Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Hello my name is Deanna...I have a daughter who has Down syndrome...Nice to meet you."

I've been meeting a lot of new people lately. Wonderful, kind people.

And it has struck me as odd how I feel the need to slip into conversation that my daughter has Down syndrome. As if somehow, all the other facts about myself that I might present into an initial meeting are just the puzzle pieces that only make sense once I show them the picture on the box- Down syndrome.

It's not that people follow up the question of "what's your name" with "how many chromosomes does YOUR child have?" It's just that it has somehow shaped me- changed me- presented a new me that I don't feel completely honest without sharing the whole picture.

I could talk about my history in music. The instruments I play and how I came about playing them. My history teaching. Performing. How I now stay at home with two toddlers. How I love to make a home but how I am the worst at certain things like laundry. And gardening. How I love to blog and write. I could talk about  my struggles with anxiety. Impatience. How I love to cook but deeply crave a good Chinese takeout every now and then. Or Italian sit down restaurant with unlimited bread and a good salad. How I love to laugh. And follow a good TV show. I could talk about how I love to do things like Zumba. And how much of a fool I look like while doing it. I love to go to bed early. And sleep in. And slowly drink a steaming hot cup of coffee with lots of creamer. So slowly that I usually have to microwave it several times to get the steam back before finishing it. I could talk about how much I love my little family. And the hundreds of little things that my kids are doing now that I think are noteworthy like stealing the bath drain stopper and replacing it with a container of dental floss...which are both round objects. Coincidence? How I am not the best housekeeper but have come a long way in my organizational skills out of necessity because of soon having 3 kids 4 and under in a small house. And how I surprisingly enjoy this strange organizing thing and the peace and order it brings to my home.

There are so many little facts about me that I often share, but then I feel this urgent need to somehow mention my daughter's special needs in there somewhere.

For example: I have a master's degree in music. But I no longer teach or perform it because I got extremely overwhelmed dealing with all of Addison's extra health/therapy needs in her first year of life that I had to give it a break for a while. Then I got overwhelmed by two children close in age and my hiatus continued. Now I use my creative energy to write because I can do that while my children sleep without waking anyone, and I am truly enjoying the change in pace.

I stay at home with my two toddlers? What are their ages? Their actual ages or their developmental ages? This makes a difference in mothering them...trust me. It's not like parenting an almost 4 year old and 2 year old. It's like having 2 2 year olds. And why is there a difference between the two? Well...

Another example: I love to do Zumba or go for a run (although I haven't done either of these in about 15 weeks.) Things I tried for the first time after Addison was born with new knowledge that it was OK to try different things- look like a fool- and do things that make me happy even though I was previously afraid to try. Addison's birth really pushed me out of my comfort zone- in a good way.

I struggle with laundry? Partly because I have a 3 year old who likes to take all her clothes out of her dresser during naptime and then take off her diaper and pee all over surprise, random clothing objects. This goes back to her delays...and yes...Down syndrome. (This point can also go toward why I have become much better at putting organizational systems into place around our house.)

My son replacing the drain stopper with dental floss is amazing to me because each age appropriate cognitive act that he does is like a true miracle. Addison does amazing, smart things too- but in a much more subtle way and I often have to look much harder to see them...Down syndrome.

I love to write? What do I write about mostly...

I have made a big deal in the past insisting that special needs don't define our family- or my daughter- or me. But it just seems like I haven't been able to make it through a conversation lately without chiming in about the special needs in my life. And then when I meet someone else with special needs in her life I feel an immediate connection. Even if we have nothing else in common. There's just this moment where we both get it. Even though we're uncertain what "it" may be. So I want to put my side of things out there as soon as possible to search for that connection however it may come.

And it's not that I'm ashamed or embarrassed to tell people. I want people to know. If people are going to get to know the real me, this is a big part of who I am. Not in a depressed, sad way. In a factual, this is a part of my awesome life, just "is" kind of way.

My younger sister asked me a few weeks back how I was doing...outside of my role as mother. And I found I couldn't separate the two. Even the things I do as hobbies all somehow come back to mothering- writing...to process my role as mother- decorating/organizing...to make a better home for my family- cooking...to fill little bellies with yummy things- exercise...to have the energy to keep up with the two tots of terror. And mothering always leads me back to my unique path of mothering. It's different. And I'm not only OK with that- I need people to know that about me up front. So that the way they process the things I say is more in line with my intent.

I'm not telling a story about my toddler who destroys my house so you can snidely think "well, why aren't you using these opportunities as teaching moments?" I'm telling you this story about my toddler who has developmental delays and whose response to teaching moments looks far different than a typical toddler's response. I need you to understand that I'm doing the best I can. I need your support- but at the very least- your lack of judgment at my parenting skills. Because it is hard. And adding "Down syndrome" to that story changes things. And I need people to understand and sympathize with that- even if we just met.

Down syndrome is not the solo act in our lives. It is the background music. But it is always there. And when someone new comes into the room, I feel the need to explain what we are listening to. Necessary? Will I always feel this way? I have no idea.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What is your favorite stage?

This weekend I had the chance to talk to an older mom. A mom with four kids that used to be all under 6 at one point, but are now into their early 20s and late teens. This mom spoke with such wisdom that I seriously wanted to just pull up a chair next to her and listen to her talk all day long.

The thing that really struck with  me was her answer to this question: "What was your favorite parenting stage?"

The day before I heard some other moms saying that the absolute BEST stage was 0-3 months when babes would snuggle for hours on end. Since Addison was so sick that entire period, and Carter REFUSED to snuggle and slept so horribly- I kept wishing for them to get older to sleep more or FINALLY get off of oxygen....I felt like I had already missed out on the best time of parenting.

