Monday, August 25, 2014

I'm Really Not Wonderful

Today began my 15th year as a special education teacher.  (Seriously, though.  How did that happen?  I cannot possibly be that old.)  Over the years, there have been numerous times when I've been told that I'm wonderful for what I do.  By parents.  By strangers in the grocery store.  By lots of people.  It's always a conversation I've been very uncomfortable.  I mean, what do you say to that?  I do what I do because I love it (most of the time).  I don't do it perfectly.  Some days, I don't even do it well.  But I like it, so I keep doing it.  Give me high schoolers with special needs over typical kids any day.  (I happen to think anyone that chooses to spend any time with junior highers is either a saint or crazy.)  

Now that I adopted (a child with Down syndrome *gasp* as a single mother *faint*) I am apparently on the road to sainthood.

The first day of school is meetings with new parents.  Last year, one walked in and said "I heard you adopted a kid with Down syndrome.  You know they don't get better when they get older."   (Talk about not knowing how to respond!)  This year, I'm a saint.  This mom was amazed that I teach sped all day and then go home to a child with Down syndrome.  (I'm wonderful.)  Then it came out that she's adopted.  (Her tan gave her away.)  (I'm amazing.)  Oh, and I'm a single mom.  (I'm on the road to sainthood.)

But here's the truth:  I'm not any of those things.  Seriously.  I'm a mom.  Who struggles.  Who tries to be consistent.  Who tries to do right by her child.  Who hopes to do better tomorrow.  

I'm not denying that I have had a unique set of life experiences that has prepared me to be Sara's mom.  I definitely have.  But I didn't adopt to make the world a better place.  Or to rescue a child.  I adopted because I wanted to be a mom.  That really is the bottom line.  I know that people adopt for a variety of reasons but that's mine.  I wanted to be a mom.

I have met quite a few adoptive families in the last two years.  Some have tons of prior special needs experience.  Some have none.   Some are doing well.  Some are struggling.  I don't think that everyone is equipped to adopt (especially kids with special needs).  I also don't think that you have to have extensive professional experience with kids with special needs to be a successful adoptive family.  There are a million factors.  I happen to have had some life experiences that have made Sara's transition easier but I also have a kid that has just adjusted really well.  Sometimes I joke that I hit the adoption jackpot.  I'm not wonderful but my kid pretty much is.

I was drafting this in my head while I made dinner.  Then, Sara lost it because I wouldn't let her eat her tortellini in front of the tv.  (We have a "spaghetti sauce only gets eaten at the table rule" which was deemed incredibly unreasonable tonight.)  There were some new, unpleasant behaviors that I haven't seen from her before.  (The first week of school is so tiring and hard.)  As we worked through the very unfair rules and mean mommy issues, I thought:  See!  I'm not wonderful!  I'm just a mom.  


A very blessed mom.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Meet Laurence's Family

From time to time, you have seen me advocate for another family.  This time it's different.  This time, it's a family that I know and love dearly.  This time, it's one of my first Chicago friends that is adopting.

I wish I could post tons of pictures and tell you tons of stories about this friend.  Unfortunately, she has had some stolen identity issues in the past and doesn't really have an internet presence because of that.  So, I will tell you that she is a dear friend who has an amazing heart for orphans.  She's the one that really stirred my heart in that direction.  We traveled on a my first mission's trip to Mexico together.  We have taught at two different schools together.  We have served locally together.  Now, I get the pleasure of seeing her teach my students about service.

Her heart has always been for kids in need.  She has completed all the steps to become a licensed foster parent.  She has had several children in her home through the Safe Families program.  She routinely opens up her home to children who need a place to stay---all while working and raising her son.  She's now ready to open up her home to her new son permanently.

*She has started a blog for her adoption journey.  Please head over there and check it out.

*She has a page on Reece's Rainbow.  If you feel led, you can make a tax deductible donation there.

*I have an ongoing fundraiser for her (and a few other families I know and love) on my knitting page.  50% of any item ordered goes to her Reece's Rainbow account.

*Check back here and her blog for upcoming fund raisers and updates.




