30 September 2013

Fighting for Her

A few thoughts today, my friends. I have something big and exciting coming tomorrow, but I thought I'd try to squeeze one more post in since I haven't been too diligent about updating lately. I'm having some small health problems, nothing too serious, but now that we have health insurance, I've been catching up on long-lost doctor visits. It turns out your kidneys aren't supposed to hurt on a daily basis. Heh heh, who'd-a thought?

Anyway, we finally had the last testing/paperwork meeting and can finally begin Abigail's therapy services. Only two months after I made the initial call. Ugh, anyway, Michigan is much different than both Illinois and Florida in the way they structure their program. At most, kids in Michigan can only receive 50% of the services we were getting in Chicago. Because Abigail is doing so well, no one wants her "taking up" that many resources when "they could be going to a kid who really needs them." Now this is when I launch into an epic rant to my poor husband, but I'll spare you, dear readers. Suffice to say, we haven't worked our asses off for Abigail to succeed only to get her resources chopped 66%. So I went to battle. And while I did get Abigail the maximum number of hours/week permitted, I had to compromise on which services she'll be getting. And I'm a little disgruntled.

You see, all doctors, nurses, therapists, well-meaning friends say, "You know your daughter best!" But so few actually mean it in reality. "You know Abigail so well!" I hear at the beginning of a meeting only to find myself defending my decision not to send her to preschool half-way through the same meeting. They all stare at me kind of shocked. Like I'm refusing heart surgery for her or something.

I have nothing against preschool. I'm not ruling it out for all of my children. Lots of kids benefit from a little pre-kindergarden school and I might have one of those kids some day. But I know Abigail. And I know she would not thrive in preschool.
"I understand, she's your baby," someone tries to sympathetically reply. But that's not it. I mean, yes, she's my baby and watching her growing up is hard, but that's not why she won't thrive.
"No," I stated, getting passionate. "A complete stranger is going to be wiping her butt. She is going to be fully dependent on someone else to carry her up and down stairs." I realize now, after the pressure is off, what I was saying then.

Abigail is too vulnerable.

1. Abigail does not have any words. None. So she can't tell other kids to leave her alone. She can't tell the teacher if she needs help. She can't tell me if something went wrong at school that day. In fact, if her preschool teacher doesn't know sign language, Abigail can't even tell her if she's thirsty.

2. Abigail isn't an aggressive kid around other kids. Even just during play dates I keep an eye on her - she doesn't do a thing if someone else pushes her down, takes her toy, or even puts a pillow over her head. I know that teachers can't give 100% of attention to every student.

3. Abigail is still an unsteady walker. And while this will probably change by next fall (the local school system and I finally came to the agreement that January is too early for Abigail), she'll still be an entire year behind the other kids in practice. That leaves her really open to be left behind if they kids near unsteady footing or staircases.

4. Abigail has no interest in potty training. She doesn't even complain when she's wet. A complete stranger in my daughter's diaper region? No way.

5. During our last few weeks in Chicago, I bowed out of her therapy sessions so I could pack and every. single. therapist. reported that Abigail was significantly more "checked out" when I wasn't present. She wouldn't participate as much, she wasn't as vocal, and periodically she would leave the sessions to be alone. These are people she'd seen every week for a year. The people she was closest to other than Matt and I.

If I sent Abigail to preschool, I would be banishing my mommy-instincts to the basement and doing what a governmental organization recommends. A few therapists who've seen Abigail twice. In Chicago, no one ever brought up preschool to me. In Michigan, they discussed it the first time we met.

I thought I was the Chica expert?

And that brings me back to her therapy. Because Abigail doesn't vocalize any words, only signs them, she does not get credit in speech therapy in Michigan. She understands the word "kitty" if I say it, she can sign "kitty," she tells me (via sign language) about kitties in other people's windows, she tells Dad (via sign language) about the kitties if they did something bad during the day. But she gets no credit for the word/concept of "kitty" being insider her little head because her lips and tongue won't cooperate. So they're registering her at a 10-month-old level! Both her Chicago speech therapist, her pediatrician, and her geneticist all say that she uses signs like most two-year-olds use words. I consider communication to be one of Abigail's strong suits. But Michigan doesn't. So, considering the huge gap, they insist that if I want two hours/week of therapy, one of those hours must be speech therapy.

