26 August 2015

Little Reliefs

I feel inundated in Major Life Stuff lately. We bought two cars in one year, we got pregnant/will have a baby - now Matt's switching jobs and we're buying or building a house. There is so much stress building up over the Big Deal things that the Little Deals have become mole hills with mountain-sized shadows, looming in my mind as I lay awake at night. Has Abigail really outgrown her old shoes or is there still space in them? Will Matt like the gift I got him for his birthday? I finally fell asleep worrying about this pelvic pain I've been having and had a nightmare that I went into labor early - at 26 weeks! - which you can imagine was just the thing I was hoping to add to my list of things to worry about.

Stress - and pelvic pain - eats away at a person, nagging and nagging like a cartoon housewife. It seeps into relationships and turns simple requests, "Can you turn the kitchen light off?" into attitude problems, it pushes moms to yell at their kids about silly things, and it brings about panic attacks. Last week I felt like I was going to explode in a fury of angry, screaming tears. Matt reminded me that his co-worker's teenage daughter is looking to take on babysitting work and is available during daytime hours. I've never had someone watch the girls who is not family or a friend, but after giving it some thought, I decided we were ready to give this girl a shot. I called her up. She welcomed the job: watching Eleanor while I took Abigail up to equine therapy. And it was marvelous.

This is how it normally goes:
- I have to bring snacks and toys along with me. My diaper bag is bulging and heavy. I lug it, two kids, and this pregnant belly to the car, I corral one kid while I strap in the other, then I strap in the second kid, I collapse in the driver's seat with shoulder and back pain.
-We arrive at therapy, on goes the heavy diaper bag (board books weigh a freakin' ton), unstrap this kid, convince her not to run to the horses while I unstrap that kid, get everyone inside.
-Sit Eleanor down next to a friendly-looking mom - sitting next to a stranger turns Eleanor into a perfect angel who refuses to move a muscle, sitting near a friendly-looking mom means if she does try to get down, the other mom will stop her. Get Abigail a helmet and adjust it so it fits. Sit her on a horse.
-Return to Eleanor and try to keep her contained on my lap. It's like going to Sunday Mass but with a toy. Sit here, don't shriek. No, you can't run around. If the therapist decides to head to the outdoor arena, there is a place for Eleanor to play, but then I have to re-pack and lug everything outside.
-When therapy is over, I help Abigail take her helmet off and return it to it's proper place. Strap on the diaper bag. Pick up Eleanor, who is refusing to walk because she's mad about something or other. Have Abigail say, "Thank you" and "Goodbye" to the therapist, lead walker person, and her horse.
-Lug the diaper bag, two kids, and my pregnant belly to the car. I corral Abigail while I strap in Eleanor, strap in Abigail who is angry because she has to leave the horses, collapse in the driver's seat with shoulder and back pain.
-We arrive at home and I lug everyone and everything across the parking lot into the apartment building and to our apartment. I am probably carrying someone who refused to cooperate, along with a heavy, bulging diaper bag, and my almost-third-trimester belly.

I know what you're thinking: That sounds fabulous, you should count this experience among your blessings. I mean, I know, and I totally was, except not really.

It would definitely all be something I could manage if I weren't pregnant. There is something about back pain, pelvic pain, a lack of sleep, heartburn, hot flashes, and an extra 20 pounds attached to the front of my body that makes taking two kids out of the house make me want to cry.

So the babysitter arrived today (early, I might add) and therapy looked like this today:
-I put mine and Abigail's shoes on, slip a little crochet project in my diaper bag, and hold her hand all cutely as we walk to the car. I put Abigail in the car and get into the driver's seat.
-We arrive at therapy. I get Abigail's helmet. I put her on the horse, sit down, and pull out my crochet project.
-I crochet.
-When therapy is over, I help Abigail take her helmet off and return it to it's proper place. I pick up my diaper bag and have Abigail say, "Thank you" and "Goodbye" to the therapist, lead walker person, and her horse.
-We walk to the car. I strap in Abigail who is angry because she has to leave the horses, but it isn't very hard because my diaper bag strap is not digging into my neck and without another kid, I can give Abigail's outburst my full attention.
-We arrive at home and I hold Abigail's hand as we walk across the parking lot into the apartment building and to our apartment.

I felt as relaxed when we got home as I do after a taking a Saturday morning and going somewhere by myself. Seriously, the weight off my shoulders from having a solid 60 minutes to sit outside and do something I enjoy...I got through the rest of the evening without praying for chocolate to rain from the sky. And Eleanor was so refreshed from her break from Abigail that the two girls played relatively nicely together for the rest of the usually death-inducing witching hour.

I begged asked politely and promised lots of money if the babysitter could possibly watch Eleanor for Abigail's eating clinic appointments this week and next, next week's equine therapy appointment, and both girls for my OB/GYN appointment the following week. She. Said. Yes.

I was so excited, I understood why guys hire professional photographers to hide in the bushes when they propose.

