Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Developmental Norms

Some reflections about language development if that's okay?

A child’s development is marked by different levels of play.   In the very early stages of play a little one will find absolute joy in aimlessly scattering the toys (and food) in front of them only a few months later to become fascinated with putting these items into--or in my children’s cases mostly taking out of--containers.  These progressions continue throughout toddler-hood, eventually culminating into imaginative play which further expands as a child’s language skills develop.  It’s an absolutely fascinating process to watch unfold in children-similar and yet unique in each little body.   Oftentimes my job involves reassuring parents that these seemingly strange types of play are in fact important stages of learning and helping them see the awe in these little milestones.  Sometimes, however, a child can get ‘stuck’ in a developmental stage and a 2 ½ year old will still be quite focused on sorting and lining up toys.  While this was an appropriate skill ten months prior, the child now disregards his or her world around them in order to focus on this type of play.  This calls for intervention and the need to ‘teach’ a child how to play appropriately in an effort to get back on track with their development so that all of the other skills can fall into place as they should. 

Poppy is in the sorting and grouping stage of play.  With the fervency of a worker bee, I watch as she moves and organizes her toys from one pile to another, redirecting briefly to distribute items to family members, then collect them back and reorganize them on the floor.  She will imitate different types of play: feeding her baby dolls as she has seen Ella do and driving tractors along the floor with her brother, but given a bucket of toys to explore on her own, this is how she will spend most of her time playing.

As I watch her, I wonder how my own day to day routines would look through the eyes of an observer.  The repetitiveness of my daily activities.  My sense of urgency about what is in the big sense quite insignificant.  Are there any developmental norms that continue into adult-hood?   If an expert in such things were to observe my daily routines and behaviors, would they reassure me afterwards,  “Oh, this is a completely appropriate behavior at your stage of development.  Over the next several years, you will begin to prioritize what is actually important and develop more patience for the people that you love.”  Or, perhaps they would comment, “Some of the behaviors observed are a little…what we call ‘atypical’, meaning you are showing some skills that are appropriate, but others that we would have anticipated you would have moved past by now.“   I suspect it’s easier to get ‘stuck’ in a developmental stage as an adult, but that's likely because I am an adult and find adulting to be quite difficult at times.

Earlier this year, I began to focus on Scripture memorization.  This has shown to be a real in-your-face way to become aware of cognitive decline.  Not that memorization has ever been a strength of mine, but taking six months to memorize two verses is a bit ridiculous.  I reassure myself with the reminder that this is my children's fault.  But, I keep on and fiiinally, the words chisel in there to stay.  Nestled deep into the sulci of my brain where they can absorb and do their work, the verses rise to my consciousness--my own little Intervention team--helping me get back on track when I become too focused on this world around me and begin to disregard the things of the Spirit.

Within the birth to three population, 'therapy' looks more like play-a not infrequent complaint among parents.
 But, blowing bubbles catches a toddler's visual attention, guiding little eyes to mimic an adult's smile and mouth movements for speech.  And singing 5 Little Monkeys (my jam!) connects the right hemisphere of the brain with the left, helping a child stimulate the neural circuits for speech.  Lots and lots going on under the surface.  Similarly, memorizing a few words many not seem like an important use of very limited time.  But, to know God's purpose for me in everyday circumstances and to hear His word rise up and answer my questions as I ask them has been an invaluable tool.  And that's the best sort of therapy I’ve found.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  Romans 8: 5-6

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Love Thy Neighbor

Brad and Phylis before milking
Perched on a hill alongside their barn on a road named after the family, Chad’s parents, Brad and Phylis sit in the grass before milking time, soaking in the summer shade.  So peaceful, I think, but when I comment so they inform me they're just waiting for the fumes to clear from the fly spray so that the poisonous air doesn't burn their lungs quite so bad.  It's how they've spent every afternoon and morning for the better part of their lives, milking cows together-for better and for worse.  Chad and I dream of such a romantic life, but thus far his parents have staunchly refused our requests to take over the job of milking when they retire, claiming it to be a miserable and grueling existence.   So cynical, these two.  We are determined to win them over someday, but in the meantime are quite content to help ourselves to gallons of delicious fresh milk and buy their bull calves to raise in a few calf hutches put up in our backyard which is just across the road from their farm. 

The family farm is nestled in the rolling hills of northern Boone County, one of the most serene places I’ve seen in my life.  The only downside to living in this beautiful farmland is that other people-namely real estate developers- have also discovered this secret oasis.  Several years ago, long before I came around here, the sunset views to the west became slightly clouded as a subdivision of sprawling McMansions popped up.  And the road directly to the north is now peppered with enviable country homes, a smattering of acne across what was once clear, porcelain skin.  Many neighbors to the north are friends who have farming in their families.  But several of the homes are occupied by suburbanites who were searching for a life in the country but have no understanding- or desire to understand- farm life.   They love the views, but have disdain for the manure smell and lack the patience to wait in their cars as the cows cross the road each afternoon heading from the pasture to the barn for milking.

This summer, we’ve decided to expand from being small-time beef farmers to medium-time and are in the process of having a small barn of our own put up.  We’ve also had an influx of bull calves welcomed into our world.  Our calf hutches are full, Brad and Phylis’s barn is full and having no more room, the latest little calf has had to spend a few days tied to the grain elevator outside of the barn while awaiting a hutch of his own.  He’s a little red and white Holstein whom Aiden has appropriately named ‘Cute’.  The kids have really taken to the little guy and now that they're on summer break from school spend their spare moments feeding and checking on him throughout the day.  Someone else took notice of him, too.  Our neighbor, who lives on the road just to the north of us.   I met this particular neighbor shortly after moving to my new home when he called my cellphone while I was out at an appointment with my children.   


“Hello.  I believe I’ve found your dog.  Your number is listed on the dog’s tag.  Spencer?”

“Yes, that’s my dog…is he okay?”

“Well, he’s here outside at a house”.  He read off the address.

“Oh.  That’s my house.  He’s at home.  We just moved in.”

“Well, it’s way too cold for your dog to be outside.”

I paused.  “Oh.  Well, he let himself outside.  The garage door should be cracked for him and if you like, you can put him inside.”

This time he paused. “Well, it’s way too cold for a dog to be in a garage.  I tried to put him in my car, but he ran away from me.”

“That’s because he’s at home.  He has a heated bed in the garage and a heated water dish in there.  He really should be fine, he actually likes it outside.”

“What time will you be home?  I suppose he’ll be okay for another hour or so.  But, this is my phone number so please call me when you get home so that I know he is safe inside?”

Now, there is nothing that riles up a mom more than someone insinuating that one of their own is not being cared for properly.   Especially when they are being properly cared for.  But my freakishly ingrained social graces prevented me from responding as I should have. And yes, I even called him when I got home to let him know Spencer was safe and warm, kicking myself for doing so.  I wish I could say this was our only encounter over my old Spencer dog.    It wasn’t, but this was the conversation that replayed in my head as I saw Neighbor going for a walk by the barn one day, turning his head to study the little calf tied to the barn.  And later, that evening as he rode by the farm on his bike.  And again the next day, as he drove his car down our road.  His thoughts were visible across his face. 

Sure enough, he stopped by to pay a neighborly visit with my in-laws. 

“Did you know that you have a calf out?” he asked, peering into the screen door of the kitchen, where Phylis sat eating her lunch.  Luckily for Neighbor, Brad was resting on the couch and decided to stay there as he listened to the exchange going on in the other room.

“Where?  Across the road?”

“No.  Just outside here, tied up to the barn.” 

“Oh...yeah we know he’s there.  We tied him up there.”

“Well, I think his rope is too short.”  Phylis, who my dad describes as the salt of the earth, explained in a patient-but not meek, apologetic way as I would have done-why the calf was outside, why he was okay there, and why he needed a short tie rather than a long rope to tangle and choke himself on.   After his questions were sufficiently answered, he lingered on making idle chit-chat while Phylis attempted to finish eating her chicken.

Neighbor would have been wise to have left the issue alone after speaking with Phylis and taken his cause up in other places, such as finding suitable shelter for the wild turkeys or trying to cage up all of the rabbits running rampant across the country roads.  Instead he persisted and the next day as I saw him driving south past our house I had a troubling feeling.  I didn’t hear Brad’s shouts from inside my house, but Phylis did from hers and quickly moved out of sight so as not to get caught in the middle of an argument.   Because, there’s not much that riles up a farmer more than calling into question the care put into his animals.  And considering that Brad has worked seven days a week since he last took a day off in 1990, he’s got a pretty short fuse for such nonsense.  I saw Neighbor’s car hastily retreat back home shortly after it initially passed by.  A minute later I heard the four-wheeler start up and a very angry looking Brad peeled into our driveway with a large bull calf across his lap.  He drove around the house to the backyard, and as he stopped the calf tumbled onto the ground.  Brad promptly tied him up to our deck.  Our problem now.   He heatedly recounted the story of Neighbor’s insinuating visit,  

“I mean, do I go to his house and question why his dogs are locked in a kennel all day?!” he fumed."I should have gotten my gun,”  Now...just a second Brad.  This seemed a little extreme.  I know Neighbor had crossed the line with his nosiness, but... “and shot the calf right there.  Then asked him if that was better, if the calf seemed happier now.  What would he have said to that?”  His light blue eyes squinted as he and Chad laughed and laughed and my stomach turned.  Worried that this internal response to a joke swayed me more into Neighbor’s category of person, I went ahead and forced a little chuckle.  Not that jokes about shooting baby animals are all that funny, and not that Brad would ever do such a thing (at least I'd really like to believe this), but my instinctual response left me wondering if I was more like Neighbor than I wanted to admit.  And No.  Because, while I clearly lack the grit required to be a real farmer, I am well aware that farming is only idyllic on the surface.  It's idyllic exactly up until the moment you get a tail full of manure flicked in your face or an unprovoked kick to the head from a pretentious cow.  I know that I can not make the difficult decisions that go along with farming.  I can barely make a decision about what to eat for breakfast.  But, I am able to make peace when these decisions are made by those who know better even when they don't initially sit well with me.

Cute has his cozy straw filled home now and the excitement has slowed on the farm for a bit.  Now, if I could just convince my dog to come inside we could fly under the neighborhood watch's radar for a minute.   

"Spencer, come here!  Come here, boy!  Come inside!" And no. 


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Thoughts Caffeine Gives Me.

Over the past several years-in an effort to be more financially responsible-what were once near daily stops into coffee shops, have decreased to no more than a few visits each year.  I’m quite okay with this as I’ve come to love my own brew from my own mug on my own couch the best.   That said, I was not disappointed that a post-Christmas collection of Starbucks gift cards necessitated a trip to my old stomping grounds on a recent rainy morning.   The aroma welcomed me like a warm hug as I walked in, flicking drips of water from my coat, and headed towards the register.   I placed my order and was handed a cup of coffee which I slid down the counter, along with my banana to wait for my cup of ice water.  I continued to wait-apparently the shift from coffee making to pouring water had thrown the baristas off of their game, so I snuck off to the bathroom in the interim.  As I returned towards  the counter to pick up my completed order, I saw a man holding and inspecting my coffee.  He had a beard (redundant to write I suppose, because coffee shop) and thick glasses and I smiled patiently as he glanced over his shoulder at me.

“I’m just trying to see…”  he offered.

“Oh, it’s my coffee” I responded, assuming he’d also just arrived at the counter and had mistaken it for his.

“Oh, but I just am…”  he continued to study my cup.

“No, it’s my coffee” I reiterated, and if I sounded a bit harsh I didn’t mean it.  It was just that he was the only obstacle preventing the caffeine from being in me. 

“Oh, sorry” he said, not sounding very sorry at all.  He set my coffee down and stepped to the side to allow me room to pick up my snack.  Confused, I saw that there were now two bananas on the counter.  This puzzled me for longer than it should have, on account of not having had enough caffeine.  My friend, the coffee stealer, offered his observation,

“Oh, I got a banana too.”

Of course you did.  “Which one is mine?”

He chuckled, “Well, that really doesn’t matter, does it?” 

I paused.   Now, this was the kind of comment that deserved a long sit-down conversation over a cup of hot coffee.  But, doing so would result in my being quite late for work, a risk I just couldn’t take despite the potential philosophical learnings behind such a statement.   And so, with a glance, I grabbed my banana--the early yellowed one, still with a hint of green along one ridge, likely of the California variety and left behind the larger, but more golden-hued banana with flecks of brown and a small bruise developing near the stem for my friend.  In that half-second I also thought about leaving him with the better of the bananas, an instinctual mom response, but decided against it.  I bid my friend a good day and headed back into the rain towards my car.   

One obvious component of a job in home-care is the immense amount of driving time involved.  This would be your answer if you find yourself wondering how it is that I harmonize so well with Justin Bieber.   In addition to radio karaoke, when I allow, these drives also give me some quiet time alone with my thoughts.  Imagine, up to twenty minutes at a time of uninterrupted thinking:  my children, where I might have left my checkbook, what to make for dinner,  my future, my past, my to-do list, the book of Hebrews,  the Kardashians, the environmental implications of plastics, which country I could move to if Trump is elected president,  my prayer list, vacation dreams, work thoughts, and who I can get to babysit this weekend.   These thoughts float randomly in and out of my head as I merge between traffic lanes, unless I am thinking about focusing in which case I try to just concentrate on that.  

But, not on this day.  This rainy December day, I thought about the Starbucks guy who implied that one banana is the same as the next.  That really doesn’t matter.  Can you imagine?  Certainly, there are many things that matter more;  I’d give him that.   But to imply that choosing a banana is the same as picking a stick of gum out of a pack?  I'm sorry sir, but no.   Likely, he was just being polite, having been caught off-guard by my interrupting his attempted coffee lacing.  Or, maybe his super-thick glasses were an indication that he wasn’t able to see the subtle variances in the fruits and really believed them all to be the same.   Possibilities ran through my brain as the wipers squeaked back and forth across the windshield in a gentle cadence. 

A few days later, my caffeine buzz wore off (no more Starbucks, Christi!), but not before I actually googled bananas and discovered to my dismay that they are, in fact, all genetically the same.  (Here's the part of the blog where we learn something!  I was quite embarrassed to learn this given my earlier rant and waste of precious thinking time.  But then, I remembered a few years back when I was shopping for groceries in the Dominican Republic where I was on a mission trip.  The man working at the market apologized for the state of their unsightly bananas as he handed them across the counter to the missionary I was shopping with.  They were already speckled with brown, smelling all fragrant and banana-y.

"Wait about a week to eat these, please", the grocer pleaded with the missionary who later explained to me that in the Dominican, they wouldn't so much as consider selling a banana with a hint of green on it.

This recollection turned my stomach a bit, but helped me to circle back to my initial thinking which is to say that: I am right.  I'm not going so far as to suggest that a banana is better if it is less or more ripe (although we all know...); I'm  just saying there is a difference for crying out loud!  Even if genetically they may all the same-which is pretty strange if you ask me-they are still unique.  Just as is each beautiful sunrise that rises each morning by the same sun in the same sky where I watch from my couch while drinking my coffee. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Wedding And A Funeral

I bring sad news to this blog entry.  My Grandpa has passed on.  This is sad in the scheme of life, but I am writing it here because in relevance to this blog, Grandpa was one of my biggest encouragers.  He, along with his wife Louise (who as a pair accounted for approximately one-third of my blog reading audience), were such enthusiastic supporters of my writing at a time when I really needed a cheerleader in my life.  As I prepared for his memorial service last week, I thought about what a gift he had in recognizing and drawing out strengths in others.  And as I listened to his eulogy, my uncle shared this same observation, tying it to the successes in his career.  What a wonderful thing to be remembered by in life and it is embedded right there along with my other memories of Gramps: a bowl of grapefruit in a sunny kitchen, a slow cruise in a convertible car, and golf on the television.  

Ten days before he died, I spent a joyful day getting married.  This too, has relevance to my little blog.  Several years ago now, I remember wanting so much to share stories about my journey with Jesus and my children, but lacking a listening ear.  Solution: the internet!  I write less often now, and it's in a good way because I have someone in my life who can listen to my ramblings and can listen to my quietness.  Someone who understands without any explanation why I grow wistful each year at the winter wheat harvest.  But please, remaining readers, do not sign off yet as sometimes I tell my new husband a story that invokes a blank stare.  The puzzled, curious gaze one might find themselves making while watching a grown woman shooing a snapping turtle out of a road.  And these stories, my friends, I'll be so happy to share here (see: next blog entry).