Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Gender Equality: We've Made it So Far … But Not Far Enough

I posted a picture online of my youngest daughter covered in mud splatter, clothes drenched and smiling big after playing in a giant rain puddle. As she and her two sisters played in the rain puddle for a full hour, laughing, running, jumping, singing, marching, and dancing, I just thought to myself how lucky I am.

It seems gender equality has come pretty far. There’s just one big problem. It hasn’t come far enough. Gender bias between parents and children is a huge tomato in the room that no one is doing anything about and, even worse, no one even thinks there is a reason to do something about it.

What kind of gender bias am I talking about? The mom of all boys who “prays for a princess,” the family of all girls who gets asked when they’ll be trying for a boy, the moms of boy/girl twins who get told, “One of each. Perfect!” There are stereotypes that boys shouldn’t have mani/pedis and pink shorts or that girls can’t play in the dirt with trucks. I could go on and on and on.

So I posted my picture because for every mom who told me I just didn’t understand when it came to the messes that boys can make, I felt vindicated and proud. I am not raising three girls. I am raising three kids. My caption read:
“Why no, I don’t feel like I’m ‘missing out’ having all girls. I have three amazing KIDS. They are messy. They are princesses. They dance. They climb. They sing. They run. They like science. They like reading. They like superheroes. They like dolls. I have three amazing KIDS and I’m not missing out on a single damn thing.”
Within minutes, I got a comment from a mom of two boys saying in jest that I am missing out on one important detail and how boys fling around that detail. And yes, she’s right. My kids do not have penises. And no, they can’t exactly “fling” their vaginas. They can, however, drop their underwear on a playground and run over to me yelling that they need to go poo-poo (that didn’t happen last week.) They can also lift their dresses in Target showing the world their panties (that didn’t happen last week either.) And much to my disgust, they can pee in puddles when we go for a walk in rain boots (yet another example of what didn't happen last week). They are KIDS. Kids tend to do a lot of gross shit. They don’t understand privacy until we teach them. It is no more appropriate for my girls to drop trou than it is for your boys to.

I don’t blame the mom who made the comment. We all need to look at our kids differently if we are ever going to fix the bias. I also get crap like, “Well, you’ve never seen my boys in a wrestling match” or “You say that now, but at least you don’t have to give daily baths from all the dirt he plays in.” It is just an overwhelming, appalling stream of one gender bias after another, and other than their physical genitalia, they are all the same. Just kids.

And do not, do NOT call my girls “tom boys.” I hate that I’m raising them in a world where kids are expected to be or act a certain way because they were born with a vagina or a penis and they only get to be whoever they want if they have parents like me and the right circle of support. I had a little old lady tell me to put a bow on my very bald 13-month-old daughter’s head so people didn’t think she was a boy. I opted to let people think whatever they wanted and let my 13-month-old decide. Bows were available to her. I placed them on her head plenty of times. She yanked them off every time. I didn’t push it. Now she’s 6 years old and likes to wear pink, a lot. I let her. In a few months if she wants to wear all blue or all camo or all black, I'll let her do that, too. It is all still acceptable to me.

Another mom tried to defend the differences between boys and girls by explaining just how different they are by nature on day one because she had fraternal twins, and she said each gender brings something different to the table to give the world balance. I think it’s great that she had that experience, but it’s sad to me that she formed opinions on their differences because of their genders. I have identical twin girls. From day one they have had completely and utterly different personalities. Please note, they are completely different and they are both girls! Gasp! Their demeanor, likes, dislikes, thoughts and so much more are not determined by their sex, whether by birth or chosen.

So yes, I have three amazing KIDS. And with each new progression toward gender equality, I do a little happy dance. But there is so much work to do and we are blind to it. Be happy about the KIDS in your house. Celebrate their differences as things they do well as KIDS, not as boys or girls. Let them be whoever they want to be, like what they want to like, and play like they want to play. Maybe by the time I have grandchildren, we’ll all be getting it right.

Heather C. works as the Social Media Editor for Mumbling Mommy. She uses the lessons her kids teach her to take each day at a time and embrace the twists life throws at her. In her spare time, she is a runner, yogi, reader, and freelance writer. Heather specializes in parenting girls, all things twins, and keeping her family happy.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Six Ways to Preserve Summer Vacation Memories

By Lori --

Your fun summer vacation may be right around the corner ... and if you don't act quickly, those memories may fade away with the hustle and bustle of life. The memories from those precious vacations can last if you take some time to keep them alive. Here are six original non-scrapbooks ways to never forget those moments worth remembering.

