Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Middle of the "Sandwich"

Yesterday afternoon, while I was on hold with a dentist's office, trying to get Lauren an appointment, the call waiting on my home phone beeped in. I didn't answer it because I really needed to finish my conversation with the dentist's office. Well, I guess I should have answered it because it was the social worker at my mom's care facility. After failing to get me on our home phone, the social worker called my cell phone. I picked up the call on my cell phone and the social worker said, "I'm calling about your mom." I said, "I'm on hold with my daughter's dentist's office, is my mom okay? is it an emergency?" She said, "it's not an emergency, but it is urgent."  Yikes. I had my home phone against my left ear and the cell phone on my right ear. In that moment in time, I literally was in the middle of the generation "sandwich." I was helping both my daughter and my mother at the same exact time!!

How many of us between the ages of 40-60 years old are helping to take care of our parents or an elderly relative (at home or in a care facility) AND raising our own children? It's quite the balancing act isn't it? I think of myself as a circus "juggler" with many "balls" up in the air, trying not let any of them drop. The most important thing I think to remember is that you are only one person and you can only be in one place at a time.  You have to take care of yourself, emotionally and physically. Try not to let yourself go to the bottom of your priority list. Talk to friends who are going through the same things and lean on your spouse or partner more for that much needed support. I have been wanting to fly back to Maryland, because the past two or three weeks, I have noticed a significant mental decline when I've been talking to my mom on the phone. She is aware enough to realize this is happening to her, which makes it all the more heartbreaking.  I have been in a "holding" pattern and hesitating to book a flight, because based on Dominic's two seizures he had in June, he had to get an MRI. Last Tuesday, I heard from the neurologist that he was fine. That evening, I booked my flight. I am super blessed by my husband. He will assume the responsibility for taking care of Dominic in my absence. This is not the first time I have had to fly "solo," but as Dominic becomes more verbal, he is able to put into words how he feels about me leaving.  He is very into the calendar and his "schedule." Before I could tell him I was going to be gone,  he noticed it written down on the family calendar. I told him that Grandma Martha was "sick." No less than three or four times a day since then, he has been saying, "Mommy leave for Maryland and Daddy will take good care of you." This morning he said, "Dominic go to Maryland." I had to gently remind him that I was going by myself. He then said, "good-bye mom."  I really had to restrain the tears for that one. Sigh.

Friday, October 2, 2015


As a new disability ministry in the area, we have a lot to prove. We have to show that what we do is helping others AND is needed.  As program director, I am constantly looking for different programs for our “special” individuals and families. Since April, we have had three special needs Masses, two worship services, a picnic and just recently, a music event at the Michigan State University Community Music School.

Our average attendance (not including the picnic) has been holding steady at about 30. The picnic surpassed all expectations and we had about 100 people! One of the gals that brought some wonderful individuals from a group home to the picnic, told me to my face, “there isn’t much out there for older disabled adults to participate in.”  Hmm, I found that quite sad. My son is just 11, but in seven years he will be an adult. The thought of him having very little programs and activities available to him when he reaches 18 is not a thought I like!  That’s why I’m glad the ministry is planning more and more activities all the time. We are not replacing programs that are available to the special needs community, but rather putting a program in place if there isn’t one currently there. Whether through the Masses, worship services or the various programs, it brings you together with others. When I see and hear all the talking and interactions at our activities, it is the most wonderful sound in the world! The smiles on people’s faces melts my heart. That feeling of belonging and not being judged is awesome. A few months ago, when I needed a singer for one of the worship services, I asked a gentleman from my church who also happens to be a Knights of Columbus member. He agreed to be a singer and has also brought a fellow Knights of Columbus member along a few times!! These men are generous with their time and with their “gifts” of music. They also have gotten a firsthand look at the impact our ministry is making. They believe in us and in what we are doing. Earlier this week, a Knight who has visited our disability ministry office a handful of times and has had meetings with us, gave us the good news that he had a donation for us!! Our first one! Wow, how awesome! Evidently, the wife of a Knights of Columbus member who had passed away recently, donated a sum of money to be used at their “discretion.” Well, this group of wonderful men decided they would donate it to our ministry!! Yes, they believe in our mission and what we are trying to do. What a great feeling that is!!!! Oh and guess what? The gal who told me at the picnic that there weren’t many programs and activities available for the older special needs adults is bringing eight residents from the group home to our bowling event in a few weeks! Yep, if I do say so myself, we are filling the need.

