Page 1

Special Needs ISSUE

May 2017

HEARTBREAK AND HOPE: Two families’ stories Page 36

Why we need a better world for all our kids

A toddler-friendly park: Jensen Lake

Page 42

Page 14

Does your child need help?

What not to say to adoptive parents

MILESTONES THAT MATTER

Page 12

Page 28 Elsie, 9 St. Paul

Lemon poppy seed pancakes! Page 26


BE A PRINCE OR PRINCESS FOR A DAY!

DRESS-UP DAYS AT COMO TOWN


PLAN THE PERFECT

BABY SHOWER APPETIZER MENU PICNIC MENU PASTA BAR MENU LET US HELP MAKE IT AN EVENT TO REMEMBER. EDINA I WAYZATA I GRAND AVE I ROSEVILLE I GOLDEN VALLEY

damicoandsons.com


VOLUME 32

ISSUE 5

36

A different kind of journey Two local moms share their stories of parenting children with special needs, including what it takes to thrive as a family in the face of uncertainty.

28

Easier than you’d think Early intervention doesn’t require expensive doctor appointments or visits to specialists. In fact, your kid can get services at home or preschool — for free.

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42

Baskets of love

We can do better Children with special needs face all kinds of scary challenges. But for this local mama, there’s one that stands out among them all.

A local, mama-founded organization is welcoming babies born with Down syndrome with celebratory gift baskets, filled with resources as well as hope.

About our cover kid Name: Elsie

Age: 9

City: St. Paul

Personality: “Sprightly” (as described in the Faces of Autism book) and also artistic and deeply caring Favorite toy: Fairies Favorite book: The Lord of the Rings Favorite activities: Playing at the park and dancing at church Favorite foods: Smoothies Photos by Tera Girardin / teraphotography.com

Want to see your kid on the cover? Find out how at mnparent.com/coverkid.

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May 2017 • mnparent.com


8 FROM THE EDITOR

The joy and the pain Our first-ever Special Needs Issue celebrates all families and their unique journeys. 10 CHATTER

20 GROWS ON TREES

‘Returnships’ for parents Getting back to work may require studying up a bit.

The skinny on Stride Rite

New book spotlights local kids

Rosedale Center is home to a locally owned store that will continue specializing in the beloved shoe brand for kids. 12 BABY ON BOARD

Adoption talk 101 Do you know how to talk about adoption in a way that isn’t offensive or insenstive? 14 TODDLER TIME

Toddler park profile Jensen Lake near Eagan is a perfect destination for little ones in spring. 16 SCHOOL DAYS

Mother’s Day love Yes, it’s about you, moms; but it’s also a day to celebrate those who came before you.

24 ON BEHAVIOR

Sensory toys! Kids with autism can develop their skills with these specially selected playthings. 26 IN THE KITCHEN

Lemon poppy seed pancakes Move over, muffins! These pancakes are life changing. 50 FROM OUR READERS

Here we go again

Mamas, #getinthephoto

In the fall, my daughter — gulp! — is starting high school. But you know what? I’m OK!

Local moms come out from behind the camera — for once!

18 TEENS AND TWEENS

22 ASK THE PEDIATRICIAN

Goat milk?

Tera Girardin, a Lakeville mother of three boys, has been a family photographer in the Twin Cities for 12 years. After her youngest son, Alex, was diagnosed with autism seven years ago, she felt compelled to photograph children with autism and tell their stories. The result is a new book — Faces of Autism: Inspiration. Admiration. Celebration. — which features 30 children, including this month’s Minnesota Parent cover kid, Elsie, 9, from St. Paul. Girardin said she hopes her book will change the conversation about autism “from mere awareness and acceptance to admiration.” “I wanted to show others what I saw in children with autism — the beauty and magic of each child, despite the diagnosis and, sometimes, because of the diagnosis,” she said. “The children I photographed are, in many ways, no different than any other child. They laugh, they play, they learn, they love.” Girardin’s Burnsville-based business is Tera Photography. Buy the book (via PayPal) or learn more at facesofautismbook.com.

It’s an option, but maybe not the best one.

44 Out & About Calendar

↑ Local photographer Tera Girardin poses with her son, Alex, who appears in her new book, Faces of Autism.

mnparent.com • May 2017

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FROM THE EDITOR mnparent.com

PUBLISHER Janis Hall jhall@mnparent.com SALES MANAGER AND CO-PUBLISHER Terry Gahan tgahan@mnparent.com EDITOR Sarah Jackson 612-436-4385 • editor@mnparent.com CONTRIBUTORS Eric Braun, Abbie Burgess, Dr. Gigi Chawla, Jamie Crowson, Megan Devine, Shannon Keough, Emma Nadler, Marty Smith, Jen Wittes, Jennifer Wizbowski CREATIVE DIRECTOR Sarah Karnas skarnas@mnparent.com SENIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER Valerie Moe GRAPHIC DESIGNER Dani Cunningham CONTRIBUTING DESIGNER Kaitlin Ungs CLIENT SERVICES Delaney Patterson 612-436-5070 • dpatterson@mnpubs.com CIRCULATION Marlo Johnson 612-436-4388 • distribution@mnparent.com mnparent.com/find-a-copy ADVERTISING 612-436-4360 • sales@mnparent.com 50,000 copies of Minnesota Parent are printed monthly, available at news stands statewide. Get Minnesota Parent mailed to your home for just $12 a year. Call 612-825-9205 for more information.

Minnesota Parent (ISSN 0740 3437) is published monthly by Minnesota Premier Publications. POSTMASTER send address changes to: MINNESOTA PARENT, 1115 Hennepin Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55403. Minnesota Parent is copyright 2017 by Minnesota Premier Publications. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is prohibited. Address all material to address above.

Struggles, celebration W

elcome to our Special Needs Issue! I’m so excited to be bringing you a magazine with this new, important theme. Although we try to address special needs in every issue of Minnesota Parent — typically in our On Behavior department as well as throughout the magazine — I felt we needed to step up our game. And, boy, did we learn a lot in putting this issue together. While autism and ADHD have been heavily covered in recent years due to increased awareness and diagnoses, there is, of course, a whole world of other special needs that parents are Photo by Tracy Walsh / tracywalshphoto.com facing today. Indeed, in this issue, you’ll find the voices of parents who are struggling. You’ll find some who say they feel alone, isolated, frustrated and even a little bit terrified about the future. But you’ll also hear those same voices singing the praises of their unusual parenting journeys and their beautiful, extra-challenging children, who every day give them joy, too. As with all parenting, it’s a mixed bag. And as with all children, their kids are worth celebrating. And that is what I want this issue to be about — celebration (and hope). On our cover, we have a poster girl for that celebration, 9-year-old, “sprightly” Elsie from St. Paul, featured in a brand-new book — Faces of Autism: Inspiration. Admiration. Celebration. — by a Lakeville photographer, who has documented 30 inspiring children with beautiful photos that celebrate their personalities, talents and more. And inside the magazine, we have hope — hope for early intervention (including local success stories), hope for kids with sensory issues who want to learn to swim, hope for families shocked at birth with a Down syndrome diagnosis, and even hope for a better tomorrow when it comes to kids and kindness. Yes, let’s acknowledge the pain, suffering and vulnerability that goes along with finding your way in a special-needs world. But let’s also pay attention to what unites all of us on this parenting journey. We love our kids and we want the best for them. And they all have the power to fill up — and just as quickly break — our hearts.

Sarah Jackson, Editor

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CHATTER

Swimming for all Drowning is a leading cause of death for children with autism, according to the National Autism Association, due to kids’

Meanwhile, another entirely new swim option is coming to the Twin Cities, too. Goldfish Swim School, which also

Handley will own and operate the school and will use the school’s signature “perpetual lessons” model, which offers

tendency to wander and seek isolation —

welcomes kids with special needs, will open

families weekly lessons under a monthly fee

often in unsafe environments — when

its first Minnesota facility in Oakdale — at

arrangement (versus paying in advance for

overstimulated by crowds.

7055 10th St. N., near Hyvee — in late June

multi-month sessions).

To combat this high risk, Sonja Brown, six

or early July.

