Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Have a Child with Down Syndrome, Will Travel

Last week, I took the munchkin to Mexico.  It wasn't her first trip there.  I've had a few comments since then that range from "Wow!  You're brave!" to "I could never do that with my kid" to "You must be crazy!"  Let me address those.  I am definitely a little crazy and maybe brave.  And, in my opinion, you can do that with your kid and you should!  (I obviously don't know every single family dynamic or child but I think the vast majority of kids (special needs or not) should be traveling or at least getting out of their comfort zone.)  

In Sara's first 18 months home, she had been in 18 states. She's added at least two new ones since then.  I don't say that to brag.  I say that because traveling is obviously something I enjoy.  I was worried that she would change that but she really hasn't.  She loves to fly and is a road trip warrior.  Obviously that makes it easier to travel with her.  She's seen both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  She's been in more airports than I can count.  She's been to Mexico 3 times.  If I want to go, we go.

Now, is traveling with her easy?  No.  Does she always enjoy it?  No.  She's not a big fan of Mexico.  It triggers things in her that are hard for her to deal with.  But she's getting better!!!  It took her until Wednesday this time to start asking when she'd go home.  Do the positives outweigh the negatives?  Absolutely.  

1.   She gets out of her comfort zone.  Sara is perfectly happy to stay home, eat goldfish crackers, and watch her ipad.  Forever.  While this is fine on an occasional Saturday, she needs to experience more in life.

2.  If I don't get her used to traveling now, I'll never be able to travel again.  I'm a single mom.  It's just the two of us.  If I ever want to travel again, I need to train my travel partner when she's young.  Not when she's 18 or 28 and "mature enough to handle it."  By then, she'll be permanently planted in front of Disney Junior and I'll never get her out of the house.

3.  She's learning that mommy is a constant no matter where she goes.  When a child has moved around a lot, they need to learn that home is the person and not the place.  She needs to be attached to me and not her things or her space.  Mommy travels with you and always stays with you.

4.  Life experiences.  Kids (and adults) can learn more from life experiences than they ever can in a classroom or from a book (so says this teacher)!  Give your kids life experiences---even if they may be a little uncomfortable at first.

5.  Especially in international travel, you have the chance for others to see that having a disability is ok and that a child with Down syndrome can be part of a family.  It seems to so simple to us but it's not in so many parts of the world.  We encountered kids who were both kind and cruel to Sara.  It's hard to watch but it's educating people who just don't see kids with special needs around them.

1.  Sara tends to wet her pants when she gets overwhelmed and frustrated.  It's not the worst behavior ever but it takes some extra planning on my part.  I have to have lots of extra clothes on me at all times.  And I end up with a suitcase full of nasty dirty clothes.  But it is what it is.  She does it at home sometimes as well.

2.  It's exhausting.  Three days later and I'm still exhausted.  I got up, put Sara on the bus and went back to bed for two hours.  Managing all of her needs while adjusting to time changes and just being on the go for a week is tiring.  There's no way around it.

3.  It can be hard to keep up the pace of the rest of the group.  You may have to miss out on certain activities because it's just too much.  It's ok to take an afternoon and nap or swim or chill in your hotel room.  Just make sure you aren't doing that the whole time!

4.  Your child may not be welcomed or accepted every where you go.  It's hard to experience but it's true, especially if you travel internationally.  People may point or stare or ask awkward questions.  Try your best not to take it personally or to go on the offensive.  Lots of people just don't know any better.  (It hurts.  It just does.  Try to wait until after your child is in bed for the night to cry about it.)  Just to be clear, the number of kind, welcoming, accepting people has far outweighed the ignorant, unkind ones in our travels.  But those negative interactions tend to stick in my head.    


1.  Travel with people who know and love your child.  I fly alone with Sara but we are always meeting people on the other end that love and adore her (and me).  I'm sure that there are people who take trips with their child alone.  I'm just not one of them.  Having support of friends and family that love us is invaluable to me.  It keeps me sane when things get tough.  It's nice to know that at least one person will hang back with you when you fall behind the group or wait for you while she goes to the bathroom for the millionth time or bring you breakfast in the airport when you haven't slept all night.

