this boy that can make you smile.
I hope one day as he grows, he'll find forever friends that he adores and adore him AND understand this mother's heart.

Friday, June 17, 2016

In tragedy love and acceptance can be born. Lesson learned.

I don't think there is anyone in the USA that has not heard about the terrible tragedy that occurred in Orlando this past week.  No doubt everyone's heart was touched and saddened.  The tragedy transcends beyond politics, beyond religions, beyond differences that divide us [or at least it should and did often!]
I was touched and am touched by the outpouring of love and service to the families and loved ones left behind from those who have similarities, from those that have differences, from the most unlikely places.  I have LOVED reading those stories. 

We've tried to instill in our sons that we love all, we accept all, we do not judge.  This tragedy has been a door to educate and show them even further, how we are called and meant to love.  As human beings, all connected, it is important, MANDATORY that we love.  We should love!
Children have real feelings, they have questions, they want to know why.  I don't hid much from my sons.  When they ask, I try to be as honest as I can on a level they understand.

Why would someone shoot all these people?  What does gay mean?  Why did he hate them?

The one thing I wanted to impress on them that the shooter, consumed with hate because of differences, felt it was his job to judge those people and take their lives. 
Beyond that that I moved to the victims.  Though the shooter played a terrible roll, the tragedy is no longer about him, he's gone now. 
Rather it was focusing on the victims.  On helping and loving the families and loved ones left behind. 
I explained [as I have before] what gay means.  It means that one adult loves another adult of the same sex.  And they shouldn't be judged, hated, killed, or looked down on because of it.
And I shared with them stories of those reaching out in thoughts, prayers, and love to help.
I told them that adults are free to love other adults and be supported.  And I will always love and support them no matter who they love.

This is my chance, my children's chance, every person's chance to cast aside judgement, cast aside prejudices if they have them, to open their arms, services if they have it, to open their hearts and love and accept people as fellow human beings. 

Living in the state where it happened, just an hour away, you can see and feel the mood, see how love has won out, even from those who don't agree.  You see people putting aside their political and religious differences to donate blood, food, places to stay, airline rides.
I'm a member of the Episcopal Church.  One Episcopal church in Orlando opened it's doors and offered funeral services for the those who lost their lives.  LOVE and ACCEPTANCE! 

This is what my sons are and will learn.  To love and accept others, and that they are loved and accepted.  Anything less is unthinkable.
Orlando Strong!
Pray for Orlando!

Faith, Hope, and Love.  But the greatest of these is LOVE!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Terrariums, Nature, clay, & Chemo. Oh my!

June has arrived with a hot roar.  Florida temperatures are soaring into the 90s and the end of the school year is here!
It has been quite the journey this school year and the adventure continues.

Aaron is doing fabulous at Babson Park Elementary.  This coming week is their final 3.5 days and it's packed with fun for the students, from a School Fair to a Fairy Tale Bowl.  He's also scheduled to attend 4 weeks [4 days a week], a 3rd grade enrichment program at the school.  It's a half day program and will begin introducing him to the third grade. 

David has pretty much wrapped up his first official homeschool term.  He began at the end of April.  The 2016-17 academic year will be his first full year homeschool.
He's excited about the coming year as his textbooks have begun arriving.  He was especially excited when his National Geographic Earth Science book arrived! 

The biggest reason, as you all know, to homeschool is due to his health.  His ITP has been relentless and thus far has responded very little to the 3 different treatment plans he's undergone.
So now we dive into the more heavy duty treatment and pray for at least short term remission.  |

Monday, June 6th he will begin a 4 week round of a chemotherapy drug called Rituximab.  It brings response and often short term remission [about a year], in about 50% of it's recipients. 

His platelet count again hit critical level this past week and we found ourselves back at Nemours for an overnight stay and observation.  They debated whether to do a short term treatment, but his platelets at least held steady and we were scheduled for Monday for the chemo.
The wonderful thing is that Nemours is an amazing hospital for children.  I don't know how we would have done it without them.  They have made this whole journey "fun" for David making sure he understood what is going on and entertaining him while he is there.

This link tells a little more about the treatment he will be recieving.  While it is of course good in one aspect, it will be trying in another.  His immune system will be more suppressed than usual.  And as we know, he's already not the best at fighting off infection.
So per the doctor's orders, we have taken steps to make sure he is rarely around large crowds, and those that enter our home sanitize their hands upon entering.  It will take 2-6 months for his body to begin replacing the B & T cells that are destroyed during the chemo.  And about 11 months for it to be back to "normal".

Rituximab, a chemotherapy drug.

Click the link to read more about Rituximab.

To our family's great surprise and thankfulness, a friend of ours  [Jim Holton] created a Go Fund Me page.  We have been extremely blessed and the sweet gifts and donations will help ease the burden during this trying time.  For each of the infusions, David and I will be staying in a hotel close to the hospital just in case we need to go back [we are over an hour away if we go home] and most of the serious side effects happen within the first 24 hours. 
It will also be good for David as we can go just minutes down the road and he can rest right away. 

Help the Gouge Family fight ITP

Click the link above to read more about the campaign for David!

So back to the end of David's school year!  We had a great week of exploring nature [Thank you Bok Tower Gardens!], to eating 2 terrariums where we can watch a small eco system develop, to creating with salt dough! 

