Beware of Wolves

I am harboring a broken heart.

I have a tendency to forget that there is evil in the world. I am a joy seeker. I get up every day ready to face the world and to display kindness, and love. I want to live my life as an example. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and I assume that everyone else has the same motives as I do. It is that mindset that allowed me to be blindsided and has left me fragile and broken-hearted.

When people see my downcast eyes they assume it is a result of my personal life. It’s  definitely part of it. There has been some pretty significant decline over the past year. We tend to measure his progression by landmarks: how he was when school started, Christmas, April Vacation, and the last day of school. The changes are generally subtle and slow, but they are there. He has good days and bad; days that he is clear and days that he is foggy. You can see the regression in his handwriting over the past year.

He gets dizzy often and his spells last longer than before. He has difficulty with sleeping. Either he sleeps all the time or hardly at all. He recognizes very few people now. Although we may talk about friends, family, and neighbors, he rarely recognizes them. Sometimes it will come to him with time, but more often, it does not. He doesn’t like going into public. It’s too scary. People think of dementia as being just about memory, but a huge part of the disease is anxiety. Too much noise, light, and confusion is more than he can sort through. Multiple conversations and movement make him shiver, stare, or shake his hands in order to self-soothe. He no longer accompanies me to church and seldom comes to family functions. I am grateful for our daughter who keeps him company during the day while I teach. I can’t imagine how lonely we would be without she and her family living with us.

He is still able to bake, and BBQ on the grill. He mows the lawn and still gardens with a vengeance. He helps with the laundry, but no longer knows how to separate the clothing. He folds with precision. He still does the dishes, and keeps the house immaculate. It amazes me that his best qualities remain his best, and worst qualities continue to be his worst. He still wishes that he could work in order to help more with the finances. He doesn’t miss driving, which is WAY too scary, and needs us to carefully monitor his medications.

Mostly, it’s fine and absolutely NOTHING compared to the year that I have had at school.

This year I had significant behavioral challenges in my classroom. Typical behaviors included ripping assignments, throwing items that ricocheted off bookshelves and walls, climbing on bookshelves & desks, overturning chairs that were balanced on a student desk and trying to sit on the top. Classroom furniture was moved around and they refused to do academic tasks, by yelling, swearing, and kicking. They ran around the classroom, refusing to join classmates, interrupting during instruction, running in one door and out the other, slamming, hanging on, and kicking doors. In fact, the glass in my door, handle, and lock were broken. In the hallway, they kicked the heater, yelled in the entryway, flicked the lights, and ran up and down the halls. They tore and ripped items off the walls, and threw classmates’ personal items down the hallway.

Some strategies that I used were preferential seating, a class behavior program,  and ”treats” when caught doing what was expected. I provided extra snacks, break times, and a nonverbal cuing system that indicated that they needed a break. I tried stress balls, and sensory calming tools. I paired them with peers and verbally rehearsed responses and aided them with graphic organizers before doing their work. I stated directions in a variety of different ways and provided visual supports. I encouraged risk taking and pre-taught lessons giving children a chance to do assessments in a small group. I provided extra attention and verbal encouragement, placing them near a friend when they felt anxious or unsure of the academic expectations. I reduced work expectations. I allocated spots to “take space”, and worked tirelessly through Class Dojo to report to parents when children were accessing a safe place, staying in the classroom, and completing class work.

In the end, the best thing for everyone was to separate them. They fed off each other and once one started to spiral, it was too easy for the others to join. But the separation came at a cost and it affected my year-end evaluation, which has crushed my spirit and left me doubting my abilities- even though I know better.

It is the third significant administrative blow for me this year and I fear that it is a direct result of my attempt at the beginning of the school year to discuss improvement needed and offer suggestions. I fear that I created a target for myself.

We have thoroughly enjoyed the shows Madam Secretary and Blue Bloods and I can’t help but make a connection between Big Politics and what I have seen in education this year and that terrifies me. There is a problem, right here in River City and it starts at the top. Lesson learned: shut up and keep my head down.

Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Time For A Change?

I am a 1984 graduate of our local High School. While there, I was involved in “all things musical” and I played field hockey. I was also a member of the Student Counsel all four years. As a loyal member of the school, I was the head of the spirit committee. I designed special days to encourage my classmates and to show class pride. These were the highlights of my (K-12) education. It wasn’t the long exhausting debates in Jr English, or the intricate math problems that we solved in calculus. The best times were interactive, creative, and exciting.

From High School, I followed the footsteps of my parents, and attended our state university. The first day was spent signing up for Marching Band. It was this team, this unit, that brought me the most joy: a community within a community, and they became my family away from home. Members attended our wedding, and sat in excitement in the waiting room of the hospital as our son was born. To this day, we keep in touch.

No matter where I have worked, it was the community, support staff, and fellow teammates that brought me the most joy and the most success. For twenty years. I have been filled to overflowing in the small town that I have worked in. They have been my extended family and I have been so grateful for all they have taught me about commitment, spirit, and pride.

I am a highly organized and efficient employee that is constantly looking to improve my teaching. My primary focus is to meet the needs of every child in whatever way possible. Working together with support staff, my goal is to create an atmosphere of learning, in an environment that is quiet and inviting. This year was particularly challenging, with four tricky children in my classroom. I didn’t hesitate to set up unique and individual plans in order to create success.

Movement breaks have been key to my classroom routine. Gonoodle, yoga, and activities to stimulate both sides of the brain have been extremely helpful to my students’ growth.

As a result, I traditionally have significant improvement from my students from Fall to Spring. This year my focus was to create differentiated spelling lists that follow strategic skills. I used progressive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (DSA) scores, weekly tests, spelling tasks on the iPad, and evidence from independent work to determine whether children needed a grade level, advanced, or a below level list. They also had an individual set of words taken from the Fry List. My goal was to have 100% of my class increase total stage scores by at least 10 points by May, 2018 as measured by the DSA. I am pleased to report that 90% of my students either met or exceeded their goal by as much as 24 points. The key was to involve them.

My Student Learning Objective focused on math this year. I noticed a weakness in the area of math in the fall, so I used the NWEA data to determine individual goals for my students. I utilized an on-line program called MobyMax to help differentiate for students and made it a goal to spend 20-minutes a day on the program, which would reteach and enrich. I involved children with goal setting, and as a result, they were more motivated with seeing the end result of their Spring assessment. 60% met or exceeded their goal, 10% missed it by 1 point, and 10% missed it by 2. The remaining 20% were identified students receiving extra services through Title 1.

I’m proud to say that I get results, but it isn’t without a whole lot of help from a whole lot of people using a whole lot of strategies.

However, I’m not perfect. One of my weaknesses is that I come across very business-like. I don’t waste a single second of my day. As a child who grew up on a large dairy farm, we were programmed to be working on a project at all times and using our every moment wisely. Sometimes I buzz around at such a speed, that I forget to interact with the people who are around me. I have to remind myself to make eye contact and to speak to others. It isn’t that I am snobby, or that I don’t want to be part of the conversations, I am just focused on what needs to be done. Another, is that I absolutely HATE confrontation. I am sensitive and hold myself to a very high standard. As a result, I often find myself compromising what I want or need in order to keep peace. This is a work in progress, as I learn to take the time to listen, reflect, and respond with possible solutions without getting an ulcer.

Twenty years ago, I interviewed and was offered a third grade position in the community that I grew up in. At that time, I was also offered a fourth grade position in the neighboring district. My husband and I had a “pow wow” with the children and asked them what they thought. At that time, our oldest was in the Fifth Grade. His input was, “When you come to school, we just want you to be Mom.” That was all we needed to hear. In the end, we had three children go through the school district, with the full support of Mom- not Teacher/Mom. Just Mom.

I have lived in and been a part of the area for forty-two years. It’s a place that my husband and I returned to after college, and where we have chosen to raise our three children. At this time, we are helping to raise a third generation and are here to stay.

I am not unhappy at my present place of employment. I just wonder if now is the time to be more accessible to my family, but more importantly, for a new challenge and a fresh start. My desire is to stay energetic and to keep the fire burning in my belly. Teaching is my passion. There is nothing like the feeling of a well executed lesson, with fantastic end results that we can all cheer about. I absolutely adore the community that I work in, the people I work with, and the administration that I work for. I simply wonder if it is time for a change and a new challenge.

My greatest accomplishments have been seeing the success of my students as they progress through the grades. Nothing brings me more joy than when past students visit. My heart sings when I see the accomplishments of older students, and to know that I played a role in their journey. I know that my role is foundational, and many children won’t remember me or my contributions. Instead, they will remember that they enjoyed coming to school, and that they felt safe, and loved. They will remember that they felt like they were treated fair and that no matter what, every day was a new day.

The most difficult situations in the workplace are extreme behavioral challenges in the mainstream classroom. This year I had four in my classroom. Typical behaviors included ripping assignments, throwing items that ricocheted off bookshelves and walls, climbing on bookshelves & desks, overturning chairs that were balanced on a student desk and trying to sit on the top. Classroom furniture was moved around and they refused to do academic tasks, by yelling, swearing, and kicking. They ran around the classroom, refusing to join classmates, interrupting during instruction, running in one door and out the other, slamming, hanging on, and kicking doors. In fact, the glass in my door, handle, and lock were broken. In the hallway, they kicked the heater, yelled in the entryway, flicked the lights, and ran up and down the halls. They tore and ripped items off the walls, and threw classmates’ personal items down the hallway.

Some strategies that I used with these four were preferential seating, a class behavior program,  and ”treats” when caught doing what is expected. I provided extra snacks, break times, and a nonverbal cuing system that indicated that they needed a break. I tried stress balls, and sensory calming tools. I paired them with peers and verbally rehearsed responses and graphic organizers before doing their work. I stated directions a variety of different ways and provided visual supports. I encouraged risk taking and pre-taught lessons giving children a chance to do assessments in a small group. I provided extra attention and verbal encouragement, placing them near a friend when they felt anxious or unsure of the academic expectations. I reduced work expectations. I allocated spots to take space, and worked tirelessly through Class Dojo to report to parents when children were accessing a safe place, staying in the classroom, and completing class work.

In the end, the best thing for these four were to separate them. They fed off each other and once one started to spiral, it was too easy for the others to join. It makes me wonder about what other districts are doing? My largest fear is that the remaining children do not get what they need.

I cannot imagine myself doing anything but teach. As challenging as the occupation is, I don’t see myself moving into any other field. At 52 years of age, I have at least 10 more years before I can even entertain the thought of retiring. Even then, I come from a long line of women who lived to be a ripe old age. I’ve still got a lot of life in me and a whole lot to offer.

 

 

 

As we continue to venture forward with the Common Core and standards-based reporting, my desire is to continue to provide opportunities for inquiry and allow for choice in how students demonstrate mastery of their learning. As the educational pendulum continues to swing, my goal is to remember that children need varied strategies and methods to attain the same common goal while maintaining rigor, recognizing that a whole lot needs to be accomplished in a very short amount of time.

So, the question is: Is it time for a change? If I’m truly to live a “palms up” life, I need to be willing to go where I need to go, and do what I need to do, trusting that it will be the best thing for me and my family. Maybe my Maker needs to see whether I would move and I would change if He asked me to? Maybe I needed to hear some really kind words from my supervisors and coworkers because it’s been a very challenging year, but I’ll never know until I put my pole in the water. I guess we will wait and see.

“It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right
I (hope you) have had the time of (your) my life (Green Day)”

 

 

Love Anyway

Whether the question is about marriage, child rearing, difficulties at work, or a health challenge, our charge is the same: LOVE ANYWAY.

My father always said that “whatever didn’t kill us, would make us stronger.” Honestly, there have been times when I thought I’d die before my Maker would prop me up, blow extra air in my lungs, place a steel rod in my spine, and walk me through the affliction.

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This week marks our 31st wedding anniversary, and when I look back over the years, we had some really high hurdles, and steep mountains to climb.

What’s the secret to our success?

Be spiritually united. My husband didn’t start attending church with me regularly until the children became involved in AWANA. That was 1998 and eleven years after we had said, “I do.” It was at that time that we became committed to a common spiritual foundation and rule book to refer to while raising our children, but more importantly, how to preserve our marriage when the going got tough.

Over the 31 years, there have been dark times that we could have walked away from one another, and quite frankly, we didn’t like each other very much. We’ve had lean times when we prayed for bread, lost jobs, and sat by the bedside of family members that we loved very much. We had rebellious teenagers, and have desperately missed children and grandchildren who have moved far from home.

Through it all we stayed together. We did the right thing even when it wasn’t the easiest thing. We worked with professionals and created a support system. We never stopped trying. Some days we made progress. Some days we took three steps back.

God used the dark times to strengthen us for what was to come. We needed to have those support systems in place for when the heat was turned up even more. We are now beginning the seventh year since the worst year of our marriage, and the year before the dreaded diagnosis.

A promise is a promise. We made vows that were taken seriously no matter what and because we remained faithful, we have been blessed. Today’s devotion contained a reminder to LOVE ANYWAY. “As God’s chosen people… (we are called to) clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…and over all the virtues put on love…” Colossians 3:12 & 14.

This year I have learned that it is more important to keep a strong testimony than to be right, and my goal has been to accept what happens because “God works all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

In a strange way, the past five years have been a blessing for our family. Although we face losing the Patriarch of our family, we have savored life beyond what we would have done without the diagnosis. My goal is to live each day, one at a time, with my palms up. I have given up the urge for order, organization, and a schedule. Instead, I have given EVERYTHING to my Maker: my husband, children, home, and job because I know that when things aren’t right with the Lord, nothing is right.

So to my children, grandchildren, family, and friends, the secret behind 31 years of marriage is to LOVE ANYWAY. Be a joy seeker. Count your blessings. And when things go sour, as they sometimes will, thank God because he works all things for good to the faithful.

“There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears. There will be a day when the burdens of this place will be no more, we’ll see Jesus face to face. Until that day, we’ll hold on” (Jeremy Camp) forgiving each other the way God forgives us. Every.Single.Time.

Teacher Appreciation Day

images-1This week will mark my 28th Teacher Appreciation Day. Like my birthday, I always come into the day with some hopeful expectations: children bounding into the classroom with chocolates, flowers and homemade cards that explicitly pronounce their great appreciation for teaching, guiding and molding their young minds. They will reminisce about the wonderful units and experiments we have enjoyed together and promise to never forget the contributions that I have made toward their education and futures. The entire classroom will smile angelically and do all that is asked with delight. As a result, their performance on the local, state, and national assessments will show great growth, which was naturally a result of my phenomenal teaching ability. (Can you hear the angel choir and see my halo?)

In all seriousness, I do take this time of year to self reflect and think about MY experiences as a student. I honestly remember very little of my early years, which makes me realize that my little people will most likely not remember me either. I have come to terms with the fact that I work quietly behind the scenes of their education to set seeds and hopefully create a yearning to learn.

I started out in a preschool that felt huge to me. I don’t think it exists any more. I remember singing “Happy Birthday”, coloring pictures that matched the letters of the day, and saluting the flag in a big meeting room. Mostly, I remember my mother making me take a nap after lunch when I got home, and trying to fool her into thinking that I had slept, when I hadn’t.

I’m dating myself, but in Kindergarten, I went to school in a two-room schoolhouse, that is used today as an Administrative Building. The school was built in 1914. About the only thing I remember is the wooden floors. This is a picture I found online. ek_sweetser-500x374

In the second grade, my school was blown up in the evening by some punk kids. As a result, classrooms were farmed all around the surrounding areas. Classes went to the fire house, lodges, and churches while they rebuilt the school. The only additional thing I remember from that time was that I got to be the “Partridge in a Pear Tree” during our concert, because I sang (screamed) the loudest during our rehearsals.

I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember my Pre-K to 2 teachers. However, I have no doubt that they set seeds that made a huge impact on my later decision to become an educator.

In Grade 3 I had Mr. McGovern and he was the bees knees. As I recall, he was handsome and single, and could give a lot of attention to our busy class. He taught us to tie ribbons for wreathes as a fundraiser for a trip to the Boston Museum of Arts. I remember singing the songs that were on the radio during music class, and we loved that. (“The ink is black, the page is white…”) It was during a time when the teachers were expected to instruct art, PE, music. I’ll never forget the day that we went to the museum. I had on a pair of overalls, and I had purchased a glass horse as a souvenir. When I boarded the bus, the horse fell out my pocket and broke. I was devastated. As a result, Mr. McGovern held the bus, ran in, and bought me another one. To this day, that kind gesture makes my heart smile.

We respected Mr. McGovern and he had NO behavior problems, except for one day… Gordon was acting badly and he got a spanking with a wooden paddle in front of the whole class. He grabbed his back side and rolled around on the floor howling, and that was enough for the rest of us. I smile when I think of our own painted handprints that he had us place on the wall on the first day of school. In case of a spanking, we were to place our hands on our own set of prints and bend over. The intimidation tactic worked, and you couldn’t have asked for a better behaved group of 8 & 9 year olds.

To Mr. McGovern, thank you. You made a huge positive impact on my life and I will be forever grateful.

In the Fourth Grade, I had a beautiful young teacher from Peru with long black shiny hair. She was homesick so her parents would send her care packages that included items indicative of the area. We couldn’t wait to see every new doll or artifact that was mailed. As a result, we studied the culture throughout the year and my teacher had a taste of home all around the classroom. Mrs. Johnson recognized my interest in math and allowed me to work ahead of the class, in the grade 5 math workbook with one other student. I remember being motivated and driven, and I loved learning. A big thank you to Mrs. Johnson, who, like Mr. McGovern, made learning fun and encouraged me to excel in the things that interested me.

Grade 5 was a bit of a blur. I remember FINALLY being placed in the same class as my cousin. We talked constantly, and he couldn’t have placed us further away from one another in the room if he tried. I remember really, really wanting to be selected as  Student of the Month, and finally being honored with it in March, just before moving to the farm.

On March 10, 1977, we moved 2-hours north, away from the suburbs of Portland, to a VERY rural area. For the first time in my life, I had to learn to play with just my siblings, because we no longer had a plethora of neighbors from which to play with. The latest styles had not yet made it to the area and I stood out like a sore thumb. I remember rocking my polyester plaid pantsuit on the first day of school and having the kids stare at me. Routines and friendship groups were established and I was absolutely left out and lost. I cried for two straight weeks. I was so homesick. My teacher finally pulled me aside and asked, “What is the matter?” and I poured out my soul. It was then that I became the “Teacher’s Pet” and Mr. Constable’s right hand girl. He made my heart so full, as he asked me to correct and pass out papers. It was then that I decided that I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be just like Mr. C.

Ironically, I did go to school to become a teacher and I did my Student Teaching in Mr. Constable’s fifth grade classroom, the very room that I had been in so many years before. It was in that very classroom at 11 years of age, that I made the decision to act as a public servant and shape lives, just as he, Mrs. Johnson, and Mr. McGovern had done in the 3rd and 4th grades.

I had many more teachers that I admired as I continued throughout my school career. They helped to mold me and shape me into the teacher I am today. Some showed me what I DIDN’T want to be like, and that was important too. So, on this 28th Teacher Appreciation Day, I want to publicly thank those who played an active role in helping to guide, shape, and train me to be the educational professional I am today. Your tireless dedication and devotion to your students has not been unnoticed and I am so grateful for the impact that you made on my life and the lives of others. May there be a special blessing awaiting you in Heaven for your dedication and service.

So this week, as I anticipate the showering of gifts, food, and thoughtful notes, may I remember that whether the children remember me in the years to come, or not, I am setting a seed and playing an immeasurable role in molding and shaping young minds. It is an act of service that is taken seriously, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

To others: I urge you to take the time to thank a teacher. Every card, clothing item with the school emblem, cup, and pen are saved and cherished. Food, flowers, gift cards for coffee, and treats make their day and give them the courage to keep moving forward, doing what they love, even on the tricky days. To my teachers: Thank You. To my parents: Thank You. To my colleagues: Thank you. To my children’s teachers: Thank you. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Happy National Teacher Appreciation Day!  images

 

 

 

A Song In My Heart

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This week I was able to wear sandals to school. It was a big deal after a very long winter. The snow is finally melting. I’ve seen some sunshine, and taken a few walks.

One morning I was blessed with eight deer grazing on the back lawn during a sunrise. Despite some rather challenging circumstances, these blessings have carried me through the first week back after school vacation. Moreover, I have had the opportunity to have rich conversations about faith, hope, and love with some special friends and family. This has improved my mood, and as a result, I’ve been playing the radio and tapping my freshly painted toes to the radio.

As I sit in the window overlooking the valley, my first thought is that I am thankful for spiritual supports and friends who “ironically” show up at just the right moments. In my travels, special songs seem to hit the spot at just the right moment and the lyrics “talk” to my soul like the sweet dance of the ocean waves. Another coincidence?

This week I have been listening particularly closely to the David Crowder Band. “I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory… and how great Your affections are for me.” My heart melts with the message that He loves me no matter what and that He is jealous for me. It leaves me wondering why? What’s so great about me?

My recent “ah ha” is that everyone goes through crap. Some people’s pile is deeper than other’s, but we all have it and it all stinks. The difference is that those who profess faith are watched more carefully than others. Observers want to see how I respond to trials and if I “walk the walk”, and “mean what I say”. It’s how observers can tell if my belief system is genuine so I have a huge responsibility.

Another recent realization is that sometimes trials are not about ME. Perhaps I’m being used by my Maker to teach others a lesson. Wow! “If it’s true, you use broken things, then here I am Lord, I’m all yours.” (Matthew West) I’ve been broken, twisted, stomped on, and dragged through the valley. I mess up regularly, and am absolutely not a perfect example. However, I do try each day to live my life in a way that is honorable and glorifying. There is nothing special about me, and I don’t say that to fish for a compliment. I have money challenges, battle with my weight, fight internally with jealousy, and my self-confidence wanes just like everyone else. I know that I am not the most talented teacher, parent, wife, sibling, community or staff member, but I just keep plugging along. “Though I fall, He makes me new…He pleads my cause and rights my wrongs. ” (Lauren Daigle) I often pray for relief. I’m not going to lie. I am no different from anyone. I have a sweet friend praying desperately for her dog, doubly challenged by the recent passing of her mother. She is faithful, and kind, and doesn’t deserve the pain. I have another who is up to her eyeballs in the evils of the world and her family is saddened by recent events in the area. Why? Why do the faithful, the ones who live each day, trying to live as an example of faithfulness find themselves drowning? “When he doesn’t move the mountains or part the water, as I cry out to him, I have had to learn to trust”.  (Lauren Daigle) His love surrounds me. I need to keep doing what I am told to do and trust that God has this all figured out. He is using me for His glory. My only hope is to trust in my Maker because “he is the anchor and his love surrounds us in the eye of the storm.” (Ryan Stevenson)

 

There is a better life to look forward to. What a wonderful promise that I will live in eternity separated from the evil and sadness of the world. He is a “pain taker, way maker, and a chain breaker.” (Zach Williams) “See ya later”, will be a whole lot easier to say than “good-bye” and it’s my job to demonstrate to all that I am in contact with, the blessings and promises of our Lord. I have to ask myself, that if He guarded me from hardships, how could he use me for his good work?

I have to keep moving forward, and cast my fear into the fire. “Fear is a liar, he will take your breath and stop (me) in (my) steps”. (Zach Williams) “There is power in the name of Jesus” (Jesus Culture) and I prefer to follow Him. What if I’m all wrong? I’ve lost nothing and learned to live as a more quality human being, but if I’m right, I have everything to gain. So if my faith gives me courage to face each new unpredictable day, and gives me comfort and hope in an eternal life with those I love most, and reminds me to love everyone- even the ones who have not earned it, or hurt me, I have lost nothing. So today, I thank the music ministry that has reminded me in lyrics that stick in my brain throughout my daily routines, that God loves me, and that there is “power in the name of Jesus” (Tasha Cobbs). You’ve kept me sane. Thank you.
“The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes”
(Matt Redman)
“When we realize we’re helplessly dependent on God, we’re in a good place”  (Lisa Appelo)

The First Time Again

It’s been 5 years since the dementia diagnosis and at this time, he is doing amazingly well. He has shown regression, but it is slow and mostly unrecognizable to the ones he sees regularly. We thank God every day that he is mobile and still has his language skills. He is mostly happy as long as we keep him on a schedule and don’t ask too much of him all at once. We generally learn by failure, since even the best laid plans don’t cooperate with dementia.

Over the past few days, he has crossed paths with people he has known for a very long time, but clearly didn’t recognize. One was his cousin and one was a coworker that he worked with for 17 years.

This is the best advice that I can give anyone who bumps into us:

  1. Introduce yourself. It feels funny to you, but it takes a whole lot of pressure off him. Then, don’t ask him questions. Just tell him about yourself and how you know him. When you hug him or shake his hand, bells and whistles are going off in his head, “Yikes! This person knows me and I don’t know him!” Take the pressure off, by just talking about how you know him and share YOUR memories. Often times, if you keep talking, he will make a connection. Sometimes it is after you walk away.
  2. My husband often talks about past coworkers, friends, or family, but doesn’t recognize them when he sees them. From what I have read, it is because he is looking for a younger you. For example, in the end, he may not recognize my brother, but will recognize his son and call him my brother’s name. My grandmother used to do that with my father and brother.
  3. Don’t correct him. Just go with it. When dementia patients are corrected, it shakes them up and they will stop talking and begin to stutter, stare, shake, or rock. Don’t be alarmed if this happens. It is how they self stimulate and it is a calming technique.
  4. Stick to conversations that you know they can respond to. Think about what you know they like to do. For my husband, safe subjects that he can always contribute to are: walking by the water, gardening, mowing, chickens, baking, coffee, and the baby. These are things that are on his mind and in his bubble constantly.
  5. He is the same old guy. The same things that bothered him before, bother him now. The same things that brought him joy before, bring him joy now. It’s just heightened, and he’s quirkier, but he’s the same old guy.
  6. Too much stimulation and not enough breaks are a deadly combination that isn’t going to end well so we stick pretty closely to a schedule.
  7. He rarely hears from or sees people and it hurts his feelings. He feels forgotton. People really need to come to see him. Since home is his safe place, they need to come when he isn’t napping and not stay long because he tires quickly.
  8. Sleep is very important because his brain has to work so much harder than the average brain to do regular things. It exhausts him, so calling ahead and giving us a chance to prep him for your arrival will set him up for a successful visit with you. His clearest time are between 10:00 am -noon and after 4:00 pm.

So, if you have the pleasure of spending time with someone with dementia, the most important thing to remember is that you are most likely meeting for the first time again. Introduce yourself, tell him about yourself and the connection you have with him, and enjoy. You will be blessed.

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A Day To Remember

“I don’t think about my parents much anymore. I don’t really remember them.” So naturally, we went on a field trip to the old stomping ground…30714670_10214765476844571_7505032437215264768_n.jpg

Any good day involves plenty of coffee, so we started out on the right foot, before traveling through the back roads toward his home town. I told him what I remembered and talked about who lived where. He perked up, and the memories began to leak in.

First stop: to the cemetery to visit his mother and father. As we walked toward their stone, we walked past others with names he recognized, although he was surprised that they had passed within the past few years. He complained about the lichen on the headstones and the cold weather, but the memories remained few.

Next stop: the old homestead. We stopped at his mother’s old shop. He recalled his parent’s making the sign, and helping to build the structure. She sold lightly used clothes and treasures that his parents found at yard sales. She loved that old building and it gave her such joy to recycle, reuse items, and to re-home them.

The memories started to resurface one glance at a time. We looked down the road to the right and he recalled a neighbor that he loved. She worked as a sheriff and buzzed around the area on her 4-wheeler. He was surprised at how close the bridge looked, and how the area where he waited for the bus, looked smaller than he recalled. He talked about the grass triangle that he used to mow, and the trees that had been cut between the old homestead and the cemetery.

We drove onto the property that was once owned by his parents and stopped by the house. The new owners continue to use the pole barn that was once used to house animals, and is now used for storage. Now the house has a full porch, and the new owners have clearly insulated and turned the right side into living space. My husband recalled that the basement was once used for wood storage, the first floor contained an old 2-hole outhouse, and the upstairs held a pool table. The upstairs window over the porch was his old bedroom window. The old house jogged stubborn memories and the stories began to flow.

We drove on. We looked at the fields where the family hayed, and an old cement foundation where an old building once stood. We glanced at the tiny pond that once provided hours of entertainment during the long winters, and the hill where the kids would go sliding. He was surprised at how tiny the hill looked, yet it felt so big when he played on it as a child. He talked about walking through the dirt road to his grandfather’s house, while taking a picture of the brook that ran along the boundary line. He recalled cutting wood out back, and long hours of haying.

30713990_10214765479364634_3320257028319870976_nThe trip to the homestead was the best way to start the day. He talked about his siblings, his parents, and days gone by. It made my heart happy to assist him in remembering his family and the good times. He recalled the fact that they had little, but didn’t know it. He was proud to share about picking berries, being frightened by a bear, and enjoying the benefits of homemade jam on toast and his mother’s good cooking.

We continued our field trip past the dump and he recalled hours of dump picking and finding precious treasures. He said that the siblings would go together and how upset one would get if left behind. As we continued up the road, he named off who lived where, some long passed gone, making note of how the area had changed over the years.

We parked at the foot of the driveway of the home where his parents moved to after he joined the Navy. He talked about how it didn’t look like it did when his father tended it and how it needed a slap of paint. It was never his home, but it was theirs for about 24 years.

We continued to drive through the back roads of his old stomping ground, recalling fields that the family hayed, and a hot date we had while driving freshly baled hay home long after sundown.

It was a good day that continued with more coffee, meandering through local stores, and a lunch date with friends. I brought him home tired and without a nap, but happy. Today he visited with all 5 siblings and his parents, and although he may not recognize them or remember them tomorrow, he did today, and today was good.