The Anniversary I Forgot

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The other day I looked over at the calendar…September 15th. Not a day of note. We didn’t have any plans. But, I was surprised at the date. Not because of the date it was, but because of the date I forgot.

September 12, 2012. The day Junior was diagnosed with profound hearing loss. The day that officially began our special needs journey. The day I thought I could never forget because the grief was etched so strongly in my mind and heart. As I sat in that sterile audiologist’s office holding my sleeping infant as she went over the results of his failed hearing test, her words were unintelligible through my tears. I thought our world was over…I thought we would never be happy again.

And yet…

The five year anniversary of this life-changing date was missed. Overlooked. Forgotten. That date I thought was forever going to shape my world and become a solemn reminder of our challenges has now become “just another day.”

Being the parent of a deaf child isn’t easy. It never will be. Our days are still filled with therapies and frustrations and broken cochlear implant pieces and phone calls to specialists and insurance companies. But, they are also filled with laughter, joy, and pride. They are filled with Junior whispering in my ear that he loves me, with books and reading and singing, and with Junior telling everyone he meets that he wants to be an astronaut when he grows up so he can visit Jupiter and the Moon like any other five year old boy.

Five years ago, I never thought a day would go by when I didn’t think about the day he was diagnosed. But now, because of all the lessons we have learned along the way, like hope and perseverance, determination and gratitude, it is a day that barely gets a second thought.

Vacationpocalypse Redux

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You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been around much the last month or two. After I got back from my Jeopardy! audition in Seattle, I started not feeling right. I went to the doctor a few times, saw a couple of specialists, had surgery, and was not in a very bloggy mood until I just received the “healthy all clear”. Praise the Lord! So, all is well, I am back, and I wanted to share some photos of our trip to Texas last week. Remember Vacationpocalypse last year? Well this trip followed that one up nicely.

Our kids had the opportunity to be a flower girl and ring bearer at a friend’s wedding in Fort Worth, Texas. We decided to fly out a few days early, so we could spend some time touring the area, and we had a few “field trips” planned as part of our homeschool curriculum.

It’s a 3 hour flight from San Diego to Dallas. Well, not even three hours. I think the total flight is around two hours and forty-five minutes. Between take off and descent, it’s only about 2 hours in the air. No problem! This would be easy. We got to the San Diego airport and found a parking space right in front (never happens), then made it through security in five minutes (never happens either), and our flight left 15 minutes early, with an early arrival time planned (woohoo, Texas steak dinner here we come!)

Texas has been getting record rainfall and flooding the last few weeks, but the storm in Dallas wasn’t supposed to move in until after our 5pm flight was to arrive. Everything was going smoothly, the kids were doing great on the flight, and I was anticipating a nice steak once we arrived.

About 10 minutes before our arrival time, the captain came on and said there was a lightening storm in the DFW area, and no planes could land, but that we would circle until a path opened and arrive about 20 minutes late.

We continued to circle for 2 hours…every 30 minutes the captain would come on and promise us only 20 more minutes. I started to not believe him. It was now 7pm, and we had no time table for landing.

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Finally a little after 7pm, we were told we were beginning our initial descent–into Wichita Falls–about 120 miles north of DFW to refuel. We considered renting a car to make it down to DFW, but they never let us off the plane. We sat on the tarmac for FOUR hours. Junior was not having any of it…it was meltdown central on that plane, and I don’t blame the poor kid. A 3 hour flight had turned into 9, and I had only packed enough snacks and games for 3 hours. Finally, at 11:30pm, we landed at DFW. No one on the plane got dinner, so we were all hungry and crabby. After getting the rental car and driving an hour to the hotel, we finally settled in about 1am.

The only upside, I told my husband, is that if we ever wanted to fly to Europe, we know the kids could do it =)

Next Post: Photos of my 33 oz Texas tomahawk steak, sitting on a live longhorn steer, and the ring bearer and flower girl in action.

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Four Years Later…

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Junior turns 4 next week. It’s been four years. Nearly half a decade. 1461 Days.

And yet it still feels like yesterday.