Another thing David has really been into is "old timey phones".  He constructed this old box phone [fashioned after the crank phones], and also made a candle stick phone.  He plays with them all the time!
I found a vintage replica [non working] candlestick phone on Amazon and would love to get it for him for his birthday if we can. 

And lastly, to keep the boys spry this summer, I have created our schedule.  Now I realize with David's June chemo schedule it may be thrown off a bit, but it's a good guideline and will encourage them to remain active both mentality and physically [for David as much as he can be currently.]
Here's to summer!  Here's to remission!  We can do this!

Monday, May 23, 2016

My other son: Have I told you how wonderful he is?

I'm talking about my youngest, Aaron Preston.  He'll be 8 in a little over a month and he is so excited.

He talks everyday about his birthday, about how he wants a Lorax theme, about the legos he wants, the friends he wants to invite.
He's my happy go lucky kid.  My boy with a sense of humor.  He's the one that will go outside early in the morning and come dragging in at dusk, covered with dirt, telling about his fun day out playing.

He's my sensitive soul, my very giving child, perceptive, loving, feisty, spirited, and full of hugs.

He's always slipping me cards and notes, little gifts he makes out of random beads he finds.  He's almost always so understanding of David and my often preoccupation with him and all the issues.

With that, I confess that I'm pretty sure I've failed him as a parent. 
I feel like I don't spend as much time with him as I should.  I feel like at times I'm harder on him.  I tend to not realize what he may be feeling or going through in his own life, and with dealing with David's illness and Autism.

Not too long ago we were at Aaron's school having lunch with him.  It was a nice spring day, we were sitting on an outside table, when suddenly David let's out that all to familiar scream of fear and phobia.  He has always had one concerning bees and wasps.  And it seems to only be getting worse.  He also loses all sense around him and about him.  David flies out of the seat and across the small court yard screaming and crying. 
Other children are lining up for lunch and looking at him peculiarly.
I try to coax him back to his seat.  Aaron stands up and says "Look David, it's gone and has flown by the building.  Come sit down."

I could see Aaron glancing over at the other children a little nervously but he went on eating.  I had never thought about Aaron's reaction and also what he might be met with from other children when they encounter his brother with Autism.  Not until my husband told me later that night, it might be a little tough on him having to explain why his brother does what he does. 
I also found myself short tempered tonight with both them.  David of course, because of the ASD can often provoke people to irritation not realizing it.  Tensions mounted, Aaron hit him.  I lost my own temper.  Tears came.  The cool down came.
And then he and I sat and talked.  I apologized and told him my reaction wasn't right.  I also told him how I know it is so tough sometimes David struggles because of the Autism. 
Aaron was very sympathetic.  I told him though that when he feels overwhelmed trying to deal with David to come and talk to mom and take a break.

I know I need to make a much more conscious effort to be more understanding with Aaron [and I will!]  I also need to make more specific times now to spend with only Aaron.  Especially since David is now homeschooling and is with me all day.

I often wish a manual would have come with my children.  No guessing, no screwing up, no wondering how bad I might be scarring them, no hoping and praying that they will not hate me one day.

The one thing I try to take comfort in, is that my children picked my husband and I for a reason, to be their parents.  I want to honor that and be who they need me to be!

Here's to my other son Aaron Preston!  I will always love you, beyond the universe and back!

Monday, May 9, 2016

I am sorry for not being what you wanted.

Yes, you've read that right. 
I'm sorry.  I am giving you my apologies.  Even though it troubles me and leaves an impression on my heart, I still give them to you.
Who?  Who is 'you'? 
'You' are those people who, over the months and years have decided to distance themselves from me.  To no longer talk with me.  To be content to just hear or read [you have to love the age of social media], what's going on in my life, yet stay at arms length.
Yes, I've noticed.  I've noticed it as I've grown in my own life, in my own views, in my faith in the Christ I follow. 
Though there is a spiritual aspect to this, at the same time it is so much more.  It is the conflict of being who I am, even if it means losing friendships over it.

I used to be someone else.  Someone who thought differently, who perhaps acted different.  Who was certain the world was black and white and everything had an answer. 
There are times I wish I could go back to that, only because of assurance I had in myself that I was doing everything "right" and I had reason to justify it.

You liked me then.  You thought I was "saved".  You thought my heart was in the right place.  I am sorry that now you don't think those things.
Yes, I have noticed. 
I've 'heard'.  I've seen the looks, felt the divide widening.  Even in this age of social media, a deafening silence speaks volumes.  Please, don't think that I have not noticed.  While I may be many things, I like to think that I'm fairly smart.

Truly, I am sorry.
I am sorry that I'm not that role model you thought I was or once was. 
I am sorry that I can't honor your God the way you believe to be right.
I am sorry that you think I've strayed.
I am sorry you think I no longer have a spot in Heaven. 
I am sorry I've disappointed you. 
I am sorry I can not be who you need or want me to be.
I am sorry that I can't be who you 'believe' God needs or wants me to be.
I AM sorry.

I get it.  I do.  You are moving and acting based on your convictions.  For that I can not fault you.  I do the same thing.
I will however, never judge your heart, your salvation, or your place with God in heaven.   As a matter of fact, if you've distanced yourself from me because OF my faith, I still will never judge you on that.
That's the difference you see.

