Friday, February 26, 2010

Underestimating My Child's Ability to Mourn

Recently, a child that Logan sees on a regular basis passed away. It was completely unexpected. I am still in shock and my heart goes out to the child's parents. Everyone will miss him. I know death is a part of life and comes at different times for everyone but still this child was only six. It is so very tragic. I think about him and his parents everyday.

I have to admit that when I heard the news, one of the first thoughts that rushed to my mind was Logan. Is it normal to always think about yourself or your family first even in a situation like this? I am a bit sorry to say it but I do that all the time. I couldn't help wondering... How will Logan take it? Will he understand? Will this cause trouble for him? Will he be very sad or not even care? If he doesn't care, what will it say about him?

My husband and I both presumed that he wouldn't get it but still it took us days to tell him. I wasn't sure when was the right time but I knew that he would soon found out that his friend was missing and so I had to tell him.

What do you say to a six year old about death? Especially to a child who is already emotionally immature? Will he not "get it?" And when he does "get it" will I get to be there to comfort him? That is what upsets me the most. I want to be there if he experiences pain or sadness or fear. I guess we all do for any situation, not just mourning.

My husband actually suggested that I say that the child moved somewhere. I know that sounds really awful to some of you but this is old school Asian talk. When I think back to the old days when I was a little kid living in Korea, I am sure that my parents would have done just that. It's one of those things that people think would cause unnecessary hardship for the kids. All the adults would think the same and the only way the kids find out is if they overhear the adults and then they'll spread it among themselves.

I believe that you have to take these teaching opportunities as they come. No one will ever be ready for this kind of lesson. Additionally, I would want the news to come from me and not from a peer or another grown-up. This type of news always has the storyteller's beliefs attached to it and I want Logan to understand what his own family thinks about death even if he is not mature enough to fully comprehend all of our ideas. We have to start somewhere at sometime. To be honest, I have not solidified a lot of these ideas even for myself so this child's passing forced me to define it some more. What is really weird is that Kai and I never discuss it but he and I are more or less on the same page. I think.

Before I told Logan, I talked to him about death first. I thought it might be good to lay some groundwork before I gave him the harsh news. It just made sense to me. First make sure he knows a little about death and then break the news. Maybe it is a little like math and Logan understands math. As long we know how to add, we can add any number. If we know about death, maybe we can then understand it as it applies to someone that we know. I also did some research online to see what others do. There was no way I was going to "wing it." I definitely practiced some Parenting-by-Google here.

When I first told Logan, he didn't get it. He just couldn't believe that he wouldn't see his friend ever again. All of his comments were very interesting. For example, the day before I told him, I had spilled water on my Blackberry and followed a suggestion from a friend to put the Blackberry on some uncooked rice to help dry it. It had worked and Logan knew that and so in his innocent childlike way, he told me to put his friend on some uncooked rice when I told him that the doctors couldn't save him. I think he really meant it.

I didn't want to use the word "heaven." This was actually suggested in some advice I found online about talking to children about a death of a friend. They said "heaven" might be too difficult for children to understand. So instead I used a term that I used when his grandmother passed away when he was 2 years old. I had told him that she was "in the stars" looking down on us. This is also very abstract but at least it was something that we had discussed in the past. When I said his friend was there too, he said he will then be able to see his friend through a telescope. My heart sank. Does he not get it or does he not want to get it?

Then I just used the word "dead." I thought I needed to be more concrete. We don't use this word in the house much because like the words "shit" or "stupid," (two words I used to use very often) Logan gets excited about these words and he starts repeating them and gets himself overstimulated.

So the word "dead" didn't work that well and thus I started to tell him where I thought his friend was and what he was doing there. "He is happy and comfortable and playing a lot of Wii." This seemed to get through to him the most. Logan loves his Wii. I think it was easy for him to visualize his friend this way. Visualizing is the way to go for Logan. The next day we chatted again and this time it was starting to sink in. I could tell because he told me that his friend is a "wonderful bestest boy" as if to say his friend doesn't deserve to die. I was really proud of him. I think my husband and I underestimated our son a lot.

While I don't want my child to be in pain, I do want him to mourn his friend. And this sounds really selfish but it would have been so great if he mourned him the minute I told him because I want so much to be there for him when he starts to process it. However, Logan's psychologist said that even adults process death in stages and things hit them at different times. I guess she is right. I shouldn't hope for him to mourn right away. In some respects, it's just plain selfish of me.

It sounds horrible to say but I believe that he'll grow from this experience. I always tell him that he must be careful and not get hurt because "Mommy has only one Logan."

"If anything ever happened to you," I would warn, "then Mommy would never come out of bed because I will be too sad." Maybe he'll understand what kind of sadness I'm talking about now. I feel incredibly awful for the child's parents. What a horrible tragedy. I truly hope their pain will be eased as soon as possible. Through the passing of the joy of their life, I've been once again reminded that everyday I get to spend with my family is indeed truly a gift.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Raising Money for Special Needs Kids

I think I am really itching for a life outside of my kids. For the past 2 weeks, I've been a little obsessed with raising money for Logan's school. Usually fundraising is not fun for most of us, myself included, but for some reason, I found this round of fundraising for the school to be educational, inspiring, and exciting.