1. Mail yourself a postcard from each vacation destination you visit. Remember to include the dates of the trip and the exact name of the place you visited. This is a fun and inexpensive way to remember the trip. Even if you plan to enjoy an inexpensive and simple family vacation, the kids will still get a kick out of seeing a postcard in your mailbox when you get home!

2. If you take a beach trip, make it a tradition to take a picture of every child with his or her name written in the sand. If there’s room, add the year, too. The sunlight is best in the morning and evening. Photographs in the middle of the day are typically too harsh (and lead to shadows and squinting eyes).

3. Buy a Christmas ornament while on vacation. Most touristy locations will have stores selling every keepsake that comes to mind. As you peruse the store, check out the Christmas ornaments and pick a family favorite. Each year when you decorate the tree, you can check out ornaments from your past vacations and remember all of the fun places you’ve visited over the years.

Photo via: flickr.com
4. Each night of the trip, write the details of the day down in a travel journal. The kids can share their favorite memories of the day, too. Write down the names of restaurants where you ate and even the foods you ordered.

5. Use binders and page protectors to collect souvenirs. Post-It notes are a perfect way to add captions. You could add things like napkins from favorite restaurants that you dined in or brochures from an amusement part you enjoyed. Use scrapbook glue to ensure preservation.

6. Dedicate a space in your home such as a hallway or wall as your vacation memory spot. Pick up frames and fill them with your favorite shots from each trip. Keep adding to the vacation spot after each trip and watch the collection grow. In our home, we have framed pictures from vacations we took, including a trip to Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and Rhode Island.

One more tip: Always take at least five pictures each day. At the time, this may seem like a mundane chore, but I promise once you get home, you will be so happy you have those photographs.

What are some other ways you have preserved your precious family vacation memories?

Lori is a work-at-home mom living in Noblesville, a suburb of Indianapolis. She is mom to two children ages 4 and 3 and enjoys watching them grow. Lori also enjoys taking walks, shopping, spending time with her husband, reading, decorating, photography, and traveling. Leave her a comment below or email her at mumblingmommy@mumblingmommy.com

While you are here, you may enjoy the following posts:

Product Review AND GIVEAWAY: The VersaVia Rear Car Seat Cover

I received the product for this review free for the purpose of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

I have a van. At no point in my early stages of motherhood did I have any interest in ever, ever driving a van. My husband and I both drove great little hatchbacks. We planned to have the “perfect” four person family. And then life got real.

We had twins.

We made it through about 8 months with our three kids all in a single row in the back of our cars. It was the point when we moved the twins from their infant seats to rear facing convertible car seats that our arrangement just didn’t work anymore.

Long story short, I now drive a van. I love my van. I didn’t think I would. I didn’t want one. I didn’t imagine one. But I have one now. As it turns out, the van we picked has leather seats. For me, I love them. Two words: heated seats. But for the kids? Most especially because they have car seats installed ON the leather seats and with snacks, rainy days, muddy shoes, random Trader Joes’ stickers; those leather seats had little hope of surviving.

In comes the VersaVia rear car seat cover. My husband was able to install this cover in the back of our van in a matter of seconds; seriously. He had no idea that I was reviewing it or why it was even in our lives. It was just sitting in the package on the kitchen floor. He was trying to be helpful, saw from the packaging what it was and headed out to the garage to put it in. Just like that. No fuss.

We’ve had the cover in our van about four weeks now and it has not budged. It features a great non-slip backing and custom seat anchors to not only make for easy install but to be sure it stays in place. And of course, this seat cover is not just for vans. Install it on any rear bench seat under your child(ren)’s car seat(s) to protect your car from all of life’s little messes.

The VersaVia rear car seat cover is available for purchase on Amazon.com. It is patent pending, comes with a lifetime warranty and can be enjoyed in three great colors. I received the black cover. If I had a choice, I would probably go with gray as it would better match the interior of my van. Honestly though, black resists stains the best and my girls have a knack for being messy. At the time of publishing this review, there are 9 reviews on Amazon with 7 of them giving the product 5 stars.