While I am sorry I am not who you thought or want me to be. 
I am NOT sorry for being me.  For being who, based on my convictions of the God I follow, wants me to be.

I am not sorry for growing as a person. 
I am not sorry that through the pain of life and loss, I learned that some things have no answers.
I am not sorry that through my becoming a parent, I saw the world was not black and white, but that my unconditional love for my earthly children is probably only a glimmer of the unconditional love that the Creator has for ALL of us.
I am not sorry that through loving my children and through friendships that I came to realize sometimes a family doesn't have to be or look like what ancient writings from humans said it should.
I am not sorry that despite who you love and marry, God STILL loves you and you are and will be a part of greater love after this life passes.
I am not sorry that I believe the Loving Father I read about in the scriptures I follow [even if I think they can be fallible, not the message but word for word] would not punish his children, his creation by a separation from Him FOREVER.  I could never do that to my own children.  From that, I have been taught a lesson over and over again, that His love is even greater then.
I am not sorry that I don't think the personal faith I follow is the only "truth".  Again, I am so under qualified to ever dole out that judgement.
I am not sorry that I chose to stand up for those who are often made fun of, mocked, cast aside, told they are going to hell.  I am not sorry for loving the 'least of these'. 
I am not sorry because I AM the least of these.
I often stink as a human being.  I am often ugly and hateful.
I am often unaware, apathetic, and harsh. 
I am always human!

Like the rock formation in the picture above, I feel worn down.
I feel like I don't really belong anywhere because of how I feel, what I believe, and who/what I stand up for.
I feel like that rock formation, both a deeper formation and a projection of that formation.
I am out of place because I am one thing [a believer in Christ], yet another [accepting of all]. 

Friends honestly are few and far between for me.  Often my thoughts are misunderstood or I have no words to truly convey what it is I think, or feel, or believe.

I am sorry.  I do wish you could still talk with me.  I wish you could still look up to me.  But I understand.
  I know you have your convictions and are firm in them.
While now in this season we may not be friends, I know in the grand scheme of this temporal life and the bigger picture in this infinite universe our paths will cross again, and in love.
So while I can not be what you want or need, do know that I still love you.  I still think you are a part of this greater plan, even if you do not think I am.
I wish you well, for that I won't apologize either ;)

Nor will I apologize for being me.  I am loved just the way I am. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mozart, Still Life, & the three Rs of schooling!

A week has come and gone for David in his new adventure.   It has been interesting testing the waters and finding the groove that works for him. 
One of the aspects often of Autism is the need for routine.  Without it, David seems to have more meltdowns, he becomes anxious.

So I decided to have a routine from the time he got up until we were finished with the focused learning for the day.
Our schooling day looks something like this:

*Wake-up & breakfast
*Dressed & teeth brushed [I find it works best if he "officially" still gets dressed to "go"]

*Free time until 7:30am, then school is in session!
*Daily free reading time [from a variety of science, social studies, or history books.]
*Math time [which includes 2 lessons from a workbook and chalkboard work.
*Science which is a mix of reading lessons, written work, and lab.
*Social Studies
*Language Arts [which includes writing & spelling.  Often this crosses over with science & social studies depending on stories read].
*Music & Art

After each subject he gets a 5-10 free time break.
We dove in this week with things he loves.  He adores anything related to maps.  So for social studies we did a Florida unit.  He was so excited to look up all the facts about Florida from its motto to statehood! 
Science consisted of landforms and how they were created.
Music focused on Mozart, his life, and works. 
Art was basic still life.  I was impressed with his panting of a fruit bowl and sketch of 2 vases and a flower.  He really looked, listened, and loved doing it!

In our homeschool area I added
A display area for his artwork and hands on work.  It brightened the area and he loved showing his brother and dad what he accomplished each day.
This is a keeper to display each week's displayable work.

Another thing that he loved this week was spontaneous and natural learning through outings.  We made a couple of trips to the grocer's.  For one trip I made a list of things we needed, a place for its cost, and the grand total.  As we shopped he wrote down prices and then added up what we spent.  A good lesson on how much things do cost, and budgeting. 
The next time we went he had the list to get the items and put them in the cart.  Another thing he liked was the hands on science lab.  We learned about erosion.  I had him make a land form out in the sand, add water, and observe what it looked like before erosion through water, then after.  As we studied how different landfroms [valleys, gorges, etc] were formed, he was fascinated by the Grand Canyon and how it took millions of years for the Colorado River to erode and shape it!  He would love to go there, and I would too.  I hope one day I can afford to give he and his brother that trip!


David also did some cooking this week as part of his math and science lessons.  Measurement, chemistry, bake times and temperatures also played a part.  We made crusty pioneer bread which he loves to eat anyway.  Cooking in the cast iron also gave us a chance to talk about pioneers and how they used cast iron and dutch ovens over open fires, in fire places, and wood burning stoves.

As we embark on this journey one thing I have to do is keep it on a budget.  As a former teacher [and any teacher], I know how quickly items can add up.  Plus when you are assembling your own curriculum it can be another added cost.
For a blackboard I have a very limited budget.  So I used some chalk paint that I had and painted both sides of a foam board, trimmed it in decorative tape, used yarn to affix it to the wall.  It makes it easy to switch sides and is just big enough to do small amounts of work. 

