Friday, June 27, 2014

How to "Give" to Others

For the third year in a row, Dominic's school has done a "Loose Change Drive." This is something that Dominic's wonderful teacher (Mr. P.)  and I have worked on together from the beginning.  It has been awesome as a parent to watch how the teachers, administration, students and parents have all reached into their pockets and given their extra pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to others these past three years.  The first year, we donated the money that was collected to the Habitat for Humanity, last year it was the Special Olympics. When Mr. P and I were deciding which charity to donate to this year, we knew the money should go to the Sparrow Foundation in memory of a little girl (Lacey Holsworth) who was just eight years old when she passed away of cancer back in April.  I can't even fathom what it must be like for her parents. She was younger than Dominic. When I contacted the charity to get their mailing address, they told me that they wanted us to come down in person to deliver the check. Dominic, Lauren and I made a poster:

Yesterday, we went down to drop off the check. When we arrived, my contact person said something like, "we have invited the local media to cover this story!"  Well, that was kind of unexpected :)  There were two television stations there.  One station interviewed Dominic and I and the other station interviewed Mr. P and then we switched.  We then presented the check to a doctor from the hospital.  It was very cool to watch Dominic shake the doctor's hand and then slap him a high-five! Even though Dominic has now graduated from his elementary school and is heading to middle school, I hope the "Loose Change Drive" is something that continues there. The way I choose to look at life is that we are all here for just a limited time. Sometimes choices are made for you that are out of your control (like accidents, unexpected illnesses, and such), but most of the time you can choose how to live your life.  My hope is if just one parent or child saw the news broadcasts last night (we were on two stations at the same time), then maybe it will inspire them to volunteer their time at at a local soup kitchen or donate their used toys to a homeless shelter. When you "give" to  others, not expecting anything in return, it makes you feel good from the inside out!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

It's Unfair to Compare

When you have a special needs child, it can be easy to compare your child to other "typically developing" children the same age. When Dominic was first diagnosed with Autism and for a few years after that, I went down that comparison "road" a lot. I came to the conclusion that it was truly "unfair to compare" him to kids his own age.  I decided that the better "path" to be on was to focus on his strengths, not his weaknesses. Those words from many years ago from Miss M. still ring in my head - "focus on what he can do, not on what he can't." Shortly before school got out for the summer, Dominic's teacher (Mr. P)  told me about a puzzle "game" he had been doing with him at school.  He would have Dominic put together puzzles and time how long it took him to do it. Mr. P told me that Dominic could put together a 63-piece puzzle in 5 minutes and 4 seconds. We didn't even know that Dominic could put together puzzles with more than about 10 pieces until one day a bunch of years back, he went into the basement and brought up a 500-piece puzzle and put it together!  He has put together a handful of puzzles that have that many (or more) pieces since then.  Mr. P also told me a few months ago that Dominic liked to do word search puzzles.  I have bought him puzzle books, but with the power of the Internet, I can choose word search puzzles from different grade levels and difficulty and have them printed within moments.  This past Friday, I decided to challenge Dominic by finding a word search puzzle for sixth-graders (he is entering fifth grade in the Fall of 2014).

Right next to his left elbow is a snow globe. When he would need a break, he would shake that and then go back to the word search. He finished it in 65 minutes. Yesterday, I found another word search for sixth-graders.  I was curious if he could "break" his previous record.  Well, he completed it in 58 minutes! Dominic was up early this morning and he wanted to do another word search puzzle.  I told him that we were going to be making his grandmother's sour cream kuchen first, and while it was baking, he could work on the word search puzzle.  Dominic seemed to be taking a little longer than normal this morning doing the word search puzzle.  I think I discovered why when I went into the kitchen.  The smell of the kuchen baking was very distracting, because it smelled so good!  Dominic is good at multitasking, so he decided to eat his kuchen, WHILE he was working on the word search :)

There was a time in the not so distant past, when I didn't know if he would have the patience and self-control to be able to help me cook and bake. Dominic is a bit of a perfectionist (just like the rest of us in this house)!  Much to my amazement, I have found that his patience and self-control have improved the MORE he helps me.  I think when you have kids,  it's easy to "compare" them to other kids their own age or even their siblings (whether they have special needs or not). I even find that sometimes I compare myself to other women and (moms)!!!  I suggest this instead. We are all "unique" individuals and so are our children.  Isn't it time to start embracing that?!?!?!?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Letting Go

Twenty-three days ago, Lauren turned 18. 

