10 August 2017

The First Time

We were at the park when I heard another girl shouting from atop the play structure: "That girl! That girl!" I groaned, but looked up and followed her pointing finger down to the ground. To Abigail. I wasn't surprised it was Abigail being called out of all the kids on the playground, but I could not figure out what she'd done. I'd been keeping a close eye on all three and she hadn't done anything to indicate a run-in. Her behavior had been exceptional and nothing gave me suspicion that she'd been throwing mulch or pushing, and she long outgrew her hair pulling phase. Since the accuser wasn't being specific and not pushing the issue, I dropped it. A few minutes later, I heard her again, "This girl! She's my friend!" I looked up again and the same girl had a friend with her. They were both standing by Abigail and trying to get her attention.
"Hello! What's your name? My name is -, what's your name?" Abigail turned away to climb up a ladder, but she insistently followed her, going on the other side of the ladder to maintain eye contact. "I like your cookie! What's your name?"
Abigail tried every body language trick in the book to get the other girls to leave her alone, but in the end, she said, "Leave me alone," and climbed to the top of the ladder and the other girls did leave her alone.

It broke my heart. My heart is always breaking with her. It is extremely rare for other kids to engage her, and I'm pretty sure this is the first time a child of her own age, outside of her classroom, has ever tried to engage her. Usually when the rare occurrence happens, it's an older kid who thinks she's cute. While that's nice and all, it still breaks my heart when an eight-year-old swoons over my six-year-old who can count to 100 and write her own name like she's 18-month-old Theodore.

And here we have two girls, sporting Frozen t-shirts and sparkly skirts trying to befriend her in a totally normal, typically-developing way. And Abigail demands to be left alone.

I did tell her, "Abigail, she wants to be your friend!" But I knew it wouldn't help, I just wanted to reassure the other girls (and their dad who was standing nearby) that I saw their kindness. I hope - I pray - that kids will keep reaching out to her. One day she will reciprocate. I know it.

04 August 2017

The Skirt Experiment

People treat me different when I dress nicer, I discovered this summer.

I've been wearing a lot of skirts and dresses lately, largely because I hate the way I look in shorts, but also because they are more fluid in size - as I lose weight, I don't have to keep buying a new wardrobe. When I go out by myself, people are nicer to me, they smile, they give me more space when we pass in the aisle. guys let me enter a doorway first. When I go out with all three kids in leggings and a baggy shirt, I'm far more likely to get comments. But when I'm wearing a maxi skirt, I even hear the omnipresent "You have your hands full!" less often! I still have messy hair, no make up, I'm still just as sweaty and stressed, but people treat me so much differently. It has really hammered home to me that, whether we like it or not, the way we dress matters.

I've to some extent always known this and so I'm pretty strict about what the kids can wear and not shy about donating clothing I don't like. (Although I should preface this by saying that when kids are young enough to be running around naked/in a diaper, I really don't think clothing is doing any harm.) Some of it is obvious: no short-shorts or strappy tank tops on my kindergartner. No two-pieces in public pools. Potty trained girls need shorts underneath dresses and skirts. There are just too many perverts out there. But I have a few more subtler rules for Abigail and Theodore.

I like to keep Abigail well-dressed. No sloppy or stained play clothes. Nothing mismatched. And I try to keep her hair as nice as I can, although hair is a daily struggle with her, so it's not usually as tidy as I'd like. She has a million battles to fight and a ton of stereotypes to overcome - if I can eliminate some of them by making sure she looks clean and put-together, it's worth the effort. I also worry about possible neglect or abuse on the part of caregivers. Right now, we have a pretty tight circle, but as she gets older, I think the nicer she looks, the less frustrated people will get with her behavioral challenges. It's just more pleasant to deal with people who look pretty. I also think the more obvious it is that someone is caring for her, the less of a target she'll be. On a lighter note, I want to be a good witness to Down syndrome. If people see a sloppy dressed, tangle-haired, runny-nosed girl, I feel like I'm perpetuating bad stereotypes. If people see a clean, washed girl with a french braid and light-up Frozen sneakers, Down syndrome looks down right normal. (See what I did there?)

Theodore doesn't wear "Ladies Man" clothes, even though he's young enough to qualify for my "whatever, he's young" clause. I can't stand men with "player" personalities, I don't trust them, and I would never want my girls to date them. I want my boys to grow up to be men who respect all women and are devoted to their own families. I also really want a priest in the family. I really hope Theodore or a possible future son is called to the priesthood. So I want to avoid steering him into the typical path of girl-obsession.