One last thing that I was so pleased with was David's handwriting.  He has always struggled with it, but over the last 6 months or so, he really regressed with it.  Because of difficulty in focusing, you have to be with him one on one much of the time.  Encouraging him to slow down, to form his thoughts, to follow the lines. 
I was so happy to be able to do that with him.
You'll see a before shot of his writing [after his regression] and then an after for his first week being homeschooled.

So there we are!  One week down!  He's looking forward to next week because we are diving into the skeletal system for science!  I can't believe there are only 5 more weeks of school.  Though we'll be continuing some work through the summer, I'm looking forward to a fresh year in the fall!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A dream realized! Finally our one room school house!

These last couple of months have been one of reflection, evaluation, research, and most of all a heart for my children.  I would have never dreamed how very precious, unique, and different 2 children could be.  How what works for one does not for the other.  One child will remain in public school, while the other child will be homeschooled!  Years ago I blogged about our one room schoolhouse.  Mainly it was done during the summer time time when regular school was out.  I was working then so that's the only time I had plus it kept the boys busy.  Now I am so thrilled that I'll be able to actually homeschool in "real school time".

So on the subject of two siblings being so different:  I have my feisty, fierce, stubborn, sensitive, loving, and extroverted 7 year old, Aaron.   He does not like being alone!  From birth, he knew, I mean he KNEW when I stepped out of the room.  Instant screaming.  The child had GREAT lungs!  I remember at just a few months old when they still haven't developed that cognitive ability to realize that out of sight doesn't mean gone forever, he had to be in the bouncer in the bathroom when I showered.  In the kitchen when I cooked, basically he was like Visa, everywhere that I wanted to be! 
He also needed some one to interact a lot more with him.  And even if not, he just wanted to know someone was in the same room. 
This is why public school has always worked so well for him.  Lots of other children.  Lots going on!  On Saturdays when no one else can play, the kid is lost!  He has a hard time playing alone. 
Even though he's excited about summer break, he's already talking about wanting to go to a camp.  I don't think we'll be able to afford it sadly.   He's already lonely thinking of no kids to play with! 

David on the other hand, is much more introverted.  He's sweet, thoughtful, academic minded, black and white in his thinking. Though he did like to have me there as a baby.  He was fine if I walked into the other room.  He found things to keep himself busy.  To this day, if company comes over, he often goes to his room first for awhile.  To adjust, to feel more in control, and then he comes out when he's comfortable.  He rarely wants to play outside if everyone is out there.   He'll play for a bit with his brother and then he's tapped out.  Much of this is because of the Autism.  Which also makes it hard to filter out any stimulation from noise to people.  He takes things to heart.  He doesn't understand joking and sarcasm from other children.  He's often overwhelmed and overstimulated by the time he would get home from his day.  It was a battle from the get go at night to do homework on top of that. 

There are quite a few factors that went into our decision to pull David and home school him.  Some are personal and those that need to know, do.  IN short, we saw a downward spiral in him for a long time and feel this is the best decision currently.  We are always open to the what the future holds, but for now, this is a great time for him to decompress, to have the one on one that he needs.  To regain control of some of the out of control behaviors.  To work on skills that he had and has lost. 

He is excited!  I am excited. 
As we go into our first official week, we are diving in with enthusiasm. 
Friday was the first official day.  We started it by doing the normal mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies.  We took a field trip to our local botanical gardens [Bok Tower] and I had a list of questions he needed to investigate to find out the answers.  It went along with a unit they had started in his class room on land forms, so I decided to stick with that for this coming week and piggy back on it. 

He learned that the tower itself was built on the 2nd highest point in Florida known as Iron Mountain because of it's abundance of hematite.  He learned of 3 flowers or flowering shrubs native to that area.  He learned that the gardens have a mixture of landforms from hills to prairies.  As a mater of fact, he wants to go back this week to learn more!  I love that! 
To continue learning about landforms, this week will cover erosion and river systems and the types of landforms they have and can create over the many millions and thousands of years.  Bill Nye has some great videos to supplement this as well.  Many of which you can watch on YouTube.

This week, our first full week, we are going to dive into Florida History for social studies and may make a trip to the Florida Grove House to learn about how orange juice is made.
He's also going to learn about the Seminole Indigenous people who lived here before it was a state. 
Some of these lessons will be a crossover into Language Arts since it of course involves reading, writing, and vocabulary.  Plus will be finishing up a story called Tara's Terrarium. 
His spelling list will focus on the Y to I change in words that become plural. 

Mathematics will be focusing on wrapping up time telling and elapsed time as we start a new unit on measuring through liquid volume.  I'm looking forward to this because I've incorporated a hands on unit to help him understand this.  We are going to be making "Pioneer" bread.  He'll have to follow a recipe and then answer mathematics based questions concerning it.  This is a link to the recipe and questions if you want to use it for your own schoolroom ;)

Pioneer Spelt Flour Dutch Oven Bread

For music and art education we are going to focus on Mozart this week.  He has been asking some questions about him and he loves classical music so that will be a perfect place to start.   I want to do a project combining the art and music this week, but I'm still working on that aspect!    However I think I am leaning toward letting him free paint while several pieces are playing to compare and contrast how music may affect our mood.  Do we paint faster when the the tempo is Allegro.  Do you paint slower, with different colors when it is Andante? 