I am very happy with the seat cover and don’t plan on removing it any time soon.

Want a chance to win a VersaVia rear car seat cover for yourself? Enter below!
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To learn more about VersaVia, check out their Facebook page.

Heather C. works as the Social Media Editor for Mumbling Mommy. She uses the lessons her kids teach her to take each day at a time and embrace the twists life throws at her. In her spare time, she is a runner, yogi, reader, and freelance writer. Heather specializes in parenting girls, all things twins, and keeping her family happy.

First time here? Like Mumbling Mommy on Facebook to continue the conversation.

While you are here, you might also enjoy these posts:

The Airline Lost My Car Seat - A Look at What Happened Next

Winter Car Seat Safety: Take Off That Bulky Coat!

Child Safety: Understated and Overstated Dangers

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Family Trip Tuesday: Spring Mill State Park

View all the posts in our Family Trip Tuesday series at this link.

By Rachael

Every summer for several years now, my family has converged on Turkey Run State Park in western Indiana to have a reunion. Some of us camp and some stay in the park’s inn. While Turkey Run is a great place, with unique hiking trails along a creek bed and access to canoeing and kayaking nearby, our family decided to go somewhere new this year. We stayed in Indiana but ended up a little farther south at Spring Mill State Park.

We soon discovered Spring Mill has more to do than perhaps any other state park in the region, and it’s so good we may return another summer. The big draws for us were Spring Mill’s working pioneer village and its cave tours via boat, but there are plenty of other things to do.

What to Do:

We visited the pioneer village during our first full day at the park, and we returned on two separate days. The centerpiece is a three-story working grist mill built in 1817, and cornmeal ground on site is available for purchase. The mill runs for only a minute or two every hour on the hour on days when the miller is there. It’s worth going to the mill two times: once to view its operation inside the building where the miller talks about how everything works, and the second time outside where your kids will enjoy getting splashed near the large wooden wheel.

The village, founded in 1814, is home to 20 buildings, including a leather shop, weaver, blacksmith, tavern and inn (my daughters’ favorite), distillery, apothecary, school, meeting house, and the homes of several former residents. You’ll find costumed interpreters around the village, and we saw both the blacksmith and the leather worker in action. There’s a large garden with plants and herbs of the era, and a brief walk along a trail offers a view of a cave and the source of the spring that feeds the stream that powers the mill. Each day we visited was a little different, with different interpreters and demonstrations.

Our 3- and 7-year-old daughters enjoyed browsing in the village mercantile, where they tried on sunbonnets and viewed merchandise made by hand in the village like corn husk dolls, woven rugs, ceramic ware, leather work, and garden decor. We purchased some old fashioned candy drops, a small bookmark that looked like a doll and was made of fabric scraps, and a pioneer game involving a hoop and sticks called Game of Graces that was great fun back at our campsite. (A word of warning: Don’t play the game near trees where the hoop can get stuck.) 

The cave tour was another highlight of our time at Spring Mill. For $3 per person, we rode a narrow boat with a park guide through part of Twin Caves. The tour lasts approximately 20 minutes and features many classic cave formations like stalactites, and we saw a crayfish sitting on a rock. Sometimes visitors catch a glimpse of fish in the cave, but the water was too muddy due to recent heavy rains during our visit. Children must be at least 3 years old to go on the tour.  

We spent part of one morning exploring the Grissom Memorial, dedicated to local astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom, America’s second man in space. Exhibits include Grissom's space suit and the Gemini 3 Molly Brown spacecraft. The museum is not large, but several interactive exhibits kept my daughters occupied, and we spent a longer time there than I anticipated. Admission is free.

We can’t visit any state park without dropping in to the nature center, and Spring Mill’s two-story nature center is a nice place to hang out especially if you need to get out of the rain. There are a few live native snakes and turtles to view, along with craft tables with multiple projects for all ages. The lower level has an elaborate puppet theatre where kids can play. Turkey Run State Park still has the best bird- and wildlife-viewing area in its nature center, though.

Spring Mill also has numerous hiking trails ranging from easy to rugged, and our family barely touched on these during our few days at the park. My husband and oldest daughter hiked to the mouth of Donaldson Cave one morning, and another day my husband hiked around Spring Mill Lake near the nature center. An old cemetery with graves that are as old as 200 years is another interesting place to walk around.

