Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I Would Not Change Him for the World

When Lauren left for college in August, it was hard on all of us, but I think it was the hardest for Dominic.


Ever since he was born, she has been there for him. The separation for the two of them has been difficult at times, but I have raised both of the "kids" to be strong people and they are coping as best as they can.  Lauren took a Freshman Writing class this past semester and her grade was based on her writing "portfolio," which included three writing assignments. A few months ago, she asked me if it was okay if she wrote about Dominic for one of the three assignments. I was curious what she would write and I saw a rough draft recently, but hadn't seen the finished "product." Yesterday, I read it. Anybody got a case of tissues? Wow, my sweet daughter blew me away. These particular sentences were so heartwarming to hear as a mom:

"the lessons of patience and understanding that I have learned from Dominic are invaluable, and he truly proves society’s assumptions wrong. Dominic is different from other kids his age, but he carries extraordinary importance in my life. Dominic does have autism, but that is just part of who he is. Mostly, he is just like any other typical 10-year-old little brother, and still does a lot of the mischievous behaviors that little brothers do. Although getting my little brother to where he is now has certainly been a journey, I would not change him for the world." 

Hey, I thought I was the writer in this family?!?!?!?! She definitely has a way with words, doesn't she? By the way, Lauren found out a few days ago that she got an "A" on her writing portfolio! Yahoo!

No Words Are Needed

A dear friend of mine lost her mom just a few short months ago and this past week, her father passed away. When I saw her Sunday evening, I gave her a hug. We chatted for a bit and she showed Lauren and I pictures of both of her parents. She described to us the last few days of her dads life before he passed. I could feel tears coming to my eyes, but I wanted to remain strong for my friend. She and I hugged each other about five more times. No words were needed to express my sorrow for her, she knew. When I went back in November to see my ill mother, the first thing she said to me when I saw her was, "come here and give me a hug." I love hugs, because you don't need to use words, the other person can tell how you feel. For the past few months, Dominic has been giving us "side" hugs. He will come up next to us, hug and then walk away. Yesterday, I got a hug AND an "I love you, mommy." My husband and I have been together almost 24 years.  At this point, we can just look at each other and know with almost 100% certainty what the other is thinking. When my stepson flies in or out of town to visit us, we all get pulled together (by Dominic) for a "group" hug. I think it's become our "thing" at the local airport! One of my favorite parts of going to church is when we hold hands during the Lord's Prayer. I love it when I hold hands with Lauren and she squeezes my hand three times for, I love you. I squeeze her hand back four times for, I love you too. Ever since I was a toddler, I have had a "passion" for baking.  As you can probably guess, one of my favorite presents ever was an Easy Bake Oven. Even to this day, I still find it fascinating that I used to bake things with a light bulb! LOL. I have cooked and/or baked with my stepson, Lauren and Dominic at one time or another. Can you tell by the look on Dominic's face what he thinks of the "cookies with sprinkles" that he helped make?


One of my favorite things to do is to surprise Dominic's bus driver with my "bakery." I never tell him when it's coming, Sometimes it's in the morning and sometimes it's in the afternoon. I like to keep him guessing :) No words are needed to tell me whether he likes me doing it or not - the smile on his face tells me everything I need to know!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Thank You to Dominic's "New" Friends

Dominic has been having Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings yearly, since he entered the public school system at age three.  Back at the end of October,  my husband and I attended the first IEP meeting at his new middle school. When it came time for Dominic’s teacher, Miss Elena, to speak, I knew I wanted to ask her when the new peer-to-peer program was due to start.  For children with Autism (like Dominic), knowing the appropriate social communicative skills to use with their peers is challenging and difficult. As Miss Elena started to fill us in on how he was progressing, the hubby and I were pleased to find out that he seemed to be adapting well to his new school. Before I could ask the question about the peer-to-peer program, Miss Elena started telling us that about a week or so before Dominic’s IEP meeting, she had put a sign up sheet out by the main office in the morning with space for 20-25 students to sign their names. When she went around lunchtime to see if anyone had signed up, the sheet was gone. My heart sank. The first thing that popped into my head was that someone had ripped the sheet off the wall and threw it in the trash. Well, the sheet was gone because 125 students wanted to sign up to participate!! I am rarely speechless, but at that moment, you literally could have knocked me over with a feather. The first informational meeting was held with 30 of the 125 students recently that will participate in the peer-to-peer program, aptly titled, “Friends First.”  Miss Elena remarked to me, that one of the first questions the students asked after her presentation was, “how soon can we start?” I was speechless, again, which considering my big yap is rare! My heart is full of such gratitude to those 125 children!! I wish I could write a thank you note to each and every one of them (and their parents).  In about seven to eight years, those children will be adults. What an incredible insight they will have into the special needs “world” don’t you think???