Do you hear the bell ringing?  That's the sound of the Gouge one room school house that I wrote about so long ago, finally being in session for a real academic school year!  Wish us luck!  This should be an interesting journey!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Aaron's Earth Day gift to his classmates! Let the wildflowers bloom!

I know I've shared before how my children love Earth Day, and they love crafts!
 Especially my youngest son Aaron.  He's the resident artist.  You could buy him crayons, tablets, paints, anything artsy, during every shopping trip and he'd be perfectly happy.

Well for Earth Day, after having made recycled paper with their Bill Nye kit, he decided he wanted to make it for his class.  Then we read you could add flower seeds into it!
So that's what we did.  They simply have to plant the biodegradable paper, keep it moist, and watch it grow! 
We printed out a cute quote from "The Lorax" with planting instructions and put it all in a ziplock bag.  He will hand it out on Earth Day!

You can easily make recycled paper.  Just Google "easy paper making" or something similar.  You really don't need much.

And it's a cheap craft!  

Essentially you need:
Paper [newspaper, tissue paper, construction paper, copy paper]
Big bowl

food coloring [optional]
screen deckle [generally some screen, stapled onto 4 pieces of wood trim or something similar]
Rolling pin

You soak torn up pieces of paper in a big bowl of water 4-6 hours.
Take the mixture, pour it in the blender until it forms a slurry.
Fill your kitchen sink with enough water to cover the screen deckle. 
Put the deckle in the water.
Add some of the slurry until it covers the deckle, but not too thick.
Bring up the deckle out of water, let it drain as much water as you can.
Set the deckle on a towel.
Take a piece of felt the size of the deckle, and cover it.
Place a towel on top of it and push out as much water as you can with your hands.
Take the deckle, turn it over, and lightly tap the screen to get the paper mixture to pop off.
Place the paper mixture on top of the felt, add another piece of felt on top of that, and then the towel on top of that.
Take the rolling pin and roll over the paper hard to get as much more water out as possible.

Lay the paper flat on a tray to dry.
You can dry it outside in the sun or put it in a low temp oven [150-170 degrees] for 20-60 minutes or enough to get the majority of the dampness out.  Then let the rest air dry.

Newspaper will produce a gray earthy color.
To have various colored paper, use white copy paper and add in food coloring after you've made the slurry.
You can also add dry flower petals or flower seeds to your paper.
Add these in just before you press the water out in the deckle.

There you have it.  A fun weekend craft, that can keep on giving!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lessons from Bill Nye for my own science guys!

We love Earth Day in our home!  Especially when the boys can get messy. learn something new, and help save the trees!

All week Aaron has been reading me his library book The Lorax.  And we've been watching the old school 1972 cartoon of the book.
They both really get the idea of speaking for nature because "trees have no tongues". 

Our good friends Brooke and Mitch gave the boys a Bill Nye Paper Recycling Factory.  So this past week, we worked on recyling old paper into new!  

 The process is easy, but time consuming.  And you can do so much with it.
During this first run we recycled  a lot of our old tissue paper we've had put up from past gifts.  They were perfect colors, green and white!

From making the pulp, to grinding, to using deckles, to drying, the boys LOVED it!
And we talked about what else we can do next time we make a batch. 
We're going to make biodegradable wildflower paper!
Making up the pulp and adding in a wildflower seed mix during the deckling process.  Then that paper can be gifted and planted and will yield beautiful wild flowers!

Even though we have a kit, you honestly don't need to buy anything special other than some screening to do the process [Google easy paper making!]
Here's to teaching my children to leave a better earth for their descendants!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Celebrating Earth Day "Month"! Nightlights, robots, & recycled paper.

I love Earth Day!  I've loved every since I heard about it and stumbled upon an Earth Day Birthday celebration Almost 25 years ago!

At the time I was living in Dayton, Ohio and often went Downtown to shop at the now defunct department stores.  [Aww memories, but that is another post.]
One April day, as I headed to Elder Beerman, going through the Court Yard, I noticed this festival.  Unsure of what it was I stopped at the various booths to check out what was going on.
To be honest, this was the first time I ever even realized that we needed to care for the earth.  Sad but true.  The movement was gaining big momentum back then [It started in 1970], and I credit that festival for helping to open my eyes. 
I have to admit I'm not doing as much as I could, or as much as I have in the past. 
But maybe it's time to revisit some of the things I used to do. 
I know as I've grown older, learned more about my own ancestral roots, and had children, I've realized that truly it is our responsibility to be good stewards of this earth.  To leave it better than we found it in some way.  To leave it lovely for the future generations. 

One thing I love to do now, is various crafts and projects with my sons.  They are very much into preserving the earth and taking care of things.  I smile with pride every time they see garbage thrown on the ground and pick it up and throw it away.

During this April, I've picked out a few projects for us to do that both are fun, and help to reinforce the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle aspect of green living.

This weekend, we made "night lights" out of outside foliage and out of scraps of window covering [reuse!], and empty boxes.  The boys loved it AND now they have their own unique work of art to see as they drift off to sleep. 