Where to Stay:

Spring Mill State Park has a large campground and a quaint inn. My husband, daughters, and I camped, as did my brother and his preschool-aged son. The campground has a nice mix of shady and sunny sites, and some sites back up to a thin brush line bordered by a creek. Campground amenities include bathhouses with showers, two playgrounds, a large outdoor pool (with a fee of $3 per person, with younger children free), and a camp store that sells supplies and trinkets. Campsites with electricity run around $23 a night.

It had been extremely rainy the week before our visit, so the full-shade campsites were slightly muddy and were so saturated they couldn’t absorb brief rainstorms without puddling. On our first evening there, it rained heavily for about 20 minutes and we were surprised at how badly our shady site flooded during that time. Pools of water formed around our tent and fire pit, and we knew we couldn’t stay there. We opted to move to a more open, less waterlogged part of the campground that had grass rather than packed dirt/mud and still offered some shade trees, and we had no more problems with standing water. The park employee at the campground gate was helpful and had no problem with us changing sites. It helped that we had our pick of much of the campground because so many people had cancelled reservations because of the rain.

Meanwhile, my parents and sister stayed in the Spring Mill Inn. The inn’s lobby has a rustic feel with lodge-type furniture, a large fireplace, and wooded views. Guest rooms run around $91 to $110 dollars a night and look a little more basic than something you’d find at the Holiday Inn, but they’re clean and functional and I’d be content staying there. Be advised: WiFi is unreliable all over the park, including at the inn, where my dad tried to do some work in the lobby and watched his connection continually come and go.

We enjoyed swimming with my mom and sister in the inn's unique pool. Half of the pool is indoors and half is outdoors, and guests swim under a wall to access both parts of the pool. One day, we found a toad stuck inside the indoor pool room. We guessed it hopped in through the sliding glass doors that access the outdoor pool area. I handed the toad to my 7-year-old daughter who gladly escorted him back outside. Just off the pool room is a large game room with plenty of comfortable seating, arcade games, ping pong, air hockey, crafts, puppets, and other activities for kids.

Where to eat:

Whether you stay in the inn or at the campground, be sure to eat at the inn’s picturesque Millstone Dining Room that's open to all park guests. The restaurant serves breakfast and features daily lunch and dinner buffets. We enjoyed dinner there on our first evening after setting up our campsite (and before it rained and our first site flooded). The buffet included a full salad bar, ham, ribs, fried chicken, fried fish, mashed potatoes and gravy, bean soup, cornbread made from cornmeal produced at the local mill, and more. The dessert table had cobblers, brownies, Reese’s Pieces cookies, granny cake, and half a dozen different pies including old-fashioned classics like sugar cream pie. The cost was around $13 per adult.

Our family stayed at Spring Mill State Park for five nights, and we felt like we had not run out of things to do. There were miles of trails and an old cemetery yet to explore, and the pools, pioneer village, and campground playgrounds were still keeping our daughters entertained. We easily could have spent a few more days there. That’s the mark of a good park.

What are your favorite state parks? 

Rachael is the managing editor for Mumbling Mommy. She is a former newspaper editor and a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University. When she’s not busy with her husband and two daughters, you’ll find her gardening, cooking, singing with ladies from church, or reading Charlotte Bronte novels. You can contact her by e-mailing Rachael@mumblingmommy.com.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Adjusting Expectations as a Special Needs Parent

photo by Michelle Evans photography
By Sarah --

There it sits in my son’s room: a special chair. Not a wheelchair exactly, but one that will hold his hypotonic (low muscle tone) body in place as we go for a stroll or work on feeding. I’ve been waiting for its arrival, as I know Walt likes to be in a seated position but with his weak core muscles and poor neck and head control, it’s hard to keep him upright. 

When the technician came to measure Walt for his chair, I remember being delighted that it looked so much like a regular stroller. It looks different now as it sits in his room, much more like a “special needs” chair – I don’t even know what the correct terminology for this is; it’s all still very new to me. 

