Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Too Much Information

You know the saying:

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

Well, you might not have heard the next part of that quote.

Give a man a facebook account and he'll read how eating fish will poison him slowly with toxins and how he's a horrible human being for destroying the planet with such cruelty.

I love being a mom in this modern day. To be able to type in a few words on my computer and look up a recipe, a toddler activity, a question about housekeeping, laundry tips, encouraging posts for a weary mama- I love the assistance that the online community gives me as a stay-at-home mom to little people.

But something has been seriously been bugging me lately.

Having access to so much information can be wonderful and yet it also can be horrible, annoying, and paralyzing.

It all started with the water.

We all know that we're supposed to drink a lot of water. I personally love water. My kids love water. Water is our #1 drink of choice here.

Both of my kids had their first dentist appointment a few weeks ago, and to my delight- neither one of them had any cavities. Even Addison who has pitted teeth (especially prone to cavities) - cavity free.

I was feeling good about this until I logged onto Facebook and read an article that fluoride in the water (like we have at our house) may be good for the teeth, but causes your child's IQ to drop significantly.

Suddenly, I was panicked. I sacrificed brain cells for good teeth? Without knowing it? My children will flash brilliantly beautiful smiles, but not have the IQ they were meant to have? Because I let them drink WATER?

So we should drink bottle water only?

Feeling immensely guilty, I scrolled down a bit farther and read an article on how drinking water from bottles that are not BPA free fills your body with unhealthy toxins.

So only bottled water that is in BPA free bottles?

Scrolling down even farther, I read an article about new discoveries uncovering harmful chemicals used in making bottles BPA free that have been causing children to receive dangerously high amounts of estrogen.

Let me get this straight
1. Tap Water NO
2. Regular water bottles NO
3. BPA free water bottles NO

Should we collect our own rain water?

Nope. A facebook article on the danger of polluted rain water poisoning the globe one storm at a time crossed that right off my list.

Sooooooo what is safe to drink?

Ever so helpful Facebook says:

1. No juice boxes because of sugar AND a lot of the boxes contain mold that you can't see
2. No skim milk because of horrible chemicals used in making the milk skim
3. No whole milk because the childhood obesity rate in America can all be traced back to whole milk, not to mention all the hormones that are in that milk!
4. No soda unless you loathe your child and want to see their entire mouth rot out at age 5 with death soon to follow

Because of so much information being pushed into my face (I did not seek any of this info out), the next time one of my children says

"Can I have a drink?"

I'm to say

"NO! I love you too much to let you put horrible liquids into your body!"

"But I'm soooo thirsty!"

"You'll thank me someday when you make it to high school without horns, remaining toxin free!"

"Can I have an apple?"

"According to facebook, apples contain the largest amounts of pesticides. If you eat an apple you will probably get cancer in 30 seconds."

"Can I have some crackers?"

"PROCESSED FOODS? Are you kidding me? Facebook says that only parents who hate their children give their kids processed foods!"

"Can I have some grapes?"

"Here is an article about a two year old who choked on grapes and died. NOPE."

"Ok then can I have some chocolate?"

"I just found out that all chocolate contains hundreds of insect legs ground into it. WE ARE NEVER EATING CHOCOLATE AGAIN!"

"Can I have a green smoothie?"

"Well, this article says you should have a spinach smoothie every day, but this other article says that if you eat uncooked spinach your stomach will eat your kidney. To be safe- NO SMOOTHIES."

"Can I have a hot dog?"

"Well, these are all beef hot dogs, but according to this article- millions of beef products are being recalled because the cows had horrible diseases and everyone who accidentally consumed them transformed into the cast of the Walking Dead. Um...I think no meat for us."

"So what can I eat?"

"AIR! Gulp it up! I LOVE YOU!"

Food choices are only the beginning. If I read any more conflicting parenting articles, I might go completely crazy.

"Make sure you child has an iPad for learning purposes! Your child can get so much out of educational APS!"
"DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES let your child under 12 use a held held electronic device. If you do- they will never sit still longer than 10 seconds ever again."

"Play with your kids! Guide them! Teach them! Don't let a minute go to waste!"
"If you hover over your kids too much, they won't learn to play on their own! They will be scarred for life!"

"Your kids should be able to do this, this, and this by the time they are X years old OR ELSE YOU HAVE FAILED."
"Your kids should focus on play ONLY or else by the time they get to kindergarten they will have horrible behavioral problems because they are bored!"

Or Guilt articles
"10 things Moms should NEVER wear"
"5 Reasons your Kids hate you"
"20 ways you are ruining your children for life" (#1 is probably letting them drink water. Selfish, selfish parents)

Make it stop. Please.

