A Smile with Gravitational Pull

Boy and two girls in snowy mountains

Dominic and his sisters

Some have said that having a child with autism is like living on a roller coaster. While that may be true for some, I don’t find parenting an autistic child to be exhilarating or consistently fun. Rather, parenting a child with autism brings with it the profound experience of living the full range of life’s emotions often in a span of mere hours, but always within the same day.

The sun begins to rise with my nearly 14-year-old son who will not get dressed for school while his younger sisters do so willingly. While the morning routine doesn’t change, his seeming inability to get ready for school independently is a source of great frustration.

As the early morning ticks closer to a ringing school bell, we experience happiness: two months ago, our son learned how to tie his shoes independently … sometimes. And despite a long list of life challenges, he generally shuffles off to school with a bellowing laugh. I also experience great happiness with our risky decision to move our family 90 miles away into a school district that better understands the needs and challenges of autistic children.

As the school day turns into late afternoon, emotions flip. Emotions are now rooted in sadness as our son rarely receives unsolicited phone calls or invitations from other kids to play, hang out, or do the things that most 13-year-olds do after school. We experience sadness at the many miles of social, scholastic and occupational challenges that lay ahead.

As the afternoon segues into evening, we sometimes experience disgust when our child is the innocent target of snide, reprehensible and outrageous comments from intolerant and ignorant persons while we attempt to integrate our lives within the community.

As the evening turns into our kids’ bedtime, we transcend the day’s challenges and now experience surprise, hope and the deepest love; my son surprises us with his growing vocabulary, wonderful sense of humor, and a smile so full and wide it has gravitational pull. As long as our son continues to grow, develop and learn, we also have hope.

As the evening wanes into night, I often go to bed with the final emotion of the day. Fear. Who will care for and attend to our adult child after my wife and I pass? How will we finance his care?

My son has taught me that the little things matter and must be revered. Perhaps it is because we often experience every emotion within a single day that we feel more attune to life’s nuances, subtleties, and the vapidity of daily life. Or maybe, and like my autistic son, my senses are heightened to a place where the colors seen are more vivid, sounds heard are crisper, foods tasted are sharper, things smelled are more pungent, and physical touches tenderer.

Regardless as to the reason, my son has made me into a better man. And he has brought me closer to humanity and bestowed upon me the virtue of humility. For these lessons, I am forever his.

– Steve Geskey, father of Dominic

Take the Time to Write a Letter

Little girl writing a letter

April is National Card and Letter Writing Month. It is the perfect reason to get out some old stationary and write someone a letter.

Remember when writing a letter, it is important to discuss the five parts of a letter: date, greeting, body, closing and signature.

April 2015

Dear Grandma,

Thank you for the birthday present.

You are so thoughtful and I love you so much!

Love Always,

Maria

Here are some quick and creative ways to get letters in the mail this month:

  • Write a letter then mail it to someone’s work to surprise them and bring a smile to their face!
  • Package up a few preschool or Sunday school crafts and mail them to grandma with a note of thanks.
  • Share the pen with your child. You write a few words and they write a few words.
  • Take out your address book, flip to a random page and write a letter to the first person your finger finds!
  • Cut out a shape of an old cereal box or out of newspaper to be the base of your card. Add a piece of blank paper to write your words on.
  • Recycle old greeting or holiday cards by cutting out the words or the graphics and reusing them.
  • Take a field trip to the post office to purchase the stamps with your child. Let them put the letters in the mail box!

Parenting Tip: Pull together your supplies the night before and leave them out where you can see them. The project is sure to get done this way instead of having the thought in your head “We should do that!”

– Maria Dismondy, mother of three, reading specialist, fitness instructor and bestselling children’s author living in Southeast Michigan.

Announcing the 2015 Beaumont Royal Oak Baby Fair

Two purple rubber ducks

All expecting and new parents are invited to join us for a festival-style event celebrating birth and babies!

Where:
Beaumont Royal Oak,
3601 W 13 Mile Rd
Royal Oak, MI 48073

When:
Saturday, April 18, 2015
11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Highlights include:

  • Mini classes on many interesting topics including:
    • Comfort measures in labor
    • Breastfeeding basics
    • Relief of choking in babies and children
    • Homemade baby food
    • Infant massage
    • Baby basics
    • Car seat safety
    • Happiest Baby on the Block
  • Information about Beaumont’s Parenting Program and the Prenatal & Family Education Department
  • Pregnancy, birth and baby-related vendors including mom and baby boutique items, infant photography, age-appropriate toys, natural and healthy foods, and many others
  • Door prizes
  • Refreshments
  • Mom-to-Mom Chat with Danielle Karmanos, on behalf of the Karmanos Center for Natural Birth
  • The opportunity to learn about Beaumont’s birth centers

This event is free to the public and doesn’t require registration. Grandparents, families and friends are also welcome and encouraged to attend with expecting or new parents.

For more information, please visit the Beaumont Baby Fairs webpage.

You can also share your favorite baby resources with others – post to Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram with #myBeaumontBaby to join Beaumont’s pinboard. The pinboard is full of great resources from other parents and the experts at Beaumont Children’s Hospital and features everything from inspirational quotes and birth plan ideas to photos of favorite baby foods and baby shower themes.