I was and still am afraid for my son to be seen as “different,” and pushing him around in this special chair will show everyone we meet that my son is “different” and has “special needs.” I’m always nervous to talk to others when they ask about him, never sure how much to share. I don’t want to scare or overwhelm them, but I also feel that I should not hide or downplay Walt’s medical and developmental issues. I worry about what things will be like as he grows older, and if other kids will make fun of him.  I take some comfort in his three protective sisters’ unconditional and enthusiastic love for him, and I hope that it will create a bit of a protective bubble for our son.  

I think back wryly on some of the thoughts I had during Walt’s NICU stay, as we were discovering all of his health issues. I remember trying to research his chromosomal abnormality and feeling terrified of what I was finding. Though I have still found no one with his exact abnormality (3p26.1 duplication), I’d found some information on abnormalities on chromosome three, and I thought to myself, “At least he doesn’t have seizures. Please don’t let him have seizures.” 

As he displayed no interest in sucking and doctors began telling us to think about a g-button feeding tube, I was strongly opposed. “No feeding tube. Please don’t let him have a feeding tube.” As tests were done on all of his organs and systems, I sometimes felt outright denial: “There’s no way there is anything wrong with his heart.” “Of course his brain is just fine. Why are they doing all these tests?” Even when he went to the NICU, after months of testing while Walt was still in utero, I felt that everything would be fine. I thought that he was just going to the NICU because he needed some extra oxygen. 

I spent Christmas Eve (our third attempt to take our baby home, and the closest we’d gotten yet) at home alone, catatonic with grief and fear, anxiety, sadness, uncertainty, as he had one apneic seizure after another. During these seizures, he would stop breathing and become still and gray, and the medical staff would have to do a “bagging” procedure to force some oxygen into him. I would just stand by and watch, as his heart rate dropped. 

Walt spending Christmas day hooked up to a 48-hour EEG to monitor seizure activity.
I’d just considered myself lucky mere hours before the seizures started, thinking “at least he is alive. At least we haven’t lost our baby.” I felt certain that he was going to die that day, as his seizures grew longer and longer, and I could not bear to be there to watch them anymore, yet I truly felt I needed to get there to hold him one more time and say goodbye. I’m so grateful to the amazing NICU nurses and doctors who finally sent my exhausted husband home and to my wonderful husband who managed to get a somewhat normal Christmas together for our girls, who had been so excited about their brother coming home.

One by one as nearly every single worry and fear I had about my son became real, I started to lower my expectations. We went in for our third hearing test, and I knew that he would not pass. We had his vision tested, and I knew that he had deficiencies. We met with a cardiologist about his Atrial Septal Defect (hole in his heart), and I was certain that the operation to fix it was in our future. While in the NICU, I’d thought, “At least he doesn’t need a special chair. Please don’t let him need a special chair.” Well, there it sits, looking more like a special chair than a regular stroller. 

Sleepy Walt getting fitted in his new chair.
Although I am nervous about having to answer questions about my son or others wondering about how and why he is “different,” I find myself a little bit happy and maybe even a little excited about it, because I know that my son will love sitting in a much more supported upright position. This chair will help him, and I will continue to learn how to navigate this new “special needs world” and adjust my expectations and accept the changes that will come, as hard as it may be.

Sarah quit her social work job to become a stay-at-home mom when her twin girls were 1, their older sister was 2, and her husband graduated with his doctoral degree and got a full-time job as a professor (aka could not stay home with the kids on his days off of school, and full-time free childcare from wonderful grandparents was not an option!). Now the twins are 4, their big sis is starting kindergarten, they’ve added a baby brother to the mix, and Sarah is getting back into part-time Geriatric Care Management. She loves spending time outdoors and trying her best to do crafty, educational activities with the girls, including reading tons of books with them! If you would like to contact Sarah, e-mail her at mumblingmommy@mumblingmommy.com.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

5 Summer Must-Dos in Missouri

By Rachael

The kids are out of school and it’s time to have some fun. Fellow blogger and Indiana resident Lori recently shared 5 Summer Must-Dos in Indiana, highlighting attractions like Holiday World and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

I moved from Indiana nine years ago to a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Over the years I’ve explored many family-friendly venues in St. Louis, and now that our daughters are getting older and can handle travel better, we are gradually branching out to explore the rest of the state, and we have a few destinations on our bucket list. We don't have unlimited financial resources, so I love traveling close to home in the Midwest because it's easy on our budget, and we can usually get to our destination on a single tank of gasoline. 

