Category Archives: parenting

don't give up

What our aliyah journey has taught me – don’t give up on your vision!

Can you believe that this week marks six years since we moved to Israel?!?

Moving to a new country with nine kids (ages 2 – 18) wasn’t an easy thing to do. Moving to a part of the country where there was very little support for new immigrants made it even harder. I’m not going to belabor the difficulties.  I’ll just say that it was really challenging.

Moving 3.5 years later to a different city in an entirely different part of the country was yet another new beginning to be navigated, and starting over is always hard.  I have to admit that I had a bias against living in an Anglo enclave, which is why I didn’t consider moving to Ramat Beit Shemesh directly from the US.  I’m glad to have completely released that negative thinking and am very, very happy to be living here now.

A couple of days ago, two different sons shared with me their unsolicited thoughts.  One said, “It was a really good move to RBS.  It seems everyone is happy and keeps getting happier.”  The younger one said, “Everything just keeps getting better and better!”

We went against almost all the standard advice that is given to those considering making aliyah (and I’m not recommending anyone do what we did!), but we are SO grateful to be making our lives here.

Our kids are happy, they have friends, they have no longings for the US.  My husband and I both do work that we enjoy, we live in a home that we enjoy, in a community that we enjoy. Does so much good news sound boring?

The path to get here wasn’t boring! It took time to get where we are now along with plenty of bumps in the road.  (If you’ve read my blog for long enough, you know about some of these challenges.) There were lots of frustrations and difficulties that included intense financial stress, struggling to figure out where we fit religiously and socially, determining what educational paths were right for our children, dealing with the medical system and in general, starting over in every way. The starting over piece is HUGE – after years of building a life, you move to a new country and start all over as a new immigrant.  It’s not fun.

But it was worth it.  It was really, really worth it.  While I’ve had an attitude of ‘bloom where you’re planted’ in each place that I’ve lived and appreciated everywhere I’ve been, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.  And I think my family members would say the same thing.

So my message is: when times are tough, just keep going forward.  If you keep taking the next right step, eventually it will lead you where you want to go.  It may take more time than you want it to take, and you’ll definitely have surprises or detours along the way.  But if you’ve thought about your course of action and determined that moving forward is the best option for you, then don’t give up on yourself and your vision.

Avivah

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My tips for helping the late talking child

>>From your vantage point of five years into this, I’d love to hear what you feel are the best “tools” to help children with apraxia. I know you used Gemiini and flash cards. Beyond the obvious emotional support we offer to our children, I’m looking for practical advice. Thank you!<<

I’m happy to share what has been helpful for us!

First of all, even if your child isn’t speaking much, assume he understands. If he doesn’t understand yet, he’ll understand more as you give him lots of verbal input, filling his day with words and concepts. Building his receptive language reservoir is a precursor to his ability to express himself. Eventually the expressive ability will come.

Keep in mind that communication of any sort is the building block upon which speech is built. Don’t think because it’s not speech that it’s irrelevant to the question of how to deal with apraxia – communication skills are vital.

BUILDING RECEPTIVE LANGUAGE:

– Flashcards – The most obviously visual way to build receptive language is by using flashcards of words and pictures. (At some point I wrote about using the Brillkids program, which is bascially online flashcards and words – it’s a great program and I only stopped using it when I got a new computer and didn’t reload the program onto it.) Yirmi now repeats each word after me when we do flashcards so it’s become an expressive speech support at this point as well.

We also read lots of books.

Actively engage your child in your world. Talk to him about what you see, give him space to have a turn talking, even when he doesn’t yet talk. Pay attention to his cues and respond to them. When your child sees that his attempts at communication are effective, he will continue to try to communicate. Like everything else, the more he practices communicating, the better he will get.

– Encourage verbal expression through play and constant interactions. I got the book Play to Talk, by Dr. James McDonald when Yirmi was an infant. I loved that Dr. McDonald (whose work spans decades and is an amazing advocate for late talking kids and their families) says that parents are the answer to a late talking child’s challenges, and that the home is the best place to learn and practice communication. It’s a big shift away from the prevalent attitude that paid professionals are the answer. His website is a great resource, as are his books. On his webpage about children with Down syndrome (and this is relevant to any late talker), he writes:

“After all these years, I am confident that parents can help children with Down syndrome give and get a great deal in life if they are willing to do a few simple but often difficult things:

  • play in the child’s world habitually
  • make children enjoyable play partners before they are obedient students
  • don’t worry about school language before children have a good vocabulary for daily natural communication
  • be very careful not to expect too little (by doing too much for children) or to expect too much (by setting up impossible jobs)
  • pay more attention to positive little steps than to things you may think are mistakes
  • act and communicate in ways children can do (matching)
  • interact back and forth throughout the day
  • be sure children are giving to you as much as you are giving to them”

I learned from Dr. McDonald to go into Yirmi’s world, not just to try to pull him into mine. That includes imitating the sounds he makes rather than only expecting him to imitate the words that I say. Also, I learned to simplify my sentences to match his level of expression to encourage him to respond; it actively pulled him into verbal interactions with us.

