Tuesday, May 19, 2015

She Wanted To...But Couldn't

The other day I took the kids to the park. I have discovered with delight that they no longer scatter in 3 different directions when I take them on outings by myself (knock on wood).

At first it was nondescript as far as incidents go, but extremely memorable as far as motherhood heart moments go. They played together. Laughing, running, sliding, climbing, twirling, talking, pushing each other down the slide (when it was asked). My heart exploded.
Then a busload of elementary kids showed up. It didn't take me long to realize that they were from Addison's school-- mostly kindergarteners and 1st graders. No big deal. The park got a bit chaotic, but my kids continued to play well. They scattered a little bit, but the boys were both wearing red shirts (easy to spot), and Eli and Addison scattered together, so I just followed them and kept an eye out for Carter.

It was while I was watching Addison that it happened.

She was crouched in the middle of the platform next to the monkey bars. Little boys were swinging all around here, easily crossing back and forth on the bars. I went to her. "Addison are you ok?"

She looked up at me, her eyes brimming with tears. "My turn." she said, pointing at the monkey bars. "My.turn." she enunciated clearly.

I saw the problem. These boys (who she probably recognized from school) were doing something that she wanted to do, but couldn't.

I lifted her and carried her over to the monkey bars, waited until there was a break in action, and helped her do it. "Hold on with your hands. Good! Now reach for the next one. Great job!"

The boys very politely waited for her to have her turn. One of them asked, "How old is she?"

I replied "5. She's 5 years old."

"I'm 5 years old and I don't need any help with the monkey bars. I can do it myself!" he said.

"That is really wonderful." I replied, helping Addison to the next rung. (Side bar: No, I did not take this as a "teaching moment" to talk about individual strengths and weaknesses and how we are all good at different things. Pretty sure if a strange lady tried to take a "teaching moment" with my son in the park...I would have few choice words for her. There is a time and a place. The only thing acceptable in this moment was to celebrate with him. And so I flashed him my most genuine smile and hoped that he felt as celebrated as I would want Carter to feel if the situation was reversed.)

Addison then went to the climbing structure, but try as she might, she could not hoist herself up to the starting point where all of these kids from school were swarming about.

"My turn," her lip quivered. "Addison climb." I helped her once again.
And then she went back to the monkey bars. I could see her watching, soaking in all of the activity around her, and then I saw something that made me physically hurt. She was frustrated. Frustrated that she couldn't do what all of the other kids were doing.

Most of the kids seemed to know her, and while they played around her, they were all extremely polite and kind to her. Some even came over to help her at times and called her by name.

But she kept returning to the monkey bars. Oh she wanted to DO IT HERSELF, but she couldn't. I looked around at all of the busy kids only slightly older than her. I looked around at Carter who was fitting in marvelously (he climbed to the very top of the climbing structure and flirted with several girls while casually resting on the top rung...and then he flirted with the teacher who ended up carrying him down when he got stuck lol). I looked around and saw Eli soaking in the attention, throwing a ball and getting several kids to play fetch with him. And then I looked back at Addison, crouching by the monkey bars, watching her peers play, and crying with frustration.

It hurt to see this. And it hurt even more when I pictured this being a regular scenario at school when I wasn't there to help her through it. It's easy to live in denial about her differences, put on the blinders and just focus on what she IS instead of what she isn't. But the truth is, there are times that I bet Down syndrome makes Addison sad. Oh she doesn't know to call it that, but I could see in that moment that she would have given anything to jump outside of her body just for a minute and fling herself across the monkey bars with ease.

Addison is a smart girl, and because of this I really believe she is smart enough to notice the difference in herself. Most of the time she uses this difference to her advantage (her teachers tell me she likes to charm her classmates into doing work for her), but sometimes she doesn't know what to do with the difference.

I make a point not to compare my kids to their peers, not to hold them up to the "typical" mirror and see how much they measure up. NO. I understand the value of accepting each of my children for exactly who they were meant to be...and the development timeline that comes with that. But for some reason, this hit me in an extremely vulnerable part of my heart.

In that moment, just for the briefest of instants, I hated Down syndrome. And that surprised me.

I thought about how Carter is blossoming into this little man, full of conversation, thoughts of his own, and ability to do whatever he put his mind to. He is quirky, opinionated, stubborn, smart, sweet, kind, and so handsome sometimes I wonder if there was a baby switch situation that went on at the hospital (the quirky characteristic sometimes adds to this thought hehe). Watching him grow from toddler to little man has been an incredible experience (also....such a relief as he has become much less of a flight risk among other things).
Addison's emergence from toddler to little girl has been quite different. It took much longer, and I have yet to feel this sense of relief of her emerging into this next stage as if she was propelling herself forward and will mostly likely be just fine no matter how much I feel that I am screwing this up. Sometimes I feel that she is suspended between stages....and I worry if she will ever completely emerge. Of course, she also is full of conversation, thoughts of her own, and MOSTLY has the ability to do whatever she puts her mind to. She is quirky, opinionated, stubborn, smart, sweet, kind, and quite the beauty.

