Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Celebrating World Down Syndrome Day: Links

Today, March 21st, is World Down Syndrome Day. Until very recently, Down syndrome wasn't something that was really on my radar. I obviously knew about Down syndrome, but I didn't have a personal connection to it. Now  I do.

We are in the process of adopting a baby girl with rosebud lips and cherry-stained cheeks who happens to have Down syndrome. This issue is right in front of me and it matters in a whole new way.

Over the past few months, I've learned a lot about Down syndrome and there is much more to learn. My main takeaway has been this: Now is a marvelous time to be alive. This is true whether you, or someone you love, has Down syndrome - or not.

The advances in science, technology, medicine and awareness are wonderful. There is still a ways to go, but progress is being made in every arena - which is why we can't stop.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. My world, and my heart, have been made bigger because of adoption. The same is true of special needs in general and, now, Down syndrome specifically. Over the last few months it has been my blessing and my privilege to meet new people and to learn more about how to live abundantly from them.

Someone wise once told me, "I tell kids, if there isn't something different about you now, there will be by the time you're older." Isn't that the truth and thank goodness for it. What a boring world it would be if we were all exactly the same. (Of course, the next time someone disagrees with my point of view, I will think of this sentiment disdainfully.)

Here are some wonderful Down syndrome-related links to make your day a little bigger and a little brighter:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Books for Elementary Age Boys

I don't think there is such a thing as "girl" books or "boy" books. Madeline and Anne of Green Gables get read to everyone equally at our house. But as the mom of a very active, very boisterous son, I do know what tends to capture my own son's attention. If you're looking for books for elementary age kids, and particularly boys, to read (or to have read to them), here are some of our favorites. 

Geronimo Stilton -  I'm not a huge fan of this newspaper writing mouse or his cheesy sayings, but my kids are. The good thing about these books is that there are a lot of them. 

Mercy Watson, Kate DiCamillo - Mercy Watson is not just a pig, she's a toast-loving porcine wonder. This series is geared toward the younger crowd, but I enjoyed it too. I'm a big fan of anything this author writes. 

James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl - This is a classic by the same author as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The aunts in this book are horrid, but James is able to escape Aunts Spiker and Sponge, thanks to the massive peach and a few new friends. 

The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks - The new cover on this book is truly awful but don't let that put you off. This is a wonderful book. A plastic Indian is given as a birthday gift and when he gets put in a metal cupboard, wonderful things happen. 

Wayside School is Falling Down, Louis Sacher - This was a new-to-me author, and I can't say that I was captivated, but that's probably because I'm not under 12. My son's second grade teacher read this to the class and it was a big hit. So there's that endorsement, the Newberry Award is another. 

The Crossover, Kwame Alexander - I've written about this before, so I won't go on and on, except to say that this is a must read. You don't have to like basketball to appreciate this book. It does have some big themes, so it works nicely as a read-aloud so that some of those things can get talked over. Also, it's written in verse!

Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling - If you need a book to capture the imagination and the heart, look no farther. As someone with little love for anything sci-fi-ish, I was very late to this book. But it's now a family read-aloud and I can see what all the fuss is about. 

Guinness Book of World Records - Yes, I know. This is not a chapter book and it's a bit of an outlier. But if you have a child who is into statistics or oddball facts or just anything bizarre, this is a wonderful book. There is, after all, a world record for just about everything and it's fun to see which's countries citizens lay claim to which records. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

The One Thing Every Parent Needs to Learn to Do

I'm convinced that there is one thing that every parent needs to learn to do. It's not: learn to soothe a screaming child, open snacks will driving, or be able to assist with a complicated science project while sleep deprived (although all these skills come in handy). It requires no equipment and can be done anywhere - it's mediate. If you are a parent of a child with medical or developmental needs, this is doubly important for you.

Life is inherently stressful. If you are a parent, you know that children can be taxing and draining. If you have a child with special needs, you live daily with a heightened sense of uncertainty and awareness. You need coping solutions; cue meditation.

The science behind the benefits of mediation is compelling. Mindful meditation lowers stress, builds your immune system, increases your focus, and decreases your emotional reactivity. If these four reasons aren't enough to convince you that mediation is important, read this article on 20 benefits mediation has on physical and mental health.

Are you still skeptical of mediation?  Do you think it's just for Buddhists and granola types? Secular mediation is much more mainstream and is practiced by some pretty unlikely people, including Marines, police officers and cadets at the Virginia Military Institute.

Perhaps you're reluctant to try meditation because it seems like one more thing to do, and you don't need one more task on an already burgeoning list. I get that. But the good news it that meditating as little as eight minutes a day has proven benefits.

Maybe you're in the eye of the storm right now, that's a great time to begin meditating. Maybe things are on an even keel right now, if so, then use meditation as stress inoculation for when things get rough because we all know they will.

Meditation isn't just for adults, it has proven benefit for kids, too. The science shows that meditation benefits children's brains and behavior.

I'm still a beginning meditator, but I'm a believer. I find the science sound and I see the benefits in my own life. Meditation gives me greater ability to respond instead of react, even when the stress is ratcheted up.  It is by no means a cure-all, but it helps.

