Last year our Easter didn’t go so well, and by the time we found our baskets, Gabriel was having an anger-meltdown. He was so anxious about finding eggs, yet protecting his new found goodies, that I ended up having to take the Easter Bunny treats away, from all of them until we could all settle down a bit.
Which is just a bummer.
And I’d like to avoid that this year.
Here are my tips for a reduced-stress Easter.
Easter Eggs: You don’t have to dye eggs. Really, you don’t have to. You can color them with permanent markers, sticker them, paint them, put those self-adhesive foam stickers on them, or even glue funny faces on them. I don’t like fake dye to begin with, so this is a good way to get out of it! A open - ended activity like gluing or coloring requires less of me; I don't have to be hyper-vigilant over dye. So, be creative – and reduce stress by not having 12 bowls of neon water sitting on your table for your kids to play in. Makes me calmer already.
Easter Clothing: Most people dress their kids up all fancy for Easter. But you don’t have to. If you choose to go the dressy route, make sure your child is wearing child-friendly clothing. Whatever their sensitivities are, don’t try to push them on Easter! Kids already have high anxiety, add a scratchy outfit (or slick new shoes, or itchy tights, etc) and their ability to cope – be flexible and tolerant of the changes – is further diminished. If you need ideas, check out http://www.softclothing.net/ (I would assume you still have time to order too!).
Easter Brunch: Many people go out for a fancy brunch. But, you don't have to. Now, it is only fair to say that this part is my kids' favorite, because a nice brunch at a nice restaurant usually means all the bacon they can eat. But we stopped going a few years back. Why? Because it flat out wasn’t fun. Not for me anyway. I was the one not eating, wrangling kids, taking walks, arguing over pancake temperature (Nick is still crazy picky), all in dress clothes and heels. Not my idea of a good time. We have opted for an at-home brunch the last few years. This has been great – and I’ve even made extra bacon for Gabe and Matt. One of my favorites kid-friendly-at-home-brunch ideas? Try a ‘pancake bar’. Make pancakes, in oval shapes (you don't need a mold, just eye it, and circles are just fine too) and let your kiddos ‘decorate’ the pancakes like eggs --- syrups, fruit, whipped cream, sprinkles, mini-chocolate chips, whatever – go crazy! And all in your house slippers too.
Easter Baskets: This is the major point of contention at our house: hoarding. All of those little treasures mean that Gabriel needs to defend them – which he will with his life if need be. Try doing it a little differently. The Easter Bunny can bring a stuffed animal (easy to carry) or just leave out items to be shared in a family basket– like bubbles, sidewalk chalk, new makers/paints, playdoh, etc. If you want to do the baskets, I suggest two things: 1. Instead of a basket use a bag that they can keep, and ruin if need be. I found mine at the Disney store this year for $1. Try the Dollar Store, or grocery store for reusable and inexpensive bags. And 2. LIMIT what you put in them. Kids love new stuff – but they don’t need 100 things in their basket! A cool new car, and some stickers is enough to make my kids happy. It is ME that needs to remember not to overdo it. And for me, spending less money and buying less crap is definitely stress-reducing.
Easter Basket Goodies: I highly suggest NOT putting in candy – or at least LIMIT the candy. My rule of thumb is to put something in their baskets for them to eat later (chocolate bunny, very small) and something in that they can eat now (gummy fruits, animal crackers, or Annie’s chocolate bunny crackers). My boys want to eat whatever they find – and most likely it is 7am when they find it, so I care what they get.
Also make sure you are filling their basket with things that your kids will use – I simply cannot stand buying a bunch of crap and then watching it all get broken and tossed within hours. For ideas on what you can put in their baskets that will BENEFIT them in some way (social, emotional, small motor skills, sensory, etc) check out my 101 Stocking Stuffers list here. And the best part of putting things in their basket that they will actually USE? It keeps them busy. Oh, and my favorite item to add? A spring themed kids' DVD -- a built in way to transition to quiet time when they are wound up. Perfect.
Keep It Simple: Often we as adults like lots of pomp and circumstance with our holidays. But, our kiddos, they’d really prefer a dose of good old fashioned calm-predictability. Make sure you plan what you are going to do, even write out a visual schedule for you kiddo, and stick to it. You don’t have to go to 10 different places and hunt eggs at no less than two churches and three houses in order for Easter to be deemed a success. Why not just hold a simple egg hunt at home, and then let the kids make pancakes? Easy for everyone. And less stress too.
If anyone has other good tips, please leave them in the comments below!
I am following the list above this year, with one exception. We are going to Victoria Canada by boat for the holiday. You might cringe at the idea of exchanging holiday stress for vacation stress, but the boys are pretty good travelers. And being out of town means that everything is scaled down (no family gatherings, no crazy egg hunts) – and I don’t have to cook. Bonus.
