27 September 2012

Another Abigail Post

Abigail is sleeping. This is unusually 1. Because she is sleeping; 2. Because she has been asleep for four hours and she woke up late this morning. Abigail is cutting teeth like no one's business. She's got four coming in right now that I know about, plus I think she has a bit of a cold. After a few days of trying orajel, frozen foods, and letting her watch Blues Clues (free on Amazon Instant with Prime right now), I was at the end of my rope. She was whiny, clingy to the point that I couldn't even leave her alone to go to the bathroom, not taking her full naps, and banging her head against the floor/table/side of the coffeetable every time I turned around. I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier, but yesterday evening, I dug through my cupboard to find my old (thankfully not expired) stash of baby Tylenol left over from heart surgery. 30 minutes later, she was giggling and making faces at me from her high chair while I cooked dinner. Somewhere in the early hours of a very long night (long, boring story about our radiators - which finally kicked on by-the-way), I heard her whining in her sleep, so I slipped into her room and gave her another dose of Tylenol. She normally wakes up around 6:30am, but I didn't hear from her again until she woke up at 9am sleepily signing "eat." I fed her, dragged her to a fabric store (hey, it was only 1.8 miles away, and I drove), and put her back down when I got home a little after 10am. She woke up around 2pm, I gave her another dose and she fell asleep on my shoulder while I washed the dropper.

It's so quiet around here, I feel like Matt took Abigail out for the afternoon, and I'm home alone. But anyway, while the Chica sleeps, I'll update you as to how she's doing.

She is 16-months-old now and weighs just under 16lbs. Just to give you an idea, the average female baby weighs 16lbs around 6 months of age. I LOVE that Abigail is so tiny, though. Not only do clothing, car seats, and baby toys that depend on height (like pull-to-stand toys) last much longer, but I can also carry Abigail much more easily in the sling. She is around 29-30 inches or so long, which is actually on the charts in the 10th percentile. The average baby is her length when they are 13-months-old, so Abigail is pretty tall for her weight. When most people see her, they guess that she is about 9-months-old. One time when I was on the train, a guy mis-calculated her weight by 10 months. When he found out her real age, he accused me of not gaining enough weight when I was pregnant. I just smiled politely and turned away. Considering I gained 60 pounds during the pregnancy, I wonder how much weight he thinks I should have gained in order to ensure a proper-sized 16-month-old.

She loves standing and finds every opportunity to stand against everything, no matter how unstable (for example, a rocking chair). She is frustrated by our lack of toys that she can play with while standing, but I'm frustrated with how much baby toys cost. The nearest decent baby resale shop is about 45 minutes of stop-and-go traffic away, so I tried to construct a play area out of boxes, but she wasn't satisfied. My plan is to wait until physical therapy starts and talk to the therapist about which toys will be most beneficial for the price.

Abigail is ostentatiously determined not to learn any more signs. She is still confident that "more" really means "eat" and seems to have forgotten all the others she used to know. Abigail's speech therapist is fluent in baby sign language and once we start speech therapy, I plan to pester her endlessly for tips. If you're sitting near her, but not looking at her, she'll crane her neck around to try to catch your eye. She's also started reaching out to touch my arm when she wants my attention.

Speaking of therapy, it is finally no longer the state's fault we aren't receiving any, and the blame has been transferred to Abigail's pediatrician. Despite four calls from me and two calls from the services coordinator over the course of three weeks, nothing has been done, just excuses made.

I've been trying to let Abigail feed herself as much as possible, so that she has some outlet to prove her independence. Since it would be more fruitful for me to bang my own head against the floor/table/side of the coffeetable instead of turning over a spoon and bowl of mush to Abigail, we've been eating a lot of grilled cheese and shredded chicken. She's pretty proud of herself, though. Now I just need to teach her to change her own diaper.

I'd like to insert a random baby picture. I actually took this one about a month ago and then never posted it. It's pretty cute that she's already into books. Although, I guess considering that she has extra genes from two book loving parents, she didn't stand much chance:

In her free time, Abigail likes to watch fire engines, ambulances (all part of the beauty of living within .5 mile of TWO firehouses) semis, and pretty much anything with a diesel drive by. She also loves ogling other people's dogs when we take walks. Somehow she's discovered that she loves puppies even though we don't have a dog. One of our elderly neighbors has a giant, old, newfoundland that used to be a therapy dog. She invited us over to play anytime. Abigail's pretty stoked.

It sounds like Abigail finally woke up from her Winkle-esq nap, so I suppose I'd better sign off. Please allow me to apologize for the inevitable typos.

24 September 2012

A Post About Me

This post will be dual-purpose. I wanted to write down some of my thoughts about a discussion that evolved from one of my recent posts and also update you about a few things related to me : ) So I'll write the two and separate them with a pretty little spacer-thing. I also have plans for an Abigail update and a Matt update, that latter post will be written by the hubby himself. In other news, I am writing this to you from beneath a huge pile of blankets because we have no heat. Something is wrong with our radiators and the-man-I'll-call-Vladimir-the-maintenance-man isn't big on...fixing things...or doing it promptly...so yeah, the low last night was 41 degrees.