And to add insult to injury, I know more about speech therapy than her speech therapist. She asked me on our first session what techniques we use with Abigail. She hadn't heard of any of the ones I named. And she doesn't even know sign language.

They promise that we can change things without another epic paperwork meeting later if they aren't working. Fine. Let's play that game. Let's do things the government organizational way for a month or two. I'll be doing twice as much work with her at home to be sure she doesn't fall behind. And I'll be keeping track of what I do. And in two months we'll talk again. And I know this because I know this kid.

Down syndrome may affect everything else about her life. But it doesn't change the way her mama feels about her.

25 September 2013

A One-Car Family

We first became a one-car family about eight months after we said, "I do." Matt's car died (a hole in the radiator, I want to say) right as the economy collapsed and I was laid off. Plus we knew law school was in the works, so we just stuck with one car, and it was pretty easy. It stayed easy while we were in Florida. I dropped Matt off on campus before work and picked him up afterward. No time was wasted as he studied at the library before and after classes, and in the small town of Naples, going out of my way only added about a few extra minutes onto my commute. It was still easy after Abigail was born and I stopped working outside of the house. Campus was only about 10 minutes away from our apartment, so I could drive him if I needed the car, but usually I scheduled things around his class schedule, as he was home studying long before the 5pm deadline of most businesses. When we moved to Chicago, we were sure to get an apartment close to public transportation, which Matt took every single day, giving me free and clear access to the car.

To add blessed event to blessed event, we fully owned my car. When it died and we purchased our new car, we did so ourselves, by which I mean we've never had a car payment in all our married years.

Our old car and our new car bumper-to-bumper

Before we moved to Michigan, we briefly researched our commuting options and found a few solid leads. I felt comfortable when we moved that I would be able to have the car most days.

But it's not working out like we planned.

Two of our leads lead to dead ends and we're pursuing another that will probably go nowhere and one lone option with our hopes up.

Those of you who have been with me for a while are probably rolling your eyes right now: Seriously, Jacqueline? Another car post? Yeah. Another car post. For those of you who are more recent readers, I admittedly have a dysfunctional emotional attachment to my cars. Red Ford Contour was in my life longer than I've ever lived at any one address. When I first sat in it, it was totally like that moment from Transformers when Sam sits in Bumblebee. Our souls intertwined. I cried as we drove away from the dealership after Red Ford Contour died. But then there was Little Red Manual Focus. Manual Focus was there for me for the entire Baby Heart Saga. (We bought it about a week before we found out about Abigail's heart condition). Little Red Manual Focus and I have done some serious bonding. The poor car, she's gotten pretty scraped up too. Two hit-and-runs. One a side-swipe in Chicago (remember that day? The same day I had a miscarriage? Yeah, that sucked). And just last weekend in a parking lot someone hit it and damaged the bumper. Poor Little Red Manual Focus.

So yes, car drama hits me hard. It's not that we're really thinking about buying another car. I mean, it's there in the back of our minds every time we pass something for sale or a friend mentions selling their old car. But two gas payments, two insurance payments, plus the initial lump sum needed for another car ... getting a second vehicle would stand in the way of meeting other financial goals.

But both Matt and I agree that what we're doing now won't work for the next three years (how long he has at his current job. It's a three-year gig).

I have no idea what a wise move would be for us right now. Totally needing some wisdom.

Little Red Manual Focus on a winter day in Chicago.

Both when we were in law school and in Chicago, no one glanced twice at our little one-car family. It was totally normal. But back in Michigan, the land of automobile manufactures (and friends and family who didn't pay for graduate school or have a child with mountainous medical bills), people think we're this weird, masochistic, hippie family. Or desperately poor.

Sorry, can't make it to your play group. My husband has the car during the day and that's kind of a far walk.

Sorry, I'm going to be late, Matt is already committed for this afternoon, so I can't leave until he gets home.

Sorry, I can't pick you up, that would leave Matt and Abigail stranded without the car all day. It just makes me a bit nervous in case there's an emergency.

But we're serious and we're focused and we know what we want. And a second vehicle? It would stand in the way. Plus, you know how I am. It'd be impossible for me to bond with another car.

