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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An Open Letter to My Children

An Open Letter to My Children

Kids…I love you. I think you know that. And I think you also know that I often seem to express my love in odd ways – like fussing at you for moving too slowly in the mornings or getting on to you for spilling your juice. I want to do better. I want to show my love in better ways. I always start out with the best intentions.

Every morning, I pray for you. I pray for your safety, for the little things I know you struggle with, for you to have a great day. I pray to have patience and to let the little things go. I pray for reminders that you are only this little for a short while, and that I should cherish these moments. I pray that today is the day I manage my frustration with no – okay, maybe just a few – mistakes.

And every night, I pray for forgiveness of my failure to achieve all of these things. Or, just as often, my failure to achieve any of these things.

If you want the truth, I’ll go ahead and give it to you: Parenting you is hard. Not because you’re bad kids and not because I don’t love you.

If I could let you take a brief tour of my mind, you might understand. It’s like a bag of cats in there – neglected household chores competing for attention with overdue bills are swirling around, usually surrounded by a revolving schedule of school activities, work commitments, therapy goals, and doctor’s appointments. Sprinkled around you’ll find anxiety over my own stuff – money and work and marriage; worry that I am forgetting something important; fear that today is the day I say something to you that ruins your life forever. Look left and right while you’re in there and you’ll see two of me arguing with each other – one convinced that tough love was the right call; the other certain that a gentler approach would have yielded more understanding.

And that’s just the first layer.

Keep digging, and you’ll see doubt. So much doubt. It claims its own special section of my mind, plaguing me with the fear that I have messed up one too many times. I yelled too much, I didn’t forgive quickly enough, I didn’t give you the attention you so desperately needed. And then, of course, there’s the doubt that I was too soft and now you won’t understand consequences, that I forgave you instantly and you didn’t learn from it, and that so much attention has caused you to totally rely on me for validation.

There are about 12 more layers to go after that.

I don’t present this to you as an excuse, as the saying goes, but an explanation. An explanation of why you throwing one more ball at me when I am already juggling 17 is just enough to send me over the edge. An explanation of why I love to hear you sing, but at this moment, hearing one more sound is the absolute last thing I need. An explanation of how I can love you so much and want to be alone for just a few minutes.

But if I am asking you to understand my mind, then it’s only fair that I work to understand yours. Your anxieties and fears and joys and excitement might be a little less defined, but are no less valid. I know that your need to sit right next to me, thigh to thigh, at all times is not borne from a desire to annoy, but a desire for closeness. Your continued requests for another snack are likely not a cleverly designed plot to keep me from working, but a need that you cannot meet for yourself and therefore have found the one person who can help you in that moment. And when I do not respond, you can only assume I am not paying attention, or can’t hear you. And so you ask again. And again. You know I will get frustrated, but you can’t help yourself.

Should you learn to be patient? Yes. Should I learn to be patient? Yes.

So, kids, we have to decide – whose needs are greater? Who wins?

The answer is neither of us. Neither of us wins, because neither of us is perfect. You know better than to push your sibling. I know better than to expect two preschool-aged children to get along like adults. We both know better, but we don’t do better.

And, so, today, like many other days, I have prayed for patience. And, today, like many other days, God has given me multiple opportunities to practice. But I think tomorrow I will pray for something else. I will pray for the ability to get out of the way and let God work through me, to erase my imperfections and give you the mom you need. I will pray for each of you to practice the kindness and love that we have so often talked about – and I will pray you find an example of those things through me.

In short, dear kiddos, I will try my hardest. I am a fallen person in a fallen world, and my best will be full of mistakes. I will ask you to try your hardest, which will also be full of mistakes. I will yell at you again. You will make eye contact with me as you deliberately crumble a fistful of Goldfish crackers into the couch. We are human, you and I, and that means perfection is not in our future.

No, not perfection. But if we both agree to focus less on ourselves and more on what God has called each of us to do, I think we can achieve grace for each other’s flaws, forgiveness of each other’s wrongs, and enough love to cover every inevitable mistake.

I will offer to read this to you, and you will say okay. I will get frustrated at your inability to sit still. You will get bored of listening to your mother read her own blog to you. We will argue.

And then we will make up.

Love you always,

Mommy

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Snacking in Front of Your Children: A How-to

Snacking in Front of Your Children: A How-to

There is a phenomenon in the universe known as Toddler Ear (known in some regions as Child Ear or I SAID COME HERE Ear). This a seemingly universal condition in which your child appears to be unable to hear directions or requests, such as, “Don’t lick each other,” “Let’s hurry and get ready for school,” “Put these toys away,” and anything whispered in what I call the Church Voice.

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Princess Kate knows what I’m talking about.

But the other unique aspect to this phenomenon is that while your children remain unable to hear your continued pleas to put on some clothes, they can hear the rustle of a chip bag or candy bar wrapper, sometimes from two floors away. Scientists aren’t sure of all the mechanisms of this condition. But they do know it’s spreading rapidly among children ages one to 17.

There is no cure. But through careful study, several trial experiments, and a persistent desire for chocolate, I believe I have found a way to manage the condition to a degree where some of your food might actually enter your mouth. It won’t be easy. But we are #SnackStrong.