It all started with contacting some book authors I know. I just wrote them an email and asked politely to donate an autographed copy of their book for our auction. There would be a live auction for big items and a silent auction for smaller ones.

I knew these writers so I felt there would be a good chance that they would say yes and they did. However, I wasn't satisfied with my "gets." But what else could I get for the auction? Who would want to give to a small school for special needs children? This was my first year raising money for the school so I ran out of ideas really fast.

One day, I had a little extra time after a doctor's appointment and went to Barnes and Noble. I love going there. It's almost like eating at a buffet. I get a dozen books and magazines that look interesting and eat with my eyes while I drink coffee or a cappuccino if I'm splurging. Sometimes I might actually buy something. This only comes after a big internal battle because I am committed to only taking books out of the library to save money.

On my way to my feeding session at the cafe, I stumbled upon a book display. It was featuring children's books about subways. Wow, I thought, "Spencer would love this. I wish I could buy them all!" At the top was Subway, illustrated by Karen Katz, a book that he made me read to him every night for months. But there were others. These books were great and then it hit me. Special needs kids love subways. I know both of my kids do. When Spencer was not yet 3, he would look at the New York City subway map hanging next to Logan's bed and try to read it, calling out the numbers and letters that named the train lines. That summer, on days we had some free time, we'd go to the train station, sit on a bench on the platform and watch the trains go by while eating a snack.

Logan did the same thing when he was younger too. We actually took him out for subway rides with no real purpose other than to ride it because he was so hyper, we didn't know what else to do with him. It definitely helped that our line was partially elevated so he had things to see while we rode the train.

What is it about trains and subways and special needs kids? I think there are a few components that strongly attracts our kids. For one, the motion is just to their taste, isn't it? It is consistent, not that smooth, bumpy enough to soothe them but not too bumpy to startle them. I think they also love the predictability of the announcements. "Stand clear of the closing doors, please." Spencer loves saying that as well as imitating the bell sound that comes after the announcement.

The maps are a whole different animal. I think that some special needs kids see maps like a girl looks at a diamond heart pendant. On one yahoogroup that I'm on, a mom was concerned that her child was a human Mapquest. I think for these kids, maps are just beautiful and fascinating. They are empowering because they help you figure out how to get somewhere and they are anxiety-reducing because they help you know where you are and then you won't get lost. At least that is why I think they like maps. Logan found the GPS feature on my Blackberry and was instantly intrigued. He immediately felt that he could find his way to Philadelphia from New York. I know that he can't right now but I was impressed that the thought of the possibilities. Either way, Logan loves his subway map. He remembers not all but many of the stations, transfer points, and other features like the colors and names of each train line.

To make a long story short, the subway display at Barnes and Nobles inspired me to raise money for my son's school in a different way. How do you raise money for special needs kids? With inspiring tearjerker stories? Maybe. By going to your friends and local businesses around the school? Yes, but you can do more. You can inform people that your special needs child is part of a group that needs and adores them or their services. It's even more effective when you are telling them something they didn't already know.

When I got home that day, I started to contact authors of subway-themed children's books and many of them wrote back to me immediately saying that they'll send me an autographed copy or copies of their books to the auction. One author who was also a painter was so moved, she said she would create a painting that might be appealing to a special needs child and donate it to Logan's school auction. How kind and inspiring but I had to move on. "More, more, more," said this greedy monster in my head.

Then I thought about how much I want Logan to learn yoga. I know it is so good for him and other children with special needs like anxiety, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, the list could probably go on but I have not read any studies on this yet. I thought these yoga instructors and yoga schools would want to know just how much the special needs child would appreciate their services. Some of them knew that yoga was good for special needs kids but still, I loved telling them about how yoga has helped me and I just know it can help other children and other moms like me learn to relax better.

To my absolute delight, some of my queries were answered with gracious generosity. I was really inspired. I kept thinking of other businesses that may not know that their product or service could be extremely helpful to a special needs child. It was not like I was asking the obvious folks, like a company that produces oral motor tools but instead I would call places that would probably like to reach out to our community but may possibly not know how. I even talked to gluten free eateries since so many special needs kids have allergies and are on the GFCF diet. In fact, two gluten-free eateries immediately said yes after I approached them. It was an awesome feeling. So far, out of 34 queries, I got 12 positive responses. I consider that pretty darn good.

Wish me luck. I'm going to keep on going.

Video: My husband suggested that we buy Spencer books about trains for his birthday and luckily I bought him one book about trains and another about subways. The subway book was a hit as you can see. Once he saw this $6 dollar book, he saw nothing else that came out of that box.