Monday, August 11, 2014

What Have You Learned?

How is it the middle of August already?  We've had a crazy, busy, amazing, exhausting, fun summer. I love that my job allows me to spend so much concentrated time with my little girl. Maybe someday I'll update. 

In all honesty, I've been struggling lately with what to update and how much to share. I don't want to end the blog now that Sara is home. On the other hand, I want to respect her privacy and not blog about every detail of her life. I'm going to strive to update more in the fall. I just need to figure out how to show the ups and downs of our life without revealing too many intimate details. 

I was talking to another mom at the Reece's rainbow reunion this summer about our kids. Both of our kids are doing really well and have adjusted beautifully (with a few bumps of course).  However, neither of our kids have mastered basic academic readiness skills yet. 

If I'm being honest, I thought Sara would be much farther along academically at this point. I had visions of her being ready for a year of inclusion kindergarten this  year.  She's not. Every color is purple. Every letter is B. Every number is 4. She won't say her own name.  She will sometimes say she is 5 but not always. (She turns 6 in two days so that won't be accurate anymore either.) 

Thankfully, my friend reminded me of all the things she has learned. She's learned a new language!  A new culture. School rules. Home rules. Church rules. Going to the grocery store rules. (Ok. So she hasn't mastered all the rules but she's learned a lot!)  She's met tons of new people. And she's learned what it means to have a mom. A family. To be a daughter.   To be a granddaughter, cousin, niece. That's a lot for 18 months!  I can't wait to see where she is 18 months from now! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Keep The Change - For Laurence

One of the hardest parts about being an adoptive parent is not being with your child for the milestones---birthdays, holidays, first day of school, first loose tooth.  July 5th is Laurence's 13th birthday.  That's usually a scary birthday for orphans in his country since it means they only have one year left to find a forever family.  But Laurence can celebrate this year---his mom is on the way!!  And, with your help, his mom can celebrate that day, too.    

Keep the Change!


From June 5th to July 5th.  

It's pretty simple:

*Find a container--it doesn't have to be anything fancy--an empty cup, an empty jar, a bucket...whatever you have. (You can grab a picture of Laurence from his Reece's Rainbow page if you'd like.)

*Put the container in a visible place in your home---next to your purse, on the kitchen counter, on your dresser.  You could also consider putting it in your office or work space.  What a great conversation starter!

*At the end of the day, empty all the change from your pockets and wallet into the container. Say a prayer that Laurence will be celebrated on his birthday and know that he is loved.

*On Saturday, July 5th (Laurence's birthday), take your container to the bank and cash it in.  (Or sometime around then since it's a holiday weekend.) 

*Deposit the money into Laurence's FSP on Reece's Rainbow.

This is a very simple way for all of us to bless Laurence and his family on his birthday--even they can't celebrate together.  (Can you imagine how fun it will be for his mom to watch his grant grow on his birthday?) 

I have a jar of change that I've been saving since my adoption ended. I can't wait to cash it in and see what's in it.

If you want to participate, leave me a comment here and let me know!  I'll keep a running list of people who have agreed to pray for and bless Laurence and his famiy during the month leading up to his birthday.

So, start looking for the perfect container.

Participants:
Natalie 



Saturday, May 10, 2014

(Happy) Birth Mother's Day

I recently learned that the day before Mother's Day is Birth Mother's Day.  I had planned to write this beautiful tribute to Sara's birth mother.  One about how grateful I am that she gave her life (I am) and how she made the self-less decision to "give her up" (I hate that phrase) so she could have a better life (I don't know if that's true or not).  I wanted to thank all the women who allowed their children to be adopted so they could have more opportunities than they could give them but it's just not that simple.  Adoption is crazy and messy and heartbreaking and dividing.  It's hard and painful for everyone involved.  

I have three adopted siblings and an adopted daughter.  Each of them has a different story.  Each of their birth mothers had different reasons, motivations, fears, and decisions regarding their children's future.  Some decided (for a variety of reasons) not to parent the child they gave life to.  Some had no choice.  While I don't know their hearts and don't know all of their reasons (I know less about Sara's birth mother's decision than my brothers'), I'm going to guess that none made the decision easily.  

