Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Working at Camp Shrader. Or you know, how to hire the best Personal Care Attendant!

I was a camp counselor during my college years. Besides considering those some of my best summers ever, I also know that it was in the those summers that I grew up, that I learned what it means to available 24 hours a day for someone -- or in the case of camp, 14 someones!

I developed a rather quick reputation during camp orientation for being the one who asked all the questions. I wasn't sure what to expect and really wanted to be prepared for anything and everything. And it was a good thing I did -- because every crazy scenario I had come up with to ask about during that training, pretty much happened to me my first week of camp! Oh my! I learned how to do tasks that it would never (and I mean never ever) have occurred to me to do for someone -- and smile about it. I learned to face flat-out hard issues and love my girls through. I learned that if woken in the middle of the night, I had a soft, calm voice apparently -- who knew! I learned how to get up close and personal with complete strangers and serve them for a full week.

Sigh. I love camp.

We are almost a year into the tenure of hiring a team of personal care attendants for Benjamin. We had a team of three for many months and recently added a couple new members. I am fairly certain that it is safe to say these last 10 months have been quite a learning curve for our team, for Benjamin, and perhaps most of all, for me the mom.

I expect a lot.

And yes, those of you who know me in real life are nodding your heads as this is a general description of my personality. My expectations are always -- regardless of whether we are talking about vacations, friends, work, whatever -- super high. Always.

And so, going in to what this new team would mean for Benjamin was no different. I expected a lot.

If I am honest, I expected the team to fall in love with us like I fell in love with 14 campers every single week of summer for years. I expected relationships to be forged and frankly, I expected a delight in caring for my son (Ok, so this one seems a bit rose-colored-glasses I know, but Benjamin is an amazing young man!). You know, I expected camp in my house. Every day.

Really. Is that too much?

There are so many problems with this approach. The obvious being that I am fairly certain not one of the team members was expecting camp. Oh.

We were a few months in when my feelings were hurt because an attendant canceled their work day from the calendar with too little notice for a replacement. My wise-much-less-emotional-husband reminded me that this was a job to our team and that I needed to treat it as a job as well. Ugh.

To be fair -- and by fair I mean I am totally defending myself here -- Benjamin's personal care attendants are in our home for most of their work shift, every single day. We eat our meals together often. We watch tv together often. We spend a lot of time together.

So here is what I am saying -- the role of personal care attendant is much like the role of camp counselor. You are up close and personal with your employer -- in our case Benjamin -- and the relationship that develops DOES in fact require you to cross over the lines from work-focused employee to work-focused caregiver. I love that word.

Caregiver. A personal care attendant's role is far more than employee-employer -- it is some one who gives CARE, who helps Benjamin through the everyday living skills required to reach his goals and dreams. And when you care, you don't let him go out in public with food on his clothes, or a dirty wheelchair. As a caregiver, you make sure he is hydrated. You check for pressure sores.

And as the name implies -- you care.

One of our team members has served as Benjamin's scribe all year. She barely gets in the door before he has laid out the plan for their day ahead. He dictates, she types and that has allowed him to write some amazing pieces this year! (Sorry. Rose-colored glasses again.)

One of our new team members shows up for work every day and immediately starts talking with Benjamin. If you know my son in real life, you know that he loves to talk. They are engaged in conversation from the time she walks in the door. 

They both show they care.

My expectations are still high. I recognize that. But when you are trusting the care of your child -- and let's face it, no matter his age, he will always be my child -- with someone (or in our case a team of someones) I think high expectations are imperative. I believe this team can rise to the challenges for the job, I believe they CAN eagerly provide the care Benjamin requires and I am determined to make it feel like camp around here!

S'mores anyone? 

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Friday, May 26, 2017

Home is behind. Sigh.

"Home is behind. The world ahead and there are many paths to tread through shadows to the edge of night until the stars are all alight." J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

My stars are not alight. Two of my shining stars boarded planes this week for summer adventures: Claire to Texas to serve at a camp for her favorite population -- kiddos with special needs! She will meet us in July for a family vacation and then return to camp to finish out the summer. Mason is on his way -- even as I type -- to the Yucatan where he will work with one of his professors on an archaeological dig of an ancient Mayan temple. He will fly home in July -- just in time for our big family vacay!

Cate and Claire at the airport....

Mason going through security.

I know that we have been spoiled because all three of my college kids chose schools within a half hour from me -- and each other. So while Mason and Claire haven't lived at home the last two school years, I could get to them, they could get to me, and basically that freedom has helped us transition from our extremely nuclear little homeschooling cocoon to college life. Oh, I am thankful.

But this. This boarding the plane and flying off is for seven weeks straight. That seems like a really really long time. I like them. They are among my absolute favorite people on the planet. And I put them on a plane.

It would help if they didn't still look like this in my mind as they walked away from me:

And really, I am just so proud of both of them that I am fairly bursting. And that is quite an emotional roller-coaster between wanting to see them reach for the stars, and wanting to hold them close to me. And because with triplets, one or two simultaneous conflicting emotions has never been and will apparently never be enough -- there is a whole other element. My Benjamin.

I see it in his face. He wants to go too. He wants to leave and fly and do big things. And he does have things planned for his summer -- they will just happen later and they will happen with me accompanying him. And so I am torn between wanting to hug him for staying here and being within my vision all summer, and cry for him that he can't board a plane without me. 

And really, I want to scream that it isn't fair which seems completely silly because if he could leave I would do just what I did when his brother and sister left: cry and complain that leaving me isn't fair.

Oh for the love of mercy. The vast twists of conflicting emotions is leaving me wanting to don my pajamas and stay in bed for the summer. But that hardly seems like any fun.

And so we will put one foot in front of the other this summer. I will embrace the moments with Benjamin and Cate and will relish the tales from the adventures of Mason and Claire! And while we won't wish the days away, we will celebrate when we are finally, all back together!!

My birthday celebration last week....love my little family!

"...Then world behind and home ahead, We'll wander back and home to bed...." J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Monday, May 8, 2017

Why I feel the need to thank Benjamin's friends. Sigh.

Last week found me at Benjamin's college several times celebrating his peers as they performed their final senior theatre showcases. Repeatedly, I found myself wanting to hug them and thank them for being Benjamin's friend, for being kind, thoughtful and well...friend-like.

Even as I processed the need, I flashed back to the triplets' kindergarten year. I was seated in the cafeteria as the teachers announced each classrooms' "Star Student Awards." I wasn't sure how the whole process worked -- if they would have let parents know beforehand or what -- and frankly I sat through the first monthly award ceremony thinking one of my trio MIGHT get the Star Student award. They had met all the challenges of that first month of school with courage, flexibility, and the cutest smiles ever. (Ok, that last part is just me being completely biased!) Mason was coming to school straight off a huge spine surgery and was overcoming more just to get to school every morning than I could have ever imagined as a child.

Yet, I cheered as loud as the young man's Mama when one of their friends won instead. I loved that young boy who was such a sweet friend to my three. And then the teacher listed his attributes -- one of which was playing with Benjamin and Mason.

What? Why did that deserve an award?

And then the next monthly awards ceremony was held. Same thing happened.

And then again.

And again.

And again.

I almost quit going to the little award ceremony all together. But how in the world would I explain that to my children? I didn't, after all, want THEM to resent their friends or their teachers.

But I was still processing what being mom to these extraordinary children meant and frankly, the message I heard over and over (and over) again was that it was obviously a burden to be their friend. It was something remarkable to be kind to them. If you could summon the strength to overcome the burden, you would be publicly rewarded. (Do I sound bitter?)

Except, I knew that my boys enjoyed video games, super hero everything, Star Wars, and even silly Knock-Knock jokes. It wasn't hard to be friends with them. It wasn't.

It still isn't. And so I refrained from thanking the young men and women last week who are Benjamin's peers. I hugged them. I assured them I was praying for them during their exams. But I didn't THANK them for being friends with one of the most amazing young men I have ever known.

And so in love, I want to say to you that your child does not deserve a student of the month award JUST because he or she was nice to my sons -- or any child with special needs.

I'm sorry. But he doesn't.

I was asked once by a precious mom friend, how to help her children interact with kids with special needs. I fairly shouted, "Socialize with families with special needs." 

Hear me dear ones, if you model friendship -- and I mean model it across the board -- by being kind to those around you. Guess what? Your children will learn to be kind to those around you.

Oh parents, if your kids watch you manipulate people, bully them with your words, and ridicule them behind their backs -- you can bet that is exactly the behavior that will be repeated.

And if your children see you talking slowly in a patronizing manner to the young man in a wheelchair, you can bet they will patronize the next person they see with special needs and never even know it wasn't an ok manner in which to speak to them.

Just so you know my boys have true friends.

Star Wars Con....

If you find the things you have in common with Benjamin and Mason, you will quickly forget the things you don't. Isn't that true of everyone? Isn't that what we should be encouraging our children to do? Find the common ground WITH EVERYONE???

Because here is the thing, if you reward your child for "being nice" to the kiddo with special needs, you are teaching them a huge lesson -- but the lesson is that the child is deserving of pity, rather than deserving of genuine friendship. And you have taught a mama that she should be thankful that your child was willing to show such pity on her child.


Now I am all about giving some GOOD FRIEND awards out -- show me children who interact well with all of their peers and let's reward them; show me children who know how to find the common ground with others regardless of abilities, ethnicities, economics and I will cheer with you as we reward them!

Let's come together as mothers and commit to teaching our children to look for the common ground that will bind them as friends -- not the differences that set them apart. And let's stop rewarding condescending behavior. 

For the love of all that is good and Stars Wars-y -- I promise you will not regret it.

Carol - The Blessings Counter