27 July 2015

10 Things about Me

Post 3 in a series of 4.

10 Things About Jacqueline Ann...

1. Since starting construction on my shelter (ie, taking an antidepressant), I'm doing amazing. No more anxiety attacks, no more random tears, no more feeling worthless, no more feeling like life is pointless. I can still feel these things bubbling below the surface, but they are small enough that I can deal with them like a regular person. And guess what else? My temper is significantly easier to control. I had no idea I'd been struggling with so much until it was gone. You know how when you get a cold, you just lay in bed at night and wish you could breathe? In and out, through your nose. You curse the healthy you who never truly appreciated air. Then the first day after you recover, you spend the entire time closing your mouth and enjoying deep breaths through both nostrils. But unfortunately, by day two, you're back to the healthy you and you forget how amazing breathing is? Well, that's how it's starting to get for me. Feeling like me is starting to feel normal again. When the panic attacks don't hit, I'm forgetting to appreciate the feeling of control over my own emotions again. I've decided if there is something that won't interfere with breastfeeding, I'm going to continue taking an antidepressant for my postpartum depression too. Three pregnancies, three rounds of ppd. I'm ready to stop for number four. It's not for the rest of my life, it won't even be for one year in total.

2. I used to be super pro everything all natural, I wouldn't even take Tylenol for a headache. But then I had a child who needed real, serious medical intervention, not herbal supplements. I now have (what I think is) a more balanced approach. There are times when ginger pills and essential oils work, but there are times when doctors are very necessary. Some people have lives, or times in their lives, that require more medical intervention than others.

3. I used to go by "Jackie" when I was a little kid, but, as the story goes, I came home from first grade in tears one day, sobbing that kids were insulting my name, and swore to be "Jacqueline" from then on. I have no memory of the event or what the kids were saying. All I know is that I've gone by "Jacqueline" for the last 22 or 23 years.

4. I love mint. The smell, the taste. All things minty are preferable.

5. I've really been into reading modern classics lately. I used to only read things by dead, white, guys, but I missed the more modern stuff I used to read in my Florida book club. Modern stuff is much easier to get into than the old classics, plus writers who are alive are putting out new books. You can only read so much Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway before you, literally, have read everything. I love Khaled Hosseini and Gillian Flynn and found Life of Pi and Fight Club to be really deep and insightful books.

An engagement photo. From 2007. I was 20 years old.
6. I am terrible at math. Really awful. But I love most sciences: earth science, anatomy/physiology, biology, astronomy, and the social sciences.

7. I never had a crisis of faith when we found out Abigail had a heart condition when I was pregnant. Or when we found out she had Down syndrome. Or when she had open-the-heart surgery. Or when I had a miscarriage. But now, with this unexpected pregnancy only nine months after having Eleanor, I'm really struggling. I would say "crisis of faith" is a bit too strong, but I'm angry. At God, at the Church for outlawing birth control, at NFP, and at my fertility. I'm struggling to make sense of things right now and trying to figure out which NFP method to try this next time around. (I'm leaning Marquette right now).

8. Matt thinks I should put something in here about my college. I graduated from Michigan State with my Bachelor's in only three years. I took a few college classes in high school and had a few AP credits as well. Combined with a few classes over the summers, I found myself with enough credits to graduate a year early. That makes it sound easy, but it was actually a lot of work. Lots of studying, not much socializing. I don't think I'm a very smart person, but I do think I'm a very hard worker. I worked really hard in college and it paid off. I even graduated with honor (meaning I was in the top 10% of my class).

That's me in the front, at the podium.
9. If I could have any alter ego, I would want to be Pink. As in, the singer. She's bold, confident, unafraid of hurting people's feelings. I love how unapologetic she is about herself. In real life, I'm very quiet, I have a very hard time revealing my feelings, I'm overly deferential to other people's feelings, and I take everything very personally.

10. I have this dream that after we're done having kids and the youngest is in school, I'm going to convert some part of my house - or maybe build a studio in my backyard - into my own, personal writing studio. Then I'll spend part of each day tucked away in my office typing out the great American novel.

23 July 2015

Three Car seats in an 07 Ford Fusion

For the first time in seven years, we, officially, my friends, are a two car family.

We decided to take the expensive European car seat + cheap sedan route. It definitely feels like the right move for us. I mean, not that buying two cars in one year ever "feels good," but given the set of circumstances we had, I like the outcome we chose the best.

So I get to keep the silver 07 Fusion that we bought after our red Focus was totaled a mere five months ago. I'm glad, as I really like the Fusion: it's a manual, it has some upgraded features that the Focus didn't have like power windows and fog lights, and the trunk is huge. I easily fit the double stroller plus all the luggage in the trunk for our summer vacation this year.

I think my car would look fabulous with pink racing stripes. No, I'm totally serious. If racing stripes were something you could buy by saving up Christmas money, I would totally do it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the girls' car seats were Target's compact car car seats and I was sure there was zero chance that a third seat would fit in that backseat, so I thought our only option was to buy a vehicle with third row seating.

The girls' "old" seats.

But after some thought, I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to drive a big vehicle and Matt didn't think we could get what we wanted with what we could afford. So I opened the car seat search up from "What Target sells" to "What you can find on the Internet" and found a number of expensive European seats that were smaller than ours. I bought two Diono RadianRXTs on Amazon with free shipping and free returns and a Cybex Aton 2 from Kohls with free shipping and free returns. We added in our two Eddie Bauer XRS 65 Convertibles and Baby Trend Expedition ELX infant car seat. One night after the girls went down for the night, we lugged our six car seats out to the Fusion and began testing lineups.

While the Eddie Bauers and Baby Trend did technically fit in the backseat, it was tight. As in "the infant seat hangs over into Abigail's seat" tight. And while the Cybex Aton 2 bills itself as one of the smallest, lightest infant car seats on the market, my four year old "cheapest jogging stroller/car seat combo that Babies R Us sells" was both narrower and (slightly) lighter! The Aton 2 was shorter from head to foot, but length doesn't matter for our purposes.

So we chose the two new Radians + our Baby Trend infant. This gives us the most space between the seats and between the seats and the door. When this baby outgrows the infant seat, we'll almost certainly buy another Radian. Three $300 European car seats is an expensive option, but definitely cheaper than an SUV.

Side note: technically the Radians work from birth, but I really want to be able to get the new baby in and out of the car seat in the apartment and set the baby down outside or at a store or doctor's office. Abigail is a runner and I don't feel safe having two loose kids plus Abigail, so we/I want an infant car seat that snaps into and out of a base.

Once we secured a three car seat lineup, we moved on to getting a second car. We knew we wanted either a Ranger or a Focus and set our price range. Matt mentioned our search to his dad, who mentioned that he was looking to sell his 07 Ford Focus by August. It's a very basic model, two door hatchback, but it's a manual, runs well, has been no major accidents (damn deer), and was well within our price range. So, we bought it!

It's incredible having two cars! It feels so great especially because we really, really paid our dues in One Car World. It wasn't so hard before we had kids, or even with just one kid. And it was very easy in Chicago when we barely needed our one car. But once we moved to a rural town, it became more challenging. Then we had two kids and things were genuinely burdensome.

There is a bus that runs from our rural town up to Lansing, but it only runs once per day. The timing doesn't correlate well to Matt's work schedule, so on days he would take the bus, he'd have to wake up at the crack of dawn and he'd be gone an extra two hours. Sometimes the girls and I would drive to Lansing to pick him up if I didn't want to wait the extra time for him to come home. It stunk, so I rarely took the car so he could rarely take the bus. But there are no parks within walking distance and no backyard or basement for the girls to run around in. We have had to turn down short-notice play dates. I can't couldn't run the girls up to the doctor's office or Urgent Care if something worrisome popped up. I can't couldn't run errands or pick something up at the grocery store. I have to would group all my appointments into as few days per week as possible, which stinks because young kids tend to have a "one store maximum" tolerance level.

Sometimes I would need the car for something incredibly tiny, like a twenty minute parent-teacher meeting at Abigail's school on a rainy day (so I couldn't walk up with the girls). Matt would wake up at the crack of dawn, be gone almost all of the kids' waking hours, walk home from the bus stop in the rain, heat dinner in the microwave and eat alone while I got the girls ready for bed. All for a twenty minute meeting.

