Posted By Debra Shiveley Welch

Okay, I’m guilty as charged.  I must admit that I have this bad habit of getting into my writing, forgetting to eat, and remembering only when my stomach begins to collapse in on itself.

Driven by hunger pains, I begin a frantic search for a quick snack and, inevitably, fall upon my favorite: peanut butter stuffed celery.  However, there is one problem.  The name of the snack is backward.

Salivating and eager to appease my sustenance-starved body, I stuff the celery into the peanut butter.  Again and again, I plunge a crisp, green rib into the thick, savory, organic spread.  Slowly, my hunger abates and I am once again free to pursue my passion – writing.

My son enters the kitchen and reaches for the same treat.  I feel myself slowly shrink into my chair.  I know what is about to happen.

Hungry, his 16-year-old body craving protein, he grasps the jar and carries it to the counter.  Retrieving bread and raspberry jelly, he quickly constructs his peanut butter sandwich.

I have now become half my size as I await the inevitable.  Chris lifts the sandwich, raises it to his lips and takes a big bite.  It takes a few seconds as tongue and palate work together to extract the flavors from his concoction.  He pauses, turns to me and exclaims, “Mom!  The peanut butter tastes like celery!”

Caught again.

Posted By Debra Shiveley Welch
Your son is incapable of learning.”[1]
I sat for a minute, looking at the counselor who had requested the meeting, trying to decide if I had heard her correctly. I felt my left hand press against my pounding heart. 
“Did you say, ‘incapable of learning?’” I queried. “Yes,” she responded, and proceeded to mouth paragraphs of jargon, which my confused brain was incapable of comprehending let alone translating.
Stupefied, near panic, I fought for coherent thought. Slowly, however, a heat began to rise from my trip-hammering heart and to suffuse my face. Rage replaced terror.
“Incapable of learning?” I cried! “Incapable?” I repeated loudly. “How can you say that? How can you doom a child of three years of age to that kind of diagnoses? He taught himself the alphabet at two! How can you say that?” I raged. 
I have to admit that there were times when I believed I was either incapable of understanding what was going on in my son’s little head or reluctant to admit that there was a problem, but this I knew: Chris could learn. He had indeed taught himself the alphabet. I had purchased a wooden alphabet puzzle in lower case letters. Christopher would bring them up to me, one-by-one, and I would say, for instance, “a – apple.” It didn’t take me long to realize that he was actually learning the alphabet.
Of course, I realize that I was teaching him. But, the “game” was initiated by Chris, and it demonstrated a desire on his part to know, a wish to learn. This initiation on his part was indeed a form of self-teaching. Chris made the move. Chris wanted to know.
Incapable of learning! As my mother used to say, “Bull Hockey!” I thought of my friend Sue and her daughter Gretchen. Born with Williams Syndrome, Gretchen was an adorable, pixyish young woman with a sweetness of soul that made her a joy to know. At birth, Sue was told that Gretchen would never be able to dress, feed, or take care of herself. Sue had refused to believe it, and proceeded to patiently teach her daughter as she would any child.  The end result was a charming young woman, who admittedly was mentally challenged, but was happy, had friends, and held down a full time job, far from the diagnosis her mother was given at the time of Gretchen’s birth.
Where are the people who know where the people are?”[2]
I removed Chris from the school and entered him into a church-run day care center; Chris began to show progress. It was in Pre-Kindergarten that an inability to focus caused his teachers to mention the possibility of Central Auditory Processing Disorder. CAPD affects the ability to process what you hear. I set up an appointment immediately to have him tested. The results were negative. Chris passed with flying colors.
Next came testing for Attention Deficit Disorder. Although diagnosed with ADD, none of the medications, covering everything from Adderall to Welbuterin, had any affect whatsoever.
More years passed and still we tried to understand Chris’ particular issues. Aspberger’s was mentioned as well as epilepsy. We didn’t know where to turn until, finally, an educator suggested we take Chris to a neurological psychologist. Chris was diagnosed with ADD, Dysgraphia, Working Memory Deficit and Executive Function Deficit.
Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder, which interferes with the fine motor skills needed in the physical act of writing. For instance, when Chris puts pen or pencil to paper, some letters will “float”: they will be too high or too low, and his penmanship is generally too large or too small, and very difficult to read. In addition, because it is so difficult, Chris cannot write his thoughts with as much fluidity as he can when dictating or typing.
He also confuses some words, using “tell” instead of “ask,” and “never” instead of “ever,” and has trouble tying his shoes.
 Working Memory Deficit affects short-term memory, and Executive Function Deficit can manifest in problems with test taking.
At last, we had a diagnosis. It was not easy to accept, but coping strategies could be taught to help Chris learn, and that was the key word! Learn! Yes, he would learn!
Learning Differences – Not Learning Disabilities
Christopher has worked hard to overcome his learning differences – yes, differences. It isn’t that he is not able to learn, he simply learns differently.
We have worked with our son by being active in his school work, at school and at home. When necessary, tutors are hired. 
Chris plays guitar and is now the proud owner of an acoustic, six string electric and a bass guitar. He plays excellently after a mere eight months of lessons. He has asked for a mandolin and wants to take piano lessons as well.
Chris is an excellent swimmer, gardener, is becoming an accomplished cook and is working with me on a cookbook.
This year, Chris finished the ninth grade with glowing reports!   Not one teacher referenced focusing problems. A master speller and a budding essayist, Chris has received excellent grades in his written assignments, which are typed.
As I finish this article, I am awaiting an email from his publisher as to when his second book will be released. Yes, my boy who was diagnosed as “incapable of learning” is a twice traditionally published author.
I think back and can’t help but send out a thank you prayer to my friend Sue, whose example helped me to help my son. She taught me to listen to my heart, to believe in my son and his abilities, and to trust in his desire to learn and to grow.