2.  Know that it will be hard.  Vacations are no longer relaxing for me.  I used to listen to music and read on the plane.  And on the beach.  Now I'm making sure she has everything she needs and giving her my phone to keep her happy.  I'm squishing into little plane bathrooms (because she loves them) and swimming in the ocean.  It's not about me.  It's about her having experiences and being happy.  I know that going in.

3.  Plan things that are both in and out of your child's comfort zone.  I'm all for Sara experiencing new things but I also know she needs some time in her comfort zone.  For example, instead of tacos every night, I made sure we went to a restaurant where she could get a hot dog.  She needs some familiar in her unfamiliar.  (Don't we all?)

4.  Start when they are little.  Start when they are smaller and portable.  Get them used to traveling early.  It will only get harder as they are older.

5.  Be prepared for the negative behavior.  Expect it.  We were gone for 8 days.  I took 12 pairs of shorts and underwear for her.  (It was still not enough. Ugh.)  I knew she would have at least one major meltdown.  I usually still take her stroller and her noise cancelling headphones.  I fly with a HUGE backpack of everything she could possibly need.  I try to be prepared for every possibility.  (I was not prepared for the headphones to break on the first day.)  

6.  Schedule some down time when you get home.  When it was just me, I used to fly on a Sunday night and work on Monday morning.  (Or sometimes fly on Monday morning and go straight to work.)  I don't do that anymore.  I know that we will both need some recovery time after a trip.  Some down time in our comfort zones.

I don't have all the answers and I don't get everything right.  I just believe that if you ever want to be able to travel with your child, you should start young.  Go to the places you want them to experience.  And then buckle up because it will be a bumpy ride but so worth it!

This group was so helpful to me last week.  
If you want to see more about our trip, you can check out our Facebook page.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Sometimes Stressed, Always Blessed #MomLife - Guest Post

Here is a guest blogger post that I wrote for I Am Savannah Grace.  Make sure you check out her shop and her facebook page.  I promise you'll be inspired.  

When my sweet friend asked if I would guest post for her about the topic of Sometimes Stressed, Always Blessed #MomLife, I had to laugh.  It was the first day of spring break for my daughter and I.  (Gotta love teacher life!)  We were supposed to be traveling to visit a dear friend but I had strep and my daughter had a sinus infection.  Rather than share our germs, I cancelled our much-needed trip and decided to stay-cation for spring break.  I was definitely feeling Sometimes Stressed in that moment.

Four years ago, I was a single, 30-something teacher with a great life.  I owned a home.  I had lots of vacations. (Yay for summers off!)   And, best of all, I had enough disposable income to do some fun things with those vacations.  My life was mine.  If I wanted to go out to dinner, I did.  If I wanted to go to the movies, I called a friend and went.  If I wanted to go halfway across the country to visit a friend, I picked a date and went.  I was Sometimes Stressed with work but my life was good.

Except I was missing one thing.  I really wanted to be living the #MomLife  With no marriage prospects in sight and a passion for the plight of orphans, I decided to adopt.  Once I made thAT decision, I jumped right in.  I started the process and my beautiful little girl came home a year later.  Bam.  #MomLife  And not just #MomLife.  Single #MomLife.  Special Needs #MomLife.  (I don't do anything halfway!)

So, now here I am, three years later.  I have no disposable income.  I plan doctor appointments for my school breaks.  Going out to eat can happen if it's Kids Eat Free Night.  Going to the movies?  Unless it's animated, I haven't seen it.  Getting a sitter; finding a friend; staying awake for a movie.  It's just all too much work.  And I wouldn't change it for the world.

This little girl with an extra chromosome has taught me more about love and patience and persistence and laughter than I would ever have learned on my own.  I'm exhausted all of the time.  I seem to be sick more often than not.  I am currently watching an episode of Barbie's Dreamhouse.  (Yes.  It's a thing.)  Going to the grocery store takes twice as long.  But I am Always Blessed.  I am still in awe that this beautiful creature lives in my home and calls me mom.  How crazy is that?

