Tag Archives: Children

The Storyteller…

Time Capsule … 2011?

Every family has a storyteller.

In my husband’s family.. that person was Grandpa Bennett.

Stories being told of Uncle Loren and Uncle Erwin… two souls that I never met… But the memories would bring out a fond chuckle from Grandpa..

… and a smile from my husband.

Some of my favorite stories were ones he told of my sweet mother-in-law.

How .. as a child… she had prayed for each chicken before he “harvested” them. He would shake his head at the memory.. and joke that they never raised chickens after that.

But more than the stories he told … I loved to see the happiness in his expression.

The joy that shone from his face…

… it took your breath away.

Grandpa

Grandpa Bennett turned 98 this last March.

98 years on this earth.

Can you imagine the changes he witnessed in this world from 1922 .. until 2020? It is no wonder he had so many stories to tell.

World Wars…

Great Depressions…

Computers..

Not all of it was good… it couldn’t have been..

… yet every story I remember him telling? He would tell with a happy chuckle.

…and every person he talked to? He greeted with a smile.

This week, Grandpa Bennett lost the fight with his weak heart… and he went to be with His Lord.

He will be missed by so many.

…by so many…

The next time our family can gather..?

He won’t be sitting at the kitchen table.. He won’t greet everyone by name as we arrive..

… but he will be there.

He will be there in our hearts. Alive in the stories he told us of his childhood… and beyond…

And he will be there alive in his children and all of his grandchildren.

Because the love that Grandpa gave freely grows in his loved ones still.

And when we listen carefully?

We can still hear that joyful laugh!

Thank you Grandpa Bennett for sharing your stories with us…

… and your joy ….

.. and thank you for raising such an amazing daughter.. so that I could have an amazing second mom.

May we all follow in your footsteps…

The world I choose to live in…

The world I choose to live in? Is very big…

.. and full of love…

Over the last six years, our family has chosen to bring young people from around the world into our home, into our lives .. and into our hearts.

.. and I have loved every minute of it.

I started hosting exchange students so that I could share the country that I love with the rest of the world…

… what I got?

These beautiful souls… they gave me the world.

A big beautiful world.

But ever since January?

The world has seemed a little smaller. We have been watching as the Corona virus has edged closer.. covering distances that look so far away on the map.

Edged closer to us in the USA..

… but scary for us… closer to my adopted exchange children scattered around the globe…

My current exchange student watched as it affected her country… the beautiful Thailand.

… we watched how it affected the countries on the other side of the world, while we continued to live life … trying to enjoy every moment…

As countries started to go into lockdown, we watched Italy where one of our girl’s family lives.

.. along with the UK where she was at school. Checking in when she was trying to get back home to Italy after the flights were getting cancelled.

At the same time watching Egypt… checking in with my sweet Egyptian girl when I hadn’t heard from her in a while.

.. and South Korea… Relieved that their numbers weren’t as severe, even being close to China…

.. and Turkey… talking with my girl there as she needed to leave her college and return to her hometown. To pray as she took a long bus ride with possible sick people….

… then as it got closer to our part of the world.. I added Brazil to the countries we watched…

… and Columbia… the daughter that just went home…

… And we watched Liberia where my sister was working…

… Not to mention ALL of the pieces of my heart that live in Germany, Spain, Sweden, Belgium…

We watched as this virus shut down each state in the US… one by one. As the sick count grew.. and the deaths started to rise…

…and I could go on…

I have family around the world now…

… and a love for people and places around the world…

… a love for food from around the world….

But this virus has taught me something else…

As I watched all of my daughters talk about being quarantined.. a few saying that they can’t even STEP outside. They can’t go to the store.. or work..

All of them saying they need to stay at home.

I can see so much clearer how similar we ALL are..

We all are a little worried about the virus…

…we are ALL worried about each other….

We ALL miss our family a little bit more when we can’t see each other….

…and….

Ha… and we are all very bored and can’t wait for it to be done.

In this world that I choose to live in?

It is so easy to see how we are all in this TOGETHER…

…together in love and spirit… even if we are separated by miles and oceans…

And even though my heart hurts a little bit more today… having the pieces of my heart divided all around this big beautiful world… I am so thankful for this world that I choose to live in.

Today as I pray for my family here in my house.. my family here in Michigan.. my family around the world…. I pray they stay healthy… but I also pray that they have joy and laughter in their lives while they are quarantined…

…. and a healthy dose of patience with the world… as we ALL are trying to figure out the next step…

.. a whole new world for all of us!!!