The Michigan-based company, founded by a different husband-wife team, began

years ago, founded a unique swimming school

The 9,000-square-foot, tropics-themed

in Minnetonka — Swim Possible — specializing

school will provide swim instruction to ages

franchising in 2009 and today has more than

in lessons for children and adults who learn

4 months to 12 years in small class sizes

65 schools in 22 states.

best in a gentle, quiet setting, including kids

(a maximum 4-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio)

with autism, anxiety, ADHD, Down syndrome

in 90-degree pools.

and other special needs. Brown’s private, personalized lessons are

Minnesota natives Dave and Sarah

Group lessons cost $20.50 each and last about 30 minutes. Private lessons are also available. Learn more at oakdale.

held in warm-water pools and encourage a

goldfishswimschool.com

love of the water and its soothing properties.

or call 651-236-9390.

Lessons include water massage, yoga moves

See tinyurl.com/

and breathing exercises to help relax students.

goldfish-mn for more about

Brown, a mother of four grown children, is

special needs swimmers at

seeking people who want to be trained to run

Goldfish Swim Schools.

Swim Possible schools in other communities. Lessons, currently offered at multiple west-metro locations, cost $60 per half hour. Learn more at swimpossible.org.

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←←Goldfish Swim Schools will open its first Minnesota facility in Oakdale this summer.


A Stride Rite that’s staying open! Last month, many parents were bummed to hear that a beloved longtime kid-shoe purveyor — Massachusetts-based Stride Rite — was closing all of its corporate locations in late April, including the store at Southdale, and outlets in Eagan and Albertville. But we have good news: The locally owned Stride Rite store at Rosedale Center (listed online as ABS Booteries) is one notable exception. The Stride Rite concept store, which opened in 1979 as the first Stride Rite in the Twin Cities, is staying open on the second level of Rosedale near JCPenney — with more than 80 percent of its inventory made up of Stride Rite shoes. Customer service, including Stride Rite’s tradition of spending time consulting with customers, is a No. 1 priority for the store, said owner Anders Skoglund. Families can also find the shoe brand at other stores listed on the Stride Rite’s store locator, such as Little Feet Children’s Shoes near Ridgedale in Minnetonka and Von Maur at Eden Prairie Center. Search for Stride Rite retailers statewide at striderite.com.


What not to say to adoptive parents I

feel a little ashamed that I haven’t written about adoption until now. I think the unrelenting nature of the whole parenthood thing has made me a bit self-absorbed and tunnel vision-y. Curiosity about the world outside my own little pinkeye factory became just another casualty of my stumbling-throughthe-dark parenting style. That said, I’ve overheard a variety of troubling comments about adoption over the past few years. From tossed-off assurances that, “You can always just adopt!” to couples struggling with fertility to rude, inappropriate questions (“Which one is your real child?”), it’s pretty clear that when it comes to adoption, a lot of folks just don’t have a clue. So I checked in with a few adoptive parents to learn about proper adoption terminology, how to support friends who are in the adoption process and what you should never say to an adoptive parent.

Think before you e-vite An offer to host a shower for a friend in the adoption process might cause her stress, said Westhoff, pointing out that — in the case of domestic adoptions — birth parents have the right to change their minds, despite a previous promise of an adoption. “If you want to throw a shower for your friend who is adopting, offer to host it after the child comes home,” suggested Westhoff. “Or host a ‘gift card’ shower where guests bring gift cards instead of toys and clothes.”

Postpartum depression Terminology matters Kelly Westhoff of South Minneapolis emphasized the importance of being careful

To gush and say ‘Sally is SO lucky!’ is hurtful and does not take in consideration the child’s reality.

with your words. If you absolutely must bring up a child’s adopted status at all, the proper terminology is to say that the child “was adopted” — not “is adopted.” “A legal adoption happened on one exact day and is over and done with,” said Westhoff.

The “baby blues” and postpartum depression are real and common experiences for adoptive mothers.

BABY STUFF

“If you think about the hormones at play in the body of a pregnant woman and how those can cause havoc for a new mom, consider not being pregnant, and not having any of those hormones (not even the ones that help prepare the woman to be a new mom) — and then, all of a sudden, finding yourself a mom,” said Westhoff. “It’s a totally different experience, but it is a common phenomenon.”

Nobody buys a child Adoption is a legal process, with every dollar accounted for. Money pays for a variety of services and processes, including the labor of a social worker, background checks, finger-

Clicky toy

The Push and Pull UFO is like a fidget toy for babies age 6 months and up. Four colorful rods with buttons on each end slide back and forth to make engaging clicking noises, offering simple lessons in cause and effect. A button in the middle of the spacecraft emits soft squeaks when pushed just right, encouraging fine motor skills. $9 • peopletoy.co and amazon.com

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May 2017 • mnparent.com


printing, travel, the legal paperwork (declaring the child legally bound to the parents) and more. “If you want to know how much an adoption costs, Google it,” Westhoff said.

‘He’s so lucky!’ People like to say that adopted children are “lucky,” but this statement is insensitive, Westhoff said. “Even if an adopted child is entering a family of higher economic status or greater stability than he or she came from, the child is starting life with many losses,” she said. “The loss of relationships, the loss of health history and, in the case of many international adoptions, the loss of culture, language and living in a country where he/she is in the majority. “Adoptive parents consider themselves the lucky ones. To gush and say ‘Sally is SO lucky!’ is hurtful and does not take in consideration the child’s reality.”

Biology doesn’t make a family Every adoptive parent I spoke with described incidents in which they were overlooked in public because they didn’t “look like” their child. One child’s swimming teacher, for example, just couldn’t seem to get his mind around the supposed complexities of the child’s racially diverse family, constantly forgetting which parent belonged with which child. There are simple things we, as parents, can do to address this kind of ignorance. As one of my friends said, “If you can explain to your children that some families aren’t all the same race — but they’re still a family and it’s OK — that will help our children avoid being teased for having a different-looking family.” Read more about respectful adoption language at tinyurl.com/talking-adoption. Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@ mnparent.com. mnparent.com • May 2017

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A toddler-friendly park Extend your adventure

↑↑Photo by Husam Ismail

O

ne of the coolest things about toddler parenting is the constant newness — new milestones, new friends, new foods, new experiences. Particularly satisfying is finding a wonderful new place to explore. If you haven’t already, take a trip to Jensen Lake in Eagan. For the sake of discussing the toddlerfriendly nature of this location, I’m calling it a park — but it’s really much more. To map it, you’ll actually have to search for Jensen Lake Trailhead or Jensen Lake Shelter. It’s part of the beautiful Lebanon Hills Regional Park. The playground is sprawling, clean and safe. It’s somewhat segmented into two halves — one side for little kids and the other for big kids — ideal for those of you who have toddlers with older siblings! That said, the big-kid zone is fun for toddlers to explore with adult supervision. (Some of the climbers and slides are high and steep, so you’ll want to stay close.) Once you’ve exhausted the playground, picnic in the nearby covered shelter or on

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↑↑Photo courtesy of Dakota County Parks

a blanket under one of the many trees. Across a small service road is a large expanse of grass and trees — perfect for stick collecting, bubble blowing, ball throwing and simply running free. I could easily see parents using this uncrowded destination for a playgroup meeting place or even birthday parties. Another perk of this park is the lake itself. While Jensen Lake isn’t a swimming destination, it features an easy trail, ideal for nature walks with tots. Newness abounds around every little bend as you bird watch, leaf hunt, skip stones and perhaps meet a turtle or toad — or two. Sturdy shoes or rain boots are best for the easy, but uneven and, sometimes, muddy terrain.

If Eagan isn’t really in your neck of the woods, make the most of your broader outing with a side trip or two, as nap time allows: • Schulze Lake Beach offers safe, clean swimming and abundant umbrella shade. (Hint: Get there early if you want a shady spot right near the beach.) • The Blast indoor playground at the Eagan Community Center can be your backup destination in case of rain; the center also hosts an open-gym play time for ages 1 to 5 from 9–11:30 a.m. on weekdays. • Cascade Bay Water Park is awesomely toddler-friendly and super fun. • The Lebanon Hills Visitor Center is worthy of its own park spotlight — and you’ll want to add it to your list of winter havens as well. Here you’ll find more hiking trails and a great little exploratory area with books, toys and natural artifacts, all designed with little ones in mind. • Nicollet Commons in Burnsville features a dreamy natural rock water fall wading pool and splash pad for cooling down and cleaning off. • Rita’s Italian Ice offers “ice custard happiness” in Eagan. Yum! Enjoy the season, Toddler Parent! May is IDEAL for park days and outdoor exploration — winter behind you, plenty of green, not yet too hot. Stretch and sun and play! Jen Wittes is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in St. Paul. Learn more about her work at jenwittes.com. Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com.