* * * * *

Recently I wrote about duty as a sign of love and respect and being role model for our kids. A friend brought up a very excellent point that being a stay-at-home mom has "no upward mobility" so "every function you perform is almost an isolated act of the will." When you work outside of the home, like my husband, you have a lot of external motivation (a boss, getting paid, not getting fired) and incentives (promotions, raises, in our case, a job after this one ends) to be dutiful. I worked outside the home for several years, and I completely relate. It's not easy, agreed, but there is a clear structure in place that helps you plug along when you're having a discipline-less day.

At home (be you a stay-at-home-mom or freelancer or door-to-door salesman), external motivation is significantly harder to come by. For example, this is honest-to-goodness my to-do list for today:
-clean the litter pan
-clean the kitchen
-make baby food
-call the pediatrician
-review the book club book
-go to book club
About the only one of those things I have to do today is clean the kitchen. There is enough baby food leftover that I don't have to make more today. I never promised to always blog on Mondays. I can call the pediatrician tomorrow. In fact, I don't even have to go to book club if I don't want to! Could you imagine if Matt were to decide not to go to a meeting or to put off reviewing the contract his boss left on his desk that morning? But there is nothing to stop me from never blogging or cleaning the litter pan again, except my own discipline.

There are also very few incentives when staying at home. My husband may be good at thanking me for making dinner, but Abigail? The one I spend all day every day with? She doesn't even know what the sign for "thank you" is, let alone how to use it. No one is going to pay me to change her diaper and promotions in the world of mommyhood don't even make sense. "There's no moving past level one of diapers and dinner and cleaning," my friend insightfully wrote. "Every function you perform is almost an isolated act of the will." I'm one of those people who likes to finish a project in one sitting. I like to cross it off my to-do list and never look back. But dishes keep coming back. Every day. Sometimes twice a day. Sometimes I have days where I boycott dishes (or laundry or vacuuming) and I refuse to look in the kitchen (or the closet or the corners of my house where dust bunnies colonize) for a few days until finally it gets so bad (let's be real here) someone is coming over and I'm too embarrassed for them to see my kitchen (or the "laundry day" outfit or that I let my child play on this floor) and I have to clean.

Some nights I lay in bed, wishing I was sleeping, and thinking about how I don't want to face tomorrow because I did nothing useful that day and knowing that drumming up enough discipline to thanklessly take care of three people and two cats for the rest of my life makes me not want to get out of bed the next morning. Back when I was in the doldrums of post-partum depression, my doctor told me to observe a few key tenets:
-Eat right
-Get enough sleep
-Get out of the house
-Get me-time
When I'm laying in bed feeling depressed, I repeat these things like a mantra to myself and search for the weakest one so I can focus on it.

I recently realized that getting me-time is my weak link right now. Sometimes me-time takes the form of a book and a coffeshop on a Saturday afternoon, but sometimes me-time looks like a night out with the girls. I was feeling very lonely and hopeless so I vowed the next day to check out meetup.com and try to find myself a group of stay-at-home moms. I found one. An amazing one. A very, very active one that encompasses play dates, girls' nights out, book clubs, the whole nine yards. When I logged online and looked at their calendar, it was a smorgasbord of activities so jam-packed that I found something that looked interesting at least once a week for the next two months! I'm choosing to take it slowly, something twice or three times a month, because I'm not a very social person and I don't want to get burned out. Having this group gives me a lot of benefits, but it boils down to a few key things: support as a mother, affirmation that I make valuable contributions, a larger comfort zone.

Even though I have an arsenal of things to give me the mental stamina I need, drumming up discipline everyday is always work. Some days it's harder or easier, but it'll never end. A friend/role model of mine recently referenced a post she had written a little while back that I thought did a great job talking about being a stay-at-home mom and managing a family.

And at the end of the day, whether we're talking about it at ladies' nights, play dates, writing about it in comments sections, or reading about it on blogs, discussing the battles unique to life at home makes me feel way more normal when Abigail chucks a block across the room and I think to myself, Maybe we'll just stop at one kid.

* * * * *

Okay, so here's the part about me. I thought about calling this post "A Mommy Update," because the first half is all about stay-at-home moms and the second half is about me, a mom. But I have read a little bit about the dangers of making "mommy" the only version of yourself. On top of being a mom, I'm also a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, a granddaughter, a friend, a writer, a reader, a crafter, and an amateur runner, geographer, and psychologist. All these things work together to make up me. So I don't want to put myself in a box of just one, especially since this part of the post is supposed to be about me, not Abigail.

I've already told you about the SAHM (stay-at-home moms) group that I joined. I have also been trying very, very hard to lose weight. I gained (cringing here) 60 pounds when I got pregnant with Abigail (entirely through my own bad choice of using food to deal with the stress of the heart condition and the moving-while-8-months-pregnant). After she was born, I started exercising, but I didn't really reign in the eating. Exercise for me has never been a problem, but one can't lose weight when she eats enough french fries to make up for the run she took that morning. I flirted with an on-again-off-again diet before getting serious this summer. After lots of hard work in the excerise and dieting department, I am now within 10 pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight! Matt and I broke out all of our winter clothes this weekend (which, may I remind you, I haven't seen since fall 2008 - the winter after I got married!) and most of them fit! Some of my clothes (including my winter coat) are still a bit too tight and finding a stack of five pairs of jeans in great condition still two sizes down from where I am now are a big motivator. I still had some pounds to drop (in the neighborhood of 20-30) when I got pregnant, so my journey won't end in 10 lbs. But after having the discipline to take off what didn't fall off on it's own after birth, I feel confident in my ability to keep at it. In the meantime, I am feeling great about myself : )

The second big focus in my life right now is financial. I did some researching and planning and wrote a four-page memo that outlines how long it'll take us to pay off our law school debt, built up a 6-month emergency fund, and save for a down payment on a house (all steps part of the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover). It was pretty exciting to read the final report and see what kinds of things we're capable if we stay focused.

So I was cruising along with my weight loss goals and financial goals and trying to make friends when I picked up a book at the library, totally on a whim. I started reading it and it hit me that my prayer life took a long walk off a short pier when we left Florida. We left our built-in religious community and failed to supplement by ourselves and here I was making fitness and money my top priorities. I used the tips at the end of each chapter to start a daily Bible reading habit, I chose a religious book to accompany my novel on the coffee table in guilt tripping me to read more, and I put more effort into saying nightly prayers with Abigail. Slowly but surely I found myself comparing things in my life to stuff I'd read in the Bible, and making short, quick prayers to God while I did dishes. A few weeks went by of establishing new routines before I faced my next challenge. I was at confession, confessing that I suck at seeing my own sins, when the priest advised me to turn my once-a-quarter examination of conscience into a weekly one. It quickly became a daily thing for me because apparently I spend a lot of time in bed staring at the ceiling not sleeping. Being honest with myself about my wrong-doings is make me more humble, and want to draw closer to God. The third and most recent step came a few weeks ago when I caught 30 seconds of the readings at church before Abigail decided to spit out her pacifier and yell bloody murder because we were not at home during nap time. It was the part about faith without works being dead. I meditated on it for a few days before bringing it up, you guessed it, in bed one night while I wasn't sleeping. I told Matt that I wished there was a way I could use my strengths in my own time to increase my faithful acts. We brainstormed and came up with two feasible ideas: 1. Crocheting winter hats and donating them to homeless shelters in Chicago; and 2. Posting an ad on Craigslist for free resume services. Send me your resume, I'll email you some follow-up questions, and I'll dedicate one hour to updating your resume for you, with a goal to get back to you within 48 hours of receiving that answered questionnaire. I can help the less fortunate with the only thing I have right now: time, in a way that perfectly fits in with my strengths, schedule, and comfort zone.

Anyway, this post is long enough and nap time is over. Happy Monday, everyone!

20 September 2012

Adventures in Housewifery, Cooking Edition

I knew things were bad when my husband, who Does. Not. Cook., noticed that we needed more pot holders. I immediately got defensive. "What do you need more pot holders for?" I asked accusingly, pointing out that he never used them. He made the valid point that he makes coffee in a french press every morning and therefore opens the pot holder drawer, pulls one out, and puts it under the press when he sets it on the counter every morning, but I refused to accept defeat. "Are we ever 'out,' and you need one that we don't have?" I hate buying pot holders because the quality is always so disappointing. I received a bunch of pot holders and oven mitts when Matt and I got married, but they caught fire during one of my first-ever dinner parties. Let me explain.

Growing up, I did a fair amount of the cooking at a young age. Both of my parents worked full time, and, for two years, my sister and I were homeschooled while they both worked. My dad worked nights and my mom worked days, and I decided, after reading one too many American Diaries, that one of my chores would be to cook dinner. I started out with the basics: Hamburger Helper and making the side dishes to frozen salisbury steak. Once I'd mastered the art of boxed and frozen dinners, I started venturing out into the great world of homemade. So there I was, 12-years-old, trying my hand at everything from chicken to croissants to cookies. I was as much of a perfectionist as a child as I am now, and I spent many a nights in tears over crunchy brownies and undercooked pasta. I'd had about 10 years of practice by the time I got married at 21, so my husband was spared the guinea pig years to which I submitted my family. I was a confident chef with specialties in bread and dessert. I was versed enough that I could make due without recipes - I could tell by the smell of a spice if it'd go better on chicken or beef. I become so confident that it spilled over into arrogance. Now I'd cry if my contribution to potlucks wasn't declared the best dish on the table. I insisted on making everything from scratch - sauces, frostings, dinner rolls - and holidays took me days just to cook for and we never even hosted!

Now that I was a married woman bent on proving my kitchen prowess, we started having people over. One night we had Matt's brother and his wife over and I made some lemon chicken. I refused to use a recipe and mixed up my own lemon herb marinade, excited to bask in the compliments sure to follow a "secret recipe." We were all sitting around the table, the apartment smelt delicious, a banquet of food spread before us. And then I bit in. It. was. awful. The driest, blandest chicken ever cooked. With each bite I forced, I felt more and more humiliated. My heart sank to my toes as my pride turned to curdled milk. Somehow, my incredibly gracious in-laws managed to clean their plates and even smile about it. "It was a little dry," my husband conceded as I bored holes into the ceiling with my eyes as we lay in bed that night.

After such an experience, you'd think I'd learn, but I didn't. A few months later we held another dinner party and I decided to try a new dish, although I did glance at a recipe for this one. French onion soup, I'd planned. I sliced the onions thin and let the soup boil all day. As the afternoon wore on, I found myself needing to add more and more water to the pot. It kept boiling so low that the onions were exposed. By the time my guests arrived, the apartment was sweltering, my hair was stuck to the back of my neck, and the soup wasn't done. Matt kept everyone entertained in the next room while I tried to speed along the process.
"How's it going in there?" Matt called when the conversation began to fill with awkward, hungry pauses.
"Oh, great!" I called back, trying to keep the panic I felt out of my voice. "Almost done!"
I slipped on two oven mitts, leaned over my incredibly hot stove, reached my hands into the oven, and my oven mitts caught fire. Bright orange flames shot up from my hands. I let out a shriek of fear, paused, just staring at them for a second, wondering how to put out flames, then threw them on the counter and started beating them with a kitchen towel. Burnt pieces of the fabric stuffing flew off my mitts and drifted to the ground around me like snow in a snow globe. The distinct smell of burning fabric filled the kitchen and permeated the living room. I raced around the kitchen trying to find something with which to pull the bread out of the oven and tried desperate to assuage everyone to ignore the smell, stop asking questions, and for heaven's sake, stay out of the kitchen!

And in the end, the soup was too salty.

Since that fateful dinner party, I vowed that never again will I serve an unpracticed meal to guests. I still have, a few times, much to my dismay, but almost always regretted it. I also settled on buying a few pre-made items, like brown-n'-serve rolls and bags of frozen, pre-cut veggies, when I have an elaborate main course and complicated dessert. I have also taken to reading a damn recipe. I even collected a few recipe books, dedicated a folder to print-outs of recipes I find online, and even bought a page-holder-up-thingy from the dollar bin during a back-to-school sale so that my recipes don't slide into the pool of spilled oil.

So, anyway, back to the husband who Does. Not. Cook. noticing that we needed more pot holders. I had crocheted a few after that fateful dinner party to replace the ones that were destroyed, but as the others began to fall apart (without help from my mad fire-setting cooking skills), I was too mad at them to replace them. But at that moment, my husband standing in the doorway holding up the tattered contents of my pot holder door, I knew we'd hit rock bottom. Matt went to work and I waited until Abigail took a nap, pulled out the scrap yarn, and cranked out a three in my one-hour allotment. (They're fast, easy, and a good thing for beginners in the learning-how-to-crochet stage). Then I threw them into the drawer and left them as a surprise present for Matt the next morning.

While I was making them, it dawned on me that these would make a really good wedding/housewarming present. I could do them in one color or coordinate the colors to make the wedding party or the season, add a nice little border around the edges, wrap them up in ribbon and ta-da! Or I could get fancy and follow some directions and make a fancy one. For family and friends, I could even make matching wash clothes. Classy, eh? Maybe I hear an Etsy shop calling...

18 September 2012

Pent Up Autumn

I was mulling over what to write about this morning, but nothing came to me. Maybe about how Abigail's been trying to take her morning nap at 9am? No, too complain-y. How about how I turned our old, worn out bedsheets into a rag rug, making me feel all thrifty and wholesome? That's not enough to constitute a blog post. I wrote and rejected posts in my head all morning as I fed Abigail, changed her, played with her, took a shower, and got ready for the day. But as I hiked up the blinds and struggled to open our old, creaky windows that swell in the humidity, I was hit with a blast of arctic air. That's right, arctic. Not just cool or chilly, but arctic. Cue post. Signs of Autumn.

1. Condensation on the windows:

2. Socks:

3. Sweaters:

4. $.99 wreath (our only fall decoration. More coming soon):

5. Snuggled up kitties:

 6. Warm mochas:

6. Rich, pumpkin orange crafts:

7. Hoods that we pull off to make blurry pictures:

Abigail and I decided to enjoy the crisp bite by taking a walk through our favorite park.

 To say it was windy would be to make a gigantic understatement.

Abigail's jogging stroller comes with a tether that I'm supposed to wear around my wrist when I jog so that if I trip and fall, this strap will keep the stroller from rolling away. It's also attached to the bottom of the stroller so that if I go down, I don't pull her over with me. Anyway, the wind was so strong that I had to keep the tether tied to my wrist otherwise the stroller would blow away when I stopped to tie my shoe, or pull Abigail's hood back up.

I've insisted that we celebrate my birthday, which admittedly isn't for another almost three weeks, at a cider mill. I don't care if the nearest one is an hour away. I don't care if by October, it'll be too cold for us to go outside without freezing to death. Donuts and cider. And red, orange, and yellow trees. It has been four years since I had autumn. The street I live on has a lot of trees, but they have not yet started to change color.

Do you want to know a secret about my apartment? Do you see that rectangular feature above my back door? You can't tell from the inside, but...

From the outside, you can see stained glass! My neighbors don't have any. I wonder why my unit does? I wonder why they covered it up?

Okay, well that is all I have for you this Tuesday. Stay tuned, though, on Thursday I plan to tell you about the time I set my oven mitt on fire.

15 September 2012


Not too long ago, I finally got around to reading Dr. Dobson's Bring up Girls. It was my first foray into Dobson, but I was quite familiar with his work as my husband was raised on Dobson the way I'm raising my kids on Dr. Sears. I hear a lot in my conservative religious circle about the emasculation of men in our society and the priest at the church we were married at gave several homilies about the father-daughter relationship, but I don't know much about the mother-daughter (or even mother-son) relationship, so I was pretty excited to sink my teeth into some good, old-fashioned morals and values. I was disappointed. Dobson spends nearly the entire book trying to convince the reader that there even is a problem! When he does venture to discuss parent-child relationships, he focuses almost entirely on the father. Even in the chapter for moms, he makes several asides into fatherhood. It was very disappointing, and I walked away with one lesson: teach your daughters manners. "That's right," I railed to Matt. "I should have tea parties and teach my girls where to put the dessert spoon." I was furious and feeling demeaned, but I reviewed the chapter and gleaned a bit more out of the mom chapter: teaching my kids manners is teaching them to respect others.