It sounds so neat and easy.  "They gave up their child for adoption."  Never is it that easy.  It almost becomes flippant when talking about children with special needs.  "Their parents didn't want them because they had a disability."  Do we really think it's that simple?  Do we really think that their parents didn't want them?  That they didn't love them?  I can't believe that.  I won't believe it.  Believing it means I am passing judgement on thousands of women that I have never met.  Thousands of women who made a very hard decision for a multitude of reasons.  

I don't really know a lot about the culture of disability in Colombia and I don't know what motivated Sara's birth mother to make the decision that she did.  (I wouldn't share it here if I did!)  I do know that not so long ago in this country, parents were not encouraged to raise their children if they were born with disabilities.  They were only presented with one "solution"  You put your child in an institution and forgot about them.  Parents had to fight for the right to raise their own children.  It would not surprise me at all to find that this is currently going on in most parts of the world.  Parents are not given the option of raising their child with special needs.  They are TOLD to put them away and forget about them.  (As if you can just forget about your child.)  They don't know about the kind of conditions their child is living in because they are doing what they are told by doctors and professionals is best for their child and their families.  They didn't abandon their child because they have a disability.  They are following the directions of respected members of their society.  

Parts of the world are very superstitious.  I learned this first-hand when I lived in Mexico.   Anyone with a disability is seen as being cursed.  While a family may love their child deeply, choosing to raise that child could be detrimental to their family and to the child.  The family and child will be social outcasts.  Life could be very hard for siblings.  The parents may not be able to find work---after all, no one wants to associate with a cursed family.  People fear what they do not know.  Unfortunately for these children and families, fear can be dangerous.  It really may be the safest thing for these families to place their child and pretend they never existed.  At least pretend publicly.

There are countless other reasons a birth parent could choose not to raise their child:  poverty, lack of resources for a child with special needs, abusive relationships, fear, age, marital status, broken relationships, religious beliefs, societal expectations, and on and on and on.  I cannot even imagine having to make that decision.  I can't imagine making the choice to allow my child to be raised by someone else.  Or worse, making the decision to place them in an orphanage and hope that someone chooses to raise them!  I respect any woman who has made that choice--even if it was made out of ignorance and fear.  And while I may not respect the choices that a woman makes that lead her to have her child removed from her care, my heart goes out to any woman who is not raising a child she gave birth to.  It cannot be easy to wonder where your child is and how they are doing.  It has to be painful to hope that your child is being loved and cared for.  I can't imagine a scenario in which a birth mother doesn't think about their child regularly---especially on Mother's Day.

When I think of Sara's birth mother, it makes me sad.  I don't know her reasoning for signing over her rights to Sara.  I believe, though, that she is a kind, sensitive, caring woman with a spunky personality.  Those traits that I see in Sara are innate.  She was born with them.  I can't help but be sad that this woman doesn't get to know her wonderful daughter.  She doesn't get to wake up to that adorable face and those sweet kisses.  She doesn't get to see her learn new things almost every day.  She doesn't get to see her get excited over the littlest things.  But I do.  And for that, I will always be grateful.

Happy Birth Mother's Day!  I hope that you somehow know that your daughter is loved and cherished. 




Friday, May 2, 2014

Coincidence?

Tonight was Family Fun Night at Sara's school.  We paid $1 and got way more food than we could eat, games, pony rides, face painting, and a bounce house.  I knew Sara would love it so I signed us up.

Then I started to dread it.  I knew exactly how it would go down.  Sara would spend the vast majority of the night in the bounce house and I'd be stuck standing outside with nothing to do and no one to talk to.  These are the types of events that make me really wish I had a husband.  But again, I knew Sara would love it so we went.

