"As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. " John 9:1-2

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A New You

I write a monthly column for the Mahoning Valley Parent Magazine, and I don't realize the impact it has on parents until one reaches out to me. This post is my November column, by request. 

For Danielle...

I’m very certain that if you asked any special parent if their child has changed their life, they would all answer “Yes.” I feel there are stages of change on this journey we are all on, and they may have different details, but we all experience the same feelings along the way.

When your child first comes into your world, your life changes dramatically. You are trying to figure out this new place you’ve entered, and it feels like you are lost in a foreign land.  It is uncomfortable, and you don’t really know how to act. Fear takes up residence inside of you, and you’re definitely not the same person that you were before.  You sure have changed, but you don’t think at this point it is for the better. You are in survival mode twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Most of the time you are running on empty, and you can’t see anything else around you. Your focus is only your child. When you are in the midst of this stage, you have no idea you’re changing on the inside.

Then as time goes on, it starts to get more comfortable. Even though worry and fear are always lingering in your mind, you are not as scared as you were in the beginning.  You have become more familiar with the road ahead, and you are able to take steps forward. Even though you may still be in survival mode, you have found guides and seen light along the way. You start to notice things about yourself that are different than before your child came into your world. You probably speak up more, take charge more, and have learned to be an amazing advocate for your baby girl or boy. Your heart has most definitely changed, and you and others start to take note. This stage can last for months or years, and on some level, this is the plateau we all come to find ourselves on a regular basis. It has taken time to get to this leg of the journey, and you are most certainly not the same as you used to be.

You realize over time that your child has made a positive impact on the person that you are. Experiences, good and bad, have taken place that positioned you where you are. Experiences take time. It’s during these days, months and years that you realize that even though this task is the hardest thing you’ve ever done, it has altered you as a person.  

I know a very special Mom that said profound words to me recently. Her son Joshua was born with a degenerative brain disorder, and she considers it a privilege to be is Mom. She said to me, “He changed my life. He made me a better person.”

Now, I’m sure we all could agree with her. All of our kids have changed our lives, right?
The difference between us and this amazing Mom is that Joshua was only here on the earth for sixteen brief months.  He lost the fight against his little body in a very short period of time. And in that small amount of time, Joshua took his Mom through these phases, and changed her into the person she is today.

She didn’t have to tell me details about exactly how he changed her life. She didn’t have to describe to me how he made her a better person. I could feel her heart in her words, and see the pride in her eyes. Joshua’s life is proof that our children bring hope to those around them that can’t be described in words. The effect that takes place from caring for our kids is the same regardless of the time we have to spend with them. They shine their light on all who come in their presence…even if they are struggling through their days. In the midst of the things they have to endure on a regular basis, they make their mark on the world.

My prayer this month is that you will take note of how your child has impacted your life, regardless of how long you’ve been on your path. Don’t ever doubt that you were hand-picked for your unique road—with all the sharp twists, turns and bumps that are only yours. These steps were designed with you in mind--to transform you into the person that you were meant to be.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Surprise, Surprise!

Olivia learning shot put

My daughter Olivia started track camp this week. 

Track camp is a five day program for kids entering Kindergarten through 7th grade. It is facilitated by the Middle School track coach, along with High School students that participate in track. They introduce track events, and give children the opportunity to try all of them in a fun, relaxed environment. 

You may be thinking, "Oh what a nice thing for her to do in the summer, to keep her active and see her friends." But what you may not realize is that Olivia has never participated in a "typical" sport activity--ever. Nor has she ever had the desire to. 

You see, when Olivia was a baby, we prayed she would walk.

Most kids learn to walk around their first birthday. With the help of weekly physical therapy and her leg brace,Olivia started walking a few months after her second birthday. It was truly a celebration for all of us. As parents, we always hoped and prayed that day would come and had many uncertain and doubtful moments. 

But, as usual, she surprised us. 

Once she started walking, her physical therapist informed me that they would next work on running. 


The thought never really occurred to me--now we were going to have to teach her to run. Running seemed almost impossible. I was just elated she could walk!

