Friday, April 28, 2017

It's Okay If You Spill The Milk. Just TRY.

My house is quiet. A rarity indeed.

I took the kids swimming this morning and then dropped them off at gym daycare for an hour so that I could dash home and get some work done in peace. Naturally, "work" meant that I loaded all of the swim clothes into the washer, checked on dinner in the crockpot, loaded the dishwasher, wiped down the counter where I was to be working, and then finally sat down with my computer only to have my mind go blank. At exactly the same moment my focus waved goodbye and flew out an open window into this glorious spring breeze.

No prob. I'm guessing this edit work will just do itself!!! Obvi.

I've been limping a bit through this week. It's Spring Break for the kids, so no school for A, C, or E. I love them dearly, and I love getting to plan day-long adventures, but I'm not gonna lie- it's exhausting to haul four kids around town with no help. Also- Addison doesn't do well with change and tends to revert back to a lot of old behaviors as a result.

One day we tried a Living Social deal and had horseback riding lessons, another we tried a new walking trail so Carter could practice his bike moves, I taught two afternoons of violin lessons in there somewhere, yesterday was packed full of doctors appointments (by "packed" I mean 2 but somehow it felt like so much more when I multiplied this 2 by the 4 kids I hauled to each of them), and this morning we went swimming.

When people see me out and about with all 4- alone- they call me lots of things. "Brave, supermom, crazy, adventurous, daring, WOW!" I used to not venture out much. Especially when Addison was bolting away far more often and I had to buckle her down in order to keep her safe. But now that she is more trustworthy we get out as much as possible. The boys are extremely high energy and I'm trying to keep those "high on life and dancing on the counter" moves away from my new kitchen as much as possible.

But I will say- I am none of those things on that list (except "crazy"). I am just doing what I have to do. My husband has entered his busy season, and I can either stay at home and have the kids tear up everything here...or we can go out and adventure and then come home and continue the profitable vibe with reading, schoolwork, and quality play time.

Anyhoo- back to the topic at hand (I warned you that my focus was out singing with the birds).

I wanted to share something here that I shared on my facebook page yesterday. It seemed to really resonate with a lot of people, and it was requested that I make it accessible to those who might not be on facebook.

This story happened during another exhausting but beautiful day, and I loved the way Addison brought things back into focus for me even in the midst of all of the craziness. She has that gift.

Story what story? This one:

Yesterday Addison said that she wanted a glass of milk. My first instinct was to jump in and get it for her, but as I got distracted with the baby, I saw Addison just do it herself. First she pulled a stool over to the fridge, climbed up, and then got the milk gallon off the top shelf. She brought it over to the counter where she had already set a cup and a straw for herself. It was then that I was able to get back over to help her, but since she was doing such a fab job, I just stood by her and watched. She picked up the gallon- which was maybe 1/5 full- and started to pour, just as I admonished, "Don't spill!" thinking that I was being helpful. Her hand shook as soon as I said this. "Okay. Don't spill," she repeated. But then she set the gallon of milk down- all done. "I can't. I can't," she said. At first I thought she meant, "I can't pour my own milk." But then I realized- she COULD pour it herself. She just needed my permission to spill. She needed to know that it was okay for her to make mistakes as she learned new things. That perfection wasn't required of her. That she should only have to worry about pouring that milk to the best of her ability, knowing that it was okay if her best included some milk dribbles or outright spilling on her path to independence. Realizing this, I amended my advice. "Yes, you can do this. And it's okay if you spill. I will clean it up- it's no problem at all. Just pour your milk." She stared at me carefully, picked the gallon back up, and poured her cup like a pro. Not spilling a drop. As I watched her sip her cup of milk that she worked so hard to get for herself, I felt a bit sheepish. Being allowed to make mistakes- this is something that I struggle with  myself. And the fact that I put limits on her abilities because of my rules that intimidated her into not even trying- this caused me to stop and ponder. We are all going to make mistakes. We are all going to spill a LOT of milk. But should this stop us from living? From trying? The other day I posted about my chalkboard in the kitchen. I think my new saying will be, "It's okay if you spill the milk. Just TRY." This thought is very freeing to me. And helps me remember not to set limits on my girl. #inspiredbyAddison #downsyndrome #nothingdownaboutit

Just got a call from gym daycare. Apparently I forgot to pack any Morgan diapers in the gym snack/sock bag. Because of course.