Abigail's eating clinic appointments are even tougher than the equine therapy appointments. I have to sit in on all Abigail's sessions, so there is no waiting room playtime for us. The therapy room is tiny and Eleanor is jealous that Abigail gets to play with these fun, new toys and eat food and she doesn't. I seriously have to bring twice the amount of food so Eleanor can have some and I have a few special "therapy only" toys and books that I bring that Eleanor only gets to play with when Abigail has therapy. It does alright, except that my attention is divided between paying attention to what the therapist is saying and keeping Eleanor from shoving her goldfish crackers in the electrical outlet. And then there's the "lug a diaper bag crammed full, a lunch box, two kids, and a pregnant belly" thing. Across two parking lots. And get everyone strapped into the car without anyone getting run over.

I am so thankful she popped into our lives at exactly this moment: the moment when I was thinking of stopping therapy until the baby was born because I simply could not handle it anymore. I finally hit the point where paying $15 to go to an eating clinic appointment with only one kid sounded like a bargain.

It's incredible to me how much one break has lifted my spirits. How rationally I can look at new shoes and birthday presents now. No matter how much I schedule Mommy Mornings Off, Date Nights, and Family Escapades, it's the little bursts of relief throughout the day that do the most good.

And we still might stop therapy once school gets started, partially because we aren't made of money and partially because school itself takes a lot out of Abigail. And we still have to figure out the house decision, and we I still have to do the birthing of this baby part, but I hope that the relief that comes from having a 17-year-old girl around continues to help me make those decisions with a calm state of mind.

25 August 2015

The Unflinching Self Portraits

These photos were taken on Wednesday the 19th of August. No makeup, no filter, no Photoshop.

This photo was taken on Tuesday 25 August and I am wearing makeup and have gotten a haircut and freshened up my hair color since the above photo was taken. Still no Photoshop or filter.

21 August 2015

The Sunset of Summer

Yesterday evening, I invited Abigail's preschool teacher over for dinner in a bid to get to know her better. She's the same teacher Abigail had last year, but I never made time like I wished I'd had. I figured "better late than never." We scheduled it out a few weeks in advance, I made sure to plan out the menu ahead of time, and I was pretty excited yesterday morning. My "impress the teacher" menu included grilled sliders on homemade pretzel buns with bacon, cheddar, grilled onions and peppers...

homemade baked sweet potato chips...

and for dessert: a blueberry-raspberry puff-pastry tart with a sprinkling of dark chocolate chips.

I put all my available effort into food prep, meaning no vacuuming happened and the bathroom remained its lovely shade of "soap scum," so I opted to dim the lights, light some candles, and play a little jazz music (from a Youtube playlist). Nothing says, "Ignore the crushed Cheerios!" like soft lighting and Ella Fitzgerald.

I put Abigail in one of her nicer shirts, did her hair, and attempted to keep her somewhat clean until the guest of honor arrived.

The day itself was pretty chaotic. Both girls were extra bratty, I had three panic attacks (my first since starting the antidepressent), and too many hot flashes to count. I should have made the dessert and chopped the veggies a day in advance and made less from scratch. The day was too filled with frustration and yelling and internal cuss words. The evening, thankfully, went off beautifully with great conversation and a very happy Abigail. I'm glad it happened and the food was really tasty. But I walked away realizing that I'm done entertaining people and making big meals until I'm no longer pregnant.

"Hello, Daddy? You should come home a little early today - you totally gotta see the shade of red on Mommy's face."

Today we are doing the opposite of yesterday. We are taking it very easy and doing lots of laundry (a very low-stress chore compared to making a million things from scratch). Dinner will be made up of either leftovers or frozen pizza. The girls will both nap.

Two weeks remain until Matt and Abigail's first days (at the new job and school!) and in between now and then, we have eight therapy sessions and three appointments. I had desperately hoped to squeeze in two more play dates, but realistically, I think just making it through two weeks without another panic attack would be a victory.

Once Abigail is away at school, I will be starting the third trimester. We aren't sure yet if we are going to buy or build, but we'll have that figured out by the end of September at the latest. Either way, we are going to get a storage unit to keep the apartment as open as possible, so it is my plan to spend the next three months following Labor Day slowly deep-cleaning and packing up our apartment.

It is going to be a lot of work, but we are finally doing it with a Forever House in sight.

19 August 2015

Reasons Eleanor Cried Today

Eleanor is my clingy, emotional, dramatic child. I decided to list all the times and reasons why she cried (or cry-whined) over the course of one day.

An old, but fitting, picture of Eleanor crying.

This morning went well - she didn't cry in between the time she woke up around 7:00am and was freed from her crib about 7:30am.