The thing is, I am FINE with where she is. I am proud of her. I am overjoyed by her. And 99.9% of the time I will wonder if she will ever "emerge to the next stage", and I am not bothered by it.
But in that moment at the park, watching her peers flit about her while she crouched on the platform, looking like a fish out of sea, I hated that she had to struggle. And of course as her mother, I wanted to just remove all frustrations...all pain...all hard knocks in life.

Then the more selfish part of my brain of course jumped to-- "I've put in 5 hard years of parenting!!! I should have a 5 year old who can not only do the monkey bars by herself...but brag about it! It's only fair. I've put in the same amount of time that that kid's mom did."

Honestly, I hate myself just a little bit when my mind goes here. I know parenting isn't all about me...but I can be a very selfish person at times. And I am very disappointed in myself when my mind dwelling here then leads to disappointment.

Because that doesn't matter. My effort in parenting doesn't matter when it comes to justifying "deserved" outcomes. My effort in parenting isn't me doing my kids a GIANT FAVOR...it is me doing my job, plain and simple. And the fact that Addison is where she is after 5 hard years of parenting...it just IS. But more importantly...it is my good. All of my children...exactly as they are...are God's goodness to me as a mother.

I knew all of this in my heart. But for some reasons my eyes were on a mission of their own as they filled with tears.

The feeling that this monkey bars moment left me clung to me all weekend. Sunday I was taking a short nap when I heard her open her baby gate, go to the bathroom, put on a clean pull-up, and then come to Aaron's side of the bed. She scooted her little body under the covers, flung her blonde head onto his pillow, and then brought her smiling face inches away from mine.

"Hi". She said, slightly breathless.
"Hi, sweetie. Did you have a nice nap?"
"Chocolate. Addison potty. Need chocolate."

I laughed. She giggled and then wiggled closer to me as if about to pat me down for the chocolate that I was clearly holding out on her.

I don't have any answers or magic fix-its. I don't know if perhaps I will get better at handling these playground-type incidents as she grows and these moments increase...or maybe it will just be that much harder. I don't know. I don't know how having an elementary-aged daughter with Down syndrome will be different than having a preschool-aged daughter with Down syndrome. I don't know if I will grow in my own selfishness along the way. I don't know what the next years hold...or how to help Addison through these moments of frustration.

But I do know that she got over it. So I did too.

She has been begging to go back to "Park. Park please." I think she wants to try again.

Something tells me she will conquer the monkey bars soon....and then demand a reward of chocolate.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Addison's "Juice" Recipe

Several people asked me after my last post what this mysterious "juice" recipe is that my kids currently go bananas about. (Spoiler: there are no bananas in this juice)

Being the kind person...okay fine...over-sharer that I am, I am giving you the recipe here. I realize this isn't a recipe blog, but I claim "everything and nothing" as my wiggle room on this. Also, I spend a lot of time preparing food for my family, and it feels like a crime if that can't occasionally spill over into this space. So here goes.

The "juice". This is a not-so-sneaky way to balance out my children's diet.
I start off with
1 avocado
A handful of kale 
8 strawberries
A handful of raspberries (anywhere from 1/2 cup to a full cup)
1 cup of frozen blueberries (I used the Costco mix for this which snuck a few blackberries in as well) It's important that they be frozen as this is the "ice cube" to the smoothie
I then add several large spoonfuls of Cabot Greek yogurt (their favorite is either strawberry or vanilla bean)
and top with a sprinkling of Chia Seeds

When I first started to make this for them, I added a TON of yogurt, very few kale leaves, and added some extra honey for more sweetening.  I have weaned that down to more kale and less yogurt with no extra honey. They still love it (knock on wood). The more yogurt you add, the sweeter it is. 

Once that is all in place, I fill up all of the cracks with Almond Milk. We go back and forth between unsweetened and the one sweetened with honey. (I ran out of Almond Milk this weekend as we have been making this so much and had to do the last little bit with whole milk for this round of "juice". I could definitely taste the difference. Oh well...)
and blend
The kids beg for "juice" every day for lunch. And sometimes the leftovers are my entire lunch that day. Fine by me!
I'm posting this pic again because I think the colors are soooo pretty! (Admittedly...I spend FAR too much time staring at food in the kitchen...ha)

I started off making this with the avocado, almond milk, and whatever other fruits we had in the house. The kids soon made it clear that it tasted SO MUCH BETTER when strawberries were involved. (-;

So there you go. "Juice"

Yeah...I definitely need a better name for this....

Monday, May 4, 2015

Remembering to just "be"

This weekend Aaron and I were listening to a sermon on parenting. We were listening while driving the kids to John Deere Days, and we were only able to get in the first ten minutes or so. But in those first ten minutes, I was challenged by a thought that sadly hadn't crossed my mind in a while.

