Four Years of You

Four Years of You

Dear Jenna Paige: 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!  You’ve been counting down since Christmas, so I know you’re excited. And I’m excited, too, when I’m not looking at baby pictures of you and sobbing. 

Jenna, the craziest thing about this birthday is how grown up you seem to me now. You’re not a toddler anymore – you’re a little kid, and you have grown and changed in dozens of ways. 

One word to describe you is “independent.” You want to do everything yourself. If I tell you what you want to do won’t work, you will stand there, hands on hips, and say we can find a way to make it work. I constantly find you dragging the kitchen stool around the house in an effort to reach the places you “meed” to be. You would rather spend eight minutes climbing into the car while holding three toys all by yourself than let anyone help, even just a little. It drives me crazy in the moment but that attitude will serve you well when you’re inevitably running your own country one day. 

This year, you learned to use the potty. I think the real motivation for you was getting an m&m every time you were successful – you still ask me for one sometimes. You love picking out which undies you will wear every day, which is good, because most days, that’s all you wind up wearing. You have told me more than once that you can’t wear clothes because you need to be free. It is extremely hard to keep a straight face while you stand there in your Minnie Mouse boots and Tinkerbell undies and try to convince me it’s fine if you go play in the yard like that. At least you have shoes on, right? 

I loved seeing you grow and learn in your three-year-old class this year. You learned a lot about your numbers and letters, but I really love the new ideas and social skills you picked up. You learned how to be a friend and how to navigate the tricky waters of someone not wanting to be your friend (although I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be!). You fell in love with two little chicks that came to your school and decided to become a farmer when you grow up. You have told me all about your farm – there will be chicks, unicorns, and genies. I look forward to visiting. 

Seeing you in ballet was probably one of my favorite things ever. You loved ballet – well, you loved watching yourself in a giant mirror, which turned out to be the same thing for you. You told me being a “bah-la-lay” girl was all you ever wanted in your whole entire life, and it turns out dreams do come true. I think you would wear your ballet costume to bed if I let you. 

Jenna, I just love seeing your personality shape itself as you grow. You are sassy and strong and brave. You want a pet bug to keep in your room and you love to help your Barbies dig in the mud while wearing the prettiest dress you can find. You have a wonderful way of reminding me which choices are “green” and which are “red,” and which ones Jesus would like the best. 

Speaking of, I was so proud of you when you told me what Jesus did for you and for all of us, from start to finish. You told it in your own inimitable way, and I could tell it is really starting to register for you. And I’m just so excited for you! You also learned a lot about the struggles Joshua faces this year. I think you were finally able to really understand about some of his needs, and I was so incredibly proud of you when you told him he was made just the way he was supposed to be. You have been dragged from appointment to appointment, dropped off at countless playdates and sitters’ houses, and still you are my smiling, generous girl. 

There are not enough words in the world for me to describe you the way I want to. This age has been my favorite, just like all the rest. I love the way you share your candy with me. I love the way you invite me to play princesses in your castle. I love to hear you play by yourself and listen to you make up stories for all your characters. I love the way you shout “BOOM, SHAKALAKA” when you’re excited. I love your “monster” voice, which you like to use to sing songs and greet me in the morning. I love the way you start your sentences with “Wellllllllll” every time you’re about to tell me no to something. I love the way you call people by the job you think they have – “Candy Lady,” “Art Ladies,” “Music Lady.” I love how you are such a great talker, and yet you still have some of those toddler quirks where you mix up when to use “her” and “she.” I love how you wave your little hand around like a socialite from the 60s when you are talking about something that is “soooo adorable.” I love to watch you do your own make up, even if you look like Groucho Marx after. I love how you love “beautiful fings,” like princesses and trapeze artists and literally anything with glitter. 

Jenna, I just love you so stinking much. You are my sidekick, my grocery shopping buddy, my joke-teller, my laundry folder, my dish washer, and so much more. You are fierce and determined and aren’t afraid of a challenge. You are my Jenna girl, my Neener bear, my Nae-Nae Puddentain, my Jenner-Benner. I love you now and I will love you always. 