If you're looking for some meditation resources, I wrote this post called, The Beginner's Guide to Meditation, and this one about having your feet on the ground but your head in the clouds.

For anyone who isn't ready to start meditating but is curious to learn more, listen to the 10% Happier podcast, which the host Dan Harris says is for "fidgety skeptics."

Happy meditating!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

What I'm Reading Lately

I'm not one of those people who keeps a list of books I've read. This means that sometimes, I pick up a book, only to discover that I'd already started to read it and stopped. I enjoy doing these posts because it lets me remember what books I read - and why I liked them.

All of these books have an unintentional theme. They all hit on weighty topics. It's a lot to chew on, but everything is more easily digested because it's fiction.  Happy reading!

Girl in Translation by [Kwok, Jean]

This book had some serious staying power. An eleven-year-old girl and her mom immigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn with the help of relatives. By day, the girl is an excellent student, excelling in most subjects (except English, which she works hard to learn), but, by night, she works at her aunt and uncle's sweat shop along with her mother, often staying late into the night. It reads more memoir than novel and that, I discovered, is because Harvard grad Jean Kwok herself immigrated from Hong Kong and worked in a sweatshop. It's a compelling look into a "double life" and it offers a lot of insight into Chinese culture. I still can't shake the part about the deaf little boy. Read it. You won't be able to either. 

This is a children's book, but the story is meant for everyone. Like Kwok's book, it's inspired by a true story and it similarly explores a dark part of life - and finds light. It's set in Missouri in the 1840s. James, the boy in the story, is a freed black. He and his sister attend school in a church basement, but then in 1847 a law passes making schooling illegal for blacks, slaved or free. 

The reverend who taught the school finds a new way to making schooling possible, by teaching the kids out on the steamboat where they aren't bound by Missouri law. This is an important read about history, perseverance and unconventional thinking. 

The Opposite of Everyone: A Novel by [Jackson, Joshilyn]

This was the lightest of the novels I read, but it still hit on some heavy topics, like foster care and children born in the prison system. Jackson was a new-to-me author, but I'll be reading more. She has these turns of phrase that are powerful and lovely. The two-cent summary of the book is: driven divorce lawyer explores how she became a person intent on dissolving families all while finding a family of her own.  

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

This is what love looks like

Have you seen this video? If you haven't, you should. 

It's the story of a little girl born in the Philippines without arms and legs and adopted to the U.S. by the Stewart family. I love this story because it mirrors so much of my own story. I, too, have a child with limb differences. But even more than that, I can relate to this mother's words: "[W]e did not think that we were qualified or prepared enough to parent a child like her." Isn't that what every parent fears and believes? That regardless of the circumstances we are not enough?

In a CBS News interview Adrianne Stewart went on to say, "It’s not as hard and difficult as people think it could be.” Notice that she didn't say it was easy; it's not. But it's not nearly as hard as you would expect once you get ahead of the learning curve.

Do you know why?

Love does not require perfection. 

It's about waking up and showing up and being better than you were the day before. It's about everything you are and everything you're not. It doesn't have to spotless and shiny - it just has to be whole. 

Did you see the nanny's tears? Did you see this sweet little girl shake her head "no" when her father told her that he was her daddy?

That is love. It is imperfect. It is messy. It is broken.

Allow me to echo Adrianne Stewart: We are all more capable than we think we are. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What I've Been Reading Lately

We experienced the mother of all tragedies recently, my library account was suspended. One of my kids lost a book. After weeks of fruitless searching, it was discovered in our own home. How this is possible, I can not even begin to tell you. Nonetheless, reading was light while tempers (mine) flared high. 

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between) by [Graham, Lauren]

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between), Lauren Graham
I came late to the Gilmore Girls and Parenthood scene, but I eagerly awaited the Gilmore Girls A Year in a Life. And I really enjoy Lauren Graham. I listened to this on audio (she reads it herself). It's certainly not heavy reading but it was enjoyable. Apparently my knowledge of Hollywood trivia is extremely lacking because I found out that she was in a relationship with Peter Krause (her brother, Adam, on Parenthood) since the show. What??

The Martian: A Novel by [Weir, Andy]

Anything even a little bit sci-fi like is not my usual genre. But I flew through this book about an astronaut left on Mars. All of the science/math stuff made this book even more enjoyable (even if I didn't understand it). I haven't seen the movie (and am not sure that I will), so I have no thoughts on that, but the book is truly excellent.  

West with the Night by [Markham, Beryl]

Due to the above-mentioned library card saga, I bought this on Kindle when it was less than 20 cents thanks to the Modern Mrs. Darcy Kindle deals (it no longer is, I'm very sorry to report). I'm still reading it, but, man, what a story. It's a memoir about a British-born woman who goes on to become a bush pilot in Kenya. 

It's lovely, like nothing else I've ever read, and, to boot, the words dance like music across the page. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Life Lesson on Perspective

I kind of hate the word perspective. People mostly use it to tell you that you should be doing something differently than you already are. My first reaction is to want to tell people to take their perspective and shove it. At an angle, of course, so that it has, wait for it, perspective. 

Perspective is often explained in terms of a glass half empty/half full. But that's so over-simplified. 

I prefer Mary Oliver's words, even if they are hard to swallow and even tougher to chew: "Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. I took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift."