Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas "Break"

Mama needs a break.

You know it's bad when I start referring to myself as a child-bearer in the third person.

I adore Christmas...truly adore it. Both for what it really stands for and also for all of the tinsely, lit up splendidness of it all. However, somehow this year, I went into the Christmas holiday on a deficit and I'm having trouble catching up. Between my work schedule and Charles' work schedule, it has been double duty on passing the baton- which has meant little, to no, time together and little, to no, self-time. I have realized that I am not really "great" at anything- being a good Wife, a good Mother, a good Teacher, a good Businesswoman- when I haven't had some alone time to recoup.  Christmas was full of all of the traditions I enjoy so much, and seeing the joy my boys were experiencing was very heartwarming, but it didn't quite hold the magic I'm used to...because I'm tired. And Mama needs a break. There are a couple of spa gift cards with my name on them from last year and I am planning on cashing them in. Stat.

The very, very best part of Christmas, though, is seeing it through my boys eyes...

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Santa filled the stockings...and even "George" got a Paw print stocking filled with goodies.

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Santa delivered our first Christmas train! We have all had dreams of an adorable battery operated train set to circle the tree and have been enjoying this one immensely!

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The view after Santa had visited on Christmas Eve, along with my beautiful table setting. (This year, through my Event Design business, I created some floral arrangements and tablescapes that we sold to add just a little ease and beauty to people's holiday tables. I loved this "Glam Christmas" version we did, and made an extra for myself!)

Christmas morning arrived, but luckily my boys are sleepers and woke at their regular time...

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On Christmas morning, Christian got the drums he had been asking for from Santa! Yes. I might be crazy. Please refer back to sentence number 1 from this post.

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But, just look at his face...sheer happiness.

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Elijah tore through the stockings and loved every minute, but his favorite toy was the Alphabet Train Santa brought.  He loves, loves, LOVES this thing...

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Our big gift to ourselves this year was "George".

IMG_0859 This dog has really captured our hearts, but the most amazing gift came the day after Christmas.

The Rescue that we got George from (called Mutt Match LA) requires you to have a recommended trainer come to give you some help training your dog. George is a good natured, easy going, loveable dog, but he's also young. He is persistent around food and has been chewing quite a bit. (In fact, we had a song started to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." It went something like this: "On the fifth day of Christmas my dog chewed up for me: Five... Precious... Binkies...   Fo-ur pairs of shoes, three plastic cows, tw-o tupperware, and a string of  lights on the Christmas tree!")

 But, on the day after Christmas, a true "Dog Whisperer" walked into our house, showed us how to speak to George in his language (body language...not barking language) and we instantly watched George transform before our eyes. I have never seen anything like it. Now, George sits in front of the door when we eat and even if I threw a scrap of food near him, he wouldn't move a muscle to get it until I tell him it's okay. He's completed connected with me now when I take him for walks and it has been a ton of fun taking him out for a couple of runs lately. The trainer told us that when George starts to see us as his "pack", the destructive chewing is likely to diminish or stop. I'm still knocking on wood, but it has been two days since he's chewed anything up!!

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School starts again for Christian on January 2nd. On one hand, I'm sort of looking forward to the school schedule again, but on the other hand we were having so many problems with one of the kids at school, that I'm kind of dreading it. My plan was to get Christian together with another boy from his class to help encourage a newer friendship that might not be so dramatic, but it hasn't happened yet. With all of the commitments and the busyness of the season, I just haven't been able to make it happen. We still have a few semi-relaxed days left, so I'm hoping to still pull it off!

Tomorrow, I have big plans for a yoga class in the morning as a first step in re-grouping. Sunday I have big plans for a spa pedicure and a girls night. And somewhere thrown in there, I plan to pack up the Christmas decorations and enjoy the feeling of a fresh start, a scaled-down living room (sans Christmas tree), and the whiff of a New Year and all of the adventures waiting for me.

I love Christmas time and all the hominess and warmth that it brings, but I also love the anticipation of starting something new. A new year. A fresh start. A little break to regroup and then pick up my pace again. Hey...if my dog can be transformed with a perspective change, then I'm pretty sure I can too...



Sunday, December 9, 2012

Believe...

The season is upon us and I'm embracing it wholeheartedly. It's easy to do that when there is a five year old and 2 year old in the house. Last weekend we decorated the Christmas tree, got our holiday cards ready to go and began the talks about what Christmas is really about. My five year old, Christian, asks tough questions. I'll admit that I felt more comfortable sticking to the made-up legends of Santa Claus coming down the chimney, than to screw up on the big questions about Jesus that he is bound to have...

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And let's face it, Santa is great bribery. He knows when you've been naughty or nice.  And if you're not nice? Well...no good comes from that- Santa will be sure. Right? Well, Christian didn't seem to be buying it. He wasn't to be deterred on his questions: How does Santa know if we've been naughty or nice? How does he get to all the boys and girls in the world? Why can't I see him? My pat answer of, "Well, It's magic..." just didn't seem to cut it. He kept looking at me like, "So that's your answer? That's all you got?" I turned to Facebook for some help: Apparently, the "help" comes in the form of the popular book and toy, "The Elf on the Shelf". Everyone assured me that it answered all of the questions and left the biggest skeptics believing well past the assumed years of "Belief". The idea behind the "Elf on the Shelf" is that you each get your own personal elf who keeps watch over your behavior and flies back to see Santa at the North Pole each night. He reports on your behavior and then flies back to your home...only he never seems to land in the same spot. This is where the parents come in. Our job is, of course, to move the Elf each night until Christmas. I have avoided the Elf this long because of this very responsibility. It seems that the stakes just keep going up for these Elves. It's just not enough to place him on a different shelf each night. You've got to come up with "scenarios" and "shenanigans" that are convincing enough to keep your kid(s) in line til Dec 25th. Oh...and if you touch the Elf? Well, it loses it's magic and it can't fly back to Santa anymore.

So. I don't make a full commitment. I borrow the book and give new life to a small Elf I received on top of a Christmas package one year. I read Christian the story and the first order of business is to name the Elf. I look at Christian and ask, "So, what do you think? What should we name him?" He thinks for a moment and says, "Van." Van??! Was he looking at out my car when he came up with this name or does the Elf look slightly Nordic to him...? I tried a little encouragement. "Are you sure you want his name to be Van? He's going to be our Elf for a very long time." He was sure, so "Van" it is.  I suggested we start by telling Van what he wants for Christmas, so that when he flies back to the North Pole, he can let Santa know.  We approach Van, who already happens to be sitting on a shelf. I looked at Van and then looked to Christian, "Well...go ahead."

Christian simultaneously takes a giant sigh and sits down on a nearby table. "Mom." He says. "Mom. I need to tell you something."
Me: "Okay...what do you need to tell me?"
C: "That, (pointing at the elf) is not real." "You and I are real." "That is just a....Christmas thing."

I played it cool. "Okay. Well, that's what the book says, Christian.  I guess we'll just have to see."
And there hence started the upping of the Elf stakes. All to get him to Believe...

The first night Van was hanging upside down from the dining room chandelier. The next night, reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" on the fireplace mantle. Then, rappelling down the blinds and sleeping in a bed of cloth napkins.  All is going well...and finally, Christian seems to Believe!

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Christian's tree in his room. He decorated it (and his room) all by himself. And, Van rappelling down the blinds.

 Kindergarten was a challenge this week. Christian has become close with a boy from his class named Elijah (I know- go figure.) I've met Elijah and he seems like a sweet enough kid. But, all I've been hearing about this week is how Elijah says that Christian isn't his friend anymore. It was all Christian could talk about, so come Wednesday, I decided maybe it would be best to have a talk with the two boys and help to model how to solve friendship problems. All I can say is...it didn't go well. I sat down with both boys, kept my mood light and cheerful and said, "So, Elijah, Christian tells me that you don't want to be his friend anymore? Do you think you could tell me why?" Elijah wouldn't look at me. He said, "Well my brother doesn't want me to be friends with Christian anymore." To say that was the last thing I expected to hear, would be an understatement. I've met his brother who is only a few years older...maybe 8 or 9?...so, I tried: "Well, do you like Christian?" He said yes. So I said, "Okay. Well maybe you could tell your brother that you really like Christian and you guys have a lot of fun at school together, but that he's your brother so he'll always be a best friend to you?" (Thinking maybe it's a jealousy thing??) Elijah still wouldn't look at me. He said, "Oh, I don't think I could do that because my brother is in charge of me and he would slap me." At this ;point I didn't quite know what to do. This isn't a typical response. I've met Elijah's Mom and Grandparents and brother and while I can't know for sure, I'm not getting an abuse vibe going on. I'm not even 100% sure of how I left the situation. I think it might have been something like, "Okie dokie. Well, we better go. See you tomorrow!"

On the way home from school, I played up the idea that maybe it was just best to focus on the friends that DO want to be your friend and to try not to worry about Elijah.  But, the very next day on the way to school, the subject came up again. Christian said, "Maybe Elijah will be my friend again today!" I said, "Maybe, sweetie. But, I would try not to worry about Elijah. Why don't you spend more time with your other friends?"  Christian got very quiet and then in the saddest, most tearful voice I've ever heard said, "I must be the worst kid in the whole world."  I thought I might crash the car, so I pulled over. "No sweetie! No. You're a great kid and there are lots of friends who really, really like you. If Elijah doesn't want to be your friend, then that is his loss."  Christian seemed a little bit pepped up by the time we got to school, but I still saw sad shoulders as he walked into the play yard.  I couldn't stop thinking about it all day. When I went to pick him up, I decided to talk to the teacher first to see if there was anything else I could do. She basically said that there was nothing else I could do, that having a friendship was very, very challenging for Elijah. She didn't mention diagnosis or any specifics, but it seemed clear that we were dealing with a child who has some pretty big social challenges. Christian was upset again when I picked him up, saying that Elijah had called him a "Baby head". I tried to explain to Christian that Elijah has a hard time with his friends. I explained to say that he has a lot of feelings and maybe it's hard for him to show those feelings properly.  I tried saying that I know it doesn't feel good- that it's happened to me too, but I just don't know how much of the hurt it takes away.

Ugh- it's so painful to watch your kid struggle with this. I never feel like I'm saying the right thing, and no matter what I do say, I can't take away all of the pain for him. It sucks. We walked away from school on Friday, with just one small bit of good news; "Guess what?" I said. "It looks like we are going to finally get George tomorrow!!"

We have been in the process of trying to adopt a dog, "George", since October. But, there were gates and fences to fix, winter colds and flus thrown in and here we are in December, only now finally trying to finalize the adoption.  George came over on Saturday, all shiny and black, with his wagging tail friendliness. Christian was in heaven. A boy and his dog. We received some great suggestions, a bag of his dog food and a warm goodbye from his foster Mom. If there is anything that can heal the wounds of a difficult friend week at school, it has got to be time to run and just be "a boy with a dog". George is one of the most patient, friendly dogs I think I've met. Nothing seems to rile him. He's not a barker, he's easy going and he's just energetic enough to keep up with the demands of a 5 year old ("George come here! Come here George! Catch this George! George come here!") They already look like peas in a pod. Christian was very serious when he asked me, "How am I going to get George to follow me around? I need him to follow me around." I reminded him about all of the ways we need to take care of a dog and that makes them trust us and want to follow us around.  I asked him, "Hey. Do you remember what kind of dog George is?" He thought for a second..."a Fat Robe Catriever?" When my brain processed what he meant ( A Flat Coat Retriever), I couldn't stop laughing. A boy and his Fat Robe Catriever.  It has a good ring...

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We spent the weekend in a relaxed state- all tired (and sick) from a long week. Christian played outside with the dog from morning til night...working on his bond so that George will "follow him around". We hung Christmas lights on the house, made Oatmeal Raisin cookies and didn't get out of PJs until well after noon. It was well needed.  Just before bed, Christian had a special art project he had made for Santa that he wanted to give to Van the Elf. He insisted on putting it near Van himself and swore that he would be careful not to touch him. Two minutes later, Christian came out. "I accidentally touched Van." I saw it as a test, because there were no tears, he wasn't devastated. So, I said, "Uh oh. We better go online and see if there is anything we can do." So I Googled, 'What happens if you accidentally touch the elf on the shelf?' For real. I really did that. And you know what? There were answers. I found one blog and read it to Christian as if it were fact. "Well, it says here that if you accidentally touch the elf, you have to email Santa to let him know. Santa will then mail you some magic dust to sprinkle onto the elf to give him back his powers."  So...tonight, I will not have to up the ante. Tonight, Van will remain in his Harmonica-playing-Shelf-position for an extra night while I fashion a letter sent from Santa containing some sort of magic dust...which I'm assuming looks exactly like iridescent glitter, which I just so happen to have! Voila!

Because if I can't take away all of my son's friendship "hurts" then I can at least lie my ass off to  create an air of Christmas magic to help him....Believe...


Monday, December 3, 2012

Oh, Patience, Where Art Thou?

We've disembarked from a month full of Thankfulness, as my friends on Facebook reminded me of every day in the month of November. Little messages of thankfulness were posted during the last 30 days for everything from "great family" to "a functioning DVR player that allows them to catch up on Empire Boardwalk episodes"...My thankfulness was present, but my demeanor a little weary. We, like many families who live in Los Angeles, have been struggling for a few years. We do what we love, we work hard, and we practice patience, but every once in awhile I struggle to stay optimistic. Charles and I literally cannot work any harder than we already do. My brain spins as to how to make our life work, how to be creative and ingenious about making an income while still being the primary caretaker of my boys. Usually, I rally. Usually, I can find the silver lining and focus on the positive, but I'll admit that leading up to the holidays this year, it's been a little harder to brush away the nagging fears.

Focusing on the positive is a choice. I absolutely know that there is no good that comes out of being sad or depressed....those things don't solve anything, and then you're just...sad and depressed. So, I put one foot in front of the other and I practice patience.

Because of the stress I've been under, I've found my patience waning. My temper is shorter and I've found myself shouting more times than I care to recognize. Sigh. My 5 year old is part of my heart. I can't even explain the love and bond I feel for my firstborn (though, I'm sure I don't even have to explain to those of you who are there with me...) But, Christian is a challenge at times. He is strong willed and smart...a fairly lethal combination. When he has a "bad day"...it is a BAD day. Like today. When I arrived to pick him up from Kindergarten, he was sitting inside the classroom reading a book while all of the other kids argued over who got to ride the tricycles outside (He's usually one of them.) For a moment, I thought, "Aww...why is my sweetie reading a book inside instead of playing?" And then I realized...oh. yeah. And his teacher approached. We talked. Christian looked sheepish. There were meltdowns. There were shenanigans. There were consequences. And, unfortunately, after a day like that, I didn't feel that I could take him to see "Santa's Helper" at the mall, as I had suggested before school. Therefore, there were more meltdowns. And more shenanigans. I found myself having a little self-talk: Calm down, Jen. ...What would Jesus do? ...Well, Jesus didn't have kids. Plus Jesus was perfect. And I am not, and I have no clue what to do... Deep breath. Pull it together. Be patient. I'm trying by re-invigorating our existing chart and adding a few extra incentives to it. I even gave Christian a do-over option today: If he was a great listener at his swim lesson, then he could earn a point toward seeing "Santa's Helper" (who will now require a point total of 7 in order to be earned, by the way.) We talked, he agreed. He was going to make good choices in swim lesson and be a great listener.

From minute one in swim lesson all I heard was, "Christian!" "No, Christian!" "Christian, I need you to listen!" "Christian!" I was seriously ready to lose it. I marched right into the office and asked for a different class- one that is earlier in the day, because clearly at 6pm at night, my kid cannot handle it. Not even when a trip to see "Santa's Helper" is at stake. Frankly, I didn't do well today either. There was some yelling, for sure. There were things said that probably don't come out of a "How to be a Better Parent handbook". So, I put the boys to bed and I vow to do better. To be more patient. To try again. Tomorrow. ...And hope that I am not the main and primary reason they end up in therapy down the line....

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Elijah has been my little rock star lately. His receptive language seems to be exploding, and he is incredibly motivated by people. We had a home visit with some of the therapists from his school on Friday. They came to see him in his home environment, and applauded his every attempt. For a moment I thought, "Wow. He may have a rude awakening one day when people aren't applauding every single thing he does..." But, I think he actually might live his whole life with people applauding him all along. That's just how he is. People root for him. He roots for himself. And it's contagious.

On Saturday, we attended his friend Nathan's 2nd Birthday. Nathan also has Down syndrome and there were a lot of the other kids and parents from the Jump Start program at the party.  Elijah was crawling over toward Nathan's Dad and seemed to decide that it might be better to stand up and trying walking over there instead...he planted his feet and STOOD UP. No assistance necessary. Then, promptly fell down to thunderous applause and me screaming, "Oh my gosh!!!!! He's never done that before!!!!!!!!!" The coolest thing was that everyone there "Gets it". They were celebrating right along with me. It's not like Elijah stood up and did a back flip, but for him, just standing up independently is about as hard at this point in his life.  He was absolutely thrilled by his attempts (He did it 3 or 4 times in a row) and by the response he got from everyone. I tried to take a picture, or video or something, but my brain went into temporary shock and I ceased to know how to work my camera.  Here's a photo of him enjoying some time in the bounce house instead. That's all I got.  But there are witnesses. :)

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I was waiting to blog until I was feeling optimistic and positive again. But, you know, I'm just not there YET. I'm a little impatient and my fuse is a little short. I still have a lot. I still have so much to be thankful for. But, there are also a few things that I have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other on. There are some things that I just have to vow to try again for a little more patience tomorrow.

I was reminded of an experiment the other day. It's the one where a professor fills up a jar with golf balls and asks his students, "Is it full?"  They all reply Yes. Then he pours sand into the jar and it fills in the crevices between the balls and asks again, "Is it full?" The students again reply Yes. He says that we should view life like the jar. The golf balls represent the big things- friends, family, love. The sand represents the little things- the "stuff" that we want, but don't necessarily need. The professor reminds his students that if he were to have filled his jar with the little things first, there wouldn't have been enough room for the big things...the things that matter. I've thought about this a lot the last few days as I've been trying to rally back to my optimistic place, and it's true. I also have to remember that sometimes when you are going without the "little things" it easy to forget about the big things- the ones that really matter. I decided to write tonight, not because I am in a great place and feeling wise and patient. I wrote because I'm not feeling either wise or patient, but the act of admitting it and putting it in writing always seems to have a balancing effect for me.

I may not have patience today, but tomorrow is a new day to try again...

Some of my "big things": (From Thanksgiving Day)
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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Do or Do not. There is no "try" -Yoda

Why does it seem that despite best efforts, there is always someone else who seems to do it better, more fully and with ease? We had a lot of fun this Halloween, but easy it was not. Despite a work schedule and the never ending schedule of school, homework, and housework I managed to get the boys and I properly squared away with costumes and plans for Halloween. The day started with Elijah, in a Yoda costume for his day of "school":

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He rocked his costume and was eating up all of the attention his therapists were giving him. Such a "ham"! I had the thought to come in costume myself that morning, but just didn't have it in me to get into full Princess Leia regalia at 7:30 in the morning.  From Elijah's school, we hurried over to Christian's school to help him get into his costume (we were asked to pack it and  not dress them in it) for the school Halloween Parade.

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If you aren't an avid Star Wars follower (like me), then I'll let you know that Christian was dressed as Anakin Skywalker. He set the whole tone for our family costumes this year. School doesn't allow props or masks, so Christian had to leave the extras at home.  After the parade, we were handed a special goody bag from 3 of Christian's classmates- Triplets, dressed to the nines (like always) in adorable coordinating Bear costumes. The goody bags were perfectly accessorized with a foam cut-out of either a bat, a witch hat or a pumpkin with a custom gift tag. The tag had a professional looking portrait of the triplets in their costumes and an appropriate Happy Halloween greeting. Yeah...remind me if I ever do that, that just because you CAN, doesn't mean you SHOULD. I left feeling like I had "phoned in" Halloween, without so much as a Dum-Dum lollipop to hand out.

I took the boys home, comforted by the thought that we had a whole 4 hours to pull our act together, get naps and get dressed in our Halloween costumes yet again, before a fun night of trick or treating with friends. 

L.A. traffic will always conspire against you.

So, we were a half an hour late meeting our friends, and it was just me and my two little ones, as Charles wasn't off of work until later. We split up the neighborhoods we were trick or treating in and it's just never easy when there is a stroller and two excited boys in tow. It was more of a workout than I anticipated. However, Christian had a blast with his friends and Elijah was completely content snuggled into the stroller to tag along. We ended the night by stopping at a friend's house, who had opted to stay in to hand out candy and "drink wine". Charles met us there and surprised us all by coming in costume as a Dark force character- complete with life-like Light Saber. Despite a day of running around, the holiday felt fun and complete come night's end.

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The memories that I make with my kids on holidays seem fuller, richer and more alive than before I had them. But, I wouldn't say it's always easy. Looking back, I wouldn't change much about the way we celebrated this year, but I am looking forward to the possibility that we could be stroller-free by this time next year. Fingers crossed, anyway.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Just for Today

I haven't been writing. Whenever I have "churning" emotionally, I tend to procrastinate until I know where it stems from and what it's all about. Elijah is officially 2 and a half. He doesn't walk. He doesn't talk. If someone would have told me I'd be in this place at 2 and a half while I was still pregnant, I probably would have cried myself to sleep. It's true that Elijah doesn't walk independently yet- but he WILL. He is so motivated, and his face lights up when he grabs the push toy to walk around with. He gets around. The hardship for me comes more in the form of not being able to take him everywhere. A carnival or pumpkin patch with only dirt ground is a challenge. So, we work around it- with Charles and I passing the baton when necessary so that both of our boys get a full range of experiences. Elijah also doesn't talk. He really doesn't have a single word, unless you count "Yeah.", which he uses frequently and with surprising accuracy. But, his eyes are amazingly expressive, he uses about a dozen signs and knows many more, and between telling sounds and facial expressions, there isn't too much left for interpretation.

Example: Interpret this.
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Right?! Not hard to see the adoration and love there.

I had Elijah's first assessment at his new Jump Start program. It went well, for the most part. What is clear is that Elijah has very quickly amassed a fan club. The therapists all gathered to talk about where he is at developmentally, where his delays are and what goals we have for the near future. However, they all turned giddy as they talked about how "Elijah makes them feel so special. He makes them feel like they are his favorite- divvying out hugs and blowing kisses...until they pass him off to another therapist and they see how he uses the same charm on the next person too. All is forgiven once they get him back, though, because he wins them over again with just a smile." What a gift! It was such a treat to sit through that and to get to hear the kind of effect my son is having on the people around him. He definitely has delays- anywhere from 41%-90% (Only speech production is a 90% delay), with most falling between 41-59%. It's a lot, and it does give me pause every once in awhile, when I think about how much he really isn't doing yet. However, I am a firm believer that people skills are one of the biggest components of a "successful life". If that is true, Elijah is off to a great start!

The last few weeks have been a balance of school for the boys, work for me, doctor appointments (lots of preventative- with a full hearing screen for Elijah, plus the run-of-the-mill appointments for cold and flus), and the traditional fall must-dos: Pumpkins patches, School Halloween carnivals, and Halloween parties.

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There's potentially big news for our little family: We might be getting a dog!! We lost our sweet "Buddy" (whose picture still resides in my blog sidebar) just 3 weeks before Elijah was born.. With a newborn and the pain of grief still fresh, I couldn't even think about getting another dog. Originally, we thought we wanted a puppy. But, with a toddler who isn't walking yet, a Puppy would be an insane amount of work. I got a message from a friend who is a foster family for a local Dog Rescue Organization, about a young 2 year old dog that she thought might be a good fit for our family. I looked the dog up on the Rescue's website and immediately got a good vibe. We set up a time to have the dog, named George, out to our house for a meet and greet. George came by yesterday and made himself right at home. Christian immediately fell into the role of boy-needing-companion and gave him some water to drink from his toy watering can. My heart did a little flip flop. Once Elijah woke from his nap, he was immediately interested. In fact, I've never seen him so interested or engaged with a dog before. My parents have dogs, and frankly neither of my kids ever seem very excited by them...but with this dog, it was truly heart warming. George was so gentle. Definitely the kind of dog that isn't going to get worked up if there are kids getting a little rough with him (not that I'm going to let that happen.) Now that we have met George, we can't stop thinking about him. Our fingers are crossed that the rescue owner feels like we'd be a good fit too!!! (It's no joke- she came out and shook our back fence to see if a dog launched himself at it, would it fall over? While it's not possible for us to replace our entire back fence at this time, I certainly hope she can see that we are a family that could love and care for a dog, and that he would become a welcome addition to our family...but, until I get a response to my "We want him!" email, we are holding our breath...) Here he is, affectionately nicknamed, Gorgeous George:

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I have anxieties- about giving my kids what they need, properly taking care of myself, over the fact that I have a workload list that is a mile long, that finances are still such a challenge, and more. It would be so easy to fall apart (and every once in awhile there are those days), but my boys never let me. Either from Elijah and his generous hugs and new skill of blowing lip-smacking kisses, or Christian who tells me how much he loves me (to the moon and back- to infinity) all day long. I'll tell ya, I waited longer than most for Christian to say, "I love you" unprompted. Now, there isn't an hour that passes without him saying it. So, I look at them, at Charles and at what we do have and I remind myself of an old saying, "Just for today". Just for today, I got some work done, spent quality time with my kids and did something for me (writing). And that's enough. Just for today. Tomorrow, I will tackle new things, and whatever I do or don't do, that will be enough too. But, I have to remind myself of this. Everyday.

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Just for today I will appreciate my beautiful boys and their very different skill set. I don't need to solve every one of my problems today. Today, as it turns out, was perfectly lovely...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Normal" or "Real"?

Week two of Kindergarten, my son was sent home with a poster entitled "All About Me", and a note from his teacher asking for the parents' help with the poster. It would be due back in a week's time. My creative juices started flowing and I had to remind myself that I wouldn't go overboard. This is not about me. However, I can never truly let a creative challenge go unattended, so I talked to Christian about the poster. I asked him for the answers to the questions on the poster. They were:
Name: Christian
Age: 5
Favorite Color: Green (Well...it's really "Green, Blue and Red" and he refuses to choose between them, so I told him that we need to choose just one, so we'll choose green.)
Favorite Animal: Cat
Favorite Food: Fruit
The rest of the questions wanted a drawn picture or a photograph to accompany the answer. They were:
This is what I look like: Attached a photo.
My Family: Attached a photo.
Favorite Place: The beach. Attached a photo.
My Favorite thing to do is: Play with water. (SOOOO True!) Attached a photo.
If I had just one wish, I would wish for: A Dog. Attached a photo by Christian's request of our deceased dog, Buddy. (Cue the heart ache.)

The last question we addressed is a question I've asked my son many times and received the same answer everytime:

When I grow up I want to be....

His answer is the same, everytime.............................When I grow up I want to be: Normal.  When I press him on it, thinking he doesn't really understand the question and offer up answers like Basketball Player? Doctor? City Planner? He says, "NO!! I want to be NORMAL. Like YOU."  I find this answer so amusing. a) Because I don't really know what "Normal" is. and b) "Normal" actually sounds like a pretty great thing to strive to be.  But, just for fun, I considered the picture or photograph that should be attached.  What kind of picture says, Normal?  I giggled to myself as I looked for the funniest, most NOT normal picture of myself that I could find.  I found it in an old folder from a silly book club gathering I attended, where I donned a set of fake teeth and posed with a "What?? Do I look funny?" kind of expression on my face. The photo:


bookclub5 funny face

I added some text across the picture that answered the open ended question of When I grow up I want to be.."Normal...like my Mom." I took a deep breath and as funny as I thought it was, I realized that I was taking a chance that the Kindergarten teacher would get my sense of humor. I mean, she doesn't know me...In absence of actually knowing me, is this just...freaky???

We finished the poster and handed it in by the due date. Haven't heard a word about it since. Last week, however, we had Back to School Night.  First, there were informal presentations at various booths about the things that concerns school: Spirit wear, Fundraising, Lice, Parent Association, etc. Then there was the more formal presentation in each classroom. I sat thrilled to hear about all of the things they have begun working on and what the year will hold in regard to the curriculum, field trips and behavioral rewards. As the presentation concluded, the teacher invited us to walk between the two adjoining Kindergarten classrooms where we heard the presentation. I strolled around looking at the artwork and began to notice all of the "All About Me" posters. I took note of the answers on one after another, after another...

When I grow up, I want to be...

A Doctor
A Teacher
A Doctor
A Doctor
A Lawyer
A Teacher
A Firefighter

Then:

bookclub5 funny face

Normal. Like my Mom.


Oh God.

Luckily, it makes me giggle. It's going to be up on those Kindergarten walls for quite some time. And there's a good chance that the people who have seen it, just think I'm weird. Haha. Yep. That's me! The poster child for Normal.

I shared this story, because I've been thinking about how it would be easy to take life too seriously. I believe that laughter is one of the best medicines and that the ability to laugh at yourself is probably the key to getting through the rough patches. I'm renewing my commitment to surrounding myself only with the people and the things that I truly enjoy. I recently had to take a step back in a social situation because it wasn't healthy for me. This week, in every spare moment of time I can muster, I am going to get rid of the physical clutter that exists in and around my home. Bags going to Goodwill and a truck of Got Junk should be headed out of the house by weeks end. This could be a source of contention between my husband and I.  We deal with clutter a little differently. So, fingers crossed that when we get a small breath of fresh air and hint of feng shui that it will inspire us both to live with less.

I read Kelle Hampton's book, "Bloom", this week. If you're not familiar with her, she writes an enormously popular blog entitled "Enjoying the Small Things". Her blog went viral after she unexpectedly gave birth to a baby girl with Down syndrome. I've been reading her blog since shortly after Elijah was born. Reading her book gave a much fuller insight into who she is and what her story is. While I related to so much of what she went through in her journey of dealing with her daughter's diagnosis, it was really the ending of her book that resonated most with me. She explains that someone emailed her the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, in relation to whether or not people will see her daughter with Down syndrome as beautiful. But she realizes that this story is really more about HER journey. I find the words of The Velveteen Rabbit to be so beautiful, and so wise, so very much about each person's own journey. Here is the snippet I'm speaking of:

The Story of the Velveteen Rabbit
“Real isn’t how you are made…” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand…”



horse

I don't really know what the true definition of "Normal" is, but I'm beginning to understand what it means to be "Real". Maybe "Normal" is what you get to consider yourself after you've gone through the hardships that have shaped you. The place that once you let go of all of the insecurities and fears about what others will think. The time when you stop gossiping or putting others down because you actually feel badly about yourself. Maybe the time when you just are is when you're Normal. If so, I'd like to think that my son's wishes to be Normal when he grows up, might be the very, very best thing he could want to be...




But, just so you know....this week as I drove Christian home from school, he said, "Mom. When I grow up I want to be a Train Conductor."
Really??!
Seriously??
You couldn't have thought of this 2 weeks ago??

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First Day of Jump Start

Elijah started the Jump Start program on Tuesday. The Jump Start program is a center-based, early intervention program that will provide Elijah with all of his one on one therapies: Physical, Occupational, Speech and Child Development Services in one place. It is all combined in a school-like atmosphere, where social skills are learned through circle time and snack time interactions. He had been receiving 6 hours a week of therapy before starting this program. Now he will receive 15 hours a week. 

Day one and my heart cannot even begin to translate the feelings to words, but I'll try.

He wore a backpack. (Okay...I'll admit that it's sort of a dupe backpack. It has nothing in it because I didn't want him to be weighed down, and it wasn't even big enough to fit all of his first day necessities.)

Elijah's 1st Day of Jump StartB

I appreciate my baby boy. I find him generally a joy to be around. He's soft. I mean, he's extra soft...maybe it's the low muscle tone that means he melts into your arms just a little bit more, but he's just soft all-around. His hair is super soft. His skin is super soft. He has a funny sense of humor. He makes us all laugh. A lot. He's smart. He can't say any words yet, but it's easy to "catch his drift" none the less. These things and more are what I appreciate about Elijah. But when I pass him off to strangers, I wonder, Will they see the same thing? Will they "get him"? Will they appreciate him or see him as just a diagnosis?

Morning drop off on Elijah's first day went well. He didn't cry and didn't put up a fight. Like my firstborn at Kindergarten, he confidently went with the therapist who took him to join the other kids for circle time. I got about 1 block away before the tears started. I simply cannot explain these tears. These first days of school tears come unwelcomed. Don't get me wrong: I am looking forward to just a little bit of "me time", where I can run some errands ALONE, take yoga class, concentrate on work, or just- as I did on Elijah's first day- walk aimlessly around CVS. I'll admit that I felt a little lost though. It is weird to drive around in my car, during morning hours without anyone else in it.

