Winter Fun with Special Needs Kids

The following post is another installment in our Dash of Dad special needs parenting series by Bob Williams, father of three children including Kyle, a special needs teenager. When he’s not parenting his three kids, you can find him creating sweet treats at the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory in North Carolina.

I grew up in Florida, and growing up in Florida means lots of sunshine and warm weather, even in the dead of winter. All my kids were born in Florida too, and when they were young, we started coming to the mountains of North Carolina for Thanksgiving or Christmas break.

Sounds like a blast for the kids, and it was. However, Kyle was not a cold weather kid. If the boy had it his way, he would be in sunshine, nearly naked, on a boat or in the pool 24/7/365 in 87 degree weather. Kyle loves the water, and he loves the boat; snow and cold weather, not so much.

Winter Fun with Special Needs Kids at The Happy Housewife

So there we were on Christmas break when Kyle was 8 years old, and we were blessed with a snowfall between Christmas and New Years. We packed up the kids and headed to Soco Gap on US 19 and the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) where there is some good snow and sledding on the BRP clover leaf. We got the sleds out and the kids were zipping down the hill having a blast.

Kyle stayed in the warm SUV and we were coaxing him to get his shirt and winter coat on.

We got Kyle dressed and out in the winter air, and I took him down the hill on a long sled with me. He laughed and seemed to enjoy it a bit. So, I gave him a piggy back ride back to the top of the hill where the other kids were sledding. Kyle became determined to strip off his coat and shirt.

We got in an epic battle (you know, the kind where it’s your kid’s will versus your resolve as a parent) to keep his clothes on in the winter air. At some point, our resolve was not greater than Kyle’s, because unlike a normal kid, kids like Kyle have a steely eyed will that sometimes just can’t be broken.

Winter Fun with Special Needs Kids at The Happy Housewife

Sometimes special needs kids just need to learn the hard way, and no amount of reasoning or subfreezing air will matter.

There we were in the cold air, and Kyle’s cousin Glenna was up next on the sled, so we asked her to take Kyle down the hill with her. Now Glenna is Kyle’s age, and in a way her sledding skills were not much better than his.

The set up went like this. Glenna was on the back of the long plastic sled toboggan thing. Kyle was shirtless as Putin on the front part of the sled. There was about a 200 foot run down the slope of snow and ice. It was maybe 30 degrees out with low humidity and not much wind. What possibly could go wrong with this?

We shoved the kids off and down the hill they went. Then Glenna and Kyle hit a small bump in the snow, with the sled speeding along at 13.5 miles per hour, where upon the sled rolled over, ejecting its two riders (one being topless). Kyle was now chest down and racing down the hill for about another 10 feet, more or less body sledding.

We raced down the hill, and he was repeating the words done, done, done, cold, cold, cold. He had a series of nonfocal seizures, and we got him warm in the SUV. He was a little scraped up by the ice but okay otherwise.

We sledded there for maybe two hours more, and during that time, I checked on Kyle and asked him if he wanted to sled. One time he started to have absent nonfocal seizures at the thought of it all. I am not making that up here.

Then right before we were about to leave, I asked again if we wanted to sled. He said, “Yes, yes, yes.” I then said to him, “Okay, if you want to sled, you need to put on a shirt and your warm coat.” He said , “Yes, yes, yes,” in excitement and a new word – warm coat.

There are several morals of this story.

Some special needs kids, unfortunately or fortunately, need to experience hot, cold, pleasure, and pain for them to learn.

There are hazards to this of course. Kyle often learns experientially or by doing, not by simply being told. Sometimes with your special needs kids, it is okay to take some risks, to push them and challenge them.

Shorty before the sledding accident, I was chastised for letting my kid be outside in the cold air without a jacket on. They had no clue as to why he was outside without a jacket, nor did they witness the epic father son battle of the wills which lead to it.

Sometimes we have to let our special needs kids be kids.

They are not as fragile as we think.

Don’t give up on your kids.

I could have just let Kyle sit in the SUV while the rest of the kids where sledding. I knew he had fun when he went down with me, and I knew all he needed was to keep his clothes on and he would enjoy the ride.

Blind kids like Kyle crave vestibular input (motion input), and Kyle is a speed junkie. I encouraged him to get back on that sled, and he did. By doing so, I think I kept that toughness in him going and his determined spirit alive.

Don’t be afraid of being judged.

I took some risks and did some things that others around me, who had no idea about our situation, would never do themselves. If you have a younger special needs child, you can’t be afraid of being judged, watched, or sneered at by others.

Raise your kids, push them to live and enjoy life, and if the risks won’t put your child in serious danger or possibly worse, then take those risks, because life is worth living even for our special needs kids.

We now live in western North Carolina and Kyle knows when the weather cools off that he needs to put on his shirt and warm coat.

He knows when the weather warms up in the spring that he gets to trade his warm coat in for his favorite coat, his boat coat (life jacket). He knows that soon he will get to enjoy high speed rides on the tube behind the boat or a lazy tube ride down a mountain creek.

He no longer fights us while getting dressed to go outside. It all started with a sledding accident eight years ago on Socco Gap where Kyle learned so much in those never ending seconds sliding bare chested down across the packed snow.


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Guardians of the Galaxy: Family Movie Review

Occasionally I receive movies to review on the site. My husband, being a huge movie buff has happily taken on the role as chief movie reviewer for our family.

Here’s what he thought of Guardians of the Galaxy.

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I didn’t think I would like this movie. I’ve never been huge fan of overtly comedic superhero movies. I enjoyed the Captain America movies immensely because Steve Rogers is the kind of man I want to be. The characters in Guardians of The Galaxy  are a rough band of self-described losers who initially come together because of shared greed. I wasn’t expecting much.

This movie surprised me. The action sequences were a lot of fun and the characters were interesting. The comedy wasn’t too juvenile (mostly) and didn’t cheapen the character’s heroics.

The whole group came together to serve a greater good and did, in fact, become the Guardians of the Galaxy.

All this good is leavened with a lot of sexual references, tightly clad female characters, more than a few gratuitous curse words and some excessive drinking of what seemed like alcohol. So, be forewarned.

If you can make it past that list, the story line involves the redemption of a band of criminals and assassins. Peter Quill is the de facto leader of the group. He spent his life with an organized crime group that abducted him from Earth as a child.

Rocket is a self-serving genetically-modified raccoon whose only friend at the beginning of the film is a sentient plant named Groot. Groot is an earnest character who seems to be the only genuinely caring “person” of the bunch.

Gamora is an assassin albeit a reluctant one. Drax the Destroyer is a man overwrought with the murder of his wife and family and is bent on revenge at all costs. These are your heroes. They are a lot rougher than Captain America or even the Avengers.

The storyline involves great danger to the galaxy in the form of a zealot who seeks to kill  or convert all who disagree with his beliefs. The guardians come across a powerful artifact that could be used to destroy an entire planet. Through a deftly woven plot, witty dialog and amazing special effects action sequences, the guardians must choose to either run or do the right thing. They redeem themselves by putting the needs of others over their personal safety and they do it over and over.

This movie is not a bible story and the heroes might was well steal from you as save your life, but there is a good message here –

Fight for what is right and protect those who cannot protect themselves.

That appeals to me as a former military man. I fought alongside some  pretty rough characters and they often rewarded me with salty language, but they always made the right choice and risked their lives for others. The movie is funny, exciting and, at points, moving.

The Guardians of the Galaxy is worth a family movie night if you are willing to talk to your kids about sacrifice and whether you have to be perfect to be hero.

Guardians of the Galaxy is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.


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Getting Gifts for Kids with Special Needs

The following is a guest post from my friend Bobby. If you’ve heard me speak at conferences you might have heard me talk about his extraordinary family. I’ve asked him to share his perspective as a dad raising a special needs child. I’ve learned a lot from Bobby over the years and I hope his stories will inspire, motivate, and encourage others raising special needs children.

About Bob

I am Bobby Williams and I am a dad to 3 kids with 2 of them having medical issues. My middle child, Kyle contracted group b strep during labor and it grew into group b strep meningitis. The infection destroyed his occipital lobe. Kyle has multiple disabilities from cortical blindness to mental retardation and is now 16 years old. This past year his little brother started having seizures as a result of him going through puberty.

Getting gifts for a child with special needs is is one of those small things. When Kyle was an infant it was easy getting him Christmas gifts. It was easy buying a boy who was mostly blind with other disabilities age appropriate toys. Now you might be thinking here, what is the big deal buying gifts for special needs kids?

Men who become dads, especially dads to sons, have this internal drive for their kids to be the best. Competition is part of our DNA and in a way it is part of the woman’s too. I have been around my friends when the mom’s would brag about the percentile their four month old was in and how the pediatrician thinks little Suzy is the smartest four month she has ever seen.

As parents we are programmed to think our kids are the best.

It is part of the job we embrace called parenting and that pride thing we have in our offspring. This is particularly true for dads and as our kids get older that pride seems to take root and grow with them too.

In regards to Christmas and buying gifts for special needs kids, it is easy when our kids are babies because most babies are pretty much the same. As time passes though our special needs kids slower development takes hold and the other normal kids in their age cohort are developing and pass our kids rapidly.

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Still buying toys and gifts for a four year old special need kid means you are likely buying toddler toys. The hard days hit for me when Kyle turned seven or eight years old. My other kids could verbalize a wish list and my youngest still believed in Santa and was excited about Christmas.

Kyle on the other hand still had no clue about time, calendars, birthdays or Christmas. That alone made it a challenge to buy for him and at times as parents we just wanted to give up buying anything for him for Christmas because it didn’t matter to him. As he aged that feeling got stronger and stronger and Cole, my younger son, passed him developmentally in every way.

As a dad I wanted my boys to play with Legos, enjoy model airplanes, RC cars, and every other cool toy so I could play with it Christmas morning. Raising Kyle meant none of those things.

In a way the meningitis robbed me of that part of raising a boy.

Any man worth his salt will take a lot of joy having a boy and doing boy things with him as he grows up. Christmas toys are a big part of that in our culture and having a son who is ten years old who can’t play with cool ten year old boy gifts is a sting that hits especially hard at Christmas.

So there we are sitting on the toddler aisle at Target six years ago and it hit us hard that our ten year old son was still only able to play with toddler toys. I think we just gave up that year and as a dad it was one of those bitter moments of raising a special needs kid and it made Christmas bitter.

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When family and friends wanted to get Kyle a gift we had no answer for them. It was as if we were in Christmas gift purgatory with him and there was no way out, ever.

It was hard, really hard to go through this part of life with him.

If you are a parent, mom or dad, with a severely disabled kid this Christmas or Hanukkah and you are at the age where your son or daughter is still playing with infant or toddler toys but chronologically they are tweens I am here to say you will get through it.

If your nine year old son can only play with a fisher price school bus, as this is one of Kyle’s favorite toys to this day, it is perfectly ok to get him a toddler toy.

The sooner we embrace our kids where they are versus where they would be if they were normal, the happier everyone will be.

This advice is easy for me to write because it is one which I have struggled with in those years. It is a quiet and often lonely struggle parents of special needs kids face. It is a small struggle but during the holidays it is very real and very bitter sweet at times too.

This Christmas season I want to encourage moms and dads everywhere facing this struggle for the first time that you are not alone in this experience.

Others have come before you and if you can embrace your kid’s limitations and find that one thing that lights up their world, then get that for them. They may not know what Christmas is truly about, but they know love and when we dare to express it in the way that reaches them, their hearts will light up. In the end is that not what Christmas is truly about, love that our Heavenly Father sent us?

Embrace your kid, love them this Christmas and don’t get hung up on the type of gift, get hung up on enjoying the season and love your kids where they are today regardless of their abilities.


This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.

Home Safety for the Holidays: Giveaway!

I’ve partnered with Kidde Safety to help create safe homes this holiday season. All opinions are my own. 

As you know I LOVE cooking and baking with my kids. In fact most of our day is spent in the kitchen either doing school work together or cooking and eating together.

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I really want my girls to learn the basics of cooking before they grow up and leave the house. I didn’t do the best job with my oldest (although she is getting better) so I’m working really hard with my younger kids to help teach them kitchen skills.

While teaching them how to cook is important, teaching them kitchen safety is even more important. I’m often reminding them to turn handles to the inside when cooking on the stove top or to use two hands when removing something from the oven.

They also need to know what to do in a cooking emergency. Earlier this year we had a small fire in the bedroom while renovating and Cora knew just what to do. While I was upset about the fire, I was thrilled she did exactly what she was supposed to do in case of an emergency!

It is important to go over safety procedures with your kids because you never know what could happen. In fact several years ago my parents ended up replacing their entire kitchen due to stovetop popcorn maker catching on fire.

Teaching kids how to prevent fires in the kitchen and how to handle them if they happen is a must, and I recommend starting when they are young.

Here are some key safety stats you might not be aware of:

  • Cooking is the number one cause of home fires and injuries.
  • The winter months are the deadliest season for home fires.
  • Most fatal home fires happen in homes with no smoke alarm or no working alarm.
  • Nearly five times as many Americans know the shelf life of a Twinkie than know the recommended operating life of smoke alarm. (source: recent Kidde survey)

It is heartbreaking to think that many fatal fires might have been prevented by a working smoke alarm. It is an inexpensive solution and anyone can install them in their home.
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Did you know that American homeowners rank a smoke alarm’s low battery chirp as their number one home fire safety complaint? I can understand. We’ve had our fair share of batteries die at 3am in our home. It is so annoying! I’ve wanted to rip the smoke alarm out of the ceiling and throw it out the window on those nights.

Kidde’s new Worry-Free smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are powered by sealed-in, 10-year lithium batteries and use one battery for the life of the alarm to provide 24/7 fire safety protection, eliminating the hassles of low battery chirps and battery replacement.

Another kitchen essential is a fire extinguisher. I can’t believe we didn’t have one of these for many years.

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It is important that it is stored in an easy to reach place and that your children know how to use it and when to use it. I have boys so “when to use it” becomes a very important detail in my home!

To help your family stay safe this holiday season here’s a printable recipe card for safety. (Just click and download to print)

Kidde #RecipeforSafety Card

It is important to go over these directions with your family on a regular basis so they are prepared in case of an emergency.

Also, if you are like my family and get a real Christmas tree please read this article on Christmas tree safety. Did you know that every year Christmas trees cause over 200 fires?

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Kidde Safety makes a complete line of home safety products including smoke and carbon monoxide alarms,  fire extinguishers, fire ladders and more. Visit their website for more information and to find out where you can purchase these life saving essentials for your home.

Giveaway!

I have one kitchen fire extinguisher to give away today. To enter please leave a comment. Giveaway is open to US addresses only. Ends December 20, 2014. 


This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.