The 5th Grade!

My “baby”, my youngest, Samantha is in the 5th grade. One of the “big kids” in school now. I’m amazed at how slow yet fast these past 5 years have gone.  I’ve been a parent of one child or another for the last 14 years at this grammar school. It started with Alyssa going there for pre-k when she was 4 yrs old. Alyssa is now 18; do the math…

I’m not the only long term parent there thank goodness. I’ve become great friends with Samantha’s bff’s grandfather. He’s been picking up his grandchildren almost as long as I’ve been picking up my kids. He’s a Christian as well so we’ve had the best conversations about the Lord. He’s definitely one of a kind.

So getting back to Samantha. I’m thrilled for her to be in 5th grade and be a big fish in a small pond. I know it’s what everyone says but it does seem like yesterday that she was starting kindergarten there. She’s known by all her teachers as Samantha is one that walks to the beat of her own drummer. She’s not particularly a girly girl like her older sisters were/are. She’s not into what she wears unless it’s a certain brand of sneaker. She loves video games and mindcraft on YouTube. She’s also fiercely independent, much more so than her sisters were at that age. You would think with her being the baby of the family she would act much younger but she doesn’t she tries her best to keep up with her older sisters, in her own way.  She loves walking home by herself when I’m at work and unable to walk her home. Last school year I even allowed her to walk to school by herself a few times. It’s a four block walk straight away from our house to the school. She walked with such pride.

So I’m officially the mother of a 5th grader. I expect this year to go fast I hope it’s uneventful as well.

 

 

Thomas and the Group Home and God.

Thomas called last night. He’s super excited and nervous about moving to the group home. The progress of which is at a stand still while we wait for the State to make its next move. I’m ok with the wait. Thomas is in a great place with people who genuinely care for him. It’s not like we have to move him now or else…

While on the phone with him I couldn’t help but feel guilty. It’s the same guilt that has plagued me since he went to live at the residential school he’s at now. That I couldn’t serve all Thomas’ needs. I actually though this morning as I reminisced about his life, “Why did God give him to me knowing I couldn’t provide everything he needs?” As usual God’s ways are higher than ours and one day I’ll know His way regarding my son. Until then I wonder. I wonder if He gave me Thomas because He knew I’d try so hard to help him? Did He know I would go beyond our scope as a family to get Thomas what he needed even if it disrupted Tommy and my vision of what an intact family looked like? That we would allow Thomas to learn from people while living somewhere else?  These are questions I ask rhetorically. I know with all my being that The Lord knows everything. As difficult as it was raising Thomas, God was there every step of the way. Orchestrating and overseeing it all. Nothing was a surprise to Him as it was to us.

I wish I didn’t feel the guilt. I supposed I’ll always feel some measure of guilt that Thomas’ needs go beyond what I can reasonably provide. I think back to all the doctors and specialists. Those who helped and those who were less than helpful (understatement). The Lord orchestrated every move; every appointment. He was faithful. And He’ll orchestrate my son’s future of this I am certain.

Earlier I said we are waiting for the State to make its next move but in reality God is in charge and it is His love and mercy that will decide what the next move is for Thomas. It always has been God.

She’s an Adult.

I’m so proud of my daughter Alyssa. She started college today. Her first day. Tommy drove her in to Manhattan with him this morning. She said it went really well except for being unable to find her first class and arriving there late. She even made a friend. Everything you want for your child. I’m proud of her for going to college by herself in Manhattan. She’s very familiar with the city having gone many times with friends either shopping or going out to eat. But this is different, even though she’s still living at home she’s grown wings and is flying solo. She’s an adult.

Alyssa even went on an interview today to pass out a magazine during the upcoming fashion week. It’s a paid position and she has the opportunity to meet many different people including celebrities. I’m excited for her.

My heart swells for her. I love all my girls but Alyssa is my first girl. My first child after Thomas who was able to show me what a typical kid could do. And do it fabulously. I think of the days we lived in Jersey. Thomas would be going off on a tantrum and put in his room to calm down. I used to sit with Alyssa in front of Thomas’ door (guarding the door until he calmed down). Alyssa and I would sing the alphabet or her favorite Sesame Street song. She was 2 and fabulous even then.

I can’t wait to see what this semester brings for my YaYa. My girl. To watch her grow and blossom even more as an adult. I’m so proud of her.

Thomas and the Beach

I’ve been wanting to go to the beach but my child who’s with me most often, Samantha is saying no. I really do like the beach, watching the waves and even better riding the waves as they come in. The last time Samantha and I were at the beach and in the water I was literally tossed head over heels by a giant wave. After I was done regaining my balance I realized I was having fun. But Samantha feels because we’ll soon be on vacation at the beach in a different state we shouldn’t go now. Fine…

So instead of going to the beach I got to reminiscing about previous day trips we used to take. I remember the last time I took Thomas to the beach. It was my bff Jenn and her 2 girls and me and Thomas and my girls. We were having a good time the girls were in the water, Samantha was very young and content to play in the sand. Thomas wanted to look for sea shells but absolutely refused to go in the water. Not even a bribe would change his mind. He was adamant about not going in. Fine so him and I would comb the beach for sea shells while Jenn stayed with Samantha and the girls.

All was fine sitting at our blankets until I looked up and Thomas wasn’t there anymore. I looked left, looked right; up and down the beach. No Thomas. OMG. My only saving grace of not panicking too much was knowing he wouldn’t drown since he hated the water. Jenn stayed with Samantha and Jenn’s older daughter came with me to look. After what seemed like an eternity we still couldn’t find him. Then I started thinking of every horror story of developmentally disabled people being lured away and bad things happening to them. How would I explain this to Tommy? How do I even go home?  I pictured myself camping out at the beach until he was found.

At this point Jenn and I decided to alert the lifeguards maybe they could help find Thomas. I approached one life guard and described Thomas that he was delayed and speech impaired, what he was wearing and that he really didn’t like the water. He was on his radio immediately. Turns out a life guard from all the way down the other side of the beach found him. As I walked the long distance to get him I was so relieved and happy I wanted to skip. I couldn’t believe how far I walked or rather how far Thomas had walked by himself.

Finally we met up. Thomas and the prettiest female lifeguard. I was so happy to see him. Thomas of course blamed me for him getting lost, “Mom…you left me…”  I was like, “Ha!  I didn’t leave you…you were the one who walked away!” It didn’t matter though I was so happy to see him. I teased him that he wanted to hang out with the pretty lifeguard. We walked back to Jenn and the girls.

I can’t describe the terror I felt when Thomas was missing. It was awful. I also can’t describe the joy I felt when we found him. The other times we took him to the beach was during a medication change and he refused to even look for shells and stayed glued to his beach chair with umbrella he wouldn’t have any part of being at the beach. Then he went to live at the residential school. I miss looking for shells with him.

 

And Poof! She’s 10.

It’s summer so it’s time for yet another one of my kids’ birthdays. The birthdays start in April with Lelly and peak in July (Thomas, Tommy and Alyssa) and end in August with  Samantha. Samantha’s due date was July 31st with her arrival being August 1st.  When I was pregnant with Samantha and she didn’t arrive on the 31st, my sister said she wanted her own birthday month.

I won’t say I can’t believe Samantha is 10. I do believe it. Being the youngest of all my children she’s probably the one I feel most present in her life. My first 3 children were closer in age to each other and with the added stress of undiagnosed Thomas some things are a blur with the older kids. Thankfully they have great memories and love to share things that happened when they were younger. Things that I seriously don’t remember. Not bad memories, just the opposite; happy times or silly things they did and my reaction. I do wonder if it’s the meds or the stress of the past that screws with my memory.

So she’s 10. Twelve  years ago I was getting over 2 miscarriages and wondering if I’d ever have another baby. God was so good.  The biblical meaning of the name Samuel is “God has heard” so it was only fitting that I named her Samantha. God did hear me and answered yes. When I learned we were having another girl I immediately thought, “no big deal we already have experience with Alyssa and Lelly”. Ha! Samantha is not like her sisters at all. She definitely walks to the beat of her own drummer preferring video games to dolls and challenging her teachers and authority figures. Things her sisters would have no part in when they were her age. Samantha was in the principals office when she was in pre-k!  Oh my gosh I wanted to die. What the heck?? Yes Samantha is definitely her own person.

I remember after I gave birth, Thomas was 10 years old. My bff said, “OMG when Samantha is 10, Thomas will be 20!”  That seemed like eons ago. And here we are. Thomas is 20. It’s amazing how fast and excruciatingly slow time can pass all at the same time. I hope to be present for the next 10 years not just for Samantha but for all my kids. They are all amazing people.

