Archive | November, 2012

What We Did Over Thanksgiving Break … or, The Great Vomitfest of 2012

For the third year running, the kids had the entire week off from school for Thanksgiving.  We spent almost the entire week in a sea of puke.  Yes, the stomach flu that is going around has hit our house hard.  (Interestingly, the “stomach flu” is actually a misnomer, as it is not a flu at all, but rather gastroenteritis.)

It all started two weeks ago when Lilah vomited all over her bed in the middle of the night (isn’t that the best, when kids do that?).  She had eaten a whole lotta cantaloupe and also a filched chocolate bar from the Halloween stash, so you can imagine what her bed looked like.  In any case, I wrote the episode off as probably cantaloupe that was a smidge beyond its prime.

Then last weekend, Saturday night, Daisy began vomiting (thankfully, she didn’t hurl in her bed – a top bunk, which would have been all the more a bummer – but all over her bedroom floor, including a throw rug).  She vomited repeatedly for several hours, and then was in bed, weak and head-achey for a full day.

Sunday night, Joey got it.  He puked in his bed.  And all over the floor in his room.  The vomiting went on for several hours, just like Daisy, and he was in bed with a terrible headache for a day and a half after the vomiting stopped.

Late Monday morning, Annabelle began throwing up.  She was very matter-of-fact about it.  “Mommy, I’m going to throw up,” she told me.  Then she calmly walked herself to the bathroom and hurled in the toilet, thank goodness.  She’s the only one of the kids who made it into the toilet every time.  After the first time she puked, she complained that she was hungry!  Then she cried because I wouldn’t let her eat!  Then she puked again.  And again.  Just like the others, that went on for several hours and then she was in bed with a headache for a day.

Tuesday night, I was awakened by Finn screaming.  I went into his room, and sure enough, he had barfed all over his bed.  Now, with the other kids, once they started throwing up, I put them to bed with a bucket or empty trash can next to them for emergencies.  Can’t be done with Finn.  He doesn’t understand.  If he’s going to hurl, he’s going to hurl without reservation wherever he is.  So I changed his bedding and his jammies and put him back to bed, knowing full well that this was going to go on for several hours.  Sure enough, he threw up eight times before he was done, and I cleaned him up and changed him every time, and washed my hands until they were raw.  I gave up on bedding after the second time he threw up and just started putting towels down.  After a few hours, he was done throwing up and was lethargic for another two days.

As one kid after another was picked off by this bug, I started thinking that Lilah had actually been the first to get it when she threw up all that cantaloupe and chocolate a couple weeks back.  But Friday night she started throwing up again, and I knew then that, no, that first round was just bad cantaloupe after all, and this was the stomach flu (or whatever you want to call it).  I think Lilah probably had it worse than anyone.  Instead of vomiting repeatedly for several hours, she vomited occasionally over a period of two days.  She spent the entire weekend in bed or lying on the couch with a trash can next to her and I don’t think she ate more than a couple of crackers all weekend.  She’s finally better today, but I kept her home from school just because she’s so weak from being so sick and not eating, and her poor little face just looks thin and wan.

Through all this, I decided that by sheer force of will – that, and those Super Mom Powers I’m supposed to be endowed with – that I was not going to get it.  After all, days and days went by with kid after kid puking and me cleaning it up and looking after them, and I felt fine.

Then, this past Saturday night, around midnight, it started.  I woke up with my stomach feeling not right, and I knew.  I threw up repeatedly for five solid hours, with such force that I felt like my organs were going to come up, until I was weak and completely depleted.  Michael started throwing up within a couple of hours of me.  Both of us stayed in bed for most of the day yesterday, and I don’t know about him, but I had a killer headache, just like the kids complained of.

I hate that feeling of an entire day slipping by, of nothing productive getting done.  I’m a task-oriented person, and never is that more evident than when I am forced to not do anything because of illness.  It unsettles me.

Today I feel better, but still weak.  I lost four pounds over 24 hours, though I’m sure it will be back within a few days.  I am really sore, as if I did some hardcore upper body workout, which I guess, if you think about it, is what repeated violent vomiting amounts to.

Kevin and Scarlett are the only ones to have escaped it so far.  I’m not thanking my lucky stars just yet, though, because it’s too soon – they could still both come down with it.  I especially worry about Scarlett.  I have visions of her becoming quickly dehydrated from repeated vomiting and having to go to the hospital and be hooked up to an IV.  Worst case scenario, I know, but probably not far-fetched.  Hopefully the antibodies she gets from nursing will serve her well.