"Your kids need to know that you enjoy just BEING with them."

After our morning adventure was over, Eli was tucked (snoring loudly) into his bed. Carter got suited up to go help Daddy with an errand in the big dump truck. Addison was in her room tossing and turning, unable to sleep (no doubt after her very first taste of soda at the morning's festivities).

The thought of "just BEING" that I had been chewing on all morning jumped forefront to my mind. I mixed up some of the kids favorite "juice" (avocado kale fruit smoothie) in the blender. As I finished blending, I heard a sweet voice shout, "JUICE!" from Addison's room.

I placed two glass cups filled to the brim with delicious juice on the deck and then tiptoed to her room to break her out of naptime.

"Shhhhh" I said. "The baby is sleeping. Shhhhh."
She very quickly mimicked me, "Shhhhhhh" with her finger pressed against her lips.

She wrapped her arms around my neck and I tiptoed past the baby out onto the deck with her warm head pressing against my cheek.

"Let's have a juice together." I told her, and she beamed. "JUICE!"

The sun was shining (halleluiah!), the air was fresh, the wind was like the subtle tickling part of a massage. Addison sat in her chair and drank her juice like a pro. I sat across from her and asked her about her week.
Oh she talked about school and T and reading books and coloring. She then begged to go to the car to go to the pool to swim (this request was accompanied by very specific arm motions). She then talked about Ewi and Carter and Daddy. And then there was chatter about her juice and the straw in her juice. Then she asked to go to the pool again. And for a towel that she would of course need at the pool.

I complimented her on how well she was drinking with her straw (the child's strong need for encouragement was almost mentioned in the first ten minutes of this sermon) and how much I LOVED drinking juice with her and hearing about her week.
She kept on chatting. Of course, you must understand that conversation with Addison these days includes a lot of strong clue words...with the need for the listener to fill in some gaps. For example:

"She begged to go to the pool to swim" sounded like,

"Go car. Pool. Swim." *arm motions*

When you travel the road of a nonverbal child, you begin to appreciate these strong clue words and understand the value that can be found in very little bits of communication. That's all it takes to start to really get to know a child who spent years not being able to tell you anything at all.
After we were done with our juice, she wanted to go "BOUNCE!" on the trampoline (after I finally convinced her that the pool was NOT open yet).

At first we walked with our matching pedicures digging into the grass together. But she was quite insistent "SHOES! Addisie's shoes!" So we got Addisie's shoes...and then when she didn't want to walk down the hill, I taught her how to roll down the hill. She got a bit tense...but laughed at herself at her efforts. (I so saw myself in her here. That is exactly what I do when I learn something new.)

We got to the trampoline and she bounced and laughed and bounced some more. Then we held hands, counted to 3 together, and then bounced at the same time. Oh she laughed and laughed and laughed and I desperately wished I could have somehow captured her face in that moment with the backdrop of the perfectly blue sky framing her exuberant beauty. But it was one of those moments that I didn't DARE ruin with a picture. It was a moment that I would tuck away in my heart...to not share with anyone because it was too precious to capture in a photo. Not to mention...the "feeling" of intense love and happiness that I had in that moment made the picture. When can we start to capture feelings in a shareable way?

"AGAIN!" She demanded time and time again (once she stopped giggling).

"Bounce by yourself. Mommy's tired!"

"No. Mommy do it. Bounce with Addisie. 2....3!" (for some reason...she had something against poor 1)

Who can resist?

And so we bounced and bounced. And for each bounce....there were ten laughs.

It seems to me that as a parent my agenda includes so much teaching, guiding, disciplining, lecturing...that it is SO easy to forget the other side of things that my kids need JUST as much.

Addison is more than Down syndrome. She is much more than a little girl who is learning to read, dress herself, be kind to other children, and pick up after herself. Addison is this amazing little person who is fun to hang out with. Her personality makes me smile...and then laugh...and then smile some more. Her personality is overwhelmingly happy...with a touch of stubbornness...a large cup of mischief...sprinkled generously with chocolate.

"Addison...I LOVE bouncing with you."  She beamed once again. And then laughed once again. And then said, "AGAIN!" once again.
As my kids grow, I don't know what their futures hold. I don't know what they will grow up to be. I don't know what mistakes I will cry over. I don't know what successes I will praise them over. But I hope...each step of the way....each year older....each day wiser...that we spend a lot of time just "being" together. Enjoying each other's company, taking time to appreciate who that person IS beyond just "this is the person I need to shape to send out into the world", and holding the seeming stagnant moments as the most dear because that is when this "being" can really flourish.

It felt like I was bottling up joy in a way that I would remember forever. I hope that as parenting evolves for us and new difficulties come our way and the tear-out-your-hair moments intensify...that I never ever forget this.

Juice. Bouncing. So simple. And yet....so life changing.