The 3 hours passed quickly (read: I barely got anything done) and I returned a little early to witness the kids and therapists doing their closing circle time.  They were singing a song about 5 monkeys (Not the "5 Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed" song) and the therapist gave 5 of the kids little stuffed toy monkeys. Elijah got one. As they sang, he lifted his monkey high into the air, and with as much gusto as I've seen him use, he waved that monkey around. Then he put the monkey in his mouth and shook his head like a dog shakes a toy...okay, I realize that sounds a little crazy, but believe me: it was SUPER cute and funny. He didn't look tired or cranky. He wasn't having a melt down. My fears that the transition would be tough were temporarily allayed. The Goodbye song concluded and the therapist brought him back to me- beaming and happy to see Mommy.

I asked the therapist how he did and she responded with an enthusiastic, "Great! He had a great first day!" She gave me a little report about the things he especially loved (the ball pit, the floor to ceiling windows) and then another therapist standing nearby piped in. She said, "I have been here 4 years, and I have never seen a kid have a better first day than Elijah had."  I was blown away. I felt a resounding relief wash over me. He loves it here. I knew he would!

Today, when I took Elijah back to the program, I half expected it to be more difficult than the first day. It's highly possible that once Elijah realizes that I am going to take him here every weekday, he may resist. But today, again, was easy. When I came to pick him up, the therapist who had him last for circle time joked that she was just going to keep him and not give him back to me. She said, "He's so much fun! We love having him here!!" Cue the warm fuzzies. They "get him". I know I sound surprised...I am just a little bit. The people who are around Elijah for any length of time at all, fall in love with him. He casts his spell. But, there are a large majority of people who know us and even love us, but haven't really spent any significant amount of time around Elijah. They, while loving, still see a "challenge" that I am handling well. Elijah's diagnosis might bring with it some extra challenges. I expect there will be some challenges to face when we get to Kindergarten and beyond. However, right now, I'm not lying. I'm not pretending things are easier than they are. The extra things I have to do for Elijah, don't feel like extra things. It's just what we have to do. A friend who has twins once put it so succinctly, "People say Oh twins must be SO hard, but it's all I know. I've only ever had twins, so I don't know any differently. Is it more work than one child? Maybe. But it's all I know and I love it." 

Elijah gives so much more than he takes. I wouldn't trade him for the world. I got lucky. God decided that I was the right one for Elijah and that he was the right one for me.

And in my book, God is ALWAYS right.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Identity Crisis

I might offend people here. I just don't think that our children's failures or successes are measured by how great of a parent we are. I see the social media posts about the Pre-Kindergarten gifted/genius programs that are apparently being offered (okay...I'm being a little bit facetious...but not entirely...) and just how proud the parents are of their kids. Proud or Responsible, I always wonder?  The same goes for my friends who have a child with special needs. There are some things flung at them that are downright intolerable. Things that other parents say that insinuate that their child is the way they are, because of something the parents have done. Unacceptable.

I had a very eye opening moment a little over two years ago, when I got Elijah's prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. I thought the world as I knew it was over. I was so down and so depressed and woke up everyday for awhile thinking that it was a bad dream that I would surely wake up from.  One day, the air cleared a little and I had a very simple thought: I. do. not. have. Down. syndrome. My baby will have it, but I personally, do not. It was like a cloud lifted and I realized that maybe Elijah's life will be harder. Maybe it won't be. But, either way- it's HIS life. Sure, I will have to do what I can to help him maximize his potential, as I will with Christian. But his life is his life and my life is my life.

His life is his life and My life is my life.

I don't want or need the "credit" when something goes remarkably well. It's not about me. I also don't take the low points as some direct reflection of bad parenting on my part. I think I do okay at the parenting thing. I'm consistent, I create schedule in our life, I am quick to laugh and joke, I show affection often and with fervor, I encourage kindness and consideration. But, I am so far from perfect. I have yelled, I have lost patience, I have said things that I wish I would have known better what to say. The good news is that I'm not absent- I don't leave my kids so I can get drunk in a bar or have my kids trying to raise each other because I'm unavailable. That stuff happens.

I have a good friend who had a pretty messed up childhood. And I mean, "pretty" is not the right word at all. She still has emotional scars and yet she is one of the most loving and supportive people I know. She runs marathons and pushes herself to be better, to do more. She worries about her future and whether or not she could be a good wife or a good mother...and if that is even possible. I know it IS possible for her and that she can have anything she sets her mind to.  This is not because of her parents. This is in spite of her parents.

So, I take the wins and the losses with a grain of salt. I will help my children become the most successful adults they can be, and that is going to look different for each of them. But, if Christian becomes a world renowned brain surgeon, it won't be my credit. It will be his credit. I can be a great parent and know that I am not the one who gets the credit.  Last week, I relived the story of Day Four in Kindergarten with Elijah's Child Development Services professional. I told her that after we got home from school, I gave Christian some quiet time to think about making better choices and while he was doing that, I made a behavior chart. Her face lit up, "You made a CHART??!!"  She said that I had just moved myself to the top 2% of all parents, and that in her line of work she has been encouraging charts for years. However, almost no one actually makes or does the chart.  We laughed about it, but then I realized, she's right. Not that I'm the greatest parent. But, that that is about all you can do: You can make a chart. Pretty much that's it. You make the chart, you encourage the chart, you stay consistent with your discipline. At the end of the day, though, your kid is still going to be your kid- perhaps the people pleasing type (like I was as a kid) who wants to do it all right, perhaps the perfectionist type, who never thinks they have it right, perhaps the highly creative type, who doesn't necessarily fit into the same box as everyone else. Who they are, is who they have always been. When  I look back at my kids- even as newborns, they were then, who they are now. Their essence was already there.

I find this liberating.

This week hasn't been the greatest week, but it wasn't bad. I celebrated a birthday and have had enough friends & family who have insisted on celebrating in some way, that it's becoming more like a birthday week. However, we also had to say goodbye to all of our in-home therapists that have been helping Elijah since he was 5 months old. There were tears for that this week, even though I know that we will be in touch with these amazing women. They have changed our lives for the better and we love them. Kindergarten has been rocky again this week. Last week was amazing- 2 trips for good behavior to the "treasure box", but today, the teacher sought me out again. She said, "I just want to let you know that I wrote a note to you today in Christian's agenda, because he had some trouble making good choices today. I'm letting you know, because he has hidden his agenda under his chair, because I don't think he wants you to see it."  Hmmm.
So, I see Christian, "Hey Buddy, let's go! Where's your backpack?"
He brings over empty backpack.
"Where's your lunchbox and agenda?"
"I don't know..."
"Well, let's look for it." (The teacher joins us in the classroom to "look".)
Christian pretends to look in all of the places it's not.
The teacher says, "Hey Christian, Is there anything under your chair?"
Christian picks up the lunchbox under the chair, "Here it is!"
I say, "Great! Now, where's your agenda?"
He continues to look in more places it's not.
The charade finally ends as the teacher points out that we can see the agenda sticking out from under the chair.
Christian hands it over to me with a sheepish look.
Apparently, his not good choices had something to do with "jumping on friends", "punching lunchboxes" and "tossing some toys when asked not to". Sigh. He sure is pushing the boundaries to see what he can get away with. And I'm left with my chart- which he loves, but even still it does not suddenly produce the world's most well-behaved child. So, we will try again tomorrow. There are continued rewards if he makes good choices and we had a long talk about asking himself, "Is this a good choice??" And there you have it, people. Nothin' left to do but ride the ride.

The upside of the ride this week was that we got a new backpack for Elijah so he can start his new program next week. They requested that he bring a backpack with a change of clothes, a snack, and some diapers. I looked for the smallest backpack I could find (in a pinch- no time for online searches and ordering) and purchased it. He won't actually wear the backpack I don't think and it will likely be bigger than he is, but I will be doing my best to get some pictures anyway. First day of "school" pictures-out on the front lawn, just like his big brother has, each year he has started some type of schooling. I'm looking forward to some pictures that will make me smile.

Then...there was this:


It was an amazing moment to watch my littlest one accomplish something he has wanted so badly. He has been trying to figure out that slide for a little while now and has been the happiest, most motivated toddler around in trying to figure it out. Mister Man can't even walk yet, but he can slide down a slide!! Oh yeah!

I don't want to have my identity be formed by what my kids do. That's their "thing". When I release myself from the idea that I am my kids and my kids are me, I have a simple identity to define. Me. Then, I get to watch them learn how to be Them. Hopefully, along the way, they will feel safe to figure that out, because both Charles and I are present, and loving, and our life isn't full of confusing drama. That's about all we can do.

That, and enforce a chart.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Change

My heart is beating a million miles a minute and I'm feeling nervous, but excited, but anxious, but thrilled... And yes, I'm drinking some amazing Sangria that my hubby just whipped up, but it's not the Sangria. I may be changing things up for Elijah, and for our family- Big Time.

It all started with a conversation I had with one of the parents at my son, Christian's school. The Mom told me about a great, center-based program that her son (who also has Down syndrome) did when he was two. It's a program called Jump Start that combines all of the therapies- Physical, Occupational, Speech and Child Development into an intensive environment where the child gets regular, daily stimulation in these areas.  The program is a drop off program and runs from 9-12 daily, Monday thru Friday.  The parent involvement is still a part of it, but it's one hour a week and then a three hour observation once a month. This is 5 times less than I am personally, physically doing with him right now.  Currently, Elijah has Physical therapy 2 times a week, Occupational Therapy 2 times a week, Speech therapy once a week and Child Development Services (which is kind of like "Play Therapy") once a week.  All but the Speech therapy takes place in our home.  Our therapists have become like family. Truly, I see them more than most of my family. I raised the question about this center based therapy with two of them last week. I wanted to get their opinions, see if there was a down side, and generally pick their brains. Choosing a program like the one we are looking at, means we'll be trading in our one on one therapies at home for this center based therapy. That is both exciting and bittersweet. Today, surprisingly, I got the call from my Regional Center Coordinator (who has coordinated all of Elijah's therapies services since he was 4 months old) with abrupt news that Elijah had qualified for the Jump Start Center Based Program and would begin on Sept 1st. The RC Coordinator told me he'd start letting our therapists know to do their discharge papers.

Oh.

Oh, okay. I knew that looking into this possibility would mean that the therapists we currently have would no longer be a part of Elijah's developmental progress. But, I love them. Elijah loves them. And frankly, despite their thinly veiled attempts at maintaining a professional arms length, I think they love us too.  I had a chance to talk to our Physical therapist and our Occupational therapist about the possibility of changing things up, but I hadn't had a chance to talk to our Child Development Services person yet. I'm afraid that she got the call from the Regional Center before even hearing it from me and unfortunately because of my schedule today, I couldn't do anything about it. The Child Development Services (CDS) started first, before anything else. She was there for us, cheering Elijah on before any other services came to the table. I don't know how I'm going to be able to express to these people how much they have touched our lives and how we don't want them gone from our lives. I asked each of our therapists when they first started, how difficult it was when they finished working with a child. Was it  heart wrenching to have seen them one and two times a week and then just be done? They each said that it depended on the child, but that often the joy of seeing the child move onto to bigger things helped it to not feel sad.

Tomorrow, I tour the new facility with Elijah. I am feeling butterflies in my stomach about it all. The thought of having just a couple of hours a day to focus on myself and my work is heady, but I haven't been without him on any consistent basis yet. I will miss him a lot. I quickly remind myself of all of the help he'll be receiving, the social skills he'll get to hone, because there are other children there and how much time we still will have together each day.  Fingers crossed that the path will be clear: that either this program looks like the best possible thing for him, or it doesn't and then I try to stop the wheels from turning so I don't lose our current therapists. See? Exciting. Nerve wrecking. Thrilling. Anxious....CHANGE. It always is.

I'm jumping in with both feet to Change these days. I'm adjusting to life with a Kindergartener- who, thankfully, seems to be quickly understanding the rules and boundaries at school and has been getting great reviews from his teacher ever since we had the infamous peeing/Ferris Bueller attempts last week... I even found myself volunteering to chair the School Carnival Committee for the end of the year carnival.  I am in it- waist deep. I don't know how it's all going to turn out, but I've been here before and growing more trusting of this unknown, uncomfortable place...called Change.

I need a smile in my heart so I can remember who all of the change is for, so I uploaded a few of my Instagram photos from the week...my boys...

Downloads11

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Day FOUR??!!

The Kindergarten Honeymoon is over. Already. Bubble burst. Glow gone. Now we're in it.  I'll digress a few days....

Day one went spectacularly. When I picked Christian up, he said, "That was a really fun day, Mom!"  I was glowing from ear to ear.

Day two: Also spectacular. When I picked him up, the very first thing he said was, "I got a key today, Mom!!" A key is a reward for good behavior. Three keys equals a trip to the treasure box.  I was a proud Momma. Then, he asked if he could have a playdate with his new friend from school.  I thought, Why not? He's bonding with someone already, let's foster that. And we left with promises of asking about a playdate the next day.

Day three: Amazingness continues with the acquisition of another key. Christian got to ask the Mom of his new friend if he could come over for a playdate and she said yes. We arranged a playdate for after school of day four.


Day four: I clean house after dropping Christian off at school. I make snacks. I get excited about a new friend for Christian and a fun playdate.  The school day wraps up and I head to the school to pick Christian up.  As I walk in, a smile playing across my lips, Christian's Kindergarten teacher briskly slides in front of me. I'm not kidding here- it was like the side sliding move in the Electric Slide line dance. It was startling. Her side kick teacher/ henchwoman slides in next to her.

She begins: Hi. I need to talk to you, before you get Christian.
Me: Okay...
She: We had a little incident today. Well...two incidents, really.
Me: Oh...o...kay...
She: Well, one of the other teachers found Christian peeing on a bush during recess.
Me: (The sound of my jaw hitting the floor.)
She: The teacher asked him if he knew where the bathroom was. (Hope bubbled up: Oooh,ooh..good question!! It's a new school-maybe he didn't know where the bathroom was.)
He said yes.
Me: Oh. Ummmm...I don't really know what to say.  He doesn't usually pee on bushes.
She: (She leans in conspiratorially) Well, to be honest we've seen this before, it's usually not a big deal and I don't think it will happen again.
Me: (Relaxing, just a little bit)
She: Unfortunately there was another issue. I guess Christian and Dash were excited about having a playdate today.
Me: (Tensing, just a little)
She: Well, the boys told us that they decided to start their playdate early and when the bell rang at recess, they decided to hide instead of come back to class.  We were pretty freaked out. Nothing like this has ever happened and we were alarmed to find two Kindergarten boys missing. We found them and when we brought them back to class, we told them that unfortunately they would probably not be able to have their playdate today and the choice they made was not a very good choice. They don't believe that their playdate may be canceled though. We hope that you can help us to reinforce that this is not acceptable behavior and that it will have consequences.
Me: Oh- There. will. be. no. playdate. (If I weren't so white, I would have waggled my neck on this one.)

I catch a glimpse of the other Mom, who is looking at me with huge eyes, like Can you believe this?? I look at her: Right? No playdate?  She says, Right. No playdate!!

The teachers seemed to visibly sigh from relief. I get it- I think half of the conversation is really about how we'll respond as parents. Are we going to follow through and discipline our kids? Or, are we the kinds of parents that are going to let things slide, thereby producing the year long trouble makers in the class?

I'll sum up the rest. There was crying when Christian realized the playdate really wasn't going to happen. There was "quiet time" to think about his choices when we got home. And there was a chart made as a way for him to begin earning back his playdate.

IMG_20120816_170219

I got crafty with the chart. I channeled my inner anger into the damn best chart I could make, as if a chart would completely irradicate Day NUMBER FOUR of Kindergarten.

The good news is Christian seems excited about the chart and what he can earn. The bad news is I think most teachers at the school now know of my kid as the disappearing-from-class-peeing-on-a-bush kid. Great. Thanks Christian. I sincerely appreciate it. Day FOUR???? Seriously???

The next day, I walked into the school office with a check. I figured now was a better time than most to make a "donation".

Monday, August 13, 2012

Kindergarten

My firstborn started Kindergarten today. I sit here trying not to cry as I type out those words. I'm getting choked up not only because of how the time flies, but because I have a profound feeling of pride. You have to be a brave little guy to walk into Kindergarten, head held high, ready to leave Mom, Dad, and baby Brother behind for the day. And that is just what he did.