This is me signing off. Headed off to pick up the kiddos and continue on our day.

But even in the midst of the chaos- the exhaustion- there is so much beauty and grace to be found as I learn from my kids.

Motherhood is inspiring. And humbling. Exhausting. And I do clean up a lot of spilled milk.

But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, March 20, 2017

On Being Stressed

Hi, guys! This past Saturday I was the speaker at a breakfast event at our church. I've had so many requests for copies of the talk that I've decided to post it here so it's easier for me to direct people to it. Feel free to read- or not- no pressure. This is longer than a usual blog post. It was a talk I gave to a gym full of women on stress and stress management (with a European travel theme). Oh and I opened the talk with a disclaimer on how I was stressed about talking to them on stress. (-; So....this is all stuff that I am currently learning and using.

I was so thankful for this opportunity to share, and was so blessed by the kindness of the many who were there! I hope this talk is an encouragement to you- wherever life finds you today.

On Being Stressed:

When I was 18 years old, I toured Europe the summer following my freshman year of college. Participating in my school’s musical missions team, I joined the choir that learned a selection of songs a dozen different languages to perform daily concerts on cobblestone street corners and in awe-inspiring cathedrals alike. I bought a hard cover suitcase that would hold ten weeks worth of stuff- yet not be so large that I couldn’t haul it to the top of those spectacularly long spiral staircases in Spain. I got my first ever passport, bought a nice camera, and prepared for the adventure of a lifetime. And boy was it ever.

On this trip I fell in love. With those pretzel buns in Germany that they serve for breakfast. So yummy. But also- on this trip I met the man that I would one day marry.

At the beginning of the trip, someone asked me if any of the guys on the team had caught my attention. In my 18 year old, all-knowing wisdom, I answered with a none too gracious and hearty. “NO!”

Aaron sat innocently on the other side of the room, and I didn’t know it at the time, but someone asked him the same question about the girls of the team. He answered the same.

So after a semester of practice, our choir boarded a plane in Atlanta, and we headed for Spain. After a week in Spain, doing at least one musical concert a day- we moved to France. After France, Germany, then Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, then Estonia and back over to Switzerland. We drove through Austria at one point. On the way home we had a 24 hour layover in London and caught an opera. It was a year where we couldn’t get visas into Russia, but we stood practically right at the border, singing our songs in Russian. We loaded up into these boxy white vans and drove from country to country- taking in the sights, eating the local cuisine, and bunking up with local families who attended the churches where we were ministering.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but somewhere in there- my friend Katie started to notice this boy, Aaron. She pointed him out to me. “Isn’t he so cute?” She asked.

“Ugh. No.” I replied. “He’s so annoying and kind of crazy. He’s not even a music major! They only let him on this trip because they needed someone who could drive stick shift. And he keeps talking about this place Vermont? What’s in Vermont? What’s the big deal?”

But since she had developed a little crush on him, I decided to keep an eye on him, just in interest of being able to report back to her.

I was an extremely prim and proper, reserved, Midwestern, conservative music major who did little else other than practice. Aaron was a scandalous boy from Vermont, a scruffy ski instructor (who took advantage of some skiing in Switzerland and skied across the border into Italy), a wild and crazy Chemistry major who –in interest of saving suitcase space- packed Doc Bronners soap for the trip which he bragged could wash his hair, his clothes, AND the white box vans.

It turns out, he got a little Chemistry life lesson on this trip. We both did. Opposites DO attract.

It was in Berlin where we had “the big talk”. I will never forget our coffee/tea date at an outside cafĂ©. Sitting at this tiny table, looking across at this guy that inexplicably drew my attention, and wondering, what could ever come of this missions team crush? (My friend Katie had long passed on to a new crush).

Ten and a half years of marriage later, 4 kids, a mortgage, and our very own mini van….THIS. This is what that crush came to. I found my definitely-very-cute, tractor-driving studmuffin, soulmate. I thank God for him every day.