I mulled over this tidbit over the course of the next few days, while I was sucked into a new book, this one a popular novel called The Dovekeepers. Without giving anything away, the book is divided up into four sections, each told from the point of view of a Jewish woman during the second fall of the Jewish temple in 70 AD. For the most part, this women are very devout, obedient, humble women, even as their world collapses around them. One theme that really stood out to me was how dutiful the women were. They are very, very devoted to their men and follow them through extreme peril, always blessing them, cooking their meals, and observing all the Jewish purification rituals. The duty they perform for their men is a sign of great love and respect.

Duty is a word our society rather rejects, along with responsible and discipline. Duty is pretty simple, I bet most people could define it without trying, "Something you do because you have do," "an obligation," maybe we could even find a few people to say, "moral obligation." Our society tends to place importance on intelligence and independence. If someone were to ask you why you loved your spouse, you'd probably list "smart" and "funny" among the top five. I recently read in a poll, that I thought I bookmarked but can't now find, that these two traits were that high. But what if you woke up tomorrow to find that your spouse had completely lost his/her sense of humor. Would you divorce them just because they didn't laugh at a Baby Blues comic strip? Did you ever break up with someone because their sole flaw was that they didn't tell funny enough jokes? Of course not! Because "humor" is not an essential ingredient to a healthy marriage or friendship! It might be something that initially attracts you to a person, but it certainly isn't the reason a marriage blossoms. The same is true for intelligence and attractiveness and independence. But if you woke up tomorrow and your spouse was no longer kind or loving or respectful, you'd probably find your marriage on rocky soil. And if s/he stopped helping around the house or running errands or making you soup when you're sick - I think we can all tell a story of how a lack of these things led someone we know to divorce. These tasks, obligations, duties, are all things that we undertake that show devotion and respect to our friends and family. Teaching these lessons to my daughters is what I am charged with as a parent.

That realization made me feel a lot less demeaned. More like intimidated and daunted. But I'd had my first revelation.

I realized step before I even started Dobson's book. I came to me when one of the cats was trying to scratch at something she shouldn't have been. I was playing with Abigail in her room and didn't feel like getting up, opening the baby gate, and properly stopping the cat, so I just threw a stuffed animal at her. She actually bolted toward Abigail, who took off like a shot for a chance to pet the beloved kitty. "Gentle!" I called after her, hoping to save the cat from loosing fist-fulls of fur. The irony of my telling Abigail to be gentle while I was throwing things struck me like lightening. Um, hello? "Do as I say and not as I do" is not an effective parenting method. Or any kind of method. After I finished my two books, I realized that in order to raising respectful children and keep my husband happy at home (cheating is another theme in The Dovekeepers), I need to be respectful. Dutiful, even.

So I decided to start small, because how can we be trusted with big things if we can't be trusted with little things? All week I've been trying to do little things, like walking on the sidewalk instead of cutting across the grass, and cooking a real dinner instead of pancakes when I'm tired, and making a point to greet Matt at the door. Every family is different, so my duties won't be your duties, but in my house, Matt's duty is to go to work everyday, even when he's feeling tired and doesn't want to. My primary duty is at home. I'd dread coming home if every time I walked in the door the house was a mess, dinner hadn't been started, and my husband was watching reruns of True Life on MTV because he was feeling lazy for the third time that week. I'd certainly feel unloved and uncared for. Everyone is different, but when I hear people tell stories about how their grandmother always had dinner on the kitchen table the moment the husband got home from work, I'm envious. I want that happy, cozy, innocent little lifestyle of love, devotion, and simplicity. I want Abigail to learn to keep a house that is tidy, to throw parties that are enjoyable for all her guests, to be polite to the man-we'll-call-Vladimir-the-maintenance-man by not crushing the yard he so carefully tends. She will only learn those things if I live those things.

After I picked up a few more life lessons, I returned to Dobson's Bring up Girls with new-found insight to read between the lines. More than just manners, I need to teach my daughters etiquette, the code of polite behavior, because a kind, gracious, respectful woman is exemplary. And one who will find herself surrounded by love for the duration of her life.

12 September 2012

Tough Emotions

I should begin this post with a disclaimer. It's gonna be emotional. And I'm gonna say some things that are really hard to say -- things I debated for a few days if I wanted to say. I feel a lot of pressure to play the role of "ra-ra cheerleader," always toting that my life as a special needs mother isn't all that different from a mother whose kids all have 46 chromosomes. A lot of stereotypes circulate in my circle of family and friends about Ds, and I often feel that I need to have a perfect exterior in order to prove to everyone that I don't regret Abigail. But there are differences. And sometimes they cause a lot of pain. So this is going to be one of those posts where I put aside the advocate cheerleader pompoms and show you my vulnerable core. I've been meditating on this post for a few (five) days, so hopefully it'll be a composed emotional post, if such a thing isn't an oxymoron.

So last Friday, we had our big team meeting to get Abigail's therapy started.

Very quickly: the federal government requires that special needs children be given all necessary resources within reason to achieve the same goals as their mainstream peers, but the methods are handled independently by the state. Each state runs their own "Early Intervention" program that covers the first three years of a child's life. (So far we've experienced Michigan, Florida, Michigan again, and Illinois. Florida, your program kicks ass).