Olivia fought through each therapy session with her amazing determination to learn the gait pattern and balance that it takes to run. 

She surprised us again when she was running by her third birthday.  

So now....as we are approaching her thirteenth birthday, the fact that she is in track camp with her peers totally overwhelms me. 

When I brought her to the school on Monday, we spoke to the coach about the fact that she will have to take multiple breaks and do things at her own pace. The coach responded in a very positive way and reassured me she would be taken care of. 

 As I was walking away from Olivia to go to my car, she said, "Mom, I'm scared." 
And as my heart was about to crumble in a million pieces because I, too, was scared, I said, " You always surprise yourself and do everything you put your mind to! You got this!" And I did what all the other moms did...I walked to my car. Even though it was hard, I knew I had to. 

But as I watched other moms pull out of the parking lot, I was experiencing emotions that most of them have never had. This moment was uneventful to them, and I was witnessing a small miracle.  

As I started to cry in my car, I realized I was crying because I was scared for her, but also because I was so very proud of how far she has come. If someone would have told me when she was two years old that I would be taking her to run track with her typical peers at age thirteen, I would have said they were crazy. 

But, as usual, Olivia surprised me. 

When I picked her up she was beaming. She had so much fun and loved trying all of the events. She  told me in the car that she wasn't the only one that was falling behind when they were running around the track. Her face told the whole story--she was proud of herself.

Even though every muscle in her body hurts, she says she will be sad when it is over Friday.... 

...and she informed me that she wants to try out for the Middle School cross country team in the Spring. 

Oh how I look forward to that surprise...



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A New Season

Why didn't anyone tell me this stage of parenthood would come so quickly? It seemed to come out of nowhere--all of a sudden, my kids are growing up. 

In my 16 years of parenting, I truly think that I believed everyone else's children were going to grow up and mine were going to stay little. But at the same time, in the back of my mind, I wanted to make sure they grow up to be independent, productive members of society. So the only logical explanation of my mind thinking about both of these concepts at the same time can be boiled down to one word : Denial. 

I consider myself to be a realist--give me facts, I will do everything in my power to help and support those facts with faith and expectancy. I never really thought of myself as one that could take up residence with denial for very long, but obviously I have lived there for quite some time. 

When my son, now almost 16, was a baby, all I wanted was for him to sleep through the night. If only he would sleep, I could enjoy the next stage of his life. Even though it took over a year for him to sleep through the night, I then started looking towards the next stage of his development. If only he could do this or that, THEN I would start to enjoy him--truly enjoy him. Unfortunately, I wished away every year to get to the next. 

And when he came home ecstatic about his new driver's permit last month I wept. I wept because in my mind, he was never going to be old enough to drive a car. Right? That's what denial told me! How could this actually be happening? 

And as I watch  my daughter, now almost 13, do things independently without needing me, I can't believe my eyes. Since she has muscle tone issues in her hand and leg, I made sure her whole life that I helped her reach her goals, one at a time, by getting her therapy, working with her at home, etc...I prayed for the day she would walk. When most parents are hoping their two year old will say small sentences, I was hoping she would walk.

And she did walk.

Then at age three when most parents are hoping their child will be potty trained, I was hoping she would talk. 

And she did talk. 

She does everything in her own timing, on her terms. She has surprised us over and over again these past 13 years. And lately, she doesn't need me in the same ways she used to. While I have been praying all her life that she would be able to care for herself and be independent, at the same time, I didn't think this day would come. Denial again.

This season of parenting is very uncomfortable for me. I guess I need to be needed. (It's an Italian mother thing, I think).

But as my wise friend told me recently, "They still need you, just in different ways". It has become my new mantra, and I have chosen to believe it. 

So just as I celebrated milestones and birthdays with them over the years, I am choosing to embrace this season.  I choose to enjoy them (even though they are both teenagers) and be proud of their achievements. And at the same time, look forward to the young adults they will become. 

I  have made myself take a step back and be thankful for the Mom they have molded me into-- A Mom that has too many blessings to count, and one who recognizes the clock is ticking...and there's no time for denial. 


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Winter Dream

My family and I recently had the most amazing trip to Clearwater, Florida. We have not been on a "real" vacation in many years. It was just for a long weekend, but it was wonderful to spend time together--just the four of us. In fact, it was a dream come true for my daughter.

We all have dreams---dreams that stem from childhood, dreams that evolve as we get older..and dreams as adults that we strive for.

Do you remember your childhood dreams? What did they look like? Did you ever have the privilege of living any of them before time went on and those dreams changed?

Fortunately for my twelve year old daughter, Olivia, she was able to see her childhood dream become a reality at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

If you are not familiar with the aquarium, it is the home of Winter the Dolphin, whose story was told in a major motion picture "Dolpin Tale" that was released in 2011. Winter is a brave dolphin that the Aquarium staff rescue on the beach when she was very young. A fishing net had entangled itself around the bottom portion of her tail, and she was abandoned and alone. The aquarium ends up nursing her to health...and having to make a decision about the portion of her tail that enables her to move around that was decaying as a result of her injury. Her tail had to be removed, and she ended up getting a prosthetic tail made by an amazing Dr. at Hanger Orthotics. She is the first animal to ever wear a prosthesis. The tail enables her to swim in a natural way, allowing her spinal chord to function typically.

From the day Olivia saw the movie, she has wanted to meet Winter. They share a special bond--Hanger Orthotics in town also make her Ankle Foot Orthotic brace that she has been wearing on her left leg since she was 2 years old. Winter's ability to fight through the many obstacles surrounding her rescue and healing gave Olivia determination and inspiration to continue working to make the left side of her body function to its highest potential.

Thanks to the amazing people at the home office of Hanger Orthotics, Olivia was able to meet Winter, and learn from her trainer the many tricks Winter can do. She spent time with Winter,and was able to touch her tail without the orthotic. This experience was so very special to her, and to all of us...as it was truly a miraculous day. At the end of her visit with Winter, she posed for a picture while touching Winter's snout. We didn't realize it until we came home and looked at the pictures that Olivia reached out to Winter with her left hand. Olivia's muscles in her left arm and hand are very tight,and she has limited range of motion because of it. She uses her left hand only when she has to, and with weekly occupational therapy, she learns to stretch and incorporate it in her daily living routines (but she is still stubborn, and uses it sparingly).

So the fact that she willingly, subconsciously, reached out to Winter with that hand was truly miraculous. In the video of her experience, as she is reaching out to Winter, Winter is swimming towards her hand so she can feel her snout. In this tiny moment of time, the two of them connected.
It may not sound so miraculous to you, but since she was a baby we have worked on getting her to use her hand more. To our entire family, this became so much more than Olivia's dream. As special parents, my husband and I had our own dream come true.

We thank the wonderful people of Hanger, and the staff at the Aquarium for their warm welcome, and making our day one that we all will remember forever.

Seeing Winter and Olivia's connection can be inspiration to all of us to keep on reaching for our dreams...

You can see Olivia's dream come true here: www.seewinter.com


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Getting off the Wheel

Please forgive my absence...my weekly commitment to my blog looks more like 'monthly" right now.

Writing is one of  my many passions...it makes me feel alive. I love the feeling of giving life to my thoughts and feelings as well as encouraging others with my words.

But life has seemed to get in the way the past few months.
I felt that the part of me that gives me life was going away.

When did life become so busy? When my husband was sick with cancer last year I vowed to never allow "life" to get in the way of "living".
But somehow I have allowed it to happen again.

Why do you think that we put things that we love on hold to keep up with the hamster wheel that we seem to never be able to get off of?

Sure, we take vacations, weekends away and date nights to breathe, but then, without even thinking, we jump right back on the wheel.

When you're on the wheel for so long, everything becomes blurry.  It makes you dizzy and tired.
So when you finally do decide to jump off for a few seconds to catch your breath...you're exhausted.

All of my spinning is making me tired.

Can you relate?

I feel that society has influenced us so much that we think that if we are not busy, we are not ok. In order to "keep up" we must keep going....does that make sense?

Well, this week, and the weeks ahead in 2015, I have truly committed to enjoying the things ordinary, everyday things in my life--like the look on my daughter's face when she gets a good grade on a test, my son's eyes when they light up while looking forward to next year's football season, and the quiet date nights my husband and I are so very blessed to still have together.

My prayer for all of us is that we will jump off the wheel....and vow to not get back on. Be honest with ourselves and admit that each day is truly a gift from God and we can no longer waste them by spinning continually.

Are you ready?


Monday, October 27, 2014

Give Thanks

We all have things to be thankful for at this time of year--and always. But since we all go through our days so very busy, we miss out on appreciating the little things in our day to be grateful for. Many people I know have taken the “thankfulness challenge” by writing down a few things they are thankful for each day for 30 days. I think writing them down makes us be physically aware of them and can refer back to them often.  Even though it is difficult to do, I hope to be mindful of all I have to be thankful for every month, not just during this time of year. 

As special parents, it is difficult at times to stop and truly notice what we have to be grateful for on any given day. Between appointments, surgeries, school issues, etc…it is hard to see the blessings in all of it. But at the same time, if we look close and pay attention, we will see that we have so many things to be thankful for that most people take for granted with their children.

If you are a parent of typical children, my prayer for you this week is that you will appreciate and truly express gratitude for all the things ---even the smallest things, that your child is able to do that you may take for granted. How they walk with ease, tell you with their voice what they feel, or their ability to be independent and do things for themselves---believe it or not, these are little miracles that you should be grateful for. 

And if you are a special parent, I pray that you take note of my words and my heart and be aware of the little things each day that make your child unique—and celebrate and be thankful for all the things he or she can do, rather than focusing on their limitations.  

In our busy days, it is so easy to become preoccupied with things that aren't really worth our time or energy. All of us get used to the "stress" of all we need to do on any given day. But, in reality, it's not really stress. It is just life. Our busyness takes over and gets labeled as stress....and in the midst of it, we miss all the beauty around us that we should be truly thankful for.

Ephesians 5:20 states, "Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." 

Let's commit to give thanks always....for everything.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Angel on Earth

There are  many special Moms that go beyond the word "special." I don't have a specific word to describe these women. They do what the rest of us do...but they take their gift to another level. They truly are gifted, they truly are the Chosen.

I have the privilege of knowing one such Mom very well. My friend, Jeannie, is the mother of Chloe. Chloe is a person with spina bifida, and more recently has had many health issues in addition to her everyday challenges. She has spent most of the past year in the hospitalized from many surgeries and complications...with her mom right by her side--doing what she needed to do to be strong for her baby girl.

Last week, at the age of twelve, Chloe went to be with the Lord. Her little body couldn't handle the stress of it all, and she received her angel wings.

She is now singing and dancing with her fellow angels--free of Drs., surgeries, medications, and movement limitations.  She is an angel now but was truly an angel when she was here on earth. She made everyone smile and she lit up every room she entered.

My prayer this week is that you will notice the angels in your daily life. You may not realize how they effect your life on a larger scale...because they are around you daily, and their gift may not shout out to you in big neon colors.

But they are there.

Because of Chloe, I am making a conscious decision to not take the angels in my life for granted. I know they come in forms of my beautiful, amazing  friends, sisters, family, and, of course, my children and husband. I am very blessed and have made a commitment to thank them and be grateful for them.

They will all get their wings one day, too. So I will enjoy them and recognize their impact on my life.

I know Jeannie recognized the amazing light of hope, love, and strength Chloe was to her each and every day even through her hardest days.

Please pray for this beautiful family.

While Chloe was hospitalized, her friends, appropriately named, "Chloe's Angels" created a fund to help the family offset the cost of her medical expenses, and to help with funeral costs.

You can find the site here: http://www.gofundme.com/88al0g

This is Chloe and I at a challenger baseball game...she was shining her smile on me that day, and I will be forever grateful for this moment.

Thank you, sweet Chloe for being an angel to so many.