Now if you had asked me at the time, I would have told me that this trip was extremely stressful. It was a big adventure for a sheltered girl like myself. Keeping track of things such as my passport and necessary personal items while moving locations almost daily. Dragging my suitcase from place to place. Singing a rather high-pressure concert every night whether I felt like it or not. Oh- and somewhere in Estonia we picked up a rare breed of European lice that we kept passing around the entire team and it turns out- European lice treatments aren’t as strong as American lice treatments and those lice just would not.go.away.

Stressful. (Also itchy. Itchy Stressful is a whole new level of stress I had never hit before.)

Looking back on it now in comparison to the years that have followed- it was more adventure than stressful. I have had many other trips that proved to be a lot less fun and a lot more stressful.

Take for example- December, 2011. No passport was needed for this trip.

We were driving from Vermont to Michigan on an icy winter night to my grandfather’s funeral. At the time we only had two kids. Addison- who was under 2 years old and barely a year off of her oxygen tanks and severe medical issues. Carter- who was three months old and the most handsome…but orneriest baby there ever was.

So we got rolling on these freezing roads, and we learned pretty quickly that every time the car stopped moving, baby Carter would wake up and scream and scream and scream. Kid had a pair of lungs on him. And just when we were too far to turn around, but not close enough to make this end quickly- a perfectly healthy Addison somehow developed a horrible case of croup.

So we would be driving along, both kids happy, and then Addison would stop breathing. So we would stop to give her a breathing treatment, and then Carter would wake up and scream and scream. So we would get moving again, Carter would go back to sleep, and then Addison would stop breathing again. So we would stop to give her a treatment and Carter would wake up screaming again. Repeat endlessly.

When we got there, Carter screamed all night in the hotel room and Addison needed continuous breathing treatments through the night.

Repeat all the way home for a 15 hour drive.

This trip rates pretty high on my stress-o-meter. It made the European lice seem like a luxury vacation that included frequent head massages.

But let’s just talk about stress for a minute. The other day after wrangling four kids seven and under to be fed, dressed, in their school gear, snacks packed, papers signed and put in the appropriate folders, and three separate school drop offs completed before 7:45am- I was feeling a bit stressed. As I drove, clutching my cup of now lukewarm coffee and taking deep breaths, we passed a bus that proclaimed something along the lines of “Ride a bus! Stress-free transport!” And I thought, “stress-free” sounded pretty great.

But then my next thought was of juggling 4 small kids alone on the bus and my stress-o-meter went through the roof.

So stress. What is it? How do we deal with it? How can we have a stress-free transport through life?

According to Google, stress can be defined as: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

However we define stress or experience it- I think it’s safe to say that all of us experience stress at different points in our days. Whether it’s in the form of a trip gone wrong, or getting lice in Europe while trying to impress your new boy crush, or trying to get the kids out the door in the morning, or exam week at school, a work deadline, a small kink in a jam packed day, a health situation in your family, or even just really gnarly traffic- stress is omnipresent.

Filling up my van with gas yesterday, I stood waiting for the pump to finish and a soothing picture flashed up on the screen suggesting that I take 5 seconds to relax my neck and shoulders. Clearly the gas pumps are seeing lots of stressed out people!

The question is, how do we deal with stress? How do we cope? How do we keep from exploding under the pressure of every day life?

In the spirit of being as helpful as possible, I’ve compiled a list of 18 things that the entire Internet seems to agree that will help manage stress and 2 things I want to add to the list in a big way. So here we go:

Deep breaths. Maybe include the gas station’s suggestion of relaxing your neck and shoulders at the same time. Pretty basic suggestion, but I’ve found this helpful on many occasions.

      Make lists. Make a concrete, visual plan for all the things spinning around in your head. Organize your day. Oftentimes my stress originates from the vast and varied number things I need to do. Writing them down and letting the paper be responsible for keeping track of when and where it all will happen lets me relax and focus just on the thing in front of me now. Have to do ALL THE THINGS today? Nope. Right now I just have to…switch the wash over. Or plan dinner. Or take the kids to school. Or drink this entire pot of coffee. Just do the next right thing.

 Add an extra hour to your day
This is my favorite one right now. For me this means getting up an hour before the kids. This lets me drink a hot drink while it’s still hot, get some reading in or writing, and just focus in on my day before the screaming chaos of children rains down upon me. I’ll often throw a load in the washer, unload the dishwasher, maybe get dinner rolling in the crockpot. Even just fifteen extra minutes to get things done child-free lowers my stress level in the morning.

