Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Monkey In My Chair

I've been blogging, and reading blogs, for much longer than I've had this particular blog! There is one blogger that I have followed for about five years now. She used to be known as "Baggage," and she had a blog called "Baggage And Bug." Baggage was a single mother who had adopted her daughter from the foster care system. As the blog progressed, Baggage also began to foster parent other children. At one point she had five foster children, plus her daughter, all at once. Two of the children Baggage was foster parenting were known as "Bubba" and "Snowbaby" in the blog. They were toddlers who had been severely neglected, abused, and exposed to many dangerous situations. Baggage gave them the kind of loving, motherly care that they had never known, and the children began to flourish. At the time, the social services departments' goal was to reunite Bubba and Snowbaby with their mother. Baggage went through the agonizing feelings of wanting to keep the children because she loved them and didn't want to lose them, also wanting to keep them because she was afraid if they went back to their mother they might be exposed to abuse and neglect again, but also feeling bad for wanting to keep the children because she knew what a big deal it is to end a mother's relationship with her children. Thankfully, after Baggage had foster parented the children for several years, their mother's rights were terminated. In 2010, Baggage adopted them! 

However, the kids' rough road didn't stop there. Last year, Baggage (now known by her real name, Michelle) found out that Snowbaby (now known as Tori) had neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on the body's nerves. It turned out that tumors had already started to grow on little Tori's nerves. She had a tumor in each eye, and one in her brain. Tori, who is now six years old, had to have brain surgery this past February to remove the brain tumor. And now, she is undergoing chemotherapy to get rid of the tumors in her eyes. Unfortunately the chemo has been horribly rough and painful for this brave little girl. 

The reason I wanted to share this story with you was partly because Tori could use all the fans she can get... so if you want to visit her blog, Team Tori, that would be awesome. Tori knows that her mother is keeping a blog for her, and Michelle reads all of the comments to her. They really cheer her up, especially now that she is unable to go to school. So, if you have a minute, go check it out! 

The other reason is that I wanted to share a resource with you. Since Tori is missing a lot of school (she'll be missing months of it, since it is not safe for her to be exposed to germs every day during chemo and since she's in too much pain most of the time anyway) there is a stuffed monkey sitting in her chair and guarding her desk. His name is Bananas. He works for a program called Monkey In My Chair. 

A lot of times, when a child is seriously ill and has to miss a lot of school, he gets a lot of attention from classmates in the beginning... but as time goes on, they get used to him being gone, and start to forget about him  The child can feel isolated and lonely, and when he does eventually go back to school, he may feel like he no longer belongs there.

Monkey In My Chair was started so that children with cancer would still feel like they were a part of their classrooms. The monkey sitting in the child's chair is a very visible, and lighthearted, way to keep the child in the minds of her classmates. He also comes with a book that the teacher can read to the students to help them understand what the child with cancer is going through. And, the program includes an online, secured message system where teachers and students can send messages and documents (like "we miss you" cards and, well, homework) to the absent child. Through all of these ways, the child is able to stay connected to his classroom and still feel like he's part of the community. 

When I read about this program on Tori's blog, I wanted to tell you about it so that you might remember it. If you ever have a child in your classroom who gets diagnosed with cancer and needs to undergo treatment, please remember this program and contact them. In fact, although this program is specifically for children battling cancer, if you have any child with a serious or chronic illness who misses a lot of school, you may want to use this idea to implement your own program. It could be a stuffed bear or a stuffed dog in the chair, and its pretty easy to set up a blog or email address for your class to communicate with a sick child. The point is, it is very important for children with serious illnesses to feel like they are still, first and foremost, children. They want to talk to their friends, do homework, and keep up with what is going on in class. If you can help them preserve this sense of still being a part of the class, it can really make a difference in the life of a child who is going through a traumatizing experience. 

So, if you have time, please check out Tori's blog, and then check out Monkey In My Chair. Let me know what you think! 

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