I’ve shared a little bit about Junior’s birth story, and the difficult and painful months leading up to his birth with the death of a parent among other trials, followed by the difficult and painful months after his birth as we came to learn about the reality of having a special needs child.

The last four years have been a roller coaster, and it’s changed me. In some amazing and wonderful ways, and some not so great ways. I’ve learned unconditional love, compassion, empathy, and the value of taking nothing for granted. But, I’ve also experienced grief, overwhelming days, anxiety about his future, and exhaustion. I try to accentuate the best parts of our journey, but some days, weeks, and months are just hard. But, would I change anything about him? Not a thing.

The ups and downs of having a special needs child are impossible to explain unless you’ve been there. The little milestones keep us going…the one year old who can finally turn to the sound of his name being called. The two and a half year old who sleeps through the night for the first time, the almost-4-year old who can make it through an entire dinner at a restaurant without having a meltdown, and asks for juice instead of grunting for it.

Some of these little milestones were years in the making. It took a year of speech therapy after receiving his implant before Junior could even hear the “Sh” sound, and another 18 months before he could actually say it. It took 2 years of occupational therapy to get him to sit still in a chair coloring for just 3 minutes. Three years of auditory verbal therapy before he could string together a sentence.

But, they say the harder you have to work for something, the more satisfaction it brings. The joy on his face when we turn his “ears” on every morning is like a new miracle each day. Every new word he utters makes me proud, and gives me hope. I must have dozens of Junior’s renditions of You Are My Sunshine, Blessed Assurance, and Amazing Grace recorded onto my phone because I just can’t get enough of hearing him sing.

Four years ago, I could never have imagined this path we were about to take. This world of deafness, cochlear implants, AVT, SPD, OT, audiologists, sleepless nights, and behavioral screenings. Of love, joy, hope, compassion, and contentment.

Because four years ago, this little boy turned me into the person I was supposed to be. His mom.

Happy birthday baby boy.

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Your Must-Have Travel Binder

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So, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I love lists. I love writing lists, crossing things off lists, and adding silly things to my lists just so I can cross more things off.

One of my favorite things about traveling is all the anticipation and prep work. I love planning and organizing trips. We do our fair share of traveling as a family, usually 3 to 4 trips a year, so I have this down to a science. Meet the Travel Binder!

I get a three hole pronged folder (it has to be flexible enough to carry wherever you go), and add these things to it:

1. Basic Itinerary
We don’t like to be locked into anything on any specific day, but we do like to have a basic idea of how each day is going to unfold. There’s nothing more aggravating than wasting half a day trying to figure out what you’re going to be doing that day. Remember, this doesn’t have to be set in stone. You can add or subtract or switch days. It’s less of a schedule and more a way to organize your “must-dos” and “must sees” along with any important information (such as dinner reservations, special events, etc.) For example, if I know the kids want to go swimming at the hotel pool every morning after breakfast, I’ll put “Breakfast at hotel, swim at hotel pool, afternoon TBD.” It gives an outline without giving a schedule.

2. Want-to-Try Restaurants
Thanks to restaurant review sites, you no longer have to pick a place to eat and hope for the best. Before we go anywhere, I check Yelp and TripAdvisor for the best restaurants in the area, and make a list, dividing it up by cuisine and part of town. That way, when we’re driving around, we can simply pick something off our list. We’ve found some great hole-in-the-wall places we never would have thought to try anyway, just by checking the reviews.

3. Activities List
I have a special needs kid. The first few days of any vacation are just plain stressful as he’s trying to get into a routine, and truth be told, he doesn’t sleep well away from home so there are some days where we don’t do much besides sit in the hotel room and rest. But, I always have a list of activities I would like to get to. Every morning when we wake up, we check the weather, see how the kids are doing, and choose something off the list. This also helps with the major time waster of:
“What do you want to do today?”
“I don’t know. What about you?”
“I don’t care, you choose.”
Three hours later, you’re still sitting there!

4. Phone Numbers
Phone numbers at the ready for hotels, airlines, attractions, and restaurants (to make reservations) are a huge time saver. Sure, you can pull it up on your phone, but having everything in one place is a lot more convenient and you don’t have to worry about having internet connection or not.

