Monday, November 28, 2011

Borrowed Words. Sometimes they are JUST what you need

Sometimes, someone else's words are a better fit than your own. Today is one of those days. I woke up and read a blog of a friend of mine. She is the mother of a former patient named Brenden (and for the record I have her blessing to share all this information). Anyway, Brenden is a bright, funny, sweet boy who happens to have Spinabifida. On the day he was born, he visited three different hospitals and his worried mom followed behind him. Around that time, I was very busy with my work as a physical therapist and wasn't taking new patients but I got a call from a mutual friend of mine and Brenden's mom Michelle who shared his story and told me I WOULD be taking him on as a patient. 

You know how sometimes you think you just don't have time for one more appointment, not another "to-do" on your list, not another responsibility, and it turns out to be just what you yourself needed? That was Brenden for me. That little boy and his family, like many of my patients are, were a gift, a lesson, a blessing in my life. So today, I share with you, his amazing mother's words. 

Beyond the job of being a mom, she has found ways to help many other families who live with Spinabifida or other special needs. She even recently ran the NYC marathon to raise awareness and to honor Brenden's hard work.  Lacy & I know we are fortunate to meet incredible people along the way in our jobs and I'm honored to share Michelle and Brenden with you. She is "paying it forward" big time and inspires me to find ways to do the same. I hope she does the same for you.


Meet Brenden. He loves cookies!

 

From her blog found at: http://jmbdugan.blogspot.com/

Sunday, November 27, 2011


I recently received an email from a friend from college....someone I hadn't talked to, well, since college. No reason really for us not talking, we just each went our own way. She's an Occupational Therapist and recently met a family who just found out their baby will be born in March with Spina Bifida. This young couple is so broken over the diagnosis, has no family close for support, and really don't know what to do. My friend asked a simple thing of me: Would I mind writing them a letter, telling them of our journey, where we've been, how far we've come, and any other words of wisdom I wanted to share with them. As I sat down to write this letter, I was at a loss for what to say. There was so much I wanted to say, so much they needed to hear, but I didn't really know how to start. I didn't want to say, "I'm sorry." Because I know how much I hate people saying that to me. I hate when people look at Brenden walking with a walker, and say, "Oh honey, I'm so sorry he has to use that." I'm not sorry, I'm glad that such a thing exists to allow him to walk. I'm glad that he has gained the strength in his legs to be able to use a walker. Moving on....so I emailed my friend telling her I wasn't sure what to write. Her response, was simple, "What does having a child with special needs mean to you?" And those 11 words were all I needed.

The hours following Brenden's birth were gut wrenchingly painful. I experienced every emotion possible. I cried. I cried some more. I told my dad there was no way I could do "this." Not realizing then what "this" was. I was thrown into an unfamiliar world of neurosurgeons, urologists, OT's, PT's, Speech Therapists, and specialists I had never heard of. No one asked if I wanted to be in this place. And back then, I didn't want to be. But God had chosen me, and as much as I hated every minute of it, the UVA NICU was where I needed to be. It was where I held my baby boy for the first time. It was where I heard his sweet cry for the first time. It was where I realized just how lucky I was because I knew he would make it, when some of the babies around him would not. It was in that NICU that I went from being a scared young woman to being a strong mom. It was in those moments of not knowing what the future would hold, that I realized I had no choice but to dry my eyes, pick myself up, and do what I needed to do. I had a choice: sit around and wallow in the sadness that my child may never walk, talk, or have a "normal" life, or make sure I gave every ounce of my being to make sure he had a better than "normal" life.

Having a child with special needs is no easy task. But it's the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced. It has taught my patience (though I could use some more). It has taught me that nothing in life should be taken for granted. It has made me realize how much the little things really do matter, from small milestones to the big ones, each moment is to be treasured. It has allowed me to see things for what they are really worth. Having a child with special needs is not a burden, despite what so many people think. I have learned that the world is ignorant when it comes to differently abled children, but it's my job to educate others, so that someday, it won't matter that a child needs to use a walker or wheelchair.

I have found strength I never knew I had. Whether it's having the strength to speak up with I disagree with a doctor or the school system, or finding the strength to put my child into the arms of a surgeon, Brenden has made me strong. He makes me want to make a difference in this world, not only for those living with SB, but for every person who is differently abled. I want doctors to realize that a child is not defined by a diagnosis.