Love from my family to yours!!!

Empty chairs…

This theatre season, my cast worked through enormous obstacles to perform Les Miserables.

And then .. on opening night?

Covid-19 starting shutting down all assembling of groups.

So 10 weeks of hard work.. and the kids were only allowed to perform for their families. The cast was heartbroken… but they wiped their tears… and performed an awe-inspiring opening night.

I could NOT have been more proud.

For me?

This experience is a little surreal…

Surreal in the sense that everything was so different from where we were 2 weeks ago. 2 weeks ago, I was reminding the kids to hang up their costumes and to clean up their own messes.. and to turn in tee shirt money.

And today… I am JUST praying that each of my cast members stays safe and healthy..

And alive…

But it is also surreal for me in the sense… that ALL of my life I have been studying Plagues and epidemics .. and pandemics. The Black Death.. the Spanish flu (that started in The US)… siege sicknesses, the viruses that wiped out the Natives, etc..

Not so much for the illnesses or the deaths… because death and suffering saddens me…

…but how those illnesses.. and the fear… and the chaos affected the people. And how those effects changed the course of history.

How poor people could suddenly own land…

…How our children still sing “Ring around the rosies”.. to ward off evil spirits…

And here we are… smack in the middle of what WILL BECOME history. Someday, kids will be studying about the Covid-19 pandemic of 2019.. and wonder how the “population coped with the terror” and the isolation..

I wonder if the history books will tell how we had a shortage of toilet paper… and no shortage of the conspiracy theories?

Or will the future history books say that the “population” learned from the history books of the past? Will the history books state how we all chose to obey isolation and quarantined ourselves at home?

Will the history books say how we banded together to give each other hope for a future?

Because we WILL have a future.

Even the worst plagues… the survivors dusted off their hats.. picked up the pieces of their lives.. and made a future for themselves.

And little by little?

We learned from them. From the survivors. We learned to wash our hands. We learned to quarantine ourselves if we have been exposed. We learned not to panic.. and not to take the virus to the next town in our panic.

We HAVE so much knowledge at our fingertips THANKS to the records and observations kept of those pandemics in history.

Because we have learned from our history? We find ourselves in quarantine BEFORE it gets too bad. We find ourselves bored and creating funny memes about isolation “cabin fever”.. while we wait for the virus to run it’s course.

But … we will ALSO find ourselves with a better future.

A future that MAY hold graduations later in the summer. A future with delayed vacations.. delayed celebrations ..

A future with strange new school routines.

A future that has changed us all in small ways…

For me? I’m praying that my future has our cast performing Les Miserables when the crisis is over.

And I’m praying that when we hear Marius sing about empty chairs and empty tables… that there are no empty chairs in our community..

I’m praying there are no empty chairs in our cast…

And I’m definitely praying that we did our part enough.. that I won’t have ANY empty chairs in my family.

But even if we never hear our cast sing a song rejoicing in “one day more”… ?

I’m happy that our nation and our schools gave them their best chance at being able to sing another day.

Stay safe everyone! And God be with you!

While we’re here..

When I was a kid, trick or treating had some crazy traditions.

One neighbor made caramel apples for us.. but we had to come in for a visit. (Yes.. our mom was with us..)

Another stop gave full candy bars… but we had to tell a joke.

And yet another stop we had to tell a Bible verse.

Now after years of Sunday school and Vacation Bible school.. I knew a lot of verses.. but one that I loved to recite?

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

I know it doesn’t sound amusing.. but for a kid? Finding the shortest Bible verse seemed like a challenge…

…and…?

I got the same big treat as my siblings who recites longer verses…

But as I grew up?

That verse came to mean a lot to my heart.

You see?

My superpower is feeling other people’s emotions…

…and well?

I cry.

…I cry a lot…

For most of my childhood and teenage years? This embarrassed me … and I fought to control those tears.

But this verse? Jesus wept. It echoed through my mind every time I teared up. I mean? If it was ok for Jesus… a grown man.. to cry in public because He was sad? If it was acceptable for the Son of God to weep openly… even though he knew that God had everything under control? Even though He KNEW that everything would work together and be beautiful … in its time?

If it was ok for Jesus to weep … even though He hadn’t lost faith in God?

Then maybe.. just maybe…?

It was OK for me to cry when I was overwhelmed.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to speak at her church on Mother’s Day (..ha.. I know.. it was more than a few weeks…) about my experience in parenting. How parenting a strong willed, independent sassy daughter and a son with autism (and a side of mood disorders) changed my life.