You really only need clear contact paper [or clear packing tape], scraps of paper/fabric/wallpaper/paint chip samples/flowers/foliage/leaves, whatever is "flatter" and will stick to contact paper or tape.
Let me add a note that when trying to get the items to stick to contact paper things like light fabric may work better.  I found that heavier foliage did not stick too well to the contact paper, unless you put the box on it's side and then hurried and covered it with another piece of contact paper right away.|

Next weekend, we plan on using a great Bill Nye the Science Guy paper recycler that a friend gave us to make "new" paper for cards and projects.  Then the following weekend we are going to use empty coffee and food cans to make some kind of hanging "robot"  Both will get their own posts of how it all turns out! :)

I encourage everyone to do something fun this month for Earth Day.  It doesn't have to be fancy or in depth.  It could be as simple as planting some flower seeds.  Whatever you do, have fun, and use this moment as a wonderful teaching moment!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Did I ever tell you the story....

I remember so vividly the moment I met my oldest son’s soul in a dream.  The dream began in a foggy darkness with my best friend and I walking along a lone sidewalk.   Ahead of us I began to see a bit of light, not sunlight but some kind of pale light.  As we drew closer I saw a tall streetlamp, with its artificial light casting a triangle type beam of light down through the fog onto the sidewalk.  There beneath the streetlight a child stood with his back to us and hands in pocket.  Walking past the child I looked at him.  He had an adorable face, with glasses and this kind of bowl shaped haircut.   I turned to my friend and said, “When I have son, he will look like that little boy.”  At that moment the little boy turned towards me, looked up, and said “Hi mom!”  Something deep in my being knew instantly that I had met my future son.

I woke up filled with a sense of peace and wonder.  My husband and I were not trying to conceive at that point, rather we were about a month and half from our wedding day.   Cue, two weeks later.   I was shopping for a few groceries, thinking about final wedding plans.  Going past the seafood counter I was suddenly repulsed by that familiar “ocean” smell.  I had never remembered it smelling so bad and I nearly didn’t  make it the restroom to get sick.  I resumed shopping but had this feeling that I was pregnant.  One extra item, a pregnancy test bought and a chipper “Good luck!” from the cashier and I was racing home to test!

 Almost instantly the line appeared and I was in shock.  I stood in the bathroom, both laughing and crying.  And then fear set in.  Having lost our first little one to miscarriage a year before I was filled with dread about the same outcome.  Yet I couldn’t contain my excitement at the same time.   My best friend was the first to know.  I had to be sure after all that I wasn’t imagining those lines.  That’s right, I may or may not have taken a few more tests just to be sure.  There was no imagining it.  I was pregnant, and funny enough it conception happened around the time I had met my son in that dream.  Amazing how life works sometimes.  I believe in a Higher Power, God.  I’m also not a black and white person and do not get hung up on dogma and doctrine.  I embrace what God was giving us, and at that time apparently it was another child.  And I prayed this one would live and be able to be born. 

Throughout the entire pregnancy something told me that he was different, unique, not like other children.  However that came out more in the form of worry and anxiety.  I was fearful all of the pregnancy.  I had horrible dreams of losing him, of him taking away, of me fighting for him.  Looking back I realize that I was being prepared for this wonderfully bright, beautiful, and autistic child!

On November 13, 2006 at 2:13pm, he came into the world.  That was quite the experience too.  Another story, for another time.  At that moment, I breathed a sigh of relief.  He was here, crying, and in my arms.  I forgot about all those nights of terrible dreams.  All those days of being in tears, worrying something was "wrong" with him.  None of that mattered.  And I had no idea of the journey that lay before us. 

For that instance, all was right with the world and our beautiful son was the greatest gift!
And that is the story of how I met my son ;)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When no one knocks on the door.

The knocks come on the door.
"Can Aaron come out and play?"
Often, and with joy!

But the knocks rarely come for David.  I take that back, occasionally they do come.  Usually preceded first by seeing if Aaron can play.  If he can't, or he's busy, they sometimes ask for David.  Sometimes.  But he's rarely a first thought.
And this shatters my heart in a million pieces.

I want to say I get it.  I want to say I somewhat understand.  But another part of me wants to say it shouldn't be that way.  He's just a child, and he wants to play and be included as well.

That can be the heartbreaking part of children with special needs. 
David is quarky, he's loud, he doesn't understand personal space, he has a hearty laugh, he may laugh at inappropriate times, he may add to the conversation, but not in the way one would expect. 
He'll believe you if you joke with him and say you're taking over the world.  He's deathly afraid of bugs so he'll get scared if you tease him about one being on him.  And he'll take whatever you say to heart, either good or bad.

That can be a lot to deal with, as a child.  So in that sense, I see why many children just shy away.  I try to help out when I can, to ease everyone into a playing situation, but I can't always be around, and honestly, I know I can't always step in and "rescue" him or the situation.  It's not real life sadly.  It's not the way the world will work when he gets out in it.

But it can and does still break me.  It moves me to tears many times.  I think that sometimes David doesn't really notice.  He just busies himself playing inside with his medical books and items.  Reading about science, looking at maps.  Usually if he does wander outside to find his brother, he'll end up playing but usually it is short lived and he comes back in tears, not realizing some of those qualities that can be endearing to a mother's heart can be annoying or frustrating to the average person. 