Take a walk! Go for a run! Get outside.

Listen to music. This could go two ways. Calming, soothing classical music that quiets the soul. Or lively music for a get-moving dance party.

Scrub something clean. A kitchen, a closet, a floor, a bathroom sink- push aside the situation you can’t control and focus on the thing in front of you that you can. Take something dingy and organized and turn it into a sparkling, neat display.

Laugh out loud. Read a really good book. Watch an intriguing movie.

Drink a cup of hot decaf tea.  Sip it slowly. Enjoy those bold flavors. Feel the calming energy seep into the essence of your being. Breathe in the steam and the scents and the liquid presence of joy. (Personally, I feel this describes coffee)

Hug someone.

Chew gum

Write about what’s stressing you out.

Take a break. Just walk away.

Take a hot bubble bath. Silky bubbles. Steaming water. Relaxing bath salts that seep the stress right from your bones. Perhaps combine this one with soothing music and a scented candle.

Reach out and talk to others. Make time for a coffee date or lunch out. Or even- the mode most available to me these days- text! If I am feeling super stressed about life, my favorite thing in the world to do is pick a handful of people on my contact list and text them to see how they are doing. Check in to see how their day is going. Let them know I care about whatever might be stressing them out. Look up and out instead of shriveling in.

Unplug. Is facebook politics stressing you out? The perfection of Pinterest? The like count on Instagram? Easy peasy- log off. Turn off your phone. Walk away from it all. Don’t check your email. Just focus in on the day ahead of you and rid yourself of the stress of it all. On the days that I feel that my head might explode from the noise and clamor, I unplug from my phone and computer. I focus on the moments in front of me. I listen to the sounds around me- the rustling wind, a chirping bird, the giggles and shouts coming from the playset. I feel the warm sunshine on my face. I watch my kids run and play without a care in the world. No distractions. No digital noise. These are simpler moments. Not as flashy. But far less stressful and quite therapeutic.

Get a massage. Or a pedicure or manicure. Finding time for a massage isn’t always in the cards for my schedule right now. But sometimes when I’m feeling super stressed, I’ll lie down on the floor on my stomach and tell my kids to each fetch their favorite matchbox car and pretend that I’m the road. As they happily zoom it all around my back and up my shoulders, I wonder how much tip I’m supposed to leave for this type of massage?

Keep vacation photos handy. Close your eyes and remember the sensations of that vacation. The crystal clear blue water. The bustling cobblestone street. The wondrous beauty of those mountains. The silence of those swaying fields bursting with colorful blooms. The adventure. The excitement. The ethnic foods. The time spent with people you love.

Look at cute animal pictures or funny animal videos. Or better yet- pet an animal in real life. Furry, cute little balls of fuzz. Sleek, loyal-looking dogs with dark brown eyes. Baby elephants. Sleeping puppies. Pouncing cats. Nestling guinea pigs. Dancing dolphins.

While many of these things might be quite helpful and even effective at times, I would be remiss if I didn’t add the 2 things to help me the most when dealing with a stressful situation.

Meditate on scripture
In the midst of an extremely stressful situation and you just don’t know what to do next? How about meditating on this:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your path. Prov. 3:5-6

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:6

I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. Phil. 4:13

God is our refuge and strength and very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried to the midst of the sea. Ps. 46:1-2

Knowing that whatever is causing me stress in that moment- the same God who created the lush green fields, the rolling mountains, the intensely blue sky, the exquisite snow, the strikingly contrasting seasons that we get to enjoy here in Vermont- that same God has a plan for my stressful situation.

Pray. Stressful situations make me very aware of how much out of control of my own life I am. I can’t force situations to go a certain way. I can’t change so many things that are causing my stress. I can only control my response. My ability to cope. But- the reassuring thing is, I know the one who IS control. The one who created this specific stressful situation and put me right inside of it. He didn’t abandon me there. He surrounded me with this specific stress and then reached out his hand to hold mine and said, “Trust in me. I’ve got this.” And so stress reminds me to pray in a way that nothing else does. A calling out for help. A spoken plea.

I’ve heard stress compared to putting a teabag in hot water. You don’t really know what’s inside until hot water surrounds the innocent looking tea bag. Soon, swirls of color bleed out into the clear water. Green tea? Black? Raspberry? Peppermint?

It’s a little scary to think what this kind of life pop quiz will reveal in me. What’s inside? I’ll admit to being prone to snapping at my kids when I get stressed trying to parent them. Or even worse- internalizing the stress until it grows bigger and bigger and bigger and then one day just randomly explodes. Not the most delicious cup of tea.

To be perfectly honest, I know for a fact that what is naturally inside my heart is not good. It is quite sinful. No good exists there on its own. In fact, the Bible says “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.

So when that deceitful and desperately wicked heart is put under the hot water stress test, I can guarantee you that that’s one cup of tea that is not savory.

It tends to draw out what’s really inside of all of us- sin.

Stressful situations make me all too aware of my own sinfulness. Of my own need for a Savior. Of my own need for grace, strength, and wisdom. Stress pushes me toward the cross in a desperate cry for help.

Nice pep talk, huh? Super encouraging stuff. You might be thinking, “Can we go back to the deep breath suggestion???”

But in reality- it is super encouraging because that’s not the end of the story. We are all hopelessly sinful, but there was one who wasn’t. One absolutely perfect human being and yet still God who came to die on the cross- taking the burden of our sins on him. That sounds more than a little stressful. And yet he did it- perfectly.

And so as stress sends me to the cross, it reminds me of God sending his own son to take my sins on his shoulders. Of Jesus living his sinless, perfect life in such a way that he became the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Of him dying and then rising from the dead just thee days later. Of his willingness to forgive my sins. Of his promise of life everlasting.

His grace and love towards us replaces our old, sinful man with new life in him. A new heart- one that isn’t full of hate and sin. One that, when placed in the hot water of stress, can imitate Christ’s love and grace.

Our calling as women is so much more than enduring through stressful situations that life might throw our way. I would venture to say that our calling as women is to live this gospel message out through how we handle stress. Not just by the words we speak on facebook or how many church services we attend- but rather how we live through the stressful situations hidden behind the doors of our office or house or school. How we forgive others for their transgressions toward us that sends our lives into a tailspin. How we love the people in our lives. How we give grace, kindness, and unconditional love to others even when- especially when stressed.

I have learned that it’s possible to do so much more than just survive these tough moments. There is joy to be found there. For it’s in these moments when God reveals himself to us the clearest.

7 years after our European trip, we were done with our undergrad degrees. We said “I do” while surrounded by countless red roses and a hundred of our closest friends, finished grad school, moved across the country twice, bought a house and felt all kinds of officially adult. After three years of marriage, we were deeply in love and blissfully happy and so we decided- hey! We should give this kid thing a try!

I was 25 years old and very healthy. In our minds we had worked hard to prepare ourselves for our perfect little family.

“You have no idea what you’re in for!” people warned us. “Parenting is really stressful!”

In reality- all of those well-wishers also had no idea what was coming our way.

At our 20 week ultrasound, we found out that something was really wrong. A couple weeks later, we found out definitively that that “something wrong” was Down syndrome. We had dozens of extra tests and monitoring and everything looked healthy- other than the extra chromosome! But then when she was born she fought for her life for 5 weeks in the NICU. She then couldn’t eat orally so she received surgery to place a tube directly into her stomach where we would measure and pour all of her feeds and medications. When we took her home from the hospital, not only did she have her stomach tube (which made dressing her quite tricky and we had to be constantly vigilant that it didn’t get accidentally pulled out), she was also on a full time oxygen flow which meant that we had to carry around an oxygen cylinder with her every time we picked her up and moved her. And had to be super careful not to kink, tangle, or knot her nasal cannula line. Oh and make sure she didn’t strangle herself in it.

When she was 4 months old she had her first heart surgery in Boston. Because of Aaron’s work schedule- I ended up waiting alone in the waiting room to see if our baby would survive this high-risk procedure. When she was 8 months old she had her second heart surgery. When she was 9 months old- she finally came off of oxygen!

I tell you all of this not so that you will feel sorry for me. Far from it. I have a healthy, beautiful 7-year-old daughter who is the light of my life. I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

But her first year of life- in every sense of the word- was extremely stressful. But this stress was not in vain. The stress of Addison’s diagnosis and health problems pushed me to the cross in a way that life never had before.

