Help! My Friend has a Child with Special Needs!

There are so many rants and articles and blogs floating around today with a title like, ’20 things never to say to a new mother/single dad/parent of a large family/pitbull owner/diabetic/vaxxer/anti-vaxxer/breastfeeding mother… etc etc etc.’ And let me tell you, some of those are utterly warrented. Sometimes, especially on the internet, we engage our mouth (or keyboard) before we engage our brain. Or, to quote my dear, sweet grandmother, “That man just opens his mouth and stupid falls out!” 

Sometimes I open my mouth, and stupid falls out. Once I was introduced to a little girl and a dog at the same time. Their names were Savannah and Winter. I later addressed the little girl as Savannah… and much to my chagrin, discovered that was actually the dog’s name. (I’m all for unusual names, but c’mon, make it easy on the rest of us and give your dog a dog name. I would never have assumed the little girl’s name was “Fluffy”)

So we all have these verbal glitches, but one of the hardest things is when someone is in a situation that you yourself have never experienced. And I’m struck by the need for some friendly guidance because of the vast amount of misinformation there is on the internet and elsewhere about my child’s medical condition, so although some of these my be diabetes-specific, they really apply to any parent with a child needing above-average care. 

Don’t say: “What did you do to cause it?” or even worse, “You obviously caused it by doing ______.” 

Instead, if you must comment on cause, ask: “Do the doctors know why?”

Reason: We live, breathe, and sleep our child’s needs. It’s a 24/7 deal. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to tell somebody what’s going on. It’s NEVER nice to be blamed or guilted. Trust me, we’ve already been through anything we could have done differently in our head. 

Don’t say: “I couldn’t deal with that.”

Instead, say: “That must be so hard. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Reason: Well, duh, it’s hard. But if I don’t deal with it, (in my case, giving daily injections and/or glucose checks) my child dies. Don’t tell me you couldn’t, because if it was your kid, you would soldier through, just like me. 

Don’t say: “Your normal kids…”

There’s no “instead”. Just don’t. Seriously, my four-year-old has better manners than that. 

Don’t ask: “Can he/she do ______?”

Instead, ask: “Is there anything today that he/she shouldn’t participate in?”

Reason: We’re a little touchy about our kids. If we think someone is putting limits on them, we can get very defensive, very fast. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. We’ll try to let you know if there’s something they need to sit out, but more than anything, we and they just want to be normal. 

If you are comfortable with it, uask if the parent would like a break sometime. Offer to learn enough about the care to babysit for an hour or so. 

Offer to get together, and come to them. Especially with toddlers, disrupting the routine is even more explosive when there are higher needs involved. (Bonus points: Bring coffee)

Listen. Sometimes we are going to sound like a broken record. Sometimes that’s what our life feels like. 

Remember: They’re just kids. They need the same amount of love, respect, nurturing, and dicipline that other kids do, they just need a little more, besides. I’m not a better parent, or a worse parent, because my child needs little more attention. It just means I need a little more coffee. 

Adventures in Bathtime

I don’t know about you, maybe yours is the kind of house where bathtime is a calming experience, the end of the day when little whirlwinds finally sit still for 10 minutes and you can sit still, too. Maybe yours is the kind of house where you put a few drops of lavender oil in the bath and the little angels settle right down in preparation for bedtime.

Mine isn’t.

First off, I can’t bathe my kids at the same time anymore, because as soon as I turn my attention to one, the other is either dumping water onto the floor or taking a bite out of the soap. 

Seriously. She ate the soap. Twice.

So what I have to do is strip and wash one before the other one realizes what’s going on, then power-dry and hope to goodness that the first one actually gets dressed like they’ve been told while I speed-wash the second one. 

Even back when I would bathe them at the same time, though, it went something like this:  
Bath is over and the water has all been sucked down the drain, much to the chagrin of my littles, and I take the Princess out of the tub, dry her off, and put a diaper on her. Then I send her into her room to find her pjs. 
Big brother is a little more adamant about staying in and shivering in the now-empty tub, so it takes a little longer to wrangle him out. Finally I’m victorious, and I proceed to dry him with what you would think was sandpaper from the howls. Pause here, and chase a squealing, buck-naked baby down the hallway. 
Finally, I get her wrestled back into her diaper, and come back to Brother, who by this time is busily caking $10-per-ounce, organic diaper cream all over his little boy parts.
I kneel down to wipe his hands, and other things, when he announces, “I went potty.” 
“Where?” 
“Right there.” and he points… right where I’m kneeling. Now the warm wetness is soaking through my favorite jeans. So much for going all day without having to change my clothes. 
I sigh, wipe him off, and put a pull-up on him. Just then, the nudist appears again, and off I run to diaper her for the third time in 10 minutes. For good measure, I find her pajamas (stuffed in between the couch cushions) and proceed to dress the little darling. Have you ever tried to dress an octopus that is still a little bit soapy? Let me tell you, Two-year-old dressing should be an Olympic sport. 