It went down pretty much exactly as I thought it would.  EXCEPT----

Sara's math teacher was running the bounce house.  We started chatting.  Her first questions were about adoption.  She was thrilled to realize that I had CHOSEN to adopt Sara KNOWING that she had Down syndrome.  She started telling me that:

*She's always kind of wanted a child with Down syndrome.
*She's never told anyone that because she thought it sounded crazy.
*She's always been drawn to her students with DS.
*Her students with DS have always been her favorites---except teachers don't have favorites.
*She didn't realize you could adopt a child with DS before she heard Sara's story.
*She has a lot of professional experience that would be valuable.
*She really feels like she has a lot to offer a child with DS.
*She really thinks she could do it.
*But, she's not married.

That is my EXACT story!  I wrote it out here when I was first considering adoption.

Things got busy after that so I told her that she should definitely consider it and that LOTS of kids with Down syndrome are looking for families.  Of course, I told her that she should check out Reece's Rainbow and contact me if she had anymore questions or wanted to chat.

I have never met this woman before tonight and probably wouldn't have if we hadn't gone.  She only has Sara for math so she doesn't come to the IEP meetings.  I'm rarely at Sara's school because of my work schedule.  It's very possible our paths would never have crossed.

It was very clear to me that she adores Sara and that Sara's story has touched her heart.  People always say that Sara is very lucky to have been adopted but I know that a lot of people have been blessed by Sara.  This little girl is capturing hearts every where she goes.  I'm the one that is blessed to be a part of her life.  

Some pictures of Family Fun Night:

Grandpa has taught us to always be early so we were waiting in the car for it to start.  

The first thing we found was the food.  

First Pony Ride.  It took her a little while to relax.  

Last time I took her for a pony ride, she waited for an hour and wouldn't get on.  This time she rode like a pro!


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Myths aka My daughter is not always happy.

I started this post for World Down Syndrome Day. I'm only a month late!  

There are lots of myths out there about Down syndrome---which is kind of funny since everyone knows someone who has a child with DS.  Just go somewhere with your child with DS and someone will say how their second cousin has a Downs kid.  (Hey!  That's what they say!)  They will almost always mention how this child is always happy and loving at family reunions.  (Their family member must handle crowds much better than my daughter does.)  I'm not judging these people at all.  I'd much rather have someone try to engage me in conversation about Sara than ignore her or look at us with pity. I appreciate their attempt to find some common ground---especially since the classic questions "What's your name?" and "How old are you?" don't get your conversation very far with Sara.

Anyway, here are some of the myths that I've heard about people with Down syndrome and the truths as I've experienced them.

People with Down syndrome are always happy.  Variations:  They are angels here on earth.  They are so innocent and could never do anything wrong.  
I recently read a news article about a young man with Down syndrome who had been suspended from school for aggression.  I don't remember the exact situation but I remember the comments.  Countless readers were appalled that he had been suspended.  After all, people with DS were all loving and kind and could never be mean or aggressive.  It must have been a huge misunderstanding because these angels on earth are incapable of doing anything wrong.  It's not in their nature.  

I can assure you that none of those commenters were a parent (or teacher) of a child with DS.  Sara is incredibly sweet and kind.  She has a great heart.  She also bites and hits.  She is capable of doing wrong---just like any other 5-year-old.  She is very often happy but not all the time.  She experiences all the emotions that any other child does.  She is a human being, after all.  An extra chromosome doesn't change her into a robot incapable of human emotion or feeling.  Oh, and every morning when I have to get her up from school, she looks and acts nothing like an angel on earth.


People with Down syndrome will never get a job or live independently.  I also hear the converse of this---that all people with Down syndrome will be able to live independently, marry, and be famous actresses on Glee.  
I've read a lot of debates about whether or not DS is a spectrum disorder like autism.  Those who say it's not a spectrum disorder say that you either have it or you don't.  You can't "kind of" have Down syndrome. Those who say it is a spectrum disorder point to the wide variety of needs that people with Down syndrome have in all areas of life.  Some are very healthy; others have countless medical problems.  Some are verbal; others are not.  Some learn to read and write; others do not.  The list could go on and on.  That one little extra chromosome can affect every aspect of a person's life or barely affect their life at all.  