TODDLER STUFF

Activity book

It’s almost farmers market season. And this insanely colorful, interactive book — from the author of the wonderful Cooking Class for kids — is the perfect companion for little ones, including 100 stickers, 50-plus punch-out paper fruits, veggies and flowers and activities such as mazes, matching games and adorable craft projects. There’s even an eat-the-rainbow checklist in the back of the book to encourage kids to try new fresh foods. $14.95 • storey.com

MacPhail Center for Music MNP 0517 2-3page.indd 1

4/18/17 2:41 PM

mnparent.com • May 2017

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A mindful Mother’s Day H

appy Mother’s Day, mamas! This year we’re celebrated on May 14. That means, if we’re lucky, on this day we’ll be honored with handmade cards and gifts from our little ones. We might even receive special recognition from the father of our children or others who are supporting us in our mothering experience. Mother’s Day can be a trigger for mixed emotions. As with any holiday or special event, there’s a natural feeling of anticipation as well as the potential feeling of letdown after the day comes and goes. We can feel joy and gratitude if all of the cards line up, so to speak. However, this holiday can trigger feelings of sadness or grief, depending on your situation. Mother’s Day has been defined as a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds and the influence of mothers in society. We as mothers can approach the holiday with a mindset of both giving and receiving. Throughout the month of May, I invite you to join me in celebrating and supporting the art of mothering in the following ways:

Soak it all in. If you’re a mom of an early elementary school-age child, you’ll likely be gifted with some little creative token, made just for you by your child in his or her classroom. When you’re presented with this gift, accept it with love and more so, make a point to savor the joy your child expresses when presenting handmade gifts. Mirror the joy and love your child shares with you. This stage of childhood will pass quickly; enjoy these special moments with your children, who love you so much.

Send love to your mother. I’m grateful that my own mother is able to share the joy of my growing children as their “Nana,” and that she’s been able to be involved in their lives — and offer me

SCHOOL-AGE STUFF

support in my mothering journey. I feel fortunate too, for the two grandmas (my two mothers-in-law) my children have in their life. They, too, share their love with our family as our children are growing up. If you’re fortunate enough to have your mother (or mothers!) in your life, make a point to reach out to recognize, celebrate and honor them on Mother’s Day.

Keep memories alive. If you have a mom, grandma or greatgrandma who’s no longer living, pay your respects and honor them by keeping memories of their spirits alive. Look through photo albums and share memories from their days on earth. Acknowledge how they helped shape your life.

Sewing kit

Parents and children can create funny, lovable stuffed creatures with this Monster Sewing Workshop craft kit, using a variety of provided printed fabrics, felt, thread and stuffing. A full-color manual explains the basic techniques of hand sewing. #lifeskills $24.95 • amazon.com

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Support grieving mothers. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a family member, friend, colleague or acquaintance who has lost a child or a mother. It doesn’t take much time or effort to offer a caring gesture, kind words or a simple outreach of support. Mother’s Day can be a difficult holiday to experience if you’re grieving a loss. Small acts of kindness can make these hard times more bearable for those who are suffering as their feelings are acknowledged and they feel recognized and supported.

Celebrate your tribe. What women in your life support you in your mothering journey? Who do you know you can reach out to when you need to vent your frustrations? Who helps you celebrate your parenting successes (and also doesn’t judge you)? Thank the mamas who are in your tribe this Mother’s Day. Recognize the value in their camaraderie and celebrate those maternal bonds!

Do a little something for you! Give yourself permission to do something special for yourself — yes, even if it takes you away from your kids for a while. It could be something simple like a treating yourself to a mocha at Caribou or maybe something a bit more extravagant like a massage at a spa. Don’t neglect the importance of self-care — not on Mother’s Day! Small indulgences make life a little more fun. Being a mom isn’t easy; we deserve a little reward every once in a while. From one mom to another, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day! I hope these ideas inspire you to make it even just a little more special. Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four children in Northeastern Minnesota. She blogs at kidsandeggs.com. mnparent.com • May 2017

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The second time around W

ith the advent of my youngest starting high school on the way, I can’t help thinking how ready I feel for her new adventure. With the first, it’s a guessing game, isn’t it? We so hope we’re getting it right. Then we — after one (or several) mistakes — start to seriously question things: Could I have done that better? If I had to do it all over again — and I do, this time with a girl rather than a boy — I’d say I’d like to parent with more confidence, with a sense of knowing where I stand on the issues that come our way.

Not the same Already it’s different than it was with her brother. She wanted to be the one to register for classes herself. She’s carefully done her research and weighed which honors classes she’ll take over the others. In fact, she didn’t want me doing anything. She wanted to be the one to slowly touch the keys and sign herself up. It was slightly ceremonious, actually. It was a change: I’m pretty confident I told my firstborn what he should take, AND stood over him while we signed him up.

Is it me? So what’s different? Do I actually feel better about my parenting? Maybe. I think just knowing who to talk to at the high school if you have a question, or how to navigate the online grading system — and the busy rhythm of homework — is reassuring. Indeed, I have a bit of knowledge. And I’m not so overwhelmed at the thought of

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my teen’s new stage, despite how very different it is than middle school. Remember the folders of stuff that overwhelmed you during your kids’ elementary school? There were flyers and reminders — and a million math worksheets and pieces of art. On top of this, you had to remember to pack a snack or, on others, try not forget the day you provided snacks for a whole class. Or library bags. Somehow, I failed as a parent with that one. We always forgot that darn bag at home on library day. Information slowly slips away as you parent your growing kids. The reason, of course, is that there’s no middle man/ mom/dad: The information actually goes directly from teacher to student. And — get this — they’re responsible for it. Indeed, it’s incredible to think how far my babies and I have come together. So I’m going to revel a bit. I know I’m ready.

It’s incredible to think how far my babies and I have come together. So I’m going to revel a bit. I have an independent, strong-minded daughter who already checks her own grades in the system and signs herself up for early morning help or retakes before I can even see the grades posted.

Boys and girls We could argue all day about the differences between boys and girls. In my humble opinion, there’s a lot of information out there that can be helpful in regards to gender nuances. When it comes down to it, though, I think they’re just wired to be who they are, regardless.


TEEN STUFF

Book for parents

This New York Times bestseller — and a Top 10 Book of the Year, according to Time — attempts to bridge the generation gap between today’s parents and their girls, drawing on indepth interviews with more than 70 young women, plus input from a wide range of psychologists, academics and experts to reveal “hidden truths, hard lessons and important possibilities of girls’ sex lives in the modern world.”

MINNESOTA PEACEBUILDING LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE PRESENTS

$15.99 • amazon.com

JUNE 3, 2017

Steppingstone Theatre, 55 Victoria St N, St. Paul TIME: 6:30 PM Showtime / 9:15 PM VIP After Party TICKETS: $25.00 9 Short Films & Festivities / $45.00 9 Short Films, Festivities & VIP After Party

In the past three months, I’ve been asked to braid or flat iron my daughter’s hair in the morning. Yes, this is my same soccer-playing daughter who’s wanted to wear only sports tees, sweats and jerseys for the past three years. I’ve also tried not to notice the big sticky circle around her lips. Yes, she’s actually using her collection of lip balms. She’s growing differently than her brother, yes. But I’ve grown in my parenting, too. So to all the parents out there, panicking — because, in a few months, they’ll be parenting a new middle schooler or high schooler — don’t fret. You’ve got this. Strap your belts on and be ready to laugh a lot and watch your hair go grey. It’s a beautiful, wild ride. And, by the way, if you have a daughter, I’d suggest a lesson on how to French braid.

For more information, visit us at: lunafest.org/saintpaul0603 MN Peacebuilding Leadership MNP 0517 H6.indd 1

Brought to you by: LUNABAR.COM

Benefiting:

4/20/17 3:44 PM

Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband and two teenagers. Send comments, questions and story ideas to jwizbowski@mnparent.com.

mnparent.com • May 2017

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Going back to work! B

eing a stay-at-home parent was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. In spite of the exhaustion, exasperation and constant haggling with my boys over everything from what they ate to what they wore, I enjoyed those years spent hanging out full time with them — and re-falling in love with them every day. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. And I know I’m not alone in that. According to a 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center, about 39 percent of women — and 24 percent of men — with children reported taking a “significant amount of time off” to care for a child or family member. Roughly 27 percent of women and 10 percent of men quit their jobs.