7:44am - She had a diaper change.
7:52am - Abigail took the book she was reading.
8:06am - She dropped her book while walking.
8:24am - I'm not really sure. I think she wanted a second breakfast, and I wouldn't give it to her.
8:42am - Abigail "helped" her take the lid off a container.
8:47am - Abigail pushed her.
8:48am - See above.
8:50am - I have no idea. I think Abigail snatched a book Eleanor was thinking about reading.
8:55am - I have no idea. It wasn't Abigail though.
8:58am - She randomly fell on her (cloth-diapered) tuchus.
8:59am - I wouldn't pick her up.
8:59am - She randomly fell again.
9:01am - She was having trouble climbing on the coffee table, and I wouldn't help her.
9:32am - I enforced the "you can only eat that if you're sitting at the table" rule.
10:28am - The cat walked away when she tried to pick her up.
10:36am - She pinched her fingers in the kitchen cabinet.
10:41am - Abigail was doing something she couldn't do.
10:50am - Her sister shoved her.
11:09am - She and Abigail accidentally bonked heads.
11:20am - The chair wouldn't do what she wanted.
11:30am - I didn't understand what she wanted.
12:10pm - It was Abigail's turn to have the book, then the rocking horse wouldn't do what she wanted; plus it was naptime.

NAPTIME! (Alleluia!)

2:06pm - She woke up.
3:16pm - She woke up again, and I didn't get her out immediately.
3:17pm - She had a diaper change.

(She made it a full hour WITHOUT crying! This is what some music and a few empty bubble container will buy you, folks!)

4:20pm - It wasn't dinner time.
4:28pm - I wouldn't read her a book (because I was making dinner).
4:48pm - I wouldn't let her spill water.
5:01pm - I'm not sure; maybe she didn't like my dance moves.
5:07pm - The kitchen cabinet wouldn't close because the spatula was in the way.
5:10pm - I put her down so I could put dinner in the oven.
5:25pm - I'm not sure; I guess my dinner was offensive to her sensibilities. (Although she then ate two servings.)
6:15pm - Daddy washed her hair.
6:17pm - Abigail took the bath toy she was playing with.
6:25pm - As Matt put it, "I wouldn't let her destroy stuff."

And by 7:10pm, following our standard bedtime routine, she was tucked in her crib with a book and fell asleep without a squawk. Which is unusual. Usually there is a squawk.

17 August 2015

Big Deal News


As you can tell, I'm pretty excited. We don't have to move. Or switch schools. We could buy a house and be living in it before this baby is born. Or we could build our dream house.

I, personally, am ecstatic. This is everything I ever wanted outside of Chicago: a permanent job, nearby, a raise, decent benefits, a great culture. When Matt got home from work and told me, I gasped with delight, I cheered, I chastised Matt for waiting until he got home instead of calling me immediately. I danced around the bedroom and asked about start dates and paternity leaves. I was ready to make announcement phone calls and find a realtor. I told Matt we needed milk, ran to the store, bought a cake, had the bakery write: "Good Job, Babe" (get it? "Good job") on it, and came home singing: "Congratulations to you!" so enthusiastically that Abigail sang it over and over again the rest of the night.

But while I was dancing around the room with joy, Matt was standing in the middle giving the cake a dirty look.

He has a different opinion. The job is at a firm, one that requires a certain number of billable hours. The benefits are not as good as the ones we currently have, so he is planning for the raise disappearing into the higher deductibles and coinsurance. The firm expects him to be available to take calls in the evenings, which would cut into family time. And he applied for something closely resembling his dream job in June and he just called them again last week to discover that they still haven't had interviews yet.

So as we stood in the room, literally and figuratively on opposite sides, I had to look really deep inside. I had to ask myself if I was prepared to make The Job Sacrifice. Could I? Yes, I could.

If you really don't want this job, if you think it's a bad call, I'm with you. You can turn it down and we'll stay where we are. Even if we have three kids in this two bedroom apartment, I don't want to you go to work hating your life. You still have another year at the court, there is time. I will support you if you turn down this job.

And then Matt had to look really deep inside himself. Which risk was the best one for us? The risk of staying at a job with an end date? Or the risk of taking a very, very different job?

Where Matt works, everyone's positions are temporary; they are all looking for new jobs at the end of three years. And there are two other people who are considering jobs with pay cuts. Without benefits. The legal job market is tough, and while it's healing just like the economy is healing, things are still tough. Our offer comes with a raise and benefits.

As I gave away in my opening sentence, Matt decided to take the new job.

He's taking this new job with the knowledge that if it's a really bad fit, he can always look for something else, but without the soul-eating pressure of his current deadline: This Job Will End and You Will Have No Way To Provide for Your Family. He's taking this new job with the knowledge that it doesn't close the door to his June dream job.

Matt authorized a blog post, but asked me to wait for a Facebook announcement until all the paperwork is signed and in order. And so here we are, each one of us running through a gamut of emotions, but sensitive to how different each other's experience of this Big Deal News is going.