I present 5 Summer Must-Dos in Missouri:

1. The Saint Louis Zoo. St. Louis in eastern Missouri boasts a multitude of fun attractions ranging from the Missouri Botanical Garden to the City Museum to Busch Stadium, and of course the Gateway Arch. The Saint Louis Zoo with its variety of animals and garden-like setting remains one of my favorite family-friendly destinations. Admission is always free, with a $15 fee for parking. The zoo allows visitors to bring food, so our family always packs lunches and eats at one of many picnic spots on the grounds. A few attractions in the zoo have small fees, such as the Children’s Zoo, stingrays, carousel, sea lion show, and train. However, the Children’s Zoo, stingrays, and carousel are free during the first hour the zoo is open each day, so it pays to arrive early. Even if you don’t do the extras that cost, there is plenty to see and do at the zoo to last most of the day. The zoo is part of Forest Park, which is also home to the St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis Art Museum, and St. Louis History Museum (all of which have free admission). 

The sea lion show at the Saint Louis Zoo.
2. Branson, Missouri. This area in southwestern Missouri is on our family’s agenda to visit someday. Branson is home to many live shows and musical performances. There’s also Silver Dollar City, an 1880’s-themed amusement park. Branson also features niche attractions like a Titanic museum and the World’s Largest Toy Museum. Table Rock State Park is nearby for those who like to camp and boat, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum where Laura lived as an adult is an easy day trip from Branson, for those who are fans.

3. Hannibal, Missouri. This town in northeast Missouri was the home of famous writer Mark Twain, who penned The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huck Finn. Our family is waiting to officially visit Hannibal until our daughters are a little older and can better appreciate Tom and Huck. We did pass through Hannibal recently and noted some fun, kitschy Twain references, like Injun Joe Campground. The main attractions in Hannibal are the Mark Twain Boyhood Museum and related properties like the Becky Thatcher House and the Huckleberry Finn House. Visitors can also cruise the Mississippi River on the Mark Twain Riverboat and tour the Mark Twain Cave Complex

4. Lake of the Ozarks. The lake is the big attraction here in central Missouri, with opportunities for fishing and boating (either with your own boat or a rental). Nearby attractions include Timber Falls Water Park, Bridal Cave, shopping, and several wineries and golf courses. The area also features Lake of the Ozarks State Park, which offers tours of Ozark Caverns, including a shorter tour for children. Ha Ha Tonka State Park is also nearby and is home to the ruins of a 1900s-era castle.

5. Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Kansas City. The 33rd president of the United States was a Missouri native, and this museum in western Missouri highlights key aspects of Truman's presidency as well as illuminating his personal life. Reviewers on Tripadvisor describe the museum as kid-friendly and interactive. 

Feeding trout at the hatchery at Bennett Spring State Park.
I could go on to list places like Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, sometimes called Mother's Nature's water park. Last summer, our family camped at Bennett Spring State Park known for its trout fishing, and we sampled the local fish caught by some friends. We also recently visited the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline, Missouri, and we have season passes this year to Six Flags St. Louis. Our state has many great attractions, and we're looking forward to revisiting our favorites and visiting new ones in the coming years.

What are your favorite places to visit in Missouri? 

Rachael is the managing editor for Mumbling Mommy. She is a former newspaper editor and a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University. When she’s not busy with her husband and two daughters, you’ll find her gardening, cooking, singing with ladies from church, or reading Charlotte Bronte novels. You can contact her by e-mailing Rachael@mumblingmommy.com.

First time here? Like Mumbling Mommy on Facebook to continue the conversation!   

While you're here, you may enjoy these other posts: 

Why Boring (and Cheap) Family Vacations Are Okay 

How to Survive Tent Camping With Toddlers 

Lessons Learned on Our First Family Vacation

Camping is Good for the Soul, Even if I Don't Always Like It

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Why I Love Early Childhood Intervention

My son Max has “hidden” special needs. He shows moderate delays in speech, has ADHD and has issues functioning socially. He’s very much a typical four-year-old boy, and a lot of people wouldn’t notice his delays upon initially meeting him unless they try to hold a conversation with him (and notice he struggles) or witness his obsessive compulsive behaviors, such as opening and closing doors or turning lights on and off repeatedly.