20 September 2013

Parenting Advice

I'm in a really unique position with my special needs child with regard to unsolicited parenting advice.

I don't get much of it.

Which isn't to say I never get parenting advice from rude well-meaning strangers, but me complaining about getting parenting advice would be like me complaining about missing my husband when he's at work to a woman whose husband is away at war.

Pretty much the worst I get is people telling me babies shouldn't have babies and about how that one show, Teen Mom, only encourages teenagers to get pregnant. And as annoying as those comments can be, what people are really saying is, "Hey, you look 10 years younger than you really are!" And I'm okay with that.

The vast majority of people we come across in life fit into three categories:
1. People who don't like babies/kids.
2. People who don't like Abigail because she's different.
3. People who love Abigail because she's different.

I can honestly count the number of people who treat Abigail like she's a two-year-old little girl. The list isn't very long. Anyway, the people who fall into the first two categories aren't going to offer parenting advice because they're probably speed-walking away to avoid making eye-contact. The third group of people are so in love with Abigail and all her "specialness" that they don't think her capable of wrong doing.

So I don't get much advice. There are a few kid-loving people who honestly do "put on a brave face" and act normal around us, but they're not chomping at the bit to get involved. When Abigail does have meltdowns in public (which are rare, she isn't much of crier), people take one look at her almond-shaped eyes and turn away. No one makes rude comments to me when she's loud in church. No one has ever said anything to me when she throws things (which she does constantly). No one pushes advice on me about getting her to be less picky at the dinner table. Abigail wears her differences on her sleeve and while everyone knows what Down syndrome is, few people at the grocery store really knows what it means. So no one wants to touch us with a ten-foot pole.

And even though everyone can see that she's different, they are all unsure how I'm handling that differentness. I have people in my life who won't even say the words "Down syndrome" in front of me. I guess they're unsure if it'd cause a mental breakdown or not. So I very rarely hear "When are you going to have another?" or "Are you going to try for a boy?" No one talks to me about properly spacing out my kids. And I just realized, since we had Abigail, no one has asked me if we use birth control. (For the record, no, we've only ever used NFP. Long story short, we were married about three years before we had Abigail and there were people in the community who started hinting to discover if we were sinning before the Lord. After 5.5 years of marriage, I'm starting to realize that we just aren't the most fertile of couples).

Usually I rally against people, wishing we could get treated normally, but this is one battle I'm not fighting. I love all this freedom I feel. I often forget I have it until I read about another mother struggling with unwarranted advice. It breaks my heart, and it reminds me to count my blessings.

I feel a lot of freedom to parent without people jumping on my back. There is no pressure to try the latest parenting trends. No one pressures me to buy Bumbos. No one lectures me about the benefits of breastfeeding and co-sleeping. I genuinely get to make my own decisions based on what's best for Abigail and for our family. And on the rare occasion some fearless do-gooder starts in on the Johnny Jump Up, I put on my best "medical woes" smile and break out some technical mumbo jumbo, "Exersaucers compel back extension which discourages kids from using their core muscles to stabilize," if their eyes haven't glazed over yet, I cue more dramatic language, "and with Abigail's low muscle tone, forcing her to engage in bad habits could cause serious long-term damage." I mean, it's all true to some extent. And it sounds good. So they shut up.

So yes, my little get-out-of-jail-free card. As a result, we have a weird conglomerate of parenting styles. I didn't co-sleep, but I wore Abigail everywhere. We vaccinate, but I home-make bread to avoid processed crap. I have a vendetta against red dye #40, but Abigail watches Blues Clues. And I have the freedom to change anything at anytime without having to deal with outside pressure.

Abigail's version of signing "sleep." Because somehow, after a year of what felt like aimless meandering in the world of begging my child to sleep, I did something right and ended up with a kid who loves napping.

I do wonder what it will be like if we have more children - how it will change the way people interact with us. But right now I'm just enjoying the freedom and counting my blessings.

TGIF, my friends. Get out and do something that makes you happy this weekend.

18 September 2013

How I Met My Husband

I met Matt in the high school cafeteria of a teeny-tiny farming community called Stockbridge almost 12 years ago. It was Matt's hometown, but I had just moved (surprise, surprise!) part-way through the school year. I was a sophomore and Matt was a senior and I had been living in Stockbridge for about a month when a girl in one of my classes invited me to sit with her, her boyfriend, and his friend, Matt, at lunch. I had moved from a large suburban city with a giant campus on which two high schools were situated. The trends in my new school were about 6 months behind where I'd come from, but instead of looking like a trend-setter, I was just this new kid with weird clothes. Anyway, my new friend willingly looked past my odd style and offered a space at her lunch table. When the fated day arrived, she remembered that she had a prior commitment. After a quick introduction to her boyfriend and his friend, she took off.

Those of you who know us in real life know that I'm a serious introvert and Matt is a total extrovert. So you can imagine he attracts friends of the same sort. There the two of them sat, chatting away the entire lunch hour. They had a system down where they'd ask me a question, I'd answer, and then they'd be back and forth making commentary, jokes, and indulging in tangents. I was amused enough by the conversation and grateful enough for my new friends that I continued to sit with them at lunch. Matt was a friendly, social enough guy and as the months ticked by, I started to fall for him. But he was interested in another girl, so I pursued another guy. Two years ticked as "just friends," before finally, in the summer before my senior year, he finally asked me to be his girlfriend.

I would characterize three of our four dating years as unhealthy. A lack of commitment on the part of my future husband haunted our relationship and we constantly found ourselves going back and forth between girlfriend/boyfriend and friends-who-only-hang-out-but-just-with-each-other. We did formally break up at one point, during which I did date two other guys, but we got back together after a few months. If someone approached me now with the same relationship I had, I'd totally be like, "dump him!" But for lots of reasons, including low self-esteem, I didn't.

During my last year of college, Matt grew more serious, I started becoming a person I liked, and our relationship bloomed. We were both fully committed, we had more respect for one another, and things became more stable. Three days before I graduated from college, Matt proposed. One year later, on April 25th of 2008, we were married.

Even though we did have some unhealthy, immature dating years, pre-marital counseling (the standard Catholic wedding stuff) did some amazing things for our interactions. Even though we balked at the silliness of some of the classes we had to attend, I would actually say that we now have one of the healthiest, strongest marriages of all our friends. Marriage takes work, but so far we've made it through law school, seven different addresses, a special needs child, and a miscarriage. And each time we've come out stronger.

Since we met so young (I was just 15), we've really spent a lot of our lives together. Matt and I have never kissed anyone but each other, and I am the only girl he's ever dated. He's the reason I found salvation (ie, became Catholic), and I'm the reason he finally fulfilled his dream of going to law school.

And they lived happily ever after : )

13 September 2013

Crafting a Childhood

Now that Abigail has officially reached the age where we as parents can no longer get away with swearing or listening to mix stations on the radio, I'm starting to think more seriously about what kind of childhood I want my daughter to have. She doesn't - yet - repeat what we say and doesn't always understand what's going on, but it's getting clearer by the minute that she understands more than we give her credit for picking up. And I know it won't be too long before she starts to remember things: birthdays, holidays, family vacations. It's got me thinking about the things in my childhood I did and didn't like, the things I envy in Matt's stories, and the things I admire in other people's kids.

I want holiday traditions
Strong ones. And lots of 'em. Matt and I both have our own childhood traditions that I want to repeat in our kids. Like in my family, we always do a thing with lottery scratch-off tickets. You see, my family isn't big into the lottery and my parents rarely ever bought tickets, but every year, my uncle would always pick up a stack of the dollar scratch offs and pass around a handful of change after we opened presents. And for 10 solid minutes, there would be nothing but the quiet, "scratch, scratch" of a nickel on card stock, interrupted by the over-exuberant, sugar-filled child shouting with immense pride, "I won $2!" And at the end of the night, as everyone picked up to leave, parents would be pestered with the traditional, "when can we go to the gas station and cash in my cards?" pleadings. I want that plus more. I want special Christmas-only candy in the stockings. I want to do the whole candy-slipper-St-Nick's-Day thing my husband grew up with. I don't want the wise men appearing at the manger until January. I want candy corn we only eat on Halloween and Peeps that only get purchased on Easter. I want to celebrate Saint feast days for which my children are named. I want to sing carols together as we bake cookies as if we were on Leave It To Beaver. I want to go around the table at Thanksgiving and say something we're thankful for. And when everyone is grown and scattered to the wind, when Matt and I have passed away, when things are difficult, and when my kids have their own kids to raise, I want these traditions to bring them warmth, love, and hope.

I want a old-time influences
Like black and whites movies and musicals. I want Abigail's favorite movie to be Mary Poppins, not Aladdin. I want my kids to know what Louis Armstrong's voice sounds like and prefer Bing Crosby at Christmas. When my kids insult other kids on the playground, I want them to make Shakespeare proud. I want my girls to wear ribbons in their hair and flowy skirts and my boys to wear drivers caps and think suspenders make them debonair.

I don't want fancy toys
Both my husband and I grew up without gaming consoles, and as much as we desperately wanted them, I'm glad we never got them. Even now, as much as I want a Wii of my very own, I don't want Abigail to grow up with one. We both have fond memories of playing Box Car Children, building train cars in the snow in the backyard. We both had the kid of parents who weren't going to fight over the latest and greatest in the aisles of Toys R Us the day after Thanksgiving, and I'm glad. Matt was recently telling me about a study he'd read that found that parents today spend more time doing kid-related things today than in the past, but spend a mere five minutes a day playing/talking with their kids. The rest of the time in spent making lunches, driving to soccer practice, worrying about report cards, making sure everyone gets their teeth brushed. But that sit down and eat dinner while talking thing? That go for a walk and listen to your kid thing? That's disappearing faster than fresh water in a fracking community. Or, for all my conservative friends: disappearing faster than religious liberty near Obama.

There's a bit of good parenting advice I repeat to myself often: If you want good kids, spend half as much money and twice as much time. When those "Toys Only Kids in the 2010s Remember" things go around Facebook when my kids are my age, I want them to stare blankly at the screen. 'Cause their memories are filed with Cops and Robbers, Pretty Princess, and that one wicked-sweet fort dad built that one time.

I want cousins to be like siblings
And I want the grandparents' house to be a place where you're guaranteed to be spoiled. I want girl cousins to be mainstays at Abigail's slumber parties. I want my kids to cry when they have to leave grandma's house. My husband's extended family are so loving and welcoming that the first time I met them, I was ready to propose to Matt. No one made fun of me or told me to quit being shy. I could seriously pick up the phone and call his aunts right now if I needed something. That is the kind of family I want for my kids. I want a big, loving, safe environment that, even if my kids rebel against when they turn 16, they're dying to come back to during semester breaks in college.

I want them to be brainwashed
Nothing melts my heart faster than seeing a little 5-year-old in the pew in front of us at church cross himself when he gets up to run to the bathroom in the middle of Mass. My 1-year-old niece (actually, she's two today!) will see a cross on the wall and tell her mom, "Look! Jesus!" I want nun dolls and All Saints parties and Noah's Ark shape sorters. I want religious ed classes until all my kids age out and then they're gonna be helpers in the little kids' class. I want a house saturated with religious reminders and a deep, solid foundation of Catholic knowledge so that when my kids hit that age where they start to question their parents, they have a real understanding of the true Church. And if the do turn away from Catholicism and they find themselves alone in a difficult situation, I want there to be no hesitation when a Hail Mary pops into their minds.

There are lots more things I want, like a house overflowing with books (Aside: I came up with this idea a few months ago: when the kids are older, we have "Reading Nights" a few times a month where we take $5 to the dollar store to buy random junk food, twirly straws, oversized plastic glasses, then we come home, turn off all electronics, and spend the evening reading. Doesn't that sound fun?!). I want one of those nerdy family game nights. And to take my kids out to lunch, one-on-one on the day they were born each month (so I'd take Abigail out on a mommy-daughter date on the 18th of every month). I wanna talk about our failures over dinner. I want secret family recipes.

These are the things I'm mulling over as we create a game plan to give Abigail, and any possible future kids, the kind of childhood that will help her be the kind of girl God wants her to be.

10 September 2013


Alleluia, praise the Lord, she can eat with a spoon. Not all foods and not without supervision, but it's a really freakin' good start.