The Face of Beaumont Parenting: Sandra Sova

 

Woman and husband in front of some open water

Sandy Sova and her husband, Douglas

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Typing that made my Autocorrect go crazy – which is appropriate for a quote from Dr. Seuss.

BPP volunteer, Sandra Sova, told me that her favorite kids’ book is “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” and that her favorite quote is the one above. Any fan of Dr. Seuss is a friend of mine, as is every individual who has given so selflessly of their time to become a part of the BPP volunteer family. Sandra is one of those individuals.

Group of kids around a staircase

Meet Sandy’s kids and their significant others: Heather, Nathan and Lisa, Leslie and Jeff, Elizabeth and her fiancé Joe.

Sandra and her husband, Douglas, are the parents of four kids: Heather (37), Nathan (36), Leslie (31), and Elizabeth (28), and they live in Shelby Township. Sandra and Douglas are also grandparents of five with one more on the way. In her free time, Sandra loves to swim; in fact, she swims 8 hours per week! She also enjoys biking, reading (her favorite grown up book is “My Sister’s Keeper”), and knitting, and goes camping with her whole family every year. Sandra and Douglas got married a year out of high school, and started their family shortly thereafter. Sandra stayed home with their kids for the first 22 years of their marriage before becoming a manager at Target. Now that she’s retired, and the kids are on their own, she confides that she stays so active that she finds it difficult to fit all of the things she wants to do in each day.

Group of kids on staircase

Sandy’s grandchildren are Teryn, Avery, Alicia, Lilian and Nicole.

One of the things Sandra makes time for is the BPP. She’s been a volunteer for about a year, and she serves as a Parenting Partner and Hearing Screener. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these roles, Parenting Partners visit new parents in the hospital and reinforce some of the nurses’ teaching in topics like bathing and infant care. Hearing Screeners perform the State-mandated hearing testing required for all newborns. Both roles put Sandra in the hospital working with new parents and their brand new babies. She shares that her favorite part about being a BPP volunteer is this interaction with the babies and new parents. In addition to all of the help she gives to Beaumont parents (as well as the nursing staff who are also supported by these BPP roles), this giving woman also volunteers at her church, helping people in need through the MREST program.

When I asked Sandra to have her kids tell her what their favorite thing about her was, one of them said that it was the fact that Sandra is “always there for them and make them feel special.” It’s amazing that she can be there for so many people – her family, her church, and our BPP families as well. We’re very glad that there is no one alive who is more Sandra than Sandra!

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program Volunteer

What Happened to My Hair?! A True Story of Postpartum Hair Loss

Hair loss around the forehead

I’m going to be completely honest and admit that I’ve always been a little vain about my hair.

Like most women I know, when I look in the mirror, I tend to notice the flaws in my appearance instead of focusing on the positive. Too flat, round, bumpy, straight, the wrong color, the wrong size — many of us agonize over things that no one else would ever notice. My hair, however, has never really bothered me. Oh sure, I can look back on pictures and lament the sixth grade spiral perm that I begged my mother for, or cringe over the sky-high middle school bangs. As an adult, my hair has remained largely unchanged and easily managed.

When I was pregnant, I poured over every book about what to expect when your new baby arrives. When hair loss was mentioned as a possible postpartum side effect, I wasn’t worried. My hair is thick. Really, really thick. I thought, “Great, I don’t have to pay to have it thinned out for a few months. Sign me up!” Oh, how wrong I was.

The normal cycle of hair has three stages: the growth phase, transitional phase, and resting phase. Hair is shed during the resting phase and it’s normal to lose up to 100 strands per day, according to WebMD. During pregnancy, estrogen levels rise and the growth phase is prolonged so there isn’t as much shedding. The fun begins three or four months after pregnancy, when estrogen levels drop and all of the hair that was in the prolonged growing phase begins to shed.

It was right around the four-month mark when I looked in the mirror and realized that I was sporting a new and stylish Eddie Munster hair “don’t”.

Close up of severe hair loss along front hair line

I panicked. I snapped a pic. I sent it to my husband and demanded that he drop everything and be hysterical with me. (I am not proud of this). Of course there was nothing he could do, or that I could do, and then the baby started crying. I pulled myself together, made a mental note to ask my hair stylist about bangs next time, and tried to forget about it. With a preemie at home, I barely left the house. I told myself that it didn’t matter if I was bald. Who was going to see me anyway?

A few months of avoiding mirrors later, I was getting ready for a date night with my husband. I still hadn’t made it to the salon, but I was pleased to notice that I was no longer missing patches of hair. I looked more closely.

They’d been replaced — with tiny little hairs that stuck straight up. They were all along my hairline. My perpetual mom ponytail was looking a little silly. I made the hair appointment.

Sadly at this stage, there weren’t any options. My stylist explained that any kind of cutting around the hairline would just result in larger pieces of hair sticking up, which clearly wouldn’t be an improvement. She cut in some larger layers to try to camouflage the effect and sent me on my way with instructions to let it grow.

I tried to not let it bother me, but the truth is that it did. Being a new mom can be hard in many ways and can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. Between the dark circles from lack of sleep, my ever-changing body, and constantly looking like I stuck my finger in a light socket, I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself.

Around 11 months postpartum, I was getting ready for the day. I was fussing with my hair and frowning at myself in the mirror when I noticed my daughter in the doorway watching me from her walker. She had taken to sitting in the doorway and we would “get ready” together. She would brush her teeth while I brushed mine, use her hair brush when I used mine — it was a fun little routine.

It hit me in that moment that I never want her to frown at herself in the mirror. I always want her to see the beauty in herself, not the flaws. I want her to know that her character, her kindness and her intelligence are what truly matters. If I want that to happen, I have to start with myself.

I’m not going to say that I will never doubt my appearance again or that I’ll always have perfect self-esteem. I will say that losing my hair ended up being a great life lesson for me.

So I cut some bangs and moved on.

– Sara Kuhn is a Parenting Program participant and volunteer.

Tackling Test Anxiety

Photo of a hand completing a multiple choice test

Cropped image. Alberto G, Flickr. CC License.

Spring is here, along with the rounds of college entrance and advanced placement exams. For school-age children, the M-STEP testing is coming up soon. Most of us hope our children will do well, but for some families there is an extra layer of worry: their children suffer from “test anxiety”.

“I studied and I knew the material. But as soon as I started looking at the questions, I felt nervous and sweaty. My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember much of what I’d learned. I just started guessing. I did horribly on the exam and now I’m angry and sad.”

What exactly is test anxiety? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) describes test anxiety as a type of performance anxiety.

There are several reasons for test anxiety.

  • Students who had previous negative experiences with test-taking may develop worry in anticipation of the test.
  • Another common reason is poor preparation. Students who struggle to get organized and/or manage their time wisely will be challenged to prepare adequately.
  • Fear of failure also contributes – thinking that our self-worth is wrapped up in that grade causes extra tension and stress. This is a double-bind, because all that worry and fear inhibit the ability to set up a structured plan and prepare effectively.

Luckily there are a variety of tips and tricks for managing test anxiety, including these from the ADAA:

  • Be prepared. Be aware of when tests are happening and study in smaller increments over time rather than pulling all-nighters or “cramming”.
  • Be a good test-taker. Read all the directions carefully. Complete questions you know first, and then go back to harder ones. Outline essay answers.
  • Stay positive. Your self-worth is not dependent on a test grade. Reward yourself for staying on track with study goals. Some anxiety is normal and natural, expect it and let it be there. Let anxious thoughts come and go, but stay focused on the task of studying or taking the test.
  • Stay focused. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing; focus on the test in front of you. Avoid talking to others about the material before the exam.
  • Use relaxation techniques. Taking slow, deep breaths and consciously relaxing your muscles one at a time can help energize you and sharpen your focus.
  • Stay healthy. Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat healthy foods. Exhaustion and fatigue do not good test-takers make.
  • Get help. If needed, your school counselor or college counseling center can help with needed resources. Sometimes special accommodations are needed, but most of the time, test anxiety can be managed effectively by following these guidelines.

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital

My Inner Child Wears a Tigers Hat

Tiger Stadium at Michigan and Trumbull

Cropped image. Baseball Bugs, Wikimedia Commons.

I loved Tiger Stadium growing up. It was a slice of emerald goodness in a concrete grayness that only years of neglect can give you. One of the best feelings I remember while growing up was walking through the labyrinth of ramps, cresting to expose grass as far as the eye could see.

You felt like you were transported into a different world, if only for a few hours. I miss the old place, a lot of good memories. But as the legend Ernie Harwell would say, it was loooooooong gone before I had my first child.

My oldest never had a chance, she was going to be a baseball fan whether she liked it or not. Luckily for both of us she’s a huge Tigers fan. In fact, the only poster in her room is of her favorite Tigers player. Brings a tear to my eye.

When we head downtown to go see a game, I miss parking on someone’s front yard for $5, or having to walk across the footbridge, dodging oversized balloons and t-shirt vendors to get to the stadium. It added to the experience. Now, we park in a fenced-in lot, pass the peanut guys and go into the stadium after our tickets are scanned.

A lot has changed. Ferris wheels, sushi and full pizzas are the norm.

What hasn’t changed is the look on the face of a youngster seeing the field for the first time. I remember that look on my daughter’s face; it was a mix of excitement and awe. There aren’t many days that you can put that look on your child’s face, so you have to cherish those moments … but it’s also up to you to feed that feeling because that will only grow their inner-child that they’ll need when they’re adults.

My daughter only knows Tiger Stadium by what I’ve told her. She knows it was where I saw my childhood heroes play. But what she doesn’t know is most of the time I was sitting next to my Dad, or as she knows him, Poppie.

My dad and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye on everything growing up, but what father and son do? But we could always agree that spending a summer afternoon in the bleachers was time well spent.

I plan on spending a few afternoons this summer with my favorite Tigers fan in hopes that one day she will look back at our time knowing that our trips to the ballpark were much bigger than the game.

– Jim Pesta, Parenting Program participant and father of two girls


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