Monday, December 31, 2012

I parent because I was parented

I spent a little time with my grown nephew this week. He told me he once asked me how I was able to raise so many well-behaved children. He said my answer was: “with love in my heart and a wooden spoon in my back pocket.” That sounds like something I would have said. I have been reflecting a little on that this week and decided to blog about why I parent the way I do. I parent because I was parented. I have learned from the best. 

Most of the truly important lessons I learned in life I learned from the people who love me the most, my own parents. Of course, my earliest teacher was my mom. My mom taught me about love. She almost never seemed to lose her patience. When I was small, she could read me book after book after book while I sat on her lap or next to her in her chair. She did really good voices and read with great expression. I am sure I love to read now, as an adult, because of my mother’s love of books. The love of books and her patience were just lessons within the lesson though. What my mom was really teaching me was how to be a good mom and a good person. 

When I was older and on occasion got sassy or rude to my mother, she did not often raise her voice or show disgust. She treated me nicely even when I did not treat her nicely. She wasn’t afraid to spank me when I needed it but she didn’t ever abuse me. I knew I was loved, even when she had to resort to a spanking to get my attention.

Lisa Fish
I remember asking my mom when I was very young who she loved the most. I had five siblings, and figured she had to have a favorite and it was probably me. My mom’s answer was a surprise and I remember it stinging a little bit. She told me she loved my daddy more than anyone else in the world. Over the years I would occasionally ask her again and her answer was always the same but it didn’t sting at all as I got older. If fact, it made me feel very secure. I knew in a world full of divorces and cheaters, my parents were there to stay. My mom and dad showed affection to each other in front of their children often. By showing me how much she loved my dad, my mom was showing me how much she loved me. One of the most important lessons a mother can teach her children is to love their spouse.  God commands men to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and women are commanded to submit to their husbands. My parents believed it, taught it, and practiced it. 

My mother and father married at a very young age. My dad was nineteen and my mom seventeen. My mother knew how hard it was for a seventeen year old to be a wife. My parents’ rule was that we were not allowed to date before age sixteen. Long before I began to date, my mother talked to me about love and the kinds of feelings being married requires. I specifically remember her telling me that a teenager was not capable of knowing the difference between love and infatuation. My mom talked to me about the things that were important in a husband, specifically ambition. Did I want a husband who liked to lay on the couch, content to live in a crummy neighborhood, or one who worked hard so we could raise our children in a nice home? Because of the things my mother was not afraid to say to me, I grew up knowing I would search long and hard for the man I wanted to share my life with and I would not confuse infatuation with love. Nor would I “settle” for second best. I found Mr. Right in my early twenties but had the mind-set that I would never marry at all if I couldn’t find someone as wonderful as my own father. 

My college graduation, 1985
My dad is a good man and one of the hardest workers I have ever known. I rarely saw my dad sit down and watch a television show while I was growing up. He worked hard at his job and worked a lot of overtime so we could have nice things. He wanted to put us all through college and he couldn’t have done it without working the overtime. When my dad wasn’t working, he was still working. We had one of the nicest lawns in our neighborhood. He gardened and grew vegetables, which my mother canned. He kept his tools clean and his garage organized and he always seemed to have a project going on his workbench. My dad had a recliner but seldom sat in it. As a matter of fact, one of the only times he did sit down was during a worship service. My dad taught me that we never miss a worship service, ever. We only missed if we were sick; not sick with just a little cough either, but really sick. My dad liked to fish and he liked to hunt but he did not miss worship services for those activities either. My dad taught me that the Church ALWAYS comes first. God comes before family, friends, education, recreation, and everything else, with no exceptions. 

I don’t remember my dad lecturing me a lot or having long talks with me about many things. He taught me so much by example. As I said earlier, I looked for a man to marry who was like my dad. Had I settled for less, I would have been forever comparing the two and have lived a pretty sad married life I think. 

I was a little bit afraid of my dad growing up. Don’t feel sorry for me. That was a good thing. A little bit of fear is also called respect. I knew I had to obey or suffer the consequences. We are told to fear God and keep His commandments. I know my children have had the same healthy fear of me that I had of my own father. If only more kids today respected their parents…

I don’t have a lot of memories of my dad playing games with me growing up. My memories are better than that. Although, he did play Monopoly with me occasionally and he did like to play Canasta a lot so we did that sometimes. I was a Tom-boy and loved to fish and shoot guns so my dad let me tag along on fishing trips and occasional hunting trips. One of my favorite memories is fishing in a little boat he had on a small lake, near my grandparents’ home. We did it as often as we could manage every summer. Once in a while I got to go with my dad and grandpa on a coon hunt. I am sure I slowed them way down and they had to help me over fences and creeks but they never made me feel like I was a hindrance. My dad set up a target in the garage so I could even practice with a bee-bee gun and pellet gun in the winter. 