Happy fourth birthday, baby girl.

~ Mommy

 

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It Goes By Fast

It Goes By Fast

 Let’s set the scene: I am in Kroger with my offspring, both of whom are behaving very well, but who have apparently recently started eating Pixie sticks by the pound because they are both SUPER EXCITED and firing off questions like firecrackers on America’s birthday: 

“Is that a bug?”

“How long do butterflies live?”

“Have you seen my magic wand?”

“Can we get a butterfly to live in our house?”

“Is THAT a bug?”

“DID YOU KNOW MY MAGIC WAND IS JUST A PENCIL?”

There was no bug. And I did know about the pencil, but I pretended not to because lying to little kids is totally acceptable. 

I passed another mom and her teenage daughter as I was answering these questions as fast as I could while also trying to read through a grocery list. The other mom and I made eye contact and we both smiled. 

“It goes by fast, doesn’t it?” she said, giving my kids a wave as she walked away. 

We made it through the list of insect questions and were now deep into a series of queries over which animal would eat you the fastest, a dinosaur or a lion. Our answers were inconclusive, by the way. If you see either, just accept your fate. As Joshua began listing out the reasons a dinosaur would have a hard time eating a person (the word “omnivore” was thrown out, which is 100% Daniel’s doing), I passed a store manager. He smiled at my kids, too, and offered his thoughts on our wildlife dilemma. He was #TeamLion.

As he said goodbye, he winked at us and said, “Enjoy it – it goes by fast, Mom!”

Both this man and the mom from before were kind, sweet people (based on the thirty seconds I spent with each; they didn’t seem like serial killers or anything). They were not scolding me, or judging me – they were just living a life 10 or 20 years ahead, and wanted to pass on the wisdom they had learned. They, like so many parents, knew that the time with their kids was fleeting, and while these young ages could be exhausting, all things come to an end eventually, so I should savor the moments that I could. 

I say all that to let you know that I am not mad at either of these people. I totally get where they are coming from. But when you have a kid with delays, those comments can really catch you off-guard. And, sometimes, they can hurt. 

We are in somewhat of a unique position in our family: My son is chronologically and cognitively five years old. Socially and emotionally, I would put at him at a little younger, maybe three-and-a-half or four in some areas. Physically, his skills average out to be those of a child who isn’t quite two years old. None of this is bad news; what matters most to us is that he continues to progress, which has always been the case. 

But as I came home from the store and walked inside, those comments stuck with me. They stuck with me as I pureed food for my five-year-old, who needs to be fed like a baby several times a day to maintain his weight. They stuck with me as I filled out a form for financial assistance with swim lessons through our local special needs adaptive swimming group. They stuck with me as I remembered that I needed to buy diapers on our next trip, because potty training has been a difficult skill for my son to learn. 

For some of us, it doesn’t go by fast. Have the years seemed to fly by? Do I double-check the calendar daily in disbelief that another school year is ending when I’m sure it just started? Yes and yes. The days and the months and years do go by fast. But these early days, the days of diapers and baby food and dressing and parenting a toddler – they have remained with me, and with my son, and with our family. 

I’ve said before that I feel like we’re stuck in space-toddler continuum – Joshua does AMAZING work, and he is learning a ton. But because he takes longer to learn new skills, and because his little body is not always ready to take on these challenges at the typical age, it’s like he’s moving in a different time zone, one where days are months and months are years. A place where he grows so fast in some areas and doesn’t change at all in others.

It’s hard to put into words that match the picture in my head. I guess you could imagine a clock, where “typical time” is on the minute hand and “Josh time” is on the hour hand. He moves, certainly; things change and develop and grow. But by the time he has made it from one number to the next, the rest of the world has made a full circle, and he is left to start again.