[1] Excerpts from Son of My Soul – the Adoption of Christopher, Debra Shiveley Welch, Saga Books
[2] Joan Plowright as Eva Krichinsky Avalon 1990, written and directed by Barry Levinson

Posted By Debra Shiveley Welch

My son came home at seven-days-of age.  Fifteen years later, I am still in Nursery Nirvana. From the moment I first held him in my arms, I have felt a deep pride in him and how he came to be my son - and he knows it.

We have always discussed adoption naturally and openly, and with great joy.  I call him my Very Special Child and even wrote a book by that title for him.  He is giving a copy of it today as a present to a young girl who is also adopted, because he is proud of it and is proud to share his specialness with others.

In discussing your child’s adoption openly, just like you would discuss your child's birth had you carried him or her, you make it a common every day thing: I have two eyes, two ears, a nose, I'm adopted, I'm a boy, I live in biggy.  On the other hand, by hiding it, you make it seem like something to be ashamed of, something to push to the back of the closet, something that you wish had never happened.

More importantly, you are basing your entire relationship on a lie - a lie of omission.  How is your child going to trust you in any other area of life if you have deceived them about the very core of your relationship?

I have a cousin who was adopted and his parents never told him.  He found out on his own at age fourteen.  He ran away from home and refused to speak to his parents.  They reconciled, after a fashion, but their relationship was damaged irrevocably.  My cousin never trusted his parents again.

I say speak of adoption to your child.  Show them the pride you have in choosing them out of all of the other children in the world.  Encourage them to adopt when they decide to have children.  Tell them openly about waiting for them, praying for them and that glorious moment when you finally got THE call.  My son knows the story backwards and forwards and loves to tell it to others.  When he speaks of it, his face lights up and he smiles.  He even wrote a book about it which is coming out soon.  Here is a quote from it which I think clearly makes my case:

From Just Chris by Christopher Shiveley Welch

I am adopted.  That feels good.  I like being adopted.  If it weren’t for my parents, I don’t know what I’d be like.  They are here for me.  My mom and dad tell me that I am beautiful, so I believe that I am.  They tell me I’m a good kid, so I accept that I am.  They tell me that I’m loved, so I know that I am.

            I have learning differences.  Mom says I am not learning disabled, I just learn differently, and that’s okay.  I don’t mind having differences.  I just want to learn.

            Mom says that a child sees themselves in their parent’s eyes.  I want to put this poem of my mom’s in here:

I am your mirror.  When you look into my eyes,
You see how beautiful you are.
When you enter a room, my heart lifts up to meet you;
A smile of greeting lights me up from within. 


I am your mirror.  When you look into my eyes,
You see love, as my soul embraces yours,
Revealing to you just how wonderful you are:
My friend, my heart, my son.
From “Mirroring”[1]

            Mom uses this poem a lot in her interviews.  She tells people about adopting special needs kids and that makes me feel good.  I know she is so happy that she adopted me and she just wants people to know how it can make them happy too.

[1] Son of My Soul – The Adoption of Christopher, Debra Shiveley Welch, Saga Books, page 118

Posted By Debra Shiveley Welch

Chris  Every spring, Chris and I order butterfly caterpillars.  We have an inexpensive, one gallon aquarium, where we keep them safe and snug, while they munch themselves to ten times their size, finally go into chrysalis, and then - the butterfly.

Usually, everything goes very well.  We watch them with awe...eagerly awaiting the beautiful painted lady butterfly that we know will emerge. They hatch…they dry their wings ... and then Chris, oh so carefully, places them on his finger, gently releasing them outside.   He always says, “Goodbye my baby.  Be happy!  Be safe!”

This year, things didn't turn out the way we'd hoped. We got our five caterpillars, and gave them a snug, safe “womb” in which to develop. We watched them with delight as they grew and grew, finally making that long journey up the sides of their jars to the lid, where they formed their “J” to go into the chrysalis stage.  With anticipation, we awaited the hatching, eager to see those beautiful orange and black wings spread out in flight. But, something went wrong.

Two butterflies were born with mangled, twisted wings. They couldn't fly. I waited a day, giving them sugar water, to see if the process was just taking longer than usual. Things didn't improve. Finally, I took them out into the bright sunlight, thinking that God's healing sun would dry their little wings. That's when I noticed they didn't have all of their legs.  Sadly, I told Chris to put them in the rose garden and leave them, hoping he wouldn't be there to see the inevitable: a bird swooping down to capture them to feed her young.  Such is the way of nature I reasoned. It's the only way.