More often than not, he'll venture outside, generally after everyone else goes inside.  That way he can play and ride his bike alone.
Now, granted he does prefer to play alone mostly.  He always has.  I just wish on those occasions he did play with others, it could be a more positive experience all around.  And I know as he grows and learns more coping skills he will be able to face that social awkwardness that often accompanies those on the spectrum.
But in the meantime, it can be tough.
I've even quit having "all out birthday parties" because the turn out for him is not always good.  I remember one year, sending out tons of invites, like 30+.  I think I had 2 people show up.  Now I understand people have plans, and birthday parties can be frankly, boring.  But year after year it can sad.  Watching people come to his brother's parties, but not his. 
So we've opted for fun family things.  The good news is, he is fine with that too!  And we end up having a great time. 

What I do love as a parent is that I HAVE connected with some other wonderful parents who have special needs children as well.  Those are the people I can really bond with.  The people who "get" it.  And that has helped tremendously, because they truly understand. 

So while other children may not knock on the door, David still has a wonderful support system from his family and from those who are walking very similar journeys.  And for that, I am truly thankful!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

How do you pick a leader?

This morning at Palm Sunday Service, I learned something old, that was like learning something new! Yes that can happen. You can hear something a thousand times, yet it may not "click" until one day when...
I will say in today's societal climate, this can true whether we share the same faith or not. At one point in the reading from the Christian Holy Scriptures, a few that were followers of Jesus wanted to resort to violence to silence His [Jesus] protesters. In the blink of an eye, one cut off the ear of a protester.
Jesus told them that it would stop RIGHT NOW! Basically that he'd have none of that, that it wasn't the way to spread his His message essentially.
And then Jesus did something even more amazing. He HEALED this protester. An ear restored. It would be interesting to know more on the story of the protestor, what became of him. But we don't know.
What we do know and what we learned in that instant is that the mark of GREAT and CARING leader is one of leading by example. One that stands up even for those that protest or don't agree. He set a new precedence that all leaders could learn from, even in today' time.
From a supervisor at work, to a teacher, to leaders or future leaders of towns, cities, states, countries, nations, a leader does not invoke nor condone violence to further rifts between them and those that may not like them or protest against them.
A true leader reaches out, attempts to find a common ground, maybe even leaves their peaceful mark on the protestor [in whatever form that would be.]
I would say one thing. If a leader resorts to making people feel less than worthy, allows people to be hurt while standing by, who perhaps hurt people themselves whether with word or deed, then they are not the leader to follow.
Look for the leader [in anything] that reaches out to those others would like to shun or shut up! Look for the leader that would rather get their message across via love and peace than hate and violence.
And above all, especially if we do share the same faith, we should be premium examples of this.
A 2000+ year old lesson, even more relevant today!

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Sound of Music!

[ David, Dec. 2009, 3 years old ]

Lately [and by lately I mean months, and months, and months, and...well you get the picture], David has been singing Opera.  His whole life is in Opera style right now. 
If he needs to brush his teeth.
It's act one of the morning Opera!
Take a bath?
Closing act..."BAAATTHH TIMMMEEE!!!!" 
Do homework? 
Okay maybe he doesn't sing then, he just grumbles like an old man.

And as much as it can get on my ever loving nerves, a part of me is so thankful that he does it!  Even at 6am!

Christmas Season 2009. 
This year will forever stand out to me.  Now I adore Christmas.  It's my favorite holiday, so every year is stands out.  However this one?  This one is when everything changed. 
David sang for the first time! 

Now I know what you are thinking.  Okay, kids sing, so what made this one special? 
It was special because honestly, I never thought he'd sing.  I never even thought he's really talk, let alone make music!]
On the language front, another sign that I notice was David's lack of language development. 

Around 6 months or so he did say mama.  I was happy!  He said it a few times and of course we always prompted ;)  Around 9 months, he stopped saying mama, and added no other words.  I talked to him, I named things, pointed things out, read to him.  But nothing. 
He turned a year and still wasn't speaking.  He made sounds.  But nothing recognizable.  When I would express my concern I would just get the ole' "Oh he's a boy, they just develop latter.  Don't worry about it."

I tried to follow that, but I knew.  I just knew!  Something wasn't right.  He didn't even point like most typically developing children would, for something he wanted. 
He would get so frustrated instead and I had no idea what he wanted.  I would show him different things, saying their names, until I finally found what he wanted or needed.

The months rolled on and he picked up a few words here and there.  Juice, eat, out.  But nothing more.  Not even the beginning simple 2 word sentences by 2 years old. 
He becoming increasingly frustrated himself and would act out aggressively.  Finally at 2.5 years old after getting no where in expressing my concerns a friend and teacher told me about Early Steps.  A free program that helps children under the age of three with developmental delays.

It was a God send.  They came to us!  Came to our house, did all the assessments, worked with him for several months and at last he was officially labeled as developmentally delayed in language and social/emotional.  
It was through Early Steps that he began attending a special needs school, where he is back at currently [Our Children's Academy in Lake Wales]. 
He began school in August 2009. 
Going in with about 30 words, I wasn't hopeful he'd talk honestly.  AND, it was so hard to "let him go". 
I was that helicopter parent back then and it took me a long time to finally step back and let him grow. 
He began to flourish!  More and more words came, even simple 2 or 3 word sentences, with in the first few months.  I was amazed, humbled, and thankful!  To hear him say "mommy love you", "daddy play".  Wow!  Amazing.

