Monday, April 22, 2013

A Little Girl Named Lexi

My granddaughter Lexi is a special needs child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and is under the autism umbrella.  We have come to understand this gradually over these past five years of her life, because the doctors, therapists, counselors, social workers all have a different diagnosis.  The only constant has been the SPD which began 24 hours after she was born when she had a seizure twenty minutes after we walked in the door from the hospital.  Although the neurologist and eeg test said differently, we knew something was not right, especially her feeding and sleeping habits that were unlike anything the books on newborns could explain.

Fast forward four years, melt downs after melt downs, sleepless nights, hospital stays for stomach problems because of taste, smell, feel of foods and an entire family confused about the constant crying that seems to get worse the older Lexi gets, to a day I want to forget, but a day that changed my perspective forever.

I lost my temper last summer on a drive from Chattanooga to Beaufort, SC.  Lexi had been crying constantly for three hours and we stopped for lunch at the IHOP in Macon.  Her mother had been sleeping, or trying to sleep.  Emery Kate, the one-year-old seemed to have a sixth sense that she needed to stay quiet.

The stop for lunch was a nightmare as the place was packed and the service was poor and slow.  The girls were hungry and that made Lexi more upset.  I was at a loss as to how to handle things.  Do I treat my daughter like a child and make her get Lexi to stop crying?  Of course not.  Do I assume some sort of role as disciplinarian? Not that either.

But as we left the restaurant, my daughter took the baby to the car leaving Lexi and me alone in the restaurant.  She had ordered orange juice and then didn’t want it, but Emery Kate did.  Her mother gave it to Emery Kate.  Time to leave and Lexi wanted her juice back but EK thought it was hers.  Suddenly we had two little girls screaming; hence the decision to separate them. 

While helping my daughter with the baby get buckled into her car seat, the orange juice became the tip of the iceberg and for one reason or another, I threw the cup of orange juice down spilling all of it.  My daughter was horrified.  I felt relief and embarrassment at the same time for showing such a display of temper.  I apologized.

I took Lexi back inside with me to get another orange juice and while waiting she got very anxious and was about to have another melt down and began demanding the orange juice and this in front of all the people sitting by the door waiting for a table.  I overheard one woman say, “Too bad she can’t handle the child better.”  I didn’t say anything.  I did wonder at that moment how many times my daughter and son-in-law has heard this from strangers and my heart hurt for them.

I begin to buckle Lexi up in the car and the crying continues and then she is wailing and then EK starts crying. My daughter doesn’t seem to hear it and I realize we have at least three more hours of driving and I’m not sure I can drive with the screaming and so I do something horrible.  I yell at Lexi.

I tell her that if she does not stop crying, I will not go home with her and that I will stay at the IHOP and let her mother drive them home and I will have her grandfather come get me in Macon and I’ll go back to Chattanooga.  I expect her to beg me to not do this but instead she continues to cry and then my daughter gently tells me I do not have to stay the rest of the week with them in SC.  Not because she is angry with me, but because she does not want my relationship with Lexi to be ruined.

Lexi did continue to cry off and on the rest of the trip, and so did I; silent tears for my shame, for my ignorance, for my daughter and son-in-law who deal with these issues day in and day out, for Lexi’s sister who loves Lexi no matter what, and for Lexi who cannot control the crying and may not know herself why she cries.

What I learned from this experience and the reason I share it is that I can be proud of my daughter and her husband for their deep abiding love for their daughter.  Multiply this one day in the life of Lexi by many days and weeks and one can only imagine the life of dealing with a special needs child.

I know my daughter has forgiven me.  I pray that Lexi does too.

I can honestly say that the week I stayed with Lexi and her family was a true joy.  Even when she woke me up in the middle of every night and asked me to tell her a story and not just any story – but a story I make up about a little girl named Lexi.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Doing God's Work

All summer my granddaughter, Paige, and I have shared our Fridays with a few of the neighborhood Fort Town children and their parents/grandparents.  It all started because one of the fathers was taking Fridays off during the summer and suggested the kids go to the pool or park or some place every week.  For the most part we had 100% attendance, but as the summer days came to a close, we gradually fell apart as a group.  It was the natural course of things.