Back to the original myth---it is unfair to assume that every child with Down syndrome will be dependent on caregivers for the rest of their life.  It is also unfair to assume that every person with DS will live independently in the community.  There is such a wide varying of abilities in people with Down syndrome.  As with any person, they will reach their highest potential when encouraged and, maybe even, pushed to be as independent as possible.



Everyone with Down syndrome has three copies of the 21st chromosome.
I actually didn't know that there were three types of Down syndrome until the pediatrician suggested Sara might have Mosaic DS.  (She does not.)  

95% of people with Down syndrome have Trisomy 21.  Every cell of the person has 3 copies of the 21st chromosome.  This is the type of DS that Sara has.

1-2% of people with Down syndrome have Mosaic DS.  Some of their cells have an extra copy of the 21st chromosome and some do not.

3-4% of people with Down syndrome have Translocation.  In this type, a part of the 21st chromosome breaks off and attaches itself to another chromosome.  Cells then have an extra piece of the chromosome but not an entire extra chromosome.


Families suffer from having a child with Down syndrome.  It's not fair to the siblings and the parents always get divorced.  
I don't have all the statistics in front of me and I won't pretend that I took the time to find them all.  (After all, you'll never find two stats that agree anyway.)  It is true that having a child with a disability can be very hard on a family and a marriage.  Statistics do show that there is an increased divorce rate for families with disabled or chronically ill children.  However, those stats do not apply to families of children with Down syndrome.  Dr. Brian Skotko has spent his entire career conducting studies to show how a child with DS can positively affect your family.  If you are really interested in this information and the studies behind it, I would encourage you to read some of his work.

As a teacher, I have met some great families that have young adults with DS in them.  I've also met some that I wouldn't choose to socialize with outside of my professional relationship with them.  This is also true of families who have children with autism or any other disability.  Families are families no matter who is in them.  Some function well.  Some do not.  A family won't be perfect because it has a child with DS in it but it also won't disintegrate from that either.


Kids with DS never grow up.
They do grow up.  Just like every other human being.  They turn into adults in every way.  This is one of the many reasons it's important to teach them boundaries and social skills when they are young.  My mantra is:  "What's cute at 5 isn't cute at 15 and is criminal at 25."  Sara loves men (preferably between 45 and 60).  She has an uncontrollable desire to touch them.  Because of her height, she ends up grabbing butts--a lot.  Because she's 5 and cute, people smile it off.  They won't be smiling it off when she's 15 and they really won't appreciate it when she's 25.  That's why we are working on it now.  Because she will grow up!

Also, if you see an adult with Down syndrome---they are an adult.  Please treat them as such!  Can you imagine if someone talked to you as a 5 year old all the time?  How frustrating would that be?


Children with Down syndrome are only born to older parents.
Again with the stats that I don't have in front of me.  The majority of babies with DS are born actually born to women under 30.  That's because the majority of all babies are born to women under 30.  While being older increases your chances of having a baby with DS, younger women are not at all exempt.  Any woman could have a child with Down syndrome at any age.


People with Down syndrome plateau and stop learning.
This isn't true of anyone so why would it be true of people with DS?  Everyone can continue to grow and learn throughout their life.  Now, if your child with DS is 15 and still working on phonics, it might be time to find another way to teach them to read or to focus on important sight words but that doesn't mean they won't learn anything anymore.  It just means phonics isn't going to work for them and you might need to prioritize the important skills that they need to learn at this phase of their life.


All people with Down syndrome will be over weight.  
A lot of people with DS do struggle with weight but a diagnosis of DS does not have to equate with obesity.  Like every other human being, they will benefit from proper diet and exercise.  They should also have their thyroid functioning checked regularly, as this can be an area of concern and can lead to weight gain.


People are afflicted with or suffer from Down syndrome.  
Why can't we just say that they have Down syndrome?  It's a result of their genes.  I don't suffer from curly hair.  I'm not afflicted with shortness.  Those are just things that I have because of my genetics.  Sara has Down syndrome.  She doesn't suffer and she's not afflicted.


All people with Down syndrome are stubborn.
This might not be a myth.  I'm pretty convinced it's not.