Ramping up to ‘on-ramping’ If you make the move to stay at home with kids, odds are that you’ll probably want to get back to work eventually. The stay-athome life may be rewarding, but it’s also nice to have a grown-up’s life. Luckily for me, I was able to keep one foot in my publishing career — taking on occasional freelance projects and maintaining connections to my network — even while I was home. When I was ready to re-enter the workforce full time, I was able to do so without too much trouble. That’s not true for everyone. Spend a

FINANCE STUFF

few years outside your career — “offramping,” as they say — and skills, technology, even terminology can pass you by. It can be very hard to “on-ramp” again.

Hit job sites, then take a class So what’s a parent to do when it’s time to get back to work? One thing you may have to do is mind your skills gap. If you’ve been out a significant number of years, your tech skills are almost certainly outdated, for instance. If your skills have grown stale or irrelevant, it may be time to think about taking a class or two to catch up. Look through job postings to identify where your skills gaps are or talk with people in your network about changes in your industry. Then consider university,

tech school or community ed courses. You may be able to take a class online through a source such as Lynda.com, which offers nearly 6,000 online courses in business, technology and creative skills taught by industry experts. Or maybe your friends and former colleagues can help catch you up.

Talk it up — and practice When it comes time to interview, it pays to practice. Be prepared to talk confidently about your decision to stay home as well as your qualifications and ability to do the job. Hiring managers are likely to be nervous about taking on someone who’s been out of the workforce for an extended period. Don’t avoid the topic. Let them know

Playbook for parents

In Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers and Change Makers, a mother of two thriving entrepreneurs shares stories from moms of more than 50 of today’s most successful innovators and — based on her findings — provides rules for raising confident, fearless, self-made men and women. $18.95 • newharbinger.com

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that you’ve carefully considered your decision to return to work.

Not an internship exactly One on-ramping option is a returnship. This is a relatively new term for an internship specifically designed for adults re-entering the workplace after an extended time off, such as stay-at-home parents and military veterans. The idea of a returnship has been credited to the investment banking company Goldman Sachs, which launched, in 2008, a 10-week program for unemployed mid-level men and women looking to reignite their careers. Since then, other companies have started similar re-entry programs. The idea is simple: “High-potential” workers are eased back into the job market by way of a paid trial period of employment. Though there’s a risk of not getting hired, the benefits include getting a foot in the door and closing that skills gap. Employers get a chance to bring in skilled workers with life experience. Some labor experts, however, argue that returnships exploit returning workers. In some cases, only half of those who do returnships are hired on full time. Others argue that returnships are a great way to get back to work. If you’re considering one, it wouldn’t hurt to ask the company in question how many interns are typically hired full time.

ATTENTION WOMEN 21-33: Would You Consider Being an Egg Donor?

The Center for Reproductive Medicine is seeking women between 21 and 33 years of age to donate eggs for couples who cannot otherwise achieve pregnancy. You will be compensated for your time and dedication.

Your parenting experience Spending years at home with our young kids might mean we have some work to do in getting back into the workplace, but it doesn’t make us bad employees. I’d argue it makes us great ones. We have real-world experience and drive to spare. Plus, haggling with toddlers makes us great negotiators. Eric Braun is a Minneapolis dad of two boys and the co-author of The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give for young readers. Send comments or questions to ebraun@mnparent.com.

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Dr. Gigi Chawla

When will she ever really sleep?

Our daughter is 6 and still isn’t sleeping through the night! Sleep problems are common in kids. Such disturbances in sleep — falling asleep, staying asleep, awakening early and restless sleep — can impact the whole family, not just at night, but throughout the day. While there are many learned behavioral issues that can lead to children not sleeping through the night — and also unrealistic parental expectations for sleep — many other factors can lead to or exacerbate sleep delays or fragmented sleep. That includes health issues, developmental factors and mental or emotional concerns, too. The first step in finding solutions is discussing the sleep problem with your

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child’s health-care provider. You may be asked to provide information about your child’s diet, school schedules, activities and exercise, as well as sleep location(s), timing, environmental factors (other people/children in the room, temperature and lighting), bedtime-readiness rituals and technology use. Clinicians may also ask about night terrors or nightmares, coughing or wheezing, snoring and/or apparent breath holding, unusual movements, sleep walking or other sleep-related behaviors. Your child’s emotional health may come up as well, including discussions about anxiety and depression, attention issues or hyperactivity. Children who suffer from stress or concern for their safety can also experience sleep issues. Evaluation by a sleep specialist may be needed along with help from other specialists including psychologists,

otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat clinicians), pulmonologists or neurologists. Sleep labs can also offer assistance in some cases. In a sleep lab, staff — such as cardiopulmonary technologists — can document a child’s physical and vital-sign responses (breathing rate, heart rate, oxygen levels and, potentially, brain-wave activity) to better understand a child’s sleep disruption. No one-size intervention to correct sleep problems can be used due to the multitude of reasons that may be contributing individually or in combination to sleep disturbances. I recommend you start by reaching out to your child’s health-care clinician, so you can all get some much needed rest! For more information on the Children’s Sleep Center Clinic and Diagnostic Sleep Lab in St. Paul — including photos of a child undergoing treatment — see tinyurl. com/sleep-lab-mn. X


My husband and I have started the discussion of what type of milk our son (10 months) will drink when we switch from formula to milk. My husband is pretty set on not giving him dairy milk, but I’m not convinced soy, almond and other sources of “milk” are such a good idea. Any suggestions? Milk types can be divided into two categories — plant-based and animal-based. If your child is vegetarian or vegan, or if there is a strong family history of cow’s milk intolerance or allergy, there are plant-based products available for parents to choose from, including soy milks, nut milks (like almond or coconut), potato milk and grain milks (such as rice or hemp). All of these plant-based milks may be fortified with vitamin D and calcium, but lack protein and fats, which are needed for growing brains. Often, plant-based milk has a significant amount of added sugar for flavor, as compared to cow’s milk, which has lactose, a natural sugar. Additionally, soy has another problem of containing phytoestrogens, which can mimic estrogen and potentially stimulate pubertal changes. Unfortunately, unpasteurized, raw cow’s milk is also available. Raw milk isn’t safe to drink as it may contain bacteria or toxins that can cause significant infection or illness. Other than cow’s milk, the other animal-based milk available is goat’s milk. Goat’s milk has no vitamin B12 or folate, so a multivitamin is also required to prevent children from developing anemia. Of all the various milks available, the best option for most children is cow’s milk. X Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the senior medical director of primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Send your questions to gchawla@mnparent.com. mnparent.com • May 2017

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ON BEHAVIOR

Chewigems

Sensory toys!

Chewable necklaces have come a long way in recent years in terms of style and durability. Chewigems’ latest options include a raindrop shape that feels like a smooth rock in the hand (at left); a heart cutout that doubles as a squishy fidget; and a skull that’s smooth on one side and bumpy on the other. Designed for ages 3 and up, they’re made of medical-grade, FDA-approved silicone, plus nylon strings with break-away clasps for safety.

By Sarah Jackson Buying toys for kids with autism spectrum disorder can be tricky, especially when so many item are marketed as “sensory”or ASD friendly. Fortunately, local families have a special resource for guidance in this area: Creative Kidstuff — a local toy store with seven locations in the Twin Cities, plus online sales — has partnered with St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development of Minnetonka to recommend the best toys for enhancing play and development among children on the spectrum. Specialists from St. David’s — known for its expertise in early childhood education and specialized autism services — chose more than 100 toys in six skill categories, including social engagement, emotional development, creative thinking, sensory motor development, communication/ interaction and cognition/problem solving. Go to creativekidstuff.com and click on “CK Autism” on the homepage to see them all. For now, here’s a look at a few, sold in stores and online (call ahead to confirm pricing and availability). 24

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SPECIAL SKILL ENCOURAGED: Motor Development $19.99

Squigz These suction-cup pieces attach not just to each other, but also to any nonporous surface. They have funny names — like Pips, Gobnobs and Zorbits — and, when you pull them apart, they emit a delightfully satisfying popping noise. Size options include regular Squigz (24 pieces) for ages 3 and older, pipSquigz (three large pieces) for ages 6 months and up and Mini-Squigz (75 pieces, pictured) for ages 5 and older. Bonus: They’re 100 percent silicone and dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.

SPECIAL SKILL ENCOURAGED: Motor Development $19.99


Rolligo This toy was a homerun with the toddlers during Minnesota Parent’s 2015 Toy Test — and now it has a Creative Kidstuff / St. David’s seal of approval, too. Simply stack the toy’s 10 balls into the white, carlike roller. Then push it along the floor to make the balls spin in all directions, like a rack of pool balls being rolled around a billiards table. Geared toward ages 6 months and up, this tidy little toy is surprisingly fun for all ages.

SPECIAL SKILL ENCOURAGED: Motor Development

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$24.99

WhisperPhone Duet It’s so simple and awesome, you’ll wish you’d thought of it: Two acoustical handsets are linked by a voice tube that expands up to 6 feet. It improves communication skills by encouraging cooperation with the person at the other end of the line, which can build confidence and promote positive interactions in other situations. Solo versions are available as well for voice-amplifying in educational environments, which can encourage better reading and spelling (and perhaps quieter classrooms). Bonus: They’re made in the USA and come from a local company, Harebrain of Anoka.

SPECIAL SKILL ENCOURAGED: Communication / Interaction $8.99

Trucky 3 Puzzle play meets toy-truck fun in this game for ages 3 and older, featuring brightly colored shapes that fit neatly inside translucent truck beds. This Parents Choice, Oppenheim Toy and National Parenting Center award-winner features 48 challenge cards to encourage problem solving, fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

SPECIAL SKILL ENCOURAGED: Problem Solving $29.99 mnparent.com • May 2017

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IN THE KITCHEN

Pancakes that

! P PO

I

f you grew up using boxed pancake mix, it might seem fussy to make pancakes from scratch. But once you’ve done it, you’ll see (like we did) how surprisingly easy — and tasty — it can be! You’ll likely save money — and you’ll open the door to all kinds of experimentation, too. When you’re ready to break out of the box rut, try this delicious concoction.

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LEMON POPPY SEED PANCAKES INGREDIENTS 3/4 cup all-purpose flour 1/4 cup whole wheat flour 3 tablespoons sugar 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 cup buttermilk* Zest of 1 or 2 lemons (optional) 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 to 2 lemons) 3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly 1 egg 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/3 cup poppy seeds *Don’t want to buy buttermilk? Try one of many suitable substitutes at tinyurl.com/buttermilk-subs.

DIRECTIONS Whisk together the dry ingredients. Blend the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl, and fold in the poppy seeds. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until combined. Cook on a lightly greased griddle until lightly golden on both sides. Serve hot with maple syrup. Recipe and photo by The View from Great Island blog. Read the full recipe at tinyurl.com/poppy-pancakes


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Early intervention — ideally before preschool — can make a big difference in childhood development; and in most cases, it’s free, convenient and effective! by MARTY SMITH

you’d think

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Easier than you’d think

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ondering about your child’s development is an everyday part of parenting. Is your daughter talking as much as other children her age? Is your son walking or moving around like his friends? It’s common for parents to compare their children to others. But it can be difficult to understand what might be a developmental concern and what might be perfectly normal. Children develop in different ways and at their own pace, of course. However, there are certain touch points — called developmental milestones — that are particularly

important in a child’s first few years of life. Developmental milestones are based on years of observation and research into four main areas and can help parents understand what’s typical at different ages, and when there might be a concern: • Physical or motor development (rolling over, crawling, walking, running, jumping); • Communication and language development (babbling, talking, understanding language and non-verbal messages); • Social and emotional development (relating to others, playing together, sharing, solving conflicts); • Cognitive development (thinking and problem solving).

Red flags Developmental milestones can also help parents determine when to seek help and support. Accessing intervention services as early as possible — during infancy, toddlerhood and the preschool years — can help ensure the best developmental outcomes for a child. Parents, however, are often reluctant to seek out services. This can be because of tough emotions surrounding a child’s challenges (such as denial, stigma, guilt, fear); because a doctor has encouraged a wait-and-see approach; or because of concerns about costs for care.

EARLY INTERVENTION

Success stories!

Many parents who have reached out to Help Me Grow MN — a statewide milestones-education initiative that also connects parents to special services — have said seeking help was an important step meeting their kids’ developmental needs.

Vivian Jill Elfering of Richfield said her daughter, Vivian, made major strides because of early intervention. When Vivian was 2, Elfering worried that she was behind in speech — and maybe even social skills.

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Elfering had been completing the Ages & Stages Questionnaires — offered by the Minnesota Department of Health’s Follow Along Program — since Vivian was a baby. With that outside evidence supporting her concerns, it became that clear intervention was needed. Vivian soon began receiving services at home. When she turned 3 — and could start preschool — she became eligible for classroom services. Elfering found getting help was easier than she thought it would be. “The local early childhood program even worked with us around Vivian’s other preschool schedule, including providing busing from her preschool to her service school, and then home,” Elfering said. “They even visited her preschool to observe


However, if your child shows any of the following signs, it’s important to take immediate action, including talking to your child’s doctor and seeking services to help your child: • No babbling, pointing or other gestures by 12 months • No single words by 16 months • No two-word phrases by 24 months • Any loss of skills at any age • Delays in meeting developmental milestones (such as not walking by 18 months) • Hard to understand speech (relative to the child’s age or compared to other children of the same age) • Vision or hearing problems.

her and talk with her teachers there to include them.” The other thing that surprised Elfering was the individualized instruction her daughter received. “I felt they really looked at her and evaluated her needs and met those needs perfectly,” she said. Elfering’s advice to other parents is to let go of negative connotations about special education. “In our case, our daughter didn’t have any learning or physical delays. She just needed to work harder and get more practice in a few areas,” she said. “Now she is absolutely thriving, and you would never know she had speech and social delays as a toddler and preschooler.” Vivian sang by herself in front of her entire school — 300 students — as a

What you can do In Minnesota, it’s easy to access early intervention services, thanks to Help Me Grow MN, a statewide milestones-education initiative that also connects parents to special services. Doctors and other care providers can refer children to Help Me Grow MN, but parents can also self-refer their children at helpmegrowmn.org or by calling 866-693-4769. Referrals are sent to the child’s local school district, even though most children who are referred aren’t yet attending school. When the school district receives a referral, an early childhood specialist calls the child’s parents to discuss their concerns about the child’s development.

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kindergartner, Elfering said. “I owe it all to early intervention,” she said. “My advice is to put any pride you have aside for the sake of your children, and listen if someone mentions they have concerns about your child. It’s not necessarily because of something you did or didn’t do as their parent. We need to give our children every possible chance to succeed.” Working with early intervention services on her speech and social skills, Vivian later “graduated” from services at her 5-year evaluation.

Shalini Jessica Manivasager of Inver Grove Heights sought help through Help Me Grow MN for her daughter, Shalini, who was born prematurely at 26 weeks. “Our child was our first, and we didn’t have any background in child rearing,” Manivasager said. “After she came home from the hospital, we wanted to make sure that she had the best possible chance to ‘catch up’ to her actual age, developmentally.” Manivasager, who also received advice on her daughter’s sleeping and feeding challenges, quickly became comfortable with the services staff. And her daughter couldn’t wait for the weekly home visits by the service provider, Connie, who always brought along special toys. Manivasager was most surprised by how easy the services were to access. “I think a lot of people are wary to participate because they don’t know if there’s going to be a cost. Inquiries are free and services are free to your child as well,” she said. “Most of our experience was through one school district, and they were phenomenally organized — always came to appointments on time, followed-up on all concerns expressed at prior appointments, and were polite and professional. And, they come to our home, versus having to go to a hospital, school or center — so much easier to access than most services for children.”

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Easier than you’d think

Lucy Tina Timm of Baxter said her daughter, Lucy, didn’t walk or talk as early as her peers did. Though the doctor said everything was probably fine, Timm was concerned and decided to pursue an evaluation through Help Me Grow MN, which revealed that her daughter qualified for help. In fact, Lucy received weekly visits from an early childhood education teacher as well as regular physical therapy sessions. “Everyone kept saying to give her time — and it’ll work out,” Timm said. “We learned so much about what we can do to help. Before long, she was walking, then signing and then having words. We also worked our way through some extreme behaviors. She was head banging, pulling out her own hair, hitting herself.” Today those troubling behaviors are virtually gone. Timm’s advice? “Don’t be ashamed or scared to call,” she said. “This helps everyone in the family.” Of parents considering referring their kids to Help Me Grow MN, Timm said: “They have potentially everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

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This discussion helps determine next steps, which may include a screening or evaluation. This call will usually happen within one to two weeks of the referral. (The initial contact may be delayed if the child is older than 3 and the referral is received during the school’s summer break.) School staff may decide to first conduct a screening to help determine if a child should be evaluated for eligibility. A screening isn’t an evaluation and doesn’t establish eligibility. Screenings and evaluations are provided at no cost. Children who are deemed to be developmentally eligible for services receive them for free in their home, child-care setting or preschool. Eligible children receive these free services regardless of the family’s immigration status.