When we started Abigail's summer therapy, the sacrifices we were making to stay a one car family became greater than the rewards. And thinking about life with three kids? Ugh. I'm really proud of us: we held out as long as we could. We stuck with it until the pain was too much to bear. Now it's finally time! It's only day two, but we are totally relishing the rewards of life with two cars!

My Mommy car gets a sparkly bracelet on its shifter. Abigail declared it "pretty!"

22 July 2015

Eleanor's Speech

So I put in a referral to Early On for Eleanor's speech. I was planning to wait until August, maybe September, but I finally just couldn't stand to wait a minute longer. It all struck me in May, just shy of Eleanor's first birthday, when I realized that she only had two words. And one was a sign. She would say, "Bye" and sign "more." That was it. I looked back on the last twelve months of Eleanor's life and realized that she was totally not following a typical development pattern. No "mama," no "dada," no babbling, no repeated syllables "bababababa."

I talked to a couple of friends and family and learned that while Eleanor had fewer words than their kids did at that age, everyone thought I was over-reacting. Everyone's brushing off of my concerns annoyed me, so I talked to a couple of Abigail's speech and developmental therapists and we hashed out a plan. Eleanor was doing a bunch of things I knew from my past with Abigail that indicated that she was learning the purpose of communication: she pointed to things, took turns, imitated actions. Eleanor also seemed to understand what I was saying to her. When I saw the car pull up and said, "Daddy's home!" she looked to the door, for example. And I had no concerns about her hearing. I was advised that if by 15 months, she didn't have 5-10 words, I should call.

Today (at 14 months), she has about a dozen words and signs, but I still couldn't shake the concern that something might be wrong. She still wasn't babbling or saying "Mama" or "Dada." So I made a call and had a nice chat with the services coordinator in my area. I ran through my concerns, Eleanor's strengths and weakness, and her history. And? Eleanor's fine. She's unusual, but she's fine.

It isn't typical that kids don't say their caregiver's name in their first 5-10 words, it isn't typical that kids don't babble or repeat syllables. But it happens, it's like a fringe thing that non-mainstreamers do. So it's unusual, but it's a usual unusual, if that makes any sense. As she talked, I was reminded of the kids in high school who would sit in the back of the classroom in their all-black ensembles. They weren't normal, the goths, but in the world of unusual minorities, they were pretty normal.

It was nice to hear from a professional that everything is fine. Even though I live in Crazy Special Needs World, my life is full of amateur experts, just like everyone else's. Like how there's always someone standing by offering advice when you're pregnant, have a newborn, try to potty train, buy a house, try to loose weight, go grocery shopping, buy new shoes, cross the street - they live in Crazy Special Needs World too and they tell me what to do too, even if they have no special needs experience of their own.

So yes, it appears that Eleanor, despite the fact that she says, "cat," and "plane," and "ilk" and "aww dum," and "sorsie" instead of "mama," is typically nontypical in her own little way.

I wonder if God thinks I'd be totally bored out of my mind if a got a 100% standard issue baby. I guess in truth, I probably would be. Oh well, at least He keeps sending cute ones.

17 July 2015

10 Things About Abigail

Post 2 in a series of 4.

10 Things About Abigail Claire...

1. She knows every capital letter and all her numbers 0-10 on site and can sing her ABCs in order, but not a single shape and hardly any colors.

2. She is 4 years old, but can still fit into some 18 month clothing.

The onesie on a 21-month-old Abigail and a 3.5-year-old Abigail, when Mommy was in a pinch and needed a peachy onesie for her Halloween costume. I also have an 18 month Gap jacket both her and Eleanor can pull off.

3. She absolutely loves music.

4. She is a total and complete Mommy's girl.

5. By the time she was 2 years old, she had stuck her feet in Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean and lived in three states (Florida, Michigan, Illinois).

6. She always says "bye" to the car when we get where we're going.

7. Abigail is actually a high strung, anxious kid who is already clearly an introvert. Her ways of expressing herself are very non-typical, so most people misread her cues. For example, when someone (even someone close, like an aunt) picks Abigail up when she doesn't want to cuddle, she'll go limp. Everyone thinks Abigail is giving them a snuggly hug, but the truth is that she shuts down when she's uncomfortable instead of crying or wiggling away like most kids.