Oh, and to make sure the kids survive at the restaurant (first time in about 2-3 years) I got them Kids' Night Out Bing from Knock Knock -- see it and buy it here. I have to say, I LOVED most of their products -- which I got to browse at one of those stores that is full of breakable things that you would never let your kid into...yeah...one of those...alone yesterday while my mom had all three kids. My mom rocks.
See ya later Peeps!
Photo: My boys and my niece, a few years back, on one of our dressy-clothes-overscheduled-fancy restaurant Easters. Look how little they are. Awww.
Gabriel, since he is a true seeker, has loved water since before he could even say ‘water’. He spent hours in the backyard sprinkler, kiddie pool, hot tubs, bath tub, and shower and in every way he could, he attempted to become one with the water.
It came the time, that our schedule would allow (finally therapy appointments have slowed, and flexibility has increased, and Matthew has grown up – a little) for him and Nick to take swimming lessons. Matt too, but he had a cast at the time I signed them up, so we skipped his lessons (but I have signed him up for next session during the week while his brothers are at school, which promises to provide me with a plethora of blogging material).
We signed the boys up at the YMCA, through a regular group class, and off we went.
Because no matter how ‘grown up’ Matthew is at this point, he is still a true pain in the ass to take anywhere he has to wait and can’t follow his own agenda.
I prep Matthew with a numbered list of what steps come when (visual schedule), and make the plan for him to watch his brothers with ‘expected behavior’ before we return home. I can’t put Matt in the YMCA child care center because he has been kicked out so many times, it isn’t worth it. For either of us. So he comes with me.
He didn’t do too badly. And yet, he didn’t do so hot either.
Aside from throwing Rusty (from the Thomas series) into the pool – which Gabriel grabbed and tossed back – and then pinching my face, followed by slapping me across the face – he was an angel.
In the mean time, between Rusty's near drowning and surviving blows to my face (and ego), I watched the boys swim.
Yes, they are considerably better than when we started OT nearly 5 years ago. But, still he had trouble.
Nick won’t put his face in the water – tactile defensiveness – he HATES the feeling of water in his eyes, or god forbid, in his ears. That is a battle even in the shower. But he too did well.
Actually, they both love the water, but have no true swimming form.
The boys aren’t enrolled in swimming for next session because we are doing Flag Football.
Nick’s FAVORITE thing ever, he has done it for the last two seasons, and now Gabriel has decided to play.
I am a little leery about it – team sport, comparison to his peers, etc – but this is definitely something he is ready for in his own mind, and I truly think sometimes (at least as he gets older) he is the definitive decision maker on whether or not he can do something – he won’t let his acronyms define him.
And he has practiced a great deal with Nick, and had the opportunity to observe for two seasons. Both of those will probably help considerably!
They start Football on April 10th. I’ll keep their ‘stats’ here on my blog for all to see.
Spring Football season will take us to summer when Gabriel will be attending summer school – for sure – probably at the private school we are checking out over spring break.
I think he will be going there for summer school, even though we haven’t officially tried it yet, because I got Adoption Support to pay the cost of it ($1800).
Do you know what Adoption Support is?
If not, here is my plug for adopting from Foster Care (or at least one benefit):
When you adopt through foster care, your child can qualify for Adoption Support – which is financial help for the child through his/her lifetime in the way of services related to their special needs.
In Washington part of the criteria for qualifying is that the child has to be a minority, part of a sibling group, or have special needs (or all of the above in Gabriel’s case) to qualify, but when you do qualify (all negotiated by you -- attorneys are not normally used), you get medical coverage, and in some cases, can apply for and receive additional support.
I asked Adoption Support for help with care for Gabriel over the summer (last summer was AWFUL and I don't want to have a suicidal child on my hands again), and after they turned me down, I was able to give them more information and get the care covered. I literally cried when they told me we’d get the support.
Helping to keep Gabriel stabilized through summer is A TRUE GIFT for our entire family, not just Gabriel. But when I told Gabe that he would FOR SURE get to go to summer school (this is NOT camp), he jumped up and down in my office and shouted with delight, "Woo Hoo! Yes!" Complete with a fist pump.
So, as you might guess, I am excited about this school even if just for summer.
You can view and purchase it here:
You can join the facebook group here:
And even better, for all of you out there who want ideas for sensory accommodations for your kiddo, I have designed a downloadable Sensory Accommodations Suggestions Page that you can download here:
I am so excited to see this nearly 2-year long project become a reality. I believe that SPD will get into the DSM and that this book will be key in helping educate not just teachers, but the children our kids share their classrooms with.
Here is to all of you for reading our journey and your encouraging words through the process of publishing this book. A heartfelt thank you to everyone.
Now, please, spread the word!
This is Gabriel Making Sense of School is officially available!