Services and supports After a child has been found eligible, a service-planning team will decide which services and supports are needed for the child and family. This team includes specialists in many areas of early childhood development, including education, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and more. Parents may be offered strategies on how to support their child’s development at home. Decades of rigorous research show that children’s earliest experiences play a critical role in brain development. High-quality intervention services can change a child’s developmental path. In fact, some children catch up to the same developmental levels as other children their age. Families benefit by being able to better meet their child’s needs from an early age.

Marty Smith is project coordinator with Help Me Grow MN as part of the Region 11 Interagency Early Intervention Committee.

Jayanthi Makayla Wijeratne of St. Cloud sought help for her daughter, Jayanthi, who showed a need to improve her motor skills when she was a toddler. Jayanthi, after receiving an evaluation, was able to receive weekly services until she was 3 years old, thanks to Help Me Grow MN. “Those services benefited her in so many ways, but the greatest was the amazing improvement she had in her fine and gross motor skills,” Wijeratne said. “When she was first screened, she never even scored in those two categories. When she was 3 years old, she scored so high that she no longer qualified.” Jayanthi is now in third grade and participates in dance, swimming and piano lessons.


EARLY INTERVENTION

Resources

Don’t wait until kindergarten to see if your child needs a boost. Get information and help now!

HELP ME GROW MN

This statewide outreach initiative works to help parents understand typical development in young children and support healthy development and learning. Help Me Grow MN maintains an online referral system to connect parents to early childhood specialists in their local school districts. Parents can request a developmental screening or evaluation to determine a child’s eligibility to receive early intervention services such as infant and toddler intervention or preschool special education services. Screenings, evaluations and intervention services are free regardless of immigration status. More information on developmental milestones, red flags and ways you can support a child’s healthy development can be found at helpmegrowmn.org or facebook.com/HelpMeGrowMN. To self-refer a child, call 866-6934769 or see helpmegrowmn.org.

FOLLOW ALONG PROGRAM This Minnesota program helps parents track child development — and lets them know if their children are playing, talking, growing, moving and behaving like other children of the same age. It’s available at no cost in most counties. See tinyurl.com/follow-mn.

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EARLY CHILDHOOD SCREENING

Parents can check up on how their children are developing and growing through this free Minnesota program. Screening in early childhood supports children’s readiness for kindergarten and promotes positive child health and developmental outcomes through referrals to early learning opportunities. Although your child may be screened any time before kindergarten, it is best to do it at age 3 or 4 so any health or developmental concerns can be addressed as early as possible. See tinyurl.com/screening-mn.

mnparent.com • May 2017

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Jack’s Basket A Shoreview family has found a special way to welcome babies with Down syndrome by SARAH JACKSON

WHEN CARISSA AND CHRIS CARROLL OF SHOREVIEW HAD THEIR SECOND CHILD IN 2012 — A SON, JACK — THINGS DIDN’T GO AS EXPECTED. First there was the emergency C-section, a sudden and traumatic experience on its own.

Chris and Carissa Carroll of Shoreview pose with their children, Jack, 4, Luke, 6, and Taylor, 2. Photos by Vick Photography / vickphotography.com

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Then they found out their son was born, much to their surprise, with Down syndrome. They were filled with many different emotions at first, including shock, not knowing how to process the diagnosis. But life went on. And they fell in love with their boy — and all the unexpected blessings he brought their family.

On Jack’s first birthday, Carissa knew she wanted to do something special to celebrate him. But she also wanted to honor the many other families about to embark on their own similar journeys. So she created Jack’s Basket, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that sends free gift baskets to families welcoming babies with Down syndrome.


Already, the organization has welcomed 300 babies. “In any life experience, receiving unexpected news can be very difficult,” Carissa Carroll said. “To have another person come alongside and share in their experience often gives hope and healing, knowing that you are not alone.” Each basket contains a personal letter from Jack’s family, a personalized onesie, a blanket, a hand-knit hat and booties, inspirational books, moving memoirs, a lullaby CD and toys endorsed by Jack. Though the basket also includes educational brochures and local resources, those aren’t the most important part, said Carroll. “I found the best resource for us in our new journey was not reading the books on Down syndrome; it was hearing from actual families who are loving and living their lives, raising their child with Down syndrome,” she said. “I am hopeful this will be the first of many of the unexpected blessings that their child will bring them.” Baskets are delivered to local hospitals and birth centers to families who consent to accepting them. Friends and family can request baskets, too. Jack’s Basket also delivers baskets via USPS within the U.S. Each basket costs $70 to assemble, so donations are gladly accepted. Learn more at jacksbasket.org.

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↓ Jack’s Baskets include gifts and toys as well as resources for families welcoming babies with Down syndrome. SCHOOL for grades 1-12 COMMUNITY WORKSHOPS DIAGNOSTIC ASSESSMENTS SPEECH & LANGUAGE THERAPY CAREER COUNSELING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY TRAINING TUTORING for students in the community SUMMER PROGRAMS for grades 2-12

mnparent.com • May 2017

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a different kind of

PARENTING Two local families share their stories of parenting children with special needs, including what it takes to thrive as a family in the face of constant uncertainty by ABBIE BURGESS

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JOURNEY

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endell was born in 2011 as a healthy baby. After his two-month checkup, his parents Katie Sherman and John Strand headed to northern Minnesota with their toddler, Bjorn, and infant Wendell to spend the summer on an organic farm. It was there that Sherman noticed her son wasn’t grabbing onto things and sitting up like he should. The thought gnawed at her until their return to the Twin Cities in August. “I just knew they would tell me something was wrong,” Sherman said. After looking at Wendell’s wandering eye and lack of head support, the pediatrician sent Wendell to what would be the first specialist of many.

→ Wendell Sherman-Strand, 5, of Minneapolis — who vacationed out West with his family of five this past summer — has an extremely rare genetic condition.

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I really do look at this as a journey, a journey of giving myself grace, leaning on others to help and knowing I can’t do it all. — Katie Sherman

a different kind of

PARENTING JOURNEY

↑ Last year, Katie Sherman and John Strand, who live in the Twin Cities, took a month-long road trip with their kids — Bjorn, 7, Wendell, 5, and Segovia, 3 — including stops at the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and the Laura Ingalls Wilder site near Walnut Grove, Minn. In 2016, they also took all three kids to the Minnesota State Fair.

“My world exploded at that point,” Sherman said. “We were hurled into the medical world, consumed by what was going on — and terrified of what we didn’t know.” And they wouldn’t know for an agonizing number of years. Test after test came back normal. No diagnosis could be found. “I was stunned,” Sherman said. “How could this happen. We’re in the 21st century, and you can’t tell me what’s wrong.” Meanwhile, Wendell’s condition changed rapidly and he developed seizures. Once able to eat solids, he began aspirating food and ended up hospitalized. After that, he began receiving nutrition through a gastric tube. “I was mourning who I had thought my child was going to be,” Sherman said. “I could never even fully grasp what he was going to be like because he was always changing. Those two pieces turned our world upside down with emotional stress.” Today, for Sherman and Strand, parenting is still stressful, but they’ve learned to cope using a variety of strategies, including help from

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in-home caregivers. Now 5, Wendell enjoys special education kindergarten classes. His three loves are books, songs and being outside. “Overall, he’s a happy kid. We’ve gotten to a point that’s more stable,” Sherman said. “He can’t walk or talk, but he understands a lot. He has a beautiful smile and he communicates in his own way.” Sherman and Strand also have the small benefit of a diagnosis. Doctors — with help from newly discovered genetic sequences — were recently able to confirm that Wendell has a mutated gene. It’s a rare diagnosis, so Sherman has turned to a community on Facebook where families as far away as Mexico, Israel and Spain share their experiences. In Minneapolis, she connected with parents of other special needs kids through community ed classes. There, she met a mom with a strikingly similar story — and a boy named Julian.