The second miracle: I can give her a bowl of crackers and walk away. If it's not too full, I can even hand it to her in the kitchen and she'll toddle to the coffee table with it.

Normally Abigail would overturn the bowl of crackers, then swipe her arm across the table, back and forth, flinging the crackers, grapes, blueberries, what-have-you, in all directions. Apparently kids with Down syndrome have visual organizational issues, but Chica has been gaining some visual organizational management skills from the magic fairy known as Routine. Damn, Routine, you got game.

One-at-a-freakin'-time. No tossing, no frantic upset of the bowl. No overstimulation of fishy crackers. Seriously on cloud nine, my friends.

Now that Abigail can walk unassisted and stand for long periods of time, she's all about routine and helping out. She gets upset if I don't let her help with the laundry. She's so all about loading up the dishwasher that we always keep it locked now. She'll carry the vacuum's cord behind me as I walk. Abigail thrives on doing the same thing day-in, day-out. She eats a larger variety of food if we all eat together at the table at the same time (and, of course, we all have to hold hands and say grace). She helps get herself dressed as long as we go in the same order: shirt, then pants, hair, then shoes. If I'm consistent, sometimes for months, sometimes just days, she'll be like, "Hey, mom, how about I just eat one cracker from this bowl of 10 crackers?" And I'm all, "Hey, that works for me."

On one hand, it's a little freaky for me because I have OCD tendencies that I struggle with, and I don't want Abigail to get sucked into my idiocy of having to put away the forest friends toys in a particular order. I don't want her to have to count her duplos everyday for the rest of her life. I'm not sure if strict adherence to a routine is a two-year-old thing, a Ds thing, an imitation thing, or a problem thing. I'm pretty sure it's a two-year-old thing, at least for right now, and it's totally working for us, so we're big fans of Routine.

* * * * *

Epically terrible weather, from excessive heat, humidity, and thunderstorms, have us going stir crazy inside. When we lived in Chicago (*tear*) I used to go for walks almost every day that it wasn't raining. Even if it was nasty, we'd just go a few blocks. Or maybe walk along the beach. Something. But here there isn't much to walk. The apartment complex is not situated for walks, and it's about 1/2 mile to the downtown residential area, which means we'd clock a mile just getting to and from where we'd walk. A mile is about what my two-year-old and I like to stroll on days when it's 88 degrees with high humidity. Compounding the matter is a shortage of vehicles. In Chicago, Matt took public trans, so I'd have the car whenever I wanted it. Abigail and I could run out to Target or go on a fro-yo date or meander around the bookstore when we needed a break from four white walls.

So we're kinda going stir crazy. The town I live is a cute little place and our complex is quiet and safe. I like the town we're in, I just wouldn't want to live here.

05 September 2013

She's Amazing

Despite the fact that I way, way, way in advance tried to set up Abigail's therapy, Michigan's therapy program is awful and she won't even start receiving regular sessions until OCTOBER. I'm pissed about it. So anyway, right about now we're meeting with therapists to have initial evaluations, then they'll all write a report. Then another one. Then we'll start services. But anyway.

Five minutes into a session, the therapists are all saying the same thing.
She's doing amazing.
I've got another little boy on my case load her age with Down syndrome and she's really doing well.
I can't believe how well she's doing.
She is really high functioning.

It turns out that gross motor, fine motor, speech, and social emotional-communication/engagement are all her strengths. It turns out everything is her strength. She's doing great. There are even some categories in which she is within a typically developing child's delay timeframe. In English: there are some skills she has that are at the same level you'd expect from any other 2-year, 3.5-month old.

Disclaimer: High function Down syndrome still does not mean "normal." I had a very painful, life-changing moment a little over a year ago when a psychologist informed us that even high function Down syndrome is still technically below the medically defined "retarded" line on the IQ charts. It took me a long time to get here, but I'm finally okay with that fact. I learned how to accept the fact that she'll probably always be delayed significantly compared to a typically-developing person but not let it stop me from pushing her.