My first response was… I can’t do that… I’ll cry… in front of a whole congregation of people…

… just like Jesus did…

Then my second response… what would I talk about? How do you take 21 years of trials… errors… tears… laughter… and love… and condense it into 20 minutes?

The day I was to speak at the church was the day before my son was scheduled to start “college”. The day before we were to move my son into a dorm and he was to begin his road to independence.

Sooo… it seemed fitting to talk about how we had moved on from each disappointment… toward hope and a future. How we had taken each path we were on and looked for some good that we could do while we were there.

So I based my message on my other favorite verse…

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29:11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

In front of this church congregation… I talked about how I had great plans for my life… plans to change the world… and how those plans did not turn out the way I had thought they would.

In fact?

My life was nothing how I planned.

I love my life… but it is not the life I had planned for myself.

Parenting is always a challenge.. whether it is a sassy, independent, strong willed daughter…. or a son with anxiety, autism and a mood disorder.

And… well?

I had both.

Every time that my life’s path took a wide turn and took me away from the plans I had made for me and my small family? I would remind myself of this verse.. that God has a plan for me..

.. promising me hope and a future…

So I had accepted each set of changes…

..but first?

First… I had cried.

Tears to grieve for the death of the plans I had made. I cried out all the frustrations from knowing that I had to change yet again…

and then?

Then I had wiped my tears and looked around… and I’d say to myself.. “While we are here, what good can we do?”

While we are in this new place.. with new plans… what good can we do..?

And yes… I cried…

The day after Mother’s Day?

The day after I spoke about hope and a future?

We took our son to his college. We followed the plans he had made for himself.

The first day of his bright new future…

And….

He didn’t make it.

Four years of planning, and in the matter of 24 hours?

All of our plans for the next year changed.

My son and I…. ?

… we wept….

We wept for our broke dreams… his dreams of going to college and staying in a dorm…. my dreams of seeing him independent … and my dreams of being free to start a career.

We wept.

Not knowing which way to go… and having to explore different paths…? We both felt a little lost…

…but we wiped our tears… and said… while we are here what good can we do?

Over and over this summer? Our paths have changed…

Over and over this summer? We have cried…

But today?

Today… as I feel the sunshine on my face? Today as I see some confidence seep back into my son’s face?

I am reminded once again that God has promised my son a hope and a future…

I am reminded that God has promised ME a hope and a future…

He didn’t promise me the future that I dreamed up for myself… but He promised me it would prosper and not harm me…

Sooo….

Let me dry my tears one more time….

…and see what good we can do….

While we are here…..

..On the other side..

I planned this weekend to be magical and full of memories ..

I reserved a campsite on the  northern shores of Lake Michigan.. planning weeks in advance. We were going to be able to watch the sun set over the great lake while sitting at our campfire… enjoying all of our favorite campfire foods… and just relax.

HA..

..well?

Let’s just say that it didn’t exactly go according to plan. 

When we arrived at our campground… so excited… the first thing we did?

..was drive through a massive cloud of Midge flies….

Midge flies…. 

I am a native of Michigan. I have been camping all of my life.. in all 4 seasons. And I had never experienced Midge flies. 

Well at least not… “clouds” of Midge flies. You see? The smoke puffs we thought we had seen on our drive in … along the beautiful Lake Michigan shore line? 

That wasn’t smoke. It was millions of tiny.. “Mosquito look alike” flies. 

As soon as we passed through the third cloud of bugs, we saw that the campground host had posted signs that the Midges were harmless and would only last 2 weeks.

BUT… that didn’t help us at all. Our reservations were for this weekend. 

They also offered to honor our reservations at a campground further inland… safe from the Midges. 

But further inland meant AWAY from the sounds of crashing waves… away from sunsets on the great lake.. 

Nope… inland was not in the “magical” plans.

The signs did say harmless... sooo….

We set up camp. 

My dad always told me, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”.. and then he would laugh and say.. “But you’d be surprised what you can live through.”

We did NOT get a single bite from a Midge… but they love to fly into your eyes, nose, and mouth. They rested on anything solid.. in a cloud type coating. They landed in our drinks if they didn’t have covers, our food while we tried to cook.. and.. we finally resorted to covering our mouths so we could breathe (and talk). 

But when the Ranger came by to make sure we had seen the offer to move inland.. we were stubborn.

We stayed. 