My dad showed me he loved me by providing for me and working hard. I remember my mom saying many times the reason daddy worked so hard was because he loved us. My dad taught me that I should always return things I borrow in the same shape I borrowed them in, if not better. 

I am going to be fifty soon but my parents are still parenting me. I know I often frustrate them. My dad has one of the nicest lawns in the county. I live just a quarter mile from him and my yard is weeds. He drives past it every day. I know he must look at it and wonder how I can stand it. I leave my nice things out in the yard sometimes and they get rained on. My dad taught me better and is still teaching me by his example of stewardship. He takes really good care of his things. My dad is fifteen minutes early everywhere he goes and I am five minutes late. I know that when I am tardy it drives him crazy. I try harder because I have his example. Even though my yard is weedy, my kids’ bikes are out in the snow right now, and I was five minutes late yesterday, I know my dad loves me. I can see it, feel it, hear it. I parent because I am parented. 

How many children are being brought up in single parent homes? How many of dads do you know who are dodging child support payments? How many people do you know on welfare who will most likely be grandparents of people on welfare someday? I am very outspoken about my political and religious views. I believe the increased entitlement programs are a bad thing. The cycle needs to be broken. It must be very hard to parent differently than you were parented. History shows us that. I don’t want to break my cycle. I parent because I was parented. 

My mother tells me she wouldn’t have known how to do for special needs kids the things I have done for mine. Perhaps not exactly because it was a different time and there was different information available and fewer resources available. I believe my mom did parent a child of special needs and she didn’t even know it. It was me. I was painfully shy and insecure. I had such horrible separation anxiety that I cried every morning before kindergarten. It made me feel better if I could see my mom a little bit longer so after she put me on the bus in front of the house, she would run around to the back porch and wave to me as the bus went up the street behind our house. I could catch one more glimpse of her between the houses and she knew that would help me get through the transition of home to school. My mom SHOWED me she loved me in so many ways. I show my kids because I was shown. I parent because I was parented.
Sarah and Sam Fish, in their eighties now.
You might also like this post: Don't Blink

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Morning With Sydney

Weekday mornings I usually wake Sydney but on the weekends, she is often up before the sun, even if she is allowed to stay up late the night before. Almost every Saturday and Sunday morning that I try to sleep in an extra hour, we go through a similar chaotic scenario. She leaves her room early and goes and wakes the kids upstairs who would like to sleep-in. She gets into the pantry and feeds herself a variety of interesting things, often hiding some of these things under her pillow “for later.” (See my past blogpost about hoarding.) She cannot stick to anything for more than a few minutes until after her medication begins to work so she might play a video game for a few minutes, dump a bucket or two of toys, undress a doll, get a movie going in her little dvd player and immediately abandon it, check to see if I am awake and jump on my bed a minute, while asking a dozen questions but not waiting for a single answer.  Sydney’s room opens both into the hall and into my room. We designed the house that way so I would have a nursery connected to our room. It has come in very handy. On the weekends I usually remember to block the door to the hall so Sydney has to come through my room and I can intercept her. I forgot last night. Shawn heard her get up and gave her permission to go to the bathroom, with the very clear instructions that she should go BACK to her room immediately after. Shawn got in the shower and I dozed back off. I woke ten minutes later and figured I’d better check on Sydney. The first place I looked was her room but I have no idea why. It is a mystery to me why I have any faith left in her ability to follow an instruction. After all this time, and all these mornings gone-wrong, I still expect her to obey. I still am surprised when she has not followed the directions she is given. Why? I have often heard: “insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Am I insane? I know that definition would actually apply to a science experiment proving the laws of gravity or something much more concrete than the whims of a child. However, this morning when I looked in Sydney’s room, hoping to find her playing quietly or reading in bed, I told myself that I must be insane looking there first.  I knew I would be more likely to find her upstairs in a sibling’s room, jumping on them while they protested, or digging in the pantry for something. Is it that I am only giving her the “benefit of the doubt” or that I am hopeful? Is it insanity?