The other day I couldn't go back to sleep in the middle of the night after feeding Eli, so I popped onto Facebook. Flashing up onto my newsfeed was an article warning about the dangers of letting a drop of water touch your contact lens. (I wear contacts) If one tiny drop from your shower, or swimming, or from freshly washed hands gets in your eye- a parasite could lodge there forever, eating your eye and requiring eye removal surgery.

Needless to say, I lay awake for an additional hour, my eyes feeling strangely itchy and weird.

(Ok- sorry about that last one. Your eyes feel weird now too...right?)

All this to say- I hate sometimes this modern world where information is too available. What happened to parents intuition? What happened to making good choices on your own without an extremist article on everything being forced on you by the internet? What happened to giving your kid a drink of water without worrying if it will ruin your child's future?

I understand researching and gathering all the information so that you can make an informed decision, but really? I feel like I am being inundated with information that is just.too.much.

Like finishing up twenty million loads of laundry only to learn that the gentle laundry soap I use is EATING MY CHILDREN'S SKIN because I didn't love them enough to make it from scratch.

Thanks, Facebook.

Thanks for the guilt.

Suddenly the innocence of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life looks wildly appealing. I wonder if the grass roof on their house was full of pesticides?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Was She Supposed To Be Like?

It happened today.

The moment assaulted me out of nowhere- spoiling a beautiful afternoon.

I hate it when this happens. It fills me with questions I can't answer and a profound sadness. For a while this moment was all my moments- spoiling all of life. But now this moment is just a random hint of wind, rushing by my face quickly- leaving only a sting on my face from the hit of cold air.

We were on the playground. Carter was running around in circles, grinding his feet into the mud as much as possible while still practically flying across the grass. Eli was tucked safely in my front carrier. His white hood framed his face perfectly as he stared up at me with his wide blue eyes and small red lips. I tried to capture the essence of his baby beauty in a picture, but couldn't get it quite right and satisfied myself with a sort-of picture and a mental snapshot- hoping I would never forget.
Addison was sitting on top of the wooden play structure. She labored over climbing the ladder to get up- begging for help but then finishing on her own when mean ol' mommy refused to help.

Her purple jacket wrapped around her. Her small hands peeked out from the sleeves. They looked cold. The wind whipped around us, so I pulled Eli even closer to me as I stared up at Addison.

It was in that moment that it happened.

The clear spring sky framed her face, matching her blue eyes. A curl blew from her shoulder onto rosy red cheeks. Her lips parted slightly. She tugged her cold hands into her long sleeves. She intently stared at me with a strange look on her face, and I felt like I could see into her soul.
Time stopped for just a moment as the question popped into my mind.

"What was she supposed to be like?"

I stared at my beautiful daughter, capable of so many things, so beautiful, so talented. And yet- what was my daughter supposed to be like without Down syndrome? What would she be like as a normal 4 year old? Would life be easier if she was developmentally her age? Are we missing out on something? What should her personality really be like- without delays, without the medical label "mentally retarded"? What would my daughter be like- smart and fast?

I see the babies born the same year she was, and they are already in an entirely different league than she is. Carter at 2 1/2 has already passed her up in almost every area. Life with 3 young children often feels that much harder because my oldest really isn't getting "older" like a typical child would- still requiring much care.

And in that moment- I let the questions pour in. I didn't stop them. I didn't try to answer them. I let myself have the moment. I needed it. I leaned into the sadness and let it take over- just for a moment.

She broke the moment first, her lips widening into a broad smile. The kind that brightens her face and a thirty mile radius around her. I smiled in return.

"Mommy." she beamed "Slide."

And with her smile I remembered- these questions don't question my daughter's intelligence or what I dreamed my daughter would be like. These questions question the very sovereignty of God. In reality the question "What was she supposed to be like?" is asking "Did God make His first mistake?" "Did He mess up when creating her?" "Did he create a 'normal' little girl, make an error, and then send the defect our way because we didn't deserve the whole package?"

When asked this way, it sounds ludicrous to me. I believe in a perfect Creator- one who makes no mistakes. I believe in a sovereign God who had this path planned out for our family long before we were even a family. I believe in the handiwork of my Savior who lovingly sent me the beautiful children that He wanted me to mother. I believe in a God who does not make mistakes. There is no such thing as a defect from God. I trust this God. And I know that the good He promised me was in that moment staring back at me with blue, almond shaped eyes- the complete package. The little girl who has always had an extra chromosome- even from the beginning of time. For there is no Addison without Down syndrome- God perfectly created her this way.

To ask "What was she supposed to be like?" can only be answered one way.

She was supposed to be like this.

Beautiful, capable, talented, with Down syndrome and all that that means.

Sometimes my mind goes to dangerous places. But it always returns to this. And in returning, my mind is filled with thankfulness.

Thankful for this path. Thankful for His goodness. Thankful for Addison. Thankful for Down syndrome.