Do I wish things were different? No – Joshua is who he is on purpose, and to wish he didn’t have these struggles would be to wish him away entirely. He is a wonderful, smart, enthusiastic kid who is already everything I want him to be. But that doesn’t mean small, well-meaning comments don’t hit me in a spot that can cause a lot of pain. 

Sometimes, it doesn’t go by fast. Not for everyone. And please know that this isn’t a call to action or a plea for you to stop telling people that time passes quickly. Many people have said that to me before, and many people will say it in the future. It’s almost always meant in love and as a friendly reminder from a mom who just wants to share what her decades of parenting have taught her. I can’t ask you to stop saying it, and I wouldn’t want to.  No one can live in a bubble where they never hear difficult things.

I suppose if there is anything I want you to take from this, it is to remember that those age-old bits of wisdom aren’t always true. 

Sometimes, it doesn’t go by fast. 

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The Day(s) My Marriage Ended

The Day(s) My Marriage Ended

I married my husband, Daniel, on a warm spring day in 2011. Actually, since we were married March 19th, it was still technically winter. But a Georgia winter, meaning it was 65 degrees and sunny.

It was a beautiful day. My father-in-law performed the ceremony, and that day still goes down as one of the most fun of my life. We danced to all the wedding cliches, had enough candy to feed a medium-sized village, and even broke out into a flash mob at one point. It was perfect.

And then real life began. Ours, like so many young couples’, began with a joy all newlyweds have: The joy of lying. Not big lies. Not like you forgot to tell them you’re wanted in five states. But little, easy lies, like, “This dinner is delicious!” or “I definitely like this painting.” I used to sneak out of bed in the morning and brush my teeth before Daniel woke up so he would think my morning breath was naturally minty-fresh. You’re welcome for that free tip, humanity. We wanted to make each other happy, so we were willing to overlook towels on the floor or accidentally-destroyed projects (I’m still really sorry, Daniel). We made the extra effort because it was worth it.

We had been married for a year-and-a-half when we found out we were expecting our first baby. We were thrilled! As you probably know, our firstborn arrived a bit less traditionally than the average bear.

And that’s when our marriage ended the first time.

Gone were the days where our biggest worries were over whether to order pizza or go out for dinner instead. I didn’t get enough sleep to even think about waking up early to brush my teeth and sneak back into bed. Towels on the floor became just one more nuisance on a never-ending list I kept tabs on in my head.

Joshua needed our constant attention. After four months in the NICU, he came home to therapies, specialists, oxygen tubes, apnea monitors, and more. As time went on, the needs changed, but the stress of having a special-needs child didn’t.

You want to know one of the truths about having a kid with special needs? It kills your marriage. Kills it. We were both still there, still married, but the marriage we had known was gone forever. In its place was something almost unrecognizable. And it was getting worse every day.

I’ve said before that having a child like Josh changed me. In so many ways, it changed me for the better. It made me more compassionate, and more understanding of the struggles of others, and opened my eyes to an entirely new world.

In some ways, though, the changes weren’t as great. These were the changes that were the hardest to resist. I was so angry at God for allowing Joshua to have so many issues. I was angry at myself for not realizing something was wrong sooner in my pregnancy. I was angry at everyone around me. And while throughout the day, I made an effort to at least smile at other people, by the time I got home from the hospital or new specialist or therapy session, I decided I had given all I could. I couldn’t possibly deal with one more thing. And I took it out on Daniel.

Every forgotten task, every misunderstood conversation, every dish I washed alone – I kept track of it all. I knew how many times I had done the laundry and how many times Daniel hadn’t. Sure, he was working all day, but I was busy with the baby. It wasn’t fair. That’s what I kept repeating to myself. It wasn’t fair. I was a stay-at-home mom, but not by choice. I had never asked for this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it for a long time. But then it arrived and was so much harder than I expected. And I knew I wasn’t up to the challenge. And not being up to the challenge made me defensive. And being defensive made me resentful. And being resentful made me bitter. And all of that culminated in my marriage slowly dissolving into two bickering parents who didn’t know how to stop arguing.