Yes.  I am Sometimes Stressed.  Always Blessed.  It's #MomLife.  And it's AMAZING!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Missions Trip

In 2003, I went on my first missions trip with Park Community Church.  My sister had been many times and I was so excited to finally get to go.  (I mean...speaking Spanish, working with kids, Latin America.  Some of my favorite things!)  It was my first taste of the Mission at Foundation for His Ministry in Vicente Guerrero, Baja California, Mexico.  I was hooked.  I went back in 2004 with another team.

In 2005, I went for the summer.  I was now addicted.  I went every single break I had from school and spent the summers of 2006 and 2007 down there as well.  In 2008, I quit my job and moved down there to work in the Day Home with children with special needs.  I thought I'd be there forever but God had other plans.  (Namely, a little girl in Colombia.)  I came home in April 2009 and picked up my life where I had left off.

I didn't visit the mission again for quite some time.  I had some healing to do.  I've since been for a few days at a time but I haven't been back for a full week since 2009 and I haven't been as part of a team since 2004.  Until now.  From August 7-13, 2016, I will be leading a group from North Darien Bible Church to my favorite place on earth.  I can't wait to share this experience with some great people from a new chapter of my life.

Right now, we have a committed team of 5 (including Sara, my mother, and I) with quite a few possible team members.  I can't wait to see who ends up in the final group!

It seems a little odd to me to be fund raising for a trip I've made before but things are a little different (and a little more expensive) with a group.  (Although this is very reasonable compared to a lot of other trips.)   I'll also have the added responsibility of leading the group!  (I've lead senior trips to places like St Louis but I've never led a group on a missions trip.)

I'm waiting to hear if the team can accept tax-deductible donations through the church.  (We aren't an official church sponsored trip at this point.)  Until then, I have set up a youcaring link to accept donations for the trip if you feel led.  All donations are very appreciated.

I have a blog post with current fund raisers.  I'll update it up until the trip.  Please check it out!  

More than anything, I ask for your prayers.  I've never led a missions trip before.  This is all new to me.  It's definitely different than planning a vacation or leading a school trip.  Pray for the right people to join the team.  Pray for safety.  Pray for the team members hearts as well as the people we minister to.  Pray for the staff at the mission.

Want to see a little more of what we'll be doing?  Check out this video!  (It was made when I was living there!)  

Missions Trip Fund Raisers

Current Fund Raisers:

You Caring Link

Avon Link - 20% of each purchase will go to the missions trip.  Please follow my facebook page for sales and special codes.

Amazon Link - a percentage of each purchase  made through this link will go to the missions trip.  (The percentage varies.)  

Scarves and Skirts for Sara - Hand knit items.  50%  of each purchase goes to the missions trip.  Custom orders accepted!

Baja T-Shirts - Each shirt is $20 including shipping.  Shirts can be ordered on this form.

Future Fund Raisers:
Online Auction

Friday, February 26, 2016

World Down Syndrome Day Shirts

World Down Syndrome Day is March 21.  Needless to say, this is a big celebration in our house.  Why not celebrate such a great kid?

I'm selling shirts this year to benefit 5/5/5 for Families.  5/5/5 for Families raises money for 5 adopting families each month.  You can follow them on their Facebook page.

There are three shirts available.  I need 5 orders for them to print.  Orders need to be submitted by March 1st to assure they will arrive in time.  

World Down Syndrome Day T-Shirts
Through March 1st

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes - Take 2

Below is a blog post I wrote last February.  Let's just say that some things haven't turned out quite like I thought.  I'm going to repost it and then update in bold where we currently are with my "plans."

Some big changes are coming to our little family.  Big changes.   Well, we definitely have experienced some big changes.  

The first huge change is moving.  We are planning to move this summer to be closer to my family.  I've been almost 600 miles from my family since I finished college 15 years ago.  I've enjoyed my independence and never planned to move back.  But, kids change everything.  There are tons of reasons to stay and tons of reasons to move but I really want Sara to be near her family and that trumps the rest of the list.  We did move.  And it was the right thing to do, even if it didn't quite work out like I thought it would.  

