Saturday, September 17, 2011

There are Height Requirements for Roller Coasters

So, we went to Williamsburg last weekend.  Bill went because he was in a triathlon on Sunday morning and the kids and I went because the deal included spending Saturday at Busch Gardens (large, coiffed amusement park:

Let me just clarify here that I am not an opportunist …exclusively.  In other words, I did, in fact, adopt Ruslan and Will because I plan to love them and provide a better life for them.  It is NOT MY FAULT that America has decided to shower us with a few perks along the way (like handicapped parking) and you must agree it would be absurd to miss out on such obvious blessings.  Right?

Therefore, we deliberately planned to take the kids to Busch Gardens as soon as reasonably possible because they have a killer handicapped policy.  Get your hands on a purple "H" bracelet and you can walk right up to any ride through a side door and onto a seat just waiting for you and your friends.  A whole day at an amusement park without waiting in ANY LINES?  Who can resist?

My time had come.  We were lucky enough to have TWO handicapped kids with us and each child was good for four companions per ride.  I was so convinced we’d hit the Amusement Park Jackpot, I tried to talk Bill into hanging a “HANDICAPPED CHILD FOR RENT”  sign on the back of Ruslan’s wheelchair (we’re capitalists).  What I sort of forgot was that there are height restrictions.  My boys weren’t tall enough for the roller coasters.   In fact, every ride that was worth the price of Dramamine was only for people over 45 inches.

We had to switch out while one of us stayed behind with the little kids.  Ruslan clued in eventually and whenever we found a shady spot he would say, "time for another throw up ride mom?"  On the plus side, my older kids got to ride the roller coasters twice (once with me, once with Bill) and it really wasn’t crowded at all.  I don’t think we waited more than ten minutes for any one ride even without the handicapped bracelets (HINT:  Always, ALWAYS wait until after Labor Day to hit the parks because this is when the seasons passes end). 

As my luck would have it, every ride Ruslan and Will qualified for either involved massive amounts of water (the Log Run, the River Cruise, the Roman Rapids) or some sort of Sesame Street character (Elmo’s Castle, Oscar’s Whirly Worms—I am not making this up) or both.   Of course, the only rides we could do altogether as a family were the water rides.  We spent the day soaking wet.   I ditched my plans for that wheelchair sign and I’m now thinking I might make more money with a push cart, selling dry underwear. 

The highlight of the trip was watching the kids interact with Will.  When he first came, he learned two words right away; “car” and “green.”  He said these words all through December, January and February.  Then one day in March, I bumped into him in the kitchen.  I looked down at him and said (rhetorically), “where did you come from?”  and he said, “I was adopted, from Ukraine.”  After I picked myself up off the floor, I tried to get him talking some more but nothing else came out.  We were back to “green” and “car.”  Anyway, all that is to say, Will’s speech seems to come in spurts.  Every once in a while, he just comes out with full sentences, proper grammar and a healthy vocabulary. 

At the amusement park, the kids started calling him “Speckled Bob,” because he loves a song called “Speckled Frogs.”   At one point he turned to Reilly and said, “Hey Reilly, they call me Speckled Bob.  It’s hilarious!”  Well, what do you do with that?  If you’re my kids, you exploit it.  They spent the rest of the weekend trying to get Will to say things on command.  The most popular was, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” with a nice wave of the hand.

Bill’s race was Sunday morning.  He exceeded his expectations and did so well that he was on cloud nine for about five hours after the race—until he viewed the overall results and realized that everyone else exceeded his expectations as well.  He only came in something like 34 out of 600 racers and was not part of the top three in his age group.  This means he didn’t get the celebratory mug/wineglass that we so desperately need and had to settle for the complimentary T-shirt/racers tote.  Pitiful.  How can I be expected to manage with such a provider?  He spent the next five hours shaking his head in silence.  As you might guess, I’m mortified to be married to someone so slow.  I told him he’d better shape up or I’m going to start wearing a paper bag over my head.  My only consolation: now that we realize what pitiful shape he’s in, we can take him to Busch Gardens, get him a handicapped bracelet and ride on something better than the Log Run without waiting in line. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sweet William

Vitals:  School has started, so I have more time to "blog," (not sure if that's officially a verb yet) about Will, who is coming along nicely and Ruslan, who is not.

Details:  My husband and I married when I was 25.  After after a slew of obstetrical tests, drugs and surgery, we finally had our first child when I was 31.  My obstetrician told me that I had a chance for one more baby if I had one right away, but after that I’d need another surgery to have more children.  So, we had a second child eighteen months later and (surprise) God threw in a third one eighteen months after that.  Despite being up to my neck in babies, we really thought about more kids but by this time I was 35 and we knew our chances of having a special needs child were increasing with each year.  We weren’t crazy about the idea of raising a special needs child. So, we quit trying. 