S

even years ago, Jennifer Hanson’s healthy, 5-month-old son, Julian, her second child, had a seizure. Suddenly, he wasn’t breathing or moving. Hanson and her husband began to panic. She remembers running into the street, screaming for someone to call 911. To this day, Hanson still has no diagnosis for Julian, despite extensive genetic testing at the Mayo Clinic and through a National Institutes of Health genetic study. Julian has an unexplained unusual gait as well as a sensory-integration disorder and body-locking disorder. Hanson knows a definitive diagnosis wouldn’t necessarily change her son’s life, but it would bring a certain comfort. Right now, there are only more questions: “What’s it called? Is anyone else going through it? It’s very alienating.” Julian talks using sign language and a few spoken words. “He screams in frustration when he can’t communicate,” Hanson said. “I’ve been slapped, hit, bruised.” To make matters even more challenging, Hanson is now on her journey of day-today special needs parenting on her own. In the wake of Julian’s condition, her marriage crumbled.

Numerous studies have linked parenting a special needs child to a higher divorce rate. Hanson knows why. “People handle challenges and stress very differently,” said Hanson, who found herself a single parent of two, thinking, “There’s no way I can do this by myself.” And, at times, it still seems impossible. Julian doesn’t understand danger, so there’s a constant fear that he’ll accidentally harm himself like he did once on a hot fireplace. Once he ran into the street — and was almost hit by a car. He needs constant supervision like a toddler, Hanson said, remembering the time he turned on an upstairs faucet, resulting in $12,000 in water damage. Parenting Julian has its delights as well as stresses, Hanson said. He’s often cheerful — and his ever-present smile can light up a room, especially when he engages with others by saying, “Hey, baby!”

Siblings come in second Siblings of special needs kids face their own challenges. Hanson said her firstborn, 9-year-old Makai, wonders why Julian doesn’t have timeouts or chores. “We can’t do activities that other normal families do. We have to modify our outings and activities,” Hanson said. “Makai is constantly second. I have to try so hard to

← Despite years of testing, including genetic testing at the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health, doctors were never able to provide a diagnosis for Jennifer Hanson’s son, Julian, now 7.

give as much attention as I can to Makai. It’s especially hard as a single mom.” In the Sherman family, Wendell’s older brother, Bjorn, now 7, experienced an initial mourning period. “He wanted a little brother to play with,” Sherman said. For his younger sister Segovia, 3, however, it’s all she’s known. She climbs up on his wheelchair and goes for walks with him. (Experts say growing up with a special needs sibling can help children develop crucial skills, including empathy.) Wendell has added a great deal of joy to the household, Sherman said, adding, “Ultimately, it’s been very positive.”

A rewarding family life Wendell and Julian ride the same bus to a public magnet school in Minneapolis, which has a Developmental Cognitive Delay program. Their moms have been friends since they met at Early Childhood Special Education classes. Both families have their own ways of creating experiences everyone can enjoy together. In fact, despite the changes special needs parenting has brought the ShermanStrand household, the family of five has maintained an adventurous lifestyle. Last year they took a month-long road trip to Oregon, camping along the way in national parks, where Wendell loved being outside. Hanson, meanwhile, includes both Julian and Makai in her outdoor hobbies such as running and biking. (Julian uses an ingenious adaptive bike on their rides.) He enjoys drums, guitar, dance, music, books, iPads and ice cream cones. “I try to create a world that’s bigger than what it would be like for these kids 20 to 30 years ago,” Hanson said. “It’s more rewarding for all of us.”

mnparent.com • May 2017

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a different kind of

PARENTING JOURNEY I try to create a world that’s bigger than what it would be like for these kids 20 to 30 years ago. It’s more rewarding for all of us. — Jennifer Hanson

RESOURCES ARC Greater Twin Cities offers a calendar of events for parents and children with special needs as well as other services. arcgreatertwincities.org Bridging Hearts connects young adults with learning disabilities, so they can form social connections and friendships online and in person. bridginghearts.org Fraser is a local nonprofit organization offering services to families with special needs, with an emphasis on autism. fraser.org The Minnesota Disability Law Center advocates for the rights of people with disabilities and offers free civil legal assistance to people with disabilities regardless of age or income level. tinyurl.com/legal-mnp U.S. National Parks offer free lifetime passes to 2,000 national parks for citizens and permanent residents with permanent disabilities. tinyurl.com/access-mn Minnesota State Parks offer reduced-price park passes and licenses to individuals with disabilities. tinyurl.com/mn-parksparents Pacer Center, located in Bloomington, provides resources to families of children with special needs. pacer.org Radical Hospitality is a program of Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, which provides no-cost access to its mainstage productions for any audience member. The program was developed in part to make theatre accessible to people with limited incomes or disabilities. mixedblood.com/ hospitality

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↑ Jennifer Hanson includes her sons, Makai, 9, and Julian, 7, and in her outdoor hobbies such as hiking, running and biking in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Practicing self-care Taking care of yourself first can be incredibly difficult for parents with special needs children, said Dr. Elizabeth Reeve, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in the Twin Cities. “If you aren’t getting a break, sleeping, having a date night with a significant other or friends, it’s virtually impossible to be caring for the kid.” Reeve said. “The social, emotional and behavioral care can be draining.” Sherman couldn’t agree more. She’s come to realize how critical it can be to practice self-care. “I appreciate it when people offer to watch the kids so my husband and I can go out,” she said. “Fuel yourself, so you can fuel your family.” Reeve, who treats patients with significant physical or cognitive disabilities, is a special needs parent herself. She has an adult son with autism. She co-authored the 2012 book The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents). “I live and work it 24/7,” Reeve said, adding that she finds rest and peace at her vacation home, a prairie restoration in southeastern Minnesota — “my passion and respite, a place to run away to.” Families without a plot of prairie can still

get the restoring effects of nature on a smaller scale. “Getting outside doesn’t have to be expensive,” Reeve said. “We’re blessed in Minnesota to have outstanding outdoor space. Drive over to Como Park to walk through the flowers at lunch time. There are little things you can do that seem minor, but they’re really important.”

Feeling inspired Despite the immense challenges, Hanson describes parenting a kid with special needs as empowering. “I’m the lucky one,” she said. “I get to experience a whole other world. As a family, we can do this. We can make this work, although much differently than the path we thought we’d be on.” Sherman said her son has inspired a lot of people — including her. This summer, she’ll start a program to become a physician’s assistant, all inspired by her family’s journey with Wendell. “I really do look at this as a journey,” she said. “A journey of giving myself grace, leaning on others to help and knowing I can’t do it all.” Abbie Burgess is a Twin Cities freelance writer and lifestyle blogger at thepinkpaperdoll.com.


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d o n b a e c tter e W We’ve got to rally to build a more compassionate world for the next generation, not just for special needs children, but for all of us

by EMMA NADLER 42


D

uring my daughter’s last hospital stay, I received a tube, a bottle and a few jars of luxury hand cream — lavender-, grapefruit- and musk-scented emollients, in fancy, flowery packaging. It’s a thing. When people want to be supportive during a difficult time, they give you something that smells pretty. I knew about the casseroles, the lasagnas and the rotisserie chickens. But this part was a surprise. I appreciated the gesture, certainly. So many people have been kind to our family in ways that have made me feel both supported and struck with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. But I never thought I would be in this position — the position to attract such offerings. I’m the mother of a child who was born with her own unique genetic map. That’s what we call it, her rare genetic difference. Our girl, now 18 months, has a host of remarkable things to show for it — her grit, her giant, giddy smile, her boundless resilience. She has dance moves like you wouldn’t believe and, I swear, when she looks me in the eye, it’s like we were meant for each other. My child has had to endure a lot in her little life. Surgeries and procedures, multi-week hospital stays, and so many ER visits that I’ve stopped counting. When you’re on a first-name basis with the staff at the nearest children’s hospital, and the anesthesiologist recognizes you in the hall, well, that’s when the hand salve starts rolling in. I have a lot of things I could worry about. My kid’s got high levels of fluid in her brain; she’s got two looming cysts stuck in there, too, and likely, an upcoming spinal surgery. She’s got low muscle tone and she’s living on a feeding tube. Somehow, I’ve learned to live with all of that. I’m not saying it’s easy. Often, I wish it were different. I work hard to accept — and at times, on the best of days, embrace — how our lives have changed.