My parents and I are working on a housing situation since rental options in the middle of no where are pretty limited.  I have almost finished the process to transfer my teaching license to NY.  (Although I'm open to lots of employment options.)  I've met with a Realtor and am cautiously optimistic about selling my house here.  I've been looking for jobs but it's still pretty early to get serious about anything.  Please pray with us for a great job (I love the one I'm leaving here) and that we will at least break even on the house.   The housing situation didn't pan out quite like we had planned.  My dad lost his job just before we moved so our plans to add an apartment onto my parents' house were put on hold.  My house still hasn't sold so we're living in my parents' guest room.  It's probably best that it worked out this way.  I don't think I would have moved knowing we'd still be sharing a bedroom in my parents' house but it's worked out just fine.  My father has secured a great new job and I'm really hoping my house will sell soon.  (I can lower the price once I get my tax refund back.)  We should be able to move forward with the apartment addition once we get out of the deep winter freeze.  It took me ALL summer and almost 100 applications but I did find a teaching job.  It's not exactly what I'm passionate about but it's a smaller public school setting.  The people are great and there is a possibility of a much better fit for next year.  The aide that I work with is amazing and has done a great job of keeping me sane.  

A big bonus of moving is access to free babysitters---aka the grandparents! I have been blessed with amazing sitters for Sara after school and on her days off.  I would not be able to make it without them.  I also have respite care through a local agency but Sara will not stay with them.  (The emotional impact was not worth a few hours away.)  My parents adore Sara and she loves them.  They are pretty much the only ones I can leave her with without major tears and trauma.  (Although my dad learned at Christmas that she doesn't really like to go out without mom.)  Knowing that I will be able to run to the store alone occasionally or go to the doctor without a shadow is very relieving to me.  I'm glad that we've had these two years together to establish our little family but it's time to accept some help.  This mom is tired.  I got to go to small group yesterday!  Yay!

Now that I've admitted I'm exhausted, it's time to announce something else.  I might just be crazy but I'm planning to start another adoption once we are settled.  I have my eye on a little one but I'm hoping and praying she doesn't have to wait that long for a family.  (You know those prayers.  Dear God, please help me find her a family quickly.  If not, please let my agency have her file in the fall.  Because I want her to have a mom.  Soon.  But I really want to be her mom.)  I swore I would never go back to Sara's country but I think adoption is like labor.  It doesn't seem to bad from this side of things.  It was hard but totally worth it.   Sure.  I'd do it again.   That particular little girl has a mommy working very hard to bring her home.  She should be home soon and I'm so excited for her.  I'm glad she didn't have to wait for me.  And, yes, I am still planning to go back to Sara's country.  Crazy.  I know.  

Sara has adjusted so well and is becoming so independent.  She loves babies and I think will do really well with a younger sibling (once she learns to share mommy).  I've had people asking me for the last two years when I was going to adopt again.  Reading this little girl's file and really thinking about what life would look like with another one makes me think that the time is near.  As long as the transition to our new home and life goes well, I really think we'll be in a position to start a new adoption in the fall.  Fall!  Ha!!  I was definitely optimistic.  I'm now hoping to start a home study late this summer or next fall.  It all depends on the timing of the new apartment and the sale of my house.  Until that sells, I just don't have the funds to adopt again or raise another child.  

I have set up a Future Adoption Account and will change some of my advocacy and fund raising efforts in order to be as financially ready as possible when I can finally commit and start a home study.  (I know I won't save enough for the whole adoption by then but I'm hoping for enough to get me started.)  I'll be adding a small amount out of each pay check to the account.  I'll also be putting in any money that I make from selling items that we won't be moving.  (I love online garage sale sites!)  I'll be using my Swagbucks points to get paypal gift cards which I can transfer to the account.  I'll also be adding some money from Scarves and Skirts for Sara and Avon for Adoptions.  And once my car is paid off in the new few months, that account is really going to grow!  I set up an account through YouCaring to keep all the money secure until I can use it for my home study.  I didn't set it up to get straight up donations.  (Although I wouldn't turn them down.)  I believe firmly in working for the money I need to adopt and I will do so.  The YouCaring account was set up for donations from items that I am knitting through my facebook page Scarves and Skirts for Sara.  For now, my regular paycheck will go to paying down my mortgage so I can sell my home.  Once that is sold, any extra money I have will go to the adoption.  