We have already had the "talk" about how even though she is an adult, she still lives under our roof and has to obey our house "rules."  Earlier this week, she wanted to drive up by herself and visit a friend that was a little over an hour away. She asked both the hubby and I if it was okay. My response back was, "your dad and I are okay with it, as long as you are okay with it."  We made sure she started with a full tank of gas, knew the roads to take and that she knew the AAA emergency number.  She texted me when she arrived at her destination. Yesterday, she found out who her roommate will be at college.  They have already touched base and Lauren told me, "she sounds a lot like me!"  Cool.  Yesterday afternoon, she informed me that she would be driving herself and a couple of friends to the beach on Saturday.  The only thing I helped do for her this morning was to make a few sandwiches for the road. A minute ago, I just received this text, "At the beach!" I texted back, "cool, have fun!"  It seems like it was just yesterday that I was holding her tight because she couldn't sit up by herself.

I still catch myself trying to tell her what to do, but little by little, I am "letting go."  I think the best thing I can do for Lauren from here on out, is have the kind of relationship I have with my stepson since he's become an adult.  Be there whenever they need a shoulder to lean on, cook them good meals and treat them with love, kindness and respect.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Enjoying Those Special Moments

Today, I am not able to spend Father's Day with my dad. Up until a few years ago, he would come and visit us at least once a year.  He now has reached a point where it has become too hard for him to travel.  He turns 80 next year.  Wow, that is hard for me to believe.  I have watched my dad kind of slow down as he gets older.  Now, when we go back to Maryland, I try to visit my dad (and my mom) as much as I can. I like to enjoy the moments that I have with him, because living 10 hours away, I don't get to see him as much as I would like. I always try and make my dad a few of his favorite dinners when we visit. His number one favorite is definitely meatloaf. That is ALWAYS on the "menu!" This morning, when I talked to my dad on the phone, I told him the next time I see him, I'll make him a five-pound meatloaf!! He said, "that would be great!" I used to call my father-in-law, "Pop-Pop." He was always nice to me and he and I definitely did a lot of bonding over food (that's a real surprise, isn't it)!?!?!?!?!  He also was an amazing father and grandfather.

One of my most favorite gifts I ever received from him was a turkey roaster pan. We still use that pan when we make a turkey at Thanksgiving!  Whenever we went to Cleveland, we would almost always go to a restaurant called, the "Red Chimney" because my father-in-law knew I liked it so much.  He told me his "secret" to his awesome pork chops was to steam them first and then bake them. I really wish I would have written down his recipe! My husband's favorite holiday has to be Halloween. He used to take my stepson out trick-or-treating.

Then it was Lauren and Dominic.

Now, it's just Dominic that he takes out. I wonder how many Halloweens he has been out with one or more of the kids?!?!?!  Probably easily over 20! Well, when your kids are 30, 18 and almost 10, that's a lot of Halloweens :)  This morning, my hubby told me that for Father's Day, he wanted the four of us to go inside the church when we went to the 10:00 Mass.  We have sat in the glassed off hallway right outside the church since Dominic was about two years old, because it has been too hard for him to go inside. We have tried a handful of times to take him to the "other" side of the glass and it has usually ended up being incredibly stressful and not pleasant. Well, thanks to Dominic's "Mass Book" we were all able to enjoy church this morning!!

Glad that Father's Day "gift" worked out for him :) The kids and I are planning on making homemade sugar cookies this afternoon to have for dessert after dinner and the hubby and the rest of us will be talking to my stepson on Skype later tonight. My thoughts are with you if you are not able to be with your fathers or stepfathers today whether because of distance or if they have passed on.  For all of you out there that are able to be with your fathers and stepfathers today, treasure and enjoy those special moments!!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Teacher in "Training"

Several years ago, on a trip back to Maryland, Dominic got carsick. We learned a very important lesson that day.  We have to ALWAYS tell him where we are going in the car. If we don't, he gets tons and tons of anxiety! We have also learned that if we tell Dominic too far in advance about an important upcoming event, car trip, etc., he will incessantly talk about it!!! Lauren came up with the perfect solution earlier in the week - a "countdown" calendar!!!

Dominic is a "visual" learner. If we told him there were nine days until he gets to go to summer school or there is one day until music therapy camp, it wouldn't have made sense to him. He has been getting such a feeling of accomplishment from tearing off each sticky note. I would have never thought of this idea in a million years! She is very creative and has always liked to do arts and crafts projects. The other day, Lauren went down to our basement and found some Play-Doh. I think I put it down there several years ago, because Dominic had zero interest because of his sensory "issues." Did you know September 16th is "National Play-Doh Day?" You learn something new everyday, don't you?!?!?! Anyways, they spent a while making things at the kitchen table. Just the fact that Dominic was sitting and interacting with Lauren is cool.  For a child with Autism, "interactive" play can be very difficult. I had a rule when Lauren was little - absolutely no running in the house. When Dominic came along, I changed that rule because a favorite game for Lauren and Dominic to play is "hide and seek." I get such a kick out of watching them.  Lauren was hiding behind the couch the other day and when Dominic found her, he said, "there "it" is!"  We had to gently remind him Lauren is not an "it." We are still working on the proper use of pronouns :) Lauren has contributed so much to Dominic's ongoing and continued success. When she and I went to get her balloons on her 18th birthday two weeks ago, she said she wanted to get Dominic his own balloon, so he wouldn't feel "left out."