– Mediate the world for your child – Mediation is the heart of the methodology taught at the world famous Feuerstein Institute in Jerusalem. It was there that one of their facilitators told me that most people have to be trained to learn this, but that a small percentage of the population are natural mediators – and she informed me I’m one of them! For that reason it’s really hard for me to explain mediation, because it seems like pointing out the obvious to describe it.

Basically, mediation is to consciously facilitate your child’s exposure to the world around him. Rather than assume he will make the connections on his own, mediation is when you consciously facilitate your child’s exposure to the world around him.
Here’s a nice video that might give a bit more insight into mediation and the Feuerstein approach: Looking Up on Down Feuerstein video

Sign language – I taught Yirmi sign language when he was a young toddler, knowing that language was likely to be a challenge. This has been a hugely important tool for him, since he’s been able to express himself before he had the verbal ability to do so. As his speech has improved and become more clear, he’s dropped the signing. If someone doesn’t understand what he says verbally, he’ll repeat himself by saying the word and signing at the same time. Signing Times videos were a great resource. I also used Signing Savvy to look up words that I wanted to teach him – this is a site with lots of short videos demonstrating hundreds of signs. Signing Savvy was a resource for me to learn the signs, not a video to show my son.

Gemiini Educational System– I’ve been using Gemiini regularly (I aim for a daily basis) for Yirmi since he was 2.5; we were one of the early families using it for a child with Trisomy 21. At that point it was primarily being marketed for kids with autism. It’s since become a well-known resource in the T21 world.

Gemiini is a web based program that uses a video modeling approach and integrates a number of speech therapy techniques. There are lots of amazing testimonials, including one woman who called me after a blog reader read about us using Gemiini and put her in touch with me. She had a 9 year old daughter with T21 who was completely nonverbal – withing two weeks of starting Gemiini, she began speaking!

Yirmi wasn’t one of the kids who had an amazing jump in speech right away. Actually, it took about a year and a half until we started to get speech – we seemed to be on the very slow track. I’ve already told you my belief that it’s important to keep my eye on the end goal and not get discouraged when the progress in front of me seems slow or doesn’t seem to be happening at all. I never asked about the severity of his apraxia but I can assume it was significant, based on how long it took us to see changes. But we knew changes were happening.

The first thing we noticed is that he began to move his mouth as he watched, trying to imitate the shape of the mouth he was seeing on the screen. As a 2.5 year old, he had never done that. He had only a few vowel sounds that he could make when he started, but eventually he started imitating other sounds.

To sum up a response by Laura Kashbar, creator of Gemiini to the question of how do you know if Gemiini is having an effect: “1) Receptive language improves – is your child understanding more? 2) Gemiini is switching the focus from a daydream state/passive network into active network; when waking up from a daydream there are some things that will happen: a) Eye contact, b) child seems more with it, not in his own world so much, c) will pay attention to sounds when in the past he ignored it, d) get feeling from him that he’s more present. 3) Will see new sounds, new babbling, be more aware of mouth. 4) Fine motor skills increase – great indicators of neurological changes. 5) Gross motor improves dramatically. All of these come together over time to get student going where he needs to go. There’s a global improvement that happens, it doesn’t start with expressive language – it starts with all these other things.”

PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT:

There’s a very significant connection between speech development and physical stimulation. Everything in the body is connected and the better the body works, the better the mind works. Exercise creates neurogenesis. Of particular importance are activities that integrate cross patterning movement (the hand and feet working in alternate motions).

– Walking/running – This is the ideal cross patterning activity. A saying coined by the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential is “Two miles of walking equals talking.” (For a young child, the focus would be on crawling and creeping, which works on lower motor levels of the brain. Don’t rush this stage in order to get to walking – crawling is super important developmentally.)

I’ve been trying to encourage walking for Yirmi when we need to go somewhere, even though I can get where I need to go much, much more quickly if I stick him in a stroller or carry him. This summer he’s been attending day camp (his first time ever!!) and we’ve been starting our day by walking to the bus stop and then from the bus stop to the camp. There are a lot of distractions on the way and this short walk from the bus to camp takes a long time. I try to leave extra time in my schedule whenever I take Yirmi anywhere because I want to encourage him to walk and at the same time, I don’t want to be impatient or feel pressured to get somewhere by a certain time.