Because it truly isn't an "extra" that was tacked on in a judgement hall for parents who needed to be punished. It is an etching in a perfect design that was graciously matched with parents who desperately needed an Addison to love. Who desperately needed her perfectly created self in their lives. And what the world may see as "mental retardation" I now know as something so much more. It is a part of the beautiful gift of a specifically created life. A life that is different, yes- but a life that is no less important and no less deserving of complete acceptance that exactly who she is now is exactly how she was always meant to be. 

As I smiled back at my daughter on the playground, these thoughts flashed through my mind and my smile widened. I asked her to take her glasses off her neck that she was wearing like a necklace because I knew she was going to go down that slide on her belly. She quickly took off the glasses and handed them to me. Loving the quickness of her response, I was also reminded of how smart and fast she is- in her own way.
She scooted over to the slide and sat there for a minute, deliberating. The wind blew more hair onto her reddened cheeks. Her feet looked tiny dangling down onto the green slide. Her cold hands gripped the sides of the slide as she prepared to go down. Her forehead wrinkled in concentration, and then at the last minute she flipped over onto her belly and slide down- feet first. She was shrieking with laughter as she slid. Because she loves the slide.

Watching her, my heart swelled with love and pride for what an amazing person she is. She is a complete joy- a puzzle piece cut with curves and edges to perfectly match the "big sister" spot in our family's puzzle. I couldn't imagine life without her. Just like this.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Walking Next To The Cart

The last several trips to Costco, we have tried something new.  After our list is filled, each toddler gets a chance to walk next to the cart for a few minutes. This privilege immediately ends if they fail to stay next to or in sight of our cart. Once their turn is over, they are buckled back into the double cart while the other gets a turn.

Carter has very much enjoyed this new "something new". He begs to walk, and then stretches his toddler legs proudly next to the cart. Or if he gets in front of the cart, he keeps checking back over his shoulder to make sure that we are still within sight. He understands all too well the consequence of getting back in the cart if he takes off, so he chooses to obey. (knock on wood)
The first several times Addison walked next to the cart, she immediately took off and lost walking privileges within the first thirty seconds. It's as if "out of cart" meant "you can run wherever you want to! Double points for running into people or ducking behind large displays!" No matter how I explained it to her- or how quickly she got put back into the cart, she acted like she just didn't get it.

I admit I have had thoughts of- what if she is a ten year old who still can't follow an instruction like "walk next to the cart"? What if the stress I feel now out with the eager-to-run toddlers never goes away? I have silently worried about this- extremely thankful that she is small for her age and still fits beautifully into her side of the double cart.
But today? After 4 trips of not getting it, watching Carter, and begging to walk with him- she finally got it.

I set her down next to the cart and explained it all again.

"You can walk, but if you don't stay next to us or obey mommy, you will go back in the cart."

She stared at me through her studious looking glasses with a blank look on her face.

Sighing, I prepared myself for another 30 seconds of Addison running away from me as FAST AS SHE COULD...while I chased her with a cart full of groceries, a sleeping baby, and a brother cheering her on and yelling to get down to run with her. (Isn't grocery shopping fun?)

But to my surprise, she walked very calmly right next to the cart. When we switched aisles, she looked up when she heard my voice and walked back over to where we were (she had been watching her feet and didn't see us turn). When we passed someone, she stopped, waved, and sweetly said "Hi! Hi! Hi!"She didn't grab merchandise off of the shelves, and she DID NOT RUN AWAY while gleefully staccatoing "catch me if you can"with laughter morse code.

I was shocked.

Little feet stepped confidently. She responded immediately as soon as she heard me say "This way, Addison." She stayed right next to the cart the entire time. In this sense she did even better than Carter who prefers to stay in front of the cart.

She did so well that I extended her time and let her keep walking even in a busier part of the store. She walked all the way up to checkout, and continued to stand right next to me while checking out.

She only lost it when I tried to then get her to order her own hot dog. (I got greedy, and she let me know that that was just too much by melting down aaaaaand running away. ha.)

Other than the last bit- I was so proud of her.

I couldn't help but think of the months that I wondered if she would ever drink on her own instead of by g-tube- and then she did. I couldn't help but think of the 27 months that I wondered if she would ever walk- and then she did. I couldn't help but think of the many milestones along the way that she sat on for a long time- making me wonder "will she ever?" And then just when my faith is the lowest, she does it. Confidently.

I know she watches Carter closely for a lot of these milestones. I know she internalizes it before she does it outwardly. I know she takes a bit longer for concepts to sink in to the point where she is ready to commit to them.

And I also know- that she surprises me every single time.

Today in Costco, I was amazed by how grown up she was- walking beside me, obeying instructions, and acting like any other 4 year old girl walking beside her mommy in the store.

(beams with pride)

She's in a phase where she is learning so much so fast.

I love this girl. And while this issue is by no means solved forever- this is an excellent first step. Literally. I see a lot of shopping fun in our future.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Making It To Friday Night

I have a hypothetical situation for you.

Let's say you have had a particularly stressful week. Details aren't important. Just stress.

Now you love your children. You really do. But at the end of this particular week, you really don't like them as much as usual. They are just starting to get on your last nerve, carefully preserved nerve.

Now remember, this situation is completely hypothetical.

Friday night comes. At points during the week you thought that your head might explode, so you decide that Friday night you should definitely take a long, hot, bubbly, soothing bath. Stress relief is much needed.

Daddy is late getting home, so you wrestle through dinner/bedtime scenario alone until he arrives to help with the last bit. You pin up the sleeper on one toddler so that a bodily-fluid situation will not occur (again today). You convince the baby that he does not indeed need to sleep attached to you all.night.long. You read a gloriously wonderful Easter story (complete with illustrative eggs), pat them on the head, and tuck them into their respective, clean beds. You silently celebrate that you made it through this week in one piece. Well, two pieces that will be easily melded back together with that hot bath.

But of course, continuing with the week's theme, the tots take a couple extra hours to actually fall asleep once in their rooms. You hear strains of "DADDY'S TRUCK NOW!" and "T! T! T!" and perhaps "HELP!!!! need chocolate!" and a few thumps and banging which can only be a certain toddler dismantling his bed (because of course).

You ignore all this. You ignore the mess in the kitchen ( matter how many dishes you matter how many meals you fix...THE DISHES ARE ALWAYS DIRTY AND MEALS KEEP NEEDING TO BE FIXED. This cycle is maddening) You ignore the half-folded laundry, and the random bits of the house scattered into other part of the house (the handiwork of post-dinner pre-bed toddlers)

You take out a large rubber ducky, the plastic balls, the little tupperwares, the spatula (HEY! I've been looking for that!), and the miniature fishing rod. You claim back the large jetted tub taken hostage by tiny people with no bladder control. (Remembering this, you add extra cleaning solution and scrub down the tub until its gleaming white surface is assuredly clean.)

You are so close now. You can almost taste it. Although you probably shouldn't taste it unless you are particularly fond of the taste of soap.

You check on the toddlers. One is now mostly naked, but the diaper is still on so you do nothing. The other has taken a large box of diapers and is using it as a step stool to attempt escape from the horrible prison of a clean room full of toys and a soft bed. Upon seeing you, they both demand ice cream and cry more than a little bit when you are super mean and say in your sternest voice "NO AND IF YOU DON'T GO TO SLEEP YOU ARE NEVER EATING ICE CREAM AGAIN."

Your head starts pounding and you feel that explosion that has been building all week swell to the surface.

This is where you call in your tag team. Daddy- you're up.

Filling the tub full of hot water, swirling in your favorite salts and suds, lighting your favorite candle scents all around the tub, dimming the lights just enough to hide the small hand print smudges on the mirror, checking on the sleeping baby and whispering that he is your favorite because he is asleep right now- the mommy de-stresser is finally ready.

Shutting the bathroom door firmly, you block out toddler row just as you hear one of them yelling for a SKID STEER HAY BALE while banging around a long piece of a toddler bed that has now been turned into a sword. Daddy's got this.

Sinking deep into the hot water, you feel your skin all start to burn off but you don't even care. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Tense muscles relax. The neck that was about to snap turns to jello and floats in the fragrant brew. Your toes wiggle in the water. Your wrists get massaged by the jets. Your head slowly and calmly returns to normal size. Your hearts stops pounding. Your stress level goes from 100 to 2 with two deep breaths. The bubbles form a layer of serenity all around you. Your eyes close and your shoulders wiggle even lower into steamy no-stress land. Heaven. Pure lavender heaven.

You stare at the dancing flame on the candle in front of you and still your mind. This week wasn't so bad. it was just a week. Just a week and now it was over. They won't be toddlers forever. Someday they'll be teenagers...and you can embarrass them with oh-so many of these stories...from this week alone.

Within minutes you remember- gosh you love your children. SO much. They can be down right sweet and wonderful when they want to be.

Just as you convince yourself you can do this another day- another week. The bathroom door peeks open. It's Daddy. With an interloper yelling "POTTY POTTY POTTY POTTY!"

Noooooooooooooooooooo. The spell of the bath is broken. Suddenly there is a tiny person getting close to the candles and yelling everything as LOUDLY AS POSSIBLE.

The water immediately feels twenty degrees cooler. The dim lighting seems suffocating. The bubbles are dissipating. Quickly.

Your irritation- which barely had left- returns. Bigger. Stronger. As a more permanent resident. Daddy fell for the "I'm going to pretend like I have to go potty just to get out of my room during bedtime" trick?

Just as you're about to jump out of the tub and strangle a certain "tag teamer's" neck for allowing foreigners into mommy's break time, you hear a slight "tinkle tinkle" and a little girl proudly saying "MOMMY! POTTY!" Daddy beams at her side, and something strange happens to your irritation.

It dissipates right along with those bubbles as a new emotion takes its place.


She went potty. After saying that she needed to go potty. She held it until she got in the right place. She freaking owned that potty break.

Something that is so hard for her to get- she is getting. Slowly but surely.

You settle back into your bath. The magic is ruined, yes. But a new kind of magic happened instead. A remembrance that they are learning. They are growing. They are trying just as hard as you are.

Also- a sarcastic thought "Of course...Mommy is relaxing in the bath TIME TO FINALLY USE THE POTTY! Can't miss the bathroom party!"

But who can blame her? That Macintosh Apple Yankee candle scent was doing amazing things to the stuffy bathroom.

Friday night de-stressing. It didn't go as you planned. But it's OK. You realize- you've got this.

Another day. Another week.

Even when it's stressful.

Because when these are your hypothetical can you not?

Monday, April 14, 2014

How has having a child with special needs changed me?

Lately I have been thinking- how has having a child with special needs changed me?

I often refer in vague cliches about the life changing experience it is to have a child with special needs, but what does that really mean?

It's difficult for me to pinpoint this because for me- having a special needs child has lined up with the start of motherhood. So how much growth from these past 4 years can be attributed to special needs, how much to just motherhood in general, and how much to just growing 4 years older in a volatile season of life?

And maybe even after I tell you how I have changed, this would a completely different story for another family with a child with special needs. Makes sense to me. We are all different and we live different stories. So here is mine.

4 years in. What does it look like? Have I changed?

I became a mother when I was 25. And for those 25 years, I lived life like I was looking at a beautifully scenic mountains through an empty paper towel roll. I had a super awesome view that was extremely narrow and limited.

When the paper towel roll was ripped aside, at first my eyes were blinded by the full extent of the harsh sun. But after an adjustment period, I noticed a wide panoramic view that I had no idea existed. A broad, spectacularly detailed creation that I started to enjoy at its fullest- for the first time.

I grew up a musician. I started piano at 5, violin at 8, clarinet at 9, and saxophone at 14- then taking all the instrument classes during my undergrad (bassoon being my favorite!). I started practicing 4 1/2 hours a day back in elementary school. I performed with the Milwaukee Symphony twice while in high school, and I won national solo competitions 4 times. I competed in every competition I could find and did very well in almost all of them (this isn't a resume, so I won't bore you with a list). I loved to perform, and I was good at it. After an undergrad in music education, I then got my Masters degree in clarinet performance from the University of Minnesota- studying with Burt Hara (MN orchestra, anyone?)
(masters' recital)

After grad school, I taught at a public high school band, orchestra, and piano theory. It was during my second year of teaching that I received Addison's diagnosis.

To me- music was all that existed. I had a singular focus, and really nothing else interested me in the slightest. I had a hard time connecting to other people, because if you didn't see things exactly the same way I did or hold exactly the same interests- I really didn't have much to say to you.

Enter: Addison

As a very high achieving person with no background or interest in special needs, this diagnosis hit me hard. I have written about that a lot. If you have been around any length of time, you have read about this most likely more than once.

As time went on and I adjusted to her diagnosis, something else began to happen. I realized that there is more to life than music. I realized that I love to do other things than just music. I realized that "it doesn't matter if you can't do that because you are good at music" isn't a good excuse for not trying new things, broadening horizons, and working hard to see results where it doesn't come as easily.

I found my eyes opened to other people who WEREN'T musicians. People who were different than me, but with their own set of priorities and skills that were equally as important as mine.  I realized that my path wasn't the only path, and detours along the way are chances to explore. My ears opened to hear conversations in which I could learn new things, instead of just assuming "new things" would never interest me and tuning them out.

I discovered diversity in life, and I fell in love with the beautiful landscape in front of me without viewing it solely through an empty paper towel role. So many intricate details escaped my attention before because I refused to look closely in my rush to achieve. The grayer colors from the shadows held beauty too even though before I didn't glance that way because I "didn't like gray".

Music isn't a bad thing. Dedicating your life solely to music isn't a bad thing. But for me it had become my prison. A prison in which my obsessive mind lived a very selfish existence- it was all about me, my achievements, and the awesome greatness that was my performances.

Addison/motherhood changed this for me.

I think about my push to achieve balanced with Addison's diagnosis, and I think having her in my life this makes me a much better mother and person.

Before, life to me was another competition. Push to be the best- no the very best. To have a daughter who I didn't think was "the best" or could ever strive to be "the best" broke my competitive little heart. But Addison has taught me that life is not a competition. Life is not about outdoing others- or making ourselves look good. Life is about love and grace and some more love. Serving, not taking. Giving of our gifts and abilities instead of hoarding them or waiting to use them only when people are watching- and clapping. Life isn't about proving something to the world. Life is about adding value to the world by sacrificing ourselves. It isn't about big achievements. It's about the daily habits and finding joy in the smallest of moments.

In teaching me these things, Addison showed to me that she is the very best. The very best daughter for me. She taught me things I didn't even realize that I needed to learn. She took my narrow view and stretched it to include new things- different things- beautiful things.

My life used to be all about the performance. Now it's about the daily practice. Enjoying the process of living. Growing through every rehearsed scale and arpeggio not to better a performance next week, but for the sake of enjoying each scale and arpeggio.

I wish I could say that this was a flipped switch as soon as I met her. But the truth is, I am a work in progress- each day working me over a little bit more as I continue to change and learn to love.

I spend my days giving of my whole self to 3 little children who need me very badly. There have been moments that I stopped and wondered (while changing a particularly odorous diaper perhaps)-" I got my masters degree for this? I practiced all of those long hours for my stage to be a changing table and the only applause being tiny hands beating against my leg because they need something NOW? Am I losing?"

And then I will be reminded- no. This is what winning looks like. Winning is getting up in the middle of the night with your daughter because she has found the words and desperately needs to talk to you RIGHT then. Winning is cleaning up vomit for the 4,980,876th time. Winning is doing dishes and preparing meals constantly because you are filling the bellies of a family of 5. Winning is growing little people to learn valuable life lessons- hopefully faster than you did. Winning is loving hugs from a muddy little boy. Winning is finding clean socks for 4 sets of feet each morning. Winning is- giving, loving, and being present.

Am I doing any of these things the very BEST of ANYONE IN THE WORLD? nope, nope, and nope.

I am a mom.

There are no awards for that. No competitions. No solos. No applause.

Just me and my charges- filling the days full of laughter and love. Pushing to do our best and then celebrating where ever that "best" may land. Accepting each other for the flawed human beings we all are. Leaning into the hard. Embracing the joy. Teaching hope. Praising efforts, redirecting when necessary.

I freaking love it.

I also seek to explore bits of the world I never before considered- getting to know people who have (gasp) different interests than mine and working to better parts of myself that I glossed over before because I wasn't good at them so why try.

Who taught me these things as she works so hard to accomplish things I used to take for granted?


This. This is how I have changed since becoming a special needs parent. You're right, depressing genetics counselor from 4 years life WILL totally be ruined.

(last mother's day)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Young Athletes' Special Olympics

The last several weeks, Addison and Carter have been attending a Young Athletes' Special Olympics class. Held at a local high school and led by high school students, this program captivated me from the start.

I've wanted to write about it for a while, but I had a hard time summing up why it captivated me so.

And then today in class, when I showed up looking like an absolute fool after a busy morning of dentist appointments, I was asked this "why" in front of a television camera by a Channel 3 reporter. I wished I had already written about it then, because sometimes I truly don't know how I feel about a subject until I write about it. (Weird? Most likely.)

Addison attends class as an athlete. Carter attends the class as a partner.

Focusing on specific gross motor skills that are much more difficult to someone with low muscle tone, this class has creatively presented physical therapy learning activities from week to week in a fun way that has captured Addison's attention.

Today in class she laughed hysterically for the first ten minutes. When she laughs? The world around her is happy and at peace.

I love that Addison has this outlet to learn some of these physical skills such as jumping, kicking, throwing, following body movement directions, balancing, shaking, etc. I tried to get her to learn some of these things through a typically developing gymnastics class, but that ended badly as the pace was all wrong for her, the environment was too stimulating, and the skill set required was too much too fast. This class has fit her visual, slower-paced learning style perfectly.

I love that Carter is a part of this class alongside her. I want him to be part of the special needs community as soon as possible so that he knows that there are other families like ours. It is perhaps early for him to be recognizing this happening around him, but it makes sense to me to have him involved from the very start of Addison's Special Olympics career.

It's a class focused on physical activity. Carter is very good at this sort of thing. Addison struggles. But this class has completely surprised me. Addison- my social butterfly- has thrown herself into the activities. She has been doing fabulously AND she has a great time. Carter tends to cower on the sidelines- almost afraid to get involved. The class has been a stretch for both of them in different ways.

But even more than the benefit this class provides my kids? I leave with a huge smile on my face when I see the way these teens interact with the kids with special needs. The environment is full of positive energy, there are more volunteers than the class can use, and the kindness, love, and patience demonstrated by these teens is quite astounding to me.

I wish I could go back to my teen years to interact in such a class- normalizing special needs and building compassion in my heart for those who are different from myself before going out into the world as an adult. The parents of these teens should be very proud because they are doing something very right. It's the kind of interactions that I dream for Addison's peers someday when she's in high school. And for Carter and Eli to have.

The reporter asked me today if I wished we could see more of these classes at different high schools. Ummmm yes, yes, so many times yes.

And if you live locally and have a child with special needs- come join us at Rice High School on Tuesday afternoons. You won't regret it. Seriously.

The words "Special Olympics" used to terrify me. Getting Addison's diagnosis, I remembered every single "special Olympics" joke I had ever heard. But now that I'm on this side of things, I realize just how much this isn't a joke.

This is a chance for Addison to achieve, succeed, and do it all with a smile on her face. To have a special niche like this for her and others like her- supported by those who have a heart to serve- this is every mother's dream come true.

Thank you to those who tirelessly work with programs such as these- starting with the Young Athletes' program all the way up. Thank you to those who support these efforts. And thank you to those of you who cheer from the sidelines. We are just starting on this path, but we have never felt more welcomed or at home. Thank you. #specialolympicsvermont

Monday, April 7, 2014

Flying Alone With One Baby

I just returned from a truly amazing weekend with family. I want to write deep, thoughtful things about such weekend, but my brain hasn't quite caught up with my schedule. So for now, I'm just going to publish the piece I wrote in my head during airplane travel time.

Since Eli won't take a bottle, I had to take him with me on my getaway. (Who am I kidding? I probably would have had to take him anyway. Leaving all 3 with Daddy at this point seems a bit cruel).

I was sitting at the airport waiting to board with Eli in the front carrier when another mom with an infant approached me.

"Are you all alone? With your baby? Oh you must be freaking out!!! If you need help- anything at all. My husband can help you too. It is so scary to fly alone with a baby!"

I sincerely appreciated the sweetness of her offer. But before she walked up to me, I had been thinking "YIPEEEEEEE!!!!! It's just me and Smalls!!!!! YAYAYAYAYAY! I'm FREE!"

It's then that I started comparing this flying experience to when Addison was my one and only. Disclaimer-  I don't speak for anyone else with 1 child or with 3 children. I know many friends who fly alone with their 1 baby, and they are so much more capable and calm than I was when I was in that place. Honestly this is just my perspective on the experience. Having said that...

Flying alone with 1 Baby

First Baby: "Oh my goodness. What if she cries on the plane? What do I do? What if I need to set her down? What if her diaper explodes mid-air? How will I feed her? This is so stressful! I won't relax one single second of this flight. My nerves are about to snap. How will I survive this???"

Third Baby: "I only have 1 baby for this flight. No toddlers to chase down off of other people? No iPad fighting? No snacks being thrown and choked on? No seat climbing and stranger licking? I only have 1 baby for this flight? VACATION!"

First Baby: "I need to dress baby up for this! All of these random strangers are going to comment on how amazingly cute and wonderful she is. She needs to be dressed to impress! Coordinating shoes...socks...kicky skirt...blouse (on an infant)...decorative scarf. It's a baby runway!"

Third Baby: "Look! I found you a clean sleeper to wear in honor of our flight together!"

First Baby: "OH NO! I forgot the burp cloth for the flight at home! STOP THE PLANE! I need to go home and get it. I can't get on that plane without a BURP CLOTH!"

Third Baby: "Eh. I'll just use my sleeve."

First Baby: "Look how close that stranger is sitting to us! Breathing on my baby! I hope she doesn't get sick from germ exposure! I hope the stranger doesn't cough or sneeze our direction!"

Third Baby: "I wonder if any of these strangers will hold my baby for a bit so I can get a nap?"

First Baby: change diaper only in airport restroom on disinfected, transportable changing pad

Third Baby: change diaper on your seat on the plane...while sitting on half of it

First Baby: I need to bring all my gear. I can't possible take care of this baby without every single blessed piece of baby gear I own!!!

Third Baby: I have a front carrier and a boob. We're good.

First Baby: Pack tons of baby toys to keep her occupied on plane.

Third Baby: Hand baby empty water bottle from the beverage service.

First Baby: Everyone is helping me! They're being so nice!

Third Baby: Why do they all keep staring at me and smiling.? Do I have something in my teeth? Oh the baby? Oh right...the baby.

Honestly though- I think maybe I could be so much more laid back this time because Eli was so laid back. He was the happiest when he was smiling and cooing at all the strangers. After our last flight the couple in front of us turned around and said in surprise "there was a baby behind us this whole time?" He is such a good baby. The only times he got upset was when the person he was trying to "talk" to fell asleep and stopped smiling at him. Ha.

Of course, was he more laid back because I was more laid back about taking him? Or vice versa? Eh...guess it doesn't really matter. Just glad to be home sweet home now with my tots (who didn't even miss me, btw) and hubs.

Here's hoping some brain matter returns soon. I'm thankful for a safe trip, incredible weekend, and a happy family to return to.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Every Day Is April Fools' Day When You Have Toddlers

I get pranked every single day. Sometimes multiple times a day. My toddlers are the reason why I am not in the mood to "celebrate" April Fools' this year. I am so over the concept.

Out of consideration for the day celebrating their normal, my tots agreed to guest post this one for me.

Every Day Is April Fools' Day
By Addison and Carter (Eli did not help at all)

You think I'm going to sleep through the night now just because I'm 2 1/2??? I am going to cry hysterically on the hour every hour tonight. Good luck calming me down. I have plans to vomit all over my room acting like I had a bad dream but really I just want to mess with you. April Fools'!

You gave us ice cream so you think we're going to be super happy. But then sister steals my ice cream when I look away for a minute. I start crying at the unjustice of an empty ice cream bowl. Sister is crying because the stolen ice cream isn't smooshed down enough for her to get on her spoon. Baby cries just because he is a copy cat. You gave us ice cream as a special treat, and we are all sobbing uncontrollably. April Fools'!

You think I'm in my room playing, but I'm actually in the garage using that cool thing called a hammer just like Daddy taught me.  (too bad about all your stuff that got in the way) April Fools'!

NEED CRACKERS NOW! now. NOOOOOOWWWW! so. hungry. pwease. CRACKERS! thank you.(crumbles and dumps all over living room) April Fools'!

Play outside! Go outside! Deck deck DECK! Thank you for taking a half hour to change me, dress me, and winterize me. The 30 seconds out there was lovely. BACK IN NOW! April Fools'!

HELP! Carter help mommy make dinner! Stir! Salt! EAT CHEESE! pwease. HELP! And by help I mean climb up onto the counter and lick all the raw chicken.  Good luck watching my every possible symptom for the next 24 hours! hehe april fools'

-stick pencils in all sticks of deodorant-

I love that you spent all that time washing, folding, and putting away my clothes! You must really love me. To show my appreciation, I will pull out every last bit of my clothes from the drawers, take off my diaper, and pee all over them. Nothing says thank you like a yellow shower of love!

Oh I'm sorry. Did you think I said I would go "potty" in the "potty"? No. no. No. I just heard that if you sit up here you get chocolate. Anytime now. Chocolate. Mine. Now. I am balancing up here like no one's business and I only stuck my foot down in the bath down below once trying to climb down. That's so funny you thought I would actually do something up here. HA. APRIL FOOLS'!

I just want to lie on your bed and pillow and feel close to you! (rips off all bedding and uses bed as trampoline as soon as Mommy leaves to do something selfish like make dinner) April Fools'!

I am going to sleep way in, pretend to be dying when you check on me, and whimper pathetically until you use your barometer for toddler illness seriousness. "Do you want to go watch Frozen?" When I hop enthusiastically out of bed and demand popcorn to go with my movie, I will expect you to live up to your promise. Gotcha. April Fools'!

Stand next to oven. Demand cookies. Start crying. Pretend pain. Grab cookie sheet. Demand cookies. Hand Mommy cookie sheet. Open oven. Cry harder. Use the phrase "cookie shaped hole in my belly". Watch mommy compromise with crackers. YES! CRACKERS!  She must have forgotten a half hour ago she said "NO SNACKS UNTIL DINNER". Gotcha again! April Fools'!

-smear berry muffin on toilet seat-

-finish eating muffin-

No, I don't need any more breakfast. I couldn't possibly eat another bite. Thank you, though. -Wait until mommy (or Daddy-  we're not picky) sits down with breakfast. Demand all of it. April Fools'

I KNOW I said that super brilliant thing at home with you as the only audience member. But of course I will NOT say it in front of all these people I just heard you bragging about me to. Do you think I'm a trained monkey? I said I would? What? LOL APRIL FOOLS'

Look, mommy's writing a blog post about how much I love school! Cue phone call from teacher telling mommy how I bit my aide this week. Yes, I know I said I love school. It's delicious! April Fools'!

I know I ate that really well the last time you made it, but there's no way I'm letting it even TOUCH my lips today. It's not my fault you went and bought the ingredients in bulk. I don't like it any more. I told you I would love it forever?? April Fools'!

Wait and watch until she is completely broken. Sobbing. Moaning. Lying on the floor clutching clean diapers and speed dialing Daddy's voicemail every thirty seconds. Walk over. Pat her gently on her hair. Whisper "I love you". Watch all your sins be erased.