It’s all well and good to stand next to the Rock and swear of the Rock’s abilities. But when we have no strength left to hold ourselves up and we find ourselves desperately clinging to the Rock just to keep ourselves upright- it’s then that we experience more intimately the strength that is to be found there.

Falling back on the Lord when no one else could carry us through taught us a dependence on him and his work in our lives- it showed us the beauty of his goodness in the storm of hard times. Pushing through as a new mom when I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep my baby alive another day taught me all about “I can do all things through Christ- who strenghtens me”- The verse I had glibly spouted off my entire life as my life verse, but never once did I really have to live it out.

Until I became a mom to a high needs baby.

God is still a good God even when you have a very sick baby. God is still a good God even when he heals that baby but leaves behind a life long diagnosis. God is still a good God even as he shows you how to find intense joy in a diagnosis you originally fought with tears.

It was God’s grace- God’s love- God’s forgiveness- God’s strength that made new motherhood shine for me. And every day since.

To the point where I can honestly say- I am thankful for this experience. I am thankful for the stress.

The Lord had a “wildly out of control and stressful situation” completely under control every step of the way. He perfectly created Addison, held her life in his hands, and gifted her graciously to us to love.

God has created the beginning and the ends of each of our stories. And each chapter inbetween is crafted with purpose and love. Sometimes it’s hard to see the bigger picture when we are stuck in the stresses of today. But the master author has written a bigger picture for all of us. This includes specifically designing stresses along the way to draw us to himself. To help us through as only he can. To prepare us for the big picture of our lives.

Part of the big picture of my life included a European trip and many hilarious, interesting, stressful, incredible, breathtaking chapters to follow as a result. I am thankful for every chapter, and that he nudged our paths to start running parallel on that trip oh so many years ago.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What happens when she's no longer a baby?

But what about when she's no longer a baby? I secretly worried.

What happens when "cute baby with a little something extra" grows into awkward girlhood defined by difference? What then? Will it be harder to mother her? Harder to love her?

A couple weeks ago I sat across from Addison at her birthday dinner, and as I stared at her blue eyes, smooth complexion, and just sheer beauty, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to be her mother.

She grew up right in front of me. She grew so gradually that I didn't even notice it was happening until suddenly I woke up and she is 7 years old, full of enthusiasm for life, strong opinions, and a laugh that still makes me without fail laugh too.

Is it harder to mother her as round babyhood has stretched into the awkward lines and sharp angles of girlhood?

No more so than it's hard to mother my other kids.

And I'm not afraid of the person she's growing into. I'm not fearful of her future as an adult with Down syndrome. I am not hiding secret pain of being a special needs mom.

No. I am reveling in this. Every year I get a little more proud of who she is. As she grows and blossoms and grows some more- I am amazed at what an incredible person she is becoming.

A sinner? Oh sure. Flawed? You betcha.

A stunning human being with limitless potential? A thousand times YUP.

My heart is full to bursting as I get to do life with her. As I hear her talk and see insights into her heart.

As she unwrapped a pink dress that we got her for her birthday, she screamed, "SCHOOL!!! I GET TO WEAR PINK DRESS TO SCHOOL!" and laughed and laughed and screamed in glee some more.

I just beamed at her excitement.

This is the first year that she's told me anything that she's wanted for her birthday. Normally, she could really just take or leave it. It was so hard to buy for her. But this year, she specifically asked for clothes and dresses.

Done and done.

She told me what she wanted for her birthday. This was so huge to me! And I'm still smiling about it- weeks later.

Last weekend I cleaned out my closet. I was tossed and organized and everything was great, until I reached to the very top shelf to toss out a knitting basket from that life phase when I thought I could be a knitter. (spoiler alert- I am not).

I pulled the basket down and saw an itty bitty white hat on top of the discarded scarves and piles of yarn. This wasn't any white hat. It was a hat that I sewed together for Addison while I spent hours on the couch, on bedrest, for the last couple of weeks waiting for her to be born. It was a horrible sewing job, and it was too tiny to fit Addison's head when she was born (spoiler alert- I am also not a seamstress).