And then, of course, there are the moments when I don’t feel any kind of acceptance at all, when I feel exhausted and alone. More than her medical problems, what I’m most worried about right now is the kind of world that my daughter will grow up in. And my other child, too — my charming, charismatic 4-year-old son. I want my children to grow up in a world where people are curious about exploring differences, not judgmental. Where justice, kindness and access for all are values that define everyday life. Where people who don’t agree with each other can have a civil conversation, face to face. My daughter isn’t like other children. She’s on her own developmental path for things most of us take for granted, like walking and eating. Her path boils down to this: We believe (and hope and pray) that she will do these things someday. For now, we visit a lot of doctors and spent a lot of time on rehabilitative therapies to help get her there. I just want her, like any other parents desperately want for their child, to be accepted and loved, to have a chance to make a contribution to this world. When I take our daughter to pick up her brother at school, we often stop to play on the playground. The other children see her tubes and they want to know more. They ask me about how it all works. One inquired, sweetly, without any lead-up: “So you have to carry around the tubes everywhere she goes, and follow her to make sure they don’t get pulled out?” And in that comment from a preschooler making a fort alongside her friends, I heard empathy. I heard genuine interest and a desire for understanding. During these tumultuous times, I think we could stand to dish out more of that for each other, those of us who are adults. What I really want to say is this: We can do better.

‘I want my children to grow up in a world where people are curious about exploring differences, not judgmental. Where justice, kindness and access for all are values that define everyday life.’ Parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, babysitters — heck —anyone who loves (or even likes) children. Whatever our specific worries are when we try to fall asleep at night, whatever our individual problems may be, we’ve got something bigger than ourselves to rally for. We’ve got to rally to build a more compassionate world for the next generation — a world in which we can talk with each other. When any of us choose ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia or religious-related bias, let’s hold each other accountable. Because our young people are listening to almost everything we say, everything around them. Even though they pretend not to be affected at all, they learn to talk as we are talking. Sometimes when I hold my daughter, it feels like praying. Even when it’s 3 in the morning and I’m rocking her to sleep in the big brown chair, I feel connected to something greater than just the two of us as individuals. I cannot believe I’m awake — and even more so that I’ve been up four times already and it’s still not morning. Then I feel her breathe, her long, thin body right against my body. I look at her beautiful, one-of-a-kind face and, despite everything, I feel quite possibly the best thing in the world: Hope. Emma Nadler lives in Minneapolis. She’s the author of Itty Bitty Yiddies, a blog at ittybittyyiddies.net.

mnparent.com • May 2017

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Out & About MAY

mnparent.com/calendar

A Year With Frog and Toad ⊲ Optimistic Frog and cautious Toad plant gardens, swim, rake leaves, go sledding and learn life lessons through four, fun-filled seasons in this musical adaptation — based on Arnold Lobel’s Newbery-winning and Caldecott-honored books — nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Musical. When: Through June 18 Where: Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis Cost: Tickets start at $15. Info: childrenstheatre.org

MAY 4–7

Festival of Nations ⊲ This cultural celebration includes food, music, dance and exhibits from more than 90 ethnic groups. When: May 4–7 Where: RiverCentre, St. Paul Cost: $11 for adults, $8 for ages 5–17, free for ages 5 and younger with a paying adult Info: festivalofnations.com

MAY 5–21

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day ⊲ This all-ages musical adaptation pays homage to a modern anti-hero, beset by the worst set of troubles a kid could ever

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May 2017 • mnparent.com

find crammed into 24 hours, all inspired by the book author’s real-life son. When: May 5–21 Where: Youth Performance Company, Minneapolis Cost: $7–$15 Info: youthperformanceco.org

MAY 6

Arts 4 Autism ⊲ Stages Theatre Company is hosting this new event, featuring handson activities, including a theater-art workshop with Stages, adaptive dance classes with River Valley Dance Academy, music classes with Minnesota Sinfonia and art classes with Articulture, plus a community resource fair. When: 9 a.m.–2 p.m. May 6. At 10 a.m., catch a sensory performance

Photo by Dan Norman

of the all-ages production Stone Soup ($5 tickets). At 1 p.m., hear two keynote speakers address the topic of “Making Arts Part of the Puzzle” ($5 tickets). Where: Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hopkins Cost: FREE, except where noted above Info: stagestheatre.org

MAY 6

Union Depot Train Days ⊲ Celebrate trains and transportation at this annual event, highlighting the history and future of passenger train travel. Kids can check out train equipment, musical entertainment, special events and more. When: May 6 Where: Union Depot, St. Paul Cost: Most activities are FREE. Info: uniondepot.org/traindays


MAY 6–7

MAY 7

MAY 14

Oliver Kelley Farm Grand Opening

MayDay Parade and Festival

⊲ Celebrate this historical farm’s new facilities and expanded programming with a weekend full of activities, including live musical performances (the Roe Family Singers on May 6 and The OK Factor on May 7), farm animals, chef demos, games, crafts, an antique steam-engine tractor and plenty of time for kids to play outside.

⊲ Enormous puppets parade down the street. Dancers, musicians and actors join together in beautiful costumes for an arts and community festival like none other.

When: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. May 6–7 Where: 15788 Kelley Farm Road, 2.5 miles southeast of downtown Elk River Cost: $12 for adults ($10 for ages 65 and older), $6 for ages 5 to 17, free for ages 4 and younger Info: mnhs.org/kelleyfarm

When: Noon May 7. Participants assemble at 11 a.m., followed by a noon parade and a ceremony and festival at about 3 p.m. in Powderhorn Park. Where: The parade begins at 25th Street and Bloomington Avenue, and travels south on Bloomington before turning west toward Powderhorn Park. Cost: FREE Info: hobt.org/mayday

In Flanders Fields ⊲ The Saint Paul Civic Symphony presents a World War I remembrance concert on Mother’s Day as part of Sundays at the Landmark. When: 1 p.m. May 14 Where: Landmark Center, St. Paul Cost: FREE Info: landmarkcenter.org and spcsmusic.org

MAY 20

Daisy Dash ⊲ This annual family-friendly event benefits Pregnancy and Postpartum Support Minnesota and its mission to support new and expectant parents struggling with perinatal mood or anxiety disorders, loss, birth trauma and more.

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May 2017 • mnparent.com


Out & About

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Daisy Dash 5K

When: 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m. May 20 Where: Rosland Park, Edina Cost: $12–$30, plus fees Info: tinyurl.com/daisy-dash-mn

Saturday, May 20, 2017 • 10am–1pm Rosland Park, Edina, MN

www.ppsupportmn.org/daisydash5k

Funds raised support the Postpartum & Pregnancy Support MN helpline and provide training, education and awareness of Pregnancy & Postpartum Mood Disorders.

MAY 27–SEPT. 4

Kangaroo Crossing ⊲ Live kangaroos, emus and wallabies will be at the heart of this new, walkthrough, Australian-themed exhibit.

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When: May 27–Sept. 4 Where: Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley Cost: Free with zoo admission of $12 for ages 3–12 or $18 for ages 13–64 Info: mnzoo.org

Edina Art Fair

Growing Voices For Life

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Water Rentals

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When: June 2–4 Where: 50th & France neighborhood of Edina Cost: FREE Info: edinaartfair.com

JUNE 3

WaterFest ⊲ Celebrate local lakes and outdoor fun with canoe rides, fishing lessons, swimming, a bouncy castle, games, live animals, music, dance performances, food trucks and more. When: 11 a.m.–4 p.m. June 3 Where: Lake Phalen Pavilion, St. Paul Cost: FREE Info: rwmwd.org/waterfest

mnparent.com • May 2017

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Out & About JUNE 3–4

Where: Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul. Cost: All outdoor performances and activities are free. This year, tickets to all indoor shows will be “pay what you can,” with tickets available the day of the performances on a firstcome, first-served basis; $8 tickets can be purchased online for guaranteed admission. Info: ordway.org/festival

Flint Hills International Children’s Festival ⊲ Local, regional and international professional artists will represent more than 25 countries on various stages, indoors and out at this popular annual event. When: Family weekend is June 3–4.

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49


FROM OUR READERS

Mom’s turn!

↑↑Rebecca from Stillwater, with her sons, Charlie and Henry, and daughter, Madelyn

↑↑Erica from Burnsville with her daughters, Brynn and Elaine

Mamas, we asked you to #getinthephoto for once, instead of standing behind the camera, serving as documentarian. And you delivered, showing us all that moms taking part in everyday life with their kids is simply beautiful!

↑↑Hyejeong of Lakeville with her kids — Evan, Elliot and Sophia

↑↑Sara of Lakeville with her son, Alex

↑↑Joan from Bloomington with her son, Emmett

↑↑Monique from Blaine with her son, Benton, and daughter, Audrey

Want to see your kid on this page? Send photos with your child’s first name, age and city to editor@mnparent.com.

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May 2017 • mnparent.com


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