No one is ever 100% innocent in these kinds of things. But I will be honest and tell you that a lot of this was on me. Daniel tried his best to help me, but I didn’t want his help. And then I got angry at him for not helping me. And then he tried to help me again, and obviously that meant he thought I wasn’t doing a good enough job, and then I was angry again. And then he didn’t help, and how dare he not help me? It was a vicious cycle.

We went on like this for a few years. We had our daughter, Jenna, just 15 months after Josh was born. Daniel worked full-time, and I worked part-time for a while, eventually moving to a full-time position where I worked from home. We had two kids under the age of two, hectic jobs, financial struggles, and so many appointments to go to. Life was busy. Too busy. Jenna was a fussy newborn. Josh didn’t walk until Jenna was almost a year old. There was no rest, no time for our marriage anymore. Even if we had wanted to work on it, there was simply no time.

Same people. Different marriage.

And then one day, Daniel and I had a big argument. (I’m not trying to air our dirty laundry or anything, and I asked Daniel if he was okay with me writing this. Just want to put full disclosure out there.) It was bad. I was so angry and so tired. Josh had started an intense feeding therapy program. Daniel was dealing with some (thankfully resolved!) health issues. It was stressful. And we argued, and then I shouted that I wanted a divorce.

It wasn’t true. I didn’t want a divorce. I was so tired, so angry and bitter, and I just decided to say it, to goad my husband into arguing with me. But he didn’t argue. Instead, we sat in silence for a while. I knew I should apologize. But I wouldn’t. I didn’t.

I thought that I was already so broken that nothing could touch me anymore. But I was wrong. The look on Daniel’s face when I said those words to him made me feel like I had shattered all over again, like the day Josh was born, and all the days after when we heard more bad news. And so I made a choice.

I decided to try to let the little things go.

It was hard at first, and is still a struggle for me, if I’m being perfectly honest. But my goal was to stop looking for ways to blame Daniel, and instead look at the ways he loved me and showed me his love every day. I decided to think about his intent – did he not take the garbage out just to make my day harder? Probably not. Probably he had just come home from a really hard day at work and it slipped his mind while he was helping me with the dishes or feeding the kids. Probably I could just remind him, or even do it myself. And then we wouldn’t have to fight. Things didn’t have to turn into an argument every time one of us made a little mistake.

My other goal was to get to back to reading my Bible every day. That isn’t meant to sound self-righteous; I just knew I needed to hear what God had to say instead of screaming my own words at Him. As we say in this house, it was no longer my turn.

So I started working on my goals. And I’ve messed up so many times. But it’s been getting easier and easier.

And that’s how my marriage ended the second time.

Same people. Different marriage.

Slowly but surely, the arguments grew to be less frequent. We sought ways to work together instead of ways to blame each other for the stresses in our life. Our other situations didn’t change. Josh still had a lot of needs and was a lot of work. We still had two very little kids and very little time for ourselves and our marriage. Those things wouldn’t change. But we could. We did.

When I first decided to write about this, I was hesitant. I didn’t want to paint Daniel in a bad light, because he is a wonderful, godly man, who married a slightly crazy, super short woman. I didn’t want people to judge us. I didn’t want to come across as having so many struggles.

But I don’t think we’re alone in these struggles. Even if you don’t have a kid with special needs, your marriage has likely hit a rough patch. If it hasn’t, please submit yourself for testing at the nearest health facility, because you might be a robot.

And if you do have a kid with special needs, and your marriage is struggling, and you’re not sure how you will possibly make it through one more day of therapy, and leg braces, and helmets, and practicing stairs, and giving choices, and being a constant cheerleader and advocate for your child so they never have to feel different – it’s going to be okay. Things might not change. But you can.

Same people. Three different marriages. And we would never change a day.