But suddenly, staring at that white hat, even with a house full of healthy, laughing, fighting, growing children around me- tears flooded my eyes and my heart squeezed in a funny way.

All I have to do is close my eyes and remember, and suddenly I'm back in that moment. "I'm sorry, your baby tested positive for Trisomy 21. I'm so sorry. Are you alone right now? You probably shouldn't be alone right now. I'm so sorry. Do you want to come in to discuss your options with our genetic counselor?"

Dropping the phone. Losing feeling in my legs. Falling. Losing hope in life. Utter devastation.

I remember how that felt. How afraid I was. How my throat closed up and breathing seemed impossible. How convinced I was that our lives were ruined forever. That I was carrying a syndrome and had lost my baby. How I felt stuck with a life I never asked for, never wanted. A special needs mom. From here on out, my name would be synonymous with "special" and our family would be "THAT" family with the different kid that everyone felt so sorry for.

I remember this moment in this startling clarity because it was a pivotal moment in the story of my life. The moment that twisted all of my expectations and hopes and trust and ability to cling to the good. The moment I thought that my life was truly over.

The moment that started me on the path to learning that all of my expectations....had been wrong.

This moment sticks out so egregiously in my memory because it was not my new normal. It was simply a passing moment in time, a period of grieving what I thought my life would look like, a phase in which my mindset changed and grew and stretched to the place where I could see past my selfish expectations for my child.

When I think back to that phone call now, I wish he had said, "So, your baby tested positive for Trisomy 21. Congratulations on your new little girl! You won the lottery because yours is coming with something a bit extra! This extra chromosome might change things a bit, but chin up, Mama- just wait until you meet her. She is going to blow you away. Don't underestimate this one. Seriously- you will realize you didn't know what living was until she entered your life. I am so, so, so happy for you and your new baby!!!!"

I wish this phone call could have touched on the look in her eyes when we talk. A sparkling mirth in those blue beauties in their almond shaped frame.

I wish he would have mentioned her laughter. How contagious it is. How purely happy it would make the world around her.

I wish this phone call could have mentioned her today in first grade. How smart she would be. How capable. How truly grown up she was becoming.

How much she would love her bright pink glasses but HATES it when I try to do her hair.

How well she would learn to read! And love doing it.

How obsessed she would be with her new shoes. Or boots and accessories. Or wearing dresses. Or how she loves to spend time with her baby sister.

How after grocery shopping last week, she grabbed a bag full of ziploc bag boxes and correctly put them all away without even being asked.

How her cute babyhood seamlessly transitioned into cute girlhood.

I wish this phone call could have skipped the "I'm sorry"s. Because looking back now- I'm not really sure where there was to be sorry about. For having a baby? A little girl? A beautiful little girl?

Yesterday the boys took away the trampoline ladder and she wanted to climb up and jump, so she pulled herself up without a ladder. Sorry that she's super strong?

This morning she dressed herself with a speed of someone who was eager to get to school and see her friends. Sorry she is so social?

Last night she ate her dinner and asked very politely for an ice cream cone she since had eaten "TWO bites. I ate TWO bites," she said earnestly. Sorry she loves chocolate? Is so verbal? Is hilariously cute?

Addison is no longer a baby. The baby hat- that was meant for her- full of incorrect expectations down to the size of her head is covered in dust. That phase in life is behind us. And now we focus on raising a smart, kind little girl with quirks and strengths all her own.

But what about when she's no longer a baby? I secretly wondered while I worked diligently on the worst baby hat known to mankind.

When she's no longer a baby- she will be a little girl. A beautiful little girl. It just keeps getting better. Every day will be just a bit sweeter than the day before. Getting to know her- getting to do life by her side-

This is your gift.

Enjoy. Being mommy is the best seat in the house.

Don't take a moment of this experience for granted.

And stop crying. There is nothing to cry about. (except maybe how badly you are sewing that hat. But heads up- you also learn to give yourself some grace. So "great job!" on that hat...might want to keep your day job though...)

So extremely grateful for this girl:

 Year 7 is off to a great start!!!!