5. Directions
I always print directions and maps to and from some of the more important destinations. Things like Airport to Hotel and Hotel to Main Attractions. Cell phone reception can be spotty depending on where you’re going, and I’ve found that my cell phone often gives me the “cannot find destination” excuse. Having a hard copy of important directions or a map of the area can really come in handy.

What Is Your Best Tip for Staying Organized on Vacation?

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Homeschooling a Child With Sensory Issues

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Tater is in 2nd grade now, and while some of her sensory issues are improving, she can still have a hard time focusing, which means I need to get creative in our homeschool so she can reach her full potential. Homeschooling is an ideal environment for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder because you can teach exactly how they learn best, and tailor the curriculum to their learning style. There’s no “falling through the cracks” in the homeschool setting because of the one-on-one attention they get.

Since Junior’s sensory issues are worse than Tater’s because of his hearing loss, I know I’ll need to adapt even more once he starts doing school, but here are some tips that have helped me keep my sanity and Tater keep from getting (too) frustrated.

1. Create a Peaceful Space
Kids with sensory issues either get overstimulated and out of control or completely shut down if there is too much stimulation. It could be in the form of visual, auditory, or tactile stimulation. Between the constant sounds of Junior being a loud 3 year old, the dishwasher and washing machine running, and the visual distractions of cars driving by, birds flying by, and neighbors out walking, Tater sometimes struggles to focus. Hearing protection Headphones (we have a pair like these) have been great when she just needs some quiet in the midst of everyday noises. Too much visual stimulation can be a problem too. I make sure all the cabinet doors in the school room are closed and that she’s facing away from the window, so a car or bird flying by doesn’t distract her.

2. Make Movement Part of the Lesson Plan
Movement is important for helping sensory kids become stable and grounded because they need that Vestibular or Proprioceptive input. I try to add in movement into our lesson plans as much as possible. Sometimes we do Math Obstacle Courses…I’ll create an obstacle course in the backyard, and she will have to answer a math problem at each obstacle. I also do scavenger hunts…I write out her math problems and place one inside of a plastic Easter egg, then hide them around the yard. She runs around finding the eggs and does the problems.

When we’re studying music (lately we’ve been studying Tchaikovsky), I allow her to dance to the music. For history, sometimes she will act out a scene from our history book, or she will just take a break every 20-30 minutes to go do some laps or jump on the exercise trampoline.

3. Let Them Focus on Something Else
I used to make Tater give me her full attention whenever I would read aloud. I didn’t think she was paying attention if her eyes were not focused on me. Well, after some challenges with recalling what I read, someone mentioned that if her hands were otherwise occupied, she might be able to focus better. Wow, what a difference that made! She needed the Tactile input so she could focus auditorily. She plays with LEGOs, draws, plays with Kinetic Sand or Play-Doh while I’m reading aloud to  her, and she is able to repeat what I said verbatim. (I always ask some comprehension questions while I’m reading.)

4. It’s Okay to Take a Break
Sensory kids can easily get burned out and shut down. When we’ve hit a wall and she starts to shut down, we just stop what we’re doing and take a quiet time break. Sometimes 15 minutes of going to a quiet place to read or do a puzzle is all it takes to calm her down and allow her to focus enough to get back on task.

5. Create Hands On Learning Opportunities
For all kids, but especially kids with sensory issues, utilizing all their senses is one of the keys to their academic success. Some of the things we regularly do in our lesson plans to encourage sensory input are:

-Creating Lego models of what we’ve learned
-Doing a science experiment instead of just reading about science
-Acting out a chapter from a book, including dressing up as the character(s)
-Aforementioned “Movement” activities
-Field Trips to local museums, hands-on Children’s Museums, state parks and National Parks
-Cooking or baking a recipe from whatever area we’re studying in Geography

Remember, homeschooling doesn’t have to look like regular school. As long as your child is learning the concepts they need to, you can present them in whatever way they will learn best. And sometimes that means doing math problems upside down while working on a LEGO masterpiece :)

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