Spina Bifida is not an excuse in our household. We don't allow it to be. I don't pity Brenden, and it drives me nuts when other people do. He can and will go far in life. Nicole, Brenden's PT with Birth to Three, told me several times to never lower my expectations of him. And I don't. He's expected to do the same things as Madelynn: put his dirty clothes in the hamper, pick up his toys, put his coat away when he takes it off, etc, etc, etc.

To sum it up, being the parent of a child with special needs is a pretty special thing. It's not always peaches and cream, there are days that I wish I could make it disappear. But for every day like that, there are twice as many days that make me thankful to be in this place, thankful that God saw fit to trust me with Brenden.
Monday, November 21, 2011

Teaching your kids to give

Remember that old saying, "Tis better to give than to receive"?  Well about this time every year, amongst all the gift wish lists and crazy shopping, I try to remind my children (and myself) of this life lesson.  It's not easy, nor am I always successful with my moral lesson, but I try!  Below we listed some websites and organizations that we have donated to in the past.  All of them are related to giving to other children.  I think if we expect our kids to understand the importance of giving to their neighbor, we need to choose a charity or organization that serves children.  Then it will be easier for your child to empathize with the child in need.  So as you are finalizing your holiday budget, considering cutting a few corners so that you can include a donation to someone in need.  Not only will you be teaching your child about charity, you will feel good about yourself too!


Project Night Night - A wonderful non profit organization that provides tote bags for you to stuff with a stuffed animal, blanket and book.  The tote bags are then distributed to homeless and domestic violence shelters to children in need.  Most of our children enjoy a story before bedtime and snuggle a "lovie" as they drift off into dreamland.  How sad it is to think that some children are so quickly removed from their home and moved into shelters that they may not have time to grab any of their belongings.  These night night packages hope to bring sweet dreams to all children in need.  www.projectnightnight.org



World Vision - Their slogan is "Building a better world for children"...love it!  World Vision offers many ways to support children in need and fight hunger around the world.  You can sponsor a child, purchase animals, donate to help provide clean water, and many other donation opportunities.  www.worldvision.org

Samartian's Purse - Every year around the holidays Samaritan's Purse sponsors "Operation Christmas Child".  By filling a shoebox with small toys and hygiene essentials, you could be giving  a child around the world the only Christmas gift they will receive.  To help your child better understand the impact of their gift, you can track your shoebox online to find out what country your shoebox is distributed and write a letter to the receiving child in the hopes of hearing back from them.  www.samaritanspurse.org








Read to Me - A non profit that distributes care packages to underprivileged new moms in hospitals.  Included in the care package is a new book, onesie, tote bag and a special note to mom explaining the importance of sharing the joy of books and reading with their newborn baby.  You can make a monetary donation at www.readtomeco.org.

Nuru International: Founded by a WV native and a team of professionals who left high profile employment, Nuru is an innovative non-profit that sees the larger picture: extreme poverty feeds extreme terrorism. Nuru uses a grassroots approach to teach agriculture, leadership skills, education techniques, water and sanitation techniques, and health care techniques to area leaders to foster self-sustaining communities and ultimately ending poverty one community at a time. http://www.nuruinternational.org/

Berkeley County Back Pack Program (or something similar in your community): The Back Pack Program was implemented in order to meet the needs of children when food resources are not available. Their main food source is what they receive at school. This program provides children with healthy and easy to consume foods that can be take home on weekends.Recommended items: Juice boxes,small water bottles, fruit cups, applesauce cups, individual size cereal boxes, granola bars, cheese/peanut crackers, pop tarts, raisins & small microwavable meals. Food that can be easily opened and prepared by a small child. Donations can be coordinated through their Facebook site: BC Back Pack Program

Jessica Rocks for Timmy's Fund: A non-profit that encourages creative fund raising for adults and kids to participate in -- with all funds going to support families whose children are undergoing treatment for cancer. jessicarocks.org 

There are so many ways to give. A shut in neighbor. A women's shelter. A soup kitchen.  Finding a place to teach our children to care for those around us is not the problem. Finding the time to do it and making it intentional is harder, but the lessons learned through hands on giving are greater than most things we try to teach and are certainly something to be thankful for.
Sunday, November 6, 2011