I will continue to use Scarves and Skirts for Sara to raise money for friends who are adopting.  When I sell items, I usually charge twice what the yarn cost me plus shipping costs.  (There are a few exceptions.)  I keep half of the money from each sale to cover my costs.  Up until now, the other half has gone to an adopting family or waiting child.  Starting with any new orders, I will give 25% of the price to the current family or child and put the other 25% in my future adoption account.    For now, any donation I receive from orders that I come through my knitting page will go into my YouCaring account unless another beneficiary is specified by the purchaser.  I am not at all opposed to helping others and will donate to a family or waiting child if the buyer prefers.  Not everyone may be comfortable donating to a "future adoption" and I get that.  I'd rather have someone make a purchase and help another family than not make a purchase at all.  That helps no one.  

I will also continue to use Avon sales from Avon for Adoptions to help adopting families.  I have always donated my 20% commission to adopting families.  Starting March 1, when a family is holding a fund raiser, they will get 15% of each purchase and I will keep the other 5% for my future adoption fund.  If there is not an active fund raiser going on, all 20% will go into my savings account.  Until I am ready to officially start an adoption, my Avon for Adoption money will continue to go to help adopting families and waiting children.  Once my adoption has begun, I will keep the commission to help pay for the adoption.  

Please fell free to use my new Amazon Link when you shop.  A percentage of each purchase will go to my Future Adoption Fund.  

I realize this is probably a lot more technical information than a lot of you wanted but I really strive to be honest and forthcoming about all of my fundraising efforts--whether they are for myself or someone else. 

Those are the two big changes that I'm ready to vaguely announce for our little family.  Who knows what other changes our future holds.  Stay tuned.   Still wondering if that other change will ever pan out or not.  God's timing is definitely not the same as mine.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Orphan Sunday

What is Orphan Sunday?
Orphan Sunday is the second Sunday of November  It's a day that the church is supposed to stand for the orphan and remember that God commanded us to care for those in need.  Now, before you stop reading because I said "the church," please know that I have very mixed feelings about that.  The church clearly is not doing enough to care for orphans and I hate the implication that only Christians care about orphans and foster children.  That certainly is not true.  Plenty of people are involved in orphan care and foster care without believing in God and plenty of Christians are not involved at all.  This blog post is not about Christians or the church.  It's about helping kids in need of families!!!  

What is the Orphan Crisis?
Here are some stats that I took from The Orphan Foundation.  Statistics can be twisted and there is a lot of discussion about how many orphans there really are.  How many of those are true orphans and how many are social orphans?  However, no matter how you look at it, the stats aren't good and the furtures of children without families are bleak.
*There are 143,000,000 orphans in the world
*There are an additional 20,000,000 “displaced children” in the world
*The combined count of these categories makes the orphan population the 7th largest nation on the planet – slightly larger than the population of Russia
*In Eastern Europe, less than 50% of the orphan population will live to see their 20th birthdays
*In Eastern Europe, of the orphans that survive their 20th birthdays, 50% will end up in organized crime, drugs, or prostitution
*In Africa, homeless children are armed and used for war
*In Africa, there is a concerted effort to extend children’s lives beyond 5 years of age
*In the US, 25,000 children will leave the foster care system without families
*25% of these foster children become homeless,
*56% of these emancipated foster care children enter the unemployment ranks
*27% of the emancipated male children in foster care end up in jail
*30% of the emancipated females in foster care experience early parenthood
*30,000 children in foster care are simply dropped from state care because they have run away
*In the US, most young adults ages 18 – 24 still live at home with their parents, while approximately 25,000 children are annually released at age 18 from the foster care system without families to support them.”
Can we agree that there is a crisis both domestically and internationally?  If you still need some visual proof, check out my friend's facebook page.  She just brought home a 10 pound, 7 year old!  10 pounds!!  At 7!!!  We have a problem!

I'm just not in a position to adopt or foster.  What can I do to help?
Help foster children/families:
*Call your local agency and ask what you can do to help.  They may need someone to help with paperwork.  (Most caseworkers are overworked and underpaid.  They'd probably love to have someone help them out with office tasks.)  They may need Christmas gifts or clothes.  They might need someone to go into a group home and give the kids good hair cuts.  You'll never know what they need if you don't ask.
*Check in with a foster family if you know one.  See what you can do to help them out.  Offer to bring them dinner when a new child moves in.  Offer to take their other kids out for a day/evening so they can spend some time with the new child.  Offer to collect clothes or supplies for their new child.
 *Offer to teach an older foster child a skill or trade.  The fate of foster children who age out of the system are not good.  Give them a leg up and maybe a job!
*Donate.  The Dave Thomas Foundation is probably the most well know organization that helps foster children become part of a permanent family.  I'm sure there are many others as well.
Help orphanages:  (Most of my examples come from Foundation For His Ministry in Mexico since I used to work for them and know that they are reputable.  I'm sure you can google and find similar programs in orphanages all over the world.)
*Helping orphanages can be tricky.  There are lots of mixed feelings about the benefits/harm that comes from outsiders visiting orphanages.  While we all want to help and "love on" children, that may not be the best way to help.  (That's another whole post for another day.)  If you do decide to visit an orphanage, please make sure you do so with a reputable organization that works in the area and knows the culture.  There are also lots of opportunities to use the skills you possess to support those who are permanently working in an orphanage.  Teams of skilled laborers, medical professionals and other skills are often accepted for specific projects.
*You can also help orphanages financially.
     *Sponsor a child.
     *Sponsor a permanent staff member.
     *Support a specific project.
     *Consider finding an Alternative Giving program that allows you to make donations to       charities instead of purchasing Christmas presents.
     *Consider having a contest at your child's school, children's church program, or club            to raise funds for an orphanage.
Help orphans:
*Through Reece's Rainbow, it's possible to help specific orphans.  RR raises grants for waiting children who are seeking their families.  The cost of adoption is huge.  Sometimes, knowing that some of the money has already been raised will help a family step forward and take the leap of faith to adopt.  I have worked hard to raise Kimberley's fund in the hope that she will someday find her family. Some adoption agencies have similar programs.
Help adopting families:
*Adoption is incredibly expensive.  You can make tax-deductible donations to individual adopting families through Reece's Rainbow, AdoptTogether and several other organizations.There are also a lot of adoption fundraisers on sites like GoFundMe but those families aren't verified and donations aren't tax deductible.
*Support family fund raisers.  If you can't afford to support them, share them.  You never know who might be looking to buy some hand knit scarves or Avon.
*5/5/5 for Families was set up to help people easily donate to 60 families a year by setting up a $5 recurring monthly donation.  If we all pool our $5, it adds up to thousands a month---far more than any of us could give on our own.
*If you want to make sure that your money is going to carefully vetted families, donate to a reputable grant organization like Show Hope.
*Call an adopting family and check in.  The process is hard and exhausting and sometimes isolating.  Call and let them know you were thinking about them and their child.
Help prevent children from becoming social orphans:  (Social orphans are those that have one or more living parents who are not involved in their care.  Usually this is due to extreme poverty, disability or addiction.)  Adoption is a plan B for children.  It is born of loss and should be a last resort.  Above all, we should be working to keep children with their biological families and their culture if at all possible.  Here are some organizations that are working to do that.  I'm sure there are many more.
Eternal Anchor - Working in Baja California Mexico.  They have established a day care/school for children with disabilities.  This gives their families training and allows the children to continue to live with their biological families instead of being placed in a children's home or orphanage.
Mission to Ukraine - Working in Ukraine.  They work with families of children with disabilities.  They provide training and education to help families raise their children with disabilities.  They also provide summer camp experiences to kids.
Compassion International - Compassion works all over the world.  They work through a sponsorship model but it's so much more.  They work with the entire family and community to affect long term change.  Their goal is to develop leaders in their own community and culture,

What can you do to help?  Everyone should consider opening their home to a child in need.  If you can't open your home, at least consider opening your heart and helping somehow.  This problem isn't going away.  It's in our backyards and it's around the world.  What will you do to help?

If you are interested in adoption, foster care, or Safe Families, please let me know and I will hook you up with resources, families, and agencies.  I love to talk about adoption.  Encouraging and helping families in their journey is one of my favorite things to do.