He isn’t yet consistently walking very far but stamina is built little by little. Like everything else, we’ll continue to support him and with time his ability will increase.

– Trampoline- In a Facebook group for parents of children with T21, a parent shared that her speech therapist recommended jumping on a trampoline to benefit her son’s speech. That suggestion resonated with me as it matches my approach to therapy and development – to do it in a way that is fun and a natural part of your daily life. He loves the trampoline, and so does every else in the family! (There are lots of great health benefits to using a trampoline as well, like stimulating the lymph system,building immunity and increasing muscle strength – more benefits here.)

Jumping on the trampoline - fun and great for speech!

Jumping on the trampoline – fun and great for speech!

Yirmi quickly learned to do tricks on the trampoline. This physical acuity has extended to when he’s on the ground – he started regularly jumping with both feet within a week of using the trampoline, and shows off his somersaults whenever we have guests!

– Swimming – we put Yirmi in swimming lessons a couple of months ago. He was really scared to do more than sit on the second stair at the public pool and I realized it would take many months to build even basic comfort in the pool at that short weekly lesson. So soon after that I bought an above ground pool to give him a chance to practice daily and build his comfort in the water. He and our other boys now spend hours every day in the pool and his comfort in the water dramatically increased in a very short time.

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y - swim 3

He imitates what he sees his brothers doing, and has learned to keep his face in the water. He can also stay underwater for up to six seconds, simultaneously using the arm motions like those used when doing the breaststroke.

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y - swim 1

To continue to support Yirmi’s physical development, I’m planning to build (or more accurately, for my kids to build :)) a pergola in our yard where we can hang swings. I’m hoping we can integrate monkey bars into the frame, since brachiation is a wonderful therapeutic activity (and of course, fun!).

I’ve been wanting to do this since the end of last summer but ds18 has been at school and not available for a long enough period of time to spearhead this project. He graduated high school three weeks ago and the next day began his job as head counselor for a local camp – now that he’s finished that job, he said he’ll make time to start this project in the next week or two.

Nutrition- we don’t give Yirmi gluten or dairy, both of which are difficult to digest and clog the digestive system. The digestive system/gut fuction is intrinsically linked to brain function. A mind that is clogged up doesn’t work as well. He continues to eat a fairly clean diet – minimal processed foods, mostly proteins, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains/legumes.

Reflex integration – I am very interested in doing reflex integration work with Yirmi, and after a lot of research on the topic chose a specific cold laser protocol. However, when I attempted to purchase the QRI cold laser this past winter, due to a technical problem with order processing we had to drop the idea for the time being. If at some point someone will be able to bring it for us from the US, we’ll try purchasing it again! Parents have had great results from the laser but obviously I don’t have a personal testimonial on that.

How is Yirmi’s speech at this point, as a newly turned five year old? He began saying words when he was four. He’s now speaking sentences of up to seven words (though it’s still hard for non-family members to understand him), mostly words of one to two syllables. His speech has accelerated very quickly and seemingly out of the blue, but it hasn’t been out of nowhere – we’ve been supporting his speech in these various ways for years.

Avivah

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See the possibilities in your child, not the limitations

Can you believe that Yirmi just recently turned 5?

Until Yirmi was born and we received the birth diagnosis of Trisomy 21, I knew very little about what that entailed.  I had the stereotypical perceptions of people with Down syndrome based on very limited personal connection.  When Yirmi was born, my eyes were opened to a much broader, more appreciative and more accurate way of seeing people with differences.

Though people tend to assign a lot of significance to the differences (skin color, religion, political affiliation, income level, abilities), we’re all more alike than different, and we all benefit when we place more emphasis on what makes us similar.  More than anything – every one of us wants to be valued for who we are.  And this has been my focus in raising Yirmi.

Yirmi and his big sister, May 2017

Yirmi and his big sister

We had a 3 hour appointment with a developmental pediatrician very recently (the first since leaving Karmiel 2.5 years ago), who was blown away by Yirmi.  She kept exclaiming that she’s never seen a 5 year old with T21 like him in her decades of working in the field.

She said that he is bright, communicative, emotionally present, focused, takes initiative, and has the confidence to try new things in a new environment.  She told me that these aren’t qualities that she’s seen in a child with T21 of this age, particularly combined with a language delay like his (‘Usually these kids are shut down.’).

A week later I took Rafael for his intake appointment, and again she remarked on how taken she was with Yirmi.  “He’s so emotionally intact.”