Kim, Melanie, Jeff, Donna, Noah, Me (back) and Madison, Paige,
and Jossalyn (front)
As much fun as it was for the children, swimming, hiking, tie-dying t-shirts, going to Pump It Up, eating out at Burger King, playing games outdoors and doing crafts indoors when it was too hot outside, it was also a bonding time for the adults.  The three women in the group promised Jeff’s wife Kim that we would not start playing poker using coupons as chips as Michael Keaton’s character in “Mr. Mom” did in that classic movie.  Jeff’s military and Boy Scouts background was an asset to our group.  Their son Noah, being the only boy in the group was such a gentleman with the three girls, always being positive and not complaining.  Melanie, Madison’s mother stepped away from her role as my Girl Scout assistant leader and became the young mother (my daughter’s age) who lives next door.  And Donna, Jossalyn’s “Nanna” and unofficial grandmother, who lives across the street from Paige, had so much fun that she participated even when Jossalyn (who is two) fell asleep.

When Noah and Madison went back to school Paige and I invited Jossalyn and Donna to come for lunch at my house for one final gathering.  The girls dressed up and had macaroni and cheese, green beans, grapes, and crackers (Paige planned their meal); while Donna and I had chicken salad and tortilla soup with the last of my homegrown lettuce and tomatoes.  Paige baked brownies with her other grandmother the day before and shared them with us for dessert.

Donna and I talked about how great our neighborhood is; she living a street over from her daughter and son-in-law and me living six houses down from Paige.  It’s a great mix of old and young.  The only negative is the huge proportion of rent houses.  I say negative because renters tend to not take care of their yards and many do not speak English (most are East Indian).  But we both try to be kind and speak to our neighbors even when they don’t respond in like.  I wave to every car I pass and speak to anyone walking by my house; Donna is the same.  It’s what neighbors do, no matter what race or religion.

Last month a neighbor around the corner from Donna died of cancer, and then a week later her husband died leaving a mentally challenged grown son who had to move in with an aunt across town.  The family had an estate sale and the house was emptied, foreclosed on and is currently vacant.  It made me sad that I didn’t know them.

After lunch, we took the girls and walked down the street to visit another couple who live two doors down from Paige.  He is elderly and yet quite active currently painting with acrylics, in their lovely “Florida” room, beautiful scenes as well as adorable pictures for their grandchildren who live in Chattanooga.  In the corner of their huge kitchen is a miniature electric train set with at least two, maybe three tracks with villages, trees, buildings, etc.  Paige and Jossalyn climbed up on chairs and were mesmerized.  His wife, Joanne, Donna and I mostly watched John’s eyes shine as he entertained the children.

It was a grand way to end our neighborhood Friday Ft. Town gatherings.  But does it have to end?  Maybe; maybe not.  The children are closer and the adults and their families have grown closer and by example we invited into our group other neighbors.  Who’s to say we don’t find creative ways to keep on gathering.  Hey there is a neighborhood garage sale coming up September 8th and of course Halloween is always a fabulous experience in our neighborhood.  The real challenge is to not lose touch with each other and those who touched our lives, and that includes the renters, the new neighbors, the older couples, the single moms, and the grandchildren being raised by their grandparents.

There is always time to do God’s work.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Recently, I’ve been drawn to the concept that we are all connected in one way or the other. Spiritually, I’ve believed this for years, maybe my whole life. When I was a child, I would find myself standing at an open window sheltered by the sweet smell of a cedar tree, wondering who in the world was also feeling what I was feeling.

Later when I grew in adolescents, I struggled with the same issues of every other teenage girl until I finally got to the point of asking the most important question which was why did I ever want to be a teenager. It was not, as I dreamed, all it was made up to be, but surely other girls (and boys) felt like me.

As a young mother, every decision I made came from my gut. I survived motherhood from pure instinct, never knowing was I making the right or wrong decision for my children, my husband, and my extended family. I took a leap of faith and let the ball bounce, as the saying goes. Comforting as it was to see other parents struggling with the same issues, it never seemed like their problems were the same as mine and it was lonely at times. That I questioned our connections was an answer in itself.

The older I get, the more clearly I see the similarities in other’s lives. One couple may be enjoying their empty nest and retirement years while the other finds it frightening. One set of grown children seems to have the perfect life while another deals with children with learning disabilities. One woman wakes each day wishing she had not while another wakes and thanks God the cancer has not come back. Each of these people is living a different life and yet each is the same. They are all one in God.

Coming to this realization took many years for me; however, looking back I was already conscious of this state of mind. I know this because from an early age I had compassion for all I met. I didn’t walk around saying this or bring it to other’s attention. It was a gift, to be able to see others and feel one with them; one in their pain, one in their happiness, one in their love. Everyone has this gift; tapping into it is the challenge. To meet this challenge one must be present in the lives of those we are connected.