"Pills?" I ask, "What kind of pills are you making?"
"The kind of pills that help kids who have problems with their brains. Like Gabriel."
"Awesome, Nick. We need more doctors making pills like that."
"FOR REAL." Gabe adds.
I love those boys.
When a family has a child with tremendous needs, what we do for her can sometimes overshadow everything else, including our relationship with our significant other. Paying attention to being a couple is important not only for the emotional support and companionship but also because a strong family has a strong couple unit at its head. And that’s important for everyone.
In May of this year, my partner, Steve, and I will have been together for 11 years. We used to enjoy going out to movies, dinner, the opera (Oh YES! Steve loves me that much!) and to the occasional football game (Oh YES! I love him that much!). We enjoyed our ‘Date Nights’, our intimate times alone and that we could always take the time to sit and talk when we needed to. Then we had Jaimie and many of those things ended shortly after she was born.
Jaimie was an extremely difficult baby. It took the two of us to do the simplest tasks for her because she fought everything so hard. To change a diaper, one of us had to hold her down while the other frantically cleaned her up. To give her a bath, one of us had to hold her in the tub (or baby tub or kitchen sink depending on which location gave her the least amount of stress) while the other washed her at lightening speed. To feed her, to clothe her, to comfort her, to get her to go to sleep, to try playing with her…you get the idea. Then after a few months, Jaimie refused to even let Steve do anything for her. It was very lonely for both Steve and for me.
Imagine for a moment how heart wrenching it would be to have your child reject you when all you’ve done is loved her! That was Steve’s side of things. For me, my entire day and night was spent caring for our child because there was something about Steve that triggered all of the sensory sensitivities that Jaimie hated. She couldn’t stand his touch, his voice, his smell…nothing. And that had a huge impact on our relationship.
Steve didn’t feel like he was part of our family anymore and, even worse, we didn’t feel like a couple anymore. We got into that mode where he got up, went to work, I cared for Jaimie all day, he came home and Jaimie screamed until we finally got her to sleep (for awhile) then we were both too exhausted to chat. We were both hurting so much but weren’t able to let it out.
Then I decided we had to.
This happens to many parents of special needs children. We become so focused on meeting our child’s needs that we forget about our own—separately and together. And that’s why, sadly, a lot of couples break up when they have a child with high needs. But my view, in any situation, has always been that it takes a lot more strength and courage to stick together and work it out together than just to give up. We needed each other and, most importantly, Jaimie needed us. So, one night, we took the time to sit and talk about our relationship and what we could do to make things better. We each promised to do the following things:
(1) Remember that our child’s needs are greater than what one of us can provide for her on our own. Invest in your relationship because together you can bring more resources to bear for the care of your child.
(2) Remember to invest in ourselves. We have to see ourselves, both individually and as a couple, as a limited resource and that without investing in oneself and one's relationship, that resource will fail.
(3) Remember to take time for intimacy. Even if all we have is 10 minutes each day alone, we need to take that time to cuddle together, chat about other things going on besides our exceptional child and remind ourselves of why we became a couple in the first place.
(4) Remember to talk. Communication is vital in any relationship because when you stop talking, you don’t know what’s truly going on. Never stop talking.
(5) Remember that it’s okay to be away from our child for a little while to take a ‘mental break’. Parents of special needs children, especially mothers, often feel tremendous guilt being away from our child. I still feel that Mama Guilt when I take a bit of time for myself. It isn’t because I don’t think Steve can’t care for the kids; it’s more because they need me so much, especially Jaimie. And one tiny thing that isn’t constant…that he may forget…and it can set Jaimie off for the day. Jaimie needs to see that I go out and come back. And I need to go out to regroup. Such time is important to everyone. The last thing we want to happen is for resentment to fester and grow.
(6) Remember to meet our needs first. We can’t possibly care for our high needs child when we aren’t in tip-top shape. It may sound selfish, but by self-investing you’ll be able to sustain yourself more continually to meet your child's needs. Be as kind with each other as much as possible, recognize each other's limitations and fill in each other's gaps wherever possible. Take the steps to be healthy in every facet—emotionally, physically, psychologically, mentally and spiritually—to be ready to handle the bumps that come along.
(7) Remember to reach out. Oftentimes, parents of special needs children forget to grab onto the help when it’s offered or even recognize that we need it. Address the challenges, deal with guilt and fear and seek the support of services, friends and/or family to share the tasks of care.
The above list is what Steve and I call our ‘vows’ of being special needs parents. And we always check into it when we feel a little out of sync in our relationship. Eleven years together is a long time. Sure we get on each other’s nerves once in awhile but I’ve gotten a huge reward for our hard work: a best friend, a lover, a confidant, a bodyguard, a back-up, a partner in life and the best damned father in the world. For me, next to my children, there is nothing that means more to me than Steve and no better investment.