As for Thanksgiving itself, it was kind of a bust.  It was the only day last week that nobody was actively sick, but it wasn’t a day that went especially well.  I decided it would be the perfect day to do our annual family photo for our holiday cards, and that’s always an ordeal.  Just getting everyone dressed and out the door took two hours.  And then, trying to get everyone to cooperate for the actual photos is a torment.  We came up with a great concept this year, but the actual photos are a bit of a disappointment.  One of them will have to do, though, because there’s no way I’m putting us through that torture again for another year.  That whole process took up way more time than we thought it would, so Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t on the table until hours later than we had hoped, and tempers were flaring before then, so . . . yeah.

‘Tis the season.

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Scarlett @ Five Months

Another month, and she’s grown more beautiful, don’t you think?

 

(Sometimes I can’t believe she’s mine!)

 

 

Gosh, I hope those blue eyes stay blue.  But I suspect they’ll eventually turn green like Kevin’s and Finn’s did, and even mine.

 

I’ve come to the conclusion that, temperament-wise, she’s Joey’s clone as a baby.  Right down to the loud humming herself to sleep as she nurses.  Joey was a tough baby, but he ended up being the sweetest little boy you’d ever want to know.  So I have hope for Scarlett!  Not that she’s not sweet, but she’s tough – yes, still.

 

I know, the pictures make a liar out of me, huh?  Okay, she doesn’t cry all the time.  She’s happy when she’s getting attention.  And she’s got everyone in the house wrapped around her little finger.

 

Just stay my little baby, Scarlett.

Life, Death, and Faith

My heart is heavy today.  The older brother of a classmate of my twins died very suddenly yesterday.  I learned about it on Facebook (what a world we live in!); details are still emerging, but apparently it had something to do with his heart, and although I’m not sure, what I’m gathering is that he was not known to have had a heart condition, so it makes the shock of someone so young and apparently vital dying all the more unsettling.  He was 14 years old.

I do not know the family.  I know the little girl in Daisy and Annabelle’s class by sight, and her mom and I exchange greetings when we pass each other on the way to or from school, but that’s the extent of it.  So I can’t stake a claim of personal grief – and yet, hearing about anyone losing a child brings on grief, doesn’t it?  It is unfathomable to me what this family must be experiencing right now.  I asked Kevin if he knew the boy, because although they attended different high schools and were a grade apart, they would have attended elementary school together.  Kevin didn’t know him, but when I told him what happened, he said, “Let’s be thankful that everyone in our family is alive and healthy.”  He’s right, of course.  And yet, to think that, to feel that, feels cheap in a way.  As if to say, “I’m thankful that happened to someone else and not us.”  To believe that somehow, fate has favored us above them.

Inevitably, sentiments of faith are being expressed on Facebook regarding this tragedy.  The faithful believe that he’s with Jesus now, that he’s in a better place, that God needed him more than his family did.

The usefulness of faith is perhaps never more apparent than in times of grieving.  Holding onto such beliefs offers comfort in a time of great turmoil and pain.  If one really believes those things – that there is a better place after this earthly life, that a wise and merciful god is merely carrying out his divine plan – it can dull the pain of astounding loss.  It can make it all seem as if there is a good reason behind it – a purpose.  And the faithful are comforted also  by the belief that they will one day meet their loved one again in the Great Beyond.

But faith has another side to it.

When my dad died almost fourteen years ago – I was still a believer then – I agonized for months about where my dad’s soul had ended up.  He was agnostic, and to my knowledge, never “accepted Jesus Christ as his savior,” and so, based on what I was taught, his soul must have gone to hell.  Images of torture and fire and eternal cries of agony tortured me.  On the other hand, I had also been taught that God is compassionate and merciful, and so I argued with myself, “God loves everyone, he wouldn’t send someone to hell who was, underneath many flaws, a decent human being.”  And so I tried to believe that Dad went to heaven.  I went back and forth for a long, long time.  It was probably one of the more painful aspects of losing my dad so suddenly – the not knowing where he ended up.  Finally, I decided that of course he went to heaven.  Because that’s what I needed to believe to get through the grief and go on.  I would see him again one day after my earthly life was over, and that was all there was to it.  Because I needed to believe that, I could adjust my beliefs accordingly.  Faith seems to work that way.

I look back on that time now and feel something close to anger and disgust that I had to expend so much energy and time worrying and agonizing over the final resting place of my dad’s soul – all thanks to my faith, which had mostly been spoon fed to me.

We are all born and we all die, and between being born and dying, we all experience sorrow and loss and pain, as well as joy.  That is the natural order of things – that is life.  It seems that, were there any fairness at all though, no parent should ever have to bury a child.  That seems atrociously unfair and unnatural.  And yet, it happens all the time, all over the world.   So we try to make sense of it the best we can, and we take comfort wherever we can.

 

Finn’s Awesome Preschool . . . or, Beautiful Inclusion

Yesterday the preschool Finn attends had its annual family feast in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  It was a time for the families to sit down together and share a meal (“breaking bread” together is an important element of this preschool program, as the director is a big believer in connecting with one another through communal activities; the kids eat breakfast and lunch together every day, provided by the school), and a way for the school to thank the families for their involvement in the program.

Eating proficiently with utensils (including soup from a spoon!) and drinking from an open cup are just two of the skills Finn has mastered merely by having these skills modeled by typical peers.

The outdoor area is a kids’ paradise – so much to see and do and explore.  Finn is completely at home there and wanted to show us everything.

I’m not sure any if the kids see anything different about Finn.  They all seem to accept him as just one of them.  They all greet him when I drop him off in the morning, and there is one little girl in particular who proclaims Finn her “best friend” and hugs him without reservation.  The teachers recognize Finn’s differences without allowing those differences to define him; they talk to him the same way they talk to the other kids, they have generally the same expectations of him that they do the other children (taking his dishes up to the teacher after eating, for instance, and picking up toys that he is finished playing with).  They see him as a whole person with value and potential.  I wish with all my heart that the whole world could see him that way.

How to Make a 3-D Person Out of a Wooden Kitchen Spoon

Joey, our 10-year old, is in the midst of a fifth grade biography project for which he was instructed to choose a famous person, dead or alive, who has had a positive impact on society, research and prepare organized notes and give an oral presentation about that person, and create a 3-D model of that person.  Joey chose Mark Twain (an awesome choice!), and he’s been working very hard reading about him and preparing notes.  This weekend he and I headed to the craft store with no specific ideas in mind about what sort of 3-D model he might make, hoping for inspiration.

As we wandered the aisles of Michael’s, it hit me out of nowhere: a regular wooden kitchen spoon would be perfect as the body.  And so was born Joey’s model of Mark Twain:

 

 

Materials used included:

Wooden kitchen spoon

Cotton balls

Felt

Elmer’s glue

Hot glue

Markers

Beads

Plastic disposable bowl

The photos are pretty self-explanatory; markers were used for the face and some of the details on the clothes, cotton balls for the hair and mustache, felt for the clothes, and beads for the buttons.  Elmer’s glue was used for the hair (cotton balls), and hot glue was used to attach front and back clothing pieces at the edges.  I used a sharp knife to cut an X in the center of an overturned plastic bowl and stuck the finished spoon figure through the hole (like you would a straw in a soft drink) to create the base.  Voila!  The possibilities are endless, really; I’m sure a wooden spoon could be used to create just about any person, and there’s no limit to the materials that could be used for clothing and details.  The whole thing cost five or six bucks – you can’t beat that!

On Being a Bleeding Heart Liberal

As I was leaving the grocery store yesterday, I passed a car in the parking lot that had this bumper sticker displayed:

 

It made me feel angry and sickened.  What a crock of shit.

What I want to know is: what do you consider to be “welfare”?

I suspect that when most people think of “welfare,” what they think about is food stamps and checks rolling in to pay for (undeserved) living expenses.  I think to a lot of people, the idea of “welfare” conjures up images of a trashy mom, obese from the fruits of her food stamps, parked on a sofa, chain-smoking and eating Doritos and watching Jerry Springer on the tube as her ten children from ten different fathers by turns slurp Coca Cola from their baby bottles, graffiti the neighborhood as they ditch school, and corrupt the good children from hardworking families with drugs and foul language.

I’m sure there are people out there exactly like that.  But you don’t really believe that that picture represents the majority of people on “welfare,” do you?  Do you think anybody likes being poor?  Do you think very many people are proud to collect government assistance?  And do you really believe that very many people who are on welfare are living high on the hog?  Sure, there is definitely welfare fraud going on, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about people who humbly tap into a resource that allows them to feed their children, and to eke out an existence that is still probably considered poverty-level.

Why do the Haves begrudge the Have-Nots so vehemently and meanly?  Why are so many people so deeply invested in the Mine-Mine-Mine! mindset?  How is it that many of the same politically conservative people who out of one side of their mouths insist that the United States of America was founded on Christian values and that we, as a country, have strayed too far away from those values insist out of the other side of their mouths that those who are less fortunate, those who have fallen on hard times or who were born into hard times, are moochers and parasites?  Isn’t helping those who are less fortunate a basic Christian tenet?  Shouldn’t it be a basic human tenet?

Why are so many people so hypocritical – and they don’t even see it?

Consider this: “welfare” is not merely food stamps.  “Welfare” is defined as –

. . . the provision of a minimal level of wellbeing and social support for all citizens. In most developed countries, welfare is largely provided by the government, in addition to charities, informal social groups, religious groups, and inter-governmental organizations. In the end, this term replaces “charity” as it was known for thousands of years, being the voluntary act of providing for those who temporarily or permanently could not.

***

Welfare systems differ from country to country, but Welfare is commonly provided to individuals who are unemployed, those with illness or disability, the elderly, those with dependent children, and veterans.

It is fair and accurate to say, then, that “welfare” encompasses any program designed to provide medical, monetary, or other assistance at the expense of taxpayers.  That means – and I’m talking to you, my friends in the Down syndrome community – Medicaid, early intervention services, respite care, and diapers from Regional Center.  If you have taken advantage of any of those, then you, my friend, have received welfare.  Should anyone begrudge you that?  Does it make you a moocher or a parasite?

Maybe the person who owns that car with that bumper sticker has never, ever received anything on the taxpayers’ dime.  But what would that person do if, by some catastrophe, they lost everything?   What would that person do if they had a child with a disability and that child needed therapy or extensive medical intervention?

It’s funny how it’s a whole different story when the circumstances come home to roost.

Scarlett’s 4-month Well-Baby Checkup, and Our Pediatrician’s Curious Take on Autism and Vaccines

So Scarlett had her 4-month well-baby checkup this morning.  She weighs in at 11 pounds 10 ounces and is 24 inches long (or 2 feet tall, which is more fun to say).  She is perfect!

After the routine physical exam, the doc says to me, “So, still no vaccines?”  “Nope,” I say.  Okay, you’re not really surprised at this, coming from a home-birthing, cloth-diapering, extended breastfeeding mother, are you?  Not that not vaccinating necessarily goes hand in hand with those other things, but, well, it is true that “crunchy” parents (and I only consider myself to be “crispy”) tend to be less inclined to vaccinate their children, or at least to be choosy about which vaccines to go ahead with and on what sort of schedule.

Without going into a whole song and dance about our reasons for not vaccinating (because I wrote about it a while back here), I’ll just say briefly that, although our five older kids are vaccinated, Finn remains unvaccinated, and at least for now, so does Scarlett.

So here are some things the pediatrician had to say to me this morning (paraphrased):

  • First and foremost, autism is NOT caused by vaccines!
  • Autism is genetic, and by genetic, he means hereditary.  He said that he can almost always tell, by observation, which parent the kid got it from.
  • Autism is caused by parents not being connected enough to their kids.  (However, this is also a doctor who has been telling me since Kevin was a baby that babies should not sleep with their parents and parents should not pick their baby up every time he/she cries, and babies do best by being left to cry it out.)
  • He knows a kid (a patient?  Not sure . . .) who WAS vaccinated who caught meningitis from a kid who was NOT vaccinated.  “If he was vaccinated, how did he catch meningitis from someone who wasn’t vaccinated?” I asked.  “Vaccines aren’t perfect!” he exclaimed.  “Which is why you have to get as much of them as you can!”
  • There is a “family of autistics” who live in his neighborhood – a grandmother, a mom and a dad, their kids, and the mom’s sister who comes to visit occasionally.  They’re all autistic, according to the doc.  He did say that none of them has ever been diagnosed, but it is his feeling that they all have autism.  And apparently, the grandma is the “most severe” – and she was never vaccinated because she was born in China!  According to him, each generation in the family has received more vaccines, and yet the autism has lessened in severity with each generation.  No, he really said this!

After relaying all of this to me, he asked me again, “So, you’re sure you don’t want to vaccinate Scarlett today?”  “Yep,” I said.

Also, this is the same doc who insisted to me a month or two back that Finn’s eye turning inward is all in my imagination, it’s an “illusion,” but then Finn was diagnosed with strabismus by a pediatric ophthalmologist shortly thereafter.