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Why would it be unusual for a child with T21 to not be emotionally intact?  To not be confident or communicative in new situations?  To not trust their abilities?  To not be willing to try new things?  To not keep trying to be understood?

Could it be in part because of how those with whom they interact regularly treat them?  Are the frameworks in which they spend most of their time focused on what they can’t do instead of what they can?  Are they being defined by limitation instead of possibility?

Having fun with Daddy!

Playing on the trampoline with Daddy!

People have told me Yirmi doesn’t act like he has Down syndrome, or that he must have it ‘just a little bit’.  What does that even mean??? What limited perceptions are those comments based on??  You can’t have T21 just a little bit – either you’ve got it or you don’t.  He definitely has garden variety Down syndrome, present in every cell of his body.

Though professionals have told me that Yirmi is doing very well, it’s not because he’s inherently different or better than any other child with T21.  I’m not holding him up as an ideal or trying to imply he’s the most amazing child with T21 ever. Comparisons of performance and impressing anyone else isn’t my goal – he is who he is and and regardless of percentages or testing or anything else, he is enough as he is right now.

Having said that, in line with the 80/20 principle, I believe 80% of children with T21 can be doing just as well if given similar support.  I don’t think he should be as unusual as the professionals say he is.  Actually, I think a lot of kids with T21 are already doing great but probably most of them are also being treated like outliers.

I passionately believe that every child deserves to be treated with respect. With respect for where he is right now, with support for whatever limitation he has at this time, and with belief in who he will be in the future.

It’s not hard to do this.  It’s really not.  It may be counter cultural, but it’s not hard.  People think I must ‘work so much’ with Yirmi.  I don’t see what I do as work; he’s not my project to fix.  What I do that I think is of the most value is to parent him the same as all of my other children – I look at what his needs are and try to find integrated ways to support those needs in our daily lives.

Integrating support in a fun way - trampolining!

One example of how we integrate support in a fun way – trampolining!

In my opinion, the most challenging thing is to recognize the aspects of your thinking about your child that are limiting, and then to change those thoughts.  Your actions will follow your thoughts, and your child responds to your thoughts about him.  If you think your child is capable, you’ll have different expectations and take different action than if you think your child has significant limitations.

To consciously shift from a paradigm of limitation to possibility means seeing the potential in your child and acting in alignment with what you trust he will become, long before you see that in him. 

If he can’t yet talk or can’t yet walk, it means believing that if you keep giving good quality input, that you can trust the timing of the output (ie performance) even when it’s taking a lot longer than you would like. At age 4, Yirmi still hardly said any words.  Now a year later, we’re seeing an explosion of speech.  And I trust that we’ll continue to see significant gains with time.

Shifting that paradigm means reflecting your child’s positive inner value to him even at times that he’s immature, irresponsible, unreliable, hypersensitive, or mean.  It means trusting your child’s potential and holding on to that vision even when external circumstances might give you reason to feel discouraged.

And that’s something that benefits every child,  regardless of diagnosis!

Avivah

snychronicity

Does history repeat itself? A strange coincidence? Or something else?

My husband’s parents flew in from the US for the wedding and we enjoyed spending time with them this weekend!

We’ve been wondering if our branch of the family is related to other Werners and got into a discussion about my husband’s grandparents generation.

We learned for the first time that my husband’s great aunt and uncle had a child with Trisomy 21 who was institutionalized at birth, which tragically was the norm at that time.  I still couldn’t help wincing when the story was shared.

And then we learned something that kind of made us all shiver.

My father -in-law had an aunt and uncle who couldn’t have children.  Someone who was very ill asked them to raise her little son as their own when she died.  Since his mother had requested that her son be raised with her last name, he was raised in every way as their son but he wasn’t legally a Werner.

When my father-in-law shared this story, and then said the birth name of the child raised by the Werners three generations ago, my family members all looked at each other.  “What did you say his last name was?” someone asked.  “XYZ”, said my father in law, and spelled it out.

The same last name of our Rafael.  The same spelling.  A last name I heard for the first time when we were shown his file.  Not a common name at all.

And Werner isn’t a very common name either.

And so three generations ago, the Werners raised a little boy as their own, but keeping his birth name of XYZ.  And right now, the Werners are raising a little boy as their own, but keeping the same birth name of XYZ.

I can’t tell you what the significance of that is but it feels like more than just coincidence, don’t you think?

Avivah

Self-care-300x300[1]

Self-care – you can’t afford not to do it!

Yesterday a very busy mother of four young children who is longing for a break asked me, “How do you make time for yourself?”

I told her, you just have to do it!

So much easier said than done.

