23 June 2010


Every once in a while it is important to say 'Thank You', not only to keep yourself humble in the realization that you never really make it to any milestone in life without help from others, but to also show appreciation and thankfulness to those who have helped you get there. Who doesn't need to know and feel that they have made a difference in someone's life?

It is too easy to take for granted those people who are closest to you. So might I suggest that you all take a few minutes out of your very busy day to let family and friends know that they have touched you, inspired you, taught you and helped to make you a better person.
    QOTD: "We have no right to ask when a sorrow comes, 'Why did this happen to me?' unless we ask the same question for every joy that comes our way." Unknown

19 June 2010

A Birthday Letter To Erin...

[Post Re-written] Our daughter Erin turned 12 today.  My baby caterpillar is turning into a beautiful butterfly!  I look back and have some beautiful memories.  I doubt she will remember some of these moments but if she should ever forget that she has been like sunshine upon my face, even when it stormed outside the window panes of life, I hope you remember these moments in time.  

To Erin, 

I return to you, dear daughter, some of my most cherished memories of why you are, and always will be, so special to your father and I...

I have so many memories of how big your heart is but you will never know how much I cherish the one in which you were eight years old and you wanted to plant a garden so badly.  You, unfortunately, were born to a mother who was not even in the gene pool much less the shallow end when it came from this ability.  

One day, when we entered the waiting room of a doctor's office, you homed in on a geranium plant in the corner.  Just by your questions and expression, I KNEW you wanted to adopt that plant and bring it home with us.  When I suggested that we get a small plant to hang in front of your bedroom window, you were ecstatic.  I warned you about the care a plant needed.  Sun, water, a bigger pot when it grew larger (I was optimistic about it's chances of survival since 'I' would not be the one taking care of it since I have the black stare of death when it comes to plants... not by choice, I assure you!)  I also told you that you had to talk to your plant and you asked why, which I explained.  To be honest, it was something your Aunt Suzanne tried to teach me when I complained about NEVER having been able to keep ANY plant alive.  Even a cactus.  

Your conversation with that geranium is something I will never forget because it was just another vignette of  memories of your kind heart and empathy for all things whether it be plant, animal or people.  I HAD to come home and write it down so that I could show it to YOUR kids sometime in the future.  

You were growing up and although you wanted to plant a garden of the blooming and edible kind, I was blessed to see YOU as part of our family garden, grow beautifully both inside and out.

I also remember the day your feline shadow, Catastrophe (Cat for short) was being especially affectionate and 'talkative'.  You came to me worried about the possibility that he might have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  It took me quite a while to convince you that he was okay and that he just needed some extra love as we all sometimes do.

I know you are growing into your own unique person, but it surprised me one morning not too long ago when you woke up grumpy and snapped back at your father when he called you for breakfast.  Even though the breakfast conversation was funny, your happy, cheerful self took a while to come back.  You are always cheerful, but especially in the mornings.  

That morning, two thoughts struck me hard.  First, I didn't realize the amount of impact your sunshine every morning meant to me.  It was so unlike you and at first I couldn't put my finger on what was different in our house that morning.  Then it hit me.  Your smile and laughter.  I knew, right at that moment, you were growing up and eventually would spread your wings and fly.  That is as it should be, but now I try to mentally remember to store up and save even more memories of this miracle of happiness that is uniquely you for the future.  Please don't ever change your cheerfulness, spontaneity, empathy, energy and heart.

The second thought that I realized that you would soon become that dreaded being.... a teenager.  While I know it is a phase that every human being must go through (and parents must survive), it still was a bittersweet realization that my last child would soon be growing into a young woman.
You also amaze me with your intelligence and interests... and the fact that you caught on faster than any of your sisters in not believing a word your father says to you.  (you may brag of this to your sisters)  Although I must admit that your father was probably only half-jesting about the joys of an empty house after you graduate.  I promise that Daddy won't do things to make you move out as soon as possible after your graduation.  I'll simply carry around a camera to snap pictures to put into his very own scrapbook.  (I don't think it would be fair to torture him with the possibility of posting them on the internet, do you?)

