Thursday, February 28, 2013

Signing Time Giveaway

The cool thing about the Internet is that when you write a blog post about a certain company, they can easily find it, read it, and thank you for talking about them.

In my case, a Signing Time representative contacted me about Monday's post when I talked through a bit about what Signing Time means to us around here.

And then she asked me if I would like to give away one of their DVDs.

You may notice that I don't do a lot of giveaways on this blog (except for special occasions like Down syndrome awareness month). But for this I will make an exception because this is so much more than just a product to me. Plus, after bragging on them relentlessly the other day, it's only fair to now give away a free DVD to one of you!

After a long week of blogging (wait, it's only Thursday???), we'll keep this simple.

The mandatory entries are liking Signing Time on Facebook and leaving a blog comment as to which DVD you will pick if you win. Extra entries include following EANFE (Everything and Nothing from Essex) and sharing this giveaway (which can be done once a day).  Log your entries in the Rafflecopter down below and you're good to go!

A winner will be picked next Thursday (March 7th) at which point he/she can select one Signing Time DVD priced at $19.99 or less, which will be sent to them courtesy of Signing Time. Easy Peasy.

Thank you, Signing Time for being so awesome and offering to do this giveaway after reading this mom's ramblings! It really makes me feel like my voice is being heard.

p.s. thank you to those who answered my question on the tape on Rachel's hands while signing. You are right- the FAQ guide plus some DVD outtakes explains that it is to clarify certain signs. (-:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Letting Go Of Her Name

Every since we announced Addison's name with that final belly bump picture in her nursery with
A D D I S O N wooden letters hung carefully on the pink wall, I have been very strict.

Addison. Not Addy.

I gave the smack down like only new mothers can to each and every person who dared shorten her beautiful, elegant name to the butchered version of the name that I loved EVERY letter of.

"NO no NO no NO. It is ADDISON." I would correct them with an air of shock and unbelief that they would be so cruel as to alter the name that I had so carefully chosen.

When I pictured an "Addison", I pictured a cultured, gorgeous woman who loved dancing, reading, and cooking with her mother. When I pictured an "Addy", I pictured a stubborn woman who hated her mother. (No idea why. At the time I didn't know any Addys in real life, and the ones I have met since are wonderful, non-stubborn, mothering-loving people!)

For the past three years, everyone has graciously called Addison by her full name A-D-D-I-S-O-N all the while giving me the side eye of "did I get it right?" (I also heard a few choruses of "unreasonable mother" whispered about...but I didn't care. This was the ONE thing I could control in my daughter's life. Her name.)

My perfect plan all started to unravel a week ago when Carter requested his sister. "Addy!" He cheerfully shouted.

I tried correcting him once.

"Sweetie, don't you mean Addison?"

"ADDY!" He screamed back in joy.

I shrugged and went with it, happy that he was building such an awesome connection with his sister. I wasn't willing to pick a fight with 1. My little boy 2. A new talker who was doing the best he could to communicate with me. You pick your battles.

And then.

Last night.

Poppa was over. (Addison LOVES her Poppa). They were chatting in the mirror together (Addison LOVES mirrors). Addison was laughing (Addison LOVES to laugh).

As my sweet girl was giggling at herself in the reflection of the mirror, held by her favorite person in the whole world- she uttered a brand new word.

"ADDY!" She yelled with joy.

"Did she say....Daddy?" I questioned.  We weren't sure so we just waited. Sure enough, about thirty seconds later one tiny hand pointed to her reflection in the mirror and we heard once again "ADDY!"

And then she proceeded to shout with laughter, point to herself over and over again, and say very distinctly "ADDY, Addy, Addy. ADDY!"

I knew that the time had come to let go at whatever sort of weird meaning I had ascribed to the full name vs nickname as a first time mom. I was too busy beaming with pride at 1. a BRAND new word 2. Her recognition that this was HER name 3. Her obvious delight at being able to communicate that to us.

In new motherhood at first it seems like everything is about the mother. Pregnancy, giving birth, naming the baby, losing sleep, feeding, etc. The mother gets to make all the choices and the baby goes along with it because let's face it the baby is just a cute little bump on a pickle who cries, poops, eats, and hopefully sleeps every now and then. But at a certain point there is a switch to who is the ultimate decider on certain things. The baby wakes up one day and is a big girl with ideas of her own of how her life should look. Some of these ideas need to be tempered. Some of them should bring change.

I'm going to go with her on this one. You'll still hear me say "Addison" mostly (because a mom can dream)...but the ban on "Addy" is gone because how can you say no to a little girl trying so hard to assert her opinion over something that now seems so trivial?

I'm convinced that motherhood is all about letting go of control. After Addison's tumultuous pregnancy and first year of life, this seemed like a safe thing to hold onto. Now? It's just another one of those things put into my "lessons learned" file.


Coming from her little rosebud lips with such clear understanding as to what that word means to her...I have never heard a more beautiful name. 
 (please excuse the chocolate on her coat...typical day around here)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I'm not going to lie. Lately I've been feeling like a failure.

The kitchen counter produces mess faster than I can clean it up. Laundry quadruples when I blink. The clutter magically appears even after I've already cleared it. Exercise isn't happening like my head tells me it should. My wardrobe consists of non-fabulous "whatever fits". These long winter days spent with my children leave me feeling more and more insufficient in my mothering. When I sit down to write about it all, words fail me. When I do pour my heart out in a little project that I'm working on, I think- no one's going to want to read this.

Maybe this has something to do with winter blues. Maybe it has something to do with the phase in life that I'm in right now with two small children that tear apart faster than I can clean and arrange. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that no one has yet invented a way to receive coffee through an IV.

But the more I ponder why I beat myself up, the more ridiculous I feel this guilt is. I am doing my best! Why do I feel like a failure? Why do I feel so much pressure to be perfect in my housekeeping/mothering/exercising/fashion wearing/decorating? If my house is cluttered while I love on my children and slowly get the work done, who cares? Why is it considered a failure in my mind if the world that I'm creating for my family isn't perfect every second?

Truth be told, I blame social media for all the extra guilt I've been feeling lately.

When I log on to my computer or phone to catch a short break, I see women doing it all- one post/pin/tweet/status at a time.

tells me that everyone else's houses are way nicer than mine.
tells me that they are all perfectly clean and decorated fabulously.
Hollywood/Fashion online 
tells me that I should be super skinny with "summer ready" arms
tell me that other mothers plan their days out in fifteen minute increments full of brain-enhancing activities for their kids....while modeling their own clothing line.
My email inbox 
tells me that these "fifteen easy/gourmet dishes" are being made effortlessly by everyone else
And facebook
Facebook tells me exactly when all of my friends are exercising, pushing their houses toward Pinterest-ready, checking-in on the amazing adventures they're taking their children, sharing pictures of the gourmet meal they made that day, and their overall daily success in fabulousness.

According to social media, thousands of women are perfectly juggling every single aspect of the mommy-life. Meanwhile, I am passed on on the floor next to them because the bowling balls I tried to hoist smacked me in the face.

It's enough to give 'this girl' a complex as I wear pajamas cleaning my dirty house with a failed wreath project adding to the clutter with two children whose only objectives in life seem to be to live in the dishwasher, play with the toilet plunger, and hide half-eaten pears where I won't find them until the smell leads me to the scene of the crime.

I get how helpful all of these posts can be. I want to be inspired. I want to get good ideas for dinners. I want to hear what activities I can use for my own kids to fill the days. I want to see exactly how that boot/sweater/jean combination can make me feel like a million bucks. I want to have this connection to the outside world especially when the only conversation around here most days is gibberish and toddler yells.

But sometimes I think it's too much of a good thing. Obviously it's not a bad thing for people to be posting all of these wonderful hints and helps. The "bad thing" comes in when I let it control me. The bad thing comes in when I have an unhealthy view of my reality versus what I see on the screen. The bad thing is when I let it affect how I feel about myself.

I find myself pulling back from social media more and more these days. (Dear social media, It's not's me.) I need to remind myself where my balance is. I need to remind myself that my reality- albeit not shiny and perfect- is amazing too. I need to spend my disaster-filled days with two rambunctious toddlers and be happy and content that my life is infused with the joy of 80% baby giggles 10% soft hugs 5% wet-open-mouthed-baby kisses and 5% looks of adoration in those big blue eyes- even though the rest of my life might be falling down around me at times. It's a different kind of perfect.

Maybe I'm the only one who struggles with these feelings of failure because of the overdose of inspiration available online these days. Maybe you are all sitting in your Pinterest-perfect homes, planning your gourmet meals, wearing fashionable scarfs draped around your non-food stained outfits, while chatting with your personal trainers on speed dial. If that's the case, I'm glad to contribute a post to your daily chuckle.

But just in case I'm not alone on this, I'm sharing my new daily affirmation that I need on the days that I forget and let myself get caught up in an unhealthy attitude toward inspiration and reality.

I Need To Remember:
I may not be perfect, but I am not a failure.

I am not the best, but I am doing MY best.

I will take inspiration however I can, but if I get depressed through the comparison game, I will shut my computer and go live my life one pin-less chore at a time.

I will be thankful for what IS and what I CAN do and what DOES get done rather than focus on what isn't, can't, and doesn't.

My life is uniquely mine. Small pleasures, small accomplishments, small frustrations, small joys- no one else can define how that should look for me or choose my attitude towards them.

My day might go as planned. It might not. It's OK. Tomorrow is a new day.

I will not have small, disaster-prone children forever. Someday my house will be clean and quiet and I'll miss these days.

I'm not running a marathon anytime soon (or probably ever), but I am putting one foot in front of the other and pressing forward where I can.

My success is not measured against the success of others, but rather my contentment and happiness in what I have done with what I have been given.

I will love through frustrations, encourage through disappointments, laugh through failures, and keep my focus on the big picture of life instead of the small details of mundane.

I will live for myself instead of for an invisible online audience.

I will stop pretending that motherhood is a reality TV show in which there are judges, makeup artists, set designers, and ambitious contestants waiting to slit my throat at the first sign of weakness.

I will be real even when it's not cool.

And now.....I will now stop writing this blog post to go do a few more laps on the housework hamster wheel that is calling my name....

Here's to going "unplugged" when necessary, keeping perspective when feeling overwhelmed, and counting blessings even when they look different than the photo-shopped/Instagram-enhanced picture fantasy.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Little Bit About Signing Time

I talk about Signing Time a lot here on the blog, and every week I get emails asking questions about this mysterious "Signing Time" that equals chocolate on Addison's list of favorite things.

Signing Time is a DVD series created by a mom who has a daughter who is deaf. This mom (Rachel Coleman) was concerned that her daughter's peers didn't have a fun, easy way to learn the language that her daughter (Leah) depended on, so Rachel created a way.

Signing Time features Rachel as the narrator, Leah (her daughter), Alex (her nephew), and Hopkins (an animated green frog).

Sometimes the screen shots are animated, sometimes not, sometimes they flash through a whole gallery of babies/children doing the sign being taught, sometimes they just focus on Alex, Leah, and Rachel. The kicker for us (that got Addison so hooked) is that Rachel is an amazing composer. She writes all the songs that she sings on each DVD.

In each segment she teaches a few new signs, and then she sings a song using all of those signs. These songs are simple, witty, fun, and super catchy. (Sometimes I lay awake at night with snippets going through my head on loop).

When Addison was about a year old, a friend of my mother's actually gave us quite a number of these DVDs. These DVDs are a little spendy (between $15-$20 a piece), so this act of kindness was huge to us.

Addison has never wanted to watch Sesame Street, any animated Disney DVDs, Barney, Mickey Mouse Club, or Dora. All she will watch longer for thirty seconds is Signing Time. Now she will climb up onto the couch, pull up a warm blanket, and sign along with the DVD all the way through (while requesting that snacks be brought to her here).

She learns best through repetition (and music), and these DVDs give her that while providing me a bit of a break.

A few months after she started watching them, Aaron and I were talking about a mouse up in the attic. I looked over at Addison who was signing something really passionately. I had to look up the sign because I didn't know what it was, and sure enough "MOUSE". A sign that never once had we tried to teach her but she learned from the DVD and then participated in our conversation. LOVE.

Some of our best mother/daughter moments have started with us sitting on that couch together, watching, signing, and singing along with the DVD and knowing what the other one is saying because we have Rachel as our translator.

At first I wasn't sure if I wanted Carter to learn Signing Time since I had heard rumors of children having delayed speech because they relied on sign instead of working on speech. But after watching him 1. pick it up anyway (from Addison) and 2. verbalize speech right along with it- I really don't think that is true. Carter has a really good friend (hi Zoe!) who has also learned a lot of sign language during her first year, and her speech wasn't delayed one bit. I'm calling it: rumor with no truth behind it.

The biggest question I get is which DVD to start with. This is tricky because your child might have a different favorite than mine. But out of all of the Playtime Signs, First Signs, etc ones- Addison's current favorite is Signing Time! Volume 10: My Day. This has taught her the signs for the routine that we do every day. "Wake up" "Get dressed" "Comb hair" "Brush Teeth""Time to Play" "Take a bath" "Go to sleep" etc. And of course there are rockin' songs to go along with it all.
Also, the Signing Time! Volume 12: Time to Eat is a favorite. There is a "silly pizza" song that your child may or may not request to watch one billion times.

Of course you could always start with the Baby Signing Time Volume 2: Here I Go DVD (also Volume 1). My kids aren't babies anymore, yet they still LOVE these. This one teaches basic signs such as "more", "eat", "shoe", "play","doll", "car". (While I type this, the kids are watching this:)
Potty Time - Dvd/CD is being watch around here a LOT lately. It makes flushing and wiping sound like a day at Disney. Seriously. The songs are kind of hysterical out of context, but the kids are captivated by them, and Addison has become obsessed with spending a lot of time on the potty and pretending to wipe. I'll take it.
And last but not least, another favorite is Signing Time Volume 4: Family, Feelings & Fun DVD . I requested this one for Christmas for the kids because we wanted to work on emotions with Addison. "Are you sad?" "Mad?" "Happy?" This is a really fun one, and covers a wide variety of topics (once again, with amazing songs)
We have not watched all the DVDs, we are not experts on this system, and this is not a sponsored post by Signing Time. I've just gotten so many questions on this lately, I thought I would share what has been big at this house.

1. The DVDs are short (30ish minutes). Don't expect an hour and a half long program even though the price might make you think that's what's coming. I like the shortness of them because it keeps me from letting the kids spend a whole morning/afternoon in front of the TV.

2. I have NO IDEA why Rachel puts colored stickers on her fingers. I have asked friends who are interpreters and they say this is not standard practice. I assume it's to help clarify which fingers she is using per sign? But I really don't know, and I am very curious.

3. These DVDs have truly provided a fun, easy way for Addison to learn sign language (and the rest of us too), so that when she chooses to, she can communicate ten times more than what she is able to verbalize. Signing Time has been a life saver around here. Although it hasn't solved all of our communication struggles, it has definitely helped fill in some of the gaps.

4. Even if your child doesn't have speech delays, this is a great way for your child to learn to communicate with someone who does. Addison's friends love to watch Signing Time with her. It is heartwarming to see their interest in something that is so important to Addison. (Also, I think the way the DVDs are put together help with this interest. Seriously, they're really well done and capture the attention of a small child quite brilliantly)

5. Rachel does live concerts. We have never been to one, but it is on our bucket list. Have any of you gone to these live concerts? Was it good?

I know that a lot of you already are into Signing Time with your kids (which DVD is your child's favorite?). But to those of you who don't and were perhaps confused at my frequent references, I hope that this clears a few things up.