First Day of Kindergarten1B

We took our first day of school pictures out in the front yard, as we have since he started preschool.  The trusted best friend, "Leo", was there for moral support, he was already complaining about how heavy his backpack is and despite my best efforts, he's starting the year with a kind of botched up haircut. Oh well. It's a rite of passage, right?

IMG_8124

Charles threw caution to the wind and joined us, even though it meant getting to work late. Christian was so excited to show him around his new school!

First Day of Kindergarten2B

I had a tough time getting to sleep last night. I made a list so I wouldn't forget anything and checked my alarm clock about 22 times to make sure it was going to go off in the morning. Everything went smoothly at first- lunch box was made, potluck breakfast item was prepared, Christian got himself dressed without complaint, Elijah drank his milk (second day in a row with no morning bottle!! He's drinking it from his sippy cup!), both boys ate their breakfasts. I even had time to do more with my hair than the standard ponytail. It was only as we were walking out the door, that all hell broke loose. Elijah had a major diaper blowout. Apparently we are out of wipes, or the babysitter has moved them to where I cannot find any. Charles walked past a glass beverage dispenser and somehow knocked it off the table, where it broke into a thousand little pieces. Sigh. Real life.

We made it to school on time, regardless, parked a block away and walked in. The Kindergarten classes have a potluck breakfast the first day of school to help ease the transition.  It was great! We had a chance to meet the other kids in Christian class, talk to some of the other families, and get some yummy breakfast treats before starting the day.  Two kids that Christian went to preschool with are in his class, and we are all so grateful for it.  It's nice to have a little bit of comfort in knowing a couple of people.  After breakfast, the kids played in the play yard, while the parents looked on.  Eventually, Christian's teacher called for all of the kids to line up in rows to get walked to their classrooms.  Christian was the last in line and the tallest in his class.  We said goodbye and I watched him walk in to the classroom. He didn't even look back.  I managed to hold it together until I couldn't see him anymore and then...waterworks. It was so nice to have my hubby there to cry on his shoulder...even though I'm sure he thinks I'm crazy.

Kindergarten has started and all I can think is, Here we go.  The start of the formal school years.  I'm proud and stunned and excited and nervous all at the same time. Some day, I want Christian to know how I felt about this day. I can't really tell him about it all now, and even if I did I don't think he could fully grasp it. This is what I would want him to know:

Dear Christian,
     Today you started Kindergarten and I can't hold back my feelings of pride. You were so excited and so confident today. There is not much more in this world that I would want for you, except to live your life excitedly, confidently and kindly. I chose this school for you, because I know you will be getting a good education, academically, but more importantly, I know you will learn to be considerate, compassionate and kind because you will be in classes filled with children of all abilities. There are a lot of things I want you to be able to have when you become an adult. Of course I want you to be smart and educated because I know that will create a lot of opportunities for you. But, more than that, I want you to be comfortable in your skin and I want you to be a kind person who accepts and sees people for who they are. I feel so lucky to be your Mom, Sweetie. I thank God every day for you, and I just feel so incredibly blessed to be a part of your journey in life. I love you....to the moon and back and to the moon and back again. I can't wait to pick you up and I hope you can tell me all about your first day in Kindergarten.
With all my love,
Mom

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Thank God It's "Friday"

We are IN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To the "Friday School", that is. I nicknamed our #1 elementary school of choice the "Friday School" because after a whirlwind tour of 4 other elementary schools, the school we toured last- on a Friday- became our #1 pick by a landslide.  I know I got a little crazy and a little anxious about the whole process. I'm sure I have friends with older kids who thought I was too wrapped up in choosing a Kindergarten. But, here's the thing:
1) The neighborhood we live in has terrible, TERRIBLE home schools. Under-enrolled, severely budget challenged, minimal to no parental support- in time or money, and test scores we won't even discuss.
2) The Friday school is a K-8 program. All of the other schools we toured were K-5, which meant that I would have to go through this process all over again unless we moved to a better neighborhood. (When we bought our house, we assumed that in at least 5-8 year's time we would have upgraded to a better neighborhood with better schools. Yet, here we still are. I know a lot of people around the country are in similar positions. It is mind-boggling how much money we have to make to stay in our 1300 sq foot house in the Los Angeles area.
3) The Friday school has a theme of Inclusion. The school's philosophy is that ALL children, regardless of learning style and ability, work together in an inclusive environment. Children of all different abilities, from the gifted to those with special needs, learn in the same classroom. And I love the way they actually accomplish this. My oldest son, Christian, will grow up where inclusion is the norm, not the exception, and Elijah will grow up in an environment I don't have to fight every step of the way to have him included in regular classrooms.

We have been on the wait list since May. We started as #14, moved to #9 by June and then to #1 in July. I called on Tuesday just to get a feel for if the school thought a spot might open up before school began. The secretary said it was possible but she couldn't say for sure. She said they would be working on the wait list in the afternoon. 50 minutes later I received a congratulatory email, letting us know that Christian had received a spot. (*I know I make this sound simple, but the objects are larger than they appear. I have not gone into detail about the many phone calls that I made to the school in between being #14 and the last phone call. Let's just say, I didn't need to give them my son's last name when I called to inquire this last time around.)

I screamed. I scared my children. Then I bounced around and grabbed the phone to formally ACCEPT. It is an answered prayer.

On Tuesday, the day after we got word of Christian's acceptance, we brought the enrollment forms into the office. I asked if I could walk Christian around the campus and the secretary told me that she would have someone give us a formal tour. Our formal tour included  a parent volunteer and an almost 3rd grader who happened to come into the school office with her Mom. The 3rd grader- Giselle- was happy to show Christian around and talked about which class she had been in, in Kindergarten and who her teacher was.

In one classroom we entered, there was a therapy ball of sorts- kind of like a Pilates or therapy ball, except it's shaped like a peanut.  Christian sat on it and asked what it was.  Giselle said, "Oh, that was James'.  He has special needs and sometimes he would use it to bounce on or lay on."  The parent volunteer said, "That's right, because some kids learn a little differently, right?"  Giselle replied calmly, "Uh huh. James loves to surf and he LOVES the water. He doesn't talk, but he has a picture board, and sometimes if he wants to play with you, he'll bring you a picture of what he wants to play with and gives it to the person he wants to play with. Then, sometimes the teachers will let you take a break from your schoolwork to play with him."  I wanted to cry. On the spot.  I was so touched by how she was just relaying the story about a classmate- a friend who is a little different. Her tone was almost admiring. It wasn't dismissive. It wasn't pitiful. She knew this kid James. And he was just....James. James, who learns a little different, communicates a little differently and loves to surf.

I adore this school for Christian. I truly think it will be a good fit. The bigger picture is that this school is priceless for Elijah. No fighting the school district on whether or not he'll be fully included in typically developing classrooms. No wondering if he'll have a full enough experience with his typical peers, or they with him. When Elijah gets to Elementary school age, he will work alongside his typically developing peers and luckily these peers will get to know HIM. He has a shot at not being seen as different or weird or stupid. These are the things that kids (like I was) think when they haven't been exposed to children of all abilities. It's uncomfortable and it breeds ignorance.

This week has been absolutely stellar! I was able to take a deep breath from all of the school anxiety and fully enjoy what this week held. It held FUN.

After our amazing school tour and a quick dip at the local pool to take the edge off the heat, I dropped Elijah at my parents' house so that Christian and I could have an official Mother-Son date.  I had tickets to the El Capitan movie theatre in Hollywood to see "Brave" and decided we should travel in style.  We drove to the Universal City Metro station and hopped on the subway for one exit,  and then walked across the street to see the movie.  The El Capitan isn't just any movie theatre. It's a historic movie theatre in Hollywood that mixes live entertainment with movie magic to create an experience unlike any other. The coolest thing about it? When I was dancing professionally, I worked there many times. Luckily, I still have friends dancing in the shows there and we were fortunate enough to see them perform before our movie.  I was all smiles. Christian was literally bouncing up and down in his seat from the live entertainment excitement. The train ride was a thrill, Christian loved the movie and it was all in all, the best Mother-Son date we've had to...well, date.

Walking up to the station...
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I got Christian home late, tucked into bed, and was thankful that my parents had agreed to take Elijah overnight so that I wouldn't have to drive back late to get him.  Come morning, I was aching to see my baby boy, though.