We tried all the usual tricks.. citronella candles… all natural bug repellent… deep woods bug repellent … deep woods bug fogger… manually killing them by the hundreds… nothing helped. They filled our camper.. made a layer of little bug armies covering the tents and tables. 

They weren’t hurting us… but they were making us crazy. 

The first night was cloudy… hiding any magical sunsets.. and the Midges drove us inside … so NO magical campfire treats. We even ended up driving to town to eat in an environment free of things flying into our mouths. 

But our family was NOT without humor. “Because the Midges have decreed it…” or.. “the Midge cloud has disrupted the satellite connection..” … yes.. our family was still making memories through laughter during this vacation disaster. 

The second day was clear… so we trekked up and over the very  small hill that separated our campsite full of midges from the beautiful beach on the other side. 

And on the other side? 

..yup… 

….more midges.

In fact… climbing over that small hill..? We encountered more Midges than ever. Thick clouds of them that we charged through with our mouths covered and our eyes closed. We learned not to bump the pine trees… their nesting grounds.. 

…and then when we reached the beautiful sandy beach?

.. yup.. 

..more midges…

But… we could also see the beautiful glow of the sun going down over the great lake. We still had to keep the Midges from landing on us. But it was easier to laugh as we searched for skipping rocks… easier to ignore the flies when we were taking beautiful pictures. 

It was easier to enjoy ourselves.. despite the Midge flies… when we were being creative..

…and enjoying life….

I think that sometimes it is so easy to pack it in.. or to hide in our camper.. when life gives us Midge flies. And we were ALL tempted to do that this weekend. 

But if we had stayed safe inside the camper… or moved 2 miles away.. to make it easier.. 

..OR had we turned back when the Midge flies made it absolutely miserable to breathe… 

I would never have gotten to take these beautiful photos of my family… We wouldn’t have skipped rocks… and .. we wouldn’t have made some funny  but beautiful memories.. 

… and we will laugh about our Vacation with the Midges for years. 

This month was hard for our family.

Very hard…

The journey with Autism is neither clear nor is it easy. 

Parenting is hardly ever clear or easy..

But with Autism added in? 

… sometimes? 

Sometimes…  I wish I could hide my son away from the world.  Away from the disappointments.. away from the failed attempts that we all encounter.. away from the people who doubt that he will succeed… 

But if I kept my son… (or my daughter for that matter) … hidden away in the camper..?

Away from the flies of annoyance and frustration… and disappointment? Hidden from failed attempts at success?

If my family had stayed home this weekend to hide away from the flies of Autism, instead of going on the worst vacation spot in Michigan?

Then.. I would have 500 less pictures on my phone right now. And we wouldn’t have made all of these beautiful memories. 

So.. my family is gearing up to go over this next hill in the journey of Autism. We will travel it with family by our side.. and laughter in our hearts.

Because you notice the Midges less that way. 

 

 

.. decades of work..

My son turned 20 today.

My baby boy.

My little man with autism and a side of mood disorder…

..is 2 decades old.

When I look at him it seems like yesterday that I started researching digestive disorders while my family .. slept.

It seems like just yesterday that I read every book on parenting kids with Autism.. and every book on Childhood Bipolar.. Reading 4 inch books on the “science of the chemistry of the mind”.. while my friends read a funny romance.

It seems like yesterday when I questioned whether I was doing a good enough job … with tears running down my face.

And I can remember it clearly when Simon leaned his head on my shoulder and said “With God, all things are possible.”

How is it possible that this young man has come so far?

No longer a boy that is silent.

No longer a boy that hides his face in my shoulder.

No longer a boy who watches from the doorway.

Here stands a boy that walks confidently through doors. A boy that sings in front of a whole auditorium of people.

Here stands a boy who easily orders his own food at a restaurant.

Here is a boy .. who amazes me in every way.

Two decades of work have flown by…

… I can’t wait to see where the next 2 decades take him …

Heroes

Some people look at my son .. and see a disability.

They look at his face and his mannerisms.. and they see Autism Spectrum disorder!

When I look at my son?

I see a strong boy. I see love, compassion and a love for our world.

When I look at my son? I see my hero.

Here is a human being that has been dealing with extreme medical issues since he was 6 weeks old.

A boy that had to have casts to hold soft bones in place. Screws to hold soft joints in place. Medicine to allow stiff joints to move.

Here is a child who learned to read labels to avoid 30 of his favorite foods.. because he wanted to walk without pain.

Here is a young adult who is enduring countless treatments to heal a painful skin condition.

Here is a boy who has always been in pain.

