My Mia: My Gift from God

ImageAfter realizing that many of my posts deal with Bella as of late, I thought I would dedicate this post to Mia.  While Bella is at the beginning of a very volatile time in her life, Mia is at a very solid, comfortable place in hers.  Yet, that wasn’t always the case.  From the time she was very young, Mia preferred to play alone and be by herself.  She seemed more content that way.   As she grew older and started school, some social issues began to pop up and academic ones as well.  Everything really came to a head when her 4th Grade teacher came to me and told me that she was very concerned about Mia.   I won’t bore you with the details but once she was tested and her diagnosis of Central Auditory Processing Disorder was confirmed.  It seemed to truly help her and us to be able to put a framework to her uniqueness.

Mia was named after my grandmother and let me just tell you that my grandmother was one of my best friends.  I loved and adored that woman so much and losing her in the early 90’s was the most devastating event of my life.  When Mia was a toddler, she would look up sometimes and it was as if my grandmother was in her eyes.  Her physical features and some of her facial expressions are exactly like her great-grandmother’s.  In fact, a cousin was visiting once and I had told him about Mia’s expressions that were just like our grandmother’s.  He was on the floor playing with her and out of the corner of my eye I saw him almost jump out of his skin, startled by something.  I looked at him and he just shook his head.  Later he told me that he saw the expressions I had told him about and it was as if our grandmother was right there looking at him.

Now, I am not saying that Mia is the reincarnation of her great-grandmother, I don’t believe in reincarnation.  What I do believe is that God knew how much I missed my grandmother and he gave me a little piece of her in Mia.  He allowed the physical characteristics that were in our gene pool to be prominent in Mia to remind me everyday of my grandmother.

About a year and a half ago, Mia began to grow academically, socially and personally.  She and I were always very close because I seemed to understand her when those around her didn’t.  When Bella would be “kidnapped” by my mom for a few days at a time over the summer, Mia and I considered those days as “Mommy and Mia Days.”  We would do fun things that she wanted to do, go places and spend time together.  This was a wonderful time and it built an amazing foundation for us and that trust and comfort that we established then has allowed her to confide in me and flourish over the past year or so.

We understand her learning issues and know how to combat them now, we understand her social quirks and are well on our way to ironing them out and she has made amazing strides academically in the past year.  Yet, while I may take credit for some of these strides, I need to give credit to that one piece of the puzzle that, when it was finally put in place, made Mia one of the most incredible pre-teens I know.  That piece was karate.

Mia hated anything that was competitive; board games, card games, video games – if it was an activity that had a winner and a loser she wanted no part of it.  We tried exposing her to extra-curricular activities and while she would participate in them initially, once they began to get competitive she wanted nothing to do with it.  I cannot tell you how many flyers came home form school and each time I asked, she would say she wasn’t interested.  The day the flyer came home for karate though, I almost didn’t ask her but that little voice, which I am sure was God, told me to ask anyway.  I will never forget the smile on her face as she stood in the dining room with her arms raised in the air, “YES!”

This coming weekend she will be graduating to her 5th belt level and she has become one of the leaders of her class.  We are at the dojo at least five nights a week and I cherish every moment because she is so happy there; she is in her element.  She loves everything about it because they emphasize personal growth and getting better on an individual level and the competitive nature of the sport is gradually built into what they do.  The instructors are fun, well-trained and create an environment of positive motivation for the students and the kids have such respect for them – when one of them compliments Mia on how well she did something the smile on her face makes me tear up almost every time.  All that runs through my mind is, “Thank you, God!”

Karate spills over into all aspects of her life because they also teach her life skills as part of the program.  She works hard everyday at school and knows that because of her CAPD she has to work a little harder, yet through karate she has learned that hard work pays off once you put in the time and efforts necessary.  She is well ahead of those of her generation who expect things from life without putting in the work ethic required to earn those rewards.