An initial intake meeting is scheduled, ours took place last Friday, and consists of a physical therapist, an occupation therapist, a speech and language pathologist, a developmental therapist, and a services coordinator. They always stand out in front of the house until everyone has arrived, pile in the front door, introduce themselves all at once, and sit in a big circle around the kid. The speech therapist is always very animated and annunciates very enthusiastically and Abigail usually favors her. But anyway, they sit in a big circle and subject the child to rigorous tests that include handing them blocks and offering them Puffs. It’s pretty much an hour of playtime. They’re observing Abigail to see how she moves, if she’s motivated to move, how her problem solving skills are coming along, stuff like that. And Abigail handled herself beautifully on Friday. The meeting ran through naptime, but she stayed in good spirits, did what was asked of her, and for the most part, reacted pretty accurately to how she normally does things at home without the spotlight.

Me and these meetings have a love-hate relationship. On one hand, I rock them. The meeting was scheduled about three weeks in advance, so I had drawn up “Chica Cheats” note cards for each therapist that spelled out exactly what Abigail’s strengths and weakness are. I answered questions clearly and concisely. When the therapist moved to start a test, I was able to tell what she was gunning for and offered alternate toys that Abigail was more familiar with and with which she was able to perform. Terminology doesn’t throw me, and I don’t get frightened off by the mound of paperwork that needs to be filled out. Plus what parent doesn’t want to sit around and talk about her kid? The majority of the therapists we’ve worked with so far love kids and love their job, so they are more than willing to sit around and listen to me tell stories about Abigail’s newest skills and the services coordinator needs to know all about the pregnancy and birth for her records. Plus, Abigail has always been very “high functioning” physically and I usually hear a lot of compliments about how wonderful she’s doing. But after the praise and the play and the bonding comes the evaluations. One-by-one they go around the room and say tough things like, “her hand-eye coordination is at the level of a 7-9 month old, so that’s pretty good.” And a little part of me dies. Right there in front of everyone. 7-9 months old?! 7-9 months old is NOT good. That’s bad. That’s downright AWFUL! 3 months ago, when she was 12 months old, we met with a behavioral psychologist who said she was functioning at a 7-9 month old level. Are you telling me she hasn’t progressed AT ALL in THREE MONTHS?!
And you sit there as a parent in this circle of professionals. The confidence and the note cards fade away. All eyes are on you and everyone is nodding happily as if 7-9 months is good as the occupational therapist says a few other things you try desperately to concentrate on even though your face is red and your blood is surging and your heart is beating against your lungs. And a little piece of you is dead.
Because I never wanted this for Abigail.
After three evals, I finally said, “Don’t tell me what level she’s functioning at. I don’t want to know. That’s really hard to hear as a parent.”
There was a moment of awkward silence before everyone started chiming in.
“Oh no, she’s doing just great!”
“Don’t focus on the number!”
“Well, I actually think that’s pretty good for her age!”
And then they start telling you stories about this other kid they just saw who hasn’t even started straw cups yet and he’s almost two. And for those of you who missed the post where I rant about things people say, telling a mom her kid is doing well because you can point out some other kid somewhere who isn’t doing as well only shows her how little she feels understood and listened to.

The hands-down hardest thing for me to deal with is watching Abigail interact with kids her age, but functioning at a higher level, or kids who are at her level, but much younger age-wise. It kills me. When Abigail was 12-months-old, she was playing with her 8-month-old cousin on the floor. Her mother walked up to me and said, “Awww, they’re so cute – they’re at about the same level!”
I smiled, choked back tears, and another little piece of me died.

And so here comes the part that I bundle up when I need to play cheerleader. This sucks! I hate it! And I’ll be dealing with it for the rest of my life! I love Abigail and I don’t really think about Down syndrome on a day-to-day basis, but when I picture Abigail’s future, I imagine her as this miracle child who surpasses every expectation. She has her own meaningful job and lives in an apartment above our garage. She drives a car and has a dog. She doesn’t get Leukemia or Alzheimer’s, she doesn’t wear glasses or hearing aids, and she outlives me. So when I get off the train and see a mom and her adult daughter with Down syndrome standing on the platform and the girl is crying because she is scared of the train and she’s overweight and her thin, stringy hair is a mess, and her coke-bottle thick glasses are bent, my heart stops beating and my stomach jumps into my throat and all I can think is Please, no, God. Not us. Lord, not Abigail. Even if Abigail is functioning at an amazingly high level, it’ll still be a very low level on a mainstream chart. The theory of this hit home when we met with that behavioral psychologist who showed me on a little handmade IQ chart.
“This is the average mainstream IQ,” she indicated with a line. “And this is considered delayed. This line right here.” She drew another line somewhat below the first line. Then she drew a line way down at the bottom of the page. She shaded the area between the delayed line and the line at the bottom of the page.
“This is the area where people with Down syndrome are.”
It was below the retarded line. Retarded, the label given to the point where the “delayed” line crossed the “y-axis.”