About this time, Daddy comes home. 

Remember, one child is still basically naked, one is wailing that I put the wrong pajamas on her (“I WANT THE CINDERELLY ONES!”) and there is water all over the bathroom and teeth marks in the soap. 

The man takes one look that encompasses the chaos, disheveled wife with cold urine seeping down the front of her pants, offspring in various states of undress, since Princess has decided to change her pj’s without consulting me, and house that looks like it saw a civil war, and without missing a beat he says, 

“Do you have any wine left?”

“Yes, why?”

“Oh, good. I was prepared to go back to town and get some, but I guess I don’t have to. Let’s get these kids in bed.”  

The Possibility of Polite Preschoolers

Recently my husband and I took our kids, ages 2 and 3, to lunch at a friend’s house. My children sat politely at the table, asked for what they wanted, thanked the host and hostess, and asked to be excused when they were finished. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not always like that. Sometimes they are holy terrors and I wonder what kind of precocious imps I’m raising, but on this occasion, as on many such, they behaved almost exactly the way I expected them to. 
People are frequently surprised at how polite my preschoolers are, and frankly, I’m surprised at their surprise. It really isn’t difficult to raise polite kids, it just takes a lot of determination. So here are my top tips for raising polite preschoolers:

#1: Let them know what’s expected

Kids need to know what you expect of them. Knowing their boundaries makes kids feel secure and loved. Pushing those boundaries is their way of asking how much you love them, and giving them the structure that they crave is one of the best things a parent can do. Make sure the rules are clear and simple, and the consequences of breaking them are the same each time. 

Johnny, you know that we don’t throw food on the floor. You also know that the consequence for throwing food is leaving the table, so you may be excused, now. 

(Remember, if they leave hungry once, they will probably remember it and decide it’s not worth it, next time.)

#2: Be consistent

Just as they need to know what is expected, they need to know that it is always expected. My kids, even at their young ages, know that it is always expected that they ask to be excused before leaving the table. They also know that if they don’t, I will always make them come all the way back and sit correctly in their chair and ask politely before excusing them, whether we are at home or not. 

#3: Insist they be polite and respectful

This used to be a no-brainer. Children spoke politely and respectfully to adults, and ideally, to each other. When my children are spoken to by an adult, any adult, if I’m with them they are required to answer. (Yes, we have had the ‘stranger danger’ talk, and they know that is a different situation.) We do not permit our children to hide or ignore adults when they are asked a question. I once watched a child ignore a (very resonable) request by an adult caregiver and hide her face in Mom’s leg, and to my shock, Mom excused the behavior instead of correcting it. Unfortunately, in this situation, Mom just set herself and this caregiver up to fail, because now the child thinks she can get away with rudeness and disobedience to adults and Mom doesn’t care. 
When we walk into church or the grocery store and our children are asked, “How are you, today?” they know they are supposed to answer, “Fine, thank you” if they can’t think of anything else. If they utterly refuse to be polite, they are removed from the situation, receive a reprimand or a time-out, and then are returned to the adult to try again. Don’t ever, ever let it slide.

I know that all these things are exhausting. I know that there are going to be times when we Just. Don’t. Feel. Like. It. But we’re raising little humans and it is so worth it to make them polite, productive members of society, and it absolutely must start when they are tiny, malleable humans instead of stubborn, teenage humans. 

The Million-Dollar Question

I just had one of the hardest conversations of my life. I would say it ranked somewhere between “Honey, I lost my job” and “Your grandfather is dying of cancer.” 

We have some of our best conversations in the car, and even as young as my kids are, sometimes they get a little deep. Today we were driving home from the doctor’s office and my 3-year-old was examining the green medical alert bracelet on his wrist. His little brow was scrunched up, and I could tell he was thinking hard. 

“Mommy, why do I have Diabetes?” 

Once, in elementary school, I fell backward off a barrel, landing flat on my back and knocking the wind out of me well and proper. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, all I could do was gasp for air that was just out of reach. The pain of having all the air forced out of my lungs terrified me, and as soon as I could breathe, I started to sob. Not so much from the pain, but from the fear. I’m not talking about delicate little whimpers, either. I’m talking about full-on sobs, to the point that I couldn’t look the freckle-faced neighbor boy (who had won the “king of the hill” battle) in the face for weeks afterward. 