14 August 2015

FMF: Learn

Five Minute Friday! Topic: Learn

Whenever Abigail is in therapy, she thrives. Her therapist at the eating clinic can't get over how amazingly well Abigail is progressing; the foods she's added: fruit snacks, peanut butter sandwiches, mashed potatoes. She even ate a few bites of chicken pot pie and an entire chicken nugget. She's always been like this. Put her in therapy and she makes mad strides. She needs the guidance, the repetition, the continual pointing of "this is what to do next." Therapists and pediatricians tell me they can't believe how well Abigail speaks. Sometimes people in public or at church tell me how well behaved Abigail is. The comments are kind of rude, "Hey, your kid is not a mongrel idiot - congratulations!" But I know what they mean. And I really understand the fear that pregnant moms have that drives them to get the prenatal testing, or abandon their babies in foreign countries. Every single generation of people with Down syndrome is given more resources and doing better than the generation before. People with Ds in Abigail's generation have longer life expectancies and better quality of lives than people of my generation. Just two generations ago, people with Down syndrome were still being sent away. Abigail's future looks much brighter than any previous generation. And it takes time for society to see that. She's learning about the world while the world is learning about her. I am so thankful she was born at a time when she could make mad strides in therapy.

11 August 2015

She's Mine

Four years ago when Abigail was born, I looked into her blue eyes and realized she had Down syndrome. It took three days before the doctors and nurses realized she might have it and another week before we got the test results back. But I knew right away. A mama always knows.

I’m really glad I didn’t know until after she was born. Before I had Abigail, I would have thought Down syndrome was tantamount to a death sentence. I would have laid in bed at night, staring at the ceiling and felt disgusted at the burden growing inside of me. 90% of people would have just flat-out ended the pregnancy. I would have thought all the stereotypes would become my reality. It would have been all “Me vs. The Baby.” My pregnancy would have been defined by tragedy and pain.

Read the full post on Sapphire's Dream!

07 August 2015

10 Things About Matt

Post 4 in a series of 4.

10 Things About Matthew Aaron...

1. His favorite sections of the bookstore are: Military History, Biography, and Economics.

2. He was born 10 weeks premature. He was so small, he fit in his dad's hand and you could shine a flashlight through him. The doctors tried to diagnosis him with cerebral palsy. When he turned out to not have it, they told his parents he'd never walk. Then when he walked, they said he'd never run. Then when he ran, they stopped trying to find something wrong with him. It was probably better for their reputations this way, as he went on to play high school basketball, become one of the top Quiz Bowl students in the state, and graduate 3rd in his class from law school.

3. He is really good at math. He can do complicated math in his head, he catches onto new concepts quickly, and he really enjoys it. He also loves data, spreadsheets, and trying out new ways to crunch numbers. If he hadn't become a lawyer, he would have made a really good accountant or economist.

4. His favorite dog breed is the German Shepard.

5. He is a really good guesser. Like you could ask him: "Guess who called me today?" "Guess how amazing of a deal I got on this item?" "What is the GDP of Kenya?" And he'd probably be really close.

6. He always wanted to be president growing up. He planned to run in 2020, when he would finally be the minimum age permitted by law. He has since decided not to pursue politics, as he didn't think he possessed the social pandering skills necessary to garner donations. He also thought his views were too conservative and his demeanor too aggressive to appeal to the mass public.

7. He despises argyle, water chestnuts, people who refuse to listen, people who can't see their own contradictions, Internet comment boxes, and hipsters.

8. He is the only male in his family who is under 6" tall.

9. He developed an affinity for gentlemen's hats and now has three: a hamburg, a driver's cap, and a fedora.

10. He absolutely loves wool, but is totally allergic to it.

06 August 2015

The Summer of Abigail's Improvement, Part II

This is part two in the series; you can read part I here!

Abigail as a Runner
I'm not sure which therapy to credit, but for some reason, Abigail's behavior as a runner has decreased s-i-g-n-i-f-i-c-a-n-t-l-y. Basically, Abigail bolts randomly in any direction regardless of danger. She'll run toward streets and cars, she'll run away from me at full speed, she'll run until she can't see me anymore and then she'll run some more.

It never used to matter because she wasn't strong enough to really run or run on soft surfaces like grass or handle curbs. She could run all she wanted, but she never left the sidewalk and I could catch her with a simple speedwalk. But as she got stronger, it got dangerous. Once I got too pregnant, we couldn't play in unfenced parks or the little yard in front of our apartment building. I started worrying about how I'd get three kids from the apartment to the car, let alone in doctor's offices. I do have a toddler harness, but Abigail is relatively weak and she'd constantly fall when she felt resistance. I felt awful, like I was dragging a naughty puppy around.

But whether it's the rewiring of the nervous system or the understanding of her emotions, something is leading this kid to overcome her impulse to run randomly into the street. She's earned my trust enough to walk next to me without holding my hand when we go from the apartment, across the parking lot, to the car. (We wait on the sidewalk until all moving cars have stopped, though.) The few times I've permitted her to walk without holding my hand at the grocery store, she has done quite well. And when we go for walks and I say, "Abigail, wait for mommy!" she actually does stop and wait.

