Childrens' Book Review: Sylvia Rose and the Cherry Tree

We've had the honor of being sent a number of children's books for review lately, and I've gotten a bit behind in sharing them. So I will be trying to get caught up with these in the coming days. 

First up: Sylvia Rose and the Cherry Tree, by Sandy Shapiro Hurt. 

This is a sweet little story about a little girl who befriends a cherry tree and wants to show it the world.

The story is told in rhyme, and the illustrations are really colorful and whimsical. The tree comes to life with the little girl and her dancing.

It's got a great little lesson about how wonderful it is to see the world, but also how important it is to appreciate the value of home.

The tree literally and figuratively misses having its roots running deep in its home soil. 

"I shall never again take my place here for granted. Now, what do you say that we get me replanted?"

 

IMG_3981.JPG

I am a tree

I am a tree. Whatlisacooks.com

I am a tree.

I inhale.

I exhale.

I am a tree.

I stand.

I fall.

I spread.

I reach.

I wilt.

I rise.

I am a tree.

I blossom.

I survive. 

I thrive.

I branch out.

I am a tree.

I protect.

I shelter.

I sacrifice. 

I am a tree.

I provide. 

I shade.

I nurture.

I feed.

I give.

I am a tree.

I am weak.

I am strong.

I am young.

I am old.

I am a tree.

I am steady.

I am flexible.

I am fragile.

I am a tree.

I am hard.

I am soft.

I am invincible.

I am a tree.

I am small.

I am large.

I am insignificant.

I am everything.

I am a tree.

I drink.

I bleed.

I bend.

I break.

I heal.

I grow.

I am a tree.

Stop. Breathe. Be Thankful.

A Monday morning, like so many others.  

We were woken by two children in the night. One whose whispers were so soft that I don't think we really ever knew what the problem was, she was just invited in the bed so we could hopefully get some sleep.

At one point I was aware of my husband crawling around on the floor, searching with his cellphone flashlight for a dropped bunny. The item was found, the child comforted, sleep was attempted again.

Some while later another child, this one complaining of a bad dream, something about walls crashing in on him. He asked if he could read for a few minutes, I agreed, "five minutes only, then the light goes off". Books had to be searched for in the dark living room, and just the right one chosen. I reminded again, five minutes only.  

I had set my alarm for 15 minutes earlier than usual. I wanted 15 extra minutes with my coffee and the morning silence before I switched into school day morning mode. I got up to the sound of pouring rain out my open window, and spotted a light under a door. He was awake. He eventually confessed that hadn't ever turned it off, and had been awake the three hours since he was given that five minutes. I turned off the light and begged him to close his eyes for just a little longer. 

I did get my coffee and the quiet of the living room for a few minutes. But it wasn't the same. I wasn't alone, because I knew he was awake and waiting for me. My morning solitude that I'd given up precious sleep for was taken from me, and I was irritated.  

Other things that seem to only happen on a Monday followed...

A child came up crying because her alarm hadn't gone off, I sent her back to get dressed.

She came back a few minutes later wearing only underwear, because the exact pair of purple leggings she needed weren't in her drawer.

Another child had to be sent back and reminded to put on clean underwear.

Another one tried to pretend to still be asleep.

One undid the braids I had so carefully done yesterday with the intention of them lasting for a couple of days.

One spilled milk all over the table.

They all have to be reminded (or begged) over and over again to please just be quiet and eat so we won't be late.

Lunches are dropped while being packed up.

Realizations that homework was not done.

The perfect pair of shoes can't be found...

It goes on. 

And then, as we are already late, and the voice is getting louder and louder ("PUT ON YOUR SHOES!"), somebody says, "mom, you gotta come see this rainbow". I decline. "Come ON you guys. We are LATE!"

My husband pokes his head back in the door, "no, this one you really should see."

_MG_0353.jpg

There it was. Time stopped. I looked at it and took a deep breath. I don't think I had even noticed that it had stopped raining. 

Children are noticers.

We tend to grow out of that instinct. Or at least we grow into an instinct that is trying to be so busy that we shove the noticing to the back. But if somebody reminds me to pause, to look around, to breathe, sometimes I can find it again. 

Stop. Breathe. Be thankful for this day.  

I helped zip backpacks. I refilled my coffee. I put the milk away and petted the cat. I laced up my walking shoes. I realized that it really doesn't matter if we get there a minute or two after the bell rings.  

Stop. Breathe. Be thankful for this day.  

I got in the car and asked them if they'd like me to drop off or walk them in.  

Stop. Breathe. Be thankful for this day.  

I repeated this to myself over and over again on my walk. 