I feel incredibly blessed. I don't pretend for one second that any of her high functioning can be attributed to me. It isn't thanks to me that she has high muscle tone for someone with low muscle tone. Muscle tone is something you're born with, not something you can influence by doing diligent physical therapy. It isn't thanks to me that she doesn't have Autism or a seizure disorder or any other debilitating complication that goes hand-in-hand with Down syndrome. I know people in the community whose child has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and Autism and it isn't for lack of love, patience, or effort that their child's skill set isn't as high as a similiarly-aged child with Down syndrome.

I try to foster her strengths and build up her weaknesses, but I'm blessed to be in an ideal position to do so. It isn't thanks to me that Matt and I come from stabile families and don't struggle with drugs or addictions. It isn't thanks to me that Matt found a great job that allows me to be a stay-at-home mom. It isn't thanks to me that I don't have some medical issue that would prevent me from being fully attentive to my daughter. I'm very, very aware of how blessed we are, and I make it my goal to never waste an opportunity to help improve the chances of a good quality of life for my daughter.

She's amazing.

03 September 2013


Phew, we made it without getting eaten by bears. The last black bear siting near the cabin occurred this spring, so it was a potential risk - mauling and shredding of tent and occupants by a bored, passing bear - but thankfully we were spared. Probably because we slept in the cabin.

I'll get to that later. So this particular piece of property (see it on a map here) has been in my father-in-law's possession for all but six years of my husband's life, and because they owned vacation property, they rarely traveled elsewhere on vacation. So, a vast majority of my husband's summertime memories are of here:

Secluded, wooded property in an empty bay on a huge lake in a secluded community. Lots of stories growing up with three brothers tearing down goblins in the woods and building trebuchets out of discarded branches on the beach. Each little ebb and flow of the land meeting the water garners its own unofficial name: Beaver Bay and Picnic Point. And then there are the stories that everyone across all mid-western summer vacations share, like pontoon rides and s'mores over late-night campfires.

When the family RV finally fired its last piston, it was retired to the property where, subsidized by tents and open-air sleeping on the pontoon, the family spent weeks every summer. But about a hand full of years ago, my in-laws finally did the unthinkable. They built this:

A gorgeous cabin, abundant with windows, a huge loft, two bathrooms, an assortment of mis-matched mattresses for visitors, and paneled with wood largely taken from trees removed to make space for the house. It makes you feel like you're on a retreat. So when we showed up late Friday, the darkness, the threatening rain, and the fact that no one other than us and his parents were able to make it up, we decided to spend the night indoors. One night turned into two and then three. About six of my 13 bags and seven of my nine blankets never even left the car.

While we technically went up to the cabin last fall, it was pretty late in the year and we didn't uphold any of the up north traditions. For Matt and I, it was our first time in five years to take part in them. But for Abigail, it was her first time. I get to share a lot of my childhood with Abigail because we're both girls. I get to pick out My Little Ponys for Christmas and buy toy sets with kitties in them. But this time, it was Matt's turn to share a piece of his childhood with his little girl.

Like sitting under the cove-like trees and just smelling the "up north" smell.

And walking along the rickety dock and trying not to step on the loose planks.

And hopping aboard the pontoon and jetting around the lake, spotting bald eagles.

And after we'd explored the cabin, hiked the woods, and visited the new deer blind, we embarked on the other up north traditions. Like visiting Lake Huron.

And going up to the lighthouses and hiking their trails.

And then the harbor. No up north tradition would be complete without a trip to the harbor. "Ahhh, the harbor!" my husband always says with a deep breath of up north air as he gets out of the car. It feels so comfortable and so familiar, like snuggling deeper under the covers on a crisp Saturday morning or burying your feet in a pair of old slippers after a day spent in heels. It's the harbor - the place where you walk up and down the docks marveling at everyone's boats, walk along the pier and see the lighthouses in action, and eat ice cream and that one really good place whose small size could pass for an extra large.

Can you spot the lighthouse?

Up north is the place where it feels like there is no outside world. Where there is no tv, no Internet, and it's easy to forget you have a cell phone. Where, even on the worst of touristy days, you still feel like a secluded little community. Where, when the kids fall asleep, everyone breaks out a book or a deck of cards or grabs a bag of marshmallows and heads down to the fire pit. Where Matt tells the story for the fiftieth time about how he and his siblings once tried to swim across the bay. 

Where, as you drive away, you start the countdown to the next up north trip.