Home Gear
Because Abigail is so tiny and isn't much for climbing, I have been able to keep her in baby equipment far longer than most people can. Some of it was just more convenient for me (she still sleeps in a crib) and some of it was just because she hadn't outgrown it, so I never needed to replace it (like the high chair). But two things are coming into play: I don't want to buy another set of baby things and I want to push her to achieve the same milestones as her peers. So we've slowly been implementing changes around here to get her used to being in "big girl" gear so I can put this baby in the old baby stuff.

One of the things we've done is to take the tray off her high chair and have her eat at the table with us. Once we get a new table or more chairs (ideally buy a bigger table, which I'm holding off doing until Matt gets a permanent job and we buy a house), I'll upgrade/downgrade Abigail to a simpler booster seat without a back and give Baby #3 her current chair with the tray attatchment.

The second big change we're working on is transitioning Abigail into a big girl bed. I'm not sure if we're going to try a toddler bed or put her straight into a twin-size bed - it'll depend on if we have a house or are still in this apartment. In the meantime, we just take the side of her crib off and add a toddler screen.

We've tried this multiple times before, but Abigail always climbs out of bed. Usually around the two dozenth escape, I give up and put the side back on. No matter how fabulous the bedtime routine or how tired she is, she keeps climbing out. The major problem was that the girls' door didn't latch shut. I used to love it because they could never close themselves in, but it meant I had to stand outside her door and hold the door shut until she fell asleep. It. Stunk. I finally called the maintenance guys yesterday (I hate maintenance - nothing like a random guy you've never met showing up at your door sometime today or tomorrow. Plus there was that one time in Florida when the bug guy came in the apartment while I was in the shower. I thought Matt was home early from class and I contemplated coming out and giving him a fun surprise...oh my gosh, I can't even imagine how horrible it would have been). Anyway, they came out today and fixed it quite easily, and this afternoon I ran to the store to buy those doornob cover things (yay having two cars!) as she's on the brink of being able to twist a knob.

So tonight. Tonight we try the big girl bed. Yet again.

I give her blankets, but she always throws them on the floor. She throws the pillow too, but I replaced it for this picture. The books were Abigail's doing. But if they were in her crib when I put her down, she'd definitely toss them out.

Other things we're changing include trying to get Abigail to dress herself. She can take her shirt off and sort of put one on, but that's about it. No pants, no dress, no shoes. I expect to have to help her at this age, but right now I'm doing the same amount of work with Eleanor as I am with Abigail. I'd love to have her independent enough that I can sit on the floor and dress Eleanor and help Abigail in between. Abigail is also practicing getting into the car and into her carseat by herself (obviously I still buckle her).

Home Routines
I have found that giving Abigail a little responsibility and one-on-one mommy time does wonders for her ability to take on more independence with our regular routines. For example, when we run to the store for an awesome yogurt sale (yay two cars!) I hand her the cups and let her put them in the cart, I let her hold her sister's hand when we take walks, and I ask her to grab Eleanor's favorite horse stuffed animal before naptime. When Eleanor naps, we usually do some crafts together (which is great for her fine motor skills), and I make a point to read some books to each of the girls independently during the day.

Abigail is visibly proud of herself when she successfully accomplishes the tasks I give her, and she is much more likely to follow through on directions when she gets special attention throughout the day. All this translates into more independence. Without my asking, she'll generally take her shoes over to the shoe rack when we get home, pick up the food she dropped during mealtime, and pick up her toys when she's done with them. It's wonderful to see her maturing in these little ways - developing and acting as her peers would.

That last paragraph makes it sound like I have the secret to perfect child-rearing or that Abigail is a flawless little angel, but I certainly don't mean it to sound like putting bananas in the grocery cart is the answer to all your problems. If Abigail generally does something when I ask, I would say that means at least 75% of the time. So if she throws a toy 20 times a day (probably not an exaggeration) and she generally goes and picks it up when I ask, that's still 5 times a day that I have to get off my pregnant behind and make her do it. And then there are days when she's tired or sick or just plain having a bad day. The girls long ago beat into me that I better mean what I say - if Abigail is standing on the couch and I tell her to sit down and she doesn't, I had better get up and enforce the sitting command. If I don't, she is not going to do what I say for pretty much the next two weeks and I'm going to have to be uber diligent to ever make her listen to me again. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but it's significantly easier to only say it if I plan to back it up. It's better for me to let her stand on the couch without saying a word than it is to tell her to sit down, but then not make her if she refuses. So on days when she's just not having it, I don't even bother. I hold her hand when we walk to the car, I load her in her carseat myself, I don't give her the chance to throw her cup on the floor instead of setting it on the table. When either kid is having a crappy day, it means mommy is having an "extra work" day.