If you have any additional questions- leave them in the comment section, and even if it's not from one of the DVDs that I have watched or is something that I know, probably someone else who reads this blog can help since I know a lot of you also use Signing Time with your kids.

Disclaimer: I am not paid to write this post and all opinions are my own, but I am an Amazon associate so if you purchase a DVD through one of these links, I do earn a small percentage.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Not a Real Post

This isn't a real post. This is me saying "hey I haven't posted much this week and the competition ends on the 24th." What competition? I am so glad you asked. This one:
Parents Blog Award Finalist
You can vote once a day. I am not in first place or even second. But I am in a category with such amazing blogs, I don't consider this a loss. If you could find it in your heart to jump on over to Parents and give me a vote, I would definitely appreciate you helping me finish strong.

I'm not a vote begger. That's why I've simply stuck the badge at the end of posts and hoped that somehow magically the badge would do the ugly work for me. And at the end of the day? I'm still right here doing my thing. Writing, laughing, crying, mothering, ignoring know, the usual.

That said, the competition ends on Sunday and then I promise you won't have to hear about it any more! (and THANK YOU to those of you who have been voting for me!!!)

Also, while I'm doing a random post, I just wanted to post some pictures of my little boy. Lately I've written a lot about Down syndrome and Addison's special needs, and he has gotten slightly ignored on here. Not because he doesn't still take up a large part of my heart and attention. Promise. It's just one of those things.

But in case any of you are saying "son?" "What son?"

This one:
 The one who is growing up so fast I think I might wake up tomorrow to discover he used his toy trucks to dig a hole in the floor in his room to make a bigger sandbox for himself.
His words to me this morning when I went to get him up were HI! Potty. Poo poo. Down. CRACKER. Addie. Addie. Addie. ADDIE. Addie. Cereal. To love your sister more than crackers at the age of 18 months is a pretty amazing thing. hehe (-:

Also, my sister and her husband celebrated the arrival of a brand new life yesterday. Emma Paige. It's one of those times that I completely hate living half a country away. Congratulations, Bekka, Eric, and big sister Lauren! She couldn't have chosen a better family to join. We're praying for peace and health to be with you guys during this time of transition.

To sum up this not-a-post post:
2. Carter is cute
3. I'm an auntie again!

It's a good week....and a great time to start a good weekend.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Good

In the spirit of the whole story, I can't post yesterday's post without posting today's post.

It is frustrating at times. It is hard. It is unfair.

But I don't even have the words to describe to you what it's like when it's good.

What it's like to watch Addison feed herself every single meal now after a NICU doctor said she might never come off the g-tube let alone handle her own utensils. (Not only does she easily feed herself, she INSISTS upon it)

What's it's like to see her face light up like the sun when she sees me waiting for her outside her room after preschool.

What it's like to then see her smile and walk confidently toward me with an air of sophisticated girlhood that wasn't there when I dropped her off. (another morning of happy learning under her belt!)

What it's like to have her arms wrap around me for a hug and then turn and say "bye-bye" to her classmates.

What it's like to watch her walk out to the car on her own after we worked twenty-seven months for those first steps. (and no she does NOT want me to hold her hand)

What it's like to have the Speech therapist tell me that Addison said "love you baby" to the doll she was playing with during school. (note to self: bring tissues to the next pick-up)

What it's like to see Addison sneak over to her friend's car instead of ours because she wanted to say "bye bye" one more time. (and possibly try to hitch a ride home with her so that playtime could continue!)

What it's like to see her learn and grow into this amazing little person who socializes the heck out of preschool and plays in perfect harmony with her brother.

What it's like to see her dissolve into hysterical laughter at something Carter says/does and when he laughs back, she laughs even harder. (It's like they're playing ping pong and the ball is the cutest laugh in the world.)

What it's like to see her playing tea party with her stuffed animals in her room when she's supposed to be sleeping.

What it's like to watch her stack blocks for hours and then when Carter knocks down her creation she patiently smiles and starts again.

What it's like when an unexpected word sneaks through those rosebud lips and sets the world on fire around her.

What it's like to be the mother of a miracle baby who daily defies the long lists of expectations and predictions that were handed to me at her birth.

I don't have the words because amazing, wonderful, fantastic just don't seem to cut it.

Astounding, breathtaking, spectacular, incredible, magnificent, extraordinary, marvelous, astonishing, awe-inspiring, impressive, stunning, thrilling, miraculous, unbelievable, exciting....

...and still I can't capture the feeling on paper. Because when the moments of good happen, they truly fill my world with happiness.

And no, I'm not trying to exaggerate to be sensational, or oversell my daughter to the world to avoid pity. I'm telling the truth. Just like I did yesterday.

I think God gives special needs parents extra hurdles to cross over to help balance out the extreme good. In the spirit of fairness and all...

Parents Blog Award Finalist

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Whine

She clung to my leg, not speaking, not signing, but whining like a tea kettle on boil that refused to cool. It was obvious that she wanted to say something- ask for something, but she simply couldn't.

I asked her every question I could think to ask. I showed her objects that maybe she might like to eat. I cycled through her vocabulary of signs hoping she would mimic one of them back to me. I begged with her to tell me what she wanted; why she was whining; what I could do to help her.

Her only response was to whine some more. A never-ending whine that carried with it frustration, sadness, and so many unspoken thoughts that she couldn't release past her lips because it was just too difficult to make her mouth obey her mind.