If anything good came from all those years of waiting, it was our realization that, as hard as it was as an adult to face each day with empty arms, it would be a hundred times harder as a CHILD to face each day alone, without a parent to greet me in the morning or tuck me into bed each night, knowing that there is not one person in all the world who truly loved me.  So, five months after our third child was born, we started paperwork on our first adoption.  Before the homestudy, we had to work through a list of about 75 different disabilities and check the ones we were willing to handle.   We told the adoption agency we would take anything except children who were mentally challenged or emotionally disturbed.  We thought, with three babies in the house, that we just couldn’t handle those limitations.  Two adoptions later, with five children (four still at home) those were still our criteria.  That’s why it’s so very ironic that we ended up with Will, who is mentally challenged and Ruslan, who is emotionally disturbed. 

I’ve already hinted at the extent to which Ruslan is driving us all ….away.  I’ll get around to writing it all out one of these days.  I suppose I keep putting it off because it’s so much easier to write about issues that are behind us;  i.e. “We had this problem but it’s solved now! See?”   But, to write about a problem that is ongoing is just much more emotionally taxing. 

Therefore, we’ll ignore Ruslan for now and focus on Will because Will, as it turns out, is just really nice to have around.  Bill and I are constantly surprised by how charming Will can be and commenting at what morons we were to think that we wouldn’t enjoy raising a mentally challenged child.  Will is adorable.  He is the child that you IMAGINE would come out of extreme poverty.  He is happy, he is grateful for everything that is put before him and he is loving. 

Will comes downstairs every morning with a smile on his face and he smiles all day long.   Even experiences that would normally be bad for most kids are wonderful for Will.  He’s been asking me lately, “Mom, can we go to the hospital?  Can I have surgery?”  A few days before school started, we took the kids to an open house so they could meet their teachers.  Most of my children were wallowing in sorrow but not Will.  Just as we were walking in the front door of the school Will started talking.  It took a minute for us to figure out that he was saying, “I’m …so …happy!,”  a sentence he kept repeating all evening until we left.  His summer school teacher told me that she noticed he was standing really still one day during free time.  She walked over to ask him if he was OK and he said, “Shhhh.  Music.”  He was standing next to her CD player, listening. 

­­­Will has the habit of answering, “yes” to every question that we ask him.  You know how two year-olds go through the, “no” phase?  Well, Will is stuck in the, “yes” phase.  If I ask him in the morning if he would like to wear his red shirt he’ll say, “yes” and very carefully nod, “yes.”   If, just out of curiosity, I then ask if he would like to wear his blue shirt, he’ll answer, “yes” again and nod with equal joy and conviction.  You might think this makes it hard to narrow down what to wear, but the truth is that he will be genuinely happy with either shirt.  The only time he will answer, “no” is if I hold up a shirt that he knows Ruslan would like to wear.  Then he’ll say, “no, that for Ruslan.”  How cute is that?

He reminds me of the queen in Perelandra ( .  Since she lives in a sort of Eden, the earthling trying to teach her about evil has no reference point.  The best he can do is to say something like, “Well, suppose you want a banana, but you walk into the forest and all you can find is pears?“  The queen is shocked by the question and essentially answers, “why would I be dissatisfied with a delicious pear?”  That is Will.  He is happy with everything. 

Will is the last child left who will scream, “DADDY’S HOME!” and run to the door when he hears Bill in the driveway (the older kids are too cool).  The other night we went on a date and Will sat by the window and watched us drive away.  He was asleep when we came back so the next morning when I came downstairs, two kids were in the living room reading, and Will was back at the window seat, waiting for us to come up the driveway.   

We have a bunch of photos of Will with our friend Gabriel.  Will loves to look at pictures of them together.  The other morning he came up to me and said, “Mom, can you show me the pictures of Gabe holding me?  Can Gabe come to visit?  Because I miss him. Because he is nice.  Because I love him.”

So, now that he’s not starving, half blind, bewildered, lost in a sea of English and is wearing proper braces, most of the problems we had with him in the beginning are over.  He’s able to sit quietly and play and concentrate.  He gives us eye contact.  He loves kisses and hugs and stories.  He can share nicely.  He eats all his meals without complaining.  He’s potty trained and he gets along great with our other kids.  He’s really become quite popular.  Reilly and her girl friends ask him for hugs so frequently that he’s finally started to rebel (second instance of the word, “no”) and say, “NO HUGGIN!”

There are problems.  He still has the water obsession.  He still eats like a starving child, shoveling food into his mouth like he’ll never get enough and making a huge mess at most meals. He gets frustrated easily, which makes him cry.   Also, since he’s so goofy looking, I have realized that the people giving me that slightly condemning, knowing, look are probably familiar with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and have connected all the dots at their disposal.  It’s not always easy to absorb.  Nor is the realization that there are serious limits to his grey matter.  He had learned enough letters to qualify as “age appropriate” when he started summer school in July, but he made no progress.  Now, he is in special classes with Ruslan. …Sadly, it’s just not there.

And so, I worry about his future.  What sort of jobs are available for charming, handsome kids with the IQ of a tulip?  I know, we thought about Hollywood, but I’m just not comfortable with the work load.  Therefore, we’re still encouraging him to say,  “hello and welcome to Wal-mart,” as much as possible.  It’s the best training I can think of to ensure that he has the necessary job skills for his adult life.