That breathless feeling, those terrified sobs, that “sucker punched” feeling, they all welled up inside me when I heard that sweet little voice ask that impossible question. 

Because there is no real answer.

There’s no “why” to Type 1 Diabetes, at least not that anyone has found. It’s all “we think” and “perhaps” and “we often see” and “there are studies that indicate,” but there are no real facts, other than that his body suddenly decided to attack his pancreas, destroying its ability to make insulin.  (No, I did not feed my child too many pancakes and candy bars. That’s the other kind of Diabetes, which is not an auto-immune disoder)

So how do you explain to a three-year-old that the God who made him, who supposedly loves him and “ordained his days before he was born”, allowed him to get a disease that has no reason, has no cure, and has no end? That requires him to get poked and tested, puts him at risk for all manner of complications, and, at the very least, requires him to wear an insulin pump for the rest of his life? 

Somehow, I stammered out a shamefaced answer. Something full of lame platitudes and encouraging smiles and half-hearted assurances of Jesus’ love and protection. Not that I don’t believe those things, because I do. Not that I don’t think he should, because they’re true. But somehow, in the face of the child that I have to stick and poke and squeeze blood drops out of and attach tubes to, they just seemed to fall short and I was left feeling like I had failed to give an acceptable answer.

What do you do when there IS no answer?  

I know this isn’t a normal, feel-good, fluff post. But it IS reality. I don’t write all this so that you pity him, or me, pity never helped anyone. But I know that my son asked a question today that I didn’t have an answer for. I know there are bigger and more difficult questions, I know the world has bigger problems than one little boy without a working pancreas. I know that my readers have been asked impossible questions. I don’t have answers, but I do know this: 

Parenting is flippin’ hard, and we’re doing our best. Sometimes that’s just all that matters. 

Family Pressure

As the baby explosion on my Facebook feed reaches epidemic proportions, I can’t help but wonder what was going on nine months ago. Then I remember the unexpected January/February snowstorms we had and, like a teenage boy, I have to snicker to myself a little. 
But all these newborn pictures make me a little reminicent, they make me sniffle a little at how big my own babies are getting. 
Then I think about those first few months, and I smile to myself because this summer my baby stopped wearing diapers. We also took our first vacation without baby gates, pack ‘n plays, sippy cups, or enough baby wipes to pave I-5. Hubby was so amazed at how “empty” the truck was, he thought I had forgotten something. 
Some days I wonder if the kids are to the point where it would be easier to have another baby. I think they lull me into complacency to make the ambush all that more memorable. Maybe they’ve been taking pointers from Honest Toddler, because yesterday they definitely did all they could to prevent ISD: Infant Sibling Disease. In fact, instead of considering a new baby, now I’m considering finding a new grocery store. Maybe in a different town. 
I guess I carry a little bit of guilt because, having four siblings myself and being surrounded by large families all my life, I feel like maybe I copped out a little bit by only having two kids. Like maybe I took the easier, “fewer blessings” route. I know multiple people who have “Duggar-esque” experiences and viewpoints, and maybe I feel a little bit inadequate and, dare I say, shallow for only having two kids to pick up from Sunday School, only two carseats, only two booster seats at the table. In short, I think I feel like I cheated by stopping at as many kids as I have arms, or even by stopping before my OB told me I had to. And I have to wonder how many others from large families and/or conservative backgrounds carry that kind of guilt? Or maybe it’s just me. But I think that there is a lot of societal pressure to have a certain type of family, and the pressure to have a large family can be as overwhelming as the pressure to have a small one. 
Perhaps the lesson here is just to feel comfortable in my own skin, or family, because there’s always going to be someone with different ideas and their opinions can’t dictate how I view my kids, family, marriage, or decisions. Whether I’m actually being judged or not is unimportant, because no one is responsible for my kids or marriage except me (and Hubby, of course, but hopefully those decisions are made jointly). 
Guilt is a powerful motivator, but self-confidence is better. So if you’re feeling pressure to have more kids (or kids, period) use my three-step plan for instant family satisfaction:  

Step 1: Recognize my misplaced guilt
Step 2: Let go of the expectations I feel others put on me (founded or unfounded)
Step 3: Enjoy my family exactly the way it is, embarrassing grocery store incidents not-withstanding