Maybe if this was the first and only occurrence of this infamous whine, my patience would have held steady, comforting her like the mother I knew I should be.

But this wasn't the first. Nor would it be the last. The last several weeks her comprehension has jumped far ahead of her verbal and signing skills, and she is frustrated. So she whines. All the time. After the first week of straight whining, I was fine. After the second week of constant WHINE I was a little less fine. Third and fourth week found me on the steady decline, and last Friday I realized that I was completely out of patience. Gone. I scraped around in the barrel of extra patience that I usually keep on hand, but it was completely empty.

Feeling like the most terrible mother in the world, I thought about how unfair this is. How unfair that I have spend hundreds of hours with her in speech therapy and yet her ability to tell me why she is upset still isn't there. How unfair that I have married my soul to Signing Time but in her time of need her small hands rest still at her side. How unfair that after three years of dedicated, diligent work I have a three year old with barely the communication skills of a one year old.

It is frustrating. It is draining. It is unfair.

Carter is already communicating so much better than she is, and this breaks my heart in a new way. Will she ever grow up enough to tell us what she wants? Will my bond with Carter grow stronger than my bond with her because he's able to share with me what's going on while her only solution is this madness-inducing whine?

On Friday I had to walk away. Just leave and separate myself from it all for a bit. Thankfully Aaron was home, so I was able to turn a "run these bills to the post office" errand into an hour long retreat in my car where no whine was to be heard for a while. But still over the hum over the engine, the bouncy beat of the music, and the jumbled thoughts in my head...I could still hear the whine.

My mind had been branded with the sound.

I tried to find peace within myself over this. I tried to turn it into a sparkly end-of-the story moment that would prove to me that all of this work was for something even though speech progress seems to be at a death crawl. But I couldn't find peace. Because there's no guarantee that Addison will ever be able to share her thoughts with us. There's no guarantee that she won't always be practically nonverbal. There's no guarantee that she won't be a ten year old on the floor whining just like she did that morning. I felt myself pushed over an invisible edge that I didn't notice was there until I found myself falling.

And then I cried. I cried for what I felt I deserved based on the work I had put in. I cried for the frustration that was probably just beginning. I cried because this was hard.

And somewhere in those tears a memory came to me. A connection that I hadn't made until that moment.

Along with the new whining has come a new desire to cuddle.

Addison has never been a cuddler, but lately she can't seem to get enough of it. And in that moment of sobbing in my car in the grocery store parking lot, flashes of these these cuddle sessions came back to me. Addison would put her head right up next to mine, ear to ear, and I would wrap an arm around her to pull her close. And just as we would start to meld together, she would turn her face towards me and flash the most brilliant smile that lights up a dark sky and colors a black and white movie. She would then settle back into the position of ear to ear, digging her head in as close to mine as possible- almost as if she's transferring everything bottled up inside of her from her head to mine in hopes that I can read her, understand her, help her, love her even when she can't tell it to me herself.

As I remembered this, it occurred to me that it's not that this is unfair for me as her mother. It's that it's unfair for her.

It's unfair that she has worked so hard in Speech Therapy for hundreds of hours and yet she still can't tell me what she wants. It's unfair that she has dedicated so many hours to Signing Time and yet in her moment of need she can't put together the signs to say the thoughts buzzing around in her head. It's unfair that after three years of working hard to get healthy, growing, and learning she is still so far behind other children who have done these same things with a lot less effort.

Somehow with that thought returned just enough patience to keep going.

Her communication struggles aren't her fault. They don't mean that her life is worth less than a child who easily talks. They don't take away from her sparkling personality. They just are because of the low muscle tone in and around her mouth, a small mouth, and a regular-sized tongue. This will most likely always be a struggle for her.

It would be nice if parenting returned an equal reward for the exact amount of effort I put into it. But it doesn't. At times this seems more unfair than others. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how unfair my story looks as a mother. It only matters how I can help my daughter past the seemingly unfair hand that she's been dealt. Because she's working just as hard as I am.

She just can't tell me about it.

Parents Blog Award Finalist

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Some Practical Valentine's Day Cards

Because nothing screams romance from the hubs louder than:

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Let's Go Back To The Party Conversation For A Minute

So I'm here for a second post today because I need to clear up a misunderstanding caused by the yesterday's post.

Yesterday I shared with you my latest dose of mommy guilt. I poured my heart out about Addison's birthday and what my mind told me I should do vs what I could actually do in reality.

I compared myself to a bag lady- juggling the tasks of motherhood.

And when I mentioned the posts of parties that I've seen on Facebook and Pinterest, I know it was easy to think that I was condemning those that DO choose to throw parties.

Let me go on record by saying that wasn't my intent at all.

Definitely there is probably a wrong way to throw a party. Definitely there could be a competition to outdo the other in how fabulously we celebrate our children's lives. Definitely there is a fine line to dance between showing off and just throwing an awesome party.

But just because my choice in life right now is to not throw a party doesn't mean I think that someone else couldn't throw a very tasteful, fun celebration of their child's day of birth.

I have two very good examples of well-done parties currently in my life: the two parties we attended last weekend of Addison's friends.

They were tasteful. They were fun. They were child-centered. They were well-planned. I used the word "awesome" but not in an over-the-top way. They were awesome in a simple, wonderful, celebratory way. If I were to throw a party, I would want it to be very similar to these parties. No one was trying to outdo the other. They were just in the moment, having a good time, being thankful for the life that came to be three years ago. There was cake. There were balloons. There were activities that my children adored being a part of.

We were honored to attend these parties and to help celebrate.

The problem with blogging is that I can say one thing and yet one might interpret it differently. You all seemed to understand my heart about the Mommy Guilt part of it, but I let you make some assumptions about my friend's parties that weren't true, and for that I am sorry.

You can throw your child a party. You can not throw your child a party. The point of my post the other day was that party vs no party is not the defining point of whether or not we're good mothers. We all make different decisions according to our current daily life, and the right decision can look different for all of us.

I appreciated all of you who took the time to leave comments. I love comments! But after reading them all last night, I became aware that it was easy to take away something from the post about me judging parties that are the choice by many hard-working mothers. And I didn't mean to say that at all.

Especially when it concerns those who I love and respect very much.

To end on a lighter note, I share with you the lesser-known version of a Dr. Seuss poem which also seems to support birthday parties when the timing is right:

I do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham:
(forget everything you know about the original before you read this)

I do not like green eggs and ham
Except when at a good party
with cake, cake, cake, cake
lots and lots of chocolate cake

I do not like green eggs and ham
Except when wrapped in a package
with bows, bows, bows, bows
lots and lots of beautiful bows

I do not like green eggs and ham
Except when in a goody bag
with stickers, stickers, stickers, stickers
lots and lots of colorful stickers

I do not like green eggs and ham
As stand alone ingredients
Glitter, streamers, good sherbet
Make eggs and ham a good partay

(not sure what ol' Seussy was smoking when he wrote this, but it seems pretty genuine to me...)

A Break From My Kids

There's something so magical about being in my own house- normally so full of chaos- all alone.

As a stay-at-home mom to two little people, this is a rare occurrence for me. And by rare, I mean I am more likely to be struck by lightening- twice in one day- on two separate continents.

But this morning Addison was in preschool (!) and I tricked Daddy asked Daddy nicely to take Carter Henry with him to run his errands.

So after I dropped Miss A off and drove back home, I parked in our driveway instead of the garage because I didn't have to worry about hustling the twinsies in as quickly as possible to prevent frostbite or their never-ending temptation to become roadkill.

I slowly strolled up the path to the front deck, paused (because I COULD), and just breathed in the crisp cold air.

As I continued into the house, something euphoric came over me. A giddiness. A peace.

I kept breathing deeply. It felt weird to snarky ol' me, but it seemed to fit in the moment. I soaked in the silence. Rolled in it. Felt it hold me in a warm embrace.


Slowly, I felt my soul and sanity return hand-in-hand to me even if just for a brief moment.

The voice in my head shrieked "START CLEANING! Can't you see what a mess this place is in???"

Instead of my usual cower, I now found the strength to say "Shut up, Bertha. I'm busy."

I luxuriously made breakfast- two over easy eggs over lightly buttered wheat toast. And then I was able to eat it. ALL. Nobody stole it from me.

I wiped down the table. And it STAYED clean.
I could see evidence of my children everywhere- scattered toys, the bowls with Greek yogurt and applesauce still clinging to the sides from their breakfast, their dirty clothes in the bathroom, a still-wet tooth brush next to the sink. I knew they would come back eventually.

But this morning? Was all mine.

I pulled out my beautiful laptop that for a couple of hours didn't hold the risk of being pushed onto the floor. I sat down without guilt to get some work done and whispered "Mama's home".

As my fingers got busy typing, using this blog post as a warmup for other work that needed to be done, I felt happy for the first time in a while.

It's not that I don't love my kids. I do. But sometimes I need a break. Not just to get a sitter and go out. But a break in my own house. A chance to just be me in my home. A chance to get some work done NOT during nap time so that I could maybe get a break too.
I was chatting with my amazing friend Patti a couple of days ago. And it was evident that I was losing my mind more than a little bit. I was over analyzing- over obsessing-over dramatizing things that didn't deserve the extra thought. Patti has ten kids (soon to be eleven!) and she asked me very gently when I last had gotten a break from my kids (wise, wise woman).

I know the people around me love me very much and they bend over backwards to help me. But I think the problem here is me. I've been going through a phase where I'm afraid that by giving up time with my kids it'll make it seem like I don't love them enough to be with them every second of every day. I worry about something happening to them if I'm not there to control the situation. But the longer I do this, the more clearly I see that I'm a better mom if I can get a bit of space every now and then. No guilt. No one saying I don't love them. Just me, all alone, drinking from the steaming coffee cup doused in sanity so that I can return to my kids with the dedication that they deserve.
So that's what I'm doing this morning. And I write about it in weird detail because that's what I do. That's where I find my happy place.

I plan on doing this again soon.

Because once the clock strikes this Cinderella's version of midnight (10:30 am)? The rat race continues.

And I think I'll be ready for it.

Parents Blog Award Finalist

Monday, February 11, 2013

On why Addison didn't get a birthday party...and comparing mothers to bag ladies...

So I filled up your inboxes and new feeds last week with talk of Addison's birthday, musings from my perspective, pictures from hers. Some of you might now be expecting the pictures from a completely awesome Addison-themed birthday party.