Longer Term Goals
One behavioral issue I'd love to change is Abigail's difficulty with transitions. It could be a major transition - like going from therapy to the car - or something super minor - like going from reading a book to listening to music - but sometimes (lots of times), transitions trigger meltdowns. There is lots of shouting "no!" lots of hitting whatever is closest, and lots of trying to sabotage the new activity. On days when I'm having a rough go, the meltdowns really drain me. I'm trying to lug my pregnant belly, the diaper bag, a 14-month-old, and a 4-year-old to the car when the 4-year-old is hitting her sister, throwing herself on the ground, and clutching the door to avoid getting in her carseat. I have no idea how to help her. I've done all the online tips: give a five-minute heads up, say "bye-bye!" to the old activity, give them a job to do in the new activity, but they rarely work. It's something I'm trying to just put on the backburner until we get another month of these specialized therapies under our belts. Maybe something in therapy will help her learn to transition.

The second big thing I want to work on is potty training, but I can't see that happening in the foreseeable future either. Abigail is hitting all the readiness signs: going at predictable times, holding it at night, showing interest when others go potty, squatting and grunting during bowel movements. But the thing is, she just has no interest in doing it on the toilet herself. She doesn't tell me before she has to go, and putting her on the toilet at the predictable times triggers a meltdown. If I notice her starting to squat and I take her to the bathroom, she'll just hold it until I give up, put her diaper back on, and let her go free. She does not care if her diaper is dirty either. I don't know what it is or how to help her, but I do know that I'm not interested in fighting that battle. I'd rather deal with three in diapers and wait until she's ready than clean up the messes and try to force it to happen. I'm already putting in tons of work with the eating and sensory issues - I don't feel like I can take anything else on at the moment. I can't think of a better combo of therapies than equine and sensory work to help encourage potty training, so I figure, we'll keep doing what we're doing and let some time pass. When we're back into a regular routine after Baby #3 makes an appearance, I'll talk to her preschool teacher and consult with the therapy clinic we're at right now and see if there are any options. I know some people in the Ds community who have kids about Abigail's age who are potty trained, but then there are some with 10-12 year olds who wear Depends. I suspect Abigail will fall into the "sooner rather than later" category, because she's advanced in everything else, but like I said, I'm not interested in forcing it right now.

She's so independent, she studies the Dr. Sears books and just rears herself. Oh, wait, this is reality, not my dream.
Overall, I'm just floored at the progress she's making. It really is accurate to call her a "preschooler" - I have a preschooler and a toddler now. The two of us - Abigail and I - are definitely putting a lot of work into getting her to the next level, and I think she's responding really, really well. I think she's both physically and cognitively ready for that next level. Abigail is constantly referred to as "developmentally delayed," but I really think that's an inaccurate way to describe her. She's not delayed as in "she'll get there eventually, in her own time." She's not doing what everyone else is doing, just at a slower pace. "Special needs" is significantly more accurate. Down syndrome affects every single cell in the entire body, so it makes a lot of sense that she's going to be different, not just delayed. Each of my two sisters-in-law who have kids have a girl about Abigail's age. In fact, all three girls are exactly 370 days apart (one calendar year + five days) and Abigail is in the middle. And when all three girls are together, it's not like, "Oh, Abigail is where they were last year." Abigail does some things they do, but she doesn't do other things. There are things Eleanor can do that Abigail can't do. I don't think she'll ever do them. Sometimes, she's not delayed, she's different.

There are times when that hurts like you wouldn't believe. Watching Eleanor get something that Abigail doesn't brings out the sailor in me: I start cussing in my head and have the strong urge to punch something. When I'm not pregnant, I wait until sunset, then I turn up the music so loud my head is ringing and I go for a run around the block until my lungs hurt.

But other times? It just is. It's like how Matt is really good at math and plays chess and leaves the windows down in his car at night. No matter how hard I try, I suck at math, I hate chess, and I could never leave my windows down. Instead I design like a boss, crochet baptismal gowns, and workout until something hurts. We're all different. It's just that Abigail's different in a way that can be hard to understand and most people will never experience. But - and remember that it's taken me a very long time to get here - that honestly doesn't make it bad.

The Summer of Abigail's Improvement, Part I

This is part one in the series; you can read part II here!

When I learned I was pregnant this spring, I decided that summer 2015 would be The Summer Of Abigail's Independence. I wanted to really, really focus on getting her as many new skills as possible before I added a newborn to the mix. Three in diapers, three who can't dress themselves, three who need to sit on a parent's lap at Mass. It would be too much to handle. Throughout the summer, I've been slowly implementing "big girl" changes in the routine and she started at an eating clinic and in equine therapy. Abigail is four now (four years, three months), for reference, but she's the size of the average 2-2.5 year old.

Equine Therapy
Equine therapy is Abigail's new favorite thing in life (not sure how it'll compete with the bus when school starts back up). She asks me every single day about riding. I've heard from many people throughout my life about how amazing horseback riding is for just about every behavioral issue ever, including my mother-in-law, who had Matt in equine therapy when he was a boy, so I was certainly very favorable to the idea. A friend of ours from school has a daughter with cerebral palsy and was talking about a great place nearby, so we checked it out. Coincidently enough, it's run by the same therapist who worked with Matt when he was a boy! I started Abigail up with once-a-week sessions.