When I went to pick up Elijah, I got the usual report: He ate a good dinner, slept well but woke up early, and had fun. Oh yeah, and he was walking by himself with the push toy. .................Come again?........ My Mom was surprised when I said, "What??!! He's never done that before!", so we immediately pulled out the push toy, stood him in front of it, and...




He did that over and over and even stood up (holding the toy) without assistance from us.  Our house has a lot of wood floors, so the push toy is faster and harder to control on the wood.  I am impressed that he has even started mastering the push toy at our house in the areas where we have throw rugs, or with some assistance from me to keep the toy from shooting out from underneath him. I also love that when the toy starts getting too close to a wall or a piece of furniture, he stops, changes the direction of the toy and then starts walking again. My little smarty pants.

The glow of knowing where my kids will go to school put this whole week on a great note. Our days were colored with an extra dose of happiness and the schedule of swim lessons, playdates, pool hangs, subway and movie adventures and even a girls' night out peppered my work week in the best possible way. We would have made it work if the "Friday school" hadn't worked out, but now I can take a breath knowing that it did.

Thank God It's "Friday"!! :) 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I Don't Care That People Think My Kid Is "Happy"

There is a stereotype for individuals who have Down syndrome. It goes something like this, "People with Down syndrome are always happy." In some of the first real information you can find online about Down syndrome, there is a great article entitled, "Myths and Truths (about Down syndrome)" and if you haven't read it, you can check it out here.  About this "Happiness" problem, the National Down syndrome Society says:

"Myth: People with Down syndrome are always happy.
Truth: People with Down syndrome have feelings just like everyone else in the population. They experience the full range of emotions. They respond to positive expressions of friendship and they are hurt and upset by inconsiderate behavior."

Here's the thing:  I think that when people say that people with Ds are always happy, they don't literally mean ALWAYS. I think many people have positive experiences with people who have Down syndrome. I think stereotypes exist because there is some element of truth. I think that my son, Elijah's general demeanor is more "happy" than anything else. I'm not saying he doesn't cry or get upset or act stubborn or throw things or pull people's hair (mostly mine). He does all of those things. A LOT. 

Call me crazy, but I refuse to get upset or feel like my child is being marginalized because people say he's...gasp...Happy. 

We're a sensitive bunch, those of us who have a child with special needs. We need to advocate just a little harder, we need to toughen up just a little bit more, and we hurt when our children aren't seen for everything they are or when their "disabilities" are recognized first. However, there are a band wagon of parents who are so quick to respond to any kind of indication that people think their child with Ds might be especially happy.  One example is from a blog that I LOVE. You can read the post I'm referring to here. The writer shares an experience from when she was pregnant with her first child. The baby had 3 "markers" in an ultrasound that were consistent with Down syndrome. She found herself kind of excited.  Turns out, her baby was not born with Down syndrome and while she felt some relief that he wouldn't face those kinds of challenges, she was also disappointed. She was disappointed because her experiences with people, and children in particular, with Down syndrome had been so positive and life affirming. In the comments section of her post, many parents of children with Down syndrome were quick to jump at the chance to correct her, and say that (and I paraphrase) People with Ds are not always happy, they have a range of emotions, and to describe them as such is a burden that is unfair for them to carry.  Are. you. kidding. me. ?????  

I want to break down the barriers that say that my kid is limited. I want to break down the barriers that say that my kid is stupid. I want to break down the barriers that say that my kid is a drain on society. I want to break down the barriers that say that my kid is unworthy of life. THESE are the things that I think are both hurtful and untrue.  I'm not going to waste any breath or time on destroying the myth that my kid is always happy.  Because I think if you asked anyone who said this, they would clarify their statement to say that the statement "being happy all of the time", isn't meant to imply that this person doesn't experience a whole range of other emotions. 

 I don't get it. In this case, as a community, I think we could all take a collective breath on this one.  Would it be offensive to say, "Comedians are always funny."?  Are the comedians of the world going to come out en force to correct us that they have a full range of emotions and there are definitely times where they are not funny. Umm...don't think so. 

I plan on advocating for my children whenever necessary. Maybe I do wear the proverbial "rose colored glasses" when it comes to people's intent with their words. It's possible. However, for now, I really don't care that people think my kid is happy.

And here he is...not specifically being "happy", but content none the less...

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer is a State of Mind

He's wearing his glasses again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I can't completely explain it, other than with a concerted effort and the help of our therapists, we persisted in making Elijah keep the glasses on his face.  It took us holding his hands down, lots of distraction and a calm demeanor when he managed to get them off. Rinse and Repeat. I think that once he got over the fact that the glasses were resting on his face, that he may have actually realized, Hey! I can see pretty good! Because day by day, he resisted them less and less. Now, he's wearing them more than he's taking them off. They are the first thing he goes for if he's frustrated, and I have to be careful with my reactions to it so that it doesn't become a game.  It's a huge win. His prescription is pretty strong (he's near-sighted, so he has difficulty with his distance vision) and I'm noticing a subtle difference primarily in his depth perception.  When he stacks blocks without his glasses, he tends to "overshoot" the block and then has to pull back to adjust the block so that it balances on the other.  With his glasses, it's a much more direct placement.  I'm hoping we're into a new phase that includes regular use of his glasses, but as I'm learning: Just as you think you have one thing figured out with your kid, something changes. It's about being patient and flexible, right?

I haven't been keeping up with my blogging much this summer, and here are some of the best reasons why:
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We took a mini-trip to Palm Springs to hang with our close friends, Larissa and Adam, and so that I could attend a National Dance Competition that some of my Ballet Students were competing in. It was such a necessary break from our regular schedule to just hang out in the pool, read great novels, cook, and eat and drink! It was only a two day getaway, but for us, it was great!

The boys and I have been finding things to do that we often don't have time for during the regular school year. We explored a wonderful children's museum, called Kidspace, located in Pasadena.  It's a great, interactive museum that you could happily spend all day exploring the many things to play in and with.

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Kidspace 

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Emerging from the "ant hole"...

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Exploring and resting (being a trooper during what is normally nap time!)

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The river. Kids can climb right in, tromp through it and splash to their hearts content (or until another kid gets mad...)

Christian has taken a huge interest in space lately, and been begging me to hang some planets and stars from his bedroom ceiling. So, I grabbed some styrofoam balls we had left over from an event I'd done and made our own planets!  We found the glow in the dark stars and moon that will make our ceiling display complete, at the Kidspace museum's gift shop!

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I'm also taking full license of summer to enjoy some great novels.  I love to read and when it's a great book, I FIND time for it.  I zipped through 3 novels in the last few weeks, because they were THAT good! I've also created a little extra time for my yoga practice again.  It changes my life when I do it. I find I am so much more patient and have more energy for just "playing" with my little guys.  There has been some time with girlfriends and some playdates here and there.  Oh yeah- and the never ending To-Do list for a new division of my Event Design business.  I am SO excited about some additions we're creating in my business, but until it's all ready I can't share the details.  I'll be shouting from the rooftops when it's ready though- I have such high hopes!!

I have also had a very fulfilling year with my teaching job.  I choreographed my first ballet competition piece this year.  The girls scored well and have grown an enormous amount.  I am so proud and am ready to give them more challenges next year.  We're coming up on a short break from the dance studio, but I'm smiling in anticipation of all the new experiences coming down the line.

470862_392919720743776_100000772553819_1023467_1878119815_o Me and my girls, in their costumes for "Tchaikovsky Sweet" (Performed to the Sugarplum Fairy music from "The Nutcracker". Get my play on words?? Hahaha - a little kitschy, but I love it...) 

Well...it's nearly noon and we're all still in our PJ's. Might be time to get dressed and pretend that we'll be getting something done.  It's funny, because I don't technically get a "Summer Break". I own my own business, so there really is no season that coordinates with vacation time.  But, I think Summer, for me, is more of an Attitude than a season.  It's allowing those mornings of PJs til noon or later without guilt, making time for swimming and reading, yoga and playing....balancing the important work tasks with down time that is chock full of quality time. So, my blogging may be intermittent for a few more weeks until we settle back into a more regular schedule that includes a new Kindergarten schedule for Christian and a new Preschool (Mommy and Me) schedule for Elijah.  For now, I'm owning Summer.

It's a State of Mind. :)


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