SAL-VA-TION: by grace
E-LEV-EN: children from 1984 to 2006
HOME-SCHOOL-ING: since 1990
DOWN-SYN-DROME: susie and gabe
GRAND-CHILD-REN: since 2010
FAITH-FUL-NESS: my steadfast rock, my biggest supporter, my leader, my friend, my love, my husband

Monday, July 13, 2015

Has Gabe changed my life?

Actually, the comment/question that my friend sent to me was this:
Gabe always looks so happy. Has he changed your life? I was just wondering.
It was such a simple statement, such a simple question. But it felt almost impossible to answer. Initially, I thought to myself (more like screamed),
"YES! Absolutely and in every way. In fact, change doesn't even begin to describe the enormity of the impact Gabe has had on my life."
Then I began to feel bad about my reaction, as if it implied negative things about Gabe and my life with him. As if only bad things change my life. So, I considered other things in my life and asked the same question. I realized that my answer to those things would be the same.

Has my life changed since I;
spent a year as an exchange student?
moved into my own apartment?
got married?
had my first child?
To every one of those I would also respond,
"YES! Absolutely and in every way."
Important life events don't just change a life, they redefine it. Things that don't change my life are, by their lack of impact, inconsequential--of no consequence. As for Gabe, as is true with each of my other children, he is not inconsequential. Therefore, my life has most certainly been significantly impacted by him.

So, I consider again,
"How has Gabe changed my life?"
What would probably be more accurate if I'm going to try to fully understand the intent of the question is,
"In what ways has Gabe, with Down syndrome, changed my life as compared to how my life was changed, in general, by my other children?"
And if parents of children with special needs are honest, they will admit that more changes occur in your life as a result of having a child with special needs versus having one without special needs.

I could complete the answer to that question by saying, "Yes, Gabe has changed my life just as each of my children has changed my life." But to do so wouldn't really be giving a complete and honest answer to the whole question.

So, Lynda, here is a real answer to your question. Because you were wondering.

Since the day you asked me that question I have intentionally considered what I would be doing differently if I didn't have Gabe. Here are some things I noticed.

*When I took my teenagers and their friends to the water park I would have brought a book, sat in the coffee shop, and enjoyed a quiet afternoon. Instead, I climbed over 1000 steps and went down outdoor water slides, indoor water slides, slides on tubes, slides on mats, single tubes, doubles tubes, racing tubes, and gratefully floated the lazy river with Gabe.

*When I drove to Bemidji with Lisa and Gabe to visit Shane I would have walked and talked with Lisa and Shane. Instead, I walked and talked with Lisa and Shane AND met every dog on the paths at Lake Itasca, played frisbee, walked around a restaurant finding all of the unique cartoon character cookie jars, and slept on the floor in front of the door to our hotel room so I could prevent Gabe from playing on the elevator at 4:30 am (again).

*When I went to Owen's baseball game I would have sat in the stands and watched Owen play. Instead, I stood and watched him while I played catch with Gabe.

*When the grandchildren came to the house they would have moaned about being bored with the old people. Instead, they couldn't wait to come and play with Gabe.

*When I did the laundry I would have done it alone. Instead, Gabe pulled the things out of the dryer and tried to guess who they belonged to. I would not have laughed so much as I folded clothes.

*When I walked to the car from the rest area toilets I would have walked. Instead, I raced.

*When I came home from my future daughter-in-law's bridal shower I would have put down my things and gone about my business. Instead, I was greeted with a huge hug and, "You're home! Oh, I missed you! I missed you so much!" followed by another hug.

Gabe does look happy a lot. He is happy a lot, but not as much as he looks because I usually post pictures of him smiling. He can make my day and cheer us all up.

But some of the changes are hard. Gabe has had more health problems than my other children. His education requires more teamwork and research. He has been slower to communicate and it can be hard to know when he is being defiant or when he doesn't understand (and there is a lot of both). He is still not consistently toilet trained. He is not always aware of danger and doesn't articulate when he does understand so I struggle with how much freedom to give him.

But, even the hard things have produced some positive results. His health and education trials have opened doors to relationships I never would have made. His slow communication has made me more patient and observant. And the toilet training trials that have brought me to some of my lowest lows have brought me to a deeper, richer knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It's hard to imagine that it took dirty diapers to break me down and more fully open my heart and mind to God, proving that His ways are definitely not my ways!

The fact is, the trials that I have gone through with Gabe have brought about some of the richest and most gratifying changes of all. I have sought God in ways that I never did before. I have dug deeper into His word and striven more diligently to absorb and understand it than I ever have. In many ways, I was too capable and able to handle things and keep things under control. Gabe helped me to be more fallible.

I know that the things that 'pull the rug out from under me' are the ones that leave me lying on my back and looking up to God. Gabe can pull the rug out, and that gift is immeasurable.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Growing up "White"

A year ago, my then college-freshman son Shane (our seventh child and fifth son), wrote a paper for his English class entitled "Painting my 'White' Mask". What emerged from that assignment was an inside look at what it's like to live surrounded by stereotypes and expectations, what it's like to grow up in a big family in a small town, and what it's like for anyone to grow up, find their own way in life, and become a composite of their upbringing and their own person. I'm incredibly proud of the young man Shane is today and I thank him for sharing this story with me, knowing I would share it with you.

Painting my “White” Mask

There’s not much left to the imagination when you’re the seventh version of the same brand. An iPhone could tell you that. A new charging jack? Cool. Your camera can face forward and backward? Impressive. You’re still an iPhone. Being an iPhone brings along a set of expectations, most of which will accurately describe you. You’ll have an Apple, Inc symbol on your back, a touch screen, and will perform more tasks than the majority of your cell phone peers. There is a different set of expectations that come along with being a Mr. White. You can’t really get upset at people for judging you by the cover of your birth certificate. After all, you have twenty-five cousins and ten siblings, most of whom have acted in a similar fashion. So what are these expectations? Are they presumptions that you don’t mind solidifying, making the stereotype even stronger for those that will follow you, or do you find yourself searching for the white-out to cover up the memory of “your” mistakes? Throughout my years of living in a big-family-small-town world, I have learned that there are a set of “do” and “don’t” expectations, but that you are still able to make a name for yourself, seen by those that will take the time to look at the picture you’ve painted on your own White mask.

As I emerged into the social world after spending fourteen years in a cocoon known as homeschooling, I soon observed that there were at least a few things expected of me. The quick, pleasant glance over the glasses of Mrs. Kotarba as she called out my name revealed her expectation of me being a good, respectful student. Coach Moore, Coach Fortier, and Coach Waksmonski’s inquiries as to whether I’d be “coming out this season?” told me that they were chomping at the bit to have another talented athlete on the roster of each of their respective sports teams. The flirty giggles from immature and superficial freshmen girls, paired with the laughably loud whispers of “that’s TROY’S younger brother!”, showed their anticipation of me growing out of the gangly, awkward body I was trapped in at the time (although Troy, now a model, would be quick to jokingly point out that they got their hopes up too high for me). There were also a few dirty looks thrown my way in the halls, paired with comments behind my back by people that I didn’t even know, about how much better I assumed I was than everybody else. So after a few weeks of high school, I learned that, in a general description, Mr. White (the Shane was unimportant) would be not only a smart and respectful young man, but a cocky, stuck up athlete as well.

As I settled into my freshman routine, I learned that there were also a few things that I would not do. I sat through speeches in the first week of freshman classes warning me about how huge of a problem drugs and alcohol were. I laughed. I hadn’t even heard these “huge problems” mentioned to me, much less been offered them. So I asked the older Mr. Whites if they had noticed these issues during their high school days. To my surprise my teachers were right. There was a problem. The older Mr. Whites had been offered, but had declined. I soon realized that it was not the problem that was going away in our school, but that it was simply becoming common knowledge that Mr. Whites simply don’t do that. They don’t skip class, smoke weed or drink alcohol, so don’t even ask. These undesirable “opportunities”, however, weren’t the only ones I was being left out of. I was pursued by coaches for athletics, but why not band teachers or the drama club? The answers to my questions were becoming redundant: Mr. Whites don’t do that.