Improvements I've noticed so far include:

Her strength and balance - horseback riding strengthens pretty much the entire body, especially the core. The company website states that, "A rider with low tone is stimulated to facilitate muscle response due to the movement of the horse. An increase in weight bearing [...] and increases in functional use of the extremities are all benefits of riding the horse." She rarely falls anymore, either randomly or when bumped. She's a better climber, her running has improved, and she is better with stairs.

Her speech - a strong core provides good support for your diaphragm, which translates into better speech - both in quality and quantity. The therapist's website states that horseback riding promotes an "increase in speech through diaphragm stimulation and increase in respiratory volume." While Abigail has always been chatty and given to long, random monologues at any given time, I have definitely noticed better pronunciation. It's easier to understand her, plus she has better annunciation of the last syllable of a word ("yes" instead of "yeah").

Her confidence - this one is probably kind of obvious, but when you can control a 1,000 pound animal, you tend to feel pretty good about yourself. After Abigail rides, she'll spend the rest of the day randomly saying, "I did it!" with a little smile on her face. When you ask her what she did, she replies, "Horses!" She is less frightened in new or crowded environments and she follows through on tasks much quicker. She responds more appropriately to her emotions, for example, crying when sad and vocalizing happiness. And lastly, she seems to respond with fear to fearful situations. Like, she stands back from the trunk of the car when I move to close it. She hides behind my leg when she doesn't want to approach something or someone.

The therapist rides with Abigail until she's old enough and strong enough to ride on her own. We're specifically working on physical, or gross motor, issues, so that's where she puts in most of the emphasis. Abigail regularly stands on the horse's back while he walks, she kneels, does squats, sits backwards, sits "criss cross applesauce," and stands on one leg. She has to lean forward on the horse and bear weight on her arms to the count of twenty, and ride while doing a puzzle or working a peg board. Abigail has to hold the reigns, she is guided to steer the horse to turn or do a circle around a barrel, and she has to tell the horse to "Go, please!" or "Woah!" The therapist explained that the movement of the horse helps rewire the brain with regard to body movement and teaches it to use each side of the body not in unison, but I forget what she called these two things.

Eating Clinic
I was overjoyed when I found a therapy clinic that specifically worked with kids with eating issues. I've blogged in depth about Abigail's incredible pickiness. I tried the book Food Chaining, and we did have some successes. The problem was that as soon as Abigail would get a cold, she'd eliminate all the new foods. And we'd be back to square one. It was painfully frustrating. So when this clinic specifically mentioned a bunch of unique issues that Abigail has, I was stoked. We met with some of the staff and went over Abigail's medical history and eating habits. Because we've been dealing with this for years, we had already scratched off any medical reasons why she might not be eating (we took care of the reflux and had testing done to be sure there weren't any blockages in her digestive tract). They were confident they could help. And our insurance approved their treatment plan.

The clinic broke down Abigail's issues into three simple categories:
1. Your core supports your jaw. Your jaw supports your tongue. So a weak core means difficulty eating. Abigail's core is weak, so she's having trouble with foods that require extra work. This is probably why she doesn't like meat or peanut butter.

2. Abigail has sensory issues. She's over-sensitive to most things (tactile defensiveness), so she hates loud music, crowded environments, and being touched. But she's under-sensitive in and around her mouth, which means she craves extra feedback from food. So she needs to cram a lot of food in or eat really crunch or really flavorful things in order to process what's going on in her mouth. This is why she hates mac n' cheese, mashed potatoes, and soft bread.

3. Some of it is just behavioral. She's had bad experiences with food in the past, so she's really picky about what she'll tolerate. Plus she's been rejecting new foods for so long, it's kind of just what she does. But because she's not typical, we can't expect results by simply make the pancakes smily faced or say, "Eat this or go hungry."

The equine therapy is really helping with the core strengthening. Then half of our twice-weekly sessions are spent working on mouth awareness and strengthening exercises. The therapist uses vibrating toothbrushes on Abigail's cheeks and tongue and has her do tongue exercises where she has to reach her tongue out to the left, right, and up and tap a spoon with yogurt on it. She's also helping Abigail to take bites off of a larger piece of food,

To help with the sensory issues, the therapist also has us doing the Wilbarger brushing protocol, which is where we brush Abigail's arms and legs with a stiff-but-soft bristled brush in a specific way every two hours.

The regular, constant sensory input is supposed to help rewire her brain to respond appropriately to touch. It's helped immensely! It used to be that when Abigail's hands were messy, she would make a disgusted face and get anxious, but now she can calmly ask me for "help." She also tolerates being touched and having her hair pulled up much better now.