Stop. Breathe. Be thankful for this day. 

It gets easier?

As a parent of twins, people gravitate to you. Especially parents of younger twins. They want to ask questions, to be reassured. Especially the ones with the really young babies, deep in the sleep deprived world of that first year.  

They look at you with that very sleep deprived sort of desperation that only twin parents know. “It gets easier, right?”

What do I tell them? The truth?

Sure. It gets easier, in some ways.

And in some ways it gets harder.

_MG_0610.jpg

Their needs become fewer, you are not constantly making sure they are breathing, and regulating their temperature, and getting enough calories. No more worrying about how many minutes of tummy time, or whether you breastfed enough, or the guilt over the c-section and the formula. No more checking the monitor at all hours, wondering if you should turn them back to their tummy when they’ve rolled over, no more counting milestones.

It gets easier. Their needs are fewer. 

 
January 7: getting dressed in front of the heater
 

But there are new needs. They aren’t so obvious. They aren’t so much about keeping them clothed and clean and fed. Fewer needs, but bigger needs.

The needs become about their mental health, their emotions, their education, their social adjustment. Fewer. But so much bigger. So much harder to solve.

With a baby, when he cries, he's either communicating discomfort - he's hungry, or cold, or wet, or he doesn't feel well - or he's tired. All of these things usually have straightforward solutions.

_MG_3387.jpg

But with an older child, or tween, or teen, their problems are so much hard to unravel and diagnose and solve. The challenges are so much bigger. But so are the triumphs and achievements. They give back, they communicate, they affirm that you're doing it right. 

I think most of us delude ourselves that if we can just live through the sleepless baby stage, then we've made it, we're home free. And so that's why some of the other stages can come as such a shock. Everybody talks about babies, there is so much advice out there about sleep and feeding and such. But with each year of age, comes less advice. You are more on your own to navigate and figure it out. 

Parenting is a challenge, a learning curve, and a reward. 

Good sister

Oh the hard days. We all have them. 

My 10 year old daughter gives me her share of challenges lately. We're definitely in the beginnings of that tween phase, where we get a lot of new teenage behavior, plus the more childish behaviors are still there. It's like the best (worst?) of both worlds. 

There are days when I just don't know what to do with her. 

But just when I think I'm doing it all wrong with her, she comes up with things like this.

Her twin brother was having a really hard day. Autism gives you that sometimes. We were having one of those days with just lots of overwhelm and meltdowns.

For some reason he got it in his head that he should be getting mail. He checked the mail box and got very upset that there was nothing for him. So he slammed the box back shut and came in without the mail. From another room his sister apparently heard this. She came out and announced that she was going to get the mail, and I could tell she seemed a little sneaky.

When she came back in with the stack of mail she said, "Danny, there actually IS something in the mail for you". She pretended to thumb through the stack of mail, and then handed him an envelope. 

The envelope contained this: 

IMG_2647.JPG

Simple to-do chart

Charts and lists are what makes our world go round here. Nothing seems to get done if it's not written down.

The kids have their daily checklists, which work great most of the time.

But with autism comes processing challenges. Sometimes when his brain is overwhelmed he has a hard time processing more than one instruction at a time. Just looking at a long list of things to do can cause him toe shut down.

So this is a very simple little tool I use occasionally to help him. Instead of everything on one piece of paper, I write them on individual post-it notes. Then I can give him one note at a time and send him off to do that thing. He brings the note back to me when it's done, and I give him the next one. 

IMG_2602.JPG

Sometimes I Forget

I originally started writing these posts under a separate blog - one I called "Another Normal Day". I gave it that name because our daily life really does seem normal to me.  Most of the time I don't even think about the craziness of it.  It's usually only when other people point it out to me that I realize, yeah, this is kind of a lot.

Raising four kids, two sets of twins, and one with autism, is kind of a lot.

whatlisacooks.com copyright lisa marsh 2018

My son seems normal to me.  I've known him since the beginning of ever. He is the only son I've ever had, so daily life with him is normal.  

And so I forget about the autism.  We just go about our days.  His little quirks and needs are just part of our life. It's the way we've always done. 

It's when we go out that it's put in my face.  Not because he calls attention to himself.  Not because of the reactions of strangers. He's pretty mellow in public places, so strangers really don't notice him.

But I notice.  I notice that he's not like the other 'normal' kids. 

When we see other kids playing on a playground and roughhousing, kicking a soccer ball around, or playing baseball.

When we are at the park, or at a museum, or at school, and everyone else is interested and active, but he sits away from the group, by himself, head down, headphones covering his ears.