Well, I have a small confession. I didn't throw her a party. In fact, I didn't throw her one last year or really the year before. (Note: this does NOT mean she didn't get chocolate...or presents...she got both of these in abundance I promise)
Over the weekend we DID attend two completely awesome birthday parties of Addison's friends. And especially this year I have struggled with my decision to not commit to a party.

I wanted to give her a party. According to Facebook, everyone else is doing it. According to Pinterest, each of those parties is grandiose and amazing. And yet, Addison is a poor, deprived child who had to make due with a family dinner at Texas Roadhouse. (She's been on a bit of a country music kick, so we thought it would be appropriate)

And as I tried to make sense of this in my mind and wrestle back the demon Mommy Guilt who spends way too much time with me, I decided to write about it. (A therapist somewhere is losing a lot of money to my blog)

There are many things that I want to do for my children- or even outside of my family for my church or for myself- that I choose not to do that others easily still do with their family demands. Wonderful things. Things that would be fun, amazing, and for sure spice up this blog with fantastic pictures.

And yet I don't. Why?
The way I see it, being a mother is a bit like being a bag lady.

You have the large bag that you carry on your back that signifies your children's physical health and safety. For me this means diaper changing, small body bathing, dressing them, feeding them, doctor's appointments, therapy appointments, pulling them down from tall heights that they managed to climb up to but have no way to get down except for a prayer and a jump...

Then in one hand you have a bag that signifies the home that you create for your children to live in. For me this includes laundry, fixing the meals to feed the little ones, vacuuming up the mess from the meals (this is a constant), wiping down small handprints, picking up the spreading virus of clutter, making the best use of the space we're given (improvised playrooms etc), organizing the mess, taking care of the sour smells (oh my the smells...with two kids in diapers it gets pretty ripe around here).

In another hand you include a bag that signifies the social and mental development that you provide for your children. Even if it's just as simple as flashcards or small gross motor skill exercises, this takes planning and time. Also, Mommy Guilt will spend a lot of time in this bag, making it seem heavier than it actually is.

And of course there is a bag for taking care of our husbands. Not to be overlooked, this is an important one, and when it comes to the all consuming nature of motherhood, I oftentimes add him to my list of children to make sure that he stays a priority to this mommy who often gets lost in the care of the two little ones.

On top of all of this you have to balance a bag for your own social life (which for me often gets pushed to the back of all the other bags), a bag for doing the "extras" around your home to help improve it beyond the normal upkeep, a bag for the energy it takes to get your children out to the door to various activities, a bag to keep your children in seasonally fitting clothes, a bag full of tricks to soothe a crying child, a bag full of so much love that you don't mind most of the time the constant sacrifice that motherhood demands of you, a bag for keeping toys free of germs, a bag for teaching skills such as potty training and self-feeding, a bag to breathe into to keep from hyperventilating because of all of the other bags...
And as I stand on the brink of motherhood insanity, juggling my bags and wondering how everyone else makes it look so easy, I then start to think of my upcoming child's birthday and the expectations that are upon mommy bloggers for parties for their children.

I have friends who are amazingly strong, and they successfully added another bag for a fab party and continued running along their daily marathon with their bags all balanced perfectly through another day of mommy hood awesomeness. (Seriously, the two parties we attended this weekend were really great)

But I have come to recognize that I am not them. All of our bags will be different. Different sizes, different weights, different points of balance needed because of the different phases of motherhood we are in. All of us have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the act of juggling our responsibilities. What one mother can successfully add to the bag collection might be the toppling point for another.

You have to choose- make priorities- and sometimes cut out super wonderful, well-intentioned things because it's not what's best for your family because of your ability to juggle what you already have. The hard thing is that this point of decision will be different for all of us, and it's easy to let the compare game make us feel like failures if we don't match our friend's mothering activities.

So no, I didn't throw Addison a party. And I refuse to feel guilty about it. I just know that if I were to do it at this point in my life, something else important would be dropped...and probably trampled.

A mother lying on the floor, crushed under the weight of the bags of her responsibility doesn't do anyone any good. Even if a post full of awesome birthday party pictures is uploading while she lies there waiting for the bolt of lightening to send her shooting back up into business- was the sacrifice worth it?
The balancing act is an every-changing dynamic, and I hope someday to be able to handle a party for my little little ray of sunshine. But right now, I knew it wouldn't be the best choice to me or my family, so I carried on appropriately.

I'm a mommy bag lady.

And after three years I'm still finding my ever-changing balance. It's OK to say no. It's OK to underperform the Pinterest boards. Because the most important thing to me is protecting the load on my back- even if it means that I have to drop a few-well meaning bags to stay upright.
Parents Blog Award Finalist

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Did I cry?

I have been asked by a number of people if I cried while dropping Addison off for her first official preschool morning (the reason for the unheard TWO POSTS in one day!). Truth is, I have been trying all day to pin down the experience. It was so wonderful and yet so...unsettling.

I was excited because it was the beginning of something amazing- a bright future ahead of freshly sharpened pencils each fall, backpack carrying, school activities, learning opportunities, chances for new relationships.

I was sad because as I drove away I had an empty carseat in the back and somehow the car felt lopsided.

I was happy because she was so ready for the change. As a very social little girl, she thrives in this sort of setting. She loves to get dressed up and go PLAY, especially with other kids. She's worked hard in therapy the past three years, and she was deserving of a graduation.