Two years ago you would have regularly found me in tears, worried about Mia’s future and how she would survive in this world.  Today I cry as well, but for the opposite reason!

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A Lesson From The Fishes

ImageI thought that today I would focus on Mia because, in actuality, her special needs are more difficult to sort out.  If you have read the About section of the blog, you will have learned that Mia has Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD).  It sounds a lot worse than it is; in simple terms, it is like dyslexia but instead of it having an effect on what you read, it effects what you hear.  Mia processes what she hears in unique ways and this obviously has a negative effect on things at school.  She regularly misunderstands directions, math concepts and the more abstract concepts get, the more difficult things get for her.

Thankfully, I was a teacher before being a stay-at-home mom.  This is great for Bella and Mia, not so good for the staff and teachers.  You see, I know the game.  I know how the system works and I can spot a dedicated teacher and a not so dedicated one from a mile away.   The great ones appreciate a mom who is dedicated to her child and the bad teachers have issues with me because I expect them to do more than the minimum and I  challenge them which they hate.  Yeah, I make lots of friends at school!  Thankfully, with Mia, most of the teachers have been great.

Mia has to have information shared with her in ‘chunks.’  The pace of learning needs to be slowed down for her and things need to be pre-taught, re-taught and reviewed.  We spend a lot of time doing those things at home in the evening.    She hates it, by the way and gets very frustrated because of the amount of time we have to spend to get her to grasp the generalities of academic themes.  There are short-term memory issues associated with CAPD as well.  Mia is getting better but thankfully there is karate.

I cannot tell you how many different things we offered as an extra-curricular outlet for Mia; swimming, cheer-leading,  softball, art classes, volleyball, basketball and the list goes on.  It got to the point where I almost stopped asking.  One day a flyer came home from school for a six-week expository karate class that was taught right at school one day a week and it allowed her to take a weekly class at the dojo as well.  I can remember the moment the flyer came; I had heard no so many times that I wasn’t going to ask.  Thankfully that little voice over-rode my brain and I asked anyway.  I’m smiling even now as I remember the look on her face – a huge smile of excitement and then she threw her arms up in the air and yelled, “YES!!”

That was just over a year ago and karate is now her drug.  She lives to go to classes, now going five days a week.  Her instructors are phenomenal and so dedicated to the kids in all belt levels and what they have done for my daughter goes beyond words.  As most of you know, it is sometimes difficult for special needs kids to fit in at school because their learning issues can affect their social skills.  Mia was one of those kids and on more than one occasion she has broken down into tears because she didn’t feel like she fit in.  The karate classes instantly brought her into contact with kids who shared an interest with her and went to her school.  When classes started at the dojo she began to have controlled social interactions with other kids her age and the rest is history.   Classes also teach great social skills and how to handle tough social situations and even bullying.  There are two instructors in particular who have taken a shine to her which does so much for her self-confidence.

Just a few weeks ago, I had a great conversation with Mia’s principal at school and he even commented on the incredible change in her in the past year.  She now walks into school with her head held high and a smile and seems much more comfortable in her own skin.  If you all had seen me about 14 months ago,  I was a hot mess. Everyday was a struggle and I was spending on average two hours a night helping her with homework and teaching her to study.  It was usually frustrating, with some crying (yes, both of us) and resistance on lots of levels.  With an incredible amount of guidance from Mia’s extremely dedicated resource teacher and lots of time reading up on CAPD; we are finally in a much better place and the worries I had over her future are much less than they were.  She is very innocent and I worry about her being taken advantage of or caving to peer pressure in an attempt to fit in.  Yet, with each passing day, I see growth, I see her becoming more socially savvy and most importantly, she is blossoming into a hysterically funny girl!

Her father is thrilled about all of these advances, except the funny girl part because, apparently, she has latched on to her mom’s sense of humor.  I’ll take that as a win-win!

What have I learned and continue to learn from this?

Just keep swimming!