For many years, I minimized my need for self-time.  Sure, I would relax with a book or exercise at home with a dvd, but I didn’t really go too far beyond that.  Friends who wanted to meet me for coffee would be met instead with my flat response: “I can’t do it,” “It’s not realistic, I’ve got the kids home all the time.”

But do you know what?  I didn’t even stop to consider how to make that happen – I could have done it if it was really important to me.  But instead I right away assumed it was impossible. When it came to making time for myself (outside of home), with few exceptions I told myself I didn’t need it, that it was too much trouble to find a babysitter, too expensive or exhausting to make arrangements.

Well.

Over the last year I have been actively embracing self-care and it is a pretty darned wonderful thing to expand the ways that I enjoy my life!  After so many years of taking care of someone else and putting my own needs lower down on the list, I’m putting myself right at the top.  And I highly recommend it!

Taking more time for yourself begins with seeing it as an important and valuable use of your time.

This morning I went on a two hour nature outing with a small group of women to a park about a 15 minute walk away.  Later this week I’ll be going on a sunrise hike (I love these – this will only be the third one I’ve done in the last year – I get exercise, social connection, time out in nature and am home by 7 am, without anyone even realizing I was gone!)  Next week I’ll be going away for two days and one night to northern Israel for a women’s getaway. It sounds kind of decadent, doesn’t it?

The morning after the wedding, do you know where I was?  On a hike to a local forest.  When I arrived the organizer looked at me in shock and said, “Even though you said you were coming, I didn’t believe you would actually be here!”  I obviously didn’t get home very early the night before. :) I had a ridiculously full day that day, that included taking dd16 to Jerusalem for her seminary interview in the early afternoon, returning home, then turning right back around with the rest of my family and traveling to Jerusalem for that night’s sheva brachos. Does it seem I was making my day too full and stressful by going on a hike in the morning?

I made this commitment to myself before the interview was scheduled, and I decided I would go because it was important to me especially with the busyness of the wedding season to make time for myself.  I would have cancelled my appointment with my daughter and told the seminary administration I would have come a week later before I would have cancelled this time for myself.  Hiking in the woods and later sitting quietly alone for almost a half hour in the forest while the other women continued on a different trail was spiritually and mentally renewing for me.

Honestly, I’ve had to work through my mixed feelings about all of this.  I’ve been moving out of my comfort zone in this arena for a while and continue to expand the boundaries of how I nurture myself. Because I did so little self care in this way for so long, sometimes by contrast what I do now feels selfish and self-indulgent.  That’s not reality, it’s just my mind getting in the way of letting myself feel good about taking care of me.

self-care

We parents deserve to take time to care for ourselves.  We NEED to take time for ourselves. We are worthy of treating ourselves with kindness and compassion, to create and embrace opportunities to nurture those parts of ourselves that we tend to set aside when the responsibilities of life take up so much space.

When we become parents we don’t stop being the people we were until then – and once we hammer that into our own consciousness, we then have a great opportunity to model this lesson for our children.

The more I recharge myself, the more emotionally present I am for myself and for others.  Really.

Can you afford NOT to take time to recharge yourself?  Even if you don’t feel you deserve to take time for yourself, wouldn’t your children benefit from an energized, upbeat mother who values herself?

Learning to care for and love yourself the way you care for and love your children – the new horizon!

Avivah

The wedding was beautiful!!! (pics included)

What a beautiful evening our son’s wedding was!

We are still floating with joy at the joining of these two wonderful souls. What a special and beautiful couple they make!

I was so touched by the presence of friends from different stages in our lives – Beitar, Seattle, Baltimore, Karmiel and Ramat Beit Shemesh.  There were a couple of women who even knew me from high school, as well as a friend who I met at 16 and several others who came for the bride’s side but turns out also knew me from when I was in seminary (age 17/18).  It was very special to have friends share this milestone event with us and I can’t describe how much it meant to me to have each person there.

I don’t have official wedding photos yet;  what I have are some pictures taken by people on the sidelines when the photographer wasn’t looking (he didn’t allow pics taken at the same time he was shooting). Though they are the same poses by the photographer you’ll see that some of these are obviously in between moments and hopefully my family will forgive me posting these.

First, me and my husband.

Me and my husband

I had some angst about my gown after it arrived.  A blog-reader-turned-friend-turned-seamstress-for-the-wedding asked me what my concern was. I told her I was concerned the color was too much.

She responded, “This gown is to the ‘mother-of-the-groom black-gown’ phenomena what homeschooling is to the ‘keep your kid in an unhealthy schooling situation’ phenomena. It’s so in-line with Avivah Werner……”

So I wore it. :)

Next, a family picture.  Baby Rafael wasn’t feeling well and unfortunately was screaming for the few minutes we took a family photo.  :(    We put our desire for him to be in the pictures on the back burner since it was clear he needed calming, which is why he doesn’t appear in later photos.