I was nervous because all of a sudden I wondered if I was supposed to bring a birthday treat for her first day? What about Valentines Day- are there rules about what I'm supposed to do? The immense pressure and the new occasions to feel like I'm "not doing enough" overwhelmed me.

I was ecstatic to see Addison run into her classroom like she was born to be queen of this room.

I was nostalgic as I remembered everything we have been through to 1. fight for her to be healthy enough for this to be a reality 2. teach her the skills necessary to be able to fend for herself in school. We've been through a lot together, and when I close my eyes I can still see her in her NICU isolette. I can still smell her brand new skin that was such a weird color and smell for a newborn because of how sick she was. I can still feel the excitement of rounding the corner at the hospital to visit with her even though she was completely unresponsive. The worry and fear of her future combined with my mixed feelings towards Down syndrome in those early days are still in my distant memory.

And as I drove away in my lopsided car, peeking a glance at a grinning Carter Henry in the review mirror, the sadness and nostalgia won over, producing a few bittersweet tears.

I've had my share of moments of frustration with Down syndrome, and yet in that moment I felt like the luckiest mom in the world. As those tears fell, I pictured her tiny legs swallowed up by the warm pink boots that she insisted that she wear. I predicted more whiplash for her aide as Addison ran excitedly around the room. I could still smell the bath-fresh smell from her hair from that morning. I knew with confidence that she was owning her preschool experience, and I was proud of her. I pushed aside the memory of the history of hard times, and I embraced the joy of the present.

We're just getting started as a mother/daughter team. The future might be scary at times. The past holds some bitter memories. The path is strewn with reasons to be frustrated. But when she ran out of the preschool room looking for me and shyly smiling when she spotted me- none of that mattered. She was happy. 

When the special education teacher thanked me for trusting them with my treasure; when Addison fell asleep after only thirty seconds in her carseat; when I unpacked her lunch box and visualized her at the snack table pushing away her food because she was way too excited to eat; when she wrapped her arms around my neck as I carried her sleeping form inside; when I looked through the pictures I hurriedly snapped before we made me realize how incredibly blessed I am to be in the now with Addison, enjoying this experience with her.

It's just preschool. It's just a couple of mornings a week. It's nothing. And yet it's everything.

So yes, I cried. The truth is out.

p.s. apparently thinks that my blog is "Most likely to have you reaching for the tissues"...if you feel up to giving me a vote...I would probably love you forever:

Parents Blog Award Finalist

First Day of told by Addison

 Hello everyone. Addison here.
You may or may not be aware of the fact that I am a big girl now because I turned THREE yesterday. It was a pretty awesome day, but since Daddy was out of town we have declared my birthday to last the entire week. Just so you know.
I got some exciting presents. 
(I will accept the fake dog for now. Let's consider it practice for the real thing)
I read a story to my cousin who lives far away.
Played with this guy.
 Had lots of chocolate, visited with Papa and good friends, watched a lot of Signing Time, woke up at 4am, decided to skip nap time, cried when I wanted to, and stole the rest of Carter's cupcake. (It is my birthday after all.)

And then this morning I was an angel and absolutely DID NOT spread the contents of a dirty diaper across my room and DID NOT play in my dumped bowl of cereal. I have no idea why you would even ask that. (By the way mommy, making me take that extra bath was just rude.)
 After my bath mommy dressed me all up, letting me wear my new boots after I specifically requested them. (it took her a while to gather up my orthotics because apparently it took her a long time to figure out where Carter Henry hid one of them yesterday. Hilarious.)
And then she asked me to hold this strange picture of a sick baby. Of course I didn't want to, so she taped it to my sweater. WHAT? She said something about it being one of my very first pictures while I was in the NICU and wanting to compare how far I've come. Awesome to awesomer? Mommy does the strangest things sometimes.
 Unceremoniously Carter and I were then hustled to the car, strapped into carseats, and driven a few minutes to some mysterious location. Mommy kept saying the word "school" over and over again. Whatever. I did like the song on the radio, so I spent the time dancing. 

It was cold outside, so I'm kind of glad I didn't have to walk the long distance from the car. I did wish Mommy had pulled our ride faster though. Sister's cheeks got COLD. It's appalling how bad the service is around here.
 When Mommy let me out of the wagon, I recognized the hallway. I knew right where to go because HEY! I've been here before!
 Mommy followed me in and kept trying to take pictures of me.
 Annoying. I'm sorry, but is YOUR name on a laminated apple up on the wall? No? So why are you still here?
 Since no one loves me enough to teach me the sign for "YOU ARE DEAD TO ME", I improvised with this facial expression: 
This seemed to work nicely as mommy then left me ALL ALONE to play with my new friends. Life is good.

We are home now. My first morning at preschool is over. My teacher told my mommy I did really well, and I have to admit I was kind of happy to see her and Carter waiting outside the door for me when my morning was done.

And NO I absolutely was NOT sleeping in the car ride home. I just wanted to rest my eyes for a few minutes as I had such an exciting morning I didn't even have time to BLINK. Geez, what's with all the questions?

So yeah. First morning of preschool. NAILED IT.

You know how I think we should celebrate? Yup, chocolate. HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT?

Love, Addison

p.s. thank you for all of the birthday wishes yesterday. you all sure know how to make a girl feel really special!