Yesterday my neighbor and I were talking outside while his daughter and my granddaughter played. Sirens, on the highway got louder and louder. Suddenly, four fire trucks, a fire chief, three police cars and an ambulance pulled up to a house three doors down. There was no fire that we could see and as it turned out it was just a small fire in a trash can; a lot of hoopla for nothing. Until I looked around and saw my neighbor’s wife standing at the door. And I suddenly remembered that it had not been too many years ago that the house we were standing in front of had burned down. They lost everything inside including their dog. And what was still intact was stolen while the house was roped off by the fire chief until the cause (which was faulty wiring when the house was built) could be determined.

Maybe my granddaughter distracting their daughter, and maybe my presence were both a coincidence, but I think not. Being present I was able to comfort and share in my neighbor’s pain as she remembered that day her house burned down. I know I remember watching it from my granddaughter’s house and praying for the family who lived there and who I didn’t know. Yesterday, I prayed for them again, and now they are my friends and neighbors. The prayer was the same.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy Birthday Emery Kate

By the time I was 28 years old, I had given birth to four children, three boys and a one girl. Jennifer, the baby came eleven months after my youngest son, Jason. Daniel was three years older than Jason and Brian, the oldest was three years older than Daniel. I didn’t plan it that way. It just happened. Having babies just seemed to come natural to me. In truth had the last two not been C-sections, I would have loved to have kept on going, but we couldn’t afford the cost of the surgeries.

I think this is one reason why I love being close to my grandchildren. They are an extension of my children and I have the opportunity to have a “do over,” a chance to keep my maternal instincts shining in their lives. I might add here that giving birth to a child and adopting a child may not be the same physically but be assured they are emotionally. Our family has grown by two recently with the adoption of a brother and sister to a cousin’s daughter and husband. It was clear that the love this cousin has for her two new grandchildren is as deep as they love she has for the two born into the family. She should know firsthand as she was adopted as well.

Today, my youngest grandchild, Emery Kate, turns one year old. She is pulling herself up, mimicking her big sister Lexi, trying new “real” foods, and beginning to show signs of her own unique personality. Having spent the last year either sleeping or eating (not unlike her mother who was the best baby in the world), everyone is ready to see the real EK. Her big sister, Lexi, who has the gift of being able to see inside a person’s soul, has given us glimpses of her little sister. She can tell when EK is hurting before her parents and then can say why (ears, teeth, etc.). There is a bond these two sisters have and it is a joy to watch.

She is not talking or walking yet, however I was present when she started crawling and maybe when I’m in South Carolina this weekend to celebrate her birthday, I’ll see her take a step or two.

I was told that I started talking full sentences when I was nine months old, however, I did not walk until I was fifteen months old. I would stand in my baby bed and bounce and call to my Daddy saying, “JACK,” at the top of my lungs. And when they heard me stop screaming his name or the springs on the baby-bed stopped squeaking, they knew to come into the bedroom (which I shared with my parents) because inevitably I would bounce right out the bed, over the rail and onto the floor. It is hard for me to believe they allowed that to happen and that it is not just a story they made up. But I did enjoy hearing it. Not because I necessarily believed it, but because it was a memory they shared with me.

Now I share the memories I have of my grandchildren and when they grow up, they will know that I loved them and cared enough to write down their stories.

Happy Birthday Emery Kate Swing; Mimi loves you!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Have a Little Faith

Yesterday my granddaughter Paige and I went to see the Muppet movie. School is out for winter break, as she is taught to say at school. She asked me what Hanukkah was the other day. I told her it was a Jewish holiday, the Festival of Lights, when Jewish people celebrate their freedom with the burning of eight candles. The eight candles did not burn out and so it was considered a miracle. The Jewish people had faith that the candles would remain lit and today exchange gifts as part of the celebration. This is like the Christians who exchange gifts at the same time of year to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus.

It’s a choppy answer, but to a six-year-old, it was the best I could do off the top of my head.

I did not realize the movie had been out so long. When we got to the theatre, we bought our tickets and of course snacks at the concession stand. For a very long time we were the only ones in the theatre. Finally other families joined us and so there may have been twenty of us waiting for the movie to begin. And thirty minutes after the “start” time, the movie began. It was a musical and I was glad I took Paige instead of her father who will be taking her, after Christmas, to see Alvin and the Chipmunks: Shipwrecked.

I listened, laughed, cried a few tears, and watched Paige laugh and giggle at the silliest things. In other words, we had a good time. I wasn’t sure what she was getting out of the movie and without spoiling it for those who have not seen it, the message in the storyline is not necessarily the message individuals get out of seeing the movie. I realized by the end of the movie that maybe my son would have enjoyed this movie more than the chipmunks. After all, he grew up watching the Muppets on the TV, reading Muppet books , putting together Muppet puzzles and so on. I can’t imagine the memories that he might have after sharing this movie with his daughter. I only know what I recalled when he and his brothers and sister were children and the many lessons they learned from having the Muppet experience.

But did Paige learn anything? I wasn’t sure.

Just before leaving the house Paige’s mother handed me her umbrella telling me it was supposed to rain. When we walked out the theatre door, it was raining so hard we could barely see across the parking lot. There was a drop off lane and a covered area. I told Paige I was half-tempted to let her wait for me under cover while I ran to the car in the rain. I’d come back and pick her up. She said that would be nice. I said, on the other hand, I would not feel good about leaving her and she said she’d rather go with me. I said, we might get wet and she said:

“We just have to have a little faith, Mimi, like Kermit said.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Power to Choose

The other night, my granddaughter Lexi woke up at 3:00 a.m. and wandered into her parent’s bathroom finding a bottle of pink nail polish. Somehow she managed to paint her toes, nails, cheeks, stomach, legs and arms with the polish without spilling a drop! I asked my daughter if she was pretty and she said, “Pinkalicious!”

Pinkalicious is a little girl who lives in a world of pink. The book about her life is a huge hit with little girls all over the world. She loves the color pink and although her parents warn her to not eat pink cupcakes she can’t resist them. When she does eat the pink cupcakes she turns pink. She has created her world to be exactly as she wants it to be. She is the scriptwriter of the play in which she has the starring role.

Just as Lexi did the other night; such abandonment, such joy! Lexi is three years old. She has not learned, completely the consequences of choices. Is that a bad thing? I think not. Would it not be good for us all to take a lesson from Lexi that every day, every moment there is a choice to be made, but it is for us to make that choice. And the best news is that if we make the wrong choice, we can start all over because the point of choice is now.

I thank God for my power to choose. I write my life in glowing colors of abundance, joy and love – and some days it might be the color pink!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Spirit of God

“All good things are possible through God’s spirit within me.” ~ Daily Word Magazine

This past month has been a challenging month for me. It’s what I call a month of transition, a time when my heart tells me to end some things and begin new things. A sense of peace comes over me which helps me to make the right decisions for me. I can remember a time early in my life when I first felt that sense of peace. I was six years old (as in the picture). It was an age of awareness for me as it was when I realized that my mother struggled with an addition to alcohol and that there was nothing I could do to make her well. But what I could do was trust God to be with me at all times. I’m not sure how I knew that, but I did. I always felt there was an angel with me guiding me and supporting me and so I was not alone. I somehow always knew what was right for me.

I’m at that point again during this transition time. I went off the board of one organization, joined a new writers group, expanded my Girl Scout troop and posted everyday on my blog in preparation of committing to writing a complete novel in the month of November. And I also keep writing on my lifestyle blog . So it looks as though my world revolves around writing. But that is not so. As part of my leader position in Girl Scouts, I serve as the publicist for our Service Unit here in Catoosa County. My goal is to send once a week a press release, including photo to the local community paper. So far I am ahead of myself because I am making the effort to seek out what the troops are doing, going to those events and meetings, taking a picture and then sending out the press release.

And then there is my commitment to the P.E.O. International Organization (Philanthropic Educational Organization) that supports women in education. . I’ve been a member for over 37 years, having been initiated in to my mother’s chapter, AB in Louisiana. I’ve served as an officer at both the local and state level and been a member in 8 chapters all over the U.S.A.; the last one I helped to organize here in Tennessee.

It is easy to make time for P.E.O. because there is an unwritten rule that God, family, and P.E.O. rank in importance with all other commitments going after that. Another unwritten rule is to never say NO when asked to do something. In all my years I have said no three times; twice when I was asked to serve on another state board and once when asked to serve as president of my new chapter. The first time I said no I had a legitimate reason, I had gone to work full-time and couldn’t give the office the attention it needed. The second time, my husband asked me not to accept the position. Our business was struggling and he was blind to see how important it was to me. And I did not want to make things worse for him. So I took his advice and regretted it. I don’t blame him. I blame myself for not making it clear to him how important it was to me. I should have trusted my instincts and my faith in God in me. But here’s the kicker. In retrospect I realize he was right. The next three years of our life were crazy and I was needed not only at our business but with the grandchildren. It was the right thing to do; I just didn’t know it at the time.

And when I turned down the presidency of my new chapter, I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t have to consult my husband. I knew that if I was supposed to be the next president of my chapter, I would know it and say yes. The spirit of God within me guides me and gives me the wisdom to do what is right for me. That was my explanation when someone asked me why I turned the position down. And they replied with a desire to have the same kind of faith. I told them they already have it; they just have to tap into it and remember to trust themselves and God.