I went into the dining room, calling her name. She didn’t answer. She was hiding behind the pantry door in the kitchen. She had a mouth full of food, and an American flag in her hand. The flag is one of Levi’s prized possessions. It came from a classroom at the Vinland school that was closed and abandoned. (Insanity abounds in this world.) The kids and I had helped the teachers pack up their classrooms and Levi had scored big when one of the teachers offered him the old, faded flag from the classroom. The flag in her hand proved to me she had already been upstairs. One of the rules at our house is that she can only go upstairs if she asks permission. Insanity struck me again, and I asked her:  “Have you been upstairs?” I expected the truth but she shook her head “no.” I said, “Sydney, I know you have been upstairs because you have Levi’s flag. Tell me the truth. Have you been upstairs?” She slowly shook her head “yes.”  I have many frustrations with all this. Is she able to give me the truth but afraid of the consequences? Is she always just going to give me the answer she THINKS I want to hear because she just wants to avoid conflict or make me happy? Is she unable to give me the truth because of her disability? Is this totally because of the lack of impulse control due to the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? I do know it is NOT because of lack of parenting, love, or discipline. Discipline of any kind has not been effective. Spankings, time-outs, lost privileges or toys, and lectures do no good. Positive reinforcement, hugs, and love have not made a dent in the behaviors either. We tried a morning chart with gifts for 3 good mornings and it took her a month to earn one gift. Of course, consistency is needed and we have been as consistent as possible through all the uproar she creates. Sydney is able to control her actions to a certain degree once her medication has taken effect. Even then, though, she cannot seem to control her impulses to correct her peers or to pester those around her. 

After I found Sydney this morning, took the flag from her, lectured her about her disobedience and how important it is to answer me when I call, I made sure she had something to eat and her pills. Then I watched her and waited for her pills to do their job. She ate a waffle, leaving the table over and over. She played “Just Dance” on the Nintendo for a minute, went to the bathroom and talked non-stop while there, played with her trucks and animals for a few seconds, told me about a dream she had (which she made up as she went along), got dressed, loudly read me two pages of a chapter book, argued with me about why she needed to go upstairs and wake Bailey, got out a bucket of crayons and paper but didn’t use them, dumped out her Polly Pockets, then immediately dumped a box of Barbies, cleaned up the Polly Pockets (at my insistence), turned on the television in my room and found a show she liked (which she immediately wandered away from) and got her coat and boots on so she could go outside. The yard is just mud from the melting snow and I told her to stay on the porch and sidewalk, fully expecting her to obey me and not come in covered with mud. Am I insane?  Probably! 

For all my frustration, I can only imagine Sydney’s. Being expected to follow rules and routine when her impulse control is almost non-existent must be very hard. Every thought (impulse) she has seems to be like a powerful magnet, pulling her to it. Alcohol did this to her. A birth mother who could not or would not control her impulses to drink did this to her. If you have seen the movie “Dennis The Menace” and watched how Dennis cannot control himself when it comes to pushing a button, then you might have an idea of how it is for Sydney. Dennis tries not to push the buttons in front of him. He reaches out to do it, pulls his hand back, thinks and weighs the options, then quickly pushes the button. The power of the button was just too much for him. THAT is what Sydney must be dealing with. What she sees, she touches and what she wants, she grabs. If she thinks it, she says it. Thank goodness for the medications we have found. It’s been well over an hour since Sydney took her pills. She is lying in the floor, in front of a show, talking calmly to me about her next trip over to visit Grandpa’s cows. I could probably go get a shower now or leave her unattended for a few minutes and it would NOT be insane to expect her to be behaving when I return. My precious baby girl is back with me for the day and the wild child is gone until tomorrow morning. Same
Sydney, caught in the act when she was
about four or five. 
time, same place. 

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Sydney: From the Back Seat of the Van

A while back we took a trip with the kids. Seat belted in the van. For hours. And hours. And hours. For some families, for some kids, this might not have been a big deal. For us, it was. We were traveling with a lot of capital letters. The letters FAS were in attendance. Those stand for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Then there was ADHD. Those stand for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.  And those are just the letters that our precious little Sydney brings with her. Our son Tate brought ASD. Those letters stand for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Tate is the youngest of our biological children but Sydney is our youngest child.

Sydney is adopted. We found her in an orphanage in Russia when she was six months old. We met her when she was almost nine months old and we got to bring her home when she was ten and a half months old. We were well aware of the fact that she could have special needs. We were of the opinion since meeting her that first time that she does have special needs. We got her diagnosis when she was two years old. She’s now ten. This story is from my archives and took place when she was eight.