Christmas Shopping with a PLAYFUL PURPOSE

As much as I am a "Thanksgiving advocate," it is happening. All around us, Thanksgiving is being skipped over (not to mention poor Veteran's Day!).  The stores all seemed decked out with holly by Halloween and I've even heard a few carols. I know Christmas is quickly approaching when I open my mailbox and 4-5 toy catalogs fall out daily. I've paid specific interest to the contents of those catalogs this year.  In preparation for 1-2-3 Just Play With Me arriving in January and doing a good bit of research to prepare for an early childhood conference we are speaking at in early 2012, we have read extensively about toys as tools for play and had some great conversations about what is available on the market today.  Here's our verdict: It is not an easy task to find a "good toy" in large chain stores. There are some but they are the minority. What defines a "good toy" in our minds? One that can be used for several years in multiple ways. One that is durable, safe, and not overpriced. One that doesn't "do it all" for your child.  In a recent article in Parents magazine, the founding director for the Alliance for Childhood, Joan Almon states, "A good toy is 95% child and 5% toy." We couldn't agree more.    

So for all you parents who have early holiday shopping giddiness, we challenge you to ask yourself the following questions when standing in that toy aisle:

- How many ways can I think of this toy being used?
- Will this toy promote language and social interaction for my child when playing with it?
-Can I creatively think of ways this toy can be used rather than it's intended purpose?
- Is this toy age appropriate for my child now and will he/she still find it interesting in some way in 6 months to a year?
- Is the toy safe?

 Working in the homes of families with small children has many benefits, but one is that I see first hand which toys are played with time and time again and which are pushed to the corner. I often embarrass my husband and kids in the stores around this time of year because when we find ourselves standing next to parents or grandparents in the toy section, I can't help either talking them into a toy or out of another!

The bad news is that you might have to search a bit harder for a great toy on your list for that special child in your life, but the good news is that often the toys that don't "do it all" for your child, are more reasonable.  And being creative in your toy shopping can be quite fun.

Here's some suggestions:
- Most children would love a trunk filled with dress up clothing (for boys and girls) from your closet or a thrift shop
- Consider taking the dollars you'd spend on a big toy and instead purchasing an art center for a child.  You can pick bins or shelves with baskets of art supplies (some purchased like paints and paper and some saved likes bottle caps or paper towel rolls),  or maybe an easel or dry erase or chalkboard for endless hours of creative artistic play
- Search for toys that can be used many ways.  When I was a child, my parent's old calculator had to serve as a phone, calculator, computer, cash register, and space ship. We don't need to provide a separate toy for separate functions.  Allowing children to translate their knowledge of an object or toy to a different purpose, builds problem solving and creative thinking skills.
- Don't forget about music. I haven't met a kid who doesn't love a harmonica as a gift. They are very reasonable and unique.
- Give the time of you sharing an experience with a child. Tickets to a play or show, a museum, or aquarium alongside a special adult are a lasting treasure.
- Don't forget physical toys. Winter keeps some of us indoors, but remember that kids need to move to learn and to behave! Jump ropes make excellent stocking suffers and can be used in a variety of ways. Every child should have a ball to play with.  Hula hoops are fun for toddlers and adults!
- Magic sets, puppet shows, or kid friendly cook books with some cooking supplies are not commonly advertised, but nice choices for cooperative play. 
- Dolls and blocks are probably our favorite "bang for your buck" toys because they can be used in so many ways for so many years. Both promote language, social, and motor play and require all kids and no batteries to operate!
- Look beyond the "regular stores." You can often find deals online or unique items in smaller shops.

We wish you a happy shopping season and hope these tips are helpful.  You WILL always be your child's favorite toy, so no matter what you choose, don't forget to add your time and your attention on your list of gifts to give that special child in your life!

This shot of the my daughters' first Christmas together makes me smile! I knew our oldest might put lots of things from the house inside her new shopping cart....I never thought the first would be her baby sister!           

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JUST PLAY!

Welcome to our blog! As longtime friends, we recently decided to combine our professional experience (as a speech-language pathologist and physical therapist) and "Mommy Experience" to create a company dedicated to something we are both extremely passionate about - letting kids be kids! Milestones and Miracles, LLC was formed in 2010. Our mission is to empower parents in understanding the natural progression of their child's development (and not rush it along and skip stages). We develop and provide developmental products to support this learning process, bonding families through engaging, fun, and meaningful experiences! We are thrilled to share that our first product, 1 2 3 Just Play With Me is available for sale. Visit www.milestonesandmiracles.com to learn more and order a unique product for yourself & your child or as a gift! We will continue use this blog to share about topics that interest and excite us. Stay tuned!

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