But this mom's response was that her favorite stage was whatever stage she was in right now.

I equally liked that and felt challenged by that answer. My tendency is to wish time away to get a surely easier time ahead. Living in the moment- enjoying the NOW- relishing my favorite stage all the time- I want to do this.

I came home with this on my heart. A mindset for the day-to-day grind. An approach to mothering happiness that doesn't include the day's circumstances. A determination to get the most out of every day.

This was pretty easy on Sunday. Aaron was around and kept the twinsies entertained while I caught up. I busted through a ton of laundry, I picked up random objects without interruption, a delicious dinner was made, the vacuum was utilized, things were wiped down and washed. The moments I had with my kids were wonderfully sweet. I missed them. They missed me. (Or at least they missed the service that I provide them 24 hours a day.) I felt accomplished. I felt loved. I felt blessed.

By the time bath time, story time, and cuddle time was finished- I was feeling like a million bucks. I was back with my kiddos, my house was clean, a slight fall breeze was floating through my house, a sense of order and peace was present as I sacked out on my couch, contentedly felt baby boy kick, and made to do lists.

Without a doubt- this was my favorite stage. BRILLIANT answer!

But then today....

1. For every one item I picked up- the children spread around 10 more (seriously...bending over just isn't that easy anymore...and HOW do they get their grubby paws on such a wide variety of random objects to litter the floor with??????) When I used these as teaching moments to get THEM to pick up their stuff...the junk on the floor seemed to multiply even faster (why is this?)

2. The let's-fill-the-freezer applesauce on the stove only got half finished and sat there for most of the day.

3. Carter had a bit of an over zealous cough which prompted some vomiting right after I dressed him and right before we were about to walk out the door.

4. While I was comforting him, I caught Addison leaning over and licking up his vomit. (true story)

5. After cleaning him up (and rinsing out Addison's mouth and hair), I set to work to clean up the floor while he took the opportunity to go brush his teeth...with my tooth brush (guess I can't blame the lad for wanting to freshen up, but STILL he knows perfectly well which toothbrush is his...and bringing it back to swish around his mouth while watching me clean up his mess was just insult to injury)

6. The time I spent switching out summer clothes for fall clothes made more of a mess and disaster than what I actually accomplished not to mention the fine hurricane work that the tots did on the side while I was distracted organizing seasonally appropriate clothing for them. (how DARE I)

7. The pizza for dinner did not get homemade- it got picked up from Costco

8. They didn't want to play with any of their toys- they wanted to cling to my ankles, climb up onto the kitchen counter while I was trying to chop apples for applesauce, and hide random kitchen objects in their rooms. (I just found the meat thermometer on the changing table.)

9. They didn't want to paint their pictures. They wanted to paint each other. And themselves. And the floor.

10. With a half hour left before hubs was to arrive home and the house looking (and smelling) like a war zone- I bribed the kids out onto the enclosed deck with cookies and then shut the door so that I could do selfish things like load the dishwasher, pick up the ten million scattered random objects, and try to fold the clean laundry on the couch that they kids had decided to decorate the entire living room with.

11. 30 seconds after the cookies were gone, Carter Henry took the screen off the living room window and started to climb back into the house.

12. When he was unsuccessful with the climb, they both started crying and yelling "Mommy Mommy Mommy! MORE COOKIES!!!!!" because apparently it is now torture to be asked to play for a few minutes on a beautiful fall day outside on the deck loaded with toys.

13. After pizza time (which they both refused to eat beyond the crust), I undressed Addison for bath and she immediately peed all over me. (REALLY?)

14. She then climbed up to the side corner of the bath tub- where I can't reach her- so that I could not wash her hair. She then pretended to be quite deaf when I did all of our usual obedience tricks to get her to come to me. (She can hear fine). "We can do this the easy way or the hard way" ended up being very much the hard way...even though I didn't have the energy for it.

15. I left them bathed, dressed, teeth brushed on our bed with the iPad so that I could have a few minutes to sit down and catch my breath. I did not feel well at all. I went to check on them after five minutes. They were sitting on top of my dresser- playing with my jewelry...and hiding ONE of each earring pair (this is not a new trick for them...$100 reward to whoever can find my other black and white polka dot earring...sob)

It is now the end of the day. I am attempting to capture that warm fuzzy feeling of this being my favorite stage. I sit on my couch- laundry still beside me, house half picked up, Costco pizza now cold on the counter, applesauce finally finishing its simmer work, weird contractions stuff settling down, children happily contained in their beds (yes, we do ridiculously early bedtime here...judge away)

No matter how deep I dig- I find no warm fuzzy feelings. Only exhaustion. And some frustration that today didn't go how I planned.

But I am still thankful (not just that it is now bedtime). And happy.

Because tomorrow is a new day. And I get another chance at capturing the warm fuzzy feelings as my blessings continue to grow me. Because this is- after all- my favorite stage. But even if the warm fuzzy feelings evade me- this day is still good. This stage is still my favorite. I have decided that this isn't so much a feeling as a determination. And I have determined....

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mommy Vacation

Sitting by a lake with small waves lapping up onto a sandy beach in a soothing, glorious pattern of peace while NOT having to chase tiny people out of the deep end in order to avoid drowning...

Eating and enjoying meals without having already witnessed that same meal thrown on the floor, smeared all over small bodies, thrown at me, spit back out.....

Eating and enjoying meals without having had to do one blessed thing to fix them...

Sleeping an entire night without hearing calls for "Mommy!" and "Gink!" and "ALL DONE!" at 1am, 3am, and 5am...