Resource List if you have subway fanatics at home:
  • My Subway Ride by Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender and illustrated by Selina Alko
  • The Deaf Musicians by Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • Subway Ride by Heather Lynne Miller and illustrated by Sue Rama
  • Under New York by Linda Oatman High and illustrated by Robert Rayevsky
  • Down in the Subway by Miriam Cohen and illustrated by Melanie Hope Greenberg
  • Subway by Anastasia Suen and illustrated by Karen Katz
  • Subways by Mary Winget

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Best Calming Yoga (at least for me)

I have been doing yoga for about 2-3 weeks now. I can't believe myself. I am usually a giver-upper when it comes to exercise but this time it's different. I think it is because I don't consider it exercise but rather it's like therapy to me.

I have tried yoga on numerous occasions before. I remember my first experience. It was in a class at my gym where I went after work when I was in my twenties and was very out of shape (like now). I remember going into the class and trying to follow along. The instructor looked at me like I was the runt of the litter. He doesn't want to throw me out but clearly I was not going to make it.

That was many years ago and I've never stepped foot in a class since then and now I don't want to spend the money. I was in the library a few weeks ago and a Yoga DVD that featured a lot of stretching caught my eye. It was by Ravi Singh and Ana Brett called the Ultimate Stretch Yoga Workout.

I really want to be thin but I really want to be flexible too so I decided to give it a try and I kind of got hooked. I am not sure why but this style of yoga called Kundalini Yoga best suits me and calms me down.

It's not like any yoga that I've ever seen. There is no tree pose or downward-facing-dog here. In many ways there is a lot of resting and but also a good amount of strenuous activity - the kind that reminds you that you are very out of shape and old. But much of it is the practice of relaxation and there is a lot of stretching. The stretching hurts and feels good at the same time, much like marking a cross over a mosquito bite with your fingernail.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stop Wearing Sweatpants!

Recently, there was some sort of casting call for a new show to be produced by Oprah and I applied to be in it. I am sure there are much more deserving people than me (it was about having dreams fulfilled) but still, I thought it was worth a try.

One of the requirements included me sending a picture and sadly, I couldn't find anything that was worth sending except for my self-makeover picture which I took many months ago.

Am I that ugly? I recently bought some clothing because Lands' End was having a sale and I needed a little happiness-via-credit card. However, when I finally got the jacket and pants in the mail, I hated them. It took me a few days to admit to myself that I hated them but I did. But here is real the question: Did I hate it because it didn't compliment my body or did I just hate myself because I figured that I wouldn't look good in anything. I think the latter is the truth since I've been overweight for a long time now.

Now that I have been doing yoga, I have become more aware of my body. The body-awareness increasing potential of yoga is probably one of the reasons why it is recommended for children with special needs since they bump and bounce all over the place.

Through yoga, at least for me, I have come to realize that my main problem is not merely weight or tight muscles or even poor body awareness. Rather, it's an overall lack of concern for my body. I am not eating well. I am not caring about my appearance. I am ignoring my growing stomach. I am not flossing and don't even talk to me about exfoliating- ha! My hair is always tied back and I dress like I am never going to go anywhere. If I ever do put on "going out" clothes, my children look at me like I'm someone else's mother. They actually pick up the skirt and stare at it as if I was wearing a kimono or something. Obviously this must stop.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Forget Him and Do My Own Thing?

I don't know remember where I read this but I once read that before I got married, I should have talked to my fiance about how I wanted to raise children.

I never really did that. The most I ever did was ask him what he would do if I was working too hard and ended up ignoring the children's needs. Would he confront me? I was really disappointed when he answered me. He said he wouldn't say anything and that he would just try to manage without me. How passive and counterproductive is that? Still, I married him anyway.

It's funny to think about that now because I consult him before making most of my decisions regarding the kids. And even though he is passive to an extent, we've definitely had our share of disagreements especially about the kids and how much money we should spend on their therapy and education. When it comes to money, he's not the silent type. Thus, I do seek his approval and/or support a lot. I don't like to get him mad and I don't like it when he disapproves of something I do. You can call me a chicken or you can say that my marriage is just as important to me as my children are. I really couldn't answer that but it is what it is. I don't act unilaterally.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I Have No Right to Be Bored

Being a mother of a special needs child usually means that you are beyond busy. It means that everything takes twice as long (dressing, homework, eating, conversations like "what did you do today?"). It means you spend a lot of time dealing with your child's special needs because you have to talk to teachers, therapists, government workers, doctors, etc... The work never stops until it does for some odd reason and when it happened to me, I kind of realized that I don't have much of a life.

Don't get me wrong, raising my children is very fulfilling and it was my choice to stay home but still, this month I experienced real actual boredom and it left me feeling depressed and embarrassed.

I asked myself how did I become this way? I guess the first reason would be my broken finger. I can do a lot with this injury but still, I do a lot less dishes, cooking, and cleaning. (Tragic, I know) This frees up my time somewhat and you would think that I would have no problem filling it up with something else to do but then two other things happened.

Logan came down with strep throat. Ever have a sick ADHD child? Before I started medicating Logan, sick or not, he was hyper as ever but this time, I decided to give him his ADHD medications because I thought it might actually help him listen to his own body signals telling him to rest.

I was right. He lay on the couch like a potato for days. I thought I had a different child living in my house. It was unnerving.