Friday, September 18, 2015

It's My Turn to Help Take Care of You Both

When my husband accepted a job in Michigan in December of 2001, I knew moving away would not be easy for my parents. I've always been very close to them.  It's really, really hard to put into words what it is like to be 600 miles away from my parents, given that my mom is so ill and in a skilled nursing facility. Around last Christmas, the doctors were telling us she had just a few months and to prepare for hospice care.
Well, my mom has defied the odds.  Last night, when I was talking to her on the phone though, she was very confused. It truly breaks my heart, because she is a very smart woman.  Given that she has end-stage congestive heart failure, not enough oxygen is going to her brain. I feel like every time I hang up the phone after chatting with her, I've lost another piece of  the "old" mom. This whole experience of putting my mother into a skilled nursing facility has been difficult for everyone involved, but definitely the hardest for my father. My mom had always cooked the meals and taken care of the house. My dad has a wonderful caregiver who is AMAZING and comes in four hours a day, five days a week. My father also wears an emergency alert system around his neck and recently got a keypad installed for his garage. Since he does not want to move out of his house, we have put safeguards in place for him. I keep in constant contact with the staff where my mom lives and I call my dad every night. Earlier this week, my father was thanking me profusely for helping him set up a doctor's appointment for my mom where she needed to be transported in a specialized van. I told him, "you and mom took care of me growing up, now it's my turn to help take care of you both."


Thursday, September 10, 2015

I'll Miss You

This past Tuesday was Dominic's first day of sixth grade. The hubby, Lauren and I were all part of the send off "crew." Shortly before his bus came to pick him up, we were explaining to Dominic that when he came back home (he had a half-day), Lauren would need to leave to go back to college. Both Lauren and I saw the tears welling up in his eyes. Even though Dominic has Autism, and a "classic" symptom of Autism is "impaired" social interaction, he is one of those kids that wears his heart on his "sleeve."  You can tell by looking at him how he is feeling.

The "kids" were able to spend an hour or so together and then she had to pack up. Dominic really did not want her to go. He even went over to his daily "schedule" and crossed off, "Lauren go back to college," which I had written earlier in the morning. I said, "Dominic, did you think if you cross it off, that means she would stay here?" He said, "yes." He also kept saying, "Lauren go to college, then Lauren come home." Shortly before she left, Dominic said spontaneously to her, "I'll miss you." Good grief, I needed a BUCKET of tissues!! Pretty much every night when I am doing the evening call to my dad, Dominic will come in and say, "I want to talk to Grandpa Mike!" He will also talk to my mom, "Grandma Martha." Dominic repeats the same thing over and over to them, but they don't mind. I'm just glad that he does it spontaneously! Since Lauren has been gone, Dominic has been saying, "Grandma is in Heaven." He is talking about my mother-in-law who passed away in 2011. I think in his mind, he is trying to reconcile being separated from Lauren.  Dominic saw a lot of my mother-in-law both when she lived in Cleveland and then when she moved to an assisted living facility near us. I have believed since before Dominic became verbal and also now, that even though we don't think he can hear us, he definitely does. He "files" away certain information for use at a later date. Lauren is so in tune to Dominic that she thinks (and I agree with her) that he is just now coming to terms with the fact my mother-in-law is gone and not coming back. That's a hard thing for an adult to adjust to, much less for a child with special needs. I told Dominic that Lauren has left, but will come back. It's much, much harder to explain that his grandmother is not.

Even though Dominic's private speech therapist has only been working with him a year, she knows him pretty well. She told me with increased speech there will be highs, but also emotional pain. I totally agree with that. Now that Lauren is back at school, we will start talking to her on Skype once a week, just like we do with my stepson. I'm hoping that helps with the separation!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mastering Important "Life" Skills

I try to involve Dominic as much as I can when I am baking. Yesterday morning, we made pumpkin muffins. In the past, when it came time to measure the liquids or crack the eggs, I would do it. I decided that it was time for him to try it.  I showed Dominic where on the measuring cup he needed to fill it to and he did it exactly. Then, since we needed to crack four eggs, I let him do it from beginning to end. He has seen me crack probably enough eggs to circle the Earth, so he applied just the right amount of pressure and dropped all four eggs into a separate bowl,with NO shells!!  I gave him tons of verbal praise and he told me, "I did it the eggs, all by myself!" He was grinning from ear to ear and told me several times throughout the day about his egg cracking.  It may not seem like a gigantic deal to most people, but to me it was another "skill" that Dominic has mastered. Today, we had a "field trip" to the Kroger.  Long gone are the days that I would work myself up so much my stomach would hurt. It has taken many "field trips" to Kroger to get Dominic to the point he is now, where I actually enjoy taking him with me.

Dominic was totally fascinated by the metal water sprayers above all the vegetables. I told him that the veggies were getting a "shower." We went up and down pretty much every single aisle. He was very patient for the most part, though I didn't time it too well, because it was around lunchtime. When we got to the dairy section, Dominic spontaneously gave me a hug and then said, "I love you mommy, so much!" Think it might have been because we had tossed a frozen pizza into our cart for lunch?!?!?!  As we approached the checkout, there were two lanes open. I chose the lane that had my favorite bagger who has special needs.  Dominic helped take out the groceries and put them on the conveyor belt. As the last of the groceries were put into the bags, Dominic looked right at the bagger and said, "hi." The bagger said hi back to him :) As we were driving back home, I was thinking that just in the past 24 hours, he learned a handful of important "life" skills - how to crack an egg, measuring ingredients in a recipe and talking spontaneously to the bagger. Dominic has made huge strides in many different areas this summer. Asking for a haircut and getting himself to the bathroom when he needs to go are the biggest advancements for sure. In a little over a week, he will be starting sixth grade. He is no longer my shy little boy.

But rather a confident young man. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A "Sample" of My Cookbook Collection

This morning, before my husband left for work he said, "you like going through your old cookbooks, don't you?" The poor guy, I have my "collection" all over the place right now. They are next to my side of the bed, spilling out of the bookcase in the dining room and next to the computer! He's even tried to tell me I have enough cookbooks. Shame on him, right?!?!?!? He should know that after being together almost 25 years, I will NEVER have enough cookbooks!!! LOL.  Lately, I've been looking through the ones that belonged to my mother-in-law. She passed away in January of 2011 and we miss her all the time.

She worked for a number of years at the May Company in Cleveland, Ohio. One of the cookbooks I acquired from her, "Celebrate Our 1st Cookbook," I'm guessing was distributed to all of the employees around the holidays. I found some of the names of the recipes in the cookbook to be quite, ahem, different. These three kind of stood out to me - "Ham and Pickle Puffs," "Sneaky Pete Slush," and "Cranberry Velvet." Anyways, since I had no "bakery" around, I decided to make this cookie  recipe from the cookbook:

Oh, my goodness - the cookies were AMAZING! Here is the recipe if you would like to make them:
Chocolate Crispy Cookies
1 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups crispy rice cereal
  (like Rice Krispies)
1 cup milk chocolate morsels
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a large cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. In a large bowl, put the flour, baking soda, salt, margarine, sugar, egg and vanilla extract. Mix well with large spoon and then add the crispy rice cereal and the milk chocolate morsels. I used my hands to mix everything together, so feel free to do that! Roll into 2 1/2 dozen equal-sized balls. Bake 15 at a time on a sheet. They do spread some, but not a ton. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the cookies are starting to turn golden brown. Remove immediately to a wire rack. Store in a covered container at room temperature.
I like to play a little game with my Facebook "peeps." I'll post a picture and then try asking everyone to guess what the "secret" or "mystery" ingredient is. On one of the food groups I am part of, someone did indeed guess the "mystery" ingredient - crispy rice cereal!  One gal guessed hard boiled eggs!  I knew that I had seen a recipe using hard boiled egg yolks recently. After just a quick look through an old Slovenian cookbook (which is part of my mother-in-law's "collection"), I found a recipe for, "Vanilla Vienna Cookies." It uses two hard cooked egg yolks among other ingredients. The first line of the directions says, "cream together for 1/2 hour, butter, sugar, hard cooked egg yolks." Hmm, okay. A half hour? That seems a bit excessive doesn't it?? I want to make those cookies, but I don't think I'll cream it together for a 1/2 hour :) I'll keep you all updated how the cookies turn out! I also found a super duper easy recipe for "Slovak Potato Soup." That is one to try when the weather gets a bit cooler. My mother-in-law was part Slovak and so am I!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why I Gave a $5.00 Tip to the Barber

Dominic has been to a barber shop exactly twice. The first time, my husband and I took him to the local Meijer barber shop and he gagged and cried so much, we had to leave. The second time, he bolted out of the barber shop and almost ran into the road. I have been cutting his hair ever since. I would have to get myself mentally "geared up" to give him his haircuts, because it would be so upsetting for the both of us. When he was small enough, I could put him in his booster seat, strap him in and cut away. Given that he is now over 120 pounds those days are LONG gone. This past Saturday, Dominic out of the blue started saying, "haircut, barber shop, socks and shoes, car." He probably repeated it at least half a dozen times. Every time he would say it, my response back was, "are you sure?" I tried to explain to him that once the barber started, he would have to finish. He was EXTREMELY persistent about wanting to go. He wore me down until I finally said, "okay, fine, let's go to the barber shop." We actually went back to the second barber shop we had tried about nine years ago. I parked the car behind the barber shop and we walked around to the entrance. I looked inside and there was at least eight people sitting there. I told Dominic, "okay, they are way too busy, we are going to have to come back another time."  I turned around and we started walking back towards our car. As we went past the side door of the barber shop, one of the barbers came out and approached us. I explained to him that Dominic had Autism and that he had been requesting a haircut all morning. I told him, "we can just come back another time, you look really busy." The barber then said, "come back in, most of the people are waiting for a certain barber to cut their hair." We came back in and Dominic and I sat down. It was quite warm in the barber shop and the longer we waited, the more anxious and sweaty I got. I was really starting to get concerned, because of all the noise inside the barber shop and the fact that we would have to wait.  Dominic was playing with his Nintendo DS that he recently got for his birthday and he was "chill." I was the one that was a nervous wreck! After about 15 minutes, the barber said, "Dominic, are you ready?" We both walked over to the chair and he started using scissors on his hair. I said, "let's try an electric pair if they aren't too loud."

The barber took the extra time to explain everything to Dominic during the entire haircut and Dominic trusted him 100%.  I found out after the haircut that the barber had previous experience with children with special needs.  As the barber rang us up at the register, I pulled out an extra $5.00 for a tip. I really wish I would have more one dollar bills on me! He did such a great job, don't you think? I think the smile on Dominic's face says it all.

I have had so many people tell me that Dominic's thick hair is his "trademark." Most people don't realize that I have always wanted him to have short hair, but since I've been cutting it and he would only sit still for a short amount of time, that has been impossible. On the way out of the shop, the barber handed me his card. I tucked it away into my purse and didn't pull it out again until a few days ago. The barber that cut Dominic's hair is the owner! Awesome. We certainly won't be waiting another nine years until we come back!!