It’s hard – these emotions I’m dealing with are very, very difficult and talking about them is painful. I recognize that I’m not seeing that girl on the train platform through her mother’s eyes, or even my eyes. I’m seeing her as everyone else on the train sees her and I’m thinking about how one day they’ll think that about Abigail. I feel wrong for thinking this way. I feel angry and defensive when I think of people offering me bits of advice. I am scared people will think I don’t truly love Abigail because I’m failing to see other people with her condition with the eyes with which they deserved to be seen. When Abigail was born, it was I don’t want this. But now it has become I don’t want this for Abigail. This life of struggle and heartache. I am still at the stage in my life where Down syndrome is an affliction I want to remove. Almost all of my friends who have children with Down syndrome are much farther along in their journey. They all say, “If I could take away this extra chromosome, I wouldn’t do it. It would fundamentally change my child – I couldn’t do it.” I’ve always believed that when I can honestly say those words, I know I’ll be healed. But right now, all I can honestly say is, “How can I say she’s not Down syndrome if Down syndrome is a fundamental part of her being?”

I know that someday I’ll look back on this post and I’ll cry, not because I hate that little “+21,” but for the hurting girl who had to find her way back to happy. For the pain I know that she suffered. I’ll look back and I’ll see all the flaws in my logic that I can’t see now. I’ll look back and remember how hard it was creating that new outlook on life that didn’t define success in terms of academic achievements and hand-eye coordination. There is so much more to a person. Characteristics like holiness, humility, honesty, responsibility, thoughtfulness, discipline. And you don’t need to have a high IQ to have any of those things. It is one thing to know something in theory and another to live in out in reality. And the only way to live it out in reality is to live it.
I have good days and bad. Some days I can see the girl on the train platform for who she really is and feel the ra-ra cheerleader deep in my bones. Other days I want to run away with my family and reject the world before it can reject us. Her and me.

So yeah, that was hard. I'm worried about who might take offense to what I said. And what they'll say to me. That was also emotional. But I warned you. There’s more I could say, lots more emotions that need to be worked through. But I think that’s all I want to deal with right now. So where do we go from here? Forward. Because that’s where we always go. I worked really damn hard to try to bring a healthy balance into my life by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, getting me-time, and getting out of the house. I struggled quite a bit when Abigail was born with managing my post-partum depression without medication, and I worked very hard to build a foundation that helped me cope with my emotions. I can now reap the rewards, which are to rely on those good habits I created when I’m feeling weak. So I’m going to keep moving forward with two final thoughts.

Number 1: The greater the conflict, the more beautiful the triumph. I read that on a poster in a doctor’s office once. Mine and Abigail’s lives are harder than the mainstream. But our victories are so much sweeter too. I know this and I’ve been living it.

Number 2: Right now, I am grateful for a writing habit that lets me work through and reflect on tough emotions.

10 September 2012

Playing Tourists

It's Monday, and you all know how I feel about Mondays. It is 9:17am CST and I've already vacuumed, straightened up the apartment (which basically means just put the things that are out, away. Like sweatshirts that have been left laying across dining room chairs or renters insurance that would be better in the safe than on the coffee table), washed the dishes, cleaned the litter pan, and taken out the trash. That was after I fed and changed Abigail and made Matt's lunch. Mondays are something I'm good at.

So now I'm blogging. It's nice to sit down for a minute while Abigail quietly takes blocks out of one container and puts them in another. She is much more likely to engage in independent play in the mornings, which is part of the reason I try to get so much done so quickly - by the afternoon, I won't have the same luxury.

Wednesday was Matt's last birthday not-being-30, and we very much enjoyed some Snickers Bar Pie. I meant to take a picture of it, but I never did, so I'll just forward along the recipe, which comes complete with a picture. It tasted amazing. If you know someone who likes Snickers, then I highly suggest this pie - it tastes exactly like a Snickers bar. Seriously, who knew peanut butter and whipped cream could taste exactly like nougat? And who knew that empty whipped cream containers made such great baby toys? Neither Matt nor Abigail nor I, but they do. We also implemented our new present-opening tradition on Wednesday as well. You see, Matt and I have long bemoaned how anti-climactic present opening is. All day long you stare at the mound of presents, eager to know what the wrapped little delights contain. When the appointed time comes, you tear into them with reckless abandon. Or maybe you sit back and carefully unwrap each one, trying to guess what the present is before it is revealed to you. But either way, 10-15 minutes later, the present mound is gone and that's it. I remember one time bursting into tears when I was a kid because of the emotional letdown following present-opening. So last Christmas, Matt and I decided to open one present at a time throughout the day. Christmas Eve before bed? Open one present each. Christmas morning before Mass? Open one present each. Before breakfast? One present. After breakfast? One present. Sometimes we picked what we wanted to open, other times we picked one out for each other. Since Abigail was too young to understand, we would open one of her presents instead of our own to prolong the excitement. It was amazing! We got to enjoy each present for a while before moving on, there was always something else to look forward to, and our meager budget's worth of presents felt never-ending! So that's what we did on Wednesday. First thing in the morning, during breakfast, one secretly slipped in with his lunch, and one when he got home from work.

On Saturday, we celebrated Matt's birthday by taking a trip downtown. Once Abigail woke up from her morning nap, we headed out to the train station. Have you ever heard of the computer game, Half Life? It's a first person shooter game where you have to solve puzzles to advance through the story. Matt would play it and I would watch him while crocheting back when we first got married. It was our Saturday night ritual. But anyway, the setting is this deserted industrial complex and the train station near our apartment totally reminds us of Half Life: wooden platform that shakes when a train runs by, quiet location with not much foot traffic.