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Below: siblings picture (minus Rafael). Back l- r: ds11, ds9, dd16, dd20, dd22; front l- r: ds18, ds23, ds4, ds15, ds8

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Below: my three lovely girls, l – r, dd16, dd20, dd22.

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(Edited -sorry, they requested I remove this.)Below: seven of our eight wonderful sons. Back l- r: ds9, ds18, ds23, ds15; front l- r: ds4, ds8, ds11.

wedding brothers

Below: Rafael (six months) later in the evening with his Bubby, wearing his protective ear gear (sound protection for loud music).

Rafael and his Bubby

The family pictures together with the bride were taken later in the evening and sadly only two pictures were taken even then. It’s very sad. In any case I don’t have any of those yet.  I hate to leave the bride out of the wedding post but I only have one picture and it’s not a good one.

I also don’t have any wedding pictures of the bride and groom yet, so I’ll instead share a picture taken two nights later at the sheva brachos we hosted in our home.

Aren't they the cutest couple?

Aren’t they the cutest couple?

When I used to think about marrying off a child, I imagined it would be a time with a lot of tension (since I’ve heard people talk about it in that way), but it wasn’t like that at all. It has been a wonderful experience all around and we are SO happy to have a new member of the family!

Avivah

wedding graphic

Wedding plans, post high school plans, birthdays…busy, busy!

Yesterday someone asked me how I find time to write so often.  Funny how others can look at the same situation completely differently than me – I feel like I hardly am able to find time to write!  It was good to be reminded that there are always two ways to view a situation and that I can choose a more positive interpretation.

It’s a busy, busy season of life right now!

First of all, the wedding!  Less than a week to go with a list of things still to do, but it’s all getting done calmly and without stress.  After seeing friends whose tension level was seriously racheted up when their children were engaged, my goal for this engagement period was to be emotionally present, calm, and to enjoy the joy of this time.  Thankfully that has been the reality and we are so grateful and excited as we prepare for our first wedding.  So often I’ve wondered who our children will marry, and it’s beautiful to see how perfectly our daugher-in-love complements ds23; they are a lovely couple!

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Ds18 will be graduating soon, and has spent the last few months considering his post high school plans.  Since he’s in a yeshiva high school (that includes a full secular curriculum versus yeshiva ketana where no secular subjects are taught) people say it makes it harder (and even impossible) to get into the selective post high school yeshiva he’s interested in, but I don’t believe that these kind of things need to be issues – yes, it sets the bar to jump over higher but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

He went to visit several yeshivas and it was clear to him that this particular yeshiva was the best fit for him.  But they didn’t get back to him quickly about setting up an interview and it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.  (They extensively check out the student before inviting them to interview.)  It was very exciting when he was invited to test there – they’ve never interviewed a student from his high school and it was significant to be invited.  The interview seemed to go well but he was told there was more testing to follow.

I was in the supermarket two days ago when he called. When he told me he was accepted, I got choked up and couldn’t respond.  After a minute of silence and no sound on my part he was sure I didn’t hear what he said.   “Mommy, did you hear what I said?  I was accepted to ‘Blank’ Yeshiva!”

I managed to get out a congratulations through teary eyes.  It’s a huge accomplishment and it happened because of the person he’s built himself into and the efforts he’s made day after day.  Oh, my, so much emotion.  I’d better get some bulletproof makeup for the wedding.  :)

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Dd16 has been considering her plans for the coming year, and last week told me she’d like to go to seminary next year.  While it’s not something we had talked about previously, I completely support her and told her it sounded like it could be a very good choice for her.  She has a specific seminary in mind, and called them two days ago for an application – and was told that day was the deadline!  She sent it in and went to visit and sat in classes yesterday, which she very much enjoyed.  She needs to interview there and it’s preferred that parents come, but I simply can’t go to an interview with her until after the wedding.  They have hesitations about accepting a student her age so we’ll see how that goes.

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Since Rafael joined the family three months ago, I’ve been busy working my way through a list of medical appointments for him.  Yesterday I spent hours in Jerusalem at a hospital having his hearing tested.  It was a very unpleasant test for him and he screamed for 45 minutes before falling asleep when his response to sound stimulation could finally be monitored, but I was very grateful to learn that his hearing is good!