When I see how other boys play and interact with each other and the world around them. 

When we go to a friend's house and he is more interested in the toddler's light up toys than the 9 year old boy's legos or swords or other more typical older boy toys. 

That's when I notice that our world is not like theirs.

Don't Push It

I'm not a qualified "expert", I don't have any degrees in child psychology. I studied economics and was a marketing and advertising professional for over 20 years. But now, I am a professional mom. And with four kids, I think I've got a bit of experience and have learned a few things.  

One of the most valuable thugs I think I've learned is this: don't push your kids to make their transitions a milestones before they are ready.  

You can force a transition - potty training, switching to a bed, sleep training, weaning, pacifiers, etc. It will be exhausting and painful and hard, and at times even sad. 

Or you can listen to your children, and let them transition when they are ready. You can guide, demonstrate, gently suggest, and then make the move when they are ready. 

And do you know what happens when you do it that way? It is so easy! It is not sad. It is not hard. It is not painful.  

We try to fit our kids to these arbitrary timelines that experts tell us is best. But every child is different. What is best for one, or even most, might not be best for your individual child.  

I say go right ahead and read the books and articles, listen to your friends and your parenting forums, get your experts and doctors best advice, and use all that to make an educated decision about what is right for your child. Pay attention to what your child is trying to tell you, they're usually right about what they need. 

You have no idea.

www.whatlisacooks.com copyright lisa marsh 2018

People look at my boy, they see him at school, they seem him out and about, and I know what they're thinking.

It's not the same as what people might think about a lot of kids on the spectrum. I read articles and posts about how other mothers have to deal with the meltdown and tantrums in public and people staring. But I get sort of the opposite. My kid is great in public.

They're thinking that they don't see an autistic kid.

They're thinking, he seems fine, he looks fine, he's getting along just fine, so why the big deal? Why does he need extra attention? Why does he need extra help? Why should we be making extra accomodations for him in the classroom? Why should he be allowed extra time to do homework, or have less homework? Why does he need breaks during the day? Why should he be listening to music in his headphones during dinner at a restaurant?

I see it.

People think I'm being overprotective. People think I'm being a "helicopter mom". People think I need to step back and let him work things out just like every other kid. People think he should be treated like every other kid, held to the same standards as every other kid, have the same expectations as every other kid. People think I'm just letting him "get away" with misbehaving. 

But he's not like every other kid. 

When you see a child like him in public, who appears to be doing so great, and acting so "normal", you have no idea the amount of effort it takes to get him there. 

YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

Yes, he's doing well (most of the time). Because of all the accomodations, because of the breaks, because I buy him special pencils, because he has his headphones to wear when it gets loud, because he knows his schedule and he can count on the people that he knows are going to be coming in to help him. All of those things you see that you think he doesn't need because he's doing so well - those things are the reason he is doing so well.

And then there are the things you don't see.... the hours spent in meetings and offices and late at night, by me and his special ed teacher and support staff. The agonizing over exactly which goals we are going to focus on, stressing over whether those precious support minutes will be used to help him in math, or reading, or science. Debating about whether he needs someone there in PE, to make sure that he is appropriately included and participating in games. Discussing how we are going to get him to learn to write better, or whether we should just let him type everything. The late nights spent pouring over every word of the IEP, adding up the minutes, understanding how we can help him. He is doing ok because there are so many of us spending so much time behind the scenes to make sure he has everything he needs in order to have the opportunity to be just as successful as every other kid in the class. 

Yes, he is (finally) sometimes playing on the playground like other kids. Because he has been in physical therapy at least once a week, every week, since he was 9 months old. He didn't just stand up and figure out how to start running and jumping and climbing like all the other kids. He had to be taught how to do all of that. He had to be taught how to climb those steps and that rope ladder. He had to be taught how to go down that slide. He had to be taught how to hold on to that swing. He is playing on the playground like the other kids because of the help he has been getting. But you look at him and think he doesn't need physical help because he's doing fine. 

It's just so exhausting to have to constantly justify to people why he needs support. As if they don't believe that I know what I'm talking about. 

I've been told that I just make a big deal out of all of this because I like the drama. "You're just doing it for the drama!" is what someone I was once close to yelled at me several times one day. I've been told that I was taking advantage of the system by taking special bus service for him. I've been told that he just needs to learn how to control his emotions and behave.  I've been told that he's manipulating me.

I don't complain about parenting him. At least I don't think I do. It can be hard, it can be a lot of work, but it can also be so rewarding. He works so hard, he tries so hard. He inspires me to do better, to try harder, to be better, to deserve him.