Having long conversations with friends (old and new!) without being interrupted because I just lost sight of a bobbing blonde head who was headed for the refreshment table with hands ready to do some table cloth pulling...

Going over 24 hours without having to change ONE diaper....

Sitting through sessions on encouragement...talking to mothers who have survived these preschool years gracefully and joyfully...reflecting on the things I have to be thankful for...discussing ways I want to improve and challenge myself...

...this weekend was amazing. I am very thankful to those who stepped in to watch the twinsies, with school pickup, and with all the responsibilities of my usual job.

This weekend I escaped to a ladies retreat with the ladies from my church three hours away at a beautiful camp in NY.

Sure, I wish I hadn't spend the three hours on the ride there vomiting/getting sick due to an extremely curvy road and an easily upset pregnant stomach...but stilllllll.....it was worth it. (side note to the one who graciously drove me: I am sorry you had to witness that.)

I came back refreshed in spirit and ready to do this all again.

This overnight away from the kids was kind of a trial run for mommy-being-in-the-hospital-having-a-new-baby overnight.

I have a feeling that this overnight was far more fun (vomiting included). But I am kind of getting very ready for the other kind of overnight as well.

Now for the catch up. Why is it that one day of mommy vacation equals a week of mommy purgatory????

And in case you don't follow my facebook page, this was my status upon returning:

I arrived home from my weekend away to find the car perfectly and wonderfully vacuumed. Pleasantly surprised, I thanked my husband for his initiative in vacuuming the millions of bits of broken crackers and crumbs that had been at the feet of the carseats. "Oh I didn't vacuum" he replied. "I opened both back doors of the car and fired up the leaf blower. It took care of things quite nicely." Leaf blower. Who knew?

The man is clearly a genius.

Shout out to my amazing husband. Who knows what kind of chaos these next eight weeks will bring with the addition of another...but there is no one I would rather be doing this with. (-:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Down Syndrome Play Date

When I first received Addison's diagnosis, my OB Gyn gave me the name and number of someone locally who I could call and talk to. In fact, many people gave me this same person's phone number. Someone who had a child with Down syndrome. Someone who would be a great resource. Someone who would understand.

But I could not emotionally handle calling that number. To me it would be admitting it. Making it final. Plus, I could get past "Hi my name is Deanna" and then sobbing when I would imagine out the rest of that conversation.

I never called. I lost the phone number.

When Addison was first born, we got all these emails about a local support group for families who have a child with Down syndrome, and we finally attended our first one when Addison was about six months old.

It was too soon. To me- seeing all of the older kids with Down syndrome broke my heart just a little bit more. Is that what I had to look forward to? Would my cute little baby turn out exactly like all of these other children/teenagers? I came home crying. Depressed. I could not handle looking that far into the future.

We didn't do the Buddy Walk that first year. We weren't ready. Plus, Addison had her second heart surgery in Boston that same month.

But as time has marched on, my attitude toward all of this has changed. Now that we have reached some of the communication frustrations that come with a three year old who has difficulty expressing herself verbally, it is SO encouraging me to interact with an older individual with Down syndrome who can speak. Sentences. Thoughts. Opinions.

It is beyond amazing to sit down with another mom who has an older child with Down syndrome and talk local doctors, school systems, philosophies on teaching, and just frankness on such issues as actual age versus developmental age. To me it no longer seems like I am looking at an exact mirror copy of what my daughter will be like in X amount of years. It is now a chance to learn and appreciate another individual/family who has fought and thrived in this journey longer than we have.

This week we had just such a play date. And it was just what the doctor ordered. To see that future potential; to hear that my frustrations are normal; to see first hand a big girl who has successfully worked through some of the same stuff that Addison is dealing with now- this play date was truly a breath of fresh air.

Angelina (at 11.5) seriously talks so clearly with such a wide vocabulary range. Impressive, inspirational, and encouraging all at once!

(Pictures posted with permission) 
Angelina and Addison:
Plus, this play date came with a sibling set which meant that someone else graciously chased after my kids while I put my feet up. (-: Bonus!
It's strange, when I used to see someone out and about with Down syndrome, I used to get the shakes. And sweats. Should I talk to them? Should I not? How would it make me feel it I talked to them but then I couldn't understand them?

Now I see someone out and about with Down syndrome- I might say something. I might not. But I always smile. And say "hi." I recognize our bond- both small and big at the same time. And sometimes this moves into longer conversations if this bond is recognized both ways. And sometimes not. And that's OK too.

It was really wonderful this week to sit on our deck and chat with a complete stranger who instantly became a friend because of this bond.

Thank you, Michelle, Angelina, and Elizabeth for a great afternoon!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Beautiful Woman, The Spiders, And The Cure

I was standing- front and center stage in a concert hall.

Large, spacious, with an air of neglect- I didn't recognize this concert hall.

Was I supposed to perform? Was I here to see someone else perform? Was I supposed to be helping back stage?

I saw no one.

I turned and started slowly finding my way off the stage in search of some answers.

The first thing that caught me eye were several spiders that scampered by my feet as I walked away.

Spiders? Normally when I see a hairy spider balancing on thick legs, it's enough to send me screaming out of the laundry room with a vow never to do laundry in there again. My phobia of spiders is more than slight. But for some reason in this instant I remained calm.

I entered the back hallway and there were more spiders. Everywhere. Climbing up the walls, Dangling from the ceiling. Crawling along the floor. Why were there so many spiders? And more importantly- would they fall on me?

Still I remained calm. Very unlike myself. I had too many questions to let fear take over. Besides, where was I to run?

I looked down the dark hallway and was half relieved, half terrified to see someone walking my way.

I waited. Patiently. Silently. The shadow coming my way moved slowly and steadily. No rushing. I wondered if this was to keep the spiders calm.

A beautiful woman emerged from the shadows and my fear fled away. Something about her very presence was calming. Her blue eyes were kind. Her smile was reassuring. Her brown hair fell in soft waves around her shoulders. She was tall. Graceful. Confident. The path of spiders seemed to part to make way for her.

"Hi" I said.

"Hello" she replied in a low voice. The longer I stared at her, I thought that she looked familiar. Had we met before? Do I know her?

"What's your name?" I asked her

"I'm not supposed to tell you that."

I felt my fountain of previous questions freeze up as I thought about her answer. Why couldn't she tell me her name?

"Follow me." She said and turned quickly to go back the way she came.

Not having many options at this point, I silently obeyed. I shuffled at first, trying not to step on any spiders, but then picked up my feet to walk more confidently as I fell into the path that she created- spider free.

She led me down the darkened hallway, into another winding hallway, leading towards a third hallway full of spiders- spiders of all different sizes. As we walked she began to sing.

Her voice was beautiful. Magical. I could sense even the spiders enjoying her melody. It was obvious that she had some sort of special connection to music. Her melody floated effortlessly through the empty hallways, sending waves of peace through the air.

We approached a stairway. Full of spiders. Winding, narrow stairs. Still, I followed, mesmerized by both her voice and graceful, commanding presence.

Her articulations were perfect as she continued to sing. Her intonation was flawless. The very timbre of her voice was golden.

We reached the top of the stairs, and she led me to a room full of windows. We looked out one of the windows down at a courtyard that looked as neglected as the rest of the concert hall. There was a large swimming pool outside- empty of water- full of spiders.

"This is the only way to escape." She said. Long eye lashes brushed her cheeks as she blinked several times- almost shyly.

"Escape?"

"Yes, all of the others left through this window and down into the courtyard."

"Others?"

"It was nice seeing you." She started to walk away.

"Wait!" I called.

She stopped. Turned back to face me. And waited. Was she- crying?

"Why am I here?" I asked.

"They thought you might want to see where it all happened."

"What happened? Who?"

"Well, the spiders..." She started, but in my eagerness I interrupted her.

"Yes, what is the deal with all of these spiders?"

"One of them holds the cure. They're researching to find which one."

"The cure? The cure for what?" I stared into her eyes, with more questions now than when I started asking.

"Well, Down syndrome of course. I used to have Down syndrome, but after being bitten by one of the spiders housed here in the theater, my extra chromosome disappeared. The research being done to locate the exact breed of spider responsible is quite extensive. Their hope is that I can help identify which one."

I was speechless. But then her familiarity struck me in a new way.

I stared at her beautiful features, felt tears spring to my eyes, and whispered with a catch in my throat- "Addison?"


Just then the loud brawls of a two year old demanding "GINK" from his crib awakened me.

These pregnancy dreams are getting entirely too vivid....and weirdly unsettling...


Monday, September 16, 2013

She's Not Growing Up

I think by far the hardest part of motherhood for me is having an oldest child who is not growing up.

Sure, she is advancing. And yes, she is learning and making us all proud.

But she is not growing up.

I know this now. Because I have Carter. And I have watched him grow up into the big number 2 with flourish, trouble, and a whole bunch of stink. Addison hasn't grown into the development of a 2 year old yet. And I didn't truly realize that until he passed her up.

And as frustrating as this is to realize, it's nice to be able to pinpoint why I feel sometimes so trapped in the preschool years. I have been feeding, diapers, bathing, nurturing, teaching, loving for three and a half years- without the measurable three and a half year development point to show for it.

Someone posted a picture on Instagram yesterday of their little boy's last day in nursery.  She said that her kids were growing up "just like they said they would." My heart seized realizing that no one every promised me that about Addison. There is no guarantee that she will ever truly grow up.

In fact, that was one of the big fears I had when I got her diagnosis. I would parent and love and parent and love for years and years and years- for what? Would she ever grow to the mentality of an adult? Would she ever create a life all on her own away from us as her parents? Would she ever get her dream job that would make us so proud? Would she ever make "the big bucks" and put up her ol' parents in a plush retirement home? (-:

And whereas this used to be a fear of mine to the point of "well this isn't worth it then" it has now just become one of those things that is tucked in the back of my mind that just is as I continue nurturing her life (a job which is very much worth it.)

Don't get me wrong- we will always push Addison to be her best. We will give her every advantage and opportunity possible. We will cheer her, encourage her, and push her.

But, even if I move the world for her to get the best- she will always be different. She will look different, act different, grow at a different pace because from her very genetic base- she IS different. And part of this difference means that I will never see back the same amount of effort that I put in- developmentally speaking. And whereas this thought used to cause me much grief, now it causes me to reflect on why I'm doing all this in the first place.

Why parent?

Do I mother for the end goal? Do I look down the road 20 years and push towards some sort of arrival point? Is my success as a mother determined by my children's successes in life? Do I change dirty diapers and clean up thrown bowls of food promising myself that this is just a phase? What if it isn't? What if my child always needs more assistance from me than others her age need? Does that make me a failure as a parent? Is this only worth it only if my children accomplish certain things?

I heard someone say recently that motherhood is not about the moments- it's about the journey. I was pondering this concept, and I can't help but wonder- what about those whose journey is cut short? What about those with children with disabilities whose journey is full of doubt and uncertainty and difference?
And the thing is- I don't have any answers.  I know that this is about selflessness and putting children before ourselves. I know that this is a greater calling than I can truly comprehend. I know that I strive to reflect God's unconditional love to my children. But as far as specific answers to our specific journey- I have none.

But I do have moments.

I have moments when Addison climbs up next to me on the couch, lays her curly blonde head on my arm, leans her body into mine, and just rests. In that moment nothing else in the world matters. The journey beyond isn't a priority. I only think about that is in the now. And that now is wonderful and fabulous and everything I ever dreamed motherhood should be.
I have moments when Addison laughs and smiles and talks hysterically in a way that makes me laugh- which sets her off into even louder laughter. Her eyes sparkle, her cheeks disappear with her wide grin, her entire body shakes with the hilarity of it all. These moments are perfection. They fuel me onward.

I have moments when Addison is walking next to her brother and reaches out to grab his hand- for the first time. I watch them silently hold onto each other, not saying a word but communicating so many things. In these moments I think my heart might burst with pride and love.
I have moments when we sit side by side and look into a mirror together and she mimics whatever face I make. I open wide with a terrified "AHHHHH" and she makes a terrified "AHH" and then giggles. She chooses a toned down "ooooooohhhhh" and I mimic her "oooooooohhhh" and she laughs some more. We smile, we frown, we shake fingers with "in trouble eyes" and we say so much using only facial expressions and hand gestures. Words? Who needs them?

I have moments when I reflect on how far she's come. G-tube eating and oxygen wearing all the way to snazzy leg warmers and cute pierced ears. Wow she has amazed us every step of the way. Who's to say that she won't continue to do so? I have moments when she does something so completely surprising that I am literally left speechless. Addison is a smart girl!
I have moments when the stars align and I understood what she is communicating to me. I have moments when I watch her socially interact as a big, big girl. I have moments when I watch her get into a project- such as painting or reading or singing- and see what great potential there is for her to express herself in ways that have nothing to do with words. I have moments when we work together at baking something- or picking up a mess- or washing hands in the exciting big sink, and all is right with the world. I have moments when I am in sync with my daughter and we are speaking the same language and nothing else matters.
What if I never have a big arrival point with her into adulthood? What if- despite our very best efforts she isn't high functioning and continues a very slow pattern of growth?

Well then I cling even more tightly to my moments. Because they are gold. And make every single thing about this parenting gig worth it.

I think she will get her dream job someday. I think she will grow up to be successful and make a difference in her own way. I think she will continue to be this amazing person through all the stages of life. I think she will surprise us (and give us her famous side eyes for ever doubting.) But I also don't think that her life success rides on her actually achieving any of these things.

I think by far the hardest part of motherhood for me is having an oldest child who is not growing up. 

I am learning that 2 plus 2 doesn't always equal four in motherhood.  Sometimes you put in 10 plus 4 and you get back 8.  But then you remember that 8 is your lucky number and that all the fabulous things that you get from 8 are way more awesome than the previously expected 14. Things like moments. Moments that are yours alone to tuck away and treasure forever.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Toddler Mother Prayer

It's Friday night. I never post on a Friday night because I know all too well that that is blogger stats suicide. No one reads blogs on a Friday night. And yet here I sit. Fingers tapping out a rhythm to the thoughts that are tumbling around in my head because its the only way I can think to properly end out this week.

I am tired. Beyond tired. I have a three year old with special needs, a two year old, and I am 30 weeks pregnant. That sentence alone is enough to give sympathetic shivers to the coldest of hearts. Or at least remind everyone to double up on birth control.

My emotions are rollercoastering from the the highs and lows of this week. The high? Earlier today I finished dressing Addison, looked her in the eye, told her how grown up she looked- when Carter sidled up beside me, lay his head on my arm, carefully looked at his sister, and sincerely said "pretty." The low? A trip to the grocery store (after a three hour no-nap time when I placed Carter back in his toddler bed a million times) in which both kids were super whiny with random bursts of crying (no nap), Addison spanked an old lady on the bum as we passed by, Addison left large teeth marks on all of the yogurts trying to lick up the yogurt through the holes, and Carter reached out and grabbed every blessed thing he could off of the shelves...when he wasn't trying to climb back and join Addison in the back of the cart and screaming in rage when I stopped him. Or maybe it was: High- their insistence on helping me make pumpkin bread Low- their decision to take off all their clothes and diapers, steal the bread off the counter, and eat it finger full by finger full - naked- on my white couch and all over the living room while watching Elmo.
Their achievements are exploding every day into new territory. I can't keep up. Their behavior rockets from super polite to devil children within mere seconds. Sometimes I get whiplash just trying to keep up with their moods. Today's shopping trip out was enough to put me on the couch with my feet up for the last hour of the day while begging hubs to pretty please feed the children some food so I could just not move for a while. After all, this is why the happy meal was invented. No?

I was ready for bed tonight at 7pm.

I know that this is a season. And honestly I spend moments overwhelmed with how blessed I am- right before I have moments of extreme frustration- and then moments of thankfulness again. It's like a sandwich. A toddler mom emotional sandwich. I would prefer a little avocado and tomato with a pickle on the side. But I hold onto the thankfulness wherever I can. When the moments are good? They are really, really good. But when they are bad? Well, I'll let you finish that thought.
When I am out and about with my crew- belly swollen past the point of noticeable and into the territory of extreme pity, two toddlers exactly the same size taking turns flinging their shoes towards strangers (bonus points to lose the ones with the super expensive orthotics in them), and a creaky red wagon that already looks maxed out with its passengers- I see the looks. I get the comments.They range anywhere from "WOW oh my word you are pregnant again" to "Congratulations!" and then the standard question "are they twins?"and then perhaps a tacked on "bless your heart" or "I will pray for you." Occasionally I hear the "what's your magic number" or "going for a big family, eh?"