I still have never heard him sing though.  We played lots of music at home and I know they did at school too [and in all honesty, he probably sang some at school!].  But I didn't know.
So here comes Christmas.  I remember my mom was sitting on the sofa with him singing Jingle Bells.
And what did I hear?
David singing for the first time!!! 
That was the best version of Jingle Bells I had ever heard!

Now, he sings a lot.  He's truly his mother's son because he does love Christmas music too.  I love to hear him sing Christmas carols.  He's become more and more fond of them since that time. 
Not only that, he loves to listen to music.  He's developed a taste for classical styles [again like his mom].
He loves to learn about instruments! 

The sound of music.  That's what fills our house now.  That's what fills my heart!  The sound of music from a child who continues to amaze me with something new everyday! 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Autism, food battles, & fish sticks!

It is no secret that children with autism quite often struggle with food.  Look, smells, texture, taste, all play a part.  Their scope of what they will eat can be small and concentrated in one group.  Pastas, sweets, salty, etc.
Food is an area where I started noticing that David had struggles from an early age.  With purees, I offered a wide variety of foods and often, since it takes an average of 15 times for an infant to acquire a taste of something.
No matter how many times over the course of about 10 months in the puree stage, he never would get used to vegetables most fruits, and meats.
Mainly he loved oatmeal, applesauce, peaches, and macaroni and cheese purees. 
It was incredibly frustrating.  When I tried introducing more textured food as he matured, he HATED them.  He gagged on most things that infants and toddlers love.  Those puffs?  Not so much!  Little crackers.  No way!  He did love the cheese puff like Gerber Graduates.  He would eat those.  And Cheerios.  He finally got a taste for dry cereal and he loved that.  Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Fruit Loops [he loved the Cascadian Farms brand].

Now most children adore spaghetti, or so it seems.  The day I introduced him to it cut up very small, he gagged and gagged and finally refused.  I kept offering it over the course of the next month.  Same reaction.  Anytime we had spaghetti over the coming months and years, same reaction.  He just couldn't and didn't do it or want it.
He was a good 15/16 months before he would even eat any foods with texture and by foods I mean mainly macaroni and cheese.  And even then, it was just the boxed kind.  He hated the creamy kind you make, the kind you buy, the kind you get at restaurants.  He hated the kind that was anything but the small elbow macaroni with the powdered cheese packs. 
As the months went on, we found he did like some other soft textured foods like bread [but heaven forbid a crust was on there!], pancakes and waffles, and Alfredo!  Basically soft foods.  He would occasionally get a happy meal and rarely eat all the fries, but he loved the nuggets.  A plus!  He ate a meat!

At 2 years old I gave him some peanut butter and he fell in love with that.  He loved PB&Js.  So our scope had grown to PB&Js, cereals, pastas, chips, and gummies. 
As always we offered, had him try bites at each meal, all met with gags, smelling, inspecting, and refusing. 

I admit, it was hard sometimes.  Especially because at this point we knew something was up, but were not exactly sure what.  Later around 3 years old we would discover first, that he had Sensory Integration Disorder.  This explained so much about his eating habits.  The therapists that worked with him really educated me and I finally understood.

While I continued to offer a wide variety of foods, I didn't worry so much.  I was okay with what he ate.  At least he was eating. 
He is 9 years old now and his horizons are broadening!  He now eats quite a bit. 
Fruits: cantaloupe, watermelon, apples [minus the peels], peaches, grapes.
He LOVES spaghetti now.  But not with meat sauce.  He mainly still likes only chicken and lunch meat like ham and turkey. 
He'll eat meatloaf if he has ketchup.  He's gotten to were he will eat a half of hamburger now, minus the cheese.
He likes black beans and refried beans.  He likes the chicken and rice combo I make with cream of chicken soup. 
He'll eat sausage gravy [no biscuits]

A few days ago I decided to get fish sticks.  He's never like fish when we've made it.  Then I remembered when I was young, my mom always made fish sticks and mac-n-cheese. 
Because he loves mac-n-cheese I thought I'd try to throw the fish sticks into the dinner just to see.  I didn't have high hopes.
He ate 2!  TWO!!  I was overjoyed. 
Now, if you haven't figured it out, I'm not really all that "crunchy"  [I used to be], I'm not overly worried about every thing being natural or whole.  I'm just glad he eats!
So finding another food he liked was a battle won! 
We actually are not a seafood kind of family.  Every so often I'll make talapia.  But he's never eaten it!

 It's nice to look back in retrospect and see the progress.  When you're in the moment, the day to day grind, you can often ask "why am I even doing this?"
As much as I asked that so many times, I still would have him try a bit.  I only ask for one bite. 
There were times, like the day he finally did start liking spaghetti, were we sat at the table for 30 minutes.  I calmly told him he needed to try one bite.  He cried and cried, sat there and refused, then finally tried a bite. 
He then exclaimed "Mom, I LOVE it!!!!!"
This was just 2 years ago!  It took him a good 5 years of being exposed over and over and over, to end up loving it.  Battle won!

If there any parents out there struggling with the same thing.  Don't give up.  I can't promise they will ever like something.  But keep exposing them!  Keep showing them.  Have them touch it.  Let them play with it [it's just food and will wash off].
Maybe one day they will like something new! 
Don't give up!  Don't give up!!!!