Friday, December 5, 2014

Keeping the "Closeness"

When Lauren was home from college last week, she and I went to see the Nutcracker Ballet for the sixth year in a row.


This time a year ago, Lauren was a senior in high school and she and I talked at that time, about how we weren't sure if we would be able to carry on our "tradition" of going together, since she hadn't picked a college yet. We are finding that her living just 90 miles away has been awesome. It's just far enough away, but close at the same time, if that makes any sense! Given that she is a college "gal" and I am a stay-at-home mom who is rarely home, we still manage to communicate just about every day. When I moved here to the Midwest 13 years ago, one of the hardest things for me to do was to leave my family and close friends. I had never lived anywhere but Maryland!  I know that it was really, really hard on my mom because we are close. Our relationship changed a little, given the 600 mile distance, but we have still managed to stay in touch and "keep" the closeness. When I went out of town a few weeks ago for five days, it was to fly back, by myself to visit my parents, particularly my mother. She found out at the beginning of August of this year, that she and I have identical heart "issues." Unfortunately, hers is much more severe than mine.  She has not gone a week without being in urgent care, the hospital, or at a doctor's appointment since her diagnosis.  My brother has shouldered a lot of the responsibility, given that he lives in Maryland and I owe him a debt of gratitude. He is amazing. We are in just about daily contact now, helping my dad to make some tough decisions.  It is so incredibly difficult to be so far from my mom at this time, that it's really hard to put those feelings into words. It's kind of like a part of my heart is breaking. I am so glad that I was able to fly back recently and spend those five days with my mom. I hung out in her bedroom (she is pretty much bedridden) and we exchanged all kinds of stories!! Boy, did my mom have some good ones :)  The other night on the phone, I was able to have a pretty good conversation with her. She even asked me how I was doing, which warmed my heart. Just in the past couple of weeks since I have been back home, though, her health situation has significantly declined and today she is being transferred from the hospital to a nursing facility with hospice care. I have been thinking lately of those special moments in my life when my mom has been there for me, like my wedding.





And when I turned two. She chronicled every moment of my second birthday in this note I found in my baby book today:



I am so blessed that she has gotten to know my stepson, Lauren and Dominic. She and my hubby are very fond of each other too :)  Believe me, I am holding on tight to the "closeness" I have with my mother as best I can these days. I love you mom.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dominic's "Love" for Elevators Continues

Before Dominic started expressing such a "love" for anything elevator, I never thought twice about what "brand" I was riding in.  Dominic has an amazing memory and can recite back which store, building, etc. he rode a certain "brand." I know I can't do that!! Two weeks ago, he had his yearly physical and I knew I wanted him to receive the flu vaccine.  When the doctor was finishing, he said, "okay, I'll send the nurse in to give Dominic his shot!" Hmm, I thought quick and said, "if you are good and don't make a big fuss, we'll go for an elevator ride at Younkers!" I knew that particular department store has a glass elevator. Well, Dominic had zero anxiety, didn't cry, scream or kick (which he has done in the past). After the nurse put the adhesive bandage on, he said, "elevator ride!" Cool, the Younkers was right down the street from the doctor's office and we had our "ride." Dominic informed me it was a Schindler elevator :)  As we were walking out of the store, he was completely fascinated, because being that it was a glass elevator, you could see all the inner "workings" of the elevator. I think it kind of blew his mind! Anyways, a while back, an elevator company, ThyssenKrupp Elevators, reached out to me after reading my previous elevator post on the website, http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/ . They said they wanted to send Dominic a bunch of elevator related items. About a week or so after they contacted me, we received a very heavy, but small package. Inside was an actual elevator button that lights up along with a handwritten note. The next day, another package came with a backpack, t-shirt, pencils, stickers, buttons, bookmarks, and another handwritten note. Wow, I was overwhelmed by their generosity! I hadn't told Dominic about any of the cool things he would be getting ahead of time, because I wanted to surprise him. He loves wearing his elevator shirt to school.



I was so incredibly touched that a company took the time to read my post and then contact me! Today, I got a notification from DuFresne Manufacturing Company that they saw a picture of Dominic holding his elevator button and told me that their company made that particular part!!  The next time we are in St. Paul, Minnesota, they want us to visit them and they will show Dominic how the part was made!!! Wow, that is so awesome, don't you think?!?!? We have never been to Minnesota and it's only about 10 hours from us. Hmm, road trip?  I never knew there were so many elevator "enthusiasts" out there until Dominic developed such a "love" for them. I hope it continues, because I think it's pretty darn cool!