I don't care what they say. If it's not "Hey, I don't care that your kids hit me with that shoe and stole a bag of chips from my shopping cart when you passed by- here is some free chocolate"- I mostly tune them out.

But I got to thinking about all the people who say that they will pray for me. I wondered if they needed specifics or if the look of exhausted stress on my face was enough to clue them in to my needs. Just in case- I decided to come up with a little cheat sheet.
How to pray for a mother who is 30 weeks pregnant with a 3 year old and a 2 year old (AKA me):

May she have the calmness to last through the temper tantrums
And the sanity left to appreciate the quiet that will hopefully follow.

May she have the physical flexibility to bend over and pick up all of those toys
And the hope that someday the "middle of the night broken foot due to matchbox cars" won't be a threat

May she give herself grace when she loses her patience
And the resilience to try again
May she have peace about her children's safety and future
Even when she catches them dancing naked on the bathtub edge while throwing toilet paper into the water

May she have the strength to clean up that diaper mess
And the courage to enter that room barefoot ever again

May she have the wisdom to plate that dinner she worked so hard on in a toddler-approved way
And the ability to forgive when it is thrown back in her face with a scream for COOKIES
May she have the energy to finish out that last hour before bedtime
Especially when her body is shutting down but her tots just caught a second wind

May she be able to teach and praise her children with a heart of love
And lecture through the painfully adorable naughty moments with a straight face

May she be granted the ability to laugh harder than she is crying
In those moments that uniquely combine toddler mess and impish creativity

May the good moments shine brighter than the bad moments
And may m&ms always be in endless supply
May the tiny people in her life never to be taken for granted
And her hope for a diaperless future stand stronger than her exhaustion

May she forever cherish the sticky hugs, wet kisses, belly laughs, and pounding of tiny feet around her house
Even when it seems like life will never move to the next stage

May she be granted superhuman strength to not throw the closest canned good at whoever next asks her if she knows how babies are made
And accuracy in throwing if the spirit so leads

Amen

Perhaps I will take a printed out copy to the grocery store with me next time. Will save me the energy of a conversation...

Happy Friday night to you all.


Monday, September 9, 2013

The Motherhood Probationary Period

When I first became a teacher, I was told that the first three years are probationary years. You won't really know what you're doing half the time, and when you have huge feelings of inadequacy and more questions than answers- that is normal. That fourth year seemed to be some sort of magical time horizon when things seemed to settle out and a stronger sense of confidence accompanied your teaching. Not that you stop learning- or suddenly have all the answers. It's just more of a comfortableness with what is expected of you and more thorough knowledge of all your classes- since you have taught them all the way through multiple times by that time. Is this fourth year promise true? No clue. I never experienced that fourth year. I taught three years exactly and then became a stay-at-home mom. (I will give loud testimony to the probationary part though.)

But it dawned on me the other day that I think this same principle might apply to motherhood. My oldest isn't quite four. But these next few weeks marks four years of when my heart was broken for the first time as a mother. Four years ago I was halfway through Addison's pregnancy and learned that she was going to be born with an extra chromosome. The words Down syndrome meant something to me for the first time four years ago. Four years ago my motherhood ideal came crashing down in flames- for the first time.

And I have noticed lately- around this four year mark- a new comfortableness in my job as mother. Not that I suddenly have all the answers or stop learning. No. I just have a better sense for what's expected of me because I have lived the same scenes over and over again.

An inspiring blog post is nice. Books of knowledge are important. Older moms to impart wisdom are invaluable. But there are some things that I had to learn by living them.

Things like- your house won't always be perfectly clean with small children. It probably won't even be close to perfectly clean most of the time. The laundry won't always get done. There will be neglected spaces in your house. But it's OK. No one can do it all. You do the best you can. And when things don't get done? You go to sleep. Get some rest. And try again in the morning.

Things like- your toddler WILL throw food back in your face, collapse into a screaming fit right when you need him/her to behave the most, play/paint the walls with their poop, and hide the keys/hair brush/shoes that you really need to leave for your appointment right now. But it's OK. Those are not failures as a parent. Those are opportunities to teach. (and oftentimes- laugh)

Things like- other mothers will be better at things than you. Doesn't. even. matter. At the end of the day, you have your successes- your beautiful children- your strengths. You can admire another mother's skills without feeling lousy about your own. This is life and crops up in every profession. You can enjoy two different types of music without saying one is good and the other bad. No. They are just different- with moments of beauty and stand-up-and-cheer excitement all their own.

Things like- it's OK to take a nap. Even when the house is falling apart and you have a dinner party to prepare and your to do list is longer than your two toddlers stacked on top of teach other, head to toe- there is no guilt in needing to recharge and take a nap while your tots are sleeping (especially when you are growing the next babe/infant/sleepless stage- no. guilt.) These things will get done faster- and with far less stress if you take care of yourself first.

Things like- it's important to make time for friends. Even when nap schedules don't line up, germs might be passed back and forth, and you dress your children all cute but end up wearing pajama-like attire yourself. If you rely solely on the company of babbling tots- you will go crazy. Not because you're a bad mother. But because everyone needs to hear articulating voices outside the ones in their head. Sanity requires it.

Things like- your children will walk, talk, be potty trained, and recite the alphabet backwards at different times than your friends' children will. This isn't a competition. And if my child walked at 27 months and yours walked at 9? More power to both of them. If my two year old son isn't potty trained and yours is? I am ecstatic for you and will probably come to you for advice when he is ready. We are happy when it happens. We celebrate with our friends on their babies' accomplishments without feeling any pressure towards our own. They are all different people. They will achieve at different times. Nothing to be ashamed of or push to happen sooner out of a sense of having the "better" children. Show me a child who is being trained to be thoughtful, kind, and accepting of other children no matter their differences- and the other details seem to fall by the wayside.