In terms of the behavioral stuff, the therapist has lots of sneaky techniques that have helped more in one month than I had in a solid year of work! At first she just got Abigail to tolerate having strange foods near her (she used to throw them off her tray), then she got her to touch them, then she got her to kiss them! Abigail has kissed and calmly throw away foods that used to cause her serious anxiety! Since starting at the clinic, Abigail's accepted food list has doubled and survived a stomach bug. There is also much less stress and anxiety surrounding dinner time (which used to be the hardest meal). I think part of the success is simply that the therapist is not mommy. She has no frustrating history with the therapist. Sometimes it's easier for kids to learn new things from some else. Abigail is not usually one of those kids, but this therapist really understands her, and she knows it.

The other food-related improvements I've noticed include an increased appetite, a willingness to let different foods be on the same plate, the ability to eat a few bites of this and then a few bites of that (she used to only eat one food at a time and it was the only food allowed to be on her plate, even if she liked both of the foods), decreased anxiety when looking new foods, and she even permits herself to touch new foods. My ultimate goals are to be able to make one dinner and have the whole family eat it and to be able to go to restaurants or playdates or holiday gatherings without having to bring special food just for Abigail.

03 August 2015


I had sincerely hoped to get another post out last week detailing some of the benefits we've seen since Abigail started therapy last month, but then real life got in the way. The entire family caught a stomach bug two weeks ago, but poor Matt and Eleanor had an awful resurgence last week that left Eleanor with bleeding diaper rash that took an entire week to wipe out. Then Eleanor had a strange reaction to a few bug bites, but the triage nurse at the pediatrician's office kept assuring me things sounded fine. Finally I took her up to Urgent Care, where a doctor informed me that her mosquito bites had become infected. As if that wasn't enough, I had a follow up appointment with my kidney doctor and learned that I have another kidney stone. It's too big to pass but too small to be causing any problems. After I have this baby, I can look forward to another shockwave treatment. In the meantime, I've been passing little baby stones (in fact, I'm passing one right now as I type this post), which are less than comfortable. I am currently bribing the children for time to blog by playing the Frozen soundtrack and letting them eat crackers in the living room. I'm planning a movie bribe later this afternoon if the stone I'm passing right now becomes too painful to parent through.

So this week, I have planned a post with Abigail updates and the final "10 Things" post, which will be about Matt. If today's post is too boring for you (it will be about crafts), then I hope this week will bring more exciting things. Although I promise lots of pictures today.

My favorite craft to do is crocheting. My favorite thing to crochet are afghans.

It probably goes without saying that I have too many. And I've made a few new ones since these photos were taken in Sep 2013. So when Matt and I celebrated our first Christmas together, I decided to crochet each person/couple in his family a blanket each year. So Christmas 2008, I made his oldest brother and his wife a blanket. Almost every year since, either a sibling or a group of nieces and nephews has gotten a handmade blanket from me. This year, I will finish my tradition. The last sibling and newest nephew will receive their afghans.

Normally I prefer to feel the yarn and see the colors in person before buying it, but I've been finding lately that craft stores' yarn supplies are getting lamer and lamer, so this time I ordered the yarn online. It felt like Christmas for me when the big box of fabulous yarns arrived.

I normally make most of the presents and begin making plans in July. But as I'm due on Thanksgiving, we're going to buy most gifts this year. Instead, I'm just making a few and I started the crafting in July. Don't worry, none of the people related to the gifts have any interest in my blog. There is a 0% chance this post will spoil any surprises.

I completely fell in love with the first afghan I made, which looks and feels like a cozy sweater with chunky, washable wool yarn. (I bought the yarn from Knitting Warehouse, which I found had the best prices for the type I wanted).

I loved it so much, I decided I'm going to make myself a blanket in this yarn at my mother-in-law's annual crafting weekend in October. (More on that in October). The yarn is so yummy that I used the leftovers to make slipcovers for our couch throw pillows. Our cream-colored pillows looked great on our old, green couch, but bland on our new, white couch. Now our delicious pillows are perfect for winter!

The next item on my agenda was a baby boy blanket, for which I really wanted to use one of my favorite baby yarns. Making niece and nephew blankets is getting trickier and trickier. I have nine now, and I want each kid to have his or her own pattern and color palette. But it's a fun challenge to tackle.

In the past, we've always had everyone give all the kids their own gift, but as I'm pregnant with #12, we decided to mix it up and have kids draw each other's names. This means I won't be doing any epic projects in which I need to make all the kids something awesome. (Remember the hand painted saint dolls I made last year? Everyone's reactions made the work totally worth it). My afghans have always fallen outside of the secret santa name draws.

Now, because I must always be crafting, I decided to take on a few new challenges and tackle a project I have been wanting to do for years: handmade fair isle knit Christmas stockings. Finished versions look something like this:

I've knitted some complex things before, including socks. And I've knitted things very similar to the fair isle style. But I've never knitted fair isle socks before. I found this awesome free pattern to make mini fair isle stockings. So I'll be practicing by making decorations for the next little while, and see if it's a challenge I want to take on this year.

Well, I guess it's time to return to these hooligans, who long ago decided that Mommy should be done on the computer: