Sunday, July 9, 2017

Should he roar or quack?? What a hard decision!

My little family has been scattered this summer from the jungles of Mexico to the mountains of North Carolina and several spots in between. But this week we are reuniting in our happy place -- Walt Disney World!! I might be feeling nostalgic, mixed in with all the happy!!

An Ewok hat -- or so cute!!
My Indiana Jones-loving family thinks this is very clever!!

Yesterday five of us arrived and made our traditional first stop at Downtown Disney -- or Disney Springs -- as it is called today! As we meandered taking in all the old sites and enjoying some of the new shopping experiences, it was just like every other time we have been: we found unique Disney merchandise that we made a mental note to return to purchase. I couldn't help but be transported back to when we brought our then just-turned-five-year-olds there.

Five-year-old Mason, Benjamin, and Claire with Hercules!

We had decided having them pick a souvenir on the FIRST day would alleviate all the obsession with souvenirs for the remaining days of the trip. We strolled into World of Disney and they were immediately enamored with the wall of stuffed animals. Benjamin grabbed a Mickey Mouse within minutes. He knew this was the souvenir he couldn't live without. That Mickey is still in his room.

Claire grabbed a Dumbo and hugged him tight. She was absolutely certain this was the toy for her. Today, that Dumbo sits front and center in a case that holds several she has collected over the years. We love that "special needs" elephant!

But Mason, oh Mason. He picked up Simba and then put him down and picked up Donald Duck. Oh, how he loved them both. He put down Donald, and picked up Simba again. He went through the reasons he loved each. He went back and forth for no less than half an hour, until we finally strongly encouraged him to make a choice. Simba, he said. And so we proceeded to the check-out with Mickey, Dumbo, and Simba. Great purchases, we thought. Wade and I might even have been patting ourselves on the back for this brilliant solution to the souvenir obsession unique to preschoolers.

We had no sooner left the store -- I mean we weren't even fully back to the main side-walk for Downtown Disney -- when Mason began to cry, "I made a mistake! I should have bought Donald. I really wanted Donald!!" And the tears began to flow.

I picked him up from his stroller and asked him why he thought that. He could barely catch his breath. "I. want. Donald."

Back into the store we went. I explained to the cast member what had happened. They were so gracious to let him go get the Donald Duck and swap Simba for it.

To his credit, Mason has never wavered from his devotion to this stuffed Donald Duck. The toy accompanied him to multiple vacations, several surgeries, and more nights than can be counted. His tail feathers are far from white. He wears a hospital band. And has a bandaged incision on his spine. He was loved well. Today, that Donald resides in a glass case of honor in Mason's room.

My young adults know that all decisions aren't as easy to undo as the day we accidentally purchased the king of the jungle when we really wanted the duck with the cute sailor hat. They have witnessed their dad and I make life-changing family decisions for all their years. They had to make all manner of decisions this summer on their own. 

And yet, I think their take-away from the day we purchased their "guys" is that if we are ever in a place to offer grace -- grace is definitely the choice we should make!

We can't wait to get our whole crew here -- and that includes Len, Stephanie and Olivia for part of our trip!! I'm sure I'll have a few more walks down memory lane....but we'll also be busily making brand new memories and yes, hugging some certain 20-year-olds as tight as I can!

Carol - The Blessings Counter

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 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