Recharge Challenge

Remember how I talked about having nice nails a while back? Or rather, not having nice nails? Well, after talking to Hubby about it, I decided to find a style and salon that worked for me, and keep fake nails.
Let me be clear, I view well-kept-up false nails as an extravagance, and we do not live extravagantly. That said, though, I’m learning that if I completely ignore my own needs I end up frustrated, irritable, and absolutely no fun to be around. On the flip side, just a simple thing like nice nails that don’t break or chip has made such a big difference in the way I feel about myself, I’m more relaxed, which makes me a better mom and wife.
It’s so easy to get burnt out in what we do, especially if we do the same thing over and over again, both individually and as a couple. Finding something to treat ourselves to can be the best way to break up the monotony of the daily grind. For me, I take an hour and a half every few weeks and get pretty nails. That break from the kids, and boost to my appearance is exactly what I need to recharge and reenter the fray with renewed endurance.

So here’s the challenge I have for you:

Find something that you can do for yourself that will help you be more refreshed and ready to fulfill the job God has you in right this minute. And I know some of you are saying, “Well you won’t catch me wasting money on vanity like false nails!” Awesome! If you don’t think there’s merit in it, find something that does have merit. Take a class, get a hobby, commit to reading one book a month, whatever it is that recharges you, do it! Take into account your budget, your childcare needs, and your spouse and their feelings. Perhaps you can ask your spouse for ideas, maybe there’s something you could do together, like joining a gym. I’m an introvert and I spend 90% of my time doing things for and/or with my family (not a complaint, just a statement of fact) so I needed something that I can do by myself. Maybe you need something you can do with your family. Whatever it is, find it and commit to it! Trust me, you won’t be sorry. image

Einstein and Fairytales

Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” So this weekend when we went camping, I decided that the best way to get the kids to fall asleep would be to tell them stories, on the condition that their eyes were closed. So long as the eyes were closed, I would keep talking. I started with Alice in Wonderland.

That. Man. Was. On. Shrooms.

That got me thinking, we make our kids watch stuff like PBS shows because we want the morals and the skills in the stories to rub off on them, right? My two-year-old sings, “When you have to go potty, STOP! And go right away!” (Daniel Tiger did more potty training at my house than I did.)
So why do we read them stuff like “Peter Pan” and “Hansel and Gretel”? Do you know what happens in the Brothers Grimm version of “The Princess and the Frog”? I’ll give you a hint: she doesn’t kiss the frog. Those guys were seriously morbid. And maybe a little sexist. And Hans Christian Anderson, how about that guy? The little mermaid does NOT marry the prince she’s in love with… she turns into SEA FOAM AND DISAPPEARS! How very…. anticlimactic.

So now I’m thinking, “I don’t want my kids reading this trash, it will taint their minds forever and they will think there are no easy answers to life’s problems. They might even begin to think that wishing on a star doesn’t get them what they want. I’d better let them watch SpongeBob instead. That will keep their childlike innocence intact.”

I want to protect my kids from ugliness. I want to make sure that they don’t have to deal with scary, bad things until they have to. Until they’re old enough to comprehend it.
But I also want them to think for themselves, I want them to stand on their own feet, I want them to rely on themselves and each other, and I never, ever, ever want them to take what they have or what they want for granted. I want them to work for what they get, and be grateful for it. I want them to understand that there are people out there that don’t have their best interests at heart and yes, some of those people might be someone you’re supposed to trust, like a teacher or a policeman or a pastor. Or a stepparent, like Hansel and Gretel’s. Or a friend, like Peter Pan.
Hmmm.

So now I’m thinking that maybe Einstein had a point (go figure) and fairytales are just what my littles need to open their mind to the possibilities, in a non-traumatizing way. Maybe reading Aesop’s Fables is a better way to make them cautious than drilling them about what to do if someone says “Don’t tell your mommy.” (Yes, we do that, too)

I still don’t think it was necessary to throw the poor enchanted frog across the room, though.

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The Sound of Ultimate Suffering

A peircing scream wafts down the hallway in the half-light of the pre-coffee haze. 

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All she’s supposed to be doing is putting clothes on. Brother is in here, it’s not a repeat of the WWE incident last night. Maybe her head is stuck in the dresser again. 

I run down the hallway and burst into the playroom, only to be greeted by the sight of my daughter, standing in the middle of the room wearing a pink peasant top and Buzz Lightyear underwear, wailing like her little heart will break. 

No visible injuries. Not stuck in anything. Shirt fits fine. What the bleep? I need coffee.

“What’s wrong, Baby Girl?” 

(Deep breath) “Dis dress is not beeeyutiful!”

My turn for a deep breath. Ok, physically fine, emotionally fragile. Confidence boosting moment. C’mon, Mom, do your stuff. Make sure she doesn’t inherit your body image issues. 

“Sweetie, this is a shirt, not a dress, (Bad start! Bad start! Aack!) you need some pants with it.”

“Sniff! Ok.”

Really? That’s all I had to say? Better address the beauty issue, quick before she forgets!

“I think your shirt is very nice, but you know what makes it beautiful? The beautiful little girl inside it!”

(Big smile) “Ok, Mommy. Can I go play, now?”

Whew! Wow. That was… not completely botched. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this, after all. 

Precautionary Parenting

Here’s the problem with trusting your instincts and being right about a worst-case scenario: 

You’re paranoid for the rest of your life. 

I was right last July when I insisted there was something seriously wrong with my son, even though the doctor told me it was just a virus. I pushed, saw another doctor, and was right. All the nurses at the children’s hospital were amazed that he wasn’t more sick, because normally with toddlers that develop type 1 Diabetes, they are very sick when they are admitted. My friend’s 8-year-old was in a coma. Maybe that’s because some lazy doctors tell mothers that it’s a virus and dissuade them from checking blood sugar, but what do I know? I’m just a mom. 

Here’s the point of my bitter little tirade: Now I’m paranoid. 

I gave my kids beets with their snack the other day, knowing what could happen, but when my three-year-old pointed and laughed at the pink water in the toilet, I freaked and took him to Urgent Care, terrified he had a kidney infection. 
He didn’t. 
He had beets. 
I had egg on my face. 

As I was driving the 40 minutes home that night, I went over and over in my head how I was going to justify this trip to my husband. I told him in that imaginary conversation that if something was actually wrong and I ignored my instincts, I would never be able to live with myself. I was angry at him for being angry at me in this imaginary conversation. I didn’t need to justify myself, I’m a mom! I do what I think is best for my kids, to avoid those worst-case scenarios. In my mind, I let him have it for judging me and my cautious parenting. 
When I got home, I put our son to bed, and cried on my husband’s shoulder. He gently told me everything that I had been ready to say in my defense on the way home. He told me he was glad I had gone, and that I would be able to sleep that night because I had listened to my instincts. He told me that I was a good mom, and he was glad I was taking such good care of our kids. 

Yes, I’m paranoid. Yes, I overreact sometimes. Yes, I will continue to do so. 

But I will not apologize for it. I won’t write one of those “I refuse to shelter my kids” blogs. I won’t feel bad about it. Here’s why:
If I make 10 trips to Urgent Care, and 9 of them are nothing, they are still justified by the 10th. I’m not going to live my life in fear of something happening, but I’m not going to ignore my instincts for fear of overreacting, either. 
I’m a mom. It’s in my job description. 

Personality Differences

Yesterday I took my kids to Target to pick up new shoes to complete the flowergirl ensemble for my sister’s wedding. They are gold and sparkly and all the way through the store, said flowergirl giggled and told everyone who would listen that she got new ‘parkly shoes. 
On the way home we stopped at the local grocery store, where she skipped through the store, holding my hand and saying ‘hi’ to everyone in earshot, and begging for bananas and avacados.
At one point she let out a Tarzan yell and tried to swing from my arm through the deli section, much to my mortification. Every day is a new adventure, every stranger, a new friend. 
Big brother, on the other hand, had a very different experience. He was perturbed when the shoes we wanted didn’t come in the right size, and hesitant about getting different ones. Walking into the grocery store, he was so focused on getting a handheld basket instead of a cart like normal, that he ran straight into a chip display. Then as we gathered our items he carefully checked off the list in his head from things I had told him we were low on. “Mom, we need eggs. And we need cheese, and lemonade.” This shopping trip was serious business for him. Just the facts, Ma’am. Structure and schedules. Consistency gives him comfort. 
Their love languages are just as different. My son has the same love languages that I do: Physical touch and words of encouragement. His favorite question is, “Do you need cuddles?” My daughter is young, yet, but she seems to value quality time and acts of service (just like Daddy). Her new sentence is, “What a nice Mommy!” (her version of ‘thank you’) 
With so many differences in such a compact age gap (only 17 months between them!) they provide some unique challenges for teaching, discipline, and emotional needs. Sometimes I feel like it’s not “fair” for there to be different rules/consequences for each kid, but when I look around me at the parents I know, the most successful are those who don’t try to apply the same rules the same way to different kids. I think my daughter is going to be more of a challenge since she is so different from me, she’s going to re-teach me everything I know about parenting. 
What’s your biggest personality challenge with your kids? How do you deal with it?

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