So there I was as a freshman with my entire high school story already written for me by others. Looking back on the final edition that I eventually wrote, I’ll be the first to admit many similarities. Mrs. Kotarba’s assumptions turned out to be correct, as I finished with the sixth class rank out of two-hundred and fifty students and multiple “Student of the Month” awards (one even coming from her class). Coach Fortier and Waksmonski went on to be names I said countless times over my four years of high school, as I was a three year starter in both varsity basketball and baseball. By senior year I had been offered alcohol and drugs, but declined every time, continuing the stereotype that younger Mr. Whites are now experiencing. I never did pick up an instrument or participate in the school play, although I wish I had. Lastly, even with my best attempts to avoid the reputation, there are a handful of young adults out there who, if asked about Shane White, will say “asshole!” instantly.

So did I fail at painting over my White mask? Some would say I did. I didn’t rewrite all the rules my siblings had given me to follow, but I liked the majority of the patterns they set. I find nothing wrong with avoiding drugs and alcohol, striving to succeed in academics, athletics, and being respectful while doing it. As for the negative attributes, I learned the hard way that old habits (even family habits) die hard. For those that looked from a distance, confidence was easily mistaken for arrogance. Even my girlfriend has admitted that “stuck up” was her first impression of me. But for those that cared enough to come closer and look for Shane showing through the White, they saw a subtly different Mr. White from the rest. Throughout high school, I am proud to say that I gained many real, close friends who made that choice to look deeper and realize that the decisions I made were my own. When they look at my faintly colored White mask, they call it Shane.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mid-winter Update for Heidi and Svein Olav

To the Kjeve family--Here is a picture diary for you of the last few months of 2014.

With 11 grandchildren there are often little ones in the house and we have had several of them stay with us for two or three days to give their parents a break. Here is Christoffer reading with Veda and then with her little brother Isaac.

I thought I had a photo inside the house on Thanksgiving day with all of the tables set up and guests seated, but I must not have downloaded it yet. This picture shows a group of the guys (and a few girls) out in the back field playing football. It is one of the favorite Thanksgiving traditions for our children. They would rather miss the turkey than the football game!

Between the holidays we took the trip to Florida. I think everyone agreed it was worth missing school and having to catch up with the homework! I have included just a sample of the photos from the trip.

We drove about 3 hours to see Owen and Bryce play a basketball game and then left from there for our trip. We drove through the night to Louisville, Kentucky. Usually Keith drives until about 1:00 and then I take over. However, with Christoffer sitting in the front seat next to him the two of them talked all night and Keith made it all the way to Louisville. I don't think that's ever happened before! Yeah Chris! I got to sleep!

We toured the Louisville Slugger factory where baseball bats are made.

We drove on to Chattanooga, Tennessee stopping at Mammoth Caves and Kentucky and then going to an underground cave and waterfall called Ruby Falls. This is the falls with colored lights and then Christoffer in front of the falls. (The flash reflected off of the water spray.)

Up above the caves we toured above-ground rock formations and enjoyed the views on Lookout Mountain. The boys enjoyed posing on this balcony. I refused to even step on it!

As often as possible the football and aerobi (like a frisbee) came out and the boys played. This is a park on Lookout Mountain. I don't remember if we were in Tennessee or Georgia, we were right on the border.

I love this picture of Christoffer catching the football.

Here is Bryce catching the aerobi between his legs.

Owen and Christoffer loved battling for the football thrown by Bryce. Owen is taller, but Chris jumps higher!

In Alabama, on our way to Panama City, Florida, we stopped at a cotton field and let everyone examine the plants up close.

Our days in Panama City were a highlight of the trip. We all enjoyed our time on the Gulf, even though the temperatures were a bit cool. At least the local people thought it was cool, these northerners thought it felt great!

More football throwing.

Bryce doing back flips off of a sand dune.

This is Christoffer standing on his head. His feet are on fire!

Gabe loves playing with Chris.

Disneyworld was a disappointment to the teenage boys, exhausting for Gabe, but absolutely wonderful for Lisa. The boys took Gabe back to the house after lunch and Lisa and I stayed and had a great time together.

The brothers!

It was strange to leave the warm weather and come home to Christmas preparations. I didn't realize how much the cold weather and snow make it feel like Christmas weeks before the 25th! We didn't put our tree up until the 22nd. Lisa and Gabe loved helping decorate the Christmas tree, but the guys were happy to play a game together.

Here are a few pictures from Christmas morning.

I took this picture of Christoffer with Lisa at Papa and Grandma's house. We went there with Keith's sister and her family and three of our married children with their families. We all sang Christmas songs and ate cookies in their small house.

We rented this house for four days and stayed in it with all of our children (except Troy) and grandchildren. It was a nice way to be able to all be together. Unfortunately, a lot of us got sick before, during, and after our stay.

Everyone had fun out on the lake.

Ice fishing was a favorite. This is Dana, our middle daughter.

The older ones got their exercise pushing the young ones across the ice on sleds (after they shoveled it)....

...and pulling them around the lake in a wagon (this is Christoffer and Vince).

Inside we relaxed, played games, and ate popcorn by the fireplace.

I'll try to update you a little more frequently. We can't believe that our time with Christoffer is half gone. It's going way too quickly.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Katie and Ryan Schouweiler's Wedding, January 24, 2015

For the third time in less than a year I got to coordinate the wedding of a beautiful young couple, following God's call for their life to be united in marriage. It was a pleasure to get to work closely with the girls and help make their special days go smoothly. I finally had the presence of mind to video tape the wedding last Saturday for my niece Katie and Ryan. Actually, it wasn't my mind, but the photographer who, during the rehearsal of the song with the bride, asked, "Is anyone going to videotape this?"

I decided I would! It's not high quality, but it captures the day. My camera stops on its own and saves the content about every 12 1/2 minutes and I tried to stop and start it so it wouldn't make breaks during important parts of the ceremony. I waited too long for the first break so part 2 is only 25 seconds long (the time between the camera's break and then the one I initiated).

Part 1 Welcome, Giving away the bride, Pastor's charge

Part 2 Pastor's charge continued

Part 3 The Pledge, the vows, signing the marriage license with Chet and Bryce singing "How Sweet the Sound" by Citizen Way

Part 4 Katie, Chet, and Bryce singing "Holy (Wedding Day)" by The City Harmonic

Part 5 Exchange of Rings, Introduction of couple, recessional to Chet and Bryce singing "How Sweet the Sound" and other songs as the guests are dismissed

It was a special thing for me to see four of my children participate in this wedding. Ellen and Dana are three years apart and Katie fits right in between them. The three of them have been friends forever and have literally gone through all of their life's highs and lows together. Chet and Katie are only only 4 months apart so he was the odd boy out in that age group of cousin/siblings. They started singing together in high school and I hope they don't stop. And Bryce, Bryce is just everyone's friend and finds a way to be a part of the lives of all of his family, close and extended, no matter what the age.

(And if you're wondering, my daughter Ellen (the bridesmaid on the far left), is 8 months pregnant.)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

For Heidi and Svein Olav

When I was an exchange student in England we didn't have the internet to connect us to home, or home to us. Phone calls were very expensive and we only spoke three times during my year abroad. Besides writing letters, one of the ways my parents felt connected was to see my photographs. I used a 35 mm camera and shipped the rolls of film back to the US to be processed. I gave my parents' address as the home address so that the processed photos would be sent to them. They would look forward to getting a package from the film company and often had to guess at what I was doing or who I was with in the photos.

Now that we have internet the distance doesn't seem quite so great. However, having a photograph and seeing your son in his new environment would certainly be comforting to parents who feel further away than the emails and facebook posts suggest.

I have included pictures from a few different activities over the past 2 months. I did not include any from soccer since you've been able to see those online. I am also missing a few since I can't find one of the cameras I used, but I'm sure it will show up eventually!