Things like- your children's fever will disappear as soon as you get to the Pediatrician's office; you will pack the wrong snack for preschool; you will sometimes forget to put a diaper back on your baby; you learning to walk/climb/run child will fall a lot; you will almost break your foot on an errant duplo in the middle of the night; you will be wrong- a lot; you will be right only when no one's around to notice; you will lose that other super cute baby shoe; your tots will make a gigantic mess while learning to feed themselves; and you will use a Signing Time DVD as a toddler distraction so that you can get something done- none of these things are barometers of good mother/bad mother. They are just facts of life. Like gravity and breathing and little girls named Addison loving chocolate.

I find myself settling into this three and a half/fourth year mark- more confident. More easily able to brush aside seeming failures and recognize that they are just knocks that come with the job. I laugh at myself more. I enjoy my kids more. I keep learning. I keep growing. But those first three years when I constantly felt like a failure/inadequate/worst mother in the world (including that last half of the pregnancy when I thought I failed pregnancy)? I am calling them my motherhood probationary period.

I am moving on.

Children vomit. White laundry turns pink. Recipes fail. Pinterest makes me use bad words. Switching from crib to toddler bed may include more crying than warm fuzzy feelings about how fast they are growing up. But at the end of the day I am still a good mother. Because I know that none of these things define me. Or the job I'm doing.

I am still a new mother. Yes. But I refuse to let myself live in the shadow I created for myself of "doesn't know what in the world she's doing" new mother any longer. Time to woman up. Accept responsibility for these last four years and acknowledge that I am doing a good job even if my basement storage area right now could be on an episode of hoarders. It will get done. Everything will not be done at the same time all the time. That only happens on TV shows when a crew set up the fake house where the fake mother sits with her actor children and pretends to be overwhelmed by the sink of fake dirty dishes to wash with her perfectly manicured nails which never seem to chip.

(And if you read this thinking that you haven't struggled in any of these areas or faced any of the same inadequacies or ever thought these things? Rock on, sister! I can only speak for own experiences on this matter.)

Tomorrow when my children make me pull all my hair out, destroy my house, and my Pinterest recipe poisons us all? I will come back to re-read this. And remember. Motherhood is so much more than the things we do, day in day out. It is an attitude. An acceptance. A way of loving that has nothing to do with laundry, dishes, and crayon colored walls.

And I want to focus on that as I continue to grow and learn as a mother.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pregnancy Food Lists Annoy Me

I am getting sick of the pregnancy paranoia "eat/what not to eat" lists.

Is it me or do things keep getting randomly added, changed, and or listed in a conflicting/confusing matter that makes me feel like I would be better off to just sit in a corner, go the starvation route, and let the baby eat off my fleshly thighs and stored up fat.

I'm not talking about things like drinking alcohol or pain/anxiety meds.

No, I'm talking things like- over easy eggs.

OVER EASY EGGS.

That has been a huge craving for me this pregnancy. Over easy eggs on slightly buttered wheat toast. Lately I have been adding in some steamed spinach between the egg and the toast. With a side of sliced strawberries or whatever fruit was on sale that week- this has been a daily DAILY meal for me since day one of this pregnancy. Either breakfast or lunch or sometimes dinner- this meal makes me physically feel good and combats the never ending dizziness. Plus- it is DELICIOUS and eggs are cheap.

I felt really good about consuming this meal...until I received an email from BabyCenter listing "foods to avoid during pregnancy." I clicked on over, prepared to feel good about myself and my careful eating habits- when I read

"Over easy eggs" in the DO NOT EAT/ Danger category. WHAT????

Apparently if the yolk is not cooked completely through- it is unsafe. UNSAFE.

I went to my baby doctor checkup yesterday all in a panic. "I HAVE BEEN EATING OVER EATING EGGS!" I confessed in a panic.

My doctor stared at me like I was crazy. She gave me similar look when I came into an appointment 10 weeks ago all in a tizzy over sprouts.

I sobbed about my avocado, tomato, cucumber, spinach, provolone cheese sub that I had been eating a lot of and topping with the evil SPROUTS that someone on Instagram pointed out was BABY POISON. OK,  maybe different wording was used. But at the slightest suggestion that sprouts had the possibility to make me horribly ill and should be AVOIDED during pregnancy....I immediately felt extremely ill. And matched every.single.salmonella symptom that I googled.

You would think that since this is my 3rd pregnancy, I would be all cool and chill about this subject. But no. I am paranoid to a T. And if you even mention that this orange juice I'm drinking is EVIL for pregnancy, I will no doubt begin to feel very sick. VERY.

So these lists annoy me. Especially since I get all worked up about these foods, call into my doctor's office, and they have never even HEARD of these foods being a pregnancy "thing."

I was feeling good about avoiding my beloved roast beef deli sandwich (yum!), staying faaaaar away from a nice grilled hot dog with sweet relish (do you realize how hard this is to do for an ENTIRE summer?), switching out my coffee for 2/3 decaf (mostly so I can have 2 cups), not to mention almost completely avoiding any type of pop/soda/junk food. But it seems like every time I turn around- I am in trouble for being a naughty pregnancy eater without even realizing it.

With my last pregnancy- tuna, lobster, shrimp, and anything with mercury was a big NO NO but now it can be consumed once a week? What changed? Also? Now cheeses are a big deal. BIG DEAL.  Goodbye Greek salad loaded with feta cheese. That feels like a new rule to me. Maybe I just didn't notice my other pregnancies? And you're supposed to eat a lot of salad and fresh veggies but NOT if it's pre-prepared from the deli? Or not completely organic? Or not harvested by holy nuns in the perfect world? You're supposed to eat certain fatty foods for good brain development for the baby but AVOID TOO MANY FATTY FOODS as to not gain too much weight and cause any sort of extra health problems at the end of your pregnancy? And heaven forbid there be a fatty food that you actually CRAVE. Avoid too much salt...but when I went in and had low blood pressure they told me to eat MORE SALT to help bring up my pressure.