(Just a heads up- we will be doing some website construction in the very near future. Will let you know when our new look is live, and hope you can be patient with us as we transition over in the coming weeks. Thanks!)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Dear NICU Parent

(In honor of Addison's birthday (today!), I am reposting this. I can't think of Addison's birth without having big NICU flashbacks. Originally posted 3 years ago today.)

Dear NICU Parent,

I see you.

I see you sit hours on end next to an isolette stroking the tiny hand of your child who is covered in so many wires that you can't see her face.

I see the confused and impatient look on your face as the doctor does his rounds and then ends with "We don't really know. We just need to wait and see".

I see you leave the room in agony as your baby has to have a painful procedure that 1. you can't do anything about 2. you can't even scoop her up and comfort her when it's all over as she cannot be moved.

I see you cringe as well-meaning friends say "You're lucky you get go to home and sleep a full night!"

I see you wanting to stay home in pajamas all day with a body beaten and sore from childbirth but instead digging out clothes that sort of fit you and making your daily pilgrimage into the hospital where you left part of your heart behind.

I see you enviously watching new mommy after new mommy being wheeled by the NICU's window holding a perfectly healthy baby and taking their baby with them to the mommy recovery floor.

I see you struggle to feed your child- a simple life function now become extremely difficult.

I see you trying to find your place in all of this as the nurses and doctors take over parental duties and you find yourself sitting on the sidelines.

I see the worry on your brow as you wonder if you somehow did pregnancy wrong to cause all of this.

I see you rejoicing over small changes in oxygen numbers or praising good eating in the foreign language of "ccs"

I see you taking in the constant beeps of the noisy room and yet feeling deafened by the silence.

I see you feeling incredibly lonely as health concerns means absolutely no visitors- not even Grandma and Grandpa.

I see you wipe tears away when you think no one is looking and hastily clear your throat for normal conversation when the nurse appears out of nowhere.

I see how extremely thankful you are for how much that nurse loves and gently cares for your baby.

I see the look on your face when you arrive home after a long and difficult day, walk into a beautifully decorated nursery, and just sit with emotions too heavy to express.

I see the hope on your heart when you go to bed that night, thinking that maybe tomorrow will be THE day when the doctor's FINALLY know when you can bring your new baby home.

I see the devastation in your eyes when that estimate of "maybe next week" gets pushed out week after week.

I see the fear on your face as you finally leave after countless weeks with a baby who is on 24 hours of oxygen and a g-tube, and you wonder if you will screw this up.

I see all of this because I was you four years ago.

Today as I pulled out my first born's first pictures to celebrate her birthdday, I felt all of these emotions and memories wash over me that I hadn't felt or thought of in some time.

Why did this hit me with a wave unbelief that this was actually us 4 years ago today?

Because today...

We snuck cupcakes for our midmorning snack. We colored. We played with stickers. I gave her a long bubbly bath. She played with her brother. She fought with her brother. We all danced together to her favorite music CDs. We hugged. We read books. We laughed. We talked. We listened. I brushed her hair very carefully as she took her glasses off and said "all done". I had to say such routine things as "STOP CLIMBING ON THE COUNTER" and "Please stay in the bath until I can get you a towel" and "Just because you CAN throw that at your brother doesn't mean you SHOULD.

I have long accepted that our NICU time just "was". It wasn't anyone's fault. It wasn't a mistake. It has just blended into our daughter's history that marks her strength and courage. A history carefully and perfectly planned by a sovereign God.

Today we celebrate a life that we fought so hard for 4 years ago in the NICU. A fight that we forgot about...until today.

Why did we forget? Well....we have been too busy enjoying this:

 while she has completely mastered skills that the doctors told us she might never do

some good skills....some not so good skills...

For the past 4 years she has lived life with this smile not too far away,

 enjoyed the sights of life (with snacks...of course),

 learned how to work an iPhone,

 mastered the art of flying,

 stole to support her sweet tooth,

 learned how to ski,

let us know that she wasn't fan of the cold required for skiing,

started going to preschool,

 became an expert "stirrer"

 and oh so many other things...

...typical, little girl things.

So NICU parent- I see you- discouraged- thinking that this phase of life will last forever.

It won't.

Chin up. Hang on tight. Keep pushing through. Keep hoping and praying.

Keep fighting.

Because the best is yet to come.


p.s. to the awesome Fletcher Allen NICU...THANK YOU