And yet?

…yet he greets people with a smile. He never mentions his pain. He will walk on painful feet to cook for his sick mom. He sees beauty and art all around him…

.. and he sees his future as bright and exciting…

He is in constant pain…

And he sees his future as bright and exciting…

When I look at my son?

I see my hero!

And when I grow up? I hope to be just like him.

Cousins weekend…

Ever since my family moved home to Michigan, I started a new tradition where I picked one weekend, over the summer, and invited all of my nieces and nephews to my house for a sleepover.

Now.. one of my nephews was too old to enjoy this.. and.. some were too young..

..but every year I get a few to come..

Ha! By a “few”.. I mean 10 or more..

This year.. I had 18 kiddos at my house..

Age range .. 4 years to 20!

Doors were left open… noses were skinned… heads were bonked… snow cones were spilled.. a bean bag lost its beans… shaving cream in the eyes… stubbed toes… there were hurt feelings.. disappointment over the rain.. and cancelled bonfires..

…but there was also.. laughter .. games… late night talks.. talking in sleep… snow cones.. sundaes on Sunday… frog hunts.. snuggles… hugs… movie time… swimming… a small obsession with the kitten.. good food… some amazing fairy/gnome/snake houses craft time.. and a lot of new memories made…

Some people ask how me how I can do it?

Well?

I don’t do it by myself. My husband stayed this year for some of it. A couple of my Sisters-in-law stayed and pitched in. This helps with the mixed aged groups. And everyone sends food.

But over all?

I go into this weekend EXPECTING them to act like kids.. and then? I expect chaos. I plan certain activities to give them focus. I provide spaces for them interact.. I give them my expectations.. but give them the freedom to make choices.

And I don’t know? It just falls into place..

But what I do know?

I know that these kids all look forward to it every year… counting down the weeks until it happens.. talking about “next year”…

And every year.. I fall in love with these blessings who create huge messes a little bit more.. until my heart is near to bursting…

So this morning as I clean up beanbag “beans” in my living room.. mop my kitchen floor.. kill the flies buzzing my head… clean up the craft supplies in the garage.. and put away the bounce house..?

I find myself planning for next year…

..footprints..

I watched my son run down the shoreline today.. kicking sand in the direction of his sister. He didn’t even try to be sneaky about it. Laughing at his own antics, he would wait for his sister to splash him in return.. My daughter would pretend to be offended .. and then they repeated the whole scene again.

.. as I watched them play fight.. I noticed the footprints that my family left behind them..

.. the footprints that weaved in and out of the ones that stayed straight and steady…

.. the deep twisting prints of my kids’ playful actions..

… the steady footfalls that others left behind…

It got me thinking…

…it doesn’t really matter what path we take in life… it doesn’t even matter where we are going…

What REALLY matters?

What really matters is how we are getting there… Are we enjoying life? Are we enjoying our family? Are we living each moment to the fullest?

And most importantly?

What are we leaving behind?

Are we leaving behind happy memories? Memories of laughter and playful water fights on the beach? Are we leaving behind feelings of love and being cherished?

What will people remember us for after our walk through life is finished? Will they remember how hard we worked? Or how we enjoyed life? Will they see the impact we had on others?

When I looked up from those footprints in the sand.. I watched my kids with a tear in my eye… (maybe more than one tear)..

I think both of my kids will leave some pretty special footprints through life..

both sets different ..

but equally beautiful in their own way…

That makes me one proud momom…

This …

Every once in a while something comes along to remind me of the start of our journey we call “Autism”…

This….

http://on.today.com/2opmM7q

As a parent of a kid with special needs.. you have to go through a grieving process.. You have to give up your expectations for your child.. you have to give up those dreams you had FOR them… and it’s hard…

Really hard….

..and then you create new dreams. Ones that feel like you are giving up on them at first…

… but it’s really hard…

People often tell me how strong I am… but.. there isn’t really a choice. I move forward and we push for every goal..

.. and it’s been hard..

…but it was worth it all..

At 19? My son is amazing and I see the dreams he has.. and I see a future that will be good.

…but it’s still hard.. and I remember feeling where this mom is at in the video… and the memory makes my heart hurt.. wondering what My boy would be like if Autism hadn’t altered the course of his life.

.. but for me?

.. for me, I began to think that maybe Autism was supposed to alter mine.

Wherever my son goes?

He spreads happiness and hope through his smiles and his struggles…

… and he doesn’t miss the dreams I had for him at all…

…because you see?

He has his own…