Another project that has taken ongoing effort is getting mother’s milk for him.  I am so grateful to the many women who have donated to him!  He was obviously reacting badly to dairy formula when in the hospital and mother’s milk has been very important in building up his immune system. He’s been almost exclusively on mother’s milk for the last 14 weeks, which is a huge amount of donor milk that we’ve had to get.  For the times that we’ve run out, we’re fortunate that our pediatrician generously gave us sample boxes of a hypoallergenic formula.  I’m in the process of having him officially approved for a different formula (since he’s reacting even to the hypoallergenic formula he’s been getting) and once that happens we’ll be able to purchase it ourselves; hopefully that will be completed this week.

I’ve also been in the process of getting Rafael evaluated for early child development Ds9 and Rafaelservices.  My experience in Karmiel with this for Yirmi wasn’t pleasant and I was dreading going through this process again.  Just reading through paperwork for Yirmi (which I needed because we are opening a new file for him here and they needed it) gave me a sick feeling in my stomach.

The meeting with the physical therapist and social worker was very pleasant, completely different than my past experience.  The physical therapist said Rafael’s development is impressive and that it’s obvious that we’ve been working with him.  Yes, we do invest time and effort into supporting his development but in line with my educational approach, it’s integrated into daily living rather than therapies that we stop our lives to do.  Rafael is delicious and we just love him to pieces!

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Can you believe Yirmi will be turning five soon!?  He’s doing wonderfully and I’ll update on him closer to his birthday.  We’ve been given an appointment with a developmental doctor so he can be evaluated comprehensively as part of the process to get speech therapy services.  Since he has apraxia, a clear and obvious speech delay, I hope services will be easily approved.  We’ve worked on his speech extensively at home and it’s exciting to see how beautifully it’s coming along.  He’s such a cute and smart little guy!

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We are in the middle of birthday season here.  We started the season with ds11 in April, followed by ds8 and then dh in May.  Ds14 will have a birthday the day after the wedding, then Yirmi two weeks later opens July, ds23 two days after that, dd20 a month later and now our lovely daughter-in-love joins the birthday line-up for August!

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Everyone is growing up so quickly!  Time seems to speed up more as the years go by.  As I feel the days flying by I have such a strong desire to be emotionally present for every moment  (which isn’t possible but it’s a direction to shoot for!).  Life is so full and it’s easy to get caught up in what needs to be done on a daily basis, so it’s really a conscious choice that I’m trying to make each day.

Avivah

overcoming-inadequacy

Feeling inadequate as a parent? Get realigned with your true values!

Tonight there was an informational meeting for a school opening in our area for the coming year.  There were aspects of the school that sounded interesting, enough for me to write in the details of the meeting into my planner.

And then I asked myself, WHY am I thinking about this???

Is there something that isn’t working in our homeschooling life right now?  Are any of the kids unhappy or asking to go to school?  Do they not have friends?  Is it too hard for me to be around them, or for them to be around each other?

No, no, and no.

My kids have lots of time to explore and play.  They have plenty of time for friendships and ‘extracurricular interests’.  They get along (mostly!) with each other. They’re bright and interested in the world around them, calm and settled inside themselves.

So after sixteen years of successfully homeschooling and seeing the short and long term benefits to our children, why was I thinking for even a minute about school?

comparisons

This happens to me periodically. This time it was because reading this lovely description of the school had me mentally comparing what I do and feeling that I was coming up short.  I began to fixate on adult-led activities rather than the long term process of supporting the natural development of children and their inherent learning process.  I felt the weight of the responsiblity of educating our children and it felt like an easy solution to send them to someone else who would take responsibility for their education.

No matter if that’s true or not!  What matters is that it felt true in the moment.   I was temporarily losing the comparison war and that triggered those pesky thoughts that periodically circle around – do I give my kids enough, do I do enough?

That’s what happens when I minimize the value of the things that are a natural part of our lives.  In one fell swoop I manage to take all the positives about our lifestyle and our children’s development for granted and with a mental flick deflect it to the sidelines as if all those things are insignificant.

Have you noticed how easy it is to downplay your successes and overly value what you aren’t doing? We all do this!  And the next thing you know, you’re feeling inadequate and looking to someone or something outside of you for different answers.  Sometimes I think that feeling inadequate is a pervasive theme for mothers.

At times like these I’ve found it helpful to stand back and consciously validate yourself.  You have to remind yourself of the value of what you do, to remind yourself about what your goals and vision are.  I took some time to think about what my short and long term vision is for our family, which was  really helpful in regrounding myself.

In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t end up attending the informational meeting about the school!

Avivah

swimming lessons

Musings while waiting at the pool

Five of my boys started swimming lessons last week.  Yes, five.

Their lessons were staggered throughout the afternoon, and I sat next to the pool for several hours and watched each one have his first lesson.  One of the swimming teachers looked over at me at some point and said, “You’re spending your whole day here!”