Cue the spider-heads. Anyway, we scored a front-car seat, which means we could see out the front of the train as we chugged along.

I love the train. I really do. I love cruising through the entrance gates, slipping my passcard into the little slot as if I have somewhere big and important to go. I love watching people get on and off the train at the various stops, admiring or poking fun at their style. I love the sense of independence that a person gets from traveling in a big city without a car. And then there are the people. Most of the time, I prefer to ride in silence and just people watch. But when the guy next to you has a story something along the lines of: "I just found out my girl is 2 months pregnant. I came up to the north side, got totally smashed, and lost my shirt. I just woke up and I have no idea how I got here. So I hoped a train to go back to the south side, where I live." And there he sat. In an undershirt with a wicked bad hangover.

Anyway, so we get off the train and start heading to our destination when we run into a crowd of people and a group of black kids standing behind a white line. They are encouraging people to come right up to the line, and Matt, because there is not a shy bone in his body, does. And so we have a front-row spot to see the coolest street show we've seen to date.

These kids were in sync, they were funny, they were animated, they did flips, and they high-fived Abigail because she high-fives now and she couldn't take her eyes off of them. I took a video of them; Although I think it's one of those "you had to be there" kind of things, I'll post the video anyway:

Anyway, we continued on our way and meandered over to Millennium Park. It's a huge, free park with tons of features. It feels a lot like I imagine Central Park would. A spot of green surrounded by giant skyscrapers. We stumbled across a huge reflective sculpture that some research told us is a $23,000,000 "bean." It's real name is the Cloud Gate, but everyone, including the plaque, called it a bean.

And what does a person do in a bean, you ask? They take their picture. When we walked up to it, that is what nearly every person was doing, so I decided to join the crowd.

We continued to wander around, walking along a bridge,

 Through the way cool Chase Fountains,

And ending at the gigantic Buckingham Fountain.

Which happens to be the destination place for weddings and quinceaneras.

That's a wedding party to the left, a quinceaneras in the middle, and another wedding party to the right. And her dress seriously out-shined them all:

We then decided to find ourselves some dinner, so we headed back into the frey:

Did you see the Sears Tower in the right vertical photo above? That's me foreshadowing. Anyway, we were grateful to rest our feet and satisfy our appetites, but what we were really looking to do was kill time. So when the restaurant closed, we wandered around the financial district because it was Matt's birthday and he's into that sort of thing.

Oh yeah, and this cool building that had the street signs bricked-in to the corner.

The sun sank lower and lower in the horizon as we browsed Barnes and Noble and listed off all the things we'd buy if money was no object. Until finally, when the sun was set and the sky was growing black, we ventured back out into the city. Our destination:

The Sears Tower. The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. (They call it the Willis Tower now, but my husband refuses to call it anything but the Sears Tower, so I'll keep referring to it as such in order to preserve marital bliss. Also, I took this picture earlier in the day, hence the blue skies : )

And that, my friends, was our main reason for venturing downtown on my husband's birthday. He wanted to climb the Sears Tower when we came to Chicago on our honeymoon, but heavy fog prevented us. So for four and a half years, he longed. Until finally, finally.

We did it.

At night.

The elevator was fast, taking less than a minute to go up 103 floors. It was so high, our ears popped on the way up.

At the top, Abigail promptly fell asleep, and Matt and I wanted around pointing out buildings we knew. "That's the Hancock building!" "There's Trump Tower!" "There's Merchandise Mart; the Diamond building; where I work!" And we walked out into the glass sky box. Which is exactly what it sounds like. And I took a video:

It was unbelievable. But that wasn't the end of our night. Oh no. I needed to get the picture. Matt and I had been discussing which picture I should use as my new header photo on my blog since Michigan. I wanted something classic Chicago that wasn't a cliche. We slowly worked through that it would be sweet if it could be a night picture. And then it hit me. I figured it all out on this day. Since it struck me, I spent the next few weeks trying to make it happen. But Saturday, I knew, was the day.

It was about a mile between where we were and where we wanted to be, but since we'd been on our feet all day and it was getting late, we decided to hop a train. We made it about two stops north before we realized, much to our dismay, that the late hour combined with the construction on the track, meant that this train wasn't following it's normal, daytime course, but was headed in the wrong direction! We got off, ran across the tracks (okay, okay, we actually took the little "pedestrian approved" bridge), and caught a different train headed back south. We only went one stop before the conductor announced that the late hour combined with the construction on the track meant our brown line was going to become an orange line in just a few stops. Just a few blocks from where we started, Matt and I got off and walked 1 mile through downtown Chicago in the dark. But we made it. And we didn't get robbed by drugged homeless men. And I got my shot!

A few Photoshop tweaks later, and voila!

A new banner. We made our way a few blocks to the train station. We were just about to enter the stairwell when we passed a Johnny Rockets. Their menu was visible through the window and I could only read one thing: Milkshakes. "Should we get one?!" I excitedly exclaimed in a tone of voice and with a look that said, "I'm totally buying one. Would you like to join me?" He did. So we did. And we found a train going in the right direction, and had not one, but two conversations with drunken men at 10:00 at night while we watched another angry drunk make a fool of himself. Abigail woke up and was under the impression that my milkshake was for her. So we shared a chocolate Johnny Rockets milkshake, which one of the three drunks assured me was the greatest milkshake in Chicago, as our train, headed in the right direction, carried us away.