Erin, having been the youngest in my family too, I understand the frustration of feeling like you have more than one parent.  It is a fundamental law of the universe that all older siblings must boss and torture the younger ones.  Even though you and I never had younger siblings, I can tell you from experience that once you become an Aunt, the possibilities are endless to finally get your revenge so don't forget to keep a journal of every sisterly transgression.  

I suggest you keep a journal only because I wish I had done so when I was your age.  I can imagine myself just reading down the list.  Because I'm very sure I've forgotten some of the misery that my sisters dished out to me, I feel cheated.  Because, in essence, in my mind, they got away with picking on me because I no longer remember what the infractions were.  They got away with it!  That's not fair.  So don't make the same mistake I did concerning this very important topic.  Take my advice and keep a journal.  Make a list and check it twice.

Seriously though.  Being the youngest isn't always easy.  You almost always get to do things last.  You get all the hand me down clothes and toys.  You get left behind by your elder siblings when you would give anything to have been invited along.  (Now think about this: Mommy and Daddy can't afford a vacation at Walt Disney World for 7 but as soon as the oldest ones leave, it'll just be 3.  Three is doable, seven is not doable.  Don't you just love math sometimes?) 
You DO realize that by the time your parents have learned everything from experience, they no longer have children that any of it will apply to?  I wish I had known this important bit of knowledge back when I was your age.  I could have informed my Mom and Dad that they could just stop trying to learn any new parental techniques and tips since there were no more kids after me.  Therefore it would be a total waste of their valuable time.  You, of course, do not have that option because you now know that I know that is just a ginormous load of hogwash.  (huh, ginormous [enormously gigantic] really must be a word since my annoying spell checker is amazingly and unaccountably silent...)

I know you might sometimes feel like your sisters only want your lifetime supply of chocolates but someday they will actually come in handy for advice.  Trust me on this, is does get better and sisters really do make the best friends. 

Happy Birthday, Erin.  It has been a blessing and a privilege to be your mother.  (I especially love that our Mother/Daughter conversations are never like your sisters.)  You were and always will be, the best birthday present I ever got!  (Although your timing could have used a little fine tuning because I really wanted to eat that birthday lobster Daddy had brought home for me.  Your sisters ate it before you and I could go home, the little heathens...)

Love You Always And Forever,

14 June 2010

The Advantages of Dyslexia...

I wrote a post about four years ago about our family's experience with dyslexia and although my old blog is gone, this is one post I had saved.  I recently asked our daughter Rachel if she would mind me revisiting it.  She had agreed the first time around but it's been about four years since then and as you can imagine, this is a sensitive subject for her.

I'm going to update it with some newer experiences but one of the reasons I wanted to re-post this is because there are so many parents of children with learning differences who need to know that how you approach and handle your child's difficulties, will either inspire confidence, frustration or anxiousness in your child and how they learn to deal with the obstacles he/she faces.  I think this is probably true of any kind of obstacles all children must learn to deal with.  When it comes to learning differences of many kinds in our family, my husband and I have been there, done that, got the t-shirt, mug and bumper sticker. (as I told someone recently)

No.  We were not born knowing this.  In fact, as our daughter, Rachel, can tell you, we pretty much learned this lesson after the fact but it is my hope that perhaps this experience will help others.
As we head into a new school year, Rachel is starting a new school. Middle School can be intimidating but I know that after the first few weeks, everything will be just fine.

I had a brother-in-law who had dyslexia so I wasn't totally clueless about it when Rachel was diagnosed with it in second grade. At first I was very worried. As anyone with a learning difference can tell you, working on something that is extremely difficult for you but seems so easy for the other kids around you,  in the words of Rachel, "Sucks". But isn't it like that with everyone's weaknesses?  Every single person on the planet has both strengths and weaknesses.