It’s a done deal…so far

My boy is coming back here to live in the group home we’ve looked at that is 15 minutes from our house! Last week the agency sent two workers to Thomas’ school to screen him to make sure he is a good match with the other residents of the group home. I spoke to Thomas’ social worker and she raved about him and his fantastic manners. I was so proud; I then spoke with the owner of the agency (who owns the group home) and his exact words were, “They met Thomas, they fell in love…he’s in” I would love to say I wasn’t surprised but I was. Not surprised that they would fall in love with my son, he has a great personality and is in fact quite likable, but surprised that all in all this process went very smooth.

In fact this whole scenario has God’s fingerprints all over it. If I hadn’t started the bible study group for Mom’s of special needs children and hadn’t asked Trish to be my co-leader; if I hadn’t mentioned to Trish the pressure I was under to submit to Thomas living in a group home in Brooklyn; if Trish never gave me the phone number of the owner of the agency; if I never called the owner and found out he indeed had an opening at a group home here in this borough…Thomas wouldn’t be going where he’s going.

It all starts with the bible study. A way for mom’s of special needs children to get together and glorify God while having camaraderie with other women going through similar life circumstances.  It all starts with God. The way it should be. He is first. It didn’t hurt at all that I had people from my church family praying for us, praying for Thomas to be placed in that group home. Prayer is so powerful. Praying to the God that loves us.

I have to say that I’ve seen God move so plainly and openly when it came to Thomas. I do believe that every prayer I’ve had for Thomas has been answered, not always in the way I wanted but in the way that was best for him and best for my family. His ways are higher than ours and God’s timing is always perfect. This group home placement is an answer to prayer. The timing is perfect and I know God will make way for a place for Thomas in whatever program that will be great for him after he leaves the residential school.

You have to have faith.

My own little world

We celebrated Alyssa’s birthday the other night by going out to dinner at a local family owned Italian restaurant. After dinner we walked the boardwalk of one of our local beaches. It was Tommy and I, the girls and Alyssa’s boyfriend, Sam. We had such a great time and it occurred to me that I always wanted our family to be almost it’s own entity. Our own little universe and world. The other night I realized I’ve got what I always wanted, or rather I’ve always had what I always wanted. My world begins and ends with my family. This is the way it should be.

I think back to when I was younger I didn’t recognize this wonderful group of people as being my whole world. I felt claustrophobic in dealing with Thomas’ issues and the way he was. I wished for a more “normal” family/world. I was envious of other families and wondered why was mine the way it was?  I never looked to change the girls, they were wonderfully typical (by girls I refer to Alyssa and Lelly, this was before Samantha was introduced to our world). I was fortunate that I found a wonderful online support system to help me with Thomas. And I’m even more fortunate that I’ve been able to meet just about every single person of that support system in person. Most recently, I had lunch in Manhattan with my dear friend Wendy who was in town from California.

I believe our “worlds” are fluid. People moving in and out. Even family members choose to drift out much to our disappointment. However, I don’t often believe the fluidity to be intentional. People move in to our lives/worlds for an amount of time and they move on. The only constant in our own universe consists of the core and we all know who our core are. The other night on the boardwalk I felt like we were our own bubble of family. Minus Thomas. The times I feel the most complete as a mini universe is when we’re all together. And I look forward to him moving to this group home so we can be complete more of the time.

 

It’s getting real…

Yesterday I received a phone call from the agency that owns the group home that we are interested in for Thomas. They wanted to visit him at his school and also have Thomas visit the group home himself to ensure he is a good match. My heart stopped for a minute. Then I realized I’m nervous for him. This will be a big transition. And I have to say this is the first time I’ve been anxious for Thomas to make such a big change. All the other times he’s had to be living in residential we were in crisis mode. Thomas wasn’t safe to be around. Today he’s a different person, the residential school he’s been in has literally been a Godsend; an answer to prayer for him and us. The Lord made it happen for this school to be “the one” for our family.

I’ve written about this before but when we were waiting for Thomas to be admitted to residential 4 years ago, this school was the only one who called me back. I had been calling all the schools on the “list” where his packet was sent by the Board of Ed. and I was discouraged because either no one was calling me back or the ones that did call me back weren’t appropriate for my son. Things were not pleasant here at home, and Thomas was in and out of the psych hospital. Finally one morning after I dropped Samantha at school and went for a walk I came home to the phone ringing. I didn’t want to answer it but forced myself to. It was the school that was to become Thomas’ home for the next 4 years. Turns out they were looking at IQ scores from years ago and they thought Thomas was too high functioning for them. I quickly corrected their error and they were then reviewing the most current evaluations for Thomas. Long story short, Tommy and I visited the school and we loved it. After a couple of bumps in the road Thomas was admitted and we’ve all been happy with Thomas there for the past 4 years. The staff has been wonderful and attentive, his teacher (the same one since day one) has gone out of his way to encourage only the best from my son.