Sometimes I feel like these lists read:

During pregnancy....it is safe to eat chocolate
                            ....but avoid chocolate as a general rule because of the caffeine content
                            .... yes eat chocolate
                            ....DO NOT EAT CHOCOLATE when overly sweetened
                            ....chocolate is a good pregnancy dessert
                           .....eating too much chocolate can cause your baby to be born with two heads
                           .....to sum up:
So yeah. Yesterday my baby boy was measuring 2 weeks ahead. No doubt because of that extra head he has sprouted due to too much whole milk with a side of m&ms. Hey, I had to replace my over easy egg meals with something...

Yes, I know that these lists do have SOME value, and certain things are extremely important to take note of...but also you have to remember how cranky pregnant women get. Especially when their over easy egg meals are taken away. At least the peace and good feelings about those meals are taken away.

What surprised you most about pregnancy eating and what was the hardest for you to cut out? Do these lists annoy you too? Or am I the only crazy one here?????


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Organizing Toys and a Very Special Tractor Cake

This weekend was busy with crossing things off the "baby coming soon" list.

The first project (although on my list for a while now) kind of fell in my lap this weekend.

This (found at Goodwill for the whopping price of $30) has been sitting in my garage since May next to a can of white paint that matches the rest of my furniture and trim:
I sanded it and covered it with a coat of primer, but lost energy to go out and take it any further (what can I say- my morning sickness lasted 22 weeks). While we were gone on our trip? My father-in-law graciously painted it the rest of the way for me.

I had a specific vision for this piece when I spotted it covered in dust and random objects in Goodwill. You see, I do not have a playroom. I have a smallish house, and a lot of the living (and playing) goes on right in the living room- right by the front door. I had a shelf next to the front door for collecting and organizing all the toys, papers, and "stuff" that was constantly spread around our living room, but the shelf wasn't big enough to truly do the organizing I needed it to do, so everything was everywhere most of the time- spread by two toddlers who could easily lift and dump each basket.

So...with a newly painted shelf, and a last minute bike ride for the children with grandparents, Aunt Kenly, and Daddy (I declined on the 10 mile bike ride at this point in my pregnancy...call me crazy)- Saturday was my day to finish this project. I wanted to get this done before baby to have a better system in place for all the toys, stuff the kids seemed to acquire, and random papers that were swallowing me whole before our indoor time increased because of winter AND we before we were back in the newborn phase once again.

So Saturday. First I went running around town to find bins to fit these spaces because all my old boxes and baskets were too small. You know what's amazing? Being able to go into FIVE STORES within an hour because you're not schlepping two children with you. I found my bins, had a nice lunch out with a friend (bonus!), and then arrived home to put my new system to work before the children came back home.
I still need to better organize the toys within the toy categories, but I have it all roughly set up for now, and that is an amazing place to start. (also, I'm considering placing some labels....I feel like I am channeling someone else right now. My sister perhaps?)
The bottom baskets are laundry hampers from Walmart that have removable and washable liners. I was the most worried about filling that space effectively without spending a fortune on super tall baskets. When I walked away with $11 a piece for the hampers, I was pretty pleased, and I don't feel like I sacrificed in looks at all with the cheaper product.

The best part is that the toy hampers are big and fit in at an angle, so the kids haven't taken to their usual "dump out all the toys" and then go play with Mommy's kitchen utensils routine. They can put toys BACK in the top, but can't physically take out the whole basket on their own. SCORE. (All their books are in a different bookcase...which maybe I can share in a different post.)

To this nesting, pregnant mama overwhelmed with life right now? This project has had quite the calming effect. So nice to have this system set up right next to our front door to help hold life together just a little bit for us as the next few months threaten to unravel it.

The second thing on our "do before baby arrives" list for the weekend?

Celebrate a certain little boy's 2nd birthday.
We had Aaron's parents over to help us celebrate yesterday, and I had planned to make just a simple chocolate cheesecake. But thennnn......I don't even know what happened, really. Somehow my husband and I ended up staying up late slaving over this:
My husband stayed up to supervise because he is quite tractor obsessed himself, and he wanted to make sure that all the details were as AUTHENTIC AS POSSIBLE (caps my own.) I stayed up because those ten million dots of green took forever to finish and we didn't start until late at night because of our last minute change in plans. Exhausting night...but completely worth it. (-:

Two chocolate loaf cakes, six donuts, and some knife work did the trick.
We were so excited to see how Carter would respond because the boy seriously talks about tractors nonstop. I hid it from him on the counter behind some cereal boxes all morning, and we counted down to our late lunch celebration where it would be revealed. Of course...Carter developed a fever an hour ahead of time and sat listlessly through the entire celebration.

He did perk up a bit and kept saying "tractor cake. tractor cake. tractor cake" while pointing to it. (And he woke up this morning feeling much better and requested "tractor cake" for breakfast.)

Here we have 3 generations of tractor lovers admiring the cake.
(Addison just busied herself stealing bits of frosting and just generally creating mischief while everyone was distracted.)
I think this guy's enthusiasm over the cake more than made up for Carter's response due to not feeling well.
So yeah. We have a 2 year old. Love that boy. Hard to believe how grown up he is becoming seemingly overnight. 

Two big things checked off the list. I think I'll celebrate that with a nap.