As Chris was dutifully taking them down to place them by the roses, totally innocent of what I was asking him to do to his beloved butterflies, it occurred to me: nature doesn't HAVE to be this way. They don't have to be “perfect” in the literal sense of the word. If they couldn't pollinate and procreate, their right to exist wasn't automatically negated.  They could just be themselves, giving pleasure to a six-year-old little boy who loved them, and was willing to turn them loose simply for their own good.

Yes, their wings were mangled, and they flopped when they tried to walk, but they had their own beauty, their own value, their own perfection.

Chris and I are keeping the butterflies until they die a natural death.  I know it will be hard for Chris when they die.  He wont’ be able to look for them next spring, thinking that every painted lady he sees is his beloved Sam or Lou, but he will learn a very valuable lesson, and I'm pleased to learn it with him.

You see, Chris is adopted.  My husband and I were the seventh couple called.  Chris was headed for Children's Services because he wasn't “perfect.”  He was born with a moderately severe unilateral clefting of the lip, gum, and hard and soft palates. While he was carrying his butterflies down to the rose garden, I suddenly thought -- What if we had not been contacted, and Chris had not come home to me?  I would not be here, in this garden, enjoying the unique beauty and perfection of my son. I would not know of his goodness, his sweetness, his gentleness, and my life would not be as full and rich as it has become.

I called Chris to me, and oh so carefully, we returned Sam and Lou to their “womb” for safe keeping.  Within their imperfection dwelt perfection; their existence, a lesson so gratefully learned.  I looked at my son, and saw him smile.  I think that he understood long before I did.

Excerpt from  Son of My Soul - The Adoption of Christopher

Posted By Debra Shiveley Welch

Morning advances and the mist lifts. Sweet, golden sunlight streams through windows thrown wide. Now the sound of fountains can be heard as I stop my writing to watch the brightening of the day. I walk to our floor-to-ceiling windows and enjoy my private "cathedral," thanking Creator for the loveliness and goodness of the world laid before me. I gulp the streams of sunlight; drinking them in; making them my own.

I hear Chris’ bedroom door open. It squeaks and I remind myself, yet again, to oil its hinges. I hear Kelly, our yellow lab mix, first. Her progress is slow. Old age is advancing and her knees aren’t what they used to be. But, she trudges on and finally makes it to the bottom stair. Tail wagging, she comes straight to me for "pets." She’s white and shaggy and her black and pink spotted nose is wet and cold. She wants to be scratched behind the ears so I oblige. It’s a small favor for a good friend.

Fast behind her is the sound of my son’s gamboling footsteps. Christopher does not descend the stairs, nor does he walk down them, or even run. He plummets their length as only a teenager can. He is already singing, eager to start yet another glorious day.

The TV blares! Chris runs into the kitchen for a bowl of Cheerios. "Hi, Mama!" he exclaims and lunges to give me an awkward, teenage boy hug. He dances around the kitchen as he prepares his bowl of cereal. Chris is a happy child. Always laughing, singing or inventing something. He likes to cook and returns to the kitchen to work on one of his "creations." Today it is "Tuna Aglio e Olio" a pasta dish consisting of angel hair pasta, garlic, olive oil, fresh parsley, tuna, sea salt and pepper flakes. He digs in with relish, slurping the noodles in spite of Mama’s admonition "Bite down!"

Chris is enamored of his prodigious appetite, convinced that it is the harbinger of pubescence. He longs for puberty! A swimmer, he cannot wait for the muscles of a man to appear: the broad chest, bulging biceps, strong, broad shoulders tapering down to a trim waist.

I watch him while he eats -- such a sweet and beautiful child. I still have my little boy - for a short while longer. His arms are smooth and round, his shoulders boney; the body of an active child gone from chubby and babyish to the coltish build of the adolescent who likes to fish, bullfrog hunt, run with his dog.

Christopher’s hair is a luxuriant, shining brown. His eyes are large and luminous: today green, tomorrow, perhaps a dove gray. His forehead is broad and high, but not overly so, his skin a smooth ivory, his brows clear cut and slightly arched. His face is beautiful in spite of his birth defect: the severe clefting of the lip, gum and hard and soft palates, now repaired. The surgeons have done their work well. His upper lip is plumping out and the hint of a cupid’s bow is beginning to manifest.

Chris looks up and smiles, gives me the "Love you!" in sign and bolts for the door, Kelly close on his heels. I call out to him jokingly: "See you in five minutes!" He will play outside until his just-turned-teenager stomach bids him return to the kitchen.

I am alone. I sit and ponder the shape of my life today and I wonder what I did to deserve all of this. What great thing did I do that I should have been blessed with my husband, my home, my precious boy? How did I come from a childhood of violence, poverty and turmoil, starvation and loneliness to this Shangri-la?



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Debra Shivel...
Central Ohio


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