Now you may be asking why we stick with this pediatrician!   Well, habit, I guess.  In all honesty, we’ve been with him for almost 16 years – since Kevin was born.  And generally I like him.  But it does seem that the older he gets (and he’s only a few years older than me!), the more radical his idea become, and the more we differ in our approach to certain things.  I guess I’ve learned to take it with a grain of salt.  Take what works, and leave the rest.  I’m okay going to him for routine stuff, but, yeah, obviously I don’t rely on everything he says.

As for vaccines, I’m not some nut job, and Jenny McCarthy is not my role model.  I wish people would give those of us who don’t vaccinate the benefit of the doubt, and instead of assuming we’re deranged, assume that we’ve given the issue careful thought, we’ve done our own research, and have perhaps just come to different conclusions than other parents have.  I don’t know what causes autism, but neither does anybody else to date.  When someone figures out what does cause autism and how it can be prevented, if the time ever comes that all vaccines are deemed completely safe for all children with no risk of side effects or neurological injury, when there is no longer any need for the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program – then come and talk to me about my parenting choices.

Down Syndrome Out and About

I know Down Syndrome Awareness Month is over, but I have to jot down a brief encounter I had yesterday.

Joey had a Little League game, and it was at a sports park where there are multiple ball fields and a playground, and the whole thing is adjacent to an elementary school.  So I’m sitting in the stands with Scarlett watching the game, Michael is helping coach out on the field, and Daisy, Annabelle and Lilah are running around.  I craned my head around to make sure I could still see them, and I spot a little boy and my radar suddenly starts doing its thing: the little boy had Down syndrome – I could tell from 50 feet away.  Funny how once you have a kid with Down syndrome, you have a nose for other kids with Down syndrome.

Now I’m visually stalking him.  He’s with a young girl – his sister, I assume.  They must belong to a family watching one of the other ball games going on.  They scamper off to the playground, which is just a few yards away from the stands I’m sitting in.  Well, my girls are playing on the playground, so why shouldn’t I sidle on over there, right?  Right.  So I climb down from the bleachers with baby in hand and casually (ha!) go stand at the edge of the playground.  Yep, he’s definitely got Down syndrome.  He and his sister are playing tag.  I catch her eye and say, “Is that your brother?”  “Yes,” she says.  “Does he have Down syndrome?” I ask (heart pounding a little hard, as I realize this could come across as very rude and forward).  She stammers a little.  “Yes,” she says, and I catch a note of defensiveness in her voice.  And why not?  Who is this woman asking questions about her brother?  “I have a little boy who has Down syndrome, too,” I tell her.  “Yeah!  His name’s Finn and he’s four!” one of my girls laughs, as if to say “Down syndrome, schmown schmyndrome!  No big deal!”  I was sorry that I had left Finn at home with Kevin.  I asked her how old he was (he was busy running around) and she told me he was 8.  So the same age as my twins (he looked quite a bit younger, not surprisingly).  A minute later, he took off running.  His sister chased after him, but he kept on going, and soon he disappeared onto the school grounds.  Then there was their mom giving chase.  I kept watching to make sure they caught up with him, and sure enough, several minutes later, here they came, Mom holding him by the hand.  I smiled at her as she passed, hoping that my smile conveyed . . . something, I don’t know what.  Just not that I was some jerk rubbernecking.

And I also kept thinking, “Eight years old, and he still bolts.  Do they ever outgrow that?”  It’s the very reason Finn was at home with Kevin – because he takes off, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep track of him at a ballgame when I have the baby to manage as well.

I wish I knew how to approach other parents of kids with Down syndrome.  After all this time, I still don’t know how.  But the urge to connect when these encounters arise is still strong for me.

Sometimes I wonder  if Finn and I have ever been out and about and unknowingly been the object of some other mom’s desire to connect.

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet, Give Me Something Good to Eat.

 

 

I made this puppy costume for Kevin when he was a wee tyke.  Joey also wore it when he was little.  This year was Finn’s turn.  Have you ever seen a cuter pup?  I think not.

 

This was the first year Finn actually went trick-or-treating.  I think he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but he was game.

 

 

The girls –

 

Annabelle was a black cat –

 

Daisy a daisy fairy –

 

Lilah a butterfly –

 

Joey was a nazgul.  Um . . . yeah.  Look it up.

 

 

Do you know how impossible it is to get a decent shot of this many kids where they’re all looking at the camera and nobody is crying or pinching or kicking someone else?

 

Kevin didn’t dress up this year.  Or, he did, but just for school, and I didn’t get a picture.  He was Spock.  But with bleached blonde hair.

 

 

 

 

And now, I must sample the kids’ loot to make sure it’s all safe for consumption.