My Max!
As a result of his speech and other developmental delays, Max is in a class that addresses other students his age with similar delays. I’m very, very thankful for the ways early intervention has helped my child and love that he is a part of this wonderful classroom of bright students and loving teachers. A concern some therapists and parents have of students in this class is that the students don’t have any real “peer” role models for appropriate behavior and speech since all children are behind. So while they have an excellent teacher-to-student ratio, are they still going to be behind socially?

Despite the fact that I’d say Max's delay gap is decreasing and hopefully will be nearly non-existent in just a few more years, I still worry. I worry about other kids being mean to him (and mean to other students with delays or disabilities). I worry about him struggling in school. I worry about him forging strong friendships. I know how cruel kids can be, so I also worry about him getting teased as he gets older. I worry about him being misunderstood. We’ve already seen it happen – just a few weeks ago we were playing and he asked a child of about seven years of age what her name was about four times and she sighed dramatically and said, “You’ve already asked me that a million times! Can’t you say anything else?”

The other day, I picked Max up from school. His teacher came over to greet me as usual, full of smiles and sharing with me kinds words about Max’s day as I smiled and took my sweet boy’s hand. Today she has more to tell me besides the fact that they talked about the three little pigs and went outside for recess.

“I wanted to tell you that Max does a really good job including other kids.”

She paused. I was curious where she was going this.

“We have a friend in a wheelchair in our class. Every time we get into circle time, he calls her by name and helps move her into the circle with the rest of the children.”

I stood there, feeling the tears welling up behind my over-sized sunglasses. I smiled and thanked her and helped Max get into the car and buckled in for the short drive home.

As I rounded the car and stepped up into the drivers seat, those tears rolled over and down my cheeks.

“Max,” I said. “Do you have a friend in class named Harlow?”

“Yes,” he answered and began rattling off a list of all of his classmate’s names.

I stopped him short. “Well Mrs. Marshall said you always make sure to include her and pull her wheelchair up during class. That is so nice of you, Max!”

“Thank you, mama,” he said.

“I’m so proud of you, buddy,” I told him.

My three-year-old daughter was in the car and echoed what Max had done. She said, “I want to be good and nice, like Max was to his friend.”

Moments like these are what being a mom is all about. From the moment your little one makes his way screaming into the crazy world, you want nothing but the best for him. I often think of the quote, “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Like any mother, I want my kids to have amazing lives. I want them to make the right decisions but know that it’s okay to fail as long as they learn from their mistakes. I want them to work hard to be successful but also know that success has a lot of definitions and countless paths that will get them to that point.

Max having fun at his birthday
party last fall. 
One other thing I have always hoped for my kids was that they would choose to always be accepting of and kind to others. We were all kids once. We know how cruel children can be to one another. I pray that my kids won’t shy away from – or even worse, make fun of -- those who are a little different. Instead I hope that they choose to reach out to others and befriend them and embrace our differences as a beautiful thing. I encourage all parents to take some time to teach your child about peers with special needs.

Max’s kind act, while small in the grand scheme of things, is one thing a little boy his age can do to show love and kindness. No act of kindness is too small and none is more important than another. At home and in our daily lives, we work hard to encourage our kids to not stare at those who are not the exact same as them. We encourage them to speak to other children and introduce themselves. We explain why it’s important to share, and we hope they listen when placed in situations where sharing is appropriate. 

It is wonderful to hear that Max is acting on what he has learned. I don’t think his class with other students who are developmentally delayed is a hindrance to him even in the slightest; I think just the opposite. He’s going to be more accepting of all different types of people because he has been around students with all levels of disabilities since he turned three years old. He is so fortunate.

I think the beauty of most young children is that they are born without the ability or knowledge of how to judge others. While I would love to take credit for why Max acts the way he does (when he's being good anyway!), I know that many of his actions aren't something that we've guided him to do. He may have seen us act in a kind way to someone, but deep down, I know how he acts reflects who he really is - a wild and crazy, rough and tough, hyper and energetic, loving and caring little boy who I get to call mine. 

Lori is a work-at-home mom living in Noblesville, a suburb of Indianapolis. She is mom to two children ages 4 and 3 and enjoys watching them grow. Lori also enjoys taking walks, shopping, spending time with her husband, reading, decorating, photography, and traveling. Leave her a comment below or email her at mumblingmommy@mumblingmommy.com

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