Monday, August 31, 2009

Little Helper

During the past couple weeks, Clara has decided that standing is a worthwhile venture because it significantly expands her ability to get into stuff. She has also decided that she needs to be involved with all activities. If we leave her alone to play in the living room, even for a moment, she is on the go tracking us down. In the pictures below, we were in the kitchen trying to empty the dishwasher in an attempt to find our counters. Miss Clara was not happy to be left out and decided that we were in dire need of her help.

I'm ready to work!

I hope this spoon is clean because you know that I have to put it in my mouth.

With the recent cool afternoon weather, we have been able to open the doors and windows during the day. Clara's new favorite activity is to stand at the back screen door talking to the outside world or to the dog if he happens to be nearby. The fact that the breeze blows in her face is a little added bonus for Clara.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Exploring Her Environment

Hmmm...I wonder what I can do that would be fun?

This empty shelf down here sure looks fun.

My review of the fun shelf - thumbs up!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tricycle Ride

Owen and Clara's Nana and Papa were able to spend a couple of days at our house recently following the calling hours and funeral service for my Grandma Rose (Papa's Mom and Owen and Clara's Great Grandma). Since we only get to visit with Nana and Papa a few times each year (they now live in Phoenix), Owen takes full advantage of his opportunities to play with Papa. In the picture below, Owen is showing Papa that he can ride his tricycle all the away around the block.

You can't catch me, Papa!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Developing Language

To this point, our approach to helping Clara learn to speak has not been much different that our approach with Owen. We describe what we are doing while playing and eating, imitate her sounds, try to connect sounds with pictures while reading books, etc. We have been a little more deliberate in implementation of these techniques with Clara and we have incorporated signs along with spoken language. Both Owen and Clara love the Baby Signing Time DVDs - we watch them frequently and Owen has become quite proficient with most of the signs. Clara has also recently started to receive speech therapy once per month, which largely consists of interactive observation with demonstration of techniques that we can use to further develop Clara's language skills.

At 14 months Clara uses several words in context including yay (while clapping), up, mama, dada, bubby (nickname for Owen), step, go, all done, hi, and baby. Clara also consistently uses the sign for eat and somewhat consistently uses the signs for more and all done. At the end of breakfast this morning morning Clara signed all done while also saying all done - we were very excited. Clara cannot quite get her fingers in the correct order to sign play and love, but she smiles every time we sign love and seems to understand the sign for play.

One of Clara's favorite play activities is to see herself in a mirror (or anything else with a reflective surface). Every time she sees herself in the mirror she waves and enthusiastically says hi baby. She also loves to dance with the baby and give kisses to the baby in the mirror. Recently, she has started to wave bye to our day care provider's son when Ellen picks Clara up at the end of the day.

Clara picked up the word step because she hears it so often during her treadmill training sessions. For the past month and a half Clara has been walking on the treadmill four times per week. We started the treadmill training based on research conducted by Dr. Dale Ulrich of the University of Michigan which indicated that treadmill training could help children with Down syndrome walk months earlier than children who did not undergo treadmill training. She walks for one to two minutes at a time at a speed of one-half mile per hour. Overall, each session lasts only fifteen minutes. While she was initially resistant, Clara has been doing very well over the last couple of weeks, walking for up to two minutes without complaint. Additional information about the treadmill training research can be found here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

An Angel Went Up to Heaven

Our last visit with Owen and Clara's Great Grandma Rose on July 4, 2009

Saturday night as we were preparing the kids for bedtime, the telephone started ringing. As I looked at the caller ID and noticed my Mom's telephone number, I knew the message before I even pressed the answer button. My Grandma Rose, Owen and Clara's Great Grandma, had passed away a short time earlier. Her suffering had ended, her journey to the Cross was complete.

I laid down in bed with Owen and explained that Nana and Papa (my Dad and Grandma Rose's son) would be coming in from Phoenix because Grandma Rose had died. Owen asked " I am not going to see Grandma Rose ever again?" I explained that Grandma Rose would always be with him and Clara, watching over them. He then said "An angel came out of her body and went to Heaven and now Grandma Rose is in Heaven." While we attend church regularly, we don't frequently discuss the concept of angels in the context of death. Even if we did, Owen is usually busy playing quietly during worship. Furthermore, this is the first family death in his brief three years, so we have not had this discussion in the past. As such, I found Owen's explanation both interesting and comforting.

In early March, Grandma Rose had been rushed to the hospital with severe chest pain and difficult breathing. She had not yet established advanced directives; therefore, the caregivers used heroic measures to keep her alive. One of the valves in her heart was not working correctly and blood was not circulating out of her lungs appropriately. The doctors provided a grim prognosis for her continued survival. The family gathered at the hospital hoping for survival, yet saying goodbye without saying goodbye. Little did we know that she would improve enough to return home less than three weeks later.

Grandma Rose spent most of the next five months living in her home. Occasionally, she would be taken to the hospital when she was not feeling well. She spent the last two to three weeks living in a hospice where they could provide comfort care to ease her discomfort. During the middle of this week, she told the doctor that she was tired of laying in bed being useless and that she was ready to die. When she spoke with my Dad on Friday, he said that when she said goodbye that he sensed it was her last goodbye.

As an adult approaching 40, it is interesting to look back on experiences that have shaped me. So many happy moments of childhood and young adulthood involved Grandma Rose. She was a masterful storyteller, spinning a tale together based on the random trinkets she kept around to entertain my brother and I when we would visit her. I remember sitting on the front stoop of their house under the maple tree playing with the "helicopter" seeds. We took many walks down the sidewalks consisting of a mix of slate slabs and new concrete. It was nearly impossible to leave Grandma's house without something to eat. Even if you had just eaten a full meal, the smells emanating from the kitchen would convince you that you had just a little more room. Our annual Christmas Eve pierogie feast will always remain one of my favorite memories. Oh how I wish I could bottle the atmosphere of those evenings - kids anticipating the morning to come, rich family conversation and laughter, great homemade food in seemingly endless abundance. Grandma's basement was always full of new surprises. Each visit would yield some new toy that Grandma had found. One New Year's eve, Grandma was watching my brother and I while Mom and Dad were out. Grandma and Grandpa had some friends over to play cards and I spent the evening counting the empty beer cans produced by the group, with particular attention to Grandma's consumption. It is a story that neither of us ever forgot.

The memories are so plentiful, so rich, and so comforting. I simply feel compelled to celebrate her life instead of mourning her loss. I know without doubt that she will always be with me and my family in this life and beyond.