Step One: Prepare

You think you are quiet enough with that package of m&ms. You think your kids can’t possibly hear you from your room. You are wrong. Step One involves more planning than it took to buy your first house. You will need the following: One (1) snack of your choice (or several; I don’t judge); one (1) decoy bag (grocery bag, empty box of tampons); one (1) child’s TV show for background noise and distraction; and one (1) decoy snack – celery, carrot sticks, and quinoa are all great ideas to start (This item is optional but highly recommended). The last thing you need is a burning desire to succeed.

Step Two: Set the Scene

Choose your snacking place well. You want a place that isn’t too well-lit, near-ish the TV, but not so close you get sucked into the plot of My Little Pony and fail to guard your precious cargo. You don’t want to be too far from the kids, because as soon as they notice your absence, they will seek you – and they will find you. Before you set up, place your snack into your decoy bag. Then, once you’re sure you’re ready, walk nonchalantly to your chosen spot. Do not – do not – remove your snack from the decoy bag. Place it casually beside you, behind a pillow or your decoy snack.

Step Three: Take the Plunge

Begin to eat your snack quietly. Only take a few chips/Skittles/brownie pieces at a time – snacking when your kids are awake means sacrifice, so soldier up and restrain yourself. If your kids look around to identify the sound of rustling paper or plastic, do not move. Leave your hands where they are. Maintain eye contact with your child and do not speak unless you are spoken to. If they ask what you are eating, hold up your decoy bag and say vitamins, kale, or dirt. If they don’t buy it and ask to see the contents, ABORT THE MISSION. Tell them you just remembered the oven is on and you have to check on it. Walk away and try again another day.

If, however, they do not pursue the line of snack questioning, you are free to resume your snacking after a few moments of silence have passed. Eat as much you desire, while being mindful that the silence will only last for so long.

Step Four: Cover Your Tracks

All of your carefully crafted plans will be for nothing if your kids catch you throwing away the wrapper or placing the rest of your Doritos back in the cabinet behind the fancy plates you never use. If your snack bag is empty, keep the wrapper inside the decoy bag and throw it all away in the trash. If your decoy bag is reusable, take it to the trash can and dump your snack bag into the trash, and immediately cover it with other trash.

If you’re saving the rest of your snack for a rainy day, leave the snack inside the decoy bag and put it away swiftly in the hiding place of your choosing. Do not look back; do not stop to answer questions. Move quickly if you want your snack to survive.

Other tips: 

*Fill your husband in on the plan so he doesn’t come home and ask you where the Muffin Bites are.

*Change out your decoy bag after every few uses so your offspring will not become suspicious.

*Don’t be afraid to offer your kids their own snack before you start eating to add another layer of crunching to cover your own.

You have your orders. Good luck, and may your snacks taste like an Oreo while containing the calories of an ice chip.

The Secret Life of The Special Needs Mom

The Secret Life of The Special Needs Mom

I am raising a child who is not my own.

He is my flesh and blood. I am his mother. He is my son. But for nearly all of his life, we have deferred to experts to tell us what to do with him. One of them says take him to this therapy. Obediently, we go. Another one says, no, what you really need is this program. So we turn around. A third one says, what you really need is medication. And off we go to explore that path.

Ultimately, every decision is up to us. And we don’t go blindly down any new road without consideration. But from the very first day I became a parent, my child’s life depended on the expertise of other people. I couldn’t help him. No one could show me how, not then. And so began his life, being raised by smart people with long, useful degrees.

Maybe that’s how every parent feels, even parents with typical children. I wouldn’t know. My atypical child is my firstborn, and I have only ever known this life.

My son gets a cough, and I take him to the doctor, knowing we will either go home or to the ER, depending what the doctors find. Depending on what they decide we will do. I am grateful to live in an area with so many experts available. I am grateful because my son is still not mine to raise, even at four years old. I don’t know what the right call is. Sometimes I can guess the right one. But it’s up to the professionals.

My son doesn’t eat well enough to keep him healthy, and I take him to the doctor. They tell us how to fix it. They tell us what we will do next. I nod my head and take notes and begin living this new phase of our life.

My son doesn’t walk the way he is supposed to, and I take him to the doctor. This is a problem that will have to be given to a new expert. They tell us to go to therapy. We are lucky to have these therapists in our lives. The therapists give us directions, and we follow them, finding ways to add exercises and build skills. Our days are busy, but they told us we need to do it all.

My son doesn’t go to many playdates. We should go to more, but we’re out of time. The experts told us we had to get so much done. There aren’t enough hours in the day. But we need their help for my son to thrive. We should go to more playdates. He would like more playdates. Maybe if I tried harder, he could. I should ask the doctors about that.

This is the secret life of the special needs mom. It isn’t a bad life. It isn’t a life to be pitied. It is a life filled with waiting – waiting for the next steps, the next lab results, the next expert to show us how to do better. We are glad for the help. We know we can’t do it without them. So we wait. We know we have to be patient. Waiting is the only way to learn where we will be sent next.

But it’s a strange thing, to raise a child who is not yours. Who is yours, but only between appointments. It makes us feel sad, and happy, and lonely, and loved. It’s a delicate balance. We must always be careful to schedule, but be flexible; be accommodating, but firm; juggle, but take time for ourselves. We must remember that all of this will be worth it, in the end, for our child to be the very best version of himself. We must know that perspective is key – we are not the only ones who suffer. We must learn to ask for help, and learn to do things on our own. We just have to try our best.

At least, that’s what the experts say.

I am raising a child who is not my own.

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