Monday, November 24, 2014

I Am Thankful for What I Have


Last week, Dominic and I put together a bag of food items and took them to our church. I was explaining to him that some people don't have enough to eat and that we were helping them. My father-in-law was a remarkable man. He and I had more than one discussion about what made us happy. I would always tell him the same thing - I was thankful for a roof over my head and food on the table.  I guess I have always been that way. It truly doesn't take a lot for me to be happy. I have talked about my grandmother before. She was an amazing woman and lived to be 101. This picture still cracks me up, it is from Christmas of 1988 and she and I were cooking together. I have no idea how much that turkey weighed, but I'm guessing at least 20 pounds :)

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She passed away when I was pregnant with Dominic, but Lauren and I would go visit her at her apartment in Virginia.


I used to sit on the couch and watch Lauren and my grandmother interact act with each other and just feel so incredibly thankful they could have that time together. Lauren is wearing a dress that was mine and to think that when I was little, that my grandmother might have held me on her lap the way she is holding Lauren is a pretty cool thought, don't you think? I was super duper blessed to have known all of my grandparents!  My "Auntie" is truly a one of a kind person.


We are technically "related" to her by marriage (she was married to my mom's brother), but I consider us blood related. Her "branch" of the family tree has enveloped my family with so much support and love, that at times, my heart just overflows with joy :)  I have an amazing husband who took care of Dominic for five days while I flew back to visit my ill mother recently. Wow, am I thankful for him!!! My stepson and I are close and I am so thankful that he came as part of the "package" when I married my husband.


My sweet Lauren and I are going to the Nutcracker Ballet for the sixth year in a row together this Friday. I am happy that she still wants to go with me and for the closeness she and I have. I have really missed her since she left for college, but I am incredibly thankful that she and I are in almost daily contact!



Dominic has an awesome support system and so many people that follow his progress that I feel blessed beyond belief.


In the almost 13 years that I have lived in the Midwest, I have met so many awesome people, there are just too many to name!! I also have my "branch" of the family tree back on the East Coast and when we are able to go back to visit them, I enjoy every single minute. I have reconnected with my old high school "chums" and it is like no time has gone by at all with them. When we go back to Maryland, my best friend opens her house to us and am I ever thankful for that!


Oh, one more thank you goes to everyone who takes the time to read my blog!!  Happy Thanksgiving!!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Daddy in "Charge"



I recently returned this past Monday from being out of town for five days. The hubby was left in "charge" of Dominic.  I have had to leave my family before, but Lauren has always been here to "assist." Since she is 90 miles away at college, that really wasn't an option for her to come back and help her dad (though my sweet girl did offer). Being the ultra-detailed person that I am, I left an itinerary for the hubby to adhere to in my absence.  I showed Dominic on the calendar when I was leaving and when I was returning. His teacher and the bus driver were both made aware too. I wanted to make it as little as a disruption as possible for Dominic. The only area where the hubby saw a possible "issue" was in the bathing department. Due to Dominic's sensory issues, he still takes a bath and I assist him about 99.9% of the time. The hubby is "banned" from bath time because about five years ago, when he tried to assist Dominic, he got a massive amount of water in Dominic's eyes. The night before I was due to fly out, I had the hubby "sit in" and observe how I helped him to bathe. Dominic kept looking at my husband and saying, "daddy leave, daddy leave." My husband was telling him, "well, I'm going to be helping you when mommy is gone." As it turned out, while I was gone for those five days, the hubby helped bathe him without too much fuss. I checked in with the hubby and Dominic every day that I was gone.  Monday night, when I was coming down the escalator at the airport, I saw the hubby and Dominic before they saw me. I gave them both hugs and then we tracked down my baggage. I noticed that Dominic was wearing a shirt that looked about a size too small. Before I could comment, my husband said, "Dominic is pretty much out of clean shirts!" Okay, well I DID show the hubby how to operate the washing machine before I left :) As we drove home from the airport in a blinding snowstorm, my husband told me he would get us take-out pizza for dinner. The roads were really bad, so I told him that I could make us spaghetti instead. I think about the relationship between the hubby and Dominic. My husband gets a kick out of telling people that he has a 10-year old. Most men in their early sixties, like my husband, have grandchildren that age. It warms my heart when I hear Dominic say, "daddy, blow a kiss!"  I am so glad that my "boys" did well in my absence, though I think the hubby is glad I am back in "charge" of the laundry and the bathing of Dominic!!