8. Abigail goes to an eating clinic twice a week and does equine therapy once a week. We're already seeing some improvements in her speech and balance. I'm super excited to see how much progress she makes by the time school starts back up.

9. She doesn't cry when she gets vaccinated or her blood drawn.

10. Her favorite part of life is riding the bus and she misses school terribly this summer. We've been having playdates with some of her school friends and her teacher lives in the same apartment complex as us, so we run in to her sometimes.

14 July 2015

*Pre*partum Depression

In southwest Florida during the rainy season, the storms roll in very quickly, charing across the sky like angry bulls, snorting and snuffing and sending up clouds of dust with their churning feet. All morning long, the sun shines bright and hot and the air is thick with humidity. And then you spot them off in the distance: the dark gray blue of the storm clouds. There isn't much time from when you first see the clouds to take cover. They take over the sun, the pretty blue sky, encompassing the earth in trembling darkness.

The rain doesn't just fall or pour, it pounds. Angry fists gathering speed on their way from the black clouds to beat your arms, head, back. Within seconds, the earth is completely soaked. Everyone and everything looks like it has gone swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, fully clothed. You can wait inside, trembling as the thunder crashes so loudly that your windows rattle. Or you can make a mad dash across a parking lot, heart-pounding with adrenaline and rain blinding your eyes like tears.

The clouds race on across the sky, past you and your city. The hot sun returns and the sky shines blue, unaware of what has just happened below. But the earth remembers. The air is still thick with humidity. Water streams down the streets in rivers and gushes into drain-holes like waterfalls. It takes a few hours for the world to recover, the pedestrians, sidewalks, cars to dry off. But by the time the sun is ready to paint the sky with brushstrokes of pink and orange, there is no more evidence of the late afternoon's rampage. The storm lingers only in the memories of those who care to remember and those who know it will come again tomorrow, ravaging everything with rain that pounds.

For 12 months following the birth of Abigail, 2 months following the loss of our second baby, and 5 months after Eleanor, postpartum depression pounded down angry rains on my life. When I visited the doctor 12 weeks pregnant with this baby, I was warned that postpartum depression has a way of creeping up during pregnancy. Prepartum depression, if you will. And postpartum depression that happens prepartum often looks like anxiety. I stared at her, surprised, and we talked about the dark gray blue clouds I could already see on the edge of the horizon.

I don't like taking daily medications, so we talked about all the things I did to fend off postpartum depression before: eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, taking me-time, getting out of the house. And armed with my techniques, my umbrella, I ventured into my fourth pregnancy. And for 18 weeks, I braved the pounding rains, sometimes getting wet, sometimes staying dry. But two weeks ago, my umbrella collapsed and the rain pounded on my arms, head, back. There was one very dark night. And lots of bad days. The rain was pounding so hard that I could no longer function in my life. So when I went to the doctor again yesterday, I went in waving a white flag. And the doctor, understanding and compassionate, asked some questions, determined a course of action, and handed me the materials to build myself a shelter: a prescription.

I've always been very honest about my struggles with postpartum depression. I've had a very hard time talking about the difficulties during this pregnancy. It's very, very important that the women who are outside, stranded in the middle of the parking lot, rain blinding their eyes like tears, abused by rain that pounds understand one thing:

You can struggle with depression and anxiety and still passionately love your baby.

And it's very, very important that all the people in their cars, watching the women who are outside in the rain understand one thing:

She can't just will it all away.

I start construction on my shelter this afternoon when Eleanor wakes up from her nap and we venture out to the pharmacy. I look forward to re-entering my life. I look forward to watching the sun brush the sky orange and pink and leaving the storms in the past.

09 July 2015

10 Things About Eleanor

Post 1 in a series of 4

10 Things About Eleanor Grace...

1. She shrieks like a bottle rocket. Multiple sources have volunteered this lovely comparison.

2. She almost always says, "Ahhhh!" after taking a sip of anything.

3. She has a favorite everything: toy, necklace, sparkly bracelet, Little People animal. Hand her a set of anything and she'll pick out a favorite.

4. She is a pretty high-strung girl. She knows her mind and wants things her way and doesn't deal well with change. She mostly gets her temperament from me, but she definitely has her Daddy's almost exact eye color.