Despite what might have looked like inconvenience to others, I really enjoyed being there. I felt nostalgic.

It’s been about 17 years since our oldest three children took swimming lessons.  That was followed by years of many other activities and lessons, with me sitting at the sidelines watching and usually supervising younger siblings at the same time.

There were years of going shopping and to the dentist and everywhere else with all of the kids in tow.  Many years.  I didn’t get out alone too often, but while there were times that I longed for more ‘me’ time, lots of togetherness was the reality of our lives.  It was necessary and appropriate and something I really enjoyed.

Time moves on.  The children referred to for so long on this blog as ‘the littles’ are now almost 8, 9.5 and 11.  They’re old enough and independent enough that they don’t need me to set up play dates .  Ds9 and ds11 both can get to their extracurricular activities without me accompanying them; ds7 can go to his friends’ homes without me walking him there hand in hand.

As I sat by the pool, I felt wistful for those days of going everywhere with the kids.  Yes, I very much appreciate that it’s now possible for me to take naps and go places on my own without too much wrangling of my schedule.  I appreciate that Israel has safe public transportation and that has created opportunities for independence that our children in the US didn’t have.  But I kind of miss those years of everyone piling into the car and just being there with them – those times created lots of warm memories.

Someone said to me at the second lesson, “You’re not going to watch your seven year old every time, are you?  He just needs you to be here the first time.”  Sure, I could send him in on his own now that I facilitated the first lesson.  It’s not that he needs me to be there, but that he wants me to be there.  I want to be there for him.

I’m so glad to have this opportunity to sit and watch my boys as they do something new, watching them overcoming their hesitations and then seeing the flashing smiles appear on their faces.

Our kids grow up so quickly – enjoy every moment!

Avivah

Why we chose foster care rather than adoption

Can you believe it’s only been six weeks since R joined our family?!?  He so quickly became an integral part of the family that my younger boys told me they can hardly remember him not being part of our lives!

R - 10 weeks old (photography by Chani Ceitlin)

R – 10 weeks old (photography by Chani Ceitlin)

During this period, we’ve constantly been asked (literally in almost every conversation): “Why did you choose foster care rather than adoption?”   

The answer is simple, not based on idealism or preferences but need.  Here in Israel, babies with Trisomy 21 who are given up aren’t usually available for adoption – they go into the long term foster care system. And so we went where the babies who needed families were.

I have been very pained seeing babies with T21 being given up because of their diagnosis.  According to the placement social worker, they are the only children voluntarily given up as newborns – not those with much more complicated medical diagnoses or those with a more limited long term prognosis.

R - 10 weeks old

R – 10 weeks old

It was a combination of our strong family values and the desire to be part of the solution rather than complaining about the situation that prompted us to begin the qualification process to be foster parents specifically for an infant with T21.

“Practically speaking, what does it mean to foster?”

Our intention is to raise R as a member of our family in every way and unless his foster care status changes, he will be with us until he is an adult (age 21).  While in many ways this is very similar to an open adoption-  regardless of how we feel or what our intentions are, R is not legally our child.

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That means that we will have social workers coming into our home at least monthly to check on him for the next two decades.  It means he has a different last name than my other children.  It means visits from the birth parents.  It means significant decisions for him have to made in conjunction with his birth parents and social workers, and my personal preferences regarding his care can be overridden. (It also means that I needed signed permission before posting any of these pictures!)

Most significantly, if his birth parents were to change their minds they could at any time take him back.  Though it’s unusual for children who were given up because of their special needs to later be taken back, it does happen.

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I can’t lightly skip over this possibility because it has created a pervasive sense of unease within me that I didn’t anticipate.   I’ve shared this feeling with our social worker, and her answer is to sympathize but say, “This is the reality of foster care,” and to remind me that it’s the birth parents’ right to take him back whenever they want.

“Will R be able to be adopted at some point?”

When we were shown R’s file, we were asked if we were willing adopt him if his status changed.  We immediately said ‘yes’.  However, based on what was explained to us about why and when children are transferred to the adoption track, it seems to me the likelihood of him being placed for adoption is extremely low.

We didn’t go into fostering without a great deal of thought and discussion as a family.  We knew there would be challenges and we decided that letting fear of the unknown keep us from offering our home to a child in need wasn’t the right choice.

And though it would be understandable to hold back a tiny piece of one’s heart for self-protection, we’re not letting fear keep us from unreservedly loving our newest addition.

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Though the external circumstances aren’t perfectly smooth,  we’re so happy and grateful he’s part of our family!

Avivah

**Thank you to the wonderfully talented, patient and sensitive Chani Ceitlin for her photography!**