So now the transition begins. I’m still in awe at how the Lord works. He arranged for Thomas to be placed where he is now and His fingerprints are all over this group home placement. I just happened to mention to my bible study co leader that I was being pressured to accept group home placement in other boroughs. Trish then gave me the phone number of the group home agency, I explained to him our situation and the next thing I knew Tommy and I were visiting a group home 10 minutes from our house! When the Lord has a plan there is nothing that will stand in His way. And the way He orchestrates events is nothing short of mind blowing.

So now things are getting real. There are meetings to be had concerning Thomas’ school placement for his last year of being educated by the Board of Ed. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to enroll and pay for him to attend public school as opposed to residential school. Things won’t happen overnight, but I’m sure I’ll be surprised at how fast and quick time will pass and I’ll pray for Thomas to make a smooth transition and be as resilient as ever when he moves from one residence to another.

She’s 18

My Alyssa, my YaYa (nickname courtesy of Daniella), our Deedle (nickname courtesy of Thomas). Whatever we call her we’re so proud of her. She made it through high school while enrolled in a very difficult honor’s program, the International Baccalaureate Program or simply “IB”. I hardly heard her complain about the work, she is one my children that never made it our business that she had a project or paper due, she just did her work and I see Daniella following in her footsteps.

So Alyssa is legally an adult, legal to get any piercing, tattoo or other body adornment. I won’t stop her if she does decide to do any of the above, I will however give my opinion and any pearls of wisdom from first hand experience, asked for or not. I’m optimistic she will make “good” choices.

I can remember the day she was born like it was yesterday the way we all can reminisce about that day for any of our children. I chose to not have the epidural and looking back I know I didn’t need it. My labor was pretty short and the delivery was very quick. When the midwife announced “It’s a girl!” I was in shock of disbelief. My husband is one of 3 boys so I figured I’d never have a girl.  Alyssa was so pink! And everyone who stopped by to see me exclaimed that she was so pretty. (I used to work at the hospital I gave birth in, I had many visitors of former co-workers). I thought everyone was just being “nice” but when I looked back at photos I knew they were telling the truth.She really was a pretty baby.

So now she’s 18 years old. She’s still has a pink complexion and she’s still pretty. Stunning if you ask me but I’m prejudiced. I see some of my husband in her face and she certainly did not inherit her long, ridiculously thick hair from me. She carries herself with grace and is one to dress pretty modestly. I can’t think of one instance where I made her change her clothes before going out or going to school. Adolescence/tween years were not fun; in fact I even called my mother to apologize for my own behavior at that age. Thankfully that time was short lived and by age 14 or so she was back to being our Yaya. Alyssa loves the Lord and isn’t afraid to openly worship Him. I love when she picks me up from work and she’s listening to Christian music, it makes my heart happy.

I wish for the world to be kind to this new adult, this young woman of mine; well mine for now.

And just like that…

And just like that today my boy turns 20. What’s sweet is that I have friends who remember me pregnant and remember my son when he was born. My husband and I have a good friend who is a big guy, we’re talking 6’3″ approximately and he’s no skinny drink of water. When we brought Thomas home from the hospital and Thomas would sit in that bouncy chair, our friend would pick up the whole chair with Thomas in it to see him. I’m guessing he wasn’t comfortable holding a small baby. It was so funny and the memory still  makes me smile.

And just like that my son was this happy, smiley baby. I love to think back and remember what he was like before the proverbial crap hit the fan. Before all the doctors and specialists, trips to Manhattan, MRI, CAT scan…When Thomas  and Tommy and I were our own little family. Optimistic and happy and close and together. Because Thomas was such a good baby we took him everywhere. I remember my inlaws were dying to babysit but I wouldn’t leave him, I never felt I had to. Thomas made me grow up. He made me a mom and me made me an advocate. He made me who I am today.

And just like that my son grew up. He went from baby to toddler to little boy, and so on. He wasn’t an easy child to parent but we did the best we could with what we knew. Tommy and I weren’t perfect I’ll never say we were.

And just like that Thomas is 20. He’s still easy going in his own way and when he smiles he makes you feel like a million bucks. He’s still teaching me ways to grow and I’m still learning.