D and K

Today’s the Day

Today’s the Day

Once upon a time, there was a woman who lived in the merry lands of Georgia. She had a lovely life, with a husband who loved her, and whom she loved, and two children whom she only rarely considered selling on eBay. She spent her days raising these children, and providing mediocre meals for her husband, and writing on a giant whiteboard calendar that she made herself in spite of her inability to craft. And it was a good life.

But the woman wanted to do just one thing more: She wanted to be healthy. Not, like, to run a marathon, because that sounded terrible. More like healthy enough to live a long life and set a good example for her children.

The woman tried lots of different ways to make this work. She took advice from trusted friends, and tried various programs that had been proven to work. And sometimes they did. The woman would always start out strong, and she would slowly become healthier. But life, as it so often does, would get in the way, and the woman would have to miss a weigh-in or stop by a drive-through. When that happened, the woman felt like she had failed. And if she had already failed, what was the point of continuing?

When she failed, the woman was ashamed. She was angry at herself for not working harder to stick to a plan that she had promised to finish. She was sad that she had disappointed herself and others, especially her husband and kids. She was embarrassed that she had let herself become so unhealthy to begin with, regardless of the reasons. She did not want to tell her friends and family that she was trying to be healthier, because she did not want them to watch her struggle and fail.

One day – probably a Tuesday – the woman found herself sitting on her couch at home. She had spent so much time researching the best ways to be healthy, and joined all the right groups on the Facebook, and became a gym member, and yet, she was no healthier than before. She was a few pounds lighter, but she knew she had such a long way to go. And as she sat on her couch, she wondered where it all went wrong. Why wasn’t she motivated to do anything to become and stay healthy?

That was really the heart of her issue: She wasn’t motivated. Because she didn’t believe anything would work. Life, though still a blessing, had beaten down the woman’s spirit over the last few years. She wanted to be strong and joyful, but it was just too hard when something went wrong. She had taken the hopefulness and positivity that was once part of her and slowly put it away. Oh, she could get to it when she wanted to, but she found those instances were fewer and farther between. And the more she put away, the less she wanted to find it again. And so it went.

As the woman sat on her couch, lamenting the woes of her life, she found a picture of herself from long ago. Well, it was really only about six years ago, but the woman was going for a dramatic effect in her story. The picture showed a man and woman on their wedding day. They were, of course, dressed up; he looking so handsome, and she so beautiful. But it wasn’t their clothes or their weight or her makeup or the lighting that made them look this way.

It was their absolute joy.

And as the woman looked at the photo some more, she wondered if, maybe, she could have that joy again. She knew it wouldn’t just come back right away. But if she believed it would return, it would.

That was the key to her struggles the whole time. Every weight-loss program, every announcement of giving up sugar, every promise to make it to the gym four times a week  – she had never believed she could do any of it. And after she tired of going through the motions, she stopped.

So the woman made a decision. She decided to believe that she could become healthier. Not to fit into a certain size or wear a special outfit, but to prove to herself that she could. And to prove to her own daughter that she could. And to finally feel the joy that she had contained for years.

The woman knew that, ultimately, no number on a scale would bring her the joy she sought. She knew that her ultimate identity was found in Jesus, and from there she was so much more than a certain weight or measurement. But she also knew that this was the right step to take, both for herself, and for her children. And she believed she could take it. No special classes or outrageous goals or shame if she stumbled. Just belief that she could take the first step. And then the next. And then the next. And then the rest.

So she did.

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40 Thoughts Every Parent Has While Watching The Octonauts

40 Thoughts Every Parent Has While Watching The Octonauts

1. How did all of these animals even get together? Where is a polar bear going to meet a house cat?

2. While we’re on that topic, why is a house cat even one of the Octonauts? Aren’t cats scared of water or something?

3. He has an eyepatch. Naturally.

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4. Wait, the eyepatch doesn’t even cover anything. He just lifted it up and there’s just a regular eye under there. So he just wears it to inhibit his vision?

5. They named the penguin with the Hispanic accent Peso. Tell me that isn’t racist.  Read more