Trying on hats
Sydney had been a real trooper for days as we confined her for long periods in her car seat and dragged her from one place to another where she was told to stay quiet and sit still. As her parents, who know her so well, we know just what she is and is not capable of and we try not to ask more of her than we know she is able to handle. Others, who do not know her background or know about her disability, probably often wonder why we allow some of the things we do. I used to think ADHD was basically code for “child without any discipline at home.” I now understand and am so glad I have been humbled in this way. The judgmental and uncompassionate person that I was, needed to be humbled. God always gives me what I need.

We had been in our hotel room on night one of our trip for a very short time when we got a call from the desk saying they had received a complaint about noise coming from room 309.  That was us.  It was true we were probably a little too loud considering our very late arrival time. I had been trying to quiet the kids down and had been fairly proud of Sydney for her behavior, considering the medication she takes for hyperactivity had worn off hours before.  I got her into bed quickly. She did not really get to stretch her legs and move around much after being confined to the car for hours. I hoped she would sleep-in but knew she probably would not. She woke early but I was able to convince her it was still not REALLY morning, thanks to the room-darkening drapes hotels have. We slept until around 8:30 and that is almost unheard of for Sydney. Within minutes of her getting up, we got another call from the front desk. The noise coming from our room was mentioned again. In disbelief I exclaimed, “You’ve got to be kidding me! We’ve only been up for a few minutes and we are whispering.” The man said it was the people below us who were complaining. Were we stomping when we walked? Did we have children running back and forth? Of course! SYDNEY!  All forty-two pounds of her was making too much noise for the folks below us. This was a really nice motel. Surely the wall and floors are not that thin and delicate. I quickly gave Sydney her medication and put her in the shower to play for a while. She thinks the shower is as good as any water park. Once her meds had kicked in and she was out of the shower, we made sure she sat on the bed until we were packed and ready to go. Of course, I did not want to infringe on the rights of others, even if they were being a little ridiculous.  

I’ve always been of the opinion that my special needs kids’ rights end where others’ rights begin. In other words, I believe that my kids should have a right to an appropriate education and many other things, as long as it is not interfering with the ability of the other children to learn or participate in the activity. I said that to say this:  I am not unreasonable. I am not demanding the world bow down to my kids because they have handicaps. They are not a burden to me but I actually am very aware of the “burden” they may be to some people they may encounter. I try to be very proactive in preventing problems before they arise.

That night and that morning when I knew someone was complaining about my noisy little girl, I wanted to find the “victim” and explain. I wanted to tell them until they had walked a mile in my shoes, maybe they should just suffer through fifteen minutes of noise while I got my kids into bed. I wanted to ask them if they had ever known a child who had to take a medication just so she could calm herself enough in the morning to breath normally, have a rational thought, and walk instead of run where she wanted to go. Would it have done any good? Perhaps not. Perhaps that person is the person I was before I had these two kids and all these capital letters to raise. Perhaps that person needs to be humbled but it is not my place to humble them. These are the kinds of things I have learned since I became the parent of a child with special needs. My Sydney, running, walking, hollering, or whispering, is a joy to be around. People who complain about her noise? They are missing out. 
I couldn’t talk about our travels with Sydney without remembering some of the things we heard from the back seat. 

Sydney: "Dad, I have a riddle for you. We ran over a possum and his dad had to take him to the shop. How is this possible?"  One of our older daughters, Bailey, had told us some riddles the day before and she ended all of them with “How is this possible?” One of the answers to one of Bailey’s riddles was: “His mother was the surgeon” so when Sydney demanded we try to answer her riddle, her daddy said, “His mother was the surgeon.”  Sydney, not understanding any of the riddles from the day before, and having no idea how her own should be answered, said “OOOOOHHHHHH!” She sounded so relieved that someone knew the answer and she didn’t even question him about it.

A second attempt at a riddle: "We ran over a possum. His grandma took him to the gas station to get air in him. How is this possible?" Same answer.

Sydney: "I know how to say pizza in Spanish. Hildora." We humored her and one of her older brothers and I repeated, “hildora.” Sydney immediately responded, "You are saying it all wrong. It is caldooza." She loves to change the rules mid-game and she loves to correct people so she does this kind of thing often.

Sydney hollered, "Look at that! A giraffe!" I was already looking out and had just seen a display of Santa and his reindeer but I looked around for the giraffe. Then comes a giggle and "Made you look!"  Of course, once she got me, she tried to do it again for the next hour. She claimed to see chickens on the road and many other things that were not there.

The thing we heard the most was, "OH! Do you see those cows? Aren't they sooooo cute?" She noticed every cow between home and our destination in Tennessee and commented on every one of them. 

Also by this author: "15 Truths of Parenting Special Needs Kids."

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