That was a "double" tissue moment for sure :)  Dominic is one active young man and has LOTS of energy. Lauren (with her gymnastics and cheer background), has taught him handstands, cartwheels, front rolls, etc. A few months back, totally on her own, she came up with the idea of teaching him a gymnastics "routine."  With Dominic also having ADHD, it took a while, she had to teach him in bits and pieces!  Eventually, he learned the whole thing.  Last week, Lauren came with the hubby and I to Dominic's first baseball game. There was a young girl with no arms who went up to bat for the opposing team. She put the bat under her chin and the coach pitched the ball to her!  Lauren looked right at me and said, "if that's not inspirational, I don't know what is!" I had to agree :) Since Dominic made his First Holy Communion at the beginning of May,

Lauren has sat next to him in the pew and will help guide him through the Mass. When he sang the Alleluia this past Sunday morning at Mass, I think both she and I needed a tissue! Lauren celebrates every small bit of progress that Dominic makes just as much as the hubby and I do. She will be starting college in about two months and wants to go into Elementary Education. I know that will be an amazing teacher - she has already "taught" her little brother so much, not the least of which, is how awesome an older sister can be!

Saturday, June 7, 2014


A week ago, we took Dominic to his very first baseball practice. He is in a league for children and young adults with special needs. Each child on Dominic's team is paired up with a "buddy." This past Wednesday, Dominic had his first game. We were looking around for his "buddy" who we had met at the first practice. We didn't see her or her mom, so I told Lauren she would have to be Dominic's "buddy." As the game time got closer and closer, Dominic's buddy's mom came over to me and said her daughter was going to possibly be a few minutes late. The mom went on to tell me that her daughter was in a music concert and was scheduled to be performing during the time of the baseball game, but was going to perform sooner than she was scheduled, because she wanted to get to the field so she could be Dominic's "buddy!!"  Her mom told me her daughter was in such a rush to fulfill her "buddy" duties that she went out to the field with her dress shoes on!

Wow, that just touched my heart - another "tissue" moment for sure! This particular mom also has another daughter who is a "buddy" for another player on Dominic's team. What an "insight" these two young ladies will have into the special needs "world." The other day, I was telling someone about my experience about a year and a half ago at the local university where I was part of a "panel," along with two other moms that spoke to a group of second year medical students about what it's like to be a parent of a child with Autism. It was a little hard for me to step out of my "comfort zone," and talk in front of about 100 people, but I am very passionate about my family, so it really wasn't hard at all.  The current rate of children diagnosed with Autism is now 1 in 68. That is a staggering figure and those future doctors that were seated in front of me that day are guaranteed to see at least one child with Autism in their medical career. I could tell that day that  some of those medical students would rather be anywhere else, but in that room, but I would say a majority of them paid attention to when I was speaking :) Dominic was diagnosed with Autism at age 2 1/2  by his pediatrician. Getting him into an early intervention program, where he started receiving speech and occupational therapy was very important. I felt so lucky that I was given the opportunity that day back in 2012 to be able to give those medical students a quick "glimpse" into what it's like to have a child with special needs. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I am given another opportunity to be able to speak again to a group of medical students. I think that it would give them a deeper understanding the first time they have a special needs child as a patient!! 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The End of a Lunch Making "Era"

Lauren and I estimated that from the time she was in elementary school to the end of her senior year, I made her approximately 2,000 lunches!!!  It's the end of a lunch making "era." She would buy hot lunch from time-to-time, but not on any kind of consistent basis. While Lauren was perfectly capable of making her own lunch, I still made it for her. Since I was already making Dominic's and the hubby's, it wasn't any more effort to make one more lunch every morning. I figured she has plenty of time to be making her own meals soon enough, since she is leaving for college in August. Since Dominic gets pizza tomorrow for hot lunch and Friday is his last day of elementary school and he is dismissed at noon, today was the last day I have to make him a lunch until Monday, when he goes to a music therapy camp :)

One of the places we stopped at on our tour of the middle school for Dominic last week was the cafeteria.  He got to take a peek into the kitchen area, which I think he thought was pretty cool. It's a lot bigger than mommy's kitchen!  I had Lauren snap a quick picture of the food "offerings" for hot lunch:

Out of the seven items listed, I know he likes five of them (he's never had "bosco" sticks or sweet potato fries).  What is a "bosco" stick, anyways?!?!?!?!  I don't know that I've ever had one! I would be curious to hear from other parents of school-aged children.  Do your kids get hot lunch? all the time? sometimes? do they make their own lunch? or do you make their lunch?  I would love to hear!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The "Tissue" Moments Just Keep on Coming

Now that we are into June, I thought I might get a small break from the "tissue" moments before sending Miss Lauren off to college in August. Well, the "tissue" moments just keep on coming. This Friday is Dominic's last day of elementary school. He has been at the same school since he was three years old.  I can remember his first day of special education preschool like it was yesterday. He seemed so little (he was just barely three years old). We hadn't really been separated since he was born.

When the bus pulled up and he hopped on, I will not lie, it was tough.

Now, when that school bus pulls up, he runs down our driveway, hops on and gives the bus driver a "high five." A week ago, we met Dominic and his classmates over at the new middle school that they will be attending.  There were a few other parents from his class also waiting to go on the "tour" of the school. One of the moms remarked something like, "so, how do you think the kids will do adjusting to the new school?" She expressed to me that she was worried how the change would affect her son.  Dominic's current teacher (Mr. P)  has prepared all of the kids in the class so well for the next phase of their lives, that I am not worried at all for him (or any of the other children).  I think it slightly "rocked" Dominic's world to see the hubby, Lauren and I just appear in the middle of the day, but he was just fine after a minute or two and we were all able to go on the tour. One thing is for sure, that school is BIG!


 Watching Dominic from that first year of preschool:

To his last year of elementary school:

has been like watching a seed grow into a beautiful flower with many petals. Each petal on the flower represents a teacher, paraprofessional, therapist, peer (from his peer-to-peer program), etc. that have helped Dominic. I truly consider many of the people that have worked with Dominic to be my friends. The way I look at life is that you can NEVER have too many friends :)  It is truly so hard to remember how little he talked and interacted when he first started school. Just last Friday, Mr. P commented that Dominic was "extra talkative and was asking everyone how they were doing." He is quite the "social" butterfly!  I do sometimes worry that someone might take advantage of him or bully him because he is so sweet and innocent, but usually those type of thoughts go in and out of my head quickly.  I think I need to buy some stock in the company that manufactures Klennex, I foresee many more "tissue" moments ahead!!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Confidence and Conversation

Last weekend, Dominic and I made some waffles. He is coming along quite nicely with his class, "Breaking an Egg Correctly into a Bowl 101." He is to the point of me just lightly tapping the middle of the egg and just barely opening it and then he does the rest.  When he put the eggs into the mixing bowl, he said, "I did it myself!" I foresee him "graduating" from that class soon and "enrolling" in my class "Pouring Ingredients into a Measuring Cup 101." As Dominic cooks and bakes alongside me more, I see his confidence and conversation increase. He was dispensing quite a bit of commentary as we were making the waffles.  Since I still pour the ingredients into the measuring cup for him, when I accidentally spilled some flour on the kitchen counter, Dominic told me, "that was too much!" and "what a mess!" I LOVED that he spontaneously told me that. Last night, since neither the hubby or Lauren were around at dinnertime, I decided it would be a good opportunity for Dominic to try my class "Pizza Making 101."  For the past couple of months, before we even start pulling ingredients out of the fridge or the pantry, I say, "what is the first thing we do before we start?" He says back, "wash your hands." Last night, I accidentally said, "you need to wash your yams!" Dominic thought that was pretty funny.  It kind of was :) Since he was wearing his new baseball shirt, I attempted to get him to wear an apron. Let's just say that didn't go over too well.  Little by little, I have been giving Dominic more and more responsibility.  He sprayed the pizza pan, helped make the homemade crust, spread out the pizza sauce and sprinkled on the cheese.


I showed Dominic how to turn on the oven light and he crouched down and looked through the glass on the front of the oven and said, "yummy!" When the pizza was done cooking, we had a little carpet "picnic" and flipped on the Food Network.

I asked Dominic, "what's the name of the show that Mommy likes to watch that starts with the letter "C?"  He immediately said, "Chopped!"  That's my boy :)  When the hubby finally got home, he asked me what we had for dinner.  When I told him that we had homemade pizza, he pulled out the two pieces that were left over out of the fridge, popped them into the microwave and ate them both! Since the pizza was such a big hit, my goal by the time June ends is that Dominic be able to make it by himself with minimal help from me and to make sure we save at least one piece for Lauren to "sample!"

My New "Relationship" with the Sun

Long gone are the days that I would sit on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean for HOURS at a time with just baby oil on my skin for prote...