Lastly, Roxy. She passed away in June, but I still want to bring her up. She was an 85 pound German Shepherd, who, despite her marshmallow interior, inspired fear among some people we came across. I had gotten an orange reflective vest to make her more visible during our early-morning walks, but I found that people reacted much differently to her when she wore it, so I started putting it on her for all our walks, even in broad day light. I don't know if people mistook her for a service dog (I hope not, would have been a bad witness to leader dogs with her poor leash training), but something about the vest soothed people with power breed fears.

It is important to change the world, and the way we dress doesn't take away from our inherent human dignity, so I agree that it's unfair that black men can't wear baggy sweatshirts or girls wear short skirts without putting themselves in very real danger. Some people are called to tackle that issue head-on, but it's definitely much more my conflict-averse personality to keep a low profile. It's like camouflaging in plain sight - I can have lots of kids, be Catholic, and still be treated politely because I'm wearing a long, purple floral skirt. Sure, it's unfair and I should get the same respect in leggings and a baggy shirt or a mini skirt (yeesh, I'm scared to know what people would say if I went out with three kids in a mini skirt). But I'm still getting what I want, so I'm good with it. Plus Lularoe maxis are so comfortable and pretty, I actual prefer them to jean shorts. Heck, maybe one day I'll master wearing lipstick and make large families look - dare I say it? - graceful.

03 August 2017


Belle is in kidney failure and we need to put her down. Roxy in June, the baby in July, and Belle in August. I'm struggling to process everything without stress eating or stress shopping. Stress praying? Maybe I should take up stress praying.

I have had her for 11 years, but she is 17. I adopted her when I was in college. I really love my black cat.

01 August 2017


I am doing 1,000 times better. I feel like I finally got my ducks in a row. My schedule is going well and my mood is improved, which directly translates to my children all doing better.

This week has been quite the bear, but I'm still rocking it out. Abigail has nasal and chest congestion. She tires easily and is pretty non-verbal during the day. Theodore doesn't feel well and has a fever. Everything makes him mad and he wants to be carried all day long. Eleanor has a fever and - literally - 12 mosquito bites, all of which are swollen and three of which are around her eye. She's also short tempered and yells a lot.

This is after the medicine has been applied, when the swelling is down.

I think I'm handling it pretty marvelously. My mood is good, I'm waking up early and working out to DVDs (Don't want to take sick kids to the YMCA's childcare), eating healthy, making dinner every day, getting a basic level of chores done, playing outside as much as the kids are feeling up to it, and enjoying playtime with them instead of shooing them all away.

Alleluia for good days.

28 July 2017

Like Mother, Like Daughter

I wanted to give Eleanor something this summer. Abigail gets equine therapy and Eleanor doesn't, and this year, she'd old enough to understand that. I don't want my kids to think Abigail is our favorite or that they have to be sick in order to get our attention, but we definitely can't afford riding lessons for two girls. So I searched and searched and searched until I found something 1. Affordable that 2. She would like and 3. Fit in our schedule. I settled on pre-ballet at a studio only 18 minutes from our house at a time when Grandma could babysit her two siblings. It was only $44 for 4 classes. I took Eleanor with me to help pick out her tights and leotard and skirt and shoes. She tried them all on and we watched a YouTube video someone's proud mother took of her daughter's pre-ballet class. For weeks Eleanor talked about how excited she was. "I'm gonna dance ballet, Mama!" When the fated day arrived, she asked eager, "Do you have my shoes, Mama? In your purse?" We arrived early and she excitedly watched all the other pre-ballerinas arrive. "Are those my friends, Mama?"

The instructor, a surprisingly young girl in her early 20s invited the girls into the classroom. And promptly shut the door. I was taken aback, standing there with my purse on my shoulder and my camera ready.
"Can't parents go in to watch?" No, it turns out, parents are too distracting for such a young age group. So I sat in the unairconditioned lobby while the tap dancers upstairs pounded deafeningly until the walls shook for 25 long minutes. The instructor opened the door to Eleanor's classroom. "Would parents like to watch for the last 5 minutes?" I jumped up and followed everyone in, nearly tripping on Eleanor who was seated on the welcome rug just inside the door.
"Eleanor, what are you doing? Did you dance?" I asked, bewildered.
"She just sat there. The entire time. I couldn't get her to acknowledge me at all." The instructor was a bit dazed. She'd never had a student completely shut down before. I stood Eleanor up and coaxed her to stand on the black line.

The tan rug on the right is the one Eleanor spent the entire class on.
Eleanor was angry when she left class. She was confused and upset and didn't have words to express herself. "I didn't listen to the teacher," she said heartbreakingly in her tiny, three-year-old voice.
"Where you too shy to dance? Was it a little scary?" Her eyes kind of lit up. "Like Vivienne from Sofia? Are you shy like Vivienne?"
"Yeah, I was a little too shy."

We spent the whole week practicing dance moves. She preformed for me the moves I saw the other kids doing during the last five minutes of the first class. We got to the studio 10 minutes early and toured the room. "Is this the black line you are supposed to stand on? What color are the walls?" I had her practice a few moves in the empty studio, making sure she saw herself being successful in the mirror. When the instructor arrived, Eleanor and I talked about what color her pony tail and painted nails were to try to make her seem more familiar.

I again sat in the unairconditioned lobby and prayed the walls would withstand the tap dancers at least until class ended. When the instructor opened the door after the second class (we didn't get to watch any other classes), Eleanor was angry again. The instructor told me Eleanor had danced very well during the first half of the class, but then for some unknown reason, had completely shut down after 15 minutes. She sat on the rug and ignored everyone. I chatted with the lady who runs the YMCA's tot watch, where I leave the kids when I work out. "She doesn't talk to me or any of the other kids, but she plays with her brother and sister." She even tested Eleanor out that day and gave me a detailed report when I picked them up. "If I ask her about herself, she ignores me. But if I talk about Theodore or Abigail, she'll perk right up."

Later that week, Eleanor sparked an idea. "Remember when I got ice cream, Mama? 'Cause I was really good in music class?" Aha! Once during Abigail's music therapy class (which my other two attend as well), Eleanor did a really, really good job listening to me and following the teacher's directions, even through some tempting moments. She did so great, I took her out for ice cream afterward.
"Oh, Eleanor! If you do a really good job in ballet and listen to your teacher, we can get ice cream!" We, again, practiced dance moves all week, arrived early to tour the classroom, and discussed the teacher's new glasses. I contemplated asking the teacher if I could sit in on the class, acting as an aide of sorts for Eleanor, but in the end, I opted to wait in the unairconditioned lobby where the tap dancers were the loudest they'd ever been, and wondered what moron put the pre-ballerinas downstairs and the teenage tap dancers upstairs.

And when the teacher opened the door? Eleanor had regressed. Back to pure rug-sitting.

"We're going to get ice cream, Mama?"

Girlfriend did not take the news that she couldn't get ice cream very well.

But the lesson hit home for her. That fourth and final week, Eleanor showed me all kinds of new moves she'd seen the other kids do that I didn't know about and emphasized everything with, "And I'm going to listen to the teacher so I can have ice cream!" She'd run around the house on her tip toes with her arms spread wide. "I'm doing airplane, Mama, cause I can listen to the teacher cause I can have ice cream!"

I had really high expectations for that last class, certain that she'd seen the classroom and teacher enough to overcome some of her shyness, bolstered completely by the promised ice cream. But then a sub walked in the door. I saw Eleanor sitting down as the new teacher closed the door.

After 30 loud, sweaty minutes in that stupid lobby, the door opened and an angry Eleanor glowered at me from the rug. As I took off her ballet slippers and handed her purple Frozen sandals, I decided to take pity on her shy soul.

She's even too shy to get her picture taken.

At least she made it through all four classes. I mean, she didn't have much of a choice seeing as I physically made her go, but in reality, she did make it through the entire summer semester. I'm one of those moms who think it's really important to follow through on commitments. I was allowed to bail on commitments as a kid, and I think it taught me some bad habits.

And I do understand what crippling anxiety is like. As a kid, I used to take a book with me to family holiday parties so I could hide in a cousin's room and ignore all social interactions. I do really appreciate that my parents let me bring a book everywhere. Merely being at a loud, crowded party took me significantly out of my comfort zone, I don't think I could have handled it if I had been pushed further.

During one loud, sweaty lobby sesh, it struck me that I was doing all this to make Eleanor feel special, but what she really loves, what makes her feel really special, is shopping with me. She would have been perfectly happy to merely accompany me to Meijer and grocery shop. My local Meijer has a Coke Freestyle machine and Eleanor is over the moon when we split a strawberry Powerade, sipping with free abandon through the aisles. She's so proud to take it in and out of the cart's wiry cup holder all by herself whenever she desires.

I think we both learned some lessons this summer, and although I don't carry around regret about the class, I wouldn't do it again if given the chance. I asked Eleanor over ice cream, "Is ballet scary or fun?"
She thought for a moment.
"Scary." Pause. "Cause I like it."
Hmmm. Okay. Not sure why she thinks "cause" is a conjunction, but I get the picture. Ballet took her way outside of her comfort zone. But she didn't hate it. At least there's that.

We're a lot alike, I guess!