So she struggled through second, third, and fourth grades. In grade five, there were several major milestones. First, we all discovered that Rachel, because of her dyslexia, processed information differently from the other students. She thinks 'outside the box'.  This is actually a little hard to explain but her teacher told us about his observation of Rachel throughout the year.  At the beginning of the year, when the class was given a problem to solve, they would all throw out ideas and maybe add to others ideas.  Rachel would listen and when it was her turn she would unconsciously organize their thoughts and then explain why a certain plan would or wouldn't work or contribute an alternative solution.  Her teacher said he noticed right away that she came up with answers that he had never thought of. Or she would arrive at the correct answer but doing so by using a different method of solving a problem than he or the other kids might have come up with.  So he became curious about the situation.
By the end of the year, Rachel's class had started to look to her to organize the thoughts of the other students in a discussion and listen to her make sense of what the class was trying to express.   Often she would suggest an alternative and explain to her classmates the advantages and disadvantages of the possible answers.  This ability was further refined in sixth grade when she participated in a program called Odyssey of the Mind. (More on this later...)

So back to fifth grade. There are many forms of dyslexia and although Rachel's uncle also had dyslexia, it was different from Rachel's obstacle.  His problem was with reading.  His mind would swap around letters so that he couldn't read words because they always looked different each time he would read the same word.   In Rachel's case, she could read but when she tried to write, she couldn't organize the letters into words.  So her weakness essentially was that she could not write down what the problem and solutions were even though she knew the answers. Nobody could read her explanation of a problem or answer due to her spelling. Even she couldn't tell what she had written at times. She was understandably frustrated and depressed.

To get around this we tried to have her type into a word processing program so that she could use the spell checker. This does not work because you have to be able to tell which spelling you wanted for the context of the sentence. (see/sea, there/their, to/two/too) Your spelling also had to be somewhat in the ballpark for the program to know what word you want to spell.

This seemed to be a dead end. Then we discovered that if she used a speech recognition program, most of the time it would choose the correct spelling for the context.

Last year, Rachel's Odyssey of the Mind team won the State challenge in their category and was to advance to the National meet. (For reasons beyond the team's control, this did not happen but it was not because of anything the team did or didn't do. To be honest, they were happy with their win at the state level and I can't tell you how proud we were of all of them!)

The second milestone that happened was that Rachel discovered Harry Potter. When I asked her what advice she would give other people with dyslexia, she said emphatically to me, "Tell them to read Harry Potter!" By the time Rachel struggled through the books in the series that were available back then, she was ready and desired to read other books.  Although she doesn't read as many books as her sisters (we are all voracious readers), the number is still above the average child.  She could probably even surpass them if she didn't like to spend so much time drawing.

So as we head into seventh grade this year, we have finally learned that Rachel can do something that rarely can be taught... to 'think outside the box'... and she has a way to work around her weak spot with software. Wish I could do that with math!

I now get irritated when anyone calls her learning difference a 'disability'!  It's because of dyslexia that she thinks and solves problems the way she does.  That girl can run rings around everyone and although she has to work a little harder to put it down in words, she's already got the hardest part whipped!

So today, I would like to wish her good luck for this new school year, but I know that she will shine even brighter!

So now fast forward.  Rachel is about to become a Sophomore in High School come September.  She has not missed being on the honor roll even once since she started seventh grade and although she rarely uses the speech recognition software (she hates), she has continued to write her assignments and has gotten even better spelling phonetically.  It isn't perfect but that's ok.  She has friends who help her by proof reading her assignments and when necessary, she has accommodations the school has provided to allow her to accomplish the same work as her classmates.  She has also been developing so many more talents.  Her artistic talent has continued to be perfected and has evolved into an amazing accomplishment.

I used to worry about Rachel the most of all our children but it's pretty difficult to worry about a child who works so hard at her classes, can think circles around most people, has a sense of humor that can always make those around her smile and laugh and is talented in so many things.  Rachel is going to be successful in anything she wants to be or do.

I guess what I have been trying to express is that, yes, there IS an obstacle and that must be addressed, but it is NOT what will define a child.  How that child handles the obstacle WILL.  As a parent, keeping this in mind, is probably the best advice I could give you.
QOTD: "Dyslexia means never having to say that you're yrros." Anonymous