5. She is a total and complete Daddy's girl.

6. She adores the cat. Cats in general, in fact, and horses.

7. She loves kid-sized furniture.

8. Eleanor is not following the typical development path for speech and doesn't have many words for a 14-month-old. I've done little informal tests with her (whispering her name when I'm behind her, stuff like that) and I really don't think hearing is her problem. I'm going to call Early On next month and set up an evaluation, just to be sure.

9. She copies everything her sister does, the cute things and the frustrating behavioral issues.

10. Other than the speech stuff, she's really, really typical. She acts like my nieces and nephews did at this age. She has a fabulous pincer grasp, she understands tons of what we say, she throws temper tantrums when something gets taken away, she's loud at church, she hides behind my legs when she's scared, she expresses her preferences, she loves stuffed animals, she checks in with Matt and I when she toddles away. Some things are harder with Eleanor, some things easier.

06 July 2015

The Horse Vacation

We broke out of the stop-and-go freeway traffic that cuts across the state and inhaled deep breaths of fresh air on the open state road that winds along Lake Huron. That's the moment it felt like vacation started. The many chores that precede a frugal family vacation with small children faded to history - dinner made and packed in the cooler, the girls bathed, all nine bags loaded in the trunk.

I planned the trip up well, my friends. I sabotaged nap time, gave the girls a huge meal, dressed them in their pajamas, and left a few hours before bedtime. And once we reached the halfway point, which coincides with the end of the freeway and the beginning of the state road with great views, it finally felt like we were truly on vacation.

We arrived at the in-law's cabin as dark set in, crashed into bed, woke up the next morning, and hit the road by 7:30am. You can imagine how thrilled the girls were to be in the car again. But an hour and a half later, we were here:

Waiting for this:

Which we would take us like this:

To this:


The girls were instantly charmed by the early morning activity - hotel bell boys biking along the coast line, carrying guests' luggage to and from the ferry; the horse drawn carriages with huge Belgian draft horses snorting and stamping their feet, impatient to be off; the rich smell as the fudge shops set their first batches.

Since everyone (especially this here pregnant woman) was most chipper in the morning, we set off to do some site seeing by foot.

We even, I kid you not, hiked up some bluffs. Bluffs so tall the draft horses have to stop at the top to catch their breaths. I wasn't sure how long I'd be able to make it on the island, but the excitement of being there plus the complete denial that I wasn't that pregnant somehow fueled our steep ascent. 

This guy's view from the bluffs:

A view of the Governor's summer residence - on the shorter half of the bluff - from the ground. This 19-week pregnant lady didn't die hiked that, my friends.

Thankfully a not-so-steep path led us back down past Fort Mackinac to a huge park where I sat on a bench while Matt let the girls run around.

After a much needed break for lunch, we took a lengthy carriage ride where we finally convinced the girls to fall asleep while the tour guide regaled us with the history of the island's famous sites, including the Grand Hotel.

Following the relaxing two-hour tour, we stopped for another snack, meandered around the beautifully landscaped residences, shopped, and let the girls run around another park.

After a delicious dinner - food is so much better when you're starving - the girls sounded their "We're Done" alarm and we made our way back to the ferry docks. We were running about 20 minutes ahead of schedule and contemplating a coffee run when we spotted the line for the ferry. It was backed up almost to the road. And it was the last ferry for the next hour. And the sky was threatening rain. We stood about nervously, and I gave great thanks for Eleanor's souvenir: a horse stuffed animal that she spent a good ten minutes straight hugging and kissing when she first saw it.

Somehow, beyond all reasoning, we made it through the line and on to that boat. And somehow, to our great delight, it didn't start raining until a few moments after we sat down inside the protective cabin of the ferry. The cozy boat ride to the cozy car ride were the perfect transitions to the second day of our vacation: the day we recovered relaxed and only did things that would make a post-retirement to do list: visit the local lighthouse, take a walk along the sea shore, eat brats, take naps, read books after kids fall asleep.

It was good - vacation, despite all the prep work, despite the mind-boggling traffic, was good: mind-refreshing. And as we settle back into the monotonous routines of home, and try to catch up on everybody's sleep needs, the memories we made this past weekend are already settling into great "remember that one time!" stories.