This is the first view that we had of our students, and they of us, on August 15. As I already told you, Heidi, I got very teary-eyed just seeing Christoffer walk into the gym. He is fifth from the left. The students all lined up and then had to introduce themselves, tell what country they were from, and tell who they were going to be living with and where. It was difficult to just sit there waiting for everyone to speak when we just wanted to run and hug our students!

We were finally able to meet face to face. I know you've seen this photo but I wanted to include it as the first picture of Christoffer with some of his American siblings, Gabe and Owen. Bryce had to work and Keith and Lisa were with other family members on a camping trip.

We made the three hour drive home where Bryce met us and the next morning Gabe, Chris, and I joined the campers for a bike ride. Here he is with Keith getting a bike ready.

With Lisa and Gabe filling water bottles from a pump.

My son-in-law took this photo of us that includes our daughter, Dana, and grandchildren, Sadie and Nigel. The other half of our group (friends, cousins, and an aunt and uncle) had left by this time.

This is the family playing the game Pictionary. It was entertaining to have Chris play a game where he had to draw and guess words in English. We had some very funny situations when there were words mix-ups or when he knew what a drawing meant but didn't know the English word and would act it out. He never was nervous or embarrassed but just had a good time with everyone.

Seniors have special pictures taken their final year of high school. Christoffer has a cd with hundreds of the pictures but here a few of his favorites. Bob Mainhardt(our photographer friend)even took a few of the boys together for us. I actually had to get them out of school to take the pictures because their schedules were so busy with soccer and we had the two weddings (I am still working on getting those pictures!).

Homecoming week was certainly a new experience. Traditionally, "homecoming" was the week, or the Friday night football game, when graduates would come back to see one another at their school. Some do return, but it is used more for festivities and fun events for the current students. During homecoming week there are a number added activities for the students and one of them is "spike volleyball". In this game, the junior and senior boys form two teams and compete against one another. The members of the girls' volleyball team act as their coaches and the girls' coach acts as the official. Parents and students attend the game and cheer on the teams in a very light-hearted and fun atmosphere. There is a lot of joking and laughing. One of the fathers handed his son (a junior whose team was losing) $5 and the boy ran and put it in the official's pocket as a bribe. It was all in fun and was an enjoyable night. Our senior boys won the game.

On Friday afternoon of that week there is a pep rally for the students during the last hour of school. They introduce the sports teams, the band plays, the dance team performs, and the "homecoming court" are introduced by performing a small skit they have planned. "Homecoming court" are the students who were voted by their classmates to contend for the title of Homecoming King and Queen.

The dance team recruited a group of boys to perform part of their dance with them. I wasn't sitting in a good spot to see it very well. I was filming and Lisa was taking pictures, but we're hoping to get a copy of the film that a friend took. You can see Bryce and Chris together in the front row.

Bryce was on homecoming court and he had Chris participate in his skit.

After the pep rally the students and many people from the community go downtown for a parade. I've called it the "world's worst parade", but everyone has a lot of fun. It's over in about 20-25 minutes. Different groups from the school have a "float" (often just a vehicle with a sign that they walk next to), the band marches, the grade school children walk and throw candy to spectators, and the homecoming court ride in the back of trucks with the king and queen being the last vehicle down the street. Gabe LOVES the Hodag!

Here's Owen with the soccer team. Christoffer was walking with the football team and I didn't see him in time to get a picture.

Bryce and Emma, king and queen

Lisa got so much candy that she divided it between herself and the three boys who were in the parade. She spelled their names out with the candy on their beds.

Here's a picture of Christoffer getting ready for a kick-off in the game that night.

The following pictures are from our canoe trip down the Wisconsin River. It wasn't a long trip, just a few hours, but it was a beautiful day to be out. Christoffer caught this fish with his hands before we started down the river!

We saw two trees along that river that were being gnawed by beavers.

The family

We went to our cabin that evening for supper and were joined by Dana and her family (David, Sadie, and Nigel). We should have turned the heat on earlier. It was chilly in there. We just had the cabin built this summer. A wood stove will be installed next week.

I hope you've enjoyed a little window into Christoffer's American life!